About: the world this week, 20th June to 26th June 2021. Hardline Iran, Apple Daily in Hong Kong, Space, Cricket, Outbreaks, and Britney Spears.
Ebrahim Raisi, 60, a conservative hardline Judiciary Chief won Iran’s Presidential Election by a landslide, sweeping-up nearly 62% of the 28.9 million votes.
Raisi, a protege of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sailed to victory in a poll that saw all of his serious rivals barred in the run-up to the race. Many reform-minded Iranians refused to take part in an Election widely seen as a foregone conclusion. Overall voter turnout was about 49%, the lowest since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
Flash-back: before that Islamic scoop-up year, Iran was ruled by the Shah of Iran, of the Pahlavi Dynasty, who tried to westernise and modernise the country, but had to flee to live in exile – leaving behind everything – at the end of the Iranian Revolution. That saw the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, from exile, and hardcore Islam.
Raisi has a brutal human rights record and is accused of being responsible for the mass execution – called Death Commissions – of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Amnesty International is still looking to investigate and nail him for crimes against humanity.
On winning, Raisi said, ‘I am proud of being a defender of human rights and of people’s security and comfort, as a Prosecutor, wherever I was’. The good, the bad, and the ugly say the same thing.
Ebrahim Raisi steps into the role of President of Iran in August 2021, taking over from the incumbent President, Hassan Rouhani, who assumed office on 3 August 2013. He, in turn, succeeded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who served 8 years in office from 2005 to 2013. Rouhani won re-election in the 2017 presidential election.
In another story on Iran, it failed, yet again, to get its homemade satellite launched into orbit, in a fourth unsuccessful attempt. The launch, conducted on 12th June, comes more than one year after the country’s previous attempt to put a satellite into orbit. In April of last year, Iran launched the NOUR-1 military satellite into orbit after previous failed attempts to launch similar satellites. The United States of America (USA), tracking the Satellite says it is uncontrolled and not operational. Guess, it’s just a ‘hard’ object out there is Space.
No More ‘an Apple a Day’
Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy newspaper was founded by Jimmy Lai, 73, in 1995, with the first edition being rolled-out on 20th June of that year.
In 1994 Lai was audacious enough to call Chinese President Li Peng the ‘son of a turtle egg’ in a weekly magazine that he launched before the daily. This was perhaps the sign of things to come: the strident tone of critical reporting on China.
Jimmy Lai fled China as a child with nothing in his pockets and went on to make it big in Hong Kong, growing into a business magnate, a media-tycoon, and a multi-millionaire.
When the Great Chinese Famine gripped mainland China in 1960, Lai smuggled himself out of the Southern Mainland province of Guangdong and into Hong Kong in the bottom of a fishing boat. He arrived in the city at the age of 12 and dirt poor.
Lai took up odd jobs at a textile factory and lived in the slum neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, one of Hong Kong’s most impoverished districts – still is.
Within two decades, Lai learned English, worked his way up the factory floor, rising to the position of salesman. He then decided to start his own clothing retail line. On a trip to New York, USA, during fabric sampling season, he bought a pizza. Written on the napkin was the name Giordano. That became the name of his wildly successful, casual men’s clothing chain, which made Lai his first fortune.
Lai then channeled his wealth into starting a publishing company called ‘Next Digital’ with Apple Daily as its flagship Daily Newspaper. It started off as a successful local tabloid, best known for its sensationalist articles and bold catchy headlines. But over the past 26 years, it evolved into one of the city’s loudest pro-democracy voices – one of few that dared to challenge China. Apple Daily went on to become a runaway commercial success.
When Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, the city was guaranteed its own legal system and certain democratic freedoms until the year 2047, when it will most likely return, in total, to China.
In July 2019 Jimmy Lai met the then Vice President of the USA, Mike Pence, and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Washington to discuss the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy over a contentious Extradition Bill that had sparked mass protests. This act was viewed by China as a threat to its national security and interference in the affairs of Hong Kong. It used words such as ‘national scum and Hong Kong sinners’ on Lai’s meeting. The Extradition Bill was later scrapped.
Last year, on 20th June, China introduced a new National Security Law in Hong Kong in response to massive pro-democracy protests that swept through the city, without public consultation or city legislative involvement.
The law essentially reduced Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy and made it easier to punish demonstrators and activists. It criminalises secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces with the maximum sentence of life in prison.
Since the law was enacted in June 2020, more than 100 people have been arrested under its provisions. And millions have flooded Hong Kong’s highways in marches against Beijing’s perceived encroachment on the original, treasured, Hong Kong freedoms.
Using the draconian new law, Hong Kong police arrested Jimmy Lai, and others in a city-wide operation. Hundreds of police raided Lai’s Next Digital headquarters, where his flagship Apple Daily is produced and published.
In a well configured sequence of arrest-release on bail-arrest on another charge… Lai was charged on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces and endangering national security, partly from having sought sanctions against Hong Kong, among other charges, and finally jailed for 14 months for taking part in ‘unauthorised assemblies’ during protests in August 2019.
Since the law took effect, Apple Daily has been crippled ‘bite by bite’. With Jimmy Lai already in jail, five of the newspaper’s top editors and executives were accused of the same crime, apparently for using articles to call for sanctions against Hong Kong by foreign countries, and thrown into jail.
Hundreds of police officers twice raided the publication’s newsroom, most recently seizing computers and materials-an alarming development for journalists and their sources in an increasingly sensitive environment. Several Apple Daily journalists had already quit before this month, saying the rewards of their work no longer outweighed the risk of imprisonment.
Even as official pressure piled on the newspaper, public support surged. Last Friday, after the arrest of its top editors, Apple Daily printed 500,000 copies, which sold out.
With a never-ending saga of the might of the State, hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles upon it, Apple Daily announced on Wednesday that it is folding-up and would publish its final copy this Thursday. And due to an untenable environment in which its journalists have been arrested and millions of dollars in assets have been frozen. Its digital platform will cease operations on the same day.
In the end, an Apple a day could not keep China away!
The World Test Championship is a cricket league competition started by the International Cricket Council (ICC), on 1 August 2019, as a premier test tournament. This was in-keeping with a goal of having one ‘Pinnacle Tournament’ for each of the three forms of the game of cricket: Test Cricket, One-Day Matches, and the Twenty-Twenty format That’s quite a spinning range of cricket, from the quick one-liners to the long dialogues.
The first ICC World Test Championship began with the 2019 Ashes series and culminated this week with New Zealand winning the inaugural World Championship Test. That makes them the best in Test Cricket, on the day. Congratulations New Zealand.
New Zealand who were the first to qualify for the finals defeated India in the match played from 18 to 23 June 2021 at the Rose Bowl, Southampton, England. The opening and the fourth day was washed-out by rain and the match went into the reserve day. India, captained by Virat Kohli, came into the match with balls of talent but it was New Zealand’s run day, led from the front by its Captain, Kane Williamson. In the end, very good just wasn’t good for India, though India still remains a great test side. Maybe the weather did not pace itself well? Whatever, New Zealand deserved the win.
The second ICC World Test Championship is scheduled to start from August 2021 and will run till 2023.
NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, is having a rocking time on the Red Planet, with Big Brother Rover, Perseverance, watching closely.
Ingenuity has now flown eight times, travelling further than NASA hoped it would be possible. Originally designed to fly only five times, Ingenuity has exceeded all expectations and has become bolder. Could it become a spoilt-kid, overtime? The early flights by Ingenuity began and ended at the same place, called the Wright Brothers Field. Now it is soaring from one new airfield to another.
Need to dig out more names to name more airfields? Perhaps, that’s NASA’s newest challenge.
An Outbreak Bites the Dust
In a fabulous achievement, the Ebola Outbreak that broke-out in the African country of Guinea in the middle of February this year was declared over on 19 June 2021. It was the first time the disease resurfaced, in Guinea, since the deadly outbreak in West Africa that ended in 2016.
Guinea had declared the outbreak on 14 February 2021 after three cases were detected in the same region where the 2014–2016 outbreak first emerged before spreading into neighbouring Liberia, Sierra Leone, and beyond.
A total of sixteen confirmed and seven probable cases were reported in the outbreak in which eleven patients survived and twelve lives were lost. Shortly after the infections were detected, a swift response was mounted, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), digging deep into the expertise gained in fighting recent outbreaks both in Guinea and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Genome sequencing found that the virus behind Guinea’s just-ended outbreak was similar to that identified in the 2014–2016 outbreak.
WHO helped ship around 24,000 Ebola vaccine doses and supported the vaccination drive. More than one hundred WHO experts were on the ground coordinating key aspects of the response such as infection prevention and control, disease surveillance, testing, vaccination, and treatment using new drugs.
There are two approved Vaccines for Ebola, a single-dose one made by Merck, and the two-dose Vaccine made by Janssen.
Congratulations Team Ebola. This is a sign that we are getting better, faster, smarter in fighting Ebola. We hope innovations, lessons learnt, and the expertise gained are published soon, for the world to get ahead in fighting such disease outbreaks.
The Great Vaccination Sprint
Jabbing India’s 1.39 billion population against the effects of COVID-19 is a staggering, Himalayan task and the Government of India showed serious intent- packed a huge punch, getting off the starting blocks at blazing speed, on the first day of its newly charged-up, free Adult (above age 18 years) Vaccination Drive. In a world record, 8.616 million doses were administered on 21 June 2021, Monday, across the various States of India. That is almost equivalent to the population of Naftali Bennett’s Israel, or twice the population of Jacintha Arden’s New Zealand – all in a single day.
The follow through wasn’t bad with over 5.4 million on Day-2 and 6.4 million on Day-3.
India is now only behind the USA in vaccinations done with over 305 million does given compared to the USA’s 321 million.
With the current pace of vaccination at about 42.6 million per day and looking at between 70% and 85% vaccinated for herd immunity it would take another year to achieve a high level of global immunity. Until then, stick to the basics of COVID-19 appropriate behaviour.
Overprotected: Till The World Ends?
First, the script: something about conservatorship – also known as a guardianship – happens when a judge (in California, United States) appoints a responsible person or organization-called the Conservator-to care for another adult-called the Conservatee-who cannot care for herself or manage her own finances. Now, over to the soundtrack, and the music.
The world knows Britney Spears as the iconic pop-star, the Princess of Pop, of the 1990s and 2000s. ‘Baby one more time’, ‘Oops… I did it again’, are songs that climbed high on the Music Charts and still reverberate in the air-many times over. More than 20 years later, her debut album (Baby one more time) still remains the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist, at age 16.
At the start of her career, at age 18, Britney Spears famously claimed she was a virgin and was ‘saving herself’ for marriage-waiting for that special someone. But then, it turns out that she was ‘Not That Innocent’ as she wanted us to believe. And kept going with, Baby One More Time…
Over time, her stage outfits became skimpier, her performances racier, her behaviour crazier, and her album sales touched newer heights. She was also linked to singer Justin Timberlake at that time.
In the year 2004, after a fun-filled New Year’s Eve week in Sin City-Las Vegas, Nevada-where she partied hard through the night with childhood friend Jason Alexander, Spears shocked the world by saying, ‘I do’, in Vegas’s, A Little White Wedding Chapel (has a Drive-Thru tunnel of vows) at 5am, the next day, on Sunday 3rd January. Dressed in a baseball hat and ripped jeans Britney married Jason Alexander. ‘They weren’t dressed in wedding attire, but it was very romantic and there was a feeling of love between them. They appeared to be extremely happy. They were laughing, but crying too, during the ceremony. I thought it was a marriage that would last forever’, said the Chapel Owner.
It wasn’t to be, and on the contrary worked out be a Quickie, as 55 hours later, Britney Spears had the marriage annulled. And went out dancing afterwards.
Then, Oops, she did it again! After meeting each other on the dance floor at a Hollywood club, Spears and Kevin Federline announced their engagement in July 2004. The singer famously popped the question to Federline on her private plane. Spears then walked down the aisle, this time in a proper wedding dress, in a proper ceremony.
Two kids, one reality show, and three years later the couple called it quits.
In the middle of 2000s, she had multiple public mental health struggles that media outlets and the paparazzi harped on, from shaving her head to hitting a photographer’s car with an umbrella. And in 2008, she was twice admitted for psychiatric care under an apparent mental health crisis.
During the same year, Britney was put under a Conservatorship largely due to her father, Jamie Spears, who petitioned for a temporary one, that was eventually made permanent, becoming both her personal and financial Conservator. He gained control of much of her life, and had the power to take actions like restricting Britney’s visitors, filing restraining orders on her behalf, negotiating business deals, and overseeing her medical decisions. Britney has being paying a considerable amount from her nearly USD 60 million fortune in legal and Conservator fees, with a significant amount going to her dad for his role as a Conservator.
In response, fans have launched a Free Britney movement, expressing concerns over the singer’s well-being. On her part, Spears was awfully troubled by the conservatorship, for years, but she chose to stay silent about it, in public.
That changed this week when she spoke-up, taking the mike this week and in a testimony to the judge: that her conservatorship is abusive; has prevented her from getting married and having a third child, and that she’s being barred from removing her IUD; that she’s been forced to work against her will; that she’s required to live with the people she works with, without privacy; and she compared her situation ‘to sex trafficking.’
Britney Spears,39, said a lot of things, in that testimony, but most importantly, she’s said that she doesn’t believe anyone will listen. Will she be unshackled from the Conservatorship? The Court’s decision is awaited.
That’s heart-wrenching. Once you establish a person is crazy, everything she says is crazy because she is crazy?
Ooh la la. Have a great week ahead. Enjoy your freedom. Sing your songs.