An AirAsia plane that disappeared off the coast of Borneo probably crashed and sank to the bottom of the ocean, Indonesia’s top rescue official said after reviewing radar data. Bound for Singapore, Flight QZ8501 was carrying 162 passengers and cruising over the Java Sea in severe weather when it lost contact with Jakarta ground control early Sunday, less than an hour after setting off from Indonesia’s Surabaya airport. The airliner’s disappearance brought back a familiar sense of dread nine months after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Thousands paid their respects to slain NYPD Officer Rafael Ramos at his funeral on Saturday. The city commissioner called him a “hero,” and both Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu — who were killed on December 20 — were promoted posthumously. Vice President Joe Biden referred to the NYPD as the “the finest police department in the world,” noting how an “assassin’s bullet” had impacted a country. But when Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke, many cops lining the streets outside turned their backs, expressing frustration with police reforms.
Crews on helicopters and ships are working furiously to save passengers aboard the Norman Atlantic off Corfu, Greece. The Italian car ferry with 478 people aboard was bound for Ancona, Italy, when it caught fire early today. One person has died and four injured. Passengers phoned loved ones and the media with horrific testimony about a fire below deck. One complained of shoes melting underneath them. At least 190 people are safe, but gale-force winds and choppy waters are hampering the international effort.
Can we stop talking about it now? The publicity storm that surrounded the release of Sony’s North Korean comedy reached a fever pitch on Christmas Day, when the movie launched online and in several hundred theaters, defying the hackers’ violent threats. U.S. viewers offered mixed reactions to the dude comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un. Though some reported a laugh-out-loud declaration of freedom, others slammed it as a “turkey” — and not the delicious Christmas kind.
2014 is winding down and it’s time to shake it off. Taylor Swift will hit Times Square for the traditional New Year’s Rockin’ Eve party — that’s the one where the ball drops. David Hasselhoff will headline the festivities in Berlin, a prime New Year’s destination for partiers that often draws up to a million people to its giant gathering at the Brandenburg Gate. Of course, you could just stay at home and enjoy an old-school football fest, starting with the 101st Rose Bowl.
There were good tidings and bad. Pope Francis marked Christmas with a phone call to Iraqi refugees fleeing Islamic militants, while the U.S. enjoyed an end-of-year boost to its economy. The Dow Jones reached a record closing high above 18,000 as the U.S. continues to regain its economic confidence. But reports that holiday retail sales were a little patchy in places dampened the Christmas cheer, as consumers indulged in some holiday frugality.
Great for skiing, poor for driving. Snow and icy conditions stranded thousands of motorists — many en route to their favorite ski destinations — in the French Alps this weekend. One man died, and officials believe the dangerous conditions will persist through today. Wind and snow wreaked havoc elsewhere too, closing the port of Calais and causing a 16-mile traffic jam near Stuttgart, Germany. Parisians, meanwhile, braced for the freezing temps expected to hit the City of Light in coming days.
The global energy market is in flux, and political chaos is close behind. The U.S. may be one of the few winners in the recent game of energy-chicken, which has driven oil prices down by almost 50 percent. While Saudi Arabia digs in its heels over oil supplies, other oil producers are in crisis. The Russian economy is on the brink of collapse, and Iran is losing $1 billion each month, which may give the U.S. the upper hand in future negotiations.
Malaysia promises special flood funding. (BBC)
Poroshenko greets released soldiers in Ukraine. (DW)
Top Al-Shabab commander captured in Somalia. (CNN)
Christie’s popularity at home drops as he campaigns. (NYT)
Russian bank bailout hurts ruble’s rally. (FT) sub
North Korea lashes out at U.S. (USA Today)
In 1981, when Dr. Jerome Groopman first encountered what would come to be called AIDS, it seemed out of control and was killing fast. Just over 30 years later, that same disease has been transformed from a death sentence to a chronic illness, and patients are routinely living into their 80s with proper treatment. Scientists are always cautious about predicting a cure for any major disease, but research is progressing and Groopman says there’s plenty of reason to hope.
Could this be the hipster delicacy of 2015? Neglected in recent decades, squirrel meat is gamy, flavorful, ethical and, until the 1970s, it was featured in The Joy of Cooking . Squirrel is already the most popular small game for hunters, but for some reason almost all that meat is going to waste. Be warned, though: These creatures are quick and wily, so if you’ve got a taste for rack of squirrel, it’s time to befriend a crack-shot hunter.
Germans are especially sensitive to right-wing hate speech, and a disturbing trend of anti-Muslim sentiment has rattled many. The movement is spearheaded by the group PEGIDA, which has staged multiple protests intended to protect Western culture from Islamic infringement (in the form of Muslim immigrants). Germany has a reputation for tolerance and PEGIDA’s protests only bring out a few hundred supporters each time, but in a recent poll, 34 percent agreed that Germany is being Islamicized.
Javier Goyeneche hears “giant trash island in the Pacific Ocean” and thinks “fashion.” The Spanish entrepreneur has developed a sustainable clothing line, ECOALF, which uses recycled materials for 80 to 100 percent of its product line, and has found support from Barneys, Apple and Gwyneth Paltrow. The challenge he faces is combining the company’s ethos of sustainability with a price tag that draws in the ordinary shopper. To do that, ECOALF has partnered with fishermen, who source their raw materials — old fishing nets and trash.
How can a snake eat a crocodile? Who are the Yazidis? Will your next flight cross a war zone? The BBC is offering answers to tricky questions raised by 2014 events. For example, frostquakes happen when expanding underground ice cracks soil; the (simplified) translation of Boko Haram is “Western education is a sin”; you can survive quite a long time in a life raft if you have drinking water; and Jesus’ first language was probably Aramaic, though he would also have used scholarly Hebrew.