Concorde crash trial begins

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A French court Tuesday launched the trial of five men and a US airline over the Concorde disaster. 113 people were killed when the supersonic jet struck a hotel near Paris in 2000.

The prosecution case agrees with the facts set out in the final accident report, which, by international law, was written from an entirely different investigation and thus cannot be introduced in court. It alleges that improper maintenance of an American airliner and failure to detect design flaws with the Concorde were responsible for the Air France jet’s crash, to an extent that makes the six defendants guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Both official investigations found that a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 had taken off five minutes before Concorde with an improvised repair. A metal strip had been machined by mechanics instead of using a certified part. This strip dropped off the aircraft, leaving a 43cm (17in) piece of titanium on the runway.

Prosecutors and investigators concluded that as Concorde struck the part on takeoff a tyre burst and ripped apart, sending chunks of rubber flying. A large piece slammed into the underside of the wing hard enough to trigger a pressure wave that ruptured the fuel tank. Damaged wiring is believed to have been responsible for igniting this, creating a trailing fireball as the aircraft took off bound for New York.

Concorde’s pilots attempted to circle round for an emergency landing back at Charles de Gaulle Airport, but instead struck a hotel approximately three kilometres (two miles) from the airport. All 109 passengers and crew were on board, as well as four people in the hotel, were killed. The majority of victims were Germans heading to meet up with a cruise liner for a Caribbean holiday, the remainder of the 100 passengers were from Austria.

John Taylor, the Continental mechanic who is alleged to have built and fitted the nonstandard part, and his boss Stanley Ford, have been targeted for prosecution. Both individuals and their employer deny responsibility. Also charged are two members of the UK-French firm behind Concorde – Aérospatiale, who have since merged into Airbus parent EADS. Henri Perrier was head of testing for Concorde and the aircraft’s chief engineer was Jacques Herubel; both have been charged for a perceived failure to locate and rectify design flaws with Concorde. The former chief of civil aviation, Claude Frantzen, is facing charges on the same basis.

Each individual can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined up to €50,900 (US$71,000. Continental face a fine of up to €375,000 (US$520,000). The airline’s defence claims the part on the runway had no role to play in the accident. TV channel Canal+ previously suggested the investigations and prosecution were a coverup of more serious issues with Concorde.

Nothing was allowed to disturb Air France […] orders came from very high in the administration

The broadcast alleged Concorde erupted into flames long before getting as far down the runway as the strip. Continental’s lawyers say they can call 28 witnesses to give similar evidence and told the Le Parisien that they would seek a dismissal of the charges today. The case opened with judge Dominique Andreassier reading out every one of the 113 names of the deceased, followed by the charges against the six, in the court in Pontoise.

There are 80,000 pages of documents to be presented at trial, and 543 items are to be presented as evidence. The case is split into 90 volumes and is expected to take four months. The judge cautioned against losing touch with the human aspect of what is anticipated to be a very technical trial. The estimated cost is expected to be in excess of 3 million Euro (US$4.2 million).

The investigation found some contributory causes that can be linked to Air France. Four days before the crash an important tyre spacer was left off the Concorde by mechanics, and the plane was overloaded. The airport itself was also criticised for having cancelled a scheduled sweep of the runway. Air France lawyer Fernand Garnault, an aviation specialist, was adamant that Continental did play the main role in the accident; “[i]t is clear that a piece from a Continental plane fell on the runway. It is clear that the origin of the accident was this. This is my personal conviction and of course that of Air France.”

Few families are represented at the trial, because all the passengers struck a deal with Air France to accept compensation in exchange for waiving their right to take legal action, leaving only those killed in the hotel and the crew. However, French group Fenvac are representing the families, and spokesman Stephane Gicquel said that the families would be observing keenly, that “[t]his tragedy is part of their personal history and of their family history.”

Captain Christian Marty’s family’s lawyer, Roland Rappaport, said outside court today that, “[t]his accident should have been avoided. The weaknesses of the Concorde had been known for twenty years,” while Air France’s lawyers stated the inquiries had not located any evidence to suggest that Concorde had indeed encountered problems before reaching the metal debris.

Daniel Soulez Larivière, who represents Frantzen, said, “this accident was unforeseeable,” and the original investigations should have agreed. Concorde suffered a string of similar incidents in the 1970s including one in Washington that came close to triggering a fire. “They [the authorities] wanted to protect Concorde, the image of France that it projected. They should have stopped service then [1979],” said Olivier Metzner, representing Continental. The plane was not grounded until after the accident, although it returned to service before being retired in 2003.

Metzner told the court that former French air accident investigator Michel Bourgeois was to be a key witness. Bourgeois recently alleged that authorities were indeed hiding flaws with the airliner, saying “[n]othing was allowed to disturb Air France […] orders came from very high in the administration,” and that investigations into Concorde’s safety were shut down by the government.

Portuguese military land in East Timor

Sunday, June 4, 2006

120 soldiers of the Portuguese Republican National Guard (GNR) landed this Sunday morning in Baucau, the second-largest city in East Timor, after their departure to East Timor had been delayed twice due to difficulties in arranging adequate air transportation. The soldiers were received by the Portuguese ambassador to East Timor, local representatives and hundreds of locals.

After the landing of the aircraft that transported the Portuguese soldiers at approximately 7 a.m. local time (2200 Saturday, UTC), hundreds of people started to enter the runway with flags of East Timor and Portugal. In addition to the hundreds of locals that were expecting the GNR soldiers, the Portuguese ambassador, João Ramos Pinto, and other local authorities received the soldiers.

Both the population and the authorities believe that the presence of the GNR troops, many of whom have also served in Iraq, may be essential to allow the inhabitants of Dili to return to their homes.

A Portuguese military column then left at the beginning of the afternoon, from Baucau to Dili, transporting the 120 soldiers and an medical team of Portugal’s National Medical Emergency Institute, INEM. Now in Dili, the Portuguese contingent’s main objectives will be to provide security in the city and its suburbs, and to train Dili’s police force.

The destruction of many public buildings in the last days forced a move of the Portuguese headquarters from a Dili police station to the Dili Hotel 2001, a touristy complex just outside the East Timor’s capital. The hotel’s gymnasium will be converted to a command post. Some of the other hotel divisions have already a infirmary, set by a INEM team, and a communications center, set by a Portugal Telecom technical team, working.

An Antonov An-124 airplane is expected to leave Lisbon next Tuesday with the rest of equipment for the Portuguese force, mainly vehicles, six vans of public order, five jeeps, three pickup trucks, and six armoured vehicles, like those used in Iraq by the Republican National Guard.

Unlike the troops from New Zealand and Malaysia, who are under the direct command of the Australians, Portugal refused to put its troops under Australian command. This decision was announced by Portugal’s Foreign Minister, Diogo Freitas do Amaral, during a news conference in Lisbon this Friday. Freitas do Amaral added that early that day a meeting was held between him, an Australian General, and a second unidentified person.

The Australian mission “was expressly sent from London to Lisbon to ask for clarifications” to a agreement that was signed last Thursday (June 1) in Dili, between Portugal and East Timor, reaffirming that the GNR group has its own operational command.

José Ramos Horta told Lusa News Agency that the soldiers of the GNR “have to start acting with autonomy and hardness” in the entire city, Dili, to reestablish the law and order. The Foreign Minister also told the Agency that he “respects” the decision of the Portuguese government to put the GNR force out of the Australian command of the international force, affirming that is essential to reach an agreement this Monday, so that the Portuguese Republican National Guard “can be operational.”

Ramos Horta added that this would be the position that he will defend in a meeting this Thursday morning with the diplomats of Australia, Portugal, New Zealand and Malaysia. This meeting will define the way that the forces of the four countries will work on the country, having the troops of Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia working under a single Australian command, and the Portuguese force working in an “autonomous” way and reporting directly to President Xanana Gusmão.

The East Timorese Minister, guarded by Australian elite soldiers, and travelling in a civilian car, heard complaints about the lack of protection given by the 1.300 Australian soldiers already at the city, while saying “that is obvious that there’s a arousing frustration of the population before the apparent impunity with those groups that continue to destroy”.

The Portuguese military are in East Timor in response to a request of help made by the East Timor authorities to Australia, Portugal, New Zealand, and Malaysia. This is the second time that the special operations team of the GNR has been to this former Portuguese colony, after being in East Timor between February, 2000 and June, 2002.

Million Dollar Homepage is close to achieving million-dollar goal

Friday, December 30, 2005

Alex Tew, a student in England, has almost reached his target of one million dollars on his website: Million Dollar Homepage. He came up with the idea after jotting down ideas before he went to bed on how to become a millionaire before he went to university. Then he came up with the million-dollar idea: selling pixels at USD $1 each on a web page. Alex currently believes he can make his goal by the end of 31st December, 2005.

Advertising companies especially appreciate the website, as they wish to “make Internet history” on the Million Dollar Homepage. In fact as of writing, he has already made USD $999,000. The student says advertisers get to keep their ads for a period of five years from purchase and he says he will use the money he has made to guarantee it. Alex has said he has already got numerous job offers from companies aiming to secure his money making talent.

Tew is undergoing a business management course at Nottingham and needed GBP £7000 a year to complete his studies. He is understandably overwhelmed by the success he has achieved: “It’s just nuts. I’m in a state of disbelief. It’s like Monopoly money but then I look at my bank account and there’s a lot of cash in it.” The British National Union of Students claim that 90% of students are in debt. However, what only worries him is how he’s going to spend his money. He has already spent some of his money on a car for himself, as he thinks of what to do with his new fortune.

His website’s method is simple; his website is made up of one page divided into 10,000 boxes, each 100 pixels in size. Companies can buy one or more boxes for USD $100 each and cover it with a logo, which, when clicked on, transports web users to the customers’ own site.The figures add up with the site now carrying over 240 advertisements and has 30,000 hits a day. Even the actor Jack Black, star of “School of Rock” and “Shallow Hal“, is using the site to advertise his band Tenacious D.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer makes 2005 Budget speech

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable Gordon Brown PC MP, in a speech to the British House of Commons today presented his ninth Budget, what is very likely to be his last Budget before the next UK General Election. This opened the parliamentary debate on the 2005 Finance Bill, and was followed by responses from the opposition parties.

In a 48 minute long speech, the Chancellor presented a Budget of “tax cuts that are reasonable, spending that is affordable, and [economic] stability that is paramount”, that was “the prudent course for Britain”. There were few surprises that had not already been indicated in his 2004 pre-Budget report. The increase in the threshold on stamp duty was greater than that forecast by commentators, as was the amount of the Council Tax rebate to households with pensioners.

Contents

  • 1 The Budget in detail
    • 1.1 Duty
    • 1.2 Taxes
    • 1.3 Benefits
    • 1.4 Business
    • 1.5 Employment
    • 1.6 Savings
    • 1.7 Spending
    • 1.8 Memorials
  • 2 Responses from opposition parties
    • 2.1 Conservative
    • 2.2 Liberal Democrat
  • 3 Sources

SLM shareholders led by Martin Garbus sue Spider-Man creator Stan Lee and Marvel for $750m

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Martin Garbus, Esq. filed a shareholder derivative suit Monday against Marvel Entertainment and its Chief Executive Officer Isaac Perlmutter, as well as Stan Lee, the creator of Marvel superhero characters, and Lee’s wife and former Marvel Studios head, Avi Arad. The suit is for more than US$750 million (£528M) — about half of the estimated proceeds from Marvel’s movies.

Plaintiff Stan Lee Media (SLM) has four shareholders who live in Florida, California and Canada, and include Jose Abadin and Nelson Thall. The company is suing for recovery of civil damages representing one-half of film and book earnings from such blockbuster films as Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Hulk, and Fantastic Four franchises.

Defendants are accused of copyright violations over both the Marvel superhero characters and intellectual properties created by Stan Lee. Spider-Man’s three cinematic outings, starring Tobey Maguire, earned more than $1bn (£702m). “Most of Marvel’s financial success, including from the films, comes out of assets created by Stan Lee that are the subject of this suit,” the complaint states.

Lee, 86, has denied the allegations and has previously filed his own $50 million counter lawsuit against SLM, claiming the company has destroyed his name and reputation and prevented his effort to develop such properties as “The Accuser” and “The Drifter” and others via his first-look deals with Disney and Virgin Comics. Lee also co-created Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Thor.

Former dot-com company STM further alleges that it has agreed to pay Lee a $250,000 annual salary plus $100 million in company stock in exchange for the rights to the superhero characters. “That money should have gone to the corporation,” said Garbus. Lee’s counsel, Mark Williams, replied: “We look forward to a positive resolution for Stan Lee and his family.” Marvel has said the court pleadings, which were filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, are filled with “ridiculous claims”.

SLM ran out of operating capital during the dot-com meltdown in December 2000, closing operations entirely by December 19 of that year. The company was placed into Chapter 11 Reorganization in Bankruptcy by Stan Lee in 2001. During the insolvency proceedings, Lee assigned the major character franchises he had created to his new public company, POW! Entertainment, without the bankruptcy court’s approval.

Two multi-billion dollar lawsuits for damages were filed against Lee, his new company, his new partner Arthur Lieberman and Marvel Entertainment for cybersquatting and failure to disclose the existence and value of the Rights Assignment Lee made to the company when he founded it.

The company remained under bankruptcy protection until the US Trustee for the Central District of California moved to dismiss the bankruptcy proceedings for failure of the company as debtor in possession to comply with basic requirements of filing monthly reports and paying quarterly fees to the Trustee. SLM was taken back by the shareholders after its dismissal from bankruptcy and hired a legal and accounting forensic consultant to review all transactions that occurred during bankruptcy.

By November 2006, all of the officers and directors of the company had resigned or abandoned their positions and the company’s lawyers for the debtors in possession attempted to obtain court authorization to destroy or dispose of the company’s books and records. This initiated a long-running legal battle between shareholders and the company’s founder, Lee.

The plaintiffs in this most recent suit contend that Lee, Perlmutter, Arthur Lieberman and Avi Arad conspired in bad faith to conceal and misappropriate financial interests in Lee’s creations assigned to Stan Lee Media in 1998. SLM’s meltdown involved its former President Peter F. Paul fleeing to Brazil, contributions made to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Paul’s extradition and more. In 2007, SLM filed a $5 billion lawsuit in which it claimed co-ownership of all of Stan Lee’s creations for Marvel.

Yemen’s first-ever feature film to be screened at Cannes Festival

Friday, May 6, 2005

The first ever feature-length film to be shot in Yemen will be screened, but will not compete for prizes, at this year’s international Cannes Film Festival. The 90-minute romantic drama by British-Yemeni film director, Bader Ben Hirsi, is titled A New Day in Old Sanaa’a.

“For the most people viewing this film, it will be the first time they ever see images of Yemen. The results will be a very positive message” which offers a “true and honest” portrait of life in Yemen, said a spokesman from the Yemeni Media Center in 2003, when the film was in the planning stage. The film will depict aspects that are “completely different from the negative image that most of the world has” of the Middle-Eastern Arab nation, said the spokesman.

Sana’a, where the capital of Yemen has been relocated since 1962, is known for its Muslim university and many mosques, as a center of Islamic culture. It was noted in medieval times as a beautiful and hospitable city, and was described by the 10th century Persian traveler Ahmad ibn Rustah as follows: “It is the city of Yemen — there not being found in the highland or the Tihama or the Hijaz a city greater, more populous or more prosperous, of more noble origin or more delicious food than it… with fine dwellings.”

The leading actor is Nabil Saber of Old Sana’a, and his co-star is the actress and make-up artist Julia Towns of London. The pair found real-life romance and exchanged wedding vows last year in London, after bowing to tradition and obtaining agreement from both their families.

The film, co-produced by the Yemen Media Center and Felix Films of London, is not yet 100% complete due to funding shortfall. There is planned to be a low-key showing to introduce the film at the Marché du Film (Film Market) portion of the Cannes Festival, but it is not eligible to compete for the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) due to its unfinished status. The official premiere is to be held this summer, with widespread promotion and showing in universities and art centers around the world.

Ben Hirsi commented on his film, “A New Day in Old Sana’a could be categorized as a romantic drama, showing a very real conflict between modern values and old, [but] is respectful of the strong morals of Yemen’s Islamic society. It does not contain such cinematic norms as profanity, graphic violence or sexually explicit content… As is true in modern-day Sana’a, however, traditional practices and concepts are tackled and confronted — topics such as love, caste, Yemeni marriage customs and the wearing of the veil are addressed in detail, and the inner turmoil that results from changing social values in a modernizing society forms a central theme of the story.”

File:Cannes FF Palace.jpeg

Cannes Festival Palace as of June 27, 2004. Courtesy of Filip Maljkovic

Polaroid goes bankrupt

Friday, December 19, 2008

Camera company Polaroid has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States. The firm, famed for the introduction of instant photography, says alleged fraud by the founder of their parent group is to blame.

Owned since 2005 by Petters Group Worldwide, Polaroid says that the group’s founder Tom Petters is “under investigation for alleged acts of fraud that have compromised the financial condition of Polaroid.” Authorities believe Petter, currently in police custody, was running fraud worth £3 billion, something he denies.

Petters Group, itself, filed for bankruptcy in October. Both firms now face restructuring, which Polaroid is confident won’t affect daily operations — in fact, the company is “planning for new product launches in 2009,” and claims to have “entered bankruptcy with ample cash reserves sufficient to finance the company’s reorganization under Chapter 11.”

Polaroid has further said that employees will be paid without interruption, and that while members of Petters Group are under investigation for fraud, Polaroid’s management is not. The company, based in Minnesota, also has subsidiaries which will enter bankruptcy with it.

Chinese chef Peng Chang-kuei’s death announced

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Peng Chang-kuei, a Chinese-born chef credited with creating the internationally popular dish General Tso’s chicken, was yesterday announced to have died by his son.

Chuck Peng told The Associated Press his father died of pneumonia in Taipei, Taiwan on Wednesday. The chef fled China to Taiwan in 1949 and invented the dish shortly thereafter. In the 1970s Peng opened a New York restaurant, which he claimed was a regular haunt of Henry Kissinger. Peng credited Kissinger with the dish’s popularity.

Peng conceived the famed dish, which is unknown in China, as unfried. Garlic and soy sauce provided flavour, as did chillies. Today the chicken is served across the US as fried chicken in a sweet, sticky sauce. The chillies remain, with broccoli also appearing. Peng named it after Zuo Zongtang from his native Hunan Province; Zongtang assisted in suppressing the 19th-century Taiping Rebellion.

Peng said the meal was invented for a US admiral visiting Taiwan. Over three days, Peng was contracted to produce several banquets, with not one repeated dish. After exhausting traditional chicken dishes Peng said he created what became General Tso’s chicken as an experiment.

In later years he ran Peng’s, a chain of Taiwanese restaurants. General Tso’s chicken also remained popular across the US. His son claimed he remained working in the kitchen until a few months before his death, at 97. In a documentary two years ago, shown photos of General Tso’s chicken served in the US in modern times, he remarked “This is all crazy nonsense.”

Running away from his farming family in Changsha, Peng trained under Cao Jingchen. He fled communist rule that followed the 1930s Japanese invasion. He fathered seven children, six of whom remain alive, from three marriages. Chuck Peng described his father as “very good to other people, [but] very hard on his family.” Peng Jr. spoke of a “very demanding” man who “thought other people’s cooking was no good.”

Two years ago the Taipei City Government awarded Peng an Outstanding Citizen award. Peng, then 95 and unstable, collected the award in person and delivered a speech in Mandarin Chinese.

New Jersey officials: Stimulus bill hurting Atlantic City casinos

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A New Jersey congressman says restrictions on federal stimulus money are hurting gaming destinations like Atlantic City, and he is seeking to repeal a provision banning the use of funds for casinos or other gaming establishments.

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“The demonization of gaming destinations such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City for business travel is wrong, wrong, wrong,” U.S. Rep Frank LoBiondo said Friday during a press conference in front of Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

The $787 billion federal stimulus bill passed in February specifically prohibits casinos from applying for funds for infrastructure improvements and other similar projects. LoBiondo said Atlantic City is losing millions of dollars in business as a result of that provision.

Casinos’ revenues dropped 19.2 percent in February 2009 month compared to February 2008, according to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. LoBiondo said $160 million worth of business and 120,000 visitors have chosen other cities for their tourism plans due to the stimulus bill, according to Atlantic City Convention Center figures.

The administration also recently determined other groups like nonprofit organizations and local governments may not spend their stimulus money at casino properties. State officials said the rules are damaging a major pillar of the New Jersey economy.

“Are those jobs somehow less important or less meaningful than those in the manufacturing, retail or financial industries?” said Ken Calemmo, chairman-elect of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

Anti-gambling officials said the stimulus law does not prohibit casinos from taking advantage of tax breaks, and Atlantic City officials should not complain about the stimulus bill because the city is too reliant on an unreliable revenue stream.

“There isn’t a state, including New Jersey or Nevada, that could gamble themselves rich, any more than an individual could gamble themselves rich,” said Tom Grey, field director for StopPredatoryGambling.org. “They should’ve diversified (the economy) instead of chasing their loss.”

But Joe Kelly, chamber president, said 35,000 people work at New Jersey casinos, and thousands more around the state work for outside vendors that depend on casinos for their business.

“It is not just an Atlantic County issue. It is not just a Cape May issue,” Kelly said. “There’s purchasing done by every county.”

LoBiondo is working to repeal the provision with U.S. Rep Shelly Berkley, co-chair of the Congressional Gaming Cascus, and has reached out to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a history of representing the interests of the gaming industry.

US Secretary Rice responds to European enquiries on alleged CIA prisons

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

The United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has begun to address concerns raised by the EU, the Council of Europe, and several member countries about the CIA’s detention practices upon her arrival in Germany for a European tour that began Tuesday.

“As a matter of US policy, the United States’ obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which prohibits, of course, cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment, those obligations extend to US personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside the United States,” said Rice, speaking from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Wednesday.

Media reports and Human Rights groups have alleged that the CIA transported renditioned prisoners through European countries, which could violate European laws and the sovereignty of countries involved. Secretary Rice claimed that the United States has respected the sovereignty of other countries, and that it has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture, and has not transported anyone to a country when we believe he will be tortured.

“We consider the captured members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held, in accordance with the law of war, to keep them from killing innocents. We must treat them in accordance with our laws, which reflect the values of the American people. We must question them to gather potentially significant, life-saving, intelligence. We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible,” Rice told reporters before she left from Andrews Air Force base on Monday.

Rice said that European nations should realize that interrogations of terrorist suspects have produced information that has saved European lives. However, Secretary Rice provided no specific cases.

“Secretary Rice made extra-legal rendition sound like just another form of extradition. In fact, it’s a form of kidnapping and ‘disappearing’ someone entirely outside the law,” said Tom Malinowski, a Human Rights Watch official in Washington.

The CIA practice known as “extraordinary rendition” is used to interrogate terrorist suspects outside the U.S., where they are not subject to American legal protection.

“Kidnapping a foreign national for the purpose of detaining and interrogating him outside the law is contrary to American values,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the Khalid El-Masri case. “Our government has acted as if it is above the law. We go to court today to reaffirm that the rule of law is central to our identity as a nation.”

The ACLU feels the government has to be held to account over “extraordinary rendition”.