About-the world this week, 5 March to 11 March 2023: A wave of missiles in an endless war; a shooting in Germany; Jehovah’s Witnesses; eggs from mice cells; and remembering a forgotten Indian Actress – a Dark Angel- in Oscar times.
Ukraine continues to suffer tremendously in the un-warranted war brought on by Russia, and this week Russia launched one of its biggest aerial assaults with a huge wave of missiles, about 84, targeted at Ukrainian infrastructure. This included six hypersonic Kinzhal ballistic missiles that eluded Ukraine’s air defences. However, about 34 other missiles were intercepted. Ukraine admitted that they have no capabilities to counter these weapons. The use of such a wide and unpredictable array of weaponry seemingly marks a shift in Russia’s strategy.
There was a dead-serious, scary moment when Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant lost all off-site power due to Russian missile attacks-the first time the plant had lost all power since 23 November 2022. This is a reminder of the perilous situation facing the nuclear site and the surrounding area.
“If we allow this to continue time after time, then one day our luck will run out,” said the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The strategic Ukraine city of Bakhmut appears to be getting closer to being under complete Russian control: the private mercenary group Wagner, working for Russia, being in the forefront, in a fierce battle – perhaps the most violent fight of the war. The end of the war is still not in the cross-hairs!
Meanwhile, in China, President Xi Jinping secured a precedent-breaking third five-year term as China’s President putting him on track to remain in power for probably the rest of his life. The, about 3000, members of the National People’s Congress- China’s largely ceremonial Parliament – voted unanimously, after the Constitution was changed, to remove the traditional two-term limit for President. There was not even one vote against the change.
Previously, in October 2022, Jinping broke another tradition when he had himself named for a third fiver-year term as Party General Secretary. That’s a lot of power in one hand.
This week, a shooter opened fire after a religious service at a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall in Hamburg, Germany, killing seven people. German police are searching for a motive of the killing. The gunman is believed to have acted alone in the attack, and died at the scene.
Mass shootings are relatively rare in Germany, but there has been several attacks in recent years, both by jihadists and far-right extremists.
Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Jehovah’s Witnesses are an international church founded in the United States with headquarters in Warwick, New York, where a Governing Body consisting of a group of elders establishes all doctrines based on ‘its interpretation’ of the Bible. It has a world membership of about 8.5 million and about 170,000 in Germany.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ (JW) worship Jehovah, the one true and Almighty God, the God of the Bible, and who is the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. JW imitate Jesus Christ, claiming to adhere to the form of Christianity that Jesus taught and his apostles practiced.
JW have beliefs that are distinct from mainstream Christianity. They believe that the destruction of the present world at Armageddon (end of the world scenario) is imminent and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth is the only solution to all problems faced by humanity.
Members are known for door-to-door preaching and distributing literature in public places. Their distinctive practices include refusal, to bear arms, enlist for military service, receive blood transfusions, salute state symbols, or participate in a secular government. They do not celebrate Christmas, Easter, birthdays, religious holidays, or follow other Christian customs.
A Japanese researcher Professor Katsuhiko Hayashi from Osaka University has told a major genetics conference that he has created eggs from the cells of male mice. The research, still in its early stages, involved turning male XY sex chromosomes into female XX ones. The development, which he has submitted for publication in the scientific Journal Nature, raises the prospect of male couples having their own children. Details were presented at the human gene-editing summit at the Crick Institute in London, United Kingdom.
Prof Hayashi, a globally respected expert in the field, told delegates that the work was at a very early stage. The eggs were of low quality and the technique could not be used safely on humans, as yet. But current problems could be overcome in ten years and then made available as a fertility treatment for both male and female, and same sex couples if it is proven to be safe to use on humans. And approved by Governments.
The technique involves first taking a skin cell from a male mouse and then turning it into a stem cell – a cell that can turn into other types of cell. The cells are male and therefore have XY chromosomes. Prof Katsuhiko’s team then delete the Y chromosome, duplicate the X chromosome and then stick the two X’s together. This adjustment allows the stem cell to be programmed to become an egg. The technique could be used to help infertile couples where women are unable to produce their own eggs.
Prof Hayashi said he would not be in favour of it being used by a man to create a baby using his own sperm and artificially created eggs.
Sometimes, we need a fascinating story to break the monotony and shed light on darker things. The 95th Academy Awards Function – the Oscars – is coming up early next week. And by way of warming-up to the Oscars here is a ‘little long, dark-light’ story. Lights, camera, action.
Long ago, in the year 1936 in the growing-up years of the Oscars, a bizarre, bewildering, and different woman with a delicate oval face, eloquent emerald eyes, bright red lips, and alabaster skin won a best actress nomination. By doing do, she cemented her place alongside Hollywood’s greats and the glamour paragons of the day, such as Actress Katharine Hepburn and the eventual winner, Bette Davis.
She is Merle Oberon, the first Asian Woman to be nominated for the Oscars, and who took Hollywood by storm in the 1930’s. She was nominated for Best Actress for her role in the coming-of-age drama, ‘The Dark Angel’. It was only after her death in 1979, that the world discovered Oberon was a South Asian, Anglo-Indian woman passing for white.
Born Estelle Merle O’Brien Thompson in the then British administered City of Bombay, Oberon was determined to make the most of her innately fair complexion as an Anglo-Indian. It became her ticket to a bigger world, the shroud that helped disguise the fact that she was the product of rape. Her birth father was an Anglo-Irish foreman of a tea plantation. Her mother, who was of Sri Lankan and Maori ancestry, was about 12 when she gave birth to Oberon, in 1911.
After centuries of intermixing, babies born from biracial relationships had evolved into a quiet shame, shunned by Britons and Indians alike.
The family nicknamed Oberon, ‘Queenie’, as her birth coincided with Queen Mary and King George’s visit to India. In an attempt to avoid scandal and soften ‘Oberon’s mix’ in life, her birth grandmother, Charlotte Selby, raised Oberon as her own child and convinced her that her teenage biological mother, Constance, was actually her half sister. But that wasn’t enough to shield Oberon from the relentless taunts over her mixed heritage.
The family moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1917 after Oberon’s father, Arthur Terrence O’Brien Thompson’s death. She won a scholarship to attend ‘La Martiniere Calcutta’ one of the city’s private, elite best all-girls, day schools, only for classmates to drive her out with their overt racism. Films and the nightlife scene became her escape, and pretending to be something she wasn’t became key to her survival. She got her start in acting through the Calcutta Amateur Theatrical Society in 1920.
In her adolescence, Oberon began honing a posh accent and lightening her skin with bleach creams loaded with ammoniated mercury – a dangerous poison that had more of a weakening effect on Oberon’s many male suitors. Those who didn’t dump her outright, after discovering her race, helped sponsor her moves from India to France, and England, where she worked for a time as a club hostess under the name Queenie O’Brien.
She began her career in British films with mostly forgettable roles or bit parts. She appeared in uncredited roles in films, a pattern that would unfortunately repeat itself regularly over three years.
Then she became romantically involved with the Hungarian-born British director Alexander Korda and Oberon’s acting career moved into high gear. Korda cast her as Anne Boleyn in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ (1933), opposite Actor Charles Laughton. And Oberon married Korda in real life.
After her portrayal of Lady Marguerite Blakeney in ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ (1934), Hollywood beckoned, and she left England to try her hand in US films.
After Oberon was injured and her face scarred in a car crash in 1937, cinematographer Lucien Ballard famously developed a technique that lit her in a way that would obscure her facial scars. The technique, which went on to be called the ‘Obie light’ was also believed to be a way to ‘whiten’ Merle’s face before the camera. Maybe the light had an effect and Oberon divorced Korda and married Ballard in 1945.
During her ride in Hollywood, Oberon had an on-again, off-again affair with the famous Actor John Wayne, from 1938 to 1947.
To avoid prejudice over her mixed background, Merle Oberon created a cover story of being born and raised in Tasmania, Australia, and her birth records being destroyed in a fire. The story eventually unravelled only after her death.
Her most notable portrayal was that of the beautiful Cathy, who tormented and rejected Heathcliff -played by Laurence Olivier-in the 1939 classic ‘Wuthering Heights’.
In 1957, Oberon married wealthy Italian industrialist Bruno Pagliai. They adopted two children, a girl and a boy, and settled into two lavish homes: one in Mexico City and another in Cuernavaca. Oberon doted on her children and ran her two households with military precision. While she bloomed as an international hostess, she made fewer and fewer films.
Oberon also produced her last film, ‘Interval’ (1973), which was financed by Bruno Pagliai, although their marriage was all but over by then. In the movie, Oberon portrays an ageing woman who falls in love with a younger man.
Oberon retired after ‘Interval’ and true to script fell in love with her co-star Robert Wolders. And after marrying him, moved to Malibu, California, where she died in 1979, aged 68, after suffering a stroke.
Meanwhile, Oberon’s mother Constance married Alexander Soares and had four other children. One of them, Harry, eventually moved to Toronto, Canada, retaining grandmother Charlotte’s maiden name, Selby. When Harry tracked down Merle’s birth certificate in Indian government records in Bombay(Mumbai), he was surprised to discover that he was in fact Oberon’s half-brother, not her nephew. He attempted to visit her in Los Angeles, but she refused to see him. Harry withheld that information from Oberon’s biographer Charles Higham. And eventually revealed it only to Maree Delofski, the creator of the 2002 documentary ‘The Trouble with Merle’, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which investigated the various conflicting versions of Merle’s origin.
More dark, hidden stories, brightened by the ‘Obie light’ will be showing in the weeks ahead. Stay with World Inthavaaram.