Monday, August 31, 2020

Farmers Turn Forest Guardians









For years, rice growers in the northern plains of Cambodia have been getting a raw deal. 

Buyers have no qualms about bullying them, manipulate scales, understate the quality of crops, or renegotiate after coming to terms, knowing they hold all the power in the transaction. 

To make ends meet, the farmers supplemented their income by turning trees into ox carts for sale, expanding their rice fields, or hunting endangered animals – all within the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. 

But now, about 1,500 of them are partnering with a social enterprise, Ibis Rice which promote chemical-free paddy farming and guarantee above-market prices for their crops. 

In return, they patrol the forest for poachers and loggers and the encroached lands are becoming forest again. Species thought lost are returning, under the protection of these same farmers. 

The project was established inside three protected areas in northern Preah Vihear province, and is now expanding into illegal logging hotspots in one of the world’s most heavily deforested countries. 

As Ibis Rice Chief Executive Nicholas Spencer said: “Obviously, we want to work in the places most important for conservation...on the frontiers of deforestation”. 

After initially struggling to get a foothold in the market, Ibis Rice – which were set up by the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2009 – are set to turn a profit in 2020. 

“We are starting to find our niche – with the health conscious, well-travelled, international consumer”, he added. And he announced plans to double the 1,200 tonnes of rice they bought last year and also move into cashews and cassava. 

“The problem now is not market, it’s production – training enough farmers to produce enough quality, be certified and follow the rules”, he explained. 

The Environment Ministry, which have been criticized for not stemming the destruction of forest, even called for the model to be expanded into other protected areas. 

“The project strengthens the livelihoods of local communities, cutting off people from jobs such as cutting trees and hunting”, ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said.

Masks @ MTV Video Music Awards 2020

I’m not at all surprised that Lady Gaga (left) dominated Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards and winning a total of five awards. 

The VMAs was the first major awards broadcast to air since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered production in America. The hybrid program mixed video acceptances, audience-less performances, and an unearthly, unidentifiable studio base in New York City and leaned heavily on video effects and star enthusiasm. 

The singer led with nine nominations and accepted awards for Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Cinematography and Best Collaboration for Rain on Me and the inaugural Tricon award, which recognizes an artist who is highly accomplished across three or more disciplines. 

Of course, Lady Gaga wore masks. Including one with horns, one that resembled a fish bowl, a silver mask and a pink mask with wires surrounding the mouth. She tweeted: “I was wearing face shields before it was a thing”.









 










In yesterday’s Scottish Premiership match, Celtic beat Motherwell 3-0. 

The scoreline makes it sound so simple for Celtic – but the reigning champions really took their time before breaking down a stubborn Motherwell resistance. 

However, James Forrest’s goal in the fortieth minute, followed by two late strikes from Albian Ajeti (74) and Christopher Jullien (90+2), brought Neil Lennon's side to within six points of leaders Rangers with two games in hand.





Selamat Hari Merdeka Ke-63


Just what we need for Hari Merdeka! 

“Warisan” was written by Syed Haron Syed Ahmad and performed by Sudirman Hj Arshad way back in 1982 – and now beautifully rendered by Poovaa (born Poovanesvary Sri Rama):

 

I’m sure Sudirman would have been really proud of this cover. A heartrending song that is deeply moving. I have goosebumps! 

Poovaa says she hoped her version would spur love for the nation amongst all of us. 

Selamat Hari Merdeka to all Malaysians!

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Orchestra On the Go










The New York Philharmonic has no intention to mute its music. 

It has been more than five months since the US's oldest symphony orchestra, closed the doors to their famous Lincoln Center concert hall in March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic started to put a stranglehold on the city. In that time, over 23,000 New Yorkers are suspected to have died from Covid-19. 

"We like to think of the Philharmonic as New York's orchestra", its president Deborah Borda (left), a violinist, told CNN. "Our musicians, their life is making music. They have been completely cut off from being able to give their gift to people". 

And so, the solution, for now, is the rented Ford pickup, which made its debut on Friday. They plan to make three stops a day every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and will visit locations in New York’s five boroughs. 

Dubbed the "Bandwagon", it brings with it a sound system, support staff and a handful of musicians in tow. If the people can't come to Lincoln Center, Borda reasoned, bring the music to the people. 

The concert locations aren't announced ahead of time, in an effort to keep crowd size low and social distancing possible. Similarly, the concerts are kept short: 15 minutes at most, to keep large crowds from assembling. 

Each week's musicians and staff members are supposed to travel together to limit potential exposure to the virus. And, of course, they get regularly tested. 

But the future of the Philharmonic remains uncertain. David Geffen Hall, the 2,700-seat Lincoln Center concert hall the orchestra typically calls home, is restricted to 350 guests under the current CDC guidelines, Borda said. 

Obviously, that is not a practical arrangement. I read that ticket sales typically cover about half of the orchestra's expenses and the rest is covered by donors. Already, musicians' salaries have been reduced since March, and half of the orchestra's staff has been laid off. 

"Still, we're losing millions", Borda lamented. "This is the single most challenging time in the 178-year history of the Philharmonic". 

At least, the musicians get to perform and New Yorkers of all stripes get an opportunity to appreciate a world-class orchestra.

25 Million Cases










I daresay that except for a smattering of countries in Asia (e.g. India), Europe (e.g. France, Russia and Ukraine) and the Americas (e.g. US, Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Argentina), Covid-19 is in slow retreat. 

Sure, I acknowledge that more than 25 million people from all around the world have been infected with the disease and on top of that, 845,000 have lost their lives  but I do feel hopeful, even optimistic.

The Top 12 are still the same twelve worst-affected countries the last time I reported on the pandemic. Combined, they constitute 73.9% and 77.6% of the world tally in cases and fatalities respectively. 

Besides, when we scrutinize daily cases, the dozen countries referred here account for 77.7% of the world total as at August 30, 2020, 00:00 GMT. And that says a lot.



 








Liverpool lost out to Arsenal for silverware in the Community Shield at an empty Wembley Stadium yesterday. 

The match had eked out a 1-1 draw. In the twelfth minute, the Gunners had struck first before Reds sub Takumi Minamino equalized in the seventy-third minute.

And then, the shootout. Rhian Brewster, brought on in stoppage time, hit the crossbar  the only one not converted. Sigh, the Reds are the first side ever to lose the Community Shield on penalties in back-to-back years.

I have no doubt that Liverpool’s display left plenty to be desired. To be sure, a sloppy side that had fallen short.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Latin America Hits 7 Million Cases










Latin America finds itself mired in a desperate situation insofar as Covid-19 is concerned. 

The virulent pathogen is stalking and hurting many countries – and yesterday, it breached the 7-million mark. Its caseload and fatality numbers represent 28.5% and 32.2% of the world total respectively. 

You may be interested to know that among the 12 worst-hit countries in Latin America, they combine to account for 98% and 99% of the region’s total confirmed cases and deaths. And 8 of those countries are among thirty nations from around the world yielding 100,000 cases or more. 

In Malaysia, the residents of Slim, a small, rural, Malay-majority constituency in Perak ensured that BN (actually UMNO) retained 13,060 votes to win the by-election today. It's a 10,945-vote majority.

Mahathir Mohamad’s party, Pejuang which made their debut lost, having secured only 2,115 votes.

RMCO Extended

Malaysia’s RMCO has been extended until December 31, 2020.  This means we will continue as we have been doing and keep the SOPs still. 

I hope we are not following New Zealand and trying to go for an elimination strategy because that simply won’t work. What we must do is to "manage" the spread of Covid-19. 

From the number of cases, the situation is well under control – and in the event of a spike in infections, the government will implement targeted MCOs, as they have done before – which is the correct thing to do. 

BTW, this is also what China is doing – except that the country has now fully opened up.






With 9,306 cases, we are in a good situation at #91 in the list of countries that are affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

We’re way better off than countries like Denmark (#77 with 16,700 cases), South Korea (#75 with 19,077 cases), Australia (#69 with 25,448 cases), Singapore (#49 with 56,666 cases), Japan (#44 with 65,573 cases), Netherlands (#42 with 69,131 cases), Belgium (#39 with 83,500 cases) and Sweden (#37 with 83,958 cases), for example. Just so you know, 30 nations are saddled with 100,000 or more cases.

Beijing 2020








The last time I was in Beijing, China was in July 2012. 

Time flies because Beijing today is vastly different. Indeed, China has changed so much that you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know that the above pic is that of the Beijing skyline. 

I got too many things on my bucket list and China is one of them. I would dearly love to make a return visit to Beijing. And if I do get that opportunity, I want to also include these places: Qingdao, Shanghai, Ürümqi, Zhangjiajie, among other locations. 

Yesterday’s Kelab Pidato Perdana meeting was particularly engrossing because we learned about “pantun” and how to craft it. 

"Pantun" is a ‘poetic’ verse that often consists of a stanza of four lines with a rhyming “a-b-a-b” scheme. The first and second lines are figurative, i.e. they do not refer to the purpose or meaning (“pembayang” in Malay), while the last two contain the actual message (“makna”). 

It’s traditional poetry, akin to haikus, sonnets, limericks and rhyming poems. As opposed to the free verse poem that obeys no rules whatsover. 

At the meeting, I was an evaluator as well as one of the five speakers. And yes, we were required to incorporate a “pantun” into our speech. Believe me, it wasn’t a walk in the park  but I guess I managed to scrape through!







Friday, August 28, 2020

Bottom of the Shitpile


The US is paying dearly for Donald Trump’s gross incompetence. Now, Covid-19 has claimed 185,000 lives and already infected more than 6 million. 

A Pew Research Center survey released Thursday found that a clear majority of people across 14 selected advanced economies had said their own nation had handled Covid-19 well: 73% agreed, while 27% disagreed. 

Except for the United Kingdom and the United States where the figures were starkly much lower: 46% and 47% respectively. They're the only two countries below the 50% passing mark. Hmmm, why am I not surprised? 














In every other country polled, most people said their government did alright, from Spain and Japan with 54% and 55% respectively up to Australia and Denmark with 94% and 95% respectively. 

And that leaves the UK and US sitting at the bottom of the shitpile. Citizens of the two countries should raise a ruckus for their governments’ abject failures! With Boris Johnson and Trump in charge, what do you expect?!?!

The Washington DC-based think tank conducted nationally representative telephone surveys of adults in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, UK and the United States. And 14,276 adults were interviewed by telephone from June 10 to August 03.

It's Jacob Blake's Turn








It’s happened again in the US of A! 

On Sunday, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot in the back at point-blank range by police as he stepped into a car with his three children aged three, five and eight inside. 

A viral video taken from one vantage point showed an officer pump seven rounds into the apparently unarmed man’s back. 

Police said they were responding to a domestic incident, but so far it is unclear who called the police, how many officers were involved, and what happened before the shooting. Lawyers for Blake said he had been trying to "de-escalate a domestic incident" when police drew their weapons. 

The person who shot the video, Raysean White, told CNN that before he began filming, he saw police wrestle, punch and taser Blake. It was then he started recording. 

Blake is shown walking around the front of the SUV. The two officers closest to Blake at this point on the video are white males. As he opens the door and leans into the car, one officer can be seen grabbing his shirt and opening fire. Seven shots can be heard in the video, as witnesses shout and scream. 

Thankfully, he survived. Although on Tuesday, Blake’s family said he is paralyzed from the waist down – although doctors do not know if it is permanent. 

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's department of justice announced the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave while investigations continue. As it is, the police have still not explained why Blake was fired upon. 

The shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin which ignited new protests over racial injustice is the latest instance of questionable use of force by police to be caught on camera. This incident comes just three months after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and which touched off a wider reckoning on race. 

As I have said before, nothing is going to change. 

Of course, we know that change needs to happen – but the powers-that-be won’t let it. If only Americans realize that. They can protest all they want but don't expect real change.

America is a sick country. The Jacob Blake incident only reinforces that belief.









Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Three Little Pigs

Those who know me can attest to my love of the English language – and by chance, I came across this John Branyan comedy skit that I would like to share. 

Pay attention to his retelling of the fable The Three Little Pigs – it is something like you’ve never heard before! And that’s because it is narrated in the language of William Shakespeare! It is simply awesome!

 

In the Champions League second qualifying round yesterday, the Scottish champions faced the Hungarian champions in Glasgow – and suffered their earliest Champions League exit in 15 years after falling to a shock defeat. 

Yes, Ferencvárosi TC were victorious, scoring a 2-1 victory. 

Neil Lennon (right) says his side must blame themselves. 

Celtic now drop into the Europa League third qualifying round, the draw for which takes place on Tuesday. 

But before that, there’s Sunday's game at home to Motherwell as they continue their quest to win a 10th consecutive domestic league title.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Shenzhen Has Full Standalone 5G Network Coverage

The hi-tech metropolis of Shenzhen is China’s first city to get full standalone 5G network coverage. 

Standalone networks – as opposed to non-standalone networks which are shared with 4G but cannot support some of 5G’s core capabilities – require infrastructure to be built from the ground up, a time-consuming and costly process. 

On Monday, Mayor Chen Rugui announced that the city has completed the goal set in 2019 to build 45,000 5G base stations by the end of August 2020, in a bid to support the establishment of the citywide 5G network. 

It is said that the city’s current 5G industrial scale as well as 5G base station and terminal shipments rank first among global peers. According to the city's Industry and Information Technology Bureau,.Shenzhen now has over 46,000 5G base stations. 

The next step is to promote the development of 5G industries by making breakthroughs in 5G technologies and building a comprehensive 5G application ecosystem. 

The tech hub in Guangdong Province in southern China is home to an impressive group of startups and tech heavyweights, including Huawei and Tencent.

 







KFC announced that they have halted their "Finger Lickin' Good" slogan given the current hygiene advice due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"We find ourselves in a unique situation  having an iconic slogan that doesn't quite fit in the current environment", the company explained. 

The global fast food giant revealed their new look through a YouTube video, showing the slogan pixelated on posters and their "buckets", saying: "That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now". 

I don’t believe the slogan is a health hazard; I suspect it’s more a marketing ploy. 

Anyway, KFC said the phrase would return when the time is right.

24 Million Cases









The World Health Organisation have suggested the pace of Covid-19 transmission is easing in much of the world. 

Of course, governments have been ramping up serious efforts to contain the disease, which has claimed the lives of at least 822,000 people and infected more than 24 million. 

The twelve worst-affected countries are still the same, whether in confirmed cases and/or deaths – and their aggregations account for 73.7% and 77.7% respectively. The big numbers are still coming from the United States, Brazil and India.










Yesterday was Liverpool’s second pre-season friendly against RB Salzburg – also in Austria. 

The match was the first time in 167 days that Liverpool played with spectators in the stands – Salzburg had given 1,250 lucky home supporters the opportunity to attend. 

The Reds had plenty of the ball without creating much, but every time the home side had possession they looked extremely dangerous. At half time, the Reds had trailed by two goals. 

But they produced a strong second-half fightback to draw 2-2 – Rhian Brewster's clinical double had saved the day! 

Next up: The more serious challenge of Arsenal in the FA Community Shield on Saturday.

In Mumbai, Digital Avatars Attend Virtual Convocation











At universities around the world, graduation ceremonies provide an opportunity to mark an educational achievement with family and friends, but the coronavirus pandemic has robbed students of the chance to do so in the traditional way. 

Embracing this new normal, one university in India has come up with a unique way of awarding students their degrees – using virtual reality. 

The avatars of more than 2,000 students from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay were awarded their certificates by an avatar of IIT director Subhasis Chaudhuri during their 58th annual convocation ceremony on Sunday.

 

According to a statement from the Indian government's Press Information Bureau, the event was broadcasted on two local TV channels as well as YouTube and Facebook Live. 

Last year, France announced a new digital services tax on multinational technology firms, but in January, the country said it would delay the tax until the end of 2020.

Still, Facebook have now agreed to pay the French government €106 million in back taxes to settle a dispute over revenues earned in the country. The payment covers the last decade of its French operations from 2009. 

The social networking giant also agreed to pay €8.46 million in taxes on revenues in France for 2020 – 50% more than in 2019. No details of the tax dispute were shared – but Facebook have been accused of not paying their fair share of tax in the countries where they operate. 

Other tech giants like Google, Apple and Amazon have already reached similar agreements with the French tax authorities.