Amazon is getting serious about its plans to fill the skies with delivery drones. The tech company just sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration requesting special permission to test its unmanned flying robots.
BACKGROUND The Government will today be hit by the biggest strike over pay since it came to power when over a million public sector workers will walk out in bitter disputes over pay, pensions, jobs and spending cuts. Home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners will be joined by teachers, firefighters, civil servants and transport workers. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The scene is a street in Bury (pronounced 'berry'), a town just north of Manchester. The wheelie bins and dustbins are full, and there are bags of rubbish (or bin bags) all over the place. Rats can be seen on the road. A man comments to a woman, "Our dustmen aren't on strike — they only collect the rubbish once every three weeks!"
VOCABULARY Dustman is an informal word for a man whose job is to collect the rubbish from outside people's houses. Other informal terms include binman and rubbish man. The more formal/official (and gender neutral!) term (used in job ads, etc.) is refuse collector. The American word is garbage collector. See here for more on this vocabulary area.
Germany has expelled the CIA’s station chief in Berlin over reported cases of U.S. spying in the country. A Bloomberg correspondent in Berlin says, “This is a massive diplomatic rift.” Or, as The Washington Post puts it, “an unusual action among allies that is a very public expression of anger.” But note, media aren’t calling this decision unwarranted. Full transcript >>
UK prime minister David Cameron yesterday unveiled emergency laws, to be bundled through parliament in days, designed to shore up the powers of spies, police and government agencies. But Cameron agreed to a "sunset clause" time-limiting the bill to 2016, a full-scale review of intercept laws, a new oversight board and restrictions on the number of public bodies that can make use of surveillance data. Full story >>
VOCABULARY Snooping is watching someone secretly in order to learn about their personal life or business. • The director of campaign group Liberty has said that new data laws are not just for 'snooping on suspects' but will be used on everyone.
BACKGROUND Holidaymakers and business travellers who arrive at airport security with uncharged mobile phones or other electrical items will be stopped from boarding planes bound for the United States and effectively treated like “terrorists”. British Airways said passengers who failed to turn on devices when asked will be immediately banned from their US flight and have to reschedule, even if they offer to abandon the item or send it on separately. Turning on an electronic device can show a security screener that the laptop computer or mobile phone is a working device and that its batteries are not hidden explosives. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Mac from the Daily Mail shows passengers queueing at the 'Phone Checkpoint' in Gatwick Airport. Some mobile phones (in the box) have already been 'confiscated', supposedly because they weren't charged. The joke is that the security officer is using the man's moblie phone to call her mother in Australia — just to check that it's working, of course!
VOCABULARY If you board a plane, train, bus, or boat, you get onto it. However, you get into a car or taxi.
Well, this is kind of obvious. Ok, really obvious. New research says teens are still spending too much time in front of screens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked kids between the ages of 12 and 15 in nationwide studies and found 73 percent watched TV and used a computer for more than two hours a day — what health experts caution is excessive screen time. Full transcript >>
With wealth beyond most people’s wildest dreams, Britain’s leading celebrities can easily afford to pay their fair share of tax. But many turn to avoidance schemes to bring contributions down – denying the Treasury vital funds that could go towards hospitals, schools and other services battered by cuts. And yesterday it was revealed some of our best-loved stars are among 33,000 Brits being hit by massive demands after ploughing their earnings into such arrangements, leaving a tax shortfall of £5.1billion. Read more >>
VOCABULARY A tax dodge is an informal expression which means the same as 'tax avoidance scheme' — a (supposedly) legal way of paying less tax. • One tax dodge often used by multi-national companies is to squirrel their earnings abroad in foreign subsidiaries located in countries where taxes are lower.
BACKGROUND Just over one week ago former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was placed under formal investigation on suspicion of influence peddling and other crimes, after being detained and questioned by prosecutors as a suspect for over 18 hours. Sarkozy was indicted with bribery and violation of professional secrecy. Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Chappatte shows a couple sitting at a café terrace somewhere in Paris (note the Eiffel Tower). The man is reading about the Sarkozy's judicial problems on his tablet, and the woman is reading an article about 'Welcome to New York', the film starring Gérard Depardieu which tells the story of the so-called Sofitel scandal in which French left-wing politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn (aka DSK) was accused of sexually assaulting a chambermaid in a New York hotel. Strauss-Kahn was head of the IMF at the time, but was widely tipped to become the next French president.
COMMENTARY The expression 'political alternance' would normally refer to a situation where political parties take it in turns to hold power. Here, however, it's used ironically to highlight the fact that a scandal on the left is followed by one on the right, and so on.
Even if you picked Germany to beat Brazil in Tuesday's World Cup semifinal match, there's no way you saw this coming. It was a match that made the words "national embarrassment" an understatement. And if you were on Twitter, you've probably already seen your share of photos of sad Brazilians. But they had every right to be sad — and shocked. Full transcript >>
Shop prices fell at the steepest rate for at least eight years last month as the popularity of discount stores among the middle classes helped to drive down the cost of clothing and consumer goods. Full story >>
VOCABULARY If you are savvy about something you knowing a lot about it and are able to make good judgments about it. • Britain's technology companies are struggling to attract a new generation of mobile-savvy children who are using tablets and their parents' smartphones to log on to "free" games.
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Matt from the Daily Telegraph shows the riders on the Tour de France passing through London (note the Gherkin in the background). A man comments to his wife, "Typical, 200 cyclists and not one of them stops at a red light."
EXPLANATION There's a popular misconception in England that cyclists are less law abiding, and more careless, than motorists. The red light is, of course, a traffic light. When the light is red, all traffic is supposed to stop, but a minority of cyclists give the rest a bad reputation by 'jumping' the red light. However, see here for a possible explanation.
VOCABULARY Typical is used for saying that you are not surprised that something bad has happened. • It's typical! Just when we might have won, two of our players got injured. • The show's been cancelled? Typical!
For more than a century, scientists have been trying to figure out exactly what consciousness really is, how it works and where it comes from. And while many questions remain to be answered, it appears some researchers have now discovered what they call an "on/off switch" for human consciousness. Full transcript >>
A soul-searching national inquiry into how authorities may have ignored systematic child abuse in some of Britain's most eminent institutions was launched by the home secretary. Theresa May told the Commons she was establishing a powerful public inquiry into how complaints of sexual abuse were treated, and sometimes ignored, in public bodies over several decades. Ministers had been holding out against such a sweeping inquiry, but, facing charges of an establishment cover-up, succumbed and promised there would be no no-go areas for the investigation. Full story >>
VOCABULARY The establishment are the most important and powerful people in a country, who are often thought of as being conservative and wanting to preserve their own power and influence. • The possible extent of the establishment's links to a paedophile network is horrifying.
The first three stages of this year's Tour de France are taking place in England. Following this weekend's wonderful 'Tour de Yorkshire', the riders are heading south today for a stage from Cambridge to London. Ca va être fantastique! To mark the occasion, I've put together a Tour de France crossword. Click here to download a PDF version with solution, and here for an alternative web-based version in case you have problems with the one below.
BACKGROUND The second stage of the Tour de France has finished in Sheffield with 2.5m people having lined the route around Yorkshire over two days. The stage was won by Vincenzo Nibali after 124 miles (201km) of punishing roads and hill climbs. The crowds were so dense in some places that riders struggled to pass at some points while in some areas late-comers were turned away. Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of the tour organisers TdFHUB2014 Ltd said: "Around 2.5 million spectators lined the route over two days and revelled in being part of history." Read more >>
THE CARTOON The cartoon by Paul Thomas from the Daily Express shows a group of riders going down a hill somewhere in the Yorkshire countryside. The joke is that one of the riders is a sheep (sheep farming is common in the Yorkshire Dales, as the soils are thin and unsuitable for any other type of farming). One of her fellow sheep comments, "Hang on — isn't that Ethel?" (Ethel is an old-fashioned name which seems suitable for a sheep).
VOCABULARY 1. "Hang on" is an expression used for saying that you have just realized something. • Hang on a minute! That isn't the dress she was wearing earlier. 2. The word sheep is invariable: one sheep, two or more sheep. 3. In the cartoon we can see a dry-stone wall. Such walls are characteristic of upland areas of Britain and Ireland where rock outcrops naturally or large stones exist in quantity in the soil.
NOTE I'm sure this has nothing to do with the cartoon, but the man who persuaded the French to bring their legendary cycle race to the north of England is a sheep farmer who runs a tourist and promotional organisation from an office in the city of Leeds in Yorkshire. Read more >>