Easter Islanders Hope to Swap a Copy for Iconic Statue in UK museum

For 150 years, the British Museum has housed one of the iconic, heavy-browed stone figures that Chile’s Easter Island is famous for.

Now the islanders are hoping desperately to get it back.

They plan to build a copy of the four-ton monolith and, potentially swap it for the real thing.

The statue, known as a “moai” and named the Hoa Hakananai’a, is one of hundreds originally found on the island. Carved by Polynesian colonizers somewhere between the 13th and 16th centuries, each of the big-headed figures was considered to represent tribal leaders or deified ancestors.

About a dozen have been removed from the island over the years. Now Camilo Rapu, president of the island’s Ma’u Henua community, said it’s time Hoa Hakananai’a was returned.

The Ma’u Henua community, with Chilean government support, launched a campaign in August to persuade the British Museum and Queen Elizabeth II to return the famous moai — in exchange for an exact replica to be carved on Easter Island.

“Our expert carvers will make a copy in basalt, the original stone used in the Hakananai’a moai, as an offering to Queen Elizabeth in exchange for the original,” Rapu told reporters in Santiago.

The Ma’u Henua have signed an agreement with the Bishop Museum — Hawaii’s largest museum, with a huge collection of Polynesian artifacts — to produce a polycarbonate copy of the Hakananai’a, to be ready by November 3.

The actual carving of the statue will take place on Easter Island, using thousand-year-old Rapa Nui techniques — combined with some modern technology to allow the job to be completed in seven months.

The Hakananai’a moai in the British Museum stands 2.4 meters tall (eight feet) and weighs about four tons.

On November 23, a committee of islanders and Chilean officials plans to travel to London in hopes of negotiating the moai’s return.

“This is a historic demand of the Rapa Nui people,” said Rapu. The Rapa Nui were the island’s aboriginal settlers, and their descendants still make up a large part of the population.

“This moai has a spiritual value; it is part of our family and our culture. We want her (the queen) to understand that for us, this is its value — not as a museum piece,” he said.

The islanders will bring with them a book, in support of their demand, signed by some of the thousands of tourists who every year visit the Pacific island paradise some 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) off Chile’s mainland.


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Depression-Era ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ a Symbol of American Optimism

It’s been a mystery in the United States since the Great Depression: Who are the 11 men pictured in a famous photograph called “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”? In the 1932 photo, the construction workers are enjoying their lunch break on a metal beam, 256 meters up in the air above New York City streets. That skyscraper is now part of the Rockefeller Center complex, and that’s where Boris Koltsov went in search of answers. Anna Rice narrates his report.

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New York Museum Celebrates Frankenstein at 200

Halloween may still be a few weeks away, but New York City is getting ready to be frightened. The Morgan Library and Museum is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s book “Frankenstein,” one of the most famous horror novels of all time. VOA’s Elena Wolf went to the exhibition and got a look at the original Frankenstein manuscript.

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New York Witches to Aim Hex at Justice Kavanaugh

Melissa Madara was not surprised to receive death threats Friday as her Brooklyn witchcraft store prepared to host a public hexing of newly confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh this weekend.

The planned casting of an anti-Kavanaugh spell, one of the more striking instances of politically disgruntled Americans turning to the supernatural when frustrated by democracy, has drawn backlash from some Christian groups but support from like-minded witch covens.

“It gives the people who are seeking agency a little bit of chance to have that back,” Madara said. The ritual was to be livestreamed on Facebook and Instagram at 8 p.m. EDT Saturday (1200 GMT Sunday).

Seated at a desk phone among bird skulls and crystal balls at Catland Books, the occult shop she co-owns, Madara said the Kavanaugh hex is expected to be the most popular event the store has hosted since its 2013 opening, including spells aimed at President Donald Trump. Madara declined to provide details of what the latest ritual will entail.

More than 15,000 people who have seen Catland Books promotions on Facebook have expressed interest in attending the event, vastly exceeding the shop’s 60-person capacity.

​Irate, threatening calls

Not everyone is a witchcraft fan. Madara said she had fielded numerous irate calls from critics, with at least one threatening violence. 

“Every time we host something like this there’s always people who like to call in with death threats or read us scripture,” she said.

As far as supporters go, some are sexual assault survivors still angry that the U.S. Senate confirmed Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court despite accusations that he had sexually assaulted multiple women.

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations, and an FBI investigation failed to corroborate his accusers’ accounts.

Democrats hope lingering outrage over Kavanaugh, particularly among women, will translate into election gains for them Nov. 6. Republicans are likewise trying to seize on anger among conservatives at how they perceive Kavanaugh was mistreated.

Counter hexes and prayers

Believers in mysticism on both sides of the political divide are taking matters into their own hands.

Plans for the Catland Books event have sparked “counter hexes” around the country by those seeking to undo the spell that the Brooklyn witches cast against Kavanaugh, Madara said.

Even mainstream clergy was joining the fray. Rev. Gary Thomas of the Diocese of San Jose in California said Friday that he would include Kavanaugh in his prayers at Saturday mass.

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Bali Beauty Pageant Signals Renewed Anti-LGBT Crackdown

Majority-Hindu Bali has long been considered more tolerant of different sexual identities compared with other parts of Indonesia, especially amid recent anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) crackdowns in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. 

But a beauty pageant promoting HIV education and equality was this month shutdown by Islamic hardliners, sparking concern among some in the LGBT community that Bali is no longer a safe place.

Organized by the Bali-based Gaya Dewata Foundation, which provides testing, counseling and support on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, the pageant has been held annually for the past three years. But this year, anti-LGBT Muslim groups reportedly harassed the owners of the Bhumiku Convention Hall in Denpasar, Bali’s capital. 

“We had to call off our event, due to the owners of the venue canceling it,” Christian Supriyadinata, the director of Gaya Dewata, told VOA.

“I thought Bali will have that space for us to be ourselves,” said Agung a Balinese native who recently moved back to the island from Muslim-majority Java. He chose to be identified by one name to protect his identity. Agung told VOA it, “actually turns out to be Bali doesn’t have that immunity anymore, doesn’t have that bubble anymore to protect ourselves.”

LGBT events canceled

Lini Zurlia, an Indonesian queer activist who works for the regional LGBT organization ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, said this was not first LGBT event to be canceled in Bali. Many public events for the Straits Games, a sports event for the gay community from across Asia, were canceled last year after pressure from certain quarters, she said. 

“It was not only from hard-line groups but also from the police,” she said. “Since then, we think Bali isn’t all that friendly [to LGBT people] after all. Maybe it’s just friendly because it’s a center for tourism in Indonesia.”

The local chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) was among the groups that opposed the event and reported it to the police. 

“This is clearly very alarming, because the [pageant] is clearly contrary to moral and religious values in Indonesia,” the Bali MUI chairman, Muhammad Taufik Asadi, told the conservative-leaning newspaper Republika.

Sexuality and health

Many local cultures in Indonesia have traditionally had fluid understandings of sexuality beyond a binary of heterosexuality and homosexuality. This has, however, eroded in recent years with the rise of more conservative strains of Islam. Intensified anti-LGBT sentiment has also been accompanied by rising infection rates of HIV/AIDS.

According to UNAIDS, Indonesia had 48,000 new HIV infections and 38,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2016, an increase in AIDS-related deaths of 68 percent from 2010. 

“We want the community in Bali, especially our friends in the LGBT community, to understand the problem of HIV/AIDS and help with HIV/AIDS prevention,” Supriyadinata said.

Members of the LGBT community are disproportionately affected, with HIV prevalence rates of 25.8 percent for men who have sex with men and 24.8 percent of transgender people. 

“Cases of HIV/AIDS across the whole community [in Indonesia] have indeed increased, so information about HIV/AIDS is much needed,” Supriyadinata said.

​Moral panic

The Gaya Dewata pageant’s cancellation is just the latest in a string of anti-LGBT actions by the police and civil society groups across Indonesia. While gay sex is not a crime, the LGBT community is often targeted under the country’s strict anti-pornography laws.

Earlier this month, Jakarta police raided a so-called “gay party” and arrested four men on drug charges. Law enforcement publicly paraded the suspects and their faces were televised. Several social media accounts later further spread the men’s images to shame them.

Social media again exploded with the hashtag #UninstallGojek, with many netizens calling for a boycott of the local ride-sharing application Gojek after one of the company’s executives expressed support for diversity and tolerance of LGBT people on Facebook.

Indonesia’s minister for religion, Lukman Saifuddin, subsequently released a video on social media declaring that “all religions reject LGBT, that’s why I reject LGBT actions and behavior.”

“Although LGBT behavior is wrong, they should be treated with empathy so that they change their deviant ways,” he added. Survey results released by Saiful Mujani Research & Consulting in January showed that 81.5 percent of Indonesians believe gay and lesbian “behavior” is prohibited by religion, and a majority said they would object to having LGBT neighbors or in government. But only 58.3 percent of the respondents reported to know what LGBT meant.

​Election season

Some worry that anti-LGBT activity will further ramp up ahead of the country’s presidential elections in April 2019. The incumbent Joko Widodo’s running mate, the influential conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin, has helped issue fatwas against LGBT people as a member of Indonesia’s Ulama Council. 

“We want a stern prohibition of LGBT activities and other deviant sexual activities and legislation that categorizes them as crime[s],” he was quoted as saying by the national news agency Antara in 2016.

Anti-LGBT themes also feature heavily in the rhetoric of supporters of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto. According to Zurlia of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, many of the Islamic groups who support Prabowo and opposition figure Fadli Zon claim that the LGBT movement is the product of Western influence and an import from countries like the United States.

“They’re good friends with the American president and praise Donald Trump and yet say that the LGBT movement comes from America,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

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Rapper Cardi B Hands Out Free Coats in New York

Hundreds of people have lined up in New York City as rapper Cardi B handed out free winter coats.

The Bronx-born rapper met with residents and fans on Thursday evening at the Marlboro Houses in Brooklyn during brisk fall weather.


The 26-year-old also was given balloons and a cake to celebrate her recent birthday.


Cardi B says she cares a lot about kids and the community and feels it’s important to set a good example.


On Oct. 1, she got a summons in connection with a melee at a New York strip club. Her lawyer says the star didn’t cause any harm.


About three weeks earlier, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj were involved in an altercation at a New York Fashion Week party.


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Supermodel Karlie Kloss Marries Jared Kushner’s Brother

Supermodel Karlie Kloss has married businessman Joshua Kushner.


Kloss posted a photo of her in a wedding dress and Kushner in a tuxedo – both of them beaming – on Instagram and Twitter Thursday night. People magazine reports the couple married at a small ceremony in upstate New York and will have a larger ceremony in the spring.

Kloss’ publicists did not return an email seeking details about the wedding Thursday.


Kushner is the younger brother of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers.


Kloss has modeled for Victoria’s Secret and numerous luxury brands, and will be the new host of “Project Runway.”


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Survey: US Sports Leagues Could Reap $4.2 Billion a Year from Legal Betting

The four major U.S. professional sports leagues could reap a combined $4.2 billion annually as a result of legal sports betting, most of it indirectly from increased fan engagement, according to a casino industry survey released on Thursday.

The findings could fuel a long-simmering feud between the gaming industry and American sports leagues, who want a share of the gambling revenue as U.S. states begin to legalize sports betting.

The survey showed leagues stand to benefit even without taking a cut of wagers. The National Football League is likely to make the most, with a projected $2.33 billion of additional annual revenue, according to the study seen by Reuters. The rest would go to Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

The Nielsen Sports survey was commissioned by the American Gaming Association (AGA), which represents the casino industry. The NBA and MLB  declined to comment. The NFL and NHL did not reply to requests for comment.

For years, the leagues fought states’ efforts to legalize sports betting, arguing it would lead to game fixing.

Supreme Court ruling a game-changer

But in May, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a federal ban against sports betting, paving the way for any state to legalize, regulate and tax the activity.

Since then, the leagues have sought to glean a portion of the coming windfall to help them fund additional integrity measures. They also have argued that they deserve a portion of wagers because there would be nothing to bet on without their players, stadiums and games.

Major League Baseball has said it wants 1 percent of the total amount of money bet as an “integrity fee.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey, the first major state outside of Nevada to roll out sports betting, flatly rejected that idea.

Heated exchange

At last week’s annual Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, tensions flared when Kenny Gersh, an MLB executive vice president, told a panel the integrity fee should be called a “royalty” and that leagues had lowered their request to 0.25 percent.

“You want a cut of the revenue without any of the risk,” shot back fellow panelist Sara Slane, the AGA’s senior vice president of public affairs.

“We have to go through a regulatory process. We invest billions of dollars in buildings and our licenses,” she said. “You want us to take that risk, pay you, and then you’re going to benefit on the back end as well.”

The AGA study found that $596 million of leagues’ total increased annual revenue would come from gaming services spending on television advertising, $267 million from sponsorship deals with the sports betting industry and $89 million from data and video revenue.

But the study projected that the bulk of the projected windfall would come if more fans, attracted by betting, attend games or watch them. Nearly $3.3 billion is tied to those indirect revenues, including media rights and more merchandise and ticket sales.

Over 13% increase in revenue for NFL

For the NFL alone, indirect revenues could grow 13.4 percent to $14.8 billion of annual revenue, the report said.

The study has a margin of error of 3 percentage points and surveyed more than 1,000 adult sports fans and self-identified bettors nationwide, asking how a national legal market would affect sports consumption habits.

The national market would need to include at least 100 million people for the leagues to fully benefit, Nielsen estimated.  

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Why America Stopped Shopping at Sears

In the late 1960s, while fledgling new retailers Walmart, Kohl’s, Kmart and Target were hard at work establishing a foothold in the hearts, minds and wallets of the American consumer, the nation’s dominant retailer was busy building the world’s tallest building.

In pouring its funds and focus into Chicago’s Sears Tower, America’s original super-store may have unwittingly become the architect of its own long, slow and painful demise.

“Walmart, the strongest of all those four, wasn’t anywhere near where Sears was for a couple of decades,” says James Schrager, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “So, if Sears was on top of things, even in the early 80s, they could have been Target or a better version of Kmart, they could have been any of that. But they sat on their hands and built their tower in 1969 instead.”

It’s been a precipitous fall for the one-time retail powerhouse, which this week filed for bankruptcy after years of losses.

Established 123 years ago, Sears was literally the place where America shopped, as its tagline boasted.

Sears had everything from clothing and toys, to tools and appliances. It even sold housing kits. Thousands of Sears homes still stand across America today. For decades, American families eagerly awaited the delivery of the retailer’s several-inches thick mail order catalogues.

The secret to Sears’ success was being able to stay ahead of the market, according to Schrager.

From small stores in small towns, to big stores in downtowns in the 1920s; to a thriving catalogue business for smaller outposts, the main way America shopped right through to the 1950s and 60s; and then the switch to anchor stores in shopping malls through the late 1970s, Sears was always on the move, changing with the times.

But then the retailer seemed to stop evolving.

While the Walmarts and Targets of the world recognized the value of moving away from shopping centers and opening massive spaces in strip malls where customers could park right in front of the store, Sears stayed at the mall.

The competition also developed individual identities and expertise. Target became known for its upscale, fashion-oriented approach, Walmart for superior logistics in smaller towns, and Kohl’s had fashion-only soft goods, says Schrager.

Meanwhile, Sears seemed to lose its focus.

“Sears slowly lost track of its retail business by being fascinated with other things,” Schrager says. “In 1969, they began to build the tallest building in the world, that took a lot of time away from the business. They bought a stock brokerage company, which they had no business doing. They bought a real estate company, which they had no business doing. They developed a wonderful credit card called Discover, which has nothing to do with retailing.”

And along the way, the type of people at the top, the people making the business decisions, changed.

“Merchants are the lifeline of the business and Sears allowed them to wither,” Schrager says. “How do we know that? Because, after a while, Sears wasn’t getting a merchant to run the business. They were getting a financier or a marketer or someone other than a dirty-fingernails merchant who spent their life trying to beat the merchant down the street.”

Edward Lampert, Sears’ most recent CEO and majority shareholder, is a hedge fund billionaire. He took over in 2013 and expressed hopes of turning the company around.

Although Sears just filed for bankruptcy protection this week, Schrager believes the final death blow for the retailer occurred back in the early 1990s.

That’s when previous company executives decided to sell off the profitable parts of the business, while keeping the failing stores. In 1993, Sears shed the Discover credit card, its real estate company Coldwell Banker, and its Dean Witter Reynolds stock brokerage. Allstate, its insurance company, followed in 1995.

“There’s nothing left. Retail walks by you,” Schrager says. “You can’t stand still, and Sears has been standing still since 1969. That’s a very long time. The world has evolved two of three times since then…it’s over.”

While one-time competitors like Walmart, Target and Kohl’s continue to change and thrive, Kmart, which is now operated by Sears Holdings, is also in financial trouble because, Schrager says, it too failed to change with the times.

As for the one-time king of the pack, the next time consumers get excited about buying something at Sears could be when the bankruptcy court rules that the place where America once shopped must itself now be broken apart and sold off for the best possible price.

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