President Ashraf Ghani reportedly left Afghanistan today as Taliban forces entered the capital. The fundamentalist Islamic group fought a 20-year insurgency against U.S. forces and their allies after controlling Afghanistan for five years. Its fighters faced little opposition as they advanced across Afghanistan in barely a week following a U.S. military withdrawal. In Ghani’s place, top officials are negotiating a handover with a Taliban leadership that’s promised amnesty for Afghans who cooperated with foreign forces. It’s unclear how they’ll deal with 5,000 U.S. troops securing the U.S. Embassy and Kabul International Airport, the site of a massive airlift of foreigners and Afghans who helped them. (Sources: AP, Washington Post)
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It’s not exactly democracy as many in the West know it. The best-known opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, is in jail after being poisoned, and anyone associated with his “extremist organization” is barred from running in Russian parliamentary elections that begin Tuesday. European election monitors won’t be coming because their numbers are so restricted. But allies of President Vladimir Putin are still worried about legitimacy, writes political scientist Jeff Hawn. Putin’s United Russia party is losing popularity over economic woes under a “kleptocracy” whose particularly notorious officials have been sidelined. They’ll stay in power, but can they satisfy an increasingly impatient citizenry? (Sources: Foreign Policy, Moscow Times, RFE/RL)
3. Rare Mass Shooting Shocks England
It’s the worst such incident in 11 years. A man killed at least five people in Plymouth in southwestern England, police announced Friday. The Thursday-evening shooting spree in 13 different locations claimed victims including the 22-year-old shooter's mother, a 3-year-old girl and a 66-year-old woman. Then the shotgun-wielding gunman, identified as Jake Davison, fatally shot himself. Since a 1996 school shooting in Scotland, Britain has strictly regulated firearms ownership. Davison reportedly had a gun license, but authorities took it along with his shotgun last September after an assault accusation, returning them to Davison in July. Police are investigating, hoping to determine what motivated the killings. (Sources: CNN, BBC)
4. Reward Offered to Crypto Thief Who Returned Haul
Was this the miracle? The hacker (or hackers) who pilfered some $610 million worth of cryptocurrency this week was offered a $500,000 reward by the funds’ source, decentralized finance firm Poly Network. But the thief, who claimed to want to expose security vulnerabilities, announced disinterest in the reward. And the drama, which has shaken confidence in blockchain-protected digital money, is not over: All but $33 million in locked-down Ethereum has been “returned” to Poly Network, but the firm is still waiting for the key to the digital wallet where the funds now reside. (Sources: BBC, CNBC)
In the Week Ahead: Today a tropical depression named Fred is expected to hit Florida, possibly after strengthening into a tropical storm. New York City will begin requiring COVID-19 inoculation for restaurant dining and other indoor activities on Monday in a trend that’s spread to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans. And on Thursday, Hong Kong will elect its Election Committee, which in turn elects territorial officials, but nearly all permitted nominees for the 980 seats are pro-Beijing.
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Legendary performer Steve Harvey stops by to share his secrets for great comedy. The Family Feud host explains what made his version of the game show stand out and gives his insight on comedy’s GOATs — while teasing a possible no-holds-barred comeback that would shock us all. Now an iconic success, he reveals how he lifted himself out of homelessness and shares his epic love story with his wife, who helped him find himself. And what does he say about the Black Lives Matter movement? Find out now.
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Author Meghan O’Gieblyn wondered how Sony could legally claim its robot dog, Aibo, had “real emotions.” But after one of the $3,000 devices nuzzled her, played fetch and sometimes ignored her commands, she found herself talking to it. And wondering: If it could feel, how could we possibly know any more than we can know how biological critters feel, she writes in her upcoming book, God, Human, Animal, Machine. We can’t get inside the head of artificial intelligence, so knowing if it’s daydreaming may always be beyond our comprehension. So we’ll have to rely on what robots tell us and decide, perhaps on faith, whether we trust them. (Source: The Guardian)
2. Your Coffee’s Hidden Environmental Toll
It was the tigers. In tracking populations of the Sumatran beasts, a Wildlife Conservation Society adviser noticed that the protected rainforest they inhabited was shrinking. Thus began an investigation that found major coffee companies like Nestlé buying coffee beans harvested there. But rather than fight the illegal farmers, Matt Leggett helped them get fertilizer and advice on how to increase their yields. Why? Because he knew he couldn’t stop them, but if they made more money, some might be convinced to stop clearing trees, and now some have even signed government pledges to replant the forest. (Source: NYT Magazine)
3. July Was Earth’s Hottest Month Ever
Now does it seem real? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said yesterday that last month was the hottest on the planet since records were first kept 142 years ago. July temperatures, based on combined land and sea measurements, were 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit higher than last century’s average, and this year is shaping up to be one of history’s hottest. Recent heat emergencies seem to have swayed some Republican lawmakers to acknowledge that human activity is causing climate change. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida says he wants to tackle global warming, but “you can’t do it where you’re killing jobs.” (Sources: Washington Post, NYT)
4. Kiwis Lose the Battle for Middle Earth
A shadow has fallen over New Zealand. After filming the $465 million first season of its untitled Lord of the Rings series among the breathtaking Kiwi scenery familiar to fans of the cinematic trilogy, Prime Video is pulling up stakes. The next season is to be filmed in Britain. While the company says it’s part of an effort to do more of its productions in the U.K., largely British cast members were reportedly stuck in New Zealand for two years because of the country’s strict pandemic border closures. No matter what island nation you raise your sword for, you should be able to stream the first season starting in September 2022. (Sources: Bloomberg, Deadline)
5. MLB Did ‘Field of Dreams,’ and People Came
“They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom.” Thus began James Earl Jones’s cinematic paean to baseball, urging Kevin Costner’s character Ray to construct a diamond amid his bankrupt cornfields. On Thursday, the real Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees played in Dyersville, Iowa, where the 1989 Field of Dreams was filmed, and yesterday Fox reported 5.9 million viewers came to its network to view the Sox’ 9-8 win on a ninth-inning Tim Anderson walk-off homer. That fulfilled Major League Baseball’s dream with better viewership than any game since 2005. Now if they could just get Kevin Costner to come to all those other games. (Sources: Yahoo, Deadline, Fox Sports)
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