Welcome to Wednesday, where the toll of Canada's record heatwave is multiplying, Tigray rebels dismiss a government ceasefire and a British rock legend gets to keep his railroad jingle. As Pride Month draws to an end, we also look at how LGBTQ+ activists in several African countries confront the challenge of overcoming conservative attitudes and the legacy of colonialism.
• Dozens dead in Canada heatwave: In Canada's western province, British Columbia, where few households have access to air conditioning, temperatures continue to shatter previous records, going as high as 49.6 °C (121.3 °F) in the city of Lytton. Since Friday, police in the Vancouver area have reported more than 130 sudden deaths where heat was a contributing factor, with most among the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
• COVID update: A lab study has shown that the Moderna vaccine produces neutralizing antibodies against the Delta variant, though it remains most effective against the original strain of the virus. Meanwhile, Singapore hopes to stop tracking daily COVID numbers, as the country gears up to have at least two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated by Aug. 9.
• Letter warned Florida Condo residents of structural damage: Residents of the Surfside Champlain Towers South building, which partially collapsed last week, reportedly received a letter in April warning them of "worsening structural damage" to the building. The letter is further evidence that the building's structural issues were known prior to the collapse, which thus far 12 dead bodies have been reported and 149 people are still unaccounted for.
• Tigray rebels call ceasefire a "joke": The Tigray People's Liberation Front's (TPLF) referred to the government's unilaterally declared ceasefire as a "joke", saying that fighting has continued on the border with the Afar region. The TPLF spokesman said that the rebels would not stop fighting until the entire region was under their control.
• U.S. army to complete Afghanistan pull-out within days: United States military officials told Reuters that the complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could occur within days, even though September 11 had been set as the expected date of departure. Though some troops will remain to protect the U.S. embassy and Kabul airport, as many as more than 4,000 troops may depart by mid-July. The announcement came shortly after the U.N. Afghan envoy warned of "dire scenarios' should Taliban fighters gain more ground.
• Dutch ship harassed by Russian fighter jets in Black Sea: The Dutch Defense Minister reports that armed Russian fighter jets harassed a Dutch navy frigate in the Black Sea last week, shortly after a similar incident occurred between Russian forces and a British warship. Russia responded to the allegation, claiming it scrambled fighter jets and bombers to prevent the Dutch ship from sailing into Russian waters.
• 5,000 year old plague "Patient Zero" discovered: Researchers have gained new insight into the pandemic … the one that terrorized our ancestors during the Middle Ages. The remains of a 5,000-year-old hunter-gatherer in Latvia confirm that he is the first known person to have died from the plague, adding credence to the theory that the disease emerged around 7,000 years ago, alongside the rise of agriculture in Europe.
The front page of Canadian daily The Province features the deadly heatwave that hit British Columbia in recent days, with record temperatures as high as 49.6 °C (121.3 °F) linked to 130 deaths since Friday.
African LGBTQ activists fight to undo colonial legacy
Ten years after Tunisia's pro-democracy revolution, activists are continuing to fight for the rights of all … and that increasingly also includes members of the LGBTQ community. Like Tunisia, other African countries are confronting the challenge of overcoming conservative attitudes and the legacy of colonialism that too often still stands in the way of providing equal protection and dignity to gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.
Homosexual sex became illegal in Tunisia in 1913, with the passing of Article 230 while the country was under French proctorate. Since then, LGBTQ people have been subject to invasive anal probes used for "evidence" for arrests and eventual imprisonment. Yet several civil societies have emerged since the revolution to push for LGBTQ rights in the country. Their first goal: getting rid of the colonial era law, Article 230. The organization Mawjoudin - We Exist, which began in 2014 is among the leaders in the battle.
Tunisian activists are not alone in their fight to repeal colonial-era legislation and show how African communities are reclaiming their histories. Some 3,000 miles south of Tunisia, LGBTQ activists in Angola celebrated earlier this year when the portion of the 1886 Penal Code that outlawed "vices against nature" was officially repealed. Carlos Fernandes, an LGBTQ activist, told Híbrida magazine that the decision this year "removed barriers," and has given their organization a greater ability to dialogue with the government.
Activists in Ghana, another former British colony, are still struggling to see homosexuality decriminalized. Same-sex relations have been outlawed since the colonial era, and the current criminal law uses similar wording to that which was enacted during the 19th century. LGBTQ activists in Ghana have made international news multiple times this past year, notably when law enforcement shut down the office of a rights group in February, and when 21 activists were arrested in June for "unlawful gathering."
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Data from some 700 million LinkedIn users — roughly 92% of its user base — is reportedly now being sold online. A spokesperson for the professional social media platform, which is now owned by Microsoft, has disputed reports that a security breach was what allowed the unidentified seller to obtain the data, which includes full names, address and personal professional information. LinkedIn says that the data put online was "scraped" from other internet sites.
End of the track: Pink Floyd singer finally wins feud over French train station jingle
C / G / A flat / E flat … Any French traveler hearing these instantly-recognizable four notes would know to listen up and pay attention, as the official jingle for the country's SNCF railway company typically precedes announcements of trains leaving or arriving, platform changes, and all too often ... delays.
But back in 2013, when David Gilmour — the legendary singer and guitarist of Pink Floyd fame — heard the audio alert in the train station of the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence, he wanted to take it home. As local daily Ouest France recalls, the British songwriter promptly got his phone out to record the tune; later on, he tracked down the jingle's composer, French sound designer Michaël Boumendil, to discuss the sampling of the jingle in a future song.
At the time, Boumendil told French radio station RTL of his surprise at receiving a phone call from Gilmour, who introduced himself by saying, "I'm a guitarist, from the band Pink Floyd..."
Arrangements were made, a contract was signed: The Frenchman would be listed as co-author of the song and get a 12.5% cut of revenue generated. Meanwhile, the SNCF also gave its thumbs up — and in 2015 Gilmour released his fourth solo album, Rattle That Lock, whose title song incorporated the catchy SNCF riff.
But then, the story began to turn sour. Shortly before the song hit the airwaves, Boumendil gave several interviews, boasting about the prestigious collaboration. This, according to the musician's team, was a breach of a confidentiality clause, as the song had not yet come out — so much so that they decided to exclude the sound designer from the promotion campaign of the album.
Things escalated quickly, Boumendil sued Gilmour on plagiarism grounds, a claim that was rejected by a Paris court in 2019. Boumnedil appealed, again to no avail — and the legal battle ran its full course last week, as French economics and business magazine Capital reports, with the Paris Court of Appeal condemning the Frenchman to pay 10,000 euros in legal fees. And since it's not all about the Money, Gilmour was also granted the right to keep using the four-note jingle.
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The officials in charge have caused a grave incident that created a huge crisis for the safety of the country and its people.
— North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sacked several senior party officials over lapses that he blames for some unspecified coronavirus-related incident. The statement was a rare sign of the pandemic's severity in the country, which previously claimed it had no coronavirus cases.
✍️ Newsletter by Genevieve Mansfield, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Meike Eijsberg and Bertrand Hauger
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.
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.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
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 airportcommons.wikimedia.org
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.
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.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
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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