Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2265 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 08:16am »
UK snow: flights cancelled and roads closed as Arctic weather tightens grip.
Millions of Britons are facing travel misery as heavy snow forecast for this afternoon threatens to cripple the country's struggling transport network.
By David Millward 1:10PM GMT 20 Dec 2010
Hundreds more flights were cancelled at Heathrow today – including all British Airways short-haul journeys – as criticisms of airport operator BAA's response to the recent bad weather intensified.
BA warned that Heathrow would be operating as "significantly reduced capacity for several days" – threatening to leave more than 100,000 Britons stranded overseas for Christmas.
Night-flight restrictions have been lifted at Heathrow for the next four days in an effort to ease the backlog.
The Met Office issued an emergency weather warning for the South West, with up to 8in (20cm) of snow likely in some areas.
Heavy snow is also forecast for Monday afternoon and evening in London and the South East, Wales and northern Scotland.
On the roads, the AA said it expected Monday to "break all records" for the organisation in terms of the number of breakdown calls.
A spokesman said: "Our busiest day ever so far was January 4 this year, the first working day back when cars had been left sitting for a fortnight in cold conditions. Today is likely to exceed that."
Rail services across the country are also suffering. Eurostar said services were being cancelled and "severely delayed" due to speed restrictions in England and France.
Anger towards BAA – which operates of Heathrow – increased as the Christmas travel plans of half a million air passengers were ruined.
Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, was forced into an embarrassing apology as he sought to sooth passengers' fury.
"I'm really disappointed to have disrupted so many thousands of people's Christmas plans," he said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"I couldn't be more sorry, that's the case."
He added that it "may well be" that BAA had to buy more equipment to deal with conditions like those seen in recent days.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, promised an inquiry into how stranded passengers were treated at the airport over the weekend, as he acknowledged public "outrage" over the disruption.
He told BBC Breakfast: "Once we have got through the problem, once we have got things moving again, then we will have to have that discussion and find out exactly what went wrong and, most importantly, what went wrong in handling passengers who were stranded.
"I think whilst people are obviously deeply upset about the inconvenience, particularly at this time of year, of having their travel plans disrupted, most of what I am hearing is a sense of outrage about the way they were then treated when they were stranded at Heathrow airport."
Mr Hammond later announced that night-flight restrictions would be lifted at Heathrow for the next four days.
This means that flights in and out of the west London airport will be allowed until 1am.
Also, specially laid-on repatriation flights will be allowed to continue throughout the night.
British Airways said Heathrow had only one of its two runways operational and "many areas of the airfield remain unusable, including areas around parked aircraft".
The airline said it was operating "a limited schedule of flights" to and from Heathrow this morning and had published a schedule until noon.
Snow and ice grounded the vast majority of flights in and out of Britain yesterday, with Heathrow the worst-affected airport.
The airport cancelled all incoming flights on Sunday (December 19) after the authorities were unable to de-ice the taxiing areas and stands where planes are parked.
As the airport was inundated with increasingly angry passengers trying to leave, many other travellers faced a frantic scramble to get home to Britain in time for Christmas.
Most flights this week were already full to capacity during what is the busiest period of the year.
One million passengers were due to pass through Heathrow alone this week and with warnings of further bad weather in the next few days, some travellers whose flights have been cancelled were told they faced waits of up to five days.
As passengers were forced to sleep in terminal buildings for a third night, there was mounting criticism of BAA, the airport operator.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, rang Mr Matthews, to demand answers over why the airport had failed to cope.
Mr Johnson said: “I stressed the huge economic importance of Heathrow. I also expressed my hope that they would pull out all the stops to ensure that the planes get moving again. Most people realise that it has not snowed at Heathrow for some time so it is vital everything is done to get the aircraft and passengers moving again.”
BAA, which is controlled by Spain’s Ferrovial, claimed it had spent an extra £6 million on equipment to deal with snow and ice compared with last year. But with pre-tax profits expected to near £1 billion this year, the operator has been accused of failing to invest properly in equipment to cope with the extreme cold.
Only 16 flights left Heathrow yesterday out of a total of 650 scheduled services. More than 400,000 passengers had been due to pass through the airport this weekend. Although the runways were deemed safe, the areas around the stands remained covered in ice making it too dangerous to move planes.
Severe delays and widespread cancellations were also reported at Stansted, Luton, Exeter, London City, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff and Birmingham airports, while Aberdeen Airport was forced to close twice during the day.
Airline sources noted that while services at Gatwick — which BAA was recently forced to sell — were subjected to delays and cancellations the airport fared better than Heathrow. Almost 300 of its 700 scheduled flights landed or took off.
A source at one major airline said: “Lessons really need to be learned from this situation. There was a large snowfall in a short period of time but the major issue for us has been a failure to communicate information to the airlines.
“We had aircraft de-iced and ready to go on the tarmac at Heathrow but we were not getting any information from BAA.”
Willie Walsh, the British Airways chief executive, was said to have had a furious exchange with Mr Matthews, after the airport operator claimed it was the airlines’ responsibility to de-ice the planes.
One engineer based at Heathrow said that by the time they had de-iced an aircraft ready for take off it had already started to freeze up again.
Frustrated passengers, forced to bed down in airports said there had been little or no communication from the authorities.
Many of those who hoped to fly over the weekend were told they may not be able to travel until Christmas Eve.
The dire situation was reminiscent of the scenes during the volcanic ash cloud earlier this year. But critics said this situation was more avoidable as the heavy snow and ice had been forecast at least a week earlier.
Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, said: “I understand the immense frustration of people, many of whom will be with families looking to get away for Christmas.
“The airport operators and the airlines have to think about getting services back to normal operation as quickly as they possibly can.”
Mr Hammond said he was seeking scientific advice to decide whether heavy snowfall was likely to be a regular occurrence in Britain.
But Alan Johnson, the shadow chancellor, accused the Government of failing to do enough to keep the country moving.
He said: “It is a big issue when people believe the Government have just left it for them and said 'get a shovel or stay at home’. Governing is about more than that when you hit a crisis.”
Forecasters last night warned there would be no let up to the Arctic conditions until Wednesday at the earliest, putting the travel plans of millions in jeopardy.
“The coming week will not offer much respite in terms of temperatures and snowfall, so conditions for those travelling are unlikely to improve,” said John Hammond of the Met Office.
More than 200,000 passengers a day pass through Heathrow at this time of year. BAA, Britain’s largest airport operator, yesterday defended its performance but apologised for the misery suffered by passengers.
A spokesman said: “The change in temperature overnight led to a significant build up of ice on parking stands around the planes and this requires the airfield to remain closed until it is safe to move planes around.”
But airlines and passengers were less than convinced. Paul Charles, a travel industry veteran, said: “It beggars belief that lessons have not been learned from the ash cloud crisis and previous bad weather situations.”
David Reynolds, head of safety at the British Airline Pilots Association, was also scathing. He said: “British airports have been pretty poor. Our neighbours across the Channel do not suffer as badly as we do when we get a cold snap.”
Tim Jeans, the managing director of Monarch Airlines, called for a reassessment of Britain’s transport capabilities. “We have not coped well. The infrastructure — not just at the airports but the road infrastructure — completely seized up.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2266 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 08:21am »
UFO hunters claim alien incidents are 'US airmen covering up blunders'
UFO hunters claim that Britain's most famous aliens incident may have been caused by US airmen trying to cover up a major operational blunder.
7:00AM GMT 20 Dec 2010
There has been widespread and continuing belief that the mysterious lights and flying saucer seen in a remote forest next to a US Air Force base on Boxing Day 1980 were alien ships.
But now as the 30th anniversary of the bizarre incident approaches, locals have suggested the real explanation lies with an American helicopter crew who bungled the transfer of an Apollo space capsule and tried to cover it up with the UFO claim.
They believe the "alien spacecraft" was actually the crew pod from a space rocket which was accidentally dropped in Rendlesham Forest, Woodbridge, Suffolk by the helicopter from the nearby Bentwaters air base.
Witnesses reported seeing bright fast moving lights in the sky leading to speculation that it was a UFO.
Several badly-shaken American airmen gave detailed descriptions of the craft after it landed and security teams, guarding NATO nuclear weapons on the base, raced to investigate.
Even the base commander Lt Col Charles Halt was called in but the incident was allegedly hushed up and the MoD still refuses to believe it was a UFO.
Other explanations include the beam from a nearby lighthouse at Orford, a meteor shower or a Russian rocket breaking up on re-entry.
But now local museum curator Graham Haynes,who went back to the scene on the anniversary, believes it was probably a case of cock-up rather than conspiracy.
He said:"Lots of people saw lights in the sky and one couple said they saw a helicopter with a large cone-shaped object slung underneath it.
"It was flying low, probably hit the runway lights and dropped the capsule into the forest. They came back the next day to collect it.
"At the time the USAF was home to the team that were assigned to recover Apollo moon rocket capsules if they landed anywhere but the United States.
"I would love to believe that a UFO did land in the forest but there is no proof."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2267 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 08:29am »
Unlocking the Secrets of Our Compulsions ScienceDaily (Dec. 20, 2010) —
Researchers have shed new light on dopamine's role in the brain's reward system, which could provide insight into impulse control problems associated with addiction and a number of psychiatric disorders.
A joint study by the University of Michigan and University of Washington found that, contrary to the prevailing conception, differences in individuals' styles of response to environmental cues can fundamentally influence chemical reward patterns in the brain.
Deeper understanding of these differences between individuals may lead to new preventive tools or treatments for compulsive behavior.
"We were able to answer the longstanding question, 'What role does dopamine play in reward learning?'," says the study's co-lead author Shelly B. Flagel, Ph.D., a research investigator at the U-M Medical School's Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute.
The findings were published online December 8 in the journal Nature ahead of print publication.
To understand what the research uncovered, picture the classic experiment in which a rat learns to associate a lever with a getting a food reward. (In this case, the rats didn't actually have to press the lever to get the food; the researchers were testing its power as a signal of the food's appearance.)
What scientists hadn't yet figured out was the extent to which the dopamine released by the rat's brain was related to the lever's ability to accurately predict the appearance of food, or whether it made the lever desirable in its own right.
The answer, the researchers found, is that it depends on what kind of rat you are.
Think of it this way, Flagel says: Some people will see a sign for an ice cream shop and for them it's simply that, an indicator that ice cream is available nearby. But other people will have a stronger reaction to the sign -- the tantalizing association between the sign and ice cream is so powerful, they can already taste the treat and often hurry to buy some.
The researchers studied rats that had been selectively bred for certain behavioral traits, including different proclivities for addictive drugs. Rats in the drug-prone group tended to focus their attention on the lever. The other group cared a lot more about the place where the food actually appeared.
Still, if the rats' brains saw the lever merely as a signal that accurately predicted the arrival of the food, the dopamine reward for both groups should be the same.
However, if the dopamine reward was tied to the strength of the rats' desire for lever itself, one would expect a different pattern for each of the two groups.
And that's exactly what happened.
U-M's collaborators at the University of Washington used a technique called fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to measure the dopamine responses in the rats' brains as they shifted over mere fractions of a second. Their analysis showed that the drug-prone rats got a jolt of happiness just from the lever, while the food-oriented rats did not.
And their desire for the lever continued, even when the food reward was removed.
The study additionally measured the rats' ability to learn when dopamine was blocked and repeated the experiments with rats that had not been selectively bred.
Flagel, co-lead author Jeremy J. Clark, Ph.D., of UW, and their colleagues hope the animal model will help scientists figure out why some people are more strongly motivated by environmental cues and therefore at increased risk for compulsive behavior -- or, among addicts, relapse.
"We have been interested in understanding how differences in temperament control our day-to-day behavior, how they determine the types of pathologies we express," says Huda Akil, Ph.D., co-director of MBNI, a professor of neuroscience at U-M and co-senior author of the study. "This study helps us understand how, in some situations, dopamine amplifies messages in the world around us, playing a role in controlling behaviors."
Meanwhile, Paul E.M. Phillips, Ph.D., Akil's counterpart at UW, emphasized the collaboration, "Collectively the contributions of our groups amounted to something much more important than the sum of the components."
Funding: National Institutes of Health, Office of Naval Research
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2268 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 12:38pm »
Thanks to Angelia Joiner and Jerry Pippin for finding this:
News Black-Out in DC: Pay No Attention to Those Veterans Chained to the White House Fence
Sat, 12/18/2010 - 12:06 — Anonymous by: Dave Lindorff
There was a black-out and a white-out Thursday and Friday as over a hundred US veterans opposed to US wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, and their civilian supporters, chained and tied themselves to the White House fence during an early snowstorm to say enough is enough.
Washington Police arrested 135 of the protesters, in what is being called the largest mass detention in recent years. Among those arrested were Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who used to provide the president’s daily briefings, Daniel Ellsberg, who released the government’s Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, and Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for the New York Times.
No major US news media reported on the demonstration or the arrests. It was blacked out of the New York Times, blacked out of the Philadelphia Inquirer, blacked out in the Los Angeles Times, blacked out of the Wall Street Journal, and even blacked out of the capital’s local daily, the Washington Post, which apparently didn't even think it was a local story worth publishing an article about (they simply ran a photo of Ellsberg with a short caption).
Making the media cover-up of the protest all the more outrageous was the fact that most news media did report on Friday, the day after the protest, the results of the latest poll of American attitudes towards the Afghanistan War, an ABC/Washington Post Poll which found that 60% of Americans now feel that war has “not been worth it.” That’s a big increase from the 53% who said they opposed the war in July.
Clearly, any honest and professional journalist and editor would see a news link between such a poll result and an anti-war protest at the White House led, for the first time in recent memory, by a veterans organization, the group Veterans for Peace, in which veterans of the nation’s wars actually put themselves on the line to be arrested to protest a current war.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2270 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 2:40pm »
I know we all have pretty thin wallets but if anyone has any spare cash the Southwest Indian Foundation could sure use it. And they take PayPal
Southwest Indian Foundation
Our primary goal at the Southwest Indian Foundation is to lessen the poverty and unemployment among the Native Americans of the Southwest, specifically members of the Navajo, Zuni, Hopi, Laguna, Acoma, and Apache tribes. Through self-help initiatives and charitable donations, we are attempting to restore dignity and self-reliance to these native peoples. In addition, we strive to treat you -- our donors and catalog customers -- with the utmost respect, never taking for granted your kind and generous financial assistance towards our many critical programs. Though we are located in a remote region and our catalog primarily features handmade goods created by individuals working out of their homes, we attempt to provide the most timely and accurate service possible. But on those occasions when we fail to live up to this standard, we do everything in our power to remedy the situation.
DID YOU KNOW?
•The average per capita income on the Navajo Reservation is $6,217 •56% of Navajos on the Reservation live below the Poverty Level. •43% of labor force on the Reservation is unemployed.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2271 on: Dec 20th, 2010, 6:50pm »
Soldier risked life to help save Afghan girl By Kim Sengupta, Defence Correspondent Monday, 20 December 2010
A British soldier has been commended for putting his life at risk rather than endanger a 10-year-old Afghan girl during a firefight in Helmand. Lance Corporal Craig Murfitt was shot in the head by an insurgent who was using the girl as a "human shield". L/Cpl Murfitt, 25, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, said: "I knew I could take him down but, being a dad myself, I didn't want to run the risk. So I waited, hoping that the child would drop down and give me a clear shot."
Lance Corporal Murfitt
Lance Corporal Murfitt's helmet with hole
However, the gunman opened fire and Lance Corporal Murfitt was hit on the side of his helmet, knocking him over. “I tried to stand but I had disco legs and just had to sit down again for a bit,” he said.
Lance Corporal Murfitt, from Devon, was praised by senior officers for upholding the highest standards of “courageous restraint”, the doctrine which asks service personnel to exercise caution in order to minimise civilian casualties.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2272 on: Dec 21st, 2010, 08:12am »
New York Times
December 20, 2010 U.S. Military Seeks to Expand Raids in Pakistan By MARK MAZZETTI and DEXTER FILKINS
WASHINGTON — Senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas, a risky strategy reflecting the growing frustration with Pakistan’s efforts to root out militants there.
The proposal, described by American officials in Washington and Afghanistan, would escalate military activities inside Pakistan, where the movement of American forces has been largely prohibited because of fears of provoking a backlash.
The plan has not yet been approved, but military and political leaders say a renewed sense of urgency has taken hold, as the deadline approaches for the Obama administration to begin withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Even with the risks, military commanders say that using American Special Operations troops could bring an intelligence windfall, if militants were captured, brought back across the border into Afghanistan and interrogated.
The Americans are known to have made no more than a handful of forays across the border into Pakistan, in operations that have infuriated Pakistani officials. Now, American military officers appear confident that a shift in policy could allow for more routine incursions.
America’s clandestine war in Pakistan has for the most part been carried out by armed drones operated by the C.I.A.
Additionally, in recent years, Afghan militias backed by the C.I.A. have carried out a number of secret missions into Pakistan’s tribal areas. These operations in Pakistan by Afghan operatives, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, have been previously reported as solely intelligence-gathering operations. But interviews in recent weeks revealed that on at least one occasion, the Afghans went on the offensive and destroyed a militant weapons cache.
The decision to expand American military activity in Pakistan, which would almost certainly have to be approved by President Obama himself, would amount to the opening of a new front in the nine-year-old war, which has grown increasingly unpopular among Americans. It would run the risk of angering a Pakistani government that has been an uneasy ally in the war in Afghanistan, particularly if it leads to civilian casualties or highly public confrontations.
Still, one senior American officer said, “We’ve never been as close as we are now to getting the go-ahead to go across.”
The officials who described the proposal and the intelligence operations declined to be identified by name discussing classified information.
Ground operations in Pakistan remain controversial in Washington, and there may be a debate over the proposal. One senior administration official said he was not in favor of cross-border operations — which he said have been generally “counterproductive” — unless they were directed against top leaders of Al Qaeda. He expressed concern that political fallout in Pakistan could negate any tactical gains.
Still, as evidence mounts that Pakistani troops are unlikely to stage a major offensive into the militant stronghold of North Waziristan, where Al Qaeda’s top leaders are thought to be taking shelter, United States commanders have renewed their push for approval to send American commando teams into Pakistan.
In announcing the results of a review of the strategy in Afghanistan, Obama administration officials said they were considering expanded American operations to deal with threats inside Pakistan. They offered no specifics.
In interviews in Washington and Kabul, American officials said that officers were drawing up plans to begin ground operations to capture or kill leaders from the Taliban and the Haqqani network. American officers say they are particularly eager to capture, as opposed to kill, militant leaders, who they say can offer intelligence to guide future operations.
Even before finalizing any plans to increase raids across the border, the Obama administration has already stepped up its air assaults in the tribal areas with an unprecedented number of C.I.A. drone strikes this year. Since September, the spy agency has carried out more than 50 drone attacks in North Waziristan and elsewhere — compared with 60 strikes in the preceding eight months.
In interviews, the officials offered a more detailed description of two operations since 2008 in which Afghans working under the direction of the C.I.A. — a militia called the Paktika Defense Force — crossed the border into Pakistan. They also offered a richer account of the activities of these militia groups throughout the country.
According to an Afghan political leader, one of the raids was initiated to capture a Taliban commander working inside Pakistan. When the Afghan troops reached the compound, they did not find the Taliban commander, but the Pakistani militants opened fire on them, the Afghan said.
An American official disputed this account, saying that the C.I.A. militias are not sent over the border to capture militant leaders, but merely to gather intelligence.
In a second raid, the Paktika militia attacked and destroyed a Taliban ammunition depot and returned to base, officials said. Both of the C.I.A.-backed raids were aimed at compounds only a few miles inside Pakistani territory.
The Paktika Defense Force is one of six C.I.A.-trained Afghan militias that serve as a special operations force against insurgents throughout Afghanistan. The other militias operate around the cities of Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad as well as in the rural provinces of Khost and Kunar.
One American service member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the C.I.A.-backed militia near Khost had recently deployed in the mountains along the Pakistan border, where it would spend the winter trying to intercept Taliban fighters. So far, the C.I.A.-backed force has proven effective, he said.
“The rockets we endured for the past seven months suddenly dried up,” the service member said.
In the past, the American military has had only limited success in its few cross-border operations. In October, an American military helicopter accidently killed a group of Pakistani soldiers during a flight over the border in pursuit of militants. The episode infuriated Pakistan’s government, which temporarily shut down American military supply routes into Pakistan. Several fuel trucks sitting at the border were destroyed by insurgents, and American officials publicly apologized.
Two years earlier, in September 2008, American commandos carried out a raid in Pakistan’s tribal areas and killed several people suspected of being insurgents. The episode led to outrage among Pakistan’s leaders — and warnings not to try again.
Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Dexter Filkins from Kabul, Afghanistan. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2273 on: Dec 21st, 2010, 08:16am »
New York Times
December 21, 2010 North Korea’s Restraint Could Signal New Policy By MARTIN FACKLER and MARK McDONALD
SEOUL, South Korea — A day after North Korea backed off threats of violent retaliation for South Korean artillery drills, analysts and policy makers in Seoul said on Tuesday that the North’s unexpected restraint might signal, at least for now, that it is shifting away from its recent military provocations.
North Korea had vowed retaliation if South Korea went ahead with its planned live-fire drills on Yeonpyeong Island, where a North Korean artillery barrage last month killed two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. But when the South defied those threats and held a 94-minute drill on Monday, the North’s official news agency reversed itself by saying it was “not worth reacting” to the exercise.
Political analysts could only speculate about the sudden change in tone by North Korea, one of the world’s most closed and secretive societies. They said that a visit to North Korea by an unofficial American envoy, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, that came at the same time may have helped. Indeed, the North seemed to offer Mr. Richardson an olive branch by its willingness to allow United Nations inspectors back in to monitor its nuclear program.
Most political analysts in Seoul said the most likely scenario was that the North had decided to bide its time while waiting to see whether its attack last month would pressure South Korea and the United States into talks, and possibly even concessions. They said this was a recurring pattern in the North’s unique brand of brinkmanship: making a provocation in hopes of forcing the other side to the bargaining table.
Despite North Korea’s propaganda of proud independence, Korea watchers noted that it is desperate to obtain food aid from the South, especially with the hard winter months ahead, and possibly even win security guarantees from Washington as the North’s ailing dictator, Kim Jong-il, tries to engineer the succession of his youngest and untested third son, Kim Jong-un.
“North Korea was thinking very strategically,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “I think they are trying to create the mood for dialogue.”
South Korea had defiantly pushed forward with the drills, despite warnings that they might cause an escalation, and calls by China and Russia to cancel them. By refusing to bite at what appeared to be a military challenge by the South, the North was perhaps hoping to cast itself as the more reasonable of the two Koreas, particularly to its traditional backers in Beijing and Moscow, some analysts said.
They also suggested the North might be trying to repair its image among the South Korean public, which reacted with outrage to the civilian deaths on Yeonpyeong. Some analysts said the North plays a sometimes sophisticated game of wooing public opinion in the South, particularly on the left, aimed at winning support for economic aid and other engagement policies.
“The world should properly know who is the true champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of a war,” the North’s news agency said on Monday.
Still, it is unclear how much success the North’s strategy will have, particularly in bringing its opponents to the bargaining table. The United States has refused to engage in bilateral talks with the North, insisting that all dialogue take place within the six-party process that also includes China, Japan, Russia and the South. But Washington, Tokyo and Seoul have also rejected recent calls by the other three nations for an emergency restart of the six-party talks without signs that the North is willing to dismantle its nuclear program, something the North appears unwilling to do.
However, if the North feels that South Korea and the United States are still giving it the cold shoulder, then it could well strike again, most likely by finding some new weak point in South Korea’s defenses. Analysts said the response is almost certain to be asymmetric — unpredictable, unconventional, unexpected.
This was the case in last month’s shelling, which South Korean security officials admitted surprised them because they had not expected an attack on civilian areas. “Their provocations are beyond our imaginations,” said Gen. Han Min-koo, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Analysts say these provocations reflect the increasing desperation of the communist North, which needs the resumption of aid shipments from the wealthier, capitalist South to prop up its impoverished state-run economy. In late October, Seoul rejected a request by Pyongyang for 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer. Aid groups have estimated that the North’s own grain production this year appeared to fall a million tons short of what it needs to feed its 24 million people.
South Korean aid has trickled nearly to a halt under President Lee Myung-bak, who came to power nearly three years ago with the demand that the North reciprocate by ending its nuclear weapons program. North Korea angrily refused, and began a series of provocations that included the sinking in March of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors (for which the North has denied responsibility), last month’s lethal shelling of Yeonpyeong, and the recent revelation of an expanded uranium-enrichment program at its Yongbyon complex.
Some analysts said the North also seeks a peace treaty with the United States that would recognize the Kim family government’s right to exist. Neither the United States nor the two Koreas signed a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which came to a halt in with a cease-fire.
“North Korea has specific reasons for negotiations, and Kim Jong-il is seeking the end of hostilities with the United States, recognition of his government and the survival of his regime,” said Chung Dong-young, an opposition lawmaker who, as the former unification minister, negotiated directly with the North Korean leader in 2005.
Some political analysts said it may also be tough for Mr. Lee’s government to make concessions to the North after he faced such withering public criticism for what has been seen here as weak responses to the shelling of Yeonpyeong and the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in nearby waters.
“The Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island changed public opinion,” said Song Dae-sung, president of the Sejong Institute, a private research group. “The people want a harder line toward North Korea.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2274 on: Dec 21st, 2010, 08:26am »
New York Times
December 20, 2010, 11:47 pm Actor Injured in Fall During ‘Spider-Man’ Performance By DAVE ITZKOFF and HAMILTON BOARDMAN
An actor playing Spider-Man was injured during a performance of the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Monday night. 7:42 a.m. | Updated
An actor performing in the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” was injured during a performance Monday night, according to the police and several witnesses.
Theatergoers who attended Monday’s performance of “Spider-Man,” a $65 million musical featuring complicated aerial stunts, said they saw a performer playing the title hero fall about 8 to 10 feet into a pit during the closing minutes of the show, and that some equipment fell into the audience when this occurred. A video of the performance showed a line holding the performer apparently snap.
A police spokesman confirmed that a male actor was injured at about 10:42 p.m. and taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. No other information was immediately released.
A spokesman for the musical, e-mailing a few hours after the incident, did not identify the injured actor, but said that it was not Reeve Carney, the lead actor who plays Spider-Man and his alter ego, Peter Parker. Other actors play Spider-Man throughout the show during various stunts and action sequences.
On Tuesday morning, press representatives for “Spider-Man” did not immediately reply to an inquiry about the identity of the actor or his status. However, the “Spider-Man” actress Natalie Mendoza, who plays the spider-goddess Arachne, wrote on her Twitter feed: “Please pray with me for my friend Chris, my superhero who quietly inspires me everyday with his spirit. A light in my heart went dim tonight.” She appeared to be referring to her fellow cast member Christopher Tierney, who is an aerialist and ensemble member in the musical. Bellevue Hospital Center confirmed that on Monday night it had received a patient by that name.
Steven Tartick, an audience member, said the accident occurred during a scene when Spider-Man is rescuing his love interest, Mary Jane, as she dangles from a rope attached to a bridge.
Mr. Tartick said he saw the actor playing Spider-Man appear to trip and fall from the bridge, into an open pit at the end of the stage.
“You heard screams,” Mr. Tartick said. “You heard a woman screaming and sobbing.”
Mr. Tartick said there was a blackout, and then the house lights in the theater were restored. An announcement made in the theater first said there would be a delay in the performance. The announcement was then updated to say the show was over.
Scott Smith and Matthew Smith, brothers who attended Monday’s “Spider-Man” performance, watched the show from the balcony of the Foxwoods Theater. In an interview outside the theater, Matthew Smith said: “It looked like it was supposed to happen. But he fell at a faster pace. It didn’t look right.”
Brian Lynch, an audience member, described the scene at the Foxwoods Theater on his Twitter feed, writing: “Stopped short near end. Someone took nasty fall. Screaming. 911 called. No idea what happened, kicked audience out.” He added: “No joke. No explanation. MJ and Spidey took what seemed to be a planned fall into the stage pit. Then we heard MJ screaming.”
Christine Bord, another eyewitness, described events outside the theater in a blog post on her Web site, onlocationvacations.com.
In a telephone interview, Ms. Bord said two ambulances and a fire truck were already waiting outside the theater when most audience members exited. The actor was quickly brought out on a stretcher, wrapped in protective gear and wearing a neck brace. He acknowledged the crowd which clapped for him before an ambulance took him away. Ms. Bord said this transpired in no more than five or ten minutes.
The “Spider-Man” musical has faced several setbacks during its preview period, with one of its actresses suffering a concussion and two actors who were injured by a sling-shot technique meant to propel them across the stage. On Friday it was announced that “Spider-Man” was delaying its official opening by four weeks to Feb. 7 so that creative changes could be made to the show.
A press representative for “Spider-Man” said in an email message: “An actor sustained an injury at tonight’s performance of ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.’ He fell several feet from a platform approximately seven minutes before the end of the performance, and the show was stopped. All signs were good as he was taken to the hospital for observation. We will have more news shortly.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2275 on: Dec 21st, 2010, 08:32am »
Klingon Christmas Carol brought to the stage
It is the perfect Christmas present for the avid Star Trek fan: a ticket to the Klingon Christmas Carol.
7:00AM GMT 21 Dec 2010
A theatre in Chicago is staging a production of the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" with a twist.
The entire play is delivered in thIngan Hol, the language of the Klingon race, which was developed in 1984 by linguist Marc Okrand for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
The show features a miserly alien warrior named SQuja', Klingon for Scrooge, who is visited by a trio of holiday ghosts who help him regain the festive spirit so that he can save sickly Tiny Tim.
The story takes place on the Klingon planet of Kronos during the Feast of the Long Night.
Written by Christopher O. Kidder and Sasha Walloch, the show's poster reads: "Scrooge has no honour, nor any courage.
Can three ghosts help him to become the true warrior he ought to be in time to save Tiny Tim from a horrible fate? Performed in the Original Klingon with English Supertitles, and narrative analysis from The Vulcan Institute of Cultural Anthropology."
Mr Kidder told the Wall Street Journal that the play could be enjoyed by people who did not speak thIngan Hol.
"The story of Ebeneezer Scrooge is eternal and universal. But that alone isn't what does it. Also, Star Trek has worked its way into the fabric of American pop culture so much, that even those people who aren't Trekkies (or, Trekkers) understand what's going on."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2276 on: Dec 21st, 2010, 08:39am »
Wired Danger Room
Hundreds of Army Social Scientists Unqualified, Former Boss Says By Spencer Ackerman December 21, 2010 | 7:00 am Categories: Info War
Steve Fondacaro Photo: Steve Featherstone
Nearly five years after the Army began a controversial program to embed social scientists in combat units, the former director and chief bureaucratic force behind the program says that over a third of those researchers never should have been part of the program in the first place.
“Thirty to 40 percent of the people were not qualified,” says Steve Fondacaro, the retired Army colonel who ran the Human Terrain System from its 2006 birth until he was ousted in June. He’s speaking out in a rare post-firing interview because the contract to supply HTS with social-science experts is up for grabs — and the company that handled the job for the last five years hobbled the program, he says.
The Army’s Training and Doctrine Commands disagrees, and the company, BAE Systems, didn’t answer Danger Room’s questions. But with the program expanding, the ability of the next HTS contractor to provide local commanders with quality cultural advisers could make an enormous difference in the American combat efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Simply put, if the United States can’t understand the populations it deals with in complex, irregular wars like Afghanistan — their traditions, their social structures, their power dynamics — then American counterinsurgency efforts are in deep trouble.
“Dealing with BAE was extremely difficult,” Fondacaro tells Danger Room. The contractor found it staggeringly difficult to provide “what I needed in terms of people and functions” for the program. That is, social scientists who both were physically and intellectually fit to operate in austere conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who were “flexible enough to work with a military organization.”
But BAE struck Fondacaro as “unwilling to do the hard work in terms of screening and testing, finding the people capable of working with the energy, the intellectual capacity and the competence for this exercise we were about to embark on.” In one case, BAE provided HTS with an octogenarian Iraqi-American for a job translating in Iraq.
In another case, it gave HTS an applicant with a warrant out for her arrest for vehicular manslaughter — “which could have been easily ascertained through a cursory background investigation,” says Montgomery McFate, until recently the program’s top social scientist. “While BAE sent us some amazing people, they also sent us some people who were clearly not deployable,” she adds.
“Some of the people they were sending me were not up to par, and I had to let them go from the program,” Fondacaro says. “We had some people who did not work out downrange. It was just a very uncooperative arrangement.”
While Fondacaro has been portrayed in some corners of the blogosphere as a huckster looking to get rich off of a program that grew to a $100 million-plus annual budget, he doesn’t express a particularly rosy view of defense contractors: “They like to go out and get the lowest common denominator of people and charge the government an exorbitant price for them. I don’t blame them for that, it’s just business.” But the Army, in Fondacaro’s view, failed to keep BAE in check.
When HTS began, it was seen as a way for the military to overcome its near-crippling ignorance about the cultural, political and social landscapes of the war zones it was fighting in. The idea behind HTS was to give local infantry commanders their own set of cultural advisers. They’d poll the locals, map out tribal alliances, and sort out the real power brokers from the blowhards.
With that information in hand, the HTS leaders promised, American forces could win battles while firing a fraction of the bullets they did before. “In a counterinsurgency, your level of success is inversely proportional to the amount of lethal force that you expend,” McFate said in 2008.
The first test of the HTS went almost too well to be believed, with a local commander in Afghanistan crediting his Human Terrain Team with an astonishing 60 to 70 percent drop in the number of bombs-and-bullets strikes he had to make. The program grew exponentially, to 27 teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. But no commander ever made a similar boast about HTS’ influence. And complaints about the program’s recruits metastasized, making the program look like an unworthy enterprise.
One of its translators was charged with espionage. Another team member shot and killed an Afghan civilian. Several teams were reshuffled during their deployment for a variety of competence concerns.
Some members were taken hostage, and three died during their deployments. There was at least one mass staffer exodus.
External problems compounded as well. Professional anthropological associations blasted the program for subordinating anthropology to U.S. military objectives. Out of concerns for the program’s ability to conduct oversight over its field teams, Congress ordered for the Army to conduct an investigation into the program’s utility.
BAE referred questions to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC. “We’re committed to supporting the Army and ensuring success for the HTS program,” says Stephanie Moncada, a BAE spokeswoman, in a brief comment. “We believe in the program’s mission, and we believe we’ve contributed positively to its success.”
Maxie McFarland, who oversees Human Terrain for TRADOC — and who praised Fondacaro as “a tremendous guy” — concedes that the contract requirements could have been tighter, but says that the Human Terrain System was trying to do something unprecedented. “When you’re starting something new and uncertain,” he says, “you try to make performance work statements be broad, to give yourself flexibility to change and adjust.”
TRADOC is set to release a new solicitation for a contractor to recruit and train HTS staffers. (A version for small businesses was released in September.) BAE wants to retain the contract; McFarland hopes to award it in the new year. Among the requirements he wants to rein in: the four-month training period for HTS social scientists, which he wants to shrink.
But McFarland says Fondacaro is wrong to call a substantial chunk of HTS staff unfit for Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the 650 people to come through the program since its 2006 inception, “92 percent of them have completed their tour.” The pre-deployment training program’s “washout rate” has fallen from 22 percent to 5 percent, McFarland says, and the reasons for washing out typically concern physical fitness or minor security-clearance issues.
When talking to brigade commanders returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, McFarland says he typically hears, “If nothing else continues with what we’ve done in adjusting our force structure [during] eight years of war, the Human Terrain Systems should continue.”
And continue they will. HTS’ new program manager, Col. Sharon Hamilton, recently told Inside The Army that U.S. Central Command wants nine new Human Terrain Teams in Afghanistan by the summer. Only, McFate and Fondacaro won’t be involved.
In June 2010, with the congressionally directed investigation underway into HTS’ allegedly lax oversight of its field teams, Fondacaro learned his services were no longer welcome. He considers himself thrown under the bus: “What do you do” when under investigation, Fondacaro says. “Within the government, you usually start your own investigation, to get your excuses all set together, and you ID something to blame, or someone.”
That’s a charge McFarland denies. “I asked Steve for his resignation,” he says, because he was “not the right guy to institutionalize” the program, having pushed the Army bureaucracy hard to get it to accept the concept of anthropologists and sociologists wearing body armor and working with combat brigades.
“At some point, for any program to endure, it has to become part of the system,” McFarland says. It “just so happens” that Fondacaro’s ouster coincides with the still-unreleased inquiry. He wanted McFate to stay, but she resigned in the summer, having recently had a baby and looking for a change, particularly now that her friend Fondacaro was gone. McFate recently started a job at the Naval War College in Newport.
Fondacaro doesn’t know what his next move is yet. He just hopes that the Human Terrain System continues — with stronger oversight, at institutional levels higher than TRADOC. “I’ll do anything to help the program, aid the program, and [raise] as much awareness, accurate awareness, about what this program is about and what it still needs to achieve,” he says. “If it disappears because it’s too laden with political problems and this crap, that will be a disaster.”