Geopolitics

Thai PM out, S. Africa vote, Depardieu's drinking

Thai PM out, S. Africa vote, Depardieu's drinking

While U Slept

DEADLY FIGHTS IN EASTERN UKRAINE

Ukrainian troops have briefly retaken the city hall building in the eastern city of Mariupol after heavy fights at barricades around the city held by pro-Russian activists overnight, CNN reports. A spokeswoman for the pro-Russian side said that five militants had been killed in the fights. Meanwhile, RT reports that shooting between pro-Russian gunmen and Ukrainian troops continue in Sloviansk, describing a state of siege as civilians are said to be unable to leave the city.

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described last Friday’s tragic events in Odessa, where dozens of pro-Russian protesters died in a fire, as “clear fascism,” and accused the Kiev government of sweeping the facts “under the rug.” “We will push for the truth,” Ria Novosti quoted him as saying.

  • His British counterpart William Hague explained in an interview this morning that the Ukrainian presidential election, planned for May 25, would go ahead despite what he described as “disorder that is deliberately fomented and coordinated” from Russia. Read more from The Guardian.

  • As more and more voices are speaking of the imminent threat of civil war in Ukraine, the region of Donetsk is preparing to hold a referendum on the region’s status on Sunday, after having proclaimed the People’s Republic of Donetsk last month. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday described the move as a “frankly contrived and bogus” one that could “further divide Ukraine.”

THAILAND PM DISMISSED

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must step down after finding her guilty of abuse of power when she removed the head of the country’s National Security Council from his post, The Nation reports. Nine of her ministers, who took part in the decision, were also dismissed. The rest of the Cabinet named the Commerce Minister as her replacement until the next general election, planned for July 20. The BBC warns that the court’s decision is likely to trigger protests from government supporters, after months-long protests from the opposition which had sought to push Shinawatra to resign.

U.S. TO JOIN HUNT FOR NIGERIAN SCHOOLGIRLS

The United States will assist the Nigerian government in their attempt to recover the schoolgirls abducted on April 15, after President Barack Obama announced that his Nigerian counterpart Goodluck Jonathan had accepted help from U.S. military and law enforcement advisers, AP reports. This comes amid reports from Nigerian media Vanguard that Islamist group Boko Haram may have kidnapped another 11 young girls in a raid in northeastern Nigeria. The organization’s leader claimed responsibility for last month’s abduction in a video released on Monday and said that the then 276 girls it had captured were slaves they intended to sell.

REBELS EVACUATE SYRIAN TOWN OF HOMS

Rebel fighters were being evacuated, under UN supervision, from the Syrian city of Homs this morning, as part of a ceasefire deal struck with the government, Al Jazeera reports. More than 1,000 fighters are expected to be evacuated by bus towards other rebel-held areas north of the city which was once labelled as the “capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad.

SOUTH AFRICAN GENERAL ELECTIONS

Some 25 million of South African voters are called to the polls to elect new members of Parliament, who will in turn name the country’s president, with ANC leader Jacob Zuma expected to retain his post for a second term though support for Nelson Mandela’s former party is faltering. In today’s editorial, South African newspaper Mail & Guardian calls its readers to “vote tactically to dilute ANC power,” describing the party’s national and provincial cabinets as being “packed with incompetents who owe their positions to their loyalty to Jacob Zuma.” It is the first time the newspaper has urged its readership to oppose the party.

248 billion

The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba filed plans for a $15 billion initial public offering Tuesday, in what could be one of the biggest tech debuts in history. Alibaba handled around $248 billion worth of transactions for 231 million active users in 2013, more than Amazon and eBay combined.

VERBATIM

Gérard Depardieu speaks on his DSK role in upcoming film Welcome to New York and his relationship with alcohol. Read more.

SUPER-BIRDS

Penguins have been found to be immune to avian flu. Read more (with lots of cool penguin photos) in our latest from our Zoo’d feature HERE

COMMERCIAL CONTROVERSY

Spain’s clothes retailer Desigual released expand=1]a highly controversial commercial ahead of Mother’s Day, in which a young woman pokes holes in a pack of condoms after fantasising after what she would like if she was pregnant. Faced with people’s outrage in Spain, the company apologized and released an edited version of the spot.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD

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Ideas

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.


This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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