Global News Blog
It was a scene that India hadn’t witnessed for decades: lines stretching around the block, hundreds deep, of customers waiting to send a telegram.
But as the state-run telecommunications company prepared to shutter its telegram service Sunday, thousands queued up at the country’s 75 telegram offices for a final chance to send one of the old-school missives.
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Telegrams in India, as elsewhere, have long been on a backslide into obscurity, crowded out of the market by a flood of digital communications devices. In its last year of life, the state telegram service sent out only about 5,000 messages per day – 1.8 million a year – down from a peak of 60 million in 1985, according to The Christian Science Monitor.
"We were incurring losses of over $23 million a year because SMS and smartphones have rendered this service redundant," Shamim Akhtar, general manager of BSNL's telegram services, told the Monitor.
Still, particularities of Indian culture and history helped the increasingly outdated service cling to life in the country, Time reports.
In India, the telegram has owed its curious resilience to the two distinct advantages it has over rival technologies: it is already there, and it works, bearing messages rapidly across the country in places where telephone or Internet access is either nonexistent or erratic. For these reasons, it has retained a place in the country’s official life. India’s legendarily change-averse bureaucrats still use telegrams out of habit. Lawyers and courts use them to create written records in judicial proceedings. The army uses them occasionally to communicate with troops at remote stations. A handful of private customers use them too.
For 163 years, telegrams ferried some of India’s most important political messages – helping the British squash an anti-colonial uprising in 1857 and carrying the news of Pakistan’s invasion of Kashmir to London in 1947. But they have also been the purveyor of far less historic news. Telegrams historically brought notice of births and deaths to far flung family members, and they are still frequently used by eloping couples to inform their families that they have run away for love.
"They inform their parents that they are married, and fearing violence from the family, inform the police and the National Human Rights Commission," said R.D. Ram, a telegram operator in New Delhi, in an interview with the Monitor.
The demise of India’s state-run service comes seven years after Western Union ended its telegram service in the United States. But even as the telecom giants bow out of telegraphy, a number of private services have stepped in to fill the – admittedly small – gap.
Canadian company International Telegram (iTelegram), which began sending telegrams in the US after the Western Union closure, announced on its website this week that it has begun a private telegram service in India as well.
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL), the Indian state-owned telecommunications company, has decommissioned its telegram services as of July 2013.
Does this mean the end of telegrams in India? Or, as some news outlets have reported, the end of telegrams everywhere? No….
Customers wishing to place a telegram order to India, or from India to other countries, can do so through the iTelegram web site. Service is available to over 200 countries. And yes, happily that includes India!
For many Indians, however, the closing of the government telegram service still heralds the end of an era.
"Soon this will all be history,” said one Indian, who stood in line to send a telegram on Sunday, in an interview with CBS News. “Our last telegrams will become collector's items."
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It started as a craze for T-shirts printed with cartoon images of Hitler’s face. This dubious trend among teenagers in Thailand soon moved on to include SS style bike helmets, temporary swastika tattoos, and pictures of cute teddy bears doing the Nazi salute.
Soon, kids were seen on the streets of Bangkok posing for photos, grinning next to cartoon effigies of the man responsible for the deaths of 12 million people during the Holocaust. Then it emerged other incidents had taken place including a Nazi themed school fashion show and a sports day parade in the northern city of Chang Mai in which a group of students dressed up as SS soldiers as a surprise for their teachers.
“Hitler Chic,” as it was dubbed in the media last year, has quickly snowballed in Thailand, revealing a lack of historical education and awareness in a country that was left largely untouched by World War II.
Unsurprisingly, the new craze has prompted confusion among foreign tourists and outrage among several international organisations, including Itzhak Shoham, the Israeli ambassador to Thailand, who said the trend “hurts the feelings of every Jew and every civilized person.”
The complaints elicited bemused responses from Thailand’s cultural elite, who brushed it off as misplaced humor, stemming from kids who aren’t taught about the history of the Holocaust in school. One blogger said they thought the world had lost its sense of humor. “Why is this different from the West’s obsession with Che Guevara?” he wrote.
Interest in the trend seemed to be dropping off until last week when pictures on Twitter started circulating of a fried chicken joint in Bangkok allegedly named Hitler. Modeled after Kentucky Fried Chicken, the restaurant's logo features the face of the Fuhrer plastered onto the body of bow-tie wearing Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC. The images prompted a renewed outburst of anger, followed by a heavily worded statement from Kentucky Fried Chicken saying they were considering suing the restaurant.
"We find it extremely distasteful and are considering legal action since it is an infringement of our brand trademark and has nothing to do with us," a spokesperson for Yum!, KFC’s parent company said.
It was later pointed out that the pictures of the restaurant may be old and that the chicken joint in question has since changed its name.
True or not, the revival of the debate around Hitler Chic has prompted some to call for history to be re-instated as one of the key subjects in the Thai syllabus to avoid further misunderstanding and embarrassment.
Varakorn Samakoses is the president of Dhurakij Pundit University in Bangkok and former deputy minister for education. He says a lack of emphasis on history teaching in Thailand means students are graduating without a proper grasp of events that shaped the world around them.
“Kids are much more interested in the present and the future, they are not taught to appreciate or take seriously what happened in the past,” he said, adding that because Thailand avoided much of the hardships suffered by other countries during World War II and under colonial rule, people find it harder to relate to stories of genocide and chaos.
“Even teachers are ignorant of these issues,” he said. “This is something that should change. History should be one of the most important parts of the syllabus. [Children] should know what goes on because history always repeats itself.”
Lack of education and empathy may be a big problem here, but its not restricted to Thailand. Other countries have also picked up on the Hitler Chic craze, including the sale of Hitler key rings in 7/11 stores in Taiwan, Nazi T-shirts in Japan and Korea and a clothing store in Hong Kong caught decorating the counter with Nazi flags.
But the message that foreigners don't approve of Hitler Chic seems to be catching on.
Last Saturday, a young Chinese man was perusing a set of Hitler T-shirts at Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok. The man and his friend joked as they held up different T-shirts, including one of the German dictator dressed as Ronald McDonald.
“I want this. I will wear it at home in China,” he said. “I work at McDonalds so I like it very much.”
When asked if he knew who Hitler was, the man – who declined to give his name – smiled sheepishly. He nodded to indicate he did and then seemed to get embarrassed. As this reporter walked away, his friend muttered something under his breath and the pair left abruptly. Later this reporter saw the T-shirt he was going to buy, still hanging up.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who's been an unseen presence in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport for almost three weeks now, suddenly went public Friday to ask Russian human rights activists for assistance in gaining temporary asylum in Russia.
Among the dozen human rights leaders who met Mr. Snowden behind closed doors were Amnesty International's Sergei Nikitin and Human Rights Watch's Tanya Lokshina, some of whom forwarded information to journalists via Twitter and Facebook about the meeting's progress. Vladimir Lukin, Russia's presidential human rights ombudsman, and Genri Reznik, a prominent lawyer, also attended.
A photograph of the meeting, published by Ms. Lokshina, shows a gaunt but healthy-looking Snowden sitting at a desk with Ms. Lokshina and other human rights workers.
"I have been made stateless and hounded for my act of political expression," Snowden said. According to the reports, Snowden said that he is prepared to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin's condition that he may remain in Russia, but only if he stops "hurting our American partners" with damaging leaks of secret national security documents.
"Snowden said that he plans to seek temporary asylum in Russia, then go somewhere in Latin America eventually. On a personal note he said living conditions at the airport were fine, and that he feels safe," Lokshina posted on the HRW website.
He reportedly asked the Russian human rights workers to assist him in convincing Russian authorities to grant him refuge, adding that "no actions I take or plan are meant to harm the US." In fact, he reportedly added, "I want the US to succeed."
Russia has been visibly ambivalent about Snowden's presence in Moscow. On one hand the fugitive former CIA employee has been embraced by large numbers of Russians, including many parliamentarians, who see him as a hero who's ripped away the US mask of democracy and freedom and exposed the underlying reality of globe-spanning duplicity.
On the other hand, the Kremlin has held him at arm's length and top officials, including Mr. Putin, have urged him to move along as quickly as possible. A former KGB agent, Putin's distaste for an idealist who proclaims the goal of total information transparency and, by his own account, refuses to work with any intelligence agencies, has been difficult to conceal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that no fresh appeal for asylum from Snowden had yet been received.
But Mr. Peskov told journalists that if Putin's conditions are met, Snowden would probably be welcome to remain in Russia.
"Snowden, by sincere conviction or for some other reason, considers himself to be a human rights activist, a fighter for the ideals of democracy and human freedom. Russian human rights activists and organizations, as well as their colleagues abroad acknowledge this. For this reason, extraditing Snowden to a country like the US where capital punishment is enforced is impossible," the English-language Kremlin-funded TV network RT quoted Peskov as saying.
In a letter released to the media Friday, Snowden hailed the small group of Latin American nations that have offered to give him asylum – Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua – but said he was not able to accept any of them due to US efforts to block his ability to travel.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign President's plane to effect a search for a political refugee. This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution," Snowden wrote.
In a longer statement, published by WikiLeaks on Friday, Snowden added that he would attempt to stay in Russia until a safe path to Latin America becomes open.
"[The] willingness by powerful states to act extra-legally represents a threat to all of us, and must not be allowed to succeed. Accordingly, I ask for your assistance in requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America, as well as requesting asylum in Russia until such time as these states accede to law and my legal travel is permitted. I will be submitting my request to Russia today, and hope it will be accepted favorably," he said.
Chinese airline passengers, who have a reputation for losing it in dramatic fashion, can now feel vindicated. Beijing’s airport has the worst punctuality record in the world. And Shanghai is close behind.
Only 18 percent of flights took off from Beijing’s Capital Airport on time in June, according to a just-released survey of the world’s 35 busiest airports. And 42 percent of them left more than three quarters of an hour late.
Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport had a punctuality rate of 29 percent, the US company FlightStats.com said in its report.
That will not be news to many of the 82 million passengers who passed through Beijing Airport last year, making it the second busiest air hub in the world (after Atlanta). Long waits at airports here are routine and Chinese passengers are growing increasingly less likely to put up with them.
Especially when nobody tells them what is going on, which is usually the case.
Three weeks ago, angry Air China passengers who had found themselves stranded for 24 hours at the Three Gorges airport, either because of bad weather or because of mechanical problems, depending on who was doing the explaining, gathered in a crowd to block passengers from boarding another Air China flight.
Last year, frustrated passengers at two different airports rushed the tarmac, preventing planes from landing or taking off, in protest at the way they had been treated while their flights were delayed.
The stormy weather at this time of year does not help, but the main problems are the huge increase in air traffic as Chinese citizens take to the air instead of traveling by train, and the lack of available airspace.
Air traffic figures have been rising by over 10 percent a year for some time, and the Civil Aviation Authority of China expects China’s fleet of commercial aircraft to double to 4,200 planes by 2020, according to its chief Wang Liya.
But the People’s Liberation Air Force controls almost all of China’s airspace, and allots only 20 percent to commercial aviation, which makes delays almost inevitable.
The Beijing-Shanghai route is by far the most congested and prone to outrageous delays – it is generally quicker to take the high-speed train than to fly the 670 miles that separate the two cities.
But provincial airports haven’t got much to boast about either, according to the FlightStats report. None of the Chinese airports surveyed could get even half their flights off the ground on time – which FlightStats takes to mean “within 15 minutes of scheduled departure.”
Getting passengers airborne is not the only thing Beijing Airport is slow about. When I rang the airport spokesman to ask why he thought Beijing came bottom of the rankings, he did not exactly hop to it.
“Fax me your question,” he said, “and we will answer in two or three days.”
In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces rolled into the Bosniak-populated town of Srebrenica, beginning a campaign of ethnic killings unparalleled in Europe since the Nazi era. Pushing aside the lightly armed Dutch UN troops guarding the area, the army slaughtered more than 8,000 men and boys in just five days, dumping their bodies in a series of mass graves along the outskirts of the town.
Thursday, tens of thousands of Bosnians gathered in Srebrenica to mark the 18th anniversary of the massacre and individually re-bury 409 victims newly identified from those mass graves, continuing the plodding process of bringing closure to this dark chapter in Bosnian history. Meanwhile, on the same afternoon, one of the Bosnian Serb leaders accused of playing a pivotal role in the killings appeared before judges at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Among those buried in Srebrenica today were 43 teenage boys and a baby born during the massacre, their bodies laid to rest amidst the stark rows of white gravestones at the Potocari Memorial Center just outside the town.
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Since Bosnia began using DNA testing to identify victims a decade ago, some 6,000 of the dead have been identified, reports the Associated Press. Another 2,306, however, remain officially missing.
Although the killing of Srebrenica’s predominantly Muslim ethnic Bosniaks drew immediate international outrage, it took more than a month for reporters to reach the site of the murders and document the extent of the atrocities.
In August 1995, The Christian Science Monitor’s David Rohde was the first foreign journalist to report from Srebrenica, using forged press credentials to reach the town and reveal what he termed “grim and convincing” physical evidence that a massacre had taken place there. He wrote:
During a reporter's visit to the site this Wednesday, three areas of fresh digging were clearly visible. On the edge of the smallest of the three alleged mass graves, what appeared to be a human femur and tibia surrounded by bits of tattered fabric jutted from rich brown dirt....
Approximately a quarter mile from the three sites, Muslim prayer beads, clothing, and still legible receipts and election ballots from Srebrenica were found.
Two empty ammunition boxes, each of which appeared to hold several hundred rounds, were seen near the three sites. A handful of shell casings was found across the street from one of the sites, but few shell casings were found on the graves themselves. Truck and bulldozer tracks leading to the alleged graves were visible.
Over the next three months, Mr. Rohde’s reporting revealed the harrowing scope of the massacre, allegedly authorized and carried out under the approval of President Slobodan Milosevic’s government in Belgrade. In October, he was searching for new evidence of mass graves in the area when a Bosnian Serb army official suddenly approached him. As the Monitor reported:
The man pointing the rifle advanced slowly down a slope of stones. He kept his aim steady, holding the firearm on his hip, and paid no attention to David Rohde's entreaties.
"I'm lost, I'm lost, I'm sorry," yelled The Christian Science Monitor reporter, his hands in the air. This was a lie. Rohde knew exactly where he was, but he figured the truth - that he was an American journalist secretly searching for killing fields - would not be well received by his Bosnian Serb challenger. So he tried to look inoffensive, and made a move toward his rented Citroen.
It didn't work. The guard pulled the gun tight to his shoulder and sighted down the barrel. Rohde was deep inside territory he was not supposed to enter, carrying forged documents and suspicious maps, a camera filled with photos of a mass grave, and a borrowed coat on his back. A moment earlier he had been ready to photograph a human femur nearby. Now he did not know if he would live out the hour.
For the next ten days, Rohde bounced from prison cells to interrogation rooms as his family and a team of Monitor editors frantically negotiated for his release. Eventually pardoned by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Rohde won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the massacres.
Since 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has convicted 45 Serbs, 12 Croats, and 4 Bosniaks of participation in war crimes during the region’s conflict. Some 100,000 people died during the Bosnian War, a vicious conflict set off by the ethnic fracturing of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
As Bosnians gathered Thursday to mark the massacre’s anniversary, Mr. Karadzic appeared before the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, where judges announced that they were reinstating a genocide charge against him of which he had been acquitted last year, reports the Associated Press.
The posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, who testified about a $230 million tax scam by high officials and then found himself arrested by the same police officers he had accused, had become for many people around the world a symbol of just how strange – and often, scary – a place Russia has become during the third Kremlin term of Vladimir Putin.
The vast gulf of disagreement between Russia and the West over the Magnitsky case has been, perhaps, the single most painful aggravating factor in the worst diplomatic chill between Moscow and Washington since the end of the cold war.
Mr. Magnitsky died under suspicious circumstances, after allegedly being beaten in a Moscow pre-trial detention center in November 2009, about a year after his arrest.
The Russian government has come under intense criticism for allegedly bending Russian laws in order to stage the nearly unprecedented trial of a dead man, appointing defense lawyers against the wishes of Magnitsky's family – who refused to participate in the process – and allowing the case against him to be shaped by officials who are implicated in the corruption scandal that Magnitsky uncovered.
Critics also allege that the trial was staged in a bid to deflect international outrage over Magnitsky's fate, including a US law, known as the Magnitsky Act, which levels strict visa and financial sanctions against a list of Russian officials accused of involvement in Magnitsky's death and other alleged human rights violations.
Russia's incandescent response to the Magnitsky Act was to pass its own tit-for-tat law, the Dima Yakovlev Act, which, among other things, banned adoptions of Russian orphans by US citizens.
So there was little surprise when Moscow's Tverskoi District Court found Magnitsky guilty Thursday, and sentenced his exiled co-defendant, Hermitage Capital CEO Bill Browder to 9 years in prison in absentia – everything prosecutors had asked for.
"I never doubted this would be the verdict. I do not believe he was guilty. I know he did not commit any crime, and there was no proof to the contrary," the official RIA-Novosti agency quoted Magnitsky's lawyer, Dmitry Kharitonov, as saying.
Magnitsky's 2009 death prompted his employer, Mr. Browder, whose Hermitage Capital was once the biggest foreign investor in Russia, to bankroll an extensive investigation into the corruption case that Magnitsky uncovered and the conditions that led to his death. That investigation, available online, along with a subsequent report by the Kremlin's own in-house human rights commission concluded that Magnitsky was framed by corrupt Russian police, tax, and government officials, denied medical care in jail, and probably beaten to death in a holding cell – while an ambulance was forced to wait outside the prison for an hour – by investigators who were trying to force a confession from him.
The Kremlin's Investigative Committee, Russia's highest police body, has apparently never looked into Magnitsky's original allegations, which pointed to a high-level conspiracy to defraud the Russian state treasury of $230 million in taxes paid by Hermitage companies in 2006. Instead, the same officials he had named had Magnitsky arrested and charged with tax evasion.
According to Browder's investigation, much of the stolen money has since turned up in Western banks or in the form of expensive foreign properties purchased by the very same police and tax officials Magnitsky had accused.
But the Investigative Committee closed its probe into Magnitsky's death in March with the conclusion that no crimes had been committed by Russian officials or police in the way they handled the case.
Prosecutors alleged – and won conviction Thursday – on the charge that Magnitsky and Browder manipulated Hermitage's tax returns to embezzle millions of dollars from the state in 2007. Though it's not completely clear, this does not appear to be even related to the tax scam that Magnitsky blew the whistle on. Prosecutors also claimed that Browder was guilty of illegally purchasing shares of the state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom early in the decade, when foreigners were restricted from investing in the company.
"The worst part of today's verdict is the malicious pain that the Russian government is ready to inflict on the grieving family of a man who was killed for standing up to government corruption and police abuse," Browder said in a statement Thursday.
"The desperation behind this move shows the lengths that Putin is ready to go any to retaliate against anyone who expose the stealing and corruption he presides over. When the Putin regime ultimately falls, future generations of Russians will be naming streets and monuments after Sergei Magnitsky for his heroism and sacrifice," he added.
Vatican officials announced Thursday that Pope Francis has bolstered legislation against child abuse within the grounds of the small city-state. At the same time, a United Nations committee has demanded that the church reveal its procedures for dealing with child abuse allegations.
Though child abuse is already designated as a criminal act, the pope has moved to strengthen Vatican law, making it illegal to sexually or physically abuse children specifically within the Vatican City limits, according to CNN. Hundreds of people live in the Vatican, while millions visit every year. The new law will also broaden the definition of child abuse to include child prostitution and child pornography.
The legal changes were issued in Pope Francis’s first “Moto Proprio” – a directive the pope launches himself, writes Reuters. The pope also announced his intention to increase the Vatican’s support of international laws against crimes such as money laundering and terrorism.
The laws comes as part of an overall reform process started under Pope Benedict XVI and prompted by scandals revealing corruption and ineptitude in the Vatican bureaucracy, reports Agence France-Presse.
The pope's reform "extends the reach of the legislation contained in these criminal laws to the members, officials and employees of the various bodies of the Roman Curia," the central body of the Catholic Church, Mamberti said.
"This extension has the aim of making the crimes included in these laws indictable by the judicial organs of Vatican City State even when committed outside the borders of the state," he said.
When Pope Francis was elected in March, the church was beset by accusations of covering up child sex-abuse cases. Pope Benedict came under harsh criticism for his perceived lack of action against pedophilia among clergy.
As a result of these allegations, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has requested information on how the Vatican handles children’s rights abuses globally, including sexual abuse cases, reports the Globe and Mail. The CRC monitors adherence to the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Vatican has both signed and ratified.
The demands include confidential information on church investigations into child-abuse cases and mark the first time that the Vatican has been probed by an international body.
Highlighted on the “List of Issues” presented to the Holy See by the CRC is the question of what steps have been taken to prevent clergy accused of sexual abuse from contacting their alleged victims, writes the Washington Post. The Vatican is also being asked to answer questions regarding the purported transferring of clergy members accused of abuse.
The questioning comes in advance of the Vatican’s scheduled meeting with the committee in January 2014.
As Catherine Middleton and her husband, Prince William, prepare in private for the imminent arrival of their first child, it appears as though the rest of the country – and even some outside it – has gone royal baby crazy.
Jewel-encrusted baby gifts, betting on names, royal baby-themed crackers – these are just a few of the various eccentricities that have abounded in recent weeks as the world watches with bated breath for Britain’s future monarch.
Bets have been running for weeks now on all things related to the upcoming birth, from the sex and name of the baby to even the day it will happen. According to The Week, bookmakers are currently saying tomorrow, Thursday July 11, is most likely to be the big day.
And though the sex of the baby is still unknown – the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge prefer to be surprised – a surge of interest has pushed Alexandra to the fore. Other girls' names in the running include Victoria and Diana, reports the Telegraph. The most widely speculated boy's name is that of Kate’s younger brother, James.
The child will be given the title Prince or Princess of Cambridge. But regardless of gender, he or she will be third in line for the throne, since Parliament passed a law mandating that a female heir cannot be overtaken by a younger male relative.
Gamblers aren’t the only ones spending money on the royal baby. Sudocrem, which makes skin care creams, has commissioned British jewelry designer Theo Fennell to design a jewel-studded charm bracelet that also serves as a diaper-rash-cream holder for Kate, reports Headlines and Global News. The bracelet costs a reported $15,000.
And that's just one of the gifts the royal couple has received. As HNGN continues:
So far, Kate Middleton and Prince William have received everything from a cardboard box from the Finnish government to a knitted kangaroo from Australia's [former] Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and a crate of organic baby food. PETA gifted the Duke and Duchess a faux-sheepskin baby blanket complete with a little stuffed animal giraffe, and Finnish social security service, Kela, sent the new parents a "baby box" that contains rompers, leggings, a hooded bath towel, hairbrush, diaper rash cream, a picture book, a snowsuit, teething toy and ... condoms!
Other than gifts, Kate and William can expect a deluge of unsolicited advice from the public. According to the Telegraph, parenting website Mumsnet has asked its readers to tweet advice to the soon-to-be mother using the hashtag “#tips4kate.” The best tweets will be compiled and published in a book that will be sent to the Duchess and Duke of Cambridge.
Some of the advice, however, has come from an unlikely source. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, former star of reality TV show “The Jersey Shore” and recent mother, has posted a public letter offering her advice to Kate, reports CBS. Here’s what she had to say:
"In the beginning, right when you take your royal golden nugget home to the castle is the most exciting experience of your life. I couldn't wait to wake up in the middle of the night to take care of my little prince Lorenzo."
"But that lasts for about a few days. Then it's like, 'I love you but OMG stop crying! I'm exhausted.' The lack of sleep you will get used to -- just do your makeup, put a tiara on, and you'll look beautiful as usual," she added.
At least the royal couple will not be the only recipients of baby-related goods. According to the Huffington Post, the Royal Mint will be distributing silver coins to all children born on the same day as the royal baby. Only a limited amount – 2,013 coins – will be minted though, so new parents will have to act fast in order to get one.
The baby will be born at St. Mary's Hospital in London, where both William and his brother Prince Harry were born.
Rules for arming Syria
With the United States inexorably heading toward greater involvement in Syria’s civil war, the need to figure out the “rules of engagement” has taken on more urgency. In a Foreign Policy piece titled “5 Rules for Arming Rebels,” Edward Luttwak offers a list that’s short and simple – but not easy.
Rule No. 1: “Figure out who your friends are” – presents no easy task in sizing up the various Syrian insurgent groups. Rule No. 4: “Do not invite an equal and opposite response by another great power” – translates as “Make sure you come to an understanding with Russia, the patron of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, before diving in.” Russia may insist that Mr. Assad play some continuing role.
“The Obama administration ... can convincingly argue (despite the somewhat inconclusive and murky assertion that Assad’s use of chemical weapons has now been verified) that it must provide some help to the rebels simply to deny a victory to Iran and Hezbollah,” Mr. Luttwak writes. “Even so, one hopes that it retains its prudence – and keeps these five rules in mind.”
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Spies among us
While the world plays a game of “Where's Edward?,” the whereabouts of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden – and whether the US will be able to extradite him for prosecution – are just the most public parts of the story. A recent in-depth piece examines a private US spy organization that operates off the radar. In BusinessWeek, authors Drake Bennett and Michael Riley peer inside Booz Allen Hamilton, Mr. Snowden’s employer, a private contractor whose roots go back to World War II, when it tracked Nazi U-boats. In the last fiscal year, Booz Allen reported $5.76 billion in revenue, 99 percent of it from government contracts. Some $1.3 billion of that was from US intelligence agencies.
The firm is saturated with “intelligence community heavyweights,” and sends its alums back into government as well, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Riley say. They include James Clapper, a former Booz Allen executive who is President Obama’s principal intelligence adviser; Mike McConnell, a Booz Allen vice president who was George W. Bush’s director of national intelligence; and Joan Dempsey, a former CIA deputy director who now works for Booz Allen.
US government spy agencies now complain that “the damn contractors know more than we do,” the authors report. “That could have been a factor in the Snowden leak – his computer proficiency may have allowed him to access information he shouldn’t have been allowed to see.”
An elevator to space?
Why don’t skyscrapers go any higher? One limitation is elevators. After several hundred feet the steel cables used to hoist them eventually become too heavy to use. Now, says a report in The Economist, new carbon-fiber “ropes” that weigh a fraction as much as steel (but are even stronger) may send buildings soaring again.
The new ropes should allow buildings to reach as high as one mile (5,280 feet). The tallest building today is Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at 2,717 feet. Thinking even bigger? The new material might also be part of a “space elevator” that connects Earth with a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, eliminating the need to launch rockets to send humans and materials into orbit.
In “The Secret War,” James Bamford at WIRED magazine profiles powerful and secretive US Army Gen. Keith Alexander, “a man few even in Washington would likely recognize.” Alexander heads up America’s cyberwar efforts, both defensive and offensive. Alexander, Mr. Bamford says, has built an “empire” by pointing out the nation’s “inherent vulnerability to digital attacks” and in the process has gathered more and more power to himself.
Alexander’s band of cyberwarriors are responsible for Stuxnet, the computer malware that was able to damage Iran’s nuclear program in 2010. And that’s only the beginning of what lies ahead. The mysterious Alexander is a modern J. Edgar Hoover, a man “regarded with a mixture of respect and fear,” Bamford writes. “ ‘We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander – with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,’ says a former senior CIA official.... ‘We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.’ ”
Sci-fi fantasy as an exercise in wonder
As yet another summer filled with science-fiction movies gets under way, Christine Folch in The Atlantic lends her perspective in “Why the West Loves Sci-Fi and Fantasy.” Robert Downey Jr. already opened the season with his third go-round as an American inventor-superhero in “Iron Man 3,” and “Man of Steel” brings Superman (this time played by British actor Henry Cavill) back to the big screen – just two among many such films.
Today sci-fi and fantasy may serve a function akin to that of religion, offering hope that the answer to “Is that all there is?” is a rousing “no,” Ms. Folch writes. “Western societies perceived the world as knowably rational and systematic, leading to a widespread loss of a sense of wonder and magic.... And so we turn to science fiction and fantasy in an attempt to re-enchant the world.”
– Gregory Lamb / Staff writer
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Nearly 66 years to the day after a mysterious object crashed near Roswell, N.M., setting off speculations about a possible alien landing on Earth, a team of scientists in the United Kingdom has announced that they are throwing their own hats in the ring to search for extraterrestrial life.
Joining an array of mostly American projects known collectively as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the UK SETI Research Network (UKSRN) will rent time on British radio telescopes such as the eMerlin array to listen for extraterrestrial signals and back research into new ways to locate alien life-forms.
"Ask astronomers do they think ET exists and most will tell you yes," said Tim O'Brien, deputy director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which runs eMerlin, in an interview with the Guardian. "We don't know what the nature of life would be, or whether it wants to communicate with us, but since we're collecting all this data anyway, it seems rather remiss not to search for ET signals."
The UKSRN held its first meeting at the National Astronomy Meeting in Scotland Friday, announcing that it would apply for 1 million pounds ($1.5 million) in government funding to rent time on UK radio telescopes and analyze the data it collects. That’s a contrast with SETI efforts in the United States, which are backed by private donors, reports Wired.
The announcement came just three days before the anniversary of the 1947 “Roswell incident,” when an unknown flying object crash-landed in the New Mexico desert. Witnesses and some later researchers claimed it was an alien ship, while the US government has maintained it was a surveillance balloon that was part of a classified cold war spying program known as Mogul.
The new British SETI program has not yet been approved for public funding, but its leadership is hopeful the government will see the value of their project.
“If we had … half a percent of the money that goes into astronomy at the moment, we could make an amazing difference. We would become comparable with the American effort,” said Alan Penny, an astronomer at the University of St. Andrews and one of the leaders of the British SETI network, in an interview with the BBC. “I don’t know whether [aliens] are out there, but I’m desperate to find out. It’s quite possible that we’re alone in the universe. And think about the implications of that: If we’re alone in the universe then the whole purpose in the universe is in us. If we’re not alone, that’s interesting in a very different way.”