During the Day of the Dead celebrations that take place in late October and early November in Mexico, the living remember and honor their dearly departed, but with celebration — not sorrow.
Marigolds decorate the streets as music blares from speakers. Adults and children alike dress as skeletons and take photos, capturing the annual joy-filled festivities. It is believed that during the Day of the Dead — or Dia de Muertos — they are able to commune with their deceased loved ones.
No one knows when the first observance took place, but it is rooted in agriculture-related beliefs from Mexico’s pre-Hispanic era, said Andrés Medina, a researcher at the Anthropological Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Catholic traditions were incorporated into the celebration after the Spanish conquest in 1521.
“In that mythology, the corn is buried when it’s planted and leads an underground life for a period to later reappear as a plant,” Medina said. The grain of corn is seen as a seed, comparable to a bone, which is seen as the origin of life.
Today, skeletons are central to Day of the Dead celebrations, symbolizing the return of the bones to the living world. Like seeds planted under soil, the dead disappear temporarily only to return each year like the annual harvest.
Altars are core to the observance as well. Families place photographs of their ancestors on their home altars, which include decorations cut out of paper and candles. They also are adorned with offerings of items once beloved by those now gone. It could include cigars, a bottle of mezcal or a plate of mole, tortillas and chocolates.
Traditional altars can be adorned in a pattern representative of a Mesoamerican view that the world had levels, Medina said. But not everyone follows — or knows — this method.
“To the extent that Indigenous languages have been lost, the meaning (of the altar) has been lost as well, so people do it intuitively,” he said. “Where the Indigenous languages have been maintained, the tradition is still alive.”
The way Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead continues to evolve.
Typically, it is an intimate family tradition observed with home altars and visits to local cemeteries to decorate graves with flowers and sugar skulls. They bring their deceased loved ones’ favorite food and hire musicians to perform their favorite songs.
“Nowadays there’s an influence of American Halloween in the celebration,” Medina said. “These elements carry a new meaning in the context of the original meaning of the festival, which is to celebrate the dead. To celebrate life.”
In 2016, the government started a popular annual parade in Mexico City that concludes in a main square featuring altars built by artisans from across the country. The roughly three-hour-long affair features one of the holiday’s most iconic characters, Catrinas. The female skeleton is dressed in elegant clothes inspired by the engravings of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican artist who drew satirical cartoons at the beginning of the 20th century.
On Friday afternoon in the capital city, Paola Valencia, 30, walked through the main square looking at some of the altars and explained her appreciation for the holiday: “I love this tradition because it reminds me that they (the dead) are still among us.”
Originally from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, she said the residents of her hometown, Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, take a lot of time to build large altars each year. They are a source of pride for the whole community.
“Sometimes I feel like crying. Our altars show who we are. We are very traditional, and we love to feel that they (the dead) will be with us at least once a year,” she said.
Mexican artisans are struggling to preserve the traditional manufacture of paper cut-out decorations long used in altars for the Day of the Dead.
Defying increasingly popular mass-production techniques, second-generation paper cutter Yuridia Torres Alfaro, 49, still makes her own stencils at her family’s workshop in Xochimilco, on the rural southern edge of Mexico City.
As she has since she was a child, Torres Alfaro punched stunningly sharp chisels into thick piles of tissue paper at her business, “Papel Picado Xochimilco.”
While others use longer-lasting plastic sheets, laser cutters or pre-made stencils, Torres Alfaro does each step by hand, as Mexican specialists have been doing for 200 years.
In 1988, her father, a retired schoolteacher, got a big order for sheets — which usually depict festive skeletons, skulls, grim reapers or Catrinas — to decorate city government offices.
“The business was born 34 years ago, we were very little then, and we started helping in getting the work done,” Torres Alfaro recalled.
Begun in the 1800s, experts say “papel picado” using tissue paper is probably a continuation of a far older pre-Hispanic tradition of painting ceremonial figures on paper made of fig-bark sheets. Mexican artisans adopted imported tissue paper because it was cheap and thin enough so that, with sharp tools, extreme care and a lot of skill, dozens of sheets can be cut at the same time.
But the most important part is the stencil: its design designates the parts to be cut out, leaving an intricate, airy web of paper that is sometimes strung from buildings or across streets. More commonly, it is hung above Day of the Dead altars that Mexican families use to commemorate — and commune with — deceased relatives.
The holiday begins Oct. 31, remembering those who died in accidents; it continues Nov. 1 to mark those died in childhood, and then those who died as adults on Nov. 2.
Traditionally, the bright colors of the paper had different meanings: Orange signified mourning, blue was for those who drowned, yellow was for the elderly deceased and green for those who died young.
But many Mexicans — who also use the decorations at other times of year, stringing them at roof-height along streets — now prefer to buy plastic, which lasts longer in the sun and the rain.
Still other producers have tried to use mass-produced stencils, which means that tens of thousands of sheets might bear exactly the same design.
“Stencils began to appear for making papel picado, because it is a lot of work if you have to supply a lot of people,” said Torres Alfaro, who still hand-cuts her own stencils with original designs.
“We wanted to keep doing it the traditional way, because it allows us to make small, personalized lots, and keep creating a new design every day,” she says.
Another rival was the U.S. holiday Halloween, which roughly coincides with Day of the Dead. Because it is flashier and more marketable — costumes, movies, parties and candy — Halloween has gained popularity in Mexico.
“For some time now, there has been a bit more Halloween,” said Torres Alfaro. “We do more traditional Mexican things. That is part of the work, to put Mexican things in papel picado. If we do Halloween things, it’s only on order” from customers.
Still others have tried to use 21st-century technology, employing computer-generated designs and laser cutters.
But Torres Alfaro says that concentrating so much on the cutting leaves out the most important part: the delicate webs of paper left behind.
“There are some laser machines that are gaining popularity, but we have checked them and the costs are the same, the machines still cut hole-by-hole and they can’t cut that many sheets,” she said.
“The (ready-made) stencils and the laser machine have their downsides,” she said. “Papel picado is based on what can be cut, and what can’t, and that is the magic of papel picado.”
At least 120 people were killed in a crush during a Halloween celebration in South Korea’s capital Seoul late on Saturday.
Here are details of some of the worst stampedes over the last three decades:
April 1989: Ninety-six people are killed and at least 200 injured in Britain’s worst sports disaster after a crowd surge crushed fans against barriers at the English F.A. Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.
July 1990: Inside Saudi Arabia’s al-Muaissem tunnel near the Muslim holy city of Mecca, 1,426 pilgrims are crushed to death during Eid al-Adha, Islam’s most important feast, at the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
May 1994: A stampede near Jamarat Bridge in Saudi Arabia during the hajj kills 270 in the area where pilgrims hurl stones at piles of rocks symbolizing the devil.
April 1998: One hundred and nineteen Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death during the hajj in Saudi Arabia.
May 2001: In Ghana, at least 126 people are killed in a stampede at Accra’s main soccer stadium when police fire tear gas at rioting fans in one of Africa’s worst soccer disasters.
February 2004: A stampede kills 251 Muslim pilgrims in Saudi Arabia near Jamarat Bridge during the hajj ritual stoning of the devil.
January 2005: At least 265 Hindu pilgrims are killed in a crush near a remote temple in India’s Maharashtra state.
August 2005: At least 1,005 people die in Iraq when Shi’ites stampede off a bridge over the Tigris river in Baghdad, panicked by rumors of a suicide bomber in the crowd.
January 2006: Three hundred and sixty-two Muslim pilgrims are crushed to death at the eastern entrance of the Jamarat Bridge when pilgrims jostle to perform the hajj stoning ritual.
August 2008: Rumors of a landslide trigger a stampede by pilgrims in India at the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh state. At least 145 people die and more than 100 are injured.
September 2008: In India, 147 people are killed in a stampede at the Chamunda temple, near the historic western town of Jodhpur.
July 2010: A stampede kills 19 people and injures 342 when people push through a tunnel at the Love Parade techno music festival in Duisburg, Germany.
November 2010: A stampede on a bridge in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, kills at least 350 people after thousands panic on the last day of a water festival.
January 2013: More than 230 people die after a fire breaks out at a nightclub in the southern Brazilian college town of Santa Maria, and a stampede crushes some of the victims and keeps others from fleeing the fumes and flames.
October 2013: Devotees crossing a long, concrete bridge towards a temple in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh panic when some railings break, triggering a stampede that kills 115.
September 2015: At least 717 Muslim pilgrims are killed and 863 injured in a crush at the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
April 2021: At least 44 people are crushed to death at an overcrowded religious bonfire festival in Israel in what medics said was a stampede.
November 2021: At least nine people are killed and scores injured in a crush at the opening night of rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival in Houston, Texas, triggered by a surge of fans pushing toward the stage.
January 2022: At least 12 Hindu pilgrims died and more than a dozen are injured in a stampede at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine in Kashmir during events to mark the New Year.
January 2022: A stampede at a church on the outskirts of Liberia’s capital Monrovia killed 29 people during an all-night Christian worship event.
May 2022: At least 31 people die during a stampede at a church in Nigeria’s southern Rivers state, after people who turned up to receive food at the church broke through a gate.
October 2022: A stampede at a soccer stadium in Indonesia kills at least 125 people and injures more than 320 after police sought to quell violence on the pitch, authorities said.
It happened at a music festival in Houston, a soccer stadium in England, during a hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, in a Chicago nightclub, and countless other gatherings: Large crowds surge toward exits, onto playing fields or press up against a stage with such force that people are literally squeezed to death.
And it has happened again, during Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital Seoul, where a crowd pushed forward, the narrow street they were on acting as a vice, leaving more than 140 people dead and 150 more injured.
The risk of such tragic accidents, which receded when venues closed and people stayed home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has returned.
To be sure, most events where large crowds gather happen without injury or death, with fans coming and going without incident. But those that went horribly wrong shared some common traits. Here is a look at why that happens:
How do people die at these events?
While movies that show crowds desperately trying to flee suggest getting trampled might be the cause of most of the deaths, the reality is most people who die in a crowd surge are suffocated.
What can’t be seen are forces so strong that they can bend steel. That means something as simple as drawing breath becomes impossible. People die standing up and those who fall die because the bodies on top of them exert such pressure that breathing becomes impossible.
“As people struggle to get up, arms and legs get twisted together. Blood supply starts to be reduced to the brain,” G. Keith Still, a visiting professor of crowd science at the University of Suffolk in England, told NPR after the Astroworld crowd surge in Houston last November. “It takes 30 seconds before you lose consciousness, and around about six minutes, you’re into compressive or restrictive asphyxia. That’s a generally the attributed cause of death — not crushing, but suffocation.”
What is the experience of being swept into a crush of people like?
Survivors tell stories of gasping for breath, being pushed deeper under what feels like an avalanche of flesh as others, desperate to escape, climb over them. Of being pinned against doors that won’t open and fences that won’t give.
“Survivors described being gradually compressed, unable to move, their heads ‘locked between arms and shoulders … faces gasping in panic,’” according to a report after a human crush in 1989 at the Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield, England, led to the deaths of nearly 100 Liverpool fans. “They were aware that people were dying, and they were helpless to save themselves.”
What triggers such events?
At a Chicago nightclub in 2003, a crowd surge began after security guards used pepper spray to break up a fight. Twenty-one people died in the resulting crowd surge. And this month in Indonesia, 131 people were killed when tear gas was fired into a half-locked stadium, triggering a crush at the exits.
In Nepal in 1988, it was a sudden downpour that sent soccer fans rushing toward locked stadium exits, leading to the deaths of 93 fans. In the latest incident in South Korea, some news outlets reported that the crush occurred after a large number of people rushed to a bar after hearing that an unidentified celebrity was there.
But still, the British professor who has testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds, pointed to a variation of the age-old example of someone shouting “Fire” in a crowded movie theater. He told the AP last year that what lights the fuse of such a rush for safety in the U.S., more than in any other country, is the sound of someone shouting: “He has a gun!”
What role did the pandemic play?
Stadiums are filling up again. During the pandemic, as games went forward, teams took some creative steps to make things look somewhat normal. Cardboard figures of fans were placed in some of the seats and crowd noise was piped in — a sports version of a comedy show laugh track.
Now, though, the crowds are back, and the danger has returned.
“As soon as you add people into the mix, there will always be a risk,” Steve Allen of Crowd Safety, a U.K.-based consultancy engaged in major events around the world, told the AP in 2021.
Jerry Lee Lewis, the untamable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose outrageous talent, energy and ego collided on such definitive records as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and sustained a career otherwise upended by personal scandal, died Friday morning at 87.
The last survivor of a generation of groundbreaking performers that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Lewis died at his Mississippi home, south of Memphis, Tennessee, representative Zach Farnum said in a release. The news came two days after the publication of an erroneous TMZ report of his death, later retracted.
Of all the rock rebels to emerge in the 1950s, few captured the new genre’s attraction and danger as unforgettably as the Louisiana-born piano player who called himself “The Killer.”
Tender ballads were best left to the old folks. Lewis was all about lust and gratification, with his leering tenor and demanding asides, violent tempos and brash glissandi, cocky sneer and crazy blond hair. He was a one-man stampede who made the fans scream and the keyboards swear, his live act so combustible that during a 1957 performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” on “The Steve Allen Show,” chairs were thrown at him like buckets of water on an inferno.
“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there was no pure rock ’n ’roll before Jerry Lee Lewis kicked in the door,” a Lewis admirer once observed. That admirer was Jerry Lee Lewis.
But in his private life, he raged in ways that nearly ended his career.
For a brief time, in 1958, he was a contender to replace Presley as rock’s prime hit maker after the latter was drafted into the Army. But while Lewis toured in England, the press learned three damaging things: He was married to 13-year-old (possibly even 12-year-old) Myra Gale Brown, she was his cousin, and he was still married to his previous wife. His tour was canceled, he was blacklisted from the radio and his earnings dropped overnight to virtually nothing.
“I probably would have rearranged my life a little bit different, but I never did hide anything from people,” Lewis told The Wall Street Journal in 2014 when asked about the marriage. “I just went on with my life as usual.”
Over the following decades, Lewis struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, legal disputes and physical illness. Two of his many marriages ended in his wives’ early deaths. Brown herself divorced him in the early 1970s and would later allege physical and mental cruelty that nearly drove her to suicide.
“If I was still married to Jerry, I’d probably be dead by now,” she told People magazine in 1989.
Lewis reinvented himself as a country performer in the 1960s, and the music industry eventually forgave him, long after he stopped having hits. He won three Grammys, and he recorded with some of the industry’s greatest stars. In 2006, Lewis came out with “Last Man Standing,” featuring Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King and George Jones. In 2010, Lewis brought in Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw and others for the album “Mean Old Man.”
In “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll,” first published in 1975, he recalled how he convinced disc jockeys to give him a second chance.
“This time I said, ‘Look, man, let’s get together and draw a line on this stuff — a peace treaty, you know,’ ” he explained. Lewis would still play the old hits on stage, but on the radio he would sing country.
Lewis had a run of top 10 country hits between 1967 and 1970, and hardly mellowed at all. He performed drinking songs such as “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me),” the roving eye confessions of “She Still Comes Around” and a dry-eyed cover of a classic ballad of abandonment, “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.” He had remained popular in Europe, and a 1964 album, “Live at the Star Club, Hamburg,” is widely regarded as one of the greatest concert records.
A 1973 performance proved more troublesome: Lewis sang for the Grand Ole Opry and broke two long-standing rules — no swearing and no non-country songs.
Lewis married seven times and was rarely far from trouble or death. His fourth wife, Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool in 1982 while suing for divorce. His fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, 23 years his junior, died of an apparent drug overdose in 1983. Within a year, Lewis had married Kerrie McCarver, then 21. She filed for divorce in 1986, accusing him of physical abuse and infidelity. He countersued, but both petitions eventually were dropped. They finally divorced in 2005 after several years of separation. The couple had one child, Jerry Lee III. Another son by a previous marriage, Steve Allen Lewis, 3, drowned in a swimming pool in 1962, and son Jerry Lee Jr. died in a traffic accident at 19 in 1973.
His finances were also chaotic. Lewis made millions, but he liked his money in cash and ended up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Internal Revenue Service. When he began welcoming tourists in 1994 to his longtime residence near Nesbit, Mississippi — complete with a piano-shaped swimming pool — he set up a 900 phone number fans could call for a recorded message at $2.75 a minute.
The son of one-time bootlegger Elmo Lewis and the cousin of TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and country star Mickey Gilley, Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana. As a boy, he first learned to play guitar, but found the instrument too confining and longed for an instrument that only the rich people in his town could afford: a piano. His life changed when his father pulled up in his truck one day and presented him with one.
“My eyes almost fell out of my head,” Lewis recalled in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” written by Rick Bragg and published in 2014.
He took to the piano immediately and began sneaking off to Black juke joints and absorbing everything from gospel to boogie-woogie. Conflicted early on between secular and scared music, he quit school at 16, with plans of becoming a piano-playing preacher. Lewis briefly attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, a fundamentalist Bible college, but was expelled, reportedly, for playing the “wrong” kind of music.
“Great Balls of Fire,” a sexualized take on biblical imagery that Lewis initially refused to record, and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ ” were his most enduring songs and performance pieces. Lewis had only a handful of other pop hits, including “High School Confidential” and “Breathless,” but they were enough to ensure his place as a rock ‘n’ roll architect.
“No group, be it [the] Beatles, Dylan or Stones, have ever improved on ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ ‘ for my money,” John Lennon would tell Rolling Stone in 1970.
A roadhouse veteran by his early 20s, Lewis took off for Memphis in 1956 and showed up at the studios of Sun Records, the musical home of Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Told by company founder Sam Phillips to go learn some rock ‘n’ roll, Lewis returned and soon hurried off “Whole Lotta Shakin’ ” in a single take.
“I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” he later said. “Sam Phillips thought it was gonna be too risque, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risque, well, I’m sorry.”
In 1986, along with Presley, Berry and others, he made the inaugural class of inductees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and joined the Country Hall of Fame this year. The Killer not only outlasted his contemporaries but saw his life and music periodically reintroduced to younger fans, including in the 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” starring Dennis Quaid, and Ethan Coen’s 2022 documentary “Trouble in Mind.” A 2010 Broadway musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” was inspired by a recording session that featured Lewis, Presley, Perkins and Cash.
He won a Grammy in 1987 as part of an interview album that was cited for best spoken word recording, and he received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005. The following year, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ ” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, whose board praised the “propulsive boogie piano that was perfectly complemented by the drive of J.M. Van Eaton’s energetic drumming. The listeners to the recording, like Lewis himself, had a hard time remaining seated during the performance.”
A classmate at Bible school, Pearry Green, remembered meeting Lewis years later and asking if he was still playing the devil’s music.
“Yes, I am,” Lewis answered. “But you know it’s strange, the same music that they kicked me out of school for is the same kind of music they play in their churches today. The difference is, I know I am playing for the devil, and they don’t.”
Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith; children Jerry Lee III, Ronnie Lewis, Phoebe Lewis and Lori Lancaster; a sister; and many grandchildren.
On Oct. 4, Elon Musk reversed himself and offered to honor his original proposal to buy Twitter for $44 billion — a deal he had spent the previous several months trying to wriggle out of. He posted a video of himself arriving at Twitter headquarters Wednesday, and Thursday evening new outlets announced the deal had been completed and Musk had fired at least two top Twitter executives.
If the case has your head spinning, here’s a quick guide to the major events in the saga featuring the billionaire Tesla CEO and the social platform.
January 31: Musk starts buying shares of Twitter in near-daily installments, amassing a 5% stake in the company by mid-March.
March 26: Musk, who has tens of millions of Twitter followers and is active on the site, says he is giving “serious thought” to building an alternative to Twitter, questioning the platform’s commitment to “free speech” and whether Twitter is undermining democracy. He also privately reaches out to Twitter board members including his friend and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
March 27: After privately informing Twitter of his growing stake in the company, Musk starts conversations with its CEO and board members about potentially joining the board. Musk also mentions taking Twitter private or starting a competitor, according to later regulatory filings.
April 4: A regulatory filing reveals that Musk has rapidly become the largest shareholder of Twitter after acquiring a 9% stake, or 73.5 million shares, worth about $3 billion.
April 5: Musk is offered a seat on Twitter’s board on the condition he amass no more than 14.9% of the company’s stock. CEO Parag Agrawal said in a tweet that “it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board.”
April 9: After exchanging pleasantries and bonding by text message over their love of engineering, a short-lived relationship between Agrawal and Musk sours after Musk publicly tweets “Is Twitter dying?” and gets a message from Agrawal calling the criticism unhelpful. Musk tersely responds: “This is a waste of time. Will make an offer to take Twitter private.”
April 11: Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal announces Musk will not be joining the board after all.
April 14: Twitter reveals in a securities filing that Musk has offered to buy the company outright for about $44 billion.
April 15: Twitter’s board unanimously adopts a “poison pill” defense in response to Musk’s proposed offer, attempting to thwart a hostile takeover.
April 21: Musk lines up $46.5 billion in financing to buy Twitter. Twitter board is under pressure to negotiate.
April 25: Musk reaches a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion and take the company private. The outspoken billionaire has said he wanted to own and privatize Twitter because he thinks it’s not living up to its potential as a platform for free speech.
April 29: Musk sells roughly $8.5 billion worth of shares in Tesla to help fund the purchase of Twitter, according to regulatory filings.
May 5: Musk strengthens his offer to buy Twitter with commitments of more than $7 billion from a diverse group of investors including Silicon Valley heavy hitters like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.
May 10: In a hint at how he would change Twitter, Musk says he’d reverse Twitter’s ban of former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, calling the ban a “morally bad decision” and “foolish in the extreme.”
May 13: Musk declares his plan to buy Twitter “temporarily on hold.” Musk says he needs to pinpoint the number of spam and fake accounts on the social media platform. Shares of Twitter tumble, while those of Tesla rebound sharply.
June 6: Musk threatens to end his $44 billion agreement to buy Twitter, accusing the company of refusing to give him information he requested about its spam bot accounts.
July 8: Musk says he will abandon his offer to buy Twitter after the company failed to provide enough information about the number of fake accounts.
July 12: Twitter sues Musk to force him to complete the deal. Musk soon countersues.
July 19: A Delaware judge says the Musk-Twitter legal dispute will go to trial in October.
August 23: A former head of security at Twitter alleges the company misled regulators about its poor cybersecurity defenses and its negligence in attempting to root out fake accounts that spread misinformation. Musk eventually cites the whistleblower as a new reason to scuttle his Twitter deal.
October 5: Musk offers to go through with his original proposal to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Twitter says it intends to close the transaction after receiving Musk’s offer.
October 6: Delaware judge delays Oct. 17 trial until November and gives both sides until Oct. 28 to reach agreement to close the deal.
October 20: The Washington Post reports that Musk told prospective Twitter investors that he plans to lay off 75% of the company’s 7,500 employees.
October 26: Musk posts a video of himself entering Twitter headquarters carrying a kitchen sink, indicating that the deal is set to go through.
October 27: In a message to advertisers, Musk says Twitter won’t become a “free-for-all hellscape.” News organizations report the deal to buy Twitter has been completed.
Elon Musk became Twitter Inc’s new owner on Thursday, firing top executives he had accused of misleading him and providing little clarity over how he will achieve the lofty ambitions he has outlined for the influential social media platform.
The CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc TSLA.O has said he wants to “defeat” spam bots on Twitter, make the algorithms that determine how content is presented to its users publicly available, and prevent the platform from becoming an echo chamber for hate and division, even as he limits censorship.
Yet Musk has not offered details on how he will achieve all this and who will run the company. He has said he plans to cut jobs, leaving Twitter’s approximately 7,500 employees fretting about their future. He also said on Thursday he did not buy Twitter to make more money but “to try to help humanity, whom I love.”
Musk terminated Twitter Chief Executive Parag Agrawal, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal and legal affairs and policy chief Vijaya Gadde, according to people familiar with the matter. He had accused them of misleading him and Twitter investors over the number of fake accounts on the social media platform.
Agrawal and Segal were in Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters when the deal closed and were escorted out, the sources added.
Twitter, Musk and the executives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The $44-billion acquisition is the culmination of a remarkable saga, full of twists and turns, that sowed doubt over whether Musk would complete the deal. It began on April 4, when Musk disclosed a 9.2% stake in the San Francisco company, making him its largest shareholder.
The world’s richest person then agreed to join Twitter’s board, only to balk at the last minute and offer to buy the company instead for $54.20 per share, an offer that Twitter was unsure whether to interpret as another of Musk’s cannabis jokes.
Musk’s offer was real, and over the course of just one weekend later in April, the two sides reached a deal at the price he suggested. This happened without Musk carrying out any due diligence on the company’s confidential information, as is customary in an acquisition.
In the weeks that followed, Musk had second thoughts. He complained publicly that he believed Twitter’s spam accounts were significantly higher than Twitter’s estimate, published in regulatory filings, of less than 5% of its monetizable daily active users. His lawyers then accused Twitter of not complying with his requests for information on the subject.
The acrimony resulted in Musk giving notice to Twitter on July 8 that he was terminating their deal on the grounds that Twitter misled him on the bots and did not cooperate with him. Four days later, Twitter sued Musk in Delaware, where the company is incorporated, to force him to complete the deal.
By then, shares of social media companies and the broader stock market had plunged on concerns that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes, as it seeks to fight inflation, will push the U.S. economy into recession. Twitter accused Musk of buyer’s remorse, arguing he wanted to get out of the deal because he thought he overpaid.
Most legal analysts said Twitter had the strongest arguments and would likely prevail in court. Their view did not change even after Twitter’s former security chief Peiter Zatko stepped forward as a whistleblower in August to allege that the company failed to disclose weaknesses in its security and data privacy.
On Oct. 4, just as Musk was set to be deposed by Twitter’s lawyers ahead of the start of their trial later in the month, he performed another u-turn and offered to complete the deal as promised. The Delaware judge gave him an Oct. 28 deadline to close the transaction and avoid the trial.
Since then, Musk has indulged the deal hype. He walked into Twitter’s headquarters on Wednesday with a big grin and carrying a porcelain sink, subsequently tweeting “let that sink in.” He changed his description in his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit.”
He also tried to calm fears among employees that major layoffs are coming and assured advertisers that his past criticism of Twitter’s content moderation rules would not harm its appeal.
“Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” Musk said in an open letter to advertisers on Thursday.
Musk has indicated he sees Twitter as a foundation for creating a “super app” that offers everything from money transfers to shopping and ride hailing.
“The long-term potential for Twitter in my view is an order of magnitude greater than its current value,” Musk said on Tesla’s call with analysts on Oct 19.
But Twitter is struggling to engage its most active users who are vital to the business. These “heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of monthly overall users but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue.
Musk said in May he would reverse the ban on Donald Trump, who was removed after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, although the former U.S. President Donald Trump has said he won’t return on the platform. He has instead launched his own social media app, Truth Social.
The United States is trying to make it easier for companies and organizations to bolster their cybersecurity in the face of growing attacks aimed at crippling their operations, stealing their data or demanding ransom payments.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) rolled out their new Cybersecurity Performance Goals on Thursday, describing them as a critical but voluntary resource that will help companies and organizations make better decisions.
“Really what these cybersecurity performance goals present is a menu of options to advance one’s cybersecurity,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters, describing the rollout as a “watershed moment” for cybersecurity.
“They are accessible, they are easy to understand, and they are identified according to the cost that each would entail, the complexity to implement the goal, as well as the magnitude of the impact that the goal’s implementation would have,” he added.
For months, U.S. officials have been warning of an ever more complex and dangerous threat environment in cyberspace, pushing the government’s “Shields Up” awareness campaign, driven in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
They have also called attention to cyberattacks by Iran and North Korea, while warning that both nation states and non-state actors have increasingly been scanning and targeting U.S. critical infrastructure, from water and electric companies to airports, which were struck by a series of denial-of-service attacks earlier in October.
Private cybersecurity companies have likewise warned of a growing number of attacks against health care companies and education and research organizations.
While some bigger U.S. companies and organizations have been able to devote time, money and other resources to confront the growing dangers, U.S. officials are concerned that others have not.
In particular, CISA has worried about small to mid-sized businesses, along with hospitals and school systems, often described by officials as target rich but resource poor because they do not have the money or resources to defend systems and data from hackers.
Officials said the new guidelines, which focus on key areas like account security, training, incident reporting, and response and recovery, and come with checklists, are designed to ease the burden. The officials also said they anticipate the goals will change and evolve along with the threat.
The newly unveiled goals “were developed to really represent a minimum baseline of cyber security measures that if implemented, will reduce not only risk to critical infrastructure but also to national security, economic security and public health and safety,” said CISA Director Jen Easterly, calling them a “quick start guide.”
“[It’s] really a place to start to drive prioritized investment toward the most critical practices,” she said.
According to CISA, many of the new goals are already resonating, including with state and local officials running U.S. elections.
“We’ve been working with them to implement several of these best practices, as well as ensuring that they have the tools and resources and the capabilities to ensure the security and resilience of election infrastructure,” Easterly told reporters Thursday. “I’ve met with election officials even just over the past few days … and they all expressed confidence in particular in the cybersecurity across all of their systems.”
CISA also said Thursday that U.S. states and territories needing more help can take advantage of $1 billion in grants that are being made available over the next four years.
The grants, designed specifically to help protect U.S. critical infrastructure, were first announced last month.
Elon Musk is telling Twitter advertisers he is buying the platform to “help humanity” and doesn’t want it to become a “free-for-all hellscape” where anything can be said with no consequences.
The message to advertisers posted Thursday on Twitter came a day before Musk’s deadline for closing his $44 billion deal to buy the social-media company and take it private.
“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,” Musk wrote, in an unusually-long message for the billionaire Tesla CEO who typically projects his thoughts in one-line tweets
He continued: “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”
The message reflects concerns among advertisers — Twitter’s chief source of revenue that Musk’s plans to promote free speech by cutting back on moderating content will open the floodgates to more online toxicity and drive away users.
Friday’s deadline to close the deal was ordered by the Delaware Chancery Court in early October. It is the latest step in an epic battle during which Musk signed an April deal to acquire Twitter, then tried to back out of it, leading Twitter to sue the Tesla CEO to force him to conclude the deal. If the two sides don’t meet the Friday deadline, the next step could be a November trial that would likely lead to a judge forcing Musk to complete the deal.
But Musk has been signaling that the deal is going through by Friday, paying a visit to Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters Wednesday and changing his Twitter profile to “Chief Twit.”
More frequent and severe droughts in Africa are hampering food production, especially in arid parts of the continent, where farmers struggle to eke out a living. A water retention system developed in the United States is helping African farmers fight the trend and improve crop yields in drought-affected areas.
Under the scorching sun in the Ulilinzi village of southeastern Kenya, farmers are engaging in unique land preparations.
They are installing in the ground specially designed polyethylene membranes that look like clear covers, to prevent the loss of moisture and nutrients from the soil.
Exacerbated by drought from climate change, the sandy soil in this area, like in most arid and semi-arid areas, has made it nearly impossible to produce abundant crops.
However, this new water retention technology developed in the U.S. is giving farmers here new hope.
Alvin Smucker is a professor of soil biophysics at Michigan State University who developed the technology.
“We had a lot of government funding, going into millions and millions of dollars to put all these systems together. And then test it in Texas, Arizona, California and Michigan. And these … we … all four universities that worked with us. So, this is not something that we just put a little container in the backyard — my backyard — and now we are saying it is the best in the world. It has been tested,” he said.
Shem Kuyah, a researcher at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, is one of the scientists leading the trials of the technology in Kenya.
“We have tested the technology with cowpea[s]. We have also tested the technology with maize, and we realized that farms where we had installed these membranes were more productive,” said Kuyah.
The technology has so far been tested in Zimbabwe and Kenya and is getting good reviews.
Florence Mutisya, a farmer in Ulilinzi village, has deployed the technology in her farm.
She said when the technology came, she was trained on how to make her sandy soil farm fertile. “I saw the benefits and deployed it in my farm. And I can say that this technology is working very well because now, I get [a] good harvest.”
A few meters away, Ann Mutunga is harvesting kales at her farm.
“This technology is very good.” She poses before she continues. “I can say it is good, because when it was used in my farm for trials, I harvested a lot of maize,” Mutunga explains. “Even now, we are very happy because as you can see, we have vegetables which you can’t find anywhere else around here,” she says, beaming with a smile.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture is among the organizations spearheading trials of the subsurface water retention technology in the sub-Saharan region and says it can bring about a green revolution in the long run, as Sylvia Nyawira, a researcher at the center, explains.
“In addition to the technology, farmers, if they continue to apply, for instance, manure, retain their crop residues in the soil, reducing tillage in the soils. Then there’s buildup of organic matter. So, even in five years to come, the yields that we have been witnessing in plots that have the technology are expected to be much higher.”
Apart from improving crop yields, experts say the technology can also help in climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.
“As you increase productivity, the crops are able to take carbon from the atmosphere and fix it into their biomass. And when this material is incorporated into the soil, it increases soil organic matter. And by increasing the organic matter in the soil, you are able to fix carbon dioxide that was once in the atmosphere. You are able to lock it into the soil,” said Kuyah.
A key drawback of this new water retention technology is the high cost and labor involved. It costs between 1,250 to 2,000 U.S. dollars to buy the specialized membranes to cover one hectare of land.
The challenge now is making this technology available for farmers in remote areas who need it the most.
Adidas ended its lucrative partnership with the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, over his offensive and antisemitic remarks, which drew widespread criticism from Jewish groups, celebrities and others on social media who said the German sportswear company was being too slow to act.
The sneaker giant became the latest company to cut ties with Ye, who was suspended from Twitter and Instagram this month over antisemitic posts that the social networks said violated their policies. The outcry swelled after demonstrators on a Los Angeles overpass unfurled a banner Saturday praising Ye’s antisemitic comments.
Adidas said it expected to take a hit of up to 250 million euros ($246 million) to its net income this year from the decision to immediately stop production of its line of Yeezy products and stop payments to Ye and his companies.
“Adidas does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous, and they violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness.”
Jewish groups, noting Adidas’ past links to the Nazi regime, said the decision was overdue. The World Jewish Congress noted that during World War II, Adidas factories “produced supplies and weapons for the Nazi regime, using slave labor.”
“I would have liked a clear stance earlier from a German company that also was entangled with the Nazi regime,” said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the main Jewish group in the country where Adidas is headquartered.
For weeks, Ye has made antisemitic comments in interviews and social media, including a Twitter post earlier this month that he would soon go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” an apparent reference to the U.S. defense readiness condition scale known as DEFCON.
The rapper has alienated even ardent fans in recent years, teasing and long tinkering with albums that haven’t been met with the critical or commercial success of his earlier recordings. Those close to him, like ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her family, have ceased publicly defending him after the couple’s bitter divorce and his unsettling posts about her recent relationship with comedian Pete Davidson.
Ye has told Bloomberg that he plans to cut ties with his corporate suppliers. After he was suspended from Twitter and Facebook, Ye offered to buy conservative social network Parler.
An email message sent to a representative for Ye was not immediately returned.
Adidas, whose CEO Kasper Rorsted is stepping down next year, said it reached its decision after conducting a “thorough review” of its partnership with Ye, whose talent agency, CAA, as well as Balenciaga fashion house had already dropped the rapper.
Despite the growing controversy, Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce, believes that Adidas’ delayed response was “understandable.”
“It’s a hugely profitable, edgy brand association,” Adamson said. “The positives are so substantial in terms of the audience it appeals to — younger, urban, trendsetters, the size of the business. I’m sure they were hoping against hope that he would apologize and try to make this right.”
Adamson noted that Adidas was facing pressure from everywhere including customers, employees and stakeholders.
“There’s the short-term profits of selling shoes, and then there is the long-term equity of the Adidas brand,” he said.
In the hours before the announcement, some Adidas employees in the United States had spoken out on social media about the company’s inaction.
Sarah Camhi, a director of trade marketing at the company who described herself as Jewish, said in a LinkedIn post that she felt “anything but included” as Adidas.
“remained quiet; both internally to employees as well as externally to our customers” for two weeks after Ye made his antisemitic remarks.
The rapper, who has won 24 Grammy Awards, has been steadily losing audience on radio and even his streaming numbers have declined slightly over the last month. According to data provided by Luminate, an entertainment data and insights company whose data powers the Billboard music charts, his airplay audience slipped from 8 million in the week ending Sept. 22, to 5.4 million in the week ending on Oct. 20. The popularity of his songs on streaming on demand also went down in the same period, from 97 million to 88.2 million, about a 9% drop.
Ye has earned more of a reputation for stirring up controversy since 2016, when he was hospitalized in Los Angeles because of what his team called stress and exhaustion. It was later revealed that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He recently suggested slavery was a choice and called the COVID-19 vaccine the “mark of the beast,” among other comments. He also was criticized for wearing a “White Lives Matter” T-shirt to his Yeezy collection show in Paris.
MRC studio announced Monday that it is shelving a complete documentary about the rapper. JPMorganChase and Ye have ended their business relationship, although the banking breakup was in the works even before Ye’s antisemitic comments.
Gap said Tuesday that it is also taking immediate steps to remove Yeezy Gap products from its stores and has shut down yeezygap.com in light of West’s comments. The clothing retailer said that in September it was ending their relationship but at the time, it said that it planned to continue to sell Yeezy Gap products that were in the pipeline.
Jewish groups have pointed to the danger of the rapper’s comments at a time of rising antisemitism. Such incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high last year, the Anti-Defamation League said in a letter to Adidas last week urging it to break with Ye.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, applauded the company’s decision to drop Ye.
“This is a very positive outcome,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “It illustrates that antisemitism is unacceptable and creates consequences.”
The saga of Ye, not just with Adidas but with brands like Gap and Balenciaga, underscores the importance of vetting celebrities thoroughly and avoiding those who are “overly controversial or unstable,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
“Companies or brands that fail to heed this will get stung, especially if they become overly reliant on a difficult personality to drive their business,” Saunders said.
More frequent and severe droughts in Africa are hampering food production, especially in arid parts of the continent where farmers struggle to eke out a living. A water retention system developed in the U.S. is helping African farmers fight the trend and improve crop yields in drought-affected areas. Juma Majanga reports from Kibwezi, Kenya.
Leslie Jordan, the actor whose wry Southern drawl and versatility made him a comedy and drama standout on TV series including “Will & Grace” and “American Horror Story,” has died. The Emmy-winner, whose videos turned him into a social media star during the pandemic, was 67.
“The world is definitely a much darker place today without the love and light of Leslie Jordan. Not only was he a mega talent and joy to work with, but he provided an emotional sanctuary to the nation at one of its most difficult times,” a representative for Jordan said in a statement Monday. “Knowing that he has left the world at the height of both his professional and personal life is the only solace one can have today.”
The native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who won an outstanding guest actor Emmy in 2005 for his role as Beverly Leslie in “Will & Grace,” had a recurring role on the Mayim Bialik comedy “Call me Kat” and co-starred on the sitcom “The Cool Kids.”
Jordan’s other eclectic credits include “Hearts Afire,” “Boston Legal,” “Fantasy Island” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” He played various roles on the “American Horror Story” franchise series.
Jordan died Monday in a single car crash in Hollywood, according to reports by celebrity website TMZ and the Los Angeles Times, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.
Jordan earned an unexpected new following in 2021 when he spent time during the pandemic lockdown near family in his hometown. He broke the sameness by posting daily videos of himself on Instagram.
Many of Jordan’s videos included him asking “How ya’ll doin?” and some included stories about Hollywood or his childhood growing up with identical twin sisters and their “mama,” as he called her. Other times he did silly bits like completing an indoor obstacle course.
“Someone called from California and said, ‘Oh, honey, you’ve gone viral.’ And I said, ‘No, no, I don’t have COVID. I’m just in Tennessee,'” said Jordan. Celebrities including Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Alba and Anderson Cooper, along with brands such as Reebok and Lululemon, would post comments.
Soon he became fixated with the number of views and followers he had, because there wasn’t much else going on. By the time of his death, he amassed 5.8 million followers on Instagram and another 2.3 million on TikTok.
“For a while there, it was like obsessive. And I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. Stop, stop, stop.’ You know, it almost became, ‘If it doesn’t happen on Instagram, it didn’t happen.’ And I thought, ‘You’re 65, first of all. You’re not some teenage girl.'”
The spotlight led to new opportunities. Earlier this month he released a gospel album called “Company’s Comin'” featuring Dolly Parton, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, Eddie Vedder and Tanya Tucker. He wrote a new book, “How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived.”
It was Jordan’s second book, following his 2008 memoir, “My Trip Down the Red Carpet.”
“That sort of dealt with all the angst and growing up gay in the Baptist Church and la, la, la, la, la. And this one, I just wanted to tell stories,” he told The Associated Press in a 2021 interview. Among the anecdotes: working with Lady Gaga on “American Horror Story,” how meeting Carrie Fisher led to Debbie Reynolds calling his mother, and the Shetland pony he got as a child named Midnight.
In a 2014 interview with Philadelphia magazine, Jordan was asked how he related to his role in the 2013 film “Southern Baptist Sissies,” which explores growing up gay while being raised in a conservative Baptist church.
“I really wanted to be a really good Christian, like some of the boys in the movie. I was baptized 14 times,” Jordan said. “Every time the preacher would say, ‘Come forward, sinners!’ I’d say ‘Oooh, I was out in the woods with that boy, I better go forward.’ My mother thought I was being dramatic. She’d say, ‘Leslie, you’re already saved,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t think it took.'”
Jordan said he considered himself a storyteller by nature.
“It’s very Southern. If I was to be taught a lesson or something when I was a kid, I was told a story,” he told the AP.
Fierce female leads were once rarities in U.S. action movies. More recently, blockbuster franchises and streaming platforms have placed women at the center of the action, saving the day with their strength and ingenuity. Increasingly, these powerful heroines are ethnically diverse, appealing to wider audiences. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more. Videographer: Adam Greenbaum, Julie Taboh
Climate protesters threw mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet painting in a German museum to protest fossil fuel extraction Sunday but caused no damage to the artwork.
Two activists from the group Last Generation, which has called on the German government to take drastic action to protect the climate and stop using fossil fuels, approached Monet’s “Les Meules” at Potsdam’s Barberini Museum and threw a thick substance over the painting and its gold frame.
The group later confirmed via a post on Twitter that the mixture was mashed potatoes. The two activists, both wearing orange high-visibility vests, also glued themselves to the wall below the painting.
“If it takes a painting – with #MashedPotatoes or #TomatoSoup thrown at it – to make society remember that the fossil fuel course is killing us all: Then we’ll give you #MashedPotatoes on a painting!” the group wrote on Twitter, along with a video of the incident.
In total, four people were involved in the incident, according to German news agency dpa.
The Barberini Museum said later Sunday that because the painting was enclosed in glass, the mashed potatoes didn’t cause any damage. The painting, part of Monet’s “Haystacks” series, is expected to be back on display Wednesday.
“While I understand the activists’ urgent concern in the face of the climate catastrophe, I am shocked by the means with which they are trying to lend weight to their demands,” museum director Ortrud Westheider said in a statement.
Police told dpa they had responded to the incident, but further information about arrests or charges was not immediately available.
The Monet painting is the latest artwork in a museum to be targeted by climate activists to draw attention to global warming.
The British group Just Stop Oil threw tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in London’s National Gallery earlier this month.
Just Stop Oil activists also glued themselves to the frame of an early copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, and to John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” in the National Gallery.
Salman Rushdie lost sight in one eye and the use of one hand following an attack on stage at a literary event in western New York in August, his agent said.
Andrew Wylie, who represents literary giants such as Saul Bellow and Roberto Bolano, described the extent of the injuries Rushdie suffered in the “brutal” attack in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Wylie described the author’s wounds as “profound,” and noted the loss of sight of one eye. “He had three serious wounds in his neck. One hand is incapacitated because the nerves in his arm were cut. And he has about 15 more wounds in his chest and torso.”
The agent declined to say whether “The Satanic Verses” author, 75, was still in the hospital more than two months after police said a 24-year-old New Jersey man stabbed the writer in the neck and torso just before Rushdie was to give a lecture at Chautauqua Institution, a retreat about 19 km from Lake Erie.
The novelist was rushed to the hospital after sustaining severe injuries in the attack, including nerve damage in his arm, wounds to his liver, and the likely loss of an eye, Wylie said at the time.
The attack came 33 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s Supreme Leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to assassinate Rushdie a few months after “The Satanic Verses” was published. Some Muslims saw passages in the novel about the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous.
Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim Kashmiri family, has lived with a bounty on his head, and spent nine years in hiding under British police protection.
While Iran’s pro-reform government of President Mohammad Khatami distanced itself from the fatwa in the late 1990s, the multimillion-dollar bounty hanging over Rushdie’s head kept growing and the fatwa was never lifted.
Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was suspended from Twitter in 2019 for saying the fatwa against Rushdie was “irrevocable.”
The man accused of attacking the novelist has pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted murder and assault charges. He is being held without bail in a western New York jail.