Science & Health
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Mistrust Remains Two Years After Poisoned Water Crisis

Two years after a state of emergency was declared in Flint, Michigan because of lead-poisoned water, residents have been assured their water is now safe. But residents are wary even though these assurances come from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. VOA’s Anush Avetisyan visited Flint and spoke to residents who face a battle for clean water every day.

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Arts & Entertainment
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Library of Congress Will No Longer Collect Every Tweet Created

The U.S. Library of Congress says it will no longer collect every single tweet published on Twitter as it has been doing for the past 12 years. 

The library said this week that it can no longer collect everything across the entire social media platform because of recent changes Twitter has made, including allowing longer tweets, photos and videos. 

It said in a blog post this week that its first objective with collecting and archiving tweets was “to document the emergence of online social media for future generations.” The library says it has fulfilled that objective and no longer needs to be a “comprehensive” collector of tweets. 

The Library of Congress said it will still collect and archive tweets in the future, but will do so on a more selective basis. It said going forward “the tweets collected and archived will be thematic and event-based, including events such as elections, or themes of ongoing national interest, e.g. public policy.”

The library said it generally does not collect media comprehensively, but said it made an exception for public tweets when the social media platform was first developed. 

The library said it will keep its previous archive of tweets from 2006-2017 to help people understand the rise of social media and to offer insight into the public mood during that time. “Throughout its history, the Library has seized opportunities to collect snapshots of unique moments in human history and preserve them for future generations,” it said.

“The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation’s most significant legacies to future generations. Future generations will learn much about this rich period in our history, the information flows, and social and political forces that help define the current generation,” it said.

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Silicon Valley & Technology
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Using Simple Electric Currents to Clean Dirty Water

The World Health Organization estimates more than 800,000 people around the world die every year because of unsafe drinking water. But researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have figured out a simple and inexpensive way to clean the world’s dirtiest water. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Economy & business
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Disasters Pounded North America in 2017 but Were Down Globally

North America couldn’t catch a break in 2017. Parts of the United States were on fire, underwater or lashed by hurricane winds. Mexico shook with back-to-back earthquakes. The Caribbean got hit with a string of hurricanes.

The rest of the world, however, fared better. Preliminary research shows there were fewer disasters and deaths this year than on average, but economic damages were much higher.

While overall disasters were down, they smacked big cities, which were more vulnerable because of increased development, said economist and geophysicist Chuck Watson of the consulting firm Enki Research.

In a year where U.S. and Caribbean hurricanes caused a record $215 billion worth of damage, according to insurance giant Munich Re, no one in the continental U.S. died from storm surge, which traditionally is the No. 1 killer during hurricanes. Forecasters gave residents plenty of advance warning during a season where storms set records for strength and duration.

“It’s certainly one of the worst hurricane seasons we’ve had,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said.

The globe typically averages about 325 disasters a year, but this year’s total through November was fewer than 250, according to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain in Belgium. They included flooding and monsoons in South Asia, landslides in Africa, a hurricane in Ireland, and cyclones in Australia and Central America. Colombia experienced two different bouts of floods and mudslides.

Lower tolls

Disasters kill about 30,000 people and affect about 215 million people a year. This year’s estimated toll was lower — about 6,000 people killed and 75 million affected.

Was it a statistical quirk or the result of better preparedness? Experts aren’t certain, but say perhaps it’s a little bit of each.

“This has been a particularly quiet year,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir, who heads the disaster research center. “The thing is not to be … complacent about this.”

But quiet depends on where you live.

The U.S. had gone more than a decade without a Category 3 storm or larger making landfall on the mainland. The last few Septembers — normally peak hurricane month — had been particularly quiet, but this year, Harvey, Irma, Jose and later Maria popped up and grew to super strength in no time, said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

“September was just bonkers. It was just one after the other. You couldn’t catch a break,” he said.

There were six major Atlantic hurricanes this year; the average is 2.7. A pair of recent studies found fingerprints of man-made global warming were all over the torrential rains from Harvey that flooded Houston.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina estimated that economic damage from this year’s disasters, adjusted for inflation, were more than 40 percent higher than normal, mostly because of Harvey, Irma and Maria. By many private measures, Harvey overtook Katrina as the costliest U.S. hurricane, but the weather service hasn’t finished its calculations yet.

Much of the hurricane-related damage and deaths in the Caribbean — from storm surge and other causes — is still unknown. The National Hurricane Center hasn’t finished tallying its data.

Uccellini of the weather service said warmer than normal waters and unusual steering currents made the hurricanes especially damaging, combined with booming development in disaster-prone areas. 

“We are building in the wrong places. We are building in areas that are increasing in risks,” said Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

​Devastating wildfires

Wildfires blazed nearly year-round in the U.S., fanned by relentless winds and parched conditions. About 9.8 million acres of land have burned, mostly in the West, nearly 50 percent more than the average in the past decade. A wildfire that ignited in early December in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties northwest of Los Angeles grew to be the largest in California history.

Scientists connect drier weather after heavy rains — leading to buildup of fuel that can catch fire and burn easily — to a combination of man-made warming and a natural La Nina, the climate phenomenon that’s the flip side of El Nino, said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb.

Worldwide, drought affected significantly less land and fewer people this year, and heat waves were less severe compared with those in the past.

Landslides were more frequent and deadlier this year, mostly because of the Sierra Leone landslide that killed 915 people, Guha-Sapir said.

Earthquakes worldwide were dramatically down. As of mid-December, there had been only seven earthquakes of magnitude 7 or larger compared with about 15 in a normal year. Two powerful quakes struck Mexico in September, including one that hit on the anniversary of the devastating 1985 Mexico City quake.

The back-to-back Mexico quakes were unrelated, said geophysicist Ross Stein of Temblor Inc., a company that provides information about seismic risk. 

“We have to remember that coincidences really do happen,” he said. 

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Arts & Entertainment
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Annual NYC Taxi Driver Calendar Is Out: Meet Mr. December!

Readying for his first television interview, Alex Wang gazes at his reflection in the back window of his yellow cab. Wiping his windswept mane behind the ear, he adjusts his red Shanghai Tang jacket and takes a swig of steaming tea.

“Ahh,” he pauses emphatically, “warms your whole body.”

Wang opens the front door and reaches deep inside, revealing a glossy 2018 calendar. On the cover is a shirtless male model, sprawled on his belly atop a yellow taxicab trunk, licking a spiral rainbow-colored lollipop the size of his face.

“It’s me!” he laughs, self-deprecatingly, pointing to his photo. “So ugly, you are!”

The 68-year-old Wang, an 18-year taxicab veteran, self-proclaimed “karaoke king” and “bit of a comedian” from China, flips through the months, each featuring a New York taxi driver. Most are foreign-born, representing seven different countries, and many are middle-aged, reflecting the key demographics of the city’s yellow cab fleet: 96 percent immigrant, median age 46.

 

WATCH: Is It Hot in Here, or Is It New York’s 2018 Taxicab Models?

 

The NYC Taxi Drivers Calendar’s co-creators, Philip and Shannon Kirkman, came up with the idea five years ago as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the famous chisel-chested firefighter pin-up — a steamy parody with the dual-function of celebrating the city’s diversity, while also giving back.

To date, the couple has donated more than $60,000 worth of proceeds to University Settlement, a nonprofit that serves immigrant and low-income families with education, housing, and health services.

​Turning taxi drivers into models

Shannon, the calendar’s photographer, describes the end product’s humor as uniting.

“Particularly when the news is tough, it’s something that you can kind of take a step back, and relax and celebrate with,” Shannon said. “We laugh a lot during the shoots.”

Philip, the calendar’s creative director, explains that the process of turning a taxi driver into a model, during a two-hour shoot, can prove challenging.

“I always think about how courageous it is for these drivers, because it is an open set,” Philip said. “We literally park the cab in front of a fire hydrant in most cases, and there’s people walking by and looking and taking pictures.”

Among the fearless models are pucker-lipped Dan — who sports a bow-tie, cuffs, and not much else before a vintage late 60s-era checker taxicab — and Hassan, who seductively watches you as he eats a messy slice of birthday cake decorated with his own smiling portrait.

Of the year’s 12 participants, only one is a woman, indicative of a male-dominated industry in which 99 percent of New York City yellow cab drivers are men.

Bangladeshi-native Nipa, featured in both the inside cover and October, is the third woman ever to be included in the calendar. Her depiction as a strongwoman was intentional.

“It’s been a tough year for women,” Shannon said. “We felt like we really wanted to put Nipa in a position of power, in a position of strength.”

​‘A little’ fame

Come winter, cover model Wang can be seen enthusiastically squirting a bottle of baby oil across the hood of his vehicle, in his official December photo.

Wang, who started his life in the U.S. as a restaurant deliveryman 37 years ago, says being a taxi driver has been the most rewarding job and career for him.

“Every [time a] passenger comes in … I practice my English,” Wang says. “I see lots of beautiful places, lots of landmarks of New York.”

Everywhere he drives, Wang proudly displays his roots, but there is no place he would rather call home. And now that he has found “a little” fame, he plans to make sure everyone knows about it.

“I will show all the passengers,” he says. “I was in a taxi calendar, and [I was] the cover man. Alex Wang!”

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Arts & Entertainment
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Is It Hot in Here, or Is It New York’s 2018 Taxicab Models?

The New York City Taxi Drivers Calendar began as a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the famous chisel-chested firefighter pin-up, while benefiting a nonprofit that serves immigrant and low-income families. Now in its fifth year, the creators of the parody calendar are out with their 2018 edition, and it may be their sauciest one yet. Ramon Taylor reports.

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Arts & Entertainment
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Beatles’ Ringo Starr Knighted in UK Honors List

Ex-Beatles drummer Ringo Starr has been knighted in Queen Elizabeth’s New Year’s honors list, along with Bee Gees singer Barry Gibb and author Michael Morpurgo, while ballet dancer Darcey Bussell becomes a dame.

Ringo, 77, real name Richard Starkey, joined the Beatles as a replacement drummer for Pete Best in 1962 and occasionally sang lead vocals, notably in “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help from my Friends.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Beatle in 1988 and again in 2015 for his solo career after the group split up.

Gibb, 71, is the British musician who co-founded the Bee Gees with his brothers Robin and Maurice, and went on to record a string of pop classics including “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” from the film Saturday Night Fever.

English author Morpurgo, 74, is best known for children’s novels like War Horse and was Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005.

Bussell, 48, is a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and currently one of the four judges in the long-running BBC TV ballroom contest Strictly Come Dancing.

The New Year’s honors have been awarded since Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century and aim to recognize not just well-known figures but those who have contributed to national life through often selfless and unsung contributions over many years.

In that category, Margaret Jamieson, of the Blue Door charity shop on the Scottish island of Orkney, is recognized, along with Geoffrey Evans, a local councilor in Falmouth, Cornwall, for over 40 years.

Actor Hugh Laurie receives the CBE medal, as does author Jilly Cooper and the former editor of British Vogue magazine Alexandra Shulman.

England women’s cricket captain Heather Knight is made an OBE while hip hop artist Richard Cowie, aka Wiley, is made an MBE, along with Paralympian athlete Stefanie Reid.

The biannual honors list is released on the Queen’s official birthday in June and at the end of each year.

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