Beyond the county: Fear lingers following Paris attacks, Middle East sees double standard in sympathy |

Beyond the county: Fear lingers following Paris attacks, Middle East sees double standard in sympathy

People gather in front of Le Carillon cafe, a site of the recent attacks, in Paris, Monday Nov. 16, 2015. French President Francois Hollande says the Paris attacks targeted "youth in all its diversity" and that the victims were of 19 different nationalities. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Paris returns to work with defiance, determination and worry

PARIS — After a weekend of horror, Paris returned to the routines of the work week Monday with determination, defiance — and worry.

Rush-hour subway trains were full, shops were open, and office workers lined up for sandwiches or ate lunch on cafe terraces.

But this is also now a city dotted with makeshift shrines: carpets of flowers and candles, photos of lost loved ones and handwritten notes near the spots where gunmen and suicide bombers killed 129 people enjoying a fall Friday evening in the city.

Parisians stopped by throughout the day to honor the dead, many vowing that their city would remain its incomparable self — the sensual, tolerant, life-loving metropolis of the world’s imagination.

“I am afraid, but not enough to stay at home, not moving,” said Stephanie Cohen, a bank employee from suburban Paris. “We have just to pray and say we are going to live — more and more and more.”

Others worried that the attacks would change Paris forever.

“I was there (in New York) when 9/11 happened, and to tell you the truth it did change my life,” said Gary Berrios, a student originally from New York. “It changed everyone’s life. We don’t see the world the same way anymore.”

At the Place de la Republique in the heart of the city, a monument to France stood surrounded by flowers, candles and notes. Handwritten cards had been left in French and English, Polish and Vietnamese — a reminder that Paris is a city that the world has taken to its heart.

“Love will conquer,” said more than one sign — a vow, or maybe a wish, from the City of Love.

Outside the Bataclan theater, where 89 people died when attackers gunned down young concertgoers, a banner vowed: “Freedom is an indestructible monument.”

There and outside the bars and restaurants where dozens more died, residents paused to lay flowers, light candles or simply stand quietly. Even as the bustle of everyday life reasserted itself, Paris was a city of thousands of silent prayers — and, with emotions running close to the surface, hundreds of heated arguments.

The attacks have unleashed a torrent of debate about France’s essential values and its self-image.

Near the Bataclan, Parisians of all ages and races argued Monday about the role of religion and the limits of tolerance. “Muslim killers!” yelled one man, who was largely ignored. An imam from a Paris mosque arrived to pay his respects, saying Muslims, too, are among the victims of the Islamic State group.

A man cycled by, pulling a baby grand piano. When he stopped to play John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the arguments broke up.

Paris this week is a febrile place, easily moved to tears, compassion or panic. Late Sunday, the crowds in Place de la Republique scattered in panic, scared by fireworks that sounded like gunshots.

By Monday, the mood in the square was once again resolute.

Even municipal information boards projected determination alongside emergency phone numbers, beaming out the city’s achingly apt motto, “Fluctuat nec mergitur”: Tossed by the waves but not sunk.

—Associated Press

Brown says refugees to Calif. will be vetted

SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Jerry Brown says he’ll work closely with President Barack Obama to ensure any Syrian refugees coming to California are “fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way.”

In an emailed statement to The Associated Press, the Democratic governor says the state can help uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum while also protecting Californians.

Several U.S. governors are threatening to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees into their states in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks in Paris. An immigration expert says states have no legal authority to reject refugees.

The Refugee Processing Center says 218 Syrian refugees have arrived in California this year.

— Associated Press

As world mourns Paris, many in Mideast see double-standard

BAGHDAD — Within hours of the last week’s Paris attacks, as outrage and sympathy flooded his social media feeds and filled the airwaves, Baghdad resident Ali al-Makhzomy updated his Facebook cover photo to read “solidarity” — and his friends were shocked.

“Everyone was like why are you posting about Paris and not about the attacks in Baghdad every day,” the recent law school graduate said. “A lot of my friends said, ‘ok, so you care more about them than you care about us?’”

He had unintentionally tapped into frustration in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria with what many see as a double-standard: The world unites in outrage and sympathy when the Islamic State group kills Westerners, but pays little attention to the near-daily atrocities it carries out in the Middle East.

The day before the Paris attacks, twin suicide bombers struck a southern Beirut suburb, killing at least 43 people, and on Friday a suicide bomber struck a funeral in Iraq, killing at least 21. Both attacks were claimed by the IS group and reported by major media outlets, but generated little interest outside the region, where the turmoil of recent years has made such events seem like a sadly regular occurrence.

Baghdad has seen near-daily attacks in recent years, mainly targeting the security forces and the country’s Shiite majority. Bombings killed an average of more than 90 civilians a month last year, according to Iraq Body Count, a U.K.-based group that documents civilian deaths in Iraq.

The civil war in neighboring Syria has killed 250,000 people since 2011. There, government warplanes regularly carry out raids using so-called barrel bombs that demolish entire apartment blocks and insurgent groups shell government-held neighborhoods.

Lebanon, however, had been relatively calm for the past year, leading many to feel that last week’s tragedy was unfairly neglected. Many were angered by Facebook’s deployment of a new feature in the wake of the Paris attacks that allowed users to check in and say they were safe. The feature was not available for the Beirut attacks.

“‘We’ don’t get a safe button on Facebook,” Lebanese blogger Joey Ayoub wrote. “‘We’ don’t get late night statements from the most powerful men and women alive and millions of online users.”

Facebook released a statement saying it had previously only used the Safety Check feature after natural disasters and said it would be used for “other serious and tragic incidents in the future.”

But it added that “during an ongoing crisis, like war or epidemic, Safety Check in its current form is not that useful for people: because there isn’t a clear start or end point and, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when someone is truly ‘safe.’”

Al-Makhzomy said the feature wouldn’t be quite as useful in Iraq.

“In Baghdad it’s not just like one attack,” he said. “You would need to have a date on the safety check, like I’m safe from this one or that one… There are too many for just ‘I’m Safe.’”

Lebanese write Najib Mitri said he hoped that as the West mourns those killed in Paris it remembers that the IS group also targets Muslim civilians. “ISIS is the same for everyone,” he said, using another acronym for the group. “They aren’t just attacking the West.”

He said he was more frustrated by the response of many in the Middle East.

“I’m not angry at (the media) or Europeans at all. I’m irritated by Lebanese and Arabs who are more saddened by Paris than by the fact their own home cities are being destroyed.”

“The fault here,” he said, “isn’t that the West doesn’t care about us, it’s that we don’t care about ourselves in the first place.”

Al-Makhzomy, the young lawyer from Baghdad, blames Iraq’s violence on his own government.

“They are the ones who really don’t care about the Iraqi people and allow this security situation to continue,” he said. “And when I read the news, personally, I don’t see any difference if it’s French or Lebanese or Iraqi, it’s just about being a human being. They are attacking humanity, that’s it.”

—Associated Press

Google antsy as California slow on self-driving car rules

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Hustling to bring cars that drive themselves to a road near you, Google finds itself somewhere that has frustrated many before: Waiting on the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The tech titan wants the freedom to give the public access to self-driving prototypes it has been testing on public roads since the summer. Before granting that permission, California regulators want Google to prove these cars of the future already drive as safely as people.

The Department of Motor Vehicles was supposed to write precedent-setting rules of the road by last Jan. 1. Nearly a year later, it is still struggling. After all, the agency is geared to administering driving tests and registering cars, not settling complicated questions the technology raises.

If the cars’ advanced sensors and computing power can drive better than humans, do they need a steering wheel and pedals? Would a person even need to be inside? Google says no on both.

Regulators don’t want to be blamed for unnecessarily stalling the arrival of robo-chauffeurs that can see farther, react faster and don’t text, speed or fall asleep. They’ve implored Google and traditional automakers also developing the technology to share safety data, but companies in competition don’t willingly reveal trade secrets.

Delay is not what Google had in mind when it pushed the 2012 legislation that made California one of the few states officially to authorize self-driving cars. Google’s hope was to trade the independence to innovate without government oversight for regulatory certainty.

Three years later, both a company that abhors bureaucracy and a DMV struggling to write rules beyond its expertise are exasperated.

While self-driving cars are not close to being widely available, Google hinted in 2014 it wanted to get self-driving cars into public hands as early as 2016, probably starting with employees outside its small corps of self-driving car experts.

More recently, the project’s leader, Chris Urmson, has said he doesn’t want his eldest son to need a driver’s license when he turns 16 in 3-1/2 years.

The bubble-shaped, two-seater prototype can’t go anywhere, any time. It is limited to places Google has surveyed in far greater detail than its online maps. It can’t handle fog or snow. Top speed: 25 mph.

Google’s 73 cars are among the 98 test vehicles that California’s DMV has given 10 companies permission to test publicly.

Though trained test drivers must sit behind the wheel, Google wants to remove the wheel and pedals for the general public. Its argument: It would be safer to take all control away than expect a person to snap safely to attention in an emergency.

As a famously data-driven company, Google proposes a composite sketch of evidence would show its cars are safe.

Each day, Google runs more than 3 million miles of computerized driving simulations. Engineers devise challenging real-world situations, then see how the cars respond. A “functional safety analysis” assesses what hardware or software might fail and how to minimize those risks.

Public road testing is the last piece. Google reports its cars have been involved in 17 collisions over 2.2 million miles of testing, nearly 1.3 million miles in self-driving mode. While that accident rate appears to be higher than for human drivers (though Google disputes that), accident summaries Google has published say its cars did not cause any accident.

Google has pressed California’s DMV to publish regulations far harder than any other company.

“Our team is concerned about the delay,” according to an invitation for a conference call last December that Google sent California officials, who released it under a public records act request.

Both before and after, Google representatives consistently checked with officials at the DMV and California State Transportation Agency about the status of rules. State officials have trooped from Sacramento to Silicon Valley for test rides, while Google’s technical experts and lobbyists have headed to the capital for briefings or talks about regulation writing.

“The worst thing would be for California, sort of the birth state of this technology, to accidentally sort of shut things down,” Sarah Hunter, public policy director at the experimental lab Google spun off to focus on ambitious projects such as self-driving cars and Internet-beaming balloons, said at a public presentation in September.

Shortly before, she jokingly jabbed a co-panelist who is the top DMV self-driving car official. Asked when self-driving technology would be “mainstream,” Hunter responded: “Whenever the DMV pass their operational regulations.”

There’s frustration to go around.

At the DMV, officials have pleaded for input from Google and traditional automakers to help set a clear, objective safety standard. At a meeting in May in Washington, traditional automakers joined Google in voicing concern that regulation — particularly in California — could stifle innovation.

There are no federal regulations on self-driving cars.

Still, California officials are “taking cues” from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the state’s secretary of transportation, Brian Kelly. NHTSA’s official position holds that any state which authorizes self-driving cars should require a licensed driver who can take control.

“My sense of it is we’re getting a go-slow message from the federal government,” Kelly said. He said that made sense for safety, but as a state famous for innovation, “we want to work through some of those sticky issues.” He hopes the DMV will publish draft rules for public input by year’s end.

In interviews, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind and his boss, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, said they support the technology for its life-saving potential but that the federal government’s message to California was “go safe” in its regulation writing. Intriguing as that potential may be, California should not hastily write new regulations, despite “pressure” to do so, Rosekind wrote DMV Director Jean Shiomoto in April.

Over the summer, Google expanded its road testing from Silicon Valley to Texas, where state law would not obviously prohibit cars without pedals and a wheel. Some within California’s DMV wondered whether Google’s move was motivated by frustration with its home state.

—Associated Press

One Graph Shows El Niño’s New Record

This year’s El Niño officially climbed to the top of the record books (at least by one measure).

Weekly data published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that the region of the Pacific generally used to gauge El Niño’s strength has officially surpassed the 1997-98 super El Niño in terms of warmth.

The hot waters in the Pacific are helping drive up temperatures globally as well as affect the world’s weather. This year has been on the fast track to the hottest year on record and the new Niño heat is only likely to crank the heat up even further.

The region in question, called the Nino 3.4 region, is now running an unheard of 5.4°F (3°C) above normal. That tops the previous weekly record of 5°F (2.8°C) set by the 1997-98 event. It remains to be seen if this is the peak and if so, how long it lasts.

Regardless, the impacts of El Niño are being felt in some part of the globe. Indonesia’s fires, heavy precipitation in the southern tier of the U.S., and record warmth around the globe are all telltale signs of how El Niño usually influences weather.

In the U.S., the winter outlook also further shows El Niño is likely to continue exerting its influence with the increased likelihood of cool, unsettled weather from the Southwest to the Southeast and warm conditions in the northern portion of the country.

While everybody loves a good record, it’s worth keeping any debate about the strongest El Niño on record in perspective. The Nino 3.4 region is an important one to monitor in terms of global impacts, but it’s only one of a handful of regions scientists monitor to assess El Niño’s strength and characteristics. Areas off the coast of Peru and the far eastern Pacific were warmer during the 1997-98 El Niño. It also remains to be seen if this year’s event will set an all-time monthly or seasonal record, which would bolster its case for strongest, biggest or whatever-ist on record.

—Associated Press

Palestinian official: Gaza border deal reached with Egypt

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A senior Palestinian official says the Palestinian Authority has reached an agreement with Egypt to reopen the Gaza Strip’s main border crossing, bypassing the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Azzam al-Ahmad, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Monday the deal was recently reached in Cairo. He said it aims to open the Rafah crossing “to the maximum possible” to allow the movement of students, laborers, medical patients and even commercial goods.

Such a deal could bring great relief to Gaza, the borders of which are largely sealed by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. It could also mark a setback for Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from Abbas in 2007.

However, Hamas is giving the plan a cool reception, raising questions about its viability.

There was no immediate Egyptian comment.

—Associated Press

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