The World Today for December 13, 2018

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Civility, Overrated

Most Americans think of French-speaking Canadians as exclusive to the province of Quebec.

But, in reality, Francophones live throughout Canada, especially in Ontario, where around 500,000 people speak French as their first language.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford might have considered that number before he cut services in French for the province’s residents last month, including canceling plans for a new French-language university in Toronto.

“They don’t know that because we’re a minority, we have fewer rights than them,” said Daphnie Bazinet, an 11th grader from Cornwall, Ontario, who was among a group of teens in a high school improv tournament that attracted coverage from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Personally, when I go somewhere like a restaurant or a store I always ask for service in French. It’s important, because if we don’t ask for it, we won’t have it.”

Ford backtracked on some of the cuts, but didn’t restore the university project, the Canadian Press news agency reported.

But, as Bazinet’s comments and protests throughout the province have demonstrated, the controversy won’t go away. There are over 60 French-speaking high schools in the province. Many of those students want to attend a local French-language university, reported broadcaster CTV.

It’s no surprise that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a Liberal, expressed disappointment over Ford’s move.

Quebecois voters opted to remain in largely English-speaking Canada in 1980 and 1995. It seems like they’re not in the mood for more referenda. But the possibility remains, and every time the issue of secession comes up, the world shudders at the thought of instability in an important economy.

Meanwhile, Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, the federal counterpart of Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, is in damage control mode, wrote iPolitics – a Canadian version of Politico.

“We should always try to improve the services to official-language-minority communities, not reduce them, because Canada’s bilingualism is a strength and an asset that must be protected,” said Scheer’s spokesperson.

Ford, by the way, is the brother of the late mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, who famously stirred controversy with his racist remarks, public drunkenness and admitting to smoking crack cocaine before he succumbed to cancer in 2016.

One can’t judge the premier by his brother’s record. It’s hard, however, not to compare Doug’s tin political ear to his brother’s.

In a similar vein, writing in the Conversation, Bishop’s University historian David Webster noted that Canada’s English-language media didn’t devote much ink to Ford’s cuts until protesters started raising their voices. The media, like Ford, didn’t take the matter seriously, it seems, until people started shouting.

Civility can be overrated.



Cardinal Sin

An Australian court has found Cardinal George Pell guilty of charges related to sexual abuse, making him the highest-ranking Catholic official to be convicted of such a crime.

The Vatican did not immediately issue a statement on the conviction Wednesday, but it did announce that in October Pope Francis had removed Pell from his advisory group known as the Council of Cardinals, the Washington Post reported. It also said the pope had removed Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, who is accused of covering up for abusive priests, from the body.

Pell’s conviction follows a ruling last week in which an Australian appeals court cleared Philip Wilson, the former archbishop of Adelaide, on charges that he helped conceal the sexual abuse of two altar boys by a priest, the paper noted.

Because Pell’s trial was conducted under a gag order, the news of his conviction has filtered out unofficially, first reported by the Daily Beast.

That order has itself proved controversial, prompting comparisons to the church’s own approach in dealing with alleged abusers behind closed doors.


Hugs and Kisses

The rival factions in Yemen’s bloody civil war agreed to a prisoner exchange that could free some 16,000 detainees by early next year.

That’s an encouraging start for the ongoing peace talks in Sweden, reported Al Jazeera, noting that the closed-door meeting ended with handshakes, hugs and kisses.

The government submitted the names of 8,576 detainees to the UN, while the Houthis submitted the names of 7,487 people, the news channel said. The government requested that at least 800 teachers, 359 children, 357 tribal figures, 200 Imams, and 88 women be among those released, and one source told Al Jazeera that the Houthis were expected to release the former minister of defense, General Mahmoud al-Subaihi, and relatives of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, as part of the deal.

It was not immediately clear whether the government had offered to release a comparable list of senior Houthi figures.

Though it’s a fine first step, it doesn’t represent a major breakthrough, warned Maysa Shuja al-Deen, a non-resident fellow at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies. The biggest source of contention is the future of Hodeidah city and its port.


“Slave” Labor

Thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest to protest a controversial amendment to the laws governing overtime they decried as a “slave law” designed to benefit employers.

Primarily members of various trade unions, the protesters waved Hungarian and European Union flags and chanted, “Free country,” to express their anger over an amendment that increased the limits on the amount of overtime employers can demand from their workers to 400 hours per year from an earlier maximum of 250 hours, Al Jazeera reported. (Hungary has a 40-hour work week).

The new law also allows companies to bypass unions and negotiate overtime deals directly with workers, but it’s not necessarily the world’s weakest law on the subject. America’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t set a limit, for instance.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s conservative government argues that the rule change will benefit workers who need to work more hours, as well as companies that need more manpower, given the country’s 3.7 percent official unemployment rate.

Despite opposition efforts to disrupt the vote, Orban’s Fidesz party easily pushed the amendment through on Wednesday by a vote of 130-52.


Like Father and Mother

A recent scientific finding involving DNA and cell mitochondria might revolutionize how doctors handle a broad swath of diseases.

Most of a cell’s DNA is in the nucleus and is inherited from both parents. But DNA also resides in mitochondria – dubbed the “powerhouse of the cell.”

Scientists have long believed that only mothers pass on their genetic code into their offspring’s mitochondrial DNA. But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, ScienceAlert reported.

In a study for the journal PNAS, geneticists discovered mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the father’s side while treating a sick four-year-old boy.

At first, they thought it was a mistake, but further analysis into other family members revealed that 10 other individuals over three generations had inherited “biparental” mtDNA.

“Our results suggest that, although the central dogma of maternal inheritance of mtDNA remains valid, there are some exceptional cases where paternal mtDNA could be passed to the offspring,” the authors wrote.

This is not the first case of paternal transfer, however.

Back in 2002, scientists documented a case of biparental mtDNA, but there were no new findings until recently.

Researchers believe that the new discovery means that scientists might have overlooked previous biparental transmissions as technical errors.

“It could open up an entirely new field … and change how we look for the cause of [certain mitochondrial] diseases,” Xinnan Wang, a Stanford biologist who was not involved in the new study, told NOVA Next.

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