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Old Folk v. Nature: 6 Endurance Conquests By World's Most Amazing Seniors
Society
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Old Folk v. Nature: 6 Endurance Conquests By World's Most Amazing Seniors

M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart just became the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail...at the ripe young age of 83. He is just one of many of the graying outdoor pioneers to set mind-boggling records that redefine staying power.

At 83, M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart has just become the oldest person to complete the Appalachian Trail, a 2,193-mile journey in the Eastern United States, setting off much well-deserved amazement among Americans.

Of course Eberhart is far from the first senior citizen to tackle a natural feat that virtually everyone, of any age, would never think of even trying. From mountain climbers to long-distance swimmers, here's a look at six hardcore adventurers to inspire young and old to get off the couch, and conquer the world...or at least go for a walk!

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at 89

Anne Lorimor on a training walk with her dog Kevan

imwatchinganne/Instagramimwatchinganne/Instagram


Anne Lorimor might not be a professional climber, but that didn't stop the Arizona woman from walking up and down the tallest free-standing mountain in only nine days. The great- grandmother is the oldest person to do so and in fact, it was the second time Lorimor climbed the almost 20,000-foot-tall Tanzanian mountain, the first back when she was a spry 85.

Although, after a slightly older man set a new age record, Lorimor knew she had to reclaim her title, and for a good cause. Her climb was a fundraiser for Creating Exciting Futures, a foundation she founded to aid disadvantaged youth. And she's not done yet: Lorimor has set her sights on hiking the Appalachian Trail, Machu Picchu and the Pacific Coast Trail.

Skiing to the North Pole at 77

A 1990 North Pole expedition

Matti&Keti/Wikipedia


Before his death in 2017 at age 95, Jack MacKenzie led an accomplished life, making more than 30 trips across the North Atlantic during World War II to bring aircraft to Britain and later helping set up Canada's pension system. He was inspired to trek to the North Pole after hearing a talk from Canadian explorer Richard Weber. Weber first took MacKenzie into the Canadian wilderness in midwinter to make sure he could handle an Arctic trip.

A Russian helicopter took the group to the 89th parallel, where they skied one degree, the equivalent of 100 kilometers, to reach the North Pole. Weber later told the Globe and Mail that MacKenzie handled skiing over ice ridges and near open water with ease, despite the negative 30 degree temperatures. Not to be outdone, then 71-year-old Zdenĕk Chvoj from the Czech Republic became the oldest person to ski to both the North and South Pole in January 2020.

Scaling El Capitan at 70

Dierdre Wolownick began climbing to connect with her son

dierdre_wolownick_honnold/Instagram


While extreme rock climber Alex Honnold might have garnered global attention for his death-defying stunts captured in the 2018 Academy award-winning documentary "Free Solo," his mother is now making a name for herself as an age-defying climber. On her 70th birthday earlier this year, Dierdre Wolownick climbed the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California, for the second time.

Wolownick started climbing a decade ago to better relate to her son and prepared for the climb up the granite rock face by training for 18 weeks. The former author, language teacher and musician tells the New York Times, "I learned how to suffer through all kinds of discomfort because what you get from it makes it worthwhile. It's the same for anybody who wants to follow a path of bliss. There's a lot of suffering. With climbing, you just have to deal."

Climbing Mount Everest at 80

Yuichiro Miura (right) and his son after they climbed Mount Everest in 2013

Sunil Pradhan/Xinhua/ZUMA


Japanese skier alpinist Yuichiro Miura has beaten his own Everest record three times, most recently reaching the peak of the world's highest mountain in 2013. Deemed the "grandfather of extreme skiing," Miura is the son of one of Japan's most famed skiers and made a name for himself taking on increasingly dangerous feats, first skiing down Mount Fuji in 1966 and then Everest in 1970. He skied with oxygen tanks and a parachute to slow down when he reached maximum velocity.

How does he stay calm through these life-threatening feats? Through practicing meditation to reach Mu, "a Zen-like feeling of nothingness." As Miura has gotten older, he's set his sites on traversing these mountains at a slightly slower speed, summiting Everest previously in 2003 and 2008 with his son, passing on the adventurous spirit to the next generation.

Swimming the English Channel at 73

Otto Thaning swam across the English Channel in 2014

William Cheaney/PA Wire/ZUMA


Otto Thaning, a heart surgeon from South Africa, decided to swim the approximately 21 miles separating England from the European continent to show what older people who stay in good health are capable of. While currents mean this journey often ends up being closer to 24 miles, Thaning said the hardest part was the cold waters, though he was particularly lucky to have an average temperature of a balmy 64°F the day he swam in September 2014.

It wasn't Thaning's first time across, having made the journey nearly 20 years earlier. Since Thaning's swim, Linda Ashmore, from the United Kingdom, became the oldest woman to swim across the channel at age 71 in 2018.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail at 83

Eberhart has been hiking ever since his retirement, 25 years ago.

Nimblewill Nomad


For M.J. "Sunny" Eberhart — who is from Alabama and is known by the trail name "Nimblewill Nomad" — serious hiking began after retiring as an optometrist more than 25 years ago, and hasn't slowed down since. While he's logged tens of thousands of miles, the Appalachian Trail provided a particular challenge over often precarious terrain from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, which he completed Sunday after beginning last February

"You've got to have an incredible resolve to do this," he said in an interview shortly before finishing.

Truth be told, the route was well short of the longest south-to-north journey for the aging hiker, who has previously walked 4,4000 miles from the Florida Keys to northern Quebec. He wrote about that hike in a book entitled, for anyone who's counting: Ten Million Steps.

Photo of a laptop on an office desk with an empty chair
Work In Progress
Rozena Crossman

Work → In Progress: Where Have All The Workers Gone?

Reams have been written about the shift to remote working. And yet, for many people, the more pressing issue right now isn't where, but how much they work.

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback: From the rise of the four-day work week to legally punishing overtime, the world is waking up to the importance of a balanced workload.

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Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin
In The News
Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Taliban End Game, Texas Protects Abortion Clinics, El Salvador’s Legal Bitcoin

Welcome to Tuesday, where the Taliban end game is playing out in Panjshir valley, the U.S. Justice Department vows to protect abortion clinics in Texas and El Salvador becomes the world's first country to authorize the use of bitcoin as legal currency. French daily Le Monde also looks at how artificial intelligence could make the dream of automatic live translation come true.


• Taliban says they took Panjshir, but resistance holds on: The Taliban say they have officially captured the Panjshir valley, north of Kabul as of Monday but resistance groups have vowed they would continue fighting. Meanwhile, protests taking place on the streets of Kabul were met with heavy gunfire as the Taliban tried to stop it.

• U.S. Justice Department to protect Texas abortion clinics: In response to Texas' recently enacted law that imposed a near-total ban on abortions, the U.S. Justice Department said it would not tolerate any attacks against people seeking or providing abortions in the State. A spokesman said they would provide protection via the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE).

• Maria Kolesnikova sentenced to 11 years in prison: Maria Kolesnikova, a Belarusian musician and prominent opposition figure, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. A Belarusian court had charged that Kolesnikova and another opposition activist, Maxim Znak, with extremism and conspiring to "seize state power in an unconstitutional way."

• German federal police also used Pegasus: The Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), the German federal police, secretly purchased the Pegasus spyware and used it for surveillance of suspects, German newspapers revealed. This follows revelations that the software had been used on a large scale in many countries, with some 50,000 politicians, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists spied on.

• COVID-19 update: In Vietnam, a man was jailed for five years after breaching the country's strict quarantine rules and passing the virus to at least eight other people. Meanwhile, Chile has just approved China's Sinovac vaccine for children as young as six — although those younger than 12 will not be vaccinated for a while.

• El Salvador first country to make Bitcoin legal currency: From today, businesses in El Salvador will be obliged where possible to accept the controversial blockchain-backed currency as payment as the country has just become the first to make Bitcoin a legal tender. Millions of people are expected to download the government's new digital wallet app which gives away $30 (€25) in Bitcoin to every citizen.

• Australian talking duck calls you a "bloody fool": According to a new study, Australian musk ducks can imitate human speech as first touted by the recording of a duck named Ripper saying "you bloody fool" that went viral. Ripper was four years old at the time of the recordings, which researchers say he picked up from his previous caretakers, and made his vocalizations during aggressive mating displays.


French daily Le Figaro pays tribute to iconic actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, the "Ace of Aces" (a reference to his 1982 hit movie) who died yesterday in Paris at age 88. After his breakout role in Jean-Luc Godart's high-brow New Wave staple "Breathless," Belmondo went on to become one of France's most famous actors, with roles in popular comedies and action films through the 1970s and 80s.

AI, translation and the holy grail of "natural language"

In the crucial area of translation, services such as Google Translate, which has expanded its offer to 104 languages, or the German competitor DeepL now make it possible to translate entire paragraphs in a coherent and fluid manner. The dream of a machine translating live conversations is now within reach, writes French daily Le Monde.

📲 The barriers between text and image are disappearing. With the augmented reality application Google Lens, students can scan a page from a textbook or a handwritten sentence with their smartphone and translate it or get additional information online. It's all because software has learned to recognize subjects in images. Tomorrow, we could launch a search with a photo, Google believes. The American company OpenAI is exploring the creation of images from a text description. Its DALL-E prototype offers disturbing representations of invented objects: an alarm clock in the shape of a peach, a pig lamp…

👀 These innovations help make digital technology more accessible to the disabled and illiterate. With the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology (Inria), Facebook is studying the simplification of forms, with pictograms and synonyms. In January, the company presented an automatic image description tool for the blind and visually impaired. Google has a voice recognition project for people with speech difficulties, called "Euphonia."

🤖 The prospects are promising, but also dizzying because these technologies will be used in headphones, in homes, in cars. The concerns have been gathered in an article co-authored by Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, two researchers in ethics whose dismissal by Google has caused controversy. The main concern is about the "biases" — racist, sexist, homophobic — that these softwares can reproduce, or even amplify, after training on masses of texts from the internet.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Report: U.S. arms abandoned in Afghanistan moved to Iran

Weaponry belonging to the Afghan army is moving into Iran, though it is not clear if it is smuggled, or moved in a deal between the Taliban and Iran's regime, Kayhan London reports.

With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, much of the U.S.-supplied military hardware formerly used by the country's armed forces have fallen into their hands. This terrorist group that ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and gave refuge to other terrorists, especially al-Qaeda, now has its hands on advanced military weaponry and know-how.

It has also become clear that neighboring Iran was keen and ready to get its own hands on this material, either to use directly or to copy the weapon design.

And this has happened amid reports that armaments including tanks and armored vehicles have been moved into Iran. Sources say Iranian dealers are particularly looking for arms and missiles the Americans abandoned in suspect circumstances, without destroying them.

It is not clear whether the Taliban or fugitive members of the armed forces are handing over the weaponry to the Islamic Republic of Iran, or if this is the work of middlemen exploiting the disorderly state of the country.

War booty is not the only thing moving into Iran though. Thousands of Afghan citizens have left their homes and towns, fleeing toward neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan.

These include the elderly and pregnant women, who are risking their lives on a desperate flight, though it seems they prefer this to living under the Taliban. Meanwhile, Western states are preparing for a new wave of refugees from Afghanistan, knowing that regional instability will push them toward Europe and beyond, even if they first pass through Pakistan, Iran or Turkey.

This is increasingly of concern to them as the refugee crisis may last a while, in spite of the contradictory positions of different Western countries, particularly those in the European Union.




$71.4 million

The first Asian superhero film by Marvel, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, broke the record for a Labor Day weekend opening and did better at the North American box office than predicted, collecting $71.4 million. With a predominantly East Asian cast, inspired by Chinese folklore, and several martial arts action sequences, the film is the latest sign that Hollywood is starting to listen to calls for more Asian representation on screen.



The people of Brazil have struggled for decades to secure democracy from military rule. Bolsonaro must not be permitted to rob them of it now.

— More than 150 left-leaning ministers, party leaders and former prime ministers wrote an open letter warning of a possible "coup" by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Ahead of Tuesday's Independence Day demonstrations and next year's national elections, Bolsonaro called his supporters to protest against the country's Supreme Court and Congress. The open letter (signed by the likes of former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and former UK Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn) declares that the rallies amount to a replay of the U.S. Capitol attack on January 6.



✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Auckland Stabbing Attack, U.S. Flood Toll Rises, ABBA’s Back
In The News
Meike Eijsberg, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Auckland Stabbing Attack, U.S. Flood Toll Rises, ABBA’s Back

Welcome to Friday, where a "terrorist attack" in New Zealand leaves at least six dead, the New York flooding toll multiplies and an iconic Swedish 70s disco band is making a comeback. Italian daily La Stampa also looks at the unlikely rise in China of gray-haired influencers trending on social media.

• New Zealand terror stabbings: A man believed to be linked to ISIS has stabbed and wounded six people in a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand. The attacker, who was known to the authorities, was shot and killed by police. Three of the wounded are in critical condition. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it as a "terrorist attack" and said the man was "a supporter of ISIS ideology."

• Japan's Prime Minister Suga to step down: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has announced he will not run for re-election as party leader this month thereby signalling the end of his tenure. His decision comes only a year after replacing longtime Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who stepped down for health reasons. Suga's popularity plummeted amid Japan's most recent wave of COVID cases and the fallout from the decision to go ahead with the Summer Olympics during the pandemic.

• Kabul airport reopens, fighting in holdout Afghan province: According to Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines, domestic flights from Kabul airport are set to resume Friday. There have been no flights to or from the airport since the Aug. 15 takeover by Taliban Islamist group. Meanwhile, heavy fighting has been reported between Taliban and thousands of opposition fighters in the Panjshir Valley, the last province to resist the takeover.

• New York flash floods: The death toll has risen to 45 in the flash floods that have hit the U.S. northeast, in the wake of Hurricane Ida. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the record rainfall "historic" and declared a state of emergency in the city, urging people to stay off the subway and roads.

• COVID-19 update: The EU and coronavirus vaccine-maker AstraZeneca have reached a deal, settling a row over a shortfall in vaccines that had affected the rollout in Europe earlier this year. North Korea has refused 2.97 million doses of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine, saying they should be sent to countries with worst outbreaks.

• NASA's Mars rover 2nd drill attempt: NASA's Perseverance rover has retrieved a rock sample on Mars after a previous attempt last month saw the sample crumble to dust. This time, a rock core was securely picked up; and if it is successfully delivered back to Earth, would be the first ever rock collection from another planet.

• New ABBA songs: They're still the dancing queens and kings, though far from being only seventeen … Iconic Swedish 70s disco band ABBA are making a surprise comeback with their first new songs in nearly 40 years. A new album and a virtual concert will follow.



"How India should deal with the Taliban," titles weekly magazine India Today, writing that it is "wise to negotiate with the new government of Afghanistan rather than boycott it."



Aging influencers, Chinese grandmas are social media hit

Imagine a 70-year-old Chinese version of Chiara Ferragni. Now multiply these "senior" Asian influencers by a dozen and you will have a snapshot of the new phenomenon that has hit social media in China. Grey is the new blond, a wise man once said, and old age is turning into a modern trend, with Chinese characteristics, writes Carlo Pizzati in Italian daily La Stampa.

👵 The aging divas are the stars of the feed dedicated to "Fashion Grandmothers" on the Chinese social network Douyin, the national version of Tik Tok. They call themselves "fashion_grannies" or "Glamma Beijing," playing on the Chinese pronunciation of the English words grandma and glamor. And they are quite something to see, wrapped up in traditional damask cheongsam, buttoned all the way up their neck or hopping in casual clothes of the latest fashion brands.

💄 What do glamor grandmothers do? Just like elderly Barbies, they are dressed, stylized and dolled up by squads of young designers, aestheticians and makeup artists before walking the catwalk in slow-motion videos, with sudden speed-ups to further show off the charisma of these trendy grandmas. "When I was young, I never wore makeup," says Sang Xiuzhan, a 75-year-old who spent 50 years living in Beijing. "My dream as a girl was to work in show business, but I had to become an engineer in the 1960s. We had to contribute to economic growth, not spending any time on the superfluous."

🤩 This reality is full of surprises that paint the picture of a strange return to the past, made possible precisely thanks to the latest technology. "These videos of seniors disrupt stereotypes of old age. Retirees used to be seen as passive, unsophisticated and coarse," says Xiao Lijuan, the CEO of Letuizu, a digital platform that turned five grandfathers and five grandmothers into lifestyle icons. "Now these opinionated senior citizens are demonstrating the possibility that people over 60 can be beautiful and graceful people, albeit in a different way than young people."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Duped by North Korean propaganda, Japanese expats are suing Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, has been summoned to appear in a Japanese courthouse. Five people who moved to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) between 1959 and 1984 are seeking 500 million yen (3.8 million euros) in damages from the North Korean government for deceiving them with promises of a prosperous life they never found in the totalitarian state, South Korean daily Segye Ilbo reports.

The plaintiffs, four women and one man, are among the estimated 93,000 Japanese-Koreans and other Japanese who moved to North Korea in the latter half of the previous century, often persuaded by a propaganda project (Zainichi Chosenjin no Kikan Jigyo) to attract immigrant workers. The targeted campaign was carried out through the General Association of Koreans in Japan (Chongryon), the de facto representative of North Korea in Japan, touting life in the Northern peninsula as "paradise on Earth."

At the time, it wasn't so far-fetched, with the DPRK's economy developing faster than that of South Korea and Japan. The idea was especially attractive to Koreans who had arrived in Japan during its colonisation (1910-1945) and remained after the war. Whether forced laborers or volunteering immigrants, many were living in dire poverty and were drawn into the prospect of Communist North Korea guaranteeing their basic needs.

The arrivals from Japan soon discovered a far more grim reality, without the promised housing, education, food and clothing, and forced to work under dire conditions. One of the plaintiffs, Eiko Kawasaki, who went to North Korea at the age of 17 in 1960, explained: "North Korea wanted to attract Koreans, skilled workers and technicians, to cope with its labor shortage," French daily Le Monde writes.

Once the individuals arrived, they were not allowed to leave. Eiko only managed to flee in 2003. According to a 2013 UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights report, many of the Japanese expats "ended up in political prison camps and other places of detention in the DPRK."

Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the leader at the time, Kim Il-sung, is named in the suit as legal representative of the North Korean state. It is unclear if he is aware of his court date, scheduled for October 14, as South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo reports. In Japan, court summons are usually delivered directly to the person, but if there is no response, then the notice is publicly posted outside the courthouse. According to Japan Today, if he doesn't show up, it is likely the judge will rule in favor of the plaintiffs and order Kim Jong-un to pay the sought-after amount.





€225 million

Facebook's messaging service WhatsApp was hit by a record 225-million euro fine by Ireland's data protection regulator, for failing to conform with EU data rules about transparency in 2018. The company disputed the decision, declaring the "penalties are entirely disproportionate."



Resign? I don't even think about it.

— Pope Francis said in a radio interview, asserting that he has no intention of stepping down despite the major intestine surgery he underwent last July and rumors about his worsening health. "I lead a totally normal life," he added.




Texas Abortion Ban, Double Jab & Long COVID, Brussels Doctor’s Orders
In The News
Meike Eijsberg, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Texas Abortion Ban, Double Jab & Long COVID, Brussels Doctor’s Orders

Welcome to Thursday, where double vaccination is found to halve the chances of long COVID, a near-total abortion ban comes into effect in Texas and Brussels doctors know what's good for you (it's not sprouts). French daily Les Echos also *dives* deep to see if the miraculous powers of algae can save our lives and the planet.


• COVID-19 update: Full vaccination nearly halves chance of long COVID, a new study conducted in the UK finds. Meanwhile, Taiwan receives its first shipment of Pfizer vaccines organized by two tech giants and a charity following diplomatic pressure from China, and Australian doctors warn the country's hospitals are not ready to cope with the government's reopening plans.

• Texas abortion ban comes into effect: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a last-minute motion to block a law in Texas that bans women from aborting after six weeks of pregnancy. The decision means that a near-total ban on the procedure has come into effect in Texas on Wednesday — a first in the country since the landmark 1972 Roe v. Wade ruling.

• New York & New Jersey floods kill at least 9: The governors of New York and New Jersey have declared a state of emergency following record-breaking rains from tropical storm Ida which have killed at least 9 people.

• Taliban to reveal new government: Two weeks after capturing Kabul and just days after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan after 20 years of military presence, Taliban forces are preparing to announce the composition of its new government. The Islamist group's Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada will likely hold ultimate power.

• Danish ex-immigration minister faces historic impeachment trial: Danish former immigration minister Inger Stojberg goes on trial on charges of illegally separating asylum-seeking couples where one partner was a minor in 2016. A rare impeachment court will decide whether the ex minister violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Zorba the Greek composer dies at 96: Renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, also a leading figure of resistance to Greece's military junta of the 1970s, has died at the age of 96.

• Brussels doctors to prescribe museum visits: Patients treated for stress in one the largest hospitals in the Belgian capital will be offered free visits to public museums as part of a trial study to rebuild mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.



Texan daily San Antonio Express News reports on the near-total ban on abortion which has taken effect in the U.S. state after the Supreme Court refused to block the new law. The Heartbeat Act would only allow terminations in the first six weeks of pregnancy, which abortion rights activists point out is a period during which the majority of women do not even know they are pregnant.



Seeing green: How algae can change our diets, health and the climate

Algae could bring solutions to major challenges such as carbon sequestration and world hunger, provided we succeed in building an industrial sector, reports Stefano Lupieri in Paris-based daily Les Echos.

💄 The potential of algae is not new. After having extracted sodium bicarbonate and iodine for a long time, France's coastal Brittany region has used algae since the 1960s for their alginates, the complex sugars that form their extracellular membrane. Alginates are used as texturizers or gelling agents in the food and hygiene-beauty industries. In the 1970s and '80s, the sector experienced a first boom in cosmetic uses. But it is mainly as biofuels that these marine plants rich in oils have raised the most hopes.

🏭 Today, it is estimated that there are several tens of thousands of species of macroalgae present in nature and several hundred thousand species of microalgae in fresh or saltwater. But only a very small number of them have been studied. And we exploit even less. One of the first challenges to go to an industrial scale is to be able to cultivate them. In Asia, where they are consumed fresh, we know how to produce them in mass. In fact, 96% of the 36 million tons cultivated each year are grown on this continent.

🥚 A number of start-ups are increasingly betting on specialized applications, both in macro and microalgae. The company Eranova has set its sights on the packaging plastics market for the food and cosmetics industry while Algama, for its part, is digging into the food sector. Until now, seaweed was consumed either as a condiment for salads or pasta, as a powder in chips or bread or as a texturizer, for example in ham. But this start-up has found a way to make a microalgae-based powder that can replace eggs in the manufacturing of mayonnaise, buns or cookies.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


51 million euros

Germany's central bank offices have received an unusually messy deposit after the floods that plagued the country in July. The Bundesbank, the central government bank, announced that it had been inundated with citizens who provided bank notes soaked in floodwater and contaminated with oil, sewage and mud. People can exchange these damaged notes for fresh ones without charge.




I'm not closing the count just yet.

— Portugal's soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo hinted that he has no intention of retiring in the near future, after he broke the all-time record for goals scored in men's international football by hitting his 110th and 111th goals for Portugal in a World Cup qualifying win against the Republic of Ireland. With this year's Euro 2020, the 36-year-old striker became the first player to feature in five European Championships.

Biden Defends Pullout, COVID’s New “Mu” Variant, Paralympics Late Arrival
In The News
Meike Eijsberg, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

Biden Defends Pullout, COVID’s New “Mu” Variant, Paralympics Late Arrival

Welcome to Wednesday, where Joe Biden defends his decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan, a new COVID variant of interest has emerged in South America and the Paralympics gets a dramatic late arrival. We also feature a Le Monde report from Jordan's sputtering economy, where women are finally breaking into professions barred in the past by a "culture of shame."



• Biden defends decision to pull out troops:
President Joe Biden has defended his decision to pull out American troops from Afghanistan, in an address to the nation a day after the end of a 20-year U.S. presence in the war-torn country. Biden declared: "The war in Afghanistan is now over," while the Taliban Islamist group used the occasion to reaffirm their victory in taking back control of virtually all of Afghanistan.

• New COVID-19 variant to watch: A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization. Although its global prevalence is still low, it already accounts for about 39% in its country of origin, Colombia. A full 70% of all adults, or 250 million people, in the European Union are now fully vaccinated against COVID, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

• Hong Kong activists jailed: Seven democracy activists from Hong Kong were sentenced to up to 16 months in jail for their role in an unauthorized assembly at the height of anti-government protests in 2019. They plead guilty to the charges.

• Air pollution is cutting short the lives of billions: According to a new report, dirty air is a far greater killer than smoking, car crashes or HIV/Aids. Coal burning is the main culprit, the researchers say, and India is worst affected with the average citizen dying six years early.

• Concern for global coffee shortage: Coffee traders are struggling to get coffee beans to ports for exports due to tough coronavirus travel restrictions imposed in Vietnam, the world's second biggest exporter of coffee. The latest delta variant outbreak has disrupted several supply chains in the country as big brands like Samsung, Nike and Adidas have also been affected.

• Britney Spears' father accused of extortion: Britney Spears' attorney has accused the 39-year-old singer's father, Jamie Spears, of trying to extort $2 million in exchange for stepping down from her conservatorship that controls her finances and other parts of her life.

• Rescued Afghan athlete belatedly competes in Paralympics: Hossain Rasouli, one of the two Paralympic athletes evacuated from Afghanistan last week, has been able to take part in the competition. The 26-year-old track and field competitor wound up last in the T47 long jump, but beat his personal best.




"Electricity bill skyrockets," titles Brazilian daily Extra, as the country faces an unprecedented energy crisis: a record drought hampers hydropower generation and drives electricity prices up by more than 6%. Brazil's Energy minister has asked the population to reduce its consumption and announced a program of incentives for consumers. "But the bonus money comes from the taxpayers themselves," writes the daily.

Jordanian women break workplace barriers to gain independence

In a country plagued by economic crisis, women are entering professions usually reserved for men. Against societal expectations, they are striving for independence, reports Laure Stephan in French daily Le Monde.

👩💼 The low employment rate of women in Jordan has been the subject of countless studies: The percentage of working women is less than 15%, a figure lower than in neighboring Arab countries. And it's not for lack of education. Enrolment in girls' schools has been steadily increasing, and more female students are attending university than their male peers. But traditions are strong. For one, there's the persistent association between women and the home.

👉 One of the obstacles to women's employment is what's called the "culture of shame." Nivine Madi and Inas Shenawi explain that this represents the stigma associated with manual labor and the scorn cast on women who practice "unconventional" jobs. While working as a butcher, Madi had to deal with the harsh remarks of customers who felt that a woman didn't belong behind the counter, or even refused to let her serve them.

⚖️ To help these women, some employers are looking for solutions. Before the pandemic, Mouaffaq sought to identify a place to open a daycare center, perhaps to share with other nearby factories. An amendment to the labor law expanded the requirements for companies to provide this service, a move considered essential by women's employment advocates. Another revision is that equal pay for men and women is now enshrined in law.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


Jararacussu

A study by Brazilian researchers, published in the scientific journal Molecules finds that the venom of the Bothrops jararacussu pit viper, a snake endemic to South America, may be used in drugs to combat COVID-19 at an early stage.


Magnet fisherman finds Cartier and Bulgari watches at bottom of French canal

Magnet fishing isn't what it sounds like. The pastime has nothing to do with pulling in big fish, but treasures, thanks to a long rope and a strong neodymium magnet that you cast into your local (polluted) body of water.

The usual catches are hardly shiny trophies: discarded bicycles, shopping carts, tools, old boots, nuts and bolts, and other debris that have been rusting at the bottom of a pond, river or lake for years. (Yes, the hobby is also ecological!)

But last month, a Frenchman was lucky enough to find the holy grail of magnet fishers in the canal of the northern town of Neuville-sur-Escaut: two small safes. And while one was empty, the other contained an actual treasure, reports local daily La Voix du Nord. And inside? Mud, rocks … and a 1982 Cartier watch and a Bulgari one that he later authenticated. There were also coins from the 1960s and a magnifying glass made out of "9 or 18 carats gold" that transforms into theater glasses.

The lucky magnet fisherman isn't interested in selling his treasure but instead plans on "conducting a search to find the owner" of the safes. The question for him or her will be the same for the owners of the various bicycles and shopping carts that are usually pulled out of the local river: Why?

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


"We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down."

— says Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as the authorities extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks. The focus is now shifting towards rapid vaccination, in order to reach the goal of 70% of all adults receiving at least one dose by September 23. Reaching this milestone will allow an easing of the toughest restrictions.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet





Last U.S. Troops Leave Kabul, Ardern’s Lockdown, Nike’s Mental Health Gesture
In The News
Meike Eijsberg and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Last U.S. Troops Leave Kabul, Ardern’s Lockdown, Nike’s Mental Health Gesture

Welcome to Tuesday, where the final U.S. soldiers have left Afghanistan, a snap lockdown in New Zealand looks to be working and Nike employees get a "mental-health week." We also visit the French capital to hear what local residents really think about the filming of the Netflix show Emily in Paris in their chic neighborhood.



• Taliban take over Kabul airport after last U.S. forces leave: The final U.S. troops left Afghanistan over night after 20 years of military presence, ending a chaotic and deadly withdrawal. The Taliban took control of the airport at dawn with celebratory gunfire. "America's longest war" cost some $2 trillion and claimed the lives of 2,500 U.S. soldiers and an estimated 240,000 Afghans.

• COVID-19 update: New COVID cases in New Zealand dropped for the second day in a row, suggesting that the strict snap lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is working. Japan, which halted 2 million Moderna vaccines due to contamination, said it was likely these contaminants come from needles which might have been incorrectly inserted into the vials, breaking off bits of the rubber stopper.

• Hurricane Ida knocks out power for more than 1 million: Hurricane Ida has left more than 1 million homes and businesses without power since making landfall in Louisiana on Sunday night. At least two people were killed but authorities expect the toll to rise, as they search outlying areas with helicopters and airboats.

• Eradication of leaded petrol: According to the UN Environment Programme, highly polluting leaded petrol is now eradicated from the world as no country remains that uses it for cars and trucks. The toxic fuel has contaminated air, soil and water for almost a century and is known for causing heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

• Nike mental health week: As more and more companies are preparing for people returning to the office, staff at Nike's corporate headquarters in Oregon have been given a week off to support their mental health, before coming back to the office in September. LinkedIn and dating app Bumble have made similar gestures.

• Elizabeth Holmes trial begins: The first phase of the trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes will start today with a jury selection scheduled in California. Holmes' now-defunct medical start-up is charged with six counts of fraud and she faces up to 20 years in prison.

• Berlin university canteens go almost meat-free: Students in the German capital will have to swap their currywurst and schnitzels for a hearty vegetarian soup option. The 34 outlets catering to students at four universities have decided to only offer a single meat option per week due to an increasing demand for climate-friendly offers.



Portuguese daily Jornal I reports on the return of a bill to end bullfighting in Portugal, three years after a similar proposed ban was rejected by the country's lawmakers. The deputy who put the bill forward argues bullfighting is already declining in Portugal and says the ban is motivated by a "growing recognition of animal rights."


Emily out of Paris: French quartier is sick of Netflix show

The first season of the Netflix show Emily in Paris was a boon for some businesses in the French capital's 5th arrondissement, where it takes place. But with production returning for Season Two, many local residents are exasperated, reports Robin Richardot in French daily Le Monde.

😠 Since May 24, the production of Emily in Paris has occupied the Parisian Place de l'Estrapade (already used for the first season, in August 2019) a few days a month. And among residents, annoyance swells with each return trip. Laurence, who is 50, has lived here for 37 years, between the restaurant Terra Nova and the bakery, which are used as backdrops for the series. "There is no compensation for the inhabitants who can no longer park, nor go out or return home freely," says Laurence.

🎥 Laurence says that people here are used to the presence of film crews. "But with Emily in Paris, we discovered the arrogance of blockbusters. Because they pay the shopkeepers and the parking, they think they have bought the whole neighborhood." Recently, this area of the 5th arrondissement also became the set of La Page Blanche, an adaptation of the comic strip by Boulet and Pénélope Bagieu. "But they're at least more discreet than the American productions," says Stéphane, a hairdresser on rue de l'Estrapade.

💰 On the other hand, the shopkeepers are the most satisfied. Tonka, a baker whose establishment appears in the series, understands that residents are frustrated, but doesn't hide the fact that it's been good for business. "I make my usual turnover thanks to the production's compensation without having to produce a single baguette," she says. The bakery also benefits from the free marketing. Tonka still can't believe it: "It's unimaginable how many people it brought in. I don't know how much I would have had to spend to get such worldwide publicity."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com





1.42 million

The war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has forced over 1.42 million students out of school, according to Education Minister Getahun Mekuria, adding that more than 7,000 schools have been damaged. The Ethiopian government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front have been fighting since November 2020, in a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced an estimated 400,000.



Sexual consent at 14, at 16 you can go out to work, but you have to be 18 to play games. This is really a joke.

— An anonymous Chinese gamer on China's Twitter-like Weibo responds to the new rules imposed by the State that limit the gaming times to just three hours a week. Authorities argued that the restrictions are necessary to stop the growing gaming addition but investors are worried about the long-term impact on the industry.



✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg and Anne-Sophie Goninet



Missiles Fired At Kabul Airport, New EU Travel Restrictions, Octopus Shell Shock
BBC
Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Missiles Fired At Kabul Airport, New EU Travel Restrictions, Octopus Shell Shock

Welcome to Monday, where U.S. defense systems intercept missiles fired at Kabul's airport, Hurricane Ida leaves New Orleans in the dark and researchers find you don't want to mess with your octopus lady. Meanwhile, Italian daily La Stampa takes the (extreme) temperature of farming as recurring droughts hit the country.



• Rockets aimed at Kabul airport intercepted: U.S. anti-missile defenses intercepted as many as five rockets fired at Kabul's airport early Monday. The attempted attack, for which no one has claimed responsibility, comes after last week's deadly suicide attack at the airport and less than 48 hours before the United States is due to complete its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

• Missile and drone attack in Yemen kills 30: A missile and drone attack on a key military base in the South of Yemen killed at least 30 troops on Sunday and wounded at least 65. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the country's civil war, which has been going on since 2014.

• COVID-19 update: The European Union is expected to reinstate travel restrictions on visitors from the U.S., Israel, Lebanon and three Balkan countries, according to a new report Monday. New Zealand, which has largely been virus free, extended its lockdown by another two weeks after a Delta variant case was imported from Australia.

• New Orleans loses power as hurricane Ida strikes: Hurricane Ida has made landfall in Louisiana with 150mph (240km/h) winds that left the city of New Orleans without power. The storm claimed its first victim on Monday. President Joe Biden has declared Ida a major disaster and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts.

• North Korea restarts nuclear reactor: According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), North Korea appears to have restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. The UN Watchdog said the reactor has been discharging cooling water since July, which suggests it is operational again, the first sign of operational activity since December 2018.

• Messi's Paris debut: Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi made his debut with French team Paris Saint-Germain, where he came off the bench in the second half of the Ligue 1 game against Reims. It's Messi's first appearance since he joined PSG from Barcelona where the 34-year-old had played his entire career.

• Female octopuses throw shells at annoying males: Researchers studying octopuses were taken aback when video footage showed a female throwing shells and rocks at a male who the scientists said had been attempting to mate with her. They then studied other octopuses in the wild and found that females were generally more likely to exhibit this type of behavior


The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on Hurricane Ida as the storm made landfall in Louisiana with 150mph (240km/h) winds. It arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm that caused more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage.


Italy's record droughts: How it looks from the farm

Giovanni Bedino, a 59-year-old Italian farmer, has been working the land since he was 15. "I love this job, but a year like this takes away your love," he told Turin daily La Stampa. "We couldn't water the fields and nothing came down from the sky. I remember, the summer of 2003 was a very difficult one — but it wasn't even close to this year. I have never seen such a drought."

🇮🇹 The earth is cracking in Italy's northwest region of Piedmont: the crops and the animals suffer. Italy has been ravaged by fires and storms, like Greece, Turkey and much of southern Europe.

⛅ Italy has recorded 1,200 "extreme" meteorological events — a 56% increase from last year. Wildfires ravaged the southern regions of Sardinia, Calabria and Sicily. The town of Florida, in Sicily, is thought to have recorded the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe: 48.8 °C. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall devastated other parts of the country.

🚜 Coldiretti, Italy's largest agricultural association, has just summed up the bill for this Italian summer: The damages to agriculture, it says, amount to €1 billion. Wheat yields have fallen 10%; cherries 30%, nectarines 40%. Tomato and corn crops have also suffered heavy losses.

💧 This is the summer in which the news about climate change matches with reality on the ground. In northern Italy, the area that's bearing the brunt of the crisis is Cuneo province, near the French border. Livio Quaranta, the president of the consortium that manages water in 108 municipalities, says there are now no permanent snowfields on this entire stretch of the Alps: "The snow cover has changed: It doesn't remain on the ground for long — it just washes away, because of higher average temperatures."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com





3 hours

China is imposing strict new restrictions about when minors can play video games, limiting access to three specific hours each week, over growing fears of gaming addiction. Users under the age of 18 would only be allowed to play games from 8 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with online gaming companies barred from providing services to minors outside of these hours.




For us, our trophy is to get to the gate.

— says Khalida Popal, a founder of the Afghanistan women's national football team. She told The Guardian about a small dedicated team that helped the team, most of them teenagers, and other female athletes make it to the Kabul airport and to flee the country.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger



Kabul Airport Explosion, Navalny Speaks, Exoplanet Excitement
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Kabul Airport Explosion, Navalny Speaks, Exoplanet Excitement

Welcome to Thursday, where an explosion rocks Kabul airport, Alexei Navalny gives his first interview since his March arrest, and the search for life beyond our Solar System gets a potential big boost. Meanwhile, French economic daily Les Echos offers a deep dive in the world of TikTok's finance gurus — the so-called "finfluencers".


• Kabul airport blast: *Developing* An explosion hit Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghans are trying to flee the Taliban regime. No immediate word on casualties. Earlier today, the U.S. and its allies had urged people to move away from the airport due to a threat of a terrorist attack by the Islamic State (ISIS). Western troops are hurrying to evacuate as many people as possible before the Aug. 31 deadline.

China's halts trade with Lithuania over Taiwan: China has halted direct freight trains to Lithuania due to the Baltic nation's pursuit of closer relations with Taiwan — a decision political observers say sends a warning to the rest of Europe.

• COVID-19 update: Japan, still under a state of emergency, has suspended 1.63 million doses of the Moderna COVID vaccine, more than a week after the domestic distributor received reports of contaminants in some vials. Australia's new daily cases of COVID exceeded 1,000 for the first time since the pandemic began. Two major hospitals in Sydney have set up emergency outdoor tents to help and deal with this rise of patients. Meanwhile, according to New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the country's strict lockdown is helping curb the spread of the delta variant.

• HK police investigates Tiananmen Square vigil: The national security police of Hong Kong are investigating the organisers of a vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre for alleged foreign collusion offences. The longstanding group is accused of being an 'agent of foreign forces' and is asked to provide information about its membership.

• Alexei Navalny forced to watch state TV: In his first interview since he was arrested in March, Russian opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he has been forced to watch eight hours of state TV a day. Despite the "psychological violence" Navalny remains optimistic that Putin's regime will end "sooner or later."

• Ron Jeremy indicted on sexual assault: A grand jury has indicted adult film actor Ron Jeremy, 68, on more than 30 counts of sexual assault, involving 21 women and girls across more than two decades. Jeremy pleads not guilty to all charges.

• New class of habitable exoplanets found: Signs of life beyond our Solar System may be detectable in the next two to three years, experts have said after Cambridge astronomers have identified a new class of habitable planets, called Hycean planets — hot and ocean-covered — which are more likely to host life.


Colombian daily el Colombiano breathes a sigh of relief as the country records its lowest number of daily COVID deaths (73) in 14 months, although fears of a new peak in October remain, leading the government to extend its state of health emergency until Nov. 30.

Finance under influence? Why TikTok business gurus are not to be trusted

For French economic daily Les Echos, Anne-Claire Bennevault, founder of consulting firm BNVLT and think tank SPAK.fr, weighs in on the rise of "finfluencers", who use online platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok to help people manage their personal finances and sometimes even teach investing techniques.

Some 15 or 20 years ago, if you were looking to get into finance, you would read the Wall Street Journal, pay attention to Henry Kaufman's analyses and closely follow both Ray Dalio's speeches and Warren Buffet's masterclasses. These traditional financial gurus do continue to have very large audiences, but now they are rivaled by tech-savvy newcomers who understand the power of social media.

The rise of the finfluencers is theoretically good news. They are helping to democratize personal finance issues and are making complex topics — such as blockchain and crypto-assets — accessible to all. While major financial institutions struggle to reach out to 18-35 year olds, finfluencers have succeeded in capturing their attention by offering perfectly tailored content in the form of short, dynamic videos and other posts that avoids financial jargon and reaches them via the channels they use most: social media.

The finfluencers are often talented, with many being self-taught, sometimes not having had any previous experience in finance at all. They are also very good at monetizing their audience. However, not all finfluencers are reliable. Some fail to warn their audiences about the inherent dangers involved with financial investments. One of these risks is related to leverage, which functions similarly to credit and allows you to invest more than you have in the stock market, but can also lead to massive losses in the event of a market downturn.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com




71.1%

The UN children's agency warns that over 70% of Lebanese people are facing critical, highly critical or extremely critical water shortages. As the country's power grids falter, amid compounding economic and political crises, the water supply system is on the edge of collapse. If drastic actions aren't taken, the UN report states, four million people — largely vulnerable families and children — risk having little or no access to clean water.

You need to imagine something like a Chinese labor camp.

— Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gave his first interview since being arrested in March for violating the terms of his probation. Navalny told the New York Times about life in prison, including being forced to watch state television for over eight hours a day, and why he thinks President Putin's regime will fail.

Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Why The World’s Military Leaders Are Drafting Science Fiction Writers
Future
Meike Eijsberg

Why The World’s Military Leaders Are Drafting Science Fiction Writers

The year is 2056. Decades of war have resulted in constant advances in weapon technology — including one such novelty dubbed the "hypervelocity missile." Moving at six times the speed of sound, these weapons have changed the rules of combat. In order to protect themselves against attacks, armies have designed a sophisticated shield that can protect an entire city. Still it is not impenetrable, and the simmering war worsens when one government tries to break through the shield of another.

What sounds like the premise of a new binge-worthy series is instead the beginnings of an intricate scenario developed by science fiction writers hired by the French military. As Le Monde reported recently, the unusual collaboration between the French Ministry of Defense and the University of Paris Sciences and Lettres (PSL) has just launched the second season of this project.

Science fiction tends to conjure the futuristic and surreal settings of space exploration, extraterrestrial life, and time travel. Fascinating and mindboggingly fun, but not exactly useful in the real world. As an avid reader of science fiction and a student of political science and international relations, I prefer to think of it differently: Almost every scifi tale introduces some kind of scientific invention or phenomenon that changes society in irreversible ways — which doesn't sound so different than something you might find in this morning's headlines.

The efforts like those of the French Defense Ministry raise questions like: How will governments approach a new technology? Some might be diplomatic about it and will want to commence scientific collaborations to discuss the best possible application. But other ill-intending individuals might throw all ethical concerns out the window. And what about the people? Will they be supportive or will they turn on their own rulers?

For now, the French army is devising ways to make the practice as useful as possible: there's a "Red Team" consisting of authors, who have wide freedom in coming up with scenarios. They can put ideas on the table that the French army typically excludes for ethical reasons, such as Autonomous Lethality Weapon Systems (ALWS), or augmented humans.

Infantry battalion commander Jean-Baptiste Colas, 36, explains to Le Monde the goal of this process: "What the Red Team imagines must destabilize us, scare us, blame, or even beat us."

The red team has the option to consult the "Purple Team," which consists of academics working in AI and technology, to make sure their ideas are reasonable and realistic. The military side, or "The Blue Team," provides the finishing touches before the scenarios are officially sequestered with a top secret seal.

The official trailer for the French Defense Military Red Team — Red Team Defense/Youtube

The elected participants were subjected to a thorough investigation to ensure that they did not have any weaknesses that could be exploited by someone from the outside (significant debts, links with a foreign power, etc). The precaution is needed because the teams work with confidential information. "We start with a real threat that the army helps us to make even more plausible, more worrying," explains Xavier Mauméjean, who is part of both teams.

To maintain a somewhat transparent image, a very small fraction of the scenarios is made public. But before they reach our eyes, these scenarios are put under a loop and anything that comes close to reality is removed: people and locations will be replaced by fictional alternatives. When the scenarios are published, the creators go all out: scriptwriters, illustrators, actors, and graphic designers are hired to make the project as attractive as possible. The result is a win-win situation: the public has a new form of entertainment and the army has a fresh set of practice scenarios.

Although mocked by some for this initiative, the army insists that employing science fiction authors is helping them prepare for previously unthought of situations. They say it boosts creativity and makes soldiers and generals more resourceful, something that is needed in an unpredictable world.

The truth is that the practice has long existed, in different forms and sectors. For instance, the famous Frankenstein (1818), a story about a fictionalized scientist obsessed with bringing a monster to life using lightning, was inspired by the limited scientific research into electricity on the human body being done at the time. More than a hundred years after its publication, a young Earl Bakken watched the movie adaptation in 1937. It inspired him to create the first ever battery powered cardiac pacemaker in 1957, a life saving medical device still being used today.

The more "crazy" science fiction out there remains just that: fiction.

Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, went a step further and indirectly influenced politics and military decisions in the United States. The story is about a group of men who decide to launch themselves to the moon in a cylinder-shaped projectile. This fictional shell has striking similarities to the Apollo 11 command module used to bring the first humans to the moon 104 years later: it was hollow, made mostly of aluminium, crewed by three people, launched from Florida, and it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Verne's tale inspired real people to work on the challenges of space travel, eventually prompting the 20th century space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

We know now that an all-out space war was avoided due to international space treaties prohibiting the use of outer space for military aspirations. But the years leading up to these events were tense and characterized by politicians frantically debating the influence of this new, potentially disruptive, technology. Not fictional at all!

Instead of hiring science fiction writers, the German military has therefore opted for researching existing literature and in 2018 teamed up with a handful of academics. Their plan is to use novels to pinpoint the world's next potential conflict. As German weekly Die Zeit reports, this collaboration, dubbed "Project Cassandra" after the Trojan priestess of Greek myth who had the gift of foresight, doesn't solely focus on science fiction and future technologies, but takes into account human behavior. They look for social trends, moods, and conflicts that arose in response to political decisions and technological breakthroughs (whether real or fictional).


SF literature, the new Art of War? — Photo: scifi.book.club via Instagram

Jürgen Wertheimer, a literary scholar who set up the project, emphasizes the seismographic function that novels can have and why States should learn to understand it. "There are authors," he said, who "who are extremely sensitive to changes and mood swings in society and put that into words."

Just like the French army's science fiction writers, the German literary academics work with AI. But where the French use AI to improve their scenarios, the Germans are consulted to improve AI. This is because the already existing German AI computer Watson, which is used to predict conflicts, isn't able to read between the lines and pick up on social cues. That's where Wertheimer and his team come in. They look for literature that "hits a nerve," whether it wins prizes or ends up censored. The multi-year analysis ensured that officials can now, with quite a bit of accuracy, predict a conflict five years in advance, instead of just one.

Movies are also a source of inspiration. In fact, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon reached out to Hollywood filmmakers, such as Die Hard screenwriter Steve de Souza. This was supposedly a reaction to the belief that an attack of this scale could have been anticipated if the CIA had a bit more imagination. The group of screenwriters and filmmakers were commissioned to brainstorm with Pentagon advisors and officials over several days, in a secure location, using declassified intelligence reports. The meeting could have been a movie scene: Souza described how they were sitting in a dark room, being talked to by someone on a screen "like Captain Kirk" from Star Trek. Although the exact content of these sessions is shrouded in secrecy, it is known that they asked for "left-field, off the wall ideas" and participants were encouraged to share the most insane things that came to mind.

The more "crazy" science fiction out there remains just that: fiction. It's highly unlikely that an alien race will destroy our planet because it was blocking plans for a new "hyperspatial express route," as was the case in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nor is there any real chance of entering a time-traveling war like in This Is How You Lose the Time War. Instead, the apocalyptic scenario we really have to fear can already be seen this summer in (non-fiction) stories of California wildfires and European floods: it's called Climate Change.

Algeria Cuts Ties With Morocco, COVID Plateau, RIP The “Ultimate Drummer”
In The News
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

Algeria Cuts Ties With Morocco, COVID Plateau, RIP The “Ultimate Drummer”

Welcome to Wednesday, where tensions build between Algeria and Morocco, WHO reports that global COVID cases plateau, and Rolling Stones lovers mourn the passing of drummer Charlie Watts. Meanwhile, New Delhi-based daily The Wire looks at the patriarchal prejudices still surrounding motherhood and so-called "non-custodial mothers" in India.


Afghanistan update: President Joe Biden is sticking to the Aug. 31 pullout of the remaining 5,800 American troops, despite criticism from its G7 allies to extend the timeline for more airlifts. Meanwhile, the World Bank has announced it was ending its financial support to Afghanistan, over concerns about its development prospects, particularly for women. This comes as the UN says it has received "harrowing and credible reports" of human rights abuses that include summary executions of Afghan soldiers and civilians.

• Algeria severs diplomatic ties with Morocco: Algerian Foreign Minister Ramdane Lamamra has accused Morocco of not upholding bilateral commitments and supporting the MAK separatist movement. Lamamra also said its neighbor used Pegasus spyware to monitor Algerian officials, which Morocco denied. Diplomatic ties between the countries have grown tense in recent years, largely over the sovereignty of the Western Sahara.

• COVID update: The World Health Organization reports that global COVID-19 cases "seem to be plateauing," with 4.5 million new cases and 68,000 deaths reported last week. Meanwhile, Japan has extended its state of emergency to at least eight more prefectures, as the country reported 21,610 new cases yesterday and 42 deaths.

• Nicaragua cracks down on opposition leaders: Lawyer Roger Reyes is the 34th opposition figure who has been arrested in the lead-up to the country's Nov. 7 general election, which will see President Daniel Ortega run for a fourth term in office. Reyes, who said he anticipated the arrest, has been charged with attacking "Nicaraguan society and the rights of the people."

• Supreme Court rejects "remain in Mexico" repeal: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied Joe Biden's bid to rescind an immigration policy put in place by Donald Trump, that requires thousands of asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while awaiting U.S. hearings.

• Charlie Watts tribute: From bandmates to peers, the music world is paying homage to seminal Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died yesterday in London at age 80.

• Nevermind the lawsuit: Spencer Elden, who as a four-month-old was featured naked on the cover of Nirvana's iconic album Nevermind, is now suing the remaining members of the grunge band, as well as Kurt Cobain's widow Courtney Love and record labels, over "commercial child sexual exploitation."


Daily Mirror

Newspapers in the UK and abroad are paying front-page homage to Charlie Watts — "the ultimate drummer" as the Daily Mirror remembers him — a day after the passing of the stylish Rolling Stones member in London at age 80.


In India, when mothers live without their children

The stigma around so-called "non-custodial mothers" has prevented us from expanding our own imagination of what motherhood can, or does, look like when it is practiced by non-residential mothers, as Pritha Bhattacharya writes in Indian daily The Wire.

Three years ago, Shalini, a 35-year-old media professional based in Bengaluru, gave up custody of her daughter. Her child grew up in a joint family and she was very attached to her paternal grandparents. Shalini couldn't imagine taking her child away from the people she loved. But she is now on the path of discovering a new relationship with her 8-year-old daughter. Shalini is one of many women in India who are defined as non-custodial mothers, those who either decide to or are unable to live with their offspring. Despite the social stigma of giving up being a daily presence in their childrens' lives, many parents make the choice based on what they believe is best for their families.

Census data on female-headed households provides some clues into the number of existing single mothers in India. But these statistics do not reveal the full picture, as most single mothers continue to live with their extended families. A 2019-2020 report by UN Women attempted to fill this gap, highlighting that in India, the number of "lone mothers' is rising, with 4.5% (approximately 13 million) of all Indian households run by single mothers. It also found that around 32 million single mothers are estimated to be living with their extended families. Unfortunately, the report failed to include single, non-custodial mothers in its sample design, suggesting as if to give up or lose custody of one's children is enough to render someone a non-mother.

Both mothers and fathers are affected by the patriarchal ideology that promotes mothers as nurturing, selfless caregivers and fathers as peripheral providers. Sociologist Jackie Krasas argues that the horror that underlines the negative reactions to non-custodial mothers partly rests on our low opinion (and expectations) of the capabilities of fathers. It is a commonly held notion that non-custodial mothers are putting their children in harm's way by choosing not to live with them. Nevertheless, women are increasingly resisting these ideas by leaving unhappy marriages and, in some cases, by either giving up the physical custody of their children or striving to lead a full life in spite of losing custody.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

习近平思想

China's Ministry of Education has announced the introduction of a new political ideology guide in its national curriculum, to be integrated from primary school up to university. Called Xi Jinping Thought ("Xi Jinping sixiang"), it aims at helping "teenagers establish Marxist beliefs," according to governmental guidelines.

No more monkey business: Antwerp Zoo bans woman from seeing her chimp chum

There's only so much monkeying around the Antwerp Zoo will tolerate. Belgian woman Adie Timmermans learned this recently, having developed what she called a "special relationship" with Chita, a 38-year-old chimpanzee whom she visited almost every day for four years. Zoo authorities now think the bond might have grown too strong and decided to ban Timmermans from visiting her monkey friend.

Whenever Timmermans came to the zoo, Chita would walk over to the glass enclosure, blowing kisses and scratching his head. So why separate the interspecies pals? Sarah Lafaut, the zoo's mammal curator, tells Belgian news channel ATV that Chita ended up paying too much attention to Timmermans and was at risk of being excluded from his primate peers.

The Belgian woman received a letter from the zoo, saying that she could still visit, but was only allowed to take a quick look at the chimpanzee habitat. As curator Lafaut explains to ATV, "Of course, we are happy when our visitors connect with the animals, but animal welfare comes first here."

Chita's interest in humans likely comes from her growing up as a household pet until the age of 8, when he was given to the zoo because of behavioral issues. While he eventually learned to live among other chimpanzees, his attachment to people remained.

As for Timmermans, she believes she is being unfairly singled out, as she tells Flemish newspaper the Nieuwsblad: "That animal really loves me and I love him. Why would you take that away?"

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


A catastrophe on top of a catastrophe.

Speaking with Al Jazeera, UN World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley warned that 14 millions of Afghans, including two million children, were facing food insecurity following the Taliban's takeover of the country.

Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger

G7 Afghan Talks, Paralympics Open, Summoning The Candyman
BBC
Meike Eijsberg, Alessio Perrone and Bertrand Hauger

G7 Afghan Talks, Paralympics Open, Summoning The Candyman

Welcome to Tuesday, where G7 leaders meet to discuss Afghanistan, Kamala Harris accuses China of "coercion" and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games open. Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based media The Initium reports on the pressure still put on unmarried women in Chinese society.


• G7 leaders plan to pledge unity on Taliban recognition: The leaders of the G7 are expected to pledge unity on whether or not to officially recognize or sanction the Taliban, the organization that took over Afghanistan last week. The G7 will meet virtually today to discuss the situation in the Central Asian country.

• COVID-19 update: New Zealand is bracing for its biggest outbreak of the pandemic after it recorded an additional 41 new cases in a day, taking the total to 148. Experts say the cluster could grow to 1,000 and take four to six weeks to eradicate. In Israel, however, there is hope: the country's COVID-19 vaccine booster program shows signs of taming the Delta variant. Officials began administering booster shots — a third dose of the vaccine — to people above 60 on July 30. Meanwhile, after almost a year of emergency use, the U.S. drug regulator, the FDA, granted the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine full approval.

• Haiti desperate for "right" aid: Ten days after the earthquake that struck southern Haiti, more than 2,200 people have died, and at least 30,000 families had to abandon their homes. And yet, many Haitian families are wary of the massive international aid response underway, saying that "the international NGOs do what they want, not what we need."

• Floods linked to climate change: According to new research, the climate crisis made the record-shattering rainfall that caused the floods in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands earlier this summer "up to nine times more likely". The work reinforces the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report this month that there is "unequivocal" evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are the main cause of worsening weather.

• Paralympic Games kick off: The 16th Summer Paralympic Games are beginning in Tokyo today after being delayed for a year due to the pandemic. But the city — the first ever to host two editions of the Paralympic Games — is still grappling with COVID as cases continue to rise.

• Duterte to run as VP in 2022: The President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has agreed to be the ruling party's vice presidential candidate in next year's elections. In the Philippines, the president can only serve one six-year term, but political observers say Duterte's vice-presidential un could be an attempt to hold on to power.

• Dare to summon the Candyman: The trailer for the latest installment in the horror movie series Candyman is out — but there's a catch: to unlock it, you must whisper the killer's name, Candyman, five times in your computer's microphone. Spooky …

"Amatrice, 5 years of nothing," headlines Italian daily Il Tempo, as it reports on the fifth anniversary of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake that ravaged more than 100 towns of central Italy, killing 300, displacing some 65,000 people and razing the town of Amatrice to the ground. Today, as they witness the fifth Italian prime minister who visits Amatrice in as many years, locals are still waiting for any of the crumbled houses and buildings to be rebuilt.

In China, women still have to fight for their right to be single

Nowadays, Chinese women are gaining higher social status through access to better education. And yet, the traditional norm of "getting married as early as possible" is still popular, albeit women have gained new social powers, Hong Kong-based media The Initium says. The writer argues that societal norms make marriage the only significant relationship for women to be accepted in society. That discriminates women who have not walked down the aisle as being somehow "leftovers".

The issue of single women was also brought up, interestingly, in a 2017 IKEA commercial that aired in China. In the ad, which stirred up more than a bit of controversy on social media, a girl dines with her parents and calls out to her mother, who slams her chopsticks on the spot and turns against her: "Don't call me mom if you don't bring your boyfriend back!" Then, when the girl's boyfriend comes to visit, the girl's parents completely change their attitude and immediately set up a happy and warm home.

In another ad (SK-II's "She Ended Up at the Matchmaking Corner," from 2016) several "leftover women" are shown speaking with their parents. It opens with the parents putting pressure on their unmarried daughters. But in the second half of the commercial, the daughters explain to their parents that they "don't want to get married just for the sake of getting married." In the end, the parents seem to understand, and there's a reconciliation between the generations.

While social norms pressure women to choose between infertility and marriage, some single Chinese women are looking for a third way: single parenthood. A particularly well-known case is Haiyang Ye, CEO of a cosmetics company, who traveled to the United States in 2017 to buy sperm and gave birth to her daughter Doris through artificial insemination. The effort cost her more than $75,000.

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День незалежності

Ukraine celebrates Independence Day ("Den nezalezhnosti") today, 30 years after the country separated from the Soviet Union. Celebrations come amid tensions with Russia after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed yesterday to reclaim areas of its territory that were annexed by Moscow.

We know that Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea.

— U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said in a speech delivered in Singapore on the first leg of her Southeast Asian tour. She referred to the landmark international legal case the Philippines won over China about its territorial incursions in the South China Sea. Despite the ruling, Chinese coastguards remain present with Filipino fishermen frequently reporting harassment. Harris also touched on other issues, such as the Afghanistan pullout, which she described as "courageous and right."

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Alessio Perrone and Bertrand Hauger