Had enough of Covid-19? Nipah is Next.

As the world continues to struggle with the Covid virus (delta variant this year), the scientists are now warning of a resurgence of a different virus.

Although first discovered in 1980s, it first entered human culture in 1998, it arrived in central Malaysia by air, inside furry bats that lived on the fruit trees swaying over pig farms. But The bats dropped some of their half-consumed meals, which the pigs consumed. Then, the pigs coughed and transferred it to the pig workers.

Within 8 months, 105 Malaysians or about 40 percent of those infected, died of the virus, now dubbed Nipah. It caused fevers, brain inflammation, and comas.

It was then traced back to bats for disease investigation. Nipah erupts annually in Bangladesh, killing people at even greater rate as the country increased industrialization. Sometimes, the virus even broke out in India.

This week, the WHO identified Nipah as the Disease X that could potentially cause human epidemics. Up to 75 percent of new infectious diseases impacting humans right now are related to wild animal source, as human population gets closer to wildlife and raise livestock; the livestock becoming the link between wildlife and humans in transferring dangerous diseases.

Initially, the Nipah outbreak had been linked to mosquitoes, so mosquitoes were exterminated; however, pigs were continuously exported, and those outside of Malaysia got sick. Eventually, the scientists realized they’d found a new paramyxovirus that affected the pigs.

When the investigators arrived in Malaysia, the local folks explained the fearful sound of pigs coughing, dubbed “one-mile barking cough” that one could hear a mile away, coming closer and closer to one’s own piggery, before one would also get sick.

To deal with this outbreak, the Malaysian government performed a massive culling, killing one million pigs that spring; it did stop the disease temporarily. However, ultimately, as humans get closer to wild habitats and wildlife, this is only a higher possibility every year. Recently, scientists revealed that more than 47,000 wild animals were sold in markets in Wuhan, China, in the two years prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. Bats unlike other mammals do not have struggle with these quite horrific viruses, which scientists believe is due to their ability to fly, which suppresses inflammation.

Unlike other animals, bats being mammal can pose a problem for other mammals, such as pigs, dogs, and even humans due to the genetic similarity, making humans vulnerable.

Malaysia is therefore, very alert about Covid-19 because they don’t want to deal with Nipah like outbreak again.

Nipah does not yet have a vaccine or treatment.

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Taliban Justifies No-Shave Order in Southern Afghanistan as being faithful to Islam

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On Monday, the Taliban issued an order to forbid shaving or trimming of beards in the southern provinces of Helmand, and threatened to punish barbers that violated this directive. The order was issued by the vice and virtue department and directed it to areas in Lashkar Gah, provincial capital of Helmand, justifying it as being in line with Sharia law, which is the law as defined in the Islamic holy scriptures called the Quran.

Punishment was promised but not specified; those breaking the order would be punished with no right to complain.

Since overtaking Afghanistan upon U.S. and NATO’s departure, the Taliban has set an interim government, with many hardline leaders from the previous reign in late 1990’s; of course, there are no women leaders.

Since the Taliban ousting in 2001, men have been shaving or cleanly trimming beards in Afghanistan.

The current outlook of Taliban rule doesn’t seem to be looking too well; just last weekend, the Taliban hung a body from a crane in the main square of Herat, which is a third-largest city in Afghanistan. A bystander who witnessed the event recounted the event, stating that four bodies were brought to the square, and three were taken to other parts of the city for public display.

The barbers are speaking up and asking Taliban to reconsider this order, to “give freedom to people to live the way they want, if they want to trim their beard or hair.” Barbers in the area are already seeing reduction in income.

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Scientists develop solar cells for windows

Most agree that solar power is the next “big thing” when it comes to energy. With potentially infinite amount of energy that can be generated thanks to the Sun with relatively limited negative impact on the climate change, solar power has been something heavily in development.

However, as it has been until now, solar panels require an excessive amount of space and silicon, which is currently known to be the most efficient material for solar panels, is not transparent. This is a problem as based on energy use distribution, cities consume the most amount of energy but lack the space to generate that electricity based on current capabilities.

However, scientists have now developed a new transparent solar panel based on organic or carbon-based material to be used as window-friendly solar panels. Published in the science journal, Nature Communcications, the panel uses molecules that move photogenerated electrons to the electrodes, called non-fullerene acceptors. These acceptors when incorporated with sulfur, can reach efficiencies of 18% but have a short lifespan.

However, Yongxi Li (first author) have since figured out how to strengthen the non-fullerene acceptors; specifically, it would need to block off UV rays by adding a coating of zinc oxide, a sunscreen component on the side facing the Sun.

Then, the researchers added carbon-based material called IC-SAM as a buffer to solve this issue, and added another buffer layer in a form of fullerene shaped like a soccer ball.

Then they tested this new panel, from 1 sun to 27 suns, and temperatures as high as 65 degrees celsius. Result? These new solar cells would function at 80% efficiency after 30 years based on declination of performance.

Furthermore, these materials can be prepared as liquids, so the manufacturing and transportation costs might be incredibly lower than the current silicon-based solar panels. Thus, it might increase feasibility for wide scale use in large skyscrapers, but also on residential properties.

It is an exciting day for solar power and global energy self-sufficiency.

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Aftermath of the Afghan Exodus and What’s Left

Effective August 31, 2021, the U.S. and NATO forces have officially left Afghanistan, leaving the country back in the Taliban’s hands. Taliban celebrated their victory and return to power.
That being said, the U.S. still has some homework left over. There are still Americans in Afghanistan. Out of the 250,000 Afghan folks that assisted the U.S. forces, more than 100,000 are still in Afghanistan.
During the White House briefing today, a question arose as to the rescue plan for those remaining in Afghanistan after the August 31 deadline. The Chief of Press gave somewhat of an ambiguous answer but promised that anyone who has helped the U.S. that wants to come to the States would be given chances to do so, along with any American still stuck in Afghanistan.
Last Thursday, 13 U.S. service members and hundreds of Afghans were killed when a suicide bomber detonated the bomb at the gate of Kabul International Airport. Pres. Biden has promised that the U.S. would retaliate against ISIS-K for the attack and did so briefly after the attack.
Since the withdrawal began, Pres. Biden has seen a significant drop in approval rating, both in the execution of the withdrawal and in the quick overtaking of Afghanistan by the Taliban despite billions of dollars that had gone into training the Afghan military.
Many Americans are questioning the purpose of the Afghanistan campaign; some are even comparing it to the Vietnam war. The hardest struck are the Veterans of the Afghanistan-Iran conflict, who are now wondering why they went to a 20-year war where the result was the Taliban’s quick return and takeover of Afghanistan.
There are stories of U.S. citizens and green card holders being turned away at Taliban checkpoints and being beaten; it is unclear as to whether all U.S. citizens and green card holders have made it out safely.
With ISIS-K’s attack last Thursday, it is truly questionable as to whether the U.S. even succeeded at wiping out the terrorist threat to the safety of U.S. democracy.

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Al-Qaeda Congratulates the Taliban Day after Taliban’s Denouncement

The Taliban recently submitted an official statement denouncing their links with all Al-Qaeda groups and promised that Al-Qaeda would not be present in Afghanistan or pose a threat to the U.S.; however, a day after this announcement, Al-Qaeda’s South Asian branch congratulated the Taliban on the military victory on a statement on Monday. The announcement was written in Urdu and praised the Taliban for winning against the United States, going as far to claim it as a “highly sacred moment” for Muslims around the world.

Al-Qaeda also called for more to come out to join the jihad in defending themselves against the “invaders.” Al-Qaeda’s letter also explained that while it cannot win against West-backed democratic process, it would win out on the field. Two other groups associated with Al-Qaeda also released messages of support for the Taliban: The Global Islamic Media Front (propaganda organization) and Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam wal Muslimin, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Sahel region of Africa. The Global Islamic Media Front called it vindication of the power of religious conviction, whereas Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam wal Muslimin simply congratulated the Afghan people.

Taliban maintains that there are no Al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan and that it would not be protecting Al-Qaeda within its territories; however, the United Nations estimates Al-Qaeda has presence in at least 15 provinces, while Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent has operated under Taliban protection for quite some time.

In the meantime, the Biden administration is being pressured to stay in Afghanistan past the deadline of August 31, 2021 to guarantee that all American soldiers and any vulnerable refugees can come over to the United States.

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US leaving Afghanistan, China staying

As the Taliban closed in on Kabul, China has contacted the Taliban to seek the guarantee of safety for its citizens still in Afghanistan; for example, the Chinese embassy in Kabul has reported that it intends to remain in Kabul and had contacted the Taliban, stating that it was trusting Taliban’s declaration that it would transition the country under an “open, inclusive Islamic nation,” and ensure the safety of Afghan citizens and foreign missions be carried out.

This is in stark contrast to the behaviors of the western powers’ sudden and immediate departure from the country as the Taliban closed in on Kabul. However, one cannot help but wonder how China’s relationship with the Taliban might actually play out, given China’s own behavior towards its Islamic minority in Xinjiang region. According to a 2002 paper by Wang Yaning, lecturer at the Chinese Armed Police Force Academy, more than 400 “separatists” were known to be trained in light and heavy weapons and explosive devices in Taliban training camps.

While the opportunity exists for China to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, a land filled with precious metals that are becoming ever more important. Of course, some argue that continued U.S. presence would have been much easier on Beijing to deal with than the Taliban; nonetheless, China is attempting to build a relationship with Afghanistan while they shuffle in their minority Muslim population into “work camps” reminiscent of concentration camps in various regions in Xinjiang.

China also might have to deal with the influx of Afghani refugees, as some choose to leave their homes to avoid persecution from Taliban rule. There is also the issue of detention camps in Xinjiang and radicalization of Uyghur population with growing anti-Chinese sentiment. However, even that number’s validity is unclear as some argue that Chinese government inflated the numbers to justify its actions.

Depending on what position the Taliban takes as it takes over Afghanistan, China might actually deal have much to deal with on its plate, very far from the only positive outcome, which would be access to rare earth metals while maintaining its control over Xinjiang. It might be that China could be stuck between a rock and hard place, as it loses the safety on the borders over Central Asia, loses out on possible access to precious metals, with extremist radical population seeking independence as it deals with the dissonance’s breaking point in its political system and the economic policies. At the moment, only time will tell.

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Thawing Permafrost in Russia Releases Dangerous Levels of Methane

Scientists have been worried about the effects of methane release due to the melting permafrost in Siberia.

The geologists have finally released the results of the study in associated with the release of methane from the permafrost, which had been significantly more than what the scientists had expected, especially from an unexpected source: thawing rock.

The thawing wetlands release microbial methane, while the limestone releases hydrocarbons and gas hydrates. From the Institute of Geosciences at the University of Bonn, studies based on the satellite maps measuring intense methane concentration over 2 elongated areas of limestone of several miles wide and up to 375 miles long in Taymyr peninsula and in northern Siberia, temperatures saw more than 10.8 degrees higher than the norm of 1979-2000. In these spots, there are no vegetations, so when the warming began, the limestone was seen on the surface, and the cracks and pockets in the rock opened up, releasing the trapped methane.

Specifically, the methane increase was 5 percent higher than normal. More alarmingly, the methane release continued until Spring 2021 despite the low temperatures and snow in the region. The carbonates in the outcroppings date back to 541 million years to the Paleozoic era.

Many are worried that this is more of the potentially nasty feedbacks resulting from the climate change. It seems that with the thawing of the previously cold areas that were locked up by ice, comes more areas available for microbial processes that release CO2 and methane, further complicating the picture of climate change and the instability of global climate for human habitation.

At the moment, the biggest sources of methane in the world are global agriculture and fracking leaks in the U.S.; the problem is, it is not clear how much of the permafrost holds the CO2 and methane that will be released.

Apart from methane, another scary news: Polar Portal provided by the Danish Arctic Institute, updated that a massive melting event had occurred recently, which could cover Florida with two inches of water.

Someday, dykes and dams just won’t be enough.

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Tokyo Reports Record COVID-19 Infections; Olympics Continue

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is underway, with the United States currently trailing behind Japan in gold medals, with 9 gold medals and total 25 medals.

At the same time in Tokyo, covid-19 infection numbers are continuing to rise, with the city still under a state of emergency with restrictive measures. For months, the residents of Tokyo protested against the holding of the Olympics during a pandemic, yet the leadership pushed through, citing the International Olympics Committee as the reason.

Tokyo continues to show high covid-19 infection rates (despite the criticized lackadaisical attitude towards testing), with 2,848 new covid-19 cases, the highest daily count. However, it might be that the Japanese residents are somewhat misunderstanding the role of the Olympians and staff on the infection rate, rather, they themselves might not be as protective or cautious as they think.

For example, over the past three days, only a little more than 9,000 tests were administered in Tokyo on average, positivity rate being around 30 percent. Japan as a whole showed rates of 7,000 infections, which is as high as back in January.

In comparison, more than 37,000 tests were administered to the Olympic arrivals at the major international airports in Japan, with only 30 positive cases. That’s a positivity rate of 0.08 percent. Further, more than 240,000 tests were completed on people related to the Olympics, with just 52 positive cases or 0.02 percent positive cases.

In fact, the behavior of Tokyo residents shows that they themselves are not keeping themselves in social distance. Although the state of emergency and the lack of spectators rules were imposed to protect Tokyo residents, central Tokyo is crowded, with neighborhoods remaining lively at night. The Nikkei newspaper reported more than 50 percent of bars and restaurants in Shinjuku were not following government guidelines, citing the delay in official compensation payments.

Olympians and staff however, are under constant surveillance under the strictest covid-19 cases. For example, they can only remove their mask for 30 seconds during the medal ceremonies.

Another interesting aspect to note is that the Olympians have a higher vaccination rate than the Tokyo residents; 85 percent of competitors and 70 percent of media representatives versus 25 percent national average.

Of course, Japan’s vaccination percentage is focused on the elderly, and PM Suga has stated that those under the age of 40 include a higher percentage hospitalized and to maintain strictest protections.

It seems that Japan should have and should be worried about maintaining enforcement on their own population rather than the mostly vaccinated outsiders there to compete at the Olympics.

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A woman punches a 6-year old kid, then demands release without Bail

A 57-year old woman named Shelly Ann Hill punched a 6-year old Korean-American boy in the neck in Las Vegas. She also hurled racial slurs at him and his mother. The physical assault happened as the family was leaving The Shops at Crystals, an upscale mall located in CityCenter complex.

The woman was seen having an unhinged meltdown, yelling “China” at one point. Then she eventually stopped, picked up her belongings, and was soon escorted out by a mall security personnel. However, the mall security simply let the woman go; the family has announced that they will press charges; it is unclear whether the boy needs additional medical treatment at this time.

She was later arrested and was put in jail. At a hearing on Tuesday, one of the prosecutors raised questions about the mental competency of the woman given that the 57-year old woman repeatedly told the judge she didn’t know why she was being charged with a hate crime and asked to be released from jail without bail.

It seems that this isn’t the first time Hill has been in custody; for example, although her defense attorney will have to seek a competency evaluation for Hill, she went through one since April 2018 in a number of state court cases. Most of her crimes were misdemeanor cases such as allegations of battery, larceny, obstruction, theft, trespassing, and vagrancy.

Even if she is released, she will not be allowed near the Las Vegas Strip area from this point on. Furthermore, her bail is currently set at $10,000. Hill remains behind bars.

Since ex-Pres. Trump’s statement about the coronavirus being a “China virus,” the Asian-American communities have been dealing with heightened abuse, some of them physically violent. Although experts have repeatedly explained that the origins of viral pandemics cannot actually be pinpointed to a single geopolitical location, it hasn’t stopped those in the political machine from using the pandemic to their advantage. The residual harmful effect of their careless words still impacts the lives of many Asian-American people living within the borders of the United States.

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The Ever Given is finally FREE

The Ever Given Cargo vessel, Panama flagged cargo ship, with a Japanese owner Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd.) finally reached the deal on the price of blocking the Suez Canal with the Egyptian authorities on Wednesday.

Under the pandemic, this cargo vessel stalled at the Suez for over 3 months and is finally free to move onto its final destination with help, as a tugboat came to pull the ship out to the Mediterranean Sea. According to AP, “A deal that achieved justice and prioritized both parties’ interests has been reached,” Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal said. “It ended a crisis that lasted for more than three months.”

The original price tag was $916 million in compensation but has since lowered to $550 million with a tugboat in its settlement. The compensation will cover the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the six days the Ever Given had blocked the Suez canal. This vessel was supposed to go to the Dutch port of Rotterdam on March 23 but didn’t make it due to the ship being stuck at the canal after slammed banks of the canal about 3.7miles north of the southern entrance.

Hundreds and thousands of ships behind it were equally stalled, waiting to pass through for at least a week, while some ships turned around to take other routes, like the Cape of Good Hope at South Africa. While the Ever Given ship was stuck in the Suez, some economic crisis concerns such as supply shortage and rising prices were experienced by the global economy, which was already suffering from the pandemic.

The Ever Given cargo vessel was directed to and stayed at the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt for more than 3 months due to the pending settlement issue with Egyptian authority. It is only now that the Ever Given will continue its way home, with $550 million paid to pass through.

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