Roundup 270

Top Events

The launch of a new offensive by Ethiopia’s government is a troubling development. The civil war has lasted more than a year. Tigray has “been under an effective blockade for months.” NGOs say famine conditions are widespread. The new offensive–which has reportedly been prepared by both sides for months–will “deepen the crisis in a region that is plunging into the world’s worst famine in a decade.” The government’s assault opened with aerial assaults and followed with ground troops, initially focused on the Amhara region. Details are murky. DMM practitioners in East Africa have noted the severe disruption the war has caused; it is unlikely to end any time soon. My estimate, given the current trend line, is at least another year of disruption and warfare.

Afghanistan has the appearance of being firmly under the control of the Taliban, but there remain sporadic elements of violence and many challenges. Fringe violence over borders (Tajikistan, Pakistan) has either erupted or is threatening to. Within the country, there is evidence of a rising conflict between the Taliban and the Islamic State, as well as isolated protests. There appears to be little to no infrastructure to support the general population, and countries may have to step in with aid to prevent some kind of catastrophic collapse and spillover into neighboring countries, which could be even worse than the current condition. Meanwhile, it is not improbable to suppose as much as 10% of Afghanis will, in the short-to-mid-term future, be found outside their homeland.

Continued saber-rattling over Taiwan is potentially far more catastrophic than either of these ‘hot’ wars. It seems unlikely China would go to war to reclaim Taiwan–but all of the state rhetoric and military movements argue it’s not out of the question. Far more possible is an ‘accidental war’ that all sides blunder into–and once it’s under way, most will likely say, “well, in for a penny, in for a pound…” The takeover of Taiwan would obviously be highly … disruptive on the world stage. As I told one couple last night, any workers within Taiwan (and agencies with workers there) should probably give at least some consideration to updating plans for a scenario in which, at any given moment, they find a shooting war started with little or no warning.

Beirut’s latest turn toward violence is disheartening, too. I’m not sure what’s happening, and whether it’s overblown in the media or not, but it “shows a city on the edge… renewed fears that the country could spiral into civil war.”

New Events

North Africa + West Asia = NAME (570m)

In photos: the Kurdish alcohol smugglers in Iraq. Link
— “incredibly tough hikers who climb 3,000-meter mountains without professional gear”

Fierce day-long fighting erupts in Beirut after Hezbollah protests fired upon. Post *
Lebanon’s national electricity grid collapsed, albeit temporarily. Post *
plunged into darkness ‘for days’ as country runs out of electricity. Independent
— well, almost. “private generators are common… for those who can afford them.”
— even before the collapse, most people had only 1 to 2 hours of power from national grid
LongRead: Electricity has everything to do with politics. Vox
“Unprecedented” hunger in Lebanon as fuel crisis hikes food costs. Al Jazeera
— “families skip meals and forgo staples”

Short timeline: How Libya’s shaky peace push has unfolded. Reuters
100s of migrants, refugees try to leave Libya after violent crackdown. Reuters
— thousands of migrants arrested, several shot.

East Africa (520m)

Ethiopia has re-launched military operations against Tigray rebels, especially in Amhara.
“sweeping offensive in a bid to reverse recent gains by Tigrayan rebels” NYT *
“major air and ground operations against rebel positions in Amhara region” NewHum
1.5-minute video explainer on conflict between Tigray, Amhara. Reuters *
“Ethiopia is deliberately starving its own citizens.” Economist *

A dispute over a (possibly) oil-rich patch of sea has Somalia and Kenya on edge. NYT *

West + Middle Africa (600m)

Mauritania likely in for another rough dry season, on top of several years of drought. Link

South + Central Asia (2b)

Afghanistan

Schools reopen for girls in grades 7-12 in Balkh province. Tolonews
In northern Afghanistan, girls’ schools working despite ban elsewhere. Reuters *
— “regional differences starting to emerge two months after the Taliban seized power.”
In another example, the Islamic State is on the rise in Afghanistan. Link
— opposed to the Taliban, and violent attacks are rising. Link
The Taliban says the US agreed to provide humanitarian aid. AP
— the US statement was… “less definitive.”
Inside Taliban-held Afghanistan: “no food, no help, nothing here.” Globe & Mail
— “women who were once teachers, nurses now live in refugee camps”
Health care collapse threatens lives of millions as winter approaches. CNN
Over 3 million Afghan refugees trying to reach Iran, Pakistan. Jerusalem Post
— very short 2 paragraph data point citing “Russian-led security bloc”
— “displacement of ethnic, religious minorities may escalate tensions to critical level”

Bangladesh

UN, Bangladesh sign deal to aid Rohingya on Bhasan Char island. NPR

Pakistan

Violence surging in Pakistan’s tribal belt as Taliban, IS-K go on attack. BBC
— long read: “tribal districts… rising violence… threats, intimidation… TTP… more”

Central Asia

Russia says it will protect Tajikistan in case of incursion from Afghanistan. Reuters
Secret Chinese military base near the Wakhan Corridor. RFE
— “the situation in Afghanistan is awkward for China…”

India

Head priest of Sikh community alleges conversion push by Christian missionaries. Link
— “missionaries are ‘running a campaign… for forced conversions’…” in border of Punjab
Dalit, tribal women among worst victims of India’s hunger crisis. Al Jazeera
— “more than 60% of Indian women are anaemic as they eat last and the least”
— “50% of households in rural India forced to reduce # of meals since lockdown imposed”

Eastern Asia (1.6b)

China floods: nearly 2 million displaced in Shanxi province. BBC
— “less than 3 months after extreme rains in Henan province left 300+ dead”

“Starting a fire”: US and China enter dangerous territory over Taiwan. NYT
— “it’s not hard to imagine getting some crossed wires and that starting a fire.”
— “few believe a war is imminent or foreordained… aftershocks would be staggering”
— US Rear Admiral: “To us, it’s only a matter of time, not a matter of if.”
“will lose everything if China starts Taiwan war,” says retired US colonel. Newsweek
Xi Jinping says “reunification must be fulfilled.” BBC
China: held beach landing, assault drills in southern Fujian, across from Taiwan. CNN

“Reconciling population and social expectations in Japan.” East Asia Forum
— “even if every woman capable gave birth to 3 children in next few years, wouldn’t solve”
— so many different problems, all hard to solve. Is Japan just far ahead of the curve?

Hong Kong: shrinking schools add to Hong Kong exodus. NYT
— “last year, Hong Kong experienced a population drop of 1.2%”

N Korea food situation appears perilous, experts say. Reuters

Southeast Asia (700m)

Vietnam: “factories lurch into crisis from worker exodus with holiday shopping on the line.” SCMP
— affects global economy: lots of factories moved to V during US-China trade crisis
— “Of 3.5m migrant workers in Ho Chi Minh City, 2.1m want to return home”

Myanmar: “they made signs, now they’re making explosives.” CNN
— “Myanmar’s resistance movement is on the rise”
“A living hell”: churches, clergy targeted by Myanmar military. Al Jazeera
— about 6% of the country is Christian, mostly from minority ethnic groups
— their experiences of marginalization, forced assimilation = armed struggles

The West

How one Chicago church is stepping up to help Afghan evacuees. RNS

New Data

Covid global case data

At current pace, 300m cases by Jan. 28.

… 10/15: 239.7m (+3.2m/wk) cases, 4.88m deaths
… 10/8: 236.5m (+2.8m/wk) cases, 4.82m deaths
… 10/1: 233.7m (+3.5m/wk) cases, 4.78m deaths
… 9/24: 230.2m (+3m/wk) cases, 4.72m deaths
… 9/17: 227.3m (+4m/wk) cases, 4.67m deaths
Trackers: Johns HopkinsNYT *

A Covid endgame analysis thread. @trvrb

Borders:
USA will reopen its land borders to fully vaccinated travelers.
— Canada: vaccine proof required to enter.
Thailand to fully reopen to vaccinated tourists from low-risk countries on November 1.
Malaysia reopens interstate borders, relaxes rules for overseas travel
— “borders remain largely shut to foreign visitors”
Singapore, major easing of travel restrictions, opening travel corridors with 8 countries.
Australia: no international tourists until 2022.
… but Sydney is starting to open up, emerge from lockdown after 106 days.
Vietnam: reopen key tourist destinations in December, fully reopen June 2022.

Longer Articles

Wonderful new Prayercast video focused on the Afar of East Africa. Link
— one of the least evangelized megapeoples, very difficult geographically to get to

“The costly gospel that keeps Christian pilots flying to the ends of the earth” – CT
— End of the Earth is a new documentary about MAF pilots, playing in 700 US theaters.

Save the Children: Global Girlhood Report 2021: Girl’s Rights in Crisis.
— new analysis released on Intl Day of the Girl
— “22k girls a year dying from pregnancy and childbirth due to child marriage”
— West & Central Africa have highest rate of child marriage deaths in the world

How to read more books: give up on a book if it hasn’t gripped you after 20 pages.
— my own “read 200 books goal” has become more “start 200 books, hoping that 1 out of 4 is a book that’s useful, that you’ll finish to the end.”

I have a chapter in an upcoming book that is available now for pre-order, Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations. It releases on October 19. There’s a virtual book launch on 10/20; you can register for that here.

Book Notes

Finished: Wanting: the power of mimetic desire in every day life (book notes)
— basic premise is that we pay attention to ‘models’, we like things other people like
— lots of Christianity-tinged ideas: “do not be conformed to the patterns of this world”
MoreNonsense (ambiguity) – Scarcity (poverty, tunneling) – The Talent Code (coaching)
Art of Statistics: how to learn from data (I expected charts, but this is about practices)
Predictably Irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions, Dan Ariely
The Data Detective: 10 basic rules to become more ‘numerate’. (my book notes)

Tech & Futures

The covid tech that is intimately tied to China’s surveillance state. MIT
— “she had walked beyond the parameters of the policing grid of her neighborhood”
Terrorism & tourism: Xinjiang eases its grip, but fear remains. AP

FB outage: “for much of the world, when Facebook goes out, so does the Internet.” Link
In Nigeria, Facebook’s outage “revealed a dangerous dominance.” Wired
— “over 95% of Nigeria’s 33m social media users use the platform”

Experts ‘horrified’ by military contractor installing gun on robodog. Futurism

Delta expanding the use of facial recognition in airports in partnership with TSA. Link
— Customers with PreCheck or SkyMiles numbers don’t have to use boarding pass or ID

“Desperate for tires”: components shortage roils US harvest. Reuters
— “cannot find any spare tires for his combine harvester”
— what are the knock-on effects of this will be for US harvest, or for food exports/aid?

Microsoft shuts down LinkedIn in China. BBC
— “having to comply with the Chinese state has become increasingly challenging.”

The Pentagon wants AI to predict things before they occur. Link
— it’s a short article with a bit of a click-bait headline, but it’s not entirely wrong. The piece is instructive on efforts being made to build big data sets that can predict bad things happening, so that singular bad events can be stopped or at least dealt with before they become really bad trends. However, there’s a lot of complexity, so an AI that seems to work may not really be, in the long run. Helps to understand some of the practical limits of AI for the moment. There was a time, for example, that Google’s Flu Trends detector was actually more of a winter detector, and missed a flu outbreak in the summer.

Quotable

“He said there were two kinds of Christians: those who sincerely believe in God and those who, just as sincerely, believe that they believe. You can tell them apart by their actions in decisive moments.” -Richard Wurmbrand

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