International: New Excavation Begins in Buddha’s Nepal Hometown

A new excavation mission has been started in Buddha’s hometown, Tilaurakot, to uncover more evidence of its heritage significance.

Nepal’s Department of Archaeology begun the excavation earlier this month to identify important sections of King Suddhodan’s Royal Palace in Tilaurakot, where Gautam Buddha spent 29 years of his life. The excavation, which is the fourth one that the state has managed since 2014, is expected to take 55 days.

The current excavation project also involves experts from UK’s Durham University, Lumbini Development Trust, and students of Tribhuvan University and Lumbini University.

The department’s officer Ram Bahadur Kunwar said the project will be carried out in two spots within the central complex of Tilaurakot Palace, and beside Samayamai Temple.

In 1996, the Nepalese government proposed for Tilaurakot to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List for its cultural significance.

National: Apartment Boom Drives Residential Building Growth

Approval rate for apartments continues to rise, boosting the Australian residential building growth beyond expectation.

Latest reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that apartment approvals rose by 30.6 per cent in November, while house approvals dipped 2 per cent. The gain was the largest since November 2016.

Victoria contributed the most to this increase, with an 80 per cent surge since October to 6,359 approvals for private-sector dwelling excluding houses while NSW and Queensland experienced month-on-month declines.

Overall dwelling building approvals rose by 11.7 per cent for the month, beating forecasts of 1 per cent fall by Reuters.

International: 3,500-Year-Old Mummy Found in Luxor, Egypt

Two ancient tombs dating back 3,500 years have been discovered in Luxor, Egypt.

The two tombs – containing linen-wrapped mummy, paintings, masks and figurines among others – were originally discovered in the 1990s by German archaeologist Frederica Kampp, but the Egyptian archaeological mission only began its excavations recently.

The first tomb, designated Kampp 161, was a single-shaft burial containing a mural as well as artefacts honouring the Egyptian god Osiris. It was estimated to date to the era between the reign of King Amenhotep II and the one of King Thutmose IV (1427-1388 BC).

The other tomb, Kampp 150, contained a mummified person with unknown identity which was estimated to date back to the 17th-18th Dynasty (1580-1292 BC).

The discovery of the tombs is hoped to revive the country’s declining tourism industry following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, according to AP News.

National: Amazon Launches in Australia

US retail giant Amazon has finally launched its Australian operations, threatening local retailers with tougher competition.

Amazon’s Australian marketplace now offers items from 23 categories including electronics, toys, clothing, accessories, beauty and household goods.

“Focusing on customers and the long-term are key principles in Amazon’s approach to retailing,” Amazon Australia country manager Rocco Braeuniger said in a statement.

“By concentrating on providing a great shopping experience and by constantly innovating on behalf of customers, we hope to earn the trust and the custom of Australian shoppers in the years to come.”

In the lead-up to Christmas holiday season, Amazon is also offering free shipping for orders over $49 and one-day delivery for select cities. The goods will be sent from the company’s fulfillment centre at Dandenong South, Melbourne.

“Over time, we will create thousands of new jobs and invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Australia,” said Braeuniger.

“The result will be an ever-improving customer experience driven by the regular introduction of new products and services that we hope customers will love.”

Politics: Jacqui Lambie to Resign from Senate Over Dual Citizenship

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has announced that she will resign from the Federal Parliament following confirmation that she was a UK citizen.

Lambie’s father was born in Scotland, which means that she holds a dual citizenship with the UK and Australia. The UK Home Office clarified Lambie’s status this morning.

“I will be resigning from the Senate, it’s been made quite clear that because of my father I am also Scottish,” Lambie told Grant Broadcasters radio.

The senator indicated that while she would not participate in the upcoming state election, she is interested in running at the next federal election.

“I have got candidates running out there for the state election — I’m going to put on my Jacqui Lambie Network jacket and I’ll be right beside them,” said Lambie. “[But] you can’t keep a Lambie down.”

The former Palmer United Party member also said the first thing she would do after resigning was “renounce my [British] citizenship”.

Lambie has become the latest parliamentarian who fell victim to the section 44(i) of the Australian constitution, which rules that people who hold dual citizenship are disqualified from federal political office.

Lambie is set to table her resignation today.

National: Telstra to Offer Refund for Slow NBN

Telstra has offered refunds to around 42,000 customers who experienced slow National Broadband Network (NBN) speeds.

The service provider admitted that it may have made false or misleading representations in its advertising, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

An analysis by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found that 26,497 people, or 56 per cent of the paying customers, were not getting the speeds that were promised by the NBN advertising, which claimed download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of up to 40 Mbps.

“Our investigation revealed many of Telstra’s FTTN and FTTB customers could not receive the maximum speed of their plan,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

Telstra will offer customers the opportunity to switch to another plan with refunds, or cancel their plans at no charge.

Sims said while he is happy the ACCC took the initiative to come forward and notify the consumer watchdog about the issue, it remains a problem industry-wide.

“It is an industry problem where consumers are often not getting the speeds they are paying for … We will continue to investigate other retail service providers selling broadband plans over the NBN and take enforcement action where appropriate.”

Source: SBS, ABC, AFR

Coconuts: Facts, History and Science

In one ellipsoid or ovoid that looks odd from the outside, the coconut (the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera) provides food, potable water, ingredients for a rope, and a shell that can become charcoal. In a pinch, it floats if you need assistance with that.

Legend says that the mutiny of the Bounty (an ostensibly true story turned into a Marlon Brando movie) was caused by Captain Bligh’s punishment of sailors who stole coconuts from the ship’s kitchen. Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, who researched the DNA of more than 1,300 coconuts from all over the planet, found that there were definitely two types of coconuts.

Because the coconut was grown in two different areas; namely, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific basins, Olsen could trace prehistoric trade routes as well as the progression that colonized the Americas.

Bee Gunn, now of the Australian National University in Australia, was a part of Olsen’s team.

It was discovered that there are actually two forms of coconut, known as niu kafa and niu vai, which are Samoan names. The former is oblong and triangular with a large fibrous husk. The niu vai form is rounded and it is in that type is found when it is not ripe.

“Quite often the niu vai fruit are brightly colored when they’re unripe, either bright green, or bright yellow. Sometimes they’re a beautiful gold with reddish tones,” according to Olsen.

It was when DNA was introduced that things really got interesting.

Gunn and Olsen procured a National Geographic Society grant that allowed Gunn to collect coconut DNA in regions of the western Indian Ocean for which there was no data. The snippets of tissues from leaves in the center of the coconut tree’s crown were sent home to be analyzed.

Long story shortened, Gunn and Olsen’s efforts allowed them to “fingerprint’ the coconut,” Olsen said.

The most definitive finding of the new DNA data is that the Pacific and Indian Ocean coconuts are genetically different.

“About a third of the total genetic diversity can be partitioned between two groups that correspond to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean,” Olsen stated.

“That’s a very high level of differentiation within a single species and provides pretty conclusive evidence that there were two origins of cultivation of the coconut,” he continued.

In the Indian Ocean the likely cultivation center was the southern edge of India, including the Laccadives, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

In the Pacific, however, coconuts were generated in island Southeast Asia in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia and may have shown up on the continent, too.

“At least we have it easier than scientists who study animal domestication,” Olsen commented. “So much of being a domesticated animal is being tame, and behavioral traits aren’t preserved in the archeological record.”

There was one interesting exception to the general split in the Pacific/Indian Ocean groups. That was found in the western Indian Ocean, specifically the Comoros Islands and Madagascar where Gunn had collected. These coconuts are a genetic mixture of the Indian and Pacific Ocean types.

Olsen and his colleagues believe the Pacific coconuts were introduced to the Indian Ocean a couple of thousand years ago by ancient Austronesians establishing trade routes connecting Southeast Asia to Madagascar and coastal east Africa.

Today’s residents of the Madagascar highlands are descendants of the ancient Austronesians, Olsen shared.

Europeans ultimately took the Indian Ocean coconut to the New World while the Portuguese took it to the Western Africa coast. That is why the coconuts that you find today in Florida today are the Indian ocean type, according to Olsen, which is why they likely have the niu kafa form.

Pacific Ocean coconuts seem to have come in during there in pre-Columbian times by ancient Austronesians. Ultimately, the Spanish brought coconuts to the Pacific coast of Mexico from the Philippines. This is why, Olsen says, you find Pacific type coconuts on the Pacific coast of Central America and Indian type coconuts on the Atlantic coast.

“The big surprise was that there was so much genetic differentiation clearly correlated with geography, even though humans have been moving coconut around for so long,” Olsen concluded.

Interested in sampling some coconut water? Check out H2coco’s range of Coconut Water available for delivery or in supermarkets.

Increasing Demand for Watermelon

In Orlando, Florida, United States (US), exists the National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) which has a website that says it has one role:  “to increase consumer demand for watermelon through promotion, research, and educational programs.”

Since 1989 when it was founded, this nonprofit group, comprised of shippers and growers, has developed marketing programs to support even better watermelon sales in supermarkets throughout the US and Canada.  NWPB also works to bring forth sales venues for watermelon in the United Kingdom (UK) as well as Japan.

The website quotes Executive Director Mark Arney, who stated, “Retail produce buyers are the gatekeepers who make key decisions regarding how watermelon is sold, displayed and advertised to consumers. We provide these buyers with key information and promotional programs to help the industry move more watermelon.”

Their marketing promotions show a significant presence on radio, television, and in magazines and newspapers.  This is not a “hard sell,” in its way, as watermelon is such a healthy, refreshing, versatile fruit. Thanks in part to its board of directors’ efforts, watermelon is not only for picnics anymore.  It is on consumers’ shopping lists enjoyed year-round and is included in a  wide range of desserts, drinks and other recipes.

In Australia one emerging company is H2melon which offers Watermelon Juice in portable sizes available to buy online and in major supermarkets.

Growers support the NWPB through assessments paid by growers, shippers and importers of watermelon in the United States.

The website features a lot of information about watermelons–how to pick and grow them and so on and has a lot of information about watermelon for healthy kids and coloring pages, word searches and so on.

National: Real-Time Bank Transfers to be Available from January 2018

Fund transfers between accounts from different banks could be done in real-time starting January, thanks to a billion-dollar infrastructure upgrade.

Instant payments will be available for 80 per cent of accounts in Australia, including all customers from the big four banks, starting Australia Day 2018. More international and smaller banks are also expected to join the system soon.

“The core benefit at launch is the faster receipt of money in real time, and that will happen 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Adrian Lovney, chief executive of the New Payments Platform initiative, which built the technology.

“Through the weekend, public holidays, at 3 o’clock in the morning — funds will arrive in the recipient’s bank account in about 30 to 45 seconds.”

Lovney said while the old way of batch processing transfers helps with preventing frauds, customers are looking for immediacy in their financial services.

“They expect things to happen instantly, with a mobile phone, in a 24/7 digital economy they expect if I’m going to send you money that you’ll receive it today and not next week,” said Lovney.

However, he said banks will continue to keep their fraud mechanisms up to task after the upgrade is finished.

International: Bangladesh Pleads Myanmar to Take Rohingya Refugees Back

Bangladesh’s prime minister has called on Myanmar to take back hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who have fled from the Rakhine state.

In a visit to the Kutupalong refugee camp on Tuesday, Sheikh Hasina said Myanmar should “take all their citizens back to their country and create a congenial atmosphere so that they can go back”.

According to the United Nations (UN), about 370,000 Rohingya have crossed the border in the last three weeks to escape the military crackdown and village burnings, following some militants’ attack on police posts.

“And still people are trying to get into the country,” said UNICEF spokesman Jean-Jaques Simon. “The scale is quite something, the rapidity of the new arrivals.”

Myanmar continues to draw international criticism for the crisis, as the UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described the situation as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” on Monday.

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei denounced Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her failure to stop the violence. “A cruel government, at the top of which sits a cruel woman who was awarded a Nobel prize, kills innocent people, sets fire to them, destroys their houses and displaces them and no tangible reaction is seen,” Khamenei said in a speech on Tuesday. “Yes, they condemn it, issue statements, but what good does it do? They should take action. This marks the death of the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Sheikh Hasina also condemned the country’s treatment of the minority ethnic group. “My personal message is very clear, that they should consider this situation with the eyes of humanity,” she told BBC. “So these people, they belong to Myanmar. Hundreds of years they are staying there. How they can deny that they are not their citizens?”