Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2251 on: Dec 18th, 2010, 07:35am »
‘Unprecedented’ Drone Assault: 58 Strikes in 102 Days By Spencer Ackerman December 17, 2010 | 10:07 am Categories: Drones
Photo: U.S. Air Force
It may take years, but some researcher will travel to Pakistan’s tribal areas and produce a definitive study on what it’s been like to live amidst an aerial bombardment from American pilotless aircraft. When that account inevitably comes out, it’s likely to find that 2010 — and especially the final quarter of 2010 — marked a turning point in how civilians coped with a drone war that turned relentless.
Even as the Obama administration’s assessment of its war strategy nodded to the primacy of the CIA’s drone campaign, Predators underscored the point. Over the past two days, four Predators or Reapers fired their missiles at suspected militants in North Waziristan, with three of the strikes coming early today.
They represent a geographic expansion of the drone war. Today’s strikes come in Khyber, an area abutting Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, that’s been notably drone-free. It has become an area for militants fleeing military action in South Waziristan to take succor.
They also bring the drone-strike tally for this year up to 113, more than twice last year’s 53 strikes. But those figures don’t begin to tell the whole story.
According to a tally kept by the Long War Journal, 58 of those strikes have come since September: There has been a drone attack every 1.8 days since Labor Day. LWJ’s Bill Roggio says the pace of attacks between September and November (there was a brief December respite, now erased) is “unprecedented since the U.S. began the air campaign in Pakistan in 2004.” (By contrast, in 2008, there were just 34 strikes.)
Both Roggio and the New America Foundation have found that the overwhelming majority of this year’s strikes have clustered in North Waziristan: at least 99, by Roggio’s count.
That torrid pace of attacks should make it beyond debate that the drones are the long pole in the U.S.’s counterterrorism tent, even if the drone program is technically a secret. The Pakistanis haven’t sent their Army into North Waziristan to harass al-Qaeda’s haven in the mountainous, Connecticut-sized region, waving off U.S. pressure to invade.
Without a ground force to rely on, the CIA argues, the only option for fulfilling the administration’s goal of crushing al-Qaeda is a missile strapped to a surveillance aircraft. During the presidential campaign, Obama said he would pursue al-Qaeda in Pakistan unilaterally if he deemed the Pakistanis intransigent. No one expected he meant he’d do so from the skies.
Of course, the Pakistanis have been the silent partner in the strikes, allowing the drones to fly from their territory, so it’s not as if these are unilateral attacks.
But no one knows whether a backlash is just around the corner. While most Pakistanis remain ignorant of the strikes, those in the tribal areas live literally in their shadow, and register enormous discontent, approving of retaliatory attacks on U.S. forces.
Reportedly, the CIA’s top officer in Islamabad has fled Pakistan after a man from North Waziristan whose son and brother were killed in a strike filed a lawsuit against the agency.
There’s no official or universally accepted figure of how many civilians have died as a result of the strikes, but New America pegs it at around 25 percent of all fatalities. Long War Journal’s registry is more generous, claiming that 1,671 militants and 108 civilians have died in the strikes since 2006.
Then there’s the question of whether the strikes are legal. Obama administration claims that the September 2001 congressional Authorization to Use Military Force in retaliation for 9/11 provides all the legal protection necessary for the strikes. Some lawyers and law professors, by contrast, think that the drones’ remote pilots could eventually get hauled before a war-crimes tribunal.
A United Nations report urged Obama to rein in the drones, restricting them to attacks on the seniormost militants. He did the opposite.
Don’t expect him to heed that warning in 2011 either. After reading the administration’s war-progress report, The New York Times‘ David Sanger noted that background discussions with administration officials made it clear that next year “the pace will be picked up.” The technology certainly enables it: The Predator is giving way to the Reaper drone, which carries a bigger payload; while weapons manufacturers are lightening the weights of air-launched precision missiles.
Independent accounts of what it’s like to live under the shadows of the drones are still all-too-rare, especially in English. Given the amount of investment the Obama administration has in the drones, it’s unlikely that the administration would listen.
However targeted the strikes may be, the hundreds of thousands of civilians in North Waziristan and the rest of the tribal areas live with the anxiety of the missiles overhead. How long can the U.S. avoid a reckoning?
Update, 10:43 a.m.: CIA spokesman George Little e-mails reporters about the station chief’s departure: “Our station chiefs routinely encounter major risk as they work to keep America safe, and they’ve been targeted by terrorists in the past. They are courageous in the face of danger, and their security is obviously a top priority for the CIA, especially when there’s an imminent threat.” So there was a threat to the guy besides the lawsuit?
And Salon’s eagle-eyed Justin Elliott reminds me that CIVIC (Campaign of Innocent Victims in Conflict) recently compiled an extensive report into civilians in Pakistani tribal areas caught between the drones, the Pakistani army and extremist groups. A sample: “Civilian victims expressed anger at warring parties for their losses.
Despite some people’s fear of retribution for speaking out, many placed the blame squarely on the Pakistani and U.S. military. Almost all victims insisted that the Pakistani or U.S. governments, respectively, had a responsibility to make amends — meaning, an acknowledgment of the harm suffered and an offer of assistance or compensation.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2252 on: Dec 18th, 2010, 07:42am »
Stargate Universe Cancelled! Season 2 Will End Franchise Run on Network By Kevin Coll • December 16, 2010 •
Syfy has managed to cancel one of the best shows on TV and they have no one to blame but themselves. Sure, MGM’s bankruptcy woes didn’t help, but moving a show that had a history of success as a Friday night affair to a Tuesday night during the fall TV season was one of the worst moves in TV scheduling history.
Syfy just announced that it won’t renew Stargate Universe for a third season, putting an end (for now) to the long-running Stargate franchise on the network. The upcoming 10 episodes of Stargate Universe‘s second season, which will air in the spring, will be the series’ last.
In a statement from the network which said the above they also mentioned:
“Syfy will end its original action-adventure series Stargate Universe when the show returns with the final 10 episodes of its second season in the Spring of 2011. The Stargate franchise — consisting of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe — has aired on Syfy since 2002.Syfy has a slate of new sci-fi/fantasy scripted projects lined up for 2011 including the series premiere of Being Human on January 17, the recently green lit one-hour drama series Alphas and the much anticipated Battlestar Galactica prequel pilot movie, Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome. Warehouse 13, Eureka and Haven will also return with new seasons next year.”
That is all the studio would say as a comment on the news. MGM left all comments to Syfy as well, so no comment from them on the cancellation.
When the network cancelled Atlantis, it was to make room for SGU to come in and restore the series in a new way. SGU was always polarizing to fans of the long time sci-fi franchise due to its more mature themes, grittier character exploration and overall shift from the “winning” formula of the series past.
I for one am a little disappointed due to the fact SGU was a great storytelling series and they made an old formulaic series interesting again. Sure, they were at the pinnacle of where they could go, but ultimately I think the little shift the studio made on the days was enough to not allow the show another season at least. Still, it is a move that doesn’t come without too much surprise when creator Robert Cooper left the series this year. The ratings were average, Caprica got nailed a few months ago, etc.
I am just really sad, but hope maybe MGM and Syfy can reach a partnership in continuing the stories in TV movies and straight-to-DVD films, as those have done really well. I was able to make friends with a lot of the crew of the show and the actors, like Brian J. Smith. It will be sad to see them moving on, but I wish them and everyone who made life on the Destiny worth watching each week the best.
Please share in the comments your dismay for SGU and Stargate being dead on Syfy. Thanks for the memories.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2253 on: Dec 18th, 2010, 2:49pm »
Will Tuesday Be the Darkest Day in 456 Years?
By Joe Rao Published December 18, 2010
Break out the flashlights. When a full lunar eclipse takes place on the shortest day of the year, the planet may just get awfully dark.
The upcoming Dec. 21 full moon -- besides distinguishing itself from the others in 2010 by undergoing a total eclipse -- will also take place on the same date as the solstice (the winter solstice if you live north of the equator, and the summer solstice if you live to the south).
Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and marks the official beginning of winter. The sun is at its lowest in our sky because the North Pole of our tilted planet is pointing away from it.
So, how often does the December full moon coincide with the solstice? To answer this question, let's use Universal Time (UT), also sometimes referred to as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). We do this because in answering this question, it's important to define a specific time zone.
For example, if you live in Honolulu, this December's full moon does not fall on the date of the solstice. Hawaii Time runs 10 hours behind GMT and the full moon occurs on Dec. 20 at 10:13 p.m. local time, while the solstice comes the following day at 1:38 p.m. Alaska, too, will have the full moon and the solstice occur on these respective dates, but in a time zone one hour later than Hawaii.
But both the full moon and solstice do occur on the same date (Dec. 21) in Greenwich, as well across the contiguous United States and Canada.
Prior to this year, there were solstice full moons in 1999 (Dec. 22) and 1980 (Dec. 21).
Interestingly, after this year, we'll have a long time to wait until we have a December full moon occur on the same date as the solstice: Dec. 21, 2094! And even more interesting -- just like this year -- that same full moon will fall into Earth's shadow in a total lunar eclipse. However, unlike this year, the 2094 eclipse will not be visible from the Western Hemisphere, but will be able to be seen from Europe, Africa and much of Asia.
Finally, this raises the question -- prior to 2010, when was the last time that we had a total lunar eclipse occur on the same calendar date as the winter solstice? The answer, incredibly, takes us back nearly four centuries.
On Dec. 21, 1638, the full moon was in total eclipse from 1:12 to 2:47 UT. And the solstice occurred later in the day at 16:05 UT.
Once again, it's important to note that this occurred at the Greenwich meridian. For the Americas, this eclipse actually occurred during the evening of Dec. 20, while the solstice occurred on the following day.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2254 on: Dec 18th, 2010, 4:42pm »
"On Dec. 21, 1638, the full moon was in total eclipse from 1:12 to 2:47 UT. And the solstice occurred later in the day at 16:05 UT.
Once again, it's important to note that this occurred at the Greenwich meridian. For the Americas, this eclipse actually occurred during the evening of Dec. 20, while the solstice occurred on the following day."
Hey Swampy! Sounds like some good mojo to me. Let's celebrate!!!!!
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2255 on: Dec 19th, 2010, 07:30am »
New York Times
December 18, 2010 Politics in Iraq Casts Doubt on a U.S. Presence After 2011 By STEVEN LEE MYERS, THOM SHANKER and JACK HEALY
This article was reported by Steven Lee Myers, Thom Shanker and Jack Healy and written by Mr. Myers.
BAGHDAD — The protracted political turmoil that saw the resurgence of a fiercely anti-American political bloc here is casting new doubt on establishing any enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops are scheduled to withdraw in the next 12 months, military and administration officials say.
Given Iraq’s military shortcomings, especially in air power, intelligence coordination and logistics, American and Iraqi officials had long expected that some American military presence, even if only in an advisory role, would continue beyond 2011. That is the deadline for a troop withdrawal negotiated under President George W. Bush more than three years ago and adhered to, so far, by President Obama.
Even as contingency planning for any lasting American mission has quietly continued in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, however, the shifting political landscape in both countries has made it increasingly possible that the 2011 withdrawal could truly be total, the officials said. Both Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and Mr. Obama, struggling to retain the support of their political bases, have repeated their public vows to adhere to the deadline.
The military and administration officials emphasized in interviews that the White House had made no final decision on whether any troops might remain beyond the scheduled withdrawal — and that it would not even consider one unless asked by Mr. Maliki’s government.
The question is so politically delicate — here and in Washington — that officials would speak only on condition of anonymity. Further, they say the topic has not been broached in detail even in recent private meetings between senior Iraqi and American officials, including one in Baghdad last week between Mr. Maliki and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.
“Maliki can’t start asking right now for a large, extended American footprint,” a senior administration official said. “First of all, there is no Maliki government. And second, it would introduce a hugely controversial issue just when he doesn’t need it.”
It could remain so for many more months, even after Mr. Maliki completes his cabinet of ministers and submits it to the new Parliament, now scheduled to happen within a week. That has raised anxieties among American officials and military commanders presiding over what the Obama administration calls a “responsible drawdown” to end the American war here.
They are already planning a steady reduction of troops and bases, which will begin in earnest by spring and is to reach zero by this time next year. Those plans have been complicated by the uncertainty over what troops will replace them — or whether any will at all.
“They’re going to have to sort their way through that,” Maj. Gen. Terry A. Wolff, the departing commander of American forces in central Iraq, said in an interview, referring to administration officials. “At this point, I just don’t know. I don’t know how that’s going to look in 2012.”
After parliamentary elections in March led to a protracted period of deadlock and deal-making, Mr. Maliki now leads an unwieldy coalition with parties pursuing conflicting agendas, including lawmakers allied with Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric in exile whose fighters actively battled against American and Iraqi forces until they were routed in 2008.
Their new partnership, which propelled Mr. Maliki’s nomination to a second term, will make it politically risky for him to now reverse himself. Even Ayad Allawi, the leader of a multisectarian bloc who has long been supportive of the Americans, said in an interview last week that there was not yet any consensus among Iraqi leaders to request an extension of the American military presence.
A growing confidence in Iraq’s security forces, coupled with national pride, has also become a factor. Mr. Maliki and others have adamantly ruled out the need for foreign troops to help the country protect itself.
That may reflect a degree of political posturing, but officials in both militaries point to the maturing capabilities of Iraq’s army and federal police, which now conduct day-to-day security without a great deal of direct American involvement.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, said in an interview that the American military role in Iraq “must take another shape,” providing training and weaponry, but not necessarily American boots on the ground.
“We are different than Afghanistan,” the general said, noting the comparative maturity of Iraq’s government ministries, including those overseeing security.
Among Iraqis, the question of the American military presence is deeply conflicted, and often nuanced. Many loathe what they view as a foreign occupying force, even as some consider the Americans a reassuring bulwark against insurgent attacks and simmering ethnic disputes.
Along the internal border between Iraq’s Kurds and Arabs, for example, American soldiers continue to operate checkpoints jointly with troops from both sides, defusing potential clashes.
Assad Ismail, a local council president in Sadiya, a village along the disputed territories northeast of Baghdad, said that only the Americans were able to settle a recent dispute that flared when Iraqi soldiers trying to restrict the movement of insurgents closed off local farmers’ access to their date palms, tomatoes and peanuts.
“Thank God, the American Army was with us,” Mr. Ismail said. “We want them to stay for 5 or 10 years.”
The administration has already drawn up plans for an extensive expansion of the American Embassy and its operations, bolstered by thousands of security contractors. The embassy in Baghdad, two satellite offices in Mosul and Kirkuk, and two consulates in Erbil and Baghdad are scheduled to take over most of more than 1,000 tasks now carried out by the American military.
Militarily, at a minimum, the administration plans to create an Office of Security Cooperation that, like similar ones in countries like Egypt, would be staffed by civilians and military personnel overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq’s security forces. Privately, officials say the Iraqis needed such an office if they hope to continue purchasing and learning how to use M1A1 tanks, F-16 fighter jets and other equipment necessary to rebuild the country’s shattered armed forces.
The officials said that a small office would not require a new security agreement with the Iraqi government to replace the existing one, but the size of the office now under active consideration — with as many as 1,000 personnel — certainly would, even without a larger contingent of American troops in bases around Iraq after 2011.
While officials said there was still time in the coming months to negotiate with the Iraqis, if they want to, the deadline was rapidly approaching.
“I think everybody understands we can’t wait until the end of the year, and also that whatever agreement we are going to reach, we need to start working on that as soon as possible,” Admiral Mullen said in an interview after meeting with Mr. Maliki in Baghdad. “There’s a finite amount of time. There is a physics problem with this, a mechanical problem, to physically move people and equipment out.”
At the same time, American commanders have also begun to acknowledge that the United States might in fact be able to leave Iraq to handle its own security, something almost unthinkable only a few years ago. Even shortcomings like control of its airspace and electronic surveillance could, in theory, be covered using American aircraft based elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, they say.
“There’s no doubt you can get to zero,” General Wolff said, noting that critics questioned the consequences of reducing the number of troops to 50,000 from more than 140,000 when Mr. Obama took office.
“The president’s given us direction, and the answer is zero,” he said. “So that’s where we’re going.”
Others are skeptical, saying that the United States should not risk the failure of a struggling democracy by adhering religiously to the withdrawal.
“We don’t yet know whether Iraq’s new government will be friendly enough to want a strategic partnership, or stable and effective enough to make one work,” Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, wrote in a recent report. “What we do know is that Iraq is far from over its internal problems, and we have not yet won anything in grand strategic terms.
“If we don’t maintain strong presence,” he continued, “if the State Department does not have sufficient funding to aid Iraq in improving its economy and governance, if Defense cannot maintain a strong advisory presence and offer aid to Iraq in rebuilding its military forces to the point where it can defend the nation, we throw away any chance at turning what has so far been a tactical victory into one that has any lasting meaning.”
Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker reported from Baghdad, and Jack Healy from Diyala Province.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2256 on: Dec 19th, 2010, 07:33am »
New York Times
December 18, 2010 Swedish Police Report Details Case Against Assange By JOHN F. BURNS and RAVI SOMAIYA
LONDON — Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who was released from a British jail late last week, is facing a new challenge: the leak of a 68-page confidential Swedish police report that sheds new light on the allegations of sexual misconduct that led to Mr. Assange’s legal troubles.
The Swedish report traces events over a four-day period in August when Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, had what he has described as consensual sexual relationships with two Swedish women. Their accounts, which form the basis of an extradition case against Mr. Assange, state that their encounters with him began consensually, but became nonconsensual when he persisted in having unprotected sex with them in defiance of their insistence that he use a condom.
The case has prompted widespread controversy, with supporters of Mr. Assange alleging that he is the victim, and the women are complicit, in an American-inspired vendetta seeking to punish WikiLeaks for posting hundreds of thousands of secret American documents on the Internet.
The conspiracy, supporters of Mr. Assange have said, hinges on what they have described as an improbable coincidence: that he is facing potential criminal charges in a sex case just as he is challenging the United States government. These critics have also pointed to possible political manipulation of the Swedish prosecutor’s office, which had dropped the most serious allegations against Mr. Assange, but later revived them, listing the allegations that prosecutors wished to question him on as “rape, sexual molestation and forceful coercion.”
But the details in the police report and dozens of interviews in recent months with people in Sweden linked to the case suggest that the Swedish case could be less flawed than Mr. Assange’s supporters have claimed. As for the prosecutors’ actions, interviews with legal experts suggest that it would not be abnormal for such a high-level case to move up the hierarchy of prosecutors, with disagreements over how to apply Sweden’s finely calibrated laws on sexual misconduct.
Still, the police report also provides support for a claim made by Mr. Assange’s supporters that the women involved seemed willing to continue their friendships with Mr. Assange after what they described as sexual misbehavior. The women did not decide to go to the police, the report shows, until they discovered by talking to each other that they had both been sexually involved with him and, by their accounts, had similar experiences.
The British newspaper The Guardian broke the news of the report on Saturday, and quoted extensively from what it said was an unredacted copy. The New York Times later obtained a redacted form of the report in Swedish from another source. The report is a preliminary summary of the evidence taken by investigators in August after their initial interviews with the two women and with Mr. Assange, who left Sweden for Britain in early October but subsequently refused to return to Sweden for further questioning.
Mr. Assange has told friends in Britain that he concluded that the Swedish case was being driven by a desire to punish him for WikiLeaks’ disclosures, and to fatally weaken the organization.
The Swedish document traces the accounts given by the two women of their intimate encounters with Mr. Assange. As previously reported, both women say that Mr. Assange first agreed to use a condom and then refused, in the first instance by continuing with sex after the condom broke, and in the second by having sex without using a condom with a woman who was asleep.
Mr. Assange himself has declined to publicly address the women’s accounts directly, both before his Dec. 7 arrest on the Swedish extradition warrant and since he was released from a 10-day period in a London jail on Thursday after posting $310,000 bail. But he has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and has long insisted that he is the victim of a political conspiracy. On Friday, he told the BBC that the case presented in the London courts was “a smear attempt,” and that the impending publication of the Swedish police report amounted to “another smear attempt.”
Mr. Assange told the BBC that he did not know “precisely who is behind” the “conspiracy” against him, although his supporters have flooded the Internet with charges that the C.I.A. is working to discredit him. But he added, “It’s the case of any organization that’s exposing major powers, and has major opposition, that they will be attacked.”
And in his police interview, he said the women’s accounts included “incredible lies.”
The two women have been referred to in the British courts only as Ms. A and Ms. W. Ms. A, according to the police report and to Swedish friends, is a left-wing activist in her early 30s who was Mr. Assange’s point of contact when he flew to Stockholm from London on Aug. 11 to give a speech at a gathering hosted by the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats on Aug. 14. Her friends say her political leanings suggest she would not want to harm WikiLeaks, which is dedicated to revealing states’ secrets.
Ms. W, who has worked part-time in a Stockholm museum, has told friends that she is a strong supporter of WikiLeaks, a description supported by the lawyer who was represented the two women in Swedish courts.
Ms. A told the police that arrangements had been made for Mr. Assange to begin his visit to Sweden by staying at her Stockholm apartment for a few days while she was out of town. But the report said she returned Aug. 13, sooner than expected and, over dinner with Mr. Assange, agreed to allow him to stay in the apartment.
The details of their sexual encounter that night were redacted from the copy of the police report obtained by The Times. But The Guardian reported Saturday that Ms. A told the police that Mr. Assange had stroked her leg, then pulled off her clothes and snapped her necklace. The report quotes her as saying that she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again.”
According to The Guardian, Ms. A told the police that Mr. Assange pinned her arms and legs to stop her from reaching for a condom. Eventually one was used — but, she told her police interviewer, he appeared to have “done something” with it, resulting in its tearing.
Ms. W, 25, lives in the town of Enkoping, about 30 miles north of Stockholm. A few weeks before Mr. Assange arrived in Sweden, she saw him on television, according to the police interview in The Times’s version of the police report, and found him “interesting, brave and worthy of admiration.” When she discovered that he would be speaking in Stockholm, she contacted Ms. A to volunteer her help.
Her offer was not taken up, but she decided to attend the lecture anyway, where she met Ms. A in person. After the speech, she told the police, she sat next to Mr. Assange at a group dinner. He flirtatiously fed her bread and cheese, she said, and put his arm around her.
The group dispersed after dinner, leaving Mr. Assange and Ms. W alone, the police report said. They decided to go to a movie, where, the report said, the couple began caressing, then moved to a back row, where they continued. Two days later, Ms. W and Mr. Assange met again and walked around the city’s old town together, according to the police report. It said they decided to go by train to Enkoping after Mr. Assange balked at staying in a Stockholm hotel. Ms. W then bought his rail ticket, for about $16, after Mr. Assange told her that he did not have any money, and that he feared he could be traced if he used a credit card.
The unredacted police report obtained by The Guardian says that after arriving at her apartment the two had sex using a condom. In the report, she described waking up to find him having sex with her again, without a condom. Later that morning, Ms. W told the police, Mr. Assange “ordered her to get some water and orange juice for him.” She said “she didn’t like being ordered around in her own home but got it anyway.”
The assertion that Mr. Assange initiated sex without a condom while Ms. W was asleep led the prosecutors to list rape among the allegations they wanted to explore with Mr. Assange, according to testimony in a London court. Swedish legal experts have said that the section of the Swedish penal code involved in the allegation refers to the third and least serious of three categories of rape, known as “less severe,” commonly invoked when men in relationships use threats or mild degrees of force to have sex with partners against their will. The maximum penalty for the offense is four years.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2257 on: Dec 19th, 2010, 07:43am »
Seoul unfazed by North Korea's threats over military drills.
Russia calls for a U.N. Security Council meeting to prompt both sides to tone down the rhetoric.
By John M. Glionna Los Angeles Times Staff Writer 2:44 AM PST, December 19, 2010
Reporting from Seoul
Rifle-touting Marines conducted patrols Sunday on a South Korean island at the center of recent tensions on the Korean Peninsula as the international community nervously anticipated the start of the south's planned live-fire drills that have been condemned by Kim Jong-il's military.
South Korean military officials pledged to carry through with the exercises on tiny Yeonpyeong Island, despite warnings from the north that any provocation would lead to a repeat of its shelling barrage that killed four island residents last month.
Meanwhile, the several regional capitals have expressed growing concern over the standoff, with Russia calling for an emergency session of the United Nations' Security Council to prompt both sides to scale back on recent threats and belligerent exchanges.
Over the weekend, China also called for restraint, saying it stood firmly against any acts that could "sabotage regional peace and stability."
The U.S. supports South Korea's decision to conduct war games in its own territory, a Yellow Sea island seven miles off the North Korean border, within sight of Kim Jong-il's secretive regime. North Korea has said the exercises threaten its sovereignty, and has promised "unpredictable self-defensive blows" if the drills are held.
On Sunday, Bill Richardson, outgoing New Mexico governor turned international troubleshooter, said he made some progress in pleas to North Korean officials to back off from continued pledges of violence.
Richardson, on a private four-day mission to Pyongyang, said he wasn't sure whether North Korea would attack the south again, telling CNN: "It's still very tense out there."
He added that officials "said there would be a response, but at the same time they hope a U.N. Security Council resolution would tamp down the situation. It was very clear they were very upset by the potential exercise."
In a statement released by his office late Saturday, Richardson called on the U.N. to act quickly. "I hope that the U.N. Security Council will pass a strong resolution calling for self-restraint from all sides in order to seek peaceful means to resolve this dispute," the statement read. "A U.N. resolution could provide cover for all sides that prevents aggressive military action."
But Seoul also refused to back off Sunday as officials said that a postponement due to bad weather of the day-long exercises, scheduled to start between Saturday and Tuesday, did not mean they would be canceled.
"The live-fire drill off Yeonpyeong Island will take place on Dec. 20 or 21, as previously announced, depending on weather conditions," an unnamed official told Seoul's Yonhap News Service.
A Joint Chiefs of Staff official, who also did not give his name, told the news service that South Korea was not in any way considering the north's objections in making its decision to carry out the drills.
"The planned firing drill is part of the usual exercises conducted by our troops based on Yeonpyeong Island. The drill will occur within our territorial waters," the official said. "We won't take into consideration North Korean threats and diplomatic situations before holding the live-fire drill."
In calling for the U.N.'s emergency closed-door consultations, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Saturday that his government believes the Security Council must send "a restraining signal" to North Korea and help launch diplomatic actions to resolve the dispute.
He also blamed the U.S., which this month holds the Security Council's rotating presidency, for declining to convene a meeting on Saturday as he had requested in a letter to the U.S. mission. "We regret that," Churkin told reporters.
On Nov. 23rd, North Korea unleashed nearly 200 shells on Yeonpyeong Island, killing two marines and two civilians. Following what many South Koreans believed was a weak response to the attack, Seoul replaced its defense minister.
Newly appointed Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin has vowed to hit back hard in a counterstrike that would include air power if North Korea attacks again. Seoul has put its F-15K and KF-16 fighters on standby.
South Korea has said that, like last month in drills that led to Pyongyang's attack, its artillery guns will be aimed southwest and away from North Korea. Officials said that clear weather is vital to observe the artillery trajectory and closely monitor the North Korean military's movements during the drills.
Over the weekend, Pyongyang continued to verbally lash out against its southern neighbor, blaming Seoul for conspiring with Washington to cause trouble on the peninsula.
In a statement, North Korea's foreign ministry spokesman said: "We will be sure to settle scores with the U.S. for the extreme situation on the Korean peninsula. Our military does not speak empty words."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2258 on: Dec 19th, 2010, 07:55am »
Missing Black Holes Cause Trouble for String Theory By Ars Technica December 17, 2010 | 12:52 pm Categories: Physics
CMS Collaboration/CERN. 1) The Large Hadron Collider’s Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
The results continue to pour out of the Large Hadron Collider’s first production run. This week, the folks behind the CMS, or compact muon solenoid, detector have announced the submission of a paper to Physics Letters that describes a test of some forms of string theory. If this form of the theory were right, the LHC should have been able to produce small black holes that would instantly decay (and not, as some had feared, devour the Earth). But a look at the data obtained by CMS shows that a signature of the black holes’ decay is notably absent.
String theory is an attempt to deal with the fact that the two major theories in physics, quantum mechanics and relativity, are fundamentally incompatible. It manages to merge the two by positing a set of extra dimensions beyond the usual four. We don’t see these because they’re tightly wrapped within a tiny radius that is inapproachable at normal energies.
In one form of string theory — the paper calls it the ADD model because Arkani-Hamed, Dimopoulos and Dvali proposed it — this unification has consequences for gravity. Normally, gravity is very weak relative to the other forces, such that it could only become unified with the rest of them at energies many orders of magnitude higher than the LHC could reach. But, in the ADD model, gravity only looks weak because portions of it are caught up in the remaining dimensions. This drops the energies down to something right in the heart of the LHC’s capabilities.
If everything went as the model proposes, particles that collided at energies above this cutoff could close to within a distance that’s smaller than the space occupied by the additional dimensions. Once that happens, they’d feel the full force of gravity, and immediately merge to form a tiny black hole. So tiny, in fact, that it would instantly decay via Hawking radiation.
This decay would be visible as jets of particles. Physicists I’ve seen asked about these have more or less said you couldn’t miss it.
What you could do, however, is mistake something else for a black hole. Interactions governed by quantum chromodynamics will also produce jets at a certain frequency, so the black-hole events would have to stand out above this background. So that’s what the new analysis looks for. The authors model what the jets from both string and quantum theories should look like in order to allow them to pull out and save jet events. (This actually involved the same modeling software used by the people who evaluated the TSA’s scanners.)
They then use an area of the LHC’s energy spectrum that’s too low to produce black holes to figure out the level of background jet production via quantum chromodynamics. Next, they extend the analysis into the energy range where black holes should appear, and see whether any signal tands out above this background. It doesn’t. “We can exclude the production of black holes with minimum mass of 3.5-4.5 eV [electron volts] for values of the multidimensional Planck scale up to 3.5 TeV [teraelectron volts] at 95 percent CL [confidence level],” the authors conclude.
The results are also useful for studies beyond string theory. Mini black holes aren’t the only hypothetical items predicted to decay into jets, so the lack of a signal that’s much above background puts some very severe constraints on the physics there, too.
One other nice thing here is that the energies involved are completely out of reach of the Tevatron. So, even if the older collider beats the new machine to the punch on the Higgs, we’re clearly getting some useful physics out of the LHC.
Contrary to some reports, this result doesn’t mean the death of string theory, only the particular flavor that predicted black holes at these energies. Eliminating some models is a critical process of narrowing down what’s possible, but most theoretical constructs have a range of possible models, and string theory is no different. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the ADD model was generated simply because physicists were looking for something they could possibly test in the LHC.
A collision event as expected from Standard Model processes. Such events are a background to the search for microscopic black holes. Credit: CMS Collaboration/CERN
It starts out with Graeme Willy and Clive Collings's encounter with an alien named Paul, which then hitches a ride with them. Never imagining to find a real alien, the two men are more shocked when learning Paul's crazy behaviors like showing his ass in public and eating a bird alive.
Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have starred together in "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead", once again team up to portray Graeme Willy and Clive Collings respectively. Seth Rogen voices Paul, while Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch and Sigourney Weaver portray other live-action characters.
Greg Mottola serves behind the lens of the R-rated sci-fi comedy, which is written by Pegg and Frost. "Paul" will be dropped by Universal Pictures in theaters across the nation on March 18, 2011.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2263 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 08:00am »
South Korea holds live-fire drills
Residents of the tiny island of Yeonpyeong wait anxiously to see if North Korea will carry out its threat to resume shelling.
By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times December 20, 2010 Reporting from Seoul
South Korea on Monday conducted an hourlong live-fire artillery drill on an island at the center of recent tensions on the Korean peninsula, as residents anxiously waited to see whether North Korea would make good on its pledge to attack the South if the exercises took place.
Residents of Yeonpyeong and other South Korean front-line islands were ordered into bomb shelters. Soon after the exercises began, South Korea announced that it had deployed jet fighters in case of a North Korean attack, according to Seoul's Yonhap news service.
The South Korean media reported that the drills ended at 3:30 p.m., but other news outlets said that eyewitnesses on Yeonpyeong Island later heard what sounded like artillery fire.
In recent days, the international community has scurried to head off the outbreak of renewed hostilities between the Koreas. In New York on Sunday, the United Nations Security Council met in an emergency session to prompt both sides to scale back on threats and belligerent exchanges.
But the Security Council meeting hit an impasse when diplomats said China objected to North Korea being singled out for criticism over two deadly attacks, which include the alleged torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March.
Russia, which called the meeting, had proposed a draft statement that would have the Security Council call on both Koreas "to exercise maximum restraint" and urge immediate diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions.
Most council members, including the U.S., viewed the Russian draft as unfairly equating the actions of the two Koreas, according to council diplomats.
Several nations had demanded that the council condemn North Korea for the recent island shelling and the March 26 sinking of a South Korean patrol ship, which killed 46 sailors.
Over the weekend, China also called for restraint, saying it stood firmly against any acts that could "sabotage regional peace and stability."
While not taking part in the exercises, the U.S. supports South Korea's decision to conduct war games in its own territory, a Yellow Sea island seven miles off the North Korean coast, within sight of Kim Jong Il's secretive nation.
North Korea has said the exercises threaten its sovereignty, and has promised "unpredictable self-defensive blows" if the drills are held.
On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has been serving as an unofficial envoy to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, said he had made some progress in pleas to North Korean officials to back off from their pledges of violence.
Richardson, on a private four-day mission to Pyongyang, said he wasn't sure whether North Korea would attack the South again, telling CNN that "it's still very tense out there." He added that officials "said there would be a response, but at the same time they hope a U.N. Security Council resolution would tamp down the situation. It was very clear they were very upset by the potential exercise."
In a statement released by his office late Saturday, Richardson had called on the U.N. to act quickly. "I hope that the U.N. Security Council will pass a strong resolution calling for self-restraint from all sides in order to seek peaceful means to resolve this dispute," the statement read. "A U.N. resolution could provide cover for all sides that prevents aggressive military action."
On Monday, CNN reported that North Korea had agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to return to a nuclear facility in the country after discussions with Richardson.
A Joint Chiefs of Staff official, who also did not give his name, told Seoul's Yonhap news service that South Korea was not in any way considering the North's objections in making its decision to carry out the drills.
"The planned firing drill is part of the usual exercises conducted by our troops based on Yeonpyeong Island. The drill will occur within our territorial waters," the South Korean official said. "We won't take into consideration North Korean threats and diplomatic situations before holding the live-fire drill."
On Nov. 23, North Korea unleashed nearly 200 shells on Yeonpyeong Island that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians. After what many South Koreans perceived as a weak response to the attack, Seoul replaced its defense minister.
Newly appointed Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin has vowed to hit back hard in a counterstrike that would include air power if North Korea attacked again. Seoul has put its F-15K and KF-16 fighters on standby.
South Korea has said that its artillery guns would be aimed southwest and away from North Korea, as was the case last month in drills before the North's attack. Officials said that clear weather is vital to observe the artillery trajectory and closely monitor the North Korean military's movements during the drills.
Over the weekend, Pyongyang continued to verbally lash out against its southern neighbor, blaming Seoul for conspiring with Washington to cause trouble on the peninsula.
In a statement, North Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "We will be sure to settle scores with the U.S. for the extreme situation on the Korean peninsula. Our military does not speak empty words."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2264 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 08:12am »
New York Times
December 20, 2010 North Korea Says It Will Not Retaliate After South’s Drills By MARK McDONALD and MARTIN FACKLER
SEOUL, South Korea — Defying North Korean threats of violent retaliation and “brutal consequences beyond imagination,” South Korea on Monday staged live-fire artillery drills on an island shelled last month by the North.
The immediate response from Pyongyang was surprisingly muted, however. A statement from the North’s official news agency Monday night said it was “not worth reacting” to the exercise.
“Maybe we had a little impact,” said Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, who as an unofficial American envoy was in Pyongyang when the drills ended. Mr. Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said earlier that the North had offered concessions on its nuclear program, including a resumption of visits by United Nations inspectors.
The drills, which included F-15K fighter-bombers overhead, came after the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on a measure calling for moderation and restraint by the two Koreas. Seoul also rejected calls by China and Russia to cancel the exercise.
The drills, in which shells were fired into waters claimed by both Koreas, escalates what is already an ominous standoff that American military officials have warned could spiral out of control. South Korea insisted that the drill was routine and that it had the sovereign right to conduct such exercises, even at a time of such heightened tensions.
North Korea sought to depict the drills by the South as a sign of aggression, painting its own lack of a response as peaceful restraint. “The world should properly know who is the true champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of a war,” the military said in a statement to state media in the North.
A spokesman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said marine artillery units on Yeonpyeong Island began firing Monday at 2:30 p.m. and ended at 4:04. The South Korean island, which sits just eight miles off the North Korean coast, was the site of last month’s artillery barrage by the North that killed two marines and two civilians.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official declined to say how many rounds had been fired during the drill.
Earlier Monday, South Korean television showed footage of the few remaining residents of the island’s fishing community moving into bomb shelters and trying on gas masks as the mainland also braced itself for possible North Korean retaliation.
Gen. Walter L. Sharp, the commander of American forces in South Korea, and Kathleen Stephens, the American ambassador to Seoul, went on Sunday to the Blue House, the presidential offices and residence. The embassy declined to comment Monday about the Blue House visit or the drill.
“The U.S. side said it supports South Korea’s military training plan irrespective of North Korea’s response, and that it will stay with us whatever happens,” said Kim Hee-jung, a spokeswoman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Some 20 American military personnel attended the artillery drill in various support and observer roles. The United States has been South Korea’s protector since the Korean War, with some 28,500 military personnel currently stationed here.
At the Security Council meeting in New York, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, defended Seoul, saying it was “important to recognize that that there is nothing unusual about these planned drills.”
“They are exclusively defensive in nature, and they have been regularly conducted for years,” she said.
Some political analysts said the government of South Korea’s Mr. Lee appeared keen to press forward with the exercise to demonstrate its newly bolstered policy of standing up to the North’s threats. Mr. Lee and his government have faced withering public criticism for what has been seen here as weak responses to the shelling of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23 and the sinking in March of a South Korean warship in nearby waters.
“They want to show they are tough,” said Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of North Korea and a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “Lee Myung-bak cannot show his weakness, both domestically and in front of North Korea. “
An opposition lawmaker and a former Unification minister, Chung Dong-young, said on Monday that Mr. Lee’s government was “incompetent” in matters of security and had veered into “military adventurism and even recklessness.”
“It’s not acceptable the way the military has responded,” he said, adding that the inter-Korean situation had become “an unprecedented crisis.”
The rising tensions have centered on the Yellow Sea around Yeonpyeong, with the North suddenly growing more assertive in disputing the so-called Northern Limit Line, a maritime boundary that was drawn by the United States after the 1950-53 Korean War.
A number of political analysts say the North appears to be engaged in military brinkmanship aimed at forcing the South to resume food aid and other assistance to North Korea’s decrepit state-run economy, and possibly to burnish the military credentials of the youngest son and presumed heir of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean dictator.
For its part, the South also appears unwilling to back down this time, as President Lee, a conservative, has come under pressure, particularly from his right-wing base, for failing to respond more robustly both to last month’s attack and the sinking of the warship. The new South Korean defense minister, a former four-star general, has vowed to strike back hard at North Korea — including airstrikes — should it attack again.
Last month’s attack was particularly shocking in the South because it appeared to target the island’s small fishing community of about 1,350 civilians, and its well dug-in military garrison. This has led to uncharacteristic calls for revenge against the North.
For its part, the North denies responsibility for the sinking of the warship, the Cheonan, and maintains that the shelling of Yeonpyeong was in self-defense. It promised to respond fiercely if the South fired into waters it claims, including those around Yeonpyeong.
The question now is whether the North will make good on its promises to retaliate, and how it might do so. Mr. Lankov, the analyst, said he did not expect a massive response by Pyongyang because the recent incidents are part of a North Korean “strategy of tensions,” meaning that North Korean leaders want to choose when and where to strike.
“I do not think the North Koreans will do much this time,” Mr. Lankov said. “They’d rather deliver a new blow later when they will be ready. But the maneuvers still mean a great risk of escalation.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Richardson said the North had agreed to concessions related to its nuclear program, a main source of tension on the peninsula. A former United States special envoy to North Korea, Mr. Richardson was on an unofficial trip approved by the State Department. He met with high-ranking military officials, the North Korean vice president and members of the Foreign Ministry over four days.
Mr. Richardson said the North had made two significant concessions toward reopening six-party talks on the country’s nuclear program. The North’s proposal would allow United Nations nuclear inspectors back into the Yongbyon nuclear complex to ensure that it is not producing enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. The North recently showed an American nuclear expert a new and stunningly sophisticated facility there. It expelled international inspectors last year.
North Korean officials also told Mr. Richardson that their government was willing to sell 12,000 plutonium fuel rods to South Korea, removing bomb-making material from the North, he said. “I would describe this as important progress,” he said of the concessions.
But in Seoul, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the concessions had no bearing on the South’s decision to hold the drills.
Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting from Pyongyang, North Korea.