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Europe on Edge

Low Life Expectancy Continues To Plague Former Soviet Countries

April 8th 2013


More than two decades after the fall of communism, most former Soviet countries still have mortality rates significantly higher than those in Western Europe.

Cardiovascular disease, high infant-mortality rates, infectious diseases, and a decrease in the quality and financing of public health-care systems were the main factors driving the trend, according to an article that appeared last week in "The Lancet," a British medical journal.

The combined effect of a steep increase in alcohol and tobacco consumption, both among working-age people and the younger generation, is the main trigger of cardiovascular disease, the article, "Health and Health Systems in the Commonwealth of Independent States," concluded. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The Cell Phone Turns 40

April 7th 2013

Smart phone

Forty years ago today the cell phone era began on the streets of New York City. The historic first cell phone call was made by Martin Cooper, director of systems operations for the communications division of the Motorola company, to his main rival at Bell Labs. Martin described his call to Bell’s Dr. Joel S. Engel on April 3, 1973 in an article called The History of the Cell Phone by Gareth Marples.

“As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call,” Martin wrote. “Remember that in 1973, there weren't cordless telephones or cellular phones. I made numerous calls, including one where I crossed the street while talking to a New York radio reporter - probably one of the more dangerous things I have ever done in my life.”

A 1973 press release, Motorola touted its new Dyna-Tac “portable radio telephone,” saying it would operate over radio frequencies and “talk” to any conventional (landline) telephone in the world. “What this means, said John F. Mitchell, manager of Motorola’s communications division, is that in a city where the Dyna-Tac system is installed, it will be possible to make telephone calls while riding in a taxi, walking down the city’s streets, sitting in a restaurant or anywhere else a radio signal can reach.” Read more ..

The Human Edge

Nelson Mandela Released from Hospital

April 6th 2013


Former South African president Nelson Mandela has been discharged from a Pretoria hospital after being treated for pneumonia. An official from the president’s office says the anti-apartheid icon will get constant medical supervision. Nelson Mandela spent nine nights in the hospital for this last episode, before being discharged Saturday.

Officials said he was admitted suddenly after suffering a recurrence of a lung infection. He was treated for pneumonia, and President Jacob Zuma visited him earlier this week and said he had made steady improvement. Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela will now get round-the-clock care at home. Like many South Africans, he referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.

"We are delighted to inform you that the former president, Nelson Mandela, has been discharged from hospital today, the 6th of April, following sustained and gradual improvement in his general condition," he said. "The former president will now receive home-based high care. President Zuma thanks the hard-working medical team and the hospital staff for looking after Madiba so efficiently. He also extends his gratitude to all South Africans and friends of the republic in Africa and around the world, for all of their support." Read more ..

Mali on Edge

Refugees from CAR and Mali Flee Instability

April 5th 2013

Mali Refugees

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said they are continuing to see influxes of refugees from the Central African Republic pouring into the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to instability from fighting in CAR

In addition, the agency is also working to provide assistance to Mali refugees who are fleeing violence, either by foot or donkey and going into areas of Niger. The UNHCR says the CAR refugees are in a dire situation, leaving their homes in such a hurry that they left behind all of their personal belongings. Most of them are living out in the open.

“Refugees from the Central African Republic are coming in a poor state. For some of them, we’ve had cases of malnutrition; we have separated children.  Most of the families left in a hurry so they were not able to take their personal belongings with them, which means that they depend on humanitarian assistance.  [Some are] in areas where some host families have accommodated them despite the fact that they themselves live in extreme poverty,” explained Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokesperson for the UNHCR. Read more ..

The Coffee Edge

Despite Slow Start, Starbucks Expands in India

April 4th 2013


Despite a slow start in India, the world's largest coffee chain, Starbucks, says it will continue to expand in the South Asian country. That is good news for the Indian government, which is counting on continued foreign investment to help the country boost economic growth.

The Starbucks outlet in New Delhi’s Connaught Place has been open for more than a month and still draws long lines and interest from young people like Vikram Maour, who until now had only seen the coffee chain on television. “I think it’s great to have Starbucks in India," said Maour. "We just heard about Starbucks in foreign countries, but to have Starbucks in India, it’s a really good thing.”

Starbucks opened its first store in India in October of 2012, through a joint venture with India’s Tata Global Beverages. The U.S.-based coffee chain had planned to open 50 outlets in the country by the end of last year, but so far has a total of nine stores in the cities of Mumbai and New Delhi. Read more ..

The Race for Ethanol

Corn for Ethanol May be Killing the Great Lakes with Algae

April 2nd 2013

Iowa corn field

The largest harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie's recorded history likely was caused by the confluence of changing farming practices and weather conditions that are expected to become more common in the future due to climate change.

Rather than an isolated, one-time occurrence, Lake Erie's monumental 2011 algae bloom was more likely a harbinger of things to come, according to University of Michigan researchers and colleagues from eight other institutions.

The interdisciplinary team explored factors that may have contributed to the event and analyzed the likelihood of future massive blooms in the lake.

"Intense spring rainstorms were a major contributing factor, and such storms are part of a long-term trend for this region that is projected to get worse in the future due to climate change," said aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, and professor of natural resources and environment, and civil and environmental engineering. "On top of that we have agricultural practices that provide the key nutrients that fuel large-scale blooms." Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

A Greener Arctic is Upon Us

April 2nd 2013


New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive “greening,” or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a paper published on March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the next few decades. The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected.

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Plant growth in arctic ecosystems has increased over the past few decades, a trend that is coincident with increases in temperatures, which are rising at about twice the global rate. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Swiss Company Loses Drug Patent Case in India

April 1st 2013

Lots of Pills

In a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected a patent for a cancer drug produced by a Swiss pharmaceutical company. The ruling is seen as a huge boost for availability of affordable drugs to treat deadly diseases, but a big blow to Western pharmaceutical companies fighting for more stringent patent protection in India, a hub for generic drugs.

The seven-year legal battle between Novartis and Indian authorities drew to a close Monday when the court said that the cancer-fighting drug Glivec did not satisfy the test of “novelty or inventiveness" required by Indian law to justify a patent.

Novartis sought a patent calling the updated version of Glivec a huge advance on the earlier drug. India, however, says Glivec is not a new drug but an amended version of a known medicine. Glivec is used to treat leukemia and is patented by many countries.   Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Saudi Religious Police Work to Polish Image

March 31st 2013


In January 2012, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dismissed the head of the powerful religious police and replaced him with a reported moderate — a move designed to appease growing complaints about abuses of power by a much-feared group known as the mutaween.

Since then, the new leader, Sheikh Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, has restricted the mutaween’s powers. Even so, many Saudis, especially women, say the changes are not enough.

Hardly a week seems to go by that Saudi Arabia’s religious police don’t make the headlines — breaking up drug rings, arresting bootleggers, admonishing women for what they consider immodest dress. Sometimes the mutaween themselves become objects of ridicule — such as when they shut down a dinosaur exhibit in a shopping mall or banned cats and dogs as pets. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change, Dams Threaten Mekong Livelihoods

March 30th 2013

Thailand flooding portside

Scientists meeting in the Thai capital have warned extreme weather caused by climate change will reduce fish stocks and major crops in the Mekong River Basin if countries in Southeast Asia fail to adapt. However, they also warn dam building, much of it for hydropower, is the largest single threat to fisheries that sustain millions of people.

An estimated 60 million fishermen and farmers depend on the Mekong River for its rich nutrients and abundant fish. A new study by a group of scientists said by 2050 climate change could raise temperatures in parts of the Mekong basin twice as fast as the global average.

That would intensify extreme weather events, such as flooding, and reduce fish and crop production says study leader Jeremy Carew-Reid. He said, "In Laos alone there are some 700 species that are used by families to sustain their livelihoods. We know so little about them." While some species will benefit from hotter climates, important crops such as coffee in Vietnam and rice in Thailand could be forced to move. Read more ..

Democracy on Edge

The Organization of American States Preserves Democratic Charter–For Now!

March 29th 2013

Chavez and Ahmadinejad

A high wire act played out over a 12-hour session of the General Assembly last week at the Organization of American States (OAS): Ecuador and Venezuela threatened to walk out unless their demands were met. Considerable tensions existed within the Hall of the Americas as the foreign ministers witnessed another threat to the organization’s integrity. This time, the contest was over the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Since 1959, the IACHR has taken up and defended the rights of children, of women, of indigenous communities, of sexual minorities, persons deprived of liberty, afro-descendents, people with disabilities, migrants, defenders of human rights: in short, people in vulnerable situations. The IAHCR and its judicial arm, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have continued to denounce and sanction violations of human rights. Throughout the Chilean, Argentinean and Brazilian military dictatorships of the 1970s and early 1980s, the commission and the court played key roles in making visible the victims of abuse. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Iron Horse Gaining Traction In Afghanistan

March 29th 2013

Nigeria train

More than 200 years after the arrival of steam locomotives changed the world of transport forever, the "iron horse" has finally made it to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is in the early stages of constructing a cross-country rail network intended to spur economic development and boost trade.

The idea is to turn Afghanistan into a land bridge linking the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asia with the booming economies of China and South Asia, according to Deputy Public Works Minister Ahmad Shah Wahid. "If we were linked with our neighbors through railway networks it would be a great development for our future prosperity,” he says. “It would improve trade and improve the lives of ordinary people." Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Corporations, Pro-business Nonprofits Foot Bill for Judicial Seminars

March 28th 2013

judge's gavel

Conservative foundations, multinational oil companies and a prescription drug maker were the most frequent sponsors of more than 100 expense-paid educational seminars attended by federal judges over a 4 1/2-year period, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation. Among the seminar titles were “The Moral Foundations of Capitalism,” “Corporations and the Limits of Criminal Law” and “Terrorism, Climate & Central Planning: Challenges to Liberty & the Rule of Law.”

Leading the list of sponsors of the 109 seminars identified by the Center were the conservative Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, The Searle Freedom Trust, also a supporter of conservative causes, ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Co., pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos. Each were sponsors of 54 seminars. Other top sponsors included the conservative Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (51), Dow Chemical Co. (47), AT&T Inc. (45) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (46), according to the Center’s analysis. Sponsors pick up the cost of judges’ expenses, which often include air fare, hotel stays and meals. The seminars in the Center’s investigation took place from July 2008 through 2012. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Noise-Cancelling Company Aims to Prove Silence is Golden

March 27th 2013

Man cupping his ear

If you’ve ever run the vent on your kitchen range or tried to catch 40 winks in an airplane, you probably wished someone would invent a way to block the noise without the need for headphones. Israel’s Silentium has done that. The company’s active noise control (ANC) chip produces “anti-noise” — opposing sound waves of the same amplitude as the disturbing noise, which shuts out the din (sans the discomfort of earplugs).

The newest use of this technology is Silentium’s trademarked Quiet Bubble, which captures and cancels out ambient environmental noise, creating a “zone of quiet” around airplane and car passengers. The applications are nearly infinite, as Silentium executives demonstrated recently at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where NBC News chose the Israeli tech among the Best of CES 2013. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Cyrus Cylinder Makes U.S. Debut

March 27th 2013

Cyrus Cylinder

For 2,600 years, the weighty praise of world leaders has been heaped upon the fragile clay of the Cyrus Cylinder. The diminutive object, now cracked and missing one-third of its original form, has withstood the test of time as a symbol of tolerance. 

This month the Persian artifact adds another chapter to its history, making a long-awaited U.S. debut. At the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, exhibit-organizers say the cylinder is right on time. Amid today's political tensions between the United States and Iran and in the Middle East, they say the moment is ripe for museum-goers to find new relevance in an ancient treasure.

Iranian-American Massumeh Farhad, the chief curator at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries, where the cylinder is on display, said that she thinks "the Cyrus Cylinder, and Cyrus, himself, in many ways, has represented this ideal [of overcoming differences]." "Governments come and go, but I think it's really important to have these ideals to know [that] 'this is what we should aspire to.' One of the reasons the Cyrus Cylinder is so important is because, I think, it's a reminder that yes, we can do more," Farhad said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

US Issues 1 Million Green Cards, Naturalizes 757,000 in 2012

March 26th 2013

Sailors and Marine in citizenship ceremony

Nearly a million people became U.S. citizens last year, and just over a million became legal permanent residents, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The data shows the numbers of new “green card” holders and naturalizations, the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, have been fairly steady over the past few years, with a modest bump in naturalizations last year. Claire Bergeron, a researcher with the Migration Policy Institute, attributes that increase to the 2012 presidential election.

“There were a lot of outreach efforts leading up to the presidential election to get people to naturalize. A lot of the big ones we saw this year were Latino organizations,” she said. Latino voters, including many new citizens, helped secure President Barack Obama’s re-election and increased the power of his Democratic Party in Congress.

A total of 757,434 people naturalized in 2012, up from 694,193 the year before. The majority of new citizens were born in Mexico, the Philippines, India, the Dominican Republic and China, according to the data released Friday. Naturalizations increased the most among people born in the Dominican Republic and Cuba between 2011 and 2012. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Children of Israel Flee Egyptians as Crisis Creates a New People

March 25th 2013

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.


The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.


The Sudan on Edge

The Further Selling of Sudan

March 25th 2013

Omar Bashir of Sudan

A recent article noted that in April 2012 Saleh Abdullah Kamel, head of the very powerful and privately-owned Dallah al Baraka Group of Saudi Arabia and an investor with a notorious past, announced that the Government of the Sudan had agreed to "give" Saudi Arabia two million acres of land in its eastern region in an area "close to Port Sudan." (Khartoum, Sudan news reports, 9 April 2012.) 

The Kamel investment is part of a continuing effort to lease or purchase Sudanese land, a phenomenon reviewed in Summer 2012 by a tripartite UN Food and Agriculture Organization/International Institute for Environment and Development/International Fund for Agricultural Development task force. The African News Agency headlined that the study highlighted the five African nations hardest hit by the land grab," (Pana, Paris, 31 August 2012). It named Ghana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan as the most affected, and noted that nearly 2.5 million hectares of land in the five countries had recently been "sold" to foreign investors. With regard to Sudan, it had already leased long-term "nearly 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land to the Arab states of the Gulf, Egypt and Korea Republic." Read more ..

The Geologic Edge

Huge and Widespread Volcanic Eruptions Triggered the End-Triassic Extinction

March 24th 2013

Palisades on Hudson, Alpine NJ

More than 200 million years ago, a massive extinction decimated 76 percent of marine and terrestrial species, marking the end of the Triassic period and the onset of the Jurassic. This devastating event cleared the way for dinosaurs to dominate Earth for the next 135 million years, taking over ecological niches formerly occupied by other marine and terrestrial species.

It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. This sudden release of gases into the atmosphere may have created intense global warming and acidification of the oceans that ultimately killed off thousands of plant and animal species. Read more ..

Broken Lobbying

Oil Industry Trade Group Takes to D.C. Airwaves

March 23rd 2013

Oil well

A recently released advertisement from the American Petroleum Institute says "new energy taxes" are "not a good idea," "short-sighted" and "definitely going to kill some jobs."

The trade group has spent $76,700 touting this message on the Washington, D.C., Fox affiliate during the past two weeks, according to records filed by the station with the Federal Communications Commission.

That sum has purchased 61 television spots, the documents indicate — all during morning, evening or late-night news programs.

The two advertisements on Fox News Sunday alone set the American Petroleum Institute back $10,000 a piece. The ads hit as lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been debating fiscal measures, including the tax incentives given to the oil and gas industry. This week, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives both passed a short-term budget deal, but budgetary fights remain in Congress' future. Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Will There be Enough Water for Everyone?

March 22nd 2013


As the global population grows, so does the need for water. The Worldwatch Institute says increased demands for food, energy and industry, along with climate change, could lead to water scarcity in some places. The warning comes on World Water Day, March 22.

Worldwatch says billions of people are already facing some kind of water scarcity or shortage. Spokesperson Supriya Kumar said that it’s only expected to get worse as the population increases.

“Over 1.2 billion are basically living in areas of physical water scarcity. And almost 1.6 billion face economic water shortage. And these are really extreme numbers. And as our population continues to grow there’s just going to be more problems. And we’re going to really have to face drastic measures in order to make sure the people have access to water.”

There are several types of water scarcity. The first is called “physical.” “Physical water scarcity really just means that there’s not enough actual water to meet all demands. Water is not distributed evenly. Areas in the Middle East, in northern China, in northwestern India – very arid regions – where there’s just not enough water. And so there’s just not physical availability,” said Kumar. Read more ..

The Drug Wars

U.S. and Mexican Media Fearful of Covering Border Violence

March 22nd 2013

Mexico militia

Southwest border violence has reached such a dangerous boiling point that both Mexican and American journalists forsaken their reporting about the heinous crimes due to their legitimate fear that the drug cartels will retaliate against them and their families, according to a public-interest, watchdog group on Wednesday.

This fear of retaliation by reporters is leading to a situation in which Americans will be kept in the dark about the crisis along the porous and increasingly dangerous Mexican border since the Obama administration is telling Americans the border with Mexico is becoming more peaceful, according to narco-terrorism expert and drug enforcement official Donald Kubisty.

Upon receiving the latest homicide statistics that revealed over 70,000 Mexicans were killed since 2006, Mexico's new leader, President Enrique Pena Nieto, announced on Mexican television that a brand new national police agency will be fully deployed by December 2013 and will be comprised of at least 10,000 officers when they kickoff law enforcement operations. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Women Soldiers Pay Price on Front Lines

March 21st 2013

Afghanistan us army dustoff

The Pentagon's recent decision to eliminate rules that exclude women from direct combat roles was merely symbolic for many women  soldiers - who have already been in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to fighting on the front lines, Army Staff Sergeant Cassandra Partee has been there and done that.  Her first deployment was to Iraq as part of an artillery unit eight years ago.

"We would go out on patrols and just conduct raids and things of that nature," she said. On her second deployment to Iraq, she was wounded in action.

"I [in] one incident was hit by improvised explosive device that was attached to a guard rail," she explained. Partee suffered shrapnel wounds to her face and back. Since her last deployment, she has survived cancer and given birth to two babies. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Surgery Without Scars or Scalpels

March 20th 2013

Baby Boomer

Surgery without scalpels and scars? It’s not science fiction. Israel’s InSightec is in the midst of transforming the operating room with its ExAblate MRI-guided high-intensity ultrasound---a new ultrasound technology that enables surgeons to destroy tumors and cysts without incisions.

The ExAblate O.R. system uses interchangeable “cradles” set on a regular MRI treatment table. The tool allows doctors to destroy targets, such as tumors and uterine fibroid cysts, deep inside the body without incisions. The alert patient is monitored in real time, and changes in treatment parameters can be made instantly. While the ExAblate system garners kudos – The Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Award, the European Union’s Information Society Technologies grand prize, TIME magazine’s list of 50 best inventions of 2011 – InSightec has been gaining regulatory approvals, moving ahead with clinical trials and closing a $30.9 million financing round. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Jerusalem Passport Issued Debated in Court as Obama Arrives in Israel

March 20th 2013

Western Wall - Wailing Wall Jerusalem

On Tuesday the law firm of Lewin & Lewin presented oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on behalf of its 10-year-old client, Menachem Zivotofsky, in the high profile case of Menachem Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State (No. 07-5347). At issue in the case is the right of a Jerusalem-born American citizen to self-identify as born in “Israel” on his or her U.S. passport and birth certificate. 


In 2002, Congress passed a law that directed the Secretary of State to record the birthplace of American citizens born in Jerusalem as “Israel” on the U.S. passport and birth certificate of those who so request. Since the bill’s enactment, the Executive Branch has refused to enforce the law, claiming that to do so would infringe on the President’s authority to “recognize foreign sovereigns.” Zivotofsky was born in October 2002 in Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. His parents requested that, pursuant to the statute, his place of birth be listed as “Israel.” The State Department refused and listed his place of birth as “Jerusalem.”  Zivotofsky sued in September 2003 to compel the State Department to comply with the law.


Tuesday marked the third time in the case’s 10-year history that Lewin presented arguments in the case before the Court of Appeals.  Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the D.C. Circuit was obliged to review the case on the merits, rejecting the government’s argument that the case raised a “political question” that the courts were not authorized to address. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

A New Reality in U.S.-Israeli Relations

March 19th 2013

Obama pointing finger at Netanyahu

U.S. President Barack Obama is making his first visit to Israel as president. The visit comes in the wake of his re-election and inauguration to a second term and the formation of a new Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Normally, summits between Israel and the United States are filled with foreign policy issues on both sides, and there will be many discussed at this meeting, including Iran, Syria and Egypt. But this summit takes place in an interesting climate, because both the Americans and Israelis are less interested in foreign and security matters than they are in their respective domestic issues.

In the United States, the political crisis over the federal budget and the struggle to grow the economy and reduce unemployment has dominated the president's and the country's attention. The Israeli elections turned on domestic issues, ranging from whether the ultra-Orthodox would be required to serve in Israel Defense Forces, as other citizens are, to a growing controversy over economic inequality in Israel. Read more ..

The Musical Edge

Women Kept Guitars Strumming During WWII

March 19th 2013

Itamar Erez

 As American men went off to war during World War II, women stepped in to fill the jobs they left behind, keeping the factories and shipyards running, and the economy humming.

While most were praised for their patriotism, one unheralded group of women worked in the shadows building Gibson guitars. The maker of the famous instrument never confirmed that women crafted its guitars during the war, and in an official company history, even reported it stopped producing instruments for those years.

Almost 70 years later, author and guitar aficionado John Thomas is finally telling their story. He was intrigued by a wartime photo taken at the Gibson guitar factory in Michigan.  The 75 people in the black-and-white staff portrait are nearly all women. Irene Stearns, now age 90, spent several of the war years working at the factory.
Women Kept Gibson Guitar Playing During WWII

The Edge of Sport

Elite Atheletes Also Excel at Some Cognitive Tasks

March 18th 2013

female sprinter

New research suggests that elite athletes – Olympic medalists in volleyball, for example – perform better than the rest of us in yet another way. These athletes excel not only in their sport of choice but also in how fast their brains take in and respond to new information – cognitive abilities that are important on and off the court.

The study, of 87 top-ranked Brazilian volleyball players (some of them medalists in the Beijing and London Olympics) and 67 of their nonathletic contemporaries, also found that being an athlete minimizes the performance differences that normally occur between women and men. Female athletes, the researchers found, were more like their male peers in the speed of their mental calculations and reaction times, while nonathletic females performed the same tasks more slowly than their male counterparts.

“I think we have learned that athletes are different from us in some ways,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer, who led the study with graduate student Heloisa Alves.

“We found that athletes were generally able to inhibit behavior, to stop quickly when they had to, which is very important in sport and in daily life, “ Kramer said. “They were also able to activate, to pick up information from a glance and to switch between tasks more quickly than nonathletes. I would say these were modest differences, but they were interesting differences nonetheless.” Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Red Tide Blooms Threaten Gulf of Oman, Shut Down Kalba Desalinization Plants

March 17th 2013

Red Tide-Dead-Fish

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Environment and Water indicates that red tide may be present in the waters of the Gulf  of Oman. As a precautionary measure, Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) shut down some desalinization plants in Kalba.

Red tide is caused by a population explosion in certain species of plankton. The poison these microorganisms produce is usually reddish or brown in color and is toxic to the nervous system of fish and many other vertebrates. Red tide outbreaks can cause large fish die-offs and impact other animals. A red tide in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico recently killed at least 174 endangered Florida Manatees by weakening their muscles so they could no longer lift their heads to breath. Red tide does not necessarily kill shrimp and other shellfish, but its toxin is concentrated in these animals and can be passed on to humans who consume them. Read more ..

China Rising

Chinese Charisma to the Rescue?

March 15th 2013

Xi Jinping

In a troubled world, the obstacles to continued growth and stability in Communist China are staggering compared to the crises of the Euro and Sequestration. Most foreign observers are either willfully blind to the growing evidence or facing a possible period of worldwide economic decline, they still hope growth in China (and perhaps India) will be the salvation. It won't.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Hong Kong -- and Taiwan -- there is a theory the new Fifth Generation of leadership just formally taking the helm will steer China toward reform and continued spectacular growth. It revolves around what many view as the charismatic personality of Pres. Xi Jinping, the new No. 1 in Beijing.
Xi went on something close to the baby-kissing tour of an American politician leading up to the November meeting of the National People's Congress and his formal installation March 5. It's tapered off a bit now. But the media are still full of stories about how he has a jocular, down-to-earth style that fascinates, and there are official photographs to prove it with adoring, smiling faces surrounding him.

Inside the Catholic Church

Did Pope Francis Collaborate with Argentine Junta

March 15th 2013

Pope Francis1 March 2013

James P. Brennan, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside who is currently working on on a research project about the "Dirty War," cautioned against rushing to judgments about the new pope's record with the military junta. "[Journalist Horacio Verbitsky] is the sole source of [the] accusation [about concealing prisoners from human rights officials], which has yet to be verified by other credible sources such as human rights organizations in Argentina."

In other developments, Sam Ferguson, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, has an article in The New Republic in which he summarizes the 2010 testimony of then-Cardinal Bergoglio over the allegations he collaborated with the Argentine military junta. Ferguson does not draw any conclusions, noting both that some of Bergoglio's answers under examination were inconsistent (he claimed Yorio never blamed him for his incarceration, but Yorio had been on the record as holding Bergoglio responsible for years) but that Nobel Peace Prize winner and victim of the regime Adolfo Perez Esquivel told the BBC Bergoglio "was not an accomplice of the dictatorship" and Robert Cox, former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald who was forced into exile in 1979 for reporting on disappeared persons,  said that "as much as he could, behind the scenes." Read more ..

After 911

New World Trade Center Rises From The Ashes

March 14th 2013

Twin Towers 9/11

The day the Twin Towers fell, then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani declared that they would rise again. "We will rebuild," Giuliani proclaimed after the terrorist attacks that toppled the iconic World Trade Center skyscrapers on September 11, 2001. "We're going to come out of this stronger than before -- politically stronger, economically stronger. The skyline will be made whole again."

More than a decade later, the new One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, is nearly complete. The colossal building already dwarfs the massive skyscrapers that make up Manhattan's skyline, and will soon be crowned with a spire that will make it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

The final pieces of the 124-meter spire are about to be shipped to the World Trade Center site. There they will sit until the weather is good enough -- with little to no wind -- for them to be lifted into place. Upon completion the One World Trade Center will stand at a symbolic 1,776 feet (541 meters) -- a nod to the year the United States of America declared independence from England. Read more ..

Business Edge

Corporate CEOs Who are Close to Executives are Prone to Fraud

March 13th 2013

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Corporate fraud dominates financial news, yet few studies have looked at whether chief executive officers who appoint their own top lieutenants are more inclined to act illegally, according to University of Michigan researchers.

U-M business professor E. Han Kim and law school professor Vikramaditya Khanna found that the more top executives the CEO appointed, the higher the probability of fraud. Also, that fraud has a lower likelihood of detection.

"CEOs who commit fraud don't act alone," said Kim, the Everett E. Berg Professor of Business Administration at the Ross School. "We wanted to focus on white collar crime and the soft influence CEOs have over their top executives. We found the more closely connected they are, the easier it is to bypass controls." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Ice Quakes, Fur Hats, And Black Toenails: Running Across Lake Baikal

March 13th 2013

Olympic Runners

It’s 9 a.m. on a winter’s morning in the resort village of Listvyanka and about 140 runners clad in balaclavas, leggings, gaiters, sunglasses, and grip-shod trainers are huddled in buses waiting to run, skid, and hobble a marathon across Siberia’s frozen Lake Baikal. Over 100 are running the full distance -- 42.2 kilometers across the deepest lake on the planet from the western shore in Irkutsk Oblast to the Buddhist Republic of Buryatia on the far side. Half marathoners stop after 21 kilometers about 1.5 kilometers above the lakebed.

At first runners get out to take photos, but hop back into the warmth of the bus to shelter from the minus 11 degree Celsius cold. The bus is a bit too hot as well and everyone is keen to get started. We’re being held longer than expected before the race: organizers are apparently checking the volatility of kilometer-long cracks that periodically erupt through the icy surface due to underwater currents, the changing seasons, and intense seismic activity. The lake itself is situated on a geological rift and was created by earthquakes millions of years ago. It is one of the most ancient lakes in the world, protected by UNESCO, and holds about one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. Read more ..

Inside Washington

Donald Ritchie--The Senate's Expert on the Senate

March 12th 2013

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Shortly after the Watergate scandal that shook the nation between 1972 and 1974, a letter was written that reminded majority and minority leaders in Congress of the importance of preserving the records of the legislative branch.

The power behind Arthur M. Schlesinger’s words inspired the creation of a new office. Working together, Democratic and Republican leaders established the Senate Historical Office in 1975.  The Historical Office is currently headed by Dr. Donald Ritchie.

Ritchie, a native of Queens, N.Y., was educated at the City College of New York and the University of Maryland. While working towards his graduate degree at Maryland, the U.S. government dropped graduate education as a deferment to serve in Vietnam.  As a result, he was drafted and inducted into the Marine Corps in June 1969 and was stationed at Pearl Harbor. While at Hawaii, Ritchie continued his education, taking courses at the University of Hawaii.  Two years later he was able to return to Maryland and finish his graduate studies.  He received his doctorate in 1975. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Iraq's Budget Threat Against the Kurds

March 12th 2013

Iraqi Forces

On March 7, the Iraqi parliament passed its annual budget law by a wafer-thin majority of 168 votes, just five seats over the threshold needed to pass legislation in the 325-seat Council of Representatives. After months of delay, the budget was finally rammed through the ratification process by a fleeting alignment of the main Shiite political blocs and defectors from the predominantly Sunni Arab and secular Iraqiyah list. Kurdish parties were sidelined, resulting in the passage of post-Saddam Iraq's most anti-Kurdish budget. The episode has shown that majority rule in today's fragile Iraq has the potential to be ugly and dangerous.

Since 2003, successive Iraqi governments have (with U.S. backing) paid at least lip service to the idea of a unity government and national consensus. Although the country's political system allows for clear winners and losers, conventional wisdom holds that Iraq is too fragile to risk excluding any sizeable sectarian, ethnic, or political faction from government. Initially, such exclusions were exceptional and generally voluntary, such as cabinet boycotts and resignations by ministers from Iraqiyah and Muqtada al-Sadr's blocs. Since 2010, Baghdad has gradually inched toward a government within a government, with all key institutions controlled by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But there was still one area where the government generally needed to foster a modicum of national consensus: the annual budget ratification vote in parliament. Read more ..

Inside Washington

Matthew Wasniewski's Front Row Seat to History

March 11th 2013


Most historians, if asked to describe their dream job, would list among its main perks plenty of time for research, the ability to work closely with other historians in the field, and, depending on their level of extroversion, the chance to interact directly with the public. Fortunately for any historians with an interest in American political history, that job does exist, under the title of Historian for the United States House of Representatives. Unfortunately, it has already been filled by Dr. Matthew Wasniewski, and he has no plans of leaving it any time soon.

Wasniewski was appointed to the position in 2010, in a rare show of cooperation between then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader John Boehner. Previously, he had served as the historian for the Office of History and Preservation, which fell under the domain of the House Clerk, and these two positions were combined upon his appointment to House Historian. Read more ..

Arab Spring Brewing

Jordanians Demand Reform

March 11th 2013

Jordanian Protestor

Around a thousand Islamists demonstrated in Jordan's capital on Friday marking the first protest since the January 23 elections. Protesters at the Muslim Brotherhood-organized rally, recited anti-government slogans and called for the government to step down.

"Reform is what is required. Justice and freedom and not these sham elections and deputies," chanted the demonstrators as they walked from the Husseini mosque to downtown Amman. With many angered by corruption, most called for reforms and limits on the king's power, not for the U.S.-backed monarch to be overthrown. The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, demanded changes to the electoral law saying it results in unfair parliamentary representation. Although two-thirds of Jordanians live in cities where the Muslim Brotherhood has a strong presence, the urban areas are allocated less than a third of the seats in Parliament. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Secretary Kerry Brings His Own Style to the State Department

March 11th 2013

John Kerry

John Kerry has now wrapped up his first trip abroad as Secretary of State. Already, his diplomatic style and approach seem to differ from those of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. From the start, John Kerry said he knew he had "big heels to fill" replacing Hillary Clinton. She said his service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made him the right choice.
"He has a view of the world that he has acted on, first as that young returning veteran from Vietnam who appeared before this committee, through the time that he served with such distinction as its chairman."

On his first trip as secretary of state, this son of a foreign service family made clear his commitment to the men and women who carry out U.S. policy abroad. "I have to tell you that the job you are engaged in is one of the greatest jobs in the world, and I am now privileged to share that journey with you."

So how will John Kerry's time as Washington's top diplomat differ from Hillary Clinton's? Read more ..

Ancient Days

Ancient Egyptian Royal Officials Died Young

March 10th 2013

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The ancient Egyptians did not live in such good conditions and were not surrounded by such opulence as was thought up to now, but, rather, suffered from hunger and malnutrition, a whole range of infectious diseases and an extremely high infant mortality rate. Furthermore, the governors of Aswan, on the border with Sudan, as well as their families, interbred with the black peoples of the neighbouring country.

These are some of the conclusions drawn from the Qubbet el-Hawa research project, carried out by the University of Jaen, in which anthropologists from the University of Granada have participated, as well as the Supreme Council of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

It involves excavating tomb no. 33 of the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis, right opposite the modern-day city of Aswan, about 1000 km. south of Cairo. The tomb was constructed during the 12th Dynasty (1939-1760 BC), to house the corpse of one of the region of Aswan’s leading dignitaries, whose identity is still unknown. Read more ..

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