The World Today for May 03, 2023

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Demography and Destiny


The world’s largest democracy, India, is now the world’s most populous country. The distinction is important because it represents a shift in the world order that has developed in recent decades as China, which has had the largest population, has grown more powerful.

According to the United Nations, India as of April has more than 1.4 billion people. China had around that number of citizens last year but its population has dropped since then. Furthermore, while China’s population is expected to dip below one billion before the end of the century, India’s is expected to continue to rise. India, for example, will likely have almost 3 million more people than China by mid-2023.

“That squarely positions it as an alternative to China: Both as a manufacturer and, perhaps someday, as the world’s largest market,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. “The onus is now on the South Asian giant to fulfill that promise or bear the consequences.”

Chinese state-owned media panned the UN’s report, saying Western pundits were using the findings to suggest that China’s power was waning along with its declining population, Reuters reported.

But such demographic shifts might signal a change in China’s fortunes. As the Guardian explained, China introduced its notorious one-child policy in the 1980s – imposing fines on families with too many kids as well as forcing women to undergo abortions and sterilizations – when fears of overpopulation gripped leaders in Beijing.

Now, however, as the country has experienced a remarkable economic transformation, its aging and declining population is stirring fears that China will suffer as a smaller cadre of working adults pays for elderly care and other public services.

India’s population, meanwhile, has quadrupled since independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. A variety of factors have fueled the growth. Indian culture incentivizes large families, noted Ernest ‘Doc’ Werlin, a columnist for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Birth control is lacking in some regions. Public health care has improved in recent years, too, reducing infant mortality rates.

But India is also relatively poor. The effects of climate change, economic inequality, and conflicts between different religious and ethnic communities in the country, meanwhile, are major problems for Indian leaders in New Delhi.

Still, the low cost of labor could help India in the same way it helped China, reported the Associated Press. American tech giant Apple, for example, is expanding in India and hopes the country will become a manufacturing hub – the same role that China has played in the global economy in recent years.

Some analysts believe that with India’s baby boom, the end of an era in global trade and international relations is upon us.


Gunning for Guns


Canada introduced an amended version of a controversial gun control bill Tuesday, after the previous proposal came under fire from opposition lawmakers and gun-rights advocates, CBC reported.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the amended Bill C-21 will include new definitions of prohibited firearms that cover certain “assault-style” rifles.

Three years ago, the ruling Liberal party unveiled a ban on roughly 1,500 makes and models of military-grade and “assault-style” weapons in Canada.

The original draft included bans for rifles or shotguns capable of holding a magazine with more than five rounds, or any firearm with a muzzle wider than 20 millimeters – a move that would render many guns illegal.

Gun owners and hunters said the original bill unfairly targeted them, prompting the government to withdraw the proposed legislation earlier this year.

In Tuesday’s statement, Mendicino noted that the changes came after talks with manufacturers, hunters and Indigenous communities.

The proposed revised definition would include guns that shoot in a “semi-automatic manner” and were “originally designed” to take a magazine with more than five rounds, the minister said. The definition will also not be applied retroactively if Bill C-21 becomes law – meaning that owners would be allowed to keep the guns they currently have.

Mendicino added that the government is also creating an advisory panel to offer impartial counsel on any future gun legislation.

Even so, the amendments received a mixed reception from both sides of the gun-control debate.

Supporters of gun control said the new bill is “watered down” and creates a “loophole” that could leave out too many gun models.

Meanwhile, pro-gun groups complained that the changes still unfairly target law-abiding gun owners.

Wanted: Status Quo


Former Minister of Finance Santiago Peña won Paraguay’s presidential elections, returning the ruling Colorado Party to power after a tight race that had threatened to end its decades-long hold on the country, Al Jazeera reported.

Results showed that Peña received more than 42 percent of the vote, defeating his center-left rival Efrain Alegre, who secured less than 28 percent.

Sunday’s presidential elections took place alongside parliamentary polls, which also saw the conservative Colorado Party secure the highest share of the vote, according to the BBC.

The elections follow a tightly-contested campaign that saw Alegre with a narrow lead in opinion polls suggesting he might unseat the Colorado Party, which has governed almost continually since 1947 – through a dictatorship and since the return of democracy in 1989.

The race also took place as the ruling party has seen some of its top members hit with sanctions by the United States over alleged corruption. One of the sanctioned individuals includes Peña’s political mentor and party leader, former President Horacio Cartes.

The victory for Peña and Colorado also offers relief for Taiwan: Alegre had vowed to reconsider the relationship with the self-governing island if he won.

Paraguay is one of only 13 countries to recognize Taiwan.

China considers Taiwan as part of its territory and has attempted to diplomatically isolate Taipei.

In March, Honduras became the latest country to drop its ties with Taiwan for China.

A Cautionary Tale


A Norwegian artist unveiled the life-sized sculpture of a walrus named Freya in the capital of Oslo this week, in memory of the marine mammal that was killed by authorities last year over safety concerns, the New York Times reported.

Artist Astri Tonoian created the bronze artwork using photos of the 1,300-pound walrus that appeared around Oslo’s piers last summer. An online campaign that raised $25,000 supported the work’s creation.

Named after the Norse goddess of love, beauty and war, Freya the walrus became a local and international sensation after it hung around the highly populated areas of the capital.

Despite warnings from officials, many tried to see the walrus and there were instances when the animal jumped into boats – some of which almost sank.

Amid concerns that she posed a risk to humans, Norwegian authorities euthanized the animal, an act that critics called hasty.

Tonoian explained that the statue aims to create a “historic document about the case” and the surrounding controversy that speaks to “humans’ ability to face (the) unknown.”

Hans Erik Holm, the organizer of the fundraising website, wrote that the sculpture serves as a reminder that “we cannot or should not always kill and remove nature when it is ‘in the way.’”

He also described it as “a statement against the government.”

Following Freya’s death, Norwegian officials countered that the large mammal was euthanized in a “humane fashion.” They added that the massive amount of attention she received was stressing her and that Freya was an in “an area that wasn’t natural for her.”


The Sleep of Seals

Elephant seals have some strange sleeping patterns, Cosmos Magazine reported.

The marine mammals can sleep more than 10 hours per day when they’re on land during breeding season. But scientists have wondered if the seals get any shut-eye during months-long foraging trips in the Pacific Ocean.

It turns out that they do, but not a lot, a new study found.

A research team figured that out after recently scanning the brains of 13 elephant seals using an electroencephalograph (EEG) system that could track the seals’ brainwaves while they were at sea. They also equipped the seals with some depth recorders and accelerometers to track their movements.

The researchers discovered that the animals can function on just two hours of sleep per day out at sea. They achieve this by taking 10-minute naps during their deep dives, spiraling gently toward the sea floor.

Data from 104 sleep dives showed that the seals went into “slow-wave sleep” – a deep sleep stage – while gliding downward, then changed to rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.

“It doesn’t seem possible that they would truly go into paralytic REM sleep during a dive but it tells us something about the decision-making processes of these seals to see where in the water column they feel safe enough to go to sleep,” said co-author Terrie Williams.

Williams and her colleagues noted that the finding makes the creatures one of the least sleepy mammals in the world.

Meanwhile, they added that the EEG device could also aid in conservation efforts by helping scientists learn more about the places where endangered animals sleep.

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