The Paris mayor’s office has announced on Saturday morning that it will take a number of emergency measures for Monday, including banning half of its traffic and making public transport free, in an attempt to deal with the dense pollution cloud that covered the city recently.
A partial driving ban will be applied on Monday, meaning that only vehicles with even numbers on their license plates are allowed to circulate – barring exceptions such as ambulances, taxis or police vehicles. However, odd-numbered cars will be allowed on the road if they carry more than three passengers.
To counter the impact this might have upon the car-heavy population, public transport will be free on Monday, as well as most of the parking lots throughout the city; these measures were initially applied only for the duration of the weekend. This is just the third time in the city’s history that such a measure is adopted, last time happening in March 2014. However, with no effective means to control traffic city-wide, it only amounted to 16 percent drop in vehicle usage.
“I am delighted the state has agreed to put in place a partial driving ban on Monday, which I have been requesting for several days” wrote Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo on Twitter, one of the measure’s most staunch supporters.
This comes after a week in which the French capital has been covered in a dense cloud of smog, making it for a short period on Wednesday the most polluted city in the world according to Plume Labs – having registered a pollution rating of 125, halfway between harmful and critical.
Criticism has come from multiple directions against state authorities, with many saying that future pollution clouds might averted only through long –term measures to reduce pollution, such as a definitive ban on heavy-polluting vehicles. This comes as a measure set to enter in July will ban pre-2001 diesel vehicles.
The cloud itself also passed the English Channel into the United Kingdom in the last few days, with peak levels being reached on Thursday. Most heavily affected were the northern and central parts of the UK. According to the UK Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, the smog cloud has fully dissipated and brought pollution levels within normal in the country.
Image Source: BBC
The Robert Durst case might take a turn for the worse for the American billionaire, as the Los Angeles police has informed the public that they are mounting a criminal case against his wife, in cooperation with the FBI, with the ultimate aim of forcing her to testify against him.
Durst, who is under investigation for the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman, was allegedly helped by his 58-year old wife Debrah Lee Charatan on an attempt to flee to Cuba. The authorities hope that she will then offer more details about Berman’s murder to escape prosecution; else she might face up to five years in prison for aiding the flight of an individual soon to be prosecuted. Durst could face capital punishment if he is charged, with Berman being considered a witness in the 1982 disappearance of his wife.
Robert Durst was arrested on March 14th, after having a first degree murder warrant issued in the Berman case. He was apprehended by an FBI task force in New Orleans, having also been filed with weapon and drug possession charges, and was incarcerated on suicide watch row at a Louisiana penitentiary. His lawyers have contested the legality of his arrest on Friday, stating that there is no actual reason to keep him confined and accusing authorities of trying to make a publicity stunt.
The 71 year old billionaire is believed to have murdered journalist, author and longtime friend Susan Berman, who was found executed in her house on Christmas Eve in 2000. Investigators believe this might be related to the fact that Berman had information regarding the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathy, for which he was a main suspect but ultimately remained without charges. The case regarding Kathy Durst was set to be re-opened at the time, with investigators planning to question Berman on the matter.
Durst was arrested after he unintentionally admitted the murder while being wired with a microphone. This happened during filming for the HBO series The Jinx, a multi-part documentary about his life, with Durst talking to himself while in a bathroom, unaware that his wireless microphone was still on and that everything he said was being heard in the control room. The documentary’s crew then chose to announce authorities about the incident, with the billionaire’s off-screen remarks having good chances of being considered valid evidence in court.
Image Source: The Toast
Eric Barron, president of the Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement on Wednesday that the time might have come for universities nation-wide to reconsider the fraternity system, after a scandal erupted earlier this week regarding nude photos of women in fraternity house being posted on Facebook.
Penn State’s president also said that the university is considering its option regarding this, while also working out with the national chapter of the involved fraternity – Kappa Delta Rho – terms on which it may be allowed to activate within its campuses in the future. He pinpointed excessive alcohol consumption, hazing and sexual assaults as realities within college fraternities that need to be addressed.
Members of the Pennsylvania chapter of Kappa Delta Rho are under investigation by the police after a private Facebook page allegedly administrated by them posted indecent photos of nude women, allegedly taken inside a fraternity house. Apparently, at least some of the pictures were posted without consent and involved passed out or sleeping nude women.
The university is working with local police to identify the members involved in taking and posting the photographs, with them risking to be expelled and even face criminal charges, in some cases. The Kappa Delta Rho fraternity has already suspended its Pennsylvania chapter for one year due to involvement in the incident. The fraternity’s national or local chapters have not issued any comments revolving the incident, and no charges were filed by the police to date.
The incident led to a demonstration earlier today in which over 100 Penn State students condemned the fraternity’s action outside the university’s main administration building, despite having to face a snowstorm. The protesters asked the Penn State leadership to completely sever ties with Kappa Delta Rho and to put any students involved with the Facebook page on temporary suspension.
According to a 2012 USA Today article, over nine million US college students belong to a Greek organization, be it a fraternity or sorority. These kind of student organizations have mostly been trying to repair the hedonistic image that surrounded them at one point, with deaths or injuries related to hazing being widespread, and reports of sexual assault under the effect of alcohol within fraternity houses not that uncommon.
Image Source: tommairs.com
In a quest for Cervantes’s remains planned to celebrate next year’s 400th anniversary of the great author’s death, a team of 30 archaeologists and anthropologists began to scan the ground beneath Convento de las Monjas Trinitarias Descalzas in Madrid, Spain, in April 2014. They used infrared cameras, 3D scanners and ground-penetrating radar to identify the few bones that are left from the body of Don Quijote’s creator.
Cervantes, who died in 1616 (one day before Shakespeare’s death and only one year after having published his splendid second volume of Don Quijote), had requested to be buried in this particular convent because the religious order of Barefoot Trinitarian Nuns had helped his parents pay the ransom for recovering him from the pirates who had held him a prisoner for five years in Algiers (an episode that, like the Lepanto battle, marked the author’s life and was reflected in some of his fiction). His wish was granted, but since the convent was rebuilt in the late 17th century, the exact location of the burial place was lost for centuries.
Researchers involved in this quest identified 33 alcoves with bones from the time of Cervantes’s death, but the search came to a successful end when they found a casket bearing the author’s initials in the convent’s crypt, in late January this year. Although the remaining bones are in a bad state of conservation (according to forensic scientist Almudena Garcia Rubio, quoted by BBC) and it is not yet certain that DNA analysis will be useful (because, according to forensic scientist Francisco Etxeberria, quoted by The Guardian, there are no possibilities of comparison – no descendants of the author have been identified), the scientists are certain that, given the age of the bones and the characteristics of clothing leftovers, some of the earthly remains in the crypt belonged to Miguel de Cervantes and his wife, Catalina de Salazar. Researchers were hoping to find clearer clues, based on details like the fact that Cervantes’s left arm was maimed in the battle of Lepanto, or the fact that he had received at least one bullet in his chest, but the bones were too decomposed to allow the identification of such traits.
Historian Fernando de Prado, who spent over four years looking for funds for this project, said that the findings give him great satisfaction. The team has left it to Madrid’s city council to decide on the best way to honor the remains of the most famous author of the Spanish Golden Age. Investigator Luis Avidal considers that, since the great author’s wish was to be buried in the convent, his remains should be reburied there “with full honors”. The local authorities hope to open the crypt for public visitation in 2016, for the 400 years anniversary of Cervantes’s death. Etxeberria, one of the scientists involved in the project, declared that the main purpose of this quest was not necessarily to identify the exact bones of Cervantes, but to draw the public’s attention to the importance of his work, which marked a crucial turn in the history of European literature, and, according to most literary critics, marked the birth of the modern novel.
image source: El Pais
After having received complaints about the insufficient clarity of user guidelines regarding nudity, hate speech, self-harm, violence and other criteria for being banned from Facebook, the social media company decided to clarify its principles on this touchy issue.
Hate speech (including any direct attack on someone based on their race, ethnicity, origin, religion, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity, as well as disease or disability) can be shared on Facebook only in order to criticize its practice or to raise awareness regarding its harmful effect. This is allowed only if the critical purpose is clear and the Facebook user unambiguously detaches himself/herself from the hate message in the content. Humor is allowed, as well as satire or social commentary, but the Page owners have to take responsibility for any “insensitive” content. Monika Bickert (Facebook’s head of global policy management) and Chris Sonderby (Facebook Deputy General Counsel) explained in their blog post announcing these changes that it is hard to design a global politics against hate speech on Facebook, because sometimes the site administrators lack context details, but they guaranteed that reported content is seriously evaluated.
As to nudity, images of genitalia are removed from Facebook and fully exposed adult bottoms are not allowed, either. Images of female breasts that include nipples are also restricted, unless they are pictures of mothers breastfeeding their children. Breasts with post-mastectomy scars are allowed, in order to raise cancer awareness. Breastfeeding used to be an issue in Facebook posts, because there were protests against censoring pictures of it in 2008 and once more in 2012. Nudity is allowed in paintings, sculptures and other artistic representations.
Facebook’s policy on dangerous organizations has also been clarified. Groups that plan to organize or have organized terrorist activity, groups involved in organized crime, and groups promoting hate speech as defined by the Facebook hate speech regulations are automatically banned from the social media platform. Content from other users that expresses support for this kind of groups (promoting violence, criminal activity or hate) is banned from Facebook. Users are not allowed to support or praise the heads of such organizations or express agreement with their violent acts. Threats to public celebrities are also removed and can cause a Facebook ban, although jokes about and criticism of famous people are allowed.
image source: Mashable
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, his Iranian counterpart, have met in Lausanne (Switzerland) today in order to prepare an agreement about nuclear non-proliferation. This official meeting will be followed by another one, which will take place later today in Brussels, gathering the representatives of France, Germany, and UK, as well as the EU Foreign Policy Chief, who are to discuss measures of preventing Iran’s nuclear arming with Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The US energy secretary Ernest Moniz and the Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi were also present at this Monday’s meeting. They had a previous encounter on Sunday to try to settle the technical aspects of disarmament. The US representatives tried to persuade the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister to change his plans about Tehran’s nuclear program, in exchange for the US and EU lifting economic sanctions. The deadline for reaching a final agreement is June 30, but there is an intermediary deadline for a political agreement on March 31.
Meanwhile, US Republicans are unwilling to suspend sanctions on Iran. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, forwarded a bill to remove President Obama’s right to suspend sanctions imposed by the Congress and to require the vote of the Congress for each deal with Iran. The White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, sent a letter to a Republican senior party member to plead for abandoning the law project that might slow down the administration’s work on solving the Iran issue. McDonough is convinced that legislation imposing the Congress’s vote for each deal would have a strong negative impact on the current negotiations. He urged Corker to at least postpone his bill until an agreement with Iran is reached.
A week ago, 47 Republican senators wrote an open letter to Iranian authorities, with the pretext of “explaining” the US constitutional system. The letter draws attention to the fact that the Congress is responsible for ratifying international agreements, although the president is the one to negotiate them. It also mentions the approach of the end of Obama’s term, in 2017, and flaunts the difference between the president’s limited time in office and the senators’ virtually unlimited time in the Congress (provided they are re-elected). The letter explicitly says that a future president could revoke the result of current negotiations. The internal tensions between US Republicans and Democrats could have a terrible impact on the international situation.
image source: The Guardian
Yesterday (March 15) marked 4 years since the beginning of violence in Syria. Protests had been going on since January 2011, but larger scale unrest began in mid-March, with demonstrators in Damascus, Aleppo, and Daraa calling for the release of students who had been arrested for drawing anti-government graffiti. On March 18 and March 20, 2011, clashes between the protesters and the government caused several deaths.
The conflict escalated from mass protests to armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s government. July 2011 saw the formation of the Free Syrian Army, who vowed to fight state security forces that were attacking civilians. Supported by the Arab League, Assad continued to send troops to break down demonstrations and fight the rebels. Thousands of people of arrested, and the Human Rights Watch reported the existence of 27 torture centers in July 2012. Between then and July 2013, jihadist groups joined some of the rebel groups in northern Syria. In November 2013, the Islamic Front was formed. With both sides receiving military help from foreign powers, violence and chaos spread, to the advantage of terrorist groups. Many of the forces who had rebelled against Assad joined the Islamic State fighters. Currently, the north-eastern part of Syria is controlled by ISIS.
The effects of the ongoing flood of violence on cities, markets, schools, hospitals, life expectancy, employment rates, and energy supplies are devastating. The education system has collapsed (half of the children have stopped going to school), cities are deserted (air footage of Homs, previously Syria’s third largest city, shows empty, half-ruined buildings, and no signs of human life; the city used to be a major industrial center, with over 650,000 inhabitants, most of whom were killed or became refugees), communications (including terrestrial ones like bridges) are suspended or destroyed, unemployment boomed from 15% to 57.7%, and according to Newsweek two-thirds of the population are deprived of basic necessities, including food. The costs of the war for Syrian economy go up to $200 billion so far. The number of refugees exceeds 3.3 million and 1.5 million Syrians have migrated as workers. Injured people are as many as 840,000, while almost 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives since 2011. Life expectancy fell from 80 years to 55. Satellite images of Syria have circled the web, showing how few signs of life there are left in comparison to 2010. Images of Homs, the deserted city where some rebel forces used to camp until the recapturing of the area by government troops one month ago, speak of a tragedy beyond repair.
image source: Daily Mail
The Pope, who celebrated two years in office on Friday, declared 2016 a Jubilee Year dedicated to mercy, to honor his most cherished Christian virtue. Francis has been preaching mercy ever since he was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and even before: when he became a bishop, he chose the words “miserando atque eligendo” (Latin for “by having mercy and by choosing”, from venerable Bede’s Homily 21, where Jesus is said to see a tax collector, “and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing”, the Lord asked the man to follow him). These words have remained his motto as a Pope and are represented on his coat of arms.
The announcement of the Jubilee Year was made during a sermon within the penitential service performed for Lent. The audience at St. Peter’s Basilica burst into applause as they heard the unexpected news. In his sermon, Pope Francis said that “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God”.
The Jubilee Year is bound to start a little earlier than the beginning of the new year 2016, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2015), and end on November 20, 2016, with the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Holding Jubilees is an old tradition within the Catholic Church, dating back to 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII proposed to celebrate one Jubilee every century. After 1475, ordinary Jubilees have been organized at 25 years intervals, to allow every generation to witness at least one. Extraordinary Jubilees are organized more rarely, usually on special occasions. The Holy Year of Mercy will be an Extraordinary Jubilee. It will also mark the anniversary of 50 years since the ending of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
Although he is widely popular compared to former Pope Benedict, the current pontiff declared on Friday, just two years after being elected the head of the Catholic Church, that he does consider following Benedict’s example and retiring after a few more years. “I have a feeling my pontificate will be brief”, the Pope said, considering that Benedict’s decision to retire was not exception, but a way of instituting a tradition.
Francis, who is 78 now, confessed that he “doesn’t dislike” being the Pope, but sometimes feels worn out by travelling. Another thing he longs for is anonymity – he half-joked about being able to go out and have a pizza without being recognized. He recounted a recent phone conversation with the ex-Pope, who started living a monastic life after resigning, and said that Benedict felt content and respected.
image source: The Telegraph
During her fourth appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show on Thursday night, Mrs. Obama announced that on April 6, for the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House, she and the All Stars from “So You Think You Can Dance” will organize a dance session and teach everyone to perform the “GimmeFive” dance. This event is part of the celebration of the fifth anniversary of Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood-obesity campaign called “Let’s Move”.
To promote the campaign, Mrs. Obama told Ellen DeGeneres, she has launched an initiative known on social media as “#GimmeFive”, asking both celebrities and ordinary people to state five things they are doing to improve their physical condition and work towards a healthy lifestyle. From Beyonce, Ryan Seacrest, or Nick Jonas to the astronauts on the International Space Station, a lot of celebrities joined the campaign. Michelle Obama helped schoolchildren plant beetroots and other healthy vegetables, an event which was also included in the #GimmeFive initiative. She also participated in sport competitions with high-school girls. Five ways to stay healthy can include workout routines or eating habits, but also styles of relaxation or ways of practicing ecological agriculture.
The full video of Ellen DeGeneres’s show will be broadcasted on Monday, but the producers have already released a fragment of that video yesterday, showing Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres, along with a troupe of backup dancers, perform the “GimmeFive” dance, to the tune of “Uptown Funk”, a hit song played by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars.
Although it’s hard not to joke when you’re around Ellen DeGeneres – and Michelle Obama did display a strong sense of humor – the First Lady seemed to take her exercise routine very seriously. She and Ellen DeGeneres spoke of a push-up competition – of which pictures were shown during the filming – and the dance too was staged as a sort of I-dare-you-to-do-this contest between the two famous women. When asked how intensely she has been working out, Michelle Obama jestingly warned Ellen DeGeneres not to make her take off her jacket.
The First Lady’s trip to Burbank, California, where the Ellen DeGeneres show is filmed, was a surprise one. Her office had not previously announced it. Although President Barack Obama also travelled to California on the same day, to appear on the Jimmy Kimmel Live talk-show, their schedules didn’t overlap and they flew separately. Michelle Obama was back in Washington on Friday, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
image source: twitter
On Thursday, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket was fired up from Cape Canaveral. It carried four immense octagonal slice-shaped capsules, which were set into orbit at a five minutes distance from each other. They are now gravitating around the Earth with increased speed, preparing to be grouped into a pyramid formation. The goal of this mission is to study magnetic reconnection, a natural process that poses a threat to communication systems on our planet.
According to a NASA report about the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, magnetic reconnection is a phenomenon provoked by the connection, disconnection and reconfiguration of magnetic fields, which leads to large explosions (whose energy release is the equivalent of billions of megatons of TNT and whose propelling force can speed particles through space nearly light-fast).
The study of magnetic reconnection could lead to a better comprehension of its effects on communications (internet, mobile phones, electrical grids, and GPS systems). Furthermore, it could deepen scholars’ understanding of the functioning of magnetic fields in space, at far distances in the outer solar system or beyond.
The first phase of the mission involves orbiting the earth following an elliptical trajectory. Each of the four spacecraft will reach a distance of 43,000 miles from the Earth while in orbit. In the second phase, this distance will increase to 95,000 miles. The space capsules will cover both the bright side of our planet, where the Sun’s magnetic field meets the Earth’s, and the dark side of the planet, where magnetic reconnection is more frequent, producing the aurora borealis and aurora australis.
Each spacecraft has arm-like appendages that extend up to 200 feet on each of its eight sides. These carry measurement instruments. The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission program manager Craig Tooley described the limbs of the spacecraft as having, each, “a footprint about the size of a football field”. Due to the mobile instruments, they will record magnetic activity over 100 times faster than any mission has done so far. The gigantic octagonal devices weight around 3,000 pounds when completely fuelled.
Scholars are very enthusiastic about the discoveries this mission might trigger. Jim Burch from the Southwest Research Institute, the principal investigator for the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, explained that “everything to do with space weather starts with reconnection”, which is why it is crucial to understand why and how it takes place. The current mission will study precisely that area around the Earth where magnetic reconnection phenomena take place. Burch is confident that this will help solve the mystery.
image source: NASA