The World Today for May 24, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

IRELAND

The Ties That Break

Voters in the Republic of Ireland recently amended their constitution to permit abortion and legalize same-sex marriage.

Now they are poised to streamline divorce in a May 24 referendum, another move that, if successful, could reflect the changing character of what was traditionally one of the world’s most staunchly Catholic countries.

“When we were growing up, divorce was a mortal sin,” a man told the Irish Times. “People went through hell being battered at home because they believed that divorce was a sin.”

As the BBC explained, the Irish voted yes to a referendum in 1995 that allowed divorce. At the time, critics of the change used slogans like “Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy” and “Divorce Aborts Marriage” in unsuccessful efforts to turn others to their point of view.

But the 1995 referendum didn’t make things too much easier for unhappy partners. Currently, couples who wish to split up must be separated for four of the past five years if they want to make their break official and have a chance to remarry.

If the referendum passes, Irish lawmakers will be able to set a different grace period before divorces are final. They have already said they would likely make it two years. Lastly, the measure under consideration would also allow the Irish state to recognize foreign divorces.

“This is about showing compassion and humanity to those people who find themselves in situations where their marriage has broken down,” said Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, a referendum supporter, in the Irish Independent.

Opponents lament that the referendum would make divorces too quick and easy.

In an interview with Irish national broadcaster RTÉ, David Quinn, director of the religiously conservative Iona Institute, said he didn’t object to reducing the waiting period from four years to two. But he wanted divorce limitations to stay in the constitution because future lawmakers might decrease the limit further.

Voters disagree. An overwhelming majority supports the change, the Irish Times reported. A poll found that only 8 percent of respondents would oppose it.

A headline in the Irish Examiner perhaps summed up how and why many people want a change: “Vote to make divorce less traumatic.” The editorial noted that half of the marriages in Ireland now don’t even take place under the auspices of the Catholic Church, itself a remarkable statistic about changing times in the republic.

In a bustling country where people are more likely now to work at multinational corporations like Google or Ryanair than on the family farm, people just don’t want to wait to sever a miserable bond, or have others tell them it’s wrong to do so.

WANT TO KNOW

INDIA

More Modi

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned skeptics with a larger than expected victory in national elections that took place over more than a month of voting, buoying the stock market with hopes of further economic reforms and seemingly sounding the death knell for the Indian National Congress party that long dominated Indian politics, the Associated Press reported.

By Friday morning, Election Commission data showed Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party winning 303 out of the 525 seats in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, according to Al Jazeera.

The Congress, which had hoped at least to prevent the BJP from winning an outright majority, won only 52 seats. Moreover, party leader Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a dynasty that included Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, failed to win the family’s home constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh – though he managed to win another “safe” seat in southern Kerala.

Talk of economic growth and business-friendly reforms aside, Modi’s opponents worry he will continue to push India toward a system further dominated by its Hindu majority, the Wall Street Journal noted.

BRAZIL

Reined In

Not long after he won a key vote allowing him to reorganize the country’s executive branch, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro saw another of his restructuring efforts undone, as Congress reversed his move to put decisions about indigenous claims to land in the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The lower house of Congress voted late Wednesday to restore those powers to the National Indigenous Affairs agency Funai, which will also be placed under the Ministry of Justice again, Reuters reported. An additional vote is still pending in the Senate, however.

Activists for indigenous rights had decried the shift to the Ministry of Agriculture, which they claimed would allow the country’s powerful agribusiness companies to run roughshod over tribal peoples and the rainforest they inhabit.

Earlier Wednesday, the far-right president celebrated victory when Congress approved the decree he issued to reduce the number of government ministries to 20 from 29, which otherwise would have expired on June 3.

That would have thrown the government into crisis and further dented his hopes of passing a sweeping pension reform bill many believe is needed to jumpstart the faltering economy, Reuters reported separately.

BOTSWANA

Trophies and Trolls

Botswana formally ended its five-year-old ban on elephant hunting Wednesday despite fierce lobbying from conservationists in a decision that reveals complexities that go beyond the trolling of trophy hunters on the Internet.

In announcing the decision, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said the government had ended the ban after “extensive consultations with all stakeholders,” the New York Times reported.

Over recent months, the country has faced intense pressure from activist groups and celebrities ranging from the Humane Society International to talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres – including warnings of boycotts and a loss of tourism revenue.

But many locals are also concerned about what they see as the dark side of the country’s huge conservation success: an increase in conflicts between humans and elephants, nearly 30,000 of which live outside wildlife management areas. That has made the hunting ban a powerful election issue for rural voters in the lead-up to polls later this year.

It’s a “tragedy” elephants have become “collateral damage” in electoral politics, said prominent conservationist Don Pinnock.

DISCOVERIES

Hope, Engineered

British teenager Isabelle Holdaway was fighting for her life when a lung transplant resulted in a massive bacterial infection that couldn’t be cured by antibiotics.

Fortunately for Isabelle, who’s now 17, a team of scientists was able to save her by using an unlikely and unprecedented cure: a genetically modified virus.

For the first time in medical history, scientists used engineered bacteria-killing viruses, known as phages, to cure a patient from drug-resistant bacteria, the Guardian reported.

In their study, the scientists highlighted how after several arduous trials they were able to engineer an effective phage that could kill the teen’s infection efficiently.

“We didn’t think we’d ever get to a point of using these phages therapeutically,” said co-author Graham Hatfull. “It’s a brilliant outcome.”

The altered pathogen was able to eradicate most of the infection and caused almost no side effects, allowing young Isabelle to heal faster and resume her life.

Her successful case, however, cannot be fully replicated in other patients, because it’s hard to find the right phages for each patient.

“We’re sort of in uncharted territory,” said Hatfull.

Researchers hope that larger clinical trials in the future can overcome this issue and help combat other drug-resistant bacteria.

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