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.
The big news this week was the spectacular fall from grace of Harvey Weinstein, until recently one of Hollywood’s biggest power players. The ramifications from the string of sexual assault claims against him filled airwaves in America and elsewhere.
Yet Tinseltown wasn’t the only city facing a private meltdown. Across the world, crazy-big and small-yet-crazy stories were taking place, each more mind-blowing than the last.
10 A Tsunami Of Assault Allegations Destroyed Harvey Weinstein’s Career
They say a week is a long time in politics, but it’s even longer in entertainment. Approximately one week ago, Harvey Weinstein was as close to king of Hollywood as anyone is ever gonna get. He had powerful friends. A multi-award-winning production company. One analysis found he’d been thanked more times in Oscar speeches than God himself.
Now, on the other hand? Weinstein’s name is mud. His marriage has collapsed. He’s been fired from the company he founded and blacklisted from the Golden Globes. The reason? A blistering New York Times expose that named Weinstein as a sexual predator who’d been harassing and abusing women for decades.
The story broke last Thursday but only picked up steam over the weekend as more actresses came forward with claims of assault. By Wednesday, the New Yorker was accusing him of having raped three women. While Weinstein has denied the allegations, the sheer number of them has been enough to destroy his career.
9 Catalonia Declared Independence (Or Did It?)
Last week, we told you how the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia (home to Barcelona) would probably declare independence on Monday following a disputed referendum. We were half right. On Tuesday, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont signed a unilateral order declaring independence from Spain. In a strange twist, he immediately suspended it, meaning that no one has any idea if Catalonia has seceded or not.
This confusion extends to the halls of power in Madrid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given Puigdemont eight days to tell him whether Catalonia has split, with a threat to suspend the region’s autonomy if Puigdemont doesn’t comply. The confusion also extends to Barcelona, where Catalan independence parties, such as the leftist CUP, reacted with anger, effectively accusing Puigdemont of bungling independence.
Puigdemont’s plan seems to be to use the threat of secession to gain concessions from Madrid in talks. It’s a risky plan and one that may yet backfire. Businesses are already moving their headquarters out of Catalonia. In addition, no one—from the EU to the UK to the US—seems prepared to back a Catalan state. Expect much more on this story in the coming weeks.
8 Wildfires Laid Waste To California
On Sunday night, three ferocious blazes broke out across California’s wine country. In no time at all, they’d grown into one gigantic inferno that scorched the countryside, swallowing entire towns and leaving nothing but ash.
At the time of this writing, the fires are still burning. The Sonoma County sheriff said that the blaze could become “one of the worst natural disasters in California history.”
The statistics already make for grim reading. At least 31 are dead, over 160 have been hospitalized, and nearly 200,000 acres of land have been destroyed. Perhaps most worrying of all, though, is the staggeringly high number of missing people. Around 285 Californians disappeared in the chaos of the fires and have yet to be accounted for. It could well be that the already grim death toll will rise by a horrific amount.
As fires were devastating this corner of America, a very different but equally tragic disaster was causing havoc half a world away. Flash floods have killed 37 people in Vietnam, one of the highest death tolls ever recorded in the storm season. At least 40 people remain missing.
7 A Vampire Scare In Malawi Spiraled Into Mob Violence
Malawi is one of the poorest countries on Earth. About 85 percent of its population of 18 million live in the countryside, where superstitions still reign supreme. This week, an age-old fear bubbled up again in the small southern African country. A vampire scare broke out in the southern regions, sending locals into a panic about bloodsuckers. This panic quickly spiraled into deadly vigilante violence.
Malawi has been here before. In late 2002, rumors of vampires colluding with international aid agencies to steal villagers’ blood turned into a mass panic that threatened to bring down the government.
At the height of the scare in January 2003, a senior government minister was even dragged from his house and publicly stoned by a rampaging mob. Compared to the chaos of those days, this new panic is small potatoes.
Still, there have been repercussions. At least five people have been lynched as vampires, and vigilante groups are using makeshift roadblocks to detain and torture accused bloodsuckers.
6 Italy Convicted One Of Africa’s Most Brutal People Traffickers
He was compared to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Osman Matammud, 22, presided over a squalid makeshift detention center for migrants in the burning heat of the Libyan desert. Far away from international attention, he instituted a reign of terror beyond anything seen outside of wartime.
Matammud repeatedly raped teenage girls who came to his camp. He sexually tortured older women. He handed out vicious beatings for imagined infractions. He extorted money from families by threatening to have their daughters raped. And he murdered with a viciousness that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Hitler’s Germany. This week, he was finally convicted in an Italian court. He will receive a lifetime in prison.
Matammud’s behavior came to light in 2016 when he tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe posing as a migrant. Other migrants who’d been his victims recognized him, and he came close to being lynched. His trial in Italy raised the disquieting specter that there may be other Matammuds out there on the African migrant trail, abusing and killing at will.
5 Dove Got Embroiled In The Stupidest Non-Controversy
As a rule, this column likes to focus on significant stories. However, sometimes a story comes along that just so perfectly sums up the stupidity of the modern world that we have to include it. This week, that story was the controversy surrounding Dove’s latest advertisement.
The new Dove body wash ad showed a black woman turning into a white woman, a synopsis that sounds jaw-droppingly racist. And that was the story shared on Twitter by American makeup artist Naytemua, causing a social media storm. Millions piled on to share how outraged they were about Dove using a black woman as the “before” in a “before-and-after” body wash ad.
Naytemua had been creative with the truth. The actual ad contained no before and after. The black and white models were simply two in a line of seven women from all races whom the Dove advertisement had turning into one another. (The white woman turns into an Asian woman. At the end of the ad, the last girl turns back into the black woman.)
It took the black model in question, Lola Ogunyemi, going public to set the record straight. Dove suffered days of awful publicity and was forced to apologize for doing literally nothing wrong. If only those who’d shared Naytemua’s misleading screengrab had looked before they tweeted.
4 Liberia Had Its First Peaceful, Democratic Transition Of Power In 70 Years (Hopefully)
By the time you read this, Liberia will probably be well into its first peaceful, democratic transition of power in over seven decades. The tiny West African country—founded by ex-slaves in America as a colony for freed slaves—has had a grimly undesirable modern history. Two separate civil wars and a coup d’etat trashed the nation, and former President Charles Taylor is now in prison for crimes against humanity.
Liberia only really gained stability under the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who steered it out of the ravages of war. With the constitution barring her from running for another term, Sirleaf is due to step down in January. It was feared that the rush to pick her successor might spark renewed unrest or violence.
Thankfully, such an eventuality appears to have been avoided. Liberians voted peacefully on Sunday, irregularities were few, votes are being counted, and at the time of this writing, the country seems on course for its first peaceful handover of power in living memory. Fingers crossed that nothing derails it now.
3 We Found Tantalizing Evidence Of Shia Connections To Viking Scandinavia
Around a century ago, Swedish archaeologists dug up some Viking funeral garments from 9th- and 10th-century graves. Since they didn’t seem particularly special, the embroidered cloths were placed into museum storage.
It wasn’t until this year that textile archaeologist Annika Larsson decided to take a closer look at them. What she found has the potential to rewrite the Viking history books. Woven into the cloths were the names “Allah” and “Ali.”
The names were written in ancient Arabic Kufic script and appeared on 10 of the 100 garments that Larsson was researching. What’s interesting wasn’t the appearance of Allah—a small number of references to the Islamic god have previously been found in Viking tombs—but the mention of Ali.
Ali was the fourth prophet of Islam and a cousin of Muhammad. More importantly, Ali is venerated by Shia Muslims. This cloth could be the first evidence of contact between Vikings and the Shia branch of Islam.
Such a discovery, if confirmed, would show that the Vikings were even greater travelers than we thought.
2 The Netherlands Finally Formed A Government (208 Days After The Election)
Regular readers of this column may vaguely remember something from back in March about incumbent Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte winning reelection. Well, here we are, over 200 days later, and Mark Rutte is about to be featured again. This time, he is finally forming his coalition government.
That’s right, for the last seven months, the Netherlands has been ticking over without an official government. That’s by far the longest period to form a coalition in the nation’s history.
The trouble was that Rutte’s former allies, Dutch Labor, suffered insane losses in March, leaving him with no clear path to a majority in the 150-seat chamber. Rutte has previously governed with right-wing, anti-Islam Geert Wilders, whose party came in second. But teaming up with Wilders again after such a bitter election was judged unpalatable for supporters of Rutte’s VVD.
In the end, Rutte managed to cobble together a mixture of four liberal-centrist, center-right, and evangelical-right parties to give him a one-seat majority and form a government. Amusingly, they almost might not have bothered. The period without a proper government has seen some of the Netherlands’ strongest economic growth in years.
1 We Discovered Pyongyang Had Hacked America’s Plans For Another Korean War
Finally, a scary story to end on. For the past few months, there’s been a distinct drumbeat of war echoing over the Korean peninsula. Should sudden conflict break out, it’s imperative that South Korea and the US move quickly to stop the North Korean threat.
Such quick movement requires having multiple war plans for many scenarios drawn up in advance. This week, we discovered that North Korean hackers had managed to steal these plans. Kim now knows exactly what the militaries in Seoul and Washington have planned against him.
The hack took place in 2016 and targeted South Korea, but it was only this week that Seoul went public with what had been stolen. According to a BBC report, 235 gigabytes of military documents were taken, 80 percent of which have still to be identified.
So, in addition to the war plans drawn up by the US and South Korea, Pyongyang could be sitting on reams of invaluable information that could give them the edge in the event of conflict. Anyone else miss the days when Kim only appeared in newspapers as the butt of some joke?