Sunday, December 9, 2012

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending December 8, 2012

News & Commentary

Here are five stories that shaped my world this week:

Russia & Others Against North Korea Missile Launch: An article in Voice of America says that Russia has asked North Korea to not go ahead with its missile launch, scheduled between December 10 and 22, close to the December 17th date of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il.:
Russia joins an international chorus expressing concern about the North's intentions. Pyongyang says the rocket will carry an earth observation satellite into orbit, but the effort is widely , suspected to be a cover for testing North Korea's ballistic missile technology. China, the North's main ally and key benefactor also said Sunday it was concerned at the launch plans.
Japan has announced the postponement of two days of talks with North Korea that had been scheduled to begin in Beijing Wednesday because of the impending launch.
Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto on Saturday ordered the military to make the necessary defensive preparations for a North Korean missile should it go off course and threaten Japanese territory. North Korea made a similar launch attempt in April that failed.
Despite the many nations lined up against it, North Korea is unlikely to heed their concerns. For Kim Jong-un, the young leader of the totalitarian state, it is more important to assert and extend his authority. On the line are his credentials as a tough and determined leader, which includes not only resisting the urgings of the international community, but also succeeding in the planned missile test.

Is Syria's Assad Thinking The Unthinkable?: Using Chemical Weapons: An article in Ynet News, reported widely and quoting from Wired magazine, raises the very real possibility that Syria's President Bashar Assad is thinking about deploying chemical weapons—in particular sarin gas—against his citizens:
Wired explained that Sarin gas has two main chemical components - isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride. The Assad government has more than 500 metric tons of these precursors, which it ordinarily stores separately, in so-called "binary" form, in order to prevent an accidental release of nerve gas. Last week, according to the official, that changed as the Syrian military began combining some of the binaries. "They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity,” the official was quoted by Wired as saying. "We're not sure what's the intent."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the opposition "is a red line for the United States. "I am not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur," she said.
Later on Monday, US President Barack Obama warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would be "totally unacceptable" and that the country's leaders would be held accountable. Obama said that if Assad made the "tragic mistake" of deploying chemical weapons, there would be consequences. Obama stopped short of detailing those consequences.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are both right and correct in their response to any real possibility of Syria's Assad doing the unthinkable. (Syria is a signatory of the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning chemical weapons in war.) The use of chemical weapons would inflame the region, and reluctantly but necessarily bring in other nations like the U.S., Israel, Jordan and Turkey to what has been until now a Syrian civil war.

On the part of the Syrian regime, its actions thus far have been both deplorable and despicable, and show signs of desperation, signalling that it will stop at nothing to remain in power, no matter the consequences. The sum total of its actions thus far have been horrific; this raises it to another level of depravity.

Asperger's Syndrome Dropped From Latest Psych Manual: An article in Macleans says that Asperger's Syndrome will no longer be a stand-alone diagnosis when the DSM-V, the "bible" of psychiatric disorders, is released in May 2013; it will form part of the general diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
The fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-V, will come out in May and Asperger’s will be notably absent, replaced with the broader definition of “autism spectrum disorder.” Previously, Asperger’s was thought to be a milder form of autism. The choice to remove the definition from the DSM, sometimes referred to as the psychiatric bible, has been much-debated and is opposed by some who think the change in definition will exclude some patients from diagnosis, and could mean they don’t get the treatment and services they need.
“Our fear is that we are going to take a big step backward,” Lori Shery, president of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network, told The New York Times in January. “If clinicians say, ‘These kids don’t fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,’ they are not going to get the supports and services they need, and they’re going to experience failure.”
Not everyone who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome disagrees, however. Joshua Muggleton, a psychology student who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, writes in The Guardian: “…after looking at the research I was forced to conclude that actually, the DSM-V is a big step in the right direction. For years, studies have been suggesting that autism and Asperger’s syndrome are the same condition, differentiated only by level of impairment.”
If such is indeed the case, and psychiatric science seems to support this assertion, then this is a step in the right direction; putting together similar diagnoses and placing them on a continuum makes perfect sense for issues of treatment. Asperger's Syndrome has received a lot of media attention, chiefly I suspect since those who have been said diagnosed, are both intelligent and articulate, yet suffer other social anxieties that somewhat impair their ability to interact socially. This is a far less severe disorder than the more severe cases of childhood autism, which deserves greater resources for both patients and their families.

Tanks Outside Presidential Palace In Egypt: The constitutional crisis continues in Egypt, pitting pro-Mubark loyalists and secularists against pro-Morsi Islamists. An article in CBC news reports:
The Egyptian army deployed tanks and gave both supporters and opponents of Mohammed Morsi a deadline to leave the area outside the presidential palace Thursday following fierce street battles that left five people dead and more than 600 injured in the worst outbreak of violence between the two sides since the Islamist leader's election.
The intensity of the overnight violence, with Morsi's Islamist backers and largely secular protesters lobbing firebombs and rocks at each other, signaled a possible turning point in the 2-week-old crisis over the president's assumption of near-absolute powers and the hurried adoption of a draft constitution.
Opposition activists defiantly called for another protest outside the palace later Thursday, raising the specter of more bloodshed as neither side showed willingness to back down.
But the army's Republican Guard, an elite unit assigned to protect the president and his palaces, gave protesters on both sides until 3 p.m. local time to clear the vicinity, according to an official statement. The statement also announced a ban on protests outside any of the nation's presidential palaces.
President Morsi seems determined to go ahead with his plans to impose a constitution on the populous, putting the interests of his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, ahead of others in Egypt. What ever takes place in the next few days, it is clear that damage has already been done to a nascent democracy. The hopes for a democracy in Egypt now seem dim indeed.

Typhoon In The Philippines: An article in CNN says that an inland area of the Philippines that was devastated by Typhoon Bhopa was supposed to be safe from devastation from typhoons.
The area is sheltered from the worst of the weather by mountains, they figured. And besides, the big typhoons that slam into the Philippines every year never come this far south, especially not this late in the year. But Bopha did. And it brought savage winds that uprooted entire banana plantations in low-lying areas, and relentless rain that unleashed torrents of rocks and mud down the mountainsides where shanty-dwelling miners dig for gold.
The epicenter of the devastation appears to have been in New Bataan, a town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Montevista and close to the steep mountains. The flash floods hit it head-on Tuesday, washing away families huddled in their homes and soldiers stationed in a compound in the town.
Large parts of New Bataan and many of the people who lived there are now buried under mud, fallen trees and rubble, said Arnaldo Arcadio, an emergency response program manager for Catholic Relief Services, a humanitarian group. "The mood is really gloomy," he said Thursday after visiting the town, where 90% to 95% of the houses are believed to have been destroyed or damaged.
The Philippines National Disaster Agency says the number of deaths has reached 379; the number is likely to climb, The Guardian writes, "after Bopha triggered landslides and floods along the coast and in farming and mining towns inland in the provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental." What this shows, among other things, is that nature is both unpredictable and savage in its actions. Humans can plan and make more durable housing and other buildings, but even modern communities can be devastated by the effects of typhoons and hurricanes when they are severe. Sandy has shown us that much.

Meanwhile, the climate change talks at Doha, Qatar, have produced nothing substantial, only adding more hot air, excuses and posturing to our unstable, overheated atmosphere—it's not surprising, then, that they have generally been a failure.

December 8th In History

1609: Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Italy, opens its reading room, the second public library of Europe.
1813: Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 premieres;
1849: Giuseppe Verdi's opera "Luisa Miller" premieres in Naples
1854: Pope Pius IX proclaims "Immaculate Conception," which says that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is free of Original Sin;
1876: Suriname begins compulsory education for all children aged 7 to 12;
1941: U.S. & Britain declare war on Japan, U.S. enters WW II after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor;
1966: The U.S. and the USSR sign a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in outer space.


  1. It's welcome and surprising news that Russia is telling North Korea not to launch missiles. It is especially surprising since Russia is supporting Assad and Ahmadinejad.

    1. What is that expression about politics making strange bedfellows?


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