Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching:

Saudi Vegas — Last year, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a Las Vegas-sized city near Riyadh that will host cultural, entertainment and sporting events in a country that has little history of any of these things. Next month, the kingdom will get its first public movie theaters after a 35-year ban. This week, the government announced plans to invest $64 billion over ten years to promote tourism and to give Saudis more opportunities to get out of the house. Imagine the controversies to come.


Rohingya and social media — In Myanmar, about 90 percent of people have a mobile phone, making Facebook an important source of news in that country. Unfortunately, fake news is as prevalent in Myanmar as in other countries, and some have planted false accusations against the Muslim-minority Rohingya population to support a campaign of murder, rape, and arson against the group by Myanmar’s Army, forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh. The UN says it’s the fastest mass expulsion of people since the genocide in Rwanda nearly a quarter century ago.

Billy Graham — In an age of anonymous vitriol and political bitterness, it is still possible, maybe essential, to honor the sincerity and integrity of those with whom we have profound, fundamental disagreements. Christian evangelist Billy Graham passed this week. Among other things, he was the most charismatic public speaker this author has seen. Graham was far from a perfect practitioner of all he preached, particularly on questions that combined sexuality and civil rights, but he was also that rare leader, spiritual or political, who shunned personal profit and treated others with care.

What We're Ignoring

Justin Trudeau’s Trip to India — You have to see the photos to understand why we’re averting our eyes. And there are plenty of them.

Wilbur Ross — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross won the award for “Least Romantic Thing Ever Said” this week. Referring to the viability of commercial space operations, he said “I think a lot depends upon how successful we are in turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space.” Wilbur just fatally compromised his (admittedly limited) future as Hollywood’s next romantic leading man.

Another Kazakh alphabet — About four months ago, we let you know we were ignoring Kazakhstan’s new written alphabet, because we expected further changes. Our prediction was deadly accurate. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan’s government announced that it’s changing the alphabet againthis time because over-used apostrophes just completely freaked people out. The apostrophes have now been replaced by accents. (That’ll solve it.) There are other changes, but don’t try to memorize them. They’ll probably change it again soon.

On the latest episode of Bank of America's That Made All the Difference podcast, Ken Burns explores the opportunity to come out of this moment as better versions of ourselves — and reveals whether a film about this year is in the cards.

Listen to the new episode here.

The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Former Spanish King Juan Carlos I's decision to leave the country after being investigated for corruption has reignited the debate over the future of the monarchy in Spain. Opinions are divided between mostly older Spaniards who defend the institution's role as a symbol of national unity, and the younger generations and nationalist regions who want Spain to become a republic. More than three quarters of the world's countries are now republics, but 44 still have a king or queen as their head of state — among them the 16 Commonwealth countries officially ruled by British Queen Elizabeth II and 5 countries where the sovereign is all-powerful. We take a look at which countries remain monarchies today, and those that sent their royals packing in the post-World War II waves of decolonization and republicanism.

Modi riles up his base: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday set the first stone for a new Hindu temple to be built over the remains of a Mughal-era mosque in Uttar Pradesh state. The site, in the town of Ayodhya, has been disputed for decades by Hindus and Muslims, but the Supreme Court last November ruled, based on archeological findings, that construction of the temple could begin. The ruling dismayed many of India's 180 million Muslims, who worry that Modi — who was accompanied at the ceremony by Mohan Bhagwat, an ultranationalist Hindu activist whose followers helped to destroy the old mosque amid a wave of sectarian violence in 1992 — wants to replace India's secular foundations with his more explicitly Hindu vision of the country's identity. Although months ago Modi saw sizable protests over a controversial new citizenship law that discriminated against Muslims, he has so far proven to be extremely resilient and remains widely popular in India.

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280 million: Democratic candidate Joe Biden plans to spend $280 million on campaign ads in his battle against US President Donald Trump. Although Trump trails the former vice president by 7 points in an average of national polls, the incumbent has set aside less than half that amount for ads of his own.

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