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Nigeria Protests Unwavering Even as Government Meets Demand

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Protests against police brutality continued in major cities across Nigeria, with demands evolving beyond ending police excesses to calls for good governance across the board.

Vigils were held in major cities overnight, as regional strains emerged, with youth protesters in several northern Nigerian towns demanding urgent steps to end insecurity and an insurgency that has plagued the region for the past decade.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Lagos, the commercial capital, and in Abuja, the capital, held candlelight processions to honor those killed since protests erupted on Oct. 5 and for thousands who have died at the hands of the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, or SARS, over the years. The protests have claimed at least 13 lives so far.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo late Friday apologized to protesters in a series of tweets, reaffirming government’s pledge to act swiftly and reform the police.

“It’s people revolting against bad governance, but using the symbolism of police brutality,” said Idayat Hassan, executive director of the Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development. “It goes deeper.”

Nigeria’s military expressed support for President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, saying it was prepared to quell the continuing protests across Africa’s most populous nation of more than 200 million people.

The statement signaled a potential escalation in the standoff between protesters and authorities of Africa’s top oil producing nation. It also marks a change of stance from an earlier government directive that prohibited the use of force against marchers after Buhari disbanded the infamous SARS unit.

While previous protests in Nigeria have been quashed by security forces, this time round the nature of the demonstrations, without any clear leadership structure and being run via social media, makes it difficult for the government, according to Hassan. The government’s earlier conciliatory approach may been prompted by the scale of the protest, the largest in about a decade.

The protests erupted after a video was shared on social media that purportedly showed the killing of a civilian by the anti-robbery squad. Demonstrations have since taken place in more than a dozen cities including the oil hub of Port Harcourt, the central city of Jos and Enugu in the southeast.

READ: Twitter, Goggle Back Nigerians Protesting Police Brutality

The hashtag #ENDSARS has trended on social media, with Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey highlighting the protests in a tweet on Wednesday. Google LLC added its voice with a tweet Thursday condemning police oppression in the country.

Many young people complain about being unfairly targeted by police on suspicion of being criminals, especially if they have tattoos or dreadlocks or carry laptops. Among protesters are people who have had personal experience of the impunity for which the SARS unit became known, according Aisha Yesufu, a leader of the demonstrations in Abuja.

“They’ve been extorted, their family members have been killed, or missing or taken away by anyone,” Yesufu said. “One of the protesters has a family member that has been missing for eight years; they were taken away and they don’t know whether they’re still alive.”

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Birds Really Did Sound Louder During Lockdowns

You can tell what part of the Bay Area a male white-crowned sparrow is from just by a few notes of its song. The buzzes and trills of the North American birds can vary dramatically over just a few miles. (Think Bronx versus Brooklyn accents, but for birds.) These distinctive dialects have made the species a focus of ornithological attention for decades; since the 1960s, researchers have mapped 10 birdsong dialects across San Francisco, their borders shifting and evolving over time. 

But in recent years many of the urban sparrows’ melodies had been “masked” by noise pollution, and the birds began singing at a higher frequency to overcome the cacophony of cars and city life.

That changed in March, when Bay Area counties went into coronavirus lockdown. Traffic disappeared, coyotes began prowling the traffic-free streets, and nature, famously, began healing. Elizabeth Derryberry, an associate professor of behavioral evolution and phylogenetics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, wondered about the white-crowned sparrows in the San Francisco region that she’d been studying since 2012. What would they sound like, unmasked? 

Using recordings collected from April through June 2015 as a comparison point, Derryberry and four other colleagues analyzed the vocal performance of male white-crowned sparrows in the period from April to May of this year. The sample area spanned breeding grounds from the rural forests and grasslands of Abbotts Lagoon and Commonweal in Marin County, north of the city, to the more urban East Bay city of Richmond, and Golden Gate Bridge-adjacent Lands End. There, co-author Jennifer Phillips, a postdoc at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, recorded four distinct songs, with four distinct trill patterns.

What the researchers found is that as the city’s sounds dimmed, the urban sparrows’ songs changed. They didn’t get louder, though you may have noticed them more. Instead, they got “sexier.” The birds were able to say more, and say it better, because they didn’t have to shout so much. 

Pre-pandemic, urban and rural soundscapes varied widely in these birds’ habitats: The white-crowned sparrow’s San Francisco breeding grounds are typically three times noisier than that of less-dense Marin County. In these normal conditions, urban males often have to sing more loudly than rural ones, at higher frequencies and at lower bandwidths, to compete with the high “sound energy” of a city. But they face a tradeoff between having their songs detected at a far distance and communicating information in the signals that they’re sending. 






Sarah Holder


San Francisco Bird Singing Before Shutdown

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    When lockdowns hit, the sound patterns of urban and rural areas converged into a blanket of quiet. Ambient noise — intermittent loud sounds like dogs barking or airplanes crossing the sky — dropped in both urban and rural locations, while the disappearance of background low-frequency noises like the hum of cars and buses was noticed more dramatically in cities. Derryberry’s team did their analysis before the city released comprehensive traffic data that quantified the slowdown, but they knew that vehicle crossings on the Golden Gate Bridge were down in April and May to “levels not seen since 1954.” 

    “[A] relatively brief but dramatic change in human behavior effectively erased more than a half-century of urban noise pollution and concomitant soundscape divergence between urban and nearby rural areas,” the authors wrote in their paper, which was recently published in Science. “In other words, the Covid-19 shutdown created a proverbial silent spring across the SF Bay Area.”

    Urban white-crowned sparrows, whose breeding season started at the same time as the shutdowns, took advantage of this silence.

    “When the noise disappeared, that tradeoff went away,” said Derryberry. “Suddenly, their signal could go a long distance and contain a lot of information.”

    Male sparrows started singing about 30% more softly, but since the roar of the urban world had dropped by more than 50%, their signal carried twice as far. Features that hadn’t been heard since the 1970s reappeared, along with new trill patterns. “They weren’t actually louder, but they sounded louder,” she said. 






    Sarah Holder


    San Francisco Bird Singing During Shutdown

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    To understand how that works, imagine you’re at a party, Derryberry suggested. (Bittersweet, I know.) As more people fill the room, voices creep louder and louder; vocal cords strain and get shrill, and still, you can barely hear the person in front of you. By the end of the night, though, when only a few stragglers remain, everyone speaks more softly and their words carry farther. You can’t help but perk up if you hear something juicy a couple of conversations away. 

    That emptying room is what the sparrows suddenly found themselves in this spring. Through the stillness, San Franciscans were able to hear four times the number of white-crowned sparrows as before.

    For male birds, who use their birdsongs to repel rivals from their territory and to attract mates, being heard is essential to survival. Their tune is both a “keep out” and a “come hither” signal: The frequency exudes strength, and the trilling demonstrates stamina, says Derryberry. Better vocal performance can translate into more mates, and improved odds for successful breeding. 

    Because the life span of the sparrow is only about 13 months on average, Derryberry says it’s possible that male birds who were already suited to this emerging soundscape were favored for reproduction, and that what we’re hearing is the beginnings of an evolutionary adaptation. Even as traffic returns, Derryberry believes that the legacy of this “silent spring” will be long-lasting, and that songbirds in other cities may be experiencing similar effects.

    “Whether it’s plasticity or selection, whatever it is, I think these birds are on a new trajectory,” she said. “Their songs have entered an acoustic space they haven’t been in over 30 years. I really doubt they’re just going to go right back to where they were before.” 

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    Airbnb Combats Surge in Party Houses After Covid Shuts Nightclubs

    When the coronavirus pandemic shut down bars and concert halls in March, a new phenomenon was born: the vacation-rental nightclub.

    Professional party promoters started scanning Airbnb, Vrbo and other short-term rental sites for mansions and luxury condos for hire. Tickets were going for $90 on Eventbrite and TikTok for soirees with bottle service and DJs.

    “People were looking to escape from their own homes and came into our tiny neighborhood to party all day, every day,” says Kristen Robinson Doe, a resident of a quiet suburban Dallas neighborhood where a party pad was being rented out for more than $1,000 a night. The five-bedroom home, with a resort-style pool, hot tub, outdoor kitchen and mini-golf putting green, was booked back-to-back through the summer. Doe watched in disbelief as strangers streamed through the gates every weekend and danced until dawn, unmasked, inebriated — and in clear violation of social distancing protocols.

    Host Compliance, which gathers data on short-term rental properties in more than 100 cities in the U.S., found a 250% spike in complaints from June to September, compared with the same period last year. Party promoters quickly figured out “they can rent short-term rentals, create one-night nightclubs and make a lot of money from it,” says Ulrik Binzer, chief executive officer of Host Compliance, which helps municipalities navigate home-sharing rules. Selling tickets for house parties on Eventbrite and Instagram is “something we’ve never seen before,” says Binzer, who has worked in the industry for five years.

    Airbnb and Expedia Group Inc.’s Vrbo have tried to crack down. Despite strict enforcement measures, the companies are struggling to curtail the events. If a listing is banned from Airbnb it can often still be available on Vrbo and other sites, and vice versa. If a host — or guest — is blacklisted, he or she may rent another property under another name. Some professional party organizers even tell attendees to meet at a public location and ferry them to private homes so the address is never published online. Within half an hour, an empty house on a residential street can turn into a full-blown discotheque.

    The spike in rental revelries comes at a bad time for Airbnb in particular. The San Francisco-based startup is planning to go public in December and hopes to raise as much as $3 billion, according to people familiar with its plans. Airbnb had originally intended to list earlier this year but the project was jeopardized after the coronavirus shut down global travel and reservations plummeted. Recently the company has seen bookings return as people seek refuge in rural areas outside of Covid hot spots and settle down for longer stays, taking advantage of flexible work options. The rebound in Airbnb’s fortunes helped get the IPO back on track. But headlines involving police, forbidden parties and a deadly disease aren’t the image the company wanted to project.

    “Reputation issues can spook people, from investors to the banks underwriting the deal,” says Maurice Blanco, partner and co-head of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP’s global Capital Markets Group. “Investment banks are concerned about being associated with a company that raises red flags.”

    Party houses were around before Covid-19. They drew national attention last year after a fatal shooting on Halloween at an Airbnb in Orinda, California, left five people dead. That prompted Airbnb to ban party houses and boost efforts to combat abusive host and guest behavior. “We must do better, and we will. This is unacceptable,” Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Brian Chesky tweeted at the time.

    Airbnb rolled out new safety policies and risk-detection technology to hunt down nuisance listings. It removed rule violators from the site and launched a “dedicated party house” rapid response team and a complaint hotline for neighbors. Vrbo also has a “no tolerance” policy and a group tasked with ferreting out the guests who throw unauthorized parties and the homeowners who knowingly allow them. “There have been rare occasions of someone abusing the platform and we remain committed to helping our partners protect their properties with education on how to prevent bad actors from renting,” a spokesman for Vrbo said.

    But a summer of coronavirus restrictions in cities has proven a challenge for enforcement.

    Police across the country began fielding calls early in the season about suburban party-goers terrorizing neighborhoods. Complaints included drunk revelers urinating off balconies, setting hillsides alight with fireworks and even spitting at neighbors, claiming they had Covid-19. The Los Angeles Police Department, Hollywood Division, had a 60% increase in radio calls related to party houses this summer compared to last, according to Captain Steven Lurie.

    Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, the division allocates four officers to police party houses. “It’s not just an issue of public disturbance; we can’t allow them to become superspreader events,” he said.

    In response to a spike in complaints, Airbnb bolstered its party-house policy in August, capping occupancy at 16. It also expanded prohibitions on people under 25 from making one-night reservations in the area in which they live. Airbnb uses an automated system to flag potentially problematic reservations for manual review and as a result has been able to identify and proactively cancel almost 9,000 “high-risk reservations” in the U.S. and Canada. Separately, a team of 60 Airbnb agents trained specifically on party house take-downs have suspended more than 380 listings since August, according to Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit.

    The Dallas party house was one of them. It had already been blacklisted from Airbnb in January, after racking up complaints on the neighbor hotline, Breit says. Before the suspension was over, the house became available again on the site under the name of a new property manager: Kristin Gerst. “What I saw when Covid hit — and all of us short-term rental owners saw — was a plethora of low-class guests who disregard house rules,” says Gerst, who has managed short-term rentals in Dallas for three years and took over the property in February.

    Prior to the pandemic, guests would leave Gerst “lovely thank you notes,” she says. Now they leave food on the floor, cigarette butts on tabletops and piles of trash. One guest even burned her house rules book — which specifically states no parties. When people lie about their intentions before a booking, hosts have few options for recourse, Gerst says.

    One particularly egregious party at the Dallas listing was planned by a woman who said she wanted to reserve the house for her sister’s baby shower. In reality, she was hunting for a venue for the “Labor Day Mansion Party,” which was advertised on Eventbrite, offering bottle service and DJs. Neighbors saw people carrying turntables into the backyard and boxes of spirits delivered to the front door. Hundreds of people piled inside.

    Once the party was in full swing, Gerst called the guest, who turned her phone off. She then asked Airbnb for help; the company canceled the reservation and permanently removed the listing from the platform. Gerst also tried the police, but it took five hours for them to arrive. “I’ve never felt so helpless,” she says, adding she’s now hiring a security company for backup.

    While banned from Airbnb, the house was available on Vrbo until Oct. 6, when Bloomberg News inquired about the property. It remains on Expedia’s site though can’t be booked.

    Over the past few years, Airbnb has been working to smooth its relationship with cities on short-term rental regulations but pandemic party houses have caused old tensions to flare again. In 19 of Airbnb’s top 25 cities -– by occupancy rate, as ranked by data firm AirDNA — city councils have either raised concerns about short-term rentals, enforced more stringent regulations due to Covid-19, or at least considered them, according to a review of city council documents. In August, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti authorized the city to shut off power, water and gas at properties hosting large gatherings. “The consequences of these large parties ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread,” he said at the time. On Aug. 19, the city cut the power to a Hollywood mansion rented by TikTok star Bryce Hall after he had held several parties there.

    A few days later, Airbnb was sued by the Opera Tower condominium in Miami for breaking the city’s short-term rental laws and turning the building into a “de facto, unlicensed hotel.” In a lawsuit, the condo’s association says it’s been forced to hire off-duty police officers to assist with relentless late-night parties. “There have been numerous crimes committed at the property by the transient users, including robberies, assaults and allegations of a rape,” the lawsuit states. Two gunmen exchanged fire inside the building in June, riddling the third floor elevator lobby with bullet holes. The condo’s association didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    Some residents have had enough. “There’s broken bottles, garbage lying around, people coming and going all drunk,” says David Ewing, who is moving out of the building after five years. “This isn’t a residence, it’s a nightclub,” Ewing says. “I can’t even compare when I first moved here to the hell it has descended into during the Covid crisis.”

    In Palm Beach County Florida, and in New Jersey, contact tracers have tracked positive cases of Covid-19 back to forbidden short-term rental parties. “This is the kind of problem that has kept us from making progress,” says David Eisenman, director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Public Health and Disasters. Holidays like Memorial Day and July 4th coincided with spikes of Covid-19, he says. “I expect we’ll see that again on Halloween.”

    Airbnb hopes not. In early October, it banned one-night reservations over Halloween and said previously booked reservations would also be canceled at Airbnb’s expense. “In the midst of a generational crisis, all of us have a role to play in protecting public health and slowing the spread of Covid-19,” the company said earlier this month. 

    Airbnb’s efforts haven’t deterred party promoters like Davante Bell. In July, Bell planned the “100 Summers Mansion Party” in Glendora, California. The home was listed on Airbnb, Vrbo and vacationrenter.com, according to a city council report, and promoted on Eventbrite, offering pre-sale tickets, live DJs and bottle service. Around 200 people turned up. It took police more than an hour to kick them out. Bell walked away with a $1,900 fine — easily covered by the profits he made that night. He was also banned from ever using Airbnb again.

    But Bell has big plans for Halloween: “Nightmare on King Bell Street Halloween Mansion Party” is already up on Eventbrite, offering bottle service, a $1,500 prize for best costume and tickets from $25 to $100. The party is bound to be a real life nightmare for the neighbors — and for whatever short-term rental platform he’s booked on.

    — With assistance by Katie Roof

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    25 Most Dangerous Cities in America

    Cities across the United States are reporting a spike in gun violence and homicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first six months of 2020, there was a nearly 15% increase in murders nationwide, and across a sample of 59 cities tracked by the FBI, the number of murders was up 28% from January through July compared to the same period in 2019. 

    The increase reflects a sudden reversal of a long-term trend, as violent crime has fallen in the U.S. for four consecutive years. In 2019, there were 367 violent crimes reported for every 100,000 people in the United States, a low not seen since 2014 and a far cry from the highs of the early 1990s that topped 750 violent crimes per 100,000 people annually. 

    While a complete picture of the incidence of violence in the United States in 2020 remains to be seen, there are dozens of cities across the country that were already plagued by violence before this turbulent year. 

    24/7 Wall St. reviewed violent crime rates in the 295 U.S. cities tracked by the FBI that are home to at least 100,000 people to determine the 25 most dangerous cities in America. Violent crime rates are population-adjusted figures calculated using the number of rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, and homicides committed in 2019 per 100,000 people. 

    Violent crime is a difficult social phenomenon to explain. Certain factors, however, may affect the incidence of violence, especially employment. Higher employment rates among at-risk groups have been shown to reduce the likelihood of violent crime — and some experts are pointing to the ongoing unemployment crisis to help explain the current surge in violence nationwide. Indeed, many of the cities on this list were struggling with widespread joblessness even before the COVID-19 recession. Here is a look at the cities with the worst COVID-19 unemployment crisis right now

    The relationship between income and crime is complicated, but cities with high poverty also often have higher crime rates. In the vast majority of cities on this list, the poverty rate exceeds the comparable 14.1% national rate. Here is a list of America’s poorest cities.

    Click here to see the 25 most dangerous cities in America.
    Click here to read our detailed methodology.

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    Armenian-Backed Forces Hit Base in Second-Largest Azeri City

    Armenian-backed forces in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh enclave said they struck a military airport in Azerbaijan’s second-largest city on Sunday in a major escalation of the fighting between the two South Caucasus neighbors.

    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s office said the missiles that hit Ganca came from Armenia, which the Armenian Defense Ministry denied. The missile strike caused deaths, Aliyev’s office said, without providing any further details.

    Nagorno-Karabakh said it attacked the military airport in Ganca in retaliation for Azerbaijan’s bombing of Stepanakert, the largest city in the enclave. The president of the disputed territory warned that from now on “military objects in large cities of Azerbaijan’s big cities are the target” of its forces.

    .#Azerbaijan’i terrorist army targets civilians in #Stepanakert, using Polonez & Smerch MLRS. From now on mil objects in large cities of Azerbaijan are the target of the Defense Army of #Artsakh. Calling on Azerbaijani population to leave these cities to avoid inevitable loss.8:50 AM · Oct 4, 2020

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    Azeri Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov described the attack as an “open provocation” by Armenia that “expands the theater of conflict.” Armenia and Azerbaijan on Saturday set seemingly impossible terms for agreeing to cease-fire calls from the U.S., France and Russia.

    Aliyev, who is backed by Turkey, has vowed to continue the military campaign until Armenian forces leave Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts that were taken during a war after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. The violence that began a week ago is more intense and widespread than at any time since Russia brokered a 1994 cease-fire to halt the war that killed about 30,000 and displaced more than a million people.

    The confrontation adds to tensions between Russia and Turkey over proxy conflicts in Syria and Libya. Russia has an army base in Armenia and the two nations have a mutual-defense pact that doesn’t cover the disputed territory.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday spoke to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and expressed concerns about the ongoing clashes and increasing number of victims, a German government spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. Merkel stressed that all sides must immediately stop fighting and start negotiations, according to the statement.

    Azerbaijani forces captured eight villages in the northeast and southeast of Nagorno-Karabkh, after earlier taking control of seven other small localities, the defense ministry in Baku said.

    — With assistance by Henry Meyer, and Chris Reiter

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    These 2 Cities Had an Unemployment Rate of 2.7% Last Month

    The U.S. unemployment rate in August was 8.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figure was higher than in most months during the Great Recession but well below the figures from May, June and July of this year. It is nowhere close to the historically low rate of 3.5% during much of 2019.

    Unemployment rates were up in August compared to the same month in 2019 in 387 of the 389 metropolitan areas and lower in the other two. Thirty-seven cities had jobless rates of less than 5%, and six had rates of 15% or more.

    A 5% jobless rate is considered full employment by most economists. This is based on the theory that there are always a small number of people between jobs or entering or exiting the national workforce.

    The two cities with the lowest rates were Logan, Utah-Idaho, and Idaho Falls, Idaho, both at 2.7%.

    These cities are in states where the jobless figure is low as well. Utah’s unemployment rate in August was 4.2%. Idaho’s was 3.8%.

    Another thing the two cities have in common is that they are extremely small compared to most of the other cities in America. That means the number of people unemployed in each is counted in the thousands. In Logan, the figure is only 1,827.

    Utah and Idaho have several advantages over most states in terms of jobs. In Utah, five of the 10 top employers are hospitals or medical systems. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is also a major employer, and the tech industry is another, led by Cisco Systems.

    Idaho’s largest employers are in the tech industry, universities, health care centers and the military. The largest employer in the state is Micron Technology. Boise State University is next, followed by the Mountain Home Air Force Base. The University of Idaho and the Idaho Military Department are high on the list.

    The employment bases in the lowest unemployment cities are stable, as well as in industries in which layoffs are unlikely. They should continue to enjoy what is better than “full employment.”

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