Sunday, August 15, 2021

Your Weekend Briefing

Afghanistan, Haiti, 'Jeopardy!'

Welcome to the Weekend Briefing. We're covering the Taliban's sweep in Afghanistan, a violent earthquake in Haiti and the big business of ice cream.

A man selling Taliban flags in Herat on Saturday, two days after the provincial capital fell.Hamed Sarfarazi/Associated Press

1. The Taliban are on the verge of a complete takeover of Afghanistan.

The group has encircled Kabul, the country's capital and the last major city under government control, after toppling other urban centers one after another over the past week.

A U.S. Embassy evacuation is underway, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to speak about the situation later Sunday. Follow here for live updates.

The Taliban, in a statement, said that they were in negotiations with the government and would not take the capital by force. The Afghan government had no immediate public response.

As Taliban forces set their sights on Kabul, the U.S. faces a harsh reality check: Its two-decade effort to turn Afghanistan's military into an effective fighting force has been an abject failure.

In the end, an Afghan military that did not believe in itself and a U.S. effort that President Biden no longer believed in "combined to bring an ignoble close to America's longest war," our reporters write in an analysis. These maps show the stunning speed of the Taliban advance after the U.S. began to withdraw in May.

The Taliban's military campaign has spurred a mass exodus, and many Afghans fear a return to extremist rule. When the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, they barred women and girls from taking most jobs or going to school, and practically made them prisoners in their own homes.

Les Cayes, Haiti, was one of two cities that reported major damage.Joseph Odelyn/Associated Press

2. A powerful earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 300 people and injuring at least 1,800.

The magnitude-7.2 quake flattened buildings and trapped people under rubble in at least two cities in the western part of the country. It struck about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince. "The streets are filled with screaming," an archdeacon said. "People are searching, for loved ones or resources, medical help, water."

The Biden administration, the United Nations and private relief agencies that operate in Haiti promised urgent help.

The disaster could not have come at a worse time for Haiti, which has been in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated last month, and has yet to recover fully from a 2010 quake that killed 220,000 people. Saturday's quake occurred along the same fault line.

A nursing home staff member in Washington, D.C., received a Covid vaccine shot in February.Kenny Holston for The New York Times

3. The White House is working on a plan to start offering Covid-19 vaccine boosters to some Americans as early as October.

With a stockpile of at least 100 million doses at the ready, the first boosters are likely to go to nursing home residents and health care workers, followed by other older people. Officials envision giving people a third dose of the same vaccine that they originally received. Scientists are still debating whether the extra shots are needed, but administration officials said they could not afford to wait to figure out the logistics of providing boosters to millions of people.

This week, the F.D.A. authorized third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for certain people with weakened immune systems and the C.D.C. recommended them.

Children and adults protested outside the school district building in Marietta, Ga., on Thursday.Audra Melton for The New York Times

4. It was going to be a relatively normal new school year. That was before the surge in the Delta variant.

There have been more than twice as many daily virus cases this week as there were one year ago, and pediatric hospitalizations are rising in many regions. Interviews with families across the country revealed a politicized, bewildering experience for many parents, students and educators. Parents are struggling to make decisions for their children: Vaccines? Masks? Online schooling?

Wealthy countries have become used to the idea that children are extremely rare pandemic victims. But the toll in developing countries tells a different story. In Indonesia, hundreds of children have died from Covid-19 in recent weeks amid a Delta surge.

The Alegria Inn in Mendocino relies on a water company to truck in drinking water.Max Whittaker for The New York Times

5. California's drought is revealing that even more than rain, it is money and infrastructure that will dictate who gets sufficient water.

The drought, and other effects of climate change, have drawn a bold line under the weaknesses of smaller communities with fewer resources. In towns along the Northern Coast that typically get much more rain, wells are running dry; in arid Southern California, reservoirs, built up through a century of planning and financial muscle, are nearly full.

Farther north, the Pacific Northwest's latest round of sweltering temperatures has exposed how communities built for mild summers are grossly unprepared for the extreme heat.

Many leading Republicans are changing their tune on climate change after a decade of denying it. That doesn't mean they're supporting cleaner energy.

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The relationship between Senator Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump has confounded many.Al Drago for The New York Times

6. Lindsey Graham once called Donald Trump "a race-baiting, xenophobic bigot." Now he's regularly golfing at Mar-a-Lago and advising the former president on his future.

The South Carolina senator believes that he alone can fix Trump and make him a unifying figure for Republicans to take back both houses of Congress next year. To get inside one of the unlikeliest relationships in politics, our reporters spoke with more than 60 people, and with the senator himself, and found "an infinitely adaptable operator seeking validation in the proximity to power."

Separately, since George Floyd's murder last year, books on race and racism have driven the publishing industry. Now, conservative publishers see gold in titles catering to the backlash, seizing on the firestorm over critical race theory at a time when the Republican Party plans to focus on culture-war issues in the 2022 midterm elections.

Mike Richards, Jeopardy's executive producer, will become the show's regular host.Carol Kaelson/Sony Pictures Entertainment

7. "It is a little like choosing a pope."

That's Ken Jennings, who rose to fame after winning a record 74 "Jeopardy!" games, on the search to replace the late Alex Trebek. Jennings was considered by many to be a shoo-in. But the decades-old game show has been rocked by drama over who would become the next host.

After a cattle call of rotating guest hosts, the announcement of Mike Richards, the show's obscure executive producer, as the winner sent fans into a tailspin. Critics accused him of rigging the contest, while some fans argued that a little-known host was a better outcome than a celebrity.

The business of high end ice cream is enough to give you a headache.Amy Lombard for The New York Times

8. There's never been a better time to eat ice cream — or a more cutthroat time to sell it.

By providing stay-at-home comfort during the pandemic, the $7 billion industry increased by 17 percent in 2020. Artisan ice cream is growing even faster than the mainstream varieties and is considered the industry's future. But the spoils of success have heightened competition in the $10-a-pint world.

For a frozen treat at home, try an affogato. Made with cold gelato (or ice cream) and warm espresso (or drip coffee), this Italian dessert merges two sublime pleasures in one glass.

Not everyone is a fan of this painting by Parmigianino. Critic Jason Farago is.

9. This painting by Parmigianino is weird, contrived and full of mis-scaled figures. Our critic Jason Farago explains why it's one of his favorites.

If you wanted to describe the "Madonna of the Long Neck" in a contemporary way, you could say that this painting is extra. The elongated neck and fingers of Mary, the stylized hair, the large Jesus who looks dead rather than sleeping. Yet the Italian artist, who was painting in the Mannerist style, knew exactly what he was doing, putting aside imitation and going over the top.

"The gracefulness, the artifice — or, let's say it, the pretension — demonstrated his cultivation," Farago explains in his latest Close Read.

Is live music back? Ask the AG Club fans at Lollapalooza.Jesse Lirola for The New York Times

10. And finally, at your leisure.

The return of live music (maybe). How your cup of coffee is clearing the jungle. A pivotal new study on metabolism. Read these and more in the latest edition of The Weekender.

Did you follow the news this week? Test your knowledge. And here's the front page of our Sunday paper, the Sunday Review from Opinion and today's Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. If you're in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Have a creative week.

David Poller compiled photos for this briefing.

Your Weekend Briefing is published Sundays at 6:30 a.m. Eastern.

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