Friday, February 19, 2021

30 Taliban militants killed in explosion during bomb-making class

At least 30 Taliban militants have died in Afghanistan after they blew themselves up during a bomb-making class. The fighters died when Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) they were learning to construct exploded inside a mosque, quoting a release from the Afghan Army’s 209th Shaheen Corps. The blast happened at a mosque in the village of Qultaq in the Dowlatabad district of Balkh province. The fighters included six foreign nationals. The bodies of the six foreigners could not be identified because of the extent of the damage caused by the explosion, the army statement revealed. The militants had gathered to learn techniques for making bombs and IEDS from the six foreigners, who were reportedly considered experts in the subject. (The New Zealand Herald)


Cannabis lounge becomes Oklahoma town’s only shelter for the homeless during deep freeze

Faced with more than a week of subfreezing temperatures, ice and several inches of snow, a cannabis lounge in Wagoner, Oklahoma has stepped up to serve as the town’s only warming station and shelter service for the town’s homeless population. Budz Lounge began offering shelter and warming services, as well as food, clothing and blankets to those in need after a discussion on the town’s Facebook page raised the issue of what was being done to help the town’s homeless population during the deep freeze that has gripped the state over the past week. Initially, the lounge was offering a public warming station for those who lost power last week, said a co-owner, but when she and her mother, who is also a co-owner of Budz and the medical marijuana dispensary next door Flower to the People, saw a Facebook post asking what was being done for the homeless in Wagoner, they decided to open the lounge as a shelter to begin providing food and clothing to those in need. Although they had worked in social services for years in Wagoner, a town with a population of around 9,000, she said she had no idea there was a significant population of homeless people in the small town. The town does not have a homeless shelter, she said, and there has until now been little in the way of outreach to bring those people out of the cold, and some of those who have sought shelter there have also asked about how to get other services, such as addiction counseling. The Wagoner Deputy Police Chief said Budz was the only option he was aware of there in Wagoner for people looking for shelter or a public warming station. Budz also partnered with a local nonprofit, Healthy Food for Oklahomans, which is accepting donations for food purchases. The lounge is also hoping to eventually begin a community garden there with Healthy Food for Oklahomans. (The Frontier)


Private jet sharing is taking off

Business jet sharing, similar to ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, could be here to stay. Amid travel restrictions and health concerns, more executives are flying by private planes than before the pandemic started, with aviation company Vista Global reporting a 29% year-on-year increase in new sign-ups for its pay-per-hour subscription service. The trend could be the start of an eventual transformation within the “notoriously cyclical business” of private aviation manufacturing. (The Wall Street Journal)


 Ukrainian man invents murder to get police to clear snow from his road

A Ukrainian man has reported a fictitious murder to police in the hope that they would clear snow from his road when they came to arrest him, regional authorities have said. The man called police on Saturday night to tell them he had killed his mother’s partner by stabbing him. He said the victim “showed no signs of life,” a spokesman for the Cherniguiv police said. The man also advised police to bring a snowplow because “it was not possible to reach his house otherwise”. Law enforcement officers were, however, able to reach the property in the small village of Grybova Rudnia in northwestern Ukraine using an all-terrain vehicle. The alleged victim was “safe and sound and no one had attacked him”, the spokeswoman continued. The road in question had been cleared of snow in the morning, according to local authorities, but the man said he was unhappy with the work and hoped the police would finish the job. (Euro News)


Texas wholesale electric prices spike more than 10,000% amid outages

The spot price of wholesale electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000% this past Monday (2/15) amid a deep freeze across the state and rolling outages among power producers, according to data on the grid operator’s website. Real-time wholesale market prices on the power grid operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) were more than $9,000 per megawatt hour late Monday morning, compared with pre-storm prices of less than $50 per megawatt hour, according to ERCOT data. The surge reflects the real-time megawatt hour price of electricity and the cost of congestion and losses at different points across the grid. Early on Monday, ERCOT said extreme weather conditions forced many power generating units off the grid, upending the supply of electricity. (Reuters)


Texas mayor quits after calling residents ‘lazy’ and ‘weak’ amid power outages from storm

The mayor of Colorado City, Texas, a town of about 4,000 people, stepped down earlier this week in the wake of a controversial social media post in which he said residents without electricity and water due to a winter storm are “lazy” and “weak,” adding that local government and utility services owed them “nothing”. Now-former Colorado City Mayor called complaining constituents “socialist” and then told them: “the strong will survive and the weak will perish.” “Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!” he continued in his post. “No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!!” He also complained that residents were looking for a “hand out” and told them to accept personal responsibility for being left in the cold. “If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are waiting for someone to come rescue you because you’re lazy, is a direct result of your raising!” he wrote. “Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!” he added. He later deleted the post after it went viral and drew significant online uproar. In a subsequent post, he announced his resignation. (KVIA)


Indian university caught selling 36,000 fake degrees has graduates working in Singapore

During a routine investigation of a fake degree case, the Indian police had uncovered a much bigger case of an Indian university selling tens of thousands of fake degrees to multitude of people. Manav Bharti University in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh had sold 36,000 fake degrees across 17 states in over 11 years. In fact, of the total 41,000 degrees issued by the university, only 5,000 have been found to be genuine so far. The university is run by the Manav Bharti Charitable Trust. Police have now initiated the process to extradite trust chairman, his wife, and their daughter who are also trustees along with a son from Australia. The trust operates private universities in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. It also led to questions if the other universities run by Manav Bharti Charitable Trust are also involved in selling fake degrees. The Indian authorities estimated that the family had amassed property worth $70 million from the proceeds of the racket. The 36,000 fake degrees issued by Manav Bharti University was said to be only the tip of an iceberg, as the number of fake degrees issued is known to be many more. The scam is likely to run into crores of rupees, said the investigation team. (The One Citizen)


Twitch streamer made $16,000 filming himself sleeping and letting viewers disturb him with alarm clocks and fake dog barks 

Many Social media influencers are embracing the new rising trend: the “sleep stream.” Among the best-known sleep streamers is one who goes by the name Asian Andy. The 26-year-old from Los Angeles made $16,000 in just one night on his Twitch livestream, though he didn’t get much sleep in the process. He set up text-to-speech recognition for his livestream, meaning that music played with every donation and the messages were read aloud. A lot of viewers used their messages to get Alexa to play loud music, imitate a dog barking, or make his alarm clock go off. One recurring theme in an August livestream was viewers telling him someone was at the window, leading to over-the-top reactions. The man himself was shocked at his viewers’ generosity. (Business Insider)


New study casts doubt on the existence of Planet Nine, a yet-to-observed planet lurking far from the sun; the planet was proposed to explain a clustering of celestial objects located beyond Neptune 

Last week, a team of researchers led by the University of Michigan published a preprint paper they say discredits the evidence often used to support Planet Nine. “The long story short is, any evidence for Planet Nine is gone,” said a co-author of the paper. The new research doesn’t completely rule out the existence of Planet Nine, but rather argues it’s far less likely than originally thought. A key part of the issue is biased data. Extreme Trans-Neptunian Objects (ETNO) are far away and relatively small, making them hard to see. Astronomers are only able to spot them when ETNO’s are orbiting close to the sun. To achieve this, telescopes are adjusted to see a certain part of the sky, at a certain part of the year, at a certain time of day. This method biases the data sample, Napier’s team’s paper argues. So the team pulled data from three different telescopic surveys and evaluated the movement of 14 ETNOs and accounted for selection bias using a computer simulation. Sparing you some incomprehensible astronomy, their finding was that what was previously thought to be a “cluster” of ETNOs is actually just selection bias. In simpler terms: Planet Nine probably doesn’t need to exist in order for these ETNOs to have the orbits they do. (Cornell University)


Volunteers rescue more than 2,500 cold-stunned sea turtles in Texas

About 2,500 sea turtles have been rescued from South Padre Island, off the southeast coast of the state, and transported to a warmer, indoor environment. Some of the turtles are staying at a conservation facility, while others are enjoying the climate inside the South Padre Island Convention Center. Volunteers rushed to the island this week to rescue the turtles, with some being transported in personal vehicles. Sea turtles are cold-blooded animals that can get lethargic and face significant health problems in temperatures under 50°F. (WFLA)


Bank is stuck holding $500M bag

Citigroup can’t recover $500 million that it mistakenly sent last year to various hedge funds and other creditors of cosmetics company Revlon, a New York judge decided in a surprise ruling. The judge said the recipients of the money, which totaled more than $900 million before some lenders returned their portion, shouldn’t have been expected to know that the transfer was an error. Citi, which said it will appeal the decision, was hit with a $400 million fine last year for “serious and longstanding deficiencies” in its internal practices. The bank will have a new leader on March 1, when Jane Fraser takes the reins as CEO. (The New York Times)


Shopping boomed in January

Retail sales jumped 5.3% in January, as the latest round of stimulus checks and a loosening of business curbs drove consumer spending. The splurge was the biggest in seven months after a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases at the end of last year put a damper on holiday sales. While spending last month increased across all major categories compared with December, the biggest advances, 11%, came in online sales, followed by food services and bars, which rose almost 7%. The report could boost prospects for a new stimulus bill by showing the impact of checks in the mail, or suggest that the proposed $1.9 trillion package need not be so big. Manufacturing output rose for a fourth straight month in January, as factories worked to catch up with demand. (Bloomberg)


Military applications surge globally

Applications to join the military are up in Canada, South Korea, and Australia, while service members are staying longer in the United States. About 92% of eligible U.S. Army personnel re-enlisted for the year ending in September, compared with 83% in the prior year. The likely reason is believed to be because the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the job market for young workers, making the institution look like a stable and attractive employer in which to ride out the crisis. (The Wall Street Journal)


Friday Gets Freaky With:

  • Best Friends Day
  • Chocolate Mint Day
  • Caregivers Day (Third Friday)
  • Lashes Day
  • Iwo Jima Day (Landing
  • Skate Shop Day
  • Tartar Sauce Day (First Friday after Lent Begins)
  • Vet Girls RISE Day
  • World Information Architecture Day (Third Friday)