American Mysteries, Baseball To Politics

The reach of American power, of both the hard and soft varieties, seems to know no limits. People across the planet are affected in real ways by what happens in the United States â€" from which movies get made in Hollywood to how Facebook builds its algorithms to who earns the keys to the White House.

For better or worse, it can all make the political/economic/cultural superpower seem quite familiar, even for those who have never set foot on U.S. soil. But then, there’s baseball. Save a few exceptions, like in Japan or the Dominican Republic, the sport appears to the rest of the world as a mysterious (and interminable) spectacle of Byzantine rules, lots of standing around and a ridiculous choice of mascots.

But for Americans, the “national pastime” endures, a comforting reminder that certain customs still resist the forces of globalization. Tonight features the final game of the (interminable) season, as the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians face off in the decisive Game 7 of the World Series. The stakes are particularly high this year because the Indians haven’t won a championship since 1948, and the Cubs haven’t won one since … 1908!

Indeed, Hollywood movie buffs around the world may remember that the Back To The Future trilogy had “predicted” the Cubs would finally win the World Series 30 years later, in 2015. Well, almost? They may also remember the cinematic time-travel script winking at then President Ronald Reagan, with one character from the 1950s unable to fathom that the second-rate actor would wind up in the White House.

That, it seems, brings us to this year’s race for the presidency, as the world keeps asking: And who wrote this script?



The 2016 White House campaign enters its last week and the outcome is growing more uncertain by the day, with Donald Trump now leading in the Washington Post-ABC News Tracking Poll. The FBI release of its 2001 investigation into Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich yesterday has further angered Hillary Clinton’s campaign. For The Hill, “the daily spring of leaks coming out of the FBI has made it appear that the law enforcement agency is at war with itself.”


The stakes involved in the battle to liberate Mosul from ISIS could be even higher than previously thought with The Independent quoting a senior Kurdish source as saying that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is believed to be hiding in the city. “Baghdadi is there and, if he is killed, it will mean the collapse of the whole ISIS system,” said Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to the president of the Iraqi Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani. The revelation, which the newspaper says may complicate the battle, comes one day after Iraqi forces entered the outskirts of the city for the first time in two years.


Eighty-six years ago, Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia. That, and more, in today’s 57-second shot of history.


French authorities have begun the evacuation of some 1,500 unaccompanied minors from a temporary center near the so-called “Jungle” in the French city of Calais this morning. Local newspaper La Voix du Nord reports that two buses left early this morning with some 40 minors, transporting them to receptions centers across France.


The number of cancer deaths among women is expected to rise by close to 60% to 5.5 million by 2030, two recent studies warn. The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is expected to double.


Paolo Ciancaglioni awoke to Italy's Aug. 24 earthquake at his family summer home in Retrosi, a hamlet of Amatrice. He and his wife managed to escape unharmed from the quake, which would end up killing 297 people. His house was damaged, but not destroyed. This is Ciancaglioni’s story, written by Cynthia Martens for Worldcrunch’s Rue Amelot essay section: “When the noise started, sometime after 3:30 in the morning, my wife, Daniela, and I were asleep in bed. It was like the thunder you might hear during a big storm at night, that savage booming that makes you feel small and vulnerable because you can’t tell where it’s coming from. The room was rocking, and in the darkness I heard bits of stone dislodging from the rattling wall and falling to the floor. Rhythmic thumps pounded from above: the sound of pieces of rock thudding on the roof. I thought, ‘The ceiling is going to cave in on us.’”

Read the full essay, Italy, Earthquake Cracks Open A Lifetime Gone By.


President Park Geun-hye named a new prime minister and finance minister as a cronyism scandal widens, with prosecutors requesting an arrest warrant against one of Park’s close friends. More details about the situation in South Korea from The Guardian.


Scandalous Building â€" Washington, D.C., 1990


The 33 miners who were trapped in a coal mine in southwestern China after a gas explosion were all confirmed dead by rescuers, who retrieved their bodies early this morning, Xinhua reports. Only two miners made it out alive.


The Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which went missing with 239 people on board in March 2014, was in a rapid and uncontrolled descent when it crashed into the Indian Ocean, a report by Australian investigators has found. This suggests that no one was in control of the plane when it crashed. Read more from ABC.


The opposition-led parliament of Venezuela has delayed a symbolic hearing of President Nicolas Maduro in a bid to ease the ongoing political crisis, amid Vatican-mediated talks. The opposition also cancelled nationwide protests initially planned for tomorrow.



Katrina Bookman thought she’d won the largest slot machine jackpot in U.S. history when the machine displayed $42,949,672 winnings. But the casino says it was a machine malfunction and offered her a steak dinner instead.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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