The World Today for December 26, 2018

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Rich and Crazy in Asia

The romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians” has been a boon for Singapore’s tourism industry.

Occupancy rates in Singaporean hotels have hit 87 percent, the highest in 10 years, reported Bloomberg.

It’s easy to see why visitors might love the city-state in Southeast Asia. Politically stable, economically sound, clean, continually hosting international events and packed with luxury venues serving gin-based Singapore Sling cocktails, it’s a happening spot.

Singapore, like Hong Kong, is also an intriguing case study for how a largely ethnic Chinese country can balance East Asia’s communitarian culture with the individualistic tendencies of the West.

As China marks 40 years of liberalizing its economy, wrote the South China Morning Post, many are recalling how Singapore has long been an economic model that the world’s most populous country might someday emulate.

“Whatever we have done, you can do better, because we are the descendants of the landless peasants of south China,” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew told Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978. “You have the scholars, you have the scientists, you have the specialists. Whatever we do, you will do better.”

Singapore faces a big test in the coming years, however.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 66, is expected to retire in the next three years before an election due to be held before 2021. In a country that has only had three prime ministers – and Lee is the son of the country’s first premier – the passing of the torch marks an uncertain time. Financial instability, technology and other fast-moving phenomena are making the situation more fluid, too.

“Singapore’s economic model is under threat, there is unease over inequality in the land of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, and social media has given critics of the government – both genuine and fake – a platform that they’ve never had before,” wrote Reuters.

Lee has responded by deeming criticism of his leadership on social media to be “fake news” and cracking down on media outlets. He even sued a critic simply for posting – not writing, but posting – an article on Facebook that alleged the prime minister was linked to Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal.

Human rights groups already rank Singapore as among the worst when it comes to freedom of the press. Journalists fear more oppression as the election nears, Voice of America reported.

Tourists usually don’t read local newspapers or care about who’s in charge as long as they’re safe and having fun. But the genie is out of the bottle in Singapore. Lee is discovering it’s hard to cultivate a dynamic economy while shutting people up.

China is watching closely.



Deadly Reminder

Indonesia this year received a deadly reminder of the disastrous Boxing Day tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in 2004, as eruptions of the Anak Krakatau volcano over the weekend resulted in massive waves that killed more than 400 people.

On Tuesday, the official death toll nearly doubled to 429 confirmed dead, the New York Post reported.

The country’s tsunami-detecting buoys have not been functioning since 2012, the BBC reported. But advance warnings established for earthquakes were of no use since the waves stemmed from landslides associated with the volcanic eruptions, rather than tremors.

It’s unlikely that the buoy system would have provided many residents enough time to evacuate, even if it had been functional. However, the failure is a distressing reminder of how ill-prepared the country remains for a major disaster like the one on Dec. 26, 2004.

“Vandalism, lack of funds, technical faults have caused the current absence of the tsunami buoy system,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the country’s National Agency for Disaster Management.


Still Simmering

Three suicide bombers hit Libya’s foreign ministry in Tripoli on Tuesday, providing further evidence that the turmoil there is far from over.

First detonating a car bomb and then opening fire on the ministry building, the attackers managed to kill at least three people, Reuters reported. Two managed to get inside before blowing themselves up, while a third was killed by ministry guards.

Interior Minister Fathi Ali Bashagha said the authorities are still trying to ascertain the identity of the assailants, but he hinted that Islamic State could be responsible for the attack. IS claimed responsibility in a statement distributed on social media, according to Channel News Asia.

“Security chaos in Libya offers propitious conditions for IS (Islamic State) and other terrorist groups,” Bashagha said at a Tripoli press conference.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala called for a partial lifting of the UN arms embargo on Libya to help the country fight such groups.

Though the Government of National Accord set up in 2016 has created a measure of unity, Libya’s still-simmering civil war has allowed militant groups to thrive.


Not So Merry Christmas

Just before Christmas, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega shuttered the offices of prominent critics and expelled international monitors responsible for documenting his alleged crimes.

The authorities seized the offices of the independent news outlets Confidencial and 100% Noticias and stripped nine organizations of their legal status in connection with protests against Ortega that began in April – which the government has called a coup attempt, the Associated Press reported.

Since the fight to oust Ortega began, at least 325 people have been killed and some 565 people have been jailed, according to the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, which was also targeted in the recent raids.

“All Nicaraguans are vulnerable to the possibility that they fabricate charges from the laws they (the government) invented,” said the founder of Confidencial, Carlos Fernando Chamorro.

Last week, Ortega’s government expelled two expert missions from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), Agence France-Presse reported.

The expulsion came a day before GIEI was due to present its findings on possible human rights violations associated with the April protests.


Fear of Flying

For a long time, paleontologists believed that the pterosaurs – close relatives of the dinosaurs and the first vertebrates capable of flapping-powered flight – sported fur-like coats composed of filaments called pycnofibers.

A recent find in China, however, yielded evidence that the flying reptile also had various types of feathers, which would push back the origin of feathers by about 70 million years, Inverse reported.

In a study in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, a research team analyzed fossils of two specimens of short-tailed anurognathid pterosaurs that lived between 165 and 160 million years ago.

They determined that the creatures had three additional types of feathers along with fur-like filaments, arguing that feathers weren’t exclusive to two-legged theropod dinosaurs that later evolved into modern birds.

“We knew pterosaurs had fluff or fur for some time, and it was a fair chance they might share some features with dinosaurs because the two groups originated from a common ancestor,” said co-author Michael Benton. “We believe, then, we have evidence that shifts the origin of simple feathers way back in time.”

The team suggested that this body covering helped the ancient reptile in aerodynamics, heat regulation, sensing and signaling.

Future research could illuminate the evolutionary origin point of feathers. For now, pterosaur depiction in movies and other pop-culture will need to be updated.

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