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Dispatches : Politics

"The Cove" Canceled in Japan as Protests Grow

Amid mounting pressure from protesters, screenings of The Cove have been canceled across Japan, according to treehugger.com. The Oscar-winning documentary is being labeled by angry picketers as a "betrayal of Japanese pride." The Japanese distributor of the documentary cited concern for moviegoers' safety as the cause for the cancellations. Check out director Louis Psihoyos's response in the video above.

The documentary, which investigates the Japanese whaling industry, has significantly raised awareness of the presence of whale meat in sushi restaurants and fish markets worldwide. For more on The Cove, read our breakdown of the film.

--Shauna Sweeney

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American Hikers Jailed in Iran Get Engaged

Being in prison won't stop the American hikers jailed for crossing into Iran in July from continuing to live their lives. Shane Bauer has just proposed to Sarah Shourd, giving her a ring that he made with thread taken from his shirt, ABC News reports. Their mothers, who visited them in Iran last week, are delighted by the news, although saddened that they had to return to the U.S. without securing their children's freedom.

Iran has not formally charged the three American hikers--the third one, Josh Fattal, will be best man at the wedding--and they have not been allowed to see their attorneys. Iran's Intelligence Minister Haidar Moslehi has called the three Americans "spies" on state TV.

The U.S. has no official diplomatic relations with Iran and has just imposed new sanctions as a reaction to Iran's nuclear-power-building activity. But Moslehi is willing to discuss an exchange of prisoners if the U.S. returns the favor of making a humanitarian gesture like Iran did when it allowed the hikers' mothers to see their incarcerated children.

You can read the original story by Joshua Hammer about the hikers in Outside's May issue.

--Aileen Torres

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Burma: Guns, Beer, and Democracy

For Us F In the late '90s, God's Army, a Burmese anti-government guerrilla group, was headline news. The front-page draw wasn't that they were violent revolutionaries but that they were a group of child soldiers. After reading Mac McClelland's For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question, it's understandable how such a group would form, after years of persecution of Burma's ethnic Karen minority by the military government.

McClelland traveled to Thailand to stay with Karen refugees running a political organization that documents violence against the Karen and promotes democracy through community organizing. She arrived to a foreign frat house full of dudes who didn't seem all too welcoming at first. But once she got over the initial culture shock, she got fired up about doing her part--teaching English and learning about the Karen.

Some serious bonding happened in the six weeks McClelland lived at the BA house. Outside caught up with the young writer, now the human rights reporter for Mother Jones, to talk about the experience.  

For the record: Is it Burma or Myanmar. Why?
It's Burma. The junta changed the name to Myanmar in 1989, and refusing torecognize the non-elected leaders' right to do so can be an act of dissidencein itself. Democracy activists from Burma call it Burma, and I'm certainly notgoing to argue with them.

You don't speak Burmese. What made you decide to live in the BA House?
Some of my housemates didn't speak Burmese so well either. Since they're ethnic Karen, Karen is their first language. But I had no idea what language they were going to speak. For security reasons, BA didn't tell me anything about the people I'd be living with. I wanted to live with them, whoever they were, because I wanted to know what the hell was going on with this massive refugee crisis on the Thai-Burma border, and I assumed they must speak some English if they agreed to my moving in. Which turned out to be the case. And before I left, I did learn to say a couple really important things in Karen, like "white people" and "eat something."

The dialogue flows smoothly in the book. How were you able to communicate so many thoughts and feelings with such a big language barrier?
We definitely had our misunderstandings, which come up in the book. But a lot of the guys did have pretty significant English skills, which they learned from Western teachers in their refugee camps. When all else failed, we drew pictures or gesticulatedwildly.

You were living in a house that was pretty much a commune with a bunch of dudes, except for a few females. How'd you adjust?
Beer, mostly. As drinking buddies, we became pretty fast friends. Also, you have to lose any self-pity for your mild discomfort or disorientation pretty quick when you’re hanging around with a bunch of genocide survivors.

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Video: Hampton Sides On The Colbert Report

Hampton Sides appeared last night on The Colbert Report to talk about his new book, Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for his Assassin. Sides wrote about Bear Grylls in our May issue.

--Aileen Torres

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Understanding the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 has ballooned into an environmental and economic issue of extreme importance. What was at first reported as one of the worst oil drilling accidents of the last 50 years has evolved into an economic and environmental disaster that may dwarf the Exxon Valdez spill. An oil slick, currently larger than the state of Rhode Island, amoebas towards the United States coast, along the way wreaking havoc on the sea life in its path, releasing toxic chemicals into the air, and changing the political debate on offshore drilling. At risk are wetlands that serve as a buffer against storms, sea creatures that fishermen depend on for their livelihoods, energy prices that were softening in the current market, and tourism along the Gulf Coast.

Here's a quick five-point primer on understanding what happened based on an aggregation of news reports. Please click on the individual links included below from The New York Times, LA Times, NPR, Bloomberg, Business Insurance, Politico, the AP, and others for in-depth explanations.

5. What Happened? On April 20th, a drilling rig contracted to oil giant BP blew up while exploratory drilling in 5,000-feet of water in the Macondo prospect, 50 miles off the Lousiana coast. Eleven of the 126 workers on the rig went missing and are presumed dead. It was unclear what caused the explosion, but experts think there was an accidental ignition of natural gas or oil. BP's chairman recently said the explosion occurred because of faulty equipment, after accusations the company's safety record suggested negligence. Initial reports a day after the explosion indicated environmental damage appeared minimal. Then, the rig went from leaning at a 10-degree angle to sinking two days after the explosion.

4. The Immediate Economics: The slick grew as experts discovered three leaks spewing an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf a day. The coming economic and environmental cost morphed into something frightening. Economic estimates put the current damage over $1 billion. Much of the money to address that damage may come from the $1.6 billion government reserve meant to clean up oil spills. The government taxes oil companies 8 cents a barrel, and that money helps build up the reserve. The offshore oil rig company is responsible for up to $75 million in liability. The government can go after BP for cleanup costs. As of May 1, 36 lawsuits were filed by beachfront property owners, fishermen, and others who will be directly affected by the spill. Consumers across the country may see a spike in seafood prices in local supermarkets.

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