The World Today for December 22, 2021

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Woke, à la Française


In the United States, the term “woke” generally means understanding and acknowledging the historical legacy and contemporary impact of racism and related injustices against African Americans, particularly how slavery and segregation yielded racist policies and attitudes that resonate today in the law, politics, the economy, society and culture.

Of course, as Vox explained, the term has evolved over time and now means many different things to different people.

That said, can a French citizen be “woke?” Some French citizens don’t think so.

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, for example, recently decried how wokeness has developed in France. In a country where a bloody revolution aimed to unite the population as equals in a secular country without cruel aristocrats or a domineering Catholic Church, woke activists are threatening to divide everyone along racial, religion, gender and sexual orientation, he argued.

“We have to look at what’s weakening democracy, weakening the republic,” Blanquer told the Wall Street Journal. “Woke-isme is clearly that.”

Stirring the controversy was dictionary publisher Le Petit Robert’s decision to add the gender-neutral pronoun “iel” to its latest online edition in addition to “Il,” which means “he,” and “elle,” which means “she.” As CliffsNotes explained, in the French language, nouns have either a masculine or feminine gender.


Many French authorities, including President Emmanuel Macron’s wife, Bridgette, were not amused. “There are two pronouns: he and she,” said the French First Lady, who is a former schoolteacher, according to the New York Times. “Our language is beautiful. And two pronouns are appropriate.”

President Macron has similarly lamented the rise of wokeness, arguing that it foments “cancel culture,” or the practice of self-described woke folks criticizing and excluding from conversations those who behave as if they are not woke, the National Desk wrote. Macron, in contrast, claimed that he wants his constituents to be able to talk to one another even when they disagree.

The linguists at Le Petit Robert countered by arguing that they simply were chronicling how French people used their own language. Some French speakers have adopted “iel,” so it should be included in the lexicon, they said.

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Rokhaya Diallo viewed the French campaign against wokeness as a rhetorical masquerade that in reality aimed to discredit all forms of social justice activism and thought that happens to relate to race and gender, a movement that accelerated in France following the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States in 2020. She added that polls suggested many French citizens don’t even know what woke means.

As the BBC noted, the fury might also be simple resistance to the English language and the “anglosphere” that supplanted French cultural influence over the last century.

It’s a controversy that probably won’t abate even as more people comprehend it.


An Opening Act


Tigrayan forces will withdraw from neighboring Ethiopian regions, a move seen as a step to a potential ceasefire to end a brutal year-long conflict that has killed thousands and ripped the country apart, CNN reported Tuesday.

Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael sent a letter to United Nations officials this week, saying the withdrawal will be “a decisive opening act for peace.” He hoped the move would end hostilities and initiate peace negotiations.

Apart from the withdrawal, Gebremichael also asked UN diplomats to “establish a mechanism to ensure the immediate and veritable cessation of all forms of hostilities” and “the total withdrawal of all external forces” in the region.

He also requested the creation of a no-fly zone over Tigray, except for humanitarian and civil aircraft, as well as an arms embargo on Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Since November 2020, Ethiopian federal troops have been fighting against forces in the north Tigrayan region. The conflict began when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the offensive following long disputes over the region’s governance.

Thousands have died, more than two million have been displaced and UN investigators have warned that parts of the war-torn region are facing a “man-made” famine.

However, Abiy has denied reports that Ethiopian soldiers harmed civilians or that troops from neighboring Eritrea joined the fight. He has also rejected allegations that it is blocking aid to the region.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council has voted to form a commission that would probe human rights violations and abuses in the conflict.

The Ethiopian government said it would not cooperate with the commission.

The Culture Wars


Thousands of Catalans marched in the streets of Barcelona this week to protest a court decision that mandates that 25 percent of all academic subjects must be taught in Spanish, raising concerns that it would reduce the use of the local Catalan language in the region’s schools, the Associated Press reported.

The demonstrations came less than a month after Spain’s Supreme Court upheld a 2020 verdict by a lower court in the northeastern Catalonia region that had ruled in favor of a suit brought by Spain’s previous conservative government against Catalonia’s Department of Education.

That previous verdict said that the region’s school must guarantee at least a quarter of subjects are taught in Spanish, a move that would nearly double the hours Catalan students are taught in that language. Currently, most schools in the region only use Spanish in Spanish language classes, and the rest are taught in Catalan.

The Catalan government filed an appeal but the Supreme Court dismissed it.

Many protesters warned that the verdict would threaten their language and educational system, the latter of which has helped the Catalan language make a comeback after it had been suppressed by the authoritarian regime of General Francisco Franco in the 20th century.

The demonstrations could also stimulate the region’s separatist movement and spark another institutional fight between Spain’s central authorities and Catalan officials – the latter said they would not abide by the court order.

The majority of Catalonia’s 7.7 million people speak both Catalan and Spanish fluently.

Spain’s constitution dictates that Spanish is the country’s official language. It also states that Catalan and other minority languages like Basque are co-official languages and part of Spain’s “cultural patrimony that should be subject to special respect and protection.”

Close Season


Britain is moving to ban the importing of hunting trophies from endangered animals, a move many animal rights advocates welcomed but said was long overdue, the Independent reported.

The proposed legislation would bar British big game hunters from bringing home body parts of about 7,000 species, including lions, rhinos and elephants. Officials said the ban will apply regardless of whether a trophy was obtained from a wild animal or ones bred in captivity for trophy hunting purposes.

The bill is set to be one of the toughest in the world and will include near-threatened and endangered species. Violators face up to five years in prison.

Animal rights groups praised the bill but noted that it came two years after the government had pledged to introduce the ban. They noted that around 300 trophies from endangered animals have entered the United Kingdom since then.

The measure is expected in Parliament in 2022 with advocates warning that more trophies will enter the country by then.

Even so, they hoped that the draft legislation would encourage international action to end trophy hunting worldwide.


Diamonds, New and Improved

Diamonds are already the hardest material in the world but that hasn’t stopped scientists from giving them an upgrade, New Scientist reported.

A research team recently created a new form of diamond that has the same properties as natural ones but can withstand extreme heat.

Diamonds and many other materials are made up of two main molecular structures: Crystalline structures in which all atoms are properly organized in repeating arrangements, and amorphous ones – which are mostly disorganized.

The team explained in their paper that the novel material is called a paracrystalline diamond, which is a combination of the two main structures.

To create it, researchers crushed a carbon molecule known as buckminsterfullerene – or “buckyballs” – between six powerful carbide anvils and put it under temperatures beyond 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The intense heat and extreme pressure of 30 gigapascals – around 270 the pressure at the bottom of the Marianna Trench – caused the buckyballs to turn into paracrystalline diamonds.

Co-author Howard Sheng said the new material is composed of small paracrystallite structures that consist of just a few carbon atoms. He added, however, that the structures have no proper arrangement.

“This is totally different from the diamond we know,” he said.

Sheng believes the new material can withstand high temperatures better than other diamonds, which means they can be used in industrial tools that work for long periods in scorching heat.

He also noted that the paracrystalline state could also exist in nature and hopes to find other new materials.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 276,291,027

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,370,901

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,784,766,514

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 51,274,973 (+0.34%)
  2. India: 34,758,481 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,219,477 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 11,607,870 (+0.78%)
  5. Russia: 10,114,983 (+0.50%)
  6. Turkey: 9,211,710 (+0.22%)
  7. France: 8,818,154 (+0.83%)
  8. Germany: 6,899,439 (+0.95%)
  9. Iran: 6,175,782 (+0.04%)
  10. Spain: 5,585,054 (+0.90%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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