The World Today for July 14, 2022

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Oozing Wounds

SYRIA

Recently, some British tourists in Aleppo marveled at how rebel snipers a few years ago fired on Syrian government troops from the very same positions where archers nearly a millennia ago defended the ancient Citadel of Aleppo from Christian Crusaders.

European tourists are returning to Syria.

These visits have garnered criticism, of course. As the Washington Post explained, these tourists are arguably helping finance the brutal and dictatorial regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

One might add that these tourists are putting themselves in danger, too. While fighting in the Syrian Civil War has subsided, more violence might erupt at any moment, noted World Politics Review.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now dominating the news cycle. But Syria remains perhaps the most tragic and bloody conflict in recent memory. More than 300,000 civilians died in the fighting that started in 2011, the United Nations recently found. That figure doesn’t include another 100,000 combatants or civilians who perished from starvation, sickness or other consequences of war. The war also displaced millions from their homes.

An anonymous testifier referred to as the “gravedigger” recently told the US Senate that Assad’s regime is still digging mass graves for rebels, CNN wrote. “Every week, twice a week, three trailer trucks arrived packed with 300 to 600 bodies of victims of torture, bombardment and slaughter,” said the gravedigger. “Twice a week, three to four pickup trucks with 30 to 40 bodies of civilians that had been executed in Sednaya prison also arrived for disposal in the most inhumane way.”

Iran and Turkey also continue to meddle in Syrian affairs while also vying with each other for influence in the country, Al-Monitor wrote. The Islamic State remains active there. Refugee camps have become hotbeds of recruitment for the militants, reported Haaretz. Syrian leaders have condemned Israel for alleged attacks against Hezbollah terrorists on their territory, Reuters added.

The Syrian Civil War also kicked off a migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East that is still going on to this day. Officials in neighboring Lebanon are now trying to repatriate tens of thousands of Syrians who fled the fighting, for example, the Associated Press reported.

Global conditions are not necessarily making it easier for people to put the war behind them, either. Observers are hoping Russian diplomats in the UN Security Council, for example, don’t exercise their right to veto aid shipments to areas that are still under rebel control in Syria. Russia is allied with Assad. Amnesty International warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe” if the aid is not allowed through.

These developments illustrate how one of the worst disasters of the contemporary era won’t be over until it is 100 percent over. Unfortunately, that day is not in sight.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

When the Street Roars

SRI LANKA

Enraged Sri Lankan protesters stormed the prime minister’s residence after Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country Wednesday, the day he was set to officially resign following months of anti-government demonstrations over Sri Lanka’s dire economic situation, CNN reported.

He had announced over the weekend that he would resign on July 13 came after thousands of demonstrators stormed and occupied his residence. On Wednesday, the president and his family escaped to the Maldives, after appointing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – who also was due to resign – as acting president.

Amid the chaos, Wickremesinghe initially declared a state of emergency and a curfew but rescinded the orders later. Meanwhile, protesters demanded both Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe step down, Reuters reported.

The recent upheaval follows months of unrest over economic hardships, including soaring inflation, blackouts and shortages of fuel and medicine.

Protesters have blamed the president and his brother, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, for the high-level corruption and mismanagement that has bankrupted the country.

Meanwhile, parliament is set to appoint a new president next week, with a key governing party source telling Reuters that Wickremesinghe was the party’s first candidate.

However, Wickremesinghe clinging to power would anger demonstrators who say he is a close associate of the Rajapaksa family, which has governed the nation since Mahinda became president in 2005.

Getting In Tune

SPAIN

Spain will introduce a series of temporary taxes on banks and energy companies to help people cope with soaring inflation and spiking utility costs caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced the tax scheme and other public relief measures during a State of the Nation parliamentary debate, the first since 2015.

The Socialist leader said the taxes on banks, natural gas, electricity and petroleum companies are projected to bring in $7 billion over two years. He added that the government is planning more relief packages to also include free commuter rail passes between September and December and discounts for urban mass transit services.

He said the economic situation is making it challenging for Spaniards “to make ends meet.” Still, he urged Spanish consumers to conserve energy by working from home more often and using less heating and air conditioning.

Sánchez’ speech comes a month after the Spanish government unveiled an emergency economic package worth more than $9 billion.

Despite efforts to aid the Spanish with their financial difficulties, Sánchez’ popularity has declined three years after taking office.

Spain emerged from the pandemic with a bright economic outlook but the conflict in Ukraine, surging inflation, high energy costs and high unemployment are now serious roadblocks to recovery.

Loud and Proud

FRANCE

French President Emmanuel Macron, facing a parliamentary inquiry, defended his support of Uber after a major document leak from the company showed he was extraordinarily welcoming of the American ride-hailing giant before he was elected, the Washington Post reported.

Known as the “Uber Files,” the leaked internal communications were provided by a former Uber lobbyist to the Guardian newspaper and the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The data trove contains correspondence among top executives from 2013 to 2017. At the time, Macron served as France’s economy minister and had made no secret of his support for the firm.

Following the leaks, he declared that he was “very proud” of what he did and emphasized that the scope of the support was to provide jobs for young people “from difficult backgrounds.” He added that he would “do it again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.”

His office also told the Post and other outlets that during his ministerial duties, Macron’s functions “naturally led him to meet and interact with many companies.”

But the correspondence showed that he would go out of his way to aid the company, including urging French regulators to be “less conservative” in their interpretation of rules limiting the company’s operations.

Despite his comments, the files could prove problematic for the young leader, who was recently reelected but lost his absolute majority in parliament to the far-left and far-right parties.

The documents dominated a portion of parliamentary debates this week, with lawmakers calling for an inquiry over the matter. France, like many other countries, fought Uber with legal action to protect its taxi sector.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon has frequently lamented the “uberization” of French society, an umbrella phrase encompassing ride-hailing and home delivery services. He has criticized Macron’s backing for a sector he believes has weakened labor rights.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations reached an agreement on major elements of a plan to resume Ukrainian grain shipments across the Black Sea which had been disrupted following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the Wall Street Journal. Representatives from the four sides agreed during a conference in Turkey to build a coordination center in Istanbul where their representatives would supervise outgoing grain shipments, according to Turkey’s defense minister.
  • A pro-Russia separatist leader in eastern Ukraine indicated that three foreigners sentenced to death for “mercenary activities” could be executed in secret if their appeals are denied, Radio Free Europe reported.
  • The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) established an embassy in Russia this week, CNN wrote. According to a source in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Ambassador Olga Makeyeva and Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova told journalists that diplomats representing the Russia-backed DPR had already received “a huge number” of petitions from civilians, for help addressing their issues.

DISCOVERIES

Different Versus Disorder

A new study shows that dyslexia has been misunderstood and that it shouldn’t be considered a developmental disorder, BBC’s Science Focus reported.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge, in Britain reviewed past research in psychology and neuroscience about the condition, which has been labeled a developmental disorder.

They observed that instead of a disorder, there were fundamental differences in how dyslexic and non-dyslexic brains were wired.

Specifically, how the brain organizes its neurons and pathways varies depending on whether the mind is better at global “big picture” thinking or local ‘detail-oriented’ thinking.

In the case of dyslexic people, their brains have more long-range connections and fewer local ones.

The team explained that people with dyslexia are adept at exploring the unknown and seeing the bigger picture. Still, they added that dyslexic individuals are less efficient at procedural learning, such as reading, writing or playing the piano. This became problematic for the dyslexic mind as humanity moved towards writing, reading and exploiting information.

Researchers posited that before writing became ingrained in our species both dyslexic and non-dyslexic people collaborated with each other to help humanity thrive.

The evolution of this brain wiring proved advantageous for humans as they adapted to their changing environment.

The authors suggested that if dyslexia is reframed as a difference, society as a collective can benefit from its innovative solutions.

“It is important to emphasize people with dyslexia do still face a lot of difficulties but the difficulties exist because of the environment and an emphasis on rote learning and reading and writing,” said co-author Helen Taylor “[Instead, we could] nurture ‘explorative learning’ – learning through discovery, invention, creativity, etc. which would work more to their strengths.”

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