Monday, May 31, 2010

Woman sues Google after being hit by a car

A woman in the US is suing Google after she claims Google Maps issued incorrect directions which sent he onto a busy road where she was hit by a car. Lauren Rosenberg is demanding $100,000 from the company in a case filed at the US District Court's Central Division in Utah. Rosenberg is also taking legal action against Patrick Harwood, the man who hit her.

The plaintiff had searched for walking directions on her Blackberry from 96 Daly Street, Park City, Utah to 1710 Prospector Avenue, Park City, Utah. The 1.9 mile [3 km] route led Rosenberg along Main Street into Dear Valley Drive, a major highway also known as State Route 224. A clear warning on the site states that "walking directions are in beta" and to "Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths". 

The website also posts a disclaimer which reads, "These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, weather, or other events may cause conditions to differ from the map results, and you should plan your route accordingly. You must obey all signs or notices regarding your route." However such warnings are not always displayed on mobile devices and Rosenberg believes has a case. 

"The Defendant Google expects users of the walking map site to rely on the accuracy of the walking directions given," said Rosenberg's filing. "As a direct and proximate cause of Defendant Google's careless, reckless and negligent providing of unsafe directions, Plaintiff Lauren Rosenberg was led onto a dangerous highway, and was thereby stricken by a motor vehicle, causing her to suffer sever permanent physical, emotional, and mental injuries, including pain and suffering," it added [V3 / Mashable / Search Engine Land]

The action has been described as ludicrous by some. "If Google told you to jump off a cliff, would you?" one headline read in Fortune read. One can only hope the courts display more common sense than the woman concerned. Google has yet to comment on the filing.

This is not the first time Google has attracted attention over sending people in the wrong direction. As a joke, users attempting to get directions which required the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean were instructed to swim the vast expanse of water. The so-called 'Easter-egg' was later removed. A simple crossing of a road in Sydney attracted attention after Google Maps suggested a 10 km route which also resulted in a $3 road toll [Register].

As regards Ms Rosenberg's filing, Microsoft might consider themselves lucky she was using Google Maps and not Bing. Their walking instructions also send pedestrians onto State Route 224 where the hapless plaintiff encountered Patrick Harwood's car.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Beijing nightlife, an expat's paradise

China is perhaps easy to criticise, to pick holes in and to find fault with. There are inconsistencies and contradictions as the nation tries to move into the 21st century. Every country has its faults, and China is no exception. But while there are many aspects of life in China which are uncomfortable there are many things which make life exciting and pleasurable.

The Internet may offer a world of frustration, especially for expats who are used to going anywhere on the world wide web. But away from the virtual world there are many distractions that can make life, at least in the big cities, an interesting experience. Beijing is well known for being steeped in history. The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven and countless museums are a major draw for tourists. The parks are pleasant to walk in, especially in summer, and some such as Beihai and Jingshan offer fantastic views of the city.

But beyond the obvious tourist destinations there are the bars, restaurants and clubs which offer an escape to Beijingers, expats and tourists alike. Most bars are clustered in the east of Beijing around Sanlitun, though there are a few hidden gems scattered about in other parts of town. Once virtually unthinkable in China, the bar scene in Beijing is vibrant and exciting. Drinks are not cheap however. Most ordinary Chinese would be shocked at buying a 330 ml bottle of Tsingtao for between 30 and 50 RMB [£3-5 /$4-7]. But for expats and foreign tourists, price is less an issue.

The bars are sometimes simple drinking establishments, but many offer food and entertainment. Some are themed such as Paddy O'Sheas, an Irish bar which offers Guinness, though at prices many Irish would scoff at [60 RMB / £6 / $8.80 a pint/568 ml]. Many are sports' bars. Large TVs displaying sporting events from around the world draw in large crowds especially on big occasions. Others of course try to attract customers with live music.

The Den is one of the few bars to open 24 hours a day and also offers the longest 'happy hour'. A noisy sports bar, it is always crowded with mostly foreign clientèle. Drinks are cheaper than many other places and food is good. There are 'secret' bars, such as the Fubar, hidden in the basement of the Stadium Dogs hotdog café. Billed as Beijing's first speakeasy, customers enter the bar by pressing a switch which slides back a faux wall. A novelty attraction maybe, but the great cocktails and atmosphere also help pull in the customers.

There are specialist bars, such as the Ichikura, an establishment which offers dozens of different kinds of whisky. A German bar, slightly off the beaten track, is popular not only amongst foreigners, but also the Chinese. Der Ladgraf offers a wide range of beers from a Köstritzer Schwarzbier to a Weihenstephaner wheat beer. Their extensive menu also keeps clients from going hungry.

Of course there are the bars that set out to entertain. Whether its the Mao Club which pumps out rock music from domestic bands or the rather expensive but eclectic mix of bars along the Qianhai lake, there is always something going on. The Lan Club will keep people dancing well into the early hours with heavy club mixes and live entertainment. The Nashville, situated in the north-east of town, offers a more rock and sometimes country feel. Its regularly billed Phonograph Band strike out western hits from the 1960s through to the 90s from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Oasis.

On a lighter note there are places like the CD Jazz Bar or the neighbouring Blues Café & Bar. Or if the mood takes you there is always KTV, or karaoke. Not so popular in the West, karaoke is fantastically popular in China. Even the smallest of towns have a KTV bar. But this is unlike the karaoke seen in Britain where drunk patrons embarrass themselves in front of dozens of strangers as they struggle to perform Robbie Williams' Angels. In China it's a more sober affair. Groups of friends will hire a room and each take it in turn to sing their favourite songs. And here singing means singing. There is not the screeching and sarcastic efforts seen in the West. In China this is serious, but nonetheless entertaining fun. Customers may of course purchase drinks and food is also on offer, sometimes as a buffet or delivered to your room.

If there's anything one misses about China, it is its bars, food and entertainment. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gulf leak "worse than Exxon Valdez"

The amount of oil that has spilled from BP's blown-out Gulf of Mexico well has exceeded the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. And according to findings released Thursday from a US government panel, the oil could be flowing at a rate nearly four times BP's recent estimates [Reuters / AP].

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, hit Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef and spilled an estimated minimum 10.8 million US gallons [40.9 million litres, or 250,000 barrels] of crude oil. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters ever to occur in history. 

The latest disaster occurred when the an explosion struck the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20 this year. As a result of the explosion oil began to gush into the Gulf from the sea bed. Flow rate estimates vary widely, because some of the plume is apparently remaining well below the surface. Every day between 700 and 13,600 tonnes of oil pours into the Gulf unchecked and several efforts by BP to stem the flow have failed.

Estimates vary

BP's current estimate is that of over 5,000 barrels [210,000 US gallons; 790,000 litres] to as much as 100,000 barrels [4,200,000 US gallons; 16,000,000 litres] of crude oil is issuing into the Gulf each day. The exact spill flow rate is uncertain however. Estimates of the total amount of oil spilled are 450,000 to 930,000 barrels [19,000,000 - 39,000,000 US gallons; 72,000,000 - 148,000,000 litres]. Experts fear that due to factors such as petroleum toxicity and oxygen depletion, it will result in an environmental disaster, damaging the Gulf of Mexico fishing industry, the tourism industry, and the habitat of hundreds of bird species for years to come.

On Thursday BP continued in its effort to cap the leak 1,500 metres below sea level. After an 18-hour delay to assess its efforts and bring in more materials, BP resumed pumping heavy drilling mud into the blown-out well. Officials said it could be late Friday or the weekend before the company knows if the procedure known as a top kill has cut off the oil that has been flowing for five weeks.

Early Thursday, officials said the process was going well, but later in the day they announced pumping had been suspended 16 hours earlier. BP did not characterise the suspension as a setback. Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute, said the move did not indicate the top kill operation had failed. Even if BP make progress, the log term repurcusions look dire. The company itself faces litigation and the damage to the environment could be long lasting.

Lasting damage

Almost 20 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina found that the effects were lasting far longer than expected. The team estimates some shoreline Arctic habitats may take up to 30 years to recover. In fact only yesterday the Exxon oil disaster claimed another victim after Nuka, a gray-whiskered otter plucked from Prince William Sound soaked in oil in 1989, was put down. A visiting veterinarian determined the otter's condition had worsened rapidly. However Nuka was old for a sea otter, at least 21, one of only three otters still alive in captivity that had survived Alaska's Exxon Valdez spill. 

Nuka had struggled with immune-system problems, poor skin and fur, and seemed unable to groom herself properly, which meant she ate more than normal to avoid hypothermia. While no one could say what caused her problems, they were consistent with early exposure to petroleum. As such Nuka came to represent the kind of risks oil spills pose for marine life. Oil has been linked to heart defects in fish, reproduction problems in whales, and cancers and immune-system trouble in creatures throughout the food chain [Seattle Times].

Recent spills

This year there have been four major oil spills. On January 23, 2010 the oil tanker Eagle Otome collided with a barge in the Sabine-Neches Waterway at Port Arthur, Texas [Wiki]. There are disputes over the amount of leaked oil in that incident, varying from between 1,000 and 11,000 barrels [158,984 litres to 1,748,000 litres]. In April, shortly before BP grabbed the headlines, the Chinese tanker Sheng Neng 1 ran aground off the coast of Australia [Wiki]. As a result of the grounding, the fuel tanks of the vessel were punctured, allowing fuel oil to leak from the vessel. The oil slick measured at least 3 kilometres long causing damage to parts of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The damage was considerable despite the relatively small, around 3 tonnes, of oil discharged. 

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park spokesman David Wachenfeld said that the Sheng Neng 1 created the largest grounding scar on the Great Barrier Reef known to date. The scar was roughly 3 kilometres long and 250 m wide. Some damaged areas have become completely devoid of marine life. There are concerns that there could be considerable long-term damage to the reef and it will be 10 to 20 years before the reef returns to the state it was in before the incident

Most recently a collision between the tanker, Bunga Kelana 3 carrying light crude, and bulk carrier, MV Waily; on Tuesday resulted in 2,500 tonnes [18,250 barrels / 2,800 litres] of oil being leaked into the sea in the Singapore Strait. Although the cleanup is ongoing, it appears no additional oil is leaking from the vessel.

While large, the BP spill has not yet surpassed that of the biggest to occur in the Gulf of Mexico, though depending on estimates it is coming close. In 1979, a drilling rig in Mexican waters, the Ixtoc I, blew up, releasing 140 million gallons of oil [Wiki]. The well cap in that case took 10 months to seal [List of oil spills].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wen Jiabao in Seoul to discuss crisis

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrives in the South Korean capital of Seoul today [Friday 28/05/2010] and will meet President Lee Myung Bak and Japan's Yukio Hatoyama. The focus of the discussions are likely to revolve around the building tension between North and South Korea. China's premier will likely be pressured to acknowledge that North Korea torpedoed a the South Korean warship Cheonan. 

China has failed to make any significant statement on the issue while the rest of the international community has condemned the attacked and given their tacit support to South Korea. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun would only repeat a call for "restraint" by both sides and said China had no "firsthand information" on the sinking.


The sinking of the Cheonan warship by a North Korean torpedo fired from a submarine on March 26th resulted in the deaths of 46 sailors. Half the crew were saved. The incident has angered many South Koreans who want revenge. In Seoul Thursday thousands spilled onto the streets calling for retaliation. An estimated 10,000 people including war veterans rallied in the city. "Let's kill mad dog Kim Jong-Il!" they shouted as some protesters burned a large North Korean national flag. Experts in the Korean martial art taekwondo used their feet to smash wooden boards bearing the slogans "North Korea" and "Revenge" [Sinchew].


Few countries have disputed the investigation report's findings which revealed "overwhelming evidence" that North Korea had attacked the Cheonan. North Korea have dismissed the findings as a "fabrication", China have said little, and Russia is sending a team to verify the findings of the report. Others have accepted the evidence that North Korea was behind the attack [Report - PDF]

Tensions rose a little further on Thursday. North Korea scrapped a pact aimed at preventing accidental armed clashes with South Korea at their flashpoint sea border. Meanwhile South Korea's navy staged an anti-submarine exercise in its first show of strength since the confrontation began [BBC].


China wants to avoid a conflict on the Korean peninsula. According to Shen Dingli, vice dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Shanghai's Fudan University, China is concerned that taking South Korea's side may provoke North Korea into further escalations and even lead to war. Any conflict would greatly affect China. The two countries share a 1,415-kilometre border and an alliance going back to China's 1950 entry into the Korean War. China's two-way trade with North Korea amounted to $2.7 billion last year, comparatively small to the hundreds of billions of trade with the rest of the world. A conflict would likely lead to significant problems for China. If it did not ally with the US, Europe and other Asian countries a massive export trade could be compromised. By ostracising North Korea, China risks unravelling a long history of partnership and trade. A war would undoubtedly lead to an influx of refugees across the border and into north China [Business Week].

Bringing China into the international fold will be difficult. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remained optimistic however as she conducted a whirlwind diplomatic mission to Japan, China ans South Korea. Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday at the conclusion of two days of talks, she said, "We expect to be working together with China in responding to North Korea's provocative action and promoting stability in the region." But several days later China still remains mute. "They won't be able to ignore the truth," South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan said Thursday at a joint press conference with Hillary Clinton in Seoul. 


While China decides what side to play with, other countries have made their choice clear. The US military is preparing exercises with South Korea in anti-submarine maneuvers and interdicting vessels. The US has about 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of its Korean War involvement in the 1950s. "This is the worst situation we've had since the (1950-53) Korean War," said Yang Moo-Jin, of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies. "Military conflict cannot be completely ruled out." The two Koreas appear to be on a collision course and to have "neither the will nor a strategy to exit from this very extremely difficult phase," he told AFP, saying the crisis could be ended only by the United States and China [Hindustan Times].

Some analysts say that a conflict would likely be limited and not escalate. Peter Beck, a North Korea specialist at Stanford University's Asia-Pacific Research Center, said, "We have to take the threat of further escalation very seriously. Maybe things have to get worse before they get better. Given the tough stance that Seoul, with Washington's support, has taken, Beijing's role is more and more critical to pull the parties back from the edge."

Daniel Pinkston, Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the situation is "pretty serious but I still think the likelihood of escalation into a full-scale war is low". Despite all the noise coming from from Pyongyang, US officials say they've seen little physical evidence that North Korea might actually be preparing to go to war. Just hours after Seoul blamed the North for the sinking of the Cheonan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il publicly ordered his armed forces to get ready for military action, according to sources quoted in The Guardian. But two US national security officials, asking for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said they were not aware of any intelligence reporting on significant military mobilisation or redeployments inside North Korea. 

The North Korean military is always on the move somewhere, one of the officials said, but at the moment whatever movements are being noted by Western intelligence agencies are regarded as not particularly threatening. A third US foreign policy official, who also asked for anonymity, told Newsweek's Declassified that US agencies are picking up "nothing of extreme concern" in what North Korean forces are currently doing. 

Many expect more sabre-rattling however. "I think more provocations could be coming," Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr., a professor of international relations at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, said. "The next ones will be very different though, because Pyongyang would like to catch us 'off-guard'." Bechtol, a former senior analyst for Northeast Asia on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saw a range of possibilities for North Korea to keep nerves jangling in the region. "I see more tension at the Kaesong Industrial Complex," a collaborative economic venture with Pyongyang in North Korea, "perhaps some saber rattling over the loudspeaker broadcasts that the South will be starting up again soon, possible ballistic missile tests, and yes, perhaps even another nuclear test."

History repeated

But he does not see an massive escalation. "I do not see an artillery barrage from the DMZ [De-Militarised Zone] coming - unless the North Koreans really want to start another war, which I doubt," Bechtol added. Bruce Cumings, a longtime scholar on Korea and Japan who chairs the Department of History at the University of Chicago, said everyone needs to take a deep breath. "I think this is being blown way out of proportion," Cumings said. "In 1999 there was a bigger incident in the same place where 30 North Koreans died and 70 were wounded, and the North Koreans chose not to respond --probably because Kim Dae Jung [who pursued reconciliation with the communists] was president, and they were making plans for the June 2000 summit."

The sinking of a South Korea frigate, "was probably related to their anger over the [current] South Korean president going back on 10 years of reconciliation," Cumings said, as well as the US-South Korean Foal Eagle naval exercise just off its shores. "Of course it is reprehensible that they killed 46 sailors, but the boat was in disputed waters," Cumings said, where clashes have been frequent.

In three previous engagements, "North Korea's aging naval ships have taken a pounding from South Korea's far more modern and better-armed vessels," The Washington Post's Blaine Harden and June Lee reported after the March incident. Kerry Patton writing on the Examiner website states that the Cheonan sinking while a major act of aggression, is not as uncommon as many would like to believe. The DMZ which separates the two Koreas witnesses continuous acts of aggression. The difference between annual incidents and this most recent is the magnitude of the event. Even with such magnitude, this should be construed as a test.


Alex Jones of Prison Planet entered into the blame game as he accused the US of complicity in arming North Korea [Prison Planet]. Others meanwhile are predicting WW III. According to one report, Sheikh Imam Rashid, Chief Imam and Spiritual leader of the Salawatia Muslim Mission in Ghana has predicted World War III will break out within a week if the United Nation's fail to use diplomacy to resolve the brewing tension between North and South Korea [Peace FM / Citi FM]

The Imam says that if the US military were to attack North Korea, it was likely that Iran would strike somewhere in the Middle East and Hezbollah would see its goals through of waging war this summer against Israel. If this were to occur, the United States would have little resources to support Israel and the likeliness for the entire world witnessing World War III would be paramount, Sheikh Imam Rashid says.

The possible scenarios that could play out are many. North Korea may back down at the threat of hostilities, or capitulate should a conflict occur. But there are real dangers that anything more than a measured response could quickly escalate drawing other countries into a messy war. The media, as is often the case with such events, is playing up the situation. But some of the scaremongering is real.

Reunification sought

North Korea, sometimes referred to as the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], is seeking reunification and claim that the south is being run with the help of 'imperialists'. The country's official website states: "Korea is an independent and sovereign state, but the South is still controlled by the imperialist interests and the US troops .If any South Korean citizen tries to visit North Korea crossing the big concrete wall, he'll be killed by the american [sic] soldiers. The 'Security Law' in South Korea forbides [sic] to any South Korean citizen to talk or read about the North or else he'll be punished with jail or even death penalty."

"Since the end of the War, one of the main worries of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung and the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was the Unification of the Korean families," the site states and quotes 'The Great Leader', "'To unify the divided country in this moment is the supreme national task of all the Korean people, and we cannot wait just one moment to achieve it."

North Korea's aim is clear, their resolve is more difficult to gauge. And despite the speculation and analysis, it it difficult to predict an outcome. Asia correspondent for the LA Times, who has reported extensively in the region and is currently based in Cambodia, says we should learn from history. "It's difficult to compare such different societies and cultures as those in Cambodia and North Korea, but the lesson is clear," Donald Kirk writes. "There can be no real compromise with the Kim regime. The history of regimes such as Cambodia's under the Khmer Rouge is that they do not willingly yield, do not suddenly adopt humanitarian policies and do not give up the props of their rule, notably their weapons."

"It's wishful thinking to expect North Korea to shift its policies or honor any agreement on much of anything, including its nuclear weapons program. It took an upheaval to bring about relief from suffering in Cambodia, and it will take another on that scale to reform North Korea."

China's position

But by taking on North Korea, one may take on it's large friend, China. Kim Jong Il's visit to Beijing shortly after the sinking of the Cheonan saw the leader being welcomed with open arms. Wu Bangguo, China's top legislator, spoke of the two countries writing "a new chapter of bilateral relations in the next 60 years" [Xinhua]. 

Meanwhile Hu Jintao, China's president, said, "the traditional friendship between China and the DPRK is the common treasures of the two governments, parties and peoples, and it is the historical responsibility of the two sides to push forward their friendship with the progress of the times and from generation to generation" [Xinhua]. With such stated bonds China's position is truly difficult as it tries to evaluate what course it should follow. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Atlantis wraps up history for shuttle

Space shuttle Atlantis has touched down safely at Kennedy Space Center, bringing to a close a long history of manned space flight. STS-132 touched down at 08:48 ET local [12:48 UTC/GMT] after 186 orbits around Earth and a journey of 4,879,978 miles [7,853,563.31 km].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

The Times launches paywall site

The Times and Sunday Times newspapers have launched redesigned websites, as it prepares to charge for online content. The new site,, will replace its current website Times Online. Users will be obliged to pay £1 [$1.43] for a day's access and £2 [$2.87] for a week's subscription starting in June. It is a move that will be watched by the news industry.

Times Editor James Harding said it was time to stop "giving away" journalism in the two newspapers. However he said News International was "clearly aware" they were taking a big step.

Talking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Harding said, "Our feeling is that it is time to stop giving away our journalism. That's because we feel that we are undermining the value of our journalism, undermining the value of the Times and undermining the perception that journalism and news has a value."

Even News International expects to lose up to 90% of its online readership. "I think we are going to lose a large number of readers who are window shoppers," he said. Recent figures show that The Times and Sunday Times had about 1.22 million daily users.  The Wall Street Journal, also owned by News International, has one of the most successful paid-for sites with about 407,000 electronic subscribers. But some analysts point out that the WSJ offers specialist content, and that charging for general news is a different business model.

In a survey of 1,592 people living in the UK by Entertainment Media Research, more than 90% said they were unwilling to pay to access a range of news websites offered by The Times.

The new site has been completely redesigned and is far less cluttered than the old one. "It looks a lot like a newspaper, which I don't think we're apologising for," said Tom Whitwell, assistant editor of The Times. When charging begins, The Times' stories will no longer be visible in search engine results, which often provide the biggest source of traffic for any website.

Douglas McCabe, an analyst at Enders, said The Times sites were likely to attract a lot of initial interest from curious readers. "But it's what [the traffic] looks like in six months' time that matters," McCabe said.

News Corporation, the parent company of The Times, has said that its other titles, The Sun and The News of the World, will begin charging for their online content later this year. Rebekah Brooks, the company's chief executive, describes this as a "defining moment for journalism".
[BBC/FT/Times/Guardian/Telegraph blog Aug2009]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wasting time & money on the Happy Farm

To western users of Facebook, the online game Farmville will be quite familiar. The game in which players build up a virtual farm has become increasingly popular. In China too there is growing number of Internet users becoming addicted to its version of the game. Called Happy Farm, there are millions of Chinese players immersed in watering virtual plots, growing virtual crops and stealing virtual vegetables.

There are are wide number of reasons put forward as to why so many have been drawn in by this farming game. Most people playing live in the cities. Their roots once lay in the country and some have likened it as an attempt to recreate their past. Some have disparagingly said that while one can take the peasant out the farm you can't take the farm out of the peasant. Players themselves talk of escapism but others say it's like real-life. "It's a way to experience life," one man told state-run media recently [Newsweek]. 

Happy Farm arrived in China in 2008 and now some 80 million people play the game daily. This number accounts for around 20% of the country's Internet population. And some are definitely spending just a little too much time in this virtual landscape.  According to Global Times, the English Language daily here in Beijing, there are more than 15 million urban Chinese who spend more than five hours a day on their happy farm. There is increasing concern that such addiction can lead to more than a few social problems. There is loss of production. In offices around the city there will be thousands of hours wasted daily on Happy Farm. But such addiction can follow these white collar workers home. And it has even led to divorce after husbands or their wives spend so much time growing virtual crops they neglect to nurture their marriage [Techcrunch / Telegraph / China Smack]. 

The game, which is free, is played across social networking sites like Facebook or their Chinese equivalents such as or which means that virtual farmers can visit each other's farms, trade livestock and generally admire each other's handiwork. But players can also use real cash to buy virtual goodies, everything from special tools to windmills, exotic animals to better seeds. And just as westerners have been drawn into the game and parted with large sums of money, many Asians have too. In Taiwan one man recently accused Facebook of deceiving him into spending nearly $100 on his virtual farm [Asia One].

While some are happy to live in a virtual world, others are even prepared to spend money to turn that virtual world into reality. Mr. Liu, a white-collar worker who lives in the Pudong district with his family, rents a piece of farmland in the suburbs for a 3, 000 RMB [$439] membership fee. Every weekend the whole family drives to their actual 'happy farm' to water, weed and fertilize real crops. At least at harvest season they have something to show for their time spent on their farm as they bring home vegetables they have grown [People's Daily]. Many may be content to waste their time in happy farm but few will have little to show for their indulgence. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Saturday, May 22, 2010

165 feared dead in India plane crash

More than 160 people are feared dead after plane crashed in southern India early this morning. The Air India Express flight IX 812 is believed to have overshot the runway and burst into flames. Around 165 passengers were believed to be on board the Boeing 737-800 [similar to that pictured above] which was arriving at Mangalore from Dubai. "Around 160 people are feared dead in the crash. Only Six to seven might have survived," Home Minister of Karnataka, V S Acharya told CNN-IBN.

Firefighters were making efforts to rescue the survivors but were delayed in reaching the scene due to the hilly terrain. Twenty-five ambulances were dispatched to the crash site. Heavy rain is also hampering rescue efforts. 

Sources at Air India told CNN-IBN that the length of the runway is comparatively small. The cause of the accident which happened at 06:30 local time has yet to be ascertained but bad weather cannot be ruled out.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, May 21, 2010

Beijing Zoo menu stirs controversy

A restaurant at Beijing Zoo has angered animal rights campaigner and conservationists for sending the wrong message after it was reported the establishment served exotic animals on its menu. The Bin Feng Tang [豳风堂餐厅] restaurant, which is situated in Xizhimen Waidajie in the Xicheng District of Beijing, sells around 100 different animals according to the Chinese newspaper Legal Evening News. Customers may indulge in deer tendon, antelope soup, ants, scorpions and peacock meat. But on the more contoversial side is the sale of hippopotomus, crocodile, alligator and shark fin. Prices range from 400 RMB [$58] to more than a 1000 RMB [$146] .

The restaurant manager seemed somewhat surprised at the recent interest, saying that the menu had been relatively unchanged in years. Indeed one comment on a review website claiming the restaurant was "really excellent" and the "wild animals' meat ... delicious" dates back to 2008 [Chineseeye]. Recent or not the news is not going down well. “How would you feel, watching animals imprisoned in a limited space while eating their siblings?” asked Zheng Yuanjie, a well-known author, on his blog. 

The zoo restaurant apparently has the requisite licence from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry and is quite legal because none of the species on the menu are endangered. The restaurant has insisted the animals are not sourced from the confines of the zoo, but this has not appeased animal welfare groups. “The zoo is where we teach children to be nice to animals,” Qin Xiaona, head of the Capital Animal Welfare Association told the daily Global Times. “How can we do this after eating them?”

"It is utterly inappropriate for a zoo to sell such items," said Ge Rui of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "One of the zoo's missions is to foster love of animals and a desire to protect them. But by selling the meat of caged beasts, this zoo stimulates consumption and increases pressure on the animals in the wild. It is socially irresponsible."

Chang Jiwen, a legal expert at the China Academy of Social Sciences who is trying to draft an animal protection law, said: "Although it is legal, I don't think it is humanitarian. It is very inappropriate and immoral of them to sell such products. It is against the aim of the zoo."

Animal welfare is a difficult concept to push in China. Dog can still be seen on many menus despite increasing hostility to the idea of eating 'companion animals'. Crocodile and shark's fin, while expensive is not unusual. And scorpions, sea horses and locusts are a familiar sight on Wangfujing's famous food stalls. As for the Bin Feng Tang, they say they may revise their menu after the negative publicity [Guardian / CSM].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Was S.Korea sinking an 'act of war'?

The US definition for a "act of war" is any act occurring in the course of a) a declared war; b) an armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or c) an armed conflict between military forces of any origin [Cornell Univ]. However, while speaking at a Pentagon press conference Defence Secretary Robert Gates refused to characterize the sinking of a South Korean naval ship by a North Korean torpedo as an 'act of war'. He said the US will consult closely with the South Koreans, but it's up to them to determine the next move. "The key thing to remember here is that this was an attack on a South Korean ship and the South Koreans need to be in the lead in terms of proposing the way forward," Gates said.

It is a difficult move for the US and indeed South Korea. Striking back in any military capacity, while understandable, might provoke an 'all-out war' as North Korea has threatened. With the north believed to hold nuclear weapons and with strong ties to Beijing, this issue is likely to end with piecemeal sanctions and harsh words but little else.

With 30,000 US service members stationed in South Korea, Gates was pressured to address the possibility of becoming embroiled in a conflict. "If there were a problem in Korea our main arms would be the Navy and the Air Force," Gates said. But such a conflict would stretch the US military significantly. The United States is already in a long running conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the proposition of getting bogged down on another front is not pleasing.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Thursday there was no interest in seeing the Korean peninsula "explode", but he said there needs to be a meaningful response. "Clearly this was a serious provocation by North Korea and there will definitely be consequences because of what North Korea has done," Crowley said.

The South Korean warship Cheonan sank mysteriously in March killing 46 and leaving 58 survivors. But it has taken weeks to establish the cause. An international team of investigators concluded that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine was responsible for the explosion that ripped the 1,200-tonne corvette in two. "The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation," an official report into the incident said [Report: PDF].

Britain and the US immediately threw their support behind the report's findings. Britain's foreign secretary William Hague said, "The UK and international partners are committed to working closely with the Republic of Korea as they consider an appropriate multilateral response to this callous act." The White House has described the attack as an act of aggression that constituted a challenge to international peace and security. 

The issue is set to dominate the agenda during Hillary Clinton's Asian tour, which began yesterday [BBC]. Kurt Campbell, America's most senior diplomat for Asia, said that a "central issue of discussion" for the US Secretary of State's talks with Chinese officials would be "their assessments of developments in North Korea and their reaction to the report". However China has been mute in their response only saying that "all parties should exercise calmness and restraint, properly deal with relevant issues, and avoid escalation of the situation."

South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak told his security council the sinking of the Cheonan on 26 March had violated the UN Charter and the 1953 armistice which effectively ended the Korean War. Ordering "systematic and resolute counter-measures against North Korea so that it cannot repeat this reckless provocation", he nonetheless stressed the need for caution. "Since this case is very serious and has a grave importance, we cannot afford to have a slightest mistake and will be very prudent in all response measures we take," he said.

But his Defence Minister Kim had harsher words saying the North had "surpassed the limits" set on the two states by the armistice and "for those acts, the government will definitely make sure North Korea pays." To the north a spokesman from the National Defense Commission of the DPRK rejected the conclusion of the report as a "fabrication" and warned that any retaliation would lead to an "all-out war". That is unlikely to happen, but tensions in the region have certainly raised. The sinking of the Cheonan may well have been an act of war, but to respond in kind might bring the world that much closer to another world war [BBC / Times / Telegraph / Xinhua / Fox].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thailand faces uncertain future

After a long stand-off between demonstrators and Thai authorities, the military was finally ordered in to shift the Red Shirts yesterday. While not as bloody as some expected, there are still many challenges ahead for prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. 

Bangkok is under curfew as are several other parts of the country following Wednesday's crackdown. Soldiers cleared thousands of anti-government protesters from their fortified encampment in Thai capital but it may not end the movement against the Abhisit regime.

Around 40 people have died since troops ringed the protesters last week, with at least 14 more deaths on Wednesday. The government say they are confident that with protest leaders arrested and their main protest site demolished, stability will be restored. But by sending in troops to break up a largely civilian protest risks further inflaming a volatile situation. There are already reports from other parts of the country of protests and violence directed against the government. In the north-east protesters have attacked government buildings and the mood was said to be tense in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Reporting dangers

As well as protesters, some journalists have also been caught up in the violence. Among the dead on Wednesday was a 45 year old Italian photojournalist Italian Fabio Polenghi, while three other reporters, a Dutch journalist, an American and a Canadian photographer, were among scores of people injured. Chandler Vandergrift [pictured above, lying with an injured soldier], a Canadian documentary-maker in his 20s working in Bangkok, suffered shrapnel injuries to his head, legs and arms after a grenade exploded less than 70 metres from him, said freelance photographer Nick Nostitz. "He needed brain surgery. Doctors don't really know yet, but they believe he might be handicapped," Nostitz said in an interview with Canwest News Service.

Vandergrift is the second Canadian to be injured in Bangkok in the last week. Calgary journalist Nelson Rand, 34, was seriously wounded last Friday when he was struck by three bullets in his leg, abdomen and wrist. Two journalists have been killed and several wounded while covering the political unrest. The Dutch man was identified as Michel Maas, who works for Dutch television and newspapers as well as Radio Netherlands Worldwide. He took a bullet in his right shoulder but was said to be in relatively good condition. An army bullet hit him from behind as he was running away according to reports. "I really had no time to be shocked. When the army attacked I started running. I felt a hard blow but didn't realise I had been hit by a bullet. I was given a lift to the hospital on the back of a scooter," Maas said. Last month Hiroyuki Muramoto, a Japanese cameraman working for the Reuters news agency, was fatally shot though the findings of the official investigation into his death have never been released.

Some journalists have said that they were being deliberately targeted and that in some cases attempts had been made to steal cameras from photographers. Thomas Fuller, a reporter for the International Herald Tribune, described how opposition figure Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol was shot in the head as Fuller was interviewing him. Fuller told CNN that he was standing only a few feet away from Sawasdipol when he was shot. Sawasdipol was transported to hospital but later died of his injuries. The attacks on media personnel has angered journalist organisations. "The right to information is more important than ever when a country is in crisis, as Thailand is at the moment," Reporters Without Borders said. "International law clearly states that journalists cannot be military targets. We are outraged to see the media being repeatedly targeted by both the army and demonstrators. We urge the Thai government to restore order without delay and to lift the media censorship." [Freemedia / RNW / Vancouver Sun / RSF].


Despite the curfew there are continuing attacks in Bangkok. Some protesters have fanned out across the city looting shops and setting fire to key financial targets, among them a bank and major shopping centre and the city's stock exchange. The curfew imposed across almost one-third of the country includes a block on cash dispensing machines and a temporary government takeover of some TV channels.

While such measures might be regarded as sensible in order to thwart violent retaliation from the Red-shirts, the move could also fan the flames of discontent. The government has offered a political solution, a road map that might take both sides into talks in dissolving parliament and calling fresh elections. But this dispute runs deeper, to the very nature of Thai democracy, and that debate has split opinion within families and the government, even within the army and the protesters themselves.


Speaking to those that travel to Thailand regularly or have a strong connection with the country brings some perspective of the divisions. One young man who has visited Thailand several times over the last decade and is currently learning the language, spoke to tvnewswatch. "I think that the problem with Thailand is that the Thais never like to lose because they feel insulted if they do not win.They always accuse the opposite party of being corrupt or fiddling the elections if their own party has lost, and yet they are so nationalistic that they would refuse to have international observers like the UN supervising the elections," Robin Chakrabarti said.

"Both of my [language] teachers are supporters of opposite sides, so they would probably not like each other if they met, but I like both of them," he said, "It is a pity that politics can divide people so much. I hope that the problems do not gradually spread to more areas otherwise it will be like the Roundheads and Cavaliers, but in a different century and place." One of his language teachers had returned to the UK recently and Robin talked of her reaction. "My Thai teacher had also been in the area near the Skytrain station and Ploenchit Plaza, which is where there are several huge shopping malls are, a couple of weeks ago and had to escape an invasion of the shopping centre by Red-shirts," he said.

Many tourists had also to escape the area. "One English guy who had just got back from Bangkok a few days ago said that the Skytrain was shut down and he found it hard to get a taxi because they had disappeared to avoid being shot at," Robin told tvnewswatch. "He could hear gunfire and at one point he saw barricades with burning tyres etc, but when he arrived in the area where all the cheap backpacker guesthouses are, everything was OK except it was not normal because whereas usually the place is swarming with tourists with their backpacks, there were very few people about and most places were nearly empty." 

Locals not involved in the protests were struggling to make a living, but the volatile situation was making things difficult. "The local people who rely on tourism had put on a street party in Khaosan Road, the main tourist ghetto in the Banglumphu area, to encourage foreigners to stay, but there were not many about," he said.

Fractured past

The politics behind the protests cannot be simplified. For news organisations it can be too easily described as a conflict of class or of ideology. "The BBC reporter the other day wrongly described it as a fight between the rich and poor, but it is a lot more complicated than that," Robin said. "Thaksin [Shinawatra] was the legally elected Prime Minister, but had gradually become more and more powerful and built up resentment due to his selling off of a Thai telecom satellite [company] to Singapore, and also making sure his own family controlled or owned a lot of things in the country," Robin explained. "He himself had become a billionaire from business and owning an airline etc. However, he was a strong leader, got rid of drug dealers, and tried to crush the Muslim separatists in the south, but many people thought he was corrupt."

"He was ousted in the military coup by the Yellow-shirts while he was on a trip to America, which was not democratic. There was a General Sonti who took over when the coup took place, but they didn't like him and so there was somebody else chosen. Even though General Sonti was Muslim he did not manage to stop the violence in the south and it got worse. From what I have heard, but it may not be correct, Abhisit [Vejjajiva] was elected, but some people claim that the election was rigged and that he was chosen by the people in the army who were already in charge."
Uncertain future

In the short term Thailand may quieten down, but whether confidence returns to a lucrative tourist industry is far from clear. Thailand relies heavily on tourism and Thaksin was seen as being far more open than his successor. "Some Thais thought that he [Thaksin] was selling out Thailand to foreigners and giving foreigners too many rights," Robin says, "However, without the foreign investment from one million Brits on holiday each year, the Thai economy would lose by at least ten percent [of its annual GDP]." 

Thailand has been gripped by a paralysing political crisis ever since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted from office in the 2006 military coup. Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was chosen as prime minister in December 2008, and some Thais hoped the protests had finally come to an end. But the political schism was far from over. In March 2010 the pro-Thaksin Red-shirts launched new protests aimed at bringing the government down.

Two months on, central Bangkok has been rocked by violence, bloodshed and destruction of key buildings. Analysts and some participants say the problem goes far beyond Thaksin, and is about how much say ordinary people are allowed to have in the formation of their government. The past 24 hours may have shown that the government can still impose its will. Whether it has quelled the anger or simply stoked it remains to be seen.

Thailand has had more than its fair share of crises. The SARS epidemic created panic in the country and the avian flu also affected the economy. "Nearly all chickens had to be slaughtered and you could only buy chips in KFC for a few months," Robin remembers. The tourist industry was also hit markedly by the military coup and the 2006 tsunami. The latest trouble does not bode well. "I hope Thailand gets over this present crisis and does not lose its charm as being a country of smiling friendly people," Robin said.

In a televised address late on Wednesday, Abhisit Vejjajiva said he was "confident and determined to end the problems and return the country to peace and order once again". Peace is what every Thai wants, but many also want fresh elections. Abhisit may not concede to this demand so readily however [Boston / BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Expo 2010 under a critical eye

Speaking at the Chinese Communist Party's National Conference on Propaganda Work in March 1957, Mao Zedong told the assembled crowd that, "The Communist Party does not fear criticism because we are Marxists, the truth is on our side, and the basic masses, the workers and peasants, are on our side." , But criticism is exactly what China's Communist Party fears the most. It also fears the dissemination of the truth and that the workers and peasants may not be as loyal as they once were.

Free speech is not readily accepted in China, despite statements to the contrary by its present leaders. And those who criticise its achievements are soon rounded up by authorities. The latest focus of criticism is China's second coming out party, the EXPO 2010 currently being held in Shanghai.
Long before the EXPO 2010 started, the Propaganda Department had issued notices to newspapers and major web portals insisting on positive reports. 

Despite all the chaos during the opening, most of the official reports remained positive and there were very few negative comments online. Western media focused on long queues in searing heat, disappointed visitors and the extreme security. But China's official media spoke of the extravaganza on show. There has also been little discussion of the displacement of residents to make way for the exhibition or the disruption for foreigners who live in Shanghai.

One Chinese blogger who did air his point of view soon found himself being hauled off by local police. Blogger Bad Friend was summoned by security police for interrogation over tea upon writing an article, 10 sins of EXPO 2010, on his blog. After the tea session, he wrote another article, "La Dernière Classe", recording the conversation between the security police and himself. The exchange reflects the ideological conflict between a party-state nation represented by the security police and a people-orientated nation represented by the student blogger. The two original posts were deleted but still circulated widely online [Global Voices].

In particular the blogger criticised the fact that many residents near the Huangpu river were forced to move to make way for the EXPO. He highlights what he calls a violation of human rights with the Shanghai government monitoring over 100 thousand foreign residents, demanding they return home no later than 11pm. "This is a violation of personal freedom and privacy… And recently, human rights activists Feng Zhenghu's home was raided by police after he proposed holding an 'Injustice Expo'. His computer and modem were confiscated," the blogger writes. There is no demonstration zone, something that did exist though under strict supervision at the Beijing Olympics. This implies, the blogger asserts, that "all demonstrations during the Expo will be illegal as we don't have freedom of assembly and demonstration in China."

There has been some talk of the money poured into what is arguably the biggest ever EXPO. A Bad Friend calls it "a wasteful decorative engineering project" and compares the money allocated to the EXPO and other more pressing matters. "This Expo becomes the most expensive world Expo as the government has spent 400 billion yuan on it. The Central government only allocated an RMB 0.15 billion relief fund to fight against the drought that cost RMB 20 billion in economic damages and affected 60 million people. During the "Two Congresses", officials said that it only took RMB 160 billion annually to achieve universal health care. The spending on people's livelihood is much less than all these decorative projects…"

The EXPO has also destroyed cultural heritage with parts of Shanghai's old city being demolished. In what appears to be a wanton waste of resources many of the Expo pavilions will be demolished at the end of the exhibition, though a small number of them will be preserved in order to boost the property market.

Security is high both in and around the EXPO site. But some restrictions go beyond the banning of knife sales and the prohibition of lighters and matches on the exhibition site itself. The government, under the pretext of improving the city's look, has restricted people from hanging their clothes outdoors and stopped people from wearing pyjamas in the street. Real name registration is now required when buying chopping knives. Recently the Shanghai government also demanded residents to show their ID when buying rat poison and pesticides…

During the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony, western media focused on a miming singer and fake fireworks that had been enhanced with computer graphics. The Shanghai EXPO has not escaped criticism either. The plagiarized Expo theme song has been talked about a great deal in foreign news reports and Bad Friend also pours scorn on the incident. "We have lost our face before the opening of Expo. The theme song, estimated to have costed 10 million yuan has become a national shame…," he says.

Even the EXPO mascot Haibao has been liked to a copy of an American cartoon character called Gumby and more recently the trademark logo of a white goods manufacturer called Henan Xinxiang Haibao [Telegraph].

The slogan of EXPO is "Better City, Better Life" something which the Shanghai blogger find rather incongruous given the disruption surrounding the event.

But while western media is unimpeded in its commentary, the blogger was summoned by security police. The main purpose of the exchange, apart from delivering a warning to the blogger, was an examination of his thoughts with an attempt to identify the source of his ideas and whether or not there was a social network behind the scenes. The blogger called the tea session "La Dernière Classe" and wrote about his discussion with the local authorities.

He was asked to explain his opinions, and while he said he was not against Expo as an event, he was against its politicization. "The Expo, as an exhibition of culture and science development, can be an enlightening event in China. It is a platform for us to understand the world more. However, it is not necessary to turn it into a propaganda and post so many restriction on people's life," he told them. 

Asked where he received his ideas he explained he read foreign media sources which he described as "more independent and therefore trustworthy." The police official insisted "they are not that trustworthy" and that "they like to report negative news."

Freedom of expression, the blocking of Internet sites and even the Google spat with China's government were discussed as were issues over government corruption and openness. "Our country is getting strong and you only focus on the dark side," the official told the blogger. 

Conceding there had been some changes the blogger said, "The country has progress but not its people. There are many many such kind of problems."

And the end of the discussion the official told the blogger, "I have three demands, please remember: 1. don't write those kind of article any more; 2. Be objective, rational, accurate and all-dimensional in dealing with issues; 3. I wish you can find a good job. You have to deal with your life first and some issues are not of your concern."

The blogger was then allowed to leave, though his name will no doubt be marked by authorities as 'subversive'.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

British Airways strike off, for now

British Airways has won a High Court injunction to stop the latest series of strikes by its cabin staff. The first of four five-day walkouts had been due to begin at midnight but a decision by Justice McCombe has stopped the strike. The decision was based on a technicality and whether the Unite trade union followed rules in contacting its members with strike result details.

BA said it was delighted the strike would not go ahead. "We are delighted for our customers that Unite's plans for extreme and unjustified strike action cannot go ahead," a spokesman said. BA told the court that the planned four five-day strikes would have cost the airline £138 million. 

BA sought to block the strike claiming that a "tweet" sent out by Unite did not contain a full breakdown of the ballot result as it was obliged to do. The airline claimed that emails and texts sent to Unite members did not have the information required under the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. But Unite's national officer Steve Turner insisted the union had acted lawfully in informing its members of the ballot. The union said it posted notices on crew locations at London airports, and used text messages and e-mails to get the strike ballot result across to members.

However Justice McCombe was not convinced. "I am unable to say it is sufficiently clear that the union took the steps required by law at the time they were required," he said. Unite say they will appeal the injunction in the courts and attempt to go ahead with other planned strikes. The ruling by the court may be a crippling blow to Unite. The union may face a significant compensation claim because the February ballot was followed by seven days of walkouts in March that cost BA at least £43 million.

Despite the industrial action being stopped, passengers may still face disruption. Gatwick should see a full schedule, but several hundred flights from other airports will still be cancelled. British Airways explained that the last-minute ruling came too late for planes to be reinstated. The airline's operations are expected to have returned to normal by the weekend.

In the long term passengers travelling with the airline still face an uncertain year ahead. With the dispute itself unsettled, the threat of a strike may have merely been shifted until later in the summer. Nonetheless the ruling made yesterday brought welcome relief to many passengers who had already faced fresh disruption brought about from volcanic ash that once again shut British airspace. Most airports were back to normal by late Monday as winds pushed the volcanic plume to the north-east [BBC/Sky/Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, May 17, 2010

Air travellers face more disruption

Air passengers are facing further disruption due to volcanic ash clouds and impending industrial action by British Airways. Parts of British airspace were closed over the weekend as authorities imposed bans on aircraft flying to a number of airports after ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano began to sweep across the country. Last month volcanic ash severely disrupted travel around the globe resulting in thousands of passengers being stranded and causing massive losses for airlines. The problems may be compounded if a strike planned by British Airways' cabin staff goes ahead this week.

Strike threat

A series of strikes are due to affect flights over the next three weeks. The company is to go to the High Court later to try to stop the latest strikes by its cabin staff and seek an injunction, just 24 hours before the first of four separate five-day walkouts is due to begin.

At the same time, both the government and conciliation service Acas will be making attempts to persuade BA and the Unite union to reach a settlement. Earlier this month, Unite members rejected the airline's fresh deal on pay and working conditions. While details of that deal were not given, Unite said BA had failed to restore the travel perks it withdrew from staff involved in the previous strikes in March. The first strike is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, ending on 22 May, with the three further strikes planned to begin on 24 May, 30 May and 5 June.

BA intend to appeal to a judge to declare the strike ballot unlawful because it failed to meet a legal requirement to provide everyone who took part with a full breakdown of results - including how many votes were cast; how many voted for industrial action; how many voted against and the number of spoiled papers.

However, some within the union are threatening a "guerrilla campaign". The industrial action comes as BA prepares to announce record annual losses. It also comes on the back of further losses from the disruption brought about by the volcanic ash cloud last month. Court papers show that last month's volcanic ash lockdown cost BA up to £120 million on top of £45 million in extra losses from the seven days of strike action in March. 

In an appeal to staff, Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, said the strikes would only damage the airline and run the risk of redundancies. However Walsh has been accused of pursuing "petty, vindictive" actions against union members. Tony Woodley, the joint general secretary of Unite, said, "The reason [we are still in dispute] is that Mr Walsh is now taking petty, vindictive action by not putting our staff travel back on and at the same time victimising up to 50 of our people, five of whom have been sacked … it is absolutely scandalous."

Volcanic ash stops flights

As BA attempt to resolve their industrial dispute, other airlines were continuing to face problems with volcanic ash. A no-fly zone imposed over London was lifted at 7am, with flights grounded in other parts of the UK, including Scotland and Wales. However there are expected to be knock-on effects for passengers as Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports restrict the number of flights allowed to take off and land following the ban.

Passengers are being urged to check with their airlines before travelling. Restrictions are expected in parts of the UK until Tuesday, the air traffic authority NATS said. Meanwhile the spread of ash was also beginning to affect parts of Europe early Monday. Dutch TV reported that airports in Amsterdam and Rotterdam were to close for at least eight hours from 07:00 CET [05:00 GMT]. Eurocontrol said it expects that approximately 1,000 flights will be cancelled due to volcanic ash on Monday.

In a statement released by NATS, they said "The volcanic ash cloud continues to change shape and two key areas affect operations stretching from the South of England to Northern Ireland, and over much of mainland Scotland to the Shetland Isles. As a result, no-fly zones have been imposed by the CAA in these areas, for the period 07:00 local until 13:00 local today [Monday]." Airports within the no-fly zones include all those in Northern Ireland, Ronaldsway, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Northern Scotland. Cardiff, Swansea, Bristol and Farnborough are also in the no-fly zone.

Heathrow and Gatwick airports will be clear of the no-fly zone however restrictions will have to be applied due to their close proximity to the no-fly zone particularly affecting Gatwick inbounds, the air authority said.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Web users still at risk from clickjacking

Web users are still vulnerable to so called clickjacking despite its having been around for some time. Clickjacking, also known as UI redressing, is a malicious technique of tricking Web users into revealing confidential information or taking control of their computer while clicking on seemingly innocuous Web pages. A vulnerability across a variety of browsers and platforms, a clickjacking takes the form of embedded code or script that can execute without the user's knowledge, such as clicking on a button that appears to perform another function.

Clickjacking became well-known in 2008 after researchers Robert Hansen and Jeremiah Grossman discovered a type of attack involving Adobe Systems' Flash application that could give remote access to a victim's Web camera and microphone. Since that time, many Web sites and browser makers have taken steps to shore up their defences, but the vast majority of sites are not protected.

Social networking sites are particular targets, but the attacks might go further. And no browser is immune. Opening the Twitter interface Brizzly in Google Chrome might display the following warning: "Though it looks like it, there's a chance you're NOT looking at This may have been a clickjacking attempt. Best advice: close this window or tab and type to get back to Brizzly". But the user may receive no warning at all.

The basic idea is that an attacker loads the content of an external site into the site being visited, sets the external content to be invisible and then overlays the page the user is looking at. When a link is clicked on the page one may in fact be clicking on the externally loaded page and about to load whatever the attacker intends.

"Clickjacking was first announced two years ago, but most sites aren't protected against it," says Paul Stone, a security consultant with Context Information Security in the UK, "And people don't realize how it works."

Facebook and Twitter both have suffered from clickjacking -- in December, Facebook was hit with an attack that came in the form of a comment on a user's account with a photo and a link. The link took the victim to a Web page that presented like a CAPTCHA or Turing test, and lured the user into clicking on the blue "Share" button on the Facebook page. A Web developer, meanwhile, released a proof-of-concept attack against Twitter that allowed an attacker to hijack a member's "update" function [Dark Reading].

In the end, there doesn't appear to be a an easy, or even complete, solution to the issue and where there are work arounds, they often create further problems [WebMonkey / Information Week]. All the major browser makers will have to address this issue soon as the issue may become more serious than just hitting social network sites. Banking and financial sites could also be compromised in the same way.Website designers also need to take the warnings seriously. These attacks, Stone says, work in the many versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. However, some have begun to address the issue. Internet Explorer 8, Safari version 4 and higher and Chrome version 2 and higher now recognize an HTTP header called X-Frame-Options. As long as a Web page is tagged with that, the browsers will prevent the Web site from being rendered within a frame, which clickjacking requires. Mozilla is planning to have the feature in a future version of Firefox.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

8 year old survives Tripoli plane crash

Reports say that an 8-year-old Dutch boy has survived a deadly plane crash at Tripoli airport. The Netherlands' prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende confirmed the survival of the boy at a press conference broadcast on Dutch TV. He said "dozens of Dutch people" were among the dead in the crash. The Libyan transport minister, Mohamed Zidan, said at least 96 people had died in the crash, though earlier Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, was quoted as saying he had been told that about 100 people had been killed in the crash. 

Even the number of those on board varied. According to the airline the Airbus 330-200 was carrying 93 passengers and 11 crew members. However another source earlier told the AFP news agency there were 94 passengers and 11 crew members. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear. British authorities are meanwhile trying to establish if any of its nationals were among those on board.

Weather was said to be good at the time of the incident with happened at 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT) Wednesday. The plane, Flight 771 from Johannesburg, came down as it approached Tripoli airport. Pictures showed debris covering a wide area with only the tail-fin being immediately recognisable as a part of what was once an aircraft. The aircraft was not filled to capacity carrying less than half of a possible 253 passengers.

Afriqiyah Airways, with its hub in Tripoli, was founded in 2001. It has 13 aircraft in its fleet and flies to 25 countries, principally in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The reason behind the crash is not yet known however Libyan authorities have ruled out terrorism. Both black boxes had been recovered and are likely to help in establishing the cause of the disaster. The European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA], an arm of the European Union, is coordinating with Airbus and French investigators in helping to determine the cause of the crash. A team from the French-based agency will fly to Tripoli on Wednesday afternoon, Daniel Hoeltgen spokesman for the EASA said.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Cameron begins to form his cabinet

As David Cameron starts his first day in office his first task will be to form a cabinet. Already he has handed the post of deputy prime minister to Liberal democrat leader Nick Clegg but many posts remain unfilled. William Hague has been placed in the role of foreign secretary. Speaking earlier he said, "I don't think it will be a weak coalition. It will be a strong government, the strongest we've had for some time." Conservative George Osborne has become the new chancellor of the exchequer, while the Liberal Democrat's Vince Cable has been tipped to join his team. On the subject of working with the new Chancellor, Cable told the BBC, with a smile and slight hesitation, "We've had our differences, but I think both of us realise that there's a massive task now facing this country. We're business-like. I'm happy to work with him." Veteran MP and former chancellor Ken Clarke will be the new justice secretary.

Conservatives Dr Liam Fox and Andrew Lansley have been given roles as defence secretary and health secretary respectively while Chris Huhne has been placed in the role of energy and climate change. Liberal Democrats David Lucas and Danny Alexander are also expected to get posts within the cabinet. Though nothing has been confirmed, Lucas is tipped for the role of education secretary while Alexander may take up the reins of Scottish secretary. Meanwhile the Conservative Michael Gove was tipped for home secretary though the post was later given to Theresa May. The former Times journalist and a key member of David Cameron's inner circle, Gove helps write many of Cameron's speeches. Twenty Liberal Democrats are expected to join the Tories with junior ministerial jobs [BBC / Telegraph / Papers: Sky].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

105 feared dead after Tripoli plane crash

A Libyan plane arriving from South Africa has crashed at Tripoli airport killing 105 people, a security official has told the AFP news agency. Among the dead were 94 passengers and 11 crew members, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. In a statement on Airport authorities said there were 93 passengers and 11 crew aboard

The crash occurred at 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT) Wednesday when the plane, flight 771, was trying to land. The plane was an Airbus 330 operated by the Tripoli-based Afriqiyah Airways. A statement on their website said there were 93 passengers and 11 crew aboard and that a search and rescue mission was underway [SMH / Press TV / Air Afriqiyah]

Libya has several Airbus aircraft in its fleet [Air Afriqiyah]. The reason behind the crash is not yet known.

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Conservatives form coalition with Lib Dems

The news emerged slowly last night and even by midnight the details were not completely clear, but after days of negotiations the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats have finally struck a deal and formed a coalition government. Yesterday could be described as a frenetic day in politics. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, left his house and was surrounded by a throng of media. David Cameron was greeted with similar scenes as he too left for London, but both could only say they were hopeful a deal could be struck. The Lib Dems had not only talked to the Conservatives however. The party had conducted clandestine talks over the weekend with the Labour party and were accused of two-timing by some Tories. By midday yesterday yesterday it began to emerge that no deal had been worked out with Labour and it seemed the only hope of forming a coalition was between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

A huge throng of journalists and protesters had gathered at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall by the time the negotiating teams arrived at 2 pm. But they had a long wait before anyone emerged. It was just past 7:30 pm when Shadow foreign secretary William Hague left the building and spoke to reporters. He said the meeting with the Lib Dems had a "very positive atmosphere" and the negotiating team had "some recommendations to take back to David Cameron and our parliamentary colleagues". 

But still it remained only speculation that a deal had been forged. Only 10 minutes earlier Gordon Brown left Downing Street and announced he would step down as prime minister with immediate effect. "I wish the next prime minister well as he makes the important choices for the future. Only those who have held the office of prime minister can understand the full weight of its responsibilities and its great capacity for good. I have been privileged to learn much about the very best in human nature and a fair amount too about its frailties - including my own." He then headed for Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and inform her of his standing down. Shortly after he went to Labour HQ, where he was expected to announce his plans to stand down as an MP, which would force a by-election in his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat. However, despite much speculation, Brown will retain his seat.

David Cameron also headed for the palace to become the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. As he departed from the palace crowds outside cheered as the car made its way to Downing Street where aides and advisers were waiting to greet him and celebrate the beginning of the first Conservative government for 13 years.

Speaking on the steps of Number 10 Cameron says the UK's best days lie ahead. He adds that he wants to rebuild trust in politics and promises to be "honest about what government can achieve". Talks between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems had brought around a "proper and full coalition" he said, and he pledged to build a more "responsible society".

Details of the deal were still not clear by midnight, though Downing Street did confirm Nick Clegg had been given the post of deputy prime minister. Other confirmed posts are William Hague as foreign secretary, Liam Fox as defence secretary and Andrew Lansley as health secretary. Lib Dem Danny Alexander is to become Scottish secretary, and the Lib Dems are expected to receive about 20 government jobs in total.

As midnight struck only a few details had emerged as to what might come from the deal between to two parties. The Lib Dems agreed to an emergency budget within 50 days and to a Tory budget reduction plan including £6 billion in cuts to non-frontline services in 2010/11. The two sides also agreed a commitment to a replacement for the Trident nuclear missile system but the programme will be scrutinised for value for money. The Lib Dems have agreed to a cap on immigration and a commitment not to join the euro for the lifetime of the parliament. No details on electoral reform were immediately forthcoming and further statements are expected later on Wednesday.

Meanwhile David Cameron was settling into his new home and receiving congratulatory phone calls. US President Barack Obama was the first international leader to call him. During his phone call, Obama congratulated David Cameron "for the successful campaign that he ran, and for becoming the new British prime minister". In a statement he said, "I reiterated my deep and personal commitment to the special relationship between our two countries - a bond that has endured for generations and across party lines, and that is essential to the security and prosperity of our two countries, and the world." Obama also praised Gordon Brown's "strong leadership during challenging times".

David Cameron also faces some challenging times ahead. Britain has an increasing deficit exceeding £600 billion. And even as the country emerges from a deep recession, financial problems in Europe will not make the next few years an easy ride. But Cameron was confident for the future and said the "coalition will throw up all sorts of difficulties but I believe that together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs." But he acknowledged it was "going to be hard and difficult work." [BBC / Sky]

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Electoral reform is no easy option

As Britain's party leaders attempt to form a coalition the main centre of discussion is that of electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats have long called for a change in the voting system while both the Conservatives and Labour have been resilient to change. The hung parliament which resulted from last Thursday's election has forced the two main parties to rethink their policy. Tory leader David Cameron has talked of fixing Britain's "broken political system" while Labour has put forward the proposal of an Alternative Vote. There is however several types of democratic voting systems, and parties as well as the electorate, if they get a referendum, face a difficult choice.

Currently Britain uses what is called the First Past The Post (FPTP) system. A voter will place a cross against their choice of a single candidate in a particular constituency. The candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins with all other votes counting for nothing. Proponents of proportional representation (PR) argue that it is the fact that many votes are discounted which makes the current system unfair. While the Green Party for example may obtain around 10% of the national vote, it has never until now obtained a seat in parliament. However many oppose a change saying that lunatic fringe parties would water down politics and disrupt the workings of government. 

Differing systems

One proposed system is the Single Transferable Vote. Each voter receives one vote, which can transfer from their first-preference to their second-preference and so on, as necessary. Candidates don't need a majority of votes to be elected, just a known 'quota', or share of the votes, determined by the size of the electorate and the number of positions to be filled. If a preferred candidate has no chance of being elected or has enough votes already, the vote is transferred to another candidate in accordance with the voter's instructions.

Additional Member System (AMS) is a hybrid voting system. It is part FPTP and part closed party list. Under AMS, each voter typically gets two votes, one for a real person, and one for a party. When all the votes are in, each constituency returns a winner, in the traditional FPTP style. If a candidate was standing in a constituency as well as on a party list, their name is taken off the list, with everyone below them moving up a place. The additional members would then be allocated with the aim of tallying the number of seats won by each party to their share of the vote.

With Party List systems, they can be split into two distinct forms: open and closed. The crucial difference is that in a closed party-list system, votes are cast for parties rather than people, whereas in an open party list system, votes are cast for individual candidates. Under List PR, voters elect candidates in multi-member districts, or sometimes an entire country. The more members per area increases the proportionality of the system, and, in an open-list system, the size of the ballot paper.

The Alternative Vote (AV) is what Labour is currently offering the LibDems in return for their support. Like FPTP, AV is used to elect representatives for single-member constituencies, except that rather than simply marking one solitary 'X' on the ballot paper, the voter has the chance to rank the candidates on offer. The voter thus puts a '1' by their first-preference candidate, and can continue, if they wish, to put a '2' by their second-preference, and so on, until they run out of names or wish not to add further preferences. If a candidate receives a majority of first-preference votes (more people put them as number one than all the rest combined), then they are elected. However, if no candidate gains a majority on first preferences, then the second-preference votes of the candidate who finished last on the first count are redistributed. The process is repeated until someone obtains more than 50%.

The Alternative Vote Plus (AV+)system was invented by the 1998 Independent Commission on the Voting System, commonly known as the Jenkins Commission. It was asked to recommend a voting system that fulfilled, or best fulfilled, four criteria: The maintenance of a geographical link between MP and constituency, the need for stable government, the desire for broad proportionality and an extension of voter choice

Total Representation (TR) is a mixed system that aims to make more votes count in constituency elections. It preserves a large element of the Westminster model with some proportional representation to ensure a greater representation of voters' preferences. Its distinctive feature is that it gives weight to the votes of unsuccessful candidates.

With the supplementary Vote there are two columns on the ballot paper - one for the first choice and one for the second choice. Votes are marked by placing one 'X' in each column, although voters are not required to make a second choice if they do not wish to. All the first-preference are tallied, and if a candidate has a majority, they are elected. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two candidates are retained, and the rest eliminated. The second-preference votes of the eliminated candidates are then counted, and any for either of the top two candidates are added to their first-round totals. Whichever candidate has the most votes after these second-preferences have been allocated is declared the winner.

The Limited Vote or Limited Voting, is a majoritarian voting system used in multi-member constituencies. The Limited Vote allows each elector more than one vote, but fewer votes than there are candidates to choose from. The candidates with the most votes is elected.

Approval Voting is much like FPTP, except that rather than voting for a single candidate, one can vote for as many as one wishes. No ranking is involved, so all the votes have equal weight. The candidate with the most votes wins.

Borda Count is a form of preferential voting where the rankings are converted into points, and the candidate who receives the most points is declared the winner. The number of points per place is decided by the number of options on offer to the voter. Candidates score one point for being ranked last, two for being next-to-last and so on, with the first-choice candidate receiving points equal to the total number of candidates. So if there were seven candidates standing for election, a candidate receiving a first-preference vote would receive seven points.

Some electoral systems involve a combination of different ways to obtain a seat in parliament. This usually involves some members being elected in single member constituencies and other members being elected from lists. Often the list element is used to make up for the disproportional outcomes in single member constituency elections.

Difficult choices

While there is iniquity in Britain's current voting system, many argue that the alternative would be repeated chaos seen in the last few day brought about by a hung parliament. Some have pointed at Israel's system of PR which has rarely brought stable government. Proportional representation favours minor parties, and produces bizarre, and fragile partnerships. In Israel, 1.5% of the vote is enough to win a seat in the Knesset. That means the Israeli Prime Minister of the day either joins with his or her main opposition party to form government or is forced to climb into bed with religious and nationalist extremists to obtain the numbers.

Proportional representation may bring more seats for the Green Party, but it will also provide platforms for less moderate views. In the last election PR may have given the Greens around 12 seats in parliament. However they may have sat in almost equal numbers with UKIP (UK Independence Party), the far-right British National Party and others. Other parties may also find themselves marginalised. Plaid Cymru, would likely have no seats since it only contests seats in Wales – it currently holds three.

The Electoral Reform Society released figures on what may have been the outcome in differing voting systems this week. Under the current FPTP system the Conservative obtained 307 seats against Labour's 258 and the LibDems' 57 with 28 seats going to other parties. Under a Single Transferable Vote it estimated the Conservative party would have achieved 246 over Labour's 207 while the LibDems would have secured 162 seats and 35 seats might have been taken by smaller parties. With AV as proposed by Labour, the Tories would have received 281 seats, Labour taking 262 and the LibDems 79 with 28 going to minor parties. While the hung parliament seen in this election has left a situation where no party has overall control, neither of the other two systems would have fared any better in producing what Labour call "stable government". In fact such systems would likely bring repeated coalition governments following every future election.

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