Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fashion: Van Gogh Sunflowers and ‘Sleeping Beauty’

From The International Herald Tribune:

Fashion: Van Gogh Sunflowers and 'Sleeping Beauty'

Van Gogh meets Walt Disney sounds like a dangerous liaison. And so it was when Rodarte brought sunflowers bright and faded into the orbit of the ''Sleeping Beauty'' movie.

If you half-closed your eyes you could see the small-waisted, full-skirted dresses as a symbol of an era of innocence, their surfaces decorated with the vivid sunshine symbols of a tortured artist.

It should have been a magic moment during New York's spring/summer 2012 season. But the eyes of the audience were drawn more to Beyoncé sitting front row, puffy rompers covering the early signs of pregnancy. The star looked half-ridiculous but mostly cute. The models looked awkward.

For it turns out that refreshing the dress, which is a big story in American fashion, is not as simple as it seems. The winning looks are cut on geometric lines or decorated with the ubiquitous digital flower prints.

Where did the Mulleavy sisters lose their touch at Rodarte? There were other outfits in vivid mixes of blue and green that had an allure — although not the dark undertone usually associated with the design duo, who said they were obsessed with the saturated, filmic colors of Disney's 1959 ''Sleeping Beauty.''

But Van Gogh has popped up many times before in fashion, not least as the compelling beaded jackets of embroidered sunflowers and irises from Yves Saint Laurent in 1988. Kate and Laura Mulleavy did not push their concept forward enough to make it seem like more than just another floral frock.

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Americans now looking to Asia more than Europe

From The International Herald Tribune:

Americans now looking to Asia more than Europe


BERLIN — Americans are turning their attention away from Europe toward Asia in what could mark the beginning of a major shift in the relationship between nations across the Atlantic, according to an annual survey published Wednesday.

The survey, Trans-Atlantic Trends 2011, is a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo, a centuries-old private foundation in Italy.

Over the past 10 years, Trans-Atlantic Trends has been conducting extensive surveys on both sides of the Atlantic about how the Americans and Europeans view each other and the policies of their leaders.

This year, the survey showed that a majority of U.S. respondents (51 percent) felt that Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea were more important to national interests than the countries of the European Union (38 percent).

The results are a significant reversal in attitudes among Americans from 2004, when a majority of U.S. respondents (54 percent) viewed the countries of Europe as more important to their vital interests than the countries of Asia.

This year's survey ''marks a potential sea change for the trans-Atlantic relationship,'' Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund, said in introducing the report. ''We may have arrived at a watershed moment when the United States looks west to the Far East as its first instinct. This is a moment when trans-Atlantic leaders need to step up and lead.''

The report showed how a generation gap has emerged among Americans, with most young people aged 18 to 24 having a favorable opinion of China (59 percent) but older people, aged 45 to 54, feeling less so (33 percent).

Seventy-six percent of younger Americans identified Asia as more important to their national interests, as opposed to 31 percent of Europeans who felt that way.

In contrast, the Europeans see China as an economic opportunity rather than a threat. Majorities in The Netherlands, Sweden, Britain and Germany said they considered China an economic opportunity. This was the reverse of the United States, where 63 percent of respondents felt that China was an economic threat and 31 percent saw it as an opportunity.

There were, however, few differences among respondents over how governments should cope with the economic crisis on both sides of the Atlantic.

Half the European respondents preferred to decrease government spending rather than maintain current levels or increase it. More than 60 percent of Americans thought the same.

Yet while 67 percent of European respondents considered E.U. membership good for the economy, only 40 percent of respondents among the 17 euro-zone countries felt that the euro had been good for their country's economy. In the United States, 82 percent of respondents said they had been affected by the economic crisis, compared to 61 percent in Europe. Majorities across Europe disapproved of their governments' handling of the economy.

The fight against terrorism, which over the past few years has divided Europeans and strained Europe's ties with the United States, has led to new attitudes.

For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) said they were pessimistic about the chances of stabilizing Afghanistan. European pessimism remains high (66 percent). Both Americans and Europeans said they believed troop levels should be reduced or withdrawn. About 62 percent of American and European respondents believed that NATO was essential.

In regard to efforts to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, 62 percent of European respondents said they believed that the European Union should be involved; 29 percent said the Union should stay out completely. In the United States, 43 percent believed in playing a role, and 50 percent said America should stay out completely.

The surveys were conducted by phone and in person from May 25 to June 17 in the United States, Turkey and 12 E.U. countries: Britain, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. A random sample of 1,000 adults was interviewed in each country. The margin of sampling error in each was plus or minus three percentage points.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

An architect concocts his tropical dream house in Cambodia

From The International Herald Tribune:

An architect concocts his tropical dream house in Cambodia

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA — As a young Cambodian architect in the 1960s, Borath Ros never imagined it would take nearly half a century before he would build his tropical dream house. Nor would he have predicted that his son and daughter would help him design it.

Mr. Ros was a student during the height of the modernist, Le Corbusier-inspired, concrete-enamored movement known as New Khmer Architecture, which established Cambodia as a regional beacon of urban design in the decade after the country's independence from France in 1953.

But in 1972, as the Khmer Rouge were fighting to take power, Mr. Ros and his French wife, Danièle, fled Cambodia to build a life in Paris.

It would be 20 years before they would return, eventually taking up residence in 2001 in Siem Reap, the provincial town near the Angkor Wat temples, where Mr. Ros, 68, is a deputy director of Apsara, the government agency that protects the temples.

When the couple decided to build a home, Mr. Ros sought a style that would combine his influences as an adult — Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn — with the classic Cambodian features he recalled from childhood: a country house built on stilts and surrounded by water and lush greenery.

''In the first place, the concept was to build a house that was traditionally Khmer but with a modern interpretation,'' Mr. Ros said. ''In the second, I wanted to work as a team.''

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Addicts in Vietnam used as ‘forced labor’

From The International Herald Tribune:

Addicts in Vietnam used as 'forced labor'


BANGKOK — The Vietnamese government calls it ''labor therapy,'' a program to keep drug addicts off the streets and move them into treatment centers where they process cashew nuts, sew garments, weave baskets — any work that might help them get back on their feet.

But a report released Wednesday by a U.S. human rights organization says labor therapy is nothing more than a brutal system of sweatshop servitude in the guise of a social program.

Drug addicts are paid little or nothing for their work and can be subject to beatings with wooden truncheons, shocks with electrical batons and solitary confinement, says the Human Rights Watch report, which is based on interviews with 34 former detainees. Some of the products made in rehab centers are destined for export to the United States and Europe.

''Forced labor and physical abuse are not an adjunct to drug dependency treatment in Vietnam. Rather, they are central to how the centers operate,'' says the report, ''The Rehab Archipelago.''

Vietnam, like many other countries in East Asia, handles people addicted to illegal drugs through a special administrative system that is separate from criminal courts. Drug addicts are sent, often by the police, to centers for rehabilitation rather than punishment. Or so the theory goes. Similar systems exist in China, Malaysia and Thailand, countries which coincidentally or not have teeming urban areas but relatively low levels of random violent crime.

The Vietnamese minister of labor, invalids and social affairs, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, who oversees the centers, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment about the Human Rights Watch report. But Vietnamese government documents have in recent years promoted the system as a way for drug addicts, many of them heroin users, to restore their dignity and learn the value of honest work.

The camps, which have their roots in a re-education system established by the victorious North after the war with the United States ended in 1975, have been judged a success by the government, and over the past decade the number of drug rehabilitation centers has more than doubled to 123. At this start of this year, the Ministry of Labor reported that the centers held a total of about 40,000 people. The government has extended the maximum length of time addicts can spend in the camps from one year to four.

Human Rights Watch alleges that the system has degenerated into a for-profit network of de facto factories. Rehabilitation centers are given tax exemptions for the goods they produce and are expected to be self-financing. The focus of the centers is making money, not treating drug addiction, the report says. Relapse rates, it notes, are often above 80 percent. The report quotes one former detainee saying that the only attempt at drug rehabilitation was marching and chanting slogans like ''Try your best to quit drugs!''

In the generally opaque world of Vietnamese manufacturing, with layers of contractors and subcontractors, some foreign companies have discovered that their products are being stitched by detainees in these centers.

One center produced mosquito nets for a Swiss company, Vestergaard Frandsen. Detainees in another center sewed jacket liners destined for Columbia Sportswear, a U.S. company. The involvement of a detention center in manufacturing the jacket liners was a ''surprise to us,'' Peter Bragdon, senior vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Columbia Sportswear, said by phone.

A contractor had subcontracted the work to the drug rehab center, Mr. Bragdon said. The company has terminated its business with the contractor and plans to give away the 847 pieces stitched by the detainees to charity. ''Involuntary labor of any kind is unacceptable to us,'' Mr. Bragdon said.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vann Nath, 65, artist and Cambodian genocide survivor

From The International Herald Tribune:

Vann Nath, 65, artist and Cambodian genocide survivor

Vann Nath, an artist who was one of only a handful of survivors of the Khmer Rouge torture center Tuol Sleng, and who lived to testify two years ago at the trial of his jailer, has died in Phnom Penh. He was 65.

The cause was cardiac arrest, his family said after his death on Monday, adding that he had been in a coma for three days. He had suffered from kidney disease and other ailments for years.

Shackled and tortured along with other prisoners when he was arrested at the end of 1977, Mr. Vann Nath was spared by his jailers to paint portraits of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. His more recent paintings of scenes of torture hang on the walls of Tuol Sleng, now a museum in Phnom Penh.

Just 14 prisoners are known to have survived Tuol Sleng, where at least 14,000 people were sent to their deaths, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a repository of Khmer Rouge records. Altogether, 1.7 million people died during the Khmer Rouge rule, from 1975 to 1979.

Mr. Vann Nath's 1998 memoir, ''A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge's S-21 Prison,'' is the most vivid written account by a survivor.

Mr. Vann Nath's death came as long-delayed trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders were under way. He was the first survivor to testify, in 2009, against the Tuol Sleng commandant, Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, who is now appealing a sentence that the judges reduced to 19 years from 35.

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Housing rights trampled in Cambodia in rush for duty-free access to E.U.

From The International Herald Tribune:

Housing rights trampled in Cambodia in rush for duty-free access to E.U.


PHNOM PENH — Kong Song's farmland was his family's livelihood for three decades, until bulldozers tore down his home in rural Cambodia to make way for a multimillion-dollar foreign-led business.

His family was one of 253 forcibly evicted five years ago in southern Koh Kong Province to accommodate a $90.6 million sugar project by a company lured by duty-free exports to the European Union, which were designed to help the world's poorest countries.

This is the flip side of a foreign investment boom in which the powerful cash in at the expense of what rights groups estimate is about 30,000 Cambodians forcibly pushed from their homes every year.

The evictions and so-called land grabs have angered donors, putting at stake hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid as well as a trade plan that gives Cambodian products tariff-free access to the European Union.

Mr. Kong Song is fighting back. He and his neighbors have filed a lawsuit against the Koh Kong Sugar Industry, a joint venture with Khon Kaen Sugar of Thailand and Vewong Corp. of Taiwan. But, as with most legal challenges against the business elite of Cambodia, it has gone nowhere.

''We're demanding that Cambodia's development is development for all, not the kind that makes its people shed tears,'' Mr. Kong Song said during a visit to the capital, Phnom Penh.

Neither Koh Kong Sugar nor Khon Kaen Sugar responded to interview requests.

Mr. Kong Song's story is common in Cambodia. He survived the 1975-79 ''Year Zero'' revolution by the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime and rebuilt his life, cultivating a small plot of land in the countryside.

But land ownership was abolished under the brutal regime, and most legal documents were destroyed, leaving Mr. Kong Song and millions of other Cambodians without title deeds.

That puts him and others in a legal gray zone during a wave of development led by politically connected businesses and foreign companies, mostly from China, that line up to buy up disputed land to start agriculture, mining or real estate projects.

International donors and lenders like the World Bank have criticized the Cambodian government and threatened to halt loans until a solution is found. The government's response has been to cancel its annual meeting with donors, citing global economic uncertainty and saying that Western countries are ''mired in crisis.''

The trend has raised questions about whether Cambodia should be entitled to an initiative by the European Union that allows 48 of the world's poorest countries to export any products other than weapons to E.U. member countries without paying tariffs.

Foreign companies have capitalized on the deal, known as the Everything But Arms initiative, and many more are showing interest in Cambodia, including sugar, rice and rubber exporters from neighboring Thailand.

The subsequent foreign investment has created thousands of jobs, especially in garment manufacturing, which employs 300,000 of Cambodia's 13.4 million people and is among the largest revenue sources for its fledgling economy.

It has also elevated Europe as a crucial export destination. The European Union was Cambodia's second-largest export market last year, after the United States, generating about €930 million, or $1.3 billion. That was an increase of 29 percent from 2009.

The most-recent E.U. data show that the revenue generated in the first five months of this year is already double that of the whole of 2010. Rice exports are expected to swell further after doubling to 40,000 tons in 2010 from the previous year.

The Union's chargé d'affaires in Cambodia, Rafael Dochao Moreno, said that tax incentives had made the country an attractive destination for investment, and that the Union was ''seriously concerned'' about land disputes and evictions.

''Thousands of families have been expelled from their land,'' Mr. Moreno said. ''We want the government to take the necessary steps to avoid this kind of eviction, especially when they are done by force and with violence.''

He said that the Cambodian government needed to conduct proper consultations before granting economic land concessions, and that projects could have privileges withdrawn if found to have been involved in unlawful evictions.

''There are indeed provisions outlining the procedure of temporary withdrawal of certain products originating in a country benefiting from the'' agreement, Mr. Moreno said.

Such penalties could undermine Cambodia's efforts to position itself as one of the most promising frontier markets in Asia and instead highlight its struggle to tame corruption.

Alexandra Herbel, head of the French-Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, said that Western companies looking to do business in Cambodia were eager to ''invest correctly'' and that most would avoid projects associated with disputed land or evictions.

The Cambodian commerce secretary of state, Mao Thura, said steps should be taken to ensure E.U. privileges were not withdrawn, but he would not provide specifics.

''The people who benefit from the E.B.A. are a few million,'' Mr. Mao Thura said during a recent forum on the E.U. initiative. ''We're not just talking only about the garment sector. Millions of our people are farmers.''

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