In one of those, “no one would believe this if it was in a movie,” stories we bring you “Wholesale Hitman!” Over a real estate dispute gone sour & a lawsuit in China, mogul Tan Youhui hired a hitman to kill a rival developer.
You see, in 2013 Tan Youhui hired Xi Guangan for $2m Yuan (approx. $275,000 with all further money being translated into US dollars) to kill his business rival. But, um … well, Guangan kind of … didn’t do it. He hired a second man to do the job for him!
Xi Guangan hired Mo Tianxiang for half the sum he had received up front. Now we have a second hitman on the job! Only, um … the second hitman didn’t do it, either. He paid a third hitman to kill the developer and that’s how Yang Kangsheng got the contract. Kangsheng, the third hitman was offered about $38,000 up front and promised an additional $71,000 upon contract completion.
But, plot twist (that you probably saw coming from a mile away)! The following year, which brings us to 2014 - Yang contracted Yang Guangsheng, a fourth hitman and offered him $28,000 up front and a promise of an additional $71,000 upon completion of the contract. So, by now Yang Kangsheng (the 3rd hitman) was anticipating the $38,000 up front and the additional $71,000 which all would go to the fourth hitman leaving the third hitman with only a $10,000 profit. Okay. I guess it’s still $10,000 right? Nothing to shake a stick at.
Well, as the fates would have it, the fourth hitman - also didn’t want to go through with it. Several months later, the second Yang hired Ling Xiansi for $14,000 to, you guessed it - kill the developer!
Ling finally spilled the beans to the actual target about the assassination plot and then, in another bizaarre plot twist the two of them faked his murder up to and including staged photos attempted to collect the cash and, presumably evenly split it.
Which didn’t work. So, the developer, who was the target, finally went to the police and reported the plot. As one hitman led to the next, each spilled the beans on the person that hired them and soon enough, all of them, including the original man who hired the first hitman, had been arrested.
The initial developer who started the plot, received five years in jail. All the hitmen involved received between two and four years in jail.
Seriously, though. Can you imagine sitting in a movie theater watching this plot unfold? By the fourth hitman hired I’m sure most audience members would be like, “Really, he hired a fourth hitman! This is starting to get a bit much!” By the time that fifth hitman was hired audience members would be eye rolling their disbelief in movie theaters everywhere!
But, as they always says, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
You know the cliché “power corrupts,” but what does corruption look like? Wherever people have a little bit of power over other people, at least some will misuse it. Most people are not evil or cruel, but if they think they’ll get away with it, they’ll game the system to get rich.
Each year, at least 5 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP) is wasted by corruption. Corruption makes everything cost more. You might be forced to pay bribes for a permit to build your house, pay police to use roads or bridges, pay kidnappers to avoid violence, to save your child’s life from disease. But corruption costs more than just money.
When the wealthy and well-connected get special access to power, we all suffer. Corruption threatens civic and human rights. Citizens lose autonomy over their bodies and their property, journalists lose their right to speak truth to power. Checks and balances get weaker: elections may be cancelled or rigged to protect the corrupt. Prosecutors and judges are bribed into silence. The rule of law begins to unravel.
Around the world and throughout the centuries, people with power have found ways to exploit others and enrich themselves. The costs—both economic and humanitarian—are devastating.
1. Russia: (Cost of Corruption: 30 Percent of GDP)
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russians were pressured to pay for a “krysha” (literally “roof” but meaning “protection”), essentially safety from criminal gangs. Recently, extortion has become an accepted function of government. The government offices that control access to medical care, education, housing, and utilities are highly corrupt bureaucracies, and demand bribes just to do their jobs.
Officials who can hand out contracts or land triple their salaries in graft and kickbacks. Police can be bought off and judges bribed, so criminal extortion often goes unpunished. Organized crime syndicates conspire with government ministries to exploit average people and then evade justice.
2. China: (Cost of Corruption: 10 Percent of GDP)
Though growing wealthier by the day, China has lagged behind other developed economies due to corruption. Bribery of public officials is commonplace, with 35 percent of Chinese companies admitting to paying bribes for special licenses or to evade taxes.
Average citizens often must pay “facilitation payments” to access public services. An accepted system of favors, bribes, and gifts known as guanxi (literally: ‘relationship’) obscures the total cost of corruption, which may be 10 percent of China’s GDP.
Recent crackdowns that saw 58,0000 corrupt officials indicted were politically motivated and highly selective. The strict rule of the Communist Party in China, and its close ties to the military, perpetuates further enriching the wealthy through “public” power.
3. South Africa: (Cost of Corruption: 10 Percent of GDP)
South African police officers are among the most corrupt in the world. Women are particularly vulnerable, sometimes accused of being sex workers and then assaulted by officers as a “test.” Actual sex workers suffer abuse to avoid arrest. Police often accuse drivers of being under the influence, then demand money to release them.
Prison-building corporation Bosasa secured profitable deals by bribing individual cabinet ministers and the president’s close associates with cash, cars, vacations, and homes. Bosasa’s executives also bribed journalists and prosecutors, resulting in (according to Corruption Watch) “the near destruction of the law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of corruption.”
4. Somalia: (Cost of Corruption: Up to 20 Percent of GDP)
Somalians live with corruption in every aspect of civic life. 80% of state funds are withdrawn by individuals, and not spent on social services. Would-be voters meet with violence, threats, and harassment. Journalists—at least 30 since 2008—have been murdered for investigating corruption or human rights abuses.
Entrepreneurship is barely legal, and most transactions include bribes or violence. Trade is dominated by those with financial ties to the ruling elite. The embezzlement of public funds saps what little money Somalia has to invest in the welfare of its people. Courts lack authority to prosecute corruption.
5. India: (Cost of Corruption: 1.5 Percent of GDP)
As many as 90 percent of Indians work in semi-legal “gray” markets, so they live in constant fear and become easy to extort. Two-thirds of Indians report bribing an official at least once last year. The typical fee to obtain a driver’s license is more than doubled by bribes, and truckers are routinely stopped at makeshift highway checkpoints where regulators or police demand cash.
An exceptionally high tax rate is selectively applied; buying favorable rates or exemption from fines is an established part of the tax system. Few independent media sources exist, and investigative reporting on corruption, especially at high levels, is dangerous for journalists.
6. Venezuela: (Cost of Corruption: >50% of GDP)
The well-publicized devastation of the Venezuelan economy followed a decade of embezzlement and rampant theft at the highest levels of government. Customs officials sell illegal passports to non-citizens, often for the purposes of transporting weapons or drugs.
Government price controls encouraged officials to overstate the costs of basic goods, then sell subsidized goods on the black market for personal gain. Venezuela’s military was caught trafficking food rations. Shortages of medicine, electricity, and clean water are still widespread. Government officials went on printing (and then pocketing) money as inflation increased to nearly 1 million percent. Now 90 percent of the population of a once-wealthy nation lives in poverty.
To retain power while the country’s economy fell apart, President Maduro murdered journalists, attacked protesters, jailed opposition leaders, and terrorized their population.
Is Corruption Human Nature? Is There Hope?
US data is much harder to acquire. Trillions can get lost, $16 Billion missing here, $10 Billion overpaid there... a person could get suspicious. Likely, it’s 5-10 percent of government spending, or 3-5 percent of GDP.
In general, the wealthier and freer the people, the less corrupt and more transparent their government.
Independent courts, a free press, lower taxes, and less government spending all contribute to oversight of power and the ability of citizens to oust abusers.
Corruption is a constant, but strong civic institutions can help combat its worst effects.
Dr. Laura Williams teaches communication strategy to undergraduates and executives. She is a passionate advocate for critical thinking and individual liberties. Her opinions are her own. This article originally appeared on fee.org, then pennypress. This is an edited version, reprtinted with permission.
In the last year there have been more than 74,000 fires in Brazil which is approx. 80% more fires than the previous year. Eighty percent! Now, it’s true that Brazil is a large place and fires occur. Fair enough. What’s particularly out of the ordinary is that more than 50% of those fires are happening in the Amazon Rainforest. Which is bad. Obviously, the rainforest is of huge import to local inhabitants but also is of significant import to the world as a leading supplier of fish, meat, root vegetables and fruit. And, it’s true that the rainforest does supply oxygen into the atmosphere but it’s not quite the “20% of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon,” as many recent new sites and celebrities claim. I’ll let National Geographic explain more about that in their recent, “Why the Amazon doesn’t really produce 20% of the world’s oxygen: Of the many important reasons to worry about the thousands of fires raging in the world’s largest rainforest, oxygen supply is not one of them.”
So … why so many fires this year?
Global warming perhaps, but it does seem that a lot of them are man made. “Slash and burn” deforestation, which is the practice of cutting down forests, drying the area out and then setting the area on fire in order to make room for … other things (but usually pastures for cattle as Brazil is one of, if not THE top exporter of beef) - is the main reason for the fires. And, as anyone with common sense and reason can tell you - sometimes even “controlled fires” get out of control. Hence the mess the Amazon is currently in.
While it’s true that wildfires happen every year, this year there have been SO many wildfires in the Amazon that the G-7 even offered to assist. The G-7 being the Group of Seven, which is the international intergovernmental economic organization consisting of the seven largest IMF-described advanced economies in the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
So, the G-7 has the resources to assist but, in a really dumb plot twist, Jair Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil, said he would only accept aid from the G-7 - if the President of France, Emmanuel Macron apologized to him.
“Wait. What? Apologize to him? For what?” - Was my first thought.
Well, I guess there was some social media stupidity that happened and fragile male egos were bruised. You see, on the public Facebook page of President Bolsonaro, a supporter posted a meme comparing the wives of the two men implying that the President of France was jealous that President Bolsonaro’s wife was, basically - younger and hotter, and then claimed Macron (of France) was jealous.
BUT THEN - the Bolsonaro account responded to the post with, “Hah! Don’t humiliate the guy!”
Which led President Macron (of France) to respond with:
"He had extremely disrespectful comments towards my wife. What can I tell you? It's sad. It's sad for him and for Brazilians. I think that Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that their president has done that. I think that Brazilians, a great people, are a bit ashamed of this behavior. As I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope that they will quickly have a president who is up to the job."
Well, to be honest - that’s a pretty fair response but … as I previously mentioned - it sounds like Brazil’s President had his fragile male ego wounded which led him to turn down G-7 aid to help his burning rainforest unless the President of France apologized!
Do you ever just kind of wish that, I don’t know … adults were in charge?
Well, guess what? There are clearly adults advising the President of Brazil because they convinced him to change his mind - Brazil WILL accept G-7 aid to combat the fires which amounts to $20 million in aid and will not do so on the condition of the President of France apologizing.
This is not the first time Macron and Bolsonaro have clashed and it probably won’t be the last, but at least this time, the good guys one. The "good guys" being, “whomever assists with the Amazon wildfires.” Let’s hope the good guys can now cut those fires down.
The first time I heard that banana was “going extinct,” I kind of ignored it. I mean, one paranoid lunatic screaming on the internet does not a fact make - you know what I mean? But after reading about it another dozen times over the next several years, it’s clearly NOT a paranoid lunatic screaming on the internet. It appears as if banana extinction is legit.
Anyway, going back to 2015 is when I came across this Huffpost article called: “Your Favorite Banana Is Facing Extinction As Deadly Fungus Spreads.” From the article:
“Before 1960, your grandparents and great-grandparents were eating better bananas. Called Gros Michel, they were tastier, bigger and more resilient than the bananas found in supermarkets worldwide today ... So why can’t we too enjoy the robust creaminess of the Gros Michel, once the world’s export banana? Turns out, the species went virtually extinct in the 1960s thanks to an invasive and incurable fungus that wiped out most Gros Michel plantations around the world. That explains how the Cavendish — the blander banana we now eat — grew in prominence. It tasted worse and was less hardy than the Gros Michel, but the species seemed able to resist the fungal invasion, known as “Panama disease.”
That is, it was able to.”
So, back in 1960’s they knew all about this banana killing disease but thought that they had figured it out by creating a “blander” banana that was more resilient to this Panama disease.
Okay. Sounds good. Bananas saved. But now it looks like a new disease called Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is killing the Cavendish. According to wikipedia:
“This virulent form of fusarium wilt has wiped out Cavendish in several southeast Asian countries and has recently spread to Australia, India and Mozambique. It has yet to reach the Americas; however, the soil-based fungi can easily be carried on boots, clothing, or tools. This is how TR4 travels and will be its most likely route into Latin America. Cavendish is highly susceptible to TR4, and over time Cavendish will almost certainly be eliminated from commercial production by this disease.”
Okay. Sounds bad. Bananas endangered (again). The banana industry is huge. And, I mean - colossal. There are entire Latin American regions where the banana industry is so important they are literally called “banana republics,” because they are that dependant on the corporations that maintain and export from said plantations.
The three big boys on the block are, Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte - all of which primarily have plantations in South America. So, again, while the TR4 hasn’t yet reached Latin America, if it does - that will literally mean the end of bananas as we know it.
Not necessarily 100% extinction but, obviously, no longer a fruit you would be able to find all year round. I mean, consider the fact that Gros Michel bananas are not 100% extinct, they are still grown in areas where Panama disease is not found, BUT, they export less than 1% of what they used to in the 1960’s before Panama disease devastated the crops. So, there’s that to think about.
Obviously, there are a lot of smart folks trying to solve this problem, but, as of yet nothing is working. It’s just one of those things were we can hope TR4 doesn’t reach Latin America.
But if it does, that’s pretty much banana game over.
If you want to read a more detailed version of the history of, and the potential banana apocalypse, I recommend: The Quest to Save the Banana.”
On Sunday morning, coordinated suicide bombers struck several Christian churches and luxury hotels in the cities of Batticaloa, Colombo and Negombo. At least 290 people were killed and hundreds more injured. And sadly, it sounds like the Sri Lanka government had been warned that an attack like this might occur on Easter. Intelligence agencies from the U.S. and India warned the Sri Lankan government weeks ago. Through a series of government missteps the Sri Lankan government didn’t do enough, or perhaps anything at all, to investigate the threat. I actually just read multiple accounts that the Sri Lankan government has issued an apology for not taking the threat seriously enough. Of course, after the fact - that really does sound like empty words to me.
Anyway. An obscure Muslim military group called the National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) is being blamed for the Easter morning terrorist attacks. But Sri Lanka Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said that official investigation turned up evidence that the NTJ did not act alone, telling reporters: "We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country … There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded."
Sri Lanka is actually, mostly a Buddhist country, with something like 70% of the population identifying as Buddhist. According to the US State Department, the remaining 30% of the population identifies as approx. 12% Hindu, 10% Muslim, 7% Christian with the remaining few percentage points coming in as “other/none.” Even though the Muslim population is comparatively small, tension between the Muslim/Buddhist communities have flared up after a series of back and forth aggressive actions that began, supposedly, a few years ago when a young Buddhist man was attacked and killed by a group of young Muslim men.
Sri Lanka has seen the face of violence many times since 1948, when the country gained independence from Britain. Mostly the violence was from the almost three decade civil war that went from the early 80’s all the way to 2009. A civil war that ripped the country apart and left an estimated 150,000 casualties in its wake. But since the end of the civil war, the country has been relatively free from large scale violence for a decade, which is why Sunday’s coordinated bombing attacks was so shocking.
As of today, 24 suspects linked to the attack have been arrested. Here is a partial list of some of the victims with information about their lives. If you want to help, here is a link to the Sri Lanka Red Cross.
A huge fire has engulfed one of France's most beloved landmarks - Notre Dame Cathedral, and it sounds like local firefighters are not sure they can save the building. So far, the roof has collapsed and the next hour or two appear to be critical in determining if the building itself can be saved.
No one is exactly sure how the fire started but officials claimed it could have been linked to recent renovation work. As of yet, the city is calling the fire an “accident.”
Construction of the cathedral began in 1160 and was largely completed by 1260, though it has been modified frequently in the following centuries. That means for more than 800 years Notre Dame has watched over Paris. And it’s not just the building at risk - there are irreplaceable pieces of art and one of a kind antiquities inside the building. All of which will be gone if the blaze cannot be controlled. The interior Minister of France tweeted that 400 firefighters are on the scene, meanwhile thousands of Parisians have turned out in the streets watching in stunned disbelief as the disaster unfolds.
This is a developing story.
Update: I just read that emergency services said they had salvaged as much artwork as possible, reporting that “nearly all of it” was able to be removed and saved.
Update: It sounds like a fire official has told local Paris news that the Cathedral has been saved from "total destruction," and "while it will take hours to control the blaze, two of the towers have been saved."
Update: The main structure was saved but firefighters were unable to save the central spire and the majority of the 13th century oak roof was largely destroyed.
Update: The Rose Windows and the Great Organ both appear to be largely undamaged.
Update: The majority of the recovered artwork will be taken to storage facilities owned by the Louvre for restoration and protection.
After two horrific airline crashes within six months many airlines around the world are grounding the Boeing 737 MAX 8, the model of plane used in both crashes. Investigators are still looking into the most recent crash that happened on Sunday to see if it the reason for the crash is related to the previous 737 MAX 8 which crashed just six months prior.
Boeing is the largest aerospace company in the world and it’s a leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, defense, space and security systems, and service provider of aftermarket support. It’s also one of America’s biggest (if not THE biggest) manufacturing exporter, as the company supports airlines and U.S. and allied government customers in more than 150 countries.
Boeing leaders should be panicking right now. This is a brand new plane and now it’s responsible for the deaths of several hundred people. I mean, the investigation for the recent Ethiopian crash isn’t complete and it might reveal that the crash was due to pilot error and not as the previous crash, because of a manufacturing error. But, I doubt it. The Indonesian crash six months ago was due to a malfunction with the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) which is an “automatic feature that detects if the nose of the plane is pitched up too high and pushes it down to prevent the craft from stalling.” The MCAS during the Indonesian flight sensed that the nose of the plane was too high (even though, it wasn’t) and forced the plane down, sending it into an irreversible nose dive that killed everyone on board. The recent Ethiopian crash on Sunday has all the same signs of the Indonesian disaster.
Many world airlines are not waiting for the recent investigation to conclude and have grounded the Boeing MAX 8. This is the right move! Sadly, some airlines are ignoring the threat and are keeping that model in flight rotation. This is clearly a risk/profit analysis, right? They are choosing to risk the death’s of their passengers because they are concerned grounding the plane might cut into their profits and they certainly don’t want to admit any guilt because that will only add fuel to all those future lawsuits that are coming.
Enter Senator John Thune (R) who is ranking member on aviation oversight of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Thune told reporters that he would be open to grounding the planes if the evidence pointed to it, but absolutely did NOT say that the Boeing MAX 8 should be grounded out of precaution. That is, of course, until a reported asked this question:
Reporter: Would you feel safe flying in a Super Max 8 right now? Would you fly on it?
Thune: Uhhh...well, I guess I would uh, probably like everybody else, prefer flying on some other plane.
Isn’t that just like a spineless politician? He won’t go against his corporate masters but he certainly wouldn’t fly on that plane! He can’t even come out and say it out loud. He has to stammer and stutter his way into a “prefer” comment.
Obviously, the Boeing 737 Super Max 8 should be grounded. And Thune knows it. I mean he certainly won’t risk his life, or the lives of his family but - you? He’s fine with that. I hope his constituents vote him the F out of office come next election day.
As of Tuesday here are the airlines that are still flying the Boeing 737 Super Max 8:
GOL Linhas Aéreas
Update 3/13/19 - 3:00pm: Most countries have grounded the Boeing 737 Super Max 8. Boeing did NOT ground the planes themselves because they care more about $$ than human lives. Finally, just a few minutes ago - President Trump issued an Executive Order grounding all 737 Super Max 8 models in the U.S.
Update 3/21/19 - 1:10pm: The investigation has concluded that both planes went down for the exact same reason - a faulty MCAS! From my understanding, all Super Max 8 models are now grounded.
This is an updating story.
Multiple sources are reporting that Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 from Addis Ababa, crashed Sunday morning killing everyone on board. It was just six minutes into its flight and investigators are currently searching for the black box and have only just begun to unravel the tragedy. But what we do know is that this is the second time in the last few months that a Boeing 737 MAX 8 has gone down within minutes of takeoff.
Last year, Lion Air Flight JT610 out of Indonesia went down a few minutes after takeoff killing all 189 on board. That black box was found and investigators determined that the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) was suspected to have caused the crash. To my understanding the MCAS is a, “automatic feature that detects if the nose of the plane is pitched up too high and pushes it down to prevent the craft from stalling.”
And sounds as if, if the MCAS malfunctions then it believes the plane is rising to quickly and, in order to avoid an engine stall, forces the plane to push down into a nose dive. Which means the pilots of the Indonesian flight desperately fought the nose dive. In fact, the crash investigation found that the pilots attempted to raise the nose of the aircraft more than 20 times in 11 minute flight before they crashed into the sea approx. 13 minutes into their flight.
What we don’t know is if the two crashes have anything in common other than the fact that they were both the same model of plane but it’s certainly something to be aware of. The model in question, the Boeing 737 MAX has only been out for a few years. As of now investigators are treating it as “coincidence” that both recent crashes had the exact same model and have gone down within minutes of take off but, I’m sure that they will be looking into similarities.
Boeing, of course, immediately entered damage control mode and released a carefully worded “Boeing is deeply saddened by the passing of the passengers and crew of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 …”
Did you catch that? The “passing” of the passengers and crew? That kind of pisses me off. The passengers didn’t peacefully “pass” in their sleep, no - they died a terrifying & horrible death and it might be because your (Boeing) brand new planes are not safe.
It’s too early into the investigation to know exactly why the plane crashed but, to be honest, if you heard that two of the exact same plane model have crashed under similar circumstances - would you buy a ticket on that plane? Because I certainly won’t.
This is a developing story.
Stan Lee, age 95, has died and with him goes a portion of my heart. Born Stanley Martin Lieber, he apparently always wanted to be a storyteller. And he worked a few odd jobs until finding himself an assistant at Timely Comics. He worked his way up at Timely Comics which, in 1950 rebranded as Atlas Comics. He worked his way up at Atlas Comics which, in 1961 rebranded as Marvel Comics. And from that point on, as you know - history was made.
Stan received his first writing assignment in 1941 for a Captain America comic and used the pen name - Stan Lee. He said, at the time, that he wanted to use a pen name for comics and his real name for novels. As it turned out the novel career never quite got off the ground. Regardless of that, I believe his storytelling prowess was put to fine use.
And then, after decades in the comic business Stan, “The Man” Lee became Marvel’s first Editor-in-Chief and he really did revolutionize comics. In 61’ there were a host of comic heroes we recognize today; a lot of the DC core folks from the Justice League - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, etc, etc. But DC comics, and comics in general, were mainly marketed to children. Lee pushed Marvel founder Martin Goodman, and publisher John Nee to market to an older audience. And they listened. And so Lee and his co-plotter and artist Jack Kirby turned in Fantastic Four #1. According to wikipedia:
“...broke convention with other comic book archetypes of the time by squabbling, holding grudges both deep and petty, and eschewing anonymity or secret identities in favor of celebrity status. Subsequently, Marvel comics developed a reputation for focusing on characterization and adult issues to a greater extent than most superhero comics before them, a quality which the new generation of older readers appreciated. This applied to The Amazing Spider-Man title in particular, which turned out to be Marvel's most successful book. Its young hero suffered from self-doubt and mundane problems like any other teenager, something with which many readers could identify.”
Lee, along with Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and John Romata created many of the comic book legends we recognize today: Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thanos, Doctor Doom, Red Skull, Loki, Green Goblin, Magneto. The list goes on and on.
Personally, I was a huge Spider-Man fan. I don’t quite recall exactly my first Spider-Man comic but it was sometime around kindergarten so - 1977? Which means, I probably fell in love with Spider-Man the exact same year I fell in love with Star Wars.
Actually, I think I just found it. Spider-Man #168, “Murder on the Wind,” featuring little seen since villain Will-o-the-wisp. In fact, I believe he died in that issue. But, it is Marvel comics so he probably came back, eventually. I would certainly not suggest that was the best Spider-Man comic in history (in fact, it’s not that good) but it certainly captivated my heart and soul and from that moment on I was hooked. Pretty sure I still have the comic.
I would even go so far as to suggest that much of my young morality was shaped and formed by Spider-Man’s struggles, actions and choices. “With great power comes great responsibility.” To coin the famous phrase by Peter Parker’s uncle. To me, Spider-Man and Peter Parker will always be the greatest of all super heroes.
And that’s all because of Stan Lee. I know there was controversy about ownership of some of the characters and the historic lessening the roles Ditko, Kirby and a few others played. It’s true. A lot of it played out behind closed doors and in legal corners. I hope it all worked out but I honestly don’t know. But for more on that, I will leave you with these very fine and true words by author Lance Parkin who tweeted, “There's a time for cynicism, there's a time for a more jaded, footnoted, analysis of Stan Lee's contribution and impact.
One of the great creative powerhouses of our era is dead. One of the great creators of children's characters is dead. One of the most important, influential and talented editors and publishing promoters of all time is dead. An artist whose audience, for over half a century, has been measured in billions is dead.”
Stanley Martin Lieber, the scrappy Jewish writer from NYC was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame (1994), the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame (1995), given the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush (2008), nominated for a Hugo Award for Iron Man in 2009, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Saturn Awards (2002), the Visual Effects Society Awards, and the Producers Guild of America. May he rest in peace.
Thirteen people were killed and two are still missing (and presumed dead) after an irate female passenger attacked a bus driver. The driver hit back but lost control of the bus. It veered into oncoming traffic, smashed another car and plunged off a bridge into the Yangtze River in China.
Police released dash cam footage from another car that caught the moment the bus went off the bridge, as well as footage from inside the bus right before the crash. The video is as crazy as it is sad.
Witness that got off the bus before the crash, told investigators that the woman was angry because she had missed her stop. The bus driver advised her to get off at another stop and walk back. She refused. A fight ensued which led to the crash.
The video is intense. I mean, this is (probably) an accident. A negligent accident to be sure, but probably an accident. But if you watch that video it really, really looks like the driver just turns the wheel to the left and takes the bus off the bridge. Most likely, he was distracted by the woman slapping him in the face with her cell phone, but still, I can’t stop noticing the driver actively cranking the wheel to the left. And then, he doesn’t appear to be shocked when the bus goes off the bridge.
The woman, identified by her surname of Liu and the driver with his surname of Ran were both thought to be alive at first and authorities said they would prosecute both of them for endangering the lives of the passengers. Now, we know that everyone on board died including the irate passenger and the driver.
As a really odd aside, the crash brought out a wave of sexist comments. Notice if you will, the red car that gets hit by the bus as it swerves. Well, that specific red car was driven by a woman. And police and media received a large amount of complaints that the woman driving the red car - caused the accident. And therefore all women drivers should be banned.
Anyway. The woman driving the red car suffered from minor injuries, was taken to the hospital and released. The police, obviously, do not think she did anything wrong.
Chinese police didn’t really comment on the sexist attacks on the innocent driver but released the following statement about the crash: “Fifteen fresh lives have vanished and the lessons are extremely painful. May the dead rest in peace and the living be warned.”
The crash in China made me a little depressed and so I searched the web for good stories about buses drivers. And I found one. Over in France, a bus driver pulled up to a stop where a man in a wheelchair was waiting. The man in the wheelchair has been identified as Francois Le Berre, who has multiple sclerosis.
Anyway, the bus pulls over and the driver turns to the other passengers and asks them to make room so he can get Francois on the bus. But every single passenger on the bus refused to make room for the man in the wheelchair. So the bus driver stood up and told everyone to get the F off his bus. A few folks grumbled about it but they complied and got off the bus. Then the driver said to Francois, “You and your helper can get on the bus. Everyone else can wait for the next one.”
And that’s what happened. The French driver is universally being praised on social media. And I have to agree. Well done.
Quite recently, and accidentally, I came across this six year old video about a photographers wild encounter with a family of mountain gorilla. It’s already been viewed almost 12 million times so it’s not like I am the first person to find it. That being said, it immediately charmed even my dark soul and made me wonder who the folks in the video are.
Which lead me to The Common Flat Project, the blog of John and Pam King. So who are these wildlife humanitarians? According to their site:
“In recent years John and Pam King have been pursuing a lifelong passion to experience and record the earth’s wild places and wild things through their photography. They co-founded The Common Flat Project in 2011 to foster a message of conservation and raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity on our planet especially on Cape Cod.”
The Common Flat, I have found out, is a tidal area off the elbow of Cape Cod and is part of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. That appears to be where John and Pam King spend the majority of their time and life. Their online gallery of the area is lovely and has landscapes, flora and fauna from all four seasons. They’ve also brought their photographic eye to all corners of the world and have captured images, as far as I can tell, on just about every continent.
Which is how, sometime in 2011, they ended up in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda. The National Park, from John and Pam’s blog - is remote and very difficult to get to and at the time of the blog post was home to some 350 mountain gorilla. Several years later, that number has remained about the same, which means it houses roughly, half the known mountain gorilla population. The rest of the several hundred known surviving mountain gorilla population is in the nearby Virunga Mountains, a volcano region on the border of Uganda.
Anyway, as the Kings point out in their blog, “... young gorillas are curious about humans and may approach, this is very rare. Adult gorilla to human interactions are virtually unheard of among the local rangers.”
Well, the Kings had a three day permit within the Park and imagine their utter shock when, on day three they find the one of the gorilla families had tracked them down just to - well, hang out with them for a while! You can read the Kings' full account of their experience here.
As far as I can tell the Common Flat Project is still going strong and John and Pam are still neck deep in nature photography and wildlife conservation and I’m thankful to both of them for sharing their photos with the world.
John and Pam King’s hardcover book, Wild Cape Cod: Free by Nature (2012) can be purchased here.
A few weeks ago construction workers in the Sidi Garber district in Alexandria, Egypt accidentally unearthed a massive nine foot long, five foot wide, black sarcophagus. Construction laws in Egypt, I have recently learned, require developers to excavate the ground beneath any planned building developments. I guess they know their history and are always on the lookout for something - well … just like this. And man, did they hit the Mummy-licious creepy jackpot this time.
Some fifteen feet down, workers found the 30 ton black granite sarcophagus and an alongside an eerie alabaster head and both dated to approx. 305-30 BC. The head, presumably representing whoever was mummified within the sarcophagus. But a sarcophagus this large had to contain someone of great import - right?
Well, at the time of the excavation, no one at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities had any idea who could be buried within; however speculation and twitter went wild. The tomb was, after all found in Alexandria. So - Alexander the Great? Maybe?
Of course, twitter took the high road with endless jokes about the curse of a mummy. Hey, I’m a fan of Brendan Fraser’s Mummy (1999), and I really liked The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) when I was a kid and I hated Tom Cruise’s The Mummy (2017). So all this means is that I’m pretty much an expert on the mummy topic and here’s what I have to say about the ordeal - do not open the black sarcophagus! You will doom us all to locust plagues and withering mummy rot!
Actually, they already opened the sarcophagus.
Oh. Well. That’s fine too then. Really it is. =)
Alas, to the thrill seekers - the opening was curse-less. found exactly what they were expecting - a mainly intact but rotten mummified man. They are currently looking into identifying the corpse but that may prove difficult as there were no inscriptions inside the tomb to point researches in the right direction.
As to who is buried within the 2000 year old tomb … well, the answer to that question will all come down to forensic science.
Or - maybe, Indy.
In a Tokyo detention house, Friday morning (7/6/18) Japan executed seven members of the notorious Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, the group responsible for the 1995 sarin gas subway attacks that killed thirteen and injured thousands.
Cult leader, Shoko Asahara, along with six followers were executed by hanging. They will not be missed.
Amnesty International said the executions “do not deliver justice.” In general, I understand their policy of clemency but in this particular case, I am 100% on the side of - these people didn’t deserve to live.
The cult members of Aum are not martyrs or heroes. They were murdering, lunatic, fanatic cultists molded from a time of the dark ages.
And I’m glad they’re dead.
What was the Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult?
Well, it all started out innocuous enough. Shoko Asahara started a yoga and meditation class in his apartment. It steadily grew. By 1989 they gained official status as a religious organization and had attracted quite a few college graduates and alums from Japan’s elite universities, and gained the “religion for the elite” moniker.
Their religion blended ancient Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, taking Shiva (the God of Destruction) as their main deity and finally incorporating doomsday ideas from Revelations and Nostradamus.
Its founding member changed his name from Chizuo Matsumoto to Shoko Asahara and then, as these things often do, he declared himself a messiah and claimed all sorts of supernatural healing powers up to and including - that he would be able to protect and save all members of the from the upcoming apocalypse. This “survival protection,” somehow convinced really, really smart people - doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers - to join the cult. And somehow, at one point they had ten thousand members in Japan and thirty thousand members in Russia!
Oh, and “what apocalypse?” - you ask?
Basically, their doomsday cult involved the “original” idea that in 1997 (remember this was in the early 90’s) a nuclear holocaust would wipe out humanity and the attack would originate from the U.S.. They also, “originally,” decided that Jews, the British Royal Family, the Freemasons and all rival religions had labyrinthine plots working against Aum’s holy doctrine.
And for some reason they hated the Dutch.
Like I said, these folks were lunatics. And if that wasn’t apparent, yet - check this out - Aum Shinrikyo followers believed that the entire world was to be cursed with bad karma and upon death all souls would end up in some hellish limbo (or something like that).
Aum cult members knew how to save us all!
They would bring about the end of the world and therefor save everyone from their inevitable sins! You see, we were all going to bad karma hell but if we were killed by members of Aum - well, that act of generous murder by their holy hands would prevent our souls from accumulating bad karma and - save our eternal souls in the afterlife!
So, we are all going to hell unless we are murdered by cult members in Aum. So they have to end the world. And kill us all. To save us.
I have to admit that’s kind of a genius level super villain plot. It’s also, obviously - totally, batshit insane.
To make a long story short, over several years they kidnapped and murdered and prevented people from leaving the cult by torture, fear and … well, more murder. They assassinated rival religious figures and targeted politicians working against them. No one really knows how many people they killed. But it was a lot.
Then on March 20th, 1995 Aum released sarin gas on the subway in Tokyo, the cult’s most infamous attack. In the months after they had several more failed terrorist attacks. Eventually, authorities zeroed in on their compounds and rounded them up. A few fugitives escaped and remained at large for years after, but they too soon ended up in jail.
While cult members have not actively confessed to everything or accepted responsibility for their crimes there was plenty of evidence to convict and all top Aum cult members, ended up on death row.
And, get this, when authorities breached Aum’s main compound they found not just more sarin gas but they also found Ebola and anthrax cultures, thousands of automatic weapons, and a stolen Russian military helicopter!
This was a legitimate doomsday cult. These fools were not playing around. They wanted us all dead. You know, in order to save us.
How these lunatics remained at large for so long is beyond me. And you would think that that was the end of their cult. Right? But, no. They just changed their name and become Aleph. And then Aleph split into two factions with one keeping said name and the second branching off to be called Hikari no Wa.
But don’t worry, they’ve made it clear that the remaining members, approx. 1500 people - are just fine now. They even dropped the most of the “controversial texts” from their reading doctrine.
Thankfully, the Japanese government monitors the group now and will probably do so forever.
Interestingly, Japanese authorities do not notify any of an upcoming execution. And so, without fanfare, Aum’s leader and six of his cultist followers were hanged to death on the morning of June 6th, 2018. Seven more members of the cult remain on death row.
On Monday, June 23rd - the Wild Boar youth soccer team and their coach left their bikes chained at the entrance to the Tham Luang Nang Non in northern Thailand and ventured forth in what they expected to be a two(ish) hour adventure. But the cave flash flooded and the 12 young players and their coach vanished.
Nine days later rescuers from Thailand, China and Australia found them. Other than minor scrapes, miraculously, all 13 of them were safe. Here is the first video of rescuers reaching the boys. The boys didn’t have any food and were in complete darkness but stayed alive by drinking pooled rainwater.
Finding them was step one but rescuing them, it appears, is going to be a daunting task. The boys are estimated to be trapped about 2 kilometer into the cave and approx. 1 kilometer underground. Rescuers are trying to figure out the best way to get them through a labyrinthine series of flooded caves linked together by narrow passageways with zero visibility for most of the swim.
Thai Navy seals have even drained 120 million liters of water out of the caves in order to keep the water levels down to help the rescue. It appears as if rescuers have no great option in how to get the boys out. Some believe that the boys should be trained in underwater cave swimming, which is no easy feat. CNN spoke with Anmar Mirza, of the US National Cave Rescue Commission recently in this interview. From the interview:
"Cave diving is incredibly dangerous for people who are very experienced doing it. And now you're looking at taking people who have no experience or very little experience with diving, and putting them into a complete blackout situation, where they have to rely on a regulator and the tanks with them to breathe.”
Some believe that the boys should continue to be supplied until the rain season is over and the water levels drop and then rescued - something that could take four months.
For now Thai Navy SEALS, a doctor and a nurse are down with the boys. A communication director from the Navy told reporters:
"We have now given food to the boys, starting with the food which is easy to digest and provide high energy. Minerals are also provided. We have taken care of those boys following the doctor's recommendations, so do not worry. We will take care of them the best we can. We will bring all of them to safety. We are now planning how to do so.”
And just today, July 6th, the rescue operation has claimed it's first life, Saman Gunan, a former Thai navy diver tragically died while delivering air tanks down to the boys. This further illustrates how difficult it will be to get untrained divers, all kids mind you, out of the caves. And with monsoon season approaching, rescue workers don't really know how much time they have before the entire caves flood. A 3 mile oxygen line is now being rushed in along with power and phone cables.
Great news! On July 10th it has been reported via multiple sources that all 12 of the boys and their coach has been rescued. Fearing that the monsoon season would flood the rest of the caves rescuers had no choice but to move forward with a rescue operation. It took thousands of people rescuers more than a week to get them out safely. Here is the first video of the boys' rescue.
All of the boys and their coach have lost weight but are in pretty good shape. One of them has a lung infection but it sounds as if treatment is working well for him. The boys will be in quarantine for about 30 days to protect them from other people. Their immune systems have been weakened and doctors are taking no chances. It sounds as if they are all on the road to a full physical recovery.
UPDATED: July 11th.
UPDATED: July 10th.
UPDATED: July 6th 10:00 am.