Homeland Security institutes new airline measures as substitute for laptop ban

Foreign flights arriving into U.S. airports will have to undergo new security screenings of their passengers

Foreign flights arriving into U.S. airports will have to undergo new security screenings of their passengers and any electronic devices that the passengers are carrying, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told the Center for New American Security that the new procedures replace the in-cabin laptop ban that the agency was considering earlier this year.
“These measures will be both seen and unseen, and they will be phased in over time,” he said, adding that “inaction is not an option.”
He said that DHS will encourage airlines to implement advanced new checkpoint screening technology, deploy more explosives-detecting dogs, and more closely scrutinize passengers incoming from other countries and any laptops or other electronic devices they are carrying onboard. Those airlines that ignore these directives or are slow to adopt them may be forced to accept other, more restrictive measures, including an all-out ban on in-flight laptops on their planes. And airlines that are really uncooperative might be banned from flying into the United States altogether.
The United States currently bans in-flight laptops from flights that originate in 10 airports in the Middle East, and Kelly had drawn rounds of complaints from airlines in April when he said that it was “likely” that his agency would expand the laptop ban to other airports elsewhere. He went a step further in May and said that the government might ban laptops from all incoming flights worldwide. Airlines criticized the ban proposal, which they said would inconvenience passengers and possibly cause a reduction in ticket sales.

Global plastics waste could be as destructive as climate change, ecologists warn

They warn that plastic waste tonnage is steadily building up in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems and will imperil the health of plants, animals, and humans across the globe.

Forty years of campaigns promoting recycling haven’t put a dent in the nonstop growth rate of human plastics consumption, according to ecologists who forecast that the world will buy and discard half a trillion bottles a year by 2021. They warn that plastic waste tonnage is steadily building up in the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems and will imperil the health of plants, animals, and humans across the globe.
Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report states that consumers worldwide bought 480 billion plastic bottles in 2016, a sharp increase from the 300 billion they bought a decade ago. At the current growth rates, the world will go through 583.3 billion a year in another four years.
“The plastic pollution crisis rivals the threat of climate change as it pollutes every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on planet Earth,” said Hugo Tagholm of the marine conservation group Surfers Against Sewage.
Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 made it into recycling bins. The majority ended up in landfills or in the ocean: Between 5 million and 13 million tons of plastic leak into the oceans each year, where they are ingested by birds and sea life.
Plastics are making their way into our bodies, as well. Researchers at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom researchers reported finding plastic in about a third of fish caught in British waters. And scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that people who regularly eat seafood swallow up to 11,000 tiny fragments of plastic every year.
“Current science shows that plastics cannot be usefully assimilated into the food chain. Where they are ingested they carry toxins that work their way on to our dinner plates,” Tagholm said.

Turkish police shut down a gay pride rally

The officers forcibly stopped anyone who tried to pass the blockade or unfurl a rainbow flag.

GLBT activists pressed ahead with plans to hold a banned Gay Pride march in Istanbul this weekend but were forcibly disbursed by police who fired rubber bullets into the crowd and arrested an unspecified number of them. This is the third year in a row that Turkish officials have banned the rally, which had taken place peaceably every year from 2003 to 2014.

“We are not scared, we are here, we will not change,” the Pride committee said in a statement on Sunday. “You are scared, you will change and you will get used to it. We are here again to show that we will fight in a determined fashion for our pride.”

The BBC’s Mark Lowen, in Istanbul, said that marchers convened at the rally’s scheduled starting place on Istiklal Street, but a heavy police presence stood in their way with riot gear and water-cannon trucks. The officers forcibly stopped anyone who tried to pass the blockade or unfurl a rainbow flag.

GLBT activists organized the March every year in Istanbul for more than a decade, always on either the last Sunday of June or the first Sunday of July. While homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, activists say that discrimination and harassment toward GLBT persons is widespread in the country.

But starting in 2015, Turkish officials began to prohibit the March. Officials claim that they do so in response to threats of violence from far-right groups. But President Recep Erdogan’s ruling AK Party is not friendly toward the GLBT community in general, and Erdogan himself has been steering the country in an increasingly authoritarian and traditional Islamic direction in the last few years.

Forest fire in Spain forces more than 1500 people to evacuate homes and camp grounds

The fires come approximately a week after of widespread forest fires in Portugal that killed 64 people and led the Portuguese government to declare a national three-day period of mourning.

Firefighter units amassed in the Andalucia region of southern Spain this weekend to contain out-of-control fires. The fire forced more than 1,500 local campers and residents to flee before making its way into the Doñana national park, a national wildlife reserve and UNESCO Heritage Site that shelters many endangered animal species, including the Spanish imperial eagle and Iberian lynx.

Witnesses first reported the blaze Saturday night near the Andalucian town of Huelva. By Sunday morning, emergency responders had arrived in 11 airplanes, 10 helicopters, and dozens of land vehicles. Emergency services had designated the blaze a level 1—or maximum-level threat.

José Fiscal, environment minister for the Andalucía regional government, told reporters on Sunday that the fire was likely the result of arson. But Andalucia residents remain on alert due to an ongoing heat wave and a regionwide drought, which both make the whole region more susceptible to fire outbreaks. Windy conditions are also fueling the fire and making it difficult to get it fully under control, according to Antonio Sanz, government delegate in Andalucía.

Some of the evacuated residents have returned to their properties. But emergency services said that around 750 people are taking temporary shelter in sports centers.

Firefighters are now focusing their efforts on the wildlife reserve, Jose Gregorio Fiscal Lopez from the regional Andalusian authority in charge of the environment told Spanish national television. There is no word yet on the extent of damage to the park or loss of wildlife.

The fires come approximately a week after of widespread forest fires in Portugal that killed 64 people and led the Portuguese government to declare a national three-day period of mourning.

 

TSA may start inspecting airline passengers’ reading materials

TSA employees will flip through the materials and look for anything hidden in the pages.

The Transportation Safety Administration is testing new security procedures that require each airline passenger to remove books and other reading materials from his or her carry-on bags and place them in a bin for inspection while passing through the security line. TSA employees will flip through the materials and look for anything hidden in the pages.

The American Civil Liberties Union cautioned that the procedure raises privacy concerns, particularly for Muslim and Arabic-speaking passengers who could be singled out for harassment and discriminatory treatment if their reading material happens to include the Koran. It advised the TSA to let customers shield book or notebook covers with paper if desired, and train agents to be respectful and minimally intrusive when they inspect each passenger’s materials.

“A person who is reading a book entitled “Overcoming Sexual Abuse” or “Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction” is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see,” the ACLU wrote. “And of course someone reading Arab or Muslim literature in today’s environment has all too much cause to worry about discrimination.”

DHS Secretary John Kelly said that X-ray screens are not a sufficient inspection means, because passengers are more densely packing their bags nowadays to avoid extra baggage fees and creating too much clutter for the X-ray screens to clearly show any hidden contraband. He told Fox News that tests of the new policy are already under way in several small airports, and that “we might, and likely will” apply the policy nationwide.

“What we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques, and procedures, if you will, in a few airports, to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveler,” he told Fox News.

SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 rocket launch successful

By reducing launch costs, space becomes much more accessible to enterprises with limited resources.

For the second time, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has successfully launched a commercial communications satellite and then landed a recycled Falcon 9 rocket booster.

The rocket took off at 3:10 p.m. EDT on June 23 and then delivered Bulgaria’s first telecommunications satellite into orbit more than 22, 000 miles into the heavens, according to Business Insider.

The huge refurbished first-stage rocket booster safely touched down on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. It had previously flown in January when it landed on an autonomous ship in the Pacific.

At first, Musk did not think the booster would survive the landing.

“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch,” wrote Musk in a tweet. “Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back.”

Then, shortly after the rocket booster landed, Musk was back on Twitter.

“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” he tweeted shortly after it landed.

The ability to reuse rocket parts is critical to bringing down launch costs when building them costs millions of dollars. According to Musk, a Falcon 9 booster counts for up to 70 percent of the cost of the entire rocket to the company.

By reducing launch costs, space becomes much more accessible to enterprises with limited resources.

“People don’t realize that, for small countries and small companies like us, without SpaceX, there was no way we would ever be able to even think about space,” says Maxim Zayakov, CEO of BulgariaSat, as reported by Business Insider. “With [SpaceX], it was possible. We got a project. I think, in the future, it’s going to be even more affordable because of reusability.”

China allows first import of U.S. beef in 14 years

The Chinese government had banned U.S. beef in 2003 over concern about mad cow disease.

China let in a shipment of U.S. beef through its borders Friday, following the formal resolution earlier this week of a longstanding trade dispute with the United States. China had not accepted U.S. beef imports for the past 14 years.

Under a new agreement that Chinese and U.S. officials ratified Tuesday, China will accept beef from cows that can be traced back to their birth farms and that were slaughtered in the United States. They must either have been born, raised, and killed on U.S. farms, or born and raised in Canada or Mexico and then transferred live to farms in the United States.

The Chinese government had banned U.S. beef in 2003 over concern about mad cow disease.

Friday’s import was a product of Tyson Foods Inc. and was brought in by Cofco Meat Holdings Ltd. Cofco plans to sell it on Womai.com, an e-commerce platform.

The deal opens up an enormous new market for the U.S. beef industry. China’s beef imports market totals $2.6 billion in sales a year.

Chinese consumers currently rely on most of their beef from suppliers in Brazil and Australia. Brazil is home to the world’s largest beef supplier, JBS SA, and it may continue to dominate the market. But U.S. beef may make inroads on Australian beef as the lower price of grain in the United States could result in U.S. beef selling at lower prices.

“We hope that by getting our foot in the door we can develop a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship with China,” Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in an emailed statement.

Tantalizing new hints of Planet X beyond Pluto

Volk and Malhotra are hoping that the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, set to begin operation in 2020, will unlock the mystery of missing Planet X.

A new analysis of the Kuiper Belt by astronomers at the University of Arizona is raising the intriguing possibility that a ninth planet, also known as Planet X, is hiding beyond Pluto.

The results are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Researchers found that the orbital planes of several rings of asteroids and other frozen bodies beyond Neptune are tilted off axis by about 8 degrees. This suggests the orbits are being affected by the gravity of a large mass — possibly Planet X.

“The most likely explanation for our results is that there is some unseen mass,” said astronomer Kat Volk of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, in a statement. “According to our calculations, something as massive as Mars would be needed to cause the warp that we measured.”

The rocky and icy bodies — or Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) — are unstable and not in smooth orbits like planets. But astronomers can locate a pattern by averaging their orbital orientation.

“Imagine you have lots and lots of fast-spinning tops, and you give each one a slight nudge,” said researcher Renu Malhotra. “If you then take a snapshot of them you will find that their spin axes will be at different orientations, but on average, they will be pointing to the local gravitational field of Earth.”

Volk and Malhotra are hoping that the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, set to begin operation in 2020, will unlock the mystery of missing Planet X.

Older dads produce more “geeky” sons, says study

The study authors found that sons of older fathers tend to be more intelligent also more focused on what interests them and less concerned with fitting in with other kids.

Men who have children with their partners later in life stand a higher chance of having sons who are, for lack of a better word, “geeks,” according to a new study. That is to say, they are more likely to excel in school, not worry about being “cool,” and attain mentally challenging, high-paying careers.

The study authors found that sons of older fathers tend to be more intelligent also more focused on what interests them and less concerned with fitting in with other kids. In essence, they are more likely to be “geeks,” albeit in ways that many parents would consider to be very positive.

This research goes against the grain of many other studies. Magdalena Janecka, study author and postdoctoral fellow at the Seaver Autism Center of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, notes that past research has linked fathers having kids while older with a higher likelihood of the kids suffering from autism or schizophrenia.

“We have known for a while about the negative consequences of advanced paternal age, but now we have shown that these children may also go on to have better educational and career prospects,” Janecka told CBS News.

The study surveyed 15,000 pairs of twins and ranked them on a “Geek Index” that measured their non-verbal IQ, focus, and social aloofness. The results, which were published June 20 in the journal Translational Psychiatry, found higher scores among the sons of older fathers.

Men having children with their partners at later ages has been a growing trend in the United States and much of the developed world over the last few decades. According to U.S. government data, the number of U.S. men who have a child at age 35 or older grew 58% between 1980 and 2014.

ESA space telescope will track down habitable planets

Astronomers now know of more than 4,000 planets orbiting stars other than our sun, but they do not know for sure if any single one of them could hold life.

Astronomers now know of more than 4, 000 planets orbiting stars other than our sun, but they do not know for sure if any single one of them could hold life. The European Space Agency hopes to answer this question with its up-and-coming PLATO space-based telescope array, which it officially approved on Tuesday for an expected launch date of 2026.

PLATO, short for Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, will deploy a satellite with 34 onboard telescopes that will scan wide swaths of deep space and observe thousands of stars at a time. The telescopes will look for rocky planets that are in the “habitable zone” of orbit around their stars. The most promising planets might get further scrutiny, according to the researchers, who add that they hold out hope of eventually discovering actual life on one or more planets.

“The launch of PLATO will give us the opportunity to contribute to some of the biggest discoveries of the next decade answering fundamental questions about our existence, and could eventually lead to the detection of extra-terrestrial life,” said Don Pollacco, physics professor at the University of Warwick and one of the project’s participating researchers.

PLATO’s telescopes will scan for any undiscovered planets by analyzing the stars’ light. If there are recurring dips in brightness, it may be evidence of a planet. The telescopes will zero in on stars showing these patterns and not only determine if there are planets, but also assess the planet’s size, mass, and atmosphere, as well as the star’s size and age.