USAF secretary resigning


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FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2017, file photo, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Officials say Wilson has resigned.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2017, file photo, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Officials say Wilson has resigned. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)


Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is resigning

BY ROBERT BURNS

AP National Security Writer

Friday, March 8

WASHINGTON (AP) — Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, once seen as a candidate to succeed Jim Mattis as defense secretary, said Friday she is resigning to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

A former U.S. House Republican member from New Mexico and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Wilson has headed the Air Force since May 2017, making her President Donald Trump’s first Senate-confirmed service secretary.

She had been an early skeptic of Trump’s interest in creating a Space Force as an independent military department, but she publicly embraced the administration’s proposal to Congress last month that would establish a Space Force as a separate service within the Department of the Air Force.

Trump praised Wilson on Twitter Friday. “A strong thank you to Heather for her service,” he wrote.

Wilson also had been mentioned as a potential successor to Mattis. After Mattis announced his resignation in late December, Trump named the former deputy defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, as acting defense secretary. But Trump has not yet nominated anyone for confirmation by the Senate.

In her resignation letter to Trump, Wilson said the University of Texas Board of Regents announced on Friday that she is the sole finalist to become the university’s next president, effective Sept. 1. “Under Texas law, my name will be public for three weeks before the regents take a final vote on my appointment,” she wrote.

“Upon a favorable vote by the regents, I will resign my position as secretary of the Air Force effective May 31, 2019,” she wrote. “This should allow sufficient time for a smooth transition and ensure advocacy during upcoming congressional hearings.”

She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982 and later earned masters and doctoral degrees as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England. Wilson is the first graduate of the academy to hold to hold the service’s top civilian post. She served in the House from 1998 to 2009. From 1989 to 1991, she served on the National Security Council staff as director for defense policy and arms control for President George H.W. Bush.

By going to the University of Texas at El Paso, Wilson said she was returning to her academic roots. She previously served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Her family home is in New Mexico.

Wilson said she appreciated the opportunity to serve as the Air Force’s top civilian official.

“It has been a privilege to serve alongside our airmen over the past two years, and I am proud of the progress that we have made restoring our nation’s defense,” Wilson said in a statement distributed by the Air Force. “We have improved the readiness of the force; we have cut years out of acquisition schedules and gotten better prices through competition; we have repealed hundreds of superfluous regulations; and we have strengthened our ability to deter and dominate in space.”

Rep. Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican, praised Wilson’s work as Air Force secretary.

“It is not surprising to me that Heather would be sought out by other organizations looking for her strong leadership,” he said. “I wish Heather all the best in her future endeavors. She will be deeply missed. Hopefully, someday we can see Heather Wilson as the first female secretary of defense.”

Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

The Conversation

All Boeing 737 MAX flights grounded – and travelers could feel it in the hip pocket

March 14, 2019

Author: Chrystal Zhang, Senior Lecturer in Aviation, Swinburne University of Technology

Disclosure statement: Chrystal Zhang does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Victoria State Government provides funding as a strategic partner of The Conversation AU. Swinburne University of Technology provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

With investigations under way into two crashes of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the US manufacturer has caved to pressure and grounded the entire global fleet totaling 371 planes. That includes both model 8 and 9 versions of the aircraft.

The company issued a statement saying this occurred:

… out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety.

But the impact on passengers and air travel could last for months as airlines try to reschedule flights and seek other aircraft to meet demands. While things are still evolving, what should you anticipate as a traveler?

Everybody down

US President Donald Trump’s order on Wednesday prompted the Federal Aviation Authority to ground all 737 MAX aircraft flying in and out of the US.

While it is legitimate for a government to issue regulatory orders to intervene in an airline’s operation due to safety or security concerns, it is unprecedented that such a large number of countries are taking action.

At least 45 International Civil Aviation Organisation member states had already either ordered their airlines to ground 737 MAX aircraft, or suspended entry of such planes into enter their airspaces.

Countries affected include China, Indonesia, Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and now the US.

While investigations into the two crashes could last for months or even years before any conclusion is drawn, the length of suspension is also unknown at this stage.

Yet holiday seasons such as Easter and school vacations are approaching, and many of us will no doubt be looking to fly away for a break.

Expect disruption

Airlines face disruption almost every day: airline operation is a complex system. Disruption can be caused by unforeseeable weather conditions, unexpected technical or mechanical issues of an aircraft, or associated safety hazards or security concerns.

Airlines therefore have strategies in place to manage or at least mitigate the effect of the disruption and reduce any potential delays. This could include but is not limited to:

changing or swapping an aircraft type

combining two or three flights into one operation

arranging alternative flights for travellers

moving travellers to other airlines if their tickets have been issued.

With only 371 Boeing 737 MAX family jets in operation, this is a small percentage of the total of more than 6,000 of the previous model and gives airlines the ability to use other jets in their fleet as a replacement.

But the current suspension will present significant challenges for some airlines.

Subject to their fleet size, the scope of their network, and other resources and capacity available, big airlines with multiple types of aircraft in their fleet are more capable of managing such disruption.

For example, Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, American Airlines and Southwest will have more resources to arrange for travellers to fly to their destinations.

In contrast, low-cost or regional carriers will be limited in their capacity to manage the disruption.

For instance, SilkAir and Fiji Airways have six and two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in their respective fleets. Grounding the model means that both carriers will lose 16% of their total capacity.

Fares could go up

While airlines are making every effort to minimise the disruption, all these arrangements come at a cost.

Airlines might have difficulties in sourcing capacity to replace the aircraft, resulting in inevitable delays or cancellations. And delays and cancellations also result in additional cost to airlines operation.

Travellers could soon see an increase in airfares. The rising fuel cost and shortage of pilots have already put global airlines under pressure to manage operational costs.

Impact on Boeing

Boeing and Airbus are a duopoly, said to dominate 99% of the global large aircraft orders, which make up more than 90% of the total aircraft market.

Over the past few decades, Boeing has weathered problems before and maintained an exceptional reputation for its reliable and efficient aircraft design, manufacturing and service.

In 2018 , Boeing received US $60 billion for 806 aircraft deliveries, comparing to Airbus’s US$54 billion for 800 aircraft deliveries.

Of all the aircraft sales, the Boeing 737 MAX series – designed to replace the current 737 family – was becoming one of the most popular airliners, despite being only introduced to the market in May 2017.

But the two recent crashes have raised concerns about reliability of the 737 MAX 8 autopilot system, the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System.

Some pilots have complained about a lack of training for the MAX 8. Others have complained of problems.

The aircraft represents a significant change from its predecessor models, including new engines, new avionics and different aerodynamic characteristics.

Potential risks

The risk for Boeing now is the potential consequences flowing from any investigation into the aircraft crashes. These could include:

complete or partial cancellation of orders placed by global airlines yet to be delivered

litigation by the affected airlines and the victims of the ill-fated aircraft, seeking damages caused by any product defect (if proof of any defect could be established)

new opportunities for its rivals to promote their aircraft; this could allow, for example, China’s state-owned aircraft manufacturer, COMAC, to make new waves in the industry.

Regardless, Boeing could face enormous financial losses and devastating economic consequences.

Boeing’s shares dropped after the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday, but have started to recover.

While Boeing surely carries enough insurance coverage for losses, it is inevitable the damage to its brand is more far-reaching in the medium to long term. This will affect the confidence of aircraft operators and the general public.

Even if any technical defects discovered are quick to fix, a damaged brand tends to require more time and much more significant efforts to recover.

Is it safe?

Of course there is a question everyone wants answered: is it safe to fly?

The answer is definitely. Statistically speaking, flying on a commercial passenger airliner is the safest mode of transportation.

A recent study of US census data puts the odds of dying as a plane passenger at 1 in 188,364. That compares with odds of 1 in 4,047 for a cyclist, 1 in 1,117 for drowning and 1 in 103 for a car crash.

Globally, 2017 was the safest year in aviation history with no passenger jet crashes recorded.

The most advanced technology used in aircraft design and manufacturing, and in air traffic control management, and the comprehensive, efficient pilot training and management are aimed at a safe flight.

So the decision of Boeing to suspend flights of its 737 MAX aircraft is welcomed, for now. But, pending the findings of the investigations, the questions as to how long the suspension will be in effect and how Boeing will address the issue remain unanswered.

OtherWords

Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs

Too often we get sticker shock at the cost of public policies, even when they’d actually save us money.

By Jill Richardson | March 20, 2019

I think we, as a nation, have a problem with how we discuss money and public policy. Let me compare it to household finances, since that is something everyone can relate to.

Imagine you have $100. You have choices on how to spend it. You could save it or invest it. You can buy something now that will save you money (or earn you money) later. You could buy something you need.

Or you could spend it on something entirely wasteful and frivolous. Like, an Xbox for your goldfish. That’s definitely a waste of money.

The prudent options here are obvious — save it, invest it, or spend it wisely on something you need. For example, I bought a coffee maker. I used to buy coffee out each day. The coffee maker cost money, but it allows me to save hundreds of dollars a year on my coffee habit.

Right now I’m working on my PhD. I pay tuition and school fees, plus I’m spending at least six years of my life in poverty as a poorly paid graduate student. Is that a waste of money? No. Right now, it’s not a profitable decision. In the long run, however, my degree will (hopefully) allow me to earn more money in my career.

When you can afford it, making decisions that allow you to save money or earn more down the road, even when the payoff doesn’t occur until years later, is a wise choice.

When we talk about public spending and the national budget, we all understand the general idea that we should spend our tax dollars on useful things that will benefit all of us. We shouldn’t pay wasteful, inflated prices for what we can get for less. And we certainly shouldn’t spend money on things we don’t need at all.

Where we really miss the boat is on the decisions we can make now to save or earn money later. And we often miss some of the larger implications of our choices.

What happens when we spend now to improve education and health care? Eventually, we save more and earn more through a healthier and better educated population.

If we get better coverage with universal health care for less than we spend on our privatized system, isn’t that a good investment — even if it costs money upfront? If the next generation of workers earns a better living because we invested in their education today, wasn’t that smart spending?

Money spent isn’t always just money down the drain. When you buy groceries and eat them, they’re gone. Does that mean you might as well live on ramen alone, since it’s cheap?

Of course not, because what you eat affects your long term health. Maybe that salad costs a bit more than ramen noodles now, but it will be a net gain in terms of health later. That means increased quality of life and economic productivity and decreased health expenses later.

The same is true when we discuss immigration and jobs.

Yes, immigrants who come here take jobs (though the question of whether “they” take “our” jobs is a lot more complicated, and requires a lot of unpacking besides). Regardless, they also create jobs. Immigrants are consumers, just like everyone else. When they consume housing, cars, furniture, clothes, and groceries, they contribute to the economy, and that creates new jobs.

When we discuss policy, we must remember that the first and most immediate result of a policy is not its only result. Often there is an initial cost but long term benefit for the American people. If there is long term gain to be had for our nation, then spending now is worthwhile.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

The Conversation

New evidence for a human magnetic sense that lets your brain detect the Earth’s magnetic field

March 18, 2019

Authors: Shinsuke Shimojo, Gertrude Baltimore Professor of Experimental Psychology, California Institute of Technology

Daw-An Wu, California Institute of Technology

Joseph Kirschvink, Nico and Marilyn Van Wingen Professor of Geobiology, California Institute of Technology

Disclosure statement: Shinsuke Shimojo received funding from Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP), Japanese Science and Technology Agency (JST), and currently receives funding from DARPA. Daw-An Wu receives funding from DARPA. Joseph Kirschvink receives funding from the RadioBio program of DARPA, and previous support for this work was from the Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP).

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Scientists have tried to investigate whether humans belong on the list of magnetically sensitive organisms. For decades, there’s been a back-and-forth between positive reports and failures to demonstrate the trait in people, with seemingly endless controversy.

The mixed results in people may be due to the fact that virtually all past studies relied on behavioral decisions from the participants. If human beings do possess a magnetic sense, daily experience suggests that it would be very weak or deeply subconscious. Such faint impressions could easily be misinterpreted – or just plain missed – when trying to make decisions.

So our research group – including a geophysical biologist, a cognitive neuroscientist and a neuroengineer – took another approach. What we found arguably provides the first concrete neuroscientific evidence that humans do have a geomagnetic sense.

How does a biological geomagnetic sense work?

The Earth is surrounded by a magnetic field, generated by the movement of the planet’s liquid core. It’s why a magnetic compass points north. At Earth’s surface, this magnetic field is fairly weak, about 100 times weaker than that of a refrigerator magnet.

Over the past 50 years or so, scientists have shown that hundreds of organisms in nearly all branches of the bacterial, protist and animal kingdoms have the ability to detect and respond to this geomagnetic field. In some animals – such as honey bees – the geomagnetic behavioral responses are as strong as the responses to light, odor or touch. Biologists have identified strong responses in vertebrates ranging from fish, amphibians, reptiles, numerous birds and a diverse variety of mammals including whales, rodents, bats, cows and dogs – the last of which can be trained to find a hidden bar magnet. In all of these cases, the animals are using the geomagnetic field as components of their homing and navigation abilities, along with other cues like sight, smell and hearing.

Skeptics dismissed early reports of these responses, largely because there didn’t seem to be a biophysical mechanism that could translate the Earth’s weak geomagnetic field into strong neural signals. This view was dramatically changed by the discovery that living cells have the ability to build nanocrystals of the ferromagnetic mineral magnetite – basically, tiny iron magnets. Biogenic crystals of magnetite were first seen in the teeth of one group of mollusks, later in bacteria, and then in a variety of other organisms ranging from protists and animals such as insects, fish and mammals, including within tissues of the human brain.

Nevertheless, scientists haven’t considered humans to be magnetically sensitive organisms.

Manipulating the magnetic field

In our new study, we asked 34 participants simply to sit in our testing chamber while we directly recorded electrical activity in their brains with electroencephalography (EEG). Our modified Faraday cage included a set of 3-axis coils that let us create controlled magnetic fields of high uniformity via electric current we ran through its wires. Since we live in mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, the environmental magnetic field in our lab dips downwards to the north at about 60 degrees from horizontal.

In normal life, when someone rotates their head – say, nodding up and down or turning the head from left to right – the direction of the geomagnetic field (which remains constant in space) will shift relative to their skull. This is no surprise to the subject’s brain, as it directed the muscles to move the head in the appropriate fashion in the first place.

In our experimental chamber, we can move the magnetic field silently relative to the brain, but without the brain having initiated any signal to move the head. This is comparable to situations when your head or trunk is passively rotated by somebody else, or when you’re a passenger in a vehicle which rotates. In those cases, though, your body will still register vestibular signals about its position in space, along with the magnetic field changes – in contrast, our experimental stimulation was only a magnetic field shift. When we shifted the magnetic field in the chamber, our participants did not experience any obvious feelings.

The EEG data, on the other hand, revealed that certain magnetic field rotations could trigger strong and reproducible brain responses. One EEG pattern known from existing research, called alpha-ERD (event-related desynchronization), typically shows up when a person suddenly detects and processes a sensory stimulus. The brains were “concerned” with the unexpected change in the magnetic field direction, and this triggered the alpha-wave reduction. That we saw such alpha-ERD patterns in response to simple magnetic rotations is powerful evidence for human magnetoreception.

Video shows the dramatic, widespread drop in alpha wave amplitude (deep blue color on leftmost head) following counterclockwise rotations. No drop is observed after clockwise rotation or in the fixed condition. Connie Wang, Caltech

Our participants’ brains only responded when the vertical component of the field was pointing downwards at about 60 degrees (while horizontally rotating), as it does naturally here in Pasadena, California. They did not respond to unnatural directions of the magnetic field – such as when it pointed upwards. We suggest the response is tuned to natural stimuli, reflecting a biological mechanism that has been shaped by natural selection.

Other researchers have shown that animals’ brains filter magnetic signals, only responding to those that are environmentally relevant. It makes sense to reject any magnetic signal that is too far away from the natural values because it most likely is from a magnetic anomaly – a lighting strike, or lodestone deposit in the ground, for example. One early report on birds showed that robins stop using the geomagnetic field if the strength is more than about 25 percent different from what they were used to. It’s possible this tendency might be why previous researchers had trouble identifying this magnetic sense – if they cranked up the strength of the magnetic field to “help” subjects detect it, they might have instead ensured that subjects’ brains ignored it.

Moreover, our series of experiments show that the receptor mechanism – the biological magnetometer in human beings – is not electrical induction, and can tell north from south. This latter feature rules out completely the so-called “quantum compass” or “cryptochrome” mechanism which is popular these days in the animal literature on magnetoreception. Our results are consistent only with functional magnetoreceptor cells based on the biological magnetite hypothesis. Note that a magnetite-based system can also explain all of the behavioral effects in birds that promoted the rise of the quantum compass hypothesis.

Brains register magnetic shifts, subconsciously

Our participants were all unaware of the magnetic field shifts and their brain responses. They felt that nothing had happened during the whole experiment – they’d just sat alone in dark silence for an hour. Underneath, though, their brains revealed a wide range of differences. Some brains showed almost no reaction, while other brains had alpha waves that shrank to half their normal size after a magnetic field shift.

It remains to be seen what these hidden reactions might mean for human behavioral capabilities. Do the weak and strong brain responses reflect some kind of individual differences in navigational ability? Can those with weaker brain responses benefit from some kind of training? Can those with strong brain responses be trained to actually feel the magnetic field?

A human response to Earth-strength magnetic fields might seem surprising. But given the evidence for magnetic sensation in our animal ancestors, it might be more surprising if humans had completely lost every last piece of the system. Thus far, we’ve found evidence that people have working magnetic sensors sending signals to the brain – a previously unknown sensory ability in the subconscious human mind. The full extent of our magnetic inheritance remains to be discovered.

FILE – In this Dec. 6, 2017, file photo, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Officials say Wilson has resigned. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122475925-d89501d70b48416b97d073c49a6db915.jpgFILE – In this Dec. 6, 2017, file photo, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson is testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Officials say Wilson has resigned. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
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