Environment & Sciences / Society / The Week in Review / World News

What Did I Miss? The Week in Review #11

18 – 25 May 2015

The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, outraging, and heartwarming events and stories of the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author react strongly.

Picture of the Week

Agnes Varda at the closing ceremony of the 2015 Cannes Festival, where she was awarded a honorary Palme d’Or for her filmmaking career. ©AP

Agnes Varda at the closing ceremony of the 2015 Cannes Festival, where she was awarded a honorary Palme d’Or for her filmmaking career. ©AP

The Cannes Film Festival ended on Sunday with the most prestigious prize, the Palme d’Or, awarded to Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, a drama centered on 3 Sri Lankan immigrants trying to settle in France.

But amongst the other award recipients was also Agnès Varda, the legendary French filmmaker who greatly contributed to New Wave cinema. As she received her prize, she pointed out that contrary to previous recipients of the honorary Palme d’Or (such as Woody Allen and Bernardo Bertolucci), her films had never made money, and had not been watched by millions of people.

In another interview given before the ceremony, Varda also highlighted the importance for independent filmmakers –and female filmmakers in particular- to be financially supported so that their voices may also be heard:

“I have an entire bestiary of prizes with bears, dogs, etc. but people still don’t give me funding. As fishermen say, ‘A little less thanks, and a little more money!”.

Outraging News of the Week

Chinese drivers carry illegally logged wood in Mozambique. ©Jeroen van Loon/Le Monde

Chinese drivers carry illegally logged wood in Mozambique. ©Jeroen van Loon/Le Monde

In this insightful piece, Le Monde reports the ongoing deforestation that Mozambique is subjected to. The culprits? Chinese businessmen who don’t have any qualms cutting down hectares of native forests –including large amounts of rare and protected wood- to sell it for a lofty sum back in China.

This whole trade is illegal, but as Le Monde points out, the corruption of local policemen and officials make it almost easy for Chinese ‘investors’ to continue their dirty business without much trouble. At the current rate of deforestation, the hardwood forests of Mozambique could be leveled down in a few years. The Chinese businessman who talked openly about his business to Le Monde reporters didn’t seem very concerned about this dramatic ecological impact: “When there’s no wood left in here,” he commented laughingly, “I’ll go to another country where there’s still wood!”

On top of the obvious environmental damage that results from such practices, the hardwood business has left many locals with few options but to participate in the destruction of their own ecosystem; indeed, the Chinese pay ‘good’ salaries (compared to the national average) for local men to cut the trees for them. That means that not only does it make the local population take part in illegal activity with little if no protection, but also that people who used to take part in agricultural activities to feed their communities turn to a more financially profitable but much less sustainable livelihood.

Best Film I Saw This Week

The trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road is rather disconcerting for those of us who aren’t Mad Max enthusiasts… It’s loaded with insane-looking characters, packed with car chases and all kinds of guns and weapons, and it’s not unlike many Hollywood movies at first glance, with its handsome male lead and a bunch of scantily-clad young pretty (white) women. But then, the movie itself is amazingly rich in anti-patriarchy subtext, it’s visually stunning and imaginative, it’s subtly funny and outrageously ambitious, and there’s Charlize Theron being absolutely amazing in her grand role of Imperator Furiosa, alongside with Nicholas Hoult and Tom Hardy who are equally amazing in their roles.

And to conclude, let’s quote Charlize Theron’s who, in reply to a (uninspired) French journalist who asked her “You’ve got this rage within you, where does it come from?”, said: “Uh. Surprise! Women have that. I’m not the only one.”

Discovery of the Week

Rats may very well be more altruistic than was once thought… Photo ©Jessica Florence.

Rats may very well be more altruistic than was once thought… Photo ©Jessica Florence.

Rats may not be so prone to abandon a sinking ship, contrary to the popular saying. A study from the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan indeed showed that rats were highly likely to lend their cage-mates a helping paw.

A good account of the test to which the rats were subjected is provided by The Washington Post:

“For their test of altruistic behavior, the team devised an experimental box with two compartments divided by a transparent partition. On one side of the box, a rat was forced to swim in a pool of water, which it strongly disliked. Although not at risk of drowning — the animal could cling to a ledge — it did have to tread water for up to five minutes. The only way the rodent could escape its watery predicament was if a second rat — sitting safe on a platform — pushed open a small round door separating the two sides, letting the first rodent climb onto dry land.

Within a few days, the high-and-dry rats were regularly aiding their soaking companions by opening the door, the team reported in the journal Animal Cognition. They did not open the door when the pool was dry, confirming that the rats were responding to others’ distress rather than because they wanted company, Mason says.

Rats that had once been immersed learned how to save others much more quickly than those that had never been soaked, suggesting that empathy drove their behavior, she adds. ‘Not only does the rat recognize distress, but he is even more moved to act because he remembers being in that situation.’”

It seems that it’s high time to rethink our prejudices against rats!

Perplexing News of the Week

©Klaus Nigge, via Nationalgeographic.com

©Klaus Nigge, via Nationalgeographic.com

Kazakhstan’s saiga antelopes are dying in mass, and nobody really knows why. That’s what the Kazakh department for emergency situation has reported this week after they had to bury 19,000 dead saiga antelopes.

The initial findings seemed to suggest that the cause of these deaths could be the Pasteurella Bacteria, but the fact that massive amounts of antelopes have died in such a short time could indicate that the bacteria is not the only responsible –indeed the bacteria normally affects already weak or sick animals.

Local environmental activists claim that the real culprits are the highly toxic fuels used to power the rockets at the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome. But international experts are not convinced of the direct link between the animal casualties and the unarguably toxic components released by the rockets.

Read the whole story here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/21/kazakhstan-mass-antelope-death-mystery

Video of the Week

A intimist and eye-opening mini-documentary film about Elizabeth Petcu, a renowned flutist who lost her hearing, but continued to play thanks to a kind of synesthesia:

http://aeon.co/video/psychology/hearing-silence-on-music-hearing-loss-and-synesthesia/

Marion Bouvier

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