The World Today for May 03, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

INDONESIA

Motion Sickness

Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, is developing at breakneck speeds.

Since the ouster of longtime dictator General Muhammad Suharto in 1998 and the nation’s first democratic elections in 2004, Indonesia’s extremely diverse 261 million citizens have enjoyed more political freedoms than ever before.

After his election in 2014, President Joko Widodo – the nation’s first leader not belonging to the political or military elite – set about implementing reforms to bring Indonesia into the 21st century.

To attract direct investment and diversify the economy, Indonesia passed laws to streamline bureaucracy and set its sights on sectors like textiles, entertainment and packaged foods, Bloomberg reported. The ease of doing business has vastly improved in Indonesia since Widodo took office, and the economy is growing at a healthy pace.

Widodo also created a universal healthcare scheme that ­­offers all Indonesians a slew of services for free. It’s a huge improvement on the previous system, where the poor either remained sick or entered into lending schemes to get treatment, the South China Morning Post wrote.

But the pace of Widodo’s reforms may be much too fast for Indonesian society.

Indonesia, the country with the single largest Muslim population in the world, has preached equality and secularism by having six official religions. But last year, conservative Islamic factions became increasingly mobilized in local elections.

Some pious provinces have been particularly resistant to change and still practice public punishments in accordance with Sharia law, the Associated Press reported.

Now there are whispers that Widodo’s likely primary challenger for 2019’s presidential race is aligning himself with radicals to win votes, writes the Lowy Institute’s the Interpreter.

Widodo’s election may have been a symbolic end to elite rule, but Indonesia’s political system runs on a rulebook of pay-to-play, writes the Diplomat. The reality of that political situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon, either.

Meanwhile, even the country’s most promising achievements – its healthcare system and its economy – are experiencing motion sickness.

Much of Indonesia’s population lives in rural outposts spread across the archipelago and have little to no access to medical care. Those people aren’t reaping the benefits of the new system, wrote the South China Morning Post.

And economic growth has meant more consumption, which has meant more waste. In a country where tradition dictated packaging food in banana leaves, not plastic, pollution has become so bad that the government has had to mobilize the army to help clean up the mess, the BBC reported.

This year and the next will be pivotal years in Indonesia as local and presidential election campaigns come into full swing, and despite shifting societal and economic conflicts around the nation, the government has promised stability, Reuters reported.

But being stable and being quick to catch up don’t always go hand-in-hand.

WANT TO KNOW

CHINA

Missiles On the Water

China has quietly deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on outposts in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Just west of the Philippines, the missile systems will allow Beijing to project its power more forcefully in the disputed waters, CNBC reported, citing sources with direct knowledge of US intelligence reports. Earlier, China installed jamming equipment that disrupts communications and radar systems in the area.

Six countries claim ownership of the Spratlys, which lie about two-thirds of the way east from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines. The US officially remains neutral in the dispute, but it expressed concern about the new deployments.

“The further militarization of outposts will only serve to raise tensions and create greater distrust among claimants,” a Pentagon official told CNBC.

Last week, US Navy Adm. Philip Davidson, who is expected to be nominated to replace US Pacific Command Chief Adm. Harry Harris, warned the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that China is “now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”

SPAIN

The Time Has Arrived

The Basque separatist group ETA – which waged one of the longest terrorist campaigns in Europe and killed more than 800 people in Spain – has finally disbanded.

ETA announced it was disbanding in a letter published on Wednesday, the New York Times reported. Dated April 16, the letter said, “ETA has completely dissolved all its structures and has terminated its political initiative.”

Founded in 1959, ETA began as a left-wing, student-led independence movement during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco. But in the post-European Union era, its popularity has waned and its ranks have been decimated by arrests.

ETA last killed someone on Spanish soil in 2009. Its last victim anywhere was a French policeman shot during an attempted car theft near Paris in 2010. Now, however, Spain faces a new separatist threat – albeit so far a nonviolent one – from Catalonia.

The government didn’t offer any concessions to end the Basque rebellion, noted interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido, saying ETA “didn’t get anything for stopping to kill and will not get anything for declaring its disappearance.”

LIBYA

Attacking Democracy

Suicide bombers linked to Islamic State on Wednesday hit the headquarters of Libya’s elections commission in an effort to disrupt polls slated to push the troubled country toward stability.

At least 14 people were killed in the attack, Bloomberg reported.

A spokesman for the election commission said the attackers first targeted the security forces guarding the building. Then one guarded the entrance as another “roamed through offices showering people with bullets.” The attackers blew themselves up when police reinforcements arrived, he said.

“This terrorist attack against a key pillar of Libya’s fragile democracy only deepens the United States commitment to support all Libyans as they prepare for credible and secure elections,” the US State Department said in a statement, after Islamic State claimed responsibility for the incident.

The terror group is making a comeback in Libya, even as the United Nations struggles to help other opposing factions lay the groundwork for a new constitution and elections, the agency said. The UN is pushing for votes on both to be held by the end of the year.

DISCOVERIES

Yes, We Have Chemistry

According to the results of a recent study, best friends’ similarities may extend past the realm of common interests to brain chemistry, the New York Times recently reported.

Test cases have shown time and again that the best of friends more often than not share similar views on race, religion, class, education and politics.

But when scientists at Dartmouth showed a group of 42 graduates a string of short videos after mapping out their relationships with one another, they found a strong correlation between cognitive responses to the videos and participants’ reported degree of friendship – even after controlling for factors such as ethnicity, religion or family income.

As participants watched clips ranging from a gay Jewish couple getting married to a sappy music video, scientists tracked blood flow to the brain, a measure of neural activity.

The correlation between established friendships and cognitive responses was so strong that neuroscientists were often able to predict participants’ established friendships from the scans alone, allowing them to program an algorithm to do the same.

That means that by running the experiment in reverse – scanning neural responses first – computers may be able to predict potential friendly or romantic matches from brain chemistry alone.

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