It's a swarm of bees! It's a herd of elephants! It's a... pack of vuvuzelas!

The first African World Cup was always going to be a unique event, and the first four days of the tournament have been full of the good, the bad, and the Green. Particularly noteworthy (and relished by this observer) was France's dismal performance in a 0-0 draw against Uruguay last Friday.

Because it's the French national team, headed by universally-hated Raymond Domenech, Le Blues were not lacking of excuses. Captain Patrice Evra blamed his team's lack of performance on communication problems, and more specifically, the deafening noise of thousands of vuvuzelas:

We can't sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6 a.m. We can't hear one another out on the pitch because of them.

Somehow, Uruguay wasn't similarly fazed because they apparently possess superhuman hearing. (Credit to the South Americans, they executed their gameplan perfectly and nearly came away with all three points had Diego Forlan's strike in the 73rd minute been on frame.)

Evra's complaint was one of a string from participants about the ubuqiutous South African trumpet/kazoo/noisemaker of death. Even the best player in the world, Argentina's Lionel Messi, expressed disapproval of the instrument, saying "It's impossible to communicate, it's like being deaf."

Thankfully, FIFA has decided against banning the instrument mid-tournament. President Sepp Blatter tweeted:

I have always said that Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound. I don't see banning the music traditions of fans in their own country. Would you want to see a ban on the fan traditions in your country?

Indeed, it would be stupid to ban the quintessentially South African element of the competition because of player complaints. If FIFA had wanted a dull tournament, they'd have mandated every team play in the Italian, anti-football style. Vuvuzelas don't provide either team with an advantage, and add distinctive flair -- or, better put, a distinctive buzz. (Perhaps worringly for spectators, South African shops are now reporting running dry of "vuvu-stoppers:" plugs to protect fans' ears from the noisemakers.) 

Thankfully, not all have highlighted the vuvuzelas as the biggest problem of the tournament so far.

*Tuesday update: ESPN has just announced that they've added filters to their broadcast to lower the vuvuzela noise. We'll see whether viewers appreciate the change, or whether they feel they've lost some of the World Cup buzz. (It does seem like the sound of the vuvuzelas has been slightly dulled.)

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Japan accused of bribery over whaling rights

It's no secret that Japan seeks an end to the longstanding moratorium on commercial whaling passed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986. Nor is Japan a stranger to allegations that it's bribed other IWC members to vote for its position. But now, the London Times is carrying what it says is proof that at least six states agreed to vote for Japan's position in exchange for aid:

Japan denies buying the votes of IWC members. However, The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments admitting [...] They voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked.

The governments of St Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea and Ivory Coast all entered negotiations to sell their votes in return for aid.

The top fisheries official for Guinea said Japan usually gave his minister a “minimum” of $1,000 a day spending money in cash during IWC and other fisheries meetings.

If the Times' report is true, Japan's efforts to overturn the whaling ban may have suffered a major setback. But anti-whaling activists shouldn't rejoice just yet. Debate surrounding the issue has gotten progressively more intense in the last few months as the IWC prepares to consider just what Japan is looking for -- a (temporary) suspension of the moratorium, to be voted on later this month in Morocco. The meeting also follows a recent breakdown in relations between Japan and Australia, whose government sued Tokyo on June 1 for repeatedly violating the IWC whaling ban.

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