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How a powerful message from the world’s oldest tree saved a man from a midlife crisis

By Oliver Gunther

I was a teenager when my parents, whose birthdays were very close together, celeb..

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By Oliver Gunther

I was a teenager when my parents, whose birthdays were very close together, celebrated their fortieth birthday. I thought, “Forty. Man, that’s old.”

I am now a few days away from turning that same age and I am feeling it. It’s an odd age to anticipate.

It’s like standing on the dividing line — the precipice — of the average human life span.

The lines on my face are coming in like teeth. White licks are showing up in my hair. I’m fit, but when I wipe out on my mountain bike and get wounded, it takes noticeably longer to mend.

Perhaps my wife saw a train wreck coming. She watched me carefully; she could smell the impending mid-life-crisis. And so, in a wise preemptive strike, she decided to take me to the oldest living being known to humankind.

We flew into Las Vegas, drove through Death Valley, and then passed through the Owens Valley — with the Sierra Nevada Mountains flanking us on one side and the White Mountains of California on the other.

Inyo National Park was closed in April, which meant that we had to hike from the gate at the main road, head high up in the mountains into the Bristlecone Pine groves. We had the park to ourselves.

The temperature was two degrees Celsius, and the air was very thin at an altitude of 3353 meters. My breathing was laboured, as though I had been running. But the air smelled of wild lavender and it was as refreshing.

As we ascended, the clouds closed in on us with a light drizzle, but then gave way to the sun. There was still snow on the ground, as deep as sixty centimetres in some snowdrifts.

After an hour of hiking uphill, we caught our first glimpse of one of the most ancient forests in the world, where the trees are thousands of years old. The forest seemed enchanted, as though the trees were going to start walking or talking, or something else equally surreal.

Maria and I walked along the path of the Bristlecone Pine grove, zigzagging up and down hills, walking past old survivors.

There too were the remains of the ones that didn’t make it, still defiant.

Bristlecone

Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest near Bishop, California. With some at over 4,700 years old, they are the oldest trees in the World. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Bristlecone Pines can stand dead for centuries because nature’s clean-up crew of fungi, bacteria and insects aren’t welcome here, leaving the process of decomposition severely impeded.

I took some time to examine those dead trees. Some of them were quite small, and probably no more than a few centuries old — babies.

I wondered what had gone wrong for them. Maybe disease, or maybe one year was just too dry to bear. I know I have taken my own health for granted. I have to stop that.

We followed the path until we came to a clearing on the hillside where the forest stopped. Out in the open, far from the forest stood a single, living tree. You see, the longest lasting Bristlecone Pines are those that exist in exile from the rest.

There stood the oldest living being on this planet (and if Earth is the sole retainer of life in the Universe, then this tree is the oldest living being of All).

Both Maria and I stopped in our tracks. We felt we were in the presence of something extraordinary. But it was just a tree standing there, not doing anything but surviving — surviving for just short of 5,000 years.

That old Bristlecone Pine, named Methuselah after the oldest patriarch in the bible, has stood in that one spot up in the Inyo National Forest for over 4,770 years. It stood high when Pharaohs were building pyramids to testify that they, too, were once alive.

I hurried down the hill to see Methuselah up-close. I ran my fingers across one of his dead branches. The bare wood, stripped of bark and polished by the elements over many years, felt as smooth as an expensive marble. I caressed the bark that kept him alive, and stroked the soft pines on his branches. I was profoundly moved.

I had read all about the bristlecone pine. Prior to the trip into the White Mountains of California, I drove my wife crazy about the old pine that doesn’t know how to die. I prattled on about mundane statistics: the ancient being stands approximately 8 metres tall, with a girth of nearly 3.35 metres.

Methuselah still has every sign of life as he is still growing, and he is still fecund. The Sierra Nevada Mountain range steals all the moisture given from the ocean, leaving the Bristlecone Pines high and dry. In the course of a year, the tree’s thirst is quenched with approximately 25 centimetres of precipitation, the majority of it drifting down during the winter.

Methuselah

“It was just a tree standing there, not doing anything but surviving — surviving for just short of 5,000 years.” (Chao Yen/Flickr)

Scientists claim that Bristlecone Pines have no genetic coding for senility, no trigger for degeneration. If conditions remain adequate, this old thing could stand there in that one spot high upon the Earth until the sun explodes into a supernova.

It is puzzling that anything could survive, with this kind of longevity, in such an inhospitable environment. Paradoxically, it is the harsh elements at this altitude that allow these sculptures of nature to prevail: the dry, thin air limits the growth of fungi, bacteria, and insects that can invade a tree; the dolomite stones, the size of a woman’s hand, reflect sunlight, keeping the roots cool and moist.

There is little competition for the scant surrounding recourses, allowing the Bristlecone Pine to sprawl out its root system with a firm grip, squeezing out any nourishment it can from the stingy ground.

This struggle to stay alive in the harshest of conditions — and the success of it — had me feeling feeble, lucky and spoiled.

Maria came down from the edge of the forest and joined me. Together we stood at Methuselah’s side, humbled by nature, dwarfed by time.

I directed a smile of gratitude toward her for putting my milestone birthday in a completely new light.

Click ‘listen’ above to hear the essay.

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Qatar rejects Amnesty’s assertion that labour reforms have not translated on ground

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thepeninsulaqatar– The Ministry of Labour has issued a statement in response to Amnesty’s report “Reality Check 2021: A Year to the 2022 WorldCup”, stating that Qatar rejects its assertion that labour reforms have not translated into changes on the ground for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.

The statement is as follows:

Qatar rejects Amnesty’s assertion that labour reforms have not translated into changes on the ground for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.

Amnesty fails to document a single story from among the 242,870 workers who have successfully changed jobs since barriers were removed in September 2020, or from the more than 400,000 workers who have directly benefitted from the new minimum wage through salary increases and other financial incentives.

Since exit permits were removed in 2018, hundreds of thousands of workers have left Qatar and returned without permission from their employer; improvements to the Wage Protection System now protect more than 96 percent of eligible workers from wage abuse; new visa centres in labour-sending countries have significantly reduced exploitative practices before workers arrive in Qatar; and new rules extend the ban on summer working to minimise the effects of heat stress.

Qatar has also strengthened its enforcement measures to safeguard workers and prosecute employers who fail to comply with the law. The number of inspectors employed by the Ministry of Labour has increased year on year, as has their capacity to thoroughly investigate working conditions and refer violators for sentencing in the labour courts.

In the first half of 35,280,2021 accommodation and worksite inspections were carried out and 13,724 penalties were issued to violating companies, including worksite closures, fines and prison sentences. A further 4,840 site visits were made by labour inspectors to raise awareness of the new laws among employers and employees.

Every year, more companies are held accountable for violating the law. Systemic reform is a long-term process and shifting the behaviour of every company takes time. Through its actions, the government is sending a strong message to companies that violations will not be tolerated.

Qatar has never shied away from acknowledging that its labour system is still a work in progress. The government is committed to engaging collaboratively and constructively with international partners and critics to further improve standards for all migrant workers in Qatar

Qatar will therefore continue to consult with international experts including the ILO and trade unions. International NGOs will also be routinely consulted to provide their recommendations.

The reality is that no other country has come so far in such a short amount of time. Following Qatar’s lead, and as a sign of the programme’s wider impact, other countries in the region have now taken steps to introduce their own labour reforms.

Labour reform is a complex task, and Qatar believes that solutions are best found through dialogue and engagement. For this reason, and despite Amnesty’s criticism, Qatar will continue to work constructively with a range of labour experts and practitioners to build on the progress that has been made.

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Myanmar election body charges Suu Kyi with electoral fraud

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independent– Myanmar’s state election commission announced it is prosecuting the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud in last November’s general election.

The announcement was published Tuesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper and other official media.

Allegations of widespread electoral fraud were the main reason cited by the military for its Feb. 1 seizure of power that toppled Suu Kyi’s government. Her National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after its landslide victory in the polls. The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party suffered unexpectedly heavy losses.

Independent observers, such as the Asian Network for Free Elections, found no evidence of substantive irregularities in the polls, though they criticized some aspects.

The action by the Union Election Commission could potentially result in Suu Kyi’s party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover. However, the commission’s notice, dated Monday, did not specify which laws would be used to prosecute the accused.

In May, the military-appointed new head of the election commission said his agency would consider dissolving Suu Kyi’s former governing party for alleged involvement in electoral fraud and have its leaders charged with treason. Commission Chairman Thein Soe said an investigation had determined that the party had worked illegally with the government to give itself an advantage at the polls.

After taking power, the military dismissed the members of the election commission that had certified the results of last year’s poll and appointed new ones. It also detained members of the old commission, and, according to reports in independent Myanmar media, pressured them to state there had been election fraud.

The new commission declared last year’s election’s results invalid.

The new notice from the commission said Suu Kyi, former President Win Myint, other leading figures in her party and the commission’s former chairman were “involved in electoral processes, election fraud and lawless actions” related to the polls.

It accused 16 people of carrying out illegal actions, including compelling local election officials to obstruct military polling booths, threatening such officials in connection with advance voting for voters over 60 years old, forcing local officials to approve voting lists that included ineligible voters and interfering in campaigning to favor Suu Kyi’s party.

Suu Kyi is already on trial or charged in about a dozen criminal cases in which a conviction would almost certainly bar her from running for office again. Several of her top political allies also have been tried or are facing charges. Suu Kyi’s supporters as well as independent rights organizations contend that the cases are spurious and meant to discredit Suu Kyi and her party while legitimizing military rule.

Dissolving Suu Kyi’s party would follow a regional trend of dissolving popular political parties seen as a threat to governments in power.

Cambodia’s high court in 2017 dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party the sole credible opposition force, ahead of a 2018 general election.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court in 2020 dissolved the newly formed Future Forward Party, which had won the third highest number of seats in the lower house in the 2019 general election.

In both the Cambodian and Thai cases, the courts cited specific violations of the law for their rulings, but their actions were widely seen as reflecting political pressures.

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More than 20 killed in attack on Kabul military hospital

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bbc– More than 20 people have been killed and at least 16 injured in a gun and bomb assault on a military hospital in the Afghan capital Kabul.

Attackers targeted the 400-bed Sardar Daud Khan hospital starting with two massive explosions outside the building, officials said.

Gunmen then broke into the hospital grounds, witnesses said.

An affiliate of the Islamic State group, IS-K, later said it had carried out the attack.

Photographs and video footage from Kabul showed a plume of smoke over the area and recorded the sounds of gunfire. A doctor in the building told the AFP news agency he had been sent to seek shelter in a safe room during the attack and could hear guns being fired.

Sayed Ahad told broadcaster EVN that one of the blasts was a suicide attack.

“As an Afghan citizen, I am really tired of this war, suicide and explosions,” he said. “How long do we have to endure this misery?”

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The Taliban spokesman, Bilal Karimi, told the BBC that fighters from IS-K had entered the compound after detonating the first explosion at the entrance gate.

Mr Karimi said Taliban fighters shot and killed four IS-K attackers and captured one alive.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid meanwhile told Reuters news agency that Taliban special forces dropped by helicopter had stopped the attackers from entering the hospital itself, killing them at the entrance or in the building’s courtyard. All the assailants were killed in 15 minutes, he said.

Witnesses quoted by Reuters said they saw two helicopters over the area during the assault. The news agency reports that this would be one of the first times Taliban forces have used aircraft captured from the previous, Western-backed government during an operation.

The attack is the latest to hit Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control in August, after the US withdrew its last troops from the country.

IS-K, which stands for Islamic State Khorasan, has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks targeting civilians and Taliban fighters.

In August, a bombing by IS-K at Kabul international airport in August killed more than 150 civilians and 13 US soldiers.

The Sardar Daud Khan hospital has been targeted before. More than 30 people were killed and 50 others wounded in 2017 when gunmen dressed as doctors stormed the building. That attack was also claimed by the Islamic State group.

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