The hidden world of Indonesia’s palm oil industry

palm oil



Palm oil is a Janus-faced commodity, worshiped on one side, and condemned by the other. On one side, it helps alleviating our planet’s current global warming problems – all despite slash-and-burn allegations by certain environmental protection movements worldwide. On the other hand, it is one of vicious exploitation, and of repressive human rights abuses, of the labors toiling hard to fulfill the former.

This article, highlighting the situation faced by many of Indonesia’s palm oil industry workers, was released in Bloomberg Businessweek in July 2013. This article serves no intention to outflank one of Indonesia’s most strategic economic sectors, though; it only helps voicing out the concerns of those who have long been oppressed by certain irresponsible corporations in charge of this industry worth 44 billion US$.


The experience of “Adam,” a 19-year-old Indonesian from North Sumatra, shows the coercion faced by untold numbers of palm oil workers. (Out of concern for their safety, Adam and another alleged victim asked that their names be changed.) In July 2010 a stocky Indonesian foreman named Atisama Zendrato allegedly lured Adam and his cousin two thousand miles away from their home in Nias, a poor, largely underdeveloped North Sumatran island. He promised to pay them $6 a day (roughly the minimum wage at their destination in Borneo) to drive trucks. Partway through the three-week journey to Berau, East Kalimantan—after Zendrato had transported them and 18 other recruits, some as young as 14, to his house in Duri—he compelled them to sign contracts that spelled out different terms, Adam says.

The contracts bound the workers to Zendrato’s boss, a Malaysian based in Medan, North Sumatra, named M. Handoyo, and compelled them “to work without the freedom to choose the type of work, to be obliged to do any work as asked by the employer.” Under the terms, the daily wage was dropped to $5 per day. But Zendrato allegedly said the firm wouldn’t pay workers anything for two years, instead “loaning” them up to $16 a month for necessities such as rudimentary health care. Food beyond meager rations could only be purchased from a company store allegedly owned by Handoyo. The contract stated that workers, who included men, women, and children, would not be allowed to leave the plantation, even temporarily, without permission, and that Handoyo “will not accept any reason/excuse whatsoever from the [worker] to go back to his/her village during the [two-year] term of this contract.”

Gates Foundation presents: condom contest




The main point is, Bill Gates doesn’t want you to assume he supports freer sex.

This is the statement from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a new round of winners as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative. GCE grants fund innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems. Winning proposals this round will tackle a wide range of issues including: using social data for social good, the next generation of condom, helping women farmers in the developing world, new interventions for neglected diseases, and bringing together human and animal health for new solutions.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that over 812 different ideas regarding quality improvement for condoms were submitted to this campaign. Imagine if one of these included a curry-scented version.

Clarification: the condom contest itself is actually just one of numerous others held by the foundation, under the umbrella of Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE). You can read the full report here regarding subcategories other than this one.

Examples of new-generation condoms proposed by some scientists are as follow:

  • Benjamin Strutt and a team from Cambridge Design Partnership in the United Kingdom will design a male condom out of a composite material that will provide a universal fit and is designed to gently tighten during intercourse, enhancing sensation and reliability.

  • Willem van Rensburg of Kimbranox Ltd. in South Africa will test a condom applicator, the Rapidom, which is designed for easy, technique-free application of male condoms. Kimbranox will test an applicator designed to be applied with one motion, thereby minimizing interruption.

The psychology of curvy architecture

qatar 2022


Zaha Hadid’s latest work for Qatar’s World Cup 2022 football stadium – intended to reflect the shape of dhow, a traditional Arab fishing boat – triggered much criticism, some of whom claimed it bears more resemblance to vagina. But what, in your own perception, do you see?


After centuries of rigorous architectural principle which favored the quintessence of straight lines, a new trend has been surging in grassroots level to dismantle the current tenet. Curvy architecture – as some have recently called it – is now an emerging, avant-garde concept being used in some of the world’s major cities.

The question is: what psychological factors that account for the emergence of such brand-new principle? Some experts, having conducted experiment on certain individuals, perceive that this trend itself is in parallel with an ever-growing popularity of environmental conservation movements worldwide, which assume curvy lines do ‘lean’ more to the side of nature. Others, however, point out another, one that some can assume as ‘dirty-minded’: this architectural style is a further extension of human’s sexual expression. On an objective view, one can neither say that this theory is fallacious, though.

And what do you think, in your own opinion?

Read the full article on CNN International.

The ‘handjob’ that is safe for children (not NSFW)

No, don’t expect anything erotic or hard-core porn here; it’s a brand-new, better-sounding multi-grip system named Handjob that helps you opening up cans.

And ‘only’ for 5 US$, this website can satisfy your special ‘needs’ here:

Note: I could have not discovered such idiosyncrasy were it not for Culture Pub, a French website dedicated to curating weird and originally creative advertisements worldwide. It has a channel in Youtube titled ‘The Ad Show’.

Against all odds




This picture is no purpose-driven publicity effort to popularize Pope Francis. This, instead, challenges us to redefine what being ‘beauty’ and ‘ugly’ truly means. It is solely a small reminder, knocking the doors of our hearts, to come out of our limited, Euclidean, fixedly defined mindsets that constrain our visions, and of how easily prejudiced we are, as normal human beings.

Benjamin Corn, an Israeli-based neurofibromatosis expert, voices out his further opinions on Quartz. Read the full article here.


Ugliness is not an absolute condition but a socially sanctioned attribute. The problem with consigning something to that far, negative end of the spectrum is that ugliness can incite stigma. Art historian H.W. Janson says that modern definitions of beauty took root in the masters of the High Renaissance. In 1486, Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus established a standard of features. Perpetuated over time by illustrators, marketers, members of the media, the standard—of flawless skin, golden locks, bodies at once buxom and taut—has served as a basis for Western ideals of beauty and, conversely, ugliness.

Because our aesthetic standards are arbitrary, our definitions of beauty have shifted slightly, over time, to encompass, for example, anorexic-appearing fashion models with little resemblance to the shapeliness of Botticelli’s Goddess of Beauty. There is one vital point in that dynamic: the arbitrary—including our ideas of what is beautiful, ugly, visually acceptable, or socially stigmatizing—can change. And each of us can contribute to that change.
Note: neurofibromatosis is a rare genetic disease by which NF1, a gene specialized in guarding our body cells from becoming cancerous, unexpectedly disappears or mutates, thus enabling those cells to grow beyond control, resulting in myriad tumors widely spread over the bodies of those exposed to such condition.

Somaliland – Progress towards a Regional and International Role (report)




Speaking of international relations, there exist two different types of sovereign states: ones that are officially recognized, and the ones which are, obviously, vice versa.

In numerous cases, we have seen the establishment of a considerable number of countries being either contested by few or, if unfortunate, most of the existing states. For instance, Taiwan, whose sovereignty is disputed by China; Palestine by Israel; Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Georgia (and only recognized by Russia and three others); Transnistria by Moldova; or Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by Azerbaijan. These are only a handful of examples of how formation of a ‘nation’, and a ‘state’, can be so easily contradicted against the current existing conditions.

But Somaliland is an exception. Formally, not even one sovereign state in this planet declares to this country an official recognition (its entire international relations operate rather on an informal basis).

Its existence can be traced back long before the devastating civil war in Somalia in 1990s. Unlike the rest of the country, which was administered by Italian government, Somaliland was controlled by the British instead. The war itself, compatible with the total absence of a centralized government in Mogadishu (rather than being epicenter of Somalia, it instead symbolizes the destruction, lawlessness, and hopelessness of the nation), enforced the local warlords in charge of the region, those who were long embattled with the regime back in the capital, to reach a compromise, and thus Somaliland was born.

With more than 3.5 million inhabitants living in the region, and with no countries officially acknowledging their existence, the newly-formed government had to fight a hard game to ensure social stability in the newly-born country. And subsequently the results start to pay off. The remittances sent back home (a World Bank report suggests the number sent by Somalilanders working abroad, mostly in Saudi Arabia, exceeds 1 billion US$ every year) were mostly used to rebuild the country’s shattered economy. Today, real-estate and construction projects have begun to mushroom throughout the country’s main cities, predominantly Berbera and Hargeysa (the chief capital).

After two decades of social stability and bustling economic growth, the government now seeks into a new, and deeper, venture: an official, and worldwide, international recognition. While the government still has to tackle numerous obstacles and stereotypes that hinder much of the foreign direct investment back in Somaliland – primarily due to the country’s association with Somalia as being chaotic, lawless, and anarchic, another difficulty ensues: Puntland, another autonomous region of Somalia that favors national union with Mogadishu, and also a copy-cat version of Somaliland in terms of social stability and economic growth, has begun to dispute a tremendous number of Somaliland’s territories. Several armed border clashes even took place in the past. Still, though, the government has numerous tasks to accomplish in both near and far future.

Chatham House, a non-governmental international-relations think tank based in London, UK, has recently interviewed two ministers of the Somaliland government regarding the country’s future international recognition. Click the link here for the full interview archive.

And for those who are not well-acquainted with this country (or even not aware if such country exists), click Wikipedia for further information.

What the atheists really fear


Here it goes: the most recently released research report by the University of Finland suggests that atheists, having challenged God, may have implicitly developed emotional arousal and considerable stresses. And thus the excerpt (from General Discussion section of the report) as follows:


We asked atheists (Studies 1 and 2) and religious individuals (Study 1) to verbally dare God to cause unpleasant events, like murders and illnesses to happen to themselves and their intimates. Atheists did not regard the statements as unpleasant as the religious participants did in their explicit self-report. The impact of conviction was strong as it explained 38% of the variance in the unpleasantness ratings. However, when the participants’ emotional arousal was analyzed by their skin conductance level during their verbal dares, a different picture emerged.
In the first study, reading the provocations addressed to God increased atheists’ emotional arousal more than reading neutral statements about such things as sleep and weather. Second, God statements resulted in equal tension among atheists as reading the offensive statements (e.g., “It’s okay to kick a puppy in the face”). Third, this same pattern of results was obtained for religious individuals. The results indicate that compared to their conviction and responses on the self-report measure, atheists’ implicit reactions to the God statements were more similar to the reactions of religious individuals.
The results raise the question as to whether it was actually asking God to do the awful things that was upsetting, or whether it was contemplating the event itself (e.g., the possibility that one’s parents might be murdered) which was upsetting. Because of the following results, we think the first type of inference is more likely. When reading the God statements in Study 2, atheists experienced greater emotional arousal than when reading the offensive statements. Moreover, when reading the God statements, atheists’ emotional arousal increased as much as did religious individuals’ arousal. Atheists also refused to say aloud the God statements and they felt the need to undo the statements equally often as religious individuals did, although neither group refused to say statements very often or retracted statements very often.
In Study 2, atheists were also asked to say aloud statements that were otherwise identical to the God statements but God was replaced with a wish (e.g., “I wish my parents were paralyzed”). Speaking the wish statements and the offensive statement increased the participants’ SC level more than speaking the neutral statements. Thus, again, it may be that considering the offensive events was unnerving. It is also possible that the atheists implicitly endorsed thought-action fusion, believing that talking about disturbing events increases the likelihood that the event will occur. Nonetheless, as the SC levels also showed that atheists were more affected by God statements than by wish or offensive statements, it may be safe to conclude that atheists were less comfortable with daring God than with daring a more nebulous and impersonal fate or simply contemplating the distressing events.

Source: Big Think’s Ideafeed and Taylor and Francis Online. Read the full report on the second link.

Writing and death, a la John Updike



Not only are selves conditional but they die. Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time? It is even possible to dislike our old selves, those disposable ancestors of ours. For instance, my high-school self — skinny, scabby, giggly, gabby, frantic to be noticed, tormented enough to be a tormentor, relentlessly pushing his cartoons and posters and noisy jokes and pseudo-sophisticated poems upon the helpless high school — strikes me now as considerably obnoxious, though I owe him a lot: without his frantic ambition and insecurity I would not be sitting on (as my present home was named by others) Haven Hill. – John Updike, as quoted from his 1996 memoir, Self-Consciousness.

Note: John Updike (1932-2009) was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, novelist, and essayist, who was best known for his Rabbit Angstrom novel series, one that depicts a pathetic life of an American middle-class individual entrapped in a visceral midlife crisis, starting from his youth, to his heyday, to his death. He passed away in 2009 for lung cancer, partially thanks to his chain-smoking habit.

Look up for more Updike’s quotes about correlating writing and death in Brain Pickings.

Study case: inside the minds of Mexican drug cartels


Any business-school student should carefully watch this mind-blowing video.

Whatever the mass media have shaped our minds regarding the ongoing drug war in Mexico, which has claimed in between 60,000 and 100,000 lives since the army deployment began on 2006, our perception regarding the drug cartels – the so-called ‘bad guys’ as our minds are molded to believe – is utterly limited.

Rodrigo Canales, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, wants to debunk our limited mindsets in perceiving these cartels. At least there are three ‘business strategies’ everyone is going to learn from this utterly deadly genius TED talk:

1. A drug cartel can instill a high sense of control by pursuing a brand of fear. (take for instance Los Zetas, a drug cartel composed of former paratroopers previously recruited, and later dismissed, by Gulf Cartel, another influential Mexican drug-trading organization )

2. Or, in a softer approach, a drug cartel, in the absence of government’s effectual policies, endorses social enterprise and civic engagement. (Knights’ Templar, the successor of previous La Familia Michoacana, is an epitome for this case. They often label themselves as ‘protectors of the oppressed’, as shown by how they kill people, particularly petty criminals, perceived as threats to the social stability of the societies they control)

3. Or, in a more sophisticated manner, a drug cartel functions as normally as a multinational corporation does. (Sinaloa Federation is a role model fit for this method. They have developed their own tunnels, operated their own submarines, and even engaged public-relations firms to give a positive trajectory of how local societies perceive of their organization)

At the same time, Canales also challenges us to readjust our mindsets regarding our perception, and how this can help the policymakers in pursuing a radically brand-new problem-solving approach to solve this age-old trouble, one that has taken over tens of thousands of lives in the Central America’s largest country.


Evolution busted: this fish lives on land!




This species, named Pacific Leaping Blenny, is a living proof that the world is even more Murakami-esque than it seems.

Thank you, Improbable Research!

Bonus: learn more about this species on Courtney Morgans. Still unsatisfied? Access the full research report on Science Direct.