Moscow's Concerns, 46-Hour Speech, To Kindle A Mockingbird

Protest against American military presence in the Philippines
Protest against American military presence in the Philippines


Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow was concerned by the “unprecedented” increase in U.S. and NATO activity along the Russian border and urged U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel to help “turn down the rhetoric” over the ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Reuters reports. This comes after U.S. troops were deployed in the Baltics accompanied by eight fighter jets from Britain and France, which UK Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said were intended to “provide reassurance to our NATO allies in eastern Europe and the Baltic states.” During his phone conversation with Chuck Hagel, Shoigu also assured Washington that Russian forces would not invade Ukraine, despite mounting tensions in the eastern part of the country.

  • The European Union added 15 names of Ukrainian and Russian individuals, including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, to its sanction list, following in the footsteps of the U.S., which targeted seven new individuals and 17 Russian companies. According to the BBC, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denounced the measures as “Iron Curtain”-style, which could harm the country’s high-tech sector. But analysts quoted by USA Today warned that the sanctions did not go far enough and could reinforce “Putin’s view he’s the one with the leverage.” Former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts told Russian news agency Ria Novosti that “the sanctions are nothing but gratuitous propaganda” that would eventually benefit Russia.

  • Eight people were arrested after violent clashes between pro-Kiev and pro-Russian protesters yesterday in Donetsk, Interfax reports. But the picture of yesterday’s fights is unclear, with Western media reporting that peaceful pro-government demonstrators were attacked by pro-Russian separatists, while Russian media claim that the march was an anti-fascist rally attacked by Ukrainian nationalists. Some, like The Guardian and The Nation correspondent Alec Luhn seemed to suggest that the truth was somewhat in between.

Powerful tornadoes in the U.S. claimed 13 more lives in Alabama and Mississippi on Monday, one day after killing 17 people in Arkansas, Iowa and Oklahoma, USA Today reports. According to CNN, 75 million Americans are under threat of severe weather today with one-third of the country “advised to keep their eyes to the sky and their ears to the radio.”

“This is Mockingbird for a new generation,” author Harper Lee said of finally agreeing to an electronic version of her masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird being released. “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries.”

At least 12 people were killed and 50 injured after mortar shells fired by rebel fighters, branded as terrorists by state media, hit the Syrian capital of Damascus, Sana reports. It is unclear who is among the victims, but a source from the local police told the news agency that two of the four mortars had hit a school complex. This morning, The Guardian was among the many Arab and British newspapers to publish a letter from 35 legal experts urging the United Nations to provide aid to the 9.3 million people “in urgent need of humanitarian assistance,” despite lack of consent from the Syrian government.

As Alexandra Borchardt writes in Süddeutsche Zeitung, so-called “gamification” is increasingly being used by companies to solve problems and create a happier workforce. “The companies are using natural human playfulness as a motivation factor,” the journalist quotes one gamification project leader as saying. “People not only enjoy working things out, but they also love a challenge and competition.”
Read the full article,
Office Gamification: Computer Games At The Heart Of New Ways To Work.

North Korea began a live-fire drill near the disputed islands on the border with South Korea, just one month after it conducted a similar exercise, Xinhua reports. A spokesman for Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the South Korean military were ready to fire back if shells should fall on its territorial waters. Inhabitants of the five islands were evacuated after Seoul received a notification just hours in advance from Pyongyang. As the BBC explains, this comes amid increasing fears in South Korea that the North is preparing for a nuclear test.

As President Barack Obama arrived Monday for a two-day state visit, Filipino activists ripped apart a U.S. flag near the American Embassy in Manila in a protest against American military presence in the country.

South Korea President Park Geun-hye has apologized for the sinking of the ferry that was transporting 476 people two weeks ago. “I don’t know how to apologize for the failure to prevent the accident and for the insufficient way it was handled, including the initial response,” Yonhap news agency quoted her as saying. Meanwhile, the death toll reached 203 as search teams continue to look for the 99 people still missing, but their efforts remain hampered by poor weather conditions.

A UK property investor broke the Guinness World Record for the longest speech ever. Read more about it here.


If you’ve ever wondered who’d win in a fight between wizard Harry Potter and Jedi Luke Skywalker, you now have an answer, thanks to YouTube humorists RackaRacka expand=1]. Watch the ultimate battle here expand=1].

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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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