April 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


North Korean Rocket Launch Fails: US Officials (ALYSSA NEWCOMB, April 12, 2012, ABC)

An anticipated missile launch by North Korea failed today when the country fired a long-range test rocket in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and an agreement with the United States.

The 90-ton rocket launched at 6:39 p.m. EST, but U.S. officials said that 81 seconds into the launch, there was a substantially larger than expected flare and by ten minutes after launch, the rocket was no longer on several radar screens, including those of the National Military Command Center tracking system.

The missile is believed to have crashed into the sea. Early reports from South Korean officials indicate that debris from the rocket fell near the Philippines, ten minutes after launch.

They are a threat only to themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Philippines and China in a Standoff at Sea (FLOYD WHALEY, 4/12/12, NY Times)

Philippine and Chinese officials on Wednesday called for a diplomatic solution to a naval standoff in the South China Sea, while insisting that they would defend their territorial claims in the region.

"If the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty," Albert F. del Rosario, the Philippine foreign secretary, said at a news conference as a Philippine frigate and two Chinese ships positioned themselves near disputed islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement reaffirming its claim to sovereignty over the islands and said that the Philippine Navy was harassing its fishing vessels in the area.

The standoff comes at a time of increasing assertiveness by China in its claims to the South China Sea waters around the Philippines. The dispute intensified after the Philippines announced in February that it would invite foreign energy companies to explore for oil and gas in the waters west of Palawan Province, and adjacent to the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines, an ally of the United States, has become a particular target of China's anger in the South China Sea disputes.

They're an ally, just sink the Chicom boat.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Robert Caro's Big Dig (CHARLES McGRATH, April 12, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

Robert Caro probably knows more about power, political power especially, than anyone who has never had some. He has never run for any sort of office himself and would probably have lost if he had. He's a shy, soft-spoken man with old-fashioned manners and an old-fashioned New York accent (he says "toime" instead of "time" and "foine" instead of fine), so self-conscious that talking about himself makes him squint a little. The idea of power, or of powerful people, seems to repel him as much as it fascinates. And yet Caro has spent virtually his whole adult life studying power and what can be done with it, first in the case of Robert Moses, the great developer and urban planner, and then in the case of Lyndon Johnson, whose biography he has been writing for close to 40 years. Caro can tell you exactly how Moses heedlessly rammed the Cross Bronx Expressway through a middle-class neighborhood, displacing thousands of families, and exactly how Johnson stole the Texas Senate election of 1948, winning by 87 spurious votes. These stories still fill him with outrage but also with something like wonder, the two emotions that sustain him in what amounts to a solitary, Dickensian occupation with long hours and few holidays.

Caro is the last of the 19th-century biographers, the kind who believe that the life of a great or powerful man deserves not just a slim volume, or even a fat one, but a whole shelf full. He dresses every day in a jacket and tie and reports to a 22nd-floor office in a nondescript building near Columbus Circle, where his neighbors are lawyers or investment firms. His office looks as if it belongs to the kind of C.P.A. who still uses ledgers and a hand-cranked adding machine. There are an old wooden desk, wooden file cabinets and a maroon leather couch that never gets sat on. Here Caro writes the old-fashioned way: in longhand, on large legal pads.

Caro began "The Years of Lyndon Johnson," his multivolume biography of the 36th president, in 1976, not long after finishing "The Power Broker," his immense, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, and figured he could do Johnson's life in three volumes, which would take him six years or so. Next month, a fourth installment, "The Passage of Power," will appear 10 years after the last, "Master of the Senate," which came out 12 years after its predecessor, "Means of Ascent," which in turn was published 8 years after the first book, "The Path to Power." These are not ordinary-size volumes, either. "Means of Ascent," at 500 pages or so, is the comparative shrimp of the bunch. "The Path to Power" is almost 900 pages long; "Master of the Senate" is close to 1,200, or nearly as long as the previous two combined. If you try to read or reread them all in just a couple weeks, as I foolishly did not long ago, you find yourself reluctant to put them down but also worried that your eyeballs may fall out.

The new book, an excerpt of which recently ran in The New Yorker, is 736 pages long and covers only about six years. It begins in 1958, with Johnson, so famously decisive and a man of action, dithering as he decides whether or not to run in the 1960 presidential election. The book then describes his loss to Kennedy on the first ballot at the Democratic convention and takes him through the miserable, humiliating years of his vice presidency before devoting almost half its length to the 47 days between Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 (Caro's account, told from Johnson's point of view, is the most riveting ever) and the State of the Union address the following January -- a period during which Johnson seizes the reins of power and, in breathtakingly short order, sets in motion much of the Great Society legislation.

In other words, Caro's pace has slowed so that he is now spending more time writing the years of Lyndon Johnson than Johnson spent living them, and he isn't close to being done yet. 

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Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Zimmerman 'Profiled' Martin: Prosecutor's Affidavit (Eric Linton, April 12, 2012 , IB Times)

It says that Zimmerman was in his vehicle when he saw Martin "and assumed Martin was a criminal. Zimmerman felt Martin did not belong in the gated community and called the police. Zimmerman spoke to the dispatcher and asked for an officer to respond because Zimmerman perceived that Martin was acting suspicious. The police dispatcher informed Zimmerman that an officer was on the way and to wait for the officer. [...]

As the incident was unfolding, Martin was on the phone with a friend, the affidavit says. "The witness advised that Martin was scared because he was being followed through the complex by an unknown male and didn't know why. Martin attempted to run home but was followed by Zimmerman who didn't want the person he falsely assumed was going to commit a crime to get away before the police arrived. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle and followed Martin.

"When the police dispatcher realized Zimmerman was pursuing Martin, he instructed Zimmerman not to do that and that the responding officer would meet him. Zimmerman disregarded the police dispatcher and continued to follow Martin, who was trying to return to his home.

"Zimmerman confronted Martin and a struggle ensued. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Will Khamenei Compromise? (Reza Marashi, Ali Reza Eshraghi | April 11, 2012, National Interest)

Over the past two decades, efforts by all three Iranian presidents to mend relations with the United States have failed. Former president Rafsanjani recently reiterated that during his presidency in 1990s, he pushed to repair relations with America but Khamenei was against it: "Perhaps if we treated the U.S. like Europe . . . we would have had fewer problems." A displeased Khamenei responded by reiterating his thesis about the United States: "Whenever we take a step back and are more laid back in our behavior, they become more brazen."

This seeming hostility notwithstanding, it is a mistake to conclude that Khamenei is against any opening in relations. On this point, what's past is prologue. During his presidency in the 1980s, Khamenei was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. In the 1990s, he did not oppose Rafsanjani's $1 billion oil-contract offer to American company Conoco. In 2001, he allowed Tehran to provide Washington with intelligence during the invasion of Afghanistan. In 2003, he approved a proposal to the U.S. Department of State outlining the contours of a U.S.-Iran agreement on issues of mutual interest.

In 2007, Khamenei backed three rounds of talks over Iraq between Iranian and American officials. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad congratulated Barack Obama on his election victory in 2008 without being admonished by the supreme leader. Most recently, Khamenei allowed Iranian authorities negotiate directly with American officials over Iran's nuclear program. Years of unsuccessful negotiations with Europe have convinced him that a reliable agreement cannot be reached without U.S. participation and acquiescence.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Sweden's secret recipe (FRASER NELSON, 14 APRIL 2012, The Spectator)

When Europe's finance ministers meet for a group photo, it's easy to spot the rebel -- Anders Borg has a ponytail and earring. What actually marks him out, though, is how he responded to the crash. While most countries in Europe borrowed massively, Borg did not. Since becoming Sweden's finance minister, his mission has been to pare back government. His 'stimulus' was a permanent tax cut. To critics, this was fiscal lunacy -- the so-called 'punk tax cutting' agenda. Borg, on the other hand, thought lunacy meant repeating the economics of the 1970s and expecting a different result.

Three years on, it's pretty clear who was right. 'Look at Spain, Portugal or the UK, whose governments were arguing for large temporary stimulus,' he says. 'Well, we can see that very little of the stimulus went to the economy. But they are stuck with the debt.' Tax-cutting Sweden, by contrast, had the fastest growth in Europe last year, when it also celebrated the abolition of its deficit. The recovery started just in time for the 2010 Swedish election, in which the Conservatives were re-elected for the first time in history.

All this has taken Borg from curiosity to celebrity. The Financial Times recently declared him the most effective finance minister in Europe. When we meet in his Stockholm office on a Friday afternoon (he and his aide seem to be the only two left in the building) he says he is just carrying on 20 years of reform. 'Sweden was a textbook case of European economic sclerosis. Very high taxes and huge regulatory burden.' An economic crisis in the early 1990s forced Sweden on the road to balanced budgets, and Borg was determined the 2007 crash would not stop him cutting the size of government.

'Everybody was told "stimulus, stimulus, stimulus",' he says -- referring to the EU, IMF and the alphabet soup of agencies urging a global, debt-fuelled spending splurge. Borg, an economist, couldn't work out how this would help. 'It was surprising that Europe, given what we experienced in the 1970s and 80s with structural unemployment, believed that short-term Keynesianism could solve the problem.' Non-economists, he says, 'might have a tendency to fall for those kinds of messages'.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Who Gets to Be French? (KARL E. MEYER, 4/11/12, NY Times)

THE French language is justly renowned for its clarity and precision. Yet on a seemingly simple matter its speakers stumble into a fog -- who or what can be defined as French? The question arose afresh in the wake of the Toulouse killings. No one doubted that the perpetrator was 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, a native son of Algerian descent. But was Mr. Merah French?

Impossible, declared four members of Parliament belonging to President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party. In a joint statement, they insisted that Mr. Merah "had nothing French about him but his identity papers."

Nonsense, retorted the left-wing journal Libération: "Merah is certainly a monster, but he was a French monster." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


How to build an artificial star on Earth (Celeste Biever, 4/10/12, New Scientist)

THE sun beats down through a cloudless sky as we weave between concrete blocks, each about as tall a person. Hundreds of the blocks are arranged in lines that fan out from a central point, like a child's drawing of the sun, cast at the bottom of a huge limestone pit in southern France. It is as if I'm standing in a shrine to our closest star, and in a way I am. If all goes well, the space above my head will one day rage with humanity's first self-sustaining fusion reaction, an artificial sun ten times hotter than the one that gives our planet life.

The blocks - each fitted with an elastomeric top to absorb vibrations - are seismic plinths, designed to shield the building that will rise above from damage in the event of an earthquake. Together they form the bowels of ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, an ambitious and unusual collaboration between seven of the world's biggest powers: China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. Their goal is to build the first energy-producing fusion reactor - harnessing the process that powers the sun and most other stars. At extremely high temperatures, hydrogen nuclei will fuse to form helium, spitting out more energy than the process consumes, something that has never yet been achieved by a human-made device.

With many advantages over its more toxic cousin, fission, it has long been clear that nuclear fusion could be a wonder energy source. Only now - following major budget cuts in the 1990s and years of bitter political wrangling to determine its location - are the formidable structures and devices that will make ITER a reality starting to take shape. "This is one of the most complicated things you could possibly imagine building," says Richard Pitts, leader of ITER's plasma-wall interactions group. "It is a truly massive scientific endeavour."

The 60-metre-high building that will one day stand above me will be the centrepiece of a 39-building compound, and will house the burning, doughnut-shaped hydrogen-helium mixture at ITER's heart. At a fiercely hot 150 million °C, deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen with one extra neutron, and tritium, with two, will form a state of matter known as a plasma, in which their nuclei fuse to form helium. When they achieve "plasma burn", they will spit out power in the form of a highly energetic neutron that will be used to heat the walls of the reactor, and in future reactors, would be used to drive a turbine.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


RIP Thomas Kinkade. And how is he different from Damien Hirst? (RUSSELL SMITH, 4/11/12,  Globe and Mail)

Kinkade's intentions, on the other hand, were never ironic or critical: He found that people really loved chocolate boxes, and chocolate boxes he painted. His success was baffling to even the most broad-minded of art lovers. Even as an illustrator, he wasn't really very good: I have seen more real-looking hobbit cottages in many a children's book. His light pastel palette, really heavy on the pink, is truly weird: Everything he painted ended up tinged with pink, even the Indy 500 racetrack. The colours are so sweet, most of what he paints looks not like candy boxes but like actual candy, as if every tree and steeple is made of sugar.

There is also a strange fixation on property in Kinkade's work: He made thousands of images of houses, castles and mansions, their windows all glowing a radioactive orange, and there are no people visible in or near them. [...]

I'm surprised no one is comparing him to Damien Hirst, the most profitable British "high" artist. They have been reviled for almost identical reasons by the press. Hirst, whose current retrospective at London's Tate Modern has garnered largely scornful reviews from the art intelligentsia, has been criticized for his determined profit-seeking, for inflated prices, for using assistants to produce his work, even for a general lack of originality (many artists and illustrators have accused him of copying their work). But Hirst is seen as a conceptualist - his art is these brilliant money-making ideas themselves.

Why don't we see Kinkade in a similar light? What Kinkade was selling was also ideas: a mythical America, a pink-dawned, Christian cartoonscape of flowers, waterfalls and Disneyland. The dreamscape is a concept. Kinkade's hand didn't touch the prints that fans collected. Kinkade himself declared in one interview, "I am really the most controversial artist in the world." No wonder he made almost as much as the star of the Saatchi collection and the Tate Modern - Kinkade was a conceptual artist.

Since at least Don Quijote, attempts at irony have almost always turned on the artist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Two Faiths: The Witness of Whittaker Chambers (Richard M. Reinsch, Religion & Liberty)

Calvin Coolidge remarked that, "Great men are the ambassadors of Providence sent to reveal to their fellow men their unknown selves. To them is granted the power to call forth the best there is in those who come under their influence." To Coolidge's treatment of greatness, we might add the transcendent voices of certain writers who encapsulate in almost lyrical form the creative ideas, passions, and tensions within themselves, as measured by the period's conflicts they were providentially hurled against. These voices speak to the heart of man from the center of the writer's soul.

One such writer was Whittaker Chambers, whose autobiography Witness, published in 1952, details his life as an agent in the Fourth Section of Soviet Military Intelligence from 1932 to 1938, where he coordinated espionage activities with high-ranking United States government officials. Witness also movingly explains Chambers' departure from Communism and his conversion to Christianity. From his conversion, Chambers grasped that revolutionary ideology lied about the nature of man and the source of his being. The sources of Chambers' ascent and the witness he made are worth recalling in our own period of late-modern anomie.

One morning in 1938, shortly before leaving the Communist Party, while feeding his young daughter, Chambers concluded that the shape of her ear could not be explained by Marxist materialism. Something this beautiful and unique, Chambers observed, implied design, which implied the existence of God. Understanding the divine gift of his daughter Ellen, also strangely related to the horrific irruption within Chambers of the "screams" from Communism's suffering victims. He writes "[O]ne day the Communist really hears those screams. [The screams] ... do not merely reach his mind. They pierce beyond. They pierce to his soul." A soul in agony, in this case, a person under persecution by Communist authorities, has attempted to communicate with another soul through memory and across time. The crucial significance of both episodes rests in Chambers embracing the presence of his soul, thus denying the false materialism of Communism and the darkness it had covered him in. As Chambers observed, "A Communist breaks because he must choose at last between irreconcilable opposites--God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom or Communism."

Chambers' conversion inspired him to atone for his past betrayal of his country.