Cyclone Debbie Devastates Australia

On Tuesday, March 28, Australia was hit by Cyclone Debbie, a category 4 storm comparable in damage to Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

The storm primarily struck the Queensland coast, hitting Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island, Proserpine, Bowen, Collinsville, and Mackay. Although not the worst storm to grace Queensland, it was incredibly large, and there has been a substantial amount of flooding as well as destruction of houses and buildings. Walls, roof tiles, and glass windows were blown away by winds at 260 km an hour. In addition, a bull shark was found washed up on land in Ayr, Queensland, prompting authorities to order people to stay away from floodwaters. Around 50,000 people were reported to be cut off from power. Many are in desperate need of fuel, food, power, water, and shelter.

Satellite image of Cyclone Debbie.

Satellite image of Cyclone Debbie.

During the storm, Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, expressed concern for those who could not contact emergency services. She also urged people to stay indoors, saying, “If you have plans tonight to go out and see friends, to see neighbors, to travel, please do not. Stay in your home; this is for one night. I need to have the roads clear for our emergency services personnel if they do need to go to the assistance of people.”

Cyclone Debbie’s damages will cost Australia billions of dollars, bringing a massive hit to their economy. It was hard to determine the exact amount of damage at first, with so many people unable to access emergency services. Now, however, we know that the disaster zone is 1,000 km (600 miles) wide. It is also known that four people have died because of floods, and at least three are missing. The destruction of rail lines will take five weeks to repair. Floods are reported to be around the same size as Texas. People are expecting lots of rain in the aftermath of the cyclone, which will last until around Thursday.

Save the Bees

Bumbling and Buzzing

You probably haven’t paid much mind to bees other than the frantic shufflings to get away from their buzzing bodies. Though many see these creatures as nuisances that leave behind painful, itchy marks, bees are an essential part of our ecosystem. It is important to first note the common misconception of stingings. Though honeybees are the only species of bees that can die after stinging (this is caused by their barbed stinger which sticks to the skin), bees only sting if they sense danger and/or if you aggravate them.

What They Do

With such small bodies, bees uphold many jobs that produce what we as people take for granted. Honey bees can be attributed to 80% of the world’s pollination which results in produce such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Along with the dependence on consumer goods, bees play a vital part in beautifying the environment. By pollinating flowers, bees are perpetuating growth and sustaining a living ecosystem in which other species live as well.

Dire Consequences

The population of bees has dropped nearly 90 percent since the 1990s according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The rusty patched bumblebee, once common in the U.S., is now on the brink of extinction. It is currently on the official list of endangered species. What is causing the rapid death of these creatures? Some causes include the use of neonicotinoid insecticides and yes, the big issue, global warming. As temperatures increase with each year getting warmer and warmer, many plants and animals are shifting northwards. According to studies done at the University of Ottawa, bees inhabit southern areas leaving them behind with less plants to pollinate. Bee colonies need approximately 264 lbs of nectar but with all the plants shifting elsewhere, the bees are left behind struggling to survive.

What You Can Do

There are many ways you can help bees maintain their habitat and survival. One way to help is by growing native plants. Bees prefer blue, purple, and yellow flowers with sweet fragrances. They see ultraviolet colors, found on flowers such as buttercups and black-eyed Susans. Another extremely important change that you can make is ridding the use of chemicals on your lawns and gardens. Lastly, you can go green and reduce your carbon footprint. Some ways to reduce your carbon footprint include reducing energy and water use, recycling as much as possible, and buying/eating less meat. All in all, bees are important creatures that make a significant impact on our environment and way of life. Help save them before they are extinct for good.

Sesame Street Adds First Autistic Character

The classic television series Sesame Street recently decided to add a new character. The character’s name is Julia and her mental condition has garnered much attention. Sesame Street has been on the air for 47 years and has been teaching lessons in tolerance since its first days on the air.

Julia is a four year old with red hair, a lot of friends, and autism. Her character has been in development for five years and will air on April 10th. One in 68 children born are diagnosed with autism. The number has increased by 119% percent since 2000. This character will be great for letting these kids know that there is nothing wrong with having autism. “It’s important for kids without autism to see what autism can look like,” said Stacy Gordon, the puppeteer of the character, when on 60 Minutes.

This will also be very helpful in minimizing the bullying of autistic people. “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviors through something that they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s okay,” Stacy Gordon also said.

Julia has a mother in jail and a father in the military. This will also be great for children who feel lonely in their struggles. It will help kids in similar situations have someone to relate to and make their problems feel real, let them know that there is nothing wrong with the situations they were given, and that it’s okay to feel upset about them.

Her autism will be shown in that she excels in some areas and lacks very much in others. She also spaces out a lot and it is very hard to get her attention. She’ll often also repeat what her friends Elmo and Abby say. She loves to paint and pick flowers. “That’s just Julia being Julia,” Abby said.

“Basically, in terms of vulnerable families, we’re looking at families who may have particular stressors in their lives that are impacting their young children,” said Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for U.S. social impact at parent company Sesame Workshop. Jeanette has been helping plot the development of Julia for about three years now.

The character is set to appear in two episodes of this season and more in the next. This will be a great reminder that in dark times with such an intolerant government and a seemingly intolerant people, there is still hope for our children and the future.

Stephen Hawking Will Go to Space

Famed cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking will travel aboard Virgin Galactic into outer space.

The news was revealed when he was interviewed on Good Morning Britain, where he stated that Richard Branson, who founded the Virgin Group, offered to take him to space for free, and he “said yes immediately.” At 75, he will be the second-oldest person to ever travel to space, after Buzz Aldrin, who was 77 at the time of his historic trip to the moon. In addition, he will be the very first person with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) to travel to space. In most cases of ALS, affected people do not live within five years of the disease’s beginning. However, Hawking was diagnosed at 21, and although he is paralyzed, he is completely alive and well 50 years later. He communicates using a cheek muscle attached to a communication device.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in the field of science.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in the field of science.

In 2014, Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, the VSS Enterprise, suffered an accident in the Mojave Desert that killed one of their pilots and injured another. Since then, they have been working to develop safer and better commercial spacecraft and hope to bring people to space via commercial flights in the near future. The date on which Hawking will go to space is currently unknown.

In the interview, he compared the joy of being able to go to space to the joy his three children bring him. He also discussed President Donald Trump, who he had called a demagogue on a previous occasion. Although America “is still a place I like and admire in many ways, I fear that I may not be welcome,” he said. He also believes that Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, should be replaced. “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent,” he said. Trump has stated multiple times that he thinks climate change is a hoax.

Hawking’s trip to space won’t be his first time in a low-gravity environment. In 2007, he went on a zero-gravity flight on a Boeing 727 jet, which he greatly enjoyed, and he is excited to experience it again. “I thought no one would take me,” Hawking said of finally having the ability to achieve his lifelong dream.

YouTube’s “Restricted Mode” Blocks LGBTQ+ Topics

YouTube recently updated their “restricted mode,” which filters out and blocks videos that would be considered not family-friendly. The controversy about this update, though, is that videos about LGBTQ+ topics are now being blocked.

YouTube's error screen when trying to view a blocked video in restricted mode.

YouTube’s error screen when trying to view a blocked video in restricted mode.

This sparked a huge backlash on social media sites such as Twitter. The hashtags “#YouTubeIsOverParty” and “#YouTubeRestricted” were in the top ten trending topics on Twitter for quite a while after the update was implemented. One user uploaded the exact same arbitrary video to YouTube twice, except one of them had the word “gay” in the title. That one was blocked, but the one without “gay” in the title wasn’t.

Videos aren’t the only thing being censored. Entire channels were being blocked just because the creators are LGBTQ+. Micah Scott, a transgender YouTube creator who makes videos about electric engineering, had her entire channel blocked because of the mode, even though she doesn’t have a single video about LGBTQ+ topics on her channel. Micah tweeted “Schools that use restricted mode should know they’re letting a buggy AI define their students’ access to information.”

LGBTQ+ rights activists are saying that this is preventing children who may be questioning their sexuality or gender from getting access to helpful resources. YouTube is the main medium that kids will look through to find other people who may share similar experiences and have useful information for people like them. Blocking those topics is like preventing children going through puberty from learning about what is happening to their body. It could leave them confused, upset, angry, and depressed.

YouTube replied to the outcry by saying “We are so proud to represent LGBTQ+ voices on our platform–they’re a key part of what YouTube is all about. The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience. LGBTQ+ videos are available in Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be. We regret any confusion this has caused and are looking into your concerns. We appreciate your feedback and passion for making YouTube such an inclusive, diverse, and vibrant community.” People didn’t take that as an apology, though.

The fact that YouTube openly admitted to censoring some LGBTQ+ videos only caused more backlash. It outright goes against their democratic motto, “Broadcast Yourself.” Many creators are arguing that this is YouTube’s way of equating LGBTQ+ topics, and even people, as “not family-friendly.” Social media rioted even more than they did originally after this statement.

Because of this, Johanna Wright, Vice President of Product Management for YouTube, made another apology: “While the system will never be 100 percent perfect, as we said up top, we must and will do a better job. Thanks to your feedback, we’ve manually reviewed the example videos mentioned above and made sure they’re now available in Restricted Mode — we’ll also be using this input to better train our systems. It will take time to fully audit our technology and roll out new changes, so please bear with us. There’s nothing more important to us than being a platform where anyone can belong, have a voice and speak out when they believe something needs to be changed. We truly appreciate your help keeping the YouTube community archive and engaged on topics that matter to creators and YouTube fans alike.” Channel owners were then given the option to make individual cases if needed.

Controversy is still going on about this topic, and how YouTube could be purposefully blocking LGBTQ+ creators and topics. But for now, the fact that creators have a voice in whether their videos get blocked is a step in the right direction.

E.P.A. Cuts

Back in 2014, a town in Ohio found a green substance in their water supply, rendering the drinking water for nearly half a million residents unsafe. Toledo’s environmental agency sent samples of the water to the E.P.A. lab in Cincinnati and they found that the water contained microcystin, a rare but toxic substance that is produced by algae blooms in water and causes liver damage in humans. The funding that allowed the E.P.A. to respond to the situation is now being threatened by Trump’s 2018 fiscal year budget. With the E.P.A. receiving a 31% cut, larger than any other agency, problems like these will have no way to be solved. Many environmental problems that need help from the E.P.A. will no longer be funded, such as oil and chemical spills to name a couple. Trump’s new budget would cut the E.P.A. from a current budget of $8.1 billion to $5.7 billion and cut 3,200 jobs from their current 15,000 employees.EPA

Former E.P.A. officials say that in cases of responding to emergencies like the one that affected Toledo’s water supply, states often lack the resources and expertise to clean up these problems, and without the help from E.P.A. they would not be able to. Mr. Butler, the director of Ohio’s environmental agency, said, “I’m a huge fan of cooperative federalism… This process of reviewing the federal budget and removing programs that are duplicative is completely appropriate.” But he added, “Where that message conflicts with the president’s budget is where they say, ‘Hey, states, we want you to do this work, but we’re going to cut your budget to do it.’”

Trump wants to cut E.P.A. funding and have states do their own environmental work, but is making it impossible because most of the funding for states’ environmental agencies comes from the E.P.A.

Blade Runner Sequel in The Works

Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel to the original 1982 science fiction cult classic Blade Runner. Blade Runner 2049 has a set United States release date for October 6, 2017. The film will be directed by Denis Villeneuve and is starring Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford and Robin Wright. This sequel is being made because the original is a world renowned cult classic.

Some fans of the original film are very upset about this. They think that since the original had such an ambiguous ending, it ruins the original because then it does not leave you thinking about the questions Ridley Scott (director of the original) wanted you to be thinking about.

(Warning: SPOILERS)

At the end of the original film, it is implied that the main character Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a replicant, which are the robots that he was assigned to kill in the beginning. Earlier in the film, it is explained to Rick by the cops who hired him to hunt down the replicants that memories and dreams are placed into the minds of replicants, and he turns his head and looks at the other cop that is trying to convince him to take the job and sees he is making an origami of a swan.

Later in the film, about halfway through, Rick is thinking of a memory he had of a unicorn dashing through the forest. This could not have been an actual memory of his. At the very end of the film when he decides to run off with a replicant named Rachel, he is walking with her and sees a unicorn origami. Many, including the films director Ridley Scott, say that this means that he is a replicant and the origamis were made as models for installed memories. Harrison Ford and some others deny this theory though.

Replicants in the film were given only four year life spans and the sequel takes place 30 years after the original. These were only one type of replicants, though (Nexus 6 replicants). Denis Villeneuve, director of 2049, said that Deckard is “not necessarily” a human.

(No more spoilers)
Blade Runner 2049 has a stacked cast and crew. The films director, Denis Villeneuve, has directed many famous movies of the 2010s. He directed the 2016 Oscar-nominated science fiction film Arrival, the drug-cartel thriller Sicario with Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt, and the very popular neo-noir mystery Prisoners with Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. The film’s cinematographer, Roger Deakins, is widely regarded as one of the best cinematographers of all time. Roger Deakins did the cinematography for many famous films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Skyfall, etc. He also did the cinematography for Villeneuve’s films Prisoners and Sicario and gained much acclaim for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, for which he got an Oscar nomination. The film’s musical composer, Johann Johannsson, did Villeneuve’s films Sicario, Prisoners, and Arrival.

The Mystery of the Pink Lake

Over the past few weeks, the internet has been filled with pictures of a mysterious pink lake in the center of Melbourne, Australia. This sparks a question: Are such lakes real? And if they are, how do they become pink? The answer may surprise you.

A view of the pink lake in Melbourne

A view of the pink lake in Melbourne

Those pictures flooding social media are actually real, and it’s completely natural! And they can happen all over the world, too! For this specific lake in Melbourne, it’s an annual occurrence. When the weather gets dry and water starts evaporating, the salinity of the water drastically increases. The result is a lake with salinity levels about ten times higher than the ocean. That’s more salty than the Dead Sea, at nine times higher than ocean water. This makes it almost impossible for any organism to live there. But there is one in particular that stays.

There is a species of algae that loves salt, and also produces carotenoids, or red-colored pigments. When these algae are the only things living in a lake, it’s only a matter of time before the carotenoids fill the lake and give it that hot pink color.

The carotenoid-producing algae live in many lakes all over the world. Most of them aren’t pink though, because they aren’t the only things living in those lakes. One of these is Las Salinas de Torrevieja in Spain, which attracts thousands of flamingos every breeding season. The carotenoids are what make the feathers of flamingos pink, and what makes some brine shrimp pink.

The Laguna Verde and its signature turquoise color

The Laguna Verde and its signature turquoise color

The Laguna Colorada and its blood red hue

The Laguna Colorada and its blood red hue

The lakes don’t only have to be pink, though. There are several lakes such as the Laguna Colorada and the Laguna Verde, both part of Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve in Bolivia, which have many other odd colors, also due to certain algae and minerals in the water. These two, in particular, are blood red and turquoise, respectively.

 

While this lake in Melbourne looks like it would be a blast to swim in, it’s not the best idea. Getting the water in your eyes would feel like soy sauce, and the salt would crystallize right there in your eyes when it dried. Looking at the lake, however, is perfectly fine, and it attracts many tourists. The lake is expected to return to its normal color when the southern hemisphere starts to cool down and get more rain in June.

Upcoming Disney and Pixar Films

It was recently revealed by Walt Disney Animation Studios that the sequel to the Oscar-nominated film Wreck-it Ralph is scheduled to be released on March 9, 2018, which means that it officially comes out less than a year from now. The movie will be about Wreck-it Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz exploring and wrecking the internet. As of now, the sequel does not have an official title.

Rich Moore, who directed the first film, will team up with Phil Johnston to direct the sequel. John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk will return to the screen in their original roles. Jodi Benson, James Corden, and Ana Ortiz were also announced as cast members, though their roles are currently unknown.

Concept art for Gigantic.

Concept art for Gigantic.

Disney’s next upcoming animated film, Gigantic, is an adaptation of the classic fairy-tale Jack and the Beanstalk. It will be directed by Nathan Greno, who directed Tangled. In the movie, Jack will climb up a beanstalk and encounter a 60-foot-tall eleven-year-old girl named Inma, as well as several other giants such a the evil Storm Giants. The score will be written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who won an Oscar for their work in Frozen.

Pixar also has several films coming out in the next few years. Cars 3 is coming out on June 16, and it is about Lightning McQueen’s life after a crash that forced him to retire from racing. He gets trained by another car, Cruz Ramirez, to race again. Another future film is The Incredibles 2, which will be written and directed by Brad Bird and released on June 15, 2018. In addition, the Toy Story franchise will be getting yet another sequel. This film, Toy Story 4, comes out on June 21, 2019 and centers around the lives of the toys now that they have a new owner, as well as Woody and Buzz’s search for Bo Peep, who did not appear in the third film.

Coco is the only original Pixar film that has been announced for the next few years.

Coco is the only original Pixar film that has been announced for the next few years.

Coco is the only upcoming Pixar movie that is not a sequel. It follows a boy named Miguel who dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. When he gets whisked away to the Land of the Dead, he meets a skeleton named Hector who assists him in his journey to discover and learn more about his family history. Coco will be released on November 22 and its first trailer came out on March 15.

There are so many upcoming films for Disney and Pixar fans to get excited about, but there is much we still don’t know about them. Fortunately, we only have a few years to wait until they hit the big screen.

Goldfish In Danger?

March 21st marks the first day of the vernal equinox, also known as spring in the Northern Hemisphere. To Iranians, this begins Nowruz (Translation: New Day), also known as the new year. This holiday originates from the Zoroastrian religion, dating back to the early Persian empire, and is widely celebrated by Iranians of all faiths. As part of the Persian tradition during the new year, a table is set up called Haft Seen (Translation: 7 S’s). This table typically consists of foods, which start with the letter S in the persian language (sprouts, dried fruit, apples garlic, pudding, vinegar, crushed sumac berries), as well as goldfish put in a clear bowl. Each item placed on the table symbolizes one’s wishes for the new year, such as growth, love, beauty, health, fertility, patience, and wisdom. Goldfish in particular symbolize good luck, good fortune, and life.

On March 20th, Sam Mojabi went to a local Petco shop to purchase goldfish for the holiday. When he asked a sales associate for goldfish, his ethnicity was question. Once Mojabi mentioned he was of Persian descent, the sales associate systematically denied him the sale. Shocked, he asked why, and the only response he was provided was that it was a decision made by headquarters, even after mentioning that he had intentions of taking great care of the fish. Mojabi later found out that his sister Samira was also denied the sale at another Petco location during the same month. Outraged, they filed a lawsuit with their attorney Henrik Sardarbegian for civil rights violations and a violation of the state Business and Professions Code. “During this time, Petco stores specifically declined the sale of goldfish to Persians and those of Iranian background,” the suit alleges. Petco and its management “sent out memorandum commanding its retail staff to decline the sale of such fish to Persians,” the suit also alleges. Their attorney argued, “Petco’s refusal to sell goldfish to Persians may have arisen from a mistaken belief that people intend to kill the fish. They [Persians] absolutely do not harm the fish. People want the fish to live as long as possible, because the longer a family keeps the fish alive, the more fortune and life is brought to them during the year.” Their attorney also argued that people who were not Persian were not asked their intent before being allowed to buy goldfish, specifically saying, “Right now, a 15-year-old boy who wants to buy a goldfish to feed to his snake could go and buy one.” The only response provided by Petco was, “We [Petco] have a strong commitment to animal welfare and responsible pet ownership and we do not tolerate discrimination of any sort. While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are looking into the specifics, if any, of this claim.” The Mojabi’s attorney fired back, saying that Petco’s policy also has “tended to cause discontent, animosity, harm, resentment or envy among the various cultures, and is especially troubling, arbitrary and invidious at a time when our nation and its citizens are working harder than ever to mend racial and cultural divisions across the country.”

The lawsuit was settled on October 12th, with no further details released. Petco no longer has a store policy of denying the sale of goldfish to Persians on the first day of spring. Like attorney Sardarbegian said, denying those of Iranian and Persian background the right to buy goldfish for the celebration of the Iranian New Year is “illegal and repugnant,” and is just as bad as charging women and blacks higher prices for merchandise than men and whites, or as denying sales of items to gays that heterosexuals are allowed to buy. Although there are still animal rights organizations which have objected to the tradition, claiming the fish die after the celebration due to health problems or the shock of being turned loose into streams or ponds, thankfully the holiday and its traditions of more than 3000 years are still peacefully and safely celebrated.

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A woman setting up her Haftseen table as part of tradition for Nowruz