Back to Havana! First scheduled flight between the US and Cuba in decades departs today


Back in the early 1960s, the US and the then USSR were playing a dangerous game of military escalation that almost triggered thermonuclear war.

The USSR were using Cuba as a proxy in a high-stakes display of firepower, and when some US reconnaisance planes spotted a significant build-up of military hardware on the US’s backyard -including medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) sites-, the brown stuff really did hit the fan.

The escalation directly led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of ’62, plus trade embargos, blockades, and more relevant to this piece, Cuba imposed a ban on all incoming flights from the US, a ban that has lasted to this very day.

History is being written today, however, as the first commercial flight between the US and Cuba in five decades takes off from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, bound for Santa Clara in Cuba.

JetBlue Flight 387, a 150-seater Airbus A320, is scheduled to depart at 9:45 a.m. EDT, and will fly the short 72-minute journey into history, a journey that open up a brand new era of U.S.-Cuba travel.

JetBlue’s landmark flight heralds big business, too, as other airlines are likely to establish links with Cuba in the near future. The forecast is for up to 400 flights weekly between the two countries, and with fares quoted as low as US$99 (€88) one way, most Americans have no excuse to fly to the beautiful island of Cuba.

Apple reaffirms its commitment to Ireland after getting hit with record tax bill


Apple boss Tim Cook has this evening reaffirmed the company’s committment to Ireland, on a day when a landmark EU ruling puts the Irish Government in the somewhat difficult position of having to demand Apple upwards of €13bn in back taxes.

The record amount arises due to an alleged ‘sweetener’ tax deal offered to Apple in exchange for setting up here. The deal amounted to Apple having to pay close to nought in Corporation Tax for the years between 1991 and 2015.

Speaking on the issue, Mr. Cook said: “We never asked for, nor did we receive, any special deals. We now find ourselves in the unusual position of being ordered to retroactively pay additional taxes to a government that says we don’t owe them any more than we’ve already paid.”

The crux of the case lies in the fact that there are allegations stating that the company had attributed European sales to a non-existent ‘head office’, hence the corporation was able to mark the profits it derived from its EU sales through Ireland, rather than the country where the item was actually sold in.

Apple supports thousands of jobs here, and it recently announced an expansion that would create an extra 1,000 jobs.

The €13bn windfall represents a double-edged sword for the Goverment, however. On the one hand, it’s a massive lottery win that could solve the domestic housing crisis and many other issues in one swift stroke, if the monies were to be allocated sensibly.

On the other hand, if the Government does force its hand and collects the money, it could spook any potential international investors considering setting up base here.

Both Apple and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan have said they will appeal the ruling.

John Lennon’s murderer, Mark Chapman, denied parole for the ninth time

A mug-shot of Mark David Chapman, who shot and killed John Lennon, is displayed on the 25th anniversary of Lennon's death at the NYPD in New York December 8, 2005. Chapman is currently imprisoned at Attica State Prison in New York, serving a 20-year-to-life sentence after pleading guilty to 2nd degree murder. ??? USE ONLY

Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered legendary musician John Lennon, has been denied parole for the ninth time.

Chapman shot and killed the former Beatle on December 8, 1980. He fired his gun five times, hitting Lennon four times in the back. He remained at the crime scene, calmly reading the classic novel The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, until he was arrested.

He was sentenced to 20-years-t0 life, and was imprisoned in Attica, outside of Buffalo, New York.

Since, he has been up for parole nine times, all denied. In this last instance, the judge said that his release “would be incompatible with the welfare of society and would so deprecate that seriousness of the crime as to undermine respect for the law.”

Chapman will be up for parole again in 2018, when he will be 63 years of age.

The death of a comedy icon: Gene Wilder passes away aged 83


“It’s pronounced “Fronkensteen”, Gene Wilder matter-of-factly advised Marty Feldman, early in the comedy classic ‘Young Frankenstein.’

One of many genius moments brought to life by the iconic and legendary actor and comedian Gene Wilder, who sadly passed away yesterday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83 years of age.

Born Jerome Silberman, Wilder began studying acting at the age of 12. He would go on to have a long and outstanding career in Hollywood and elsewhere, though his debut was actually in an Off Broadway play, ‘Roots.’

He struck up a friendship with Mel Brooks back in 1963, and such liaison would lead to Wilder’s most successful work in comedy classics such as ‘The Producers (1967),’ ‘Blazing Saddles (1974),’ and of course, ‘Young Frankenstein (1974).’ This was Wilder’s heyday, and though he did some good work in later years, specially alongside fellow comedian Richard Pryor, he arguably never reached such heights again.

His last acting work was back in 2002-2003, in two episodes of the sitcom ‘Will and Grace.’

And so the lovable actor who also brought rogue chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka to life says goodbye forever.
Wilder is survived by his fourth wife Karen Boyer, whom he married in 1991, and his nephew. His sister Corinne, predeceased him in January 2016.

The coming of the arachnids: Irish homes under siege by giant spiders


If you are afraid of the eight-legged freaks, or have a thing for creepy-crawlies, stop reading now.

Else, be witness to the arachnid army about to descend on Irish homes. As Autumn approaches, giant spiders will become a regular sight in our humble dwellings, as the creatures begin to look for a warm place to live for the winter. And it’s also mating season, so the males will be on the lookout for willing females to get one of their eight legs up.

So if you spot one of these babies at home, do the right thing. Get a glass, a sheet of paper, and let them keep looking for love outside.