PHOTOGRAPHY – Crazy Russian Climbers Scale Hong Kong’s Skyscrapers

Date: 2014.02.18

Over 21 million people have watched Russians Vadim Makhorov and Vitaly Raskalov climb the 2000+ ft Shanghai Tower on YouTube. During their adventures in Asia, they also paid a visit to Hong Kong for a spot of skyscraper ‘extreme free climbing’…

ZVwthfBl.png (640×404)Click to enlarge


W1jtwzh.jpg (604×423)

iKyNuXa.jpg (670×390)

ixixw69.png (634×493)

Check out an interview with the thrillseekers over at That’s Online.

NHL in Québec City? Absolument!

Paul Stewart
 Blogger • Former NHL Referee 
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paulstewart22

For those who would mock my eight years as a pro player, think about this: I achieved my goals. I made it to the NHL. This native Bostonian made his NHL playing — and later, refereeing — debut in the Boston Garden. I lived the dream that I had since I first put on my sister’s too big white skate with toe picks. I even scored a couple goals in the NHL. 

I can laugh and joke about my modest skills as a player. The bottom line is that I literally fought my way into the NHL playing fraternity and, however brief it was, that is something special that no one can ever take away from me. Likewise, I am proud to have played for the Quebec Nordiques, even though the franchise has since relocated to Denver.

More and more, it sounds like the NHL is going to expand from 30 to 32 teams in the relatively near future. From what has been said, Seattle and Quebec City may be the top two candidates. 

I hope so. I enjoyed Quebec City as both a player and an NHL referee. There are some financial downsides to playing there — high taxes, for one — but it is a tremendous city with a passion for hockey. The Nordiques-Canadiens rivalry was a real good one, too. The folks in Quebec City loved their Nordiques and I enjoyed the atmosphere at Le Colisee.

Story time: I’ll work backwards chronologically because this anecdote shows just how deep the Quebec fans’ passions ran even after the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche. 

A few years ago, I refereed a Legends Game in Quebec City. An hour or so before the game, I was talking with Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier. 

I said, “I will bet you that I get a bigger ovation than either one of you when I’m introduced before the game.”

Mario and Mark smirked at each other. 

“Yeah, Stewy, whatever you say,” Lemieux said. 

“No, I’m serious,” I said. “Let’s make a bet. If I win, you buy me dinner tonight. If I lose, it’s my treat.”

“You’re on,” they said. 

Pregame introductions rolled around. Messier got a huge ovation. Lemieux got a standing ovation. 

I was introduced as the referee. The crowd was silent. 

Mario and Messier grinned at me. I put up my hand as if to say, “Wait a second, guys.”

I pulled off my referee sweater. Underneath, I wore a Quebec Nordiques jersey with my old number 22 on it. The crowd immediately rose to its feet, roaring its approval. I hammed it up a little, pointing to the Nordiques crest, and they roared even louder. 

I skated by Mario. Now it was my turn to grin.

“I think I’ll have wine with that dinner,” I said. 

 photo StewyQuebec_zpsa43a8dfd.jpg
Winning my bet, courtesy of my Nordiques sweater!

When the NHL merged with the World Hockey Association, one of the terms of the agreement arranged by the WHA Players Association was that all players under WHA contract had to be taken by NHL teams in the ensuing dispersal draft. Legend has it that I was the last player taken. 

Whether that’s true or not, who cares? All that matters is that Quebec — one of the teams coming over to the NHL in the merger, along with the Whalers, Jets and Oilers — took me and I ended up joining the Nordiques in the NHL.

In June of 1979, I was staying with my then-wife at her summer house in New Jersey. I got a phone call from my former Cincinnati Stingers coach, Jacques Demers. Jacques, who had moved on from the Stingers to coach the Nordiques, has always been a caring and loyal person. 

“Cat, you’re back with me,” Demers said. 

Training camp was quite the ordeal. The Nords were owned at the time by Carling O’Keefe — the beer company — and my first day as a Nord in training camp actually ended with being forced to share an O’Keefe’s beer as a peacemaking gesture with Wally Weir in general manager Maurice Filion’s office after Weier and I had a vicious fight and he kneed my in the face (I’ll tell that story in my upcoming autobiography; there was a lot of back-story and intrigue to it). 

Relative to the times and the era, my contract with the Nordiques was a good one. The team agreed to pay me in American dollars, which stretched my money much further in Canada in those days. The exchange rate at that time was about $1.40 Canadian for each U.S. dollar. The simple act of pulling out a wallet with U.S. dollars in it could get you the VIP treatment in stores, restaurants and bars. I even got a signing bonus and my meal money and other expense coverages from the team were also in American dollars. To top it all off, it was a one-way contract, meaning that I got paid the same amount whether I was in the NHL or sent to the minor leagues.

I ended up going back to Cincinnati — the Stingers franchise had moved to the minor league Central Hockey League when the WHA folded — to start the season. I barely played. In early November, the team took a road trip and I was told to stay back because I would not be dressing in any of the games.

Quick tangent: Knowing that fighting was my stock in trade, I had been working out as a boxer. I even sparred with future champion Aaron Pryor and other heavyweights and cruiserweights. I already had martial arts background, too, training in the arts of aikido and karate. In later years, some hockey enforcers took to studying other fighting arts to improve their balance and technique. Nowadays, I know mixed martial arts is quite popular among hockey fighters. Back then, I was pretty much the only hockey tough guy who was serious about learning other fighting forms.

I have always agreed with Bruce Lee’s philosophy on fighting. When he was developing the martial art of Jeet Kune Do — with the motto “using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation”– he constantly emphasized the desirability of studying as many fighting forms as possible and absorbing what is useful to you. Use what works, regardless of “style” or country of origin.

At any rate, playing so infrequently in Cincy and working out so heavily ended up pushing me over the top when the Nordiques needed an enforcer. I made my NHL debut for the Nordiques on Nov. 22, 1979. We were in Boston, and I got the Dorchester Hat Trick (three fights and a game misconduct). 

 photo paul-stewart-fights-terry-o-reilly_zpsda61b87e.jpg
Fighting Terry O’Reilly in my NHL debut with the Nordiques.

Demers and assistant coach Andre Boudrias were wonderful to me during my time with the Nordiques. Boudrias worked hard with me on my skating, which benefited me later on when I became an official. 

Just as important, I really enjoyed Quebec City. I spoke very little French at the time — it would later improve with help from Romeo Leblanc and other friends — but it was a great city. As I noted earlier, they loved their hockey and were driven to see their team compete against the Habs in particular. 

I was refereeing in the NHL when the Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1995-96 — ironically enough, with former longtime Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy as their new goaltender — in their first year as the Colorado Avalanche. That had to have been a bitter pill to the people in Quebec to lose their team and then see it blossom from an up-and-comer into a champion.

In the years that have followed, Winnipeg lost its NHL team to Phoenix and, years later, got one back when Atlanta folded. Although nothing is set in stone, it sounds like Quebec might also get back a team. 

Although the taxes are still high in Quebec, the Canadian dollar has rebounded since the Nordiques relocated. The Colisee is an outdated facility, but there’s a new facility under construction with an NHL-friendly seating capacity. Lastly, coming up with a locally-based ownership group to pay all the League fees and operate a financially viable team is also doable.

If and when the NHL returns to Quebec City, I will be happy to see it. Even if it never happens, the city and its hockey community will always hold a special place in my heart.

Merci Beaucoup, Québec! 


Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). 

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

Stewart is currently working with a co-author on an autobiography.


Unsecured webcams mean that people on the internet can peer into homes across the world. From French nursing homes to Russian shops, they’re all unwittingly streaming live online.



Photo by West Midlands Police/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo by West Midlands Police/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The only upside to Edward Snowden‘s revelations about the National Security Agency tracking your every move is, perversely, that they’re doing it to everyone else as well. Like a needle in a haystack, the volume of information in the system helps to hide and anonymise you.

The same cannot be said if you ever have the misfortune of being caught on an unsecured webcam. A widespread lack of password protection or encryption means that at any time, tens of thousands of open webcams and security cameras are broadcasting their footage live on the Internet to anyone with the link, with no password required. These cameras are indexed by Google and are easy to find with a simple search. There are also websites and communitiesdedicated to compiling and sharing the “best” unsecured cameras, ranging from the surreal to the downright terrifying.


Live Security Cams is a particularly persistent offender, with more than 3,000 camera feeds collected on the site from around the world. Here, a family relax together in their living room, unaware that their security camera is broadcasting their private moments for the whole world to see.


Not all unsecured webcams are accidental. Seaworld San Diego has deliberately rigged up an open penguin cam to drum up publicity for its conservation work.


Some are even controllable. Dive Commander has a remote-controlled, submersible camera that allows visitors to steer a mini-sub around an aquarium in two-minute bursts. Similarly, iPetCompanion is a site rigged up to allow you to play with cats and dogs in shelters across the U.S. using a range of remote-controlled toys.


But these deliberately open cameras are few and far between. Much more common are ones like this: an old French woman being unwittingly streamed online as she eats her breakfast, in what appears to be a nursing home.


Workplace cameras are also common. Here are two shop assistants chewing the fat in a Russian hardware store.


And here are women working in a Bangladeshi garment factory.


Not all cameras provide a voyeuristic window into people’s day-to-day lives. This automated security camera provides scenic views of a quaint Austrian mountain village in winter. There’s also beautiful Mexican beachesidyllic French coastlines, and picturesque Czech city squares.

Screen shot 2014-02-27 at 12.05.16


If you search, you’re even able to find accidentally controllable security cameras. This German office’s camera is free for anyone to watch and control. There’s even a surprise left for anonymous Internet viewers to discover when navigating the camera around the office.


This is an Irish greenhouse. I have no idea why you’d need a webcam in a greenhouse, but someone obviously had a reason, and now it’s online for the whole world to see.


Some are, however, far more disturbing. This Russian security camera is streaming live from a children’s play park. It’s impossible to tell for sure, but it looks suspiciously like the man in frame was stealing from the unattended cash register as I watched.


Lastly, we have someone’s bedroom, found on Live Security Cams. (Editor’s note: Given the nature of video, we’ve elected not to link to the source.) Whilst it looked empty when I visited, it was clear that a child lives and sleeps here, without any idea strangers could watch them online night and day, like a horrific real-life version of The Truman Show.

Efforts have been made by bloggers to draw attention to the risks that unsecured cams pose, but it’s clear that they’re not getting through. It’s an issue that most people simply are not aware of.

These video streams also present a terrifying vision of the future we might all be facing if Google Glass and wearable tech ever filter into the mainstream. There’s simply little tech companies can do if people start hooking their cameras up to stream everything they see online for the voyeuristic pleasure of others.

But in the meantime, next time you see a security camera, make sure to wave. You never know who’s watching.

The Unbelievable Story Of Why Marlon Brando Rejected His 1973 Oscar For ‘The Godfather’




FEB. 27, 2014, 9:31 AM

newsweek cover marlon brando godfather


The Godfather was not too pleased with the Academy.

The man who made offers others couldn’t refuse once refused the movie industry’s heftiest honor.

On March 5, 1973, Marlon Brando declined the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gut-wrenching performance as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” — for a very unexpected reason.

Here’s how it went down.

In the 1960s, Brando’s career had slid into decline. His previous two movies  — the famously over-budget “One-Eyed Jacks” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” — tanked at the box office. Critics said “Mutiny” marked the end of Hollywood’s golden age, and worse still, rumors of Brando’s unruly behavior on set turned him into one of the least desirable actors to work with.

Brando’s career needed saving. “The Godfather” was his defibrillator.

In the epic portrayal of a 1940s New York Mafia family, Brando played the patriarch, the original Don. Though the film follows his son Michael (played by Al Pacino), Vito Corleone is its spine. A ruthless, violent criminal, he loves and protects the family by any means necessary. It’s the warmth of his humanity that makes him indestructible — a paradox shaped by Brando’s remarkable performance.

“The Godfather” grossed nearly $135 million nationwide, and is heralded as one of the greatest films of all time. Pinned against pinnacles of the silver screen — Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, and Peter O’Toole — Brando was favorited to win Best Actor. 

On the eve of the 45th Academy Awards, Brando announced that he would boycott the ceremony and send Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. A little-known actress, she was then-president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.


oscars 70s marlon brando native american


Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, to address the American Indian rights movement.

On the evening of March 5, when Liv Ullman and Roger Moore read out the name of the Best Actor award recipient, neither presenter parted their lips in a smile. Their gaze fell on a woman in Apache dress, whose long, dark hair bobbed against her shoulders as she climbed the stairs.

Moore extended the award to Littlefeather, who waved it away with an open palm. She set a letter down on the podium, introduced herself, and said:

“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you … that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry —”

The crowd booed. Littlefeather looked down and said “excuse me.” Others in the audience began to clap, cheering her on. She continued only briefly, to “beg” that her appearance was not an intrusion and that they will “meet with love and generosity” in the future.

In 1973, Native Americans had “virtually no representation in the film industry and were primarily used as extras,” Native American studies scholar Dina Gilio-Whitaker writes. “Leading roles depicting Indians in several generations of Westerns were almost always given to white actors.”

But they weren’t just neglected or replaced in film; they were disrespected — a realization that crippled Brando’s image of the industry.


Marlon Brando

Associated Press

Brando was 48 when he became the second person to reject an Academy Award for Best Actor.

The following day, The New York Times printed the entirety of his statement — which Littlefeather was unable to read in full because of “time restraints.” Brando expressed support for the American Indian Movement and referenced the ongoing situation at Wounded Knee, where a team of 200 Oglala Lakota activists had occupied a tiny South Dakota town the previous month and was currently under siege by U.S. military forces. He wrote:

The motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing him as savage, hostile and evil. It’s hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children … see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.”

A tsunami of criticism toppled over Brando and Littlefeather following the Oscars, from peers in the industry and the media.

Still, Brando lent the Native American community a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise awareness of their fight in front of 85 million viewers, leveraging an entertainment platform for political justice in unprecedented fashion. His controversial rejection of the award (which no winner has repeated since) remains one of the most powerful moments in Oscar history.

Read more:

British Spies Who Collected Yahoo Webcam Images Shocked by All the Naked People

Image Reuters


Are you ready to add another creepy bullet point to the list of things the world’s spy agencies collect about you online? No? Too bad. Because the Guardian reported on Thursday that the U.K.’s surveillance agency, with the help of the NSA, has a bulk collection program of Yahoo webcam images.

According to their report based on documents from (who else?) Edward Snowden, the Optic Nerve program was active as late as 2012 and involves millions of images — including lots of naughty ones — from users who aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing, including U.K. and U.S. citizens.

Optic Nerve allowed the GCHQ to collect one screenshot every five minutes from Yahoo’s webcams, without the knowledge of the company or its users. In six months during 2008, the agency collected images from 1.8 million users. It doesn’t filter out U.K. or U.S. citizens from its database, apparently because it doesn’t have the means to do so. The GCHQ’s program relied on NSA research and systems to target and filter the webcam feeds. The UK accessed the cameras through existing taps on cable connections in the country. 

Oh, and they experimented with allowing agents to search by facial recognition. Here’s the Guardian

The documents also show that GCHQ trialled automatic searches based on facial recognition technology, for people resembling existing GCHQ targets: “[I]f you search for similar IDs to your target, you will be able to request automatic comparison of the face in the similar IDs to those in your target’s ID.” 

That capability was later shut down, but there are other ways the program could potentially result in a U.K. spy accessing the images and metadata from a user’s webcam. Agents, the Guardian explains, were only allowed to see metadata results from a bulk search. But if an agent knew the username of one of their surveillance targets, they’d also be able to access “webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers.” 

As it turns out, British spies had a bit of trouble dealing with all the people who use webcams in various states of undress. One document described their shock at just how much of the traffic was naughty — between 3 and 11 percent of the images they collected:

“Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”

Via the Guardian

The agency tried out some porn detectors to try and automatically filter the images, but that didn’t work very well. Because those detectors blocked images showing a certain percentage of human flesh, it sometimes had trouble distinguishing between, say, a person showing off their bits and the face of someone sitting close to their computer. Eventually, it seems that the U.K. just banned images that didn’t appear to show faces from their database. 

In case you were wondering how Yahoo feels about all of this, the Guardian reports that the company was “furious” when they learned of the program. A spokesperson for the program called Optic Nerve “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.”

Kind of scary (bis)

Mad Cow, Eye Cancer, Feces In Your Food? The Price of Cutting Back on Meat Inspectors

Food safety recalls and animal cruelty are increasing under government abdication of public health duties.
February 26, 2014  |  

The USDA is cutting back on federal meat inspectors, allowing slaughterhouses to self-police, and already questions about the program are surfacing. This month, USDA recalled  8.7 million pounds of beef products processed at Rancho Feeding Corp. which included Nestle’s Philly Steak and Cheese and Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese Hot Pockets, Walmart Fatburgers, Kroger Ground Beef Mini Sliders and other well-known brands.

The reason for the gigantic recall, says USDA, is that the slaughterhouse  “processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection.” The multi-state recall, applying to all meat produced over a year at the facility, caused Rancho Feeding Corp. to  close.

The USDA cost-cutting, self-regulation program, called HIMP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Models Project) will eliminate  800 federal meat inspectors and is already in operation at about 25 chicken and turkey plants. It likely played a role in the Rancho Feeding Corp. recall said Stan Painter, president of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, which represents 6,000 inspectors nationwide. “In many places, managers and veterinarians are being asked to help with inspections,” because of a shortage of federal inspectors, he said.

Six years ago, Painter spoke out about cutbacks in federal inspection when undercover video of “downer” cows moved with electric prods, forklifts and water hoses at the Chino, Ca-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. slaughterhouse surfaced.   Painter warned that the government’s cost-driven move toward self-regulation of private slaughterhouses amounted to the fox “guarding its own henhouse.” The meat from the cows, which was supplying the National School Lunch Program, was recalled because of the high likelihood of “downer cows” carry Mad Cow disease. It became the largest meat recall in US history.

Westland/Hallmark had been cited by the USDA in 2005 for “too much electric prodding causing animals to get more excited while being driven towards [the kill] box,” suggesting it was receiving sick and weak cows. But despite the USDA’s “7,800 pairs of eyes scrutinizing 6,200 slaughterhouses and food processors across the nation… in the end, it took an undercover operation by an animal rights group to reveal” the abuse said the  Los Angeles Times in a scathing 2008 editorial.  Even before the recent meat inspector cutbacks, the government was allowing  sick and diseased cattle to be processed for the US dinner table until the Humane Society of the United States intervened. Westland/Hallmark  ceased operations soon after.

One ailment in cows that could slip through as the number of federal meat inspectors declines is eye cancer, says Bill Niman, a rancher who did business for 40 years with Rancho Feeding Corp. “A farmer sends a cow in with cancer, and he knows it has cancer-eye—it’s a growth on the eye, this is not a microbial situation,” he told the  Village Voice. “The inspectors, they know it has cancer-eye. So the farmer shouldn’t have sent it, and the inspector should have caught it.”

Both the shuttered Rancho Feeding Corp. and Westland/Hallmark were slaughterhouses where farmers could send and often dump their dairy cows who could no longer walk. “The cattle are going to go down in the truck,” Rod Bolcao, owner of Chino Livestock Market told the  Inland Valley Daily Bulletin who was familiar with Westland/Hallmark. They “aren’t going to be strong enough to make the ride” and Westland/Hallmark was there “to pick them up,” he said. Without a slaughterhouse like Westland/Hallmark for cull cattle, dairymen lose the $400 they would make on the carcass and instead have to pay “money to euthanize them and haul them out,” as much as $70 to $150, he lamented.
Nowhere did Bolcao address the ethics of working a dairy cow until the difference between disposing of her and selling her to be slaughtered for meat is $250.
Rancho Feeding Corp., the only slaughterhouse in the Bay Area, was also one of the few facilities in its area to slaughter cull dairy cows, said Niman. Dairy cattle are older and sicker, and once their milking days are over they are processed into low-grade meat instead of being retired.
Bolcao and Niman are not the only ag voices recounting the cavalier disposal of cull dairy cows which owners try to get on the truck to the slaughterhouse even if the cows will never walk off on their own steam.  A 2010 report from the  USDA’s Inspector General identified four operations that dumped 211 cows unfit for human food, calling the operators “individuals who have a history of picking up dairy cows with drugs in their system and dropping them off at the plant.”
Two of the four Mad Cows that have been found in the US since 2003 were also downers, unable to walk. Cow number two, discovered in late 2004, was purchased at a livestock sale by an “order buyer” who sent her to the slaughterhouse four days later, according to a  government report. When the truck arrived at H&B Packing in Waco, according to the  Star-Telegram, she was already dead and so she was transported instead to Champion Pet Food, across town. Even though there were reports that the cow was unable to walk at the livestock where she was nonetheless sold for meat, the farmer who owned her told government investigators that “the cow had always been excitable and had fallen while she was being loaded to go to the market, but that this was not unusual behavior for her.” Right.
Cow number three, discovered in March, 2006, was  also a downer who “had at her side a 2- to 3-week old red Charolais cross female calf” at the time of her death, according to the USDA report. In both cases, the government protected the identities of the ranches and allowed them to resume operations in a month–though the cause of the Mad Cow disease was never found. With the first US mad cow, found in late 2003,  officials refused to tell the public which restaurants and outlets may have served meat containing the cow.
Instances of cruelty are not the only expected result of the government’s cost-cutting capitulation to private industry by reducing and eliminating inspection. Federal meat inspectors are also responsible for a plant’s compliance with the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Poultry Products Inspection Act and Egg Products Inspection Act. Yet since Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) was implemented in 2000 (a self-policing measure that was the precursor to HIMP) it is increasingly hard to do their jobs.
“My plant in Pennsylvania processed 1,800 cows a day, 220 per hour,” federal meat inspector Lester Friedlander told the press in 2004.  Stopping the line cost about $5,000 a minute, so veterinarians are pressured “to look the other way” when violations happen.
Dean Wyatt, a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) supervisory public health veterinarian, reiterated Friedlander’s charges in  2010 congressional hearings. Federal meat inspectors are unable to do their job on either end, he testified, because FSIS district offices often side with plant management over inspectors, reducing them to powerless figureheads who are sometimes openly laughed at by plant workers.
Stan Painter of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals repeated the charges in additional congressional testimony. “Sometimes, even if we write noncompliance reports, some of the larger companies use their political muscle to get those overturned at the agency level or by going to the congressional delegation to get this inspection staff to back off,” he said.
Soon after HACCP was implemented in 2000,  62 percent of meat inspectors in a survey admitted that they had  allowed feces, vomit and metal shards in food on a daily or weekly basis, which had not happened before HACCP. Almost 20 percent of inspectors said they’d been told not to document violations. Eighty percent of 451 inspectors said that HACCP interfered with their ability to enforce the law and the public’s right to know about food safety. (No wonder HACCP has been dubbed “Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray.”)
As food safety recalls increase under government abdication of its public health duties, the risk of Mad Cow disease, eye cancer and grotesque levels of cruelty to animals will only increase. February’s recall of top brands let Nestle’s Hot Pockets shows that industry will put profits ahead of self-policing when it can. By eliminating federal inspectors to save money, the USDA is harming food consumers, animals and the public trust.

Kind of scary

Here are 500 more foods containing the yoga mat chemical

Subway was only the beginning


Here are 500 more foods containing the yoga mat chemical

Subway’s announcement, earlier this month, that its bread would no longer be made with a chemical foaming agent also found in yoga mats and shoe rubber, made a splash for two reasons: first, because it marked the success of a consumer-driven campaign to get the company to reform its practices; and second, because most of us were surprised to find out that the chemical was being used in the first place.

The chemical, azodicarbonamide (also known as ADA), has been banned in Europe and Australia, but is FDA-approved so long as its presence is limited to fewer than 2.05 grams per 100 pounds of flour or 45 parts per million. The World Health Organization links it to respiratory illnesses, allergies and asthma in workers handling large volumes of it. ”When you look at the ingredients, if you can’t spell it or pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it,” Vani Hari, the activist blogger who started the Subway campaign, said.

But it isn’t just Subway — as the company pointed out, it can still be found in products at Starbuck’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Burger King, and Dunkin Donuts.  And according to a new report released by the Environmental Working Group, it can still be found in nearly 500 food products on grocery store shelves.

The list covers 130 brands of breads, buns, snacks, pastries and pre-made sandwiches, from America’s Choice to Wonder bread. As EWG explains, it’s commonly used as a “dough conditioner” to make bread both puffier and more able to withstand shipping and storage.

Last week, N.Y. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the FDA to ban ADA altogether. If you wish to avoid it in the meantime, the complete list can be found here.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email

UK spy agency intercepted webcam images of millions of Yahoo users

• Optic Nerve program collected Yahoo webcam images in bulk
• 1.8m users targeted by GCHQ in six-month period alone
• Yahoo: ‘A whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy’
• Material included large quantity of sexually explicit images, Thursday 27 February 2014 14.08 GMT
Yahoo webcam image.

The NSA program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds. Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions ofinternet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images ofYahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy“.

GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.

The documents also chronicle GCHQ’s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.

NSA ragout 4

Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.

The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.

Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers. The documents describe these users as “unselected” – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.

One document even likened the program’s “bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events” to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.

“Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for ‘mugshots’ or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face,” it reads. “The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”

The agency did make efforts to limit analysts’ ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.

However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display “webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target”.

Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ’s huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA. Webcam information was fed into NSA’sXKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo’s webcam traffic.

Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because “Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets”.

NSA ragout 3

Programs like Optic Nerve, which collect information in bulk from largely anonymous user IDs, are unable to filter out information from UK or US citizens. Unlike the NSA, GCHQ is not required by UK law to “minimize”, or remove, domestic citizens’ information from its databases. However, additional legal authorisations are required before analysts can search for the data of individuals likely to be in the British Isles at the time of the search.

There are no such legal safeguards for searches on people believed to be in the US or the other allied “Five Eyes” nations – Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law.

The documents also show that GCHQ trialled automatic searches based on facial recognition technology, for people resembling existing GCHQ targets: “[I]f you search for similar IDs to your target, you will be able to request automatic comparison of the face in the similar IDs to those in your target’s ID”.

The undated document, from GCHQ’s internal wiki information site, noted this capability was “now closed … but shortly to return!”

The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies.”

Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem forGCHQ, as one document delicately put it: “Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”

The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”. Discussing efforts to make the interface “safer to use”, it noted that current “naïve” pornography detectors assessed the amount of flesh in any given shot, and so attracted lots of false positives by incorrectly tagging shots of people’s faces as pornography.

NSA ragout 1

GCHQ did not make any specific attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, the documents suggest, but did eventually compromise by excluding images in which software had not detected any faces from search results – a bid to prevent many of the lewd shots being seen by analysts.

The system was not perfect at stopping those images reaching the eyes of GCHQ staff, though. An internal guide cautioned prospective Optic Nerve users that “there is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them”.

It further notes that “under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence”.

NSA ragout 2

Once collected, the metadata associated with the videos can be as valuable to the intelligence agencies as the images themselves.

It is not fully clear from the documents how much access the NSA has to the Yahoo webcam trove itself, though all of the policy documents were available to NSA analysts through their routine information-sharing. A previously revealed NSA metadata repository, codenamed Marina, has what the documents describe as a protocol class for webcam information.

In its statement to the Guardian, Yahoo strongly condemned the Optic Nerve program, and said it had no awareness of or involvement with theGCHQ collection.

“We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity,” said a spokeswoman. “This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world’s governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.

“We are committed to preserving our users’ trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services.”

Yahoo has been one of the most outspoken technology companies objecting to the NSA’s bulk surveillance. It filed a transparency lawsuit with the secret US surveillance court to disclose a 2007 case in which it was compelled to provide customer data to the surveillance agency, and it railed against the NSA’s reported interception of information in transit between its data centers.

The documents do not refer to any specific court orders permitting collection of Yahoo’s webcam imagery, but GCHQ mass collection is governed by the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and requires certification by the foreign secretary, currently William Hague.

The Optic Nerve documentation shows legalities were being considered as new capabilities were being developed. Discussing adding automated facial matching, for example, analysts agreed to test a system before firming up its legal status for everyday use.

“It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst (ie, the number of spurious results was low, then it was likely to be proportionate),” the 2008 document reads.

The document continues: “This is allowed for research purposes but at the point where the results are shown to analysts for operational use, the proportionality and legality questions must be more carefully considered.”

Optic Nerve was just one of a series of GCHQ efforts at biometric detection, whether for target recognition or general security.

While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360’s Kinect camera, saying it generated “fairly normal webcam traffic” and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.

Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.

Microsoft, the maker of Xbox, faced a privacy backlash last year when details emerged that the camera bundled with its new console, the Xbox One, would be always-on by default.

Beyond webcams and consoles, GCHQ and the NSA looked at building more detailed and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras – “think Tom Cruise in Minority Report”, one presentation noted.

The same presentation talks about the strange means the agencies used to try and test such systems, including whether they could be tricked. One way of testing this was to use contact lenses on detailed mannequins.

To this end, GCHQ has a dummy nicknamed “the Head”, one document noted.

In a statement, a GCHQ spokesman said: “It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.

“Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

“All our operational processes rigorously support this position.”

The NSA declined to respond to specific queries about its access to the Optic Nerve system, the presence of US citizens’ data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs.

However, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.

“As we’ve said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself,” she said.

“The NSA works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate.

“A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons.”

It’s almost a shame you have to land! Pilots reveal the 26 most beautiful views you can see while approaching airports around the world


PUBLISHED: 21:20 GMT, 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 22:35 GMT, 26 February 2014


With views like these – it is almost a shame you have to land. 

These beautiful views have topped a poll by a host of seasoned pilots, travel writers, and industry experts of the most scenic airport approaches. 

Users of the private-jet charter firm voted on approaches as diverse as the beach-skimming descent onto the Caribbean island St Maarten, to the thrill inducing  – but perhaps slightly greyer – bumpy ride into Barra Airport, in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, which is submerged when the tide is high

The poll by also took in some of the world’s most iconic airports, including Amsterdam, Gibraltar, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro and Sochi, gateway to this year’s Winter Olympics.

Also in the running is Cape Town Airport – which bears a striking resemblance to the Thunderbirds Tracy Island – and is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, and nestled just below – a sprawl of squatter shacks

Squamish Airport, Canada, is competing for top spot in a poll of the most beautiful landings by It is described as 'sublime... in any season, surrounded by banks of pine trees, mountains and a river'


Squamish Airport, Canada, is competing for top spot in a poll of the most beautiful landings by It is described as ‘sublime… in any season, surrounded by banks of pine trees, mountains and a river’


Venice Marco Polo Airport, Italy, is surrounded by a beautiful seascape, on the approach to Italy's city of canal. According to one judge on the poll - sit on the right hand side of the aircraft for the best view


Venice Marco Polo Airport, Italy, is surrounded by a beautiful seascape, on the approach to Italy’s city of canal. According to one judge on the poll – sit on the right hand side of the aircraft for the best view


The emerald green approach to the Virgin Gorda Island - the third largest of the British Virgin Islands. Clive Jacobs (Chairman of Travel Weekly) said: 'True definition of a dust strip but on a beautiful island and a very tricky approach'


The emerald green approach to the Virgin Gorda Island – the third largest of the British Virgin Islands. Clive Jacobs (Chairman of Travel Weekly) said: ‘True definition of a dust strip but on a beautiful island and a very tricky approach’


Lacking some of the glamour of its fellow poll contenders, Sochi International Airport, Russia, earned a mention for the descent over the Black Sea 'watching the city and Olympic Park unfold in front of you, with a beautiful mountain backdrop'


Lacking some of the glamour of its fellow poll contenders, Sochi International Airport, Russia, earned a mention for the descent over the Black Sea ‘watching the city and Olympic Park unfold in front of you, with a beautiful mountain backdrop’


St Barts Airport is described as one of the 'most breathtaking (hair-raising) landing strips in the world'. 
Beautiful circular approach of the island takes in the yachts at the harbour in Gustavia and a thrilling short runway landing almost places you on the beach at St Jean


St Barts Airport is described as one of the ‘most breathtaking (hair-raising) landing strips in the world’. Beautiful circular approach of the island takes in the yachts at the harbour in Gustavia and a thrilling short runway landing almost places you on the beach at St Jean


The full island nestled in clear blue seas can be seen on the approach to Mustique Airport. According to one voter: 'Got to get over the hill pretty quick otherwise you end up in the sea, makes it exciting'


The full island nestled in clear blue seas can be seen on the approach to Mustique Airport. According to one voter: ‘Got to get over the hill pretty quick otherwise you end up in the sea, makes it exciting’


Male (Ibrahim Nasir International) gives passengers fantastic views over thousand of small islands, in the stunning Maldives


Male (Ibrahim Nasir International) gives passengers fantastic views over thousand of small islands, in the stunning Maldives


Aside from the stunning cityscape of Los Angeles, the descent into LAX sees passengers coast over the Grand Canyon before a drop in from the Rocky Mountains and into the LA basin with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in the background


Aside from the stunning cityscape of Los Angeles, the descent into LAX sees passengers coast over the Grand Canyon before a drop in from the Rocky Mountains and into the LA basin with a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean in the background


Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport offers passengers incredible view of Guanabara Bay


Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport offers passengers incredible view of Guanabara Bay


Queenstown Airport, New Zealand,  provides views of 'Pure nature, mountains, hills and sea'. Bill Prince said: 'Incredible approach in the shadow of the peaks with a view seemingly all the way to Milford Sound. Truly an arrival of a lifetime'


Queenstown Airport, New Zealand, provides views of ‘Pure nature, mountains, hills and sea’. Bill Prince said: ‘Incredible approach in the shadow of the peaks with a view seemingly all the way to Milford Sound. Truly an arrival of a lifetime’


A descent into Paro Airport, Bhutan, provides outstanding views of the highest mountains on earth. 'The seat clenching view of the tiny runway, culminating in the shortest heart thumping landing!', one voter says


A descent into Paro Airport, Bhutan, provides outstanding views of the highest mountains on earth. ‘The seat clenching view of the tiny runway, culminating in the shortest heart thumping landing!’, one voter says


Nice Cote d'Azur International Airport, France gives passengers a 'beautiful approach either from North East over the Alps then Monaco or West with the red Esterel mountains on the left and blue Med on the right'


Nice Cote d’Azur International Airport, France gives passengers a ‘beautiful approach either from North East over the Alps then Monaco or West with the red Esterel mountains on the left and blue Med on the right’


Newquay's airport is virtually on the Cornish coast giving passengers perfect views of the sea and beautiful beaches


Newquay’s airport is virtually on the Cornish coast giving passengers perfect views of the sea and beautiful beaches


LaGuardia Airport, in the New York City borough of Queens gives those on the left hand side of the plane a sightseeing view of Manhattan


LaGuardia Airport, in the New York City borough of Queens gives those on the left hand side of the plane a sightseeing view of Manhattan


JFK International Airport, New York, offers the quintessential city view of the Manhattan skyscrapers


JFK International Airport, New York, offers the quintessential city view of the Manhattan skyscrapers


London City Airport gives fantastic views. From the East, passengers can see the Thames estuary from QE2 bridge to Silvertown. From the west, the approach takes flights Canary Wharf and you may see Westminster, London Eye, Tower Bridge, St. Pauls


London City Airport gives fantastic views. From the East, passengers can see the Thames estuary from QE2 bridge to Silvertown. From the west, the approach takes flights Canary Wharf and you may see Westminster, London Eye, Tower Bridge, St. Pauls


Surrounded by mountains Innsbruck Airport, in Western Tyrol, Austria offers somewhat of a dramatic landing


Surrounded by mountains Innsbruck Airport, in Western Tyrol, Austria offers somewhat of a dramatic landing


Hong Kong Airport, built on the island of Chek Lap Kok offers breathtaking cityscape views


Hong Kong Airport, built on the island of Chek Lap Kok offers breathtaking cityscape views


A flight to Gibraltar Airport, according Patrick Jephson: 'Every arrival an adventure, thanks to airspace restrictions and critically-variable winds. And what a dramatic setting - Africa, Europe and The Rock: the antidote to boring bus-stop airline flights'


A flight to Gibraltar Airport, according Patrick Jephson: ‘Every arrival an adventure, thanks to airspace restrictions and critically-variable winds. And what a dramatic setting – Africa, Europe and The Rock: the antidote to boring bus-stop airline flights’


Cape Town Airport - which bears a striking resemblance to the Thunderbirds Tracy Island - is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, and nestled just below - a sprawl of squatter shacks


Cape Town Airport – which bears a striking resemblance to the Thunderbirds Tracy Island – is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges, and nestled just below – a sprawl of squatter shacks


The beauty of Belfast City Aiport is more that of an industrial heartland. But it also gives great views over the coast and countryside - and of the shipyard where the Titanic was built


The beauty of Belfast City Aiport is more that of an industrial heartland. But it also gives great views over the coast and countryside – and of the shipyard where the Titanic was built


Barra Airport, on the island of Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. It has previously topped a poll of the most dangerous descents for its infamous beach runway - now the only one on the planet regularly used by scheduled flights


Barra Airport, on the island of Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. It has previously topped a poll of the most dangerous descents for its infamous beach runway – now the only one on the planet regularly used by scheduled flights


Aruba (Queen Beatrix International) Airport. According to voters: 'There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the sparkling blue waters of Aruba on approach. The color of the buildings against the clear waters is picture perfect!'


Aruba (Queen Beatrix International) Airport. According to voters: ‘There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the sparkling blue waters of Aruba on approach. The color of the buildings against the clear waters is picture perfect!’

Aqaba (King Hussein International) Airport is 'at the apex of where four countries meet the Red Sea on Jordan's solitary, tiny coastline'

Aqaba (King Hussein International) Airport is ‘at the apex of where four countries meet the Red Sea on Jordan’s solitary, tiny coastline’ 

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a special treat for passengers on private planes with its rooftop views over the city

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is a special treat for passengers on private planes with its rooftop views over the city

Read more: 

Rolls-Royce Drone Ships Challenge $375 Billion Industry: Freight

By Isaac Arnsdorf  Feb 25, 2014 3:18 PM ET  
Source: Rolls-Royce Holdings

In an age of aerial drones and driver-less cars, Rolls-Royce (RR/) Holdings Plc is designing unmanned cargo ships.

Rolls-Royce’s Blue Ocean development team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel’s bridge. Eventually, the London-based manufacturer of engines and turbines says, captains on dry land will use similar control centers to command hundreds of crewless ships.

Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry that carries 90 percent of world trade, Rolls-Royce says. They might be deployed in regions such as the Baltic Sea within a decade, while regulatory hurdles and industry and union skepticism about cost and safety will slow global adoption, said Oskar Levander, the company’s vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology.

“Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction,” Levander said by phone last month. “If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move.”

The European Union is funding a 3.5 million-euro ($4.8 million) study called the Maritime Unmanned Navigation through Intelligence in Networks project. The researchers are preparing the prototype for simulated sea trials to assess the costs and benefits, which will finish next year, said Hans-Christoph Burmeister at the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services CML in Hamburg.

Source: Rolls-Royce Holdings

Developing Designs

Even so, maritime companies, insurers, engineers, labor unions and regulators doubt unmanned ships could be safe and cost-effective any time soon.

While the idea of automated ships was first considered decades ago, Rolls-Royce started developing designs last year. Marine accounts for 16 percent of the company’s revenue, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Descended from the luxury car brand now operated by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Rolls-Royce also makes plane engines and turbines.

The company’s schematics show vessels loaded with containers from front to back, without the bridge structure where the crew lives. By replacing the bridge — along with the other systems that support the crew, such as electricity, air conditioning, water and sewage — with more cargo, ships can cut costs and boost revenue, Levander said. The ships would be 5 percent lighter before loading cargo and would burn 12 percent to 15 percent less fuel, he said.

Safety Standards

Crew costs of $3,299 a day account for about 44 percent of total operating expenses for a large container ship, according to Moore Stephens LLP, an industry accountant and consultant.

The potential savings don’t justify the investments that would be needed to make unmanned ships safe, said Tor Svensen, chief executive officer of maritime for DNV GL, the largest company certifying vessels for safety standards.

“I don’t think personally that there’s a huge cost-benefit in unmanned ships today, but technologically it’s possible,” Svensen said Feb. 4 at a conference in New York. “My prediction is that it’s not coming in the foreseeable future.”

While each company can develop its own standards, the 12-member International Association of Classification Societies in London hasn’t developed unified guidelines for unmanned ships, Secretary Derek Hodgson said.

“Can you imagine what it would be like with an unmanned vessel with cargo on board trading on the open seas? You get in enough trouble with crew on board,” Hodgson said by phone Jan. 7. “There are an enormous number of hoops for it to go through before it even got onto the drawing board.”

Regulating Ships

Unmanned ships are currently illegal under international conventions that set minimum crew requirements, said Simon Bennett, a spokesman for the London-based International Chamber of Shipping, an industry association representing more than 80 percent of the global fleet. The organization isn’t seriously considering the issue, he said by phone Feb. 6.

The country where a ship is registered is responsible for regulating vessels within its own waters and for enforcing international rules, said Natasha Brown, a spokeswoman for the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency in London that has overseen global shipping for almost 70 years.

The IMO hasn’t received any proposals on unmanned, remote-controlled ships, she said in a Feb. 6 e-mail. IMO regulations apply to seagoing vessels trading internationally and exceeding 500 gross tons, except warships and fishing boats.

As long as drone ships don’t comply with IMO rules, they would be considered unseaworthy and ineligible for insurance, according to Andrew Bardot, secretary and executive officer of the London-based International Group of P&I Clubs, whose 13 members cover 90 percent of the global fleet.

Union Opposition

The International Transport Workers’ Federation, the union representing about 600,000 of the world’s more than 1 million seafarers, is opposed.

“It cannot and will never replace the eyes, ears and thought processes of professional seafarers,” Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITF’s seafarers’ section in London, said in an e-mailed statement. “The human element is one of the first lines of defense in the event of machinery failure and the kind of unexpected and sudden changes of conditions in which the world’s seas specialize. The dangers posed to the environment by unmanned vessels are too easily imagined.”

Levander of Rolls-Royce said the transition will happen gradually as computers increase their role in navigation and operations. Container ships and dry-bulk carriers will probably be the first to forgo crews, he said. Tankers hauling hazardous materials such as oil and liquefied natural gas will probably remain manned longer because of the perception that having people on board is safer, he said.

Redundant Systems

Crews will offer no safety advantage after ships evolve equipment for remote control, preventive maintenance and emergency back-ups, Levander said. Unmanned ships will need constant and comprehensive computer monitoring to anticipate failures in advance and “redundant” systems to kick in, similar to those on airplanes, he said.

The computers would also be constantly analyzing operations data to improve efficiency and save money, he said. Cameras and sensors can already detect obstacles in the water better than the human eye.

“It’s a given that the remote-controlled ship must be as safe as today,” Levander said. “But we actually think it can be even much safer than today.”

Human error causes most maritime accidents, often relating to fatigue, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty AG. Total losses are declining, with 106 in 2012, 24 percent below the 10-year average, according to the most recent data from the unit of the Munich-based insurer.

Repatriating Sailors

Unmanned ships would also reduce risks such as piracy, since there would be no hostages to capture, Levander said. It would also eliminate liability for repatriating sailors when owners run out of money or abandon crews, which has stranded at least 2,379 people in the past decade.

Drone ships would become vulnerable to a different kind of hijacking: from computer hackers. While the technology may never be fully secure, it needs to be so difficult to break that it’s not worth the effort, according to Levander.

Unmanned ships would still require captains to operate them remotely and people to repair and unload them in port. These workers would have better quality of life compared with working at sea, Levander said.

Academic Debate

Currently the debate is more academic than operational, said Peter Sand, an analyst at the Bagsvaerd, Denmark-based Baltic and International Maritime Council, whose members control about 65 percent of the global fleet. None of them have raised the question of drone ships with the trade group, he said.

Levander is accustomed to chilly receptions. When he broached the subject at an industry conference in London last May, the audience audibly scoffed, and other speakers on Levander’s panel dismissed the idea.

“If everybody in the industry would say, ‘Yes, this is the way to go,’ then we are too late,” Levander said. “I expect ship owners to be conservative, but it will change.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Isaac Arnsdorf in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Millie Munshi at

Kevin Lau Chun-to – a Hong Kong journalist at the centre of a storm

Kevin Lau, brutally chopped yesterday, has been a journalist for 25 years; his recent removal as Ming Pao’s chief editor sparked controversy
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 3:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 4:29am



The scene of the knife attack on Kevin Lau Chun-to. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

After a quarter of a century writing news reports and commentaries about Hong Kong and China, veteran journalist Kevin Lau Chun-to – who was brutally chopped in a Sai Wan Ho street yesterday – had in recent weeks found himself in the headlines, held aloft as a victim in what some are calling Hong Kong’s besieged media.

It started last month when Lau made a surprise announcement to colleagues: he was being removed from his post as chief editor of the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao – a post he had held for just two years. The 49-year-old said he would assume a new role in the newspaper group, developing electronic books and teaching materials.

Ming Pao staff, as well as critics of the city’s government, were stunned. They protested, linking his ousting with political pressure from Beijing. They believed the newspaper management was unhappy with Lau’s editorial decisions – which some say are sympathetic to Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp. Under Lau the paper investigated the city’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, and the mysterious death of a mainland dissident, and participated in an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into offshore bank accounts held by members of the Chinese elite.

Cheung Kin-bor, editorial director of Ming Pao, said the change had nothing to do with political pressure. He said the newspaper group’s senior management had always allowed editors a free hand to pursue stories.

Reports at the time said that Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong would replace Lau.

Ming Pao staff urged management to overturn its decision. Several said that Chong’s appointment threatened editorial independence and argued that Chong had no Hong Kong experience.

Chong is considered proBeijing, having made a deal with Hong Kong publication Wen Wei Po in 2009 to feature its content in the Malaysian newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau.

Despite the objections, Chong was appointed this month as principal executive editor – a newly created post – rather than as chief editor.

The paper said that editorial director Cheung would continue to act as chief editor, as he has since Lau became chief operating officer of Medianet Resources, a sister company of Ming Pao.

The move was greeted with “deepest regret”, according to several Ming Paostaff members who spoke with reporters.

The staff and some former employees of the 55-year-old newspaper started a petition and staged a rally last month. Several columnists, including the Democratic Party’s founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, commentator Sam Ng Chi-sum and radio host Li Wei-ling left their columns blank to show their discontent.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association organised a march last Sunday that according to its figures drew 6,000 people. The police put the turnout at 1,600.

Lau graduated with a law degree from the University of Hong Kong and obtained a master of laws degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

During his university studies, he worked part-time as a political assistant to Martin Lee, then a legislator and also a drafter of the Basic Law.

In 1989 Lau became a political news reporter and columnist with the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He left for Ming Pao in 1995 to write editorials. He was posted to Beijing from 2007 to 2009.

His wife, Vivien Lau, was a China news editor at the South China Morning Post. She is now the corporate affairs director at Kowloon Motor Bus.

Ming Pao‘s newsroom in Chai Wan has experienced violence before. In 2005, a bomb delivered in a parcel detonated, slightly injuring a secretary. At that time, Cheung said he suspected some investigative reports might have offended someone.

Speaking about the incident in a subsequent radio interview, Lau said he remained optimistic about Hong Kong’s press freedom.

“Hong Kong remains the one with the most mature civil society, and the place that is the most determined to uphold the values of press freedom and freedom of speech,” he said.

Last month Lau wrote in his column about the controversy sparked by his removal and new job. He said he respected the company’s decision and urged colleagues and critics to allow the company to resolve the dispute internally.

The company, he said, had treated him well during his 18 years there. He had chosen to stay because he “loves the work of new media”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Editor at eye of a storm.
FEBRUARY 25, 2014, 11:21 PM 
Hong Kong Editor Whose Ouster Stirred Protests Is Slashed
A police officer standing by the car of Kevin Lau, the former editor of the Ming Pao newspaper who was stabbed Wednesday.
Tyrone Siu/Reuters
A police officer standing by the car of Kevin Lau, the former editor of the Ming Pao newspaper who was stabbed Wednesday.

Updated, 2:58 a.m. E.D.T.| The former chief editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose dismissal in January stirred protests about press freedom in the Chinese territory was slashed Wednesday morning, the police said.

Kevin Lau Chun-to, the former chief editor of Ming Pao, was slashed three times by an attacker who fled with an accomplice on a motorbike, said Simon Kwan King-pan, the chief inspector of the Hong Kong police. The attack happened shortly after 10 a.m. as Mr. Lau was walking from his car in the Sai Wan Ho neighborhood.  Mr. Lau was listed in critical condition at a local hospital with a wound in his back and two in his legs, and doctors said he faced a long recovery.

Mr. Lau’s ouster led to noisy protests  by journalists and others who feared that his departure reflected the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to subdue the independent media in the semi-autonomous territory.

Under Mr. Lau, Ming Pao investigated the death of a mainland dissident who many suspect was murdered despite his death being ruled a suicide. It recently took part in an investigation by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published in January that showed the relatives of several senior Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping and former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, owned stakes in companies registered with offshore tax havens including the British Virgin Islands.

Kevin Lau Chun-to
Scmp/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesKevin Lau Chun-to

Francis Moriarty, the head of the press freedom committee of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong, called the attack “shocking” and noted that it came after several less serious attacks on journalists in Hong Kong and just three days after a protest over concerns about press freedom in the territory. In one notable incident last year, assailants crashed a car into the home of Jimmy Lai, a media mogul critical of Beijing who founded Next Media, and they left a machete and ax in his driveway.

“This is a serious escalation,” Mr. Moriarty said of Wednesday’s attack.

“We urge the Hong Kong police to treat the incident with the utmost urgency, and to find and prosecute the culprits,” the club said later in a statement. “The growing number of attacks against members of the press in Hong Kong needs to be taken seriously by the local administration. Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and international city will suffer if such crimes go unsolved and unpunished.”

Others called the attack disturbing no matter what the motive turns out to be.

“It doesn’t matter what the motives are, it’s just not acceptable,’’ said Yuen Chan, a lecturer in journalism at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, adding that she didn’t have any information on why Mr. Lau was attacked. “There have been incidents where media people have been attacked, it’s not the first one  — it’s very, very disturbing.’’

The police said they had no suspects in the attack but they were reviewing footage from security cameras at the scene. Several other recent attacks involving journalists have gone unsolved.

In Sunday’s demonstration, at least 1,600 people turned out to support press freedom in Hong Kong, with organizers citing such concerns as the recent dismissal of a popular radio host and claims by local media outlets that they are losing advertising from mainland Chinese businesses because of their editorial positions.

The attack on Mr. Lau comes as Hong Kong-mainland Chinese tensions have been building amid increasing fears over the mainland’s widening political and cultural influence over the former British colony.

Starting in June, a series of large demonstrations are planned in Hong Kong, including one to mark the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen protests in Beijing and others to press demands for universal suffrage in electing the territory’s leaders. Such organized protests are banned in mainland China.

Mr. Lau was visited in the hospital by Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who is considered pro-Beijing and who often came under scrutiny by Ming Pao when Mr. Lau was its editor. At a news conference after the visit, Mr. Leung recalled his association with the editor and condemned “this savage act.”

Michael Forsythe and Alan Wong contributed reporting.

Sad story!

Assailant hacks ex-Honk Kong editor with cleaver

By  Feb 26, 2014 2:58PM UTC

Medical staffs escort former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau on a stretcher in a hospital in Hong Kong, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

HONG KONG (AP) — The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom is in critical condition after being hacked Wednesday by an assailant with a meat cleaver, police said.

Police said a man wearing a motorcycle helmet attacked Kevin Lau in a residential neighborhood and then fled on a motorcycle driven by another man.

Lau was hospitalized in critical condition with slashes in his back and legs, said Kwan King-pan, acting superintendent of Hong Kong Police.

Police did not announce any motive for the attack and appealed to the public for information.

Lau, 49, was named editor of the respected Ming Pao newspaper in 2012 but was replaced last month by a Malaysian journalist with no local experience. Lau was transferred to the parent company’s electronic publishing unit. The move raised fears among journalists that the newspaper’s owners were moving to curb aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was shocked and angered by the attack, calling it a “serious provocation to Hong Kong press freedom.” Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying visited Lau at the hospital and told reporters, “We strongly condemn this savage act.”

Freedom of speech and the press is a growing concern in the semiautonomous Chinese city, where such rights are guaranteed by its mini-constitution. On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets to protest Lau’s dismissal and other recent cases, including the ouster of an outspoken radio host and reports that Beijing-backed businesses were pulling ads from some newspapers over editorial stances.

Hong Kong slipped three places to 61st place on the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which said Beijing’s growing influence is jeopardizing media independence. Hong Kong ranked 18th on the group’s inaugural index In 2002.

Who Stabbed Kevin Lau?

Hong Kong’s battle for democracy takes a brutal turn.

Feb. 26, 2014 11:31 a.m. ET

The fight over democracy in Hong Kong took a brutal turn Wednesday with the stabbing of journalist Kevin Lau, a prominent critic of government policy. Mr. Lau was chief editor of the Ming Pao newspaper until his firing last month, which touched off protests over the decline of press freedom and other civil liberties in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. He is now hospitalized with life-threatening injuries.

The attack occurred in broad daylight on a sidewalk near Mr. Lau’s apartment. A man in a helmet stabbed the journalist six times before escaping on a motorcycle driven by an accomplice. Police are reviewing security cameras for leads on suspects. Hong Kong is an exceptionally safe city, and random crime—especially of this magnitude—is almost unheard of. So suspicion that the attack was politically motivated is widespread and warranted.

Such fears are fueled by the victim’s high profile as critic of the governments in both Beijing and Hong Kong. As editor of Ming Pao, Mr. Lau investigated the suspicious 2012 death of former political prisoner Li Wangyang, which Chinese authorities called a suicide though it appeared to be a murder. He also recently joined with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in exposing the offshore bank accounts where China’s top leaders stash their enormous family wealth.

Former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Associated Press

Mr. Lau was a particularly strong opponent of the Hong Kong government’s 2012 attempt—at Beijing’s urging—to impose a program of “national education” on public schools. When Hong Kongers learned that teaching materials promoted the Chinese Communist Party as a “progressive, selfless, and united ruling group,” they massed in protest and eventually forced local officials to scrap the scheme.

After Mr. Lau was fired last month and replaced with a Malaysian journalist who had supported “national education,” more than 90% of Ming Pao’s staff filed a petition demanding an explanation. Four columnists protested by leaving their spaces blank—among them Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee —while some 110 staffers dressed in black and held a silent protest outside the newspaper’s office.

The attack on Mr. Lau is especially alarming because it’s part of a pattern. Recent years have seen a spate of physical attacks on Hong Kong media critical of China’s ruling Communist Party and its local allies. These include the baton beating of iSun Affairs publisher Chen Ping, the theft and burning of some 20,000 copies of Apple Daily newspaper, and the failed attack on the home of Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai. Many such cases go unsolved. Police “can’t chase people into mainland China,” Mr. Lai has said, “and that is where these attacks come from.”

This pattern of violence—along with the recent firing of Mr. Lau and others—brought an estimated 6,000 Hong Kongers into the street for a “Free Speech, Free Hong Kong” rally on Sunday. In the wake of Wednesday’s stabbing, tens of thousands could march this weekend.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, denounced Wednesday’s attack as a “savage act” and visited Mr. Lau in the hospital. “Hong Kong is a lawful society and we will not tolerate violence,” he said.

Perhaps Mr. Leung realizes that any appearance of political violence threatens Hong Kong’s reputation for civic and commercial freedom, along with Beijing’s reputation both among the territory’s citizens and global investors. Bringing swift and transparent justice to the attacker and anyone who may have participated in Wednesday’s stabbing is the only way to start restoring that reputation.

Good one!

American Airlines Now Charging Fees To Non-Passengers

NEWS • Travel • ISSUE 44•49 • Dec 1, 2008

FORT WORTH, TX—Cash-strapped American Airlines announced a new series of fees this week that will apply to all customers not currently flying, scheduled to fly, or even thinking about flying aboard the commercial carrier.

American Airlines has promised never to raise its fees for not printing a boarding pass.

The fees, the latest introduced by American Airlines in a continuing effort to combat its financial woes, will take effect on Monday. According to company officials, these charges will include a $25 tax on citizens traveling with any other airline, as well as a mandatory $30 surcharge for passengers who decide to just stay home for the holidays instead.

“Tough times unfortunately mean tough measures,” American Airlines president Gerard Arpey said. “It’s never an easy decision to ask our loyal customers, as well as thousands of people chosen at random out of a telephone book, to pay a little extra, but that’s just the reality of today’s economic climate. We hope all Americans will understand this when receiving one of our new bills in the mail.”

Arpey said that non-passengers of American Airlines should expect to pay a small fee when making Greyhound bus reservations, choosing to drive to their final destination, or simply being a citizen of the United States with a valid Social Security number.

Arpey went on to note that some additional charges would also apply, including a $15 fee for every piece of luggage customers have inside their bedroom closet, and a one-time payment of $40 for any American whose name is Greg.

“We are confident that these new measures will not discourage customers from flying with American Airlines,” vice president Margaret Wilkinson said. “However, we’d like to remind our customers that there is a ‘discouraged-from-flying-with-American-Airlines’ charge if they do in fact choose not to fly with us.”

American Airlines, which posted a $1.45 billion loss in the second quarter of 2008 alone, claimed that the new fees—including the Taking A Shower Fee, the Knowing What An Airplane Looks Like Fee, and the Eating E.L. Fudge Cookies While Watching A Rerun Of House Fee—will help the company rebound. According to internal projections, the airline will recoup $500 million in the next three months alone, with nearly 80 percent of that revenue coming from citizens asleep at home.

“Watching television last night cost me $250,” said Baltimore resident Michael Peterson, one of many Americans now forced to pay high airline costs for folding their laundry and going to the ophthalmologist. “It’s ridiculous, but what can you do? I guess that’s just the price of not flying these days.”

“American Airlines charged me for cleaning out my attic,” said 74-year-old Samantha Pratt, a New Jersey resident who has not left the state since 2005. “Sure, I didn’t have to wait in any long lines, or go through invasive security searches, and I got to clean out my attic, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for weeks, but come on now.”

In response to American’s move, other airlines have begun offering more competitive rates. United this week unveiled a new $99 “spend the weekend quietly reading indoors” offer, while Southwest is introducing a $125 round-trip fare for those walking to their corner store for some groceries.

JetBlue, a commercial carrier known for its thrifty rates, has come out ahead of the pack, however, and is being lauded for its decision not to charge non-passengers not to fly.

Despite reduced offers such as these, many remain concerned over the new fees. Some have even expressed doubt about whether they’ll be able to afford to see family members they currently live with during Christmas.

“It’s just not worth it anymore,” said Caroline Huza, an Ohio native and mother of two. “Plus, every time I stay at home, I always get trapped next to some kid who won’t stop crying.”,2614/

Ha! Ha!

American Airlines To Phase Out Complimentary Cabin Pressurization

NEWS IN BRIEF • Travel • Airlines • News • Business • ISSUE 50•08 • Feb 25, 2014

FT. WORTH, TX—Explaining that the costs of the service have grown too high in recent years, American Airlines announced Tuesday that it will no longer offer free cabin pressurization to passengers starting March 15. “Unfortunately, to stay competitive as a legacy carrier in today’s air travel market, it no longer makes economic sense for us to provide breathable air at altitude,” said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, noting that despite the cutbacks, air pressurization would still be available to first- and business-class travelers as well as those willing to pay an additional fee. “While we regret any altitude sickness, blood problems, dimmed vision, or hyperventilation that may result from air pressure less than a third normal levels, we remind our customers that such effects will diminish as soon as the aircraft descends below 10,000 feet.” Parker added that the company is also planning to discontinue complimentary landing gear on flights under four hours.,35367/

America’s Weird, Enduring Love Affair With Cars and Houses

$1 of every $2 Americans spend is on real estate and transportation. It doesn’t have to be that way.
 FEB 25 2014, 11:29 AM ET

Wikimedia Commons

Houses and cars. They fatten the economy and thin our wallets. Without them, recoveries don’t feel like recoveries. The real estate and auto industries account for $1 in every $2 spent by the typical U.S. family, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s your color wheel of spending…

A more detailed recent report shows how families with different education backgrounds—a common and useful proxy of income level—divide their cash between movies, mortgages, and dinners at restaurants.

Families led by somebody with a BA makes about 2X more than families without a college graduate. But their spending breakdowns are familiar:

  • Housing: About a third of all family budgets: families with a bachelor’s spend 32 percent of their income on housing; for families without a degree, the figure is 33.7 percent
  • Transportation: About one-sixth of all family budgets: 17.1 percent for the college-grad family; 18.9 percent for non-grad families
  • Food: About one-eighth of all family budgets: 13.8 percent for college-grad families; 12.6 percent for non-grad families

Families led by HS-grads average about $35k in annual expenditures. For the next group up, high school-plus-some college, average income rises to $43k. For families led by a college-grad who doesn’t have an advanced degree, it’s $63k. As you can see, richer families need a slightly smaller share of income to eat, live, and get around, leaving more for insurance, dinners out, and luxuries (other). But the division of spending is pretty similar across seriously different income levels.

What can we draw from this? Two broad observations.

1. America’s house/car love affair is enduring and weird.

Families with radically different incomes—from lawyers and doctors down to high-school dropouts—all spend about half of it on homes and getting around, which suggests an historically tight relationship between marginal income growth and marginal spending growth on real estate and transportation. You get a raise, you shack up with roommates. You get another raise, you get nicer studio. A bigger raise and you move out to the suburbs and buy a house—commensurably increasing your spending on transportation (bigger car + gas).

This monopoly of housing/transit dominance is sticky for many reasons—America is big and has space for houses but zoning often limits development, leaving us with high relative housing prices and rents; suburban sprawl invites car ownership; infrastructure supports a car culture; our gas taxes are low and mortgage interest deductions are high; the list goes on—but it doesn’t have to be this way. Not every country spends half its income on homes and cars. They have other priorities, like the UK, where the typical family spends a walloping 20 percent of its income on the super-category of “fun stuff”: culture, entertainment, sports, alcohol, and tobacco. Or look at Japan, which spends more than twice as much as us on food consumed at home.

2. The post-suburban economy could be a huge deal. 

Imagine what would happen if we didn’t spend $1 in $2 on houses and cars. It would be rocky for the real estate and auto industries who have come to rely on a steady stream of spending. But it would leave a lot of money left over other stuff—like smartphones, and dinners out with friends, and shoes whose fanciness belies our income level. This isn’t a vision of the future. It’s a description of the way a lot of young people live today, particularly educated twentysomethings who’ve moved to urban light areas (e.g.: newer subrubs within commuting distance of the city proper, like Arlington, Va.) where they can save on real estate, take public transit, and preserve enough of their lowish salaries to cobble together a connected and fairly social life outside work, if they have it. Maybe these trends are recession-era fads that will fade with the recovery. If not, it’ll be a big deal.

Why Our Nutrition Labels Desperately Need An Update



Why Our Nutrition Labels Desperately Need An Update


nutrition label


Later this week, the White House is set to unveil the first update to FDA-approved nutrition labels in more than two decades. Politico reports that First Lady Michelle Obama will announce the changes on Thursday, as part of her larger focus on encouraging healthy habits and tackling childhood obesity.

At the beginning of this year, the Food and Drug Administration indicated that updating nutrition labels would be a top priority for the agency in 2014. But officials didn’t confirm a timeline for rolling out the new requirements.

The move has the potential to impact a considerable number of Americans. A recent studyconducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the number of people who rely on nutrition labels when they’re grocery shopping is on the rise. About 42 percent of working-age adults and 57 percent of older adults now say they consider the FDA’s labelwhen they’re selecting their food — and nearly three fourths of all adults report they would use similar information in restaurants if it were available.

It’s particularly welcome news for food safety advocates, who have been pressuring the government to update its food labeling practices for years.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to nutrition and food policy, has repeatedly urged the FDA to “bring food labeling into the 21st century.” Back in 2010, the organization released a report entitled “Food Labeling Chaos” that detailed the lack of industry-wide regulations in this area to hold companies accountable. The report urged the agency to crack down on brands that made overreaching claims about their products, establish a consistent standard for the foods labeled as “natural,” and make several updates to the current nutrition labels.

CSPI’s report put forth several suggestions for improving nutrition labels — like displaying calories more prominently, dividing the information into different sections that are easier to read at a glance, adding the whole wheat content, and color-coding the ingredients that exceed Americans’ daily recommend levels:

food label change


The current label relies on lettering and categories that can be hard to read, which means that consumers are often confused about what’s really important. Last year, a studyconducted by the FDA’s own researchers confirmed that many Americans simply don’t understand how to interpret the label, especially if they’re trying to multiply ingredients to calculate larger serving sizes.

“A lot of foods that common sense dictates are a single serving size, like certain snacks and beverages, are listed as multiple servings,” Margo Wootan, CSPI’s director of nutrition policy,explained to Politico, pointing out that Americans don’t always realize how much they’re consuming. Many brands attempt to make their products look healthier by listing the nutrition facts for an artificially small serving size, like listing a bag of M&M’s as two servings instead of one, but that’s often misleading.

Although nutrition advocates haven’t yet been briefed on the FDA’s forthcoming announcement, they’re hoping that the agency will move to bring serving sizes in line with what Americans are actually eating. They’re also optimistic that the FDA will make calorie counts more visible. It’s still unclear whether the agency will take bolder steps, like requiring companies to list “added sugars” separately from natural sugars, in an attempt to inform Americans about how much artificial product is going into common foods.

The FDA is well aware of the issues with the current labeling system. “It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic,” Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods, acknowledged this week. Nonetheless, the process has been extremely slow, and the new nutrition labels have now been in the works for more than a decade.

That’s typical for the consumer safety agency, which often takes years to figure out how to regulate harmful substances like tobaccotrans fatsfactory farm antibiotics, and untested chemicals. Largely because of industry lobbying and influence, the FDA is often notoriously slow to make meaningful policy changes.

Food labeling still has the potential to spark a fight. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is already wary of the forthcoming changes, emphasizing it hopes the FDA has scientific proof for overhauling the label standards. “Everyone in the industry is going to have to change their labels. It’s a very big deal. It’s very expensive,” GMA’s senior director of food labeling and standards noted.

The Westerners Who Love North Korea

It’s not just Dennis Rodman. North Korea has supporters across the world.

By Johan Nylander
February 25, 2014

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman may be portrayed as an oddball for his unexpected friendship with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un. But he is far from the only Westerner with affection for the isolated Communist country and its political system.

All across the world, friendship associations and political lobby groups stand up for the Kim regime and its domestic and international actions. Despite being branded “naive” and “untrustworthy” by academics, the pro-North Korea groups are said to attract new members every day.

The Stockholm-based Swedish-Korean Friendship Association, a 300-strong organization founded in 1969,states that it “denounce[s] US imperialism and wholeheartedly support the Korean people’s struggle for independence and national reunification.”

Chairman Christer Lundgren joined the organization in 1975 as a reaction to reports of war crimes committed by U.S. armed forces in Korea and Vietnam. He argues that the Americans are to blame for the current turmoil in the region.

“The basics of the conflict is that the Americans are running the politics in South Korea with the aim to take military and political control of the entire Korean peninsula,” he tells The Diplomat in an interview. “The North, on the other side, has managed to maintain its independence. Our ambition is to support the North’s struggle for national freedom and peaceful reunification.”

The politically independent association regularly gathers for study meetings, conferences, rallies and exhibitions. It organizes workshops and trips to North Korea. A magazine has been published every quarter for 39 years running.

In 1983, Lundgren visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – North Korea – for the first time as a journalist, meeting in Pyongyang with Kim Il-Sung. Since then, he has been to the country five times, and has taken part in mass meetings with both Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un.

“Over the years I’ve been visiting the DPRK, there has been a tremendous progress in standard of living,” he says. “You clearly see a rapid development with residential buildings, mobile phones, etc. Food security is much better and industry is on the rise. It’s very encouraging.”

Also, the high profile visits by Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Denis Rodman are a positive sign that the Kim regime is reaching out to the world, he says. The fact that U.S. news agency the Associated Press opened a bureau in Pyongyang and tourists and businessmen are flowing into the country are indications of the country’s development, he explains.

The negative image of North Korea portrayed in Western media, especially American and South Korean, is for the most part based on lies, exaggerations and misunderstandings, Lundgren argues.

“What you read in Western media is American war propaganda,” he says. “They try to ridicule the Korean society and undermine all possibilities of the DPRK to normalize the situation. The image is characterized by a colonial thinking, and hidden political motives.”

The Swedish group is just one of several associations across the world supporting North Korea.

The biggest group is the Korean Friendship Association, KFA, with some 15,000 members worldwide and official delegates in 38 countries, according to its website. Compared to other friendship-groups, the KFA is more radical.

Italy’s representative, Cristian Pivetta, calls Western media “scum” that are spreading lies about North Korea. “American and European press is rubbish, enslaved and financed by big business,” he says.

Mikel Vivanko, head of the Spanish group, says North Korea’s socialistic model is “working very well” and claims that the country’s gross domestic product is enjoying a staggering growth rate of 15 percent, something he says can be seen in the people’s improved daily life.

The U.K.’s representative, Dermot Hudson, who’s been to North Korea nine times since 1992, tells The Diplomat that the Western media’s reporting on North Korea is “completely surreal” and only focuses on negative news.

He recalls an event in April 2002, walking along a street in North Korea with his guide. “There were children eating ice creams and people doing karaoke on street corners. Then I remembered reading in British newspapers and the Internet that everyone in the DPRK was meant to be starving! What a lie. I told my guide and she tutted, ‘Ah, the problem of the Westerners’.”

He says that new members join the friendship association every day.

Study groups dedicated to Juche ideas – a form of political religion based on Kim Il-Sung’s ideologies – are also attracting followers internationally, especially in the developing world.

Most people, however, are somewhat less supportive of the North Korean regime. In a report released this month, the United Nations said North Korea had committed wide-ranging crimes against humanity to sustain its political system.

Crimes included “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, forcible transfer of persons, enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” The report also noted “a systematic and widespread attack against all populations that are considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership.”

According to Hudson, the report is untrustworthy and biased with the aim to “slander and defame the socialist system of the DPRK.” He also accuses the North Korean defectors interviewed in the report, who are giving testimony about hellish conditions in labor camps, of being South Korean fakes.

“At the end of the day the UN is a marionette, a plaything of the U.S. imperialists,” Hudson says. “I think that to some extent it is true to say that the UN represents the 1 percent not the 99 percent.”

South Korea is also violating human rights, Lundgren points out, referring to the country’s much criticized 1948 National Security Law.

Last year, UN special rapporteur on human rights Margaret Sekaggya slammed the security act as a “seriously problematic” challenge to freedom of expression. Amnesty International has also accused South Korea of systematically abusing the security act in order to silence political opposition.

On February 17, leftwing lawmaker Lee Seok-ki was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a South Korean court for plotting an armed rebellion in support of North Korea. Lee called the trial a “witch hunt.”

Lundgren says both the North and South would be better off if the U.S. stopped its military threats and attempts to dominate the Korean peninsula.

Dr. Brian Bridges, a Hong Kong-based North Korea expert who has been researching the Korean issue for more than two decades, agrees that the U.S. is to blame. But so are the Russians, he adds. In the aftermath of World War II and Japan’s surrender, Korea was partitioned along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south under U.S. occupation. Still today, the two Koreas are technically in a state of war, even if a truce ended their 1950-53 conflict.

However, the North Korean friendship associations and political support groups aren’t really trusted and their members are “naively believing the propaganda from North Korea,” Bridges says.

“These groups have no credibility among Korea watchers or academics,” he says. “We don’t take them seriously. They have no leverage.”

Energy supply is still a big problem, especially in the countryside, he says. And although the situation has improved somewhat in Pyongyang he “just can’t believe” the overall food situation to be as rosy as the friendship associations claim. (UN’s World Food Program noted in a November report that child malnutrition has steadily declined over the past 10 years, but that 84 percent of households were having borderline or poor food consumption.)

Many of the people attracted to these groups, Bridges speculates, don’t necessarily fully agree with North Korean ideals and actions. Rather, it could be seen as a statement against capitalism and U.S. foreign policies. “They join their enemy’s enemy,” he says.

Johan Nylander is a Hong Kong based China and Asian correspondent.


It Doesn’t Take Much Sugar for It to Wreak Havoc on Your Body

At least a can of soda per day is safe, right? Nope, much much less, according to the World Health Organization.
February 23, 2014  |  

Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of Righteous Porkchop, just coined a new catchphrase that ought to go viral: “Sugar is NOT just an empty calorie.”

Her statement contradicts the notion we’ve had for years that the worst thing about sugar is its lack of nutrients. Either you’re eating sugar in addition to all of the calories you need to stay healthy, or you’re eating it instead of them. In the former case, you’re getting too many calories; in the latter, you’re getting too few nutrients. This idea is so dominant it was recently cited in an anti-sugar op-ed in the Guardian.

Even if that was the case, we’re eating too much sugar. Or, more specifically, too much added sugar. Sugars that are naturally present in whole foods like fruit are okay; it’s the sugar added to whole foods that we must worry about. Previously, the World Health Organization said we should limit consumption of added sugars to 10 percent of calories. Even then, more than seven in 10 Americans ate too much sugar. On average, about 15 percent of our calories came from added sugars.

But now WHO is considering cutting its recommendation in half. That means limiting sugar consumption to five teaspoons, the amount found in half a can of soda. The American Heart Association has long recommended that women limit added sugars to six teaspoons and men stick with nine or less. (For those looking for a loophole, this means all added sugars, including so-called healthier sweeteners like maple syrup, agave, honey, or even fruit juice.)

Niman was examining the health impacts of sugar at the same time as WHO. In researching and writing her latest book, she dug into studies that found evidence sugar does more than just lack nutrients. “The sugar is going to actually damage your body. It’s not just that you’re not going to get the nutrients,” she said.

The link between sugar and disease is not a new one. Decades ago, nutrition professor John Yudkin wrote a book called Pure, White, and Deadly in which he posited that sugar was the culprit behind heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The food industry fought back. This was the era of lowfat, not low sugar. (In his book, Yudkin even quotes a sugar industry advertisement claiming that sugar makes you thin. Go figure that out.)

The general term “sugar” can mean any number of things. Table sugar, or sucrose, is composed of a glucose molecule bonded to a fructose molecule. Glucose is what plants make during photosynthesis and it’s half as sweet as table sugar. Fructose, naturally found in honey and many fruits, is 70 percent sweeter than table sugar.

On your tongue, you taste a difference in sweetness between glucose and fructose. Once in your body, the difference continues. Glucose is metabolized by every cell in your body. After you eat, your blood glucose levels rise, and your body releases insulin. The insulin helps your muscles, fat and liver absorb the glucose, decreasing your blood sugar. Levels of another hormone, leptin, also rise. Leptin regulates your appetite; once you’ve eaten and your body has plenty of fuel to keep going, leptin tells you to stop. Another hormone, ghrelin, decreases. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite, and after you’ve eaten, it’s already done its job.

Fructose, on the other hand, is only metabolized by your liver. The title of a 2004 study says it all: “Dietary fructose reduces circulating insulin and leptin, attenuates postprandial suppression of ghrelin, and increases triglycerides in women.” In other words, after you eat fructose, your body never gets the message, “You’ve eaten enough, now stop.” As for those increased triglycerides, well… another word for triglyceride is “fat.”

In scientist-speak, “Compared with glucose, the hepatic metabolism of fructose favors lipogenesis, which may contribute to hyperlipidemia and obesity.” Translated, that says when fructose is metabolized in your liver, it is often converted to fat.

These facts about fructose are often cited in arguments against high-fructose corn syrup, but remember that sucrose, honey and even apple juice contain lots of fructose too.

One consequence of overdoing it on sweets is called “metabolic syndrome.” That’s a medical term for a number of risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and stroke: a large waistline, bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar. In fact, fructose and sucrose are such reliable causes of metabolic syndrome that scientific papers often use the terms “fructose-induced metabolic syndrome” or “sucrose-induced metabolic syndrome.”

Some scientists add other evils to the list, including kidney disease and stroke. A 2010 studyfound that “Fructose feeding has now been shown to alter gene expression patterns… alter satiety factors in the brain, increase inflammation… and induce leptin resistance.”

If that sounds so bad that you decide to switch your sweetener to pure glucose (sold under the name corn syrup, and not the high-fructose variety), keep in mind that an influx of glucose into your body spikes your blood sugar, followed by a crash. This is especially true when the sugar comes in liquid form. Your body also breaks down complex carbohydrates like whole grains into glucose, but then the glucose is released more slowly into your bloodstream. In 2013, scientists found that lower blood sugar may even improve memory.

All in all, one report estimates “30%-40% of healthcare expenditures in the USA go to help address issues that are closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar.”

The sad truth is that there’s no free lunch. Even when you eat “sugar-free” cake sweetened with honey or fruit juice, it’s all sugar to your body. (However, raw unprocessed honey provides somehealth benefits, whereas refined sugars do not.) For an experiment, go a day with only six teaspoons of sugar (25g) if you’re a woman, or nine teaspoons (38g) if you’re a man. Don’t forget to check foods you wouldn’t expect for hidden sugars, like bread, salad dressing, pasta sauce, and ketchup. Suddenly, the amount of sugar we eat in our normal diets becomes staggering.

Longer term, if a complete sugar makeover sounds unimaginable to you, start by cutting out sugary drinks, including fruit juice. You might want to skip the diet sodas too, since research shows they can be even worse than the “real thing.”

If your heart is palpitating with dread at the very thought of giving up sugar, you’ve arrived at one of the reasons why we eat so darn much of it. Some say it’s addictive, and a 2007 study found it gives your brain a reward even greater than that of cocaine.

In his book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, former FDA commissioner David Kessler examined what drives wanting in food. “Liking is pleasure but wanting is an urge to it,” he explains. “I need it, I need it to make me feel better. We looked in animals to see what was the most reinforcing. Was it the sweetness? Was it the fat? Was it the flavor? We found that sweetness drives wanting more than anything else. It drives—if you look at animals or people—how much effort they’ll expend for it. How hard they will work for it.”

You’ve heard the old adage, “A moment on your lips, a lifetime on your hips.” The pleasure gained from food is so fleeting. If I eat a cookie now, I will experience a few moments of pleasure, and then no more. I can extend that pleasure briefly by eating a second cookie. And then it’s gone. To keep feeling that pleasure, I would have to keep eating cookies—at least until I feel sick from eating too many. Yet many of us are more than willing to continue jamming cookies down our throats even if we want to be healthy and we know that cookies are not health food, for the ephemeral bliss they provide.

“We know that sweetness can increase the pleasure centers of the brain, the opioid centers,” Kessler continues. “We know it can serve as a mild pain relief… I’m eating something that is sweet—it can change how I feel. So it’s salient. It is powerful. It’s directly hard-wired from our sensory receptors in our mouth to our brain. You don’t even have to go through the bloodstream. It’s a very powerful molecule because it’s directly wired to our brain. And it can drive want.”

He adds that, “Sweetness isn’t the only driver of wanting. Add fat to that, it becomes more powerful. Add color, add texture, add temperature, add mouthfeel. Kids’ candies are just very simple, but as you get older you want more levels of stimulation. But at the core of most foods that are hard to resist there is sweetness. Now a lot of that has to do with past learning and past memory. It’s not always sweetness, depending on your past learning—but there’s no doubt that sweetness is driving.”

Kessler goes into even greater detail in his book. He looks at the impact of priming, when a single taste of a food triggers what he calls “conditioned hypereating.” He points out how the food industry taunts us, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” Sadly, that is probably true. Even if you’re not particularly hungry, after a friend convinces you to have “just a taste” of ice cream, you’re more likely to order an entire cone. Why do you think Whole Foods is so generous at giving you free samples of its cakes and gelato?

Kessler, and later Michael Moss (in his book Salt Sugar Fat) examine how the food industry capitalizes on our hardwired drive for sugar (and salt and fat). Moss details food manufacturers’ efforts to improve their products nutritionally without sacrificing flavor (or sales) or increasing price. Sometimes, a healthier but higher priced substitute, like an herb, could compensate for salt, sugar and fat. More often, when the manufacturers reduce one of those three elements, they compensate by boosting one or both of the other two.

In response to her research, Nicolette Hahn Niman almost entirely gave up sugar. She limits herself to a few squares of dark chocolate each day, and she reports that she’s kicked her sugar habit, and the cravings that would make her fall back to it.

Eschewing sugar is not impossible, particularly after the initial cravings go away, but it can be difficult in our society unless you cook all of your own food. Even then, it can come off as socially gauche when you’re dining with friends or co-workers and you’re the only one who isn’t gushing over the triple chocolate mousse cake someone brought to the party.

That said, there are other flavors out there, including salty, bitter, spicy, sour, and umami. Perhaps we Americans would do well to explore them.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.”