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New July 2013

Skydiver Dives Into Dye Family’s Dyed Easter Egg Hunt, Dies

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A 49-year-old New York man fell to his death after his parachute failed to open while he was skydiving. He landed in a backyard in Washington Township, N.J. around 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, right as the family next door was in the middle of an Easter egg hunt.Read more…

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Kelpies sculptures on public display

The Kelpies, Scotland’s largest art installation, has opened to the public at the Helix Park in Falkirk.

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British PM accused of sowing religious strife with ‘Christian country’ remarks

Britain is a ‘plural society,’ and characterizing it as a Christian country ‘fosters alienation and division in our society,’ public figures urge David Cameron in letter

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These shoes are completely made out of recycled trash

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Consumerism constantly promises that THIS ONE THINGIE will make you happy or hot or successful. In that moment of swiping your debit card, it’s hard to imagine ever trashing your new panacea. And yet most things end up in the garbage (even stuff that makes a pit stop at Goodwill). That’s the message behind Everything Is Rubbish, a recycling art project by a trio of British guys. Charles Duffy, William Gubbins, and Billy Turvey wanted to make a statement about the millions of pieces of plastic that end up in the ocean every day. They gathered plastic trash on U.K. beaches, disinfected the crap out of it, heated it up, smashed it into sheets, and created shoes out of it. It’s oddly mesmerizing; watch: So why shoes? The first of our clothing to show signs of damage is footwear. In the eyes of the consumer, a superficial blemish or a shift in the latest trend is all that’s needed to warrant a new purchase. Contemporary footwear spends barely a fraction of its life hugging a foot. For the majority of its life it is rubbish. Whether in a landfill or washed up on a shoreline, the synthetics within the shoes — in addition to the plethora of plastic we discard — will take centuries to break down. Whoa. Who wants their legacy to be litter? The good news is, it’s not too late to change that. Buy less (the Everything Is Rubbish shoes aren’t for sale), buy quality, and fix what’s broken. Then you’ll leave behind something way better, like the memory of you killing it at karaoke.Filed under: Living

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Ask Umbra: How do I fight my city’s terrible litter problem?

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Q. My city is littered with litter! It is all over the place. I try to pick up litter whenever I am outside, but I am only one person. What other methods can I employ to clean up my city? Blakely S. Boston, Mass. A. Dearest Blakely, Of all the environmental issues out there, you’d think litter would be the one we could all agree to fix. After all, when’s the last time you heard someone argue in favor of greasy potato chip bags in the park or cigarette butts in the harbor? But despite the near-universal distaste for litter, there’s still trash flying around town. Go figure. I’m glad to hear you’re concerned. As you may already know, the litter problem does more than make a neighborhood look, well, trashy. Free-range garbage also makes its way into storm drains, and from there, local waterways, where it can end up in the stomachs of turtles and seabirds. It may attract pets and wildlife, which in turn invites the spread of germs. Litter diverts recyclable items from the recycling plant. And in case those reasons don’t move you – personally, you had me at turtles in distress – littering costs businesses and governments billions in cleanup. That’s a high price to pay for the “convenience” of tossing a banana peel out the car window. Your solo anti-littering crusade is no doubt a positive step, Blakely, but you can multiply your impact with a little help from your friends. One person picking up litter can haul a few bags away, sure, but one person inspiring others to pick up litter is what really gets things done. My best piece of advice? Start recruiting others to your cause. This can be as simple as getting a few friends together, handing out bags, and spending a few hours in the sunshine scooping up trash. You might want to add protective gloves, too, just in case. Earth Day is tomorrow – why not celebrate with a spur-of-the-moment cleanup party? If you’re truly moved by this cause, I encourage you to take it a step further and get organized. Community cleanup events that put dozens of locals on the job will have a much bigger impact (and tend to lend a rather festive air to the proceedings to boot). The nonprofit Keep America Beautiful sets up Great American Cleanup events each year, where you can meet like-minded neighbors while hoovering up garbage in your parks, roadways, and community spaces. Connect with your local chapter here. And if you don’t find a ready-made anti-litter event nearby, well, why not start your own? Keep America Beautiful supplies a bunch of helpful tips for would-be litter moguls, from setting up an organizing committee to choosing a date (hint: springtime is great) to getting the word out around town. One of the best ways to add manpower and publicity to a project like this is hooking up with other local organizations: Think schools, churches, nonprofits, service clubs, Scouts, 4-H clubs, college environmental organizations — any group with a track record of community service is a good bet. While you’re at it, talk to your local businesses about donating snacks, tools, or even T-shirts to your volunteers. Before I get too carried away, let me mention one more step: Have your big cleanup be the kickoff for regular anti-trash events! You and your friends, plus any other groups you recruit, can “adopt” particularly litter-challenged spots and make it your mission to keep them wrapper-free. Not only will you be picking up garbage every month or so, you’ll also be instilling a sense of pride and ownership in your community, which is kind of like mosquito repellent for litterbugs. Don’t forget about the power of social media while you’re planning your event, Blakely, whether it’s a simple get-together with friends or a community-wide shindig. Facebook and Twitter can be great ways to spread the word about what you’re up to, and check out what this enterprising man is doing with Instagram. The more people know, the more they’ll be inspired to join your crusade – and the better off your town (and your town’s turtles) will be. Beautificationally, UmbraFiled under: Cities, Living

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Japanese PM’s shrine offering stokes tensions with South Korea, China

Shinzo Abe’s offering was sent just before U.S. President Barack Obama begins a three-day visit to Japan

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Teen hitches ride to Hawaii in freezing flight inside jet’s wheel well

Teen lost consciousness during five-hour flight in freezing conditions, and it’s ‘an apparent miracle’ he survived, FBI says

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Climate change got you down this Earth Day? Time for a badger mask

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It’s not often that any magazine profiles an environmentalist. So when the New York Times Magazine did just that this week, I got excited. Just in time for Earth Day! Setting aside, of course, the uneasiness that I feel about Earth Day. When you are the only habitable planet in the solar system, as well as the large spheroid mass whose rotation around the sun actually makes days happen, arguably all of the days are yours. But Earth Day itself has very sweet and thoughtful origins as an idea, proposed by a Wisconsin senator in 1970, to host teach-ins on ecological issues around the country. The teach-ins became so huge that the momentum from that day of meetings is credited with the creation of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act — along with the persistence of Earth Day itself, which very few people seem to get excited about any more, but which hovers in our vision anyway like the afterimage of a camera flash. Part of that persistence is a consequence of the news cycle, which requires holidays in order to write about things — civil rights, women, the fact that the only planet we live on seems to be having some tropospheric issues — that we all should be writing about anyway. And so, for its Earth Day story, the Times chose, in something of a punk move, to profile another generator of an unexpectedly viral idea — Paul Kingsnorth. Kingsnorth is a British environmentalist and anti-globalization activist who, back in 2009, very publicly lost faith in both struggles. Climate change was not something that could be stopped, he decided. “Sustainability” wasn’t something that was attainable, given the current human population and fondness for things like heat, light, and food. The future did not look good. “Decline, depletion, chaos and hardship” were in store for the lot of us, and the sooner we realized it, the better. Many people who come to such conclusions start hoarding a lot of canned goods; Kingsnorth’s response to impending collapse was to found a lavish hardcover literary journal. The journal was called Dark Mountain, as is the group of uncertain size that has organized around it, which Kingsnorth described as “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself.” Together, he wrote “we are able to say it loud and clear: we are not going to ‘save the planet’.” In 2012, he elaborated further during an email exchange with the writer Wen Stephenson: I do think that climate change campaigners like yourself should be more upfront about what you’re trying to ‘save.’ It’s not the world. It’s not humanity either, which I’d bet will survive whatever comes in some form or another, though perhaps with drastically reduced numbers and no broadband connection. No, what you’re trying to save, it seems to me, is the world you have grown used to. Dark Mountain, Kingsnorth wrote, would bring about gatherings of “practical people with hands-on ideas for building the post-oil world in a century of chaos.” The festival that Daniel Smith, author on the Times profile, attends, though, has more of a Burning Man vibe: A man wearing a stag mask bounded into the clearing and shouted: “Come! Let’s play!” The crowd broke up. Some headed for bed. A majority headed for the woods, to a makeshift stage that had been blocked off with hay bales and covered by an enormous nylon parachute. There they danced, sang, laughed, barked, growled, hooted, mooed, bleated and meowed, forming a kind of atavistic, improvisatory choir. Deep into the night, you could hear them from your tent, shifting every few minutes from sound to sound, animal to animal and mood to mood. The next morning over breakfast, Dougie Strang, a Scottish artist and performer who is on Dark Mountain’s steering committee, asked if I’d been there. When he left, at 3 a.m., he said, people were writhing in the mud and singing, in harmony, the children’s song “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” (“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.”) “Wasn’t it amazing?” he said, grinning. “It really went mental. I think we actually achieved uncivilization.” If this sounds less like an enduring movement with relevance to the environmental movement as a whole than a midlife crisis, you wouldn’t be the first to think so. In the profile, even Kingsnorth says as much: “What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad? And that’s not a series of questions that have any answers other than people’s personal answers to them. Selfishly it’s just a process I’m going through.” He laughed. “It’s extremely narcissistic of me. Rather than just having a personal crisis, I’ve said: ‘Hey! Come share my crisis with me!’” At 41, Kingsnorth is at the age when a lot of people who’ve devoted themselves to a project, whether it’s saving the world or selling inground swimming pools, tend to burn out and wonder what the hell they’re doing with their lives. In declaring the largest problem of our era unfixable, Kingsnorth gave himself — and a few other earnest, idealistic types – the perfect excuse to put on a badger mask and go party in the woods. When someone goes and names their organization “Dark Mountain,” that’s a sign of a few things: 1) They’re a little depressed at the moment; and 2) they’re probably on a quest of some sort. For most of us, mountains are pilgrimage sites, not destinations. It’s hard to grow anything on a mountain. The air gets mighty thin. There are clues that even Paul Kingsnorth finds it hard to live up to Paul Kingsnorth’s ideals of retreat and preparation for social collapse. He’s spent the last three years organizing to keep a supermarket development out of his rural community, though he uses some bleak poetry to justify it. “I’m increasingly attracted,” he says, in the article, “by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.” The story of Dark Mountain reminds me of another British phenomenon that poured a lot of hubris and energy into hopelessness: the Sex Pistols. When Johnny Rotten howled “No Future” into a microphone in 1977, he couldn’t, of course, see the actual future, where he would be 58, something of a whale-watching enthusiast and preparing to tour with a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Another Brit put it better. As Joe Strummer said, “The future is unwritten.”Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

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Anger over ‘slow’ Korea ferry rescue

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Families of passengers on a sunken South Korean ferry protest angrily over the rescue operation, scuffling with police on Jindo island.

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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

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Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay — and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, “A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana.” The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay: The Obama administration has — again — postponed a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by giving eight different agencies more time to submit their views on whether the pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas gulf coast is in the national interest. The 90-day period for interagency comments was supposed to end May 7, but the State Department extended that deadline, citing “uncertainty” created by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline route. The State Department, which must make the final decision on the permit because it crosses an international boundary, said it would use the additional time to consider the “unprecedented number” — 2.5 million — of public comments that were submitted by March 7. Queue the predictable outcry from pipeline supporters. That includes not just Republicans (though outcrying is their specialty) but also the 11 Democratic senators from red and swing states who recently wrote Obama a letter calling on him to quickly approve the project. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, who organized the letter writers. She vowed to use her new position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to force approval. (Good luck with that.) Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from the oil-loving state of Alaska called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice” and said that “the timing of this announcement — waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice — only adds further insult.” Keystone opponents are of two minds. Billionaire climate hawk and campaign funder Tom Steyer called it “good news on Good Friday.” The League of Conservation Voters went further and called it “great news.” The Natural Resources Defense Council seems to agree: The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible. … Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. But 350.org slammed the administration for its procrastination. “It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now,” the group said in a release. “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it.” Still, the group claimed a partial victory: “this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents.” Anti-Keystoners will, of course, keep fighting the proposal. On Earth Day, April 22, they’ll kick off a Reject and Protect protest on the National Mall. “The encampment will feature 15 tipis and a covered wagon, and begins on Tuesday with a 40-person ceremonial horseback ride from the Capitol down the National Mall,” says 350. “Ranchers from Nebraska, tribal leaders from Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas, actor Daryl Hannah, the Indigo Girls, environmental and social justice leaders, and others will take part at the encampment over the week.” And Steyer has promised to help fund political candidates who oppose the pipeline. Politico reports that he “pledged Thursday to leverage his largely self-funded super PAC to support members of Congress who come under attack for their opposition to the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.”Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

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This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle

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If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance: A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill. The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles — farther if you put your thighs to work. The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it — more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.Filed under: Business & Technology, Living

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“Years of Living Dangerously” host on the climate change stories we need to tell

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If you thought the title of Showtime’s new series, Years of Living Dangerously, was just a reference to the perils of climate change, think again: “I almost died on that show,” one of its hosts, M. Sanjayan, told us when he came into the Grist office earlier this month. Sanjayan helps tell the story of climate change by journeying to exotic places like the Andes and Christmas Island. But when he’s not swashbuckling around the world in the name of the environment and science, he’s still vouching for it: previously, as the head scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and now as the executive vice president of Conservation International. He also keeps the conversation going through media outlets like the Huffington Post and CBS News. We talked with Sanjayan about his brush with death, finding the face of climate change (hint: It’s not a polar bear’s), and coming to grips with the fact that, at this point, we’re going to have to adapt to the hot new conditions we’ve created. And, in our lightning round video at the top of the post, we asked him what we really wanted to know: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye? Here’s an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Q. We wanted to start by asking you about Years of Living Dangerously and any notable, meaningful moments. A. I almost died on that show. Yeah. I was actually ready to quit pretty early on – literally almost died. Q. Wow – what happened? A. They sent me to the Tupungatito glacier in the Andes, on the Chile-Argentine border. It’s a pretty big mountain. And we were going to the top of it and then cresting it and then going into sort of a caldera to look for very old ice, with an ice scientist by the name of Paul Mayewski. He’s a University of Maine professor. The problem is, we were doing this really fast. And so we base-camped at like 10,000 feet and then in a day we went to 20,000. And it’s very steep, it’s very loose, and there were boulders the size of basketballs coming down the mountain. We started with a crew of 12 people total. Four of them didn’t summit, which gives you an idea. There was a lot of attrition. The main camera guy we brought from New York got deathly ill on day two. He had to be evacuated out. So we flew in by helicopter a Chilean cameraman to replace him. He got kicked in the head by a horse, so he was out. So the [assistant producer] took the camera and started shooting. The director couldn’t get out on the glacier; she was just sort of throwing up. And I was like, “I’m going to die. I literally could die here.” Q. Science! A. Exactly. It gave me a real sense that the scientists we were following on the show were going to the ends of the Earth to get data. Quite literally. And they were risking a lot, in very physical terms, to get what they thought was necessary to learn about the future of the planet. Another journey I did was to Christmas Island, the Pacific atoll, with a woman named Kim Cobb. Kim studies coral because coral grows in a really unique way that’s very tightly linked to temperature. So you can drill into the coral head and figure out what the ocean temperature was very precisely. I can tell you November 1972, this was the temperature. Really amazing. And then she uses fossilized coral to go back 7,000 years. Kim was probably in her late 30s, a mom of three, and she’s underwater with a giant, 100-pound drill, drilling cores out of coral. There’s one flight in every week from Fiji and Hawaii. That’s it. M. Sanjayan.Q. Did you walk away from that project with a different perspective on climate change? A. Without a doubt. Look, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve felt a bit like a fake when I’ve gone out and talked about climate, because I only understood it intellectually. I study it. I read the papers. It was an intellectual argument — it wasn’t a story that I could tell. I didn’t feel it in my bones. I went on Lettermen a few years ago, and he hammered me on climate. He’s really passionate about climate, and he just came at it really hard. And I zigged and zagged and parodied and joked, and kind of got myself out of there. But I knew how I dodged it – he was asking me something really serious that I couldn’t talk about in any personal way. It seemed distant. And so part of this was actually going out with these guys and seeing it on the ground myself. And I came away with the sense that these stories now are real. Q. So would you tell the story of climate change differently now? A. Yeah. I mean it’s here, it’s now, it’s us. Michael Mann recently had a great quote: “We are the polar bear.” And he’s right — I think this show shifts the focus squarely on the human faces; a preacher’s daughter in the Southeast, a rancher in Texas, Indonesian foresters. Real people who are dealing with real issues right now. Q. It seems like the conversation has really changed recently from mitigating climate change to adapting to it? A. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re giving up on mitigation. I think emissions control, a price on carbon, and things like reforestation schemes are all hugely important. But I think focusing on adaptation makes [sense]. It makes the argument much more present. And it’s what people are worrying about — if you’re a Texas rancher, the here and now is way more important to your life than something in the future. And by dealing with the here and now, I think it provides a brilliant entry point to dealing with the long-term challenge. Think about what it was like when, during President Garfield’s time, we realized that there were these things called microbes. They were invisible and tiny and they could really fuck you up. And no one would believe you that [they were] there. Lister in Europe had already figured this out, and it was sort of trickling into America, but not really getting accepted. But when Garfield got shot, he died of an infection — not because of the bullet wound, but because doctors didn’t know about [microbes], and they stuck their finger in the wound. What’s interesting about that anecdote is we didn’t say we’re going to get rid of microbes. Now that we know they’re there, our goal isn’t to get rid of microbes; it’s adaptation. And that provides a much better entry point to then deal with bigger questions of sanitation and public health. You almost see an analogy today with climate change. By focusing on adaptation and here and now, I think it allows you to have the bigger discussion about what’s happening to the planet. Q. I think there’s a thirst now for scientists to become communicators. Where in your evolution did you decide, “I’m a scientist but I’m also going to embrace this role as a communicator.” A. I grew up in West Africa in a very insulated family very far away from any kind of city. And so as a small family, we told stories. I think the storytelling was always within me. It just got married to my passion of science. I think you’re right, though, that more scientists are understanding it. Maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, as a scientist your responsibility was to publish a paper. That was it. I think people generally understand now that there’s so many more venues to communicate outside of peer-reviewed publications. And that’s just how the world has evolved. Corporate CEOs are being more communicative now, too, it’s just what it demands. I mean Darwin did that, right? Darwin went and did this big experiment and then sat on his work for a decade plus. And then he communicated it. And then he went on the road with it — literally did a road trip. Q. Still, there’s so much uncertainty about how climate change is going to play out. We can’t even predict what the weather is going to do tomorrow. That’s hard for people to deal with – even folks who know that climate change is a real threat. A. You could look at people and say, “Without a doubt, you’re very likely to die of heart disease. That’s what’s going to kill you.” And they will say, “Great, I understand what you’re saying. I will start my diet tomorrow. I will start exercising this weekend.” Clearly. But I am more optimistic, I think more recently there has been a movement — I do sense that things are changing, and quite dramatically. And this Showtime series will do part of it. I think we’re at a real tipping point, and it kind of depends whether it’s the next two years or the next 10 years. And I’m hoping it’s the next two years. Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy

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£180m scheme for NI social housing

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A record finance deal worth £180m will kick-start the construction of 1,600 new homes in Northern Ireland.

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Black rainstorm leaves Festival Walk soaked and reeling from losses

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Rain-soaked stores at a glitzy Kowloon Tong shopping centre have been left counting their losses after Sunday’s freak downpour, uncertain whether insurers will compensate them. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Bids invited to operate schools at five sites

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Two vacant schools and three new sites are being offered for the development of non-profit international schools. Bids are being invited for use of the sites as part of government measures to boost the number of international school places in Hong Kong. The Education Bureau estimates that the exercise could provide more than 3,300 extra places. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Baoding ready for Beijing overflow

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Baoding, a city just outside Beijing, in Hebei province will create 34 districts to absorb branches of institutes and companies based in the overcrowded capital, authorities say. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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America, Inc. at it’s Finest

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