PLUS: The return of Bitcoin, and a dark tale of sisterhood wins a prestigious fantasy award.
UN call for Israel restraint
REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Israel was responsible for “clear violations of international humanitarian law,” and called for an immediate ceasefire, increasing pressure on the Israeli government to pause the bombardment of Gaza and allow more aid in. He also said the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, which killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, “did not happen in a vacuum.” Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. called the comments “shocking” and said Guterres should resign. Meanwhile Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, blamed Hamas for using civilians as human shields, while calling for “humanitarian pauses” in Israel’s air assault. The Gaza Health Ministry, controlled by Hamas, claimed at least 704 people died in airstrikes yesterday, the highest single-day death toll it reported since the war began.
The Pentagon will transfer two Iron Dome air-defense units to Israel. The system — which Israeli authorities claim down around 90% of the rockets fired at the country — is facing “its stiffest challenge yet” as Hamas maintains a near-constant aerial bombardment. Clashes with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, which has an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles, could further strain the system, The Times of Israel reported. Meanwhile Washington is rushing further defensive systems to the region amid fears that Iran and its proxies could ramp up attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East once Israel’s expected ground offensive in Gaza begins.
The U.S. House of Representatives may soon have a speaker again after three rudderless weeks. A chaotic day saw Republicans propose Tom Emmer, the majority whip, for the job, only to withdraw him four hours later after pushback from political opponents and a social-media attack by former President Donald Trump. But then, somewhat out of nowhere, the party turned to Mike Johnson, a Trump ally from Louisiana who, unusually, is well-liked by both party hardliners and the more moderate establishment. Johnson said he was “very confident” he could win the vote. He faces a full in-tray, Semafor reported, with conflicts in Ukraine and Israel as well as an impending political shutdown, but his colleagues appear willing to give him more leeway than they did his predecessor.
The attorneys general of 41 states sued Meta over Instagram and Facebook’s impacts on youth mental health. The suits allege that the tech giant engaged in a “scheme to exploit young users for profit,” building addictive features into its products to keep people on their site, harvesting users’ data, and misleading them about the risks. Meta denied the allegations and said it was “disappointed” that the states sued instead of working with the industry to “create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use.” The evidence for the mental-health impacts of social media is muddy and contradictory, with some researchers warning of major risks, but the data often showing only small and ambiguous effects.
The first malaria vaccine is already saving lives, cutting deaths among young children by 13% in a four-year trial in sub-Saharan Africa. The vaccine, RTS,S, is seen as being only modestly effective, but a major analysis showed a 22% decrease in severe malaria among the 2 million very young children vaccinated in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. That decline, and the accompanying drop in mortality, would save tens of thousands of lives once RTS,S is more widely deployed, Science reported: Malaria killed 468,000 under-5s in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. Preventing 13% of those would mean 60,000 children still alive. RTS,S and a new, cheaper, and more effective vaccine have been recommended by the World Health Organization.
Soaring health care costs in the U.S. have led to a boom of medical tourism across the border in Mexico. According to Euromonitor, more than 1.2 million people — 70% of them from the U.S. — traveled to Mexico for medical treatments last year, making it the second-largest market in the world, behind Thailand. U.S. citizens, even fully insured ones, can save between 36% and 89% for the same procedure in Mexico. “You go across the border and the only things you see are dental clinics,” a Phoenix resident told El País.
Hong Kong will give a $2,500 handout to new parents, and cut taxes on home purchases, in an attempt to revive the city’s flagging economy and shrinking population. Hong Kong has the lowest fertility rate in the world, at 0.8 births per woman, and 140,000 working-age people out of a population of 7.5 million left between 2020 and 2022 — often to the U.K., Canada, and Australia, which have special immigration schemes — following a Beijing-imposed political crackdown and pandemic-era restrictions. Mainland China’s slowing growth is also hitting the territory’s economy: House prices are falling and real-estate transactions are down.
Spotify made a rare profit last quarter, driven by a price hike, subscriber growth, and cost cutting. The audio streaming company reported $69 million profit on its $3.7 billion revenue in the three months to Sept. 30: In the same period in 2022, it lost $177 million. The service added tens of millions of subscribers over the last year, but also cut operating costs by 13% and raised the monthly cost of a standard subscription from $9.99 to $10.99. Spotify has “traditionally prioritized growth over quarterly profits,” The Verge reported, expanding its business into podcasts and, most recently, audiobooks. Spotify’s share price has doubled over the course of the last year.
Governments should gather data on their citizens’ level of loneliness and well-being, as they do on productivity and employment, said experts at Semafor’s Global State of Wellbeing Summit on Tuesday. After a Gallup-Meta study showed a quarter of the world’s population feel very or fairly lonely, participants noted that such data can help policymakers better forecast and understand outcomes like Brexit or unrest in a community. One researcher said loneliness can also be linked to health problems, like high blood pressure. A separate Gallup study found that the additional chronic conditions tied to lower wellbeing amount to $101.5 billion in new annual healthcare costs in the U.S
The eighth Mission: Impossible film will be delayed a year by the ongoing Hollywood actors’ strike. It’s one of dozens of films hit by the 103-day action, including Blade, The Fantastic Four, two Avengers movies from the Disney/Marvel stable, and the third in James Cameron’s Avatar series. Rachel Zegler, star of the recent West Side Story remake, will no longer appear in the next Paddington sequel, and Disney’s live-action remakes of Lilo& Stitch and Moana are delayed indefinitely. Since every film mentioned is a remake or sequel, a cynic might suggest that it’s no great artistic loss, but presumably some people will be sad about it. SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union, is striking over pay, benefits, and industry use of artificial intelligence.
The time in months since Bitcoin’s value was as high as it is now, meaning the digital currency has recouped the value it lost in last year’s crash. The downfall of the Terra stablecoin — a form of cryptocurrency intended to maintain price stability — last year led to a crisis of confidence in crypto, and the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX currency exchange. But hopes that U.S. banking regulators will relax policies on trading cryptocoins on the stock market drove an investment boom, the Financial Times reported. Investors put $179 million into digital currencies in the last month, one investment group said, likely due to the possible regulatory change, although trading flows are way below last year’s peak, suggesting some caution remains.
The novel Nettle & Bone won a prestigious science fiction and fantasy award. T. Kingfisher’s story, described as “a dark and compelling fantasy about sisterhood,” won the Best Novel prize in the 2023 Hugo Awards, whose winners are decided by the popular vote of members of the World Science Fiction Convention. A review in NPR said the author had carefully subverted the idea of a fairytale, asking “how things might be different if people were valued for what they were instead of what they were assumed to be.”