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The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold
In The News

The Latest: Closer To Kabul, Google Remote Workers, Biting Someone Else’s Gold

Welcome to Thursday, where the Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city, Google tightens its remote work policy and a Japanese mayor gets the medal for post-Olympic bad taste. We also feature an Initium reportage on the lives and competing identities of Chinese adoptees in the United States.

• Kabul within site for Taliban: The Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, a strategically important city that brings them closer to the capital Kabul following the withdrawal of American and other foreign troops. The Afghan army chief, General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai, has been removed just two months after his appointment. In the past month alone, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed as the Taliban have taken 10 of the country's 34 provincial capitals.

COVID-19 down under: As the delta variant spreads in Australia, Sydney has entered another lockdown, even while neighboring New Zealand is carefully making plans to open up its borders for the fully vaccinated early next year. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are expected to announce the authorization of booster shots for the immunocompromised.

• Google pay cuts if working fully remote: Employees of Google are facing a pay cut if they decide to switch to working from home permanently. The decision is part of a pay calculator which determines salary based on where employees live; the less expensive your area is, the lower the salary.

• Fires rage around Mediterranean: Fires continue to burn in Greece, Italy, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia. Temperatures hit a high of 120°F in Tunis and 104°F in southern Italy, where thousands of acres of land have been scorched. In Greece, more than 580 fires are currently prompting evacuations throughout the country; in neighboring Turkey, 300 blazes have ravaged in the past two weeks.

• Election in Zambia: Incumbent Edgar Lungu and businessman Hakainde Hichilema face off for the third time today in Zambia's presidential with 16 candidates. The impacts of the pandemic, especially on the East African country's economic outlook, have weighed on the election, which is expected to result in a runoff.

• Polish lower house passes media reform bill: Polish lawmakers advance a bill that prevents non-European owners from having controlling stakes in Polish media companies. According to the opposition, the legislation, which earlier led to the collapse of the right-wing ruling coalition, aims to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government.

• Medal-biting Japanese mayor begs for forgiveness: Takashi Kawamura, Mayor of Nagoya, bit the gold medal of Japanese softball player Miu Goto. The celebratory gesture usually reserved for the winners themselves, received a lot of backlash on social media, especially in light of COVID hygiene practices. The Mayor apologized for the biting shenanigans and offered to have the medal replaced.

"Environmental Eviction" headlines the Colombian daily, El Espectador, as it reports on the government's recent decision to modify legislation that will allow police to evict people from 'environmentally important' areas. Legislators argue the amendment is intended to curb cartel activity, while others fear it could be used against thousands of others living in protected zones.

For Chinese adoptees in the U.S., identity comes in layers

For Chinese adoptees, like Mary Ruth Tomko (Mei), discovering their identity can be especially challenging, particularly for those who are raised in predominantly white areas. Chinese-language online media, The Initium, explores the stories of Mei and other Chinese adoptees as they search to understand their triple-layered identity: interracial adoptee, Chinese American and Asian American."

The United States has more adopted Chinese children than any other country in the world — more than 170,000 since 1992. Most of these children grow up in white communities and are raised by white families. As such, many develop a complicated understanding of race and often experience identity crises because they do not see themselves or their experiences reflected in the people around them.

For Mei, who was raised in a predominantly white part of Pennsylvania, finding community with other Asian Americans and Chinese-adoptees at university helped her to learn more about her "triple-layered" identity. Others have sought this community out in other ways - one adoptee even created an internet software to connect families and adoptees.

C.N. Le, a researcher on Asian Americans at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, commented on how interracial adoptees tend to have a flight or fight response when confronted with racial discrimination. But in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, he hopes that Chinese-born adoptees will use their experiences to unite with other groups who experience racism in the United States. Mei is doing just that, by engaging with both her university and Pennsylvania community.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

Yet another drama for Copenhagen's Little Mermaid sculpture

Since its unveiling in 1913, the Little Mermaid sculpture has become one of Copenhagen's main tourist attractions. But Edvard Eriksen's five-foot unassumingly perched homage to Christian Andersen's fairy tale has also had its fair share of drama.

The first came in 1964, when the bronze sculpture became the victim of an abandoned lover's rage and was beheaded with a hacksaw. Then, in 1998, it happened again; this time by an extremist feminist group. The list of survival events also includes a severed and stolen (but then returned) arm, being launched off her rock and into the water (explosives), stabbed in the neck and in 2015 — perhaps most brutal of all — getting banned from Facebook for breaching nudity guidelines.

Now, according to the Eriksen hiers, Den Lille Havfrue is now under fresh attack. In a letter to Mikael Klitgaard, mayor of the northern municipality of Brønderslev, the heirs claim that a more recent sculpture, put in place four years ago in Asaa Havn, bears too much resemblance to the original, and demanded that the copy be demolished.

It's not the first time the heirs have taken legal action to protect their ancestors' heritage. Several publications have been charged with copyright infringement after publishing pictures of the mermaid, there among daily Berlingske Tidende that was fined 285.000 Danish kroner ($45,000) last year for a caricature depiction of the Eriksen work.

While Brønderslev Mayor Mikael Klitgaard questions the heirs' motives in claiming patent right "for a whole animal species," the Little Mermaid's century-long fight for survival has no doubt earned her a special place in Danish society. Many of the less violent attacks seem to be an outlet for locals' expression, including spray paint and political messaging: For a while she wore a burqa — apparently a protest against Turkey joining the EU — and last year she had both "Free Hong Kong" and "Racist Fish" scrawled across her base.

Meanwhile, the defendant in the plagiarism case, Palle Mørk, dismisses the claim that his work isn't original. Responding to the charge that his creation is perched in the same position, Mørk said to Danish TV2: "Well, how the hell else should a mermaid sit on a rock? She doesn't have legs."


Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer's wedding, a slice of their wedding cake has sold for £1,850 (2,567.71 USD) at auction. Auctioneers expected the tasty treat to go for at least £500, so they were very pleasantly surprised when it caught such a high price.

I worry my daughters will never know peace.

— Rahima, a 60-year-old Afghani woman, discussed her fears of the Taliban as the Islamist group continues to gain ground in Afghanistan. Rahima, who uses her home in west Kabul to provide shelter for women fleeing violence, told The Guardian that her house has been full of displaced women and girls for the last two weeks.

Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Genevieve Mansfield

Japanese Restaurants Rebel Against Olympic-COVID Alcohol Curfew
Meike Eijsberg

Japanese Restaurants Rebel Against Olympic-COVID Alcohol Curfew

Walking past a restaurant in Tokyo this week, you might spot the following sign: "Saké, ok!" Nothing out of the ordinary, it would seem, but these days it has another meaning: that restaurant is part of a growing rebellion against the government's directives not to serve alcohol after 7 p.m, reports Le Monde.

Tokyo, and its three bordering departments (Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama), have been placed in a state of emergency since August 2 following a surge in COVID cases. Establishments that serve alcohol have been required to close at 7, while those that don't can stay open an additional hour, according to Kyodo news. But not everyone is sticking to these rules.

The last time we stopped serving alcohol, one customer scolded us.

Smaller owner-operated pubs with few employees prefer to cash in on government compensation for closing down. Bigger restaurants and chains, however, are defying the bans. Kozo Hasegawa, president of Global Dining, which runs about 30 cafes and restaurants in Tokyo and surrounding areas, says he intends to "conduct business as usual," Le Monde reports. The manager of an izakaya (a popular Japanese cuisine) right next to the great Senso-ji temple, explains that, for people like him, the fine (300,000 yen, or 2,500 euros) is just an "additional tax… We pay the fine and continue."

A sign depicting the 8 p.m. closure of a restaurant — Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/ZUMA Press

The restaurants are responding to an unusual level of consumer demand. Although millions are adhering to Japan's restrictions, and staying home, plenty of others are going out. "Since the Olympics are being held, many people might be thinking that it is fine to go out," said Narumi Sakai, a 54-year-old woman quoted by Kyodo News.

There seems to be a general thirst for alcohol as well. When the ban was just announced, Masahiko Yamashina, owner of a yakitori chicken skewer restaurant in the Shimbashi district said: "The last time we stopped serving alcohol, one customer scolded us," reports the Japan Times. "There's much to lose from obeying the ban."

 Japanese ultranationalist and far-right activist candidate Makoto Sakurai during a campaign rally, Tokyo, 2016
Meike Eijsberg

Japanese Nationalists Try To Bury Past, Kill Freedom Of Expression

There's a bitter irony when an exhibit titled 'Non-Freedom of Expression' itself faces censorship.

TOKYO — An exhibition opening in Tokyo criticizing Japan's militaristic past and human rights atrocities, called "Non-Freedom of Expression," was itself canceled under pressure from the extreme right. Japanese and international media have reported that threats from the Japanese nationalist movement have led to the cancellation of the opening of the exhibition the day before its June 25 inauguration.

Le Monde reports that the exhibition was originally supposed to take place at the Session House, a private space in Tokyo. But far-right protesters demonstrated outside the building, while hateful and violence language multiplied. The police were notified but remained discreet, only asking the protesters to turn down the volume. A new location was found and kept secret until the last moment but, fearing an incident, the owner of the venue canceled the exhibition.

The organizers remain hopeful and are looking for a new place. "This is only a postponement," said Yuko Okamoto, a 58-year-old organizer of the event to The Japan Times. "We are confident that we can hold the event." In the meantime, organizers are considering legal action after some protestors had suggested physically attacking the exhibition, the Japanese broadcaster NHK reports.

The source of the fiercest criticism is a statue called "Girl of Peace."

The exhibition is full of topics long considered taboo in Japan. Some of it is related to the atrocities committed in the second Sino-Japanese war, including the 1937 Nanjing massacre. Other installments address more recent evens, such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the imperial system, or the debate over Article 9 in the Japanese Constitution mentioning the renunciation of war, which nationalists would like to remove.

Rally in front of the "Comfort Woman" statue, located near the Japanese embassy in Seoul, Korea, 2018 — Photo: Lee Jae-Won

But the source of the fiercest criticism is a statue called "Girl of Peace," created by South Korean sculptors Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung. This statue features a so-called "Comfort Woman," a euphemism for Korean women forced to work as prostitutes for the Imperial Japanese army. It was originally installed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul but it has been reproduced in several other countries, such as the United States and Germany.

The statue has raised repeated controversy over the years, most notably in a similar freedom of expression art exhibition hosted in Nagoya, as part of the Aichi Triennale 2019, one of the largest international art festivals in Japan. Repeated threats were made by protestors, who viewed the exhibition as "anti-Japanese propaganda." According to Kyodo News, the organizers were forced to close the exhibition three days after its opening, and the Ministry of Culture withdrew a 78 million yen ($706,000) grant to the Triennale.