Politics

Chatter: UN votes while Damascus burns

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Need to know:
Damascus is burning. Syrian state TV is reporting that a national security building has been struck by a suicide bomber; while elsewhere in the capital, a barracks overlooking the presidential palace is said to be on fire.

This, as the UN Security Council prepares to vote today on whether to take a tougher stance on Syria.

The US and European allies want a resolution that would tell the Syrian government to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from the streets, or face sanctions. Russia, however, is opposed to even the threat of penalising its former ally and arms customer. With China none too keen either, the chances of joint action look slim.

What's certain is that the UN monitor mission's mandate in Syria expires on Friday – and one way or another, the council must decide by then whether or not to continue observing the crisis.

Want to know:
Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela.

One of our all-time best people turns 94 today. He's not expected to appear in public, given his increasingly frail health; but that won't stop the rest of South Africa celebrating Mandela Day.

All 12 million South African schoolchildren began their day by singing a special birthday song, while charity initiatives are planned all over the country. July 18 is more than just a birthday, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation: it's a day to "inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better."

Dull but important:
As if "Outstanding Leader" weren't enough, Kim Jong Un now has a new title: Marshal of North Korea

The military rank, which was occupied by Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung before him, is pretty much the only one the latest Kim didn't have. It's the highest there is, and is seen as an attempt to cement the new leader's control over North Korea's vast army. The news has been greeted by North Koreans as a "great auspicious event," state media reliably informs us.

It follows the abrupt removal of former military chief Ri Yong Ho and appointment of new vice-marshal Hyong Yong Chol earlier this week.  

Just because:
Aung San Suu Kyi
 will visit the United States later this year, The Lady herself has confirmed.

It will be the first time Myanmar's foremost opposition leader has visited the US in more than 20 years. She'll be awarded the Atlantic Council's Global Citizen Award in New York on September 21, an honor reserved for "visionary global leaders."

Let's hope there's still room on her mantelpiece next to the Nobel Peace Prize, which she finally picked up in Norway last month, some two decades after winning it. If the welcome that Suu Kyi received on her European tour is anything to go by, she's in for a triumphant return to the US.

Strange but true:
Is that a concealed weapon in your pocket, or are you just the man with the world's largest penis?

Such are the questions America's trusty airport security agents must ask. And if to answer them you have to get a little handsy, well, these fine folk will do it. Just ask Jonah Falcon, proud owner of a very large... part, who was stopped for a pat-down at San Francisco International Airport when TSA agents spotted an unusual bulge in his pants.

"It was probably harder on them than it was on me," the well-endowed one commented. There are no flight restrictions on double entendres, we see.