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This Happened

This Happened—November 10: Birth Of Microsoft Windows

Updated Nov. 10, 2023 at 12:25p.m.

On this day, Microsoft founder Bill Gates (then just 28 years old!) unveiled the original Windows operating system, a piece of software whose name and window-pane logo have become synonymous with modern computing.

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Jude Chan, Jason McLure & Christoph Giesen

Big Tobacco, Tax Windfalls: The Inside Story Of What Really Feeds China's Smoking Habit

No country in the world has as big a cigarette industry as China. This is the story of how a giant state-backed monopoly created the industry, which provides more tax revenue than any other, and ultimately sabotaged the country's anti-smoking efforts in the process.

Updated October 3, 2023 at 12:15 p.m.

This story by The Examination was supported in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center. It was reported with Germany’s Der Spiegel and the investigative newsroom Paper Trail Media, Chinese-language Initium Media and Austria's Der Standard. The full version of the article can be read on The Examination here.

Chongqing, a booming municipality of 32 million people, was set to join a short list of major Chinese cities that have banned indoor smoking in public.

But in August 2020, Zhang Jianmin, head of the state-run monopoly China National Tobacco Corp., paid a visit to local leaders — including the mayor and the powerful head of Chongqing’s branch of the Communist Party.

When Chongqing’s new smoking law was adopted the next month, it included a significant carve-out long sought by the company: Restaurants, hotels and “entertainment venues” such as bars and karaoke clubs could allow smoking in designated areas.

It was another demonstration of strength by China National Tobacco Corp., the largest tobacco company in the world — and one more missed opportunity by China to live up to a key commitment it had made in signing a major international tobacco control treaty 20 years ago this November.

Under that treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, China pledged to enact a national indoor smoking ban, a measure that both protects people from second-hand smoke, and, researchers say, makes smoking less socially acceptable. But in China, the national law never happened, and efforts by municipalities to implement their own bans have been challenged at every turn by the tobacco monopoly, commonly known as China Tobacco.

Other important elements of the WHO treaty also have yet to manifest. China has not banned the marketing of low-tar cigarettes as safer than other products (they aren’t), and has failed to require that tobacco manufacturers disclose many of the cancer-causing toxins in their products.

China’s tobacco addiction, meanwhile, has continued unabated. Smoking rates have barely budged, even as they have plunged in many comparable countries — and as the country has undergone a remarkable economic transformation.

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Julián de Zubiría Samper

AI Is Good For Education — And Bad For Teachers Who Teach Like Machines

Despite fears of AI upending the education and the teaching profession, artificial education will be an extremely valuable tool to free up teachers from rote exercises to focus on the uniquely humanistic part of learning.


BOGOTÁ - Early in 2023, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates included teaching among the professions most threatened by Artificial Intelligence (AI), arguing that a robot could, in principle, instruct as well as any school-teacher. While Gates is an undoubted expert in his field, one wonders how much he knows about teaching.

As an avowed believer in using technology to improve student results, Gates has argued for teachers to use more tech in classrooms, and to cut class sizes. But schools and countries that have followed his advice, pumping money into technology at school, or students who completed secondary schooling with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have not attained the superlative results expected of the Gates recipe.

Thankfully, he had enough sense to add some nuance to his views, instead suggesting changes to teacher training that he believes could improve school results.

I agree with his view that AI can be a big and positive contributor to schooling. Certainly, technological changes prompt unease and today, something tremendous must be afoot if a leading AI developer, Geoffrey Hinton, has warned of its threat to people and society.

But this isn't the first innovation to upset people. Over 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Socrates wondered, in the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus, whether reading and writing wouldn't curb people's ability to reflect and remember. Writing might lead them to despise memory, he observed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English craftsmen feared the machines of the Industrial Revolution would destroy their professions, producing lesser-quality items faster, and cheaper.

Their fears were not entirely unfounded, but it did not happen quite as they predicted. Many jobs disappeared, but others emerged and the majority of jobs evolved. Machines caused a fundamental restructuring of labor at the time, and today, AI will likely do the same with the modern workplace.

Many predicted that television, computers and online teaching would replace teachers, which has yet to happen. In recent decades, teachers have banned students from using calculators to do sums, insisting on teaching arithmetic the old way. It is the same dry and mechanical approach to teaching which now wants to keep AI out of the classroom.

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Pierre Haski

U.S. And China — In Search Of That Sort-Of Sweet Spot Called Détente

The U.S. Secretary of State is visiting Beijing — but even if it's a sign of de-escalation, tensions remain high between the two sides, and it's clear the détente has yet to arrive.


PARIS — Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, is in Beijing this weekend to meet with Chinese leaders.

Originally scheduled for February, the visit was canceled in the wake of the Chinese spy balloon affair over the United States — so the visit is significant in of itself.

But one visit does not a détente make. The gulf between Beijing and Washington has become too large to be bridged in a few hours of talks. Still, it had become unhealthy and even worrying that these two modern superpowers had hardly spoken to each other for seven months. The last time they communicated was the Bali summit meeting between U.S and Chinese leaders Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November.

Meanwhile, rhetoric on both sides has continued to escalate. Military tensions are becoming increasingly frequent in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait. The U.S. military has released videos of high-risk aerial and naval encounters that put both armies at risk of an accidental clash that could easily spiral out of control.

Last month, Washington suggested a meeting between the two defense ministers during a conference in Singapore, but Beijing refused, as its minister was subject to U.S. sanctions. In other words, the mood is not one of détente.

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In The News
Emma Albright, Yannick Champion-Osselin, Chloé Touchard, Marine Béguin and Anne-Sophie Goninet

Ukraine Dam Evacuation, Canada Wildfires Reach NYC, About Ducking Time

👋 Bonġu!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where evacuations are underway in southern Ukraine following the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, an earthquake strikes Haiti in the wake of deadly floods and Apple says goodbye to its “ducking” autocorrect feature. Meanwhile, Colombian daily El Espectador looks at the tension between teachers and the rising power of artificial intelligence.


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In The News
Bertrand Hauger, Laure Gautherin, Sophia Constantino

Kherson Pullout, Biden’s “Good Day,” Art Auction Record

👋 Bonjour!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Russia gives up the key city of Kherson, Biden basks in the U.S. midterms and a late Microsoft billionaire’s art auction pulls in $1.5 billion. We also take a closer look at how Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian coastal resort, has been reinvented (again) to host world leaders for the COP27, and it’s come at the expense of the local ecosystem.


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Daniel Eckert

Some Historical Context On The Current Silicon Valley Implosion

Tech billionaires such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have lost far more money this year than ever before. Eccentric behavior and questionable decisions have both played a role. But there are examples in U.S. business history that have other clues.


BERLIN — Life isn’t always fair, especially when it comes to business. Although he had already registered dozens of patents, during the global economic crisis of the 1930s, tireless inventor Nikola Tesla found himself struggling to put food on the table. Sure, investors today associate his name with runaway wealth and business achievements rather than poverty and failure: Tesla, the company that was named after him, has made Elon Musk the richest man in the world.

Bloomberg estimates the 51-year-old’s current fortune to be $185 billion. While Musk is not a brilliant inventor like Nikola Tesla, many see him as the most successful businessperson of our century.

And yet, over the past month, many are beginning to wonder if Musk is in trouble, if he has spread himself too thin. Most obvious is his messy and expensive takeover of Twitter, which includes polarizing antics and a clear lack of a strategy.

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Work In Progress
Yannick Osselin-Champion and Bertrand Hauger

Work → In Progress: AI, The Pros And Cons Of Your New Sort-Of Colleague

Will it help you, control you ... or replace you?

It seems like Artificial Intelligence is all we read about these days, with some newspapers even suggesting its rapid expansion poses “existential threats to humanity.” But even if we do have a lot of questions about AI, it also opens up opportunities to help human activity for the better – in particular in the world of work.

We’re hearing more about “future-proof careers,” which will survive the advent of AI. A recent report from consulting firm Challenger, Grey and Christmas found that AI was behind nearly 4,000 layoffs in the U.S. last month. That’s almost four times the impact of outsourcing – although cost-cutting still accounted for double the job losses.

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 brings positive news about jobs created by AI and technological advances in the next five years. There’s some nuance around this new tool – which, like any revolutionary invention, will have a lasting impact on many industries.

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In The News
Emma Albright & Inès Mermat

Sudan’s Eid Truce, SpaceXplosion, Airport Gold Heist

👋 Da'anzho!*

Welcome to Friday, where Sudan’s paramilitary group announces a 72-hour truce to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday, UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab resigns over bullying accusations, and Twitter begins its “blue checks” purge. Meanwhile, Argentine daily Clarín looks at the life of an 18th-century nun hailed as the first “feminist” who would become a Catholic saint.

[*Eastern Apache]

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Nakisanze Segawa & Beatrice Lamwaka

Anti-Gay Law Leaves Nowhere To Turn For Uganda’s LGBTQ+

Disowned by their families, evicted by their landlords, and persecuted by the state, LGBTQ Ugandans have fewer and fewer places to turn.

KAMPALA — Just two days after the Ugandan Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act in March, Sam received a call. Her landlord asked her to leave the house she had been renting for almost two years in Kyebando-Kanyanya village, about 4 miles from Kampala.

When Sam, a lesbian who prefers to be identified by one name for fear of stigmatization, asked why she was being evicted, her landlord asked to meet her the following day in the presence of the local chairman (a village leader). She declined, asking for a one-on-one meeting. At the meeting, Sam’s landlord told her that her son, a human rights lawyer, warned her the new law would punish landlords who rent rooms to “homosexuals.”

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Pierre Haski

Where To Look When The Very Idea Of Peace Is Gone?

The signing of the Oslo Accords 30 years ago was followed by a failure that set back the very idea of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. A look back at this historic episode and the lessons we can learn from it today.


PARIS — Thirty years ago to the day, I was standing in Jerusalem's Old City, near the Jaffa Gate. Two young Palestinians were putting up a poster of Yasser Arafat when an Israeli guard appeared.

Everyone froze in fear, thinking a confrontation was about to happen. But the soldiers went on their way without a care in the world for the young Palestinians. Arafat's face appeared on a wall in Jerusalem.

A few hours later, thousands of miles away, on the White House lawn, the famous handshake took place between the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, overseen by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

They had just signed the Oslo Accords, which they hoped would put an end to a century of conflict — just like the scene of détente I had witnessed in Jerusalem.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Emma Albright, Laure Gautherin and Bertrand Hauger

China Clampdown After Protests, Ukraine Nuclear Plant In Limbo, Word Of The Year

👋 Saluton!*

Welcome to Monday, where China appears to be stepping up security amid an unprecedented challenge to Xi Jinping’s rule as COVID protests spread across the country, Ukraine says Russian forces are leaving the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (which Moscow denies), and Merriam-Webster reveals its 2022 Word of the Year. Meanwhile, independent Russian media outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories offers an exclusive look into how the Kremlin’s propaganda curriculum is playing out in Russian schools.


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