BBC 2024-02-28 10:31:45


Alexei Navalny to be buried on Friday in Moscow

Alexei Navalny will be buried at a cemetery in Moscow on Friday, a spokesperson has confirmed.

The service will be held at Borisovskoye Cemetery, after a farewell ceremony in the Maryino district.

On Tuesday the opposition leader’s spokeswoman said that his team was struggling to find a funeral home – with some refusing to hold the service when they found out who it was for.

Alexei Navalny suddenly died in an Arctic prison earlier this month.

For years, he was the most high-profile critic of Vladimir Putin. Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, as well as several world leaders, have directly blamed the Russian president for his death.

Navalny’s team had originally wanted to hold the funeral on 29 February, but “it quickly became clear that there was not a single person around who could dig a grave on that day”, Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on X.

Mr Zhdanov implied that the reason for this was that Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to make his yearly address to the Federal Assembly on the same day.

“The Kremlin understands that nobody will care for Putin and his address on the day of Alexei’s farewell,” he wrote.

He also encouraged people to arrive early “to have a chance to say goodbye to Alexei”.

Alexei Navalny: More coverage

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  • BEHIND BARS: Life in notorious ‘Polar Wolf’ penal colony
  • IN HIS OWN WORDS: Navalny’s dark humour during dark times
  • STEVE ROSENBERG: Grief, defiance and hope among Navalny supporters
  • WATCH: Oscar-winning BBC documentary on Navalny

Yulia Navalnaya speech live: Alexei Navalny’s widow to address European MPs

As well as providing text updates of Yulia Navalnaya’s speech to European Parliament, we’ll also be streaming her words on video.

You can watch her remarks, which are set to begin in the next few minutes, by clicking the Play button above.

Biden wins Michigan primary despite Gaza protest vote

President Joe Biden is projected to win Michigan’s Democratic presidential primary comfortably, despite a significant protest vote over his stance towards the war in Gaza.

Activists have spent recent weeks urging Democrats to vote “uncommitted”, and tens of thousands chose to do so.

That exceeded many expectations, though the latest CBS News projection suggests Mr Biden won 80% of the vote overall.

He thanked “every Michigander who made their voice heard today”.

The US is an ally of Israel, providing it with billions of dollars in military aid. Earlier this month the US vetoed a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, while proposing a draft of its own, urging a temporary ceasefire.

The US position has angered many, including in Biden’s own party, who want the president to take a stronger stance against Israel’s military campaign.

In a statement that did not reference the protest vote against him, he hailed the achievements of his administration in the state and launched an attack against his rival Donald Trump.

Mr Trump is also projected to easily win Tuesday’s Republican primary in the state, after what he called a “great day”. “We’re going to win big,” he told a campaign celebration event.

  • Trump projected to win Michigan primary over Haley

Results so far from the primary contests – which the US political parties use to select their presidential candidate – indicate that the two men are on course to face off in November’s general election, in a rematch of 2020.

Michigan is considered a critical swing state, which picked the winning president in the last two contests. It has the largest proportion of Arab-Americans in the country, but Mr Biden’s support for Israel during its military campaign in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza appears to have cost him support among that demographic.

Activists from the group Listen to Michigan hailed the size of the “uncommitted” vote as a victory. People were in tears at the organisation’s watch party as tallies were periodically updated.

Congressman Andy Levin, who supports the “uncommitted” vote, told the crowd: “I take no joy in being here tonight. This moment is a child of necessity because people are dying by the thousands.”

Tuesday does not mark the first time a significant portion of Michiganders opted to cast votes as “uncommitted”. Around 19,000 residents did so in 2020’s primary and more than 21,601 in 2016. In 2008 it was 238,000 – after Barack Obama’s campaign encouraged them to do so, because he chose not to be on the ballot due to party squabbles.

But campaigners in Michigan have been organising for months to send Mr Biden a message of “no ceasefire, no vote” over the war in Gaza.

  • Gaza residents surviving off animal feed and rice as food dwindles
  • Israel-Hamas war: Biden hopes for ceasefire by next week

At Salina Intermediate School in Dearborn – across the railroad tracks from a sprawling Ford factory – the BBC spoke to Hala, 32, who said she voted “uncommitted”.

She did not “want to vote for Genocide Joe”, she explained – alluding to allegations made against the Israeli military during its campaign in Gaza, which Israel strongly denies.

Hala – who declined to share her last name for privacy reasons – said she voted for Mr Biden last time, but was not sure she would do so again when the presidential election came round. “Maybe, if he calls for an immediate ceasefire, but he’s not going to do that,” she said.

Speaking earlier this week, Mr Biden said he hoped there would be a pause in fighting in Gaza by Monday – following reports of some progress in indirect negotiations involving Israeli and Hamas officials.

Other Democrats told the BBC on polling day that they remained supportive of Mr Biden, including Kim Murdough, an office manager at a church in the city of Flint.

“I voted Democrat. I personally don’t have an issue with anything that the administration has done,” she said.

She added that separate concerns about Mr Biden’s age – 81 – were not a deal-breaker for her. “I’d rather have someone in office that forgets a few things than a criminal,” she said, referencing Mr Trump, who faces federal and state criminal charges.

Margaret Won voted for Mr Biden, too. She is mostly happy with the work the president has done, though said he had been blocked in some of his aims by Republicans in Congress.

She said she wished the frontrunner presidential candidates were younger and said if Nikki Haley beat Mr Trump to the Republican nomination, she might get her vote.

Ms Haley, however, is yet to win any primary contest against Mr Trump – a trend that continued on Tuesday.

Like dozens of other states, Michigan has open primary elections – which means Democrats, Republicans and independents were all able to cast votes, though they had to ask for a specific party’s ballot when casting their vote.

The state’s remaining Republican delegates – who must be secured for a candidate to win their party’s nomination – will be formally awarded later at a convention this weekend.

During the present conflict between Israel and Hamas, the “uncommitted” movement gained endorsements from at least 39 state and local elected officials, including congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud.

Ms Tlaib’s sister was the campaign manager for Listen to Michigan campaign, which aimed to score 10,000 “uncommitted” votes – a number that was exceeded many times over.

Samraa Luqman, an activist with the Abandon Biden campaign, said her goal was to “oust somebody from office for having this many lives lost without calling for a ceasefire”.

Another woman, who did not want to be named, told the BBC she had even switched party to Republican over the Middle Eastern conflict.

Senator Gary Peters, from Michigan, told reporters at a meeting arranged by the Biden campaign on Monday that the president understood voters’ concerns about Gaza.

However, the White House has been reluctant to row back its support, sending billions of dollars in military aid to Israel and three times blocking a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Instead the US has called for a pause in fighting and defended Israel’s right to hunt down the Hamas gunmen who killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October. Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza is nearly 30,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-led health ministry.

World’s oldest logo gets modern redesign

Lyle’s Golden Syrup losing its biblical lion-carcass logo has caused an ‘unavoidable’ uproar.
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Lyle’s Golden Syrup is undergoing a redesign. The British baking staple, now owned by Tate & Lyle Sugars, is highly recognisable because the logo has been unchanged for 140 years. The product is even the Guinness World Records holder for the world’s oldest logo. 

Now, the company has redesigned the label on some of its products. The syrup that comes in a tin will retain the old label (the brand put out a social media post assuring dedicated consumers it wouldn’t be changing), while a new design has been released for other products, as well as the Lyle’s Golden Syrup that is sold in plastic bottles.

James Whiteley, brand director for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, told BBC News, “Our fresh, contemporary design brings Lyle’s into the modern day, appealing to the everyday British household while still feeling nostalgic and authentically Lyle’s.”

The old logo features a lion carcass surrounded by bees. According to the brand’s website, the company’s founder, the Scottish businessman Abram Lyle, wanted a logo that was inspired by a story in the Old Testament. It’s a nod to Samson, who kills a lion with his bare hands, but then discovers the bees have swarmed the dead lion. “Lyle had strong religious beliefs, which is why the tin’s famous logo depicts strongman Samson’s ‘lions and bees’ from the Bible’s Old Testament,” the brand explains on its website. “Out of the strong came forth sweetness,” the label reads. 

The update won’t lose its central feature – the lion – though only its face appears, and instead of being surrounded by bees there is only one bee hovering over the lion’s head. It also retains its key colours, green and gold. Amrit Vin, a graphic designer and the editor of Brand New, a site dedicated to new and redesigned logos, says that important redesign considerations are solving issues with the old logo, and being “conceptually meaningful”. He feels the company managed to strike a balance between holding onto a “connection to the lion” while making it more “easily discernible”. He also says the new logo is easier to apply across all products. 

While the change may seem overdue to some, altering the lion has caused an uproar online. Social media users, as well as news articles have critiqued the changes. “Why bother changing the squeezy bottle to blend in with the other homogeneous brands?” one Instagram user asked on the company’s page. “This feels like a waste of time and money.”

One X (formerly Twitter) user who said he was a descendent of Abram Lyle, explained the history of the logo in a post, and said he personally felt “the loss of Abram’s tin”. He told the Telegraph that the brand is “changing something that is both very distinctive and familiar to something generic and woolly”. The company also faced criticism from Church of England members who claimed the rebrand “eradicates” their Christian message. Tate & Lyle Sugars apologised for the upset caused and said religion played “no part” in the redesign.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup holds the world record for the oldest logo (Credit: Getty)

Whether to include religious imagery is an important consideration for a lot of modern brands. Baltimore-based art director Ashley Bacco says that “front and centre religious imagery will run the risk of alienating younger audiences” and “audiences of different religions backgrounds”. She says that brands should strive to be “inclusive to a broader market”. 

That makes even more sense given that rates of those who identify with religious views seem to be falling. A 2020 YouGov survey found that 55% of Britons don’t subscribe to any set religion. Likewise, religion is less important to Americans than it was a decade ago. A 2021 Pew Research study found that only 3 in 10 US adults are religiously affiliated. And a 2023 study from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that 29% of Americans felt religion was unimportant to them, compared to 15% a decade earlier.

Making religious affiliations part of a brand’s advertising efforts can be tricky. In-N-Out Burger’s owners spoke publicly about why they print Bible verses on their packaging after customers realised the company had made a large political donation in 2018. Boycotts ensued, but the brand was able to hold on to the sentimental labelling. Forever21 came under fire for putting Bible verses on their shopping bags, too, but the backlash seemed connected to a combination of issues, including employee hours and benefits. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

Regardless of a brand’s religious affiliation, Vin says the criticism is absolutely expected when updating a logo as old as Lyle’s. “The biggest thing to consider is that no matter how good or bad the new logo is, consumers will absolutely hate the change, so it’s really all about the conviction of the internal leadership team to know that the update is necessary and to stick with it no matter what the public reaction is.” Bacco seconds that. “When I redesigned the National Aquarium (in Baltimore) logo, there was considerable pushback because we had an audience that knew and loved the old logo and associated it with their childhood,” she says.

Vin understands that bidding farewell to a logo that’s over a century old is tough for consumers, even though most probably never even knew what the dead lion meant in the first place. That’s because, as Vin puts it, when it comes to redoing logos that are so old and recognizable, an “emotional connection with the consumer who has grown affectionate to the existing design” is a tough, yet practically “unavoidable” loss.

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How Julius Caesar made the longest year in history

To tame a hopelessly disorganised Roman calendar, Julius Caesar added months, took them away, and invented leap years. But the whole grand project was almost thwarted by a basic counting mistake.
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It was confusing enough when the harvest celebrations kept arriving in the middle of spring. It was the 1st Century BC and, according to ritual, there ought to be ripe vegetables ready for eating. But to any a farm labourer looking around in the field, it was clear there would be many months before the harvest.

The problem was the early Roman calendar, which had become so unruly that crucial annual festivals bore increasingly little resemblance to what was going on in the real world.

This nonsensical system was something Julius Caesar wanted to fix. It was no small feat: the task was to heave the Roman Empire onto a calendar aligned with both the rotation of the Earth on its axis (a day), and its orbit of the Sun (a year).

Caesar’s answer gave us the longest year in history, added months to the calendar, took them away, anchored the calendar to the seasons, and brought us the leap year. It was a grand project – and it was almost derailed by a peculiar quirk of Roman maths.

Welcome to 46BC, better known as the Year of Confusion.

Roman fasting days, feasting days and other important dates were subject to the whims of a calendar that changed from year to year in unpredictable ways (Credit: Getty Images)

It may have been a complicated year, but not as complicated as what came before, says Helen Parish, visiting professor of history at the University of Reading, UK.

The early Roman calendar was determined by the cycles of the Moon and the cycles of the agricultural year. Looking at this calendar with modern eyes, you might feel a bit short-changed. There are only 10 months in it, starting in March in spring, and the tenth and final month of the year is what we now know as December. Six of those months had 30 days, and four had 31 days – giving a total of 304 days. What about the rest?

“For the two months of the year when there’s no work being done in the field, they’re just not counted,” says Parish. The Sun rises and falls but, according to the early Roman calendar, no day has officially passed. “Which is where the complications start to come in.”

In 731BC, the second King of Rome, Numa Pompilius, decided to improve the calendar by introducing extra months to cover that winter period. “Because what’s the point in a calendar that only covers part of the year?” Parish says. Pompilius’ answer was to add 51 days to the calendar, creating what we now call January and February. This extension brought the calendar year up to 355 days.

If 355 days seems like an odd number for Pompilius to aim for, that was on purpose. The number takes its reference from the lunar year (12 lunar months), which is 354 days long. However, “because of Roman superstitions about even numbers, an additional day is added to make 355”, says Parish.

In this rejig, the months were arranged in such a way that all had odd numbers of days, except for February, with 28. “Therefore it’s considered unlucky and the time of social, cultural and political purification,” says Parish. “So that’s the point at which you try and wipe the slate clean.”

It’s good progress, says Parish, but it’s still around 11 days out from the Solar year of 365-and-a-bit days. “Even with this souped-up calendar from Pompilius, it’s very easy for the calendar to get out of synchronisation with the seasons.”

By around 200BC things had got sufficiently bad that a near-total eclipse of the Sun was observed in Rome on what we would now consider to be 14 March, but is recorded as having taken place on 11 July.

Because the calendar had by this point gone “so catastrophically wrong”, Parish says, the Emperor and priests in Rome resorted to inserting an additional “intercalary” month, Mercedonius, on an ad-hoc basis to try to realign the calendar to the seasons.

This did not work out very well. There was a tendency to add Mercedonius when favoured public officials were in power, for instance, rather than strictly to align the calendar with the seasons.

The classical writer and historian Suetonius complained that “the negligence of the pontiffs had long since so disordered [the calendar], through their privilege of adding months or days at pleasure, that the harvest festivals did not come in summer nor those of the vintage in the autumn”.

Which brings us back to Julius Caesar. The year 46BC already had a Mercedonius planned, but Caesar’s advisor Sosigenes, an astronomer from Alexandria, on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, said Mercedonius wasn’t going to be enough this time.

On Sosigenes’ advice, Caesar added another two never-before-seen months to the year 46BC, one of 33 days and one 34, to bring the calendar in line with the Sun. The additions made the year the longest in history at 445 days long, with 15 months.

After 46BC, the two new months, Mercedonius and the practice of intercalary months as a whole were abandoned as, all being well, there would be no more need for them.

“So we’re back to a calendar that looks a bit more like the one we recognise,” says Parish. “Excellent! This is looking refreshingly familiar.”

Agricultural events and religious celebrations were closely tied in the Roman era – but hard to keep track of without a robust calendar (Credit: Getty Images)

Unfortunately, getting the calendar to line up with the Sun is one thing, but keeping it that way is another. The issue arises from the inconvenient fact that there aren’t a nice round number of days (Earth rotations) in a year (Earth orbits of the Sun).

“That’s where the whole problem starts,” says Daniel Brown, an astronomer at Nottingham Trent University, UK. The number of Earth rotations on a trip round the Sun is roughly 365.2421897… “and on it goes”.

That means Earth fits in almost an extra quarter-turn every time it does a full orbit of the Sun. So adding an extra day every four years – in February – would help fix the mismatch, Sosigenes calculated.

And it would have worked quite well, at least for a while, if there hadn’t been the problem of the idiosyncratic way the Romans counted the years.

“They look at the years and they count, one, two, three, four,” says Parish. “And then they start counting again at four – so they count four, five, six, seven. Then they start at seven – so seven, eight, nine, 10. So they’re accidentally double-counting one of those years each time. It doesn’t take long to realise that slippage is starting to occur.”

This was corrected in the reign of Augustus and leap years happened every four years instead of every three, and then the Julian calendar was well on its way. “Julius Caesar is getting it almost bang on where the calendar needs to be,” says Parish.

It might have been the only calendar needed for the job, if the Earth did in fact do a neat extra quarter-turn each year. But it’s a little bit short – by about 11 minutes.

“That means slowly but surely we’re still running out of sync,” says Brown.

Even a small difference between the calendar and the movements of the Earth around the Sun will lead to a growing discrepancy (Credit: Getty Images)

The solution came much later, in 1582 when Pope Gregory made further tweaks.

“That’s what the Gregorian calendar reform then corrected for – noting this and adapting that calendar slightly more so, making sure that it is not only just every four years, but then every 100 years they make sure that they skip that rule,” says Brown. “But then they noted that doesn’t fully match – you’ve overcompensated. So every 400 years, you don’t skip it.”

That’s why, for example, the year 2000 was a leap year: because it is divisible by both 100 and 400.

“That all sounds really neat and tidy,” says Parish – but this is where politics starts to shape the course of time. “It’s a calendar that’s implemented by Papal decree and that actually doesn’t have authority outside the Church and outside the auspices of the Bishop of Rome.”

There were people who complained that the Pope effectively stole 10 or 11 days of their time by adjusting the calendar, says Parish. Nonetheless, over the centuries more and more countries adopt the Gregorian calendar. “But, gloriously, they don’t all do it at the same time,” says Parish. “So you’ve tidied up the calendar, but you’ve now got calendars in different countries that are running on very different models.”

Read more about the people who live in multiple timelines.

Because of this discrepancy, “you can have the most bizarre situation where a reply written in England to a letter that’s arrived from Spain can look as though it was sent before the first letter from Spain arrived”, says Parish. “Because England is running ahead of Spain on the calendar.”

Once the Gregorian calendar was widely adopted and internationally synchronised, it had several millennia of accuracy built in. But it’s still not perfect.

In fact, around the middle of the 56th Century, “somebody is going to scratch their head and say, ‘Hang on a minute, it should be Monday, but it’s actually looking like Tuesday’,” says Parish. “I think that’s probably a margin of error that we’re going to end up accepting.”

Until that Monday (or Tuesday), the Gregorian calendar has at least bought us a bit of time.

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