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Archive for January 2012

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Inside India

Hindu Radicals Revoke Tolerance for Minority Religions

January 31st 2012

India Topics - Hindu nationalist

It was a day of terror for Christians at St Joseph University Institute in Anekal, near Bangalore in the Indian state of Karnataka. More than 100 members of radical anti-Christian Hindu groups, assailed the campus on January 30, using as a pretext their belief that India's national flag had not been on display in observance of Republic Day. Members of India's radical Hindu nationalist groups, "Vishwa Hindu Parishad", "Bajrang Dal", "Sakthi Rashtra Sene", and  "Karnataka Rakshana Vedike" were represented among the members of the mob that broke into the university campus and interrupted lessons.

The dean of the institute, Rev. Melwin Mendonca, SJ, reported that students and faculty lived through hours of apprehension during the seige, which showed signs of complicity on the part of local authorities. According to Father Melwin, there were some municipal councilors who joined the mob. In addition, when school administrators called for police protection, it was observed that "the inspector and police officers were spectators of the violence, they even allowed that the unrest on the campus lasted for two hours", according to the dean. Read more ..

Edge of Asia

Asian Nations Increasingly Leery of Burgeoning China

January 31st 2012

China Topics - The East is Red

America's strategic interests in Asia go hand in hand with democratic values. Not by accident, all of our formal security allies in Asia -- Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand -- are democracies. And events are trending further in this direction.

Taiwan recently conducted its fifth direct presidential election since 1996, further proof of democracy's hold there. While many Americans may squirm at the "pro-China" characterization given its now two-term president, Ma Ying-jeou, the process that returned him to office is in itself a strategic advantage. Taiwan has one of the most highly polarized electorates in the world. Yet the democratic process has produced a bottom line on the most contentious issue -- Taiwan's relationship with the People's Republic of China. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Romney Appears Confident of Primary Win in Florida

January 31st 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive

After days of often bitter campaigning, Republican voters in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida are choosing their favorite candidate to run for president. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney expressed confidence before voting started. The Florida Republican primary election on Tuesday, Jan. 31, comes just over a week after he was soundly defeated in the South Carolina primary.

Strong debate performances and heavy advertising that attacked Romney's top rival - former House speaker Newt Gingrich - helped Romney surge in the polls. Recent opinion polls show Romney has a double-digit lead over Gingrich in Florida. Romney's campaign has taken on a confident tone. Romney told the media that he still has plenty of work cut out for him, especially in convincing conservative Republicans and Tea Party people that he is their man. Gingrich' had contended that Romney is actually a "Massachusetts moderate" who has not supported Republican basics, Romney contends that as governor he cut state spending. 

Regarding to a hot-button issue for conservatives, Romney said he is a convert as to abortion. "I was in a state where being a social conservative was not easy," he said, recounting how he changed his views on abortion as he considered a bill on embryonic stem cell research. "When people go out and say things about my record that aren't accurate, why, that would create an impression that I have to work hard to correct."

Edge of Medicine

Mutant Protein in Pancreatic Cancers plays Role in Cancerous Development and Growth

January 31st 2012

Health/Medicine - pancreatic cancer gene

A mutant protein found in nearly all pancreatic cancers plays a role not only in the cancer’s development but in its continued growth, according to a new study from University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. The finding suggests a possible target for developing new ways to treat this deadly disease. Researchers have known that mutations in the Kras gene are what cause pancreatic cancer to develop. These mutations are frequently seen in common precancerous lesions, suggesting it has an early role in pancreatic cancer.

The new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, finds that in mice, mutant Kras also keeps the tumor growing and helps precancerous tumors grow into invasive cancer. When the researchers turned off Kras, the tumors disappeared and showed no signs of recurring. Read more ..

Edge of Health

New Computer Model Accurately Predicts Cholera Outbreaks

January 31st 2012

Transportation Topics - Bangladesh ricksaw

A new University of Michigan computer model of disease transmission in space and time can predict cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh up to 11 months in advance, providing an early warning system that could help public health officials there. The new forecast model applies specifically to the capital city of Dhaka and incorporates data on both year-to-year climate variability and the spatial location of cholera cases at the district level. This allowed the researchers to study both local variation in disease transmission and response to climate factors within the megacity of 14 million people.

U-M theoretical ecologists Mercedes Pascual and Aaron King, along with former U-M postdoctoral researcher Robert Reiner and other colleagues, found evidence for a climate-sensitive urban core in Dhaka that acts to propagate cholera risk to the rest of the city. By including those findings in their model, the researchers were able to increase its accuracy and extend its forecasting ability far beyond previous disease models for the city. Earlier models had prediction lead times of a month or less—too short to be of use in an early warning systems. The longer lead time of the new model will help inform decisions about treatment preparedness, vaccination and other disease-prevention strategies. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Attempts to Deceive are Transparent

January 31st 2012

Egypt - Qaradaqi in Cairo

Amid new strains in U.S.-Egypt ties, some in Washington are studying the tensions and results of recent voting for indications that democracy can take hold. Those who say the Muslim Brotherhood is showing new signs of moderation should compare its messages to outsiders, in English, with its message to Egyptians and other Arabs, in Arabic.

Take the Brotherhood’s official English and Arabic Web sites, IkhwanWeb and IkhwanOnline, from one day this month. In English, the home page featured no fewer than eight articles on the solicitude of the Brotherhood toward Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

The Arabic home page, by contrast, included just two small pieces on this theme. The contrast is sharper on other key issues. On democracy, the English home page one January day featured several articles with headlines such as “Why Islamists Are Better Democrats” and “Democracy: One of the Objectives of Shariah?” There was nothing comparable in Arabic. Instead, Arabic readers saw three pieces against freedom of the press, attacking two top independent Egyptian dailies for printing criticisms of the Brotherhood. Read more ..

Edge of Education

Disparities in Treating Kids of Different Ethnicities in Trouble at School

January 31st 2012

Crime Topics - sonia vivas
Sonia Vivas

A good student with no disciplinary record, Sonia Vivas was on track to fulfill her dream of becoming a lawyer when an encounter with two other teens sent her life into a tailspin. Accused of stealing a cell phone and pulling a knife on a student, the 14-year-old eighth grader was tossed out of school in 2007 with little more than a cursory hearing after the mother of one of the girls, both white, complained her daughter felt threatened.

For six months, Vivas, who denies the accusations, says she languished at home, banished from classes at her Somerville, Mass., middle school where she was the only Hispanic student in the eighth grade. “It was pretty traumatizing,” she says today, reflecting on the incident she now believes was sparked by jealousy over her friendship with one of the girl's ex-boyfriend. “It made me feel pretty horrible. It changed my life.” With no due process rights to a hearing under Massachusetts law, Vivas was expelled from school after only a brief interview with the school principal to explain her side of the story. Today, nearly five years later, school officials declined comment on Vivas's dismissal but said where student safety is an issue, the expulsion process remains unchanged. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Home Foreclosure Crisis: Created by Greed or Negligence?

January 31st 2012

Economy - Foreclosure

Like millions of stories from the great recession, this one begins with homeowners struggling to keep up with a mortgage payment they simply couldn’t afford. By 2009, the adjustable interest rate for Cassandra and Bernard Gray’s Durham, N.C., home loan had spiked to more than 12 percent. “I didn’t know if we were going to be on the street or in a shelter,” Cassandra recalls. “We couldn’t afford groceries. It got pretty bad.” They were thrilled to sign up for a modification plan with their loan servicer, GMAC Home Mortgage, Cassandra Gray said. The modification lowered their payment from $1,128 to $768 per month.

However, after three months, GMAC began returning their payments, the Grays claim in a complaint filed with the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks. GMAC customer service representatives told them there was a “computer glitch” and that the problem would be resolved. Instead, GMAC twice started a foreclosure action. GMAC claimed it had no record of any payment being received. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Opinion Split in Canadian Muslim Community over Guilty Verdict in Honor-Killing

January 30th 2012

Crime Topics - Zainab Shafia
Victim Zanaib Shafia

Following a guilty verdict in Ontario in a first-degree murder case, the Muslim community of Canada reacted with apparent approval.  Imam Sikander Hashmi of the Islamic Society of Kingston, of the city where the trial unfolded, said "The jurors and the court have done their job. Our job as community leaders and members of society is that we have to be very clear about our position on domestic violence and such crimes."  The Muslim religious leader added, "We need to speak very strongly, and we need to take concrete action."

It was on Sunday, January 29, that a Kingston, Ont., court handed down a guilty verdict in what has been called an ‘honor killing.’  A jury found a Montreal couple and their son guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of four family members. Mohammad Shafia (59), his wife Tooba Yahya (42) and their son Hamed (21), were each handed an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. The trio was accused of drowning Hamed's three teenage sisters and his father's first wife in a polygamous marriage, in what prosecutors described as an attempt to restore the family's honor. The three girls were named Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, while Shafia’s first wife was Rona Amir Mohammad. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Israel Isn’t Going to Attack Iran and Neither Will the United States

January 30th 2012

Iran - Iran Nuclear
Iranian Nuclear Ventilation Tower

The radio superhero The Shadow had the power to “cloud men’s minds.” But nothing clouds men’s minds like anything that has to do with Jews or Israel. This year’s variation on that theme is the idea that Israel is about to attack Iran. Such a claim repeatedly appears in the media. Some have criticized Israel for attacking Iran and turning the Middle East into a cauldron of turmoil (not as if the region needs any help in that department) despite the fact that it hasn’t even happened.

On the surface, of course, there is apparent evidence for such a thesis. Israel has talked about attacking Iran and one can make a case for such an operation. Yet any serious consideration of this scenario — based on actual research and real analysis rather than what the uninformed assemble in their own heads or Israeli leaders sending a message to create a situation where an attack isn’t necessary — is this: It isn’t going to happen. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Israel and the US Perspectives on Iran at Odds

January 30th 2012

Military - Austerity Measures Israel and US

The kerfuffle over the postponement of the highly touted "Austere Challenge 12" joint US-Israel military exercise is over.  Officials in both countries are now on the same page:  it was a "joint decision" having nothing to do with finances, Iran or politics, just "technical issues."  Regardless of the lid they've chosen to cover the pot, it is worth considering where and how the United States and Israel differ in their analysis of the problem posed by Iran's nuclear activity.

The US and Israel agree on the potential danger and they agree on the unacceptability of a nuclear-armed Iran.  They differ, however, on how they assimilate intelligence information; how they assess the pace of Iran's movement toward weapons capability; and even over whether it is weapons that Iran seeks. The United States factors in more heavily what it believes about Iran's intent, which it insists remains unclear.  Reflecting, perhaps, closer proximity and a smaller margin of error, the Israeli government places greater emphasis on its Iran's capabilities, which it believes are clear. Read more ..

Seeking Information on Jews Rescued by Japanese

January 30th 2012
In 1940, at least 6,000 Jews were rescued from Lithuania by Japanese consul Chiune Sempo Sugihara who provided them with transit visas enabling them to travel east through the Soviet Union, and sail to Japan. In gratitude, some passengers on board gave photos of themselves to Tatsuo Osako, an escort and clerk on one of the ships. Seven photos of the refugees have never been identified, and after Osako died in 2003, his assistant, Akira Kitade, is seeking to find them. The photos can be viewed at After 70 Years: Fragments of Memory - Photos of Rescued Jews - The Righteous A Please send information or queries to Mr. Kitade at kitadeakira@hotmail.com.

The Edge of Film

$800 Israeli Film Appears at Sundance

January 30th 2012

Israel Topics - Adi Kutner
Adi Kutner

An award-winning Israeli student film made with a budget of just $800 has been chosen to appear at the Sundance Film Festival.

With a budget of just $800, Israeli film student Adi Kutner has proven that it's the story that counts and not the hoo-ha producers usually rely on to move movies forward. Kutner's 18-minute short, Barbie Blues, was chosen to screen at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, beginning today, and ending on January 29.

Barbie Blues is a coming-of-age story with a global appeal. It centers on Mika, a lonely teenager who lives in suburbia, and her new neighbor, Gershon. Through her encounter with Gershon, Mika discovers the boundaries of her femininity and sexuality for the first time, says Kutner. But like the Barbie dolls the film is named for, hers is a shallow and idealized version of what a woman should be.

"There's an awkward border that teens walk between adulthood and childhood," Kutner said, noting that teenage girls so often mimic what society tells them is "sexy" without fully understanding the meaning of their behavior. Read more ..

Iran’s Nukes

Bunker Busters a Bust?

January 30th 2012

Military - MOP GBU57

In a bizarre development for a country whose military is routinely cited as the most advanced in the world, the United States is reportedly concerned that its bombs are not powerful enough to successfully attack Iran’s nuclear program.

A recent Wall Street Journal report revealed that the U.S. military establishment has concluded that its largest conventional bomb, the so-called “bunker buster” cannot effectively combat Iran’s defense tactics, which involve burying its nuclear facilities deep beneath the surface of the earth.

“The main concern,” YNet reports, “is Iran’s Fordow uranium enrichment site near the city of Qom. The facility … is located under a mountain.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Assad's Opponents Escalate Resistance and Bomb a Gas Pipeline

January 30th 2012

Egypt - Egyptian pipeline blast

Syrian officials are blaming what they call a "terrorist group" for blowing up a gas pipeline during the early morning hours on January 30, as activists report clashes elsewhere in the country. Syria's state news agency said the blast occurred near Telkalakh, close to the Lebanese border.  There have been several pipeline attacks since a popular uprising began last March against Syrian President Assad al-Bashar, but it is not clear who is responsible for them.  Some Syrian cities have faced energy shortages after the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement to the French news agency that clashes killed six members of the country's armed forces and four civilians in Hirak, in the southern province of Daraa. A day earlier, the British-based activist group reported 72 people killed across the country, including 41 civilians, mostly in the Damascus suburbs and the central cities of Homs and Hama. The reports could not be independently confirmed because Syria bars foreign journalists from operating freely in the country.

Syria's government defended the capital from rebel fighters on January 29, with security forces deployed across the city and around 2,000 troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles launching an assault to retake suburban areas. Sustained fighting rocked at least four districts around Damascus, the country's largest city and seat of President Assad's power. The offensive pushed into predominantly Sunni Muslim areas of the capital's eastern outskirts that have slipped from government control over the past two weeks. The Damascus suburbs have seen large demonstrations demanding the removal of Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated the mostly Sunni Muslim country for the last five decades. Read more ..

Inside Mexico

There is More to Mexico's Drought than Mother Nature

January 30th 2012

Environment Topics - mexico drought

In many cities, Mexicans are responding to the environmental and hunger crisis in Chihuahua's Sierra Tarahumara with an outpouring of material aid, donations, and declarations of solidarity. Indigenous Raramuri leaders from the drought-stricken mountains were among rural activists who staged a demonstration this week in Mexico City claiming lack of government support for alleviating the worst effects of what National Water Commission chief Jose Luis Luege called "one of the biggest drought years in the historical registers of the country." 

In response to the burgeoning rural protest movement, the Calderon administration announced a series of initiatives aimed at rehabilitating irrigation systems and tapping into more groundwater. The assistance is planned for hard-pressed rural and agricultural communities where farm land is shriveling up, where cattle are becoming fodder for vultures and where local economies are collapsing into the dusty earth. In Chihuahua, the problem is so severe that Governor Cesar Duarte urged Mexico’s federal government not to comply with water delivery requirements to the Rio Grande under a 1944 treaty with the United States. The comments were reportedly made during a conversation with Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Elvira Quesada this week.  Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

X-Ray Laser Breakthrough Astounds Scientists

January 30th 2012

Science - xray laser

Scientists working at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the shortest, purest X-ray laser pulses ever achieved, fulfilling a 45-year-old prediction and opening the door to a new range of scientific discovery. The researchers aimed SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at a capsule of neon gas, setting off an avalanche of X-ray emissions to create the world's first "atomic X-ray laser."

"X-rays give us a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules," said physicist Nina Rohringer, who led the research. A group leader at the Max Planck Society's Advanced Study Group in Hamburg, Germany, Rohringer collaborated with researchers from SLAC, DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University. "We envision researchers using this new type of laser for all sorts of interesting things, such as teasing out the details of chemical reactions or watching biological molecules at work," she added. "The shorter the pulses, the faster the changes we can capture. And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see."

The new atomic X-ray laser fulfills a 1967 prediction that X-ray lasers could be made in the same manner as many visible-light lasers – by inducing electrons to fall from higher to lower energy levels within atoms, releasing a single color of light in the process. But until 2009, when LCLS turned on, no X-ray source was powerful enough to create this type of laser. Read more ..

The Health Edge

An Alabama Girl and Family Struggle with Free Market Healthcare as she Fights for her Life

January 30th 2012

Health/Medicine - caroline richmond fundraiser

“It shouldn’t be this way,” read the subject line of an email I received Friday morning from a conservative friend and fellow Southerner. “People shouldn’t have to beg for money to pay for medical care.” At first, I thought he was referring to my column last week in which I wrote about the fundraising effort to cover the bills, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, that the husband of Canadian skier Sarah Burke is now facing. Burke died on January 19, nine days after sustaining severe head injuries in a skiing accident in Park City, Utah. I noted that had the accident occurred in Burke’s native Canada, which has a system of universal coverage, the fundraiser would not have been necessary.

But my friend was not writing about Sarah Burke. He wanted to alert me to another fundraiser, this one on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, to help pay for the mounting medical expenses for a beautiful 13-year-old girl fighting for her life at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile, Ala. In late November, Caroline Richmond was rushed to the hospital after collapsing on the way home from school.  Doctors quickly determined she’d had a stroke and required immediate surgery. The bad news just kept coming. The stroke had been caused by leukemia. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

America's Free Market Health Care: Up Close and Personal

January 30th 2012

Health/Medicine - post operation ward

When I recently went to Alta Bates hospital for surgery, I discovered that legal procedures take precedence over medical ones.  I had to sign intimidating statements about financial counseling, indemnity, patient responsibilities, consent to treatment, use of electronic technologies, and the like. One of these documents committed me to the following: “The hospital pathologist is hereby authorized to use his/her discretion in disposing of any member, organ, or other tissue removed from my person during the procedure.” Any member? Any organ?

The next day I returned for the actual operation. While playing Frank Sinatra recordings, the surgeon went to work cutting open several layers of my abdomen in order to secure my intestines with a permanent mesh implant. Afterward I spent two hours in the recovery room. “I feel like I’ve been in a knife fight,” I told one nurse. “It’s called surgery,” she explained. Then, while still pumped up with anesthetics and medications, I was rolled out into the street. The street? Yes, some few hours after surgery they send you home.  In countries that have socialized medicine (there I said it), a van might be waiting with trained personnel to help you to your abode. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Latin America does not Appear on the Radar Scope for Obama or his Republican Opponents

January 30th 2012

Venezuela Topics - obama and chavez
President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

After President Barack Obama delivered the last State of the Union address for his current term, the Republican aspirants for the presidency immediately responded that his rhetoric sounded more like a “state of the presidential campaign.” Though there is some waggish appeal to this unlikely claim, in light of the steadily degrading and pumped-up and theatrical nature to the Republican candidates’ manner in characterizing the party’s optimism in recent weeks, not to mention that challenger Mitt Romney’s issuing his own “pre-buttal” pessimistic assessment prior to the Obama address, which criticized the President on any number of issues. Even amid the many instances of the two parties’ ideologically soaked clashes, one common feature was starkly, but depressingly clear: they hardly have evinced even a trace of dust in sounding the need of a comprehensive approach when it comes to U.S.-Latin American relations.

Aside from some slightly amusing last-minute anti-Castro bashing in an attempt to nail down Florida’s electoral vote, the Republican presidential hopefuls have framed their stance on contemporary U.S.-Latin American relations within the context of unadulterated schlock. They consistently serve up obsolete and sterile Cold War-era doctrines and diplomatic clichés with expired shelf lives. These have not only included weak (albeit fanciful) positions aimed at unhinging Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, but also upholding claims with absolutely no evidence that somehow Hamas and Hezbollah pose a grave threat by way of the Mexico border as a threatening route for terrorism. Read more ..

Book Review

Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Greatness that Was Not to Be

January 30th 2012

Book Covers - Moscow December 25

Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union. Conor O'Clery. Public Affairs. 2011.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin each ate hot cereal for breakfast, had loving and protective wives and children, rose through Communist Party ranks to become quintessential members of the nomenklatura, or bureaucratic elite. Above all, in this lively, stimulating account of the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, Conor O’Clery, the Irish Times’s Moscow-based journalist, offers a mini-John le Carré treatment of constant warfare inside the once-secret walls of the Kremlin. Endemic corruption, ineptitude, and conspiracies, plus the loss of faith in the Soviet’s military-industrial complex, a failed war in Afghanistan, and a crumbling economy helped to destroy the Soviet Union. All it seemed to need was a push from the inside. Who did what to whom and why and its consequences is the heart of O’Clery’s portrayal. Stalin, Beria and the rest of the gang of murderers were gone but what they left in their wake was a predictable quest for power and privilege by those who followed them. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Director Angelina Jolie Scorned by Serbia for Human Rights Movie

January 30th 2012

Film - land of blood and honey

She’s known internationally as one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses; she’s won praise from governments and NGOs across the globe for her work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations; and she’s often reckoned to be the world’s most beautiful woman. But Angelina Jolie has been going by a few other titles lately in the Balkan country of Serbia, where prominent media outlets have taken to describing her as an American propagandist and all-around "jerk."

The nationalistic furor stems from Jolie's recent debut as a screenwriter and director with “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a fictionalized account of the Bosnian war. Jolie and the film are now at the center of a furious debate in Serbia over the nation’s most sensitive political issue: the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and the degree of Serbia’s responsibility for ethnic cleansing campaigns against Muslim and Croat civilians during the Bosnian war.

Key voices in the Serbian media have said that Jolie’s story of a doomed wartime romance between a Muslim woman and a Serbian army officer unfairly denigrates ethnic Serbs and spins the conflict from a distinctly anti-Serb perspective. Film director Emir Kusturica recently told “Blic,” a Serbian daily, that Jolie’s new film is a work of “Hollywood propaganda.” His comments came as the Belgrade tabloid “Kurir” ran an interview with Bata Zivojinovic -- a veteran Yugoslav actor, former member of the Serbian parliament, and longtime Slobodan Milosevic ally -- under the blaring headline, "Angelina Is A Jerk." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Google Collaborates with Foreign Governments and Courts to provide Private Information

January 29th 2012

Computer Topics - google logo

There has been much speculation, conjecture, outrage, and confusion over an announcement by Google, the famed Internet search engine, over the consolidation of its various services. In a message to Internet users who use Google’s services, the U.S. based company told customers in an email, “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read. Our new policy covers multiple products and features, reflecting our desire to create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience across Google.” The change is set for March 1.

Besides the change in its privacy policy, Google continues to garner attention for what critics fear is a form of collaboration with governments that has implications not only for customers’ privacy but human rights as well. Member of Congress have requested that Google answer a series of questions about the new policy before March 1. Members of the Energy and Commerce committee, including ranking minority member Henry Waxman (D) and subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns (R), signed the letter that demands that Google describe “describe all information that Google collects from its consumers now.” Read more ..

The Race for Biofuel

Etihad Airways Leads the Way in Biofuel Use

January 29th 2012

Technology - airplane

Etihad Airways from the United Arab Emirates scores a double play in the Green World Series:  It has become both the first airline to fly on biofuel directly from the factory and the first biofuel-flying Gulf carrier. Although, not yet on its fuel-efficient Dreamliners, Etihad’s new Boeing 777-300ER traveled from its Seattle birthplace to its home base at Abu Dhabi International Airport this past Wednesday, powered by a mix of traditional fuel and plant-based biofuel. The biofuel having been created from recycled vegetable cooking oil.  Used oil from the food industry qualifies as a bio-based waste stream, its resulting carbon footprint is especially trim.

“This flight marks a significant milestone in our efforts to drive commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel in Abu Dhabi, the region, and globally. Use of presently available biofuel is just part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure that we are able to use biofuel to decarbonize an entire industry sector in the long term”, said Etihad Airways’ President and CEO James Hogan in a public statement.

Financed by $2 million of Etihad funding, this ground-breaking R&D lab is pioneering use of salt water-tolerant plants in production of alternative aviation fuel. As a member of the global Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, the airline is fully committed to developing biofuel feedstocks, which protect drinking water supplies; are non-competitive with food sources and maintain optimal biodiversity. Read more ..

The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt’s Parliament 75 Percent Islamist--So Egypt-Israel Peace Agreement "Dead" Even if Treaty Still Exists

January 29th 2012

Egypt - muslim_brotherhood
A Muslim Brotherhood Official at a Press Conference

We’re starting to get a good picture of what the lower house of Egypt’s parliament will be like. Close to 50 percent of the seats will be held by the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 25 percent will be held by the al-Nour party of Salafists. With 75 percent, the two Islamist parties will be able to do as they please.

However, they — or at least the Brotherhood — are determined to be cautious. Note that there is a big difference between actually being moderate and simply being patient, advancing step by step toward radical goals. The Western media will report that the Brotherhood is indeed moderate.

Actually, as I review coverage over the last year it is almost impossible to find even a single article in the mass media that reports any such evidence, much less analysis, despite the massive documentation available to the contrary. The non-Islamist seats will be held by the Wafd, nine percent, and the Free Egyptians Party, another nine percent, with the rest spread among a dozen different parties, mainly liberal with a small number of leftists. The Wafd will be willing to make deals with the Islamists in order to obtain a share of power for itself. Only the Free Egyptians will oppose them with determination. Read more ..

Edwin Black's "Farhud" Opened My Eyes on Yugoslavia and the Mufti

January 29th 2012
Following up on your story about Edwin Black on Book TV (see Edwin Black Exposes War-Stained Oil History of British Petroleum on C-SPAN's Book-TV with "British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement," Page One January 21, 2012), I did check it out. It was informative. But it caused me to pick up his related book, The Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. The two I think are intertwined. I found the Farhud was even more amazing. It really opened my eyes about Yugoslavia, the Balkans, and in general the unrevealed story of the Nazi-Arab alliance in Europe and the Mideast during World War II. The Mufti of Jerusalem was as much a war criminal as any of the Nazi thugs and surrogates who murdered so many in the Balkans. Why is this not taught and remembered?

The Gender Edge

New Study Explains Differences in Prejudices Among Males & Females

January 29th 2012

Social Topics - Couple

Prejudice against people from groups different than their own is linked to aggression for men and fear for women, suggests new research led by Michigan State University scholars. The researchers report that, throughout history, men have been the primary aggressors against different groups, as well as the primary victims of group-based aggression and discrimination.

“There is evidence going back thousands of years of bands of men getting together and attacking other bands of men, eliminating them and keeping the women as the spoils of war,” said Carlos David Navarrete, evolutionary psychologist at MSU. As modern examples, Navarrete noted the wars in Central Africa and the Balkans that were marred by rape and genocide.

Navarrete co-authored the study with MSU researcher Melissa McDonald and Mark Van Vugt of the University of Amsterdam and the University of Oxford. The researchers analyzed current academic literature on war and conflict and found that the standard social science theory did not explain the sex differences in aggressive or discriminatory behavior between groups. A novel theory, integrating psychology with ecology and evolutionary biology, has been introduced by the researchers. Their “male warrior hypothesis” explains how a deep evolutionary history of group conflict may have provided the backdrop for natural selection to shape the social psychologies and behaviors of men and women in fundamentally distinct ways. Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

A Return to Andalusia

January 28th 2012

Israel Topics - Praying at Western Wall

The collapse of Israeli-Palestinian agreements from the 1993 Oslo Accords until today stems from the fact that both Israeli and U.S. leaders ignore the real root of the conflict. The heart of the conflict is the denial of the existence—not the size—of any non-Muslim entity on land, that, in the eyes of Muslims, is Waqf—an inalienable religious land endowment.

On January 9, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, a close associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, stressed that all Israeli territory was Muslim Waqf land, had been since 637 CE, and would be forever. The mufti made his comments at a rally for Fatah, which Abbas heads, that was broadcast on the official state television station. The mufti also called for the killing of Jews to hasten the Islamic Resurrection. His sentiments have become rooted in the Palestinian consciousness, with the help of the Palestinian Authority educational system, as a poll from July 2011 shows. Read more ..

The Graphene Edge

Researchers Find Bilayer Graphene Acts as Insulator

January 28th 2012

Science - graphene

Research physicists at the University of California, Riverside have identified an insulating property of “bilayer graphene” (BLG) formed when two graphene sheets are stacked in a special manner.
Single layer graphene (SLG) is gapless, and cannot be completely turned off because regardless of the number of electrons on SLG, it always remains metallic and a conductor.

“This is terribly disadvantageous from an electronics point of view,” said Chun Ning (Jeanie) Lau, a member of UC Riverside’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering, in a statement. “BLG suggests a promising route – trilayer graphene and tetralayer graphene, which are likely to have much larger energy gaps that can be used for digital and infrared technologies.” Read more ..

Science News

MIT Researchers Find Critical Speed Above Which Birds - And Drones - Are Sure to Crash

January 28th 2012

Animals - Bird

The northern goshawk is one of nature's diehard thrill-seekers. The formidable raptor preys on birds and small mammals, speeding through tree canopies and underbrush to catch its quarry. With reflexes that rival a fighter pilot's, the goshawk zips through a forest at high speeds, constantly adjusting its flight path to keep from colliding with trees and other obstacles.

While speed is a goshawk's greatest asset, researchers at MIT say the bird must observe a theoretical speed limit if it wants to avoid a crash. The researchers found that, given a certain density of obstacles, there exists a speed below which a bird — and any other flying object — has a fair chance of flying collision-free. Any faster, and a bird or aircraft is sure to smack into something, no matter how much information it has about its environment. A paper detailing the results has been accepted to the IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation. Read more ..

The Edge of Gadgets

Eureka! Kitchen Gadget Inspires Scientist to Make More Effective Plastic Electronics

January 28th 2012

Food - vacuum food sealer

One day in 2010, Rutgers physicist Vitaly Podzorov watched a store employee showcase a kitchen gadget that vacuum-seals food in plastic. The demo stuck with him. The simple concept – an airtight seal around pieces of food – just might apply to his research: developing flexible electronics using lightweight organic semiconductors for products such as video displays or solar cells.

“Organic transistors, which switch or amplify electronic signals, hold promise for making video displays that bend like book pages or roll and unroll like posters,” said Podzorov. But traditional methods of fabricating a part of the transistor known as the gate insulator often end up damaging the transistor’s delicate semiconductor crystals. Read more ..

Film Review

W./E.: Wallis Simpson was Not As Dreadful as Madonna's Film Treatment of Her life

January 28th 2012

Film - W./E.

W./E. Director: Madonna. Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle. Length: 119 mins.

The Wikipedia entry for Madonna lists no fewer than ten professions to describe her ‘occupation’. Well, here is number 11: self-appointed Promoter of the Cause for the Canonization of St. Wallis of Baltimore. 

W./E. is not a film about Wallis Simpson; rather it is a film by a woman obsessed with Wallis about a woman obsessed with Wallis. In 1998, New Yorker, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) escapes her own marital difficulties by imagining a friendship with her namesake, played by Andrea Riseborough. An auction of the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Sotheby’s acts as a tenuous portal between the supposedly parallel lives of the two women.

Just in case the viewer struggles to spot immediately the similarities (names aside) between these two very different women, Madonna paints the picture for us, but it is more of a paint-by-numbers job than a masterpiece. The two women are both defined by their marriages (Wally, at an event to celebrate her husband’s extremely successful career in psychiatry, is referred to as ‘Married Lady’; Wallis’ three weddings are all highlighted). Both are victims of domestic violence, and brutal it is too. Read more ..

Inside the Middle East

Masdar Visionary Tells the Untold Story

January 28th 2012

Nature - ziad-tassmasdar
Ziad Tassabehji, one of the most influential men in the new green Middle East

He came from the dot-com market with a boom and a bust, but in the Arab world. Ziad Tassabehji has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Born in Lebanon and now living in the UK after more than two decades in the United Arab Emirates, Ziad started his first Internet company before there was even Internet in Dubai in 1995. By 2002 after a major downsizing to keep his tech company afloat, he changed course and moved into renewable energy and sustainable development.

Ever hear of Masdar, the zero-energy city in Abu Dhabi? The city that has moonscape mashrabiya surfaces, people podcar movers and a student body whose coffee is brewed by solar power? Read more ..

The Lawrence Bully Who Attacked Autistic Man is a Spineless Coward

January 28th 2012

How cruel that a spineless bully in Lawrence Kansas jumped an autistic person (Autistic Man Viciously Attacked in Kansas by Unknown Assailant, News, Jan07, 2012). I am certain that this spineless bully belongs in prison so he can get some of what he dishes out. The sooner police catch this cowardly menace, the better. I hope the sentence matches the crime--and he spends hard days behind bars. By now you have figured out that autistic men and women are special human beings--and that I am the proud parent of one. None of them deserve this type of treatment in a world already hard enough.

Cyber Wars

Mideast Hackers Engage in Virtual War with Real Consequences

January 28th 2012

Arab Topics - Arab internet

A virtual conflict is developing in the Middle East, involving high speed internet connections and keyboards rather than missiles and tanks. It has been a victimless affair so far, though it carries the potential for more serious harm in the future, and serves as a wakeup call for the Israeli private sector to beef up its online defenses. At the start of January, an Arab hacker claiming to be from Saudi Arabia broke into an Israeli coupon website and stole tens of thousands of credit card numbers.

The hacker, calling himself 0xOmar, announced his hostility to Israel, and proceeded to publicize the credit card details, encouraging others to begin using the numbers to make online purchases. Israeli credit card companies and the Bank of Israel mounted a speedy defense, cancelling all affected accounts and issuing new cards overnight. But 0xOmar succeeded in firing the first shot in an escalating internet feud with Israeli hackers. Not long afterwards, a group of Israeli hackers fired back, releasing hundreds of hacked Saudi credit card numbers on the internet. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Are the Rights of Palestinian Women Protected by the PA?

January 28th 2012

Palestine Topics - PLO Flags

Discrimination against women is common in Palestinian society and institutionalized by Palestinian authorities in the territories, particularly in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Physical violence, including spousal abuse, employment prejudice and education inequities are just some of the ways that Palestinian women are mistreated on a daily basis. Like the abuse of women throughout the Arab and Muslim world, however, the media, human rights organizations and even women’s rights groups have paid little attention to these violations of human rights.

In January 2012, women employees at the Palestinian Women’s Affairs Ministry began a “hunger strike till death” to protest harassment and mistreatment of women by their own leadership. “The situation is [so] grave,” one striker said, “[that] women have received threats to be shot in their legs … [or] not to let [into] their offices.”

Such abuse, though, is only the tip of the iceberg. Read more ..

America on Edge

Don’t Write Off America in 2012

January 28th 2012

America Themes - lady liberty

One of the staples of 2011 punditry has been the “decline” of the United States. See Google’s 190,000,000 results in 0.26 seconds for “U.S. decline in power.”

China in particular, pundits say, is about to eat our economic lunch, and all that’s left for us is to figure out how to slide gracefully into irrelevance.

True, the economy isn’t great. That’s in part because the administrations failed to invest in the one area of manufacturing that can be done only by American workers who already exist—the defense industry—to replace and upgrade a decade’s worth of spent war materiel. Equally true, the administration is politically and militarily diminishing American leadership. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

China's Great Challenge to U.S. in Latin America

January 28th 2012

Brazil - Dilma Roussef and Hu Jintao
Meeting of Hu Jintao of China and Dilma Roussef of Brazil

Does China represent an economic and political threat to the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere? Four experts describe the playing field faced by the United States in Latin America, a region that has been traditionaly where the U.S. has exercised economic, commercial and military leadership.
Congressman Connie Mack Answers:

China’s economic expansion is rapidly filling spaces vacated and ignored by the United States. In the Western Hemisphere, the lack of a coherent U.S. foreign policy has left the door wide open for a variety of actors. China hasn’t hesitated. 

While the U.S. waited five years to pass free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, China has been working with Colombia on developing a coast-to-coast railroad as an alternative to the Panama Canal. While the U.S. spends four years dithering over the Keystone XL pipeline, a slam-dunk energy project with another hemispheric ally—Canada— China has made preparations to buy Canadian oil through new pipelines and invested heavily in national oil companies in Brazil and Venezuela. China has invested in Peru’s mining, oil, wood, fishing, and tourism sectors. Chinese groups have signed agreements in Brazil and Argentina to develop millions of acres of farmland to boost its food security. Read more ..

The Lawrence Bully Needs to be Apprehended

January 28th 2012

My son is autistic and brilliant but certainly must put up with a certain level of abuse in school. This is why I join others in being absolutely infuriated by the bully of Lawrence who attacked the defenseless autistic person in broad daylight near a shopping district in Lawrence (Autistic Man Viciously Attacked in Kansas by Unknown Assailant, News, Jan07, 2012). He must be apprehended. If this vile bully with so bad a self-esteem issue will do this to a defenseless man, he can do much worse to any other member of the community.

EDITORS NOTE: The Cutting Edge News will be following up on this assault. Anyone with information on the man responsible should send information to editors@thecuttingedgenews.com. The information will be shared with law enforcement. Sources will be fully protected and remain confidential.

The Race for Solar

Illuminating Dark Continents with Solar Power

January 28th 2012

Energy Topics - Solar/LED streetlight

How can local governments keep public spaces and roads illuminated at night in places where there’s no electricity, or an unreliable supply? Solar power, obviously.

But there’s a catch.

“The vast majority of solar-powered streetlights and similar fixtures on the market don’t survive for long,” according to Zeev Jakoby, managing director of Israeli startup Globe Light & Water System. “That’s why we’ve devised a sturdy, solar-powered light fixture that needs no infrastructure.”

This could prove a godsend to developing nations where a lack of street lighting results in dangerous driving conditions and far slower economies. “It’s designed with the African market in mind,” explains Jakoby, who spent many years in Nigeria overseeing construction projects. Read more ..

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