The World Today for August 17, 2018

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Road Rage

The protests that erupted recently in Bangladesh started over unsafe roads.

Now they have shut down sections of the capital, Dhaka, and ballooned into calls for action on a host of issues, including poor governance, nepotism, corruption, and freedom of the press, the New York Times explained.

Around 20 people die every day on Bangladeshi highways, Al Jazeera reported. That’s a lower rate than in nearby India and Pakistan but much higher than in the US and Europe.

But when a bus plowed into a crowd of students on July 29, killing two teenagers, folks had enough.

Sick and tired of transportation companies bribing officials to avoid prosecution for such incidents, citizens took the law into their own hands, setting up checkpoints to check drivers’ licenses and handing violators over to the police.

Then activist and photographer Shahidul Alam gave an interview to Al Jazeera in which he blasted Bangladesh’s government, saying people were fed up with bribery, extrajudicial killings, control of financial institutions and other oppressive moves that are common in the South Asian country.

“It’s a never-ending list,” he said. “It really is that pent-up energy, emotion and anger that has been let loose.”

A few hours after he appeared on Al Jazeera, police arrested Alam and charged him with making “provocative comments,” according to Time. Human Rights Watch has criticized Bangladesh for using draconian laws to crack down on free speech like Alam’s.

Bangladeshi leaders also rebuked the US Embassy for its condemnation of heavy-handed police tactics, like using tear gas and water hoses against the protesters. Bangladesh’s information minister said the embassy was “poking its nose” into the country’s domestic affairs, the Washington Post wrote.

“Nothing can justify the brutal attacks and violence over the weekend against the thousands of young people who have been peacefully exercising their democratic rights in supporting a safer Bangladesh,” the embassy said in a Facebook post.

Amid the confusion, armed men on motorcycles attacked a vehicle carrying US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat as she traveled in the city. An investigation is pending.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who faces re-election this year, has blamed opposition politicians for stirring up the demonstrations. They deny the accusation.

But Hasina is still acting to calm the protesters. She has proposed a sentence of five years for negligent driving that leads to a fatality, as well as murder charges and capital punishment for anyone who intentionally runs someone over, Reuters reported.

In a country where the laws don’t appear to be respected, it’s unlikely a new law, even well-intentioned, will quell the rage.



More Cops, More Killings

Brazil’s crime-fighting strategy for the violence-plagued state of Rio de Janeiro may have backfired, statistics show.

Since it sent federal troops into the troubled state six months ago, official data shows that both murders and the number of people killed in police confrontations have increased, Reuters reported.

In February, President Michel Temer announced emergency measures that allowed the army to take over the police in the state, which is plagued by warring drug gangs and militias. Yet in the first six months of the army’s deployment, murders rose 5 percent to 3,479 killings. More worrying, the number of people killed in confrontations with police soared 35 percent to 738 people.

With the growing violence a hot-button issue in the ongoing presidential campaign, most voters in the troubled state still support the federal intervention, polls show. But that could well change before the vote in October.


Rights and Wrongs

The chairman of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) backed the party’s controversial plans to repossess land from white farmers and detailed how the scheme might work.

ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe said white farmers who own more than 12,000 hectares of land (about 30,000 acres) should be forced to hand over land to the government without compensation. It would then be redistributed to black citizens, in recognition of the colonial appropriation of land and historical oppression of black people under Apartheid.

Speaking to South Africa’s News 24 website, Mantashe said a constitutional amendment will be needed to compel the white farmers to give up their land, according to the UK’s Express newspaper. Currently, black South Africans own about 4 percent of the country’s private land, according to government figures, while 72 percent of private land is owned by white people and 24 percent by other ethnic groups.

While some might see redistribution as correcting historical wrongs, it could prove problematic for the economy, however. In Zimbabwe, many argue that a similar program helped to virtually destroy the economy, a setback it has yet to recover from.


Prospects for Peace

With a truce in place for the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast that starts next week, Cairo is hammering out the details for a long-term deal to put fighting between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip on pause.

“We are putting the final touches to the terms of the truce that will be signed by all sides, and we expect to announce the terms next week if Fatah helps us to do so,” an Egyptian security source said on Thursday, according to Reuters. “The period of calm will be for one year, during which contacts will be held to extend it for another four years.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s mainstream Fatah party has not joined the Cairo talks. Though Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah is more powerful in the occupied West Bank, Fatah’s presence in Gaza is large enough that its support is key to any long-term deal, the agency noted.

But if it works out, the truce could facilitate talks on other issues, including the easing of a blockade that has crippled Gaza’s economy.


A Tasty Earth

What if planet Earth’s matter was made from “an equal volume of closely packed but uncompressed blueberries?”

The bizarre question resulted in an intriguing paper by University of Oxford researcher Anders Sandberg, explaining in great detail the physics and science behind the odd scenario, the Atlantic reported.

According to Sandberg, the planet will begin shrinking in size as the berries will start collapsing unto themselves, causing geysers to release steam, and unleashing a large gravitational energy that will melt the pulp into jam.

This is followed by the Earth’s new jelly core becoming frozen due to the high pressure, and the planet’s atmosphere being similar to Venus.

“The end result is a world that has a steam atmosphere covering an ocean of jam on top of warm blueberry granita,” he stated in his paper.

Sandberg is now planning to submit the paper to a physics education journal, since the amusing study can actually teach a lot about real planetary physics.

He also considered the same “what-if” scenario with watermelons, being slightly more resistant to pressure than berries, but the end result would be less tasty.

Other researchers have praised the paper for being amusing and a “cute illustration” of planetary studies, but still wonder about the chemistry behind the space jam.

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