And now for something completely different

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-24999401

Monty Python to reunite for stage show
19 November 2013 Last updated at 12:16 ET

Summary

“We’re getting together and putting on a show – it’s real.” That’s what Terry Jones told the BBC to confirm that all of the surviving members of Monty Python will be reuniting for a live stage show. The John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones are due to appear at the event. The sixth member of the group, Graham Chapman, died in 1989. The last time the whole gang was together was in 2009 at their fortieth anniversary festivities in New York. In response to the announcement Neil Innes and actor and musician who worked with the Pythons told the BBC, “The idea of John doing the silly walks with two false hips is very amusing.” The first episode of the groundbreaking, controversial, and influential sketch comedy show was broadcast on October 5, 1969. In between filming of the third and fourth seasons of the TV show, the group made Monty Python and the Holy Grail, perhaps the greatest movie ever made. Their next film was Life of Brian, which ruffled more than a few feathers, followed by The Meaning of Life in 1983. Each member of the group enjoyed a successful solo career and continued to collaborate with each other. The show will run from July 1st through 5th, four more performances were added when the first show sold out 43.5 seconds after tickets went on sale. The four additional shows sold out in 55 minutes, with 14,500 seats offered at each show. The group has not been without troubles, though. When Holy Grail was reworked into the stage musical Spamalot in 2005, Mark Forstater who produced the film claimed he was underpaid royalties due since the stage show started. Earlier this year he won the High Court case against the Pythons.

Commentary

After a semester of mass executions, violent repression of protesters, North Korean shenanigans, and Islamist extremists, I thought it would be nice to end on a comedic note. I’m thankful for the many hours of laughing ‘til my sides hurt, the never ending entertainment of quoting the classic lines (It’s only a flesh wound), even for the awkward moments while watching with my kids. So, for your enjoyment and mine, I offer…The Dead Parrot Sketch.

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North Korea Detains American War Veteran: Detention of Merrill Newman Complicates Shaky Ties Between Washington and Pyongyang

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579211412162334796?mod=WSJ_World_LEFTSecondNews

By

ZUSHA ELINSON in San Francisco And

JONATHAN CHENG in Seoul

Updated Nov. 21, 2013 10:20 a.m. ET

 

Summary

Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, California was travelling in North Korea on a ten day trip with a friend and was detained by authorities as he was trying to return to the US on October 26. Newman, 85, is a veteran of the Korean War and according to his son Jeff Newman has always wanted to visit North Korea. The detention further complicates the fragile relationship between the US and North Korea and coincides with a trip two US diplomats to North Korea have taken to the region to attempt to restart talks with North Korea to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and to work for the release of Kenneth Bae, another US citizen who has been held in North Korea for more than a year. The Korean War remains a sore spot for Pyongyang, and the speculation is that Newman’s status as a Korean War Veteran is the motivation for the detention. The regime of Kim Jong Un still uses the Korean War (1950-1953) to bolster their legitimacy. Last week, the US State Department issued new travel warnings for North Korea, and the US envoy to North Korea sees the detention as “an indication that North Korea seems not [to] be seeking a better relationship with the United States.” Bong Youngshik, director of a think tank in Seoul, said that the detention could exhaust what little goodwill Pyongyang has left with the US and China. Newman has a heart condition controlled by medication which he only had enough with him to last a couple of days longer than the trip. More medication has been delivered to North Korean officials, but it’s uncertain if it was delivered to Newman. Newman’s son said that the State Department has been involved since the beginning of his detention, but he has received no information as to the reason and has not spoken to his father.

Commentary

According to the article the Korean War, which the nation refers to as the Fatherland Liberation War, is something still used by the leadership to gin up nationalism and loyalty to the regime. The article also claims that sometime prior to the flight he was removed from, Korean authorities summoned Mr. Newman to discuss his military service. It seems pretty obvious that Newman was detained as a way to punish him, the West, and the US for the Korean War. While I agree that Mr. Newman has the right to travel as he wishes, I really question the judgment of anyone travelling (outside of charitable concerns) to a nation such as North Korea. Seriously, just go somewhere else.

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Afghan, U.S. Negotiators Agree on Security Deal:Kerry, Karzai Iron Out Key Agreement on Counterterrorism Missions

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303653004579210262074422886?mod=WSJWorld__LEFTTopStories

By

YAROSLAV TROFIMOV And

NATHAN HODGE

Updated Nov. 20, 2013 7:36 p.m. ET

Summary

After two days of negotiation, Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Wednesday that a deal has been reached with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai which created a framework for US forces to remain in Afghanistan after the current agreement expires at the end of 2014. It is also expected that the deal will serve as a model for a similar deal with NATO, several of whose members intend to keep their forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline. The agreement is subject to the approval of the Loya Jirga, a traditional assembly of 3000 prominent Afghans. The Loya Jirga is not required by law, but Karzai insisted on convening it in order to further discuss the agreement. The group will meet beginning on November 21 in Kabul. Their approval is not guaranteed, and the group can revise or reject any clause of the agreement. A rejection by the Loya Jirga would make it unlikely that the Afghan government would sign it, but considering the composition of the group it’s unlikely they will come to a decision contrary to Karzai’s wishes. It’s been reported in the last few days that the agreement required a letter of apology from President Obama to the Afghan people but Secretary Kerry ruled out any kind of “apology.” Something that has been part of the negotiation and remains unresolved is a letter, demanded by Karzai, from President Obama acknowledging US “mistakes” in the 12 year war. The White House is still considering how best to provide “appropriate assurances” to the Afghans. Also at issue, is whether or not US forces will be banned from entering Afghan homes, even if necessary to protect lives. The US maintains that a “blanket ban” would hamper counterterrorism efforts. Another key US demand which is included in the agreement is that US military forces will be under the sold jurisdiction of the US government. US contractors and their employees, however, will be under jurisdiction of Afghani law for any crimes committed. The size of the force is still undetermined, but their role would be training, advisory, and counterterrorism. US and Allied aid to Afghanistan is a significant source of funding for Afghan army and police, and the agreement is critical to the continuation of that aid. When a similar deal with Iraq failed, the US withdrew all forces and violence in that country increased. A guarantee that Karzai sought but did not receive is any US promise to defend Afghanistan against external attack. The agreement does allow for the two nations to consult “on an urgent basis” to determine and implement an appropriate response. An annex to the draft document defines nine facilities and bases which will be available to US forces after 2014.

Karzai has his critics in Afghanistan, and they say that he is manufacturing crisis and dragging out talks with the US in order to stay relevant. Karzai is supposed to step down from the Presidency after elections are held in April.

The Taliban opposes the deal, and will continue their jihad as long as foreign soldiers remain on Afghan soil. They have pledged to target the Loya Jirga as traitors and have taken responsibility for a suicide bombing on Saturday that killed 13.

A pdf of the draft can be accessed here.

Commentary

The upcoming Afghanistan Presidential Election was only mentioned in passing in this article. But, I can’t help but wonder how the outcome of that election will affect this agreement. Theoretically, the agreement will remain in force until the end of 2024, but Paragraph 4 of Article 26 of the agreement does allow for its termination. The US can’t interfere in the Afghani elections, so the most we can do (in regard to this agreement, anyway) is hope that whoever is elected will leave it in place. Personally…I’d just as soon we got out of there. I have sympathy for the people, but I think that sometimes people (or nations) need to be able to sink or swim on their own, and it’ll be difficult for them to realize their full potential if they’re forever leaning on the US for security. Ideally, by the end of the term of this contract, our troops will no longer be needed, and will be warmly thanked and bid good bye.

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‘Convert or die,’ Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram tells Christian women

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/11/19/convert-or-die-nigerian-terrorist-group-boko-haram-tells-christian-women/

By Benjamin Weinthal
Published November 19, 2013
FoxNews.com

Summary

The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram (translated: “Western education is sinful”) which numbers as many as 5,000, seeks to establish a Sharia law state in Northern Nigeria. According to this article, one of their methods is to kidnap Christians. The article relates the experience of Hajja, a 19 year old Christian woman who now lives in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Her last name has been withheld due to fears that her family in northern Nigeria might face reprisal from Boko Haram. Hajja claims that she was kidnapped and held for three months, forced to work as a domestic slave. She witnessed brutal murders and was forced at knifepoint to convert to Islam. According to Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, Boko Haram is well known for “heinous attacks against the citizens of northern Nigeria.” Last week, the State Department designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and reports that they are responsible for thousands of deaths over several years and they target civilians. Tiffany Lynch is a senior policy analyst at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom and would like to see the US do more to assist the Nigerian government in dealing with Boko Haram and supporting those in Nigeria who denounce the organization. David Cook, professor of religious studies at Rice University and a leading expert on Boko Haram, confirms that Hajja’s story fits the pattern of the group, and says that the group has a “stated goal of expelling all Christians in northeastern Nigera and northern Nigeria in general.” A Nigerian diplomat insists that Hajja’s account is “absolutely not true.” Over the last year, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan a Christian from the south, has been using the military to root out Boko Haram. Author of this story Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and reports on the persecution of Christians.

Commentary

I searched around a little bit and found a Huffington Post article from August of this year here explaining how the ICC has been investigating Boko Haram for crimes against humanity. The ICC prosecutor said that the crimes include murder and persecution but full investigation and prosecution by the ICC will depend on further study and whether or not Nigerian authorities are willing and able to prosecute. The prosecutor also noted that Nigerian government forces may have violated human rights in their operations against Boko Haram, but didn’t target civilians.
It’s difficult to comment on this. It’s such a mess in that part of the world, governments are fragile, and people on all sides are willing to resort to the most heinous acts to further their cause whatever it is. Every time there’s even a glimmer of what we would call democracy opposing forces do their best to stomp it out. My first instinct is to send special-forces to wipe such groups out, but that rarely works out like it should. It’s frustrating because horrific things are happening to individuals who have little hope of improving their circumstances. It would sure be nice if there was an easy answer.

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Amanda Knox’s knife DNA casts doubt on murder weapon

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/11/06/amanda-knox-ex-boyfriend-to-address-italian-court/

Published November 06, 2013
Associated Press

Summary

In Amanda Knox’s third Italian murder trial, testimony was given that the knife alleged to be the murder weapon shows a trace of DNA evidence that belongs to Knox. This testimony was given by Andrea Berti, a court-appointed expert, and supports the claim of the Defense that the knife entered as evidence is not the weapon used in the 2007 murder. The knife was found in a drawer in Knox’s boyfriend’s kitchen, and her attorney continues to maintain that it contained her DNA because she had used the knife to prepare food. The Defense also points out that the existence of the DNA indicates that the knife hadn’t been washed, “It is absurd to use it for a murder and put it back in the drawer.” Knox and her boyfriend were convicted of the murder in 2009, but the convictions were overturned on appeal in 2011 and she returned to the US where she remains. She is not compelled under Italian law to return for the trial. Italy’s highest court ordered a second appeals trial, citing as one of the errors leading to its vacating of the acquittal the fact the appeals court in Perugia failed to test the tiny trace of DNA on the blade. The Prosecution insists that the knife is indeed the murder weapon because it matches the victim’s wounds, and their tests show that the victim’s DNA is on the blade, and Knox’s is on the handle. Review conducted during the first appeal discredited that evidence and pointed to errors in the collection of evidence and the DNA testing conducted.

Commentary

The Italian legal system does not include any protection against double jeopardy guaranteed by the US Constitution. The continuation of this case seems to be an illustration of the value of our Fifth Amendment. There is no statute of limitations on the charge of murder, and it appears that the Italian legal system can continue with successive trials until they get the result they want, or the result that the public demands.

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China to ease 1-child policy, abolish labor camps

http://www.ksl.com/?sid=26608212&nid=235&title=china-to-ease-1-child-policy-abolish-labor-camps&fm=home_page&s_cid=queue-4

By Gillian Wong, Associated Press
Updated – November 15th, 2013 @ 4:13pm

Article Summary:

After a four day meeting of party leaders in Beijing, several surprising policy changes were announced which addressed deeply unpopular programs.

• The first significant easing of the one child policy in nearly 30 years
• Movement to abolish the labor camp system
• Opening state dominated industries to private competition
• Easing of limits on foreign investment in e-commerce and other businesses

A limited exemption to the one child policy has been provided by the party, families in which at least one parent was an only child will be allowed to have a second child. In 1984, the exemption was granted to families in which both parents had had been an only child. Also part of the changes made in 1984, rural couples are allowed to have two children if the first born child is a girl. The one child policy was introduced in 1980 and is widely disliked. Beijing maintains that the policy has been good for China by easing the strain on resources, and lifting countless families out of poverty, but it has its problems. The abrupt fall of the birth rate increases the average age of the population, the number of young people working to support the retiring generation is limited, and a long term gender imbalance all are caused (directly or indirectly) by the policy. Local officials forced abortions and sterilizations, even though these measures are illegal. Fines, seizure of property, and loss of jobs are all consequences of disobedience to the policy. Experts estimate 1 – 2 million more births in the next few years as a result of the change, but Chinese culture is shifting to acceptance of smaller families. The statement doesn’t address children which have been born in violation of the policy whose existence has been concealed and thus have no access to services.

The second big announcement from the meeting is the movement to abolish the labor camps. CCTV, Chinese state broadcaster reported that the nation has 310 labor camps holding about 310,000 prisoners and employing 100,000 staff. The system was established to “re-educate through labor” early critics of the Communist Party, and has been used by local officials to silence those challenging their authority on issues including land rights and corruption. Police are allowed to lock up defendants for up to four years without trial.

Commentary

I graduated from high school in 1980, and while I was not the news junkie I am today, I did have some interest in events and I remember hearing about the institution of the one child policy in China. Some of the concerns I remember hearing about have prompted this small change in the policy. One issue is the tradition of Chinese families that it is the responsibility of the oldest son to take care of the parents in their old age. This led to a higher priority being placed on male children than on females. We began to hear reports of selective abortions, and the killing of baby girls after birth. This article doesn’t mention it, but I remember hearing that if a girl child was born, the couple would be allowed to have another in hopes of having a boy. As the years went on, it became clear that there would be problems once this generation grew to marriage age. Because of the preference for males, there are many more marriage age men than women. Good news for women, to be sure, but what of all the men who are never able to get married? And, as this generation ages, there will be a large number of elderly men and how will they be cared for if they were never married and produced no children?

The news that the labor camps will be abolished is, to me, truly amazing. The article is focused mostly on the one child policy, so it doesn’t give much detail on the labor camps. I was unable to find information on how soon this will begin to happen, how long it will take, and what might replace it. I remain skeptical that this will happen at all.

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North Korea publicly executes 80, some for videos or Bibles, report says

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/11/12/north-korea-publicly-executes-80-for-crimes-like-watching-films-owning-bible/?intcmp=trending

Published November 12, 2013
FoxNews.com

Summary

South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that on November 3, as many as 80 people were publicly executed in seven cities across North Korea for minor offenses. These are the first known large-scale public executions by the Kim Jong-un regime. About 10 people were killed in each city. In a stadium in port city Wonsan, eight people were tied to stakes, bags were placed over their heads and they were shot with machine guns while a crowd of over 10,000 including children, was forced to watch. Kim Jong-un is planning a development in Wonsan in order to make it a tourist destination, and it is speculated that the executions (for offenses as minor as watching a South Korean movie or possessing a Bible) are meant to “quell public unrest or any capitalistic inclinations that may accompany its development projects.” Executions are permitted by North Korean law for offenses such as treason and terrorism, but public executions have been ordered for minor infractions such as cellphone use and stealing food in order to intimidate the public. Experts also speculate that the executions are related to public executions of members of the Unhasu Orchestra earlier this year which caused some unrest around the countryside. There were no executions in Pyongyang where the country’s elite reside, whose support Kim relies on.

Commentary

One sentence in this article really struck me, “There is no clear reason for the executions.” Seems to me, there is. It’s noted in the article that the cities in which the executions occurred are centers of economic development. Kim wants to create the developments he wants, such as hotels, a ski resort, and water parks, but wants to tamp down any entrepreneurial leanings among the people. Such executions have been a tactic used by tyrants throughout history to create a fearful and obedient populace. In my opinion, the offenses were carefully chosen to decrease the likelihood that the people would try to reach out to get information from the rest of the world (talking on a cell phone or watching movies from South Korea), or to squash the idea that there is any authority above Kim Jong-un (possessing a Bible).

I can’t imagine the horror of living in constant fear.

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