The World Today for October 16, 2023

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Down and Out, Down Under


Australians over the weekend shot down a constitutional amendment to provide the country’s Indigenous peoples with a “Voice,” an advisory body to the national parliament, serving their interests in the country, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Two-thirds of Australians had supported the idea when the incumbent Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged to hold a referendum to enshrine the Voice in the country’s constitution. But on Saturday, 59 percent said no after the initiative became increasingly divisive over the past few months, reported the Washington Post.

Opponents said the proposal would destroy Australia’s sovereignty, upend property rights, compel racialist categorizations of the citizenry, make some people more equal than others, and cause a slew of other calamities. Proponents of the Voice said those criticisms were falsehoods at best and misinformation at worst.

The BBC described the referendum as a reckoning. Australians have arguably never faced up fully to the racist, colonial history of their nation, where King Charles III is still technically head of state. The country’s constitution fails to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for example. These communities could not vote in elections until 1962. They were not counted as part of the country’s population until 1971. A 1999 effort to acknowledge Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the preamble of the constitution failed.

Attempts to reverse this history of hate have elicited more hate, though. An anti-Voice video on social media featured a hooded man uttering racist epithets while burning an Aboriginal flag and performing the Nazi salute, wrote Al Jazeera. The man specifically mentioned Indigenous independent federal senator Lidia Thorpe, who has been the victim of racist harassment since she entered politics three years ago.

Writing in the Guardian, the country’s outgoing race discrimination commissioner, Chin Tan, said the “No” campaign has revealed the depth of Australia’s racism problem. He called on leaders to stand up to the haters and support education and public awareness campaigns to curb the spread of racism.

Some critics of the referendum are among those affected most, reported Reuters. An ethnic Aborigine who lives in the Outback, Tarna Andrews, told the newswire that she wanted government help on economic development, healthcare, and Internet connectivity more than a new legislative organ designed to give her a supposed say in the capital of Canberra.

“We don’t see people coming from the government, coming and talking about what we need,” she said. “If I vote, is the government going to listen to me?”

Her skepticism is understandable. If the Voice had become a reality, Andrews’ issues likely wouldn’t be solved. Regardless, it’s a moot point now.


To Be Continued


Saudi Arabia paused its diplomatic efforts to normalize relations with Israel due to the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel, a major setback for the United States’ efforts to foster ties between the Jewish nation and Arab countries, Bloomberg reported.

According to anonymous sources, Saudi officials conveyed this decision to the US, characterizing it as a temporary suspension rather than a complete abandonment of diplomatic efforts.

Before Hamas launched last week’s surprise attack from the Gaza Strip, Saudi Arabia and Israel had said they were moving steadily toward a deal that could have reshaped the Middle East, according to Reuters.

The normalization agreement was a key step for the kingdom toward securing a defense deal with the US. Initially, Saudi Arabia had suggested that it would not let its pursuit of a US defense pact be derailed even if Israel did not provide significant concessions to the Palestinians in their bid for statehood.

Such an approach would have sidelined the Palestinians and risked angering many Arabs around the region. However, the recent outbreak of hostilities altered the geopolitical landscape, Reuters wrote.

The conflict and the death toll have raised concerns across the Arab world, prompting Saudi officials to put a pause on normalization talks until the Palestinian issue is addressed.

Hamas has killed more than 1,400 Israelis and kidnapped at least 155 people, including foreigners, during their Oct. 7 attack. On the Palestinian side, more than 2,670 people have been killed so far amid ongoing Israeli strikes on Gaza, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Israel continued to prepare for a wider offensive as hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents tried to flee south after Israel ordered an evacuation of the northern half of the territory.

As the siege of Gaza continues and a water crisis develops, Riyadh has begun engaging with Iran to prevent a broader surge in violence across the region. Iran, over the weekend, warned that the war would widen if the siege of Gaza isn’t stopped.

Exit Stage Right


New Zealand’s conservative opposition secured a major win in the country’s parliamentary elections Saturday, ending six years of governance by the Labour Party dominated by former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who stepped down earlier this year, the New York Times reported.

Results showed that the center-right National Party won around 39 percent of the vote, with party leader Christopher Luxon becoming the country’s new prime minister. The Labour Party suffered a stinging rebuke and secured around 27 percent of the vote – a steep drop from the 50 percent it won in the 2020 elections.

Meanwhile, the Green Party gained 11 percent, while the libertarian ACT Party won nine percent.

The new coalition government could include the Nationals and ACT. Although it would not have a parliamentary majority, observers noted that support could come from the populist New Zealand First party, according to Sky News.

Political commentators said the results underscore voter frustration with the Labour government under Ardern and her successor Chris Hipkins.

In the 2020 polls, Labour under Ardern became the first party to secure an outright majority since the country switched to a mixed-member proportional system in 1993.

Ardern governed New Zealand throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Christchurch shooting massacre and the White Island volcano eruption.

But many voters had grown disillusioned with Labour’s promises of transformational changes: New Zealand is experiencing a soaring cost of living crisis.

The National Party campaigned on a platform of tax cuts and offered relief to families, but critics questioned the funding for those cuts. Analysts also wondered how the new right-wing government will manage New Zealand’s policies addressing climate change.

Others, meanwhile, expressed concern about the ACT Party’s plans for a referendum to reconsider the role that New Zealand’s Indigenous Maori people play in policymaking.

The Spillover


France’s Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles evacuated visitors after receiving bomb threats Saturday, a day after the French government declared a nationwide, top-level security alert following the fatal stabbing of a teacher, Radio France Internationale reported.

Officials from both venues said they received threatening messages, including bomb threats, prompting the evacuations and temporary closures. No one was injured during the evacuations.

Saturday’s incident came after France raised its national threat alert to its highest level and ordered the deployment of 7,000 soldiers to bolster security around the country.

The government’s decision follows a knife attack in the northeastern town of Arras that authorities say is likely a terror act. The alleged attacker, a former student named Mohammed Moguchkov, stabbed and killed a teacher, as well as injuring three others. No students were hurt during the attack.

Authorities said Moguchkov was on France’s watch list for suspected radicals. He was later arrested with a few other suspects, including some of his family members “for the purpose of the investigation,” police said.

Meanwhile, officials said the attack and the raising of the national threat level followed the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

The incident in Arras took place nearly three years after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb on October 16, 2020, an attack labeled as terrorism.

France has experienced a series of attacks by Islamist extremists since 2015, and while there has been a lull in recent years, officials say the threat persists. On Thursday, French officials banned all pro-Palestinian protests because they “are likely to generate disturbances to public order,” Agence France-Presse reported.

France has both the largest Jewish and the largest Muslim minority populations in Europe.


Pain and Gain

Some people have a low pain threshold thanks to gene variants inherited from our Neanderthal ancestors.

Now, a new study delved into the role of these variants in human pain sensitivity and their prevalence, Live Science reported.

Scientists analyzed three versions of the SCN9A gene, which is associated with pain perception. They explained that individuals with any of these Neanderthal gene variants are more sensitive to pain caused by sharp objects, but less so to pain caused by heat or pressure.

For their paper, the research team explored the distribution of these gene variants among various populations in Latin America. They found that people with Native American ancestry were more likely to carry these Neanderthal genetic variants.

“The high frequency of the Neanderthal variants in people with Native American ancestry could potentially be explained by a scenario where the Neanderthals carrying these variants happened to breed with the modern humans who eventually migrated into the Americas,” said lead author Pierre Faux.

Faux and his colleagues suggested that carrying these variants could have provided some survival benefit for the extinct hominids and the modern humans who first settled in the Americas.

However, they noted that the variants may not have evolved for this specific purpose, adding the heightened sensitivity to sharp objects might have been an inadvertent side effect of other adaptations.

The authors believe the findings underscore the complexity of evolutionary processes, saying there’s much more to discover about the reasons for Neanderthals’ pain sensitivity and whether it had any evolutionary advantage.

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