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Russia on Edge

Russians Protest Ban on Adoptions by American Parents

January 14th 2013

Russian Protest

During the Christmas holidays, Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill banning adoptions of Russian children by American parents.  Russia’s legislature overwhelmingly passed the law, retaliating for a new U.S. law that blocks Russian officials accused of corruption and  human rights violations from obtaining American visas or bank accounts.

With Russia’s long New Year’s break over, Russians responded Sunday to the adoption ban with the largest protest rally in Moscow since President Putin’s inauguration last May.

This time they braved freezing temperatures, tough new laws against protests, and a heavy police presence, complete with low-flying helicopters.  Police say 9,000 people turned out - about two protesters for every policeman.  Opposition activists said they counted 24,000 people passing through police metal detectors. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Aceh Town Bans Women From Straddling Motorbikes

January 14th 2013

Women Motorbikes

In Indonesia’s province of Aceh, where Islamic law governs, adultery, gambling, tight jeans and Mohawk haircuts are outlawed by religious police. Now, women passengers have been banned from straddling motorbikes. The new bylaw has sparked strong criticism with activists saying that discriminatory regulations, seemingly justified by Islam, are undermining Indonesia’s pluralist reputation.

In the Aceh town of Lhokseumawe, the moral crusade continues. Town Mayor Suaidi Yahya says local morals are slipping - and it’s ‘impolite’ for women to straddle motorbikes. Religious leaders have expressed support for the new regulation, but women’s groups say it is ridiculous and unfair. They say local laws enacted in the name of religion and morality have disproportionately affected women. Read more ..

The Battle for Jordan

As Jordan Prepares to Vote, Imam Decree "Democracy is Forbidden in Islam"

January 14th 2013

Muslim Brotherhood Jordan

Why are radical Muslims opposed to the upcoming parliamentary election in Jordan?

Because they believe that democracy is in contradiction with Islam's concept of the sovereignty of Allah's law. They argue that Islam and democracy cannot go together, and they are obviously right, especially if one considers the experiences of people living under Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thanks to the "Arab Spring," which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of countries, Muslim extremists today feel free to express their opinion on political and religious issues.

One of them, Abed Shehadeh, leader of the Salafi Jihadi movement in Jordan, ruled this week that democracy in its concept as "ruling of the people by the people" and "should be forbidden in Islam." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The Brazilian Congress Yet Again Postpones Discussions Regarding Internet Regulation

January 13th 2013

computer keyboard woman hands

The so-called “Brazilian Internet Constitution” was shelved for the sixth time on December 5 after the government failed to even bring the legislation to a vote. The draft document, 25 articles in length, aims at spelling out the rights and responsibilities of internet users and providers, and also fixes the Federal Government’s ability to intervene in the matter.

The controversy that forced Brazilian party leaders to delay the debate of the measure to this year hinged on the principle of neutrality, which prevents Internet providers from affording priority to certain packets of data or clients who pay more for their service. Had Brazilian politicians been able to come to an agreement, the country would have been a pioneer in prohibiting, as a matter of law, these measures routinely practiced by telecom companies both in Brazil as well as elsewhere in the world.

In the United States, this same subject had already found its way on to the agenda of the U.S.Congress. In the case of the U.S. legislature, a great majority of that body came out against any regulation regarding the principle of neutrality. Analogous bills have failed on a total of five occasions due to strong Internet-freedom lobbyists on Capitol Hill, a similar situation to that found on the Brazilian Central Plateau. Read more ..

The Edeg of Health

Foods Identified as 'Whole Grain' Not Always Healthy

January 13th 2013


Current standards for classifying foods as "whole grain" are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading, according to a new study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. One of the most widely used industry standards, the Whole Grain Stamp, actually identified grain products that were higher in both sugars and calories than products without the Stamp. The researchers urge adoption of a consistent, evidence-based standard for labeling whole grain foods to help consumers and organizations make healthy choices. This is the first study to empirically evaluate the healthfulness of whole grain foods based on five commonly used industry and government definitions.

"Given the significant prevalence of refined grains, starches, and sugars in modern diets, identifying a unified criterion to identify higher quality carbohydrates is a key priority in public health," said first author Rebecca Mozaffarian, project manager in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

A Canadian View of America's Broken Economy

January 12th 2013


It is stormy waters in the world today. In Rome and Athens, cradles of civilization are replaced with cradle-to-grave socialism. Across Europe and the United States, millions go without work. Those who do work face a lifetime of crippling taxation to pay for the entitlements of their countrymen and the debts of their governments.

See VIDEO here.

Canada by contrast is strong. To stay that way, we must never repeat the mistakes of Europe and the United States and we must instead focus on what Canada has already done right.

What went wrong in the United States? Many believe that the 2008 financial collapse and recession were the result of irresponsible behaviour by business and banks. In fact, this behaviour was merely the symptom. The illness was massive government intervention to turn the mortgage business into a social program. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's Rebels Gain Heavy Weapons

January 12th 2013

Syrian Jihadis

Rebel units in Syria can no longer be described as "lightly armed." Many have acquired heavy machine guns and antiaircraft guns, mortars, recoilless rifles, and artillery rocket launchers. Some also have tanks (see below) and BMP infantry fighting vehicles, while at least a few have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), antitank guided missiles (ATGMs), and medium field artillery pieces. Most of these weapons were captured from regime stocks, and the rebels are increasingly employing them against Bashar al-Assad's forces. As the regime loses ground, the rebels will acquire significantly greater numbers of such weapons, boosting their capabilities still further. Read more ..

The Employment Edge

Unemployment Benefits Often Not Sought By Jobless

January 11th 2013

Unemployment Line in California

Employment insurance is a vital safety net for the unemployed across North America, yet some take advantage of the system. Recent headlines have made much of a recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor that 11 per cent of all unemployment benefits were overpaid between 2009-11. But new research from Concordia University proves that uncollected benefits represent a much larger dollar figure than overpayments.
In a study commissioned by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, Concordia economics professor David Fuller examines the U.S. unemployment insurance system's expenditures from 1989 through 2011. With the help of Concordia colleague Damba Lkhagvasuren, Fuller and his co-authors crunched the numbers and proved that overpayments represent a far smaller amount than uncollected benefits. These benefits may be unclaimed due to any number of reasons; from employees being unaware that they’re eligible to individuals believing their unemployment will be too short-lived to justify making a claim.

Mexico on Edge

Immigration: Top Issue for Incoming Mexican Diplomats with NAFTA partners

January 10th 2013

Immigration Protest

With little opposition, the Mexican Senate ratified this week the nomination of Eduardo Medina Mora as Mexico’s new ambassador to the United States. In a presentation to the Senate’s foreign affairs commission broadcast on the Congress Channel, Medina sketched out his views on the parameters, problems and promises of the Mexico-U.S. relationship. A longtime mover and shaker on Mexico´s political scene, Medina touched on immigration, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), migrant remittances, arms trafficking and drug legalization. Notably, he did not speak about outstanding environmental issues between Mexico and the U.S. per se.

“Few problems are as complex in the relations with the U.S. as this one,” Medina said of the immigration question. Read more ..

The Intelligence Edge

Intelligence and Human Networks

January 10th 2013

File Folders

People use human networks to organize the control of resources and geography. No person alone can control anything of significance. Presidents, drug lords and CEOs rely on people to execute their strategies and are constrained by the capabilities and interests of the people who work for them. Identifying these networks may be a daunting task depending on the network. For obvious reasons, criminal organizations and militant networks strive to keep their membership secret, and it is not always apparent who gives the orders and who carries out the orders in a political body. To discern who's who in a group, and therefore whether an individual matters in a group, requires both intelligence and analysis to make sense of the intelligence.

How intelligence is acquired depends on the resources and methods available to an intelligence organization, while the analysis that follows differs depending on the intent. For example, International Security Assistance Force military operations aimed at disrupting militant networks in Afghanistan would require the collection of informants and signals intelligence followed by analysis to pinpoint the exact location of individuals within a network to enable targeted operations. Simply knowing who belongs to a militant network and their location is not enough; the value lies in the significance and capabilities of an individual in the group. Detaining an individual who lays improvised explosive devices on a road may result in short-term disruptions to the target's area of operations, but identifying and detaining a bombmaker with exclusive experience and training will have a far greater impact. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

France in a Pique over California 'Champagne' at Obama's Second Inauguration

January 10th 2013

California champagne seized in Belgium
California sparkling wine seized in Belgium

The French wine lobby is upset about the menu for Obama's inauguration and is penning a letter to the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), The Hill has learned.

At issue is the menu's dessert course, which will be accompanied by “Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California,” according to a press release from the inauguration committee. That description violates U.S. law, according to Sam Heitner, the director of the Champagne Bureau, a Washington lobby.

The inauguration committee however says the wine itself is labeled in accordance with U.S. law and will be correctly identified on the menu. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Opposition Struggles to Create Union in War

January 9th 2013

Syria Rally

International support for the 21-month-old uprising in Syria is coming together around a newly formed coalition that hopes it can avoid the chaos and continued bloodshed many have predicted when President Bashar al-Assad’s regime falls.

The new opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), was formed last November at a conference in Doha. Its first order of business has been to find some way to link their own national transition efforts with the political activists and community leaders inside Syria.

So far, the front-line rebel fighters have been pushing ahead with their military offensive faster than their would-be diplomatic allies outside Syria. Thanks to covert outside aid, Syrian Army defectors and captured weaponry, those rebel units have been able to take on and often beat Assad’s military in the larger cities such as Damascus and Aleppo as well as in the oil fields of the northeast. The rebels also effectively control large swathes of the north along the Turkish frontier.

Broken Healthcare

Texas Tries To Crack Down On Dental Chains That Put Profits Ahead Of Patients

January 8th 2013

medicine and money #2

A leading Republican in the Texas legislature, who says she’s outraged by allegations that corporate dental chains put profits ahead of patients, has introduced a bill that would allow the state to regulate chains and forbid them from forcing dentists to meet revenue quotas. An investigation last summer found that two of the largest dental chains owned by private-equity firms, Aspen Dental Management and Kool Smiles, put pressure on its dentists to meet production goals, prompting complaints of overbilling and unnecessary treatments. Both companies deny this. And a coalition of dental chains in Texas contends that their dentists have total control over patient care. But the chief sponsor of the bill remains skeptical.

“Several reports ... have uncovered outrageous activities involving the illegal enticement of patients, especially among our Medicaid providers and often involving dental service organizations,” said Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, who chairs the Senate’s Health & Human Services committee.


Kyrgyztan on Edge

Sokh Exclave: Two Decades Of Simmering Tension

January 7th 2013

Tank & SUV

Sokh district, a small pocket of Uzbek territory within Kyrgyzstan, has been the scene of low-level violence and bilateral tension since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Following an outbreak of violence on January 5-6, we have assembled a brief look at the history of this territory and some of the contentious issues it presents for Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

What is Sokh and how did it come to be?
Sokh is an exclave of Uzbekistan comprising about 350 square kilometers along the Sokh River. It is completely surrounded by Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast. Although the territory is disputed between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, its population of less than 60,000 people is overwhelmingly Tajik and some other nationalities. Read more ..

Broken Business

When is Disclosing a Whistleblower's Identity Retaliation

January 7th 2013

woman headache head bowed

Under the law, whistle-blowers are supposed to be protected from direct reprisals on the job, including discrimination. But what if they and their actions becomes the subject of a widely distributed email? Is that a form of retaliation?

Two professors at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business set out to answer that question and determine when public disclosure of the whistle-blower's identity -- like in an email -- is sufficient to support such a claim, in a paper that has been accepted for publication in North Carolina Law Review.

"When someone makes a complaint of discrimination that's covered by federal anti-discrimination laws, you're automatically cloaked in protection from retaliatory actions that could come in response," said Jamie Prenkert, associate professor of business law at the IU Kelley School of Business Bloomington and the study's lead author. "But what can be retaliatory is a broad-ranging continuum of actions that the courts don't specifically define." Read more ..

Broken Business

Faltering Barnes and Noble Gets Battered in Media Due to Dismal Nook and Book Sales

January 6th 2013

Barnes and Noble store

Battered Barnes and Noble, limping over huge reductions in its store and web sales, both for books and ebook reader called The Nook, is taking a beating in the media over its poor performance. An astonishing drop in store sales, almost 11 percent, and an equal drop in both Nook sales and BN.com orders, is speeding BN to a fiery crash in the media and perhaps in the real consumer world, its seems.

Propelling the critical charge is media dismay over a shrinking Nook business, with shrinkage so severe the device is now approaching digital irrelvance. This tumble occurs in an era of massive digital growth in publishing, hence it appears to be a trebly bad omen for the faltering retailer. The chorus of doom sayers on Nook are joining the those stunned over the continuing closures of some of Barnes' most important street sores.

The New York Times headline proclaimed, "Barnes & Noble Faces Steep Challenge as Holiday Nook Sales Decline." The paper lead with: "After a year spent signaling its commitment to build its business through its Nook division, Barnes & Noble on Thursday announced disappointing holiday sales figures, with steep declines that underscored the challenge it faces in transforming from its traditional retail format. Retail sales from the company’s bookstores and its Web site, BN.com, decreased 10.9 percent from the comparable nine-week holiday period a year earlier, to $1.2 billion, the company reported. More worrisome for the long-term future of the company, sales in the Nook unit that includes e-readers, tablets, digital content and accessories decreased 12.6 percent over the same period, to $311 million." Read more ..

Inside Washington

Frank Would Likely Be Active And Vocal During A Short Stint In The Senate

January 6th 2013

Barney Frank headshot
Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass)

If former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) gets his way, he’ll be serving in the Senate just as the upper chamber takes up legislation concerning the budget, the debt ceiling and sequestration. 

They are all fights Frank would relish. Frank told MSNBC on Friday that he wants to be appointed interim senator if Sen. John Kerry (D) is confirmed as secretary of State, and revealed he has already been in touch with Gov. Deval Patrick (D) about the seat.

His appointment is by no means assured. Patrick gave no indication of his preference during a press conference later that day. He offered only generic praise for Frank, calling him “a really gifted legislator, and he’d be a great senator.” 

He dodged the question of a possible Frank appointment. “I have a lot of factors I’m considering and he’s definitely on the list,” Patrick said. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Payday Lenders Agree To Stop 'Deceptive And Illegal' Practices

January 5th 2013

Controversial lenders that claim to be owned by Indian tribes and offer payday loans over the Internet have agreed to stop practices that federal authorities say deceive borrowers and violate federal laws. The agreement, filed in federal court, could save borrowers hundreds of dollars on each payday loan. The Federal Trade Commission last year sued an Overland Park, Kan., company, AMG Services, to recover millions of dollars in revenues, alleging that borrowers were illegally deceived. The business was founded and is still managed by Scott Tucker, best known as an endurance race-car driver who recently won the Baltimore Grand Prix. Tucker’s case awaits trial. But the FTC argued that AMG Services was continuing to mislead thousands of new borrowers. Tucker and the representatives from the Indian tribes last month agreed to change the practices that the FTC said were illegal.


The Weapon's Edge

'Tsunami Bomb' Tested Off New Zealand Coast

January 4th 2013

Stormy Seas

The United States and New Zealand conducted secret tests of a "tsunami bomb" designed to destroy coastal cities by using underwater blasts to trigger massive tidal waves. The tests were carried out in waters around New Caledonia and Auckland during the Second World War and showed that the weapon was feasible and a series of 10 large offshore blasts could potentially create a 33-foot tsunami capable of inundating a small city. The top secret operation, code-named "Project Seal", tested the doomsday device as a possible rival to the nuclear bomb. About 3,700 bombs were exploded during the tests, first in New Caledonia and later at Whangaparaoa Peninsula, near Auckland.

The plans came to light during research by a New Zealand author and film-maker, Ray Waru, who examined military files buried in the national archives. "Presumably if the atomic bomb had not worked as well as it did, we might have been tsunami-ing people," said Mr. Waru. Read more ..

America on Edge

Were New Mexico's Border Counties Shortchanged by Obama's Stimulus?

January 4th 2013

Click to select Image
El Vado, New Mexico

Historically, New Mexico’s three counties sharing a border with Mexico have shown higher-than-normal rates of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. In the late 20th century, an absence of affordable housing for low-income workers coupled with rising real estate prices pushed the growth of colonias, the rural and peri-urban settlements lacking in paved roads, utility services, adequate storm water drainage and wastewater treatment.

As jobs became scarce and state funding grew austere after the Great Recession hit in 2008, historic problems of employment and access to services deepened for many people in New Mexico’s border region.

Arguably, the economic whammy would have been much worse without the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called Obama stimulus program. However, a preliminary review of information collected by an investigative journalists’ group suggests New Mexico’s three border counties were short-changed in stimulus funding, which for the state’s border residents fell far below the averages of either New Mexico as a whole or the United States. Read more ..

The Dangerous Roads of Mexico

The Blood of the Sierra Madre

January 3rd 2013

Deceased Sinaloa Cartel Member Miss Sinaloa Maria Susana Flores Gamez,

As 2012 drew to a close, violence was down from previous months and years in the northern Mexican urban centers of Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. But in several rural zones of Chihuahua state, drug-related mayhem is on the rise. A major flashpoint is in the Sierra Tarahumara, the mountainous region internationally renowned for the Copper Canyon and the long-distance runners of the Raramuri indigenous people.

Among Mexico’s prime opium poppy and marijuana-producing regions, the Sierra Tarahumara has also been known to harbor clandestine air strips that transport cocaine to interior markets. And new sources of profit are thought to be lurking under the ground in the form of gold and other precious metals.

Since the end of November, violence between rival criminal organizations identified as the Sinaloa Cartel and La Linea, a group affiliated with the Juarez Cartel and allied with the Zetas, has intensified over control of the strategic zone. Read more ..

Edge of the Cliff

Boehner, Pelosi Facing Defections as House Votes for Speaker

January 3rd 2013

Disgruntled House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are lining up to voice their discontent with their own leaders during Thursday's vote to choose the Speaker in the 113th Congress. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to keep his Speaker position while Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already secured her spot as the Democratic leader. But the small groups of defectors are a reminder that neither party is entirely unified heading into the high-stakes fiscal battles that are expected to define 2013.

For Boehner, Thursday's vote for Speaker could be particularly punishing amid a week when the Ohio Republican pushed through a fiscal-cliff package that was wildly unpopular in his conference, and then scrapped a promised vote on federal relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The first move alienated conservatives who said the tax-and-spending package didn't include nearly enough cuts; the second enraged Republicans from the Northeast, who were apoplectic Wednesday that the aid to their districts won't come faster. Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) threatened to defect on the Speaker vote unless Boehner reversed course on the Sandy measure. After Boehner did an about face, they expressed support for the Ohio Republican. Read more ..

The Way Were Are

While In Womb, Babies Begin Learning Language From Their Mothers

January 2nd 2013

Premature Baby

Babies only hours old are able to differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language, scientists have discovered. The study indicates that babies begin absorbing language while still in the womb, earlier than previously thought. Sensory and brain mechanisms for hearing are developed at 30 weeks of gestational age, and the new study shows that unborn babies are listening to their mothers talk during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy and at birth can demonstrate what they’ve heard.

“The mother has first dibs on influencing the child’s brain,” said Patricia Kuhl, co-author and co-director of the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. “The vowel sounds in her speech are the loudest units and the fetus locks onto them.” Read more ..

The Edge of Mars

Mars Mission Could Accelerate Alzheimer’s in Astronauts

January 2nd 2013

Space-X Dragon Capsule

Traveling into deep space could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable form of dementia, according to a new report. The NASA-funded study assessed how cosmic radiation would impact the astronauts throughout their trip in deep space. The effect of cosmic radiation on the human body has been a  concern for the US space agency as it plans manned missions into deep space, such as one to a distant asteroid in 2021, and another to Mars in 2035.

Earth’s magnetic field usually keeps us, and those in low Earth orbit, safe from the perils of cosmic radiation. However, beyond Earth’s protective magnetic fields, space travelers are exposed to a constant barrage of radiation. With adequate warning, such as in the case of solar flares, steps can be taken to protect astronauts from dangerous forms of radiation. However, other forms of cosmic radiation, which occur without warning, cannot be blocked as effectively. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

More Aid Workers Gunned Down in Pakistan--7 Killed

January 1st 2013


Gunmen have ambushed a vehicle carrying Pakistani aid workers, killing seven people in northwest Pakistan. Mohammad Rafiq, a spokesman for the Pakistani non-governmental organization (NGO) Support With Working Solutions, says that six of the victims were women -- five school teachers and a health worker.  One man was killed and the driver was wounded in the shooting.

Rafiq said Tuesday's attack took place in the Swabi district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, about 75 kilometers northwest of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.  He said the aid workers were on their way home when their vehicles were ambushed by gunmen on motorcycles.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The NGO spokesman said the workers had not been threatened before and that this was the first time such an incident had taken place. Rafiq said the health worker and teachers were working on two projects in the area (including one named "Ujala" or light) and that the charity has been operating in the region for the last two decades. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Egypt "On the Verge of Bankruptcy"

December 31st 2012

Egyptian bannerman

"The country is on the verge of bankruptcy," Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei told the newspaper al-Arabiya Dec. 23. Unable to reduce subsidies that account for most of a budget deficit that now exceeds 14 percent of GDP, and unwilling to raises taxes, it seems most likely that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi will instead take the path of least resistance and allow a steady devaluation of the Egyptian pound. During the past two weeks, central bank intervention to support the pound's value on the foreign exchange market has stopped and the currency has fallen sharply. 

Central bank intervention in support of the pound is shown clearly on the chart of daily values for the Egyptian pound's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar during the year to date. The spikes in the exchange rate reflect central bank activity. The sharp drop in the pound's exchange rate during the past two weeks reflects an absence of central bank intervention. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Broader Background Checks And Denial Criteria Could Help Prevent Mass Shooting Catastrophes

December 31st 2012

Police Running

Garen Wintemute, a leading authority on gun violence prevention and an emergency medicine physician at UC Davis, believes broader criteria for background checks and denials on gun purchases can help prevent future firearm violence, including mass shooting catastrophes such as those that occurred at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine.

"To reduce the number of deaths and injuries from firearms in the United States, we need to develop policies that require background checks for all firearm purchases, including private-party sales — the most important source of firearms for criminal buyers and others who are prohibited from purchasing guns," said Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and inaugural Susan P. Baker-Stephen P. Teret Chair in Violence Prevention at UC Davis. Read more ..

Inside Israel

What Wingate Wrought

December 30th 2012

Wailing Wall 1967

Everyone still remembers T. E. Lawrence, if only because of David Lean’s magnificent movieLawrence of Arabia and Lawrence’s own literary masterpiece,Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Yet far fewer remember Lawrence’s distant cousin, the British Army officer Orde Wingate, who was in many ways his World War II counterpart​-​not least in his eccentricity, his pungent writing style, his flair for publicity, and his tragic, premature death. A partial exception is to be found in Israel, where he is still remembered asHayedid (the Friend) for his Zionist sympathies. But Wingate remains little known in the United States or even in Burma, the land whose freedom he gave his life for. Last summer while visiting Myanmar, as the country is now known, I asked several well-educated Burmese if they were familiar with Wingate. I drew only blank stares. No doubt his name would draw equally blank looks from well-educated Americans, even those with an interest in military history.

That is a shame because Wingate was one of the most interesting, innovative, and influential, if also most aggravating and outrageous, commanders of World War II. He was one of the pioneers in Special Operations. Remember the way that a small number of Green Berets and CIA operatives, with links to indigenous allies and radios to call in airstrikes, helped to overthrow the Taliban in the fall of 2001? Wingate was one of the first to mount such “deep penetration” missions, in his case behind Japanese lines in Burma, Italian lines in Ethiopia, and Arab lines in Palestine. More broadly Wingate was an innovator who helped nascent Special Operations forces win recognition and resources despite skepticism about their utility among conventional soldiers. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Even In Same Vineyard, Different Microbes May Create Variations In Wine Grapes

December 30th 2012


Choosing the perfect wine may soon involve more than just knowing the perfect vintage and chateau. Differences in the microbes present on grapes even in different parts of the same vineyard may contribute to flavor fluctuations in samples of grapes from different tanks, according to research published December 26 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Mathabatha Setati and colleagues from Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

"In the wine industry, the fungal communities on grapes are especially important. The microbial species present on the berry may contribute to the fermentation process, and therefore the aromatic properties of the resulting wine", the authors explain. For this study, the researchers sampled grapes from different vines in three well-established commercial vineyards, each of which used a different farming system - organic, traditional or biodynamic- to cultivate the grapes. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Waqf Ignores High Court Ruling, Continues to Destroy Artifacts On Temple Mount

December 30th 2012

Temple Mount Artifacts
Temple Mount Artifacts

A demonstration was held last Wednesday (Dec. 26) at the northern entrance to the Temple Mount in protest of the Waqf's continued destruction of archeological artifacts on the Temple Mount. The demonstrators, lead by MK Aryeh Eldad, called on Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to intervene and to stop the obliteration of these unique antiques by the Waqf.

The Waqf, a Muslim Jordanian religious body entrusted with the management of the Temple Mount, has been renovating the Temple Mount for years. In the process they have been moving mounds of earth off the mountain. These piles contain numerous archaeological artifacts from many centuries. In 2004 the High Court of Justice passed a ruling prohibiting the removal of the dirt from the Temple Mount elsewhere until the contents are combed for artifacts. Since then, these artifacts have been lying at the bottom of the mountain in the accumulating mounds. Many of the artifacts dug up are currently being ruined by the weather, after being preserved for centuries.    Read more ..

The Edge of Photography

The Eyes Have It: The Work Of Suren Manvelyan

December 29th 2012

Human Eye by Suren Manvelyan

Manvelyan, 36, is an Armenian photographer who's attracting quite a bit of attention for his sumptuous macro images of the human eye. The photos, which reveal intricate contours and ridges and complex weblike structures, don't so much resemble eyes as they do images of extraterrestrial worlds taken by the Hubble telescope. "We see thousands of eyes in our life but never suspect about the structure of the iris," Manvelyan says. "It is very beautiful and astounding. The surface resembles the surface of other planets, with craters, rivers, and valleys. It looks like something from another world. Every time I photograph the eye, I feel myself traveling through the cosmos."

Manvelyan, who has a doctorate in theoretical physics, won't reveal his technique, saying only that "maybe every photographer tries to shoot eyes -- the windows of the soul. I am not an exception to this rule, but I was lucky enough to find an interesting way to do that."

Manvelyan has also focused on the eyes of animals, which he says pose particular difficulties. "Sometimes I need to work for an hour trying to catch the still moment," he says, stressing that no animals (or humans) are ever harmed during his studio sessions. (A few of his animal eyes are included in this gallery.)

As for his next project, Manvelyan says he'll continue with his eye portraits but is interested in exploring the more down-to-earth world of wedding photography. Read more ..

Broken Government

New Mexico's Complex Sunland Embezzlement Case Goes Forward

December 28th 2012

Gov Susana Martinez of New Mexico
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

Annette Morales was a well-traveled woman who moved widely in governmental and professional circles in the borderlands of New Mexico and Texas. Once a familiar face in the New Mexico state capital of Santa Fe, Morales was regarded by some insiders as former Democratic Governor Bill Richardson’s point person for colonias, the underdeveloped and impoverished communities lacking in basic services which are commonplace in New Mexico and other border states.

Morales’ advocacy work was praised by Dona Ana County Commissioner Karen Perez and Dona Ana County State Senator Mary Kay Papen, after the New Mexico State Legislature passed the 2010 Colonias Infrastructure Act, a measure which established an annual, $10 million funding stream for eligible communities within 150 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. In Dona Ana County alone, 37 designated colonias could receive much-needed funding under the law. Read more ..

Significant Lives

R.I.P. 'Stormin' General Norman Schwarzkopf

December 28th 2012

Norman Schwarzkopf and George H W Bush

Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., the U.S. general who commanded the international coalition that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, has died. “Stormin’ Norman,” as he was popularly known in the United States, was 78. Schwarzkopf died on December 27 in Tampa, Florida, where he had served his last military assignment as head of the U.S. Central Command. Schwarzkopf’s sister said he died of complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, Brenda, and three children.

In a statement, former President George H.W. Bush -- who is seriously ill and now hospitalized in Texas -- said he and wife Barbara mourn the loss of Schwarzkopf, whom Bush called "a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation." In 1991, during Bush's presidency, Schwarzkopf became famous for leading Operation Desert Storm, which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces. In that conflict, Schwarzkopf commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and 200,000 allied forces from around 30 countries. Read more ..

The Evolutionary Edge

Rapid Shifts in East African Environment Drove Human Evolution

December 27th 2012

Amazon jungle dreamy

A series of rapid environmental changes in East Africa roughly 2 million years ago may be responsible for driving human evolution, according to researchers at Penn State and Rutgers University.

"The landscape early humans were inhabiting transitioned rapidly back and forth between a closed woodland and an open grassland about five to six times during a period of 200,000 years," said Clayton Magill, graduate student in geosciences at Penn State. "These changes happened very abruptly, with each transition occurring over hundreds to just a few thousand years." According to Katherine Freeman, professor of geosciences, Penn State, the current leading hypothesis suggests that evolutionary changes among humans during the period the team investigated were related to a long, steady environmental change or even one big change in climate. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Turning Israeli Roofs into Green Habitats

December 27th 2012

Green Roofs in Israel

Anybody can plunk down some potted trees and pretty planters on a roof, but a rooftop garden does not offer the same environmental and ecological benefits as a “green roof” – a layer of low-maintenance vegetation that insulates the building underneath and reduces flash flooding on paved streets below by acting as a sponge for rainfall.

Prof. Leon Blaustein, director of the University of Haifa’s new Green Roofs Ecology Center, says the Israeli center is the first of its kind in the Middle East and one of the first worldwide to focus specifically on how to conserve biodiversity in an urban setting. “When you create a city, you’re destroying much of the natural habitat for plants and animals, and we want to mitigate this as much as possible with our rooftop habitats,” Blaustein says. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Is There an Alawite Future for Post-Assad Syria?

December 27th 2012

Syria Pro-Assad demonstration

It is an idea that was first introduced more than a year ago: If President Bashar al-Assad were to fall or be remove himself from power, would Alawites, for decades a ruling minority in Syria, retreat to their traditional western mountain enclaves and form a breakaway state? As rebels gain more ground in Syria, so too does the idea of an Alawite homeland as an antidote against sectarian violence that could become, in the words of one former U.S. diplomat, “the world’s next genocide.” Senior reporter Cecily Hilleary spoke about the prospects of an Alawite retreat from Syria’s capital, Damascus, with Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Landis: Well, Assad hasn’t come to the conclusion that he has lost Damascus, and he’s not anywhere near there. We’ve just heard Farouk al-Sharaa, his vice president, say that neither side could win – neither the rebels nor the government. There would have to be a political solution; there could not be a military solution. Read more ..

Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Treasury to Take Emergency Steps to Stave Off Federal Spending Limits

December 26th 2012

Click to select Image

The U.S. Treasury announced on December 26 that it will put into place a series of emergency steps to delay the deadline for when the federal government will exceed its legal borrowing authority as imposed by Congress.

In a statement, the Treasury department declared that it will suspend issuance of State and Local Government Series securities, known as "slugs."

The so-called slugs are special low-interest Treasury securities offered to state and local governments to temporarily invest proceeds from municipal bond sales. Slugs, which count against the federal debt limit, have been suspended several times over the last 20 years to avoid colliding with the debt ceiling. Read more ..

The Edge of Mars

More Clay on Mars Means More Water

December 26th 2012

Mars Rover

A new study indicates that clay minerals, rocks that usually form when water is present for long periods of time, cover a larger portion of Mars than previously thought. In fact, GA Tech Assistant Professor James Wray and the research team say clays were in some of the rocks studied by Opportunity when it landed at Eagle crater in 2004. The rover only detected acidic sulfates and has since driven about 22 miles to Endeavour Crater, an area of the planet Wray pinpointed for clays in 2009.

The study is published online in the current edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

The project, which was led by Eldar Noe Dobrea of the Planetary Science Institute, identified the clay minerals using a spectroscopic analysis from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The research shows that clays also exist in the Meridiani plains that Opportunity rolled over as it trekked toward its current position. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Is it Better to Give or Receive?

December 25th 2012

Bonobo chimp

A monkey would probably never agree that it is better to give than to receive, but they do apparently get some reward from giving to another monkey.

During a task in which rhesus macaques had control over whether they or another monkey would receive a squirt of fruit juice, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to new research by Duke University researchers.

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons as the animals weighed different scenarios, such as whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all. Three areas of the brain were seen to weigh the problem differently depending on the social context of the reward. The research appears Dec. 24 in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

NORAD Scrambles Jets and Radar Task Force to Track Santa

December 24th 2012

F-22s at Sunset

Jets are scrambling and America's military might is mobilizing to track Santa. The red-suited airborne visitor is expected to enter U.S. air space soon.

See Classified Defense Video

Nerve center for the tracking operation is a tense and expectant Colorado Air Force base where volunteers monitor maps showing Santa Claus' progress. Surveillance imagery reveals his sleigh is laden with gifts. The recipients are still unidentified, but intelligence sources and hopeful children are frantically checking all sources before the North Pole national arrives.

Only hours into their mission, NORAD has already answered more than 10,000 phone calls from people asking about the jolly intruder. Phones are ringing nonstop at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command's annual Santa-tracking operation. Dozens of helpers at NORAD are taking calls and tracking Santa's location on large projection screens. The first shift of Santa trackers started taking calls early Monday at 877-HI-NORAD (877-446-6723), telling children — and some adults — when Santa is due at their house. The last shift won't end until nearly 24 hours later. Read more ..

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