Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ten Stories Of The Week: Ending March 24, 2012

Here are ten stories that shaped the world this week:

Hate in France: Now that Mohamed Merah, the self-confessed murder of seven people, including three Jewish children in Toulouse, France, is dead, commentators will likely be looking for explanations. They will be analyzing the motives for such hate crimes; some will say in a fit of moral equivalence that his actions might be explained, blaming both the Left and the Right for incitement. But some things do not require analysis of such political differences. It is more earthy, more tribal, and nothing to do with Western values. This young man was fueled by a noxious ideology of hate and victim-hood, which always leads to violent ends, including his own.
A self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militant died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he jumped out of an apartment window at the end of a 32-hour siege in southern France. Mohamed Merah, the main suspect in a wave of shootings that killed seven people, had tried to blast his way out of the siege in the city of Toulouse after members of an elite force known as RAID entered his flat.
[National Post]
Sanctions Against Syria: The European Unions added more sanctions against Syria, including imposing travel restrictions on President Bashar al-Assad’s family, including his wife. At the same time, the United Nations envoy Kofi Annan will travel to Moscow and Beijing over the weekend to persuade Russia and China, two nations that have supported the current Syrian regime, to come on board with sanctions. It will likely be a failed trip, and Annan will leave empty-handed. These two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are overly occupied with Israel, never at a loss to heap condemnation on an open democratic Western-style state, the only one in the Middle East, lest anyone need reminding.
The decision by Europe’s foreign ministers in Brussels to impose a limited expansion of commercial sanctions is aimed at tightening the economic squeeze on the government in Damascus and forcing an end to its brutal crackdown on a year of unrest. The move comes as Mr. Annan, attempting to mediate the crisis on behalf of the United Nations and the Arab League, pressed his diplomatic efforts with China and Russia, which have previously blocked two United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria. Mr. Annan is set to hold talks with Russian and Chinese officials over the weekend. 
[International Herald Tribune]
Iran Supports Syria: Iran is supplying technical and material support to Syria in its continued fight against anti-government protests. By doing so, it is giving its moral assent to the actions of Syrian President Bashar Assad. This is not surprising, since both are authoritarian regimes.
Iran is providing a broad array of assistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad to help him suppress anti-government protests, from high-tech surveillance technology to guns and ammunition, US and European security officials say. Tehran's technical assistance to Assad's security forces includes electronic surveillance systems, technology designed to disrupt efforts by protesters to communicate via social media, and Iranian-made drone aircraft for overhead surveillance, the officials said. They discussed intelligence matters on condition of anonymity.
[Jerusalem Post]
The Koranic Mind: For religious leaders in Afghanistan, who hold a position of authority and moral suasion, the accidental burning of the Koran is more horrifying than the killing of 16 civilians by a mentally unbalanced U.S. soldier. It's a stark and chilling reminder how far apart are Western culture and Islamic culture. Western culture, after going through the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, believes in freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry & the protection of life and liberty. Islamic culture believes primarily in the protection or guarding of its sacred books, most notably the Koran.
The Associated Press reports on how religious leaders have justified the discrepancy:
When mullah Abdul Rahim Shah Ghaa thinks back to the day in February when a couple of Afghan employees at a U.S.-run detention center outside of Kabul yanked five partially burned Korans out of a trash incinerator, he shudders with anger and revulsion. “It is like a knife to my heart,” says the head of the provincial religious council. The March 11 slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a lone U.S Army staff sergeant named Robert Bales in Kandahar province, however, has left less of a scar. “Of course we condemn that act,” he says. “But it was only 16 people. Even if it were 1,000 people, it wouldn’t compare to harming one word of the Koran. If someone insults our holy book, it means that they insult our faith, our religion and everything that we have.”
Faces of Crime: In government reports, crime is a matter of numbers, notably whether it is going down. But crime has an effect on individuals and on families. Residents of a poor industrial city outside Mexico City now can see a stark reminder of crime's effects—they now see the faces of crime victims staring back at them. 
Enormous photographic portraits cover concrete homes as part of a community art project that captures what has become a Mexican obsession: visualizing victimhood or, more broadly, turning cold, mind-numbing data back into real people. “We speak too often in terms of numbers,” said Marco Hernández Murrieta, president of the Murrieta Foundation, which organized the photo project here in a suburb of Mexico City. “We’re putting a face on the statistics.” Other groups have recently given voices to victims, invideos with famous actors like Diego Luna playing Mexicans who have lost loved ones to drug violence or human rights abuses. Twitter accounts like@Tienennombre also name the dead, often adding ages and other personal details.
New York Times]
Pope's Visit To Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI said in his advance of his trip to Cuba that Marxist ideology is no longer relevant for the Caribbean island nation, which has been under the grip of Marxism for 53 years. That insight is indeed true and long overdue. It will be important to watch how the Catholic Church helps ease the transition of Cuba from communism to a political system that offers freedom and individual dignity. As a start, that would be democracy in some form.
On the plane taking him from Rome for a five-day trip to Mexico and Cuba, he said that the 53-year-old communist system in Havana "can no longer respond and build a society", and called for "new models" to replace it. Pope Benedict offered the help of the Church in achieving a peaceful transition on the island, saying the process required patience but also "much decisiveness." "We want to help in a spirit of dialogue to avoid traumas and to help move forward a society which is fraternal and just, which is what we desire for the whole world," he added.
[The Guardian]
Coup in Mali: A coup d'etat in the West African nation of Mali took place on Thursday. Mali was one of the region's few established democracies. As of Friday, the fate of its president, Amadou Toumani Toure, was unknown.
Even though the sound of gunfire had ceased in the capital, stores remained shuttered Friday and the streets were empty because a nationwide curfew remained in effect. Uncertainty gripped this landlocked nation of 15.4 million as people tried to find out the identities of the soldiers that suddenly appeared on state television Thursday, announcing a coup d’etat. Late Thursday, the coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo gave an interview on state television in which he said that President Amadou Toumani Toure was in good health, but refused to say where he is, or even if he is being held by the putschists.
Washington Post
Cancer Wars: There is more good news coming out out of Israel in its fight to eradicate cancer. In this case, there is some promising news in its fight against pancreatic cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death for men and women in the United States. Each year, about 44,000 persons are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the U.S.
The prognosis for these patients could improve drastically if a compound developed by Israel's Tiltan Pharma continues to succeed in clinical trials. The compound, dubbed TL-118, comes from the labs of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It's now undergoing its second phase of tests after proving effective against pancreatic tumors first in mice and then in more than 100 humans. Chief operating officer Dan Goldstaub explains that the company's approach is based on a relatively new understanding of how cancerous tumors grow. Through an abnormal process called angiogenesis, the tumors "recruit" blood vessels from neighboring tissue. Anti-angiogenic therapy is a revolutionary approach aimed at disrupting this process by blocking the tumor's blood supply.
Einstein Archive Online: Individuals interested in the life of Albert Einstein, one of the world's most known physicists, will have more to read. 
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has expanded its vast online Einstein catalog. The enhanced website “sheds light on every aspect of Einstein’s life and on his times,” the first half of the 20th century, the director of the university’s Einstein Center told The Times on Monday. And it’s not only science, but also personal correspondence that may make readers consider Einstein in a new light. With 80,000 documents "now listed, categorized, cross-linked and cross-referenced online," according to professor Hanoch Gutfreund, readers have a “panoramic view of the scope of topics and issues in which Einstein was involved.” 
Los Angeles Times]
Walking Upright: Recent scientific research carried out by an international team of researchers on chimpanzees might prove that humans began walking upright millions of years ago as a way to carry scarce high-quality resources. Standing on two legs allow us to carry much more, since it frees up the hands. "These chimpanzees provide a model of the ecological conditions under which our earliest ancestors might have begun walking on two legs," said Dr. Brian Richmond, an author of the study and associate professor of anthropology at George Washington's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
This latest research was published in this month's Current Biology. The team of researchers from the U.S., England, Japan and Portugal investigated the behavior of modern-day chimpanzees as they competed for food resources, in an effort to understand what ecological settings would lead a large ape -- one that resembles the 6 million-year old ancestor we shared in common with living chimpanzees —to walk on two legs.