Monthly Archives: December 2011

Sydney – coldest summer in fifty years | Dec 22, 2011

By Rachel Morton

Sydney is experiencing its coldest start to a summer in fifty years.

 Normally at this time of year the beaches should be packed, but instead people are rugging up and trying to stay out of the rain.

Sydney’s Bondi Beach is usually crowded during summer but is currently almost deserted.

Holiday-goers say the weather is the reason they’re not on the beach.

“We’re from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland so we’re not used to this kind of weather,” say a visiting couple.

Up to forty thousand people can crowd Bondi at any one time but this summer the life guards are almost redundant.

“Yeah it’s definitely quieter when it’s raining, we’ve got the guys just back in the towers charging up the batteries,” says one of the life guards.

It’s all thanks to a la nina weather pattern.


Coldest December in SLO since ’71? Probably

During a la nina stronger winds blow from the southeast and bring moisture to Australia, which boosts the amount of cloud cover and rainfall for cities such as Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin.

It’s not just beachgoers who’re disappointed. The weather is also affecting retail.

Coca-Cola says soft drink sales are weak and Vincenzo Leonetti says that in 40 years of selling gelato this is the quietest he’s seen.

“Gelato is down fifty percent on this time of year, maybe more. I’ve never seen this in my memory, never,” says Mr Lianetti.

The Australian National Retailers Association says discretionary spending is down and it is fashion retailers who are hurting the most. Cold rainy weather is simply not enticing shoppers in to buy board-shorts and bikinis.

Swedish research professor: Norway attack appears to be state-sponsored

“We have discussed the right-wing extremist Israeli and Judeo-Christian side of Breivik’s network, Israel’s interest in disciplining Norway, and Israel’s celebration of bomb attacks. In this respect, Breivik’s attack appears to resemble a new king David Hotel attack: July 22nd,” he writes.

Swedish prof ‘insinuates’ Israel tie to Breivik attack | Dec 14, 2011

A Swedish academic has come under fire in Norway after writing an article suggesting that Israel played a part in the July 22nd massacre carried out by Anders Behring Breivik that claimed 77 lives.

Swedish-born Ola Tunander is a research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), a research institute where he has spent most of his career since receiving his PhD from Linköping University in 1989.

But a recent article authored by Tunander in which he seeks to discover what might have driven Brevik to set off a car bomb outside government offices in Norway and gun down 69 people at a summer camp for young Labour Party supporters, has prompted the head of PRIO to distance himself from the piece.

PRIO director Kristian Berg Harpviken told Norwegian magazine Minerva that Tunander’s article left him with a feeling of “considerable unease”.

Harpviken was also dismayed with what he viewed as a serious lapse in judgment on behalf of Nytt Norsk Tidsskrift, a multidisciplinary peer review journal, for agreeing to publish the contentious text in its latest issue.

In his article, Tunander reaches the conclusion that terrorist acts of such magnitude are seldom possible without the involvement of state forces, “and we can’t rule out that being the case this time too.”

In the midst of a web of alternative theories, Tunander lays out a “simple chronology” detailing the fractious diplomatic relationship between Norway and Israel in the months before the massacre, with Oslo indicating it would be willing to recognize a Palestinian state.

On two occasions, Tunander notes the significance of the date of the attacks.

First, he travels back to 1973, when members of the Israeli spy agency Mossad were arrested on July 22nd after a botched operation in which they assassinated the wrong person on Norwegian soil.

He also calls to mind the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem by Zionist paramilitary group Irgun, which took place on July 22nd 1946.

“We have discussed the right-wing extremist Israeli and Judeo-Christian side of Breivik’s network, Israel’s interest in disciplining Norway, and Israel’s celebration of bomb attacks. In this respect, Breivik’s attack appears to resemble a new king David Hotel attack: July 22nd,” he writes.

Tunander told Norwegian news agency NTB it was unfair to conclude from his article, as for example Norwegian writer Øyvind Strømmen has done, that he wished to link Israel to the worst atrocity in Norway’s peacetime history.

“Why he wishes to interpret the article that way is something he’ll have to answer himself,” said Tunander.

Writing in Minerva, Strømmen said there was little doubt as to the intentions of the 63-year-old academic.

“Does he insinuate that Israel was behind July 22nd, or was in some way involved? The answer, unfortunately, is yes,” he writes.

Bracelet reveals amazing craftsman’s skill from 7500BC (so good it couldn’t be bettered today)

Polished skills: The obsidian bracelet contains remarkable detail

Daily Mail | Dec 22, 2011

By Ted Thornhill

A 9,500-year-old bracelet has been analysed using the very latest computers – and the results show that it is so intricate even today’s craftsmen would struggle to improve it.

Researchers from the Institut Français d’Etudes Anatoliennes in Istanbul and Laboratoire de Tribologie et de Dynamiques des Systèmes studied the bracelet’s surface and its micro-topographic features revealing the astounding technical expertise of the maker.

The bracelet is obsidian – which means it’s made from volcanic glass – and the researchers analysis of it sheds new light on Neolithic societies, which remain highly mysterious.

Discovered in 1995 at the site of Asıklı Höyük in Turkey, it was analysed by software designed to characterise the ‘orange peel effect’ on car bodywork.

This process revealed that the bracelet – 10cm in diameter – was made and polished using highly specialised manufacturing techniques.

In fact, the surface was polished to a degree equal to that of today’s telescope lenses.

The bracelet is the oldest known example of an obsidian item, common during the Neolithic period.

The obsidian craft reached its peak in the seventh and sixth millennia BC with the production of all kinds of ornamental objects, including mirrors and vessels.

Neolithic people – or those leaving in what’s sometimes termed as the New Stone Age – were essentially skilled farmers, who could also turn their hand to the manufacture of various ornaments.

The result of the study is published in the December 2011 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science.

9/11 similarity puts Korean twin tower plan in doubt

“The Cloud,” a design of two Seoul skyscrapers, is seen in this artist’s rendering provided Dec. 12, 2011, by Dutch architectural company MVRDV.
(Credit: AP Photo/MVRDV)

CBS | Dec 13, 2011

By Alex Sundby

A fiery blast rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. (Credit: Getty Images)

A Dutch architectural firm might try to find a silver lining in its cloud that critics say resembles a World Trade Center under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

The firm, MVRDV, apologized on its website Monday after being criticized for the resemblance between the exploding Twin Towers and the “pixelated cloud” designed to bridge two skyscrapers planned to rise above Seoul, South Korea.

“There is nothing finalized about the design,” Seo Hee Seok, a spokesman for the project’s developer, told Bloomberg News Tuesday.

The Seoul skyscrapers, designed to stretch 57 and 60 stories high, is planned for a development near U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, the headquarters for U.S. armed forces in the country, which is slated to return to South Korean control by 2016, Bloomberg reported.

In its apology, the firm said it wasn’t its intention for the building to resemble the attacks and that no issues were raised about it while designing the structure.


“Don’t insult our intelligence,” John Feal, a first responder who lost part of his foot after being injured at ground zero, told CBS News station WCBS-TV in New York. “To many, the wound hasn’t closed, so when you see pictures like that it keeps that wound open.”

But to Washington Post art and architecture critic Phil Kennicott, the controversy appears to be an effort “to use the meaning of the terrorist attack for larger, more overbearing cultural control.”

Kennicott writes further: “Even if the Dutch design firm, MVRDV intended a reference to 9/11, there’s no reason that reference should be read as mocking or ironic. It might easily be seen as an effort to freeze frame a traumatic event, in architectural form, and neutralize its shock and pain.”

Korea building World Trade design sparks 9/11 anger

Mayans never predicted world to end in 2012: experts

A general view shows the exterior of the tomb of a Mayan ruler at the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque in the hills of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas in this undated handout photo by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) released June 23, 2011. A tiny remote-controlled camera peered inside the tomb that has been sealed for 1,500 years, revealing red frescoes, pottery and pieces of a funerary shroud made of jade and mother of pearl. Archeologists had not been able to access the vault discovered in 1999 inside a pyramid among the ruins until now, the INAH said in a release on Thursday. Reuters Pictures

Reuters | Dec 8, 2011

By Pepe Cortes

PALENQUE, Mexico – If you are worried the world will end next year based on the Mayan calendar, relax: the end of time is still far off.

So say Mayan experts who want to dispel any belief that the ancient Mayans predicted a world apocalypse next year.

The Mayan calendar marks the end of a 5,126 year old cycle around December 21, 2012, which should bring the return of Bolon Yokte, a Mayan god associated with war and creation.

Author Jose Arguelles called the date “the ending of time as we know it” in a 1987 book that spawned an army of Mayan theorists, whose speculations on a cataclysmic end abound online. But specialists meeting at this ancient Mayan city in southern Mexico say it merely marks the termination of one period of creation and the beginning of another.

“We have to be clear about this. There is no prophecy for 2012,” said Erik Velasquez, an etchings specialist at the the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “It’s a marketing fallacy.”

The National Institute of Anthropological History in Mexico has been trying to quell the barrage of forecasters predicting the apocalypse. “The West’s messianic thinking has distorted the world view of ancient civilizations like the Mayans,” the institute said in a statement.

In the Mayan calendar, the long calendar count begins in 3,114 BC and is divided into roughly 394-year periods called Baktuns. Mayans held the number 13 sacred and the 13th Baktun ends next year.

Sven Gronemeyer, a researcher of Mayan codes from La Trobe University in Australia, who has been trying to decode the calendar, said the so-called end day reflects a transition from one era to the next in which Bolon Yokte returns.

“Because Bolon Yokte was already present at the day of creation … it just seemed natural for the Mayan that Bolon Yokte will again be present,” he said.

Of the the approximately 15,000 registered glyphic texts found in different parts of what was then the Mayan empire, only two mention 2012, the Institute said.

“The Maya did not think about humanity, global warming or predict the poles would fuse together,” said Alfonso Ladena, a professor from the Complutense University of Madrid. “We project our worries on them.”

Thousands of forced sterilization victims still waiting for restitution

The Eugenics Board of North Carolina sterilized Charles Holt when he was a teenager. Andy McMillan for The New York Times

NY Times | Dec 9, 2011


LINWOOD, N.C. — Charles Holt, 62, spreads a cache of vintage government records across his trailer floor. They are the stark facts of his state-ordered sterilization.

The reports begin when he was barely a teenager, fighting at school and masturbating openly. A social worker wrote that he and his parents were of “rather low mentality.” Mr. Holt was sent to a state home for people with mental and emotional problems. In 1968, when he was ready to get out and start life as an adult, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina ruled that he should first have a vasectomy.

A social worker convinced his mother it was for the best.

“We especially emphasized that it was a way of protecting Charles in case he were falsely accused of having fathered a child,” the social worker wrote to the board.

Now, along with scores of others selected for state sterilization — among them uneducated young girls who had been raped by older men, poor teenagers from large families, people with epilepsy and those deemed to be too “feeble-minded” to raise children — Mr. Holt is waiting to see what a state that had one of the country’s most aggressive eugenics programs will decide his fertility was worth.

Although North Carolina officially apologized in 2002 and legislators have pressed to compensate victims before, a task force appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue is again wrestling with the state’s obligation to the estimated 7,600 victims of its eugenics program.

The board operated from 1933 to 1977 as an experiment in genetic engineering once considered a legitimate way to keep welfare rolls small, stop poverty and improve the gene pool.

Thirty-one other states had eugenics programs. Virginia and California each sterilized more people than North Carolina. But no program was more aggressive.

Only North Carolina gave social workers the power to designate people for sterilization. They often relied on I.Q. tests like those done on Mr. Holt, whose scores reached 73. But for some victims who often spent more time picking cotton than in school, the I.Q. tests at the time were not necessarily accurate predictors of capability. For example, as an adult Mr. Holt held down three jobs at once, delivering newspapers, working at a grocery store and doing maintenance for a small city.

Wealthy businessmen, among them James Hanes, the hosiery magnate, and Dr. Clarence Gamble, heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune, drove the eugenics movement. They helped form the Human Betterment League of North Carolina in 1947, and found a sympathetic bureaucrat in Wallace Kuralt, the father of the television journalist Charles Kuralt.

A proponent of birth control in all forms, Mr. Kuralt used the program extensively when he was director of the Mecklenburg County welfare department from 1945 to 1972. That county had more sterilizations than any other in the state.

Over all, about 70 percent of the North Carolina operations took place after 1945, and many of them were on poor young women and racial minorities. Nonwhite minorities made up about 40 percent of those sterilized, and girls and women about 85 percent.

The program, while not specifically devised to target racial minorities, affected black Americans disproportionately because they were more often poor and uneducated and from large rural families.

“The state owes something to the victims,” said Governor Perdue, who campaigned on the issue.

But what? Her five-member task force has been meeting since May to try to determine what that might be. A final report is due in February.

This week, the task force set some priorities. Money was the most important thing to offer victims, followed by mental health services.

How much to pay is a vexing question, and what North Carolina does will be closely watched by officials in other states. In a period of severe budget cuts and layoffs, money for eugenics victims can be a hard sell to legislators.

Read More

Pregnant Afghan woman’s death in U.S.-led night raid sparks dispute

In this photograph taken in 2007, U.S. and Afghan soldiers enter a house during a night raid in search of Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province. Credit: Nicolas Asfouri / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Karzai and other senior Afghan officials have repeatedly denounced night raids. Most Afghans regard a home invasion by foreign troops as a grave cultural insult.

LA Times | Dec 19, 2011

by Laura King

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO officials have clashed once again on the issue of nighttime raids by Western forces, this time over an incident that left a pregnant Afghan woman dead.

A spokesman for the NATO force, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, said Monday that the commander of Western troops in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, had met with Karzai over the weekend to express “deep condolences” over the woman’s death in Paktia province.

The precise circumstances of the raid early Saturday remained unclear.

Afghan officials in Paktia’s provincial capital, Gardez, said the woman was killed when U.S. and Afghan forces surrounded and then entered the home of the provincial head of counter-narcotics operations, an official named Hafizullah. He was arrested along with two of his sons, said Rohullah Samon, a spokesman for the Paktia governor.

The slain woman was Hafizullah’s wife, who was eight months pregnant, Samon said, adding that four other female family members were injured.

Jacobson did not say whether Hafizullah was suspected of collusion with insurgents or some illicit activity involving drugs, but defended nighttime raids as the “safest form of operation conducted to take insurgent leaders off the battlefield.” In most such raids, no shots are fired, he said, adding that the woman was killed in shooting that broke out after NATO forces came under fire from inside the compound.

Karzai and other senior Afghan officials have repeatedly denounced night raids. Most Afghans regard a home invasion by foreign troops as a grave cultural insult, and human rights groups say darkness and confusion — and the attendant possibility of a firefight if those inside believe they are under attack by robbers or clan rivals — pose a significant danger to civilians in raided residential compounds, including women and children.

Karzai has made a cessation of U.S.-led night raids a condition of a long-term military pact with Washington, a so-called strategic partnership agreement, which would govern the relationship between American troops and the Afghan government after 2014, when NATO’s main combat mission is to end.

The issue has emerged as a key sticking point in negotiations, which have gone on for months.

U.S. officials say the process of making all such raids Afghan-led is already underway, but they have not ruled out continuing American participation in strikes such as the Saturday mission. Commanders who have worked with the Afghan police and army acknowledge they still need considerable training to carry out specialized commando operations on their own.