The World Today for March 22, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Zebras and Stripes

Many in Israel girded for a renewal of violence in the Gaza Strip when militant ex-convict Yehya Sinwar became the new leader of Hamas last month.

One of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released in 2011 in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, he is a “hard-liner” who enforced loyalty in the group, which the United States has branded a terrorist organization but whom Palestinians in the Gaza Strip view as legitimate politicians.

Instead of war, Sinwar has so far delivered surprising rhetoric.

Hamas has drafted a new political program aiming to improve its ties with the West, reported the Associated Press Tuesday.

The group’s new charter no longer refers to a holy war against Jews but instead refers to itself as a resistance movement against Israel.

“It means that we don’t fight Jews because they are Jews,” Hamas spokesman Taher el-Nounou told the New York Times. “Our struggle is only against those who occupied our lands.”

The group is also accepting Palestine’s pre-1967 border, or the territory that Israel conquered in the Six Day War and has occupied ever since.

That’s important because, while Hamas is technically not recognizing Israel, it’s a tacit acceptance of the borders that existed when the United Nations created the two countries in 1948.

Hamas officials believe those moves might help break the boycotts imposed on the impoverished Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls.

Gaza is still rebuilding after the 50 Day War of 2014 that demolished the enclave’s infrastructure, rendering thousands homeless and jobless. Egypt’s decision to let supplies into the region via its one border crossing has been a huge help in the recovery.

The new program incidentally distances Hamas from the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Egyptian leaders have labeled as a terror group.

To be sure, Hamas is not cozying up to Israel. The group recently condemned an Israeli measure to quiet mosques.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t signaled any change in his distrust of Hamas, either.

But former Mossad head Efraim Halevy recently argued in the Washington Post that Israel should open talks with the group.

He quipped that Operation Protective Edge, the name of Israel’s 2014 campaign in Gaza, was neither protective nor afforded Israel any edge over its enemies.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs cautioned anyone from believing Hamas had changed its stripes so quickly. The journal noted that Hamas has rearmed to levels not seen since the 2014 war.

In a region where resentments are nursed for lifetimes, it’s easy to hope but hard to believe Sinwar won’t ever use those weapons.

WANT TO KNOW

Not in Your Best Interest

Mexico won’t formally punish companies that help in the construction of US President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the country’s border with the United States. But taking part in the controversial project would not be in their best interests, the Mexican government warned on Tuesday.

“There won’t be a law with sanctions, but Mexicans and Mexican consumers will know how to value those companies that are loyal to our national identity and those that are not,” Reuters quoted Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo as saying.

The agency said that Cemex and Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, both major Mexican cement firms, have expressed interest in supplying raw materials for the project. But the only Mexican company to put its name on the US government’s website as an interested vendor for the wall construction is a small firm offering to supply LED lights that it imports mostly from China.

Mexican activists have already called for a boycott of that company, called Ecovelocity.

Coping with Disaster

South Korea will on Wednesday attempt a test lift of a 6,825-tonne ferry that sunk in April 2014, killing 304 people in the country’s worst-ever maritime disaster.

Nine bodies may still be trapped inside the ship – whose sinking claimed the lives of mostly schoolchildren – and raising the ferry intact has been a key demand of the victims’ families, Agence France-Presse reported.

The attempt has been delayed several times due to bad weather.

The wreck is submerged beneath about 40 meters (130 feet) of water off the southwestern island of Jindo. Some of the victims’ relatives have been living in makeshift homes in the closest port to the sunken ship since the disaster, and at least one father boarded a boat to observe the salvage operation, planning to spend hours or days at sea.

If Wednesday’s test indicates favorable weather conditions, raising the vessel is expected to take three days.

Come On, Get Happy

All happy countries are not alike, it turns out.

According to the latest World Happiness Report released before the United Nations on Monday, several developing countries saw the biggest increase in their happiness ratings over the past decade, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Nicaragua, Latvia, Sierra Leone, and Ecuador saw the highest jumps in their happiness ratings when the 2005-2007 indexes were compared to 2014-2016 numbers. Many Western countries, such as the United States, Italy, and Greece, declined.

It can be an apples-to-oranges comparison, however. For countries near the bottom of the index, a slight change in reducing conflict or poverty can result in a more significant jump.

Thus, in Nicaragua and Ecuador, political turmoil has begun to subside, increasing trust in government, reducing conflict, and opening new economic opportunities. But in other more stable countries, identity politics and shifting demographics, as well as mistrust in the political system caused a drop.

DISCOVERIES

The Nose Knows

From mom’s apple pie to the smell of rain, scents are part of the human condition.

But let’s consider another purpose of our sniffers: to warm and humidify air to prevent against infection. According to research published recently in the journal PLOS Genetics, that biological function affects nose shape.

Isolating four distinct global regions, scientists from Pennsylvania State University analyzed the shapes of folks’ noses today and those of our ancestors and found that higher regional temperature and humidity correlate with wider-set nostrils.

What’s more, because similarly shaped sniffers exist among unrelated people, the trait is likely a product of natural selection. In other words, geography shaped our schnozzles.

But don’t take these physical differences at face value: Less than 15 percent of human genetic variation is due to regional origins, the New York Times reported. So while geography helped shape us, it didn’t play as big a role as one might have assumed.

“People are more similar than they are different. What this research does is offer people a view of why we’re different,” said Arslan Zaidi, a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State and co-author of the paper. “There’s an evolutionary history to it that, I think, kind of demystifies the concept of race.”

 

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