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battle firefighters

Firefighters Battle To Save LA’s Historic Mount Wilson Observatory – NPR

A view facing east from the Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles shows the nearby flames of the Bobcat Fire early Wednesday.

Screenshot by NPR/HPWREN


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Screenshot by NPR/HPWREN

A view facing east from the Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles shows the nearby flames of the Bobcat Fire early Wednesday.

Screenshot by NPR/HPWREN

Updated at 8:51 p.m. ET

Los Angeles’ Mount Wilson Observatory, the site of major 20th century scientific discoveries, has so far survived a terrifyingly close brush with a wildfire in the hills northeast of the city. But the threat isn’t over.

The Bobcat Fire came within 500 feet of the observatory on Tuesday afternoon. Crews gathered to fight the fire, and tracked vehicles with front blades cleared fire lines to protect the area.

We give our sincerest thanks to the firefighters who are on the ground defending our observatory as well as the pilots flying aircraft for fire suppression. Here’s a picture from of firefighters crossing the “Einstein Bridge” from the 100-inch dome. #BOBCATFIRE pic.twitter.com/yrbLPtnhJh

— Mount Wilson Observatory (@MtWilsonObs) September 15, 2020

Their efforts were successful, and on Tuesday night the Angeles National Forest tweeted: “While there is still much work to be done in southwest and in the northern sections of the fire, your firefighters did incredible work around Mt. Wilson today.”

Dramatic time-lapse photos taken from the observatory showed the fire glowing orange south and east of Mount Wilson early Wednesday morning.

Tom Meneghini, executive director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, said in an email to NPR on Wednesday afternoon that he understands there will soon be “some major retardant and water drops on the section threatening the observatory.”

Kerri Gilliland of California Interagency Management Team 1 said Wednesday morning that the lines had held against the fire overnight, but increased activity south and southeast of Mount Wilson continues to be a threat.

Authorities said that dry fuels continue to be a risk factor, and increased fire activity over the next couple days is expected. In the nearby Cooper Canyon area, air tankers have been deployed to help contain a large spot fire north of Highway 2.

The Hooker telescope dome at the Mount Wilson Observatory, circa 1921.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


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The same dry, isolated conditions that make Mount Wilson susceptible to wildfires are the same ones that made it perfect for stargazing, as LAist/KPCC’s Jacob Margolis reported:

” ‘Effectively [Edwin] Hubble discovered the universe in the 1920s up on Mt. Wilson,’ said John Mulchaey, director of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, which owns the observatory.

“Scientists had long believed that the Milky Way was just about all there was to the universe.

“Then, in the early 1920s, Hubble focused the Mt. Wilson telescope on what was thought to be gas or matter floating through the Milky Way. Through a series of complex calculations, he figured out that it wasn’t dust, but an entire galaxy of its own, specifically the Andromeda galaxy.

“He’d continue to discover other galaxies throughout the 1920s, eventually making another big finding in 1929: that the universe was expanding.”

As the lights of Los Angeles grew brighter, the observatory became a less ideal place for viewing the heavens.

When there isn’t a wildfire or a pandemic, the observatory is open to the public for visits and celestial viewing through its telescopes.

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battle royale

How Fall Guys, a battle royale game with jelly beans, became this summer’s mega hit – CNBC

A screenshot of gameplay from Fall Guys.

Mediatonic

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has rapidly become the hottest game of the summer, attracting millions of players within a month of its release.

But why is it so popular? CNBC takes a look at some key factors contributing to the game’s success.

What is Fall Guys?

Fall Guys, as the game is more commonly known, is a fresh take on the battle royale genre popularized by well-known shooter titles Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

Unlike those games, which see up to 100 players fight to be the last person standing, Fall Guys takes a different — and more comical — approach. Up to 60 people play as jelly beans trying to navigate through a series of candy-colored obstacle courses to win a coveted prize: crowns.

These crowns act as in-game currency which players use to buy skins — cosmetic items that have no bearing on gameplay. There are also so-called “kudos,” a less valuable currency players can earn either by playing the game or purchasing them. The latter option, often referred to as “microtransactions,” are common across the industry.

Developed by British indie studio Mediatonic, Fall Guys takes inspiration from classic TV game shows like Takeshi’s Castle and Total Wipeout. There’s a variety of levels that are randomly selected each time a player launches a session or advances to the next stage. It can often be a chaotic experience, with players having to avoid swinging balls, jump over spinning rods and memorize fruit to avoid falling into a pit of slime.

A screenshot of gameplay from Fall Guys.

Mediatonic

Since its Aug. 4 release, Fall Guys has sold over 7 million copies on PC via the Steam game store and became the most-downloaded title on Sony’s PlayStation Plus subscription service in history. The first few days into its release, the game saw so much traffic that many players found they were unable to enter a match due to the strain on its servers.

“I think success on this scale is inherently unpredictable and not something you can truly plan for — it’s been quite surreal,” Paul Croft, co-founder and chief games officer of Mediatonic, told CNBC. “But it’s been amazing to see so many people playing and enjoying the game across the world.”

Why is it so popular?

Experts say there are a number of reasons for Fall Guys’ popularity.

One is its deal with Sony, which saw Fall Guys added to PS Plus, a subscription service that gives players access to two free games each month. A downside of this launch strategy is that it doesn’t include important platforms like Microsoft’s Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch, but these could be supported later down the line.

While neither Sony or Mediatonic have disclosed how many PlayStation 4 copies of the game were downloaded via PS Plus, the figure is bound to be sizable. PS Plus has over 41.5 million subscribers in total, and Sony recently confirmed Fall Guys became the service’s most-downloaded game, putting it ahead of big titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered and Destiny 2.

Another factor in the game’s favor is its accessibility. Players only need to know three controls — running, jumping and grabbing — meaning it’s much easier for newcomers to learn how to play. This, combined with consumers’ search for escapism during the coronavirus pandemic, has helped broaden the game’s appeal.

“Fall Guys has really flourished in this environment because, at its core, it is a simple, family-friendly game,” Louise Shorthouse, games industry analyst at Omdia, told CNBC. “Unlike traditional, violent battle royale titles, Fall Guys appeals to all ages, and is approved by parents.”

Then there’s the virality of Fall Guys on streaming platforms like Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube, as well as social media. The game was watched more than Fortnite across Twitch, YouTube and Facebook last month, according to esports intelligence firm Stream Hatchet, racking up 118.5 million hours of watchtime versus Fortnite’s 106.3 million between Aug. 4 and Aug. 28.

Figures provided by Stream Hatchet show Fall Guys got more watch time than Fortnite in the month of August.

Stream Hatchet

Ahead of Fall Guys’ release, Mediatonic beta-tested the game on weekends with streamers and a limited number of general players. Croft says this “helped drive excitement and interest around both watching and streaming the game on Twitch.”

“Fall Guys is made to be streamed — it is a ‘TV show’ after all,” Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at Ampere Analysis, told CNBC. “The game session length is perfect to keep viewers interested and streamers can squad up and play together. It’s great content and easily understood, adding to its organic growth.” 

Meanwhile, the developer’s savvy social media use has also paid off. Its official Twitter account, run by Mediatonic’s senior community manager, Oliver Hindle, has over 1.4 million followers and is known for posting memes related to the game. It’s also convinced big online celebrities like Ninja and MrBeast to bid for in-game costumes, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity in the process.

“I still don’t think I’ve processed just how big the game has gotten,” Hindle, who joined Mediatonic from fellow British indie developer Bossa Studios, told CNBC.

What next?

The challenge for Mediatonic long-term will be to sustain the momentum it’s experienced with Fall Guys in the game’s first month.

Like Fortnite, Fall Guys has seasonal changes that add updates like new maps and costumes. Fall Guys is set to have its second season, a medieval-themed event, next month.

“I think Fall Guys could have great longevity, but it depends heavily on the content pipeline,” said Shorthouse. “If the developers can continue to release engaging content that streamers like to stream and viewers like to watch, Fall Guys could be in it for the long-term.”

But Fall Guys doesn’t yet support cross-play, the ability to play online with people using different machines. And with it only being available on PS4 and PC, future growth could be limited unless Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital bring the game to Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, mobile and next-gen consoles like the Xbox Series X and PS5. A mobile version is coming to China, though the timing on this remains unclear.

“At the moment, we’re still figuring all of that out,” Mediatonic’s Croft told CNBC. “It’s clear that people would love Fall Guys to be on more platforms, and we would love to bring it to them. We hope to be able to announce more details soon, when we know more.”

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battle Heroic

A Girl’s Heroic Battle Against the Taliban Was Also a Family Feud – The New York Times

A teenage Afghan girl was celebrated for killing Taliban who attacked her home. But the story of her heroism is steeped in pain, and reveals the complicated crosscurrents of the Afghan War.

Credit…Mujib Mashal/The New York Times

The teenage girl was the hero of a night of carnage that left her family’s hillside home in western Afghanistan strewn with bodies. Qamar Gul, 15, fought to her last bullet, gunning down Taliban attackers who raided the house and killed her father and mother.

In the days after the attack last week, Afghan social media was full of slick posters celebrating her as “My Hero.” Some users compared her to the Kurdish women of Kobani, Syria, who fought the Islamic State. Local officials put out pictures of Qamar Gul posing with her rifle. Afghanistan’s vice president praised her for defending against “the enemies of the nation.”

But the story of her heroism is steeped in pain, in a culture that often treats women as property, and in the confusion of an Afghan war that has twisted families into knots of complex loyalties and feuds.

One of the attackers she killed was her own husband, who was fighting on the Taliban’s side and apparently seeking her forcible return after a falling out with Ms. Gul’s family, according to relatives and local officials.

As the war in Afghanistan drags on, the violence has increasingly become local. Beyond the headlines of the major clashes between government forces and Taliban militants often lies a more complicated reality of local power rivalries, of a tug of war between mafia groups and drug-dealing rings, and of communities and families torn apart.

Increasingly, both the pro-government and Taliban side are drawing on the same pools of local fighters.

In villages and rural districts, the Taliban are not an unknown force — they are mostly the sons and brothers and husbands everyone there knows. And the Afghan government has in large stretches of the country found itself relying on tens of thousands of local militiamen, called the Public Uprising, to try to hold territory. They often bear the brunt of the fighting, but their casualties rarely make it to official records of the toll of the war on Afghan forces.

Ghor Province, where the incident happened, has remained restive in recent years and proved particularly brutal for women. In government-controlled areas, girls have been bartered for dowries at a young age. Graphic videos of stoning and flogging have repeatedly come out of the Taliban-controlled areas.

The village in Taiwara district where Qamar Gul’s home was raided lies on the edge, near where government control gives way to the Taliban. But the family’s fate had intertwined with violence long before the recent battle.

Image

Credit…Ghor District Government

Qamar Gul’s mother, Fatima, had married twice before ending up with her father, Shah Gul Rahimi, according to Zabihullah Rahmani, a relative. Fatima’s first husband died young of an overdose while working as a laborer in Iran, leaving behind a son who is now a police officer. Her second marriage to a local commander was short-lived: He was killed in clashes with the Taliban in the 1990s. Shah Gul, the local commander’s younger brother, stepped in to marry Fatima. They had two children together, Qamar Gul, and her 12-year-old brother Habibullah.

In recent years, Mr. Rahimi, who was just 40, took on his brother’s responsibilities as a community elder in Taiwara. He frequently helped with the Local Uprising militia fending off Taliban attacks, joining them in their battles. But it wasn’t clear whether he was also on a government payroll — the militias are paid anywhere between $50 to $150 by the Afghan intelligence agency and provided ammunition — or whether he was just helping in his role as a local elder.

Residents described him as a stalwart fighter, despite having had one hand amputated years before.

About four years ago, Mr. Rahimi struck an agreement with a local man from an adjacent village named Mohamed Naeem: Mr. Naeem would marry Mr. Rahimi’s daughter, Qamar, as his second wife. In exchange, Mr. Rahimi would take Mr. Naeem’s teenage niece as his second wife.

Since both girls were young, they waited two years before making the marriage official in separate wedding ceremonies. Mr. Naeem and Mr. Rahimi had grown so close that when Mr. Naeem needed a loan of about $3,000, Mr. Rahimi became his guarantor at a business that gave him the loan.

“Naeem was his son-in-law, and they got along very well too,” said Sebghatullah, Mr. Rahimi’s nephew. “It all turned upside down at once.”

Just how Mr. Naeem joined the Taliban is not exactly clear. But relatives and local officials said it happened over the course of the past two years, as his private life started falling apart and he was chased for his debts.

Mr. Naeem, who had taken his new bride to his old home, right away got into arguments with his parents over how unfairly he treated his first wife by spending all his time with the younger Qamar Gul, said the relative, Mr. Rahmani. After one fight, Mr. Naeem took Qamar Gul and left, first staying with his in-laws and then moving his home to neighboring Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold.

“He swore that he would never return to his own village,” said Abdullah, Qamar Gul’s maternal uncle. “Naeem lived with his father-in-law for a while, he was given a room at the house. But the people he owed money to now kept knocking on his father-in-law’s door.”

Image

Credit…Mujib Mashal/The New York Times

The trouble seems to have begun when Mr. Rahimi’s new wife visited her family and refused to return to her husband, saying she didn’t want to live with him, according to the two relatives. In return, when Qamar Gul came home, her father held her until the family returned his wife and Mr. Naeem paid the $3,000 debt for which Mr. Rahimi was being harassed. After several rounds of mediation with local elders, Mr. Rahimi agreed a compromise: He would let Qamar Gul return only if Mr. Naeem paid the debt.

“Naeem’s niece wasn’t happy with the marriage because Shah Gul was much older than her. But Qamar Gul wasn’t arguing much — she said she was OK with whatever her father had decided, but that Naeem had to pay back the debt,” Mr. Rahmani said.

But Mr. Naeem had other thoughts: He had grown close to a ruthless Taliban commander in Ghor who would help him take Qamar Gul home without paying any money. They chose the early hours after midnight on July 17 for a surprise attack, with about a dozen of their fighters surrounding the hillside home and barging in.

When Mr. Rahimi had come out of the hallway to see what was happening, he was given no chance to run for his weapon. He had six bullet wounds, including one in the neck. When Qamar Gul’s mother, Fatima, came out to cry for help after her husband was shot, she was also shot, three times — twice in her chest, once also in the neck, family members said.

Qamar Gul grabbed her father’s weapon, ran to the doorway, and began spraying at the attackers in the yard. She shot two of them dead, and wounded the senior Taliban commander. The Taliban fled the scene as neighbors and local militia fighters began arriving.

Two days after the attack, the Ghor provincial governor put out a statement saying Qamar Gul and her 12-year old brother had defeated an “offensive attack” by the “Taliban terrorist group” and forced the “bloodthirsty Taliban to flee, leaving behind two of their dead in the battlefield.”

The statement attached graphic photos of two bodies. One was Mr. Naeem, Qamar Gul’s husband, the chest of his embroidered tunic s

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battle French

New French PM says battle against ‘radical Islamism’ a priority – Al Jazeera English

France’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has vowed to be “intransigent” in defending France’s official secularism, promising to fight “radical Islamism in all its forms” as “an absolute priority”.

Unveiling new government policy in Paris on Wednesday, Castex told the National Assembly that the French republic was being “shaken to its foundations” by “the coalition of its enemies – terrorists, conspiracy theorists, separatists and communitarians”.

Castex, a centre-right provincial mayor who graduated from the elite National School of Administration, said a new law to combat “separatism” would be introduced after the summer break.

It would aim to “avoid certain groups becoming closed in around ethnic or religious identities,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also recently warned against anti-racist movements being taken over by “separatists”, after demonstrations against alleged police violence and racism in Paris – although the president did not say what he meant by the term.

Some members of France’s Muslim minority feel that the country’s official secularism is mainly brandished against them, although Macron himself has condemned divisive approaches to it.

Castex also set out a hard line on violence at demonstrations and petty crime, saying police would be given the resources they needed.

Local judges would be appointed to ensure “day-to-day anti-social behaviour” was punished swiftly, he said.

France, secularism and hijab paranoia | UpFront (Feature)

‘Specifically targets Muslims’

Yasser Louati, head of France’s Justice and Liberties For All Committee, told Al Jazeera that Castex’s use of the term “separatism” is “heavily charged and specifically targets Muslims whose recent mobilisations against racism and Islamophobia irritate the dominant, conservative segment of French society”.

“The recent use of the term ‘separatism’ by Emmanuel Macron marks a new escalation in state-sponsored Islamophobia in that it perpetuates the fantasy of an enemy within, the same way France did with Jews in the past,” Louati said.

“There are no calls for secession, at least not by Muslims. But if the government interprets calls for equality as calls for separatism, then that further exposes the hypocrisy of French institutions that wrap themselves in the banner of human rights and a colour-blind republic, while calling [for] a more violent repression against minorities.”

Human rights groups previously condemned France for carrying out discriminatory raids and house arrests against Muslims after it declared a state of emergency in November 2015.

“The state of emergency that targeted over 5,000 Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship has become permanent, and I fear that the end of the summer will be violent when the government comes back to office,” Louati said.

Castex also said he was taking office at “a very particular moment” in France’s history after the COVID-19 epidemic caused France “one of the most serious crises it has known”.

He said he would be meeting trade unions and employers on Friday to agree on how to approach “all the subjects that are on the table for the coming weeks and months, starting with the plan to restart [the]

economy”.

The assembly approved Castex’s speech by a large majority of 345 votes to 177 and 43 abstentions.

With reporting by Mersiha Gadzo in Toronto, Canada.



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