November 30th, 2010
08:04 PM ET

Can Spanish football catch up to the Premier League?

Like countless football fans around the world, the highlight of my Monday was watching the Clasico: Barcelona versus Real Madrid, two of the biggest clubs in world football going head to head. (Or perhaps just the best football club in the world... and Real Madrid.)

Unlike countless fans, I had to wait until 4 a.m. for kick-off ... because I live in Hong Kong.

I am the reason Real Madrid president Florentino Perez signs players like Zidane, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo: I'm an Asian fan passionate about European football, eager to support a club in a far-off town as if it were my own, and happy to spend my money on all the shirts, shorts, balls and related merchandise that clubs mass-produce.

There's just one problem for Mr. Perez. My heart belongs to the English Premier League's Liverpool. And I'm not alone.

The EPL is the world's most-watched league. And it pulls in the most revenue by some distance. This despite the defection of its brightest star Ronaldo to La Liga in 2009, despite last season's faltering performances by English clubs in Europe and despite England's woeful showing at this year's World Cup – a tournament, you may remember, won by Spain.

There are plenty of other reasons for the Premier League's popularity over La Liga. I've heard arguments as varied as a greater parity of teams in the Premier League to the proliferation of English expatriates in Asia serving as walking advocates for their local clubs. But it's difficult to see past the simple fact that it is harder to watch Spanish football in Asia than its English rival.

English matches generally kick off at either 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. in Hong Kong, which is late but not too troublesome in a society geared towards late nights like this one. There's also at least two fixtures each week that can begin as early as 7:30 p.m. – and last week's early kick-offs were matches involving Arsenal and Chelsea.

Compare that to La Liga, where Real Madrid and Barcelona are almost always assigned to the late matches, and rarely begin before 3 a.m. This is Perez's problem. What's the point in parading the world's best (and most marketable) players when a vast audience cannot watch them live?

There are plans to change that. Atletico Madrid have reportedly become the first Spanish club to request early kick-offs with the intention of grabbing an Asian audience. This would be a remarkable change for a country famous for the afternoon siesta, and an interesting turning point in globalization – the point where the demands of a potentially massive foreign audience trump the tastes of the loyal locals.

Whether that will be enough to wrest Asian eyeballs and dollars away from the English Premier League and to La Liga remains to be seen. But as I face the prospect of another bleary-eyed day at the office tomorrow, it's a change that I would certainly welcome.

November 29th, 2010
10:08 AM ET

Japan's Suicide Epidemic

An average of 30,000 Japanese people take their own lives every year. Today, News Stream examines the role the internet is playing in this challenging national issue.

While web discussion boards have attracted their share of criticism for 'promoting' suicide online, another phenomenon has emerged that is more shocking still – live suicide streaming. A recent case in Japan has made international headlines, and today's edition of News Stream looks at the webcast that drew an audience of more than 4000.

We also examine the hidden side of the country's suicide epidemic – a remote forest in the shadow of Mount Fuji where up to one hundred people go each year to take their own lives. The sign above is one of a number in the Aokigahara woodlands that ask troubled individuals to consider the effects of their actions.

You can read more about Japan's 'suicide forest' on CNN.com. And click here to see the work of New York company VBS.TV – a sobering examination of the chosen final destination for scores of troubled souls.

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Filed under: General
November 26th, 2010
08:06 AM ET

The Gentleman's Game

This week, we celebrate/bewail the return of The Ashes, the Anglo-Aussie cricket extravaganza that delights and distresses people in apparently equal measure. Within the News Stream Dream Team, cricket is one of a small number of topics that prove particularly divisive. (Nicolas Cage and outer space are among the others.)

It’s not divisive in terms of who we support. It’s divisive in terms of its very existence.

Let me count myself out of the debate. Why? I’ll give you two reasons:

  • I am Scottish
  • Even by Scotland’s exceptionally low standards, my cricket prowess and enthusiasm are lamentable

I should note that Scotland has had at least one cricketing ‘success’, a man named Mike Denness who captained England on 19 occasions. I use the word ‘success’ hesitantly, if only because ‘Friend-of-the-Show’ Jimmy Wales features the following anecdote on the mighty Wikipedia:

Once while in Australia, Denness received an envelope that had been sent with the address "Mike Denness, cricketer". The letter inside read, "Should this reach you, the post office clearly thinks more of your ability than I do."


The Good

Let’s start with cricket’s positives, provided by show scribe Jonathan Stayton and producer Ally Barnard.

Jonathan told us he likes cricket because of its simplicity. Unfortunately, he went on to offer a 180-word report on its simplicity, which even by my own flowery standards is excessive.

Therefore, in News Stream style, we decided to put Jonathan’s epic explanation in a word cloud. (For those who are unfamiliar, this shows us which words were used most often and attempts to make sense of them visually). Here is the (not-in-any-way-manipulated) result:

They are the actual words. Honest.

Jonathan also offered the following plus points:

  • There are few games where such a degree of skill is needed, and where a solitary mistake is punished so decisively
  • Almost until the last minute, more often than not, any outcome remains a possibility
  • It's a real "gentleman's game". Everyone gets smashed together after the match, or – if you're not playing – before, during and after

Gentlemanly indeed.

Ally’s passion for the bat-and-ball behemoth has rather grander origins. She was introduced to the sport by a chap called Angus Fraser, who played in 46 Test matches for England (even though he too sounds like a Scot). Here is her case for the defense:

  • There’s no loutish behavior at cricket matches – but England’s ‘Barmy Army’ (trumpets and all) are the most entertaining fans in the world
  • It has some geek appeal – complete with math and science. Unlike football, cricket requires a strategic mind. It’s a ‘brainy’ sport
  • No other sport can combine such a leisurely pace at some points – and such a sense of urgency at others

The Bad

This 'sense of urgency' is sadly lost on some of us. We will every cricket match to end – even though we know deep down there’s probably about a month and a half left to go.

If there is one group less inclined to give cricket the benefit of the doubt than the Scots, it’s the Americans. We have two such individuals  in our midst and the contributor to this blog will remain nameless. Here are the comments that preceded that request:

  • Cricket... You mean the wimpy version of baseball that's named after a bug?
  • Let's see, you made it easy by using a flat bat instead of a round one. And then you made it rrrreeeeeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy long to compensate?
  • Any sport with a tea break deserves to be mocked. The end.

Sadly, for those of us who want to tell cricket to, er, stick it, we’re out of luck. There are still four tests – and, oh yes, one and a half months – of the Ashes still to go. We’ll bring you all the details – from the ever-enthusiastic World Sport team – as the series progresses.

November 25th, 2010
12:05 PM ET

Will it deter or provoke North Korea?


The USS George Washington is America’s massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. And it’s on its way to the Yellow Sea, not far from the site of Tuesday’s deadly clash between North and South Korea.

The carrier is heading toward the south of Yeonpyeong Island for long-planned U.S.-South Korea joint exercises that are set to start in the coming days.

The North Koreans have already denounced the upcoming drill, saying that the North will launch an additional attack on South Korea if it continues “reckless military provocation.”  North Korea indirectly referred to the planned U.S.-South Korea military drill as an example of provocation.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN that the drills are “meant to send a very strong signal of deterrence and also work with our very close allies in South Korea.”

“We’re very focused on restraint – not letting this thing get out of control,” Mullen said.

But the Chinese don’t see it that way. 

The North Korean ally expressed “concern” over the exercises.  The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced, "We oppose any act that undermines peace and stability on the peninsula.”

So will the military exercises deter or provoke?  The world awaits Pyongyang’s response… as the USS George Washington makes its way to South Korea.

November 23rd, 2010
08:09 PM ET

Why I Use Foursquare

I do a lot of geeky things. And I often find myself having to defend the geeky things I do. But I honestly can't think of anything I've had to justify more often than Foursquare.

Foursquare, for the unaware, is a social network based around places. Going for coffee? Find the coffee shop in Foursquare's mobile app, "check in" to say you're there, and your friends can see where you are. Check in to a certain venue often enough and you will be awarded the title of Mayor of that place.

What I love about Foursquare is how it taps into the Web's hottest new trend: The wisdom of friends. There's a reason it feels like almost every website (including this one) has a section for recommendations from your Facebook friends. Quite simply, we listen to our friends.

I can download plenty of iPhone apps that offer informed opinions on the best restaurants in town. But Foursquare tells me where my friends like to go. And I'm sorry Zagat, but I trust my friends more than I trust you.

Still, I hear you cry: How can anyone be bothered? In an age where we've got Twitter to update and Facebook photos to upload, do we need another social network to have to deal with? And do we really need to tell our friends where we are every five minutes?

This is the genius of Foursquare: They've turned social networking into a game. And I've said before how much I like games.

Every time you check into a place, you get points. The more places you go in a day, the more bonus points you get. Going somewhere for the first time? You get extra points for that. Adding a venue that isn't in Foursquare's database? That's worth extra points too! Foursquare has leaderboards to compare your weekly points tally with your friends and stoke the fires of competition. Gimmicky? Maybe. But extremely effective.

Still, I hear the critics cry that it's a waste of time. Some even say it's a social network for stalkers. I can't think of a social network that I've had to defend as much as Foursquare. I almost feel like I'm justifying keeping a page on MySpace.

(Just kidding. Nothing can possibly justify that.)

November 23rd, 2010
03:31 PM ET

What is Pyongyang thinking?

Our top story tonight... South Korea says two soldiers were killed after the North attacked Yeonpyeong Island.

Seoul's international allies quickly condemned the North's actions. Beijing appealed for calm. But how did Pyongyang respond?

The North Korean news agency, KCNA, warned of "merciless military counteractions" if South Korea intrudes "even 0.001 mm" into its waters.

Here's the full statement on the KCNA website. Prepare for a colorful read.

November 22nd, 2010
01:39 PM ET

Heaven's Above: that is one big statue!

Polish town consecrates giant statue of Jesus

If I asked you to think of a giant statue of Jesus, I bet your mind would jump to Rio de Janeiro and the towering "Christ the Redeemer" that stands high on a mountain over the city.

But the town of Swiebodzin in western Poland is hoping to change all that.

This Sunday, thousands of pilgrims flocked there for the consecration of a statue they hope will be Brazil's famous religious icon.

The Polish creation stands 33 meters tall; that's one meter for every year of Jesus' life. Then you can add on an extra two meters for its golden crown and the mound it sits on. That brings its total height to a potentially record-breaking 52.5 meters.

Now, as you know, here at News Stream, we're all about visualisation. So we wanted to know how the Swiebodzin statue measures up to other effigies of religious figures:

  • As I mentioned, Rio's "Christ the Redeemer" is one to beat. It stands 39 meters tall and was voted one of the "new wonders of the world" in an online poll.
  • The "Cristo de la Concordia" in Bolivia is even bigger at 40.4 meters.
  • The "Giant Buddha of Leshan" in China's Sichuan province may not be free-standing (it's carved into a cliff-face) but it still comes out as the tallest stone buddha in the world, at 71 meters.
  • The world's largest statue of Lord Shiva measures up at nearly 20 meters, and you can find it in Bangalore, India.

There's no doubt that all of them cut an impressive sight.

But at least in Poland, such a large-scale religious icon has caused controversy; underlining the deep divide between a deeply Catholic population and an increasingly confident secular society - with many people mocking the project as "tacky".

All I can say is "Heaven's Above, that's one big statue".

I'm sure I'm not the only one amazed by the ingenuity and innovation required to build a statue that big.

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Filed under: General
November 19th, 2010
01:19 PM ET

From a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Artist's impression of exo-planet HIP 13044 B: a planet from another galaxy. From European Southern Observatory.

It's not often I get to write a story that involves "cosmic cannibalism" - in fact before today, I had never written a story like that. But times change, and intergalactic discoveries are made.

Okay, so in these days of hyper-science the discovery of yet another planet orbiting yet another star may not be anything out of the ordinary. Unless, of course, the planet and the star come from a galaxy far, far away.

The rather unromantically named HIP 13044 B is the first planet to be discovered in the milky way...that was born outside of our galaxy. The extra-galactic exo-planet (I love all this space speak!) was spotted by scientists at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. It's 20% bigger than Jupiter and orbits a dying star that first got devoured by our galaxy six to nine-billion years ago. Yes, that' s where the "cosmic cannibalism" comes in.

What makes the newly discovered planetary pairing so fascinating to scientists - and to space geeks like me - is that the star is burning up, meaning exo-planet HIP 13044 B may soon become an ex-planet, engulfed by its host star.  That gives us all tantalising clues about the future of our own solar system.

Given that the planet is some 2,000 light-years away from Earth, it gives the phrase "distance-learning" a whole new meaning.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
November 19th, 2010
11:08 AM ET

Twitter goes after Beijing

First Google's exit from China over censorhip, and now this. The CEO of Twitter berates Beijing for sentencing a woman to a year in a labor camp for a retweet.

Dick Costolo chided China... via Twitter.

November 19th, 2010
09:17 AM ET

Over and Out There

An enjoyable aspect of working on News Stream (among many!) is the daily challenge of finding a quirky story to round off the show. “Over and Out There” is our attempt to have a laugh or to look at a key news item in a different light.

At each show meeting, the team comes armed with story suggestions – and inspired ideas as to how we should tell each tale. But what makes a good “Over and Out There”? Obviously, there are no strict rules, but looking at the two weeks of News Stream to date, there are definitely some recurring themes.

But we’d like to know what tickles your fancy. What – apart from beasts and big shots – makes you laugh when you read the day’s news? Please leave you comments below – or you can drop the team a line via Twitter.






We aim to entertain, as well as inform!

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