(LinkAsia: March 22, 2013)
And finally, on a lighter note, it's springtime in Japan. Cherry blossom season, a big event in Japan, is just about over. But there's another rite of spring. This one is in Kyoto, the old capital. It involves a lot of heavy lifting. Here's Japan's national broadcaster, NHK.
NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: March 21, 2013
It doesn't get any busier than this in the Old Daigoji Temple. Contestants try to lift a giant rice cake, or mochi. The women's weight is 90 kilograms. The men's: 150 kilograms. They hold it for as long as possible, making an offering to the gods with their physical strength. Serious challengers can train at a mochilifting center. They stopped by on their way from work. Tires are used instead of cakes. Mieko Tanaka manages the center. Twenty-five years ago, business troubles were getting her down. So she entered the event for the first time. On her third attempt a few years later, she came in first.
Mieko Tanaka, mochi-lifting center:
You learn not to be discouraged. That's what attracts people to this event.
Mika Kitagishi is entering the event for the first time, to cheer up her sick father. The event demands not only upper body strength, but also balance. The trick is to lift the tray at least 85 centimeters and hold it at just the right angle. In the end, it comes down to mental strength, to bear pain and numb leg.
Mika Kitagishi, participant:
I hope when my father sees me pushing myself to the limit, it will cheer him up.
This is the second year Nobuaki Kanaoka has trained here. He is an interior decorator, and his business is suffering. But he enters the contest to get the strength to face the economic slump. The day of the contest arrives. Kitagishi, wishing for her father•s good health. She mustered all her strength, but not her balance.
I did my best, but it wasn't enough. Still, I'll tell my father I want him to be healthy this year.
Now it's Kanaoka's turn.
One minute, two minutes...
I might collapse tomorrow, but I will hold on a little longer. We're challenging our limits, right?
Two minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Kanaoka finishes second.
Second place gives me a completely positive outlook. The training for this contest will give me the energy to face challenges at work.
They make an offering of physical strength. They're granted inner strength. That, plus the satisfaction of challenging themselves to the limit.
Who gets to eat all that mochi after they are done lifting? I love mochi! That's our show for this week. I'm Thuy Vu. See you again.
Wolves were once federally protected but now can be hunted again, making the fate and future of the wolf more controversial than ever. UK journalist Jim Wickens reports from Wyoming and Montana to provide his unique insight into the wolf wars of the West. His blog accompanies the exclusive Earth Focus report, Shades of Gray: Living with Wolves, now online!
I had forgotten that the snowy bend we were approaching was, in fact, a sheet of black ice. Jet lag, long hours, and perhaps an innate anglo tendency to drive on the left, all played in the factors that led me to overlook this. What followed was a slow-motion skid -- I turned the wheel right, but our car had other ideas, sliding gracefully off the road and into a meter-deep ditch, clanging with the fencing as we hit. Cameraman Brian of course, as with all camera operators the world over, was more worried about his gear than any physical damage his own body might have sustained in a car crash. Instead of a warm shower and a hot dinner back in Helena, we were now face down at a 45 degree angle, in a ditch, in the dark, half way up a snowy mountain. It was going to be a long night.
Earlier that day we had met with a remarkable young rancher called Garl.
Welcomed onto his ranch, we spent the afternoon with him plodding around a snowy field full of jet-black Angus cattle. As with many ranching operations in the Rockies, Garl rents huge swathes of upland pasture from the government, paying a peppercorn rent in order to let his cattle graze out the summer in the high plains and woods, before coming back down in the fall and being shipped off to feedlots. Several years ago though, Garl began to notice his counts were dropping and he suspected wolves were to blame.
But for Garl, wolf losses are part of a much bigger problem: what he sees as a predatory dominance of the packing industry by a small handful of companies who effectively dictate market access and cattle prices across Montana. It is a corporate grip that has squeezed his family's livelihood for generations. Garl began to think outside the box, changing the ranch into grassland beef operation and in recent years building a slaughter and processing plant on the farm. The family get more money from their value-added beef processing plant and the animals get an enormously better deal too living out their lives on grass, instead of the brutal journeys south to feedlot CAFOs that so many cattle in this state take every fall.
But what does this mean for wolves? Situated 30 miles as the crow flies -- or rather as the wolf runs -- from Yellowstone, Garl knows that wolves aren't going to disappear anytime soon, so he has begun to develop an upland farming system that he thinks is better both for the wildlife and also for his cattle numbers. He now rotates the animals, keeping them in smaller areas at a time rather than simply turfing them out for months. The result this summer has been a marked decrease in unexplained stock deaths and it's not hard to see why, he says. The ranch hands can now keep an eye on the cattle better, and the herd itself has begun to behave as more of a pack, operating together to ward off predators in a markedly different way than they did when they were dispersed and isolated.
The system Garl is innovating promotes locally produced grass-fed meat, prevents over-grazing in the uplands and effectively allows for large carnivores to better co-exist alongside his animals. It's early days but the results so far seem to suggest that the fortunes of his livestock, of the wolves and indeed of his family pocket book, may all be turning around for the better.
Hours later, in the dark, in the ditch, and waiting for the pick-up truck to pull our damaged car back onto the road, I reflect upon what we have witnessed. A Rocky-mountain rancher who clearly recognizes that the impact of wolves on his livestock operation is but a small and diversionary part of a much wider and more profoundly urgent discussion regarding the economic disempowerment of livestock producers within the US by corporate agribusiness.
Garl is an insightful and compelling voice on this issue, but not one that the mainstream media would normally give space to, drowned out amidst the bombastic rhetoric that surrounds wolves on both sides. It is a hysteria that in my mind seems to be precluding a wider discussion about agriculture today: a debate where the predatory feeding habits of corporate agri-giants on family farms in America, finally get as much attention as that of the Yellowstone wolves.
Jim Wickens is one of Britain's leading investigative journalists and the co-founder of both the Ecologist Film Unit and also Ecostorm, the environmental media agency. Jim has spend the last decade documenting unreported issues around the world, including exposing illicit whale-meat smuggling networks in Japan, filming the brutal Namibian seal hunt, documenting soya-related murders and poisoning in Argentina, breaking the story of fracking problems in the US, and filming illegal trawlers far out to sea on the Burmese border.
The Summer Solstice brought a plethora of free performances in and around NYC, and the one I opted for was the Griot Summit at the Wave Hill Gardens overlooking the Hudson, in the Bronx. Who could resist getting away from the burning pavements of the city to saunter through bucolic splendor while listening to masters of the Griot tradition?
For those of you who are not familiar with the term "griot" (or jali, or jeli, depending on where the griot is from) a quick explanation: the griot is the repository of the history of his or her people, knowing geneologies and major epic songs by heart. Descended through the family line, the griot is not just a musician, but a living library, an advisor, and on occasion, a gadfly. Understanding the function of the griot is a great way to gain insight into the culture of West Africa. But I have started my video with a good description, straight from the horse's mouth, so I'm sure you'll figure it out.
The day started out with the various musicians scattered around the grounds, so that you could catch solos and larger groups as they performed in lushly green walkways, formal gardens and woodland areas. Then they all gathered for a massive display on the main stage, to get everyone riveted, then up and moving. Personally, I was entranced and dazzled by the regal appearance of the griots. I guess I'm just a sucker for African Formal Wear; all those robes, headdresses and intense colors and bright white against dark skin knock me out. I was also struck by the obvious musical links between what these musicians were conveying in its purest form, and the roots of our own American music: the glissandos, time signatures, the improvisations; it was all there to hear and mark as building blocks of the blues.
All in all it was an amazing gathering, and it was a tribute to Sylvain Leroux the curator, Isabel Soffer of Live Sounds, and the musicians, that it all came together so wonderfully well. After all, you can't just assume that Jalis from Guinea are going to play well with Jalis from Burkina Fasso or Mali. But they certainly did here!
The day was hot, and this was shooting on the fly-- no way to deal with the light, the sound, the terrain, so I will beg your pardon for the occasional visual burn, bumpy camera work, and some audio distortion.
The participating musicians were:
Abdoulaye Diabate (Mali), Toumany Diabate (USA), Tapani Sissoko and her mother (Mali), Yacouba Sissoko (Mali), Mamady Kouyate (Guinea), Makane Kouyate (Mali), Ismael Diarra (Burkina Faso), Abdourahmane Mangara (Gambia), Aissatou Kouyate (Mali), Famoro Dioubate (Guinea), Andy Algire (USA), Sam Dickey (USA), Bailo Bah (Guinea), Ibrahima Soumano (Guinea), Mmah Doumbouya (Guinea), Ayiba Doumbouya (Guinea), Bebe Camara (Guinea), Nagna Diabate (Guinea), Hasan Bakr (USA), Zoumana Diabate (Mali), Moussa Diabate (Mali), Anette Lipson (USA), Kewulay Kamara (Sierra Leone), Lankandia Cissoko (Senegal), Yacouba Diabate (Burkina Faso), Sylvain Leroux (Canada).
For more music from this gathering, click here.
Beginning Saturday, December 5th, some great award-winning Romanian films will be premiering on Link's airwaves. Ranging from indictments of the totalitarian Ceauşescu regime to explorations of contemporary social mores, these films come from a new crop of young Romanian directors -- the new wave -- and illuminate the changing society that is today's Romania. Some highlights include this week's premiere of Muntean's The Paper Will Be Blue, Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest, and Cristi Puiu’s Stuff and Dough. And two great shorts are now available to watch online -- Hanno Hofer's tale of a village postman, Dincolo, and Humanitarian Aid.
The Romanian new wave has been a favorite in the film critic world for several years, catching the attention of the New York Times's A.O. Scott, among others. But most Americans haven't had the opportunity to see these great films from a country once known primarily for gymnastics -- until now.
Link TV proudly presents these films in partnership with the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York. Readers in NYC shouldn't miss this weekend's 4th Annual Romanian Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinemas -- more info is available at icrny.org.
Fair Trade is much more than just an economic formula guaranteeing the farmers more money than conventional coffee sales. One of the most exciting aspects of the movement to me is the impact Fair Trade has on women throughout the developing world. Within Fair Trade cooperatives, gender equity is required. That generally means that women have to be represented on the Board of Directors and on other governing bodies, and of course, they can vote and their votes are equal. I am not naïve, however, and I know that in many of the societies where coffee grows women’s empowerment is still a goal and is resisted subtly and sometimes overtly by the ruling men. At the same time, I have seen powerful indications of change. Five of the fourteen coops we work with around the world are managed by women. And those women use their power not only to improve the lives, social standing and self-esteem of women in their own coops, but each of them reaches out and mentors women in other coops. An awesome model for all of us.
We take voting for granted, and many of us don’t even bother to vote in primaries or in general elections. For women (and men) who have never had the opportunity to participate in decisions that effect and control their economic and political lives, voting is a powerful act. I have seen enormous changes in women over the years as they participate and have their voices heard in their communities and on the world stage. One example, Esperanza Castillo from Pangoa Cooperative in Peru. When we first met in 2003, she was a shy and quiet manager of a small coop (about two hundred families). Over the years, Esperanza has developed into an internationally recognized voice for women and Fair Trade. At one event she got a standing ovation when the next speaker (Hilary Clinton) got warm applause. In Ethiopia, Nekempte has gone from an “office girl” when we first met in 2000, to the number three in command of Oromia Cooperative, which has over 100,000 members!
The point here is not that all of the problems of women’s empowerment have been solved by Fair Trade. Rather, the movement opens an oasis of opportunity to women in rural societies where there are not that many other institutional openings. That is the true evolution of change beneath the surface of a cup of Fair Trade coffee.
Later in the week was the launch of a new NGO, Fair Trade Organization of Kenya (FTOK). Forty farmers representing ten thousand farm families came together for the celebration and a full-day workshop on fair trade and organics, presented by John and I, along with FTOK founder Sophie Mukua and President, Samwel Okwenda. There were also representatives of Thika Mills (mills are traditionally the last bad guy in the farmer rip-off equation), which is now certified to process fair trade coffees (hmm, we’ll see), and Robert Thuo of the African Wildlife Foundation, which is saving elephants and helping farmers with a grant from USAID and Starbucks (it is great work, but I had to ask, wouldn’t it be betmter if Starbucks simply paid the farmers more for their coffee? Then they could put up their own fences and feed their families directly-what a concept!).
The farmer coops in attendance introduced themselves, and talked about the low price of coffee they receive and the terrible effects of the drought. They talked about how difficult it was to find direct buyers; even though they were allowed to do so by law, they didn’t know how. John gave a wonderfully detailed description of the organic farming system. Most of these farmers were raised on government information that was hopelessly out of date and more appropriate for large plantations, not small holdings of two acres or so. We talked about interplanting and what crops farmers used in different countries to fix nitrogen into the soil, create soil stability and have more food for their families and the local markets. We described natural pesticides and took a break for me to plant a muthega tree at the coop of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Matthai. The tree is used as a natural pesticide and it made a big impression on the farmers. I spent about two hours describing why they don’t get decent money for their crop, how prices are determined in New York, not in the field, and how to protect themselves from thieves coming into the “second window”. We had to change shillings into dollars, pounds into kilograms, and coffee cherries into green beans (about seven to one in Kenya), which made for a head pounding, exciting translation of information for farmers who had never had access to this before. After several intense hours of questioning, we called it quits, applauding each other heartily. Elias Matenge, head of the Thiriku Cooperative came up to me and patted my shoulder forcefully. “This has been revolutionary!” he beamed. “This was the best workshop I have ever attended!” shouted Nelson Mwaniki from Rianjagi. We all walked outside the meeting hall in a good mood. Then the most unbelievable thing happened.
It started to rain.