The World Today for February 26, 2021

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Returning History

Go to any of the grand museums of Europe and invariably, you will see magnificent sculptures or artifacts that decidedly don’t look European.

They usually aren’t.

Instead, many of these treasures were taken from African or Asian countries during wars centuries ago, or sometimes just as the spoils of colonialism.

Now, one country, the Netherlands, has decided it will give them back. “There is no place in the Dutch State Collection for cultural heritage objects that were acquired through theft,” Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven told the Art Newspaper, referring to treasures taken from Dutch colonies hundreds of years ago.

Under the new policy, Dutch officials will collaborate with their counterparts in Indonesia, Suriname and elsewhere to assess the provenance of items. The policy aims to dispense with technicalities that prevent repatriation like those cited by proponents of retaining the Elgin Marbles in Britain – the then-ruler of Greece, the Ottoman Sultan, gave British aristocrat Lord Elgin permission to remove the marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 19th century.

The Dutch are among the early movers in the European trend. German and French leaders are also examining whether and how they should return cultural items to former colonies as they come under pressure from civil rights activists who view European museums less as repositories of history and culture and more as violent expropriators.

One of those advocates is Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, a historian. He has been advocating for the “Tangue,” a beautiful and sacred wooden sculpture that was formerly on the prow of a royal vessel, to return to Cameroon after its 130-year-long stay in the Five Continents Museum in Munich, Deutsche Welle wrote. Cameroon is a former German colony.

Another is Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza, who tried to forcibly take African treasures from French museums, saying he was simply retrieving his patrimony. He’s been jailed and fined for his actions, reported the Guardian.

Some say those examples may not accurately reflect why looted art and artifacts stir such strong emotions. One case that decidedly does involves Germany’s repatriation of the skulls of Namibians killed by German colonizers who perpetrated a genocide in the South African country in the early 20th century, Axios reported.

Some say the museums should keep the art and artifacts, claiming that it’s ancient history while removing them could hurt the treasures and also the museums.

But returning items won’t undermine museums, said University of Oxford Archaeology Professor Dan Hicks, who recently published a new book on the topic entitled, “The Brutish Museums.” Rather, they will benefit from not only doing the right thing but cooperating with museums and cultural institutions in the nations where these items originated, he says.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Hicks discussed how British naval forces helped looters pillage the Benin Bronzes, a collection of sculptures, after an attack on what is now Nigeria. Thinking that the sculptures must remain in Britain because they can be best protected in the former imperialist power is an example of institutional racism, he argued.

Cultural treasures belong to all humanity, many say. Even so, some humans have stronger claims to them than others.



Delayed, Not Denied

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, says a report released Thursday by the United States that underscores eroding US support for the Gulf kingdom, NBC News reported.

The report, an intelligence assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency, was written in 2018 following Khashoggi’s murder but never publicly released. The CIA concluded that the crown prince gave the order to kill the journalist. Even so, former President Donald Trump declined to place any blame on the de facto Saudi leader and remained supportive of the country throughout his administration.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was killed at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey by a team of Saudi intelligence agents closely related to the crown prince. His body was dismembered and his remains have never been found.

Saudi Arabia initially denied the murder but later said that Khashoggi was accidentally killed as the team sought to forcibly extradite him. The kingdom added that the crown prince was not involved.

Some believe the report’s release signals a change in US relations with its Middle East ally. President Joseph Biden has taken a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia since he took office in January: Earlier this month, he cut off US support for its war in Yemen.


Bills Coming Due

Australian lawmakers passed a new media law Thursday that will require big tech companies such as Facebook and Google to pay media publishers for content on their platform, legislation that other countries are looking to replicate, Reuters reported.

The new rules will allow the Australian government to act as an arbitrator in deciding the price for content if private talks fail. The dispute-handling process has never been tested in Australia and will be closely watched globally.

The vote comes just days after social media giant Facebook blocked all news content on its platform in protest of the law. Facebook’s news ban prompted Australia’s parliament to amend some provisions of the new code including allowing tech firms with a longer period to reach agreements with publishers before the state intervenes.

Following the intense negotiations, Facebook said earlier this week it would lift its ban.

For months, Facebook and Google rejected the law and vowed to cut their core services off in Australia if the law passed.

However, Google had already struck some deals with publishers before the law’s passage.


Getting Her Due

A Chinese court ruled that a husband must pay his former wife thousands of dollars in compensation for the housework she did during their marriage, a landmark ruling that has sparked a debate in the country over the value of unpaid domestic duties, CNN reported.

Wang, a homemaker, had demanded compensation from her husband after he filed for divorce at a district court in Beijing in October. She claimed that her husband barely helped her with the couple’s child and housework during their five-year marriage.

She originally requested more than $24,000 but the court said that the husband must pay Wang around $7,700 as “housework compensation,” after splitting their joint property equally. It also awarded her custody of their son and $300 per month in alimony.

The case is the first of its kind under China’s new civil code, which took effect earlier this year. Chinese officials and analysts said the new law will better protect the rights of individuals.

China’s netizens praised the ruling but lamented that the compensation was too little to cover five years of housework and childcare.

Gender norms and patriarchal traditions are still pervasive in China despite a rising feminist movement and an increase in women’s growing economic status.


Insect Magnet

The carnivorous Venus flytraps are terrifying and captivating at the same time.

These insect-eating plants produce a fragrant nectar to lure in unsuspecting bugs to their leafy maws. Once a fly touches one of the hairs in the leaves, the plant snaps shut and there’s no way out.

But this trapping mechanism is fascinating in its own right: The deadly flora generates a measurable magnetic field when it closes its leaves, according to Live Science.

A research team discovered the flytrap’s ability using tiny glass sensors called “atomic magnetometers” that contain a vapor of atoms that are sensitive to magnetic fields.

The researchers explained that the plant must be generating some kind of electrical current to produce magnetic fields – a phenomenon known as biomagnetism.

The team observed that the Venus flytrap produced electrical impulses called action potentials that trigger the closure of the leaves.

In their study, they stimulated these action potentials using heat – instead of a curious insect – and found that the plant produced a magnetic field up to the strength of 0.5 picotesla.

Researchers described it as equivalent to the levels generated by nerve impulses in animals.

While biomagnetism has been studied in humans and animals, the study marks one of the first instances the phenomenon has been spotted in plants.

It also means that the Venus flytrap is literally a real insect magnet.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 28,413,376 (+0.27%)
  2. India: 11,063,491 (+0.15%)
  3. Brazil: 10,390,461 (+0.64%)
  4. Russia: 4,175,757 (+0.26%)
  5. UK: 4,166,727 (+0.24%)
  6. France: 3,746,475 (+0.68%)
  7. Spain: 3,180,212 (+0.30%)
  8. Italy: 2,868,435 (+0.70%)
  9. Turkey: 2,674,766 (+0.36%)
  10. Germany: 2,427,069 (+0.39%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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