Current Events

 

Qatar Inks Fighter Planes Deal with U.S. as Gulf Crisis Deepens
June 17, 2017
Qatar will buy 36 F-15 fighter jets from the United States, at a cost of $12 billion, the Pentagon has reported. At the same time, two U.S. navy vessels arrived in Qatar, home to America's largest air base in the region, for a joint exercise with the Qatari Emiri navy. Just last month, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia agreed on a large arms deal that was reported as having a price tag of up to $500 million, for tanks, missile defense systems, and cybersecurity technology. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are on opposite sides of a diplomatic dispute that also involves, all on the Saudi side, Bahrain, Libya, the Maldives, and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar has refuted the other countries' assertions that it harbors terrorist organizations. Also at issue is Qatar's relationship with Iran, which Saudi Arabia and other nations would prefer is an adversarial one.

Salem Witch Trial Testimony Sets Auction Record
June 17, 2017
A record of court testimony from the Salem witch trials has set a record at auction, Christie's has reported. The New York auction house sold a deposition from the trial of Margaret Scott for $137,500, the most money ever paid for a Salem-related item. Pre-auction estimates of a purchase price ranged from $50,000 to $80,000. Teenager Mary Daniel gave the deposition, under oath, and the deposition was used as evidence in the witchcraft trial of Scott, who was convicted and later hanged in September 1692. 

Puerto Ricans Vote for Statehood amid Questionable Turnout
June 11, 2017
For the second time, a majority in Puerto Rico have voted for American statehood. What happens next isn't up to them. The U.S. Congress has the final approval on whether Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state. Reports were that 97 percent of votes cast were for statehood. However, turnout was relatively light, reported at just 23 percent. Three political parties urged their members to boycott the vote.

Avebury Burn Site Predates Stonehenge by 800 Years
June 11, 2017
A massive monument that was burned in ancient times at the famed Avebury site is 800 years older than previously believed, English scientists have said, after conducting new research using new technologies. Avebury Henge is a collection of three large stone circles, larger and older than the more celebrated Stonehenge. The monument is marked by wooden posts at the Avebury site and is, when viewed from the air, in the shape of a pair of glasses, complete with a gap in between the two circles.

Qatar Foes Release 'Terror List' as Diplomatic Row Worsens
June 8, 2017
Qatar will not change its foreign policy, the country's foreign minister said, even as the diplomatic row in the Persian Gulf region deepened. Sheikh Mohammed bin Adbulrahman Al Thani confirmed his country's position in the wake of an economic and political blockade by several other Gulf nations, who also released a "terror list."

Japan Clears Way for Emperor to Abdicate
June 8, 2017
Japan's Emperor Akihito now has permission to abdicate, after the country's parliament passed a law creating the possibility. Akihito, 83,had cancer surgery in 2003 and then underwent heart bypass surgery in 2012, and he publicly suggested a year ago that his ongoing health problems were interfering with his duties. He has been on the throne since 1989, when he succeeded his father, Shōwa. When Akihito steps down, at the end of 2018, he will be succeeded by his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito.

Middle Eastern Countries Isolate Qatar on Terrorism Charges
June 6, 2017
Several countries have cut off diplomatic ties and closed up air, land, and sea links with Qatar, citing reports that the Persian Gulf monarchy is and has been funding terrorist groups. Making the break were Bahrain, Egypt, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Those countries banned all flights from their countries to Qatar, and vice versa. The International Air Transport Association called on all countries involved to restore air links as quickly as possible. The countries also ordered the expulsion of Qatari foreign ministers from their shores and gave Qatari citizens within their borders 14 days to leave. Saudi Arabia closed its capital city office of the Al-Jazeera global news channel, which is based in Qatar. 

California Girl, 12, Wins National Spelling Bee
Ananya Vinay, a 12-year-old from Fresno, Calif., has won the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee. She outlasted all other spellers, winning in the 36th round of finals competition. Ananya, who finished in the top 50 in the 2016 bee, is now in the 6th grade at Fresno's Fugman Elementary School. She was one of 291 spellers who took part in the main event, Bee Week, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. She spelled marocain correctly to win.

Trump on Climate Change Accord: No Deal
June 1, 2017
The United States will withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump announced. He said that the agreement was unfair to American interests and vowed to pursue one that served those interests better. With the announcement, the U.S. joins only Nicaragua and Syria on the list of nations that have not signed on to the global agreement.

Press-to Change-o: Stamp Changes with the Rub of a Thumb
June 1, 2017
To commemorate the August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse, the U.S. Postal Service has created a postage stamp that mimics the actions of the Moon during an eclipse: Put your finger on the stamp, and it changes right before your eyes. The mechanism for making the change is thermochromic ink, which by definition changes with heat. Two photos are embedded on the stamp, and the application of heat, like the body heat emitted by a finger, switches the active photo to the other option. In effect, the Sun becomes the Moon, which is what eclipse watchers see in the sky at the moment of total solar eclipse. Removal of the finger or otherwise heat source allows the stamp to revert to the initial image.

Long-lost Egyptian Carving Back on Display in Berlin
June 1, 2017
A Berlin museum can again display a striking stone carving from ancient Egypt, after the long-thought-lost artifact has been returned. Blue faience covers the stone, which depicts a religious scene from the time of the famed pharaoh Ramses II. Shown on the stone is Ptahmose, who was for a time the mayor of Memphis, which was for many years the capital of ancient Egypt. The scene is of Ptahmose worshiping the gods Isis and Osiris. The stone had been in an English collection until 1910, when Berlin's Neues Museum bought it. Allied air raids during World War II damaged the museum, and the Soviet occupation didn't make museum restoration a priority. Thus, the museum did not open until 2009, after an extensive renovation had been completed. The carving, however, was nowhere to be found.

Computer Go Champ Flattens Human Opponent
May 28, 2017
Score another win for AI. AlphaGo, a product of Google's DeepMind project, has defeated the world's top Go player in three straight matches. The victory followed a similar triumph a year earlier, against another top human player. This time, it was China's Ke Jie showing his Go ability. He has been the world's top Go player for more than two years, but he still lost out in three straight contests against the computerized opponent. The matches took place in Wuzhen, China. AlphaGo won the first match by just one half-point, the closest possible margin of victory. As Ke would attest to, though, a victory is a victory. As well, Google's programmers were quick to stress, the computer engine favors moves that are more likely to guarantee victory and so AlphaGo won't run up the score on an opponent, computerized or otherwise. Seeing the writing on the wall, Ke resigned from the second game, handing the AI the technical 2-out-of-three victory. The third game was no better for Ke. Both players had studied the other's moves, and Ke even tried some unconventional moves that he said later he would not have used against a human opponent.

'Doomsday Vault' Flooding Sparks Quick Repair
May 21, 2017
Scientists in Norway are working to repair flooding at the "Doomsday Vault." The Svalbard-based repository of nearly 1 million seed samples from over the world is intended to aid in efforts to recover from a worldwide catastrophe or, at the least, provide seeds for a crop that disappears because of extinction. However, melting permafrost has resulted in water streaming into the entrance tunnel to the vault. The vault, on the island of Spitsbergen, can hold up to 4.5 million seed samples. Nearly one-quarter of that amount are already stored within the vault, which was built more than 400 feet into solid rock.

Ringling-Barnum Big Top Down for Good
May 21, 2017
The final curtain has come down on the nation's oldest circus. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has closed after nearly 150 years of providing what was billed as the "Greatest Show on Earth." Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, announced in January 2017 that the circus would close and in May 2017 that elephants would no longer be part of the lineup. The circus had two shows in its final season. The more traditional, three-ring variety had its final show in Providence, R.I., on May 7. The more futuristic circus spectacle, which was called "Out of the This World," had its final show in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 20.

Ready, Set, AlphaGo: Another Man-AI Matchup
May 21, 2017
It's Deep Blue and Garry Kasparov all over again. The famous chess struggle between a grandmaster and a computer made headlines twice, most recently in 1997, when the computer won. Now, the game is Go, an equally ancient game that artificial intelligence has mastered. AlphaGo, an AI program developed by Internet search engine Google, made headlines around the world in 2016 by defeating Lee Se-Dol, a South Korean grandmaster, 4–1. The match, which took place in Seoul, was the first win recorded by a computer player over a human player. In what could be billed as a rematch, the reigning human Go champion, China's Ke Jie, will challenge AlphaGo in a three-game series. The games will take place in Wuzhen, China, and will run on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Government Relaxes School Lunch Regulations
May 14, 2017
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced changes in its school lunch policy, in part reversing decisions made by the previous administration. Among the changes are allowing schools to waive the requirements for nonfat milk and for whole grains in foods. Regulations brought in during the Barack Obama presidency (and championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of a movement to combat childhood obesity) included ensuring that at least 51 percent of grains in school lunches be whole grains and that chocolate or strawberry milk must be nonfat. The USDA had granted exemptions to some schools; those exemptions are due to expire in 2018. 

Lawmakers, Parents Target 'Lunch Shaming'
May 14, 2017
People across the U.S. are acting to confront "lunch shaming," the practice of essentially assigning responsibility to schoolchildren for the school lunch debt that their family has incurred. Taking action are both lawmakers and private citizens. Similar bills in both the Senate and the House of Representatives aim to prohibit the practice of discriminating against students whose families are carrying such debts. In the private realm, parents and schools are taking matters into their own hands, raising private funds to help pay off students' debts.

Reading a Million Words Worth a Celebration
May 14, 2017
Being a millionaire doesn't always mean dollars. Sometimes, it means words. Students at the Britt David Magnet Academy in Columbus, Ga., got the royal treatment recently at the school's annual Millionaire Bash. Honorees were students who had qualified by reading 1 million words during the school year. The reading millionaires arrived in style, after a 15-minute ride in a limousine, and walked down a red carpet into the school celebration. Standing outside taking pictures (and holding out photos and other memorabilia for those autographs) were their families.

Rome's Past on Display in New Metro Station
May 14, 2017
A newly completed Roman metro station sports a museum showcasing some of the archaeological treasures unearthed during the station's construction. Workers had to dig very far down to accommodate building of the station and the rail line leading to and from it, and the workers found more than 40,000 artifacts during their nearly 10 years of construction. The oldest things found are on the bottom level of the station, 100 feet beneath the surface; relatively newer items are on levels closer to the surface. 

Climate Change Top of Mind for Arctic Council
May 14, 2017
The Arctic Council gathered in Fairbanks, Alaska, for a high-level meeting, with climate change at the top of the list. Many studies have shown that the Arctic region is warming at a rate up to twice as much as the rest of the planet, with Arctic waters showing higher levels of acidity and pollution and ice flows at an all-time low. Among the 45 points noted in the Fairbanks Declaration 2017were a commitment to continue to raise awareness, to act to stem the rate of global warming and water pollution, to pursue production of clean and sustainable energy sources, and to pursue methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Toyota Bankrolls Flying Car Startup
May 1, 2017
Toyota has joined the pursuit of the flying car. The venerable Japanese automaker has announced plans to invest 40 million yen ($352812) to help a group called Cartivator achieve its dream of having not only a flying car in operation by 2020 but also have one of those cars light the Olympic Flame at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

New York Gives Green Light to Driverless Cars
May 14, 2017
New York has gotten in line to test driverless cars. The Empire State will go ahead with a yearlong pilot program of testing, with vehicles conducting those tests on public roads, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Companies wishing to test their vehicles on some of the more than 6,000 miles of New York's roadways will have to adhere to certain standards, among them a prohibition of testing in construction zones and in school zones. The state will take a hands-on approach, with manufacturers having to front up for a $5 million insurance policy and also agree to (and agree to pay for) state police supervision of each and every driverless test. 

New Shade of Blue to Join Crayon Boxes
May 7, 2017
It's out with the old and bright yellow and in with the newly discovered blue, as Crayola has announced its inspiration for a new crayon color. The crayon manufacturing company recently announced that it would remove dandelion from its color palette. In response for sudden demand for the color to be retired, the company began selling 64-crayon packs containing only dandelion-colored crayons. Crayola also announced that the new color would be a shade of blue, but the specific shade had not been announced. The official name of the pigment is YlnMn, an acronym made up of the chemical symbols of three of the four elements used to create it.

Egypt Consults the World on Moving King Tut Items
May 7, 2017
Some King Tut items are on the move. The bed, throne, and a few chests found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, the famed "Boy King" of Ancient Egypt, are being moved from Cairo's Egyptian Museum to a museum being built in another part of the country's capital city. Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities convened a panel of its own archaeologists– along with conservation experts from Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland–to help facilitate the safe transfer of the items

First Funerary Garden Found in Egypt
May 7, 2017
A dig in Egypt has turned up the first ever find of a funerary garden. It dates to 4,000 years ago. The dig, on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill in what is now Luxor but was then Thebes, unearthed a garden that was rectangular in shape, about two feet off the ground, with a total area of 10 feet by 6.5 feet. Two smaller beds in the center of the garden are taller than the others. Next to the raised garden were planted two trees. Archaeologists look forward to analyzing the remains of the trees and, more importantly, seeds found in the garden.

Flying Car Market Revs Up with Two New Players
May 1, 2017
The latest entry in the flying car sweepstakes is Kitty Hawk, a California startup bankrolled by Google co-founder Larry Page. The Flyer, a single-seater, propeller-powered one-person vehicle, will be available this year, the company said. Operators won't need a pilot's license because the vehicle resembles a set of jet skis more than an airplane. Also in the mix is another new entry, AeroMobil. The Slovakia-based company has started taking orders for its eponymous vehicle, which is a car-plane hybrid that is scheduled for first sales in 2020.

Teen Journalist Sleuths to Attend White House Press Dinner
April 23, 2017
Six Kansas high school students whose investigative efforts resulted in the resignation of their school's principal will be attending the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, D.C. The six–Maddie Baden, Connor Balthazor, Gina Mathew, Trina Paul, Kali Poenitske, and Patrick Sullivan–gained nationwide attention after their dogged fact-checking exposed questionable credentials of Amy Robertson, the principal at Pittsburg High School. The annual D.C. dinner, which this year takes place on April 29, is put on by the White House Correspondents' Association. The website Huffington Post invited the students and will pay their expenses. The students' advisor, Emily Smith, will accompany the students to the nation's capital and to the dinner.

School within Fukushima Exclusion Zone Reopens
April 23, 2017
Students and teachers have returned for the school year within the exclusion zone created in the wake of the Sendai Earthquake and resulting tsunami in Fukushima, Japan. The Naraha Elementary and Junior High School is now open for business, two years after the Japanese Government lifted an evacuation order issued in the wake of the radioactive meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Tiny 2,100-year-old Looms a Pattern of Complexity
April 23, 2017
Archaeologists in China have found the earliest evidence ever of looms used to weave patterns. The dig, in Chengdu, resulted in the 2013 discovery of the looms, which are more than 2,000 years ago. Older looms have been found. However, all of those looms were basic in construction and use. The looms found in Chengdu, a city in the Sichuan province, in the southwest part of the country, are small yet powerful examples of a more complex loom function, one used to create complicated patterns.

Gorsuch Rounds Out Supreme Court Membership
April 9, 2017
The Supreme Court has the full complement of nine Justices again, now that the Senate has confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch will be officially sworn in on April 10. The next Supreme Court session begins April 17.

Norway to Have a Blast Creating Ship Tunnel
April 9, 2017
Norway is planning to blast through solid rock to create the world's first ship tunnel. The tunnel will be 118 feet wide and a mile long and enable ships to pass throught he narrowest part of the Stad peninsula, in the western part of the country. The primary purpose of the tunnel, other than to save transport time for both freight and passenger ships, is to help those ships avoid the often treacherous waters of the Stadhavet Sea and the rocks and other hazards that dot that part of the country's coastline.

Mosaics Signal Return of 'Lost' Roman Town
April 9, 2017
It had existed only in writings elsewhere, but the ancient Roman town of Ucetia is once again in focus, this time by modern archaeologists. During construction on a school near the modern town of Uzés, in the south of France, researchers from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research found mosaics, building fragments, and other remains of the Roman settlement, known to modernity only as a name on a stone slab in the nearby town of Nîmes. The site measures more than 43,000 square feet and contains artifacts spanning seven centuries of Roman occupation.

Harriet Tubman Photo Sold for $161,000 at Auction
April 1, 2017
A previously unknown photograph of famed Underground Railroad "conductor" Harriet Tubman brought in $161,000 at auction, far more than had been exepected. The photo shows Tubman in her 40s and was discovered in an album once owned by Emily Howland, who lived in Sherwood, N.Y., near Tubman's home in Auburn. The photo is distinctive, historians say, because few photos of the famed abolitionist remain and the ones that do show her in her elder years.

'Doomsday Vault' Gets a Digital Twin
April 2, 2017
Now open on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean is an archive for the world's data. The Arctic World Archive sits alongside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a frozen-storage facility built in 2008 to house the world's most important crop seeds. The idea of the seed vault is that it will be opened only after a global catastrophe. The popular nickname is the "doomsday vault." The idea of the data archive is that governments and scientific institutions around the world send in digital data that they wouldn't want to lose in the case of a natural or manmade disaster on a global scale. The vaults' owners will then preserve the data using an analog storage technique: photosensitive film stored in secure boxes.

Bring Dogs to Work at a Government Department
April 2, 2017
In a first for the U.S. Government, employees at the Department of the Interior will be able to bring their dogs to work (for more than just a day). Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the pilot program as a means of boosting morale among the 70,000 employees in the Interior Department. A 2016 survey of federal workers found that just 61 percent of the Interior Department's employees reported being happy in their jobs; Interior's results placed the department 11th out of the 18 largest federal agencies. The first test of Doggy Days at Interior will be on May 5; the next test will be on September 1. Still to be worked out are details such as whether the dogs will need to leashed or vaccinated or fully housebroken (or all of the above). Zinke owns a black-and-white Havanese dog named Ragnar.

Tokyo Olympics Medals Made from Recycled Metal
April 1, 2017
Medals handed out at the 2020 Olympic Games will be made of recycled metal, organisers of the Tokyo Games announced. The goal of the project, which is already under way, is to collect eight tons of raw metal, out of which will come the two tons of pure metal needed to make the approximately 5,000 medals that will be awarded to athletes.

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copyright 2002–2017
David White