National / International News

Zim envoy to Australia 'defects'

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 10:45
The Zimbabwean ambassador to Australia has claimed asylum, branding President Robert Mugabe's government "illegitimate", local media report.

Stretch Or Splat? How A Black Hole Kills You Matters ... A Lot

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 10:36

Over the past year, a roaring debate has erupted among physicists about what exactly would happen if you fell into a black hole. Would it be "spaghettification," or a quantum firestorm and oblivion where space ceases to exist? The answer has big implications for fundamental physics.

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FA asks Rodgers to explain comments

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 10:32
The Football Association contacts Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers asking him to explain criticism of referee Lee Mason.

NSA surveillance lawful, judge says

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 10:23
A US federal judge rules that mass government surveillance of the phone network is legal, a week after another court found the opposite.

Concussions May Increase Alzheimer's Risk, But Only For Some

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 10:00

Head injuries have long been considered a risk factor for Alzheimer's, but the evidence on that is mixed. A study finds that people who have memory problems decades after a concussion are more likely to have the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's.

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Target: Encrypted Data Were Taken, But Not The Key To Unlock

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:59

Though 40 million credit and debt accounts may have been affected, Target says the hackers should not be able to decrypt sensitive information they obtained.

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A very sorry state of affairs at Cardiff

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:54
If Cardiff are relegated on Tan's watch, says chief football writer Phil McNulty, there is no doubt who their fans will blame

Judge Rules That NSA Collection Of Phone Data Is Lawful

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:42

Rejecting a challenge by the ACLU to the program, U.S. District Judge William Pauley said Friday that the collection of data represented "a government counter-punch" against al-Qaida. The ruling comes less than two weeks after another judge said the program violated the Constitution.

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Taxicabs without drivers could be just down the road

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:16

This year has been full of ‘what-ifs’ for the delivery industry. Like, “What if Amazon uses drones to deliver that coffee maker to your house?”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told CBS’ Sixty Minutes that’s a possibility.

Or, "What if driverless cars hit the road a lot sooner than expected?”

Representatives for Google and the California DMV say those cars could be on the streets by 2017.

We’re going to add one more – “What if the rideshare company Uber goes full robo-cab?”

That’s a question techand policy – bloggers have been asking all year long.

Right now, Uber acts a lot like a taxi cab you hail from your smart phone. You use an app to call a car, and the car shows up. That simplicity has earned the company a lot of fans, including Amber Leonti. She lives in Sacramento, and she loves Uber. One time, Leonti used Uber three times in the same day – and she kept getting the same driver. At first, Leonti says the driver was real perky and happy – but later in the night, the guy was just dragging.

“But he had like eight, king sized candy wrappers,” Leonti says, adding that the tired driver offered to share a candy bar with her. “I didn’t take it, because I don’t take candy from strangers, but I liked it. I liked that he was fueling himself on sugar.”

But what if a driver didn’t have to fuel himself at all?

What if the driver was a robot?

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick spoke at a tech conference earlier this year, and it sounds like that’s where his company is headed -- robo-cabs, without drivers, taking people where they want to go.

“We’re in the business of delivering cars. We’re delivering a car to you that you can do whatever you want with,” Kalanick told the crowd, before adding, almost as an afterthought:

“Um, well the car has a driver as a well.”

Well, for now at least. Uber has gotten almost a quarter billion dollars investment from Google, and the tech giant has been a leader in developing self-driving cars. Robo-cabs would work the same as driverless cars. They would use lasers and cameras to autonomously navigate the city streets. And for the almost 250,000 human drivers working in the US, that’s bad news. On average, these drivers make about eleven bucks an hour. Mark Rogowsky, a tech writer with Forbes, says those jobs will be lost when robo-cabs hit the roads.

“I think that whether the self-driving car shows up in five or ten years, once it does, the cab driver is an endangered species,” Rogowsky says.

Taxi driver Travis Johnson heads the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association, and he says cab drivers will actually be safer than automated cars.

“The big problem when you eliminate the driver is the automated vehicle can’t make snap judgments for safety or route…like you might have to break a law to safely avoid an accident,” Johnson says.

But tech experts say as more automated cars hit the road, the safer the cars will be. That’s because those cars will be able to communicate with each other when changing lanes or when they’re in gridlock.

Some expect the first robo-cabs to be on the road in as soon as five years. But that question of safety is a big concern for the insurance industry. Pete Moraga is with the Insurance Information network of California. He says insurers will have a hard time figuring how much risk automated cars pose.

“There has to be that transition period, where these cars get on the streets whether they’re robo-cabs or personal cars, and we have a history of how they operate,” Moraga says.

Many in the insurance industry say it'll be more than a decade before you can log into Uber, order a cab, and be whisked away by a self-driving car.

Lawro's predictions vs Danny John-Jules

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:15
BBC Sport's football expert Mark Lawrenson takes on comedian and actor Danny John Jules

AUDIO: 'UKIP to completely change UK politics'

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 09:04
The UK Independence Party will "completely change British politics" if it wins next year's European elections, according to the party's head of policy.

Three killed in fresh Egypt clashes

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:55
Three people are killed in fresh clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and police across Egypt.

The old-school basketball shoes that stepped up endorsement deals

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:43

Just 10 games into his comeback from a left knee injury, former NBA MVP Derrick Rose hurt his right knee last month. That’s bad news for the Chicago Bulls. And for Adidas, the maker of the D-Rose signature line of basketball sneakers. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant is also out with a knee injury, but his new Nike sneakers made their debut earlier this month.

Total retails sales of basketball sneakers hit $3.7 billion dollars last year. But before there were Air Jordans – long before – there were Chuck Taylors. The bestselling sneakers of all-time started out as cutting-edge basketball technology nearly 100 years ago. They bear the name of a Hall of Fame player, but the shoe’s days on the hardwood are over.

“I like to say the Chuck Taylor All Star was born on the basketball courts, raised by rock n’ roll and really adopted by street culture and fashion over the years,” Converse All Star Vice President Magnus Wedhammar says.

Converse, which is owned by Nike, sells about 70 million pairs of the canvas sneakers worldwide every year. But who was the man behind the signature on the iconic ankle patch?

Charles Taylor was born in Indiana in 1901. He played high school basketball and later, some semi-pro ball. Wedhammar says the All Star sneaker was already on the market when Converse hired Taylor as a salesman in 1922.

“Chuck Taylor himself was really the first endorsed performance athlete back in the day,” Wedhammar says. “And he really helped evolve the All Star to the Chuck Taylor All Star over time.”

Taylor put on basketball clinics all over the country, selling sneakers to high school and college teams. His name was added to the ankle patch in 1932. He retired in the mid-1960s and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor to the sport.

“People who were buying his shoes by the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and beyond, they just thought of Chuck Taylor as a brand. But there really was such a person as Chuck Taylor,” says Abraham Aamidor, author of the biography Chuck Taylor, All Star.

But when Taylor died in 1969, his sneaker was in crisis. So, Converse turned to Dr. J.

Julius Erving wore All Stars from his childhood right through his college career, but when he turned pro in the 1970s, Dr. J endorsed new, leather Converse sneakers. Adidas and Puma already sold leather basketball shoes and Converse needed to catch up.

“Converse actually called me in to talk to their engineers. And we spent a lot of hours in terms of the design and obviously, feel and comfort and durability,” Erving says.

All of that helped pave the way for Michael Jordan’s groundbreaking partnership with Nike in 1984. According to SportsOneSource, today the Jordan Brand controls more than half of the basketball market. Overall Nike holds a 92 percent share.

Marshal Cohen is the chief retail analyst at the NPD Group. He says Jordan’s post-career dominance as a spokesman is unprecedented.

“By being able to take the person and then ultimately become the brand, that’s a very rare exception,” Cohen says.

According to Cohen, 75 percent of all basketball sneakers are purchased for style, not performance, in part because of retro reissues.

“It’s all about brand, and it’s all about celebrity product,” he notes.

Fans aren’t the only ones picking up Air Jordans. Other elite athletes like the NBA’s Blake Griffin and baseball’s Derek Jeter are happy to sign with Jordan’s team and to wear his name and silouhette, too.

“Jordan as a brand, will certainly outlive Jordan the player,” says Cohen.

On the court, LeBron James, another Nike spokesman, has a chance to equal Jordan’s accomplishments. But don’t expect King James –- or anyone else -- to knock Jordan off the throne of sneaker endorsements anytime soon.

Two cheers for human rights

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:37
Are there times when human rights are not the solution?

PHOTO: Saturn's Holiday Closeup

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:35

NASA's Cassini spacecraft focused on one of the planet's poles, and produced an image that resembles a hand-painted Christmas ornament. There's also a new photo of Saturn's largest moons that makes it appear they're stacked on top of each other.

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Indian Nationalist Leader Says Violence Shook Him To The Core

NPR News - Fri, 2013-12-27 08:02

But Narendra Modi's critics say he's to blame for the deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat state in 2002. Modi is widely expected to become India's next prime minister if his Bharatiya Janata Party wins next year's election. His supporters view him as an efficient administrator.

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Ambush kills dozens of Syria rebels

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:59
Dozens of Islamist rebels have been killed by a Syrian army ambush in a strategic area near the capital Damascus, activists and state media say.

Shells kill 13 at Yemen funeral

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:58
Artillery shells hit a funeral tent in the southern Yemeni province of Daleh, killing 13 people, reports say.

Why restaurants are scrimping on shrimp

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:41

In October, Jamie’s Italian, a British restaurant chain owned by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, pulled shrimp linguine from its menu. In the U.S., Red Lobster scrimped too: Its all-you-can-eat "Endless Shrimp" special lasted just six weeks this year instead of three months.

And some items were missing.

"Bring back the Parmesan shrimp, please," wrote Carolyn Quivers of Virginia Beach, Va., one of many dismayed diners to post on Red Lobster’s Facebook page. "My husband says we aren’t coming to Endless Shrimp again until you do!"

Red Lobster declined several requests for comment. But the apparent reason for the missing shrimp: Prices have soared to a 12-year high since a deadly illness called Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS) swept through shrimp farms in Thailand.

Shrimp has become Exhibit A in how the globalization of the food-supply chain has expanded to include not just commodities like coffee, sugar and beef, but virtually everything on the table. Once a local delicacy prized for freshness, shrimp is now produced at farms in Asia, South America and Mexico, and sucked up by distributors wherever the price is cheapest.

Shrimp reproduce quickly, can be frozen easily and have a freezer life of 12 months. That has spawned a multibillion-dollar global shrimp farming business and made the crustacean a popular item on menus at chains like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Panda Express.

But the shrimp trade also illustrates how volatile that global supply chain can be. A restaurant in Los Angeles can feel the effects of changing weather patterns, natural disasters, or disease on the other side of the world. 

These days, Santa Monica Seafood, the Southwest’s largest seafood distributor, says the Asian shortage has sent prices soaring for Mexican shrimp it buys. And, even with an upscale wholesale and restaurant clientele, Santa Monica Seafood isn’t passing along that extra cost, for now. Other restaurants, like Sizzler, don’t dare either.

"Most restaurants are cautious about menu price increases in this challenging economy," says Don Henry, vice president of purchasing and distribution at Sizzler. "And I know retailers are just as competitive - but seem to have some more flexibility in pricing."

In their own intense price competition, shrimp growers may have disregarded health and safety issues to cut costs, according to seafood buyers like Casey Hartnett.

"In Asia, the ponds are disgusting," he says. "Of course, if you have tons of shrimp [in a single pond], there’s going to be disease."

Hartnett, 32, is part of the global infrastructure that has emerged to help expand the shrimp trade. His three-person company, Global Seafood Brokers, sources shrimp and snow crab from around the world for U.S. distributors.  He says EMS has roughly doubled Asian shrimp prices in a year. A pound of jumbo white shrimp from Asia cost $8.40 a pound in October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weekly report on frozen seafood coming into New York. Prices have subsequently dipped a bit. 

EMS first appeared in 2009, when an outbreak in China spread to Vietnam, Malaysia, and now Thailand. The bacterial infection produces toxins that slow growth, prevent reproduction, and eventually kill the shrimp. Infected farms have reported losses of up to 70 percent. Many farms have had to shut down, and Thailand's shrimp exports to the U.S. in July declined 58 percent, from a year earlier.

In May, researchers at the University of Arizona identified the cause of EMS: bacteria whose growth is fostered by overcrowding in ponds. But because farmers are reluctant to move to lower-density farming, shrimp production isn’t likely to return to pre-epidemic levels without significant increases in farmed area. Experts estimate it will be several years before Southeast Asia can eradicate the disease.

Shortages in Asia sent buyers to Latin America to fill the void. However, Mexico and Ecuador couldn't produce enough to make up for the losses.

That has created tension for businesses, such as Sizzler and Santa Monica Seafood, which have shouldered the extra costs.

"We [buy] three-quarters of a million pounds of wild Mexican shrimp," says Logan Kock, head of sourcing for Santa Monica Seafood. "EMS, which kills farmed shrimp, has caused this wild shrimp to move up more than 50 percent over the last year."

The company continues paying for a product its customers expect it to carry.

Shrimp is a big part of the menu at Sizzler, where it accompanies the steakhouse’s surf and turf entrees. Henry, the vice president of purchasing, says given the increased prices, the chain is buying shrimp from distributors in six-month intervals, instead of the usual year-long contracts.

As for Red Lobster, the EMS epidemic that likely prompted the quick end to its "Endless Shrimp" promotion this year compounded other financial woes. Parent company Darden Restaurants said in December it plans to sell the 705-restaurant Red Lobster chain or spin it off into a separate company.

Appeal over pond death 'mystery'

BBC - Fri, 2013-12-27 07:40
The death of a man in a pond in Kidderminster is described by police as "a bit of a mystery".

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