Global News Blog
In the end, it did not happen as I had imagined. But then, I had almost stopped imagining it anyway. So the fact that I was staying up into the dead of night in Beijing, watching the tennis match on television, and only pretending to myself that I was enjoying a rare summer afternoon at home in London, scarcely mattered.
But one thing I did not have to pretend: For the first time since I began wielding a tennis racquet as an eager boy 50 years ago, a British player won the men’s title at Wimbledon.
Andy Murray’s victory, ending a 77-year drought for British men’s tennis at the sport’s historic home, was one I would have loved to have savored in England, where the entire nation was egging him on. But even sitting alone in a darkened room on the other side of the globe, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck as Novak Djokovic struck his last losing shot into the net.
The life of a British tennis fan has not been a happy one for the past 80 years or so. I can just remember Angela Mortimer, an Englishwoman, winning the Wimbledon ladies’ championship in 1961, and I was jumping up and down with excitement when Virginia Wade won the centenary Wimbledon in 1977.
But when it came to the men, all we have had is also-rans. There's Tim Henman, for example, who was a British hero around the turn of the century despite the fact that he never made it as far as the finals of any Grand Slam tournament.
And when I was a teenager, we all worshipped Roger Taylor. But not for his triumphs, unfortunately – he never got beyond the semi-finals at Wimbledon. Instead we admired him for his very British sportsmanship: In 1973, I recall, after being declared the winner of a quarter-final against Bjorn Borg with a serve that Mr. Borg disputed, Mr. Taylor offered to play the point again. He won that match eventually, but later lost his semi-final.
Today, at last, British tennis has someone other than gallant losers to celebrate.
And yet, and yet...
Andy Murray is doubtless a great guy and an honorable man. But if an umpire called his match point serve "in," you can bet he would take his victory whatever his opponent’s doubts.
And who could blame him, especially now that “Hawkeye” can resolve such doubts in the blink of a computer’s eye?
I should stop worrying. And perhaps, just for the day, we can be let off Rudyard Kipling’s admonition in his poem “If,” inscribed above the entrance to Centre Court:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
Gallant losers are all very well, but after 77 years, your very own Wimbledon champion is worth celebrating.
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What follows is the text of an impassioned public statement posted to Facebook less than an hour ago by Egyptian official Essam el Haddad, a top adviser to President Mohamed Morsi.
For Immediate Release, July 3, 2013
As I write these lines I am fully aware that these may be the last lines I get to post on this page.
For the sake of Egypt and for historical accuracy, let’s call what is happening by its real name: Military coup.
It has been two and a half years after a popular revolution against a dictatorship that had strangled and drained Egypt for 30 years.
That revolution restored a sense of hope and fired up Egyptians’ dreams of a future in which they could claim for themselves the same dignity that is every human being’s birthright.
On Januray 25 I stood in Tahrir square. My children stood in protest in Cairo and Alexandria. We stood ready to sacrifice for this revolution. When we did that, we did not support a revolution of elites. And we did not support a conditional democracy. We stood, and we still stand, for a very simple idea: given freedom, we Egyptians can build institutions that allow us to promote and choose among all the different visions for the country. We quickly discovered that almost none of the other actors were willing to extend that idea to include us.
You have heard much during the past 30 months about ikhwan excluding all others. I will not try to convince you otherwise today. Perhaps there will come a day when honest academics have the courage to examine the record.
Today only one thing matters. In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizeable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?
I am fully aware of the Egyptian media that has already attempted to frame ikhwan for every act of violence that has taken place in Egypt since January 2011. I am sure that you are tempted to believe this. But it will not be easy.
There are still people in Egypt who believe in their right to make a democratic choice. Hundreds of thousands of them have gathered in support of democracy and the Presidency. And they will not leave in the face of this attack. To move them, there will have to be violence. It will either come from the army, the police, or the hired mercenaries. Either way there will be considerable bloodshed. And the message will resonate throughout the Muslim World loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims.
I do not need to explain in detail the worldwide catastrophic ramifications of this message. In the last week there has been every attempt to issue a counter narrative that this is just scaremongering and that the crushing of Egypt’s nascent democracy can be managed. We no longer have the time to engage in frivolous academic back and forth. The audience that reads this page understands the price that the world continues to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Egypt is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. Its symbolic weight and resulting impact is far more significant. Last night, demonstrators at Cairo University supporting the President were fired upon using automatic weapons. Twenty people died and hundreds were injured.
There are people in Egypt and around the world that continue to try to justify the calls for early presidential elections because of the large numbers of demonstrators and the validity of their grievances.
Let me be very clear. The protesters represent a wide spectrum of Egyptians and many of them have genuine, valid grievances. President Morsy’s approval rating is down.
Now let me be equally clear. Since January and again in the last couple of weeks the President has repeatedly called for national dialog. Equally repeatedly, the opposition refused to participate. Increasingly, the so-called liberals of Egypt escalated a rhetoric inviting the military to become the custodians of government in Egypt. The opposition has steadfastly declined every option that entails a return to the ballot box.
Yesterday, the President received an initiative from an alliance of parties supporting constitutional legitimacy. He discussed it with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense and all three of them agreed that it presented an excellent path for Egypt out of its current impasse. The initiative called for a full change of cabinet, a prime minister acceptable to all, changing the public prosecutor, agreement on constitutional amendments, and a reconciliation commission.
And let us also be clear. The President did not have to offer all these concessions. In a democracy, there are simple consequences for the situation we see in Egypt: the President loses the next election or his party gets penalized in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Anything else is mob rule.
In the last year we have been castigated by foreign governments, foreign media, and rights groups whenever our reforms in the areas of rights and freedoms did not keep pace with the ambitions of some or adhere exactly to the forms used in other cultures. The silence of all of those voices with an impending military coup is hypocritical and that hypocrisy will not be lost on a large swathe of Egyptians, Arabs and Muslims.
Many have seen fit in these last months to lecture us on how democracy is more than just the ballot box. That may indeed be true. But what is definitely true is that there is no democracy without the ballot box.
The Monitor will continue to cover the fast-moving events in Egypt. Our most recent story out of Cairo looks at Morsi's deepening isolation.
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Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who came forward last month as the source of leaks on American surveillance, has already caused a major rift in the transatlantic relationship. He has once again pushed tensions to a new high – but this time between Europe and Latin America.
After a plane carrying Bolivia’s President Evo Morales back from Russia was diverted to Austria Tuesday, under apparent suspicion that Mr. Snowden was on board, Bolivia’s vice president declared to the world that his leader has been “kidnapped in Europe.”
“We want to say to Bolivia, we want to say to the world, that President Evo Morales, our president, the president of Bolivians, is today kidnapped in Europe; we want to tell the people of the world that our president has been kidnapped by imperialism and is being held in Europe,” said Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera at a late night conference in La Paz.
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Snowden, who leaked information on US surveillance practices from Hong Kong before heading to Russia, where he remains in legal limbo in the Moscow airport, has sought asylum from nearly two dozen countries. Many of those bids, including many from Europe, have been shut, while a slew of Latin American countries remain open.
President Morales said on Russian TV, before the diversion of his flight, that he was considering the American’s asylum bid.
But the plane that was flying Morales home from Moscow was forced to land in Austria, as France and Portugal refused permission for the aircraft to cross their airspace or land, Bolivian authorities claimed. Bolivia’s foreign minister railed against both European nations for putting Morales’ life at risk and said Snowden was not on the plane, which Austrian authorities have also said.
Anger at Europe...
According to the news network Al Jazeera, Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra said the US State Department could be behind the diplomatic incident. "We have the suspicion that they [the two European governments] were used by a foreign power, in this case the United States, as a way of intimidating the Bolivian state and President Evo Morales," he said.
Latin America, particularly the leftist leaders who have long criticized the “imperialism” of the US, quickly rallied around Morales. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner took to her Twitter account, saying, “Mother of God! What a world.”
She writes that President Jose Mujica of Uruguay is also “indignant” and that “he’s right. This is very humiliating.”
Her last tweet of yesterday says that Peruvian President Humala Ollanta is going to call a meeting of Latin American defense ministers within the regional body UNASUR. “Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day.”
Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, meanwhile, says the next hours are “decisive” for UNASUR.
“Either we graduated from the colonies, or we claim our independence, sovereignty and dignity. We are all Bolivia!” he writes.
It’s unclear how deserved the claims from Latin America are – or on which side many countries in Europe actually sit in a case that has deeply embarrassed the Obama administration.
First, there are conflicting reports about how and why Morales’ plane ended up in Vienna and how long it will be grounded there.
According to a live blog running on the Guardian, Austria says it had no fears that Snowden had been on board. “Austria did not close its airspace and the plane could of course land although many other countries apparently feared that Snowden was on board too. Austria did not do that, which means there is no fear here.”
Meanwhile, French officials from the foreign minister and prime minister’s office said, when contacted for comment by reporters, that they were unaware of the incident, according to various media outlets.
... and anger in Europe
And Europe has thus far reacted to the Snowden affair with fury against the US, after German and British newspapers leaked over the weekend that the US systematically spies on its allies in Europe.
The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said on French radio: "I was always sure that dictatorships, some authoritarian systems, tried to listen ... but that measures like that are now practiced by an ally, by a friend, that is shocking, in the case that it is true."
Jean-Luc Mélanchon, leader of France’s Left Party, said on French radio Sunday that “Edward Snowden ... has done us a good service,” writes France24. “It’s thanks to him that we know we have been spied on. It is not acceptable that we allow a situation whereby he wanders uncertainly around the planet. He is a defender of all our freedoms.”
Snowden’s bid for asylum, however, has thus far faltered in Europe. As the AFP writes:
Germany, The Netherlands and Poland rejected Mr Snowden's asylum bid; an Indian foreign ministry said there was “no reason to accede to the request”; and Brazil said it was “not going to respond.”
Austria, Finland, Iceland and Norway each said Mr Snowden's request was invalid because it was not filed from inside their respective countries. Ireland and Spain issued similar statements.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said they knew nothing about a bid apart from media reports.
France and Switzerland said they had not yet received an application, while Italy said it was “contemplating” the request.
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A Russian Proton-M rocket booster carrying three navigation satellites for the Glonass network – Russia's answer to the US global positioning system – exploded within seconds of takeoff Tuesday, raining toxic debris down over a wide area around Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome.
For Russia's space program, the $200 million mishap is a dismal signal that engineers may not yet have solved the underlying problems that have produced a string of costly accidents in the past three years so jarring that, at one point, the head of Russia's space agency suggested that it could only be explained by "foreign sabotage."
Reports from Baikonur say that all looked well with the launch until about 10 seconds after takeoff, when the rocket wobbled, then began to fly horizontally before disintegrating in a spectacular fireball and crashing back into the spaceport. The event was broadcast live on Russian state TV, as major Russian space launches usually are.
No casualties were reported.
"There was an accident during the Proton-M launch. The rocket fell and exploded on the territory of the launch site," the official RIA-Novosti agency quoted a spokesman for Russia’s space agency Roskosmos as saying.
According to Russian news reports there were 600 tons of highly toxic fuel aboard the rocket. Kazakhstan's Ministry of Emergency Services said it had contingency plans to evacuate the nearest community – about 40 miles away – if the cloud of poisonous smoke still rising from the wreckage several hours after the crash continued to drift that way with the winds.
Glonass, originally developed for the Soviet military, is currently the only fully operational competitor of the US global positioning system, having achieved full global coverage about two years ago, despite several serious setbacks. In the future it will also compete with the European Space Agency's as-yet unfinished Galileo satellite navigation network.
Tuesday's crash looked similar to several previous ones that have occurred in the past three years, many of them involving the workhorse of Russia's space program, the Proton-M, which is evolved from a highly successful family of Soviet rocket boosters.
Russian space scientists say the series of accidents that has beset Russia's space program is probably not due to any flaws in the basic technology, which is mostly tried-and-true designs from the Soviet era. Rather, the problems probably stem from quality control and human-factor issues that have emerged in recent years as Russia scrambles to become a major spacefaring player without the benefit of the USSR's vast industrial base and huge corps of trained space professionals.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday appointed a special government commission to investigate the causes of the crash and identify any officials who may have been responsible. He also directed his government to prepare tougher oversight measures over the space industry to prevent such accidents in future, RIA-Novosti reported.
Filial piety is more than just a tradition in China – now it is a legal obligation.
Grown children who do not visit their aged parents often enough could be fined or even jailed, according to a law that went into effect here on Monday.
Exactly what “enough” means is not specified in the law, which will make it hard to enforce. But the legislation underlines how radically China’s modernization and its “one-child policy” have transformed the country over the past 30 years.
Market reforms have contributed to the breakup of the traditional extended family, as more and more young people leave their hometowns to seek work, and population-control efforts mean parents have only one child to lean on when they are older.
More than 194 million Chinese are over 60 years old, according to official figures. By 2030 that figure will have almost doubled.
China’s parliament amended the Law to Protect the Rights and Interests of the Aged last December, in the wake of a spate of reports about neglected old people. Still, the new wording does not make it clear how often adult children are expected to visit their parents, nor how punishments for offenders will be calculated.
The law “is mainly to stress the right of elderly people to ask for emotional support,” one of the drafters, law professor Xiao Jinming told The Associated Press. “We want to emphasize that there is such a need.”
The law met with much criticism on the Internet, where social media platforms are largely populated by the sort of young people who do not have brothers and sisters to share the financial and emotional burden of caring for their aging parents, few of whom have any kind of pension.
For them, the topic is of red-hot relevance. Nearly 17 million people posted comments on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo site. Zhou Simiao spoke for many when she wrote that “visiting parents is a moral problem rather than a legal one. I can’t return home once a year since I work in Tibet. I can only say to my mum in Liaoning, ‘I am sorry mum. Your daughter is an outlaw.’”
In spite of appearances – from the US National Security Agency searching American phone records for patterns to Google counting keywords in e-mails to decide which ads to display – the algorithm may not conquer all.
This is the conclusion that science reporter Tom Whipple comes around to in his article “Slaves to the Algorithm” in the magazine Intelligent Life, a sister publication of The Economist. An algorithm is how so-called big data is crunched into something meaningful. “If p, then q” is an algorithm, but in the age of fast computers, the “p” can include billions of data points.
Mr. Whipple explores the work of a company, Epagogix, that forecasts the earning power of proposed movies for Hollywood studios, based on thousands of factors punched into its software. It seems to work. And has uncovered some fun facts. One is that so-called bankable movie stars are almost nonexistent. Only three actors, Epagogix has found, actually bring a positive return on investment – Will Smith, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp.
But human judgment has hardly left the picture. The head of Epagogix notes that his program assumes that everything about the movie is done well – that the dialogue is credible and the actors good (stars or not). And even so, his algorithms can’t discern if the movie is good, only if, done well, a lot of people are likely to pay to see it.
Whipple discusses another facet of algorithms. They are good at finding patterns, sometimes surprising ones, in big numbers. They are not so good at predicting the behavior of individuals. Dating sites, for example, have yet to show any scientific evidence that they can predict who will hit it off with whom.
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Lost recipe for Roman concrete, cracked
Some technology just isn’t what it used to be. The Portland cement that we use to make concrete these days doesn’t have a fraction of the lasting power of the aggregate the Romans used a couple millenniums ago. According to a report by Bernhard Warner in Bloomberg Businessweek, research engineers studying 12 ancient Roman-built harbors found that the breakwaters made of Roman concrete have stood the pounding waves for 2,000 years and are still intact. Modern concrete has a working life under water of a mere 50 years. The older, stronger stuff had an added advantage: Its manufacture was relatively clean. Creating Portland cement releases a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Needed: a Turkish Mandela
One of the central dangers in Turkey today is of a slide into two sharply polarized camps – the government and its conservative, religious, largely rural backers on one side and the more affluent, secular, and modernizing protesters on the other. They have come to be called “black Turks” and “white Turks.”
Daron Acemoglu, a Turkish-born economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been writing about the current troubles in his country of origin on his Why Nations Fail blog. He notes that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently grouped Turks into “black” and “white,” putting himself among the “black Turks.”
How do societies break out of cycles of polarization? Mr. Acemoglu consults history and finds several routes, but the most attractive is when a leader musters the vision and courage to make peace across the fault lines and show goodwill to the other side.
“So bottom line: we badly need a Turkish Mandela,” he says.
What they really mean by ‘conservative’
Meanwhile, Americans may not be quite as polarized as they think they are. A series of three new studies find that young adults who call themselves liberal Democrats are overall not quite as liberal on the issues as they think they are. But young people from the rest of the political spectrum tend to bill themselves as more conservative than they are on the issues. The biggest disparity is among those who regard themselves as most conservative. Not so much, it turns out. When asked their stands on a dozen major issues from welfare to gay rights, they didn’t toe as conservative a line as they thought they did, according to the studies, which were reported first in an academic journal, and brought to us by Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard magazine. Clearly, conservatism is the more popular brand, even when it’s not an obvious fit.
The benefits of military ‘land power’
Maj. Robert M. Chamberlain, writing in the Armed Forces Journal, sees future peace and prosperity in currently unfashionable land power. Terrorists who hole up in the world’s backwaters can best be pursued by special forces teams and armed drones. The Navy can protect the world’s sea lanes and global commerce. Air power can strike awesomely anywhere. But land power – the job of the Army and Marines – is inherently less threatening, he argues. “Land power is the only avenue by which America can enhance regional security and stability, deter Chinese militarism and encourage Chinese commitment to the global status quo.”
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China’s new president, Xi Jinping, has a bold vision for his country, inspired by its ancient prestige. In Time magazine, Hannah Beech describes how Mr. Xi intends for China to match US military capabilities, becoming the strongest country economically, politically, and culturally.
This “China Dream,” depending on how Xi shapes his tenure as president, could lead to shifts in international dynamics. “How China sees the world matters because Chinese aspirations, tastes and fears will shape the lives of billions of people across the globe. Indeed ... China – and its worldview – may once again dictate the narrative of our age,” Ms. Beech writes.
But despite its desire to become the world’s main superpower, China must deal with internal issues first, Beech writes. Chief among these is stanching the exodus of the country’s elite – 150,000 Chinese received permanent residency abroad in 2011. “When a nation’s elite is ready to bolt at a moment’s notice, it says much about the regime’s lack of legitimacy and its staying power,” David Shambaugh, a China scholar, told Beech.
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Hero or traitor?
In a carefully executed leak, former National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden unveiled documents showing how US government programs mine communication data including people’s e-mails, Facebook posts, and even Skype chats. Digital surveillance is not new, especially during this era of heightened national security awareness. Gathering electronic information is legal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but Mr. Snowden said the government is redefining what is constitutional, creating “architecture of oppression.”
In an identity-revealing video interview with Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, Mr. Snowden explained why people should be worried about the government’s actions.
“Even if you are not doing anything wrong, you are being watched and recorded. And the storage capabilities of these systems increases every year, consistently by orders of magnitude,” Snowden said, adding that just a wrong call could raise suspicion. “Then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
The fallout of his actions is not yet known as the United States arranges to press charges against the whistle-blower. Whether he is a hero or a traitor depends on how one weighs the balance between civil liberties and national security.
The US government, reportedly using cyberattacks to deter Iran’s nuclear program, has opened itself up to similar cyberattacks – igniting a tit-for-tat struggle that is ushering in a new wave of proliferation, which Michael Joseph Gross describes in Vanity Fair.
“The paradox is that the nuclear weapons whose development the U.S. has sought to control are very difficult to make, and their use has been limited – for nearly seven decades – by obvious deterrents,” Mr. Gross said. “Cyber-weapons, by contrast, are easy to make, and their potential use is limited by no obvious deterrents. In seeking to escape a known danger, the U.S. may have hastened the development of a greater one.”
Both Washington and Tehran are boosting their arsenal of cyberweapons in a war that is increasingly aggressive and cryptic. Not to mention that cyberwarfare is not limited to traditional rules of engagement. “You don’t have to be a nation-state to do this,” one hacker told Gross. “You just have to be really smart.”
Eradicating extreme poverty by 2030
Can the world powers eradicate extreme poverty for 1 billion people by 2030? If gross domestic product growth during the past decade is any indicator, the answer is a resounding yes, according to The Economist.
Whereas poverty used to be an unchangeable fact of life, unprecedented growth in developing countries has shifted the outlook for eliminating poverty in places where people live on less than $1.25 a day. The primary condition for continued progress is for developing countries to maintain the steady growth of their GDP.
“Poverty used to be a reflection of scarcity. Now it is a problem of identification, targeting and distribution. And that is a problem that can be solved,” says the report.
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Fishermen no more
In the small coastal communities in northern Norway, traditional occupations of whaling and cod fishing are losing luster for young people bent on landing salaried positions on the mainland, far from their roots. In National Geographic, Roff Smith explains that this change is a drastic turnaround for the region, where previous generations flocked in order to cash in on a booming industry.
“It isn’t a scarcity of whales that is bringing down the curtain, or even the complicated politics of whaling,” writes Mr. Smith. “It’s something far more prosaic and inexorable: Norwegian kids, even those who grow up in the seafaring stronghold of Lofoten, simply don’t want to become whalers anymore. Nor do they want to brave storm-tossed winter seas to net fortunes in cod, as their forebears have done for centuries.”
A video of a dog compassionately burying a dead puppy has gone viral. That the video garners such attention among humans is perhaps a reflection on how we see the world – as much as the how a canine in mourning behaves.
In the video, whose title translates from Arabic to “dog buries his son in Iraq,” a dog gently sniffs the puppy – found in a ditch with empty water bottles – then proceeds to tenderly bury it, nudging with his nose the sand and dirt over the little body. In the background, three men talk inaudibly in Arabic while the dog works and then call out, in English, “thank you very much” as the dog finishes and leaves.
The video does not give any other information about the scene, such as where exactly it was shot, who took the video, the relationship between the two dogs, or how the puppy died.
The video, posted last week to YouTube, has since gone viral. There’s nothing that web audiences like more than animals behaving like people, especially when that animal is replicating our kindest, most selfless practices. Last month, an Oklahoma zoo captured a lion and a puppy "kissing." Last year, a video of a dog assuming maternal duties for an abandoned kitten also went viral, as did another video of a dog trying to push a dog that a car had just hit and killed out of a road. Other videos of dogs standing sentry at the graves of their owners or crying for deceased animal friends have also made the Internet rounds.
Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize the animal kingdom. But these videos arguably offer a portrait of a moral animal who embodies the best in human behavior.
"Grief is one of the basic emotions dogs experience, just like people, Dr. Sophia Yin, a San Francisco-based veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist, told HealthDay.com. Dogs also feel fear, happiness, sadness, anger, as well as possessiveness.
While dogs do experience emotion, the recognizable behavior through which dogs express that emotion is probably learned from humans, say some scientists. Studies have found that dogs have an extraordinary capacity to learn and mimic human behavior. Two years ago, researchers found that dogs learn from their owner’s facial cues to perform good behavior when their owner is watching and to save the misbehavior until their owner’s back is turned, like a wised-up child pilfering from the cookie jar.
Does that mean this dog in Iraq learned from its owners how to mourn the loss of a child? We don't know. Certainly, Iraq has been a venue for some of the worst in human behavior in recent years. But the fact that "even dogs" can express compassion is perhaps why we respond so well to such videos: They are encouraging, hopeful reminders that such actions are natural to all beings, including humans.
Fleeing National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden pulled a vanishing act in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport Monday by failing to show up for an Aeroflot flight to Havana that he was booked on – sending a planeload of frustrated Moscow-based journalists off for an unplanned vacation in Cuba.
Aeroflot, Russia's national airline, had confirmed Monday that Mr. Snowden was booked to fly to Cuba on a regular flight leaving Monday afternoon. But as the plane's doors closed and he was still a no-show, reporters for major news outlets who'd scrambled to buy tickets for the flight in hopes of talking with the elusive whistleblower tweeted photos of his empty seat and resigned themselves to an unwanted twelve-and-a-half hour flight.
Russian news services had reported that Snowden arrived in Moscow Sunday aboard an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong. An unidentified Aeroflot source told journalists that he and his companion, WikiLeaks official Sarah Harrison, spent the night in the "capsule" hotel Vozdushni Express inside Sheremetyevo's transit area. Reporters saw the ambassador of Ecuador, the country to which Snowden has applied for asylum, arrive and go inside the transit zone. But there have been no independently confirmed sightings of Snowden himself.
Though Snowden himself remains invisible, Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño Aroca, read out a statement from him – reported by the Guardian – in which he compares himself with Bradley Manning, the former US army private currently on trial for handing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents to WikiLeaks.
"Manning has been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. The trial of Bradley Manning is taking place now and secret witnesses have been summoned to court and secret documents have been submitted," Snowden is quoted as saying in defense of his decision to seek asylum in Ecuador.
"I think that because of the circumstances it is unlikely that I will have a fair trial or humane treatment before trial, and also I have the risk of life imprisonment or death," he added.
The apparent news that Snowden might still be in Russia could energize efforts by Washington to convince Russia to give him over, despite the fact that Russia and the US have no mutual extradition treaty.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in several statements to the Russian media, has insisted that President Vladimir Putin has no knowledge of Snowden's whereabouts or interest in his itinerary. "Overall, we have no information about [Snowden]," he told the independent Interfax agency Monday.
Overnight, the US appealed urgently to Russia to see Snowden as an acid test of partnership and the security cooperation Moscow has been hoping to get from the US in advance of the upcoming Sochi Winter Games.
"Given our intensified cooperation after the Boston marathon bombings and our history of working with Russia on law enforcement matters – including returning numerous high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian government – we expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged," US National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.
Speaking to journalists during a visit to New Delhi Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that the episode is likely to damage US relations with both Russia and China if they should prove to have been officially involved in his flight.
"It would be deeply troubling, obviously, if they [Russia and China] had adequate notice, and notwithstanding that, they make the decision willfully to ignore that and not live by the standards of the law," news agencies quoted Mr. Kerry as saying.
"As a result there would be without any question some effect and impact on the relationship and consequences," he said.
Russian experts say it's highly unlikely that Snowden boarded an Aeroflot plane, without a valid US passport, and flew to Moscow without at least the acquiescence of the Kremlin.
"I'm pretty sure this could not have taken place without some level of involvement on the part of Russian and Chinese authorities," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal.
"Russia can resist pressure, and that's why he's here in safety. But I don't think Russia wants to keep him, even if [the Kremlin] has suggested that it would be open to that. It's one thing to show that we can't be pushed around, and quite another to have this as a permanent headache in our relations with the US," he says.
Alexei Pushkov, the chair of the State Duma's international affairs committee, told journalists Monday that the US should stop posing as the offended party, in light of the recent "red-handed" capture of an alleged CIA agent in downtown Moscow and disclosures by Snowden that the NSA and its British counterpart tried to listen to former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's phone calls during a G-20 summit in London in 2009.
"I think we should be guided by our own understanding of what we should do. We do not see any special restraint on the part of U.S. special services with regards to Russia," Mr. Pushkov told Interfax.
"If Snowden were the only problem upsetting perfect relations between Russia and the US, that would be one thing," says Alexei Makarkin, director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
"But as things stand now, we have different positions on all the key issues of world politics. Russia is extremely disenchanted with the US and given up all hopes of building normal relations with it. So, why would Russia trouble itself over threats that this Snowden case might worsen our ties with Washington?" he adds.
Western human rights activists have never made much of a fuss about it, but China’s “one child policy” has a little known canine equivalent.
“Vicious” dogs are outlawed. But so is every other dog that is likely to stand more than 14 inches high when it is fully grown.
That means no Rottweilers, St. Bernards or Great Danes, of course. But it also rules out keeping a Dalmatian, a Bloodhound, or a Chow.
Officials say the law is a public health measure, aimed at protecting citizens from strays. More people die of rabies in China than anywhere else in the world save India, they point out.
This being China, nothing goes unregulated. (Though this being China, the regulations are by no means always enforced: The number of outsized Tibetan Mastiffs you see being paraded around town as status symbols is testimony to that.) So each dog must, like his or her owner, have a “residence permit.”
The plastic permits look very like Chinese ID cards, with the dog’s photo, name, sex, and type printed on it. The reverse of a Beijing resident-dog-license is decorated with – what else? – a Pekinese. And it doesn’t come cheap: $160 the first year and $80 a year after that.
Failure to register your dog risks an even costlier punishment – an $800 fine.
Keeping dogs as pets is not really a Chinese tradition, though in the countryside farmers may keep guard dogs or hunting dogs. In fact, pooches are as often eaten than pampered in this part of the world, despite the best efforts of nascent animal rights groups.
Last week, for example, residents of Yulin in the southern province of Guangxi, got through about 10,000 dogs at their annual summer solstice dog meat festival, according to activists. Most of them were served in a traditional hotpot with lychees and grain liquor.