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Ukrainian woman throws sauerkraut at Russian politician

Shouting "Ukrainophobe!," an angry woman seasons insults with sour cabbage.
Sour cabbage takes center stage in Ukraine.

Not everyone likes big boobs — for example, North Korea

North Korea's outlier status extends to feminine beauty.
No love for well-endowed women in North Korea.

Vietnam's execution cocktail dilemma

Firing squads are out. Injections are in. But who'll supply the poison?

Like many of its Communist brethren, Vietnam enforces the death penalty. The European Union abhors it.

This is a dilemma for Hanoi, which wants to use lethal injection drugs on its 500-plus prisoners on death row. Germany is a major supplier of sodium thiopental, a standard execution drug that's also used to induce anesthesia. But modern European mores dictate that enabling capital punishment is unethical and that Vietnam is unfit to receive the drug.

So, as the BBC and many other outlets are reporting, Vietnam now intends to create "domestic poisons" that will end the lives of its death row inmates.

Vietnam doesn't profess to care much about its death row inmates' condition. There's a reason Vietnam is suddenly seeking lethal drugs: last year, the government opted to quit using firing squads because it worried about the psychological toll on the shooters, not the anguish of the executed.

Those bound for execution — many of them drug traffickers — are reviled as "the seeders of white death to society," according to this excellent series on Vietnam's firing squads by the outlet Tuoi Tre. As Tuoi Tre uncovered, the firing squad was typically treated to an "alcohol-fueled party so that they could air their grievances and relieve their minds before going home."

Lethal injections are certainly easier on those tasked with carrying out state executions. But whether Vietnam's homegrown death cocktail will prove as painless to the executed as sodium thiopental — or offer a more painful death experience — remains to be seen. If it's the latter, the EU ban may inadvertently play a role in making the capital punishment system it disdains just a touch less humane.


China censors Cloud Atlas

Authority claims Chinese audience wanted more of a "popcorn movie," whatever that means.
China chops out 23% of "Cloud Atlas."

Changing the rhetoric from gun control to gun insurance

Could the NRA's own tactics be used against them?
Could the NRA's own tactics be used against them?

Man dies after pet dog accidentally runs him over

A 68-year-old Florida man has died after pet Boxer accidentally ran him over in a freak accident.
A 68-year-old Florida man has died after a pet Boxer ran him over in a freak accident, the Florida Highway Patrol has confirmed.

Why do mobile phone numbers outnumber humans in Cambodia?

An impoverished nation awash in SIM cards

Cambodia is among Southeast Asia's most impoverished nations where, according to the United Nations, the majority of the population gets by on just $1 a day.

But that hasn't stopped them from buying mobile phones like mad. As the Phnom Penh Post reports, the country has somehow managed to reach 20 million sales in SIM cards, the little chips inserted into cell phones that are encoded with unique phone numbers.

That's a wild statistic considering that the population stands at 14 million.

How is this possible?

For starters, SIM cards in Cambodia sell for just $2. Basic cell phone models run for about $20 and users can simply pop their SIM into a new handset when they upgrade.

Those prices aren't just a reflection of Cambodia's meager incomes. They're the outcome of intense competition among Cambodia's service providers. The loosely regulated and oversaturated market had, at one point, a whopping nine providers jockeying for customers.

And, finally, Cambodia's mobile phone mania is also owed to its decrepit infrastructure. As the CEO of the Cambodian provider Hello recently told the Phnom Penh Post, the "fixed line infrastructure in Cambodia is quite poor. So, this country has sort of leap-frogged technologies and gone straight to mobile."

All of that amounts to a telecommunications landscape marked by $2 cell phone numbers, effortless handset upgrades and cheap rates. Now don't you despise your U.S. carrier just a little more after reading this?


India: Is the justice system broken?

Rampant human rights violations, dismal conviction rates, skyrocketing crime, and nearly 400,000 inmates in prison--only a third of whom have actually been convicted. Justice, Indian style.

A wag once remarked that a trip through the Indian court system is as near to experiencing eternity as a living soul can get. But it's not just slow. Despite well-written laws and legions of well-intentioned cops, lawyers, judges, and activists, the Indian justice system is abusive, arbitrary, and above all ineffective.

In short, it's badly broken. And the only answer that seems to gain any traction is to make it tougher, or more arbitrary.  

The current arguments run that the death penalty to be meted out to rapists, or that juveniles should be tried as adults, or, as a cop friend pointed out, that the police must be freed from petty concerns about human rights, to strike fear of law and order into the hearts of criminals.

But consider some stats put together this week by the Wall Street Journal's Real Time blog, as part of a seris on the justice system.


India's rape protests reflect disenchantment with democracy

Indians feel betrayed by a democratic system that has entrenched extortion of its citizens, argues Prem Shankar Jha

They weren't really protesting against rape, Prem Shankar Jha argues in a persuasive and thought-provoking column in Tuesday's Hindu.  They were really protesting extortion.


"Barring a few lapses, the Central and State governments acted promptly, and with commendable efficiency," Jha writes. "The Delhi police captured the alleged rapists within hours and the government spared no expense in its attempt to save her life."

So why were people so angry?

"The answer is that the rape acted as the trigger for an older, and deeper, anger in people — one that has been smouldering for years in their hearts. This stems from a profound sense of betrayal. Democracy was meant to empower them. Instead, in a way that few of them understand even today, it has done the exact opposite."

I'm not entirely convinced. But as I wrote in my article on the protests, it does seem clear that anger over violence against women dovetailed with disgust over corruption and the government's many failures in service delivery.

More importantly, Jha draws out some interesting observations in arguing his point.

(1) Indians aren't mad about bribery, they're mad about extortion

Every Indian worth his salt has paid a bribe to get preferential treatment. But extortion isn't voluntary.

"It requires no contract; no negotiation; and therefore no element of consent. It is a simple exercise of brute power by an employee or representative of the state over the citizen. Its commonest form is to deny the citizen the services to which he is entitled until he agrees to make a ‘private’ payment to the functionary in whom the power of the state is vested. Every act of extortion is a fresh reminder to the citizen of his or her impotence. This becomes complete if he or she is denied redress for the abuse of power."

(2) Democracy hasn't empowered the people

"One set of figures illustrates the impunity with which civil servants can break the law. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report Crime in India 2007, between 2003 and 2007 citizens filed 282, 384 complaints of human rights abuses against the police. Of these only 79,000 were investigated; only 1,070 policemen were brought to trial and only 264 — less than one in a thousand — were convicted."


Myanmar air strikes creep closer to Chinese border

As mortars rain down, president hails military's "sacrifices in blood"

So much for peace in Myanmar.

Though lightly reported in the West, air assaults appear to be intensifying along the remote Myanmar-China border -- a mountainous zone where ethnic guerrillas and state forces are locked in combat.

These are scenes government leaders claim they want to leave behind: mortars lobbed into a populated insurgency town (Laiza, a stronghold located right on the Chinese border) and helicopter gunships firing munitions into guerrilla camps.

As I've written previously, hard facts from this region -- populated by the largely Christianized Kachin ethnic group -- are hard to come by. But several air strike locations on this map, created by a Kachin news outlet, are backed up by independent sources.

Myanmar's leaders -- eager to spotlight their grand new reforms -- have finally admitted to using attack aircraft on guerrilla forces that have none of their own.

That doesn't mean the nature of these attacks are entirely clear. Example: while the Kachin fighters claim to have shot down a chopper, the government reports a helicopter's "emergency landing due to engine failure" in which three crew members "sacrificed their lives for the country."

Meanwhile, President Thein Sein is lauding the "sacrifices in blood and sweat" made by Myanmar's military, according to Agence France-Presse. An op-ed in a Kachin news outlet warns that the government is "enouraging Balkanization" and that "there is no choice but to rebel."

Though failing to capture many headlines in America, this intensifying war at China's border could very well portend the course of a nation growing closer to the U.S. while continuing to suffer all-out ethnic conflict both in its mountains and on its coast.