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The Caliphate

Significant War Damage Done to Syrian World Heritage Sites

September 25th 2014

Great Mosque of Aleppo before its destruction.

In war-torn Syria, five of six World Heritage sites now "exhibit significant damage" and some structures have been "reduced to rubble," according to new high-resolution satellite image analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS analysis, offering the first comprehensive look at the extent of damage to Syria's priceless cultural heritage sites, was completed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology's Penn Cultural Heritage Center (PennCHC) and the Smithsonian Institution, and in cooperation with the Syrian Heritage Task Force. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the analysis provides authoritative confirmation of previous on-the-ground reports of damage to individual sites. Read more ..

Fracking America

Fracking Natural Gas Wells Mean Too Many Hotel Rooms in Pennsylvania

September 19th 2014

Drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region led to a rapid increase in both the number of hotels and hotel industry jobs, but Penn State researchers report that the faltering occupancy rate may signal that there are now too many hotel rooms.

"Demand is still high in many of the counties in the Marcellus Shale region, but the occupancy rate is starting to come down," said Daniel Mount, an associate professor in hospitality management. "The case could be made that this is a sign that hotels were overbuilt."

Marcellus drilling operations generated approximately $685 million in hotel revenues and added an extra 1,600 new hotel jobs since 2006, according to the researchers, who report their findings in the International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education Penn State Research Reports. However, the latest figures show that demand for rooms may be decreasing. For example, in 2012, demand was flat and occupancy was down 4.1 percent. Read more ..

Ukraine on Edge

Dutch Report Confirms Malaysia Airlines MH17 Downed by 'High-Energy Objects'

September 9th 2014

Dutch investigators say Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 likely broke up mid-air over eastern Ukraine after being hit by numerous "high-energy objects." The preliminary report released by the Dutch Safety Board comes nearly two months after the plane crashed in rebel-held territory in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

Western governments have accused pro-Moscow separatists of using a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile to shoot down the plane. The report did not explicitly say a missile was to blame, but David Kaminski, air transport editor at Flight International, told VOA the evidence seems to continue to point in that direction. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Land of a Thousand Caves

Denisovan cave dig

The 480 caves of Beit Guvrin-Maresha, Israel’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, are very cool – in more ways than one.

You don’t have to be a professional spelunker to explore hundreds of ancient Beit Guvrin-Maresha caves between Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Gat in central Israel. Just put on a good pair of walking shoes.

Always a popular family destination, this 1,250-acre national park Israel was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014.

The main attraction for some 200,000 annual visitors is the manmade chalk caves — 200 in Beit Guvrin, 200 in Maresha and 80 in between. Over the course of 2,000 years, people used these caves as quarries, stables, granaries, storerooms, water cisterns, workspaces for pressing grapes and olives, cultic houses of worship, dovecotes, hideouts and gravesites. Read more ..

Ebola Outbreak

CDC Director Friedan Says Ebola Outbreak is Getting Worse

August 28th 2014

According to Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will get worse before it gets better, needing an "unprecedented" response to bring it under control.

Dr. Frieden met Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on August 27 to discuss ways to fight the disease. "The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better," he admitted.

"The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported," he said. Read more ..

Destination Crimea

Chaos In Kerch: Russia Struggles To Ferry Tourists To Crimea

August 23rd 2014

Traffic Jam

Since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March, the Kremlin has said it is Russians' patriotic duty to spend their summer holidays at the peninsula's resorts.

But Russian tourists taking up the call have found that actually getting to Crimea for their Black Sea vacations is no easy task.

With the tourist season hitting its peak, thousands of Crimea-bound vehicles have been forced to wait in line for as long as 40 hours for the ferry crossing the Kerch Strait, the only point -- other than by air -- where Russians can cross into Crimea.

According to Russia's transport authorities, at any given time more than 2,000 vehicles are lined up on both sides of the Kerch Strait crossing. Just five ferries sail between Crimea and Russia's southern Krasnodar region. Photos and videos posted on the Internet depict angry tourists complaining about the heat, the dust -- and each other.

The summer heat has forced many to strip down to their swimwear. Others sought shelter from the scorching sun behind cardboard shades on their windshields.  And some try to attack cars trying to skip the queue. "I've been waiting for 20 hours with a sick child inside the car. Please, let me pass," cries a woman in a video posted on YouTube as several men and women block her way. Read more ..

Travel Safe

FAA Sparks More Safety Fears Regarding Lithium Batteries

August 13th 2014


New research by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has sparked fears that lithium batteries can explode and burn even more violently than previously thought.  The test results raising questions about lithium battery use and shipment on airplanes. The FAA tests were conducted because many airlines are replacing paper charts with laptops and tablet computers and the regulator wanted to see what would happen if one of their rechargeable lithium-ion battery cells ignited. In one test, the cockpit filled with smoke thick enough to obscure instruments and vision out the window for about five minutes.

The findings, posted on the FAAs website, raise an even bigger issue beyond laptops as makers of the rechargeable cells can ship the products in bulk in the cargo areas of passenger airplanes. One test found the batteries may blow up, which might render airplane fire-suppression systems ineffective. Read more ..

Ebola Outbreak

North Carolina Imposes Quarantine for Health Workers Returning from Africa

August 12th 2014

North Carolina is stepping up efforts to guard against the possible spread of the Ebola virus to the United States.

On August 10, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said anyone returning from Africa who worked with Ebola patients will be put into quarantine.

That precautionary measure will mean isolation for three weeks after a missionary’s last contact with an Ebola-infected person.

Two missionaries from North Carolina-based aid organizations contracted the deadly virus working at a clinic in Liberia with Ebola-infected patients. Read more ..

Destination America

Historic US Route 66 Still Sparks Wanderlust

August 9th 2014

Route 66, the legendary highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, offered a road to a better life for many Americans, and became a symbol of wanderlust in 20th century. The highway, called the main street of America, is the focus of an exhibit in Los Angeles. 

Route 66 covered nearly 4,000 kilometers of the American heartland and West, and generations came westward on this route long before it became a paved highway. The writer John Steinbeck called it the "Mother Road," and it became a symbol of freedom for 1950s Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road.

Great migration
His manuscript, typed on a 35-meter scroll, is on display at the Autry National Center of the American West, which has put on the Route 66 exhibit. Also there is Woody Guthrie's guitar. The folk singer was one of many who celebrated the highway, which offered an escape from drought-stricken Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. Read more ..

Destination Tunisia

Mysterious Lake Pops Up Overnight In Tunisia

August 6th 2014

Tunisia Mystery Lake

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake.

Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Tunisia offers other-worldly landscapes, fantastical and mysterious. Did you know that four of the Star Wars movies were partially filmed in the southern part of the country? (Tunisia had a starring role as the planet Tatooine). Now, adding to the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, the tiny republic has another tourist attraction – a newborn lake. Discovered by shepherds just last month in the middle of Tunisian desert,  there has been no official explanation for its sudden appearance. Some geologists have proposed that seismic activity may have disrupted the natural water table, pushing water from underground aquifers to the surface.  Others disagree.

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country.

Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline.  Authorities have warned that the water, which began as a transparent turquoise until rapidly blooming algae turned it murky green, could be radioactive. That hasn’t deterred visitors who buck the 40°C  heat by swimming, diving, and floating atop inflatable rafts.

- See more at: http://www.greenprophet.com/2014/08/mysterious-possibly-radioactive-lake-appears-out-of-the-blue-in-tunisia/#sthash.MNG6Wwdg.dpuf

Authorities have calculated that the lake area exceeds one hectare, with depths ranging from 10 to 18 meters; that indicates a total water volume of one million cubic meters – liquid gold for the drought-ridden country. Locally dubbed “Lac de Gafsa”, so far more than 600 people have traveled to the pool and a makeshift beach has grown along its shoreline. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Traditional Burial Practices Hamper Fight with Deadly Ebola Virus

August 3rd 2014

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World Health Organization officials say traditional burial practices are among the obstacles that are making it difficult to control the worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa's history.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said health and relief workers have been trying to educate families in the affected region about how to bury their loved ones without exposing themselves to the virus.

He said people who touch the dead could be putting themselves at risk.

"At the moment when a person died from Ebola, this is the moment when the person is the most infectious and when the viral load is the highest," he said.

Dangerous practice

Jasarevic has been working with local officials in Guinea and Sierra Leone. In many cultures, he said, families wash the bodies of their loved ones before burial, but this practice is dangerous for Ebola victims because of the presence of bodily fluids.

"Usually there is the point just before the death, there is bleeding," he said.

Jasarevic also said their could be vomit or diarrhea.

Peter Schleicher, a Red Cross operations manager in Liberia, said another obstacle for relief workers in affected communities is fear, explaining that people in some communities have prevented trained health professionals from safely burying Ebola victims.

"We got a report back from one of our teams in the field that they have now been blocked by the angry community and they have been denied access," he said. Schleicher said the team members were told to turn back to keep from putting themselves at risk. Read more ..

Air Travel on Edge

Putin has Blood on His Hands, But Ukraine Airliner Disaster is No Re-Run of KAL 007

July 26th 2014

The tragic shoot-down over Ukraine of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 Boeing 777 that killed 298 people on board revives gruesome memories of similar events during the last phase of the Cold War in the 1980s. But the comparisons are not quite what we might expect.

The best explanation of the MH17 disaster is on a strangely-titled website, Scallywag and Vagabond, which draws from a variety of sources including the UK’s Daily Mail and the Kiev Post, and cites Dr. Igor Sutyagin, a Research Fellow in Russian Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, the Security Service of Ukraine [SBU], and other Ukrainian officials.

This article presents evidence that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in late June bragged about obtaining a BUK missile launcher, and just before the shoot-down of MH17 had placed it in a civilian area with the goal of shooting down Ukrainian military planes. The article includes images that it suggests might be the missile launcher in transit and in placement. The BUK can hit objects up to 25 km or 75,000 feet in altitude, well above the altitude of commercial airliners. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

President Obama Hopes Ukraine Jet Disaster will 'Stiffen' Europe's Spine

July 25th 2014

President Obama on Thursday said the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight last week "may stiffen the spine of our Europeans partners moving forward” as the U.S. pushes for tougher sanctions on Russia.

In an interview on CNBC, Obama said the United States is seeing Europe "move with us" behind additional penalties on Moscow.

Obama, though, acknowledged that many European counties are "concerned about a robust response to the violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity that Russia's been conducting." Read more ..

North Africa on Edge

Algerian Airliner goes Missing over Conflictive Sahara Desert

July 24th 2014

Air Algerie, Algeria's national airline, says it lost contact with one of its planes flying from Burkina Faso to Algiers across the Sahara at approximately 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou. The plane was last seen at 01:55 GMT. There were 50 French citizens among the 110 passengers and six crew on board Flight AH 5017. There were also 10 Lebanese nationals on board. Reportedly, the pilot contacted Niger's control tower in Niamey to change course because of a storm. The plane was flying a route frequently used by French travellers. A spokesperson for Air Algerie said that a provisional passenger lists included 24 people from Burkina Faso, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian. Read more ..

Destination France

Barging in Burgandy

July 22nd 2014


Good food, good wine, good company, the rolling hills of Burgundy and tranquility. That’s what we found aboard the barge l’Impressioniste as we slowly cruised the historic Burgundy Canal in Eastern France. 

Unlike cruises on board ocean-going ships with hundreds or even thousands of passengers, a cruise on a European Waterways (EW) barge is custom-tailored for sophisticated travelers who value simple pleasures and the companionship of like-minded folks in a floating "house-party" atmosphere. Like all EW barges, l’Impressioniste first saw life as a working barge and was later converted into a hotel barge. She accommodates twelve passengers in six comfortable staterooms, each with ensuite bathroom. Her public space includes an expansive deck, complete with hot tub, and a spacious, "clubby" saloon, a perfect setting for memorable meals and good conversation. Read more ..

Destination Saudi Arabia

Desert Tourism Gets Hot in Saudi Arabia!

July 21st 2014

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

What’s a beach without a shoreline, or a dune perch that overlooks a horizon of…more sand? According to the World Tourism Organization, it’s the newest frontier in eco-tourism – welcome news for the Middle East.

Deserts hold huge potential when it comes to environmental tourism. For Saudi Arabia, largely covered by desert, the possibilities soar. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) is looking to transform Saudi deserts into cash machines by attracting adventurous people with a love for exotic nature and extreme sport. Newfangled activities such as dune-riding and sand-surfing capitalize on alternative “powder” surfaces.

There are camel and horse races to observe or participate in. Looking for a trip with less testosterone? Try camping under tranquil nighttime skies unfettered by light pollution; hike and observe exotic animals and plant life in virgin oasis settings. Read more ..

Destination Washington DC

Unique US Festival Showcases Wonders of Chinese Culture

July 18th 2014

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A curious child waddles up to the man holding a brightly colored kite. She asks him a question but he can only sheepishly smile to show that he does not understand her language. She nonetheless smiles back broadly as he lets her hold the paper kite. Though they cannot speak with each other, they’ve just experienced what the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., is all about: cultural exchange.

Between the classic American landmarks, the Capitol building and the Washington Monument lay China and Kenya -- or, rather, a small taste of the culture and traditions that these countries have to offer. They're this year's featured countries for the annual festival, which opened last weekend on the National Mall and resumes July 2-6. The festival attracts almost one million visitors each year, who come to see an array of performers and artisans.

"We're bringing about 120 people from China - musicians, dancers, calligraphers, kite makers, embroiderers, batik dyers - to demonstrate and to share their traditions with our public," said Jim Deutsch, the Smithsonian's program curator. Together, they provide a diverse picture of China's landscape. Read more ..

Destination NYC

From Vast to Nano, at NYC Museum

July 17th 2014


Inside the Queens Museum in New York, there's another New York City, in miniature: a 50-year-old diorama of the city, built as an exhibit for the New York World's Fair in 1964.

At nearly 870 square meters, the Panorama of the City of New York is the world's largest scale-model of an urban environment. Every New York street, building, and landmark erected before 1992 is represented, from the Chrysler Building to Central Park, and all 100 or so bridges.

Visitors gawk from the surrounding ramps and balconies as day turns to night every 20 minutes, and tiny lights twinkle on - until dawn breaks again. But the museum's central and permanent attraction also presents an unusual problem for exhibitions director and curator Hitomi Iwasaki. "No matter what fantastic exhibition you think you put outside, everybody goes back to the Panorama and goes 'wow!'" she said.  Read more ..

The Way We Are

TSA Looks for Terrorist Threat in Cellphones

July 7th 2014

The Transportation Security Administration is now asking some travelers on direct flights to the United States to turn on their cellphones to make sure they power up.

“This is not something to overreact to or overspeculate about, but it's something we felt was necessary,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “In this instance we felt that it was important to crank it up some at the last point of departure airports and we'll continually evaluate the situation,” he said.

The screening includes all electronic devices.

“Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft,” TSA said in a statement. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

US Increases Foreign Airport Security -- Cellphones and other Electronic Devices

July 6th 2014

United Airlines jet liner

Passengers taking international flights into the United States now must have their cell phones and other electronic devices pass additional inspection before boarding planes, as part of the Transportation Security Administration’s most recent strategy to protect against the threat of a new type of terror attack.

The TSA said Sunday it is requiring only some overseas airports to conduct the additional inspections. The agency also said devices that fail to power up won't be allowed on planes and that their owners might have to undergo extra screening before boarding. “As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are (already) screened by security officers,” the agency said in a release.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday ordered the TSA to put extra security measures in place at some international airports with direct flights to the U.S., based on intelligence that suggests new Al Qaeda efforts to produce a bomb that would go undetected through airport security. Some experts have suggested such a device would be planted in a laptop or other such electronic devices. Read more ..

Crimea on Edge

Tourist Season A Washout In Annexed Crimea

July 5th 2014

Dead Sea Resort

If some Crimeans are still enthusiastic about their region's annexation by Russia, tourism workers are not among them.

With Crimea now under Russian control, Ukrainians, who traditionally account for two-thirds of tourists to the region, are snubbing it in favor of other destinations.

European vacationers, deterred by Russia's controversial takeover and the current bloodshed between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, are also steering away from Crimean shores.

Moscow has pulled out all the stops in an effort to boost the number of Russians spending their summer break on the peninsula. But as the promised stream of Russian visitors fails to materialize, the many Crimeans relying on tourism for their livelihoods are reporting catastrophic losses. Read more ..

Destination Spain

Despite Economic Woes, Spain Registers Peak Year for Tourism

July 4th 2014

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According to figures published by Spain's national tourism agency, the Iberian country showed record breaking tourist figures during the month of May. For May, the number of tourists ran to a whopping 21.4 million foreign tourists who visited during the months of January to May 2014. This shows an increase of 8.2% year-on-year.

During the month of May alone, 6.1 million holidaymakers visited the Spanish mainland and islands, a 5.7% year on year increase and a record in the history of Spanish tourism.

British and French visitors were especially well represented. With over 300,000 more British tourists visiting Spain this year compared with 2013, they accounted for 22% of all tourists during the period. Over 340,000 more French were registered for the same period. German tourists accounted for 16.6% of all incoming foreign visitors, an 8.1% year-on-year increase. Read more ..

Edgy Travel

Kazakhstan Has a Long Way to Go as a Tourist Destination

July 3rd 2014

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Borat generated a lot of laughs at Kazakhs' expense, but he also helped put their country on the map for international travelers. The fictional Kazakh character, who starred in the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, was once credited with attracting tourists to the Central Asian country. Now the country is trying to reach the next level and become a top destination for domestic and foreign holidaymakers. Astana intends to invest some $10 billion -- including up to $6 billion from private investors -- to develop its tourism sector by 2020. The country boasts a wealth of attractions -- including picturesque lakes and mountains, hot-mineral springs, and archeological wonders. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Healing Powers of the Dead Sea

June 30th 2014

Dead Sea Resort

People seeking relief from chronic skin, respiratory and joint conditions benefit from the unique solar and mineral properties found only at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has become a popular destination for medical tourism.

Cleopatra knew about the healing properties at the Dead Sea thousands of years ago. Today, the same one-of-a-kind results are still sought by people seeking long-lasting relief from incurable chronic conditions such as psoriasis, asthma and arthritis. A stay of 14 to 28 days allows the sun and minerals at this lowest spot on Earth to work their magic.

“It’s very effective and 100 percent natural, plus it’s relaxing because you are at a beach resort,” says Pini Shani, head of marketing at the Tourism Ministry’s international department. “Many of those who come have tried other things that didn’t work. A few thousand people return year after year.” Read more ..

Travel Security

The Threat of Chikungunya Disease Spreads Worldwide

June 19th 2014

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A Kenyan mosquito scout at work

It’s not an illness you hear much about, but it can make a person feel miserable for years. And it’s sometimes fatal. It’s spreading and scientists describe the mosquito-borne disease as a major public health threat around the world. It’s called Chikungunya. The World Health Organization says the name comes from the Kimakonde language spoken along the Mozambique-Tanzania border. It means “to become contorted.” The name describes those suffering from the disease because they are often stooped over.

Dr. Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas, said, “It’s a mosquito-borne virus. It originated in Africa and still circulates there now. Its original transmission cycle involves mosquitos in forest habitats and non-human primates. That’s the main vertebrae hosts. But periodically it emerges from that cycle into an urban cycle involving people and different kinds of mosquitos.” Read more ..

Brazilian Idylls

World Cup Preparations Bring Unrest to Festive Brazil

June 12th 2014

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World Cup 2014 is set to kick off in Brazil, launching a month of action that will see teams representing 32 nations do battle in hopes of being crowned champion of the world's top team sporting event.

In the opening match in Sao Paolo, host Brazil meets Croatia.

According to bookmakers, Brazil is favored to win. Brazil has already won a record five titles.

Defending champion Spain is bidding to make history by becoming the first side from Europe to win a World Cup in South America.

Only eight nations have won the World Cup, all from Europe and South America.

Bosnia will be playing in its very first World Cup this year. Read more ..

The Way We Were

French Contributions to Early American Cuisine

June 10th 2014

A geologist studied fossils to confirm that stones used in 19th century Ohio grain mills originated from France. Fossils embedded in these millstones were analyzed to determine that stones known as French buhr were imported from regions near Paris, France, to Ohio in the United States. Dr. Joseph Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, was lead author on research published in the Society for Sedimentary Geology journal PALAIOS.

The study documents a technique that uses fossils to definitively distinguish French buhr from similar-looking Ohio chert (also known as flint). The most revealing fossil is a one-millimeter wide reproductive structure of a charophyte (a type of algae also known as a stonewort) that occurs in the rocks of the Paris Basin, a geological province centered around Paris, France. Read more ..

Haiti on Edge

Chikungunya Fever Virus Strikes Devastated Haiti

May 31st 2014

Already struck hard by a cholera epidemic that started in 2010, the island nation of Haiti now faces a new threat in the expanding chikungunya virus, authorities said on May 28. “We have had 8,201 deaths from cholera since its reappearance in Haiti in 2010, while 830,601 cases have been confirmed,” Health Minister Florence Duperval said on May 29.

A second deadly disease, that had already been spreading among the Caribbean islands, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia, has emerged as a second health crisis in Haiti. Transmitted by mosquitoes, the virus causes high fever and severe joint pain, disproportionately striking poorer neighborhoods where homes often have no windows or screens. “We are putting in place steps to fight the chikungunya outbreak which is being felt almost nationwide,” Duperval added. The measures include fumigation and medications, she said. Read more ..

The World Cup

World Cup Soccer Hosts See Big Attendance Increases

May 30th 2014

Big soccer clubs in nations that host the World Cup enjoy significant bumps in attendance after the event, which provides at least a small ray of sunshine amid the howls of protest from Brazilians over the extravagant hosting costs.

Economists have shown that the cost of hosting big sporting events like the World Cup dwarf any perceived economic benefits for the host.

However, the 15-to-20 percent attendance boost Brazil will enjoy after the World Cup offers a bit of a consolation, says University of Michigan sports economist Stefan Szymanski—though it still won't offset the price to host the event. Read more ..

The Edge of Air Travel

K9 Flight School Trains Dogs for Air Travel

May 20th 2014


Traveling by air can be very stressful - the crowds, the noise, the sometimes intrusive security procedures, the airplanes’ closed environment.  People can take a course to get over their fear of flying.  Service dogs can too.

Service dogs almost never leave their owners, even on public transportation, including airplanes.  But a busy airport environment can be disorienting and distressing for dogs, even well-trained ones.

People with disabilities, who rely on their dogs, want to make sure their companions will be able to safely lead them through security checkpoints and stay calm even during occasional turbulence in flight.

They can turn to the Air Hollywood K9 Flight School, where owners and their dogs go through the entire procedure including spending time in a flight simulator, built for filming movie flight scenes.

Dogs experience all the sights, sounds and vibrations of a real flight.

Sandy Alexander, from Newport Beach, California, has a disability that requires his two-year-old Labrador, Doc, to be by his side at all times. Alexander says Doc didn’t like the turbulence.

“When that started he was pretty agitated and looked up at me and wasn't sure what was going on and I think we are going to be prepared the next time it happens,” he said. Successful training is based on a simple rule: repetition, says trainer Mary Segall, with Canine Companions for Independence, which provides dogs for people with disabilities. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

A Mother's Quest for Justice Sheds Light on Mexico's Violence Against Women

May 14th 2014

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In September 1998, the van Nierop family of Holland was enjoying a family vacation in the mountains of northern Mexico. Oldest daughter Hester had just graduated with a degree in architecture and was on her way to the United States to seek employment or an internship.

Studying a map, the family determined that the easiest way to cross the border from their vantage point in Chihuahua state’s Sierra Tarahumara would be a “little” place named Ciudad Juarez. Bidding good bye to Hester, parents Arsene and Roeland van Nierop then headed to Mexico City for the flight back to the Netherlands. But Hester never made it to the United States or fulfilled her dream of becoming a professional architect. Read more ..

Poland on Edge

Poles Seek to Revive the Vanished Jewish Culture

May 10th 2014

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About an hour’s drive from the heart of darkness that was the Auschwitz death camp, there is a bright sunlit room in Krakow full of young Poles learning Hebrew.

“Metzuyan!” (Excellent!) the teacher exclaims in Hebrew, encouraging her students, who like her, are not Jewish. Together they negotiate the foreign tongue with zest, and give it a Polish twist.

“Teachers love to drink vodka with lemon,” they say in Hebrew in unison, repeating after the teacher.

More than three million Jews lived in Poland before World War II. Now, they number in the thousands. Fairly or not, Poland is often accused of having played a role in the Holocaust; but, non-Jewish Poles are working to bring Judaism back to Krakow, hoping to chip away at the perception of their country as a bulwark of anti-Semitism. And the Jewish community is beginning to thrive. Read more ..

Destination America

Hollywood-related Exhibits Give Museums a Boost

May 6th 2014

Wizard of Oz

For years, audiences have flocked to museums to see exhibits of film props and iconic pop culture artifacts.

For example, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are a major draw at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. Some museums are going a step further, capitalizing on audience interest by creating exhibits around new movie releases to tell real-life stories. 

That's the case with the 2012 political thriller Argo, which won four Oscar awards last year.  The film tells the story of a covert operation led by CIA agent Tony Mendez, who created a phony Canadian film crew in a scheme to rescue six U.S. diplomats who were in hiding at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran after the Iranian revolution. Argo is the subject of a recent exhibit at the International Spy Museum, where visitors can see authentic photos and documents about the operation. Read more ..

Destination Jerusalem

Iconic Jerusalem Hotel Transformed into Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem

April 10th 2014

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After seven years of construction and an investment of $150 million, the only internationally branded luxury hotel in Jerusalem, Waldorf Astoria, has officially opened for business right before the Passover holiday. Welcoming its first international guests who reserved rooms for the April opening on Thursday, the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem has once again returned to its historical role of serving as a landmark destination for tourists.

Formerly known as the Palace Hotel which originally opened in 1929, the current 'grand luxury' hotel has sparkling crystal chandeliers that cost over $2 million, Italian-made furniture and rugs, and hundreds of glass mezuzahs made in the Czech Republic. 

"This is Israel's biggest and longest restoration project in Israel," said Guy Klaiman, the General Manager of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem who has had 25 years of working in the Hilton enterprise abroad. Read more ..

Destination Crimea

Can Crimea Reclaim Its Role As Russia's Beach Getaway Of Choice?

April 3rd 2014


In 1782, as Catherine the Great was pondering whether to annex Crimea, her lover and military adviser Grigory Potemkin urged her on, arguing: "Russia needs its paradise."

More than two centuries later, Russia has once again reclaimed its "paradise" with the forced annexation of the Black Sea peninsula. But it remains to be seen whether Crimea, in turn, can reclaim its past reputation as a bustling tourist draw and beachfront to the elite.

Writers Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov, and Lev Tolstoi all sought out Crimea's exotic climate, extolling its virtues in their work. In the Soviet era, the peninsula was the preferred playground of the Communist elite and cadres of favored bureaucrats and students.

Crimea's luster, and infrastructure, has crumbled in the post-Soviet years. Many Russians are now accustomed to traveling abroad, flooding the beaches of Turkey, Spain, and the French Riviera. Those who still choose Crimea are drawn more by cheap prices and summer rave parties than by past notions of luxury. Read more ..

Malaysia on Edge

China Examines Satellite Images of Possible Malaysia Airlines Jet Debris

March 22nd 2014

Malaysia's defense minister says a Chinese satellite has spotted a large object floating in the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks.

"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area. Beijing is expected to make an announcement in a few hours,'' Malaysian Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

He said on March 22 that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 22 meters (72 feet) by 30 meters (100 feet).

However, he said there was still no confirmation that debris detected by a satellite in the Indian Ocean several days ago was from a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Read more ..

South of the Border

The Soul and Sounds of Acapulco

March 16th 2014

As dusk stirs, Acapulco’s Zocalo, or town square, becomes a cacophony of sounds. On a given day, visitors might hear a woman street musician playing a violin, the municipal orchestra soothing a mainly older audience, a poet reading revolutionary verse, or a clown tickling the old funny bones.

On one side of the old plaza, the pirate CD vendor cranks up a sample of popular banda music, while cavernous-like murmurs drift out from the Cathedral with its Virgin of Soledad, the protector of Acapulco. And like clockwork, noisy grackle birds lay down the back track in a tree-stand chorus.

Despite their historic importance, Acapulco’s Zocalo and adjacent barrios witnessed hard times in recent years. As crime and violence intensified and tourism plunged, businesses shut down or downsized. Read more ..

Aviation Edge

Malaysia Airline Flight Disappearance was 'Deliberate Action'

March 15th 2014

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Malaysian, American and other authorities investigating what happened to a missing jetliner en route to China one week ago are concluding that its disappearance was a deliberate action.

Malaysia's prime minister confirms that whatever took Flight 370 off course was not an accident.

Najib Razak told reporters Saturday the transponder of Flight 370 appears to have been deliberately switched off before the airliner turned back, flew west over peninsula Malaysia and then shifted to a northwest heading.

Najib said, "Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane."

But the prime minister emphasized that hijacking is not the only possibility authorities are considering for the suspicious actions.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Read more ..

Destinaion Israel

Voluntouring in Israel

February 17th 2014


Voluntourists to Israel are sure to return home with a better experience of how to share responsibility to heal, repair and transform the world. Going on holiday can mean relaxing or sightseeing, tasting new foods or learning firsthand about new cultures. A growing segment of vacationers, however, goes abroad to work for free.

Voluntourism – volunteering and tourism — has been cited as one of the fastest-growing sectors of worldwide tourism. Israel, a top destination for a myriad of reasons from historical to cultural, biblical to religious, is proving to be a leading location for voluntourists as well.

People of just about any age can farm, perform dentistry, respond to emergency calls, serve in the army, work in animal or environmental conservation, pick fruit on a kibbutz or make a person in need smile.

“Volunteers can make a difference even if they come for an hour,” says Deena Fiedler, spokeswoman for the national food bank Leket Israel. “They’re in our fields or in our packing warehouse; they’re preparing sandwiches, rescuing surplus food. They’re making a difference. We couldn’t do what we do without the volunteers.” Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Vice President Biden's LaGuardia Gaffe Provokes NYC Mayor De Blasio

February 8th 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) defended LaGuardia Airport on Friday after a high-profile swipe from Vice President Biden.

Biden this week compared LaGuardia Airport to a “third-world” facility while he was speaking at event touting Amtrak service in the Northeast.

De Blasio said Biden was wrong about his city’s oldest airport.

“I respect the vice president, but I think his comments were inappropriate,” the mayor said during a press conference.

“As a proud New Yorker, I didn’t like that comment, and I think it was not the right way to talk about it,” de Blasio continued.

Biden made the remark in a speech on Thursday in which he warned the U.S. is falling behind other countries in airport and other infrastructure developments. Read more ..

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