The World Today for October 17, 2016


Of Heartbreak and Poodles

The go-go bars and sex trade in the Soi Cowboy red-light district of Bangkok were shuttered after last week’s death of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

The beloved king, whose image is everywhere in Thailand, was the world’s longest reigning monarch when he died after 70 years on the throne.

Whether or not his son can live up to that legacy is now a hotly debated question.

The royal family enjoys widespread support in Thailand for nostalgic and pragmatic reasons.

Thailand, formerly known as Siam, was the only Southeast Asian country that escaped European colonialism. That’s a point of pride few non-European countries can boast. And Adulyadej is descended from the dynasty that helped the country remain independent.

But Adulyadej also played a deft role in managing the military and political leaders who are jousting for power in the country today.

In 1992, Adulyadej called Thailand’s prime minister – a general who had seized power in a coup – and an angry pro-democracy leader to the palace to put aside their differences for the good of the country. The feuding factions famously upheld the tradition of kneeling at the feet of their king.

“The footage of the men bowing and accepting his authority was the moment the king solidified his position as the final arbitrator in an often divided Thailand,” the BBC wrote recently.

But in recent years, the king had been more withdrawn as he grew old and infirm. A series of governments, coups, demonstrations and other political twists and turns have destabilized the country.

Those conflicts stemmed in part from tensions between the country’s urban elite and rural peasants over who should succeed the declining Adulyadej and which side that successor would take in the country’s political divides, the Economist explained.

It’s understandable, then, that many are concerned about Thailand’s future as the late king’s son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, prepares to assume the thrown.

Vajiralongkorn had been jetting around Europe, living a lavish playboy’s lifestyle, while his father lay sick and dying for two years in a hospital back home, according to the New York Times.

In addition to embarrassingly acrimonious divorces – the crown prince doesn’t speak to four of his children living in the United States – the crown prince invited ridicule when he elevated his poodle, Foo Foo, to the rank of air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force.

On Sunday, Bloomberg reported that Thai officials said Vajiralongkorn requested that a year pass before his coronation, a surprise that could indicate he wants time to alter his public image. The coronation wouldn’t affect elections scheduled for next year either, the officials said.

Whether or not people will change their minds about Vajiralongkorn remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s strict laws against insulting the monarchy make it hard for anyone to know what people think anyways.

In a sign that a conflict between Thai royalists and a nascent republican movement could be brewing, Thai telecommunications companies are asking customers to report insults against Vajiralongkorn and the “royal institution” on social media.

At the same time, the government warned internet providers to block inappropriate content or face prosecution – for hurting the feelings of people grieving for the revered king.

“Many heartbroken Thais are quite sensitive,” said Information Ministry spokesman Chatchai Khunpitiluck, according to Reuters. “When they see illegal content that offends them, they’ll be more stressed…We have to let them know about channels to report content to relieve their sense of helplessness.”


Victory bells

More than 50,000 Iraqi troops were deployed against Islamic State (IS) in its de facto capital of Mosul Monday, in an offensive officials predict could take weeks or even months, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“The hour of victory has come,” he said in a televised address early Monday. “Today I declare the start of the heroic operations to liberate you from Daesh (IS).”

If Mosul, a city under Islamic State control since 2014, was recaptured, it could mean substantive changes for the region – the Islamic State would be essentially eradicated from Iraq, the BBC reports.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces are leading the charge, with coalition forces providing air cover against the estimated 5,000 IS forces in Mosul, CNN reports.

But the toll of victory bells won’t be heard for some time: Although the numbers are stacked in the favor of Iraqi forces and their coalition partners, the UN refugee agency says Mosul’s remaining one million residents could flee from the fighting, creating “one of the largest man-made displacement crises of recent times.”

British Trolls

Britain has an anti-Semitism problem.

With a non-profit watchdog group noting an 11 percent increase in reported incidents of anti-Semitism nationwide, a cross-party committee of British legislators called on the Labor Party and Twitter to do more to fight the scourge – expressing doubts that Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn “fully appreciates the distinct nature of post-Second World War anti-Semitism.”

The Home Affairs Committee also expressed shock at the “viscerally anti-Semitic nature” or comments “directed specifically at members of Parliament” on Twitter, Bloomberg reported.

The committee said Corbyn’s “reluctance to separate anti-Semitism from other forms of racism” has created a “safe space” for those with “vile attitudes toward Jewish people.”

Controversy has erupted over past comments by Labor members and activists that many considered anti-Semitic. The party suspended several people, including one legislator and former London mayor Ken Livingstone. But others say legitimate criticism of Israel is being conflated with anti-Semitism, Reuters reported.

Mighty Maneuvers

India struck another diplomatic blow against Pakistan – obliquely – on Sunday, convincing leaders from Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa to back a pledge to fight terrorism and extremism at a meeting of fast-growing nations known as the BRICS group.

“We agree that those who nurture, shelter and support the forces of violence and terror are as much a threat as the terrorists themselves,” the five-nation group said in a joint statement, USAToday reported.

Pakistan, which enjoys broad Chinese support, was not specifically mentioned. But the declaration was nevertheless a coup for the host nation.

After several terror attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir, India has sought to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and launched “surgical strikes” on alleged terror camps across the border.


Honk Honk

The raptor roars and the stegosaurus snorts.

Or so we think.

According to a new piece of the fossil record, the sounds of dinosaurs engrained in collective memory may be more fiction than fact, the New York Times reports.

Paleontologist Julia Clarke made a rare find upon second analysis of the Vegavis iaai. Re-examining the 66-million-year-old Antarctic waterfowl, she discovered its vocal box.

Mammals and reptiles project sound by vibrating folds within their larynx. But birds, evolutionary relatives of the dinosaurs, have developed a specialized organ deep within their chests called the syrinx to tweet their signature tune.

However, paleontologists have never discovered a syrinx in the expansive fossil record of non-avian dinosaurs. Moreover, since the syrinx is made of cartilage, so it doesn’t exactly keep well after millions of years.

That’s what makes Clarke’s discovery so superb. And she’s been putting it to good use.

Comparing CT scans of the Vegavis’ syrinx with those of modern bird species, she found Vegavis’ syrinx most resembled that of a duck or a goose, suggesting it made a honking sound, according to an article in the journal Nature.

Furthermore, the authors concluded that it’s possible that non-avian dinosaurs didn’t honk because they have never been found with a syrinx. Rather, the syrinx is likely an avian dinosaur trait that developed later in the evolutionary line.

So if dinosaurs didn’t honk, what did they sound like?

Something like an ostrich’s boom, according to a previous study by Clarke and her team.

If you’re not sure what that sounds like, take a peek here.

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