Asia and Australia Edition: T.P.P., Facebook, Bashar al-Assad: Your Friday Briefing

The U.S. defense secretary, Jim Mattis, tried to walk back President Trump’s threats of an imminent strike, reflecting concerns at the Pentagon of stumbling into a wider conflict between Russia, Iran and the West.



Credit Lawrence Jackson for The New York Times

“Told you so.”

That’s the general sense from privacy experts on recent revelations about Facebook’s collection of user data. For the first time, users may be more willing to put up with inconveniences in return for a lot more privacy.

Here are the big takeaways from two days of congressional testimony by the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

And our podcast “The Daily” looks at Capitol Hill’s learning curve on tech.



Credit Franziska Barczyk

The activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who has called herself “Australia’s most publicly hated Muslim,” is back in her new home in London after being denied entry to the U.S. The reasoning: Payment for her planned speech at a writers’ conference in New York would violate her visitor’s visa.

She countered that she had made many such speeches in the U.S., entering on the same visa. “The system isn’t set up for people like me,” she posted on Twitter.

And in this week’s Australia Letter, readers share their views on how the #MeToo movement is affecting gender progress in a country often defined by its hypermasculinity.



Credit CPA/Picture Alliance

China’s premier architectural historians didn’t earn their distinction easily.

In the 1930s, the husband and wife team of Lin Huiyin and Liang Sicheng traveled to the most remote and difficult corners of China to survey and preserve ancient buildings.

Ms. Lin’s niece, the architect Maya Lin, said, “If it weren’t for them, we would have no record of so many ancient Chinese styles, which simply disappeared.”

Developers in Beijing were more concerned with progress. In 2012, under cover of night, they demolished the house where the couple had lived.



Credit Arun Sankar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

• India is the world’s largest importer of aircraft, ships and weapons, most of which are from Russia. Now, the U.S. wants to help New Delhi build its own defense industry — partly as a regional counterweight to China — and India is requiring that most of the new planes it buys be built domestically.

• Hijacked airplanes, prison breaks and evading serial killers are the stuff of nightmares, but immersive “escape room” games, borrowed from Japan, are increasingly popular in the U.S.

Victims of Bernie Madoff, the architect of one of Wall Street’s largest frauds, will receive another $504 million. With this second payout, about 21,000 people will have received more than $1.2 billion.

• U.S. stocks were up. Here’s a snapshot of global markets.

In the News

• New Zealand banned new offshore oil drilling. “When it comes to climate change, our plan is clear,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The move won’t halt exploration already underway. [The New York Times]

• A Laotian surrogate mother gave birth to a boy four years after his Chinese parents died in a car crash. “His eyes look like my daughter’s,” the maternal grandmother said. [The New York Times]

• A Tibetan man was arrested in Sweden on charges of spying for China. He is suspected of gathering information on Tibetan refugees and faces up to four years in jail. [A.P.]

• Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. [The New York Times]

• Two 12-foot minarets atop the Taj Mahal in northern India collapsed in 80 m.p.h. monsoon winds. [BBC]

• Protect the weird: The latest addition to one endangered species list is a green-haired Australian turtle that breathes through its genitals (sometimes). [The New York Times]

Smarter Living

Tips, both new and old, for a more fulfilling life.


Credit Craig Lee for The New York Times

• Recipe of the day: Tonight, enjoy time on the couch with homemade sour cream and onion dip.

• Can an online dating coach help you?

• Get the most out of your vitamins.



Credit Dean Swindell for The New York Times

• Australian Fare: Don’t mistake Gauge, nestled in the heart of Brisbane’s art precinct, for just another imitator of Attica, Ben Shewry’s Melbourne trendsetter. These chefs use the familiar repertoire of fermentation and native ingredients, but veer toward pleasure instead of gratuitous posturing.

• Black infants in the U.S. are more than twice as likely to die as white infants, a disparity wider than before the end of slavery. One cause: mothers’ suffering from living in a racist society.

The humble sweet potato colonized the world — and humans had nothing to do with it. A new study shows the nutrient-rich staple made it to Pacific islands from South America long before people could have played a part.

Back Story


Credit Kristina Cooke/Reuters

Today in 1976, the U.S. reintroduced a denomination that can still seem more curiosity than legal tender: the $2 bill.

It was first used in 1862 and briefly featured the likeness of Alexander Hamilton before being redesigned with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

Never very popular with the public, the bill was discontinued in 1966. A decade later, President Gerald Ford ceremonially traded a couple of singles for a two and expressed hope that it would finally catch on.

The bill’s many devotees love it for winning over bartenders, starting conversations and lending a little spark and humanity to cash transactions, one fan told The Times in 2014.

Companies have dispensed bonuses in twos so that the circulating bills show off their clout in local economies. A website records cashiers’ reactions, and there’s a documentary about “the deuce,” too.

But the bill remains so rare that the Treasury Department’s website has a reminder that it “is still a circulating denomination of United States paper currency.”

There are about a billion $2 bills out there, 3 percent of the total volume of notes. More are occasionally printed.

For his part, your Back Story writer recently received one in change at a newsstand and opted to pay it forward by spending it.

Penn Bullock contributed reporting.


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