TIME Middle East

Watchdog: Israel Moving Forward with East Jerusalem Construction

Anti-settlement watchdog fears the move will be a further setback to the already foundering peace talks

Israel is set to build more than 700 homes in a Jewish area of east Jerusalem, a watchdog group said Wednesday, potentially complicating peace talks with Palestinians leaders that are already on life support.

The group Peace Now said Israel renwed a call for contractor bids in the area of Gilo, the Associated Press reports. A spokesman for Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel said the timing was unrelated to the ongoing talks with the Palestinians. But the negotiations are currently at an extremely sensitive point, with the latest settlement news prompting fears the talks will veer off course. The report also came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Tuesday that he would pursue a campaign for greater recognition of a Palestinian state, despite earlier promises that he would not do so.

Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now spokeswoman, said the Israeli government’s move was designed to “make problems” in the negotiations.

[AP]

TIME Cartography

Maybe Heads of State Shouldn’t Give Maps as Presents

Chinese President Xi Jinping Visits Berlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel presents Chinese President Xi Jinping with a a map of China from the 18th century at the Chancellor's Office on March 28, 2014, in Berlin BPA/Getty Images

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave Chinese President Xi Jinping an antique map of his country as a gift during his recent visit to Berlin, she couldn’t have known what a stir it would cause

Chancellor Angela Merkel probably meant well. In Berlin last week, she gave her guest, Chinese President Xi Jinping, a 1735 map of China made by esteemed French cartographer Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville (1697–1782). The map, part of a series by d’Anville, was based in part on information gleaned by Jesuit missionaries. It was well regarded at the time and republished for decades to come.

A perfect gift for a visiting dignitary, right? You would think so. But ever since the exchange, China’s Internet has been buzzing about the gift. Why did Merkel choose this particular item? What was the message in the map?

For students of Chinese history, the date jumps out. This was the height of the great Qing dynasty, specifically the year when the Qianlong Emperor ascended to power. He presided over a military expansion west and north, but his death, in 1799, is associated with the period of decline that followed.

And then there are the boundaries. The 1735 d’Anville map shows “China proper” as a landmass separate from areas like Xinjiang, Tibet, Mongolia and Manchuria. The island of Hainan is drawn in a different color, as is Taiwan. This depiction is utterly at odds with how history is taught here.

Chinese students learn that these areas are inalienable parts of China, and that they have been for a long, long time. One netizen described the map as a “slap” from Merkel. “We always say some regions are inalienable parts of China since ancient times, but Merkel told us that even in 18th century those regions still did not belong to China.”

Another reasoned that it was the mapmakers, not Chancellor Merkel, who messed things up. “Merkel has no special connotation,” they wrote. “At that time German priests [sic] were not allowed to travel in such areas.”

To complicate the matter, at least two different versions of the map have been circulating online. State news wire Xinhua seems to have published an entirely different version of the map, prompting an entirely different set of theories.

Tibetan activist and blogger Tsering Woeser spotted the difference and pointed it out on her Facebook page. To express her dismay at the deception, she used a Chinese idiom that might be translated as “they are so good at perpetrating fraud!” More literally, the phrase means “to steal the beams and pillars and replace them with rotten timber.”

The lesson: maps mean different things to different people. And history is made of shaky stuff.

TIME Asia

Japan’s Biggest Crime Syndicate Has Its Own Website

In an effort to recruit new members and regain some mystique, the Yamaguchi-gumi has launched a website that shows just how neighborly it is—and there's a catchy tune to be enjoyed as well

The biggest organized crime syndicate in Japan has launched its own website and theme song, says yakuza expert Jake Adelstein in a VICE News report.

The group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, is seeking to rebrand the yakuza syndicates, which are famed and feared for their involvement in activities ranging from sex trafficking and murder to white-collar crime.

In recent years, their mystique has waned and membership has shrunk following a crackdown by the police. The Yamaguchi-gumi is now looking to counter these trends.

The website seeks to convince people that the yakuza are not an “anti-social force.” Throughout the site, there are pictures and descriptions of members visiting shrines, having fun with their neighbors and providing emergency relief after the tsunami in 2011.

The site, which says it is the online home of the “Banish Drugs and Purify the Nation League,” looks decidedly old-school. It has a strong anti-drug message and features this stirring song.

[VICE News]

TIME North Korea

The North Korean ‘Drone’ Is More Like a ‘Toy’

South Korea Koreas Tension
The unmanned aircraft that crashed in South Korea Monday looks like a model airplane, experts say after this picture was released April 2, 2014. South Korea Defense Ministry—Associated Press

The simplicity of the unmanned aircraft that crashed on a South Korean island Monday highlights how antiquated much of North Korea's military equipment is, experts say.

The “drone” that crashed on a South Korean island on Monday was described by experts Wednesday as actually something that’s “toy-like,” “poorly designed,” and “antiquated.”

Seoul suspected that the unmanned aircraft was a spy drone from North Korea, Reuters reports. As the images of the wrecked drone began circulating on the Internet, several people noted that it looked more like the model airplanes of their childhood than an advanced drone.

“It is like a toy,” Kim Hyoung-joong, a cyber defense professor at Korea University in Seoul, told Reuters. “But for surveillance purposes, it doesn’t have to be a high-tech, top-notch military product like Predators or Global Hawk drones.

“This type of toy-like equipment can find a blind spot,” Hyoung-joong said.

The simplicity of the drone highlights how antiquated much of North Korea’s military equipment is, experts told NBC.

“Much of their military force is pretty decrepit, with a lot of World War II stuff,” said Dr. James Hoare of the Centre of Korean Studies at SOAS, University of London. “They put a lot of emphasis of their fighting spirit because they have not got much else.”

[Reuters]

TIME Aviation

Fate of Missing Jet May Never Be Known, Officials Concede

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Airborne Electronics Analyst Sergeant Patrick Manser looks out of an observation window aboard a RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft during the search in the southern Indian Ocean for debris from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 1, 2014.
Royal Australian Air Force Airborne Electronics Analyst Sergeant Patrick Manser looks out of an observation window aboard a RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft during the search in the southern Indian Ocean for debris from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Australian Defence Force/Reuters

Investigators are contemplating defeat in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with no plane debris found, ocean currents buffeting the search area and the black box’s battery close to running out of power

Officials raised the possibility on Wednesday that the fate of the Malaysia Airlines plane missing for almost a month may never be determined, even as they said its disappearance is now being treated as a criminal investigation.

“Investigations may go on and on and on. We have to clear every little thing,” Malaysia police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said, the Associated Press reports. “At the end of the investigations, we may not even know the real cause. We may not even know the reason for this incident.”

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8 soon after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, and subsequent analysis of data transmission indicates it eventually crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. All 239 passengers and crew are presumed lost to the chilly and tempestuous waters.

Khalid said the criminal investigation is still focused on three possibilities — hijacking, sabotage and psychological problems of anyone aboard the Boeing 777. More than 170 statements have been taken, and investigators plan to take even more, he said. All passengers on the flight have been cleared of any role in hijacking, sabotage, or having personal psychological issues that could have led to the plane’s disappearance, CNN reports.

Meanwhile, the sonar-equipped British submarine H.M.S. Tireless has joined the search team, which on Wednesday numbered 10 planes and nine ships. But without tracing any debris to an impact point, authorities are left to comb about 85,000 sq. miles (220,000 sq km) of ocean — roughly the size of Utah — some 930 miles (1,500 km) west of Perth, Australia.

Experts point to the 60 years it took to find H.M.A.S. Sydney and the 80 years to find the Titanic as an indication of the arduous task ahead. “And both of those are considerably bigger than the poor old 777,” Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, tells TIME. “The chances of finding it are very, very small.”

Even the largest possible floating objects, such as empty fuel tanks that have not ruptured or remain attached to heavy engines, have likely sunk by now. “They would almost certainly be on the bottom,” Middleton says. “Otherwise [anything floating] will be seat cushions and people’s sneakers.”

Chinese ships have already ruled out 11 locations in the southern Indian Ocean where suspicious objects had been seen floating, reports China’s state news agency Xinhua.

While the submarine will certainly boost search efforts, there is no telling how long it will stay in the area. If the flight recorder’s pinger battery dies before it is found — as with Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 — then searchers will have to trawl the ocean with submerged side-scan sonars looking at the ocean floor.

“But when you’re towing something which is 5 km deep, your towline is 20 km long, and you’ve got to worry about running into seamounts,” Middleton says.

Even if the black box is recovered — it took two years for Air France Flight 447 — there is no guarantee that all questions will be answered. Only information such as the heading, altitude and speed of the aircraft will almost certainly be accessible, as will two hours of recorded “noise” from the cockpit. “So even when they find it there will still be a lot of piecing together of information,” Middleton says.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was due to arrive in Perth late on Wednesday to inspect the search-and-rescue operations. He is expected to meet his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott on Thursday amid fresh controversy after it emerged that the final communication transcript from the cockpit was the standard “good night Malaysian 370” rather than the more casual “all right, good night” initially proffered by authorities. No explanation has been given for the discrepancy, the latest in a string to plague the investigation.

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities held a closed-door briefing for relatives of people who were on the flight. “We had a very good meeting with them, and we answered all their questions,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, told reporters.

Relatives of the 153 Chinese nationals on board MH 370 have been vigorous in their continued criticism of Malaysia’s handling of the disaster.

TIME Asia

Kim Jong Un: The Situation on the Korean Peninsula Is ‘Very Grave’

North Korea
Kim Jong Un salutes during a military parade. He accused the U.S. of trying to "crush" North Korea militarily Kyodo News—Associated Press

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un blames the rise in tensions on the U.S. and South Korea during a meeting with top military leaders, just days after the two Koreas traded fire at sea and Pyongyang threatened to test a new nuclear weapon

North Korea’s leader warned Tuesday that the current situation with South Korea has become “very grave,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Kim Jong Un made the statement at a meeting with top military leaders one day after his country and South Korea traded artillery fire at sea and two days after North Korea said it would test a new kind of nuclear weapon. According to the North Korean leader, the joint-military drills between South Korea and the U.S. are to blame for the rise in tensions.

“The United States and other hostile forces, ignoring our magnanimity and goodwill, are viciously stepping up their maneuvers in order to annihilate our republic politically, isolate it economically and crush it militarily,” Kim Jong Un said at the meeting, according to the official North Korean news agency KCNA.

The surge in tensions between the two Koreas comes a month after a rare thaw in relations. February saw both the first family reunions in four years and the first high-level meeting in six years.

[AFP]

TIME Military

U.S. Working to Preserve Drone Dominance

Air Force Works To Meet Increased Demand For Predator Aircraft
Drone operators like these at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada... Ethan Miller / Getty Images

The U.S. military is worried about being attacked by foreign drones—and about protecting the airmen operating ours

Some things never change in war. It began with rocks among cavemen, until one of them sharpened his stone, creating a better weapon. That, in turn, spawned the shield.

The same thing is happening now with drones. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles—they go by a variety of names inside the U.S. military—came into their own following 9/11. Once outfitted with Hellfire missiles and other weaponry, they created a new kind of war.

Predator begat Reaper begat Global Hawk.

Predator Drones in Afghanistan
A Predator drone flies over Afghanistan. Veronique de Viguerie / Getty Images

They lurked out of sight and sound, some killing in an instant when the trigger was pulled, perhaps on the other side of the world. For more than a decade, U.S. drones stood pretty much alone at the top of the hunter-killer pyramid.

Well, one thing is sure: the rest of the world, including the bad guys, aren’t standing still.

That’s got the Army—you know, the guys most likely to be attacked by enemy drones—a little concerned. “U.S. forces will be increasingly threatened by reconnaissance and armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the near and far future,” the service says, detailing a two-day session on the topic in Huntsville, Ala., later this month. Written proposals on ways to defeat enemy drones were due April 1.

“All levels of detection, decision, and defeat should be considered when developing and proposing a capability,” the Army says. Since the Army calls drones “UAVs,” it only makes sense that it calls its yet-to-be-perfected drone-killing technologies “CUAS,” for Counter Unmanned Aerial System capabilities.

“Engagement options should consider the echelon of employment, air and ground coordination measures, prevention of civilian casualties, fratricide, cost per engagement, and the number of engagements possible in a surge application,” the Army says. “Both kinetic and non-kinetic solutions are encouraged” (“Kinetic” means destruction by physical collision, like the 20-pound warhead on an AGM-114 Hellfire. “Non-kinetic” means a way of defeating a drone using electronic warfare or other ways of keeping an incoming drone away from its target).

“Only U.S. based and owned companies are eligible to respond,” the Army says. “Foreign participation is not authorized for this effort.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force wants to construct an “RPA Mission Control Complex Physical Protection System” around its drone operations at Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas. (The Air Force prefers to call its drones RPAs—Remotely-Piloted Aircraft—emphasizing that a person remains in control, even if not in the cockpit).

The northeast corner of Creech is where airmen sit at desks and control many of the MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers that have been flying over Afghanistan and Iraq for the past decade.

The service is seeking someone to build an “Intrusion Detection System (IDS) Sensor Platform Fence” at Creech. “The project,” it adds, “will include construction of circulation control fences within the Mission Complex secured area to provide secondary security and compartmentalize access at seven (7) Base-identified critical facilities and areas.”

Such a fence, of course, will help stop intruders on the ground. But it won’t be much help against…drones.

TIME movies

Before Noah: Myths of the Flood Are Far Older Than the Bible

Russell Crowe in Noah
Niko Tavernise—Paramount Pictures/AP

While the Hollywood blockbuster has been a hit, it has also faced opposition from Christians and Muslims angry with its supposed misrepresentation of their scriptures. But tales of great floods did not begin with the Bible

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah dominated the U.S. box office on its opening weekend and won critical acclaim, but not without controversy. The film, based on the biblical story in Genesis of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, arrived amid a deluge of outrage from religious groups. Some Christians fumed at the film’s straying from biblical Scripture. Meanwhile, a host of Muslim-majority countries banned Noah from screening in theaters because representations of Noah, a prophet of God in the Koran, are considered blasphemous. Such images “provoke the feelings of believers and are forbidden in Islam and a clear violation of Islamic law,” read a fatwa issued by Cairo’s al-Azhar University, one of the foremost institutions of Sunni Islam. Egypt has not banned the film, but Indonesia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have. “It is important to respect these religions and not show the film,” lectured the main censors of the UAE.

Aronofsky, an atheist, has no interest in defending his film’s scriptural authenticity. Indeed, the director has described Noah as “the least biblical film ever made” and thinks of its chief protagonist in secular terms as the world’s “first environmentalist.” Noah is as much a parable for the modern threat of climate change as it is an Old Testament morality play.

But there’s another reason why the angry religious crowd ought to check their outrage. The story of Noah may be part of the Abrahamic canon, but the legend of the Great Flood almost certainly has prebiblical origins, rooted in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh dates back nearly 5,000 years and is thought to be perhaps the oldest written tale on the planet. In it, there is an account of the great sage Utnapishtim, who is warned of an imminent flood to be unleashed by wrathful gods. He builds a vast circular-shaped boat, reinforced with tar and pitch, that carries his relatives, grains and animals. After enduring days of storms, Utnapishtim, like Noah in Genesis, releases a bird in search of dry land.

Various archaeologists suggest there was a historical deluge between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago that hit lands ranging from the Black Sea to what many call the cradle of civilization, the flood plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The translation of ancient cuneiform tablets in the 19th century confirmed the Mesopotamian flood myth as an antecedent of the Noah story in the Bible. In an interview with the London Telegraph, Irving Finkel, a curator at the British Museum and author of the recent book The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, described one way the tradition may have emerged:

There must have been a heritage memory of the destructive power of flood water, based on various terrible floods. And the people who survived would have been people in boats. You can imagine someone sunbathing in a canoe, half asleep, and waking up however long later and they’re in the middle of the Persian Gulf, and that’s the beginning of the flood story.

Yet tales of the Flood spring from many sources. Myriad ancient cultures have their own legends of watery cataclysm and salvation. According to Vedic lore, a fish tells the mythic Indian king Manu of a flood that will wipe out humanity; Manu then builds a ship to withstand the epic rains and is later led to a mountaintop by the same fish. An Aztec story sees a devout couple hide in the hollow of a vast tree with two ears of corn as divine storms drown the wicked of the land. Creation myths from Egypt to Scandinavia involve tidal floods of all sorts of substances — including the blood of deities — purging and remaking the earth.

Flood myths are so universal that the Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim thought their origins were physiological, not historical — hypothesizing that dreams of the Flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders. The religious purists now upset with Hollywood probably don’t want to hear that it’s really just all about drinking too much water before bedtime.

TIME natural disaster

5 Dead After Huge Quake Hits off Coast of Chile

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake off the Chilean coast sparked tsunami warnings along Peru and Ecuador and throughout the Pacific as far as Hawaii. President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as disaster zones

Updated 5:25 a.m. E.T. on Wednesday

At least five people died and three were injured after a massive earthquake struck off of Chile late Tuesday, officials said, sending waves crashing into coastal towns in the country, prompting evacuations across Latin America’s Pacific coast and tsunami warnings as far away as Hawaii.

During a news conference late on Tuesday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as disaster zones, but reported that the evacuation of communities along the country’s Pacific coast was proceeding in an orderly fashion.

Officials rescinded their initial blanket warnings late on Tuesday after fears of a potential tsunami had sparked alerts throughout countries across the Pacific coastline and put officials thousands of miles away in Hawaii on standby. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had initially extended tsunami warnings to five countries following the quake, but as of late Tuesday night, only Chile and Peru remained on the list.

Warnings of a tsunami began circulating after the 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck 61 miles off the port city of Iquique in Chile’s northern mining region. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the earthquake at 8:46 p.m. local time some 12 miles below the seabed. Waves as high as 7 ft. reportedly hit Iquique in the quake’s wake.

Chile’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said a tsunami warning would remain in place in the country for the next six hours. Peñailillo said 300 inmates had escaped from a women’s prison in Iquique after the facility was damaged. Security officials were later deployed to the city and at least 26 of the inmates had been recaptured.

As areas in coastal Chile were evacuated and residents relocated to higher ground, there were early reports that landslides were blocking roads and making it harder for residents to evacuate. However, there were no reports of major damage or serious injuries caused by the quake.

The Iquique area of Chile experienced numerous tremors last month following a relatively powerful 6.7-magnitude quake that hit on March 16, heightening fears that a larger earthquake might strike, Reuters reports.

Chile was devastated by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2010.

Magnitude eight earthquake off the coast of Chile
USGS/EPA
NOAA
NOAA
TIME MH370

Lord of the Rings Director Peter Jackson’s Jet Joins MH370 Search

"The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug" - Los Angeles Premiere
Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

Peter Jackson's Gulfstream is being used to help coordinate search efforts in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s private jet is now involved in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Jackson’s spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

The company that operates Jackson’s Gulfstream G650 is using the aircraft to aid in the international search effort with Jackson’s consent, Radio New Zealand reports. Jackson’s plane is helping to facilitate communication among search teams.

Jackson spokesman Matt Dravitzki would not comment on how much the director was being compensated for the use of his jet. “A lot of civilian and military aircraft are involved in the search, and it’s kind of disappointing that because one is owned by a celebrity it becomes a matter of news when there are [over] 200 people missing,” Dravitzki told Radio New Zealand.

Jackson purchased the jet last year last for about 80 million NZD, or about $69 million USD.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard.

[Radio New Zealand]

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