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The heat stays on: Earth hits 6th warmest year on record

Earth simmered to the sixth hottest year on record in 2021, according to several newly released temperature measurements.

And scientists say the exceptionally hot year is part of a long-term warming trend that shows hints of accelerating.

Two U.S. science agencies — NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and a private measuring group released their calculations for last year’s global temperature on Thursday, and all said it wasn’t far behind ultra-hot 2016 and 2020.

Six different calculations found 2021 was between the fifth and seventh hottest year since the late 1800s. NASA said 2021 tied with 2018 for sixth warmest, while NOAA puts last year in sixth place by itself.

Scientists say a La Nina — natural cooling of parts of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns globally and brings chilly deep ocean water to the surface — dampened global temperatures just as its flip side, El Nino, boosted them in 2016.

N. Korea fires fresh missiles in response to US sanctions

North Korea on Friday fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles in its third weapons launch this month, officials in South Korea said, in an apparent reprisal for fresh sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for its continuing test launches.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were fired 11 minutes apart from an inland area in western North Pyongan province, where North Korea is known to operate key missile bases and has frequently conducted test launches in recent years.

The missiles flew 430 kilometers (267 miles) cross-country on a maximum altitude of 36 kilometers (22 miles) before landing in the sea, the military said.

Japan’s coast guard urged vessels to pay attention to falling objects, but Chief Cabinet Secetary Hirokazu Matsuno said there were no reports of damage to vessels or aircraft.

Hours earlier, North Korea issued a statement berating the Biden administration for imposing fresh sanctions over its previous missile tests and warned of stronger and more explicit action if Washington maintains its “confrontational stance.”

Goodbye ‘godsend’: Expiration of child tax credits hits home

For the first time in half a year, families on Friday are going without a monthly deposit from the child tax credit — a program that was intended to be part of President Joe Biden’s legacy but has emerged instead as a flash point over who is worthy of government support.

Retiree Andy Roberts, from St. Albans, West Virginia, relied on the checks to help raise his two young grandchildren, whom he and his wife adopted because the birth parents are recovering from drug addiction.

The Roberts are now out $550 a month. That money helped pay for Girl Scouts, ballet and acting lessons and kids’ shoes, which Roberts noted are more expensive than adult shoes. The tax credit, he said, was a “godsend.”

“It’ll make you tighten up your belt, if you’ve got anything to tighten,” Roberts said about losing the payments.

The monthly tax credits were part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package — and the president had proposed extending them for another full year as part of a separate measure focused on economic and social programs.

Afghan tradition allows girls to access the freedom of boys

In a Kabul neighborhood, a gaggle of boys kick a yellow ball around a dusty playground, their boisterous cries echoing off the surrounding apartment buildings.

Dressed in sweaters and jeans or the traditional Afghan male clothing of baggy pants and long shirt, none stand out as they jostle to score a goal. But unbeknown to them, one is different from the others.

At not quite 8 years old, Sanam is a bacha posh: a girl living as a boy. One day a few months ago, the girl with rosy cheeks and an impish smile had her dark hair cut short, donned boys’ clothes and took on a boy’s name, Omid. The move opened up a boy’s world: playing soccer and cricket with boys, wrestling with the neighborhood butcher’s son, working to help the family make ends meet.

In Afghanistan’s heavily patriarchal, male-dominated society, where women and girls are usually relegated to the home, bacha posh, Dari for “dressed as a boy,” is the one tradition allowing girls access to the freer male world.

Under the practice, a girl dresses, behaves and is treated as a boy, with all the freedoms and obligations that entails. The child can play sports, attend a madrassa, or religious school, and, sometimes crucially for the family, work. But there is a time limit: Once a bacha posh reaches puberty, she is expected to revert to traditional girls’ gender roles. The transition is not always easy.

Elephants dying from eating plastic waste in Sri Lankan dump

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Conservationists and veterinarians are warning that plastic waste in an open landfill in eastern Sri Lanka is killing elephants in the region, after two more were found dead over the weekend.

Around 20 elephants have died over the last eight years after consuming plastic trash in the dump in Pallakkadu village in Ampara district, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of the capital, Colombo.

Examinations of the dead animals showed they had swallowed large amounts of nondegradable plastic that is found in the garbage dump, wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumara said.

“Polythene, food wrappers, plastic, other non-digestibles and water were the only things we could see in the post mortems. The normal food that elephants eat and digest was not evident,” he said.

Elephants are revered in Sri Lanka but are also endangered. Their numbers have dwindled from about 14,000 in the 19th century to 6,000 in 2011, according to the country’s first elephant census.

Masks rules get tighter in Europe in winter’s COVID-19 wave

To mask or not to mask is a question Italy settled early in the COVID-19 outbreak with a vigorous “yes.” Now the onetime epicenter of the pandemic in Europe hopes even stricter mask rules will help it beat the latest infection surge.

Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible — yet, apparently, less virulent — omicron variant spreads through the continent.

With intensive care units in Italy’s hospitals rapidly filling with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks — which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks — must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.

That’s even though all passengers in Italy, as of this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s also must now be worn at theaters, cinemas and sports events, indoors or out, and can’t be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.

Ex-Johnson aide says sorry for party on eve of royal funeral

Boris Johnson’s former communications chief apologized “unreservedly” on Friday for a lockdown-breaching party in Downing Street last year — the latest in a string of rule-breaking social events that are threatening to topple the British prime minister.

James Slack said his April 2021 job-leaving party “should not have happened at the time that it did.”

“I wish to apologize unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused,” Slack said in a statement.

“I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility,” added Slack, who left the government last year and is now deputy editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper The Sun.

Johnson is not alleged to have attended the leaving party, disclosed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Earlier this week he apologized for going to another gathering in the garden of Downing Street, his office and home, in May 2020, when the U.K. was under strict lockdown.

Djokovic ruling fits with Australia’s tough immigration line

To people watching from afar, the treatment of tennis star Novak Djokovic by Australian immigration officials might have seemed harsh.

But Australia has long taken a severe stance on immigration, from the early days of its “White Australia” policy to its more recent practice of warehousing refugees in offshore detention camps. Many of its policies have been condemned by critics.

Djokovic, who is unvaccinated against the coronavirus, faces deportation from Australia after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday revoked his visa for the second time, citing health and “good order” considerations.

He isn’t the first celebrity to face tough treatment.

British far-right commentator Katie Hopkins was deported from Australia last year after breaking quarantine rules. Back in 2007, American rapper Snoop Dogg was refused entry due to previous criminal convictions.

— The Associated Press

-- The Associated Press


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