Nigeria: A Change in the Pipeline
Finally, the prospect of an Islamic victory the West can welcome. From Algeria to Iraq and the Palestinian territories, the United States and Europe have promoted free elections, only to see fundamentalists surge ahead. Nigerians are due to go to the polls on April 21. All three leading presidential candidates are Muslim. But all are considered moderates, and have Christian running mates. Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt hopes to oppressively implement Sharia, the Nigerian front runners favor a flexible approach. As a governor, Umaru Yar'Adua guaranteed security for non-Muslims when Sharia was imposed; VP Atiku Abubakar helped persuade five governors to ease up on their strict implementation of the Muslim law in 2000, while Muhammadu Buhari—once a prominent advocate of Sharia—has since distanced himself from its most outspoken proponents.
Religious tolerance alone won't turn Nigeria around. Corruption is rampant and oil production has been hampered by an insurgency in the south. In recent months, foreign workers have been kidnapped and pipelines have been attacked by Christian rebels demanding development aid from the government. Some estimate that 800,000 barrels of oil a day—25 percent of Nigeria's entire output—are lost as a result. Worse still, political violence and allegations of dirty tricks have spiked in the buildup to the elections.
Still, a fairly elected Muslim president would be a boon for the nation. Such a leader, analysts argue, would ironically have a better chance of satisfying the Christian insurgents than the outgoing president, Olusegun Obasanjo—himself a Christian—did, because he'll be better positioned to win concessions from the predominantly Muslim Parliament on the south's behalf. He'll also recognize that placating the oil-rich south is the only way to keep federal money flowing to the impoverished (Muslim) north. With all three candidates emphasizing the need to eradicate corruption, Nigeria could finally get the kind of government it deserves.
Russia: A Bigger Belarus?
Russian president Vladimir Putin is popular—his approval rating is a staggering 72 percent—but that hasn't kept him from growing paranoid. Moscow's authoritarian crackdown is beginning to invite comparisons with its least scrupulous neighbors. Last month, in the central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, an estimated 20,000 riot police gathered to stop a tiny anti-Putin protest of just 150 people, most of whom were arrested—overkill of a sort favored by Putin's ally Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus. An upcoming opposition rally in Moscow is expected to get similar treatment. Contrast that with Ukraine, where peaceful protesters gathered freely earlier this month in Kiev after Parliament was dissolved and snap elections were called. Apparently wary of people power on its doorstep, Moscow condemned the proceedings. "The scenes in Ukraine are chaotic and ridiculous," stormed the Russian Tvoi Den newspaper—which, like most of Russia's press, now toes the Kremlin's line. Chaotic, perhaps. But it's called democracy, which Russia increasingly lacks.
By the Numbers
Fears of a "Big Brother" society are sweeping Britain, thanks to plans to allow authorities to vocally reprimand miscreants through CCTV monitors. Are the Brits overreacting?
4.2: The estimated number, in millions, of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in Britain 6.5: The estimated number, in millions, of closed-circuit television cameras in the rest of Western Europe* 3: The estimated number, in millions, of closed-circuit television cameras in all of Asia* 2: The estimated number, in millions, of CCTV cameras in Australia, Africa and the Middle East combined*
Watching an 11-hour nature documentary sounds like homework. But "Planet Earth," the Discovery Channel's new wildlife series that globe-trots from jungles to polar ice caps, is anything but. The Discovery Channel partnered with the BBC, spending more than $1 million per episode, a fortune for nature docs. Executive producer Alastair Fothergill's team used innovations like the heligimble—a motion-stabilized camera mounted on the belly of a helicopter—to record wild dogs on a hunt, from start to suppertime. In another mesmerizing sequence, infrared cameras document a behavior never before captured on film: a pride of lions taking down an elephant in the dead of night. "It was like bearing witness to some awful event through a soundproof window," says producer Jonny Keeling, who was on site. One more killer shot: a great white shark exploding out of the sea and chomping a seal in midair. The attack took one second in real time, but the HD cameras stretch it out to a full minute without compromising a pixel of resolution.
"Planet Earth" isn't just 11 hours of animals eating each other. Other moments have a quiet majesty, such as rare footage of a Himalayan snow leopard. The animal, says Fothergill, "is the holy grail of wildlife filmmaking." His documentary might just warrant that title too.
Fact or Fiction
Gender equality may have its downsides. Researchers at the Swedish National Institute of Public Health compared data across their country—one of the most egalitarian in the world—and found that parity between the sexes may be detrimental to our health.
Love of a Lover
Don Juan has returned. Seville is paying tribute to the legendary lothario this year with opera and theater performances, films and academic lectures. A three-month run of José Zorilla's "Don Juan Tenorio" kicked off the proceedings in January. Opera aficionados can take in Salvador Távora's "Don Juan in the Bullring" at the Real Maestranza de Cabellería, while the more modern Don Juan fan will likely opt for a screening of "Don Juan in the History of Cinema."
The mythical lover and Seville will always share a special connection. It was in this Spanish city that he seduced the daughter of the local military commander, killed him in a duel and, in an extraordinary stroke of bad luck, was dragged down to hell. "Don Juan is more than a literary character, he's part of our psyche," says Douglas Carlton Abrams, the American author of the upcoming "The Lost Diary of Don Juan" and adopted son of Seville—in March he and members of the town's tourism board led visitors on a geographical tour of his novel.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Alberta showed that DCA, or dichloroacetic acid, can shrink several types of tumors in rats. This has prompted a growing number of cancer patients to purchase the drug online. Never mind that taking DCA—which is a widely used laboratory chemical—can result in severe internal burns, as well as nerve damage that can hamper one's ability to walk and speak.