Empire State of Mind? Paris Approves of Controversial New Skyscraper
Jul09

Empire State of Mind? Paris Approves of Controversial New Skyscraper

It seems as though the City of Lights will soon look more like the Big Apple. At least, that’s the concern many Parisians share after the Paris City Council on Tuesday approved plans for a 42-story skyscraper in the 15th arrondissement, close to the Eiffel Tower. The Independent reports that the Tour Triangle (or “Triangle Tower”) will be the first skyscraper built in the city since the 59-story Tour Montparnasse was built in the early 1970s. Paris is known for its low-level architecture. Outside of the Eiffel Tower, there are very few buildings in Paris that are considered formidable by modern standards. The Tour First, the second tallest building in Paris, is 758 feet high — a modest height compared to the buildings of other major international cities such as New York and Beijing. To put it in perspective, the Empire State Building is 1454 feet tall, close to twice the height of the Tour First and still taller than the Eiffel Tower, which is only 986 feet, and yet is just the third largest tower in New York. In contrast, the Tour Triangle, just 590 feet tall, has caused controversy in Paris since initial plans were revealed in 2008. Many Parisians are proud of the fact that the city’s skyline is unsullied by tall buildings and want to keep it that way. Herzog and de Meuron, the building’s architects, have had to battle against public opinion as well as an initial city council vote in November 2014 in which the plans were rejected. According to the Swiss architecture firm, the tower will contain a four-star hotel, a restaurant (just one of 8,000 restaurants in Paris), a sky bar, and more than 750,000 square feet of office space and will create up to 5,000 new jobs. The building will have a sleek, modern design mostly composed of glass. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is a supporter of the building, having dismissed last November’s vote as trivial and rife with inter-party squabbles. Right after Tuesday’s vote outcome was announced, she tweeted that she was “proud and happy that Triangle could be born in...

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Let Them Eat Health Food: Health Food Chinese Company Takes 6,400 Employees to France For Vacation
Jun04

Let Them Eat Health Food: Health Food Chinese Company Takes 6,400 Employees to France For Vacation

During the first week of May, Paris catered to what could be considered one of the largest tourist groups in modern history. The New York Times reports that far from a modest company outing, more than 6,400 employees of the Chinese multinational conglomerate the Tiens Group enjoyed a four-day vacation in France and Monaco — fully funded by the company’s multi-billionaire founder, Li Jinyuan. Wearing identical blue t-shirts and hats, the employees traveled to Paris, Nice, and Cote d’Azur, among other places, courtesy of Jinyuan. The employees made the journey to France from the company’s headquarters in Tianjin (which is roughly 90 miles south of Beijing) by flying on 84 jets. They occupied more than 200 hotels (sometimes putting them at full capacity) and used dozens of trains to travel throughout France and Monaco. The massive vacation was meant to celebrate the Tiens Group’s 20th anniversary. About 75% of the company’s workforce was present at the trip. The vacation was so large that the head of research at the Paris Tourism Office, Thomas Deschamps, labeled it an “industrial-size event.” He estimated that the business spent $13.5 million or so on lodging, transportation, food, and shopping. Deschamps, who works for a city that generated $17 billion in tourism revenue last year, was more than pleased. “It is clear that visits such as these are good for France,” Deschamps said. “It shows that Paris has the know-how to host big business conferences, even as it was a challenge to receive and host them all at the same time.” However, not everyone was happy with the trip, especially certain observers in China. Tao Duanfang, a contributor to theBeijing News, considered the vacation little more than a sly, “Maoist-style” propaganda spectacle meant to encourage the Chinese to make more money, which is seemingly contrary to the principles of the communist state. “This definitely wasn’t just a rest or a holiday,” Duanfang said, “but a ‘work trip’ or a ‘struggle,'” referring to a common Chinese political term. The Tiens Group is a direct-sales company that focuses on making health care appliances, skin care and household products, and health food. It also owns a university and a medical research lab in China. Selling to consumers in over 190 countries, the company hopes to expand into France. The vacation also was responsible for a Guinness world record for the longest human-formed phrase visible from the sky. When the tourists reached Nice, they formed a giant human chain that spelled out “Tiens’ Dream is Nice in the Cote d’Azur” on the...

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Luxurious Bungalow-Style Beach House Up For Sale on Mexico’s Pacific Coast
May13

Luxurious Bungalow-Style Beach House Up For Sale on Mexico’s Pacific Coast

On Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, a gorgeous, $1.5 million beach house recently went up for sale. The New York Times reports that the four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home is situated in a gated, beachfront community called Los Naranjos, or “Orange Trees.” Near Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca, the house is more like a string of thatch-roofed bungalows that circle a central courtyard rather than a traditional rectangular house. “It’s very Asian, Balinese-style,” said Brett Radmin, an owner and managing director of Puerto Real Estate, the company that listed the property. The house is part of a group of five similarly designed houses that together are known as Seis Olas, or “Six Waves.” The house features a plethora of luxurious features and amenities. The main bungalow alone is larger than many New York City apartments, and it boasts double front doors, a breakfast bar, pendant lights made from coconut tree fibers, and wooden floors throughout. The screen doors from the living and dining rooms lead to a large open courtyard with a pool, walkways, bridges, lily ponds, lounge chairs, and a “bedlike swing.” The walkways lead to the grassy lawn, the community pool, and the magnificent beach. A tennis court is set to open soon. The kitchen is fully equipped and features granite countertops, ceramic tiles, and a state-of-the-art refrigerator. It is adjacent to a shaded, outdoor dining table. Each of the four bedrooms is its own mini bungalow surrounding the courtyard. They all include travertine flooring and a bathroom with shower and bath, though the master bedroom has its own terrace and travertine tub. Travertine, a form of limestone, is a popular construction material for luxury properties. The United States’s demand for travertine alone weighs in at about 0.85 million tons every year. Though the fully equipped house (including Wi-Fi, satellite, full utilities) is available for rent at $600-$700 a night, Puerto Real Estate hopes to sell it...

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San Francisco Luxury Commute Bus Company Neglects To Provide Access for Commuters in Wheelchairs
Apr21

San Francisco Luxury Commute Bus Company Neglects To Provide Access for Commuters in Wheelchairs

The San Francisco-based luxury coach bus company Leap set itself apart from the country’s competing 3,400 motor coach companies when it started offering luxury amenities, like cold-pressed juice and USB ports, to its passengers for their daily commute. The company has been offering its $6-per-ride tickets for less than a month, but according to the latest reports, the bus company already hit a roadbump. According to a complaint recently filed with the Department of Justice, Leap purposely neglected to make its buses handicap-accessible for passengers in wheelchairs. According to local news publication SFist, neglecting to provide any wheelchair-accessible transportation options puts Leap in violation of public transport laws designated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Furthermore, it appears that Leap made modifications to the original style of their buses (which were purchased through an auction house from the Riverside Transit Agency) in order to remove wheelchair accessibility — and include leather armchairs and bar-style seating options. According to the SFist, “the buses’ manufacturer, North American Bus Industries, confirmed that the purchased and resold models originally came equipped with a wheelchair ramp and interior wheelchair space.” Chris Pangilian, 32, was the man behind the initial complaint, and is also the former transportation engineer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Pangilian recently relocated to New York City to work for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but having suffered from cerebral palsy, he has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life and has taken offense to Leap’s blatant disregard of San Francisco’s wheelchair-bound population (and its disregard of federal law). “This is a step backwards,” Pangilian said. “If they had put up a sign that said ‘no whites’ or something like that, there would be national outrage. This is the same kind of violation. There just aren’t as many people affected.” The section of the ADA that Leap is violating, the San Francisco Chronicle states, requires that both private and public transportation companies make vehicles and facilities “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” However, it appears that Leap may have found a loophole: the Chronicle notes that although the ADA includes “wide-ranging civil rights laws passed in 1990 to prevent discrimination against disabled people,” it does not specifically state that the laws apply to used vehicles. Since Leap bought all four of its buses secondhand, the company may be able to avoid legal penalties — for now. “Not only did they [Leap] fail to maintain accessibility features, as they are legally required to do, they took them out,” said Marilyn Golden, a policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. “To remove the...

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North Carolina Highways to Get Signs Marking Car Charging Locations
Dec16

North Carolina Highways to Get Signs Marking Car Charging Locations

As more people look to save money on gas while helping out the environment, the electric car is becoming an increasingly popular choice for Americans looking for their next vehicle. However, many who buy an electric car have trouble figuring out where the nearest car changing station is located — which is why the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) is now working to put up highway signs marking the locations of its more than 120 electric vehicle charging stations. According to the Triangle Business Journal, the NCDOT was initially hesitant to agree to the plan, feeling that there weren’t enough electric vehicle drivers in the state, but eventually approved of including signage at each charging station once hearing of the statewide demand for these signs. “We helped them understand that it was a trend that was here to stay, and that the changes we were proposing were changes that they already had the authority to make,” Marcy Bauer, the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center’s Clean Transportation Project Coordinator, told the Triangle Business Journal. Already, NCDOT has made edits to its Highway 1 sign for the “green” McDonald’s in Cary, to notify drivers that the restaurant has a charging station for their electric cars. According to Bauer, more signs indicating the locations of nearby charging stations at shopping centers and restaurants should follow throughout the state. According to the Triangle Business Journal, it takes about eight hours to charge a Nissan Leaf, and about four hours to charge a Chevrolet Volt. As a result, these charging stations aren’t intended for full charges, but rather for topping off electric vehicles’ batteries to get a little further down the road. With electric vehicles’ popularity among the eco-friendly crowd not slowing anytime soon, it’s probable that other states will soon follow North Carolina’s lead with highway signs to mark the nearest spots where people can top up the charge on their cars, at the same time they that refuel with a meal or cup of...

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Flight to Beijing Disrupted by Child Custody Dispute
Sep21

Flight to Beijing Disrupted by Child Custody Dispute

On Thursday, September 4, a United Airlines flight bound for Beijing returned to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. While most returned flights are caused by mechanical problems or even unruly passengers, this detour was caused by an international incident in the making: a mother was believed to be taking her child out of the country without the knowledge of his father, who shares joint custody. United Airlines Flight 897 took off at 12:20 p.m, but received a request from the FBI to return to Dulles when they reached Canadian airspace. The 180 passengers aboard the flight were reportedly told that the plane was experiencing a mechanical problem. It wasn’t until the Boeing 777 landed in Washington five hours after its initial departure that the pilot announced the true reason for their delayed trip. Three individuals were then removed from the plane: Wenjing Liu, also known as Linda Liu, her four year old son, and her mother. The FBI arrested Liu, her son was returned to his father, and her mother was not detained. Liu and her former spouse, William J. Ruifrok III, were awarded joint custody of their son after divorcing in 2013. The child was born in China and is a dual U.S.-Chinese citizen. However, Liu and Ruifrok’s 2014 custody does not allow either parent to travel outside the U.S. without written and notarized consent of the other party before the trip. In a country where an estimated 46,523 divorces are filed each week, this condition is fairly common. Accordingly, taking or attempting to take a child out of the country to obstruct a parent’s custodial rights is considered a federal offense in the U.S. After being removed from the flight, Liu admitted to law enforcement officials that she had violated the custody order by failing to get Ruifrok’s consent. She appeared in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday, September 5 and again on Monday, September 8 for a bond hearing. Meanwhile, Flight 897 was allowed to depart for Beijing again at 7:47 pm. Similar international parental custody disagreements have gathered worldwide attention and caused significant difficulty: for example, David Goldman had to negotiate for five years to have his son, Sean, returned to his custody the United States after his then-wife took him to Brazil in 2009 and refused to return. These custody disputes, which are legally considered kidnappings, can be made even more complicated if one or both countries involved are not signatories of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction. Seventy countries, including the United States, have signed the Hague Convention, but the regulation only...

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