FedEx plane crashes, explodes at Tokyo’s Narita

A cargo plane has crash-landed and burst into flames near Tokyo, killing two crew members aboard, officials say.

They say the accident happened as the Federal Express Corp plane landed at Narita international airport from Guangzhou in China.

Japan’s NHK public broadcaster showed dramatic footage of the plane landing, bouncing and then bursting into flames on Monday morning local time.

It took firefighters about 30 minutes to bring the fire under control.

The crash reportedly happened in strong winds, though it is not known whether the weather conditions were a factor in the crash.

I’m just about the only member of my family who’s never been a pilot. So, something this terrible always hits home.

F.D.I.C. Chief urges qualitative changes in financial oversight

Daylife/Getty Images

The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation says that the government’s strategy in the financial crisis of bailing out huge institutions deemed “too big to fail” must be replaced by a new model.

The official, Sheila C. Bair, told Congress that a new system of supervision was needed to prevent institutions from taking on excessive risk and becoming so large that their failure would threaten the financial system. Such a mechanism would be similar to what the F.D.I.C. does with federally insured banks and thrifts, she added.

Testifying at a packed Senate Banking Committee hearing, Ms. Bair said that simply creating a so-called systemic risk regulator — a central idea in the discussion of overhauling the government financial rules — “is not a panacea.”

Senator Dodd suggested it could make more sense to give the F.D.I.C., which has the expertise in that area, authority over big failing institutions.

But Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and other lawmakers have proposed that the Federal Reserve assume the role of systemic regulator to monitor against the kinds of risks that plunged markets worldwide into distress last year.

Yes, I really need a better article – or a video of the brief interview Ali Velshie did with Sheila Bair over the weekend. This will have to do for now. Get yourself thinking, eh?

The oversight and regulatory power the FDIC has over banks is exactly what is needed for financial institutions and their close kin like AIG. Just as an example, FDIC has the legal authority when taking over a bank to determine who is worth keeping or firing, who is worth giving a retention bonus to – obviously, if at all, the guys you’re keeping – and the legal right to dissolve contracts for bonuses for the managers you’re kicking out the door.

Go, Sheila!

Tata’s Nano – world’s cheapest car rolls out into Indian market

Daylife/AP Photo

India’s Tata Motors will launch its extra-cheap 10 feet (3 metres) long Nano car in Mumbai on Monday, selling for 100,000 rupees or $1,979. It will enable poorer citizens in developing countries to move to four wheels for the first time.

The four-door five-seater car has a 33bhp, 624cc engine at the rear. It has no airbags, air conditioning, radio, or power steering.

There are about 4 stories here. The BBC article [above] wanders off into worrying about the recession. Which accomplishes little.

I’ve posted about the Nano a few times in the past – telling of the run-up to production. Here and here. Here’s the newest I chose to add today because it offers a first-person response to the car:

For the last 40 years, Gopal Pandurang has lived a life without many luxuries.

He has worked as a chauffeur for top businessmen in Pune and Mumbai – ferrying them around the country, to important meetings in big, fancy and expensive cars.

He has sat behind the wheels of dozens of cars, from an old British Morris to the Land Rover he’s driving now.

It’s been an honest, hardworking life – albeit austere.

The salary of a driver in India can only afford you so much. Mr Pandurang has worked hard to support his family – putting his children in English language schools, so that they would get opportunities he never had.

He’s never been the kind of man to want anything for himself, working night and day to feed his family instead. But throughout his life, he has had one dream: to own a car of his own.

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Flaming assholes in California turn to setting toilets on fire. Clorox to the Rescue!

A US firm is offering $5,000 (£3,450) for clues leading to the arrest of an arsonist who has been setting portable toilets on fire across San Francisco.

The Clorox Company is also offering a year’s supply of toilet cleaning products in exchange for such tips.

More than two dozen toilets on San Francisco construction sites have been set on fire in the city in recent months, the Associated Press reports.

The cost of the damage has been estimated at $50,000.

The free cleaning products is a nice touch.

Unrelated Link: What is it? (pictured above)

Obama talks to Mexico about guns, border security and rule of law

Daylife/Reuters Pictures
Don’t mess with Napolitano!

After few words on Mexico during the presidential campaign, the Obama administration is rightly turning south to tackle the grave, bilateral problem of narcoviolence. The approach seems to be equal parts police action and diplomacy. Neither of these can “win” the war against drug cartels, which will ply their lucrative trade as long as there is demand for it. But both approaches are needed if our two countries are even to contain the problem and protect innocent people.

The activity on the ground is encouraging: Last week, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano sent the agency’s top law enforcement official on a two- week tour of U.S. border cities, trawling for firsthand information on how to coordinate efforts by the Pentagon, Homeland Security, the White House and the Justice Department.

Though they have refused to give complete details, Homeland Security officials say they plan to step up the recent burst of federal border scrutiny of illegal arms headed south. Also, the administration is still considering sending National Guard troops to reinforce 200 already in position on our side of the border. Gov. Rick Perry has asked the government for 1,000 of the guards, in addition to military observation helicopters.

The administration’s current offensive against the cartels is welcome. So far, even in Mexico, narcotraffickers’ victims are mostly linked to the trade. And so far little of their armed anarchy has spread into the United States; DHS chief Napolitano has described most narcoviolence spillover to the United States as assaults between rival gangs.

For this reason, the upcoming visits to Mexico by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder is every bit as important as the boots on the ground Washington is now sending to border states.

The American officials will talk with their Mexican counterparts about an “effective, comprehensive immigration reform” — but also about the even more urgent crisis at hand: the drug and gun trafficking that, looping between Mexico and the United States, is at the heart of our mutual security problem.

The War on Drugs is a Disney-style political illusion. Founded by politicians afraid of offending biblical morality and unable to collect sin taxes, marijuana and harder stuff became illegal. Vice squads got to expand their size – and their graft.

Still, the reality of open warfare on our southern border is murderous. You can’t build a stable peace without renegotiating the legal stupidity that puts users in prison and lists drug barons on the pages of Forbes. But, you can’t negotiate until you win the armed portion of the war – then declare an armistice.

Brits build robot fish to sniff out pollution

Robot fish developed by British scientists are to be released into the sea off north Spain to detect pollution.

If next year’s trial of the first five robotic fish in the northern Spanish port of Gijon is successful, the team hopes they will be used in rivers, lakes and seas across the world.

The carp-shaped robots, costing $29,000 apiece, mimic the movement of real fish and are equipped with chemical sensors to sniff out potentially hazardous pollutants, such as leaks from vessels or underwater pipelines.

They will transmit the information back to shore using Wi-Fi technology.

No doubt they meant radio technology rather than confusing readers with their favorite coffee shop wi-fi.

These critters will be the size of a seal – guaranteed to scare the bejabbers out of any angler who hooks into one. Har!

Quest to legalise polygamy in Utah goes public


Some 40,000 people in the US state of Utah live in illegal polygamous families in which a man takes more than one wife. These fundamentalist Mormons have now begun a campaign for a change in the law they regard as discriminatory and unfair…The campaign is called Principle Voices and one of the organisers was Anne Wilde, now a widow after a 33-year marriage.

Anne Wilde talks about her late husband and his other wives. I had met Anne the evening before her big campaigning day and she was worried as to how many would turn up for fear of being identified for future prosecution. But she need not have worried.

Those piling into a conference room to hear from the state’s politicians were from a breakaway group that had refused to opt for monogamy. “I see myself as a free man in a free society,” said one father, who came with his two daughters, both aged 12.

On the podium was Republican politician Ric Cantrel who had a surprising message for people seen to be openly breaking the law.

“Your patriotism is unquestionable,” he said, “and your faith inspiring. “You have no hesitation to put God’s law above the law of the state with a propensity toward civil disobedience and I find that very American.”

It’s…clear that Utah’s polygamous communities would be safe from the police as long as they stuck to other laws and, for example, did not indulge in child marriages or paedophilia.

That’s the point I would make. As long as folks aren’t harming each other or breaking essential laws grounded in fact, what’s the harm in allowing multiple marriages – which are accepted throughout the world – ranging from polyandry to polygamy? Maintaining laws passed on the basis of one or another religion makes our code no less absurd than the worst of Sharia.

Yes, keeping a happy, healthy marriage together can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Which is why so many opt for something less demanding throughout the educated industrial West. But, if you wish to live within a more complex form, you should have the right to do so.

We’re all activists now

Amid all the great changes afoot in the world, a trend is emerging that is as pervasive as it is critical. I call it an “ethical turn”, a surge in popular activism, broad democratic demands and institutional reforms that mark a new era of ethical concern in our daily lives…

The environmental movement is surely the most public arena where the ethical turn has come into play, and here, the sense of public conscience is growing. Today, failing to recycle is stigmatised, but tomorrow, we may feel ashamed of how many flights we take, a shift that would transform our view of the well-travelled citizen…

Of course I’m not trying to claim the ethical turn is only at work in Britain. President Obama’s emphasis on “mutual responsibility” encompasses the development of science and technology. From stem cell research to internet privacy, there has been a tremendous backlash against moves to limit our freedoms…

We need to democratise ethics and find a way to put it at the heart of our organisations and daily lives. We need transparency to understand the labels on our food, the privacy settings on our computers, and the difference between fair trade and ethical trade. Above all, we need to cultivate an ethical awareness that can identify bad practice before it becomes catastrophic…

Inevitably, an ethical conscience has already found its way into the branding of multinational corporations. That alone should tell us that a new era of ethical vigilance is upon us. However, if we are not careful, we will empty ethics of its value.

This is why the ethical turn cannot be about ethics for ethicists. It involves recognising the many ways in which an ethical conscience is becoming a part of our daily lives, from what we wear and who made it, to asking fundamental questions about emerging technologies and their implications.

These are discussions some of us geezers have been through before. It only takes the election of one populist liar, one great communicator to thwart a single issue – or many – for decades.

Sometimes the thugs in charge get smart. Remove the mandatory draft from military service and you still can find enough ignorant, jobless would-be runaways to staff an invasion or two.

Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the discussion, build your own ethics, work like hell to affect the greedy bastards in charge. Just retain a wee bit of cynicism over in one corner of your cerebral cortex. You never know when you’ll need it.

Luxury of the traditional few vs. the modern in India

Lalgarh Palace suite of the new luxury train, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels
Daylife/Reuters Pictures

Mukesh Ambani is recession-proof.

He is among the richest men in India and worth billions. His interests span mobile telephony, supermarkets and oil refining. He is building a skyscraper of a mansion, with 27 stories stretched to the height of 54, in Mumbai. He has the private plane for quiet reading time, the helicopter for the tight weave of Mumbai traffic, the Zimbabwean wildlife getaways for family bonding…

How about a custom-stitched Brioni suit? Actually, Mr. Ambani prefers a white short-sleeved shirt and dark pants, like Indian bureaucrats wear. Fine Bordeaux wines? He prefers coconut water. Gucci loafers? He prefers those rounded black shoes worn by the $300-a-month salarymen on the train. Fancy restaurants? He prefers street snacks; the first time he dined at Nobu in New York, he suggested to a companion afterward that they go ‘‘eat’’ now.

Mr. Ambani is the furthest thing from the average Indian, and rather far ahead of the rest of the Indian elite. But he distills an Indian personality trait that may be the great dilemma for Western luxury brands here.

Those brands have built flagship stores in India and have begun to sell. But sales have seldom lived up to expectations, and it may be because India’s affluent classes are bipolar on matters of luxury: with a little of the renouncing, homespun ascetic in them, and a little of the mansion-building maharajah. Luxury brands are locked in the awkward middle, peddling things that are, strangely, both too luxe for India and not luxe enough.

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