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Fri, 04 Dec 2020
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Greek island fire ravages unique export industry

Chios fires
© Associated Press/Icon Press
A man holding a makeshift fire broom helps to contain a major forest blaze on the Greek eastern Aegean Sea island of Chios on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012. Hundreds of firefighters, soldiers and volunteers are struggling to tame a fire that has already burnt some 7,000 hectares of forest, cultivated land and groves of the island's famed mastic trees. Smoke from the blaze, which was swept on by gale-force winds, was carried as far as the southern island of Crete, more than 350 kilometers (230 miles) away
In response to Greece's financial crisis, villagers on the eastern island of Chios carried on with what their ancestors had been profitably doing for centuries: patiently carving lines on mastic trees.

But much of the island's trademark mastic gum industry went up in scented smoke over the past week when a wildfire ravaged the world's only mastic tree plantations during the heart of the harvest season.

As firefighters on Friday put out the last flare-ups from the six-day blaze, farmers said up to a quarter of the island's mastic groves have been wiped out.

In cash terms, producers stand to lose up to €3 million ($3.75 million) a year, because after replanting, it takes up to a decade before producers can start tapping the trees for their aromatic gum.

"Imagine that a farmer who produces mastic will now lose this economic benefit ... for the next 8 years," said Giannis Stoupakis, who recently opened a local factory to produce export-quality, mastic-flavored alcoholic drinks.

With its distinctive flavor, the gum-like resin - believed to have served in ancient times as an early form of chewing gum that was prized for its medicinal properties - is only produced by trees in certain parts of southern Chios that favor the trees' slow growth. More than half the crop is exported for use in confectionery, cooking and cosmetics.

Cell Phone

Apple awarded over $1bn in Samsung patent infringement trial

© Ahn Young-Joon/AP
Samsung have been ordered to pay Apple over $1bn in damages after a jury found it infringed patents on smartphones and tablets.
Apple has been awarded more than $1bn in damages after its rival smartphone and tablet manufacturer Samsung was found to have copied critical features of its iPhone and iPad.

The US jury stunned observers by returning a decision after just two and a half days' deliberation following four weeks of legal argument.

The jurors rejected every single one of the South Korean company's patent claims, and backed Apple's claim that Samsung had breached US antitrust laws by trying to keep its wireless patents as a monopoly.

The decision means that Apple has gained a major weapon in its fight against Samsung
, which is the biggest maker of smartphones and mobile phones in the world, and the biggest of the Android handset makers.

Arrow Down

China train crash hurts 24; bridge failure kills 3

© The Associated Press
Damaged vehicles lie upside-down near a collapsed section of the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin in northeast China's Heilongjiang province Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.
Beijing - Two transportation disasters struck a northeastern Chinese province, with a bridge collapse Friday upending four trucks and killing three people and a collision of passenger trains at a railway station injuring at least 24 people.

The trucks plunged 30 meters (100 feet) after the bridge collapsed early Friday in Heilongjiang province, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Footage on state television showed the trucks crushed upside down, and officials reported three deaths.

Xinhua said it was at least the sixth major bridge collapse across the country since July last year.

The train collision occurred Thursday evening at the Jiamusi railway
© The Associated Press
Overturned trucks lie near a collapsed section of the Yangmingtan Bridge in Harbin in northeast China's Heilongjiang province Friday, Aug. 24, 2012.
station in Heilongjiang, Xinhua said. The news agency cited a railway spokesman in the provincial capital as saying most of the injured were preparing to get off a train when the other train collided with it, causing them to fall.

Most of the injuries were slight and five people were under medical observation, Xinhua said, adding that an investigation was under way.

Train and road accidents are relatively common in China due to lax safety and maintenance procedures.

Source: The Associated Press

Mr. Potato

Ohio Doctor Helps Perpetuate Rape Pregnancy Ideas

© The Associated Press/Jay LaPrete
Dec. 7, 2011 file photo, Dr. Jack Willke, founder of National and Ohio Right to Life, testifies during a Health, Human Services & Aging Committee hearing in Columbus, Ohio. The discredited notion that a woman’s body can resist conception in a sexual assault has persisted in anti-abortion circles for decades, largely because of the efforts of Willke, a Cincinnati obstetrician who is considered a godfather of the movement.
The discredited notion that a woman's body can resist conception in a sexual assault has persisted in anti-abortion circles for decades, largely because of the efforts of a Cincinnati obstetrician who is considered a godfather of the movement.

Dr. John C. "Jack" Willke founded the National Right to Life Committee and wrote the influential 1971 Handbook on Abortion, which has shaped the thinking of generations of anti-abortion activists.

Rep. Todd Akin's comments this week on rape and pregnancy helped upend a Senate race and roiled the Republican Party in a tough election year. But they reflect ideas that the 87-year-old Willke began peddling years ago.

"There's no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape," Willke wrote in 1999 in the journal Christian Life Resources. "This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy."

To anti-abortion activists, Willke is a revered figure. To abortion-rights activists, the onetime sex education lecturer perpetuates myths, eschews facts and ignores science. And to fellow physicians, his ideas are pure fiction.

After Akin's remarks, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said a woman who is raped "has no control over ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized egg. ... To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths."


Mexican gunmen, police fire on U.S. diplomatic car; 2 hurt

© The Associated Press/Alexandre Meneghini
Soldiers guard an armored U.S. Embassy SUV after it was fired on by gunmen and federal police on the highway leading to Cuernavaca, Mexico.
A U.S. Embassy vehicle was attacked today south of Mexico City, and Mexican Federal Police also shot at the SUV during a confusing gunbattle, the Mexican Navy reports.

Two U.S. government personnel were wounded.

Update at 5:21 p.m. ET: At least four vehicles opened fire, the Mexican Navy says, though it hasn't clarified how many were occupied by police.

Here's how AP is describing what happened, based on what's being shared at the moment:
The Navy said the embassy personnel were heading down a dirt road to a military installation when a carload of gunmen opened fire on them and chased them, along with a Navy officer accompanying them.

The Americans' vehicle tried to escape, but three other cars joined the original vehicle in pursuing them down the road. Occupants of all four vehicles opened fire, and the Navy captain called more help. Federal police officers and Mexican army troops then showed up on the road. The statement does not make clear whose bullets injured the U.S. workers


Murdoch's Sun Publishes Naked Harry Photos, More Could Emerge

© Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Daniel Sorabji/The Sun
“Today The Sun is publishing the make Prince Harry party pictures our readers have been prevented from seeing in print," reads an explanation on Friday's cover. "We are doing so despite warnings from the Royal Family’s lawyers," it reads.
Photos of Prince Harry engaged in a naked romp with a number of other young people in a Las Vegas hotel suite have caused a stir after being published back home in the U.K.

The Sun - a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper - became the first publication in the prince's home country to publish the nude pictures Friday.

"Heir it is! Pics of Harry you've already seen on the Internet" reads the front page headline along with a photo of the naked prince grabbing his genitals and bear-hugging a woman from behind.

The pictures circulated widely on the Internet after gossip website TMZ posted them earlier this week. The site reported the photos depict a game of strip billiards that took place after Harry and his friends invited some young ladies up to their room in Las Vegas.

In the U.K., most newspapers declined to run the pictures after St. James Palace reportedly asked that the media respect the prince's privacy.

On Thursday, The Sun complied, but teased readers with a re-creation of the picture of the prince grabbing his privates. It featured a 31-year-old staffer standing in for the prince and a 21-year-old fashion intern standing in for the nude woman in the original photograph. The paper ran the recreation on the cover along with a headline "Harry grabs the crown jewels."


Italian Dies after Setting Himself on Fire in Austerity Protest

© DigitalJournal.com
Piazza di Spagna, Rome
Rome - A 54-year-old unemployed man has become the latest victim of Italian austerity measures. He died on Sunday from burns incurred when he set himself on fire in front of the Italian parliament last week.

Angelo di Carlo set himself on fire in Rome in a protest against austerity measures on August 11. Police put out the flames with fire extinguishers but di Carlo succumbed to 85 percent burns, dying on August 19. According to the Independent di Carlo was a jobless widower, struggling with financial problems.

Di Carlo's death is the latest in a wave of high profile suicides to hit Italy, which is one of a number of southern European countries facing crippling austerity measures in the midst of recession.

On March 28 Giuseppe Campaniello set himself on fire in front of the tax office in Bologna, after receiving a fine he could not afford to pay. Campaniello also died of his burns. His death was one of 25 recorded in the first four months of the year, labelled as austerity suicides.

The suicides in Italy follow an increasing trend of economic suicides in Greece. According to the Daily Beast by mid June 1,727 suicides were attributed to harsh austerity measures. The trend is also on the rise in Spain.


Shooter, victim dead, 9 injured outside Empire State Building

NYC shooting
© Guillermo Ratzlaff / Reuters
Police look on as the alleged shooter, Jeff Johnson, lies dead on the sidewalk after a shooting incident near the Empire State Building in New York City, Aug. 24, 2012.
A recently laid-off store worker shot a former colleague to death Friday morning outside New York's iconic Empire State Building before being killed by police, police said. Nine others were hit by gunfire in the confrontation, but police said all were expected to survive.

The shooting set off chaos around one of the world's best-known landmarks at the height of the summer travel season and just after the morning rush hour. Police on their regular anti-terrorism duties in the highly touristed shopping area rushed to the scene.

"People were yelling 'Get down! Get down!'" said Marc Engel, who was on a bus in the area when he heard the shots. "It took about 15 seconds, a lot of 'pop, pop, pop, pop,' one shot after the other."

Engel saw the wounded scattered along the sidewalk, including one person "dripping enough blood to leave a stream."

Comment: CCTV footage of the incident has been published:


Fixing the Mortgage Mess: The Game-changing Implications of Bain v. MERS

Two landmark developments on August 16th give momentum to the growing interest of cities and counties in addressing the mortgage crisis using eminent domain:

(1) The Washington State Supreme Court held in Bain v. MERS, et al., that an electronic database called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) is not a "beneficiary" entitled to foreclose under a deed of trust; and

(2) San Bernardino County, California, passed a resolution to consider plans to use eminent domain to address the glut of underwater borrowers by purchasing and refinancing their loans.

MERS is the electronic smokescreen that allowed banks to build their securitization Ponzi scheme without worrying about details like ownership and chain of title. According to trial attorney Neil Garfield, properties were sold to multiple investors or conveyed to empty trusts, subprime securities were endorsed as triple A, and banks earned up to 40 times what they could earn on a paying loan, using credit default swaps in which they bet the loan would go into default. As the dust settles from collapse of the scheme, homeowners are left with underwater mortgages with no legitimate owners to negotiate with. The solution now being considered is for municipalities to simply take ownership of the mortgages through eminent domain. This would allow them to clear title and start fresh, along with some other lucrative dividends.

Better Earth

Social Harmony in Times of Global Dischord

The times they are a-changing
Everything is broken
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there
~Bob Dylan

burning earth
It's like this:

Imagine you're at a house party.

The house is on fire and everyone keeps dancing. Oblivious to the rise in room temperature, the smoke crawling up the walls and the flames behind the door, they keep dancing, singing, drinking and partying.

Imagine there are a few people who notice the smoke, take a peek behind the door, see the flames and are going about the room trying to alert people to the danger. While a few may sit up and take notice, most of the revelers ignore the warnings and turn back to the party.

Well, consider me as one of these people sounding the alarm, and this essay as my warning. How much longer can you afford to continue dancing?