March 18, 2019

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Huawei, Gene-Edited Babies, a Giant Steer: Your Thursday Briefing

Huawei, Gene-Edited Babies, a Giant Steer: Your Thursday Briefing
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Good morning. Growing international pushback against Huawei, concerns around gene-edited babies and a steer that’s as tall as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Here’s the latest:

Huawei faces another setback.

New Zealand’s intelligence agency blocked the Chinese telecom giant from supplying a local carrier, Spark, with technology to create a 5G mobile network — on national security grounds.

The move follows a similar decision in Australia. And the U.S. has warned that the company’s government ties could open the door to espionage — an accusation Huawei strongly denies.

New Zealand’s decision also further divides the world into places that accept Chinese investments and places that don’t.

→ Go deeper: In our special China Rules series, we take a look at Beijing’s new breed of diplomacy that uses money and military muscle to redraw the world order.


“I feel proud, actually.”

The Chinese scientist He Jiankui, above, who claims to have created the world’s first genetically edited babies, defended his work at a conference in Hong Kong, saying it was both safe and ethical.

But many other scientists were worried. Dr. He revealed his research only after the babies were born this month. And it appears he didn’t seek approval from Chinese regulators. A moderator at the conference asked him, “Why so much secrecy around this?”

The birth of gene-edited children is alarming for both practical and theoretical reasons. First and foremost are safety concerns. Then there is the concern that editing could be used to create babies with superior skills or desired physical features.

→ Background: China has set its sights on becoming a world leader in scientific research but, in its rush to dominance, the industry has been mired in a string of scandals.


A business with no end.

A student told our writer that his parents in California were receiving mysterious packages at their house. Each was addressed to “Returns Department, Valley Fountain LLC.”

That led the writer on a journey through bizarre Amazon storefronts selling everything from hemorrhoid creams to a book on industrial electricity. All the LLCs had something in common: Their registered agent was the same man.

When our writer kept digging, she found connections to Newsweek, a department store in New York and a church. And the story kept getting stranger.

Follow her down the rabbit hole.


An Australian youth sports league is sidelined by racism.

The South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association runs tournaments for teenagers. But it has been forced to cancel its December games after exaggerated and xenophobic news coverage of gang violence made it difficult to find a place to play.

“Stadium managers are afraid to host our event because of the African gang stories they see in the news,” the association said in a statement.

The association, which has been a pipeline for players who go on to join teams in U.S. colleges and even the N.B.A., organized one of the few events that caters for the South Sudanese community in Australia.

“It’s denying a whole community an opportunity to celebrate,” said one advocate.

• An explosion near a Chinese chemical plant in the northern Hebei province killed at least 23 people and left 22 others injured, officials said, adding to a string of fatal industrial accidents. Above, officials inspecting the affected area. [The New York Times]

• A lawyer who represented Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, in Hong Kong said that he has had to leave the city, because pressure from the local authorities and legal community made it difficult for him to keep working there. [The New York Times]

• Indian forces killed one of the most-wanted militants in Kashmir, a territory that both India and Pakistan claim. The man took part in a dramatic jailbreak and was later accused of assassinating a prominent newspaper editor. [The New York Times]

• Democrats are meeting to elect their leaders for when they assume control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. [The New York Times]

• Knickers, a 6-foot-4-inch steer in Australia, captured the world’s attention after a photo of the enormous animal circulated online. [The New York Times]

• And today’s word of the day is “cow”: That’s specifically a female that has had at least one calf. A steer, like Knickers, is a neutered male.

• Analysis: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation avoided covering race in the recent Victorian election-night coverage. Here’s why that’s a problem. [Crikey, article is paywall free to Times reader]

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

• We’ve begun a new special project at The Times, called Past Tense, to bring online millions of archived photographs stored three floors underneath our headquarters, digitizing a visual record of the entire 20th century starting from 1896.

• In memoriam: Lady Trumpington, who worked on the top-secret Bletchley Park code-breaking operation during World War II and later embarked on a political career that made her a celebrity in Britain in her later years, died on Monday. She was 96.

• A 69-year-old Japanese man has dedicated his life to keeping alive the art of katazome: traditional stencil-printed, indigo-dyed kimonos. Even though there’s virtually no market for them.

“Mary Poppins Returns” will glide into Los Angeles tonight for its red carpet premiere. Emily Blunt, portraying the title character, hopes to fill the large shoes left by Julie Andrews in the 1964 film.

But Mary Poppins existed before either of those two British actresses was even born. She flew into the world in 1934 on the pen of the author P.L. Travers, above.

Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Queensland, Australia, in 1899. As a teenager, she was a Shakespearean actress, a dancer, a journalist and a poet.

She moved to England in 1924 and soon dreamed up a governess who slid up banisters and imparted cheeky life lessons. A decade later, “Mary Poppins” was published in London to critical acclaim. Travers would continue to write stories about Poppins over the next half century. She died in 1996.

“I think the idea of Mary Poppins has been blowing in and out of me, like a curtain at a window, all my life,” she told The Times in 1964.

Andrew Chow wrote today’s Back Story.


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