China reaches the moon; English farmers fight subsidy cuts; Snooping on staff casts shadow on Ikea; Teens leave Facebook as adults march in





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1 China reaches the moon (Louise Watt in San Francisco Chronicle) China’s first moon rover has touched the lunar surface and left deep traces on its loose soil, state media reported Sunday, several hours after the country successfully carried out the world’s first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades. The 140-kilogram “Jade Rabbit” rover separated from the much larger landing vehicle early Sunday, around seven hours after the unmanned Chang’e 3 space probe touched down on a fairly flat, Earth-facing part of the moon.

The six-wheeled rover will survey the moon’s geological structure and surface and look for natural resources for three months, while the lander will carry out scientific explorations at the landing site for one year. The mission marks the next stage in an ambitious space program that aims to eventually put a Chinese astronaut on the moon. China’s space program is an enormous source of pride for the country, the third to carry out a lunar soft landing — which does not damage the craft and the equipment it carries — after the US and the former Soviet Union. The last one was by the Soviet Union in 1976.

China’s military-backed space program has made methodical progress in a relatively short time, although it lags far behind the US and Russia in technology and experience. China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third nation after Russia and the US to achieve manned space travel independently. In 2006, it sent its first probe to the moon. China plans to open a space station around 2020 and send an astronaut to the moon after that.

2 English farmers fight subsidy cuts (Roger Harrabin on BBC) Farmers’ leaders have urged ministers not to bring in plans to cut subsidies by 15% and transfer cash to wildlife protection in England and Wales. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has written to every MP, saying the plan to share £3.5bn of farm grants would disadvantage British farmers. The NFU also warns MPs that going ahead with the move would risk rural votes. The government said the money would help to build on the “success” of its environmental and rural growth schemes.

Wildlife groups have used newspaper advertisements to urge the government to keep its countryside commitments. They also say votes are at stake as every household pays £400 a year to subsidise farmers – and people expect their money will be used to protect the environment, not just to shore up farmers’ budgets. In the summer, the EU set the framework for how the money should be spent with its scheme to “green” the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In England and Wales ministers have indicated a wish to shift the maximum allowable – 15% – away from direct payments to farmers – which is mostly for owning farmland. The money will go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy. The NFU letter to MPs says this is unfair to farmers in England and Wales because farmers elsewhere are being better protected. In Scotland the government has decided to shift 9.5% of subsidies away from direct payments.

3 Snooping on staff casts shadow on Ikea (Nicola Clark in The New York Times) A regional court in Versailles, near Paris, is now examining whether Ikea executives in France broke the law by ordering personal investigations over the course of a decade. A review of the court records indicates that Ikea’s investigations were conducted for various reasons, including the vetting of job applicants, efforts to build cases against employees accused of wrongdoing, and even attempts to undermine the arguments of consumers bringing complaints against the company.

The going rate charged by the private investigators was 80 to 180 euros, or $110 to $247, per inquiry, court documents show. Between 2002 and 2012, the finance department of Ikea France approved more than €475,000 in invoices from investigators. The case has caused public outrage in France, not only because of the company’s large consumer following in this country but because the spying cases occurred in a country that, in the digital age, has elevated privacy to a level nearly equal to the national trinity of Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité.

So far, there have been no accusations that such surveillance occurred in any of the other 42 countries in which Ikea operates, and it remains unclear why the French Ikea unit is purported to have engaged in it so extensively. Very little of the surveillance yielded information Ikea was able to use against the targets of the data sweeps. But court documents indicate that investigators suspect that Ikea may have occasionally used knowledge of personal information to quell workplace grievances or to prompt a resignation.

“It is hard to conceive that this kind of thing happens in a democratic society like France,” said Sofiane Hakiki, a lawyer representing several unions that have filed civil complaints against Ikea in the affair. “This is not Soviet Russia.”

4 Teens leave Facebook as adults march in (Georgie Stone in Sydney Morning Herald) The ”get my parents off Facebook” and ”OMG my grandma has Facebook” pages are a thing of the past as people over the age of 30 become the social networking site’s largest user demographic.

In what is described as the ”Levi’s Effect”, social media expert Michael McQueen said teenagers were abandoning Facebook for other social networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. ”Levi jeans were a cool, young brand – until parents started wearing them – and the same thing has happened with Facebook,” Mr McQueen said. In 2012, Facebook was the primary social networking site for teenagers but this year Twitter has overtaken that position. Now, only 23 per cent of Australian teenagers consider Facebook as the most important social networking source.

”The older generation began signing up in 2010 and, originally, a lot of these users were parents who wanted to spy on their kids,” he said. ”But now they are reconnecting with old school friends and people who live overseas and they have caught the Facebook bug.” A survey conducted by Princess Cruises found 32 per cent of parents aged over 50 shared their travel stories and photos through Facebook and only 28 per cent still sent postcards.

When CFO David Ebersman said Facebook was seeing a slight decrease in usage by younger teens, roughly $18 billion was wiped off the company’s market value. All experts agree that Facebook will need to find new ways to reinvent itself to encourage use across all age demographics.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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