Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays. Here are the ten stories for this week:

Dying Dissident: One of the symbols of democracy and a literary voice of reason has died. "Václav Havel, a Czech writer who was imprisoned by his country's former communist rulers, only to become a symbol of freedom and his nation's first president in the post-communist era, died Sunday morning at his weekend home in the Czech Republic, the Associated Press reports. He was 75."  [Washington Post]

Dying Dictator: Kim Jong-il, the second-generation North Korean dictator who defied global condemnation to build nuclear weapons while his people starved, has died, state media reported. A government statement called on North Koreans to “loyally follow” his son, Kim Jong Un. Kim, 70, died on Dec. 17 of a heart attack. "The pictures today from North Korea—the ones the regime has let the world see—make for a catalogue of public crying, a phenomenon that a number of writers have tried to understand this morning. In a post on what may follow, Evan Osnos notes that the death of Kim Jong-il was announced by a television anchor, a middle-aged woman in a black traditional dress, who was already in tears, thereby informing the public both of the news and of what their reaction was expected to be." [The New Yorker]

Women Marching: Thousands of women marched in Cairo, Egypt, in what some say is the largest mass demonstration of women since the 1919 march against British colonialism. The protest’s scale stunned even feminists in Egypt. "Several thousand women demanding the end of military rule marched through downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening in an extraordinary expression of anger over images of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking female demonstrators in Tahrir Square." [The New York Times]

Legalizing Euthanasia: Pete Singer, a professor at bioethics at Princeton University, and a controversial and polarizing figure, has long advocated active euthanasia as a humane option. It appears that he now has the backing of a Canadian panel of academics. "Last month, an expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada, chaired by Udo Schüklenk, a professor of bioethics at Queens University, released a report on decision-making at the end of life. The report provides a strong argument for allowing doctors to help their patients to die, provided that the patients are competent and freely request such assistance." [Project Syndicate]

Burning Books: Such always is a bad sign, informing the public that censorship of books and ideas is necessary, a perverse idea that goes against democracy, freedom and human dignity. "Renewed clashes between protesters and soldiers over the weekend near Tahrir square, the epicentre of Egypt’s January revolution, saw the Institut d’Egypte, home to some of Egypt’s oldest manuscripts and books, set on fire. Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria commented on his Twitter account that the institute, Egypt’s Academy of Science, was the second oldest modern academy outside Europe, after the American Philosophical Society. “Priceless manuscripts and irreplaceable books are lost.” [Nature]

Criminalizing Denial: France took the first step toward a law that would make it a criminal offense to deny historical genocides, including the 1915 Armenian massacre by Ottoman Turks. In response, an angry Turkey has cut all diplomatic, political and economic meetings with France. "French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe, speaking to journalists after the vote, urged Turkey not to overreact to the assembly decision, called for "good sense and moderation." But Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily criticized France for passing the draft legislation, which touches on a highly controversial period in his country's history." [Reuters]

Focusing Left: The Jewish Museum in New York City has an exhibition. "The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951," which, as the museum says, "offers a comprehensive look at the Photo League, a group of politically engaged street photographers who captured city life from the end of the Great Depression to the start of the Cold War." Or as the New York Times puts it: "One of many artistic casualties of the McCarthy-era blacklists was the Photo League, a New York school and salon for amateur and professional photographers. Progressive in its politics and uncompromising in its aesthetics, the league was the place to be if you had a hand-held 35-millimeter camera and a left-leaning social conscience — and particularly if you believed, to borrow a bit of contemporary parlance, that photography was fine art for the 99 percent." [The New York Times]

Eating Ethical: Being a vegetarian might save cows, chickens and other domestic livestock but harm other animals, says Mike Archer, professor, evolution of earth & life systems research group at University of New South Wales. "The ethics of eating red meat have been grilled recently by critics who question its consequences for environmental health and animal welfare. But if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do. Renowned ethicist Peter Singer says if there is a range of ways of feeding ourselves, we should choose the way that causes the least unnecessary harm to animals. Most animal rights advocates say this means we should eat plants rather than animals. [The Conversation]

Understanding Cosmology: Science has long worked hard on trying to understand life through laws and principles. What at first seemed mysterious or magical, like the laws of planetary motion, were given scientific explanations. These fundamental principles have guided us since since the beginning. But we might be coming to a fork in the road, writes Alan Lightman, a physicist and professor at MIT.  "This long and appealing trend may be coming to an end. Dramatic developments in cosmological findings and thought have led some of the world’s premier physicists to propose that our universe is only one of an enormous number of universes with wildly varying properties, and that some of the most basic features of our particular universe are indeed mere accidents—a random throw of the cosmic dice. In which case, there is no hope of ever explaining our universe’s features in terms of fundamental causes and principles." [Harper's Magazine]

Recording Santa: A 1925 recording by Ernest Hare keeps the myth of Santa Claus alive. "Santa Claus Proves There is a Santa Claus (with song “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”) by Ernest Hare (1925)." [The Public Domain]


CARTOON OF THE WEEK: Tis the season to give, or rather to request: "Occupy Santa Claus"[Political Humor]

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: The rhetoric between France and Turkey is heating up after France tabled a bill that would make it a criminal offense to deny historical genocides, including the 1915 Armenian genocide.
"In Algeria from 1945, an estimated 15 percent of the population was massacred by the French. This is a genocide. If the French President Mr Sarkozy doesn't know about this genocide he should go and ask his father, Paul Sarkozy. His father served in the French Legion in Algeria in the 1940s. I am sure he would have lots to tell his son about the French massacres in Algeria." —Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan [Reuters]
PHOTO OF THE WEEK:  "A Photo That Encapsulates the Horror of Egypt's Crackdown": Soldiers beat a defenseless woman in Cairo, Egypt. [The Atlantic]

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: "Inside North Korea": News of the death of Kim Jong-il has led to speculation about North Korea's future. Many wonder about life in North Korea, one of the most secretive nations on earth. [National Geographic]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending December 17, 2011

Here are the ten stories of the week:

Leaving Iraq: It seems almost anti-climatic, since it's gone on so long, since March 2003— almost nine years. Yet, it's good news indeed. "The American war in Iraq is over. The last U.S. soldier will be home by Christmas, and for the first time in a decade, no American service member is preparing for deployment in Mesopotamia. As America leaves the Iraq war, what has the war left America?" [Washington Post]

Challenging Putinism: We might be witnessing the beginning of real democracy movement in Russia. "The protests were the largest in a decade—large enough that even slavishly pro-Putin Russian TV felt obliged to cover them. By all accounts, the peaceful demonstrations cut across much of Russian society, from Communists to liberals, young and old. "Putin Out" was among the cries." [The Wall Street Journal]

Funding Terrorism: The Obama Administration in the United States has accused a bank in Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese Canadian Bank, of acting as a centre of  money laundering, which funds the activities of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization. "Now, in the wake of the bank’s exposure and arranged sale, its ledgers have been opened to reveal deeper secrets: a glimpse at the clandestine methods that Hezbollah — a terrorist organization in American eyes that has evolved into Lebanon’s pre-eminent military and political power — uses to finance its operations. The books offer evidence of an intricate global money-laundering apparatus that, with the bank as its hub, appeared to let Hezbollah move huge sums of money into the legitimate financial system, despite sanctions aimed at cutting off its economic lifeblood."  [The New York Times]

Quietly Arming: The Finnish state-controlled arms manufacturer, Patria has agreed to sell 36 NEMO mortar systems to Saudi Arabia. Erkki Tuomioja, the foreign minister, refused to comment on the deal. Such is not surprising since Tuomioja has not hidden his disdain for Israel. "Interestingly, Erkki Tuomioja has been at the forefront of opposing arms sales to the only democracy in the Middle East. In October 2010, before his current tenure, Tuomioja signed an ICAHD petition in which 153 signatories declared their opposition to arms trade between Finland and Israel. Considering that the arms trade between Finland and Israel is significant, ending it would have a major impact on the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries." [The Jerusalem Post]

Facing Democracy: The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has taken a step to reinforce Canadian democratic values, which includes equality for women, by putting forth a law that is both symbolic and practical. "As part of a wider circle of reforms in his department, Citizenship and Immigration minister Jason Kenney has announced a regulation requiring  Muslim women who observe the custom of wearing the niqab to remove it before taking the oath of citizenship, the final step in becoming fully Canadian. According to the new rule, the judge must see her face as she takes the oath, but she can replace the face cover afterwards. Women with face cover will receive two warnings before being refused the oath. On her arrival, a department official will explain the new regulation. If the woman does not comply, the judge will inform her that she cannot say the oath with her face covered. If she again refuses, the judge will request that she leave."  [National Post]

Judaizing Jesus: It's hard for many to accept, but Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew and always lived as one. His mission as messiah was to his own Jewish people. The changes came after his death, chiefly a result of Paul's writings. "To understand the genesis of these notions, the first point to note is that during his days of preaching, Jesus of Nazareth addressed only Jews, "the lost sheep of Israel" (Mt 10:5; 15:24). His disciples were even expressly instructed not to approach Gentiles or Samaritans (Mt 10:5). On the few occasions that Jesus ventured beyond the boundaries of his homeland, he never proclaimed his gospel to pagans, nor did his disciples do so during his lifetime." [Standpoint Magazine

Traveling Back: Ever since H.G. Wells published The Time Machine in 1895, the public has been fascinated with time travel. What happens in science fiction sometimes makes it into the realm of pure science. In recent decades, for example, physicists have said that time travel is theoretically possible.   "Accelerating beyond light speed to go back to the future requires an infinite amount of energy, so is practically ruled out (though a huge question mark hangs over faster-than-light neutrinos). However, general relativity does permit the construction of a time machine if space-time is twisted to create a loop, allowing a traveller heading into the future to circle back to an event in his or her own past. This is possible in curved space-time because it's like a rollercoaster with a loop-the-loop: the cars always go forward but the track circles back to a previous point." [New Scientist]

Seeking Silence: "The Artist"— A French film by writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has captured the attention of both critics and the public, the unlikely star a black-and-white silent film about the time in America that saw huge changes. This acts as the backdrop to a love story. Why it's appealing is the same reason that silence is appealing when there are too much cacophony. "The Artist doesn’t talk, but it sings. This fantastic new silent film (when was the last time you heard that?), shot in stunning black and white and glorious 2D, tells the story of a Hollywood film star who’s left behind when the movies become talkies. You’ve never seen anything like it." [National Post]

Blaming Groupthink: People part of cohesive groups are viewed by outsiders as less individualistic, which social scientists have called Groupthink. "A research team had subjects rate groups, such as corporations, sports teams and government parties, about how much the group has its own collective intelligence. Subjects also rated how much each member of the group had a mind of his or her own. Finally, they rated the perceived cohesiveness of the group. And the perception was that the more cohesive a group the less its individual members are thought to have independent thought. The study is in the journal Psychological Science."   [Scientific American]

Helping Rats: A study at the University of Chicago shows that rats can act with compassion and will delay gratification to help another rat. "Not only will rats frantically work to free their trapped cage mate; they will do so even when there's a tempting little pile of chocolate chips nearby, the study reveals. Instead of leaving their pal in the trap and selfishly gobbling the candy all by themselves, rats will free their cage mate and share the chocolate. "To me that's absolutely stunning," says neurobiologist Peggy Mason of the University of Chicago. "The fact that the rat does that is really amazing." [NPR]


CARTOON OF THE WEEK: We all feel this way at times, perhaps more often than we'd like to admit. [The New Yorker]

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If Governor Romney would give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over the years at Bain, then I would be glad to listen to him. But I bet you $10 — not $10,000 — that he won't take the offer.
Newt Gingrich, candidate in Republican Party presidential race [Associated Press]

PHOTO OF THE WEEK:  Roald Amundsen of Norway was the first person to reach the South Pole, having done so on December 14, 1911, one hundred years ago. "Images from The South pole; an account of the Norwegian Antarctic expedition in the “Fram,” 1910-1912, Roald Amundsen’s account of his expedition which became the first to reach the South Pole on 14 December 1911, just five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott." [The Public Domain]

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: "Bear caught in downtown Vancouver set free." [CBC]

Arresting Covers: Advertising Age has named the ten best magazine covers of 2011. They are fun and interesting to look at, particularly if you like magazines as I do. [Advertising Age]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending December 10, 2011

Here are the ten stories of the week:

Opposing Putin: Vladimir Putin might not have his way after all, after his party received around 50 per cent of the vote in parliamentary elections last Sunday December 4, and opposition is growing amidst cries of election fraud. "Twenty-five thousand people gathered in the center of Moscow today [Sunday] as the temperature hovered around freezing to denounce the outcome of the Dec. 4 parliamentary vote, the city police said. “Several thousand” demonstrated in St. Petersburg and more than 15,000 in about 30 other cities countrywide, the state news service RIA Novosti reported.The outpouring of popular anger threatens to weaken Putin’s bid to return to the Kremlin in a presidential contest in March. His United Russia party retained a narrow majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, amid accusations of vote rigging. Putin said Dec. 8 that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of the vote emboldened protesters. “We are for free elections, we are for democracy,” Ilya Ponomaryov, a Duma lawmaker and one of the protest organizers, told the crowd in Bolotnaya Square, on an island just south of the Kremlin. “We want a recount of the vote. " [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Feeling Nothing:  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected accusations that he holds any responsibility for the deaths of thousands of protesters in Syria's nine month-long uprising, telling an interviewer that he would be "crazy" if he killed his own people." Two thoughts come to mind. The Syrian leader either suffers from delusion or holds no real decision-making power in the government. In either case, he should step down for the betterment of his people. "Mr Assad sent shock waves around the Arab world with his point-by-point denial of allegations by human rights groups, the United Nations, and his own neighbours that his troops had arrested and killed children and launched sweeping deadly assaults on protesters across the country. He told the American television journalist Barbara Walters, in just his third major interview since the start of the crisis, that most of those killed in the violence had been his own soldiers and supporters. His performance, in which he came across as the same young, unruffled and genial figure as before the crisis began, was most noticeable by its lack of any offer of remorse."
[The Guardian]

Speaking Truth: It is becoming more difficult to say things as a politician that ordinary people say, think and write every day.  Howard Gutman, the United States ambassador in Belgium, got in hot water for saying the type of anti-Semitism practiced by Muslims today differs from that practiced traditionally and historically by Christians, in that the Muslim hatred is linked to and fueled by the Israel-Palestinian problem. Newt Gingrich, ever the politicians and trying to sound "presidential," is now feigning shock. Has he not made more pointed, if not more offensive statements? "Howard Gutman, America's ambassador in Belgium is under fire for having said that some of the rising anti-Semitism in the Muslim world is the product of the conflict in Palestine. Newt Gingrich—shocked, shocked—has called for the ambassador's dismissal. But nobody who has travelled in the Muslim world with even half an ear open can seriously deny that the ambassador is completely right. Many Muslims hate Israel, and since Israel is the Jewish state they extend this hatred to Jews to at large."  [The Economist]

Fashioning Unity: Last Sunday night, the fashion collective Three as Four opened its highly anticipated exhibition “Insalaam Inshalom” at the Beit Ha’Ir Center for Urban Culture in Tel Aviv, whose aim is to show, at least in art and fashion, that two cultures can live together. The show was two years in the making. "Covering the walls of the four-story building in fabric printed with their spring collection’s central motifs, which are made of a mix of Muslim and Jewish symbols, the designers Gabi Asfour, Adi Gil and Ange Donhauser invited 10 artists to show works that relate to the project’s central notion: that Judaism and Islam can live side by side." [The New York Times]

Enduring Stories: There are some enduring myths, or stories about Asia, centred on China and its continued economic growth, its intelligent students and the power of its centralized government. Some ideas remain true or relevant, others not so as Asia and China are changing. "In a year of radical change around the world—as tyrants fell, and entire national economies teetered on the edge of ruin—China found itself in the unfamiliar position of being the stable force in Asia. It is now the world’s second largest economy, sought after by presidents as a defense against economic collapse (a role it is unlikely to fulfill to the degree that outsiders might hope). When Japan was wounded by the tsunami of March 11th, China sent rescuers, a small but promising sign of goodwill in an otherwise chilly relationship, and a strange role reversal for the two global powers." [The New Yorker]

Inflating Art: Many wonder why art always remains expensive, even in tough economic times. The short answer is that wealthy persons always have the money for art, since there is a certain prestige in owning something that few can't afford. "The top art prices may have little to do with classic economics. Noah Horowitz, whose Art of the Deal is a crucial text on the subject, says in the long run your investment in art may only do about as well as your holdings in bonds—and comes with greater risk. (But, as one major New York collector put it, that’s not so bad, if you have nowhere else to store your income. And anyway, “bonds aren’t that good to look at.”) At this moment, when the 1 percent has the cash to burn, buying art is less about finance than about the cultural value of money, and of art." [Newsweek]

Finding Life: An earth-like planet has been found. Well, not precisely, but NASA's space telescope Kepler has identified a new candidate for the most habitable planet in the universe other than earth called Kepler 22-b, about 600 light-years away from us. It contains both land and water and has temperatures which average around 22 C (72 F). "At 2.4 times the diameter of the Earth the planet Kepler 22-b also orbits its parent star (which is a slightly less massive G-dwarf star than the Sun and 25% less luminous) in 290 Earth-days, which places it within the nominal “habitable zone.“ This system is about 600 light years from us."[Scientific American]

Leaving Home: After traveling more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers), Voyageur 1, which NASA launched on September 5, 1977, is positioned to leave our solar system and explore the rest of the Milky Way galaxy. "Voyager 1 still has a little way to go before it completely exits the solar system and becomes the first man-made probe to cross into interstellar space, or the vast space between stars. The spacecraft has enough battery power to last until 2020, but scientists think it will reach interstellar space before that — in a matter of several months to years." [Washington Post]

Keeping Cool: Mongolia has a plan to beat global warming by growing an "ice shield" that would cool its capital city, Ulaanbaatar. "The shield would be an enhanced version of thick ice sheets that naturally form over rivers during winter. These sheets, which can grow up to 23 feet (7 meters) thick, are known in Mongolia and Russia as naleds, and in Alaska and Scandinavia as aufeis—German for 'ice on top.' The ice sheets form under certain conditions—very cold temperatures and fast-flowing rivers—when water under the existing ice cover bursts through the cracks and freezes at the surface." [National Geographic]

Surviving Progress: A Canadian documentary examines if our planet is in peril, put in that position by too much progress and, in particular, our over-reliance on natural resources. "Written and directed by Canadians Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks—and inspired by Ronald Wright’s best-seller, A Short History of Progress— the film confronts the issue humanity driving itself into ecological debt. Literally digging holes in the planet. The way we treat the the Earth’s natural capital becomes synonymous with the way Wall Street treats wealth.  If The Inconvenient Truth and Inside Job had a brainy love child, it might look like Surviving Progress." [Macleans]


QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We don't kill our people. No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person." —Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, in an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News, Dec 7, 2011 [ABC News]

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: The Urban Clan of Genghis Khan. This forms part of a photo essay of life in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the most sparsely populated country in the world, with a little less than three million inhabitants. Yet it might be changing. "An influx of nomads has turned the Mongolian capital upside down." [National Geographic]

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: "Defiant Assad Denies Ordering Bloody Syrian Crackdown." Such sums up the view of the president of Syria, in an interview with Barbara Walters of ABC News, Dec 7, 2011 [ABC News]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending December 3, 2011

Here are the ten stories for this week:

Watching TV: After various political leaders have failed in their many attempts to get the two sides together in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Alan Dershowitz, noted lawyer and Harvard law professor, has come up with something different, if not a wholly American initiative. "Alan Dershowitz has sent Prime Minister Netanyahu a copy of the recent 'Palestinian Chicken' Curb Your Enthusiasm episode and suggested he watch it with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas." [The Tablet]

Enough Already: After years of rewarding the wealthy with unrealistic tax breaks, governments are now forced to come up with ways to raise money. Greece, the cradle of democracy, has  decided to look for money in the most unlikely places, among the poor and elderly, a decision that is sure to backfire.  "In September, under pressure to come up with $2.6 billion to close a budget gap, and losing the battle against tax cheats, Greek officials settled on the idea of linking a new real estate tax to bills from the government-owned power company. The new tax, which they say they will levy again next year,  is based on square footage, the age of the building and the average value of a neighborhood, and has nothing to do with the taxpayer’s income." [New York Times]

Enough Already: Part II: U.S. Judge Jed Rakoff of the Federal District Court rejected a plan by the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle a securities fraud case against Citigroup, saying that the $285 million deal was “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest.”  Rakoff issued a scathing report, both as an indictment of the SEC and Citigroup, symbolic of what is wrong with today's financial institutions. Hubris comes to mind. So does lack of ethical responsibility. Judge Rakoff has told the SEC and Citigroup to prepare for a trial in July. "Rakoff’s 15-page final ruling read like a political document, serving not just as a rejection of this one deal but as a broad and unequivocal indictment of the regulatory system as a whole. He particularly targeted the SEC’s longstanding practice of greenlighting relatively minor fines and financial settlements alongside de facto waivers of civil liability for the guilty – banks commit fraud and pay small fines, but in the end the SEC allows them to walk away without admitting to criminal wrongdoing." [RollingStone]

Cold Hearts in Washington: The United States government has to make serious cuts to its budget and reduce its deficit, or at least make a show that it is doing something. How it proposes to do so, namely, where it makes the cuts and who's affected, is always an interesting show in democracy in action, or lack thereof.  Taxing the rich, who have sufficient money, seems to be an improbable proposition, which shows how immoral, unethical and hard-hearted Washington's lawmakers have become. (We are now witnessing a restrained form of democracy.) Does it really matters which party is in power? Consider President Obama, a Democrat, slashing a program that chiefly benefits the working poor.  "Under Mr. Obama’s proposed budget, the overall heating aid program would get about $2.6 billion, down from $4.7 billion in 2010-11. The House and the Senate are considering smaller but still significant cuts, with the final amount yet to be determined." [New York Times]

The Third Way: During the Cold War, which effectively started after the end of the Second World War, it became clear that the Soviet Union was not going to be an ally of the United States. The large nation under Stalin had its own expansionist plans. For most foreign policy experts, the choices were the proverbial rock and hard place (war or appeasement, both undesirable.) Not so for American diplomat, George F. Kennan, who based his ideas after reading great Russian literature of the 19th century—Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. "What Kennan did, in his famous “Long Telegram” from Moscow in February 1946 and through a briefly anonymous article in Foreign Affairs in 1947 was to lay out a third path between the extremes of war and appeasement—containment. Stalin, he said, is not Hitler. He does not have a fixed timetable for aggression. He is determined to dominate Europe and, if possible, the world, but there is no hurry about it. If the US and its allies could be patient and contain Soviet expansionism without war or appeasement over a sufficiently long period of time the Russians would change their priorities."  [The Economist]

A Long Road to Reform: The "Arab Spring" in the Middle East is only the beginning, and true democratic reform will need many seasons to take root in what David Rothkopf says is a long process. "This process —revolt, resistance, partial reform, renewed pressure, competition among political parties, the demand for results, further pressure —will undoubtedly take many years. It almost certainly will make security in the region complicated during that time. Meddlesome and opportunistic actors like Iran will only make it worse. So the strategy for Western governments who seek to promote democratic reforms and the rise of pluralism and moderate voices must be one for the long-term. We need to support reform where it means real pluralism, tolerance, a commitment to peace and the creation of genuine opportunity. We need to expect upsets and support the regional players who can help resolve them. But what we dare not do is prematurely reach conclusions -- one way or another -- about events that have only just started to unfold." [Foreign Policy]

British Embassy Attack in Iran: In a scene reminiscent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, in 1979, mobs attacked the British Embassy in Tehran. (Note: The US has no diplomatic presence in Iran; and Canada's diplomatic presence is at the Chargé level.) The mobs were ostensibly upset about the latest economic sanctions directed against Iran. "Britain has threatened 'serious consequences' for Iran after protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran, ransacking offices and diplomatic residences and triggering one of the worst crises in bilateral relations since the Islamic revolution 32 years ago. A mob including members of the paramilitary basij brigades, under the control of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, surged through lines of riot police and broke into the embassy and a separate residential compound, the Qolhak Gardens, in northern Tehran, chanting 'Death to England' in scenes reminiscent of the seizure of the US embassy in 1979." In response, Britain has withdrawn its diplomatic staff and their families, closed its ransacked embassy and ordered the expulsion of Iranian diplomats in England, who have now returned to Iran.
[The Guardian]

Sweet Dreams: There might have been a reason why parents have long wished their children "sweet dreams." Having good dreams can make our lives less stressful, a new scientific study reveal. "Sleep helps us consolidate our memories. Sleep also helps us learn. During REM sleep, which is the dreaming stage of sleep, the brain stops releasing stress chemicals." [Scientific American]

Newton's Book of Inspiration: The Mysteries of Nature and Art,  a 17th century technical manual by John Bate, has the unlikely distinction of having inspired a young Isaac Newton to great scientific heights, "Technical manuals were produced prolifically in the 17th century, reflecting progress in technological growth. This was a time of fundamental transition, with a spirit of initiative and invention that resulted in significant advances in science. Innovations and developments in areas such as mechanics, astronomy and chemistry were to pave the way for the industrial revolution. Dissemination of new ideas via printed treatises was crucial to the efforts of inventors and technicians." [PublicDomain Review]

The Odd Life: The editors of National Geographic have selected the oddest life forms of 2011.  Included are a cyclops shark, an albino spider and a vampire flying frog. "The mountain jungles of Vietnam are home to a new breed of "vampire"—a "flying" tree frog dubbed Rhacophorus vampyrus. First found in 2008, the two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) amphibian is known to live only in southern Vietnamese cloud forests, where it uses webbed fingers and toes to glide from tree to tree, scientists said in January.
[National Geographic]


PHOTO OF THE WEEK: "Iranian mob storms UK embassy in Tehran" [The Week]

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: "Occupy L.A.: More than 200 arrested in peaceful sweep" [LA Times]

Both are about protests, one violent, one peaceful. Both were ended by the police. Both will be interpreted years later as defining moments in the history of democracy and individual liberties, each for different reasons. The peaceful protests themselves symbolize something greater, a growing and collective dissatisfaction and anger even among the most mildest of persons with "business as usual." You might not necessarily agree with the means or the message, but such protests will not end. We are entering a season of protests, fueled by grievances, both real and imagined. Some will ask why it was so, why so few in leadership did so little about the apparent inequalities and injustices. 

As for the violent mob attack against the British embassy in Iran, it is laden with significance and is also a defining moment. Some say this is an internal message from the hard-line theocrats against any form of western ideas. That might be so. Even so, it's a bad day for democracy and freedom.  It might raise the question later among historians on why the world didn't have the collective will to stop Iran. Why they didn't protect democracy. I will leave that for the leaders themselves to answer, if they can find a moment of genuine thought or action. That in itself speaks volumes and explains much.