By Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou Wed Sep 26, 2012 8:50am EDT
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police fired teargas at hooded youths hurling petrol bombs and stones as tens of thousands took to the streets in Greece's biggest anti-austerity demonstration in months on Wednesday.
The clashes occurred after more than 50,000 people marched to parliament chanting "We won't submit to the troika (of lenders)" and "EU, IMF Out!" on a day of strikes against a new round of cuts demanded by EU and IMF lenders.
As the rally ended, dozens of black-clad youth threw stones, petrol bombs and bottles at riot police, who responded with several rounds of teargas. Police chased the protesters through Syntagma square in front of parliament as helicopters clattered overhead. Smoke rose from a small blaze in a corner.
The strikes, called by the country's two biggest unions representing half the four-million-strong work force, is shaping up to be the first test of whether Prime Minister Antonis Samaras can stand his ground.
Police officials estimated the demonstration was the largest since a May 2011 protest, and among the biggest since Greece first resorted to aid from international lenders in 2010.
"We can't take it anymore - we are bleeding. We can't raise our children like this," said Dina Kokou, a 54-year-old teacher and mother of four who lives on 1,000 euros a month.
"These tax hikes and wage cuts are killing us."
The traditional summer break has allowed the fragile conservative-led coalition to enjoy relative calm on the streets since narrowly coming to power on a pro-euro, pro-bailout platform, but unions predict an end to the lull.
"Yesterday the Spaniards took to the streets, today it's us, tomorrow the Italians and the day after - all the people of Europe," Yiorgos Harisis, a unionist from the ADEDY public sector group told demonstrators.
"With this strike we are sending a strong message to the government and the troika that the measures will not pass even if voted in parliament, because the government's days are numbered."
About 3,000 police - twice the number usually deployed - stood guard in the centre of Athens, which last saw serious violence in February when protesters set shops and banks ablaze as parliament approved an austerity bill.
Police formed a barricade outside parliament, and officers blocked a pensioner who tried to move towards Samaras's office holding a banner with pictures of Greek prime ministers under the title: "The biggest traitors in Greek history".
Ships stayed docked, museums and monuments were shut to visitors and air traffic controllers walked off the job for a three-hour stoppage.
"DESTROYING OUR LIVES"
Much of the union anger is directed at spending cuts worth nearly 12 billion euros ($15.55 billion) over the next two years that Greece has promised the European Union and International Monetary Fund in an effort to secure its next tranche of aid.
The bulk of those cuts is expected from cutting wages, pensions and welfare benefits, heaping a new wave of misery on Greeks who say repeated rounds of austerity have pushed them to the brink and failed to transform the country for the better.
"We can't just sit by idly and do nothing while the troika and the government destroy our lives," said Dimitra Kontouli, a 49-year-old local government employee whose salary was cut to 1,100 euros a month from 1,600 euros previously.
"My husband has lost his job, we just can't make ends meet."
A survey by the MRB polling agency last week showed that more than 90 percent of Greeks believe the planned cuts are unfair and burden the poor, with the vast majority expecting more austerity in coming years.
Unions argue that Greece should remain in the euro but default on part of its debt and ditch the current recipe of austerity cuts in favor of higher taxes on the rich and efforts to nab wealthy tax evaders.
But with Greece facing certain bankruptcy and a potential euro zone exit without further aid, Samaras's government has little choice but to push through the measures, which have also exposed fissures in his coalition.
With Greece in its fifth year of recession, analysts say patience is wearing thin and a strong public backlash could tear apart the conservative-led government.
"What people want to tell Samaras is that they are hurt and Samaras could use this to demand concessions from the troika," MRB polling director Dimitris Mavros said.
"The people are willing to give the government time, but on certain conditions like cracking down on tax evasion and securing a bailout extension. If the government succeeds in that, its life will also be extended."
(Additional reporting by Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Deepa Babington, editing by Peter Millership and Janet McBride)
The Pokemon Plot: How One Cartoon Inspired the Army to Dream Up a Seizure Gun
By Spencer Ackerman September 26, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: Less-lethal
In 1998, a secret Army intelligence analysis suggested a new way to take out enemies: blast them with electromagnetic energy until their brains overload and they start to convulse. Amazingly, it was an idea inspired by a Pokemon episode.
Application of “electromagnetic pulses” could force neurons to all fire at once, causing a “disruption of voluntary muscle control,” reads a description of a proposed seizure weapon, contained in a declassified document from the Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center. “It is thought by using a method that would actually trigger nerve synapses directly with an electrical field, essentially 100% of individuals would be susceptible to seizure induction.”
This wasn’t the only method the Center suggested for taking down combatants. Other exotic, less-lethal weapons included a handheld laser gun for close-range “antiterrorist special operations roles”; a “flood” of network traffic that could overload servers and “elicit a panic in the civilian population”; and radio frequencies that could manipulate someone’s body temperature and “mimic a fever.”
The military needed weapons like these because TV news had hamstrung the military’s traditional proclivities to kill its way to victory: It now lived in a world where “You don’t win unless CNN says you win,” the report lamented. But while the Pentagon still laments the impact of the 24/7 news cycle on the U.S. military, it hardly thinks less-lethal weapons are a solution to it. In fact, the U.S. has kept most of its electromagnetic arsenal off of the battlefield, in part because the idea of invisible pain rays would sound so bad coming out of an anchor’s mouth.
Danger Room acquired this secret study on nonlethal technologies thanks to a private citizen, who filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and now wishes to remain anonymous. By coincidence, Sharon Weinberger wrote a 2008 Danger Room report after independently acquiring a piece of the document – an addendum that described using a “Voice of God” weapon, powered by radio waves, to “implant” a suggestion in someone else’s mind. It wasn’t even close to the strangest suggestion made for exotic weaponry.
Perhaps the most disturbing item on the Army’s nonlethal wish list: a weapon that would disrupt the chemical pathways in the central nervous system to induce a seizure. The idea appears to have come from an episode of Pokemon.
The idea is that seizure would be induced by a specific electrical stimulus triggered through the optic nerve. “The onset of synchony and disruption of muscular control is said to be near instantaneous,” the 1997 Army report reads. “Excitation is directly on the brain.” And “100% of the population” is supposed to be susceptible to the effects — from distances of “up to hundreds of meters” — “[r]ecovery times are expected to be consistent with, or more rapid than, that which is observed in epileptic seizures.”
That’s not a lot of time — the Army’s analysis noted that a grand-mal seizure typically lasts between one and five minutes. But the analysis speculated that the seizure weapons could be “tunable with regard to type and degree of bodily influence” and affect “100% of the population.” Still, it had to concede, “No experimental evidence is available for this concept.”
The document cautioned that the effectiveness of incapacitating a human nervous system with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) “has not been tested.” But the analysis speculated that “50 to 100 kV/m free field of very sharp pulses” would likely be “sufficient to trigger neurons or make them more susceptible to firing.” And a weapon that harnessed an EMP-induced seizure could conceivably work from “hundreds of miles” away. The idea might as well have been stamped “As Seen on TV.”
“The photic-induced seizure phenomenon was borne out demonstrably on December 16, 1997 on Japanese television when hundreds of viewers of a popular cartoon were treated, inadvertently, to photic seizure induction,” the analysis noted. That cartoon was Pokemon, and the incident received worldwide attention. About 700 viewers showed symptoms of epilepsy — mostly vomiting — an occasional, if strange, occurrence with TV shows and videogames due to rapid, flashing lights.
The Army’s interest in the technology doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere. When Danger Room asked the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, the command overseeing the Pentagon’s weapons that can’t kill you, if they had ever developed or explored developing an EMP seizure ray, spokeswoman Kelley Hughes flatly replied, “No.” But at a minimum, it’s bizarre that the U.S. military would entertain the idea of neurological weaponry.
The seizure ray was just one of several futuristic nonlethal weapons the National Ground Intelligence Center envisioned. Another favorite: “handheld laser weapons” for blasting focused light against nearby terrorists. These weren’t supposed to be the sorts of lasers that can burn through steel — after all, nearly 15 years after the Army intel report, the Navy still doesn’t have a laser cannon small enough to mount on a ship. The “point and shoot” lasers were supposed to be dazzlers, to disrupt sensors or even blind assailants from up to 50 meters away. Alas, the paper lamented, causing “permanent blindness” was prohibited by binding international treaties, so development of handheld dazzlers would likely be restricted. (As it would turn out, “gross mismanagement” by U.S. military bureaucracy would be the larger obstacle.)
Then came the cyberweapons. The Army intel report presciently predicted using “information technology as a nonlethal weapon.” It had in mind “a campaign to disrupt a nation’s infrastructure so that they feel they are not ready for a formal conflict.” No, the Army wasn’t thinking of any kind of proto-Stuxnet. It had in mind sending torrents of traffic to “flood” foreign servers until “a panic in the civilian population,” now without internet access, “persuades the [adversary] military not to execute a planned attack.” Pay attention, Darpa and U.S. Cyber Command. Alternatively, the military might disrupt an enemy’s ability to control its forces by flooding the internet with tons of inaccurate information — “either through distribution of disinformation or illegally altering web pages to spread disinformation.” It isn’t clear if the report meant to restrict that “illegal” activity to foreign web pages.
And then came the fever. The report speculated that blasts of radio frequency waves could “mimic a fever” to the point of incapacitating an enemy. (“No organs are damaged,” it assured.) “Core temperatures of approximately 41 degrees Celsius are considered to be adequate” — the equivalent of a 105.8 degree fever, which is frighteningly close to inducing a coma or brain damage.
The idea would involve a “highly sophisticated microwave assembly” that could induce “carefully monitored uniform heating” in “15 to 30 minutes,” depending on someone’s weight and the wavelengths employed. “The subjective sensations caused by this buildup of heat are far more unpleasant than those accompanying fever,” the report assured. Yet the military would have to be careful not to cause any “permanent” organ damage with such a weapon — which would take careful monitoring, as the report noted that increasing someone’s body temperature a single degree Celsius beyond the envisioned 42 degrees would probably be fatal.
As it turned out, the military would develop a microwave weapon — the Active Denial System. That’s a microwave gun that, as I learned first-hand one fateful afternoon, makes victims feel like they’ve stepped into a blast furnace. But its frequencies are too shallow to penetrate the skin, and can’t even pop a bag of popcorn. (It’s been tried.) Still, the idea of being heated with something like that for 15 minutes to a half hour is unbearable: I lasted maybe two seconds before my reflexes forced me to jump out of the way of its beam. And in 2010, the device was recalled from Afghanistan when commanders realized it was a PR nightmare. It has one of the many downsides to these weapons that the Army’s 1998 that report didn’t consider. Of course, few things age worse than predictions for the future.
Sudan, South Sudan sign deals to restart oil, boost trade
By Ulf Laessing Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:42am EDT
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) The leaders of Sudan and South Sudan signed deals on Thursday to secure their shared border and boost trade, including a restart of crucial oil exports, but they failed to resolve other conflicts remaining after the South seceded last year.
The deal, reached after more than three weeks of negotiations, will throw both ailing economies a lifeline and prevent, for now, a resumption the fighting that broke out along the border in April and nearly led to all out war.
Sudan President Omar Hassan al Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir signed cooperation and trade deals to applause at a packed room in a five star hotel in Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union, which has been brokering the talks.
"We are convinced that what has happened, which culminated in signing of the agreements, constitutes a giant step forward for both countries," AU mediator Thabo Mbeki said.
The defense ministers of both countries also signed a deal to set up a demilitarized buffer zone along the joint border.
Bashir said it was a "historic moment for building peace" between the former civil war foes.
The deal will allow landlocked South Sudan to resume oil exports though Sudan, which will provide both ailing economies with dollars. The South in January had shut down its entire output of 350,000 barrels a day after the countries argued about transit fees.
Faced with the threat of U.N. sanctions and economic collapse, Bashir and Kiir, whose relationship has been marred by years of civil war, agreed to set up the demilitarized zone.
But the two sides failed to settle the fate of at least five disputed, oil-producing regions along the 1,800 km (1,200 mile) border, despite pressure from the African Union, the United States and other Western powers.
They were also unable to reach a solution for the border region of Abyei, which has symbolic significance to both and is rich in grazing lands.
Kiir, who described the talks as "difficult", thanked Bashir for his cooperation but blamed his northern neighbor for failing to reach a deal on Abyei.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Jane Baird)
NFL, referees reach deal to end lockout, plan to get back to work Thursday in Baltimore
By Mark Maske, Published: September 26
The National Football League completed an eagerly awaited deal with its referees Wednesday night to end its lockout of the sport’s regular officials and pave the way for them to return to the field immediately.
The league and the NFL Referees Association announced they had agreed to an eight year labor pact and planned for the regular officials to work Thursday night’s game in Baltimore between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. They are to officiate a full slate of games Sunday.
“Our officials will be back on the field starting [Thursday] night,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
The agreement between the league and the referees’ association ends the NFL’s use of the replacement officials who worked the entire preseason and the first three weeks of regular season games, sometimes with chaotic results.
Scott Green, the president of the referees’ association, said in a written statement: “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”
Negotiators for the two sides began the task late Wednesday night of putting the agreement into writing.
The officials are scheduled to meet Friday and Saturday to take a ratification vote. In the meantime, the NFL agreed to lift the lockout for Thursday night’s game. It is to be formally ended once a written deal is approved by the referees. No ratification vote by the NFL’s franchise owners is required.
Representatives of the two sides met into the night Wednesday. It was their second straight long day of negotiations after they’d made progress Tuesday during meetings in New York that began in the morning and lasted into early Wednesday morning.
The deal was reached in the wake of a firestorm of criticism voiced at the league after Monday night’s game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks ended with what to most eyes was a blown call by the replacement officiating crew that gave Seattle a last-second victory. The mounting pressure by fans, media members, players and coaches to bring the regular officials back was acknowledged earlier Wednesday by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
“Your loud voices [are] heard about getting Refs back,” Irsay wrote on Twitter. “We’re desperately trying [to] get it done! We want a deal that improves officiating overall.”
Reaction Wednesday afternoon at Washington Redskins headquarters in Ashburn to the pending return of the regular officials was just short of gleeful. The Redskins play Sunday in Tampa against the Buccaneers.
“It’d definitely be great to have them back out there,” said Lorenzo Alexander, a veteran Redskins linebacker. “Obviously they’re the refs for a reason. I think they’ll handle the games in a more professional manner and be more consistent. So it’d be great to have them back out there.”
Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III pointed out that it would be a “new experience” for him to play with the regular officials on the field and said perhaps play will be “cleaned up” a bit.
Said Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan: “It’d be nice to have them back.”
Criticism by players and media members of mistakes by the replacement officials had intensified in recent weeks, reaching a fever pitch after the Seahawks-Packers game. The NFL announced Tuesday that it backed the replacement officials’ decision to award the catch for simultaneous possession between Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Packers safety M.D. Jennings.
But the league also conceded the officials missed an offensive pass interference penalty on Tate that would have ended the game with the Packers winning.
Tuesday’s bargaining session was scheduled prior to Monday night’s controversy and some people close to the talks said the national furor over the call would have little or no effect on the league’s stance in the negotiations. A person with knowledge of the negotiations said Tuesday night that the owners were firmly against making any further compromises in the talks. Still, the deal was struck only about 48 hours after the final play of the Seahawks-Packers game.
The deal runs through the 2019 season and gives significant raises to the officials, who are part-time employees. The average NFL official earned $149,000 last year. Under the new deal, that is to increase to an average of $173,000 in 2013 and $205,000 in 2019.
The two sides had been particularly at odds over pensions, which seemed to emerge as the major sticking point late in the negotiations. Referees wanted to retain their pension plan, which the league apparently considered too generous, particularly for part-time employees. The NFL wanted to switch the officials to 401(k) retirement plans.
The compromise that was struck, according to an announcement by the league about the terms of the deal, would keep the pension plan in place for current officials for five years through the 2016 season, at which point it will be frozen. Newly hired officials will be given 401(k) retirement plans, as will all officials beginning in 2017.
The league also sought during the negotiations to make some officials full-time employees and to increase the overall number of officials to enhance its ability to replace those officials that it considers to be underperforming.
The deal, according to the NFL’s announcement, allows the league to make some officials full time employees beginning in 2013. It also allows the league to hire additional officials for training and development, and gives the NFL the ability to assign those officials to work games. The league’s announcement said it could determine the number of newly hired officials. There currently are 121 officials.
“The long term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating,” Goodell said in a written statement. “This agreement supports long term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating.”
Neighbors: TV Review 6:30 PM PDT 9/26/2012 by Tim Goodman
The comedy stars Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito as humans who move into a neighborhood populated by aliens.
Last season, ABC had the worst sitcom of the fall (maybe of the last decade) in Work It, a show so bad that only two episodes were aired (and apparently only four shot before the writers and cast were also shot). This season, ABC has Neighbors, (9:30 p.m. Wednesday), one of the least funny things to air on television since the last Hitler documentary on History.
It’s a series so profoundly awful that the universal reaction to it will (must) be: “How in the hell did this get made?”
In fact, that’s a fantastic question. Because, follow along here, someone or five someones had to listen to the pitch. Those people had to say, “You know, that’s not an entirely asinine idea,” and then greenlight the script. I’m not sure how many people read the script, but a lot of people must have said, “This is epic,” so that the bean counters would fund the filming of it.
Now, here’s where it gets tricky: Once ABC filmed Neighbors as a pilot and actually watched it (hey, you never know, some things look awful on paper but come alive onscreen), a decision had to be made. A decision with serious fiscal ramifications. It was picked up. (Sounds of gasping and people weeping.) It was a decision that probably meant ABC thought it had even worse sitcoms that it wouldn’t pick up, which is shudder-inducing. I like ABC honcho Paul Lee, so I hope it wasn’t him who said: “You know what, I like it. Let’s go with it.” I imagine it was a lot of people afraid of being fired who said: “Yes, absolutely. Fantastic decision. You are a god.”
OK, so Neighbors gets picked up and put on the schedule. Shouldn’t there be some kind of mandatory transparency law that the person who scheduled it on Wednesday step forward and be pelted with fruit? Listen, I remember when ABC couldn’t make a funny sitcom even if it made a deal with the devil. And now it’s so cocky about a gigantic turd like Neighbors that it’s willing to sully the reputation of its wonderful Wednesday comedy lineup? Man, that is some serious, Disney-sized arrogance.
Oh, wait, there’s been no discussion of the show. Right. Neighbors is about a group of supremely unfunny aliens who come to Earth and buy up an entire subdivision of housing. Every single house. They wait for some kind of communication from their home planet. It doesn’t come. (My guess is the command they are waiting for is, “For the love of all things holy, do or say something funny!”) This long delay of 10 years, roughly the same feeling you’ll get if you watch all 22 minutes of the pilot, results in one alien family getting fed up and leaving.
For the first time ever, this opens up an available house. This allows Marty (Lenny Venito, a good character actor totally wasted here) and his wife Debbie (Jami Gertz) to move in with their kids. Do you know what happens when they arrive? Nothing funny. That’s what happens.
Actually, Neighbors has precisely one good joke. All the aliens are named after famous sports stars. This is funny when the leader/husband says his name is Larry Bird, and then he introduces his wife as Jackie Joyner Kersee. I have now just ruined the best 11 seconds in the 22 minute pilot. Why? Because throughout the rest of the pilot, the writers go out of their way to introduce other aliens with sports star names and to repeat the Jackie Joyner Kersee joke about 11 times. Large rubber mallet, meet pliable skull.
For the sake of the actors who participated in this small slice of stupidity, I won’t list the rest of their names. But the series was created by Dan Fogelman, who enjoyed better days when he wrote the screenplay for Cars and Tangled and had the original story idea for Cars 2.
Go rent those. Whatever you do, don’t watch Neighbors. It’s not even funny as a rubberneck so bad it’s good thing. It’s just bad. Check that, it’s awful. Nice work, ABC! Can’t wait to see if you can go 3 for 3 next season with another worst pilot entry.
UFO or Lens Flare in Google Street View? You Decide
Google Maps helps many people do various things, but tracking UFOs might be a new one.
Andrea Dove contacted ABC News affiliate KLTV in East Texas with an interesting tip. Dove was using Google Maps to get directions to visit her aunt in Jacksonville, Texas, when she spotted a UFO while using the Street View option.
Don’t believe it? Try it yourself by simply searching Jacksonville, Texas, and panning upward toward the sky in Street View to spot the reddish UFO near the clouds — although no one in Jacksonville has ever reported seeing one.
If you’re still looking for more evidence, try the same trick by searching for the Sky City Casino Hotel on 32 Indian Service Route 30, Acoma Pueblo, N.M. The same object appears in the sky hovering over the street.
What do these two sites have in common? A McDonald’s.
Israelis see no Iran war this year after Netanyahu's speech
By Dan Williams Fri Sep 28, 2012 6:27am EDT
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's U.N. speech about Iranian nuclear advances has dampened speculation in Israel that he could order a war this year.
Analyzing Thursday's address in which Netanyahu literally drew a "red line" on a cartoon bomb to show how close Iran was to building nuclear weaponry, commentators saw his deadline for any military action falling in early or mid-2013, well after U.S. elections in November and a possible snap Israeli poll.
"The 'decisive year' of 2012 will pass without decisiveness," wrote Ofer Shelah of Maariv newspaper on Friday.
Without explicitly saying so, Netanyahu implied Israel would attack Iran's uranium enrichment facilities if they were allowed to process potential weapons-grade material beyond his red line.
Maariv and another mass-circulation Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, said spring 2013 now looked like Netanyahu's target date, given his prediction that by then Iran may have amassed enough 20 percent-enriched uranium for a first bomb, if purified further.
But the front pages of the liberal Haaretz and pro-government Israel Hayom newspapers cited mid-2013 - Netanyahu's outside estimate for when the Iranians would be ready to embark on the last stage of building such a weapon, which could take only "a few months, possibly a few weeks".
Iran, which denies it is seeking nuclear arms, said Netanyahu's speech made "baseless and absurd allegations" and that the Islamic Republic "reserves its full right to retaliate with full force against any attack". Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
Israeli diplomats were reluctant to elaborate on Netanyahu's speech, saying its main aim was to illustrate the threat from Tehran.
Asked on Israel's Army Radio whether Netanyahu had signaled he would strike in the spring if U.S. and European Union sanctions fail to curb Iran's nuclear work, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: "No, no, I would not go that far."
"The prime minister clarified a message to the international community (that) if they want to prevent the next war, they must prevent a nuclear Iran," Lieberman added.
TRUCE WITH OBAMA
Netanyahu's increasingly hawkish words on Iran in recent weeks and months strained relations with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has resisted the calls to set Tehran an ultimatum while fending off charges by his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, that he is soft on Israel's security.
Netanyahu praised Obama's resolve in his U.N. address, which the prime minister described as advancing their "common goal" - a strong signal that Israel would not blindside Washington with a unilateral attack on Iran.
Israel Hayom pundit Dan Margalit said the speech constituted "an almost explicit acknowledgment that he (Netanyahu) is declaring a truce in the public argument between him and the president. At least, until after the (U.S.) election."
Netanyahu has political worries too, given deadlock in his coalition government over the 2013 budget which, if not ratified by December, could trigger an early Israeli election next year.
In a broadcast editorial, Army Radio depicted war with Iran as no longer an imminent dilemma troubling the prime minister.
Instead, the station said, Netanyahu would have to decide "whether he is going to elections sooner, in January, February, or maybe March, or whether he will be able to pass the budget, take care of the Iranian issue and then go to elections in October (2013) as scheduled."
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this month that Washington would have "about a year" to stop Iran should it decide to cross the threshold of producing nuclear weaponry - a more expansive timeline than that put forward by Israel.
That could spell fresh clashes between the allies over Tehran's continued 20-percent uranium enrichment, a process the Iranians say they need for medical isotopes but that also brings the fissile material much closer to weapons grade.
An Israeli official briefed on the government's Iran strategy cautioned against interpreting dates Netanyahu gave at the United Nations as deadlines, saying the preparations had already been made for military strikes.
"When he says Iran will have a bomb by this-or-that point in time, that in no way means the war option must wait until then," the official told Reuters. "There are other considerations to the timing - operational and strategic."
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
Simulations Uncover 'Flashy' Secrets of Merging Black Holes ScienceDaily (Sep. 27, 2012)
According to Einstein, whenever massive objects interact, they produce gravitational waves -- distortions in the very fabric of space and time -- that ripple outward across the universe at the speed of light. While astronomers have found indirect evidence of these disturbances, the waves have so far eluded direct detection. Ground-based observatories designed to find them are on the verge of achieving greater sensitivities, and many scientists think that this discovery is just a few years away.
Supercomputer models of merging black holes reveal properties that are crucial to understanding future detections of gravitational waves. This still image is from a movie that follows two orbiting black holes and their accretion disk during their final three orbits and ultimate merger. Redder colors correspond to higher gas densities. (Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center; P. Cowperthwaite, University of Maryland)
Catching gravitational waves from some of the strongest sources -- colliding black holes with millions of times the sun's mass -- will take a little longer. These waves undulate so slowly that they won't be detectable by ground-based facilities. Instead, scientists will need much larger space-based instruments, such as the proposed Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, which was endorsed as a high-priority future project by the astronomical community.
A team that includes astrophysicists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is looking forward to that day by using computational models to explore the mergers of supersized black holes. Their most recent work investigates what kind of "flash" might be seen by telescopes when astronomers ultimately find gravitational signals from such an event.
Studying gravitational waves will give astrophysicists an unprecedented opportunity to witness the universe's most extreme phenomena, leading to new insights into the fundamental laws of physics, the death of stars, the birth of black holes and, perhaps, the earliest moments of the universe.
A black hole is an object so massive that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational grip. Most big galaxies, including our own Milky Way, contain a central black hole weighing millions of times the sun's mass, and when two galaxies collide, their monster black holes settle into a close binary system.
"The black holes orbit each other and lose orbital energy by emitting strong gravitational waves, and this causes their orbits to shrink. The black holes spiral toward each other and eventually merge," said Goddard astrophysicist John Baker.
Close to these titanic, rapidly moving masses, space and time become repeatedly flexed and warped. Just as a disturbance forms ripples on the surface of a pond, drives seismic waves through Earth, or puts the jiggle in a bowl of Jell-O, the cyclic flexing of space-time near binary black holes produces waves of distortion that race across the universe.
While gravitational waves promise to tell astronomers many things about the bodies that created them, they cannot provide one crucial piece of information -- the precise position of the source. So to really understand a merger event, researchers need an accompanying electromagnetic signal -- a flash of light, ranging from radio waves to X-rays -- that will allow telescopes to pinpoint the merger's host galaxy.
Understanding the electromagnetic counterparts that may accompany a merger involves the daunting task of tracking the complex interactions between the black holes, which can be moving at more than half the speed of light in the last few orbits, and the disks of hot, magnetized gas that surround them. Since 2010, numerous studies using simplifying assumptions have found that mergers could produce a burst of light, but no one knew how commonly this occurred or whether the emission would be strong enough to be detectable from Earth.
To explore the problem in greater detail, a team led by Bruno Giacomazzo at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and including Baker developed computer simulations that for the first time show what happens in the magnetized gas (also called a plasma) in the last stages of a black hole merger. Their study was published in the June 10 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The simulations follow the complex electrical and magnetic interactions in the ionized gas -- known as magnetohydrodynamics -- within the extreme gravitational environment determined by the equations of Einstein's general relativity, a task requiring the use of advanced numerical codes and fast supercomputers.
Both of the simulations reported in the study were run on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. They follow the black holes over their last three orbits and subsequent merger using models both with and without a magnetic field in the gas disk.
Additional simulations were run on the Ranger and Discover supercomputers, respectively located at the University of Texas, Austin, and the NASA Center for Climate Simulations at Goddard, in order to investigate the effects of different initial conditions, fewer orbits and other variations.
"What's striking in the magnetic simulation is that the disk's initial magnetic field is rapidly intensified by about 100 times, and the merged black hole is surrounded by a hotter, denser, thinner accretion disk than in the unmagnetized case," Giacomazzo explained.
In the turbulent environment near the merging black holes, the magnetic field intensifies as it becomes twisted and compressed. The team suggests that running the simulation for additional orbits would result in even greater amplification.
The most interesting outcome of the magnetic simulation is the development of a funnel-like structure -- a cleared-out zone that extends up out of the accretion disk near the merged black hole. "This is exactly the type of structure needed to drive the particle jets we see from the centers of black-hole-powered active galaxies," Giacomazzo said.
The most important aspect of the study is the brightness of the merger's flash. The team finds that the magnetic model produces beamed emission that is some 10,000 times brighter than those seen in previous studies, which took the simplifying step of ignoring plasma effects in the merging disks.
"We need gravitational waves to confirm that a black hole merger has occurred, but if we can understand the electromagnetic signatures from mergers well enough, perhaps we can search for candidate events even before we have a space-based gravitational wave observatory," Baker said.
Review: Looper’s Time-Traveling Hitmen Kill Boredom Dead By Angela Watercutter September 28, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: movies, sci-fi, video
Here’s the problem with most time-travel movies: They’re about time travel. Or they get trapped in the paradoxes time travel presents (e.g., if you make out with your mom in the past you may never be born). Not that subverting the space-time continuum and hop-skipping all over the past and future isn’t cool — it’s totally cool — but so many time-travel stories have been told that it’s hard to make a new one.
Luckily, Looper is not a time-travel movie. Instead, director Rian Johnson, who also wrote the script, smartly uses the invention of time travel as the jumping-off point for a compelling tale, rather than making it the tale itself. Even when he does stumble on a time-travel trope or two, the scene serves the story instead of being distracting.
Looper is also one hell of a ride. The R-rated movie, which opens Friday, begins by getting to the point.
(Spoiler alert: Minor plot points follow.)
The year is 2044 and time travel has been invented 30 years in the future — and almost immediately made illegal, which is to say criminals are the only ones using it. These future villains send anyone they want 86′ed back in time to be killed by assassins from the past known as “loopers.” As Joe the looper (played by the ever-evolving Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explains, they kill their marks and dispose of the bodies — or, “I do the necessaries, collect my silver.” (Each target is sent back with bricks of silver strapped to their backs.)
Loopers in Joe’s world live relatively sweet lives compared to the decrepit conditions around them. They possess money, women, some weird new hallucinogen that’s taken via eyedropper and cool vintage cars (Joe’s baby is a Miata, LOL). Their nights are full of partying until the day they “close their loop” and their future self is sent back for them to kill, with bricks of gold on their backs. Then most of them just party nonstop. They’re rich, in possession of the knowledge of when and how they’ll die, and have nothing to kill but time.
That is unless they can’t pull the trigger on themselves. When Joe’s friend Seth — a telekinetic mutant, or TK — comes to his apartment one night scared to death after just such a blunder, he tells Joe that his future self informed him that a new crime boss has been going around closing all the loops in sight. At first Joe hides Seth in his stash room, but eventually gives him up after being called before their boss Abe (a comically maniacal Jeff Daniels, whose character has come from the future to run the operation). What happens next is a gruesome, yet awesome, twist on Marty McFly’s disappearing hand from Back to the Future.
In moments like this, Looper truly excels at pulling off the hat trick of simultaneously being a sci-fi film, an action movie and a thought-provoking drama. It doesn’t get mired down in how time travel works — there is no souped-up DeLorean, no TARDIS. In fact, the actual time-travel mechanism is seen only once and the technology isn’t explained. (In Johnson’s world, moviegoers are big enough nerds to just accept time travel and move on.)
The movie’s future doesn’t look too futuristic or too dystopian: The hoverbikes don’t work that well and the beautiful cellphones still can’t get signals out in farm country. In other words, it feels like the real world, just in 30-some years.
Eventually it comes time for Joe to close his own loop, but future-Joe (played by Bruce Willis, who got to keep his face and voice while Gordon-Levitt got makeup and some vocal help to look and sound like Mr. Die Hard) outsmarts his past self.
The ensuing struggle between young Joe’s mission to keep his present intact (by essentially killing his future self) and old Joe’s attempts to fix the future (by not dying) carries the film through the remaining two acts. And while much of the story centers on the effects of time travel on the people involved, the characters themselves remain the movie’s primary focus. Johnson wisely avoids getting bogged down in trying to explain away the inherent paradoxes of time travel and multiple realities — that’s just the backdrop. The director makes you care about the moral quandaries of the Joes, not whether they’re allowed to exist in the same space and time.
If this makes it sound like there will be a predictable outcome, there isn’t. As old Joe notes to his younger self, every time he changes something in his past his “memories aren’t my memories anymore” and everything becomes “just one eventuality.” What Johnson has created is a plot so intricate that every time a new event transpires, it seems as though a new conclusion is imminent. It’s the kind of mind-trickery that made Inception so fascinating, but it’s kept simple enough that Looper can be enjoyed as a simple action movie. (Nice trick, that.)
This is Johnson’s greatest achievement with Looper — making a sci-fi film for action fans, a drama for futuristic-fetish geeks, and a gangster movie for … well, pretty much anyone. Yes, there are some holes in the time-travel theory, but those can be easily left to the nitpickers.
What’s most important is that Johnson — still a young director at 38 — is moving this particular segment of sci-fi forward. Zal Batmanglij did something similar with Sound of My Voice, but time travel was possibly just the musing of a psychotic cult leader in that film.
Sci-fi needs more movies like Looper in which, finally, someone has closed the loop on the time-travel conventions of old. What does the future hold, Mr. Johnson?
WIRED Wonderful twist on time-travel concept; gripping performances from Gordon-Levitt, Willis and a tough-as-nails Emily Blunt; smartly conceived future landscape; Jeff Daniels nailing lines like, “I’m from the future, you should go to China.”
TIRED Inability not to fall into one — albeit small — time-travel movie trope.
After a nuclear holocaust, a group of scientists travel to the future and find a world in tatters, where the human survivors must constantly defend themselves against mutated beasts. Upon seeing the future of the earth, the men would like to return to 1964, but find it may not be possible.
Insight: Azerbaijan eyes aiding Israel against Iran
By Thomas Grove Sun Sep 30, 2012 6:38am EDT
BAKU (Reuters) - Israel's "go-it-alone" option to attack Iran's nuclear sites has set the Middle East on edge and unsettled its main ally at the height of a U.S. presidential election campaign.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exudes impatience, saying Tehran is barely a year from a "red line" for atomic capacity. Many fellow Israelis, however, fear a unilateral strike, lacking U.S. forces, would fail against such a large and distant enemy.
But what if, even without Washington, Israel were not alone?
Azerbaijan, the oil-rich ex-Soviet republic on Iran's far northern border, has, say local sources with knowledge of its military policy, explored with Israel how Azeri air bases and spy drones might help Israeli jets pull off a long-range attack.
That is a far cry from the massive firepower and diplomatic cover that Netanyahu wants from Washington. But, by addressing key weaknesses in any Israeli war plan - notably on refueling, reconnaissance and rescuing crews - such an alliance might tilt Israeli thinking on the feasibility of acting without U.S. help.
It could also have violent side-effects more widely and many doubt Azeri President Ilham Aliyev would risk harming the energy industry on which his wealth depends, or provoking Islamists who dream of toppling his dynasty, in pursuit of favor from Israel.
Yet despite official denials by Azerbaijan and Israel, two Azeri former military officers with links to serving personnel and two Russian intelligence sources all told Reuters that Azerbaijan and Israel have been looking at how Azeri bases and intelligence could serve in a possible strike on Iran.
"Where planes would fly from - from here, from there, to where? - that's what's being planned now," a security consultant with contacts at Azeri defense headquarters in Baku said. "The Israelis ... would like to gain access to bases in Azerbaijan."
That Aliyev, an autocratic ally of Western governments and oil firms, has become a rare Muslim friend of the Jewish state - and an object of scorn in Tehran - is no secret; a $1.6-billion arms deal involving dozens of Israeli drones, and Israel's thirst for Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea crude, are well documented.
Israel's foreign minister visited Baku in April this year.
But a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 quoted Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, describing relations with Israel as "like an iceberg, nine tenths ... below the surface".
That he would risk the wrath of his powerful neighbor by helping wage war on Iran is, however, something his aides flatly deny; wider consequences would also be hard to calculate from military action in a region where Azerbaijan's "frozen" conflict with Armenia is just one of many elements of volatility and where major powers from Turkey, Iran and Russia to the United States, western Europe and even China all jockey for influence.
Nonetheless, Rasim Musabayov, an independent Azeri lawmaker and a member of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that, while he had no definitive information, he understood that Azerbaijan would probably feature in any Israeli plans against Iran, at least as a contingency for refueling its attack force:
"Israel has a problem in that if it is going to bomb Iran, its nuclear sites, it lacks refueling," Musabayov told Reuters.
"I think their plan includes some use of Azerbaijan access.
"We have (bases) fully equipped with modern navigation, anti-aircraft defenses and personnel trained by Americans and if necessary they can be used without any preparations," he added.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear it does not welcome Israel's occasional talk of war and that it prefers diplomacy and economic sanctions to deflect an Iranian nuclear program that Tehran denies has military uses.
Having also invested in Azerbaijan's defenses and facilities used by U.S. forces in transit to Afghanistan, Washington also seems unlikely to cheer Aliyev joining any action against Iran.
The Azeri president's team insist that that will not happen.
"No third country can use Azerbaijan to perpetrate an attack on Iran. All this talk is just speculation," said Reshad Karimov from Aliyev's staff. He was echoing similar denials issued in Baku and from Israel when the journal Foreign Policy quoted U.S. officials in March voicing alarm that Azeri-Israeli action could thwart U.S. diplomacy toward Iran and across the Caucasus.
Israeli officials dismiss talk of Azeri collaboration in any attack on Iran but decline public comment on specific details.
Even speaking privately, few Israeli officials will discuss the issue. Those who do are skeptical, saying overt use of Azeri bases by Israel would provoke too many hostile reactions. One political source did, however, say flying unmarked tanker aircraft out of Azerbaijan to extend the range and payloads of an Israeli bombing force might play a part in Israeli planning.
Though denying direct knowledge of current military thinking on Iran, the Israeli said one possibility might be "landing a refueling plane there, made to look like a civilian airliner, so it could later take off to rendezvous mid-air with IAF jets".
A thousand miles separates Tehran and Tel Aviv, putting much of Iran beyond the normal ranges of Israel's U.S.-made F-16 bombers and their F-15 escorts. So refueling could be critical.
There is far from unanimity among Israeli leaders about the likelihood of any strike on Iran's nuclear plants, whether in a wider, U.S.-led operation or not. Netanyahu's "red line" speech to the United Nations last week was seen by many in Israel as making any strike on Iran unlikely - for at least a few months.
Many, however, also assume Israel has long spied on and even sabotaged what the Western powers say are plans for atomic weapons which Israel says would threaten its very existence.
A second Israeli political source called the idea of Azerbaijan being either launch pad or landing ground for Israeli aircraft "ludicrous" - but agreed with the first source that it was fair to assume joint Israeli-Azeri intelligence operations.
The Azeri sources said such cooperation was established.
As part of last year's arms deal, Azerbaijan is building up to 60 Israeli-designed drones, giving it reconnaissance means far greater than many analysts believe would be needed just to guard oil installations or even to mount any operations against the breakaway, ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"With these drones, (Israel) can indirectly watch what's happening in Iran, while we protect our borders," legislator Musabayov said - a view shared by Azeri former military sources.
Less reserved than Israeli officials, the sources in Azerbaijan and in Russian intelligence, which keeps a close eye on its former Soviet backyard, said Baku could offer Israel much more, however - though none believed any deal was yet settled.
The country, home to nine million people whose language is close to Turkish and who mostly share the Shi'ite Muslim faith of Iran, has four ex-Soviet air bases that could be suitable for Israeli jets, the Azeri sources said. They named central Kyurdamir, Gyanja in the west and Nasosny and Gala in the east.
The Pentagon says it helped upgrade Nasosny airfield for NATO use. It also uses Azeri commercial facilities in transit to Afghanistan. But U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan is limited by Washington's role as a mediator in its dispute with Armenia.
One of the sources with links to the Azeri military said: "There is not a single official base of the United States and even less so of Israel on the territory of Azerbaijan. But that is 'officially'. Unofficially they exist, and they may be used."
The source said Iran had been a main topic of talks in April with Israel's Soviet-born foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.
Azeri tarmac, a shorter flight from key sites in northern Iran including the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant and missile batteries at Tabriz, might feature in Israeli war planning in less direct ways, the former Azeri officers said.
With Israel wary of its vulnerability to pressure over air crew taken prisoner, plans for extracting downed pilots may be a key feature of any attack plan. Search and rescue helicopters might operate from Azerbaijan, the sources said - or planes that were hit or low on fuel could land at Azeri bases in extremis.
Such engagement carries risks for Azerbaijan and its oil platforms and pipelines operated with international companies.
Defending against Iran is part of public debate in Baku. The United States has provided Azerbaijan with three Coast Guard cutters and has funded seven coastal radar sites as well as giving Baku other help in protecting its oil installations.
Relations have long been strained between the former Soviet state and Iran, which is home to twice as many ethnic Azeris as Azerbaijan itself. Tehran beams an Azeri-language television channel over the border which portrays Aliyev as a puppet of Israel and the West, as well as highlighting corruption in Baku.
Azerbaijan sees Iranian hands behind its Islamist opposition and both countries have arrested alleged spies and agitators.
Faced with an uneven balance of force, Aliyev's government makes no bones about Israel being an ally. As one presidential aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained: "We live in a dangerous neighborhood; that is what is the most powerful driving force for our relationship with Israel."
US military deaths in Afghanistan hit 2,000 after 11 years of war
By Associated Press Published: September 29
KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. military deaths in the Afghan war have reached 2,000, a cold reminder of the human cost of an 11-year-old conflict that garners little public interest at home as the United States prepares to withdraw most of its combat forces by the end of 2014.
The toll has climbed steadily in recent months with a spate of attacks by Afghan army and police against American and NATO troops, and questions about whether allied countries will achieve their aim of helping the Afghan government and its forces stand on their own after most foreign troops depart in little more than two years.
A U.S. official confirmed the latest death Sunday, saying that an international service member killed in an apparent insider attack by Afghan forces in the east of the country late Saturday was American. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the nationality of those killed had not been formally released.
A civilian contractor with NATO and at least two Afghan soldiers also died in the attack, according to a coalition statement and Afghan provincial officials. The nationality of the civilian was not disclosed.
At least 1,190 more coalition troops have also died in the Afghanistan war, according to iCasualties.org, an independent organization.
According to the Afghanistan index kept by the Brookings Institution, 40.2 percent of the deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices, with the majority of those after 2009 when President Barack Obama ordered a surge of 33,000 troops to combat heightened Taliban activity. According to the Washington-based research center, the second highest cause, 30.6 percent, was hostile fire
Tracking civilian deaths is much more difficult. According to the U.N., 13,431 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict between 2007, when the U.N. began keeping statistics, and the end of August. Going back to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, most estimates put the number of Afghan deaths in the war at more than 20,000.
The number of American dead reflects an Associated Press count of those members of the armed services killed inside Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion on Oct. 7, 2001. Some other news organizations use a count that also includes those killed outside Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the global anti-terror campaign led by then-President George W. Bush.
The 2001 invasion targeted al-Qaida and its Taliban allies after the Sept. 11 attacks, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives in the United States.
Victory in Afghanistan seemed to come quickly. Kabul fell within weeks, and the hardline Taliban regime was toppled with few U.S. casualties.
But the Bush administration’s shift toward war with Iraq left the Western powers without enough resources on the ground, so by 2006 the Taliban had regrouped into a serious military threat.
Obama deployed more troops to Afghanistan, where casualties increased sharply in the last several years. But the American public grew weary of having its military in a perpetual state of conflict, especially after the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq at the end of last year. That war, which began with a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein, cost the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. troops, more than twice as many as have died in Afghanistan so far.
“The tally is modest by the standards of war historically, but every fatality is a tragedy and 11 years is too long,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a fellow at the Brookings. “All that is internalized, however, in an American public that has been watching this campaign for a long time. More newsworthy right now are the insider attacks and the sense of hopelessness they convey to many. “
Attacks by Afghan soldiers or police — or insurgents disguised in their uniforms — have killed 52 American and other NATO troops so far this year.
The so-called insider attacks are considered one of the most serious threats to the U.S. exit strategy from the country. In its latest incarnation, that strategy has focused on training Afghan forces to take over security nationwide — allowing most foreign troops to go home by the end of 2014.
Although Obama has pledged that most U.S. combat troops will leave by the end of 2014, American, NATO and allied troops are still dying in Afghanistan at a rate of one a day.
Even with 33,000 American troops back home, the U.S.-led coalition will still have 108,000 troops — including 68,000 from the U.S. — fighting in Afghanistan at the end of this year. Many of those will be training the Afghan National Security Forces that are to replace them.
“There is a challenge for the administration,” O’Hanlon said, “to remind people in the face of such bad news why this campaign requires more perseverance.”