Sunday, June 10, 2012

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending June 9, 2012

Here are five stories that shaped the world this week:

All Eyes on Germany
The fate of not only the European economy but the world economy depends greatly on Germany, and is in the hands of one woman, its chancellor, Angela Merkel. The wrong choices could lead to a world-wide financial meltdown. It seems right out of a Hollywood disaster movie. Even so, such is the bleak outlook of many economists; yet, to put things in perspective, such economists have been wrong before. Stay tuned.
Nobody wants to test these various disaster scenarios. It is now up to Europe’s politicians to deal finally and firmly with the euro. If they come up with a credible solution, it does not guarantee a smooth ride for the world economy; but not coming up with a solution guarantees an economic tragedy. To an astonishing degree, the fate of the world economy depends on Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel (see article). In one way it seems unfair to pick on Mrs Merkel. Politicians everywhere are failing to act—from Delhi, where reform has stalled, to Washington, where partisan paralysis threatens a lethal combination of tax increases and spending cuts at the end of the year. Within Europe, as Germans never cease to point out, investors are not worried about Mrs Merkel’s prudent government, whose predecessor restructured the economy painfully ten years ago; the problem is a loss of confidence in less well-run, unreformed countries. [The Economist]
Spain Needs MoneyThe International Monetary Fund has said that Spanish banks need at least a €40-billion ($50-billion) in capital injection, after it performed a financial stress test on its nations' banks. If so, it would mark the fourth European nation to seek financial assistance in the 17-member Eurozone.
The lending institution said Friday that Spain’s financial sector is well managed but vulnerable. It recommended that banks raise capital by an additional unspecified amount beyond the €40-billion to properly restructure troubled banks, noting that the country should be prepared for further bank losses. “Going forward, it will be critical to communicate clearly the strategy for providing a credible backstop for capital shortfalls — a backstop that experience shows it is better to overestimate than underestimate,” said Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, an IMF deputy director who head of the team that conducted the report [Globe & Mail
U.S. Losing Patience With PakistanU.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday that the United States was "reaching the limits of our patience" with Pakistan over militants that attack U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan from havens within its borders. The Defense secretary's remarks are not surprising, and suggest that both Pakistan and the U.S. are tired after a war that has lasted more than 10 years. The blunt message is likely falling on deaf ears inside Pakistan. It's time for the U.S. and other NATO nations to bring their troops home. NATO has 130,000 troops in Afghanistan; the U.S. has by far the largest contingent with 89,000 soldiers, hence its interest in preventing further attacks and deaths.
"It's extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven," he said during an unannounced visit to Kabul, and that militants cannot use the country as a "safety net" from which to attack U.S. soldiers. "We have made that very, very clear time and time again, and we will continue to do that," he said. Panetta also stressed that troops on the Afghan border have every right to defend themselves against the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other militant groups when they launch attacks from Pakistan."Anybody who attacks U.S. soldiers is our enemy. We are not going to take it," he said. [CNN]
New TB Drug Shows Promise: Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. (Otsuka), a Japanese-based company, announced on Wednesday (June 6) clinical trial results on the safety and efficacy of delamanid, the company's investigational compound for the treatment of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). About 40 per cent of MDR-TB occurs in China and India, with about 100,000 new cases reported each year, says Dr. Mario Raviglione, a physician and specialist of infectious diseases and who serves as director of WHO Stop TB Department. [see here for more background on TB] This is the first new drug in 40 years to combat TB. The study is published June 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Scientists in nine countries tested delamanid—which inhibits the production of mycolic acid, a key component of tuberculosis (TB) bacteria. In a phase 2 trial with 481 patients, the drug cleared TB from the sputum cultures of nearly half the patients within two months, the study said. "I think it's very important that we have, in delamanid, the potential for a new drug in the first class of new drugs in 40 years," said study co-author Lawrence Geiter, vice president of global clinical development for Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., the Tokyo-based developer of delamanid. "It's going to enhance treatment options." [HealthDay]
Protesting Dress Codes: Students at a high school in New York City are protesting mandatory dress codes. Such is a good thing; dress codes, while appearing democratic, are in reality the opposite. Persons in high school ought to dress the same way they can legally dress outside the classroom. It is noteworthy that authoritarian regimes always instill a drab uniform dress code to cover up distinctions between persons, including between the sexes; North Korea quickly comes to mind. Ditch the dress code.
What people were seeing, the students explained, was some steam being let off over their long-simmering discontent with a dress code Stuyvesant adopted last fall to combat some clothing styles the administration deemed unacceptable. One rule says that any sayings and illustrations on clothing should be in “good taste.” Another calls for shorts, dresses and skirts to extend at least beyond the fingertips when arms are extended straight down. A third bans the exposing of “shoulders, undergarments, midriffs and lower backs.” But the rules have been prompting waves of objections by students, particularly now that summerlike weather has arrived and, many noted, the school’s air-conditioning has proved to be less than reliable. [The New York Times]


June 8th in History

  65:Jews revolt against Rome, capturing fortress of Antonia in Jerusalem;
452: Italy invaded by Attila the Hun;
1191: Richard I, King of England, arrives in Acre (Palestine) thus beginning his crusade in the Holy Land;
1824: Noah Cushing of Quebec patents the washing machine;
1949: George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is published;
1953: The United States Supreme Court rules that Washington, D.C. restaurants could not refuse to serve black patrons;
1963: American Heart Association is first agency to campaign against cigarettes; and

1972: Associated Press photographer Nick Ut takes his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a naked 9-year-old Vietnamese Phan Thị Kim Phúc running down a road after being burned by napalm.

This is the last report for a little while; I plan to take the summer off and return in September.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Five Stories Of The Week: Ending June 2, 2012

Here are five stories that shaped the world this week:

Beginning of End for Syrian Regime: In a rare show of unanimity, the U.N. Security Council condemned Syria last week. More important than the declaration is that Russia agreed to it, which shows that its support for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad might be coming to an end. That is bad news for the current regime, but good news for democracy and human rights.
The United Nations Security Council on Sunday unanimously condemned the Syrian government for its role in the massacre of at least 108 villagers, with new details emerging from international observers that appeared to prompt rare Russian cooperation in criticizing its ally in Damascus. The 15-member Council approved a statement that, while not blaming the Syrian government directly for all the deaths, rebuked it for its use of tanks and artillery against civilians despite agreeing to an April 12 cease-fire. “The evidence is clear — it is not murky,” Peter Wittig, the German envoy, told reporters after the emergency meeting. “There is a clear government footprint in those killings.”[The New York Times]
Mubarak of Egypt Handed Life Sentence: Hosni Mubarak, 84, was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the uprising that forced him from power last year. But the ousted president and his sons were acquitted of corruption charges in a mixed verdict that swiftly provoked a new wave of anger on Egypt's streets. This puts an end to a 10-month trial that has been widely viewed in the nation of Egypt.
Judge Ahmed Rifaat said Mr. Mubarak and his former interior minister, Habib al Adli, were guilty on charges of accessory to murder and attempted murder of protesters. But he acquitted the six senior interior ministry officials whom prosecutors had also accused of killing protesters Mr. Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were acquitted of corruption charges related to the suspicious purchase of seaside villas on Egypt's Red Sea Coast. Mr. Rifaat ruled that the accusations, which date to more than 10 years ago, had exceeded Egypt's statute of limitations The relatively harsh verdict sets a precedent for justice in the so-called "Arab Spring" of successive pro-democracy uprisings. Mr. Mubarak remains the first leader in the history of the Arab world to be overthrown and face trial in front of his own people. [Wall Street Journal] 
China Arrests Security Officer: An official from the state security apparatus was arrested a few months ago on suspicion of spying for the United States; his detention was kept quiet to for several months to prevent a worsening of relations between the two nations. We can expect more arrests and allegations of spying from both nations in the coming months and years.
The official, an aide to a vice minister in China's security ministry, was arrested and detained early this year on allegations that he had passed information to the United States for several years on China's overseas espionage activities, said three sources, who all have direct knowledge of the matter. The aide had been recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and provided "political, economic and strategic intelligence", one source said, though it was unclear what level of information he had access to, or whether overseas Chinese spies were compromised by the intelligence he handed over. [Reuters Canada]
The Machine Age & Its Morals: Military technology is leading the way to the manufacturing of machines that have abilities that humans don't have, and in some cases taking over roles that humans once commanded. Will we eventually see a time when intelligent machines become unionized and demand equal rights to humans?
Military technology, unsurprisingly, is at the forefront of the march towards self-determining machines (see Technology Quarterly). Its evolution is producing an extraordinary variety of species. The Sand Flea can leap through a window or onto a roof, filming all the while. It then rolls along on wheels until it needs to jump again. RiSE, a six-legged robo-cockroach, can climb walls. LS3, a dog-like robot, trots behind a human over rough terrain, carrying up to 180kg of supplies. SUGV, a briefcase-sized robot, can identify a man in a crowd and follow him. There is a flying surveillance drone the weight of a wedding ring, and one that carries 2.7 tonnes of bombs. Robots are spreading in the civilian world, too, from the flight deck to the operating theatre (see article). Passenger aircraft have long been able to land themselves. Driverless trains are commonplace. Volvo’s new V40 hatchback essentially drives itself in heavy traffic. It can brake when it senses an imminent collision, as can Ford’s B-Max minivan. Fully self-driving vehicles are being tested around the world. [The Economist]
Dog is Man's Best Friend: The dog might be more than a good companion; his presence in the lives of modern humans—more than 30,000 years ago—helped us survive by domesticating us. Such is one modern theory put forth by Paul Mellars and Jennifer French of Cambridge University, recently published in the journal Science. Assuredly, there are no shortage of theories on how modern humans came into being, explained by the fact that there is no written record of this period called prehistory.
We all know the adage that dogs are man’s best friend. And we’ve all heard heartwarming stories about dogs who save their owners—waking them during a fire or summoning help after an accident. Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows the amazing, almost inexpressible warmth of a dog’s companionship and devotion. But it just might be that dogs have done much, much more than that for humankind. They may have saved not only individuals but also our whole species, by “domesticating” us while we domesticated them. One of the classic conundrums in paleoanthropology is why Neandertals went extinct while modern humans survived in the same habitat at the same time. (The phrase “modern humans,” in this context, refers to humans who were anatomically—if not behaviorally—indistinguishable from ourselves.) The two species overlapped in Europe and the Middle East between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago; at the end of that period, Neandertals were in steep decline and modern humans were thriving. What happened? [American Scientist] 

June 1st in History
1215: Beijing, then under the control of the Jurchen ruler Emperor Xuanzong of Jin, is captured by the Mongols under Genghis Khan, ending the Battle of Beijing.
1562: Emperor Ferdinand and Sultan Suleiman sign treaty; 
1862: Slavery abolished in all U.S. possessions; 
1938 Superman first appears in DC Comics' Action Comics Series issue no. 1;
1942: "The Liberty Brigade," a Warsaw underground newspaper, is the first public mention about the death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland where tens of thousands of Jews are gassed to death at Chelmno; 
1948: Israeli and Arabs agree to ceasefire; and
2011: The UN reports that two million adolescents in the world live with HIV; 86 per cent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.