This week, when the Armenian Genocide Resolution comes in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, members will be pulling out their primary sources and Ottoman history books to finally decide what happened between Armenians and Turks over 90 years ago. Why now?
Rep. Adam Schiff, a co-sponsor of the bill, explained his motives this way:
How can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?
Tying this resolution to the United States' half-hearted response to the atrocities in Darfur is a stretch. This is not to say that the Turkish government doesn't need to confront its historical amnesia. The legal proceedings against authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak for "insulting Turkishness" and the recent murder of Armenian editor Hrant Dink show that the country has a lot of work to do.
But the truth is, this resolution is not the way to go about it. It will only strengthen hardline Turkish nationalists and strain already tenuous relations between the United States and one of its most crucial allies in the Middle East, Turkey. If U.S. lawmakers are really adamant about assigning blame for the atrocities committed towards the Armenians in 1915 (estimates put the death toll at 1.5 million), I suggest they take a closer look at the inaction of their own predecessors. Or perhaps pick up a copy of Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell to get an extensive account of congressional apathy towards genocide throughout the 20th century. But when it comes to resolutions like this one, they should leave history to the historians.
After an internal investigation, six Japanese civil servants at Japan's Agriculture Ministry were accused of neglecting their work and spending countless hours editing Wikipedia pages. It might have been acceptable if they were toiling away on articles for say, beef exports or rice cultivation, but the six bureaucrats were busy tweaking entries about the ever-popular manga comics. Their favorite page was the one devoted to Gundam, a popular animated series on robots. One of the six had apparently made 260 changes to the Gundam site since 2003. Tsutomu Shimomura, a spokesman for the ministry, made it extremely clear that this was NOT in their job description:
The agriculture ministry is not in charge of robots.
And to discourage others from following suit, the six received a harsh, verbal reprimand. That'll keep 'em in line.
Russians must be feeling a tinge of nostalgia today, the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. But while the days of immense public curiosity and excitement for space exploration are about as over as the Soviet Union, the space race is still alive and kicking. In this week's list, FP takes a look at some of latest frontiers in space research and the unexpected cosmic challengers who are gearing up to take on American space dominance. From Mars to space weapon, the race is on.
But we left off a few out-of-this-world ideas that might just belong on the pages of a science fiction novel:
Going up? Forget loud, jarring rockets. Imagine taking a smooth ride up a 62,000-mile cable into space on a cosmic elevator. Although I couldn't explain the physics behind it for the life of me, scientists have been looking at possible plans for a space elevator constructed of carbon nanotubes. NASA and the Spaceward Foundation are holding a competition in Utah this month for the best design.
Greening outer-space Despite the rush to wean the world off dirty energy sources, space-based solar power is still waiting on the sidelines. The vision is quite simple: Platforms that capture sunlight are put in space and the resulting energy is then beamed down to Earth. Col. M.V. "Coyote" Smith, space-based solar panels' biggest fan, spearheaded a study (without any funding) for the National Security Space Office in an attempt to convince the Pentagon of the technology's feasibility. To add to the geek appeal, he then gave his presentation in Second Life.
Five-star accommodation $4 million for a three-night hotel stay? Only if it's in orbit. Xavier Claramunt plans to have Galactic Suite, the first space hotel, up and running by 2012. Of course, there is a lot of planning that goes into accommodating people in a zero-gravity atmosphere, like figuring out how guests can shower. Claramunt's solution: a spa room where bubbles of water will float around you.
Of course, we can debate whether spending millions of dollars and unquantifiable amounts of brain-power into these kinds of space endeavors is really the most prudent use of our resources. And for countries like China and India, there are countless terrestrial causes that could benefit from the investment otherwise going into establishing massive space programs. But if anyone is offering a free ride on a space elevator and a stay at the nearest galactic hotel, sign me up.
Looks like Spain's royal family would have been a valiant contender for FP's list of monarchies in peril. King Juan Carlos, who has been atop the royal throne since the monarchy's creation in 1975, has found himself in the hot seat a few times as of late. Last month, Carlos finally relented to critics and agreed to hire an auditor to disclose how the royal family spends its annual €8 million budget. Then, Spanish satire magazine El Juevez was pulled off the shelves by officials after several cartoon covers poked fun at the monarch, inciting debates over freedom of speech in the country. Most recently, Catalan nationalists set pictures of King Juan Carlos and his Queen Sofia aflame. While the king's role is mostly ceremonial in practice, there have also been calls by a Catalan political party for Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to take over the position of commander in chief of the Spanish Armed Forces.
So what does the almost 70-year old monarch have to say about this? In a rare speech this week, Carlos stepped up to defend his crown:
[The monarchy] has provided the longest period of stability and prosperity that Spain has ever experienced under democratic rule.
I wouldn't expect any sort of mass popular revolution coming out of the Iberian peninsula anytime soon. Opinion polls show that a good chunk of the public still favors the royal family. If anything, recent attacks on the king have given the conservative opposition another reason to attack Zapatero and his socialist government, chiding them for not doing enough stick up for his royal highness.
Who knew that a history textbook could elicit anything more than a couple yawns from disinterested schoolchildren? On the Japanese island of Okiwana, the site of a bloody battle between U.S. and Japanese troops in 1945, a short passage in a new high school textbook brought more than 100,000 angry protesters out into the streets this past Saturday, the largest the small island has ever seen. For critics, the textbook dishonestly distorts the facts in its discussion of the several hundred Okinawa citizens who committed suicide during the U.S. invasion. The textbooks originally disclosed that the imperial army had handed out grenades to residents and ordered them to kill themselves rather than surrender, but Japan's Education Ministry instructed publishers to delete these references from the book's pages in March. The Ministry, reflecting the revisionism of recently ousted PM Shinzo Abe, cited divergent views of the event and said there was no real proof for either viewpoint.
Current PM Yasuo Fukuda's approach seems a bit more cautious. There is talk of Fukuda's government overturning this decision in an effort to "respect the sentiment of Okinawan people."
Europe has its own problems with history. Greek officials recently scrapped plans for a new sixth-grade history textbook that critics said downplayed the suffering of Greeks at the hands of the Ottoman empire. The book's depiction of events like the 1821 war of independence and the Greeks' 1922 flight from Smyrna (the modern-day Turkish city of Izmir) was apparently too unpatriotic for the country's Orthodox church and right-wing nationalist party Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party.
Finding an objective account of history anywhere is easier said than done, it seems. Especially when the facts don't agree well with national pride.
It must be every power-hungry leader's dream to be able to control the hands of time. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez gave a botched attempt at this feat last week when he advanced his previously-announced plan to turn to country's clocks back half an hour. Yes, he admitted, this might sound a bit nutty:
I don't care if they call me crazy, the new time will go ahead, let them call me whatever they want. I'm not to blame. I received a recommendation and said I liked the idea.
Unfortunately, the erratic South American leader didn't turn out to be as effective an implementer as he was a timekeeper. Without a proper public campaign to explain what the heck was going on, Chávez confused even himself when he initially told the populace they needed to move their clocks forward instead of back. So the plan was postponed until January, citing a need to complete a couple necessary bureaucratic steps with international organizations before they could proceed. And why the awkward half hour? It's a way to prove that Venezuela doesn't need to follow the "scheme of hourly divisions dictated by the imperial United States." If successful, the country will join the ranks of those who are in half-hour increments off from Greenwich Mean Time: Afghanistan, Iran, and Burma. Way to stick it to the man, Hugo.
In an effort to kick-start its nascent space program, Malaysia is set to launch its first space-bound national into orbit on Oct. 10. In addition to the usual scientific studies and research assignments, the government of the predominantly Muslim country wants to make sure that its novice angkasawan (Malay for astronaut) does not forgo his duties as a devout Muslim. Thirty five year old Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (who is a doctor and part-time model), was chosen from among 11,000 eager hopefuls to accompany two Russian cosmonauts on a ten-day mission in the International Space Station. While he has been fasting for the month of Ramadan throughout his training, the strains of a zero-gravity environment might mean our astronaut will have to adjust his daily rituals during the mission. For a practicing Muslim who prays five times a day, would he have to pray 80 times every 24 hours, since the ISS will be circling the Earth 16 times each day? Plus, figuring out where Mecca is while you are in space must be no easy task.
In order to avoid confusion, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development laid down some guidelines on how to observe Islam correctly while in space. For example:
During the prayer ritual, if you can't stand up straight, you can hunch. If you can't stand, you can sit. If you can't sit, you should lie down.
The guidelines also include useful tidbits on what to do if there is no water for washing rituals, or on the ill-fated chance that there is a death on board. And Malaysian Science Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis recently declared that Muszaphar is allowed to postpone his fasting until he returns back to earth.
So as he prepares to be his country's first galaxy representative, the thoughtful Muszaphar plans on bringing Malaysian food on board to share with his Russian shuttle cohabitants. But don't worry, he says:
We've made sure it's not very spicy so the Russians can eat it very well.
With much of the Olympic spotlight shining on Beijing and preparations for the 2008 summer games, Russia—set to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea city of Sochi—vows not be outdone. Russian developers revealed plans for Federation Island, an artificial island in the shape of Russia to be built off the coast of the planned Olympic complex. Expected to house 25,000 people, two marinas, three religious centers, roads, and parkland on a total of 350 hectares, the floating mini-Russia will boast artificial rivers made to mimic the continent's real waterways (think Volga, Don, and Ob) to ensure authenticity. Costing an estimated 6.2 billion dollars, the project is part of a larger effort by the Russian state to revamp the area's Soviet-era infrastructure before the big event. And hey, they've got to spend all that oil money somewhere.
Note: This post has been edited since posting.
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