China, Taiwan begin historic talks on closer ties


Chen Yunlin, right, shakes hands with Chiang Ping-kung
Daylife/AP photo by Chiang Ying-ying

In a historic visit, China’s top envoy for Taiwan, Chen Yunlin, landed in the island territory’s capital Monday to conclude accords on new direct air links, shipping routes and other economic issues, spurring strong protests from Taiwanese opposed to closer ties with Beijing.

The visit, which ends Friday, has enormous political significance. Chen is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the democratic self-ruled island since China’s civil war ended in 1949. It is also the first time Taipei and Beijing have held talks at this level on Taiwanese soil.

I don’t interrupt very often; but, “democratic self-ruled island…since 1949” is a load of crap. Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang didn’t allow elections for office higher than mayor for decades. Martial law and one-party rule didn’t end till 1987.

“The whole world is watching. . . . Throughout the history of cross-strait exchanges, we have been waiting 60 years for this moment,” said Chen’s counterpart, Taiwanese envoy Chiang Pin-kung.

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Rules of war made simple for military leaders


Daylife photo from Reuters Pictures

Senior military officers from 50 countries gathered in Geneva Monday to put international humanitarian law into simple language that can be understood in theatres of war worldwide.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which organized the two-week course with the Swiss Armed Forces, said that civilians accounted for the overwhelming majority of war casualties despite being protected in the Geneva Conventions laying out the rules of war.

“By making international humanitarian law more easily understandable and accessible to military personnel, the ICRC hopes to give combatants the guidance they need to make the right choices,” the neutral aid organization said…

International humanitarian law sets constraints on the methods by which conflicting parties can fight, aiming to avoid unnecessary carnage and spare civilians and their property.

The rules also spell out principles for providing medical services to those wounded by war, including enemy combatants, as well as acceptable conditions for detention and imprisonment.

Kellenberger said the ICRC is engaging in confidential dialogue with military leaders around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Chad, and Sri Lanka, as part of its mandate to encourage compliance with international humanitarian law. It also meets non-state armed groups when security permits.

Then, we face the question of getting the elected leaders of our nations to live up to the mandates and guidance which our military may understand – and our politicians refuse to obey.

Baby Manjhi, born to Indian surrogate – flies home to Japan

Daylife photo by AFP/Getty Images

A 3-month-old girl born to an Indian surrogate mother has flown to Japan to join her biological father after spending the first months of her life in legal limbo.

Baby Manjhi was conceived when a Japanese couple paid a clinic in India to have the husband’s sperm and an anonymous donor’s egg implanted in the womb of an Indian surrogate.

The plan worked. But a few months before Manjhi was born, the couple divorced. The intended Japanese mother decided she did not want the baby.

Manjhi was born on July 25. Her father, Ikufumi Yamada, and grandmother traveled from Japan to pick her up and take her to her new home. But Indian law stipulates that a mother must be present in order for a baby to receive a passport…

Manjhi’s father looked into a legal adoption, but Indian law does not allow single men to adopt…

The case garnered international headlines. Eventually, Manjhi was issued a birth certificate with just her father’s name on it. And on Saturday, she left for Osaka to be reunited with him.

Nice to see good news supersede bureaucracy. The wee ‘un gets to go to her Dad’s homeland and he gets the beginnings of a family founded in choice. Which trumps politics any day.

Chief of Mexico’s federal police resigns under drugs cloud

Mexico’s efforts to get to grips with spiralling drug crime and corruption suffered a blow at the weekend when one of the country’s top police officers resigned amid allegations that drugs cartels had infiltrated his department.

Gerardo Garay, the head of Mexico’s military-style federal police force, stepped down to head off suspicion that he was working for a major drugs cartel. “I am resigning because the bloody fight against organised crime makes it our duty to strengthen institutions, which means it is essential to eliminate any shadows of doubt regarding me,” Garay told a press conference. “I will put myself at the disposal of the judicial authorities.” He denied any wrong in the federal police force, and an official statement from the chief prosecutor’s office at the weekend indicated he is not under investigation…

Press reports have linked one of Garay’s closest lieutenants to the Sinaloa cartel, which is a major protagonist in the drug wars. On Saturday the daily newspaper Reformer said the federal police had effectively “sold” control of the customs operations at Mexico City’s international airport to the gang. So-called “narco banners” have also recently accused Garay of protecting Sinaloa-associated drug lords. Narco banners are propaganda messages purporting to be from different trafficking organisation that usually seek to discredit a rival gang, and are often hung from pedestrian bridges over major roads…

This is not the first time the federal police have been under suspicion. Garay took over as acting commissioner of the force six months ago, after his predecessor was killed by a hired assassin outside his parents’ home in Mexico City. The gunman not only knew the supposedly secret movements of the police chief; he also had a key to the external door.

People who believe that “democracy” somehow cures corruption are as gullible as those who believe the ideology of one or another economic system cures greed and the quest for political power.

That’s not cynicism. That’s symptomatic of my willingness to make the fight against crime all-pervasive, including public access to oversight.

The invisible man of Republican politics

In the waning days of the election season, as both parties campaign fervently for their candidates, one man has been notably absent — President George W. Bush.

Reporters began asking questions immediately after the White House schedule last week noted Bush had no public events Friday through Monday, and would spend most of his time at Camp David.

“The president is pretty focused on the activities that we have here, especially getting this economy back in order,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday.

Now, that is the most hysterical fracking lie I’ve heard in a long time!

We canceled a lot of our fundraisers, and he’s going to focus on being with Mrs. Bush and others this weekend at Camp David.”

But Perino couldn’t list any fundraisers that had been canceled recently.

Friday, Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto offered a more detailed explanation.

“The truth is we’re also trying to stay out of the public limelight during this period of the election season,” said Fratto. “There are two individuals out there running to be president of the United States, and we don’t want to complicate that for them.”

When I saw this being discussed on some news show, this morning, they couldn’t find a photo of any House or Senate candidate with George W. Bush since late August, 2007.

What? They lost his red nose?

Space trash crash, today


Shoving the refrigerator overboard in July, 2007

An old fridge thrown off the International Space Station last year is set to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere shortly, according to reports, delivering a volley of 100mph space frag debris to an as-yet unknown impact site…

The disused ammonia-powered stink-tank might more normally have been shipped back to Earth aboard a space shuttle, but in the end no room was found. Astronaut Clay Anderson dealt with the problem briskly in July last year, flinging the hefty three-quarter-ton unit off the end of the space station’s robot arm along with an old camera mounting also deemed no longer necessary.

In the year-plus since, the orbital pong-bomb has gradually slowed down due to the friction exerted by the extreme upper atmosphere, thus descending and becoming subject to more friction and so on. In effect, the EAS has hung above our heads like an evil-smelling Sword of Damocles, which might suddenly plunge down to release its payload of eyewatering space niff at any time. The tipping point at which the slowing and dropping suddenly accelerates and the descent begins in earnest is expected imminently; surviving pieces of the EAS should reach Earth today…

NASA exploding-space-fridge experts have worked out that the largest pieces of tank which could survive might be as big as 15lb and travelling at 100mph. The fridge-frag shower will most likely fall out at sea, but might conceivably hit a populated area if things turn out unfortunately.

“If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn’t get too close to it.”

As many as 15 pieces of the tank may survive reentry, with sizes ranging from an ounce to nearly 40 lbs.. Paranoid geeks or the techno-unlucky are advised to stay indoors or to wear a heavier-than-usual tinfoil helmet.

Wastewater and pollution treatment at a fraction of the cost

A European research project has succeeded in developing a water treatment system for industrial oil polluted water at a tenth of the cost of other commercially available tertiary treatments, leaving water so clean it can be pumped safely back out to sea without endangering flora or fauna.

Wastewater from ships, oil refineries and other petrochemical industries is heavily contaminated with toxic compounds. Stringent EU regulations apply to its treatment and discharge since, if left untreated, these compounds are hazardous to our health, our coastlines and deadly to all forms of aquatic life when released into our waterways…

The research group at Kaunas University’s environmental engineering department had already developed and tested a new wastewater treatment model on a laboratory scale…Together with three partners, the project team came up with an ultra-efficient combination on an industrial scale. “We developed the treatment using three processes in one piece of equipment, a reactor,” explains Professor Racys. “We use sorption, bio-degradation and filtration. The pollutants are degraded by micro-organisms created within the reactor,” he says.

The system is already up and running, treating petrochemically polluted wastewater at Lithuanian oil company, Nasta. “It works great,” says Professor Racys. “We couldn’t believe the results the first time. It has a high capacity, processing 160 m3 per hour. The cost is 1 euro for every 3.5 litres. Effectively it’s 10 or 20 times better than what else is available.”

I’d like to see more details. Looks like they’re only available PPV. And there are a couple of hiccups in what I think was a translation from Lithuanian in the article.

Get past those minor questions and this could be a highly productive system. Certainly needed.

Electronic digital billboards – exclusively

One of the biggest and glitziest shopping malls in Europe opened last week in London, in a test of British consumers’ ability to keep spending during a steep economic downturn. The shopping center, Westfield London, is also shaping up as a vast experiment in making over the humble billboard.

CBS Outdoor, a division of the CBS media conglomerate, has installed more than 100 digital advertising screens at Westfield, including a giant one covering 60 square meters, or 646 square feet.

While electronic ad displays have been placed in other shopping centers and widely installed in airports and urban transport systems, Westfield London is one of the first developments with such a large concentration of digital billboards; nondigital advertising has been banished from the site. To make them blend in with chic Westfield shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, the screens are housed in sleek pods made of Corian.

The screens allow advertisers to display still images, as with posters, but also let them show television-style video ads. That means the billboard operator can charge a premium for the space, as well as accommodating more advertisers than with a traditional billboard.

Interesting stuff. No doubt the style would be a hit upscale or downscale. Selling the package to retailers, I’d want to maintain the upscale exclusivity, the feel, the promise.

I wonder if my wife would let me put one of those 60 square meter screens in the courtyard? 🙂