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Polish homeless men start tractor-powered pilgrimage, inspired by David Lynch film
24 August 2016 - Four homeless men and a priest have set out on a tractor-powered pilgrimage from Poland to France, inspired by another journey in director David Lynch's film 1999 film 'The Straight Story'. The 1,700km (1,000 miles) trek from the southern Polish town of Jaworzno to the basilica of St Therese in Lisieux is meant to mirror the film, which tells the story of an elderly man's journey on a lawn mower tractor from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his sick brother. Before they set off on Sunday, David Lynch sent the men a good luck message for what he called a journey for 'forgiveness, for love, for freedom, and for peace'. (more)

France has 'misunderstood' burkini, Australian designer says
24 August 2016 - The French authorities have misunderstood why the burkini was created and should not turn it into a symbol of division, the Australian designer of the swimsuit said on Wednesday, 24 August. 'They have misunderstood what the burkini is all about,' said Aheda Zanetti, adding that anyone, no matter their religion, could wear it. Zanetti said she is perplexed the burkini has attracted so much attention, given its normalcy in Australia. The designer estimated that 40 percent of her sales come from non-Muslim women, with women who want to protect their skin from the sun among the buyers. (more)

Cheers! The Thai consumer's back
23 August 2016 - For three years, Thai consumers sat at home and nursed a debt hangover. That they're starting to go shopping again for things like secondhand bikes, restaurant meals, and energy drinks is both encouraging and just as clearly visible in company earnings and stock prices as in Monday's GDP announcement. Private spending jumped by 3.8 percent in the June quarter, its best year-on-year performance since early 2013. Thai stocks, Asia's best-performing so far this year, have been highlighting the change in sentiment for some time. (more)

Solar power brings northern Mali much needed light
22 August 2016 - Residents in Kidal in northern Mali are finding it easier to work and study into the night thanks to a solar lighting project recently introduced to the area. About 1,500 households are now able to switch on their lights thanks to a 50,000 US dollar project funded by the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali. National energy company, Energie du Mali (EDM) has begun to add solar power capacity to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which provide around half the West African nation's power. (more)

Record-breaking Arctic tern migration secrets revealed
22 August 2016 - The Arctic tern is an incredible traveller. Thousands of these birds nest on the Farne Islands, just off the coast of Northumberland in the UK, and although scientists knew they headed south at the end of the summer, no one knew exactly where they went or what route they took to get there. A ground-breaking study of birds that breed on the Farne Islandsr eveals Arctic terns travel 96,000 km -- the longest recorded migration in the natural world. So why do they take such a circuitous route? The answer is surprisingly simple; (more)

Hidden codex may reveal secrets of life in Mexico before Spanish conquest
21 August 2016 - One of the rarest manuscripts in the world has been revealed hidden beneath the pages of an equally rare but later Mexican codex, thanks to hi-tech imaging techniques. The Codex Selden is one of a handful of illustrated books of history and mythology that survived wholesale destruction by Spanish conquerors and missionaries in the 16th century. The codex is one of fewer than 20 dating from before or just after the colonisation which were saved by scholars who realised the importance of the images. (more)

25 years on, Russians tell of how they defeated a coup
21 August 2016 - On August 19, 1991, a group of eight senior hard-line Communist leaders, including the KGB chairman, had seized power from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, declaring that Gorbachev was unable to continue as head of the party due to illness. In fact, Gorbachev was under arrest and the 'Gang of Eight' intended to roll back his reformist policies of glasnost and perestroika, which they believed had set the Soviet Union on a path of disaster. For a few days, the fate of the superpower hung in the balance. As the 25th anniversary of the August Coup draws near this Friday, The Associated Press has talked to participants and witnesses of those critical days when Muscovites turned out to defend the spirit of democracy that Gorbachev had unleashed, and many Soviet officers defied their orders and sided with the people, ensuring that that the plotters failed. (more)

UK: Frog Bikes bring manufacturing back home to Wales to beat the business cycle
21 August 2016 - From this month, brightly coloured children's Frog Bikes destined for stores around the UK and the rest of the world will be painstakingly assembled from 120 parts, packed up and shipped out from a brand new factory in Pontypool, south Wales. Until now, the bikes have been assembled in China using components from around the world. Now the company is 'reshoring', following the lead of other manufacturers in moving the bulk of their production back to the UK to get better control over lead times and quality. (more)

US: Obama administration to phase out some private prison use
21 August 2016 - The Obama administration is phasing out its use of some private prisons, affecting thousands of federal inmates. In a memo Thursday to the Bureau of Prisons, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told the bureau to start reducing 'and ultimately ending' the Justice Department's use of private prisons. The announcement follows a recent Justice Department audit that found that the private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones. (more)

China, Myanmar vow closer ties as Suu Kyi visits Beijing
20 August 2016 - China and Myanmar said Saturday that they have pledged to forge closer ties as 'blood brothers,' as Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi got set to wrap up a visit to Beijing, her first diplomatic trip since taking power in March. China has been on a diplomatic charm offensive in the past year toward its fast-growing neighbor, while Myanmar under Suu Kyi has shown a willingness to embrace its top trading partner and major investor. (more)

Mauritius raises 2016 tourism earnings forecast after surge in visitors
19 August 2016 - Mauritius said on Friday that tourism revenue in 2016 will be 1.8 percent higher than it had previously forecast, after a surge in visitors during the first half. Tourism is a valuable source of foreign exchange for the tiny Indian Ocean country known for its luxury spas and beaches. (more)

French unemployment rate falls below 10 per cent for first time since 2012
18 August 2016 - France's unemployment rate has fallen below 10 per cent for the first time since 2012. Unemployment was down in all age categories, but the fall in youth unemployment was sharper. (more)

Most fatal type of stroke declining along with smoking rates
18 August 2016 - The type of brain bleeding that causes the most lethal kind of stroke has declined substantially since 1998, possibly as a result of falling smoking rates, according to researchers in Finland. (more)

Scientists unravel mystery of osprey migration
18 August 2016 - Scientists have long known ospreys make an epic journey each summer from New England to South America. But the details of their dangerous trip remained a mystery -- until now. Starting in August, the birds travel as much as 5,000 miles down the Atlantic Coast and across the Caribbean before they end up in the northern part of South America and the Amazon basin, where they spend the winter. Scores of male birds have been equipped with trackers, nearly 500 so far in the United States and Europe. The matchbox-size devices use miniature GPS-enabled transmitters to show the birds' precise location, altitude, speed, and time it takes for them to complete the trip. (more)

Foreign ministers of Japan, China, South Korea likely to meet next week: media
17 August 2016 - Japan, China, and South Korea are in talks to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers next week, despite rows between Tokyo and Beijing over China's maritime expansion in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, a Japanese daily said on Wednesday, 17 August. The foreign ministers' meeting is expected to lay the groundwork for a three-way summit Tokyo is set to host this year. (more)

US home construction climbed to a 6-month high in July
16 August 2016 - Apartment construction in the Northeast fueled a jump in home building in July as the pace of housing starts nationwide reached the strongest pace in six months. 'Continued recovery in housing will be supported by historically low mortgage rates, coupled with a firming labor market that has begun to spur on wage gains for workers,' said Neil Shankar, an economist at TD Bank. Homebuilders appear optimistic that sales will continue to rise. (more)

US: Air Force to replace toxic fire fighting foam
16 August 2016 - The Air Force on Monday announced a move to replace firefighting foam -- the suspected source of chemicals that have contaminated area water supplies -- with more 'environmentally responsible' products. The move comes after harsh criticism from municipal officials and area residents about the military's response to water tainted by perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). (more)

US: White House sets new fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks, vans and buses
16 August 2016 - The Obama administration on Tuesday finalized new fuel-economy standards for large trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles, the latest in a series of efforts aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions and weaning the nation from its dependence on fossil fuels. These vehicles represent only about 5 percent of total highway traffic but account for 20 percent of transportation-related fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Administration officials said they expect that when the new standards are fully implemented in coming years, they will cut more than 1 billion tons of carbon pollution from the atmosphere, save nearly $170 billion in fuel costs, and reduce oil consumption by an estimated 84 billion gallons. (more)

Zimbabwe plans to use drones to fight elephant poaching
15 August 2016 - Zimbabwe plans to deploy aerial drones in its biggest wildlife sanctuary in the west to combat poaching of elephants, a parks official said on Monday, as the country aims to protect one of its top tourist attractions. Tourism contributes 11 percent to Zimbabwe's $14 billion economy, according to Ministry of Tourism data, with the country's wildlife parks popular with overseas visitors. (more)

Germany urges Russia and Ukraine to ease tension over Crimea, keep talking
15 August 2016 - Germany's foreign minister urged Russia and Ukraine on Monday to reduce tensions over Crimea and stick to the troubled Minsk peace accords as a way of ending hostilities in eastern Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the city of Yekaterinburg, said that even though the Minsk deal had stalled in places it should remain the focus of the peace process despite the alleged plot around Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Lavrov said Russia would play its part in ensuring the Minsk accords were honored. (more)

China's shopping army reboots Australia retail
14 August 2016 - Up to 40,000 Chinese 'daigou' in Australia are using social media and mobile payment apps to buy goods to order for mainland China customers. While daigou first made waves in the West shipping luxuries from Europe like Gucci handbags, the new Australia breed deals in consumer staples. More affluent, health-conscious Chinese shoppers want safe Australian goods, a trend stoked by tainted China food supply scandals. The scale of the new trade has alerted retail brands to potential new sales via daigou tie-ups that might otherwise be beyond the reach of mid-tier consumer goods makers. Daigou -- meaning 'on behalf of' in Chinese -- establish a network of prospective customers on popular online messaging app WeChat, owned by internet giant Tencent Holdings. (more)

Thailand, Singapore, and Japan least miserable on Earth: Bloomberg Misery Index
14 August 2016 - Thailand, Singapore, and Japan are three of the world's least miserable nations, thanks to falling prices and low unemployment. That's according to a Misery Index compiled by Bloomberg which combines the cost of living with the strength of the job market. The Misery Index gives the Land of Smiles (Thailand) a score of 1.11 per cent, which is the best -- or least miserable -- for all 74 economies surveyed by Bloomberg. (more)

Germany's Chancellor Merkel to urge chiefs of big companies to hire refugees, Bild reports
13 August 2016 - Chancellor Angela Merkel has invited executives from some of Germany's biggest listed companies to attend a summit next month where she will urge them to hire more refugees, the newspaper Bild reported on Saturday, 13 August. More than one million migrants flooded into Germany last year, and the government wants to get as many as possible into the job market, which would reduce their dependence on the state and compensate for labor shortages as the workforce ages. (more)

A 600,000-Flower Carpet is beautifying Brussels
12 August 2016 - On your average day, the Grand Place in Brussels -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- is fascinating in its own way. But once every two years, for about four days, the stony square gets all dressed up. With the help of the people of Belgium, it covers itself in 600,000 flowers-the famous 'Brussels Flower Carpet.' This year's was constructed over the course of eight hours by hundreds of volunteers, who, following a color plan laid out on the ground, hand-placed each begonia, dahlia, and bark bit. People in Brussels can visit the carpet at the Grand-Place through Monday. Everyone else can enjoy internet photos. (more)

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