Two explosions in Damascus, Syria, killed at least 40 Shiite pilgrims traveling to holy shrines, the United Nations says that with 20 million people at risk of starvation the world faces the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II, and more news from the U.S. and around the globe.
Manhattan US Attorney Says He's Been Fired by DOJ After Refusing to Resign
Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Saturday he was fired from his position after he refused a request from the U.S. Justice Department to resign. On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked the 46 remaining U.S. attorneys appointed by former President Obama to step down, something that usually happens much earlier in a new president’s term, but was delayed because the Trump administration had not lined up replacements. Asking for their resignations early on allows the U.S. attorneys to tie up loose ends on important investigations while their replacements are confirmed. What was surprising in Bharara’s case was that he was asked to remain in his current position after he and Trump met in Trump Tower in November. News of the firing came from Bharara’s personal Twitter account.
I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.
Secret Service Arrests a Man After He Climbs the White House Fence
U.S. Secret Service says it arrested a man late Friday night after he climbed the White House fence and tried to enter the south entrance. The man was identified by police as Jonathan Tran, a 26-year-old from Milpitas, California. President Donald Trump was at the White House during the incident. Tran, who was carrying a backpack, climbed the fence just before midnight, and was found near the south entrance portico. A search of his belongings didn’t turn up anything hazardous, and he has been taken into custody. In the past few years, several people have scaled the fence around the White House, and one man, in 2014, made it through the north entrance doors with a small knife in his pocket. The first family was not at the White House at the time.
20 Million People Face Starvation in East Africa, the Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since WWII
The United Nations said more than 20 million people in four countries are facing starvation due to drought and exacerbated by conflict, marking the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria are in immediate need of aid, otherwise “people will simply starve to death,” Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the security council at a meeting in New York late Friday. To “avert catastrophe,” O’Brien said, nonprofits would need about $4.4 billion by July. An unusual dry season has caused a drought in parts of East Africa, with crops wilting and livestock dying by the thousands. In South Sudan, where a famine was declared last month, the crisis has been exacerbated by a civil war. Famine is a technical term used to measure the risk of starvation in a country, and in order to meet the requirements, more than 30 percent of children would need to be suffering from acute malnutrition, with mortality rates of the country’s population reaching two starvation deaths per day for every 10,000 people. In Nigeria, too, Boko Haram has worsened the situation with attacks on villages in the country’s northeast, displacing 2.6 million people.
Explosions in Damascus Kill at Least 40 Shia Pilgrims
Two explosions killed at least 40 Shia pilgrims and wounded 120 others Saturday in Damascus, Syria. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings. Local TV said the attack was carried out by two suicide bombers, Reuters reported, and images from the scene showed buses with windows shattered, bloodstains on the street, and random bits of scattered clothing. The pilgrims had gathered at a bus station nearby the Bab el Saghir Cemetery when the first bomb exploded, and about 10 minutes later, as victims were being tended to, the second blast went off. The pilgrims had just come from the shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The shrine is a frequent target of attack by ISIS because it’s regularly visited by Shia pilgrims.
The United States has allied with Britain and Australia to form a new anti-China grouping.
A new world is beginning to take shape, even if it remains disguised in the clothes of the old.
The United States, Britain, and Australia have announced what is in effect a new “Anglo” military alliance. The basics are these: In 2016, Australia struck a deal with France to buy a fleet of diesel-powered submarines, rejecting an Anglo-American alternative for nuclear-powered vessels. In March this year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (or, “that fellow down under,” as Joe Biden referred to him), began talking with Washington about reversing its decision. Then, last night, in a live three-way public announcement, Biden, Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that the Australians would scrap their agreement with France to team up with Britain and the U.S. instead, forming a new “AUKUS” military alliance in the process.
Sure, it may be true. But that doesn’t mean it’s productive.
“Your refusal has cost all of us,” President Joe Biden said to unvaccinated people last week, as he announced a new COVID-vaccine mandate for all workers at private companies with more than 100 employees. The vaccinated, he said, are angry and frustrated with the nearly 80 million people who still haven’t received a vaccine, and their patience “is wearing thin.”
He’s not wrong about that. For people who understand that widespread vaccination is our best strategy for beating the pandemic, the 25 percent of Americans who still haven’t received a single shot are a barrier to freedom. Their exasperation is warranted.
But bullying the unvaccinated into getting their shots isn’t going to work in the long run.
What I learned about transcendence from a very boring 100-mile trek
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Last month, a survey by the travel industry found that a majority of Americans changed their vacation plans this summer because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. But not everyone canceled their vacations entirely; travel spending has been almost as high this summer as it was in the summer of 2019. Some would-be adventurers simply found ways to do the exotic things they’d planned to do overseas in less exotic places. One of my friends, for instance, went bungee jumping in North Carolina instead of Costa Rica.
For my vacation, I did the opposite: I went with my family to a fairly exotic place to do a distinctly unexotic thing. I went to Spain and took a very quiet 100-mile walk.
Anyone who’d rather have COVID-19 than get vaccinated is taking two gambles: that immunity will stick around, and that symptoms won’t.
Immune cells can learn the vagaries of a particular infectious disease in two main ways. The first is bona fide infection, and it’s a lot like being schooled in a war zone, where any lesson in protection might come at a terrible cost. Vaccines, by contrast, safely introduce immune cells to only the harmless mimic of a microbe, the immunological equivalent of training guards to recognize invaders before they ever show their face. The first option might be more instructive and immersive—it is, after all, the real thing. But the second has a major advantage: It provides crucial intel in the absence of risk.
Some pathogens aren’t memorable to the body, no matter the form in which they’re introduced. But with SARS-CoV-2, we’ve been lucky: Both inoculationand infection can marshal stellar protection. Past tussles with the virus, in fact, seem so immunologically instructive that in many places, including several nations in the European Union, Israel, and the United Kingdom, they can grant access to restaurants, bars, and travel hubs galore, just as full vaccination does.
A new study suggests that almost half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have mild or asymptomatic cases.
At least 12,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19 this month, as the country inches through its latest surge in cases. But another worrying statistic is often cited to depict the dangers of this moment: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States right now is as high as it has been since the beginning of February. It’s even worse in certain places: Some states, including Arkansas and Oregon, recently saw their COVID hospitalizations rise to higher levels than at any prior stage of the pandemic. But how much do those latter figures really tell us?
From the start, COVID hospitalizations have served as a vital metric for tracking the risks posed by the disease. Last winter, this magazine described it as “the most reliable pandemic number,” while Vox quoted the cardiologist Eric Topol as saying that it’s “the best indicator of where we are.” On the one hand, death counts offer finality, but they’re a lagging signal and don’t account for people who suffered from significant illness but survived. Case counts, on the other hand, depend on which and how many people happen to get tested. Presumably, hospitalization numbers provide a more stable and reliable gauge of the pandemic’s true toll, in terms of severe disease. But a new, nationwide study of hospitalization records, released as a preprint today (and not yet formally peer reviewed), suggests that the meaning of this gauge can easily be misinterpreted—and that it has been shifting over time.
To celebrities, the red carpet of the Met Gala is like an average person’s front lawn: a place for making bold statements. The event, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, is made for flaunting ostentatious couture. The dress code is determined by a theme—this year’s was “American Independence,” in honor of a forthcoming exhibition—that can be interpreted however an attendee prefers. Tickets are $35,000 a pop. And for four hours, the invitees—normally the most relevant cultural figures of the year—get to mug for the camera before heading inside. As a red-carpet co-host, the actor Keke Palmer, declared at the top of last night’s show, “You can never go wrong with a message.”
I like to think of America’s fast-food chains as a bunch of dysfunctional family members. McDonald’s is the golden boy, the kid who’s good at everything and won’t shut up about it. Burger King is the jealous younger brother. KFC is perhaps the cousin who still wears cargo shorts. And then, there’s Taco Bell: fast food’s problem child.
The purveyor of fluorescent nacho cheese is just plain weird. I’m not simply talking about those tacos with Doritos for shells. This is a brand that reportedly spent $500 million on an ad campaign featuring Gidget, a talking chihuahua with the catchphrase “Yo quiero Taco Bell!” A completely real tagline on Taco Bell’s webpage for its fountain drinks reads: “Taco Bell Cups, Matryoshka Dolls, and the Multiplicity of Human Existence.” (It only gets weirder from there.)
Persistent hype around mRNA vaccine technology is now distracting us from other ways to end the pandemic.
At the end of January, reports that yet another COVID-19 vaccine had succeeded in its clinical trials—this one offering about 70 percent protection—were front-page news in the United States, and occasioned push alerts on millions of phones. But when the Maryland-based biotech firm Novavax announced its latest stunning trial results last week, and an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent even against coronavirus variants, the response from the same media outlets was muted in comparison. The difference, of course, was the timing: With three vaccines already authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the nation is “awash in other shots” already, as the The New York Times put it.
The battles over “virginity testing” and “virginity-restoration surgery” reveal the persistence of dangerous pseudoscience.
In the Middle Ages, a royal bride would be inspected before her wedding night to make sure she was a virgo intacta—a virgin with an intact hymen covering the entrance to her vagina. “The Hymen is a membrane not altogether without blood,” wrote the 17th-century court obstetrician Louise Bourgeois. “In the middle it hath a little hole, through which the menses are voided. This at the first time of copulation is broken, which causes some pain, and gushing forth of some quantity of blood; which is an evident sign of virginity.”
In reality, some girls are born without a hymen, while others tear the membrane long before they have sex, most commonly by exercising or, today, by using tampons. Yet the demand for virginity testing—typically, a gynecological exam in which a doctor looks for the presence of a hymen—has proved surprisingly durable. In 1979, the British government performed one on a 35-year-old Indian woman who had traveled to London to get married, in order “to see whether she was, in fact, a bona fide virgin.” (The Guardian later revealed that immigration officials subjected more than 80 women to such tests from 1976 to 1979.) The Egyptian authorities used the pretext of virginity inspections to assault female protesters during the Arab Spring in 2011, and until July of this year the Indonesian military regularly performed such assessments not only on female recruits, but also on the fiancées of its male soldiers.
Will the Black body ever have the opportunity to rest in peace?
The photographs are about the size of a small hand. They’re wrapped in a leatherette case and framed in gold. From the background of one, the image of a Black woman’s body emerges. Her hair is plaited close to her head, and she is naked from the waist up. Her stare seems to penetrate the glass of the frame, peering into the eyes of the viewer. The paper label that accompanies her likeness reads: Delia, country born of African parents, daughter of Renty, Congo. In another frame, her father stands before the camera, his collarbone prominent, and his temples peppered with gray and white hair. The label on his photo says: Renty, Congo, on plantation of B.F. Taylor, Columbia, S.C.
In 1850, when these images were captured, the subjects in the daguerreotypes were considered property. The bodies in the photographs had been shaped by hard labor on the grub plantation, where they’d spent their lives stooped over sandy soil, working approximately 1,200 acres of cotton and 200 of corn. Brought from the fields to a photography studio in Columbia, South Carolina, each person was photographed from different angles, in the hopes of finding photographic evidence of physical differences between the Black enslaved and the white masters who owned them. A daguerreotype took somewhere between three and 15 minutes of exposure time, and the end result was a detailed image imprinted on a small copper-plated sheet, covered with a thin coat of silver.