what happened last week (whlw) | Subscribe

whlw: no. 235

August 31 – September 6, 2020

This is Sham, your very own news curator. I stopped reading the news yesterday at 9pm.

Happy pandemic Monday! There's an endangered species baby boom in Uganda and Kenya, we found out a honeybee venom kills some breast cancer cells, we will make plastic carrier bags in the United Kingdom a lot more expensive starting next year, Africa is finally wild polio-freeFinland's prime minister will become the official Helsinki Pride week patron in 2020 and 2021 (for the very first time) and Pakistan decided to use medicinal and industrial cannabis. These are headlines of good news from the past week/week and a half. Kind reminder: There are good news if you pay attention... or read this newsletter.

I put in a lot of hours and my heart into every issue of whlw. You're welcome to support me on Patreon (like 149 others!) or via PayPal. Or, honestly, just share this email with friends and the pessimistic people in your life.

Now without further ado, here's what happened last week,

what happened last week

We discovered a totally different type of black hole in the universe
Why this matters
Most astrophysicists did not believe this type of black hole existed. Before, they thought black holes come only in two sizes, never this huge. This is a pretty big milestone for astronomers: We now ask better questions.

Who found it?
An international team of astronomers working with LIGO and VIRGO, gravitational wave detectors in the United States and Italy.

How did they find it?
By looking closely at gravitational waves that were so short and small you could have easily missed it; like four short wiggles which lasted for less than a tenth of a second.

What's so special about it?
It is the most distant, oldest and most massive black hole ever observed through gravitational waves.

Where can I read more about it?
The discovery is reported in two papers published last week. One appears in Physical Review Letters and details the discovery of the gravitational wave signal itself, and another in Astrophysical Journal Letters explores the physical properties and implications of that signal.

What now?
We are now looking for more out there. Also, since we didn't know they even existed in the first place, we're now looking for why they exist in the first place
We decided to stop mixing politics and religion in Sudan – after 30 years
Why this matters
For 30 years, Sudan has been mixing politics and religion. The country's new government wants to stop doing that. This is now a totally new direction 42 million people are going in.

Who decided this?
Sudanese prime minister Abdalla Hamdok and Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North rebel group.

Why now?
Why not. For 30 years, former president Omar al-Bashir (who was forced to step down last year) thought Islamic rule is the way to go. This created tensions (read: brutal wars) between the Muslims in the north and (mainly) Christians and animists (following traditional religions) in the south. It got so bad that South Sudan had to become its own state in 2011.
  • Did you know there is a civil war going on in South Sudan right now? It started two years after the country became independent. Most of the country now lives on less than $1 a day. VICE News recently did a mini-documentary on how South Sudan is doing.
We are still raising our voices to demand that the president in Belarus steps down
Why this matters
Belarus' president Alexander Lukashenko lost the election on August 9. The other candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, won. But he says 'nope, I actually won'. Note: He's been in power for 26 years. Nobody (except Russia) believes him and more than 100,000 people have been protesting ever since. Some have even died. 

What's the latest update in Belarus?
Last weekend, around 4,000 people took to the streets again, 'We want Lukashenko to step down!!!'. Some 90 people were arrested. Last week, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have blacklisted Lukashenko and 29 high-ranking officials in his administration.

What does Russia have to do with anything here?
Belarus and Russia are in an 'union state' aka they will help each other out militarily if and should things get dangerous. Russian president Vladimir Putin hasn't made up his mind yet: To send Russian troops or not? This is the question. One reason why he hasn't is: The opposition is also on good terms with Russia. So, this is more about whether or not Putin believes that Lukashenko can handle this 'sticky situation' or not.

Could what's happening in Belarus become bigger than Belarus?
Yes. Political scientists and journalists are worried that Russia – to help Lukashenko 'calm down' the country – might invade neighbouring Lithuania. The Baltic republic, which shares a 420-mile border with Belarus, is a member of both the European Union and NATO. So, if this happened, NATO would have to respond. And that would mean war with Russia. Al Jazeera's The Take podcast recently did an episode on this very dangerous maybe-situation. 
We found a lot of mammoth skeletons in Mexico and now we might answer an age-old question: 'Why did they die?'
Why this matters:
Mammoths (they look like this), camels and horses went extinct in the Americas. For years, scientists have been looking for the reason why. Finding these skeletons could be a gamechanger in archeology. Plus, this is the world's largest find of mammoth bones.

How many were found? 
At least 200 mammoths, about 25 camels and five horses. They all died somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago.

In Mexico City, Mexico at the airport. They found them in old mammoth traps that humans made to catch and kill them. A couple of years ago, they found a similar trap site in Tultepec.

What do scientists think killed mammoths? 
Different reasons. Maybe climate change, maybe humans. They're now running more tests until 2022.
In Netherlands and Canada, we are stepping up our fight against the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar
Why this matters:
More than 730,000 people today live in refugee camps in Bangladesh and elsewhere because they have had to flee their homes in Myanmar since 2017. Why? They belong to the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country and the military started attacking them. Myanmar says, 'eh... they attacked us first.' The world aka the United Nations (UN) has been paying close attention. So close that The Gambia (a small West African nation part of the UN) was like, 'We want to sue Myanmar's government for this at the International Court of Justice (ICJ)' last year.

Why did The Gambia – out of all states – start this?
'As a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention, we must prevent and punish genocide, no matter where it took place. We take this very seriously.' Because of The Gambia, Myanmar has had to report on its efforts to protect Rohingya from acts of genocide every six months until a final ruling is made (note: it could take years.)

What does Myanmar's government say to this?
Its leader (and Nobel Peace laureate, lol) Aung San Suu Kyi is like, 'seriously?! You think this was a genocide?! No.'

Why did Netherlands and Canada join? 
In the words of Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and the Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok: "to prevent the crime of genocide and hold those responsible to account" aka 'duh.' Both countries also said they want to specifically pay attention to sexual and gender-based violence, including rape aka horrible stuff done to women and girls. 

What if Myanmar doesn't do what the ICJ tells it to do?
Well, although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have sometimes ignored them, and the court has no real power to force them not to.

Rwanda Watch this Al Jazeera mini-documentary on the story of Felicien Kabuga, the role he played in Rwanda's genocide in 1994 and how he evaded justice for 26 years. He was caught this year and his trial has since begun.

Bosnia Read about Ratko Mladić, one of the most infamous figures of the Balkan wars in the 1990s, who's still on trial for the horrible things he did decades ago. There's a PBS Frontline documentary (about 2 hours long) about him, too. (Access: for North Americans only; oh, also, it's got an amazing original soundtrack that was written by Anne Nikitin). The final verdict in the Mladić case is expected next year.
We now have (eight) female judges on the Supreme Court in Kuwait – for the very first time
Why this matters:
Kuwait is the first Gulf country to do so. This is a big, very big step for women in the country towards gender equality.

Who are the women?
Their names are Fatima Al-Sagheer, Fatima Al-Kandari, Sanabel Al-Houti, Fatima Al-Farhan, Bashair Shah, Bashaer Al-Rakdan, Rawaat Al-Tabtabae, and Lulwa Al-Ghanim. Here's a video of them taking the legal oath. 

Tell me more about feminism in Kuwait
It's very basic still. Kuwaiti women were granted the right to vote and run for political office in 2005. Four years later, the first female lawmakers were elected. And in 2014, the first female prosecutors took office.

However, beware, these rights are not given to female migrant workers or transgender women in Kuwait. Kuwait has a very high percentage of migrant workers. Many Egyptian, Palestinian, Filipino and Southeast Asian women live in Kuwait. The kafala system is a real feminism-blocker. As for transgender women, ask Maha al-Mutairi who went viral in June this year for this video she posted in which she said the police had raped and beath her senseless.

On a funny note

So, Osama Bin Laden's niece Noor Bin Ladin gave an interview to the New York Post last week. She believes that only United States president Donald Trump can save the country. 
  • "I have been a supporter of President Trump since he announced he was running in the early days in 2015... He must be reelected."
In the words of Twitter account @notbalin, 'Sometimes i think i died and woke up in an snl skit'.
The end,

If you like what I do every week, yay! I put in a lot of hours and my heart into every issue. You're welcome to support me on Patreon (like 149 others!) or via PayPal.
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