The World Today for August 24, 2023

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The Fraying Chains


Almost a year ago, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of Iran’s so-called morality police. Her offense was refusing to wear her hijab – a headscarf – contrary to the Islamic Republic’s harsh laws.

Amini’s death triggered “a tsunami of unrest” called the Hijab Protest, which surged throughout Iran. As the Jewish News Syndicate explained, Iranian officials cracked down on the protests, using live ammunition to disperse demonstrators.

The furor led Iran’s theocrats to say they disbanded the morality police in December last year, the New York Times reported, a sign of how the country’s government at least partially responds to expressions of popular will.

Now they are back, stronger than ever, as is the crackdown on the protests which died down but never completely went away.

For example, last week, Iran detained at least 12 female activists in what rights groups say is an escalating campaign to deter protests to mark the anniversary of the “woman, life, freedom” uprising, the Washington Post reported.

This spring, the authorities began prosecuting two journalists for reporting on Amini’s death, accused of inciting the protests and “colluding with hostile powers” – the later charge could carry the death penalty. Still, the pair are just two of the more than 20,000 that have been jailed over the protests in the past year, including soccer stars, actors, and other celebrities.

More than 500 people have died in the demonstrations and at least seven have been executed, with more than 100 still on death row.

University campuses, the center of the protest movement, now resemble jails, policed by security guards and cameras. Students have been continually questioned and harassed by authorities, with that increasing lately.

The government also recently drafted a new rule to make sure that its citizens adopt conservative Islamic dress codes. The police are empowered to walk the streets and use surveillance cameras to order people to correct their clothing to conform to the law.

“I am telling you that the removal of the hijab will definitely come to an end, do not worry,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said recently, alleging that “foreigners” had trained “ignorant” women to reject the hijab requirement.

The proposed Hijab and Chastity Bill would send immodestly dressed men and women to prison for as many as 10 years in addition to imposing $750 fines, GZERO wrote. It would increase gender segregation in public places. Most conspicuously, under the law, celebrities who publicly express support for Amini-related protests would need to pay 10 percent of their wealth as a fine, as well as temporarily suspend their professional activities.

Authorities recently banned a film festival after organizers released an advertisement that featured a female actor without her hijab, Agence France-Prese added.

In a sign of the proposal’s controversy, Iranian lawmakers are reviewing the legislation in secret, the BBC reported.

Though it has yet to be approved, the draft bill is already causing economic damage in a country reeling from years of tough international sanctions.

Restaurant owners, for example, complained that the morality police were already levying fines as large as $70,000 if patrons were improperly wearing hijabs, a potential act of resistance. “The first time, it was two young women sitting at the window table without headscarves,” a Tehran restaurant owner Hesam told Nikkei Asia. “We received the notice, and soon we were shut down.”

The intensifying crackdown is because the government fears a renewal of protests, analysts say. Since the protests ignited, Iran’s clerical leaders have struggled to reassert control and enforce hijab rules, as well as regain legitimacy, amid ongoing frustration with the collapsing economy, global isolation, and water shortages during a summer heat wave.

“The regime is definitely frightened of the anniversary coming up,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told the Post. “It believes there is a large appetite in the country for protests and resistance again. Otherwise, it would not be rounding people up.”

That’s because Iranians are still defiant. “Be off or I’ll take off my trousers, too,” an elderly woman was recently heard shouting at police who demanded she put on a headscarf in a women-only carriage on Tehran’s metro, the Economist reported.

As some observers say, with withering legitimacy, the government should be afraid. Because as the Economist notes, Iranians are still seething.


One More Giant Step …


India made history by becoming the fourth country in the world to land on the Moon and the first one to successfully reach its south pole, NBC News reported.

The uncrewed Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft was launched last month and touched down on the Moon’s south polar region in the early hours of Wednesday. The spacecraft is packed with a lander about the size of an SUV and is also carrying a smaller rover.

The mission will conduct a series of experiments on the lunar surface, including testing mineral composition and seismic activity. Both rovers are solar-powered and designed to operate for around two weeks.

So far, only three countries – the United States, China and the former Soviet Union – have conducted controlled or “soft” landings on the Moon. Wednesday’s touchdown is a huge success for the world’s most populous nation as it has been vying for greater influence in the cosmos.

The successful landing came days after a Russian spacecraft – also heading to the southern polar regions – failed during an orbital maneuver and crashed into the Moon’s surface.

Russia’s Luna-25 was the first Moon-landing spacecraft launched by the country’s space agency in nearly 50 years.

The Moon’s south pole has drawn the attention of space agencies and scientists. Known for its shadowed craters holding higher water ice concentrations, this area could be vital for future lunar settlements.

Fed Up


Hundreds of Syrians protested in the country’s southern regions this week, the latest expression of defiance against the autocratic government of President Bashar Assad amid a worsening economic crisis, Al-Monitor reported.

Protesters marched in the southern city of Suwayda and the surrounding areas to demonstrate against the poor living conditions in the country. Crowds chanted slogans calling for Assad’s removal, while human rights groups reported the distribution of anti-government leaflets in other parts of the country.

Syria is experiencing economic hardships caused by more than 10 years of civil war, Western sanctions against Assad’s regime, and the February earthquake that struck the country’s northwestern regions.

Last week, the national currency fell to a new all-time low of 15,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar and inflation remains high.

Although Assad has retained control of most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, rebels still have a hold in Syria’s northern areas.

Demonstrations in government-controlled territories have been relatively rare in recent years.

Suwayda was never taken by rebel forces and the Syrian government has historically had a degree of support in the area. Still, the city did experience anti-government protests in 2020 and 2022.

The Big Cheese


Italian producers of the famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese are putting microchips in their products, as a part of an effort to fight copycats and enforce their dairy product’s protected status, CBS News reported.

Parmigiano Reggiano – also known as parmesan – is one of the world’s most counterfeited dairy products, with many competing manufacturers producing cheaper imitations of the cheese, which is often used for pasta and salad toppings.

The cheese product has a protected “designation of origin” listing under European Union law, which means it must be made in a small area of northern Italy, including in the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia, to be allowed to be called Parmigiana Reggiano.

Now, Italy’s association that oversees the Parmigiana Reggiano’s production, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (PRC), said it will start putting microchips in their product as part of a trial which would allow consumers to trace the cheese back to its place of origin.

The chips will be the size of a grain of salt and will be placed on the labels of about 120,000 wheels of the cheese. The chips work as scannable food tags with a QR code label.

PRC representatives said the initiative will help ensure consumer safety and the product’s protected status.

Parmigiano Reggiano lacks protected status in the United States, which has led American manufacturers to create various ‘parmesan’ cheese types.

Beyond the US, the PRC effectively prevented the American food giant Kraft Heinz from trademarking “Kraft parmesan cheese” in Ecuador in 2022.


Too Dry

Planting more trees to absorb carbon dioxide might not be the go-to solution to resolve the impact of climate change, according to a new study.

A research team recently found evidence that global photosynthesis levels have slowed down in recent decades and plants are having a harder time absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere, New Scientist reported.

Photosynthesis is the chemical reaction that plants use to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates. Scientists have assumed that a rise in the greenhouse gas would lead to plants sucking up more CO2 for their photosynthetic process.

However, only a few studies have explored this theory.

Researcher Jingfeng Xiao and his colleagues examined ground measurements from 1982 to 2016 using sensors placed worldwide. These sensors track changes in CO2 and water vapor levels in different environments, such as forests and savannahs.

Using satellite images, they estimated plant growth in different locations and then applied machine learning to combine these datasets, expanding the fluctuation measurements to a global scale.

The findings showed that, on average, increases in global photosynthesis levels have slowed down since 2000, despite rising amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The team explained that this could be because of a rise in the vapor pressure deficit, which leads to increased water evaporation from plants – known as transpiration.

While more transpiration usually supports plant growth, too much water loss can cause leaves to close their pores and hinder photosynthesis.

Still, the authors and other scientists cautioned that further research is needed, adding that there are a number of uncertainties about their measurement model and results.

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