Monday, August 31, 2009

Nearly News

Disney to buy Marvel in $4bn deal

Marvel comic character Spider-Man
Disney is acquiring a batch of new characters

Source: BBC News

Entertainment giant Walt Disney is to buy Marvel Entertainment in a shares and cash deal valued at $4bn (£2.5bn).

The deal means Disney will take over ownership of 5,000 Marvel characters, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men.

Marvel shareholders will get $30 per share in cash plus 0.745 Disney shares for every Marvel share owned.

The boards of Disney and Marvel have both approved the deal, which now needs the backing of Marvel shareholders and competition authorities.

Marvel shares were ahead $10.17, or 26%, to $48.82 shortly after the market opened. Disney shares fell 47 cents, or 1.8%, to $26.37.

'Great assets'

"We believe that adding Marvel to Disney's unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation," Disney president and chief executive Robert Iger said.

"We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney."

Other Marvel's characters include Captain America, the Fantastic Four and Thor.

"Disney is the perfect home for Marvel's fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses," said Marvel chief executive Ike Perlmutter.

"This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney's tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world," he added.

'Good deal'

Arvind Bhatia, an analyst at Sterne, Agee and Leach, said that the deal appeared to be a "win-win situation for both companies".

"They [Marvel shareholders] are getting a good deal in my opinion. The CEO of the company, Isaac Perlmutter, is also the largest shareholder of the company.

"From that standpoint, we think the chances of this deal going through are pretty high."

Last month, Walt Disney reported a fall in profits of more than a quarter as the downturn hit revenue at its film and theme park divisions.

Net profit between April and June came in at $954m (£579m), down 26% on the $1.28bn the entertainment giant made in the same period last year.

Revenues of $8.6bn were down 7% from the $9.2bn recorded a year before.

my response: well that's kind of a bummer. i think part of marvel movies appeal was that the films were sort of independent. it's like disney can track the trends for the wannabe hipsters but they don't quite understand the thinking that drives the movement for the real thing. i just hate to see such an iconic company get slaughtered in such a disgraceful way. i guess it was bound to happen someday. i wonder if that's going to make the value of the classics shoot through the roof. i'm thinking i should go stock up.

UN tackles climate change effects

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

Flooding in Japan 10.8.09
Experts say climate change will lead to more natural disasters

Officials from UN member states are gathering in Geneva for a five-day conference on climate change.

The World Climate Conference will look at ways to help countries cope with the effects of climate change, such as an increase in floods and drought.

The conference aims to create a global framework to ensure early warnings for tsunamis and hurricanes reach everyone.

It also aims to ensure that farmers in remote African regions know about impending droughts and floods.

This conference will not discuss cutting fossil fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions - things environmentalists say are essential if we are to slow down global warming, but which governments have so far found very hard to do.

Instead it will look at how to help countries cope with more floods, droughts and landslides already being caused by climate change.

Many developing countries lack proper information about what to expect.

The more difficult negotiations on a new treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gases will have to wait for the Copenhagen summit this December.

But whatever the outcome of that summit, the coping mechanisms being planned in Geneva are essential, scientists say, because many effects of climate change are already happening.

my response: i don't quite understand the intent of what this conference is supposed to achieve. are they developing a plan for emergency response, or are they working on initiatives that can be feasibly implemented to reverse the process right now, like creating ecology jobs to restore the biodiversity in the hardest hit regions. because those would be intelligent solutions, to fix the problem rather than sitting around anticipating the creation of new ones, although i do see the value in having a standard emergency plan. the un is not going to be able to stop consumption, but there is plenty they could do in terms of conservation, and ecological restoration. we just need to start taking the environments we live in more seriously like we would with preserving a dying culture or endangered species. is that bad, that home has now become an endangered species? i'm just surprised at how many people don't understand the gravity of that situation. it's kind of disillusioning. maybe they should integrate pep talks about how to keep people motivated to continue to work on the issue. i wonder why they didn't disclose more of their agenda to the press.

Passing car killed crash survivor

Patrick Gilheaney
Patrick Gilheaney drove the stolen car from England

A passenger was thrown from a stolen car after a 100mph crash - then was knocked down and killed by another vehicle as he tried to get to his feet.

Source: BBC News

Two drivers admitted their parts in the death of Derek Maxwell when they appeared at the High Court in Glasgow.

Patrick Gilheaney, 27, from Lancashire, admitted stealing a car and two charges of dangerous driving last August.

Allan Edmunds, 53, from Skye, admitted causing the 36-year-old's death by careless driving on the A87 on Skye.

Edmunds, of Breakish, Skye, also admitted attempting to pervert the course of justice by hiding his car and buying equipment to cut it up.

Judge Lord Brailsford deferred sentence on both men until later this month at the High Court in Edinburgh.

He allowed Edmunds bail and remanded Gilheaney, from Rossendale, Lancashire, in custody.

The court heard that on 24 August learner driver Gilheaney drove from the north of England to Skye in a stolen car with his friend Mr Maxwell.

He accepts without question responsibility for the death because of the manner of his driving
Graham Robertson
Gilheaney's defence counsel

Gilheaney was on the wrong side of the road travelling at 100mph when he crashed into another car on the Invergarry to Uig road.

Mr Maxwell was thrown out of a car window by the impact.

As he tried to get up he was struck by boat builder Mr Edmunds' 4x4, which was travelling in the opposite direction. Mr Maxwell died instantly.

Mr Edmunds then hid his vehicle in nearby Kinloch Woods and travelled to Inverness to buy equipment to cut up and dispose of it.

He also bought a bike so that he could cycle back to the woods.

The court heard that Gilheaney was more than three times the drink drive limit when breathalysed.

Drove on

When he was questioned by police at the crash scene he told them: "It's my fault. I've killed him."

The court was told that Edmunds was aware of having been in a collision as one of his tyres was punctured, but despite this he drove on.

Graham Robertson, defence counsel for Gilheaney, said: "My client regarded Mr Maxwell like a brother.

"He accepts without question responsibility for the death because of the manner of his driving."

Solicitor Advocate Richard Goddard, representing Edmunds, said his client was a respectable businessman.

Mr Goddard said: "He was not aware he had struck a person.

"When he did realise the next day he became consumed with panic. He has shown genuine remorse for what he did."

my response: i normally don't read or post articles like this, but it kind of raised a few philosophical questions for me, and it kind of made me glad that i have the ability to think for myself. when i saw the headline, the mental image i got was of someone like a plane crash victim getting hit by a mack truck or something, but i knew that was kind of over the top, so i went on ahead and read the article. the leading sentence of the article leads me to believe he jumped out of the car, (or was pushed and did like a tuck and roll) and got hit trying to orient himself. but reading the details tells a much different story. I just hope this wasn't one of those terrible karmic tales where the guy was aware of what he was associating with and this was just a consequence of him not listening to his inner guide (particularly if this was a first time for him). i want to put a positive spin on it and think that perhaps he was unaware of the other stuff and his only fault was taking a drunk ride home from the bar with someone he didn't know well enough, but i think we all know that wasn't the case. it sounded like the driver wasn't very discreet about his dealings, and unfortunately they both made poor choices which one of them is going to have to live with for the rest of his life. i only hope that the last thing that went through his mind was a sense of relief and the resolution to never do anything like that again.

Dalai Lama sees Taiwan storm area

Exiled Tibetan leader Dalai Lama (R) prays in Hsiaolin
The Dalai Lama led prayers in the devastated village of Hsiaolin

The Dalai Lama is visiting the typhoon-hit areas of southern Taiwan on a tour that China has warned will hurt its recent rapprochement with Taipei.

Source: BBC News

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader's first stop was Hsiaolin, a village where at least 424 people died in a mudslide caused by Typhoon Morakot.

The Dalai Lama knelt on the ground above the former farming village, and prayed for those that perished.

China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist seeking Tibet independence.

It also sees Taiwan as a renegade province but had been pursuing closer economic ties with Taipei following the election of President Ma Ying-jeou.

The Dalai Lama denied he had any political agenda.

"I'm a monk. I was asked to say prayers for peace," he said late on Sunday after arriving in Taiwan from India. "There is no politics. This is humanitarian in nature."

'Oppose this'

Shortly after the Dalai Lama's arrival, the Chinese government issued its second stern criticism of the trip.

"The Dalai Lama's visit to Taiwan is bound to have a negative influence on relations between the mainland and Taiwan," a spokesman for the cabinet-level Taiwan Affairs Office said in comments quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency.

"We resolutely oppose this, and our position is firm and clear. We will keep a close eye on the situation," the spokesman said.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou approved the visit after his government was accused of offering a slow and inefficient response to the typhoon.

At least 571 people were killed, with another 106 missing and feared dead.

The Dalai Lama is expected to lead a mass prayer and address the island's Buddhist followers during his five-day visit.

my response: i adore the dalai lama, but i do not envy his position. i'm glad that he remained committed to the tenets to ease the suffering of sentient beings. the chinese government will just have to get over it. it would be better though if they'd learn to be more conscientious of their consumption patterns. i love how the people who are the quickest to criticize do the least to help.

China 'unfairly seen as eco-villain'

Bill Bleisch
Source: BBC News
William Bleisch

China's rapid economic expansion in recent years has been matched by its increasingly voracious appetite for energy and natural resources, says William Bleisch. But, as he explains in this week's Green Room, the nation has sometimes been unfairly portrayed as the world's biggest environmental villain.

Pandas (Image: AP)
China has also made dramatic strides in protecting the best examples of natural habitats in nature reserves and other protected areas

As early as 1995, Lester Brown, one of the world's leading environmentalists, predicted that China's increasing demand for food and other commodities would soon drive world prices to record highs.

If the figures were alarming then, they have only grown more so as China's prosperity has increased its global reach and purchasing power.

Cries of alarm have come from more and more people, as China's demand for everything from oil to hardwood timber has been blamed for global price rises.

The increasing affluence of Chinese consumers and their new-found ability to travel the world means that far more of them have the opportunity and the means to purchase tiger skins, ivory and rhinoceros horn.

And as the nation's energy and mining industries have ventured beyond the nation's borders, they have turned out to be every bit as rapacious and unethical as western companies can be; perhaps more so, since they do not have to answer to an open press and domestic outrage.

Growing appetite

The impacts of China's affluence are being felt downstream as well, in the form of greenhouse gases emissions.

Chinese coal miners (Image: AP)
China has huge reserves of fossil fuels, such as coal

CO2 emissions from China are increasing faster than from any other country in the world.

In 1990, it already accounted for some 10.5% of the world's CO2 emissions. Now, according to some analyses, China has become the world's largest emitter of climate-altering gases.

The backlash has been predictable. China's exemption from caps on greenhouse gas emissions was one of the major reasons why the US Senate unanimously rejected the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

It was a powerful justification for the Bush administration's stance on Kyoto.

The politicians believed that US efforts would be pointless if China's emissions continued to grow.

But are the criticisms entirely fair? First, markets and emissions must be considered relative to China's enormous population and fairly recent emergence as a newly industrialised nation.

China's population of 1.3 billion is about four times larger than that of the US, but each Chinese citizen uses about 25% of the energy consumed by his or her US counterpart.

Even that measure is skewed, because much of that energy used in China is to manufacture goods that are then purchased by Americans, Europeans and Japanese.

The current rates of emissions also hide the fact that the industrialised western nations (including Japan) have been belching out CO2 far longer than China, which only reached newly industrialised status in the 1990s.

Exotic tastes

China certainly deserves criticism for its impacts on other areas of the environment.

Chinese consumers have a large and growing appetite for exotic medicines that has directly led to dozens of species in China and throughout the world becoming endangered.

Its citizens are still responsible for consumption of staggering amounts of wildlife and threatened timber products, some illegally smuggled from as far away as Indonesia and Zimbabwe.

In 2008, several US states moved to ban turtle trapping on public lands, and 12 more US turtle species have been proposed for the endangered species list - all because of the impact of trade to China.

Seized tiger skins (Getty Images)
Illegal wildlife products have largely disappeared from shops and markets in much of China, as enforcement of wildlife laws has become clearer and more effective

But even with regard to trade in wildlife, the story is hardly as simple as it is often portrayed.

China signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) and put it into force in 1981, passing legislation soon after to back up the treaty.

In many areas, the government has made dramatic strides in controlling wildlife trade over the past 20 years, even as demand has sky-rocketed due to consumers' new affluence.

Illegal wildlife products have largely disappeared from shops and markets in much of China, as enforcement of wildlife laws has become clearer and more effective.

Gone are the days when tiger bone wine could be openly advertised, and monkeys and wild caught parrots were openly sold in markets.

The tiger brand plasters found in every Chinese pharmacy contain no tiger, and the tiger and leopard skins sold to foolish westerners at many tourist traps are actually just poorly dyed dog skins.

Chinese consumers seeking to stock up on threatened wildlife must now travel to neighbouring countries, where unscrupulous local dealers still feel safe offering them a multitude of products, both fake and real.

China has also made dramatic strides in protecting the best examples of natural habitats in nature reserves and other protected areas.

More than 15% of the nation's land area is legally protected in thousands of nature reserves and national parks, and most national reserves now have full-time staff that carry out regular patrols.

The proposal and approval of the enormous Giant Panda Sanctuary World Heritage Natural Site in the Sichuan Qionglai Mountains is just one of the most recent examples of China's political will and dedication to protecting world natural heritage.

This is essential, since the rapid pace of development means that natural ecosystems outside protected areas are under increasing threat from the relentless search for more land and resources.

Controlling the breakneck development has proved to be difficult or impossible for many regions, but a new law on Environmental Impact Assessments, which became effective in September 2003, has been praised as a model of good legislation.

It includes provisions to increase protection for critical habitats and protected areas. There is still a major gap between policy and implementation, but it may not be long before the "Three Simultaneous Commencements" (the start of permit application, the start of the environmental impact assessment and the start of digging) becomes a thing of the past, at least in the country's more progressive regions.

Team effort

China has made impressive efforts to rise to standards set by the international community, but the efforts have not always been good enough to stem the tide in the face of massive and growing pressures.

Dried river bed, China (Getty Images)
China has experienced a number of environmental disasters recently

It can be argued that none of this will mean much if China's greenhouse gas emissions cause climate disasters to habitats and species throughout the world.

But here too, China has responded to global needs.

It signed the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1998 and ratified the Protocol in 2002, something that the US failed to do.

More importantly, it made emissions reduction a national policy in 2005, when the nation's 11th Five-Year Plan (for 2006 to 2010) set a target of reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20%.

The EU gave itself a similar target, but has until 2020 to achieve it; US plans are less ambitious still.

Given the pattern of exaggeration and over-statement often seen in the international press, it is little wonder that strident international criticism just seems to be dismissed as sour grapes by most people in China.

Is it time, as many Chinese critics argue, for westerners to back off and tend to their own houses?

Perhaps. But isn't it the responsibility of all, both producer nations and consumer nations, to work together to solve problems such as depletion of ocean fisheries and over-exploitation of threatened species?

We might hope that at least global climate change is so much of a clear and present danger that, for once, countries could put aside their differences and act together to find a workable solution, perhaps based on the seemingly fair standard of a "climate change allocation" for each person on the planet.

China should respond to critics by providing clear answers detailing what is being done to solve real problems. And that is not "China-bashing"; the same could be said of every fully industrialised nation.

Global problems demand global accountability; and that creates a responsibility of each of us to point out when policy and implementation are failing, and to help each nation rise to the needs.

Dr William Bleisch is science director of the China Exploration & Research Society

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with William Bleisch? Is China being unfairly portrayed as an environmental villain by the international media? Is the Chinese government leading the way when it comes to matching words with action? Or is the nation's consumption of resources unsustainable at its current levels?

my response: It's so easy to make China the villain, when really uneducated consumers are to blame. until we are more conscientious of our expenditures and how our simplest choices impact the world (yes, the world) in a big way and make the lifestyle adjustments necessary to protect it, we are essentially the constructors of our own demise.


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