LA RAZON
La Razon is a conservative daily newspaper based in Madrid with local editions in many other Spanish cities, including Barcelona or Seville.
Ruins in Belchite
food / travel
Paco Rodríguez

Town Annihilated In Spanish Civil War Now A Paranormal Attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite. A growing number of tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town.

BELCHITE – Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite in northeastern Spain became a strategic objective for the forces of the Republican government, before their assault on the nearby city of Zaragoza. Belchite seemed a simple target, but its capture took longer than expected. More than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting, and the town was decimated, with almost half the town's 3,100 residents dying in the struggle.

The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one. The streets remained deserted. Stray dogs were the only ones to venture into the weed-covered, pockmarked ruins. A sign written on one wall reads, "Old town, historic ruins." Graffitis scrawled on the doors of the Church of San Martín recall better times: "Old town of Belchite, youngsters no longer stroll your streets. The sound of the jotas our parents sang is gone."

Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, must remain exposed.

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Women at a migrant reception center in Lampedusa, Italy
Geopolitics
Alfonso Masoliver

Immigrants Don't Drive Up Crime: Here Are The Facts

Crunch the numbers, or just look around...and we see that immigrants, wherever they may come from, are not a disproportionate cause of crime or cultural degradation across Europe.

Standing outside Hamburg's Arts and Crafts Museum, I observe a little the traffic and bustle of this historic German port, home to two million people. I notice to my right two German women sitting on the grass in the Carl Legien Platz, gaunt but eager as they prepare themselves a syringe full of some drug. To the left, sitting on the museum's steps, is an African man, wearing a pretty checked shirt and white cap. He wipes his face in despair, trying to decipher a manual for a gadget or contraption.

Once they have had their injection, the women recline to enjoy the buzz, until two policemen arrive. They dryly nod at the African and ask the women for their ID. I observed with fascination and must say, no travel journalist should omit to record these little bits of reality. They are as informative to readers as sight-seeing recommendations or dining tips.

Now, where do migrants come from?

The origin story of the current migration situation depends on which historical period you start with. In the first centuries after Christ, most migration in Europe was inside the Roman Empire, with some arrivals from beyond its frontiers. In other words, you wouldn't have found many Chinese shopkeepers in that European Union.

It was habitual then for legionaries — after 25 years of mandatory soldiering — to be given a plot of farming land, but with one condition: They had to move to a zone other than their birthplace. A soldier born in Gaul would likely be given land in Italy or the Iberian peninsula (Hispania). The fall of the Western Empire in the 5th century meant more migration. Germanic hordes moved south and settled where they pleased, while the Muslim conquest of Spain in the 8th century opened the peninsula to numerous Arabs, Moors and Jews.

Today, the answer is not as simple. A globalized world provides as many options for entering your chosen country as there are transport facilities. Official figures give us an overview of the migratory panorama. The European Commission's figures for 2019 cited the non-EU nationalities given the most residency permits were from Ukraine, Morocco and India, with Ukrainians far ahead of the rest. But the top nationalities in terms of asylum applications that year were quite different: Syrians, Afghans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Iraqis, Pakistanis — clearly people from failed states or countries at war.

In 2019, illegal entries into Europe were at their lowest number of the previous seven years

These refugees (for that is what they are), are also mostly illegal migrants. The prize in this dismal category goes to the Syrians, who constituted 17.3% of those who entered Europe illegally, though the vast majority were from Islamic states. Yet in 2019, the 125,100 illegal entries into Europe were at the lowest number in seven years, while 491,000 non-EU nationals were thrown out of the EU.

European Commission figures from 2020 indicate that 37 million EU residents, or 8.2% of its population, were born outside the block. Worldwide, the five countries with the most foreign-born residents are Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Norway and the United States, respectively. They are not Sweden, Spain, France or Germany, as you might think, given the rise of nationalist movements there. Only 10% — or about three million — of the world's refugee population is currently in the EU. Most settle in neighboring states like Turkey. In 2020, the EU registered around 93,700 asylum applications, of which some 49,500 were ultimately accepted.

Does immigration affect crime?

Comparing crime rates from 2012 to 2020 in the five countries with the most foreign-born residents (Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Norway and the U.S.), does not necessarily yield a rise in crime rates clearly and proportionately attributable to immigration. Australia's crime rate of 41.36 in 2012 stood at 40.36 in 2020. The United States' crime rate rose from 47.2 to 64.93, but Norway's fell from 35.43 to 19.07.

The four EU countries with the most foreign-born residents are Germany, France, Italy and Spain. In those same years, Germany's crime rate rose from 21.02 to 34.81, France's rose slightly from 44.76 to 46.79, and Italy's fell from 56.67 to 44.26. Spain's rate also fell.

Denmark, the EU country with the strictest migration policy, has much higher rates of drug use.

The U.S. has so many problems — including the 390 million firearms circulating among 330 million Americans — that blaming migrants for criminality is at best, simplistic. Nor can crime be linked to particular groups, like Muslims, or to regions. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had the lowest crime rates in 2020 (and numerous migrants), while the Global Peace Index placed several African states like Tanzania, Ghana and Zambia above France as peaceful nations. The idea that migrants export the violence of their home countries is also, debatable.

If we consider drugs instead to be an important cause of crime in European countries, we should know that Denmark, the EU country with the strictest migration policy, has much higher rates of cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy) and amphetamine use, and related deaths, than Spain and Italy. The Netherlands likewise has disturbing ties to drug trafficking in the EU, and is not among the top 40 countries in the world in terms of immigrants. These considerations might even help explain why I found the German girls taking drugs and the African man engrossed in a manual.

A sign in Madrid that says: Refugees Welcome

A building bearing a "refugees welcome" banner in Madrid, Spain

- MariaTeneva

Does immigration crush cultures?

We're likely all familiar with the idea of immigration as a cultural bulldozer. In Hispania, the romanization process (fueled by the legionaries-turned-farmers), meant the systematic eradication of its Celtic and Iberian cultures. After the empire, the northern barbarians descended to set the Roman villas on fire, the Arabs made southern Spain Islamic practically throughout the Middle Ages, and later, the Bourbons brought us their homeland's French fashions and quirks.

Today, can we say immigration crushes cultures? We could, but as an answer, it would be problematic and raise more questions. Where does the 'destructive' migration come from? Do we need individuals to provoke this destruction?

In 1970 there was no McDonald's in Europe. Today it has 6,000 outlets across the continent. In countries like Sweden and France, we find the chilling rate of 22 and 21 McDonald's restaurants per million inhabitants. Every one of them means people will not be eating in a traditional eatery. I must confess now, I lied. I am not in Hamburg. I was in Hamburg last week. Now I'm in Sundsvall, Sweden, and have been looking for days for a place serving a traditional Sami (reindeer) dish. All I can find, though, are Starbucks-style coffee shops, fast-food joints and Asian street food!

Just as a game, you might stroll through your neighborhood one day with the vision of an inveterate racist, looking for the destroyers of culture. If you live in a city, you will find so many it is frightening: foreign clothes shops, Asian and Italian restaurants, youth busy feeding Chinese data banks on their phones, Instagram photo ops. You'll see all this before you find a mosque or a falafel shop. Meanwhile, nations, even the smallest ones with migrant rates like big cities, firmly hold onto their cultural traits.

Is there even a European lifestyle for which we should be concerned?

Might we say that immigration's biggest harm to our culture is in the arrival of ideas, products and lifestyles alien to our own, rather than the presence of foreigners? Can we see at least that the criminal, homophobic and sexist Muslims are really a tiny part of the bigger numbers and percentages? Can we make sense of the contrast between the blond girls dazed in the park and migrants working like mad to make it their new homes?

Indeed, regardless of the Muslim threat to the European lifestyle, is there even a European lifestyle for which we should be concerned? Has it not been devoured by the "Western" lifestyle?

Perhaps, and I am speculating here, the problem is not outside but in ourselves. While we are in decline, mired in excuses, protests, drink, drugs and digital fantasies, migrants are crossing deserts and oceans, and showing the kind of unstinting, mind-boggling valor we have lost in Europe. It is possible, though I would assert nothing. The figures are suggestive enough.

*This article was translated from Spanish with the permission of the author.

A doctor in Madrid
Spain
Jorge Alcalde

Covidization Of Healthcare Leaves Other Diseases Untreated

'Covidization' of healthcare systems worldwide has led to rising mortality rates in pathologies like cancer, and more births in the Third World.

MADRID — COVID-19 is killing people even without the virus.

Spain's Lung Cancer Group, a research body, believes lung cancer will have killed 1,300 people more in the country in 2020 than predictive models had anticipated before the pandemic struck. Between January and April this year, lockdowns and diverted healthcare resources meant 30% fewer initial oncology consultations than during those months in 2019.

This is just one of the many pathologies with significantly worse data for what many are calling a "covidization" of healthcare. It means that a near-exclusive focus on the coronavirus is impeding treatments, diagnoses and research in many other illnesses.

Covidization is a term coined by Madhukar Pai, a tuberculosis researcher at Montreal's McGill University to describe the pandemic's distorting effect on resource allocation, prioritization and media attention in fighting other pathologies. Data appear to have confirmed his opinion. Since April this year, the European Commission has devoted 137 million euros to research on the coronavirus, or twice all the monies spent in 2018 on tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. Many researchers have felt the impact of changed priorities first-hand.

In a debate organized by the National Center for Oncological Research, Doctor Luis Paz-Ares, head of Medical Oncology at the 12 October University Hospital in Madrid, said that for months, hospital research has been devoted almost entirely to the coronavirus. "We have had to delay clinical trials, and at certain times the number of diagnoses dropped by as much as half," he said. "We must recover the lost ground."

The Spanish Anti-Cancer Society has gauged just how much ground was lost, revealing in a recent webinar that new cancer diagnoses have fallen by 20-25%, 36.5% of treatments had to be interrupted, 44% of surgeries were canceled or delayed, and 17% of radiotherapy treatments interrupted.

The medical review The Lancet has published a report in June on the impact of this diversion of resources to cancer survival rates in the United Kingdom. For the first time in recent history, cancer patients saw a drop in their chances of being cured, based on data for 32,583 patients with breast, colon, esophagus and lung tumors.

Five-year mortality from breast cancer is estimated to have increased by 7-9%, 15% for colon cancer, 5% for lung cancer and 6% for esophagus. The study concludes that this significant rise in expected cancer deaths for the pandemic can be rectified with ambitious mitigation policies.

AIDS is another illness affected by this change of paradigm. The Lancet"s latest editorial made it clear: the pandemic has strained healthcare systems the world over, and in regions where AIDS is most prevalent, it is causing important interruptions in diagnosis and treatment. This could raise HIV mortality rates by 10% over five years.

A "day against breast cancer" event in Malaga, Spain — Photo: Lorenzo Carnero/ZUMA

The HIV Modelling Consortium estimates that sub-Saharan Africa will see 296,000 more deaths from AIDS in 2021 than previously expected. UNAIDS believes in turn that a six-month interruption for six months in HIV mother-to-child transmission prevention programs can mean a 40% rise in child infection rates in the poorest countries.

Yet UNAIDS mitigated its pessimistic prognoses in recent weeks, stating that novel transport and distribution systems for therapies and medical attention may cut HIV transmission and mortality rates early in 2021.

It's the biggest impact on life expectancy since the 1918 pandemic and World War II.

The pandemic has also had an impact on assisted fertility treatments in Spain. The state of emergency decree on March 14, 2020 paralyzed the activities of all fertility centers, where only treatments already begun could be completed. Embryo transfers and new patients were blocked until centers were reopened a month later.

Joaquín Rueda, professor of cell biology at the Miguel Hernández University in Elche says the country expects "between 4,000 and 8,000 fewer births from assisted reproduction than last year."

In July, Science magazine published a projection of the effects of the pandemic on life expectancy and birth rates. In parts of northern Italy worst hit by the virus, life expectancy is expected to fall between 1.1 and 2.5 years in women, and around 3.5 years in men. This is the biggest impact on life expectancy in those regions since the 1918 pandemic and World War II.

The evolution of birth rates differs however in line with the wealth of countries. As Professor Rueda explains, countries with higher living standards have seen accelerated changes in the work-domestic life balance during the pandemic, reduced family incomes and economic uncertainty, and the aforementioned paralysis in fertility treatments. These will lead to a net fall in birth rates next year. In poorer countries however, reduced access to contraception are already yielding more births. Thus, says Rueda: "the big demographic gap between the rich world and the poor world will grow due to the pandemic."

Manel de Aguas and his connected 'fins'
LA RAZON
Laure Gautherin

A Human Mutation: Pandemic Trials, Trans Species Visions

Seeing Manel de Aguas can prompt a range of reactions. The connected artificial "fins' implanted in his skull might look silly to some, inspiring to others, or just very disturbing. "I don't feel 100% human," the 27-year-old Catalan told the La Razón daily last week.

On his Instagram page, de Aguas describes himself as a Trans Species Artist. Those fins protruding from his head help him "feel" the weather, and as such are for him both aesthetic and prosthetic. They are as much a part of what he claims as a genuine cyborg identity as they are part of his creative image and business model. Is this a kind of 21st-century circus act? A role model for all those who have ever felt deeply connected to other species on the planet? Or are we witnessing a walking preview of the hybrid future of the human race?

That's the future of "transhumanism," predicted by more and more respected thinkers, including renowned author Yuval Harari (Sapiens, Homos Deus), where advances in biotechnology, genetics and artificial intelligence may reorder what we consider to be human.

The reality is that the human species will become immortal.

Building machine and scientific technology into our bodies is of course nothing new, though until now it's been the almost exclusive purview of the medical sector for those seeking to fix or replace something that has somehow been lost, broken or deficient. We're crossing another boundary when we fuse tech and flesh for less purely practical reasons: whether its de Aguas' apparent attempt to better connect to nature (or boost his Instagram following) — or for more nefarious ends.

"The reality is that the human species will become immortal. In 100 or 500 or 1,000 years, it doesn't matter," Laurent Alexandre, a leading French medical technologist, told Le Figaro. "The real question is at what price. The Faustian pact with technology is heavy with consequences."

Most recently, the rising interest in transhumanism has also sparked a growing number of conspiracy theories triggered by 5G technology and COVID-19 vaccines, with claims that we will soon carry, unwillingly, electronic chips in our bodies and brains.

But of course, the current pandemic is warning not only about the risks of human advancement but also about our weaknesses in the face of nature. While transhumanism opens the door to the physical enhancement of our very selves — and the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is a testament to our technological prowess — we are still in the dark about how the virus may have been first transmitted from other species. The human condition, it seems, is still very much driven by our mortality.

El Pibe de Oro on the world's front pages
CLARIN
Bertrand Hauger

Adios Maradona: 22 World Front Pages On The Death Of Soccer God

El Pibe de Oro, Barrilete, El Dios, Cósmico, D10S, Dieguito, El 10, El Diez ...

The quantity of nicknames is just one more sign that fútbol legend Diego Armando Maradona was in a category of his own. His death Wednesday from a heart attack at the age of 60 was a bonafide global event.

Here are the front pages of 22 newspapers dedicated to the passing of the soccer legend: from dailies in his native Buenos Aires to the cities of his beloved club teams, Naples, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, but also California, France, India and beyond celebrated arguably the greatest artist that the beautiful game has ever seen.

ARGENTINA

Cronica, a daily newspaper in Maradona

Cronica

Clarin

La Nacion

Pagina/12

Portada de La Prensa (Argentina)

La Prensa

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A health worker performing a PCR test in Madrid
Spain

COVID-19 And Gender: More Women Face Long-Term Symptoms

A new study in Spain found that middle-aged women are by far the most likely demographic to be suffering long-term effects of coronavirus.

"I have to come up with 50 different ways of saying that I am not better..."

Anna Kemp, 50, is one of many "long-haulers," those people across the world who have survived COVID-19 but are still suffering from its symptoms, months later. But the art festival director is also noteworthy because she fits the profile of those most likely to struggle with overcoming the effects of the virus. According to a new Spanish study, middle-aged women are particularly vulnerable to be long-haulers.

Tracking lingering symptoms: As reported in Madrid-based La Razón, the first results of an ongoing survey by the Spanish Society of General Practitioners and Family (SEMG) and autonomous groups of patients, aims to try to better understand more long-term COVID outcomes and ultimately tackle the issue of temporary or lasting effects.

Shedding some light: The survey adds new findings after research in other countries, such as in the UK with the "PHOSP-COVID study", or in the US where patients are actively organizing online.

Middle-aged women are particularly vulnerable to be long-haulers — Photo: Angel Perez/ZUMA

Gender Bias: The research (out of a first batch of 892 respondents) has revealed that 80.5% of those who still have COVID-19 symptoms are women with an average age of 44.

• While age has been the most crucial factor in vulnerability to the virus, researchers have been tracking other factors, including gender, since the novel coronavirus first appeared earlier this year. And men appeared to be more vulnerable.

• By late April, a tally of 35 countries showed that 33 had higher ratios of male deaths compared to female deaths from COVID-19, reported the data-based news site FiveThirtyEight.

• The Spanish study is the first time a study about long-haulers distinguishes sexes and researchers haven't yet reached conclusions why middle-aged women appear more vulnerable over time.

Long-term, short-term: As many know by now, the most cited immediate symptoms of the virus are mild fever, general fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, loss or diminution of smell and taste.

• The new study shows, over time, this same range of symptoms persist among long-haulers, in varying degrees.

• There are also wide discrepancies in the severity and duration of suffering. On average, respondents have been feeling bad for 127 days (about four months), but it goes up to 300 days for some.

• Some 50% of the respondents rated the intensity of the disability at seven out of ten.

Our conscience, reconverted into AI?
Germany
Antonio Fernández Vicente

Making Sense Of The Movement Toward Digital Immortality

With the advancement of AI technology, certain aspects of our individual being may survive beyond the grave. Will we live forever, in other words, just as some artists already do?

-Essay-

MADRIDThe Three Ages of Man and Death, by the 16th century German painter Hans Baldung, is a portrait of the ravages of aging. In it, a female skeleton holds an hourglass to indicate our inexorable fate, while above, to the right of the figures, a cross points toward the heavens as our only possible hope after death.

The painting, housed in Madrid's Prado museum, is a good reminder that religion was where we long turned for consolation concerning fatality. But today, technology may be usurping that space. And by 2030, it may perpetuate our lives artificially.

This is what the artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer and futurist Ray Kurzweil terms "singularity," a concept that is depicted in science fiction as either simulation of human conduct or replication of people who have died.

The Three Ages of Man and Death by Hans Baldung — Wikipedia

The computerization of all our digital data would effectively come to constitute a decoupling of what we are — our identity — from biological chains. In this digital transcendence, our consciousness would outlive our body or rather "inhabit" or survive in a machine.

An embryonic version of all this is the Eternime project, a startup founded by MIT fellow Marius Ursache that saves people's stories, thoughts and memories forever, and allows them to create avatars that can interact with others, or even themselves, through their digital fingerprints.

An episode of the science fiction series Black Mirror, entitled Be Right Back, depicted immortality in those terms. Depending on the data available on a person, the algorithm can create and relive predictable behaviors. Patterns identified through data analyses would allow construction of intelligence systems superior to the Turing Test. People might even be replicated.

In some ways this form of transcendence is the same one poet and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno attributed to writing. The writer leaves his or her imprint for posterity, and his readers will encounter a part of the departed writer. "In my absence, this will be a memento of what I was," he wrote. Or it can be a painting, like Salvador Dalí"s The Knight of Death.

The computerization of all our digital data would effectively come to constitute a decoupling of what we are — our identity — from biological chains.

The novelty with digital perpetuation is that our bequest will not be static, like a picture, photograph or lines written in a memoir. It will be our conscience, reconverted into AI, able to interact and learn over time and adapt to new situations, through what is termed machine learning and deep learning.

All technology purports to be the solution to a problem, and death is certainly a problem. But it's also one of our fundamental taboos, the unmentionable. It constitutes a break with our idyllic view of life, especially in a time when happiness seems to have become a moral (and commercial) obligation. Death, therefore, must be removed from this model life plan.

El cavaller de la mort — Photo: Fundació Gala - Salvador Dalí

The cultural historian Philippe Ariès duly warned that from a familiar conception of death, we have moved toward an inability to accept the fact that we are finite. We have moved from death as an inevitable and quotidian part of our lives, and an experience to be lived like any other, to death as a curse. It must be systematically hidden from our view because it reminds us in spite of our efforts, that we are limited beings.

We fear death to the point of leaving the dying in solitude, as the sociologist Norbert Elias pointed out in his last years of his life. The dreams of transhumanist perfection and prolonged existence after our biological death thus clash with the notion of a limit. It is the limit that defines us and distinguishes us from others.

But would life without limits make sense? Is conscience stretched through computation not a simulation rather than an authentic prolongation of our being? Again, fiction helps us understand it.

All technology purports to be the solution to a problem, and death is certainly a problem.

The Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges observed in his short story The Immortal that in winning eternal life, the race of tired immortals comes to see the infinite value of all that is limited, and the irredeemable nature of a single life. Humans, he wrote, merit pity for their "ghostly" condition and their inevitable disappearance, "like the face of every dream."

Mario de Andrade, the Brazilian writer, offered his own take on the mortality question. "We have two lives," he wrote in his poem My Soul is in a Hurry. "And the second one begins when you realize you have but one..."

What if that life were eternal? For Borges, Baldung, Unamuno, Dalí and Andrade — thanks to their immortal writings and paintings — it already is.

Cocoa beans at the Museum of Chocolate in Astorga
food / travel
Alfonso Masoliver

Forget Willy Wonka: The Fantastic Tales Of Spanish Chocolate

A chocolate museum nestled in Spain's small town of Astorga reveals how an exotic delicacy became a veritable 'opium of the masses.'

ASTORGA — Mention chocolate in Astorga, a town in north-western Spain, and you'll plunge into pages of Ibero-American history. This spiced, sweet delicacy, available in any corner shop or gas station, wasn't originally easy for Spaniards to get their hands on. When it first arrived, it tasted harsh and bitter, like the iron and gunpowder used to conquer its homeland, Mexico, in the 16th century. The conquistador Hernán Cortés and his companions noted a drink served at Aztec banquets "in delicate, golden cups, made of cocoa itself, which they said was in order to consort with women." They soon learned the drink would infuse any man with unusual energy— a magic potion that could energize warriors before battle.

A similar idea probably crossed Emperor Charles V of Spain's mind when he ordered the import of this miracle drink in order to fire up his foot soldiers in the frigid Netherlands. Cocoa became a hot commodity and a prized dowry, and when Cortés' own daughter was betrothed to the future Marquis of Astorga, the aroma of chocolate likely began to waft through the streets of this small, historic town.

The only problem? Chocolate paste was unbearably bitter. Nobody could drink it, not even the emperor's hardened soldiers. Then the Church got their hands on it. Nobody is certain, but it's believed that a Spanish monk may have been the big genius who thought of adding sugar to the acrid potion. Served hot with a touch of cinnamon, cocoa became an ideal drink to help the monks endure long, tedious days of monastic fasting.

The Museum of chocolate in Astorga, Spain. — Photo: wanderlustinglawyer via Instagram

The following centuries saw a chocolate frenzy. It boomed in Spanish society as a sweetened drink, initially served in stately homes before making its way to the general public. It became the coke of the 17th century.

A veritable "chocolate age" fell over Astorga.

Its recipe, simply coca and sugar, was more natural than today — and more addictive. Ladies attending mass would sip little cups of chocolate to quieten their hunger, until priests banned this practice and made it punishable by excommunication. Some even claimed the "bewitchment" of Charles II, the country's last Hapsburg monarch, was, in fact, an addiction to chocolate. In 1644, the sale of chocolate was banned in Madrid.

Like cocaine today, often mixed with impurities to boost its quantity and yields, chocolate was made illegal in 17th-century Spain. It was once observed that chocolate dealers "sought new ways of corrupting it by throwing in ingredients that increase its weight but diminish its goodness and are so harmful to health... with a pinch of cinnamon and the spice of pepper, they hide the bread crumbs, corn flour, bits of orange peel, chestnuts, ash and all manner of filth."

Jumping back to Astorga, after chocolate's darkest years have passed, it's reinstated as a legal good and its fame spreads across the Western world. It attracts French kings eager to taste it. Over the centuries, monks perfect its recipe.

A wise person eventually solidified it into easily edible chunks, and Astorga became an established production point. A veritable "chocolate age" fell over Astorga, where the cold, dry climate gave it an ideal location in a time before refrigeration.

These are the stories you will find in Astorga's Chocolate Museum. Visitors shouldn't expect Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, with mini-men chanting as they work or cascades of cocoa. Rest assured, the museum is a safe environment where children will not be turned into colored giants or shut into televisions. While the museum does have a friendly, robust man who mashes chocolate paste on hot stone, he does so without a Disney-style period costume. Personally, I suspect Willy Wonka's fantasy world was a publicity stunt to distract from the dismal taste of his products.

Chocolate bars at the Chocolate Museum in Astorga, Spain. — Photo: Sugar Lane via Instagram

The museum is not a place of fabulous tales for dreamers, for factual history was fascinating enough. I'd rather know the reality behind the chocolate myths, for it brings a touch of truth to a world blinded by the television screen and its unbearable sheen. I prefer learning about the labor that goes into making chocolate and watching the vigorous kneading than imaging it emerging from a crackpot factory. The hard hard work enhances the magic of its taste.

Visit the Astorga museum and ditch the myths. Know chocolate as it is: a whimsical delicacy, the product of wars, intrigue and of trial and error. A dark concoction, an opium of the masses, a food for the most discerning palates. When you're given three ounces of chocolate to savor at the end of your visit, you'll appreciate more than the delicious taste in your mouth. You're biting on a chunk of history made of little bits of sugary bliss.

Visiting an apartment in Istanbul, Turkey
Economy
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Rent Due: What COVID-19 Could Mean For Real Estate Market

Real estate markets are starting to stir from their Covid-induced slumber. After months of plummeting listings and frozen transactions, new deals are finally being made and prices have begun to recover.

But the extent to which real estate will share the longer-term pain of a global economic downturn is still unclear, with some predicting that a momentary rebound will vanish when the effect of government stimulus packages wears off and housing loans become inaccessible. Beyond the depth of the crisis, there are also signs of lasting changes brought on by the pandemic, from telework-adapted homes and urban flight to a whole new calculus for office space and retail.

Here is a quick tour of the real estate landscape in the rubble of COVID-19"s first wave:

Flexible Homes City living is often about making a choice between features, including outdoor and indoor floor plans. But the lockdowns have shown the value in having a home that can do it all.

  • In Madrid, houses with a terrace, garden and spacious common areas are suddenly in high demand as real estate transactions resume. After three months of confinement, Madrileños are searching for "multipurpose" homes which are adapted to teleworking, La Razon reports.

  • Design and construction agencies have been forced to quickly adapt to this new trend, with one major real estate developer reporting that 25% of client demands now revolve around adapting living spaces to a potential future crisis.

  • These new trends have led to speculations that prices for second-hand homes could drop while new buildings could become more expensive.

Urban Flight The first trend that appeared on the real estate market after lockdowns were imposed was a rush to rural, as people decided where to spend their confinement months.

  • In France, a market analysis by Notaires de France shows that 17% of urban dwellers relocated to their country homes once the pandemic arrived.

  • Rural living offers bigger homes with green open spaces, and real estate agencies speculate that this trend could translate into a spike in prices on countryside property that extends even after the pandemic.

  • Still, French analysts are skeptical to a full recovery of the market as a whole in 2020, especially as national real estate saw record investment volumes in 2019.

A real estate agency in Barcelona — Photo: Paco Freire/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Retail Recession The retail sector has felt the full force of the pandemic. COVID-19 lockdowns came at a time when online shopping was already posing an existential threat to brick-and-mortar stores around the world.

  • In the UK, market intelligence firm S&P Global describes the retail sector as being on "life support" after months of little or no income. This is especially true on high streets with jacked-up rents.

  • Most indicators point to the dynamic continuing, and the sector now faces an ominous combination of a prolonged squeeze on consumer spending coupled with a further acceleration of e-commerce.

  • Naturally, the service-oriented establishments that simply cannot move online — like cafes and hairdressers — have taken a serious hit throughout the pandemic. Yet, with much better chances of recovery, they will be an important stabilizer for real estate prices and rents.

Office Boom Or Bust The shift towards telecommuting was well underway before the pandemic hit, with studies showing that the average global worker is at her desk only 40% of the time. It is widely believed that the impacts of COVID-19 will drive more people towards working from home, which means office space will lose value.

  • Office real estate is a historically resilient market segment, partly due to the large share of prime office space in core downtown areas in major cities, where location brings important benefits like networking. There is also the long-term nature of office leases which mitigate downside risk amid recessions.

  • Traditionally stable markets have so far retained low vacancy rates, like Tokyo at a stable 2%, or Melbourne and Sydney with a vacancy rate of 3.4% and 5.6%, respectively.

  • Two other factors to consider: first, offices are evolving with our needs, becoming more efficient and smarter spaces and may not become outdated; secondly, some believe that this period of imposed teleworking will rather drive us back to the office, as stated in a recent report from the Kenan Institute: "Everything we've learned in the last 20 or 30 years has suggested that increased use of technology actually raises the value of face-to-face interactions."
Mount Etna has resumed eruptive activities: all show and no risk for the Sicilian population
BBC

Worldcrunch Today, Dec. 23: COVID In Antarctica, Trump Vs. Stimulus, Messi Record

Welcome to Wednesday, where Trump blocks U.S. stimulus package, the last continent gets its first COVID cases and Messi breaks Pele's record. We also discover the different ways the world's teachers kept 1.5 billion students learning through the pandemic's lockdowns.

SPOTLIGHT: A HUMAN MUTATION: PANDEMIC TRIALS, TRANS SPECIES VISIONS

Seeing Manel de Aguas can prompt a range of reactions. The connected artificial "fins' implanted in his skull might look silly to some, inspiring to others, or just very disturbing. "I don't feel 100% human," the 27-year-old Catalan told the La Razón daily last week.

On his Instagram page, de Aguas describes himself as a Trans Species Artist. Those fins protruding from his head help him "feel" the weather, and as such are for him both aesthetic and prosthetic. They are as much a part of what he claims as a genuine cyborg identity as they are part of his creative image and business model. Is this a kind of 21st-century circus act? A role model for all those who have ever felt deeply connected to other species on the planet? Or are we witnessing a walking preview of the hybrid future of the human race?

That's the future of "transhumanism," predicted by more and more respected thinkers, including renowned author Yuval Harari (Sapiens, Homos Deus), where advances in biotechnology, genetics and artificial intelligence may reorder what we consider to be human.

Building machines and scientific technology into our bodies is of course nothing new, though until now it's been the almost exclusive purview of the medical sector for those seeking to fix or replace something that has somehow been lost, broken or deficient. We're crossing another boundary when we fuse tech and flesh for less purely practical reasons: whether its de Aguas' apparent attempt to better connect to nature (or boost his Instagram following) — or for more nefarious ends.

"The reality is that the human species will become immortal. In 100 or 500 or 1,000 years, it doesn't matter," Laurent Alexandre, a leading French medical technologist, told Le Figaro. "The real question is at what price. The Faustian pact with technology is heavy with consequences."

Most recently, the rising interest in transhumanism has also sparked a growing number of conspiracy theories triggered by 5G technology and COVID-19 vaccines, with claims that we will soon carry, unwillingly, electronic chips in our bodies and brains.

But of course, the current pandemic is warning not only about the risks of human advancement but also about our weaknesses in the face of nature. While transhumanism opens the door to the physical enhancement of our very selves — and the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is a testament to our technological prowess — we are still in the dark about how the virus may have been first transmitted from other species. The human condition, it seems, is still very much driven by our mortality.

— Laure Gautherin

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Clashes in Gaza on May 14
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG

A Bloody Contrast, 24 World Front Pages After Gaza Killings

PARIS — The world reacted in a chorus of shock Tuesday after the deadliest day in Gaza since 2014, as Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinians protesting at the border against the opening of the new American embassy in Jerusalem. U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize the holy city as Israel's capital, against the will of almost the entire international community, has been the source of deadly clashes for months. But the response of Israeli Defense Forces on demonstrators Monday was brutal. Haaretz, the progressive Israeli daily, posted an editorial Tuesday titled: "Stop The Bloodbath."

The death toll had risen Tuesday morning to 60, with more than 2,000 wounded. As those killed yesterday are being put to rest, more protests are expected as Palestinians also commemorate the 70-year anniversary of the Nakba, when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war.

The killings have sparked protests as well as official condemnations from around the world, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, who said he was "profoundly alarmed and concerned by the sharp escalation of violence and the number of Palestinians killed and injured in the Gaza protests."Many of Tuesday's newspaper front pages captured the contrast of Tuesday's events, where Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump was beaming during the inauguration of the new embassy, while unarmed civilians were being killed just miles away at the border. Le Monde"s lead article opened with the following words: "Champagne in Jerusalem, blood in Gaza."

ISRAEL

Haaretz

Israel Hayom

The Jerusalem Post

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La Razon's July 12 front page
Geopolitics
Lucie Jung

Extra! Spain Remembers ETA Victim 20 Years Later

La Razon, July 11, 2017

Like other top Spanish newspapers, Madrid-based La Razon used its front page Tuesday to pay homage to Miguel Angel Blanco, a day ahead of the 20th anniversary of his murder by the Basque terrorist group ETA on July 13, 1997: "We are all Miguel Angel Blanco," the daily's front page reads.

Blanco, a young local politician, was killed at age 29 by the radical separatist organization. Kidnapped on July 10, 1997, Blanco was shot with two bullet in the head despite mass public protests calling for his release, after the Spanish government refused to comply with the demand of the terrorist group to transfer some 500 ETA prisoners to jails in the Basque region within two days.

The impact of his death triggered international condemnation, and led to violent backlashes against ETA in Spain. The tension rose particularly high in the Basque city of Pamplona where riots broke out between supporters and opponents of the separatist group.

Ultimately, the assassination of Blanco is cited by many as the beginning of long, slow loss of support for the radical Basque group. On April 7, 2017, ETA announced its decision to give up all its weapons and explosives and officially become an unarmed political organization.