Keeping up with the news is hard. So hard, in fact, that we’ve decided to save you the hassle by rounding up the most significant, unusual, or just plain old mind-blowing stories each week.
This week started with a gentle wind down from the highs of Easter before suddenly taking a sharp left turn into the unexpected. In California, a female shooter attacked YouTube’s offices, resulting in injuries but no deaths. Elsewhere, there were man-made disasters, huge scientific breakthroughs, and an unusual political thaw in the Middle East.
10 A Female Shooter Attacked YouTube’s Offices
Female mass shooters are exceedingly rare. The FBI’s data says that only about 4 percent of those committing massacres in the US are female, and the most recent high-profile woman shooter (Tashfeen Malik) was motivated by terrorism.
This is just one of the things that makes this week’s attempted mass shooting at YouTube’s headquarters so weird. The perpetrator, Nasim Aghdam, was female and above the typical age for a mass shooter. She was also a hard-core YouTuber who had a sideline in posting utterly crazy videos.
Aghdam was a vegan, animal rights, and exercise vlogger. She made videos of herself delivering paranoid rants about YouTube and even removing a bright purple dress to reveal fake breasts with a “Don’t Trust Your Eyes” message.
Apparently angry at the demonetizing of some of her videos, she bought a gun, drove across California to YouTube’s headquarters, walked into a courtyard, and opened fire. Three people were wounded, one seriously. Aghdam then committed suicide, ending one of the oddest gun rampages in recent US history.
9 Nelson Mandela’s Divisive Ex-Wife Died
“Necklacing” is when you put a rubber tire around a person’s neck and set it on fire. It’s about as horrific and deadly as it sounds, and it should absolutely be the primary image in your mind as you read about this week’s passing away of Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie.
An anti-apartheid activist once known in South Africa as the “mother of the nation,” Winnie did a lot to keep her husband’s dream alive while he was in jail. But she also condoned the practice of necklacing people whom the ANC regarded as traitors, and she was involved in the brutal torture and murder of a 14-year-old boy. In short, she was about as far from the cuddly image her husband projected as you’re likely to get.
To call Winnie a polarizing figure would be an understatement. She claimed that Mandela sold out the blacks, she advocated for the Mugabe-style seizure of white property, and she was convicted of gross fraud in 2001. Her passing will likely be as controversial as her life.
8 We Detected The Most Distant Star Ever Seen
Icarus is a dead star. It expired billions of years ago in a place so impossibly distant from our Earth that most of us are unable to imagine it. Yet it still managed to make big, news-shaped waves in the science community this week. A team writing in the journal Nature Astronomy announced that they had managed to capture an image of Icarus. That makes it, by far, the most distant star humans have ever seen.
This isn’t the farthest-away object we’ve captured. We’ve seen galaxies, supernovae, and gamma bursts that all came from even more impossibly remote distances. But regular, old, normal stars? None can hold a candle to Icarus’s distance of 9 billion light-years away.
We were only able to see this blue supergiant due to a weird, chance effect called gravitational lensing. This happens when the gravitational field of a giant object bends and magnifies the light from a star behind it. In this case, that light was the flickering blue flames of distant Icarus.
7 London’s Murder Rate Outstripped New York’s for the First Time in Modern History
The cliche about violence in America and Britain is that you’re far more likely to get badly beaten up in the UK but far more likely to get murdered in the US. Where the two nation’s biggest cities are concerned, though, that may have finally changed. A few days ago, a wave of shootings and stabbings took London’s murder rate over New York City’s for the first time in modern history.
This phenomenon was created not just by rising crime in London but by concurrently falling crime in New York City. 2017 was the least deadly year in New York since the 1950s. Yet London has also been getting worse. Plagued by police cuts, gang violence, and a surge in knife crime and acid attacks, the British capital’s reputation is fast catching up with that of its transatlantic cousin.
Perhaps grimmest of all is the fact that this story was first reported in the British press on Tuesday. By Thursday morning, three more people had been stabbed to death in London, taking the total number of murders this year to at least 50.
6 We May Have Seen The Start Of A Saudi-Israeli Thaw
“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.” This probably seems like an uncontroversial sentiment, the sort of thing any ordinary person could get behind. Yet the person who said it last weekend wasn’t ordinary. He was Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne in Saudi Arabia. That’s the same Saudi Arabia that officially campaigns for the destruction of Israel.
Ever since Israel repeatedly bested the Arab states in the mid-20th century, the countries have been enemies of Tel Aviv. As the wannabe leader of all Muslim nations, Saudi Arabia has led this charge.
Despite this, there have been signs of cooperation between the two nations in recent years, including a supposed sharing of intelligence that Saudi Arabia officially denies. Now, with bin Salman’s statement, it looks like the secret Arab-Israeli thaw is coming out into the open.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. Saudi Arabia is currently going full tilt to modernize and make itself more palatable to Western nations than its archenemy, Iran. If that includes making nice with its old No. 2 enemy, then so be it.
5 A Massive Oil Spill Sent Indonesia Into A State Of Emergency
Remember Deepwater Horizon? In 2010, the floating oil rig exploded, killing 11 rig workers and spilling an unimaginable amount of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Last weekend, Indonesia experienced its own version.
A ruptured pipeline in the port city of Balikpapan triggered a massive fire that killed five and unleashed a cloud of toxic gases that hospitalized 1,300. At the time of this writing, the region is still under a state of emergency.
It’s currently unknown how much oil escaped into the ocean during this latest spill, although it’s highly unlikely that Deepwater Horizon will be losing its record. The Indonesian disaster was apparently caused when a boat hit an underwater pipe, dragging it along the ocean floor.
Some sources are currently saying that the leak has been stopped, while others claim that it continues. Either way, it’s sure to add even more woes to Indonesia’s already awful pollution.
4 Kosovo’s Special Court Prepared Its First Indictments
At the end of 2017, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) handed down its final verdicts, closing the door on one of the bloodiest civil wars of the 1990s. Yet the legal fallout from the implosion of Yugoslavia is far from over.
As 2018 began, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers began preparing for a new round of hearings in The Hague. This week, it was reported that they were finally preparing their first indictments.
The Kosovo special court is doubly unusual as it isn’t aiming to put any ethnic Serbians in the dock. Instead, members of the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) will be on trial for crimes ranging from massacring Serbs to harvesting organs from dead bodies to murdering other Albanians who were political rivals.
This has enormous potential to shake up the young country. Former KLA members include Kosovo’s president, its prime minister, and a huge number of its most influential politicians. While not all KLA members are accused of war crimes, the president and PM have been suspiciously active in trying to shut down the new court. It is only going ahead due to extreme pressure from the EU and USA.
3 China And The US Began Tit-For-Tat Tariffs
It’s not a trade war yet, although it could spiral into one. Following the recent announcement about impending US steel tariffs, China finally responded this week by announcing multiple tariffs of its own. The US then announced yet more tariffs, and China instantly responded in kind. While there’s still time to step back from the brink, we may now be looking down the barrel of a genuine trade war.
If they go ahead in current form, the tariffs threaten to wallop US car manufacturers (especially Elon Musk’s Tesla, which makes nearly one-fifth of its sales in China), Beijing-linked tech companies, US whiskey makers, and US farmers, all of whom have a less than rosy outlook. On the other hand, US meat exporters stand to benefit.
One card still in play is the so-called “nuclear option.” China owns a whole lot of US government debt. Instantly dumping it could trigger a brutal but short-term shock to American investors.
Of course, China would have only one chance to exercise that option. Once done, they would have no more leverage. So, threatening to use the nuclear option may be far more effective than actually doing it.
For now, the tariffs are expected to have a minimal impact on the overall US economy. Some experts believe that the two countries are simply using these opening salvos as negotiating tactics and will settle the dispute in a relatively short time.
2 We Found The First Galaxy Without Dark Matter
Dark matter is kind of a big deal. We can’t see it (in fact, we’ve never even directly detected it), but it’s thought to account for some 27 percent of the universe. By comparison, visible matter is supposed to account for a mere 5 percent.
Dark matter is also supposed to be integral for the formations of galaxies . . . or was . . . until now. Last Friday, researchers published information about NGC1052-DF2, a galaxy that contains no dark matter whatsoever.
DF2 is the cosmic equivalent of a very spread-out suburb, a collection of stars that barely hangs together and looks utterly insubstantial against the Milky Way’s jam-packed city of lights. DF2’s entire mass can be accounted for by these stars alone, which begs the question: How the heck did it form without dark matter?
DF2 isn’t the only weird galaxy we’ve discovered recently. In 2016, galaxy Dragonfly 44 was discovered and judged to be made nearly entirely of dark matter. It seems that the science of galaxy formation is even stranger than we thought.
1 Normalcy Returned To War-Torn Raqqa
The fall of Raqqa in October 2017 marked the end of Islamic State as a conquering force. As the group’s Syrian capital, the city endured a brutal occupation followed by a devastating battle to liberate it. Under the caliphate of ISIS, Raqqa’s stadium was converted into a gigantic torture chamber and execution ground where horrific acts were committed.
This week, the first tentative signs of normality returned to this war-torn city. As thousands of refugees slowly returned to their homes and contractors worked to clear the hidden IEDs, something important and symbolic took place. In the same ruined stadium where ISIS committed some of their worst acts, two local teams took to the pitch to play Raqqa’s first soccer game in years. Their match marked an important step on the city’s route to healing.
The game was small and sparsely attended, with only some 100 supporters turning up. But for those who made it, what a moment it must have been. For four years, their city had been under the thumb of ISIS. There had been daily terror and no legal ways to enjoy oneself. The stadium had become a place of suffering.
To now do something as normal as watch soccer, on a day as normal as Wednesday was in this corner of Syria, must have seemed like a minor miracle. It’s a small step for Raqqa’s citizens but an important one. Hopefully, this once-proud city will soon rise again.