lundi 31 décembre 2012


mardi 18 décembre 2012

The Mayan apocalypse: why is everyone in such a fever about it?

Well, if the world really is coming to an end on Friday 21 December, you can see their point. On the other hand, there seem to be a few people trying to make money out of impending doom

A Mayan stone calendar 
Blame it on the Mayans: this could be one of the last things you see before it all ends on 21 December. Photograph: Frank van den Bergh/Getty Images
Age: As old as idiocy itself.

Appearance: Back-garden bunkers, tinned food and, eventually, embarrassment.

Is this about Friday? It is indeed. Specifically, the moment on Friday when the whole world comes to a fiery, watery or in some other way unpleasant and cataclysmic end.

As predicted by the Mayans? Actually, as predicted by absolutely no Mayan prophecies ever, but by quite a few very silly people who aren't aware that when a calendar comes to an end – even an ancient Mayan one – you just need to pop out and buy a new calendar.

And they've gone feverish in anticipation? You could say that. In fact, you could say a mile-high tidal wave of apocalypse fever is sweeping across the planet as we speak.

Could you really? Of course. But it would be a massive overexaggeration. In reality, at best, it's lapping at the knees of a paddling toddler on a beach in Dorset.

So what is apocalypse fever, then? Just a few bulging pockets of apocalyptic stupidity.

Such as? Such as in Chechnya and various other parts of Russia, where politicians are calling for calm after superstitious citizens started panic-buying candles, torches, salt and matches.

Because the apocalypse will be dark and need a bit of seasoning? Presumably.

And where else? In China, where alongside a rush on candles there has been a healthy dose of doomsday profiteering. Dedicated websites are selling gas masks and tinned food, and one Chinese furniture-maker has been hawking a range of hand-built glass-fibre survival pods for around £30,000 a pop.

And are Chinese politicians reassuring people? Not exactly, no. Their approach has been to arrest people caught spreading apocalyptic rumours.

Really? Yup. As of Monday, 93 people had been detained across seven provinces.

Just for spreading rumours? Well, that and trying to make a quick buck; police arrested six people in the province of Fujian for selling red paper circles imbued with apocalypse-proofed charms.

Apocalypse-proofed charms? Yep. To be fair, they've got a 100% success rate so far.

Don't say: "One apocalypse-resistant paper circle, please."

Do say: "I've got a matchbox and a bag of salt. So bring it on."

jeudi 13 décembre 2012

Deviled Eggs

Classic deviled eggs recipe, perfect for post-Easter and summer picnic potlucks. Mashed cooked egg yolks, mixed with mayonnaise and Dijon, spooned or piped into cooked egg white halves. Sprinkled with paprika.
·         Cook time: 30 minutes
·         1 dozen eggs
·         2 teaspoons dijon mustard
·         1/3 cup mayonnaise
·         1 Tbsp minced onion or shallot
·         1/4 teaspoon tabasco
·         Salt and pepper
·         Paprika
1 First hard boil the eggs. (See how to make hard boiled eggs.) Fill up a large saucepan half-way with water and gently add the eggs. Cover the eggs with at least an inch of water. Add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water (this will help contain egg whites from leaking out if any of the shells crack while cooking). Add a pinch of salt to the water. Bring the water to a boil. Cover, and remove from heat. Let sit covered for 12-15 minutes. Drain hot water from pan and run cold water over the eggs. (At this point if you crack the egg shells while the eggs are cooling, it will make it easier to peel the shells.) Let sit in the cool water a few minutes, changing the water if necessary to keep it cool.
2 Peel the eggs. Using a sharp knife, slice each egg in half, lengthwise. Gently remove the yolk halves and place in a small mixing bowl. Arrange the egg white halves on a serving platter.
3 Using a fork, mash up the yolks and add mustard, mayonnaise, onion, tabasco, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Spoon egg yolk mixture into the egg white halves. Sprinkle with paprika.
Yield: Makes 2 dozen deviled eggs.

BBC News clip Dec 10

That's No Pussycat - It's a Bobcat!

Driving in the rural town of Veazie, Maine, after midnight, a woman accidentally hits what she thinks is an oversized cat. She puts the unconscious animal in her car and drives several miles.
In the town of Bangor, Maine, the cat regains consciousness. That's when the woman realizes it's no house cat.
She's riding with a wild bobcat.
It may seem like a scenario for a road-trip comedy at the movies, but it really happened early Wednesday morning, police said. The woman immediately pulled over in downtown Bangor and got out of her car.
"It jumped out of her vehicle and immediately went underneath it. It was trying to find the most immediate protection," Maine Warden Service Lt. Dan Scott told ABC News over the phone. "Several police officers responded and one happened to have a catch pole that you put around the animal's neck."
After removing the bobcat from underneath the car, Game Warden Jim Fahey evaluated the animal and confirmed that the strike from the car was fatal. The bobcat was euthanized in what Sgt. Paul Edwards from the Bangor Police Department described over the phone as "the most humane way possible."
"Some people are concerned that we killed the bobcat, but it was wounded and suffering. This is normal procedure that we engage in," said Scott. "Maine is a big state. We have a staff of 100 game wardens and people are routinely hitting animals by accident. We don't often have citizens driving them around in their vehicles." The woman involved in the incident declined to comment to ABC News, and police declined to publicly identify her.
Bobcats can range in size anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds and often have spots or stripes covering their grey and brown coats, according to Adam Zorn, a naturalist at Westmoreland Sanctuary in Mount Kisco, N.Y. They are shy and secretive, with only rare reported incidents of direct human contact, he said.
But does a bobcat look sort of like an oversized house cat?
"That would be a really big house cat," he said. "Most cats have long tails, and a bobcat does not. They have short, stubby tails. Also, their appearance is an indicator. They look like they are built to live in the wilderness." Edwards emphasized the danger of approaching a wild animal in his police report.
"Although this seems amusing," he wrote, "one should always be careful handling injured animals and call local animal control officer or game wardens when in doubt."

mercredi 12 décembre 2012

New film: “The Hobbit” An unexpected disappointment

TO MOST fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books, “The Hobbit” always felt like a bit of throat-clearing before the epic quest of “The Lord of the Rings”. Published in 1937, it was his first stab at describing his invented world. Not to Peter Jackson, apparently. In the hands of the director of the wildly successful Lord of the Rings film trilogy, Tolkien’s shorter, picaresque tale takes on the bloated dimensions of a mountain troll.
The story takes place 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings” begins, in a “brighter, happier Middle Earth.” Yet the film staggers under the weight of all the menacing material that Mr Jackson has injected in an effort to tie it to his darker sequels. Equally menacing, perhaps, is the fact that this film, subtitled “An Unexpected Journey”, is the first of another long trilogy that Mr Jackson plans to pump out of this slender novel.
It starts promisingly enough. Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, is recruited by a band of dwarves to help reclaim their lost kingdom from the dragon, Smaug. Martin Freeman plays a perfect Bilbo, incarnating the quintessential English qualities of pluck and decency with which Tolkien endowed his hobbits. A comedic pile-up of dwarves at his door sets the befuddled tone. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, played more kindly than wizardly this time. Adventures pile up thick and fast, starting with the party’s capture and near-roasting by mountain trolls, one of whom is a bit of a foodie.
The trouble starts when Mr Jackson starts to shoehorn in the back story. Many wondered how the director would get three films out of a 272-page book. Now they know. It makes some sense to put the dwarves’ quest into the larger context of the gathering storm in Middle Earth—the parallel activities of elves and wizards are sprinkled throughout the book and Tolkien indulged his imagination further in a lengthy appendix to “The Lord of the Rings”. But Mr Jackson has avidly seized on this material and dropped it in rather clunkily.
The “shadow of an ancient horror”—the evil force that returns as the ultimate baddie, Sauron, in “The Lord of the Rings”—appears here as a pack of pursuing wolves, orcs and the evil goblin Azog. Meanwhile, the guardians of Middle Earth, a group of elves and wizards known as “The White Council”, are brought out of the footnotes and on to the stage. The elves Galadriel and Elrond, and the wizard Saruman, reprised by their famous actors, convene in a wooden meeting in which Saruman dismisses their fears of a rising menace. Other oddities obscure the party’s basic quest. There is a lengthy new role for a wizard barely mentioned in the tales, Radagast the Brown, whose addled appearances made this correspondent cringe, and a bizarrely camp performance by the Great Goblin which makes sense only upon learning that the monster is voiced by Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna.
Mr Jackson has said that Tolkien’s story runs at break-neck pace and he wanted to develop the characters more. The film accordingly builds up Thorin Oakenshield, the exiled dwarf king, as a pale echo of Aragorn, the exiled king in “The Lord of the Rings”. An opening flashback shows him bent on avenging the loss of his kingdom. Yet his motivation is obvious and there is little depth to this character, or many others. Too many chases and schmaltzy good-and-evil dialogue make it rather standard Hollywood fare.
By far the most affecting part of the film is the long underground confrontation between Bilbo and the creature Gollum, a riddling match of wits played just as Tolkien wrote it. The amazing Andy Serkis returns as the emaciated freak in CGI with glowing blue eyes. This Gollum is complex, by turns endearing and vicious, and truly tragic in the loss of his “precious”, the One Ring of power. The ring itself is vividly depicted: slipping almost with intention from Gollum’s rags to be found by Bilbo. It spins magically onto his finger and sets off the quest to save Middle Earth.
Those unacquainted with the book may well find the film thrilling, stuffed with rollercoaster action scenes, familiar musical motifs, first-rate costumes and panoramas as sweeping and impressive as ever. The production company has tripled in size—and it shows. The film is shot at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24. This heightens the detail, but can leave sets and actors looking fake and bleached. There is a depressing sameness to the dazzling surface of these heavily digitalised action films; at times this feels like “Avatar” meets “Harry Potter”.
“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was close to perfect, and it has the Oscars and diehard fans to prove it. In “The Hobbit” Mr Jackson seems to have let his love for the material blind him to the merits of a simpler story. The result is more an instalment of a franchise than a compelling film.

mardi 11 décembre 2012

North Korea carries out controversial rocket launch

Hong Kong (CNN) -- North Korea surprised and angered the international community Wednesday by launching a long-range rocket that may have put an object in orbit.
The secretive North Korean regime said the rocket had successfully blasted off from a space center on its west coast and claimed the satellite it was carrying had entered its intended orbit. The launch followed a botched attempt in April and came just days after Pyongyang suggested it could be delayed.
Initial indications suggest the rocket "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit," the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint U.S.-Canadian aerospace agency, said in a statement.
North Korea has previously claimed that two other rockets fired in the past 15 years had successfully launched satellites, but other countries say they fell into the ocean before completing the task.
Many nations, such as the United States and South Korea, consider the launch to be a cover for testing ballistic missile technology. The nuclear-armed North has insisted its aim was to place a scientific satellite in space.
Countries around the world quickly condemned Pyongyang's move on Wednesday, saying it breached U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The South Korean government said the launch was confrontational and a "threat to the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the world."
The United States called it "a highly provocative act" that is "yet another example of North Korea's pattern of irresponsible behavior."
Washington will work with other countries -- including China, Russia and other Security Council members -- "to pursue appropriate action," said Tommy Vietor, a U.S. National Security Council spokesman.
The launch came as a surprise to the United States, which did not expect it to take place Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he deplored the fact that North Korea "has chosen to prioritize this launch over improving the livelihood of its people."
Neighboring countries said the rocket had taken off Wednesday morning and flown south over the Japanese island of Okinawa.
The Japanese government said it believed one part of the rocket came down in the sea off the Korean Peninsula, a second part dropped into the East China Sea and a third fell into waters near the Philippines.
"It is extremely regrettable that North Korea forced the launch despite our protest," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at a news conference in Tokyo. "It is not acceptable, and we strongly protest against it."
South Korea's semi-official news agency Yonhap reported that President Lee Myung-bak has convened an emergency security meeting in Seoul.
A launch had seemed unlikely to take place so soon after North Korea announced Monday that it was extending the launch window into late December, citing technical issues in an engine.
Previous launch attempts by the North in 1998, 2006, 2009 and April this year failed to achieve their stated goal of putting a satellite into orbit and provoked international condemnation.
Pyongyang had said this rocket launch would be "true to the behests" of Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader and father of Kim Jong Un, head of the ruling regime.
Kim Jong Il died on December 17 last year, so the first anniversary of his death falls within the launch window that North Korea has announced.
Experts had also speculated that Pyongyang wanted this launch to happen before the end of 2012, the year that marks the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

Great singer: STING ! Enjoy this song: "the shape of my heart"

Born 2 October 1951, in Wallsend, north-east England, Gordon Sumner's life started to change the evening a fellow musician in the Phoenix Jazzmen caught sight of his black and yellow striped sweater and decided to re-christen him Sting. Sting paid his early dues playing bass with local outfits The Newcastle Big Band, The Phoenix Jazzmen, Earthrise and Last Exit, the latter of which featured his first efforts at song writing. Last Exit were big in the North East, but their jazz fusion was doomed to fail when punk rock exploded onto the music scene in 1976. Stewart Copeland, drummer with Curved Air, saw Last Exit on a visit to Newcastle and while the music did nothing for him he did recognise the potential and charisma of the bass player. The two hooked up shortly afterwards and within months, Sting had left his teaching job and moved to London.

lundi 10 décembre 2012

French airport protesters seek safety in the trees

Dairy farmers, locals and eco-warriors face eviction over plans to build second airport in Nantes on top of precious woodland
French riot police near Nantes 
A judge is due to decide whether to authorise a fresh round of forced police evictions in Notre-Dame-des-Landes. 
"This is a special place; it's a shame it is at war," sighed Marie and Alain as they sat at the wooden table of their historic stone farmhouse gazing out at the autumn colours of the forest of Rohanne.
Yet they were proud their idyllic view was now punctuated by scores of tents, yurts, rainbow camper vans and makeshift wooden cabins as
a growing front of local dairy farmers, residents and international eco-warriors unite against plans to build an ambitious second airport for the western French city of Nantes.
The vast stretch of woodland outside the tiny village of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, six times the surface of Monaco, is now Europe's biggest open air squat, according to the local police chief. Road signs spray-painted "Defence Zone" and bails of hay as roadblocks ring the proposed construction site.
On Tuesday a French judge will decide whether to authorise a fresh round of forced police evictions. Previous attempts to dislodge protesters brought hundreds of French riot police who fired teargas and rubber bullets, some climbing trees and teargassing people down from tree-houses, sparking dozens of injuries and what locals described as "war scenes".
In recent months, police swoops have razed wooden huts and vegetable gardens, immediately inspiring hundreds more squatters to arrive from across Europe to rebuild the camps and strengthen the protests.
The protesters, including farmers, locals and green politicians, argue that building a brand new airport for France's sixth largest city, which already has an award-winning airport, is both an environmental disaster and a waste of public money during an economic crisis. Support groups have sprung up across France.
"We are the resistance," said Alain, an electricity technician, who has rented his farmhouse for 20 years and whose dairy farmers ancestors have been rooted here since the 17th century. But the kitchen sits on the exact spot where the planned control tower will go. He, his partner, Marie, and their children should have left in July to allow the house to be demolished. They stayed, and are now considered squatters. Marie, a secretary, said: "Some of the environmental protesters living in self-built wood cabins have been here for years with their families and children. They refuse to give up and so do we. I can't believe the French left is acting like this, refusing to listen to the ecological arguments, and sending in totally disproportionate force against us."
From the house, a long, muddy walk deep through the forest leads to a series of intricate, makeshift roadblocks, manned at all hours. In a clearing, 40 tractors are chained together to protect the entrance to the Châtaignerie, a forest camp and communal living headquarters, with elaborate wooden huts. Volunteers are dishing out vegetable soup, activists are discussing schemes to plant vegetables, there is a bar, sanitary block and communications office with pirate radio frequency. If, as protesters say, the codename for the gendarmes' eviction operation is Operation Caesar, the squat is a kind of Asterix village, surrounded on all sides but holding out.
If a court this week orders the Châtaignerie camp to be forcefully evicted, locals fear another stand-off and injuries. At the heart of the camp, Camille, 42, not his real name, used to work in the French film industry. He was an activist during the Heathrow airport expansion protests and has been squatting in the Notre-Dame-des-Landes forest for a year and a half.
"All we can do is be present," he said. "We want to produce our own food, be auto-sufficient, show an alternative way for society."
Plans to build an airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, 12 miles (20km) north of Nantes, date back 45 years, and so does the opposition. At first the idea was a Nantes international air hub, which would compete with Paris and host Concorde, but that was dropped. The current plans are for a €556m (£446m) airport which would open in 2017 and host 9 million passengers a year in 2050.
Socialists say it is crucial for jobs and the development of the fast-growing city of Nantes, tucked away near France's Atlantic coast. Yannick Vaugrenard, Socialist senator for Loire-Atlantique, argued that without proper infrastructure, the area would be the "far west" of Europe, and the crucial new airport would respect the environment.
Opponents, including the Green party, which has two ministers in the government, say the project will destroy crucial humid woodland and hedgerow habitats and is totally unnecessary because Nantes's current airport, to the south of the city, was not at saturation point and could be expanded.
The row has become a major thorn in the side of the government. The Socialist prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is a former mayor of Nantes and personal champion of the project. He is facing record unpopularity and to shelve the airport plans would be too much of a capitulation, observers say.
"This airport will happen," he told Paris Match last month. But Ayrault's latest attempts to call a six-month truce in which a new scientific report is conducted alongside a "dialogue commission" have not calmed the mood.
Demonstrators marched on the streets of central Nantes again this weekend.
"This airport is the prime example of what we shouldn't do anymore: it's about global warming, damaging the environment and setting the wrong example for society," said Julien Durand, a retired dairy farmer leading opposition in the village from a tiny drop-in centre near the town hall.
He backed local farmers who went on hunger-strike against it earlier this year. "In times of financial crisis, does Nantes need a new airport? No," said one village protester. Françoise Verchère, from the Parti de Gauche, leading a protest group of local politicians, said: "This the worst possible choice of site for an airport because we now know this type of important, humid wetland must be preserved."
Notre-Dame-des-Landes has become a national symbol, inspiring struggles against all types of development projects from transport to shopping centres. In a farm shed on the airport zone, a 23-year-old northern European treehouse activist, who wouldn't be named, was preparing to move back up to trees if police arrived this week. He had been squatting here for two years, after similar action in England and Scotland.
"The problem is this airport would be a ticket for even more urbanisation. Occupation is the last line of defence."

vendredi 7 décembre 2012

Les Misérables : new movie

 Les Miserables … Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.
It's two years since Oscar bowed down before Tom Hooper to crown The King's Speech best picture. Now Hooper bobs obligingly back, offering the Academy not just what it wants to see but a mirror of sorts; a movie that takes its cues from the greatest Oscar night hits, recalling that glorious night last year when Hooper was honoured four times and host Anne Hathaway belted out On My Own to Hugh Jackman. It also bids to anticipate the highlights of the next one.

For the few uninitiated (the stage show has been seen by 60 million people), Les Misérables is Cameron Mackintosh's adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's musical based on the Victor Hugo saga set in early 19th century France.
But beware: it's not strictly a musical. There's no dancing, there are no jazz hands and there is next to no speech. Rather, it is lobotomised opera, in which incidental dialogue like "I don't understand" and "I don't know what to say" is warbled, liturgy-style. The phrase "We will nip it in the bud" becomes a rousing chorus; presumably "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched" doesn't scan so well.
Hooper's big innovation is that his actors sing "live" – that is, they taped the vocal tracks while shooting, rather than in post-production – to amp up the realism. One might argue that if you were struggling to suspend your disbelief with Les Mis, it'd probably take more than a dubbing tweak to convince you.
But it's a canny move that allows Hooper to wring Oscar-contending turns from his cast and inject some X Factor-style tension. Will Hugh Jackman hit that opening high-note? Yes! He will! And so accustomed are audiences to applauding after the first bar they dutifully follow suit here. It's almost a shock Simon Cowell doesn't stalk on afterwards.
Les Mis's best known song is I Dreamed a Dream – the heroine Fantine's death-rattle rail against her new life of poverty and prostitution; aka the Susan Boyle song. Anne Hathaway sobs her way gamely through it, togs ripped, gnashers stained (the backstreet dentist she's just flogged a few teeth to left the front ones intact). In one unbroken take, she turns the tune into a symphony of phlegmy upset, climaxing in a panic attack of bloke woe ("He took my childhood in his stride / But he was gone when autumn came"). It's a performance of monumental welly.
Such a potentially exposing conceit has its pitfalls – and word online suggested Russell Crowe might have tumbled into them. But his low-key vocals as bad cop Javert are a happy contrast to the coshing professionalism elsewhere. When Crowe bleats out Stars beneath a twinkly CGI sky, resplendent in a blue fez with massive tassle, the karaoke vibe feels friendly, not risible.
Yes, Jackman (as our bona fide hero, ex-con Valjean) is unimpeachable, but best-actor chat seems premature. More of a revelation is Eddie Redmayne, an actor apparently incapable of a look that is other than longing, well cast as revolutionary dreamboat Marius. Meanwhile Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter effortlessly steal the show as the cackling Thénardiers (seldom has a film called out so urgently for comic relief).
Hooper's grand canvas is impressive, and your temples throb at the logistics of those final scenes; all those extras and horses, flags and cannons, not to mention an elephant and castle. In fact, other than a bit of a thing for distressed paintwork, it's all but impossible to detect his thumbprints.
You can't blame him for wanting to marshall a parade, to march out of the low-budget ghetto. But the experience of sitting through all 160 minutes of Les Mis can feel less like an awards bash than an epic wake, at which the band is always playing and women forever wailing. By the end, you feel like a piñata: in pieces, the victim of prolonged assault by killer pipes.

mercredi 5 décembre 2012

Big cat crisis: Africa's lions being crowded out by people

The lions that roam Africa's savannahs have lost as much as 75% of their habitat in 50 years 
The lions that roam Africa's savannah have lost as much as 75% of their habitat in the last 50 years, a study has found. 
African lions are running out of room to roam and some local populations, especially in west Africa, are heading for extinction, a new study warns.
New satellite data, studied by scientists from Duke University, found about three-quarters of Africa's wide open savannah had disappeared over the last half century, broken up into farms or engulfed by development.
"The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25% remains," Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Lion populations have dropped by two-thirds over the last half century – down to as few as 32,000, confined to isolated pockets of land. Only 10 of those 67 lion areas are stable and well-protected – lion "strongholds". Other populations, especially in west and central Africa, were so small and so threatened – by poachers, disease, or inbreeding – they may not survive for long into the future.
The study estimates that more than 6,000 lions are in populations with a very high risk of local extinction.
Human populations in west Africa have doubled over the last 20 to 30 years. Fewer than 500 lions remain there.
"Lion populations in west and central Africa are acutely threatened with many recent, local extinctions even in nominally protected areas," the study said. "Only immediate, energetic conservation measures can offer any hope for their survival."
The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week it was considering adding lions to the list of endangered species. The measure would ban American hunters from bringing home lion trophies and hides.
Researchers used new high-resolution satellite images from Google Earth to build up accurate maps of the remaining areas that would still be suitable for lion habitats. They compared that information with lion population records. Some areas identified as savannah on earlier, more crude satellite maps were in fact broken up into small farms, the study said.
"The really big, productive, well-watered savannah that are well protected outside of the national parks are a complete fallacy," said Luke Hunter, director of the Panthera conservation group, which also sponsored the study. "It's true lions are not in as bad shape as tigers but that is the trajectory," he said.
"Lions are not going to disappear overnight, but it is quite possible they will wind up in a couple of decades in as dire a straits as the tigers are today."

mardi 4 décembre 2012

How to write an essay

Israel defies international criticism of settlement plans

Traditional allies heaped criticism upon Israel this week over plans to build new settlements on Palestinian territory, but the Jewish state lashed out Tuesday, saying it would not bend to the international pressure.
Israel's actions are in answer to the Palestinians' successful bid last week at the United Nations for an upgraded status to non-member observer state, said a senior official from the office of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a statement, the official called it a "one-sided move" and said "Israel is not sitting with her hands tied."
"Israel will continue to stand by its essential interests even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was taken," the official said, who asked not to be named.
Australia joined Tuesday in high-level diplomatic reprimands, following five European countries and the United States, which expressed their concerns Monday over Israel's decision to construct 3,000 new settler domiciles.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr had the Israeli ambassador to his country summoned Tuesday to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade over Israel's decision on new construction in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, according to a statement on the ministry's website.
Officials of the department expressed on Carr's behalf Australia's "grave concern" to Ambassador Yuval Rotem that Israel intended "to unfreeze planning in the area known as E1 and to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority." Carr was in Papua New Guinea at the time.
The government in Canberra joins the five European nations Britain, Denmark, France, Spain and Sweden, who previously summoned Israel's ambassadors to their respective countries over the same concerns.
The White House has also expressed its opposition Monday to settlement activity, but has not summoned Israel's ambassador.
The location of the construction in the Ma'ale Adumim area would block the formation of a contiguous Palestinian state, the Obama administration has warned.
Israeli settlements are widely considered illegal under international law; Israel insists they are not.
An Israeli crew accompanied by military and security forces tore down a mosque in the village of Farqqa in the Hebron region of the West Bank Tuesday, according to the head of the village council.
An Israeli government spokesman said the building was not a mosque but "a building that was used for prayer." A court decided that the building was illegal and has no connection to recent political developments, said Guy Inbar.
"I am extremely disappointed with these reported Israeli decisions," said Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr from his trip abroad. He added that they would make peace negotiations more difficult.
The government has also communicated its concerns directly to Jerusalem, he said. "Australia has long opposed all settlement activity."
The British Foreign Office called Israel's move "deplorable" Monday and said it threatens a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The foreign ministries of France, Spain and Denmark issued similar statements asking Israeli officials to reverse their decision.

Louvre-Lens hopes to bring the glory of art to France's mining heartland

The Louvre-Lens Museum will showcase artworks from throughout history.
The Louvre-Lens Museum will showcase artworks from throughout history.

So grim are the northern stereotypes still endured by the French former coalmining town of Lens that when fans of rival football team Paris Saint-Germain unfurled a banner at a match calling the locals "Paedophiles, unemployed and inbreds" it sparked a court case for hate speech.
But on Tuesday , the tiny, cash-strapped city of Lens – ravaged by the first world war, left struggling by the end of coalmining, best known for its red-brick terraces, slag heaps, football and love of chips – will celebrate the ultimate revenge for past injustices as it unveils France's most important arts event of the decade.
The Louvre will open a striking new outpost on the site of an old Lens coal pit, transporting some of its top works to a glass structure in the midst of housing estates.
The Louvre is Paris's biggest cultural attraction, one of the largest arts centres on the planet and the world's most visited museum, attracting more than 8 million people a year. Its Lens outpost could transform the post-industrial north, with local politicians hailing it as a miracle.
The Louvre-Lens project is seen as far bolder than other famous museum satellites, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Tate Liverpool or more recently the Pompidou centre in Metz, because those cities are larger, better established and better funded. Lens, with a population of around 35,000, does not even have its own cinema, boasts two modest hotels and only opened a tourist office at the end of the 1990s. At the entrance to the museum site sits not a showy restaurant, but a small terraced betting shop and tobacconist.
The initiative in a depressed mining region is an act of great political symbolism, marking a return to the revolutionary roots of the Louvre. Already the architecture is being hailed as a mastery of understated minimalism, perched on the site of an old pithead. The Japanese architects of the firm Sanaa said they didn't want to create an "imposing fortress". But the glass structure – described as "boats on a river delicately floating into a huddle" – boasts views of the giant slag heaps at Loos-en-Gohelle, the largest in Europe and recently graced with world heritage status.
The gallery layout is also a world first: 200 key works, from Greek sculpture to 19th century French painting, will not be separated by theme, style and era as is the norm, but be showcased together in one long gallery, uniting 55 centuries. Elsewhere, the temporary exhibition space is larger than that of the Louvre in Paris and begins with a Renaissance show including Leonardo Da Vinci's newly restored The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, which will leave its Paris home for the first time in 200 years.
But Daniel Percheron, the socialist head of the Nord-Pas de Calais region, which funded over half of the €150m (£122m) cost of the museum, felt the most important piece was the transfer to Lens of one of the Louvre's most famous paintings, Eugène Delacroix's French revolutionary masterpiece, Liberty Guiding the People.
"When the Lens miners came up from the pits, covered in soot, they had two distractions, football and their racing pigeons; they would look up to the sky waiting for the pigeons to return from a race. It's wrong to say there was a cultural void here, it was the miners who fought for rights, unions, pensions and healthcare.
"Their glory can be restored through this museum. There was a one in a million chance for the Louvre to come here. It's an unimaginable dream. The miners built France, they symbolise France. This museum is all about restoring justice to this region."
Local politicians hope it will take only 10 years for infrastructure and jobs to boom in an area that has almost double the national unemployment rate. The first move will be to build hotels if it is to have the impact of the Guggenheim in Bilbao on this post-industrial region. As well as a new young audience of locals and people who have "never set foot in a museum", the Louvre-Lens hopes to attract the same visitors as its Paris palace, including British tourists.
Easy to get to from Kent by train, and near crucial first world war battlefield sites, the museum hopes for 700,000 visitors this year. Henri Loyrette, the head of the Louvre, stressed the Louvre-Lens "is not an annexe, it's the Louvre itself".
Xavier Dectot, director of the Louvre-Lens, said the aim was to bring "humanity" to the museum-going experience and to create "a spark of happiness" in a region already transforming itself. When President François Hollande opens the museum on Tuesday, the town will lay on a vast celebration and fireworks display at the football stadium, advertising unlimited chips.
But amid the festivities, the museum will not be spared the exacting demands of world art critics. Already, the mould-breaking idea of a chronological display of works from 3,500BC to the 19th century, bringing scores of civilisations and styles into one room, is being questioned.
Harry Bellet, deputy culture editor of Le Monde newspaper, hailed the museum as a "revolution in spirits" but he feared the long gallery filled with so many styles and eras risked looking "like a bookshop where all the books are muddled up". As the Louvre-Lens will have no permanent collection but instead be renewed every five years, the museum will no doubt tweak its experience as it goes along.

dimanche 2 décembre 2012

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9 bodies recovered from vehicles crushed when tunnel collapses in Japan

Tokyo (CNN) -- Nine bodies -- eight of them burned -- have been pulled from vehicles crushed in a tunnel collapse about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Tokyo, a highway police spokesperson said early Monday.
Five of those were recovered in one charred station wagon, and three others were in another burned vehicle, according to the police spokesperson. The other fatality was in a truck.
The Sasago tunnel on the Chuo Expressway remained closed Monday morning, one day after the cave-in occurred on the highway's Tokyo-bound lanes, Otsuki police said.
Officials from the East Yamanashi Fire Department said the section of concrete that fell was about 50 to 60 meters long and about 20 centimeters (8 inches) thick.Soon after the collapse, Japanese public broadcaster NHK aired images showing smoke rising, a blue car with its side smashed in, and emergency vehicles on the scene.
Crews worked through the night trying to get to victims, all the while wary that the tunnel might collapse further. Those efforts continue, and authorities have not said if they believe more bodies will be found.
The privately held Central Nippon Expressway Company operates the 4.7-kilometer-long Sasago tunnel, among others, as well as expressways and toll roads around Japan.
Central Nippon Expressway conducts annual inspections of the tunnel, with one particularly thorough inspection held every five years, a company spokesperson said. A more intensive inspection of the Sasago tunnel was held sometime in the past two to three months, the spokesperson added.
The Chuo Expressway is a particularly busy stretch of highway that runs between Tokyo and, among other places, Mount Fuji.
While it is a ways from the Japanese capital, the partial tunnel collapse and its subsequent closure is expected to cause major traffic and other headaches, especially for those who rely on it for business.
Authorities have not given any indication as to when they expect the tunnel to reopen, nor is it clear why the collapse occurred.

$9K artwork bought for $12 at Milwaukee Goodwill

MILWAUKEE (AP) — "Red Nose" just meant a reindeer named Rudolph to Karen Mallet until she bought a print by that name for $12.34 at a Goodwill store in Milwaukee. It turned out to be a lithograph by American artist Alexander Calder worth $9,000.
Mallet's good fortune is at least the fourth time in six months that valuable art has turned up at Goodwill, where bargain-hunters search for hidden treasure among the coffee cups, jewelry, lamps and other household cast-offs.
Last month, a Salvador Dali sketch found at a Goodwill shop in Tacoma, Wash., sold for $21,000. Last summer, a North Carolina woman pocketed more than $27,000 for a painting she bought for $9.99 at Goodwill. And last spring, a dusty jug donated in Buffalo, N.Y., was discovered to be a thousands-of-years-old American Indian artifact — it was returned to its tribe instead of being offered for sale.
When told of the Milwaukee woman's find, a Goodwill spokeswoman said workers at its 2,700 stores try to spot valuables and auction them on the organization's online auction site to net more money for the charitable group. But things slip through the cracks and the workers aren't art experts.
"That's kind of part of shopping at Goodwill — the thrill of the hunt," said Cheryl Lightholder, communications manager for Goodwill in southeastern Wisconsin. "You never know what you're going to find."
Mallet, a media relations specialist for Georgetown University and others, didn't even like "Red Nose" when she first spotted it during one of her frequent Goodwill shopping trips in May.
"The big find that day was this great set of steel knives, in a block, for $18.99" by Wolfgang Puck, she said.
But the graphic black-and-white picture was striking. In low-browed terms, it might be described as an abstract image of an ape with a hangover, with spiral swirls for eyes like the ones in cartoons when someone gets punched. A large red nose is the only color.
Then she saw the Calder signature.
"I thought, I don't know if it's real or not but it's $12.99. I've wasted more on worse things," she said. A discount for using her Goodwill loyalty card brought the price down to $12.34.
Once home, she searched the Internet and found similar lithographs by Calder, who died in 1976 and is widely known for his mobiles and abstract sculptures at airports, office towers and other public places. Mallet's piece was No. 55 of 75 lithographs and was made in 1969.
Jacob Fine Art Inc., in suburban Chicago, recently set its replacement value at $9,000.
"This happens very frequently — you can't imagine," the company's owner, Jane Jacob, said of treasures found at thrift stores. "They don't know what they have. They're just not set up to understand art history."
Lauren Lawson-Zilai, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries International Inc. in Rockville, Md., gave these examples of art that Goodwill staff spotted and sold through the auction site:
— In 2009, a painting by Utah artist Maynard Dixon donated in Santa Rosa, Calif., sold for $70,001.
— In 2008, a Baltimore-area Goodwill store netted $40,600 from a Parisian street scene painted by Impressionist Edouard-Leon Cortes.
— In 2006, a Frank Weston Benson oil painting donated anonymously in Portland, Ore., brought in $165,002 — Goodwill's top haul so far.
Mallet has no immediate plans to sell her "Red Nose."
"It grew on me," she said. "Now I love it."

vendredi 30 novembre 2012

Honda tries to regain its stride with upgraded Civic

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co introduced its redesigned Civic sedan only a year-and-a-half after a major model change of the best-selling compact car in the United States.
Even Honda admits that the 2012 Civic, introduced in the spring of 2011, missed the mark. For a company that prides itself on rock-solid reliability, it was a shock last summer when influential Consumer Reports ranked the Civic dead last in a field of 12 compact sedans it tested.
Sales of the new Civic, a 2013 model, will start this week and the refreshed car was shown off on Thursday at the LA Auto Show.
Honda produced a Civic that is upgraded inside and out, featuring a sleeker look, better quality interiors and improved steering feel and a rear view camera that comes standard, said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda.
Mendel said that Honda has no plans to compensate owners of the 2012 Civic, and that he has only heard from a few customers upset that they bought a car that was upgraded so soon.
He said he would equate it to the owner of a year-and-a-half-old Apple IPod when Apple comes out with a new version.
"You still got a great vehicle, with a lot of capability. The new one is just improved," said Mendel, which is what he tells customers, who, he said, are satisfied with their cars.
"I don't want to be too flip about that but at the same time it's not as if we duped them into buying something that was not good and then all of a sudden said we fixed it," said Mendel. "You got the broken one and now we got the real one. It's not the case."
Mendel said that there is a 45-day supply of 2012 Civics remaining, which should take a few months to sell off. Honda is offering three-year leases on those cars for $149 a month and $1,999 down.
Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, says that the magazine will test the new Civics soon. He could not predict if the Civic will return to its "recommended buy" list, but he said that Honda seems to be making the right moves after some questionable quality in some of its models in the past several years.
"They have gotten their mojo back," Fisher said on the sidelines of the LA Auto Show. "They've had problems. They had a whole series where every new redesign was worse" than the car it replaced.
Fisher said the new Accord, which went on sale a few months ago, "is a really impressive vehicle" and much-improved over its predecessor.
"Hopefully, the improvements they've made in the Civic will help bring it up over the line and we can recommend it again," Fisher said.
The Civic LX sedan with automatic transmission is priced at $19,755 including destination charges, and a manual transmission version is $800 less. All versions of the 2013 Civic that go on sale this week are $160 higher than the 2012 models.
Mendel, as he has said several times this year, said on Thursday that Honda miscalculated the market after the Lehman Bros. collapse in 2008 and the beginning of the recent recession, which was when the 2012 Civic was being developed.
"We had anticipated," said Mendel, "that consumers would have a little bit different and more conservative view about driving. We underestimated the expectations. We zigged a little bit to provide them with the content that we thought they would want."
Mendel said that by the time the 2012 Civic was introduced, Honda executives were already saying they undershot the target and needed to upgrade the car.

Congress looks at doing away with the $1 bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — American consumers have shown about as much appetite for the $1 coin as kids do their spinach. They may not know what's best for them either. Congressional auditors say doing away with dollar bills entirely and replacing them with dollar coins could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over the next 30 years. Vending machine operators have long championed the use of $1 coins because they don't jam the machines, cutting down on repair costs and lost sales. But most people don't seem to like carrying them. In the past five years, the U.S. Mint has produced 2.4 billion Presidential $1 coins. Most are stored by the Federal Reserve, and production was suspended about a year ago.
The latest projection from the Government Accountability Office on the potential savings from switching to dollar coins entirely comes as lawmakers begin exploring new ways for the government to save money by changing the money itself. The Mint is preparing a report for Congress showing how changes in the metal content of coins could save money.
The last time the government made major metallurgical changes in U.S. coins was nearly 50 years ago when Congress directed the Mint to remove silver from dimes and quarters and to reduce its content in half dollar coins. Now, Congress is looking at new changes in response to rising prices for copper and nickel. At a House subcommittee hearing Thursday, the focus was on two approaches:—Moving to less expensive combinations of metals like steel, aluminum and zinc. —Gradually taking dollar bills out the economy and replacing them with coins.
The GAO's Lorelei St. James told the House Financial Services panel it would take several years for the benefits of switching from paper bills to dollar coins to catch up with the cost of making the change. Equipment would have to be bought or overhauled and more coins would have to be produced upfront to replace bills as they are taken out of circulation. But over the years, the savings would begin to accrue, she said, largely because a $1 coin could stay in circulation for 30 years while paper bills have to be replaced every four or five years on average.
"We continue to believe that replacing the note with a coin is likely to provide a financial benefit to the government," said St. James, who added that such a change would work only if the note was completely eliminated and the public educated about the benefits of the switch. Even the $1 coin's most ardent supporters recognize that they haven't been popular. Philip Diehl, former director of the Mint, said there was a huge demand for the Sacagawea dollar coin when production began in 2001, but as time wore on, people stayed with what they knew best.
"We've never bitten the bullet to remove the $1 bill as every other Western economy has done," Diehl said. "If you did, it would have the same success the Canadians have had." Beverly Lepine, chief operating officer of the Royal Canadian Mint, said her country loves its "Loonie," the nickname for the $1 coin that includes an image of a loon on the back. The switch went over so well that the country also went to a $2 coin called the "Toonie."
Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., affirmed that Canadians have embraced their dollar coins. "I don't know anyone who would go back to the $1 and $2 bills," he said. That sentiment was not shared by some of his fellow subcommittee members when it comes to the U.S. version. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said men don't like carrying a bunch of coins around in their pocket or in their suits. And Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the $1 coins have proved too hard to distinguish from quarters.
"If the people don't want it and they don't want to use it," she said, "why in the world are we even talking about changing it?" "It's really a matter of just getting used to it," said Diehl, the former Mint director. Several lawmakers were more intrigued with the idea of using different metal combinations in producing coins.Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said a penny costs more than 2 cents to make and a nickel costs more than 11 cents to make. Moving to multiplated steel for coins would save the government nearly $200 million a year, he said.
The Mint's report, which is due in mid-December, will detail the results of nearly 18 months of work exploring a variety of new metal compositions and evaluating test coins for attributes as hardness, resistance to wear, availability of raw materials and costs. Richard Peterson, the Mint's acting director, declined to give lawmakers a summary of what will be in the report, but he said "several promising alternatives" were found.