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Significant Digits For Friday, Sept. 20, 2019

You’re reading Significant Digits, a daily digest of the numbers tucked inside the news. Sadly my (incredibly short) tenure has come to an end. This is my last day writing SigDig as I transition to another job. Stay tuned for your next awesome host! Send any last-minute notes to me.


Is “cancel culture” coming for Justin Trudeau? The Canadian prime minister landed in hot water after Time reported that he wore brownface makeup to an “Arabian nights”-themed gala in 2001. The photo shows a 29-year-old Trudeau with his skin darkened, wearing a turban and robes. He has apologized for the incident, but also admitted to wearing blackface in high school to sing “Day-O,” a Jamaican folk song, in a talent show. “I shouldn’t have done that,” Trudeau said. “I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” [Time]

$100 million in aid

The State Department cut $100 million in aid money that was originally destined for Afghanistan. The move comes after failed attempts to bring the 18-year war to an end by making a deal with the Taliban. A written statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “Afghan government corruption and financial mismanagement” contributed to the decision. The funds were meant for a hydroelectric project to provide power to two cities in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. The money will now be returned the Treasury. [The New York Times]

29 percent of birds

Birds are dying out in drastic numbers and humans are to blame, researchers say. Research published in the journal Science reveals there’s been a 29 percent population decline among birds in the U.S. and Canada since 1970. That’s a net loss of nearly 3 billion birds, scientists said. Most of the losses came from common species like sparrows, blackbirds and grackles. Researchers said that the loss of so many birds could upset a number of ecosystems, and while climate change was not the main reason for the decline, it will likely make things worse. [Reuters]

Nearly 2,500 schools

Forest fires in Indonesia are spewing toxic smoke into heavily populated areas. Nearly 2,500 Malaysian schools were ordered to suspend classes due to health concerns about the smog caused by the blazes, which have spun out of control. In Kuching, the air pollution was so intense that it rendered the Malaysian city one the most polluted areas in the world, according to the World Air Quality Index. Nearly 2 millions students are affected by the school closures in Malaysia. [Al Jazeera]

Area 51

There’s an invasion happening in the Nevada desert, but it’s just tourists. The tiny towns of Rachel and Hiko near the secretive military base are preparing for a rise in visitors due to an internet joke that sparked the “Storm Area 51” craze. A number of events are taking place this week in the region, prompting military warnings not to approach the protected site. The events are attracting people from all over the world — two Dutch tourists were arrested there last week. [Yahoo/Associated Press]

Candice writes the Significant Digits column for FiveThirtyEight, and is interested in how race, gender and class shape societies throughout the world. Most recently, she worked as a staff writer for Governing Magazine and a White House stringer with Bloomberg News.