May 20, 2019

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Yemen, Indonesia, Whitey Bulger: Your Thursday Briefing

Yemen, Indonesia, Whitey Bulger: Your Thursday Briefing
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Good morning. Appeals for peace in Yemen, a mysterious island in Finland and a helpful human chain in Britain.

Here’s the latest:

Calls for a cease-fire in Yemen.

The U.S. and Britain abruptly increased diplomatic pressure on Saudi Arabia, calling for an end to the conflict between Saudi-led forces and Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Above, a home destroyed by an airstrike in Sana, Yemen.

The war has created the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster, claiming at least 10,000 lives and pushing millions to the brink of starvation. Read our recent reporting from inside the devastation.

Global criticism of the situation has risen as the Saudis have come under scrutiny over the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month. Turkish officials went on the record for the first time to say that Mr. Khashoggi was strangled soon after entering the Saudi Consulate, then dismembered.


• An island fit for a Bond villain.

Intrigue surrounds a tiny Finnish island with a camouflaged pool, nine piers, a helipad, above, and enough housing for a small army.

On Sept. 22, hundreds of Finnish police officers and military personnel swooped down on the island and 16 other properties in western Finland linked to a Russian businessman with shifting guises.

The authorities say they were cracking down on money laundering and pension cheating, but even local officials don’t believe that. Russia has dismissed as paranoid any notion that it was preparing landing zones for military helicopters.

Finland has risked Russian anger by contributing troops to Trident Juncture, one of NATO’s largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. Our reporter tagged along on the U.S.S. Iwo Jima.


• The vilification of George Soros.

A U.S.-funded radio station that broadcasts in Cuba aired a report in May describing George Soros, the 88-year-old investor and Democratic donor, as a “multimillionaire Jew” of “flexible morals.”

That broadcast, which the government is investigating, is another sign of the long reach of a loose network of right-wing figures — from Hungary to the U.S. — who have sought to cast Mr. Soros, above, as the mastermind of a “globalist” movement plotting to dilute their societies through immigration.

From dark corners of the internet and talk radio, their warped portrayal with its anti-Semitic themes has moved to the center of political debate.


• “Inviting her to speak was a gross mistake.”

That’s a member of an anti-fascist group that is planning to protest Alice Weidel, above, the leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD. She has been invited to speak at the University of Oxford, prompting a significant backlash there.

Many students and faculty members have condemned the event, while others say open debate is the best way to defeat extremist ideas. The Oxford Union, which extended the invitation, says it will not rescind it.

The AfD has risen to become the third-largest political party in Germany’s Parliament. Our video from the city of Chemnitz, the site of a violent anti-immigrant protest in August, looks at what’s driving the far right’s rise in Germany.


• Worse than we thought?

We know global warming is heating up the oceans, killing off aquatic organisms like coral, seen above in the Red Sea.

But a study in the journal Nature suggests that oceans are warming far faster than estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have indicated. The researchers measured ocean temperatures using a novel, unproven method, and their data faces further scrutiny.

Another study in Nature warns that if humans continue to use land at current rates, the planet’s remaining wilderness could disappear within decades.

• Thousands of women at Google plan to walk out today to protest the company’s apparently lenient treatment of male employees accused of sexual harassment. Above, the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

• A digital tax proposed in Britain is a first step toward tackling how big tech companies move revenue and costs between jurisdictions, but it may not be aggressive enough.

• SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate, is hiring a former top adviser to Rupert Murdoch to help it overcome criticism of its ties to Saudi Arabia.

Here’s a snapshot of global markets.

• Divers in Indonesia recovered a flight recorder from Lion Air Flight 610, a crucial step in determining why the plane crashed into the Java Sea with 189 people aboard. [The New York Times]

• “He was unrecognizable”: The authorities are trying to understand how inmates managed to beat Whitey Bulger to death in a supposedly secure West Virginia prison. One of the suspects in the notorious crime boss’s killing was identified as a mafia hit man. [The New York Times]

• A breakthrough on paralysis: Several men who lost the use of their legs have been able to walk again, though imperfectly, with an implant that applied bursts of electrical stimulation, according to a new report. [The New York Times]

Human bones discovered in a Rome building belonging to the Vatican have set off frenzied speculation about whether they could be those of Emanuela Orlandi, a 15-year-old girl who vanished in 1983. [The New York Times]

• Abdellatif Kechiche, the French director whose film “Blue Is the Warmest Color” won the top prize at Cannes in 2013, is under investigation in Paris for sexual assault. [The New York Times].

• Amid a legal dispute in the Netherlands over the remains of a 1,000-year-old monk, Chinese villagers traveled many thousands of miles to argue for the monk’s return. [The Guardian]

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

• Picture perfect: Dolls are becoming powerful Instagram influencers, living out meticulously curated lives of Sunday brunches, poolside lounging and weekends at Coachella.

• “Care to lend a hand?” When a British bookstore needed to move, volunteers formed a human chain to pass its thousands of books to the new location.

• Tiny love stories: Our latest edition of reader romances told in 100 words or fewer offers tales of the gym, dog parades and the profound impact of a stranger’s kind words.

The American movie industry established its first ratings system on this day 50 years ago. The series of letter grades replaced what was informally known as the Hays Code, a set of strict “decency” standards.

William Hays was the president of the film industry’s trade organization when the code was written in 1930 to ban profanity, any suggestion of sex and depictions of explicit violence, among other things.

The rules went mostly unenforced until 1934. Facing boycotts by church groups and the threat of federal censorship, Hays appointed an enforcer who could prevent the release of films unless producers complied with the code.

Over the years, objections were raised over everything from the length of Betty Boop’s skirts, above, to the sound of Humphrey Bogart’s stomach growling. Shakespeare wasn’t safe either: A 1944 version of “Henry V” changed a reference from “Norman bastards” to “dastards.”

Some perceived code violations nearly altered movie history: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Clark Gable’s famous line from “Gone With the Wind,” was almost rewritten because of the word “damn.”

In the 1960s, as social standards changed, filmmakers began to successfully ignore the rules. The new ratings system allowed the industry to shield itself as films became increasingly bold.

Jillian Rayfield wrote today’s Back Story.


Your Morning Briefing is published weekday mornings and updated online.

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