Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2820 on: Feb 6th, 2011, 07:53am »
New York Times
February 5, 2011, 5:04 pm Stock-Hedging Lets Bankers Skirt Efforts to Overhaul Pay By ERIC DASH
Intent on fixing a banking system that contributed heavily to the recent financial crisis, lawmakers and regulators pushed Wall Street to overhaul its pay practices. Big banks responded by shifting more compensation into stock, a move intended to align employees’ interests more closely with those of investors and discourage excessive risk-taking.
But it turns out that executives have a way to get around those best-laid plans. Using complex investment transactions, they can limit the downside on their holdings, or even profit, as other shareholders are suffering.
More than a quarter of Goldman Sachs’s partners, a highly influential group of around 475 top executives, used these hedging strategies from July 2007 through November 2010, according to a New York Times analysis of regulatory filings. The arrangements were intended to protect their personal portfolios when the firm’s stock was highly volatile, especially at the height of the crisis.
Such transactions are at the center of a debate over whether Wall Street executives should be allowed to hedge their stock holdings. The concern with hedging is that executives can easily break the ties between compensation and company performance. Employees who hedge their holdings are less concerned about a falling share price. That’s why the government barred top executives at banks that received multiple bailouts from using the strategies until they paid back the funds.
“Many of these hedging activities can create situations when the executives’ interests run counter to the company,” said Patrick McGurn, a governance adviser at RiskMetrics, which advises investors. “I think a lot of people feel this doesn’t have a place in a compensation structure.”
More broadly, critics say, the practice of hedging represents another end run around financial reform.
For example, new rules that cracked down on debit card fees have led several big banks to eliminate free checking. Firms also plan to make up missing revenue by adapting their businesses to the tougher new regulations on derivatives and trading with the banks’ own capital.
“Wall Street is saying it is reforming itself by granting stock to executives and exposing them to the long-term risk of that investment,” said Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Hedging the risk can substantially undo that reform.”
Most public companies, including Wall Street firms, have policies that ban the practice for only their most senior executives, though the number of executives affected varies by company.
At The New York Times, executive officers and other employees who have access to material nonpublic information about the company may not engage in hedging without written approval — a group that includes more than 100 people, as well as anyone they supervise.
Shareholders can figure out the investment practices of the highest-ranking officers of a public company, who are required by law to report. Even those disclosures are buried deep in the footnotes of regulatory filings. Whether lower-level executives are hedging is nearly impossible to determine.
But the unusual structure of the Goldman partnership requires the company to disclose the investment activities of partners in filings. The documents provide a window into what a broad range of senior executives were doing with their own shares.
Hedging — a commonly used tactic for years, especially during times of weakness or volatility — makes sense for executives at public companies who have amassed a large concentration of stock. They allow employees to limit losses, raise cash, or diversify their portfolios without selling the underlying holdings. Any individual investor can use hedging tactics for the same reasons, but few do because the transactions are complicated and make more sense for those who own a large amount of stock.
“Goldman Sachs shares represent the largest component of the wealth for many of our employees,” said Michael Duvally, a Goldman spokesman. “Hedging or outright sales, when allowed, can be a prudent part of a portfolio diversification strategy.”
By maintaining their stake, executives can continue to vote on shareholder proposals that influence the direction of the business. Hedging also helps investors to avoid the tax obligations associated with offloading stock.
There are various types of hedging strategies, many of which involve stock options. In one transaction, known as a covered call, a long-term shareholder can make income off a stock for a few months, provided it stays below a certain level. But if the price soars, the investor will not benefit from most of the rise.
In another hedge, known as a collar, an investor uses options to lock in the potential profits and losses on a stock. Although the move caps the potential upside, it also limits the risk.
Institutional hedging policies vary across Wall Street. Bank of America bans all employees from hedging their company stock, although management can make exceptions for “legitimate, nonspeculative purposes.”
But most big banks — including JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs — prohibit only their highest-ranking executives from such transactions. At Goldman, the chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and nine other top officers are not permitted to hedge their holdings, Mr. Duvally said.
The rest of Goldman’s employees can hedge shares they own outright. But they can’t make such moves with restricted stock. The partners, some of whom shape the firm’s strategy as heads of major business units, are required to hold 25 percent of their equity awards and are not allowed to hedge that portion of their holdings.
“Our equity awards vest over a multi-year period, are subject to clawbacks and cannot be hedged until they are delivered to our employees,” Mr. Duvally said. “These policies align equity compensation with the firm’s performance.”
The filings illustrate how routinely Goldman’s executives used the strategies. From July 2007 through November 2010, at least 135 partners used options to protect themselves from stock drops or to profit if shares held steady.
Several used such transactions routinely. Among them: David J. Greenwald, Goldman’s deputy general counsel overseeing its international businesses; Peter C. Aberg, a senior executive in the mortgage group; and Jack Levy, co-chairman of mergers and acquisitions. Howard Wietschner, the co-head of a hedge fund advisory group, had at least 32 such arrangements.
Shareholders over the same period endured roller coaster volatility. Goldman shares peaked at $248 in fall 2007 before dropping to $52 a year later after Lehman Brothers failed. At $164.83 on Friday, the stock still has not reached its former highs.
Regulators are taking a hard look at the practices. The Financial Stability Board, a group of global banking supervisors, wants firms to restrict employees from using the strategies. The Federal Reserve is examining hedging in its review of bank compensation.
And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is expected to propose on Monday a new rule requiring big banks to defer at least 50 percent of annual stock and cash bonuses. That compensation would be released over the course of three years, so that executives don’t reap big, short-term windfalls even if their bets don’t pan out.
As part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, the S.E.C. is hashing out regulations that would require all public companies to disclose their policies. Congress inserted the rule in the bill to discourage executives from hedging. The final S.E.C. proposal is anticipated during the second half of 2011.
For Goldman partners, the most popular hedging strategy was covered calls. Take Christopher Cole, chairman of Goldman’s investment bank and a member of the management committee. From 2007 to 2009, he made at least 11 such transactions, earning more than $675,000, according to the filings.
Not all strategies proved successful. With the stock around $98 in early February 2009, Milton R. Berlinski, who oversees a group that caters to private equity firms, made a risky bet called a short strangle. The maneuver would pay off if the stock stayed between $60 and $110 over the next six months. By mid-July 2009, Goldman shares were trading north of $156, meaning Mr. Berlinski took a loss.
Byron D. Trott, a Goldman partner best known as Warren E. Buffett’s investment banker, fared much better on one deal. In October 2008, Mr. Trott hedged 175,000 shares, using a collar to limit his profit potential but insulate him should the stock plummet over the next four months.
The transactions, set up months before, were executed just a few weeks after Mr. Buffett agreed to hand over $5 billion to Goldman in exchange for a potentially lucrative stake — a transaction Goldman hailed as a “strong validation of our client franchise and future prospects.” Mr. Trott, who did not return calls for comment, helped facilitate the investment. Goldman’s stock, which was trading around $128 that October, dropped to $73 by January. With the hedge, Mr. Trott lost roughly $2 million on the stake, less than a quarter of what he would have otherwise.
Two months later, Mr. Trott departed Goldman to start his own advisory firm.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2821 on: Feb 6th, 2011, 07:59am »
The 'conTROversy' over changing pronunciations
To language purists they might grate, but new ways of pronouncing words are spreading in Britain thanks to the influence of US culture.
By Jasper Copping 11:12PM GMT 05 Feb 2011
In a study by the British Library, interim results suggest a third of Britons taking part now adopt the American-style “skedule” over the traditional pronunciation, which has a softer “sh” sound.
Other US pronunciations taking root, according to researchers, are “pay-triotic”, in place of “pat-riotic”, and “advertISEment”, instead of “adVERTisement”.
The research, which is ongoing, is part of a series of projects connected to the British Library’s Evolving English exhibition.
It involves volunteers using the library’s website to submit a recording of themselves saying six prescribed words and stating where they are from.
Initial findings of the research have indicated that Britons are also creating a new way of saying controversy which hasn’t traditionally been used in Britain or the US.
Three quarters of Britons taking part say “conTROversy”, with the emphasis on the middle syllable, rather than the previously conventional “CONtroversy”.
Jonnie Robinson, curator of sociolinguistics and education at the British Library, said the word had undergone a “stress shift”. “The new pronunciation – conTROversy – does appear to be peculiarly British and it is catching on,” Mr Robinson said.
“People complain about it, when they hear it on the radio, for instance, and there might be a popular myth that this one is changing as a result of American usage – but there is no evidence that Americans are doing it.
“That isn’t the case with “skedule”, which is used by all Americans and does seem to be being adopted here, particularly by younger speakers.”
As well as "controversy" and "schedule", the other words being studied are:
- “garage”, which Britons are more likely to pronounce as “garridge”, over “garaarge”, which is universal in the US.
- “attitude”, where there is no sign of the British adopting the US “attitood” over “atti-chewed”.
– “neither” – despite the impression given in the George Gershwin song “Let’s call the whole thing off”, there is no clear divide between Britons and Americans, with “nee-ther” and “ny-ther” used on both sides of the Atlantic.
– “scone” – which Americans all rhyme with "bone", but which many British rhyme with “gone”. This is thought to be down to social and regional differences in the UK, which are still being analysed.
Hundreds of contributions have already been collected by the library but volunteers are still able to take part.
Linguists put changing pronunciations down to the influence of broadcasters and US culture.
Dr Wyn Johnson, from the department of language and linguistics at the University of Essex, said: “People are getting a bit more conscious of how words are pronounced.
“I think broadcasters could have an influence on this. The number of times something is heard, influences the way people pronounce it, because they assume that is the way to say it.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2822 on: Feb 6th, 2011, 08:04am »
Espionage trial of three Americans opens in Iranian court
Three US citizens who claimed they were hiking along Iraqi border in 2009 to be tried behind closed doors.
Associated Press guardian.co.uk Sunday 6 February 2011 10.40 GMT
An Iranian court today began closed-door proceedings in the espionage trial of three Americans whose detention has been the subject of impassioned family appeals and backdoor US diplomacy.
Tehran's revolutionary court imposed a blanket ban on observers, including the Swiss ambassador, Livia Leu Agosti, who represents US interests in Iran. Details of the initial proceedings were not known, but local journalists reported that the session was under way. Two of the Americans are in custody and one is freed on bail.
The Americans were detained in July 2009 at the Iraqi border. They claim they were hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region and if they crossed into Iran it was inadvertent. Iran, however, pressed forward with spy charges that could bring a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.
In September, Iranian officials released one of the Americans, Sarah Shourd, on $500,000 (£310,000) bail arranged through Oman, which maintains close ties to the west and Iran. The two others, Shourd's fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend, Josh Fattal, remain in Tehran's Evin prison.
It was not clear whether the two men were in the revolutionary court, which dealt with detainees after Iran's disputed elections in 2009. Last week, Iran officially demanded that Shourd return for the trial, but she has stayed in the US. Shourd and Bauer had been living together in Damascus, Syria, where Bauer was working as a freelance journalist and Shourd as an English teacher. Fattal, an environmental activist, went to visit them last July 2009 shortly before their trip to northern Iraq.
The families of the detainees have made high-profile appeals for their release, and the three mothers visited Tehran in May. The trip, which was carefully orchestrated by Iranian authorities, included a meeting between the mothers and relatives of five Iranians held for more than two years by the US military in Iraq.
Just days after her release, Shourd met Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while he was in New York for the UN general assembly and asked for his intervention to free Bauer and Fattal.
Ahmadinejad noted that while the Americans had broken the law by crossing into Iran, he would ask the judiciary to expedite the process and to "look at the case with maximum leniency".
Yet Ahmadinejad also has used the case to draw attention to Iranians held in the US, in particular a link to the trial in the US of Amir Hossein Ardebili, an Iranian who was sentenced to five years in prison last year after pleading guilty to plotting to ship sensitive US military technology to Iran.
The current case in Tehran recalls that of American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, who was arrested in Iran in January 2009 and convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison. She was freed on appeal in May 2009.
The case also highlights the power of Iran's judiciary, which is controlled directly by the nation's ruling clerics. It has rejected apparent calls for leniency from Ahmadinejad.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2823 on: Feb 6th, 2011, 08:08am »
Comic-Con 2011 Four-day Passes Sell Out
4:07 PM 2/5/2011 by Charlie Amter
Comic-Con, the large annual convention that has become a must-attend for film and comic book fanatics (and the industries that serve them), sold out of its four-day badges early Saturday afternoon. Tickets went on sale Saturday morning.
Single-day tickets are still available for the event, which is taking heat from fans after its ticketing vendor, Ticketleap.com, crashed multiple times Saturday.
"We're obviously not happy with this morning's events," the official Comic-Con Twitter account tweeted Saturday after the topic became a trending topic (#sdcc) on the social networking site.
Fans experienced slow load times which prevented many from securing the multiple-day passes.
RavenCrow tweeted,"I'm in total nerd rage about this #SDCC nonsense. I know I shouldn't be, but this was a horrible mess that wasted half of my Saturday."
Another frustrated user, THE_HART_ATTACK, wrote, "4 hours on @ticketleap and I still can't get any @Comic_Con tickets.
While Saturday morning proved tough going for many hoping to score four-day badges to the event where Hollywood studios have increasingly upped the ante when it comes to unveiling exclusive trailers and more, many were eventually able to secure tickets.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday, the official Comic Con Twitter account noted that four-day badges were sold out and that only one day tickets were still available.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2824 on: Feb 6th, 2011, 08:11am »
Genzyme, Sanofi boards meet to clinch $20 billion deal
By Toni Clarke and Caroline Jacobs
Sun Feb 6, 2011 8:03am EST
BOSTON/PARIS (Reuters) - Sanofi-Aventis SA is close to clinching a deal worth around $20 billion to buy Genzyme Corp, nearly nine months after the French drugmaker first put the idea to the U.S. biotech group.
The boards of both companies are scheduled to meet on Sunday to decide on Sanofi's proposed acquisition, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The deal is expected to be priced at $74 a share in cash, or more than $19 billion, plus a tradable contingent value right, or CVR, with an intrinsic value of $5 to $6 a share, the sources said.
Buying Genzyme will give Sanofi a new area for growth in the high-margin business of rare diseases as it seeks to diversify to make up for patent losses that will take out roughly a third of its 2008 sales base through to 2013.
"A $74 cash deal makes financial and strategic sense for Sanofi. It removes a substantial overhang and gives a bridge over the patent cliff they face," said Marc Booty, a fund manager at Pictet.
Sanofi Chief Executive Chris Viehbacher, who first told Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer he was interested in a deal on May 23 last year, took an initial bid of $69 a share directly to Genzyme shareholders in October. But the two companies in recent weeks have entered direct negotiations on a higher price.
The CVR is a tradable instrument, which promises a payout to shareholders over time based on the performance of Genzyme's experimental drug Lemtrada for multiple sclerosis. The drug is already sold under the brand name Campath for leukemia.
It is not possible to pin down what the CVR will begin to trade at, but a reasonable estimate may be $2 a share, since many of Genzyme's shareholders are short-term investors who will want to sell immediately.
A Sanofi spokesman said the French drugmaker was continuing to review Genzyme's business and declined to say when a deal might be concluded.
"As we have already indicated, we have signed a confidentiality agreement with Genzyme and we are still looking at non-public information. We have no further comment," he said.
Sanofi is due to release its full-year financial results on Wednesday and a deal could be announced before then, possibly as early as Monday, although unresolved issues mean the timing is uncertain, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The two companies have been discussing a potential deal, including a CVR, for several weeks, trying to bridge a wide gap in their expectations for Lemtrada. Genzyme has forecast peak annual sales of $3.5 billion, while Sanofi, using the average of several analyst estimates, expects only about $700 million.
Helvea analyst Karl-Heinz Koch said a CVR was a smart way for Sanofi to deal with the unknowns surrounding Lemtrada.
"They are not paying upfront for a lot of uncertainty -- that's important," he said. "At $74 plus a CVR the deal terms would be within reason ... The earnings leverage to Sanofi is substantial. They can extract a couple of billions in profit by integrating Genzyme."
The nominal value of the CVR is expected to be between $12 and $15, to be paid out over seven or eight years, according to one source.
But a standard discount is applied to those figures to determine their present value. That figure is then risk-adjusted depending on investors' assessment of the likelihood of the company meeting its goals.
Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs are advising Genzyme. JPMorgan, Evercore Partners and Morgan Stanley are advising Sanofi.
(Additional reporting by Noelle Mennella and Jessica Hall in Philadelphia; Writing by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Holmes)
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2825 on: Feb 6th, 2011, 08:22am »
Watch a meticulous fan-assembled documentary of the Star Wars trilogy
Using snippets of behind-the-scenes footage, interview commentaries, and concept art, videographer Jambe Davdar has assembled an awe-inspiring YouTube play-by-play of the Star Wars trilogy. He previously made two of these patchwork documentaries (Building Empire and Returning of the Jedi) and has just finished the final installment, Star Wars Begins.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2829 on: Feb 7th, 2011, 08:45am »
New York Times
February 7, 2011 WikiLeaks Founder Back in Court to Challenge Extradition By RAVI SOMAIYA and JOHN F. BURNS
LONDON — Facing his most crucial legal battle so far, Julian Assange, the founder of the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks, appeared on Monday at a hearing to decide whether he will be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexual abuse.
The two-day hearing, which began with detailed procedural arguments at Woolwich Crown Court, was the culmination of an acrimonious public battle between Mr. Assange and prosecutors in Sweden who have, since last October, sought to question him about accusations of unlawful coercion, sexual molestation and rape made by two women in Stockholm last summer.
Wearing a blue suit and a red tie, Mr. Assange sat implacably as details of the accusations were read out.
Swedish authorities challenged Mr. Assange’s assertion that, if extradited to Sweden, he might face illegal rendition to the United States. Claire Montgomery, a lawyer acting for the Swedish government, said his argument hinged “on a factual hypothesis that has not yet been established as a real risk.”
Geoffrey Robertson, a member of Mr. Assange’s defense team, said the main plank of his argument would be that, because Sweden has a policy of hearing sexual charges in closed court, justice “cannot be done.” Given the intense news media coverage of the case, he said, even if Mr. Assange were ultimately cleared, “the stigma will remain.”
Smiling and looking relaxed, Mr. Assange arrived at the courthouse about half an hour before the hearing was scheduled to begin and joined a line of people passing through security checks. The hearing is being held at Belmarsh, a bleak, concrete building in southeast London adjacent to a high-security prison often used to detain terrorism suspects.
Scores of television satellite vans, photographers and journalists arrived to chronicle the hearings while antiwar demonstrators gathered nearby, reciting the names of the 350 Britons killed in the Afghanistan war, where British soldiers form the second biggest contingent after the much larger American deployment.
Mr. Assange, who was briefly jailed in relation to the accusations when he was initially denied bail late last year, has denied any wrongdoing, though he admits to consensual sexual relations with the two women, both volunteers for WikiLeaks.
Now electronically tagged while on bail, and confined to the plush country mansion of a friend while the legal proceedings continue, he has characterized the charges as a smear campaign by unidentified forces to thwart his work in leaking hundreds of thousands of classified United States government and military documents. It is an argument that has found favor among celebrity supporters like the filmmaker Michael Moore and throngs of strident free speech protesters who fill the streets outside each of his hearings. The charges have not prevented his supporters from nominating him for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
His defense lawyers will argue, among other things, that British authorities should not approve an extradition request filed by their Swedish counterparts last December because he might face “illegal rendition” from Sweden to the United States, according to a 35-page document they released before the hearing. He could, they will argue, be imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility or even subject to the death penalty. Though officials from the United States Department of Justice have subpoenaed the Twitter accounts of five people, including Mr. Assange, connected with WikiLeaks, no new information about a possible United States prosecution has emerged this year.
But close friends of Mr. Assange, who did not want to be identified, have said in recent weeks that the fear of extreme measures by the United States is a strong motivator in his decision to fight the accusations so vigorously — he has said he will appeal to Britain’s highest courts, and even to the pan-European tribunals, if the decision in the extradition hearing goes against him.
Mr. Assange has not yet been charged with any crime — he is sought for questioning to establish whether a full prosecution will continue. Even if proved, the accusations refer to relatively minor offenses under a complex Swedish legal system that provides for several levels of sexual crimes. The most serious charge, that of rape, carries no minimum sentence and a maximum of four years’ imprisonment.
The case centers on a period last August when, shortly after releasing 77,000 secret American documents from the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Assange flew to Stockholm to give a speech. There, according to legal documents and testimony given in previous hearings, he had sexual relations with two WikiLeaks volunteers referred to in British courts only as Ms. A and Ms. W. According to the documents and to Swedish friends, Ms. A is a left-wing activist in her early 30s. Ms. W, in her mid-20s, is a sometimes-artist who occasionally works in one of Stockholm’s museums. Both, friends have said, were strong WikiLeaks supporters.
Their accounts, which form the basis of the extradition case, 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.
WikiLeaks has also begun publishing documents from a trove of some 250,000 cables between American embassies and the State Department in Washington. Since Mr. Assange was freed on bail in mid-December, some of those documents relating to Middle Eastern corruption have assumed a higher profile, fueling the anger that led to the overthrow of Tunisia’s strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in mid-January and cited in accounts on Monday of the intersection of money, politics and power in Egypt, where an uprising is now in its third week.
Beyond his denials, Mr. Assange has refused to address the women’s claims, or those of the Swedish prosecutors, directly, telling Swedish police in an interview on Aug. 30 only that the accounts were “incredible lies,” and shunning journalists who have persisted in raising the issue.
But in interviews, his defense lawyers have dismissed the charges and suggested that undue political influence led to the case being reopened after it was initially quashed. Mark Stephens, Mr. Assange’s lead lawyer in London, has repeatedly said, without providing details, that “a senior political figure” was behind the move.
The reference appears to have been to Claes Borgstrom, the lawyer for Ms. A and Ms. W, who is Sweden’s former equal opportunities ombudsman, and the spokesman on gender equality issues for the Social Democratic Party, the main opposition group in the Swedish Parliament.
In an interview in Stockholm last year, Mr. Borgstrom, 66, told The New York Times that, by presenting the allegations against him as part of a political conspiracy, Mr. Assange had made “victims” of the two women, who now faced vilification on the Internet and regular death threats. “There are three persons who know for a fact that this has nothing to do with WikiLeaks, the C.I.A. or the Obama administration, and they are Julian Assange and my two clients,” he said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2830 on: Feb 7th, 2011, 08:49am »
Thai and Cambodian clashes resume at disputed border
Fighting between Thai and Cambodian troops enters a fourth day as Cambodian premier Hun Sen warns of threat to regional stability
Associated Press guardian.co.uk Monday 7 February 2011 04.47 GMT
Machine-gun and artillery fire echoed across the frontier between Thailand and Cambodia as fighting between border troops continued for a fourth day near an 11th century temple that has been caught in the crossfire.
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said the clashes, which began on Friday, resumed early today after halting around midnight. Cambodian officials say Thai artillery has destroyed part of a wall of the Preah Vihear temple, a UN World Heritage Site. Thai officials have dismissed the claims as propaganda, and the extent of the damage is unknown. The temple, built more than 900 years ago, belongs to Cambodia under a 1962 World Court ruling disputed by many Thais.
The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has warned the fighting poses a threat to regional stability. He said the latest clash was sparked after Thai soldiers crossed the border in search of the body of a comrade, and Cambodians opened fire to repel them.
A Thai army spokesman said on Sunday that about 10 Thai soldiers were wounded, while Hun Sen said the clashes resulted in "more human casualties and damages" but did not elaborate.
Hun Sen has sent a letter to the UN Security Council calling for an emergency meeting to help end the fighting.
Disputes over the crumbling stone temple, which sits several hundred feet from Thailand's eastern border with Cambodia, has fuelled nationalist sentiment on both sides of the disputed frontier for decades.
In 1962 the World Court determined that the temple belongs to Cambodia. Thai nationalists dispute the ruling and have seized on it as a domestic political issue, and the conflict has sparked sporadic battles between the two neighbours over the last few years.
On Sunday, the Cambodian government issued a statement saying "a wing of our Preah Vihear Temple has collapsed as a direct result of the Thai artillery bombardment."
Built between the 9th and 11th centuries, Preah Vihear is dedicated to the Hindu diety Shiva and revered partly for having one of the most stunning locations of all the temples constructed during the Khmer empire, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd dismissed reports of damage to the temple as "propaganda", but said Sunday's fighting was more intense than the previous two days.
Tensions have risen in recent days because of demonstrations in the Thai capital, Bangkok, demanding that the government oust Cambodians from the area near the temple.
The Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, called earlier for a peaceful solution to the border dispute, but warned that Thai soldiers would defend national sovereignty if attacked.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2831 on: Feb 7th, 2011, 08:55am »
Wired Danger Room
U.S. Has Secret Tools to Force Internet on Dictators By Spencer Ackerman February 7, 2011 7:00 am Categories: Info War
When Hosni Mubarak shut down Egypt’s internet and cellphone communications, it seemed that all U.S. officials could do was ask him politely to change his mind. But the American military does have a second set of options, if it ever wants to force connectivity on a country against its ruler’s wishes.
There’s just one wrinkle. “It could be considered an act of war,” says John Arquilla, a leading military futurist.
The U.S. military has no shortage of devices — many of them classified — that could restore connectivity to a restive populace cut off from the outside world by its rulers. It’s an attractive option for policymakers who want an option for future Egypts, between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. And it might give teeth to the Obama administration’s demand that foreign governments consider internet access an inviolable human right.
Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, spent years urging the military to logic-bomb adversary websites, disrupt hostile online presences, and even cause communications blackouts to separate warring factions before they go nuclear. What the military can turn off, he says, it can also turn on — or at least fill dead airspace.
Consider the Commando Solo, the Air Force’s airborne broadcasting center. A revamped cargo plane, the Commando Solo beams out psychological operations in AM and FM for radio, and UHF and VHF for TV. Arquilla doesn’t want to go into detail how the classified plane could get a denied internet up and running again, but if it flies over a bandwidth-denied area, suddenly your Wi-Fi bars will go back up to full strength.
“We have both satellite- and nonsatellite-based assets that can come in and provide access points to get people back online,” Arquilla says. “Some of it is done from ships. You could have a cyber version of pirate radio.”
Then there are cell towers in the sky. The military already uses its aircraft as communications relays in places like Afghanistan. Some companies are figuring out upgrades: FastCom, an effort led by the defense firm Textron, is a project that hooks up cellular pods to the belly of a drone, the better to keep cellular and data connections in the air without pilot fatigue. Underneath the drones, a radius of a few kilometers on the ground would have 3G coverage.
Sharon Corona, a spokeswoman for the project, says that there’s an obstacle to using a technology like FastCom for an Egypt-like situation: The recipient devices need to be able to talk with the cell and data signal. But compliant phones or netbooks — small and lightweight — could conceivably be smuggled into a denied area.
Alternatively, operatives could smuggle small satellite dishes into a country. Small dishes were crucial to getting the internet back running in Haiti after last year’s earthquake. It’s how cameramen in war zones rapidly transmit high quality video from the middle of nowhere.
Of course, slow-flying drones or a broadcasting center in the sky have an inherent weakness: They’re sitting ducks for any half-decent air defense system. (And did we mention that Hosni Mubarak became a national hero for his air defense prowess in the 1973 war against Israel?)
That leads to another possibility: “Just give people Thuraya satellite phones,” says John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. The cheapish phones hunt down signals from space hardware.
Even expanding access to the military’s own satellite communications networks is theoretically possible, Arquilla says. But he won’t say more than that: “Let’s just say that’s an area decided at the level of the commander-in-chief.”
In the absence of those options, there’s always the old-school methods of jamming a government’s communication frequencies and broadcasting favorable messages. That’s the Commando Solo’s specialty. “Jamming is something we think about in the context of shooting wars,” says Arquilla, but “it may have its place in social revolutions as well.”
The trouble is, if a government follows Egypt’s lead and turns off the internet, it’s not going to be keen to see a meddling foreign power turn it back on.
That act might not be as provocative as sending in ground troops or dropping bombs. But it’s still an act of what you might call forced online entry — by definition, a hostile one.
In situations like Egypt, siding with an uprising against a longtime ally is a difficult choice, whether analog or digital.
That might be why the military hasn’t done it. Asked about whether the Pentagon would consider deploying mobile connectivity to restore internet access for a social uprising, all a senior official would say is that such a situation was “hypothetical.”
And all that underscores how Egypt’s internet shutoff pushed the poorly defined limits of cyber hostilities. Foreign actors don’t really have a blueprint for responding. The U.S. military “has a great deal of expertise on rebuilding communications network, but that’s … very different when the government is interested in resisting,” Arquilla says. “This is far less an engineering problem and far more a political one.”
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2832 on: Feb 7th, 2011, 09:05am »
Super 8: J.J. Abrams reveals the secrets of his new film Feb. 06, 2011 | 4:08 p.m.
Sitting in his Santa Monica office late last week, J. J. Abrams was the picture of a conflicted filmmaker. For months, he had guarded every detail about his upcoming movie but now, against all of his instincts, the writer-director knew it was time to reveal the secrets of Super 8 or at least some of them.
Super 8 takes its name from the Eastman Kodak film format that became a sensation with amateur movie-makers in the late 1960s and represented a rite of passage for several generations of aspiring directors, among them Spielberg and Abrams. The Paramount Pictures release is set in Ohio in 1979 and introduces a troupe of six youngsters who are using a Super 8 camera to make their own zombie movie. One fateful night, their project takes them to a lonely stretch of rural railroad tracks and, as the camera rolls, calamity strikes ¡ª a truck collides with an oncoming locomotive and a hellacious derailment fills the night with screaming metal and raining fire. Then something emerges from the wreckage, something decidedly inhuman.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #2833 on: Feb 7th, 2011, 09:16am »
NASA captures a full image of the Sun in three dimensions
by Cyriaque Lamar — 6 February 2011
Today, NASA's twin STEREO probes finally situated themselves on opposite sides of our Sun and are able to beam back an uninterrupted image of our Solar System's star. Check out a video of the STEREO probes' combined vantage points.