Global News Blog
It’s no secret that Americans like to eat meat. And despite the fact that a growing number of scientists, doctors, environmentalists, and animal rights activists have warned that the overconsumption of meat is not healthy, sustainable, or good for the environment, the demand for meat hasn’t let up (bacon cupcake fad, I’m looking at you). Fun fact: The average person in the United States eats about 270 pounds of meat a year, reports Laura June in The Verge.
But if Americans can’t be convinced to go meatless in an effort to be gentler on the environment or kinder to animals, or to reach greenhouse-gas emission goals, perhaps they can change the way they get their meat, suggests Ms. June.
She writes about a process that is poised to shift the discussion on the environmental, health, and ethical issues surrounding farm animals: meat grown in a lab using stem cells. By using meat produced in a sterile environment, no animals are harmed and no land for grazing is needed. People who have tried a lab meat burger say it is tasty, healthy (zero fat), and indistinguishable from one made of animal meat. And lab-grown meat could be ready for grocery stores and restaurants within the next couple of decades.
Escape from Thailand
When you think of Thailand, you might think of the beaches, the sunshine, and ubiquitous smiles. But journalist Erika Fry shares in the Columbia Journalism Review the gripping story of her narrow escape from languishing for years in a Thai jail after she wrote what seemed to be a straightforward story in the Bangkok Post. She had reported that a Thai official had been accused of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation on organic asparagus. Although the evidence against him was overwhelming, he, in turn, opened a defamation case against her. What would have been an open-and-shut case in the US in Ms. Fry’s favor, turned into a day in jail, a number of secret meetings, subterfuge, and a lesson in Thailand’s draconian defamation laws and how its justice system is routinely manipulated by people in positions of power and influence.
Kazakhstan as an antiterror investment
This summer President Obama said he would rethink his opposition to the US military involvement in Syria if the regime there were to use its stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. Now, as the world determines how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Alex Pasternack takes this as a timely moment to point out in Vice magazine that the Pentagon is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into its own biological warfare program: Kazakhstan’s new Central Reference Laboratory. “When it opens in September 2015, the $102-million project laboratory is meant to serve as a Central Asian way station for a global war on dangerous disease,” writes Mr. Pasternack.
Not all the nearby residents are thrilled to have a lethal disease laboratory in their neighborhood. But a number of decaying Soviet-era buildings, where the USSR once “kept some of its finest potential bioweapons,” are being upgraded to withstand all the seismic activity in the region, as well as updated security measures. It’s all an effort to develop scientific expertise on biological weapons, build relationships, and keep them from getting into the wrong hands in a key regional location.
Let there be good light
About two hours southeast of Nairobi, Kenya, where many live in mud-walled, grass-roofed homes and eke out a living raising goats and growing crops like kale and maize, an unlikely economic transformation is taking place. David Talbot of MIT Technology Review reports on Evans Wadongo and his idea to bring solar-charged LED lanterns to remote villages lit by dim kerosene lamps. But he knew the new lamps wouldn’t succeed unless they had villager investment. So the lanterns are made in “local workshops with scrap metal and off-the-shelf photovoltaic panels, batteries, and LEDs.” Each is stamped with the words Mwanga Bora (Swahili for “Good Light”). Villagers have been using the money they save on kerosene to launch their own local enterprises.
The case against Algebra II
Think back to your high school days. Do you remember sitting at your kitchen table hunched over Algebra II homework that you just didn’t get? A well-intentioned math teacher likely told you that the problem solving required in Algebra II would come in handy and you’d be glad you had persevered.
That might not actually be true. In fact, it turns out that perfectly reasonable lovers and teachers of mathematics have long believed Algebra II isn’t for everyone and shouldn’t be forced on children, but rather treated like an elective course. But this is a story that doesn’t get told often: It’s too sensitive a topic, writes Nicholson Baker in Harper’s magazine.
Traditional thinking goes, writes Mr. Baker, that requiring students to slog through Algebra II as a prerequisite for college admissions develops reasoning skills and produces scientists. Except it doesn’t. The US appears to have fewer home-grown scientists now than when Algebra II wasn’t required. “By 1950, at a time when only a quarter of American high school students were taking algebra, the nation’s technological prowess was the envy of the planet,” writes Baker.
In his annual “state of the union” speech Wednesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso urged a recovering Europe not to become complacent, especially ahead of EU elections next spring.
But it was the backing of a proposal in Europe's telecommunications industry, dubbed "the most ambitious plan in 26 years of telecoms reform," that caught my attention - specifically the prospect of no more roaming charges in Europe.
On my first trip to Brussels as Europe Bureau Chief, I thought little – if at all – about my Paris-based phone plan. I placed calls, checked Google maps to find out where to go, and confirmed appointments via email.
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The next month I received my cell phone bill: Over 120 euros, or roughly double what I expected.
It's not that I have little experience with roaming fees. I covered over a dozen countries in Latin America for seven years, and telecommunications was always an issue when I traveled from Mexico. I generally bypassed big fees by buying a cheap local phone, or buying a chip to temporarily put into my Mexican phone.
But in Europe, where a currency is shared and borders are open, I made the logical, if mistaken, assumption that cell phone service is open too. If I don't need to go through customs upon landing in Berlin or Brussels from Paris, why should my phone?
Soon it might not.
Mr. Barroso said in Strasbourg Wednesday that he supports a plan that phases out roaming fees starting in 2014.
European authorities have already “dramatically brought down roaming costs,” he said, according to the New York Times, but the new plan would further “lower prices for consumers and present new opportunities for companies.”
The proposal is not without controversy. According to the Times, the industry has already been subject to many caps since 2007 on roaming charges, which comprise a big part of company profits.
In a sign of the battle to come, Anne Bouverot, the director general of the GSMA, a telecommunications industry group, said Wednesday in a statement that the focus of an overhaul should be “increased investment in Europe’s telecoms infrastructure” as part of a “more thorough and comprehensive approach.”
But people like myself will be happy. To avoid fees I could, like many do, turn off roaming services or the phone altogether and leave it at the hotel. But if I could do that in Latin America a decade ago, I am not sure it is a viable option in the era of smart phones.
The way we work has changed dramatically. I never buy a map anymore, which means that, without my phone, I am nearly lost. Appointments often change at the last minute, with sources operating under the assumption that everyone is plugged in. Annoying, yes. But I'd rather get the message and adjust accordingly, rather than miss a meeting altogether, especially on a one-day business trip.
In some ways, Barroso's idea to phase out roaming charges is another move towards integrating Europe.
The common market today still largely operates under 28 separates ones. The proposal would cap cross-border calls at the same cost as long-distance domestic calls, according to Reuters, and limit the price for making calls while traveling in Europe to 18 cents. There would be no charges for receiving calls.
"The European Commission says no to roaming premiums, yes to net neutrality, yes to investment, yes to new jobs," EU telecoms chief Neelie Kroes said in a statement yesterday.
All 28 countries of the EU must sign the law first. And while on the road towards integration it is less controversial than other initiatives -- such as the quest to forge a banking union for Europe -- the pesky issue of sovereignty might rear its head.
As Reuters notes: “The Commission also said it would seek feedback on the possibility of creating a single EU regulator for the industry, a sensitive issue for countries wary of losing power to the European Union's executive.”
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There's little to laugh about when it comes to Syria, but when it comes to understanding what's happening there, some of the best analysis comes in the form of a joke.
The Onion, a satirical newspaper, has managed to find ways not to just joke about Syria, but to do it in a way that makes sense of the situation. Their writers have started to hit their stride, consistently nailing it with surprisingly salient analysis.
It can be exasperating playing it straight when you write news about a situation that regularly produces absurd scenarios. The Onion’s format allows its writers to plainly make sense of ridiculous situations that can be difficult to explain or fully appreciate in a normal news article.
During many of the trips I made into Syria, I met conservative people who supported the insurgents who used to fight Americans in Iraq, yet these same people were now calling for the same US soldiers they wanted to kill six or seven years ago in Iraq to come to their aid with an intervention in Syria.
Meanwhile, as of at least March, the CIA has been compiling a list of targets for potential future drone strikes inside opposition-controlled Syria, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Onion managed to explain this dark, complicated reality in just one fake headline: “Target Of Future Drone Attack Urges American Intervention In Syria.”
Perhaps nowhere have I seen such a clear explanation of the difficulty Obama faces in finding the right response to Syria than in an Onion op-ed written as though Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were the author. It concisely and coherently broke down the challenges facing the White House in such a way that anyone could understand why it’s apparently been so difficult for Obama to make a decision.
As The Onion explained in another article, it’s also the reason this likely could have happened: “Obama Throws Up Right There During Syria Meeting.”
The Onion has often distinguished itself for providing the right mix of smarts and humor to capture the zeitgeist of a historic moment. Their first issue published in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks is warmly remembered by many as one of the first light moments that helped people begin moving forward after the attacks.
For all these reasons, when you look at the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of most journalists covering Syria, you’re likely to find numerous Onion articles posted alongside in-depth, serious reporting.
And really, when the public debate hangs so heavily on comparing a potential Syria intervention to the Iraq war, sometimes it takes an Onion headline like this one to remind us that regardless of where you stand on the debate, you can only get so far comparing two different conflicts: Obama Assures Americans This Will Not Be Another 1456 Ottoman Siege Of Belgrade.
The choice for the 2020 Summer Olympics came down to Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo, and among that trio, the situation at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant turned out to be the least of the IOC's concerns.
Istanbul is the city beset by recent civil disorder, with critics accusing the Turkish prime minister of autocratic tendencies. It also sits just north of the brutal civil war in Syria.
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Madrid is the capital of a nation that could become the next Greece – a country that spent itself into financial crisis, partly by overspending on its own Olympics. This, as protesters in Brazil take to the streets to protest government spending for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The IOC is an organization that does not like bad press. It sometimes goes to almost absurd lengths to try to ensure that the Olympic movement is suffused only in a rosy glow. So when the IOC chose Tokyo over Istanbul, 60-36, in the final round of voting in its meeting in Buenos Aires Saturday, it was a signal that the committee wanted to make sure the drama in 2020 was all of the right sort.
“There you have one candidature addressing more the sense of tradition and stability and another candidature addresses the longing for new shores," Thomas Bach, an IOC member from Germany, told Around the Rings, a website that covers the Olympic movement. "This we have seen in the past also with different bids and this time the IOC members – in a fragile world – have decided in favor of tradition and stability."
Tokyo made its pitch well. It has held three Olympics (one summer and two winter), so there's no question of whether Japan can handle it. Its bid motto was: a safe pair of hands. But there were questions about whether Japan could hold its Games with verve and passion.
"Previous Tokyo bids had been praised for their competence but criticised for lacking passion. That was not an accusation that could be levelled at them this time, with the urbane Princess Takamodo breaking with royal protocol to travel to Buenos Aires and lobby on behalf of the bid, and Mami Sato – a Paralympic athlete who saw her hometown devastated by the  tsunami – delivering poise and passion," writes The Guardian, a British newspaper.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also emphasized a point that made the London 2012 Games such a notable success. Just as London organizers promised to make their Games a gift to the world rather than primarily a statement of British patriotism, Mr. Abe noted that the 2020 Games would be Japan's way of thanking the world for the help it gave Japan after the 2011 tsunami.
The lingering effects from that tsunami appeared to be the only lingering question for IOC voters. Despite fresh reports of radioactive seawater flowing from the damaged Fukushima power plant into the Pacific, however, IOC voters appeared to accept Abe's statement that the crisis had never – and would never – threaten Tokyo 150 miles south.
Tokyo Olympic organizers have even spoken of ensuring that the pre-Olympics torch relay passed through the area as a testament to its efforts at revival.
“It was a very good decision," Denis Oswald, an IOC member from Switzerland, told Around the Rings. "We go on the safe side after two Games where we have some risks, Sochi and Rio. It is nice to have Games where we are sure the organizers will deliver. It is technically a good bid, very concentrated.”
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“Who Is Ali Khamenei?” writes Akbar Ganji in Foreign Affairs. Understanding Iran’s supreme leader is a crucial step if the United States is to ever find a way to deal with Iran on vital issues from its nuclear program to the security of Israel and the stability of the entire Middle East.
The first problem: Mr. Khamenei believes that the US wants to remove him and his government, either through an internal revolution, economic pressure, or military action. He also believes that capitalism and the West “are in inevitable decline,” Mr. Ganji writes. The good news: He doesn’t blame the US and the West “for all the Islamic world’s problems.”
And he’s not been isolated from Western ideas: His favorite novel is Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.” Among American works a favorite is “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe. He’s also read John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Khamenei “is not a crazy, irrational, or reckless zealot searching for opportunities for aggression,” Ganji concludes. “But his deep-rooted views and intransigence are bound to make any negotiations with the West difficult and protracted....”
The Guardian defends its actions
Edward Snowden, who leaked details of United States government surveillance programs, has launched an important debate on privacy versus security, says the news organization that published portions of the material. In an editorial titled “Surveillance and the state,” Britain’s The Guardian defends its actions:
“It is difficult to imagine any editor in the free world who would have destroyed this material unread, or handed it back, unanalysed, to the spy agencies or the government,” the editorial says. “The Guardian did what we hope any news organisation would do – patiently analysed and responsibly reported on some of the material we have read in order to inform the necessary public debate.”
Electronic surveillance has changed the rules since the days of cold-war spies smuggling a piece of paper or microfilm across physical borders.
“What was once highly targeted has now become virtually universal,” The Guardian says. “The evident ambition is to put entire populations under some form of surveillance. The faceless intelligence masters may say they are still searching for needles, but first they want the entire haystack. And thus countless millions of entirely innocent (in every sense) citizens are potentially being monitored.”
When Steve Ballmer announced late last month that he was stepping down as head of Microsoft, few analyses of his tenure were more scathing, or colorful, than “Why Steve Ballmer Failed,” a post by Nicholas Thompson on The New Yorker’s website.
“Ballmer is roughly the tech industry’s equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev, without the coup and the tanks and Red Square,” Mr. Thompson surmised. “When he took control, in 2000, Microsoft was one of the most powerful and feared companies in the world. It had a market capitalization of around five hundred billion dollars, the highest of any company on earth.... As he leaves, it’s a sprawling shadow.”
Mr. Ballmer, Thompson says, is the “anti-Steve Jobs,” missing out on every big trend – completely misjudging, for example, Apple’s revolutionary iPhone and iPad. Ballmer has managed to alienate customers and employees alike. He loved complex designs when Apple saw that customers sought simplicity.
Microsoft has become a paper tiger. “Ballmer’s reign has done more to defang Microsoft than the Justice Department could ever have hoped to do,” Thompson writes.
Who will benefit most from a new chief at Microsoft? “Given the size of his financial stake in the company,” Thompson says, “there’s almost no one who should want a better C.E.O. for Microsoft than Ballmer himself.”
Is Japan ‘cool’?
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry hopes so.
Two years after the “triple disaster” of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in 2011, the Cool Japan Advisory Council is testing the idea.
It’s true that Japan is the home of anime (animation) and manga (comics), two cool art forms, points out David Zax in the Smithsonian. But stodgy Japanese bureaucrats and Japanese pop culture might not make for a comfortable match.
“The forefront of Japanese popular culture tends to be edgy and off-color, so there is likely a limit to the kinds of things that Japan’s perennially conservative government is willing to support publicly,” he quotes one cultural anthropologist as saying.
A Japanese art curator has a better idea, he writes. The triple disaster has other lessons for Japan: “how to live in harmony with nature, how to wean the country from nuclear power and how to sustain a peaceful world.” “If we practice these,” the art curator says, “any branding will not be necessary.”
I have always loved Bilbao. When I lived in Spain a decade ago, traveling across the country, I remember thinking that if I could choose anywhere to call home in Spain, it would be in this Basque city on the northern coast.
It just so happens I ended up marrying someone from Bilbao, but it’s never been home. I have just felt grateful that I get to visit it often.
Now I have a daughter. And she’s part-Basque. She’s almost 3 but for many logistical reasons she’s just met the Spanish side of the family now. And apart from getting to know new grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, it suddenly hit me that all of the things I have always marveled at about Basque culture and history as an outsider are in many ways part of my own child's identity.
We baptized her in the parish where my husband was also baptized. “Ongi etorri,” the priest said as the ceremony began – “welcome” in Euskera, the Basque language that my husband speaks and that has always confounded me (and every linguist on earth).
Though I make my husband say egun on (good morning) or eskerrik asko (thank you) to impress people at dinner parties, these words are ones my daughter will just naturally know.
Her grandfather cooked her bacalao (cod), gulas (baby eels), and pintxos, the elaborate tapas of the Basque Country. She also ate an entire plate of sea snails from the rocky northern coast.
Our trip coincided with the Aste Nagusia or Fiestas de Bilbao, the 9-day celebration of the city each August that began roughly when my husband was born in the 1970s. It’s a week of concerts, fireworks, games, contests, and encounters with old friends. Our daughter spent every morning playing on giant bouncy castles and going down the gargantua, a slide in a figure of a giant wearing a beret (or txapela). [Editor's note: The original version mistakenly referenced a Carnival tradition as being a tradition of Fiestas de Bilbao. The writer blames her Basque husband for the mistake.]
We walked along the Nervion River, past the famed Guggenheim museum, and across the city’s many stunning modern bridges that look onto verdant mountains.
I had decided I would try and give into the Spanish way of life when it came to sleep schedules. The first night, at 10 p.m., she was not soundly asleep as she usually is, but in a park full of other kids her age. She was in heaven. But the next morning, when she woke up at the same early time she always does, I was far from it.
Ultimately I couldn’t let go of all of the American in me. While her cousins were out well past midnight, to catch a glimpse of the fireworks, she was tucked into bed in a still house. The family ate lunch at 2:30 or 3 p.m.; she was already fed and deep into her nap. She didn’t seem to mind (or at least not notice, for now).
“Maite zaitut,” my husband taught her to say (“I love you”) to the family, as we packed our bags and headed back to Paris. And the words, which I would often utter to my husband in front of his family, part in jest, suddenly didn't feel so silly or foreign.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine has a penchant for over-the-top, flame-throwing invective. So who better to stir up some outrage over America’s escalating student-debt burden? You don’t read Mr. Taibbi to understand. You read Taibbi to get motivated to understand.
The average student loan is now $28,000. Some loans are close to mortgage-level amounts, saddling students with heavy payments for decades. Taibbi fingers two villains. First, tuition levels at colleges and universities continue to run laps around inflation in the rest of the economy. Very little of the increased cost is for education per se. Instead, much of it is “gilding,” building more attractive health clubs and dorms and bringing on celebrity professors to compete for students.
But why not compete by cutting prices? Because the growth of student loans has brought vast new sums of money into the system – supplied by young people from the least-affluent families among the college bound. The greater villain is the highly profitable government-run lending program itself. Taibbi calls it “a government-sponsored predatory-lending program that makes even the most ruthless private credit-card company seem like a ‘Save the Panda’ charity.”
Bloomberg's last stand
As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg nears the end of his three terms in office, The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta assesses a career that defies categorization. With a net worth estimated at $27 billion, Mr. Bloomberg never needed to raise money to campaign, and he prides himself on being able to say no to special interests. On his watch, crime has fallen dramatically and post-recession employment has grown much faster than the national average. His “stop and frisk” policy has set liberal teeth on edge. His ban on selling large sugary drinks has made conservative eyes roll. His effort to promote gun control nationally has put conservatives on the warpath. “Now he is clearly vexed by the challenges of envisaging his own future and a City Hall without him,” writes Mr. Auletta.
A return to ‘awesome’ America
After 18 years in London as a correspondent for The New York Times, Sarah Lyall has returned to the United States and offers readers some compare-and-contrast observations. The British have become more American over the years, she notes, but retain their traditional reserve. “Sometimes in London I felt stupidly enthusiastic, like a Labrador puppy let loose in an antique store, or overly loud and gauche, like a guest who shows up at a memorial service wearing a Hawaiian shirt and traumatizes the mourners with intrusive personal questions.”
America has changed, too. Brooklyn became the heart of trendy New York, “awesome” became the “Starbucks of adjectives,” and “[a] few Americans started going only to restaurants with lovingly reared, locally sourced unpronounceable ingredients; the rest started going only to restaurants with All-U-Can-Eat Fat Plate specials.”
The British are busy figuring out their place in the world; the Americans are quite confident of theirs. She compares the British attitude toward America as that of “a teenager worried that his more popular friend is using him for extra math help but will snub him in the cafeteria.”
Surviving Russia’s justice system
Michael Lewis is one of the best storytellers in journalism, with a particular gift for making the arcanely technical worlds of finance and Big Data into readable narratives. In the latest Vanity Fair, he delves into the case of a Russian-born computer programming genius who was convicted, then later exonerated, of stealing code from his erstwhile employer, Goldman Sachs.
Sergey Aleynikov’s trial, in Mr. Lewis’s portrayal, shows a justice system hopelessly out of its depth at understanding what it meant or didn’t mean when the programmer mailed himself a copy of some code he had worked on as he left Goldman. The FBI and prosecution seemed to be totally in Goldman’s hands.
Lewis sketches a portrait here of a hypercompetitive corner of the economy and a character that stands as its almost saintly opposite. Mr. Aleynikov spent years in prison before his appeal came through, and he came through it without resentment or regret. He actually appreciates what prison did for his life. He lost everything, but now has closer friendships and a stronger relationship with his children.
Egypt the stunted
Longtime Middle East watcher Bobby Ghosh of Time magazine lifts the veil from the assumption that embattled Egypt is the cultural and intellectual heart of the Arab world – that Egypt is really very important to the rest of the world.
It used to be. In the 1960s and ’70s, he writes, Egypt was “the fulcrum of the Arab world.” It produced great cinema, TV, music, art, literature, and news media. It had the region’s best religious and secular universities. And it represented a threat to Israel.
“Egypt today is none of those things, and for two reasons: the Middle East has changed, and Egypt has not,” writes Mr. Ghosh. Its main relevance now, he says, is as a potential breeding ground for Islamist militancy.
On a Friday afternoon in October 1995, the offices of the Swedish Academy, which selects the Nobel laureate in literature, received a warbled long-distance phone call from a man with an Irish accent.
It was the poet Seamus Heaney, and he had a simple question: Had he really won the Nobel Prize?
Mr. Heaney, who was on vacation in Greece at the time, had read a local news report the previous day saying he’d been awarded the $1 million honor. "Was it true?" he asked the Academy secretary calmly.
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It was, and the prize helped Heaney – who died Friday in Dublin at the age of 74 – solidify his place as one of his country’s literary giants, placing him alongside fellow Irish Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett.
And despite the fact that he was nowhere to be found when his Nobel Prize was announced, Heaney’s accessible style as both a poet and scholar won him not only great critical acclaim but also an unusually widespread following during his five-decade career. By some estimates he was the world’s best-read living poet, The New York Times reports.
Poet Robert Lowell once described him as the “most important Irish poet since Yeats.” Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said for the Irish he was “keeper of language, our codes, our essence as a people.”
Indeed, Heaney was a poet “rooted in the Irish soil," the New York Times wrote when he received his Nobel.
He has often written of the poet as a kind of farmer, digging and rooting, as though Ireland's wet peat were a storehouse of images and memories. At the same time, Mr. Heaney moves easily from the homely images of farm and village to larger issues of history, language and national identity, creating what he once called "the music of what happens."
Indeed, his poem Digging from the 1966 collection Death of a Naturalist begins:
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging...
The poem ends: "Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests./I’ll dig with it."
Born and raised on the family farm in County Derry, west of Belfast in Northern Ireland, Heaney’s life and career were also marked by the bloody sectarian conflict that sprawled across his most important writing years – and his own refusal to be circumscribed by it. As the BBC eulogized:
Born in Northern Ireland, he was a Catholic and nationalist who chose to live in the South. "Be advised, my passport's green / No glass of ours was ever raised / To toast the Queen," he once wrote.
He came under pressure to take sides during the 25 years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and faced criticism for his perceived ambivalence to republican violence, but he never allowed himself to be co-opted as a spokesman for violent extremism.
A well-known poem of his that expressed this ambivalence, Casualty, centers around an IRA bombing of a pub to punish it for defying an internal Catholic curfew the group had demanded after the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. An acquaintance of his, an elderly fisherman, was among the IRA's victims, "blown to bits" for being "out drinking in a curfew" and Heaney asks:
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe’s complicity?
‘Now, you’re supposed to be
An educated man,’
I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.
Perhaps his most quoted lines come from a section of his poem “The Cure at Troy,” a verse adaptation of Sophocles' play "Philoctetes."
History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
As the Associated Press reports, “scores of world leaders have borrowed those lines in their peacemaking speeches. John Hume, a Northern Irish republican who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998, said Heaney's work offered "a special channel for repudiating violence, injustice and prejudice, and urging us all to the better side of our human nature."
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In April 2013, Vice President Joe Biden quoted the poem at a memorial service for MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was killed by the alleged Boston marathon bombers during their attempted escape from the city.
In addition to publishing several volumes of poetry, Heaney was also a prolific translator of works ranging from the ancient Greek to the modern Polish.
"I have always thought of poems as stepping stones in one's own sense of oneself,” he told NPR in 2008. “Every now and again, you write a poem that gives you self-respect and steadies your going a little bit farther out in the stream. At the same time, you have to conjure the next stepping stone because the stream, we hope, keeps flowing."
The teenaged son of a Chinese Army general and prominent singer has gone on trial for gang rape in Beijing, focusing further attention on the credibility of China’s legal system and sparking calls on the Internet for China's political elite to follow the rule of law.
Li Tianyi, who is accused of raping a girl along with four other men at a hotel in the Chinese capital in February, has denied the charge and reportedly says he was drunk during the incident.
China’s official media has lambasted the heavy attention given to the case, saying it bears no similarity to the corruption trail of former Party heavyweight Bo Xilai, his murderous wife, or henchman Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun.
Because of his parents’ powerful positions, the younger Li has access to the wealth and privilege that has allowed the criminal behavior of many other young offenders to be swept under the rug. The bad, and often dangerously criminal, behavior of some of China’s “second-generation rich” has become a tremendous sore spot for the government, which is undergoing a makeover of sorts to distance the Communist Party from the type of corruption endemic here.
“In contrast to the Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun cases, which are closely connected with China's anti-corruption efforts, Li's case, by its very nature, is an ordinary criminal case,” the conservative Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial referencing two ongoing high profile corruption cases against political elites. “What's more, considering that some of the suspects are minors, reports should remain low key.”
But for many Chinese, the cases are part of the same problem.
Mr. Li is the son of People’s Liberation Army General Li Shuangjiang and well known People's Liberation Army singer Meng Ge. And this is not his first brush with the law. The teen stoked anger two years ago when he and a friend reportedly attacked a Beijing couple in a road rage incident.
The criminal case against Li could offer some evidence that this new generation of Chinese leaders intends to toughen up on its progeny.
Liu Renwen, the director of criminal law research at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says scrutiny is important in cases like this. While many are quick to assume guilt when it comes to wealthy and powerful people accused of wrongdoing, he says people need to demand the legal system treat everyone the same.
“We should be careful to avoid people’s resentment of the rich and the powerful to cause another type of injustice,” says Mr. Liu. “Both celebrities and ordinary people should be treated the same under law; everyone is equal under law.”
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Indian security forces announced Thursday that they had captured one of the country’s most wanted fugitives, militant Yasin Bhatkal, near the porous Nepal border, marking what they call a “major breakthrough” in their campaign against his Indian Mujahideen (IM) organization.
The group is believed to be responsible for recent bombings in several Indian cities, including a 2010 blast at a popular expat café in the western city of Pune that killed 17 people. Altogether police say Mr. Bhatkal participated in some 11 bombings and was responsible for dozens of deaths, reports The New York Daily News.
The arrest comes less than two weeks after Indian police announced the capture of another highly sought terror suspect, Abdul Karim Tunda, a bomb maker from the powerful Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The US State Department said in 2011 that IM and Lashkar-e-Taiba had “significant links” to one another, and the men were apprehended in the same region of the country, although police have not yet commented on if or how the two arrests were connected.
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Indian Mujahideen was co-founded by Bhatkhal five years ago in response to what he perceived as widespread oppression of Muslims in India, reports The Wall Street Journal. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote at the time, IM was part of a growing trend of homegrown terrorism in India, which had long laid blame for such attacks on spillover from Pakistani militant groups. The notion that India itself could have produced such religious extremism was "a bitterly controversial idea in the Hindu-majority nation sensitive to claims of intolerance," the Monitor wrote.
The BBC describes Bhatkal as a “hands on” militant who participated directly in several of the IM's bombings. In Pune, for instance, CCTV captured him planting a device at the cafe shortly before the explosion. Among law enforcement he was known by the foreboding nickname “the ghost who bombs,” reports the Hindustan Times.
The high profile nature of Bhatkal’s participation in public acts of terror spurred wide public interest in his capture, and at the time of his arrest there was a 1 million rupee ($15,000) reward offered for information that could lead to his apprehension.
Police received a tip on Bhatkal’s movements six months ago, reports the Hindustan Times, and have been tailing him ever since. The paper reports that at the time of his purported arrest he was on his way to Bangladesh “as part of his terror activities and to meet some contacts there.”
As the Monitor reported earlier this year, many Indians have grown frustrated with what they perceive as the slow pace and many false starts of government investigations into acts of terror in the country.
As one man paralyzed in a 2007 attack complained, the state’s terrorism investigations were often full of fanfare, with little to show for the effort. As he predicted after a recent attack, “the conspiracy theories, the arrests, the acquittals will all take place and there will be more blasts again in a few years.”
In Bhatkal’s case, experts have suggested that, for now anyway, the public should take the news of the arrest with a grain of salt. As the BBC notes:
Ajit Kumar Singh of the Institute of Conflict Management in Delhi urged caution saying the arrest would be a "big catch" but the police had a history of bungled operations, reports AFP.
"The intelligence agencies deserve a huge pat on their backs if they have indeed arrested the right man," he said.
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