Chatter: It's all talk on Syria




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Still talking about Syria. It's day two of an emergency summit in Geneva between the US and Russia, and the countries' top diplomats are doing their best to put a positive spin on it. Talks have proved "constructive" so far, says US Secretary of State John Kerry, who promises he's working hard with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to find the "common ground."

Discussions in the Swiss mountains are all well and good, but has anything been, you know, done? The only definite move came from, of all people, the Syrian president himself, who said yesterday that he'd signed his country up to the international chemical weapons convention. Russia's President Vladimir Putin has hailed the announcement as an "important step" that shows Bashar al-Assad's "serious intention" to appease those itching to take away his toxic toys.

Then again, perhaps Assad's got some hiding places: reports today claim that the Syrian military has begun scattering its chemical weapons over as many as 50 sites a bid to keep them hidden from whatever international inspectors eventually come to take an inventory — if they ever do. If anyone can agree. If Kerry and Lavrov reach that "common ground." Meetings are expected to continue into the weekend.


Death in Delhi. An Indian judge has delivered the sentence for four men convicted this week of the infamous Delhi gang rape: death. Reporters in the courtroom say a cheer went up as the maximum penalty was pronounced, amid cries from the crowds outside for the four men to hang.

Prosecutors say it's a just punishment for an exceptionally brutal attack. The defense — and human rights activists — say it's legally questionable, with more to do with nervous politicians' drive to appease the public's fury over the case than due process. Lawyers for the four men have already said they'll appeal both the convictions and the sentence in India's highest courts, a process that could take years. They're dead men walking, but they'll keep walking for a while yet.

A consulate attack. Heavily armed attackers launched an assault on a US consulate in western Afghanistan at dawn today, triggering a car bomb and gun battle that left attackers and security staff dead. Guards and police managed to secure the consulate in Herat within hours, but not before at least Afghans protecting the compound had been killed and several others wounded.  

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. Though there were no US casualties, the militants said their strike on such a high-profile and fortified target would "show the Americans that they are not safe anywhere in this country."

Burning down the hospital. Nearly 40 people are feared dead after a fire at a psychiatric hospital in northwest Russia, possibly started accidentally by one of the patients. Police are searching for several patients still missing, some of whom are said to be severely ill.

As firefighters pick through the ruins of a building recently declared unfit for use by emergency authorities, observers can't help but remember that today's fire is already the second of its kind this year. Thirty-eight psychiatric patients died in a blaze in April; while fires at facilities including a drug rehabilitation clinic and old people's homes have killed dozens of vulnerable inmates since 2006. According to critics, they're paying the price of years of neglect, corruption and cost-cutting that has left many of Russia's state institutions in a dire, even dangerous, state. 


Survival of the prettiest. Time and again, nature proves that life's a beauty contest: from the absurdly fancy colors sported by courting males of every species, to the preservation efforts dedicated to the endangered animals who just happen to be the world's fluffiest (who seriously believes giant pandas would have a hope if they weren't so darn cute?), looks matter.

That's why the creatures that only a mother could love so often fall between the conservation cracks. And least cooed over of them all is the blobfish, for reasons that, well, should be obvious in seeing its portrait. The floppy fish has just been voted the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, a group first founded as a joke but now with the admirable aim of helping out the "aesthetically challenged" endangered species that could do with some more love. Great. If we promise to make a donation, can we stop looking at that blobfish yet?