Talking Points

100 years of company. PHOTO: AFP
  1. The Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centenary
  2. India's top court found New Delhi had "failed" its Covid response
  3. Didi Chuxing raised a staggering $4.4b in its Wall St IPO
  4. Facebook celebrated a legal victory in the FTC antirust case
  5. The Trump Organization was indicted over tax evasion
  6. The Boy Scouts of America settled with its 60,000 victims
  7. Bill Cosby was freed after his sex assault conviction was overturned
  8. Former South African leader Jacob Zuma was jailed for contempt
  9. Euro 2020 was endangered by soaring European infection rates
  10. J&J proved its Covid-19 shot can neutralise the Delta variant

Dive deeper

. PHOTO: Jennifer Gauthier / Reuters

National holidays afford states an occasion to project an image of cohesion into the future and reflect on their genesis story. But on July 1 this year, Canada Day was marked by a muted, grieving tone . Canadians face a future choked with wildfire smoke; and a past they have not yet faced up to.

Lytton is gone

Last week we described the perils facing the town of Surfside, Florida. And indeed the dangers to the entire barrier island that protects Miami . The Floridian coastline faces a damp future, although one that – at eye-watering expense – will yet be habitable for some years to come. Sadly, the town of Lytton in British Columbia was not afforded the same luxury.

The small First Nations community on the Fraser river, received unwanted acclaim on Monday when it registered Canada's hottest-ever temperature of 46.6°C. The record lasted a mere day as the following day temperatures rose to 47.9 °C. And on Wednesday, they peaked at 49.6°C, nearly double the June average. The high-pressure 'heat dome' trapped hot air in the lower atmosphere. As figures, records, and averages melted away, the town experienced excruciating, inescapable heat. And then it was gone – wiped out by a wildfire. Residents had just minutes in which to escape on Wednesday evening. A 90 square-kilometre blaze moved so swiftly from the south that the authorities didn't even have time to send out an evacuation order. The trees, the fields, the earth itself, was simply too dry to even attempt a defence. Videos on social media showed a hair-singeing departure from the burning town as everything within sight was alight.

Lytton's thousand-odd residents spent Canada Day crowded in sweltering emergency shelters – awaiting word on their properties and livelihoods. There was little succour in the reports from the fire-front. British Columbia is a stranger to extreme heatwaves. Hundreds perished from heat-related issues across the province this week – at least 486 sudden deaths occurred in just five days. Few people have air-conditioners in the provincial capital of Vancouver; there's simply been no need for them. This week, cooling centres were rapidly set up across the city. The Canadian government's pledge to reach net-zero by 2050 now seems far too distant.

The fires are immense and widespread. And worsening. Like the catastrophic Australian bushfires in January that inverted night and day, and the towering pyrocumulonimbus over California last September, the fire and smoke in British Columbia has become a force unto itself. Turbulent smoke clouds above the west coast have generated 700,000 lightning strikes – 5% of the country's annual average – in a single day. These strikes will undoubtedly spark more fires in tinder conditions farther afield. One UCLA climate scientist decried, "I've watched a lot of wildfire-associated pyroconvective events during the satellite era, and I think this might be the singularly most extreme I've seen."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The 'Last Ice Area' of the Arctic – the remaining site of multi-year sea-ice – is depleting faster than expected. Antarctica has recorded its hottest ever temperature . And in Pakistan, temperatures have exceeded the survivable limit of the human body. These are all just stories from this past week. A single week in the life of our species and the only planet we have.

Canada's génocidaires targeted

There are other fires burning across Canada too – conflagrations that can't be blamed on anthropogenic climate change. Catholic churches in Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan have all gone up in flames . In British Columbia four have been incinerated on First Nations land. Each was an arson attack. And each was a message inked with a century of historical trauma.

From 1879 to 1996, First Nations children were removed from their families and enrolled in residential schools. These institutions fell under the jurisdiction of the federal government but were administered by the churches (predominantly the Roman Catholic Church of Canada). The sole purpose of these brutal actions was to snuff out the connection to their heritage and assimilate the children into a dominant European-Christian culture - not unlike what transpired in the United States and Australia. The children were worked to the bone on starvation rations. When not working, a shocking number were beaten and raped by those charged with their care and tutelage: teachers, priests, lay authorities. 150,000 children passed through these residential schools.

The depredation – not to mention moral vacuity – of the scheme was the groundwork of the largest class action in Canadian history. In 2006, some 86,000 former students won damages from the government. After decades of suppression, First Nations voices were irrepressible. Built on seven years of interviews, in 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada issued a final report which stated that the system had amounted to cultural genocide. But what the civil suit and truth-telling couldn't do is atone for those who never made it out of the residential schools. One galling report held that as many as ten percent of children died in these institutions. But despite the finely-worded entreaties of Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, little progress has been made on instituting the reconciliation commission's recommendations.

In the last month, the remains of more than one thousand First Nations children have been found in mass graves on the sites of residential schools. The Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation used ground-penetrating radar at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia to find 215 children in unmarked graves. The Cowessess people used the same technique to find at least 600 juvenile bodies at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Just this week, another 182 human remains were discovered by the Lower Kootenay Band of the Ktunaxa Nation. Doubtless more horrors will be revealed as hundreds of other schools are investigated. The burnt churches sent a loud message. One that has been received. Pope Francis has agreed to meet with a delegation from the First Nations.

The pain is there for all to see. On Thursday, Canadians across the country traded the red and white of the national flag for the bright orange of Phyllis Webstad . They marched, mourned, and grappled with the brittleness of their national mythos. Those that weren't escaping wildfires, that is.


Worldlywise

An Eritrean tank knocked out in the retreat from Adwa. PHOTO: AP

A turnaround in Tigray

In war-torn Tigray, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have suffered shock defeats. Reversing earlier losses, the insurgent Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) is on the offensive. And it has driven the national army from the capital of Mekelle. This week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government announced a unilateral ceasefire on news of Mekelle's capture. There is plenty of good material here, given Abiy is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

A TPLF spokesperson, Getachew Reda, has described the ceasefire as "a sick joke" and insisted they will not stop until the entire region is liberated. The TPLF is now pressing the attack towards Western Tigray, where the national army and its Amhara paramilitaries have withdrawn. Their sights are set on Amhara and Eritrea. On their way out, the retreating forces blew up the main bridge linking Tigray to its western districts, and the rest of the country. This has denied the TPLF a swift assault, but has also cut off hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from much-needed aid. 900,000 were already facing famine conditions , and the World Food Programme has been denied access to distribute food.

Eritrea , which fought against the Tigrayans alongside Ethiopia, has implored the TPLF to join the ceasefire. Its foreign troops, who stand accused of committing the most noxious war crimes in Tigray, have retreated from Shire, Adwa, and Axum. Everyone wants a ceasefire - when they are losing. But it is especially rich coming from Eritrea.

Tigrayans, despite comprising just 6% of Ethiopia's population, have long been overrepresented in politics and the upper ranks of the military. No doubt a good deal of munitions were also sequestered over the years. That Addis Ababa has forbidden planes from flying below 29,000ft over Tigray suggests the TPLF have access to anti-aircraft missiles. Abiy has threatened to send troops back into Tigray, though such threats tend to carry less weight when your army has been routed.

Hey, fam. PHOTO: NYT

New humans just dropped

And now, for something less unpleasant - let's meet some new in-laws. An unnamed Chinese labourer discovered a strange skull during a dig in 1933. Rather than handing it over to the occupying Japanese forces at the time, he hid it in a well, where it stayed for decades. His shame of working for the Japanese sealed his lips for a lifetime. But on his deathbed, the man in question revealed his wondrous secret. The skull was promptly found, and donated to Hebei GEO University. Now, the research is complete: the skull belonged to a 50-year-old man of an entirely new species. Homo longi (translated as 'Dragon Man' in reference to the nearby Dragon river) lived 140,000 years ago and boasted a brain of similar size to our own. That a parallel species to Homo sapiens existed in the same area, at the same time, has sent paleontologists into a tizzy.

And if that doesn't take your fancy, what about another hominid from the Middle Pleistocene? Bones from the as-yet-uncategorised Nesher Ramla Homo were discovered in current-day Israel. This species lived in the region up until the penultimate glacial period. What's particularly interesting about them is that they had significant cross-pollination with Neanderthals from Europe. All these ancient trysts have left us with a pile of bones that combine distinctly Neanderthal teeth and jaws with a Homo skull shape. And thanks to the refuse heap of bones nearby we also know they snacked on horses, deer, and aurochs. When Homo sapiens (us) arrived on the scene, there was even more interbreeding. We've got a hell of a family tree.


The worst of times

A group of refugee women put their textile skills to bear. PHOTO: AFP

Period poverty

Lebanon’s women have been thrown into period poverty as the country’s financial crisis continues. Since 2019, the price of sanitary products has soared by almost 500%. Adolescent women have no means to buy sanitary pads. Instead, they are using newspapers, baby nappies, and even rags, as alternatives. Despite the demand, the government refuses to subsidise menstrual products. Charity organisations are also failing to help as donations decline drastically.

Hunger on the Korean Peninsula

North Korea is struggling to feed itself, causing fears the country will repeat the famine seen in the 1990s. Only 4m tonnes of grain were grown in the country last year, after months of drought and typhoon rains. Additionally, its closed border means food imports will not be able to help the shortage. A report released by UNICEF in February found that 10m North Koreans face food insecurity and 140,000 children below the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition.


The best of times

An eight-year long campaign is won. PHOTO: AP

Universal fertility treatment

This week, France passed legislation allowing single women and lesbian couples access to IVF. As a result, women who aren’t in heterosexual couples will no longer have to travel abroad for the treatment. Additionally, women in their 30s will now be able to freeze their eggs. The procedure was previously only granted to those undergoing fertility-impacting treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The move was heralded as a milestone for the equal rights movement which has rallied for the legislation for years.

Shoo, mosquito

A clinical trial has found the most effective treatment against malaria to date. It works by combining a new vaccine with anti-parasitic drugs that target infection with T cells. The trial has demonstrated 87.5% efficacy against malaria of the same strain, and 77.8% efficacy against another. The progress comes despite a relatively small amount of funding going into the field in contrast to HIV and Covid vaccine developments.


Weekend Reading

The image

Raheem Sterling dances away like Hermes having netted England's first of two goals against the old enemy, Germany, at Wembley. The diptych of dejection and joy over Raheem's shoulders was recreated ten minutes later as Harry Kane spoiled German manager Joachim Löw's retirement celebrations with his own. Photograph supplied by AFP.

The quote

"Nobody is going to propose a [carbon] tax on all Americans, and the cynical side of me says, yeah, we kind of know that – but it gives us a talking point that we can say, well, what is ExxonMobil for? Well, we're for a carbon tax."

– ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy put both feet in it this week when he told an undercover reporter that his employer's newfound concern for the environment is a PR ploy . He later conceded that Exxon had "aggressively" fought climate scientists and even joined "shadowy groups" to work against them. Engine No.1 should try for the entire board next time.

The numbers

19%

- Amazon's profits surged during the pandemic. So did its carbon emissions – by nearly a fifth . It seems the only thing you can't buy at the everything store is a greener future.

130 countries

- A majority of nations have signed up to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's "historic" 15% global minimum corporate tax rate . Notably, some low-tax jurisdictions like Ireland, Hungary, and Poland pursued the path of self-interest and declined.

The headline

"Radioactive wild boar-pig hybrid emerges in nuclear wasteland of Fukushima" The Telegraph . Sure, such a sentence would come across as a little on the nose in a sci-fi novel, but let's focus on the salient question: what does it taste like?

The special mention

Who else but Donald Rumsfeld, the two-time US Defence Secretary who died this week aged 88. Rumsfeld – memorably Rummy in the jocular Texan drawl of Bush the Junior – is one of those rare public figures whose death has not been followed by a flourish of myth-making. Rumsfeld was a brash figure whose legacy will be defined by the catastrophe of the Iraq War and its half a million (at the very, very least) dead. Here, in the style of Hunter S. Thompson's obituary/philippic of Richard Nixon, is the peerless chronicler of the Iraq War, George Packer, on how we ought to remember Rumsfeld .

A few choice long-reads

  • By now you know about variants, mRNA vaccines, protein spikes, quarantine measures, conspiracy theories, and symptoms. What you really want to know is: when will it end? The Economist on long Covid.
  • A brave soul – braver than us without question – has argued in Foreign Affairs that Biden can keep the two-state solution alive.
  • Here are some words to live by: weniger, aber besser. An absolute must read from Tim Harford in the Financial Times on why we should apply Marie Kondo to the controversial statue debate.,.

Tom Wharton @trwinwriting