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Israel steps up its raids into Gaza as the humanitarian and diplomatic fallout grows, Kenya offers v͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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October 30, 2023
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Flagship

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The World Today

  1. Israel steps up Gaza raids
  2. World targets AI regulation
  3. Kenya’s pan-African visa
  4. Dementia risk drops
  5. Tiananmen expert banned
  6. Setback for elected women
  7. Friends star Perry dies
  8. Soccer star’s parents taken
  9. Taylor, Magic make billion
  10. The return of the airship

PLUS: The London Review of Substacks, and an exhibition of fantasy literature.

1

Israel expands Gaza ground operations

Israel Defense Forces’ armoured bulldozers seen in a location given as Gaza. Israeli Defence Forces/Handout via REUTERS

Israel drastically expanded its offensive in Gaza, with aerial attacks on buildings and tunnels, and ground operations extending into the territory. The military push came as international powers called for more assistance and improved access for aid into Gaza. The action threatens to worsen an already massive human cost: Save the Children said the number of children killed in Gaza in just three weeks was higher than the annual global death toll of children in conflict zones since 2019. Young children are also among hundreds sheltering in a Gaza hospital that Israel has ordered be evacuated, while the United Nations warned that “civil order is starting to break down” in Gaza. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, meanwhile, published a harrowing catalog of the WhatsApp messages from one community attacked by Hamas in the Oct. 7 assault. “The terrorists are in our house come HELP,” one reads.

Domestically, Israelis’ confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has plummeted, and he triggered a political storm by blaming the security forces for the Hamas assault. Abroad, several Western cities saw pro-Palestinian protests, while a mob overran an airport in a mostly Muslim Russian region over a plane arriving from Tel Aviv. The White House is preparing for the war expanding across the region, Axios reported, with Jordan requesting Patriot missiles from the U.S., and Israel hitting targets in Lebanon and Syria.

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2

US, UK, G-7 move to regulate AI

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. REUTERS/Craig Hudson

World powers are moving to regulate artificial intelligence, as concerns over potential risks grow. U.S. President Joe Biden will issue an executive order today aimed at ensuring AI is not used to produce weapons of mass destruction, while world leaders will gather in Britain on Wednesday for a meeting on AI safety organized by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The G-7 nations also agreed on an AI “code of conduct” this week, aiming “to promote safe, secure, and trustworthy AI worldwide.” Experts believe that AI could have enormous upsides as well as potential risks: Goldman Sachs just upgraded its long-term global economic forecasts on the back of its expectation that generative AIs such as ChatGPT will boost global productivity.

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3

Kenya to end Africa visa requirements

Kenya will end visa requirements for African visitors by the end of the year, President William Ruto announced. The African Union has pushed for visa-free travel within the continent for the past decade with little success, seeking to foster greater regional integration, the benefits of which could have a seismic economic impact: Increased intra-continent trade could result in an African economy four to seven times larger by 2050, an analysis by the Atlantic Council found. “When people cannot travel, businesspeople cannot travel, entrepreneurs cannot travel, we all become net losers,” Ruto said.

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4

Dementia risk fall defies expectations

Dementia risk in the West dropped despite an aging population. Health bodies forecast a steady increase in dementia as more people live to old age. But a major analysis showed that the number of new cases in Europe and North America have been dropping 13% a decade, and even Japan, one of the world’s oldest populations, shows similar trends. Improvements in general health are likely a factor: There has been “an enormous emphasis on preventing cardiovascular diseases” in recent years, one scientist told the Financial Times, and vascular health plays a huge role in several forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. The decline implies 15 million fewer dementia diagnoses in high-income countries than expected by 2040.

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5

HK denies visa to Tiananmen expert

Hong Kong authorities denied a visa to a respected researcher of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, pointing to a broadening crackdown in the city. Though a part of China, Hong Kong had retained an array of freedoms following its 1997 handover from Britain. But Beijing has sharply restricted personal, media, and academic rights since 2019 pro-democracy protests, and Hong Kong authorities plan to extend that further next year with a patriotic education push and a new national-security law. In particular, discussion of Tiananmen Square has been curtailed: Hong Kong’s annual vigil — once attracting masses of people — has been essentially banned, a monument was removed, and a museum closed.

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6

Electoral setbacks for women

Early signs from a wave of elections worldwide point to significant steps back for female politicians. Globally, a substantial number of places are set to hold presidential or parliamentary elections in the coming year, including India, Indonesia, South Africa, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. But in votes held recently in Argentina, Liberia, New Zealand, and Switzerland, fewer women candidates won seats than in prior elections, the New Delhi-based researcher Akshi Chawla noted in her newsletter. Poland saw a record number of women elected to the lower chamber of the legislature, but representation in the upper house dropped.

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7

Friends star Matthew Perry dies

REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Matthew Perry, star of Friends, died aged 54 after a decades-long battle with addiction. The actor played the sarcastic, awkward, witty Chandler Bing in the long-running, much-loved sitcom, before having a successful post-Friends career including several Emmy nominations. But he began drinking in his early teens, then taking painkillers after a 1997 jet-ski crash: He once said he didn’t remember filming three seasons of Friends. In his 2022 memoir Perry said he had been largely sober since 2001, “save for about 60 or 70 mishaps.” He was found in his jacuzzi in his Los Angeles home. The creators of Friends said: “This truly is The One Where Our Hearts Are Broken.”

— For more on Perry’s death, scroll down to the London Review of Substacks.

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8

Colombia star’s parents kidnapped

Liverpool’s Diogo Jota holds up a shirt in support of Luis Díaz. REUTERS/Scott Heppell

The parents of the Liverpool FC and Colombia soccer star Luis Díaz were kidnapped in their home town in northern Colombia. The player’s mother was recovered but his father remains missing. Colombian President Gustavo Petro said “all the public forces have been deployed” to find the missing man. Díaz is just the latest Latin American footballer whose families have faced kidnapping, usually for ransom: Brazil’s Romario, Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme of Argentina, and Jorge Campos of Mexico, among others, have all had immediate family taken by armed gangs. Díaz’s Liverpool teammates held up his No. 7 shirt in solidarity during Sunday’s Premier League win over Nottingham Forest.

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9

The fourth sporting billionaire

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Magic Johnson was declared a billionaire by Forbes. The former Los Angeles Lakers basketball star is just the fourth sportsperson the magazine estimates to have over $1 billion net worth, after fellow hoops legends Michael Jordan and LeBron James, and golf’s Tiger Woods. Despite Johnson’s huge success, only a fraction of his wealth came from sports: Most of it comes from investment in a life insurance company. Taylor Swift was also only declared a billionaire last week, even though her Eras tour grossed over a billion. She’s the fourth musical billionaire, and two of the others — Jay-Z and Rihanna — like Johnson made most of their money away from their day job, Jay-Z with alcohol brands and Rihanna with her Fenty beauty products.

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10

Giant airship cleared for takeoff

LTA Research/LinkedIn

An airship developed by one of Google’s co-founders was cleared to fly by U.S. regulators. The 400-foot-long Pathfinder 1 will be the largest aircraft since the Hindenburg, and will have a top speed of around 75 mph. The Federal Aviation Authority granted it a certificate to fly up to 1,500 feet high within its testing ground. Unlike the Hindenburg, it will be filled with non-flammable helium rather than hydrogen. Its manufacturer LTA Research, founded by former Google boss Sergey Brin, intends Pathfinder to be used in humanitarian missions, bringing cargo and personnel to road-inaccessible areas, IEEE Spectrum reported.

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Flagging
  • A weeklong hearing in a case seeking to bar Donald Trump from the 2024 presidential election ballot in Colorado begins. A similar case opens in Minnesota on Thursday.
  • The U.S. and South Korea begin five days of joint air drills.
  • Apple holds an event titled “Scary Fast” in which it is expected to unveil new Mac computers.
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LRS

Charitable donations

Between 5,000 and 40,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of a lack of available kidneys for transplanting. That’s not because people are unwilling to give them: In polls, between a quarter and half of Americans say they would donate one to a stranger in need, in order to save his or her life. And yet only about 200 do so per year, despite people being able to live quite happily on one kidney. Are the others lying?

Scott Alexander donated his own kidney to a stranger recently. He was inspired by the example of a journalist, Dylan Matthews, and thinks the reason more people don’t is that they lack social permission — that it’s too weird and out-there as an idea. He looked into the risks and the benefits, and found that it was effective and pretty safe. Someone somewhere is alive because he gave that kidney, and he wrote a blog post hoping that his example could inspire others: The takeaway from his post, he says, is that “you should feel permission to (if you want) donate a kidney” too.

When the rain starts to pour

Matthew Perry — best known for playing Chandler, the sarcastic Friend in Friends — is dead. The journalist Helen Lewis offers a eulogy. Friends, in the mostly pre-internet 1990s, was a cultural behemoth, “partly because it was so good and partly because there was, frankly, little else to do in my small city in England if you were 14 on a Friday night in 1997.” So “when I reach back into my adolescence, Perry is there,” she writes: Chandler was “everything I wanted in a boyfriend — smart, funny, emotionally unavailable.”

Perry was, she thinks, “an early, high profile example of America’s painkiller epidemic”: He struggled with opioid addiction as well as alcohol. He was also, thanks to Friends, almost impossibly famous, and forever frozen in place as a late-20-something who used humor as a defense mechanism and overemphasized the word be. “Matthew Perry was a transcendentally gifted comic performer who helped me grow up,” Lewis writes. “I wish he had more years. I wish he could have grown old, surrounded by people who loved him.”

Electric progress

As the world shifts to a low-carbon economy, a frequent complaint is that we shouldn’t just be replacing fossil-fuel energy — we should be reducing the energy we use in the first place. But a low-carbon economy is a lower-energy one, writes the environmental scientist Hannah Ritchie. In a gas-powered car, only about 20% of the energy stored in the fuel is used to push the car forwards. In an electric vehicle, that figure is 80%. You can run four times as many vehicles on the same energy input if you electrify them.

Other areas of the economy are harder to electrify than transport. Some industries, for instance, need higher temperatures than electricity can easily provide. But electric-arc furnaces and hydrogen can help, and electric heat pumps can provide heat. Overall, Ritchie estimates, a world run on decarbonized technology can provide the lifestyle we have now for about 40% less energy. “When we electrify our energy systems, a magical thing happens,” she writes: “Large inefficiencies vanish.”

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Curio
British Library/Instagram

A new exhibition celebrates the genre of fantasy fiction. From fairy tales and folklore to gothic horror and alternate histories, visitors of Fantasy: Realms of the Imagination, which opened at London’s British Library last week, are invited to “explore the beautiful, uncanny and sometimes monstrous makings of fantasy.” Manuscripts, artwork, and talks from acclaimed authors including Neil Gaiman and R.F. Kuang are among the elements that will make up the show, with some events to be streamed online, downthetubes reported.

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