Sunday, May 27, 2012

Five Stories Of the Week: Ending May 26, 2012

Here are five stories that shaped the world this week:

Pressure is on Iran:
The U.S. Administration promises to keep the pressure on Iran to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency's requirements to open up the nation to nuclear inspections. This might avert sanctions to block oil exports to Europe, which take effect in July and any possible military action on the part of Israel.
The White House on Tuesday called the UN nuclear watchdog's progress toward an agreement with Iran a step forward but said it would keep pressuring Tehran until it sees concrete actions on the Iranian nuclear program."Promises are one thing, actions and fulfillment of obligations are another," White House spokesman Jay Carney said when asked about the International Atomic Energy Agency's announcement it was close to a deal to unblock monitoring of Iran's suspected work on atom bombs."We will continue to pressure Tehran, continue to move forward with the sanctions that will be corning online as the year progresses," Carney told a news briefing. [Jerusalem Post]
Elections in Egypt: The first round of voting in elections in Egypt has resulted in no declared winner. Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister from the former regime, will face Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a runoff on June 16-17. The victor will be announced on June 21, the first day of summer.
Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq paid tribute to the “glorious revolution” that toppled Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, a dramatic turn-around for the former regime official who fought his way into the runoff elections by appealing to public disenchantment with last year’s uprising. Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, vowed there would be no “recreation of the old regime” as he prepared to face off against Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a runoff on June 16-17. [Washington Post]
Observant Jews Wary of the Internet: The Internet is widely accessible and widely used, even by the ultra-religious for the same reasons that everyone likes the Internet. For some rabbinical leaders, however, this accessibility poses a threat to religious purity of mind and soul. The Jewish leaders gathered the faithful to hear a warning of the dangers that the Internet posed to family purity;  the chief danger is pornography, which puts observant Jews on the same side as radical feminists.
It was an incongruous sight for a baseball stadium: tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, all dressed in black suits and white shirts, filing through the gates of Citi Field on Sunday, wearing not blue-and-orange Mets caps but tall, big-brim black hats. There was no ballgame scheduled, only a religious rally to discuss the dangers of the Internet. More than 40,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews were expected to attend — a sellout in a season where the average attendance at a Mets game has been barely half that. [The New York Times]
First Commercial Space Flight: When a U.S commercial spacecraft docked with the International Space Station on Friday at 9:56 a.m., it was the beginning of a new era in the space program— the first U.S. commercial flight to space; SpaceX was the company to launch its cargo. This comes after NASA's space shuttle program ended last summer. Will SpaceX became the FedEx of space?

The cargo ship and the space station were both traveling more than 17,000 miles per hour and 251 miles above Australia when they rendezvoused. The maneuver of moving the cargo ship into position and then one delicate robotic grab made SpaceX the first commercial company to launch a spacecraft that was captured and docked to the space station. "A new era for U.S. & commercial space!" said NASA in a tweet after the Dragon was captured. The mission, which was launched Tuesday, is the first U.S. commercial flight to the space station since NASA's fleet of space shuttles was retired in the summer of 2011. [Computerworld
Bethlehem Existed:  Israeli archaeologists have unearthed an ancient artificat—a clay bulla, outside Jerusalem, which cites the name of Bethlehem, the first such mention outside the Bible. The clay bulla is about 2,700 years old.
The find shows not only that the city existed, but that it probably also had a thriving commercial trade. A bulla is a piece of clay used to make an impression in wax, sealing a document. The wax was intended to show the integrity of the document once it reached its final destination. The bulla is generally impressed with the name of the person who sent the document. The bulla has three lines of text. The first says "in the seventh;" the second says Bethlehem; and the third has the letter "ch," which was probably the last letter of melech, the word for king. "It seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (it is unclear if the king referred to here is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem," said archaeologist Eli Shukron, director of the excavation. The bulla itself is what is known as a "fiscal bulla," one used to seal tax shipments to the kingdom of Judah. [Los Angeles Times]
May 27 In History
1529: 30 Jews from Posing, Hungary, charged with blood libel, are burned at the stake.
1703: The Russian city of St. Petersburg founded by Peter the Great;
1907: A bubonic plague outbreak takes place in San Francisco, California;
1933: The Century of Progress World's Fair opens in ChicagoIllinois;
1942: Top German Nazi Reinhard Heydrich is shot & mortally wounded in Prague, Czech Republic;
1948: Arabs blow up Hurvat Rabbi Yehudah he-Hasid, a synagogue in Jerusalem, Israel, during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948; 
1957Toronto's CHUM-AM (1050 kHz) becomes Canada's first radio station to broadcast only top 40 Rock n' Roll music; and
1961: U.S. President John F, Kennedy announces goal to land a man on the moon before the decade ends.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Five Stories Of the Week: Ending May 19, 2012

Here are five stories that shaped the world this week:

Greece Coalition Talks Fail: The citizens of Greece will be going to the polls again on June 17 after various parties failed to form a government. Polls show the leftist Syriza party, which rejects the bailout and placed second in last week’s vote, is now on course to win, which puts the €130-billion ($167-billion) bailout package in serious doubt. Greek voters are generally against the deep austerity measures.
After a third day of failed talks with political leaders, a spokesman for President Karolos Papoulias said the process of seeking a compromise had been declared a failure and a new vote must be held. He did not immediately give the date for the new vote, but elections rules suggest it will be in mid June. A caretaker government would be formed on Wednesday, the spokesman said.“For God’s sake, let’s move towards something better and not something worse,” Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos told reporters after the meeting. “Our motherland can find its way, we will fight for it to find its way.” [Globe & Mail]
Gen. Ratko Mladic On Trial at The Hague: After a wait of 20 years, the war-time general stands trial, accused of  11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for ethnically cleansing Bosnian towns and villages of non-Serbs. As expected, everyone talks about truth and justice, which is often elusive yet necessary for national healing.
The ailing 70-year-old Mladic's appearance at the U.N. court war crimes tribunal marked the end of a long wait for justice to survivors of the 1992-95 war that left some 100,000 people dead. The trial is also a landmark for the U.N. court and international justice —Mladic is the last suspect from the Bosnian war to go on trial here. In Bosnia, leaders and victims hailed a historic day in the country's recovery from its war wounds, while some Serbs lamented Mladic's trial. "First of all we are expecting from this trial the truth," said President Bakir Izetbegovic . "The truth and then justice for the victims, for the families of the victims. It is the worst period of our history." [Fox News]
Brazil Sets Up Truth Commission: President Dilma Rousseff swore in the seven members of a truth commission on Wednesday; its mandate is to investigate human rights abuses committed during the nation’s long military dictatorship, which lasted between 1964 and 1985.  Rousseff is a former leftist guerrilla, who spent three years in prison during the military dictatorship.
We are not moved by revenge, hate or a desire to rewrite history,” Rousseff said at the ceremony in Brasilia. “The need to know the full truth is what moves us. Brazil deserves the truth, future generations deserve the truth and most importantly those who lost their friends and their families deserve to know the truth.” A study by the Brazilian government concluded last year that 475 people were killed or “disappeared” by agents of the military regime, which ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. A 33-year-old amnesty law has protected members of the military from being held accountable for any crimes. [Washington Post]
Olympic Committee Refuses Israeli Request: The International Olympic Committee has formally rejected a request from the Israeli government to hold a moment of silence at the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer, in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes who were killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The refusal on the part of the IOC speaks volumes on what it considers important. That the IOC falls short from its principles is not surprising; most international organizations follow suit.
The deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, sent a letter toJacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, last month requesting a minute of silence 40 years after the Munich massacre. The letter was sent on behalf of Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the murdered athletes, who have been urging the Olympic committee to hold a moment of silence at the Games for decades, officials said. “Unfortunately, this response is unacceptable as it rejects the central principles of global fraternity on which the Olympic ideal is supposed to rest,” Ayalon said in a statement Thursday. “The terrorist murders of the Israeli athletes were not just an attack on people because of their nationality and religion; it was an attack on the Olympic Games and the international community. Thus it is necessary for the Olympic Games as a whole to commemorate this event in the open rather than only in a side event.” [The New York Times] 
Sex Exhibit Too Racy for Ottawa Adolescents: A sex exhibit aimed at teenagers has aroused fury in some parents in Ottawa; accordingly, the age for viewing the exhibit unaccompanied by an adult is now 16. For some persons, sex is best left undercover than exposed for what it really is—a natural and normal activity that is enjoyed by many, even those who object to its public demonstration for the purposes of education. The exhibit, which was designed by the Montreal Science Centre, runs to January 6, 2013.
A museum sex exhibit designed to educate teenagers was just fine in Regina, but it’s too hot for Ottawa. The Canada Science and Technology Museum has raised the unaccompanied age of admission for Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition to 16 from 12. And the show doesn’t even open until Friday. This change means the show will miss much of its target audience. Designed by the Montreal Science Centre, it is intended to introduce adolescents to the confusing world of sex.That was supposed to include young adolescents who are just starting to experience physical and emotional changes of puberty. They will still be admitted, but only with an adult. A museum spokesman said Wednesday there were “about 50” complaints about the show since publicity began last week. Some were phone calls, some were emails, and many of the emails had the same text copied and pasted. [Ottawa Citizen]

May 20 in History
325: First Christian ecumenical council opens at Nicaea, Asia Minor;

1639: Dorchester Massachusetts, forms first school funded by local taxes;

1873: San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss and Reno, Nevada, tailor Jacob Davis are given a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, marking the birth of one of the world's most famous garments: blue jeans.

1875: The International Bureau of Weights and Measures is formed; 

1895: The first commercial movie theatre opens at 153 Broadway in New York City;

1920: Montreal, Quebec radio station XWA broadcasts the first regularly scheduled radio show in North America.

1939The first telecast over telephone wires was sent from Madison Square Garden to the NBC-TV studios at 30 Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. A bicycle race was the event broadcast to a breathless audience; and

1944: The U.S. Communist Party dissolves.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Five Stories Of the Week: Ending May 12, 2012

Here are five stories that shaped the world this week:

U.S. Releases Taliban Fighters: The United States has secretly been releasing Taliban prisoners in hopes that such a move will help it in any negotiations with the militant group and bring about a peaceful end to the war. If one wonders of the wisdom of such a move, there is a precedent for it. Israel routinely releases hundreds of prisoners, some described as dangerous, to have one Israeli soldier released. In the case of the U.S. there has been no prisoner exchange, even though Taliban militants have captured an American soldier: On June 30, 2009, almost three years ago, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho was kidnapped by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. So, the Taliban are quietly released without the Americans demanding anything in return.
But the releases are an inherent gamble: The freed detainees are often notorious fighters who would not be released under the traditional legal system for military prisoners in Afghanistan. They must promise to give up violence — and U.S. officials warn them that if they are caught attacking American troops, they will be detained once again. There are no absolute guarantees, however, and officials would not say whether those who have been released under the program have later returned to attack U.S. and Afghan forces once again. “Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” said one U.S. official.    [Washington Post]
Anti-Austerity Mood Benefits Extremes in Europe: In Greece, parties have yet been able to form a coalition government after recent elections that were indecisive, yet shows strong support for extreme parties.The mood in Greece reflect an anti-austerity mood in Europe directed at Germany and Belgium, but it is also a worrisome sign that extremist parties on both the Left and the Right have capitalized on the anger and resentment to gain sufficient supporters, at least for now.
Greek politicians abandoned their quest to form a government on Saturday, leaving the President with one final chance to avert new elections that could drive Greece out of the European single currency.Greece’s political landscape is in disarray after voters last week humiliated the only parties backing a rescue plan tied to spending cuts, leaving no bloc with sufficient seats to form a government to secure the next tranche of financial aid. [Globe & Mail]
Putin's Power Play: Vladimir V. Putin is back sitting in the presidential seat in the Kremlin, kept warm the last few years by Dmitry Medvedev. Putin's term as president is for four years, until 2016. For some Russians, it will be a long four years.
Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to convince the Russian people—and the international media — that the protest movement that followed December’s fraudulent Duma elections was just a flash in the pan, protestors and the revived opposition have made it clear that they are not going away. The growing sense of intractability on both sides could be why yesterday’s protests saw more altercations between police and protestors than previous post-election protests: both sides sense that they are now in for a protracted standoff. The violence that erupted—apparently a mixture of heavy-handed police tactics, but also reportedly instigated by nationalists and anarchists, and potentially pro-Kremlin saboteurs —has become the dominant narrative of what began as peaceful protests. This could be used by the state to justify a further crackdown using suitably-flexible public order and extremism laws. Indeed, the arrest of up to 400 demonstrators —including opposition leaders Alexey Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Sergey Udaltsov —and the use of far rougher police tactics than in earlier protests could be a harbinger of worse to come. 
The Telegraph
Israeli Elections Within the Next 4 Months: Israelis can expect to go to the polls in national elections. The date has yet to be announced, but many expect September 4 as the election date.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered the keynote speech at the Likud conference on Sunday and urged that speedy elections will take place in the coming months in order to stabilize Israel's political system."For dozens of years the government was not very stable," Netanyahu said. "I will not lend a hand to an elections campaign of a year and a half that would destabilize the government. I prefer short elections of four months that could quickly bring back the stability to the political system." 
Concocting a Recipe for Disaster: Some experts in bioterrorism are concerned that a prestigious science journal is about to publish an academic paper that might give terrorists the formula to make a bio-weapon from avian H5N1 influenza virus. This is a classic case of academic freedom and scientific inquiry running headlong into the forces of national security and scientific prudence. The journal Science is expected to release the paper in a few weeks, likely citing public health concerns and the need for open scientific inquiry. This is the second study released this year. The first study was published on May 3, 2012 in the journal Nature.For more detailed scientific information, go to ScienceDaily.
The National Institutes of Health and some scientists say it is worth it. They say it could ultimately protect mankind by trying to anticipate how the virus could mutate to one that causes a pandemic -- like the one in the film "Contagion." Dr. Anthony Fauci heads the NIH agency that funds infectious diseases research. It funded the controversial Dutch experiment. "We need as scientists and health officials to stay one step ahead of the virus as it mutates and changes its capability," Fauci told CNN Radio recently. "To anticipate that would be important to determine whether the countermeasures we have available, such as antivirals and vaccines, would actually be effective against such a virus that changed in such a way."But a number of scientists are stepping forward to say it is not worth it —and that this research could actually bring us closer to that nightmare. 

May 13 in History

1888: Brazil abolishes slavery with the passage of the Lei Áurea ("Golden Law").
1939: The United States launches its first commercial FM radio station in Bloomfield, Connecticut. The station later becomes WDRC-FM.
1948: In the start to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Arab irregulars commit the Kfar Etzion massacre, the day before the declaration of independence of the state of Israel on May 14.
1989: In Beijing, China, large groups of students occupy Tiananmen Square, and begin a hunger strike.
1995:  Alison Hargreaves, a 33 years old British mother, became the first woman to conquer Everest without the aid of oxygen or sherpa guides.