The World Today for August 07, 2018

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Bold Steps and Backfires

Atefeh Ahmadi, 29, took a bold step recently.

“Me and two of my friends went to the subway,” the 29-year-old translator in Tehran told NPR. “We sat in the women-only car and sang a well-known feminist song. We also handed out pamphlets promoting women’s rights.”

The incident was one of many demonstrations and protests that have rocked Iran over the past year.

Most have focused on the country’s economic problems. Others have centered on women’s rights. Still others have reflected anger among hardline Islamists who believe Iran’s current regime is not tough enough. They want the opposite of Ahmadi’s goals: harsher enforcement of Islamic laws, stricter dress codes for women, et cetera.

The demonstrations began to make news late last year, focusing largely on economic hardship. As those protests continued in cities around the country, another movement re-emerged: young women standing up against the enforcement of conservative Muslim strictures on their dress and behavior, wrote the Christian Science Monitor.

As Iran churns, a major question is whether the US will stir the pot – and to what end.

After President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear deal, he moved to reimpose sanctions on metals and other items exported from the Islamic Republic this month, ABC News explained. In November, sanctions will take effect on oil, the country’s main source of cash.

CNN reported that Trump is also considering labeling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military force, as a terror group.

The theory is that pressure will push Iranian leaders to accede to American demands so as to again end the sanctions and shore up their economy. But critics said the US moves would likely backfire.

Sanctions undercut employment, make medicines scarce, and hike inflation, wrote Washington Post opinion writer Jason Rezaian, a former Tehran bureau chief for the newspaper who was convicted of espionage and other charges in Iran in 2015 and held for more than a year. They engender get-rich-quick schemes, drug use and other social problems. Iranians know from whence those ills come.

“The next time an ‘Iran expert’ tells you that he supports the most crushing sanctions on the regime because they are the best way to support the Iranian people, be sure to ask him the last time he lived through something like this,” wrote Rezaian, who has Iranian heritage.

Sanctions don’t always work as intended economically, either. China is still going to buy oil from Iran, no matter what the White House says, reported Bloomberg. Iran also recently held military drills in the Persian Gulf, to illustrate how its forces could disrupt the flow of oil to America.

When so many bold steps can backfire, we call that a powder keg.



Live By the Sword

One of Syria’s most important rocket scientists was killed by a car bomb believed to have been planted by Israel’s Mossad spy agency on Saturday.

Aziz Asbar led a top-secret weapons-development unit called Sector 4, the New York Times reported. Before his death, he was reportedly in charge of rebuilding an underground weapons factory to replace one destroyed by Israel last year.

The Times cited a senior official from an unspecified Middle Eastern intelligence agency as saying this was the fourth time in three years that Israel has assassinated a foreign weapons expert. The official said Mossad had been tracking Asbar for some time before the weekend strike.

Along with heading Sector 4, Asbar was working on a solid-fuel plant for missiles and rockets, Israeli intelligence believes.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed claims by the Syrian and Lebanese news media that Israel was behind the blast. However, Jerusalem won’t be shedding any tears over Asbar’s death, considering it attacked and destroyed a weapons factory where he was a senior manager in September.


Us vs. Them

The two leading candidates in Brazil’s presidential race chose running mates over the weekend, signaling that the campaign is heating up.

Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the Social Liberal Party chose reserve general Hamilton Mourao of the conservative Brazilian Labor Renewal Party to share the right-wing ticket, while former president Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva selected former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad as his running mate, Al Jazeera reported.

The left-wing Workers’ Party had announced Lula as its presidential candidate last week, though he is likely to be barred from running in the election due to his recent conviction on corruption charges.

With Lula now the only candidate currently polling ahead of Bolsonaro, the far-right leader’s provocative statements and his running mate’s comments supporting military intervention in politics are raising concerns in the lead-up to the Oct. 7 vote.

Still, Professor Francisco Panizza, a Latin American politics analyst at the UK’s London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera that Brazil’s two-round election system makes it unlikely Bolsonaro will win office, though he could well make it to the run-off.


And Then They Fall

Ethiopia’s march forward under new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues, as a controversial regional leader accused of gross human rights violations resigned in the wake of the deployment of federal troops to restore order in the state of Somali.

AfricaNews cited the Ethiopia Somali News Agency (ESNA) as saying that Abdi Mohamoud Omar, aka Abdi Illey, has officially resigned. He will be replaced by the region’s Finance Minister Ahmed Abdi Ilkacase.

Violence broke out in the regional capital of Jijiga on Saturday as mobs targeted properties owned by ethnic minorities, Reuters reported. Central government spokesman Ahmed Shide said regional officials had claimed the center was illegally forcing them to resign and ordered a regional paramilitary force to organize the attacks.

The Somali state has long been troubled by unrest and ethnic strife. But its regional government came into focus recently when a Human Rights Watch report held Illey responsible for “a brutal and relentless pattern of abuse, torture, rape, and humiliation” at the region’s Jail Ogaden. The report followed a speech by Abiy in which he spoke out against torture as a form of state terrorism.


Speaking in Colors

Conventional wisdom has it that chameleons can blend into just about any environment, quickly changing their hue to match.

Not so fast, says a recent article in National Geographic.

“People believe that if you put a chameleon on chessboard it’s going to hide by taking the same pattern or color,” Michel Milinkovitch, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Geneva, told the magazine. “But this of course is not true.”

In the lizards’ natural habitats, color change isn’t a big part of blending in, says Milinkovitch. They already look a lot like the leaves or branches around them.

The brilliant displays actually serve other purposes altogether, like asserting dominance or courting.

For example, when two males encounter each other, “they go nuts,” Milinkovitch says. “They’ll become yellow, red, white – something visible in the tree.” The weaker male concedes by turning off his display first.

Males also use their technicolor displays to try to dazzle the dames. And females signal yes or no with a color change as well, sometimes going very dark for an emphatic ‘no.’

One thing chameleons won’t do, despite a famous RayBan ad, is quickly match the shade of a series of sunglass frames. Gimmicks like that, says Milinkovitch, “are completely fake.”

Check out how these creatures speak in colors here.

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