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Archive for October 2011

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The Weapon's Edge

Pentagon’s Accounting Shambles May Cost Additional $1 Billion

October 31st 2011

Military - The Pentagon

The Pentagon, which previously warned that reliable military spending figures could not be produced until 2017, has discovered that financial ledgers are in worse shape than expected and it may need to spend a billion dollars more to make DOD’s financial accounting credible, according to defense officials and congressional sources.

Experts say the Pentagon’s accounting has never been reliable. A lengthy effort by the military services to implement new financial systems at a cost so far of more than $6 billion has itself been plagued by overruns and delays, senior defense officials say. The Government Accountability Office said in a report last month that although the services can now fully track incoming appropriations, they still cannot demonstrate their funds are being spent as they should. Read more ..

The Sporting Edge

Olympics Don't Accurately Detect Female Sprinters' False Starts

October 31st 2011

Sports Topics - female sprinter

Olympic timing procedures don't accurately detect false starts by female sprinters, according to a new analysis by University of Michigan researchers.

Under the current rules, a woman can purposely anticipate the gun by up to 20 milliseconds, or one-fiftieth of a second, without getting called for a false start, the researchers say.

"This is unfair to the other women in the race because a medal can be won or lost in 20 milliseconds," said James Ashton-Miller, the Albert Schultz Collegiate Research Professor in the College of Engineering, the Institute of Gerontology and the School of Kinesiology.

The findings, published in PLoS One (Public Library of Science), have implications beyond competitive sports. They provide insights into the fastest whole-body reaction times humans are capable of, and they could possibly inform automobile brake engineering, the researchers say.

Olympic officials use the same criteria to disqualify both male and female sprinters for jumping the gun. A "false start" occurs if an athlete applies an estimated 25 kilogram force to the starting blocks within a tenth of a second (100 milliseconds) of the gun. Why 100 milliseconds? That was thought to be the fastest possible human reaction time. It's a threshold largely based on a 1990 study of eight Finnish sprinters, none of whom were Olympians and none of whom were women. Read more ..

The Race for Batteries

Paper-Thin Fully-Printed Battery gets Big Charge of Cash

October 31st 2011

Energy Topics - paper battery

The Paper Battery Company has been selected to receive a $1 million award from The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to continue development of a fully printed energy-storage device that is as thin as a piece of paper. NYSERDA's funding will be matched by the company and private investors.

Ultracapacitors are energy-storage devices that give off short bursts of energy. In one application, these devices are used by computer manufacturers to provide emergency power to allow equipment to finish processing and save critical data changes in the event of a power outage or other problem, potentially eliminating the need for energy-inefficient lead acid battery UPS systems.

The technology also has a variety of clean energy applications, including hybrid electric cars (for rapid acceleration and regenerative braking), flexible solar panels, and other products that require high power and long charge/discharge cycle lives. Read more ..

The Race for Smart Grid

Smart Grid research collaboration aims to develop a Renewable Ireland

October 31st 2011

Science - superconducting fibers

Leading European energy and ICT companies, R&D centers and universities, including ESB, Intune Networks and the Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG) are teaming up as part of a €5million for EU Collaboration to develop innovative “smart grid” energy solutions and services for homes, buildings, industry and the transport infrastructure.

The project aims to identify the requirements of a “smart grid” ICT system. Smart grids provide a balance between the supply of energy generated and demand. They can integrate advanced information and communication technology (ICT) into the energy distribution network so that electricity delivery is remotely controlled and automatically optimized. Read more ..

Honduras on Edge

No End of Impunity for Assassins of the Journalists of Honduras

October 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - Dead Journalists Society

As always, but with an unusual quota of aggression since 2010, freedom of speech and the personal security of Honduran journalists are under permanent attack from groups, gangs, and individuals who launch their strikes under a cloak of anonymity. The journalist Medardo Flores, a relentless supporter of former President Manuel Zelaya, is the latest victim of the wave of violence directed toward members of the Honduran working press. With all the disrespect attributable to the government of Porfirio Lobo, as demonstrated here, it is not unreasonable to presume that the perpetrators, along with their underlying political motives, want to silence such journalists at any cost.

“President Lobo, who is killing the journalists?” is the question that is being raised by various national and international bodies, though they are only answered with silence and impunity. This prolonged state of deeply disturbing uncertainty has all but eliminated freedom of expression and investigative journalism in the country, two concepts that Hondurans badly need to protect their fragile, budding democracy and extremely delicate human rights situation. The dark forces behind this wave of menacing injustice comprise a broad collection of foreboding tactics ranging from common violence to political violence to the activities of drug cartels, which have silenced journalists reporting on the subject of corruption and other crimes related to narco-trafficking out of fear of losing their lives. Read more ..

Haiti After the Quake

Haitians are Less Than Pleased with UN Presence as Abuses Mount

October 31st 2011

UN Topics - UN peacekeepers in Haiti

In a unanimous resolution, the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council decided on Friday, October 14, 2011 to renew the mandate of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for one year, reducing its numbers to “pre-earthquake levels.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has declared that he “envisions a gradual withdrawal” over the upcoming years.

According to journalist Ansel Herz, many Haitians have been protesting MINUSTAH’s presence for at least a year. “There’s a [wide] range of demands,” he asserts, “Some people want MINUSTAH… to simply leave… Others are asking that they transform their mission from one of military so-called peacekeeping into development.” Read more ..

Colombia on Edge

Colombia's Dire Choices in Addressing Narco-Terrorism

October 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - President Santos of Colombia
President Jose Manuel Santos of Colombia

Throughout the last year, a number of serious questions have been raised over the tools employed by the former Uribe administration (2002-2010) to establish and maintain a secure, stable Colombia. The August 31, 2011 resignation of Rodrigo Rivera, Defense Minister under the recently inaugurated president Juan Manuel Santos, presents a useful opportunity to reflect on the security policy under the new head of state and Colombia’s qualifications as a free trade partner.

Up until now, President Santos appears to have maintained the overall security language and posture employed by the Uribe regime: a repertoire of terms familiar to the post-September-11 world. This indicates that labeling enemies as ‘terrorists’ and more specifically in Colombia as ‘narco-terrorists’ is the order of the day. With the ten-year anniversary of September 11 just past, one may reflect on the ramifications of such carefully crafted and precisely targeted language observed in the last decade of Colombian foreign policy. This language, to a large extent, removes the possibility of a real political solution, and in its place, frames the politics of war and violence as the only viable means of achieving peace in the violence-wrecked nation of Colombia. Read more ..

Edge on the Americas

Feminicide and Entry of Women into Narcotics Trade Opens a New Era of Drug Trafficking

October 30th 2011

Mexican Topics - Laura Zuniga Huizar
Former Miss Sinaloa Laura Zuniga Huizar

While men have predominantly run drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), women have participated in them since the 1920s. Their role may have appeared miniscule compared to that of their male counterparts, but they have played key roles such as drug mules and bosses. According to an interview with Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso, conducted by the Latin American Advisor, women, such as Ignacia Jasso de González (alias ‘La Nacha’) and María Dolores Estévez Zuleta (aka ‘Lola La Chata’) were prominent figures in drug dealing and trafficking in the 1920s and 1950s.

Although women have been active in DTOs for many years, even at times taking on dominant roles, only in the past ten years have they become increasingly visible in the media. The notion that women do not regularly participate and are not affected by DTOs is demonstrably obsolete. Women today are acting as equal partners in all aspects of drug trafficking, from running crews to laundering funds, resulting in the rise of incarcerated and violently treated women. A glance into women’s association with DTOs reveals an increased crime rate, as well as the adversities that drug trafficking predictably brings upon them, and a clear lack of solutions to these often dangerous conditions.

Direct Effects of Drug Trafficking

In this era, it comes as no surprise that women have become more involved in the drug business. In the past, women could be counted on to struggle for their right to be loosely a part of a male- dominated world, not only in Latin America, but also around the globe. Over time, women have tended to enter many industries that were previously appealing to men. The same is true with drug trafficking, a very profitable business, with between $18 and $35 billion in drug earnings per year, according to U.S. authorities. It is not surprising that women gradually have increased their degree of participation. Once men started recruiting women as paid mules, their involvement escalated, as did the degree of violence. Read more ..

The Arab Fall

Israel seeks Calm and Displays Strength after Jihadi rocket Attacks

October 30th 2011

Palestine Topics - Dead Islamic jihadis

 The border between Israel and the Gaza Strip remains tense after an eruption of deadly violence on October 29. Israel and the Islamic Jihad group are signaling they are interested in an informal ceasefire after a wave of tit-for-tat attacks on the Gaza border. Israel launched several air strikes on Islamic Jihad targets on October 29, while Palestinians fired more than 20 rockets at border communities in southern Israel. Nine Palestinian militants and an Israeli civilian were killed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country does not want an escalation, but he issued a strong warning to Palestinian militant groups in Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu told the Knesset that Israel would respond harshly to any Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks. "Whoever attacks us," said Netanyahu, "his blood will be on his own head."

Netanyahu said on October 30 that "there is no cease fire" in the south, in reference to the recent escalation in violence along the Gaza border. Speaking at a special cabinet meeting, the prime minister warned, "The other side will pay a higher price then they have already paid, until they stop firing."

The Arab Fall

Let us Extend a Hand to Those Imperiled by Radical Islam

October 30th 2011

Arab Topics - Golan Hts protesters 062011

Earlier this year, the world was abuzz with news of the “Arab Spring.” As protesters took to the streets in great numbers, and as one oppressive Arab regime after another fell, it seemed to many that a new branch of liberty was flowering in this troubled part of the world.

There were others, however, who sounded a note of skepticism. Since there is no longstanding tradition of democracy in Arab countries, they cautioned, there was little reason to believe that the removal of oppressive dictators would result in the establishment of democratic forms of government.

Sadly, it seems the skeptics were right. Power vacuums that have been created in Arab countries where regimes have changed in recent months have not been filled by those seeking greater democracy and pluralism. They have been filled — or are in the process of being filled — by adherents of the intolerant, hateful ideology of radical Islam. It happened again earlier this week, when the interim leader in Libya, which recently lost its tyrannical ruler with the death of the murderous Muammar Gaddafi, promised that post-Gaddafi Libya will be ruled by the dictates of strict Islamic law. Read more ..

Edge on Historical Archaeology

Archaeologists Discover Historical Artifacts of Australians at Gallipoli Battlefield

October 30th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Aussie canteen from Gallipoli
Aussie canteen with bullet hole, from Gallipoli.

More than one hundred artifacts from the First World War have been uncovered in an archaeological fieldwork survey on the Gallipoli battlefield in Turkey, leading to some interesting theories about life on the frontline, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Warren Snowdon said according to a press statement. 

Snowdon said the discoveries were made as part of a second season of fieldwork undertaken as part of the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey – the only systematic survey of the battlefields of Gallipoli since the First World War.

“This survey covered the northern frontline areas on the Turkish and Allied sides. One of the most significant finds was the Malone’s Terraces area at Quinn’s Post,” he said.

William Malone commanded New Zealand’s Wellington Infantry Battalion. Malone’s men relieved the Australians at Quinn’s Post in June 1915. This was a key position, where even the smallest advance by the Turk’s would have forced the evacuation of the Anzacs.

Malone, who was killed during the fight for Chunuk Bair on August 8, 1915, greatly improved living arrangements at the post, including building terraces for troops to sleep in. These terraces were thought to have been lost. Read more ..

Significant Events

Investigative Author Edwin Black Headlined Conference, Received First 'Moral Courage' Award

October 30th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

An extraordinary conference designed to recognize and promote “moral courage” convened in San Diego late in October. The Initiative for Moral Courage held its first annual conference on the campuses of San Diego State University and California State University at San Marcos. The conference topics of the inaugural session focused on various twentieth century genocides, authors who have exposed them, and individuals who stood up to them against the odds. Hence, the salute to moral courage, and the awards given to carefully selected recipients.

To salute brave survivors and chroniclers, this year’s conference featured presentations by award-winning author and investigative journalist Edwin Black on the connection between American and Nazi eugenics and Richard G. Hovannisian on the Armenian genocide orchestrated by the Turks. It also covered a host of other mass murders, from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Rwanda to Cambodia.

The first major event was on October 29 and included a graphic presentation of panels titled “The Rescuers.” This was an exhibition of photographs and extraordinary stories from the Holocaust, and the genocides that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Cambodia. Remarkable stories emerged of ordinary heroes who resisted overwhelming tides of prejudice and violence and risked their lives saving people from enemy groups. It helps to understand the presence of rescue behavior during genocide or mass violence. The exhibition’s rationale was to design ways to build in protective measures against this type of violence

Then, on October 30, an afternoon series explored “Genocides Past and Present.” Opening the day was award-winning investigative author Edwin Black, whose book War Against the Weak has changed the face and course of society’s understanding of the dark links between American and Nazi eugenics. Based on selective breeding of humans, eugenics began in laboratories in the U.S. but ended in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. War Against the Weak is described by the program as “the gripping chronicle documenting how American corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the United States, and helped found and fund the Nazi eugenics of Hitler and Mengele. Winner of the Best Book of the Year, International Human Rights.” Black demonstrated moral courage in standing up to the power of the Carnegie Institution and Rockefeller Foundation, which funded, orchestrated, and inflicted both American and Nazi eugenics.

Author Black commented, “In an era of increasing focus on political expediency, the effort to revive and foster the notion of moral courage is sorely needed.” He credited the vision of organizer Jackie Gmach in bringing the effort to national attention. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

New Archaeological Evidence of Early Hunters Dates Earliest Americans to 12,000 BCE

October 29th 2011

Science - Mastodon bones

A new and astonishing chapter has been added to North American prehistory in regards to the first hunters and their hunt for the now extinct giant mammoth-like creatures – the mastodons. Professor Eske Willerslev’s team from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, has in collaboration with Michael Waters’ team at the Center for the Study of the First Americans, University of Texas A&M, shown that the hunt for large mammals occurred at least 1,000 years before previously assumed.

This new study concludes that the first-known hunters in North America can now be dated back at least 14,000 years. The results are published today in the internationally renowned scientific journal Science.

“I am sure that especially the Native Americans are pleased with the results of the study. It is further proof that humans have been present in North America for longer than previously believed. The “Clovis First” theory, which many scientists swore to just a few years back, has finally been buried with the conclusions of this study,” says Professor Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

'Balanced' Approach Needed to Solve Food Insecurity in Central Africa

October 29th 2011

Africa Topics - African subsistence farming

The polarized debate over the use of organic and inorganic practices to boost farm yields is slowing action and widespread farmer adoption of approaches that could radically transform Africa's food security situation, according to a group of leading international scientists meeting in Kigali this week.

"The ideological divide over approaches to farm production are a distraction from the actions needed to address food security now and ensure it in the future," said Nteranya Sanginga, director general designate of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). "Persistently high food prices and low farm yields are weakening Central Africa's food security and putting the region's fragile stability and economic growth at risk."

"Climate change, rapid population growth, and intense land pressure are major challenges for the region. It's time to focus on practical, evidence-based solutions that will forever end the cycle of hunger, poverty and civil conflict," he added. Read more ..

Edge on Human Population

Human Development outweighs Sheer Numbers in Overpopulation Debate

October 29th 2011

Social Topics - Wimbleton crowd

As the global media speculate on the number of people likely to inhabit the planet on Oct. 31, an international team of population and development experts argue that it is not simply the number of people that matters but more so their distribution by age, education, health status and location that is most relevant to local and global sustainability.

Any realistic attempt to achieve sustainable development must focus primarily on the human wellbeing and be founded on an understanding of the inherent differences in people in terms of their differential impact on the environment and their vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are often closely associated with age, gender, lack of education, and poverty.

These are some of the messages formulated by twenty of the world's leading experts in population, development and environment who met at IIASA in Austria in September 2011, with the objective of defining the critical elements of the interactions between the human population and sustainable development. The Laxenburg Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Mujahideen Attack on U.S. Embassy Spikes Fears of Islamists in Bosnia

October 29th 2011

Terrorism - Bosnian mujahideen in Sarajevo embassy attack

In Sarajevo, Irma Maric's Friday afternoon on October 28 was shattered by gunfire. She describes watching a brazen 30-minute rifle assault carried out by a suspected Islamist on the U.S. embassy unfold from her office window:

"I looked out of the window and I saw people running, like kids, also. They were [fleeing], because of the fear...When you see, through the window, people lying down on the streets, it's the first thing I remember: the 1990s in Sarajevo," Maric said.

The Bosnian capital was under siege during the region's 1992-1995 war. Maric, a 28-year-old born and raised in Sarajevo, describes the city as calm today.

Political and religious leaders in the Balkans are voicing concerns over what some are describing as a "terrorist" attack on the embassy on October 28. The building has been temporarily closed. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Nokia Tries Again with New Windows Phones

October 28th 2011

Technology - Nokia 710 & 800
Nokia 710 and 800

On October 26, at Nokia World in London, the Finnish phone maker unveiled its first two Windows Phone powered devices, the Nokia Lumia 800 and the Nokia Lumia 710, running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango.

The higher end Lumia 800 with its 3.7 inch AMOLED display, 1.4 GHz processor, 8 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera and 16 GB of embedded memory is targeted to compete with the likes of Apple’s iPhone 4S and Samsung’s Galaxy S II, while the Lumia 710, with a 5 megapixel camera and 8GB of embedded memory, is aimed more at the mid-tier segment. Both phones boast a 1450 mAh battery.

“This is a slim and sleek, well designed phone, featuring a best in class camera and it has some strong key selling points,” said IDC’s Francisco Jeronimo of the Lumia 800, though he admitted the phone may have trouble competing in a market where Android and iOS still dominate. The Lumia 710, he said, was more of a dark horse in that it had surprised the mid-tier segment with a device it wasn’t expecting until the second quarter of 2012. “This is the most affordable 1.4 GHz processor device, a mid price-tier handset with high-end specs,” he said. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Health Information Technology: Keep it Simple

October 28th 2011

Health/Medicine - Docs and Tech
credit: Emma Schwartz/iWatch News

Making electronic record-keeping systems easier for health providers to use can help prevent dangerous or even fatal mistakes, says the draft of a project by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

The draft, titled “Technical Evaluation, Testing and Validation of the Usability of Electronic Health Records,” is available for informal public comment until Nov. 10, 2011. It provides guidance from NIST, a technical research agency within the Department of Commence, for testing electronic health record-keeping systems to make sure they are understandable for health care practitioners. The draft was released in September. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

Libya Mission A Success … Go Home

October 28th 2011

Libya - Gadhafi statue gets kicked

Another chapter of the Arab Spring concluded with Gadhafi’s death. The US played a significant financial role in tumbling his regime. We lost no troops and avoided political turmoil by putting no boots on the ground. There are important lessons that can be learned, such as the use of counterterrorism exercises and technology as opposed to flesh and blood to win wars. We should study and learn how to enhance our ability to effect regime change without risking the lives of military personnel. Gadhafi is like many other dictators, including Saddam Hussein, he needed to be removed for the sake of the people. Hopefully, our future military exercises will be based on such humanitarian principles and not on political expediency or the agendas of our foreign allies. Read more ..

The Weapons Edge

Windfalls of War: Taxpayers Get Hammered by Pentagon’s Attempts to “One-stop Shop”

October 28th 2011

Military - KC-135, A-10s, and F-16s
credit: DoD

Not long after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Air Force went looking for a new fleet of aircraft.

More precisely, it went straight to the dealer—without shopping around. The service drew up a plan to lease 100 aerial refueling tankers from Boeing, saying it had an urgent need to replace its aging, Eisenhower-era KC-135 aircraft. The Air Force planned to award the multi-billion-dollar contract for a new tanker based on the Boeing 767 as a “sole source,” meaning there would be no opportunity for a formal competition.

The unusual lease-to-own deal was approved by the Defense Department and three Congressional oversight committees, despite criticism from budget analysts who contended that the sole-source lease/buy option would cost the Defense Department approximately $37 billion.

But the tanker lease contract never went through. Read more ..

Green Scandals

Republicans Call for Probe of Obama’s Green Car Program

October 28th 2011

Technology - Biden and Fisker

Republicans are calling on Congressional investigators to expand their probe of the Obama Administration’s “green energy” loan program to include Fisker, the start-up electric car company that received more than $500 million in federal support but is assembling its high-end sports sedan in Finland.

“We need to extend the investigation,” Rep. Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican who sits on the committee that has been investigating the government’s loan program, told ABC News in an interview for World News and Nightline. “If they couldn’t find someone to build the car in the U.S., then don’t do it. Find another way. Find something else.”

Fisker is one of two start-up electric car companies that combined have been offered $1 billion in federal loans through an Energy Department program meant to create jobs and improve air quality through the fledgling alternative energy industry. The loan program has faced intense scrutiny from Congress since the first loan recipient, the solar manufacturing firm Solyndra, declared bankruptcy last month. Read more ..

Film Review

The Way: A Film pilgrimage to the Shrine of Self-Esteem

October 27th 2011

Film - The Way

The Way. Directed by Emilio Estevez. Starring: Martin Sheen, Yorick Van Wageningen, James Nesbitt, Deborah Kara Unger. Length: 121 mins.

In case you were worried, the New York Times review of Emilio Estevez’s The Way will reassure you that "This is not an ‘inspirational film’ in the usual, syrupy sense." Phew! Dodged a bullet there, didn’t we? One can well imagine that the "syrupy" sort of inspirational film would be offensive to the sensibility that these days informs the arts pages as well as the other pages of The New York Times. But, then, the quotation marks around "inspirational film" seem to be meant to imply — I can’t think what else they are doing there — that there is no such thing as an inspirational film anyway: only the kind that strives to be inspirational and fails. Inspiring The New York Times, we may as well admit, is something probably better not even attempted.

Mr. Estevez’s film, for which he also wrote the screenplay, is about a medieval pilgrimage — the one to Santiago de Compostela in Spain — which is still made by thousands of pilgrims today. Many, if not most, do so in a spirit of Catholic piety, but The Way is not interested in them. Fortunately, as the Times reviewer writes, "none of these people are [sic] overtly finding God on this trek." How about covertly finding God? He doesn’t know, but I guess that that would be OK. "The beauty of the movie, in fact, is that Mr. Estevez does not make explicit what any of them find, beyond friendship. He lets these four fine actors convey that true personal transformations are not announced with fanfare, but happen internally." So how do we know that they happen at all? Forget fanfares, where is the beauty in not knowing something? Read more ..

Inside America

Students Play the Money Game

October 27th 2011

America Themes - nest eggs

In today’s uncertain economic times, understanding money matters is more important than ever. But America’s education system is not doing a good job of teaching financial literacy. Past surveys show high school seniors answer only around half of basic questions about stocks, bonds and credit cards correctly.

The inventors of a board game called Ne$t Egg hope their approach can get high school students off on the right financial foot.

Most of the 13 New York City high school kids who recently gathered around a table to play Ne$t Egg had never thought about personal finance before. They were in an office at the City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, dice at the ready. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Nanoconfined Organic Solar Cell Material Enhances Conductivity

October 27th 2011

Technology - Solar Cells

The advance doesn’t improve overall solar-cell efficiency, however, because the nano-confined light-absorbing material doesn’t cover as much area as in the thin-film format. But the research suggests that such nanoscale restructuring, described in the cover article of the October 17, 2011, issue of Applied Physics Letters and in the September 13, 2011, issue of ACS Nano, might eventually achieve that goal, and make polymer-based solar cells - potentially manufactured as inexpensively as plastics - more competitive in the marketplace.

“Judged by their physical properties, organic semiconductors should be more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity than they are,” said Charles Black, group leader for electronic materials at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN). “One of the goals of our research is to understand why - and to devise new solar cell architectures to improve them.” Read more ..

Inside America

Generation X is Ready to Take on Leadership in a New Century

October 27th 2011

Social Topics - Lighting a candle against the darkness

They've been stereotyped as a bunch of insecure, angst-ridden, underachievers. But most members of Generation X are leading active, balanced and happy lives, according to a long-term University of Michigan survey.

"They are not bowling alone," said political scientist Jon Miller, author of The Generation X Report. "They are active in their communities, mainly satisfied with their jobs, and able to balance work, family, and leisure."

Miller directs the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Institute for Social Research. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation since 1986, now includes responses from approximately 4,000 Gen Xers—those born between 1961 and 1981.

"The 84 million Americans in this generation between the ages of 30 and 50 are the parents of today's school-aged children," Miller said. "And over the next two or three decades, members of Generation X will lead the nation in the White House and Congress. So it's important to understand their values, history, current challenges and future goals." Read more ..

Book Review

The Big Scrum: Bully Bully to Teddy Roosevelt for Saving American Football

October 27th 2011

Book Covers - the big scrum

The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football. John J. Miller. Harper, 2011.

Long, long ago—before the Big Ten had 12 teams and the Big Twelve had 10; back when Knute Rockne was still learning to drop-kick—college football was in crisis. The crisis had many parts: already professionalism and commercialism had made inroads into the supposedly “amateur” game. Players were getting money and perks, coaches were being overpaid (in 1905 Bill Reid, Harvard’s coach, made more than any professor on campus and almost as much as President Charles William Eliot), and rules about everything from how the game could be played to player eligibility ranged from ill-defined to non-existent. Six-year varsity careers were not unheard of.

Sometimes those careers were compiled at several schools. In 1896 the great Fielding Yost, enrolled West Virginia University, transferred to Lafayette in time to help the Leopards snap the University of Pennsylvania’s 36-game winning streak, then transferred right back.

The worst aspect of the crisis—because it was the most public and most dramatic—was the game’s increasingly violent character, evidenced by the growing number of players seriously injured or even killed on the field. As football had evolved from its beginnings (the game considered to be the first intercollegiate contest, between Princeton and Rutgers, took place in 1869) as a kind of combination of soccer and rugby, it was increasingly characterized by “mass play,” most notably the infamous “flying wedge.” Even when played within the “rules” of the time, it was a bloody affair. And with players crowded together, battling back and forth on a very small part of the field, opportunities for punching, kicking, biting, and other activities outside the rules were numerous—and exploited. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Religion in America: Recounting where Church and Politics Meet

October 27th 2011

Book Covers - religion in america

Religion in America: A Political History. Denis Lacorne. Columbia, 2011. 170 pages.

This little book manages to do a lot in the space of 170 pages. First published in France in 2007, with an evocative introduction by the late Tony Judt, it surveys its subject with grace and insight, as well as a lot of information.

Lacorne's point of departure in conceptualizing religious history rests on the work of John Murrin, who observed that in the United States "the constitutional roof" was built before the "national walls." As Lacorne is well aware, this assertion is contestable, particularly by those -- from Alexis de Tocqueville to Samuel Huntington, among others -- who have argued that American religious culture, like many other kinds, was well in place by the time of the American Revolution.

But an important dimension of this even-handed study is an attempt to balance what he plausibly sees as too much emphasis on the Puritan roots and influence in American society. For Lacorne, a separate strand of U.S. evangelicalism has also been part of the picture. So has, at least as importantly, a largely secular one centered in the thought and legacy of the Founding Fathers. This latter one, whose institutional locus has been the Supreme Court, has been decisive, in his (generally approving) view.

This little book manages to do a lot in the space of 170 pages. First published in France in 2007, with an evocative introduction by the late Tony Judt, it surveys its subject with grace and insight, as well as a lot of information.

Lacorne's point of departure in conceptualizing religious history rests on the work of John Murrin, who observed that in the United States "the constitutional roof" was built before the "national walls." As Lacorne is well aware, this assertion is contestable, particularly by those -- from Alexis de Tocqueville to Samuel Huntington, among others -- who have argued that American religious culture, like many other kinds, was well in place by the time of the American Revolution. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Succession and the US-Saudi Relationship

October 27th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

Given Saudi Arabia’s strategic position and its leadership roles in both Islam and international energy markets, the close relationship between Riyadh and Washington is crucial to a range of US policy concerns: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East peace process, and energy.

The character of the US-Saudi relationship has often been dictated by the personality and style of the king at the time. King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 2005 (thought he was plagued by poor health after a stoke in 1995), was seen as pro-American and cooperated closely, although often discreetly, with Washington on a range of foreign policy concerns, including in Central America, Afghanistan, and on the middle East peace process. King Abdullah, whose rule began in 2005 but who had stood in for Fahd after 1995, has protected the relationship but has been more cautious and at times even confrontational. In 2002, with relations in turmoil because of the involvement of Saudis in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the kingdom, apparently trying to deflect attention away from itself by spotlighting clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, was even prepared to privately threaten a temporary cutoff of oil exports because of US support for Israel. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Russia Admits Ship Skipped U.S. Port Fearing Seizure Over Chabad Library

October 26th 2011

Jewish Topics - Chabad Archival Document

Russia's Foreign Ministry reportedly advised a sailing ship on a goodwill mission to avoid docking at a San Francisco port last week over fears it would be held as collateral for a collection of Jewish rare books and manuscripts.

According to articles in the Moscow Times and San Francisco Chronicle, the three-masted Nadezhda turned sail after officials warned that it may be seized under a U.S. court decision ordering Russia to surrender a 62,000 piece library that belonged to the late Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, the sixth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.

In 1991, in the last years of the Soviet Union, a court in Moscow ordered the library turned over to the Chabad organization. But the Soviet Union collapsed and the new Russian authorities set aside the judgment. The Russian government now says it wants to preserve the library itself for the use of scholars and Russian Jews.

The Chabad organization felt it could not get a fair hearing in Russian courts and sued the Russian government in U.S. courts to acquire the library. Last year, a U.S. court ruled in the organization's favor and ordered Russian authorities to turn the library over. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

Libya and Iraq: The Price of Success

October 26th 2011

Libya - Rebels Advancing on Tripoli

In a week when the European crisis continued building, the White House chose publicly to focus on announcements about the end of wars. The death of Moammar Gadhafi was said to mark the end of the war in Libya, and excitement about a new democratic Libya abounded. Regarding Iraq, the White House transformed the refusal of the Iraqi government to permit U.S. troops to remain into a decision by Washington instead of an Iraqi rebuff.

Though in both cases there was an identical sense of “mission accomplished,” the matter was not nearly as clear-cut. The withdrawal from Iraq creates enormous strategic complexities rather than closure. While the complexities in Libya are real but hardly strategic, the two events share certain characteristics and are instructive.

Libya After Gadhafi

Let us begin with the lesser event, Gadhafi’s death. After seven months of NATO intervention, Gadhafi was killed. That it took so long for this to happen stands out, given that the intervention involved far more than airstrikes, including special operations forces on the ground targeting for airstrikes, training Libyan troops, managing logistics, overseeing communications and both planning and at times organizing and leading the Libyan insurgents in battle. Read more ..

Libya after Gadhafi

Graphic Images Emerge of Libyan Rebels' Abuse and Sodomy of Dictator Gadhafi

October 26th 2011

Libya - Gadhafi looks heavenward

Graphic, gruesome images have emerged from Libya as the United Nations and the U.S. have called for investigations of the circumstances of the death of former dictator Muammar Gadhafi. Cellphone video images taken by Libyan insurgents of the NATO-supported National Transitional Authority shows Libya's former leader being sodomized with a metal implement. Gadhafi was captured on October 20 as he and a convoy of supporters were fleeing from the city of Sirte. Video taken at the scene showed first that he was wounded but alive. Footage taken minutes later showed his lifeless corpse being displayed on the ground. First reported by GlobalPost, it has been widely covered by other media outlets such as CBS and Huffington Post. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

The Next Generation of Saudi Princes: Who Are They?

October 26th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi Royals Dancing the Ardha

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

Who are the candidates for succession to Saudi throne once King Abdullah passes? Many of the grandsons of Ibn Saud are already grandfathers; some have years of government experience. But which line should be favored in this next generation is among the most contentious aspects of the Saudi succession.

In discussing the younger generation, it is worth noting that sons of past kings are usually not considered worthy of mention. The respect accorded them and the extent to which they have a leadership claim seem to diminish upon the death of their fathers. Crucially, without their fathers’ backing, most seem to fall out of contention. The largest single group of second-generation princes are the sons of Saud, numbered at more than fifty (and a similar number of daughters), only a few of whom have any public role. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Hold Iran Painfully Accountable for Murder Plot--U.S. Official Demand

October 26th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

"Iran needs to be held accountable for this plot." That is the message being delivered this week in Europe by David Cohen -- the U.S. Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and the man responsible for overseeing sanctions against Iran -- in the wake of an alleged plot by the Persian Gulf country to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador on U.S. soil.

The official's first stop was London, where Cohen met with British officials on October 24 to discuss potential new sanctions against Iran in response to the plot.

From there, Cohen is taking his message to Berlin, Paris, and Rome.

The potential sanctions would target the heart of Iran's financial dealings, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), in a move that analysts suggest could have a crippling effect on the country's economy by cutting off nearly all international financial transactions. Read more ..

Venezuela and China

Venezuela Curries Favor with China as the Asian giant seeks Energy Security

October 25th 2011

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Xi Jinping China VP
China's Vice President Xi Jinping greets Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

President Hugo Chávez has long desired to minimize his country’s economic dependence on the United States, and since China’s huge and growing energy demands have resulted in expanded business with Venezuela, he may very well get his wish. Beijing and Caracas have a history of affable diplomatic ties, which in recent years have been strengthened by several multibillion-dollar oil-exploration deals that are providing China with a broadening spectrum of new sources of energy while helping to revive Venezuela’s wilting economy. With its petroleum consumption climbing 7.5 percent per year, China represents a significant and growing long-term source of income for Venezuela.

While Washington continues to fulfill the bulk of its energy requirements through long-established sources in the Middle East, China could be said to have jumped the fence into the U.S.’ ‘backyard’ in an attempt to capitalize on the impressive inventory of natural resources that the region has to offer. The state of Sino-Venezuelan petro-relations represents an evolving global order reflected by the waning influence of the U.S. in Latin America and the growing power of extra-hemispheric nations in the region. Read more ..

Edge on Terrorism

It is Time to End the Hypocrisy of Terrorist Designations that Confuse Friends and Foes

October 25th 2011

Iran - Maryam Rajavi of MEK Iran
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi

As two current high-profile cases demonstrate, the U.S. government’s practice of listing “foreign terrorist organizations” (FTOs) has become an increasingly dangerous and hollow political exercise rather than a sober assessment of the real threats to America.

Last month, Afghanistan’s ruthless Haqqani Network reportedly staged a brazen attack against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The Haqqanis, who conduct grisly terrorist attacks on hotels, embassies and other targets to advance their agenda to become power brokers in a future political settlement, reportedly are responsible for hundreds of American deaths since 2001. Some American military officers apparently are furious that the Obama administration decided not to designate the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization because it was feared that listing the group would make it harder for the Afghan government to negotiate with the Haqqanis.

At the same time, the United States continues to list the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), Iran’s main opposition group and a declared democratic ally, as an FTO even though it meets none of the criteria and long ago renounced violence. Importantly, the group was the first to reveal Iran’s 20-year clandestine nuclear program and provided invaluable intelligence to the U.S. military in Iraq, which not only helped identify and neutralize Iran’s proxy terrorist groups operating in that country but undoubtedly saved American lives in the process. Read more ..

America on Edge

Unsentimental Thieves Steal Historic Bell in San Francisco

October 25th 2011

Christian Topics - St Marys San Francisco bell
Historic copper bell of St. Mary's Cathedral. Photo credit: Neil Gertner

Catholics and history buffs in San Francisco were consternated by the theft of an historic bell, a “priceless artefact”, from St. Mary’s Cathedral. Sometime during the month of October, thieves made off with the 122-year-old, 2.7 ton bell that had stood on a wooden platform in the churchyard since the 1970s. The historic bell tolled during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire and also survived an arson attack in 1962 when the old cathedral was torched.

George Wesolek, communications director for the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco said of the thieves, “ "It is kind of an ignoble end for the bell if they succeed." The archdiocese is offering an unspecified amount of money as a reward to anyone who helps return the bell or catch the thieves. A security camera pointed at a nearby parking lot may have captured the truck as it left the cathedral. The bell, made of a copper alloy, could fetch $75,000 if melted down. While it originally cost $17,000, it is not clear whether the church can afford a replacement. Other needs are much more pressing now, said a diocesan spokesman. Police vow to find the lost bell. Read more ..

The Saudi Succession Question

Possible Scenarios for the Saudi Succession

October 25th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

It is not clear who will succeed King Abdullah upon his death. The picture is complicated by the advanced age and poor health of Saudi Arabia’s senior princes and the unpredictable order in which they will die, the lack of knowledge regarding how the remaining sons of Ibn Saud will form a consensus, and the unknown extent to which the newly formed Allegiance Council will have a role. All twenty surviving sons of Ibn Saud are older than sixty-five—past what would be considered normal retirement age in most parts of the world. Of these sons, eight are in their seventies and six are in their eighties.

With an established precedent in the kingdom for age-based seniority, multiple transitions could occur within a short period of time, a state of affairs reminiscent of the last years of the Soviet Union. Whether the system can tolerate the deaths of successive kings at such close intervals is questionable, given the politics involved in deciding on a new crown prince and heir apparent at the same time. Read more ..

Denmark on Edge

Sharia Law Grows with Impunity in Denmark and elswhere in Europe

October 25th 2011

Islamic Topics - Little Burka Mermaid

A Muslim group in Denmark has launched a campaign to turn parts of Copenhagen and other Danish cities into "Sharia Law Zones" that would function as autonomous enclaves ruled by Islamic law. The Danish Islamist group Kaldet til Islam (Call to Islam) says the Tingbjerg suburb of Copenhagen will be the first part of Denmark to be subject to Sharia law, followed by the Nørrebro district of the capital and then other parts of the country, the center-right Jyllands-Posten newspaper reported on October 17.

Call to Islam says it will dispatch 24-hour Islamic 'morals police' to enforce Sharia law in those enclaves. The patrols will confront anyone caught drinking alcohol, gambling, going to discothèques or engaging in other activities the group views as running contrary to Islam.

Integration Minister Karen Haekkerup told Jyllands-Posten "I consider this to be very serious. Anything that attempts to undermine our democracy, we must crack down on it and consistently so." Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Cardinal Kurt Koch comes to New York to Mend Fences with Jewish Community

October 25th 2011

Christian Topics - Catholic Jewish meeting

Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Vatican’s key representative to Jews, is making his first visit to New York, home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel. The cardinal, appointed president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in 2010, has an opportunity, together with Jewish leaders, to reflect on the state of Catholic-Jewish relations and aspirations for the future.

While in New York, Cardinal Koch will meet with, among others, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC. This coalition of Jewish organizations, recognized by the Vatican as the official consultative Jewish body for the advancement of Catholic-Jewish relations, was created in the aftermath of Nostra Aetate. That document of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-1965) changed the course of Catholic-Jewish history with its revolutionary statements rejecting the deicide charge against the Jews, decrying anti-Semitism and affirming the validity of God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people. In the post-Shoah era, the Church had begun to come to terms with its role in facilitating anti-Jewish animus that created a climate receptive to the horrors of the Holocaust. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Who was the Victor in the Shalit Swap?

October 24th 2011

Israel Topics - Shalit Graffiti

It is not often that scenes of joy wash over Israel and the Gaza Strip simultaneously.

Israelis were celebrating the freedom of a soldier who was abducted five years ago while guarding his country's borders. He was seized in an unprovoked cross-border raid and held by Hamas in violation of all international norms.

On the other side of the border, Gazans took part in a triumphant homecoming ceremony to honor jihadi combatants guilty of war crimes and the intentional murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians.

The trade of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for a single Israeli soldier has bewildered some international observers, and touched off a debate over whether Israel had anything to celebrate at all. Read more ..

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