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Seeing red

Red Shirts protests spread in Thailand after government crackdown

Genesis Photos

Genesis Photos

In the heart of Bangkok's once-pulsing financial district, chaos reigned as anti-government protesters-dubbed "Red Shirts"-torched economic landmarks and thriving commercial attractions on May 19: The demonstrators set ablaze Thailand's stock exchange, a handful of banks, and the capital city's electric company. Central World shopping mall-the third-largest mall in Asia-burned to the ground.

The violent protests and government response have killed at least 70 people since Red Shirts began protesting in Bangkok on March 14. Officials declared a curfew as the city devolved into chaos. The chaos may continue: Despite the surrender of the movement's leaders to local officials, protesters continued rampages that threaten to spread beyond the capital city. The mostly rural demonstrators have demanded new elections, saying the current government is illegitimate. The parliament chose current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva instead of holding elections. Vejjajiva offered to hold new elections in November, but protest leaders delayed accepting. The prime minister withdrew the offer.

The turmoil is the latest in a string of conflicts that have rocked Thailand since the country adopted constitutional rule in 1932. Since then, the nation has drafted 18 new constitutions and endured a series of military coups.

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A cold snap in late December and early January puts much of the world-and global warmists-on ice

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Julian Finney/Getty Images

In March 2000, climate scientist David Viner made a bold prediction. Within a few years, because of global warming, snowfall in Britain would become "a very rare and exciting event," the senior research scientist at Britain's Climatic Research Unit told the Independent. "Children just aren't going to know what snow is."

Almost 10 years later, they know. All of them do. A NASA satellite image in early January showed snow covering the whole of Britain-and the British weren't alone. The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab reports that the Northern Hemisphere in December had the second-greatest snow cover for that month since 1966, when records began.

Before temperatures began to climb in mid-January, the snow and frigid cold were having an impact, especially on travel, in many parts of the world. In Madrid, the government enlisted the Spanish army to clear roads. In England, shortages of rock salt and grit to melt ice on roads were becoming a political issue, as the population reeled from a mistaken forecast of a mild winter by the nation's weather service. In France, hundreds of train windows had to be replaced because of damage from ice shards sent flying by high-speed trains passing each other. In Norway, there were reports of engine oil freezing.

The cold snap extended as far east as China and Korea, which both registered record snowfalls, and as far west as the United States. In Florida, economists predicted that damage to citrus crops would be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For animals, the cost was higher. Thousands of tropical fish in Florida turned up dead and iguanas reportedly became catatonic from the cold and fell dead from trees.

Climate scientists who push man-made global warming theories aren't easily impressed by a record cold winter. After developing new ways to measure ocean temperatures, Mojib Latif, a member of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now believes that up to half of the warming of the past few decades came from changing ocean patterns. With the ocean cycle shifting, he and colleagues stated in a 2008 paper, the earth may be in for 20 to 30 years of cooling. Latif still believes in global warming; he just thinks it may be offset by ocean patterns for a few decades.

Climate scientist Viner, for one, doesn't seem to be buying it. Now head of a British program that raises awareness about global warming, he stands by his decade-old prediction about British snowfall. "This winter is just a little cooler than average," Viner told the Daily Mail, "and I still think that snow will become an increasingly rare event."

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High-flying standards

An aviator's salute to an American hero

The Memphis Belle rolled wings level at 1,000 feet above the ground over the "Initial Point," an irregular patch of red Piedmont clay amid the new green of spring, on our run-in line to the target. The late afternoon sun in our eyes reduced visibility to a mile and a half as we stared intently through the windshield, searching for memorized landmarks. The target was nine miles away and we were traversing a mile every 12 seconds, leaving no time to consult a map. Flying into the sun instead of coming out of it violated normal rules of engagement, but this was not a bombing run, nor was it World War II, and this Memphis Belle was not a B-17. It was an aviator's memorial salute in a B-1B bomber and the objective was to be seen clearly from the ground. Somewhere up ahead a crowd of grateful citizens had assembled in a cemetery behind a little country church in western North Carolina. They were there to honor an American hero. Thomas Ferebee, the Enola Gay bombardier who pickled off the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, ending World War II, was being laid to rest. The tension mounted as the miles streaked by under the drooping nose of the B-1, officially called the Lancer, driven by Major "Blinkie" Smithie of the Georgia Air National Guard. We had only one chance to get it right and there had already been a major adjustment. After we had taken off at the precise time needed to give us a few extra minutes for contingencies, the funeral director relayed a message by cell phone, forwarded to our cockpit en route, that our Time-over-Target needed to be moved up 18 minutes. That's not a problem for a sleek bomber with four powerful engines and wings that can be swept back 65 degrees in flight, making it look and perform much more like a rocket than the original World War II Memphis Belle. Blinkie advanced the throttles and we accelerated like a Harley Davidson. It was an extraordinary providence that put this writer in that cockpit on such a momentous occasion. I'm a fighter pilot from another era, a veteran of 268 combat missions in an F-100 in Vietnam. By the grace of God and generosity of the Georgia "Bones" (that's B-1 without the hyphen), I was getting an orientation flight in one of America's best peacekeepers. As bombers go, the Bone is just a big, fast, nimble fighter, complete with control stick between the legs. We were less than 30 seconds from the target now and recognition would have to be instantaneous. "Cunni" and "Buckit," our offensive and defensive systems officers, called out course corrections over the intercom from their battle stations filled with a dazzling array of electronics, all beyond the comprehension of old vets like Thomas Ferebee and me. Then, out of the haze, a meandering country road materialized with cars parked bumper-to-bumper, right on the nose. We passed over the mourners at a respectfully slow funeral pace-300 knots-with wings spread like a gliding goose. Then Blinkie tapped the afterburners, pulled the nose up, banked to the right, and that thoroughly modern Memphis Belle spiraled upward above our departed brother-in-arms as if our supersonic angel were transporting his soul to heaven. Invisible and insignificant as my role was, chills ran up my spine. It was over, but the world is still a dangerous place, and the citizen-soldiers of the Georgia Air National Guard had a critical mission to practice. We swept the wings back again and flew off on a simulated strike sortie. Blinkie and the boys put that beautiful Bone through its paces, and I experienced firsthand its amazing capabilities, a mighty comforting memory in the middle of the night. This Memorial Day, while gratefully acknowledging the enormous debt we owe heroes like Thomas Ferebee, thank God for the living ones as well. The price of freedom is patriots willing to die for God, duty, honor, and country; citizens willing to spend their free time as Reservists and National Guardsmen; and forthright political leadership willing to use these living, breathing national treasures prudently. America has always been blessed with courageous men in the first two categories who meet a demanding code of conduct. We would most honor them by holding our elected officials to the same standards. Pray that this year America might elect a leader who could say with authority and clear conscience, as Paul said to the Corinthians, "Imitate me." Editor's note: Thomas Ferebee (1919-2000) was buried near Mocksville, N.C., on March 24, 2000.

-J.D. Wetterling is the author of Son of Thunder, a historical novel based on his experiences as a fighter pilot in Vietnam

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