Archive For The “News” Category

Hollywood crew members reach a tentative deal with major studios, averting a strike

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Hollywood crew members reach a tentative deal with major studios, averting a strike
The Hollywood sign above homes in the Hollywood Hills.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Hollywood crew members and major studios have averted a nationwide strike that would have shut down much of film and TV production. The tentative agreement must still be ratified by the union’s members.

According to IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the new three year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) includes giving a “living wage: for the lowest paid earners in the union, improved wages and working conditions for streaming, retroactive wage increases of three percent annually, increased meal penalties, daily rest periods of 10 hours, weekend rest periods of 54 hours” and “significant increases in compensation to be paid by new-media companies.” In addition, IATSE reports that union workers will get Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday added as a holiday. And the union says there are new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. On IATSE’s website, President Matt Loweb said, “This is a Hollywood ending. “

Earlier this month, crew members in the union IATSE, voted to authorize a strike if they couldn’t reach a deal with the AMPTP. They’d been negotiating over pay, work schedules and more since May. A strike would have effectively shut down much of the film and TV production in the country. The union announced today that they’ve reached a deal.

At issue were quality of life issues and the health and safety of those who work behind the scenes in the film and television industry. That includes cinematographers, lighting technicians, makeup artists and the food workers who feed the casts and crews.

In recent weeks, many have been sharing their stories on social media, where some have complained of grueling call times that cause sleep deprivation and little time to be with their families. Some were asking to be compensated more for productions that are streamed online and not released theatrically. They’ve been working with lower rates since 2009, when the streamers were just beginning.

The arts and entertainment industries have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. According to a recent report by Americans for the Arts, 63% of artists and creative workers were unemployed at the height of the pandemic in 2020.

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A new crew docks at China’s first permanent space station

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A new crew docks at China’s first permanent space station

A screen image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing on Saturday shows Chinese astronauts Ye Guangfu (from left), Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping waving after entering the Chinese space station.

Tian Dingyu/Xinhua via AP

Tian Dingyu/Xinhua via AP

BEIJING — Chinese astronauts began Saturday their six-month mission on China’s first permanent space station, after successfully docking their spacecraft.

The astronauts, two men and a woman, were seen floating around the module before speaking via a live-streamed video.

The new crew includes Wang Yaping, 41, who is the first Chinese woman to board the Tiangong space station, and is expected to become China’s first female spacewalker.

“We’ll co-operate with each other, carefully conduct maneuvers, and try to accomplish all tasks successfully in this round of exploration of the universe,” said Wang in the video.

The space travelers’ Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was launched by a Long March-2F rocket at 12:23 a.m. Saturday and docked with the Tianhe core module of the space station at 6:56 a.m.

The three astronauts entered the station’s core module at about 10 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.

They are the second crew to move into China’s Tiangong space station, which was launched last April. The first crew stayed three months.

The new crew includes two veterans of space travel — Zhai Zhigang, 55, and Wang. The third member, Ye Guangfu, 41, is making his first trip to space.

The mission’s launch was seen off by a military band and supporters singing “Ode to the Motherland,” underscoring national pride in the space program, which has advanced rapidly in recent years.

The crew will do three spacewalks to install equipment in preparation for expanding the station, assess living conditions in the Tianhe module, and conduct experiments in space medicine and other fields.

China’s military-run space program plans to send multiple crews to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.

When completed with the addition of two more sections — named Mengtian and Wentian — the station will weigh about 66 tons, much smaller than the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs around 450 tons.

Two more Chinese modules are due to be launched before the end of next year during the stay of the yet-to-be-named Shenzhou-14 crew.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday renewed its commitment to cooperation with other nations in the peaceful use of space.

Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said sending humans into space was a “common cause of mankind.” China would “continue to extend the depth and breadth of international cooperation and exchanges” in crewed spaceflight and “make positive contributions to the exploration of the mysteries of the universe,” he said.

China was excluded from the International Space Station largely due to U.S. objections over the Chinese program’s secretive nature and close military ties, prompting it to launch two experimental modules before starting on the permanent station.

This combination of photos screen image captured at Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows China’s Shenzhou-13 crewed spaceship docking with China’s space station.

Tian Dingyu/Xinhua via AP

Tian Dingyu/Xinhua via AP

U.S. law requires congressional approval for contact between the American and Chinese space programs, but China is cooperating with space experts from other countries including France, Sweden, Russia and Italy. Chinese officials have said they look forward to hosting astronauts from other countries aboard the space station once it becomes fully functional.

China has launched seven crewed missions with a total of 14 astronauts aboard — two have flown twice — since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put a person in space on its own.

China has also expanded its work on lunar and Mars exploration, including landing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and returning lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.

This year, China also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, whose accompanying Zhurong rover has been exploring for evidence of life on the red planet.

Other Chinese space programs call for collecting soil from an asteroid and bringing back additional lunar samples. China has also expressed an aspiration to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.

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U.S. will provide condolence payments to families of Kabul drone strike victims

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U.S. will provide condolence payments to families of Kabul drone strike victims

Afghans inspect damage of the Ahmadi family house after a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 29. The strike, which the Pentagon originally deemed a success in striking an ISIS-K target, killed 10 civilians, none of whom were associated with the terrorist group.

Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP

Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi/AP

The U.S. Department of Defense says it will provide money to the families affected by the botched drone strike on Aug. 29 that killed 10 civilians, including up to seven children, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

At a Pentagon news briefing on Tuesday, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked if anyone in the U.S. military or in the Defense Department had made contact with any of the victims’ families.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement that, two days after the news conference, Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, met with Steven Kwon, president of Nutrition and Education International. One of the people killed was Zemari Ahmadi, an aid worker with Kwon’s organization.

Kahl apologized again on behalf of the DOD “for the loss of life” from the strike and reiterated that “Mr. Zemari Ahmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to U.S. forces.”

Kwon said Ahmadi’s had worked with NEI for years, “providing care and lifesaving assistance for people facing high mortality rates in Afghanistan.”

According to Kirby, “Dr. Kahl reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments, in addition to working with the State Department in support of Mr. Ahmadi’s family members who are interested in relocation to the United States.”

It has not been specified how much the condolence payments would be.

With the planned drone strike, U.S. forces were aiming to target ISIS-K members behind the Aug. 26 attack at the Kabul airport that killed more than 150 people, including 13 U.S. military members.

Originally, the Pentagon said the drone strike was a success, even though some civilians had died in the attack. But after reports from The New York Times and Washington Post, the Pentagon reversed course and said the strike was a “tragic mistake.”

“We now assess that it is unlikely that the vehicle and those who died were associated with ISIS-K, or a direct threat to U.S. forces,” Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said on Sept. 17.

Ex-gratia condolence payments are not a requirement when there is property damage, personal injury or death caused by U.S. military forces. But they are, in part, used as a method to “maintain friendly relations” in areas where U.S. forces are operating.

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A New Zealand city is taking its official wizard off the payroll after over 2 decades

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A New Zealand city is taking its official wizard off the payroll after over 2 decades

The Wizard of New Zealand, also known as Ian Brackenbury Channell, casts a “spell” during a television interview in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2011. His contract with the city will end in December after more than two decades.

Mark Baker/Associated Press

Mark Baker/Associated Press

Christchurch, New Zealand, is parting ways with its official city wizard after more than two decades. His offensive remarks about women and the local government’s new tourism strategy reportedly spelled his doom.

Ian Brackenbury Channell is known as The Wizard of New Zealand, apparently even on official documents like his passport. He’s been on the Christchurch City Council’s payroll since 1998, receiving an annual salary of $16,000 NZ (more than $11,000 in current USD) to “provide acts of wizardry and other wizard-like-services – as part of promotional work for the city of Christchurch,” according to the New Zealand news site Stuff.

But that job title will soon become — like many wizards before him — a thing of legend.

“The council has met with The Wizard and sent him a letter thanking him for his services to Christchurch over the past decades, and informing him that we are bringing our formal contractual arrangement to a close,” said Lynn McClelland, the council’s assistant chief executive. She said the final payment will be made in December.

The decision was a difficult one, according to McClelland. She explained that Christchurch’s promotional landscape is changing to “increasingly reflect our diverse communities and showcase a vibrant, diverse, modern city that is attractive to residents, domestic and international visitors, new businesses, and skilled migrant workers.”

That may not have been the only reason, The Guardian reports, citing controversial comments Channell made back in April.

“I love women, I forgive them all the time, I’ve never struck one yet. Never strike a woman because they bruise too easily is the first thing, and they’ll tell the neighbors and their friends … and then you’re in big trouble,” he said at a screening of the current affairs show New Zealand Today.

Channell told Stuff that the council had waved him off because he didn’t fit with the city’s modern image, calling them “a bunch of bureaucrats who have no imagination” and are “not thinking of ways to promote Christchurch overseas.”

Despite his disappointment, Channell promised to keep visiting Christchurch’s Arts Centre to chat with tourists and locals.

“It makes no difference. I will still keep going,” he said. “They will have to kill me to stop me.”

His career spanned from academia to wizardry

Channell’s life and work are actually the subject of a current exhibit at the ongoing Christchurch Heritage Festival (which is, ironically, sponsored by the city council).

The event description notes that Christchurch is the only city in the world to have had its own official wizard since 1982. By that time, it adds, Channell had already become the world’s first art-gallery-appointed Living Work of Art.

“For forty years neither title and accompanying roles has been granted to anyone else anywhere in the world,” organizers wrote. “He not only created his own social identity which includes living in an alchemical marriage but, as an ex-academic cultural theorist and experimentalist, he designed the existential universe he has been living in since 1972.”

You can read more about the wizard in his own words on his website.

Channell was born in London in 1932, according to a biography from the Christchurch City Council Libraries. Before getting into wizardry, he spent time as a Royal Air Force navigator, studied psychology and sociality, traveled in the Middle East and taught in both Tehran and Australia.

He was appointed “Wizard of the University of New South Wales” by the school’s vice chancellor and students’ union in 1969.

He moved to Christchurch in 1974 and soon became a recognizable performer and public speaker in the city’s Cathedral Square, where he would stand atop a ladder dressed in a long cloak and pointed hat.

New Zealand’s government calls Channell notable for “reviving the ancient art of rhetoric” and says he was “most often seen in The Square in Christchurch synthesising the ideas of famous philosophers.”

The police tried to arrest him at one point, according to the BBC, but members of the public protested and the square was ultimately designated an area for public speaking. The wizard became recognized as a tourist attraction, and his accolades grew from there.

He was appointed the official Archwizard of Canterbury in 1980, and designated a living work of art by the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association in 1982.

In 1990, then-Prime Minister Mike Moore appointed him the Wizard of New Zealand. A photo on Channell’s website shows a letter from the prime minister, urging him to consider taking up such a role.

“It occurs to me that you are currently the Wizard of Christchurch exclusively,” Moore wrote. “As a loyal Christchurch MP I am pleased about that, but as Prime Minister I am concerned that your wizardry is not officially at the disposal of the entire nation.”

He noted that this would likely carry implications “in the area of spells, blessings, curses and other supernatural matters that are beyond the competence of mere Prime Minister.”

He boasts a unique resume, though it’s thinned in recent years

Some of the career highlights chronicled on the wizard’s website include: performing rain dances in New Zealand and Australia during droughts, participating in protests against the demolition of heritage buildings after the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes and famously battling the company Telecom over the changing color of the city’s telephone boxes in 1988.

He went around repainting the new blue boxes to their original red, according to one biography, in a battle that “raged for twelve days” and at one point even involved the city council.

The ongoing exhibition about his life says it includes major sections on”his miraculous rain dances, ingenious avoidance of the Census, the hilarious war with Telecom over the change of colour of their phone boxes, the spells cast for the Canterbury Crusaders, the unusual candidates who between 1972 and 1990, stood for the Imperial British Conservative Party in Australia and NZ, the Wizard’s part in the narrowly won battle to save the earthquake damaged Cathedral from being bulldozed, the mythical implications of the Queens Service Medal awarded to a Wizard.”

NPR reported last August that the Wizard of New Zealand was retiring and searching for a successor, though it’s unclear what came of that effort.

Sightings of the wizard have become more rare in recent years, according to The Guardian, which he says is because the council has “made him invisible” and ignored his suggestions for improving tourism.

When asked by the newspaper whether he would curse the council over its decision, the wizard said he preferred blessings:

“I give children happy dreams, general good health, and I want to make bureaucrats become more human.”

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‘We belong here, we have always been here’: A conversation on the Latinx identity

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‘We belong here, we have always been here’: A conversation on the Latinx identity

As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to an end, poet Yesika Salgado and Lázaro Lima, a professor at Hunter College, talk about what it means to be Latinx in the United States — and the world — in 2021.


Today marks the end of National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time of celebration for many, punctuated by festivities, panels and events. But some within the Latinx community question the need for this occasion. They’re asking, who does this month represent? We wanted to mark its closing by inviting two Latinx thinkers for an open conversation on the Latinx identity.

YESIKA SALGADO: Hi. My name is Yesika Salgado, and I am an LA-born Salvadoran poet, writer, and I go around the world telling my story to folks about my Latinidad and my body as a fat woman and my family, my cities and my home country of El Salvador.

LAZARO LIMA: It’s great to connect with you, Yesika. I’m Lazaro Lima. I’m a scholar of Latino literary and cultural studies. And I am a first-generation immigrant born in Cuba who grew up in the northernmost city in Cuba, which I affectionately refer to as Miami.

SALGADO: I like to tell people that I was born in LA but have always lived in El Salvador because of the way my parents raised me. My first five years of life, we lived in a building that housed everybody that migrated from my mom’s village. So it had all her siblings and other people that came, and all I knew was people that knew back home and that were living in LA because they had to ’cause of the civil war, not necessarily because they wanted to. The word refugee is a word that I’ve been, like, kind of getting my mind around lately because I’m like, yeah, my parents are refugees; they left because of the war.

LIMA: Well, you know, I mean, that’s a big topic there. And of course, the immigration experience is certainly a huge part of the Latinx experience. But we also need to remember that this geopolitical construct that we call the United States has been and always was infused by Spanish speakers. Places like California, Nevada, New Mexico, parts in Wyoming and Colorado and Texas were part of Mexico. And those parts of the United States that get subsumed linguistically as California, Colorado, as opposed to Colorado or California, weren’t just named places; they tell stories of the people who inhabited and were subjected to historical oblivion. To look at Latino-ness, Latinidad, solely through the context of immigration, is important and necessary, but it’s also important to acknowledge that hidden history.

SALGADO: I mean, I think also it’s really important to understand, too, that we are so much more than just being migrants. Like, for myself, I don’t know what migrating to a whole new country is ’cause I didn’t do that, but it doesn’t take away any of my experience as a Latina. Sometimes these home countries make fun of us because they’re like, your idea of what you are is so narrow, or you’re so focused on identity that it’s like, El Salvadoreno in El Salvador is just a El Salvadoreno They don’t need to explain to anybody that, no, I’m not Mexican. No, I’m not this. No, I’m not that. We’re just Salvadoran. You just are what you are.

And that – I didn’t think about that until I had a friend that migrated here from Ethiopia. And he told me – he goes, in Ethiopia, there’s no concept of Blackness because everybody’s Black. And so this whole having to, like, demand people to acknowledge that I’m worth having a life because I’m Black is ridiculous because everybody’s Black where I came from. I think that in some ways that has affected the way that I look at identity beyond what we try to tell everybody else in the U.S. ’cause in the U.S., we’re so focused on the individual person instead of the general narrative. And I think that it’s kind of cool to take off that lens and put the lens of being like, oh, yeah, we’re so much more than this just one little box that we have to check off on the census.

LIMA: And a lot of people have really fought very hard to get that box on the census because it’s also related to privilege and resources. It’s really interesting how identities travel in different contexts, and we might see them as appropriative or we might see them as celebrationist (ph), but to make those identity monikers – Latinx, Latina, Chicano, Chicano, what have you – and take them outside of the historical milieu from which they emerge and only celebrate the positive also obviates the very stories that these communities have been dying, literally dying, to tell in order to create a more accurate version of American cultural identity as Latinx, Black, as Indigenous, as Asian American at its core.

SALGADO: And that’s truly beautiful because I can’t tell the story of my parents’ migration without saying that it was forced because of a civil war and the fact that the civil war happened because of U.S. intervention. So yes, it’s important to celebrate my Latinx American identity and to acknowledge the people that have sacrificed to be able to share that importance narrative, and – but what I do love more is the reckoning, saying like, we Latinx folks are so much more than what you seen us as. We’re Black. We’re Asian. We’re Mestizos. We’re – some of us are white, and we have to accept that, too. And we have all different levels of privileges, and I’m excited to see how the future generations continue to dissect it and push and question and probe. I find beauty in that for Latinx Heritage Month. All of the pushback from the new generations that are like – you’ve seen the memes, that everybody’s just like – Happy Latinx Heritage Month, and they’re using – they’re making fun of it, right? And then I’m like, yeah, challenge it. Why not? Let’s see – what else can we imagine for ourselves beyond this identity? And so I’m just excited to see what language comes from all of that, and I’m down for the ride. And if we start calling ourselves something else next, then, you know, I’ll just roll with the punches.

LIMA: Yeah, I know it’s daunting to keep up with all the names, especially when it’s so important to democratic systems to come up with a name that references a particular history. So I think those interscene battles between, no, I don’t want the X; I prefer Hispanic. No, I don’t want it all together; I’m just an American – can oftentimes also just be a distraction. But that’s not the reality. We need structural change, and that structural change happens with laws, enfranchisement, not depriving people of access to voting rights, making them aware of redistricting. We become political beings not by navel-gazing but by attaining a certain type of analytic distance that allows us then to say very clearly, we belong here; we have always been here. And then we can worry about the nomenclature and the specifics of those naming strategies.

SALGADO: And for me, maybe the word itself is not the problem; it’s who we envision to fit that word, you know, who we envision to fit that term. And we have to wrap our minds around the fact that we are not a monolith and that Latinidad is not a race. And so when we’re celebrating Latinx Heritage Month, there’s a lot of historical things that we need to remember that are very – like, we just had Indigenous Day. And I love the fact that in our lifetime, we got to see something change where the true history of something is being acknowledged. It used to be Christopher Columbus Day, and everybody said, no, we don’t stand for that; that was a day of violence for many of our people. And so now it is Indigenous Day, and we will celebrate the beautiful traditions of Indigenous folks and those folks that are alive now that are Indigenous.

LIMA: Beautifully put, Yesika. And to that, I would just simply add that we need Latinx Heritage Month as long as Latinos continue to be represented as the forever foreigners and not as a constitutive part of the American experiment in democracy and inclusion.


CHANG: Yesika Salgado is an LA-based poet and writer, and Lazaro Lima is a professor in the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican Latino Studies at Hunter College in New York City.


RITA INDIANA: (Singing in Spanish).

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Teachers in Texas are told they must teach ‘opposing’ views of the Holocaust

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Teachers in Texas are told they must teach ‘opposing’ views of the Holocaust

The Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, is in the spotlight after an administrator reportedly instructed teachers to provide students with “opposing” views of the Holocaust when the subject of recent statewide legislation came up.

PeopleImages/Getty Images

PeopleImages/Getty Images

A Texas school district has once again become the center of controversy after an administrator reportedly instructed teachers to provide students with “opposing” views of the Holocaust.

Gina Peddy, the executive director of curriculum and instruction for the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, is alleged to have made the comments during a meeting last Friday, according to NBC News, who obtained audio of the meeting from an unnamed employee. Peddy was reportedly meeting with teachers to instruct them on how to stock their classroom libraries when the subject of recent statewide legislation, as well as the Holocaust, came up.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy could be heard saying on tape, according to NBC News. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

House Bill 3979, which went into effect last month, mandates, among other things, that if public school teachers choose to discuss current events or widely debated or controversial public policy or social issues, they should present numerous points of view “without giving deference to any one perspective.”

A teacher at the meeting asked, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” Peddy responded, “Believe me. That’s come up,” according to NBC News.

The school district head apologizes: “there are not two sides of the Holocaust”

In response to reports, superintendent Lane Ledbetter issued a statement via Facebook apologizing for the incident.

“As the Superintendent of Schools, I express my sincere apology regarding the online article and news story released today,” his statement reads. “During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history.”

“Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust,” he continued. “As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts. As a district we will work to add clarity to our expectations for teachers and once again apologize for any hurt or confusion this has caused.”

When contacted by NPR with a request for comment, school district officials pointed to Ledbetter’s previous statement.

In a statement to NBC News, Karen Fitzgerald, a spokesperson for the district, said that teachers across the state were put in a “precarious position” due to House Bill 3979.

“Our purpose is to support our teachers in ensuring they have all of the professional development, resources and materials needed. Our district has not and will not mandate books be removed nor will we mandate that classroom libraries be unavailable,” she wrote.

Holocaust comments are the latest in a string of controversies

Numerous local political leaders have chimed in on the claims, including Texas state Sen. Kelly Hancock, who argued that Southlake’s actions had nothing to do with the bill.

“School administrators should know the difference between factual historical events and fiction,” he wrote on Twitter. “Southlake just got it wrong. No legislation is suggesting the action this administrator is promoting.”

Another state senator, Beverly Powell, tweeted, “Already, we are seeing the impact of a vague and unnecessary bill that leaves teachers and administrators confused and afraid to teach the history of the Holocaust or the Civil War without teaching ‘both sides.'”

News of the Southlake scandal comes on the heels of more drama in the district, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Late last year, a fourth-grade teacher faced disciplinary action after a parent complained that their child had brought home a book about being “anti-racist,” according to the NBC News report.

Southlake was also the setting of parent clashes over critical race theory that made headlines earlier this year.

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Social media misinformation stokes a worsening civil war in Ethiopia

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Social media misinformation stokes a worsening civil war in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed salutes members of the national defense forces during the inauguration ceremony of the new government in early October.

Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Images

As Tamu Shatallah walked past the inauguration stage draped in gold, his thoughts were on the deadly civil war that has plagued Ethiopia for nearly a year.

It’s a war “between brothers, between sisters,” Tamu said. A war that, as far as he can tell, has done nothing for his country.

That stage in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa was where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sat last week as he watched a procession of military bands, having just been elected to a second five-year term last week. Behind him, written in large letters was a message: “A new beginning.”

“I hope this new beginning brings peace,” said another local, Hatalesh Gabesa, as she looked at the sign on her way home from church. “Peace is more important than everything else.”

Ethiopia’s civil war is a conflict between the country’s new rulers and its old ones, who were based in the Tigray region in the north.

That’s where the war started, but it has now expanded south and east to neighboring states, displacing millions of Ethiopians. While there is no official death toll, some estimates put the number of dead in the tens of thousands.

The government has instituted a blockade around the areas controlled by Tigrayan rebels, which has meant cutting off the region to most humanitarian aid, medical supplies and fuel. It’s a growing humanitarian crisis that is steadily gaining more international attention — including from a whistleblower who addressed a U.S. senate committee hearing last Tuesday.

A Tigray People’s Liberation Front fighter poses in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region, Ethiopia, on June 30, 2021.

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Facebook accused of ‘fanning ethnic violence’ in Ethiopian civil war

Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, told members of a Senate subcommittee that her former employer bears some of the blame for the growing conflict in Ethiopia. More than once, Haugen accused Facebook’s algorithms of “literally fanning ethnic violence” in Ethiopia.

“My fear is that without action, divisive and extremist behaviors we see today are only the beginning,” Haugen said. “What we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the beginning chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it.”

Freelance journalist Zecharias Zelalem is one of the people attempting to document that story in real time. He reports extensively on Ethiopia and agrees with Haugen’s assessment.

“Just looking at the instances of documented evidence over the course of the past three years in which prominent Facebook posters would post unverified, often inflammatory posts or rhetoric that would then go on to incite mob violence, ethnic clashes, crackdowns on independent press or outspoken voices,” Zelalem said.

In one recent instance, Zelalem saw an inflammatory Facebook post from a media outlet that falsely blamed members of an ethnic minority group for carrying out murders and kidnappings that took place on Sept. 27.

The post quickly got hundreds of shares and likes. A day later, on Sept. 28, Zelalem said the village cited in the post was ransacked, burnt to the ground and the inhabitants were murdered.

“Despite multiple efforts to report the post, it remains up and live as of this moment,” he said.

Facebook says Ethiopia is a ‘company priority’

In Ethiopia, these are old ethnic tensions that are being stoked in new ways. As more pro-government and anti-Tigrayan rhetoric circulates online, Zelalem worries it is normalizing the violence the country has seen over the past year.

Facebook denies allegations that its platform has helped sow violence. A spokesperson sent NPR a statement saying that Ethiopia was a “company priority,” and that Facebook had added content reviewers in several local languages. The statement said Facebook had “worked to improve our proactive detection so that we can remove more harmful content at scale.”

Zelalem isn’t buying it.

“I can quite honestly say that Facebook has — if it has done anything, it’s not nearly enough, at least, because there have been more than enough documented incidents,” he said.

In the meantime, the crisis in Ethiopia is worsening. The international community has been pushing the country to allow more aid into the rebel-held regions, but that hasn’t worked.

The U.S. has threatened sanctions. And humanitarian groups say the country is still on a path toward famine.

The Ethiopian government, as it continues its social media messaging campaign, says the international community is exaggerating the crisis.

A version of this story ran on NPR’s daily news magazine All Things Considered.

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United States commits another 17 million COVID vaccine doses to the African Union

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United States commits another 17 million COVID vaccine doses to the African Union

The vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The White House says Thursday that the U.S. will commit 17 million additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union.

Picture Alliance/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

Picture Alliance/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

The White House says the United States will donate more than 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from its domestic supplies to the African Union.

President Biden made the announcement Thursday as he met with Kenyan Uhuru Kenyatta at the White House, Biden’s first one-on-one meeting with an African leader.

“We’re continuing our shared fight against COVID,” Biden said during the meeting.

The vaccine donation comes on top of the 50 million vaccines doses already donated by the United States to the African Union, according to the White House.

The 17 million J&J vaccines will be available for delivery immediately and will be delivered to the African Union within the coming weeks.

Kenyatta thanked Biden for assisting both Kenya and other African countries, saying that the U.S. has “stepped up” when it comes to vaccine donation and access to vaccines for other countries.

News of Kenya’s 17 million vaccine donation comes after the World Health Organization said last month the African continent was almost 500 million doses short of what is needed to achieve its goal of vaccinating 40% of people by the end of 2021.

“African countries need clear delivery dates so they can plan properly. We also need strong structures set up to ensure that all promises made are promises kept,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa in a statement addressing the shortage.

To date, under half of the African countries that have received COVID-19 vaccines have fully vaccinated only 2% or less of their populations, according to the WHO.

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A Boeing test pilot has been indicted in connection with the 737 Max

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A Boeing test pilot has been indicted in connection with the 737 Max

A line of Southwest Air Boeing 737 jets are parked earlier this year in Everett, Wash.

Elaine Thompson/AP

Elaine Thompson/AP

DALLAS — A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes.

The indictment accuses Mark A. Forkner of giving the Federal Aviation Administration false and incomplete information about an automated flight-control system that played a role in the crashes, which killed 346 people.

Prosecutors said that because of Forkner’s “alleged deception,” the system was not mentioned in key FAA documents, pilot manuals or pilot-training material supplied to airlines.

The flight-control system automatically pushed down the noses of Max jets that crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia. The pilots tried unsuccessfully to regain control, but both planes went into nosedives minutes after taking off. Most pilots were unaware of the system, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, until after the first crash.

Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said he is expected to make his first appearance in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.

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A meteorite crashes through a home in Canada, barely missing a woman’s head

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A meteorite crashes through a home in Canada, barely missing a woman’s head

A scenic view of a lake against the sky at night in British Columbia. Earlier this month, a resident of Golden, B.C., woke up to the sound of a crash and found that a meteorite had landed in her bed.

Nadia Palici/Getty Images

Nadia Palici/Getty Images

Ruth Hamilton had a rude awakening earlier this month when a large meteorite plunged from space, through her roof and landed in her bed.

The resident of Golden, British Columbia, woke up to the sound of a crash and her dog barking.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life,” Hamilton, 66, told the Canadian Press of the Oct. 3 incident that occurred about 11:35 p.m. “I wasn’t sure what to do so I called 911 and, when I was speaking with the operator, I flipped over my pillow and saw that a rock had slipped between two pillows.”

“I didn’t feel it,” she told CTV News in Vancouver. “It never touched me. I had debris on my face from the drywall, but not a single scratch.”

A police officer arrived on the scene, but suspected the object that landed in Hamilton’s bed was from a nearby construction site.

“He called the [construction site] and they said they hadn’t done a blast but that they had seen an explosion in the sky and, right then and there, we realized it was a meteorite,” she told the Canadian Press.

It turns out that the 2.8-pound space rock, about the size of a small cabbage, was part of a meteor shower identified by Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary, and his colleagues. The group said the trajectory of the meteorite that hit Hamilton’s house would have made it visible throughout southeastern British Columbia and central and southern Alberta.

Hamilton said she was in shock after the incident. “The odds of that happening are so small so I’m pretty grateful to be alive,” she said.

Long odds, indeed. “The chances of a meteorite big enough to penetrate a roof and hit a bed are about one and 100 billion per year,” says Peter Brown, a professor and the Canada Research Chair in planetary small bodies.

Brown is appealing to the public in and around Golden “to check their home and business security cameras” for video of the meteor as it streaked across the sky.” He said that it is “vitally important in tracking the origin of this meteor, and by knowing its origin, we’ll have a much better chance at telling a complete story of this incredible astronomical event.”

Ruth Hamilton says she wants to keep the meteorite

After her startling experience, Hamilton handed over the meteorite to scientists to study, but told The New York Times that when they’re through with it, she wants to keep it as a sort of lucky talisman.

But if she ever did decide to sell it, the meteorite might fetch a pretty hefty price, according to Mendy Ouzillou, a member of The Meteoritical Society, who also oversees several enthusiast sites on Facebook and owns Skyfall Meteorites.

Ouzillou tells NPR that a number of factors could determine how valuable a meteorite might be to collectors, but “hitting a car, going through a roof … these meteorites do over time get a mystique about them and increase in value.”

These so-called “hammer stones” that have crashed into something made by humans, are prized, he says.

What a meteorite is made out of can make a big difference, Ouzillou says.

He cautions that valuing such an object as Hamilton’s sight unseen is fraught with caveats. But he says it might fetch a minimum of $40 and $100 per gram, putting it between about $50,000 and $127,000.

But, as Ouzillou notes, it doesn’t seem like she’s willing to part with her lucky meteorite, anyway. “Not everyone who finds a Picasso in their attic wants to sell it,” he says.

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