BBC 2024-02-03 00:02:54


US strikes Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria

We now have a little more from General Douglas Sims, who says the US is “pretty confident” that the locations it struck were “pretty significant in degrading capability”.

As we’ve been reporting, the US launched strikes on 85 targets across seven locations – four in Syria and three in Iraq.

B1 bombers, which show lethal power across intercontinental range, were used in Friday’s retaliation. The full-scale impact is yet to be assessed.

“We will know better in terms of what [the bomb damage assessment] looks like tomorrow,” Gen Sims adds.

Biden attends transfer of US soldiers killed in Jordan

Biden attends transfer of US soldiers killed in Jordan

US President Joe Biden honoured the three Americans killed in Jordan at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin were among the other hight ranking officials at the dignified transfer.

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Georgia prosecutors in Trump case admit affair

Two Georgia prosecutors have rejected calls to take them off their election case against Donald Trump after acknowledging they had a relationship.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said conflict of interest claims were “salacious” and in “bad faith”.

Nathan Wade, an outside prosecutor Ms Willis appointed to the case, said in an affidavit the pair had “developed a personal relationship” in 2022.

Mr Trump and co-defendants want them disqualified from the case.

Friday’s filings were the first time the two prosecutors publicly acknowledged their relationship.

One of Mr Trump’s co-defendants, Mike Roman, has alleged the two prosecutors had an improper relationship and benefitted financially from the arrangement.

The accusations threaten to undermine the prosecution of the former president and his allies for an alleged conspiracy to reverse Georgia’s 2020 election results.

The former president seized on the admission, writing on Truth Social on Friday that “by going after the most high level person… she was able to get her ‘lover’ much more money”.

In her filing, Ms Willis argues that they do not meet the threshold for disqualification under Georgia state law.

She has asked Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the case, to reject legal efforts by defendants to remove her.

“The motions attempt to cobble together entirely unremarkable circumstances of special prosecutor Wade’s appointment with completely irrelevant allegations about his personal family life into a manufactured conflict of interest on the part of the district attorney,” she writes. “The effort must fail.”

The judge has scheduled a hearing for 15 February to address the claims.

In his affidavit, Mr Wade denied that his compensation for working on the case was shared with Ms Willis.

He said he never cohabitated, shared household expenses, or shared a joint account with Ms Willis. Mr Wade also said “expenses for personal travel were roughly divided equally between us”, and that they used personal funds for such expenses.

Ms Willis brought Mr Wade on board the investigation as a special prosecutor in 2021. Shortly afterwards, Mr Wade filed for divorce from his wife of two decades.

In January court filings, Mr Roman accused Mr Wade and Ms Willis of financially benefitting from an “improper, clandestine personal relationship”.

He alleged Mr Wade profited “significantly” at “the expense of the taxpayers” and, by extension, so did Ms Willis. The filing accuses them of taking lavish trips together.

The document does not provide concrete evidence of these claims.

Mr Trump and another co-defendant, Bob Cheeley, have since joined Mr Roman’s motion to disqualify the district attorney.

The defendants’ allegations have played out in tandem with Mr Wade’s divorce proceedings. His ex-wife, Joycelyn Wade, had filed a subpoena for Ms Willis to testify in their divorce.

The Wades settled their divorce on 30 January, shortly before a scheduled hearing.

If Mr Roman’s efforts succeed, it would deal a serious blow to Ms Willis’ case.

“A disqualification poses a real danger to the work done by the Fulton County DA’s Office,” Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor at Georgia State University College of Law, told the BBC.

The legal threshold to successfully remove Ms Willis and her office from the case over a conflict of interest is high, he said.

But if the defendants were successful, the entire Fulton County District Attorney’s office would have to be removed from the case and another office appointed in their place, Prof Kreis said.

In that scenario, “it is possible that the trials proceed without any noticeable shifts in strategy,” he said. “Or the new prosecutor could make light plea deals or even give up on the endeavour entirely.”

Ten of the best films to watch in February

Including The Taste of Things, How to Have Sex and a documentary about Albert Einstein and the Manhattan Project – this month’s unmissable movies to watch and stream.

(Credit: Magnolia Pictures)

1. The Promised Land

The Promised Land didn’t get any Oscar nominations, but if Nicolaj Arcel’s sweeping, gritty-yet-accessible 18th-Century epic had been in English rather than Danish, it would have won awards aplenty. The always-brilliant Mads Mikkelsen stars as a retired army captain who dreams of being seen as a nobleman. His plan is to cultivate a tract of supposedly unfarmable scrubland in honour of King Frederik V. But if the heath itself weren’t hostile enough, he also has to contend with a spiteful local aristocrat (Simon Bennebjerg) who doesn’t want this scruffy soldier encroaching on his territory. “The Promised Land makes for a gripping man-versus-wilderness survival story with unmistakable political undertones, but it’s also nimble enough to allow romance to blossom under its slate-grey skies,” says Phil de Semleyn in Time Out. Arcel has “crafted a kind of Danish The Last of the Mohicans that’s full of passion and political conviction. It should stand the test of time almost as well as its rugged hero.”

Released on 2 February in the US & 16 February in the UK, Ireland and Sweden

(Credit: MUBI)

2. How to Have Sex

Three British schoolgirls go on holiday together without any parental supervision, and look forward to a week of wild adventures in a Greek party resort. It could be the premise of a raucous teen comedy, and for a while that’s what Molly Manning Walker’s directorial debut seems to be: the noisy, boozy chaos of a hedonistic nightclub has rarely been recreated so convincingly, or so funnily, on the big screen. But things become more unsettling when one girl (Mia McKenna-Bruce) feels herself being pushed towards losing her virginity. One of the year’s best films, How To Have Sex is “an unflinching but empathetic look at consent, violation, and the surrounding grey areas of sexual experience,” says Isaac Feldberg at RogerEbert.com. “This is fresh, passionate, and remarkably assured filmmaking, made with ample energy and even more exhilarating clarity of vision.”

Released on 2 February in the US, 9 February in Canada, and 15 February in Netherlands

(Credit: Neon Rated)

3. Perfect Days

A quiet character study of a middle-aged man who cleans Tokyo’s public toilets, and who spends his spare time tending plants and reading paperbacks? It may not sound like a must-see, but Perfect Days is a delightful return to form by Wim Wenders, the 78-year-old director of Paris, Texas and The Buena Vista Social Club. It has been nominated for best international feature at the Oscars, and its star, Koji Yakusho, won the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year. “The director has crafted a film of deceptive simplicity,” says David Rooney at the Hollywood Reporter, “observing the tiny details of a routine existence with such clarity, soulfulness and empathy that they build a cumulative emotional power almost without you noticing. It’s also disarming in its absence of cynicism, unmistakably the work of a mature filmmaker thinking long and hard about the things that make life meaningful.”

Released on 7 February in the US, 9 February in Ireland and 23 February in the UK

(Credit: IFC Films)

4. The Taste of Things

Anyone with an appetite for “foodie films” should tuck into this most lavish of cinematic banquets. Tran Anh Hung’s warm-hearted French drama is set in 1885 in the idyllic rural kitchen of Dodin Bouffant (Benoit Magimel), the so-called “Napoleon of the culinary arts”. He spends his days preparing gourmet feasts for his friends, with the invaluable help of a loyal cook, Eugénie (Juliette Binoche). The pair have been happily in love for years, but Dodin may have to take his gastronomie to new heights if he is ever to persuade Eugénie to marry him. “An instant candidate for one of the greatest culinary films of all time, The Taste of Things is a romance at its heart,” says Alissa Wilkinson at Vox. Yet “the focus… is the food: what it means, what it sounds like, what it feels like, how it sizzles, how the taste can prompt emotions so profound in the taster that it can’t be put into words.”

Released on 9 February in the US, 14 February in the UK and 16 February in Ireland

(Credit: Netflix)

5. Einstein and the Bomb

Some of the key scenes in Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer involve Albert Einstein (Tom Conti), including the one that brings the film to its blood-freezing conclusion. Now a Netflix documentary delves further into Einstein’s feelings about the Manhattan Project. Directed by Anthony Philipson, Einstein and the Bomb explores his horror at the rise of Nazism in Germany, his emigration to the United States in 1933, the letter he co-signed to the US president, recommending that they begin research into nuclear weaponry, and the aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film mixes archive footage with dramatisations, in which Einstein is played by Aidan McArdle, and the dialogue is taken directly from things the scientist said or wrote. “I made one great mistake in my life,” he says in the trailer. “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would not have taken part in opening that Pandora’s box.”

Released on 16 February on Netflix

(Credit: Paramount Pictures)

6. Bob Marley: One Love

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s last film was King Richard, a biopic that bagged Will Smith an Oscar for best actor. (You might remember what happened at the ceremony.) Green has followed it up with another biopic, this time of Bob Marley. “Instead of cradle to grave,” says BBC Culture’s Caryn James, “[the film] focuses on the years 1976-77, when Marley was politically active, trying to unify divided factions in Jamaica, and surviving an assassination attempt, all while preparing for his huge One Love Peace Concert in 1978.” Lashana Lynch from No Time to Die and Matilda the Musical plays Rita, the reggae legend’s wife, and Bob himself is played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, who was Malcolm X in One Night In Miami. He’s certainly put in the work. “Looking back, I may as well have been learning to play a part in French,” he told Tom Lamont in The Guardian. “I was building my understanding of Bob’s language from the ground up; the dialect, the flow, the intonation, the feel. Jamaican patois is deceptive. So much of the English language is in it, you think you know it. But it’s more confusing and complicated than that.”

On general release from 14 February

(Credit: Universal)

7. Drive-Away Dolls

The Coen brothers wrote and directed 18 feature films together before they eventually decided it was time for a change. Joel went on to make a black-and-white version of Macbeth, and now Ethan has directed his own solo film, Drive-Away Dolls, which he co-wrote with his wife (and the film’s editor), Tricia Cooke. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan star as two lesbian friends who are chased by bungling gangsters when they go on a road trip. Violent farces and incompetent crooks are nothing new to the Coens, but in this instance the characters’ sexuality – and the number of sex scenes – distinguishes Drive-Away Dolls from anything that Joel and Ethan have done. “It’s a queer kind of caper that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Cooke told Tamera Jones of Collider, “and that’s very lighthearted and fun and kind of outrageous at times – perverse, sexual, all of those things.”

Released on 23 February in the US, Canada, Spain and Poland

(Credit: Focus Features)

8. Lisa Frankenstein

Diablo Cody followed her Oscar- and Bafta-winning debut screenplay, Juno, with the script for Jennifer’s Body, a horror comedy that put black magic into a high-school setting. Seventeen years on, Diablo has done something similar with her latest film, Lisa Frankenstein. Kathryn Newton stars as Lisa, a teenager who meets her dream man (Cole Sprouse) in a small town in 1989. The only snag is that he happens to be a reanimated corpse whose rotting body parts keep dropping off. It’s up to Lisa to replace them, even if that means hacking the limbs off some other local boys. “It was funny to me how the whole Frankenstein narrative was co-opted in the ’80s by movies like Weird Science where they were like, ‘What if we could create the perfect woman?'” Cody tells Empire magazine. “You see that theme across genres, and I felt like nobody was making a ‘building a man’ movie except The Rocky Horror Picture Show… I thought: ‘What if a teenage girl had the ultimate sensitive guy who can’t talk?'”

Released on 9 February in the US, Canada and Finland, 22 February in Germany

(Credit: Universal)

9. Argylle

Matthew Vaughn, the director of the Kingsman films, has made another espionage action comedy – and this one has an even loopier high concept. Bryce Dallas Howard stars in Argylle as Elly, a shy author who writes spy novels featuring a 007-alike secret agent (Henry Cavill). But then a genuine 007-alike secret agent (Sam Rockwell) tells her that the plots of her books tend to predict what happens in the real world, so now he needs her to work out what a mysterious crime syndicate is planning. The question is, can the tricksy premise of Vaughn’s film compete with the behind-the-scenes rumours? When the producers published a spin-off novel, some Taylor Swift fans speculated that it was actually written by her. “I don’t normally [see fan theories] but the Taylor Swift one came up on my radar cause my daughter told me off for not telling her,” Vaughn told Hope Sloop at Entertainment Tonight. “She said, ‘You’re not cool, dad. You’ve got to introduce me,’ and I said ‘I do not know Taylor. It is not true.'”

On general release from 2 February

(Credit: Sony Pictures Classic)

10. Madame Web

Spider-Man has joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe owned by Disney, but various supporting characters from the Spider-Man comics are still a part of the co-called Sony Spider-Man Universe. What this confusing state of affairs means is that Sony films such as Venom and Morbius can have Spider-Man-ish superheroes and supervillains in them, but they don’t feature Spidey himself. Later this year, two more SSU films are due to be released, Venom 3 and Kraven the Hunter. In the meantime, Madame Web stars Dakota Johnson as the conveniently named Cassandra Webb, a New York paramedic who acquires the ability to see the future. This puts her at odds with a Spider-Man-ish baddie (Tahar Rahim) who is trying to kill three Spider-Man-ish women (Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor and Isabela Merced). Let’s hope the film is more successful than the first trailer, which became notorious for one clunky line of dialogue: “He was in the Amazon with my mum when she was researching spiders, right before she died.”

On general release from 14 February

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How Grundsaudaag became Groundhog Day

You say Groundhog Day, I say Grundsaudaag: how German and Swiss settlers in Pennsylvania created a new language – and a much-loved American holiday.
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Every 2 February since at least 1886, people have been gathering in the Pennsylvanian town of Punxsutawney to watch a groundhog – a furry rodent – crawl out of a hole after its winter sleep. If the day is sunny and the groundhog sees its own shadow, there will be six more weeks of cold weather, according to legend – but if it’s a cloudy day, and there is no shadow, spring has arrived. Across the US, the quirky tradition is known as Groundhog Day. But among its original celebrants, it has a different name: Grundsaudaag.

At first glance, Grundsaudaag may look like an ancient German word. Instead, it is actually an example of Pennsylvania Dutch, a Germanic language that emerged in the 18th Century and is now mostly used by the Amish and Mennonite religious communities. Due to the rapid growth of the Amish population, which numbers almost 380,000 people and for whom the language has a special spiritual and cultural significance, this relatively little-known language is in fact thriving and growing.

So what exactly is Pennsylvania Dutch? And how is it linked to Groundhog Day?

“As a linguist and language enthusiast, I love all languages. But there is something special about the language of my heritage, the one spoken to me when I was a child,” says Rose Fisher, a PhD candidate in German linguistics and language science at the Pennsylvania State University.

Fisher grew up in the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her family left the community when she was 11, and now mostly uses English, she says. Even so, she adds, “I love to hear Pennsylvania Dutch being spoken around me and hope that someday I will be around it more, and more comfortable speaking it again. For me, it means I am home.” She and her family still use certain Pennsylvania Dutch words when speaking English “because they refer to concepts that do not exist in the English-speaking world. One that comes to mind is ‘gluschdich’ which means ‘I am not hungry but I feel like eating!'”

An Amish buggy in Middlebury, Indiana. Using horse-drawn buggies is part of the Amish concept of plainness, which also includes speaking Pennsylvania Dutch (Credit: Getty Images)

Historically, the “Dutch” part of Pennsylvania Dutch referred to various Germanic languages in Central and Western Europe, including German, says Mark Louden, a professor of Germanic linguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language.

“Pennsylvania Dutch has always been a hybrid language,” he says, adding that like the American culture it is part of, it incorporates influences from a variety of sources.

In the 18th Century, over the space of several decades, a group of around 81,000 people moved to America from the conflict-ravaged German region of the Palatinate (Pfalz in German), Louden says. Among them were a few hundred followers of Jakob Ammann, a Swiss religious leader. They had left Switzerland and settled in Alsace and Palatinate, but were now on the move again – to Pennsylvania, a religiously tolerant colony, where they would become known as the Amish.

In the 1780s, Louden says, the first historical descriptions appeared of “a very curious form of German” being spoken in rural south-eastern Pennsylvania. Its speakers were the children of those first Palatine settlers, who had grown up hearing their parents’ different Palatine dialects, as well as English words from others in the area. Those American-born children were therefore the first native speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch, Louden says.

The English influence was crucial, Louden says: “Essentially all Pennsylvania Dutch speakers have been bilingual.” Some 15-20% of Pennsylvania Dutch words are English-derived, he adds. Louden gives the example of an American delicacy that was adopted with great enthusiasm by Pennsylvania Dutch speakers: pie. The sweet, fruit-filled, covered pastry was different from German cakes. They referred to it as “Der Pei“, while using “Der Kuche” for German-style cakes. Among Pennsylvania Dutch people who were not Amish or Mennonite, the use of the language faded as people moved to the cities, Louden says.

However, it lives on among the Amish, says Fisher, who has studied Amish attitudes and identity in relation to the language. One possible reason this has occurred, according to research by her and others, is that it helps set the community apart from mainstream, secular society.

“Pennsylvania Dutch is still spoken as the main source of communication for many Amish and Old Order Mennonite groups,” says Fisher. “There is huge diversity between the different groups, so it is difficult to make sweeping generalisations about all of them.” She gives the example of the Swartzentruber Amish, a very conservative community who “speak Pennsylvania Dutch pretty much exclusively and use English only if they need to communicate with outsiders.” Other groups may however use English much more frequently and proficiently: “In the group that I come from, the Lancaster Amish, English is even preferred by some. I don’t know of anyone, except very young children, who have any difficulty whatsoever communicating in English.”

WATCH: Punxsutawney Phil is not the only furry forecaster

The origins of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is perhaps one of the Pennsylvania Dutch community’s most well-known cultural inventions – although the Amish themselves do not celebrate it, since it is not a religious holiday. As with the language, Groundhog Day emerged from a mix of influences.

“The origins of Groundhog Day are fascinating,” says Louden. “It goes back to a pre-Christian tradition of looking forward to spring.” People would try to predict the arrival of spring by observing when ground-dwelling animals such as badgers emerge from hibernation. In northern European countries, these older traditions were then overlaid with the Christian holiday of Lichtmess (Candlemas) on 2 February, Louden says, which the Pennsylvania Dutch also celebrated. As a rural community, they also engaged in various other practices that honoured “the wisdom of nature”, Louden says, such as Braucherei, a kind of folk medicine.

In their new environment, the settlers adapted this nature-watching, weather-forecasting ritual to a creature that didn’t exist back home: the North American groundhog. Since they had no word for it, they called it “Die Grundsau“, a translation of the English “Groundhog”. Another word is “Grunddachs“, meaning “ground-badger”. These words are completely different from the European German word for groundhog: “Murmeltier”, or more specifically, “Waldmurmeltier” (“forest-marmot”).

The groundhog also fitted well with a core Pennsylvania Dutch value, Louden says: “Demut”, humility.

“The groundhog is considered an icon of wisdom, not in the sense of book learning, but in the sense of ‘schlau’, clever, from practical experience,” says Louden. It symbolises a way of life that values humility over striving, competition and materialism, he adds. “The groundhog is about as uncool an animal as it gets. It’s not like a lion, a bear or an eagle – it’s a rodent. So the Pennsylvania Dutch have embraced that, without planning, as a nice expression of humility.”

To illustrate this, he gives the example of a Pennsylvania Dutch poem honouring both the groundhog, and practical knowledge. (If you want to know what Pennsylvania Dutch sounds like, you can listen to a recording of Louden reading the poem):

Die Grundsau kummt gewehnlich raus am zwette Daag im Hanning;

Vum Wedder wees sie meh wie mir un hot doch gaar ken Lanning.

Nau wann sie do ken Schadde sehnt, dann watt des Wedder widder schee,

Doch scheint die Sunn, dann wees sie schun, mer griege widder Schnee.

It translates into English as:

The groundhog usually comes out on the second day in February;

It knows more about the weather than we do and yet has no education.

Now if it doesn’t see its shadow here, then the weather will get nice again,

But if the Sun shines, then it knows we will get snow again. 

LISTEN: Mark Louden reads Die Grundsau

Fisher says that while the Amish generally do not celebrate Groundhog Day, in her own family, there was ancestral knowledge of it: “My dad has said that my grandma (his mother) put a lot of stock into it and always knew whether the groundhog had seen his shadow or not.” 

Perhaps helped by its friendly symbolism, the holiday has spread through wider US culture – even though the groundhog’s predictions are a bit hit and miss.

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Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Dutch language itself may be more vulnerable than the population growth numbers suggest. Speaking about her own community, the Lancaster Amish, Fisher says: “They do generally view the language as an important part of their religious and ethnic identity. Some also value bilingualism as such. There are some, typically younger people, though, who do not value the language overly much.” Within the community, the importance of maintaining the language is a topic of discussion, she says, and some try to convince others to speak it more to prevent it from being lost.

In any case, Pennsylvania Dutch – or Deitsch as its speakers call it – has already left a wider mark, not just in terms of holidays, but also in the way English is spoken, says Fisher.

“I grew up saying things like ‘What for dog is that?’ meaning ‘Whose dog is that?’ or ‘Where did that dog come from?’. This is a word-for-word translation of the phrase we would use in Pennsylvania Dutch,” Fisher writes. “These Dutchisms are very common in the English used by people from Lancaster [the Amish community] whether or not they speak Pennsylvania Dutch. It has had a huge impact on the local dialect of English.”

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