November 17th, 2011
08:56 AM ET

Ai Weiwei: Every sentence I say is monitored

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has posted images of himself holding tax documents online, to attest to his innocence of charges of tax evasion. Ai has published the pictures on his Google + page, despite the fact that the Google site is blocked in China.

Chinese authorities say Ai's company Fake Cultural Development Ltd. owes $2.3 million in back taxes, and have threatened to jail his wife – as the legal representative of the company – if the amount is not settled.

The artist paid $1.3 million towards the disputed bill into a tax bureau account this week. The payment allows him to continue to fight accusations of 'economic crimes' that have been leveled at him by the Chinese government.

Ai's tax bill caused outrage among some Chinese netizens and inspired an online movement to raise the cash. Some 30,000 contributors donated money to the artist.

Ai Weiwei told News Stream he plans to challenge the rest of the charges against him, but is not optimistic about winning his legal appeal.

He spoke to us from a park near to his house in Beijing, and admitted his movements are under constant scrutiny.

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Filed under: China • General • Social networking
October 25th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

The Art of iPhone Photography

Taking pictures like these – of Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong – may take extraordinary creativity, but these days they can be taken with a very ordinary device. FULL POST

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Filed under: Gadgets • General • Technology
October 18th, 2011
05:00 PM ET

Prisoner Exchange: Gilad Shalit's Transformation

With his release from captivity came some of the first pictures of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit that the world had seen in years. Here, he is seen saluting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his arrival at the Tel Nof air base. He looks thin and pale, but otherwise well.

Shalit was only 19 years old when a group of Palestinian militants tunneled into Israel, attacked his army outpost, and took him hostage. That was in 2006.

Looking back at those few images we did have of Gilad Shalit before his release, it's clear captivity can take its toll on a person. FULL POST

August 22nd, 2011
02:54 PM ET

Arab Unrest: The Times They Are A-Changin'

With Moammar Gadhafi's future increasingly uncertain, this photo - taken in Libya less than one year ago - is a symbol of how quickly the Middle East and North Africa has changed since the Arab unrest first took hold in January.

Colonel Gadhafi is seen posing with three of the ten major leaders of the region in 2010, and very friendly they look too. To his far left is Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose ousting in January began the so-called "Arab Spring". To Gadhafi's immediate left is Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who was badly injured in an assassination attempt in June. He has yet to return to his country after leaving for treatment in Saudi Arabia. Then to Gadhafi's right, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who fled Cairo in February after his people staged a revolution in 18 days.

It is a fascinating snapshot of a very different time in the Middle East as the world waits to see what the future holds for Libya.

Remember, you can stay up to date with the very latest developments in Libya on the CNN.com "Just In" live blog.

July 7th, 2011
10:16 PM ET

Harry Potter and the Decade-long Obsession

Before I have even written a word, there it is, laid out for all to see, in that picture: I am a huge Harry Potter geek.

I am one of those fans who pre-ordered the books and stayed up all night to finish them so no-one could spoil the ending for me. I have seen all of the films on their opening weekends, even taken days off work to see them on opening night, and I have seen most of the movies more than once in the cinema. But there is more. I have hung out in the crowd of not one, but two of the London premieres, snapping pictures of the stars. I own all the DVDs (including double copies of some) and yes, this weekend I am hosting a Potter viewing party.

So, as you may well imagine, this month's release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" is both a source of great excitement and gloom for me.

Why? Well, because to quote the tagline of that film for all you Muggles out there, "It all ends here." The final instalment of a film franchise that has clocked up more than a thousand minutes of screen time and over $6.3 billion at the box-office to date premieres on July 7th, and is released worldwide on July 15th. Four years have already passed since the last in JK Rowling's best-selling series of books was published, and with the author swearing she has no more books in the pipeline, this is the end of an era for fans of Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hogwarts.

But before regaling you with how the wizarding world has become nothing short of an obsession, I have a confession to make.


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Filed under: General • Personal musings
June 23rd, 2011
02:41 PM ET

Accio Pottermore!

Pottermore.com preview

Hold onto your wizard's hats Harry Potter fans, Hogwarts creator JK Rowling has unveiled a new project: Pottermore.

The author kept geeks like me guessing for a week what the website could hold, all the while taunting us with a countdown clock on YouTube populated by an increasing number of animated owls. Rumors were rampant across the web: could it be a new book? An encyclopedia of the wizarding world? A video game? The Pottermore teaser webpage – bearing nothing but a title, JK Rowling's signature and the words "Coming Soon" – racked up a million hits within 36 hours of its launch.

Then the countdown clock stopped, the website was revealed, and a video message from Rowling herself appeared. FULL POST

June 21st, 2011
02:29 PM ET

Wimbledon's Marathon Men

There is nothing quite like Wimbledon. The world's most famous tennis tournament is quintessentially British, aside from the sporting action, it is an excellent excuse for eating strawberries and cream, drinking Pimm's and having a picnic on Henman Hill/Murray Mount.

Last year, it also provided an unprecedented and unforgettable spectacle: an 11-hour, 5-minute marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. The match stretched over three days before John Isner finally won 70-68 in a fifth set that lasted for 138 games and was longer in duration than any other complete match in the history of tennis. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

If you have as much difficulty as I do in processing a match that long, let me help you out. The match lasted longer than:

  • A flight from London to Los Angeles (10 hours, 10 minutes)
  • The entire first season of Mad Men (10 hours, 19 minutes)
  • The time football World Cup Champions Spain spent playing in the entire 2010 tournament, minus injury time (11 hours)

Sadly, Isner and Mahut did not quite make it to our next milestone: the length of time it takes to watch the entire extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (11 hours, 48 minutes).

No wonder then, that the gruelling combat between two previously unheralded players had become a global phenomenon long before it had come to a close, making front-page news and trending on Twitter around the world.

Then came the re-match on the longest day of 2011. How appropriate...


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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Sport
May 18th, 2011
12:14 PM ET

Residing on Rikers Island

IMF director general Dominique Strauss-Kahn stands before judge Melissa Jackson in Manhattan Criminal Court.

If the name of the IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's current home rings a bell with you, chances are you've heard it on the TV or radio.

Rikers Island is best known as the home of suspects pending trial or convicts serving short sentences and as such it features regularly in New York-based police dramas such as NBC's "Law and Order." It even has its own page on the show's wiki. In many ways Strauss-Kahn's arrest could be straight out of an episode of "Law and Order: SVU," the strand of the show that portrays detectives investigating "sexually based offenses". Sadly, this is real life.

It was real too for rapper Lil' Wayne when he did time on Rikers Island in 2010 on a gun charge. His album "I Am Not A Human Being" was released while he was in solitary confinement, and he even recorded a verse over the phone for the Drake/Jay-Z single "Light Up." The "Rikers Remix" did the rounds online.

Rikers Island, where IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held.

Lil' Wayne is just one of many artists to have referenced Rikers Island in their lyrics. Recent Eminem/D12 collaboration "Going Crazy" describes a "tour bus look like Rikers Island." Meanwhile, if Kool G. Rap's lyrics are anything to go by, Dominique Strauss-Kahn may have a rough time in store at the jail:

"...you might have been robbin', you might have been whylin'/ But you won't be smilin' on Rikers island. / Just to hear the name it makes your spine tingle/ This is a jungle where the murderers mingle/ This ain't a place that's crowded but there's room for you/ Whether you're white or you're black, you'll be black and blue..."

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of sexual abuse and rape, and is currently residing in one of Rikers Island's 3.35 x 4 meter cells. On Tuesday we heard that the man whom many refer to as DSK was placed on suicide watch at Rikers Island, but that is a common procedure in high-profile cases. Strauss-Kahn is expected to be left largely alone between now and his next appearance in court on Friday.

CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin says a second application for bail will be the top priority. "There is no question that this Friday the defense will reapply for bail," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper 360. "They're going to try to come up with a situation that is palatable for the prosecution and the court so that he is no longer being held at Rikers Island. That may include $1 million to $2 million bail, or an ankle monitoring bracelet."

As the Grand Jury convenes, the world will be watching.

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Filed under: General
May 17th, 2011
05:21 PM ET

Big Mac Milestone

If you are the sort of person who counts calories, and watches what you eat, this might not be the blog for you. This is the story of one man, three decades, and tens of thousands of Big Macs.

Don Gorske has eaten 25,000 Big Macs

Today (May 17 2011), Don Gorske, a middle-aged American from Wisconsin, will bite into his 25,000th McDonald's Big Mac. Yes, that's 25,000 of the 540 calorie, double pattie, triple bun burgers. And what's more, he has a receipt for every single one of them.

Don eats a couple of Big Macs per day, every day of the week. He even has spares stashed in the freezer for emergencies. Yet recently, he's been on a diet (of sorts). He's slashed his Big Mac intake to one per day. Why? So that he can hit his Big Mac milestone today, exactly 39 years (to the hour) that he first locked lips around a McDonald's patty.

News Stream ordered 25 Big Macs, just 1,000th of Don Gorske's lifetime intake.

Just one Big Mac is more than a meal for me, and even the more meat-loving members of the News Stream team could only stomach a couple, so as well as chowing down on the 25 burgers we ordered this afternoon we helped ourselves to a side-order of number-crunching to make Don's achievement a little more palatable.

  • Don Gorske has eaten around five-and-a-half thousand kilograms of Big Macs.
  • That's a whopping 13-and-half million calories.
  • He's also consumed 725 kilos of fat just from Big Macs, yet remarkably his cholesterol levels are fine! (156mg/dL in case you were wondering).

In 2008, Guinness verified that Don had eaten the most Big Macs ever, at the time just 23,000. Imagine, at his current rate of consumption if he lives until the age of 86 he'll have eaten 40,000. Now that's something for him to chew over.

January 6th, 2011
03:20 PM ET

Vanity Hair

Getty Images

I want to start by clearing one thing up. On Thursday's News Stream Kristie may have uttered the words "News Stream favorite" in conjunction with pint-sized pop star Justin Bieber. The clarification goes something like this: by "favorite" we meant someone whose Twitter antics cause us to raise our eyebrows, roll our eyes, and who we like to poke a little fun at (all in a good-natured way of course).

The thing is, Bieber - the boy, the micro-blogging phenomenon, the floppy hair - seems to be cropping up with alarming regularity on our program. Take Wednesday's "Over and Out There" segment for example. We were discussing the Twitter phenomenon #lessambitiousmovies, but how did we do it? By saying it was trending higher than Justin Bieber!

So today, there I was, prepping for our daily editorial meeting and guess which CNN blog caught my eye: Justin Bieber's New Year's resolutions. What could the boy-who-has-everything possibly wish for in 2011, I thought. Well apparently he has big plans. "This year, I mean, I hope that I win a Grammy, 'cause I'm up for two", the teen idol told MTV News.

So to the end of Thursday's News Stream. Our "Over and Out There" focused on a magazine that hits news-stands in New York today. The February edition of "Vanity Fair" contains an explosive portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, complete with allegations of backroom bickering and legal wrangles.

But of course nobody is talking about that...because look who's on the front cover:

From Vanity Fair

Yes, you guessed it, Justin Bieber.

He's now sweet sixteen, but from this image he would be lying if he said he has never been kissed (well that, and the rumors circulating about the time he's spending with Disney favorite Selena Gomez).

It will shock few of you I'm sure to discover that the Canadian singer considers himself to be extraordinary; he told Vanity Fair that he is not a normal teenager. Just one of the quotes we pulled out of the interview may give you something of that impression: "I'm crazy, I'm nuts". It seems Justin's also got quite a high opinion of his personal appearance, telling readers that it is not his music, but his looks that make him irresistible to girls. "I'm not trying to be arrogant...but maybe I'm good-looking, right?" he asks. Well, I leave that up to you to decide...

And so we return to another of the pop star's New Year's resolutions, and one that could have Bieber fans in floods of tears. Justin has threatened to chop his mop-top!

Is the world ready for a balder Bieber? Will he, like Samson, lose his strength when his luscious locks are cut? Only time will tell.

Moreover, could this mean the end of News Stream's love-hate relationship with Justin Bieber? In the words of the teen star himself, "never say never". With six million followers on Twitter, his online presence is sometimes difficult to ignore (even if I wish I had never laid eyes on his bare-chested profile picture).

For the record, my New Year's resolution is simply this: henceforth to leave the all mention of Justin to the "Beliebers" or even "True Beliebers". Or maybe just News Stream writer Nicol.

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