As Thais mourn king, black clothing booms

BANGKOK (AFP): Thailand’s government has warned of a national shortage of black clothing, which is flying off shelves as a distraught nation mourns beloved late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The commerce ministry also said it would work with manufacturers to ensure a stable supply of mourning wear while threatening stiff punishments for price-gouging by merchants. Thailand has been plunged into grief by the death on Thursday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned as a deeply revered god-like figure for 70 years. A range of public activities have been cancelled and television programming and nightlife has been ordered to tone it down for the next month out of respect. The directives have raised some concern that the economy would suffer, but sales of black clothing, at least, are booming. The commerce ministry’s director-general of internal trade Nuntawan Sakuntanaga has called on consumers to put off purchases of mourning wear until manufacturers can catch up with demand.

“The supply of black shirts may be low for a few days but garment manufacturers have insisted that there will not be a shortage, while they will quote prices as normal,” she said, according to The Nation.

Since the king’s death, black clothing was being sold at double the normal price in some cases, Nuntawan said.

Price-gougers could face fines of up to 140,000 baht ($3,900) and seven years in jail, she added.

Bhumibol was the only king most Thais have ever known, a father figure with an image of moral rectitude whose loss has profoundly touched millions in the country.

On Friday tens of thousands of his grieving subjects, many holding aloft portraits of the king, lined the route of a motorcade that bore his body to the royal palace in Bangkok from the hospital were he died at the age of 88.






Anyone can chat with the White

House... through a bot

WASHINGTON (AFP): It’s now easy to chat on Facebook Messenger with the White House - or more accurately through the presidential “bot” released by the Obama administration on Friday. The White House unveiled what was touted as “the first-ever government bot” on the messaging application - bringing the US government into the age of artificial intelligence. “Hi, it’s great to hear from you - and we’re excite to learn what’s on your mind,” the bot tells users signing up to chat.Users can send messages, 10 of which will be read each day by President Barack Obama, according to the White House.Jason Goldman, chief digital officer of the White House, said the new bot is another way for the public to communicate with the administration and the president.

“While receiving messages from the public isn’t a recent phenomenon - every day, the White House receives thousands of phone calls, physical letters, and submissions through our online contact form - being able to contact the president through Facebook has never been possible before,” Goldman said in a blog post.

“Today, it’s able to happen because of the first-ever government bot on Facebook Messenger.”

Goldman said the White House has gone a step further by making the bot open-source for other developers to use.

“We’re open-sourcing this White House technology, with the hope that other governments and developers can build similar services - and foster similar connections with their citizens - with significantly less upfront investment,” he said.





US bans Samsung Galaxy Note

7 smartphones from air travel

WASHINGTON (Reuters): Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone devices will be banned from aircraft in the United States starting on Saturday at noon EDT (1600 GMT) under an emergency order, regulators said on Friday after numerous reports of the devices catching fire. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd scrapped its flagship Galaxy Note 7 smartphone on Tuesday because of incidents where the phones began smoking or caught fire, dealing a huge blow to its reputation. The decision came after reports of fires in replacement devices prompted a new round of warnings from regulators, phone carriers and airlines. The order from the US Transportation Department and other agencies bars owners from carrying on the devices or stowing them in checked baggage during flights. “We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident inflight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk.”

The Transportation Department warned that passengers who packed the devices in checked luggage raised the risk of “a catastrophic incident.”

“Anyone violating the ban may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines,” the department said in a press statement.

The agency said that the phones might be confiscated from passengers attempting to take them onboard, and that people found onboard with the phones might face fines.

In another statement issued late Friday, the department clarified that owners who attempt to travel by air with Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices would only be “denied boarding.”

The world’s largest phone maker this week said it was also expanding a US recall of the fire-prone model to a total of 1.9 million Note 7 phones, including the 1 million Galaxy Note 7s it recalled on Sept. 15.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission said on Thursday the Note 7’s battery “can overheat and catch fire, posing serious fire and burn hazard to consumers.”

It added that Samsung had received 96 reports of batteries in Note 7 phones overheating in the United States, including 23 new reports since the Sept. 15 recall announcement.





Rare tornado hits Oregon as storms

bear down on Pacific Northwest

OREGON (Reuters): A small coastal town in Oregon was clobbered on Friday by a rare tornado that ripped roofs from buildings, toppled trees and tore down power lines as the first of two storm systems forecast this weekend unleashed high winds and heavy rain across the Pacific Northwest. The twister left most of Manzanita, a community of some 600 permanent residents in the northwest corner of Oregon, without electricity and more than two dozen homes uninhabitable, though no injuries were reported, City Manager Jerry Taylor said. The tornado was spawned by a major Pacific storm sweeping coastal portions of Oregon and Washington state even as the region braced for harsher weather forecast by the National Weather Service from remnants of a typhoon expected to arrive on Saturday.

High winds, gusting to gale-force speeds, were reported by the weather service across the Puget Sound area of Washington with more than 100 lightning strikes recorded over coastal waters in a single hour at one point.

The weather service said about 20,000 Seattle-area homes and businesses were without electricity on Friday morning.

Beginning as a waterspout first spotted just offshore, the Manzanita tornado raked a half-mile long path of destruction through commercial and residential sections of town just after 8 a.m. local time, much of it along the community’s main street.

About half the roof of a building housing an ice cream parlor and two other shops was torn off and hurled into an adjacent parking lot, while a nearby stationery store sustained similar damage, Taylor said.

Numerous houses were damaged, including 28 left red-tagged as unsafe for occupation, according to Taylor. The community was littered with fallen trees, strewn debris and tangles of downed wires and utility poles.

Mayor Garry Bullard declared a state of emergency seeking disaster recovery assistance.

Taylor said damage from the twister could leave the town especially vulnerable to more severe weather forecast for the entire region on Saturday as the remnants of Typhoon Songda, a tropical cyclone that formed in the western Pacific, move ashore.

The National Weather Service said that the Seattle area could see wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour on Saturday, warning on Twitter: “It’s not the ‘storm of the century.’ But it has potential to be significant for Seattle.”

Mayor Ed Murray said Seattle’s homeless shelters were expanding their capacity in anticipation of the storm.




Celebrated Monet ‘haystack’

painting to be auctioned in NY

aNEW YORK (AFP): The Christie’s auction house in New York will offer for sale one of Claude Monet’s celebrated “haystack” paintings, valued at an estimated $45 million, which should reconfirm collectors’ appetite for Impressionist art. With wealthy Chinese collectors expressing keen interest in such works, the painting - part of a series of haystack pictures painted by Monet during the winter of 1890-91 from his French home in Giverny - will first be presented next week in Hong Kong. It will then be shown in London before returning to New York in early November.

This canvas, representing a simple cone-shaped haystack at dusk, is one of the rare works in this series to still be in private hands, Christie’s said.

Most of the others are in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Art Institute of Chicago. This painting, to be auctioned on November 16, was acquired in September 1891 by the Knoedler & Co. art gallery, which brought it to the United States.

In recent years, prices for works by Monet or other celebrated Impressionists have shot through the roof.

The record for a Monet was set in June 2008, when a work from his “Water Lilies” series - “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” - was sold by Christie’s in London for 40.9 million pounds ($80.1 million).