Train track network to link Asian nations

Train lovers and travel nuts have long had a dream of going from Europe to Singapore by rail.

The journey to the East goes well as far as China, and the upgrading of tracks – sometimes with high-speed trains – is easing passage as far as Hong Kong.

From then on south, the rail buff, and potential cargo carriers, must wait just a few more years.

Diplomacy and funding from France and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have been agreed for the next step, from China to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

And there are more routes being built from Kunming in the Chinese province of Yunnan.

Regional transport specialists told the BBC that two-thirds of the line from Kunming to the Chinese side of the border is completed, and a project is under way on the Vietnamese side to Lao Khai on the border.

It will be possible to catch a train, or put a container on a train, from Singapore to Phnom Penh within two years, and from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City within five years.

The details are what you would expect. Just forget the Westerners recollection of coolies toiling like disturbed ants. That’s been dissipating since 1949.

Regional giants, Euro corporations with an interest in long-term global commerce participate in this vast new enterprise – as Asians have come to expect.

Americans think freight trains are those things that slow them down when they drive through small towns in Texas.

Sarkozy calls for the G8 to be broadened, modernized, replaced

Nicolas Sarkozy takes the stage at Doha
Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

The G8 has become “obsolete” as emerging economies change the global economic order, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has said.

Speaking on Saturday at the formal opening of the Doha-hosted UN summit on financing development, he said: “We [Europe] believe the G8, when it was formed, was useful but it is now obsolete…you could not resolve the current global economic crisis without China, Brazil…[and other emerging economic powers].”

Sarkozy also called for the Bretton Woods Institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – to be more inclusive and for better African representation within the UN Security Council.

“Africa, you must have your seat, you must have a fair place within international finance institutions. There is not a single African country that is a permanent member of the the UN Security Council,” he said.

“Within the IMF developing countries must have a seat and a much more important role to play…”

The reactionary concept of pre-qualifying participation is a leftover from days of imperial fiat, decades of colonialism. Somewhere along the timeline, representation is what has to count. Who do you speak for?

The farce of western industrial nations having a corner on democracy has been especially put to the test – and failed – by the New American Century hogwash. Even the sectarian duds who voted the Bush League politicians into power never really had any voice inside the ruling chambers.

Actor robots take Japanese stage

First there were dancing robots, then house-sitting robots and now a new breed of acting robots is making its big debut on the Japanese stage.

The play, which had its premiere at Osaka University, is one of Japan’s first robot-human theatre productions.

The machines were specially programmed to speak lines with human actors and move around the stage with them.

Playwright Oriza Hirata says the work raises questions about the relationship between humanity and technology.

Once you get away from the hustle, of course, you know the work raises questions about the relationship between humans and humans pretending not to be humans. That’s all.

Not that we have any shortage of robot-like actors.

13 countries in the Coalition of the Willing leaving Iraq

President Bush’s “coalition of the willing” is set to all but disappear from Iraq by the end of the year, with 13 countries, including South Korea, Japan, Moldova and Tonga preparing to withdraw their few remaining troops.

Britain, Australia, Romania, Estonia and El Salvador are the only nations, apart from the US, that plan to remain after a UN mandate authorising their presence expires on December 31.

London must still reach an agreement with Baghdad, however, to keep its 4,100-strong contingent on the ground into the new year. Failure to do so in time would leave British troops without legal cover and they too would have to leave…

President Bush and Tony Blair scrambled the coalition together in the build-up to the Iraq invasion in a bid to put an international face on what was fast becoming an unpopular war. But the list of participants drew scorn for failing to include a greater number of powerful states, with the US and Britain the main contributors.

While the coalition is dissolving, another force of foreigners is still thriving in the country: thousands of private contractors from developing countries such as Peru, Uganda, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

There are also 1100 visiting pimps from Hollywood, 3700 specialists in extortion from Somalia. Mexican drug dealers are scheduled for next spring.

Go to a bowl game. Visit the city next door. Get murdered!

The deadly violence that has taken a nasty hold on Juárez has caused Sun Bowl officials to cancel a long-standing tradition of taking representatives from teams in the annual classic to visit that city.

And officials say the practice may never resume.

We just think it’s not safe” to travel to Juárez, said Sun Bowl President John Folmer. “We used to take them over for bullfights, but, we’re still going to do everything we can to help them experience the culture.

“But what a tremendous disappointment it would be if something happened to one of our guests,” he said…

Juárez has been in the grip of a drug cartel war that has been responsible for many of the city’s 1,300 homicides since January.

I love the part where Juarez officials say the shooters try not to kill tourists. That’s reassuring.

Driver says God ordered 100 mph crash into a car


San Antonio, Texas — A speeding pickup rear-ended a woman’s sedan on the South Side on Friday morning and sheriff’s officials say the driver said it was Jesus’ will because the other motorist was not “driving like a Christian.”

The bizarre incident that shut down southbound U.S. 281 above the Medina River happened about 7:25 a.m.

“He just said God said she wasn’t driving right, and she needed to be taken off the road,” said Lt. Kyle Coleman of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

The driver of the pickup was identified in a Sheriff’s Office news release as Michael E. Schwab, 52, of Blooming Grove.

Schwab told first responders at the scene that “the other vehicle was not driving like a Christian and it was Jesus’ will for him to punish the car,” according to the release.

Investigators determined the female driver “had done nothing wrong,” according to the release.

You don’t actually need to be doing anything wrong to violate whatever some wingnut religious fanatic believes in. The poor lady’s car might have been the wrong color.

Sarkozy voodoo doll wins ‘right to humor’ in court

Amid deepening economic gloom, the tale of the voodoo doll of Nicolas Sarkozy has provided some needed light relief for the French.

Twice, the French president asked the courts to ban the sale of a figurine made in his image. On Friday, an appeals court dealt him the latest rebuff: not only can the doll remain on sale, but the judges ordered that it be sold with a bright-red banner on the packaging entitled “Judicial Injunction” and a warning that sticking needles into the doll affronts Sarkozy’s dignity.

In keeping with the often meticulous nature of French officialdom, the ruling Friday was very specific. The distributor of the dolls, K&B Editions, was ordered to write the notice that will be distributed with the doll in black block-lettering and it must say exactly this: “It was ruled that the encouragement of the reader to poke the doll that comes with the needles in the kit, an activity whose subtext is physical harm, even if it is symbolic, constitutes an attack on the dignity of the person of Mr. Sarkozy.”

Sarkozy retains his right to act like a fool. With or without dignity.

South Korean judge backs right-to-die plea

A family’s request to cease all medical assistance to a 75-year-old woman in a persistent vegetative state should be granted, a South Korean court has ruled.

Seoul Western District Court ruled Friday that the woman, identified only with the surname Kim, should be taken off life support and have her feeding tube removed as per the family’s request, the Yonhap News Agency said.

The judge’s ruling was unexpected given the fact it marked the first time in South Korea that a removal of life support has been legally approved, the report said. The fact the removal of life support was supported without the patient’s consent made the ruling particularly ground-breaking, Yonhap said.


Virginity testing forced upon Turkish students

A lawyer and the head of an education union in Turkey have objected to virginity testing incidents at two universities in the capital, Istanbul…

Their statements came after revelations of two incidents of forced virginity testing at Istanbul universities. In the first incident, a father was forced to obtain virginity tests from two hospitals for his daughter, identified as C.G., after the principal of the student’s dormitory accused her of engaging in sexual activities. The father said he plans to file a legal complaint.

The second incident occurred during a District Education Board official’s visit to an Istanbul university. Bianet reported 30 female students were picked at random by the official and forced to answer questions about drinking, sexual activity and pregnancy in their dormitories.

Lawyer Yasemin Oz is aiding victims of the incidents in filing criminal complaints against the officials. Their actions are against the law – not that it would ever keep a religious moralist from trying to get the rest of the world to kneel before their sword.