The Global Note: Damascus Blasts…Toughest-Ever Cigarette Rules?…”Economic Suicide” in Europe…A One-Handed Maestro

By Tom Nagorski

Aug 15, 2012 9:51am

SYRIA’S WAR

-MORNING EXPLOSIONS ROCK DAMASCUS…A pair of explosions in Syria’s capital this morning struck very near the U.N. Mission there – though it’s not clear whether UN staffers were actually the targets. Syrian State TV says a bomb exploded near a fuel truck outside a Damascus hotel popular with U.N. observers. However, other reports suggest it may have been a roadside bomb and the AP reporter at the scene says that the blast went off inside the parking lot belonging to a nearby military compound. At least three people were wounded, none of them were believed to be U.N. staff. Shortly after the explosions, the Free Syrian Army claimed responsibility, al-Jazeera reports.   

ALEPPO: HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT…A new Human Rights Watch report from Aleppo says that Syrian government fighter planes fired rockets that struck the main emergency hospital in an opposition-controlled area of the city yesterday, wounding two civilians and causing significant damage. HRW staff visited the hospital yesterday. Regime forces and rebels alike have been accused of atrocities lately.

-STRONG PHOTOGRAPHS FROM ALEPPO… A powerful collection of images here from the embattled city.   

-SANCTIONS HURTING ACTIVISTS…The Washington Post reports that U.S. sanctions targeting Syria and Iran have inadvertently undermined the opposition movements they are intended to help, making it more difficult for those groups to access technologies that can evade electronic surveillance and censorship.

AUSTRALIA TAKES DOWN BIG TOBACCO

It’s being called the toughest of all national campaigns against big tobacco – and it’s been upheld in Australia. Australia’s highest court upheld the world’s toughest law on cigarette promotion, meaning tobacco companies will be prohibited from displaying their logos on cigarette packs – and those packs will instead have to feature horrific images of cancer-riddled mouths, blinded eyeballs and sickly children with an olive green background. The court ruling came despite protests from tobacco companies that the value of their trademarks will be destroyed under the new rules.

IN EUROPE, ‘ECONOMIC SUICIDES’

Across the debt-riven Eurozone, so many people have been killing themselves and leaving notes citing financial hardship that European media outlets have a special name for them: “economic suicides.” The  Washington Post writes that surveys are also showing increasing signs of mental stress: a jump in the use of antidepressants and illicit drugs, a rise in depression and anxiety among workers worried about salary cuts or being laid off, and an increase in the use of sick leave due to psychological problems. 

DOES QUAKE AID FOR IRAN VIOLATE SANCTIONS?

The Obama administration said yesterday that it would expedite applications to help Iran’s earthquake victims. But as the New York Times notes, prospective donors are now expressing worry and confusion over whether such charitable aid runs afoul of the extensive American sanctions imposed on the country because of its disputed nuclear program. Meanwhile, in Iran, the government appeared to have a change of position after having declined offers of international help for three days. Iranian officials are now saying they would welcome international aid.

AFGHAN WAR

-DEADLIEST DAY FOR CIVILIANS THIS YEAR…The AP puts the national death toll at 46 in yesterday’s spate of attacks, making it the deadliest day for Afghan civilians this year. As Aleem AGHA noted, suicide bombers launched multiple attacks in opposite corners of the country – in Nimroz province and Kunduz province. This morning, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the bombings.

-’MR. PRESIDENT, YOU DID NOT KILL OSAMA BIN LADEN. AMERICA DID’…Reuters reports that a group of former U.S. intelligence and Special Forces operatives is set to launch a media campaign, including TV ads, that scolds President Obama for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and argues that high-level leaks are endangering American lives. Leaders of the group, the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund Inc, say it is nonpartisan and unconnected to any political party or presidential campaign.

MOST LIVABLE CITY IN THE WORLD?

Melbourne, Australia takes the cake again in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2012 Global Livability Survey. Australian and Western European cities make up the majority of the top slots while New York City ranks 56 behind London’s 55. Dhaka, Bangladesh brings up the rear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Honolulu is the top U.S. city – at 26.

WORST CITY NAMES, EVER

Thanks to Ines NOVACIC for flagging this one: The U.K.’s Mirror has compiled a top ten list of the country’s “most unfortunate” city names. Topping the list? Shitterton, followed by Scratchy Bottom.

IKEA BUILDING BUDGET HOTELS

Ikea, the secretive but hugely successful budget furniture retailer, is looking to build and develop at least 100 budget hotels across Europe in its latest push into the property market, reports the  Financial Times. 

IN THE FAR EAST, A TENSE ANNIVERSARY

Akiko FUJITA reports that Japan marked the 67th anniversary of its World War II surrender with a somber ceremony – but there were also fresh sparks in the growing rift between Japan and South Korea. Two Japanese cabinet ministers visited a controversial shrine for the country’s war criminals, infuriating South Koreans – that’s because of WWII-era brutalities, in particular the enslavement of Korean “comfort women” into prostitution. In the past, Japanese politicians have their visits to Yasukuni, saying the shrine is not only a resting place for war criminals but war heroes as well. But the visit today came after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the disputed Takeshima islands – and Japan withdrew its ambassador from Seoul in response. Yesterday, President Lee called on the Japanese emperor to apologize for Japan’s aggressions, and reiterated a call to compensate for the abuse of the “comfort women”.

ASYLUM FOR ASSANGE?

Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has agreed to give Julian Assange asylum, officials within Ecuador’s government have said. The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up at Ecuador’s London embassy since 19 June, when he officially requested political asylum.  “Ecuador will grant asylum to Julian Assange,” said an official in the Ecuadorean capital Quito, who is familiar with the government discussions. 

GATES FOUNDATION: REINVENTING THE TOILET

The Gates Foundation wants inventors to re-think the toilet for the 2.6 billion with no access to modern sanitation. These aren’t your typical loos. One uses microwave energy to transform human waste into electricity. Another captures urine and uses it for flushing. And still another turns excrement into charcoal. They are part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to reinvent the toilet for the 2.6 billion people around the world who don’t have access to modern sanitation. Scientists from around the world have taken up the challenge and the foundation planned to announced Tuesday which projects would be getting more money to take their ideas from the lab to cities. There, local entrepreneurs will use the new technology to turn pollution into cash. To pass the foundation’s threshold for the world’s next toilet, it must operate without water, electricity or a septic system, not discharge pollutants, preferably capture energy or other resources and operate at a cost of 5 cents a day.

LONDON 2012: POSTSCRIPT

-OLYMPIC ROMANCE…Nick SCHIFRIN flags this – about romance at the games: There were 2-3 proposals every day during the Olympics at the Park – at least 25 in all. Two of them were caught by photographers, including one to an Australian athlete who had just finished her race walk event.

-AN OLYMPIC MOMENT GOES VIRAL…Jeffrey KOFMAN notes a post-London-Games phenomenon: Britain’s new Olympic hero, double-gold medalist runner Mo Farah, has become an Internet session. His stunned look as he crossed the finish line first in the 10000-meter run has lead to all sorts of hilarious spoofs. See these links:

RICHARD BURTON’S DIARY – ABOUT ELIZABETH TAYLOR

As Molly HUNTER writes, It makes for juicy reading. The Daily Mail reports that Richard Burton kept extensive handwritten dairies about his wife, Elizabeth Taylor. Filled with fury and love, the diaries, to be published in October by Yale University Press, also include vignettes of the famous people he met, mentioning Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Franco Zeffirelli, Aristotle Onassis and the Duke of Windsor.

ONE-HANDED PIANIST

Great story – flagged by Simon MCGREGOR-WOOD – about a one-handed pianist who has graduated from London’s Royal College of Music.

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