TIME Aviation

Balloonists Break World Record with Pacific Ocean Crossing

A hot-air balloon of the U.S. balloonist Troy Bradley and Russian Leonid Tiukhtyaev soars in Saga, Japan, on Jan. 25, 2015 The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

The U.S.-Russian duo are set to land in Mexico on Saturday after taking off from Japan a week ago

When Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev land in Mexico on Saturday in their large helium balloon Two Eagles, they will have broken at least one and possibly two world records.

After setting out from Japan on Sunday and flying across the Pacific, the duo are on course to set new records for longest distance flown as well as longest duration in a helium balloon, the BBC reports.

Bradley and Tiukhtyaev needed to surpass a 1981 distance record of 5,208 miles by 1% (which put their target at 5,260 miles) in order to lay claim to the first record, which they did on Thursday according to a tweet from the team’s account. The record for longest duration, set in 1971, is 137 hours, five minutes and 50 seconds.

The American-Russian pair had originally planned to land in the U.S. or Canada, but bad weather forced them to change course.

[BBC]

TIME Infectious Disease

The Disneyland Measles Outbreak Likely Came From Overseas

Mickey Mouse
This Jan. 22, 2015, file photo shows Mickey Mouse performing during a parade at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Jae C. Hong—AP

Health professionals say the outbreak highlights the need for childhood vaccinations

An outbreak of measles that began in California’s Disneyland is likely to have come from overseas, health officials said Thursday.

The highly infectious disease was probably carried into the U.S. by a foreign tourist or an American returning home, NBC News reports.

Ninety-four people have now been infected with measles across eight states; 67 of those cases are linked to the Disneyland park.

“We don’t know exactly how this outbreak started but we do think it was likely a person infected with measles overseas,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schuchat says the reason for the outbreak is because people are failing to get vaccinated.

[NBC]

TIME New York

Pot Arrests Plunge in NYC After Policy Change

The policy is working

(NEW YORK) — New York City’s pledge to stop making many marijuana arrests is playing out on the streets, where arrests and summonses for small-time pot possession have plummeted since the policy change this fall.

After a mid-November turn toward violations and summonses instead of misdemeanor arrests for carrying modest amounts of pot, such arrests plunged by 75 percent in December compared to last year, from about 1,820 to 460, according to state Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics obtained by The Associated Press. The November numbers fell 42 percent, from 2,200 to 1,280.

Even summonses have fallen by about 10 percent since the policy change, to 1,180, compared to the same period a year ago, New York Police Department figures show.

“Since the inception of our policy in 2014, marijuana enforcement activity is trending down in all categories” for the bottom-rung marijuana charge, Deputy Chief Kim Royster told the AP.

Critics who decried the once-spiking arrests see the decline as promising. But they say it’s too early to draw lasting conclusions, especially since low-level arrests and summonses of all kinds plummeted for a few weeks after the deadly shootings of two officers Dec. 20.

“Clearly, progress is being made,” but it needs to continue and deepen, said Gabriel Sayegh, the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York state director.

The plunge in arrests caps dramatic shifts in recent years in how the nation’s biggest city polices small amounts of pot.

Arrests for the lowest-level marijuana charge — possession of less than 25 grams, about a sandwich bag full — shot up from about 5,700 in 1995 to 50,700 in 2011, spurring criticism of police tactics and priorities. Then the arrests started declining notably amid public pressure and some police instruction and procedural changes, hitting about 29,000 in 2013.

They were keeping pace this year until November, when de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced the new direction. With the sharp fall-off in the last two months, there were about 26,400 marijuana arrests in 2014, down about 9 percent from 2013, the state statistics show.

State law makes it a misdemeanor to have up to 25 grams of marijuana in “public view.” But the mayor said the city was choosing to treat that largely as a non-criminal violation — meaning a summons rather than an arrest, and a potential $100-plus fine instead of a possible three months in jail and a criminal record. (Under a 1977 state law, carrying the same amount of pot out of sight was already a violation, not a misdemeanor.)

Arrests were to continue in some cases, such as when people are allegedly seen smoking the drug in public.

“The law is a law, but what we’re trying to do is approach the enforcement of the law in a smarter way,” de Blasio said in November. Noting that the cases often get dismissed, he said the change would spare police time for more serious matters and spare people arrest records, which can affect public housing eligibility and some other aspects of life even without a conviction.

The head of the rank-and-file officers’ union was cool to the idea, suggesting it could tie officers’ hands in dealing with lawbreakers. But the captains’ union president expressed support for it.

Critics of the arrests suggest the summons strategy isn’t a perfect solution. Multiple marijuana-possession convictions can spur deportation even if the charges are violations — something defendants may not grasp if they decide to plead guilty, thinking the only consequence is a fine, legal advocates say. They also have concerns about how cases will be handled in crowded summons courts.

“A more meaningful change would be to de-emphasize enforcement of non-criminal violations across the board,” the New York Civil Liberties Union said in City Council hearing testimony last month.

But de Blasio put the difference simply when announcing the new policy: “Would you rather be arrested or be given a summons?”

TIME

NYC Probe Finds Firm Knowingly Participated in Video About Killing Police Officers

Investigation focuses on The Bronx Defenders

A public defense firm that receives significant funding from New York City knowingly participated in a music video that advocated for the killing of police officers, an investigation by the city’s Department of Investigation has found.

Attorneys at The Bronx Defenders not only appeared in the video but allowed it to be filmed at their headquarters, according to a department statement on the findings. Rap lyrics in the “Hands Up” video include “For Mike Brown and Sean Bell a cop got to get killed” and “time to start killing these coppers.” In one scene, two men point guns at the head of a man dressed as an officer.

“Advocating the killing of police officers is unacceptable and offensive,” DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said in the statement. “These attorneys have abysmally failed to meet their obligations to their clients, to the courts and to the city as a whole.”

The video was released at a tense time for the city, which faced tough police-community relations following the chokehold-related death of Staten Island man Eric Garner and lack of indictment for the officer involved in that case. The video, however, was released prior to the deadly ambush of two officers in Brooklyn.

Investigators also found that the executive director of the firm misled city officials about the organization’s involvement. The New York Daily News reports Robin Steinberg, the organization’s director, released a statement saying the rappers “released a version of ‘Hands Up’ we did not authorize or endorse,” shortly after the video went public.

The Department of Investigations began looking into the Bronx Defenders involvement on Dec. 12. City officials are mulling a next action.

TIME Transportation

Delta Pilot Gets Locked Out of Cockpit

The door reportedly malfunctioned

Call it an emergency that wasn’t. A Delta Air Lines flight heading to Las Vegas made an emergency landing Thursday after the pilot got locked out of the cockpit.

The flight from Minneapolis was declared an emergency 13 minutes before its planned landing at McCarran International Airport, according to CBS News. Still, the plane landed normally; no one on board was injured and the aircraft was not damaged, aside from the door to the cockpit that reportedly malfunctioned.

Delta issued a statement Thursday saying the crew had everything under control: “A commercial aircraft can be landed with one pilot at the control and Delta pilots are fully trained to do so if the situation were to occur.”

[CBS News]

 

TIME Courts

Texas Executes Man After Supreme Court Rejects Impairment Argument

Robert Ladd
Undated photo of Robert Ladd Texas Department of Criminal Justice /AP

Robert Ladd was convicted of killing a woman nearly two decades ago while on parole for a triple slaying

(HUNTSVILLE, Texas) — A Texas man convicted of killing a 38-year-old woman nearly two decades ago while he was on parole for a triple slaying years earlier was executed Thursday evening.

Robert Ladd, 57, received lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments he was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty. The court also rejected an appeal in which Ladd’s attorney challenged whether the pentobarbital Texas uses in executions is potent enough to not cause unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Ladd was executed for the 1996 slaying of 38-year-old Vicki Ann Garner, of Tyler, who was strangled and beaten with a hammer. Her arms and legs were bound, bedding was placed between her legs, and she was set on fire in her apartment.

Ladd came within hours of lethal injection in 2003 before a federal court agreed to hear evidence about juvenile records that suggested he was mentally impaired. That appeal was denied and the Supreme Court last year turned down a review of Ladd’s case. His attorneys renewed similar arguments as his new execution date approached.

“Ladd’s deficits are well documented, debilitating and significant,” Brian Stull, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, told the high court.

Kelli Weaver, a Texas attorney general, reminded the justices in a filing that “each court that has reviewed Ladd’s claim has determined that Ladd is not intellectually disabled.”

Ladd’s lawyers cited a psychiatrist’s determination in 1970 that Ladd, then a 13-year-old in custody of the Texas Youth Commission, had an IQ of 67. Courts have embraced scientific studies that consider an IQ of 70 a threshold for impairment. The inmate’s attorneys also contended he long has had difficulties with social skills and functioning on his own.

Ladd also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit questioning the “quality and viability” of Texas’ supply of its execution drug, pentobarbital. The Texas Attorney General’s Office called the challenge “nothing more than rank speculation.”

When he was arrested for Garner’s slaying, Ladd had been on parole for about four years after serving about a third of a 40-year prison term for the slayings of a Dallas woman and her two children. He pleaded guilty to those crimes.

TIME remembrance

Rod McKuen, Mega-Selling Poet and Performer, Dies at 81

Poet/composer Rod McKuen attends ASCAP's reception honoring Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman at the Catalina Bar & Grill on Nov. 18, 2009 in Los Angeles.
Poet/composer Rod McKuen attends ASCAP's reception honoring Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman at the Catalina Bar & Grill on Nov. 18, 2009 in Los Angeles. David Livingston—Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Rod McKuen, the husky-voiced “King of Kitsch” whose music, verse and spoken-word recordings in the 1960s and ’70s won him an Oscar nomination and made him one of the best-selling poets in history, has died. He was 81.

McKuen died Thursday morning at a rehabilitation center in Beverly Hills, California, where he had been treated for pneumonia and had been ill for several weeks and was unable to digest food, said his half brother, Edward McKuen Habib.

Until his sabbatical in 1981, McKuen was an astonishingly successful and prolific force in popular culture, turning out hundreds of songs and poems and records, including the Academy Award-nominated song “Jean” for the 1969 film “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”

Sentimental, earnest and unashamed, he conjured a New Age spirit world that captivated those who didn’t ordinarily like “poetry” and those who craved relief from the war, assassinations and riots of the time.

“I think it’s a reaction people are having against so much insanity in the world,” he once said. “I mean, people are really all we’ve got. You know it sounds kind of corny, and I suppose it’s a cliche, but it’s really true; that’s just the way it is.”

His best known songs, some written with the Belgian composer Jacques Brel, include “Birthday Boy,” ”A Man Alone,” ”If You Go Away” and “Seasons In the Sun,” a chart-topper in 1974 for Terry Jacks. He was nominated for an Oscar for “Jean” and for “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” the title track for the beloved Peanuts movie.

Frank Sinatra, Madonna, Dolly Parton and Chet Baker were among the many artists who recorded his material, although McKuen often handled the job himself, in a hushed, throaty style he had honed after an early life as a rock singer cracked his natural tenor.

TIME faith

Nashville Evangelical Church Comes Out for Marriage Equality

"Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?" says pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church. "I don’t think I can do that."

Three Sundays ago in Franklin, Tenn., twenty minutes south of Nashville and in the heart of the country’s contemporary Christian music industry, pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church preached what was perhaps the most important sermon of his life. You can watch it above–start around 44:40 if you are short on time.

For the past three years, GracePointe has engaged itself in a time of listening on the topic of sexual orientation and identity. It began around the time that the country star Carrie Underwood, who goes to GracePointe, spoke out in favor of marriage equality in 2012, and the Westboro Baptist picketers showed up the church.

That was a time when, as Mitchell, 46, explains, the position of the church on marriage was classically evangelical. People who were not heterosexual could be members, but they could not serve on the board, lead worship or other church groups. They could be baptized and receive communion, but they could not be married or have their children dedicated.

For congregants on all sides of the debate, the conversation over the past three years has been at times painful, even devastating. For Mitchell, it has been a deeply personal as well as a spiritual journey, especially as he has seen it divide friends and family. And on Sunday, Jan. 11, the church reached a conclusion, as Mitchell shared:

“Our position that these siblings of ours, other than heterosexual, our position that these our siblings cannot have the full privileges of membership, but only partial membership, has changed,” he said, as many in the congregation stood to their feet in applause, and other sat in silence. “Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all. Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”

With those words, GracePointe became one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to openly stand for full equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ community, along with EastLake Community Church near Seattle. The results of the conversation, he told his congregation, were not unanimous or exhaustive, but they were sufficient.

“I implore you, whether you ever worship here again, or whether you come back next week happier than you’ve ever been, when all else fails, and love never fails, you are mine and I am yours, and inclusion means that we can live together in agreement and disagreement,” he said. “But if this stretches you to the point of having to compromise your soul, and you do need to separate, I would be a hypocrite to say I do not understand that, because conversely, my soul has been stretched to the point that if I do not say what I say today, I cannot be here any longer.”

The way that Mitchell explains the shift is almost as significant as the move itself. Marriage equality was not the starting point of his sermon. For 45 minutes, the pastor explored a story from the gospel of Luke when, after Jesus’ death, two of his disciples are traveling on the road to Emmaus and meet a resurrected Jesus, but do not realize it is him. The disciples then tell Jesus the story of Jesus’ own crucifixion. Jesus responds by telling them the entire Scriptures, but even then they still don’t realize who he is. The story climaxes when the disciples finally have a moment of Epiphany, a term for divine revelation, when they are breaking bread with Jesus.

Mitchell used this story in his sermon to point out that faithful people can know Scripture deeply, and even be staring at Jesus, and still not understand what the word of God is saying. “Even the presence of God and a Bible in your lap doesn’t give an epiphany,” he told his congregation. “You do not look full in the face of Jesus when you are reading the text or looking at the sunrise, but if though the sunrise and through the text you are compelled to read and look up, see and look up, … if you don’t look up, even Jesus can read the Bible to you and you won’t see him.”

This passage from Luke is not the typical Biblical text that evangelicals use when talking about understanding sexuality. Usually the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexuality, not the gospel stories of Jesus himself, are the trump card. But Mitchell’s is a Biblical argument, one that seeks to take seriously the meaning of Jesus’ message and understand it as a living, dynamic way.

Evangelical opponents of marriage equality don’t see it this way. After TIME published a feature on the national scope of this evangelical shift, some opponents claimed that evangelicals who are now openly welcoming to LGBTQ congregants no longer uphold the Bible’s teachings. The Family Research Council’s vice president Rob Schwarzwalder wrote, “Those professed Evangelicals who are willing to jettison the Bible’s teaching regarding homosexuality can no longer claim to be persons of the Gospel–Evangelicals.” Boyce College Biblical Studies professor Denny Burk blogged, “Can they in any meaningful sense be considered bellwethers for a movement defined by convictions that they have largely abandoned? I don’t think so.”

But churches that are shifting, like GracePointe and EastLake, are not only retaining their faith, they are also using their very evangelical roots to come to these new decisions. There are four hallmarks of evangelicalism, according to the historian David Bebbington–Biblicism, a high view of Scriptural authority; crucicentrism, a focus on the sacrifice of Jesus; activism, living out this gospel message; and conversionism, transforming their own lives.

Mitchell’s sermon pays tribute to all four of these, especially in his very high view of Scripture. It’s clear that GracePointe’s shift rests on study of and belief in the Bible. Mitchell’s interpretive methods rely heavily on textual analysis and even ancient word translation, two traditional elements of evangelical preaching. It may be a different reading of Scripture than evangelicals like Burk or Schwarzwalder or even Southern Baptists like Russell Moore use to shape their ethical outlook, but its evangelical core is hard to ignore. “Who has the copyright on the word evangelical?” Mitchell tells TIME. “I didn’t know there was a papacy on this.”

GracePointe’s move is not without concrete consequences. January giving usually is about $100,000–so far this month the church has brought in an estimated $52,000. When GracePointe began the listening process in 2012, Sunday attendance averaged 800-1000. The Sunday he preached the inclusion sermon, attendance was 673, and two weeks later, it was down to 482. “It’s a gut punch,” Mitchell says. “I know a year from now, I’m going to feel a whole lot better, but right now it is just hard.”

For now, spiritual and Biblical convictions are pushing GracePointe and its pastor forward. Pastors are coming to him quietly and undercover from all over town, he says, to talk with him about how to have this conversion in their own evangelical churches. And, while a three-year conversation is ending, another one is just beginning. “Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?” Mitchell asks. “I don’t think I can do that. We are on the front edge of a movement that means so much.”

TIME Research

Most Americans and Scientists Tend to Disagree, Survey Finds

science chemistry beakers
Getty Images

And that's not a good thing, scientists say

Regular Americans and their scientist counterparts think much differently about science-related issues, according to a new pair of surveys.

The Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asked 5,750 American citizens and scientists their opinions on a series of scientific topics. They found striking gaps between the two groups, particularly on issues related to biomedical science.

Food is a major source of friction for the both camps. A full 57% of Americans think that consuming genetically modified foods is unsafe, but 88% of scientists say GMO foods are safe to eat. Pesticide use is another contentious issue: 68% of scientists think it’s safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, while only 28% of lay Americans agree.

When it comes to using animals in research, 89% of scientists give the practice the green light, but only 47% of Americans are ok with it—and 50% of Americans are against the use of animals in research. Non-scientist Americans were also far less likely to believe in evolution than scientists.

On eight of the 13 topics, researchers saw at least a 20-percentage point gap in opinion between Americans and scientists. That’s a troubling statistic, scientists say. According to the survey, 84% of them believe the public’s lack of knowledge about the field is a major problem.

Scientists and non-scientists agree on at least one topic, however: neither group thinks that science, technology, engineering and math education in American elementary and high schools is performing well enough when compared to programs across the globe.

TIME Crime

Family of Man Shot by NYC Police in Stairwell to Sue City

Mother of Akai Gurley's daughter filed paperwork seeking $50 million

(NEW YORK) — The family of an unarmed man shot by a police officer in a New York City housing project stairway has notified the city that it intends to file lawsuits seeking $50 million.

The attorney for the mother of Akai (uh-KY’) Gurley’s toddler daughter filed legal paperwork Thursday.

Gurley was shot to death Nov. 20.

Police have said Officer Peter Liang (lee-ANG’) apparently fired accidentally when Gurley and his girlfriend opened a door into the stairwell in Brooklyn.

Police Commissioner William Bratton has said Gurley was “totally innocent.”

A notice of claim is the first step in suing the city. Sometimes claims are settled before the actual lawsuits are filed.

The city’s Law Department called it a “tragic incident” and said the matter would be reviewed.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser