- Turkey’s NATO leverage on Sweden and Finland
- Chinese tattoo ban and a patriotic twist
- Wearable pet fans
- … and much more. Note to readers: Our newsletter team will be taking a brief summer break. Worldcrunch Today will resume Aug 16. In the meantime, we invite you to follow our continuing regular coverage at the Worldcrunch website.
From Kabul To Taipei, History Returns And Refracts
Once you’ve reached 50, history begins to (also) be lived history. Decades have passed, times have changed, the people and problems making history have come and gone — and then, of course, they sometimes return.
This past week, virtually lost in a non-stop zig-zag between Moscow and Kyiv, Beijing and Taipei, was the news from Kabul that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, had been killed Sunday in a U.S. drone strike.
There were the requisite front-page news reports that retraced the history of the Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri's founding of the Islamic terror network with Osama bin Laden, and plotting the 9/11 attacks. That he was tracked down in Kabul — apparently convinced of his safety with the Taliban again running Afghanistan — was also a reminder that there are people and forces (on all sides of a conflict) that continue to hammer away even after the rest of us have turned elsewhere.
For those who lived through that decade when Al-Qaeda and the West’s war on terrorism were an existential obsession, the passing news flash was mostly a reminder of how far away it all now seems. And quickly, we redirect our attention back to the troubles of the moment.
And does it look any different if you find yourself passing your own half-century mark? Perhaps you start to see history, while never repeating, always finding a way to return. The defining conflict since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 looks something like a refracted version of the Cold War world we were born into, though never fully experienced: a big power showdown of East and West, Moscow and Washington trading recriminations and discussing prisoner swaps — the nuclear threat lurking again.
But this week, for the first time since the war in Ukraine began, much of our attention was focused elsewhere. Farther east. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan may someday be regarded as a turning point in the West’s approach to China.
After nearly a decade of an expressly careful response to the authoritarian Chinese path to superpower status, Pelosi seemed to defy the U.S. foreign policy establishment in making a highly symbolic visit to Taiwan, which China doesn’t even regard as a nation.
Taiwanese political analyst Lin Zi-li, writing in the Chinese-language media The Initium, unpacked the 82-year-old Speaker’s visit in both geopolitical and personal terms: “The question of why Pelosi insisted on visiting Taiwan despite warnings from China begins to show what drives her, and what's at stake. Her trip was a critique of China's growing ability to shape the international order.”
Lin noted that China and its repressive regime is not a new topic for Pelosi, who made a high-profile trip to Beijing back in 1991. The then junior member of Congress, along with two other lawmakers, used their visit to protest the crackdown two years earlier in Tiananmen Square, unfurling a black banner dedicated “to the martyrs" who died for the cause of democracy in China. She was quickly detained by Chinese authorities — and has been hammering away ever since, counting plenty of both Chinese-Americans and Taiwanese-Americans among her California constituents.
Looking back through the refractions of history, how did the world look to Nancy Pelosi when she decided to take a stand in Beijing? Born in the early days of World War II, she had grown up through the heart of the Cold War, which was finally coming to a hopeful end. A proudly undemocratic and potentially powerful China was beginning to take form. She was 51 years old.
— Jeff Israely
What do you remember from the news this week?
1. How did China retaliate after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan?
2. In their first direct conversation since the start of the Ukraine War, what was the main topic discussed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken?
3. Which country fully reopened for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020?
4. An airline passenger traveling from Indonesia to Australia was fined $1,874 after the authorities found undeclared goods in his luggage. What was it? Three slices of pizza / two McMuffins / a chocolate cake
[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]
U.S. singer Taylor Swift has become the target of tweets, memes and TikTok videos mocking her spokeperson’s response to a report that had accused the artist of being the worst celebrity polluter with a private jet. British digital marketing firm Yard released an analysis of data from automated flight tracker Celebrity Jets, which found that Swift’s jet had taken 170 trips since the beginning of 2022, releasing 8,293.54 tons of CO2 emissions — 1,184.8 times the average person’s carbon footprint. The artist’s representative said Swift wasn’t solely responsible for the carbon emissions as the plane was “loaned out regularly to other individuals,” prompting criticism and mockery on social media.
• Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan’s Human Rights Museum: As part of her controversial visit to Taiwan, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the National Human Rights Museum in Taipei, where she met with activists who fought for democracy and human rights, including Tiananmen Square activist Wu'er Kaixi. She said she left “inspired by their courage.”
• Teen artist gets his own portrait on a Mexico mural: A 13-year-old British artist named Noah, who suffers from hydrocephalus, epilepsy and cerebral palsy, painted backgrounds to be completed by street artists from all over the world during the pandemic and raised £160,000 for his local hospital. Edgar Cortina, a street artist from Mexico who was involved in the project, has now immortalized Noah on a mural in the city of Pueblo, Mexico.
• Death of Nichelle Nichols: Trailblazing U.S. actress and singer Nichelle Nichols has died at the age of 89. With her groundbreaking role as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek franchise, she became one of the first Black women to have a leading role on television.
• Start of 75th Fringe Festival in Edinburgh: After a two-year disruption due to the pandemic, Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival has returned full-size to the Scottish capital for its 75th edition. In total, 49,827 performers from 58 countries will fill the city with more than 3,000 shows, including acts by Sir Ian McKellen and Frankie Boyle.
• Pa Salieu dropped from Commonwealth Games closing ceremony: British rapper Pa Salieu has been removed from the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, which will be held in Birmingham on Monday night, due to a “failed background check.” The singer had been involved in a mass brawl but was acquitted in March. He has frequently denounced the violence in his hometown of Coventry through his music.
Sweden and Finland are getting closer to joining NATO, with the ratification still pending in seven countries. But all eyes will now be on just one: Turkey. Both Nordic countries have criticized Turkey in the past for its human rights violations against Kurds, prompting many to fear that since NATO cannot accept new members without the green light of all its member states, Helsinki and Stockholm will have no other choice than to listen to Ankara’s demands. The three parties signed a trilateral memorandum to addressing Turkey’s requests for deportation or extradition of terror suspects — something from which the country could try to squeeze as much diplomatic leverage as possible.
Read the full story: Why Turkey Could Still Block NATO Membership For Sweden And Finland
Around half of the forest area burned in Spain in 2022 is located in the northwestern province of Zamora, with some estimates indicating a record surface of 60,000 hectares burned in July due to droughts and extreme temperatures. La Marea reporter Cristina García Casado visits the town of Tábara, where many locals disregarded the Civil Guard's eviction order and stayed behind to defend their houses, their crops and their animals. “I am not going to leave my house, as they asked us, and the next day come and lie down in the ashes,” a farm worker from the area told the journalist.
Read the full story: Who Will Be Left? A Message From The "Inextinguishable" Fires Of Zamora
In June, China's State Council announced new measures targeting the showcasing of tattoos in public media, forbidding publications, films and television programs from encouraging or abetting minors to get tattoos. The Chinese government had already banned entertainment artists with tattoos from appearing on TV shows back in 2018, describing them as people who were “alienated from the Party and the country.” While the majority of the Chinese public agree with these new regulations, particularly for minors, some are contesting the ban on tattoos itself, “stating that tattooing has always been part of Chinese traditional culture and passed down through history,” writes Chung Kin Wah in Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium.
Read the full story: China's Tattoo Crackdown: Celebrity, Subversion And A Twist Of Patriotism
As part of the “EMR Food Screening” European project, German, Belgian and Dutch scientists developed a biosensor that immediately quantifies the level of vitamins you get in fruits and vegetables in the fields. The device, which has been used on cucumbers, would give farmers vital information on the nutritional quality of the food they produce.
For 9,900 yens (or $74), Japanese pet owners can pick up a wearable fan for their cat or dog. The Japanese clothing maker Sweet Mommy partnered with vets to develop these products that help keep pets cool during the summer heat. “I usually use dry ice packs. But I think it's easier to walk my dog if we have this fan,” one dog owner said.
• According to a UN official, around 30,000 tons of food aid could be shipped out of Ukraine ports starting early next week. The grain will finally be able to leave the country after a diplomatic agreement between the UN, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey and the reopening of three ports in the war-torn country. This will be the first shipment out of the country of humanitarian aid since the war began on February 24.
• Kenya will be electing a new president on August 9. The voters will be heading to the polls for the 2022 General Elections, also voting to elect members of the National Assembly, and members of the Kenyan Senate.
• The Roscosmos space agency announced that Russia will launch a satellite in space on behalf of Iran on August 9. The “Khayyam” satellite will be able to spy on sensitive facilities in the Middle East.
News quiz answers:
1. China launched missiles in the Taiwan Strait as part of unprecedented live-fire military exercises as a response to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
2. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed a prisoner swap, as basketball star Brittney Griner faces prison time in Moscow for drug smuggling.
3. New Zealand’s borders fully reopened to visitors from around the world after having progressively eased its restrictions first for New Zealanders last February.
4. Customs at Australia’s Darwin Airport found two undeclared egg and beef sausage McMuffins and a ham croissant in the traveler’s luggage, days after Australian authorities brought in tough new biosecurity rules.
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