Archive for November, 2012

DENMARK AND CANADA HAVE AGREED ON MARITIME BORDER

November 30, 2012

The Copenhagen Post on November 29, 2012, reported that Denmark and Canada had agreed on maritime border in the Arctic. Ownership of disputed Hans Island, however, has not been settled just yet. Excerpts below:

While Denmark and Canada agreed to draw a line to create a 3,000 kilometre water boundary, the two countries will still have to work out the differences over tiny Hans Island.

There is now a definitive border in the waters between Greenland and Canada.

In a deal facilitated by Greenland, Denmark and Canada have made a border agreement to settle part of a hotly-contested issue that has been ongoing since the 1970s.

While the two countries agreed on the placement of the more than 3,000 kilometre sea border, the deal did not, however, include Hans Island, the 1.3 sq km unmanned island found in the narrow waterways between Greenland and Canada. Hans Island has been claimed by both Denmark and Canada, and as part of the last round of negotiations in April, the countries agreed to split the island down the middle according to the maritime boundary that runs up to the southern edge of the island and resumes at the northern tip. The ownership issue, however, was not agreed upon.

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ISRAEL SNUFFS OUT HAMAS’ MISSILES

November 29, 2012

Washington Times on November 27, 2012, reported that Israeli officials are hailing their military operation against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip as a strategic success in neutralizing one of three potential threats should Israel need to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in coming months. Excerpts below:

“Operation Pillar of Defense” destroyed nearly all of Gaza’s rocket arsenal and proved the efficacy of the Iron Dome defense system against short-range missiles, Israeli officials told reporters in a military briefing Thursday.

Israel’s weeklong military operation and Hamas‘ rocket attacks ended Nov. 21 under a cease-fire brokered in part by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

One of the principal aims of the operation was to destroy the arsenal of short- and medium-range rockets capable of striking the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, about 40 miles from Gaza, Israeli officials said.

On Nov. 14, the first day of the attack, the Israeli military destroyed almost all of the rockets in the possession of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the other main Islamic terrorist group in Gaza.

Gaza’s rocket arsenal was one leg of a three-pronged threat that could deter Israel from attacking on Iran’s nuclear sites. The other two are Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon that has a larger rocket arsenal than Hamas‘, and Iran itself, which has ballistic missiles.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has said it has given Hamas the technology to build longer range missiles.

According to the Israeli Defense Force, more than 1,000 rockets were fired from Gaza during the seven-day military operation, most of which fell in unpopulated areas. Iron Dome intercepted at least 359 (about 85 percent of) incoming missiles determined to be a threat against a populated area.

Israeli officials praised the missile defense system, which uses cameras and radar to detect a rocket or mortar launch, and track the shell’s flight path from a distance as far as 45 miles away.

Israeli officials also said their new medium-range missile defense system, called “David’s Sling,” has passed operational tests. The system is designed to intercept missiles as far as 180 miles away.

By eliminating the Gaza threat, Israel cleared one of its flanks. Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, although belligerent toward Israel in tone, has been careful not to provoke Israel into an attack.

Hamas, dedicated to the destruction of Israel, had remained relatively quiet since Israel’s incursion into Gaza in January 2009.

However in the past six months, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have entered into increasingly frequent cycles of violence with Israel — firing rockets and being struck by Israeli air attacks.

After attacks increased in southern Israel, the Israeli military retaliated. It launched more than 1,500 airstrikes in the eight-day conflict with Hamas, which killed more than 160 Palestinians.

Six Israelis were killed in Hamas rocket attacks during the conflict.

In drawing up target lists, the Israeli planners avoided civilian areas in order not to provoke Egypt into an overreaction, including possible renunciation of its peace treaty with Israel.

“We did not aim to eliminate their capacity to fire rockets entirely,” a senior military figure told an Israeli journalist. “We intended to cause them not to resume firing.”

Israel preceded its attack by assassinating the Hamas military commander, Ahmed Jaabari.

The destruction of his car in the center of Gaza City by a rocket fired from an aircraft, was followed almost immediately by the first wave of the Israeli air attack.

Public opinion polls show the Israeli public was disappointed that the attack did not bring Hamas to its knees. The army command said that was never the intention.

SVERIGE NU EFTER UNGERN, SLOVAKIEN OCH RYSSLAND

November 28, 2012

I en ledande artikel i Svenska Dagbladet skriver J Anders Linder den 28 november 2012 att man fick leta förgäves efter Sverige när BBC publicerade en ny rankning av världens bästa skolsystem. Bredvid nätartikeln, där det konstaterades att Finland och Sydkorea gör bäst ifrån sig, låg en tjugo-i-topp-lista. Där fanns Danmark och Ungern, Slovakien och Ryssland. Men inte Sverige. Hade vi alldeles glömts bort? Utdrag nedan:

Nej då. I själva rapporten The Learning Curve 2012, som tagits fram av The Economist Intelligence Unit med stöd av utbildningsföretaget Pearson, hittar man även Sverige. Vi ligger 21:a bland de 40 studerade länderna och missade BBC-listan med en hårsmån.

Överst på undre halvan: bra eller dåligt? Det beror på vad man har för ambitioner.

Utbildning sker lokalt och måste utformas lokalt, betonar rapportförfattarna. Men de ser grund för några allmänna rekommendationer:

• Sambandet mellan resurser och resultat är mycket svagt; det är viktigare att förbättra sitt arbetssätt än att satsa mer pengar.
• Attityden till kunskap i det omgivande samhället spelar mycket stor roll. Som utbildningsforskaren Chester Finn säger: ”om goda utbildningsresultat inte får positiv återkoppling utanför skolan – om, till exempel, kulturen i stort glorifierar kändisar som knappt kan läsa – kommer man att få stora problem.”
• Fritt skolval kan förbättra resultaten men utgör ingen garanti. Systemen måste vara rätt utformade och föräldrar och elever få god information.
• Inget kan ersätta goda lärare. Att rekrytera de bästa studenterna och ge dem kontinuerlig vidareutbildning och respekt är av yttersta vikt.


Dystert är det att få besked från Saco/Swedbank om att snart sagt ingen akademikergrupp har större problem med sin löneutveckling än gymnasielärarna.

För att inte tala om en färsk artikel från Lärarnas tidning (15/11), som borde få håren att resa sig på huvudet på alla som bryr sig om skolans och Sveriges framtid. Där konstateras att lärarstudenterna, oavsett om man jämför bakåt i tiden eller med andra utbildningar, har lägre betyg och sämre provresultat och ägnar mindre tid åt självstudier.

På allra senaste tiden har ett renoveringsarbete börjat. Något viktigare för skolan är svårt att tänka sig. Släpp det inte med blicken.

THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM: TIMELINES, DATA, AND ESTIMATES

November 28, 2012

On November 23, 2012, the American Enterprise Institute published a new report on the Iranian nuclear program. A few excerpts below:

Iran can produce one bomb’s worth of fissile material faster than it likely can deploy a functioning nuclear device. Tracking Iran’s uranium enrichment activities now addresses only Iran’s intentions and the size of its projected arsenal.

Obtaining fissile material in the form of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium is the most technically demanding step in acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. Designing an explosive device (consisting of non-nuclear components) and a delivery system for the device are comparatively less technically challenging. Those efforts can also proceed parallel to enrichment.

Iran has the infrastructure and material to produce weapons-grade uranium. It has enough enriched uranium to produce fuel for six nuclear weapons after conversion to weapons-grade levels.

Iran will likely have enough near-20% enriched uranium to rapidly produce fissile material for 2 nuclear weapons by late 2013 or early 2014.

Iran has installed many more centrifuges at the hardened Fordow facility than are now actually spinning, providing a reserve and/or surge capacity that will be difficult for Israel to destroy.

The installation of 2,088 additional centrifuges at Fordow since summer 2012 gives Iran the ability to:

• produce near-weapons grade uranium (20% enrichment level) in larger quantities faster, providing rapidly-convertible feedstock for a small arsenal of nuclear weapons;
• convert near-weapons grade uranium into nuclear weapons fuel in a shorter amount of time.

The breakout timelines are as follows:

Time needed to produce fuel for 1 nuclear weapon:

• Iran needs 3.6 months to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 1.9 months to produce weapons-grade uranium at the buried Fordow and pilot Natanz enrichment facilities.* It can cut these times significantly using the centrifuges installed but not yet operating at the Fordow facility.
• Iran needs 4-10.5 weeks to produce 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium and 1.5-5 weeks to produce 15 kg of weapons-grade uranium at the main Natanz enrichment facility.* The higher end of the range accounts for a three-step conversion process.

Estimates of the time Iran needs to build a nuclear device to use this fissile material are generally longer than the timelines above.

The existence of undeclared (covert) enrichment sites would have a significant impact on breakout estimates.

Evidence of significant Iranian enrichment beyond 20% will strongly suggest not only that the decision to weaponize has been made, but also that the Iranians believe they have (or will shortly have) a viable warhead.

The full report is an exposition of the technical data contained in numerous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports informed by the discussions of experts in the field of nuclear proliferation. It is a work in progress in that it will be revised continuously based on new information from the IAEA reports and other sources and on feedback from readers.

FINLAND EDUCATION FIRST IN GLOBAL RANKING

November 27, 2012

BBC News on November 27, 2012, reported that the first and second places are taken by Finland and South Korea in a global ranking of education systems. Sweden is not among the top 20. Excerpts below:

The rankings combine international test results and data such as graduation rates between 2006 and 2010.

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, says successful countries give teachers a high status and have a “culture” of education.

International comparisons in education have become increasingly significant – and this latest league table is based upon a series of global test results combined with measures of education systems, such as how many people go on to university.

The weightings for the rankings have been produced for Pearson by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Global competition

The two education superpowers – Finland and South Korea – are followed by three other high-performing Asian education systems – Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

EDUCATION TOP 20
• Finland
• South Korea
• Hong Kong
• Japan
• Singapore
• UK
• Netherlands
• New Zealand
• Switzerland
• Canada
• Ireland
• Denmark
• Australia
• Poland
• Germany
• Belgium
• USA
• Hungary
• Slovakia
• Russia

The UK – which is considered as a single system, rather than four devolved administrations – is then ranked at the head of an above-average group including the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland.

These are ahead of a middle-ranking group including the United States, Germany and France.

At the lowest end are Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia among 50 ranked.

These comparisons draw upon tests that are taken every three or four years, in areas such as maths, science and literacy – and so present a picture lagging by several years.

But the intention is to provide a more multi-dimensional view of educational achievement – and create a databank which will be updated, in a project that Pearson is calling the Learning Curve.

The success of Asian countries in these rankings reflects the high value attached to education and the expectations of parents. This can continue to be a factor when families migrate to other countries, says the report accompanying the rankings.

Looking at the two top countries – Finland and South Korea – the report says that there are many big differences, but the common factor is a shared social belief in the importance of education and its “underlying moral purpose”.

Teacher quality

The report also emphasises the importance of high-quality teachers and the need to find ways to recruit the best staff. This might be about status and professional respect as well as levels of pay.

PHILIPPINES ‘STRONGLY PROTESTS’ MAP USED ON CHINESE PASSPORTS

November 27, 2012

Washington Times on November 25, 2012, published an AP report on how a map that China has incorporated into its passports has drawn diplomatic fury because it appears to claim the entire South China Sea, ignoring competing claims from the Philippines, Vietnam and other neighboring countries. Excerpts below:

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters in Manila that he sent a note to the Chinese Embassy that his country “strongly protests” Beijing’s inclusion of an image showing China’s claimed maritime borders in its new passport.

Mr. del Rosario said China’s claims include an area that is “clearly part of the Philippines‘ territory and maritime domain.”

The Vietnamese government said it also had sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi, demanding that Beijing remove the “erroneous content” printed in the passport.

China maintains it has ancient claims to all of the South China Sea, despite much of it being within the exclusive economic zones of Southeast Asian neighbors.

The potentially oil- and gas-rich South China Sea islands and waters also are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

There are concerns that the disputes could escalate into violence.

China and the Philippines had a tense maritime standoff at a shoal west of the main Philippine island of Luzon early this year.

The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam are scheduled to meet Dec. 12 to discuss claims in the South China Sea and the role of China.

The vice-ministerial level meeting goes against Beijing’s approach of trying to settle the conflicts with individual countries.

The meeting also steps outside the confines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes all four countries as well as several others close to China.

“[W]e are trying to demonstrate that we can endeavor to discuss [the territorial conflict] and we are willing to do this either within ASEAN or outside of ASEAN,” Mr. del Rosario said.

SPAIN RAIDS COMPANY SUSPECTED OF EXPORTING NUCLEAR RELATED MACHINERY TO IRAN

November 26, 2012

Fox News on November 26, 2012, published an AP report on Spanish authorities saying they have raided a company they suspect was exporting machinery to Iran that could be used in Tehran’s nuclear program.

The Finance Ministry said in a statement that the company is suspected of sending to Iran, via Turkey, machines for the manufacture of turbine propellers used in energy generation.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

The statement said customs agents seized documents and made arrests at the company in northern Spain earlier this month.

THE WEST FIGHTS BACK

November 25, 2012

In an article published in Weekly Standard Online William Kristol on November 22, 2012, concluded: from Benghazi to Be’er Sheva, the West is under attack. Excerpts below:

By the West I mean those nations—wherever on the globe they are—that hold aloft and carry the torch of liberal civilization, that seek to build on the achievements of modern liberalism and the older traditions of Athens and Jerusalem. The United States stands at the head of the West, having had leadership thrust upon us several decades ago—at about the same time the state of Israel came into existence after the collapse of Western civilization in Europe. The West was saved, primarily by Britain and the United States, and its revival after the war was somehow exemplified by the founding of the state of Israel, which, as the philosopher Leo Strauss put it in 1956, “is a Western country, which educates its many immigrants from the East in the ways of the West: Israel is the only country which as a country is an outpost of the West in the East.”

To be an outpost is to be under the threat of attack. To be a leader is to be subject to attack. And so Israel and the United States bear the brunt of the attacks on Western civilization.

George W. Bush was ridiculed by the left, and criticized by some on the right, for speaking of the Global War on Terror. The left hated the notion of a global war of any sort, and the right disliked the imprecision of “terror

And so these two very different nations—Christian and Jewish, large and small, new world and old (though the new world nation is older than its newly reborn old world counterpart)—find themselves allied. More than allied: They find themselves joined at the hip in a brotherhood that is more than a diplomatic or political or military alliance. Everyone senses that the ties are deeper than those of mere allies. Israelis know that if the United States fails, so shall Israel. Americans sense, in the words of Eric Hoffer, “as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.”

I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving, the most Old Testament, the most Hebraic, of our national holidays. On Thanksgiving we don’t celebrate our rights or our achievements, or honor our soldiers or great men. Rather, we thank the Almighty for our blessings here in America.

CHINA’S ROLE IN SOUTH EAST ASIA IN QUESTION BECAUSE OF TERRITORIAL DISPUTE

November 25, 2012

Fox News on November 24, 2012, published an AP report on China finding the once friendly ground of Southeast Asia bumpy going, with anger against Chinese claims to disputed islands, once reliable ally Myanmar flirting with democracy and renewed American attention to the region. Excerpts below:

The changing terrain for Beijing was on view this past week at a meeting of East Asian nations in Cambodia. Wen Jiabao, China’s lame duck premier, got into a sharp exchange over the contested South China Sea islands. The leaders of the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam reacted furiously when host Cambodia suggested that all sides agreed not to bring outside parties into the dispute — a reference to the U.S.

Comment: While China’s aggressive stand at the recent meeting angered several nations the United States stood out as friendly and confident in its new role as protector of nations in South East Asia.

GIVING THANKS TO AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

November 24, 2012

Michael Novak in a commentary in Washington Times on November 21, 2012, reflected on Thanksgiving and American exceptionalism. Excerpts below:

One of the traits, the great Tocqueville writes, that makes the United States distinctive is that here religion and liberty are friends, not at enmity as in France.

Almost all foreign visitors to America notice this distinctiveness on such festive occasions as Thanksgiving and even the inauguration of a new president. Both events celebrate democracy and religion (most emphatically Judaism and Christianity, which are root religions of liberty through and through).

From at least 1776 until 1828 (the publication of Webster’s Dictionary) “religion” was defined as “the duty we owe to the Creator and the manner of discharging it.” The Framers thought it a self-evident truth.

Thus, worship is a duty. It is a duty to God first. It is also a duty of a man to himself: to be man enough to be grateful.

The Framers practiced what they preached. From 1776 onward (and even before), the Congress of the United States mandated a public prayer of Thanksgiving “for the signal blessings of Divine Providence that we have witnessed during the War.” “Signal” stands out as starkly at night as a light from a lighthouse. “Witnessed” signifies it is not merely a matter of “faith” but of common experience and plain observation.

I have often thought to myself: If I were an atheist, I would take these laws and precedents as celebrations of liberty of conscience and speech. They would not make me a Jew or a Christian. I could live with the accurate knowledge that specifically Jewish and Christian conceptions gave powerful and original arguments for the practices of religious liberty .

“Almighty God hath created the mind free,” Jefferson wrote. “All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion.” This freedom in each human person is inalienable before man and before God. God invites every human person into His friendship, and each must make the choice whether to accept that offer or nay.

One reason that religion (with especial clarity, Judaism and Christianity) is the first institution of democracy is that it keeps alive the fundamental principles of the inviolability of conscience, the dignity of every person, and the common good of all in respecting each other’s differences in “the manner of discharging” our duty to our Creator.

Religious liberty is the first “article of peace” in the very conception and living practice of pluralistic democracy, as Americans understand and practice it.

We have reason to give mighty thanks that this violation of conscience by our government has happened as seldom as it has in our national history. This liberty is our most precious gift from our Creator.

Michael Novak, former Washington Times columnist and winner of the Templeton prize for Progress in Religion, is a distinguished visiting professor at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla.