Afghanistan, Tennessee, U.S. Open: Your Thursday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest at the end of Thursday.

1. President Biden vowed retribution after suicide bombers killed 12 U.S. troops and dozens of Afghan civilians outside of the Kabul airport.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings in the middle of a dense crowd of families at the airport gates who were desperately hoping to make one of the last evacuation flights out of Afghanistan.

“We’re outraged as well as heartbroken,” Biden said in an address from the White House. “Know this: We will not forgive, we will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.”

In the final days of the 20-year U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the two bombings caused one of the highest single-day American tolls of the war. Here’s the latest.

Biden said he directed his military commanders to develop a plan to strike back at ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate that claimed responsibility for the attacks. Evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies would continue, he said: “Our mission will go on.”

Estimates of the death toll and wounded were rising quickly as hospitals and officials reported in. Health officials reported between 40 and 60 dead and 120 to 140 wounded. These images show the horrific scenes.

The Taliban, which has held total control of the country for 11 days, condemned the attacks.

2. More people in Florida are catching the coronavirus, being hospitalized and dying of Covid-19 now than at any previous point in the pandemic.

The state is averaging 228 deaths a day, by far the most in any U.S. state right now. The latest wave in Florida underscores the perils of limiting public health measures as the Delta variant rips through the state.

Other states and cities are buckling down on mandates. Illinois, facing an uptick in cases, will require masks indoors for everyone, and educators there must be vaccinated or face testing. And in New York City, officials laid out their safety plans for public schools, including different sets of rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

3. Fear of the Delta variant has been driving an uptick in vaccinations, especially in places with low immunization rates.

The upswing in vaccinations in the U.S. comes after weeks of stagnation. Now, the least vaccinated states are seeing the greatest summer increases in first doses. Public health officials say that residents have been driven to get shots by worries that the more-transmissible coronavirus variant might make them, or their loved ones, sick.

Vaccines are the best defense against serious illness. Breakthrough Covid infections are uncommon and often mild — but not always.

4. Seven Capitol Police officers are suing Donald Trump, his allies and far-right groups over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The suit, which also targets members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers militia and Trump associates like Roger Stone, is arguably the most expansive civil effort to date to hold the former president and his followers legally accountable for the storming of the Capitol. The suit alleges that Trump and far-right extremists conspired to promote lies about election fraud.

5. Government decisions left Tennessee residents more exposed to flooding than they had to be.

The Times spoke to climate and disaster experts, and reviewed state and federal data, and found that choices made about building rules, insurance programs, flood maps and more put residents at higher risk. Governments were slow to adapt to growing threats and failed to take steps that, together, could have lessened the damage.

Among the 20 who were killed in the floods last weekend were 7-month-old twins, a 15-year-old girl and an Army veteran who died after helping his wife and daughter escape.

6. California voted to open the suburbs to development in a bid to ease the housing shortage.

The state’s Legislature passed a bill that allows two-unit buildings on lots that for generations have been reserved for single-family homes. By allowing two units per parcel and permitting property owners to subdivide their lots, the law would increase density to as many as four units on a single-family plot.

So far only Oregon has passed a state-level ban on single-family zoning. But the California bill is the latest in a wave of zoning reform initiatives across the U.S. to tackle the crisis in affordable housing. Cities including Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento; and Charlotte, N.C., have moved to allow multifamily buildings on lots previously limited to single-family houses.

7. “We don’t look to a god for answers. We are each other’s answers.”

That’s the next chief chaplain of Harvard University, Greg Epstein. Epstein, who was raised in a Jewish household and has been Harvard’s humanist chaplain since 2005, is a seemingly unusual choice for the role: He is an atheist. Yet many Harvard students attest to the influence that Epstein has had on their spiritual lives.

“He showed me that it’s possible to find community outside a traditional religious context, that you can have the value-add religion has provided for centuries, which is that it’s there when things seem chaotic,” one student said.

8. Serena Williams. Roger Federer. Rafael Nadal. Are the tennis greats moving toward the exits?

Williams, 39, became the third aging tennis giant in 10 days to withdraw from the U.S. Open, the year’s final Grand Slam, following revelations by Federer, 40, and Nadal, 35, about their own injury struggles. Graceful final chapters in tennis can be difficult to achieve, our sports reporter writes, and the modern game imposes immense physical demands and a relentless schedule on athletes.

In baseball, burning sage, a player with an unwanted mustache, a few homers and an eighth-inning rally were all it took to end Baltimore’s losing streak after 19 games. “It smelled kind of weird,” said center fielder Cedric Mullins. “But the sage kicked in.”

9. Most scientists point to mating to explain why so many male birds have such stunning plumage. Female hummingbirds would like a word.

About 20 percent of female white-necked Jacobin hummingbirds, which are found from Mexico to Brazil, look identical to the flashier blue-headed males of their species. Scientists found these male look-alikes avoid the harassment directed at green females.

If you’re looking to create a sanctuary for pollinators in your garden, think twice before planting Echinacea, otherwise known as coneflowers. Many new cultivars were bred for style over substance, our garden expert writes. Here’s her guide to choosing wisely.

10. And finally, keeping those lines nice and straight.

Before 1911, there was nothing dividing opposing lanes of traffic. Historians often credit Edward Hines, one of the first road commissioners of the Detroit area, with inventing the white centerline after watching a milk wagon leave a trail of white liquid behind it.

We visited a paint crew in Michigan, where line season kicks off in May. By the end of October, road workers will have striped and re-striped around 50,000 miles of lines. There are also tens of thousands of other pavement markings — cross walks, arrows and the stretched out ONLYs directing drivers. Above all, painters aim for straightness.