The World Today for September 25, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

JAPAN

The Ghost of Moby Dick

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) put into effect a moratorium on commercial whaling in an effort to save several species of the aquatic mammals, known for their intelligence, long lives and slow breeding cycles, from imminent extinction.

Nations like Japan, Norway and Iceland, where whaling is ingrained in indigenous culture, weren’t happy – and they’ve been skirting the rules ever since.

Under the guise of “scientific research,” Japan has killed as many as 22,000 whales since the moratorium took effect, according to a recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute.

Meanwhile, Norway and Iceland have ignored the ban altogether and continued whaling according to self-imposed quotas, the Australian reported. In the process, they’ve killed over 16,000 whales since 1986, the EIA estimates.

Such gaping loopholes in international oversight could become even larger, thanks to an effort spearheaded by Japan at this year’s annual IWC meeting in Brazil. In a landslide vote last week, the commission raised the quotas for subsistence whaling by indigenous communities, Agence France-Presse and the Japanese news agency Jiji Press reported.

Heritage whaling is a sensitive issue for small island nations and Arctic communities, which rely on whale meat for sustenance in climates void of fertile soil for farming.

“This means a lot to our people – we live in harsh conditions,” said Crawford Patkotak of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission after the vote. “This is a great day for us, the people of the north.”

Environmentalists, however, contend that the vote will lead to full-scale commercial whaling in due time. Cultural arguments have been used for years to hunt whales for commercial gain, they say.

And with oversight mechanisms having done little to halt illegal whaling, environmentalists have all but rejected assurances from the IWC scientific community that the relaxation of quotas will see no impact on whale populations.

“The lines just keep getting more blurred between the different types of whaling, and that is extremely concerning for the future of whales and how whaling will be managed,” said Aimee Leslie of the World Wildlife Fund after the vote.

Other votes at the IWC meeting only predicted what’s to come.

With Japan, Norway and Iceland taking the lead yet again, a proposal that would have created a new whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic was defeated, the Guardian reported.

Smaller island nations – and even some landlocked ones unaffected by such bans – protested that larger nations were trying to strongarm traditional whaling communities with fear tactics of extinctions.

“I think that the ghost of Moby Dick is haunting a lot of countries,” Daven Joseph, ambassador-at-large for Antigua and Barbuda, which voted against the measure, told the Guardian.

But Ahab’s tactics are nothing compared to those employed by modern whalers, wrote the Independent.

Harpoons equipped with shrapnel grenades rip into the flesh of the gentle giants, causing a slow death that contradicts animal-rights regulations in normally progressive countries like Norway.

And reports that Japan has slain pregnant female whales and those in protected waters along Antarctica and Australia haven’t exactly bolstered arguments for “cultural whaling.”

To quote Melville, “Truth is in things, and not in words.”

WANT TO KNOW

HUNGARY

Not In My Name

The trouble with messing with billionaires is they have the money to fight back. And so it goes with US financier George Soros and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Soros’ Open Society Foundation said Monday it will fight Orban’s so-called “Stop Soros” law, which makes it a crime for nonprofits like OSF to help unqualified migrants to apply for asylum or help illegal migrants win the right to stay in Hungary, in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Budapest said it would not repeal the law, regardless of the outcome in the international forum.

Under the Stop Soros law, people who help unqualified or illegal migrants gain the right to stay in Hungary can be sentenced to as much as a year in jail, while another measure levies a 25 percent tax on aid groups that support migration.

In a statement describing its suit, OSF said the law “breaches the guarantees of freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and must be repealed.”

HONG KONG

Testing the Limits

Hong Kong banned a political party that supports independence from China in a move that further tests the limits of the so-called “one country, two systems” policy at the center of its reunification with the mainland in 1997.

Secretary for Security John Lee on Monday announced the ban on the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), 10 days after receiving its arguments against the move, Al Jazeera reported. The ban means that anyone who continues to work with the party could face a fine and a jail term of up to three years.

Ironically, the ban was instituted not by some new regulation imported from Beijing, but according to a colonial-era law known as the Societies Ordinance, under which the government can ban groups “in the interests of national security, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

At a press briefing, Lee implied that the party was prepared to use violence to achieve its goal of independence from Beijing. Most Hong Kong residents oppose the independence drive.

IRAN

Vow of Revenge

Iranian officials on Monday vowed revenge against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the United States in connection with an attack that killed at least 25 people, including a dozen members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, over the weekend.

A local Arab separatist group claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, but Tehran has claimed it was carried out with the aid of the US and other regional players, the New York Times reported.

Amid rising tensions with the US over its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement that freed Iran from economic sanctions, the attack has energized the hardline message of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and further weakened reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani. On Monday, Rouhani said he has no plans to meet President Donald Trump during his visit to New York this week for the annual UN General Assembly session, NBC News reported.

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, added fuel to the fire, telling a crowd in New York, “I don’t know when we’re going to overthrow them…. But it’s going to happen.”

DISCOVERIES

Beer, and Burials

After a hard day, it’s always refreshing to crack open a cool one.

Beer might be for relaxing nowadays but back in prehistory, human ancestors brewed and consumed the fermented beverage for ritual purposes, Inverse reported.

Archaeologists from Stanford University and the University of Haifa recently uncovered evidence of the earliest-known brewery in the world in a cave in Israel.

The team analyzed mortars found at the site and detected residual remains of compounds that form when alcohol is brewed from wheat or barley.

In their study, the researchers conclude that ancient Natufian people used the site for beer-making and burial purposes and that the purpose of the drink was spiritual, rather than secular, intoxication during rituals venerating the dead.

“This discovery indicates that making alcohol was not necessarily a result of agricultural surplus production but it was developed for ritual purposes and spiritual needs, at least to some extent, prior to agriculture,” study author Li Liu said in a statement for Stanford University.

Researchers also recreated the concoction of the old hunter-gatherers. They got a thick drink with low alcohol content.

It wouldn’t create the buzz of today’s beer but it was a way to drown their sorrows, nevertheless.

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