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Significant Lives

The Great Ben Bradlee Dies at 93

October 22nd 2014

Ben Bradlee

Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor who led The Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday, according to the newspaper. He was 93. Bradlee’s 23-year tenure as the Post’s executive editor will forever be associated with the events that brought down President Nixon.

The story was revealed by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with the vigorous support of Bradlee, and concluded with Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, 26 months after the Post had published its first story about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. 

At the beginning, Nixon’s White House press secretary, Ron Ziegler, played down the matter as a “third-rate burglary attempt.” In the end, it resulted in guilty verdicts against 48 people. Many of them — including Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and White House aide John Ehrlichman — served prison terms. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Volunteers' Grim Work of Retrieving Bodies from Battlefield Ukraine

October 22nd 2014

What priority should a country give to retrieving, identifying, and burying its war dead?

Ask Yaroslav Zhylkin, the head of Ukraine's casualty-recovery efforts, and he'll begin with an anecdote about the U.S. response when two American soldiers went missing in Afghanistan in 2006.

More than 8,000 soldiers and a group of forensic scientists, he says, were involved in that search.

In Ukraine, by contrast, a single group of 30 volunteers has assumed responsibility for retrieving fighters killed in battle in the eastern Donbas region.

The group -- dubbed Black Tulip after the cargo plane tasked with shipping the bodies of soldiers killed during the Soviet war in Afghanistan -- began its work on September 3. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Energy

Body Motion Energy Harvester Breakthrough

October 16th 2014

female sprinter

The prospect of capturing the kinetic energy from everyday movements and converting it into electrical energy is a step closer with researchers at The University of Auckland, New Zealand, constructing an energy harvester consisting of a snake-shaped strip of polydimethylsiloxane.


The silicone strip acts as a flexible cantilever that bends back and forth with body movements. The scientists attached the cantilever to a conducting metal coil with a strong neodymium, NdFeB, magnet inside, all enclosed in a polymer casing. When a conductor moves through a magnetic field a current is induced in the conductor.

In order to extract the electricity generated, there is a need to include special circuitry that takes only the positive voltage and passes it along to a rechargeable battery. In previous work, this circuitry includes a rectifying diode that allows current to flow in one positive direction only and blocks the reverse, negative, current. Unfortunately, the development of kinetic chargers has been stymied by current diode technology that requires a voltage of around 200 millivolts to drive a current.

University of Auckland researchers, Jiayang Song and Kean Aw side-stepped the voltage obstacle by using a tiny electrical transformer and a capacitor, which acts like a microelectronic battery. The charger, which weighs a few grams, oscillates and moves the coil back and forth through the neodymium magnetic field and produces 40 millivolts. The transformer captures this voltage and stores up the charge in the capacitor in fractions of a second. Once the capacitor is full it discharges sending a positive pulse to the rechargeable battery, thus acting as its own rectifier. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

What Have We Learned from Crimea?

October 15th 2014

Ukraine--Berkut Riot Police Nov 2013

What have we learned from the Russian seizure of Crimea and the Western reaction to it? President Obama seems to have learned nothing; he is more obstinate in pursuing failed policies than Jimmy Carter or Neville Chamberlain. Informed discussion of foreign policy has now expanded to include wide and valuable questioning of Obama's indecisive, yielding tactics-and his general vision of a world without enemies. But something in the middle is still missing, and that something is important. What have we learned about the former Soviet bloc, and about ourselves?

Like France and Britain in the years between the great wars, 1919-1939, we have committed ourselves to the defense of an international order in Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, that we don't really have the energy or will to defend. The two epochs are very different, of course. For all Putin's hostility to the West and its aspirations, and despite his skillful manipulation of Russian populist sympathies, his are nothing like the volcanic energies of a Hitler or Mussolini, and his people are nothing like the eager, war-hungry Germans and Italians of that time. Read more ..


The World on Edge

Student Movements: A Subject of Human Geography

October 14th 2014

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

As student protests in Hong Kong continue, memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations naturally spring to mind. Less iconic but no less notable were the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which began as a student movement; the 2007 Venezuelan protests, which started with a group of students demanding constitutional reform; and the 1929 protests in Paris, which challenged the role of churches in education.

Of course, each student movement is unique; the one underway in Hong Kong concerns Hong Kong affairs, not widespread democratic reform in China proper. And yet all such movements share characteristics that transcend borders, making them an ideal phenomenon through which to study geopolitics.

Student protests lay bare the social and cultural layers that move beneath the surface of geopolitics, much like subsurface currents flow beneath the waves of the oceans. Human geography forms the foundation of society and thus the systems that govern it. Even if we regard the state as the highest level of global policymaking and interaction, these social undercurrents are what move the generations, ideologies and cultural changes that shape the constraints under which states operate. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Putin Seeks Solitude Amid Russia's Perfect Storm

October 9th 2014

Vladmir Putin attempts modesty

Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his 62nd birthday Tuesday in a peculiar fashion: by himself in the Siberian forests. For the past few days, Putin's spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, has brushed off journalists' questions about why the president decided not to celebrate his birthday in Moscow or do other work as he has in previous years. This is just another odd piece to an increasingly complex puzzle surrounding the stability and future of the Russian president and his government.

 

Current Instabilities

Russia is in the eye of the perfect storm. Though the crisis with Ukraine has been reduced to a simmer, Russia has seen a strategic reversal in its critical borderland. In addition, the crisis moved the West to enact sanctions on Russia and loosen many financial and economic ties to the country. Now the Kremlin is in the midst of an economic crisis that is every bit as serious as the Ukraine situation. In the past two days, Russia's central bank used $1.6 billion of its currency reserves to shore up the Russian ruble. Since the start of 2014, the central bank has injected $51 billion in currency reserves to keep the currency stable. The Russian economy is projecting flat growth for 2014, while foreign investment into Russia has fallen by 50 percent. The Kremlin may have $630 billion in its reserves, but these funds are being used quickly in an attempt to fill the cracks.

Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Toxic Pits for Fracking Sludge

October 3rd 2014

Toxic Waste Barrels

Read more ..

Ebola pandemic

Ebola Infects the 2014 Mid-Term Elections

October 3rd 2014

It didn’t take long after Ebola spread to the United States for it to spread to the campaign trail.

North Carolina Speaker Thom Tillis (R) on Thursday became the first Senate candidate to weigh in on the news of the diagnosis of Ebola in the U.S., calling for a ban on travel from Ebola-affected nations.

“Keeping the American people safe must be our nation’s top priority, and the White House should immediately ban travel from from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to contain the spread of Ebola,” he said in a statement.   Read more ..


Energy History

Nikola Tesla's Lab Could Speak to Future Generations

October 2nd 2014

rural electric lines

Nikola Tesla was a scientist who brought us the basics of wireless power transfer, AC power, the AC motor, the polyphase system, radio circuits and radio control, frequency inductive heating, gaseous/fluorescent lighting, and electric clocks, to name a few of his innovations.

I lived only a few miles from Tesla's Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham on Long Island, N.Y., for most of my life, and I have been to the historic site there where Tesla purchased 200 acres of a former potato farm in 1901 from James Warden. Teslas only remaining laboratory building still stands there today. His initial goal was to establish a wireless telegraphy plant. The lab and 187-foot-high transmitter tower (with 120 feet below the ground) were constructed and financed by J.P. Morgan.

The site was in ruins and vandalized when I visited it just before recent efforts managed to save this bit of important history. It was heartbreaking for any scientist or engineer to see such an important piece of engineering history potentially lost forever.

In 2012 an Indiegogo campaign to save Nikola Teslas former laboratory was led by cartoonist Matthew Inman from Oatmeal and Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. They were successful. The campaign needed $850,000, and $1.37 million was raised along with a combined grant from New York State for an additional $850,000. A bid was made on the property, and the lab was snatched from a developer who was going to demolish the site to make way for residential properties. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Prime Minister Netanyahu's Speech at the United Nations General Assembly, 2014 (VIDEO)

October 1st 2014

Bibi arguing

Below read the full transcript of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks before the United Nations General Assembly on September 29th, 2014.

Thank you, Mr. President. Distinguished delegates, I come here from Jerusalem to speak on behalf of my people, the people of Israel. I'e come here to speak about the dangers we face and about the opportunities we seek. I'e come here to expose the brazen lies spoken from this very podium against my country and against the brave soldiers who defend it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel pray for peace, but our hopes and the world' hopes for peace are in danger because everywhere we look militant Islam is on the march. It' not militants. It' not Islam. It' militant Islam. And typically its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one: Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Kurds. No creed, no faith, no ethnic group is beyond its sights. And it' rapidly spreading in every part of the world.

Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Israel Reacts to Netanyahu’s Speech at the UN General Assembly

September 30th 2014

Bibi Netanyahu with Glasses

Hours after Netanyahu’s speech in front of the UN General Assembly last night, the Israeli political establishment reacted to Netanyahu’s remarks.  “Netanyahu knows how to give a speech and I agreed with a number of words, but the problem is that the world is not listening,” head of the Israeli Opposition Haim Herzog stated.  “We have speeches that remain on paper.”

But there were members of the opposition that praised Netanyahu’s speech. MK Eli Yishai of Shas stated, “It was not a politician’s speech. It was a speech full of pride in the Jewish people and the country. Netanyahu’s speech is a wake-up call to the world and also a late-wake up call that people continue to prefer to ignore.”

Likud Party members voiced similar remarks. Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Ze’ev Elkin stated that he “welcomed Netanyahu’s appropriate response to the lies and slander of Mahmoud Abbas, while I call on the Prime Minister and Cabinet to move beyond words to action. It is unthinkable that Abu Mazen, who depends on us for every step along the way for everything, will continue to benefit from our help while maintaining a diplomatic and media war against us.” Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Light from Ancient Quasar Reveals Intergalactic Web

September 29th 2014

protoplanetary disk

Astronomers have discovered the largest known gas cloud in the Universe. The mammoth nebula may be the first imaged filament of a spidery arrangement of galaxies, gas and dark matter that traces the large-scale structure of the cosmos. The team used a brilliant quasar, seen as it appeared when the Universe was less than 3 billion years old, to illuminate the faint gas in the beacon’s neighborhood.

The flood of light from the quasar (one of a class of intensely bright galaxy cores, thought to be black holes going through a spurt of growth) prompts hydrogen atoms in the gas to emit a characteristic wavelength of ultraviolet radiation. As the Universe expands, the radiation subsequently stretches into longer wavelengths, becoming visible light. Astronomers Sebastiano Cantalupo and Xavier Prochaska of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and their colleagues recorded that light using the Keck Observatory atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano. The Keck images reveal a gas cloud that is 460,000 parsecs (1.5 million light years) in length — or more than ten times the diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy. It is the first detection of radiation from a cloud “on scales far beyond a galaxy”, Prochaska says.

Read more ..

The Ebola Outbreak

CDC Predicts as many as 1.4 million Ebola Cases by January

September 23rd 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report Tuesday predicting as many as 550,000 to 1.4 million cases of the Ebola virus in Liberia and Sierra Leone alone, by the end of January. 

The CDC calculations are based, in part, on assumptions that cases have been dramatically underreported. Other projections haven't made the same kind of attempt to quantify illnesses that may have been missed in official counts. 

CDC scientists conclude there may be as many as 21,000 reported and unreported cases in just those two countries as soon as the end of this month.

“The model shows — and I don’t think this has been shown by other modeling tools out there — that a surge now can break the back of the epidemic. It also shows that there are severe costs of delay," CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a press conference Tuesday.

The agency's numbers seem "somewhat pessimistic" and do not account for infection control efforts already underway, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Separately, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a new report that the number of people infected with the Ebola virus could reach 20,000 by the beginning of November if efforts to contain the outbreak are not accelerated.  Read more ..


Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine's Cryptic, Clever (And Always Insulting) Lexicon Of War

September 17th 2014

Ukraine protest

As the separatist conflict simmers in eastern Ukraine, supporters from both camps fight on in another war -- a war of words. The result is a torrent of new slurs -- often cryptic, at times clever, always insulting.

Here are some of the most common terms:

Banderovtsy, banderlogi
Russian synonyms for "neo-Nazis," literally followers of World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera. The "logi" suffix lends an additional pejorative connotation.

From the onset of the pro-European Maidan protests in Kyiv, Russian authorities have repeatedly branded the demonstrators -- and more generally any Ukrainians supporting efforts to steer their country out of Moscow's orbit -- "banderovtsy."

A hero to Ukrainian nationalists, Bandera collaborated with Nazi Germany in a bid to create an independent Ukrainian state. The Nazis subsequently arrested him and his associates. He was assassinated in 1959, a killing widely attributed to the Soviet KGB secret services. Read more ..


Scotland on the Edge

Meet Some Of The Poles Who Will Help Decide Scotland's Future

September 15th 2014

Edinburgh

As he sips a pint of beer at an outdoor cafe, Bartosz Maroszek lapses into a Scottish accent as broad as the nearby River Tay.

The 26-year-old Dabrowa Gornicza native came to Scotland seven years ago to take up a job as a coffin varnisher in a place he'd never heard of.

After being picked up at the bus station by Maroszek's new employer, "We thought we were going to stay in Edinburgh," he says. But the car kept driving north. "'Where are we going?' I asked. They said, 'Perth.' I said, 'Oo! Where is that?'"

Nowadays Maroszek calls Scotland his second home, one he shares with his partner Gosia and their 2-year-old son, Michal, who he calls his "wee terror." Still with the same coffin-maker, Maroszek has been given added responsibilities by his boss. And on September 18 he'll be doing the same as millions of others living in Scotland -- voting in a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country. Read more ..


Moldova on Edge

Moldovan Newspaper Threatened Following Reports of Scandalous Life of Orthodox Church Leader

September 14th 2014

A Moldovan newspaper says it was threatened after publishing two scandalous investigative reports on the assets and personal life of the head of Moldova's Orthodox Church.

The Chisinau weekly "Ziarul de Garda" says it received the telephone threats on September 11 after publishing photos of Vladimir, metropolitan of Chisinau and All Moldova, vacationing in Turkey with a woman named Nelli Tcaciuc.

According to an investigation by the newspaper, Vladimir does not live in his official residence or in the apartment that he owns in Chisinau, but rather in a luxurious villa in the Bostanci neighborhood about 5 kilometers from the capital. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

My Son The Jihadist

September 12th 2014

ISIL execution crucifixion Iraq

"They have good living conditions and money to buy food and clothes. They drive brand-new Toyotas… And they only think about war."

That's how Mukhambetkali Danikhanov describes the life of Kazakhs fighting alongside foreign jihadists in Iraq.

He saw it firsthand after traveling to see his own son, and if the militant group his son joined is the Islamic State, Danikhanov isn't saying. His oldest son, Yerzhan, has been on the Kazakh authorities' wanted list since January 2014. But they won't find him in Kazakhstan. When last seen by his father, the 28-year-old Yerzhan was living in a "city in Iraqi territory" along with his wife and their three children.

"I can't say the exact name of the place. I'm not allowed to," Danikhanov said. Danikhanov says the journey he took from central Kazakhstan's Karagandy Province to Iraq was relatively easy. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Singing Trucker Hits Kremlin On All Cylinders

September 11th 2014

putin

When Vadim Dubovsky hits the highway, his big rig transforms into a well-tuned, Putin-fighting machine.

The Donetsk-born trucker, who moved to the United States 10 years ago, has no love for the Kremlin's actions in his native Ukraine. And he is low on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Very, very low.

That becomes clear once you listen to his silky smooth baritone belting out operatic rants from behind the wheel.

In "Hell Continues To Burn," Dubovsky croons about Russia's return to its Cold War ways of blaming the West for all its problems and misfortunes. He warns that Putin will be held accountable for the annexation of Crimea, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the Malaysian airliner brought down in the conflict zone.

"You will not be forgiven. Neither for the Boeing, nor for Crimea, nor Donbas." Dubovsky's song warns Putin "not to expect mercy" for actions that "will not be forgiven." It predicts Putin will be put on trial at The Hague and end up in hell "teaching" demons. Read more ..


Russia and Putin

In Russia, Orthodox Radical Ponders Putin’s Divinity

September 8th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

God is inside Vladimir Putin. A divine light transfixed Putin’s essence after his secret baptism as a child. We are not worthy of the Russian president.

These were a few of the tenets advanced by radical Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov in a September 7 lecture that marked one of the more bizarre expressions of a many-faceted grassroots cult of personality surrounding Russia’s paramount ruler.

Feverish Putin adulation layered with irony filled the dimmed auditorium in Moscow’s trendy Kitai Gorod district. Many of the 60 or so attendees filmed the proceedings using iPhones and iPads, sometimes laughing out loud and sometimes breaking into thundering applause.

Proceedings kicked off with a tinny but swaggering rap track dedicated to Russia’s leader of 15 years that featured the refrain "I go hard like Vladimir Putin." An overhead projector displayed a picture of Putin with a caption that read: "Vladimir Putin and God." Read more ..


Broken Borders

Immigration Activists Rip Obama

September 7th 2014

Obama speechifying

Latino groups on Saturday promised they would "not soon forget" President Obama's move to delay any executive action on the border crisis until after the midterm elections. A White House official said Obama decided to postpone acting on immigration until after November because of the tremulous political season and "Republican's extreme politicization of the issue." But immigrant rights and Latino advocacy groups were quick to place blame on Obama and Democrats after hearing the news.

"To wait nine more weeks means that I must again look my mother in the eye and see the fear she has about living under the threat of deportation every day," said Cristina Jimenez, director of United We Dream, an advocacy group.  Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

NATO's Eastern Countries Fractured Over Response To Russia

September 6th 2014

Polish soldiers in Chad

Czech President Milos Zeman sparked a testy exchange with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt this week at the NATO summit in Wales, declaring that Prague had not yet seen "clear proof" of Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"President Zeman should ask his own people," Bildt retorted. "I don't know if the Czech Republic has an intelligence service. It does? Then he should ask them."

The spat underscores a development that has surprised many in the West: Some countries on NATO's eastern fringe seem decidedly unconcerned by Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its generally belligerent stance.

The Ukraine crisis has fractured the so-called Visegrad Group -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. From alarmist Poland to Kremlin-friendly Hungary, the group runs the gamut of possible positions. And their disunity is one factor making it difficult for the European Union and NATO to adopt a unified response to Moscow.  Read more ..


NATO on Edge

NATO Upgrades By Going Back To Basics

September 5th 2014

NATO

Oh, what a difference six years and two wars make.

When NATO heads of state gathered in Bucharest back in April 2008, Vladimir Putin pretty much stole the show. The Kremlin leader strutted away triumphantly from that summit after persuading Western leaders not to offer Georgia and Ukraine road maps to eventually join the alliance.

Four months later, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, a move seen by many observers as a dress rehearsal for this year's intervention in Ukraine.

Puitn was, of course, persona non grata at this week's NATO summit in Wales, although he cast a long shadow over it. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Atlantic alliance is now treating Russia not as a potential partner with which it can do business but as a problem that needs to be addressed and a threat that must be confronted. "Things have changed dramatically inside NATO," Lauri Lepik, Estonia's ambassador to the alliance, said in an interview. "People realize the seriousness of the situation." Read more ..


The Caliphate

Escape from an ISIS Death Camp

September 4th 2014

ISIL execution victims

While the entire world quivers from the site of the executions of journalists by ISIS, the New York Times exposes today a chilling testimony of a Shia Iraqi soldier who was taken captive by the organization –and managed to survive and escape against all odds: "I was fourth in the shooting line. I lay alive among my friends' bodies for hours, until I managed to escape. Between 600 and 800 people were slaughtered'.

A chilling testimony from ISIS' death camp: Ali Hussein Kdahim, a Iraqi soldier of Shia origin, 23, is one of the sole people who are able to tell about the disgracing conditions of captives held by the radical terror organization ISIS. Kdahim was taken, along with hundreds of other armed Sunni soldiers last June, and captivated in a castle in Tikrit – the birth town of a former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. he tells his story from his house in Southern Iraq.

Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Women's Monthly Under Pressure From Hard-Liners

September 2nd 2014

Women's Rights Activists

A newly launched women's monthly run by a prominent female editor has irked Iranian hard-liners, who have accused her of promoting "obsolete" feminist views and ideas that are un-Islamic.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported last week that Shahla Sherkat , editor of "Zanan-e Emruz," will be put on trial by Iran's Press Court on September 7. Fars, said to be close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), did not provide details about the charges against Sherkat.

The report has led to concern that action could be taken to shut down the monthly devoted to women's issues. Sherkat, whose previous publication was shut down under the administration of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has not publicly commented on the report. Read more ..


Vote 2015

Unions Open Their Coffers As Senate Hangs In The Balance

September 1st 2014

Money Stack

Organized labor is pouring millions of dollars into congressional campaign coffers, as unions press to stave off a Senate flip this fall that could spell disaster for their policy agenda during the final years of the Obama administration.On issues ranging from collective bargaining to immigration to worker protections, union officials, advocates and experts say GOP control of the upper chamber could jeopardize what has become a period of significant progress for the labor movement.

“There’s a lot of room for mischief in a Senate that’s under Republican leadership,” said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO.

After an often-rocky relationship with Washington’s Democrats in President Obama’s first term, unions have reason to celebrate this Labor Day. President Obama has in recent months sought to counter congressional gridlock on labor issues with aggressive use of executive power, ordering up regulations to extend overtime pay to some workers and increase the minimum wage for others.

Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

In Beslan, Struggle For A ‘New Life’ Decade After Tragedy

August 31st 2014

Iraqi church bombed

Nadezhda Guriyeva huddled with her children on the floor of the sweltering school gymnasium. An explosive device rested ominously just a few feet away. The two older children, Boris and Vera, were dressed for a folk dance performance to celebrate the first day of school. The festivities never began.

Boris and Vera were among the 334 people, including 186 children, killed amid explosions and a hail of bullets after being held captive for two days in a terrorist attack on School No. 1 in Beslan. Guriyeva’s youngest daughter, Irina, survived. The girl’s escape allowed Guriyeva to survive the aftermath of the horror. "I had no choice," Guriyeva says. “I had my little daughter. She was always watching me to see if I cried. I couldn't even cry."

Ten years have passed since armed militants stormed the school on September 1, 2004, and took 1,100 children, mothers and teachers hostage in the gymnasium. The ordeal came to an end 52 hours later. But for the survivors and their loved ones, it changed everything forever. Read more ..


The Ebola Outbreak

Patient Zero Believed to Be Sole Source of Ebola Outbreak

August 30th 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

One glaring fact from the latest report on the Ebola outbreak is that five of the many study authors are dead, killed by the disease that is roiling west Africa. The new analysis, published in the August 29 issue of Science, reveals that the current Ebola outbreak stemmed from an earlier initial leap from the wild into humans, rather than the virus repeatedly jumping from a natural reservoir—perhaps infected animals—to humans. By essentially sketching out a high-tech molecular family tree, researchers concluded that the virus spreading in Sierra Leone and nearby countries is the descendent of an original Ebola viral jump, and not new versions of the pathogen that are being repeatedly introduced into the human population. That means the public health response to this outbreak—which focuses on tracking and treating those who have been exposed to people with Ebola, rather than attempting to keep people away from potential animal carriers—has been the right strategy.
 
That conclusion comes from a sweeping analysis of 99 Ebola virus genome sequences that comprise some 70 percent of the Ebola patients diagnosed in Sierra Leone in late May to mid-June. The virus samples were extracted from the blood of 78 patients early in Sierra Leone’s outbreak. And the work indicates that the first case of the disease in that country stemmed from the burial of a traditional healer who had previously treated Ebola patients in Guinea. Subsequently, 13 additional women who attended the burial developed Ebola viral disease. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

In Russia, Ukraine Conflict Hits Home With Secret Funerals, Missing Men

August 29th 2014

Russian Cross

In early spring, Vladimir Putin deployed soldiers without insignia into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea to ensure a quick annexation of the territory.

After a month of denying their very existence, the Russian president nonchalantly acknowledged that the thousands of well-armed fighters, who had previously been cheekily referred to as "little green men," were in fact Russian troops.

Decried in the West, Russians gave the move near unanimous support. A territory was won through military might -- and an overwhelming referendum vote that has not been recognized in the West -- but without a fight.

But now, as Moscow reinvigorates a flailing pro-Russian separatist insurgency with a barely concealed incursion into southeastern Ukraine, indications are that Russian military men are dying. And as captured Russian paratroopers are paraded on Ukrainian television and servicemen are buried in secrecy, some Russians are asking a seemingly simple question: "Are we at war?"

The answer to the question, originally posed in an editorial in the "Vedomosti" business daily, is one that is becoming increasingly obvious for military families. It is the details that they say are not forthcoming. In Kostroma, 1,300 kilometers from Russia's border with eastern Ukraine, family members of a group of 10 Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine say all their information has come from secondhand, online sources.

One mother, Olga Pochtoyeva, says when she originally approached officials with photos on her son's Vkontakte page that appeared to show he had been taken prisoner in Ukraine, her claims were dismissed as "provocations." "We showed them [these pictures] and they didn't believe it," she says. "It's Photoshop, they told us. I'm sorry, I'd never mistake my son's eyebrows for photoshop." Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

UNRWA and Gaza Terrorism

August 28th 2014

Hamas protester

The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has come under increasing fire in recent weeks for aiding Hamas in the terror group's war against Israel, with one advocacy group lodging a formal complaint against the organization. As evidence seems to continue to emerge of the use of the agency's schools and clinics as Hamas storehouses, rocket launching sites and tunnel entrances, protest has grown in Israel and abroad that the organization, established to aid the Palestinian Arab refugee population, has far exceeded its mandate by aiding and sustaining the psychological and physical assault on Israeli civilians and infrastructure.

At the same time that evidence was mounting that the UN agency was allowing Hamas to use its facilities to launch attacks on Israel, a number of statements were issued by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon criticizing Israel for use of disproportionate force. In response, the Legal Forum for Israel drafted a letter to Moon decrying his accusations and denouncing the lack of accountability by the international body for its role in the violence.

Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Amid Election Uncertainty, Karzai Prepares For Inauguration Ceremony

August 27th 2014

Karzai

The long-running deadlock over the disputed presidential election in Afghanistan is still far from over.

That, however, has not stopped outgoing President Hamid Karzai from fixing September 2 as the date for the delayed inauguration of his successor. What's more, Karzai has formed a special government commission that has begun making last-minute preparations for the historic event.

But there's an elephant in the room -- the mammoth task of auditing all eight million votes cast in the June 14 election has still not been completed and rival candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have still not hashed out the details of a crucial power-sharing agreement brokered earlier this month. 

Neither candidate appears willing to back down, and regular disputes have broken out. The audit was temporarily suspended on August 27 after first Abdullah and then Ghani pulled out of the process, casting the election deeper into disarray and clouding the chances for a swift resolution.

Preliminary results put Ghani, a former finance minister, in the lead. But Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has rejected the results and claimed "systematic fraud." It seems optimistic to expect that in less than one week the audit and a complaints adjudication process will have been completed and that both candidates will have accepted the final results and hashed out a political settlement. Nevertheless, the commission Karzai has charged with organizing the inauguration is going full steam ahead with preparations for what it promises will be a "glorious" event. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

Russian Soldiers Are In Ukraine

August 26th 2014

Russian S300 launchers

It was an "accident."

That was Moscow's official response to how a group of Russian paratroopers ended up in Ukraine. The soldiers --  apparently from a division based in Kostroma, a city on the Volga River north of Moscow -- were captured by Ukrainian forces, who posted videos of some of their interrogations online.

In what appear to be forced confessions in front of Ukrainian military personnel, they say they were misled by their superiors, who told them they were going on a "training exercise."

The videos appeared to confirm what Kyiv authorities had been claiming for months amid denials from the Kremlin -- that Moscow is supplying pro-Russian separatists with military hardware and personnel. The claims had largely been based on circumstantial evidence. But since mid-August, as Russia has attempted to staunch Ukrainian gains against the militants, that evidence has mounted steadily. Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

Temple University -- Latest Antisemitic Hotspot Protested Amid Record Donation Drive

August 25th 2014

Edwin Black

Temple University has become the latest focal point for groups concerned about the spreading wave of campus antisemitism and academic-based Holocaust minimizing.

Temple student Daniel Vessal, a fellow with CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), was drawn into a verbal exchange with anti-Israel activists at the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table during an official college event on August 20, 2014. Vessal, in his junior year at the Temple University Fox School of Business, studying Management Information Systems and Entrepreneurship, was allegedly called a "kike," "Zionist pig," and "baby killer." He was slapped so hard at the SJP table that he was sent to the hospital. A police investigation and legal action are underway. The assaultive SJP supporter has purportedly apologized, according to a published SJP statement, which states: "I’m sorry for what I did. I admit I lost my temper."

With lightning speed, fourteen Jewish organizations reacted to the assault, releasing a joint public letter of protest to Temple University. The letter complained: "A university campus should be the setting for thoughtful discussion and intellectual debate. Such an atmosphere should be encouraged by all responsible student groups. Unfortunately, Students for Justice in Palestine is not such a group. It has a proven track record of intimidation, harassment, and incitement merging into anti-Semitism against Israel and its supporters on campus."

The swift-response joint letter was spearheaded by StandWithUs, which has become the nation’s pre-eminent campus pro-Israel advocacy group. Additional signatories included Americans for Peace and Tolerance, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), David Horowitz Freedom Center, Hasbara Fellowships, Proclaiming Justice to The Nations, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center Campus Outreach, The Lawfare Project, The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Read more ..


The Edge of Terror

Kicked Off Twitter And Facebook, Islamic State Finds New Tools

August 23rd 2014

ISIL execution victims

Thousands of social-media users were unwittingly exposed to horrifying images of James Foley's execution in the hours after Islamic State (IS) militants posted video of his beheading online.

It was exhibit A in the extremist group's two-pronged propaganda campaign: inflict fear in the West while using the same imagery to inspire and recruit radicals from around the world.

But since the video first appeared on August 19, major companies like Twitter and YouTube have increased their efforts to take down offensive material and remove accounts linked to terrorist groups. IS, though, appears to be adapting to the shutdowns by moving to open-source and more decentralized social networks that are difficult to regulate and also experimenting with other tools that are less popular in the West. Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

New York Times Reporter James Risen Says Obama Biggest Threat to Press Freedom

August 18th 2014

Obama is leaving the building

The New York Times reporter James Risen, who faces jail over his refusal to reveal a source and testify against a former CIA agent accused of leaking secrets, has called President Barack Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation”.

Speaking to his colleague Maureen Dowd, Risen accused the president of aggressively pursuing journalists, including himself, who report sensitive stories that reflect poorly on the US government.

Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.

Read more ..

The Balkans on Edge

Mercenaries, Extremists Become Major Balkans Export

August 16th 2014

Guns for sale

During the Cold War, Yugoslavia sent thousands of teachers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals to work in all corners of the globe.

Now some of the countries of the former Yugoslavia are becoming notorious for a different human export -- jihadists and mercenaries. And the numbers seem to be on the rise, despite measures in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia to stop the traffic.

On August 8, a Bosnian citizen named Emrah Fojnica, 23, blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq during an attack by the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIL.

Just days later, police in Kosovo arrested 40 suspected Islamist radicals during a raid of about 60 locations around the country. The men are accused of fighting with extremist militants in Syria and Iraq. And officials in Serbia estimate that dozens of Serbs are fighting on both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"It is hard to say what their numbers are at this point," says Milorad Mijatovic, a parliament deputy from the Social Democratic Party. "They are not small. We are certainly talking about tens of people going into those war zones."  Read more ..


The Race for Batteries

Tattoo Biobatteries Produce Power from Sweat

August 15th 2014

Researchers University of California San Diego have designed a sensor in the form of a temporary tattoo that can both monitor a person’s progress during exercise and the tattoo biobatteries can also produce power from the perspiration. The research team described their work at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The device works by detecting and responding to lactate, which is naturally present in sweat. Lactate is a very important indicator of how you are doing during exercise, explained Wenzhao Jia, Ph.D.

In general, the more intense the exercise, the more lactate the body produces. During strenuous physical activity, the body needs to generate more energy, so it activates a process called glycolysis. Glycolysis produces energy and lactate, the latter of which scientists can detect in the blood. Professional athletes monitor their lactate levels during performance testing as a way to evaluate their fitness and training program. Read more ..


China Rising

China's Credit Slowdown Raises Concerns About Overall Economic Health

August 14th 2014

Chinese currency

New economic data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics on Aug. 13 shows the supply of credit to the Chinese economy expanded by only $44.3 billion in July, the slowest pace in almost six years. To be precise, credit expanded at the slowest pace since October 2008, the month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the month before the Chinese government launched an economic stimulus program that sheltered China's economy from the worst effects of the global financial crisis. That program also locked China into a growth model grounded in the intimate bond between government-led credit expansion and housing and infrastructure construction -- one that the Chinese government is now struggling, against time and at the risk of crisis, to escape.

The dramatic and widely unexpected drop in Chinese credit supply in July has raised concerns that the economic "recovery" China seemed poised to make starting in June -- when aggregate financing in China hit a whopping $320 billion, which was more than seven times greater than July's figure -- has been nipped in the bud. There are also concerns that the coming months will bring even worse news from the world's second-largest economy. These concerns are aggravated by anecdotal reports repeated in mainstream news media saying July's decline is the result of the policy-driven credit tightening by the government and also reflects a drop in Chinese enterprises' demand for new loans. If the latter is the case, it raises important questions about the underlying health and trajectory of China's economy.

Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Depression Alone Rarely Causes Suicide

August 13th 2014

woman headache head bowed

In his stand-up and best-loved comedies, including Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams was known for his rapid-fire impersonations and intensely playful energy. His most critically acclaimed work, however, including his Oscar-winning turn in Good Will Hunting, married humor with sharp introspection and appreciation for melancholy.
 
Reports of his death from apparent suicide on August 11 at the age of 63 prompted much speculation about the actor’s personality and mental health. Williams had been seeking treatment for severe depression, and many commenters have labeled that as the reason for his death. Whereas the majority of people who commit suicide have depression, less than four percent of people with depression eventually take their lives. Clearly, more factors are at work as causes of suicide than depression alone. The severity of mood disorders, past suicide attempts and substance abuse are all thought to increase the risk. Recent evidence also suggests that the mixed depressive state of bipolar disorder can be a particularly dangerous time that can often go undetected or masquerade as depression and irritability. Read more ..


The Battle for Ukraine

New Sanctions Bill Raises Free Press Fears In Ukraine

August 13th 2014

Ukraine protest

Ukraine, once celebrated for its progressive media reforms, is currently considering legislation that could set the country back to Soviet-era levels of censorship.

Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada are set to meet on August 14 to review a sweeping draft law imposing sanctions on Russian companies and individuals. The legislation, meant to hamstring Russia amid intensifying violence in eastern Ukraine, also includes provisions to block media deemed a threat to Ukrainian security.

Supporters say the bill will give the Kyiv government essential tools to fight the onslaught of anti-Ukrainian propaganda and disinformation spread by Kremlin-friendly Russian media.

But critics worry the draft law -- which proposes to skirt standard checks and balances by handing fast-track powers of implementation to President Petro Poroshenko and the National Security and Defense Council -- could also be used to silence dissenting voices within Ukraine itself. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Do Trolls Matter?

August 12th 2014

Hacker keyboard

Like many people with access to the Internet and a holster full of gadgets, Vladimir Nesterenko is living a double existence.

In real life, the 49-year-old Kyiv native is a published author and darling of the Ukrainian counterculture.

Online, he's "Adolfych" -- a Russian-speaking mischief-maker who uses his Twitter, Facebook, and Live Journal accounts to comment, sometimes thoughtfully and often profanely, on the deepening conflict with Russia.

"I know a lot of Muscovites have little dachas in Abkhazia," he wrote in a recent post. "But could these Muscovites have afforded their little dachas if they hadn't gotten rid of the Georgians and turned a flourishing region into cheap f**king sh*t, like they're doing now in Crimea?" Read more ..



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