February 24, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

JAPAN

Trying Times

Established in 1160, Tsuen Tea in Kyoto is perhaps the oldest continually operating tea house in the world. The shop was in a fascinating BBC story that discussed how more than half of humanity’s oldest businesses are in Japan. The story mentioned a hotel that opened its doors in 705 and a candy maker that’s more than 1,000 years old.

Presumably, some of those businesses have been through rocky times. They should prepare for more. The world’s third-largest economy is facing big challenges.

Japan’s economy shrank by 1.6 percent last quarter, reported CNN, and some economists warn that a recession appears likely. That’s despite a $120 billion stimulus plan unveiled in December.

The decline occurred as Japan was struggling to address its demographic dilemma. The island nation’s aging population requires costlier and costlier services that have necessitated tax hikes that have potentially hit consumer spending.

“I’m going to stop eating in at convenience stores,” a 20-year-old male student told Nikkei Asian Review, noting that food consumed at convenience store lunch counters would be taxed at 10 percent while items taken out would incur 8 percent in tax. “This was one of the few moments I could relax between school and work, so I’m disappointed.”

Now that student has another reason not to eat out: the new coronavirus. More than 2,500 people have lost their lives in China due to the virus, Al Jazeera reported.

Most of the 400 cases of the virus in Japan were among people on the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship docked in Yokohama. American officials recently evacuated US citizens from the vessel. But other cases have been documented, like the Japanese couple who tested positive for the deadly virus after they took a commercial flight to Hawaii, as KHON2, a Hawaiian television news station, reported.

“The widening fallout from the epidemic, which is damaging output and tourism, could have a significant impact on Japan if it’s not contained in coming months,” wrote Reuters.

Authorities are taking public health measures to limit crowds where people might spread the sickness. Emperor Naruhito canceled his birthday celebrations. The Tokyo Marathon was closed to spectators. Each event had been expected to attract tens of thousands. Large companies have asked employees to work from home.

Japanese officials are working overtime to get a handle on the virus because they are also preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in a few months, an event that is sure to give the economy a much-needed shot in the arm. The games will go on, organizers said. They don’t have a Plan B, the New York Post reported.

Someone is going to make a lot of money selling face masks.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Unpopular Vote

Iran said Sunday that voter turnout in last week’s parliamentary elections was the lowest since the 1979 revolution that brought in the Shiite theocratic government, the Associated Press reported.

The interior ministry said that the turnout was 42.57 percent – the first time it dipped below the 50 percent mark.

The low turnout is seen as a sign of possible dissatisfaction with Iran’s religious rulers and the system they govern. Voters had limited choices in Friday’s polls, after thousands of reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified prior to the elections.

State media reported that hardliners won all 30 parliamentary seats in the capital, Tehran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the low turnout on enemy “propaganda” that discouraged people from voting by raising fears about the coronavirus.

Currently, Iran has more than 40 cases and eight people have died due to the virus – the highest death toll outside of China.

SOUTH SUDAN

Keeping The Peace

South Sudan’s warring factions formed a “unity government” Saturday, in an agreement that might soon end the six-year civil war that has killed at least 400,000 and left millions homeless, the Washington Post reported.

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar had twice attempted to reach a peace deal. The recent agreement comes amid international pressure.

In the current agreement, Kiir agreed to lower the number of states from 32 to 10 and fire all current state governors and their staff. Machar, meanwhile, will become the vice-president and will not be allowed to bring his personal security forces into the capital, Juba.

The two leaders will cooperate to raise money, unite their security forces and set the stage for national elections, which would be years away.

Analyst Alan Boswell believes that the new deal will last, despite several contentions.

“There will be losers from this, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they will be spoilers to the peace,” he said.

HUNGARY

Pay Up

More than 2,000 people rallied in front of the Hungarian parliament Sunday to protest against the government’s refusal to compensate Roma children who had been unlawfully segregated in a school in eastern Hungary, Reuters reported.

Lower courts in Hungary have ordered the state to pay damages in a lawsuit that has been dragging on for more than a decade. The country’s top court will reach a verdict soon.

The demonstrations came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the government should disobey court orders to pay compensation and provide training instead.

Analysts believe that Orban is trying to mobilize his voters by targeting independent courts, the Roma minority, and the non-governmental organizations that help them.

They added that he plans to start a “national consultation” next month regarding the issue of payments to the Roma.

Orban and his Fidesz party have been in power since 2010 and are leading in the opinion polls due to his anti-immigration stance.

He has been criticized by the European Union for his perceived erosion of the rule of law.

DISCOVERIES

Made to Last

Sometimes a newer model doesn’t mean that a product has received an extensive upgrade.

Biomedical engineers at Duke University recently attested to this when they discovered that World War I helmets offered better protection than modern ones, Agence France-Presse reported.

The researchers tested how well several models of World War I helmets and the US Advanced Combat Helmet protected a person from overhead blasts.

In their study, they subjected a dummy to shockwaves of varying strength approximating the blast of an artillery shell.

While all the helmets did provide enough protection against the blast, the best headgear was a 100-year-old French-made “Adrian” helmet.

“The risk for someone wearing a circa-1915 French ‘Adrian’ helmet was less than for any of the other helmets tested, including the modern advanced combat helmet,” they wrote in their study.

The French helmet had a peculiar crest on the top of its crown which helped deflect the shock waves from blasts, the team explained.

They added that their study can help in producing more effective headgear to protect the noggins of soldiers or police officers.

One thing is certain from this study: They don’t make them like they used to anymore.