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Beyonce releases ‘Black Is King’

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Pop royalty Beyonce on Friday released her much-hyped visual album “Black Is King,” an aesthetically ambitious video billed as a companion to her 2019 album of songs inspired by Disney’s live-action remake of “The Lion King.”

The highly stylized visual narrative released on the Disney Plus streaming platform runs an hour and 25 minutes and, akin to “The Lion King,” tells the story of a young boy who navigates an onerous world, finding himself far from his family.

The work is an ode to the black experience rife with vibrant imagery celebrating the African diaspora, an aesthetic exploration of black history, power and success that also references colonialism, economic disparity and racism.

Beyonce had described the work as a “labor of love,” that now serves “a greater purpose” than its original role as a companion piece to “The Lion King: The Gift,” given the current sociopolitical climate.

Mass anti-racism protests ignited following the police killing of a black man, George Floyd, in May as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the United States, disproportionately infecting people of color.

“Many of us want change,” Beyonce wrote on Instagram, rare personal words from the guarded celebrity.

“I believe that when Black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books.”

Powered by lush visuals and Beyonce’s soaring vocals, “Black Is King” places heavy emphasis on notions of family and motherhood along with more philosophical threads of origin and legacy.

A-listers including the superstar’s hip hop mogul husband Jay-Z, actress Lupita Nyong’o, jack-of-all-trades Pharrell Williams and model Naomi Campbell all feature in the production.

Beyonce’s mother Tina Knowles-Lawson and former Destiny’s Child bandmate Kelly Rowland also make appearances, as well as daughter Blue Ivy and rare footage of her twins, Rumi Carter and Sir Carter.

The film follows Beyonce’s venerated 2016 visual album “Lemonade,” which emphasized black womanhood against the backdrop of America’s heritage of slavery and culture of oppression.

Since that Grammy-winning work Beyonce has prized the visual at the forefront of her art, no longer focused on dominating the pop charts.

Simultaneously one of music’s most private but most-watched stars, the 38-year-old uses her massive social media platform to curate her image and promote her work imbued with broad social commentary on topics including gender and race.

But Beyonce also has faced criticism, especially from outside the United States, for deploying what some call stereotypical visuals of “African tradition” — face paint and feathers, for example.

Many social media users noted that Disney Plus is not accesible in African nations, and that while Beyonce has performed some shows on the continent, her tours haven’t included dates there in years.

“Someone with the range must unpack how our beloved queen Beyonce is reducing blackness and Africanness to aesthetics and the western imaginations of our existence,” tweeted one user, Paballo Chauke.

“They must also speak about how it’s now profitable to do such gimmicks.”

Still, the Bey Hive — Beyonce’s legion of ardent fans — voiced elation over the release of “Black Is King,” which quickly became a top trending hashtag.

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Wi-fi minivans help disadvantaged students

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THE Wifi minivan in action.

SANTA ANA, United States (AFP) — A minivan with a Wi-fi router attached to the dashboard and a satellite antenna on the roof is helping 200 disadvantaged students in Santa Ana, close to Los Angeles, cope with the rigors of distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

“When the school district launched the new school year last month, some of the parents had challenges,” said Roman Reyna, who is overseeing the “Wi-fi on wheels” project launched by JFK Transportation, which organizes school runs in the district.

“A lot of our students don’t have access to Wi-fi. So it’s difficult for them to hear some of the messages or learning lessons behind the computer,” Reyna said.

As many schools began the year with teaching online, the head of the company, Kevin Watson, came up with the idea of equipping some of his vans with internet relays and parking them at strategic points in the city where students with no Internet at home can stay on top of their school work.

“We park the van, and we’re here about eight hours to ensure that the students are connected during the day,” Watson said. “The Wi-fi signal will reach approximately three and a half football fields, that’s about 350 yards (350 meters).”

The connection is secured via a password and accessible only to students, he added.

“The Wi-fi routers are 5G, it’s one of the best and very quick,” said Watson, who is African-American and grew up in neighborhoods of Santa Ana where many immigrant families live and often struggle to make ends meet.

Each van is able to connect some 200 students, and seven have already been deployed as part of the project.

Watson said financial negotiations are ongoing with the school district and the hope is to have a fleet of about 50 of the vehicles.

‘Up to speed on homework’ 

The project has highlighted inequalities in a state that boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world and is home to Silicon Valley and some of the biggest tech companies.

A recent report estimated that 25 percent of students in the state — about 1.5 million — did not have adequate internet access or computing devices needed for distance learning.

The same applies in other US states, in part because of high internet costs — which average about 60 dollars a month — and poor infrastructure.

In the southern state of Mississippi, for example, half of students do not have access to Wi-fi or laptops, according to a study by the NGO Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group.

The study said it would take between $6 billion and $11 billion to eradicate this digital divide across the country, the equivalent of one to two percent of the defense budget.

In Santa Ana, it is estimated that some 10,000 students do not have access to Wi-fi, said local councilman Vincent Sarmiento.

He said the city had been trying to create as many hotspots as possible, and initiatives such Watson’s had helped relieve the pressure.

For the students, the relay vans offer a chance to keep up with school work.

“I had Wi-fi trouble … and sometimes I would go to my friend’s house and they let me work there,” said 13-year-old  Angel, who now has a “Wi-fi on wheels” parked near his home.

“Now, it’s working good and I’ve returned all my assignments.”

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Cheesesteaks, bugs and obligatory chastity

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JOE Biden on the campaign trail.

Drive-in stump speeches, enforced chastity on a rapper’s campaign trail, pesky critters and a Philly cheesesteak on Air Force One — with fewer than 50 days before November 3, the run for the White House is in full swing.

Driving the agenda 

After movies and concerts took a leap back to the 1950s with a return to drive-ins to avoid infection from Covid-19, Democratic hopeful Joe Biden adopted the model Thursday for a speech to voters in Pennsylvania.

Around 100 people drove in to the speech and set up camping chairs next to their cars so they could sit at a safe distance from each other and listen to the former vice president.

The format had its drawbacks though — the audience was so small and spread out that a message was broadcast during a break asking the viewers if they could clap a little louder.

The small gathering did not escape the attention of President Donald Trump though who described it as “the strangest thing” he had ever seen.

Say ‘cheesesteak’ 

Take a bread roll, some strips of beef and melted cheese, peppers and onions to taste and you have the flavor of Pennsylvania, or thereabouts.

Flying back from a campaign appearance in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Trump posted a photo of himself with two Philly cheesesteakds on a plate in front of him on Air Force One. The Twitter picture quickly racked up hundreds of thousands of likes, although natives of the city demanded to know which of the two most celebrated purveyors of the heavy delicacy he had ordered from.

Eating the city’s eponymous sandwich has become a rite of passage for politicians passing through the key swing state on the campaign trail. Joe Biden, a native son, has been pictured diving into one while campaigning as former presdient Barack Obama’s running mate and then as vice president.

No ‘fornication’ 

Rapper Kanye West’s bid for the White House may be stuck in court in various states, but that has not stopped the billionaire, whose recent erratic behavior has thrust his bipolar disorder front and center, from crisscrossing the country on a campaign inspired by his religious beliefs, pronouncing himself a “born again” Christian who recently found god.

According to an article in the New York Times this week, the husband of Kim Kardashian wants to bring back school prayer, return religious groups to public life and has even banned his own campaign team from “fornication.”

The rapper, who made his name singing about one-night stands, has become extremely reactionary on moral issues and made the same demand of the team working on his last album which came out in 2019.

Critters 

While making a speech on climate change next to a field in his home state of Delaware, Biden was forced to swat a large insect that was crawling up his neck

“Sorry, that was a bug,” he said, adding “speaking of the environment…” before carrying on with his speech.

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Trump seeks Ginsburg replacement ASAP

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TRUMP

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Donald Trump on Saturday urged Republican lawmakers to back his upcoming nomination for the Supreme Court “without delay” as the issue roiled the election campaign.

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices,” Trump tweeted after the death Friday of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“We have this obligation, without delay!”

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Thousands join Thailand pro-democracy rally

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PROTESTERS calling for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down.

BANGKOK (AFP) — Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters massed close to Thailand’s royal palace on Saturday, in a huge rally calling for PM Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down and demanding reforms to the monarchy.

The kingdom has seen near-daily gatherings of youth-led groups since mid-July calling for the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief behind the 2014 coup, and a complete overhaul of his administration.

Some are also demanding reforms to Thailand’s ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy — a once-taboo topic in the country due to its tough royal defamation laws.

The burgeoning movement, partly inspired by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, remains largely leaderless.

But the weekend’s demonstration is organised by students of Bangkok’s Thammasat University — a group that has been among the most vocal about the royal family’s role in Thailand.

History teacher Patipat, 29, said the government wouldn’t be able to ignore the event.

“Today is one of the turning points in Thai history,” he told AFP.

Bangkok’s Metropolitan Police Bureau said more than 15,000 protesters had gathered around the university’s downtown campus and the surrounding area by nightfall, though protest organisers claim a much higher turnout.

AFP reporters on the ground estimated a crowd size closer to 30,000.

This would make it one of the largest gatherings the kingdom has seen since the 2014 coup.

Flooding into the historic Sanam Luang field in front of the Royal Palace, LGBT activists unfurled rainbow flags as protesters marched in waving a three-fingered salute, a symbol for democracy taken from the Hunger Games film trilogy.

“We are calling for Prayut Chan-O-Cha… to resign immediately,” prominent activist and protest organiser Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, told AFP.

Student leaders have also vowed to push for reform to the monarchy, asserting that they hope “to adapt it to society”.

“I believe the institution can be modernised,” said a rallygoer in his mid-20s, declining to be named.

Another protester wore a fake crown and a shirt that said “please realise this country belongs to the people”.

Demonstrators have said they will spend the night at Sanam Luang before marching to Government House on Sunday morning — a move authorities have warned against.

Some 10,000 uniformed and plainclothes police patrolled the area as the crowd grew. Tents were set up by protesters selling T-shirts, flags and beer.

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Stronger immune system is the best defense against COVID-19

Gabbie Parlade

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A health professional on Saturday urged the public to strengthen their immune system as this is the best defense against the coronavirus disease.

Dr. Oyie Balburias, a general internal medicine practitioner, said that nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc are some of the main components that increase the body’s defense against illness.

“Mas mahalaga na kilalanin natin ang ating immune system kasi alam natin na itong virus na ito ay highly infectious but it is not equally fatal,” Balburias said in an interview with radio station DZBB.

He noted that because a majority of the cases are only mild and asymptomatic, a large percentage of these infections are able to recover.

Balburias said in order to do so, it’s important to determine if a person has pre-existing conditions to determine what needs to be done for their own immune system.

“Karamihan doon sa mga may pre-existing condition kagaya sa lifestyle katulad ng diabetes at highblood sila yung mas maaring compromiso,” he said.

He said although not everyone is required to take supplements to get these nutrients, the public may instead opt for healthier options in their diet.

It includes choosing more colorful sets of vegetables and going for adequate amounts of seafood or dairy products that could supply vitamin c and zinc deficiencies.

Also, people may opt to bathe in the sun in recommended hours of the day to get some Vitamin D.

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Lebanon army surveys 85K building units post-Beirut blast

Agence France-Presse

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A building near Beirut port with broken windows and wrecked furniture after the August 4 explosion that ravaged the Lebanese capital (AFP)

Lebanon’s army said Saturday it has carried out a survey of more than 85,000 dwellings, businesses, and other building units damaged by the massive Beirut port blast last month.

The August 4 explosion of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port killed more than 190 people, wounded thousands, and ravaged large parts of the capital.

“A total of 85,744 affected units have been surveyed,” the army said.

It had surveyed 60,818 housing units, 19,115 businesses, 1,137 heritage units, 962 restaurants, 82 teaching institutions, and 12 hospitals, among other unis.

It recorded almost 550,000 square meters (half a square kilometer) of glass ravaged, and well as 140,000 square meters of glass facades broken.

More than 108,000 doors had been damaged, the survey showed.

The army said it was still looking for nine people — three Lebanese, five Syrians and an Egyptian — still missing after the blast.

The survey “is considered to be sufficient, and there is, therefore, no need for further surveys by donor countries”, it said in a statement.

The army said the donors, non-governmental organizations, or volunteers could request access to the results.

On August 9, international donors pledged over 250 million euros (around $300 million) in emergency aid, in a video conference jointly organized by France and the United Nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed in early September during a second visit to Lebanon since the blast to host a second conference in Paris in the second half of October.

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US Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg dies at 87

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US Supreme Court Justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday, opening a crucial vacancy on the high court expected to set off a pitched political battle at the peak of the presidential campaign.

Affectionately known as the Notorious RBG, the 87-year-old Ginsburg was the oldest of nine Supreme Court justices.

She died after a fight with pancreatic cancer, the court announced, saying she passed away “surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, DC.”

Coming just 46 days before an election in which President Donald Trump lags his Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls, the vacancy offers the Republican a chance to lock in a conservative majority at the court for decades to come.

Trump issued a statement praising Ginsburg as a “titan of the law,” but gave no indication whether he intended to press ahead with a nomination.

Accolades flowed in for the pioneering Jewish justice.

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” said Chief Justice John Roberts.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama said in a tweet that Ginsburg “fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals.”

Biden said she was “an American hero, a giant of legal doctrine, and a relentless voice in the pursuit of that highest American ideal: Equal Justice Under Law.”

In Washington, hundreds of tearful mourners laid flowers in front of the Supreme Court, where the diminutive Ginsburg sat for 27 years — even taking arguments and issuing opinions from her hospital bed after repeated bouts of illness over the past two years.

US flags flew at half-mast on each side of the court building. People lit candles on the steps of the court while others held rainbow flags.

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ginsuburg was a law-school star when women didn’t study law, and a law professor with a powerful impact on the establishment of rights for women and minorities.

She died on the evening that marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, those who die during the holiday are revered as a “tzaddik,” or a person of great righteousness.

Ginsburg’s death gives Trump the opportunity to tilt the court to the right, potentially for decades, with media reporting that a new nomination could be quick.

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Abe visits war shrine, days after leaving office

Agence France-Presse

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Japan’s outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) holds a bouquet of flowers as he bids farewell to staff members after the last cabinet meeting in Tokyo. (AFP)

Shinzo Abe, who stepped down this week as Japan’s prime minister, on Saturday visited a war shrine seen by neighboring countries as a symbol of Tokyo’s past militarism.

Abe last visited the controversial shrine in December 2013, sparking fury from wartime foes Beijing and Seoul and earning a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States.

Abe posted a picture of himself in a dark suit walking along a wooden corridor at the shrine in central Tokyo on Saturday, escorted by a Shinto priest in a white robe.

“Today, I paid my respects at the Yasukuni Shrine and reported to the spirits of the war dead my resignation as prime minister,” the nationalist politician tweeted.

The former premier had refrained from paying tributes at the shrine in person since his 2013 visit despite other conservative politicians doing so, in particular on August 15 to mark Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Four ministers from Abe’s cabinet paid tributes at the shrine last month in the first such visit since 2016.

Yasukuni honors 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country’s wars since the late 19th century.

But it also honors senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal after the war.

Abe announced late last month that he was stepping down due to health problems and was replaced by Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday.

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BTS, Coldplay, etc. seal 2020 iHeart Festival

Care Balleras

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Less than a month after they hit VMA 2020, Korean boy-group superstar BTS is “driving through the city with a little funk and soul”.

This when the group closed this year’s iHeart Festival with renowned artists Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Thoma Rhett, and Migos.

The festival opened on 18 September but every performer and audience were rocked by the news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed. Nonetheless, the artists showed what they got as a tribute to the icon.

Alicia Keys was the opening act with “So Done”, her collaboration with Khalid and was followed by Migos’ 2020 EDM hits mash-up and was balanced by Thomas Rhett’s country hit “Look What God Gave Her”.

Sealing the entire festival, BTS unleashed their funk with ‘Dynamite’ and ‘Boy With Luv’.

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