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October 7, 2009
Japan’s new leader axes plans for manga museum

Cosplay, short for “costume roleplay.”

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer for Worldfocus, is now an international news editor at a Chinese newspaper.

To save some money for the Japanese people, Yukio Hatoyama, the new Prime Minister of Japan, has made a decisive cut that might break many comic fans’ hearts.

One month after beating the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party, Hatoyama vowed to end extravagancy by rolling back several policies implemented by Japan’s former leader, Taro Aso. For example, Hatoyama abolished one of Aso’s most ambitious plans — the establishment of the “National Center for Media Arts,” a $32 million-budget museum that demonstrates art forms such as manga and animation.

Yukio Hatoyama said Aso’s idea about the museum is naive, calling it a “giant manga cafe.”

Aso is well-known for his zeal for manga, the Japanese term for comic books. When he studied in Stanford, he had his family send manga magazines from Japan. In 2003, he described reading up to 20 manga magazines every week, and complained that his work had prevented him from reading more.

However, not many people appreciate his passion. Even the animation guru Hayao Miyazaki, director of the Oscar winner “Spirited Away,” told Aso to “keep his interest personal.”

Miyazaki said in a press conference that Aso’s manga propaganda is the “great shame of Japan.”

But before you make any judgment about Aso, consider this:

According to research, manga constituted an annual $3.6 billion publication-industry in Japan by 2007 — and it is still expanding rapidly to the global market, as distributing companies license and reprint manga in various languages.

Real manga fans not only read manga — they practice it. These people build up discussion groups, hold cosplays and publish their amateur comic works. Wandering between the imaginary world and the real life is truly a cherished lifestyle for many.

If you go to Harajuku or Akihabara, the pop-culture capitals in Japan, you would understand such philosophy. There are so many people — young and old, male and female (sometimes with their pets) — simply dressing and acting like manga characters. Unlike New York’s Halloween parade, these year-round carnivals are taken seriously by manga followers. And once you witness the spectacle, it is hard not to get shaken.

Leaving the politics aside, I do feel sorry for Aso and his museum. After all, at this gloomy time, holding on to one’s passion would be blissful.

– Hsin-Yin Lee

Photo courtesy of Flickr user ehnmark under a Creative Commons license.

October 6, 2009
Worldfocus celebrates its first anniversary

On Tuesday, Worldfocus celebrates its one-year anniversary. To help commemorate that milestone, anchor Daljit Dhaliwal joined the “Morning Media Menu” podcast to discuss the current state of international news.

“You often hear this complaint — or at least I have for the last 15 years that I have been working in international news — that, well, most Americans don’t care about international news,” she said. “But everybody who I’ve ever spoken to in my line of work has been very grateful that these kinds of news programs like ‘Worldfocus’ exist.”

Listen to the full program now:

October 2, 2009
No daggerin’ on Jamaican TV and on Worldfocus

Daggerin’ dancing at the Passa Passa Dancehall in Kingston, Jamaica. Photos: Gabrielle Weiss

Correspondent Lisa Biagiotti reported the signature story One island, two Jamaicas and a ‘whole heap’ of difference with Micah Fink and Gabrielle Weiss of the Pulitzer Center.

Lisa shares why Worldfocus didn’t broadcast daggerin’ images, addresses the realities of rampant violence and adolescent sex and recounts how some Jamaican artists are singing more uplifting gospel Dancehall music.

At the center of the music ban in Jamaica is daggerin’. Earlier this year, Jamaica’s national broadcasting commission banned sexually-explicit and violent lyrics and images related to daggerin’.

Worldfocus — based in New York City, not Kingston — also decided not to air these images because we thought our audience might be alarmed by the graphic nature of the dance. (Tell us below what you think of the daggerin’ images!) We didn’t mention daggerin’ in our video story because it begged the question…what is daggerin’?

Americans usually refer to this form of dancing as “freaking,” “bumping and grinding” or “dry-humping.” Urban clubs across the U.S. are packed with young people doing the American version of daggerin’.

In Jamaica, opponents of daggerin’ have described the dance as having sex with clothes on and even framed it as an aggressive, violent rape. Essentially, a woman bends over while a man pounds against her to the beat of the music. They liken the dance to a dagger stabbing piece of meat, violently and repeatedly.

The daggerin’ dance and the music that goes along with it slit Jamaican society. The Christian moral guard said children were overexposed to sex at an immature age. The defenders of Dancehall said the music mirrored the life and pressures in Jamaica’s poorest ghettos.

Turf wars and teen pregnancies

But behind the public music clash lurks the reality of rampant violence and adolescent sex in Jamaica.

Last year, 1,600 people were murdered mainly because of turf wars and reprisal killings. But this is still four to five  murders a day for an island the size of Connecticut with a population of 2.8 million. (Most murders are confined to waring communities and the result of turf wars and reprisal killings.)

As for sex, approximately 80 percent of children are born out of wedlock and 35 percent of Jamaican women are pregnant by age 19.

Put down the gun and praise the Lord to the tune of gospel Dancehall

Not all Dancehall music is “murder music,” and not all of it is so sexually charged it could electrocute you. The Dancehall genre can be broken down into three streams: hardcore (explicit), mainstream (radio and TV friendly) and gospel (uplifting and positive).

The Worldfocus signature story One island, two Jamaicas and a whole heap of difference focused on the hardcore Dancehall variety, examining Jamaican society through the lens of the public debate on daggerin’ music. Hardcore Dancehall has gained international airplay, but has also come under attack abroad. Concerts of Jamaican singer Buju Banton are currently being canceled in the U.S. because gay groups are saying his lyrics advocate the killing of homosexuals.

As for mainstream Dancehall, lyrics must be sanitized or changed completely for air play. For example, “Rampin’ Shop” became “Dumpling Shop.” The tune and rhythm were the same, but the lyrics were child-proofed.

When I was in Jamaica late last spring, I stopped over at Roots FM, a community-based radio station that pumps positive music and conversation into the inner cities. Every week, Dudley Thompson hosts “What’s the Verdict” — an American Idol styled contest where callers can vote on songs from emerging artists. The gospel Dancehall song “Same Gun” by Xtreme had won the contest. The song traces the cycle of violence committed by one gun that kills a person, is stolen and used again until it it is put down. The young artists of Xtreme, Chris D and Lyrical, dedicated the song to their three slain friends and hope their music encourages more peace and love.

LISTEN to Chris D and Lyrical’s song “Same Gun:”

Joel Harrison, known as Kruddy, is a DJ at and supports the music ban, believing that Dancehall artists are now forced to be more creative and are singing about the recession and fathers abandoning their children. Critics aren’t convinced the ban has had any real effect on artists because the realities in Jamaica’s inner city have not changed.

Keepin’ it safe with Daggerin’ condoms

And for his part, Vybz Kartel, whose sexually-explicit song “Rampin’ Shop” provoked the ban, has come out with a line of Daggerin’ condoms. Now you can dagger away to his sexually-explicit music, and should you feel compelled to take off your clothes, you’re equipped with his Daggerin’ brand of condoms. See the commercial below…and let me know what you think of the daggerin’ debate.

– Lisa Biagiotti

October 2, 2009
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil wins bid to host the 2016 Olympics

“Rio, the Marvelous City and the Olympic City in 2016 – For the first time, a South American city will host the Olympic Games,” proclaimed O Globo, in Rio.

Shouts of “God is Brazilian” are sure to be echoing throughout Brazil today, as Rio de Janeiro beat out three other major cities — Tokyo, Madrid and Chicago — to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. The decision, which will make Brazil the first South American country to host an Olympics, was also a political victory for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who made a personal pitch to the Olympic committee Friday morning, just as U.S. President Barack Obama did.

Crowds in Rio danced and celebrated along the beachfront as the announcement was made.

Although doubts remain as to Rio’s ability to handle chronic problems such as lack of infrastructure, violence and pollution in time for the Games, most Brazilians, including Worldfocus producer Channtal Fleischfresser, were optimistic that the Olympics would bring jobs and prestige to the city.

October 2, 2009
Russia, Georgia view war report’s blame through lenses

Headline from an English-language Russian news site.

Worldfocus producer Christine Kiernan writes about the reaction to the recently-released report on the Russia-Georgia war.

This week, the European Union released its long-awaited report on the five-day-war that broke out between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. The conclusions — the result of a ten-month-long mission to investigate the conflict’s origins led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini — were mixed. The report cites as the immediate cause “the shelling by Georgian forces of the capital of the secessionist province of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Aug. 7.”

However, it also acknowledges that Russia had made preparations for armed hostilities by moving paramilitary forces into the Russian-backed republic, and that the shelling was only the “culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations, and incidents.” The report concludes that all sides violated international humanitarian and human rights laws and warns that the conflict in Georgia continues to threaten peace in the region.

Not surprisingly, both Russia and Georgia seemed to interpret the report’s findings in their own favor. Russian officialdom and media expressed satisfaction, more or less, over the commission’s findings, highlighting as the main conclusion the fact that Georgia started the war. The Russian press secretary said “we can only welcome the said conclusion.”

A headline in the “Gazeta” newspaper read: “The Russian Kremlin and Ministry of Defense welcomed the EU commission’s conclusion that Georgia began the war in South Ossetia.” The article noted that Russia’s ambassador to the European Commission, Vladimir Chizhov, deemed the report  “Pro-Russian.” Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said it was about time the truth came out; the Echo Moscow radio station quoted him as saying Western politicians owed Russia an apology.

You can read an official reaction on the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Web site. There is little mention of the finding of Russian responsibility for ethnic cleansing and of disproportionate use of force by the Russian side, or the report’s refusal to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent entities.

My ability to interpret Georgian reaction is limited. But I did come across an English-language version of an official statement issued by the Georgian government. The Georgian government’s takeaway: “Almost all of the facts in the report confirm the Georgian version of events.” The government’s statement failed to mention that the EU mission put responsibility for the immediate commencement of shelling on Georgia. Instead, it stressed the report’s finding that Georgian civilians and peacekeepers were under attack, on Georgian soil, before August 7, and cited the “most important fact documented by the Commission […] that regular armed Russian forces and mercenaries illegally crossed into Georgia before August 8, 2009.”

Will the report’s release change anything? Probably not. Both Russia and Georgia will continue to adhere to their own version of events and blame the other side. My main takeaway comes from an editorial written by mission-head Tagliavini and published in Wednesday’s New York Times. In it, she focuses not on “whodunit;” instead, she raises the question of what responsibility the international community bears for failing to prevent the conflict. Are there actions Georgia’s and Russia’s neighbors could have taken to avoid the escalation of tensions? Did the involvement of outside powers harden positions, as Tagliavini claims, rather than build common ground? What is the role of the international community at large in deterring conflicts that arise between nation-states? Perhaps it is questions like these that merit further investigation.

– Christine Kiernan

October 1, 2009
Patriotic Chinese film stirs passions on nation’s anniversary

Hsin-Yin Lee, a former associate producer for Worldfocus, is now an international news editor at a Chinese newspaper. She describes a recent film that has Chinese patriots buzzing.

The other day, my friends and I were having a serious discussion: Should we spend our money on “Final Destination 4” or “The Founding of a Republic,” a Chinese film that commemorates the 60th anniversary of China’s Communist revolution?

While struggling between Hollywood sensation and Beijing propaganda seems a little awkward, I did find something interesting when I examined the movie reviews for “The Founding of a Republic.”

Watch the trailer of “The Founding of a Republic”

This state-funded movie is magnificent in many ways, and here is why:

The two-hour film is clogged up with 176 famous movie stars, including some Hollywood faces like Jackie Chen, Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi. Many of them volunteered for cameo appearances, only to deliver a few words, which helped keep the budget under $9.6 million.

The cast traveled to 90 settings across mainland China, with eight directors working one after another to put the scenes together.

And to get the job done, it took only 120 days.

Such efforts have inspired many people. Chinese blogger “Yu In” urged on CRI, an online news portal, “Let this movie go to the Oscars!”

“Do you think Hollywood could get so many superstars for […] Independence Day?” she doubted. “Only China can achieve this “mission impossible.'”

Probably too agitated by patriotism, some people are “hugely disgusted” by those movie stars who hold American passports.

Blogger “Crystal” asked on, another popular portal site, “Why are there so many ‘foreigners’ appearing in our movie?” She said that she felt “ashamed and embarrassed.”

It is true that for many Chinese, disregarding where you are from suggests that you are a bastard. And once you abandon your nationality, there is no way back.

However, as Taiwanese, my friends and I don’t even know if we abandoned Communist China or if it abandoned us. “The Founding of a Republic” might give us some clue — but perhaps “Final Destination 4” might be more substantial.

My friends and I haven’t decided which one to watch. Still, it’s a nice thing to know that there is so much a movie can reveal.

– Hsin Yin Lee

September 29, 2009
Heroes, Hollywood and making it through the day

Martin Himel

Martin Himel is a special correspondent for Worldfocus.  He blogs here about why he chose to highlight the films of Joseph Cedar for his signature story on Israeli cinema.

Joseph Cedar is probably Israel’s most highly acclaimed director. His movie “Beaufort” was also nominated for an Oscar. It focuses on life in an Israeli frontline bunker on the Lebanese front.

What makes Cedar’s films different from Hollywood war films is there are no heroes, no super-fighters who change the tide of events. The characters are almost always very human, frightened, small, scared, trying to survive day by day — just trying to get through it all and make it home to family, girlfriends and those that care.

For most combat servicemen, whether Israeli, American, Lebanese, or other, that experience of just “trying to make it through alive” is the dominant motivation, the overwhelming drive.

They are not the resource for those larger-than-life Hollywood characters, but those “small people” are the essence of Israeli film. That’s what makes the movies unique, credible and powerful.

Joseph Cedar himself was a paratrooper . He tasted combat first hand. His goal as a director was not to make a grandiose statement of war. He simply wants to put us — the viewer — in the bunker, with his friends, with their sweaty clothes, their wounds, their tired unshaven faces, and their claustrophobic living space.

As a veteran foreign correspondent, I have covered several Middle East and Balkan wars. Watching films like Saving Private Ryan or Born on the Forth of July made me cringe just a bit. The characters were too big for life. It was pure Hollywood.

In Cedar’s film “Beaufort,” I felt I was in the bunker with the soldiers.  I felt their terror with each incoming shell. I felt their anguish when they lost a friend.

Real images from the past — almost forgotten — vividly come back when I watched this film. I remember the American Marines compound in South Beirut in 1983. It was just hours after a suicide bomber plowed a truck laden with explosives into the headquarters killing over 200 soldiers.

We were barricaded into a bunker, soldiers at the ready with fingers on the trigger, terrified. The next bomber might smash into the compound and claim more lives. There were no heroes; there were a lot of tears; there were many frightened young men just trying to get through that day, then another — just to get back home.

– Martin Himel

September 28, 2009
Martin Savidge anchors Worldfocus this week

As you know, Daljit and I share the anchor duties on Worldfocus, and this week I’ll be back with all of you. It seems so long since we sat down to talk about what in the world has been happening, and a lot has been — from new strategies on Afghanistan to not-so-secret nuclear labs in Iran to the hope of an AIDS vaccine. And that’s just last week!

I really have missed being a part of the show on a daily basis, talking to all of you, talking with the experts, the give and take of the round table, and answering all your e-mails — both good and bad.

So mark your calendars and turn on the porch light cause I’m here all week.

– Martin Savidge

September 28, 2009
German expatriates watch election from afar

Worldfocus producer Channtal Fleischfresser attended a German election party at the German Consulate in New York on Sunday and watched the results come in.

The event featured a panel discussion moderated by Garrick Utley, Chairman of the American Council on Germany, and featured panelists Klaus Peter Siegloch, bureau chief of ZDF German Television, Nikolaus Piper, Senior Correspondent for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and Cathleen Fisher, PhD, of George Washington University.

Though the election results were expected, observers said the record low turnout suggests dissatisfaction with the current options in German politics.

September 25, 2009
Reading the Middle Eastern press on Iran’s nuclear plant

Worldfocus producer Mohammad Al-Kassim blogs about Friday’s revelations on Iran.

The news that Iran was building a “semi-industrial enrichment fuel facility” dominated the international headlines today. Here is how the news was covered in some Middle Eastern media outlets.

Iran’s Press TV, a government-funded news channel, broke into its regularly scheduled programming to feature the press conference held by U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The 24-hour channel, which is based in Tehran and broadcasts in English, targets viewers outside Iran.

As she was talking to a correspondent in Vienna, Press TV anchor Nargess Moballeghi noted British PM Gordon Brown’s comment that “the most urgent challenge in the world we face today is Iran.” Ms. Moballeghi told her colleague that this statement was completely opposite a statement made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who said that it was “climate change.”

On Alalam Web site, a government-funded 24-hour news channel airing in Arabic from Tehran, the top story was same as its sister channel, Press TV. The news article on Alalam was short, quoting Iran’s top nuclear program official who said there is nothing secret about Iran’s nuclear site and that the IAEA is aware of its existence, adding that Iran has the right to have a peaceful nuclear program.

On Al Arabiya, the all-news channel based in Dubai, the news of Iran’s secret nuclear sites overshadowed the rest of the day’s news. Al Arabiya has been very critical in its coverage of Iran’s presidential election.

In general, the channel — which is funded by Saudi money — is critical of Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia feels that Iran is treading on its territory as the natural leader in the Muslim world.

Al Jazeera Arabic also joined in the coverage of the breaking news with the press conference from Pittsburg, PA. The headline of the story on its Web site read, “World powers pressure Iran,” and the story reported the views of both sides, adding the position of Russia and China. The news article also quoted the Iranian student’s news agency for Iran’s official statement.

Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar and is generally viewed by the Iranian government as relatively biased against Iran.

People in the West assume that because Iran is a Muslim country, it must be friends with many counties in the region. On the contrary, Iran’s neighbors are equally opposed to it obtaining a nuclear program and weapons as the West is. The so-called moderate Arab states –Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — are quietly calling to disarm Iran nuclear program. Watching these media outlets, one cannot help but notice that the coverage is a reflection of this position.

– Mohammad Al-Kassim

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