The World Today for January 03, 2024

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A Matter of Taste

SOUTH KOREA

Bruno, Max, Mia, Nana, Raspberry, Roxy, Trudy, and Zelda were not originally supposed to find loving homes in the US. These dogs were bound for dinner tables in South Korea – until a farmer decided to give up his 200 canines and started growing cabbages and other vegetables instead, reported WUSA Channel 9, a local news broadcaster and CBS affiliate in Washington, DC.

The farmer might have experienced a change of heart because South Koreans increasingly don’t want dog meat to appear on their menus, or see them – mangy and obviously neglected – crowded in cages in their markets.

Consuming canines is an ancient custom in much of East Asia. Of the approximately 30 million dogs slaughtered annually for consumption, South Korea consumes around 2 million, according to National Geographic. Around 3,500 farms in the country breed dogs for their meat, added the Straits Times.

First consumed to avoid starvation, South Koreans now view dog meat as a way to cool down in the summer, noted the Animal Welfare Institute. It’s also eaten by men to promote virility. Still, many South Koreans, furthermore, feel ashamed by – but also resent – foreign groups that condemn this unique local cultural tradition, explained the Korea Times.

However, many young South Koreans have adopted the view that eating dogs is cruel and inhumane. First Lady Kim Keon Hee has criticized the tradition. She and President Yoon Suk Yeol adopt stray dogs. Currently, they have six pooches and five cats. “Dog meat consumption should come to an end … in an era when humans and pets coexist as friends,” said Kim at an animal rights gathering in August.

In November, wrote Reuters, the ruling People Power Party policy chief, Yu Eui-dong, called for a ban on eating dog meat to avoid further tensions over the issue. “It is time to put an end to social conflicts and controversies around dog meat consumption through the enactment of a special act to end it,” he said.

The proposed ban would give businesses subsidies to draft phase-out plans, as well as a three-year window to transition away from the industry. Animal rights groups applauded.

“[It’s] a dream come true for all of us who have campaigned so hard to end this cruelty,” Humane Society International South Korea executive director Chae Jung-ah told the Washington Post. “Korean society has reached a tipping point where most people now reject eating dogs and want to see this suffering consigned to the history books.”

But the leader of the Korea Dog Meat Farmers’ Association, Joo Young-bong, complained that the government was unfairly destroying an industry whose farmers are usually in their sixties and seventies. In late November, 200 dog farmers protested the proposed ban in Seoul, threatening to release hundreds of their dogs from captivity onto the streets, Time magazine reported.

But as critics of the practice say, the farmers will likely be able to find other animals.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Twisting the Knife

ISRAEL

Israel’s top court on Monday struck down a controversial judicial reform law that had triggered mass protests throughout the country in the months preceding the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, with some officials saying the turmoil had set the stage for the massacre, the BBC reported.

The so-called “reasonableness bill” was introduced by the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party and was approved by parliament in July 2023. It would have limited the power of both the high court and local courts to nullify government decisions that those courts might deem to be “extremely unreasonable.”

In an 8-to-7 vote, the Supreme Court ruled against the bill, citing the threat it represented to the rule of law in Israeli democracy.

The court’s decision echoes the reaction of civil society, which from January to October 2023 took to the streets in protests numbering in the hundreds of thousands, calling on the law to be repealed and for Netanyahu to step down.

Organizers described the protests as the largest in Israel’s history. It involved a large cross-section of the population, including members of the military, leading to instability and political polarization.

Observers including top intelligence and defense officials said Monday this situation empowered Palestinian militant group Hamas to launch its large-scale attack on Oct. 7. Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, a former member of Netanyahu’s administration said she was to be held accountable for the domino effect created by the bill, in an apology statement rarely seen from Likud officials, the Associated Press wrote.

“I created a split, I created a rift, and I created tension. And this tension brought weakness. And this weakness, in many ways, brought massacre,” lawmaker Galit Distel Atbaryan said on television.

The “reasonableness bill” crisis was monitored by the United States and other allies. The Hamas attack and the subsequent war put the protests on pause and rallied foreign allies to support Israel.

The bill’s nullification, meanwhile, comes amid criticism of Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip as they continue to alarm most of the world, with the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken calling on Israel this week to respect international law.

Last week, South Africa initiated proceedings at the International Criminal Court against Israel for genocide and asked the court to halt the military campaign. On Monday, Israel said it was prepared to defend itself at the court, adding that “(Hamas) perpetrated an act of genocide on Israeli soil.”

At the same time, the Israeli army announced this week they were withdrawing thousands of troops from Gaza, preparing for a long-term, low-intensity campaign, Euronews reported.

Access Denied

SOMALIA/ SOMALILAND

The Somali government condemned an agreement Tuesday between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland, warning that such a deal violates national sovereignty and risks the stability of the Horn of Africa, Al Jazeera reported.

Earlier this week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi signed a deal that would allow landlocked Ethiopia to set up commercial marine operations in the Red Sea port of Berbera. It would also give Addis Ababa access to a leased military base on the Red Sea.

In return, Ethiopia promised to recognize Somaliland, technically part of Somalia, as an independent nation. The territory would also receive a share of the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines.

But the Somali government said the agreement was null and void, while describing Ethiopia’s step as “(endangering) the stability and peace of the region.” The government also recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia.

The deal is part of Ethiopia’s efforts to try to get access to the sea: Ethiopia became landlocked in 1991 following nearly three decades of conflict with Eritrean fighters seeking independence. Two years later, Eritrea declared its independence from Addis Ababa.

Since then, Ethiopia has relied on neighboring Djibouti for most of its maritime trade.

Meanwhile, Somaliland declared its autonomy from Somalia in 1991, but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence since then.

Somalia insists that the region is still part of its territory.

If It Smells Like a Fish …

BANGLADESH

A Bangladeshi court this week convicted Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and three others over labor law violations, a verdict that critics described as politically motivated as the South Asian nation prepares for general elections this weekend, the Independent reported.

A Dhaka labor court found the defendants guilty of failing to create a welfare fund for 67 employees of Yunus’ Grameen Telecom.

All four denied any wrongdoing. Yunus’ lawyer said he would appeal the verdict, adding that the case targeted his client because of his criticism of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Yunus is known in Bangladesh as the “banker of the poor” and is recognized worldwide for introducing a microfinance program that has become a development paradigm: It provides small loans – typically under $100 – to the rural poor, especially women, to set up their own businesses.

He and his Grameen Bank jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for their efforts to lift people out of poverty.

Over the past few years, Yunus has repeatedly clashed with Hasina, who has accused the 83-year-old banker of “sucking blood from the poor.” He previously floated the idea of setting up a political party to challenge Hasina’s Awami League, but soon dropped it citing a lack of support.

Yunus still faces more than 100 other charges over labor law violations and corruption. His supporters, including international leaders and human rights advocates, have called on the government to stop the “persecution” of Yunus.

The verdict comes as Hasina’s party attempts to secure a fifth term in the Jan. 7 elections. The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has boycotted the vote after many of its leaders were either jailed or fled into exile.

DISCOVERIES

The Power of Tears

Crying can help ease your nerves. It could also help ease someone else’s.

A team of neurobiologists discovered that human tears included a substance that could reduce aggression from a third party, the Guardian reported. The study is the latest to contradict Charles Darwin’s premise that crying was “purposeless.”

Prior research has shown that female tears reduced male testosterone and that covering oneself in tears was a common practice by mole rats facing predators.

This study provides more insight into the power of emotional human tears. In the experiment, a group of men were asked to sniff samples of saline water and of tears shed by women crying at sad movies. The men’s aggressiveness was gauged as they played a video game with unfair results.

The outcome stunned the researchers; sniffing women’s tears led to a 43.7 percent decrease in retribution compared with saline tears. Brain scanners confirmed the observation, showing that brain parts handling aggressive behavior were less active, suggesting the action of a chemical carried by the tears.

Nonetheless, the effect of this chemical is limited. For example, tears do not seem to have much of an impact in instances of domestic violence.

Scientists believe the composition of human tears has evolved to protect babies. Because they lack the communication abilities of children and adults, babies are more prone to aggression. The substance in their tears may be a way of saying, “Do not hurt me.”

If identified, the substance could help save the lives of adults, too. Such a discovery could lead to manufacturing the substance as a medicine to tame aggressive behavior.

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