In Beijing …
In an apparent pause in its ongoing cultural crackdown, China’s government has announced it will now impose restrictions on … homework. A new law taking effect January 1 is designed to “reduce the ‘twin pressures’ of homework and off-site tutoring on children,” according to The Guardian, and “asks parents to arrange their children’s time to account for reasonable rest and exercise, thereby reducing pressure and avoiding internet overuse.”
Apparent pause. Because there are wheels within wheels. Easing up on the high-pressure demands on pupils also happens to fit in with Beijing’s “more assertive paternal hand,” the newspaper notes—for instance, the limits placed earlier this year on gaming and “celebrity worship” among the young. And behind it all is the nation’s looming national emergency: a precipitously dropping growth in population, now at its lowest in 60 years. Less pressure on students also means less pressure on parents, and—maybe—motivation to have more children. On whom to apply less pressure. (More or less.)
In Medellín …
Very hungry hungry hippos
And not just Medellín—at points beyond. An unlikely wandering herd of Colombian hippos, whose ancestry can be traced to four animals that were smuggled into the country by the drug lord Pablo Escobar for his private zoo in the 80s, has achieved the kind of population growth China would envy. The “cocaine hippos” have thrived, even if Escobar hasn’t—he was killed in a shootout in 1993—and now number around 80. “Obviously you can’t let these hippos keep reproducing, which is what they’ll keep doing because they are in paradise,” a professor of biology at the National University of Colombia told The Guardian. “They’ll always have water, all the plants they could ever want to eat, and they can pop out of the river and eat grass with the cows.”
And so a program is underway to sterilize them, considered a more humane option than culling the herd. (The debate over what to do prompted a challenge from the American Legal Defense Fund, and in a historic ruling a Cincinnati district court granted “interested person” status to the hippos. While the ruling does not apply to Colombia, an A.L.D.F. representative told The Times of London that the challenge was “part of a bigger movement of advocating that animals’ interests be represented in court.” The paper notes that so far “attempts to have captive elephants declared people have repeatedly failed.”)
In any case, the procedure costs about $7,000 per animal, and two dozen have been neutered so far. But given that hippos weigh more than a ton, have two-inch-thick skin that tends to discourage tranquilizer darts, are primarily nocturnal, spend most of their time submerged in water, and (as you’ll soon discover even if you manage to clear all those hurdles) have internal reproductive organs … well, the phrase “easier said than done” leaps to mind.
In Cairo …
The robot overlords will remember this
The robot artist Ai-Da has been released by Egyptian authorities after 10 days in custody. According to her creator, Aidan Meller, she had been held as a possible “security risk,” based on concerns about the cameras in her eyes. Ai-Da, who has given a TED Talk and conducted a workshop at the Tate Modern, and whose work has been exhibited at the Victoria & Albert and the Design Museum in London, was traveling with a new sculpture to show at an exhibition at the pyramids in Giza. Meller told The Times of London that Ai-Da was in “good physical condition” despite having gone without electricity throughout her detention. “We are very very relieved,” he said.
In College Park …
Scientists at the University of Maryland have invented a wooden dinner knife that is three times as sharp as its stainless-steel equivalent and 23 times harder than the natural wood it’s made from. It’s easy: just find some wood, remove the lignin and water, coat it in mineral oil, heat to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, design and manufacture the knife, and … dig in. And in good news for one former American president, according to The Times of London, the professor who led the research says the wooden knife can make quick work of “a medium-well done steak.”
In London …
Toffs behaving badly
A judge has refused an application by Westminster authorities to ban a 43-year-old relative of the Queen’s from the borough “after years of violence, threats, criminal damage and racist behavior,” reported The Times of London. “A court was told that Rowan Nash Lascelles, son of the Hon James Lascelles, the Queen’s first cousin once removed, had engaged in ‘constant antisocial behavior’ towards residents and businesses in central London after becoming addicted to the drug Spice. Despite noting that Lascelles was a ‘persistent offender’ who ‘leaves misery in his wake’, Deputy District Judge Olwen Davies refused the application, saying: ‘An order will not deter him due to his entrenched criminality’.”
In other words, keep stressed and carry on. Lascelles, who has been called “a burden on the Metropolitan Police” and faces sentencing after pleading guilty to vandalizing a door, is 65th in line to the throne.
In the land of sensible priorities ….
A “Wonder Women” bingo game is no longer being offered for sale by Oxfam, a global charity that fights poverty. Instead of the cards’ usual numbers, the widely distributed game features illustrations of 48 inspiring women, among them Coco Chanel, Beyoncé, Jane Austen, Anne Frank, Simone Biles, Georgia O’Keeffe, Greta Thunberg, and … uh-oh … J. K. Rowling. Also, um, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Plus the outdated Ellen—as opposed to Elliot—Page.
“We have taken the decision to withdraw the product Wonder Women Bingo as it has been brought to our attention that it is not in line with Oxfam’s values,” the organization told its staff in an e-mail last week. Rowling and Adichie, noted The Daily Mail, have challenged the belief that there is no difference between transgender and biological women. As Oxfam explained to the newspaper, “We took the decision to remove the game from sale following concerns raised by trans and non-binary colleagues who told us it didn’t live up to our commitment to respect people of all genders.”
In Paris …
On the heels of a freeze on gasoline prices, France’s government has announced a $100-plus “inflation payout” for “all those earning less than €2,000 [$2,300] net a month, including private and public sector workers, the self-employed, job seekers and retired people,” according to The Guardian. Distribution of the money is supposed to begin in December. President Macron faces re-election in April. Some 38 million people, a few of them undoubtedly voters, would be the beneficiaries.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail