French chateau worth $1.5mn goes up for grabs for under $14

By ethan / May 25, 2018

A French chateau, complete with a swimming pool, a cottage and even a gardener, could be yours for less than $ 14 thanks to an online raffle.

The stunning property in eastern Dordogne is set in 34 acres and is worth $ 1.5 million. It’s owner, British woman Ruth Phillips, has decided to raffle the house, and she says that all the proceeds will go to good causes.

Tickets cost £10 ($ 13.37) and 500,000 are being sold on a website specially set up for the competition. The website lists two conditions for entrants: they must be resident in England, Scotland or Wales, and they must be able to correctly translate two French expressions – “les carottes sont cuites” and “ca ne casse pas trois pattes a un canard.”

The winner will also have the bills on the property paid for a year as an added bonus and stamp duty is included. The competition closes later this year, or as soon as 500,000 paid entries are received. According to the terms and conditions, if less than 350,000 paid entries are received by the closing date, the prizes will be substituted with a cash prize.

The majority of the profits from the raffle will go to a company run by Phillips called The Eco Village, which builds ecologically friendly houses. Five percent of the proceeds will be donated to St Petroc’s Society, a charity for homeless people in Cornwall, England.

According to the website, the fully-restored property lies in the eastern Dordogne and is packed with original antiques, cozy furnishings and open fireplaces. It is currently run as a holiday rental business, with a turnover of between €35,000 (almost $ 41,000) and €45,000 (over $ 52,000) per annum.

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Amazon’s smart-speaker Alexa ‘leaks’ private conversation to random number

By ethan / May 25, 2018

A US couple was horrified to find out that their private conversation was recorded by Amazon’s Echo voice-controlled device and sent to a work contact. Amazon blamed the “extremely rare” incident on an unlikely sequence of events.

The family discovered that their Alexa virtual assistant had effectively briefly turned into an eavesdropping device only after they got a call from one of the husband’s employees, who told them he had received a recording of their private conversation, KIRO reported.

The immediate assumption of the employee was that the digital helper had somehow been hacked, as he called on them to shut all Echo devices down immediately. At first, the pair found it hard to believe that the smart-speaker might pull such a trick single-handedly and send their conversation to some random contact.

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A customer walks out of the Amazon Go store in Seattle, Washington © Jeffrey Dastin

“At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us,” the wife, identified only as Danielle, told the site.

She said the pair had unplugged all Echo devices that they relied on to control heating, lights and security at home. Immediately after, she contacted Amazon. An engineer tasked with checking her activity logs confirmed her account of events and repeatedly apologized for the mishap. In a written statement to KIRO, Amazon called the incident “an extremely rare occurrence,” vowing to take measures never to let this happen again.

In a more detailed explanation of what could have provoked the ‘glitch,’ the company told TechCrunch that Alexa, which is supposed to be activated upon hearing its ‘name,’ had most likely mistaken some of the words in the conversation for an eerily coincidental string of commands.

“Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right,’” Amazon explained.

However, the woman that lives in Portland, Oregon, has said that she did not hear the smart-speaker trying to warn her that it was about to send the recording.

The woman, who said she “felt invaded” by a sudden and utterly uncalled-for breach of privacy on the part of Amazon, has not been satisfied with expletive apologies and demanded a full refund for the Amazon’s invading services, something the online giant refuses to provide, KIRO cited her as saying.

“I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it,” she stressed.

Instead, Amazon reportedly offered the family to remove Alexa’s communications feature, so their use of Echo systems will be limited exclusively to smart home applications.

While Amazon tried to downplay the concerns of its know-how’s penchant for spying on its owners, the company is currently embroiled in another privacy-related controversy over its (inadvertent) contribution to mass surveillance with new facial recognition technology.

Its retail giant’s critics argue that by selling its “Rekognition” technology, which can identify, track and analyze people in real time, to US law enforcement and local authorities, Amazon threatens civil freedoms. Slamming the new big brother-like technology, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that it “raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.”

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RT's first-hand account of N.Korean nuke test site demolition

By ethan / May 25, 2018

With a series of loud blasts, North Korea’s only nuclear test site – underground tunnels and surface infrastructure – went up in a cloud of dust. RT was at the scene to witness the historic demolition.

Invited along with reporters from a handful of other media outlets, RT’s Igor Zhdanov saw the destruction from a few dozen meters away. In an unprecedented act of transparency, the reclusive nation allowed him to inspect locations across the Punggye-ri test site before and after it was reduced to rubble by explosives.

Along with the infrastructure at the site, which used to house workers and soldiers, the North Koreans collapsed four tunnels, one of which – Northern Tunnel No. 2 – recently endured five underground nuclear tests. According to Zhdanov, it looks the part, being the most battered out of the four. No journalists were allowed to enter since the tunnels were already rigged with explosives by the time the media arrived.

But even more significant is the demolition of the Western Tunnel – a bigger, newer underground system that has seen no nuclear tests at all. North Koreans on site told Zhdanov that its closure is meant as a demonstration of Pyongyang’s willingness to take the first steps in reconciling with Seoul and the rest of the world alike. Now, having rendered the nuke test site useless, the North expects the international community to meet it halfway.

That prospect is now weighing in the balance though, following US President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation of what was lining up to be an unprecedented summit with Kim Jong-un. Trump cited Kim’s “open hostility” for lashing out at Vice President Mike Pence’s suggestion of a “Libyan model” for North Korea. Libya surrendered its nuclear research materials to the US in 2003, and in 2011 its government was overthrown and its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was killed in a US-backed revolution.

Yet, North Korea says it’s still willing to talk to the US for the sake of “peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and mankind.”

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Open crematorium furnace sends human ashes up into California skies

By ethan / May 25, 2018

Foul-smelling black smoke was seen billowing from the doors and chimney of a crematorium in south San Diego County on Thursday. Firefighters who arrived at the scene found the oven’s door had not been shut.

Fire brigades responded to the alarm at the Cortez Family Crematorium near National City in southwestern San Diego County California, which went off around 12:15 pm local time. Fortunately, the building did not go up in flames, as heat sensors triggered extinguishers that sprinkled water all over the place.

The photos by KGTV, an ABC News affiliate in California, show firefighters entering the building filled with heavy smoke. Officials say that, contrary to the appropriate guidelines, the oven’s door at the facility was not properly sealed.

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© David Becker

Human remains were in the column of flames and ashes rising from the chimney, National City Fire Captain Brian Krebs said. The pillar of smoke reportedly moved towards a residential area where several shopping malls, including Walmart, are located. A crematorium employee, however, disputed the fire chief’s account of the events, telling 10News that the release of human ashes was impossible. He did not elaborate as to why.

There was no health hazard from the smoke, authorities assured. The incident caused a brief shutdown of the crematorium, which restarted operation on Thursday afternoon.

Last year, a crematorium in Cincinnati, Ohio, caught fire after the cremation of an “overly obese” body raised the temperature in one of the units due to the excessive heat created by a large amount of fat burning.

A similar incident in a crematorium in Richmond, Virginia, in 2014 took three fire crews to put out the blaze after an 800 pound (360 kg) body was put in the cremation oven.

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Explosion reported in Canadian city, multiple injuries – paramedics

By ethan / May 25, 2018

A reported explosion in Mississauga, a city in the Canadian province of Ontario, has injured at least eight people, local media report, citing paramedics. The cause of the blast is unclear so far.

Police say they received a call for “an incident” at 10:32 pm and have cordoned off the area. Local media report that there has been an explosion at an Indian restaurant in the central area of the city.

Paramedics, cited by local media, say the total number of injured people could be as high as 15 or 20. At least two of those were hospitalized in critical condition.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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Facebook & Twitter make political advertisers jump hoops with new restrictive policies

By ethan / May 25, 2018

Facebook and Twitter, under pressure from the US for allowing alleged “Russian meddling” in the 2016 election, will now require a convoluted registration process for anyone wanting to run political ads on their platforms.

Bruce Falck, the general manager of revenue product at Twitter, unveiled the new company policy for political ads in a blog post on Thursday. In line with its earlier pledge to tighten the screws on advertisers, Twitter is going to bar foreign nationals from targeting the US public with ads. In order to make sure that no third party outside the US attempts to influence the American political processes, Twitter will subject prospective advertisers, both individuals and entities, to a thorough vetting. The new guidelines require candidates, political action committees and all those registered with the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) to submit their FEC IDs to Twitter. Those who don’t have any must verify their location by sending a notarized form to the company. To ensure that the applicants are actually within the US, Twitter will then return letters to their registration addresses.

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© Thomas White

Moreover, the “profile photo, header photo, and website” of accounts used for advertising “must be consistent with its online presence and the Twitter bio must include a website that provides valid contact information.”

Only “certified” advertisers will be eligible to run ads on Twitter, Falck said. While the changes to the Twitter advertising policy will take effect in the summer, advertisers can already file for certification, he said.

Once the policy is fully enforced, anyone will be able to clearly discern political ads in user-generated content thanks to a mandatory disclaimer featuring the name of an individual or an organization paying for the ad. Moreover, if an ad is authorized by a candidate in a political race, it will also be shown in a tweet.

Back in October, Twitter announced it was setting up the ‘Transparency Center’ that would allow anyone to track the origins and see all background info on any ad currently running on Twitter. The center will be inaugurated later this summer, Falck announced.

The same set of measures has been introduced by Facebook as well. Rob Leathern, the director of Product Management at Facebook, wrot that identification and labelling policies similar to those touted by Twitter are taking effect on Facebook on Thursday.  Facebook will, from now on, store all political ads for seven years. The archive can be “reached by anyone in the world” through a link.

“When you click on the label, you’ll be taken to an archive with more information. For example, the campaign budget associated with an individual ad and how many people saw it – including their age, location and gender,” Leathern wrote.

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© redhumv

Notably, the new policy will apply to both political ads, designed to drum up support for a particular candidate or party, and to the so-called ‘issue-based’ ads. The latter pertains to any of the 20 “national issues of public importance,” the list of which was released by Facebook earlier in May. The topics listed range from abortion, crime, economy and the environment to foreign policy and terrorism. The move is seen to be prompted by the US intelligence community’s allegations that while Moscow did not seek to sway the 2016 elections in favor of either of the candidates, it wanted “sow discord” within American society by stirring up debate on “divisive issues.”

As Twitter and Facebook’s clampdown on so-called ‘Russian bots’ widens, the crusade has claimed some innocent victims. It was reported that Bulgarians, who, as well as Russians, write in Cyrillic, are increasingly falling victim to the purge for simply tweeting in their native language. The Verge reported earlier this week that many Bulgarian users have complained about having their accounts suspended, noting that the most likely explanation was Twitter’s ‘bot’ criteria, which states that even if there are no other signs that an account is linked to the Russian government, simply having a name written in Cyrillic is incriminating enough.

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N. Korea says it's still ready to talk to US 'at any time, in any way'

By ethan / May 25, 2018

The decision by US President Donald Trump to cancel the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is “not in line with the world’s wishes,” the government in Pyongyang has announced.

Kim has made the “utmost efforts” to hold a summit with Trump, said the North Korean first vice minister for foreign affairs, Kim Kye-gwan, according to the state news agency KCNA. The meeting between two leaders was scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

Pyongyang is “still willing to resolve issues with the United States,” the official said, holding onto the hope that the meeting could still be rescheduled.

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Donald Trump has canceled his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un

“Our goal and will to do everything for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and mankind remains unchanged, and we are always willing to give time and opportunity to the US side with an open mind,” Kim Kye-gwan said. “We reiterate to the US that there is a willingness to sit down at any time, in any way, to solve the problem.”

Trump canceled the planned summit on Thursday morning, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” in the most recent statement from North Korea, in a letter personally addressed to Kim Jong-un.

The announcement came just a few hours after North Korea destroyed its nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri.

Trump was referring to the statement by North Korea’s vice-foreign minister Choe Son-hui, who called Vice President Mike Pence a “political dummy” over his comparison of North Korea to Libya.

“I think I understand why that happened,” the US president said cryptically about North Korea’s change of tone. Earlier in the week, in a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump brought up Kim’s second trip to China as the point where rhetoric began to escalate, but he said he did not want to blame Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

North Korean officials took offense at the comparisons with Libya, first made by National Security Adviser John Bolton, pointing out that the North African country accepted the US’ offer to denuclearize in 2003, only to be subjected to a US-backed regime change and plunged into chaos in 2011.

Russia reacted to the summit’s cancellation with regret, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.

“We were very much anticipating a significant step to be taken to de-escalate the situation on the Korean Peninsula that would become the beginning of the process of denuclearization,” he said after talks with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, in St. Petersburg.

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‘They’re playing with world peace’: What next for US-North Korea relations?

By ethan / May 25, 2018

Could a barrage of missiles now come from North Korea? Has the opportunity to solve the nuclear threat in Korea been squandered? These questions are left unanswered after the US’ decision to cancel a summit with Kim Jong-un.

The US president’s shocking cancellation of the June summit – billed as an opportunity to bring North Korea in from the political wilderness – has pushed denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula back into unknown territory.

READ MORE: Trump cancels June summit with Kim, says ‘You talk about nukes, but ours are massive’

The dramatic diplomatic anticlimax came after a positive step saw North Korea blow up three nuclear tunnels and observation buildings at a test site in Punggye-ri. Trump cited the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed by North Korea’s government after they took umbrage at US Vice President Mike Pence’s suggestion that the country could become like Libya – politically and economically destitute with a deposed leader – if they don’t submit to denuclearization.

Libya Model gaffe

Jan Oberg, director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future research, believes Trump’s backroom staff are to blame for the sharp U-turn.

Oberg told RT.com that the ‘Libya model’ comments made by Pence gave an insight into the real thinking of some people in the White House. “[Pence] argued very solidly for a couple of things that anyone who wants peace should never have said at that moment. Namely that all options are still on the table, which is against the UN Charter. You cannot threaten countries like that.”

“There was also a comparison between North Korea’s possible fate and Libya’s. Now you don’t say things like that if you have any wish for peace, dialogue or negotiated solution. They are playing with world peace without asking anybody.”

He said that a ‘war cabinet’ behind Trump – including VP Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – have effectively taken the decision out of the president’s hands. “There are people in the American administration, foreign policy circles, who would like to have what they call a preemptive war. They don’t trust North Korea.”

Leaders attempting to preserve honor

Mark Almond, director of the Crisis Research Institute in the UK, said that the situation could still be rescued, but blamed the current situation on two nations not wanting to lose face.

“It could well have been the North Koreans, who had also of course been very belligerent in statements only a few hours ago, may have been wanting to test how desperate Donald Trump was for a summit to burnish his credentials,” Almond said.

“The North Koreans may have thought that Trump was under pressure to have at least one universally recognized foreign policy success, and Trump may not have wanted to be seen the weaker person desperate for the summit.”

Cancellation damages trust

The fallout is a “very bad development” for the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization in general, Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, told RT.com. Regarding the cancellation letter, he said the decision will not reflect well on the US, which has already strained relationships with allies by pulling out of the Iran deal.

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U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks  at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 24, 2018. © Kevin Lamarque

“A great country like the US needs to handle itself with a sense of responsibility. I don’t think history will record well how the US handled denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. The US should be urged to practice real statesmanship and real leadership in avoiding a deterioration of the situation.”

He told RT.com that the Trump administration’s lack of diplomacy could go down in history as a terrible mistake, and it calls the trustworthiness of the White House into question.

“[Trump’s decision] made it less easy to trust the real intention of the US and it also creates more difficulties for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and its leaders to really come to terms with any future decision to meet with the US president. I think it’s a major setback,” Gao said.

“I hope that Donald Trump will come to the conclusion that there is only one right thing to do as far as denuclearization is concerned, that is to do diplomacy, dialogue and negotiation, and never threaten to use nuclear weapons.”

He admitted that language used by both sides could well determine if the situation reverts back to what was seen last year, when highly inflammatory rhetoric from the two leaders threatened war in the area.

“Both the leaders of the DPRK and the US need to deal with this in a very serious way and need to avoid sending out wrong, confusing and conflicting messages. Denuclearization is probably one of the most important things for mankind, and no one should be allowed to deal with it in a capricious and highly unpredictable way,” Gao said.

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Watch North Korea destroy Punggye-ri nuclear testing site (VIDEO)

By ethan / May 25, 2018

The first video of the demolition of North Korea’s nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri shows tunnels in the mountainside being buried in rubble. The site was destroyed ahead of a planned summit in Singapore, now canceled by the US.

The three operational tunnels at the site were demolished along with the accompanying structures, according to the RT correspondents invited to witness the event.

North Korea had conducted six nuclear tests at the site. The demolition was meant to demonstrate Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization after the April summit between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the demilitarized zone separating the divided peninsula.

Just hours after the demolition, US President Donald Trump canceled the summit with Kim, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, citing the “tremendous anger and open hostility” in a recent statement by North Korean diplomats.

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Bye-bye Nobel Prize: US reacts to Trump-Kim summit cancellation

By ethan / May 25, 2018

With the abrupt cancellation of a much-vaunted summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, peace on the Korean peninsula has been postponed. So too has Trump’s shot a Nobel Peace Prize, it seems.

The suggestion that Donald Trump could win a Nobel Peace Prize was a laughable one last year, as he taunted Kim with nuclear threats and schoolyard insults, calling him “little rocket man” and “short and fat.”

The threats soon melted, though, and preparations for a meeting between the two leaders began this March. So historic was the detente that former US President Jimmy Carter declared just this week that if the summit were successful, Trump should be considered for the Nobel Prize.

All that changed on Thursday, however, as Trump cancelled the June 12 summit, blaming it on “tremendous anger and open hostility,” from the Kim regime.

Trump’s letter to Kim mostly lamented the missed opportunity for peace, but it also contained one barely-veiled threat: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

To some, the fact that Trump is now surely ruled out of contention for the Nobel came as a relief:

To others, like Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia), it was just another excuse to ridicule the president:

“I think it’s a good thing for Kim Jong Un,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in her weekly press conference. “He got global recognition and regard. When he got this letter from the president saying ‘OK, never mind’…he must be having a giggle fit right there in North Korea.”

Pelosi’s fellow Democrats all expressed their dismay at the cancellation and their disapproval at Trump’s handling of the whole situation.

To some Republicans, however, pulling out was the right thing to do in the face of Kim’s recent wavering commitment and tough-guy posturing.

“Kim Jong Un is a murderous despot and habitual liar,” said Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse. “The President made the right call to cancel this summit. If North Korea wants diplomacy, it should know that half-measures and spin about its nuclear program won’t cut it.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) took a shot at Kim, misspelling the North Korean leader’s name, and called Trump’s withdrawal “100% the right decision.”

In his letter to Kim, Trump left the door open to potential talks in the future, asking Kim to “call me or write,” if he changes his mind. For now, though, peace is off the table.

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