Uber launches ‘urgent’ harassment investigation

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP): Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick has announced an “urgent investigation” at the ride-sharing company after a former employee wrote a blog post.

“What’s described here is abhorrent (and) against everything we believe in. Anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired,” Kalanick said on Twitter.

“I’ve instructed our (Chief Human Resources Officer) Liane Hornsey to conduct an urgent investigation. There can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber.”

Susan Fowler, an engineer who worked at Uber until the end of last year, said her manager made sexual advances shortly after she joined the company at the end of 2015.

She said she complained to more senior managers and the company’s human resources department, but was told that it was the man’s “first offense” and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing a “high performer.”

Fowler said she was given the choice of joining another team, or staying in her position with the possibility of receiving a poor performance review from her manager.

Other the next few months, Fowler said she met other women engineers at the company who said they had also experienced similar harassment, including alleged inappropriate behavior from her previous manager.

After lodging various complaints of what she considered inappropriate behavior, Fowler said she was told by her manager that she was “on thin ice” for reporting his boss to human resources.

The HR department, meanwhile, told her that she might be the problem, not the men she was reporting.

Fowler said she was blocked for a transfer and given a negative performance review without justification.

She now works at Stripe, a company that helps businesses handle online and mobile payments.

The Uber case is likely to revive debates over sexism in male-dominated Silicon Valley.

In 2015, a California jury rejected charges of gender discrimination against a prominent venture capital firm in a case seen as a proxy trial of Silicon Valley sex bias.

Ellen Pao had sued Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB), saying she was fired after complaining about bias at the firm that notably backed Amazon, Facebook and Google.














China names and shames cities over smog controls

BEIJING (Reuters): China’s environment ministry has named and shamed several cities in the north of the country for not doing enough to cope with smog, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Large parts of northern China have been blanketed in choking smog this winter, defying repeated government efforts to tackle the problem.

Pollution alerts are common in northern China, especially during bitterly cold winters when energy demand, much of it met by coal, soars.

The ministry’s inspection of 18 cities in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province found several problems in their smog response, including inadequate planning and poor implementation of policies, Xinhua said late on Sunday.

Hebei’s Cangzhou city was criticised for failing to draw up a detailed list for business shutdowns on heavily polluted days, which made it hard to achieve a reduction in emissions, the report said.

Jiaozuo city did not begin traffic controls taking vehicles off the road when the city went on red alert for pollution, while Baoding city was well behind in upgrade coal-fired boilers to make emissions cleaner, it added.

China is in the third year of a war on pollution aimed at reversing the damage done to its skies, soil and water after decades of untrammelled economic growth. But measures taken so far have had little or no effect.




Special birthday dinner from Dutch king

THE HAGUE(AFP): Is your birthday on April 27? Do you celebrate a special birthday this year? Do you live in The Netherlands? If so, His Majesty King Willem-Alexander would like to invite you to dinner.

The royal palace announced on Monday that to celebrate his 50th birthday this year, the popular king will invite 150 people to dine with him and his wife, Queen Maxima, at their palace in Amsterdam.

A special website has been set up at www.WA50.nl for those hoping to win an invitation, and the lucky 150 guests will be chosen in a lottery on March 3.

The draw is open only to those who share the king's birthday, live in The Netherlands, are over 20 and who are celebrating a "jubilee year" -- a birthday which is divisible by five, the palace said in a statement.

In a specially filmed message, the king, seated at a beautifully laid table laden with cut-glass and vases brimming with tulips, says "one of these 150 seats could be for you. My wife and I are looking forward to it."

The regal dinner will be held on April 28 -- so you can still celebrate your special day with family and friends.

After the dinner, the palace on Dam Square, Amsterdam, will be open to the public for free for 50 hours.

April 27 is an official holiday in The Netherlands to mark the king's birthday, and hundreds of thousands of Dutch don orange clothes and turn out for street festivities.

The first King's Day was held in April 2014, after Willem-Alexander ascended to the throne when queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son. He became the first Dutch king in more than 120 years.




Ice-locked ship to drift over North Pole

BOSTON (BBC): It is being billed as the biggest single Arctic research expedition ever planned.

Germany is going to sail its 120m-long research vessel, the Polarstern, into the sea-ice at the top of the world and just let it get stuck so it can drift across the north pole.

The 2,500km (1,550-mile) trip, to begin in 2019, is likely to take a year. Researchers hope to gather valuable new insights on the region where Earth’s climate is changing fastest. Last month the extent of Arctic sea-ice was the lowest ever recorded for a January (during the satellite era), with temperatures several degrees above the long-term average.

Prof Markus Rex will lead the so-called MOSAiC project:

“The decline of Arctic sea-ice is much faster than the climate models can reproduce and we need better climate models to make better predictions for the future.

“There is a potential that in a few decades the Arctic will be ice free in summer. That would be a different world and we need to know about that in advance; we need to know is that going to happen or will that not happen?

“Prof Rex outlined the plan for the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The German scientist, who is affiliated to the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, said the €63m (£54m; $67m) expedition was very nearly all funded, and would have key contributions from international partners.

Other European states, such as the UK, are involved - so too the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese.

The mission has echoes of the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s attempt in the 1890s to be the first person to reach the North Pole by drifting in a ship locked in ice.


A schooner called Tara also traversed the frozen ocean - from Siberian waters to the Fram Strait - in the same way a decade ago.

But the RV Polarstern is an enormous science platform and its list of tasks and goals dwarfs those of all previous efforts to work in the region.

“We’re bringing a vessel full with equipment: many, many measurement containers and remote sensing in-situ instruments,” Prof Rex said.

“We’ll take water, ice and air samples. And we’ll set up camps on the sea-ice close to the Polarstern and others up to 20-30km away. And the whole set-up will drift across the Arctic. That will give us a new and absolutely fascinating insight into the climate system.”