Civil war in Yemen: any hope of ending it in 2020?

There’s mounting international pressure to end the civil war in Yemen that has been going on for over two years. Ironically, the attempt to suppress critics of the war (namely the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi) has opened the floodgates of criticism from mainstream media, which had seemingly grown tired of covering Yemen until this point.

From a layperson’s perspective, the killing of Khashoggi has gotten a lot more mainstream coverage than the actual war in Yemen. No doubt, the killing of journalists to suppress dissent is a major issue on its own, but there’s still a war in Yemen and there’s really no specific end in sight. Sweden is hosting peace talks in Stockholm in December, and there’s always hope for a cease-fire agreement, but at this point it’s hard to tell if this has much chance of succeeding.

Any civil war is incredibly complex. The United States has already sent a message: it’s no longer willing to fuel Saudi warplanes which are engaging in bombing missions in Yemen, which it had been doing since the onset of the conflict. The Saudis support the “pro-Hadi government” against the Houthi movement(Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was interim President of Yemen prior to the civil war, but was forced out by Houthi rebels). The Saudis are supported by allies which, in addition to the US and Israel, include Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany, via weapons sales and other logistical support.

The complexity of the conflict often causes people to miss some of the basic questions. Why do the Saudis (and by extension, their allies) support one faction over the other? One obvious explanation is that the Saudi’s see the Houthi movement as a proxy for Iran: what’s bad for the Houthi movement is presumably bad for Iran. Saudi Arabia doesn’t want a direct conflict with Iran (which would be catastrophic), but fighting the Houthi Movement is more doable. If this sounds familiar, it’s because proxy wars have been common in the 20th century: Vietnam is probably the first to come to mind. Supporting the Saudis seems to be a natural choice for the United States, which also continues to be at odds with Iran – but with the 2020 US Presidential elections approaching, supporting a proxy war in Yemen probably isn’t going to be popular with either party.

So who’s right and who’s wrong here? That’s really difficult to say. The UN has recognized the Hadi government as legitimate, however the UN has also noted human rights violations committed by their allies, presumably on their behalf. If there’s to be a solution in 2019, it will likely have to be a diplomatic solution – because it’s likely that support for military interventions will continue to wane.

State Department Condemns Escalation of Violence in Nicaragua

The US State Department has issued a statement of condemnation regarding the growing violence against journalists, students and protesters in Nicaragua. The announcement also made note of new U.S. Visa restrictions on officials who have aided the regime in committing the numerous alleged human rights violations.

The violence in Nicaragua has been ongoing for several months, and by some reports, more than 300 people have been killed. The crisis began in response to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s announcement of widespread pension cuts: protesters reacted by barricading several small towns. Ortega’s para-military forces have violently dismantled these barricades, and in response more protesters have joined in.

The State department now joins Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in their condemnation of the targeted campaign to suppress protest and journalistic freedom.

President Ortega has since backtracked on his pension cuts, but the damage seems to have been done. Unsurprisingly, the Ortega administration claims it’s the victim of a targeted coup – but whether or not that’s true, the human rights violations that have occurred under his presidency are hard (if not impossible) to deny.

A British Ecological Society study used archived TV footage to show the impact of climate change

Researchers have traditionally relied on historical weather data and glacial core samples to demonstrate climate change, and on longitudinal studies to understand its impact. The British Ecological Society just released a study that took a radically different approach: they used archived television footage. The research team team, lead by Pieter De Frenne utilized footage from the annual Tour of Flanders cycling race to investigate the impact of climate change. Choosing an annual sporting event makes a lot of sense, and the team utilized 35 years of archived footage filmed between 1981 and 2016. Choosing a cycling race makes even more sense, since it follows a predetermined route and covers a large geographic area.

Unsurprisingly, the study demonstrated that climate change had impacted the local flora, specifically with respect to the timing of flowering and leaf-out. But the results of the study aren’t necessarily the most interesting thing here (most people already accept the realities of climate change) – the way the study was conducted is arguably the highlight. This isn’t lost on the authors of the study, who write: “this technical advance offers key benefits to fill gaps in existing phenology time series” – the use of archived footage can often be used to extrapolate measurements that weren’t taken at the time of filming.

If other researchers take note of this study, it’s likely that we’ll see the methodology replicated in other locales, perhaps even in areas unrelated to environmental studies. With the amount of raw video footage that’s created on a daily basis, there’s mountains of data for researchers to potentially utilize.


EU copyright proposal could marginalize European publishers

The proposed Article 11 “Link Tax” could cause trouble for tech companies that deal with content aggregation – but also for the publishers who the proposal aims to help. Social media websites that automatically create snippets from linked content could be faced with a difficult decision: play ball with European content creators or simply filter them out.

Article 11 already has momentum – it passed an initial vote by the EU Legal Affairs Committee and needs only parliamentary approval to move forward. It’s hard to tell how these regulations will impact companies outside of the EU, but if the recent deadline on GDPR compliance is any indication, it’s something US businesses should be paying attention to.

Article 11 aims to give copyright holders compensation when third party websites link to their content with excerpts, including headlines. This may sound like a positive change for content producers, but it’s not that simple. Instead of providing additional income for content producers, Article 11 regulations could cut them off from the most popular  platforms like facebook, reddit and twitter, and even from search results on Google. This happened in 2013, when Germany passed similar legislation: google simply decided to ignore listings from German publishers like Axel Springer – their traffic levels dropped 80%. Publishers were forced to issue temporary exemptions in order to maintain their traffic.

One of the primary aims of digital publishing is to get more people to consume your content – nowadays this means sharing it via social media. Publishers who wish to restrict access to their material still have viable options: they can implement soft or hard paywalls, require membership, distribute their content via email or create a smartphone app. Traditionally, when content has been posted publicly on the web, linking to it and providing a short preview has been considered fair game. Publishers constantly encourage their staff to promote their content via social media channels. The Article 11 Link Tax sounds a whole lot like trying to have your cake and eat it too: publishers are desperate to have their content shared on social media, but they also want to be paid for the very act of sharing that content.

When faced with imminent implementation of GDPR regulations this previous May, US startups took several different courses of action. Many companies simply decided to ignore the regulations to ‘wait and see’. Other companies expended significant effort to bring their applications up to snuff in order to comply with GDPR for Europen users. Then there were the companies that simply decided to filter out ALL traffic originating from the EU, believing this was their best way to limit potential liability. If Article 11 passes, it’s likely that the reaction would be similar: some will ignore it, some will accept it, and others will just completely block out content from the EU.