The Overflow for August 5th

International News

The Flood That Made China

Geologists have found the first evidence for China's Great Flood, a 4,000-year-old disaster on the Yellow River that led to the birth of the Xia dynasty and modern Chinese civilisation, researchers said yesterday. The findings, published in the journal Science, may help rewrite history because they not only show that a massive flood did occur, but that it was in 1920 BC, several centuries later than traditionally thought. This would mean the Xia dynasty, led by Emperor Yu, may also have started later than Chinese historians have thought.

Yu gained fame as the man who was able to gain control over the flood by orchestrating the dredging work needed to guide the waters back into their channels. Restoring order after chaos earned "him the divine mandate to establish the Xia dynasty, the first in Chinese history," said the study, led by Wu Qinglong, professor in the department of geography at Nanjing Normal University.

What scientists have found suggests a catastrophic flood that is one of the largest known floods on Earth in the last 10,000 years, said co-author Darryl Granger, professor in the department of Earth atmospheric planetary sciences at Purdue University.

The floodwaters surged to 38 meters (yards) above the modern river level, making the disaster "roughly equivalent to the largest Amazon flood ever measured," he told reporters on a conference call to discuss the findings. The flood would have been "more than 500 times larger than a flood on the Yellow River from a rainfall event," he added. "This cataclysmic flood would have been a truly devastating event for anyone living on the Yellow River downstream."


Not Ransom Money

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday defended the Obama administration's payment of $400 million to Iran, denying it was a ransom for the release of American prisoners by Tehran or tied to the Iran nuclear deal. "The United States does not pay ransoms," Kerry told a news conference in Buenos Aires. He said the transfer, which came out of a long-standing Iranian claim at the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, was negotiated on a separate track from the nuclear deal.

By settling the claim, it saved US taxpayers potentially billions of dollars in further interest payments, Kerry added.

"We believe this agreement for the $400 million that was paid in interest and settlement of the case actually saved the American taxpayer potentially billions of dollars," Kerry said.

"There was no benefit to the United States of America to drag this out," he said. "It would have worked against the interests of our taxpayers and with the nuclear deal done, the prisoners released, the time was right to take advantage of that and resolve the dispute in the way that it was resolved."

As the US presidential campaign heats up, Republicans, including Donald Trump, have attacked the Obama administration over the payment, questioning the timing of the transfer.

The White House announced on January 17th, a day after the prisoner exchange, it was releasing $400 million in funds frozen since 1981, plus $1.3 billion in interest owed to Iran. The remaining interest has since been fully paid from the U.S. Treasury-administered Judgment Fund, according to a US official. The funds were part of a trust fund Iran used before its 1979 Islamic Revolution to buy US military equipment that was tied up for decades in litigation at the tribunal.


Taking the city back from the dogs

Officials have poisoned hundreds of dogs in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in the latest effort to curb a population of strays that attack thousands of people each year in the teeming mega-city of some 20 million. Bodies of dead dogs littered areas of the city where municipal workers gathered them for disposal.

"At least 700 dogs have been killed only in two areas of Karachi's south in the last couple of days," said Sattar Javed, a spokesman for the municipal authority.

The periodic culling of dogs using poison tablets hidden in chicken meat has drawn criticism from animal rights activists in Pakistan, but another city official, Mohammad Zahid, said it was necessary because packs of strays posed a threat to residents. Last year, Karachi's Jinnah Hospital treated 6,500 people bitten by dogs and this year so far it has seen 3,700 cases, said Dr. Seemin Jamali, head of the emergency room.

UK News


The Bank of England cut interest rates to next to nothing on Thursday and unleashed billions of pounds of stimulus to cushion the economic shock from Britain's vote to leave the European Union. The bank reduced interest rates by 25 basis points to a record-low 0.25%.

This first cut since 2009 was accompanied by a pledge to buy £60 billion of government bonds with newly created money over the next six months, and two new stimulus schemes. One will buy £10 billion of corporate debt, the other - potentially worth up to £100 billion - is to ensure banks pass on the full rate cut to borrowers.

The Bank said most BoE policymakers expected to cut the main interest rate to even closer to zero later this year, and sharply downgraded its outlook for growth next year. "By acting early and comprehensively, the (Bank) can reduce uncertainty, bolster confidence, blunt the slowdown and support the necessary adjustments in the UK economy," BoE Governor Mark Carney told a news conference.

Carney said he had unveiled an "exceptional package of measures" because the economic outlook had changed markedly following the Brexit vote. The Bank expects the economy to stagnate for the rest of 2016 and suffer weak growth next year.

Finance minister Philip Hammond welcomed the rate cut and said he and Carney had "the tools we need to support the economy as we begin this new chapter and address the challenges ahead".


The Resignation Honours

David Cameron has rewarded his political aides and allies with some of Britain's highest honours to mark his resignation as prime minister, according to an official list published on Thursday. Details of Cameron's "Resignation Honours" list had already drawn accusations of cronyism when they were leaked to the media last week.

Cameron stepped down as prime minister last month after he failed to get a majority of voters to back staying in the European Union in a referendum he had hoped would shore up his position. Outgoing prime ministers can put forward a list of people to receive honours, ranging from peerages and knighthoods to lesser honours such as membership of the Order of the British Empire.

Some of the most prominent names on the list are leading figures from the government's unsuccessful referendum campaign. They include cabinet ministers Michael Fallon, Patrick McLoughlin and David Lidington, all of whom favoured remaining in the EU.

Also honoured is Isabel Spearman, a former fashion public relations executive who worked for Cameron's wife Samantha as a stylist.

Long Read

Taking back their local neighbourhoods from the overpowering centre of Paris, the residents of Parisian suburbs have established musical collectives, regular events, and enabled the local communities to thrive. In the past, much of the cultural variety that could have been found in these areas was being drained into the great city at the centre, but as the New York Times lays out here, the times are changing.

All I ever wanted was a world without maps.
— Michael Ondaatje