Tasmania's isolation and wilderness once made it a dumping ground for the British Empire's convicts. But these same qualities, and a small population of just over half a million people, make the island one of the cleanest places on earth. Indeed, Tasmania is the only Australian state to ban genetically modified (GM) food crops and animal feed making it a model of high-end, high-value agricultural production. However, even this pristine environment is under threat from technology. Tasmania’s powerful poppy industry – which is the largest supplier of pharmaceutical opiates in the world – is pressuring the government not to extend the GM ban when the moratorium expires later this year.
A German artist has turned a tiny surveillance booth used by the communist regime in the former East Germany to monitor citizens into an art exhibit to be installed in a museum near Los Angeles dedicated to the Cold War. Christof Zwiener rescued the booth from demolition which has so far been used by 10 artists to showcase their work in what must be one of the world’s smallest art galleries.
The authorities in China have been accused of trying to cover up factory pollution that has seen many children in the rural town of Dapu diagnosed with lead exposure. It was claimed that officials asked families to trade their child’s blood test results for milk which they said would flush lead from their bodies. Environmental pollution in agricultural towns is widespread and a side-effect of the country’s rapid economic growth. Cancer rates in some polluted villages are so high they are known as “cancer villages”.
A US billionaire is leading a campaign that would see the state of California separated into six smaller states. California is America’s most populous state and has the eighth largest economy in the world. Businessman Timothy Draper said his plan would create fairer, local governments, ease traffic congestion and solve the state’s ongoing water problems. He recently gathered enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot in 2016 but critics say his proposal would damage the economy.
Muslims in the restive region of Xinjiang in China have been told to ignore their religious customs during the holy month of Ramadan in what critics say is deliberate discrimination against the Uighur minority – a Turkic-speaking Muslim group that calls Xinjiang home. Chinese officials have stated that observing the religious holiday – which includes fasting during daylight hours – is a violation of Communist Party discipline. Xinjiang has seen sectarian violence erupt in the past between the Uighur and the Han Chinese majority.
Roma families in the Polish town of Andrychow have been staying in after dark and keeping their children home from school for fear of attack following a rise in anti-Roma tension in recent weeks. Radical nationalists – with help from the far-right leader, Robert Winnicki, of Ruch Narodowy, who has ties to Hungary’s Jobbik party (the biggest far-right movement in Europe who have used anti-Roma sentiment to gain votes and are often accused of racism) – staged a rally encouraging people to drive out the 100 or so Roma people living in the town of 20,000. Both Ruch Narodowy and Jobbik deny inciting racial hatred in Andrychow.
Residents in Berkeley, California, USA, will vote in November on whether to add tax to sugary drinks in the latest move to fight obesity. The college town, famous for its liberal activism, is to become the first city in America to impose such a measure if passed in an upcoming referendum. The penny-per-ounce tax has been lauded by residents and health advocates but some businesses have slammed the move as a “money-grab” amid fears that tax money will go into the city’s general fund.
An attempt to rename a street in front of the Chinese embassy in America after imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiabo has been called a “farce” by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Liu, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, was jailed in 2009 for 11 years for organising a petition to end one-party rule. The US and the European Union have repeatedly called for his release. If the vote goes through the street will be renamed “No. 1, Liu Xiabo Plaza”. Similar tactics were used in the past to pressure the South African government to release Nelson Mandela.
Thousands of kids are fleeing their impoverished homes in Honduras due to gang violence, heading for America in the hope of finding a better life. Many travel through Mexico on the roofs of freight trains and 52,000 children have been detained in the US after trying to cross the Mexican-American border in the last eight months alone. Much of the violence in Central America has been caused by gangs fighting for control over the illegal drug trade.
Three Al Jazeera journalists were jailed for seven years each in Egypt last week. Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and veteran correspondent Peter Greste (who formerly worked for the BBC) were found guilty of aiding a terrorist organisation after they interviewed members of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. The US has condemned the verdict as “chilling” and “draconian”, calling for it to be reversed. The reporters’ imprisonment has widely been viewed by critics as an attack on the freedom of the press.
Legendary US folk singer Bob Dylan’s handwritten manuscript for “Like a Rolling Stone” sold for over $2 million at an auction recently. The annotated lyrics for the 1965 hit, considered one of the most influential songs in post-war music, is now the most expensive rock music manuscript ever sold at auction – shattering the record set in 2010 when John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for “A Day in the Life” sold for $1.2 million. The lyrics were part of a Sotheby’s sale called A Rock & Roll History: Presley to Punk (which also included items from The Rolling Stones and Joni Micthell) and was the auction house’s first dedicated music history auction in over a decade, making more than $4 million in total.
The owner of a goldmine in Canada is selling his mine for $2 million in bitcoin – an online-only currency with no central or official control and often linked to illegal online black markets. The gold mine - located in Dawson City, the heart of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush - has the potential to produce 4000 ounces of gold per year, worth $5.9 million at current prices. Prices for gold have slumped by a third in the past 2-1/2 years after a decade-long rally, leaving many mines struggling to stay profitable.
An Iranian journalist working in the UK inspired an online phenomenon including half a million Facebook likes and thousands of women taking pictures of themselves without veils and posting them online. Masih Alinejad posted a picture of herself jumping in the air in a sunny London street with her hair showing and thousands of women in Iran followed suit despite it being obligatory for them to wear veils in the Islamic state. Iran’s state television was quick to condemn the page called “My Stealthy Freedom”, and accused Alinejad of drug addiction, perversion and insanity.
The discovery of a mass grave of children born to unwed mothers in Ireland has prompted people to question the Catholic Church’s role in their deaths. Some 796 “illegitimate” children are said to have died between 1925 and 1960 at so-called “mother-and-baby” homes run by the Catholic Church to care for single pregnant women and children born out of wedlock. The rate of death at this time was five times more than that of children born to married parents. The revelations have forced modern Ireland to take an uncomfortable look back at the treatment of pregnant single women who were viewed then as deeply immoral.
Original manuscripts and drawings by former Beatle John Lennon for two acclaimed books he wrote in the mid-1960s have been sold for $2.9 million at an auction. The 89 lots from Lennon’s books “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works” (written at the height of Beatlemania) went for more than double their pre-sale estimate. The auction marked 50 years since The Beatles’ first appearance in America on the Ed Sullivan show.
"Taking you to places where your mother would rather you stayed away from." That's how one Western travel agency advertises its tours to North Korea. Tourism to the secretive state has increased ten times in the last decade. Indeed, a rumoured 6000 westerners now visit every year to get a look inside an isolated state notorious for human rights abuses and alleged brainwashing of its people into god-like worship of dictator Kim Jong-un. Visitors are taken on closely-chaperoned tours and must obey strict rules which, if broken, can result in arrest.
Kenyan authorities seized 228 whole elephant tusks and 74 others in pieces as they were being packed for export in the port city of Mombasa, police and wildlife officials said. Poaching has surged in the last few years across sub-Saharan Africa, where gangs kill elephants and rhinos to feed Asian demand for ivory and horns for use in traditional medicines.
Prehistoric rock art depicting the changing landscape of the Sahara Desert thousands of years ago in Libya’s mountains has been destroyed by vandals. The carvings and cave paintings, said to be of “outstanding universal value”, were defaced by graffiti. Following the 2011 civil war which ousted dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan authorities have been criticised as too weak in tackling general lawlessness in the African nation.
A Stradivarius violin left in a closet for decades and formerly owned by a reclusive US heiress to a copper fortune, could sell for as much as $10 million at an auction. The rare violin belonged to Huguette Clark, who died in 2011 at 104 years old. The violin, one of only a few made by famous Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari in the 1700s, was left in a closet for 25 years and could become one of the most expensive musical instruments ever sold.
Mothers, scientists and environmentalists in the US have demanded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take seriously their concerns about the safety of the world’s most popular herbicide, Roundup, after residues of the chemical cocktail were found in breast milk. Pressure group Moms Across America are demanding a recall of Roundup having labelled it as “poison”. Its main ingredient, glyphosate, is currently under review by the EPA but has previously been declared safe.