Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
Thieves steal entire road, inspiring us to think big (The Funny Side)
The good news is that the news-writing business is getting easier in some ways, since the world is getting weirder
 
Every so often, people ask if I am like my columns in real life. I reply: "Yes, I'm silent and invisible most of the time, and then I suddenly appear and blurt out 500 words."
 
The good news is that the news-writing business is getting easier in some ways, since the world is getting weirder.
 
For example, thieves recently stole a road in a daring daylight robbery. They broke up an entire 410 metre rural street, weighing an estimated 630 tonnes, loaded it into trucks and vanished, leaving baffled residents unable to drive home.
 
This bizarre story from the China press (it happened recently in Nantong, Jiangsu province), was told to me by a reader over lunch at a noodle shop. I said I'd add it to my "Biggest Things Stolen" file, which contains the theft of a bridge in the US, a beach in Jamaica, a church in Russia and the like. She asked what was the biggest thing ever stolen.
 
Hard to say. In 2012 a Japanese nerd put the planet Earth up for sale on an internet auction website. It was offered "used" and "as is". (Clearly the seller had no intention of giving it a good clean.)
 
There were some interesting exchanges with prospective buyers on the site. "Question: 'Hello. This is a really interesting item! If I buy the Earth will I become a god? Answer: A: 'Thank you for your question! Sorry, this item cannot make you a god.'" Bidding on planet Earth rose from less than $1 to more than $2,000, but the deal was never completed.
 
One of the lunchers said: "Maybe no one took it because no one capable of actually putting it into a bag and taking it away saw the advertisement."
 
Now if you are familiar with Great Literature and High Culture, you will know that he was thinking of people who could grab the Earth, such as Galactus the planet eater from Marvel, the World Devastators from Star Wars, the Doomsday Machine from Star Trek, the Eater of Worlds from Doctor Who and so on.
 
A scientific type sitting with us astounded us by pointing out that you could actually advertise the Earth for sale to aliens simply by offering it on TV. "The systems that beam broadcasts to our homes also send them out into space," he said. "And since the data travels at the speed of light, it's easy to work out where the signals reach."
 
A paper napkin diagram followed. The earth-like planet Kapteyn B is 13 light years away so will this week be receiving TV shows from 2002. That means they are just getting into the first series of "American Idol". (That should stuff up their productivity for a few years.) The nearest habitable planet was Tau Ceti e, which was 11.9 light years away (and thus currently watching "Friends").
 
He said he reckoned the most likely planet was one called HD 40307 d, which is 42 light years away, so will now be receiving stuff from 1973. Any intelligent life there will be evaluating human life by watching The Sweet singing Ballroom Blitz, which is deeply worrying. They'll probably keep their distance.

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Hacked Sony Emails Reveal Behind-the-Scenes Political Dealings in LA
A Los Angeles politician cast a critical ‘yes’ vote months after the chief executive of Sony Pictures arranged a $25,000 corporate contribution to a super PAC
 
A version of this story was co-published with the Los Angeles Times.
 
Emails stolen by hackers from Sony Pictures Entertainment have been fodder for a steady stream of gossipy Hollywood scoops. But the trove also contains a hidden and more consequential story about how corporations can try to influence local politics and advance their executives' pet projects.
 
Messages reviewed by ProPublica and The Los Angeles Times show that the top executive at the entertainment company, who also sits on the board of trustees of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, last year directed a $25,000 Sony contribution to a state super PAC. The politician who founded the PAC later cast a crucial vote backing millions of dollars in public funding for the museum's expansion.
 
The donation, records and interviews show, was promised well before a local election, but wasn't publicly disclosed until afterwards.
 
The art museum had been lobbying local officials last year for $125 million toward a flashy new $600 million campus, the curved contours of which would hover over one of the city's main thoroughfares. A key vote would come from Mark Ridley-Thomas, a county supervisor who represents Compton, Watts and many of LA's toughest neighborhoods.
 
The museum's director, Michael Govan, believed Ridley-Thomas' vote would be critical because the building would stretch into his district – which meant other supervisors were likely to defer to him. In an interview, Govan acknowledged the project was going to be a hard sell and he was "nervous" about the outcome.
 
Then, in July, Govan learned that one of the museum's trustees, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, was about to have lunch with the supervisor. So he sent a pair of emails to Lynton listing the virtues of the project, saying that the timing of the meeting was "perfect and critical" and adding, "this won't happen if the Supervisor doesn't support it."
 
At the lunch, Ridley-Thomas requested the contribution from Sony, according to his chief deputy. In September, the money landed in the coffers of the political action committee he founded to promote candidates and causes such as African-American voter registration. And two months after that, Ridley-Thomas voted for the museum project.
 
All parties involved insist there was no connection between the contribution – far and away Sony's largest in California that year – and the supervisor's vote. Such a link could be a violation of campaign finance law.
 
The internal Sony communications, posted online by WikiLeaks, the website devoted to publishing corporate and government secrets, show how determined the museum had been to court Ridley-Thomas, and how careful Sony was to delay public disclosure of their contribution until after a local election.
 
Months before Lynton and Ridley-Thomas met, two of their aides went to lunch at Café Vida, a casual spot near Sony's offices in Culver City: Keith Weaver, Sony's executive vice president in charge of government affairs and Alex Johnson, at the time an aide to Ridley-Thomas.
 
According to the internal emails, the two met to discuss Johnson's bid for a seat on the L.A. school board. Ridley-Thomas had endorsed his aide, and the PAC he founded – the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation Project – was spending heavily to get him elected.
 
Weaver threw Sony's support behind Johnson, scheduling an event to introduce him to other potential supporters. A review of California campaign finance filings shows no Sony contributions in the last decade to a school board candidate. In internal records, Weaver noted the candidate's affiliation with Ridley-Thomas.
 
A few weeks after the Culver City lunch, Lynton, the CEO, had on his schedule a meeting to discuss Ridley-Thomas with Weaver and Govan, the museum director, the emails show.
 
Less than two months later, Lynton and Ridley-Thomas went to lunch. Lynton's team entered the meeting prepped with the note from Govan reminding the Sony CEO why the supervisor's support was critical. The county, Govan said, wanted to see a financial plan for the museum's new building by fall. Since term limits were about to force some turnover on the board of supervisors, it was in the museum's interest to move quickly. The museum needed the county to commit so it could leverage the public funding into millions of dollars more in private support.
 
Weaver sent an email before Lynton's lunch, telling the CEO that the Ridley-Thomas-linked PAC was spending heavily to get his former aide elected.
 
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org

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Controversies continue to have a ball in IPL
One of the most popular and successful IPL franchise, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings (CSK), found themselves under the Enforcement Directorate (ED) scanner when the agency sought details regarding the undervaluation of the franchise
 
From match fixing allegations to ugly on-field brawls and a love-struck cricketer breaching rules to meet his sweetheart: the ongoing edition of the multi-million dollar Indian Premier League (IPL) has drawn the spotlight as much for controversies as for cricketing exploits.
 
Since its inception eight years ago, the cash-rich IPL has been hailed for bringing forth new and exciting talent or resurrecting many a fledgling career. But simultaneously, it has derived bad publicity for a host of unsavoury events over the years that included spats between team owners to the unceremonious sacking of its creator Lalit Modi.
 
Season 2015 is no exception.
 
One of the most popular and successful IPL franchise, the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings (CSK), found themselves under the Enforcement Directorate (ED) scanner when the agency sought details regarding the undervaluation of the franchise.
 
As part of the process of former Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) boss N. Srinivasan distancing itself from CSK, owned by his company India Cements Ltd., following a Supreme Court order citing conflict of interest, the India Cements proposed to transfer control of the franchise to a trust, at only Rs.5 lakh.
 
According to an estimate, CSK pays Rs.40 crore as annual franchisee fee and spends over Rs.60 crore on players' remuneration every year.
 
The BCCI has now sought legal opinion on the issue.
 
Spelling more trouble, Modi made a sensational claim that at least four CSK players were involved in match fixing.
 
Referring to the Justice Mudgal Committee which has submitted its report on IPL spot fixing to the Supreme Court, Modi earlier in the month tweeted: "So here is my BREAKING STORY - IF THE #HONORABLE #SUPREME #COURT WAS TO REVEAL THE NAMES OF PLAYERS INVOLVED IN FIXING - at least 4 are CSK."
 
Modi also claimed that "9,000- 10,000 crore of rupees per game" was being cast as bets in the IPL.
 
The fixing demon again haunted the tourney when Rajasthan Royals disclosed that one its cricketers was approached for fixing by a player not part of the IPL. Royals' chief executive officer (CEO) Raghu Iyer claimed the approached player refused the offer and informed his team management, who in turn reported the matter to BCCI's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU).
 
Well, it's not CSK alone to face the music of the authorities over alleged undervaluation.
 
The ED in May summoned Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) co-owners Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, actress Juhi Chawla and her husband Jay Mehta. KKR is suspected to have violated Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) norms by under valuing its shares in a transfer deal with Mehta's overseas company, Sea Island Investments Ltd.
 
Earlier, the defending champions created a flutter even before a ball was bowled in the tourney by threatening a pull out if star spinner Sunil Narine was not allowed to play. Narine was earlier banned by the BCCI and not allowed to play for KKR in the 2014 Champions League Twenty20 final after being reported for a suspect action.
 
Eventually cleared by the BCCI after undergoing biomechanical tests in Chennai at the start of the ongoing IPL, he was again barred from bowling his off-spinners. Subsequently cleared after another biomechanical test, the mystery spinner failed to live up to the expectations as the Gautam Gambhir-led side crashed out of the competition.
 
Known for his power hitting, Knights' opener Robin Uthappa came under fire after he allegedly held Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) youngster Sarfaraz Khan "by the collar". While match referee Javagal Srinath denied receiving any complaint, Gambhir called it "not a major issue" and which "happens with a lot of people".
 
It may not be a controversy in the strict sense, but Mumbai Indians all-rounder Kieron Pollard did attract many a frown when he literally put a tape on his mouth after an umpire asked him not to talk too much with compatriot and RCB opener Chris Gayle at the packed M. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru.
 
RCB skipper Virat Kohli, who was in the news for a heated argument with umpire Kumar Dharmasena during a match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, was found guilty of breaching the ACSU protocol by meeting his girlfriend Anushka Sharma during a match against Delhi Daredevils.
 
While the ACSU protocol states that players can't meet any non-accredited personnel when the match is on, Kohli met his actress beau in the stands at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium during a rain-induced halt. The duo were seen on the giant screen at the stadium and the host broadcaster too cashed-in on the visual treat to relay it to households.
 
He was later let off by the BCCI which saw the incident as a "minor digression".

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