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Archive for July 2011

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Egypt after Mubarak

Militants Attack Sinai Gas Pipeline Supplying Israel and Jordan

July 30th 2011

Egypt - Hijab and flag

Gunmen destroyed a natural gas facility along a pipeline leading from Egypt to Israel on July 30 in northern Sinai Peninsula. The attack occurred at Sheikh Zuayed near El-Arish, the terminal which is the main liquefying station for gas exported to Israel and Jordan from Egypt. This is the third such attack on the same pipeline this month and the fifth since the 18-day uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February. No gas has been flowing through the pipeline since the last attack on the pipeline on July 12.

The attack came a day after a huge demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square where thousands of ultraconservative Salafist Muslims and members of the Muslim Brotherhood far outnumbered other Egyptian groups. Chants calling for the imposition of Islamic law, known as Shariah, were evident as opposed to the calls for democracy heard during February’s demonstrations.

Egyptian authorities said that insurgents destroyed the gas terminal in al-Shulaq, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip. It is the last terminal before the pipeline enters the sea on its way to Israel. The attackers arrived in a truck, fired rocket-propelled grenades at the terminal and then detonated dynamite on the inside. Security at the terminal was minimal, which contained no gas, and no injuries were reported. No explosions or flame was reported. Read more ..

Egypt After Mubarak

Egypt turns to the Dark Side as Muslim Brotherhood Calls the Shots

July 30th 2011

Africa - Shouting Muslims in Cairo

One navigates in the dark, we do not know where Egypt will go," says Fr. Luciano Verdoscia, a Catholic missionary serving in Egypt. In Cairo, tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square on July 29, in response to an appeal launched by the Muslim Brotherhood. Fifteen lay political formations as well as Coptic Christians joined in the demonstration.

Among the slogans in the square, there was ''Islam, Islam, we do not want a liberal State," "The people want Islamic law,"''Islam: not West or East," to which were political demands, such as  bringing ormer President Hosni Mubarak to justice.   

Crowds shouted glosses on slogans popularized by the protests that culminated in February with the downfall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak. During Egypt's spring there was heard "Hold your head up high, you’re Egyptian.” On Friday, “Muslim” was substituted for “Egyptian.” Similarly, the chant that resounded throughout the revolution, the people want to topple the regime,” became "The people want to apply God’s law.” Moreover, the chant "There is no constitution but Islam," was also heard.  Read more ..

New York Times Horribly Wrong on the Deaf

July 28th 2011
This is in response to Monica Davey’s NY Times article, “Among Twists in Budget Woes, Tensions Over Teaching the Deaf” of July 26, 2011. Comments are no longer accepted :( We deserve full recognition of American Sign Language (ASL) we hand to Deaf lives. What bugs me more is when editors/reporters state how we are “whining” which is an ongoing misleading judgment of us Deaf people. It just breaks my heart when our views are being misrepresented as we try to share our experiences for you to understand how critical it is when Deaf children do not acquire a language so that they could learn about the world.
Mainly through ASL, Deaf children get information about the world. Deaf children have the opportunity to grow up bilingual. Do not allow our Deaf children fall short of the education they deserve just because the hearing professionals think it is more important to speak. We the Deaf people are the very people who end up being the most affected by parental decisions influenced by hearing professionals. We understand how budget shortfalls are forcing difficult decisions in every state BUT legislators and critics or should I say cronies still do not get it. Deaf people and parents have actually LIVED through the experiences of the educational and medical systems. We know exactly what it takes to raise Deaf children. Why can’t every Tom, Dick, and Harry understand us who have our own language and identity as individuals in our own distinct culture? ASL is a real, visual “spoken” language on a par with any other languages. An interesting contrast was brought up between the belief that exposure of ASL to a hearing baby will aid them in language development, whereas a Deaf baby at times must show the inability to learn a spoken language before they are taught ASL. This notion was originated due to the idea that sign language hinders the development of a spoken language in Deaf children! (Mayberry, 2008)
Attempts to wipe away ASL demonstrate an assault as genocide treaties made clear “…that obliterating a group's culture is a form of genocide." That, we cannot allow such put-down of one's Deaf life. The extreme focus on the medical aspect of fixing the hearing/ears, rather than being focused on language development, has created this situation. An intervention is very much needed to resolve the unrest behind the promotion of cultural destruction that is sure to bring back the slippery slope of eugenics. We. Do. Not. Accept. This. Mistreatment. If that's considered whining, so be it.

Edge on Terrorism

Thwarted Terrorist Attack at Fort Hood TX

July 28th 2011

Military - Naser Jason Abdo

An AWOL U.S. soldier was arrested the evening of July 27 on an outstanding child pornography warrant in Killeen, Texas, and is suspected to have been plotting an attack on Fort Hood. The suspect, Pfc. Nasser Jason Abdo from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was reportedly arrested by the Killeen Police Department after an alert citizen noticed he was acting suspiciously and called police. Local TV station KCEN said explosives were found in his car, and FOX News is reporting two other U.S. military personnel have been arrested and that weapons and explosives were also found in their possession. According to sources in the U.S. law enforcement community, a reported plot by three U.S. military personnel to attack Fort Hood was in the advanced stages of planning. Read more ..

Artificial Intelligence

Humanoid Robots may Diagnose Neuro-Developmental Delays and Autism in Children

July 28th 2011

Science - silver robot

STMicroelectronics and Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna of Pisa announced the creation of a joint laboratory for research and innovation in bio-robotics, smart systems and microelectronics. The work at the new laboratory in Catania, Italy is to lead to a better understanding of the physical design of bodies and the organization of their sensory and nervous systems.

Past collaboration between ST and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna resulted in joint projects including DustBot, a scientific platform integrating self-driven, self-navigating ‘service robots’ for selective waste collection and street cleaning in city centers. Going forward, experts will be collaborating to develop smart toys equipped with motion and pressure sensors for early diagnosis of neuro-developmental delays and autistic pathologies in small children. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Linking Mind to Artificial Limbs Shows Promise for Victims of Paraplegia

July 28th 2011

Science - artificial limbs

Four universities won a $1.2 million grant to develop prosthetics that deliver sensory information to patients and can be controlled by their thoughts. Rice University, the University of Michigan, Drexel University and the University of Maryland will work on the four-year project with funds from the National Science Foundation's Human-Centered Computing program.

Researchers at Rice will build a prosthetic arm that can be controlled by a cap of electrodes that read electrical activity on the scalp using electroencephalography. The EEG information will be combined with real-time data about blood-oxygen levels in the user's frontal lobe using functional near-infrared technology developed by Drexel's brain imaging lab. Read more ..

Book Reviews

'Wasting Minds' and Why Johnny Can't Read or Cypher

July 28th 2011

Book Covers - Wasting minds

Wasting Minds: Why Our Education System Is Failing and What We Can Do About It. Ronald A. Wolk. ASCD. 2011. 256 pages.

Ronald Wolk, who grew up in Pittsburgh and now lives in Rhode Island, earned a distinguished reputation as an education journalist. As founder and first editor of Education Week, he established a high standard for thorough, professional coverage of the national school reform debate that was kicked into high gear by the “Nation at Risk” report (1983) and then into overdrive with No Child Left Behind (2002). He now chairs Big Picture Learning, the parent organization of “The Met” school in Providence, and, not surprisingly, shares the ideas of its founder, Dennis Littky.

Surveying the current national education scene, Wolk is not optimistic: “The conventional school is obsolete,” he says, “and may very well be beyond repair.” Although he “once believed that education research would lead us to the promised land of successful schools and high student achievement,” he no longer does (even though he then goes on to cite study after study).

The book’s first half targets “false assumptions” driving much of contemporary reform. I found much that was persuasive (for instance, I agree that NCLB relies too much on testing and has counter-productively narrowed the curriculum), much to disagree with (he asserts that a core curriculum is inevitably inflexible and unappealing), and much that is muddled (on the one hand, he says it is “neither fair nor true” to charge that many teachers are lazy or incompetent; on the other, until the teaching profession attracts stronger candidates and prepares them better, “we cannot reasonably expect to get the teachers our students need and deserve”). Read more ..

Book Reviews

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You or is it just Rock 'n Roll?

July 28th 2011

Book Covers - The buzzing in my head

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock and Roll Memoir. Steven Tyler. HarperCollins. 2011. 400 pages.

Like a meal at McDonald's, reading autobiographies of pop culture artists always seems like a better idea before I begin than after I'm finished. I start out wondering how particular works of art I've always loved got made, but by the time I'm done reading I find myself amazed that the person I've read about was actually capable of such achievements. Their tics, stories, and laments seem to demystify them to the point that putting down the book feels as if I'm finally parting after spending too long on vacation with someone I thought I liked. If familiarity doesn't breed contempt, it does engender impatience.

I've long been a fan of the rock band Aerosmith, and I've long liked its lead singer Steven Tyler, no time more so than recent stories about the graceful way he handled a wheelchair-bound woman as one of the talent judges of American Idol. Though long regarded as Rolling Stones knockoffs -- Tyler's autobiography arrives in the wake of Keith Richards' widely acclaimed Life -- Aerosmith was responsible for some of the memorable songs of the 1970s: "Dream On," "Sweet Emotion," and, of course, "Walk this Way," which received a new lease on life when it became a hip-hop hit for Run DMC in 1985.

After struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, Tyler and his bandmates enjoyed a renaissance with a string of pop hits in beginning in the late 1980s, greatly aided by some classic MTV videos (like "Crazy," starring Liv Tyler, a daughter from one of his three marriages), and had a #1 hit in 1998 with "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." In recent years, the term "rock star" has become a metaphorical term for someone who's celebrated in his field. But back in the day when rock was king, Tyler was a bona fide rock star, and a title he's riding into a celebrity retirement. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Bush's Wars: A Useful First Draft of History

July 28th 2011

Book Covers - Bush's Wars 2.1

Bush's Wars. Terry H. Anderson. Oxford. 2011. 312 pp.

It is often said that journalism is the first draft of history. Bush's Wars is presented as the first major comprehensive study of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an effort to weigh the foreign policy legacy of President George W. Bush. This is how the blurbs and publicity for the book position it, and the way Terry H. Anderson puts it in his introduction: "to 'figure out,' in Bush's words, the history of the defining policies of his presidency -- and to do it during his lifetime."

But Bush's Wars is more a report of the journalism on those wars than a scholarly assessment in its own right. Strictly speaking, a piece of academic scholarship would draw on primary source research and advance an argument that had never been systematically articulated before. Bush's Wars distills an already voluminous literature into a 240 page narrative (whose footnotes are batched a little too aggressively to track sources all that easily). Its point of the view, that the Afghan war was bungled, and that that Iraq was both launched under false pretenses and bungled, has long been the conventional wisdom in U.S. society at large. So the book doesn't really have a lot to offer in the terms on which it presents itself.

Perhaps I should be praising it with faint damnation. Bush's Wars is actually a useful little volume that may well have a long shelf life for two reasons. The first is that there is indeed nothing like it: a piece of one-stop shopping that surveys its subject in a way that manages to be both wide-ranging and succinct. The second is that while there's little here that your garden-variety news junkie wouldn't already know, there are undoubtedly a large number of people who lived through the era without knowing much about it, and a growing number of people who were too young to really remember it. It is for those people -- i.e. college students -- with whom the book should find a home as what it really is: a course adoption text. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Europe's Challenges and Vulnerabilities Following the Attack by Norway's Lone Wolf

July 28th 2011

Terrorism - Norwegian terrorism victim

On the afternoon of July 22, a powerful explosion ripped through the streets of Oslo, Norway, as a large improvised explosive device (IED) in a rented van detonated between the government building housing the prime minister’s office and Norway’s Oil and Energy Department building. According to the diary of Anders Breivik, the man arrested in the case who has confessed to fabricating and placing the device, the van had been filled with 950 kilograms (about 2,100 pounds) of homemade ammonium nitrate-based explosives.

After lighting the fuse on his IED, Breivik left the scene in a rented car and traveled to the island of Utoya, located about 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Oslo. The island was the site of a youth campout organized by Norway’s ruling Labor Party. Before taking a boat to the island, Breivik donned body armor and tactical gear bearing police insignia (intended to afford him the element of tactical surprise). Read more ..

Mexico's Wars

The Intertwined Roots and Resilience of Organized Crime in Mexico and the U.S.

July 28th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexico bullets crime scene

Mexico’s ongoing spasm of violence and mayhem is frequently portrayed in the US media as a Mexican phenomenon that threatens to spill across the nation’s borders and sweep up hapless cities in the relentless expansion of powerful, foreign criminal organizations. Looking south, many US citizens gasp in horror as they watch a mounting death toll from the so-called drug war and the seeming break-down of any semblance of civilized behavior and law and order south of the border.

In an interview, Dr. Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso and the author of articles and books on cross-border drug culture and violence, contended that a distorted picture of Mexican reality is often conveyed in this country. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

The Method of the Mad Norwegian Breivik is not Christian Fundamentalism

July 27th 2011

Europe Topics - Anders Breivik action hero
Anders Breivik

At first, the media called Anders Behring Breivik a Christian fundamentalist, some of them even a Roman Catholic. This shows the cavalier use of the word “fundamentalist” prevailing today in several quarters. In fact, Breivik is something different, as evidenced by his videos, his postings on document.no and his 1,500-page book 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence which, interestingly enough, was first made publicly available on the Internet by Kevin Slaughter, an ordained minister in Anton LaVey's Church of Satan which, by the way, has a sizeable following in Norway.

Looking at his Facebook profile, one immediately notices Breivik’s strong interest in Freemasonry and his photograph in full Masonic regalia. The apron identifies him as a member of a St. John’s Lodge of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons, the “regular” Masonic obedience in Norway. The circumstance that he was indeed a member of the Søilene St. John’s Lodge in Oslo has been confirmed by the Order, which proceeded to expel Breivik only after his imprisonment. St. John’s Lodges administer the first three Craft degrees and operate under the Swedish rite. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

Where the Violent Right meets the Violent Left

July 27th 2011

Europe Topics - Anders B Breivik
Anders Breivik

The horror of mass murder in Oslo last week begs nothing as much as distance. All the first comments were wrong. Knowledgeable people - "experts" - were sure it was Muslims and wondered why Norway was a target since Norway is certainly hospitable to Muslims and hostile - sometimes virulently hostile - to Israel. Maybe it was the Mohammed cartoons, maybe it was Norway in NATO, but something clearly made Norwegian politicians - and children - enemies of jihadist Muslims.

That didn't even make sense. Of course, the truth doesn't seem to make sense either - that it was a Norwegian man who was anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-liberal in the extreme, who rather than killing the object of his hatred killed Norwegian children. Read more ..

Medical Edge

Re-Programmed Adult Skin Cells behave like Embryonic Stem Cells for Disease Studies

July 27th 2011

Science - Stemcell electron microscope

The University of Michigan's Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies has achieved another of its primary goals: reprogramming adult skin cells so they behave like embryonic stem cells. The reprogrammed cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. They display many of the most scientifically valuable properties of embryonic stem cells while enabling researchers to bypass embryos altogether.

U-M researchers will use the iPS cells side by side with human embryonic stem cells to study the origin and progression of various diseases and to search for new treatments. Three of the consortium's first five iPS cell lines came from skin cells donated by patients with bipolar disorder and will be used to study that condition. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Photovoltaic Inverter shipments to grow to 27-GW by 2015 due to Grid Integration

July 27th 2011

Energy / Environment - solar panels and flowers

‘Smart’ photovoltaic inverter (PV) shipments are forecast to grow to 27 GW in 2015, accounting for almost 60 percent of the market compared to just 20 percent in 2010 according to the latest report from market analyst, IMS Research. The growth is being driven by utility concerns over grid imbalances, the growing proportion of photovoltaic inverters connected to the grid, as well as the need for energy storage to take advantage of self-consumption tariffs and further incorporate photovoltaic inverters into the ‘smart grid.’

According to the new IMS Research report entitled “The World Market for PV Inverters,” features such as reactive power, smart grid interaction and energy storage are transforming inverters from a simple power conversion unit into an essential component of grid infrastructure and will radically change the PV inverter market over the next five years. Tom Haddon a PV Research Analyst at IMS Research explained: “Utilities, especially in Europe, are increasingly pushing for inverters to assist in grid stabilization and conform to stricter technical requirements.”

Because of this, IMS Research forecasts that smart inverters will account for 80% of the EMEA market in 2015. Haddon commented: “Despite this, most inverter shipments will still not be “fully smart” and will only have reactive power capabilities, rather than full smart grid interaction or energy storage.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

Luxury Cars Don't Necessarily Make Us Feel Better

July 27th 2011

Automotive - BMW M1

If you think driving a luxury car like a BMW, Lexus or Cadillac makes you feel better—think again, says a University of Michigan researcher.

"Almost everyone assumes that driving a luxury car is more enjoyable than driving an economy car, but the reality is more complicated," said Norbert Schwarz, professor of marketing at Michigan's Ross School of Business. "When drivers focus on their car while driving, a luxury car is indeed more fun than an economy car. But most of the time, the driver's mind is preoccupied with the mundane issues of daily life and the car makes little difference."

In a new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Schwarz and colleague Jing Xu of Peking University explore why it is difficult for consumers to learn from their own consumption experiences. Why is it that drivers of luxury cars believe that their car is a major source of joy even though most of the time they would feel just as well in an economy car? Read more ..

Paraguay on Edge

Paraguay Faces a Challenge as Insurgents Mount Unsettling Kidnappings and Attacks

July 26th 2011

Latin American Topics - Paraguay president Lugo
President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay

The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army, or EPP) has now become a household name in Paraguay as well as among security agencies in neighboring countries. For the moment, it has focused its field of operations on kidnapping wealthy Paraguayans, only occasionally attacking Paraguay’s security forces. One of the most prominent victims of the EPP has been Fidel Zavala, who was held captive for 94 days until he was finally freed on January 17, 2010. Unfortunately, as the history of insurgent movements in general seems indicate, there is ample room for “growth” when it comes to their possible future operations. From kidnappings to murder, along with armed raids and other major attacks, this group also has been accused of kidnapping and subsequently brutally murdering Cecilia Cubas, the daughter of former Paraguayan president Raúl Cubas. Read more ..

Germany on Edge

Germany's Choice 2.0: Mittel Europa Redux

July 26th 2011

Europe Topics - German skyline

Seventeen months ago, we described how the future of Europe was bound to the decision-making processes in Germany. Throughout the post-World War II era, other European countries treated Germany as a feeding trough, bleeding the country for resources (primarily financial) in order to smooth over the rougher portions of their systems. Considering the carnage wrought in World War II, most Europeans — and even many Germans — considered this perfectly reasonable right up to the current decade. Germany dutifully followed the orders of the others, most notably the French, and wrote check after check to underwrite European solidarity.

However, with the end of the Cold War and German reunification, the Germans began to stand up for themselves once again. Europe’s contemporary financial crisis can be as complicated as one wants to make it, but strip away all the talk of bonds, defaults and credit-default swaps and the core of the matter consists of these three points:
Europe cannot function as a unified entity unless someone is in control. Read more ..

Marching Rightward

Europe's Extreme Right has Cleaned up its Act but Still may Contemplate Direct Action

July 26th 2011

Hungary Jobbik party svastika
JOBBIK party rally in Hungary

The attack in Norway has prompted a debate in Europe over whether the recent electoral success of far-right parties has had any causal linkages to the attack of extremism on full display in Oslo.

Recent success of far-right parties across Europe has actually a lot to do with the fact that the extremist far right has cleaned up and become part of the mainstream. One of the main avenues of electoral success has been the idea that the far right, especially in Nordic and northern Europe — so countries such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands — that the far right in these countries is actually the last bastion of liberalism and protector of European-styled tolerance. The idea being that the reason these parties are anti-immigrant is because immigrants coming to Europe, specifically Muslims, are intolerant and that they therefore cannot be part of a tolerant, liberal society. This has played very well with voters in northern Europe. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Canada's Quiet Hegemony in Latin America and Destructive Mining

July 26th 2011

Latin American Topics - Peruvian miners strike at Puno

Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, and in 2004 its world market share accounted for 60 percent of all mining companies. In fact, the entire Latin American region is second only to Canada in terms of the breadth of its mining exploration and development activity. In what some call the “halo effect,” Canadian industries have been perceived as the more conscientious alternative to their U.S. equivalents. Since Canadian industries are understood to have socially responsible practices, especially in contrast to those of American companies, they are typically welcomed abroad.

Nonetheless, recent accusations that the Canadian mining company Pacific Rim played a role in the death squad killings of anti-mining activists in El Salvador has brought this reputation into question, while further investigation into the Canadian government’s regulation reveals that the government has mandated no true restrictions on its industry’s mining practices abroad. Read more ..

Race for Solar

Renewable Energy Appears to Re-Charge Germany's Economy

July 26th 2011

Energy Topics - German solar power

Professor Eicke Weber, spokesperson for the Fraunhofer Energy Alliance, says that the transition to renewable energy is set to deliver an economic pay off in the years to come and points out that various studies show a shift to alternative energy sources will raise the GNP in the coming decade and create new jobs. “Germany has the chance to take the global lead in the shift of a large-scale economy to renewable energy, with numerous advantages in the further development of these technologies and the corresponding creation of jobs. I cannot imagine a more effective, sustainable economic stimulus program than this process,” asserted Prof. Weber. Read more ..

Ancient Edge

Best-Preserved House Discovered of Kingdom of Israel is 3,000 Years Old

July 26th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Israel dig, Dr Shay Bar, Univ Haifa
Credit: Dr Shay Bar, Univ. of Haifa

In addition to many findings dating back to the Kingdom of Israel (some 3,000 years ago), remains of a Persian city (2,400 years ago) and a Byzantine town (1,500 years ago) have been exposed at the site. Plans are in place to develop the excavation site as a public archaeology park

Exceptional detective-archaeological work at the first season of archaeological digs at Tel Shikmona, on the southern edge of Israel's city of Haifa, has uncovered the remains of a house dating back to the period of the Kingdom of Israel. The site was excavated about 40 years ago and due to neglect and layers of earth and garbage that piled up over the decades, the historical remains were hidden and little was known about what lay below. Read more ..

Ancient Edge

Ancient Tsunami May have Buried the City of the Original Olympics

July 26th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Temple of Hera - Olympia

Olympia, site of the famous Temple of Zeus and original venue of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, was presumably destroyed by repeated tsunamis that travelled considerable distances inland, and not by earthquake and river floods as has been assumed to date. Evidence in support of this new theory on the virtual disappearance of the ancient cult site on the Peloponnesian peninsula comes from Professor Dr Andreas Vött of the Institute of Geography of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. Vött investigated the site as part of a project in which he and his team are studying the paleotsunamis that occurred along the coastlines of the eastern Mediterranean over the last 11,000 years. Read more ..

Ancient Americans

War: What is It Good For?

July 26th 2011

Latin American Topics - Inca woman

Warfare, triggered by political conflict between the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D., likely shaped the development of the first settlement that would classify as a civilization in the Titicaca basin of southern Peru, a new UCLA study suggests.

Charles Stanish, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Abigail Levine, a UCLA graduate student in anthropology, used archaeological evidence from the basin, home to a number of thriving and complex early societies during the first millennium B.C., to trace the evolution of two larger, dominant states in the region: Taraco, along the Ramis River, and Pukara, in the grassland pampas.

"This study is part of a larger, worldwide comparative research effort to define the factors that gave rise to the first societies that developed public buildings, widespread religions and regional political systems — or basically characteristics associated with ancient states or what is colloquially known as 'civilization,'" said Stanish, who is also a professor of anthropology at UCLA. "War, regional trade and specialized labor are the three factors that keep coming up as predecessors to civilization."

The findings appear online in the latest edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more ..

The Media Edge

A Whiff of Totalitarianism and Anti-Semitic Hypocrisy in Hungary's new Media Law

July 25th 2011

Europe Topics - Hungary Jobbik party rally
Members of Hungary's Jobbik party

Hungary's new media law, which went into effect on July 1, carries a distinctly unpleasant whiff of the country's fascist and communist past.

Under its provisions, all media outlets are required to register with a body called the Media Council. The council is empowered to impose fines of nearly $1 million upon those publications and broadcasters deemed to have "insulted" a particular group, along with an amorphous entity defined as "the majority." If a publication violates "public morality," it faces a fine. If its news coverage is judged "imbalanced," ditto. And woe betide any journalist who refuses an order from the council to disclose his sources.

With this one measure, Hungary has unraveled an emblematic achievement of those largely peaceful 1989-90 revolutions that brought communism crashing down across Eastern Europe -- namely, the freedom of the press. Instead of nurturing an environment conducive to free inquiry, the law creates a climate of fear and distrust, one of the hallmarks of totalitarian rule.

To add insult to injury, two recent cases have emerged that demonstrate that the media law is being applied with a scandalous double standard. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Egypt’s Enduring Challenges--Policy Recommendations

July 25th 2011

Egypt - cairo at night
Cairo at Night (credit: Hyo Lee)

This country is 7,000 years old. It has seen so many transitions … and our last transition was through the assassination of our former president [Anwar Sadat], and yet we were able to steady the course.
— Former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Nazif, September 29, 2010

For the past thirty years, Washington has relied on Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, along with Israel, to form the foundation of its regional security architecture. While authoritarianism has contributed to growing resentment and ultimately instability at home, Egypt under Mubarak was a decades-long partner, helping the United States advance its core objectives of peace and stability in the Middle East. For Egyptians, the Papyrus Revolution and the end of the Mubarak era have been an unmitigated cause for celebration and optimism. For the United States, however, this period of transition is characterized by trepidation as well as hope. Read more ..

The Race for Connectivity

Politically-connected LightSquared Pushes Wireless Internet Plan despite GPS Interference Concerns

July 25th 2011

Technology - gps devices

When the Federal Communications Commission granted LightSquared Inc. expedited approval to launch a new wireless Internet service, some powerful voices in Washington expressed alarm, including the Pentagon and one-third of the U.S. Senate.

LightSquared’s bold $14 billion plan, its detractors said, could cripple Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems and threaten aviation safety, disrupt military and rescue operations, and interfere with high-tech farming equipment and the everyday navigation devices used by millions.

LightSquared says it has pursued its case through official channels. But little gets done in the nation’s capital without some kind of political connection, and in this regard, LightSquared’s bloodline is particularly rich. Its ties to President Obama’s supporters and the administration’s policy interests run deep, explaining the company’s ability to do battle with powerful entrenched interests. Read more ..

Travel South of the Border

Mexico's Tourism Industry Takes a Nose Dive as the Narco-war Grows Ever More Heated

July 25th 2011

Mexican Topics - Spent cartridges Mexico

Back in the summer of 2010, Mexican Tourism Secretary Gloria Guevara stood before a crowd in Beverly Hills and proclaimed a new strategy to recapture US visitors. In a speech, Guevara stressed the myriad cultural amenities her country offers tourists.

“Mexico has 29 sites that are patrimonies of humanity, 62 ethnic groups and more than 30,000 archaeological zones,” Guevara told an audience in the star-studded city of the rich and famous. “We are number two in the world for luxury tourism.”

But a year after Guevara’s presentation, and some months after President Calderon declared 2011 “The Year of Tourism” in Mexico, the campaign has fallen flat. Read more ..

Economy on Edge

CFPB Wish Lists Urge Action on Mortgages, Payday Loans, Prepaid Cards

July 25th 2011

Economy - richard cordray, cfpb-designate
Richard Cordray, Obama’s Nominee for CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has opened for business. Its mailbox is already piled high with wish-lists from consumer advocacy groups about what the new agency should tackle first.

While consumer groups cheer the arrival of the CFPB, the banking industry and other financial services providers such as payday lenders, debt collectors, consumer credit bureaus, and credit card issuers are less enthusiastic and worry that any new regulations could be costly and burdensome. Many Republican lawmakers share those concerns and have threatened to block the Senate nomination of Richard Cordray to head the agency.

Until the CFPB has a confirmed director in place, the bureau is limited to enforcing existing consumer protection regulations and generally cannot propose new rules.

Here is a closer look at some of the most common requests from consumer groups to the CFPB. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia’s Perfect Storm … of Human Error

July 25th 2011

Russian Topics - volga rescue crew

The rain was light. The winds were moderate, And the waves were only one meter high.

Russia’s mid-July shipping tragedy was a perfect storm—of human error.

The Volga riverboat Bulgaria was designed to carry 140 people, but it was loaded with 208. Most of the 59 children seem to have been waved on board without tickets. Almost two thirds had the same birth date: Dec. 30, 1999.

Launched shortly after Stalin died and last overhauled in 1980, the 56-year-old Bulgaria was no longer licensed to carry passengers. But, oddly, on June 15, a Russian river inspector signed off on its seaworthiness. Read more ..

Politics on Edge

A Terrible Gamble

July 25th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong_Williams

If you’ve been living in the United States during the past three months and you’re not aware of this “debt crisis” everyone inside the Beltway is talking about, then you’ve been living under a rock.

The sad truth is, the rest of the world knows about it as well, they’re watching, and let’s just say they’re even more scared than we are on these shores. The reason? The U.S. dollar acts as the reserve currency for hosts of commodities traded every second of every day around the world. Further, the dollar also acts as the “pegged” currency from which many more goods and services are linked, most notably oil.

And anyone waking up yesterday in London would have read this headline in the the London Sunday Times, “Washington Plays Poker with World Economy.” The editorial from which that headline came goes on to say, “It would be unthinkable now were it not for a dangerous stand-off between the White House and Congress over the country’s debt … With this humiliating and destabilising threat hanging over them, one would expect politicians in Washington would be rushing to strike a deal. Far from it. They are engaged in a game of political brinkmanship. The US economy is in danger of looking alarmingly dysfunctional.” Read more ..

Financial Jihad

Selling Land to Jews Punishable by Death, says PA Law

July 25th 2011

Israel Topics - jerusalem from mt of olives
View of Jerusalem from Mount of Olives

Israel supporters are sounding the alarm on a controversial law in the Palestinian Authority that forbids Arabs from selling land to Jews.

On the Mount of Olives, a large Israeli flag flies over a house where one man was possibly killed over the PA decree.

“Who killed him nobody knows, but it was because of the house,” said resident Abraham.

Abraham’s brother Mohammed was accused of selling the house to Jewish settlers. Just days after the new residents moved in, Mohammed’s dead body was found on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem. Read more ..

Justice on Edge

Interpol’s Red Notices Used by Some to Pursue Political Dissenters, Opponents

July 25th 2011

Crime Topics - interpol hq

When Iranian political activist Rasoul Mazrae sought shelter from his own government, he fled, headed for Norway via Syria.

He was followed by a petition from Iranian officials that Interpol, the international police agency, list him as a fugitive. Despite the United Nations recognizing him as a political refugee , the same Syrian government that today is cracking down on its own dissidents used that Interpol alert to deport Mazrae to Iran in 2006.

Mazrae was jailed for two years. His family told a UN rapporteur he was tortured to the point of paralysis, had blood in his urine, and lost all of his teeth.

Mazrae was sentenced to death, and human rights observers lost track of him. “We are not aware that his death penalty has been carried out, but we cannot be absolutely sure,” said James Lynch of Amnesty International. Read more ..

The Financial Edge

Money Laundering and Financial Crime: The Cayman Islands in a Global Perspective

July 25th 2011

Economy - money laundering

It does not take long for a visitor to the Caymans to realise that the 1993 film “The Firm” still arouses the ire of those in the Cayman financial sector. Even today in certain circles Cayman is synonymous with money laundering and other financial misdeeds. Others however recognise that Cayman is far from the world’s money laundering haven and is in fact exploited by fraudsters because of its record of political and financial stability.

Cayman is certainly a financial success. A February 2010 International Monetary Fund paper titled “Cross- Border Investment in Small International Centers” reported that Bank for International Settlements statistics “indicate that banks resident in the Cayman Islands held over $1.7 trillion in assets at the end of 2008 (more than Italy, Portugal, and Spain combined).” And the March 2010 Global Financial Centres Index ranked Cayman as 28th in the world, tied with Edinburgh and Seoul and right ahead of Dublin, Hamilton and Munich.

Despite its negative image in certain circles, it is telling to review material where Cayman is found to be unremarkable or is not found at all. A simple check of indexes of relevant books shows that the Cayman Islands is not listed in The Money Launderers: Lessons From The Drug Wars: How Billions of Illegal Dollars Are Washed Through Banks & Businesses (1992), Washed in Gold: The Story Behind the Biggest Money Laundering Investigation in US History (1994), nor in Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel (2009). Other significant books make little reference to Cayman. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

“Palestine,” The World’s Most Economically and Politically Coddled Entity

July 25th 2011

Palestine Topics - Gaza aerial shot 2011

SkyNews reporter Tim Marshall points out what other reporters don’t … point out.

“There are well over 200 NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza, and 30% of the GDP here comes from international aid. Palestinians are among the most foreign aid funded people in the world and the place is awash with money …”

“The billions that pour in here mean the Palestinian Authority does not need to try very hard to deliver the services expected by voters, it also stifles the private sector, inflates wages and causes an internal ‘brain drain’ … ”

“No Palestinian business can compete with NGOs which routinely triple what a local firm would pay …” Read more ..

Financial Jihad

BDS and Limited Boycotts: a Distinction without a Difference?

July 25th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Gerald Steinberg

Since independence in 1948, Israel has been confronted by boycott campaigns, beginning with the Arab League’s extensive embargo that continues in many countries. The objective of this form of warfare was and remains the rejection of the sovereign Jewish nation-state, regardless of boundaries.

In 2001, the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum of the United Nation’s Durban “World Conference against Racism” expanded this campaign in the form of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. The NGOs at Durban, including global powers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, adopted a final declaration, sponsored by Palestinians and written during a preparatory conference in Tehran, calling for “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation, and training) between all states and Israel.”

After Durban, the BDS movement’s first action in 2002 focused on a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, led by British trade union activists and NGOs. Additional campaigns target large Israeli firms (including banks), export products, and tourism. The NGO boycott movement has become a major form of “soft power” warfare, reinforcing the ongoing security threats faced by Israel. Read more ..

Tibet on Edge

The Free Tibet Lobby is Hardly Cheap

July 25th 2011

Asia Topics - tibet govt in exile emblem

Free Tibet isn’t cheap: China criticized President Barack Obama recently for meeting with the Dalai Lama, the prominent Tibetan spiritual leader who is visiting the United States. China has occupied Tibet since the 1949 Communist revolution, attracting international criticism and numerous public relations efforts on the part of the Chinese government. The Himalayan region, however, has had a longstanding effort in Washington to lobby the U.S. government for support in the form of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The group, which spent $160,000 on lobbying in 2009 and $145,000 in 2010, advocates for assistance to Tibet on a number of different issues. The group’s first-quarter report shows it spent $50,000 during the first three months of the year and was represented by lobbyist Todd Stein. Stein has lobbied for assistance to Tibetan refugees and Tibetan communities within Tibet. He’s also lobbied for Tibetan Fulbright scholarships, broadcasting entities, and exchange programs, according to lobbying records. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

OMB Dodges Subpoena on Solyndra Solar Investigation

July 25th 2011

Economy - solyndra plant groundbreaking
Solyndra plant groundbreaking, 2009 (credit: Solyndra)

The Obama administration’s budget office dodged a deadline Friday to hand over subpoenaed documents sought as part of a congressional investigation into a politically-connected solar panel manufacturer.

The Office of Budget and Management didn’t send over the requested documents—internal emails, memos and letters from OMB and anything in their possession from other offices—demanded in the subpoena from a House energy subcommittee on July 14 . But OMB promised to make a “substantial” number of internal documents and emails available for committee staff to review, said OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer. Read more ..

The Urban Edge

Need a Taxi? There’s an App for That

July 25th 2011

Technology - get-taxi screenshot

Israel’s GetTaxi mobile phone application puts an end to running down the street with an outstretched arm—and benefits drivers as well.

Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City showed us how strategic one must be when grabbing a taxicab. It’s not only a cutthroat business where people jump around each other to get the first cab; you can get splashed on, taken for a scenic ride if you aren’t a local, or worse, wait forever until a cab comes your way. Not to mention the occasional crime against rider or driver.

A new Israeli app rolling out in Israel, London and then Paris, Berlin, Moscow, and beyond points the way for changing the century-old tradition of hailing a cab with your hand or reserving by phone call and standing around waiting.

The company, GetTaxi has developed an application that can be downloaded to your mobile phone. Tap on the screen, and the request is delivered to a call center. Like watching Pac-man travel around the computer screen, you can watch in real-time as your taxi approaches where you are waiting. Simultaneously, users receive information about their driver, including picture, name, license number and ratings by other GetTaxi users. Read more ..

Egypt after Mubarak

Muslim Brotherhood Now Opposes Protests as Zionist Plot

July 25th 2011

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

Here’s how revolutions—at least ultimately undemocratic ones—work. During the initial phase, when protests are against the old regime, they are cheered as symbols of freedom. Once the old regime has been overthrown, however, protests against government policies immediately become actions by counterrevolutionary subversives that should be suppressed.
The scene switches to … the great Egyptian democratic revolution.

The official Muslim Brotherhood website, Ikhwan Online, has now accused former Mubarak government saboteurs and “their Zionist allies” of trying to destabilize Egypt by infiltrating ongoing protests in Tahrir Square. That opens the door, of course, to a future Egyptian government banning demonstrations on the grounds that they are being fomented by counterrevolutionary reactionary Zionist American imperialist running dogs. Read more ..

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