Welcome to Friday, where new proof is revealed of China's long-range missile silos, India surpasses 400,000 COVID deaths, and we meet the youngest chess grandmaster ever. El Espectador also looks at how the popular Hass avocado is threatening Colombia's ecosystems and causing water shortages in areas once dominated by coffee bean cultivation.
• China is building a sprawling network of missile silos: According to satellite imagery, China appears to be building a network of what appear to be intercontinental ballistic missile silos in its western desert. The field comprises 120 silos that could potentially house weapons capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, a finding that analysts argue could change the equation for U.S. military planners in Asia.
• U.S. forces leave main Bagram base in Afghanistan: After nearly 20 years, American troops have pulled out of their main military base in Afghanistan, under an agreement with the Taliban. Friday's withdrawal is the clearest indication that the last of the 2,500+ U.S. troops have left or are nearing departure, months ahead of President Biden's promise that they would be gone by September 11.
• No impeachment for Bolsonaro: The Brazilian lower house will not take up the corruption claims raised by a senate probe into the handling of vaccine procurement, which had renewed calls for impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro.
• COVID update: India has surpassed 400,000 deaths, while the country tries to speed up its vaccination drive. Experts say the real number of fatalities could be much higher. The Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine shows a strong response against the Delta variant as well as other emerging strains. The Delta variant, responsible for most coronavirus infections in the UK, appears to not be driving a surge in the rate of hospital admissions. This data suggests that countries with high vaccination rates are unlikely to see major surges in hospitalizations from the fast-spreading variant.
• Boy Scouts of America to pay $850 million sex abuse settlement: In what is slated to be the largest sexual abuse settlement in U.S. history, the Boy Scouts of America will pay out an $850 million settlement to victims of sexual abuse while taking part in their organization. More than 60,000 people have come forward with claims, many of which were never reported to law enforcement.
• New evacuations ordered amid wildfire and heatwave in Canada: Lytton, the Western Canadian town that this week recorded the country's highest ever temperature of 49.6C (121.3F), evacuated more than 1,000 people before a fast-moving wildfire "engulfed the town within minutes." The parliamentary representative for Lytton's district wrote that 90% of the town is burned. The heat wave continues to wreak havoc throughout Canada's west coast.
• Bezos gives 82-year-old woman second chance to go to space: Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aerospace engineer who trained to go to space in 1961, but was denied due to her gender, will be Jeff Bezos' "honored guest" in his upcoming space flight. Funk was part of the Mercury 13 program which sought to train female astronauts, but was later cancelled, as only male military test pilots were permitted to become astronauts at the time.
Dutch daily De Volkskrant features yesterday's historic apology by Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema for the city's past role in slave trade. "For the active involvement of the Amsterdam city government in the commercial system of colonial slavery and the global trade in enslaved people, I apologize," says Halsema. She's the first senior Dutch government figure to issue such a declaration, reports De Volkskrant.
Colombian farming: the costs of replacing coffee with avocados
The Hass avocado, fast becoming one of Colombia's big export earners, is threatening local ecosystems and causing water shortages, reports María Mónica Monsalve in Bogota-based daily El Espectador.
While the Colombian government is keen to boost avocado exports — the country exported more than 77,000 tons in 2020 — environmental concerns have grown in the three departments with just over half of all avocados, Antioquia, Caldas and Tolima. A well-known reason is that the avocado is a thirsty fruit. Comparatively, while a banana is grown with 160 liters of water, the avocado requires 227 liters. It has been blamed for water shortages in other producer countries like Chile and Mexico.
Besides water, some avocado farms, which may be foreign properties, are cropping up next to or inside protected woodlands, beside moors or skipping environmental permissions. Mónica Flores, a spokeswoman for the CittaSlow lifestyle network said that many farmers have been pushed into farming avocados and other cash crops by the collapse of coffee prices after 1989. While traditionally, the local crop was coffee, she said many farmers going broke after the end of the International Coffee Pact, had heeded the government's suggestions to branch out.
Avocados, planted mainly for exportation, also threaten the livelihood of small-scale farmers. In 2019 the Colombian academic Ángela Serrano published a paper in Nature and Space on how avocado farming was making traditional farming unprofitable, and inflicting ruinous losses on the peasantry living in districts where avocados have become dominant. She wrote these were a monoculture fit for big enterprises, and a small plot holder could ill afford to invest his savings in a potentially risky business.
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汉服 (Han Fu), meaning either Han people's clothing (after the major ethnic group in China) or clothing from the Han dynasty is a traditional Chinese style of dress that is currently finding new popularity among young Chinese people. The craze for Han Fu started in the early 2000s as people sought to reconnect with pre-Communist Chinese traditional culture; the fashion trend has now extended to today's students and sub-culture aficionados.
12 years, 4 months
Abhimanyu Mishra, from the U.S. state of New Jersey, has broken the world record for the youngest chess grandmaster, gaining the title four months after his 12th birthday. The previous record was held by Russian grandmaster, Sergey Karjakin, who was 12 years old and seven months at the time.
"We will never have a true idea of how many people we lost in this second wave.
— Rijo M John, a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the Indian southern city of Kochi, told Reuters, as India's official coronavirus death toll surpasses 400,000, though experts believe the actual number could have reached one million. "Undercounting of deaths is something that has happened across states, mostly because of lags in the system," the professor said.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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