What We're Watching

Civil war endgame in Libya? – General Khalifa Haftar – a warlord who controls parts of Libya – has launched a military assault on Tripoli to seize the capital city from a UN-backed government there. The background is that after Muammar Qaddafi was killed in 2011 and Libya fell into civil war, Haftar, a former Qaddafi general who turned against his former boss, became a powerful warlord. Earlier this year, he seized oil-rich territory in the country's south, and he's now making a play to reunify Libya on his own terms. The UN and US have condemned his move on the capital, but both have evacuated personnel.

Your score on the Xi Jinping app – At the urging of the government, tens of millions of Chinese citizens have downloaded a new multimedia app from the propaganda ministry that teaches people to think like President Xi Jinping. The app awards points for study and knowledge of the material. High scorers are praised by state media, low scorers are stigmatized at work and school. It's part of Xi's bid to bolster the power and appeal of the Communist Party. We're watching because it's another fascinating example of how authoritarian governments are appropriating the kinds of social media technologies that people once assumed would be forces for democratization and openness. The app is even used as a dating platform!

What We're Ignoring

"Black" Hungarians – Hungary's national opera house is currently staging American composer George Gershwin's 1935 work Porgy and Bess, a story of love, poverty, and violence set in a black community in the American South. But here's the problem: the performers are white, violating Gershwin estate rules that only black casts can perform the opera. Undaunted, the opera has gotten its performers to sign letters saying they "self-identify" as "African-American." A nice bit of cross-cultural trolling (and a swipe at "identity politics"), but we're ignoring this for two reasons: Hungarians are more Siberian than they are African or American, and because this production of Porgy and Bess really justsounds horrendous.

US sanctions against Iran's Republican Guard – On Monday, the Trump administration formally designated Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a "foreign terrorist organization" alongside other regional menaces like al-Qaeda and ISIS. This is the first time the US has added a branch of another country's military to this terrorist list, but beyond that, there's not much to see here. The IRGC already faces a huge number of sanctions, including American ones -- this symbolic move won't register as a significant new provocation of the IRGC. Blood between Washington and Tehran is already about as bad as it can be.
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