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Nobel Peace Prize awarded to anti-nuclear campaign group

October 06, 2017

OSLO, Norway (AP) — The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a group of mostly young activists pushing for a global treaty to ban the cataclysmic bombs.

The award of the $1.1-million prize comes amid heightened tensions over both North Korea’s aggressive development of nuclear weapons and President Donald Trump’s persistent criticism of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

The prize committee wanted “to send a signal to North Korea and the U.S. that they need to go into negotiations,” Oeivind Stenersen, a historian of the peace prize, told The Associated Press. “The prize is also coded support to the Iran nuclear deal. I think this was wise because recognizing the Iran deal itself could have been seen as giving support to the Iranian state.”

The Geneva-based ICAN has campaigned actively for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons adopted by the United Nations in July, but which needs ratification from 50 countries. Only three countries have ratified it so far. It organized events globally in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversaries of the World War II U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Last month in Berlin, ICAN protesters teamed up with other organizations to demonstrate outside the U.S. and North Korean embassies against the possibility of nuclear war between the two countries. Wearing masks of Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, protesters posed next to a dummy nuclear missile and a large banner reading “Time to Go: Ban Nuclear Weapons.”

The group “has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate … in efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons,” Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said in the announcement.

The prize “sends a message to all nuclear-armed states and all states that continue to rely on nuclear weapons for security that it is unacceptable behavior. We will not support it, we will not make excuses for it, we can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security. That’s not how you build security,” ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn told reporters in Geneva.

She said that she “worried that it was a prank” after getting a phone call just minutes before the official Peace Prize announcement was made. Fihn said she didn’t believe it until she heard the name of the group proclaimed on television.

ICAN leaders later popped open some bubbly to celebrate the prize, and held up a banner with the name of the organization in their small Geneva headquarters. “We are trying to send very strong signals to all states with nuclear arms, nuclear-armed states — North Korea, U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K., Israel, all of them, India, Pakistan — it is unacceptable to threaten to kill civilians,” she said.

Reiss-Andersen noted that similar prohibitions have been reached on chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions. “Nuclear weapons are even more destructive, but have not yet been made the object of a similar international legal prohibition,” she said.

Reiss-Andersen said “through its inspiring and innovative support for the U.N. negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, ICAN has played a major part in bringing about what in our day and age is equivalent to an international peace congress.”

Asked by journalists whether the prize was essentially symbolic, given that no international measures against nuclear weapons have been reached, Reiss-Andersen said “What will not have an impact is being passive.”

Jamey Keaten in Geneva, George Jahn in Vienna and Jim Heintz in Stockholm contributed to this story.

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Japanese roots of Nobel winner Kazuo Ishiguro celebrated

October 06, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Nobel literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro left Japan at the age of 5, but some in the country of his birthplace are celebrating his roots. Ishiguro’s former kindergarten teacher in Nagasaki said it’s like a dream come true. Teruko Tanaka recalled to Japan’s Kyodo News service that he was a quiet boy who liked to read books.

Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki but raised and educated in England. He was awarded the Nobel Prize on Thursday. Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said he is proud that the city has a Nobel Prize winner who has kept Nagasaki close to his heart. Ishiguro’s first novel describes the city soon after the U.S. atomic bomb attack in 1945.

Steampunk Rover Could Explore Hellish Venus

By Mike Wall, Space.com

September 6, 2017

Researchers are studying the possibility of building a steampunk Venus rover, which would forsake electronics in favor of analog equipment, such as levers and gears, to the extent possible.

“Venus is too inhospitable for the kind of complex control systems you have on a Mars rover,” project leader Jonathan Sauder, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “But with a fully mechanical rover, you might be able to survive as long as a year.

“Inhospitable” may be a bit of an understatement. Thanks to Venus’ thick atmosphere, pressures on the planet’s surface are high enough to crush the hull of a nuclear submarine, NASA officials said. That same atmosphere has also spawned a runaway greenhouse effect: Venus’ average surface temperature is a whopping 864 degrees Fahrenheit (462 degrees Celsius) — hot enough to melt lead (not to mention standard electronics).

No spacecraft has ever survived these conditions for more than 127 minutes, and none has even tried for more than three decades; the last probes to reach the Venusian surface were the Soviet Union’s twin Vega 1 and Vega 2 landers, which launched in 1984.

So Sauder and his team are thinking creatively, drawing inspiration from mechanical computers such as Charles Babbage’s famous 19th-century Difference Engine and the intricate Antikythera mechanism, which the ancient Greeks used to predict eclipses and perform a variety of other celestial calculations.

They’re developing their concept vehicle, known as the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments (AREE), using two rounds of funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. NIAC grants are intended to help nurture potentially revolutionary space science and exploration ideas.

“In Phase 1, purely mechanical rover technologies were compared to a high-temperature electronics rover and hybrid rover technologies,” Sauder and his colleagues wrote in a description of the project. “A purely mechanical rover, while feasible, was found to not be practical, and a high-temperature electronics rover is not possible with the current technology, but a hybrid rover is extremely compelling.”

This hybrid rover, as currently envisioned, would trundle across Venus not on wheels but on treads, like a tank. Most of its power would be generated by an onboard wind turbine, though roof-mounted solar panels would help as well.

The team’s current plans also call for AREE to feature a radar target with a rotating shutter, which would allow the rover to selectively bounce back radar signals from an overhead orbiter. As such, AREE could relay data in an old-fashioned, Morse-code sort of way.

“When you think of something as extreme as Venus, you want to think really out there,” JPL engineer Evan Hilgemann, who’s working on AREE high-temperature designs, said in the same statement. “It’s an environment we don’t know much about beyond what we’ve seen in Soviet-era images.”

Source: SPACE.com.

Link: https://www.space.com/37994-nasa-steampunk-venus-rover-concept.html.

Zealandia: World’s 8th Continent Now Pieced Together

By Clyde Hughes

Friday, 17 Feb 2017

Zealandia is being called the world’s eighth continent, but has gone unnoticed until researchers recently surfaced the mostly submerged land mass in a study.

New Zealand and New Caledonia, along with several other territories and islands are now part of the 1.9 million-square-mile land mass that was once part of the ancient super continent Gondwana that broke up about 100 million years ago, according to Sky News.

“Today (Zealandia) is 94 percent submerged, mainly as a result of widespread Late Cretaceous crustal thinning preceding supercontinent breakup and consequent isostatic balance,” the researchers said in a Geological Society of America study.

“The identification of Zealandia as a geological continent, rather than a collection of continental islands, fragments, and slices, more correctly represents the geology of this part of Earth. Zealandia provides a fresh context in which to investigate processes of continental rifting, thinning, and breakup.”

The researchers said Zealandia meets the criteria for being called a continent, including elevation above the surrounding area, distinctive geology, a well-defined area, and a crust thicker than the regular ocean floor, noted the BBC News.

New Zealand and New Caledonia were once grouped in an ancient continent that included Australia, noted CNN, and the theory of a possible continent sitting under New Zealand has been around for some time, leading geophysicist Bruce Luyendyk to coin the term Zealandia in 1995.

The study’s lead author, Nick Mortimer, told TVNZ One News he hopes the research, 20 years in the making, will bring more attention what is just beneath the waves of New Zealand.

“If we could pull the plug on the oceans, it would be clear to everybody that we have mountain chains and a big, high standing continent,” said Mortimer said. “What we hope is that Zealandia will appear on world maps, in schools, everywhere.”

“I think the revelation of a new continent is pretty exciting.”

Source: NewsMax.

Link: http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/zealandia-worlds-8th-continent/2017/02/17/id/774151/.

Colombia’s Santos accepts Nobel, urges shift in drug war

December 10, 2016

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday, saying it helped his country achieve the “impossible dream” of ending a half-century-long civil war.

A smiling Santos received his Nobel diploma and gold medal at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, for his efforts to end a conflict that has killed 220,000 people and displaced 8 million. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is one less war in the world, and it is the war in Colombia,” the 65-year-old head of state said, referring to the historic peace deal this year with leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Santos used his acceptance speech to celebrate the end of the longest-running conflict in the Americas, pay tribute to its victims and call for a strategy shift in another, related war — on drug trafficking worldwide.

Just a few years ago, imagining the end of the bloodshed in Colombia “seemed an impossible dream, and for good reason,” Santos said, noting that very few Colombians could even remember their country at peace.

The initial peace deal was narrowly rejected by Colombian voters in a shock referendum result just days before the Nobel Peace Prize announcement in October. Many believed that ruled out Santos from winning this year’s prize, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee “saw things differently,” deputy chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said.

“The peace process was in danger of collapsing and needed all the international support it could get,” she said in her presentation speech. A revised deal was approved by Colombia’s Congress last week.

Several victims of the conflict attended the prize ceremony, including Ingrid Betancourt, who was held hostage by FARC for six years, and Leyner Palacios, who lost 32 relatives including his parents and three brothers in a FARC mortar attack.

“The FARC has asked for forgiveness for this atrocity, and Leyner, who is now a community leader, has forgiven them,” the president said. Palacios stood up to applause from the crowd. FARC leaders, who cannot travel because they face international arrest warrants by the U.S., were not in Oslo. A Spanish lawyer who served as a chief negotiator for FARC represented the rebel group at the ceremony.

Colombians have reacted to Santos’ prize with muted emotion amid deep divisions over the peace deal. The vast majority didn’t bother to vote in October’s referendum. For many Colombians in big cities, Santos’ overriding focus on ending a conflict that had been winding down for years has diverted attention from pressing economic concerns.

Santos’ speech made a reference to fellow Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, this year’s surprise winner of the literature award, by citing the lyrics of one of his most famous songs, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The president also used the Nobel podium to reiterate his call to “rethink” the war on drugs, “where Colombia has been the country that has paid the highest cost in deaths and sacrifices.”

Santos has argued that the decades-old U.S.-promoted war on drugs has produced enormous violence and environmental damage in nations that supply cocaine, and needs to be supplanted by a global focus on easing laws prohibiting consumption of illegal narcotics.

“It makes no sense to imprison a peasant who grows marijuana, when nowadays, for example, its cultivation and use are legal in eight states of the United States,” he said. The other Nobel Prizes were presented at a separate ceremony in Stockholm to the laureates in medicine, chemistry, physics and economics. Dylan wasn’t there — he declined the invitation, citing other commitments.

The crowd still gave Dylan a standing ovation after a Swedish Academy member praised his work in a speech. An awkward moment ensued as American singer-songwriter Patti Smith, performing Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” forgot the lyrics midway through.

“I apologize. I’m sorry, I’m so nervous,” Smith said, asking the orchestra to start over, as the formally dressed audience comforted her with gentle applause. In a speech read by U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji at the Nobel banquet later Saturday, Dylan alluded to the debate about whether a songwriter deserved the Nobel Prize in literature.

Dylan said when William Shakespeare was working on “Hamlet,” he probably was thinking about which actors to pick and where he could find a skull. “I’m sure the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was: ‘Is this literature?'” Dylan said.

Like the Bard of Avon, Dylan said, he also deals with “mundane matters” such as whether he’s recording in the right key and not whether his songs are literature. However, he thanked the Swedish Academy for considering that question “and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”

__ Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

IS drone kills Kurdish fighters, hurts French troops

Washington (AFP)

Oct 12, 2016

A remote-controlled jihadist hobby plane rigged with hidden explosives killed two Kurdish fighters and injured two French special operations troops near Mosul, French and US sources confirmed Wednesday.

While the Pentagon has previously said the Islamic State group uses simple, commercially available drones to conduct surveillance and carry small explosives, this was the first known deadly case.

According to a US defense official, the incident unfolded October 2 when a small plane with a styrofoam body was either shot down or crashed in Erbil in northern Iraq.

Two local Kurdish peshmerga fighters grabbed it and took it back to their camp to inspect and photograph it, when it blew up.

“It looks like the explosive charge was hidden inside of what appeared to be a battery on some sort of a timer,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

A French source earlier confirmed the use of a “booby-trapped drone in Iraq,” while another confirmed that two French soldiers were hurt in the incident.

One of the French soldiers has life-threatening injuries. Both have been flown back to France for treatment.

The French military declined to comment.

Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, described the incident as a “Trojan Horse-style” attack.

“There was an improvised device on a drone. And when that was brought back to the camp, it exploded,” he said.

US defense officials said the military was deploying additional anti-drone technologies to the theater, including systems that provide electronic jamming.

“We don’t just let the enemy develop a capability that threatens our forces and those forces of our allies and partners and leave that threat unaddressed,” Dorrian said.

France is part of the international coalition fighting IS, which is preparing for a major offensive to dislodge the jihadist group from Mosul, which lies 85 kilometers (53 miles) from Erbil.

Around 500 French soldiers are based in Iraq, where they advise the peshmerga and train Iraqi elite forces in Baghdad. About 5,000 US troops are in Iraq.

US defense officials stressed IS drones would have zero strategic impact on the upcoming battle to wrest control of Mosul from IS.

“The implications of this are certainly not an existential threat and not something that’s militarily significant in that it’s going to stop anything that needs to happen from happening,” Dorrian said.

The unnamed defense official said the biggest implication was guidance being issued across the coalition to not pick up any drones.

“Treat them as unexploded ordinance,” he said.

“You see a drone sitting on the ground, don’t pick it up,” and call a bomb disposal expert, he added.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/IS_drone_kills_Kurdish_fighters_hurts_French_troops_999.html.

Colombian leader Juan Manuel Santos wins Nobel Peace Prize

October 07, 2016

OSLO, Norway (AP) — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people — and said he received the award in the name of the Colombian people.

The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal that Santos helped bring about. Nobel judges conspicuously did not honor his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the rebels.

“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, insisting the peace process wasn’t dead. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”

Santos said the Colombian people deserved the honor. “Especially the millions of victims that have suffered in this war that we are on the verge of ending,” Santos said in an interview posted on the Nobel Foundation’s Facebook page. “We are very, very close. We just need to push a bit further to persevere.”

Reacting to the award on Twitter, Londono said “the only prize to which we aspire” is one of social justice for Colombia, without far-right militias or retaliation. Santos and Londono — the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko — signed a peace deal last month to end Latin America’s longest-running conflict after more than four years of negotiations in Cuba.

Six days later, Colombians rejected it by the narrowest of margins — less than a half percentage point — over concerns that the rebels, who were behind scores of atrocities, were getting a sweetheart deal. Under the accord, rebels who turned over their weapons and confessed their crimes would be spared jail time and they would be given 10 seats in congress through 2026 to transition to a political movement.

In Bogota, 20 activists camped out in front of Colombia’s congress to demand the peace deal not be scuttled shouted “Peace deal now!” and “Colombia wants peace!” at the news. “This is a big help, but we’re not leaving until there’s peace,” said Juliana Bohorquez, a 31-year-old artist.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it believes that Santos, despite the “No” vote, “has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution.” It said the award should also be seen “as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.”

Committee secretary Olav Njoelstad said there was “broad consensus” on picking Santos as this year’s laureate — the first time the peace prize went to Latin America since 1992, when Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu won.

Santos, 65, is an unlikely peacemaker. The Harvard-educated scion of one of Colombia’s wealthiest families, as defense minister a decade ago, he was responsible for some of the biggest military setbacks for the rebels, known by their Spanish acronym FARC. Those included a 2008 cross-border raid into Ecuador that took out a top rebel commander and the stealth rescue of three Americans held captive by the rebels for more than five years.

Yet awarding Santos alone was a departure from the Nobel committee’s tradition of honoring both sides in a peace process, like it did in 1994 for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and in 1998 for peace talks in Northern Ireland.

“I can’t think of another time when they didn’t give to both sides,” said Nobel historian Asle Sveen, who isn’t connected to the committee. “But the referendum made it difficult. The opposition who won the referendum would have been provoked. I suspect the committee took the FARC out at the last minute.”

The committee recognized that the referendum result had “created great uncertainty” about Colombia’s future. “There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again,” it said. “This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, continue to respect the cease-fire.”

Prize committee chair Kaci Kullmann Five said the prize should be seen as encouragement to the FARC as well. “Giving the prize to Santos is not a belittlement to any of the other parties,” she told The Associated Press. “The FARC is obviously a very important part of this process. We note that the FARC has given important concessions.”

Santos and Londono met only twice during the entire peace process: last year when they put the final touches on the most-controversial section of the accord — how guerrillas would be punished for war crimes — and last month to sign the accord before an audience of world leaders and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The Colombian vote Sunday was also seen as a referendum of sorts on Santos, who has staked his presidency on securing peace but in the process, critics say, neglected the economy and other pressing issues. Santos’ approval rating in July was near the lowest it has been since he took office in 2010.

Norway, along with Cuba, has been a sponsor of the Colombian peace process since the outset. The public phase of talks began in Oslo in 2012 and the Norwegian government’s bald-headed, mustached representative to the talks, Dag Nylander, has become a minor celebrity among Colombians, who have followed every announcement from Havana on TV.

A record 376 candidates were nominated for this year’s award, which carries a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor (about $930,000). Last year’s peace prize went to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet for its efforts to build a pluralistic democracy.

The 2016 Nobel Prize announcements continue with the economics prize on Monday and the literature award on Thursday. All awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Ritter reported from Stockholm. Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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