Syria Crisis: ISIS Deadly Return to Kobane

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The ISIS attack on Kobane began with militants detonating a car bomb, followed by an assault from dozens of fighters from a number of directions.

Islamic State fighters have attacked the Syrian city of Kobane, months after being driven out in a symbolic battle that made international headlines.

They detonated car bombs and launched an assault. Kurdish media say at least 50 civilians have been killed, including 20 in a nearby village.

ISIS has recently suffered a string of defeats to Kurdish forces.

But in another attack on Thursday, it seized parts of the key north-eastern city of Hassakeh.

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The apparent two-pronged IS offensive came as Kurdish fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG) cut a major supply line for IS near Raqqa.

Raqqa is the de facto capital of the caliphate whose creation IS announced a year ago after it captured large swathes of northern and western Iraq.

Kobane still matters to ISIS. It was never important strategically, but this latest attack shows that its loss, after five months of heavy street-to-street fighting and coalition aerial bombardment, still hurts ISIS.

The injured have been brought to hospital in Kobane

The injured have been brought to hospital in Kobane

As was the case last November when a huge vehicle bomb exploded at the same spot, questions are being asked if the attackers made it in from the Turkish side, and if so, why Turkey didn’t stop them.

Thursday’s assault is a reminder, too, that ISIS, despite recent losses in the area, is still very much active and capable of offensives. Overnight they also attacked Hassakeh to the east, a far bigger prize.

[Read the full text here, at BBC News]

Despite the narrative of the last few weeks, ISIS is far from being on the back foot.

Smoke rises over Kobane

Smoke rises over Kobane

The ISIS attack on Kobane began with militants detonating a car bomb, followed by an assault from dozens of fighters from a number of directions. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan: Elderly Crimes Exceed Teen Crimes?

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Over 23,000 criminal seniors busted this year

Police in Japan have dealt with more elderly crime than juvenile crime in the past six months, it’s reported.

It’s the first time that people over the age of 65 have surpassed teenagers in crime statistics since 1989, when Japan’s National Police Agency started publishing age-related crime data, the Kyodo News Agency reports. Officers took action against more than 23,000 elderly people in the first half of the year, compared to fewer than 20,000 youngsters aged between 14 and 19, officials figures show.

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Japan has seen a fall in overall crime rates over the past 10 years, but not among its growing elderly population. The new figures show that violent crime committed by the over-65s rose by more than 10% compared to the same period last year. Of the country’s 127 million people, more than a quarter are now of retirement age, but the government has warned that the figure is likely to grow significantly in the coming decades. Read the rest of this entry »


Micro-Marketing? Marvel is Promoting ‘Ant-Man’ In The Teeniest, Tiniest Town In Canada

Marvel's Ant-Man..Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) ..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2014

With tiny, little billboards, of course.

Daniel Roberts writes: Marvel’s big summer superhero blockbuster of the moment is “Ant-Man,” starring Paul Rudd, and the studio is working to get billboards for the movie placed in a Canadian town—of six residents.

“It’s a perfect match, in our minds. We’ve had this interesting campaign where we have these mini-sized billboards… It crossed our minds that wouldn’t it be fantastic to have the smallest billboard in Canada in the smallest town, which is Tilt Cove.”

— Disney marketing exec Greg Mason

As part of Marvel Canada’s marketing strategy for the film, it has placed more than 2,500 miniature billboards (a nod to the size of the character, who can shrink to an ant’s level) all over the country so far. They range in size, and the smallest of them is just one-foot tall.

[Read the full story here, at Fortune]

But Marvel Canada is especially interested in placing one of those billboards in Tilt Cove, NewfoundlandCBC News reports. Marvel Canada tweeted its wishes:

“It’s a perfect match, in our minds,” Disney marketing exec Greg Mason told CBC in an on-air interview. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] For The Birds: Cam-Enabled Eagle Takes Flight from the World’s Tallest Building

The eagle has landed! And what a journey it was. Watch as Darshan soars above the Dubai sky, capturing stunning views of the world beneath his wings. This Imperial Eagle has broken a world record by flying from the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa It was set up by conservation group Freedom Conservation, in order to raise awareness of the plight of the endangered bird of prey. Eagle-cam foogtage courtesy of Freedom Conservation…

BBC News – YouTube


Whiskey Content Not Disclosed: A Vial of Winston Churchill’s Blood Now Up for Auction

Churchill In Croydon

…Churchill famously said he had nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat” and now some of that blood is to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by Duke’s Auctioneers on March 12.

“…the most poignant and unique memorabilia we’ve ever had…the closest you can get to Churchill.”

— Timothy Medhurst, an auctioneer and appraiser at Duke’s

The blood was collected when Churchill was in the hospital for a fractured hip in 1962. Typically vials of blood are discarded when they are no longer medically 51hrU8b98BL._SL250_necessary, but the nurse who collected it, an apparent fan of the former Prime Minister, received special permission to keep the vial.

[Or, you can order this Churchill book “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Great Speeches” from Amazon]

Upon the nurse’s death, it was bequeathed to a friend who decided to sell the historical medical waste to mark the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death. Read the rest of this entry »


At The BBC, The Beatles Shocked An Institution: Interview with Kevin Howlett

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editor-commen-deskFrom today’s Fresh Air, a wonderful interview with producer Kevin Howlett. Worth a listen. Hearing about The Beatles early show business career, and early appearances on BBC radio programs, reminds me of interviews with members of Monty Python. As they described it, England’s radio and television landscape at the beginning of the 1960s, was buttoned-down and formal. The notion of performers talking informally in front of a microphone, improvising and being mischievous, was unprecedented. What the Beatles were allowed to do was — though it’s hard to imagine now — was revolutionary.

Also of interest, the BBC never preserved any recording of the Beatles broadcasts, in all those years. Producer Kevin Howlett had to seek them out from individual collectors who’d recorded the live broadcasts. Good thing he did!Beatles-remasterted

[Order Kevin Howlett’s remastered On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2 from Amazon]

NPR: England got a lot more of The Beatles than Americans did during the group’s formative years. Between 1962 and 1965, The Beatles were featured on 53 BBC radio programs, including their own series, Pop Go the Beatles. They performed originals and covers and chatted with BBC hosts.

[Check out The Beatles: The BBC Archives: 1962-1970 at Amazon]

The Beatles: On Air-Live At The BBC Volume 2 has just been released. Kevin Howlett produced both that and the newly remastered reissue of the first volume, which was originally released in 1994. For reasons he explains to Fresh Air host Terry Gross, Howlett had to search for many of these recordings, and they weren’t easy to find.

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[Listen here]

Howlett has written a new companion book called The Beatles: The BBC Archives,which includes transcriptions of the band’s BBC radio and TV interviews as well as fascinating internal memos about the Beatles and their music.

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Interview Highlights

On the challenges of his project working in the BBC archive

My quest to restore the BBC archive [of the Beatles] goes way back to 1981 when I joined the national pop network in this country, BBC Radio 1, as a young rookie producer. I was 24 years old. The management knew I was a Beatles fanatic, I was a child in the ’60s growing up with the Beatles, and they gave me this task. What a dream thing to be Beatles-BBChanded. They said, “Can you investigate what programs the Beatles performed music in and what songs they did?” And the BBC’s written archives are a wonderful place where they kept every single piece of paper relating to the Beatles’ performances, so when I wrote the book it was a magnificent source of material: memos, contracts, audience research reports — so that was fine, you could find out all of the information.

But then finding the music on the tapes? That was a completely different matter. Some of these recordings come from transcription discs, LPs that were distributed by the BBC to other countries for broadcast. Some come from producer listening copies. There were some producers at the time that thought maybe it is worth keeping this material, and in some of these cases, listeners who taped off the radio.

On The Beatles’ audition for the BBC

The very first thing that Brian Epstein did when he took over the management of The Beatles was to fill out an application form for the variety department of the BBC. This, again, reminds us that there was no rock business as we know it. This was show business and they would be on with all sorts of other acts, radio ventriloquists even, that kind of thing. Read the rest of this entry »


Onwaarschijnlijk Krijgers: Dutch Biker Gang Joins fight Against Islamic State in Iraq

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The three men are members of an infamous motorbike gang, No Surrender, the biggest biker club in the Netherlands

Anna Holligan, BBC News, The Hague: Three members of a Dutch motorcycle club with military backgrounds have gone to Iraq to help fight Islamic State (IS), a fellow biker says.

“They wanted to do something when they saw the pictures of the beheadings.”

The three left for northern Iraq to help Kurds there after being horrified by news of IS atrocities, Klaas Otto told Dutch media.

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All are trained soldiers who have served abroad in the past, he said.

“They are trained guys with lots of experience – with foreign missions, too. They are extremely disciplined. They don’t drink any alcohol, not even on club evenings.”

Dutch prosecutors told BBC News that they were not necessarily breaking the law by fighting on the Kurdish side.

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Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor’s office, said that signing up with organisations like IS or the Kurdish militant group PKK was banned but joining a foreign armed force was no longer forbidden.

But if there was proof that they were committing murders or rapes then “of course, it would be a different story”, he said.

The Netherlands’ defence ministry said it could not be held responsible for choices made by ex-servicemen.

The story emerged after photos began circulating on social media. One shows a man dressed in green military fatigues, clutching a Kalashnikov, sitting alongside a Kurdish fighter.

The Netherlands has a considerable Kurdish community. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] EBOLA MAINA in Sierra Leone: Tear Gas Fired in Freetown After Body Left on Street

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Police in Freetown, Sierra Leone, have fired tear gas as people took to the streets to complain about the authorities handling of the Ebola virus.31xsDUyPMZL._SL250_

[What? You’ve neglected to replenish your home supplies of Medical HazMat Gear? Maybe you need a six pack. Try the DuPont Disposable Coverall with Hood, Elastic Cuff, White, 4XL (Pack of 6) available from Amazon.com]

[While you’re there, check out other Hazmat Suits at Amazon]

They were angry that the body of a woman who died from the disease was left on the street for two days.US, British, French, German and Italian leaders are due to hold a video conference to talk about what to do next to prevent the spread of the disease.

BBC News


Alan Henning killed by Islamic State

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The Salford taxi driver was delivering aid to Syria in December when he was kidnapped and then held hostage

BBC – 3 October 2014 – Last updated at 18:38 ET

Paul Wood reports: A video purporting to show UK hostage Alan Henning being beheaded has been released by Islamic State militants.

“My thoughts and prayers tonight are with Alan’s wife Barbara, their children and all those who loved him.”

— David Cameron

IS threatened to kill him in footage last month showing the death of Briton David Haines, and in this video they threaten US aid worker Peter Kassig.

David Cameron said Britain would do all it could “to hunt down these murderers and bring them to justice”.

The prime minister said the killing of father-of-two Mr Henning, 47, showed “how barbaric and repulsive” IS was.

“My thoughts and prayers tonight are with Alan’s wife Barbara, their children and all those who loved him,” he said.

“Alan had gone to Syria to help get aid to people of all faiths in their hour of need.”

Mr Henning’s wife Barbara had this week appealed for her husband’s release, saying: “He is innocent.”

IS has previously released videos showing the apparent beheadings of two US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker Mr Haines.

The video released on Friday is yet to be verified, but it appears to show Mr Henning kneeling beside a militant, dressed in black, in a desert setting.

The footage ends with an IS fighter threatening a man they identify as Mr Kassig. Read the rest of this entry »


Meteorite Leaves Big-Ass Crater in Managua, Nicaragua

Nicaragua

Large blast heard just before midnight followed by burning smell.

“We thought it was a bomb because we felt an expansive wave.”

— Jorge Santamaria

A small meteorite landed near the international airport in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, on Saturday night, government officials say.

“All the evidence that we’ve confirmed at the site corresponds exactly with a meteorite and not with any other type of event.”

— Ineter scientist Jose Millan

Residents reported hearing a loud bang and feeling the impact, which left a crater 12m (40ft) wide and 5m deep. Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said the meteorite seemed to have broken off an asteroid which was passing close to Earth. She said international experts had been called in to investigate further.

No-one was hurt when it hit the wooded area near the international airport and an air force base.

‘Like a bomb’

An adviser to Nicaragua’s Institute of Earth Studies (Ineter), Wilfried Strauch, said he was “convinced it was a meteorite” which caused the impact. Read the rest of this entry »


Why Paris is forgetting Ernest Hemingway

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American writer Ernest Hemingway had close links with Paris. He first lived there in 1920 and played a marginal, much-mythologised, role in the 1944 liberation of the city. But now, 70 years on, memories of the author are starting to fade.

Hugh Schofield BBC News, Paris: Twenty years ago when I first started reporting from Paris, a story on Hemingway would have been so corny that you would have got short shrift from any editor hemingway-book-feasthad you ever had the gall to suggest it.

[Order “A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition” and other books by Ernest Hemingway at Amazon.com]

Paris was full of Hemingway wannabes – young people just out of university sitting dreamily in cafes and struggling to get their prose more muscular.

There were guided tours round the sites – his homes on the Left Bank and the Shakespeare and Company bookshop.

No self-respecting acolyte would be seen on the street without a copy of Hemingway’s magisterial memoir of Paris in the 1920s, published posthumously under the title “A Moveable Feast”.

Crowds gathered to cheer French General Charles de Gaulle, 26 August 1944

Crowds gathered to cheer French General Charles de Gaulle, 26 August 1944

The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the Germans brought it all back, because August 1944 was in fact one of the most celebrated episodes in the Hemingway legend.

“I’ve seen you beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for… you belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Already famous for his books, he was working as a correspondent attached to the American 5th Infantry Division, which was south-west of Paris in the town of Rambouillet.

“This is the kind of stuff that used to set young writerly hearts racing.”

Here, in flagrant breach of the Geneva Conventions governing war reporting, Hemingway set up as a kind of mini warlord. His hotel room was full of grenades and uniforms, and he had command of a band of Free French fighters who reconnoitred the approach to Paris and provided information to the Allied armies. Read the rest of this entry »


China’s Museum Boom


Jihadist Manhunt Dominates Thursday Front Pages


[VIDEO] BREAKING: Brazil Presidential Candidate Dies in Plane Crash

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Presidential candidate Eduardo Campos has been killed in a plane crash in Santos, officials say

BBC News reports: Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer expressed his regret over the death of Mr Campos, who had been running third in the polls for October’s election.

The plane carrying Mr Campos crashed in a residential area of the port city of Santos, in Brazil’s Sao Paulo state.

It is not yet clear if any of the other passengers on board were killed.

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‘No words’

Mr Temer said there were “no words to describe the tragedy that has befallen Brazilian politics today”

“Eduardo Campos was a politician with principles and values passed down through his family and carried with dignity and honour throughout his career in parliament and the executive,” the statement added. Read the rest of this entry »


Tokyo: Japanese Man Sets Self on Fire In Protest Over Military Rule Change

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BBC News reports: A man set himself on fire in central Tokyo in protest at a proposed law which could allow Japan to deploy its military overseas.

“He was sitting cross-legged and was just talking, so I thought it would end without incident. Then all of a sudden his body was enveloped in fire.”

The man was taken to hospital after being hosed down but his condition was not immediately known, officials said.

Japan’s government could make the change to its pacifist constitution as early as next Tuesday.

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Mr Abe has said Japan must change to adapt to a new security environment

The US-drafted constitution bans war and “the threat or use of force” to settle international disputes.

Witnesses said the middle-aged man, wearing a suit and tie, climbed onto a pedestrian bridge at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station.

“He was sitting cross-legged and was just talking, so I thought it would end without incident,” one eyewitness told Reuters. “Then all of a sudden his body was enveloped in fire.”

Reports said the man used a megaphone to shout for over an hour about the change to Japan’s constitution. Read the rest of this entry »


Italy police solve 1909 Petrosino Mafia murder

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The notorious murder of Lt Petrosino on 12 March 1909 shocked New York at the time

Ansa news agency and BBC News  report: Joe Petrosino, a New York police officer, was shot dead during a mission to the island to collect evidence.

“the uncle of my father was called Paolo Palazzotto; he killed the top policeman killed in Palermo.”

The revelation coincided with the arrest of 95 suspected members of two clans involved in extortion rackets in the island’s capital Palermo.

One of those arrested had been recorded boasting that his father’s uncle had carried out the killing, police say.

Domenico Palazzotto was overheard telling a colleague that “the uncle of my father was called Paolo Palazzotto; he killed the top policeman killed in Palermo” on the orders of Cascio Ferro. Ferro was a boss in Sicily’s Cosa Nostra whose operations extended to the US, Ansa news agency reports. Read the rest of this entry »


Tiananmen Anniversary in Hong Kong

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Tens of thousands have gathered in Hong Kong for the only major commemoration in China of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.

For BBC News, Juliana Liu reports: The organizers said some 180,000 attended the vigil, but the police put the crowd size at just under 100,000. The city retains civil liberties not permitted to mainland Chinese. The 1989 protesters wanted political reform, but the crackdown was ordered after hardliners won a power struggle within the ruling Communist Party.

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In Beijing, the authorities have imposed blanket security, particularly on Tiananmen Square, to prevent any attempts to mark the anniversary.

Dozens of activists were detained in the run-up to the anniversary, with foreign journalists ushered away from the square on Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »


Putin Signs Russian Law Banning Swearing in Arts and Media

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It is not yet clear how Russian censors will deal with swearing in imported films

Russian President Vladimir #!@?%*!! Putin has signed a law banning all #!@?%*!! swearing in films, television broadcasts, theatres and the media.

Offenders will face fines – as much as 50,000 roubles (£829; $1,400) for organisations, or up to 2,500 roubles (£41; $70) for individuals.

Where disputes arise a panel of experts will decide exactly what counts as a swear word.

Books containing #!@?%*!! swear words will have to carry warnings on the cover.

Russia’s Vesti news website says that, according to sociologists’ research, swearing is common in two-thirds of Russian companies. Read the rest of this entry »


Children’s Hospice Easter Appeal Gets Unexpected Flock of 6,300 Knitted Chicks


[VIDEO] How the Civil Rights Movement Changed Black Gun Culture

The subject of guns is a volatile one in the black community: a disproportionate number of black Americans are killed by firearms each year.

Gang violence has destabilised some communities, while high-profile killings of black youths like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have led political leaders to call for reforms to how guns are made, sold, used and stored.

[Order Nicholas Johnson’s book Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms  from Amazon]

But Nicholas Johnson, a law professor at Fordham University in New York City, says black Americans have a long, positive history with guns. Firearms, he says, helped black Americans escape slavery, defend their homes and fight for their freedom. It was only after the civil rights movement that the public attitude towards guns started to change.

Read the rest of this entry »


Japan: Robot to Take Top University Exam

Japanese Tokyo University robot creator Tomotaka Takahashi chats with a humanoid robot

Japanese Tokyo University robot creator Tomotaka Takahashi chats with a humanoid robot

Scientists in Japan are trying to create a computer program smart enough to pass the University of Tokyo‘s entrance exam, it appears.

rayThe project, led by Noriko Arai at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics, is trying to see how fast artificial intelligence might replace the human brain so that people can start training in completely new areas. “If society as a whole can see a possible change coming in the future, we can get prepared now,” she tells the Kyodo news agency.

But there’s also another purpose behind the Can A Robot Get Into The University of Tokyo? project, which began in 2011. If machines cannot replace human beings, then “we need to clarify what is missing and move to develop the technology,” says Noriko Arai.

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Pussy Riot Members Freed in Sochi

One of the Pussy Riot band members, wearing a ski mask told reporters that Sochi was a "political event"

One of the Pussy Riot band members, wearing a ski mask told reporters that Sochi was a “political event”

BBC News reports: Two members of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot who were arrested on Monday near the Winter Olympics resort of Sochi have been released.

“There is no space for political protest here…If you want to say something critical you will be detained.”

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were being held on suspicion of theft.

The pair were convicted of hooliganism over a protest song against President Putin in Moscow’s largest cathedral.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Japanese Beethoven’ Admits He’s a Fraud

Japanese-Beethoven

Listen to an excerpt from Symphony No. 1 Hiroshima: Tokyo Symphony Orchestra / Naoto Otomo, courtesy DENON

BBC News  reports:  A deaf composer who has been dubbed “Japan’s Beethoven” has admitted hiring someone else to write his music for nearly two decades.

Mamoru Samuragochi shot to fame in the mid-1990s and is most famous for his Hiroshima Symphony No 1, dedicated to those killed in the 1945 atomic blast.

The 50-year-old has now confessed he has not composed his own music since 1996.

The real composer of the musician’s “hits” has not been formally named.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sugoi! Oishii! Japan’s Suntory buys Jim Beam

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$16 Billion Deal

Japanese family-owned drinks firm Suntory is to buy the US beverage group Beam Inc, the company behind the Jim Bean bourbon brand.

Under the deal, worth $16bn in all, Suntory will pay $13.6bn in cash and take on Beam’s debt.

It will make Suntory the world’s third largest maker of distilled drinks.

The two companies have a previous partnership whereby they distribute each other’s brands in different markets.

Read the rest of this entry »


Chinese Smugglers Dig Tunnel to Hong Kong

Officials said the tunnel cost almost $500,000 to build

Officials said the tunnel cost almost $500,000 to build

Chinese authorities have uncovered a tunnel from the mainland to Hong Kong, apparently built by smugglers.

The tunnel, with concrete walls and interior lighting, started under a garage near the city of Shenzhen and stretched for 40m (130ft) under a river and into reed-beds in Hong Kong.

The authorities believe gangs intended to use it to import mobile phones and other electrical goods into Hong Kong.

The semi-autonomous zone has different tariffs to the mainland.

The smugglers could make huge profits by avoiding border fees and taxes.

This picture taken on December 24, 2013 shows a soldier checking an underground tunnel leading to Hong Kong from Shenzhen
The tunnel was thought to be incomplete, about 20m short of its intended destination
Read the rest of this entry »

Sacré Bleu! HUGE cocaine haul seized on Air France plane in Paris

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Police at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport have seized 1.3 tons of pure cocaine on board an Air France flight from Venezuela, French officials say. Read the rest of this entry »


10 reasons why so many people are moving to Texas

By Tom Geoghegan

BBC News, Washington

Icons of Texas

Half of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the US are in Texas, according to new figures. Why?

Every way you look at it, there are a lot of people moving to Texas.

via BBC News 


The shared language of sport and politics

By Nick Bryant – BBC News

Sporting metaphors always overrun the language of politics in the English-speaking world at election time – and perhaps most of all in the US.

We have now reached the point in the race for the White House when it helps to keep a glossary of American sporting terms ever close at hand.

True, we have not quite reached the bottom of the ninth (the final, often dramatic, inning of a baseball game).

It is probably too early for the front-runner Barack Obama to start running down the clock (cautious tactics used by the team ahead in the final minutes of a basketball match designed to protect its lead).

Three presidential debates still lie ahead, where Mitt Romney will doubtless be looking for a knock-out punch (one of the few analogies that requires no translation outside the US).

Even after the debates, there may still be time to hurl a Hail Mary pass (a desperate long pass thrown by the quarterback in the dying minutes of an American football game in the hope of getting a touchdown).

Certainly, he needs a game-changer (some dramatic “play” that will upend the contest). In the all-important battleground state of Ohio, the Romney camp has accused the Obama campaign of already spiking the football (a touchdown celebration when the player spears the ball into the ground).

Across the political Anglo-sphere, the language of sport often doubles as the language of politics….

via BBC News