Your Wednesday Briefing

The Taliban appoint hard-liners to top posts

The Taliban announced a caretaker government on Tuesday, taking a major step in re-establishing their Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and empowering many of the movement’s loyalists from their regime in the 1990s.

After weeks of assurances from Taliban leaders that they would usher in a moderate and inclusive style of governing, most of the acting appointments were senior figures who served in similar roles decades ago.

It was a sign that the theocratic, conservative core of the Taliban remained unchanged. All were men, several of whom are listed by the U.S. and U.N. as terrorists. Few were non-Pashtun.

The announcement came hours after the Taliban used force to break up a demonstration by hundreds of people in Kabul.

Details: Mullah Mohammad Hassan, a founding member of the Taliban, was named acting prime minister. Top security posts went to young, relative newcomers. More appointments were coming.

What’s ahead: U.S. aid is still frozen, and many of the new leaders are under sanctions. Other nations are waiting to see if the Taliban will respect rights for women and minorities. Basic services like electricity are under threat, and there are food and cash shortages.

Vaccinations highlight E.U.’s East-West divide

More than 70 percent of adults in the E.U. have been fully vaccinated. But some Eastern European countries are lagging far behind.

Bulgaria and Romania have fully vaccinated less than a third of their adult populations, compared with rates of 80 percent in Belgium, Denmark and Portugal. Those Eastern countries, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, have also some of the highest excess mortality rates across the bloc.

Scarcity of doses is no longer an issue. Instead, misinformation, distrust of the authorities and ignorance about the benefits seem to be behind the low numbers in Central and Eastern Europe.

The W.H.O. warned last month that 230,000 people in Europe could die of the coronavirus by December, in part because of slowed vaccination rates and a lack of proactive government measures.

Troubled E.U. neighbors: Just 23 percent of Albania’s population has been fully vaccinated; that number falls to 11 percent in Georgia and 3 percent in Armenia.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

The U.S. surpassed 40 million recorded coronavirus infections.

A focus on the pandemic set back the fight against H.I.V., tuberculosis and malaria, according to a new report.

Inflation has surged across advanced economies, fueled by consumer demand, shortages and other pandemic-related factors.

Merkel pleads with voters to back conservatives

With her party polling at record lows before the election to replace her, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany made her strongest statement about the campaign yet.

In what was most likely her last speech to Germany’s Parliament, Merkel on Tuesday pleaded with Germans to pick her Christian Democratic Party’s candidate, Armin Laschet, over the center-left Social Democratic Party’s. “His government will stand for stability, reliably and moderation, and that is exactly what Germany needs.”

She has distanced herself from Olaf Scholz, her own deputy and a Social Democrat. Merkel denies his claims to be the true successor to her tenure.

Context: Since late July, the Christian Democratic Party has been dropping in the polls, while Laschet has struggled to overcome a series of gaffes that sent his popularity plunging.

Strategy: Laschet has started warning that a government led by Scholz could shift the country leftward. Germany’s left has questioned whether NATO should exist.

THE LATEST NEWS

Climate News

President Biden warned that Hurricane Ida’s destruction was a sign of a world “in peril” from climate change. He was visiting Queens, N.Y., above, a week after the storm killed more than 40 people in the Northeast and razed homes.

More than 200 leading health and medical journals published an editorial calling for swift action against climate change. They warned of “catastrophic harm to health.”

Europe had its warmest summer on record, E.U. scientists said on Tuesday. The average temperature from June to August was close to 1 degree Celsius above the 1991-2020 average.

A group of activists called for international U.N. climate talks scheduled for November in Scotland to be postponed over coronavirus concerns.

Other News

Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that making abortion a crime was unconstitutional. Above, cheers in Pachuca, Mexico, in June after Hidalgo state lifted penalties for elective abortion.

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil convened large rallies across the country on Tuesday, which critics fear could be a prelude to a power grab.

Britney Spears’s father, James Spears, filed a petition to end the conservatorship that has controlled her finances and much of her life since 2008.

The Chinese authorities released a former Alibaba manager who had been accused of rape by a co-worker after prosecutors declined to charge him, deepening the country’s #MeToo debate.

El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.

Daniil Medvedev advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals, and Leylah Fernandez, the 19-year-old player from Canada, beat the No. 3 Elina Svitolina.

A Morning Read

Ever wondered how cats got their stripes?

In 1952, the famous code breaker Alan Turing laid the groundwork for the field of mathematical biology in a paper. Turing described what is known as a reaction diffusion process in which two chemicals — one that stimulates growth and one that inhibits it — can result in regular, alternating patterns.

Now, a team of geneticists has discovered that this process plays a key role in creating the traditional tabby stripe pattern of some domestic cats. The pattern is evident even in embryonic tissue.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Two decades of oddball TV

No one expected Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s nighttime adult programming block, to be a success. But over the past 20 years, it has become a home for bizarro humor, with shows like “Rick and Morty” and “Tuca & Bertie” enjoying cult followings.

Cartoon Network executives knew some adults watched their channel, but the network did not have much of a budget to make original content aimed at them. The result was simple, lo-fi animation that attracted out-of-the-box ideas, including a show starring a talking wad of meat (“Aqua Teen Hunger Force”) and a cheesy talk show hosted by a Hanna-Barbera superhero (“Space Ghost Coast to Coast”).

The production wasn’t glamorous: The editor of Adult Swim’s first original series worked from a closet. A celebrity guest on that series, unaware of the strangeness he had signed up for, walked out mid-taping. But the audience grew, and the shows stayed weird.

“There were moments we’d laugh so hard we’d literally cry because we loved our work so much,” Eric Wareheim, a show creator, said. “We were doing things we’d never seen before in comedy or on TV.” To go behind the scenes at Adult Swim, read Sarah Bahr’s article.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

This sheet-pan salmon is topped with a pantry-friendly version of rich, sweet-salty XO sauce.

What to Watch

These five science-fiction movies investigate what makes us human.

What to Listen To

“Máscaras,” the new album from the Nicaraguan Canadian producer Mas Aya, demonstrates that political expression can be found in immersive moments of stillness.

Now Time to Play

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Tall white hat for a chef (five letters).

And here is the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me. — Melina

P.S. Here’s how your reader comments improve our journalism.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about what the Taliban’s rule might look like.

Matthew Cullen helped write this briefing. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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