Rabu, 10 Desember 2014

Judge: Prosecutors Can Appeal Oscar Pistorius Verdict

Judge: Prosecutors Can Appeal Oscar Pistorius Verdict JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Oscar Pistorius again faces the possibility of a murder conviction after a South African judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors can appeal against the double-amputee Olympian's conviction on the lesser charge of culpable homicide.

The sensational case will go to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which will review the murder trial of Pistorius, who fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through the closed door of a toilet cubicle on Valentine's Day last year. Judge Thokozile Masipa, who convicted Pistorius and sentenced him to five years in jail, acknowledged that chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel had raised legitimate "questions of law" that should be studied by the appeals court.

"This might have a practical effect" on the conviction, Masipa said.

"We note the finding of the court and abide by the ruling," Pistorius' family said in a statement.

Pistorius could face a minimum of 15 years in prison if the appeals court overturns the culpable homicide conviction and raises it to a murder conviction.

Under his current sentence, Pistorius could be released from prison and placed under house arrest after serving 10 months, or one-sixth of his sentence. It is unclear whether the appeals court will have ruled on his case within 10 months.

Nathi Mncube, the prosecution spokesman, said he hopes the appeal will be "expedited," but acknowledged that the process can take a long time.

"We're happy," Mncube told journalists.

The approval of an appeal represented a victory for South African prosecutors who had been disappointed that Pistorius was acquitted of murder.

In another disappointment for the state, British businessman Shrien Dewani left South Africa on Tuesday after being acquitted of the murder of his wife Anni during their honeymoon in Cape Town in 2010.

The appeals court has panels of three or five judges and does not meet again until Feb. 15, according to the website of the court, which is based in the South African city of Bloemfontein. Decisions are based on the opinion of a majority of judges.

"Witnesses do not appear before the court, and the parties need not be present during the hearing of an appeal. A written judgment is usually handed down shortly after the argument," the court's website says.

In arguing for an appeal, the prosecution said Judge Masipa incorrectly interpreted a legal principle. Under that principle, a person should be found guilty of murder if he foresaw the possibility of a person dying because of his actions, and went ahead with those actions anyway.

While approving an appeal against her own verdict, Masipa rejected the prosecution's argument for an appeal of the sentence for culpable homicide. Prosecutors had said it was too lenient.

In any case, if the appeals court finds Pistorius guilty of murder, the sentence would automatically be raised to match the severity of the crime.

Pistorius said he thought a dangerous intruder was in the house when he killed Steenkamp, a model and budding reality TV star; prosecutors allege he killed his girlfriend after an argument.

Pistorius' legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old because he was born without fibula bones due to a congenital defect. However, he grew up playing sports with prosthetics. The sight of Pistorius racing at the London Olympics on carbon-fiber blades was one of the enduring and inspirational images of the 2012 games.

Shop Your Way to Free Flights and Travel Perks

Shop Your Way to Free Flights and Travel Perks 2014-12-10-HuffPo_MAIN.jpg

TravelingOtter / Flickr

The holidays are an ideal time to rack up an abundance of frequent flier miles and hotel loyalty points, but not necessarily from all your trips back home. While traveling is still the best way to redeem your loyalty rewards, it's become one of the least efficient ways to earn them. The trick is to use online shopping portals -- especially now, when gift-giving season is in full swing.

Using portals is free, and can be done with minimal inconvenience, meaning you can score additional points and miles with just a few extra clicks.

See: 5 Ways to Earn Miles Without Flying

How do shopping portals work?

Almost every airline in the United States, and a number of hotel chains, have created their own shopping portal, such as American's AAdvantage eShopping mall, Marriott's ShopMyWay or even Amtrak Guest Rewards Points for Shopping. Banks have portals as well, but you usually have to hold a credit card at that bank to use its portal.

Shopping portals partner with select retailers, many of which are mainstream stores you've undoubtedly shopped at before like JCPenney, Staples and Walmart, to name a few. These merchants, which usually number in the hundreds, have agreed to award extra loyalty points to any member who uses the shopping portal to buy goods at their website. You get extra miles or points, while retailers enjoy extra traffic.

For instance, a store like Macy's might offer 3 extra miles per dollar spent at macys.com to members of the shopping portal. Depending on the retailer, these bonus miles can get incredibly generous, even as high as 30 points or miles per dollar.

So when you sit down at your computer to do your online holiday shopping, your first step should be to sign into a shopping portal. On the portal home page, you'll find a list of featured merchants and a search function to find others. All these merchants are offering extra miles for purchases, so if you find a portal merchant that sells what you're looking for, it's just a matter of clicking on that merchant at the portal first.

That click takes you to the retailer's normal website, which looks just like it would if you navigated there directly. From there, you can buy your items as you normally would, but the portal will automatically track your purchase and award extra miles based on the amount you spend.

Which portal is the best?

Each portal has agreements with different merchants, so you won't always find the same merchants on every portal. Also, the number of extra miles offered by any given retailer fluctuates over time, sometimes daily. Even two portals with the same merchant might offer different mile-per-dollar amounts.

So with all the payouts changing daily, how can you keep track of which portal offers the best return at any given store?

A number of "portal finder" sites, such as CashbackHolic.com, Cashback Monitor and evreward.com, can assist with that task. Not only do these sites track the ongoing payouts from travel-based shopping portals, but they also report on cash-back portals like ShopDiscover and Upromise. These types of sites can also be an excellent way to find lists of all the available shopping portals. And since it's completely free to join a shopping portal, there's no reason not to sign up for all of them.

And remember: For airline and hotel shopping portals, you're not required to pay for your purchases with a co-branded credit card. That means you can easily go through a portal like Delta SkyMiles Shopping, charge your purchases to any credit card, and still get extra SkyMiles on top of your usual credit card rewards.

See: Are Frequent Flier Programs a Fool's Game?

Why now?

The incentive for shopping with a portal right now is twofold. Since you're spending more, you're also earning more. And since shopping portals routinely offer limited-time holiday bonuses, you have the chance to reap even more rewards.

For example, in recent weeks the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping portal offered an extra 300 Rapid Rewards points for every $175 spent at its portal. This was in addition to the extra miles offered by each merchant.

Sometimes these holiday bonuses are targeted specifically to existing portal members, so when you sign up for a portal, remember to opt in for e-mails so you're in the know about the best bonus offers.

What about brick-and-mortar stores?

If you're shopping offline, using an online portal would seem to be out of the question. However, there are two tricks you can use to get bonuses even when you want to get your items in store.

One alternative is to do your shopping online and select in-store pick-up at the end of the transaction -- an option that a substantial number of brick-and-mortar stores offer. For instance, if you wanted to buy items at a Target store near you, you could use a shopping portal to go to Target.com, choose your items, select in-store pick-up at checkout, and then get in the car and head over to Target to retrieve your purchase.

When it's necessary to actually be in the store while shopping, such as when you might want to try on clothes, there's a trick for that, too. In this case, you need to find a retailer that allows shopping portal points to be earned on the purchase of store gift cards like Sears, for example.

Most portals specifically state they are eligible for rewards on the purchase of Sears gift cards. So if you wanted to buy $200 worth of clothes at Sears, you could go through a shopping portal to Sears.com, buy a $200 Sears gift card, and then use that gift card at a Sears store to pay for your purchases.

But remember: By using a gift card instead of a credit card, you're forfeiting any extended warranty offered by banks on credit card purchases. While that won't make a difference for clothing purchases, it might not be worth risking for major appliances.

Shopping portals are a fantastic way to accumulate travel points and an important tool for any loyalty program junkie. Before you set out on your holiday shopping this year, consider starting at a shopping portal.

See: Best Travel Rewards Programs of 2014-15

About the author: Julian Mark Kheel learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director. He takes a contrarian view on travel wisdom in his "Devil's Advocate" series every Thursday at the blog Travel Codex. You can also reach him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate.

Let This Grown Man Dancing In A Watermelon Outfit Make Your Day

Let This Grown Man Dancing In A Watermelon Outfit Make Your Day When the normal world needs a break from their daily work duties, people turn to a LOL-worthy cat video or an adorable baby blooper to brighten their midday slump. The art world, however, prefers the gentle touch of a grown man dancing in a watermelon outfit. Yes, we win.


Today's inexplicable nugget of goodness is brought to you by English musician Tom Rosenthal, and his new song titled, you guessed it, "Watermelon." The devoted team at It'sNiceThat kindly recorded the simple yet brilliant lyrics of the song:

"It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s watermelon time, I said boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. It’s a fruit-based love."

The deliciously strange video features an inspired fellow in a very round watermelon ensemble prancing his way across various fields, valleys and meadows. It's a fruit salad for the eyes and so much more.

Don't ask questions. Just watch and watch again.

Banning Drones Won't Solve the Problem

Banning Drones Won't Solve the Problem

The Federal Aviation Administration recently released a report detailing more than 190 safety incidents involving drones and commercial aircraft. In response, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has vowed to push legislation that would crack down on the commercial use of drones, also called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). India's Directorate General for Civil Aviation has already banned all use of drones in the country -- even for civilian purposes.

There are valid concerns that the proliferation of drones will endanger commercial flights and cause serious accidents. The U.S. military is rightfully worried that drones will be weaponized as killing machines and become autonomous flying IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that target a specific individual by means of facial recognition.

Banning commercial drone use will not solve these problems; it will just give us a false sense of comfort and kick the can further down the road.

About two years ago, I wrote a Washington Post column in which I argued that we need to prepare ourselves for the "drone age." It isn't just the United States that is developing drone capabilities; governments and DIYers all over the world are doing the same, particularly the Chinese. This isn't all bad; there are many good uses for drone technologies.

To start with, there isn't yet a clear consensus on what a drone is. Is it something that flies and is remote controlled? If that is the case, should the FAA also ban remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters that hobbyists have flown happily and relatively safely for many years? The drone encounter that Senator Feinstein cited in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing as a reason to regulate commercial drone flights was reportedlyjust a pink toy helicopter.

Then there is the practicability of enforcement. If the government should institute restrictions and penalties, who will enforce them? Will the police buy high-performance drones to shoot down illicit drones? Can we scramble the Air Force to blow a flock of $300 quadcopters out of the sky? Should we equip legions of young children with air rifles? Proposing laws without realistic hope of enforcement does nothing to solve the problems at hand.

Let's first acknowledge that drones will be common in our skies and that they will play an integral role in our economy and society. We know that drones are saving money and improving safety on many types of remote inspection such as that of distant pipelines and tall broadcast towers. Documentary filmmakers use drones to get aerial shots that are not affordable with a regular plane or helicopter. As well, start-ups like Matternet are pioneering the use of drones to deliver critical medical supplies to remote parts of the developing world. Drones could be used as long-haul cargo-delivery vehicles, allowing for more efficient point-to-point delivery of goods and materials. Then of course, companies such as Google and Amazon are developing drone delivery services that provide within-the-hour delivery of ordered goods--without putting any more traffic onto the streets or carbon into the skies.

So if we don't ban the drones, what can we do to prepare for them and weave their capabilities into a broader picture of economic development?

First, there needs to be a core technology framework for collision avoidance. This is no small problem. Even the best computer-vision algorithms struggle to navigate complex cityscapes. The vehicles in NASA's DARPA challenge weighed thousands of pounds and carried serious computational and sensor firepower. Yet they could barely navigate barren wastelands without flipping themselves over or running into a wall. So how will a drone the size of a shoebox carry enough intelligence to avoid hitting a building, a person, a car, a power line or, worst case, a commercial aircraft? It's a wonderful engineering challenge and worth the focus of some of our best minds.

Assuming we have collision-avoidance systems in place, how can we build a system of distributed air-traffic control for drones? It would obviously need to be computer-driven and automatic, and to include safety measures and emergency kill switches or other mechanisms to bring down a drone that is malfunctioning or poses a danger. We would need to plan for specific air corridors in city areas that are dedicated to drones and confine the drones to those places. Again, this is a huge engineering challenge, but not one that is insurmountable.

We also need to build private and commercial air-defense systems, just as the military is developing, to shield our schools, homes, and businesses from drone surveillance or attack. I wonder whether force fields such as we saw on Star Trek may become a practical reality.

Beyond the technical issues, we need to debate what is socially acceptable and to create legal frameworks. Should the cameras of delivery drones be recording and saving all video footage as they enter into the airspace of a customer's home? For that matter, should drones be allowed to fly over private property at all -- or should they be limited to public roads between droneports? Should we have the right to shoot down unauthorized drones on our property? If the Second Amendment grants the right of gun ownership to individuals for self-defense, then does it allow them to fly their own defensive drones?

These are issues we need to tackle -- and soon. The drones are coming, whether we are ready or not.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University.

The Best New Strong Female Characters Are The Weak Ones

The Best New Strong Female Characters Are The Weak Ones Back in June, I wrote about the problem of Trinity Syndrome: The phenomenon of bad-ass women movie characters who get intimidating introductions and impressive bona fides, but ultimately are only around to be broken down, sidelined, rescued, or won. But Trinity Syndrome is largely a summer problem, the province of action, genre, and blockbuster movies. The cooler winds of winter are bringing a wave of female-led movies and female characters in general who have their own form of strength, which looks peculiarly like weakness. Few of these women would last a single round in the ring with capable, aggressive Trinity Syndrome victims like The Lego Movie’s Wyldstyle, or How To Train Your Dragon 2’s Valka. None of them are necessarily physically powerful, good with guns or quips, or prone to handing male characters their heinies in a showdown. But their comparative vulnerability is what makes them interesting—and what drives their stories.