February 28, 2013

Twitter in Pyongyang: how North Korea got the mobile internet


"Hello world from comms center in #Pyongyang."
That Twitter missive, sent Monday from Koryolink's main service centre in downtown Pyongyang using my iPhone, marked a milestone for North Korea: it was believed to be the first tweet sent from a mobile phone using the country's new 3G mobile data service.
Later, as we were driving through Pyongyang, I used my iPhone to snap a photo of a new roadside banner referring to North Korea's controversial 12 February nuclear test while the Associated Press's chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder uploaded an image to Instagram of a tour guide at a mountain temple, geotagged to Pyongyang.
Pretty ordinary stuff in the world of social media, but revolutionary for North Korea, a country with intricate rules to stage manage the flow of images and information both inside and beyond its borders.
In the past, rules were strict for tourists visiting North Korea. On a bus journey across the demilitarised zone into the border city of Kaesong in 2008, we were told: no mobile phones, no long camera lenses, no shooting photos without permission. The curtains were drawn to prevent us from looking outside as we drove through the countryside, and through the cracks we could see soldiers stationed along the road with red flags. We were warned they'd raise those flags and stop the bus for inspection if they spotted a camera pointed out the window. As we left North Korea, immigration officials went through our cameras, clicking through the photos to make sure we weren't taking home any images that were objectionable.

February 25, 2013

IKEA dragged into horse meat scandal

The Local on the meaty news

Horse meat has been found in IKEA´s Swedish meatballs, prompting the furniture giant to halt meatball sales in 15 countries across Europe. The test that proved positive for horse meat was made in the Czech Republic, though it is not yet known how much of the meat came from horses. This is the first case in the ongoing European horse meat craze where horse infused meat may have been produced in Sweden. Dafgård, the producer of the meatballs, are performing their own DNA tests on their meat, but has as of yet found nothing suspicious.

February 23, 2013

UK loses top AAA credit rating for first time since 1978


The UK has lost its top AAA credit rating for the first time since 1978 on expectations that growth will "remain sluggish over the next few years".

The ratings agency Moody's became the first to cut the UK from its highest rating, to Aa1.

Moody's said the government's debt reduction programme faced significant "challenges" ahead.

Chancellor George Osborne said the decision was "a stark reminder of the debt problems facing our country".

"Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it," he added. "We will go on delivering the plan that has cut the deficit by a quarter."

But the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Osborne now risks being dubbed the "downgrade chancellor".

February 20, 2013

North Korea Threatens South with "Final Destruction"


Nuclear-armed North Korea has used a UN disarmament meeting to warn that South Korea risks "final destruction."
The comments Tuesday by a North Korean diplomat at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament come a week after Pyongyang conducted a third nuclear test.
"As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behaviour would only herald its final destruction," North Korean diplomat Jon Yong Ryong told the meeting, Reuters reports.
South Korea called the tests a flagrant violation of UN resolutions and a threat to the entire international community.
U.S. envoy Laura E. Kennedy tweeted later that the North's comments had been "offensive."
Numerous countries including the U.S., Britain and Germany, condemned North Korea's latest test at the meeting and urged North Korea to abide by UN resolutions barring it from testing nuclear weapons or missiles.
Even China, a longtime provider of food, fuel and other support, had warned North Korea not to conduct a third nuclear test.
"The North Korean regime's reckless disregard for the global will is again on display," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said after the latest nuclear test.
"What makes such actions even more unconscionable is the fact that the North Korean people starve and are denied their basic human dignity while the Pyongyang regime squanders limited resources."

Greek accused of 'surreal' Dalí painting theft in New York

A Greek man has been accused of an inept attempt to steal a Salvador Dalí painting from a New York gallery, taking the picture as security cameras rolled and later, in a panic, trying to send it back anonymously.
Phivos Istavrioglou also left fingerprints that helped detectives track him down – another misstep in a botched fine art caper that even he found foolish, according to an account of a confession contained in court papers.
As soon as Istavrioglou walked out of the Upper East Side gallery last summer with the Dalí watercolour and on to Fifth Avenue, he "was scared and couldn't believe what a stupid thing he did", the papers say.
Istavrioglou, 29, of Athens, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to grand larceny during a brief court appearance in Manhattan where a judge set bail at $100,000 (£65,000). His attorney had no immediate comment.
Prosecutors accused Istavrioglou of stealing the painting, Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio, in broad daylight while visiting New York in June. After pulling it off the wall, he stashed it in a shopping bag and flew with it back to Athens, authorities said.
"It was almost surreal how this theft was committed – a thief is accused of putting a valuable Salvador Dalí drawing into a shopping bag in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of surveillance cameras," the district attorney, Cyrus R Vance Jr, said.
Shortly after learning authorities had distributed security photographs of him that were seen around the world, Istavrioglou took the $150,000 work out of its frame. He then rolled it up in a cardboard tube – "in a manner befitting a college dorm poster" – and mailed it back to New York without a return address, prosecutor Jordan Arnold said.
New York police department detectives lifted fingerprints from the shipment that matched one from a juice bottle that they say Istavrioglou shoplifted last year from a Whole Foods market, giving them a name, said the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. An investigator posing as an art gallery owner later tricked Istavrioglou into returning to New York by offering him a possible position as a consultant.
Federal agents intercepted Istavrioglou at John F Kennedy international airport on Saturday. While speaking to detectives that afternoon, court papers say, he "indicated he knew the theft would catch up to him and wants to make [the] situation right".

February 19, 2013

Pope Benedict Shows True Leadership by Resigning


When Thurgood Marshall retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1991, a reporter asked him what were the medical reasons that contributed to his leaving the bench -- and its lifetime appointment -- after serving for nearly 25 years. He was his usual blunt self.
"What's wrong with me?" Marshall said at the packed news conference. "I'm old. I'm getting old and falling apart."
When the news broke this week that Pope Benedict XVI was stepping down as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics because of his concerns about being able to do the job, many began to speculate that there were other reasons for the decision.

Poll: Only 1-in-3 wants UK to stay in EU


David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have an uphill struggle before any EU referendum according to a poll that says only one in three would vote to stay in the bloc.
The findings, which are likely to spark alarm in pro-European circles, suggest that anti-Brussels sentiment is sweeping through the British public.
Given an in-out referendum on EU membership tomorrow, 50 per cent would vote "out" against 33 per cent "in" and 17 per cent who would not vote either way, according to the poll by Harris Interactive for the Financial Times.

February 18, 2013

Latvia to join eurozone in 2014


Despite continuing recession in the eurozone another country is joining. Latvia is switching from the lat to the euro next year.

­The transition to the common European currency is going to happen on January 1, 2014 after Latvian President Andris Berzins signed the law to introduce of euro on Friday.

In January the legislation was adopted by the Latvian parliament. After the adoption Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the country had already met the Maastricht criteria and would request a convergence report from the European Commission and the European Central Bank on Latvia's readiness to join. “'From an economic and financial point of view, we do not see anymore hurdles in joining the euro-zone,” Rinkevics said, the Baltic Course reported.

Latvia’s Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis says “the alternative to the eurozone is being relegated to the periphery of Europe… joining the eurozone is in Latvia’s best long-term interests.”

February 17, 2013

Russia starts cleanup after meteor strike


A day after a spectacular meteor blast shook Russia's Urals region, the cleanup operation got under way Saturday in the hard-hit Russian city of Chelyabinsk.

Although some buildings were unscathed when sonic waves from the Friday morning explosion reverberated through the region, others lost some or most windows or had walls come tumbling down.
More than 1,000 people were injured, including more than 200 children, according to news reports. Many of them were hit by flying glass.
Altogether, more than 4,000 buildings, mostly apartment blocks, were damaged and 200,000 square kilometers (77,220 square miles) of glass were broken, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency cited the Chelyabinsk regional emergencies ministry as saying Saturday.

Iceland wants to ban Internet porn


Iceland is working on banning Internet pornography, calling explicit online images a threat to children.
'"There is a strong consensus building in Iceland," Halla Gunnarsdottir, an adviser to the nation's Interior Minister, told England's Daily Mail. "We have so many experts, from educationalists to the police and those who work with children behind this, that this has become much broader than party politics.
"At the moment, we are looking at the best technical ways to achieve this. But surely if we can send a man to the moon, we must be able to tackle porn on the Internet."
Such a step is somewhat surprising among Western nations that, for the most part, champion free-speech rights. But the move wouldn't be unprecedented in the island nation.
Iceland has had laws banning the printing and distribution of pornography for years, but those laws haven't been updated to include the Web. And two years ago, the nation's parliament banned strip clubs, saying they violate the rights of the women who work in them.
Iceland would become the first Western democracy to try and block pornography online.

February 13, 2013

New York raises taxes on Sandy-hit houses


New York homeowners from regions most severely impaired by Hurricane Sandy have suffered damage to their homes and expensive repairs – but the city is now inflicting a heavy tax hike upon those residents, claiming their property values have risen.
“Common sense dictates their property values have fallen, if not plummeted in some cases,” Councilman Michael Nelson (D-Brooklyn) told the New York Post.
But the city claims that property values for homes in Manhattan Beach, Coney Island, Staten Island and the Rockaways have shot up – even though many of these properties were damaged in the storm and still require repairs. As a result, the city is inflicting higher taxes upon many of these residents to make up for the lost revenue from the storm – including residents whose homes remain so impaired that they have not been able to move back in.
“This is totally insensitive and heartless,” Ira Zalcman, president of the Manhattan Beach Community Group, said in the interview with the Post. “We just sustained one of the worst national disasters in our nation’s history, and now the city is delusional, claiming our property values went up.”
Zalcman said he has already received more than 30 complaints from residents about the tax increases, and he himself is a homeowner whose property tax bill will go up – probably by $200 for the fiscal year.
Nelson has called the tax hikes “heartless” and “something the city must immediately remedy.”
It raises real doubts about whether [the Finance Department] is doing enough to ensure fair and accurate assessments,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “As New Yorkers world to rebuild their homes and lives, we cannot allow them to be hit twice.”
Even homes that were partially swept away and houses whose windows and doors are boarded shut will be subjected to the tax hikes, whose rates will be finalized in May.
Stephen Moran, vice chairman of Community Board 13, said that Hurricane Sandy left him with $300,000 worth of repairs and cannot understand how the city is justifying raising his taxes.
“How do you increase taxes for people who no longer have 100 percent of their houses remaining?” he said.
The citywide outrage has prompted the City Council to launch an investigation into the heightened property-tax assessments. One city official told the Post that these assessments were made before Sandy ravaged New York in late October, but Mayor Bloomberg on Monday defended the tax hikes and suggested that the storm did not affect property values.
“Prices continue to go up in spite of these things,” he said, despite real estate brokers claiming the opposite.
And unless property owners appeal to the city Tax Commission before March 15, many homeowners and hurricane victims will see their tax rates go up this fiscal year, thereby inflicting further costs on those already burdened with repairs.

February 10, 2013

Iran releases video 'proof' US drone decoded


Iran for the first time showcased supposed evidence it has managed to access some of the data stored on a US ‘Sentinel’ drone it captured back in December 2011. The claims are based on aerial footage aired by an Iranian TV channel.

Earlier in April, the country’s military officials announced that Iranian experts have decoded the drone's intelligence gathering system and hard discs, but provided little proof of the breakthrough.

But the newly released video details the first examples of the unmanned air vehicle’s activities, including flying around the Kandahar airfield (KAF) in Afghanistan, a building under surveillance and a Reaper drone parked at the KAF.

­Interestingly, the drone’s erase sequence never kicked in when it lost control, making data recovery possible.

German minister Annette Schavan quits over 'plagiarism'


German Education Minister Annette Schavan has resigned after a university stripped her of her doctorate for plagiarism.
Duesseldorf's Heinrich Heine University voted last Tuesday to remove her doctorate following a review.
Ms Schavan, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, insisted she would still fight the university's ruling.
In 2011, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg also quit after allegations he plagiarised his thesis.
Johanna Wanka, the culture and science minister of the state of Lower Saxony, has been appointed as Ms Schavan's successor.
Part of the education minister's brief is to oversee German universities.

February 9, 2013

Massive blizzard paralyses US northeast, 1 dead


A potentially record-breaking snow storm has brought the US northeast to a grinding halt and left one dead. Thousands lost power amid flight cancelations and a nuclear plant shutdown, as authorities declared an emergency situation in five states.
The blizzard, which has been dubbed ‘Nemo’, struck the east coast on Friday, dumping up to 38 inches (96.5 cm) of snow in some areas. The storm clobbered New York during the night, leading to mass flight cancelations and the closure of roads, while across the northeast over 640,000 homes were left without power

A 74-year-old woman was killed in the Massachusetts town of Poughkeepsie when a woman lost control of her car due to falling snow and knocked her down. She later died in hospital. The storm has been blamed for three other deaths in Canada.
A state of emergency has been declared in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Maine with citizens being warned to stay indoors.
“This is a very large and powerful storm, however we are encouraged by the numbers of people who stayed home today,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told reporters. Fuel shortages have already been reported in a number of states as motorists queue at petrol stations to fill up in the face of a potential crisis.
Winds reached speeds of over 60km/h with forecasters expecting hurricane-force gusts of up to 97km/h as the storm’s intensity increases.

February 8, 2013

Accused Witch Burned Alive in Papua New Guinea


A mob stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of horrified witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said Friday. It was the latest sorcery-related killing in this South Pacific island nation.
Bystanders, including many children, watched and some took photographs of Wednesday's brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country's two largest newspapers, The National and the Post-Courier, while the prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.

February 7, 2013

CIA operating drone base in Saudi Arabia, US media reveal


The US Central Intelligence Agency has been operating a secret airbase for unmanned drones in Saudi Arabia for the past two years.
The facility was established to hunt for members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen.
A drone flown from there was used in September 2011 to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who was alleged to be AQAP's external operations chief.
US media have known of its existence since then, but have not reported it.
Senior government officials had said they were concerned that disclosure would undermine operations against AQAP, as well as potentially damage counter-terrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

February 5, 2013

Hollande gets the hump in Mali, but he’s happy about it!


French president Francois Hollande has been given a baby camel by government of Mali as token of gratitude for the French military helping rid the north of the country of Islamist rebels.

Hollande was also given a whip to master the animal. The President noted the symbolism of the gift and promised the French would continue to fight tyranny.

"Terrorism has been pushed back, it has been chased away, but it has not been defeated yet," stressing that France was not there to oppress the local population. "France will stay by your side as long as necessary, as long as it takes for Africans themselves… to replace us," he told a large crowd in the capital, Bamako, at a monument commemorating Mali's independence from France.

In three weeks of field operations which started on January 11, French and Malian troops have recaptured most of the territory held by Islamist extremists who took over a number of key cities in the north of the country last year.

February 4, 2013

325 Army suicides in 2012 a record


The U.S. Army reported Thursday that there were 325 confirmed or potential suicides last year among active and nonactive military personnel.
"Our highest on record," said Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, deputy chief of staff, manpower and personnel for the Army.
The grim total exceeds the number of total U.S. Army deaths (219) and total military deaths (313) in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, according to figures published by the military's Defense Casualty Analysis System.
For all of last year, 182 potential active-duty suicides were reported, 130 of which have been confirmed and 52 of which remain under investigation, it said.
And 143 potential not-on-active-duty suicides were reported (96 Army National Guard and 47 Army Reserve), 117 of which have been confirmed and 26 remain under investigation.

February 3, 2013

Silvio Berlusconi makes Italy property tax pledge


Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has promised to abolish an unpopular local property tax if his party wins the 24-25 February elections - and to refund last year's payments in cash.
The centre-right electoral coalition has been trailing in opinion polls - but the gap has recently narrowed.
Mr Berlusconi has said he will serve as economy minister if his party wins.
The media tycoon stepped down from a third term as prime minister in 2011 in the middle of the eurozone debt crisis.

February 1, 2013

Luxurious vomit found on British beach

The Telegraph on the lucky find

A mysterious stone was found by a man walking his dog on a beach in Morecambe, England. Looking it up on the Internet, he came to the realisation that it might be a lump of Ambergris; a rare ingredient used in perfumes. Ambergris hardens over time while floating around in the sea, after having been hurled up by sperm whales with a soar throat. €50000 has been offered by a French dealer, if it turns out to be the real thing.