2020 Beirut Explosion

On 4 August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. A cargo of 2,750 tonnes of the substance (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) had been stored in a warehouse without proper safety measures for the previous six years, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus. The explosion was preceded by a fire in the same warehouse, but as of September 2021, the exact cause of the detonation is still under investigation.

The blast shook the whole country of Lebanon. It was felt in Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Israel as well as parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus, more than 240 km (150 mi) away. It was detected by the United States Geological Survey as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3, and is considered one of the most powerful artificial non-nuclear explosions in history.

The Lebanese government declared a two-week state of emergency in response to the disaster. In its aftermath, protests erupted across Lebanon against the government for their failure to prevent the disaster, joining a larger series of protests which have been taking place across the country since 2019.

At least six people have been killed and 32 others injured by gunfire in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

It began during a protest by the Shia Muslim groups Hezbollah and Amal against the judge investigating last year’s huge blast at the city’s port.

They said Christian snipers from the Lebanese Forces (LF) faction fired at the crowd to drag Lebanon into strife – a claim denied by the LF.

Huge tension surrounds the probe into the port explosion that killed 219.

Hezbollah and its allies claim the judge is biased, but the victims’ families support his work.

No-one has yet been held accountable for the August 2020 disaster, in which swathes of the city were devastated.

In response to Thursday’s shooting, some of Lebanon’s worst violence in years, Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a day of mourning on Friday.

Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun said: “We will not allow anyone to take the country hostage to their own interests.”

Palace of The Parliament: The Building of Superlatives

At the historical center of Romania’s capital city Bucharest, stands the colossal Palace of the Parliament, one of the most expensive and extravagant building project undertaken in the last century. Regarded as the crowning jewel of the megalomaniac Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s ambitious urban development plan, and an embarrassment for its citizens, the Palace was built at great human and economic costs. To build the House of the Republic, the dictator leveled an entire hill and wiped out one fifth of the historic center of Bucharest. The project consumed a third of Romania’s budget over 5 years. Despite being the object of disdain, it is Bucharest’s most visited tourist attraction.

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The Palace of the Parliament claims many superlatives —it is the second largest administrative building in the world, after The Pentagon in the United States; the third most massive building in the world, after the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Mexican Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan; and the heaviest building in the world. At USD 4 billion, it is also the most expensive administrative building in the world. The cost of heating and electric lighting alone exceeds $6 million per year, as much as a medium-sized city.

The idea for the Palace of the Parliament, originally called “The People’s House”, took root in Ceausescu’s mind after a visit to North Korea’s Kim II-sung in 1972. Impressed by how his fellow dictator had built Pyongyang, Ceausescu started making plans for the most lavish palace in the world that would hold all the functions of his socialist state, aside from serving as a handsome residence for him and his wife. After a devastating earthquake in 1977 leveled Bucharest, Ceausescu seized the opportunity and decided to completely rebuild the city in his own vision.

To accommodate his massive plans, Ceausescu demolished most of Bucharest’s historic districts including more than two dozen churches, synagogues and temples, numerous factories and hospitals, and hundreds of homes. Some 40,000 people were forcibly relocated. One-fifth of central Bucharest was razed to the ground including a hill.

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Construction began in 1984. Between 20,000 and 100,000 workers toiled in 24-hour shifts, seven days a week. To finance the project, Ceausescu took an enormous foreign debt which he repaid by exporting all of the country’s agricultural and industrial production while the Romanian people starved and the standard of living sank to an all time low. Some 3,000 people were reported to have died.

A young architect named Anca Petrescu (named by the BBC as the “worst architect in the world”) was appointed chief architect of the project. Anca, who was only 28 years at that time, collaborated with nine other architects and some 700 subordinates on the building’s design which combines elements and motifs from a multitude of classical sources. The palace is 240 meters long, 270 meters wide and 12 stories tall. There are eight underground levels with the last one designed to serve as an anti-nuclear bunker for Ceausescu’s family, in the event of a nuclear war.

Inside the palace there are 1,100 rooms with total floor area of 365,000 square meters. 900,000 cubic meters of wood was used for parquet and wainscoting, 1 million cubic meters of marble, and 200,000 square meters of woven carpets. 3,500 metric tones of crystal was consumed to manufacture 480 chandeliers.

By December 1989, the building was only two-thirds complete, when Romania erupted in a revolution and Ceausescu had to escape the capital by a helicopter. He was later captured and executed by firing squad.

The building was eventually completed in 1994. It now houses the Romanian Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and a modern art museum which occupies the ground floor. 70% of the building still remains empty.

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North Korea: Soldiers smash bricks, bend iron rods in combat display

North Korean state media has aired footage of soldiers putting on a display of their combat prowess and ability to smash various objects with their bare hands.

The performance was staged at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang, and watched by leaders including Kim Jong-un.

Besides destroying bricks and tiles, soldiers were seen lying on beds of glass shards and iron nails, with concrete slabs sledgehammered to bits onto their bodies.

The finale showed men bending iron rods with their necks and breaking out of chains.

North Korea media said it was to show enemies that their soldiers had “iron fists to protect the peace of the country”.

Though it goes without saying, it’s probably best to avoid trying any of these stunts at home.

Star Trek star William Shatner ready to boldly go into space

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Image caption,William Shatner has been training with Blue Origin

Hollywood actor William Shatner will later become the oldest person to go to space when he takes a ride in the Blue Origin sub-orbital capsule.

The 90-year-old, who played Captain James T Kirk in the Star Trek films and TV series, says he is looking forward to seeing Earth from a new perspective.

He will blast off from the Texas desert with three other individuals.

His trip aboard the rocket system, developed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, should last about 10 minutes.

Mr Shatner will get to experience a short period of weightlessness as he climbs to a maximum altitude just above 100km (60 miles). He will also be able to see the curvature of the Earth through the capsule’s big windows.

“There is this mystique of being in space and that much closer to the stars and being weightless,” the Canadian star said.

“I shall be entranced by the view of space. I want to look at that orb and appreciate its beauty and its tenacity.”

Mr Shatner will be joined on the flight by Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president; Chris Boshuizen, who co-founded the Earth-imaging satellite company Planet; and Glen de Vries, an executive with the French healthcare software corporation Dassault Systèmes.

They have been given a couple of days’ training, although there is nothing really major for them to do during the flight other than enjoy it. The rocket and capsule system, known as New Shepard, is fully automatic.

Blue Origin flight director Nicholas Patrick said the quartet did however need to know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency, and to recognise – and not be perturbed by – the normal bumps and noises of spaceflight.

“The third thing the training does is teach the crew how to behave in Zero G; how to move around the cabin without bumping each other or kicking each other; what handholds to use; the kinds of things they can expect and their response to it,” the British-born, former Nasa astronaut explained.

This will be only the second crewed outing for New Shepard. The first, on 20 July, carried Mr Bezos, his brother Mark, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen; and famed aviator Wally Funk.

Afterwards, Ms Funk, being 82, was able to claim the record for the oldest person in space – a title she will now now relinquish to Mr Shatner, assuming his mission passes without incident and he gets above Earth’s atmosphere.

The launch comes amid claims that Blue Origin has a toxic work culture and failed to adhere to proper safety protocols. The mostly anonymous accusations made by former and present employees have been strenuously denied.

“That just hasn’t been my experience at Blue,” countered Audrey Powers, who is responsible for mission and flight operations.

“We’re exceedingly thorough, from the earliest days up through now as we’ve started our human flights. Safety has always been our top priority.”

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William Shatner may be the first person to go from Star Trek’s version of space to the real thing – but three Nasa astronauts have made the opposite journey.

Mae Jemison appeared in an episode of TV sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, while Mike Fincke and Terry Virts turned up in the final episode of Enterprise, the Star Trek prequel series.

Also providing a link are Gene Roddenberry, the franchise creator, and James Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the original 1960s series and subsequent films. Both men had their ashes sent into space.

Flight profile of New Shepard

While Mr Bezos invites some people to fly on New Shepard, he is selling other seats. And whereas his space tourism rival, Sir Richard Branson, puts a ticket price against a trip in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, the Amazon founder does not disclose the fees paid by the likes of Mr Boshuizen and Mr de Vries.

Just adding a little bit of levity to the post:

Jungle Waterfall

Tumpak Sewu, also known as Coban Sewu, is a tiered waterfall that is located between the Pronojiwo District, Lumajang Regency, and the Ampelgading District, Malang Regency, in East Java, Indonesia. The waterfall is overshadowed by Semeru, an active volcano and the highest mountain in Java. The Glidik River, which flows down Semeru, is the primary water source for the waterfall. Tumpak Sewu is loosely translated to mean “a thousand waterfalls” in the Javanese language. The name likely originated due to its appearance of many different waterfalls in one single, semi-circular area.

Tumpak Sewu is a highly-visited tourist destination, primarily on the weekends. Infrastructure built around and inside the main box canyon has allowed for easier access to the area, although the trip to enter or exit is still physically demanding and may take around an hour to complete.

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