The World Today for March 30, 2018



Pass the Buck

On the day before anti-Muslim violence broke out in Sri Lanka’s Kandy district earlier this month, the leader of a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist group strolled through a district town with a clear agenda, Al Jazeera reported.

“This town has come to belong only to the Muslims,” he told viewers of a live stream posted on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. “We should have started to address this a long time ago.”

On March 4, radicals got their chance to “address” the issue when an incident of road rage led to the death of a Sinhalese Buddhist truck driver.

Tipped off by social media, Buddhist nationalists quickly descended on the scene and began a rampage of looting, arson and attacks on Muslim citizens and their businesses that left two dead, dozens wounded and a community reeling.

The government declared a state of emergency on March 6, deployed troops to the area and clamped down on social media networks where anti-Muslim rhetoric had abounded.

But even with restrictions in place, the violence persisted, the Associated Press reported. And witnesses, officials and CCTV footage suggested that police and politicians backed by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa joined in the riots, Reuters reported.

“The security in town is inadequate,” said Mohamed Ramzeen, whose restaurant in a town near the city of Kandy was pillaged even after government forces had arrived. “We fear for our lives.”

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena ultimately ended the state of emergency on March 18. But the incident revealed the ethnic and religious fault lines that continue to divide Sri Lanka almost a decade after the conclusion of its 26-year civil war, the Toronto Star opined.

Though the bloody civil war between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists ended in 2009, it still casts a shadow over society. With as many as 100,000 dead from the conflict, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that crimes against humanity were committed.

Even so, many offenders haven’t been brought to justice – some were even rewarded with diplomatic missions to avoid prosecution, the Toronto Star wrote.

And hopes of atonement with the democratic election of President Sirisena were dashed as he quickly commended the nation’s “war heroes” and spread doubt about victims’ claims.

Now, as tensions between Sinhalese Buddhists and Muslims – who comprise 75 and 9 percent of the population, respectively – lead increasingly to clashes like the ones seen this month, the government still isn’t addressing the issue, the New York Times opined.

Colombo blamed Facebook for the unrest and asked the tech giant to more strictly regulate hate speech by Buddhist groups on its platform.

It’s a necessary step, given the social network’s growing influence and its global mishaps in recent years, but laying blame on Facebook alone denies the human role in the ethnic and religious violence on the island, the newspaper wrote.

“A foundation of mutual distrust and fear – not access to social media – is the necessary condition for the mobilization of violent mobs,” the Times wrote.

Given the circumstances in Sri Lanka, it seems an environment of fear was already well established with or without Facebook.



Anything You Can Do

Annie Get Your Gun may not be familiar to many Russians. But President Vladimir Putin might well be humming “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” today, as Moscow hits back over the expulsion of its diplomats from countries around the world.

Russia said it would expel 60 US diplomats and many more from other countries and raised the ante by ordering the closing of the American Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, the New York Times reported. The St. Petersburg facility is more important than the Russian Consulate in Seattle, which the Trump administration ordered closed on Monday.

Claiming they are spies, 27 countries are ejecting more than 150 Russians, including people listed by their embassies and consulates as diplomats, military and cultural attachés in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Following the announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert hinted the US might take further action, the Washington Post noted.


One Choice

Henry Ford was famous for saying customers could have any color Model T they wanted, as long as it was black. Voters in Egypt were offered a similar choice in this week’s presidential election.

Incumbent President Abdel Fattah Sisi is headed to a landslide victory, winning some 90 percent of the vote based on unofficial tallies, the Los Angeles Times reported. But critics say the victory has come at the expense of legitimate democracy.

Sisi’s sole opponent — Moussa Mostafa Moussa – was a staunch supporter of the president. He only ran for form’s sake, and after learning he’d won only 3 percent of the vote told a local television station, “I am very happy with the experience, whatever the result.”

Earlier, three other potential rivals dropped out of the race, while a fourth was arrested and accused of running for office without permission, the BBC reported.

Despite concerns over such maneuvering, many Egyptians see Sisi as representing stability following the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring in 2011.


Viva La Revolution

French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a new strategy to make France a legitimate competitor to the US and China in the field of artificial intelligence – but said it would require Europeans to get used to sharing their data.

“With the digital revolution, we must be at the side of French industrial companies in the disruptive dynamic of innovation,” Macron told business leaders, according to Bloomberg.

Macron on Thursday pledged 1.5 billion euros ($1.85 billion) of public funding for artificial intelligence by 2022 in a bid to catch up to the US and China, Reuters reported.

The idea is to attract top French computer engineers and mathematicians to French companies. The plan also calls for the opening up of data collected by the state healthcare system and similar agencies to drive up efficiency through AI.

Convincing citizens that sharing data won’t endanger their privacy could prove to be a challenge, however, especially given the recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s collection of data from Facebook users without their permission.


The Benefits of Laziness

Mowing the lawn can be quite a chore, but according to scientists, “lazy lawn mowers” may actually help the ecosystem.

In a recent study published in the journal Biological Conversation, a team of scientists found that holding off on mowing the lawn every week can actually help bees thrive in suburban habitats by allowing lawn flowers, like dandelions and clover, more time to bloom.

“Mowing less frequently is practical, economical and a timesaving alternative to replacing lawns or even planting pollinator gardens,” Susannah Lerman, an ecologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a co-author of the study, told Science Daily.

Between 2013 and 2014, the researchers recruited 16 homeowners in Springfield, Massachusetts, and assigned them schedules so that their lawns were mowed every one, two, or three weeks.

The study showed that lawns mowed every two weeks yielded the greatest numbers of bee visits, but the lowest number of diversity among the creatures. On the other hand, lawns mowed every three weeks had 2.5 times more flowers than lawns mowed on the other schedules.

Lerman said that the results show that small steps can yield big results in reducing humans’ impact on the environment.

“This research is a reminder that sustainability begins at home, and in this case involves doing less for more buzz.”

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