The World Today for October 05, 2016


Maintaining Distances

The vote in Colombia to reject a long-negotiated peace deal was one of a handful of recent referendums throughout the world that, like Brexit, were largely victories for those in favor of maintaining distances between different peoples.

Asked if referendums were good ideas, political scientist Michael Marsh of Trinity College in Dublin was unequivocal: They tend to enact un-democratic reforms, harm the government’s finances and divert officials’ attention from other more pressing issues, he said.

“The simple answer is almost never,” he told The New York Times. “I’ve watched many of these in Ireland, and they really range from the pointless to the dangerous.”

The vote to reject the peace deal certainly sent shockwaves through Colombian society. Peace negotiators had been talking in Cuba since 2012. The “No” vote won by less than half a percentage point.

“The rejection of the peace agreement almost kills the possibility of the Nobel peace prize,” said El Espectador – as reported by the BBC – referring to speculation that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos might receive the prize if he ended the 52-year-old war that has claimed 250,000 lives and displaced millions.

On Tuesday, Colombian officials and Marxist guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were meeting in Havana to avoid a crisis in the wake of the vote on Sunday to reject the deal, Reuters reported. Both are maintaining the ceasefire.

The English-language Bogota Post hoped the talks could yield a better peace agreement.

“There is also the small hope that it could represent an opportunity to lay a stronger foundation for an agreement, with more buy-in from this divided society,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

But any new deal would almost surely need the input of rightwing populist and former President Alvaro Uribe, a major critic of the referendum.

Advocating “a strong-arm approach,” as the Washington Post described it, Uribe has criticized current President Santos’ plan to guarantee FARC rebels immunity and seats in the Colombian Congress under the peace accord.

Santos and Uribe are now slated to meet Wednesday to discuss how to make a peace deal that would be more palatable to both sides.

FARC representatives have already said immunity and the legislative seats were non-negotiable, however, setting the stage for a dispute.

“Just because we want peace doesn’t mean that the accord we signed can be modified,” said FARC Commander Carlos Lozada, speaking to the Miami Herald.

On Tuesday, as if to anticipate FARC resistance, Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguín struck an understanding tone in her rhetoric.

“Just as the government had its red lines, the FARC have their own red lines,” said Holguín. “We have to see if they’re willing to reopen the accord.”


No Thanks, Obama

US President Barack Obama was once again forced to consider the source on Monday, as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told him in a speech he could “go to hell.”

Already known for calling Obama a “son of a bitch” last month, this time Duterte was angry over Obama’s criticism of his notorious take-no-prisoners approach to his country’s war on drugs – which has featured extrajudicial killings of alleged criminals, USA Today reported.

Duterte also blasted the European Union and said he might eventually “break up with America” and instead, ally with Russia and China.

As with past comments about his birth certificate, Obama will no doubt take these remarks with the seriousness they deserve. After all, they’re coming from a man who said that he would be “happy to slaughter” 3 million drug addicts just like Hitler killed millions of Jews (Duterte apologized to Jews worldwide after the utterance).

In other words, the US president will treat them like so much hot air.

“Even as we protect this strong alliance, the administration and the United States of America will not hesitate to raise our concerns about extra-judicial killings,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

No Harm, No Foul

Germany’s alleged sense of humor may remain in question but some positive evidence of it emerged Tuesday, as prosecutors dropped their investigation into a TV comedian accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a deadpan statement Tuesday, prosecutors said that “criminal actions could not be proven with the necessary certainty” against comedian Jan Boehmermann, the BBC reported.

Being funny is not illegal in Germany. But Chancellor Angela Merkel had drawn criticism for allowing the case against Boehmermann to go forward in April, due to an obscure law that allows for the criminal prosecution of citizens who insult foreign heads of state (people can be prosecuted for insulting others in Germany, too).

On Tuesday, however, the prosecutors said they could not be sure the sexual references to Erdogan in a satirical poem that Boehmermann read on TV constituted slander.

Persona Non Grata

Everybody loves a teen democracy activist – except in Asia.

Known as the Land of Smiles to tourists, Thailand frowned deeply on 19-year-old Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong’s plans to give a talk at Chulalongkorn University about lessons from Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” protests as part of Oct. 6 commemorations of a Thai government crackdown on student demonstrators 40 years ago, the New York Times reported.

Thai officials stopped him from entering the country and sent him back to Hong Kong on Wednesday. Neither Thailand nor China’s foreign ministry made any mention of Chinese pressure to thwart the speech, the paper said. Some things go without saying, of course. But Thailand’s military rulers – who seized power in a 2014 coup – have not tolerated protests by their own university students, either.

The arrest “sadly suggests that Bangkok is willing to do Beijing’s bidding. Wong should be freed immediately and allowed to travel and exercise his right to free expression,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.


Spritely Lights

Far-off observers of Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean were treated to a ruby-red light show seldom seen with the naked eye or documented on camera: lightning sprites.

Named for their elusive nature and beautiful, deep reddish hue, the sprites perform their whimsical dance some 50 miles above ground where charged particles interact with gases in the atmosphere, similar to how aurorae occur, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

In the case of sprites, positively charged lightning serves as an explosive spark for the gases – electricity leaps out from the lightning strike, dancing high above the clouds.

Although sprite sightings date back to the 1700s, it wasn’t until 1989 that they made their first on-screen debut, albeit inadvertently. In 2007, sprites were documented for the first time using a high-speed camera.

And because of their rarity, the exact sequence of the sprites’ dance is still unknown.

The phenomenon lasts only 10 milliseconds and it is hard to observe from the epicenter of a storm since clouds and normal lightning can obstruct the view. Sprites are also especially uncommon during hurricanes because their horizontal wind patterns rarely produce lightning.

That’s what makes photographer Frankie Lucena’s photos so incredible – his quick trigger finger and ideal vantage point in Puerto Rico made for an opportune moment to observe the dance.

Click here for a more detailed breakdown of sprites and some more incredible images.

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