Chatter: China gets its very own aircraft carrier




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Need to know:
You want be a world power, you need to have the hardware. That's why China is pleased to announce that it now has its first ever aircraft carrier.

The 990-foot Liaoning, a refurbished Soviet ship, entered service this morning after a hand-over ceremony at Dalian Port, north-east China. The defense ministry says the vessel will be used primarily for training and testing purposes, but adds that it can also help defend "the interests of state sovereignty, security and development."

If that sounds vaguely threatening, an editorial by state-run news agency Xinhua assures readers that there is "no need for panic" about China's new floating air base. 

We'll just note that the Liaoning made its debut on the same day that Beijing published a white paper asserting its "indisputable sovereignty" over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, which Japan, er, disputes; and that Japan today fired water cannons on Taiwanese ships near said island chain. Who's panicking?

Want to know:
President Barack Obama will address the United Nations later today, making what's expected to be a robust defense of his policies in the Middle East.

In his last international address before election day, Obama will "send a clear message that the United States will never retreat from the world," says White House press secretary Jay Carney. Excerpts suggest the speech will consist of a defense of free speech and religious tolerance, pledges to remain active in the Middle East and North Africa despite anti-American violence, and a vow to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

UN HQ is not the forum for domestic politics, but today's speech will inevitably echo on the campaign trail. Republican challenger Mitt Romney – whose own record on foreign policy speaks, cringe-makingly, for itself – has called for "a president who will shape events in the Middle East, not just be merciful or be at the mercy of the events." Unfortunately for Romney, that sounds, well, kind of like Obama.

Dull but important:
You know who else gets to speak at the UN this week? That's right, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose anti-Israel, anti-US, anti-factual-account-of-9/11 orations can usually be relied upon to empty a UN conference room faster than you can say "Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty."

Ahmadinejad doesn't make his appearance until Wednesday, but has been passing his time in New York by giving interviews. So far, so inflammatory: Israel has "no roots" in the Middle East, Iran "will indeed defend itself," homosexuality is "ugly," and so forth. 

But alongside the usual ranting comes an intriguing development: a report that Ahmadinejad was due to meet Occupy Wall Street protesters, whose demonstrations Iranian media regularly tout as evidence of the discontent in US society. Unfortunately for Tehran, the Occupiers have stated unambiguously that they have no plans to meet, or interest in meeting, the Iranian president.

Just because:
Pandas: adorable, but expensive. Extremely expensive. What with upkeep, China's "borrowing" fee and an obligatory contribution to conservation programs, giant pandas are thought to be the costliest animals for zoos to house.

Breeding the bears is one way to make back some of the money: nothing draws in the visitors like a newborn cub. So when a zoo loses a long-awaited baby, like Washington's National Zoo did this weekend, the blow is financial as well as emotional.

GlobalPost investigates the very high price of pandas – and yes, of course, there are photos.

Strange but true:
Scientists have hit upon a seemingly surefire way to make men live longer: cut off their testicles.

Yep, eunuchs die later. (Hooray for eunuchs! It's about time they had some good news.) According to a study of historical data from the Korean royal court, the castratees employed there lived around 20 years longer than the average, non-snipped man. It's to do with testosterone, apparently.

We'll leave it to each male reader to consider whether those extra 20 years are worth it.