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The Prehistoric Edge

Africa's Homo Sapiens were the First Techies

December 5th 2012

Neanderthal child mannequin

The search for the origin of modern human behaviour and technological advancement among our ancestors in southern Africa some 70 000 years ago, has taken a step closer to firmly establishing Africa, and especially South Africa, as the primary centre for the early development of human behaviour.

A new research paper by renowned Wits University archaeologist, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, is the first detailed summary of the time periods he and a group of international researchers have been studying in South Africa: namely the Still Bay techno-traditions (c. 75 000 – 70 000 years) and the Howiesons Poort techno-tradition (c. 65 000 – 60 000 years). The paper, entitled Late Pleistocene Techno-traditions in Southern Africa: A Review of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, c. 75 ka, has been published online in the Journal of World Prehistory on 6 November 2012.

Henshilwood says these periods were significant in the development of Homo sapiens behaviour in southern Africa. They were periods of many innovations including, for example, the first abstract art (engraved ochre and engraved ostrich eggshell); the first jewellery (shell beads); the first bone tools; the earliest use of the pressure flaking technique, that was used in combination with heating to make stone spear points and the first probable use of stone tipped arrows launched by bow. Read more ..

The Edge of the Earth

Himalayas And Pacific Northwest Could Experience Major Earthquakes

December 4th 2012

Continental Crust

A big one is due in the Himalayas. The Himalayan range was formed, and remains currently active, due to the collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates. Scientists have known for some time that India is subducting under Asia, and have recently begun studying the complexity of this volatile collision zone in greater detail, particularly the fault that separates the two plates, the Main Himalayan Thrust (MHT).

Previous observations had indicated a relatively uniform fault plane that dipped a few degrees to the north. To produce a clearer picture of the fault, Warren Caldwell, a geophysics doctoral student at Stanford, has analyzed seismic data from 20 seismometers deployed for two years across the Himalayas by colleagues at the National Geophysical Research Institute of India.

The data imaged a thrust dipping a gentle two to four degrees northward, as has been previously inferred, but also revealed a segment of the thrust that dips more steeply (15 degrees downward) for 20 kilometers. Such a ramp has been postulated to be a nucleation point for massive earthquakes in the Himalaya. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

In Jordan, Syrian Refugees Await Assad's Fall

December 4th 2012

Syrian refugees Jordan

In a makeshift kitchen between refugee tents in Jordan, members of an extended family try to recreate some semblance of the life they left in Syria, before war tore apart their homeland. They are among more than 200,000 Syrians in Jordan waiting for the conflict to end.

Several women pat out dough for bread and cook it over an open fire. Om Ahmed, who cares for several children in the group, recalls their last days at home in el Sawra, in southern Syria.  “It was very bad," she says. "They were hitting us with rockets and tanks and mortar shells.”

They tried to find a haven in towns nearby, but were forced to cross the border, settling at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. At the camp's playground, children have a place to run in safety, away from the bombing and firefights which have claimed an estimated 40,000 lives since early last year. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Melts Away Obstacle To Arctic Shipping For China, Russia

December 3rd 2012

Siberian Glacier

Could climate change turn the Russian Arctic into a northern alternative to the Suez Canal ?Some Russians think so, as they add up the results from their Arctic summer shipping season, which closed on November 28. There were a record 47 crossings by ships moving cargo between Asia and Europe -- almost 12 times the number of two years ago.

The difference? Melting Arctic ice. In September, American satellites recorded the greatest shrinkage of Arctic ice since record-keeping started 33 years ago. This summer, ice retreated to 3.4 million square kilometers -- about half the average levels recorded in the 1980s and 1990s.

With more open water, U.S. hydrologists predict that cargo volumes will increase this decade by 50 times from this year's level. For northern Europe, the Russian Arctic route can cut 7,000 kilometers off the standard trip to Asia through Egypt's Suez Canal. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Nukes Likely To Decline In Obama’s Second Term

December 3rd 2012

Misslle in Silo

The Pentagon’s budget is almost assuredly going down in coming years, under heavy pressure from those who wish to trim the federal deficit and see the agency – whose budget increased by two-thirds over the last decade – as a ripe target. But it also looks like a specific weapon system,  the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads, is also headed down, with Barack Obama’s reelection.

This is not a great surprise. Obama promised in a 2009 speech in Prague, after all, that the U.S.-Russian arms control treaty he was then negotiating “will set the stage for further cuts.” But the administration’s planning was not detailed publicly before the election to avoid creating controversy.

Now that the voting is past, a group of independent advisers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly urged her to consider pursuing an informal accord with Russia aimed at lowering the number of nuclear weapons the two countries might deploy under existing treaties. Its report, issued Nov. 27, has also acknowledged official support for deeper cuts inside the administration.


The Edge of Terrorism

Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip Through Time

December 2nd 2012

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Around 1985, current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri fled his homeland of Egypt, presumably never to return. From his early beginnings as a teenage leader of a small jihadi cell devoted to overthrowing Egyptian regimes (first Nasser’s then Sadat’s) until he merged forces with Osama bin Laden, expanding his objectives to include targeting the United States of America, Zawahiri never forgot his original objective: transforming Egypt into an Islamist state that upholds and enforces the totality of Sharia law, and that works towards the resurrection of a global caliphate.

This vision is on its way to being fulfilled. With Islamist political victories, culminating with a Muslim Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi, Egypt is taking the first major steps to becoming the sort of state Zawahiri wished to see. Zawahiri regularly congratulates Egypt’s Islamists—most recently the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo—urging them to continue Islamizing the Middle East’s most strategic nation. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

The Beginning of Everything: A New Paradigm Shift for the Infant Universe

December 2nd 2012

Big Bang

A new paradigm for understanding the earliest eras in the history of the universe has been developed by scientists at Penn State University. Using techniques from an area of modern physics called loop quantum cosmology, developed at Penn State, the scientists now have extended analyses that include quantum physics farther back in time than ever before -- all the way to the beginning. The new paradigm of loop quantum origins shows, for the first time, that the large-scale structures we now see in the universe evolved from fundamental fluctuations in the essential quantum nature of "space-time," which existed even at the very beginning of the universe over 14 billion years ago. The achievement also provides new opportunities for testing competing theories of modern cosmology against breakthrough observations expected from next-generation telescopes. The research will be published on 11 December 2012 as an "Editor's Suggestion" paper in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Obese Children More Vulnerable to Food Advertising

December 2nd 2012

teen obese belly

Rates of childhood obesity have tripled in the past 30 years, and food marketing has been implicated as one factor contributing to this trend. Every year, companies spend more than $10 billion in the US marketing their food and beverages to children; 98 percent of the food products advertised to children on television are high in fat, sugar, or sodium. In a new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers used neuroimaging to study the effects of food logos on obese and healthy weight children.

Amanda S. Bruce, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center assessed 10 healthy weight and 10 obese children, ages 10-14 years, using both self-reported measures of self-control and functional magnetic resonance imaging, which uses blood flow as a measure of brain activity. Dr. Bruce states, "We were interested in how brain responses to food logos would differ between obese and healthy weight children." The children were shown 60 food logos and 60 nonfood logos, and functional magnetic resonance imaging scans indicated which sections of the brain reacted to the familiar logos being shown. Read more ..

The Afghanistan War

Al-Qaeda to Prevent Obama's 2014 Afghanistan Pullout--Says Panetta

December 2nd 2012

Islamist terrorists

Members of the al-Qaeda terror network are continuing to make a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan less likely as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the American press on Friday that battling the group would be a national priority well past President Barack Obama's second-term.

Secretary Panetta said that U.S. military commanders are now analyzing the number of the troops to leave in Afghanistan after the NATO combat forces leave in 2014, technically ending the war on terrorism that's lasted more than 12 years. Presently there are about 66,000 American combat troops in Afghanistan, but once the 2014 date arrives the U.S. force may drop to about 10,000. Panetta noted that Obama would decide in the coming weeks as to how many troops would remain and what their mission will be once coalition troops leave that war-torn and chaotic nation. Read more ..

The Agricultural Edge

Wheat DNA Map Could Help Change the Way We Farm

November 30th 2012

wheat fields

The most complete map ever of wheat's genetic blueprint could provide plant breeders with new clues to improving one of the world’s most important food crops. The new map includes tens of thousands of genetic signposts on wheat's DNA molecules. These markers will help guide researchers and breeders who are working to better understand how the plant copes with salty soil or drought, for example.

Better varieties
Such insights, theoretically, will allow them to create better varieties of wheat much more quickly than in the past. “We knew this was a necessary thing because breeders and researchers who were working on wheat were crying out for this sort of resource,” says Mike Bevan at the U.K. research institute, the John Innes Centre. Wheat is among the world’s most widely consumed grains. And with the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, Bevan says efforts to improve the crop are essential.

Geologic Edge

More Evidence for an Ancient Grand Canyon

November 29th 2012

Ancient Grand Canyon

For over 150 years, geologists have debated how and when one of the most dramatic features on our planet—the Grand Canyon—was formed. New data unearthed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) builds support for the idea that conventional models, which say the enormous ravine is 5 to 6 million years old, are way off.

In fact, the Caltech research points to a Grand Canyon that is many millions of years older than previously thought, says Kenneth A. Farley, Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry at Caltech and coauthor of the study. "Rather than being formed within the last few million years, our measurements suggest that a deep canyon existed more than 70 million years ago," he says.

Building upon previous research by Farley's lab that showed that parts of the eastern canyon are likely to be at least 55 million years old, the team used a new method to test ancient rocks found at the bottom of the canyon's western section. Past experiments used the amount of helium produced by radioactive decay in apatite—a mineral found in the canyon's walls—to date the samples. This time around, Farley and Flowers took a closer look at the apatite grains by analyzing not only the amount but also the spatial distribution of helium atoms that were trapped within the crystals of the mineral as they moved closer to the surface of the earth during the massive erosion that caused the Grand Canyon to form. Read more ..

Destination the World

After 201 Countries, Man Ends World Tour in South Sudan

November 29th 2012

Graham Hughes

A British man, Graham Hughes, says he has broken a world record by traveling to every sovereign state in the world without flying.  He recently entered South Sudan; the world’s newest country and the last on the list for Hughes. Brandishing an overstuffed passport from all the visas he collected while making what he calls his “Odyssey", Graham Hughes celebrated his self-proclaimed record for being the first person to travel to 201 sovereign states.

The 33-year-old Briton, who hails from Liverpool, has been on the road for almost four years. Remarkably, he made the journey strictly by land transportation and by sea. “Today is the 1,426th day of the Odyssey expedition, which is my world-record-breaking attempt, which is to be the first person to visit every country in the world without flying," he said.  Read more ..

Poland on Edge

Mimicking Breivik in Poland

November 29th 2012

Polish Security Forces

Poland's Internal Security Agency announced Nov. 20 that it had arrested "Brunon K," a chemistry professor at the Agricultural University in Krakow who allegedly planned to attack the lower house of the Polish parliament. The arrest came Nov. 9, just two days before Warsaw's annual Independence Day parade, which authorities believe could have been another target. During the arrest, authorities seized ammonium nitrate fertilizer, high-powered, military-grade explosive RDX and other bomb-making equipment. They also seized several hundred rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a pistol.

Presumably, the suspect in question is Dr. Brunon Kwiecien, who has published multiple chemistry papers at the Agricultural University in Krakow, according to a Polish academic directory. Kwiecien openly espoused anti-government views and accused the Polish government and the European Commission of tyranny. Specifically, he condemned the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which has angered Internet freedom activists in Europe. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

New Study Could Change Treatment For Asthma

November 27th 2012

Asthma Patient

Most doctors tell asthma patients to stick to a regimen when taking medicine that helps control this disease. Asthma is a chronic and sometimes life-threatening lung disease that affects people around the world. There is no cure, but there are treatments. And now, global treatment guidelines for asthma could change as a result of a study led by a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Most adults who have mild or moderate asthma are told to use their inhalers twice daily, even if they don't have symptoms.  The medicine in those compressed-air inhalers are corticosteroids, which open a person's airways and decrease mucus so it's easier to breathe. Inhaled corticosteroids are the most common and the most effective form of therapy for asthma sufferers.

In an asthma attack, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and swollen. That can be triggered by a wide range of factors, some genetic, some environmental. Dust, air pollution or smoke can set off an asthma attack. Falling autumn leaves and other seasonal changes that put fine debris in the air can also trigger an attack.

Frank Grizzaffi knows this routine well. “There was a regime that I was supposed to follow, it was two puffs in the morning and two puffs in the evening,” Grizzaffi said. That was before Grizzaffi participated in a study that involved ten academic centers and more than 300 adults with mild to moderate asthma. Read more ..

Broken Economy

General Motors vs. General Electric

November 27th 2012

General Electric

During the 2012 election, journalists and historians noted the symbolic political torch being passed from American Motors Corporation executive and Michigan governor George Romney to his son Mitt. The younger Romney was also a businessman but had forged his career as an executive and moderate Republican far outside the Motor City. And pundits generally used the pair as an illustrative example of how far the Republican center had shifted to the right since the elder Romney’s 1968 primary run. But his son’s business credentials should have given scholars more pause. Father and son dramatically symbolize the momentous shift from factories to finance, as Judith Stein recently put it.

Historians have been slow to recognize the coming of postindustrial America; probably because they have almost reflexively asserted that General Motor’s was the icon of American manufacturing. Three generations of scholars have scrutinized Detroit and its unionized, regulated auto industry, assuming them to be a microcosm of American labor, business, and politics. Yet from the vantage point of 2012, GM, Michigan, and the United Auto Workers hardly seem like templates to understand postwar capitalism. For that story, academics should be reconsidering General Electric, whose metamorphosis from Schenectady-based electronics producer to captain of global finance offers a much better lens to explore the fate of American unionism, manufacturing, and moderate Republicanism. Read more ..


Fight Over Susan Rice Holds Risks for Both Obam, GOP lawmakers

November 26th 2012

Susan Rice

President Obama and congressional Republicans appear to be itching for a fight over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s possible nomination as secretary of State. The ensuing political battle, however, comes with high risks and uncertain rewards for both sides. So far, President Obama has aggressively defended Rice from attacks by leading GOP lawmakers over her handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Challenging his critics to "go after me" at his first press conference following reelection, the president has looked to display his loyalty — and a willingness to engage the GOP in his second term — in his passionate defense of a top administration official. But in doing so, Obama risks wasting his reelection political capital on a fight that might not be worth winning.

Republicans have already cautioned the president that Rice would face sharp opposition if she is tapped to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the second term, with nearly 100 House Republicans last week signing a letter questioning “her credibility both at home and around the world.” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) have signaled opposition to her possible nomination, though McCain said Sunday that he would be open to considering her for the top diplomatic post.

A major battle over Rice's nomination could easily distract from the president’s other priorities, beginning with the negotiations over the looming “fiscal cliff.” Moreover, nominating Rice could alienate top Republicans, including McCain and Graham or House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.), who will play pivotal roles in negotiating defense cuts that the White House is seeking as part of a grand bargain. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Soiled Sovereignty: Land Issues in the Southern Cone

November 25th 2012


“People say you can’t go back. So, well what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward? Do you do a 180-degree turn and take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which is progress?” –Douglas Tompkins, 180 Degrees South Documentary

Latin America has had a tumultuous history plagued by the exploitation of natural resources and foreign political intervention. Western imperialistic practices have created a sense of resentment among native communities in the Southern Cone, which has been amplified through controversial cases, such as American Douglas Tompkins’s nature conservation campaign that began in 1991. Although Tompkins’s motives may be well intentioned, his territorial projects have proven to be politically and culturally problematic. This self-proclaimed philanthropist is the former CEO of the North Face and Espirit companies and, as such, spent a lifetime meticulously building his empire off the spoils of capitalism. He sold these U.S. businesses in 1990 for an estimated $150 million after deciding he no longer wanted to be a part of cyclical materialism, and subsequently used the funds to purchase land in Patagonia, Chile. Today, he owns a total of 826,386 hectares of land in both Chile and Argentina. The controversy surrounding his actions involves questions of national sovereignty and cultural integrity, which inspires further questions of legal regulations in Latin America to limit foreign purchases of real estate given painful colonial legacy. Read more ..

China on Edge

New Chinese Passports Rile Asian Neighbors

November 25th 2012

The East is Red

Whenever a country issues new passports, someone almost always complains about the new design. But China's latest edition of travel logs is drawing formal criticism from countries across Asia. The passports feature a map of China that includes areas of the South China Sea claimed by other countries, as well as territory claimed by India. Taiwan's government objected to the passports Friday, following similar protests by the Philippines and Vietnam. Officials at the Indian Embassy in Beijing are protesting in their own way, stamping Chinese visas with a map showing the disputed territory belonging to India, according to The Press Trust of India.
John Blaxland, with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at Australian National University, called China's move "pretty clever." "It basically forces everyone who's a claimant of South China Sea elements to acknowledge it by stamping it," he said.

Operation Pillar of Defense

History of Ceasefire Accords with Hamas

November 24th 2012

Gaza Militants

Since the last day of Operation Cast Lead (January 18, 2009) until the 1st day of Operation Pillar of Defense, The Gaza Hamas regime launched 2,000 aerial attacks against Israel. That was the third ‘ceasefire’ between Israel and Hamas.

There is talk about 'an opportunity to reach an understanding with Hamas,' relying on the notion that Israel must 'give Hamas a chance for a ceasefire with Israel.' How many people remember two failed ‘ceasefires' were reached with The Gaza Hamas regime over the past 6 years? How many people remember what occurred? during those 'ceasefires'? The people of Sderot and the western Negev remember all too well.

Let us refresh our memories. From November 26, 2006, until May 15, 2007, the first 'ceasefire' between Hamas and Israel lasted for six months. Here is the statement made by Hamas five days before agreeing to that cease fire: 'Hamas's military wing will stop rocket fire when residents evacuate the city of Sderot.' (from November 21, 2006) Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Afghan Public Opinion

November 24th 2012

Afgan Troops

As the international military presence in Afghanistan winds down, fears of unrest, civil war, and backsliding on fragile gains loom large. An October 2012 International Crisis Group (ICG) report states that “Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014,” arguing that “…steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out.” The increase of green-on-blue attacks and green-on-green attacks—Afghan soldiers and police attacking international forces colleagues and one another—raises serious questions about the state of the Afghan forces. Mohammad Ismail Khan, a former mujahadeen member who was ousted from his position as governor of Herat by President Hamid Karzai in 2004, recently called on his supporters to rearm, another ominous sign that former warlords are once again preparing for war. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russian Scientist Jailed For Spying Walks Free

November 24th 2012

Prison bars

Russian scientist Valentin Danilov has walked free after serving eight years of a controversial prison sentence on charges of spying for China. After his release on parole in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on November 24, Danilov, 66, said that he regarded himself as a political prisoner because the information he passed on was declassified.

Danilov smiled, joked, and laughed with reporters upon being set free. "I would really appreciate it if somebody finally told me what state secret I sold," he said.

Danilov criticized his sentence, which he maintained was based on false charges. He claimed that he had received official clearance to collaborate with a Chinese firm on building equipment designed to model the impact of the space environment on satellites. Read more ..

After the Election

Obama's Fashion Line Garners $40 Million

November 23rd 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Obama’s “Runway to Win” collection of clothing and accessories designed by top celebrity-designers helped raise over $40 million for his reelection bid. The total haul from the sales of designer merchandise was revealed by campaign manager Jim Messina in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “That ended up bringing in just north of $40 million,” said Messina, touting the decision to sell high-priced Obama-branded items on the campaign website.

The line which included items ranging from t-shirts and handbags to scarves was the idea of Vogue editor and Obama supporter Anna Wintour. Wintour hosted several fundraising dinners for the president and helped pull in fashion industry luminaries, including Vera Wang and Tory Burch, to contribute the work to the campaign shop. Read more ..

Broken Government

Congressional Republicans Refuse to be Railroaded by Amtrak

November 22nd 2012

Amtrak high speed

House Republicans will hold new hearings next week on Amtrak, which Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) is targeting for funding cuts despite recent record ridership numbers. The hearings are part of a year-long effort by Mica designed to prove Amtrak’s nearly $1 billion federal subsidy is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The latest GOP hearings will come after a Thanksgiving holiday that is usually Amtrak's busiest weekend of the year, and after the national rail passenger carrier has earned good reviews in New York and New Jersey for its response to Hurricane Sandy. Amtrak supporters believe Amtrak has boosted its political standing.

“There is a strong majority view on Capitol Hill in favor of Amtrak moving forward and keeping the enterprise funded,” AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in an interview. He noted that Republicans on Mica’s own committee were divided over a GOP effort to privatize Amtrak’s most profitable routes in the Northeast. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Tel Aviv in No Mood to Celebrate Ceasefire

November 22nd 2012

soldiers pray at wailing wall

As photographs of a triumphant US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made international headline news following her mediation role in the Israel and Hamas truce–which had already seen 12 Gaza rockets fired at Israel within the first two hours–Tel Aviv was not in the mood to celebrate.

Shortly before the ceasefire went  into effect at 9 pm Israel time, the corner of Shaul Hamelech and Henrietta Szold streets in central Tel Aviv where a bus bombing took place earlier today, was still teeming with press and people.  The bombing which left 28 people wounded, mostly young people in their 20′s and 30′s as well as teenagers, was praised by a Hamas spokesperson as a “blessing.” Other Gaza terror groups like Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee also celebrated the terror attack in press interviews, with Islamic Jihad saying “this is a victory for the blood of shahids.”

For Gadi, an older security officer standing outside a Tel Aviv office building close to where the bomb went off, the bus bombing was terrifying. “It was terrible to see,” he told Tazpit News Agency. “There was blood everywhere. I saw a young woman with her hand blown off, and another man whose foot was severed.” Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Fire

The Children of Gaza’s Rocket War

November 21st 2012

Anav Silverman, Tazpit News Agency / Description: Ethiopian children spend their fifth day in Ashkel
Anav Silverman, Tazpit News Agency - Ethiopian Children in Israel

Almost half of Sderot’s preteens suffer from signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to a study that was published this November in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Based on a questionnaire answered by 154 seventh and eighth grade students, it was found that 43.5 percent of the children demonstrated clinical signs of PTSD.

The survey, which was conducted in 2007-2008 during a time period when thousands of rockets had been fired towards Sderot, was directed by a team led by Dr. Rony Berger, a clinical psychologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Dr. Berger is also the community services director of NATAL, the Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, which released a report in 2011 that 70% of all Sderot children suffer from at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress, and that 50% continue to relive rocket trauma.

Idan Bitton, a 25-year-old student at Sapir college, spoke with Tazpit News Agency this week, relating how life had changed for him when the rockets from Gaza began striking Sderot 10 years ago. “Suddenly, in the middle of class, we would hear a rocket explosion,” he explained. “There was no Code Red[ rocket alarm system] then, so we had no idea when the rockets would land in our city.”

“I remember as a student in school, hearing an explosion, and then continuing on in class as if nothing happened. This was a mistake,” emphasized Bitton. “In a way, our passive reaction gave legitimacy that those rocket attacks against us were OK, even acceptable.” Read more ..

Mauritania on Edge

Mauritania’s Uncertain Position in Face of President’s Extended Recuperation

November 20th 2012

President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz

One month ago, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz was shot and evacuated to Paris. He has not returned.

At the best of times, the president’s absence is not good, but this timing is especially troublesome because of the uncertainty next door in Mali. Almost half the country is clumsily controlled by non-state actors, some of whom have links to al-Qaeda. Is Mauritania the next shoe to drop in the Sahara/Sahel crisis?

A month on, it is still not clear how President Abdelaziz was shot. The official version is well known: the president was returning late at night from his farm outside the capital; security around the capital was high because of unspecified threats; the president was traveling off road, ahead of his security detail; jittery soldiers fired on a speeding car.

Other interpretations have since flourished, ranging from the plausible to the salacious. The shooting was a coup attempt by disgruntled officers. It was an assassination attempt by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It didn’t take place on the road at all, but was at the hands of a cuckolded officer at the president’s farmhouse. And it goes on. Read more ..

America on Edge

PETA asks Obama not to Pardon the National Turkey

November 20th 2012

turkey on a platter

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday demanding President Obama skip the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon. While Obama will be preventing a turkey from being carved up, PETA called the ceremony outdated and accused the president of being in partnership with the "turkey-killing industry."

In a letter, the animal rights group argues the annual White House ceremony "makes light of the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds." It also says the annual event "portrays the United States president as being in some sort of business partnership with the turkey-killing industry."

"You understand so well that African-Americans, women, and members of the LGBT community have been poorly served throughout history, and now I am asking you to consider other living beings who are ridiculed, belittled, and treated as if their sentience, feelings, and very natures count for nothing," wrote PETA President Ingrid Newkirk in the letter. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Lessons for the World From a New Gaza War

November 19th 2012

Israeli tanks and crews

This being the age of social media, people insisted that something must have happened because somebody in California said so. Some people said with certainty that a rocket hit in this or that place; one claimed he saw the smoke from a building that had been struck. In the end, it was announced that a rocket from the Gaza Strip had been shot down far to the south. The atmosphere was reminiscent of 1991 when three dozen Iraqi rockets did hit Israel, one of them a few blocks from my home, and anti-missile batteries could be heard nightly firing at incoming missiles from Iraq.

Of course, there’s nothing funny about a war. Less than an hour’s drive to the south people are under fire. There are casualties on both sides, including civilians. This is a serious matter, made no less so by its relative familiarity. Yet there is a difference between the horrors of war and imagining away a conflict, an inescapable situation, because one wants to do so. Only by confronting the reality can there be the best possible response to a crisis. Wishful thinking or ignoring real conflicts makes things worse. Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Israeli Students Participate in National Defense on Social Media

November 19th 2012

computer keyboard woman hands

Alongside the Israeli Defense Force's primary battle in the field, a new evolving battle has developed over the past years, the war of public relations, the battle for the world's awareness and opinion. Facebook, blogs and Youtube have become the main weapons. Many civilians have taken up arms and have joined in the foray, especially after the commencing of Operation 'Pillar of Cloud'.

Students at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem established an information center, working to provide a clear, updated and accurate picture of the state of affairs on Facebook, on various internet sites, in ten languages.

Their primary objective is to counter anti-Israel and Hamas online propaganda. Students work around the clock, in coordination with the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Khamenei's Strategy for Obama's Second Term

November 18th 2012

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

If the Supreme Leader decides to get serious about nuclear negotiations, he will likely take a more public role in the process than before, if only to maintain control of Iran's increasingly turbulent domestic politics.

In light of continuing pressure from abroad and mounting economic and political problems at home, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is preparing for the possibility of a generous compromise offer from President Obama that would allow Iran to end the risk of military strikes on its nuclear facilities. The Supreme Leader seems to have realized that there is little difference between America's two main political parties when it comes to the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons -- as both candidates made clear during their last debate, U.S. policy is prevention. Tehran understands that further lack of significant progress in negotiations may justify an attack.

Yet Khamenei also faces a serious domestic dilemma. If the economic crisis becomes bad enough, he might feel compelled to make a deal before Iran's next presidential election, scheduled for June 2013. At the same time, however, he does not want either the outgoing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his replacement to get credit for an agreement that reduces international sanctions, since that would enhance the popularity and power of the presidency at the Supreme Leader's expense. And most important of all, he does not want to harm his image at home and throughout the Muslim world by seemingly capitulating to foreign pressure if he can avoid it.


The Petraeus Scandal

More on Fred Humphries, FBI Friend of Jill Kelley

November 17th 2012


Fred Humphries does not fit the stereotype of an FBI agent as cool and unemotional. In person, the man who helped initiate the investigation of CIA Director David Petraeus comes across as a passionate and empathetic person.

Until this week, Humphries was best known as the FBI agent who gleaned critical intelligence from an al-Qaida trained bomber in months of interrogations before the World Trade Center attack. Both a federal prosecutor and defense lawyer praised Humphries for the rapport he developed with Ahmed Ressam, the man convicted of a plot to detonate a bomb in the Los Angeles International Airport.

Humphries interrogations are credited with saving lives, most notably in helping authorities defuse the shoe bomb smuggled onto a commercial jet by Richard Reid. But Humphries raised a few eyebrows when he was called by defense lawyers to testify at sentencing that Ressam provided useful information. Read more ..

Croatia on Edge

Croatian Generals Triumphant after Acquittal

November 17th 2012

judge's gavel

Two Croatian generals have returned home to a hero's welcome after a UN court in The Hague cleared them of war crimes against Serbs during the bloody 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia. The dramatic acquittal of Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac on Friday by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was met with tears of joy in Croatia and outrage in bitter foe Serbia. Within hours, they were being cheered by tens of thousands of people waving Croatian flags and singing nationalist songs in Zagreb's main square.

"We are happy to be with you tonight, this is our joint victory. The war belongs to history, let's turn to the future all together," Gotovina told the crowd after flying back from the Netherlands.

Earlier, cheers and applause erupted in a packed public gallery at the UN court as judge Theodor Meron acquitted the men.

But Serbia, which still has military and political leaders including Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic on trial at the court, was furious at the acquittal and said it would scale back its co-operation with The Hague in protest. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Debate Rages About Hitler’s Childhood Home

November 16th 2012


The home in Austria where Hitler was born has become somewhat of a hot property. Located in the town of Braunau-am-Inn, it has become the center of a debate about what, exactly, should be done with it.

A Russian politician, Frantz Klintsevich has said he’d like to collect money from supporters of his United Russia party in order to buy the property, which is on the market for about $2.8 million.

“I would buy this property in the blink of an eye if I had that kind of money myself, but I do not. If I were to receive financial help, I would buy the house and destroy it demonstratively,” he said according to an article in the UK’s Daily Mail.

Since 1972 Austria’s interior ministry has rented the apartment from a woman who refuses to be publicly identified. Read more ..

Edge of Faith

Former Oil Exec to Lead a Fractured Anglican Communion

November 16th 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury-designate Justin Welby

The newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the global Anglican Communion, faces major challenges in uniting the faith’s increasingly divided church. For church members in Africa - where more than half of Anglicans live - opinions vary about how Justin Welby will weather the storm.

Welby will take up his new position as the Archbishop of Canterbury in March 2013. His extraordinary career has led him from work in the petroleum industry to work as a cleric in the Church of England. He has been a bishop of the Anglican Church for only one year, having served as bishop of the historic see of Durham. 

South African theologian Barney Pityana said many African Anglicans in his region do not know anything about Welby. “There is a little bit of apprehension over the appointment of somebody with so little episcopal experience,” said Pityana.

Operation Pillar of Defense

Pounding Gaza Rockets Leave Israeli City with First-Time Fatalities

November 15th 2012

Apartment rockets

It’s Thursday evening in Kiryat Malachi and the city of nearly 21,000 residents is strangely quiet. The usually busy city center is empty of people—most of the stores and restaurants have been shut down. There are no high school students loitering around, and no elderly folks smoking hooka or drinking black coffee in the kiosks.  No music blasting anywhere. Signs that indicate a recent rocket attack has occurred.

Earlier in the morning, a Gaza rocket slammed into the city, hitting an apartment building and killing three civilians fleeing for cover in the stairwell of their building.

The effects of that rocket strike on the city were felt hours later. A pregnant woman with her husband could be seen sitting outside of their apartment building, listening to news on their car radio. “I’m not going to be able to run down three flights of stairs every time the rocket siren goes off,” she said. “I told my husband that we’re sitting outside near the shelter for the rest of the evening.” Read more ..

Europe on Edge

In Europe, Angry Workers Protest Austerity

November 15th 2012

French Economic protest

Workers in several European countries went on strike Wednesday to protest austerity measures designed to help their governments get out of debt, but which cut their salaries, pensions and benefits.

Angry workers chanted "strike, strike" inside Madrid’s main train station as they scuffled with police.  Outside, workers blew whistles and set off firecrackers, as commuters rode by, many on bicycles for the day.

Commuter and inter-city trains were canceled in several countries, along with flights and other forms of transport, while government services and some businesses also went idle. “They are taking all our rights away," complained a Spanish union member who spoke for many of his co-workers.  "The banks and other business people are bringing us onto the streets, they are stealing our salaries.  We do not have any rights anymore.” Read more ..

The Urban Edge

Space Age Rapid Transit to Debut in Tel Aviv

November 14th 2012


Developer of NASA-designed skyTran chose Israel as the perfect place to pilot the software-guided personal transport pods that glide on a cushion of air.

If all goes as planned, within two years Israelis will be the first people to try out a futuristic rapid transport system designed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.

The skyTran uses two-person modules that drive along a guide rail suspended from existing power lines. Magnets in the vehicle create a magnetic field around the metal coil inside the rail, causing the vehicle to lift up and glide 60 miles per hour on a cushion of air. The system uses very little energy and potentially could be powered entirely by solar panels. Read more ..

America After Sandy

Did Hurricane Sandy Send a Climate Warning?

November 13th 2012

Staten Island community

Hurricane Sandy was the latest severe storm to batter the northeastern United States, disrupting power, communication and transportation and causing billions of dollars in damage. Sandy renewed debate about whether climate change is behind changing weather patterns. One scientist says those changes are being seen worldwide.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones calls it the never-ending question: is climate change responsible for storms becoming bigger and stronger?

“Scientists are pretty clear that the physics is such that if the world is warming, there’s a very strong likelihood that as the seas get warmer, storm intensity will increase. We may have the same number of storms as the past. They’ll get more powerful. That actually is what we've seen over the last 40 years – that the number of tropical storms, of hurricanes, has remained about the same in numbers, but they become a lot more powerful,” he said. Read more ..

The Environment on Edge

Cleanup of Most Challenging U.S. Contaminated Groundwater Sites Unlikely for Many Decades

November 12th 2012

Kingston Plant Spill

At least 126,000 sites across the U.S. have contaminated groundwater that requires remediation, and about 10 percent of these sites are considered "complex," meaning restoration is unlikely to be achieved in the next 50 to 100 years due to technological limitations, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report adds that the estimated cost of complete cleanup at these sites ranges from $110 billion to $127 billion, but the figures for both the number of sites and costs are likely underestimates.
Several national and state groundwater cleanup programs developed over the last three decades under various federal and state agencies aim to mitigate the human health and ecological risks posed by underground contamination.  These programs include cleanup at Superfund sites; facilities that treat, store, and dispose of hazardous wastes; leaking underground storage tanks; and federal facilities, such as military installations. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Washington's Failure to Rein in UNRWA

November 11th 2012

UNRWA Protest

General Assembly resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, offers two options, repatriation and resettlement, to achieve the reintegration of the Palestinian Arab refugees "into the economic life of the Near East." Yet, U.S. Department of State documents from 1949 through the early 1950s reveal that despite the lip service paid to repatriation, Washington and its allies effectively equated reintegration with the resettlement of the refugees in the neighboring Arab states.

Historical Context
Economic development has been viewed by successive U.S. administrations as the key to integrating regions and peoples, and since the 1930s, their vision of this endeavor was largely modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) project.

Created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1933, the TVA was conceived as a regional economic development agency. It was tasked with responsibilities for flood control, electrification, reforestation, fertilizer production, agricultural education, and river navigation throughout the Tennessee Valley, an area that includes the state of Tennessee, parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama, and smaller portions of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Read more ..

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