The World Today for April 17, 2024

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The Cost of Allegiance


Parliamentary and local elections in the Solomon Islands on April 17 are yet another example of how domestic politics in Pacific countries have become proxy battles between China and the US.

In 2022, three years after he rescinded his country’s recognition of Taiwan, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare signed a security agreement with China, a controversial move because the country has been an American ally since the end of World War II.

Sogavare defended the deal, noting that the archipelago to the east of Papua New Guinea also cooperates on security with the US and Australia, wrote the Associated Press. It is one of a handful of similar agreements, like one with Tonga, that China has reached in the region, reported Agence France-Presse.

American leaders have warned Sogavare of drawing too close to leaders in Beijing. “That’s a foot in the door, and then we’ll see where it goes from there,” US Navy Adm. John Aquilino, who commands American forces in the Indo-Pacific Command, told Reuters. “But the goal is to have the ability to deliver infrastructure and ultimately a place for Chinese military power.”

But China is also a crucial economic partner, Sogavare has argued. Chinese investment built much of the infrastructure for the popular Pacific Games hosted in the Solomon Islands late last year. Chinese companies are constructing ports, while Huawei is installing a telecommunications network.

China has exacted a price for its support, however, added World Politics Review. Chinese companies have triggered a boom in an illegal logging industry that has exported 80 percent of the wood produced in the country. This industry has deforested islands while providing little benefit to government coffers or local economic development.

The prime minister’s popularity has taken a hit because of these issues and the poor public services in much of the country, including inadequate healthcare, poor education, and crumbling roads.

So when Sogavare postponed last year’s parliamentary ballot to this month, saying the government could not oversee the games and an election, “many saw the delay for what it was – Sogavare buying more time to consolidate power and boost his chances for reelection,” noted the Atlantic Council.

Opposition leader Peter Kenilorea of the United Party has criticized Sogavare’s governance, saying he would review the security deal with China and reestablish recognition of Taiwan over China’s objection, wrote GZero, which described the election as a “referendum” on China.

Now, added GZero, Solomon Islanders will have their say.


Dragon’s Breath


A fire tore through Copenhagen’s Old Stock Exchange on Tuesday, causing the collapse of the structure’s iconic spire and severely damaging one of the Danish capital’s oldest buildings, the Associated Press reported.

Danish officials said the fire began Tuesday morning in the 17th-century building’s copper-covered roof and quickly spread to the rest of the structure, resulting in significant interior damage. Emergency services received help from volunteers and passersby in saving paintings, photos and other valuables housed in the building.

The fire led to the collapse of the building’s famous spire, crafted in the form of intertwining tails of four dragons and that reached a height of 184 feet.

Firefighters added that half of the historical structure was destroyed, but the blaze did not spread to other buildings. Meanwhile, police are still investigating the cause of the incident. There were no reports of casualties.

The Old Stock Exchange – also known as “Boersen” – served as the headquarters of the Danish Chamber of Commerce and was undergoing renovations before the incident.

Brian Mikkelsen, chief of the Chamber of Commerce, described the blaze as “a national disaster.” Other Danish leaders, including Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Danish King Frederik, expressed dismay at the loss of “an important part of our architectural heritage.”

It’s unclear what will happen to the historic building, which is located next to the Christiansborg Palace – where the parliament sits – and is a popular tourist attraction.

Fires raging in historical buildings are not new in Copenhagen.

The Christiansborg Palace has burned down on a few occasions throughout its history with the most recent incident in 1990, when a fire broke out in the annex of the Danish parliament.

Cats and Dogs


Unprecedented heavy rains unleashed devastating floods across southern Russia, Central and South Asia this week, claiming dozens of lives and displacing tens of thousands, and prompting anger from residents and concerns about climate change among scientists, CBS News reported.

Lightning and torrential rains killed more than 36 people in southwestern Pakistan, wreaking havoc on farmers and communities. Authorities declared a state of emergency in several regions and ordered urgent aid to affected areas.

In neighboring Afghanistan, flash floods in Kabul and other provinces claimed 33 lives and left hundreds homeless. Taliban officials said more than 600 homes were destroyed and swaths of farmland were devastated.

Weather agencies in both nations warned that more rains are expected in the coming days.

Meanwhile, melting mountain ice caused rivers to swell up and flood Russia’s Urals region and neighboring Kazakhstan for days.

In Kazakhstan alone, more than 107,000 individuals have been displaced, with residents voicing frustration over inadequate investments in infrastructure.

At the same time, Russian regions, including Orenburg and Kurgan, faced unprecedented flooding, with thousands evacuated and homes submerged. Authorities have been trying to mitigate the crisis, yet the relentless rise of water levels poses an ongoing threat to vast areas.

Protesters in the southern Russian city of Orsk criticized local officials and called for help from President Vladimir Putin, yelling, “Shame on you,” according to a video aired by Radio Free Europe. Some of them demanded the president’s presence in the flooded regions, while others lamented about being forgotten by the Russian leader.

“Whenever misery hits another country, Putin throws all resources there, (but) we here mean nothing,” said one furious protester in Orsk, which was partially underwater after a dam built only in 2010 collapsed. An investigation has been launched.

Climate scientists attribute the flooding to human-induced climate change, which has exacerbated extreme weather events, CBS News said.

I Am Sato!


A new study found that unless Japan revises its laws to permit separate surnames for married couples, every Japanese citizen could have the surname “Sato” within the next 500 years, the Guardian reported.

Led by Hiroshi Yoshida of Tohoku University, the study projects a concerning trend toward homogeneity if the current practice continues.

Yoshida’s analysis, based on demographic trends, indicated that the proportion of Japanese people named “Sato” is steadily increasing. If this trajectory persists and surname laws remain unchanged, it’s estimated that by 2531, every Japanese individual could bear the name “Sato.”

The study emphasized the potential social and cultural ramifications of such uniformity, highlighting concerns over individual dignity and the erosion of family and regional heritage.

“If everyone becomes Sato, we may have to be addressed by our first names or by numbers,” said Yoshida. “I don’t think that would be a good world to live in.”

Currently, Japanese couples must adopt a single surname upon marriage, typically that of the husband. However, there is mounting pressure for legal reforms to allow spouses to retain separate surnames.

An alternative scenario presented in the study proposed that, with such reforms, the prevalence of the surname “Sato” could decrease significantly in 500 years.

While Japan has allowed the use of maiden names alongside married names in official documents, it remains the only country mandating shared surnames for spouses.

Advocates for surname reform hope the findings will bolster their campaign, which faces opposition from conservative factions within the government who cite concerns over family unity and confusion among children.


Canine Canny

Many dog owners swear their pooches understand them.

Now, a new groundbreaking study shows they actually might.

The research suggests that canines possess a more sophisticated understanding of human language than previously recognized, the Los Angeles Times reported.

To arrive at that conclusion, neuroscientist Marianna Boros and her team used electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to probe the minds of 18 pet dogs as they listened to familiar words uttered by their owners.

They placed electrodes on the dogs’ heads to measure brain activity as they listened to recordings of their owners using familiar words, followed by the appearance of corresponding or unrelated objects.

Through careful analysis of the dogs’ brain wave patterns, researchers observed a significant drop in neural activity when the spoken word matched with the subsequent appearance of a related object.

This response mirrored human brain reactions to unexpected words, indicating that dogs not only recognize specific verbal cues but also mentally anticipate corresponding objects.

The findings challenge long-held assumptions about the cognitive capabilities of animals, suggesting that canines possess a level of abstraction and comprehension previously attributed exclusively to humans.

Moreover, the experiment’s rigorous design ruled out the possibility of the pets simply associating words with objects based on simultaneous presence, reinforcing the notion that they possess a genuine understanding of the meaning of specific words.

While this research focused on a select group of dogs trained by their owners, its implications extend beyond individual cases, researchers said.

The authors believe that further exploration into the linguistic abilities of dogs and other animals can reveal more about the evolution of language and cognition across species, including humans.

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