Gay rights enjoyed a few wins this week as a federal judge struck down a Texan ban on same-sex marriage, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse to serve LGBT customers based on religious beliefs. In the sporting world, Jason Collins became the first gay NBA player, and defensive lineman Michael Sam participated in the NFL draft combine, raising the prospect he’ll become the first openly gay pro football player. But elsewhere, LGBT rights took a turn for the worse as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a vicious anti-gay law — which includes life sentences for those convicted of gay sex. Western leaders have condemned the move, and the World Bank has stalled on a $90-million loan to Uganda in response.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The world’s eyes may be on Hollywood on Sunday night, but on Monday the focus will turn to another Oscar: The onetime inspirational Olympian turned accused murderer. Pistorius, who once qualified for the Olympics with two partially amputated legs, is now better known for allegedly killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He claims he mistook her for an intruder; the prosecution says he intentionally shot her after a fight. Forensic experts are expected to play a large role in the trial, which South African commentators are already dubbing “the trial of the century.”
A week ago, it looked like things might have been settling down in Ukraine. Protests that had plagued Kiev’s streets for months had disappeared, along with now-fugitive former president Viktor Yanukovych. But Yanukovych reappeared on Friday, vowing to fight back against the “neo-fascist thugs” who drove him from power. Ukraine’s new interior minister, meanwhile, said Russian naval forces had taken control of a Crimean military airport in an “armed invasion” on Friday, just a day after men hoisted a Russian flag above Crimean parliament buildings. On Saturday, the crisis deepened as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin received parliamentary authorization to use troops in Ukraine. Kiev has placed its army on full alert, as alarm from international leaders grows.
No matter who walks away with a statuette on Sunday night, the economic benefits of Hollywood’s biggest night abound beyond the studios. Businesses clamored for inclusion in the swag bag that nominees receive; this year they are worth $85,000 and feature a $15,000 walking tour of Japan and $20 condoms. An in-depth accounting study found that the Oscars sink some $67 million into the local economy (limo drivers, rejoice). Not everyone benefits, though. A protest is planned over tax incentives that lure moviemaking out of Hollywood. But it’s unlikely that many eyes will look away from the red carpet.
Dozens dead in knife attack at China train station. (CBC).
John Kerry urges dialogue within Venezuela. (Al Jazeera).
Pakistani Taliban announce month-long ceasefire. (BBC).
NFL announces record $133M salary cap for 2014 season. (USA Today).
Caracas continues to be gripped by the worst unrest in a decade. The student movement that began near the border with Colombia two weeks ago has spread quickly throughout the country as frustration mounts over President Nicolas Maduro’s handling of the economy. Some believe the protests may spell the end for Venezuela’s 15-year-old socialist regime. So far the government has responded to accusations of mismanagement by treating young people as their mortal enemy. Seeing as the majority of Venezuelans are under 30, the regime is probably right to be scared.
When manned Japanese planes crashed into U.S. ships, the American sailors were bewildered over why anyone would volunteer for guaranteed death. A BBC reporter endeavored to find out, interviewing 89-year-old former kamikaze pilot Tadamasa Itatsu, who survived because his engine failed and he bailed into the sea. Wracked by guilt over his failure, the man contemplated suicide and eventually learned to cope by amassing a collection of letters from pilots who succeeded. The letters reveal the final intimate thoughts that pilots sent to loved ones before their suicide missions. The moral fervor of the young men, as well as the doubts of some about Japan’s role in the war, is poignantly preserved in the documents.
In order to boost their arrest numbers, police officers in Southern California entrapped an autistic teen with no prior history of using or dealing drugs. Teens who find themselves in the position of Jesse Snodgrass, befriended by undercover officers and entrapped into dealing, face criminal consequences and expulsion from school, thanks to zero-tolerance policies. Despite the draconian consequences for mistakes that school officials themselves often consider to be youthful indiscretions, police departments across the country aren’t easing up on such undercover stings. Neither schools nor the public have been found to be safer for these efforts, and some students, like Snodgrass, are undeniably worse off.
Source: Rolling Stone
Solitary confinement has been in the spotlight since last year’s mass hunger strike at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Critics denounce the practice of isolating prisoners as a human rights issue, and Congress is now on the case with a hearing aimed at banning its use for some inmates. The U.S. holds more than 80,000 prisoners in some kind of restricted detention, and the results may not only be psychologically traumatic but also economically unsound. Housing an inmate alone in a tiny windowless cell for 23 hours a day costs about $78,000 a year — three times as much as a regular unit.
Despite their public efforts to recruit more low-income students, Ivy League schools are failing to economically democratize access to high-quality education. And since there is no proof that students from poor backgrounds are any less intelligent, the reason behind this gap might be the fact that higher education for many has become a “luxury product,” not much different from any other symbol of social status. This helps explain the counterintuitive behavior observed by many colleges that see enrollment numbers skyrocket when they hike up tuition fees.
Forget about solar panels, windmills and wave-catchers. The best alternative source of energy might be hydrogen. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, is an audacious and little-known project in southern France that hopes to solve the world’s energy crisis by making a giant superheated cloud of hydrogen float in a magnetic chamber. When switched on, this mysterious device would be the hottest phenomenon on Earth, generating huge amounts of power with no carbon pollution or radioactive waste. The catch? There is no guarantee the machine will actually work, despite 35 different countries investing at least $20 billion dollars in the project. But obtaining a clean and inexhaustible source of energy for the benefit of all humanity would definitely be worth every penny.
Source: The New Yorker
The warm air, the oiled gloves, the inane questions reporters ask as if in a scene from Bull Durham … baseball is warming up down south for the upcoming season. Just a few days along and already lists of “who to watch” have circulated. With preseason attendance declining, one writer posits that a new trend attracts bigger crowds: bringing famous retired “guest instructors” to training. Cynicism aside, it’s hard for true believers not to get excited, even if it’s just the realization that winter’s end is nigh.