China's Global Times - that reliable purveyor of the sublimely ridiculous, the terrifyingly nationalistic, and the just generally offensive -- struck again on Wednesday, with a quick nine-paragrapher that may just manage to combine all three offerings in one: "American Indians descend from Hunan, says expert."
The tabloid reports on the findings of Du Gangjian, dean of Hunan University Law School, who, on a recent trip to study Native American tribes in the United States (the article doesn't specify which ones), made the discovery that "American Indians have many rituals, habits and working tools that are very similar to the ones that exist among Hunan people."
The article goes on:
"The history textbooks in the world should be rewritten," he said.
According to most of the history textbooks, Columbus was the first person to discover the American continent.
Du's claims rest on the theory that famed Chinese Admiral Zheng He -- who accomplished many incredible things, there's no question! -- also made it all the way to the North American continent (a theory also put forth by British writer Gavin Menzies). This he almost certainly did not do.
David McNew/Getty Images; FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
What is happening in this photo that is making these children so emotional?
(Real caption after the jump)
The reusable olive oil bottle -- a staple on restaurant tables across Europe, evocative of summers in Tuscany and vineyards in southern Spain -- has been banned from restaurants by the powers that be in Brussels, in a move the European Commission has sought to frame as a consumer protection measure. Critics, however, see it as an attempt to prop up a struggling olive oil industry and representative of the European Union's bureaucratic overreach.
Reusable bottles, the Commission claims, are unhygienic, and there's a risk that they could be refilled with unknown, cheap, and low-quality oils. The AP has more:
"This will ensure a high-quality product for consumers," said Rafael Sanchez de Puerta of the Copa-Cogecas federation (a European farmers federation). Also, by displaying the name, origins and storing conditions, "this will help to preserve the image of olive oil."
Many, however, are unconvinced.
"With the euro crisis, a collapse in confidence in the EU, and a faltering economy, surely the commission has more important things to worry about than banning refillable olive oil bottles?" inquired one British member of the European Parliament. Germany's Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, called the regulations the "silliest" rules since the EU's infamous attempt to regulate the curvature of cucumbers.
Of course, the requirement that olive oil must be served in pre-packaged factory bottles, with tamper-proof nozzles and standardized labeling, is the sort of regulation that people love to mock. And others have voiced the more serious concern that, by placing an emphasis on standardized packaging, the regulations could help out large-scale olive oil producers -- many of which are located in some of Europe's weakest economies -- at the expense of smaller farms.
But consumers could actually use more protection when it comes to olive oil. The staple is one of the most fraud-prone agricultural products in Europe, in part because it's so much more valuable than other forms of oil and remains relatively easy to doctor with cheaper products like soybean and other seed oil. ("Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks," one investigator told writer Tom Mueller, who later went on to write a book about olive oil fraud). The EU, in fact, has an olive-oil task force dedicated solely to stopping trafficking in dodgy extra-virgin.
Still, this kind of large-scale fraud takes place at the level of producers and bottlers -- not at the restaurant table.
In the latest development in the showdown between Taiwan and the Philippines over the death of a Taiwanese fisherman at the hands of the Philippine coast guard, Taiwan is holding military drills near Philippine waters. The Philippines -- its apology having been rejected by Taiwan -- is also standing firm, saying it won't "appease" the Taiwanese, while the United States is urging cooler heads to prevail. The standoff is just the latest in a string of geopolitical showdowns in which fishermen have served -- sometimes unwittingly and sometimes wittingly -- as lightning rods in East and Southeast Asian maritime territorial disputes.
The humble fishing boat, in fact, has been at the center of incidents between China and Russia; between China and Vietnam; between Japan and Taiwan; between China and South Korea; between North Korea and South Korea; between North Korea and China; between China and the Philippines; and between South Korea and Japan. And then, of course, there was the 2010 collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard patrol boats in disputed waters near the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which set relations between the two Asian superpowers on edge for months.
How has the fisherman -- a seemingly unassuming practitioner of his ancient craft -- come to play this vital role on the international stage? There are a number of factors at play. For starters, Asian waters are running out of fish -- which means more fishing boats are straying into foreign waters in search of good hauls. Then there's the growing nationalism in many of these countries, which raises the stakes in these disputes and allows one arrested fisherman to take on national significance.
In addition, there's the suspicion that some countries -- notably China -- really do use fishermen as proxies in their ongoing disputes with other countries -- that these fishing boats are not the innocent bystanders caught up in forces greater than themselves that they seem. At the height of last year's tensions with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, it was reported that China was sending an "armada" of 1,000 fishing boats to the islands with the goal of overwhelming the Japanese coast guard -- though the reports later proved false.
Hung Shih-cheng, the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman at the center of the current row between Taiwan and the Philippines, appears to have ventured into disputed territory with the simple aim of fishing; the Philippine coast guard has said the crew believed he was trying to ram one of their ships and opened fire.
Venture astray, and face the chance of catching fire from a military vessel as a result of international border disputes? That's quite an occupational hazard.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
WikiLeaks may have launched as a venue for publishing sensitive leaked information, but it eventually began working more closely with established media outlets to showcase its scoops.
Today, with the unveiling of its new Strongbox feature, the New Yorker is taking the next step, cutting out the middleman entirely and going straight to the whistleblower: Strongbox is a system similar to WikiLeaks's dropbox where sources can provide information to the magazine's reporters and editors through a system that can't record IP addresses, browsers, computers, or operating systems.
Strongbox uses the Tor network (designed by some of our FP Global Thinkers!) to ensure I.P. address anonymity, and provides users with randomly generated code names they can use to sign in (you can read more about how it works here).
The New Yorker actually isn't the first news organization to adopt the WikiLeaks model -- the Wall Street Journal tried something similar in 2011, though some noted at the time that the site had technical issues that could compromise anonymity (as AllThingD points out, the Journal hasn't said a lot about how much use it's gotten out of the site). The code for Strongbox, written by the famed late programmer/activist Aaron Swartz, is open source, which means we might well see other news organizations set up their own dropboxes in the near future (Swartz was working with the investigations editor at Wired to put the project together, for example).
In one sense, Strongbox isn't quite breaking new ground: sources have been leaking anonymously to news organizations ever since there was wrongdoing and people around to write about it. But as this week has shown, the protection of that anonymity has become more difficult -- even when news organizations try their hardest to maintain the privacy of sources. The secure dropbox was part of what initially made WikiLeaks innovative. Could it transform news reporting as well?
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
As Burmese President Thein Sein prepares to travel to the United States next week -- the first visit to the country by a Burmese leader in 47 years -- a potential humanitarian disaster is looming on the horizon back home.
Thein Sein's scheduled visit on May 20 has already been controversial, coming as it does after a recent surge in ethnic violence involving Buddhists, Rohingya Muslims, and other minority groups. But now many of the Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims who've been displaced by the violence and now live in temporary camps are threatened by Cyclone Mahasen, which is approaching the coast of western Burma and is expected to make landfall between Wednesday and Friday (when Cyclone Nargis struck Burma in May 2008, it killed roughly 140,000 people).
In recent days, the government has come under fierce criticism from groups like Human Rights Watch for failing to move the camps to higher ground ahead of the storm. On Tuesday, a boat carrying more than 100 people seeking to escape the cyclone capsized, and 60 are still missing.
The Burmese government launched a campaign on Tuesday to begin moving tens of thousands of people to higher ground (about 70,000 displaced Rohingya and Kaman Muslims are vulnerable to the cyclone, according to Human Rights Watch), but it is still facing charges of not acting quickly enough:
"The Burmese government didn't heed the repeated warnings by governments and humanitarian aid groups to relocate displaced Muslims ahead of Burma's rainy season," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "If the government fails to evacuate those at risk, any disaster that results will not be natural, but man-made."
Thein Sein's trip has attracted scrutiny from those who believe Western governments have acted rashly in embracing the reform-minded, quasi-civilian Burmese government without paying heed to ongoing human rights abuses in Burma. And the historic visit could grow even more controversial if Cyclone Mahasen hits the camps hard in the days that precede it.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
For those born after a certain year, Barbara Walters may be best known for her banter with the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck on her talk show The View -- or her interviews with the likes of Monica Lewinsky and Michael Jackson. But with the 83-year-old Walters officially retiring next summer, we wanted to remind the whippersnappers among us to show some respect: Before The View, Walters snagged interviews with some of the most defining world leaders of the late 20th century.
Walters, after all, rode in a jeep with Fidel Castro, picking his gun up off the floor when they forded streams so it wouldn't get wet. She sparked a fight between the shah of Iran and his wife over whether women were capable of ruling countries. She asked Jiang Zemin whether he knew what happened to Tiananmen Square's tank man. More recently, she spoke with Bashar al-Assad about the Syrian military's brutal campaign against its own citizens.
Below is a selection of some of Walters's most noteworthy sit-downs with world leaders in the more than 50 years she's been on television.
Walters first met Fidel Castro in 1975, but had to wait two more years before she was able to nab the first American TV interview with the Cuban president. During her time on the island, Castro brought her to the mountains where he had been a guerrilla fighter (Walters and her production team spent the night at his camp). Her interview with him lasted five hours and, "in an unprecedented action," almost all of it aired on Cuban television. "The only part he deleted," Walters wrote, "was my question about whether he is married and his evasive answer. 'Formally, no!'"
Shah Reza Pahlavi
In the interview below, Walters asks the shah about how much support the CIA was providing to the Iranian regime. "Does the CIA play any part in this country today?" she asks. "Sure -- gathering information. We don't mind," the ruler replies.
The interview also included questions about the shah's views on women. "So you don't feel that women are in that sense equal, if they have the same intelligence or ability," Walters inquires. "Not so far," the shah replies. "Maybe you will become in the future. We can always have some exceptions."
"I give the shah credit," Walters later said. "He was certainly not politically correct ... he said what was on his mind."
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin
It was an historic milestone in November 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel since its founding. While he was there, Walters got him to agree to a joint interview with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Begin told Walters that he convinced Sadat to do the interview together "for the sake of our friend Barbara"). In the video below, Walters describes how she arranged the interview (footage of the interview itself wasn't available).
Walters later spoke of her admiration for Sadat. "He had such courage," she said.
During his interview with Walters, the new Chinese premier displayed what the New York Times called "a stunning cynicism" about the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square, which had taken place just a year earlier. The army behaved "with great tolerance and restraint," Jiang told Walters. "I don't think any government in the world will permit the occurrence of such an incident as happened in Beijing."
"It takes a lot to stop Barbara Walters in her tracks," New York Times reporter Fox Butterfield wrote. But even she was stunned when Jiang called the incident "much ado about nothing."
"We feel it's a great deal to do about something," she eventually retorted.
As late as 2011, Walters was still going after big names, scoring an exclusive interview with President Bashar al-Assad after the protests in Syria had begun (Walters later took some heat for assisting an aide of Assad's who she admitted helped her get the interview).
"Do you feel guilty?" Walters asks Assad toward the end of the conversation. "I did my best to protect the people, so I cannot feel guilty, when you do your best," he responds. "You feel sorry for the lives that has been lost, but you don't feel guilty -- when you don't kill people."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a new data point to drop into the drone debate: A 9-inch remote-control drone helicopter that spent the last week tangled in the arms of a Lady Justice statue atop a courthouse in Marion, Ohio -- "rest[ing] on the hilt of her sword," as the AP poetically put it -- was finally liberated over the weekend by a man with an extension pole (county officials had previously said they wouldn't spend public resources to retrieve it). The camera-equipped drone had been filming a tourism video for the city when a gust of wind swept it into the statue's arms. On Tuesday, the Marion Star posted footage, above, of the drone's fateful last flight.
It's a story that seems full of symbolism. But how should we interpret it? Here are some conclusions you could draw:
a) The murky legality surrounding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles will ultimately give way to a standardized system of rules and regulations (the swift gust of wind is Sen. Rand Paul)
b) Drones will eventually be freed from legal constraints and set aloft to do as they please (the man with the long pole is Attorney General Eric Holder)
c) Drone use by private citizens is a threat to law and order (Lady Justice represents civil liberty/privacy groups, the man filming the tourism video is Rosa Brooks)
Of course, then there's Marion Sheriff Tim Bailey, who had this to say about the drone owner, Terry Cline:
"Look," the sheriff said. "Let's put this in perspective. He ran a helicopter into county property. It's no different than if someone hit the courthouse with their car. We took a report. We're done."
Think about it.
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