Quick hit: a UN environment official wants ALL the plastic bags in the world banned immediately due to the damage they cause to oceans and wildlife. Plastic bags, as we've reported before, is a problem in oceans not only because there's so much of it, but because wildlife eat it and feed it to their young, resulting in starvation. The UN official's statement was accompanied by a new UN report that shows plastic makes up 80% of all litter found in the ocean.  

Things are all smiles in North Korea. At least that's the impression you get from Kim Jong Nam, eldest son of the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il. His father has suffered a stroke, but remains at the helm of his fantasy land, while a secret transition of power is underway. Such things are touchy subjects in countries like the Hermit Kingdom, where leaders are not so much political figures as living gods. Pyongyang has indicated that Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Jong Un, is likely to inherit the mantle of the North Korea's national deity.

Does this trouble Kim Jong Nam? Not at all! He knows the score. Reports indicate he fell out of favor after being caught in Tokyo's international airport with a fake passport in 2001. Rumors abound that he fled North Korea, but even this is unconfirmed. To hear him tell it, he's just a traveling man, a pleasure seeker untroubled at being passed over by his loving father. A Japanese television crew caught up with him earlier this week, where Nam smiled as he denied his defection to Japan and brushed aside any hard feelings at his father. "Sorry, I am not interested in the politics," he says. You can watch the interview on the BBC's website.

We're Still at War

Iraq and Afghanistan aren't in the news as much as they once were, but it's important to remember that our troops are still there.

Spc. Andrew HarveySpc. Andrew Harvey, a 1st Infantry Soldier, patrols along steep cliffs of the Korengal Valley's surrounding mountains during Operation Viper Shake, Afghanistan, April 21, 2009. Photo courtesy army.mil.

Guest blogger Mark Follman writes frequently about current affairs and culture at markfollman.com.

The June issue of the Atlantic has a look at the mind-blowing Oasis of the Seas, a gargantuan ocean liner forthcoming from cruise company Royal Caribbean International. Its unprecedented scale of apparent luxury surely required feats of engineering. But any awe that inspires would seem to wash away with apprehension of the ship’s untold economic and ecological hubris.

A decade ago, a large cruise ship typically carried in the neighborhood of 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members. But in an industry intently focused on swelling its profits no matter the non-fiscal costs, bigger is always better. Ordered in 2006 for $1.4 billion (on the crest ahead of the economic meltdown), the Oasis leaves those old numbers far in its wake. “In November,” writes Rory Nugent, “Royal Caribbean will take delivery of a true sea monster. Now in its final phase of construction, the Oasis of the Seas will be the biggest (longest, tallest, widest, heaviest) passenger ship ever built—and the most expensive. It will dwarf Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and cast shadows dockside atop 20-story buildings. A crew of 2,165 will tend the expectations of up to 6,296 passengers.” 

The broken-window theory has a helper in these lean times for cities across the land: Legos! Yes, another reason to love the timeless plastic construction pieces: Industrious folk are filling cracks and holes in buildings with colorful lego randoms in Berlin. Very cool. Next up, giant legos in potholes? Watch out, KFC!

In response to the loss of Air France 447, a French pilots’ union today asked its pilots not to fly the Airbus 330–the design of the crashed plane. Much has been made of the possible pitout tube failure on Air France 447. These tubes are sensors on the wings which might be prone to freezing up and distorting air speed, which in turn might mean the pilots were flying at too slow or too fast a speed to get through the thunder storms in the region.

There is a different theory having to do with the plane’s possible structural flaws, which brings us back to the question of composite aircraft materials, which I wrote about last week. Parts of the tail, recovered Monday, appear intact; the tail looks like it was ripped off the plane at the points of attachment. You can get some idea of what it looks like from thisFrance 24 video.

To some observers, this bears a striking resemblance to the loss of the tail in the devastating American Airlines 587 crash in New York in November 2001. That plane was an Airbus 300. In an interesting comment on the Whatsupwiththat blog, a reader, Adoucette, writes:

Late Term Abortion

Ross Douthat points out today that late-term abortions are vanishingly rare, but says that's part of the problem:

If anything, by enshrining a near-absolute right to abortion in the Constitution, the pro-choice side has ensured that the hard cases are more controversial than they otherwise would be. One reason there’s so much fierce argument about the latest of late-term abortions — Should there be a health exemption? A fetal deformity exemption? How broad should those exemptions be? — is that Americans aren’t permitted to debate anything else. Under current law, if you want to restrict abortion, post-viability procedures are the only kind you’re allowed to even regulate.

If abortion were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically. Arguments about whether and how to restrict abortions in the second trimester — as many advanced democracies already do – would replace protests over the scope of third-trimester medical exemptions.

The result would be laws with more respect for human life, a culture less inflamed by a small number of tragic cases — and a political debate, God willing, unmarred by crimes like George Tiller’s murder.

There are a whole bunch of missing steps here.  Regardless of the merits of overturning Roe v. Wade, why does Ross believe that protests over second-term abortions would be any less inflamed than protests over late-term abortions?  Does he really think that if we adopted a European-style regime that banned abortion at, say, 18 weeks instead of 26, this would reduce the culture war heat that abortion breeds?  I'm really not seeing the logic here.

Scott Roeder and his fellow supporters of "justifiable homicide" in the service of the anti-choice cause are doubtlessly celebrating this morning's news, reported by the AP:

The family of slain abortion provider George Tiller said Tuesday that his Wichita clinic will be "permanently closed," effective immediately.

In a statement released by Tiller's attorneys, his family said it is ceasing operation of Women's Health Care Services Inc. and any involvement by family members in any other similar clinic.

The fact that the family made clear that it would not be involved "in any other similar clinic" suggests that they are traumatized and fearful--in a word, terrorized. And no wonder, since Roeder, as I detailed yesterday, has issued warnings from his jail cell of further attacks on abortion providers--an act which, coming from just about any other comparable source, would certainly be deemed terrorism, and treated accordingly.

If that wasn't enough to intimidate the family (or other prospective abortion providers), local anti-abortion groups had also promised to step-up their longstanding protests at the clinic, as Mark S. Gietzen, president of the Kansas Coalition for Life, told the New York Times:

Despite the fact that we now know pretty thoroughly that Sonia Sotomayor has been judicious and evenhanded on the bench, Jonah Goldberg remains worried:

If an Irish judge gave a speech to the Ancient Order of Hibernians and dabbled in a bit of excessive Irish pride, it might be inappropriate but it wouldn't be disqualifying. But if there was evidence that he gave preference to Irish plaintiffs out of "empathy," I would like to think that would get him in serious trouble....Would judge Sotomayor be your first pick in a lawsuit against a Puerto Rican organization if your livelihood was on the line? It may be entirely unfair to her, but I think reasonable people might think long and hard on that question.

Does Goldberg seriously want us to believe that he might ever have criticized as "inappropriate" a speech from a white guy displaying "a bit of excessive Irish pride"?  Give me a break.

Conservative response to Sotomayor has been astonishing.  It hasn't really, of course.  It's been drearily predictable.  But you know what I mean.  Sotomayor is a liberal judge nominated by a liberal president, and she has a long track record of speeches, prosecutions, and court opinions to her name.  Conservatives surely have at least a dozen good avenues to attack her.  But right out of the gate, seemingly as an exercise in pure reflex, they attacked her on racial grounds.  All based on one sentence from a speech eight years ago and one case in which she narrowly ruled against some white plaintiffs.  But no mind.  They zeroed in on race instantly and relentlessly anyway.  I guess they know their audience pretty well.

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani arrived in New York today to face 286 counts related to the 1998 embassy bombing in Tanzania. Despite widespread warnings from conservatives that bringing Guantanamo detainees to US shores might mean the end of western civilization, New Yorkers escaped without harm. (The National Security Network issued a press release headlined "World Does Not End As Gitmo Detainee Finally Brought to Face Justice.") Either Ghailani did not have the superpowers conservatives seem to think terrorist suspects have, or the fact that there are already lots of terrorists in US prisons (355, according to one count) gave US authorities the experience they needed to deal with Ghailani's super-strength and X-ray vision.