Israeli Court Knocks El Al For Gender Discrimination

el al plane photo

In a case that almost didn’t get brought to court, Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been convicted of gender discrimination when a woman was asked to take a different seat because an ultra-orthodox man didn’t want to sit next to her.

That once-common practice, which caters to a whim of someone from a sect with otherworldly-strict beliefs, was brought down by a suit filed by a holocaust survivor who originally intended to ignore the affront. But a couple of weeks after her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was marred by the incident, Renee Rabinowitz, 81, attended an event where a representative of the Israel Religious Action Center discussed IRAC’s campaign against airlines’ practice of accommodating what Rabinowitz described as “a Haredi-looking [ultra orthodox] gentleman”. Such individuals are members of a group representing the social and cultural interests of fervently religious Jews. Created in response to escalating assimilation and secularization within worldwide Jewry, they aim to preserve and maintain Torah-bound Judaism, both on the individual and collective level.

But in refusing to sit next to a woman on, for example, an airplane, “a passenger asking to move their seat because of their gender will qualify as discrimination, and as such will be prohibited,” the Israeli court said in an English-language statement.

More specifically, The Jerusalem Post reported, “Requesting a seat change on an airplane before or after takeoff, based on a passenger’s gender, constitutes a breach of the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, [Services and Entry into Public Places Law],” ruled Judge Dana Cohen-Lekach of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The JP website added, “The phenomenon of ultra-Orthodox men insisting on not sitting next to unrelated women on air flights has developed into a familiar pattern in recent years, with such demands frequently causing problems and delays for airlines due to the refusal of such men to take their seats before takeoff.”

El Al has said it will take the ruling seriously, and the airline is expected to modify its rules and retrain flight attendants within the 45-day period specified by the court.

The Guardian quoted the airline as saying, “The sides reached an agreement that the airline’s procedures would be clarified to its employees. The court validated this agreement and the company will respect the verdict.”

Ladybugs’ Wing-Folding Technique Uncovered! New-Style Umbrellas Could Result

ladybug_takes_flight

A Ladybug takes flight.  (Photo: U. of Tokyo)

Ladybugs are beautifully colored little creatures that, like bumble bees, seem to defy nature in that they fly with bodies far larger than logic, or perceived aerodynamic rules, would enable a living entity to become airborne under its own power.

Odd as that is, scientists have long pondered another mystery about the ladybug, a type of beetle: How they manage to corral fairly substantial wings into extremely tight folds, making them – the wings – virtually invisible when the, um, bugs are at rest.

Mystery solved! Not only have Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo figured out how that’s done, they’ve suggested that the ladybug’s wing-folding system could give rise to a change in the shape of umbrellas, the design of which had essentially remained unchanged for more than 1,000 years.

Sarah Knapston, Science Editor at The Telegraph in London, described the finding recently. In a nutshell, it boils down to the fact that the folding wing lies beneath the colorful one that shields and protects the former.

To arrive at their conclusion, the Japanese scientists replaced the spotted forewing, known as an elytron, with a transparent piece of resin. What they learned could help engineers design foldable solar collectors or even a new type of umbrella.

Kazuya Saito, Assistant Professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science, designs foldable structures—so insect wings are a natural interest. “Compared with other beetles, ladybugs are very good at flying and frequently take off,” he tells Bryson Masse at Gizmodo. “I thought their wing transformation systems are excellent and have large potential for engineering.”

He and his team tried several methods to figure out how the ladybug folded its wing. They took high-speed images of the insect opening and closing its wings, but still couldn’t see the actual folding process under the opaque spotted forewings. They attempted to 3D print an artificial wing, but they couldn’t make one that was transparent enough to see thorough.

As Masse reports, the researchers’ secretary was the one who came up with a solution: clear nail art resin. After crafting the wing out of the resin, the team was able to observe how the insect folded and unfolded its wings.

The creatures use the edge of the elytron and abdominal movements to fold the wing along creased lines. Examination of the wings using a CT scan also revealed that they have springy veins similar to a tape measure that are rigid enough to allow the insects to fly, but elastic enough to fold up.

Saito tells Masse that the wings are unusual because “transformable structures” usually involve moving parts and joints. But the ladybug’s wing lacks those complications, completing a relatively complex task through flexibility and elasticity. The paper appears in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

While the structure of ladybug wings may have applications for things like foldable solar panels for satellites and space ships, Saito seems most excited about its application to something much more domestic. “I believe that beetle wing folding has the potential to change the umbrella design that has been basically unchanged for more than 1000 years,” he tells Knapton. Collapsible umbrellas usually have multiple parts and are easily broken at the joints. But the ladybug umbrella could be made from”seamless flexible frames,” he says, making it indestructible in strong wind and quick to deploy using “stored elastic energy.”

Saito admits that he doesn’t have a design for the umbrella yet, but perhaps it will look something like this.


A Worm Enzyme Might Help Rid World of Some Thrown-Away Plastic

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Henderson Island beach. Photo: Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

It is widely believed that is possible to rid ourselves of plastic items we no longer want by throwing them away. A study of Henderson Island, a 14.4 sq mile (37.3 sq km) spit of land in the Pitcairn Islands, which are far from anywhere else in the far reaches of the South Pacific, has demonstrated with frightening certainty that, as an old saying has it, “there’s no such place as away.”

Virtually every available surface, and too many buried ones to count on Henderson Island, are covered with bits of plastic, much of it from China, significant amounts also from Japan and Chile, according to scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and the Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, in the UK. Some 37 million pieces in all have made Henderson Island one of if not the largest homes globally for parted-with plastic.

The scientists’ report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States, said the plastics debris density on Henderson Island is higher than anywhere else on earth. While its accumulated 37 million pieces of discarded plastic is but a drop in the proverbial bucket of the 5 trillion plastic pieces – some 250,000 tons worth – littering the world. And its presence in this once pristine piece of property makes a mockery of the island’s status as a UNESCO-designated “World Heritage” site, as “one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence.”

That declaration was made as recently as 1988 – a mere 29 years ago.

Not only is the accumulated plastic an eyesore to those rare souls who approach close enough to uninhabitable Henderson to see it, it’s a real risk to wildlife on and near the island. As the plastic drifts closer to Henderson, which sits amidst what’s called the South Pacific’s ocean gyre, an enormous area comprising one of half a dozen major circulating areas for ocean currents, water from vast areas on either side of the Pacific contribute trash as well as water from diverse sources. (That’s why Henderson’s plastic comes from so far afield.) Sea creatures ingest or get tangled in plastic materials, which either kill them quickly or slowly choke the life out of them. Land animals, too, often become victims of plastic materials eaten because they smelled or appeared edible.

These problems are destined to become more widespread unless mankind, collectively, takes steps to reduce the creation and use of plastic materials.

That and finding, in the guts of a certain species of wax worms, the enzyme that enables it to “eat” plastic:That such an enzyme exists stems from findings of a part-time Spanish beekeeper, a day-job researcher who found that the worms, whose caterpillar parents like to munch on beeswax inside his hives, were able to eat their way out a plastic bag he’d put some in.

plastic-eating worm

A hole eaten through a plastic bag by a wax worm. (Photo: Federica Bertocchini, Paolo Bombelli, and Chris Howe

Great scientific answers, and solutions, have been launched from less auspicious starts than that! Who knows? In time a wax worm enzyme could, if replicated on a large enough scale, take a bite out of the world’s plastic waste problem. But don’t hold your breath: That kind of advance isn’t likely to happen with this, or even the next, decade or three.


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Child- and Gang-Rapes Are Running Rampant in India

indian_rape_protest

The family of a five-year-old girl who was raped stage a protest on Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road seeking treatment for her at a private hospital in Gurgaon, India, and fast disposal of the case.

Of all the many and oh-so-varied cultures in the world, India’s seems to be among the least appreciative of the concept enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, that: “All men are created equal.” Women there, only second to the second-class treatment of women in predominantly Moslem countries, far too often are made victims of brutal rapes. Even, even more sadly, when they are but children.

Two recent reports on Newser (and here) paint a horrid picture of the problem: A 10-year-old being raped, made pregnant, then having to struggle to get (as she finally did) permission to get aborted, and another couple of women getting gang raped – one in a moving car (the mind boggles!) – in a culture that, in too many instances, still also accepts revenge killings.

I am not a religious person, and I have trouble getting my mind about how, and why, practitioners of various religions – any of them – faithfully accepting, as they do, what they do.

My wife and I watched a “Law & Order” show recently about a case where a super-religious girl was taken advantage of – raped, in short – by a fellow believer in her ‘faith’ that him having sex with her – “curative sex” – would free her of her desire for another woman. Guess what? The spiritual leader who encouraged his flock to so behave, ended up, as the encourager of illegal actions, in prison. So, of course, did the rapist. And the saddest news what, they both believed they did nothing wrong.

What’s Swimming In The Pool YOU Use?

swimming pool

A little known fact: 19% of American adults have admitted to peeing at least once in a swimming pool. The share of children doing so is undoubtedly much higher than that.

If you’re wondering, ‘and this is important to know for what reason?’ the reason is simple: Though urine is sterile, it contains various chemicals – urea, ammonia, amino acids and creatinine among them – that can react with such pool sterilizers as chlorine to form volatile disinfectant byproducts (DBPs) that can lead to eye and respiratory irritation and even a form of asthma.

How much pee might there be in a pool? A team of scientists at Canada’s University of Alberta (the Division of Analytical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry) found some in 100% of the sizab le sampling of pools and hot tubs they studied last year, with a 110,000 gallon (416, 395 l) pool containing 7.9 gallons (26.5 l) of urine and a 220.000 gallon pool (832,790 l) included close to 20 gallons (75 l) of liquid human waste.

It’s hard to avoid ‘absorbing’ some pool water when you find it streaming down your face when you emerge from beneath it. Even if you don’t swallow, but blow it out, you could be taking in some urine, albeit diluted. But that’s what the pool water samples were in the tests done by the Canadian researchers.

That tinkle of pee you may have absorbed on a single pool visit is hardly like to hurt you. But if you are a regular pool user, this is a fact to keep in mind: That person next to you – yes, that one – just did a bladder dump, and the splasher on the far side of that person is pushing “it”| toward you.

 

Fore! Is That a Golf Ball in My Hash Browns?

mcCain Hash Browwns

Foods get recalled for an assortment of (sometimes odd) reasons – but because they may contain pieces of golf balls? CNN reported Sunday that McCains announced a recall over the weekend of several brands of hash brown potatoes because, as the company put it, “they may contain extraneous golf ball materials” – from balls (or pieces thereof) grabbed along with the spuds during the harvesting process.

It’s not uncommon for farm land to be re-purposed for other uses, but it says something – what, we’re not sure! – when a golf course’s greens are replaced by fields of brown potatoes. If, in fact, that’s what happened in this instance. Or perhaps someone was randomly firing golf balls into a potato field.

A statement on the FDA website says: “McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product. Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth.

The impacted products include the following: Roundy’s Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 001115055019) and Harris Teeter Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 007203649020).

The Roundy’s products were distributed at Marianos, Metro Market, and Pick ‘n Save supermarkets in the states of Illinois and Wisconsin. The Harris Teeter products were distributed in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Maryland. Distribution occurred after the date of January 19, 2017. No other products under the respective brands are impacted by this recall.

The products being recalled were manufactured on January 19, 2017. The production code date is B170119 and can be found on the back of the packaging. Any product with a different production code date is not impacted by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

There have been no reported injuries associated with the consumption of this product.”

14,000-year-old human evidence found in Western British Columbia

ancient site

Photo: Joanne McSporran

A coastal strip of land in British Columbia has been occupied at least 14,000 years – back to the time of the last Ice Age, when warm water influences from the Pacific Ocean kept this area from freezing. A CBC report last month, detailing how a meters-deep excavation turned up evidence dating back at least that far, said the discovery lends credence to oral histories of the area by the Heiltsuk Nation, an aboriginal group there. The ancient site, uncovered last November, shows that people occupied this area long before the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the creation of the Pyramids in Egypt, the Vancouver Sun said.

The Triquet Island settlement, reachable only by air or sea, has produced a hoard of valuable artifacts, including pieces of bent wood, compound fish hooks and assorted stone tools. The site is one of the oldest evidence of human habitation ever found in North America.

William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, told Smithsonian.com that the validation by “Western science and archeology” of his people’s long-time occupation of the area can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.