Sunday October 22, 2017

Kampong Cham Retreat: A blend of Bamboo and Buddhism in Cambodia

An eco-tourism retreat in a remote area charms with its unusual style, sustainable design and a non-typical connection with Buddhist traditions

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Wat Hanchey, next door to the eco resort, wikimedia

Cambodia, March 17, 2017: While walking towards the edge of a plateau, with a setting mid-day sun, to the left a work crew can be seen putting grout into the beams of an unusual building, made almost entirely from bamboo, whose flowing curves show certain similarities with a seashell. The indifferent Mekong River sprawls northwards.

Admiring the view, the co-founder and director of the NGO Buddhism for Social Development Action (BSDA),  Vandong Thorn says, “You see all the Cambodian pictures here. You see rice fields, you see the ponds, the river, the village and traditional houses.” Thorn found this site, perched on top of a mountain just over 20 kilometres from Kampong Cham city, just two years ago.

After buying the land from farmers a company that was gradually chipping away at the mountain with bulldozers as it sold off its soil, BSDA has taken the initiative of building an eco-tourism retreat, unique to Cambodia both in its incorporation of Buddhist principles and its sustainable design.

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Thorn, who has been a monk for 20 years, takes a very un-dogmatic approach when it comes to orthodox ideas regarding religion. For him Buddhism is “just philosophy, not religion”.

Thorn proudly says, “If [Buddha’s teachings are] reasonable for you, you believe it. If it’s not reasonable for you, you don’t follow.” In the philosophy Thorn has found an ethos that could lend itself to social welfare and guide his NGO, based on the principles of hard work, charity, harmony and equality.

He hopes to harness these principles at Hanchey Eco-Retreat by employing locals, paying them appropriate wages and using the revenue for the funding of on-site vocational training for poor area residents.

A worker scoops mud that will be made into bricks, Eli Lillis

All of the buildings at the eco-tourism site are engineered in  the shape of the lotus flower which is a well-known symbol in Buddhism, a meditation center featuring eight open doors, representing the Eightfold Path.

The site will have villas for guests, as well as the vocational training center, which can provide accommodation up to 100 students per year, and a “model organic farm” for agricultural training programs. In an attempt at sustainability, the project designers have decided to build the site nearly entirely out of natural materials – principally,mud bricks and bamboo and such elements.

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“Most of our buildings, when we’re finished with them, we can throw on the compost heap,” Gordon Evans, a technical adviser on the project mentioned, “Bamboo will rot, the earth [bricks] will rot, [and] it’s a very small ecological footprint that we have.”

In mud pits throughout the site, the rich clay soil is being mixed with rice chaff, straw and water, before being pressed into bricks that make up the foundation of the structures. In a tank at the base of the property, bamboo is soaked in a vat of boric acid and borax, a natural compound that substitutes sugar with salt to help prevent insects.

Although bamboo is available in a huge amount all throughout Cambodia, it is regarded to be a temporary building material because of its susceptibility to insects. It was a brave decision indeed to devote much of a project like this whose building phase costs nearly half a million dollars to a material like bamboo.

According to Ngun Heng, a local resident who is the general manager for the retreat, “Some people in my family, when they heard that our buildings are from bamboo, just said ‘Why? We never heard of using bamboo like this.” Ngun also mentioned bamboo is very popular material for chopsticks or toothpicks but not for entire structures.

A team of consultants from Thailand was brought in by BSDA to explore the possibility of using it successfully throughout the resort considering the fact that the use of bamboo is more frequent in Thailand. The crews were advised on how to treat the material to keep insects away and the degree to which the beams could be bent to accommodate the flowing organic shapes of the structures. This has been the cause for something of a local spectacle.

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“When we build everything from bamboo like that, the local people are surprised, I can say 50 people or 60 people per day come [to see]. I’ve already put the word out not to come, but they still do, Ngun added.

Roofing being put on the reception area, Eli Lillis

Even though Swiss NGO Ecosolidar has been providing enough money, for the building phase, the project is still almost $100,000 short of its requirement to fund the furnishing and operation costs for the resort. If they can get other investors or sponsors for this project, the resort should be ready to open in approximately one year.

Thorn envisions a spot where tourists can look forward to experiencing the traditional Cambodian way of life – especially those looking to indulge in yoga, meditation and the study Buddhist philosophy and principles.

According to Evans, “So many people come to Siem Reap or Sihanoukville, go to the beach, and they’re done. This isn’t for those people”; Even though it has been pointed out that there will be a swimming pool and bar for those looking for a get away and just kick back and relax.

The project is located next to Wat Hanchey, a historic pagoda with Chenla temple ruins dating back as far as the seventh or eighth century; Thorn has linked the project with his neighbours.

A road has been built by BSDA that connects with the pagoda and Thorn hopes to introduce interested tourists with the monks, as well as to potentially have them tag along with them on village visits.

Wat Hanchey abbot Tang Chheng studied meditation from his predecessor, Tol Phoung, who is well known for having walked all the way from Cambodia to Myanmar on foot to learn about meditation there. Thorn also hopes to tap into this deep institutional knowledge for his guests.

When asked if he minds tourists coming to visit the pagoda, the abbot says he “would be happy for their coming here”.

He says, “When they go back, they will tell their friends and family about our beautiful pagoda and resort, which means more tourists and more income. Those who work for the project are from the area They can improve their lives without immigrating to other countries to work.”

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

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There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Construction for Arab Residents in Palestine at the expense of the Jews

It should be mentioned that this is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years.

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Yossi Dagan
Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council. Wikimedia
  • 14,000 housing providing accommodation for 50,000 Arab residents were approved for marketing for the city of Qalqiliya
  • The government approved about 2,000 housing units for Jews a week ago in the entirety of Judea and Samaria
  • This is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years

Qalqiliya (Palestine), June 16, 2017: 14,000 housing providing accommodation for 50,000 Arab residents in Palestine were approved for marketing in Area C, which is under full Israeli responsibility, for the city of Qalqiliya. The size of the city, located in Area A, would be doubled by the move at the expense of land in Area C which was meant for Israeli development. The plan would work well in bringing the city and nearby Jewish communities far closer together.

At the same time, the government approved about 2,000 housing units for Jews a week ago in the entirety of Judea and Samaria. Judea and Samaria have a Jewish population of approximately 450,000 people.

It should be mentioned that this is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years. The wait for an approval has already been about ten years.

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The move was slammed by Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, who also called it a scandal.

According to him, “at the time of the calculation of every housing unit with us, and when only 66 housing units have been approved by the Samaria Regional Council, the political echelon decides to grant the city of terror Qalqiliya the ultimate reward for terror: doubling the area and doubling the population. In the morning, we can say that we are doing everything for the settlement and in the evening [we act] to stop construction in the settlements and to promote Arab construction. We cannot allow the government to continue with this illusion.”

It is believed by the Regavim movement, which is the legal representative of the nearby town of Tzofim that the planned expansion of the city will result in bringing it very close to the territory of the town.

According to Regavim’s statement, the proposed plan will be severely detrimental for the settlement of Tzofim, which the Palestinian city will effectively encircle. They also added that the Palestinian proposal is nothing but a planning disaster. It allows for low construction on a huge area and unreasonably wastes land resources instead of approving the maximum urban construction height based on the existing plan.

The heads of the Knesset Land of Israel lobby, MKs MKs Yoav Kish and Bezalel Smotrich, responded to that saying, “This is unreasonable and intolerable behavior that is taking place under the table and we will demand clarification [on the matter].”

The heads of the lobby also said that the construction and allocation of extensive land to Palestinians in Area C, on the one hand, and the limited number of Israelis on the other, crosses the red line that can be afforded by a national government.

According to reports in Israel National News, the response statement from the Prime Minister’s clarified, “This is a plan that was brought in by the defence minister last year and approved by the cabinet, and since then, more than 10,000 housing units have been approved for Jewish settlement, and therefore the claim [that the move was taken at the expense of Jewish residents] is incorrect and even absurd.”

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang