The World Today for November 23, 2018

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A Kingdom for a Megaphone

Members of Congress recently sought to block American arms shipments to Bahrain, which has allied with Saudi Arabia and other countries in a brutal war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

The effort fizzled in large part because Bahrain hosts an American naval base that houses 7,800 US troops and serves as a bulwark against Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf, the Associated Press reported. Lawmakers didn’t think it was right to snub an ally.

As a result, American officials, executives and Bahraini leaders are expected to finalize sales of rocket systems and, a more recently, a deal for nearly $1 billion in attack helicopters.

Yemen isn’t the only reason the US might want to exert some influence in Bahrain, however.

Western diplomats have warned that Bahrain’s Nov. 24 parliamentary elections won’t be legitimate because opposition parties have been banned and human rights activists and independent journalists have been silenced or jailed, the Guardian reported.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s near-total control of the public domain stems in part from the island nation’s unique religious makeup. The monarch is Sunni Muslim but the majority of his citizens are Shiites. In 2011, a popular movement demanding a constitutional monarchy and other reforms arose, prompting security forces to crack down.

The unrest theoretically makes Bahrain open to meddling from Iran, a Shiite Muslim power at odds with Saudi Arabia. Xinhua wrote that Bahrain has even opened a hotline for citizens who might have evidence about Iran and other foreigners meddling in the upcoming vote.

Meanwhile, an appellate court also recently sentenced three former politicians to life in prison on charges of spying for Qatar, a Sunni Muslim friend of Iran, after they had been acquitted by a lower court. The three men belonged to the now-banned, Shiite-affiliated opposition political party al-Wefaq.

Human rights groups blasted the conviction, wrote Al Jazeera – a news agency owned by the Qatari government.

Obviously, King al-Khalifa is working hard to retain control. But his methods of doing so are growing increasingly absurd, some say.

Bahraini authorities recently detained Ali Rashed al-Asheeri, a former al-Wefaq politician, for tweeting a negative comment about the upcoming elections, for example, reported Middle East Eye.

Here are his incendiary comments: “I am a Bahraini citizen deprived of my civil and political rights. My family and I will therefore boycott the parliamentary and municipal elections. No to the laws of political isolation.”



Buhari’s Huge Loss

A deadly attack by Islamist militants in Nigeria threatens to dent President Muhammadu Buhari’s chances in February’s upcoming election, undercutting his claims to have defeated the nine-year insurgency waged by Boko Haram.

Militants killed around 100 Nigerian soldiers in an attack on a military base on Sunday in one of the deadliest encounters since Buhari came to power in 2015, Reuters reported. Security personnel blamed Islamic State West Africa for the attack in the northeastern Borno state where Boko Haram and Islamic State have been most active.

“The insurgents took us unawares,” an officer told the news agency. “The base was burned with arms and we lost about 100 soldiers. It is a huge loss.”

Voters head to the polls on Feb. 16 in a test of the strength of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party-led coalition, wrote Stratfor, a US-based think tank. In 2015, Buhari benefited from the perception that then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was trying to sidestep term limits. But Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has recovered since then.


Rama Returns

The far-right supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are ramping up calls for the construction of a Hindu temple at the site believed to be the birthplace of the god Rama in the lead-up to parliamentary elections next year.

On Sunday, around 100,000 right-wing Hindu activists-cum-religious leaders are expected to gather a few miles away from the disputed site in the city of Ayodhya to demand the government introduce legislation mandating the construction of the long-desired temple, Reuters reported. A larger protest involving some 500,000 people is expected in New Delhi next month.

An arcane debate to outsiders, the dispute has been simmering since 1992, when a similar mob of activists destroyed an ancient mosque they claimed had been built over the ruins of a Hindu temple in the 16th century, whipping up tensions that sparked communal clashes that killed around 2000 people across the country and propelled Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party into power for the first time.

The reboot signals a further drift away from the business-friendly focus of Modi’s 2014 election campaign.


Fifty Lifetimes or More

A Guatemalan court sentenced Santos López Alonzo, 66, to a total of 5,160 years in prison for his involvement in the massacre of 171 people during the country’s 36-year civil war.

Totaling as much as 50 lifetimes, the massive sentence is symbolic – with López sentenced to 30 years for crimes against humanity and an additional 30 years for each of the 171 victims. Under Guatemalan law, he could serve a maximum of 50 years behind bars.

López was accused of participating in the killings as the member of an elite squad known as the Kaibiles, which murdered almost the entire population of the village of Dos Erres on Dec. 7, 1982, in an effort to find members of a guerrilla group that had ambushed a military convoy, the New York Times reported.

Failing to locate the guerrillas, the soldiers raped many of the village women, according to prosecutors, and then massacred the residents to cover up the rapes.

Overall, about 200,000 people were killed and an additional 45,000 disappeared during the conflict, which lasted from 1960 to 1996.


A Kilo Is Not a Kilo

Most Americans think in pounds, not kilos, when measuring weight.

Now, furthering the confusion, scientists are changing how they define the exact mass of a kilogram, the Associated Press reported.

The change doesn’t mean that objects will weigh more or less, however.

Since 1889, nations and the scientific community have defined the kilo using a golf ball-sized metal cylinder known as the international prototype kilogram (IPK), or Le Grand K.

That means that all other standard kilos are based on it. Problem is, every physical object changes a wee bit over time due to entropy, gravity, erosion and other natural processes. So now scientists are planning to use a scientific formulation to better determine the exact mass of a kilo.

Recently, 60 nations voted to adopt a new method based on Planck’s constant, which is hard to explain in less than a few hundred words but lauded by physicists for its precision.

This means that nations don’t have to verify their kilos by comparing them with the original unit, which is kept in a vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, or BIPM, in France.

BIPM director Martin Milton said the new method will help with precise measurements used in fields like computing, manufacturing and even climate change.

“The system will be intrinsically correct by reference to the laws of science, the laws of nature,” he said. “We won’t have to depend on just assuming that one particular object never changes.”


Correction: In Wednesday’s WANT TO KNOW section, we incorrectly identified Senator Jeanne Shaheen in our “Fox in the Henhouse” item. Shaheen is a Democratic Senator for New Hampshire. We apologize for the error.

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