First time since WW II, conflicts drive over 50m from homes; Tide may be turning against Amazon; Apple smart watch launch likely soon; India’s economic prosperity and patriarchy

1 First time since WW II, conflict drives over 50m from homes (Johannesburg Times) The number of people driven from their homes by conflict and crisis has topped 50 million for the first time since World War II, with Syria hardest hit, the UN refugee agency has said. The UNHCR said there were 51.2 million forcibly displaced people at the end of 2013, a full six million higher than the previous year.

The protracted Syria conflict was largely to blame for the increase. Since the war began in March 2011, a total of 2.5 million people have fled Syria, with 6.5 million more displaced inside the country. The Central African Republic and South Sudan crises also sparked new waves of displacement.

The UNHCR data covers three groups: refugees, asylum-seekers, and the internally displaced. Refugee numbers reached 16.7 million people worldwide, the highest since 2001. A total of 6.3 million have been exiled for over five years — that did not include five million Palestinians aided by the UN Relief and Works Agency, a separate body.

Overall, the biggest refugee populations under UNHCR care came from Afghanistan, Syrian and Somalia, who together form over half the global refugee total. The world’s top refugee hosts were Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon. With most refugees hosted by poorer countries, human rights campaigners Amnesty International said rich nations must do far more to shoulder the load.

2 Tide may be turning against Amazon (Juliette Garside in The Guardian) The list of household names – Blackberry, Nokia, HTC, Motorola – that have almost bankrupted themselves trying to make a hit smartphone is long, but this week Amazon became the latest tech company to take on the challenge.

Jeff Bezos stepped on stage in Seattle to unveil his Fire Phone, with his mother in the audience. However, few expect it to take sales away from the two brands that now dominate mobile: Apple and Samsung. “This sequence of crazy initiatives in areas where they have no competitive advantage is about sustaining an unsustainable stock price,” says Bruce Greenwald, professor of finance and asset management at Columbia Business School, who is betting on Amazon shares falling.

In recent years Amazon has moved from media to general goods retailing. On the west coast of America, it sells fresh food. Through Amazon web services, it rents out server space. It publishes books, and is also making TV shows. Bezos is famous for saying you earn a reputation by doing “hard things well”. But there are those who believe Amazon is now trying to do too many hard things at once.

Today, it is Amazon’s business that is being disrupted. The company that has made Bezos the world’s 18th-richest man, with a personal fortune of $30bn, is now 20 years old and is being threatened by the very medium from which it evolved – the internet.

3 Apple smart watch launch likely soon (San Francisco Chronicle) Apple is likely to launch a computerized wristwatch this fall that includes more than 10 sensors to take health measurements and other data, according to a report. The Wall Street Journal also said that Apple Inc. is planning multiple screen sizes for the device, which some people have dubbed the iWatch.

Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm and others have already released smartwatches, but the gadgets have mostly functioned as companions to smartphones, offering email notifications, clock functions and the like. Samsung’s Gear 2 line, released this year, added fitness-related apps and has a heart rate sensor.

There’s been longstanding speculation that Apple has been working on a smartwatch. Apple has been under pressure to release new products, as investors question whether the company that popularized the smartphone and the tablet computer is still able to innovate following the death of co-founder Steve Jobs. CEO Tim Cook has hinted at new products coming this year, but the company hasn’t provided details. Apple declined comment in line with its policy of not discussing future products.

4 India’s economic prosperity and patriarchy (Khaleej Times) Nothing in India appears capable of halting the epidemic of women being raped. Preventive measures where they exist seem powerless to stop the abuse, which all too often has led to the assaulted victim being killed. Are these simply individual crimes or the products of societal malaise? Is India’s economic growth and the subsequent rise in economic inequality fostering such extreme behaviour? Are sections of what is a conservative society being subject to stresses that are rarely spoken of and undocumented?

Beyond such questions is the matter of how Indian women are perceived and treated in a country whose rapid economic growth can be construed as the product of a patriarchy. This may help explain the embarrassing series of absurd and contemptible statements made by regional Indian politicians in their attempts to explain away cases of rape. These men have attributed the clothes victims have worn, their morals and attitudes, their social and economic backgrounds as being cause enough to attract the attention of violent, rapacious and criminal assaulters.

Such assault and speech may have been curbed substantially had the criminal justice system in India delivered what it has promised to victims of rape and sexual assault. After the New Delhi gang-rape and murder, the government set up 73 ‘fast-track’ courts to try cases of sexual violence against women. This much-needed judicial reform has worked fitfully.  If India’s women are to find again a sense of security and independence in public and private, swift penalty must accompany social soul-searching.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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