Tuesday, February 20th, 2024

1

Riyadh Between the Lines

Saudi Arabia once seemed like a place where you'd be hard-pressed to find a patch of grass. Now, there are pitches of it all over the place. It's part of the country's effort to become a soccer capital—and bring in a lot of soccer capital— as the Saudis look to a future when oil revenue alone won't be enough. Massive patches of grass drenched with desalinated sea water aren't the only surprises in Saudi Arabia these days. There are also the cranes. A lot of them. "The first impression you get upon arriving in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, is not of heat, but of cranes. The city is forested with them, as if a sketch artist has roughed out a skyline and everyone else is now tasked with filling it in. The tinnitus hum of construction is everywhere. You can't seem to drive three blocks without encountering signage teasing some new development—an impossibly tall skyscraper, a new entertainment district, an upscale housing complex illustrated with 3D mock-ups of smiling, uncovered people of all races and genders living in harmony." GQ's Oliver Franklin-Wallis: Can Saudi Arabia Buy Soccer? (And what else comes with that if they do?) "Critics have called its sports investment sportswashing: an attempt to use sports' mass appeal to distract from the regime's human rights abuses. MBS has dismissed those claims, saying, 'If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by way of 1 percent, then I will continue doing sportswashing.' Either way, soccer, with its unmatched global audience, is seen as the Saudis' greatest prize. And so the regime has set out to transform the Pro League from a competitive backwater into a rival for England's Premier League or Spain's La Liga as one of the best in the world."

2

Throwing Shade

"When they feel the effects of heat illness coming on, they have the right to cool down in the shade. Sunripe Certified Brands, the company that owns the farm, must provide clean water, shaded rest areas and nearby bathrooms for all of its workers." Water, shade, rest. These would seem to be miniumum requirements for farmworkers toiling in an increasingly warm world. But don't bet the farm on that. These are unique, hard won worker rights. WaPo (Gift Article): These farmworkers created America's strongest workplace heat rules. "Every year, the organization sends auditors to participating farms, where they interview at least half the workers about labor conditions. So far, organizers say they've done more than 30,000 interviews. Auditors also check companies' payroll records for evidence of wage theft. That's more oversight than most government regulators can manage."

3

Knowing the Half of It

"On Monday, just three days after her husband's death, Yulia Navalnaya rebranded herself as a political force, vowing to pick up where her husband left off. 'I don't have the right to surrender,' she said in an eight-minute video posted to her dead husband's social media channels. 'I ask you to share with me in rage.'" The courageous Yulia Navalnaya is raising hopes for a renewed Russian opposition. She will face huge challenges.

+ "If the Russian opposition had been eviscerated two years ago with Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the introduction of military censorship, the death of Navalny seemed to have snapped its spine. Most of the opposition now lives abroad, in exile, and those who are left in Russia are either in jail or fear the kind of increasingly Stalinist atmosphere enveloping, suffocating the country. A 72-year-old woman was sentenced to five years in a penal colony for sharing someone else's posts on social media. А young woman was given jail time for wearing rainbow earrings after the Kremlin named the 'international L.G.B.T. movement' an extremist one, on par with ISIS. A small-town veterinarian is under criminal investigation for her antiwar TikToks. A history student was arrested for reading a book about the S.S. on the Moscow metro. A single father was put in jail for his antiwar posts, and his 12-year-old daughter was taken from him and put in an orphanage." The excellent Julia Ioffe in Puck: The Tragedy of Navalny. (Puck makes you sign up even to read gift articles. I don't love that policy, but I am a big fan of the service.) "'By killing Alexey, Putin killed half of me,' Yulia said in her address, 'half of my heart, and half of my soul. But I have a second half left, and it is telling me that I have no right to give up.'" (Hopefully the US House will give her half a chance.)

4

Unfit

For me, there are no five words that stir up middle school PTSD like The Presidential Physical Fitness Test. Those of a certain age remember it. We all had to do it. I was particularly bad at it. At my school, you could either do pull-ups or the flex hang. My flex hang was so brief that my PE teacher said, "I'll just put down half a pull-up, that will probably be worth more." I would have responded with a request to be placed in the fitness protection program, but my arms were too tired to pun. NYT (Gift Article): Could You Pass the Presidential Physical Fitness Test Today? (Of course, these days Presidential Fitness has a whole different connotation.)

5

Extra, Extra

Fairfax and Figures: "The Fairfax County School Board overhauled the Thomas Jefferson admissions process in 2020, scrapping a standardized test. The new policy gives weight in favor of applicants who are economically disadvantaged or still learning English, but it does not take race into account." The Supreme Court leaves in place the admissions plan at an elite Virginia public high school.

+ You Ransom You Lose Some: "Most recently, LockBit has claimed responsibility for a ransomware attack on Georgia's Fulton County that has disrupted key county services for weeks." FBI, police partners take down most prolific ransomware gang to date.

+ Brain Freeze: "The Alabama case focused on whether a patient who mistakenly dropped and destroyed other couples' frozen embryos could be held liable in a wrongful-death lawsuit. The court ruled the patient could." Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are children, imperiling IVF. (These positions are not going to get less extreme.)

+ Bulging Disc: Congratulations, Discover, you've been prequalified for a Capital One card - with a limit of $35 billion. Capital One plans to acquire Discover for $35.3 billion. Here's what it means for the credit card industry and for consumers. In other business news, Walmart is going to acquire Vizio for $2.3 billion to get deeper into the advertising game. And you really, really like comfortable shoes.

+ The Company They Keep: Russian President Vladimir Putin has given North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a luxury Russian-made car. Sometimes it's OK to judge a man by his friends.

+ The Unbearable Lightness We're Seeing: "It's a quasar - the bright core of a galaxy that is powered by a gargantuan black hole some 17 billion times the mass of our Sun.
Known as J0529-4351, the object's power was confirmed in observations by the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Scientists, reporting in the journal Nature Astronomy, say the black hole has a voracious appetite, consuming the mass equivalent to one Sun every day." The most luminous object ever detected has been spied in the distant Universe.

6

Bottom of the News

"The largely bipartisan-supported bill on celebratory gunfire represents a rare effort to regulate guns in a state with some of the most expansive laws on firearm ownership." Missouri House votes to ban celebratory gunfire. They finally place a limit on gun use in America and it's to prevent them being used joyfully.

+ An eight-year-old chess prodigy from Singapore has become the youngest chess player to beat a grandmaster, "beating a record set days before by another eight-year-old."