Iranian student protester Neda Soltan is Times Person of the Year
From The Times
December 26, 2009
Neda Soltan was not political. She did not vote in the Iranian presidential election on June 12. The young student was appalled, however, by the way that the regime shamelessly rigged the result and reinstalled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ignoring the pleas of her family, she went with her music teacher eight days later to join a huge opposition demonstration in Tehran.
“Even if a bullet goes through my heart it’s not important,” she told Caspian Makan, her fiancé. “What we’re fighting for is more important. When it comes to taking our stolen rights back we should not hesitate. Everyone is responsible. Each person leaves a footprint in this world.”
Ancient whale sucked mud for food
An ancient “dwarf” whale appears to have fed by sucking small animals out of the seafloor mud with its short snout and tongue, experts say.
The BBC Saturday, 26 December 2009
Researchers say the 25 million-year-old fossil is related to today’s blue whales – the largest animals on Earth.
The ancient animal’s mud slurping may have been a precursor to the filter feeding seen in modern baleen whales.
These whales strain huge quantities of tiny marine animals through specialised “combs” which take the place of teeth.
The research is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
The fossilised remains of the primitive baleen whale Mammalodon colliveri was discovered near Torquay, in Victoria, Australia.
Civilian, military planners have different views on new approach to Afghanistan
OBAMA’S WAR EXIT VS. VICTORY
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Two days before announcing the deployment of additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, President Obama informed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal that he was not granting McChrystal’s request to double the size of the Afghan army and police.
Cost was a factor, as were questions about whether the capacity exists to train 400,000 personnel. The president told McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to focus for now on fielding a little more than half that number by next October.
A wing and a prayer as Audubon members set out on annual survey
Bird-watchers are counting species in 2,000 locales from Alaska to Antarctica, collecting data that will help scientists map migration trends and track habitat changes.
By Tina Susman
December 26, 2009
Reporting from New York – Some things are a given when you’re with people who count birds.
First, prepare to be interrupted.
“Chickadee!” someone will shout in the midst of a conversation that has nothing to do with the black-headed little passerine (that’s birders’-speak for a perching species).
“Oh! I just heard a yellow-bellied sapsucker!” someone else will blurt out.
“Two red-tails!” another birder will bellow, pointing skyward at a pair of hawks soaring across a slate sky beginning to drop snowflakes on the cusp of a monstrous storm.
The tsunami’s widowers search for love
Far more women than men died when the waves hit Aceh. Five years on, the demographic legacy remains. Kathy Marks reports from Lampuuk
Saturday, 26 December 2009
It was one of the most striking images of the Boxing Day tsunami: a mosque with its white plaster facade left standing amid a landscape of grey devastation. The mosque, which serves a cluster of fishing villages known as Lampuuk, was the only building for miles around to have withstood the massive earthquake and tidal waves that destroyed much of Indonesia’s Aceh province.
Today, five years after one of the worst natural disasters of modern times, Lampuuk, on Aceh’s west coast, has been transformed. Instead of mountains of rubble there are hundreds of new houses. Children race their bicycles around the newly paved streets. The everyday buzz of community life has replaced the wailing of the bereaved.
China redirects trillions of gallons of water to arid north
China is embarking on one of the biggest hydro-engineering projects in world history, but is being forced to navigate some troubled waters along the way, reports Peter Foster in Xichuan.
By Peter Foster
Surveying the rubble of their recently demolished village, the huddle of Chinese peasant-farmers is in an openly mutinous mood, their list of gripes and grumbles against the local government spilling out one after the other.
“The land they gave us isn’t fit for beggars,” spits one old man squatting on his homespun wooden stool, “And the new houses have leaking roofs,” adds another, “And there’s no security,” complains a third, “last week someone stole my chickens.”
How Gaza became a rich canvas for Palestinian art
Art is flourishing in the carnage left behind by Israel’s military onslaught last year. Donald Macintyre reports.
Saturday, 26 December 2009
The prematurely ageing apartment block on the edge of Jabalya overlooks a forbidding stretch of wasteland. There is a lift shaft but no lift.
But if this is no surprise in a Gaza starved of building materials and spare parts, the interior of the spotless and stylishly furnished fourth-floor flat, where Maha El-Daya lives and works, certainly is. The walls are covered with her own (and her artist husband’s) paintings: haunting land and seascapes, a portrait of a child; the living room table on which coffee is served is covered with a dark red and black cloth she hand-stitched in the pattern of a chess board, the chairs scattered with cushions decorated with her own kaleidoscopic embroidery.
Ms El-Daya’s studio and home in the northern neighbourhood of al Saftawi betrays little sign of the turbulence and bloodshed of the three-week Israeli military onslaught on Gaza which began a year ago tomorrow. Nor does the painting she chose for the annual auction of Palestinian art organised this month in Jerusalem by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which sold for $900.
New buildings emerge from the rubble a year after war
From The Times
December 26, 2009
The pounding of heavy machinery is an alien sound in the Gaza Strip, which has been reduced to almost pre-industrial quiet after years of Israeli blockades and a war that began a year ago tomorrow.
The machine generating the noise in the brickyards of Beit Hanoun is a new invention, reflecting the state of Gaza a year after the war: it turns the rubble into breeze blocks to repair homes.
Despite billions of dollars pledged by the international community after the three-week war, Israel has not allowed cement into the coastal enclave, fearing that it could be used by Hamas to build bunkers.
Eurotunnel claims it was not to blame for Eurostar crisis in Channel Tunnel
Eurotunnel has launched a strong defence of its actions during the problems in the Channel Tunnel last week, saying it had been unfairly criticised for how it reacted.
Published: 8:00AM GMT 26 Dec 2009
In a bulletin to its shareholders issued today, it said its customer, Eurostar, had been in an unprecedented crisis since last Friday, and Eurotunnel was not to blame for the temporary suspension of services on Eurostar trains.
Hundreds of passengers were trapped in the tunnel for hours when five high-speed trains became immobilised after extremely cold conditions in northern France led to snow affecting their electronics.
Passengers later spoke of nightmare conditions of cold and hunger.
In the document, Eurotunnel said that Eurostar’s service was suspended for several days and on Christmas Eve only 37 trains out of the normal 50 that would have been in service were operational – 24 trains on December 23, five days after their breakdowns.
Serbia’s top court confirms maximum sentences for Milosevic aides
Serbia’s supreme court has confirmed maximum sentences for Slobodan Milosevic’s security and secret police chiefs, for masterminding plots to kill the former Serbian strongman’s rivals.
BALKANS | 25.12.2009
The court in Belgrade confirmed the 40-year sentence on Friday for Radomir Markovic over a 1999 plot to kill former Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic.
Six others accused of involvement in the attack were handed jail terms ranging from six months to 35 years.
The supreme court also confirmed the maximum sentence for Milorad Ulemek “Legija,” the former head of an elite secret police unit, who was handed two 40-year jail terms for masterminding the murders of Serbian reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003 and former President Ivan Stambolic in 2000.
Along U.S.-Mexico Border, a Torrent of Illicit Cash
WAR WITHOUT BORDERS
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. and MARC LACEY
Published: December 25, 2009
LAREDO, Tex. – The streets of Laredo are awash in money, stacks of grimy bills tainted with cocaine residue, wrapped in plastic and stowed in secret compartments built into the trucks, buses and cars that flow south over the Mexican border daily like a motorized river.
Customs officials have discovered a host of ingenious hiding places, from $3 million secreted in the floor of a Mexican passenger bus to $1.6 million stuffed in duffel bags and balanced atop the heads of people wading across the Rio Grande to Mexico.
At border crossings and airports alone, American customs officers seized $57.9 million in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, up 74 percent from the previous year. And once the money lands in Mexico, it is easily swept into a largely unregulated underground cash economy or laundered through seemingly legitimate businesses.