Tag Archives: United States

How A Thunderstorm Shapes Air Traffic Around the World’s Busiest Airport (GIF)

If you have ever traveled within the United States, chances are that you have probably had a connection that takes you through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

The airport has been the busiest in the world since 2005, and currently averages more than 250,000 passengers per day.

Though it may seem strange that Atlanta is the center of air traffic in America, the airport is actually within a 2-hour flight of 80% of the U.S. population, making it an ideal travel hub.

Airport connections to and from Hartfield-Jackson. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of Airtimes Blog)

Atlanta’s airport handles nearly 2,500 arrivals and departures every day. That’s over 100 flights per hour, with peak hours sometimes coming closer to 200.

The airport also has the tallest air traffic tower in all of North America, which comes in handy when a major storm system rolls through.

When this happens, air traffic controllers have to scramble to re-route planes around the worst weather while still keeping the air traffic flowing through Hartsfield-Jackson.

Check it out in the gif below (not sure if it’s only showing arrivals or if all departures were delayed until after the storm passed):

Worldwide, there are upwards of 90,000 flights every day. There are between 8,000 and 13,000 commercial aircrafts in the air at all times.

So as long as we’re on the subject of awesome air traffic gifs, check out this awesome one from the Institute of Applied Information Technology (InIT) at Zurich University of Applied Sciences. It shows air traffic worldwide (based off data from 2008):

Stats about Hartsfield-Jackson come from the airport’s official website here.

Liberators or Terrorists? The Origins and History of Israel and Hamas

As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, much of the focus lately has been on Hamas.

Critics say the group is a terrorist organization that wants nothing but to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

Supporters say Hamas, which represents the only organized Palestinian military force, is a coalition of freedom fighters and liberators defending the Palestinian people.

But where did the organization even come from? And how has is it become what it is today?

Hamas militants in training. Click to enlarge

Thinking you can understand the current conflict by looking at only the past few years of its history is like thinking you understand calculus because you passed freshman algebra.

Hopefully, this quick piece can be a pre-cal of sorts for people wanting to really understand the history between Israel and Palestine.

In 1917, Great Britain occupied Palestine during a period of British expansionism. Assisting in the conquest of Palestine was a Jewish military volunteer group known as the Jewish Legion.

This group was comprised primarily of Zionists, Jews who believed that it was God’s will for them to one day return to their ancient homeland (Mt. Zion is located in the heart of Jerusalem).

“Jewish Legion soldiers at the Western Wall after British conquest, 1917.” Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1920, Palestinian riots led to the formation of a Jewish militia known as the Haganah. The militia was formed by Jews who felt that Britain had no interest in confronting the Arab populations in the region who were expressing their disapproval for the ongoing British occupation.

Between 1919 and 1929, 100,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine. This led to an Arab revolt in the late 1930s, which prompted Britain to pass legislation limiting Jewish migration to the territory.

But World War II and the Holocaust displaced millions of Jews in Europe, and many of them sought a new life in the primarily Jewish British-held areas of Palestine.

Britain found itself in a conflict with the Haganah, who wanted to establish an independent Jewish state, while also trying to deal with the Arabs and Palestinians who were still upset that their traditional lands had been occupied in the first place.

So Britain basically gave up. They said they couldn’t solve any of the problems between the Jews and the Arab Palestinians and pulled out of the area in 1947.

General Sir Evelyn “Bubbles” Barker led the occupying British forces in Palestine between 1946 and 1947. Click to enlarge

Later that year, the UN passed UN Resolution 181, splitting up the Palestinian territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states.

The resolution was signed without the agreement of the Palestinian Arabs in the region. The United States had promised the Palestinian Arabs that they would be consulted before any decision was reached, but that promise was broken.

So as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

Israel won that war, thanks in part to weapons acquired secretly from western countries like the United States and France who were sympathetic to the Jewish cause but didn’t want to become publicly involved.

Not only did they hold onto their own territory, they captured 50% of the territory that had been given to the Palestinians under the UN resolution.

The change of territory following UN Resolution 181 and the resultant war. Click to enlarge

In 1964, a number of Arab countries sent representatives to Cairo for the Arab League Summit. The goal of the summit was to resolve inter-Arab conflicts in the region so that the Arab countries could unite in their struggle against what they saw as western imperialism and Israeli aggression.

It was at this summit that the idea for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, was born. The stated goal of the PLO was to “liberate Palestine through armed struggle”.

Although the dominant religion in these Arab countries was Islam, the PLO was comprised mainly of secular Palestinian factions (the largest being the Fatah party), who were actually wary of the rise of Islamic extremism.

Arab leaders in front of the Nile Hilton Hotel in Cairo during the Arab League Summit in 1964

Historically, Palestinians have been a religiously tolerant people. For hundreds of years, Muslims, Jews and Christians alike lived peacefully together as fellow Palestinians. The PLO wanted to make sure that this tolerance was preserved.

In fact, the Islamic extremism which is now considered the backbone of Hamas was actually encouraged by Israel itself.

In 1967, Israel fought the Six-Day War against an Arab federation led by Egypt. At that time, the PLO was quickly becoming popular among Arabs in the region, and this worried Israel.

So using PLO guerilla activity as a pretext, Israel took over the Palestinian territory of Gaza and began systematically hunting down members of the PLO and the Fatah party.

To combat the PLO’s secular influence in the region, Israel began encouraging Islamic activism in Palestine. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this Israeli policy was a man named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza at the time.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin

In 1973, Yassin established the Islamist group Mujama al-Islamiya. The organization was officially recognized as a charity by Israel  in 1979.

Yassin used the organization to establish mosques and Islamic schools in Gaza, as well as a library. But Yitzhak Segev, an Israeli official who served as governor of Gaza in 1979, says that he had no illusions about Yassin’s real intentions.

Segev had personally witnessed an Islamist movement in Iran which eventually led to a military coup that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. The coup cleared the way for the Shah of Iran (the country’s highest-ranking Muslim cleric) to take power.

Men celebrating the military coup in the streets of Iran’s capital city of Tehran in 1953. Click to enlarge (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

He and other Israeli officials worried that the same would soon happen in Gaza, but because of the tensions in the region at the time, they were reluctant to speak out, fearing they would be accused of being enemies of Islam.

So Segev said nothing. In 1984, Israeli intelligence got word that Yassin’s group was stockpiling weapons in a Gaza mosque. They raided the mosque and arrested Yassin, who claimed the weapons were meant for use against secular Palestinian groups like the PLO, not for use against Israel.

He was released from jail a year later, and continued to spread Mujama’s influence in Gaza. Then, in 1987, he established Hamas with six other Palestinians as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The first leaflet they distributed blamed Israeli intelligence for undermining the social fabric of young Palestinians in order to recruit Palestinian “collaborators”.

But despite this harsh language, Israel continued to focus on the Fatah party and the PLO, even meeting with senior Hamas officials as part of “regular consultations” that they held with Palestinian officials not linked to the PLO.

Mahmoud Zahar was one of the Hamas leaders who met with Israeli officials in the early days of the organization’s existence (Photo: AFP)

It wasn’t until Hamas kidnapped and murdered two Israeli soldiers in 1989 that Israel started to pay attention to the group.

In response to the kidnappings, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arrested Yassin and deported 400 Hamas activists to an Israeli-occupied region of South Lebanon.

During its time in South Lebanon in the early 90s, Hamas built a relationship with the Lebanese jihadist group Hezbollah and established its military division, the al-Qassam Brigades.

Throughout the early 90s, the al-Qassam Brigades carried out numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Israel. However, Hamas was centered in Lebanon and Jordan at the time, making it hard for Israel to eliminate them.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO agreed to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority as a governmental body to represent the Palestinians. This helped stem some of the violence the region experienced in the early 90s.

Isreali Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat agree to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The U.S. played a major role in brokering the deal. Click to enlarge (Photo: AP)

Then, in 1997, a failed Israeli assassination attempt on a Hamas leader in Jordan and the resulting political fallout led to the release of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who had been put in jail for life for the murders of the Israeli soldiers in 1989.

2000 brought about a renewal of the bloody conflict, with a surge in Hamas suicide bombings prompted by the growing number of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian-controlled territory of the West Bank.

In 2004, Yassin offered a military truce to Israel, asking for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in exchange. Israel turned down the truce, and Yassin was killed by a targeted air strike two months later.

In 2006, Hamas became entrenched in the Palestinian government. Though the group had boycotted the Palestinian presidential election a year before, they decided to take part in the legislative elections in 2006. They did remarkably well, wining 76 of the 132 available seats (Fatah won 43).

Results from the 2006 elections. Click to enlarge

The relationship between Hamas and Fatah has always been rocky. Skirmishes have broken out between the two factions on countless occasions. At one point, Israeli intelligence even informed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas was planning to assassinate him.

Despite their past differences, however, Abbas announced in March of 2012 that Fatah and Hamas were on the same page. He told Al-Jazeera,

“We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank… We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions.”

Feb. 23, 2012: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) at a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo. Click to enlarge (Photo: UPI/ Mohame Hams)

But this declaration of unity is seeming pretty hollow now.

Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah have proposed a number of ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during this latest flare-up of the conflict, but Hamas has refused the deals, demanding that Israel move its citizens out of settlements in Palestine if they want a ceasefire.

One of the reasons that Hamas was able to gain so much political power in the mid-2000s was that Palestinians had become fed up with the corruption of the Palestinian Authority (led by the Fatah party) by the time the 2006 elections rolled around.

Unfortunately, the added political power that Hamas gained when they took over Palestinian politics that year led to the same corruption that the Palestinian people had tried to get rid of by voting the Palestinian Authority out of power.

Dorothy Peskin is an Israeli analyst who recently released a detailed report about Hamas corruption in Gaza. She put it this way:

“With multi-million land deals, luxury villas and black market fuel from Egypt, Gaza’s (Hamas) rulers made billions while the rest of the population struggles with a 39 percent poverty level and 40 percent unemployment.”

Hamas leader Khaled Mashal is rumored to be in control of more than $2.6 billion dollars of Hamas assets, according to a source in Jordan

The average Hamas fighter today may truly believe in the Palestinian liberation cause, but power and influence almost always lead to corruption.

In my opinion, the leaders of Hamas have shown that they are more interested in maintaining their own power, influence and wealth than in actually helping the Palestinian people. Their strategy of maximizing civilian casualties by firing rockets from heavily-populated areas is just one example.

However, we must also recognize that Israel played a big role in establishing Hamas in the first place because of their fear of the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization.

An American intelligence report discussing relations between Israel and Hamas was recently published by the news leak website Wikileaks.

In the leaked document, dated September 23, 1988, U.S. intelligence officials say,

“Many in the West Bank believe that Israel actively supports Hamas, in its effort to split the Palestinian nation and weaken the Intifada.”

The document also notes that although Israel was arresting a number of Palestinians at the time, very few were members of Hamas. The document went so far as to say,

“We believe that not only does Israel turn a blind eye on Hamas activity, but even supports it.”

You reap what you sow. There are countless examples of countries supporting groups that end up coming back to bite them in the ass (the U.S.-trained mujahideen are a good example).

The bottom line is that there are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this conflict, just lots of historical wounds that are still festering today. I just hope this history helped you make a little more sense of it all.

France Is Proposing A Law Forcing Supermarkets to Donate Their Unsold Food to Charity

I often hear people saying that there are not enough resources for everyone on the planet, arguing that poverty and inequality are a natural result of scarcity (the idea there’s not enough resources to go around).

But these people fail to consider one extremely important yet rarely-discussed issue:

Food wastage is a HUGE problem in the developed world.

Click to enlarge

The World Food Organization (WFO) is the international food assistance branch of the United Nations. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and works to address hunger around the world.

According to the WFO, around one third of all the food produced worldwide is “lost or wasted” while it’s still fit for human consumption.

A group of 63 French Members of Parliament saw this problem as an opportunity. In late July, they proposed a new law forcing large supermarkets (those with 1,000 square metres/10,800 sq ft or moreof floor space) to donate their, “unsold but still consumable food products” to charity.

Carrefour, France’s largest supermarket chain, will be among those affected if the proposal is approved

The proposal follows a number of moves in Europe to cut back on food waste. Earlier this year, the European Union proposed a scrapping of the “best if used by” labels on foods that have long shelf-lives, such as coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles.

Then in May, Belgium passed a law similar to the one that France is now proposing.

Many French supermarkets are already donating their unsold food to charities, but the Parliament members felt that more could be done to combat food waste.

The average French supermarket wastes 200 tons of food every year. The EU estimates that across Europe, around 100 million tons of food are wasted yearly.

Click to enlarge

In the United States, the issue is even more pronounced. Though cross-country comparisons can be difficult, it’s pretty safe to say that on average, the United States wastes more food per person than does any other country in the world.

According to a new study released by the USDA in February, the U.S. wasted an estimated 133 billion pounds (66.5 million tons) of consumable food in 2010.

That food is worth around $161 billion (using retail prices), so food waste is definitely an economic problem. But when you look at the actual loss of calories, you really begin to get a picture of just how much we’re wasting.

Click to enlarge. (Source: BCFN, "Defeating the paradox of food waste", 2013)
Click to enlarge. (Source: BCFN, “Defeating the paradox of food waste”, 2013)

According to the USDA’s report, those 133 billion pounds of food contained around 141 trillion calories. That’s equal to 1,249 wasted calories per person every day.

An earlier study from the USDA found 14.5% of Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table. More than one in five American children are at risk of living in hunger.

Think of how quickly we could end hunger in America if we could use some of those 1,249 calories we waste every day to help feed these people.

Another quick graphic on the impact of food waste. Click to enlarge

In France, most people are welcoming the proposal, with the only issue being how to pay for the extra refrigerated storage containers that the charities will need to store all the extra food.

To me however, this seems like a very small hang-up. The overall value to society will be hundreds of times greater than the costs of a few giant freezers.

Globally, it is estimated that a staggering 1.3 billion tons of consumable food are wasted every year. So please stop saying that there isn’t enough to go around.

Read the original story from The Telegraph here.

Why This World Famous Gunmaker’s Newest Gun Has Gun Rights Activists Up In Arms

Ernst Mauch is a legend in the firearms industry.

In his 30 years at the legendary German gunmaker Heckler & Koch, Mauch became a sort of folk hero in the gun world, designing some of the most deadly firearms in the world, including the one which reportedly killed Osama bin Laden.

The HK-416 that is rumored to have killed Bin Laden. The gun was originally designed by Mauch while he was working for Heckler & Koch. Click to enlarge

But Muach’s new gun has turned him from hero to villain overnight in the eyes of many gun rights activists. But how could a famous gunsmith make gun-lovers mad by designing a new weapon?

Well, Mauch’s new gun, the iP1, is a “smart” gun. The gun is programmable, and can only be fired when its rightful owner is wearing a special watch that is wirelessly connected to the gun.

Mauch began working on designing smarter guns following an unfortunate tragedy in the 1990s: after a child accidentally killed one of his friends using a gun that Mauch had designed, the German gunmaker was called in for questioning by the authorities.

A Heckler & Koch poster display’s the company’s motto: NO COMPROMISE

The officers asked him a number of questions, including why the boy didn’t know that the gun was loaded or that there was a live round in the chamber.

He was questioned for four hours. Afterwards, he told his wife,

“My dear, I will never forget these last four hours.”

The tragedy weighed on Mauch heavily, as did all of the innocent lives lost due to weapons he had designed. He was a deeply religious man who knew that his career making instruments of death was somewhat at odds with his faith in God:

“It hurts my heart… It’s life. It’s the lives of people who never thought they’d get killed by a gun. You have a nice family at home, and then you get killed. It’s crazy.”

The more Mauch thought about all of the gun-related tragedies, the more he realized that the problem wasn’t with guns being bad- the problem was with guns being “dumb”.

So, while running Heckler & Koch in the early 2000s, Mauch awarded research funding to a small company working on smart gun technology designed specifically to address this problem.

In 2005, disputes with H&K over their investors prompted Mauch to leave the company. Shortly afterwards, he joined a spin off of the smart gun firm he had awarded the funding to a few years earlier. The company was called Armatix.

Mauch poses with an iP1

By 2006, Mauch and Armatix had designed the first round of .22-caliber iP1 smart guns, and set about targeting the biggest gun market in the world: the United States.

To Mauch’s surprise, however, his smart gun has terrified many gun activists in America. Their biggest worry is that once the iP1 starts becoming popular, the government will begin mandating that all guns come with these “smart” computer systems built into them.

Jim Schatz is a gun industry consultant who worked for Mauch at Heckler & Koch. He had this to say:

“I love Ernst, and his contributions to firearms are incredible…But he doesn’t understand that the anti-gunners will use this to infringe on a constitutional right. They don’t have a Second Amendment in Germany.”

Jim Schatz (left) watches as a new weapon is tested out. Click to enlarge

The NRA and other gun rights groups are pointing to a new law in New Jersey to substantiate their worries. The law mandates that all guns sold in the state must be smart guns within three years of smart guns becoming available there.

But despite all of the negative feedback from gun rights activists in the United States, Mauch is still pushing to popularize smart guns like his iP1:

“When it comes to the end, you are responsible for what you did. There will be one question asked of you: What did you do to help others? I cannot sit still. There are tragedies that could be eliminated. Bingo. End of story.”

Read the full story from the Washington Post here.

Journalists Record Footage of Hamas Assembling and Firing Rockets Right Next to Their Hotel

As the conflict rages on between Israel and Hamas, one of the biggest criticisms of the militant group is their strategy of embedding themselves within the civilian population in Gaza so as to force Israel to incur civilian casualties when they retaliate.

There have been reports that Hamas has launched rockets from crowded apartment buildings, hospitals and schools, though every report comes with another denying Hamas’ responsibility.

Earlier today, however, Indian journalists working for the New Delhi TV broadcasting company got at least one piece of irrefutable evidence: footage of Hamas militants assembling and firing a rocket just a stone’s throw from the hotel they were staying in.

According to NDTV, the rocket was fired just before the start of the 72-hour ceasefire which began this morning.

The team said that yesterday, a small blue tent was erected next to the hotel. Three men made a number of journeys to and from the tent for about an hour before breaking it down and disappearing.

Then, this morning, the team watched the tent be erected once more. The men quickly assembled the rocket launcher and fired the rocket, leaving the area quickly afterwards.

A picture of the tent taken by NDTV. Click to enlarge
A picture of the tent taken by NDTV. Click to enlarge

Obviously, one isolated video doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of civilian casualties are on the Palestinian side. As of this morning, over 1,800 Palestinian civilians have lost their lives, with another 10,000+ injured. Israel has lost just three civilians, along with 64 soldiers.

However, we can’t let these numbers keep us from criticizing Hamas when it’s clear that maximizing civilian death is a large part of their PR campaign.

NDTV put it this way:

“Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones.”

We can argue about whose actions are more “justified” (whatever that even means), but we cannot deny that both sides must be held somewhat accountable for the growing loss of life stemming from the renewal of this conflict.

Read the original report from NDTV here.

Make sure to check back later this week for a more in-depth look into the creation and history of Hamas.

EDIT: A talented blogger put together this post in which he identifies where exactly the rocket was launched from, based off of the NDTV footage.

$626 Million Worth of U.S. Weapons Have Gone Missing in Afghanistan

The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released its “Afghan National Security Forces: Actions Needed to Improve Weapons Accountability” report for July.

The report revealed that a total of 747,000 weapons supposedly given to the Afghan National Security Forces by the U.S. Department of Defense are now unaccounted for.

According to the report, 465,000 of these weapons are small arms that include, “…rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and shotguns.”

The Department of Defense relies primarily on two programs to track the flow of weapons to Afghanistan’s security forces: The Security Cooperation Information Portal (SCIP) and the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database (OVERLORD).

A chart showing how weapons are tracked. Click to enlarge
A chart showing the process of how weapons are sent from the U.S. Department of Defense to the Afghan National Security Forces. Click to enlarge

Both of these programs were found to have major errors and discrepancies. In fact, a whopping 43% of the serial numbers (used to identify and track each individual weapon) in the OVERLORD system were found to have, “missing information and/or duplication.”

On top of that, the report found that as of November 2013, the U.S. had provided Afghanistan’s Security Forces with nearly 113,000 more weapons than they actually needed (based on the “Tashkil”, the official list of requirements for the ANSF issued by the Afghan government).

The overage in weapons provided by the U.S. Click to enlarge

The SIGAR report also warns that these weapons could easily find their way into the hands of hostile groups like the Taliban, if they haven’t already:

“Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, SIGAR is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to Afghan civilians and the ANSF.”

You can check out the full SIGAR report here.

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Just Set the Off-World Driving Distance Record

NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on the surface of Mars in January of 2004. As of Sunday (July 26), the Opportunity rover had driven a total distance of 25 miles (40 kilometers).

Opportunity took the top spot in total off-world distance traveled by surpassing Russia’s Lunokhod 2 lunar rover, which traveled a total distance of 39 kilometers across the surface of the moon between January and May of 1973.

The Russian rover helped to bring about a golden age of space exploration in the 70s. As a sign of respect, the Opportunity rover’s operators decided to commemorate the Russian rover by naming one of the first craters they encountered after it.

Tracing the path that Opportunity has taken since it landed on Mars in 2004. On the left rim of the large Endeavor Crater, you can see the Lunokhod 2 crater. Click to enlarge (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS)

The craziest part of this record is that the Opportunity rover was only expected to travel a short distance when it was first sent to Mars in 2004. Here’s John Callas, who manages the Mars Exploration Project at NASA’s Jet-Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California:

“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

The Opportunity rover is collecting data on Mars as part of a long-term plan for a manned mission to the planet around the year 2030.

The infographic below compares the distances driven by different rovers throughout the years. Click to enlarge (courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech):

Read the original story from NASA here.