Chatter: Russia vs. France vs. Syria




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Syria's big whodunnit. Russia and France have raised the stakes in the world's big fat Syrian blame game. On the back of a United Nations report that the US and its allies say implicitly confirms that Syria's government was behind a chemical weapons attack last month, the French and Russian foreign ministers have very publicly disagreed over who they each think is holding the smoking gun.

At talks in Moscow this morning, France's Laurent Fabius said the report left no doubt that Damascus was responsible, only for Russia's Sergei Lavrov to insist there's still reason to believe Syrian rebels somehow launched a complex sarin attack themselves. It all bodes ill for the resolution that France and co. are trying to get the UN Security Council to agree on, which would threaten "serious" — read "military" — consequences if the Syrian government fails to declare its full chemical stockpile within a week. Who did it — and what's anyone else going to do about it?


American déjà vu. It's sickeningly familiar: a "good boy" who no one expected this from. A loner. Often angry. Ex-military, possibly traumatized. Fixated by guns. And a dozen people shot dead, and no reason that will ever justify it. 

In America's most recent gun tragedy, a former serviceman named Aaron Alexis went on a rampage in the US Navy Yard in Washington DC yesterday, hitting 12 people fatally before he, too, was shot and killed. His case was unique. Each life he stole was unique. But his crime wasn't. We can list all the mass shootings that have taken place in the US in recent years — we just can't tell you why they have. 

We never thought there'd be cheers for the Costa Concordia. But cheers there were, as an international team of engineers succeeded in hauling the wrecked cruise ship back upright in the early hours of this morning. Relieved locals — who have lived in the Concordia's shadow for the past 20 months — thanked the salvage crew as they completed the hardest stage of one of the most ambitious and expensive maritime recovery missions of all time.

The operation, begun yesterday morning, took a total of 19 hours, as engineers carefully winched the ship up from its side while trying to avoid straining its badly weakened hull. Watch the full, painstaking process condensed to a one-minute time lapse, here.

The Thai high. As illicit drugs go, Thailand's "kratom" plant is hardly ideal for thrill seekers. Those who chew its sour-tasting leaves — so we've heard — catch a rush a bit like the one you'd get from double shots of espresso, and that lasts just 20 minutes.

That hasn't stopped the media in Thailand and the US depicting a drug that's either mysteriously menacing or downright satanic. But as America grapples with a substance scare, Thailand is moving in the opposite direction: the country's justice minister is pushing to end a 70-year-old ban on kratom on the argument that the leaf could help wean Thais off meth, which has exploded in popularity across Southeast Asia. From Bangkok, GlobalPost reports on the jungle stimulant that could be Thailand's answer to addiction


Is this a space program or Buzzfeed we're running here? So Iranian scientists should be asking themselves after news that, months after it sent a monkey into space, Iran is contemplating launching a kitty to keep it company. A catronaut, if you will.

Iranian media reports that the country's space agency is planning to blast the  cat — a Persian, natch — into orbit by March 2014. A mouse and a rabbit are also in training to become the "lucky" animal picked, though the long-haired cat, with its fine Middle Eastern breeding, seems like the obvious choice. And just think how viral the footage will go. If we didn't know Iran's feelings about the internet better, we'd say it was just looking for its own meme.