Hunger games: India PM to fast as politics gets gutsy

 

NEW DELHI (AFP): India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lead a day-long fast on Thursday in a tit-for-tat protest against the opposition, whose leaders were caught feasting moments before they launched their own hunger strike. The rival protests are part of growing showdown between Modi’s ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its arch-rival Congress party ahead of a looming national election. Both sides have suffered social media ridicule over their fasts. Congress organised a five-hour hunger strike on Monday in a pre-emptive move against a BJP plan for its fast on Thursday. But the party was left red-faced after photos of senior leaders tucking into chickpea curry served with a savoury dough circulated on social media right before the fast. Congress faced sarcastic comments on Twitter, while the BJP called their protest a “joke”. With Modi set to lead Thursday’s protest, the BJP has reportedly issued strict rules to its lawmakers, including a ban on eating at public places or being photographed noshing on treats before Thursday. It is also shooing away street food vendors from the protest venue in New Delhi, according to the Mail Today daily. Congress has called the BJP’s plans “a farce of a fast”.

 

 The BJP has said it will reject food for a day to show anger at the disruption of parliamentary business by Congress. Parliament sessions are regularly suspended amid unruly shouting matches.

Modi will fast to expose Congress’s “undemocratic style of functioning and pursuing divisive politics and [an] anti-development agenda”.

Modi, a strictly observant Hindu and teetotal vegetarian, routinely fasts every year for the Navratri festival - a nine day ritual when he only takes liquids during daylight hours.

In a 2012 blog, Modi called his annual fast “an act of self-purification”.

 

 

 

Australian jailed for fake cancer scam

 

SYDNEY  (BBC): An Australian woman who faked having terminal cancer before scamming money from friends of her family has been jailed for three months. Hanna Dickenson, 24, accepted A$42,000 (£22,000; $31,000) after telling her parents that she needed medical treatment overseas. Her parents had received donations from their friends, a court was told. It heard Dickenson spent much of the money on holidays and socialising. A judge called the scam “despicable”. Dickenson had pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to seven charges of obtaining property by deception. In sentencing, magistrate David Starvaggi said Dickenson had “engaged in conduct that tears at the very heartstrings of human nature”. “People’s desire to assist and social trust has been breached. These are people who worked hard and dug into their own pockets,” he said. The court was told one person donated A$10,000 to Dickenson after being discharged from hospital following his own cancer treatment. Another person gave money on four separate occasions. The ruse was uncovered when another donor raised suspicions with police after seeing pictures of Dickenson on Facebook. Dickenson’s lawyer, Beverley Lindsay, argued that her client should be spared jail because she had “turned her life around”.

She also compared the deception to one involving an Australian celebrity blogger, Belle Gibson, who was fined A$410,000 last year after falsely claiming to have beaten brain cancer.

Ms Lindsay argued that her client’s offending was less severe than Gibson’s.

However Mr Starvaggi said the cases were not directly comparable, and that the court needed to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Ms Lindsay said her client was likely to appeal the sentence.

 

 

Australian jailed for fake cancer scam

 

SYDNEY  (BBC): An Australian woman who faked having terminal cancer before scamming money from friends of her family has been jailed for three months. Hanna Dickenson, 24, accepted A$42,000 (£22,000; $31,000) after telling her parents that she needed medical treatment overseas. Her parents had received donations from their friends, a court was told. It heard Dickenson spent much of the money on holidays and socialising. A judge called the scam “despicable”. Dickenson had pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to seven charges of obtaining property by deception. In sentencing, magistrate David Starvaggi said Dickenson had “engaged in conduct that tears at the very heartstrings of human nature”. “People’s desire to assist and social trust has been breached. These are people who worked hard and dug into their own pockets,” he said. The court was told one person donated A$10,000 to Dickenson after being discharged from hospital following his own cancer treatment. Another person gave money on four separate occasions. The ruse was uncovered when another donor raised suspicions with police after seeing pictures of Dickenson on Facebook. Dickenson’s lawyer, Beverley Lindsay, argued that her client should be spared jail because she had “turned her life around”.

She also compared the deception to one involving an Australian celebrity blogger, Belle Gibson, who was fined A$410,000 last year after falsely claiming to have beaten brain cancer.

Ms Lindsay argued that her client’s offending was less severe than Gibson’s.

However Mr Starvaggi said the cases were not directly comparable, and that the court needed to deter others from engaging in similar conduct.

Ms Lindsay said her client was likely to appeal the sentence.

 

Bite the dust at Bangkok’s ‘death awareness’ café

 

BANGKOK (AFP): Dying for a cup of coffee? You will feel right at home at Bangkok’s new “death awareness” cafe, a macabre, Buddhist spin on the themed-cafe craze where customers are urged to confront their own mortality - and live better lives as a result. With drinks called “death” and “painful” on the menu and a skeleton splayed out on a couch in the corner, the meet-your-maker theme is alive and well at this open-air lunch spot in the Thai capital. But the centrepiece of the “Kid Mai (Think New) Death Cafe” experience is a decorated white coffin where customers are encouraged to lay down for a few minutes to contemplate their final moments - and secure a discount on a drink. “I feel like I am in a funeral,” 28-year-old Duanghatai Boonmoh said with a laugh as she sipped a chocolate “death smoothie” on a recent Saturday afternoon. She and other curious customers took turns climbing into the wooden box as friends sealed the lid. “The first thing that came to my mind was, what if no one opens it?” Duanghatai said after emerging from the coffin. “How you going to tell everyone that ‘I’m here, I’m still alive,’? I think that’s probably the feeling you have when you know you’re going to die soon,” she added. The cafe’s owner says his restaurant is more than just a gimmick or dark take on the cute and cuddly coffee shops common in the Thai capital, which boasts everything from cat, husky and meerkat cafes to unicorn and mermaid-themed eateries.

A professor and social researcher, Veeranut Rojanaprapa conceived of the cafe as a way to teach Thai people - some 90 percent of whom identify as Buddhist - about the benefits of “death awareness”.

“We found that having an awareness of death decreases greed and anger,” explained Veeranut, whose giggly demeanour belies his fascination with more morbid matters.

He believes the Buddhist concept, rooted in ideas of impermanence and selflessness, is the key to ridding Thai society of chronic problems like violence and corruption.

“When one is aware of their own death, they will do good. This is what our Lord Buddha teaches,” he explained.

The casket experience is also a way to nudge the country’s technology-addicted youth to step back and reassess their personal lives.

“When teenagers go down to the coffin and our staff close the coffin, because of the darkness, because of the small space, they will be aware of themselves... they will recall the things that they still haven’t done,” said Veeranut, adding that he makes a point of considering his own demise nightly.

The professor is not the first to offer a resurrection experience in Thailand, where a temple outside Bangkok is famous for hosting symbolic funerals for devotees looking to clear their souls of bad karma.

But his cafe and coffin sit squarely in the middle of a local community centre in northern Bangkok, offering a public - and morbid - reminder of mortality that not everybody in the neighbourhood is happy about.

The cafe has also spread out to a public walkway, which is now posted with signs asking questions like: “What is the purpose of your life?”

“This is so disturbing. I feel really strange walking there and might avoid this shortcut,” one netizen wrote on a neighbourhood Facebook page.

Yet Veeranut says he welcomes any controversy as a sign of success.

“I love all of the complaints. Because if they are complaining it means they are thinking about death, they are aware of death.”

 

Japan team maps ‘semi-infinite’ rare earth reserves

 

TOKYO (AFP): Japanese researchers have mapped vast reserves of rare earth elements in deep-sea mud, enough to feed global demand on a “semi-infinite basis,” according to a fresh study. The deposit, found within Japan’s exclusive economic waters, contains more than 16 million tons of the elements needed to build high-tech products from mobile phones to electric vehicles, according to the study, released Tuesday in the journal “Scientific Reports.” The team, comprised of several universities, businesses and government institutions, surveyed the western Pacific Ocean near Minamitorishima Island, Japan. In a sample area of the mineral-rich region, the team’s survey estimated 1.2 million tons of “rare earth oxide” deposited there, said the study, conducted jointly by Yutaro Takaya, researcher with Waseda University and Yasuhiro Kato of the University of Tokyo, among others.

The finding extrapolates that a 2,500-square kilometre region off the southern Japanese island should contain 16 million tons of the valuable elements, and “has the potential to supply these metals on a semi-infinite basis to the world,” the study said. The area reserves offer “great potential as ore deposits for some of the most critically important elements in modern society,” it said. The report said there were hundreds of years of reserves of most of the rare earths in the area surveyed.

The team has also developed an efficient method to separate valuable elements from others in the mud.

The world relies heavily on China for rare earths, with Beijing producing most of the elements currently available on the market.

But Beijing has severely restricted exports of these products at times of diplomatic tension.

In 2010, for example, Japanese manufacturers faced serious supply shortages as China limited the valuable exports.

That came after Japan arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler that was involved in a run-in with Japanese coastguards near the disputed Senkaku Islands, claimed by China as the Diaoyus.

The Japanese study stressed the importance of the efforts to develop efficient and economic methods to collect the deep-sea mud.

“The enormous resource amount and the effectiveness of the mineral processing are strong indicators that this new (rare-earth rich mud) resource could be exploited in the near future,” the study said.