BBC 2024-02-06 00:02:03


King Charles diagnosed with cancer, Buckingham Palace says

Earlier we heard from US President Joe Biden, who was asked about his reaction to King Charles’s diagnosis during a campaign event earlier. You can watch what he said above.

Biden – who lost his son, Beau, to cancer – also later released a heartfelt message on X.

‘Will you come and get me?’ Gaza girl’s desperate plea before losing contact

The voice on the other end of the line was small and faint; a six-year-old’s voice, crackling on a mobile phone from Gaza.

“The tank is next to me. It’s moving.”

Sitting in the emergency call-centre of the Palestinian Red Crescent, Rana tried to keep her own voice calm.

“Is it very close?”

“Very, very,” the small voice replied. “Will you come and get me? I’m so scared.”

There was nothing Rana could do except keep the conversation going.

Six-year-old Hind Rajab was trapped under fire in Gaza City and begging for help, hiding inside her uncle’s car, surrounded by the bodies of her relatives.

Rana’s voice was her only fragile link with a familiar world.

Hind had set off from her home in Gaza City earlier that day with her uncle, aunt and five cousins.

It was Monday 29 January. That morning, the Israeli army had told people to evacuate areas in the west of the city and move south along the coast road.

Hind’s mother, Wissam, remembers there was intense shelling in their area. “We were terrified, and we wanted to escape,” she said. “We were fleeing from place to place, to avoid the air strikes.”

The family decided to head for the Ahli Hospital to the east of the city, hoping it would be a safer place to shelter.

Wissam and her older child began making their own way there on foot; Hind was given a place in her uncle’s car, a black Kia Piccanto.

“It was very cold and rainy,” Wissam explained. “I told Hind to go in the car because I didn’t want her to suffer in the rain.”

As soon as the car left, she said, they heard loud shooting coming from the same direction.

As Hind’s uncle drove towards the city’s famous al-Azhar University, the car is thought to have unexpectedly come face to face with Israeli tanks. They pulled into the nearby Fares petrol station for safety, and appear to have come under fire.

Inside the vehicle, the family called relatives for help. One of them contacted the emergency headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent, 50 miles (80km) away in the occupied West Bank.

It was now around 14:30 (12:30 GMT): operators at the Red Crescent call-centre in Ramallah called the mobile phone number for Hind’s uncle, but his 15-year-old daughter, Layan, answered instead.

In the recorded phone call, Layan tells the Red Crescent staff that her parents and siblings have all been killed, and that there is a tank next to the car. “They are firing at us,” she says, before the conversation ends with the sound of gunfire and screaming.

When the Red Crescent team ring back, it is Hind who answers, her voice almost inaudible, drowned in fear.

It soon becomes clear that she is the only survivor in the car, and that she is still in the line of fire.

“Hide under the seats,” the team tell her. “Don’t let anyone see you.”

Operator Rana Faqih stayed on the line with Hind for hours, as the Red Crescent appealed to the Israeli army to allow their ambulance to access the location.

“She was shaking, sad, appealing for help,” Rana remembered. “She told us [her relatives] were dead. But then later she described them as ‘sleeping’. So we told her ‘let them sleep, we don’t want to bother them’.”

Hind kept asking, over and over again, for someone to come and get her.

“At one point, she told me it was getting dark,” Rana told the BBC. “She was scared. She asked me how far away my house was. I felt paralysed and helpless.”

Three hours after the call began, an ambulance was finally despatched to rescue Hind.

In the meantime, the Red Crescent team had reached Hind’s mother, Wissam, and patched her phone line into the call.

She cried more when she heard her mother’s voice, Rana remembers.

“She pleaded with me not to hang up,” Wissam told the BBC. “I asked her where she was injured, then I distracted her by reading the Quran with her, and we prayed together. She was repeating every word I said after me.”

It was after dark when the ambulance crew – Yousef and Ahmad – notified operators that they were nearing the location, and were about to be checked for entry by Israeli forces.

It was the last operators heard from their colleagues – or from Hind. The line to both paramedics, and to the six-year-old girl they came to rescue, disconnected for good.

Hind’s grandfather, Bahaa Hamada, told the BBC that the girl’s connection with her mother lasted a few moments longer, and that the last thing Wissam heard was the sound of the car door being opened, and Hind telling her that she could see the ambulance in the distance.

“Every second, my heart burns,” Wissam told the BBC. “Every time I hear the sound of an ambulance, I think, ‘maybe it’s her’. Every sound, every gunshot, every falling missile, every bomb – I wonder if it’s heading for my daughter, if she’s been hit.”

Neither Red Crescent teams in Gaza, nor Hind’s family, have been able to reach the location, which still lies inside an active combat zone controlled by the Israeli army.

“It’s hard at night,” the call operator Rana said, “when you wake up and hear her voice in your ear, saying ‘come and get me'”.

We asked the Israeli army for details of its operations in the area that day, and about the disappearance of Hind and the ambulance sent to retrieve her. We asked again 24 hours later, and they said they were still checking.

“Where is the International Court of Justice? Why are presidents sitting in their chairs?” Hind’s mother, Wissam, asked.

A week on from her daughter’s disappearance, Wissam sits and waits at the Ahli hospital, day after day, filling the absence with a resolute hope that Hind will be brought back alive.

“I’ve brought her things, and I’m waiting for her here,” she said. “I’m waiting for my daughter any moment, any second. I’m begging from a broken mother’s heart not to forget this story.”

Additional reporting by Haneen Abdeen and James Bryant

Drone attack kills six Syrian fighters at US base

A drone attack on the largest US military base in Syria has killed at least six allied Kurdish-led fighters.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said its commando academy at the al-Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour was hit in the early hours of Monday.

It accused Iran-backed militias of launching the drone from a nearby area controlled by Syrian government forces.

An Iran-backed militia umbrella group claimed it attacked the base on Sunday.

There was no comment or reports of casualties from the US military, which has about 800 troops in Syria to combat the Islamic State (IS) group.

It was the second incident since the US conducted strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria over the weekend in response to a deadly drone attack on a base in Jordan. The Pentagon confirmed to the BBC that there had been a rocket attack at its Mission Support Site Euphrates in Syria on Saturday, but there were no casualties or damages in the incident.

The SDF – which has controlled much of north-eastern Syria since defeating IS there in 2019, with the support of a US-led global coalition – said in a statement that six of its “commando fighters” were killed when a one-way attack drone targeted their training academy around midnight on Monday.

“Iranian-backed militias used the Syrian regime-controlled areas in Deir al-Zour as a staging ground for the terrorist attack,” it alleged.

The SDF condemned the attack and asserted its “right to respond appropriately to the source”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, reported that seven SDF commandos were killed and 18 injured in what it said was the 108th militia attack on US bases in the country since mid-October.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI) – an umbrella group of Iraqi militias believed to be armed, trained and funded by Iran – said it carried out a drone attack on Sunday “against the US occupation base in al-Omar oil field”.

The IRI has claimed many of the drone, rocket and missile attacks that have targeted US troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It says that they are a demonstration of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The attacks include the 28 January drone strike on the Tower 22 base near Jordan’s border with Syria, which killed three US soldiers.

Iran denied any involvement in the attack, but the US believes it manufactured the drone and that co-ordination of the militias is overseen by its Islamic Revolution Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force.

On Friday, the US struck more than 85 targets across seven facilities in Iraq and Syria used by the IRGC and affiliated militias, warning that it was just the “start” of its response to the Jordan attack.

The strikes in Syria killed 29 pro-Iran fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In Iraq, authorities said 16 people were killed.

Amid the heightened tensions in the region, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in Saudi Arabia as part of a Middle East tour, his fifth since the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel.

Mr Blinken will visit Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank later this week, pushing officials to cut a new deal to free Israeli hostages and to help prevent an escalation of the conflict.

Do the Grammys have a Beyoncé problem?

As her husband Jay-Z referenced in his speech on Sunday night, despite winning 32 Grammys, Beyoncé has never won the coveted prize for album of the year.
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At Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, Jay-Z highlighted a surprising slight hidden in the Recording Academy’s recent voting record. Despite winning 32 Grammys across her remarkable career – more than any other artist – Beyoncé has never taken home the most prestigious prize of all: for album of the year. “Even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work,” Jay-Z said as he accepted the Dr Dre global impact award. “Think about that. The most Grammys, never won album of the year. That doesn’t work.”

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When the camera panned to Beyoncé, she did not respond visibly to her husband’s comments, but there were a few cheers of support from the audience at LA’s Crypto.com Arena. On X, the user @MJFINESSELOVER posted: “Jay-Z is 100% correct. The fact that Beyoncé has never won album of the year… is shameful.” Another user, @spicebae, wrote: “We just need to go ahead and applaud Jay-Z for saying what everyone’s been thinking about the nominations and Beyoncé never winning album of the year.”

This enduring snub becomes even more egregious when you factor in that Beyoncé has been nominated for album of the year on five separate occasions: first in 2010 for I Am… Sasha Fierce, then a year later as a featured artist on Lady Gaga‘s The Fame Monster. Each of Beyoncé’s next three nominations in this category – for the agenda-setting feminist missive Beyoncé in 2015, the genre-melding concept album Lemonade in 2017 and the heady dance opus Renaissance in 2023 – could have been converted into deserving wins.

Jay-Z, shown on stage with Blue Ivy Carter, used his speech to ask why Beyoncé hadn’t received the Grammys’ album of the year award (Credit: Getty Images)

Lemonade in particular looked like a sure-fire album of the year winner. It explored the emotional impact of Jay-Z’s rumoured infidelity through the prism of generational pain and racial inequality, making it culturally pertinent as well as musically accomplished. Across 12 tracks, Beyoncé effortlessly blended genres including reggae, rock, hip-hop, soul, funk, country and electronica. She also made a stunning accompanying visual album. When Adele won instead that year for her blockbuster third album 25, the British singer said in her acceptance speech: “I can’t possibly accept this award. And I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful and gracious. But my artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the Lemonade album, is just so monumental.”

As Jay-Z pointed out, something about Beyoncé never winning album of the year just doesn’t add up

Though it is never helpful (or fair) to compare female artists too closely, it is inescapable that Jay-Z’s comments came on the same night that Taylor Swift won album of the year for the fourth time. Her relatively low-key 10th studio album, Midnights, overrode strong competition from SZA, Olivia Rodrigo and Lana Del Rey, among others. Since 2000, several other female artists have won album of the year – Norah Jones, Dixie Chicks (now called The Chicks), Alison Krauss (jointly with Robert Plant), Kacey Musgraves, Billie Eilish and Adele (twice). But, as @MJFINESSELOVER noted in her viral tweet, the last time a black woman triumphed in this category came in 1999, when Lauryn Hill won with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Is some kind of racial bias to blame for Beyoncé being shut out? It definitely feels uncomfortable that just one of her 32 Grammy wins has come in a so-called “big four” category (to use the colloquial term that groups the highly coveted trophies for album of the year, record of the year, song of the year and best new artist). Beyoncé’s sole big four triumph came in 2010 when Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) was named song of the year.

Her other wins have been in genre categories, including a record five for best R&B song. Any Grammy triumph is a sign of widespread industry recognition, but as Jay-Z pointed out, something about Beyoncé never winning album of the year just doesn’t add up. Over the last decade especially, she has made music that defined the respective genres she has worked in – from R&B and rap to dance/electronica. But she has also made albums that transcended those genres to become pop cultural touchstones. For that reason, she is well overdue for an album of the year win. Thankfully, her creativity remains so undimmed that the Grammys should get many more attempts in the future to right this oversight.

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Why we surrendered to corporate word salad

People are constantly “double-clicking” topics, “pinging” colleagues and “aligning on learnings”. This word salad is maddening – so why have workers thrown up their hands and embraced it?
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Corporate Erin invites you to “re-drill down, re-reset and stick to client logistics”. Introducing herself as the “manager of managerial logistics for Management McManagement”, she’s a caricature – a TikTok persona created by actress Lisa Beasley – meant to poke fun at nonsense corporate jargon.

Satire aside, Corporate Erin represents the very real influx of cringe-inducing business language popularised in fields including tech, finance and consulting. Whether workers are “circling back”, “double-clicking” or “running it up the flagpole”, experts say this jargon is mostly meaningless. Still, it has become a key way of establishing oneself in corporate culture, and most knowledge workers are using it in the office to keep up.

How did everyone capitulate to this word salad – and when did it become necessary?

From the front lines to the front office

Industry-specific shorthand has always existed on some level. Consider, for example, the insider parlance used by lorry drivers and police officers (for instance, “10-4”, meant to serve as an acknowledgement during radio communication); or doctors, who regularly use abbreviations like “Rx” for efficiency.

Although it may sound radically different, much of today’s corporate jargon originated in the military world, says Leon Prieto, an Academy of Management scholar and professor of management at Clayton State University, US.

“Corporate jargon emerged as a by-product of the cultural and professional integration of military veterans into the [American] business world post-World War Two,” says Prieto. “These veterans brought with them not only their specialised, skills but also their military lexicon. This language, steeped in discipline and strategic thinking, found a natural fit in the corporate environment, which was rapidly evolving during the post-war economic boom.”

Corporate jargon emerged as a by-product of the cultural and professional integration of military veterans into the [American] business world post-World War Two – Leon Prieto

At that point, the language served to “infuse corporate culture with the same level of precision, efficiency and seriousness associated with military operations”, says Prieto. “Terms like ‘strategy’, ‘tactics’ and ‘logistics’, originally rooted in military parlance, have become ubiquitous in business discussions.” He also cites ‘boots on the ground’, a phrase originally denoting ground forces in a military operation, which now refers to employees executing basic operational tasks.

It didn’t take long for corporate jargon to catch on in the UK and other parts of the world, says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at UK-based Alliance Manchester Business School. But at some point, corporate-speak veered away from military precision and towards more nonsensical words.

Workers have adapted to the intended meanings of many of these phrases – we know a ‘ping’ means a ‘message’, for instance. But as employees have come to understand office jargon, and even rely on it, Cooper cautions companies use these words to make processes opaque.

Cooper cites the term “ICE” as one of the stranger examples he’s heard recently. “Turns out it meant an ‘Involuntary Career Event’,” says Cooper (in plain speak, a layoff or firing). “You used to have ‘job loss’, then it went to ‘downsizing’. “Then it went to ‘right sizing’, because we didn’t like the negative. Now, apparently, we have ‘ICE’.”

When companies workers look up to use jargon, they parrot the language and embrace it (Credit: Alamy)

‘Human peacocking’

These terms may be both baffling and ridiculous, but they can also change the work environment for the worse. For instance, in 2023, research showed jargon can make people feel excluded. Young workers may feel especially insecure in jargon-heavy workplace settings.

Yet irritating though it may be – and as much push-back is floating around social media to declare war on jargon – corporate speak is nearly inescapable in 2024. “People love to hate it – but just look at McKinsey’s Twitter feed. It’s full of this nebulous jargon,” says Zachariah Brown, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, whose research focuses largely on human status signalling. But many people hold these jargon-rich companies in high esteem, and parrot their language.

Cooper and Brown agree the popularity of corporate jargon has a fairly simple explanation: the desire for status in the workplace, or “human peacocking”.

Brown says peacocking is perfectly natural in both the animal world and the corporate world. “Language is one of the mechanisms of [showing off] – it’s how you demonstrate that you’re competent, you’re capable,” he says.

Even though people largely roll their eyes at jargon, Brown argues it’s often necessary to use it in today’s work culture. He believes failure to signal that you belong could have professional consequences, particularly for early career workers.

The more public we are, the more we have to perform – Zachariah Brown

“When you’re high up in the corporate food chain, you can disavow status trappings like jargon,” says Brown. But if you’re, say, a junior employee at a company where jargon is the norm, refusing to participate in an accepted form of status-signalling could be disastrous. “It’d be the same as saying, ‘I’m not going to wear a suit. I’m going to show up in shorts and a T-shirt.”

Performative professionalism

Corporate jargon presents an interesting case study in modern workplace dynamics. Brown believes it’s no coincidence that its usage has expanded in recent years – he argues it’s a natural consequence of “infinite” professional communication opportunities.

“One-hundred years ago, I would know everyone in my town. I would take the same profession as my parents,” he says. But today’s professionals can use email, LinkedIn and Zoom to network with strangers from around the world in minutes. A wider network means more opportunities to be judged – positively or negatively – by potential colleagues, he argues.

“We are short-cutting machines. We make inferences based on everything – what I’m wearing as a professional, what my Zoom background looks like.” For some, jargon may be a way to quickly establish credibility – or the performance of it. “The more public we are,” he says, “the more we have to perform.”

Cooper echoes that sentiment, adding that the rise in jargon accompanies an overall increase in professional insecurity. “If we were in a [more optimistic labour] market, I don’t think we would have this language as much,” he says. “We wouldn’t need to cover things up like job loss, mergers or restructuring. Now, people are worried – and in that context, you’re going to get funny language to try to cover it up, to make it seem as though it’s not as bad as you think. But it is.” 

Whether jargon is used to obscure a dismal labour situation or to establish credibility in a pinch, it’s all just performance. Love it or hate it, if status signalling is good enough for the animal kingdom, it’s good enough for the boardroom.