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.
Twenty five people have died, and 45 others are suspected to be infected with Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed and reported the outbreak of Ebola on May 8.
This latest outbreak began in villages near Bikoro. New cases later surfaced miles away in Mbandaka, an urban city with a reported population of 1.2 million, located along the banks of the Congo River.
Vaccination has begun with ZMapp, a treatment used in the 2014 outbreak that shows promise as a prophylactic measure.
Dr. Karen Duus, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Touro University Nevada, explains, “The vaccine is a recombinant Ebola virus protein vaccine that causes a similar type of neutralizing antibody response (as the ZMapp treatment). The neutralizing antibodies coat the virus particle and keep it from binding to the target cells and infecting them.” Its efficacy, however has not been extensively tested.
The DRC had a small outbreak last year but it was contained within 42 days.
The West African Ebola epidemic spanned from the end of December 2013 to 2016 infecting over 28,000 people and killing over 11,300. The epidemic was one of the worst in Ebola’s history and its high mortality rate took countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia by surprise. A vaccine was not available, and medications such as ZMapp were experimental and not in great supply. Hospitals were not stocked with protective clothing able to prevent the minutest of exposure to the deadly virus. Travel bans were difficult to institute and top that off with a lack of education on what we were dealing with and it was unfortunately the perfect storm for one of the deadliest outbreaks in recent history.
Ebola however emerged far before this. Ebola was named after the Ebola River in Zaire and was first recognized in 1976 when it caused two outbreaks affecting 318 and 284 people respectively. Multiple small outbreaks have occurred since then, according to the CDC:
1995 – Democratic Republic of Congo – infected 315
2000 – Uganda – infected 425
2007 – Democratic Republic of Congo – infected 264
And multiple smaller sporadic cases occurred in the years between.
In January 2016 health officials declared the Ebola outbreak had ended, however cases continued to smolder.
Why this occurs is the virus may not leave the body completely. Its been found to live in semen up to a year and some survivors can suffer a reinfection months later. For example, in 2015 Dr. Ian Crozier successfully fought Ebola but two months after discharge, suffered a severe eye infection which turned out to be Ebola lurking in his eye.
A study in 2015 found Ebola be able to survive outside a human body for days and longer if within a liquid such as water or blood. Mosquitoes are not known to transmit the virus however it can live in bats as well as monkeys and apes. Pets have not been known to contract Ebola from their sick owners but its been postulated that pigs could, if in contact with a victim.
Dr. Duus states that although the virus reservoirs are not clear, “people are most likely infected by butchering or eating infected animals.”
Ebola is a virus from the Flavivirus family that causes a hemorrhagic fever with symptoms of sudden fever, myalgias, headache and sore throat. It could then progress to nausea and vomiting, liver and kidney issues and internal and external bleeding, ultimately resulting in death in 90% of cases.
For better or worse, Britain's exit from the European Union (EU) begins. In the morning of March 29th, 2017, the British representative to the EU handed in the UK’s separation papers to the President of the European Council in Brussels. You see, the institutions of the EU are headquartered in Brussels, a city now famous for three things: Belgian Beer, Mr. JCVD himself (the “Muscles from Brussels”) and the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the EU.
Once such point of bureaucracy is Article 50 from the 2009 Lisbon Treaty which lays the groundwork for any EU member to, “withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements … shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”
Until now, no state within the EU has invoked Article 50. Greece debated the idea as recent recessions, three recent public healthcare meltdowns and bailouts that seem to have done Greece more bad than good. It seems reasonable the Greeks would want change, but they never actually invoked Article 50. (New York Times coverage Explaining Greece’s Debt Crisis).
As for Brexit, England and Wales, they voted “yes.” Northern Ireland and Scotland voted “no:” Why not let England and Wales leave the EU and the other two countries remain? That seems fair. Not that fairness has much to do with the complex international treaties that govern the EU but, whatever. So, here we are, and now the United Kingdom has two years to negotiate its exit.
I also have no doubt that the immediate impact of the withdrawal will be felt first and foremost by the poor and the disenfranchised. A Scotsman recently turned me onto the plight of the Roma when he said, “... Roma families here rely on EU funding to assist their children getting proper support and education, as we are culturally so prone to isolating and pushing out Roma people they are often forced into poverty”. Precursory interneting shows me the Roma are a group of people so marginalized and maligned I am reminded of the sad history between the United States and the Native Americans.
So then, who actually benefits from Brexit? Well, if Brexit were a crime, Batman would be able to solve it by asking his two crime-solving questions:
1) Who benefits from the crime?
2) Where does the money go?
Fair enough, Batman. Who does benefit? Where does the money go? Abandoning the EU ends free trade between the UK and all other other members of the union. Do the words “abandon free trade” sound like they will lead you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? I’m pretty sure it’s easier to move money and products around Europe with, you know, free trade. In fact, it seems to be the only thing economists actually agree on. Will the UK benefit by abandoning open borders? Will it be more secure from terrorism? No. Terrorism is way more of a law enforcement issue than a border issue. Also, I’m no Batman, but I suspect an influx of immigrants fuels an economy and helps pay for public services.
The enormity of the negotiation deal is way beyond the scope of one snotty American opinion. Obviously, some people will benefit, some people will not. Which people will fall into which category? And what will the ratio of benefited to not benefited be? Will Brexit do the most good for the most amount of people in the UK?
I guess we’re about to find out.
Yes! To the best of my Googling skills, Brexit happened, well, the same way these things always seem to happen -- bumbling politicians! You see, as a last ditch effort to save his political ass, former Prime Minister David Cameron proposed an independence referendum to -- I don’t know appease the rising populist movement? Then, obviously, he turns right around and actively campaigns against it! Propose it. Campaign against it. Genius!
How hard did he campaign against it? Imagine Captain America punching a Nazi in the f**king face (because Cap hits hard)! That’s how hard Cameron campaigned against the yes vote to Brexit.
Only Cameron’s plan didn’t work out so well. As we all know, due to the rise in populism, the “yes” vote to Brexit won by a narrow margin and former Prime Minister Cameron stepped down. In 2016, Theresa May became head of Her Majesty’s Government. May, despite having also campaigned for a “stay in the EU vote,” is now tasked with overseeing Brexit. In fact, May publicly warned voters, Brexit would damage the economy, harm security, erode the kindness of dogs, cause the sky to turn a sickly pink-green color and altogether obliterate the taste of strawberries. (I might have made some of those examples up).
Weather Brexit will destabilize the EU or become disastrous to the UK economy remains to be seen. As usual, when any huge political change is announced, the day the “yes” vote passed, the UK stock market took a hit but slowly climbed back up in following months. I believe the pound is still a bit down in value versus both the U.S. dollar and the Euro, making travel to the UK a tad less expensive, but predictions of economic crisis, recession, a huge rise in unemployment and the “Tasteless Strawberry Apocalypse” have not proven accurate. Yet.
The UK now enters unknown territory and pundits on both sides of the political spectrum, and all over the world, have wildly opposing utopia/dystopia predictions. I suspect Brexit results will land somewhere within the usual parameters of, “the poor suffer, the middle class pays for it all” and the wealthy “get some more tax breaks.” Business as usual.
Prime Minister May was correct about one thing, though. May predicted that a yes vote to Brexit would piss off the Scots and that they would vote for another independence referendum. If you recall, way back in 2014 AD, the Scots voted on an independence referendum to break from the UK. At the time, the Queen, the fine folks of England and a whole bunch of wealthy, elite, old, white Scots told the world, “This is a terrible idea! We’re stronger together!” The independence vote failed.
Guess what? That next Scottish independence vote May feared? Well, as of Tuesday, March 28, 2017, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (of Scotland) won a Parliamentary vote for a new referendum. In fact, First Minister Sturgeon promised “endless independence campaigns.”
We all know what that means. England was the driving force behind Brexit and now believes that sometimes you must dissolve a partnership in order to move forward, which is why they will be completely sympathetic and understanding about Scottish independence this time around. England will cast off thousands of years of English imperialism and will cooperate fully with the Scots independence. England will, in no way, spend massive political capital and crushing amounts of money on a propaganda, smear campaign against Scottish independence. Finally, England will totally give up their entitled ownership over all that Scottish oil in the North Sea.
I predict the new Scottish Independence Referendum will be a smooth-sailing, easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy walk in the park victory for the Scots. I mean, that’s all obvious to you too, right? Countries don’t control other countries just because of entitlement, imperialism and/or oil money!
We’re all on the same page here, right?
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