The Egg of Columbus versus the Calumny


The Eggs of Columbus

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Words Were Once His Harshest Weapon. Now He Carries an AK-47.

Anton Filatov, a Ukrainian film critic, was pulled into a theater he never expected to enter: the front lines of war, where he now writes of the scene in the trenches instead of what’s onscreen.

Anton Filatov, left, a Ukrainian film critic turned soldier, in an abandoned house near the front in Donbas in August. He has kept writing throughout the war, though his subject has changed.
Anton Filatov, left, a Ukrainian film critic turned soldier, in an abandoned house near the front in Donbas in August. He has kept writing throughout the war, though his subject has changed.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

DOLIVKA, Ukraine — Before the war arrived at his doorstep, Anton Filatov, a Ukrainian film critic, said the most dangerous thing he ever carried was a fork.

“I had never touched a weapon,” he said. “I was against war. I ran as far as I could from it.”

But as with so many other Ukrainians, the fighting found him, and his life, has become a real-life war movie. He is serving on the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Russian invaders, in some of the most contested, blood-soaked territory, caught in a theater he never imagined for himself.

In late August, he was stationed in an abandoned house in the village of Rozdolivka, in the war-ravaged Donbas region. This used to be a place where the gardens had grape vines crawling up trellises and the houses had roofs. Then the shelling began.

During one barrage, Mr. Filatov, 34, ducked into a bomb shelter, still wearing his owlish glasses. He is extremely nearsighted, minus 7, one of the many reasons his wife was shocked he was drafted.

Even with the horrors he has to squint to see, and the daily grind of being a soldier, he hasn’t given up on his writing. The opposite. Ukraine’s war has become his new material, as he delves into the fear, sorrow, rage and anxiety he is experiencing and tries to find meaning in the smallest things around him, like the mice that scurry over him while he sleeps.

In a recent text message, he wrote:

Once, during one of the heavy attacks, I sat in a dugout and watched the earth tremble. Chopped pine roots stuck out from the wall of our shelter. The sap of the tree flowed out of them. It shined like mercury and resembled tears. A few months later, I don’t remember how many explosions there were that evening or what weapons had been fired. But I clearly remember one image: how the earth wept with heavy, cold tears.

War has always provoked remarkable writing, from the Iliad onward. Norman Mailer published “The Naked and the Dead” after serving in the Pacific in World War II as a young man just out of Harvard. Bao Ninh wrote perhaps the saddest, most agonizing account of the Vietnam War, in which he narrowly survived as a North Vietnamese foot soldier, in “The Sorrow of War.”

Mr. Filatov’s blog posts on Facebook are a 21st-century version of this, and they have gained him a growing audience.

Collages made by Mr. Filatov of books he’s reading and war objects, published on his Facebook page.
Collages made by Mr. Filatov of books he’s reading and war objects, published on his Facebook page.Credit…Anton Filatov

“The war opens his gifts even more,” said Alexandr Gusev, a veteran Ukrainian film critic, who was an admirer of Mr. Filatov’s film writing before the fighting and has been following his wartime blogging since.

He writes in three languages — Ukrainian, Russian and English — and in the 2010s, when Ukraine’s film industry took off, so did Mr. Filatov’s career. He saw thousands of movies, wrote hundreds of reviews and traveled the world to sit on film festival juries.

Cinema, he said, helps him “understand people,” and film criticism lets him explore his love for the movies, his interest in stories — and his talent for evocative writing.

“From the start, Anton was really noticeable,” Mr. Gusev said. “He has this ability to use his own personal emotional condition, which brings him close to his audience. He became one of the top five or six film critics in our country.”

With the 2020 Covid pandemic, cinemas in the country shut down and so did many Ukrainian publications. His wife, Elena Filatova, is also a journalist, and to help support his family, he became a content editor for Nestlé, while still writing the occasional review.

Around 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 24, his young son Platon toddled up to a window in their apartment in the Kyiv suburbs and looked down at the street. Cars were fleeing, bomb blasts were shaking the city, and the little boy started crying. The Russians had invaded.

As required, Mr. Filatov reported for military duty, thinking he’d never be chosen, but a few weeks later, he boarded a train crowded with soldiers for Donbas, where the fighting has been the fiercest.

Mr. Filatov at the house he was based in near the front in Donbas, in August. He didn’t always have such accommodations. His first task on the front was digging a pit to sleep in.
Mr. Filatov at the house he was based in near the front in Donbas, in August. He didn’t always have such accommodations. His first task on the front was digging a pit to sleep in. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“It’s such a paradox that a calm, peaceful man like him is forced into a situation like that,” said Britt Sorensen, a Norwegian film critic who served on a film festival jury with Mr. Filatov. “The fact that he has to fight physically for his country instead of using his intellectual capacity for the best of his country is outrageous.”

As a simple soldier, Mr. Filatov’s first task on the front was digging a pit to sleep in. The rocklike soil was so hard he had to use an ax. It took an hour just to hack away a few inches. He didn’t like living in that hole: “It’s not so nice in middle of the night when some spiders try to come into your nose,” he said.

But he didn’t stay long.

At that stage of the fighting, he and his unit were being pushed back again and again, firsthand witnesses to the Ukrainian Army’s struggles in Donbas this spring and summer.

A voracious reader, Mr. Filatov often writes about the overlap between the books he carries and the war itself.

In one blog post, he compared the underworld of a Jo Nesbo thriller, “Phantom,” to the suspicion and treachery in Donbas, where many residents support the Russian military and have worked secretly to aid them in their fight.

The settlements here are full of traitors. They walk the streets like phantoms. Restless. Invisible. Dangerous.

One night in Donbas, he saw something very unusual in the starlit sky: glowing white embers, burning bright, floating gently down, almost like flowers. “It was very beautiful,” he said. “But horrible.”

It was white phosphorous, an especially dreaded munition that burns straight through anything. He started taking anti-anxiety drugs to be able to function.

While Ukrainian forces have been doing well in the south — having just liberated Kherson, a strategically important city — Mr. Filatov predicted the fighting in Donbas “will continue for a very long time.”

He mentioned an exchange in a Donbas town, where a drunk man told him he had taken an oath of allegiance to the U.S.S.R., so how could he switch that allegiance to Ukraine?

“I said, ‘how can you be obligated by a country that doesn’t exist?’” Mr. Filatov recalled. “But a conversation with a drunk man is something very special. I don’t think he heard me.”

During a missile attack in one Donbas town, his battalion’s bookkeeper was gravely wounded, and Mr. Filatov was asked to step in.

“What I really wanted was to work with drones and maps,” he said. “But nobody asked me.”

Mr. Filatov, left, outside the house where he was based near the front in Donbas, in August.
Mr. Filatov, left, outside the house where he was based near the front in Donbas, in August.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

In his new job, he trots from house to house, where Ukrainian troops are often based, and sometimes even trench to trench, carrying his AK-47 in one hand and a battered, army-issued laptop in the other. He conducts interviews with soldiers, asking them about everything from emergency contacts to their shoe size, building a database of essential information for the entire battalion.

His life before the war now seems so far away. “Quite everything that I loved, that I wanted, that I was interested in, has changed,” he said.

He used to gravitate toward art-house films, but now says that one of his Top 10 favorites is Christopher Nolan’s Hollywood blockbuster, “Dunkirk,” about which he recently wrote:

The leitmotif of this film is the hypnotizing sound of a ticking stopwatch. Here, at the front line, shelling is so intense that after every explosion, hearing disappears for tens of seconds. When the shelling stops, the hearing gradually begins to return. In one of these cases, the first thing I heard was the ticking of a clock. Exactly like in this movie. And I thought: How many of these seconds are allotted for the rest of my life? How cool is it that I’m still alive?

With death surrounding him, he has turned from someone who never had any urge to participate in combat into a man who now thinks a lot about killing.

“When I see how my friends are killed and maimed in the war, when my wife writes to me that she sits with our 2-year-old son in the basement for several hours, when my relatives tell me that they cannot work due to power outages, because the Russians bombed the power plant, I feel great anger inside me,” he said. “At such moments, I want to run into an attack on the Russians, who are standing a few kilometers from me and shoot them all.”

He has not seen his wife or his son since May 12.

“It took me a month to get over the shock,” Ms. Filatova, his wife, said. “Then the next month was just fear.”

“I put myself in a jar,” she added. “Now, I’m just waiting for it to end.”

Winter is still a month away, but it’s already sweeping across Ukraine, the cold making everything harder. Mr. Filatov sleeps in a room with a temperature slightly higher than a refrigerator. More than half his unit, he said, was “injured, sick or dead.”

Mr. Filatov walking in a frontline town in Donbas, in August.
Mr. Filatov walking in a frontline town in Donbas, in August.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

In a recent voice message, he spoke softly and slowly about his own mortality:

One morning I went to the post office to receive a shipment from my family of warm clothes. They came in a big plastic bag. Then I was busy all day and took this plastic bag everywhere I went. In the evening, unexpectedly, I was asked to help our medics load a plastic bag with a casualty from our battalion. This coincidence just struck me emotionally.

A plastic bag gives you life in the morning and in the evening a very similar plastic bag takes life away. Here at war everything is guided by coincidence or accident. No one knows how the missile will fly, how the shrapnel will go or where the bullet will land.

Are you going to carry the bag? Or are you going to be in the bag?

New York Times – November 17, 2022

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Cancer: Could metastasis be nipped in the bud?

A group of scientists has found the malignant cells in colon tumors responsible for relapses, and propose a new treatment to eliminate them

The biologist Eduard Batlle, photographed last year in a hotel in Valencia after an interview with EL PAÍS.
The biologist Eduard Batlle, photographed last year in a hotel in Valencia after an interview with EL PAÍS.MÒNICA TORRES

Metastasis, the spread of a tumor to different parts of the body, is one of the biggest enemies of humanity: 90% of all cancer deaths are caused by this lethal dissemination of tumor cells. Now, an international team of scientists has found a possible weakness in the attacker: the group, led by Spanish biologist Eduard Batlle, spotted the malignant cells that are released from colon cancer, travel through the bloodstream and invade the liver. Colon cancer is the second deadliest tumor on the planet (only after lung cancer), with one million deaths per year. The finding was published recently in the journal Nature.

With traditional equipment, these malignant cells remained invisible until now, explains Batlle. His team developed a new method that is capable of capturing tiny metastases, of only three or four cells, in order to study them. “We are investigating whether this type of cell also exists in other tumors. In fact, these cells have genetic similarities with those of the most aggressive pancreatic cancer,” says Batlle, from the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona.

The usual treatment for colorectal cancer consists of the removal of the affected area, followed by chemotherapy to prevent recurrence. However, approximately 35% of patients with an apparently localized tumor develop metastasis in the following years, with a mortality rate of over 85%. The cells that Batlle’s team identified and named High Relapse Cells remain hidden in other organs, like the liver or a lung, and produce these fatal secondary tumors. The biologist believes that their discovery has the potential to change the treatment of the disease.

Mouse liver with a micrometastasis (left) and a larger metastasis.
Mouse liver with a micrometastasis (left) and a larger metastasis.IRB BARCELONA

Overall, cancer is no longer a death sentence. More than half of the patients survive. What’s more; in some types of tumors – leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas – “miraculous” cures can be achieved in a few weeks thanks to the immunotherapy revolution, which uses the body’s own natural defenses to fight cancer cells. These treatments, however, do not usually work against colon cancer and its metastases, according to Batlle. The biologist’s studies in mice, on the other hand, do suggest that immunotherapy can be effective if applied at the right time.

In the colon, the primary tumor shields itself by forming a microenvironment with blood vessels and fibrous cellular material, which protects the cancer cells from the body’s defenses. “However, High Relapse Cells arrive naked in the liver or lungs. They still don’t have their tumor microenvironment. There is a window of opportunity for them to be noticed by the immune system,” says Batlle. In mice with localized tumors, the scientists injected standard immunotherapy to clean up residual detached cancer cells before removing the primary tumor. “These mice, after surgery, are cured. They never relapse, ever again,” celebrates the biologist. The effectiveness of this strategy in humans remains to be proven.

Independently, and without being aware of the existence of the High Relapse Cells, oncologist Myriam Chalabi started a clinical trial in 2017 to test early immunotherapy in people with colon tumors, at the Netherlands Cancer Institute. Her experiment uses a combination of drugs, including nivolumab, which releases the natural brakes on the body’s defenses, causing the immune system to unleash a ferocious attack on the tumor cells. Japanese researcher Tasuku Honjo, creator of nivolumab, won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2018; at the award ceremony, he declared that by 2050 cancer could be a chronic disease that in most cases does not cause death.

Batlle is also optimistic. “Approximately half a million colon cancer patients a year could be suitable for treatment with a therapy that prevents relapse,” he estimates. His team has identified 99 genes that are activated in patients that have up to five times greater risk of relapse after the usual treatment of surgery and chemotherapy. Those 99 genes can be found in the High Relapse Cells, which live on the periphery of the primary tumor until they detach themselves and form small clusters that colonize the liver or the lung through the blood. The researchers believe that their finding could also serve to identify the patients with a higher risk of metastasis.

The scientists at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, led by Batlle and biotechnologist Adrià Cañellas, worked with colleagues from Spain and other countries, such as the geneticist Simon Leedham, from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom) and the oncologist Sabine Tejpar, from the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium). And while Batlle’s team continues to investigate this promising line of research on its own, it is also watching closely for the results of the clinical trial in humans in the Netherlands. “We are expectant. We think that many patients are going to benefit from this,” says Batlle..

As Russian Strikes Mount, Ukraine Works to Keep the Lights On

This week’s assault hit at least 15 energy facilities — some for the fifth or sixth time — forcing controlled blackouts in every part of the country.

Employees working last week to repair a transformer at an electrical substation damaged by a Russian missile strike in central Ukraine.
Employees working last week to repair a transformer at an electrical substation damaged by a Russian missile strike in central Ukraine. Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia is turning winter into a weapon, even as its soldiers flail on the battlefield.

In a relentless and intensifying barrage of missiles fired from ships at sea, batteries on land and planes in the sky, Moscow is destroying Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, depriving millions of heat, light and clean water.

Keeping the lights on for the majority of the millions of people who live in cities and towns far from the front — and keeping those places functioning through the winter — is now one of the greatest challenges Ukraine faces.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Wednesday night, “If we survive this winter, and we will definitely survive it, we will definitely win this war.”

With at least 15 energy facilities hit on Tuesday — some for the fifth or sixth time — the waves of Russian assaults have left about 40 percent of Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed.

On Tuesday alone, close to 100 missiles rained down on Ukrainian territory, part of a pattern that many Western officials and legal experts say is a war crime.

The attacks are also damaging water-supply systems that are essential to energy production as well as daily survival.

The latest assault compromised the connection of two nuclear plants to Ukraine’s national grid, forcing nuclear operators to dramatically scale back the amount of energy they produce. The national energy utility has now imposed sweeping but controlled blackouts that include every region of the country, leaving millions without power for six to twelve hours a day.

A darkened residential neighborhood in Kyiv on Tuesday. Waves of Russian assaults have left about 40 percent of Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed.
A darkened residential neighborhood in Kyiv on Tuesday. Waves of Russian assaults have left about 40 percent of Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed. Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Yurii Levytskiy, the head of the repairs at a critical substation in central Ukraine, offered a glimpse at the magnitude of the challenges facing utility workers — and the nation — during a recent visit to the facility, which he described as the “zero front line for the energy sector.”

“You can see what one missile can do,” said Mr. Levytskiy, pointing to the burned out, hulking remains of the 200-ton transformer that converts high-voltage electricity to a lower wattage that is used in homes and businesses. Charred copper coils and electrical wires spilled out from the multimillion dollar transformer like the innards of a metal beast whose belly had been ripped open.

The missile exploded with such force that the blast shattered windows at a school a mile away, triggered a fire that burned for four days and knocked out power to more than half a million people.

“One missile,” Mr. Levytskiy repeated. Russia has fired more than 4,500 missiles across Ukraine over the course of the war, according to Ukrainian officials, and in the last six weeks, the vast majority have been aimed at civilian infrastructure.

“The situation is serious, the most serious in history,” said Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukrenergo, the national electric utility on Wednesday. “Since the beginning of October, this is already the sixth massive attack on the country’s energy infrastructure, this time the largest.”

In an interview before the latest wave of attacks, Mr. Kudrytskyi said the Russian military was being guided by electrical engineers familiar with the country’s energy grid, since much of it was built when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Mr. Levytskiy’s substation is a case in point, having been constructed in 1958.

Damage at the high-voltage electrical substation in central Ukraine that Yurii Levytskiy and his team aim to repair.
Damage at the high-voltage electrical substation in central Ukraine that Yurii Levytskiy and his team aim to repair.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Time

To hit the transformer from hundreds of miles away, the Russians had to know exactly where to strike to do the most damage. Which is why even as Ukrainian air defenses improve — shooting down 75 of the 96 cruise-missiles fired at Ukraine on Tuesday — the Russian missiles that manage to get through continue to degrade the already battered grid.

The precision of the strikes on the infrastructure stands in contrast to the disarray that has characterized much of the Russian military effort. With each loss on the battlefield, Moscow has stepped up its campaign the subjugate Ukraine by targeting civilian infrastructure.

Through a combination of the dedicated efforts of utility workers, shared public sacrifice and sheer tenacity, Ukraine has managed to find a way so far to weather the relentless assaults.

There is no evidence of a mass exodus from the country, although Ukrainian officials have said one goal of the Kremlin is to send another flood of refugees to European countries.

Mr. Levytskiy said that the controlled blackouts — which have grown in scope after each successive attack — have allowed engineers to stabilize the grid. Crucially, despite temporary interruptions, Ukrainian utility workers have also managed to keep the water flowing.

In a country that is 70 percent urban, if the grid fails, the consequences can cascade quickly, especially if water infrastructure is compromised.

“People don’t really fully understand this, but water and energy are incredibly intertwined and interconnected,” said Dr. Peter Gleick, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research group that addresses global water challenges.

“It takes a tremendous amount of energy to run any modern water system,” he said. “It also takes a lot of water to run our energy systems.”

“As a result, anything that directly affects the energy system directly affects our ability to provide the water that is essential for human survival,” he said.

Ukrainians gather water from an inlet of the Dnipro River. Russian forces destroyed Kherson’s communications tower and electrical and water systems as they retreated from the city last week.
Ukrainians gather water from an inlet of the Dnipro River. Russian forces destroyed Kherson’s communications tower and electrical and water systems as they retreated from the city last week.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

While people can live in the dark, when the water stops flowing, the fabric of city life can unravel.

Without electricity, taps run dry, water purification becomes unreliable, and wastewater is either not collected or has to be disposed of untreated in rivers and lakes, which can lead to water-related disease outbreaks like cholera and ecological disaster.

Compounding the dangers for Ukraine, Russia is also attacking water infrastructure directly.

Dr. Gleick is currently working with colleagues in Ukraine and Europe on an investigative paper documenting the impact of over 60 explicit attacks on water-related infrastructure in Ukraine in just the first few months of the war.

Since then, Russia has targeted dams and many other critical water-related facilities, according to Ukrainian officials.

Dr. Gleick noted that such attacks are directly banned under the Geneva Convention protocols that prohibit attacks on civilian infrastructure, including “drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works.”

Dmytro Novytskyi, the president of the Water and Sewage Utilities Association of Ukraine, said that the attacks on energy infrastructure compounded the staggering challenges water utility workers are already confronting.

“It’s very difficult to get the spare parts now as all the logistic chains are broken,” he said, leading to difficulties at water purification and wastewater treatment facilities.

Collecting drinking water from public taps in Kyiv in late October, after missile strikes cut off water service to most of the city.
Collecting drinking water from public taps in Kyiv in late October, after missile strikes cut off water service to most of the city. Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

“Some of the plants stopped working because they are near the front line or in the occupied territories,” he said.

The chemical factory that produces the reagents needed to treat water drawn from the Dnipro and Dniester rivers — the main sources of freshwater in Ukraine — is in a southern city occupied by the Russians.

“Now it’s not working and we have to import those things at a double price,” he said.

The Ukrainian factory that produces chlorine, which is also essential in the process of ensuring clean water, is under constant threat of attack and had to be shut down.

“So we have to import chlorine as well,” he said.

Even as Russia steps up its direct assaults on critical infrastructure, Ukraine is still struggling to repair damage done over the course of nine months of war.

For instance, in Hostomel, where the first battle of the war took place, the Russian retreat came quickly but the damage was lasting.

“We were so happy to kick them out of here, but then we felt the horror of what we saw here,” Leonid Vintsevyeh, the deputy head of the Hostomel military administration. Hundreds of people were killed, thousands of apartments and houses were destroyed and the critical infrastructure was in ruins.

In a remarkable feat of engineering, water and other basic services were restored in a matter of weeks. But eight months later, crews are still working to repair the damage. That is also true in Bucha, Irpin, Sumy, Chernihiv and all the other places Russia suffered early defeats.

Municipal workers installed a backup water line from Kyiv to Hostomel earlier this month. The line is powered by gravity and will function without electricity.
Municipal workers installed a backup water line from Kyiv to Hostomel earlier this month. The line is powered by gravity and will function without electricity.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

In parts of northeastern Ukraine where Russians were driven out in September, the work to restore basic services is just beginning.

In Kherson, which was retaken by Ukrainian forces in recent days, the authorities have to clear mines and make the city and surrounding region safe before they can even begin to properly assess the damage that has left people tens of thousands without heat, water and electricity.

At the power substation in central Ukraine, which cannot be identified because it is critical infrastructure, workers keep a bus ready to rush workers to an off-site bunker every time the air raid alarm wails, knowing they may be a target.

In the last missile attack, workers had 13 minutes to flee from the time the alarm sounded until the first missile hit. All escaped unharmed.

“We were mentally prepared, knowing it would happen sooner or later,” said Mr. Levytskiy, speaking as 330,000 volts of electricity coursed through the power lines above him, audibly buzzing.

He is braced for more attacks.

Putin is a monster, Mr. Levytskiy said, using more colorful language. But every time Russia strikes, he said, Ukraine will rebuild.

New York Times – November 17, 2022

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A New Focus on a Jewish Artist Who Broke Barriers in Medici-Era Florence

Fresh research into the life of Jona Ostiglio, a hitherto unknown 17th-century Jewish artist, reveals a unique painter who lived outside set boundaries.

“Landscape With People, Palazzo Pitti,” by Jona Ostiglio. The professional painter worked in Florence for some of the city’s most powerful families at a time when Jews were not normally given such opportunities.
“Landscape With People, Palazzo Pitti,” by Jona Ostiglio. The professional painter worked in Florence for some of the city’s most powerful families at a time when Jews were not normally given such opportunities.Credit…Gallerie degli Uffizi

ROME — The life of Jews in 17th-century Florence was quite constrained. They were confined to a ghetto, a cramped area about the size of a football field that housed about 200 families.

They could work only in certain professions, like rag-picking, and were not allowed to join professional guilds or corporations, which would have opened the door to fields like architecture. Their interactions with Christians were strictly regulated.

This is why scholars are puzzling over the life of the Jewish painter Jona Ostiglio, a card-carrying member of a prestigious academy founded by the famed artist Giorgio Vasari. A painter at the Medici court, Ostiglio’s existence was practically unknown until now.

“It’s quite a discovery,” Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery, said on Wednesday ahead of a lecture seeking to extract Ostiglio and his work from historical oblivion. Several pieces attributed to Ostiglio are in the Uffizi’s world-famous collection. “We knew practically nothing about this artist,” Mr. Schmidt added, “an artist without works. ”

Ostiglio, who is believed to have been born between 1620 and 1630 and to have died after 1695, was a professional painter working in Florence for some of the Italian city’s most powerful families at a time when Jews were not normally given such opportunities.

“Was he an exception to the rules or was it more commonplace at the time than we know — that’s this question that remains open,” said Piergabriele Mancuso, the director of the Jewish studies program of the Medici Archive Project, who presented his findings at the Uffizi on Wednesday.

Professor Mancuso came across Ostiglio while researching an exhibition on the Jewish ghetto of Florence that will be hosted by the Uffizi late next year. He cobbled together a profile of Ostiglio from literary and archival sources.

“Landscape, Foreign Ministry,” by Ostiglio. Scholars in Italy portrayed the new research on the artist as historically significant.
“Landscape, Foreign Ministry,” by Ostiglio. Scholars in Italy portrayed the new research on the artist as historically significant.Credit…Gallerie degli Uffizi

The artist began painting relatively late in life for that era, starting in his early 30s. Self-taught, he was so good at copying the great masters that one chronicler said it was impossible to tell his copies from the originals. He was associated with a bustling painting studio in Florence and caused some scandal because of a tormented love affair he had with a young and rich Christian widow that nearly cost him his life at the hands of a monk. (It’s a long story.)

“The idea we have is of a Jew that is unique, quite familiar with the Christian environment and unafraid to distance himself from rabbinical laws that would have him behave in a more orthodox manner,” Professor Mancuso said. “His behavior was outside Jewish and Christian society of the time.”

Comparing detailed descriptions of his works with paintings flagged by Maria Sframeli, an art historian and curator at the Uffizi, Professor Mancuso was able to track down eight works he believes Ostiglio painted. They include still lives of fish and several landscape paintings.

“I’m so pleased that this painter was able to emerge,” Ms. Sframeli said. “Now we have brought to light some of his works.”

Ostiglio also painted the huge family tree of Florence’s aristocratic Mannelli family that hangs in the reading room of the state archives in the city, confirmation that he was working for Florence’s noble clans, “and that he was appreciated,” Professor Mancuso said.

Scholars in Italy portrayed the research on Ostiglio as historically significant.

“Jews weren’t allowed to become goldsmiths or painters of be part of any guild, so it’s quite extraordinary,” said Andreina Contessa, director of the historical museum of the Miramare Castle and Park in Trieste and former chief curator of the Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art in Jerusalem

Silvana Greco, a professor of the sociology of Judaism at the Freie Universität Berlin and the co-curator of a 2019 exhibition on Jews and Renaissance art, said Ostiglio’s story underlined the interactions that existed between Jews and Christians and the importance of Jewish culture in various artistic forms, “including painting.”

“Still Life With Fish and Crabs, Church of San Michele in San Salvi.”
“Still Life With Fish and Crabs, Church of San Michele in San Salvi.”Credit…Gallerie degli Uffizi

“Even though the life of the Jewish and Catholic world was divided, there could be constructive exchanges,” she said.

Professor Mancuso said Ostiglio was not the only Jewish artist working in Italy at the time. But because of restrictions, Jews were relegated to more artisanal tasks. Ostiglio, on the other hand, was a professional painter and recognized as such.

“The rule was that they couldn’t enter guilds — not that they couldn’t work; they could, but they worked without signing their names,” said Ms. Contessa, citing the scribes who worked on illuminated manuscripts. (Guilds were professional associations for trades.)

Professor Mancuso cited Jewish sculptors working in both wood and marble. But they were considered artisans, not artists, he said.

Professor Mancuso said that as far as he knew, until the 20th century, Ostiglio remained the only Jewish member of the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts, founded by Vasari and sponsored by the Medici grand dukes.

“The academy represented the highest level of institutional art and of the Medici, so being a member was extremely important,” said Giulio Busi, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Berlin.

New research will examine the archives of other Florentine families to see whether other works by the artist emerge. “It will take time, but it’s not impossible,” Professor Mancuso said.

“Perhaps someone has a painting by Jona Ostiglio at home,” Mr. Schmidt, of the Uffizi, joked.

New York Times – November 16, 2022

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To Fight Climate Change, Canada Turns to Indigenous People to Save Its Forests

Deep, soft, moss carpeting the floor of the old-growth Boreal forest in Eeyou Istchee territory, Quebec, creates a soft landing for fallen trees, which take much longer to decompose than in forests further south. Here, trees grow far enough apart for people or animals to easily walk between them, providing the vital landscape for practicing the traditional Cree way of life.
Deep, soft, moss carpeting the floor of the old-growth Boreal forest in Eeyou Istchee territory, Quebec, creates a soft landing for fallen trees, which take much longer to decompose than in forests further south. Here, trees grow far enough apart for people or animals to easily walk between them, providing the vital landscape for practicing the traditional Cree way of life.

Canada is looking to its Indigenous communities to help manage its boreal forests, the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and one of its biggest stores of carbon.

Deep, soft, moss carpeting the floor of the old-growth Boreal forest in Eeyou Istchee territory, Quebec, creates a soft landing for fallen trees, which take much longer to decompose than in forests further south. Here, trees grow far enough apart for people or animals to easily walk between them, providing the vital landscape for practicing the traditional Cree way of life.Credit…

BROADBACK FOREST, Quebec — At a bend in the Broadback River, Don Saganash, 60, listened to the steady, familiar sound of the rapids that to his ears were the “heartbeat of the Broadback.’’ He took in the surrounding forest, the spruce and pine trees rising from a floor of rainbow-colored moss so soft that he had always imagined “walking on air.’’

Nothing had changed in this corner of the Broadback Forest since he was a boy, or since he was picked by his father to become the tallyman of his extended family’s trapline, or ancestral hunting grounds. A respected figure among the Crees, his Indigenous community, the tallyman made sure there were enough animals and other resources in the trapline for current and future generations.

“Now,’’ his father told him, “it’s up to you to protect our trapline.’’

Mr. Saganash began fighting against threats from industrial logging in the Broadback — a still untouched boreal forest in northern Quebec, reachable only through unmapped roads and boat rides along its river and lakes — two decades ago. But in recent years, his fight became part of a global contest against climate change.

Don Saganash, left, a Cree tallyman, and Roderick Happyjack on the edge of virgin boreal forest.
Don Saganash, left, a Cree tallyman, and Roderick Happyjack on the edge of virgin boreal forest.
The tree line of some of the last remaining virgin boreal forest in the Broadback Valley in Quebec.
The tree line of some of the last remaining virgin boreal forest in the Broadback Valley in Quebec.

Saving the Broadback and other boreal forests would keep intact their vast stores of carbon that, if disturbed, would release carbon dioxide and contribute to global warming.

Forests like the 3.2 million-acre Broadback are at the center of a growing battle to save the world’s largest carbon sinks, from the rainforests in the Amazon to the peatlands of Indonesia and Central Africa to Canada’s 1.4 billion acres of boreal forests.

Canada’s boreal forests, representing the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and storing at least 208 billion metric tons of carbon, is considered one of the world’s largest terrestrial carbon vaults.

In part to meet its climate goals, in part to further reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities, the Canadian government has been turning to them more and more to help manage boreal forests by ceding more of the forest land to Indigenous groups. Last year, the federal government set aside $340 million to support areas protected by Indigenous groups and networks of Indigenous experts.

Under this program, more than 50 Indigenous communities across the country have received financing to establish and oversee areas for conservation, turning them into stakeholders entrusted to not only resist deforestation, but also to safeguard their carbon sinks. The program will also support Indigenous people who will oversee these areas.

Roderick Happyjack, left, and Don Saganash crossing a lake on the way to Mr. Happyjack’s camp, which is only accessible by boat, or snowmobile in the winter.
Roderick Happyjack, left, and Don Saganash crossing a lake on the way to Mr. Happyjack’s camp, which is only accessible by boat, or snowmobile in the winter.
The landing at the lake is the closest point to Roderick Happyjack’s camp.
The landing at the lake is the closest point to Roderick Happyjack’s camp.

For Indigenous leaders, the support was a belated acknowledgment of their historical and intimate knowledge of the boreal forest zone — home to 70 percent of the country’s Indigenous communities.

Within the past five years, I have seen a shift and an openness, particularly at the federal level, where I think they’re starting to understand that traditional knowledge acquired over sometimes millennia is as valid as Western science,’’ said Mandy Gull-Masty, the grand chief of the Cree National Government, which represents the Cree communities in Quebec.

Over the years, the Crees have pushed for greater protection of their traditional territory in northern Quebec, which are mostly on provincial lands. In 2020, the provincial government agreed to increase the percentage of protected land in traditional Cree territory from 12 percent to 23 percent — a surface equal to the size of Switzerland.

The federal government is financially backing the Crees’ efforts to create a network of hydrologically connected protected areas with habitats for endangered animals like the woodland caribou.

“They did information sessions, they did mapping exercises,’’ said Ms. Gull-Masty, referring to tallymen and other local experts from the Cree communities in the north. These protected areas will help mitigate climate change by protecting forests and waterways, reduce the risks of forests fires and conserve wildlife, she added.

Marcel Darveau, a forestry expert at Laval University in Quebec City, said Indigenous groups have both an “ancient and actual knowledge’’ of boreal forests.

“They keep watch over the territory and are its guardians,’’ he said.

Mr. Saganash, the tallyman who has long fought against logging, belongs to the Crees centered in Waswanipi, a town eight hours north by car from Montreal.

A group of Cree boys playing street hockey on the quiet streets of Waswanipi. Community elders are concerned that Cree youth are increasingly losing touch with their traditional way of life.
A group of Cree boys playing street hockey on the quiet streets of Waswanipi. Community elders are concerned that Cree youth are increasingly losing touch with their traditional way of life.
Dogs playing on the grounds of the Waswanipi Cultural Village, a gathering place hosting seasonal activities for residents and tourists.
Dogs playing on the grounds of the Waswanipi Cultural Village, a gathering place hosting seasonal activities for residents and tourists.

Today, even as protected areas have increased overall, logging has expanded throughout his region and has reached the edges of the Broadback Forest. Of the 62 traditional hunting grounds in the Waswanipi region, only a handful are untouched by logging.

“They’re coming fast,’’ Mr. Saganash said, worried that loggers or miners will eventually advance into the Broadback’s unprotected area.

A decade ago, the Cree council of Waswanipi proposed the creation of a 1.2 million-acre protected area called Mishigamish, or large body of water, which would have included a stretch of the Broadback River, lakes and parts of the forest.

The area accounts for about a tenth of the total territory of the Waswanipi Crees — which is roughly the size of Belgium and has been logged significantly over the decades — and represents its last intact patch.

About 70 percent of the proposed area has now been protected, but the fate of the remaining section worries Mr. Saganash and others. A logging company has built two roads heading straight to the Broadback’s southernmost limit, under a logging plan approved by the Quebec government.

Large swaths of land have been logged on the road to the Mishigamish-Broadback forest. Encroaching deforestation has been a major concern for those fighting to conserve the boreal forest to the north.
Large swaths of land have been logged on the road to the Mishigamish-Broadback forest. Encroaching deforestation has been a major concern for those fighting to conserve the boreal forest to the north.
Colorful lichen carpeting the floor of the old-growth boreal forest in the Mishigamish-Broadback Valley.
Colorful lichen carpeting the floor of the old-growth boreal forest in the Mishigamish-Broadback Valley.

The Waswanipi Crees’ allies, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, say that the Quebec government has not fulfilled an earlier pledge to discuss expanding protection of the Broadback. Officials at Quebec’s ministries of forests and of the environment declined interview requests.

Tallymen have played a central role in maintaining sustainability in Cree territory through their “ability to make sense of a very complex landscape,’’said Gail Whiteman, a professor of sustainability at the University of Exeter who spent 18 months among Cree tallymen in the 1990s.

Over a recent three-day visit to this area, Mr. Saganash and his nephew, Stanley Saganash, 50, stayed at the camp of another relative, Roderick Happyjack, 40. Across a lake, along the Broadback River and into the moss-blanketed primary forest, in a region hours away from the nearest cellphone tower, there was no trace or sign of another human being.

But the three knew every beach along the lake, every bend along the river and every hill in the forest. Every corner of the unmarked territory seemed to hold a personal or family memory: the first moose killed, an unusually large birch tree cherished by a mother, the first log cabin built by a grandfather.

At night, in bed with the lights turned off, Mr. Saganash entertained the younger men with stories from the Broadback, including the time someone called a moose and it showed up right outside a cabin.

Don Saganash, left, regaling his nephew Stanley, 50, and cousin Roderick, 40, with stories in Cree of moose hunting in the Broadback Forest over the years.
Don Saganash, left, regaling his nephew Stanley, 50, and cousin Roderick, 40, with stories in Cree of moose hunting in the Broadback Forest over the years.
Don Saganash talking with his cousin Roderick Happyjack at Roderick’s family cabin.
Don Saganash talking with his cousin Roderick Happyjack at Roderick’s family cabin.

“Our elders used to say that their home was here first and that their second home was in the reserve,’’ said Mr. Saganash, a retired ambulance driver who is now a member of the Cree council in Waswanipi.

Mr. Happyjack built his cabin after his grandfather died nine years ago, powering it with a generator that provided what Mr. Saganash described as “tradition with a modern twist.’’ He transported a refrigerator, a stove, a freezer and other bulky items in winter, navigating the frozen waterways on a snowmobile.

His grandfather — the tallyman of Mr. Happyjack’s trapline — had taught him to hunt and love the Broadback. In his will, his grandfather gave him permission to set up his own camp and invite friends, though only two at a time, to prevent overhunting.

Night falling over Roderick Happyjack’s family camp, but the generator continues to power lights into the evening.
Night falling over Roderick Happyjack’s family camp, but the generator continues to power lights into the evening.
Stanley Saganash preparing to leave for his camp across the lake, about an hour’s drive along forestry roads, to complete some waterproofing of a smokehouse that he’s building.
Stanley Saganash preparing to leave for his camp across the lake, about an hour’s drive along forestry roads, to complete some waterproofing of a smokehouse that he’s building.

“I feel closer to my grandfather when I’m around here,’’ Mr. Happyjack said. “Sometimes he visits me in my dreams.’’

Two years ago, alone in the Broadback, he dreamed that after answering a knock at his door, he looked at the shore and saw his grandfather wearing his familiar red-and-black checkered coat.

“He turned around and looked at me,’’ Mr. Happyjack recalled, adding that his grandfather then pointed silently at the log cabin he had built long ago. “What is my grandfather telling me? I wondered. I figured he was telling me to take care of his cabin. He worked hard and now I had to work hard to take care of it.’’

Pre-dawn light illuminating the  perimeter just across the lake from Roderick Happyjack’s family camp. Forestry interests have yet to cross the water, but if they do, community members fear that it will threaten the last remaining swaths of virgin boreal forest in Quebec.
Pre-dawn light illuminating the perimeter just across the lake from Roderick Happyjack’s family camp. Forestry interests have yet to cross the water, but if they do, community members fear that it will threaten the last remaining swaths of virgin boreal forest in Quebec.
Stanley Saganash refilling a generator at his cousin Roderick Happyjack’s cabin.
Stanley Saganash refilling a generator at his cousin Roderick Happyjack’s cabin.

The sense of responsibility was transmitted through traplines and generations.

Stanley Saganash recalled one of the most important lessons he learned from his father while hunting.

“I used to kill a lot and my father told me, ‘Whoa, don’t shoot everything. Save some for the next generation,’’ he said, adding that he had applied that lesson this hunting season. “I got one moose and my nephew got one moose. But I saw two more moose, and I didn’t shoot them.’’

In each trapline, the tallyman was responsible for making sure that its members were using the land and its resources so that the trapline would keep providing for future generations.

“We’re thinking three generations ahead,’’ Don Saganash said.

The Canadian government had not always valued the role of Indigenous communities in conservation, Ms. Whiteman said.

“Now the global discourse is about protecting these carbon sinks — soil is almost the new sexy,’’ Ms. Whiteman said. “But the tallymen always said this land is valuable to human survival.’’

Don Saganash walking toward the portage route through the old-growth Boreal forest in the Broadback River Valley.
Don Saganash walking toward the portage route through the old-growth Boreal forest in the Broadback River Valley.

New York Times – November 16, 2022

Posted in 1

How to Read the Tree Leaves

A little knowledge of botany can be helpful, even if you’re an amateur gardener. Here are a few things you should know about what happens in the fall.

Several large maple tree trunks are surrounded by a bed of red leaves. The leaves on the trees are yellow and orange. The trees in the distance retain their green foliage.
Fallen leaves carpet the ground beneath a red maple (Acer rubrum) at the New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx.Credit…New York Botanical Garden Photo

What’s going on out there — and why? Some version of that is the perennial question on any inquisitive gardener’s mind.

Fall provides plenty of dramatic subject matter along those lines, beyond the changing leaves. What is it exactly that gives the foliage of deciduous trees the signal to let go (except in the case of contrarians like certain oaks and beeches)?

Although we call them evergreens, the inner needles of many conifers show us otherwise each autumn. Why do they turn noticeably yellow and brown, in preparation for shedding?

And as the deep, cold of a Northern winter approaches, what gardener does not wonder how dormant buds and other tender-looking parts of plants survive intact?

A hunger to explain such phenomena led me to a beginning botany course and its accompanying textbook. In the decades since, I have revisited those lessons time and again.

Large yellow and brown leaves lying on the ground.
Japanese maple leaves and other fallen foliage cover the ground at the New York Botanical Garden.Credit…New York Botanical Garden Photo

Apparently, I am not alone in my search for answers. The textbook used in that course, Brian Capon’s “Botany for Gardeners: An Introduction to the Science of Plants,” has sold more than 260,000 copies since it was published in 1990. In August, the fourth edition was released.

And the course itself, Introduction to Plant Science, is now given year-round at the New York Botanical Garden, virtually and in person, with up to 12 sessions a year and as many as 20 students in each. It is one of more than 700 annual offerings in subjects as diverse as botanical illustration, landscape design, psychedelic mushrooms and paleobotany — all part of the nation’s largest plant-focused adult continuing-education program. (The fall-winter catalog can be viewed in pdf format here.)

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the classes I attended: Putting some botany into our horticulture can help improve results in the garden. But best of all, it deepens our appreciation of how plants live their hard-working lives.

The white dome of the New York Botanical Garden conservatory framed by large trees with yellow leaves.
In the fall, the conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden is enlivened by honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos). Shorter days and cooler weather trigger chlorophyll breakdown in the foliage, unmasking yellow and orange carotenoid pigments that had been there all along.Credit…New York Botanical Garden Photo

Dormancy is a “virtual metabolic standstill,” wrote Dr. Capon, who died last year but was a professor of botany at California State University, Los Angeles, for decades.

In the temperate zone, “it’s an ecological adaptation for living in a cold environment, to survive the cold,” said Regina Alvarez, an assistant professor of biology at Dominican University New York, in Rockland County, and one of New York Botanical Garden’s botany instructors. “Depending on the life cycle and the form of the plant, they do it in different ways.”

Herbaceous plants have two choices: They can complete their life cycles and leave only their seeds behind for the following year (annuals), or their aboveground portions can die back, leaving the roots and storage organs like rhizomes, bulbs and corms to carry on when favorable conditions resume (biennials and perennials).

The sun shining through a tall maple tree with red and yellow leaves.
A fern-leaf maple (Acer japonicum Aconitifolium) in its fall glory at the New York Botanical Garden, with hot-colored foliar pigments taking center stage, after the chlorophyll that dominated the growing season recedes.Credit…New York Botanical Garden Photo

But woody plants can’t completely tuck in like that. Even those that drop their leaves as part of their overall defense have parts that remain exposed. Those include organs as small and seemingly vulnerable as the buds of next year’s leaves and flowers, or the growing tips of twigs and branches where elongation will resume again come spring.

In preparation, the undeveloped flowers, leaves or shoots may become encased in overlapping bud scales every autumn. Some species may also coat the covered buds in “a thick resin to protect them from the cold and wind,” said Leslie Day, the author of urban-focused natural history guides, including “Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City,” and a plant-science instructor at the botanical garden.

It’s not just the buds that benefit from the waterproof sealant. Some insects do, too. Honey bees, for instance, mix the resin they scrape from bud scales and other plant parts with their saliva to produce propolis, which they use as a glue to seal cracks in their hives, Dr. Day said.

Another unexpected application for the antimicrobial sealant: “To embalm large intruders like mice and wasps that are too heavy to carry out after they sting them to death,” she said.

Noted: Nature provides — and it wastes nothing.

A close-up view of a plant bud covered in dark-brown scales.
In preparation for winter, many woody plants encase their undeveloped flowers, leaves or shoots in overlapping bud scales. Some species may also coat the covered buds in a thick resin for extra protection.Credit…Brian Capon

We watched the recent show, as shorter days and cooler weather triggered the breakdown of chlorophyll, the predominant pigment in most leaves. What was unmasked are known as the accessory pigments, Dr. Alvarez said, including yellow and orange carotenoids that were there all along, in a supporting role. Although hidden during the growing season, they were helping with photosynthesis.

The anthocyanin pigments that we perceive as red and purple in dogwoods, sumacs or red oaks, however, weren’t hiding. They are produced in fall, products of a chemical change involving an increased concentration of sugars in the leaves.

Then — no matter the color, but all too soon for our liking — the foliage on most deciduous trees takes flight. The big event’s timing is determined by changing chemistry in the tiny abscission zone, a narrow band of cells at the base of each petiole, or leaf stalk, where it attaches to the stem or branch.

“None of this would happen without the plant hormones,” Dr. Day said.

Which hormone is at work in leaf drop? Not abscisic acid, the one that “abscission zone” would seem to imply. That hormone tells the plant to form the bud scales, to stop certain aspects of growth ahead of dormancy and even to keep the seed dormant until the time is right for germination, Dr. Day said.

It is now understood instead that ethylene — better known for its role in ripening fruits — is the catalyst. (Fruit and flowers, with their own specialized abscission zones and timing, are likewise influenced by ethylene on when to drop.)

“It starts to break down the cell membranes and form this zone where the leaf eventually can just fall,” Dr. Day said, “sealing itself off and leaving a scar on woody plants.” A thin cork layer forms to prevent water loss and fungal invasions.

A close-up view of the heart-shaped scar left when a Catalpa leaf dropped off its brown branch.
A scar left behind after the dropping of a northern Catalpa leaf (Catalpa speciosa). The letting go is controlled by chemistry in the tiny abscission zone, a narrow band of cells at the base of each leaf stalk, where it attaches to the stem. The distinctive scars can aid in winter tree identification.Credit…Regina Alvarez

The outline of each scar forms a shape like an oval or a heart, Dr. Alvarez said. Dots inside that outline mark where the plant’s vascular tissues, the xylem and phloem, were connected, and conducted fluids between stem and leaf.

These scars can be very distinctive. How have I never looked at them?

Plenty of garden downtime lies ahead for such exploration. The scars are a useful tool for winter tree identification, said Dr. Alvarez, who admits that she and Dr. Day “get obsessive over leaf-scar photos.”

Dr. Day explained: “You learn to look at the scars and say, ‘Oh, that’s an Ailanthus’ or ‘That’s a horse chestnut.’”

The horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), for example, with its big compound foliage, “leaves behind what looks like a little horseshoe or smiley-face scar,” she said.

Snow covers the ground at the New York Botanical Garden. Green conifers surround an open area with a small, open-air structure toward the back, made up of four gray columns, two benches and a trellised roof.
A portion of the New York Botanical Garden’s Benenson Ornamental Conifers collection in winter. The often narrow foliage of conifers is winter-adapted: It is less vulnerable to the effects of ice, snow and wind than broader leaves, and coated in a waxy substance.Credit…New York Botanical Garden Photo

How can so much be governed by such a microscopic piece of real estate?

“The restriction of ethylene’s destructive effects only to cells in the abscission zone illustrates the precise control plants exercise over their hormone systems,” Dr. Capon wrote.

Nowhere is this engineering prowess more astounding than in the deciduous trees and shrubs that hold onto their dead leaves all winter, only to release them in spring. To accomplish that, they must manage to keep just that attachment point up and running — the junction of a dead leaf and a dormant twig. Preposterous.

A close-up of the branches of a white pine tree, with green needles on the outer edges and brown needles at the center.
The inner needles of a white pine (Pinus strobus) preparing to shed. Conifers don’t complete an annual shed like deciduous trees, but a portion of their oldest needles do drop each year. How long each needle holds on is particular to the species, ranging from two years to four or more.Credit…Margaret Roach

The trait, called marcescence, is common to some witch-hazels (Hamamelis) and certain hornbeams (Carpinus), beech (Fagus) and oaks (Quercus), especially in the lower branches and in younger trees.

Scientists hypothesize that the persistent leaves may have developed long ago, as an adaptation against browsing by large animals the plants evolved alongside. A mouthful of dead leaf is a less-tasty target than a bare twig and tender buds, something today’s deer also seem to understand.

A bonus design tip for gardeners: A row of marcescent trees, although not technically evergreen, makes for an effective, nearly year-round screen.

Dried red-and-yellow leaves clinging to the branch of a hybrid witch-hazel.
A hybrid witch-hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena) in February bloom, still holding last year’s faded leaves. Some deciduous woody plants hold their dead leaves until spring, a trait called marcescence, by keeping just the tiny attachment points up and running.Credit…Margaret Roach

For something evergreen, we often turn to conifers — although they aren’t technically evergreen. Their often narrow foliage is winter-adapted: less vulnerable to the effects of ice, snow and wind than broader leaves, and coated in a waxy substance that guards against the elements.

“They’re always green,” Dr. Alvarez said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s always the same needles.”

When she worked for the Central Park Conservancy, Dr. Alvarez heard the question regularly starting in the early fall, when the inner foliage of many conifers turned yellow and brown. “What’s wrong with the trees?” visitors wanted to know.

As part of their life cycle, conifers undergo leaf drop, too. But it’s a sequential one — not an annual process like that of deciduous trees, and not to be confused with discolored foliage throughout the tree or at the branch tips at other times, which may indicate disease or injury.

Each year, the oldest foliage fades and prepares to fall. How long each needle holds on before that is particular to the species, ranging from two years to four or more.

Admittedly, the process can look alarming.

There’s no need to panic, though. Nothing’s wrong — provided you know a little about how to read the tree leaves.

New York Times – November 16, 2022

Posted in 1

Ukraine’s secret weapon – the medics in the line of fire

The field hospital team - led by Ruslan (front)
Image caption,The front line field hospital team

In southern Ukraine, the city of Kherson has been liberated, but in the east, close to the Russian border, fighting still rages and casualties mount. In a trauma centre under daily Russian shelling, a dedicated team of medics – many of whom volunteered for service at the start of the war – are saving lives. The BBC spent almost a week with them.

Blood, iron, sweat and dirt are soaked into the walls and floors of the Ukrainian field hospital. No matter how hard the Ukrainian army medical staff scrub, a metallic smell haunts the place. It clings to the doctors’ clothes and in the ambulances its presence is overpowering.

“Even when you wash away the blood, and sprinkle with peroxide, there is always this smell. You never forget it,” says Valeria, 21, an anaesthetist’s assistant.

The trauma centre has been set up in an abandoned building, where more than a dozen doctors and nurses work and live together under fire. The roar of outgoing artillery fire is constant. In the five days I spend with them, Russian bombs fall around their clinic almost daily, while Ukrainian dead and injured arrive at their door.

Image caption,”I have the most amazing job in the world. I defend heroes,” says Valeria, an assistant anaesthetist

The Brigade – its full name can’t be revealed for reasons of operational security – has already lost two medical stabilisation points to Russian fire, and five of their medics.

Before the war, Valeria worked in a hospital north of Kyiv. She is used to trauma, there is nothing harder than resuscitating a child who has died, she explained. Without a word to her family, she volunteered for military service, and has been saving lives in some of the most dangerous fronts since.

“I have the most amazing job in the world. I defend heroes,” she says. “They defend us and I’m here to defend them – and not to let them die.” As part of the anaesthetic team, she says she’s there to ease the pain of those who are wounded.

Valeria is petite with a wide, ready smile. Over her scrubs she wears a leopard-print fleeced hooded top. Her sleeping bag is in the corner of one room. On the bare wooden floor, a cartoon panda mat, and Baby Yoda doll are at her bedside. An adopted kitten, Maryssia, keeps her company while she sleeps.

This article contains some upsetting descriptions

While every day is unpredictable, it begins with the same routine. At 09:00, the radio plays the Last Post and the Ukrainian national anthem. The team stops what they are doing and stands for a moment of remembrance for those lost in this war.

Valeria and the team spring to work when a badly injured soldier is carried into their emergency room. He groans in pain and cries out, “My arm, my arm.” But his injuries are far more severe. He is semi-conscious but in a critical condition.

With his grey beard, he looks in his late 50s. His face is peppered with shrapnel, his right eye gone. At least one finger is missing from his right hand and there is heavy bleeding from the back of his head. As they begin to cut off his uniform, his marble white skin is exposed.

His name is Sasha, and I watch from the doorway as the medics speak to him, perhaps explaining his injuries. He cries out as another wound is found and treated. Work begins on stitching his face. One of the surgeons, Dima, 39, packs the bloody eye socket, his fingers going deep inside the man’s skull. The soldier is sedated, but even so, his left hand reaches out, and grasping one by one, he counts the four fingers remaining on his right hand.

The medical team have removed his clothes and placed on his feet a pair of hand-knitted green woolen socks to keep him warm; they receive them by the box load from Ukrainian civilians.

The wounded soldier's feet are kept warm in hand-knitted woolen socks
Image caption,Sasha’s feet are kept warm in hand-knitted woolen socks

To one side, in body armour and uniform caked with mud from the trenches, stands the stout man who found him. He says the soldier could have been hit by a cluster bomb or mortar fire, but he wasn’t sure.

The chief medic, Ruslan, 39, is tall and bald with a thick red beard. We first met in the summer when I was here last. He is a commanding presence and barely needs to say a word as his medics work to keep the man alive. His team understands each other with just half a glance. Their immediate job is to stabilise that casualty and get him to the main hospital where he can undergo surgery.

To the side, Olia, a pharmacist who joined the army when the war started, goes through the man’s clothes, and bags up his personal possessions.

Ruslan and Olia accompany Sasha in the ambulance
Image caption,Ruslan and Olia accompany Sasha in the ambulance to the main hospital

For Ruslan, a career soldier, this war started in 2014 when Russia invaded and illegally annexed Crimea. But he says the Ukrainian army used the time well, its battlefield treatment has improved greatly and is now at Western standards.

But they lack something that Western military views as essential – medevac helicopters. Instead, the man is put into an old UK ambulance, which the unit bought for $7500 (£6,378). They installed a new engine and began using it to transport their patients to the nearest main hospital 25km (16 miles) away. Getting the wounded there in time is the hardest part of the job, says Ruslan.

He and Olia accompany the injured soldier in the ambulance, Olia cradling his head as the vehicle bumps over unlit and potholed country roads, while flashes of artillery landed in the distance. Ruslan holds the man’s hand, pressing for responses while he watches his vital signs.

Roman, ambulance driver
Image caption,”Every trip is dangerous. We don’t know where the Russian occupiers will be firing,” says ambulance driver Roman

Roman is behind the wheel. Earlier in the day the ambulance driver been hunting pheasant for the dinner table – the birds’ numbers have multiplied since people fled the area. He says he has lost count of the number of times he has made the run to the main hospital. “Every trip is dangerous,” he explains. “We don’t know where the Russian occupiers will be firing. Our work is such that it must be done. Doesn’t matter if they are firing or not.”

On the dark road ahead, a building can be seen burning – a burst of fierce orange flame is the only light for miles.

The drive is slow, but the roads improve as we near town. Roman accelerates, the ambulance’s blue light speeding through checkpoints. Just over an hour after the injured soldier was brought into the field clinic, he is delivered to the main hospital. He survives.

Back at their base, a pause, a time to take stock. Equipment is replaced, blood and flesh cleaned up. Ruslan smokes, while Valeria washes blood from her arm and retires to her corner to watch cartoons on a laptop. Roman cleans out his ambulance.

The team often refer to themselves as a machine, links in a chain, or as Ruslan puts it, “a spinning mechanism”. But their work doesn’t seem purely mechanical to me – there is compassion and tenderness, too, when they treat their patients.

On the same front line, but on the opposite side, thousands of Russian conscripts have arrived. With little training, they are being thrown at Ukrainian positions and experiencing heavy losses. There are reports that the Russians even lack basics, such as tourniquets, for treating injured soldiers.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv have revealed full casualty figures, but the US military, using satellite footage and other sources, estimates that both sides have sustained more than 100,000 killed or wounded since Russia invaded.

The arrival of those Russian recruits has brought a change too, the doctors and nurses now find they are treating more bullet wounds, the result of close quarter fighting. During the five days I spend with the team, I hear more sustained gunfire than I’ve heard during my time at the front in Ukraine’s war.

Olia, the former civilian pharmacist, is the quietest of the group. In a crowd of big personalities, she is the most self-contained, a slim fit woman usually swaddled in a puffer jacket, hat and large glasses.

Olia, former civilian pharmacist
Image caption,Olia goes running most mornings – tanks pass her on their way to the front line

What does she feel about the man whose life she had help save, I ask.

“I treat every patient with warmth, and I can pass at least a little piece of it on to him,” she replies. “A little piece of my warmth, of my soul, so he would be not so worried. To ease his condition a little.”

She goes running most mornings, along the muddy roads, as tanks and armoured vehicles pass her on their way to the front line. For her, the exercise is an escape, she says. “I always think of peaceful times. I know that this war will come to its end soon, and we will all return to our lives, to our families, to our jobs. I don’t want to focus on war.”

The team have been together the entire war. To see them around the table is to watch a family, and yet no-one knew each other before the fighting started.

They’ve endured a roll-call of atrocity, serving together in Bucha, Irpin, Bakhmut and now here. Olia and Valeria recall carrying dead or injured soldiers through the woods and fields for treatment or burial in the early chaotic days of the war,

“To get used to it is probably impossible,” says Olia. “It is very hard to see injured fighters, badly injured, there were a lot of them [in places like] Bucha and Irpin – destroyed cities, destroyed towns. It’s impossible to describe with words.”

Dinner of pheasant cooked in butter with lemon, grilled liver, mashed potatoes and pumpkin cake
Image caption,Dinner of pheasant cooked in butter with lemon, grilled liver and mashed potatoes

The team come together for dinner, to mark the return from leave of Yuryi, the unit’s other surgeon. There is hardly room around the table, or on it. They eat pheasant cooked in butter with lemon, grilled liver and mashed potatoes. There is pumpkin cake for afters.

I first met silver haired Yuryi, 42, in the summer. Then, he would wear only grey camouflage shorts, and spent his downtime scouring the fields with a metal detector “hunting for treasure” – his haul included some old coins and a silver ring.

One of the defining aspects of this war has been Ukraine’s willingness to fight. Yuryi, unlike Ruslan, is not a career soldier. This is his first war, but he, like many others I’ve met, sees it as only natural that he would leave civilian life behind to fight for his country – and to protect his family.

Yuryi, one of the unit's surgeons
Image caption,”How pleasant it was to go back and get to see the kids,” says surgeon Yuryi, recently returned from home leave

“Someone has to fight, and someone has to live,” he tells me. “Because if everything becomes total war then we will become, if I may say, numb, hardened, emotionless.”

He describes going home to visit his boys aged 12 and 14. “Those days were so short,” he sighs.

The war, he says, is his generation’s responsibility, so that his children can live in peace. “I’m satisfied that my wife and kids do not experience all the emotional turmoil that we experience here. We are like a gasket that blocks all the hard times that the war brings,” he says.

On another day, a soldier arrives breathless at the field hospital. He holds up two fingers, two injured I wondered. But no, he needs two body bags. One for the corpse that lies next to an injured man inside the dark green army van and the other, I assume, for another casualty.

Ruslan and the others help in gently removing the stretcher with the body. There was a lull in the shelling, and birdsong – the days had been cold there, but that day felt almost like Spring.

I stand at a distance and look at the individual carnage. Half of the dead soldier’s body is gone, his chest and stomach is a mess of blood and bone. His vehicle had taken a direct hit from a Russian tank fire. Wordlessly, the medics around him carefully place his remains inside a thick black plastic body bag. The heavy-duty zip is pulled closed, and the van then leaves for the mortuary at the rear of the front lines. In the hand of one of the departing soldiers, four more neatly folded unused body bags.

The injuries the team treat are grisly, they show me on their phones, men with limbs blown away, strips of flesh hanging from bare bone, another with a cluster munition embedded in his stomach. In a video they recorded of one casualty, his leg is removed and placed in a black bag, still with his trousers and boot.

For Valeria, the worst part of the job is when a “construction set” arrives, soldiers’ body parts that must be matched and placed together for burial.

“When they bring parts of the person to you, I feel great pity,” she says. “Because when you tried [to save a casualty] and it didn’t work, that is one thing, but when you cannot do anything – to feel your own powerlessness. I think it’s the worst, and not only for me.”

And the youngest casualties are those she won’t forget. “When there is a date of birth of 2003, you realise that this person is 18 years old. This person saw very little in life, maybe never kissed and already sees death, sees, and endures such severe trials. It’s the young people I’m most sorry for. I remember the faces very much, the injuries.”

“I remember these boys who didn’t lose their fighting spirit, [who] lays down in front of you without a leg or an arm. He jokes with you. You can’t help admire the strength. Without weapons in their arms – such a powerful weapon they have in their heart.”

In war, courage becomes a matter of fact. Ruslan’s team have it in spades, and he only falters, he says, when he’s leaving home, and his two young daughters behind.

“I try to leave home quickly because the longer I take leaving the house, the more worried they will be,” he tells me. “So I always say, ‘Listen to mom, help her’ and I just leave, run away.”

I’m with him one evening, and even at the end of a long day, he still chops the wood and lights the fireplace. The rest of his team are on shift or have retired for the night. Ruslan is often the last to sleep. His wife, also a doctor, sends him pictures of bunk beds for him to choose for the girls.

Before I go, I ask him if he has any final thoughts.

“Only one message comes from here,” he says. “Peace. There is always a need for peace. Civilised society… and this is happening? Well, it means it is not civilised enough. I wish we’d learn that faster. All of us.”

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Ancient fish teeth reveal earliest sign of cooking

Carp skull
Image caption,The scientists examined remains from an extinct species of fish similar to a carp

Human beings used fire to cook food hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously thought, an Israeli-led group of researchers have suggested.

They found evidence in the 780,000-year-old remains of a huge carp-like fish discovered in northern Israel.

The scientists noted “the transition from eating raw food to eating cooked food had dramatic implications for human development and behaviour”.

The previous earliest evidence of cooking dated from about 170,000 BC.

The remains of the two-metre (6.5ft) fish were found at the Gesher Benot Yaaqob archaeological site which spans the River Jordan about 14km (8.5 miles) north of the Sea of Galilee .

Researchers led by Dr Irit Zohar of Tel Aviv University studied crystals from the enamel of the fish’s teeth, which were found in large quantities at the site. The way the crystals had expanded was a sign that they had not been exposed to direct fire, but cooked at a lower temperature.

Crystals from fish teeth
Image caption,Crystals from the fish teeth showed evidence of being heated at lower temperatures than raw fire

“Gaining the skill required to cook food marks a significant evolutionary advance, as it provided an additional means for making optimal use of available food resources,” said Professor Naama Goren-Inbar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who directed the excavation.

“It is even possible that cooking was not limited to fish, but also included various types of animals and plants.”

The scientists determined that the fish once populated the ancient Hula Lake which existed at the site until it was drained in the 1950s to try to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Other archaeological evidence found at the site indicates it was inhabited by groups of hunter-gatherers for tens of thousands of years.

The team believe the location of such freshwater areas offers a clue to the route followed by early man on its migration out of Africa to the Levant and further afield.

The latest findings came from a joint study involving scientists from Israeli, British and German institutions.

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Hand of Irulegi: ancient Spanish artefact rewrites history of Basque language

The Vascones, an Iron Age tribe from whose language modern Basque is thought to descend, were previously viewed as largely illiterate

The Hand of Irulegi
The Hand of Irulegi was discovered last year near Pamplona. Photograph: Navarra government/AFP/Getty

More than 2,000 years after it was probably hung from the door of a mud-brick house in northern Spain to bring luck, a flat, lifesize bronze hand engraved with dozens of strange symbols could help scholars trace the development of one of the world’s most mysterious languages.

Although the piece – known as the Hand of Irulegi – was discovered last year by archaeologists from the Aranzadi Science Society who have been digging near the city of Pamplona since 2017, its importance has only recently become clear.

Experts studying the hand and its inscriptions now believe it is both the oldest written example of Proto-Basque and a find that “upends” much of what was previously known about the Vascones, a late iron age tribe who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Romans, and from whose ancient language modern-day Basque, or euskera, is thought to descend.

Until now, scholars had understood that the Vascones had no written language – save for words found on coins – and only began writing after the Romans introduced the Latin alphabet. But the five words written in 40 characters identified as Vasconic, suggest otherwise.

The first – and only word – to be identified so far is sorioneku, a forerunner of the modern Basque word zorioneko, meaning good luck or good omen.

“This is the first document undoubtedly written in the Vasconic language and in characters that are also Vasconic,” said Javier Velaza, a professor of Latin philology at the University of Barcelona and one of the experts who deciphered the hand.

“The writing system used is odd – it’s a writing system derived from the Iberian system, although there have been some adaptations to represent some sounds and phonemes that don’t exist in Iberian characters, but which have been seen in coins minted in Vascones territory.”

As a result, added Velaza, the Hand of Irulegi proves the existence of a specifically Vasconic writing system in use at the time it was made.

His colleague Joaquín Gorrochategui, a professor of Indo-European Linguistics at the University of the Basque Country, said the hand’s secrets would change the way scholars looked at the Vascones.

“This piece upends how we’d thought about the Vascones and writing until now,” he said. “We were almost convinced that the ancient Vascones were illiterate and didn’t use writing except when it came to minting coins.

According to Mattin Aiestaran, the director of the Irulegi dig, the site owes its survival to the fact that the original village was burned and then abandoned during the Sertorian war between two rival Roman factions in the 1st century BC. The objects they left behind were buried in the ruins of their mud-brick houses.

“That’s a bit of luck for archeologists and it means we have a snapshot of the moment of the attack,” said Aiestaran. “That means we’ve been able to recover a lot of day-to-day material from people’s everyday lives. It’s an exceptional situation and one that has allowed us to find an exceptional piece.”

Not every recent Basque language discovery, however, has lived up to its billing. Two years ago, a Spanish archaeologist was found guilty of faking finds that included pieces of third-century pottery engraved with one of the first depictions of the crucified Christ, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Basque words that predated the earliest known written examples of the language by 600 years.

Although the archaeologist, Eliseo Gil, claimed the pieces would “rewrite the history books”, an expert committee examined them and found traces of modern glue as well as references to the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes.

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Old Latin Mass Finds New American Audience, Despite Pope’s Disapproval

Old Latin Mass at St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit. Devotees describe it as a more reverent form of worship.
Old Latin Mass at St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit. Devotees describe it as a more reverent form of worship.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times

An ancient form of Catholic worship is drawing in young traditionalists and conservatives. But it signals a divide within the church.

DETROIT — Eric Agustin’s eight children used to call the first day of the week “Party Sunday.” The family would wake up, attend a short morning Mass at a Catholic parish near their house, then head home for lunch and an afternoon of relaxing and watching football.

But this summer, the family made a “big switch,” one of his teenage sons said on a recent Sunday afternoon outside St. Joseph Shrine, the family’s new parish. At St. Joseph, the liturgy is ornate, precisely choreographed and conducted entirely in Latin. The family drives an hour round trip to attend a service that starts at 11 a.m. and can last almost two hours.

The traditional Latin Mass, an ancient form of Catholic worship that Pope Francis has tried to discourage, is instead experiencing a revival in the United States. It appeals to an overlapping mix of aesthetic traditionalists, young families, new converts and critics of Francis. And its resurgence, boosted by the pandemic years, is part of a rising right-wing strain within American Christianity as a whole.

The Mass has sparked a sprawling proxy battle in the American church over not just songs and prayers but also the future of Catholicism and its role in culture and politics.

The Agustins at home in metro Detroit. The family recently switched to attending the traditional Latin Mass.
The Agustins at home in metro Detroit. The family recently switched to attending the traditional Latin Mass. Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
The Agustin family gathered to say a rosary as a family before bed.
The Agustin family gathered to say a rosary as a family before bed.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
Inside St. Joseph Shrine, where the Agustins attend Mass.
Inside St. Joseph Shrine, where the Agustins attend Mass.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times

Latin Mass adherents tend to be socially conservative and tradition-minded. Some, like the Augustin family, are attracted to the Mass’s beauty, symbolism and what they describe as a more reverent form of worship.

Others have also been drawn to the old form through a brand of new hard-right rhetoric and community they have found in some Catholic communities online. They see the pope’s attempt to curb the old Latin Mass as an example of the perils of a world becoming unmoored from Western religious values.

The traditional Latin Mass, also referred to as the “extraordinary form,” was celebrated for centuries until the transformations of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which were intended in part to make the rite more accessible. After the Council, Mass could be celebrated in any language, contemporary music entered many parishes and priests turned to face people in the pews.

But the traditional Latin Mass, with all its formality and mystery, never fully disappeared. Though it represents a fraction of Masses performed at the 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States, it is thriving.

The United States now appears to have at least 600 venues offering the traditional Mass, the most by far of any country. More than 400 venues offer it every Sunday, according to one online directory.

This growth is happening as Pope Francis has cracked down, issuing strict new limits on the rite last year. His immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had widened access to the old Mass, but Francis has characterized it as a source of division in the church and said that it is too often associated with a broader rejection of the aims of the Second Vatican Council.

On one level, the split over the old Mass represents a clash of priorities and power struggles in church leadership. In pews and parishes, it is more complicated. Many Catholics say they are attracted to the Mass for spiritual reasons, bolstered by aesthetic and liturgical preferences rather than by partisanship.

Mass at St. Joseph Shrine. Xavier Agustin, an altar server, says at first the traditional Latin Mass can be confusing, but ‘once you learn it, it feels bigger and more satisfying.’
Mass at St. Joseph Shrine. Xavier Agustin, an altar server, says at first the traditional Latin Mass can be confusing, but ‘once you learn it, it feels bigger and more satisfying.’Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
A woman wearing a mantilla praying with her family.
A woman wearing a mantilla praying with her family.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
Canon Commins distributing the Eucharist to a parishioner.
Canon Commins distributing the Eucharist to a parishioner.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times

“There’s a reverence that’s next-level,” Mr. Agustin said of the Mass at St. Joseph Shrine.

Dozens of large, young families have flocked to St. Joseph Shrine since it began offering the traditional Latin Mass regularly in 2016. A historically German parish with a 19th-century building that once struggled to keep the lights on is now bustling with people, including many couples with five or more children.

High Mass on Sundays begins with holy water sprinkled up the aisle, and it features plumes of incense and the sounds of bells, a pipe organ and Gregorian chant. Men tend to wear suits and ties and most women wear skirts and lace mantillas on their heads, the latter a traditional sign of humility and femininity. Parking nearby is hard to find on Sundays.

“It’s nothing exceptional here,” demurred Rev. Canon J.B. Commins, 33, who lives in the brick rectory next door. “In other places where the traditional Mass is being celebrated, it’s exponential growth.”

Leaning into the demands of intense religious experience, many supporters of the Latin Mass seek a return not just to old rituals but to old social values and gender roles. Here, the arcane and rigorous are not barriers to accessibility but attractions that tie believers to a long history of spiritual clarity, which they see as sharply contrasting with the modern church.

The pandemic accelerated the divide, as mainstream parishes generally stayed closed longer, driving some Catholics to seek out new parishes. Many attendees say they discovered traditionalist podcasters and influencers who turned them onto the older Mass.

Although Catholics as a whole are a politically diverse cohort in the United States, frequent Mass attendees tend to be more conservative: 63 percent of Catholics who attend Mass at least monthly supported Donald J. Trump in the 2020 presidential election, compared with 53 percent of less-frequent attendees, according to the Pew Research Center. Informal surveys have found that Latin Mass attendees not only attend Mass more often but hold almost universally conservative views on topics like abortion and gay marriage.

Before the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph one Sunday in early October, attended by some 300 people, Canon Commins read an announcement from Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, urging Catholics to “take action” to defeat a ballot amendment that would enshrine a right to abortion in the state’s constitution. (Voters in the state later approved the measure.)

Canon Commins reading announcements from the pulpit before the Latin Mass began.
Canon Commins reading announcements from the pulpit before the Latin Mass began.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
Altar servers kneeling after communion.
Altar servers kneeling after communion.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
A parishioner kneels during the Latin Mass at St. Joseph Shrine.
A parishioner kneels during the Latin Mass at St. Joseph Shrine.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times

Political and theological conservatives see in Pope Francis’s restriction of the traditional Latin Mass a troubling disregard for orthodoxy more broadly.

Since Francis became pope in 2013, he has emphasized inclusivity, and attempted to soften the church’s approach to flashpoints like abortion and homosexuality. He has also issued a major encyclical on environmental stewardshipprayed for immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and appointed women to historically significant roles in church operations.

Francis’s 2021 document “Traditionis Custodes,” comparable to an executive order, limited where and when the old Mass can be celebrated. And this summer, he outraged traditionalists further with a new document making clear that the tensions around the Mass are more than a question of taste. “I do not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council — though it amazes me that a Catholic might presume not to do so — and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform,” he wrote.

The crackdown helped fuel what some call the “liturgy wars.”

“It’s a whole vision of the church and what it means to be a Christian and a Catholic that’s at stake here,” said John Baldovin, a priest and a professor at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry who has written often about liturgical issues. “You can’t say it’s just about a beautiful Mass.”

The conflict is particularly fierce in the United States, where conservatives dominate the bishops’ conference and high-profile critics and media outlets regularly challenge Francis’s leadership.

At a conference in Pittsburgh this fall, Catholic critics of Pope Francis laid out three “articles of resistance” against the Vatican and its current leadership. Their top objection was to “Traditionis Custodes,” which they called an act of “religious discrimination against Traditional Catholics.”

Some bishops, including those in Chicago and Washington, have drastically reduced the availability of the traditional Latin Mass this year.

“It’s something I couldn’t imagine, having to beg and plead for the traditional Latin Mass,” said Noah Peters, who organized a five-mile “pilgrimage” in September from a cathedral in Arlington, Va., to one in Washington in protest of the restrictions in both dioceses.

Mr. Peters was raised as a secular Jew and was drawn to Catholicism through the traditional Latin Mass “because it had this beauty, timelessness and reverence about it,” he said.

Like Mr. Peters, almost all Latin Mass devotees use a version of the word “reverent” unprompted, contrasting the tone of the Latin Mass with oft-cited if rare examples in modern parishes featuring nontraditional elements like puppets and balloons, a casual treatment of the Eucharist, or music and dance they consider disrespectful. The popular traditionalist podcaster Taylor Marshall often tells a story about feeling driven away from the Novus Ordo when he was served the Eucharist by a layperson wearing a Grover T-shirt.

In Detroit, Archbishop Allen Vigneron has allowed the Latin Mass to flourish basically unimpeded.

Since St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit began regularly offering the Latin Mass, parking can be tough to find on Sundays. The parish now offers three Latin Mass services on Sunday mornings, and two most weekdays.
Since St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit began regularly offering the Latin Mass, parking can be tough to find on Sundays. The parish now offers three Latin Mass services on Sunday mornings, and two most weekdays.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
Alex Begin in a pew of Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Detroit. Mr. Begin helps churches in the metro area that want to offer the old Latin Mass.
Alex Begin in a pew of Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Detroit. Mr. Begin helps churches in the metro area that want to offer the old Latin Mass.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times
A page in the altar missal, a text used during Mass.
A page in the altar missal, a text used during Mass.Credit…Nick Hagen for The New York Times

Alex Begin, a Detroit-area real estate executive, trains priests in the liturgy and helps parishes that want to start offering the Mass.

On a recent drive starting in downtown Detroit and winding through former working-class German and Polish neighborhoods, Mr. Begin pointed out churches that have begun offering the Latin Mass, and some that plan to start. Mr. Begin has a taste for the arcane: His hobbies include maximizing frequent flier rewards and collecting indulgences, which he refers to as “Heaven’s frequent flier program.”

Mr. Begin sees Pope Francis’s antagonism toward the Latin Mass as working against his goal of unity. “You’re going to drive people to breakaway groups,” he said.

At Old St. Mary’s, a 19th-century parish in the city’s touristy Greektown neighborhood, some 150 people gathered in October for the monthly Latin Mass service, complete with a Gregorian choir.

Congregants knelt, rose, crossed themselves and murmured prayers. Incense wafted through the vast, dimly lit room. When it was time to receive the Eucharist, they filed silently forward and knelt, their faces slightly upturned.

“Corpus Dómini nostri Jesu Christi custódiat ánimam tuam in vitam ætérnam. Amen,” the priests prayed as they placed a thin wafer on each tongue. May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting. Amen.

The Latin Mass “brings the true Catholics out,” said Kristin Kopy, 41, after the service.

Mrs. Kopy’s husband works for Church Militant, a hard-right multimedia site that rails against homosexuality, pandemic restrictions and Pope Francis.

Mrs. Kopy was holding her sleeping 2-week-old daughter, Philomena, as her older children played nearby. She and her husband have been attending the Latin Mass for the last six years. They felt something was missing in their experiences of the new Mass that they now have found in the old.

“I don’t speak Latin,” she said. “But it feels like you’re connecting more with God.”

New York Times – November 15, 2022

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Western Allies Look to Ukraine as a Testing Ground for Weapons

Though the battle for Ukraine remains largely a grinding artillery war, new advances in technology and training there are being closely monitored for the ways they are starting to shape combat.

Soldiers with Ukraine’s Carpathian Sich Battalion reviewing drone footage below the front line in May.
Soldiers with Ukraine’s Carpathian Sich Battalion reviewing drone footage below the front line in May.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Three months ago, as Ukrainian troops were struggling to advance against Russian forces in the south, the military’s headquarters in Kyiv quietly deployed a valuable new weapon to the battlefield.

It was not a rocket launcher, cannon or another kind of heavy arms from Western allies. Instead, it was a real-time information system known as Delta — an online network that military troops, civilian officials and even vetted bystanders could use to track and share desperately needed details about Russian forces.

The software, developed in coordination with NATO, had barely been tested in battle.

But as they moved across the Kherson region in a major counteroffensive, Ukraine’s forces employed Delta, as well as powerful weaponry supplied by the West, to push the Russians out of towns and villages they had occupied for months.

The big payoff came on Friday with the retreat of Russian forces from Kherson City — a major prize in the nearly nine-month war.

Delta is one example of how Ukraine has become a testing ground for state-of-the-art weapons and information systems, and new ways to use them, that Western political officials and military commanders predict could shape warfare for generations to come.

The battle for Ukraine, to be sure, remains largely a grinding war of attrition, with relentless artillery attacks and other World War II-era tactics. Both sides primarily rely on Soviet-era weapons, and Ukraine has reported running low on ammunition for them.

But even as the traditional warfare is underway, new advances in technology and training in Ukraine are being closely monitored for the ways they are changing the face of the fight. Beyond Delta, they include remote-controlled boats, anti-drone weapons known as SkyWipers and an updated version of an air-defense system built in Germany that the German military itself has yet to use.

“Ukraine is the best test ground, as we have the opportunity to test all hypotheses in battle and introduce revolutionary change in military tech and modern warfare,” said Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s vice prime minister and minister of digital transformation.

He was speaking in October at a NATO conference in Norfolk, Va., where he publicly discussed Delta for the first time.

He also emphasized the growing reliance on the remote-controlled aircraft and boats that officials and military experts said have become weapons of choice like those in no previous war.

“In the last two weeks, we have been convinced once again the wars of the future will be about maximum drones and minimal humans,” Mr. Federov said.

A Ukrainian drone operator changing batteries while hunting for Russian positions to target with artillery during a battle on the frontline near the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk in October.
A Ukrainian drone operator changing batteries while hunting for Russian positions to target with artillery during a battle on the frontline near the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk in October.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Since last summer, Ukraine and its allies have been testing remote-controlled boats packed with explosives in the Black Sea, culminating in a bold attack in October against Russia’s fleet off the coast of Sevastopol.

Military officials largely have declined to discuss the attack or provide details about the boats, but both the United States and Germany have supplied Ukraine with similar ships this year. Shaurav Gairola, a naval weapons analyst for Janes, a defense intelligence firm, said the Black Sea strike showed a sophisticated level of planning, given the apparent success of the small and relatively inexpensive boats against Russia’s mightier war ships.

The attack “has pushed the conflict envelope,” Mr. Gairola said. He said it “imposes a paradigm shift in naval war doctrines and symbolizes an expression of futuristic warfare tactics.”

The use of remote-controlled boats could become particularly important, military experts said, showing how warfare at sea might play out as the United States and its allies brace for potential future naval aggressions by China in the East and South China Seas, and against Taiwan.

Inevitably, the Russians’ increased use of drones has spurred Ukraine’s allies to send new technology to stop them.

Late last year, Ukraine’s military began using the newly developed drone-jamming guns known as SkyWipers to thwart Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region. The SkyWipers, which can divert or disrupt drones by blocking their communication signals, were developed in Lithuania and had been on the market for only two years before they were given to Ukraine through a NATO security assistance program.

Nearly nine months into the war, the SkyWipers are now only one kind of drone jammer being used in Ukraine. But they have been singled out as a highly coveted battlefield asset — both for Ukrainian troops and enemy forces that hope to capture them.

Ukrainian service members holding anti-drone guns during a training exercise in the Mykolaiv region in August.
Ukrainian service members holding anti-drone guns during a training exercise in the Mykolaiv region in August.Credit…Anna Kudriavtseva/Reuters

It is not known how many SkyWipers have been sent to Ukraine, although Lithuania reportedly sent several dozen in October 2021. In a statement to The New York Times, Lithuania’s defense ministry said it sent 50 SkyWipers in August after Ukrainian officials called it “one of the top priorities.”

Dalia Grybauskaite, who was Lithuania’s president when the SkyWipers were being designed, said her country’s defense industry made a calculated turn toward producing high-tech equipment during her time in office, from 2009 to 2019, to update a stockpile of weapons that “were mainly Kalashnikovs” and other Soviet-era arms.

“We’re learning in Ukraine how to fight, and we’re learning how to use our NATO equipment,” Ms. Grybauskaite said in an interview last week. “And, yes, it is a teaching battleground.”

She paused, then added: “It is shameful for me because Ukrainians are paying with their lives for these exercises for us.”

The Western lethal aid that is being sent to Ukraine consists, for the most part, of recently updated versions of older weapons. That was the case with the German-made infrared, medium-range homing missiles and launchers known as IRIS-T, which protect against Russian rocket attacks.

They have a longer range than the previous generation of air-defense systems that debuted in 2015. Germany’s own military has not yet used the updated version of the systems, which were shipped to Ukraine last month. Additional missiles were delivered last week.

Rafael Loss, a weapons expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that by themselves the upgraded air defenses do not “represent a game-changer.” But he said their use in Ukraine showed how the government in Kyiv had evolved beyond Soviet-era warfare and brought it more in line with NATO.

Senior NATO and Ukrainian officials said the Delta network was a prime example.

More than an early alert system, Delta combines real-time maps and pictures of enemy assets, down to how many soldiers are on the move and what kinds of weapons they are carrying, officials said.

That is combined with intelligence — including from surveillance satellites, drones and other government sources — to decide where and how Ukrainian troops should attack.

The IRIS-T air-defense system displayed at an exhibition in Berlin in June.
The IRIS-T air-defense system displayed at an exhibition in Berlin in June.Credit…Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Ukraine and Western powers determined they needed the system after Russia instigated a separatist-backed war in Ukraine’s east in 2014. It was developed by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry with NATO assistance and first tested in 2017, in part to wean troops off Russian standards of siloing information among ground units instead of sharing it.

It has been included in training exercises between Ukraine’s military and other NATO planners in the years since.

Information sharing has long been a staple for American and other NATO forces. What NATO officials said was surprising about the Delta system was that the network was so broadly accessible to troops that it helped them make battlefield decisions even faster than some more modern militaries. In Kherson, Delta helped Ukrainian troops quickly identify Russian supply lines to attack, Inna Honchar, commander of the nongovernment group Aerorozvidka, which develops drones and other technology for Ukraine’s military, said in a statement on Sunday.

“Bridges were certainly key points,” Ms. Honchar added. “Warehouses and control points were damaged, and the provision of troops became critical” as Russians became increasingly isolated, she said.

Delta’s first real test had come in the weeks immediately after the February invasion as a Russian convoy stretching 40 miles long headed toward Kyiv. Ukrainian drones overhead tracked its advance, and troops assessed the best places to intercept it. Residents texted up-to-the-minute reports to the government with details that could have been seen only up close.

All the information was collected, analyzed and disseminated through Delta to help Ukraine’s military force a Russian retreat, Ukrainian officials said.

“That was the very first moment when Delta capabilities were realized at max,” the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement. It said Delta had since helped identify 1,500 confirmed Russian targets across the country on any given day — with “hundreds of them being eliminated” within 48 hours.

New York Times – November 15, 2022

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Time Is Running Out for the Leap Second

To the world’s timekeepers, the leap second is a kludge, a bane, a pain in the little hand. Now they’re proposing to ditch it. Will our days ever be the same?

“The Astronomer,” a 1668 painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.Credit…DeAgostini/Getty Images

Roughly every four years, an extra day gets tacked onto the end of February, a time-keeping convention known as the leap year. The practice of adjusting the calendar with an extra day was established by Julius Caesar more than 2,000 years ago and modified in the 16th century by Pope Gregory XIII, bequeathing us the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

That extra day is a way of aligning the calendar year of 365 days with how long it actually takes Earth to make a trip around the sun, which is nearly one-quarter of a day longer. The added day ensures that the seasons stay put rather than shifting around the year as the mismatch lengthens.

Humanity struggles to impose order on the small end of the time scale, too. Lately the second is running into trouble. Traditionally the unit was defined in astronomical terms, as one-86,400th of the mean solar day (the time it takes Earth to rotate once on its axis). In 1967 the world’s metrologists instead began measuring time from the ground up, with atomic clocks. The official length of the basic unit, the second, was fixed at 9,192,631,770 vibrations of an atom of cesium 133. Eighty-six thousand four hundred such seconds compose one day.

But Earth’s rotation slows ever so slightly from year to year, and the astronomical second (like the astronomical day) has gradually grown longer than the atomic one. To compensate, starting in 1972, metrologists began occasionally inserting an extra second — a leap second — to the end of an atomic day. In effect, whenever atomic time is a full second ahead, it stops for a second to allow Earth to catch up. Ten leap seconds were added to the atomic time scale in 1972, and 27 more have been added since.

Adding that extra second is no small task. Moreover, Earth’s rotation is slightly erratic, so the leap second is both irregular and unpredictable. Fifty years ago, those qualities made inserting the leap second difficult. Today the endeavor is a technical nightmare, because precise timing has become integral to society’s highly computerized infrastructure.

“What was before just a way of measuring the flow of time is today essential for transportation, location, defense, finance, space competition,” said Felicitas Arias, former director of the time department of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, known as B.I.P.M. from its French name and based outside Paris. “Time is ruling the world.”

The process of squaring these two time scales has become so unruly that the world’s time mavens are making a bold proposal: to abandon the leap second by 2035. Civilization would wholly embrace atomic time; and the difference, or tolerance, between atomic time and Earth time would go unspecified until timekeepers come up with a better plan for reconciling the two. A vote, in the form of Resolution D, is expected on Nov. 18 at a meeting in Versailles of the Bureau’s member nations.

“From a technical point of view,” said Patrizia Tavella, the current director of B.I.P.M.’s time department, “all the colleagues all over the world agree that we have to do something.”

From left, a 16th-century French sundial with a calendar showing the dates that the sun enters each sign of the zodiac, calibrated with the Julian calendar; a likeness of Pope Gregory XIII on a 16th-century bronze medal; Earth, photographed by Apollo astronauts. Credit…MET/BOT, via Alamy; Artokoloro, via Alamy; NASA

If the resolution passes, it would sever the timekeeping of atoms from the timekeeping of the heavens, probably for generations to come. The change would be indiscernible for most of us, in practical terms. (It would take a few thousand years for atomic time to diverge as much as an hour from Earth time.)

But the second is a huge amount of time in the technology of the internet. Cellphone transmissions, power grids and computer networks are synchronized to minuscule fractions of a second. High-frequency traders in financial markets execute orders in thousandths and even billionths of a second. By international law, data packages related to these financial transactions must be time-stamped to that fine level of precision, recorded and made traceable back to Coordinated Universal Time, the universally agreed-upon standard managed by the timekeepers at the B.I.P.M.

Every additional leap second introduces the risk of confusion: that some digital networks won’t implement the change correctly, won’t know precisely what time it is with regard to the other systems, and will fail to synchronize properly. The leap second is a dollop of potential chaos in a soufflé that demands precision.

For that reason, discarding the leap second has wide support from nations across the world, including the United States. The result of the vote is not a foregone conclusion, however. The fate of the leap second has long been the stuff of high diplomatic drama, designated one of just four “hot topics” at the B.I.P.M. Getting Resolution D on the agenda has involved more than two decades of study, negotiation and compromise to resolve the issue.

“It should have happened 20 years ago, and if not for political maneuvering, it probably would have happened 20 years ago,” said Judah Levine, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colo. He is co-chair with Dr. Tavella of the B.I.P.M. committee that discusses hot topics, and he helped draft the resolution.

Russia, for instance, has tried to delay a shift away from the leap second because doing so would require extensive alterations to its GLONASS satellite system, which incorporates the extra second. As a result, the resolution has been phrased to postpone any change until 2035. The United Kingdom, historically and emotionally tethered to the astronomical standard, enshrined in Greenwich Mean Time, has been reluctant to commit publicly.

Two engineers in blue smocks and caps gaze up at the large and complicated machinery of the GLONASS satellite system in a very large lab space.
Engineers at work on a GLONASS navigational satellite in the Siberian town of Zheleznogorsk, Russia, in 2011.Credit…Ilya Naymushin/Reuters
A 19th-century illustration shows a man in a suit and top hat with a woman with a dress, hat and walking stick at the gate of the Greenwich Observatory with its large magnetic clock built into the wall. In the distance, the city of London.
The Shepherd Gate Clock, showing Greenwich Mean Time, outside the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in London.Credit…Getty Images

The fate of the leap second is more than just the fate of the leap second. At stake is Coordinated Universal Time, the international standard for timekeeping, which the continued existence of the leap second is slowly undermining.

Coordinated Universal Time, or U.T.C., is tenderly constructed from readings made by atomic clocks kept at national laboratories around the world. These clocks tick off, or “realize,” their best seconds and send the measurements to the B.I.P.M. There, timekeepers painstakingly assemble the readings — averaging, weighting, adjusting for discrepancies — into an ideal second for everyone everywhere to agree on and employ, occasionally adding leap seconds as needed. This assembly process takes time. And so once a month the Bureau publishes the perfect time in the form of a newsletter, called Circular T, that tells each national clock how much it diverges from the international standard, to help it improve its aim the following month.

Coordinated Universal Time is the world’s official time scale, and will continue to be whether or not it incorporates leap seconds. Global time zones are described in reference to it. (New York time currently is U.T.C. minus five hours.) And the beating heart, the second, is the most important in the constellation of standard measurements overseen by the B.I.P.M., alongside the meter (length), kilogram (weight), kelvin (temperature), candela (intensity of light), ampere (electric current) and mole (amount of substance).

The idea, formalized a century and a half ago by national signatories to an international treaty called the Meter Convention, is that each unit of measurement should be identical everywhere in the world; one meter in Spain is precisely one meter in Singapore. The seven standard units are integral to fair commerce, reproducible science and reliable technology. The second is extra-special because it underpins all the other units except the mole. For instance, the meter is defined as the distance light travels in a vacuum during one-299,792,458ths of a second, and the kilogram was recently redefined in terms of the second.

In addition, the second is tethered to a time scale, or flow of seconds. A key tenet of modern life is that not only must the unit of time be identical no matter where it is measured, so must the flow of seconds of which the one is a part.

But the leap second is putting that tenet at risk. The kludge is so technically difficult for digital technology to incorporate that other, ersatz methods of timekeeping — unofficial, but free of leap seconds and easier to implement — have begun to displace U.T.C., according to a recent article in the journal Metrologia. To supporters of Resolution D, removing the leap second from U.T.C. would make the standard time scale friendlier to modern digital technology, at least in the century following 2035. Coordinated Universal Time would still be universal, just not coordinated with Earth time.

“There is this problem we want to stop, which is this proliferation of pseudo time scales, because they are not time scales in the metrological sense,” Dr. Arias said.

From left, scientists adjusting the first National Bureau of Standards atomic clock in 1949; a Gregorian calendar; and the NBS-3, the atomic clock that in 1967 helped define the second on the basis of vibrations of the cesium atom and ended the world’s reliance on astronomical timekeeping. Credit…NIST; BTEU/RKMLGE, via Alamy; NIST

The time scale most commonly used in place of U.T.C. is the American government’s global-positioning satellite system, or GPS. Each satellite in the GPS network, which is operated and maintained by the U.S. Space Force, carries atomic clocks that provide time data, along with information about longitude, latitude and altitude.

Users of GPS, which include cellphone and data networks, can determine the time of day to within 100 billionth of a second, and the information is free and widely available. But it is neither funneled through the B.I.P.M. nor adjusted for leap seconds. The United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union recently suggested that telecommunication networks make GPS, rather than U.T.C., their official time because it does not incorporate leap seconds and therefore is an uninterrupted flow of time.

To metrologists the implications are grave: Although GPS keeps good time, using it rather than U.T.C. would mean that time would no longer be overseen by an organization that must abide by international agreements.

“The increasing use of signals from the GPS satellites effectively means that the U.S. military controls a primary source of international time signals with almost no oversight nationally or internationally,” noted the Metrologia article, which was written by Dr. Levine, Dr. Tavella and Martin Milton, the director of the B.I.P.M.

Moreover, the clocks aboard satellites are inconsistent across systems. Russia’s GLONASS runs on U.T.C. (adjusted by three hours) and leap seconds, but the other satellite navigational systems do not, and they diverge from universal time by different amounts, depending on when they became operational. GPS and Galileo, the European system, are 18 seconds ahead of U.T.C. The Chinese system BeiDou is four seconds ahead. They each function well because they are internally consistent and because their divergence from U.T.C. can be tracked, but they are not traceable back to U.T.C.

Even computing systems that continue to insert the leap second do so in different ways. As a result, the time stamps required for commercial and financial transactions are sometimes out of whack during the adjustment period, risking system crashes and an occasional lack of traceability. Google smears the extra second across a whole day, while Meta, Alibaba and Microsoft each add the extra second in their own bespoke way. And according to the Metrologia paper, the number of errors in implementing the leap second is increasing over time.

“It is anarchy,” Dr. Tavella said.

An additional wrinkle looms. The leap second has been necessary because atomic time runs faster than Earth time. But that is changing: Earth’s rotation rate began speeding up right around the time the leap second was invented. This month or next, Earth time will catch up to atomic time. By about 2030, if the trend persists, Earth time will overtake atomic time by about a second — so metrologists will have to insert a negative leap second to keep the two time scales in sync.

In effect, a second will vanish. Such an experiment has never been tested on computer systems, and many metrologists fear a digital disaster. “The first time in the history of U.T.C. that a negative leap second occurs, and nobody knows what to do,” Dr. Arias said.

A long exposure photo shows three U.S. Capitol staff walking the halls of the U.S. Senate past a tall, stately clock, with Roman numerals on its face, and an eagle on top.
Earlier this year the U.S. Senate voted to permanently keep daylight saving time, but the act has stalled in the House of Representatives.Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Time is fraught with emotion. Consider the messy debates that have erupted recently over whether to keep daylight saving time.

Last month, Mexico’s Senate voted to end the practice but only for parts of the country not sharing the border with the United States. In March, the U.S. Senate voted to permanently keep daylight saving time, but the motion is stalled in the House. In the European Union in 2018, Parliament voted to keep clocks the same year-round but has been flummoxed in how to do so or which setting to choose.

The leap second, though less visible to the public, also elicits strong opinions. The Vatican, for instance, has argued for keeping the leap second, on existential grounds. Time “is a constant reminder of our mortality,” wrote the Rev. Pavel Gabor, an astrophysicist and the vice director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, Ariz., in “The Science of Time,” published in 2017.

“And perhaps because of this we want to believe that our time, our lifetime, somehow corresponds to the eternal cosmic cycles.”

Dr. Tavella and her colleagues consulted with Dr. Gabor recently as they sought to navigate the implications of suspending the leap second. He counseled them to remember that the “ancient and sacred” task of timekeeping has always been laden with compromise.

The Julian calendar, with its original leap year additions, was 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the actual year, adding up to an extra 10 days by the time Pope Gregory XIII restructured the calendar and removed the extra days. His fix was to subtract three leap days every 400 years — a formula that needs correction only every few thousand years. New information invites new solutions.

Dr. Tavella was adamant that whatever the outcome of Resolution D, time would retain its ancient link to the stars. “We are not abandoning the rotation of the Earth,” she said. “We know the relationship between atomic time and the rotation of the Earth.” The differences would continue to be calculated and made available, just not actively implemented.

Of course, even if Resolution D is passed, future generations of timekeepers will continue to try to reconcile atomic time with celestial time — perhaps with a leap minute, which will be called for in about a century, or eventually a leap hour, or something not yet imaginable.

On the other hand, failure or a delay of the resolution would usher in a perilous new era of international timekeeping, Dr. Arias said: “Not approving that, in a way, will be really like walking in the wrong direction.”

New York Times – November 14, 2022

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Glassy fangs and glowing fins: amazing deep sea animals found near Cocos Islands

Discovered in the deep: Scientists exploring the uncharted waters of the Indian Ocean uncover a multitude of dazzling sea creatures around a remote Australian island group

A shipload of scientists has just returned from exploring the uncharted waters of the Indian Ocean, where they mapped giant underwater mountains and encountered a multitude of deep-sea animals decked out in twinkling lights, with velvety black skin and mouths full of needle-sharp, glassy fangs.

The team of biologists was the first to study the waters around the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, an Australian territory more than 600 miles off the coast of Sumatra. “It’s just a complete blank slate,” says the expedition’s chief scientist, Dr Tim O’Hara, from Museum Victoria Research Institute.

“That area of the world is so rarely studied,” says Dr Michelle Taylor from the University of Essex and president of the Deep-Sea Biology Society, who wasn’t involved in the expedition.

Few research expeditions make it to the Indian Ocean, chiefly because it’s so remote. It took the team six days to get to Cocos (Keeling) Islands from Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, on the research vessel Investigator, operated by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.

A long dark-coloured fish with huge glassy fangs
The Sloane’s viperfish has huge fang-like teeth, visible even when the mouth is closed. It has light-producing organs on its belly and upper fin, which help disguise it from predators and lure prey. Photograph: Benjamin Healley

“The real stars of the show are the fish,” says O’Hara, who specialises in invertebrates. “There are blind eels and tripod fish, hatchetfish and dragonfish, with all of these bioluminescent organs on them and lures coming out of their heads. They’re just extraordinary.”

Among the huge variety of life they found, the deep-sea batfish was a highlight. It sits on the seabed like an ornate pancake and struts about on two stubby fins that act as legs. It wiggles a tiny lure tucked into a hollow on its snout, presumably hoping to trick prey into thinking it is a tasty worm.

A deep-sea batfish.
Side profile of a blind eel with translucent skin against a black background

Clockwise from top left: a deep-sea batfish; a voracious highfin lizard fish; tribute spiderfish on its ‘stilts’; a previously unknown blind eel. Photographs: Benjamin Healley

They spotted the tribute spiderfish, which has long lower fins it uses as stilts to perch above the seabed, catching passing morsels of food. They found a previously unknown blind eel, collected from 5,000m down, covered in jelly-like, transparent skin. And they saw stoplight loose jaws, a type of dragonfish, which have huge unfolding jaws with double hinges and the unusual habit of spying on other animals with red bioluminescent light, a colour which most deep-sea animals can’t see.

A sampling net dragged across the abyssal plain came up full of ancient shark teeth. “They were gigantic sharks that lived millions of years ago,” says O’Hara. Based on photographs, fossil experts think these came from “megalodon-like animals”. They’ll know more once they get their hands on the teeth, which are now being sent to museums along with all the rest of the collections.

Nelson Kuna from CSIRO and Tim O’Hara talking in front of a screen showing a map of the ocean floor
Scientists Nelson Kuna from CSIRO, left, and Tim O’Hara from Museums Victoria. Right, the RV Investigator. Photographs: Robert French and Mike Kuhn

As well as shining a light on the deep-sea life of this unstudied region, the team also uncovered a dramatic seascape, including huge submerged volcanoes, or seamounts, which at 5,000 metres high are more than twice as tall as Australia’s highest land mountain. “From the surface you wouldn’t know,” says O’Hara.

The slender snipe eel
The slender snipe eel, found at depths of up to 4,000m. With its long tail, it can reach a metre in length. Curved jaws, permanently open, are covered in tiny hooked teeth that snag their prey. Photograph: Yi-Kai Tea

Using high-resolution sonar, the team created detailed 3D maps of the deep seafloor, and discovered several smaller seamounts that were previously unknown.

Not only are many deep seamounts covered in rich habitats of corals, sponges and other wildlife, they play a crucial role in mixing the ocean. Deep currents sweep up the flanks of seamounts, bringing vital nutrients to the surface. “Some people call them the stirring rods of the oceans because they actually mix water at different levels,” says O’Hara.

One reason for going to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands was to provide baseline information to help manage and protect the newly established marine park there, set up in March 2022 with the nearby Christmas Island marine park, which the team visited last year.

A grey flatfish with both eyes on top of its head
A flatfish from the order Pleuronectiformes, left. Researchers also found ancient rocks and fossils, such as a tooth from a white shark, right. Photographs: Benjamin Healley

The area isn’t threatened by deep-sea mining because, as O’Hara says, geologists prospected for seafloor minerals and decided they weren’t worth exploiting. The main threat, according the team, was plastic pollution. “Even when you’re that far off the continent, at four kilometres deep, you’ll dredge up plastics,” he says. “You see it in the water, you see it on top of the water, and we saw it in our collections.”

It will take years for experts to work their way through all the specimens the expedition collected, but O’Hara estimates that between 10% and 30% will be species new to science. “I’m really excited about what new future science discoveries come out from this in the years to come,” says Taylor.

One thing the team already has planned is to match up DNA from the specimens with DNA snippets sifted from seawater, known as environmental or eDNA, which is shed by organisms in slime and skin cells. The idea is that in the future, scientists will be able to identify which species are present in the deep sea just from the genetic calling cards left behind in the seawater.

Deep-sea batfish
Deep-sea batfish move over the seafloor on their armlike fins. They have a tiny “fishing lure” in their snout which they wiggle about to help them attract prey. Photograph: Benjamin Healley

“Who knows what’s going to happen with those specimens in museums in 100 years’ time,” says Taylor. “Trying to maximise the science possible from each one of the specimens is so important, because it’s such a rare privilege to be able to visit these deep-sea areas.”

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Putin can’t escape fallout from Russian retreat in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin speaks to crowds in Moscow, with the words "Together forever" at the top of the screen.
Image caption,Vladimir Putin celebrated his declared annexation of occupied Ukrainian regions in September

How the message has changed.

Right after Russia invaded Ukraine, TV talk show hosts here were confidently predicting that within days Russian troops would be marching through Kyiv.

That was nearly nine months ago.

This week the same presenters were grim faced as they announced the army’s “difficult decision” to withdraw Russian forces from Kherson – the only Ukrainian regional capital Russia had managed to capture and occupy since invading Ukraine on 24 February. Just six weeks ago, President Putin had claimed to have annexed Kherson region, along with three other Ukrainian territories, insisting that they would be part of Russia forever.

“I wanted our flag to be flying in Kyiv in March,” anchor man Vladimir Solovyov told viewers of his show Evening with Solovyov. “It was painful when our troops turned away from Kyiv and Chernihiv. But such are the laws of war…we are fighting Nato.”

That’s exactly how the Kremlin is trying to spin this: by blaming the West. The message from the Russian state media is that, in Ukraine, Russia is taking on the combined might of America, Britain, the EU and Nato. You name it, Russia’s fighting it. In other words, setbacks on the battlefield are not the Kremlin’s fault, but the handiwork of external enemies.

There’s another message, too: don’t criticise the Russian army or Russia’s president for what’s gone wrong in Ukraine. Instead, do your duty and rally round the flag.

It’s advice which, for now, prominent and powerful Russian voices seem to be following. The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of mercenary group Wagner, have been vocal critics of Russia’s military leadership. But on the withdrawal from Kherson, both have posted messages of support for the Russian Commander in Ukraine, General Surovikin, who had recommended the pull-back.

The same cannot be said of pro-war Russian military bloggers. They’ve been busy writing angry messages about the retreat, such as:

“I will never forget this murder of Russia hopes. This betrayal will be carved on my heart for centuries.” [‘Zastavny’]

“This is a massive geopolitical defeat for Putin and Russia…the defence ministry lost the trust of society long ago…now trust in the president will disappear.” [ ‘Zloi Zhurnalist’]

Not if the Kremlin can help it. It’s been trying hard to distance President Putin from the retreat, knowing that many here in Russia will view the withdrawal as a military setback and a blow to Russian prestige. Earlier this week it was the generals who made the announcement that Russian forces would be withdrawn from part of Kherson region. Russian TV showed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu issuing the order, following consultations with General Surovikin. Vladimir Putin, the Commander in Chief, was nowhere to be seen.

Russian Defence Minister Shoigu visits command centre in Ukraine - 08 Nov 2022
Image caption,Gen Surovikin (L) said the withdrawal, ordered by the defence minister (R) was a difficult decision

“The Defence Minister took the decision, I have nothing to say about this,” President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Friday. The Kremlin is letting the military own this one. Or, at least, trying to.

But it was President Putin who ordered the invasion of Ukraine. What he calls the ‘special military operation’ was his idea. Distancing himself from any aspect of it won’t be easy.

There is a danger here for Vladimir Putin, but one that pre-dates the retreat from Kherson. Events of the last nine months risk changing how the president is perceived here at home: not so much by the Russian public, but – crucially – by the Russian elite, by the people around him, by the people in power.

For years they have viewed Mr Putin as a master strategist, as someone who always manages to come out on top… as a winner. They have looked on him as the lynchpin of the system of which they are part and which has been built around him.

“Winning”, though, has been in short supply since 24 February. Vladimir Putin’s invasion has not gone according to plan. Not only has it resulted in death and destruction in Ukraine, but significant military losses for his own army. He’d promised that only “professional soldiers” would do the fighting, yet later drafted hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens into the military to take part in the war. The economic costs, too, for Russia have been considerable.

The Kremlin used to portray Vladimir Putin as “Mr Stability” here in Russia.

That’s become a much harder sell.

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Research shows the crimes of the past continue to shape the country today.

Research shows the crimes of the past continue to shape the country today

“It’s As If We Never Existed”Namibia Continues Seeking Justice for Germany’s Colonial-Era Genocide

“Every Herero, with or without a gun, will be shot.” That was the order given in October 1904, setting off Germany’s genocide in Namibia. New research shows how the crime continues to have an effect today, and how Berlin seems uninterested in real reconciliation.

The pain comes on suddenly, says Kambanda Nokokure Veii. It comes when she is driving through the steppe of central Namibia, past the trees where German soldiers hanged Veii’s ancestors. It comes when she is in the capital city of Windhoek and sees compatriots with lighter skin, many of whom are descendants of rape victims. Or when she, as on this afternoon, visits a memorial site on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in the Omaheke region, one of the few places that recalls the genocide committed by the German Empire against the Herero and Nama from 1904 to 1908.

Veii, a 60-year-old retired English teacher and a member of the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation from Windhoek, is standing before a grave that is covered in thornbushes. Some of her fellow campaigners have joined her, and together, they sink to a knee. A man recites verses in the Otjiherero language, and the others repeat after him. Veii’s voice falters. She wipes tears from her face. “Even today, our suffering goes unrecognized,” she says.

More than a century has passed since the Herero and Nama rose up against the German colonial regime in Namibia, then called German South West Africa. German rule was incredibly cruel.

The research agency Forensic Architecture joined forces with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation to reconstruct the atrocity

Researchers focused their attentions on key locations like Okahandja in central Namibia.

They examined historic photographs …

… and, with the help of terrain mapping and 3-D models, they were able to determine the precise location of the photos and when they were taken.

By doing so, it became possible to see just how systematic the Germans proceeded.

Over the course of several years, the Herero were driven out of places like Okahandja.

Today, many places reveal no sign of what happened there.

On a hill not far from the memorial, the senior commander of the German “Schutztruppe,” or “Protection Force,” Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, issued the order for genocide on October 2, 1904: “Within the German borders, every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I will no longer except women and children.” According to estimates, between 50,000 and 70,000 people were slaughtered by von Trotha and his troops.

This map shows the locations of Herero settlements, which were frequently located near sources of water and places where battles took place.

A model created by Forensic Architecture demonstrates how the Germans were able to locate Herero settlements.

In particular by pinpointing their ritual fires.

The Germans deliberately drove the Herero into the Omaheke desert.

Despite the brutality of the crimes committed by the German Empire against the Herero and Nama, they are hardly discussed today. When present-day Germans look back on the atrocities committed in their name, the focus tends to be on the Nazis and the Holocaust. The violent German colonial regimes in Africa and Asia, which culminated in the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples, are hardly mentioned.

The fact that the first genocide of the 20th century is even a topic at all internationally is largely thanks to people like Kambanda Nokokure Veii.

Kambanda Nokokure Veii, a member of the Herero, says: "Even today, our suffering goes unrecognized."

Kambanda Nokokure Veii, a member of the Herero, says: “Even today, our suffering goes unrecognized.” Foto: Davies Samkange / KANYANGA MEDIA / DER SPIEGEL

Veii herself only learned of the crimes committed against her people later in life, and then only piecemeal. She grew up with her great-grandmother, who had lived through German colonial rule, but was too ashamed to talk about the genocide. Her father was a politician who rose up against the South African regime which took over from the Germans and ruled Namibia until 1990. He was arrested and imprisoned on Robben Island, where he became friends with Nelson Mandela, according to his daughter. Her mother fled into exile in Britain.

Like so many Namibians, Veii’s first introduction to politics was the fight for independence. Only once that struggle was won did she develop an interest in the history of her own people, the Herero. The more she read about the genocide and the more she listened to the stories told by descendants of survivors, the clearer it became to her, she says, the degree to which this crime continues to shape the country today.

Research by Forensic Architecture and the Ovaherero Genocide Foundation shows how German settlers profited from the genocide perpetrated against the Nama and Herero.

It was a vast theft of land.

In 1902, only 6 percent of Namibian land belonged to the Germans.

Three years after the genocide, that share had risen to 20 percent.

And that trend continued apace.

It is a clear indication of just how powerful the colonial presence was.

Today, just 4,500 settlers with European roots, including descendants of the Germans, control almost half of the country.

Together with others who share her view, Veii founded a committee that prepared the commemoration ceremony on the 100th anniversary of the genocide in 2004. German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul traveled to Namibia for the occasion, becoming the first member of a German government to apologize for the German atrocities. A short time later, Veii and her committee introduced a motion in parliament in Windhoek demanding the acknowledgement and investigation of the genocide.

Another 10 years passed before the dialogue between Germany and Namibia about their shared history really got underway. In 2015, the two countries began discussions, which ultimately led in summer 2021 to a joint Reconciliation Agreement.

An historical photo of a Herero settlement: Germany's violent colonial rule in Namibia is overshadowed by World War II and the Holocaust.

An historical photo of a Herero settlement: Germany’s violent colonial rule in Namibia is overshadowed by World War II and the Holocaust. Foto: Bildarchiv der Deutschen Kolonialgesellschaft / Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main

In the agreement, Germany officially recognizes responsibility for the genocide committed against the Nama and Herero for the first time, though only historically and not legally. Berlin has also committed to paying a total of 1.1 billion euros to Namibia in development aid over the next 30 years.

German politicians have described the deal as an historical step, but in Namibia, it is widely viewed with disgust. The Herero and Nama, in particular, feel as though they have been ignored. In the Namibian parliament, dissatisfaction with the agreement is so great that the lawmakers still haven’t ratified it. The Namibian government wants to renegotiate the agreement now – making it look as though Germany’s attempts to face up to the crimes it committed in the colonial era have reopened old wounds instead of closing them.

The Waterberg Plateau, located in central Namibia, was one of the main sites of the genocide.

With the help of historical photos and satellite imagery, Forensic Architecture was able to produce a model of the landscape.

It provides an indication of just how systematically the colonizers took control of the plateau.

They constructed military barracks and a police station.

The Herero were driven out.

This image shows a Herero settlement.

Forensic Architecture was able to reconstruct it with the help of interviews and 3-D software.

At the site, the Germans established a cemetery for German soldiers, but not for the Herero.

The Waterberg Plateau – known historically as Omuverumue – juts out of the steppe in central Namibia like a memorial, its rimrock glowing red in the morning light. Gerson Kaapehi is waiting in a lodge at the foot of the mountain.

Kaapehi, a 65-year-old historian, has spent much of his life collecting stories of the Herero. He can name every single battle in the war between the German Empire and the Herero and Nama and knows exactly where the soldiers faced off.

One of those battles took place at the plateau in August 1904, a decisive campaign that concluded with the German forces driving the Herero into the Kalahari Desert. Commander von Trotha had approaches to the desert blocked in many places and cut off access to water. Thousands of people died of thirst or starved.

Following the example of the British in South Africa, the Germans established concentration camps where the Nama and Herero had to perform forced labor.

Women were forced to pull the flesh from the skulls of their murdered husbands so they could be sent back to Germany for “race science research purposes.”

Forensic Architecture has produced a model of the camp.

Today, a parking lot and a sports field are located at the site.

The places where concentration camps were located are often unknown.

Forensic Architecture also examined colonial archives as part of their research.

And they examined historical photos.

The agency was thus able to identify the site of an additional concentration camp in Windhoek.

The lodge at Waterberg served as the site of a prison for the German colonial masters, and during the war, von Trotha set up his headquarters at the site. But even though the building now belongs to the Namibian state, there is no indication of its history. There are no signs informing tourists of the crimes that were committed here and no memorial to the victims. Instead, a portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm II still hangs on the wall in the dining hall. “It’s as if we Herero never even existed,” says Kaapehi.

The Herero and the Nama made up the majority of the population in Namibia before the genocide. Today, they represent less than a tenth of the country’s population of 2.5 million, and they are hardly represented at all in the government. For President Hage Geingob, commemoration of the genocide doesn’t play a significant role, according to the affected communities. For him and his political party, Namibia’s history essentially begins with the battle for independence against the South African occupiers.

An historical photo of Waterberg, known traditionally as Omuverumue. Many of the crimes committed by the German colonialists centered on this plateau.

An historical photo of Waterberg, known traditionally as Omuverumue. Many of the crimes committed by the German colonialists centered on this plateau. Foto: Bildarchiv der Deutschen Kolonialgesellschaft / Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main

As such, it is all the more surprising that the German government negotiated the Reconciliation Agreement with the government in Windhoek without including the most important representatives of the Herero and Nama.

When it came to reparations following World War II, Germany spoke with the government in Israel along with Jewish communities around the world, says Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the Berlin-based human rights organization the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, which has been instrumental in pushing forward the process in Germany of confronting the genocide perpetrated against the Herero and Nama. “But in Namibia, decisions were made without the involvement of the groups affected, in violation of international law. Important issues like the sexualized violence deployed by the Germans and the confiscation of fertile land were excluded.” Even the UN rebuked Germany for its approach.The Namibia Research from Forensic Architecture 

Click here  for the complete multimedia research report on the website of Forensic Architecture.

When reached for comment, the German government stated that it could only negotiate with the “democratically legitimate” government of Namibia, adding that representatives of the victims groups are “participants in the dialogue.”

Observers in Namibia believe that Berlin intentionally left the Herero and Nama out of the negotiations because they weren’t really interested in addressing uncomfortable questions such as land distribution. “The Germans don’t want to take any responsibility for their colonial crimes,” says Kaapehi, the historian. “They just want to be done with it.”

“The agreement offered the opportunity to establish historical justice. Unfortunately, that opportunity has been wasted.”

Mutjinde Katjiua, Paramount Chief of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA)

But Namibia’s colonial heritage continues to have an effect on the country today. Augustinus Muesee encounters the economic inequality whenever he searches for grazing land for his herd of cattle. The steppe at the edge of the Kalahari Desert is largely unsuitable, with droughts having led to a lack of pastureland for the animals. “I don’t know for how much longer we will be able to survive on agriculture,” Muesee says.

Muesee’s ancestors once owned fertile estates near Windhoek. But they were driven away during the genocide, and he says that the Germans took ownership of their property. Today, Muesee is left with a few hectares of land that the government has made available to him and other Herero in central Namibia as a kind of reservation.

Like many Herero, Muesee is demanding that land in Namibia be more fairly distributed. He’s not in favor of expropriating white farmers, as happened in Zimbabwe. But he wants the state, using money from Germany, to buy up land to return it to the ancestors of genocide victims. “There has to be compensation for the disaster we suffered,” he says.

Farmer Augustinus Muesee: "There has to be compensation for the disaster we suffered."

Farmer Augustinus Muesee: “There has to be compensation for the disaster we suffered.” Foto: Maximilian Popp / DER SPIEGEL

The coalition agreement of the government in Berlin states that reconciliation with Namibia remains “an essential task that grows out of our historical and moral responsibility.” In Berlin, though, nobody seems prepared to revisit the controversial Reconciliation Agreement – despite the fact that one of the coalition parties, the Greens, voiced criticism of the deal prior to the last election. “The joint declaration is, from the perspective of the German government, complete,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement in response to a query from the Left Party.

The senior-most Herero representative not in parliament, Mutjinde Katjiua, can hardly contain his anger when asked about the deal with the Germans. France, Belgium, Portugal – all other former European colonial powers, he says, are keeping a close eye on the negotiations between Berlin and Windhoek. “The agreement offered the opportunity to establish historical justice. Unfortunately, that opportunity has been wasted.”

Katjiua, 55, a lecturer on land use by profession, is the newly installed “paramount chief” of the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA), the officially recognized representation of the Herero. He is an unpretentious man with a leather hat, corduroy jacket and rimless glasses. In contrast to his predecessor, he doesn’t receive his guests in his own home, but is waiting in a café on Independence Avenue in Windhoek. But like other OTA representatives, he also feels betrayed by the Germans. “Berlin didn’t find it necessary to speak with us even a single time,” he says.

If the Germans are serious about their desire for reconciliation, says Katjiua, then a renegotiation of the agreement is unavoidable. The 1.1 billion euros that the German government has offered Windhoek as compensation over the next 30 years is too little, he says, less even that the sum Germany has paid Namibia since 1990 as normal development aid.

For Katjiua, though, symbolic recognition of the wrongs committed is more important than the money. “Why doesn’t Berlin invest in a documentation center in Namibia, similar to Yad Vashem?” he asks. “Why doesn’t Germany grant more visas to Namibian students and professionals to foster exchange?” Katjiua sums up his demands of the Germans in a single sentence: “Listen to us!”

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‘The WEIRDest People in the World’: How cultural evolution changes the brain

Joseph Henrich’s book argues that high literacy rates in the West has produced some of the strangest humans on the planet

Two children read a book in the back seat of a car, in an image taken in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1949.
Two children read a book in the back seat of a car, in an image taken in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1949.RAE RUSSEL (GETTY IMAGES)

Nature or nurture? It’s an age-old debate that has produced pronouncements like, “This little girl takes after her father,” and “The boy looks just like his grandmother.” But Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s clever cousin, brought the debate into the academic arena in the late 19th century. Darwin was a serious and conscientious scientist. Galton was an intense polymath, eager to use the principles of evolution to explain human societies. He invented eugenics and social Darwinism, two theories that would reserve him a place in the history of human infamy. But stripped of all their political and economic interpretations, his scientific ideas are still being actively debated today. So much for the nature theory.

The nurture theory reached its peak popularity a few decades later with the arrival of B.F. Skinner, the influential behaviorist who convinced 20th-century academia that humans are born with “blank slate” brains, and any environmental stimuli could write on that slate. Skinner believed so strongly in social engineering that he once invented an “air crib” for infants, a sealed, microbe-free, air-conditioned and soundproof enclosure. Skinner believed this was the optimal environment for raising babies until they were two years old. Starting in the 1950s, Skinner used his Harvard pulpit to influence generations of psychologists, an influence that persists to this day. Genetics is still a bad word in university humanities courses. So much for parenting.

Without human genes, we would not be able to learn to read and write. But the acts of reading and writing themselves modify the brain

Joseph Henrich’s extraordinary book, The WEIRDest People in the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020), resolves the nature-nurture debate with dazzling eloquence. Settling such polarized arguments often requires climbing a ladder to a second-floor balcony and watching the contradictions vanish. The two opposing ideas are revealed as parts of a more abstract, profound and fruitful reality. It is not nature or nurture, but nature then nurture, and nurture then nature.

Without human genes, we would not be able to learn to read and write. But the acts of reading and writing themselves modify the brain. That is the essence of Henrich’s argument in his lengthy book. It’s the Western people of the world who are the weird ones alluded to in the book’s title. Henrich attributes this weirdness to the very high literacy rates of developed countries, still a rarity among the 1,000 or so diverse cultures on our planet. This is not because Westerners are born smarter, but because our societies and political systems have made us literate. And this has changed our brains. Nurture then nature.

The author has convincing qualifications. A professor and chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, anthropologist and space engineer, he has led teams researching the behavior of different human societies. This research has led him to conclude that the subjects of most psychology research – Western citizens – are very peculiar. Henrich winkingly calls them WEIRD, an acronym that stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. It’s an important insight because it implies that the discipline of contemporary psychology is guided by a very skewed sample of the human species. Western citizens cannot be extrapolated to other cultures.

The WEIRDest People in the World is not a book for neuroscientists or anthropologists. Its target audience is educated readers of all types. There is no doctrine or dogma, simply arguments based on sound research, including the author’s own. Henrich takes the reader by the hand through a complex reality – our species is complex – showing how a scientific approach led to his conclusions, however shocking they may be. It’s a refreshing approach in a nonfiction landscape littered with baseless opinions. Henrich follows in the footsteps of Jared Diamond, the American academic for whom anthropological sensitivity and scientific creativity peacefully coexist on the second-floor balcony. Both authors are contemporary intellectuals who have transcended the myopic academic boundaries that constrain so many.

Learning to read and write modifies the brain in a very interesting way. Just above and behind the left ear is the occipitotemporal cortex of the brain, where processors that interpret spoken language and recognize objects dwell. Spoken language is intimately associated with human nature, and has played a leading role in the evolution of our species for hundreds of thousands of years. Writing, on the other hand, was only invented about 6,000 years ago, not enough time for genetics to adapt and develop a built-in writing organ. Instead, a literate culture creates a new processor among the language and object recognition processors, one that is responsible for perceiving very special objects – letters and words.

There are even more differences between Western populations and other cultures, including spatial reasoning, attention, memory, perceptions of fairness, risk-taking, pattern recognition, inductive reasoning and even susceptibility to optical illusions. Culture changes the brain, and that’s why Westerners like us are the weirdest people in the world. Read the book.

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An Ancient People’s Oldest Message: Get Rid of Beard Lice

Archaeologists in Israel unearthed a tiny ivory comb inscribed with the oldest known sentence written in an alphabet that evolved into one we use today.

A close-up view of a small ivory fragment held between two gloved fingers with markings on its side and small, visible comb teeth on its bottom edge.
A 3,700-year-old ivory comb found in southern Israel bears an inscription that reads, “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image

The tiny ivory comb came from ancient ruins in central Israel and was about the size of a child’s thumb. A number of its teeth had snapped. It was so encrusted in dirt that the archaeologist who found it initially added it to a bag of assorted bones.

More than half a decade later, by a stroke of luck, scientists found letters faintly inscribed on the object: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

“People kind of laugh when you tell them what the inscription actually says,” said Michael Hasel, an archaeologist at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee who was involved in the discovery of the comb.

But those words turned out to be anything but banal. Dr. Hasel and his colleagues dated the comb to around 1,700 B.C., which means that this appeal against lice is one of the oldest examples of the writing of Canaanites, an ancient Near Eastern people credited with developing the earliest forms of the alphabet that would evolve into the letters used in this newspaper today. As the scientists explain in an article published Wednesday in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, the 17 letters on the comb form the oldest full, decipherable sentence ever found in an early alphabetic script.

“I really think this is the most important object ever found in my excavations,” said Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a co-author of the study who has unearthed evidence of King David’s reign during his career.

He paused, then added, with a hint of emotion in his voice: “This is the first sentence ever found in the alphabet.”

The earliest confirmed systems of human writing emerged around 3,200 B.C., with cuneiform in Mesopotamia and hieroglyphics in Egypt. These scripts had hundreds of letters and were largely pictorial. That made them very difficult to learn, but they spread around the Near East. At some point, probably close to 1,800 B.C., a new kind of writing appeared in the region that relied on only a few dozen letters that were repeated and shuffled around. Each letter related to a single basic sound, or phoneme.

The development of this early alphabet is not well understood. But Christopher Rollston, who studies the languages and writing systems of the Near East at George Washington University, said there was consensus that “the alphabet was invented by Semitic-speaking people who were familiar with the Egyptian writing system.”

An aerial view of the Tel Lachish site, with some roads and structures on a brown hill surrounded by farmland.
The Tel Lachish archaeological site where a Canaanite city once stood, about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem.Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Several centuries later, around 1,100 B.C., these earliest alphabetic scripts were adopted by the Phoenicians, who strictly wrote from right to left and standardized the shape and stance of the letters. “There is a wide misconception in the general public that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet,” Dr. Rollston said. “They didn’t.”

The alphabet continued to evolve, from Phoenician to Old Hebrew to Old Aramaic to Ancient Greek to Latin, becoming the basis for today’s modern English characters. Dr. Garfinkel said that the DNA of the earliest alphabet could still be found in English and Hebrew. For instance, the letter “A” looks a bit like a cow staring at you — two legs supporting a head. It corresponds to the Hebrew letter Aleph, which corresponds to the Semitic word for ox. “You can still see that in the ‘A,’” Dr. Garfinkel said.

Part of the alphabet’s function came from its simplicity. Matching one letter to one sound made writing and reading far easier to learn. Dr. Hasel compared it with the printing press and the internet — whole new communities were able to access information and record history. “The invention of the alphabet was the most important contribution to communication in the last four millennia,” he said.

But the discovery of the letters on the tiny ivory comb did not start with anyone seeking clues to how this alphabet emerged. The artifact had been in storage since 2016, when it was collected from the ruins of the ancient city of Tel Lachish. Archaeologists digging at the site can inventory thousands of items a week.

Earlier this year, Madeleine Mumcuoglu, a parasitologist and archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, put the comb under a microscope to look for remnants of head lice. “I concentrated on the teeth, and not on anything else,” she said. “I had beautiful pictures under the microscope.”

But she also took pictures of the whole comb with her phone, and when she zoomed in, she saw an engraving.

A small group of tourists walk among stone ruins of the archaeological site.
Visitors to the Tel Lachish site, where researchers say their team often digs up thousands of artifacts a week.Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

Dr. Mumcuoglu sent two of these pictures to Daniel Vainstub, a paleographer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. He was able to discern Canaanite letters. Dr. Hasel and Dr. Garfinkel then sent the actual comb to Dr. Vainstub for a more thorough analysis. All of the researchers were stunned that the writing had gone unnoticed for more than five years

“Everybody had this comb in their hand, and no one saw the inscription,” Dr. Mumcuoglu said.

Over the next few months, Dr. Vainstub compared the 17 letters in the inscription, each less than a tenth of an inch long, to other ancient writings. Because examples of Canaanite writing around the same time period are rare and fragmentary, and because many of the engravings on the comb were faint, the work was painstaking. But the writing of the inscription on an ivory comb seemed to point to a single translation. Dr. Vainstub said that, after he made out the word “lice,” he knew he had figured it out.

“This is brilliant and judicious and careful scholarship,” said Dr. Rollston, who was not involved in the study.

While the discovery and deciphering of the inscription amounts to a significant archaeological advance in the study of the alphabet, none of the researchers claim that this finding blows open the doors to the field. In fact, there are many new questions to ask: There were no elephants in Canaan, so where was the ivory comb inscribed? Who inscribed it? What purpose did the inscription serve?

Dr. Garfinkel said that finding the comb with a plea against lice was like “finding a plate that says, ‘Put food on this plate.’” It’s simple, functional and reflective, in some ways, of our nature.

“It’s something very human,” he said. “What were you expecting? A love song? A recipe to make pizza?”

New York Times – November 9, 2022

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Russia Tried to Absorb a Ukrainian City. It Didn’t Work.

In Kherson, national songs were banned, speaking Ukrainian could lead to arrest, and students were told they were Russian. Cue the resistance

A Ukrainian soldier signing a flag in the main square of Kherson on Sunday.
A Ukrainian soldier signing a flag in the main square of Kherson on Sunday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

KHERSON, Ukraine — Iryna Dyagileva’s daughter attended a school where the curriculum included memorizing the Russian national anthem. But teachers ignored it, instead quietly greeting students in the morning with a salute: “Glory to Ukraine!”

The occupation authorities asked Olha Malyarchuk, a clerk at a taxi company, to settle bills in rubles. But she kept paying in Ukrainian currency, the hryvnia.

“It just didn’t work,” Ms. Malyarchuk said of the Russian propaganda that was beamed into televisions and plastered on billboards for the nine months of Russia’s occupation of Kherson. On Sunday, she was walking in a park, waving a small Ukrainian flag.

One roadside billboard proclaimed in bold text, “We are together with Russia!” But a teenager who offered only his first name, Oleksandr, had shinned up the supporting pole and was tearing the sign to pieces. Asked how he felt, he said, “Free.”

The Ukrainian Army, defying the odds after its much more powerful neighbor invaded in February, has reclaimed hundreds of villages and towns in three major counteroffensives north of Kyiv, in the northeastern Kharkiv region and now in the southern Kherson region.

Kherson residents celebrated the liberation of their city. This billboard had been used for Russian propaganda.
Kherson residents celebrated the liberation of their city. This billboard had been used for Russian propaganda.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Ukrainians greeted a passing military convoy on the road to Kherson on Sunday.
Ukrainians greeted a passing military convoy on the road to Kherson on Sunday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

But the city of Kherson stands out: It was the focus of an ambitious Russian campaign to assimilate the citizenry and stamp out Ukrainian identity — a goal President Vladimir V. Putin harbored for all of Ukraine had his military been more successful, judging by his assertions that Ukrainians and Russians are one nation.

In Kherson, national songs were banned. Speaking Ukrainian could lead to arrest. Schools adopted Russian curriculums, and young students were to be told that they were Russians, not Ukrainians.

In the early days of the city’s liberation, it appears that those Russian efforts were largely futile, at least among those who remained in the city as Ukrainian forces approached.

Serhiy Bloshko, a construction worker, had lived at friends’ houses through the nine-month occupation, fearing arrest for having joined anti-occupation protests in March, soon after the Russian Army arrived. Soldiers did go to his home. Not finding him, they made off with his television and refrigerator, he said.

But the Russians found some of his friends, who were detained and vanished, he said.

“They repressed the pro-Ukrainian population,” said Mr. Bloshko, who was interviewed in a line for water on Sunday afternoon. Of the cultural assimilation effort, he said, “What happened here was ethnic cleansing.”

Kherson residents lining up to fill containers with water on Sunday.
Kherson residents lining up to fill containers with water on Sunday.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Kherson residents lining up to fill containers with water on Sunday.
An empty grocery store in the city.
An empty grocery store in the city.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

The manner in which each army entered his city, one in February, the other last week, was telling, he said.

“When our soldiers drove in, their machine guns were pointed up, into the air,” Mr. Bloshko said. “When the Russians drove in, their guns were pointed at the people. That explains everything. And they said they were our liberators.”

Throughout Ukraine, the war has been notable as a time of accelerated cultural separation of Ukrainian from Russian — the exact opposite of what Mr. Putin had sought to achieve.

Bilingual Ukrainians who spoke Russian before the war pivoted to Ukrainian. Writers in Kyiv suggested closing a museum dedicated to Mikhail Bulgakov, a native of the city but one who wrote in Russian. The mayor of Odesa, the Black Sea city founded by Czar Catherine the Great, has said her statue will be torn down.

What began a decade ago, after Russia intervened militarily in eastern Ukraine, as a “de-communization” policy of banning Soviet-era place and street names has extended to Russian cultural references. Towns, for example, are renaming their many Pushkin Streets, named in honor of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

Col. Roman Kostenko, who is also a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, recording a video in front of a City of Kherson sign after Russia announced it had retreated.
Col. Roman Kostenko, who is also a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, recording a video in front of a City of Kherson sign after Russia announced it had retreated.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Ukrainian civilians and soldiers rejoicing over the liberation of Kherson.
Ukrainian civilians and soldiers rejoicing over the liberation of Kherson.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

In Kherson over the weekend, any residents who might have felt more warmly toward the Russian assimilation efforts were not in evidence, hardly surprising given that many had evacuated as the Ukrainians closed in and the Russian government encouraged residents to leave. Many local government officials had collaborated with the Russians.

Three days after the Russian Army left, several hundred Kherson residents were still celebrating on a central square.

But trepidation had also set in. Throughout the day, booms from artillery strikes in or near the city rang out occasionally, and Russian troops remain close by, on the opposite bank of the Dnipro River.

Ms. Malyarchuk, the taxi clerk, said that despite the failures of the assimilation program, the occupiers pressed ahead, publishing Russian newspapers and broadcasting a pro-Moscow local television news program. On Thursday, as they pulled out, Russian soldiers blew up the television tower, lest Ukraine now beam pro-Ukrainian news into nearby occupied territory.

Ms. Malyarchuk credited the Ukrainian Army’s strategy of patiently degrading Russian forces and launching pinpoint strikes on Russian supply lines and positions in and around Kherson for months with preserving the city itself. That approach, she said, also preserved support for Ukraine’s government.

A broadcasting tower destroyed by Russian troops on their way out of town.
A broadcasting tower destroyed by Russian troops on their way out of town.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
People gathering around an internet connection powered by a car battery in the main square of Kherson on Sunday.
People gathering around an internet connection powered by a car battery in the main square of Kherson on Sunday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

One strike by a precision guided HIMARS rocket, she said, had hit a Russian garrison in a residential district about 150 yards from her home, blowing out windows but harming no civilians. “It was a beautiful explosion,” she said.

“Thank God for America, Canada and Great Britain, and thank God for Grandfather Biden,” she said, noting the Western military aid that helped Ukraine repel the Russians from her city.

In the city’s center, one Russian base across a street from a hospital appeared hollowed out from the inside by a direct hit. Only jagged remnants of exterior walls remained standing. But the blast did not even crack windows in the hospital itself.

Dr. Ivan Terpak, a family physician at the hospital, said the strike had been worth the risk to patients and medical personnel, and was needed to drive out the Russians. “They wouldn’t have left if we didn’t shoot at them,” he said.

“Nobody asked me,” Dr. Terpak said, “but if they did, I would have said, ‘Go ahead and take the shot.’”

Along Ushakova Avenue, an elegant tree-lined boulevard that runs through the city, most buildings were undamaged.

A destroyed military vehicle on the road into Kherson.
A destroyed military vehicle on the road into Kherson.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
A sign warning of mines in front of a former Russian barracks in Kherson.
A sign warning of mines in front of a former Russian barracks in Kherson.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ms. Dyagileva said she had sent her daughter to school only after ensuring that the teaching staff remained secretly patriotic, playing along with Russian-appointed administrators but not teaching the curriculum that was imposed. Teachers at other schools did teach the Russian program, she said.

Iryna Rodavanova, a retired curator at the Kherson Art Museum, said the brutality of Russian soldiers had alienated residents, undermining the efforts at cultural assimilation. Soldiers beat her husband on a roadside after accusing him of a traffic violation.

“I agree with our president,” Ms. Rodavanova said. “Better without electricity, without water and without heat if also without the Russians.”

Oddly, weeks before retreating, Russian soldiers carried away the bones of the 18th-century Russian aristocrat Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, removing as they left a potent historical and cultural symbol of the city’s ties to Russia. Prince Potemkin, a lover of Catherine the Great, was considered the founder of the modern city of Kherson.

Father Vitaly, a priest at St. Catherine’s Cathedral, said Russian officers had from time to time through the occupation turned up at the cathedral to visit the crypt holding Prince Potemkin’s bones.

Lighting candles inside St. Catherine’s Cathedral in Kherson on Sunday.
Lighting candles inside St. Catherine’s Cathedral in Kherson on Sunday.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Father Vitaly in the crypt beneath the cathedral that once held the remains of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, thought to have founded of the modern city of Kherson.
Father Vitaly in the crypt beneath the cathedral that once held the remains of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, thought to have founded of the modern city of Kherson. Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Soldiers arrived wearing balaclava masks, saying they would protect the bones from the Ukrainian attack. Two soldiers carried out the bones, held in a charcoal-colored cloth bag, and two others the wooden coffin they had lain in for two centuries, Father Vitaly said.

“It was the most important relic of our church,” he said. “But it is more important to them than to us. He’s a significant historical figure and a symbol of Russian imperial ambitions.”

Ukraine should ask for the return of the bones, Father Vitaly said, adding, though, that Kherson residents won’t really mind if they don’t come back.

“We don’t need the bones,” he said. “Maybe the next generation will even forget they were ever here.”

Marc Santora contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

A darkened apartment block as night fell on Kherson on Sunday.
A darkened apartment block as night fell on Kherson on Sunday.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

New York Times – November 13, 2022

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Your Cat Might Not Be Ignoring You When You Speak

Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but a new study has found that their relationships with their owners may be stronger than we thought.

Three kittens sit on a pillow in a row, one of which looks very directly at the camera.
Cats are often seen as aloof. But in a new study, they were not ignoring their owners, but instead “their reactions were very subtle,” the lead author of the study said.Credit…David W Cerny/Reuters

Every cat owner has a story to tell of being blanked by their cat: We call to our cat, it turns away, and some of us might be left wondering why we didn’t get a dog. But your cat may be listening after all. More than that, it cares more than you may think.

A study by French researchers that was published last month in the journal Animal Cognition found that not only do cats react to what scientists call cat-directed speech — a high-pitched voice similar to how we talk to babies — they react to who is doing the talking.

“We found that when cats heard their owners using a high-pitched voice, they reacted more than when they heard their owner speaking normally to another human adult,” said Charlotte de Mouzon, an author of the study and cat behavior expert at the Université Paris Nanterre. “But what was very surprising in our results was that it actually didn’t work when it came from a stranger’s voice.”

Unlike with dogs, cat behavior is difficult to study, which is part of why humans understand them less. Cats are often so stressed by being in a lab that meaningful behavioral observations become impossible. And forget about trying to get a cat to sit still for an M.R.I. scan to study its brain function.

So the researchers for the latest study went to the cats’ homes and played recordings of different types of speech and different speakers. At first, Dr. de Mouzon and her team were worried that the cats weren’t reacting at all. But then they studied film recordings of the encounters. “Their reactions were very subtle,” Dr. de Mouzon said. “It could be just moving an ear or turning the head towards the speaker or even freezing what they were doing.”

In a few cases, the cats in the study would approach the speaker playing a voice and meow. “In the end, we had really clear gains in the cat’s attention when the owner was using cat-directed speech,” Dr. de Mouzon said.

Three views arrayed horizontally of a white-and-gray cat, top, and a dark gray cat with a dark red fluffy thing next to it at bottom.
Behavioral changes before (a), during (b) and after (c) the stimulus onset. The stimulus onset interrupted a grooming session with the top cat and caused the lower cat’s pupils to dilate and orient its head toward the speaker.Credit…Charlotte de Mouzon

The findings showed that “cats are paying close attention to their caretakers, down to not only what they are saying, but how they are saying it,” said Kristyn Vitale, an assistant professor of animal health and behavior at Unity College in Maine who was not involved in the new study.

The new study complements Dr. Vitale’s own research into relationships between a cat and its owner. This relationship is so important, Dr. Vitale’s research has found, that it replicates the connection between a kitten and its mother. “It is possible that attachment behaviors originally intended for interactions with their mother have now been modified for interactions with their new caretakers, humans.”

Unlike dogs, “most cats actually prefer human interaction over other rewards like food or toys,” Dr. Vitale said.

Genetics may also play a role in why dogs are easier to study and are assumed to be friendlier.

“Dogs were artificially selected hundreds or thousands of years ago based precisely on their capacity to be trained, whether as sheepdogs, hunting dogs or something else,” Sarah Jeannin, a dog behavior expert at the Université Paris Nanterre who was not involved in the new study.

Dr. Jeannin disputed the stereotype that dogs are closer to humans than cats. “People say that dogs are a man’s best friend, that you can trust them and that they are very loyal. But we don’t know what dogs actually think,” she said. “It’s really just projection by us that dogs are in love with us.”

“For years, scientists didn’t ask the right questions about cats,” Dr. de Mouzon said. Now, those who are convinced of the perfidy of cats won’t like the answers that are emerging.

Cats don’t hate us after all, Dr. Vitale said, adding that “a growing body of work supports the idea that social interaction with humans is key in the life of a cat.”

According to Dr. de Mouzon, just because cats react in subtle ways doesn’t mean they are aloof.

“Cats don’t do what you expect them to do. But if cats don’t come when we call them, it may be because they’re busy doing something else, or they are resting,” she said. “People have these kinds of expectations because when you call a dog, the dog will come. But if you call a human when they are having a nap at the other end of the house, would you go?”

A wide-eyed cat looks attentively at someone or something off-camera, standing on a very large scratching post/play structure with a feathery toy in front of it.
An unsubtle, attentive test subject in the study.Credit…Charlotte de Mouzon

New York Times – November 13, 2022

Posted in 1

Iran and China Use Private Detectives to Spy on Dissidents in America

The U.S. investigators are hired under false pretenses by authoritarian governments to do their “dirty work,” the F.B.I. says.

A man in a tweed driving cap sits behind a car steering wheel.
Michael McKeever, a private investigator, was unwittingly hired to watch an Iranian dissident. F.B.I. agents were watching, too.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

The job that came in through Michael McKeever’s website was unremarkable, the kind of request he often received in his decades working as a private investigator in New York.

An international client wanted his help tracking down a debtor who had fled from Dubai and was believed to be in Brooklyn. Mr. McKeever was to surveil a house and photograph the people coming and going. “Kindly be discreet as they are on the lookout,” he was told.

Mr. McKeever and an associate began taking turns conducting the surveillance, but they failed to notice another team watching the same address. They were F.B.I. agents, and one soon got in touch with a warning.

“Your client is not who you think they are,” the agent said, according to Mr. McKeever. “These are bad people, and they’re up to no good.”

Mr. McKeever, 71, would later learn that he had been used by Iranian intelligence agents in a suspected plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian-American journalist who has been unsparing in her criticism of Iran’s human rights abuses, discrimination against women and imprisonment and torture of political opponents.

“We were afraid they were going to look to snatch and grab her, bring her home and probably kill her,” said James E. Dennehy, the former head of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence and cyber division in New York, who now runs the bureau’s Newark office.

Across America, investigators are increasingly being hired by a new kind of client — authoritarian governments like Iran and China attempting to surveil, harass, threaten and even repatriate dissidents living lawfully in the United States, law enforcement officials said.

Federal indictments and complaints in the past two years detail cases in which private investigators were drawn into such schemes in New York, California and Indiana, and F.B.I. officials say they believe others have been as well. Most appear to have been used unwittingly, and later cooperated with the authorities; a few, however, were charged.

Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, said a government can hire an investigator in a routine transaction to learn detailed information about a person’s residence, cellphones, Social Security number, work address — and feed that knowledge to a state security apparatus.

“It strikes me as low-cost, low-risk state-sponsored terrorism in the 21st century,” Mr. Hoffman said.

The tactic comes amid a broad wave of repression, officials said, which has included the poisonings of opponents of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Britain and elsewhere; Saudi Arabia’s involvement in luring Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic, to its Istanbul consulate where he was brutally killed and dismembered in 2018; and Turkey’s pursuit of perceived enemies in at least 31 countries, according to a 2021 report by Freedom House, which promotes democracy globally.

In the case involving Ms. Alinejad, Manhattan federal prosecutors filed kidnapping conspiracy charges in July 2021 against an Iranian intelligence official and three associates, all in Iran. None are likely to be apprehended if they remain there, but officials said the goal, beyond protecting potential victims, was to expose and deter plots devised at the highest levels of a foreign government.

For most private eyes, daily work is far from the glamorized depictions in film and literature, with jobs originating with law firms, insurance companies and aggrieved spouses. Today, many assignments come via the internet, with no face-to-face contact.

“If you’ve got somebody on the other side — an intelligence professional who can lie and create smoke and mirrors — sometimes it’s hard to vet those clients correctly,” said Wes Bearden, a Dallas-based private investigator and an officer of the World Association of Detectives, which has about 1,000 members.

Many private investigators, some with backgrounds in law enforcement, are decidedly old school. Mr. McKeever’s website bears the motto “Delivering the truth … with honesty and proof,” and lists offerings like employment background checks and “Infidelity & Matrimonial Investigation.”

That sort of street-level legwork can also provide the basis of an intelligence operation, one that foreign governments can conduct cheaply at a safe remove.

“That’s their proxy that they use here on the ground in a very natural way to do a lot of their dirty work,” the F.B.I.’s Mr. Dennehy said.

A woman with tall, curly hair and a flower behind her ear stands before a backdrop of trees.
Masih Alinejad, as a journalist in Iran, had frequently exposed malfeasance and corruption, and was threatened with arrest or worse.Credit…Cole Wilson for The New York Times

In Ms. Alinejad’s case, he said, the Iranians wanted to know her emotions, her state of mind — even her body language. Was she frantically looking over her shoulder or did she seem carefree?

Mr. McKeever said that after being told of Iran’s role, he secretly cooperated with the bureau, providing access to his email account. F.B.I. officials confirmed his cooperation. Mr. McKeever has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and he continues to operate his firm.

As private investigators fall victim to the sorts of schemes they usually unearth, the F.B.I. says it has been contacting professional groups to warn them.

“The more we can draw attention to it, the more we hope private investigators and others will learn to spot these red flags,” said Roman Rozhavsky, an F.B.I. counterintelligence official in New York.

Not every private eye has avoided legal trouble. Michael McMahon, a 55-year-old retired New York Police Department sergeant who built a second career as a private investigator, was arrested in 2020. He faces charges of acting as an illegal agent for the Chinese government, stalking and two conspiracy counts. Prosecutors say he was part of an effort to coerce a Chinese citizen living in New Jersey, identified only as John Doe-1, to return to that country.

Mr. McMahon said that he was stunned and that he had no knowledge he was working for China.

“When I read the complaint against me,” he said in an email, “I became sick to my stomach. As my background shows, I committed my life to upholding the law and never have — and never would — commit a crime.”

A man in a jacket and checked shirt stands by a river with a bridge in the middle distance.
Michael McMahon, a private investigator accused of working for China, said he would never commit a crime and had no idea his employer was a hostile foreign government.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Mr. McMahon said in an interview that in 2016, he took a job from a woman who found him through his website. He said he was led to believe she was calling for a client from China who was seeking a person in New Jersey who had stolen money from a Chinese construction company.

“We need to locate that person — is that something you do?” he recalled her asking.

“‘I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I do.’”

Mr. McMahon said the woman claimed to own a translation company and paid him with a check in the firm’s name. He said he conducted surveillance on five occasions in New Jersey in 2016 and 2017, each time notifying local police departments that he was parked outside a residence. That, Mr. McMahon said, was evidence that he had nothing to hide. He said he hired two other investigators, both retired New York police detectives, to help.

Mr. McMahon said he was awakened early one morning in October 2020 by his dog barking and someone banging on the door of his Bergen County, N.J., house. About a dozen F.B.I. agents and police officers had come to arrest him.

Justice Department officials said Mr. McMahon and a group of other defendants, some in China, were part of an aggressive Chinese government campaign called Operation Fox Hunt. Brooklyn federal prosecutors have said Mr. McMahon was integral to the scheme.

“After multiple months of investigative work by the defendant Michael McMahon,” the indictment says, “the co-conspirators planned a specific rendition operation to stalk and repatriate John Doe-1 through psychological coercion.”

Prosecutors have said Mr. McMahon knew John Doe-1 was being sought by the Chinese government: While conducting surveillance, he emailed himself a link to an English-language Chinese newspaper page listing the man among 100 fugitives wanted in an anti-graft campaign.

They have also said that Mr. McMahon, in a conversation with a co-defendant, a Chinese citizen who had lived in Queens, proposed they harass John Doe-1 by parking outside his house to “let him know we are there.”

Mr. McMahon’s lawyer, Lawrence S. Lustberg, said that investigators are often hired by private firms to locate people who are simultaneously sought by the authorities, and that his client’s harassment comment was just a suggestion that they engage in more overt surveillance — which he said never occurred.

“I have not seen one piece of evidence — not one — that Mike had any idea that he was in any way working for the Chinese government,” Mr. Lustberg said.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn declined to comment.

Mr. Lustberg noted that his client also was not given an opportunity to cooperate with investigators.

“There never comes a time before his arrest,” Mr. Lustberg said, “where the federal government goes to him and says, ‘Hey, do you realize what’s going on here? You are being played by the Chinese government.’”

Iran, a theocracy facing a cresting wave of protest at home, has also been eyeing its critics abroad for years and has taken advantage of American detectives. In July 2020, Mr. McKeever received the email asking that he watch the Brooklyn home that turned out to be Ms. Alinejad’s residence.

“I am contacting you on behalf of a client looking [for] a missing person from Dubai, U.A.E., who has fled to avoid debt repayment,” wrote the sender, Kiya Sadeghi, according to the indictment.

Ms. Alinejad, as a journalist in Iran, had frequently exposed malfeasance and corruption, and was threatened with arrest or worse for writing articles critical of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Her press pass was revoked and she was forced to flee in 2009. From Brooklyn, she has remained a high-profile presence in the news media. In July, a man was arrested with a loaded AK-47-style assault rifle outside her home.

Mr. McKeever said he knew nothing about Ms. Alinejad. Mr. Sadeghi’s email said his services were needed for surveillance on a “potential address” for the missing person, according to the indictment.

“Will need high quality pictures/video of persons living in the address and cars they drive,” one email said. The client wanted “photos of faces and cars” and their license plate numbers and, “if possible picture of envelopes in mailbox,” Mr. Sadeghi wrote in another message.

To Mr. McKeever, the assignment seemed straightforward: “I thought it might be a one-day job.”

The indictment identifies Mr. Sadeghi as an Iranian intelligence agent who researched and hired investigators in the United States, Canada and Britain to procure surveillance services for Iranian intelligence, the indictment said.

On July 22, 2020, Mr. McKeever emailed Mr. Sadeghi to report that surveillance had begun, and attached a photograph of the ho

In August and September, he was asked for additional days of work, including pictures and video. The client also wanted “pictures of faces of everyone visiting the address, even if they are marketers and salespeople,” one email said.

“Pictures of everything and everyone,” Mr. Sadeghi wrote in another message. “Client wants lots of content even if you may think it is not of value.”

In October 2020, Mr. McKeever received the call from the F.B.I. He agreed to cooperate.

“I was like, hey, whatever you need, I’m good,” Mr. McKeever said.

Mr. McKeever said he continued to communicate with Mr. Sadeghi with full knowledge of the F.B.I., and conducted additional surveillance in early 2021. At one point, Mr. Sadeghi asked whether it was possible to park in front of the house in a car outfitted with a camera to provide a live video feed. In all, Mr. McKeever was paid just under $6,000 for his services, the indictment says.

Looking back, he does not believe he ignored obvious red flags in the repeated requests from Mr. Sadeghi. But he acknowledged that he missed clues that might have raised suspicions, like the questions he had posed to Mr. Sadeghi that never generated satisfactory answers.

For example, he said he asked for the name of the supposed debtor, so he could determine whether a person by that name lived at the Brooklyn address. He was never told. He now believes the Iranians were trying to thwart any checking he might have done on his own.

“One of the things I could have done is run a trace on that house and said, ‘Who lives here?’” Mr. McKeever recalled. “And I could have Googled that woman’s name.” If he had learned her name, he said, his reaction would have been, “‘Whoa, wait a second.’”

Ms. Alinejad, in an interview, said she was furious when she learned of the extent of the surveillance.

“Miles away from my homeland,” Ms. Alinejad said, “I’m being watched and monitored by someone who has been hired by the Iranian regime.”

According to the indictment, the plotters had researched routes from Ms. Alinejad’s home to the Brooklyn waterfront, and methods of taking her by boat to Venezuela and on to Iran.

“No question in my mind that they could have done it,” Mr. McKeever said, adding, “I’m glad that it didn’t work out.”

Over his many years as a private eye, Mr. McKeever said, he always tried to be vigilant in scrutinizing the jobs he took. He did not believe he was naïve, but he knew clients could lie. If there was a lesson for private investigators, he said, it was to be careful not to be used.

“I was used,” he said.

New York Times – November 13, 2022

Posted in 1

The Cost of Going Cashless

Nov. 13, 2022, 6:00 a.m. ET

Credit…Allie Sullberg

Six dollars and 50 cents is a lot to pay for a scoop of ice cream, no matter how artisanal. But that’s the cost at Van Leeuwen’s 20 ice cream shops in New York City. It’s especially egregious when you consider that a full pint of Van Leeuwen, which contains two and a half servings of ice cream, depending on your self-discipline, costs only a few dollars more.

But some people haven’t been allowed to pay for Van Leeuwen’s ice cream, be it vegan or French, at all. For nearly two years after New York City banned retail stores from being cashless, Van Leeuwen shops in New York refused to comply. The company bore down on this defiance with a brazenness that felt almost ideological. Not only did signs warn customers that its stores did not take cash — until last month, when it finally acquiesced after threat of legal action — it violated the law at least 90 times and declined to show up for administrative hearings. The company also declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

“Nobody should be discriminated against because they only want to or can pay with cash,” Vilda Vera Mayuga, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, told me after Van Leeuwen finally conceded defeat. “It’s not for the business to decide who they want to serve.”

Maybe you didn’t need that serving of Royal Wedding Cake ice cream with elderflower and lemon anyway. Lots of people like to avoid scrounging for pennies at the bottom of their bags or standing behind someone in line who does. Many businesses prefer cashless transactions too. What’s the problem?

Clearly a cash-free economy has its beneficiaries, foremost banks and credit card companies: Visa and Mastercard reap $138 billion from participating merchants in service fees a year. According to a recent report in The Economist, Visa and Mastercard are two of the most profitable companies in the world, with net margins of 51 percent and 46 percent last year.

It’s also easy to pick up the rich scent of Silicon Valley. In the rose-metallic vision of libertarians like Peter Thiel — who of course, co-founded PayPal — operating in a cash-free world is easier and more convenient than handling grubby lucre. Amazon has also been a notable opponent to cashless bans in states like New Jersey; in the company’s original vision for its Go stores, paper money was not an option.

Many people believe cashless is the wave of the future, citing Sweden as an example. Countries such as India and South Korea have also made a strong push toward a cash-free future. According to an analysis of sales data by the payment platform Square, the share of cashless businesses nearly doubled in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada between February 2020 and February 2021; in the United States, cash payments dropped more than 8 percentage points in that period. And while the United States is far from the vanguard on going cash-free, here consumers use either credit or debit cards for 57 percent of transactions. As of 2022, 41 percent of Americans say they go cashless in a typical week, up from 24 percent in 2015.

So who’s paying for all this? While cash-free means profits for credit card industries and efficiencies for merchants in terms of training workers and managing their time, it isn’t cost-free for everyone. One recent study found that merchants increase their prices by approximately 1.4 percent to offset the interchange fees they pay to credit card companies; for those earning miles, that may not matter — but those who pay cash pay the price. Moreover, many cashless venues use tablet payment systems that automatically ask consumers to tip for a retail service that was long standard. If you’re like me, that screen may leave you flummoxed: Are the workers being paid less than minimum wage because these are now tipped jobs? Will this barista think I’m a jerk for not tacking on 20 percent or 30 percent for a muffin?

Consumers also pay in terms of privacy. Do you want your payment app or credit card company to share exactly how many beers or Big Macs you’ve bought in the past week with its data partners, or to know every item you picked up at the pharmacy? And while a cash system is subject to crime, like employee theft and robbery, digital payments aren’t without their own risks, including double charges and identity theft.

But the most significant objection to a cashless system is whom it shuts out. Whereas cash enables everyone, no matter their age, credit history, immigration status or income, to pay directly for goods or services rather than use an intermediary, credit cards generally require a bank account. Not everyone — including 301,700 households, or almost one in 10 households in New York City — has one. And even those who do don’t necessarily want to add to their credit card debt. Regardless of whether they have a choice, teenagers and people earning less than $30,000 a year are more likely to use cash. This is also disproportionately true for minorities.

In response to these disparities, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York City and the state of New Jersey have passed legislation forbidding most merchants from refusing to accept cash. But that’s a tiny fraction of the country. Chicago’s proposed ban failed to pass in 2019. Though the U.S. Treasury notes on all bills, “This Note Is Legal Tender for All Debts, Public and Private,” there is no federal law mandating that all businesses accept cash. In the absence of an explicit law stating otherwise, merchants can decline any form of payment they like.

Going cashless sounds so sleek and shiny and tech-forward, but like many high-tech initiatives, it doesn’t necessarily translate into progress for all. Given this country’s ongoing inflation, given the persistence of its profound wealth disparities, given the paycheck-to-paycheck lives of many Americans, widening another divide between the haves and the have-nots isn’t the cost-free leap forward proponents make it out to be. Someone always pays the price.

New York Times – November 13, 2022

Posted in 1

Trump, Musk and Kanye Are Twitter Poisoned

Credit…Sargam Gupta

I encountered Donald Trump a few times in the pre-social media era, and he struck me as someone who was in on his own joke. He no longer does. Elon Musk used to be a serious person more concerned with engineering and building businesses than with petty name-calling. He didn’t seem like the kind of person to amplify a preposterous, sordid story about Paul Pelosi. Kanye West was once a thoughtful artist. Now known as Ye, he radiates antisemitism on top of his earlier slavery denialism.

I have observed a change, or really a narrowing, in the public behavior of people who use Twitter or other social media a lot. (“Other social media” sometimes coming into play after ejection from Twitter.) When I compare Mr. Musk, Mr. Trump and Ye, I see a convergence of personalities that were once distinct. The garish celebrity playboy, the obsessive engineer and the young artist, as different from one another as they could be, have all veered not in the direction of becoming grumpy old men, but into being bratty little boys in a schoolyard. Maybe we should look at what social media has done to these men.

I’m not claiming that Twitter is the sole influence, of course. Traditional demons summoned by great wealth have not vanished. I have no access to what goes on in the brains of other people. What I’m talking about is plain public behavior. The personalities of a great many famous and powerful people have changed in a similar way — a way we could do without.

I believe “Twitter poisoning” is a real thing. It is a side effect that appears when people are acting under an algorithmic system that is designed to engage them to the max. It’s a symptom of being part of a behavior-modification scheme.

The same could be said about any number of other figures, including on the left. Examples are found in the excesses of cancel culture and joyless orthodoxies in fandom, in vain attention competitions and senseless online bullying.

My purpose is not to ridicule anyone, though it might be impossible to be perceived in any other way, given the near-monopoly status that ridicule has taken on in the era of social media. The human brain did not evolve to handle modern chemicals or modern media technology and is vulnerable to addiction. That is true for me and for us all.

Behavioral changes occur as a side effect of something called operant conditioning, which is the underlying mechanism of social media addiction. This is the core mechanism analogous to the role alcohol plays in alcoholism.

In early operant conditioning, pioneered by famous behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, animals were given positive and negative feedback in the form of treats and electric shocks. The behavior of each individual animal was monitored so that the stimulus given was constantly optimized to a purpose. A similar scheme targets people through their phones today.

In the case of digital platforms, the purpose is usually “engagement,” a concept that is hard to distinguish from addiction. People receive little positive and negative jolts of social feedback — getting followed or liked, or being ignored or even humiliated. Before social media, that kind of tight feedback loop had rarely been present in human communications outside of laboratories or marriages. (This is part of why marriage can be hard, I suspect.)  

I was around when Google and other companies that operate on the personalized advertising model were created, and I can say that at least in the early days, operant conditioning was not part of the plan. What happened was that the algorithms that optimized the individualized advertising model found their way into it automatically, unintentionally rediscovering methods that had been tested on dogs and pigeons.

What do I think are the symptoms of Twitter poisoning? There is a childish insecurity, where before there was pride. Instead of being above it all, like traditional strongmen throughout history, the modern social media-poisoned alpha male whines and frets. This works because his followers are similarly poisoned and can relate so well.

To be clear, whiners are much better than Stalins. And yet there have been plenty of more mature and gracious leaders who are better than either, even if we can no longer agree about who they were, because of our intense tribalism, which is amplified by the prevalence of social media addiction.

I’ll suggest a hypothesis about the childishness that comes to the surface in social media addicts. When we were children, we all had to negotiate our way through the jungle of human power relationships at the playground. When we feel those old humiliations, anxieties and sadisms again as adults — over and over, because the algorithm has settled on that pattern as a powerful way to engage us — habit formation restimulates old patterns that had been dormant. We become children again, not in a positive, imaginative sense, but in a pathetic way.

Twitter poisoning makes sufferers feel more oppressed than is reasonable in response to reasonable rules. The scope of fun is constricted to transgressions. Unfortunately, scale changes everything. Taunts become dangerous hate when amplified. A Twitter-poisoned soul will often complain of a loss of fun when someone succeeds at moderating the spew of hate.

Twitter poisoning is a little like alcoholism or gambling addiction, in that the afflicted lose all sense of proportion about their own powers. They can come to believe they have almost supernatural abilities. Little boys fantasize about energy beams shooting from their fingertips.

The degree of narcissism becomes almost absolute. Everything is about what someone else thinks of you. After Ukrainian officials verbally lashed out at Mr. Musk for suggesting a peace plan that included ceding territory to Russia, Mr. Musk said his company couldn’t indefinitely fund satellite support to Ukraine. The pre-addict Elon Musk would probably have brushed it off. Who cares that much about what someone else thinks? The answer is: either a child learning how social perception of oneself works or an adult suffering from Twitter addiction.

These observations should inform our concerns about TikTok. The most devastating way China might use TikTok is not to misdirect our elections or to prefer pro-China posts, but to generally ramp up social media disease, so as to make Americans more divided, less able to talk to one another and less able to put up a coordinated, unified front.

Modern techies have revived a technocratic sensibility: a belief that great engineers can and should guide society. Whether that idea appeals or not, when technology degrades the minds of those same engineers, then the result can only be dysfunction.

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist who pioneered research in virtual reality and whose books include “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” He is Microsoft’s “prime unifying scientist” but does not speak for the company.

New York Times – November 11, 2022

Ukraine Signals It Will Stay on the Offensive, Despite Talk of a Lull

Many analysts and diplomats have suggested there could be a pause in major combat, and even peace talks, over the winter, but after pushing the Russians out of Kherson, Ukraine has no desire to stop.

Ukrainian soldiers in the village of Snihurivka, in southern Ukraine, on Thursday, the day after Russia formally announced it had retreated from villages along the Kherson front.
Ukrainian soldiers in the village of Snihurivka, in southern Ukraine, on Thursday, the day after Russia formally announced it had retreated from villages along the Kherson front.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

As jubilant Ukrainian troops hoist their national flag over Kherson after a comprehensive Russian retreat, they give no sign of stopping their offensives for the winter, or allowing the war to settle into a stalemate.

In the east, Ukrainian forces continue to grind forward and have repelled repeated Russian efforts to seize towns like Bakhmut and Pavlivka, reportedly killing hundreds of Russian soldiers. In the south, they are striking deep behind Russian lines, hitting Moscow’s troops before they can settle and build defenses on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, across from Kherson.

And there are growing hints from troops on the ground, and volunteers close to them, that the Ukrainians are preparing for a new land offensive between those two fronts, south through the Zaporizhzhia region toward Melitopol, challenging Russia’s hold on the entire southern area that it seized in the invasion that began in February.

“The logic of war is not to pause and somehow continue to move forward,” said Senior Lt. Andriy Mikheichenko, a commander of an anti-tank unit defending the embattled town of Bakhmut, in the eastern Donbas region. “I think there will be counterattacks in other directions, so that the enemy does not have time to transfer reserves and block strikes.”

Ukrainian forces have repeatedly repelled Russian efforts to seize towns like Bakhmut, in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian forces have repeatedly repelled Russian efforts to seize towns like Bakhmut, in the eastern Donbas region.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Many analysts and diplomats have talked about the war entering a period of stasis during the cold of winter, with both militaries needing to rebuild. Some leaders — most notably, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday — have suggested that a lull in fighting would be a good time for talks.

But the government in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, has been adamant that a stalemate would simply cement Russian gains, suggesting that, even if conditions force Ukraine to slow its offensives, it does not plan to stop them. There has been a chorus of conflicting predictions by military analysts and others, inside and outside Ukraine, about what to expect next, and Ukrainian soldiers often delight in the military command’s ability to obscure its intentions and keep everyone guessing.

The drawing of a new front line at the southern reaches of the Dnipro, with the two sides controlling opposite banks, will essentially bring a halt on the Kherson front, military analysts said. The river’s immense width and further damage to the main Antonivksy Bridge by departing Russian troops make it extremely difficult and risky for Ukrainian troops to try to pursue the retreating Russian forces across the water.

There was evidence that Ukraine was continuing to strike deep behind Russian lines, with reports of rocket strikes on Russian forces regrouping in several locations along the eastern bank, and of strikes in recent days on the southern cities of Melitopol and Henichesk, near the Black Sea coast, more than 40 miles from the front.

Ukrainian special forces and partisan forces will maintain a steady momentum of small-scale attacks behind Russian lines, said Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow in military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense analysis organization in London.

A Ukrainian soldier received medical treatment last month at a clinic three miles from frontline fighting positions in Bakhmut.
A Ukrainian soldier received medical treatment last month at a clinic three miles from frontline fighting positions in Bakhmut.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

One camp of commentators, made up of former Western military servicemen who follow the war closely and cite friends among those fighting, is already predicting that Ukraine will make further gains in the south, as Russian morale and organization unravel.

“A good day, my friend. Now we move on to other maps and other battles!” a former member of the U.S. Navy SEALs, Chuck Pfarrer, tweeted on Friday as Ukrainian troops swept into Kherson. Speaking on Twitter Spaces this week with the Mriya Report, a popular pro-Ukraine organization, Mr. Pfarrer said he thought the city of Melitopol was the next target to watch and spoke confidently of Ukraine’s ability to press its advantage and recapture more territory in coming months.

Other analysts were more cautious. Mr. Bronk said he expected both sides to take an operational pause because of the difficulty of muddy, wet and cold conditions, and because the fighting in Kherson had been extremely debilitating.

He predicted that full-scale fighting would resume in the spring. Ukraine’s next targets, he said, would most likely be either in the direction of Melitopol in the south or in the east, continuing the offensive that routed Russian forces from the Kharkiv region, to recapture the town of Svatove in the Luhansk region, which has been the focus of fighting for the past month.

Ukrainian citizens who had fled Russia-occupied territories in southern Ukraine reached a filtration point this month in Zaporizhzia, in southeastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian citizens who had fled Russia-occupied territories in southern Ukraine reached a filtration point this month in Zaporizhzia, in southeastern Ukraine.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

But he doubted that Ukraine had the concentration of forces to mount a large-scale offensive action, which, according to military convention, usually demands that attackers far outnumber defenders

“I would be surprised if they have the ammunition, fuel and equipment to do it,” he said, adding, “There have been massive casualties on the Kherson front.”

General Milley said on Thursday that Russia and Ukraine had each suffered more than 100,000 casualties — dead and wounded — in less than nine months of warfare. Neither side has published official casualty figures amid strict control of information.

The commander of a volunteer battalion in the Zaporizhzhia region confirmed that Ukrainian casualties were high. He said he knew of one unit that was losing 20 men a day in eastern Ukraine, and he estimated that his country was still losing 100 to 200 men a day overall, as it had been earlier in the year when President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine first mentioned that rate.

But soldiers on the front line do not foresee any letup.

A Ukrainian soldier preparing to remove the body of a Russian soldier this month in Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi, in the Kharkiv region. Russia and Ukraine have each suffered more than 100,000 casualties since the start of the war.
A Ukrainian soldier preparing to remove the body of a Russian soldier this month in Kupiansk-Vuzlovyi, in the Kharkiv region. Russia and Ukraine have each suffered more than 100,000 casualties since the start of the war.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Bakhmut continues to be a drawn-out fight, according to soldiers headed back to the front. The 93rd Brigade, the unit that had defended the town since the summer, was given just over a week to rest and has since returned to the trenches.

As it planned its withdrawal of troops from Kherson, the Russian command tried to secure a victory in the east, throwing newly mobilized soldiers into battles at Svatove, in northeastern Ukraine, and in the Donetsk region, in attempts to seize Bakhmut and the village of Pavlivka.

The anti-tank unit commander in Bakhmut, Lieutenant Mikheichenko, said the fight for the city might be the next definitive battle. “Who survives this race will win,” he said. “It’s a game of attrition. Maybe there will be a turning point here because they do not want to give in. Troops are being thrown in, and we are the same.”

“If we break their backs here, only one strong group will remain — Zaporizhzhia,” he said of the Russians. “It stands separately, where the fighting is of medium intensity. Not like in Bakhmut, but not like in the Kherson region, either. We know that there are quite a lot of them. And how this grouping will behave, and what we will do, is still unknown.”

As winter approaches, both sides are also facing ammunition shortfalls. Russia has turned to North Korea and Iran for artillery shells and missiles. The Ukrainian military, according to a person familiar with Ukrainian officials’ demands, wants to increase the number of shells they fire each day — around 3,000 — by several thousand.

Ukrainian soldiers on Friday at a former Russian military base in the village of Blahodatne, in the Kherson region.
Ukrainian soldiers on Friday at a former Russian military base in the village of Blahodatne, in the Kherson region.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Despite Russia’s setbacks on the battlefield, the Russian military continues to wage an effective missile and drone campaign against Ukraine’s infrastructure, according to U.S. defense officials and military analysts, exposing gaps in a heavily strained Ukrainian air defense network.

One thing analysts agree on is that, whether or not there is a pause, the next stage will again be extremely brutal.

“The war will not stop in the coming winter,” Mick Ryan, a recently retired Australian Army major general, wrote in an article for ABC of Australia.

“But it will be fought at a different tempo,” he added. “And it provides political and military leaders an opportunity to plan for what is likely to be a brutal and bloody year ahead.”

New York Times – November 12, 2022

Russia-Ukraine Ukrainian Troops Enter Kherson as Russia Says Its Withdrawal There Is Complete

Blahodatne, Kherson region

BLAHODATNE, Ukraine — Ukraine’s troops entered the key city of Kherson on Friday, its military said, as jubilant residents waved Ukrainian flags after a major Russian retreat.

The move puts Kyiv on the cusp of achieving one of its most significant victories of the war and deals a bitter blow to President Vladimir V. Putin, who just a month ago declared Kherson a part of Russia forever.

Videos shared by Ukrainian government officials on social media showed scenes of civilians who had endured nearly nine months of occupation cheering the arrival of a contingent of Ukrainian troops. Earlier in the morning Russia had said that the withdrawal of its forces across the Dnipro River was complete.

“Kherson is returning under the control of Ukraine, units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are entering the city,” the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said in a statement. The military later warned Russia was preparing to strike the city from new positions across the river.

The few residents who remain in Kherson have endured curfews, shortages of goods, partisan warfare and an intense campaign to force them to become Russian citizens and accept Moscow’s warped version of their culture and history.

The depth of their suffering has yet to come into focus. For months, residents interviewed by journalists have told stories of friends being abducted, children illegally deported, relatives tortured and killed. Evidence of human rights abuses has surfaced when Russian have pulled out elsewhere.

The loss of Kherson would be Russia’s third major setback of the war, following retreats from Kyiv, the capital, last spring, and from the Kharkiv region in the northeast in September. Kherson was the only provincial capital Russia had captured since invading in February, and it was a major link in Russia’s effort to control the southern coastline along the Black Sea.

Recapturing Kherson bolsters the Ukrainian government’s argument that it should press on militarily while it has Russian forces on the run, and not return to the bargaining table, as some American officials have advocated.

The dramatic scenes in Kherson came less than 48 hours after Russia’s defense minister announced that Russian troops in the city would withdraw.

Even as its soldiers fled, the Kremlin said that it still considered Kherson — which President Vladimir V. Putin illegally annexed in September — to be a part of Russia.

“This is a Russian region,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters on Friday. “It has been legally fixed and defined. There can be no changes here.”

As he spoke, Ukrainian soldiers continued to move through towns and villages in the region, greeted joyously by tearful residents who had endured nine months occupation.

Oleh Voitsehovsky, the commander of a Ukrainian drone reconnaissance unit, said he had seen no Russian troops or equipment in his zone along the front less than four miles north of Kherson city.

“The Russians left all the villages,” he said. “We looked at dozens of villages with our drones and didn’t see a single car. We don’t see how they are leaving. They retreat quietly, at night.”

Residents described a harrowing night with multiple explosions, including one that destroyed a television transmission tower. Serhiy, a retiree living in the city who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons, said in a series of text messages that conditions in the city had unraveled overnight.

“At night, a building burned in the very center, but it was not possible even to call the fire department,” he wrote. “There was no phone signal, no electricity, no heating and no water.”

Outside Kherson, abandoned clothes, food and ammunition are signs of a hasty Russian withdrawal.

BLAHODATNE, Ukraine — In the villages west of Kherson, there were signs of a hasty Russian retreat and faltering efforts to slow the Ukrainian advance on Friday.

Ukrainian soldiers explored one abandoned Russian base, in a warehouse in the village of Blahodatne, poking through heaps of clothes, books and canned goods.

Russian military uniforms were crumpled in a heap on the floor of a sleeping area. The beds had been left rumpled. Clothes dried on a clothesline.

Nearby, a warehouse was packed with green wooden boxes of hundreds of rounds of abandoned Russian mortar ammunition. Some shells had been laid out on the warehouse floor, the detonators already screwed into the explosives, prepared to be fired quickly.

“They left in a hurry,” said Serhiy, a private who asked that only his first name be made public, according to Ukrainian military protocol. “They were preparing to shoot us with this ammunition, but they didn’t have time.”

Dmytro, another private, said, “They left without a fight.”

Through the day on Friday, Ukrainian military vehicles rolled past the village, moving eastward under a low, overcast sky along the main M14 highway, leading toward Kherson.

Remnants of the long battle for the city were seen on the road into villages reclaimed by Ukraine on Wednesday.

Along the highway, birch trees had been felled by artillery, telephone cables slumped onto the road and the metal guardrails were twisted and perforated with shrapnel. .

Occasional distant thuds from artillery were heard, possibly fired from Russian positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. But Ukrainian media officers said that fighting was still raging a few miles from the city of Kherson. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the claim.

The road to a town liberated from Russian troops in Blahodatne, on Friday.
The road to a town liberated from Russian troops in Blahodatne, on Friday.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

To the west, in Blahodatne, a small cluster of brick houses surrounded by fields on the open steppe, residents said that the Russians had withdrawn quietly overnight Wednesday to Thursday.

“There was no fighting, they left peacefully,” Yevgenia Khaidayeva, 82, said of the Russian pullback from what had been a defensive line to the northwest of Kherson city, passing just outside Blahodatne.

On Friday, a man who residents said was a local schoolteacher drove a motorcycle festooned with two Ukrainian flags, which fluttered as he sped about the village roads, honking and cheering “Glory to Ukraine!”

Not everyone was in a buoyant mood. Vadim Slabodyanyuk, a school security guard, stood leaning on a bicycle and blankly watching the Ukrainian soldiers pass by in trucks.

His mother and his father had been killed in artillery shelling from the Ukrainian Army during fighting over the spring and summer, he said. “And I buried them both under shelling” in the local cemetery, he added. He said it was difficult to accept that his own country’s forces had fired into his village.

Locals described a sense of slumping morale in the Russians stationed in their village, going back months.

Maria Akimona, 73, a retired milkmaid, recalled that over the summer, a Russian soldier had told her that he had a 1-year-old son and that he had said, “I won’t see him taking his first steps.”

She added, “I asked him what he was doing here, and he said he didn’t understand.”

Why is control of Kherson so important?

A Ukrainian reconnaissance unit last month in the Kherson region, where the country’s forces have advanced on territory Russia seized early in the war.
A Ukrainian reconnaissance unit last month in the Kherson region, where the country’s forces have advanced on territory Russia seized early in the war.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The retreat of Russian forces from the key city of Kherson is a watershed moment in Ukraine’s campaign to reclaim territory in the south of the country that Moscow captured near the start of its invasion.

A vital Black Sea port and a gateway to Crimea, Kherson is important strategically. Moscow’s forced withdrawal has added resonance because Kherson was the first major city to fall to Russian forces after the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.

Here is why the pullback from the city could prove to be a significant event in a grinding war that is now in its ninth month.

Cadets at a naval academy in Kherson raised the Ukrainian flag to mark a national day of unity in February, just days before the Russian invasion.
Cadets at a naval academy in Kherson raised the Ukrainian flag to mark a national day of unity in February, just days before the Russian invasion.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

When Russian forces stormed across the Antonivsky Bridge over the Dnipro River and into Kherson City in March, it marked their biggest success in the early days of the war. Eight months later, the city, a former shipbuilding center, was the only provincial capital that they had seized.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had hoped to use the wider Kherson region as a bridgehead for a drive farther west, to the port city of Odesa, but that failed. Still, in September, he announced that Russia had annexed all of the Kherson region and three other occupied Ukrainian territories in a move that was widely denounced as illegal.

The loss of Kherson City represents a symbolic and practical blow for the Kremlin and for the ambition to conquer all of southern Ukraine — a fact underscored by Moscow’s insistence on Friday that, even as its soldiers fled, the city was still a part of Russia.

The remains of a rocket that landed in a school playground in the Kherson region last month.
The remains of a rocket that landed in a school playground in the Kherson region last month.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Kherson had become vulnerable because it was the only land that Moscow controlled west of the Dnipro River, which bisects Ukraine. In late summer, armed with longer-range Western weapons, Ukraine began a coordinated campaign to isolate Russian forces west of the river, bombarding the bridges that Moscow used to resupply its forces in the city. At the same time, Ukrainian armored and infantry divisions began a grueling advance toward the city from the north, west and south.

But the region’s wide-open fields, crisscrossed by irrigation canals that make for excellent defensive positions, had slowed the Ukrainian approach. The arrival of fall had also turned much of the ground to mud. Analysts say that Russia had dispatched some of its most seasoned fighters to the region and stockpiled ammunition and other supplies.

Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson region loaded a rocket into a modified launcher last month.
Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson region loaded a rocket into a modified launcher last month.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Before Russia’s invasion, Kherson’s population stood at more than 250,000. Ukrainian activists estimate that 30,000 to 60,000 people remain in the city, but it is difficult to know the real number.

Last month, the occupation authorities announced that they would relocate tens of thousands of civilians from the west side of the river to territory held more firmly by Russia. Ukrainian officials and residents said that was a pretext for forced deportations.

For those who remained, life has been growing increasingly bleak, with electricity and water supply sporadic.

Although the Kremlin had suggested that the Ukrainian people would welcome their “liberation” by Russian troops, the people of Kherson protested their arrival openly and defiantly in the early days of the war. When that became too dangerous, those efforts moved underground, but yellow ribbons — the mark of the nonviolent resistance — appeared throughout the city.

On Friday, with the Russians cleared from the streets, residents raced to the city center to unfurl their national flag outside government buildings and to await the arrival of Ukrainian troops.

An explosion on a crucial Kherson bridge severed the city’s last major crossing.

Ukrainian soldiers in a former Russian base in the village of Blahodatne in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers in a former Russian base in the village of Blahodatne in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — The Antonivsky Bridge, the main crossing over the Dnipro River in the city of Kherson, was blown up before dawn on Friday after most Russian forces retreated and just before Ukraine’s forces entered the city.

Videos and photographs posted to social media showed the bridge to be heavily damaged. It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion. Rybar, an unofficial but influential pro-war Russian military blog, reported that retreating Russian forces had destroyed it at 5 a.m., posting footage that it said showed the strike that brought it down.

One Kherson resident, who asked to be identified by his first name Ivan for security reasons, said in a text message that he had heard an extremely powerful explosion just before dawn. It was unlike anything he had heard in months of fighting.

“It was very foggy in the morning and we couldn’t see much, but people from Antonivka say that the roofs of the houses were taken away by the explosion wave,” Ivan said, referring to the area around the bridge.

The apparent destruction of the bridge left any Russians remaining in the city with only an ad hoc network of ferries and pontoon bridges across the river. The other major crossing is 50 miles to the north, at the Kakhovka dam.

Ukrainian troops were closing in on the dam from the north, but as of Friday afternoon it still appeared to be under the control of Russian forces.

Control of river crossings and the bridges that span them has proved a critical factor throughout the course of the war. Paramount among them has been the Antonivsky Bridge.

It had been the main transit route for Russian supplies coming in from Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, to Kherson, the only major city that Moscow managed to seize after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia launched his invasion in February.

When Ukraine began its southern counteroffensive in late August, it started by targeting the bridge as part of a broader effort to isolate Russian forces based west of the Dnipro River, which runs the length of Ukraine and bisects it into east and west.

As long-range Western weapons systems arrived en masse, Ukraine pounded Russian ammunition depots and command-and-control centers behind the front lines, weakening Russia’s hold on the region.

Throughout, it sought to keep the bridge under Ukrainian control, making it difficult and risky for the Russians to move large amounts of equipment or forces over the span. The Ukrainian military has been careful not to destroy it, apparently wanting to preserve it, in part, to pursue departing Russian forces.

Residents said that the destruction of the bridge gave a measure of confidence that Moscow’s troops would not soon be back. Russian troops could attack the city from across the river, locals said, but the occupation appeared to be at an end.

A few hours after the bridge was blown up, residents took to the streets, flags in hand, awaiting the arrival of the Ukrainian Army.

In battered Mykolaiv, a Russian strike kills 7.

Firefighters climbing across rubble at an apartment block that was damaged overnight by Russian bombardment in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Friday.
Firefighters climbing across rubble at an apartment block that was damaged overnight by Russian bombardment in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv on Friday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

MYKOLAIV, Ukraine —

Even as Russian troops fled the strategic city of Kherson and Ukrainian forces moved in, the Russians were still heaping misery on Mykolaiv, a Black Sea port city in Ukrainian-held territory only about 50 miles away.

On Friday, when Ukrainians were celebrating victory in Kherson, seven Ukrainians died from a Russian missile strike in Mykolaiv.

Though the Russians have never taken control of Mykolaiv, it has been relentlessly bombed by Russian forces since the first days of the conflict.

Friday’s attack fit the same pattern as countless others. In the middle of the night, a barrage of Russian missiles tore across the night sky, heading straight toward a Ukrainian city as its people were sleeping.

Nataliia Akimina, who was working a guard shift outside a large garage near Mykolaiv’s train station on Friday, said she saw the missiles streak right above her head around 3 a.m.

“I heard the shriek and all the dogs started barking. Actually, the dogs started barking right before I heard it,” she said.

One of the missiles slammed into a five-story residential apartment block on Prospekt Myru, or, in English, Peace Avenue. No known military targets were nearby.

Since the war began in February, Mykolaiv has been bombed all but 44 days, officials said. More than 150 people have been killed, and hundreds more wounded.

The dead on Friday included an electrician and his wife, whose birthday was today; several older residents who had refused to leave Mykolaiv; and one retired military man known as Uncle Hena.

Oleksandr Sviezhentsev, a crane operator who owns the apartment next door, used to talk to Uncle Hena all the time.

“We used to sit right there, on that bench,” he said as he stabbed his finger toward a green wooden bench, now surrounded by broken tables and ripped apart walls. “He was good.”

As rescue workers combed through the rubble from the missile strike, thousands of people lined up at different places throughout the city, waiting for water. Home to half a million people before the war and now maybe half that, Mykolaiv has no drinkable tap water because the Russian army blew up all freshwater pipes supplying the city in April. That has left the people here dependent on handouts.

In one shopping center parking lot, a huge crowd gathered after two truckloads of bottled water arrived. The crowd was dressed in heavy coats. Their puffs of breath were visible in the thin wintry air. They trudged forward as one.

“Don’t panic!” a soldier yelled from a megaphone, standing by the trucks. “There is enough for everyone. But don’t circle back in the line to take more.”

Viktoriia Bas waited with two children.

“It’s all misery. The schools are closed and learning is online, but we have no internet at home. My husband works at a carwash but business is bad, so each day he brings home only 200 hryvnias,” she said, about five dollars.

Ukraine peace talks remain distant even as Russia orders a retreat.

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an armored vehicle. President Biden and European leaders are hard-pressed to describe a plausible endgame to the conflict that would be acceptable to both sides.
Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an armored vehicle. President Biden and European leaders are hard-pressed to describe a plausible endgame to the conflict that would be acceptable to both sides.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — American and European officials say that serious peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are unlikely in the near future, even as the Biden administration tries to fend off growing questions from some members of Congress about the U.S. government’s open-ended investment in the war.

Russian and Ukrainian officials have made separate public comments in recent days about potential peace negotiations, more than six months after their last known direct talks fell apart. But U.S. officials say that they do not believe talks will begin soon and that both sides think continued fighting, for now, will strengthen their eventual negotiating positions.

They also concede that it is difficult to envision terms of a settlement that Ukraine and Russia would accept.

Ukrainian officials are optimistic about their military prospects after making unexpectedly large gains this fall. Their morale soared again on Wednesday, when Russia ordered its forces to retreat from the southern city of Kherson.

Perhaps more important, American and European officials say, Ukraine’s population has been hardened by Russia’s devastating military campaign, which has destroyed civilian areas and resulted in massacres, rape and looting. Even if Ukrainian leaders were prepared to make concessions to bring the fighting to an end, their people are not disposed to accept that, the officials say.

American officials say Russia’s recent attacks on critical infrastructure have made negotiations less likely by eroding any public support for compromise.

The U.S. unveils another $400 million in military aid for Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military firing a rocket in the Kherson region on Saturday using a HIMARS system, an advanced rocket launcher.
The Ukrainian military firing a rocket in the Kherson region on Saturday using a HIMARS system, an advanced rocket launcher.Credit…Hannibal Hanschke/EPA, via Shutterstock

The White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, announced another $400 million in military aid for Ukraine on Thursday, including desperately needed air defense systems, in a move underscoring Washington’s commitment to Ukraine after this week’s U.S. midterm elections.

The Pentagon said that the package, the 25th drawdown of matériel from Defense Department stockpiles since August 2021, would include Avenger air defense vehicles that fire Stinger missiles and more missiles for HAWK air defense systems already being provided by Spain.

“With Russia’s unrelenting and brutal air attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, additional air defense capabilities are critical,” the Pentagon said in a statement, noting that the latest package brings to $19.3 billion the amount of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration.

It also includes more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, a five-ton truck that can fire long-range guided rockets.

Out of the billions of dollars in weapons the White House has shipped to Ukraine since the Russian invasion, perhaps none have attracted as much attention as the HIMARS, an advanced rocket launcher that Ukrainian troops have used to devastating effect, hitting targets far behind the lines like ammunition depots and bridges.

Last week, the Pentagon announced that the Defense Department was also setting up a new group to oversee how the United States and its allies train and equip the Ukrainian military.

This new command, called the Security Assistance Group-Ukraine, or SAG-U, will be based in Germany and report to U.S. European Command, which oversees all military operations on the continent and reports directly to the secretary of defense. With a staff of about 300, it will be focused on one mission: to help train and equip Ukraine’s military.

The package will also provide 21,000 more unguided howitzer shells, 500 precision-guided shells and 10,000 mortar rounds for Ukrainian artillery crews. Additionally, the Pentagon will send 100 more Humvee trucks, 400 grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of ammunition for Ukrainian assault rifles and machine guns, and cold-weather gear to help Ukrainian soldiers fight through the coming winter.

The Pentagon also said on Thursday that senior military officials from more than 40 countries would meet virtually next week to discuss how their governments can continue to provide arms, ammunition and equipment to Ukraine.

The meeting will be held under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which the U.S. Defense Department created after Russia invaded the country in late February.

New York Times November 11, 2022

Unseen Kristallnacht photos published 84 years after Nazi pogrom

Images released by Israeli Holocaust memorial show Hitler’s regime clearly orchestrating 1938 atrocity

Civilians watch a Nazi officer vandalise Jewish property, most likely in Fürth, outside Nuremberg.
Civilians watch a Nazi officer vandalise Jewish property, most likely in Fürth, outside Nuremberg. Photograph: AP

Harrowing, previously unseen images from 1938’s Kristallnacht pogrom against German and Austrian Jews have surfaced in a photograph collection donated to Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, the organisation said on Wednesday.

One shows a crowd of smiling, well-dressed middle-aged German men and women standing casually as a Nazi officer smashes a storefront window. In another, brownshirts carry heaps of Jewish books, presumably for burning. Another image shows a Nazi officer splashing petrol on the pews of a synagogue before it is set alight.

Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial centre, released the photographs on the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. Mobs of Germans and Austrians attacked, looted and burned Jewish shops and homes, destroyed 1,400 synagogues, killed 92 Jews and sent another 30,000 to concentration camps.

Nazis pose next to a vandalised shop.
The photos were donated to Yad Vashem by the family of a Jewish-American serviceman who obtained them while deployed in Germany. Photograph: AP

The violence is widely considered a starting point of the Holocaust, in which Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews.

Jonathan Matthews, head of Yad Vashem’s photo archive, said the photos dispel a Nazi myth that the attacks were “a spontaneous outburst of violence” rather than a pogrom orchestrated by the state. Firefighters, SS special police officers and members of the general public are all seen in the photos participating in Kristallnacht. The photographers themselves were an integral part of the events.

Matthews said these were the first photos he was aware of depicting actions taking place indoors, as “most of the images we have of Kristallnacht are images from outside”. Altogether, he said, the photos “give you a much more intimate image of what’s happening”.

Nazis carrying books away, presumably for burning.
Jewish books being carried away, presumably for burning. Photograph: AP

The pictures were taken by Nazi photographers during the pogrom in the city of Nuremberg and the nearby town of Fürth. They wound up in the possession of a Jewish-American serviceman who was deployed to Germany during the second world war. How he obtained the photos is uncertain; he never talked about them to his family.

His descendants, who declined to give his name, donated the album to Yad Vashem as part of the institution’s effort to collect Holocaust-era objects kept by survivors and their families.

Petrol being poured over the pews of a synagogue before it is set on fire.
Petrol being poured over the pews of a synagogue. Photograph: AP

Yad Vashem said the photos help demonstrate how the German public was aware of what was going on, and that the violence was part of a meticulously coordinated pogrom carried out by Nazi authorities. They even brought in photographers to document the atrocities.

The Yad Vashem chairman, Dani Dayan, said the photos would “serve as everlasting witnesses long after the survivors are no longer here to bear testimony to their own experiences”.

Despite Nazi censorship, the Associated Press was able to send pictures from Kristallnacht when it happened that were widely circulated in the US. The images included a burning synagogue and people cleaning up glass from vandalised Jewish shops.

Russia Orders Retreat From Kherson, a Serious Reversal in the Ukraine War

Russia’s position had grown perilous in Kherson, a strategic city and one of the biggest prizes seized in its Ukraine invasion, but Russian hawks reacted angrily to the withdrawa

Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson area on Wednesday. The announced retreat from the city is one of the most significant setbacks for Russia in the war so far.
Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson area on Wednesday. The announced retreat from the city is one of the most significant setbacks for Russia in the war so far.Credit…Stanislav Kozliuk/EPA, via Shutterstock

KYIV, Ukraine — The Kremlin on Wednesday announced a retreat of Russian forces from the strategically important city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, a concession to military reality eight months after capturing the area, and one of the most significant reversals of President Vladimir V. Putin’s war effort.

The withdrawal order came from Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, in a meeting with top military leaders that was broadcast on Russian state television, after Gen. Sergei V. Surovikin, Moscow’s commander in Ukraine, explained that heavy shelling by advancing Ukrainian forces had made the Russian position west of the Dnipro River, where Kherson is, untenable.

“Go ahead with the pullout of troops and take all measures to ensure safe transfer of troops, weapons and equipment to the other bank of the Dnipro River,” Mr. Shoigu said.

Mr. Putin was not present at the meeting, distancing him from both an embarrassing defeat and a decision to retreat that, Kremlin analysts say, only he could have made.

By day’s end there was strong evidence that Russians were withdrawing from the territory they held west of the river, Ukrainian officials said, as Ukrainian soldiers entered some frontline villages that had been under Russian control in the morning.

Wary of a possible ruse meant to lure Ukrainian troops into a trap, the officials cautioned that they were not yet sure about the status of Russian forces within the city, but as the day went on they grew more confident that the pullback was real.

“We have signs they are pulling out,” moving heavy equipment first and then infantry, said Roman Kostenko, a Ukrainian army colonel and chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Parliament. “They blew up bridges that would have allowed our forces to advance. We see them leaving population centers, but in some they leave soldiers behind to cover their movements.”

The announced retreat is one of the most significant setbacks for Russia in the war Mr. Putin started in February. Kherson, an important port and industrial city seized during the early days of the war, has been a strategic and symbolic prize of the invasion — the only regional capital Russia captured. It gave Moscow an important foothold west of the Dnipro, from where it expanded and which it hoped to use as a base to push farther west, all the way to the critical port city of Odesa.

News of the withdrawal drew anguished and angry responses from some prominent Russian hawks, while others described it as a sensible, tactical retreat to a more defensible front.

“The decision is shocking to thousands and millions of people who are fighting for Russia, dying for Russia, believe in Russia and share the beliefs of the Russian world,” wrote Yuri Kotyonok, an influential military blogger.

A still image taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry purporting to show Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu, right, listening to Gen. Sergei Surovikin, left, at the Joint Russian Forces command center in Ukraine on Wednesday.
A still image taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry purporting to show Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu, right, listening to Gen. Sergei Surovikin, left, at the Joint Russian Forces command center in Ukraine on Wednesday.Credit…Russian Defence Ministry/EPA, via Shutterstock

Boris Rozhin, a Russian military analyst, called the retreat the Russian Federation’s “most serious military defeat since 1991,” when it formed. In a Telegram post, he wrote, “If there won’t be any upcoming successes with major towns captured and no advancement during the winter offensive, the series of military setbacks would accumulate a much greater internal discontent than sanctions.”

But Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian analyst who studies Mr. Putin for her political analysis firm R.Politik, said in a phone interview: “This just confirms, in my view, how pragmatic Putin is. He’s not as crazy as we thought.”

The impact of the Russian move on any potential peace talks was unclear. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and his top aides conveyed this week that, if anything, their position has hardened — that Russia must first leave Ukraine completely, and that it must pay war reparations — and that, in any case, Moscow isn’t interested in negotiations.

President Biden said at a White House news conference on Wednesday, “It remains to be seen whether Ukraine is willing to compromise.” He later insisted that it was up to the Ukrainians whether to enter talks or make concession.

“They’re going to both lick their wounds, decide what they’re going to do over the winter and decide whether or not they’re going to compromise,” he said.

On Kherson, Mr. Biden said he had expected a Russian retreat. “It’s evidence of the fact that they have some real problems, the Russian military,” he said.

An aerial view of the city of Kherson, in May.

Other U.S. officials said it was not entirely clear that Moscow was abandoning the west bank of the Dnipro, and might not be clear for a few days. But the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the matter publicly, said it would make sense to withdraw troops that were increasingly cut off, preserving them to fight another day.

Mr. Shoigu’s evidently choreographed meeting, where both he and General Surovikin said they were motivated by concern for the troops, appeared aimed at softening the blow for a domestic audience. Russians have seen increasing reports of a badly managed war, a chaotic draft that prompted widespread protests, heavy casualties, and troops lacking training and equipment who were used as cannon fodder. At the same time, pro-war commenters have criticized the Kremlin for not waging a more aggressive, brutal fight.

The occupation forces had telegraphed a possible pullback for weeks, making statements about the difficult position of troops in Kherson and ordering both the Kremlin-appointed regional government and the remaining civilians to flee eastward. The Ukrainian military was skeptical, reporting just days ago that 40,000 Russian troops were west of the river, digging in to fight for the city.

Moscow’s apparent decision to pull back allows an orderly withdrawal rather than the kind of sudden collapse and panicked retreat its forces endured from the northeastern Kharkiv region in September, leaving behind a treasure trove of weapons and other equipment that the Ukrainians could use.

“There is a lot of joy in the media space today, and it is clear why, but our emotions must be restrained — always during war,” Mr. Zelensky said Wednesday in his nightly address. He added, “When you are fighting, you must understand that every step is always resistance from the enemy, it is always the loss of the lives of our heroes.”

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said retreat was less a choice for the Russians than an inevitability, as Ukraine’s forces “methodically gnawed through the enemy’s defenses.”

Russian conscripts being blessed by a priest on Wednesday at a ceremony before leaving to serve in the army in Russia-occupied Crimea.
Russian conscripts being blessed by a priest on Wednesday at a ceremony before leaving to serve in the army in Russia-occupied Crimea.Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

The news that Russia was withdrawing was greeted with cautious jubilation by some local residents, who have suffered under harsh Russian rule with dwindling food, electricity and water. In Kherson, Valentyn, 50, said in a text message exchange that he awoke Wednesday to booming explosions — nothing unusual — but then “it became eerily quiet.”

“Russians are escaping; the city is almost empty,” said Valentyn, who asked that his last name be withheld for his safety. “In many places there’s no light and no water.”

He added: “The atmosphere is tense, we stay at home and wait. For our forces to enter.”

Dudchany, a village north of the city, “was divided by the front line” for a month, said Alla Torchanska, the village leader. Caught in the combat zone, residents were harassed by Russian troops who, she said, “would come every now and then, detain and interrogate people, check their phones, and take away the valuable things.”

“Today,” Ms. Torchanska said, “the Ukrainian forces finally took the entire village under their control. It’s such a blessing. Everyone feels festive.”

The grinding Ukrainian offensive has whittled down the Russian-held pocket west of the Dnipro, farm by farm and town by town, closing in on the largely evacuated city and destroying bridges the Russians used to reinforce and resupply their troops. Western intelligence officials have said that Mr. Putin rejected earlier requests by his military to abandon the city.

But people who know Mr. Putin say he still believes he can win a war he has cast as a broader conflict with the United States and its allies, convinced that the West and Ukraine will be unwilling or unable to pay the price for as long as Russia will.

The deputy head of the Russian occupation government in the broader Kherson region, Kyrylo Stremousov, who had been outspoken about Russia’s deteriorating military situation, died in a car accident, the regional chief, Volodymyr Saldo, said on Wednesday.

Some Ukrainians remained cautious in their assessment of Russian actions. Residents and Ukrainian officials have reported Russian soldiers changing into civilian clothes and taking over homes in Kherson city and the surrounding towns and villages, possible signs of planned ambushes. Russians have laid mines and destroyed roads to slow advancing Ukrainian forces.

“We don’t know how far we will move tomorrow,” said Colonel Kostenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker.

Ukrainian officials have also warned that if the Russians do abandon Kherson, they could then devastate it with artillery from across the river, or with flooding by breaching the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam upstream. Russians and Ukrainians have accused each other of plotting to attack the dam, the last road link Russians have across the Dnipro.

Retaking the west bank of the Dnipro could allow Ukrainian forces to interrupt the primary source of fresh water for the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, putting them within artillery range of a canal linking the river to the peninsula. Ukraine had cut the flow of water after Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014, and the Russians’ offensive earlier this year allowed them to restart it.

A destroyed apartment building in the village of Arkhanhelske, in the Kherson region, on Tuesday.
A destroyed apartment building in the village of Arkhanhelske, in the Kherson region, on Tuesday.Credit…Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

Marc Santora and Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kyiv, Ukraine; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Dan Bilefsky from Montreal; and Anton Troianovski from Jerusalem. Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña from New York, Helene Cooper from Washington, Neil MacFarquhar from Paris and Anna Lukinova from Kyiv.

New York Times – November 9, 2022

Why Correspondence Chess Is Still Popular Among Elite Players

Players can take days or even weeks to take a turn, and they have embraced the use of software to find the best moves.

A hand reaches for a black chess piece on a black and white chess board filled with other pieces.
Today, Correspondence chess games are typically played online. In the past they were played by teletype or postal mail. Credit…Albert Gea/Reuters

After more than two years of play, Jon Edwards, a retired administrator at Princeton University, won the 32nd World Correspondence Chess Championship on tie-breaks last month, beating correspondence chess grandmasters from around the world. Mr. Edwards, who earned his own correspondence chess grandmaster title in the process of winning the championship, is the first American to triumph in the event in nearly 40 years, and only the third American ever to do so.

While many chess professionals worry that their opponents — in person or online — will cheat by using chess engines, or software that determines the best move, correspondence players have embraced their use. The International Correspondence Chess Federation allows players to consult engines during their games, making the matches a hybrid competition that involves the strategy and planning of humans guided by the accuracy of machines. In correspondence chess, players may spend days or even weeks on a single move. A typical game can last for more than a year.

What does it mean to be the best in the world at a game in which a player’s strength is enhanced — or neutralized — by computers? When asked about his own approach, Mr. Edwards said that his style was similar to that of Tigran Petrosian, the Armenian grandmaster known for his fortresslike defensive play. In most of Mr. Edwards’s games, he tries to create and press a small advantage with the goal of gently nudging his opponents over the edge where, even with the help of the strongest engine, they are unable to escape an inevitable defeat.

A bald man sporting a mostly white beard and glasses is sitting at a desk in front of two computer screens displaying chess games. On the walls behind him are comic book covers.
Jon Edwards at home. He is the first American in almost 40 years to win the World Correspondence Chess Championship.Credit…Courtesy of Jon Edwards

Even with such a plan, a majority of correspondence games end in a draw because it is nearly impossible to beat an opponent who has access to the defensive resources of a chess engine. Out of the 136 games played in the 32nd World Correspondence Chess Championship, 119 were draws. What’s more, when games are decisive, this is sometimes because of human error.

Given the high number of draws and the difficulty of winning even a single game, could Mr. Edwards be the last world champion correspondence player? He didn’t seem to think so. “Most outsiders and many players believe that correspondence chess is dying,” he said, “but the best correspondence players don’t believe that.”

Alex King, a FIDE master who recently played in his first I.C.C.F. event, said that, despite the more level playing field of correspondence chess compared to typical games, he still enjoyed himself. “Just the purely aesthetic aspect of playing chess — I still get a kick out of that even when other elements are removed,” Mr. King said.

Correspondence chess helps shape chess at the highest level. Because of the mechanized nature of the process, many correspondence players find themselves treading into previously unexplored territory. Mr. Edwards said that he would sometimes share his new discoveries with the coaching team of elite players to help them find new tools to spring on unsuspecting opponents.

Historically, correspondence chess has been a contemplative diversion for intellectuals, aristocrats and soldiers. The earliest correspondence games for which a surviving record exists took place in 1804, between Friedrich Wilhelm von Mauvillon, a Dutch army officer stationed in The Hague, and a compatriot of his who was stationed in Breda, the Netherlands. Mauvillon published three of these games in a chess book in 1827, forever immortalizing his draw and two victories over his friend.

Looking back even further, it is believed that King Henry I of England, whose reign lasted from 1100 to 1135 A.D., played correspondence chess with his counterpart in France, King Louis VI, who reigned from 1108 until 1137. The French enlightenment writer and luminary Voltaire is noted to have played correspondence chess with his pupil Frederick the Great of Prussia. Their moves were securely escorted by royal courier between Berlin and Paris. It’s also thought that Venetian merchants played correspondence chess with one another, contemplating their next moves on voyages between ports.

Even in the past, correspondence chess was a vehicle for innovation. Take, for example, the French Defense, an opening that is played at all levels of chess in the modern era. In the 1830s, a London chess club played a correspondence match against a Parisian club. The English players, playing with the white pieces, began with a standard move — 1 e4, moving their pawn forward two squares. The Parisian players countered with e6, which was unusual at the time, moving their pawn forward only one square. Thereafter, the opening was called the French Defense.

The advent of telegraphic cables and morse code facilitated near instantaneous communication of chess moves across long distances, allowing for matches between the best players in the world to be played without the burdensome and expensive task of long distance travel. One famous example was the Capablanca Memorial tournament that took place in Havana in 1965. Unable to travel to the event because of the American embargo of Cuba, Bobby Fischer played via teletype.

Today, computers play a central role in elite correspondence events not only by instantly relaying a move, but also by helping players determine the move they should play. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, correspondence chess still holds an interest for amateurs and professionals alike and will probably continue to for years to come.

Now that the World Correspondence Chess Championship is finally over, I asked Mr. Edwards if he intended to defend his title. “I received word that I had won on Saturday, Oct. 8,” he said. “Two days later they invited me to accept the final spot in the 33rd world final. I declined because I truly need a break.”

Greg Keener is a FIDE arbiter and assistant manager at the Marshall Chess Club in New York. 

A Guide to Mastering the Art of Chess

During the pandemic, many turned to chess to occupy their minds. And the game has only grown more popular since.

New York Times – November 9, 2022

The World’s Democracies Ask: Why Can’t America Fix Itself?

Conversations across continents reveal alarm over the United States’ direction, as it slides away from ideals it once pressed other nations to adopt.

Hundreds of Republican candidates this year have questioned the result of the 2020 presidential election or spread misinformation about it.
Hundreds of Republican candidates this year have questioned the result of the 2020 presidential election or spread misinformation about it. Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Lin Wei-hsuan was just a child when he observed his first Taiwanese election almost two decades ago. His parents took him to watch the vote-counting, where volunteers held up each paper ballot, shouting out the choice and marking it on a board for all to see — the huge crowd of citizens inside, and many more watching live on television.

The open process, established islandwide after decades of martial law, was one of several creative steps that Taiwan’s leaders took to build public trust in democracy and to win over the United States, whose support might deter China’s aim of unification.

At the time, America was what Taiwan aspired to be. But now, many of the democracies that once looked to the United States as a model are worried that it has lost its way. They wonder why a superpower famous for innovation is unable to address its deep polarization, producing a president who spread false claims of election fraud that significant parts of the Republican Party and the electorate have embraced.

“Democracy needs to revise itself,” said Mr. Lin, 26, a candidate for a local council, campaigning for efficient trash removal and lowering Taiwan’s voting age to 18 from 20. “We need to look at what it’s been doing, and do better.”

Taiwan’s National Day celebration in Taipei in October.
Taiwan’s National Day celebration in Taipei in October.Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
Taiwan’s National Day celebration in Taipei in October.

For most of the world, the U.S. midterms are little more than a blip — but they are another data point on what some see as a trend line of trouble. Especially in countries that have found ways to strengthen their democratic processes, interviews with scholars, officials and voters revealed alarm that the United States seemed to be doing the opposite and sliding away from its core ideals.

Several critics of America’s direction cited the Jan. 6 riots, a violent rejection of democracy’s insistence on the peaceful transfer of power. Others expressed concern about states’ erecting barriers to voting after the record turnout that resulted from widespread early and absentee voting during the pandemic. A few said they worried that the Supreme Court was falling prey to party politics, like judiciaries in nations struggling to establish independent courts.

“The United States did not get into the position where it is now overnight,” said Helmut K. Anheier, a sociology professor at the Hertie School in Berlin and a principal investigator for the Berggruen Governance Index, a study of 134 countries in which America sits below Poland in quality of life as defined by access to public services such as health care and education. “It took a while to get there, and it will take a while to get out.”

The nation’s deep polarization has helped prevent change in election systems.
The nation’s deep polarization has helped prevent change in election systems.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

On a recent afternoon in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which has long had economic and family ties with Boston, visitors and residents expressed sorrow, disappointment and surprise about their neighbor’s political situation.

“I’m very concerned,” said Mary Lou MacInnes, a registered nurse who was visiting the Halifax Public Gardens with her family. “I never thought it would happen in the U.S., but I think it’s going to be perhaps autocratic going forward.”

In 1991, studies showed that Canadians were almost evenly divided on which of the two countries had the better system of government. In a follow-up survey last year, only 5 percent preferred the American system.

For some, in Canada and in other countries that consider themselves close friends of America, the first signs of trouble emerged with the presidential race in 2000, when George W. Bush won a narrow victory over Al Gore with a decision from the Supreme Court.

For others, it was Donald J. Trump’s winning the 2016 election while losing the popular vote, followed by his refusal to accept defeat in 2020 and the lack of consequences for those who parroted his lies — including hundreds of Republican candidates in this year’s election.

Former President Donald J. Trump has challenged many of the United States’ democratic norms.
Former President Donald J. Trump has challenged many of the United States’ democratic norms.Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“A lot of people imagined that Trump was this sort of idiosyncratic one-off and once he was gone, he was no longer president, everything would click back into normal gear,” said Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s center-right prime minister when Mr. Trump took office. “And that’s clearly not the case.”

“It’s like watching a family member, for whom you have enormous affection, engage in self-harm,” Mr. Turnbull added. “It’s distressing.”

Other countries do things differently.

Canada has undertaken steady changes to improve its election system. In 1920, the country put federal elections under the control of an independent official who does not report to any government or politicians and who has the power to punish rule breakers. Responsibility for setting electoral boundaries was turned over to 10 similarly independent commissions, one for every province, in 1964.

Taiwan and more than a dozen countries have also established independent bodies to draw voting districts and ensure that votes are cast and counted uniformly and fairly.

The approach is not foolproof. Nigeria, Pakistan and Jordan all have independent election commissions. Many of their elections have still failed to be free and trusted.

But in the places where studies show that turnout and satisfaction with the process are highest, elections are run by national bodies designed to be apolitical and inclusive. More than 100 countries have some form of compulsory or automatic voter registration; in general, democracies have been making it easier to vote in recent years, not more difficult.

The world’s healthiest democracies also have stricter limits on campaign donations — in Canada, political donations by corporations and unions are banned, as are political action campaigns to promote parties or candidates. And many democracies have embraced change.

Canadians almost universally believe their electoral system is better than America’s, a sharp swing in views in recent decades.
Canadians almost universally believe their electoral system is better than America’s, a sharp swing in views in recent decades.Credit…Mark Blinch/Reuters

New Zealand overhauled its electoral system in the 1990s with a referendum, after elections in which the party with the most votes failed to win a parliamentary majority. South Africa is pursuing changes to its political-party-based electoral system to make it easier for independent candidates to run and win.

Such systemic change would be possible in the United States only with overwhelming consensus in Congress, and even then, it may be out of the question in a country where campaign financing is protected as freedom of speech and states cherish their authority over elections in a federal system designed to be a bulwark against autocratic abuses.

Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University who co-wrote a recent report on how polarized countries have depolarized in the past, said partisan divisions have kept the United States stuck in place, but so has myopia: Americans rarely look abroad for ideas.

“We have such a myth around our Constitution and American exceptionalism,” she said. “First it makes people very complacent, and second, it takes leaders a very long time to recognize the risk we’re facing. It means it’s very hard to adapt.”

On a recent morning in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, near a street named after Lenin during the Soviet Union’s occupation, a group of demonstrators waved Ukrainian flags and posters calling for an end to Russian aggression.

Lithuania is a staunch U.S. ally and vocal supporter of Ukraine’s fight for self-determination, but even among the most committed, doubts about the strength and future of American-led democracy are common.

A flag-raising ceremony for the three Baltic States in Vilnius, Lithuania, in March. The Baltic States look warily at their neighbors’ direction.
A flag-raising ceremony for the three Baltic States in Vilnius, Lithuania, in March. The Baltic States look warily at their neighbors’ direction.Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Arkadijus Vinokuras, 70, is an actor and activist who helps organize the rallies. Asked what came to mind when he heard the phrase “American democracy,” he responded with a slogan: “America is the defender of global democracy and the guarantor of the vitality of Western democracies!”

That was how it seemed 20 years ago — then came Putin, Trump and a divided America.

“Now,” he said, “even the biggest fan of the U.S. has to ask the question: How could this happen to the guarantor of democracy?”

It’s a common query in countries that once looked up to the United States.

On Thursday, in the political science department at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, half a dozen graduate students gathered in a professor’s office to debate whether elections could be stolen in America.

“You take the U.S. democracy after Trump, no doubt that it’s weaker,” said Souleymane Cissé, a 23-year-old graduate student.

Some of the world’s leaders have taken advantage of that perceived weakness. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, elected leaders with autocratic tendencies, have praised Mr. Trump and his wing of the Republican Party.

Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas in August.
Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas in August.Credit…Emil Lippe for The New York Times

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pursued a Hindu nationalist agenda, leading to accusations of democratic backsliding, now insists that the West is in no position to pressure any country over democratic benchmarks.

From Myanmar to Mali, leaders of military coups have also found that they can subvert democracy without significant international pushback.

“If you’re an autocrat or wannabe autocrat, the price that you pay is much less than the price that you used to pay 30 years ago,” said Kevin Casas-Zamora, a former vice president of Costa Rica who heads the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, a pro-democracy group with 34 member states. “And that’s partly because of the U.S.”

Even reformers are starting to wonder what they can reasonably expect of their most high-minded institutions. In South Africa, when a new chief justice was appointed a few months ago, there were questions about whether the court was apolitical or even could be.

All these countries, and more, are confronting an enormous challenge that America has made more visible: antidemocratic actors, inside democracies.

Mr. Vinokuras said that Lithuania and its neighbors had been more resistant to such forces because they can see where they lead by looking next door.

“The fact that unbridled populism in the Baltic States is not yet gaining ground is, I repeat, because of fascist Russia,” he said.

The dismantling of a Soviet-era monument in Riga, Latvia, in August.
The dismantling of a Soviet-era monument in Riga, Latvia, in August. Credit…Kaspar Krafts/F64, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

What democracies need, he added, are investments in improvements — the best ideas, no matter where they come from — and a strong commitment to ostracizing those who violate rules and norms.

“In general, democracy has degenerated, it has become useless,” he said. “It’s become more like anarchy. Unlimited tolerance for everything destroys the foundations of democracy.”

In Taiwan, many people made a similar point: The threat from China makes democracy more precious, helping people remember that its benefits can be realized only through shared connections across divides.

“If a country is going to keep moving forward,” Mr. Lin said, “the leaders of both parties should play the role of a bridge.”

New York Times – November 8, 2022

Russia-Ukraine War Russia Says It’s Withdrawing From Kherson City, a Potential Blow to Moscow

Russia Wants to divide European support for Ukraine and keep Crimea through the peace negotiations.The timing is based on the American election results (AB)

The strategic city has been the only regional capital to fall to Russian forces since they invaded Ukraine in February. A Russian retreat would be a major victory for Kyiv’s forces.

Ukrainians see signs of a Russian retreat from Kherson City but are wary.

An aerial view of the city of Kherson, Ukraine, in May.
An aerial view of the city of Kherson, Ukraine, in May.Credit…Andrey Borodulin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia’s defense minister on Wednesday ordered the retreat of Moscow’s forces from the strategically important southern city of Kherson, in a potentially serious blow to President Vladimir V. Putin’s war effort.

The move — announced on television — came after Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the commander for Russia’s forces in Ukraine, told Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, that the decision was “difficult” but that a withdrawal would “preserve lives of servicemen and combat readiness of forces.”

The Ukrainian military had warned that Russian forces might try to feign a retreat in hopes of drawing them into urban combat.

The military had through Wednesday been tracking signs of a Russian retreat but was not convinced the Russian military intends to fully withdraw from Kherson City and the surrounding Russian bridgehead on the western bank of the Dnipro River, Roman Kostenko, a colonel in the army and chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament, said in a telephone interview.

“We have signs they are pulling out,” Colonel Kostenko said. “They blew up bridges that would have allowed our forces to advance. We see them leaving population centers, but in some they leave soldiers behind to cover their movements.”

Ukrainian intelligence agencies were working to assess Russia’s movements, he said, and noted that the announcement could be misdirection from the Russian military.

“We understand it is Russia” making the announcement, he said. “We are watching.”

Deep anxiety about the announced withdrawal coursed through the reports from influential Russian military bloggers throughout Wednesday, with many seeing it as a betrayal.

“The decision is shocking to thousands and millions of people who are fighting for Russia, dying for Russia, believe in Russia and share the beliefs of the Russian world,” wrote Yuri Kotyonok, an influential blogger.

A retreat from the city of Kherson would be a major victory for Ukrainian forces, who have long sought to recapture it and push back Russian troops from the western bank of the Dnipro River. It is the only regional capital under Moscow’s control, and the withdrawal would also be a humiliating public rout for Mr. Putin, who Western intelligence officials said, had rejected earlier requests from commanders that they be allowed to pull back from the city.

The Russian-appointed civilian administration had already fled to new headquarters east of the Dnipro, and residents have reported widespread looting by Russian forces. The residents of Kherson have been without power for four days, and communications have been severed.

Serhii Khlan, the exiled deputy governor of the Kherson region, said on Wednesday that the conditions for tens of thousands of civilians were growing more dire. “Kherson is on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

A Russian retreat from Kherson would have both strategic and symbolic importance. The vital Black Sea port was the first major city to fall to Russian control less than a week after the invasion. Kherson, a shipbuilding city about 340 miles from Ukraine’s capital, is an important node for access to the Black Sea and a gateway to Crimea. It also provides access to Ukraine’s southern coastline for invading Russian forces.

The withdrawal would also have added resonance because the city is the capital of Kherson region, one of four that Mr. Putin illegally annexed and claimed as part of Russia in late September even as his troops were facing a major counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops. In September, Ukraine’s military recaptured hundreds of square miles of territory, strategic towns and abandoned weapons in the north east of the country.

New York Times – November 9, 2022

‘Judges gone wild’: Trump-appointed judge says too many write for Twitter

Nominations Stephanos Bibas to be United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit
Liles Clifton Burke To Be United States District Judge For The Northern District Of Alabama Michael Joseph Juneau To Be United States District Judge For The Western Distri
Now-U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas appears before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4, 2017. U.S. Senate/Handout via REUTERS
  • Summary
  • Judge Stephanos Bibas argues for succinct rulings to maintain public trust
  • Bibas to other judges: “Try to be on Twitter less than you otherwise would”

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court judge on Wednesday argued his judicial peers too often succumb to a “judges gone wild” mentality of writing “show off” opinions that may trend on Twitter but risk alienating the public instead of being persuasive.

U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said judges should focus more on writing “in way that ordinary citizens can understand,” during a lecture at Harvard Law School.

“Citizens don’t read many opinions, but when they do, accessibility is crucial,” he said at an event hosted by the Harvard chapter of the conservative Federalist Society. Clear writing “also constrains the power of politicians or talking heads to shape or warp the narrative.”

As an example of how to write clearly for the public, he pointed to his own decision after the 2020 election rejecting a bid by Trump’s campaign to block now-President Joe Biden from being declared the winner of Pennsylvania over unproven claims the election was unfair.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious,” Bibas wrote. “But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

He wrote that on page one, making “it a little bit harder to lie” about what the court did, he said. Bibas said rulings like that can show “that we judges aren’t just politicians in robes.”

Bibas, who has delivered a version of this lecture at other law schools before, called out judges who write “result oriented” opinions focused on “what seems right, which all too often boils down to the judge’s own policy preferences.”

But he said judges also fall prey to other mistakes in writing opinions, including by filling them with distracting jargon, bad jokes and pop culture references, such as Star Wars in one case, rather than delivering “clear and succinct” rulings.

“For the show off, it seems to be all about the judge’s musings, even the judge’s ambitions to be noticed,” Bibas said. “‘Look at me, look at me, I’m so cool.’ That is not authoritative. It is even disrespectful.”

Asked by a student how judges feel when a big ruling like his election decisions garners them “newfound fame,” Bibas said “the kind of cheerleading you get from Twitter is really dangerous,” yet some judges seem to seek that attention.

“Try to be on Twitter less than you otherwise would,” he said. “Try not to be searching for the feedback or the plaudits or anything else. Just focus on the craft and find as much internal satisfaction in the craft of judging and writing as you can.”;utm_medium=newsletteru0026amp;utm_campaign=afternoon-docketu0026amp;utm_term=AfternoonDocket

It is a dangerous tool to use. The best way to use it is in oral pleadings, taking your cue from the judge.

Phantom Retreats and Stolen Bones: The War of Deceit in Ukraine

Both Russia and Ukraine are using confusion as well as artillery on the battlefield.

A commander of a reconnaissance unit of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, speaking with his men the evening before they went on a frontine operation in the Kherson region, last month.
A commander of a reconnaissance unit of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, speaking with his men the evening before they went on a frontine operation in the Kherson region, last month.Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — In a jerky cellphone video filmed through the window of a bus, the Russian checkpoint in Ukraine’s embattled Kherson region looks abandoned. “Empty,” somebody says in the background, as passengers begin to cheer.

Was this a sign that Russia is retreating from the area — or was it a ruse, meant to lure Ukrainian soldiers into a trap?

It is unclear who shot the video, which popped up widely on social media, or why. But its appearance adds to other suspicious goings-on around the strategic city of Kherson: Russia’s tricolor flags disappeared the same day from administrative buildings, and a Russian general, rather than rallying the troops, suggested obliquely on state TV that the military might need to abandon the city.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is being fought with the blunt force of artillery bombardments, airstrikes and infantry assaults. But it is also a battle of wits — waged between generals sending signals intended to confuse and mislead their enemies — and a contest of feints, parries and continual efforts to set traps.

And the Ukrainians themselves have engaged in their own bits of misleading messaging.

“Trickery is as old as warfare,” said Tor Bukkvoll, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, a military think tank, and an authority on Russia’s special forces. All militaries practice it, he said, but the Russians have put a special emphasis on deception in their military doctrine.

Russian rescuers helping to evacuate residents of a geriatric boarding house on the left bank of the Dnipro River, in Kherson, last week.
Russian rescuers helping to evacuate residents of a geriatric boarding house on the left bank of the Dnipro River, in Kherson, last week.Credit…EPA, via Shutterstock

Russia’s hold is faltering in and around Kherson, on the western side of the broad Dnipro River. The Ukrainian military, using precision rockets provided by the West, has mostly destroyed the bridges over the river, setting the stage for a possible rout of the soldiers who remain on the west bank. But Ukrainian commanders and military analysts alike say they are seeing signs of a Russian psychological warfare operation in the swirl of conflicting signals.

Russia’s military and civilian leadership has for a month been telegraphing an intention to retreat from Kherson. They have withdrawn military equipment, told civilians to leave the area and removed items perceived as culturally significant to Russians — like the bones of Prince Grigory Potemkin, a Russian noble and lover of Catherine the Great who had advocated joining this area to the empire.

If the Russians went through the trouble of evacuating Potemkin’s bones from a cathedral crypt in Kherson, the gesture seemed to suggest, the Russian army must truly believe the city would soon fall to the advancing Ukrainian army.

Nothing of the sort, Ukraine’s southern military command and military intelligence agency responded in public comments to the Russian moves, which also included evacuating two statues of Russian notables and wide-scale looting of homes and stores by Russian soldiers.

A portrait of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin. The bones of the prince were removed from Ukraine by Russia last month.
A portrait of Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin. The bones of the prince were removed from Ukraine by Russia last month. Credit…Fine Art Images — Heritage Images, via Getty Images

In fact, Ukrainian military officials say, Russia has deployed additional forces to the western bank of the river and is preparing for urban combat.

“They are very deliberately trying to convince us that they are withdrawing” to lure Ukraine into a premature offensive on the city, Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the southern command, told a Ukrainian television news broadcast over the weekend.

“We see objective data they remain in place,” she said, in comments suggesting that an imminent Ukrainian attack was unlikely — yet another potential example of military misdirection, this time from the Ukrainian side. “Powerful defensive units are dug in, heavy weaponry remains and firing positions set up.”

It is also possible that the Ukrainians so distrust the Russians that they see treachery at every turn, in what could well be the day-to-day confusion of war or a chaotic, if actual, Russian retreat, rather than a master stroke of psychological warfare.

“The situation in Kherson is clear as mud,” Michael Kofman, a military analyst with CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va., wrote on Twitter. “I think this is a fog of war issue right now, with contradictory” indications, he wrote, but signs pointing to an eventual Russian withdrawal.

The Russian military, and the Soviet military before it, have shown a longtime interest in operations oozing with deceit and disguise, developing a repertoire of tricks taught in military academies for decades and put to practice in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Syria and Ukraine.

Nearly every Russian and Soviet deployment over the past half century, with the notable exception of this year’s invasion of Ukraine, opened with soldiers appearing first in civilian clothing or unmarked uniforms. In 1983, the Soviet Union deployed troops disguised as tourists to Syria during the Lebanese civil war, in what became known as the “Comrade Tourist” ruse.

Ukrainian military fired HIMARS rocket being launched in the northern Kherson region, on Monday.
Ukrainian military fired HIMARS rocket being launched in the northern Kherson region, on Monday. Credit…Hannibal Hanschke/EPA, via Shutterstock

But just as the Russian military’s bloody operation in Ukraine has floundered, its vaunted reputation for cunning has been dented in this war as the Ukrainians themselves have fought back with their own trickery.

In September, the Ukrainian military caught Russian forces off guard in a lightning offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region after it had telegraphed for months an intention to attack in the south, in the Kherson region.

“What strikes me now is how thoroughly they have been tricked themselves” in the war in Ukraine, Mr. Bukkvoll said of the Russian army. “I think they feel tricked, and that would be a motive as well for trying a trick of their own.

Interpreting Russian public commentary has become part of the art of war for Ukraine and its allies. An ulterior motive is always assumed.

Last month, the collaborationist governor of the Kherson region, Volodymyr Saldo, announced a plan to evacuate 70,000 civilians from the western bank of the Dnipro River, saying the Ukrainian military intended to blow up the nearby Kakhovka dam, and flood cities and towns. Russian television showed crowds of civilians packing onto ferries crossing the river.

Ukrainian officials quickly discounted Russian concern for residents’ safety, midway through a war of indiscriminate Russian bombardments that have killed civilians. And within days, the Russian military appeared to show its hand — and its own fears of subterfuge — saying they would consider residents who remained in the city possible collaborators.

The Ukrainians, meanwhile, saw just more subterfuge. They said Russian forces were ready themselves to blow up the dam to cover a retreat.

The Institute for the Study of War, an American analytical group, interpreted Mr. Saldo’s claim as laying the ground for a “false flag” operation, a trick in which Russian forces would destroy the dam yet make it appear that Ukrainian forces were to blame.

Volunteers inspecting an abandoned Russian military fortification in the northern Kherson region, on Sunday.
Volunteers inspecting an abandoned Russian military fortification in the northern Kherson region, on Sunday.Credit…Hannibal Hanschke/EPA, via Shutterstock

Ukrainian commanders interviewed recently at frontline positions said they pay little heed to Russian public statements, ever mindful of possible trickery. Their battle plans, they said, were built instead around intelligence assessments of Russian force strength, gathered from drones and spies.


Continue reading the main story

The Ukrainian military has publicly put forward what it says are its next steps: advancing troops to within howitzer range of the Russian pontoon bridges over the Dnipro and subjecting them to round-the-clock bombardment, to more thoroughly sever supply lines before risking a ground assault. That suggests a drawn-out battle, not an imminent assault.

Or does it?

It would be hard to find answers in the dueling public statements of commanders and officials on each side, none of which seem to fit for people trying to build morale to lead soldiers into battle.

On the Russian side, General Sergei Surovikin has been projecting an air of gloom and doom, saying last month, “the situation in Kherson is tense, we do not rule out difficult decisions.” And Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian occupation government in Kherson, said flatly of the Russian army, “most likely, our forces will leave to the eastern bank in Kherson region.”

On the Ukrainian side, the director of the country’s military intelligence agency, Kyrylo Budanov, highlighted his enemy’s strength. The Russians, “are creating the illusion that everything is lost,” he said. “Quite the opposite, they are deploying new military units and preparing the city’s streets for defense.”

Out on those streets, according to a resident named Ihor who was reached by phone, Russian armored personnel carriers wheel about, with groups of soldiers carrying rifles riding on the roofs. Asking that his full name not be used for security reasons, he added that soldiers were looting electronics stores and private apartments, carrying away appliances.

Whatever the Russians’ intentions, he said, order is unraveling. “It’s all very hard, all very tense,” he said. “It’s scary.”

Unexploded ordinance being collected near Izium, in September, when the Ukrainian military caught Russian forces off guard in a lightning offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region after it had telegraphed for months an intention to attack first in the south, in the Kherson region.
Unexploded ordinance being collected near Izium, in September, when the Ukrainian military caught Russian forces off guard in a lightning offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region after it had telegraphed for months an intention to attack first in the south, in the Kherson region.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Ukraine’s New Air Defense System Comes With a Deep Supply of Ammunition

A green missile launcher sits in an open field with some military vehicles in the background on a cloudy day.
Military planners decided that the air defense systems NASAMS would be especially useful for Ukraine: The ground-based launcher can fire missiles that were built for fighter jets in aerial combat.Credit…Toms Kalnins/EPA, via Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — After eight continuous months of combat, Ukraine is running low on the missiles that its Soviet-era air defense systems use to shoot down Russian drones and warplanes. But on Monday, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials, the country received its first shipment of an advanced weapon whose design helps solve the supply problem.

The weapon is an air defense system known as the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, that is jointly produced by the United States and Norway. It includes a radar, sensors, launchers that can be loaded with six missiles each and a mobile command center where soldiers can monitor airborne threats. Every component can be towed or placed on the back of a truck and moved quickly.

“It does provide a significant air defense capability,” Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday. He added that NASAMS can defend against “basically any type of advanced aerial threat that Russia may try to employ against Ukrainian targets or civilians.”

“So it does add an extra arrow to the quiver, so to speak, for Ukrainian air defense,” the general added.

According to the Norwegian defense firm Kongsberg, which produces the weapons system with the American defense company Raytheon Technologies, NASAMS was first fielded by Norway’s armed forces in 1998. It was later adopted for use by the Pentagon in 2005 to defend the Washington area, according to Raytheon.

U.S. military planners decided that it would be especially useful for Ukraine given that the ground-based launcher can fire relatively inexpensive missiles that were built for fighter jets in aerial combat, which Kyiv’s allies have in large numbers.

General Ryder declined to say which countries have been supplying missiles for Ukraine’s new launchers.

“It’s from a variety of sources, to include U.S. stocks, and those of various allies and partners,” he said.

Dozens of Ukrainian troops recently completed training in Norway on how to operate and maintain the system. The first two NASAMS delivered to Kyiv are now in use, but the number of launchers included in each of them is unclear.

This weapon generally falls into what militaries call a medium-range air defense system, able to hit targets at greater distances than weapons like the shoulder-fired Stinger missile the Pentagon has provided Ukraine, but with less range than larger and more expensive ones like the Patriot missile system.

So while NASAMS can shoot down drones, helicopters, jets and cruise missiles, it is not considered effective against ballistic missiles of the type Russia is reportedly trying to purchase from Iran.

“It’s an advanced system, more modern than what Ukraine has now,” said Ian Williams, the deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.

“It will allow them to defend larger sites, places like critical infrastructure, and the batteries — the launchers themselves — can be spread out over quite a big area,” he said. “A single battery can’t defend everywhere, but it will allow them to beef up defenses at certain critical sites that need protection,” including around electrical infrastructure.

The launcher is capable of firing four different American-made missiles, Mr. Williams said, including the heat-seeking AIM-9X Sidewinder and the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, which has a radar that can home in on airborne threats about 30 miles away. Additionally, it can identify targets approaching from any direction, Mr. Williams said.

These missiles are among the most commonly purchased by the air forces of the United States, NATO countries and other partners, with tens of thousands of each in circulation.

The NASAMS system is among those being considered for the European Sky Shield, a group of 15 nations led by Germany that will be purchasing a variety of missiles to protect against any military incursion by Moscow.

The launchers that arrived in Ukraine are part of a $770 million aid package announced by the Pentagon on July 1. The Pentagon announced in August that it would provide money for Ukraine to buy six more and additional missiles for them to fire.

The value of having NASAMS goes beyond the ability to shoot down Russian warplanes and drones, Mr. Williams said, in that it offers Ukrainian civilians a sense of safety and security.

“While the Ukrainians are fighting a war and trying to get the Russians out of their country, they’re also trying to get Ukrainian refugees to come back,” Mr. Williams said. “These are people who are going to be vital to the Ukrainian economy moving forward.”

“NASAMS won’t provide a dome of protection over all of Ukraine, but it will significantly augment their ability to protect key areas,” he said. “And Ukraine needs more than the two units they have right now.”

New York Times – November 8, 2022

‘Exceptional’ trove of 24 ancient statues found immersed in Tuscan spa

Collection of bronzes dating back 2,300 years sheds light on transition between Etruscans and Romans

Well-defined bronze head.
Among the well-preserved statues were five almost a metre in height. Photograph: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

An “exceptional” trove of bronze statues preserved for thousands of years by mud and boiling water have been discovered in a network of baths built by the Etruscans in Tuscany.

The 24 partly submerged statues, which date back 2,300 years and have been hailed as the most significant find of their kind in 50 years, include a sleeping ephebe lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a snake wrapped around her arm.

Archaeologists came across the statues during excavations at the ancient spa in San Casciano dei Bagni, near Siena. The modern-day spa, which contains 42 hot springs, is close to the ancient site and is one of Italy’s most popular spa destinations.

Well-preserved statue lying in mud.
The ancient Etruscan spa was developed by the Romans and visited by emperors including Augustus. Photograph: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

Close to the ephebe (an adolescent male, typically 17-18 years old) and Hygeia was a statue of Apollo and a host of others representing matrons, children and emperors.

Believed to have been built by the Etruscans in the third century BC, the baths, which include fountains and altars, were made more opulent during the Roman period, with emperors including Augustus frequenting the springs for their health and therapeutic benefits.

Alongside the 24 bronze statues, five of which are almost a metre tall, archaeologists found thousands of coins as well as Etruscan and Latin inscriptions. Visitors are said to have thrown coins into the baths as a gesture for good luck for their health.

Massimo Osanna, the director general of museums at the Italian culture ministry, said the relics were the most significant discovery of their kind since two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors were found off the Calabrian coast near Riace in 1972. “It is certainly one of the most significant discoveries of bronzes in the history of the ancient Mediterranean,” Osanna told the Italian news agency Ansa.

Partly submerged remains of ancient structure, with bottom of pillar visible.
The ancient spa was active until the fifth century, when the pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars, which the archaeologists removed. Photograph: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

The excavation project at San Casciano dei Bagni has been led by the archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli since 2019. In August, several artefacts, including fertility statues that were thought to have been used as dedications to the gods, were found at the site. Tabolli, a professor at the University for Foreigners of Siena, described the latest discovery as “absolutely unique”.

The Etruscan civilisation thrived in Italy, mostly in the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria, for 500 years before the arrival of the Roman Republic. The Etruscans had a strong influence on Roman cultural and artistic traditions.

Initial analysis of the 24 statues, believed to have been made by local craftsmen between the second and first centuries BC, as well as countless votive offerings discovered at the site, indicates that the relics perhaps originally belonged to elite Etruscan and Roman families, landowners, local lords and Roman emperors.

Two archaeologists holding a statue of a boy.
The discovery of the well-preserved statues has been hailed as the most significant of its kind in 50 years. Photograph: Jacopo Tabolli/Universita per Stranieri di Siena/EPA

Tabolli told Ansa that the hot springs, rich in minerals including calcium and magnesium, remained active until the fifth century, before being closed down, but not destroyed, during Christian times. The pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars while the divine statues were left in the sacred water.

The treasure trove was found after archaeologists removed the covering. “It is the greatest store of statues from ancient Italy and is the only one whose context we can wholly reconstruct,” said Tabolli.

The recently appointed Italian culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, said the “exceptional discovery” confirms once again that “Italy is a country full of huge and unique treasures”.

The relics represent an important testament to the transition between the Etruscan and Roman periods, with the baths being considered a haven of peace.

“Even in historical epochs in which the most awful conflicts were raging outside, inside these pools and on these altars the two worlds, the Etruscan and Roman ones, appear to have coexisted without problems,” said Tabolli.

Excavations at the site will resume next spring, while the winter period will be used to restore and conduct further studies on the relics.

The artefacts will be housed in a 16th-century building recently bought by the culture ministry in the town of San Casciano, near Florence. The site of the ancient baths will also be developed into an archaeological park.

“All of this will be enhanced and harmonised, and could represent a further opportunity for the spiritual growth of our culture, and also of the cultural industry of our country,” said Sangiuliano.

Norway’s Princess Märtha Louise has relinquished her royal duties to focus on her alternative medicine business with her fiancé, a self-styled shaman.

Princess Märtha Louise of Norway and her fiancé, self-professed shaman Durek Verrett, arrive at a celebration in Oslo
Image caption,Princess Märtha Louise of Norway and her fiancé, self-professed shaman Durek Verrett, arrive at a celebration in Oslo

The Princess will keep her title, but is surrendering official duties to “create a clearer dividing line” between her private and royal role.

Her fiancé, Durek Verrett, has promoted unfounded medical practices, including suggesting cancer is a choice.

The American also claims to have influenced Gwyneth Paltrow.

Princess Märtha Louise is “relinquishing her patronage role” as she and Mr Verrett seek to “distinguish more clearly between their activities and the Royal House of Norway”, the palace said in a statement. It added that King Harald V had decided she would keep her title.

“She has performed her duties with warmth, care and deep commitment,” the statement said.

Despite the announcement, King Harald described Mr Verrett as a “a great guy and very funny to be with”.

“He has a lot of humour, and we laugh a lot, even in this difficult time. I think both we and he have gained a greater understanding of what this is about, and we’ve agreed to disagree,” King Harald told Norwegian reporters.

In a separate statement, Princess Märtha Louise said she was “aware of the importance of research-based knowledge”, but that she believed alternative medicine can be “an important supplement to help from the conventional medical establishment”.

She added that it was important to “distinguish between myself as a private person on the one hand and as a member of the Royal Family on the other”.

The Princess, 51, has attracted controversy in Norway for decades for her involvement in alternative treatments, including starting a school that aimed to help people “get in touch with their angels”. She has been accused of using her royal title for competitive gain.

In 2002, she married Norwegian writer and artist Ari Behn and the couple had three daughters. They divorced in 2017 and Mr Behn – who had discussed suffering from depression – died by suicide on Christmas Day 2019.

In June, Princess Märtha Louise became engaged to Mr Verrett. She announced the relationship in a 2019 Instagram post, pre-empting potential criticism.

In the post, she said: “To those of you who feel the need to criticise: Hold your horses. It is not up to you to choose for me or to judge me. Shaman Durek is merely a man I love spending my time with and who fulfils me.”

Despite that post, the couple have attracted considerable criticism among many in Norway, with Mr Verrett variously being described as “a charlatan”, a conman and a conspiracy theorist.

Former Prime Minister Erna Solberg described his views as “very strange” and “not based on facts”, adding that his ideas promoted conspiracy theories.

Mr Durek – an African-American who describes himself as a “6th Generation Shaman” – has claimed to have risen from the dead and to have predicted the 9/11 attacks in the United States two years before they took place.

He has said the criticism he faces is due to racism, saying he has “never experienced as much racism” as when he came to Norway. He has also compared himself to the likes of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, claiming they were “geniuses” and “misunderstood”.

On his website, he describes himself as a “visionary for the ‘Now Age'” who “demystifies spirituality”. He said his work had influenced actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Nina Dobrev.

A survey published in September found that just 13% of Norwegians thought Princess Märtha Louise should represent the Royal Family in official duties.

A royal biographer told local media: “I think this is more about the occult phenomenon she’s been associated with, than the princess as a person.”

Ukraine says talks with Russia hinge on ‘territorial integrity’

Kyiv calls for the restoration of Ukraine’s borders as a precondition for negotiations while ruling out any talks with Putin.

A Ukrainian national flag rises over a local council's headquarter building in the village of Lymany near a frontline in Ukraine's Mykolaiv region on October 18
A Ukrainian national flag rises over a local council’s headquarters in the country’s southern Mykolaiv region on October 18 [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Kyiv’s main precondition for entering negotiations with Russia on ending the war is the return of all captured Ukrainian land, according to a high-ranking security official.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said on Tuesday that the Ukrainian side also needed the “guarantee” of modern air defences, aircraft, tanks and long-range missiles.

Kyiv has repeatedly called for additional arms from its Western backers following Russia’s invasion in late February.

“The main condition of the President of Ukraine is restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity,” Danilov tweeted.

“Guarantee – modern air defence, aircraft, tanks, and long-range missiles. Strategy – proactive steps. Russian missiles must be destroyed before launch in the air, on land and at sea,” he said.

Danilov’s remarks came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his overnight address on Monday that he was open to “genuine” negotiations with Russia that would restore Ukraine’s borders.

He also called for compensation following devastating Russian attacks, and demanded those responsible for alleged war crimes are punished.

Talk of a negotiated end to the conflict has risen in recent days, after the Washington Post newspaper reported that the United States has privately encouraged Ukrainian officials to signal an openness to talk with its neighbour.

US officials reportedly want Ukraine to take the moral high ground and appear more interested in negotiations, amid concerns Kyiv might soon lose international support if it remains resolutely against discussions.

After Russia announced the annexation of four partly occupied regions of Ukraine at the end of September, Zelenskyy said Kyiv will not hold talks with Moscow as long as President Vladimir Putin remains in power.

Government figures have restated this position in recent days, saying that Kyiv would however be willing to negotiate with a successor to Putin.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow is open to talks but that Kyiv is refusing them. Russian officials have repeatedly said they will not negotiate over territory they claim to have annexed from Ukraine.

Apart from Russia-ally North Korea, no countries recognise the latest annexations. Most of the world also refuses to recognise Crimea, annexed in 2014, as Russian land.

Meanwhile, the US, Ukraine’s main backer, is holding mid-term elections for Congress on Tuesday.

Although most candidates from both parties strongly support Kyiv, some right-wing Republican candidates have expressed doubt about the cost of US military aid while others on the left faced backlash after calling for “vigorous” diplomacy to end the war.

The White House says US support for Ukraine will be “unflinching and unwavering” regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s votes.

How to Watch Election Night Like a Pro

Strategists are watching a few East Coast races that could be called early, offering a rough road map to the entire country.

If Representative Elaine Luria survives her race in Virginia, it will most likely be a good night for Democrats.
If Representative Elaine Luria survives her race in Virginia, it will most likely be a good night for Democrats.Credit…Kristen Zeis for The New York Times

Want to know how the story of the 2022 midterms is going to end as soon as possible on election night? Strategists in both parties are zeroing in on a handful of East Coast races that could be called early in the evening, giving us a rough road map to the entire country. (Here’s when to expect the results in every state.)

The simplest strategy is to follow three House races in Virginia that will function on Tuesday like a gauge along a flood-prone coastal plain — telling us whether this election will be a red ripple, a red wave, a red tsunami or something closer to a modest blue riptide. Polls close there at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Red ripple: The most vulnerable Democrat in Virginia is Representative Elaine Luria, a former Navy commander whose district is the military- and veteran-heavy area around Virginia Beach. Biden won the area by 1.9 percentage points in 2020, but during last year’s race for governor in Virginia, it went Republican by double digits. Watch Virginia Beach County, which swung from a five-point victory for Democrats in 2020 to an eight-point loss a year later.

If Luria survives, Democrats will be ecstatic. It might mean that a few Republicans, like Representatives Steve Chabot of Ohio or Don Bacon of Nebraska, are in trouble.

Red wave: Next up is Representative Abigail Spanberger, a former C.I.A. officer who faces Yesli Vega, the daughter of Salvadoran refugees. The district includes a mix of suburban and rural areas southwest of Washington. Republicans think they have a shot at ousting Spanberger even though Biden won the area by 6.8 percentage points in 2020.

Remember: Rural areas usually count faster, so Spanberger will appear to be way down before the most populous county in her district, Prince William, tallies its votes. Take note of just how easily Republicans are winning in Spanberger’s rural counties. Last year, Glenn Youngkin carried Greene County by 36 percentage points on the way to the governor’s mansion.

Red tsunami: If Representative Jennifer Wexton, the Democratic incumbent in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, loses to Hung Cao, a Navy veteran who is running for office for the first time, Democrats are in for a brutal night. The only remaining question will be just how brutal — Biden won the upscale Virginia exurban area by 18.1 percentage points, though Youngkin closed that gap against Terry McAuliffe in 2021.

If Wexton hangs on but Luria and Spanberger lose, Republicans will still pop the Moët early: Of the 88 House seats deemed even remotely competitive this year, there are 45 more districts where Democrats won a smaller share of the vote in 2020 — 26 of which are currently held by the party.

Many or all of them could flip. A suburban Democrat like Representative Angie Craig in Minnesota would need to worry, as would once-comfortable Democratic incumbents in West Coast states like California.

Virginia could also provide clues to the national mood of Black voters, whose tepid enthusiasm for Biden has worried Democrats. Sean Trende, a political analyst who served as a special master during Virginia’s redistricting process, suggested looking at the returns in Hampton City and Surry Counties to gain insight into how turnout among Black voters in both urban and rural areas is shaping up.

A seven-point swing in Spanberger’s district would also suggest that polls have been overstating Democrats’ support elsewhere. In that scenario, some Democratic governors might fall: Tony Evers in Wisconsin, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, even Tim Walz in Minnesota. It would signal that Republicans are likely to retake the Senate, where they need to flip just one seat.

With apologies to Tip O’Neill, all politics is national now. But local factors — unique demographics, strong and weak candidates, well-run and hapless campaigns — still matter at the margins, where races are often won and lost.

There are otherwise vulnerable Democrats like Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Representative Chris Pappas of New Hampshire who might stave off defeat because they face flawed Republican opponents. In a wave year, though, even those seemingly fortunate Democrats might go down.

“If Marcy loses, we lose every single seat Trump won and probably every seat Biden won by 2 or less,” said Brian Stryker, a Democratic pollster at Impact Research. That’s 14 seats.

There are also comparatively strong Republican candidates elsewhere along the East Coast like Allan Fung, who could win an open seat in Rhode Island that Biden won by more than 14 points. And if George Logan, a Republican business executive, defeats Representative Jahana Hayes, a Democrat, in staunchly blue northwestern Connecticut, it would suggest that Republicans are persuading Democratic voters to break ranks.

What if Luria loses and Spanberger wins, but just barely? Pour yourself a cup of coffee and settle in. Things are going to get interesting.

While most analysts in both parties expect Republicans to win the House fairly easily, it will probably be much longer before the balance of power in the Senate becomes clear.

Polling in most, if not all, of the major competitive Senate races is within the margin of error, suggesting the results could be close in either direction.

And because rural counties tend to count the fastest, it might initially look as if Republicans are far ahead in many states until more Democratic votes are tallied in populous urban areas.

The Associated Press and the major TV networks use mathematical models to determine the winner before all the votes are in. But this year, a definitive outcome could take days to unfold, Democrats have cautioned leaders of the news media in a recent round of briefings.

Supporters of Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidate, at an event on Sunday in Bethlehem, Pa.
Supporters of Mehmet Oz, the Republican Senate candidate, at an event on Sunday in Bethlehem, Pa.Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Pennsylvania, for one, mandates that in-person ballots be counted before mail-in and absentee votes. If the Senate race there between Mehmet Oz and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman turns out to be as close as the polling indicates, every one of those late-counted votes could matter. In New Hampshire, election officials are warning that a surge of write-in votes could slow the count.

In 2020, the Senate special election in Arizona came down to just 78,806 votes, though The A.P. declared Mark Kelly the winner on election night. In Georgia, Jon Ossoff was behind Senator David Perdue by about the same number. But since neither candidate reached 50 percent, they went to a runoff two months later.

Democrats did not secure their majority until the runoff contests on Jan. 5, 2021, when both Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who ran in a special election against Senator Kelly Loeffler, narrowly defeated their Republican opponents.

We could be headed for another runoff in Georgia if neither candidate wins an outright majority. And if Democrats win three of the other battleground races elsewhere, control of the Senate will again come down to the Peach State. Can Warnock bank enough votes in the sprawling Atlanta suburbs to offset the rural strength of his rival, Herschel Walker?

While you’re waiting, here are some places to home in on:

  • New Hampshire: It’s smaller than the other states, and could be the one where we first learn the winner. Here, the county to monitor is Hillsborough, which Hillary Clinton and Senator Maggie Hassan both lost narrowly in 2016. Biden then flipped it convincingly in 2020. Home to Manchester and Nashua and their suburbs, it’s the state’s most populous county.
  • Nevada: The state has only two significant urban areas: Clark County, home of Las Vegas and a Democratic stronghold; and Washoe County, home of Reno and a swing region. When Catherine Cortez Masto defeated Joe Heck to win her Senate seat in 2016, she lost every county but Clark — where she bested him by more than 82,000 votes. Two years later, Jacky Rosen won big in Clark County and defeated Senator Dean Heller, the Republican incumbent, in Washoe County, too. If Cortez Masto isn’t running up the score in Vegas, big-time, she probably won’t win.
  • Arizona: Statewide races are won and lost in Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix and 62 percent of the state’s population. In 2020, Kelly won it by around 80,000 votes. The state’s other major population center is deep-blue Tucson, while Mohave, Pinal and Yavapai Counties are typically shades of red. Watch the outcome in State Senate District 4, a swing seat in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix — the results there could signal larger trends.
  • Pennsylvania: The state’s recent bellwether has been northwestern Erie County, which Biden flipped after Clinton lost it to Donald Trump in 2016. But the suburbs around Philadelphia are where Democratic candidates typically try to run up huge margins over their Republican opponents. Pay attention to blue-collar Bucks County in particular — Oz has campaigned heavily there. Biden won it by 4.4 percentage points in 2020.
  • Ohio: Keep an eye on the returns in Delaware County, a suburb of Columbus that has trended blue in recent years even as the state as a whole has turned deep red. If J.D. Vance wins big here, it’s over. And according to Stryker, the Democratic pollster, if Representative Tim Ryan isn’t within two or three percentage points of Vance in Delaware, “weaker Democratic candidates are probably getting their clocks cleaned in the suburbs.”

New York Times – November 8, 2022

How to Be Bored, and What You Can Learn From It

Figuring out the root cause of our lack of inspiration can help us make better choices in how we spend our time, experts say.

Credit…Delcan & Co.

At least once every weekend, one of my kids — ages 8 and 11 — lumbers over to me and moans, “I’m boooooored. There’s nothing to do.” When I remind them of all the things they could try (read a book, make an art project, play the piano) they glare at me as if I’ve just asked them to do 150 burpees and then lope off again, shoulders slumped.

It’s not just kids, of course. Many American adults reported feeling bored during the seemingly endless pandemic lockdowns. Boredom may also be contributing to the lack of engagement many Americans feel right now at work. Some research suggests that teens, too, were experiencing more boredom recently than they did in the past.

Boredom is no fun, but it can be a source of useful information. “It arises when we’re doing things that don’t seem engaging or satisfactory, and it pushes us to want to be doing something else,” said Andreas Elpidorou, a philosopher who studies emotions and consciousness at the University of Louisville.

Research suggests that boredom can arise for a handful of reasons, and that figuring out the root cause can help us make better choices in how we spend our time — or at least rejigger our experiences so they are more rewarding. Here’s how to make the science of boredom work for you.

Erin Westgate, a researcher at the University of Florida, has spent years digging into the various drivers of boredom and has found that it arises in a few kinds of situations.

First, we can feel bored when we’re in a position where we can’t pay attention, either because the task we’re doing is too easy or too hard. “For you to be able to pay attention and maintain attention on something, you need cognitive demands and cognitive resources to be balanced,” Dr. Westgate explained — in other words, the demands of the task need to match what your brain can bring to it.

When what we’re doing feels too easy, we often can’t focus, and our inattention gives rise to boredom. This could happen when your kid makes you play Candy Land yet again or “when you are at a meeting where your boss discusses the same issue for what seems like the hundredth time and you just tune out,” said Karen Gasper, a psychologist at Pennsylvania State University who studies how feelings influence people’s lives.

We can also feel bored when the thing we’re doing feels hard and overwhelming — for instance, when there’s a work memo we must write and we’re not sure where to start. Likewise, boredom might happen “when you are watching a movie with a complicated plot, and you are just lost,” Dr. Gasper said.

You may also experience boredom when an activity doesn’t feel particularly meaningful. “You might be reading a book that has a plot that’s uninspiring and predictable. You are able to pay attention to it, but you just don’t want to,” Dr. Gasper explained. When activities don’t align with our goals or values, they often incite us to feel bored and unfulfilled.

And then, of course, there are the situations in which you’re not really doing anything and you feel listless and bored — the thing that sometimes happens to my kids (and me!) when we have downtime. Dr. Westgate said she suspects this happens because we have no goal in mind in those moments, which makes us feel lost and uncomfortable.

If you’re feeling disinterested, Dr. Westgate suggested thinking through the various causes to figure out what’s inciting your boredom. Is the task you’re doing too hard or too easy? Do you not find it meaningful? Do you just not know what to do with yourself? In her experience, she said, people can easily determine which of these issues is driving the problem.

Next, work toward addressing the problem — but what you do will depend on the situation and how much flexibility you have. The best solution if you’re bored doing something is to stop doing that thing and do something else. But school, work and caregiving often require us to do boring tasks over and over again. Making matters worse, when we feel that we don’t have control over our actions, the lack of autonomy can make boredom worse, Dr. Westgate said. One classic study found that people who were forced to listen to boring lessons felt that time went by more slowly than people who had chosen to listen to them.

If the task you’re doing feels too easy, consider trying something new or challenging if you have the option, Dr. Gasper said. Maybe your daily walks are starting to bore you and you should consider hiking or rock climbing instead. If you have no choice but to continue doing the task, brainstorm ways to add complexity to it. Dr. Elpidorou said he once interviewed a U.P.S. employee whose job it was to unload and scan boxes all day, but who said he never felt bored because he and his co-workers played games to make the work more challenging. Playing music can also help, Dr. Westgate added, because listening to music “soaks up those extra attentional resources you have, so that you can, paradoxically, focus better on that under-stimulating thing that you’re doing.”

If you’re bored because what you’re doing is too hard, Dr. Westgate suggested breaking the task up into smaller parts so it feels more manageable. Set a goal of writing just one section of that work memo before lunch.

When a required task isn’t engaging because it doesn’t feel worthwhile, it may help to consider the task’s utility, including how it could help achieve bigger goals, Dr. Westgate said. For instance, if your kid doesn’t like math, encourage her to think about how math might serve her interests down the line — could it make her better at her dream job? Research has shown that this kind of framing helps to keep students engaged and do better in school.

It may also help to think about how a seemingly thankless task serves others or builds community. When you go to the grocery store, Dr. Westgate said, you can think of it as a pointless time suck, or you could think about it as a task you do to keep your family healthy and nourished. “Frame it to yourself in ways that matter,” she suggested.

All this said, if you find yourself consistently bored with what you’re doing, it’s smart to ponder whether there are ways to avoid those tasks, Dr. Westgate said, perhaps through delegation or a career change. Frequent boredom can also be a sign of depression, she added, so if you find yourself rarely enjoying the activities you do — especially if you used to get joy out of them — you may want to talk to your doctor.

I couldn’t help but wonder what role smartphones and social media play in boredom. Do I scroll through Instagram so much because I’m bored? Could the instant gratification I get cause me to feel more bored when I’m trying to do mundane tasks? No one knows for sure, but some research does suggest that although we reach for our phones to alleviate boredom, technology may also cause us to feel more bored. Dr. Westgate said that she worries that technology may prevent us from constructively responding to our boredom, too.

“If you’re constantly soothing away those feelings of boredom with something like a phone, instead of engaging with them, I think it’s taking away a really useful signal,” she said. Plus, if you reach for your phone every time you’re bored, it might prevent you from doing something else you find more rewarding.

In those moments of listlessness where you can’t figure out what you want to do, it may help to keep a mental list of activities you usually find fulfilling that you can turn to, Dr. Elpidorou said. This could include reading, playing an instrument, drawing, knitting or any other kind of hobby. (If your phone allows you to do something you find meaningful, like connecting with a friend or doing a crossword, that’s OK too.)

“Pick something that you normally like — you are able to do it and usually want to do it — and commit to doing it for a few minutes. Hopefully, you will become involved in it and the boredom will pass,” Dr. Gasper suggested.

I’ve been trying out some of these approaches over the past few days, and they’ve been useful. When I saw the blank computer screen looming in front of me when it was time to write this newsletter, I felt a twinge of boredom and reached for my phone — then recognized the irony of feeling bored while writing about boredom and had a chuckle. After that, I put down my phone and focused on writing just one paragraph at a time.

New York Times – November 3, 2022

Cardinal Ricard among 11 French bishops accused of abuse

Archbishop of Bordeaux Jean-Pierre Ricard (L) celebrates the Passion of Christ on Good Friday in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on April 14, 2017
Image caption,Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard retired in 2019 after 18 years as bishop of Bordeaux

French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard has been named by the Church as one of 11 serving or former bishops accused of sexual violence.

In a statement, the cardinal said he had abused a 14-year-old girl when he was a parish priest 35 years ago and would now withdraw from his functions.

A year ago, a panel found evidence of thousands of paedophiles operating in the French Catholic Church for decades.

All 11 accused face either prosecution or disciplinary action in the Church.

The latest revelations came during the French bishops’ conference in Lourdes in south-western France.

Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort told reporters the 11 included a former bishop of Créteil, Michel Santier, who retired last year after he was accused of committing sexual abuse two decades earlier.

He read out a letter from Cardinal Ricard, who said he had behaved in a “reprehensible manner” with a 14-year-old girl and his conduct had inevitably caused her serious and lasting consequences.

Now retired after 18 years as bishop of Bordeaux, the 78-year-old cardinal said he had asked her for forgiveness and apologised to those he had hurt.

The current bishop, Jean-Paul James, expressed his sympathy to the victim and renewed his appeal to anyone who had suffered abuse in the diocese to come forward.

The head of the conference said that apart from the cardinal and Michel Santier, six bishops had been accused by the judiciary or by the Church and that one was already deceased.

Another two former bishops were the subject of a judicial investigation while a third had been reported to prosecutors, he added.

In its report in October 2021, an independent commission set up by the Catholic Church in France found that some 216,000 children had been abused since the 1950s, largely boys aged 10-13.

The head of the panel said there was evidence of up to 3,200 abusers and evidence had been handed to prosecutors in 22 cases where criminal action could still be launched.

France is one of many countries where sexual abuse allegations have rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Last year, Pope Francis changed the Church’s laws to make sexual abuse, grooming minors for sex, possessing child pornography and covering up abuse a criminal offence under Vatican law.

In a message ahead of the autumn bishops’ conference in Lourdes, the Pope said the Church of France had again been overwhelmed by the abuses carried out by some of its pastors.

The conference was aiming to find how to improve communication and transparency in abuse cases involving the clergy.

Ukraine seizes stakes in ‘strategic’ companies for war effort

Government says the move is aimed at guaranteeing sufficient supplies for its military to fight Russian forces.

Secretary of the National security and defence council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov, Ukrainian Minister of Defence Oleksii Reznikov and the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal hold a press conference in Kyiv on November 7, 2022.
Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv on November 7, 2022, from left to right: national security and defence council secretary Oleksiy Danilov, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal [Sergei Supinsky/AFP]

The Ukrainian government says it has invoked wartime laws to take control of stakes in several “strategically important” companies in order to guarantee sufficient supplies for its military to fend off the invasion of Russia.

Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Monday announced the requisition of a leading engine maker and four other energy and manufacturing enterprises from some of the country’s richest men.

He did not elaborate on the size of the stakes that had been taken over but said the assets of the five companies would be managed by his ministry to meet “urgent” military needs.

“This is about providing fuel and lubricants, repairing military equipment and weapons,” Reznikov told a news conference, alongside Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council.

There was no immediate comment by any of the five companies.

During the conference, Shmyhal said the companies being taken under state control make products or provide services that are “critical” for Ukraine’s defence and energy needs.

“These enterprises must operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the needs of the state’s defence,” he said.

The announcement comes as Russia unleashed a barrage of air raids on Ukrainian cities in recent weeks, damaging some 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

It was the first time the government had used martial law for such a move since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. It is also the most dramatic wartime intervention into big business, affecting companies linked to tycoons whose political power Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team has long sought to curb.

The enterprises include aircraft engine manufacturer Motor Sich working from the partially Russian-controlled region of Zaporizhia, Danilov told the news conference in the capital, Kyiv.

“After martial law is lifted, these assets may be returned to their owners or their value may be reimbursed,” Danilov added.

The other energy and manufacturing companies include Zaporozhtransformator, AvtoKrAZ and the oil and gas company UkrNafta.

The decision was taken at a meeting of top security officials chaired by Zelenskyy on Saturday and went into effect on Sunday.

The companies are partially owned by the state and are associated with powerful businessmen, including billionaires Ihor Kolomoisky and Kostiantyn Zhevaho, as well as businessman Vyacheslav Bohuslayev, who was arrested in October on suspicion of collaborating with Russia.

“This is not nationalisation,” Reznikov said. “This is a direct taking over of assets during wartime. These are totally different legal forms.”

‘We were completely exposed’: Russian conscripts say hundreds killed in attack

Survivor tells of being abandoned to attack near Makiivka, as anger grows in Russia over death toll from war

A Russian conscript at a shooting range near Donetsk
A Russian conscript at a shooting range near Donetsk. Russia has drafted more than 300,000 men to go and fight in its war in Ukraine. Photograph: Alessandro Guerra/EPA

Hours after Aleksei Agafonov arrived in the Luhansk region on 1 November as part of a battalion of new conscripts, his unit were handed shovels and ordered to dig trenches throughout the night.

Their digging, which they took turns to do because of the lack of available shovels, was abruptly interrupted in the early hours of the next day as Ukrainian artillery lit up the sky and shells started raining down on Agafonov and his unit.

“A Ukrainian drone first flew over us, and after that their artillery started to pound us for hours and hours, nonstop,” Agafonov, who survived the shelling, told the Guardian in a phone interview on Monday.

“I saw men being ripped apart in front of me, most of our unit is gone, destroyed. It was hell,” he said, adding that his unit’s commanders abandoned them just before the shelling started.

Agafonov was called up on 16 October alongside 570 other conscripts in Voronezh, a city in the south-west of Russia, as part of Vladimir Putin’s nationwide mobilisation push that has seen more than 300,000 men drafted to go and fight in a war that the Kremlin calls its “special military operation”.

After the attacks stopped, Agafonov, with roughly a dozen other soldiers, retreated from the forest outside the Luhansk town of Makiivka to the nearby Russian-controlled city of Svatove. In Svatove, Agafonov and his group moved into a deserted building, trying to contact other mobilised soldiers who had been with him that night.

According to Agafonov’s estimates, only 130 draftees out of the 570 survived the Ukrainian attack, which would make it the deadliest known incident involving conscripts since the start of the mobilisation drive at the end of September.

“And many who survived are losing their minds after what happened. No one wants to go back,” Agafonov said.

The incident points to Russia’s willingness to throw hundreds of ill-prepared conscripts on to the frontline in Ukraine’s east, where some of the heaviest fighting has been taking place, in an effort to stem Kyiv’s advances.

There is growing anger in Russia as more coffins return from Ukraine, bringing home the remains of conscripts.

Some of the details surrounding last week’s shelling could not be independently verified. But the Guardian spoke to a second soldier, as well as two family members of surviving soldiers, who gave similar accounts.

“We were completely exposed, we had no idea what to do. Hundreds of us died,” said the second soldier, who asked to remain anonymous. “Two weeks of training doesn’t prepare you for this,” he said, referring to the limited military training conscripts received prior to being sent to Ukraine.

The Russian investigative outlet Verstka, which first reported on the incident on Saturday, cited the account of a third soldier, Nikolai Voronin, who similarly described coming under Ukrainian fire in the early hours of 2 November.

“There were lots of dead, they were lying everywhere … Their arms and legs were torn off,” Voronin told Verstka. “The shovels we used to dig our trenches were now being used to dig out the dead.”

The shelling has led to anguish in Voronezh, where a group of wives of the mobilised men recorded an angry video message on Saturday addressing the local governor.

“On the very first day, they put the draftees on the frontline. The command left the battlefield and fled,” Inna Voronina, the wife of a drafted soldier whose fate is unknown, said in the video.

The mother of another soldier can be heard saying: “They tell us over the phone that our sons are alive and healthy and even fulfilling their military duty. How the hell are they alive and healthy when they were all killed there?”

Last Friday, Putin boasted that Russia had mobilised 318,000 people into its armed forces, citing a high number of “volunteers”. He went on to invoke the popular Russian saying “we don’t leave our own behind”, claiming the phrase was “not empty words”.

But the chaotic mobilisation campaign, and the casualties that have followed since, have drawn criticism among even the most enthusiastic supporters of the war.

In a scathing statement on Telegram, Anastasia Kashevarova, a well-connected pro-war journalist, condemned Russian commanders on the ground who she said were mobilising untrained men.

“Groups of [mobilised men] are abandoned without communication, without the necessary weapons, without medicines, without the support of artillery,” she said. “Zinc coffins are already coming. You told us that there would be training, that they would not be sent to the frontline in a week. Did you lie again?”

In one video, purportedly filmed at a training centre in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, dozens of recently mobilised men are seen berating its military leadership over a lack of pay, water and food. An officer identified as Maj Gen Kirill Kulakov is seen retreating as the large crowd of enraged conscripts shout insults at him.

Perhaps sensing the growing discontent, Putin said on Monday that he planned to “personally discuss with Russians” the issues surrounding support for the mobilised. He urged local officials to “pay attention” to mobilised soldiers and their needs.

Despite the seemingly high costs, the mobilisation drive has so far not resulted in Russia gaining new ground, according to a recent report from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based thinktank.

The report said the Russian army was “wasting the fresh supply of mobilised personnel on marginal gains” instead of massing sufficient soldiers to ensure success.

“Russian forces would likely have had more success in such offensive operations if they had waited until enough mobilised personnel had arrived to amass a force large enough to overcome Ukrainian defences,” the institute said last Thursday.

In another sign indicating poor morale and communications at the front, several pro-Kremlin journalists published an open letter reportedly from an elite Russian naval infantry unit that criticised its superiors’ decision-making after huge losses in what it called an “incomprehensible” assault on the village of Pavlivka.

Russian forces launched an offensive on Pavlivka, south-west of Donetsk, on 2 November, according to the Ukrainian military and pro-Russia officials. Four days later, the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade reportedly accused its military leaders of the loss of 300 men in a letter to Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of their home region in the far-east of Russia.

“We were thrown into an incomprehensible offensive,” the letter was quoted as saying by a number of prominent pro-war bloggers.

While the Guardian was not able to independently verify the contents of the letter, Kozhemyako appeared to acknowledge that it was genuine but said it overstated the true scale of the losses.

“We contacted the commanders. Yes, there are losses, there’s heavy fighting, but they are far from what is written in this appeal,” he said in a video statement on his Telegram channel. “I am sure that in any case the situation will be analysed and the competent authorities will give their assessment.”

The Manhattan Project’s last survivor

A new book and documentary film about Nobel laureate Roy J. Glauber offer a fascinating look into the early days of the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Robert Oppenheimer (wearing hat and suit), General Leslie Groves and other scientists and military personnel examine the ruins of a tower leveled by the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico.
Robert Oppenheimer (wearing hat and suit), General Leslie Groves and other scientists and military personnel examine the ruins of a tower leveled by the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico.GETTY

In the early 1940s, Los Alamos, New Mexico was a peaceful US town inhabited by young couples, plenty of children, and workers with enough leisure time to enjoy the good weather and desert environment. After work, you could go for a walk, watch a movie for 10 cents, attend a lecture or go to a dance. Due to military regulations, only low-proof alcoholic beverages were available, but many scientists used their know-how to brew their own libations. The bucolic scenes of Los Alamos life belied the fact that these young families were building some of the most horrific and destructive weapons every known, and which still threaten humanity today.

Trailers used for housing Manhattan Project workers..
Trailers used for housing Manhattan Project workers..

The main storyline of the first atomic bomb is well known. In 1938, German scientists Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn discovered how to release large quantities of energy through nuclear fission, as Albert Einstein had theorized in the famous scientific equation: E=mc². Physicist Leo Szilard saw the military applications of nuclear fission and convinced Einstein to sign a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt urging him to beat the Nazis in developing a nuclear weapon. Roosevelt then established the ambitious Manhattan Project in the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which would ultimately produce “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, ended World War II and changed the course of human history. Ever since then, civilization has had the capacity to easily annihilate itself.

Told through the eyes of American physicist Roy J. Glauber, a new book and documentary film gives audiences a look into the early days of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Glauber was the youngest of the Manhattan Project’s theoretical scientists, and went on to win the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work in the field of quantum optics. His memories of his Manhattan Project experiences have been recorded in a recent book titled La Última Voz (The Last Voice, in English) and in That’s the Story, a documentary film available on YouTube. Communications expert and university professor María Teresa Soto-Sanfiel, and physics professor José Ignacio Latorre collaborated to produce the book and the film.

It all started over drinks. “We were at a conference in Benasque [northern Spain] and I took Glauber out for drinks – he had never tasted a mojito – because you have to treat Nobel laureates well,” jokes Latorre. Loosened up by the cocktail, Glauber began to tell anecdotes about some 20th-century luminaries in the field of physics. How did he know all those people? “I worked on the Manhattan Project when I was 18 years old,” said Glauber, one of the few project members still living at the time. After that initial mojito-tasting session and several other chance encounters, Glauber decided to collaborate with the authors in recording the material for the book and film. Coincidentally, the Manhattan Project archives were declassified just as they started to collect material for the documentary. They obtained 17 hours of footage from those archives, much of which had never been seen by the public. “Glauber was very meticulous and detailed in our interviews, which gave us a very vivid picture of those times,” said Soto-Sanfiel. “It was a picture of life in Los Alamos told by one of its protagonists, which is quite unusual.”

María Teresa Soto-Sanfiel, Roy J. Glauber and José Ignacio Latorre in 2014.
María Teresa Soto-Sanfiel, Roy J. Glauber and José Ignacio Latorre in 2014.

Glauber occasionally describes Los Alamos as a utopian but spartan home for those that lived and worked there. It was a lost world, inexpensive but with not much to do besides work. “But the young Glauber marveled at many aspects of life at Los Alamos,” said Latorre. “Apparently the food was very good (Glauber was still a big eater at age 90), the weather was good, and he was surrounded by some of the sharpest minds in the world.”

The intellectual horsepower dazzled young Glauber, who had not yet finished his studies at Harvard University when he was assigned to the project. There was Robert Oppenheimer, the project’s scientific director, who had a great talent for understanding and communicating complex physics concepts to people like General Leslie Groves, the overall project director.

Glauber describes Oppenheimer as a romantic and connoisseur of classical Hindu writings (he was fluent in Sanskrit), a sharp contrast to the typical pragmatism of American scientists. When Oppenheimer observed the first atomic bomb test in the New Mexico desert, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Oppenheimer, a film directed by Christopher Nolan, will be released in 2023.

Manhattan Project scientific director Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues attend a talk at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Manhattan Project scientific director Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues attend a talk at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Glauber describes Hans Bethe, who was responsible for the theoretical aspects of the project, as a highly intelligent man and collaborative coworker. Enrico Fermi was ingenious at complex calculations and models, and Richard Feynman had a talent for viewing physics problems in entirely new ways. Feynman was often the center of attention with his bottomless well of stories and anecdotes, as evidenced by his well-known biography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, which has inspired generations of students around the world. Glauber had some reservations about Feynman, whom he faulted for deliberately outlandish behavior. “Glauber was a quiet and serious man, while Feynman was just the opposite, someone who liked the limelight,” said Soto-Sanfiel, “so Glauber considered Feynman a bit frivolous, although he had great intellectual respect for him.”

Glauber was an eyewitness to the first explosion of an atomic bomb in July 1945 – the Trinity test – which was detonated in the New Mexico desert. Because he worked on the project as theoretical physicist, he and some of his colleagues weren’t invited to the test. Nevertheless, they traveled 70 miles (112 kilometers) to a mountaintop near Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city. When the 20-kiloton bomb exploded, they were terrified by the nuclear mushroom that rose into the night sky. At the detonation site, the sand had melted into a bright green, jade-like glassy residue, later named trinitite. Glauber described the first test of an atomic bomb as “massive and sinister.” For the next month after the test, no one in the lab wanted to talk about what they had witnessed.

The story told in the book and documentary doesn’t end at in Los Alamos, but goes on to describe Oppenheimer’s fall from grace, a victim of the witch-hunt orchestrated by physicist Edward Teller, who accused him of being a communist. Teller had become increasingly influential due to his leadership role in nuclear weapons development, particularly the hydrogen bomb.

A Los Alamos National Laboratory cafeteria during the Manhattan Project.
A Los Alamos National Laboratory cafeteria during the Manhattan Project.

Glauber died in December 2018 while the book was still being edited. He wasn’t alive to see the invasion of Ukraine, with its nuclear saber-rattling reminiscent of the Cold War. “Back then [during the Cold War], there was almost no talk of nuclear threats and, as we found when previewed an early version of the documentary, most people thought that the specter of total annihilation contributed to a long period of peace in Europe,” said Latorre.

Glauber never regretted participating in the Manhattan Project because he had a relatively unimportant role and because thousands of young soldiers were dying “like flies” while the Nazis raced to build their own bomb. “Of course,” Soto-Sanfiel said, “when the bombs were dropped on Japan, Glauber left the Manhattan Project and never wanted to hear anything more about the nuclear arms race.”

The Nobel Disease: When Intelligence Fails to Protect against Irrationality

No scientific award is more coveted than the Nobel Prize. In the eyes of the public, this prize, especially in the three traditional science categories of chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine, is virtually synonymous with scientific brilliance. At the same time, the stories of the more than 600 Nobelists in the hard sciences pose a question that bears intriguing implications for the field of skepticism: To what extent do remarkable levels of intelligence immunize individuals against equally remarkable lapses in critical thinking? As we will discover, psychological research offers provisional answers to this question and tantalizing clues to its resolution.

Some authors have invoked the term Nobel Disease to describe the tendency of many Nobel winners to embrace scientifically questionable ideas (Gorski 2012). We adopt this term with some trepidation given its fraught implications. Some authors (e.g., Berezow 2016) appear to assume that Nobel winners in the sciences are more prone to critical thinking errors than are other scientists. It is unclear, however, whether this is the case, and rigorous data needed to verify this assertion are probably lacking.

In this article, we explore the more circumscribed question of whether and to what extent the Nobel Prize, conceptualized as a partial but imperfect proxy of scientific brilliance, is incompatible with irrationality. To do so, we draw on case studies of several Nobel-winning scientists who appear to have succumbed to the Nobel Disease. In doing so, we remain cognizant of the inferential limitations of case studies: They are of unknown representativeness, and they can be readily cherry picked to support one’s hypotheses. Still, case studies can often be helpful in generating hypotheses to be investigated in more systematic studies. In addition, they can sometimes afford existence proofs—demonstrations that a given phenomenon can occur. In the case of the Nobel Disease, the capsule case histories we present strongly suggest that intellectual brilliance can coexist with yawning gaps in skeptical thinking.

Specifically, we offer brief descriptions of eight Nobel laureates in the sciences who embraced “weird” ideas. Following Shermer (2003), we define weird ideas as assertions that are (a) highly implausible in light of scientific knowledge; (b) roundly rejected by essentially all scientific experts; and (c) based mostly or exclusively on anecdotal or uncorroborated evidence. Because merely entertaining the possibility of an unsupported claim, such as the existence of extrasensory perception (ESP), does not indicate a critical thinking lapse, we focus on Nobelists who clung to one or more weird idea with considerable conviction.

The Nobel Disease: Eight Thumbnail Sketches

Linus Pauling (1901–1994) received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research on the chemical bond (he also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962). In 1941, Pauling was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, which causes chronic inflammation of the kidneys. He adopted a low-protein, salt-free diet and ingested vitamin supplements, attributing his improvement to the latter. He later claimed that 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day can reduce the incidence of common colds by 45 percent. Pauling reportedly consumed at least 12,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily, far above the recommended daily allowance of sixty milligrams. Studies in the 1970s and 1980s by Pauling and psychiatrist Ewan Cameron seemed to suggest that megadoses of vitamin C were helpful in prolonging terminal cancer patients’ lives (Cameron and Pauling 1979). Nevertheless, the controls were not matched for age, stage of cancer, or quality of everyday functioning, rendering the data virtually uninterpretable. Furthermore, excess vitamin C is excreted through the urine and is of scant therapeutic value. Pauling also pursued the hypothesis that students’ grades improved after drinking orange juice for several months. In an article in Science, as well as in other publications, Pauling (1968) further argued that megadoses of vitamin C are effective for schizophrenia. Controlled studies afford little support for this hypothesis (Hoffer 2008). 

William Shockley (1910–1989), along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, received the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the transistor. As a professor at Stanford University, Shockley’s interests drifted into genetics. He argued without qualification that the Black vs. White IQ difference is largely or entirely genetic. He wrote, “My research leads me inescapably to the opinion that the major cause of the American Negro’s intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racial genetic in origin and thus not remediable to a major degree by practical improvements in environment” (New Scientist 1973, 432). He even maintained that “Nature has color-coded groups of individuals so that statistically reliable predictions of their adaptability to intellectual rewarding and effective lives can easily be made and profitably used by the pragmatic man-in-the street” (Shockley 1972, 307). Shockley endorsed the idea of “retrogressive evolution,” proposing that Blacks were reproducing more rapidly than Whites, causing a decline in the population’s overall intelligence. He promoted various radical solutions to this perceived problem, including offering financial incentives to genetically disadvantaged groups to undergo sterilization. Shockley donated his sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, pejoratively termed the “Nobel Prize sperm bank,” established with the intent of creating a eugenics program (Morrice 2005). Shockley was also a fervent advocate of the polygraph (“lie detector”) test, so much so that he once ordered his employees to take the test and proposed that Nobel laureates be asked the following question while connected to a polygraph machine: When you say there is no racial difference in IQ, do you really believe it? (Shurkin 1997, 241).

James Watson (1928–), like Shockley, has advanced several highly dubious claims about race. Watson, the 1962 Nobel Prize winner for codiscovering the structure of DNA along with Sir Francis Crick, has maintained categorically that Blacks are inherently less intelligent than Whites, a view he reiterated in a 2018 documentary. Watson has also suggested that obese people are less ambitious than other people; that exposure to sunlight in equatorial regions increases sexual urges; and that owing to their higher levels of melanin, dark-skinned people have a stronger sex drive than fair-skinned people (Brown 2001).

Brian Josephson (1940–) won the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his theoretical predictions of the properties of a supercurrent through a tunnel barrier” (Nobel Media AB 2019). In the late 1960s, Josephson became a follower of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of transcendental meditation (TM), and argued that TM “allows traumatic experiences to come back unrepressed to the mind’s eye” (New Scientist 1974, 416). In the early 1970s, Josephson launched the Mind-Matter Unification Project at Cambridge University to explore the relations between quantum mechanics and consciousness. In a booklet to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the Nobel Prize, Josephson noted that he was working hard to keep the United Kingdom at the “forefront of research” on telepathy. In addition, Josephson has been a vocal advocate of “water memory,” the purported mechanism underlying the debunked practice of homeopathy (Ernst 2010), which is premised on the notion that water can somehow “remember” the chemical properties of substances diluted in it. He has also promoted cold fusion, the discredited hypothesis that nuclear reactions can occur at room temperature.

Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907–1988), along with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz, shared the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries on the organization and causes of animal behavior (ethology). After receiving this prize, Tinbergen applied his ethological theories to autism spectrum disorder. His environmental hypotheses concerning the etiology of autism were highly speculative and inconsistent with burgeoning evidence at the time that this condition is primarily of genetic and neurological origin (Folstein and Rutter 1977). His work culminated in a book coauthored with his wife (Tinbergen and Tinbergen 1985) recommending “holding therapy” as a treatment for autism. This technique is based on the unsupported position that autism is caused by a defective attachment of child to mother, leading to interpersonal withdrawal and communication problems. According to Tinbergen, to cure autism parents must hold their children for long periods of time while trying to establish eye contact with them, even if they resist it. Subsequent data have indicated that holding therapy is empirically unsupported and can in some cases be physically dangerous (Mercer 2013).

Kary Mullis (1944–2019) shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993 with Michael Smith for creating polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which allows a small amount of DNA to be copied rapidly billions of times. Mullis expressed forceful disagreement with the view that AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). He claimed that this retrovirus is barely detectable in people with AIDS, maintaining that this finding raises serious questions concerning its role in the illness: “Years from now, people will find our acceptance of the HIV theory of AIDS as silly as we find those who excommunicated Galileo” (Mullis 1998, 180). Mullis also questioned the evidence for human-made global warming, stating on his website that “we have no good reason to think we understand climate. To make predictions about what follows from here and when, and to audaciously begin the discussion by implicating our humble species in the whole thing is worse than audacious, it’s pathetic.” In his autobiography, he endorsed several other strange ideas, saying that he once encountered a fluorescent raccoon that spoke to him (addressing him as “doctor”) and suggesting that the raccoon might have been an alien. In this book, Mullis also professed belief in astrology, asking rhetorically, “How could an institution of higher learning grant someone a Ph.D. in psychology without requiring at least a few courses in astrology?” (Mullis 1998, 151). 

Louis J. Ignarro (1941–), along with Robert Furchgott and Ferid Murad, received the 1998 Nobel in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. The discovery facilitated the development of new medications to treat cardiovascular disease, as well as of Viagra. A few years after receiving the Prize, Ignarro was hired as a consultant for Herbalife, a company that develops and markets empirically unsupported dietary supplements and vitamins, and became a member of its Scientific Advisory Board. Ignarro worked with Herbalife to promote a dietary supplement, Niteworks, a powdery mix of amino acids and antioxidants that purportedly boosts the body’s nitric oxide production. In 2004, Ignarro and his colleagues published a controlled study in mice touting the benefits of Niteworks’s ingredients (Napoli et al. 2004). Despite the unverified applicability of Niteworks to humans, Ignarro was quoted as saying, “What’s good for mice is good for humans” (Evans 2004). 

Luc Montagnier (1932–) and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi received the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of HIV. One year later, Montagnier published two papers in Interdisciplinary Sciences: Computational Life Sciences, a journal he founded and edited. In one of them, he maintained that diluted DNA from pathogenic bacterial and viral species can emit electromagnetic waves. When asked about his views about homeopathy, Montagnier responded: “I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions are right. … even at [a dilution of] 10−18, you can calculate that there is not a single molecule of DNA left. And yet we detect a signal” (Enserink 2010). Montagnier further claimed that most neurological diseases arise from electromagnetic waves emitted from viral or bacterial DNA in aqueous solutions (Montagnier et al. 2009). He also claims that vaccines cause autism and that autism can be successfully treated using antibiotics.

The Nobel Disease: Other Examples

These eight individuals are merely a subset of Nobel laureates who have held weird ideas. Others include:

  • Phillip Lenard, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1905 for his research on cathode rays, and Alexis Carrel, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912 for the invention of the perfusion pump; both promoted eugenics and Nazi racial theories (Carrel 1935; Gunderman 2015).
  • Portuguese neurosurgeon Egas Moniz won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1949 for prefrontal lobotomy. At a conference, Moniz learned that severing the connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain rendered chimpanzees docile; he then deduced that frontal lobotomy could be used to treat serious mental illness in humans and actively promoted it for this purpose (Tan and Yip 2014).
  • Still, other examples of Nobelists venturing into doubtful scientific territory include Julian Schwinger (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1966 for work on quantum electrodynamics), who authored several theoretical articles on cold fusion; Ivar Giaver (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 for work on electron tunneling in superconductors), who has repeatedly professed skepticism concerning global warming; Arthur Schawlow (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1981 for the co-invention of the laser), who was a vocal advocate of the scientifically debunked practice of facilitated communication for autism (he appeared in the 1994 Frontline documentary The Prisoners of Silence); Richard Smalley (Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 for the discovery of a third form of carbon), who has promoted anti-Darwinist ideas (Smalley 2005); and Wolfgang Pauli (Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945 for his discovery of the exclusion principle), who along with psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed the idea of synchronicity, a mystical phenomenon whereby events labeled as coincidences supposedly reveal an acausal connection between mental and physical experiences (Donati 2004).

Intelligence and Rationality: Implications for Skepticism

It perhaps goes without saying that Nobel laureates are not the only brilliant scientists to fall prey to questionable ideas. Alfred Russel Wallace, codiscoverer of the theory of natural selection along with Charles Darwin, advocated spiritualism and believed that nonmaterial forces explained the evolution of the human mind (Bensley 2006). Percival Lowell, a pioneer in planetary astronomy whose observations paved the way for the discovery of Pluto (Sharps et al. 2019), was convinced that he had discovered martian canals of intelligent origin. More recently, William Happer, a retired Princeton physicist whose discoveries facilitated higher-quality images of people’s lungs and astronomical objects, has forcefully rejected the scientific consensus on climate change (CO Coalition 2016).

The Nobel Disease, along with the stories of these three scientists, strongly suggest that high levels of general intelligence, traditionally conceptualized as the capacity to analyze and evaluate information, do not preclude high levels of irrational thinking (Shermer 2003; Stanovich 2009; Sternberg 2004). Intelligence tends to be only modestly correlated with immunity to most cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias and neglect of base rates (Stanovich and West 2008), consistent with the observation that even exceedingly smart people can fall prey to thinking errors. Whereas scores on intelligence measures reflect maximal performance (how well people can perform when pushed to the limit), scores on most cognitive bias measures reflect typical performance (how well people generally perform in everyday life) (Cronbach 1960). Therefore, even highly intelligent people may neglect to exercise their critical thinking capacities when they are insufficiently motivated to do so, especially when they are certain they are right. Although highly intelligent individuals may be more capable than other individuals of subjecting ideas to skeptical scrutiny, they may not always feel compelled to do so (Bensley 2006).

Preliminary evidence further suggests that intelligent people may have a somewhat larger bias blind spot than other people, meaning they are less aware of their propensity toward biases (Stanovich et al. 2013). Some authors have further argued that high levels of intelligence may exacerbate the risk of critical thinking failures; for instance, Sternberg (2004) proposed that several cognitive errors prevalent among the highly intelligent can predispose to irrationality; several may account for the weird ideas of some Nobel laureates. Unrealistic optimism occurs when people believe that because they are smart, they need not worry about intellectual errors. The sense of omniscience arises when people believe they are so intelligent that they know virtually everything. The sense of invulnerability emerges when people believe they are so smart that they are essentially immune to mistakes. If Sternberg is correct, by virtue of their high intellect Nobel laureates may be at risk for peculiar ideas, especially if they are not sufficiently intellectually humble.

Because personality data suggest that highly creative scientists tend to be more self-confident than other scientists (Feist 1998), intellectual humility may be more the exception than the rule among Nobel laureates in the sciences. As a consequence, Nobelists may need to be on guard against “intellectual overreach,” the mistake of assuming that because one is an expert in one domain, one is likely to display comparable levels of expertise in other domains (Dubner 2014).

In closing, our admittedly limited sample of Nobel Disease case studies reminds us that we should not confuse intelligence with rationality, nor confidence with correctness. They also remind us that we should be careful not to suspend our scientific skepticism even in the face of pronouncements by the most accomplished of scientists.


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Scott O. Lilienfeld

Scott O. Lilienfeld, PhD,is a professor of psychology at Emory University. He is coeditor of the book Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, Second Edition (2014) and author of several other books about science and pseudosciencein psychology.

Why there’s more to being smart than intelligence

There is much more to being smart than intelligence - multiple psychological factors contribute to feats of creativity and insight (Credit: Getty Images)

Multiple psychological factors contribute to astonishing feats of creativity and insight.

In the late 1920s, a young working-class boy nicknamed Ritty spent most of his time tinkering in his “laboratory” at his parents home in Rockaway, New York.

His lab was an old wooden packing box, equipped with shelves that contained a storage battery and an electric circuit of light bulbs, switches and resistors. One of his proudest inventions was a homemade burglar alarm that alerted him whenever his parents entered his room. He used a microscope to study the natural world and he would sometimes take his chemistry set into the street to perform tricks for other children.

Rittys early academic record was unremarkable. He struggled with literature and foreign languages, while, in an IQ test taken as a child, he reportedly scored around 125, which is above average but by no means genius territory. As an adolescent, however, he showed a flair for mathematics and started teaching himself from elementary textbooks. By the end of high school, Ritty reached the top place in a state-wide annual maths competition.

The rest is history. You might know Ritty as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, whose new theory of quantum electrodynamics revolutionised the study of subatomic particles.

Other scientists found the workings of Feynmans mind to be unfathomable. To his peers, he appeared to have an almost supernatural talent, leading the Polish-American mathematician Mark Kac to declare in his autobiography that Feynman was not just an ordinary genius, but “a magician of the highest calibre”.

Can modern psychology help us to decode that magic and to understand the makings of genius more generally?

Simply defining the term is a headache: there is no obvious objective criteria. But most definitions identify genius with exceptional achievement in at least one domain, with originality and flair that is recognised by other experts in the same discipline and which may spur many more advances.

Identifying the origins of genius, and the best means of cultivating it, has been an even harder task. Is it the product of a high general intelligence? Limitless curiosity? Grit and determination? Or is it the lucky combination of fortunate circumstances that are impossible to recreate artificially? Research on the lives of exceptional individuals – including studies of Nobel Prize winners such as Richard Feynman – can provide some clues.

The Termites

Lets begin with the Genetic Studies of Genius, a hugely ambitious project led by Lewis Terman, a psychologist based at the Stanford Graduate School of Education in the early 20th Century.

Graphs of IQ scores seemed to form a “normal distribution”, shaped like a bell centred on the average score of 100 points, meaning there are as many people that are above average as below, and IQs at either extreme are incredibly rare.

“There is nothing about an individual as important as an IQ,” declared Terman in an article on the subject, and predicted that a childs score would predict great achievement in later life.

Beginning in the early 1920s, Terman started scouring Californias schools for pupils with an IQ of at least 140, which he considered to be the threshold for genius. More than 1,000 children made the grade – a cohort that he and his colleagues would study for the next seven decades.

Many of these “Termites”, as they were affectionately known, went on to have successful careers. There was Shelley Smith Mydans, for example – a war reporter and novelist, and Jess Oppenheimer, a producer and writer who became famous for his work with the comedian Lucille Ball. (She called him “the brains” behind her acclaimed hit series I Love Lucy.) By the time of Termans death in the late 1950s, more than 30 had made it into the Whos Who in America – a book of influential people – and nearly 80 had been recognised in a reference book outlining the USs most prominent scientists, called American Men of Science. (Despite the name, women were eligible to be included, although the books name did not reflect this fact until the 1970s.)

When you look carefully at the data, however, these statistics do not offer strong support for the idea that people with high IQs are destined for greatness. Its important to control for potentially confounding factors such as the socioeconomic circumstances of the Termites families. Children with educated parents and more household resources tend to score better on IQ tests, and this privilege could, in turn, make it easier to have success later in life. Once this is taken into account, the Termites did not perform much more remarkably than any children of similar backgrounds.

Other studies looked at the IQ differences within the Terman group to see whether the top scorers were proportionately more likely to succeed than those who had only scraped in. They werent. When David Henry Fieldman examined measures of professional distinction, such as a lawyer being made a judge, or an architect winning a prestigious award, the people with IQs of more than 180 were only slightly more successful than those scoring 30 to 40 points less. “High IQ does not seem to indicate genius in the commonly understood sense of the word,” he concluded.

It is telling that Termans initial study had rejected two Californian boys – William Shockley and Walter Alvarez – who went go on to win Nobel Prizes for Physics, while none of the children who had made the grade would receive such an accolade.

Growing up in New York, Richard Feynman would have never had the chance to take part in the Genetic Studies of Genius, which took place in California. But even if he had been living near Stanford, where Terman was based, his alleged childhood IQ score of 125 would have meant that he would not have qualified either.

A multifaceted mind

The Termites life stories should not undermine the usefulness of IQ as a scientific tool. Although it is far from perfect, we know that IQ scores are correlated with educational attainment and income across the population. It will certainly help someone to grasp abstract concepts that are important in many disciplines – particularly those in mathematics, the sciences, engineering, or philosophy.

But when it comes to predicting the extraordinary achievements that could be considered genius, it seems to be only a small part of the picture.

Consider the capacity to think originally and to contribute something of value to your discipline – a rather fundamental criteria for genius. Intelligence tests typically involve questions testing verbal and non-verbal reasoning, and they often have a single right answer. This doesnt seem to capture some important elements of creativity, such as divergent thinking, which is the ability to generate new ideas.

To measure overall creative achievement, psychologists have developed detailed questionnaires that ask people how often they engage in various creative activities – such as writing literary works, composing music, designing buildings, or proposing scientific theories. Crucially, they are then asked to list the recognition for these projects – whether, for example, their work has ever been awarded a prize and if they have attracted media coverage. Thousands of participants have now completed these questionnaires for multiple studies, and they all show that IQ is only modestly correlated with participants scores on these measures.

Given these findings, it seems likely that intelligence is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for great creative achievements. If you have a higher IQ score then creative insights may be more likely. But your higher-than-average intelligence must be combined with a number of other traits to come up with something truly original and noteworthy. This would help to explain why the vast majority of the Termites did not make history in the way he had predicted. Despite having unusually high intelligence, they simply didnt have the other qualities that are necessary for genius.Could unquenchable curiosity be the spark that pushes someone towards being a genius? (Credit: Getty Images)

Could unquenchable curiosity be the spark that pushes someone towards being a genius? (Credit: Getty Images)

Our understanding of what those other essential traits might be is still evolving, but one important candidate is curiosity. Curiosity can be measured by questionnaires examining how much people enjoy exploring new ideas and trying new experiences, and they appear to be more creative in laboratory brainstorming tasks and in their personal lives.

The importance of curiosity for creative genius can also be seen in case studies of eminent figures. While it is not always possible to get these people to complete personality questionnaires themselves, researchers have asked biographers, familiar with the minutiae of their lives, to do so on their behalf. The biographers tended to score their subjects unusually highly on traits related to intellectual interest and exploration. For example, the 20th Century jazz musician John Coltrane was deeply fascinated in religious faiths, studying Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, many of the influences of which can be detected in his music.

Why would curiosity push someone towards genius? A hunger for knowledge should certainly motivate you to push the boundaries of limits within your own discipline, whereas others – with less of a need to know more – might just give up. Curiosity can also encourage someone to broaden their horizons beyond their specialism, which appears to bring its own benefits.

Nobel Prize-winning scientists, for example, list about three times as many personal hobbies as the average person – and they are particularly likely to engage in creative pursuits such as music, painting, or writing poetry. These pastimes may train the brain to generate and refine ideas, fuelling more original insights in the scientists main discipline.

The mastery of different fields trains you to look at problems from multiple viewpoints, which makes original insight more likely

Pursuing multiple interests can also lead to a fortuitous cross-pollination of ideas. The chemist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, for instance, won a Nobel Prize for her advances in x-ray crystallography, which allowed her to uncover the structure of biochemicals such as penicillin and vitamin B12. From adolescence, however, she had an intense interest in Byzantine mosaics, and her knowledge of their symmetries and geometry apparently helped her to understanding how repeating patterns of molecules could be arranged in crystals, which was instrumental to her scientific research.

As Waqas Ahmed, author of The Polymath, puts it: “In order for you to make a novel contribution to any given field, you need to look at that field through the broadest possible lens and to draw in as many sources of inspiration as possible.” The mastery of different fields trains you to look at problems from multiple viewpoints, which makes original insight more likely. He points to Maya Angelou – the poet, journalist, actor, filmmaker, and civil rights activist who also enjoyed work as a dancer and singer – as a modern example of a polymath whose multiple interests offered much more than the sum of their parts and together fuelled her astonishing creativity.

The life of Richard Feynman certainly fits these trends. Think of all that time in childhood that he spent tinkering in his laboratory, pursuing different projects in multiple disciplines. And as an adult, he taught himself to draw, play the bongos, speak Portuguese and Japanese, and read hieroglyphs, and even embarked on a side project in genetics.

One day, in the university cafeteria, he happened to notice a man throwing plates and catching them. He noticed that they wobbled as they moved and started sketching out equations to describe their motion. He soon saw parallels with the activity of electrons in orbit around the atom – an insight that led to his Nobel Prize-winning work on quantum electrodynamics.

From this scientific and anecdotal evidence, it might be easy to conclude that intelligence combined with curiosity is the winning formula for genius. But of course, thats not true either – there will be many more pieces to the puzzle.Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin drew on her interest in Byzantine mosaics in her research on biochemicals (Credit: Getty Images)

Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin drew on her interest in Byzantine mosaics in her research on biochemicals (Credit: Getty Images)

There is grit, for instance – a dogged pursuit of your passions even when you face setbacks.  Any genius, in any discipline, must first master a huge amount of knowledge and skill before they can make their own breakthrough, and that typically comes with years of practice. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has pioneered research on grit, and her findings suggest that, like IQ and curiosity, it contributes to various measures of success.

Geniuses will also employ “metacognitive strategies” – which describes all the processes that we use to plan our projects, monitor our progress and find better, more efficient strategies to do what we need to do. Without this useful reflection on our work, we may find ourselves wasting time that could have been better spent in fruitful practice or exploration. This may sound obvious, but some people struggle to think strategically so that they can make the most of their efforts – and thats going to make it much harder to reach a high level of achievement.

Finally, theres intellectual humility – a neglected but fundamental trait. Recent research by Tenelle Porter at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, shows that a capacity to acknowledge your flaws and limitations boosts learning – since it encourages you to tackle your errors head on and fill in the gaps in your thinking. In the long-term, that will contribute to greater growth in any discipline. Feynman appears to have recognised this. “I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong,” he said in a TV interview.

Even if someone has all these positive traits, luck undoubtedly plays a large part in determining who will and won’t rise above their peers. You need to be in the right place, at the right time, surrounded by the right people, to be able to make the most of your talents – and even the most promising individuals could easily miss the opportunities to shine. It’s not hard to imagine a brilliant scientist who was unfairly rejected for a place in a lab that might have offered the perfect nurturing environment to cultivate their abilities; or an artist who missed all the social connections to be exhibited prominently.

That’s not to mention the structural barriers – associated with race, gender, or sexuality – preventing many brilliant minds from reaching their potential and the recognition that they deserve. As Virginia Woolf noted in A Room of One’s Own, the basic requirements for creativity, such as the time and privacy to work, had been – and still are – denied to large segments of the population. The role of good fortune in achievement offers another good reason for successful people to maintain their humility, even after they have started to gain recognition for their accomplishments.

The humble genius

Sadly, many people take a rose-tinted view of their path to their recognition as a genius. They begin to believe that their exceptional minds guaranteed success and that their judgements are infallible – a loss of humility often comes to tarnish their reputation. 

Science writers have long noted the existence of “Nobel Disease” – a tongue-in-cheek term that is used to describe the tendency of some Nobel winners to form rather irrational theories later in life. Multiple scientists who stood on Stockholm City Halls podium to accept the pinnacle of recognition in their discipline have gone on to express absurd justifications for Aids denialism, climate denialism, vaccine denialism, scientific racism, and the endorsement of pseudoscientific treatments such as homeopathy.

Socrates, of course, taught us about this millennia ago. In Apology, Plato describes how his teacher wandered the streets of Athens to meet the citys most successful poets, artisans and politicians. Eventually, he recognised that the wisest people were those who could acknowledge the limits of their knowledge.

The lesson is as relevant for would-be geniuses today as it was 2,400 years ago. No matter how great your talents, there will always be something you do not know.

Two generations of botanists end titanic task: Describing the 6,120 plants of Spain and Portugal

A project spanning 39 years and 255 authors has found that 22% of species in the Iberian peninsula do not grow anywhere else in the world

'Narcissus cyclamineus', a species that was believed to be extinct, has been located in Portugal and northwestern Spain.
‘Narcissus cyclamineus’, a species that was believed to be extinct, has been located in Portugal and northwestern Spain.C. A.

A plant of the grass family native to the Americas that was introduced in parts of Spain, Muhlenbergia schreberi, is the very last entry in a vast botanical inventory that was 39 years in the making and required the efforts of two generations of experts.

The description of this particular species was the final touch on the comprehensive catalog’s 25th volume, which went to print this past summer. The project, known as Proyecto Flora ibéricahas been hailed by specialists as the greatest milestone in the classification of the region’s biodiversity since the days of the illustrious 19th-century botanist Heinrich Moritz Willkomm, who led plant-collecting expeditions in Spain and Portugal.

The first volume of Flora ibérica was published in 1986. Almost four decades later, the plant encyclopedia lists 6,120 species, of which 22% are endemic, meaning they do not grow in any other part of the world. This figure represents around half of all the plants in Europe, underscoring how the relevance of the project extends well beyond Spain and Portugal’s borders.

Yet so far, there have been no public celebrations, no presentations, not even an official announcement. Carlos Aedo, a researcher at Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden and coordinator of the final phase of the project, said that to 21st-century Spanish science, the impact of classifying species is “irrelevant.”

The researcher Carlos Aedo inside his office at Madrid's Royal Botanical Garden.
The researcher Carlos Aedo inside his office at Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden.JAIME VILLANUEVA

The titanic task required input from no fewer than 255 authors from 72 institutions in 14 countries, including 27 Spanish and seven Portuguese universities. “Making this possible required two generations of botanists,” said Aedo, who joined the enterprise as an intern at age 30 and ended up as its coordinator.

The project lists all the vascular plants (those with water-carrying tissues such as roots, leaves and stems, as opposed to non-vascular plants like mosses) in the Iberian peninsula. The inventory extends to mainland Spain and Portugal, the microstate of Andorra and Spain’s Balearic Islands. It did not take islands in the Atlantic Ocean – including Spain’s Canaries and Portugal’s Madeira – into account because of their completely different biodiversity.

The plant species ‘Phyllodoce caerulea,’ is extremely rare. There were doubts about whether it was located in the Spanish part of the Iberian peninsula, but it was later found in Arán valley in Lleida.
The plant species ‘Phyllodoce caerulea,’ is extremely rare. There were doubts about whether it was located in the Spanish part of the Iberian peninsula, but it was later found in Arán valley in Lleida.

The number of endemic species in the Iberian peninsula is much higher than in other parts of Europe. “In Germany, you can count them on the fingers of your hands,” noted Aedo. “Iberian flora is very rich, as it is across the Mediterranean. In terms of diversity it is similar to Greece and Italy, and a bit below Turkey.” Aedo explained that glacial periods in northern Europe killed off a lot of plant life there when the ground was covered with ice.

Fewer than 100 specimens of this curious plant, 'Solenanthus revechonii,' are known to exist on Earth, and all of them are located in the mountains of Cazorla, in southern Spain. They have been protected from herbivores by a system of fences.
Fewer than 100 specimens of this curious plant, ‘Solenanthus revechonii,’ are known to exist on Earth, and all of them are located in the mountains of Cazorla, in southern Spain. They have been protected from herbivores by a system of fences.C. A.

With the advent of the digital era, work became easier. At first, researchers would mail one another photocopies; each author’s work had to be physically sent to a scientific editor who in turn ran it by a team of 50 advisors before having a secretary do a final proofread. These days, the volumes are available online on the digital library of Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden.

Another challenge was deciding on the proper name of each plant, considering that the same word is colloquially used for many different species depending on the region. The word aulaga, for instance, is used across Spain to mean 25 different species.

Too big for one lifetime

In Spain, 'Muscari parviflorum' can only be found on the coast of Málaga and on the island of Mallorca.
In Spain, ‘Muscari parviflorum’ can only be found on the coast of Málaga and on the island of Mallorca.C. A.

The driving force behind an initiative that began in 1982 was the biologist Santiago Castroviejo, former director of Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden, who died in 2009 at the age of 63 without seeing his project completed. Of the two other main figures behind Flora ibérica, Pedro Montserrat passed away in 2017 as he was about to turn 99. Only the Portuguese botanist Jorge Paiva, who at age 88 continues to send in corrections, has lived to see the 25 volumes in print.

The reason for drawing up an inventory of all the plants on the Iberian peninsula was the fact that, until now, Spain was one of the very few European countries lacking such a list. In fact, in 1982 the main reference book for Spanish plant scholars was still Prodromus Florae Hispanicae, written in Latin in the 1800s by the German botanist Willkomm and his Danish counterpart Johan Martin Christian Lange.

“Although the heyday for Spanish botanists was the 18th century, at that time they were focusing more on the plants of the Americas,” said Aedo. “Later there was an attempt by [Mariano] Lagasca in the early 19th century, but he was forced into exile in London because of his political activity as a liberal, and another project by [Pius] Font i Quer in the 20th century, after the [Spanish] Civil War, did not come to pass either.”

Finding new species

This gem, 'Naufraga balearica', grows on the cliffs in the north of the island of Mallorca. If it is finally confirmed as extinct in Corsica, it will mean that this is the last refuge of the species.
This gem, ‘Naufraga balearica’, grows on the cliffs in the north of the island of Mallorca. If it is finally confirmed as extinct in Corsica, it will mean that this is the last refuge of the species.UICN/SSC/MPSG

Despite the staggering figures, the register is not final: the plant world is in a constant state of flux and new species are emerging even as others become extinct. There were even times when botanists found plants that did not match any existing records. This was the case with an asparagus plant from the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia, which was named Asparagus macrorrhizus, and grows exclusively in the few surviving sandbanks between the buildings of La Manga and San Javier near the Mar Menor, a saltwater lagoon that has made world headlines because of its life-killing pollution levels. During their endeavor, scientists have discovered other new species such as Gadoria falukei, which only grows in rocky terrain in the mountains of Gador (Almería), or Primula subpyrenaica, discovered in the Pyrenees.

What is not known cannot be protected, hence the importance of these types of tallies. The effort will help with land management, but also support research by scientists and scholars. Yet participants complain their work is not being valued. “This doesn’t happen everywhere. In the US, when a researcher who has spent 10 years collecting plants in Bolivia returns, he gets named head of the herbarium at the Missouri Botanical Garden,” said Aedo. “Any scientist wishing to survive in Spain needs to obsessively publish articles in high-impact magazines, while other structural projects are considered irrelevant. It’s the end of an era.”

Centuries later, the legacy of European colonialism is still alive in the natural landscape

The British, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish empires standardized the vegetation of regions that were oceans apart and separated by thousands of miles

Prickly pear cactus outside Ronda, Málaga. Originally from Mexico, it is an invasive species in Australia, South Africa and mainland Spain.
Prickly pear cactus outside Ronda, Málaga. Originally from Mexico, it is an invasive species in Australia, South Africa and mainland Spain.EDUCATION IMAGES (UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY)

There are thousands of miles separating the north of Australia, the south of South Africa and eastern Canada. There is also a vast distance between the Mexican Pacific and Spain’s Canary Islands, or between Southeast Asia and Suriname. However, their vegetation is more alike than nature would dictate. It is the still visible trace of European colonialism.

A group of researchers has overlapped the extension and duration of four major empires with the current distribution of thousands of plant species. They have verified that many regions share a landscape decades and even centuries after those empires fell. The British was the one that most modified the environment, and the Dutch the least. In between are Spain (the second most transformative) and Portugal.

In their travels, humans have always carried with them part of the flora of their homeland. Whether for food, aesthetics, nostalgia or simply by accident, the introduction of exotic species that end up adapting to the new environment is a constant in human history. But this transfer grew by a previously unknown scale with the beginning of the era of colonial empires when, starting around 1492, Europeans connected all corners of the planet.

Experts in biological invasions used the most recent information housed in GloNAF, a worldwide database containing the distribution of naturalized plants, to determine their presence in almost 1,200 regions that were once colonies of one or more metropolises. The results were published in the scientific journalNature Ecology & Evolution.

As expected in empires as large and diverse as the four under study (Spanish, British, Dutch and Portuguese), there is a great heterogeneity of landscapes. The variable that most influences the diversity of the vegetation in any given place is the climate. But researchers soon observed that when comparing different and distant regions belonging to the same empire, some had a greater degree of similarity than would be caused simply by climate, latitude or random chance.

Bernd Lenzner, a botanist at the University of Vienna (Austria) and main author of the study, says that there are a series of explanations for this tendency to uniformity within each empire. “One, which we consider important, is that the British Empire was, on the one hand, very long-lasting, but also very recent.” In effect, in their analysis, they observe that the longer a region belonged to an empire, the greater plant resemblance. Imperial longevity would also explain much of the common landscape in various areas of the former Spanish empire. Some, like various Mexican or Andean ecoregions, belonged to the Spanish crown for 290 years.

Rubber plantation in the Thai province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. Originally from the Amazon rainforest, the English and Dutch introduced it to Southeast Asia.
Rubber plantation in the Thai province of Nakhon Si Thammarat. Originally from the Amazon rainforest, the English and Dutch introduced it to Southeast Asia.SURAPAN BOONTHAMON (REUTERS)

The when of each empire also played a role. The Spanish Empire began to extend before the British did, and expansion was conducted chiefly on wooden ships. Britain, on the other hand, expanded through ships and trains with steam engines, which facilitated the connection between the different parts of the British territory. In the 16th and 17th centuries, led by the Spanish, there were hardly any plans for the conscious introduction and naturalization of species from one place to another. It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries, the golden age of the British empire, that botanical gardens and societies became popular, seeking to clone the English countryside in the colonies.

The governing style of each empire was also a relevant factor. “The restrictive trade policies of European empires ensured that plants were predominantly traded between regions occupied by the same power. Therefore, the set of species exchanged between regions was limited to the territory of the empire and, as a result, these areas became more similar in their flora compared to those outside,” notes Lenzner. Both Spain and Portugal, and to a lesser extent Britain, only allowed trade within the empire; everything else was considered contraband. The case of the Dutch empire, the one with the least similarity among its colonies, evidences the opposite connection. The Netherlands maintained more open trade policies, which would have facilitated greater heterogeneity. Even so, there are significant exceptions, such as the commercial introduction of rubber production in Southeast Asia, separated by thousands of kilometers and two oceans from what is now Suriname, the original home of the weeping tree from which natural latex is obtained.

“The restrictive trade policies of European empires ensured that plants were predominantly traded between regions occupied by the same power”Bernd Lenzner, botanist at the University of Vienna and expert in invading species

The research also reveals that the central regions of each empire exhibit greater similarity in their landscapes. In particular, areas with commercial relevance, administrative capitals and major ports show more plant convergence within each empire. This is the case of the coast of the current state of Guerrero, Baja California (Mexico) and Nariño (Colombia). In the British Empire, eastern Australia and India stand out.

In the opposite direction, from the colonies to the metropolis, researchers barely observed significant modifications in the natural landscape of the ancient empires, beyond a few exotic gardens (agricultural species were not included in the study). An exception would be the naturalization of various species of cacti, such as prickly pears, now present in much of Spain and southern Italy. Franz Essl, also from the University of Vienna and a senior author of this research, said that the metropolis often functioned “as a center for the propagation of exotic plants, since in many cases new species were introduced from the colonies first to the mother country, and later they were spread to other regions within the empire.”

Animal invasions, such as rabbits in Australia, have been well documented. But the impact of exotic flora can also be significant. “I agree that notorious cases of species well known to humans, such as rabbits, stand out for their harmful nature. But non-native plants can profoundly alter habitats and ecosystems”, notes Essl. One example is cat’s claw (Carpobrotus edulis). Originally from South Africa, “it was introduced as an ornamental species in Mediterranean regions around the world, where it has become very abundant along the coasts and where it outcompetes specialized native plant species,” he says. Essl also has a special mention for islands. In previous work he and his colleagues showed that more than a quarter of all the islands studied now have more exotic plant species than native ones. Prominent examples are, for example, Hawaii or Mauritius, imagined by many as almost pristine paradises. “There, exotic plant species have strongly transformed island ecosystems,” warns the scientist.

One factor that aggravates the impact of plant colonialism is that plants are at the base of every ecosystem. Another is time. “We knew that alien species can take decades to establish and spread within a region into which they have been introduced, and that this process often takes place with a substantial delay,” he recalls. But he adds: “Detecting such legacies several decades, sometimes even centuries, after the collapse of European empires is something to reckon with. This shows that we need to be very careful and aware of which species we move around the world.”

Dead Sea Scrolls: Ancient world’s multicultural secrets revealed by handwriting analysis

Advanced techniques based on artificial intelligence are revealing new information about daily life in parts of the Roman Empire

The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, which contains the Dead Sea Scrolls, was designed by Frederick Kiesler and Armand Philip Bartos.
The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, which contains the Dead Sea Scrolls, was designed by Frederick Kiesler and Armand Philip Bartos.

Around 2,100 years ago, a Judaean scribe deftly swirled a stylus to dab the final strokes of black ink onto a piece of parchment.

His work, a copy of the biblical Book of Isaiah from the Old Testament, would soon be complete in the form of a seven-metre-long scroll. But was he finishing his own work – or someone else’s?

Though the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered more than 70 years ago, sophisticated computing techniques are now revealing the invisible hands that wrote the famous texts and Professor Mladen Popović at the University of Groningen thinks he knows the answer.

“My simple idea was to use palaeography – their handwriting,” he said.

Palaeography is the scientific study of ancient handwritten texts. The goal of the palaeographer is to identify the location and time of writing. Texts come on parchment but also pottery, metal, cloth and even casual graffiti as discovered on the walls of Pompeii.

Muscle movements

“The way you write, the way I write, is very person-specific,” Popović said. “It is your muscle movements and it is very individual.”

Working with Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert Professor Lambert Schomaker and other team members as part of the Horizon-funded HandsandBible project, he developed new machine learning computing methods to analyse ancient handwriting digitally.

‘The beauty of the technology we have now is that you can make high spectral images and go down to the pixel level, and then make all sorts of calculations which you can boil down to movement,’ said Popović. “Through their handwriting, we can, as it were, shake hands with them.”

Researchers spent many long hours painstakingly tracing Hebrew letters to teach a computer model what was ink and what was not. The results were 3D models of manuscript texts that include more than 5,000 dimensions of calculations.

Isaiah scroll

Back in a lab in the Netherlands, Maruf Dhali, one of the team members, was puzzled by the results the computer model was producing.

It showed that, roughly halfway through the text of the Isaiah scroll, the handwriting changed enough to indicate another scribe took over. While statistically significant, it was barely perceptible visually.

Many of the fragments were found in 1947 by shepherds in caves near the Dead Sea. They were sold to the highest bidder, and some of the ones that are currently on display were donated by collectors from all over the world.
Many of the fragments were found in 1947 by shepherds in caves near the Dead Sea. They were sold to the highest bidder, and some of the ones that are currently on display were donated by collectors from all over the world.EFE

The researchers considered other options. Could he have changed his pen? Or had he perhaps stopped writing and picked up again much later?

“They write so alike, but the most likely explanation really is that there are two different scribes,” said Popović. “One scribe is so good at imitating the other that, with the naked human eye, you can’t really see that.”

While scholars had previously debated whether or not there were multiple writers of the Isaiah scroll, this was the first robust evidence that two scribes had produced it.

Could the AI be wrong? Less likely, according to Popović.

“The human palaeographer, the expert, is much more of a black box,” he said. ‘We don’t really know what goes on in our minds. Of course, we have this expertise, but we cannot explain all of our palaeographic reasoning.”

By using a trained computer, he says, palaeographers are challenged to better explain the observations they make with human eyes.

Time machine

The ability to drill down to the handwriting of individual scribes and connect them with various works opens up a whole new way for researchers to look at texts, as well as understand their scribal culture.

For instance, there is evidence that some Dead Sea Scroll scribes were just learning how to write. A scribe was discovered who wrote both Hebrew manuscripts and Aramaic (an ancient language which was the lingua franca of the Middle East 2,000 to 3,000 years ago) ones, giving researchers new insights into their language abilities.

“Another example is how we look at those scribes – is there also some individuality or space for them to manoeuvre?” said Popović. ‘We see there is variation there, so they were not just slavish robots copying what they were told to copy.”

With this palaeographic approach, these scrolls even act like a sort of time machine.

“We can see a little part of what was the cultural evolution that became the Bible,” he said. “It’s the same sort of scribal culture. The way they write here was also how they worked two to three centuries before.”

Ancient writers

Professor Maria Chiara Scappaticcio has also been using texts to reveal new details from the lives of ancient people.

Stemming from the era when Rome controlled Egypt between 30 BCE and 641 AD, she and her team have been travelling from Berkeley to Berlin to catalogue fragmentary papyrus rolls that contain Latin as part of the Horizon-supported PLATINUM project.

They have been combing through the papyri using techniques like ultraviolet photography. In this way, they have been able to discover new texts, as well as better understand the meaning of existing ones.

The fragments are revealing much about the daily lives of ordinary people, according to Scappaticcio.

The team has been working on “documents between private people who were lending things, letters between soldiers asking fornew shoes, etc.,” she said.

Ancient multiculturalism

But the texts also gave the team a chance to better understand the lives of Roman Egyptians and how their identity mixed with Roman culture of the time.

“Multiculturalism and multilingualism are key words of our reality,” said Scappaticcio. “It was actually almost the same thinking about antiquity, with the necessary caveat due to the chronologic distance.”

Researchers found texts of the Aeneid, the Latin epic verse penned by Virgil glorifying the foundation of Rome, being used in local language instruction.

“In the peripheral areas of the Empire, Latin was the language of power,” she said. “Rome imposed its power, and literature was one of the instruments through which to do that.”

Through their research, her team was even able to uncover the first text showing Arabic transliterated as Latin, as well a literary work by Seneca the Elder (father of the better known Roman philosopher by the same name) thought to have been completely lost.

The team has assembled an exceptional number of texts in this new study. “In 2023, we will publish a corpus of roughly 1,500 Latin texts on papyri,” said Scappaticcio.

A previous collection, from 1958, contained a mere 300 texts. The goal is to allow a broader range of scholars to access Latin works written and circulating from the fringes of the Roman Empire.

“I hope it will be a point of departure, using this corpus as a tool to investigate Roman orientalism,” she said. “It was an open society and a lot of aspects flowed from one culture to another. It was not so much different from today.”

A race against time as Ukrainians prepare for winter

Residents of Irpin – a Ukrainian city only 17 miles west from the capital Kyiv – are winter-proofing bomb shelters as temperatures drop

In Irpin, on Tuesday, November 1, a group of children play beside pallets that their parents will chop up to be used as firewood for the winter.
In Irpin, on Tuesday, November 1, a group of children play beside pallets that their parents will chop up to be used as firewood for the winter.LUIS DE VEGA

In the Ukrainian city of Irpin – which successfully resisted the Russian invasion in February and March of 2022 – children play alongside huge piles of pallets and tree trunks. Whenever they have a free moment, their parents chop up the wood, so that it can eventually be used as fuel in the wintertime.

Residents plan on using the same shelters that have protected them from Russian bombardments as places to stay warm in the coldest months. Mayor Oleksandr Markushin tells EL PAÍS that, despite the state aid they receive, they do not have enough funds to face the toughest months of the year.

“The most urgent thing now is to fix roofs and windows,” he says, “not to mention the generators.”

Across the city, shrapnel and bullet holes mark the buildings’ facades. The impact of Russian attacks on the city’s energy infrastructure is still apparent – several workers, with the help of a crane, are scrambling to patch up holes left by projectiles, so as to blunt the impact of cold temperatures on the inhabitants.

Russian forces have been battering Ukraine continuously for the past eight months. Tactical strikes have been deployed by the Kremlin to leave civilians without electricity, water and gas. The government in Kyiv estimates that nearly 40% of all energy infrastructure has been damaged – power cuts and rationing are a daily occurrence. In the most recent power cut, nearly 4.5 million residences across Ukraine were left in the dark.

Valentina Bratkevich, a resident and administrator in Irpin, is adapting a basement for the winter.
Valentina Bratkevich, a resident and administrator in Irpin, is adapting a basement for the winter.LUIS DE VEGA

Valentina Bratkevich – a resident and administrator in the community – recently bought a boiler, which she’s since installed in her basement. The 45-year-old army reservist and mother of four used this space to shelter her family during the worst Russian assaults. Now, she’s renovating it, so that it can withstand the harsh temperatures of winter. Salvaged furniture has been crammed into the basement’s common area – she and her family plan on spending a lot of time here in the coming months.

Artillery damage marks the facade of a building in Irpin.
Artillery damage marks the facade of a building in Irpin.LUIS DE VEGA

In Irpin, 320 buildings and over 1,000 houses need doors and windows to be replaced, according to information provided by the city council. In some cases, repairs must also be carried out on roofs, boiler rooms, water-pumping facilities and unstable foundations. The authorities are urgently demanding generators to help them deal with blackouts and supply cuts in hospitals, schools and temporary accommodations for populations who are displaced or have been left homeless.

“We’ve already inaugurated a modular city… we’re going to open another one, so that people can spend the winter,” the mayor explains. At one point, several months ago, only 5% of Irpin’s 100,000 residents were living in the city – most had been evacuated. Today, however, 82% of the population has returned, making the need for appropriate housing even greater.

Across the city, the work of clearing debris continues. Several members of a recycling company load a truck and a van with all the damaged metal they can gather: there are broken heaters, bed bases, windows, roof sheets, pipes, appliances and ironing boards.

Jana Ischenko, 50, is the community accountant. She closely follows the process, while taking notes in front of the scale. She’s in charge of managing the sale of all of this scrap metal: residents get about 3 cents per pound.

Workers weigh all the scrap metal gathered from a building, damaged by Russian attacks, so that they can determine the price that will be paid to the residents.
Workers weigh all the scrap metal gathered from a building, damaged by Russian attacks, so that they can determine the price that will be paid to the residents.LUIS DE VEGA

An unnamed 30-year-old who witnesses the scene comments proudly upon seeing the neighborhood’s level of organization. People care more about moving forward, rather than complaining about the conditions or protesting against the central government.

“This level of organization and solidarity comes from before the war,” Valentina Bratkevich clarifies, referencing the difficult days of the Soviet era, when shortages and power cuts were common. But, despite everything, the residents of Irpin are frustrated that more government aid has not arrived from Kyiv.

The mayor is confident that, within two weeks, the city will receive aid from UNITED24, a fundraising initiative started by President Zelenskiy, which has attracted famous donors, such as Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn and Ben Stiller.

In the meantime, locals have been dipping into their own pockets to support each other. In one damaged building, for example, 70% of the 93 owners have each contributed the equivalent of 600 dollars to a common fund that will pay to repair the structure. Those who are not in a position to pay have not been forced to contribute, although they will benefit from the winter-proofing.

In any case, Mayor Markushin is aware that the reconstruction of his city will not be complete before the sub-zero months. Faced with this bleak outlook, he never tires of calling for help, whether it comes from inside or outside of Ukraine.

Are Trees Talking Underground? For Scientists, It’s In Dispute.

A woman in a light-colored jacket with dark pants and light-colored hair examines the floor of a forest that is covered in sandy-colored vegetation. The trees appear to be evergreens.
Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, examines a forested area of her campus. Dr. Jones and her colleagues are part of a skeptical reaction to the theory of the “wood-wide web.”Credit…Jennilee Marigomen for The New York Times

From Ted Lasso to TED Talks, the theory of the “wood-wide web” is everywhere, and some scientists argue that it is overblown and unproven.

Justine Karst, a mycologist at the University of Alberta, feared things had gone too far when her son got home from eighth grade and told her he had learned that trees could talk to each other through underground networks.

Her colleague, Jason Hoeksema of the University of Mississippi, had a similar feeling when watching an episode of “Ted Lasso” in which one soccer coach told another that trees in a forest cooperated rather than competed for resources.

Few recent scientific discoveries have captured the public’s imagination quite like the wood-wide web — a wispy network of fungal filaments hypothesized to shuttle nutrients and information through the soil and to help forests thrive. The idea sprouted in the late 1990s from studies showing that sugars and nutrients can flow underground between trees. In a few forests, researchers have traced fungi from the roots of one tree to those of others, suggesting that mycelial threads could be providing conduits between trees.

These findings have challenged the conventional view of forests as a mere population of trees: Trees and fungi are, in fact, coequal players on the ecological stage, scientists say. Without both, forests as we know them wouldn’t exist.

Scientists and nonscientists alike have drawn grand and sweeping conclusions from this research. They have posited that shared fungal networks are ubiquitous in forests around the world, that they help trees talk to each other and, as “Ted Lasso’s” Coach Beard articulated, that they make forests fundamentally cooperative places, with trees and fungi united in common purpose — a dramatic departure from the usual Darwinian picture of interspecies competition. The concept has been featured in numerous media reportsTV shows and best-selling books, including a Pulitzer Prize winner. It even shows up in “Avatar,” the highest-grossing movie of all time.

And the theory could be starting to influence what happens in real forests. Some scientists, for example, have suggested managing forests explicitly to protect fungal networks.

Justine Karst, a mycologist at the University of Alberta, during a visit to Bunchberry Meadows near Edmonton. She was worried when her son came from 8th grade and told her trees talk underground.Credit…Todd Korol for The New York Times

But as the wood-wide web has gained fame, it has also inspired a backlash among scientists. In a recent review of published research, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Melanie Jones, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, found little evidence that shared fungal networks help trees to communicate, swap resources or thrive. Indeed, the trio said, scientists have yet to show that these webs are widespread or ecologically significant in forests.

For some of their peers, such a reality check is long overdue. “I think this is a very timely talk,” said Kabir Peay, a mycologist at Stanford University, about a presentation Dr. Karst recently gave. He hoped it could “reorient the field.”

Others, however, maintain that the wood-wide web is on firm ground and are confident that further research will confirm many of the hypotheses proffered about fungi in forests. Colin Averill, a mycologist at ETH Zurich, said that the evidence Dr. Karst marshaled is impressive. But, he added, “the way I interpret the totality of that evidence is completely different.”

Most plant roots are colonized by mycorrhizal fungi, forming one of Earth’s most widespread symbioses. The fungi gather water and nutrients from the soil; they then swap some of these treasures with plants in exchange for sugars and other carbon-containing molecules.

David Read, a botanist then at the University of Sheffield, showed in a 1984 paper that compounds labeled with a radioactive form of carbon could flow via fungi between lab-grown plants. Years later, Suzanne Simard, then an ecologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Forests, demonstrated two-way carbon transfer in a forest between young Douglas fir and paper birch trees. When Dr. Simard and her colleagues shaded Douglas firs to reduce how much they photosynthesized, the trees’ absorption of radioactive carbon spiked, suggesting that underground carbon flow could boost young trees’ growth in the shady understory.

Dr. Simard and colleagues published their results in 1997 in the journal Nature, which splashed it on the cover and christened the discovery the “wood-wide web.” Soon after, a group of senior researchers criticized the study, saying it had methodological flaws that confounded the results. Dr. Simard responded to the critiques, and she and her colleagues designed additional studies to address them.

Over time, the criticisms faded, and the wood-wide web gained adherents. Dr. Simard’s 1997 paper has garnered almost 1,000 citations and her 2016 TED Talk, “How trees talk to each other,” has been viewed more than 5 million times.

In his book “The Hidden Life of Trees,” which has sold more than 2 million copies, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, cited Dr. Simard when describing forests as social networks and mycorrhizal fungi as “fiber-optic internet cables” that help trees inform each other about dangers such as insects and drought.

Scenes from Rowan Oak in Oxford, Miss. Advocates of the wood-wide web theory believe evidence will mount in its favor. “If you ask me if in the future, we will be showing that trees actually can communicate,” one said.Credit…Robert Wayne Lewis for The New York Times

Subterranean forest research has continued to grow, too. In 2016, Tamir Klein, a plant ecophysiologist then at the University of Basel and now at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, extended Dr. Simard’s research into a mature Swiss forest of spruce, pine, larch and beech trees. His team tracked carbon isotopes from one tree to the roots of other nearby trees, including different species, in an experimental forest plot. The researchers attributed most of the carbon movement to mycorrhizal fungi but acknowledged they had not proven it.

Dr. Simard, who has been at the University of British Columbia since 2002, has led further studies showing that large, old “mother” trees are hubs of forest networks and can send carbon underground to younger seedlings. She has argued in favor of the view that trees communicate via mycorrhizal networks and against a long-held idea that competition between trees is the dominant force shaping forests. In her TED Talk, she called trees “super-cooperators.”

But as the wood-wide web’s popularity has soared both inside and outside scientific circles, a skeptical reaction has evolved. Last year, Kathryn Flinn, an ecologist at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, argued in Scientific American that Dr. Simard and others had exaggerated the degree of cooperation among trees in forests. Most experts, Dr. Flinn wrote, believe that groups of organisms whose members sacrifice their own interests on behalf of the community rarely evolve, a result of the powerful force of natural selection among competing individuals.

Instead, she suspects, fungi most likely distribute carbon according to their own interests, not those of trees. “That, to me, seems like the simplest explanation,” she said in an interview.

Dr. Jones was a co-author of a paper in 1997 by Suzanne Simard that started the idea of the wood-wide web. Credit…Jennilee Marigomen for The New York Times

Even some who once promoted the idea of shared fungal networks are rethinking the hypothesis. Dr. Jones, one of Dr. Simard’s co-authors in 1997, says she regrets that she and her colleagues wrote in the paper that they had evidence for fungal connections between trees. In fact, Dr. Jones says, they did not examine whether fungi mediated the carbon flows.

For their recent literature review, Dr. Karst, Dr. Hoeksema and Dr. Jones rounded up all the studies they could find that made claims about either the structure or the function of such underground fungal networks. The researchers focused on field studies in forests, not lab or greenhouse experiments.

In an August presentation based on the review at the International Mycorrhiza Society conference in Beijing, Dr. Karst argued that much of the evidence used to support the wood-wide web hypothesis could have other explanations. For example, in many papers, scientists assumed that if they found a particular fungus on multiple tree roots or that resources moved between trees the trees must be directly linked. But few studies ruled out alternate possibilities, for instance that resources could travel part of the way through the soil.

Some experimenters, including Dr. Karst and her colleagues, have installed fine meshes and have sometimes added trenches or air gaps between seedlings to disrupt hypothesized fungal networks and then tested whether those changes altered growth. But those tactics also reduce how much soil a seedling can directly gather nutrients or water from, or they alter the mix of fungi growing inside the meshes, making it difficult to isolate the effect of a fungal network, Dr. Karst said.

The researchers also found a growing number of unsupported statements in the scientific literature about fungal networks connecting and helping trees. Frequently, papers such as Dr. Klein’s are cited by others as providing proof of networks in forests, Dr. Karst and colleagues found, with caveats that appeared in the original work left out of the newer studies.

“Scientists,” Dr. Karst concluded in her presentation, “have become vectors for unsubstantiated claims.” Several recent papers, she notes, have called for changes in how forests are managed, based on the wood-wide web concept.

Jason Hoeksema of the University of Mississippi said a reference to the wood-wide web on “Ted Lasso” motivated him to join a challenge to the idea. He says studies don’t prove trees benefit from fungal networks.Credit…Robert Wayne Lewis for The New York Times

Dr. Karst said, “it’s highly likely” that shared fungal networks do exist in forests. In a 2012 study, Dr. Simard’s team found identical fungal DNA on the roots of nearby Douglas fir trees. The researchers then sampled soil between the trees in thin slices and found the same repeating DNA segments known as “microsatellites” in each slice, confirming that the fungus bridged the gap between the roots. But that study did not examine what resources, if any, were flowing through the network, and few other scientists have mapped fungal networks with such rigor.

Even if intertree fungal networks exist, however, Dr. Karst and her colleagues say common claims about those networks don’t hold up. For example, in many studies, the putative networks appeared to either hinder tree growth or to have no effect. No one has demonstrated that fungi distribute meaningful amounts of resources among trees in ways that increase the fitness of the receiving trees, Dr. Hoeksema said. Yet nearly all discussions of the wood-wide web, scientific or popular, have described it as benefiting trees.

Others, however, remain convinced that time will vindicate the wood-wide web.

While how ubiquitous shared fungal networks are and how important they are to tree growth remain open questions, Dr. Averill of ETH Zurich said the title of Dr. Karst’s presentation — “The decay of the wood-wide web?” — incorrectly suggests that the very concept is faulty. Instead, he hopes scientists will build on the tantalizing clues gathered so far by looking for networks in more forests. Indeed, members of Dr. Karst’s team have generated what Dr. Averill considers some of the most compelling evidence for the wood-wide web.

“It’s very clear that in some forests in some places, different trees are absolutely connected by fungi,” he said.

Dr. Klein of the Weizmann Institute said his team has placed its speculation about a network on firmer ground by using DNA sequences to map fungi in a 2020 follow-up study of the same Swiss forest and a 2022 lab study using forest soil. (Dr. Karst and her colleagues said that in their view, even those studies did not truly map fungal networks in a forest.)

And while Dr. Klein agrees that scientists still need to improve their understanding of why trees and fungi are moving all that carbon around, he is more optimistic than the Karst team that some of the bolder claims will be born out.

“If you ask me if in the future, we will be showing that trees actually can communicate, I would not be surprised,” he said.

Dr. Simard, the University of British Columbia scientist who has studied the wood-wide web, says that mapping fungal networks in forests is challenging, but other methods convinced her they are common.Credit…Jennilee Marigomen for The New York Times

Dr. Simard agreed that few real-world fungal networks have been mapped using DNA microsatellites because of the difficulty in doing such studies. Kevin Beiler, the graduate student who led the field work for the 2012 study with Dr. Simard, “spent five years of his life mapping out these networks,” Dr. Simard said. “It’s very time consuming.”

In spite of those challenges, she said, studies published on other forests using other methods have convinced her that shared fungal networks are common.

“The field of mycorrhizal networks has been sort of plagued by having to keep going back and redoing these experiments,” Dr. Simard said. “At some point you have to move to the next step.”

Comprehensive field studies of the type Dr. Hoeksema seeks would be a heavy lift for most university scientists working on typical grant timelines, Dr. Simard said. “None of these studies can do everything all at once, especially when you’re working with graduate students,” she said. “You have to piece it together.”

And while Dr. Simard has for years called for forest managers to consider her findings, she said she was not aware of any forest being managed solely on behalf of fungal networks. Neither was Mr. Wohlleben.

The new critique is the latest flare-up in a decades-old debate about the role of fungi in forest ecosystems, said Merlin Sheldrake, an independent mycologist whose book “Entangled Life” was referenced in the “Ted Lasso” episode that alarmed Dr. Hoeksema. Scientists have long struggled to interpret intriguing but fragmentary shreds of evidence from the invisible underground realm.

Since Dr. Karst gave her talk, she, Dr. Hoeksema and Dr. Jones have submitted a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. And lest you worry that a less webby woods could feel a tad drab, the researchers maintain that there’s plenty of intrigue even if it turns out that trees aren’t whispering secrets to each other via subterranean fungal channels.

“The true story is very interesting without this narrative put on it,” Dr. Karst said. The forest “is still a very mysterious and wonderful place.”

New York Times – November 7, 2022

Trump May Pose a Test No Special Counsel Can Pass

Former President Donald J. Trump’s apparent plan to soon announce his candidacy is challenging Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s desire to show that the Justice Dept. can operate above partisanship.

Former President Donald J. Trump stands on a red stage wearing a red baseball cap. His plane with the name Trump in all capital letters is behind him.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has long said that the Justice Department is up to the task of investigating former President Donald J. Trump, whose final weeks in office included his supporters attacking the Capitol as he refused to acknowledge his election loss.

That assertion was part of Mr. Garland’s desire to show that the department could operate above partisanship, acting as neither the weapon nor the enemy of any president or party. The real and perceived political land mines that accompany an investigation into Mr. Trump could be navigated, Mr. Garland suggested, by strictly following the rule of law.

“The rule of law means that the law treats each of us alike,” Mr. Garland has stated. “There is not one rule for friends, another for foes; one rule for the powerful, another for the powerless.”

But Mr. Garland’s hopes are being tested by Mr. Trump’s apparent plan to announce that he will run again for the White House, a step that would transform him from a former president into an electoral opponent of President Biden at a time of extreme political polarization — an environment leading the Justice Department to weigh whether to appoint a special counsel to handle open criminal inquiries related to Mr. Trump.

A special counsel, who is typically appointed by the attorney general, would have more autonomy to run an investigation than other federal prosecutors usually would. That person has more independence than a United States attorney, but any final decisions on whether to charge Mr. Trump would still rest with Mr. Garland and the department’s top leaders.

The former president faces a series of investigations, including his handling of sensitive national security documents and his efforts to retain power after his election loss, and it remains an open question whether the department will ultimately bring charges against him.

A special counsel could theoretically shield the department from the perception that an investigation into Mr. Trump is a partisan attack on Mr. Biden’s top political opponent. But it could also imply that the Justice Department on its own could not be trusted by all Americans to make decisions about holding Mr. Trump to account.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland
Attorney General Merrick B. GarlandCredit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Whether Mr. Garland names a special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, the fact that the Justice Department is considering such a move for the second time in five years in part reflects the extent to which the former president has undercut faith in the institution’s ability to fairly investigate him.

“Our justice system is faced with one of its greatest challenges of its more than 250-year history,” said Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the founder of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law.

“There is no reason, under federal law, that a former president or a presidential candidate can’t be indicted,” Ms. Finkelstein said. “But the nature of our politics has become so polarized that there is no criminal investigation, no indictment, no legal action that won’t be perceived as just another part of the poisonous partisan politics in the U.S. today.”

By law, special counsels are appointed when an investigation presents a conflict of interest for the department and when it serves the public interest for someone with relative independence from the department to assume responsibility for the matter.

Should Mr. Trump declare his candidacy, legal experts say that investigating a sitting president’s top political opponent in a coming election could present more of a conflict for Biden’s Justice Department than it has so far faced in its investigations.

“Once Trump is more than a former president, but a declared candidate for the presidency, it’s smart for the department to evaluate whether a special counsel is appropriate,” said Andrew D. Goldstein, a prosecutor who worked on the obstruction investigation into Mr. Trump conducted by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

It would not be the first time that a special counsel has had to handle a matter related to Mr. Trump.

After Mr. Trump fired the F.B.I. director James B. Comey in May 2017, the department tapped Mr. Mueller to complete the bureau’s Russia investigation and determine whether Mr. Trump obstructed that inquiry. The Mueller report found no evidence that the Trump campaign had broken the law in its dealings with Russia, but left prosecutors to decide the obstruction question after Mr. Trump left office. The attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, interpreted the report to clear him of wrongdoing.

After Republicans, led by Mr. Trump, continued to denounce Mr. Mueller’s work, John H. Durham was appointed to examine whether the Russia investigation had been a partisan assault. (Mr. Durham is expected to provide his findings to Mr. Garland in the coming months. He has not charged any high-level government officials.)

Now the department could appoint someone with broad oversight over the current investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of sensitive government documents after he left office, which includes questions about whether Mr. Trump or his aides intentionally misled investigators and tried to obstruct the inquiry.

Justice Department officials had hoped that they could weigh the evidence themselves and make a convincing case based on the facts and the law. By hewing to the rules, they hoped to show that the justice system worked, even in the face of Mr. Trump’s multipronged attacks.

But it is not clear that appointing a special counsel will shore up the public’s faith in the department.

Part of Robert S. Mueller III’s special counsel report is at the center of a court battle between the Trump administration and House Democrats.
Part of Robert S. Mueller III’s special counsel report is at the center of a court battle between the Trump administration and House Democrats.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

It is debatable whether special counsels, and independent counsels before them, have ever succeeded in their implicit mission to help the country reach consensus on highly contentious matters. Beyond Mr. Mueller and Mr. Durham, those include Leon Jaworski, who pursued the investigation into President Nixon during Watergate, and Ken Starr, who led the investigation into President Clinton.

Once Mr. Trump is involved, it is difficult to imagine a world where a special counsel could successfully act as a neutral arbiter with fewer real or perceived conflicts than the attorney general.

As director of the F.B.I., Mr. Mueller was credited with shaping the United States’ response to the post-9/11 terrorist threat. But Mr. Trump undermined that reputation with false statements and wild accusations, painting Mr. Mueller, a Republican who had worked in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, as a Democratic partisan hack engaged in a witch hunt.

“Institution after institution that has depended for its legitimacy on its impartiality is finding that it’s no longer possible to speak with the authoritative voice of neutrality,” Ms. Finkelstein said.

Finding a special counsel would be a challenge in an era of rampant partisanship. The candidate would need to be respected by Republicans and Democrats alike, and be willing to withstand censure by Mr. Trump.

And the rules governing the special counsel make clear that Mr. Garland would ultimately decide whether to make any of the investigation’s findings public and whether to prosecute Mr. Trump.

If past investigations involving Mr. Trump are any guide, a significant portion of the country will believe Mr. Garland erred, no matter what the evidence suggests. A special counsel will not change that.

New York Times – November 6, 2022

‘Our Auschwitz, our Dachau’

A Herero monument in Namibia
A memorial to the genocide of the Herero and Nama (1904-1908) in Windhoek [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

Waterberg, Namibia – The lacy shadows of the acacia trees lie over the dry grass. A chilly winter breeze sighs through the branches. In the sparse shade, Jephta Nguherimo, a lifelong activist for restorative justice for the Herero people, holds the rusted remains of some military equipment, it’s impossible to tell now what it might have been used for.

The 59-year-old throws it back on the ground. “I’m thinking of all the women and children who died here,” he says.

He is standing on the site of the Battle of Waterberg where, on August 11, 1904, the German colonial army decimated Herero rebels who were fighting the colonists who had imposed their rule on the country and seized much of its land. The killings were part of a German campaign of collective punishment between 1904 and 1908 that is today recognised as the 20th century’s first genocide.

But his ancestors were not mere victims, he tells Al Jazeera: “This war was the first resistance to colonialism.”

Jephta Nguherimo
Jephta surveys rusted implements at the site of the Battle of Waterberg [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

Jephta was born in the village of Ombuyovakura in Namibia but lives in the United States now. He has a beard streaked with grey and speaks softly and thoughtfully. A poet and a deeply spiritual person, he believes passionately in justice for his people but also in reconciliation with the Germans who massacred tens of thousands of Herero, Nama and San, ethnic communities indigenous to the country then known as South West Africa.

“I have great respect for my grandparents and parents for the extraordinary efforts they took to protect us children from the transgenerational trauma wrought by the Genocide,” he wrote in 2020. “[D]uring their storytelling about the 1904 war, Herero men would never mention the genocide. They would only speak about the war of resistance.”

A graveyard in Namibia
A cemetery in Namibia where German soldiers killed in the Battle of Waterberg are buried [File: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP]

German takeover

In 1884, after the Berlin Conference, which apportioned African lands to European powers, Namibia was taken over by the Germans. By the early 1900s, nearly 5,000 German settlers had arrived and ruled over some 250,000 Indigenous Africans. As German control grew, the rights and freedoms of the African peoples were rapidly diminished. The Hereros and other groups were systematically driven off their ancestral lands and assigned to so-called “reserves”.

Africans who were deemed to have broken the law were flogged and sometimes hanged, and even German official records show numerous cases of white settlers given light sentences for committing rape and murder. This ongoing brutality, combined with the land issue, created widespread anger and resentment among the local populations.

By 1904, the Herero, under their leader Samuel Maherero, rose up against the German colonial invaders and, on January 12, several of their mounted soldiers attacked the town of Okahandja. More than 120 people, most of them German, were killed.

Soon the conflict grew, with the Herero initially being highly successful, sweeping through the poorly defended colonial settlements while the Germans struggled to organise their defence under their governor, Theodor von Leutwein. In June, the Kaiser removed him from battlefield command and appointed General Lothar von Trotha in his stead. He immediately instituted a military policy, not of pacification but of extermination. Soon the Herero were overwhelmed.

A photo of Jacob Morenga (centre), leader of African partisans with two other men standing on either side of him.
A photo of Jacob Morenga, a leader of the Nama rebellion against German military occupation, taken between 1904 and 1907 [Wikimedia Commons]

As dawn broke on that morning of August 11 on the Waterberg Plateau, some 50,000 or more Herero men, women and children woke to their simple huts being pounded by shells. The men rushed to fight the Germans, leaving their families behind where they were killed by a brigade of some 6,000 Schutztruppe (the official name of Germany’s troops in the African territories of its empire). Although numerically weaker, the Germans had superior weapons – including Maxim machine guns and artillery – and quickly destroyed the Herero defence.

Early in the battle, the Herero fighters nearly overran the German artillery positions but Von Trotha ordered the machine guns brought forward. Their rapid fire drove the Herero back, and thousands were slaughtered. Those who survived fled east through a gap in the German defences into the harsh, waterless Kalahari desert, known as the Omaheke, where tens of thousands died. Many perished from thirst while others were rounded up and taken to concentration camps and used as slave labour.

“My grandmother told me about our people and their flight to the East and how our people perished, about the dispossession of their land and of their cattle and all the terrible things they experienced in the concentration camps,” Jephta says, looking around thoughtfully, as he adjusts his dreadlocks over the shoulder of his grey safari-style shirt in the warming day. The wind grows softer over the bone-white, swaying winter grass that carries his words.

A photo of Station Kubub in the middle of the desert.
Station Kubub 1905, in what was then called German Colony Deutsch-Südwestafrika [Wikimedia Commons]

‘A genocidal pursuit’

More than 500km (310 miles) away from Waterberg in the coastal town of Swakopmund, Anton von Wietersheim, a softly spoken, third-generation German Namibian, sits in his neat, almost nostalgically German-looking house. In his living room, the sun shines through the wide glass window. Over a cup of tea, he shares his family memories.

“My first ancestor in then-German South West Africa was an uncle of my father who settled on a farm near Windhoek in 1901. He was among the first settlers attacked during the Herero uprising and was killed on the second day of hostilities on the 13th of January, 1904.

“The German Empire sent reinforcements immediately after the start of the war, and my maternal grandfather – then 19 years old – was among those arriving in February 1904. He fought in battles against the Herero as well as the Nama, survived the war and remained in the colony as a farmer.

“I have great understanding for the uprising, and the surviving brother of my uncle said that it was not strange that the Herero were rising up because their land was taken, and the traders were ruthless. They took cattle in an unfair way. I can understand why that made them rise up, but the war eventually turned into a genocidal pursuit.”

A photo of a concentration camp in Namibia.
Windhoek concentration camp, circa 1905 [Wikimedia Commons]

As the Herero were rapidly defeated by Von Trotha’s forces, they had tried to reorganise while they fled, and they hoped their last stand at Waterberg would bring victory. But the Germans had planned well. They allowed the Herero to flee into the Omaheke and then Von Trotha placed troops to prevent the Herero from escaping the desert.

Jephta grew up not knowing the full extent of the horror endured by his forebears. It was only when he heard the story of his great-grandmother and her flight through the waterless Omaheke in an attempt to reach safety that he knew his life’s calling had been revealed. “My great-grandmother was too old and tired, and she was left behind. They left her under a tree to die. She died a death without dignity, and I wanted to understand her life,” he says.

The family was forced to make an impossible choice: to sacrifice her life in order to spare their own. The pain of that choice still echoes down the generations.

The Nama

It was in the flight through the desert that the German war against the Herero became a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. General Von Trotha ordered his troops to set up a line of outposts hundreds of kilometres long to prevent the Herero from turning back to their abandoned farms and villages, and he ordered others to prevent them from using waterholes.

On October 3, 1904, at the remote Osombo zo Windimbe desert waterhole, General von Trotha read out his infamous Vernichtungsbefehl, or Extermination Order:

“I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Hereros. The Hereros are German subjects no longer. . . Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or without cattle, will be shot. I will no longer accept women and children. I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at. Such are my words to the Herero people.”

The desperate, dying Herero wandered in search of refuge and of waterholes, many of them poisoned or sealed off by the Germans. Tens of thousands of people died. Finally, political outrage in Germany at this colonial inhumanity forced the Kaiser to telegraph Von Trotha to withdraw the order on December 8.

By late 1904, the Nama people, some of whom had been loosely allied to the Germans, to protect their own lands, had seen enough of the Europeans’ brutality and feared the growing hostility and open racism the white people were now showing towards them. Their most charismatic leader, Hendrik Witbooi, who was in his 70s, summoned a council of elders to hear reports of the atrocities.

A photo of German Lieutenant Weiss, flanked by the Nama Captains Simon Kooper (left with striped jacket) and Hendrik Witbooi (right with rifle).
German Lieutenant Weiss, flanked by the Nama Captains Simon Kooper (left with striped jacket) and Hendrik Witbooi (right with rifle) before their insurrection against German colonial rule 1904-1908 in South West Africa [Wikimedia Commons]

Soon after, Witbooi called upon all the Nama to fight the Germans. Many clans responded, including those of another famous leader, Jacob Morenga, joining a war against the colonialists, killing prominent men, but sparing women and children.

The German soldiers struggled against heat, thirst and the constant strain of the Nama’s lightning raids. There were some 200 raids and skirmishes before Witbooi was mortally wounded in late 1905 by shrapnel in one of his attacks. He died three days later, and the Nama alliance fell apart. Soon after, the stragglers surrendered, and the Nama were rounded up, along with the last emaciated surviving Herero, and sent to concentration camps.

The family of Ida Hoffmann, a Nama activist whose ancestor was murdered by the Germans, has carried a gruesome story down the generations.

“The Germans also killed my great-grandfather’s daughter, Sara Snewe,” Ida says. “According to oral history that was carried for generations. Sara was pregnant at the time she was killed. The Germans then cut her open, took out the baby and killed it in cold blood.”

They still honour her memory at the desert grave where she was buried.

Shark Island, Namibia
Shark Island in Namibia [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

‘People died here’

Jephta remembers the story of his other great-grandmother on his mother’s side. “She was captured in the Omaheke after the extermination order was withdrawn and sent to Lüderitz to the concentration camp at Shark Island where they worked as slave labour. Most people died, but she was among the few who survived.”

He pauses thoughtfully. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Shark Island, a narrow peninsula in the harbour of the tiny seaside town of Lüderitz, a leftover settlement of German colonialism, was one of five concentration camps set up in the country, but it is the most notorious. Here, Nama and Herero people endured horrendous conditions. They erected makeshift shelters of blankets, rags and driftwood to try and protect themselves against the freezing wind and mist that blew off the southern Atlantic. They were given only a few hundred grams of food and there were no sanitary facilities, so their waste was left to decompose in the open, leading to disease running rampant, especially among the children. Women were raped. The sexual exploitation of African women was not only condoned, it was enthusiastically recorded. Many pornographic photographs of the women were turned into postcards and sent back to Germany.

A photo of an illustration of German Soldiers packing the skulls of executed Namibian aborigines.
German soldiers packing the skulls of executed Namibian Indigenous people at Shark Island Concentration Camp [Wikimedia Commons]

Those who were strong enough – barely – were marched out to do forced labour on the harbour and on the nearby railroad. No one knows the exact number of people who were imprisoned in the camps. Records are haphazard or non-existent, but, where they were kept, they show thousands of deaths of Herero and Nama.

On a visit to Shark Island with Jephta, the wind blows cold and hard across the barren rocks that house a campsite and ablution blocks, empty that day, but clearly waiting for tourists to camp, oblivious of the site’s true history.

Jephta is visibly upset and finds it hard to speak. “This is where my ancestors were kept, historians call it a death camp. Somehow my great-grandmother survived, but most people died from starvation.”

Jephta gestures around him. “This is our Auschwitz, our Dachau. Is there a campsite in those places? No.

Shark Island in Namibia
Jephta on Shark Island, which was the location of a concentration camp during the genocide in Namibia [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

“This is a holy place. People died here and medical experiments were done on them. Their biggest fear was to go to the medical centre near here because they knew they wouldn’t come back alive. They used to boil human heads, and the women were forced to peel off the skin and scrape the flesh off with glass.”

There were other inhumane experiments. Many of the prisoners suffered from scurvy and doctors injected them with opium, arsenic and other substances to see how they might affect a disease that results from a lack of fresh food. They opened up the bodies of those who died as a result in order to see the effects of these experiments.

The skulls and other human remains were sent back to Germany where they were studied in pursuit of the racist pseudoscience of eugenics. Many of them ended up at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute where Joseph Mengele, who would later conduct deadly medical experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz, studied in the early 1940s.

A monument to the genocide in Namibia
A monument in Windhoek pays respects to those killed during the genocide [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

Land and memory

What happened to African people in Namibia was a brutal, and now nearly forgotten, harbinger of the Holocaust by the Nazis against the Jews and other groups in World War II.

But the memory of these events is contested in Namibia itself. The first real documentation of the genocide was in the famous “Blue Book” compiled by South African authorities in 1918 after they defeated the Germans in WWI. The Union of South Africa, a British colony at the time, invaded the German colony of South West Africa in 1915. After an initial defeat early in the war, they quickly overran the German forces who surrendered in July of the same year.

It estimates that some 65,000 Herero out of a population of 80,000 died, while some 10,000 Nama, about half the population, perished.

Some claim these statistics are inflated, while Jephta and other Herero activists believe the figures were far greater. “But what do the actual numbers matter?” he says. “It was the acts themselves that were genocidal.”

Nearly 120 years later, reconciliation between Germans and the Herero and Nama remains elusive. The vast majority of African peoples still live in poverty.

Lourens Ndura
Lourens Ndura in his home on the outskirts of Swakopmund [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

On the outskirts of the popular tourist town of Swakopmund, Jephta takes us to meet Lourens Ndura in a rundown settlement known as “DRC”. Rows and rows of simple houses, side by side with shacks, fill the desert spaces. There is hardly any vegetation, and the wind whips up sand across the bare streets. Lourens is dressed in a red union T-shirt, a memory of more prosperous days when he had a full-time job as a firefighter at a mine.

Drought and hunger forced Lourens to bring his family here 10 years ago, but no money has reached them from any agreement that is, anyway, still in limbo. “My great-grandfather was on Shark Island. The Germans have to pay for what they did because that is the wound that has been with us for a long, long time,” he says thoughtfully, but firmly. “Money is the only thing that can bring changes. We can buy land and animals.” He gestures around the makeshift tin shack that is the only home he can provide for his family. “We are living here like we are in a concentration camp.”

Land and memory are the twin strands that remain deeply intertwined today, for Herero and Nama peoples and German Namibians.

Jephta meets with Gerd Wolbling, a mild-mannered German Namibian farmer who owns a vast ranch of some 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) near the site of the Battle of Waterberg. His family has owned the farm since 1907 and Gerd has grown up in the midst of the Herero people. He speaks Otjiherero fluently. His great-grandfather had three children with a Herero woman. “They were the half-brother and sisters of my grandfather. We still have a close relationship,” he says over coffee and a cold beer.

Two men in a field in Namibia
Jephta and Gerd Wolbing [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

Still, the issue of land and the meaning of the country’s tortured history stand as a wall between him and Jephta. “Which past is more prevalent?” Gerd asks. “History is one people replacing the other. One hundred years before 1907, Hereros didn’t inhabit this land. We can’t make things right by giving the land back.”

Jephta listens carefully, not disputing Gerd’s claim about his ancestral lands, as they walk together past the cattle enclosure and through a field of pale winter grass. “Do you deny that there was a genocide,” he asks as they stand resting from the sun under a shady tree.

Gerd raises his hands to explain. “I don’t question the harm which was done to the OvaHerero people. They lost much of their land, most of their cattle, and let’s say half of their population.” Yet he denies there was a genocide. “There was not that intention, and the relationship to the Holocaust, to me, that is far-fetched.”

But in 1985, the United Nations’ Whitaker report classified what happened to the Herero and Nama people as a genocide. While in May 2021, the German government itself formally recognised what happened as genocide. In a joint declaration with Namibia, they pledged to pay the Namibian government 1.1 billion euros (more than $1bn) in aid in more than 30 years, stipulating that it should be spent in areas where the descendants of the victims of the atrocities now live.

A man in a village in Namibia, with cows in the background
Jephta in his ancestral village in Namibia [Hamilton Wende/Al Jazeera]

‘One day we will get our land back’

Jephta and Ida, and many others, are deeply dissatisfied with this arrangement. “The Namibian Government’s almost unilateral negotiations with the German government is and remains unacceptable,” Ida says.

There has been much dissatisfaction in Namibia over the Namibian and German governments’ joint agreement, along with demands from Nama and Herero activists that the agreement be renegotiated, providing more money to the affected communities and involving them directly in discussions. In fact, neither government has yet signed the agreement. The Namibian government has indicated it wants further negotiations, while the German parliament has rejected more talks.

There are no signs that the impasse is being resolved swiftly.

Representatives of the Nama tribe speak about the genocide in Namibia that took place under German colonial rule
In a photo from 2017, representative of the Nama tribe Ida Hoffmann, (centre), speaks about the long-hushed genocide against her people in New York [File: Don Emmert/AFP]

“It seems,” Jephta says, “the [Namibian] government is again involved in secret negotiations while the people expressed publicly that the leaders of the affected communities must be involved.”

Many Herero and Nama feel that the majority government party, the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), does not represent them and their peoples adequately, as their strongest support is among the Ovambo people in the northern half of the country. The government’s stance is that they represent all Namibians and that an agreement cannot be circumscribed by the approval of the Herero and Nama only.

Phanuel Kaapama, one of the Namibian government’s chief negotiators, told Al Jazeera that, at present, there is “a process of internal consultations, of consensus-building”.

Ruprecht Polenz, the German government’s special envoy, said in an email that “the Joint Declaration has been discussed in Namibia ever since [May 2021], often seen as controversial. The Federal Government is monitoring this discussion and awaiting the result.”

In the Waterberg, Jephta kneels down to pick up a handful of sand. He puts some of it in his mouth to bless it, the tradition his grandmother taught him, and throws the rest away.

For a long time, he is silent, then he stands up slowly. “I’m paying tribute, knowing my ancestors are here, reminding us that these places will always be remembered.”

A man walks past a monument remembering those killed in the genocide in Namibia between 1904 and 1908
A man walks by a monument in Luderitz remembering the genocide committed by German forces against Herero and Nama [File: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP]

Tears fill his eyes. He falls silent as he looks over the landscape beginning to shimmer in the late morning sun. Slowly he begins to speak again in his poet’s voice.

“The fate of history is hard to face. The Germans who defeated us own this space. They bought the land, but from who? We will fight for restoration, reparations, dignity. We were defeated but we are still strong. One day we will get our land back, our ancestral lands must be shared with us. This earth, the trees are speaking to me right now. I’m sensing in the wind, the spirits talking to me, saying: ‘Tell the story.’ I’m feeling the energy of those who perished, the wind of the unburied, the wind of resistance, birds singing, telling me something if I listen carefully.

“I don’t feel so much anger, but I feel my spirit connected to their spirit. There is no point in being angry,” he says.

“I feel honoured speaking to them.”

Russian-occupied Kherson loses power after alleged ‘sabotage’

The Russian-installed administration of Kherson blamed the outage on Ukraine, accusing it of attacking the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam.

A view of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in the Kherson Oblast.
The Kakhovka hydroelectric dam was captured by Moscow’s forces at the start of their offensive [File: Olga Maltseva/AFP]

The Russian-installed administration in Ukraine’s Kherson region has said that Kherson city lost water and power supplies after what it called an act of “sabotage”.

In a statement on Telegram, the Russian-installed administration of Kherson said a “terrorist attack” damaged three power lines in the region.

It said that the attack had been carried out by Ukraine, though it provided no evidence.

The outages are a “result of an attack organised by the Ukrainian side on the Berislav-Kakhovka highway that saw three concrete poles of high-voltage power lines damaged,” it said.

It is the first time that Kherson – which fell to Russian forces within days of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February – has seen such a power cut.

Kherson is one of four regions that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month.

Russian state-owned news agency TASS quoted Kherson’s Moscow-appointed governor Vladimir Saldo as saying that there were plans for the city’s power supply to be restored by the end of the day.

Energy specialists were working to “quickly” resolve the issue, the Russian-backed authorities said as they called on people to “remain calm”.

TASS separately cited emergency services in the region as saying that 10 settlements, including Kherson city, which had a pre-war population of 280,000, had been left without electricity.

Russian officials have in recent weeks repeatedly warned civilians to leave Kherson, amid what they say are preparations for a Ukrainian offensive against the city, the only regional capital that Russia has captured since invading Ukraine on February 24.

News of the outage followed reports that the Kakhovka dam in the Russian-controlled region of Kherson was “damaged” by a Ukrainian strike.

“Today at 10:00 (08:00 GMT) there was a hit of six HIMARS rockets. Air defence units shot down five missiles, one hit a lock of the Kakhovka dam, which was damaged,” Russian news agencies quoted local emergency services as saying.

The RIA Novosti news agency quoted a local Moscow-backed official saying the damage was not “critical”.

Flooding threat

The Kakhovka hydroelectric dam in southern Ukraine was captured by Moscow’s forces at the start of their offensive. It supplies Russian-annexed Crimea with water.

Both warring sides have been trading accusations over the Russian-held dam for weeks, Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett said.

“Ukrainians have been saying that the Russians have mined it and intended to blow it, while Russia said that Ukrainian forces were planning to fire a missile at it,” Fawcett said, reporting from Kyiv.

But if the dam was to be breached, Fawcett said, it would be a major catastrophe for both sides, “so there are still a lot of doubts as to whether either one would really want to do it”.

The dam holds back 19 million cubic metres of water and it is located at a short distance from Kherson, Fawcett said.

Ukraine has been warning in recent weeks that Moscow’s forces intended to blow up the strategic facility to cause flooding.

Russian strikes over the past month have destroyed around a third of Ukraine’s power stations and the government has urged Ukrainians to conserve electricity as much as possible.

But until now, Ukraine had only rarely struck Russian-held civilian energy infrastructure in territory annexed by Moscow, preferring to target Russian army supply lines.

Saldo said the dam’s destruction would lead to flooding of the left bank of the Dnieper River.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last month that Russian forces had mined the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant with the intent of blowing it up.

Its destruction could cause flash flooding for hundreds of thousands of people, he warned.

He said cutting water supplies to the south could also impact the cooling systems of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest.

Ukraine’s motivational messaging maintains morale as winter bites

Information ecosystem provides messages of defiance amid Russian strikes and energy blackouts

A billboard calls on Nato to close the sky over Ukraine amid ongoing Russian strikes on the country
A billboard in Kyiv calls on Nato to close the sky over Ukraine amid ongoing Russian strikes on the country. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Adverts on Ukraine’s underground system carry motivational messaging: “Together to the victory”, “Bravery is carrying on” or “Just a bit more and it will get easier”. Psychologists are invited on to television shows almost daily to offer tips on how to manage anxiety and the breaks are filled with videos in support of the army.

Positive messaging, mental health advice, and examples of how to “do your bit” are all part of the information ecosystem helping Ukrainians sustain their morale throughout the war. Experts say this partly top-down, partly organic approach will play a significant role in supporting Ukrainians through what is likely to be a punishing winter.

Ukrainian TV channels are running a series of adverts on how people can save energy amid government pleas for consumers to reduce usage. Under the slogan “The rules of a warm country”, one video advises people to use alternative methods to keep warm, including using hot water bottles and cats, as well as getting together with neighbours.

There are also several segments a day featuring Ukrainians across the country demonstrating how they have prepared for winter. One man recently interviewed said in the event of no electricity or gas, he would pitch a tent inside his flat and sleep in a sleeping bag. Breathing inside a small tent, he said, will maintain the heat better than a room.

On social media, Ukrainians are sharing infographics on which appliances use the most electricity and videos of the recent trend of making candles-come-stoves for soldiers in the trenches.

This winter, Ukraine is facing the frightening prospect of sub-zero temperatures with bouts of no electricity, water and even heating. For the last month, Russia has been targeting critical elements of Ukraine’s energy sector with a combination of missiles, rockets, and Iranian-supplied drones.

On Monday alone, Russia targeted at least seven regional power stations and since then they have attacked at least another three, according to Ukraine’s authorities.

Ukrainian repair workers and energy dispatchers have been quick to reconnect and reroute supplies and scheduled blackouts have been rolled out in several regions, including the capital, Kyiv, to stabilise the electricity grid.

But Ukraine’s officials have warned that these short shutdowns are probably just a small taste of what’s to come. Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukraine’s state energy company, Ukrenergo, said this week that if the Russian attacks continued, “power cuts in Ukraine will become longer and longer”.

Kudrytskyi said Ukrenergo could not repair the grid as quickly as it was being destroyed. According to him, “virtually all” major non-nuclear power stations in the country have been hit, including 30% of the substations.

The head of Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said his office was preparing for the event that blackouts may last as long as two weeks.

The news of yet more bad times ahead has, however, not made a discernible dent in the country’s morale. According to Volodymyr Kulyk, a leading professor of sociology, Ukrainians remain defiant and want to demonstrate that.

“People increasingly perceive Russia as a genocidal actor … [and] are ready to sacrifice to remain free and remain themselves,” said Kulyk. “[Messages of defiance] are both stemming from people themselves and also disseminated centrally from the government, the media and influencers.”

The top-down messages – particularly those from Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the daily update from Ukraine’s general staff – play a therapeutic role for many Ukrainians, Kulyk said.

“We need this news to know that everything is OK and there is no disaster with the Ukrainian army,” he said.

All of the state agencies make their own motivational videos – the fire services, police, the ministry of defence, as well as the TV channels and private companies.

“These societal adverts that show heroism, of course, make [people] proud,” said Ostapa, the head of Detector Media, a media-monitoring organisation.

Psychiatrists and psychologists are regularly invited on Ukrainian TV to discuss how people can identify mental health problems in themselves and their loved ones. How to talk to children about the war is a particularly prominent topic.

Oleh Chuban, the head of psychiatry at a leading medical university in Ukraine and a regular guest on TV, said he aimed to tell people that what they are feeling was normal.

“The fact that people are worried and anxious, chopping firewood, buying up all the generators, is a normal reaction. Only an idiot wouldn’t react to someone telling them that there will be power, water and heating outages,” said Chaban. “People are saving themselves, just like during Covid 19.”

“The media has a big influence [on people] so I try to give them optimism and explain their worries are natural and demonstrate that they living people with (functioning) emotions,” said Chaban.

On Tuesday, Zelenskiy spoke to the nation stressing the need for perseverance. “Instead of overcoming poverty in their country, the Russian leadership spends everything not to admit what a historical mistake they made with this war against Ukraine,” he said.

“Patience is needed to prove that the hope for the winter for Russian terrorists will not come true. I am sure we will get through this.”

US says Zelenskiy risks allies’ ‘Ukraine fatigue’ if he rejects Russia talks – report

Ukraine’s position with allies is wearing thin as fears grow over economic effect of protracted war, officials tell newspaper

A Ukrainian soldier digs a trench in the northern Kherson area on Sunday.
A Ukrainian soldier digs a trench in the northern Kherson area on Sunday. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/EPA

US officials have reportedly warned the Ukrainian government in private that it needs to signal an openness to negotiating with Russia.

Officials in Washington have warned that “Ukraine fatigue” among allies could worsen if Kyiv continues to be closed to negotiations, the Washington Post reported. US officials told the paper that Ukraine’s position on negotiations with Russia is wearing thin among allies who are worried about the economic effects of a protracted war.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said Ukraine is only prepared to enter negotiations with Russia if its troops leave all parts of Ukraine, including Crimea and the eastern areas of the Donbas, de facto controlled by Russia since 2014, and if those Russians who have committed crimes in Ukraine face trial.

Zelenskiy also made clear that he would not hold negotiations with the current Russian leadership. Last month, he signed a decree specifying that Ukraine would only negotiate with a Russian president who has succeeded Vladimir Putin.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the town of Izium recently liberated during a counteroffensive operation
Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the town of Izium, which was recently liberated during a counteroffensive operation. Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

The US has so far given Ukraine $18.9bn (£16.6bn) worth of aid and is ready to give more, saying it will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. However, allies in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, US officials told the Post, are concerned by the strain that the war is putting on energy and food prices as well as supply chains.

“Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” one US official said.

US officials have requested that Kyiv signal its openness to negotiate not to push Ukraine towards the negotiating table immediately, but to maintain the support of concerned allies, according to the Post.

For Ukrainian officials, the US’s request would mean reneging on several months of rhetoric about the need for a decisive military defeat against Russia in order to secure Ukraine’s security in the long term – a message that strongly resonates with the Ukrainian population who fear Russia will only try again to capture the country in the future.

The atrocities, deaths and destruction caused by Russia’s invasion have made negotiations unpalatable to many Ukrainians, particularly as the mood in Ukraine is buoyant after a string of successes on the battlefield in the north-east Kharkiv and southern Kherson regions.

Despite the strong rhetoric, losing allied support could have repercussions for Ukraine, particularly in terms of sanctions. The veteran diplomat Alexander Vershbow told the Post that “if the conditions become more propitious for negotiations, I don’t think the [US] administration is going to be passive”.

Russian officials have said Kyiv is preparing to attempt a second offensive to retake more of the occupied Kherson region. Recapturing it would have immense symbolic and logistical value for Ukraine as Russia wants the area to secure a water supply to Crimea as well as a land bridge to Russia. In a statement on Telegram, the Russian-controlled Kherson administration said electricity and water supplies were down after a “terrorist attack” damaged three power lines in the occupied part of the region.

A Ukrainian border guard with an Anglo-Swedish antitank missile launcher at a fortified position near the Ukrainian border with Russia.
A Ukrainian border guard with an Anglo-Swedish antitank missile launcher at a fortified position near the Ukrainian border with Russia. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

The Russian-installed Kherson official Kirill Stemousov said on Thursday that Russian forces would probably withdraw to the eastern bank of the city, after the occupying authorities took down the Russian flag from the regional administration building and reportedly moved into an office on the east bank.

The events, which followed a mass evacuation of occupied Kherson, prompted rumours that the Russians might be withdrawing.

However, Russian forces have been strengthening their positions and the spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command, Natalia Humeniuk, described it as a ruse to draw Ukraine into battle. Recent battlefield BBC reports from Ukraine’s side of the Kherson frontline, indicate that Kyiv’s forces may still lack the necessary equipment.

In the first month of the war, Ukraine and Russia held talks in which Ukraine promised it would remain neutral in exchange for the return of its territories. But Russia called for Ukraine to recognise its annexed territories and the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine – terms that Ukraine and its western allies did not take seriously.

Reiterating his stance on Friday, Zelenskiy described Russia’s willingness to let so many Russian men die in the war as “insane stubbornness”, which he said indicated that their alleged readiness to negotiate was “false”.

“When someone thinks about negotiations, he does not look for ways to deceive everyone around him in order to send tens or hundreds of thousands more people to the meat grinder – mobilised or in the form of some mercenaries,” Zelenskiy said.

The US has said that for now it agrees with Ukraine’s position. A US official speaking to Reuters about the report said: “The Kremlin continues to escalate this war. The Kremlin has demonstrated its unwillingness to seriously engage in negotiations since even before it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

Putin has taken steps to reroute the Russian economy for the Ukraine war effort, in another sign, aside from mobilisation, that Russia is preparing for the long-haul.

In October, Putin created an influential government body, the coordination council, to coordinate supplies to the military. It has been tasked with transforming Russia’s regional economies so they can cope with the needs of the Russian army in Ukraine.

Russia’s new drive to arm and replenish its military is one part of a two-pronged strategy designed to regain the advantage on the battlefield and declare its much-wanted victory over Kyiv.

The second part of the strategy involves disabling Ukraine in the rear. Over the last month, Russia has systematically targeted Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure. Dozens of power plants, substations and other parts of Ukraine’s energy system have been severely damaged by repeated Russian attacks.

Ukraine’s authorities have issued scheduled blackouts across the country as a result in order to stabilise the grid.

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, the head of Ukraine’s state energy company, Ukrenergo, told the Guardian Russia was trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy sector. He said the situation was critical because it was not possible to repair the grid as fast as it was being destroyed. If the Russian attacks continued, the blackouts would become “longer and longer”, he said.

The head of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said on Tuesday that once again it was an outpost in Russia’s attempt to target the capital. Kuleba said power stations on the edge of the capital had been repeatedly targeted to cut the electricity supply to the capital.

Kyiv’s mayor and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko said he did not rule out a scenario in which the capital faced a complete blackout. Speaking to Ukraine’s United News, a centralised news programme broadcast across all channels, Klitschko told people to prepare by buying power banks and warm clothes. In case of an all-out blackout, he said Kyiv’s residents should try to stay with relatives outside of the capital.

However, Klitschko urged people in Kyiv not to be “pessimistic”, saying he was only advising people to prepare for different scenarios. “We will do everything that depends on us so that such a scenario does not happen.”

A complete blackout would mean there was no sewage, so authorities would be forced to ask the city’s 3 million residents to leave, Roman Tkachuk, the director of security for the Kyiv municipal government told the New York Times. The paper reported that officials in the capital had been told they would probably have at least 12 hours’ notice if the grid were on the verge of failure. If that happened, Tkachuk said, they would “start informing people and requesting them to leave,” adding that the situation was under control for now.

In line with a series of dismissals of Russian military commanders since the war started, Maj Gen Alexander Linkov reportedly replaced Col Gen Alexander Lapin on Thursday, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defence. Lapin was criticised for poor performance on the battlefield in Ukraine both by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said the ministry. Britain said the dismissals of Russia’s top brass were a way to insulate Russia’s leadership from any blame for the war’s failings.

Russian forces intensify their fight for the eastern city of Bakhmut, amid setbacks elsewhere.

In Bakhmut on Saturday. The city, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, has endured months of relentless shelling.
In Bakhmut on Saturday. The city, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, has endured months of relentless shelling.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Fighting raged around the Ukrainian-held city of Bakhmut, Russian and Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday, as Moscow sought to capture an eastern city for the first time in months amid a string of recent setbacks on the battlefield.

A correspondent for Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency said that troops with the Wagner Group, a private military force with ties to President Vladimir V. Putin, had seized the village of Ivangrad, which is close to a road on Bakhmut’s southern approach, and were fighting fierce battles in another suburb.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s forces in the east, Serhii Cherevaty, said that Bakhmut was “one of the hottest spots” in the region, and the place where “the enemy is the most aggressive, with the concentration of its maximum forces.” He told a Ukrainian television channel that 30,000 Russian personnel were deployed to the assault.

Even as Russian forces appeared to be attacking Bakhmut from several directions, it was not immediately clear what they would gain by capturing a city that months of relentless bombardment have reduced nearly to rubble. Independent military analysts have said that the campaign for Bakhmut, an industrial center that was home to 70,000 people before the war, serves little strategic purpose for Moscow because Ukrainian advances to the north have severed the city from important rail links.

There was no independent confirmation of the battlefield developments, but comments by Ukrainian officials indicated an intensifying Russian push on the city, and a growing toll for the civilians who remain there.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Ukrainian military administrator for the Donetsk region, which includes Bakhmut, said that Russian forces had killed three civilians in the region on Friday, including two in Bakhmut. The deputy mayor of Bakhmut, Oleksandr Marchenko, told the Reuters news agency on Saturday that Russia’s troops were “trying to storm the city from several directions.”

Most residents have fled Bakhmut, and New York Times journalists who visited the city in recent days observed small groups of Ukrainian soldiers gathering in abandoned buildings and firing mortars from the street.

As Ukrainian forces have held out, Bakhmut has become a symbol of Russia’s failure to achieve Mr. Putin’s objective of controlling the entire eastern Donbas area, an industrial territory where Moscow-backed separatists established breakaway republics in 2014. In April, Mr. Putin made capture of the Donbas a military priority and, last month, Russia illegally annexed the area’s two regions, Luhansk and Donetsk.

But Moscow has made little progress since July, when it captured the last cities in Luhansk. Ukrainian forces sweeping down from the reclaimed Kharkiv region in the northeast have gained ground in the Donbas while, hundreds of miles to the south, Russian troops are under pressure to hold on to Kherson, one of the first regions they captured after invading Ukraine in February.

Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for a New American Security, said on the War on the Rocks podcast last week that Russian forces had been “trying to grind their way in Bakhmut for months now,” and added, “They haven’t taken very much territory at all.”

Mr. Kofman said that the city was an important prize for the Wagner Group’s leader, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close associate of Mr. Putin, and that his stature would rise within the Kremlin if his campaign were to succeed. But his forces have suffered significant losses in Bakhmut in recent days, according to Mr. Kofman, who described the push there as a “pointless offensive” for Russia.

Several military analysts say that Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv in September deprived Bakhmut of its strategic significance, since Moscow has lost control of the railway hubs in the cities of Izium and Lyman, meaning it cannot use Bakhmut as a launchpad for attacks on other cities in Donetsk.

A Ukrainian brigade in Bakhmut tries to hold out against Russia’s offensive.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

For weeks, Ukrainian forces have been holding the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region against an offensive led by battle-hardened mercenaries from the Wagner Group.

Even as Russian troops have fallen back on other fronts, Moscow’s forces have continued to pressure the Ukrainians in Bakhmut, leading to one of the most prolonged and bitter struggles of the war.

The city, which had a population of around 70,000 people before the war, has endured months of bombardment and near daily assaults even though it has minimal strategic value, as the Wagner Group seeks to raise its profile in Moscow.

One of the Ukrainian units defending the city is the 58th Brigade. On Friday, its members laid plans in a command bunker before joining the fighting. One of its mortar teams fired at Russian positions. Other members patrolled streets and houses.

New York Times – November 6, 2022

$4,500 for a plate of pasta? How billionaires squander their money

There are 3,000 ultra-rich individuals around the world who don’t flinch at spending $32,000 for a hotel room and thousands more for dinner without a moment’s thought about inflation

Huge bottles of champagne poured over winners like Daniel Ricciardo (Montreal, 2014) are a hallmark of Formula 1 racing, and ostentatious displays in this sport have recently become even more conspicuous.
Huge bottles of champagne poured over winners like Daniel Ricciardo (Montreal, 2014) are a hallmark of Formula 1 racing, and ostentatious displays in this sport have recently become even more conspicuous.TOM PENNINGTON (GETTY IMAGES)

In ancient Greece, purple-dyed robes and daily meals of fresh fish were signs of wealth and luxury. In the days of the Egyptian pharaohs, the rich spent their wealth on ostrich eggs and perfumes made from saffron, cinnamon and other exotic spices. In medieval times, prosperous Londoners spent lavishly on pepper, velvet garments and lemons. In the 1920s, affluent New Yorkers showed off fur coats, convertibles and pearl bracelets.

In Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, author and journalist Dana Thomas writes that all those products cost a fortune at the time and could only be afforded by the likes of kings, religious elites, landed aristocracy, industry magnates, oil barons, arms dealers or bootleggers during Prohibition-era America.

When was luxury democratized? Some contrarians say it never was. Dana Thomas believes that true luxury will always be “the preserve of an exclusive and exquisite minority.” The luxuries available to people with ordinary wealth, what elite New Yorkers in the Roaring Twenties used to call “the hordes of new money,” are nothing more than trivial and vulgar substitutes – luxury without luster. Says who? Read on.

Three days in Singapore

Let’s look at an example of real luxury in the autumn of 2022, at a splurge that only a very few can afford. It would be the rough equivalent of what it cost 3,000 years ago for a caravan of Bedouins to bring a vial of sandalwood perfume to your palace in Luxor.

How much can one spend for a weekend in Singapore, one of the most expensive cities on the planet? It depends on the time of year. Let’s look back at the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, an annual rendezvous in early October and exemplar of cosmopolitan opulence.

Gardens by the Bay is a delightfully futuristic nature park in Singapore, one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Gardens by the Bay is a delightfully futuristic nature park in Singapore, one of the world’s most expensive cities.CHRIS MCGRATH (GETTY IMAGES)

A spendthrift racing fan could have stayed in the exclusive 32nd floor suite of the Ritz Hotel for about $13,000 a night. Unlimited access to the racecourse, box seats, VIP areas, and a racing team’s paddock? Of course – Red Bull offered all that for $10,800. Table for two to enjoy local and international delicacies at Zen, a Michelin three-star restaurant, the most expensive in town? About $1,600 with extra treats and wine pairings. How about a romantic dinner with music by an international DJ at one of Marina Bay’s floating nightclubs? That will be $1,200 per person. Or a private group table at a Grand Prix afterparty with trays of fresh oysters, premium caviar, and an open bar of Perrier-Jouët champagne, Belvedere vodka and aged tequila? That costs $45,000 in Amber Lounge, a favorite party place frequented by drivers Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso. If that seems too stingy, you can book Noir Suite, a private room at Le Noir restaurant, for $70,000.

While you’re there, why not see a concert by big-name stars like Green Day, the Black Eyed Peas, Swedish House Mafia, Westlife or Marshmello? A ticket cost $500-$5,000, plus the chartered limousine or yacht to take you to the concert in style and generous tips, of course.

Add in the round-trip flights, some extras like a private nighttime safari at the Singapore Zoo or Mandai Wildlife Reserve, and shopping sprees at the Paragon department store, Ion Orchard art gallery, and Marina Bay Sands… we’re now getting up to around $500,000 for this weekend in Singapore, where the fine for littering will cost you another $700.

Who and where are the very rich?

Who can afford such a weekend? According to Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower, only billionaires and old-money heirs, an aristocracy of big spenders who routinely lay out $50-$80 million a year for their lavish lifestyles. Ordinary multimillionaires (or Formula 1 diehards) might occasionally indulge in such extravagant consumption, but they’ll tighten their belts for the rest of the year.

The Graff Diamonds Hallucination is a $55 million quartz watch.
The Graff Diamonds Hallucination is a $55 million quartz watch.SEBASTIEN BOZON (AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The billionaires of today are latter-day pharaohs who rule the business world with near omnipotence. They number only 3,311 people worldwide according to the Wealth-X extreme wealth index compiled annually by the Altrata consulting firm. These billionaires account for 13.9% of the world’s GDP, a historically unprecedented concentration of wealth.

The geographic distribution of the world’s richest people has changed in recent years. They no longer reside almost exclusively in the United States and Western Europe, areas that still have plenty of billionaires: 138 in New York; 85 in San Francisco; 59 in Los Angeles; 77 in London; and 33 in Paris. But Hong Kong now has 114 billionaires and there are other up-and-coming other cities like Moscow (77); Beijing (63); Shenzhen (44); Dubai (38); Sao Paulo (33); Mumbai (40); and even Singapore (50).

How to spend your money when you have a lot to spare

One would think that the lifestyles and consumption habits of the obscenely rich are the best measure of contemporary opulence. But Hoffower says this is not necessarily true. “People with large fortunes can indeed be ostentatious. But those with immense fortunes rarely are, or at least don’t buy the most expensive things just to show that they can afford them.”

For example, Elon Musk has enough money to buy Twitter and is a leader in private space tourism, but says he doesn’t own a home and sleeps on friends’ couches. It’s the other anonymous super-rich with only a fraction of Musk’s wealth who buy islands and private jets with platinum fuselages, binge on white truffles from the Italian Piedmont or Serbian Pule cheese that costs $1,000 a pound. They are the ones who regularly dine in the world’s most expensive restaurants, whether it’s Ultraviolet in Shanghai, Masa or Per Se in New York, or Sublimotion in Ibiza. The latter is chef Paco Roncero’s haute-cuisine Mediterranean restaurant, which has a 20-course menu (and three Michelin stars, of course) that will set you back $1,500 per person.

A white truffle from the Italian Piedmont, one of the world’s most sought-after and expensive culinary treasures.
A white truffle from the Italian Piedmont, one of the world’s most sought-after and expensive culinary treasures.MIGUEL MEDINA (AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

What’s the most expensive thing in the world? That would be antimatter, which costs an estimated $62.5 trillion per gram. But no one seems willing to pay that price even if they could overcome major logistical issues to get their hands on some. But it would be an extremely profitable venture since the price back in 2008 was a paltry $23 billion per gram. In other words, the price of antimatter has almost tripled in 13 years as its manufacturing process has become more common. Antimatter is made by colliding hydrogen particles or using antiproton decelerators in highly specialized laboratories.

As far as we know, no one is buying micro-doses of antimatter. But the ultra-rich are definitely buying rare goods like the $30 million Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, the $50 million Graff Diamonds Hallucination wristwatch, and gold-plated yachts like the Yacht History Supreme, bought by an anonymous Malaysian billionaire for $4.8 billion. Others prefer more modest trinkets like the $48 million Falcon iPhone 6 Supernova with a large pink diamond on the back, or a $6.5 million Baldacchino Supreme bed designed by Stuart Hughes and embellished with ash, cherry, chestnut, diamonds, sapphires and 24-carat gold.

As far as expensive hotels go, none costs more than Lovers Deep Luxury Submarine Hotel. For $292,000 a night, you can book a room in this five-star underwater hotel that cruises around the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Not far behind is the Empathy Suite at The Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. These two new bastions of luxury have knocked the penthouse at New York’s Mark Hotel and the royal suite at Geneva’s Hotel President Wilson off the top of the list, both of which cost about $70,000 a night.

Not without my lanternfish gland

Have you had enough? If not, then how about a plate of blue gnocchi at New York’s Golden Gates restaurant for $4,400? Splurging on this pasta dish might be justified because the blue in the dough comes from the lanternfish gland, a very rare and expensive ingredient. Not to be outdone are the crocodile leather umbrellas that sell for more than $50,000 at Billionaire Couture, the London store established by Formula 1 racing tycoon Flavio Briatore and designer Angelo Galasso. Who buys these umbrellas? People like David Beckham and Paul McCartney. Yes, you can also buy a platinum bicycle for $400,000, vacuum cleaners tiled with Swarovski crystals for $20,000, suitcases made of ebony, leather and horsehair for $10,000, diamond-encrusted silicone pacifiers for $17,000, and the list goes on. There’s a whole world of extravagant luxury goods out there.

The Rolls-Royce Boat Tail is the world’s most expensive new car.
The Rolls-Royce Boat Tail is the world’s most expensive new car.JEFF SPICER (GETTY IMAGES FOR ROLLS-ROYCE MOT)

By the way, compared to many of the grotesque excesses described above, buying an island isn’t really that expensive. People in the know say that you can buy Orivaru, a beautiful unspoiled islet in the Maldives archipelago for a mere $11 million. Even cheaper is a tiny, 0.2-acre private island near Ruskin, Florida that sold not long ago for the bargain-basement price of $5 million.

How Holocaust historians are unearthing Ukraine’s present

Years investigating Holocaust atrocities and ISIL war crimes are helping researchers uncover possible Russian abuses in Ukraine.

Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest
Patrick Desbois and his team have spent years uncovering Holocaust atrocities and modern war crimes [Courtesy of Yahad-In Unum]

Kyiv, Ukraine – On the eve of Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, two organisations – one French, the other Ukrainian – began one of their regular meetings in Paris to discuss plans for a Holocaust memorial complex at Babyn Yar, the site of mass killings during the Nazi occupation of Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had not yet announced the beginning of what he refers to as Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, but the writing was on the wall, says Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest who has devoted much of his life to researching the Holocaust and more modern atrocities elsewhere, including in Guatemala, Syria and Iraq.

“I asked my colleagues not to stay in the meeting and to go back to Ukraine,” Desbois told Al Jazeera. He said he wanted them to head home to be with their families as soon as possible.

When someone in the meeting asked Desbois, “Father, will you come to our own mass graves?” the words stuck with him. What may have been a passing comment foreshadowed the extreme violence that was to follow.

News of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers soon emerged, and Desbois’ Paris-based Holocaust research organisation, Yahad-In Unum, began to shift focus to history in real time, deploying its well-honed skills to investigate possible war crimes under way.

“I have been active in Ukraine for 20 years and I know more people in Ukraine than France, so I reconnected with this network and we immediately began employing two people on the ground to track witnesses through social media,” Desbois told Al Jazeera.

Patrick Desbois and Andriy Yermak in Ukraine
Patrick Desbois and Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff of the president of Ukraine, in Kyiv in June 2022 [Courtesy of Yahad-In Unum]

In other parts of Eastern Europe, Yahad-In Unum continues its historical research and is focusing on the Nazis’ “forgotten victims” like the Roma. But in Ukraine, all that has been put on hold so they can help gather evidence for future prosecutions. So far, the group has collected testimonies from more than 100 individuals across Ukraine about possible massacres and abuses.

“The idea is to win in court and to prove that our slogan ‘never again’ should be louder than before the war,” said Maksym Rabinovych, head of the Babyn Yar Memorial Center, Yahad-In Unum’s partner in Ukraine.

Boiler room

For Marco Gonzalez, the director of Yahad-In Unum, one recent case sticks out – a group of mostly men in Novyi Bykiv, 100km (62 miles) east of Kyiv, who were captured by Russian troops and accused of working with the Ukrainian army. The researchers corroborated separate witness accounts.

One of those young men was Maksym Didyk, a 21-year-old car mechanic who described – at times in forensic detail – his nearly two weeks in Russian captivity.

Just days after the invasion began, Russian forces arrived in the village and neighbouring ones, taking over buildings and houses, as their push towards Kyiv stalled.

On March 19, Didyk was taken prisoner at a Russian checkpoint on the way back from tending to his family’s cattle, he told the researchers, adding that he was accused of passing on information to Ukrainian forces.

Didyk described being badly beaten by several interrogators, and eventually taken to a building known as the House of Culture, where Russian troops were based. He was locked up in a grim, airless boiler room near the site and over time was joined by groups of other prisoners – more than 20 in total – who at different periods were tied up and blindfolded in the same room. A tiny cellar below, where one could only slump or sit, held up to seven prisoners at a time.

Didyk narrated the exact locations and details of the beatings he received. “On the head, face, all over the body, ribs, knees, legs, chest, all over,” he recalled. He said that one soldier heated an iron rod and threatened to burn him with it.

Prisoners were only occasionally allowed out to use the bathroom in groups: “They did not give [much] food so that we would not need to go to the toilet.”

Patrick Debois
Patrick at the Dej labour camp and ghetto in Romania, in April 2018 [Courtesy of Yahad-In Unum]

Another prisoner, Ivan, a 20-year-old from nearby Nova Basan who was captured alongside members of his family, was held for five days. He corroborated much of what Didyk said.

Both men spoke about killings just before the Russians withdrew from the town.

According to their accounts, on March 29 a badly beaten prisoner was hauled out of the boiler room by a Russian commander. He never returned.

The next morning, the commander – a bottle of vodka in hand – returned to pick more men, at one stage telling the captives that he needed more corpses. After the Russians left town the following day, Didyk and the other prisoners fled, passing the bodies of three men who had been held with them.

‘Holocaust by bullets’

In documenting such experiences, Yahad-In Unum’s researchers have drawn on nearly two decades of work piecing together historical evidence of crimes committed by the Nazis in Eastern Europe.

Yahad-In Unum – an amalgamation of Hebrew and Latin meaning “together in one” – was founded in 2004 after Desbois, who is based in France, visited Ukraine, where his family had a historical link. During World War II, his grandfather and a group of other French soldiers were taken captive by German troops and deported to the western Ukrainian town of Rava-Ruska.

During the priest’s personal pilgrimage to the town, the mayor there introduced him to survivors who told stories of the Nazi occupation and killings in the surrounding forests.

The mass killings at Rava-Ruska were among countless others in nearby villages, the mayor told the priest – awakening what would become Desbois’ lasting obsession.

The following year, Desbois founded Yahad-In Unum to document the “Holocaust by bullets” in the former Soviet Union. Though the most familiar symbol of the Holocaust is the concentration camp, millions of Jews were massacred by Nazi mobile killing units and buried in mass graves all over Eastern Europe. Yahad-In Unum estimates that in western Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, about 2.2 million Jews were executed in this way during World War II, about 1.6 million of them in Ukraine alone.

The organisation consists of a core of about 15 people in Paris, and several others in Eastern Europe who work with local cameramen and photographers. Their research on the Holocaust has drawn heavily on archival material, notably German archives and a massive trove of documents emanating from a Soviet commission that looked into Nazi atrocities committed against Soviet citizens.

The commission’s lengthy official title – typical of Soviet bureaucracy in its wordiness – is often shortened to “The State Extraordinary Commission for Investigation of Nazi War Crimes”. It was closed to the public until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Yahad-In Unum researchers
Patrick and a team of Yahad-In Unum researchers during an interview in Romania [Courtesy of Yahad-In Unum]

Gonzalez said that researchers assemble archival material before they head into the field. Then a team of at least three people will go to a village, knocking on doors, sometimes visiting the local market in search of old people who were alive at the time of the Nazi occupation.

Usually, a videographer and photographer will shoot the interviews.

“What is amazing is that people want to talk,” he told Al Jazeera. “In many cases, the witnesses bring us to places where Jews were killed, and in many cases, there’s nothing there … these places are forgotten in the middle of the forest.”

Yahad-In Unum has assembled an extensive database, including archival records and video interviews, which has been digitised and turned into an interactive online map pinpointing the sites of hundreds of massacres.

More than 1,000 red dots indicate the sites of documented massacres spanning Estonia in the north to the Caucasus in the south – the full sweep of the Nazi advance. Nearly 2,000 blue dots represent sites where research is in progress.

Babyn Yar

One of those red dots marks a neighbourhood in the north of Kyiv – the site of one of the most infamous episodes in the “Holocaust by bullets”. In late September 1941, in what was one of the largest mass executions of the war, 33,771 Jews were killed over two days and buried in a ravine known as Babyn Yar. For the rest of the Nazi occupation, Babyn Yar continued to be a killing field, where more than 100,000 Jews, Roma, communists, Ukrainian nationalists and others deemed by the Nazis to be undesirable or “sub-human” were slaughtered.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent Ukraine began re-examining the violence and authoritarianism of its past. This uncovering of hidden histories, after decades of Soviet censorship, began a new reckoning with the country’s collective memory through new debates, literature and art.

The history of Ukraine’s Jews and the Holocaust was one area of the past that began to receive the kind of attention that was previously off-limits. Before, the official Soviet narrative of World War II had largely expunged from the historical record the ethnoracial nature of Nazi aggression, denying the true extent of Jewish suffering. Soviet historiography held that all citizens were equally victims of fascism.

Today, Babyn Yar is commemorated in a very different way than back then. The wooded park houses a patchwork of monuments. This includes the original Soviet-era statue from the 1960s of a giant knot of contorted figures – men, women, a child – some of them in strikingly defiant poses. A plaque commemorates the “citizens of Kyiv and prisoners of war”. It is a piece of cold, socialist realism that lacks the subtle mournfulness of other Holocaust monuments.

Wooden synagogue at Babyn Yar
The wooden synagogue at Babyn Yar [Micah Reddy/Al Jazeera]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, monuments like a sculpture of a menorah began to paint a clearer picture of the different groups of people killed at Babyn Yar.

More recent constructions include a life-sized wrought iron wagon to commemorate the Roma victims, a “wailing wall” of coal with crystals jutting out of it, and an 11-metre (36-foot)-tall wooden block completed in 2021 that can be cranked open to form a functioning synagogue.

The eclectic mix of monuments lends a theme park-like look to the area, but beyond the purely commemorative aspect of Babyn Yar there have been efforts to turn it into a hub of information on the “Holocaust by bullets”.

Desbois served as chair of the science committee of the Babyn Yar Memorial Center, which takes a scientific, rational approach to uncovering the past; it has traced 159 alleged Nazi-era perpetrators of the massacre. Other efforts are under way to digitise archival material and create a list of names of those killed at Babyn Yar – a sort of “digital cemetery”, said Rabinovych, the head of the memorial centre.

Rabinovych, who was appointed chief executive in February just days before Russia’s invasion began, said that a project to develop the site had a forecasted budget of $200m over 10 years, which envisioned “the biggest and most modern” Holocaust centre in Eastern Europe, including a museum complex.

The project has not been without controversies. A proposal by the artistic director, Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky, to incorporate virtual reality features to lead visitors on an immersive experience was criticised as a vulgar, Hollywoodised form of Holocaust remembrance. Funding from Russian oligarchs and the influence of private interests over the project were even bigger concerns.

Russia’s invasion, however, halted these grand plans.

Russian troops withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv in early April, but there are signs everywhere that war had come close to Babyn Yar. A nearby television tower bears the scars of a Russian missile attack that happened on March 1, and trenches, sandbags and anti-tank obstacles course along sections of the park. The first museum planned for the site, designed in the shape of an ancient burial mound, was under construction when the war began and remains incomplete.

Babyn Yar
Trenches, sandbags and defences set up at Babyn Yar [Micah Reddy/Al Jazeera]

The memorial centre has had to refocus its efforts. Only 30 percent of its original staff is still at work, and two major Russian backers of the project – billionaires Mikhail Fridman and German Khan – were removed from the Babyn Yar board.

The priority now is the present. The memorial centre is working closely with Yahad-In Unum to track down witnesses of modern-day Russian atrocities and record their testimonies.

Unlike elderly Holocaust witnesses, who are recalling events from many decades ago, these new accounts are just days, weeks or months old. Investigators can obtain highly detailed information about perpetrators.

Rabinovych said that Yahad-In Unum has been training the memorial centre’s team of five in its research methodology, and they have already conducted dozens of interviews.

Investigating recent atrocities

Over the years, Yahad-In Unum has branched out to investigate more recent crimes against humanity in Guatemala, where Gonzalez is from, as well as ISIL (ISIS) atrocities against Yazidis in Iraq. The point is, increasingly, to collect testimony that will stand up in court. It is not just about the historical record. “You can’t go to the police with testimonies of oral memory,” Desbois said. “You need precision.”

Years of work on ISIL investigations have helped Yahad-In Unum refine its approach and detailed line of questioning. Verification and corroboration are key.

“It’s pictures, text, details, and we emphasise topography and corroborative testimony,” said Desbois. “For example, if we interview a girl in Syria and she says she was underground with no windows, and afterwards we interview another girl who was in the same jail and she says it was the second floor, then something is not working.

“So, we reinterrogate, confirm the exact topography and sometimes discover they weren’t in the same place. It’s not why did you do that or how, but more where, when was it, with physical details.”

Desbois is economical with words, and his unembellished conversational manner has clearly set the tone for Yahad-In Unum interviews, videos of which are always dryly matter-of-fact. In recorded accounts of Nazi-era crimes, witness after elderly witness recounts, often devoid of emotion, what happened on the day in question and the minutiae of what they saw – the weather, time, surroundings, the clothes of the victims, the movements of the perpetrators.

In Belgium and Germany, Yahad-In Unum’s painstaking attempts to piece together a more recent past have helped the state prosecute ISIL members for abuses against ethnic Yazidis in Iraq and Syria that took place after 2014.

Thousands of Yazidis were killed, made to convert to ISIL’s rigid interpretation of Islam, or forced into sexual slavery in what United Nations investigators have classified as genocide.

Yahad-In Unum team
The Yahad-In Unum team has investigated modern atrocities in places including in Guatemala, Syria and Iraq [Courtesy of Yahad-In Unum]

Kyiv-born Andrej Umansky, a lawyer, historian and board member of Yahad-In Unum, represented a Yazidi woman in two separate trials in Germany.

“Germany has a universal concept of competence,” said Umansky. “Even if a perpetrator isn’t German and the crime was not committed in Germany, when it comes to crimes against humanity, Germany has the ability to prosecute and is very active on this topic.”

Umansky said that many suspected ISIL fighters from Europe, especially women, were brought back to Germany from camps like Al-Hawl in Syria, which houses many ISIL members and sympathisers.

“For one Yazidi woman we were able to help her as witness against two German ISIS women in two separate trials,” said Umansky. Trials like these – both of which led to prison sentences for the accused – helped the UN determine that genocide was committed against Yazidis.

Yahad-In Unum has interviewed hundreds of ISIL victims, and the organisation’s work has underpinned several investigations in Belgium – a recruiting ground for many ISIL members – which has been proactive in prosecuting members of the group.

Russian crimes

Yahad-In Unum has a similar outcome in mind in Ukraine, where it is working with the Babyn Yar Memorial Center to collect evidence of torture, rape and killings of civilians to be used in trials of Russian soldiers for potential war crimes.

Today, Yahad-In Unum has four people working full-time in Ukraine to trace survivors and witnesses, mostly via social media platforms and channels. “Without the social media we could not do our work,” said Desbois.

The team on the ground moves quickly after learning of a new incident, tracking down witnesses who are interviewed by Yahad-In Unum’s team remotely, to avoid having too many people based in a conflict zone.

The team tends to focus on cases that are lesser known. “In Bucha we didn’t do a lot, everyone was there,” Desbois said, referring to the rights organisations and media who were present in the town outside Kyiv where hundreds of civilian bodies were recovered after Russia’s withdrawal. They also focus on cases where evidence is strong and denials even stronger.

Something that sets these investigations apart from the ISIL investigations, Yahad-In Unum’s staff said, is having to counter the Putin regime’s propaganda. While ISIL was open about many of its abuses, which the group attempted to justify on religious grounds, Putin’s regime relies more on disinformation.

The forest close to Babyn Yar
Destruction in the area surrounding Babyn Yar shows evidence of how close the war came [Micah Reddy/Al Jazeera]

Desbois said that Russian officials often won’t deny that an attack happened, but will deny the identity of the victims and claim civilian targets were, in fact, military targets.

“When a mall was bombed they said it was not a mall that was bombed, it was a military place,” he said. “So we double-checked there were no military around and also we found eight persons working in the mall, so we could criss-cross the testimonies of the people because one witness is not enough.”

According to Umansky: “Gathering witnesses to Russian crimes has not only a purpose of justice but also of proof against Russian denial.”

Desbois sees the role of the interview as not dissimilar to Catholic confession. For him, determination of guilt lies with his God and the courts, not his team of interviewers and researchers. “We must suspend our judgement,” said Desbois, “we don’t show our point of view.”

The approach is disarming, and allows witnesses to speak more openly when they inhabit the “grey zone” – a term coined by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi to refer to the morally ambiguous positions between victim and perpetrator, and acts of compromise and collaboration inside the concentration camps. Desbois offered the example of Nazi soldiers shooting Jews: They are drunk and want locals to bring them sausages and vodka, “The woman who brings it is in the grey zone,” he said.

For Desbois, this best describes the position of most witnesses Yahad-In Unum interviews. But it also describes most Russian soldiers in Ukraine. “There is no war without grey zone. You cannot have a war full of bad people, you don’t have enough bad people to do that … Putin is putting a lot of innocent Russians in the grey zone and he is using them.”

Fame is not what it used to be: Why stars like Marilyn and Elvis don’t exist anymore

In a world consumed by social media influencers and superheroes, the film industry is wallowing in nostalgia for the great icons of yesteryear

Marilyn Monroe poses on a beach in 1954.
Marilyn Monroe poses on a beach in 1954.BARON (GETTY)

It happens more often now, even to people well versed in pop culture: one day, you discover that you don’t know half of the actors and actresses featured in the Hollywood issue that Vanity Fair puts out to coincide with the Oscars. Who is that actress next to Nicole Kidman? No idea. Who is at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100? No clue (Morgan Wallen, Steve Lacy). Emma Chamberlain’s house goes viral, and we are not quite clear about who she is, let alone what the 21-year-old has done to earn enough money to buy a $4.3 million mansion (answer: she is a social media phenomenon who has signed deals with Levi’s, Cartier and Louis Vuitton). This lack of pop culture knowledge isn’t just a matter of getting old; it shows that intergenerational and “inter-bubble” conversation has become increasingly difficult.

Will anyone ever be as famous as Elvis or Marilyn again? Recently, The Economist asked that very question as Andrew Dominik’s Blonde and Baz Luhrmann’s Elvishit theaters. To put the question somewhat differently, 50 years from now, will someone make a movie called Kim? And willeveryone understand that the film is about Kim Kardashian, a ubiquitous media personality during the first two decades of the 21st century? That seems unlikely. Notwithstanding her 152 million followers on Instagram and global multi-industry empire that encompasses fashion, beauty and entertainment, Kim K. is not Marilyn M., even if the former wore the latter’s dress to the most recent Met Gala.

“The ways in which fame is built, distributed and experienced have radically changed,” Costa continues. “Today, it’s clear to us that universal desires don’t even exist; therefore, there’s no need to strive toward hegemonic desire. The new models of fame respond to a much more fragmented reality, which not only corresponds to our new desires but also the new ways in which we consume and generate culture.”

Fragmentation is the operative word. It is increasingly difficult to get enough people to like the same thing at the same time. Even the products that have the greatest ability to reach wide audiences (shows like Stranger Things andHouse of the Dragon) come from segmented platforms, such as Netflix, HBO Max and Twitch. The first two are paid services. On the third platform, almost 50% of users are between 25 and 34 years old, only 1.3% are over 65 and less than 20% of users are women; thus, Twitch content is necessarily fated to be filtered by age and gender.

Much of this transition from absolute fame to multiple types of “micro-fame” also has to do with cinema’s declining status as a unifying aspect of popular culture and the advent of the 21st-century blockbuster. It is a chicken-or-the-egg problem. It’s not easy to say which came first: the demise of the star vehicle (like the very successful films Elvis Presley made in the 1950s and 1960s), or the dearth of stars capable of carrying a movie like that by themselves.

The truth is that stardom isn’t what it used to be. For instance, up to this point, the top 10 highest grossing films in Spain are two cartoon movies (the highest grossing film of all is Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Tadeo Jones 3 is number 8), four are superhero movies (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessThor: Love and ThunderThe Batman and Spider-Man: No Way Home), and another is an adaptation of a video game (Uncharted). OnlyTop Gun: Maverick (the sequel), which comes in at number nine, features a global star, Tom Cruise, who, the reviews agree, is “Hollywood’s last great star” in the classic sense of the term. In an age of intellectual property and franchise-based entertainment, actors are interchangeable. Almost all the big stars, from Benedict Cumberbatch to Jennifer Lawrence, are attached to either Marvel or DC, but they are all expendable. Even the actors themselves know it. Actor Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, said in a 2019 viral clip that “there are no movie stars anymore. Anthony Mackie is not a star. Falcon is a star. You used to go see Will Smith’s movie, or Stallone’s movie, or Schwarzenegger’s movie. Now, you go to see the X-Men. The evolution of the superhero movie has meant the death of the movie star.”

Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.CHUCK ZLOTNICK

As film historian Ben Fritz points out in his book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, the current situation is a stark contrast with how things were just two decades ago. At that time, stars such as Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts were the heart of the industry; they could demand $20 million salaries and final approval of every aspect of their films, even if they didn’t produce them. The cast, script and director were all chosen based on their synergy with the star. Fritz argues that the short-lived DVD era clearly demonstrated that reality: DVD cover art made the star’s face or body as visible as possible.

In the absence of a new generation of stars, the only thing left to do is wallow in nostalgia for the old ones. The tremendous, and to some extent unexpected, 2018 success of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, paved the way for the Elton John biopic Rocketman and Luhrmann’s Elvis. Netflix offered producer Ryan Murphy a $300 million deal to continue making series that revisit the past. “Murphy’s work always revolves around a queer re-reading of classic Hollywood. Films like Blonde and Elvis reveal the making of these icons and their underlying tragedies, so we shouldn’t see [that period] as a paradise lost,” notes Jordi Costa.

Indeed, in his book The Hours Have Lost Their Clock: The Politics of Nostalgia, cultural critic Grafton Tanner contends that looking back is never innocent: “The nostalgia industry is not only dedicated to selling us the past. It also spreads versions of history that cement the dominant ideologies of the present.” But that past, which is increasingly manipulated and distorted, is the only thing we have in common now.

Kyiv Planning for Total Evacuation if It Loses Electricity

The city is also establishing 1,000 heating centers for its 3 million residents, as Russia pounds away at civilian targets.

A darkened street in Kyiv, Ukraine, at night, with only a few lights coming from an apartment building.
Kyiv is facing rolling blackouts to help prevent a complete failure of Ukraine’s electrical grid.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — As they struggle to maintain an electricity grid heavily damaged by Russian missiles, officials in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, say they have begun planning for a once unthinkable possibility: a complete blackout that would require the evacuation of the city’s approximately three million remaining residents.

The situation is already so dire, with 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed, that municipal workers are setting up 1,000 heating shelters that can double as bunkers while engineers try to fix bombed-out power stations without the needed equipment.

To try to keep the grid from failing altogether, Ukraine’s national energy utility said on Saturday that it would continue to impose rolling blackouts in seven regions.

The tremendous strain on Ukraine’s ability to provide power is the result of the widespread bombardment by Russian forces of critical energy infrastructure across the country, a tactic that analysts say President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has resorted to as his troops have suffered repeated setbacks on the battlefield.

The damage caused by the Russian strikes has heaped new suffering on Ukraine’s civilians and forced officials to reckon with the possibility that further damage could render them unable to provide basic services.

As Ukraine struggled to cope with Russian attacks on its infrastructure, a municipal worker on Friday installed a backup water line from Kyiv to the suburb of Hostomel that was powered by gravity and would function without electricity.
As Ukraine struggled to cope with Russian attacks on its infrastructure, a municipal worker on Friday installed a backup water line from Kyiv to the suburb of Hostomel that was powered by gravity and would function without electricity.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

“We understand that if Russia continues such attacks, we may lose our entire electricity system,” Roman Tkachuk, the director of security for the Kyiv municipal government, said in an interview, speaking of the city.

Officials in the capital have been told that they would be likely to have at least 12 hours’ notice that the grid was on the verge of failure. If it reaches that point, Mr. Tkachuk said, “we will start informing people and requesting them to leave.”

For now at least, the situation is manageable, and there were no indications that large numbers of civilians were fleeing Kyiv, he said. But that would change quickly if the services that relied on city power stopped.

“If there’s no power, there will be no water and no sewage,” he said. “That’s why currently the government and city administration are taking all possible measures to protect our power supply system.”

As winter approaches, the city is preparing 1,000 heating shelters that can also protect civilians from Russian missiles. Most are inside educational facilities, but the authorities have asked that their precise locations not be reported lest they become easy targets.

In one school, the basement had been stocked with bottled water; makeshift classrooms had been set up; and a fire truck was stationed just outside the auditorium. Across the hall from a stack of disaster preparedness kits was a stark reminder of the normalcy the school once enjoyed: a large poster of Minnie Mouse.

A fire truck parked outside a school in Kyiv that is being outfitted as one of 1,000 heating shelters the city plans to establish for people to brave the winter without basic infrastructure.
A fire truck parked outside a school in Kyiv that is being outfitted as one of 1,000 heating shelters the city plans to establish for people to brave the winter without basic infrastructure. Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

When Russia launched its latest barrage of more than 50 cruise missiles on Monday, most were shot down, Ukrainian officials said. But those that got through hit power plants and substations, immediately depriving thousands of people of power.

On Friday, another Russian strike hit a facility run by the company that distributes power to people’s homes. It was the 12th energy facility hit in the last month, the company said.

Across the city, engineers were working to repair the damaged electricity infrastructure, despite having no easy way to obtain the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment they would need to fully restore the network. To reduce the damage caused by future attacks, they were protecting power stations with blast walls.

Ukraine’s national electric utility, Ukrenergo, confirmed on Saturday the need to continue rolling blackouts, saying they were necessary to “reduce the load on the networks, ensure sustainable balancing of the power system and avoid repeated accidents after the power grids were damaged by Russian missile and drone attacks.”

The cuts would affect Kyiv and its environs, and the regions of Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Kharkiv, Poltava, Sumy and Zhytomyr, the utility said.

Ukraine’s Western allies have stepped up their pledges to provide the country with more air defenses. But putting them in place has been challenging, and opposition to the aid effort is bubbling up in the West as many countries face their own economic headwinds.

But U.S. and European leaders have so far remained unswayed.

Water supplies in the basement of a school that has been prepared as a heat shelter in Kyiv.
Water supplies in the basement of a school that has been prepared as a heat shelter in Kyiv.Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

On Friday, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said during a visit to Kyiv that Washington’s support for Ukraine remained strong and that aid would continue to flow after the midterm elections.

“I’m confident U.S. support for Ukraine will be unwavering and unflinching,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters in a sandbagged conference room in the presidential office.

Buttressing that pledge on Friday was an announcement by the Defense Department that it was setting up a new command to oversee how the United States and its allies train and equip the Ukrainian military.

It also announced a new package of $400 million in security assistance, bringing to a total of $18.9 billion the military assistance that the United States has committed to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

The Pentagon’s new commitments show that the United States expects the threat that Russia poses to Ukraine and its neighbors to persist for many years, current and former senior U.S. officials said.

Also on Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister acknowledged for the first time that his country had sent armed drones to Russia, although he said they had been delivered before Moscow invaded Ukraine.

Throughout the war, but particularly in recent weeks, Russia has used Iranian-made drones to launch deadly strikes that have wreaked havoc on Ukrainian cities, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.

Engineers worked on electrical lines in the town of Prudyanka, about 16 miles north of Kharkiv, this week. Ukraine lacks the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new equipment it would need to repair the electrical system even if Russia were to ease its attacks.
Engineers worked on electrical lines in the town of Prudyanka, about 16 miles north of Kharkiv, this week. Ukraine lacks the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new equipment it would need to repair the electrical system even if Russia were to ease its attacks.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Iran has denied sending drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, and the Kremlin has denied using Iranian drones to attack civilians. But international calls for accountability have mounted as Russia has carried out repeated deadly assaults.

The European Union and Britain have imposed new sanctions on Iran over the attack drones, and the United States is considering its own sanctions on top of those already in place over nuclear weapons concerns.

According to the Iranian state news media, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Amirabdollahian, pushed back on Saturday on accusations from Western nations that Iran had supplied Russia with drones to use in Ukraine.

The deliveries in question took place months before the invasion, Mr. Amirabdollahian said. He did not give any details on the types or numbers of drones provided.

The statement appeared to be an effort to protect Iran from even greater sanctions from Western nations than those that have already profoundly weakened its economy.

But it was unlikely to change the strong perception in Western capitals that Iran backed Russia’s war effort.

Current and former U.S. officials have said that Iran has sent trainers to Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to help Russian fighters operate the drones. Such collaboration underscores how ties between Iran and Russia have grown stronger as the Kremlin has sought to offset its international isolation.

Iran has said that it would not provide either side of the conflict in Ukraine with military equipment, but had previously confirmed that a drone deal with Russia was part of a military agreement that predated the invasion of Ukraine.

A drone, believed to be Iranian-made, nearing its target in Kyiv on Oct. 17.
A drone, believed to be Iranian-made, nearing its target in Kyiv on Oct. 17.Credit…Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Ben Hubbard from Istanbul. Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky in Montreal, Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Cassandra Vinograd in London, Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper in Washington and Edward Wong in Münster, Germany.

New York Times – November 5. 2022

Amid a forest of Ukrainian flags, soldiers honor a fallen comrade with vodka.

Ukrainian soldiers offering a vodka toast at the grave of their platoon commander, Balaban Oleksyi, 38, in the southern city of Kharkiv on Thursday.
Ukrainian soldiers offering a vodka toast at the grave of their platoon commander, Balaban Oleksyi, 38, in the southern city of Kharkiv on Thursday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Family members of the Ukrainian soldier Roman Vakulenko, 52, at his funeral in Kharkiv on Thursday.
Family members of the Ukrainian soldier Roman Vakulenko, 52, at his funeral in Kharkiv on Thursday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Grave diggers lowered the coffin of Mr. Vakulenko in Kharkiv.
Grave diggers lowered the coffin of Mr. Vakulenko in Kharkiv.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Surrounded by hundreds of blue and gold flags fluttering in the military section of Cemetery 18 in Kharkiv, the soldiers toasted their young platoon commander with glasses of vodka, leaving a third glass, filled to the brim, atop his grave.

One of the soldiers, who declined to give his name, said that the commander, Balaban Oleksyi, 38, had saved his life, rescuing him when he was wounded in combat this summer.

The soldier was still recovering when the commander was killed in July along with 19 other soldiers during fighting near the Russian border in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region. Shrapnel from a tank shell tore through his body.

Now, supporting himself with a cane, the soldier staggered over soft, freshly dug earth toward the commander’s grave.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to rescue you,” he said, wiping away tears.

That soldier and a comrade, with the nom de guerre Nazar, sat grieving for a few minutes under a gray sky, before piling into a car and pulling away.

Moments later, a dozen people gathered around the open coffin of Roman Vakulenko. He had joined the Ukrainian Army as a volunteer in August, and was killed by a Russian artillery strike on Oct. 25 after being deployed to Bakhmut, a city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region that has experienced intense fighting.

His wife, Olena Kosenkova, 60, said she had begged him not to volunteer.

New York Times – November 5, 2022

Beijing’s Long Arm China’s Secret Police Stations in Europe

Harassed in the Netherlands: Dissident Wang Jingyu together with his fiancée Wu Huan
Harassed in the Netherlands: Dissident Wang Jingyu together with his fiancée Wu Huan Foto: Peter Arno Broer / DER SPIEGEL

China has allegedly established dozens of police stations abroad, including many in Europe. Beijing has sought to play down the reports, but one dissident in Europe recounts how he has been constantly harassed by staff members of one such office.

China’s Police Stations Abroad

To learn more about the reports of Chinese police stations in Europe, a DER SPIEGEL team conducted reporting in Italy, China, Germany and the Netherlands. Reporters traveled to addresses where such police stations have been identified and spoke with European officials and experts. They also met in The Hague with Wang Jingyu, a young Chinese dissident who has suffered significant harassment at the hands of Chinese officials.

The man who has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese government for the past several weeks quickly makes another coffee and lights a cigarette. Peter Dahlin is sitting in his loft apartment in Lisbon – in the calm eye of the storm that he has triggered himself.

Originally from Sweden, Dahlin is head of the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders, and together with his colleagues, he has managed to uncover a global network of Chinese police stations that has been built up more or less in secrecy: with locations in Britain, Spain, Italy, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands, but also in Canada and the United States. The organization lists more than 30 presumed offices in its report, complete with telephone numbers and addresses. “We expected that agencies and secret services would be interested in our findings,” Dahlin says. But he wasn’t expecting a public debate in so many countries at the same time.

Activist Peter Dahlin in Thailand in May 2016

Activist Peter Dahlin in Thailand in May 2016 Foto: Adam Dean / The New York Times / Redux / laif

Last week, the Irish government ordered the closure of an office in Dublin which, according to a sign at the entrance, is called the Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station. In London, the House of Commons has even discussed Dahlin’s report. And an investigation is underway in the Netherlands, in part because of statements made by Wang Jingyu, a 21-year-old dissident that the Chinese government has followed all the way to Europe.

Officials in Beijing, for their part, insist that the whole thing is just a big misunderstanding. The offices, they say, are merely there to provide services to Chinese citizens abroad, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed. They were established during the pandemic, he said, to simplify bureaucratic procedures, such as renewing Chinese driver’s licenses.

A sign for a Chinese police station in Dublin.

A sign for a Chinese police station in Dublin. Foto: 

Conor Gallagher / THE IRISH TIMES

But wouldn’t Chinese consulates and embassies be responsible for such details? How could it be possible for a country to establish police structures in other countries without approval from their governments? And how dangerous are the stations for dissidents?

Dahlin knows from personal experience how brutal Chinese officials can be. He lived in Beijing for almost 10 years, where he ran an organization that supported and trained lawyers in rural areas of China. In 2016, Dahlin was arrested and locked away in a secret prison. The guards would hardly allow him to sleep at night, and during the day, they would interrogate him for hours at a time. He was released after just over three weeks, but first he was required to confess on Chinese state television. The statement was prepared for him by state officials.

“Each Case Must Be Examined Individually”

“It isn’t a centralized operation from Beijing,” Dahlin says of the police stations abroad. Most of the offices have been set up in the apartments, offices or restaurants of expat Chinese citizens, who are often grouped together in cultural associations. Everything on a volunteer basis. “We don’t want a witch hunt. There are also cultural associations that do really good things,” Dahlin says. “Each case has to be reviewed individually.”

China sees itself as a major global power, and its laws and regulations are meant to apply to anyone no matter where they live in the world. In legalese, that claim of universality is known as extraterritoriality. It began with the National Security Law enacted in 2015, which explicitly applies in cyberspace just as it does in outer space, in the ocean depths and at the poles. All of it is considered to be part of China’s security sphere. “Since 2019, pretty much all important Chinese laws are being augmented with such paragraphs,” says Moritz Rudolf, who researches the international application of Chinese law at Yale University. Are the police stations abroad a consequence of China’s new understanding of its laws? “It’s not that simple,” says Rudolf. “It looks to me like some prefectures and cities are trying to take the initiative and show at the provincial level that they are ardently implementing the decrees of the central government. The result is chaos.”

Evidence suggests that he may be correct. The police stations that Dahlin has discovered are linked either to the prefecture-level city of Lishui and the county of Qingtian or to officials in Fuzhou, capital of the coastal province of Fujian. The Lishui metropolitan area is home to 2.5 million people, while 8.3 million live in Fuzhou and its surroundings.

The choice of people assigned to the offices is also rather baffling in some instances. For a time, the representative from the Qingtian prosecutor’s office in Italy was a man who had been sentenced in Tuscany to three years in prison in 2015 for attempted blackmail and assault.

What other legal violations Chinese representatives may have committed in connection with the police stations must now be investigated. “I suspect that many aren’t even aware that they have violated the law,” says Rudolf.

Liaisons in Germany

Dahlin’s list contains no precise information regarding potential Chinese police stations in Germany. DER SPIEGEL has found, however, that there are at least half a dozen Chinese citizens in the country who, in violation of all diplomatic conventions, have worked as liaisons for Chinese agencies completely independent of the Chinese Embassy in Berlin and its consulates in other German cities. Most of them were listed, along with their mobile numbers, in an article in a Chinese trade newspaper in February of last year as contacts for Chinese citizens living abroad. They are apparently well-connected personalities, including restaurant owners, vendors and businesspeople.

When reached by phone, one of them, who works in gastronomy, says he is unable to talk at the moment. During a break, he then calls back. An assistant to the police? “I have nothing to do with that,” he bristles. He says that he does, however, assist fellow citizens in Germany who need to contact a motor vehicles office back home. He says that a Chinese cultural association approached him during the pandemic, asking him if he would be willing to assist others with things like renewing their Chinese driver’s licenses. “The flights to China were so expensive, thousands of euros, nobody could afford them anymore,” he says. So, he said he would be willing to assist Chinese people in his area with setting up online appointments with the relevant agencies. “It’s a good thing. I’m like the volunteer fire department.”

Berlin takes a different view. “The German government does not tolerate the exercise of foreign state power, and accordingly, Chinese agencies do not have any executive authority on the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany,” the German Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Deceptively Warm Words

It is also incorrect to say that the police stations were only first established during the pandemic, as the Foreign Ministry in Beijing suggests. In 2019, a Chinese news website announced the inauguration of the Frankfurt “foreign liaison office” of the Qingtian law enforcement agency. “For expat Chinese, who aren’t home often, it is particularly unpleasant when they are confronted with legal questions in an emergency,” the article notes. Which is why, it continues, there is the possibility of providing testimony to Chinese courts from the other end of the world via video-chat – “to warm the hearts of travelers.”

The office of a Qingtian cultural association in Hungary

The office of a Qingtian cultural association in Hungary Foto: Anna Szilagyi / AP

Those more familiar with the scene, though, warn that such warm words can be misleading. German security officials have been keeping an eye on the police stations in the country for quite some time. In addition to offering helpful services, the representations may also be used for the surveillance of Chinese expats. That’s apparently what happened in the Netherlands. If you call the number in Dahlin’s list for the Chinese police station in Rotterdam, a man answers the phone. But as soon as he learns that journalists are interested in speaking to him, he stops answering.

The Harassed Dissident

Wang Jingyu knows the telephone number well. On a single day this year, February 5, he received fully 14 phone calls from that number. Initially, Wang would answer. First, a man offered him financial support, according to Wang’s account, saying that all Wang had to do was meet with him in person. When he didn’t accept the proposal, the man changed his strategy, says Wang. He called and said that Wang should return to China to “settle his problems.”

For Wang, that was a further indication that intimidation from Chinese officials doesn’t stop once you leave the country. Since July 2021, the 21-year-old has lived with his fiancée Wu Huan in the Netherlands, where he received asylum. But he doesn’t feel safe, Wang says. During a meeting at the train station in The Hague, he briefly considers changing cafés because a man sitting at the neighboring table looks Chinese. But then, the man gets up and leaves and Wang begins telling his story.

Wang Jingyu and Wu Huan in the Netherlands

Wang Jingyu and Wu Huan in the Netherlands Foto: Peter Arno Broer / DER SPIEGEL

It starts with the fact that when he was growing up, his parents would watch foreign broadcasters like CNN and BBC. “My parents aren’t against the Communist Party, they’re just open,” Wang says. At school, he told others about what he had seen on television – that it is a basic human right, for example, to demonstrate in public for one’s convictions. He says he was 16 years old when his teacher called the police for the first time. “The officers told me that if I didn’t stop, I would be sent to prison.”

In July 2019, the situation escalated. Hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets of Hong Kong to demonstrate against the leadership in Beijing and Wang, then 17, expressed solidarity with the Hong Kong protests on Douyin, the carefully monitored Chinese counterpart to TikTok. A short time later, Wang says, his parents learned from friends that their son was facing arrest. Instead of completing school, he and his fiancée traveled to Hong Kong. “We thought it was just vacation. It was only when we arrived that my parents told me that I couldn’t return.” And suddenly, he was a dissident. But for quite some time, he didn’t really feel like an activist, more like someone being financed by his parents as he traveled around a bit, thinking that he might perhaps like to go to college in the United States one day.

Everything changed in February 2021. Wang Jingyu posted something about the India-Chinese border skirmishes and expressed doubt as to whether the Chinese government had been honest about the number of casualties. A short time later, Chinese officials issued a warrant for his arrest, which state television also broadcast. Wang, they said, had “insulted heroes and martyrs,” adding: “Security agencies will crack down on such behavior.”

Wangs fiancée Wu Huan

Wangs fiancée Wu Huan Foto: Peter Arno Broer / DER SPIEGEL

“China is the greatest country in the world, and I still believe that. I couldn’t imagine the government wanting to do us harm.”

Wu Huan

Wang Jingyu brought along a stack of documents to the meeting in The Hague, including papers from the asylum agency, interrogation logs from the Dutch police and records of his trips in and out of the country. Together, they underpin all that has happened to Wang in the last three years. In April 2021, he wanted to travel to the U.S., but was arrested while changing planes in Dubai. Initially, he thought it was a misunderstanding, until staffers from the Chinese Embassy showed up in his prison cell. Wang says they tried to force him to return to China. He obtained legal representation and ultimately ended up in Ukraine with the support of a human rights organization.

There, he received an email in July 2021 from police officials in Chongqing, his hometown. “Have no illusions, Chinese agencies have the ability and the confidence to have you extradited to China at any time,” the email read. It further stated that Chinese officials knew “precisely” where he was staying. Wang and his fiancée then fled to the Netherlands – and received the calls from the man in Rotterdam a few months later.

Wang Jingyu met his fiancée Wun Huan when he was trying to take back a defective computer part at home in Chongqing. Wang was angry and a woman in customer service calmed him down. They began writing each other text messages, and at some point, they went out for a meal before ultimately starting a relationship.

“I had no idea about his political views,” Wu Huan says, sitting next to him in the train station café in The Hague. “I had never thought about politics.” Her parents are farmers, “very simple people.” When they learned from the police that their daughter was now in the Netherlands, she says they asked: “Where in China is that?” Today, she no longer has any contact with her parents because she doesn’t want to put them in danger. She says that the threats against Wang have made her “sad and disappointed.” In school, she says, she learned that “China is the greatest country in the world, and I still believe that. I couldn’t imagine the government wanting to do us harm,” she says.

Police Knocking at the Door

The attempts by China’s overseas police force to get in touch with him are not, for the moment, Wang’s most pressing problem. In September, a heavily armed Dutch police commando suddenly turned up outside his apartment door in The Hague. Someone had called in a tip to the authorities that Wang was building a bomb. Similar incidents have followed: Hotel rooms have been booked under Wang’s name and passport number in the Netherlands and Belgium, before these hotels then receive bomb threats, allegedly from Wang.

Despite living in the Netherlands, dissident Wang Jingyu and his fiancée Wu Huan have suffered constant harassment from Chinese officials.

Despite living in the Netherlands, dissident Wang Jingyu and his fiancée Wu Huan have suffered constant harassment from Chinese officials. Foto: Peter Arno Broer / DER SPIEGEL

“The officers told me that if I didn’t stop, I would be sent to prison.”

Wang Jingyu

One interrogation log from October 7 reads: “In the name of Mr. Wang, a number of bomb threats have been made across the country. We were allowed to look through Wang’s mobile phone, and there is nothing to indicate that he is actually the one responsible for the bomb threats.” Wang Jingyu also made a visit to the police on September 17 in an attempt to convince officers that he was not planning on planting any bombs. “Why do you think that the Chinese government is behind the threats?” the officers asked him. “Because I have no trouble with anyone else,” Wang replied. In addition, Wang explained, shortly before the bomb threats began, he had received a telephone call in which he had been given a choice: Either he returns to China. Or he will be arrested in the Netherlands. A short time later, the Dutch police commando was banging on his door searching for a Chinese terrorist.

“The case of Wang Jingyu shows that the Chinese authorities do not stop at the national border,” says Peter Dahlin. “It is important that we finally have a debate in Europe on Chinese influence. Out of hiding, into the spotlight.”

Could a 1933 novel about Nazism provide a cautionary tale about totalitarianism in 2022?

‘The Oppermann Brothers’, Lion Feuchtwanger’s seminal book about the German Reich, has been republished in the US to great acclaim

Lion Feuchtwanger’s books and others are burned at a Nazi rally in 1933.
Lion Feuchtwanger’s books and others are burned at a Nazi rally in 1933.BETTMANN (BETTMANN ARCHIVE)

Lion Feuchtwanger was one of the many Germans who saw their world fall apart with the rise of Nazism and Hitler. Feuchtwanger was a well-known pacificist who gained broader fame for his 1925 novel, Jud Süß (The Jew Seuss, in English), a virulent denunciation of anti-Semitism. Intelligent and free-thinking, Feuchtwanger was Jewish, leftist and anti-military – everything the Nazis hated. In 1933, he undertook a long and dangerous trip into exile and initially settled in the south of France. When the Germans invaded in 1940, he fled once again, this time to California. There he met Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann, like-minded German exiles who had also settled in Los Angeles.

The novel that put Feuchtwanger squarely in the sights of book-burning Nazis was The Oppermann Brothers, the 1934 story about a German Jewish family that quickly made an enormous impact. It was almost immediately translated into 10 languages and sold 250,000 copies. At the time, the German government was energetically rolling out its anti-Semitic policies and had already opened Dachau, its first concentration camp. Persecution of Social Democrat and Communist party members was commonplace. But many leaders of other countries remained unconcerned, and considered communism to be a greater threat. In fact, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin attracted widespread international participation. Early on in Hitler’s rise to power, many Germans thought he could be controlled, but Feuchtwanger’s book showed that no one was safe from the murderous madness of the new regime.

The writer Lion Feuchtwanger in 1951.
The writer Lion Feuchtwanger in 1951.BETTMANN (BETTMANN ARCHIVE)

Anyone who reads The Oppermann Brothers today will be shocked by Feuchtwanger’s acute descriptions of how Nazism persistently crept into every corner of life. The inescapable conclusion of the book is that no free-thinking citizen could remain in Germany, and that the persecution of the Jews would never stop. Few people so clearly intuited and foretold the Holocaust and World War II. In one of the book’s many plotlines, a student of the Oppermanns reads his essay in class out loud. “Luther’s translation of the Bible and Gutenberg’s inventions were undoubtedly far more important for Germany and its reputation than the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest,” (when an alliance of Germanic peoples ambushed and defeated Roman legions in AD 9). A teacher sympathetic to the Nazis (whom Feuchtwanger calls “the populars”) denounces the student to the French high school principal, who comes to his defense.

The Nazi-sympathizing teacher declares that Oppermann is not a “good German,” nor can he ever be. Without revealing too many spoilers, when Hitler comes to power, the principal is forced to choose between his job and poverty, at best. More likely, he would be beaten and thrown into a concentration camp. To choose his job over these other fates would mean deserting an excellent pupil with whom he agrees.

“History taught me how incredible it was that besieged people only considered escaping to safety when it was much too late,” says the book’s narrator. That’s the lesson in a nutshell – persecuted people realize that it is no longer possible to escape, and people who thought they were being governed by a democracy suddenly realize that it’s actually a terrorizing dictatorship. While nothing compares with Nazism, this lesson has all too obvious contemporary echoes – would Brazil have remained a democracy if Bolsonaro won a second term? What about the United States if Trump wins the presidency again in 2024? Are Hungary and Poland dictatorships right now? Can Italian democracy survive Meloni? Will the rights of the most vulnerable minorities be protected?

Lion Feuchtwanger and Bertolt Brecht in 1935.
Lion Feuchtwanger and Bertolt Brecht in 1935.FRED STEIN ARCHIVE (GETTY IMAGES)

The Oppermann Brothers has recently been republished in English (Simon & Schuster, 2022) with a foreword by Joshua Cohen, who won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his genre-bending novel, The Netanyahus. The book has rekindled the debate on whether Feuchtwanger’s 1993 story can be applied to the present, a warning from the past about the anti-democratic forces that are doggedly gaining ground in Europe and the United States, while we naively think that our democracies are too strong to be defeated from within.

In his foreword, Cohen writes that The Oppermann Brothers is evidence that a cautionary tale can echo beyond the immediacy of its time if written with honesty, great dramatic skill, and deep feeling for human beings. One of the most disturbing aspects of the book is how closely it describes a world ruled by the likes of Vladimir Putin and Daniel Ortega, a world in which true and false have no meaning. “The fog of lies thickened more and more over Germany, given over to the lies that the populars spread day after day in millions of ways, shouted from loudspeakers and on printed paper. He had founded a special ministry for this purpose. With the most modern technical means available, the hungry were convinced that they were satiated, the oppressed were told that they were free, the threatened were persuaded that the whole world envied them for their vitality and glory.”

Pirated e-book site Z-Library vanishes—sending college students into a panic

Here’s what’s been going on with the site—plus some alternatives for accessing free e-books.

Many a desperate college student has turned to Z-Library, a site for pirated e-books, as an alternative to expensive textbooks. But on Friday, the site suddenly went dark, sending students who relied on the site scrambling—with some even raising comparisons to a modern-day burning of the Library of Alexandria.


One of the internet’s largest pirated e-book databases, which are also called “shadow libraries,” Z-Library offered more than 10 million e-books and 86 million articles at its peak, with a limited number of monthly downloads accessible to millions of users free of charge, and more available for a small fee.

The hashtag #zlibrary had recently grown popular on TikTok, with users pluggin the free database as a way to access novels popular on BookTok, the app’s community of fiction lovers. (TikTok recently blocked the hashtag.)

Though it’s beloved by students and book fanatics, the site isn’t popular among authors, whose work regularly gets uploaded to Z-Library without compensation.


“Z-Library is killing us. A book we release in the morning is up on Z-Library by lunchtime,” wrote author Sarina Bowen in a complaint to the Office of the United States Trade Representative earlier this year. “This isn’t the only site that hurts us, but it’s the site that keeps showing up in TikTok videos.”

After Z-Library went dark, Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, told Fast Company in a statement, “We’re delighted to hear the domains have been shut down.”


The exact circumstances of Z-Library’s shutdown are still unclear. Some of its many domain names simply won’t load. Others lead to a message reading: “This domain has been seized by the United States Postal Inspection Service in accordance with a court order.” However, in response to a request for comment, the Postal Inspection Service wrote that “this case was inadvertently credited to Postal Inspectors,” and directed media requests be sent to the Department of Justice. (The DOJ declined Fast Company’s request for a comment.)

Some users report getting a message from Z-Library blaming the issue on “a server block by one of our hosting providers,” not a government crackdown. Recently, internet service providers have come under increased pressure to block shadow libraries because of copyright infringement. The courts in some countries, including France and India, have ruled that providers must block Z-Library

COMMENT: The simpler way to get a book is to use a Russian source. Just enter VK followed by the author’s name. One cannot get as many books as with Z Library but if your interests match the interests of the many Russians using this website – it is their Facebook – you will find good books. One does not need to read Russian.


Z-Library was far from the only shadow library on the internet, but there are plenty of non-pirated options for free e-books. You can check out some digital copies of books from public libraries from sites like Open Library and OverDrive. Meanwhile, Project Gutenberg specializes in public domain e-books.

17 Best Z-Library Alternatives of 2022

by RaraThemes EditorialUpdated on 13 Min Read

17 Best Z-Library Alternatives of 2022



If you’re a fan of reading books online for free, you’re probably familiar with Z-Library.

Z-library is a free online library with over 100 million books. 

It allows users to upload their e-books, as well as to download and read books uploaded by other users. The books can be downloaded without registration and in many formats like EPUB, PDF, MOBI, and DJVU.

Z-library is a great platform for avid readers, but it’s not the only one out there. In this article, we’ll be looking at some of the best Z-library alternatives.

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Necessity of Z-Library Alternatives

Z-library is a great resource for finding and reading books online, but it does have limitations.

  1. It only contains the books that have been uploaded by its users. This means that not all books are available on the site.
  2. The site has a daily download limitation, a barrier for users who want to download a large number of books.
  3. Not all books are available as PDFs, and some users have complained about the poor quality of the available PDFs.
  4. The site has been criticized for its lack of organization and for the fact that it is difficult to find specific books.
  5. Although ebooks and articles are simple to discover, searching for audiobooks is not a good selection.

For these reasons, readers like you often look for alternatives to the Z-library.

Luckily, there are some great alternatives to Z-library that offer similar features and benefits.

Best Z-Library Alternatives

1. Library Genesis

Library Genesis

Library Genesis, or Libgen, is a search engine for free reading material, including ebooks, articles, magazines, and more.

Libgen has over 2.4 million books in its database, making it one of the largest free ebook sites on the internet. You can find what you’re looking for by searching for the title, author, or ISBN.

It is a great option for finding rare and out-of-print books. Apart from pdfs, the site also has epub and mobile versions of the books and documents that are more responsive and adjustable to diverse screen sizes.

Libgen doesn’t impose any daily download limits, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding the limit, and registered users can also leave comments on books.

Its user interface is a little bit outdated, but it’s still functional.

Key Features

  • Over 2.4 million books
  • Available in formats like pdf, epub and mobile
  • Find the rare and out-of-print books
  • Doesn’t have any download limitations
  • Users can comment on books

2. Open Library

Open Library

Open Library is a non-profit digital library offering free universal access to books, movies, and music. More than 60 million people have benefited from this library.

It offers over 2 million free e-books. Open Library is a project created by the nonprofit organization Internet Archive, and you can search for books by title, author, or subject and browse by genre or topic.

You can read the books in your browser or download them in the required format, and they also have audio versions for you to listen to. 

Although the books on are copyrighted, you don’t have to worry about copyright infringements because you’re legally allowed to borrow them.

Key Features

  • More than 2 million books are available
  • Advanced search and filters
  • Books are available in audio versions too
  • Borrow the copyrighted books legally

3. PDF Drive

PDF Drive

PDF Drive is a leading alternative to the popular online library, Z-Library. It offers access to over 78 million e-books and are available in PDF versions by default, making it a great choice for those who prefer this format.

PDF Drive has crawlers that are constantly scanning the internet to add new PDF files to its database so it stays up-to-date with newly available files.

The premium membership comes with a faster download speed and limitless cloud storage to store your ebooks.

PDF Drive has a clean and simple interface that lets you search by title, author, or keyword. You can also browse by subject or popularity. It offers recommendations based on your recent searches and interests.

Key Features

  • Offers over 78 million e-books
  • Available in different formats
  • Constantly adds new PDF files with an internet crawler
  • Premium membership provides limitless cloud storage and faster download speed

4. Sci-Hub

Sci-Hub online library

Sci-Hub is a website that provides free access to millions of research papers and articles, and was founded by Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011 in Kazakhstan.

As of November 2020, the website is accessible through at least 546 different domain names, but the main one is

The website has been praised for providing free access to knowledge but criticized for violating copyright law. 

There are almost 90 million research papers, including journal articles, book chapters, and conference presentations, all of which are accessible on the site.

Sci-Hub is in both English and Russian and depends entirely on donations to keep the site up and running.

Key Features

  • Provides free access to millions of research papers
  • Available in both English and Russian language
  • The platform depends entirely on donations
  • Mostly praised for providing free access to knowledge

5. LibriVox

LibriVox free public domain audiobooks

LibriVox is a volunteer-run online library of free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers from around the world. 

The audiobooks are basically recorded by the voices of volunteers who read books aloud.

You can find more than 46,000 audiobooks on LibriVox, which can be downloaded for free to listen to on your computer or mobile device. You don’t need to create an account to download audiobooks. Despite being free, it doesn’t show any ads on the site.

If you’re looking for something to listen to while you’re commuting or doing chores, LibriVox is a great option.

Key Features

  • Online library for free audiobooks
  • More than 46,000 audiobooks
  • Completely run by volunteers all over the world
  • Audiobooks are recorded by volunteers
  • Doesn’t contain any ads on the site

6. OverDrive

OverDrive's huge catalogue of eBooks audiobooks and videos

OverDrive is a digital book lending service available through your local public library.

With OverDrive, you can borrow ebooks and audiobooks from your library’s digital collection and read them on your computer or mobile device.

Libby is the newer library reading app by OverDrive. Your bookmarks, reading progress, notes, and other data will be stored and synchronized within the app.

In addition, you can speed up the playback speed up to three times for a quicker finish.

You’ll need to sign in with a valid library card to use OverDrive. However, the books will automatically return to the library at the end of the lending period, so you don’t have to worry about overdue fines.

OverDrive is a great option if you’re looking for free e-books from your local library. However, the available e-books and audiobooks will vary from library to library.

Key Features

  • Online library for free audiobooks
  • More than 46,000 audiobooks
  • Completely run by volunteers all over the world
  • Audiobooks are recorded by volunteers
  • Doesn’t contain any ads on the site

7. FreeBookSpot

FreeBookSpot Download e-books for free

FreeBookSpot is an e-book search engine that indexes over 4 million free e-books from over 3,700 different sites. With so many e-books to choose from, you’ll surely find something that interests you.

FreeBookSpot actually doesn’t upload the books by itself. Instead, it helps you find the links to e-books hosted on third-party hosting sites and uploaded by users.

It is free of cost but file-hosting sites may put some restrictions on the number of downloads. It allows anyone to upload an ebook to a file-sharing site and share the link on FreeBookSpot.

Key Features

  • More than 4 million free ebooks from over 3,700 sites
  • Totally free of cost
  • File-sharing sites might add some restrictions on the number of downloads
  • Anyone can upload the ebooks

8. ManyBooks

Manybooks Online Library

ManyBooks is a digital bookstore with over 50,000 free e-books available. You can search for books by title, author, or genre and browse bestsellers or new releases. 

It also recommends books based on the editor’s choice as well as trends. You can also filter the books by ratings or preferred language. The mobile app makes it easier for readers to read at any time and from anywhere.

The books are available in various formats, including EPUB, MOBI, and PDF. ManyBooks doesn’t require registration to download books, but you can create an account to keep track of your downloads and reading progress.

Key Features

  • Over 50,000 free e-books
  • Automatic recommendation feature
  • Comes with a mobile app to make reading more easier
  • Available in various formats including epub, mobi, and pdf
  • Registration is not required to download e-books


EPDF Online Library

EPDF is a great alternative to Z-Library if you’re looking for free e-books. It has a large selection of e-books available in multiple formats, so you can read them on your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or other e-readers.

EPDF focuses exclusively on PDF files and has no download limits. It allows users to upload the e-books after they are signed into the site. 

Plus, authors are allowed to issue copyright notices and request that EPDF take down files if they were shared without permission.

And if you need to compress your PDFs before downloading them, EPDF also integrates with Zavo.

Key Features

  • Focuses exclusively on PDF files
  • No download limits
  • Lets the signed-in user upload the e-books
  • Integrates with Zavo to compress PDFs before downloading

10. Digital Book Free audio books and eBooks

If you’re looking for a comprehensive digital book library, look no further than Digital Book. This app offers access to an extensive audiobook and e-book collection that can be downloaded for free.

Digital Book has a clean and simple design for an easy-to-use interface and readers can find books in their preferred language.

With a robust search engine, you can easily find the titles you’re looking for, and the app is accessible on almost any device. Whether you’re looking for classic literature or the latest bestseller, Digital Book is sure to have what you’re looking for.

Key Features

  • Free access to audiobooks and e-book collections
  • Choose the books in your preferred language
  • Its mobile app is accessible on almost any device
  • Comes with a robust search engine

11. ReadAnyBook


If you’re looking for a great online library that offers plenty of books to choose from, ReadAnyBook is a great option.

ReadAnyBook allows users to comment and review each collection, as well as upload their own e-books. You’ll find varied qualities of books here, as well as many that are manually converted from old editions.

It offers a wide range of e-books in various genres for free. It has a clean and user-friendly interface with well-organized categories.

Key Features

  • Offers a wide range of e-books in several genres
  • Allows users to comment and review each collection
  • Upload any e-books
  • Modern and clean user-interface

12. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is one of the oldest and most popular sites for free e-books. It was founded in 1971 and contains over 60,000 free e-books.

Project Gutenberg is easy to use and includes a wide variety of books, including classics, children’s books, and recent bestsellers.

Project Gutenberg does care about copyrights, so it screens each submission to ensure the book is in the public domain or otherwise copyright-free before including it on its site. This is why you won’t find recently published books on the platform. 

It lets you upload files directly to cloud storage like DropBox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Drive. 

Project Gutenberg is free to use and has no limit on the number of downloads.

Key Features

  • Contains over 60,000 free e-books
  • Only includes copyright-free books
  • Lets you upload files to cloud storage
  • Completely free to use with no download limits

13. Ebookee

Ebookee Free Download eBooks Search Engine!

Ebookee is another top e-book torrenting site that has a massive collection of e-books available for free download. 

It has over 1.5 million verified books and the categories range from programming to cooking to design.

It doesn’t host any of the e-books itself but instead indexes links to e-books found on other sites. It’s also easier to find specific e-books on Ebookee since you can browse by category, author, or title.

If you do not find the specific book, you can send a request on its request page asking for the books to be made available.

Ebookee is free to use, but it does display pop-up ads. You can avoid these ads by creating an account and logging in when you use the site.

Key Features

  • Over 1.5 million e-books
  • Mainly indexes the links of e-books from other sites
  • Allows you to send the book request
  • Filter the books by category, author, or title

14. Ebook3000


Ebook3000 is one of the best websites to find free e-books, with a huge database of over 3 million e-books.

The website is old-fashioned but easy to use. You can search for e-books by title, author, or subject. The website also has a convenient categories section that lets you browse e-books by genre.

You don’t have to register for anything or give any personal information in order to utilize the full features and collections. Ebook3000 doesn’t host the e-books on its own servers, but instead links to third-party websites that host the e-books.

Key Features

  • Collection of more than 3 million e-books
  • Comes with the easy-to-use interface
  • Access entire features without any registration

15. Smashwords


Smashwords is an online e-book retailer and distributor with a vast catalog of independent e-books. You can find nearly any genre on Smashwords, from romance to mystery to science fiction.

Most e-books on Smashwords are available in multiple formats, so you can read them on your Kindle, iPad, or other e-readers. And if you’re looking for an e-book to listen to, Smashwords has a section of audiobooks as well.

While Smashwords is mostly an e-book retailer, it does have a small section of free e-books. These e-books are generally short stories or excerpts from larger works. However, they’re all available for free with no strings attached.

Key Features

  • Contains a vast catalog of independent e-books
  • Available in multiple formats
  • It mostly contains short story books

16. The Literature Network

The Literature Network

The Literature Network is an online literary resource for students, educators, or literature enthusiasts. Currently, it has over 3,500 full books and 4,400 short stories and poems.

One of the best things about the Literature Network is that it’s free to use. There are no subscription fees or paywalls. You can simply create an account and start reading.

The blog section has numerous articles on a variety of topics. For example, you can find tips on how to improve your writing skills or read about interesting authors.

The Literature Network has a forum to connect with other literature lovers. You can submit and discuss new ideas, communicate privately with other members, answer polls, upload material, and use many other special features by joining a free community.

Key Features

  • Offers online literature resources for free
  • Allows joining the community of literature lovers
  • Contains over 3,500 full books and 4,400 short stories and poems
  • Numerous blogs on a variety of topics

17. BookBub


BookBub is a modern and convenient platform that offers a personalized user experience for avid readers like you.

You need to sign in first to use BookBub and then you can add books to your wishlist to read later. You can also follow your favorite authors to get their latest updates on any new publications.

BookBub offers both free and premium books. The premium books are usually from famous authors and are sold at a discounted price. The free books are mostly from new and upcoming authors.

Key Features

  • Modern and Interactive user-interface
  • Offers personalized user experience to readers
  • Need to sign-in first to access the available books
  • Books can be added to the wishlist
  • Both free and premium books are available


There you have it—the list of best Z-Library alternatives! 

Each of the alternative sites offers a unique selection of e-books that can be downloaded for free.

Whether you’re looking for a specific book or want to explore new genres, these websites are sure to have what you’re looking for.

So if you’re in need of some good reading material, be sure to check out one (or all) of these sites. We hope you’ll find one that meets your reading needs and requirements.

The mass suicides by ordinary citizens in the last days of Nazi Germany

Historian Florian Huber’s book examines how civilians took their own lives in greater numbers than military and government officials as the Third Reich collapsed

Soviet Army officers observe the bodies of women who committed suicide in a Vienna park at the end of World War II.
Soviet Army officers observe the bodies of women who committed suicide in a Vienna park at the end of World War II.CORDON PRESS / YEVGENY KHALDEINUL

Most people have heard how many top Nazis such as Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Goering took their own lives at the end of the Third Reich, and how some defeated military commanders such as Model, Rommel and Kluge did the same. Moviegoers and history buffs may also know that Tresckow and Beck, two leaders of the failed Hitler assassination plot – Operation Valkyrie – also committed suicide. Downfall (Der Untergang), a 2004 German-language historical war drama film, depicts the final days of Adolf Hitler and his staff holed up in the subterranean bunker headquarters known as the “Führerbunker.” Scene after scene shows Hitler and many government and military officials committing suicide by pistol and poison after learning of Germany’s defeat. Yet most suicides in the bloody twilight of National Socialist Germany were by ordinary people – a housewife who drowned her young children and then hanged herself, or an entire family consuming poison in one final, fatal gathering.

In Promise Me You’ll Shoot Yourself: The Downfall of Ordinary Germans, 1945, German historian Florian Huber tells the story of the tens of thousands of civilians who killed themselves in a collective madness driven by hopelessness and fear of Soviet Army revenge. Huber, a producer of several international award-winning documentaries, begins his book in the small town of Demmin (northeastern Germany), where a shocking wave of 700 suicides took place – 10% of the population – as the Soviet Red Army closed in on the town. People of all ages, professions and classes killed themselves, often taking their babies and children to their graves. “It was as if the will to die had overcome everyone,” writes Huber.

The young wife of a Wehrmacht lieutenant strangled her three-year-old son with a rope and then hanged herself. A 71-year-old health insurance administrator, his wife and daughter all hanged themselves after killing their young grandchildren. In the Günther family home, 12 people died – some poisoned themselves, some slit their wrists, and some were shot with a hunting rifle. Huber describes the horror of a witness to multiple gang rapes by Soviet soldiers (almost two million German women were sexually assaulted at the end of the war). Afterward, many of the rape victims staggered down to the Tollense River and drowned themselves. Some led their children by the hand into the river after loading stones into their pockets, purses and backpacks, unwittingly emulating Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941.

These are just a few of the gruesome scenes recounted by Huber, who was most deeply affected by one dreadful story. “The groundskeeper for the Demmin cemetery kept a list of all the dead who arrived in those terrible times. There were hundreds and hundreds of names – men, women and children – and their ages and cause of death. It was a horrific, handwritten list. Number 135 on the list was a girl, barely a year old, who died on May 1, 1945, ‘strangled by her grandfather,’ it says. It affected me so much that I couldn’t even include it in the book, and it still haunts me to this day.”

Leipzig municipal official Ernst Kurt Lisso with his wife Renate and daughter Regina after all three committed suicide by cyanide in April 1945.
Leipzig municipal official Ernst Kurt Lisso with his wife Renate and daughter Regina after all three committed suicide by cyanide in April 1945.ADMINISTRACIÓN NACIONAL DE ARCHIVOS Y REGISTROS DE ESTADOS UNIDOS (NARA)

The mass rape of German women by conquering soldiers, especially Soviet soldiers, followed by mass suicides, became a taboo subject in post-war Germany, as vividly described in Antony Beevor’s, The Fall of Berlin 1945. “They were completely taboo subjects for decades in our country. The stories were banned in communist East Germany because they would have reflected poorly on the glorious Red Army. Later on, no one wanted to talk about the mass suicides because those who took their lives didn’t fit with the preconceptions of Germans living under the Third Reich – they were neither villains nor victims,” said Huber. “As a result, they were forgotten until I published my book.” How many people are we talking about? “My research clearly indicates that the number must be in the tens of thousands, from all over Germany. However, in the chaotic final days of the war, official statistics, documentation and medical reports almost ceased to exist. So, it’s impossible to give an exact figure.”

Surprisingly, more civilians and ordinary people committed suicide than members of the military. “One of my most startling findings is that the phenomenon was by no means limited to hardcore Nazis, who really had a lot to fear. In fact, it was men, women and children alike, young and old, workers and businessmen, nurses and doctors, a kaleidoscope of German society. It could hit anybody. These mass suicides were by no means exclusive to Nazis, but were the outcome of a widespread feeling of doom throughout German society.”

The mass psychology of Nazism

Huber’s book explains the mass psychology of Nazism that led inexorably to suicide after defeat. “Let’s not forget that during the Third Reich, the German people had lived in a permanent state of emergency and turmoil for 12 years. During the first few years before the war, everything was hope and glory, devotion and love for the Führer. At the outset of the war, there was an overwhelming feeling of pride, power, superiority and hatred. Then, in the last years of the war, those feelings were replaced by pain, fear, despair and even self-loathing. This all culminated in the devastating experience of the annihilation facing the hallowed fatherland.”

There were many more suicides in the Soviet-occupied areas of Germany than in the Allied-occupied areas, says Huber, even though one of the best-known multiple suicides happened in the Leipzig town hall, one of the cities taken by American forces. “For years, Nazi propaganda had hammered fear of the ‘Mongol monsters’ into the hearts of the German people. When the Red Army finally crossed into Germany from the east, Soviet soldiers did in fact commit many atrocities against civilians. There is no doubt that there were more suicides in Soviet-occupied Germany than elsewhere. Again without having exact figures, I estimate that the ratio must be at least 20 to 1, even though some of the most dramatic and rare photos of German suicides were taken in Leipzig. As I write in my book, two female war photographers traveling with the Allied troops – Lee Miller and Margaret Bourke-White – took those unforgettable pictures of Germans, including entire families, who had killed themselves just minutes earlier. It’s remarkable that the best photos of this phenomenon were taken by two women.”

The current suicide epidemic leads us to wonder how easy it might be to take your own life. But how could so many people make such a terrible decision and then actually carry through with it? “Committing suicide is never easy and whoever does it must be in an extreme mental state,” said Huber. “In 1945, many factors in Germany converged to create this state of mind: fear of violence and Russian revenge, a feeling of guilt and complicity, hopelessness, and the loss of homes and loved ones. This all produced a certain contagious atmosphere, and when so many people are killing themselves, people tend to follow.” As one witness to those dark days observed: “Death has lost its majesty and has become an everyday event.”

Walter Doenicke, a major in the Volkssturm national militia, lies on the floor of Leipzig city hall after committing suicide.
Walter Doenicke, a major in the Volkssturm national militia, lies on the floor of Leipzig city hall after committing suicide.ADMINISTRACIÓN NACIONAL DE ARCHIVOS Y REGISTROS DE ESTADOS UNIDOS (NARA)

“People used any available means to kill themselves: hanging, shooting, stabbing, slashing wrists, poisoning and drowning. Many even killed their children first,” said Huber, who deliberately focused on ordinary Germans instead of military or political figures. “But of course, many high-ranking officers committed suicide as well, By one count, 53 army generals, 14 air force generals, and 11 admirals killed themselves, and these were only the top-level officials.”

Downfall vividly depicts the horrific self-extermination of the Goebbels family as Magda Goebbels, that Medea of Hitlerism, poisons her own children. “Some Nazis committed suicide when they learned that Hitler was dead, because they wanted to continue following their Führer,” said Huber, “but Adolf Hitler’s demise had little to do with the mass suicides because many Germans no longer cared about the leader, and because radio broadcasts reported that he died heroically in battle, not by his own hand. So Hitler’s death was a final, big lie.”

There are other historical events similar to the German mass suicides, said Huber. In 73 AD, a thousand people in the Jewish fortress of Masada killed themselves while under siege by the Romans. During the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, many Japanese civilians, including entire families, committed suicide as Japanese defenses crumbled. Could this happen today? “I don’t see any conflict today that would provoke a reaction on that scale,” said Huber. “The circumstances of Germany’s defeat in 1945 were exceptional and are unlikely to be repeated.”

‘A joke that went out of control’: crowdfunding weapons for Ukraine’s war

In just nine hours, the Prytula Foundation raised $5.5m from private donors to buy 50 FV103 Spartans used by the British Army

One of the FV103 Spartan APCs that are on their way to Ukraine.
One of the FV103 Spartan APCs that are on their way to Ukraine. Photograph: Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation

By Christmas, 50 hardly used FV103 Spartan armoured personnel carriers (APCs), until recently the property of the British army, and currently in warehouses in secret locations across the UK, will arrive on the frontline in Ukraine’s war with Russia in time for the toughest winter conditions.

The transfer, the largest of such APCs to Ukraine, is not due to British munificence nor to procurement by the Ukrainian ministry of defence.

It is instead just the latest example of the extraordinary scale and indeed speed of the crowdfunding campaigns that have been powering the Ukrainian military since the early days of the war.

The fundraising appeal for the armoured vehicles – tagline “Grab them all” – had only been launched on Wednesday by the Serhiy Prytula charity foundation, named after its founder, a popular comedian and TV presenter with a sizeable online following.

It had been hoped that the $5.5m (£4.8m) required for the major purchase would be secured within a week.

Within nine hours, half of the funds had been pledged by donors, ranging from private individuals to big Ukrainian corporations and smaller high street firms, such as the bedding company World of Mattresses.

By lunchtime on Thursday, there was no need to continue pumping out the calls for cash, and the social media memes that had made much of the conceit of the coming battle between Spartans and Persians, a wry nod to the Iranian kamikaze drones that have been plaguing Ukrainian cities in recent months.

The money was secured, and the logistics of getting the tracked vehicles on to the muddy plains of the Donbas in eastern Ukraine was being put in motion.

The British army has been using FV103 Spartans since 1978 but they are being phased out for newer designs. The 50 on sale are in private hands and each is said to have fewer than 10,000 miles on the clock.

Prytula himself had visited the UK to check them out. A previous official donation of 35 Spartans by the British government had proven to be a great success on the battlefield. When approached by the Prytula Foundation about gaining more, the generals were said to have been keen.

“We are the first organisation that is going to actually procure them, not as a state, as a country, but as an NGO who would give them to the ministry of defence of Ukraine,” said Maksym Kostetsky, the transport direction coordinator at the Prytula Foundation.

“The base is tracked and due to that fact it can move around in bad weather conditions because we have rain almost every day right now during the autumn season. It’s going to start snowing soon, and the Spartans will be very good on the frontline on south of the country and especially in Donbas where the heaviest fighting is going on right now.”

The idea of citizens and corporations chipping in to arm the fighting forces is hardly new. A BBC documentary in 2020, Crowdfunding: A lesson from World War II, chronicled the extraordinary success of a campaign launched by the press baron Lord Beaverbrook in 1940, at the time of greatest peril, to fund the purchase of Spitfires. A £13m Spitfire Fund – one fighter plane cost £8,000 – was accumulated thanks to doorstep collections, a little regional competition as to who could secure the most and even a hit song to get everyone in the giving mood.

The Ukrainian effort, however, comes in a digital age, said Maria Pysarenko, media manager at the Prytula Foundation, when it is easier to both donate and for donors to see how their money is working in the field. “We see every thing online – we can reach people sitting in the trenches via messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp,” she said.

The campaigns are sometimes long in the planning and complicated. The Prytula Foundation sources cash for cars, drones, communication systems and medical kits but the largest fundraising appeal secured $16m for three Bayraktar TB2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles bought from Turkey.

At other times, the campaigns simply react to events by channelling a sudden surge of anger or frustration. When Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, tweeted his ideas about how to end the war in Ukraine, there was widespread outrage at the suggestion that the country’s territory should be bartered away.

“We decided, OK, people are so angry and we can convert this anger into something helpful,” said Pysarenko. “And we announced a fundraiser to buy a history textbook for Musk on Twitter. And you know, in an hour, we had 1m Ukrainian hryvnia (£24,000) donated to our accounts, and we’re like, OK, so we have enough money, literally to buy textbooks but also to buy a supply of radio stations for one unit.”

It is not only volunteer organisations raising the cash. The Ukrainian government has also got in on the act through its United24 platform for charitable donations.

A mine clearing vehicle bought with donations made through the United24 platform.
A mine clearing vehicle bought with donations made through the United24 platform. Photograph: Future Publishing/Ukrinform/Getty Images

This week, Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University, became the government-backed charity’s second ambassador after Mark Hamill, the Star Wars actor, as part of an effort to encourage foreign donors in particular to contribute towards buying an anti-drone system after the widespread attacks on Ukraine’s energy system and civilians.

The volunteer organisations are not seeking to take over from the government’s efforts, Pysarenko said, but to augment them. They are, she suggested, able to act more nimbly and to drop the diplomatic niceties that might make certain suppliers out of bounds to Kyiv.

And by responding to the popular mood in a way that the government might struggle, peculiar avenues for fundraising open up, at least locally. About 80% of the cash coming to Prytula is from Ukrainian donors.

Last month, hundreds of thousands of dollars was raised by a volunteer organisation headed by young activist Serhiy Sternenko for a bounty to be placed on the head of Igor Girkin, a notorious Russian nationalist who led the Kremlin-backed separatists during Vladimir Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

“It’s almost a joke which went out of control,” laughed Pysarenko. “But that it is how Ukrainians are now living. We’re living on the brink of a joke and tragedy. Jokes are trying to offset the scale of the tragedy. Joking is a way to survive this tragedy. Yeah, the lines are really blurred.”

Can Exercise Strengthen Your Immunity?

Recent research suggests that people who work out have stronger resistance to infectious diseases — including Covid — but experts say the findings need to be tested further.

Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

You’ve probably heard the advice: One of the best things you can do to keep healthy — especially as cold and flu season creeps up — is stay physically active.

This folk wisdom has been around for ages, but until recently, researchers did not have much data to support the idea. Now, scientists studying risk factors related to Covid-19 have turned up some preliminary evidence about the link between regular exercise and better immune defenses against disease.

When researchers reviewed 16 studies of people who stayed physically active during the pandemic, they found that working out was associated with a lower risk of infection as well as a lower likelihood of severe Covid-19. The analysis, published last month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, has generated a lot of enthusiasm among exercise scientists, who say the findings could lead to updated guidelines for physical activity and health care policy that revolves around exercise as medicine.

Experts who study immunology and infectious disease are more cautious in their interpretation of the results. But they agree that exercise can help protect health through several different mechanisms.

For decades, scientists have observed that people who are fit and physically active seem to have lower rates of several respiratory tract infections. And when people who work out do get sick, they tend to have less severe disease, said David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, who was not involved in the recent Covid-19 review.

“The risk of severe outcomes and mortality from the common cold, influenza, pneumonia — they’re all knocked down quite a bit,” Dr. Nieman said. “I call it the vaccine-like effect.”

The new meta-analysis, which looked at studies between November 2019 and March 2022, found that this effect extends to Covid-19. People from across the globe who worked out regularly had a 36 percent lower risk of hospitalization and a 43 percent lower risk of death from Covid compared with those who were not active. They also had a lower likelihood of getting Covid at all.

People who followed guidelines recommending at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week seemed to get the most benefit. But even those who exercised less than that were more protected against illness than those who did not work out at all.

Researchers theorize that exercise may help fight off infectious bacteria and viruses by increasing the circulation of immune cells in your blood, for example. In some small studies, researchers have also found that the contraction and movement of muscles releases signaling proteins known as cytokines, which help direct immune cells to find and fight off infection.

Even if your levels of cytokines and immune cells taper off two or three hours after you stop exercising, Dr. Nieman said, your immune system becomes more responsive and able to catch pathogens faster over time if you work out every day. “Your immune system is primed, and it is in better fighting shape to cope with a viral load at any given time,” he said.

In healthy humans, physical activity has also been linked to lower chronic inflammation. Widespread inflammation can be extremely damaging, even turning your own immune cells against your body. It is a known risk factor for Covid-19, Dr. Nieman said. Therefore, it makes sense that reducing inflammation could improve your chances of fighting off infection, he said.

Research also shows that exercise may amplify the benefits of some vaccines. People who worked out right after getting their Covid-19 vaccine, for example, seemed to produce more antibodies. And in studies of older adults who were vaccinated early during flu season, those who exercised had antibodies that lasted throughout the winter.

Exercise provides a slew of broader health benefits that may help reduce the incidence and severity of disease, said Dr. Stuart Ray, an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Building a walk, jog, gym trip or sport of choice into your routine is known to help reduce obesity, diabetes and heart disease, for example, all of which are risk factors for severe influenza and Covid-19. Working out can help you get more restful sleepboost your mood and improve your insulin metabolism and cardiovascular health, improving your chances against the flu and Covid-19. It’s hard to know, Dr. Ray said, whether the benefits come from direct changes to the immune system or just overall better health.

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, agreed that more research was needed before scientists could pinpoint a specific mechanism or causal link. In the meantime, he said, it’s important not to put too much faith in it.

“For now, you can’t say, ‘I’ll go to the gym so that I can prevent getting Covid,’” Dr. Chin-Hong said. The problem with studying the precise effect of physical activity on immunity is that exercise is not something that scientists can easily measure on a linear scale, Dr. Ray said. “People exercise in many different ways.”

Study participants typically self-report the amount and intensity of their exercise, which can often be inaccurate. And just expecting exercise to be beneficial can provide a powerful placebo effect. As a result, it can be hard for researchers to tell exactly how much exercise or what type is ideal for immune function. It’s also quite possible that people who work out regularly may share other attributes that help them fight off infections, such as a varied diet or better access to medical care, Dr. Ray said.

Credit…Charlie Mahoney for The New York Times

Beyond that, “there is a huge debate about whether or not too much exercise makes you more susceptible to infection and illness,” said Richard Simpson, who studies exercise physiology and immunology at the University of Arizona.

Marathon runners often report getting sick after races, Dr. Simpson said, and some researchers think that too much vigorous exercise could inadvertently overstimulate cytokines and inflammation in the body. Exercising without a break also depletes the body’s glycogen stores, which for some people could lead to impaired immune function for a few hours or a few days, depending on their baseline health, he said. And working out in group settings or attending intense sports training camps could be exposing athletes to more pathogens. Other experts point out that people who are physically active might simply keep closer track of their health.

Still, for the average exerciser, early evidence suggests there may be a protective effect against getting severely ill. But those who have trouble getting enough exercise or can’t exercise at all for some reason shouldn’t despair, Dr. Ray said. “What helps one person stay healthy compared to another is a complex mix of factors.”

New York Times – September 7, 2022

‘I don’t have those stone testicles’: curator reveals secrets and myths of Paris’s famous cemetery

Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery.
Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photograph: ©Benoît Gallot

Benoît Gallot balances the needs of the city with those beating a path to legends such as Oscar Wilde at Père-Lachaise

Benoît Gallot, curator of Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery, would like to lay a particular urban myth to rest: no, he is not using the testicles from the sphinx on Oscar Wilde’s tomb as a paperweight.

The stone genitals, allegedly removed from the mythical creature by two puritanical English women shocked by their size and prominence, were long reported to have been saved and put to office use by successive cemetery staff. According to Gallot, the story is utter balls.

“Numerous articles about Père-Lachaise explain that the sphinx’s attributes were recovered by one of the cemetery workers and have been used as a paperweight by successive curators. When I took up the job, of course I searched by office for the object of this castration, went through all the cupboards … I found nothing; no trace of this ‘relic’.”

Benoît Gallot
Benoît Gallot: “I want to smash the idea that Père Lachaise is just for the stars or wealthy; it’s also for Monsieur and Madame Ordinary.” Photograph: Philippe Quaisse/Pasco ©Philippe Quaisse

The anecdote is one of many Gallot recounts in his enchanting book La Vie Secrète d’un Cimetière (The Secret Life of a Cemetery) in which he mixes personal anecdotes with an account of how the living and dead coexist in what has become one of the French capital’s most popular tourist attractions.

Gallot, 41, has lived with his wife and four children in the republican equivalent of a grace-and-favour home inside the cemetery since being appointed curator in 2018. It is a post he feels almost predestined for, having grown up with parents who still run the memorial stonemaker’s business originally founded by his great-grandfather.

His daily routine involves not only routine administration but balancing the often conflicting demands of the dying, dead and grieving with those beating a not-always respectful path to the final resting place of one of its more celebrated residents: Chopin, Balzac, Wilde, Modigliani, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison …

With more than three million visitors a year mingling with those attending burials or paying their respects, it can lead to tears and tantrums.

“It’s a delicate balance, but it’s important to remind people that Père-Lachaise is first and foremost a cemetery not an amusement park,” he says. “Our priority above all is the people of Paris, but we try to make it a good experience for the tourists too.”

This summer, cemetery staff handed out free plans to visitors to help them navigate the labyrinthine necropolis. Gallot says a mobile phone application is being developed as we speak.

Père-Lachaise was opened in 1804 on land acquired from Louis XIV’s spiritual confessor after whom it was later named. It only became popular among Parisiens as a burial site after Napoleon had the body of Louise de Lorraine, Henri III’s wife, moved there as well as those of tragic lovers Héloise and Abelard. The interring of remains believed at the time – and since disputed – to be those of playwright Molière and poet Jean de la Fontaine enhanced the cemetery’s reputation.

Popular culture – along with the detritus of drink and drugs – arrived when The Doors founder Jim Morrison was buried in Père Lachaise in 1971, in a grave now sealed off from zealous fans.

Visitors look at the grave of US singer and songwriter Jim Morrison.
Visitors look at the grave of US singer and songwriter Jim Morrison. Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

The grand mausoleums built before 1900 are listed so cannot be touched and the majority of plots were sold in perpetuity, meaning places are rare. About 100 plots whose concessions have expired and have not been renewed by families become free each year. However, Gallot insists says places cannot be reserved and being buried in Père-Lachaise is today more a question of luck than money.

“I want to smash the idea that Père Lachaise is just for the stars or wealthy; it’s also for Monsieur and Madame Ordinary,” Gallot says.

“We have several calls every day and it’s true there is more demand than places but it is entirely a question of luck as to whether a plot has just become available when someone calls.”

His job often calls for tissues and a shoulder for the grieving to cry on; but what the cemetery curator laments most of all is what he sees as a lack of imagination in people’s choices of how they want to be remembered. This has created cemeteries full of grey headstones, he says.

“Even those with the means to pay for something different want sombre tombs these days. There is very little that is original. Everything has become standardised. We see the same grey marble slabs with just a name engraved or a trite epitaph, which is a shame verging on a crisis because it has meant cemeteries becoming sad places nobody wants to visit.”

A white marble statue adorns the tomb of Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849).
A white marble statue adorns the tomb of Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849). Photograph: Bruno De Hogues/Getty Images

In his book he adds: “Vanity has been consigned to the cupboard and sobriety is now the fashion. One could interpret this postmortem humility as a sign of a welcome democratisation, the establishment of a certain equality between the dead: no matter what we were, no matter what we did, we will all end up in more or less similar graves. As the curator of a cemetery known for its exceptional monuments, I consider this ‘funerary timidity’ to be rather regrettable.

“Père-Lachaise would not be this remarkable place if megalomania had not one day pushed the most fortunate to have tombs built in the image of their bloated pride.”

Gallot says he was approached by several publishers to write his book after the success of his Instagram account featuring photographs of the flora and fauna that have made their home among the 70,000 tombs and mausoleums and in the horse chestnuts that line the paths of the 43-hectare (106-acre) cemetery. Since the use of pesticides was banned in the graveyard a decade ago, the wildlife has thrived bringing foxes, feral cats and weasels as well as parakeets, owls, woodpeckers and crows.

Back to Oscar Wilde, whose tomb – a huge winged sphinx carved from a 20-tonne block of Derbyshire stone by modernist sculptor Jacob Epstein – is one of Gallot’s favourites.

The tombstone of Oscar Wilde by modernist sculptor Jacob Epstein.
The tombstone of Oscar Wilde by modernist sculptor Jacob Epstein. Photograph: Marc Bruxelle/Alamy

At its unveiling in August 1914, a bronze plaque was strategically placed to cover the testicles whose size was considered unusual, if not immodest, to the fury of Epstein who refused to attend the ceremony.

The story of the sphinx’s privates, removed in an act of vandalism in 1961, however, is one that refuses to die. Gallot insists he has no idea where they might be.

“Today, the question is regularly asked by journalists or those interested in Père-Lachaise, and each time I reply, no, I don’t have those precious stone testicles on my desk.”

 La Vie Secrète d’un Cimetière by Benoît Gallot is published by Les Arènes.

UK Ambassador to Ukraine: ‘My hands were shaking. It was the adrenaline’

Melinda Simmons on life in Kyiv, Putin’s motives, and learning to tell the difference between a boom and an explosion

The British ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, visits a port in Odesa, Ukraine
The British ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, on a visits to Odesa in July. Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

On Monday morning Melinda Simmons was getting dressed when she heard an explosion. It was 7am. Russia was bombing Kyiv for the third time in a month. Simmons, the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine, went to the shelter of her residence, as cruise missiles hit the capital and other cities. “My hands were shaking. It was the adrenaline,” she recounts. Safe underground, she spent the next 15 minutes painting her nails blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine’s flag. “It was something to do with my hands. By the time I’d finished they had stopped shaking,” she says.

Since Vladimir Putin’s “murderous invasion” in February – her blunt words – the ambassador has taken cover on various occasions. She points out that her situation is no different from that of millions of Ukrainians, who are now enduring daily power cuts and life by candlelight as a consequence of the Kremlin’s cynical attacks. As part of her diplomatic job, she says, she has learned to tell the difference between booms and explosions. The first signifies Ukraine’s air defences at work in the skies; the second an incoming missile or deadly kamikaze drone.

After the latest attack, Simmons put out a weary tweet. It said: “Sheltering down low and listening to booms outside. #Kyiv is under attack again. What is it about Monday morning?” The post was to remind a distracted world that the war goes on, she explains, saying that for Ukrainians it began in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea and staged a rebellion in the east. “We all have our personal way of dealing with it. Mine is: I don’t think about it too hard. If I thought about it I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes.”

Simmons with Boris Johnson during a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in June
Simmons with Boris Johnson during a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in June. Photograph: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters

This week Moscow accused the UK of masterminding a raid on the occupied Crimean port of Sevastopol, in which three Russian naval boats were damaged, and blowing up the NordSteam gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Simmons says she does not spend time thinking about “nonsense”, even if the idea of the UK as an all-powerful bogeyman is a little bit “flattering”.

Why did Putin invade? Simmons says he set out his reasons in a “jaw-dropping” essay last year in which he argued Ukraine was not a country. “It was his manifesto for taking back what he thought had been wrongly given away,” she says.

There is this bizarre refusal to understand the people you want to subjugate.

Nine months on, the Kremlin has not met any of its strategic military objectives, she believes. Russian armoured convoys failed to take Kyiv and Kharkiv. Since September Putin’s troops have given ground in the north-east and south, where an apparent Russian evacuation from the city of Kherson is under way. “It’s not going well for Russia. They are in defensive mode at the moment,” the ambassador notes. She expects more “wily, well-planned” Ukrainian counterattacks. And, regrettably, that Moscow will fight on, unwilling to back down. “My personal view is we are still in this for quite a long time,” she says.

Russia’s president, she suggests, is uninterested in what Ukrainians might wish for themselves. His intelligence agencies appear to have told him they were waiting for “liberation”, and would greet their Russian occupiers with flowers. “There is this bizarre refusal to understand the people you want to subjugate. He continues to refuse,” she says. “He’s the leader. He has access to information. He could find out for himself why Ukrainians don’t appear to be happy at the sight of their buildings being razed to the ground, or their children being snatched from them.”

The UK, meanwhile, is popular in Ukraine. The former prime minister Boris Johnson is a cult figure. Simmons says this is in part because London delivered anti-tank weapons to Kyiv at a time when other western nations were “humming and hawing” about military aid. She also cites Johnson’s “uncompromising” backing for Ukraine and the galvanising effect this had on other G7 nations and at the UN. As part of her duties, the ambassador toured an art exhibition depicting Johnson as a lute-playing Cossack warrior. She listened to a popular rap song in his honour. “It became an earworm for me for a while,” she admits.

This enthusiasm for Britain pre-dates the invasion, she says, and recently there was an outpouring of tributes following the death of the Queen. Simmons says the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, is almost as well known as Johnson, and flags the role played by daily intelligence updates from the UK’s Ministry of Defence. These bulletins are picked up by the Ukrainian media and help to undermine “Russian narratives”. (Shopping in a market, she found a pair of yellow socks branded “British intelligence”.) And what about Rishi Sunak? The new prime minister has yet to visit Kyiv for his own walkabout with the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The ambassador says she expects this to happen soon.

Simmons met Zelenskiy last week and found him “fizzing with energy”. She describes him as “an incredibly charismatic person”, who during some of their previous encounters looked understandably weary. His refusal to leave Kyiv in the first days of the invasion showcased the Ukrainian population’s grit and determination, she observes, adding that since January he has lived separately from his wife and children for security reasons, working 24/7. She does not expect him to visit London or Washington before the war is over. “Most Ukrainians can’t leave the country at the moment. It feels like the right thing to do,” she says.

My staff are brave to be here. I think I’m brave to be here.

Born in the East End of London to Jewish parents, Simmons has Ukrainian and Lithuanian roots on her mother’s side. These date back to the 1890s, when her great-grandparents left Kharkiv and split up, with her great-grandmother moving to Cardiff. She grew up eating borscht on Fridays, not knowing the soup was Ukrainian. Her original career was in sales and marketing. In 2003 she joined the Department for International Development followed by the Foreign Office in 2013 and the national security secretariat. In 2019 she took up her post in Kyiv, after a year spent learning Ukrainian.

When Russian tanks rolled towards Kyiv, Simmons reluctantly left the capital – first to Lviv and then to Poland. She came back in April, soon after the Russians retreated. After the all-clear was sounded on Monday, she exited the residence, which is located next to the Dnieper River and a giant steel sculpture of a mother holding a sword. She went for a “short reset”. She tweeted a photo of autumn flowers in their “gloriousness”, adding: “Went back inside and got on with the work.”

“I love my job,” Simmons says.

She adds: “My staff are brave to be here. I think I’m brave to be here. We all feel we are working on something real. It makes a difference.”

New study shows how metastasis progresses during sleep hours

Research with breast cancer patients evidences that cells capable of causing new tumors are more abundant and aggressive while the body is resting

A breast cancer cell (left) being attacked by three lymphocites.
A breast cancer cell (left) being attacked by three lymphocites.MADHURI DEY

For years now, the dream of curing cancer has involved understanding and eliminating metastasis. This ability allows a tumor to send cells to the blood vessels, where they travel and nest in other organs and give rise to new tumors. Nine out of 10 cancer deaths are due to this process. A new study reveals that this expansion throughout the body is more aggressive at night, a surprising fact that may have important implications for the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Until now it was thought that tumors constantly emit cancer cells into the blood, regardless of the time of day. Swiss oncologist Nicola Aceto’s team took two blood samples from 30 women with breast cancer with and without metastasis; one at 10am and another one at 4am. The results show that the levels of so-called circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood are much higher at night and that these nocturnal cells are also much more aggressive.

Faced with the impossibility of marking and following the fate of each of the malignant cells detected in the patients, the researchers resorted to a set of experiments in mice. These animals are nocturnal, and the experiments showed that in these rodents, the tumor cells were much more active during the day, the mice’s rest period.

Tumor cells extracted during sleep are capable of causing metastasis if they are injected into healthy mice, something that does not happen with those obtained during the day. In both humans and mice, malignant cells activate genes that promote cell proliferation, a mechanism that fuels tumor growth. The work has been published in the prestigious journal Nature.

It is possible that sometimes we are bombing when the enemy is protected inside his bunkerAndrés Hidalgo, Spain’s National Center for Cardiovascular Research

This study provides a new key to the relationship between cancer and the circadian rhythm, the internal clock that dictates the periods of physical and mental activity and rest during the 24 hours of the day. This cycle is intimately connected with the periods of day and night on Earth and its alteration due to unusual work schedules or artificial light is related to many diseases, including the risk of breast, prostate, colon, liver, pancreas or lung cancer. Jobs with night shifts that alter circadian rhythms are “probably carcinogenic,” the second most dangerous category out of four, according to the scale of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the United Nations.

The daily cycle is governed by hormones such as melatonin, which promotes sleep, and cortisol, which wakes us up. In 2014, a team from the Weizmann Institute in Israel demonstrated a connection between nocturnal hormones and the spread of cancer. In mice, they showed that administering the same oncological drug reduced tumors more or less depending on whether it was administered during the day or at night. The new work also sees a clear connection between hormones and metastasis, so that molecules of this type that start the daily activity phase seem to reduce the cancer’s ability to travel through the circulatory system.

Harrison Ball and Sunitha Nagrath, from the Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan (USA), point out that these results have “surprising implications” in cancer treatment. Both researchers call for large-scale clinical trials with patients to confirm these results. “Oncologists may need to be more aware of what time of day they administer some treatments,” they add.

Roger Gomis leads the metastasis research group at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Institute. “This work is important from a conceptual point of view,” he highlights. “It is in line with other works that are revealing a systemic component in cancer and its expansion. An example would be the effects of diet on the success of some cancer treatments”, he details. “The difficult thing,” he warns, “will be applying this basic knowledge to treatment and diagnosis, because it is impossible to prevent patients from sleeping, while taking biopsies in the wee hours of the morning poses great challenges,” he argues.

María Casanova, a researcher at Spain’s National Cancer Research Center, believes that the work has “enormous” value. “It is necessary to extract a lot of blood to measure the circulating tumor cells, and in very advanced stages it is something very delicate. It is only done in a few patients to see how well chemotherapy is working for them. Having these data from 30 patients is really a lot,” she notes.

The fact that metastatic cells are more active at night is not accidental. Humans are a diurnal species and during the day we are more exposed to harmful viruses and bacteria than at night. This is why the part of the immune system that patrols the circulatory system is less active at night, when we rest. This partly explains why fever or asthma attacks tend to be more intense at night. During the hours of rest, other immune cells are activated, the neutrophils, which are fixed in the different organs and help to repair them. Cancer has its own circadian clock and it would be precisely at this time when the cancerous cells of the tumor leave the tissues and jump into the bloodstream, where there is hardly any surveillance, explains Casanova.

There are cancer treatments that are less effective if they are administered in the afternoon. There are also components of the circadian rhythm that could explain other ailments, such as the fact that most strokes happen in the morning, Casanova says. The specific mechanisms that explain these observations are still unknown, but there is already an emerging discipline called chronotherapy that studies the confluence of the disease, the therapies applied and the time of day and night. “It is possible that we can find a way to synchronize the immune system so that it is better able to fight cancer when it is more active,” summarizes Casanova.

Andrés Hidalgo, a researcher at Spain’s National Center for Cardiovascular Research, points out that this study is “shocking.” “It presents us with a less predictable biology of cancer than we thought and obviously confirms that the disease does not follow the same schedules as our medical staff. This can be very important because it has been seen that radiation is much more effective if it is applied when the tumor is in the active phase and multiplying, and not in the resting phase. It is possible that sometimes we are bombing when the enemy is protected inside his bunker.”

The mysteries of circadian rhythms: Why the pancreas is idle at night and active during the day

The human brain has a clock, located in the hypothalamus, which tells the rest of the body what time it is. This readies the body for life-sustaining processes like eating or waking up. But when these bodily mechanisms are disturbed – chronodisruption – it can lead to disease

It’s a bad idea to confuse the biological clock and expose your system to light from a computer screen late at night.
It’s a bad idea to confuse the biological clock and expose your system to light from a computer screen late at night.

We all have a central, biological clock that keeps time for our daily lives. It’s part of the hypothalamus, located deep inside the brain, and its main function is to tell the rest of the body what time it is. The human body needs to know the time because its cells and tissue behave differently during the day and night, in the morning or the afternoon. These are our circadian rhythms – biological changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. The central clock works together with the small, independent chronometers in our tissues to anticipate and prepare the cells for upcoming events like lunch or bedtime. Having a properly functioning biological clock is vital because we become susceptible to disease if it slows down or stops.

The central clock is actually an assemblage of 20,000 neurons with small, molecular clocks that are perfectly synchronized through the evolutionary experience of living in the same ecosystem for millions of years, and by the light that enters through the eye’s retina. At different times of the day, certain proteins are activated or expressed more than others. These proteins communicate with the other clocks of the body’s organs to act accordingly, says Antonia Tomás-Loba, who heads the University of Murcia’s (Spain) circadian rhythm and cancer research group. “For 65 million years, evolution has been conditioning our circadian genes to be diurnal animals,” said Tomás-Loba. “We are the product of adaptation to the environment. The circadian rhythms that anticipate daily cyclical changes are an example of this adaptation. At night, circadian rhythms inform the liver that we are not going to eat for a while so that it knows it won’t have to metabolize anything. The liver functions very differently at night than during the day.”MORE INFORMATION

When he served in the British Royal Navy, Aldo Kane was once isolated for 10 days in a nuclear bunker with no natural light or clock. It was an experiment to see how his circadian rhythms were regulated without input from external variables, such as light and social schedules. He could only rely on the natural memory of his own biological clock. Juan Antonio Madrid, a researcher with the University of Murcia’s Chronobiology and Sleep Laboratory who participated in that experiment said that Kane fell asleep a few minutes later each day. In other words, his biological clock generated cycles of more than 24 hours. Kane’s rhythms reverted to normal as soon as he was exposed again to various synchronizing signals, such as an alarm clock going off or a turned-on light.

This external stimulus enters through the retina and lands in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which is where this central clock is located. Certain proteins are activated at different times of the day. The BMAL and CLOCK proteins are activated in the morning and trigger certain genes in cell DNA to signal the time of day. The PER and CRIE proteins are activated in the afternoon and concentrate in the cells to block BMAL and CLOCK activity until the following morning. This whole time-keeping process regulates the sleep-wake cycle, as well as other human metabolic and behavioral processes.

That’s why experts say it’s a bad idea to confuse the biological clock and expose your system to light from a computer screen late at night. “If I’m still being exposed to blue light from a computer screen at midnight, my central clock interprets this as daytime and tells my liver clock that it’s time to start working. That’s when a molecular conflict occurs because I’m sending information that desynchronizes the clocks,” said Tomás-Loba. A 2015 scientific review published inChronobiology International found that exposure to artificial light at night suppresses melatonin secretion, triggers sleep onset latency and accelerates alertness. This circadian disruption, says Tomás-Loba, could have negative effects “on psychological, cardiovascular and metabolic functions.”

Madrid says that there are other “synchronizers” besides light that help calibrate the central clock. “In addition to environmental time, which is the natural cycle of light and dark, we have social time. These are time-related habits, such as going to work or social interaction, which assist in the synchronization process. We also have metabolic time. An example would be mealtimes, which help synchronize and regulate the clocks of the digestive tract and liver.” A recent study published in Sciencedemonstrated that synchronizing food consumption with the circadian clock mitigates obesity in mice. The mice that ate during the active phases of their circadian cycles burned more calories, which lowered the risk of obesity.

Jet lag

Our clocks go slightly out of sync in the absence of light, but they don’t stop altogether. As the experiment with Aldo Kane demonstrated, circadian rhythms continue to function, but with less precision. Jet lag is well-known example of this functional decline, says Salvador Aznar Benitah, who heads the Stem Cell and Cancer laboratory at the Institute for Biomedical Research in Barcelona. “If the circadian rhythm only responded to light, our clocks would quickly adapt when we travel to another time zone. But what actually happens is that there is an initial, temporary mismatch when we abruptly land in a different time zone. After a while, the internal clock adjusts and aligns with the new light conditions.”

The central clock in the hypothalamus synchronizes with all the independent clocks in the body’s tissues. It acts like a bandleader by setting the rhythm of the day and informing the body of the time. “Circadian rhythms prepare the organism for what is about to happen,” said Aznar. “During the hours of strong sunlight, for example, the skin has to deal with ultraviolet light. So it triggers protective mechanisms like melanocytes, which is akin to putting on sunscreen before going outside. Early in the morning, the clocks of the skin cells anticipate exposure to daylight and activate melanocytes. Later in the afternoon, the skin cell clocks know not to activate the genes that turn on melanocytes, and that skin activity stops.”

In 2019, Aznar published a paper in Cell describing how tissue clocks operate independently from the central clock. “Each tissue has its own, autonomous clock. It doesn’t need anyone to tell it what to do. This autonomy ensures longevity by avoiding a domino effect if one tissue clock fails. The central clock functions as a coordinator so that all the tissue clocks know what time it is. If that coordination fails, then certain errors or mutations can occur.”

The pancreas also changes over a 24-hour period, says Madrid. “It’s sluggish at night and very active during the day. When you consume sugar at night, the pancreas responds poorly because it doesn’t produce enough insulin, and the insulin it does produce has a different effect from the insulin produced during the day.” Why? Because the changes in the organs are logical, not random. “During the night, our body is programmed to conserve and maintain stable levels of glucose during the long fasting period between dinner and breakfast,” said Madrid. Glucose can be conserved because the tissues that use it as fuel to feed their cells become more resistant to the effects of insulin, which is the hormone that introduces glucose into the cells. All these changes, says Madrid, are programmed by the body’s biological clocks.


Disruptions to circadian rhythms are harmful to the body. “We have three types of time that regulate our chronobiology,” said Tomás-Loba. “We have internal time, which is the time that our cells sense after having adapted to our individual ecosystems. We have external time, which is established by sunlight and artificial light. And we have social time, which is established by when we go to work or eat. If these three types of time get out of sync, a molecular and physiological imbalance called chronodisruption appears.”

Tomás-Loba’s team is currently studying the health impacts of social jet lag, which results from having different sleep schedules on weekdays and holidays. In one experiment, they found that when mice slept later than usual on weekends, their metabolisms were affected. “The molecular clocks of several organs were not synchronized because they didn’t know what time it was. That influenced how the immune system functioned, for example,” said Tomás-Loba. Several studies have reported that when people work nighttime shifts for an extended period, there is an increased risk of developing certain hormone-dependent tumors, such as breast and prostate cancer.

Aznar notes that our biological clocks begin to deteriorate between the ages of 45 and 50. “We have a good understanding of how the clock works, but we are still novices when it comes to knowing how the different tissues synchronize. If we understood how the clock gets thrown off, we could develop therapies to fix the problem.”

Tomás-Loba says there are several internal and external triggers that lead to body clock disruptions. “Light is the factor that has been studied the most, but food consumption is a daily activity, and eating at noon is not the same as eating at 4am. Exercise is also important – we should be active during the day because we are diurnal mammals. Noise is another obvious chronodisruptor, although there is much more to be studied there.”

Madrid, who just published a book on chronobiology, says that chronodisruption develops over time and is not triggered by a single event. “The biological clock deteriorates as we age, and our interactions with external synchronizers change. The chronodisruption factors for young people are usually external – the synchronizers to which they are exposed become misaligned. For example, too much light at night, snacking between meals with no set mealtimes and sedentary lifestyles.” Diseases and alterations in circadian rhythms are also communication vehicles. “An imbalance in the clock can cause a disease to develop or progress. Some examples are depressive disorders, memory problems, insomnia and reproductive disorders. But chronodisruption can also result from pathologies such as chronic kidney disease, sleep apnea and decompensated Type 2 diabetes,” said Madrid.

Clock desynchronization can be rectified and chronodisruption is reversible if the individual is re-exposed to the appropriate synchronizers. The problem, says Tomás-Luba, is when individuals are chronically exposed to stimuli that desynchronize all three types of time. “We are at a point where we are not listening to our bodies. We feel hungry at midnight because we eat dinner at 3pm. We are losing synchronization with our ecosystem,” said Tomás-Loba. Ultimately, human beings are the result of an evolutionary process that uses nature as a reference point, “and our relationship with nature is being lost,” warned Madrid.

The Israel We Knew Is Gone

Nov. 4, 2022, 1:00 a.m. ET

Credit…Amit Elkayam for The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman

By Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist

Imagine you woke up after the 2024 U.S. presidential election and found that Donald Trump had been re-elected and chose Rudy Giuliani for attorney general, Michael Flynn for defense secretary, Steve Bannon for commerce secretary, evangelical leader James Dobson for education secretary, Proud Boys former leader Enrique Tarrio for homeland security head and Marjorie Taylor Greene for the White House spokeswoman.

“Impossible,” you would say. Well, think again.

As I’ve noted before, Israeli political trends are often a harbinger of wider trends in Western democracies — Off Broadway to our Broadway. I hoped that the national unity government that came to power in Israel in June 2021 might also be a harbinger of more bipartisanship here. Alas, that government has now collapsed and is being replaced by the most far-far-right coalition in Israel’s history. Lord save us if this is a harbinger of what’s coming our way.

The coalition that Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu is riding back into power is the Israeli equivalent of the nightmare U.S. cabinet I imagined above. Only it is real — a rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics. As it is virtually impossible for Netanyahu to build a majority coalition without the support of these extremists, some of them are almost certain to be cabinet ministers in the next Israeli government.

As that previously unthinkable reality takes hold, a fundamental question will roil synagogues in America and across the globe: “Do I support this Israel or not support it?” It will haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses. It will challenge Arab allies of Israel in the Abraham Accords, who just wanted to trade with Israel and never signed up for defending a government there that is anti-Israeli Arab. It will stress those U.S. diplomats who have reflexively defended Israel as a Jewish democracy that shares America’s values, and it will send friends of Israel in Congress fleeing from any reporter asking if America should continue sending billions of dollars in aid to such a religious-extremist-inspired government.

You have not seen this play before, because no Israeli leader has “gone there” before.

Netanyahu has been propelled into power by bedfellows who: see Israeli Arab citizens as a fifth column who can’t be trusted; have vowed to take political control over judicial appointments; believe that Jewish settlements must be expanded so there is not an inch left anywhere in the West Bank for a Palestinian state; want to enact judicial changes that could freeze Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial; and express contempt for Israel’s long and strong embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

We are talking about people like Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted by an Israeli court in 2007 of incitement to racism and supporting a Jewish terrorist organization. Netanyahu personally forged an alliance between Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party and Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionism party, which turned them (shockingly for many Israelis) into the third-largest party in the country — giving Netanyahu the allies Likud needed to win a parliamentary majority in this week’s election.

Smotrich is known for, among other things, suggesting that Israeli Jewish mothers should be separated from Arab mothers in the maternity wards of Israeli hospitals. He has long advocated outright Israeli annexation of the West Bank and argued that there is “no such thing as Jewish terrorism” when it comes to settlers retaliating on their own against Palestinian violence.

Netanyahu has increasingly sought over the years to leverage the energy of this illiberal Israeli constituency to win office, not unlike how Trump uses white nationalism, but Netanyahu never actually brought this radical element — like Ben-Gvir, who claims to have moderated because he has told his supporters to chant, “Death to terrorists,” instead of, “Death to Arabs” — into his ruling faction or cabinet. As more of Netanyahu’s allies in Likud split with him over his alleged criminal behavior and lying, however, Bibi had to reach further and further out of the mainstream of Israeli politics to get enough votes to rule and pass a law to abort his own trial and possible jail time.

Netanyahu had fertile political soil to work with, the Yediot Ahronot Israeli newspaper columnist Nahum Barnea explained to me. There has been a dramatic upsurge in violence — stabbings, shootings, gang warfare and organized crime — by Israeli Arabs against other Israeli Arabs, and Israeli Arab gangs and organized crime against Israeli Jews, particularly in mixed communities. The result is that, “like in America, ‘policing’ has become a huge issue in Israel in recent years,” said Barnea — and even though this upsurge started when Netanyahu was previously prime minister, he and his anti-Arab allies blamed it all on the Arabs and the national unity Israeli government.

One election billboard summed up Netanyahu’s campaign. It was, as Haaretz reporter Amos Harel reported, a “gloomy-looking one with the caption: ‘That’s it. We’ve had enough.’ It depicts outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his coalition partner, Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List.”

Abbas is the rather amazing Israeli Arab religious party leader who recognizes the State of Israel and the searing importance of the Holocaust, and who was part of the now-fallen unity government.

As Harel put it: “The ‘had enough’ message seems to have sunk in among supporters of Likud, Religious Zionism and the ultra-Orthodox parties. It’s likely that the message also helped Netanyahu win Tuesday’s election.” Among the critical factors, Harel wrote, was “hatred of Arabs and the desire to keep them out of positions of power.”

But Netanyahu was also aided by the fact that while the right and the far right were highly energized by both growing fears of and distrust of Arabs — whether Israeli Arab citizens or Palestinians in the West Bank — their centrist and center-left opponents had no coherent or inspiring countermessage.

As Barnea put it to me: “Israel is not divided down the middle,” with 50 percent being pro-Netanyahu and the other 50 percent with a unified message and strategy opposing him. “No, Israel is divided between the 50 percent who are pro-Netanyahu and the 50 percent who are pro-blocking Netanyahu. But that is all they can agree on,” Barnea said. And it showed in this election. And it wasn’t enough.

Why is all of this so dangerous? Moshe Halbertal, the Hebrew University Jewish philosopher, captured it well: For decades members of the Israeli right, a vast majority of whom were “security hawks,” have believed that the Palestinians have never and will never accept a Jewish state next to them and therefore Israel needed to take whatever military means were necessary to protect itself from them.

But Israeli hawkishness toward the Palestinians, explained Halbertal, “is now morphing into something new — a kind of general ultrana