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 was the Groundhog Day of news reporting. After a roundup last week where we covered a devastating earthquake in Mexico and a tropical storm laying waste to the Caribbean, both stories resurfaced once more with a vengeance. There was deja vu elsewhere as well. We can only hope next week’s roundup is significantly different and significantly less tragic.
10 Mexico Was Hit By Its Deadliest Earthquake In Decades
On Friday, September 8, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Mexico, devastating the country’s south and killing nearly 100 people. At the time, it was reported as a horrible, once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. Sadly, it turned out that Mother Nature was only warming up. Just over ten days later, on Tuesday this week, yet another quake struck the beleaguered country, this time right next to the capital. The result was carnage on a horrifying scale.
At the time of this writing, the death toll is standing at “over 230” and is sadly expected to rise. In Mexico City itself, entire buildings collapsed. Homes were devastated. Streets came to resemble war zones. In perhaps the most gut-wrenching case of all, a school collapsed, killing around 30 children. Or perhaps the worst case was when a church collapsed during a two-month-old baby’s baptism. The baby and ten members of her family died.
There are concerns that lax planning regulations may have increased the death toll. In an interview with The Guardian, one expert said the school should have been constructed to survive such a quake. As in Haiti in 2010, cost cutting may have cost lives.
9 Hurricane Maria Trashed The Already Devastated Caribbean
Earlier this month, Category 5 storm Irma cut a swath through the Caribbean and Florida, leaving dozens dead and entire countries in ruin. As with Mexico’s first quake, it sadly turned out that Irma was just the warm-up act. This week, Hurricane Maria, which also reached Category 5, steamrollered through the already battered Caribbean. It left yet more death, despair, and destruction in its wake.
The damage was indiscriminate and breathtaking. On the island of Dominica, reports indicated that 90 percent of all buildings were destroyed. The British Virgin Islands, already ruined by Irma, saw what was left of their infrastructure crumble. For Puerto Rico, Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit in nearly a century. As of this writing, the entire island has lost power, with the governor warning the blackout could last for months.
Now the hope is that this series of storms is finally over, and the affected nations can get on with the task of rebuilding. Fingers crossed we don’t have to revisit this topic again this year.
8 Terrorists Tried To Bomb The London Underground (Again)
The London Tube has a grim significance where terrorism is concerned. It was here on July 7, 2005, that Islamist bombers managed to kill 50 people in the deadliest attack on British soil (if you discount the Lockerbie bombing, which happened in the air). This week, others tried to repeat their success. During the morning rush hour, a bomb exploded on a crowded carriage at Parson’s Green. In different circumstances, it could have killed dozens.
Thankfully, these aren’t “different circumstances.” The bomb’s trigger failed to work properly. Instead of creating a gigantic blast, it created a flash of flame that burned around 30 people but killed no one. Of those burned, all but a handful suffered only minor injuries. Police have now arrested six people—mostly teenagers—on suspicion of Islamist terrorism.
As the BBC noted, this takes the total number of attacks in England this year to five, with another six foiled. At no other point since the IRA bombing campaign of the 1970s has England been so frequently targeted. The majority of the attacks have been directed or inspired by ISIS, with only the Finsbury Park attack being right-wing in nature. We can only pray there are not more to come.
7 A Pedophilia Case Brought Down Iceland’s Government
Iceland has been in a state of political turmoil for over a year. The Panama Papers scandal brought down Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson in April 2016. His successor, Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, was forced to resign in October. Now, yet another scandal has collapsed the government of Bjarni Benediktsson. Only this one involved something much darker than corruption. Benediktsson’s government was ended by its associations with Hjalti Sigurjon Hauksson, a notorious pedophile.
In 2004, Hauksson was convicted of raping his stepdaughter almost daily from the time she was six years old until she was 18. Under Iceland’s penal code, criminals can have their “honor restored” if three respectable citizens write letters vouching for their character. This week, it was revealed that Benediktsson’s father had written such a letter for Hauksson. In an effort to protect his own reputation, Benediktsson is alleged to have covered the letter up. The scandal was too much for Benediktsson’s coalition partners, who pulled the plug and collapsed his government.
Now Iceland will have to go to the polls for the second time this year. For a country still under the clouds of the 2008 economic crisis, such instability won’t be welcome.
6 Norway’s Top Cop Was Busted For Drug Smuggling
Imagine if Eliot Ness had ended his career being busted for alcohol smuggling. That’s the sort of craziness we’re talking about with the story of Eirik Jensen, Norway’s former top cop, responsibile for tackling organized crime. Only it turned out that Jensen had confused “tackling” with “facilitating.” This week, the disgraced lawman was convicted in an Oslo court of helping gangs smuggle huge amounts of hashish into the Nordic nation.
This was even crazier in Norway than it would be elsewhere. Norway is one of the least corrupt, most law-abiding societies on Earth. Their public servants make Canada’s and Denmark’s look like graft artists living in a banana republic. And here was a highly respected, well-paid cop acting like the kingpin in a Lethal Weapon movie.
Jensen has now been sentenced to 21 years in prison, although he may appeal. Interestingly, this isn’t the only case of this type to hit the Nordic region recently. Last year, one of Finland’s top cops also went down for drug smuggling.
5 A Swedish Left-Wing Leader Was Raped In A Political Attack
Sweden is often portrayed in the press as a kind of hippy utopia, but insanely dark stuff sometimes happens there, too. This week, that darkness was beyond anything even Stieg Larsson could dream up. On Friday, September 15, Patrik Liljeglod, local leader of the Left Party in the city of Falun, revealed he’d been raped at knifepoint in a political attack.
Liljeglod claims the assault took place in July, when he was walking home through a park. Allegedly, his attacker told him that he was a left-wing traitor and that his beliefs meant he would enjoy being raped. He then brutally assaulted Liljeglod at knifepoint.
The Left Party is a relatively minor party in Sweden, with a focus on feminism and gender equality. They’ve been criticized in the past for taking fringe positions, such as wanting to make it illegal for men to stand while urinating, and for publicly supporting Communism. But this attack takes things to a whole new level. While no arrests have been made yet, an investigation is now underway.
4Cassini ’s Spectacular Saturn Mission Reached A Fiery End
The past few years have been a golden age for space missions. We’ve had multiple rovers land on Mars. We’ve had the New Horizons Pluto flyby. We’ve had Cassini orbiting Saturn, beaming back reams upon reams of data. And each of these missions, and others, have resulted in stunning pictures that have changed the way we think about our solar system.
Now, sadly, one of those missions is no more. Last Friday, Cassini bid farewell and dived into Saturn’s atmosphere. In no time at all, it was gone, burned to a crisp.
Cassini’s legacy is almost incalculable. Aside from sending back photos that made Saturn look like something from a Hollywood blockbuster, it gave us our best-ever look at the moons Titan and Enceladus, transforming them into prime candidates for finding alien life. It also provided a template for future missions to Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus. In short, its entire life span was one gigantic win for mankind.
Appropriately, Cassini’s last act was for the benefit of science. As it tumbled into Saturn’s atmosphere, it kept hurling data back at Earth until the very last second. Who knows what treasures we’ll uncover in its final transmission?
3 Togo Was Rocked By Enormous Anti-Government Protests
Squashed up next to Ghana on Africa’s West Coast, Togo is a former French colony that has been a stranger to democracy almost since independence. In 1967, Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in a coup and ruled with an iron fist until 2005, when his son, Faure Gnassingbe, took over. Gnassingbe junior has been in power ever since, surviving things like a wave of protests in 2005 that killed 500 people.
But maybe not for much longer. For some time, protests in Togo against limits on presidential terms have been brewing, getting bigger and bigger. This week, they reached critical mass. Over 12 percent of the entire population is now thought to be marching on the streets. Gnassingbe may soon fall.
The protestors believe Gnassingbe is using a new law about presidents only serving two terms to give his continued rule a democratic veneer. If the law passes, Gnassingbe’s time served won’t count, meaning he could rule until 2030. This has spurred the opposition to unite under Tikpi Atchadam, who has succeeded in getting hundreds of thousands of protestors out onto the streets.
2 We Lost A True Acting Legend
Roger Ebert once claimed, “No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” Both character actors were mesmerizing in any role they took, able to lift up mediocre films and make them interesting. While Mr. Walsh is still alive and acting, we sadly no longer have Harry Dean Stanton with us. The cult actor died this week, aged 91. He left behind a cinematic legacy like no other.
Harry Dean Stanton’s credits read like an idiot’s guide to cool and offbeat cinema. He was in Alien, Cool Hand Luke, Repo Man, and Escape from New York. He popped up in Avengers Assemble, Godfather Part II, Pretty in Pink, The Last Temptation of Christ, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Seven Psychopaths, and Twin Peaks. But his best performance came in Paris, Texas, a film so sublimely beautiful you could probably mount it on a pedestal and worship it.
1 Catalonia’s Upcoming Independence Vote Went Majorly Off the Rails
On October 1, residents of Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia are due to go to the polls to vote on becoming an independent state. There’s just one problem. The Spanish constitution makes secession illegal. Ever since the vote was announced, Madrid and Barcelona have been on a collision course. This week, they finally crashed head-on.
Under orders from Madrid, Catalan officials have now been arrested for facilitating the referendum. Local mayors have been threatened with removal from office. Ballot papers have been seized. Pro-independence Catalans have deemed the government’s moves an attack on the region’s autonomy and called for mass pro-independence protests.
On the other side, Catalonia has threatened to arrest postmen who refuse to deliver ballot papers, something of a Catch-22, as Madrid has threatened to arrest them if they don’t refuse. Anti-independence activists have accused the Catalan government of not setting a minimum threshold for participation, meaning independence could be declared with a turnout of only 35 percent (the same turnout as the 2014 referendum).
At this point, it is unknown whether the vote will go ahead, what will happen if it does, and how Madrid will react if Barcelona tries to declare independence. Expect chaos in the next two weeks.