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They took the morning off to watch Knicks star Jeremy Lin, born in the United States to Taiwanese parents, further his rise to unusual celebrity status in the NBA after a tough career start in the league.
The player’s fame, dubbed “Linsanity” in the sports media, has spread quickly to Taiwan as he brings a rare splash of sporting limelight to the island of his roots. His rise, and the sudden affinity in Taiwan for the New York Knicks, is nothing short of sensational, putting him in a league with two other Taiwanese world sporting celebs: Major League Baseball pitcher Wang Chien-ming and No. 1 ranked LPGA golfer Yani Tseng.
“Why is he a hero? It’s because he made the impossible become possible,” says George Hou, mass media lecturer at I-Shou University in Taiwan.
IN PICTURES: Linsanity! Knicks star Jeremy Lin
Taiwan raises relatively few sports heroes as students on the newly industrialized island focus more on conventional careers. Taiwan’s political archrival China, with more economic clout and diplomatic support, also asks that world sports bodies limit Taiwan’s profile.
“Even though his parents moved to the United States, we take him as one of our own,” says Michal Lee, deputy secretary general of Taiwan’s Republic of China Basketball Association. “A lot of people here dream of getting into the NBA, but it’s not easy. You need to work at it. For Asians to be of such tall stature and get in, that’s all pretty rare. So now we’re happy to see that Jeremy Lin has done so well.”
High threshold aside, Mr. Lin’s performance is likely to add points to basketball’s popularity among Taiwanese. Baseball leads other sports in Taiwan, both in the field and on television, but one in four Taiwanese follows basketball, Lee says. That means more than 5 million fans.
Taiwan has a seven-team men’s professional league, while NBA games dominate sports channels in the baseball off-season. The NBA has held marketing events in Taipei to boost the fan base. Men, about two-thirds of those fans, can be found shooting hoops on any Taiwanese school campus with a court.
The 23-year-old, 6-ft. 3-in. point guard helped the Knicks to five straight victories this month. He has averaged more than 20 points per game since starting for the team this month, chalking up 38 in one against the Los Angeles Lakers.
It wasn’t easy to get there. The NBA’s first Taiwanese-American player had joined the team at Harvard University without a scholarship and missed the 2010 draft before signing with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors kicked Lin down to a minor league team three times before he earned a foothold. He was barely hanging on with the Knicks as well until getting a key chance to play during an otherwise poor game on Feb. 3.
The sports bar crowd got what it was looking for on Wednesday. The center of attention won a close game for his team with a three-point play, putting the Knicks up 90-87 over the Toronto Raptors.
“I think Jeremy Lin is a really good point guard because he can make the team sure of having the basketball and he can pass the ball to some handler who has a great chance to get the point inside,” says Steve Wu, a high school senior who plays the sport for fun. “I think that whatever, ethnic Chinese or American, he’s a really a good NBA player.”
IN PICTURES: Linsanity! Knicks star Jeremy Lin
The cold snap gripped much of Europe, freezing rivers, interrupting barges, and threatening heating sources. But it seemed to invigorate the anti-inequality activists in Germany’s financial capital of Frankfurt. The stalwart protesters there are one Europe’s main surviving – and thriving – Occupy Movement encampments.
Since October, hundreds of residents have been bivouacking in tents in a quaint park directly across from the European Central Bank. Last week, as temperatures plunged to this winter’s low of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), a core group of 38 held their ground and slept in their tents – a survival challenge that was both physical and ideological.
"It’s important that at least a few of us stay here to give others strength,’ says Jürgen Harter, the software engineer who is the encampment superintendent of sorts, repairing cables, providing water, putting up tents, fine-tuning the logistics of a 50-or-so-tent village. Mr. Harter says he is fighting for a society that is more humane and less ruled by the power of consumption and money. "And for that, it’s worth it to fight – and to freeze," he says.
While the spectacular rise of the worldwide Occupy movement has been followed by its withering away in much of the world, Occupy Frankfurt has established itself as a peaceful, accepted voice – a testimony, some say, to the tradition of tolerance and openness of this old city of commerce.
When police broke up the Berlin camp last month, the Frankfurt camp gained visibility. This week people traveled to Frankfurt from Spain and the Netherlands to get some occupy know-how. Proudly, Harter talks of "occupy tourism."
Squeezed between the banks’ shimmering glass and steel towers and the city's opera house, theater, and posh designer stores, the occupiers are a reminder of a hidden side of this wealthy city. "This location is part of our identity," says Harter, who says he has camped there for the better part of the past four months despite living just a few subway stops from the encampment.
"Nobody is afraid of us. We’re not aggressive. We reject violence. We don’t want to verbally aggress anybody. The bankers who work here are also human beings," Harter says.
This fall, Frankfurt’s Occupy camp was a haven for discussions – on capitalism, education, and culture. But then critics started complaining that the group had no focus anymore, no real mission. Movement supporters argue that the movement’s raison d’être lies in the sheer power of its presence.
For now, the main battle is to survive the cold. On the frigid day I visit the camp, white frost has wrapped the camp in an eerie quiet. A string of protest signs swing in the air, the only visible signs of life. "Euroland will soon be over," one sign reads. "You occupy the money, we occupy the world," another says. "Break the dictatorship of financial markets!’
Braving the wind, Harter inspects the campsite. A few weeks ago the ground was littered with cables. Harter put them all away for safety. The cold made the water pipes he installed freeze. He wants to insulate them. "It looks like we’re going to be here for the long haul," he says. "Maybe one, two years."
Harter goes about slapping shoulders, sharing jokes. "Come on, the sun is shining!" he tells a grumpy-looking man. Gas isn’t working, somebody complains. "I promise," he reassures, "you’ll get gas. You know I have connections!" His voice radiates confidence and everyone is welcome. Every day local bakeries deliver leftover rolls to the camp’s mess, a wide, spacious tent equipped with a kitchen. Neighborhood residents come and cook. Because the water pipes have frozen, campers get water from the opera house, just across the street – 100 liters a day.
One of the biggest benefits is the human exchange, the protesters say – the things protesters and observers learn just by meeting and talking with each other. There are, for example, the investment banker Harter got to know, who confessed that in spite of the money and power he had, he felt lonely, and the prominent people who take the time to stop by after a nearby fundraiser. Often people tell Harter, "I couldn’t do it, but go on!"
The Frankfurt occupy-ers do not expect the world to change overnight. Even if the movement dies, as it already has in many cities, they see the mere fact that US President Obama mentioned economic unfairness in his State of the Union speech in January as a sign the movement has had an impact.
This week, as Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping pays a visit to Washington, there will doubtless be many calls for the Obama administration to talk tough with America’s largest trading partner. No more of that nonsense of undercutting US workers with your cheap labor, sir, and you had better start supporting some democratic reforms in the Middle East and back home or there’s going to be trouble. Big trouble.
There will also be calls for the US to cultivate Mr. Xi, who is likely to replace President Hu Jintao when Mr. Hu is ready to step down. Show him the superiority of the free market system, unfettered by regulations and government planning. Slip some of that American Soft Power ™ into his green tea in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan did it with Mikhail Gorbachev, and now Mr. Gorbachev is endorsing Louis Vuitton.
But what should the Obama administration do? Some say America’s persuasive power have passed their peak. The American economy is beginning to recover, but the longer term trends of job-loss, debt, and geopolitical exhaustion mean that any US president – Democrat or Republican – will have limited tools of bluster to define the terms of any future US-China relationship. Americans expect exceptionalism – remember Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation – and they expect their leaders to take up where the Roosevelts, Eisenhowers, and Reagans left off.
But a slew of well-argued pieces this week show that these expectations are maybe misplaced.
In Foreign Policy, Daniel Blumenthal – an expert on China at the American Enterprise Institute – says that it’s naïve to think that either tough talk or sweet talk are going to win over Xi and set China on a different path. The truth is that the China that Xi would eventually govern is much more pluralistic and complex than the China that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon negotiated with during the cold war, or as politically weak as the Soviet Union that Mr. Gorbachev so helpfully dismantled.
“…engagement among top leaders is not enough. China is far more pluralistic than it was when Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon made their secret deals with party leaders or when President George H.W. Bush secretly sent national security advisor Brent Scowcroft to toast the Chinese after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Today, China's entrepreneurs want a truly free market. The less privileged want protections from a rapacious state. Reformers want more of a voice. U.S. engagement must expand to all levels of Chinese society, both within the Communist Party's confines and outside them.”
One-on-one diplomacy has its place, but nothing beats having a real strategy on how to deal with China, and Blumenthal calls America’s current policy a “muddle.”
America itself is not the giant disciplined gunboat that some foreign policy hawks assume it is, either, writes Charles Kupchan in this month’s Foreign Affairs. All over the world, democracies have suffered the most through economic globalization and in the recent economic meltdown. Indeed, it may be authoritarian governments with state-run economies who have ridden out the economic panics of 2007 and onward, leaving democracies to face the anger of their voters.
"Voters in industrialized democracies are looking to their governments to respond to the decline in living standards and the growing inequality resulting from unprecedented global flows of goods, services, and capital. They also expect their representatives to deal with surging immigration, global warming, and other knock-on effects of a globalized world. But Western governments are not up to the task. Globalization is making less effective the policy levers at their disposal while also diminishing the West’s traditional sway over world affairs by fueling the 'rise of the rest.' The inability of democratic governments to address the needs of their broader publics has, in turn, only increased popular disaffection, further undermining the legitimacy and efficacy of representative institutions."
In excerpts in the Atlantic and in a book review in Friday’s New York Times, Charles Murray has resurrected his Bell Curve theory to explain the growing inequality of US society. The key to success, if I understand Mr. Murray’s theory correctly, is education, and the key to success in education is to inherit a great IQ from your parents. For the rest, the door is shut. Sorry about that.
Maybe I missed them, but I didn’t see any articles out there proposing solutions. Diagnosing a problem seems to be the easy half of this battle. But how about the solution?
Is the decline of America preordained? Is there anything that businesspeople, elected American officials, and even individual American voters can do to turn things around? Can the US build the kind of strategic partnership – based on common goals and ideals – that the US built with its onetime colonial master, Britain? If someone wrote a story about solutions, I’d certainly read it.
Follow Scott Baldauf on Twitter.
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Two Americans, Radhika Sainath and Huwaida Arraf, were arrested by Bahraini authorities for their role in current protests against that country’s regime. They were arrested Saturday in Manama while acting as part of a team of monitors of peaceful protests.
The women were volunteers with the Witness Bahrain program, which situates observers in trouble spots, including Shiite villages, in the hopes that western presence will inhibit violence by security forces. Last year, those forces killed dozens of protesters who gathered at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout.
Footage of Arraf's arrest:
The women were arrested downtown in Manama at one of the latest demonstrations in favor of increased democracy in the Gulf nation.
According to a member of the Bahraini human rights community, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, the arrest of journalists, and their analogues, is far from rare and rarely fatal.
“Journalists are often detained from time to time here,” she said, “but they won't dare touch them especially if they're US citizens. The U.S State Department is already involved in the case and I've no doubt they'll be released unharmed (like the others.) It'll be shocking if this story has a different ending, but I doubt that will happen.”
A small group of us were on the initial Skype call with human rights activists from Bahrain. A doctor who I only knew by the name of A* explained how security forces would attack Shia villages with teargas and birdshot on a daily basis, break into houses at night and toss teargas canisters into tightly packed homes, arresting anyone suspected of involvement in the democracy movement.
Would we come and stay in these villages? Surely, the government would behave differently if Americans and Europeans were watching.
Bahrain is a major American ally in the Middle East and provided staging grounds for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. The country is regional fleet headquarters for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the Naval Central Command, covering the Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea.
For the first time – ever – Afghanistan today played an international cricket match against an elite team. It was against top-ranked neighbor Pakistan, with whom it has a relationship that is sometimes fraught with uneasiness, sometimes full of professions of brotherhood.
But the historic cricket match, which took place in the UAE, both illustrated the love/hate relationship and helped fans on both sides of the border to forget, at least for a while, the tensions that exist between their countries.
“Everyone here is watching the match on TV. It’s very exciting and we’re praying hard for Afghanistan,” Pardis Haidary, a military officer in Kabul told the Monitor over the phone. “Matches like this help build friendship,” he says.
For newcomers Afghanistan, it was their first chance to pick up the bat against a major international team, having previously only played against other low-ranked teams.
Cricket was brought to war-torn Afghanistan through refugees who picked up the game during their time in Pakistani camps, and is popular mainly in the Pashtun-majority areas in the south and east of the country.
Though Afghanistan is new to the game, its rise has been nothing short of a “wonderful story,” according to the International Cricket Council, which provides the Afghanistan Cricket Board with $700,000 a year to develop the sport.
Relations between the two countries have remained tense since the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in September last year. Mr. Rabbani, who was head of a government-appointed peace council, was killed in his home by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy, in an attack that some Afghan officials have blamed on Pakistan’s main intelligence agency.
Both sides, meanwhile, accuse each other of allowing militant havens inside their respective borders to carry out raids in each other’s countries. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is set to host his Afghan and Iranian counterparts for a trilateral summit in Islamabad next week.
At the popular Kabul Restaurant in Islamabad, staff and customers remained glued to their television, rooting for Afghanistan to pull off an unlikely upset. Though the Afghans eventually lost, Pakistan’s cricket captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, lauded them for the talent they displayed and their fighting spirit, which at times stretched former world-champions Pakistan.
Some hoped the goodwill between the players on the field could translate into better relations off it. “I have been in Pakistan for 19 years, but I can’t get a Pakistani passport,” complains waiter Naqeebullah Kabir. “Now we can’t get visas to visit home, either.”
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A 23-year-old Saudi Twitter user, Hamza Kashgari, fled the country Sunday to avoid being arrested for his religious tweets, only to find himself in the hands of the Malaysian police today. He had been heading to New Zealand to request political asylum.
On Saturday, the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad's birthday, Kashgari tweeted three times, expressing his religious beliefs about the founder of Islam. Within hours, he was inundated with violent threats. Despite a full renunciation, a warrant was issued by kingdom authorities for his arrest and the Kingdom's religious Fatwa Council condemned him as an apostate and an infidel, crimes which are punishable by death.
RELATED: Top Twitter moments
According to one of Kashgari's friends, who wishes to remain anonymous, these are the three tweets that were the basis for the Saudi arrest warrant.
- On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you've always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.
- On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
- On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
Kashgari's Twitter account, @Hmzmz, has been shut down.
Kashgari's friend points out that these actions have come after a number of reversals for religious conservatives in the Wahhabi-influenced state. These include a law allowing women to work as salespeople in public lingerie stores, and the replacement of the head of the religious police with a moderate, who ordered restrictions on how the religious police operate. It also happened within the context of the unrest of the Arab Spring.
Hashtags of shame
Kashgari's harassment is not out of the blue, nor, apparently, based on these tweets alone. He has been the target of religious Twitter users for months. "Public shaming through hashtags is now a common Saudi pressure tactic, especially against public officials and government scandals," said his friend.
A hardcore Saudi cleric used YouTube to post his condemnation of the young man. The cleric, Nasser al-Omar, known as the "weeping cleric" for his tendency to burst into tears at the blasphemy done to the prophet, called for Kashgari to be hauled before a sharia court, according to long-time Saudi blogger, Ahmad al-Omran (Saudi Jeans).
"These people [like Kashgari] should be put to trial in sharia courts. It is known that cursing God and his prophet is apostasy. And the fact that he has repented with cold words will not probably save him in the court." (Al-Omram's translation.)
The punishment for apostasy is death.
Saudi Arabia's information minister has commanded that no one publish any of Kashgari's writings. Prior to this incident, he was a columnist with al-Bilad, a newspaper based in the eastern city of Jeddah.
"I have instructed all newspapers and magazines in the kingdom not to allow him to write any thing and we will take legal measures against him."
Kashgari was trying to make a connecting flight to New Zealand when he was apprehended and arrested yesterday in Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur airport. It has been reported that Malaysia, an officially Islamic state, will forcibly repatriate Kashgar to Saudi Arabia. Malaysia has no formal extradition agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
After centuries as a cornerstone of Afghanistan’s culture and the economy, the nation’s carpetmaking industry may be headed for hard times.
Thanks in large part to a proliferation of both cheap, Chinese carpets and high-paying jobs working for foreign organizations, Afghans are less interested in buying and making traditional rugs.
“After the invasion of the Americans, this industry has been in a continuous decline,” says Anwar Shahrestani, a carpetmaker for the past 35 years. “The carpet industry is headed toward failure if it continues like this.”
Pointing to a rug four of his children are working on, he explains that it will take three to four months to complete and will net him only $400. He’s uncertain if he’ll find a buyer.
A highly skilled, seasoned carpetmaker can expect to earn about $200 to $250 a month, but the vast majority make less. Weavers’ assistants who do menial detail work can earn as little as $25 a month.
Meanwhile, foreign organizations have created a number of high-paying opportunities for unskilled Afghans who can make the same as a master weaver working as a cleaner for an international charity organization. Salaries for international organizations are good enough to pull local doctors and engineers from their field to work low-level office jobs.
“People have better job opportunities and they can make more money doing other things. Carpetmaking is very boring and repetitive and it pays very little,” says Qurban Ali Nazari, a carpetmaker in Kabul.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by its prime minister against contempt charges, paving the way for him to face indictment on Monday.
The ruling ensures a prolonged standoff between the civilian government and the judiciary, which observers say ultimately benefits the country’s powerful military and weakens democracy.
"The appeal is dismissed," Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said in court on Friday, reading the decision of the eight-member bench.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had been charged with refusing to obey the court's request to write a letter to Swiss authorities to revive a 1997 money-laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Mr. Zardari and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, were ordered by a Swiss magistrate in 2003 to return $12 million in kickbacks to Pakistan. That ruling was later overturned after the government of Pakistan withdrew its case in 2008 as part of a political amnesty.
The prime minister’s legal team argues that as president, Zardari enjoys immunity, whereas the Supreme Court judges have stated that, immunity or not, Gilani must follow the court’s decision.
If convicted, Mr. Gilani faces six months in jail and a bar on holding public office. But if he is dismissed, Zardari's government can elect another prime minister, who could in theory also refuse to obey the court’s order, resulting in a constitutional limbo.
Last week, Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari Rizwi told the Monitor the contempt case shows that the Supreme Court is overstepping its bounds.
“The Supreme Court has the power to go forward with contempt of court charges,” he said, “but I think it is overstretching its domain, and this will cause greater uncertainty and confusion in our already troubled politics.”
Gilani’s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, was a key figure in Pakistan’s lawyers’ movement that helped overthrow dictator Pervez Musharraf and restore judges who were previously fired. His emotive appeals to the court to consider the prime minister’s role in restoring those judges to office were dismissed by Chief Justice Chaudhry, who said that the appeal against the court’s decision could itself be seen as a fresh contempt.
Also on Friday, a judicial commission assigned to investigate whether the government sent a secret memo to the United States calling for help in reining back the military and preventing a coup ruled that a private US citizen at the center of the scandal may testify via video-link from London.
Because the US citizen, Mansoor Ijaz, has refused to come to Pakistan, citing security concerns, analysts believed the case against the government would collapse. However, it appears now that it will continue.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
“Since I’ve started making my own dumplings, I don’t buy them anymore,” said Zdenek Snajder, a Prague resident. “I can alter the recipe based on what I am serving them with, and my wife prefers them.”
The Czech dumpling is a locally cherished side dish that serves to soak up sauces. It is often paired with traditional Czech meals such as goulash and sliced beef with cream sauce.
But sampling the work of Petr Kosiner, owner of the country’s first homemade dumpling shop, might change Mr. Snajder’s mind about “store-bought” houskove knedliky.
Mr. Kosiner’s dumpling shop has only been open since the summer, but he’s been selling to restaurants and at farmers’ markets for nearly a year. His bread, potato, herbed, and meat-and fruit-filled dumplings have the “just like homemade” taste not found in most store-bought brands. “I have special recipes – my dumplings must be better,” Kosiner says.
He says Czechs can taste the difference between mass-produced dumplings and ones only Mom can make. He hopes to win over those who have sworn off the “inferiority” of commercial dumplings.
“We have a totally different way of thinking; [my dumplings are] homemade with good quality ingredients.”
When people think of Twitter, they usually think of clipped comments about pop culture or the minutia of daily life, not formal legal documents and procedures. But that may be about to change in the United Kingdom, where the highest court in the country announced on Monday that it would begin accepting freedom of information (FOI) requests through Twitter.
Used by the public and media to request access to government documents, FOI requests aren't known for being succinct. Consider that Britain's Supreme Court directs those making FOI requests to use Form 2, a nine-page document. But it makes sense given the purpose of the request: to sufficiently describe the information that the requester is seeking that the court can find it in a timely manner. As a result, 140 characters usually isn't enough to include all the detail needed in a FOI request.
So why did the Supreme Court decide to accept tweeted requests? Actually, it looks like it didn't; rather, it appears to have backed into the policy inadvertently, when it launched its new Twitter account, @UKSupremeCourt, on Sunday.
The court intended to use the account to publicize information about its work and legal decisions – a novel effort, as few courts around the world have embraced social media. But in a policy document on its website, the court said that tweets to the account would "not be considered as contacting the Supreme Court for any official purpose," including FOI requests.
Not so fast, said the Information Commissioner's Office, Britain's public authority on and enforcer of freedom of information. Publicservice.co.uk, a public service news website, reports that the ICO's spokesman said that such a policy would "certainly be grounds for complaining to us."
"Public authorities that use Twitter and other social networking sites must recognise that, like any other communication channel, they can be used to submit freedom of information requests provided the requester includes their real name, an address for correspondence and a description of the information requested," the ICO spokesman said.
To its credit, the court was quick to change the policy. Only six hours after its account went live, the court tweeted that "We'll accept FOIs via Twitter and will amend our policy accordingly." A court spokesman confirmed the policy shift to publicservice.co.uk, saying "Clearly we can't respond comprehensively to Freedom of Information requests via Twitter, but we will take appropriate steps to publish a response as required."
It sounds like that will satisfy the ICO, as it also recognizes the problem of fitting a sufficient request within 140 characters. A spokesman said they would "encourage requesters to use [the tweet policy] responsibly and consider alternative ways of submitting their request where appropriate."
And just in case you were thinking of inundating the British Supreme Court with FOI requests over Twitter, be warned that FOI requests aren't free. Someone still has to find the documents and send them along to the requester, for which the court charges £25 (about $40) per man-hour of work and £5 per electronic copy.