The World Today for July 17, 2018

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Hard Day’s Night

Last year, the Singapore newspaper, the Straits Times, followed a few young professionals in South Korea whose accounts of the nation’s backbreaking work culture are enough to fatigue even the most tireless of Western workaholics.

Corporate culture in South Korea values obedience over productivity. That means that low-level workers clock 17-hour shifts since employees are discouraged from leaving before the boss – even if they’ve already finished their work, the newspaper reported.

Others said that dinner meetings with superiors followed by late-night drinking sessions are anything but optional, leaving workers no time for family and with monstrous headaches the following day.

It’s part of the reason why South Koreans work the third-longest hours of all countries in the OECD, yet remain one of the least productive societies in the bloc, the Wall Street Journal reported.

But all that’s about to change thanks to a new work law spearheaded by President Moon Jae-in that took effect July 1.

According to the law, which will roll out gradually over the next six months, work hours per week plus overtime cannot exceed 52 hours, down from 68 hours previously, CNN reported.

More than simply providing employees a reprieve from burning the midnight oil, the law is supposed to encourage companies to hire more employees and improve their working conditions, all while allowing families to have more children, wrote the Washington Post.

South Korea may be one of the globe’s most successful economies in one of the most hypercompetitive regions in the world. But it comes with the cost of a dwindling population. South Korea’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in the world, with only 1.2 children born to every woman on average, according to OECD statistics.

Without a fresh labor pool, companies are more prone to hold on to veteran employees. That contributes to a “labor shock” in which working conditions worsen and job growth stagnates, Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

That’s led to an exodus of new entrants into the labor market to Japan and elsewhere, putting even more pressure on existing workers to perform – especially since South Korea, a largely homogenous society, is unwilling to accept immigrant labor, NPR reported.

Most would applaud a cut to working hours, especially given the nexus of problems that South Korea faces.

But not everyone is so optimistic about the new regulations. While some fear that the regulations could mean less pay, others see the rigid Korean work culture as impossible to change.

“Impossible. Fifty-two hours?” Hyun-Soo, a 26-year-old accounts assistant at a major telecommunications company, told the Washington Post.

“A law on work hours is just a piece of paper,” he said. “The reality in Korea is that we will work and work and work.”



Oil on Troubled Waters

As Donald Trump’s public acceptance of Vladimir Putin’s denial of Russian responsibility for the hacks of the 2016 US election hogs the headlines, another potential bombshell more or less slipped under the radar.

Just after rumors of emergency action from the Trump administration sent oil prices plunging, the Russian president suggested that Moscow and Washington could work together to control volatility in the oil market, making the US a sort of silent partner in OPEC, CNBC reported.

Russia has partnered with OPEC and other producer nations since 2017 to manage nearly half of the world’s oil supply, while the US is not part of the deal due to US laws against such cartels, the news channel noted. Nevertheless, Putin suggested the US and Russia could “work together on regulation of international markets, because neither of us is actually interested in the plummeting of the prices.”

The offer – however sincere – comes after Trump called Germany’s plan to bypass Ukraine with a direct natural gas pipeline to Russia “a horrific thing,” and amid efforts to cut off the oil trade with Iran.


A Deadly Campaign

Pakistan is mourning the second-most deadly attack in the history of its independence, as the death toll from Friday’s suicide bombing of a campaign rally in southwest Balochistan province rose to 149 people, including nine children.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, which injured more than 180 people a little more than a week ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections on July 25, the BBC reported. A local candidate for office was among those killed, while others claimed the military is using threats and incentives to influence voters, Al-Jazeera said.

Though it follows several similar incidents, the bombing has not resulted in widespread protests or breathless local television coverage, the channel said, likely because of where it occurred. Home to a separatist rebellion, Balochistan accounts for just 4% of the country’s population, so its role in elections is negligible. It’s also poor and rural, and the military censors reporting there, so it doesn’t get much media attention.

The death toll nearly surpassed the deadly Pakistani Taliban attack on an army school in Peshawar in 2014 – which killed more than 150 people.


Bloody Sunday

Violence continues in Nicaragua, as pro-government forces strive to control protests against President Daniel Ortega that have been raging since April.

In the latest chapter of the crisis, regime authorities trapped about 200 student protesters on the sprawling campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in the capital Friday, eventually resulting in clashes that left at least two people dead and several others injured, NPR reported, citing the Associated Press.

The violence flared further on Sunday outside Managua, when the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights said at least 10 people were killed when security forces and paramilitary groups loyal to Ortega attacked people in the city of Masaya and communities of Monimbo. Overall, human rights group say the crackdown has resulted in nearly 300 deaths since the demonstrations began.

Accusing them of corruption, the demonstrators demand that Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, resign. A conference of the country’s bishops has called on the president to move up scheduled elections from 2021 to 2019, but Ortega has rejected that idea.


Don’t Touch!

When reading an interesting book, some people have the habit of licking their fingers to turn to the next page.

This trait, however, was extremely fatal back in the 16th and 17th centuries, according to Danish researchers: They discovered three, centuries-old tomes laced with arsenic, a fatal poison, the Washington Post reported.

While scouring the library of the University of Southern Denmark, researchers wanted to know if the covers used in the large books were made from old Latin texts. This was a common practice for European bookbinders at the time.

Using X-rays, they accidentally discovered that the green paint on the covers was made from arsenic, one of the most toxic substances in the world.

They clarified in the Conversation that the poisonous coating wasn’t intended for nefarious purposes but rather to protect the texts from insects and vermin.

Until the mid-20th century, arsenic compounds were used in a variety of products, such as wallpaper, colored paints and pesticides.

A green arsenic pigment, known as Paris green, can actually be found in many impressionist and post-impressionist artworks.

This means they are still poisonous, which is another reason not to touch priceless art.

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