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The Environmental Edge

Egypt Environment Activists Fighting Back Over Sinai Red Sea Bridge

October 13th 2012

Red Sea bridge

A grassroots environmental group of activists are continuing to put pressure on the Egyptian government to end its plans to develop and erect a bridge linking the Sinai Peninsula with Saudi Arabia. Praised by the government as a means of boosting trade, business and easing travel between the two countries, environmental activists are crying foul over where the bridge aims to be built: right on the Ras Mohamed National Park – one of Egypt’s natural wonders home to coral reefs, dive sites and endangered species. ”If they build this bridge, coral reefs, endangered species and at least 22 dive sites will all be gone,” Ibrahim Mohamed, an activist with the anti-bridge group IBRedSea stated.

The organization is a conglomeration of a group of concerned citizens calling for the project to be scrapped over environmental concerns that have arisen. Two protected islands, Tiran and Sanafir will be hit hard by any development, with the potential of becoming void of any life in their surrounding area. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Weather Increases Mobile Phone Calls to Loved Ones--Research Proves What Everyone Knows

October 13th 2012

Rain

Who we call and how long we speak to them changes with the weather, according to new research by experts at Newcastle University. Analysing the call patterns of 1.3 million mobile phone users, the team found that in ‘uncomfortable’ weather – such as very hot, humid, wet or cold weather – call length increased but the number of people we made contact with went down. Apparently “isolating” ourselves during more unpleasant weather, research lead Dr Santi Phithakkitnukoon said the data showed that we were also more likely to contact our close friends and family than our wider network.
 
Publishing their findings today in the online academic journal PLOS ONE, Dr Phithakkitnukoon said the study offered an insight into how phone use data sets could help us understand human relations and interactions.
Read more ..

The Edge of Space

When Galaxies Collide and Devour Each Other

October 13th 2012

Massive black hole disrupting star formation

Using gravitational "lenses" in space, University of Utah astronomers discovered that the centers of the biggest galaxies are growing denser – evidence of repeated collisions and mergers by massive galaxies with 100 billion stars. "We found that during the last 6 billion years, the matter that makes up massive elliptical galaxies is getting more concentrated toward the centers of those galaxies. This is evidence that big galaxies are crashing into other big galaxies to make even bigger galaxies," says astronomer Adam Bolton, principal author of the new study.

"Most recent studies have indicated that these massive galaxies primarily grow by eating lots of smaller galaxies," he adds. "We're suggesting that major collisions between massive galaxies are just as important as those many small snacks."

The new study – published recently in The Astrophysical Journal – was conducted by Bolton's team from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III using the survey's 2.5-meter optical telescope at Apache Point, N.M., and the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. The telescopes were used to observe and analyze 79 "gravitational lenses," which are galaxies between Earth and more distant galaxies. A lens galaxy's gravity bends light from a more distant galaxy, creating a ring or partial ring of light around the lens galaxy. Read more ..


Haiti After the Quake

Islam Gains Ground in Devastated Haiti

October 13th 2012

Haitian mosque
Haitian mosque untouched by 2010 earthquake.

Various forms of Christianity and Afro-Caribbean religions are dominant in Haiti, but Islam has shown a noticeable increase in followers since the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and left more than 1 million others homeless. Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, is now home to at least five mosques. Islam has also shown noticeable growth elsewhere in the Americas, especially in Brazil and Paraguay.

School teacher Darlene Derosier, a mother of two, helped build one of the mosques in her neighborhood. She said she converted to Islam after losing her home in the earthquake and the death of her husband a month later. "For me the victory is that you lived, but you did not think you would," she said.

People of many religions arrived in Haiti following the earthquake to lend assistance. But Muslim convert Kishner Billy, who hosts a nightly TV program, said that Muslims appear to have had the most lingering impact. " Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Girl Shot By Taliban Becomes Global Icon

October 12th 2012

Malala Yousafzai

In December, when the United Nations declared October 11 as the date for an annual International Day of the Girl Child, it said attention needed to be focused on promoting girls' rights. On October 11, when the newly minted UN day made its debut, global attention was focused on Malala Yousafzai -- the 14-year-old schoolgirl from Pakistan's northwestern Swat Valley who was shot this week by the Pakistani Taliban for defending her right to an education.

The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) expected to silence her campaign, which she had carried out since the age of 11 through an online diary she wrote for the BBC. Instead, they created an international icon for girls' rights and made her known the world over simply as Malala. At European Union headquarters in Brussels on October 11, young schoolgirls at a launch event for Day of the Girl Child held up photos of Malala along with signs saying "Save the Girls." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Social Media Transforms Debate Viewership

October 12th 2012

Teenager texting

Computers and mobile devices are transforming the speed and means by which voters get information about candidates. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are steadily replacing traditional sources as the delivery method of choice for a generation of new voters.

As she gears up for this year’s election, Center College student Kelly Bolton, who's on the campus of the vice presidential debate, is getting political updates not from television or traditional news sources, but instantly, through her phone.  “You know what’s happening, when it’s happening.  And that’s exciting in a political season because you want to know where the polls are standing, or if Romney said something or Obama said something,” Bolton said. The information is delivered to her phone through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have grown in popularity as more Americans own mobile devices.
 
During the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the Pew Research Center says one in ten Americans watched the debate while also following news about it on their computers or mobile devices. “We gathered around a television and watched it. But everybody had their phones out too because if Mitt Romney said something, and we Republicans liked it, we wanted to Tweet that,” Bolton said. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Veep Biden Unleashed at TV Debate with a Polished Ryan

October 12th 2012

Biden Ryan debate

Vice President Biden was the dominant figure in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate with Mitt Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But whether that will help or hinder the Democratic ticket in its battle to retain the White House remains to be seen.

A combative, energetic performance from Biden — replete with sharp jabs at Ryan and regular outbursts of dismissive laughter — was the key ingredient of the night and seemed likely to drive the discussion in the aftermath.

To Democrats, Biden delivered exactly the kind of impassioned, scrappy performance they were desperate to see after President Obama's widely criticized passivity in his initial clash with Romney last week. “If Obama had been this strong, the election would be over now,” liberal talk show host Bill Maher wrote on Twitter. Read more ..


Destination Israel

Top 10 Christian Sites at Sea of Galilee

October 11th 2012

Church of Transfiguration

More than 60 percent of the 3.4 million tourists who visited Israel last year were Christian. And though Jerusalem is a significant stop in tracing the steps of Jesus in the Holy Land, the real must-see is the Sea of Galilee area nearly 100 miles to the north.

The Sea of Galilee — really a lake that modern Israelis call the Kinneret — lies on the ancient Via Maris trade route that linked Egypt with the northern empires. The location and the excellent fishing drew many Greek, Roman and Jewish settlers – including the families of Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples Simon, Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathaniel (Bartholomew), John and James.

According to Matthew 4:23: “And Jesus went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.” That’s why no Christian pilgrimage to Israel is complete without visiting these top 10 sites: Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Mapping Greenhouse Gas Emissions Building by Building and Street by Street

October 11th 2012

Minneapolis skyline

Arizona State University researchers have developed a new software system capable of estimating greenhouse gas emissions across entire urban landscapes, all the way down to roads and individual buildings. Until now, scientists quantified carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at a much broader level.

Dubbed "Hestia" after the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, researchers presented the new system in an article published October 9 in Environmental Science and Technology. Hestia combines extensive public database "data-mining" with traffic simulation and building-by-building energy-consumption modeling. Its high-resolution maps clearly identify CO2 emission sources in a way that policy-makers can utilize and the public can understand. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Iranian Terror Attack is Ongoing Concern for NYPD Due to New York’s Large Jewish Population

October 10th 2012

NYPD and flag

According to New York City’s police chief, Ray Kelly, there is an ongoing concern for the NYPD of an Iran- sponsored terror attack in the city. Citing New York’s large Jewish population, and the increasing threat of retaliation from Iran as sanctions over their nuclear program continue to cripple them domestically, The New York Post quoted Kelly as saying, “Obviously if there’s any action involving Israel and Iran we have to be very cognizant of the potential of retaliation here in New York City.” Kelly made these statements at an anti-terror conference called NYPD SHIELD. A recent study by the UJA-Federation of New York, shows that there are more than 1 million Jews in New York’s five boroughs.

The New York Post article also quotes NYPD Lt. Kevin Yorke of the Intelligence Division as saying, “Within the last year, we’ve seen a worldwide increase in incidents involving the stockpiling of explosives, the surveillance of targets, and a number of very significant plots and attacks[... ]That increase in activity is in direct relation to Iran’s nuclear-weapons program and the tension surrounding it.” Read more ..


American History Edge

Remembering the Black Berets and the Struggle for La Raza in New Mexico

October 10th 2012

Chicano power demo 1960s

A little more than a half-century after conquered New Mexico became a U.S. state, resistance and rebellion percolated throughout the land. Dispossessed of their land base, thousands of people joined the Alianza Federal de las Mercedes, an organization of Spanish and Mexican land grant heirs led by Reies Lopez Tijerina, demanding the return of their patrimony.

The Alianza’s 1967 armed take-over of the Tierra Amarilla court house and subsequent National Guard deployment cast international attention on an unresolved issue that remains very much alive in the 21st century.

Across New Mexico, young people calling themselves Chicanos demanded recognition of and respect for their Spanish language, their culture and their history. And in the barrios of Albuquerque, Las Gorras Blancas, the Black Berets, rose up to challenge the power structure.

Founded in 1969 and similar to the Black Panther Party, the Berets mounted community patrols, opened free medical and dental clinics, fed hungry children and issued a 12-point program that called for Chicano self-determination, community control of institutions, armed self-defense and liberation. Ahead of the times, the program attacked machismo by name and upheld equality for women. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Many Millions Suffer from Depression

October 10th 2012

Click to select Image

More than 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, says Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of the WHO's Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. “When we say depression, we are talking about the mental disorder, which is very specific and is much beyond the usual feelings of sadness that everybody gets once in a while. The disorder of depression is characterized by sustained sadness for two weeks or more and also interference with day-to-day work or other everyday responsibilities. So it’s actually a disease than just an emotional state,” Saxena said.

And there are many causes. “There are biological causes – change in the neurotransmitters in the brain – but also personality and environmental factors, which all give rise to what we then see – the syndrome of depression,” he said. Dr. Saxena said trained medical professionals should be able to diagnose depression not only by a physical examination, but by asking the right questions. Those questions center on a person’s emotional state. Are there long periods of sadness or crying? Does a person have low self-worth, a feeling that life has no meaning or suicidal thoughts? Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Rapid Genome Sequencing Potentially Saves Newborns' Lives

October 9th 2012

Premature Baby

Researchers have developed a powerful DNA-reading computer program that can diagnose potentially fatal genetic disorders in newborns in only two days, instead of the several weeks now required.  The technology means that infants born with these disorders can receive immediate, life-saving treatment.

Doctors know of at least 3,500 diseases caused by a single defective gene.  Most of the newborns who wind up in neonatal intensive care units are critically ill with one of these genetic disorders.

Treatments are available for about 500 of the diseases.  But physicians often work against the clock.  Some of these genetic disorders are not easy to diagnose on the basis of symptoms alone.  Whole-genome sequencing -- scanning the newborn's DNA for suspect genes -- usually takes between four and six weeks, and many babies die before the test results are returned. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Emerging Doctrine of the United States

October 9th 2012

Soldiers In Afghanistan

Over the past weekend, rumors began to emerge that the Syrian opposition would allow elements of the al Assad regime to remain in Syria and participate in the new government. Rumors have become Syria's prime export, and as such they should not be taken too seriously. Nevertheless, what is happening in Syria is significant for a new foreign doctrine emerging in the United States -- a doctrine in which the United States does not take primary responsibility for events, but which allows regional crises to play out until a new regional balance is reached. Whether a good or bad policy -- and that is partly what the U.S. presidential race is about -- it is real, and it flows from lessons learned. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Romney Scores the Obama Doctrine: 'Hope is not a Strategy'

October 8th 2012

Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the risk of conflict in the Middle East has grown under President Barack Obama's leadership. In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington on October 8, Romney called for a "change of course" in the region. The Republican candidate pledged to "roll back" Obama's defense cuts, which he called "arbitrary." Speaking to the assembled cadets, Romney said "Hope is not a strategy," in an allusion to a well-worn Obama campaign phrase.

"I believe that if America does not lead, others will; others who do not share our interests and our values, and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us," Romney said at VMI. He asserted that Obama's failure to project strength abroad has left the US at the mercy of terrorists in the Mideast, such as the attack on the American consulate in Libya which killed the American ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Britain Unveils Major Effort to Fight Global Online Crime

October 8th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Britain has launched a multi-million-dollar global initiative to help fight organized criminals and terrorists using the Internet. The plan was rolled out at an international gathering in Budapest aimed at making the Internet more secure.

Speaking at the international "Budapest Conference on Cyberspace," British Foreign Minister William Hague said Britain wants to lead a worldwide effort to stem the rapidly growing number of cyberspace attacks threatening companies and governments.

"It has never been easier to become a cybercriminal than it is today," said Hague. "It is now possible to buy off-the-shelf malicious software designed to steal bank details for as little as 3,000 [British] pounds, including access to a 24-hour technical support line. As foreign secretary, I see frequent evidence of deliberate and organized attacks against intellectual and government networks in the United Kingdom."
Read more ..

Edge of Immigration

Immigration Advocates Hail New Mexico Court Action on Driver's Licenses

October 8th 2012

Border sign

Immigrant advocates in New Mexico praised a court settlement announced last week that effectively laid to rest a controversial driver’s license certification program implemented by the state Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) last year.

In a mutually-agreed upon resolution to a legal challenge filed against the program, New Mexico First Judicial District Judge Sarah M. Singleton issued a permanent injunction against Demesia Padilla, secretary of the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, ordering the state official from further carrying out the Foreign National Residency Certification Program, which was officially launched to weed out undocumented, non-residents who claimed New Mexico residency in order to obtain a state driver’s license. Certification opponents charged that the program had a different purpose.

“This discriminatory program was clearly intended to fuel an anti-immigrant political agenda in New Mexico, and we are relieved that it did not prevail,” said Maria Cristina Lopez, board member of the statewide immigrant and labor advocacy group Somos un Pueblo Unido. “We’re all for fighting fraud and abuse, but the state should not be wasting tax payer money by targeting people based on their race and national origin. It’s simply unacceptable in New Mexico,” Lopez said in a statement. Read more ..


The Desert Edge

Roll-up ‘Shade and Shelter’ Cardboard Protects Desert Dwellers

October 7th 2012

Desert Shade

Israeli designer Ohad Lustgarten designed Shade and Shelter as part of his final project at Shenkar College of Design, the same center that spawned living lace made from bacteria. The six foot tall prototype constructed out of cardboard looks like a giant centipede when it is unwound but then coils up to provide a lightweight shelter against sand, sun and wind.

A lightweight modular design that can be easily transported, Shade and Shelter stands at six feet and has enough space inside to fit few people lying down. When it is unravelled on a flexible central fiberglass pole, the shelter creates a barrier on one side, and wrapped completely it functions as a complete shelter.

The upper slats are slightly narrower and have grooves that direct rainwater into collecting pools. Although the part of the shelter that is open is bound to allow some water to pass inside, remaining water can be purified and then used for cooking, drinking and whatever other needs the inhabitants might have. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Syrian Christians Seek Peaceful Solutions to Raging Civil War

October 7th 2012

Sisi Street Armenian Quarter Aleppo

Syria's conflict is sometimes cast as a religious one, between the Sunni majority and the leadership of an Alawite minority. Yet the secular government has its defenders, who look to it as a protector of all minority rights, especially for Christians.

At the Greek-Melchite Catholic Church in the historic Christian quarter of Old Damascus, Father Rafi Halawe said Syria's dozens of minority religious groups are searching for a peaceful resolution. Syria's Christians make up one of the earliest groups woven into the nation's multireligious fabric. But some see a threat to centuries of coexistence in the current conflict.

Halawe said there are religious sects that exist only in Syria, and that they are trying to find an end to the violence through dialogue and reconciliation. He said it is religious extremists who stand in the way, and he blames the arrival of armed elements who seek to label others as non-believers. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Billions of Dollars Lost Each Year to Illegal Logging

October 6th 2012

Congo Forest

The joint report, called Green Carbon / Black Trade, says between 30 and 100 billion dollars are lost each year to the illegal timber trade.  Much of the loss is centered in key logging countries in Central Africa, the Amazon Basin and South East Asia.  

​Besides the diversion of revenues away from development, the trade also harms efforts to mitigate climate change and also leads to political instability. UNEP says deforestation, much of it from logging in tropical rainforests, is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all carbon emissions, 50 percent more than the amount from shipping, aviation and land transport combined. The UN says deforestation is responsible for nearly 20 percent of global carbon emissions.

Revenues from illegal logging have been used by various rebels and terrorist groups, from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Some groups, like militias in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, engage in a number of illegal activities with international ramifications.  They include the poaching of rhino, elephants, and other wildlife, as well as illegal logging. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Why we Need Insects--Even Pesky Ones

October 6th 2012

Bee and pollen

At first blush, many people would probably love to get rid of insects, such as pesky mosquitoes, ants and roaches. But a new study indicates that getting rid of insects could trigger some unwelcome ecological consequences, such as the rapid loss of desired traits in plants, including their good taste and high yields.

Specifically, the study--described in the Oct. 5, 2012 issue of Science and funded by the National Science Foundation showed that evening primroses grown in insecticide-treated plots quickly lost, through evolution, defensive traits that helped protect them from plant-eating moths. The protective traits lost included the production of insect-deterring chemicals and later blooms that gave evening primroses temporal distance from plant-eating larvae that peak early in the growing season. These results indicate that once the plants no longer needed their anti-insect defenses, they lost those defenses. What's more, they did so quickly--in only three or four generations. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

Is Iran’s Currency Crisis Evidence That Sanctions Are Working?

October 5th 2012

A fistful of rials

Both the Obama administration and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad have blamed the recent dramatic fall in value of Iran’s currency on international sanctions. It is a convenient explanation for both—for the White House, it suggests that U.S. strategy towards Iran is working; for Ahmadinejad, it deflects responsibility away from his own policy decisions and toward an external scapegoat.

But as my colleague Patrick Clawson explains, sanctions are only partly to blame for Iran’s economic travails. The currency crisis and associated inflationary spiral has its origins in the Ahmadinejad government’s mismanaged subsidy reform initiative. Sanctions have indeed exacerbated the problem, both by raising the cost to foreign firms of doing business with Iran and reducing the regime’s foreign exchange earnings. The increasing threat of war has also played a role, deepening Iranians’ worries about economic stability and increasing their inflationary expectations, and thus leading them to dump rials and seek safe haven in dollars and other hard currency to protect their savings. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Role of the Private Sector in Brazil's Chaotic Transport Sector

October 5th 2012

Brazilian airport train

On July 27, a violent truck drivers’ strike occurred in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, which eventually encompassed Brazil’s entire trucking industry. Among other issues, they were protesting the National Agency of Terrestrial Transports’ (ANTT) new highway safety regulations. On the same day, the agency issued measures concerning a significant 2.87 percent price increase in highway tolls. Both controversial decisions reflect not only a strained road infrastructure, but also an urgent need for profound structural improvement in the country’s highway system. The lack of coherence in the region’s trucking industry derives from deep-rooted inadequacies and a lack of government investment. Since 1980, Brazil has witnessed a steady decrease in its public transportation investment, now at only 0.7% of its 2010 GDP. The dearth of appropriate planning and a complex regulatory environment have only amplified this problem.

The operational failures of the Brazilian transportation system have had a detrimental effect on the country’s broader economy. Combined with other concerns including excessive taxes and bureaucracy, the obviously inadequate infrastructure is largely responsible for the colossal lack of competitiveness known as the “custo Brasil” (in English, the “Brazil cost”) that afflicts the country. Brazil’s freight haulage productivity especially suffers from the excessively complex logistics involved in disbursement. In 2007, transport costs represented a gargantuan 13 percent of Brazilian GDP, compared to the United States’ relatively efficient 7 percent. Thus, it costs an average of $1,240 USD to export a container of freight while the same task requires only $990 USD in the United States. This particularly damages the pre-eminent agrifood sector’s performance, therefore multiplying both external and internal prices. Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Egyptian Christian Boys, Ages 9 and 10, to Face Islamic Blasphemy Charges

October 5th 2012

Coptic women at church

Egyptian prosecutors released two children belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church who had been arrested this week on accusations of blasphemy according to Islamic shariah law. The prosecutor for the town of Beni Suef released the two boys, ages 9 and 10, on October 3 due to their youth even while they have yet to be absolved. Similar cases have emerged in other Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, where a 14-year-old mentally-disabled Christian girl remains in custody for alleged blasphemy, but this is the first time in recent memory that such as charge has been laid in Egypt.

A Salafist imam in the boys’ Nile Delta settlement accused the pair of defacing sheets of paper on which they had supposedly written verses from the Koran, Islam’s holy book. They also allegedly urinated on the papers. They were arrested and then held in a juvenile lock-up. In exchange for their release, the parents of Mina Farag and Nabil Rizk have signed affidavits promising that they will appear in court when summoned. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Mexico Remembers the Massacre of Tlatelolco

October 4th 2012

Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968

For the first time, the Mexican flag at the Chamber of Deputies building in Mexico City flew at half mast October 2 in commemoration of the students gunned down by Mexican security forces in the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968.

In an example of how October 2 is increasingly recognized in the political and social calendar of Mexico, the new legislators took time to consider the significance of the day when the soldiers and police of President Diaz Ordaz crushed a pro-democracy movement in Mexico City just as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)-led government was welcoming the world to the Olympics. In honor of the murdered students, who could have numbered in the hundreds according to different accounts, the lawmakers devoted a minute of silence.

A similar ceremony was held by the capital city’s local elected representatives. In a speech, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard credited the 1968 student movement for laying the groundwork for democratic advances in the ensuing years. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Expanding the Parameters of Economic Warfare

October 4th 2012

iran bank notes

The President of Iran in recent statements has accused the United States of conducting "Economic Warfare" against his country because after years of crippling sanctions, Iran's currency is now in "freefall" within international currency markets. This statement in my mind begs the question, has the United States been conducting an "Economic War" against Iran, or, is the United States simply conducting "foreign policy using other means." This may simply be a matter of semantics, however, historians would argue that there are established and well recognized "parameters" for the conduct of "Economic Warfare."

During the Civil War, Union troops destroyed southern cotton fields, railroad lines, and blockaded southern ports to prevent the export of cotton that would support the southern war effort by generating revenue from those cotton exports. During the First World War, the allies employed tactics beyond the use of military force that included "Blacklisting" nation's that supported our adversaries through embargo of trade in goods and services, "Preemptive Buying," or - the purchasing of essential materials from world markets, thereby denying critical materials such as metals, fuel, food and other essential items necessary to the war effort of our adversaries. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Tomb of Ancient Mayan Queen Discovered in Guatemala

October 3rd 2012

Mayan conch effigy carving

Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the tomb of Lady K’abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord considered one of the great queens of Classic Maya civilization.

The tomb was discovered during excavations of the royal Maya city of El Perú-Waka’ in northwestern Petén, Guatemala, by a team of archaeologists led by Washington University in St. Louis’ David Freidel, co-director of the expedition. A small, carved alabaster jar found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel. The white jar is carved as a conch shell, with a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Deforestation in Snowy Regions Causes More Floods

October 3rd 2012

Continental Crust
(Credit: Kimberly Green, AGU)

New research suggests that cutting down swaths of forest in snowy regions at least doubles—and potentially quadruples —the number of large floods that occur along the rivers and streams passing through those forests. For decades, the common perception in hydrology has been that deforestation in such areas made seasonal floods bigger on average, but had little effect on the number of large floods over time, said geoscientist Kim Green of the University of British Columbia. But a new study by Green and her co-author Younes Alila published today in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, suggests that deforestation consistently causes more floods—both big and small.

In the interior regions of North America, many creeks and rivers get most of their flow from melting snow accumulated during winter storms in mountainous areas. How much water flows down these streams depends not only on how much snow falls upstream, but how fast the snow melts. But deforestation shines a new—and glaring—light on this water source. While ordinarily the trees keep the melting under control by shielding snow from the sunlight, “as soon as you get rid of the trees, the snow melts faster,” said Green. “It’s that simple.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Syrian Crisis and the Saudi-Iranian Rivalry

October 3rd 2012

Assad and Ahmadinejad

The ongoing internal conflict between the Assad-led government and the political and military opposition forces within Syria has increasingly become a regional conflict. This is the case not only because the violence within Syria has regional implications, but also because all the main regional powers have been directly involved in the conflict, mostly by supporting one of the warring sides. This is particularly true in the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the stronger regional supporters of the anti-Assad opposition.

Historically, Saudi Arabia's relationship with Syria, while never particularly warm, had shied away from being directly confrontational. This changed only in 2005, following the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi protégé Rafic Hariri. The Saudis largely blamed Syria for the political assassination and thus reacted by taking an openly anti-Syrian stance, putting pressure on the Syrian president to withdraw from Lebanon while attempting to contain and even isolate him. This strategy was not successful and it lasted only until the May 2008 Hezbollah temporary takeover of West Beirut, which culminated in the Doha Agreement. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Amazon River Provides a Nature Climate Archive

October 2nd 2012

Amazon rainforest

Oxygen isotopes in tree rings are an excellent archive of precipitation dynamics in the tropical Amazon region. The precise determination of the ratios of stable oxygen isotopes (18O/16O) proves to be a new parameter for detecting the dynamics of the water cycle in tropical rain forest areas. It can therefore replace the classic climate observables such as tree ring width or wood density, which are unsuitable for high-quality reconstructions of climate conditions in tropical areas. These are the findings of a group of researchers from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Universities of Leeds (United Kingdom) and Utrecht (Netherlands), and the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD, Peru), published in the new online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers studied tree rings of the tropical tree species Cedrela odorata from Bolivia and found that they preserve the isotopic composition of rainwater in the Amazon. As the variation in oxygen isotopes is strongly determined by the amount of rainfall over the Amazon basin, it provides a valuable historical archive of rainfall in the past. This now paves the way for a better understanding of long term hydrological patterns. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Tensions Rising Between Moscow's Muslims And Police

October 1st 2012

Eid el Fitr Moscow 2012

Shermamat Suyarov says he will think twice before returning to pray at Moscow's largest mosque. Suyarov, a 52-year-old Russian citizen of Kyrgyz origin, says he was sitting in a parked car waiting to attend prayers on September 17 when police ordered him out and detained him.

He was hauled into a police bus with scores of other would-be worshippers. Later at a police station he claims he was beaten so severely after he complained about the rough treatment that he had to be hospitalized: "They beat me with their fists, batons and feet," he says. "There were five or six of them beating me and there were some others there too. I wasn't counting. I lost consciousness. I was in shock and broke a rib."

Others who were detained that that day includeAli Muratov, a 39-year-old migrant worker from Kyrgyzstan. He becomes visibly emotional when he describes how Suyarov "cried out for help" during the beating. "They beat up an old man for no reason," he says. "There were about 30 of us. A boy, also from Kyrgyzstan, ended up next to him and they beat him as well. This is the kind of violence we have to endure." Read more ..


The Earth on Edge

Indo-Australian Splate Splitting

October 1st 2012

Fuego volcano Guatemala

Perched atop the notorious ‘Ring of Fire,’ an arc of fault lines and volcanoes in the Pacific Basin, earthquakes are an almost weekly occurrence in Indonesia. After close analysis of a mammoth earthquake that struck the island of Sumatra this April, scientists in the U.S. say the quake indicates the Indo-Australian tectonic plate is now splitting in two.

The 8.7-magnitude quake that struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra this April sent shockwaves, literally, around the globe. After extensively studying the quake and its aftermath, scientists say the rupture is unprecedented. It was the biggest ‘slip-strike,’ or horizontal rather than vertical quake, ever recorded. Seismologists say the April 11 quake caused four fault lines to rupture almost simultaneously.

Jamie McCaughey is a geologist from the Earth Observatory in Singapore, an institute that studies earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. He says the recent study in the scientific journal Nature confirms that the Indian-Australian tectonic plate is splitting in two. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Songs in the Key of Sea

October 1st 2012

Straight of Dover (English Channel)
English Channel from STS (credit: NASA)

Soft horns and a tinkling piano form the backbone of “Fifty Degrees North, Four Degrees West,” a jazz number with two interesting twists: it has no composer and no actual musicians. Unless you count bacteria and other tiny microbes, that is. The song is the brainchild of Peter Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. Larsen, it turns out, has no musical training at all; his interests run less towards the blues and more towards blue-green algae.

When faced with an avalanche of microbial data collected from samples taken from the western English Channel, Larsen recognized he needed a way to make sense of it all. “Thinking of interesting ways to highlight interactions within data is part of my daily job,” he said. “I am always trying to find new ways to visualize those relationships in ways so that someone can make relevant biological conclusions.”

In the case of the western English Channel data, however, Larsen decided that a visual representation of the data would not be as effective as one he could hear. “There are certain parameters like sunlight, temperature, or the concentration of phosphorus in the water that give a kind of structure to the data and determine the microbial populations,” he said. “This structure provides us with an intuitive way to use music to describe a wide range of natural phenomena.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Foreign Policy Differences Debated by Presidential Campaigns

September 30th 2012

Paul Ryan
Republican vice-preisdential candidate Paul Ryan

The U.S. presidential race has had an all-consuming focus on the economy, at least until now. While economic matters continue to dominate, international affairs have forced their way into the nation’s political discourse less than six weeks before the election.

The campaigns of President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are exchanging sharp words on recent events in Libya and other foreign policy challenges, as the candidates themselves prepare for their first debate later this week. On September 30, former Governor Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, Congressman Paul Ryan, slammed the Obama administration’s handling of a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Read more ..


Israel's Looming Attack

Decoding Netanyahu’s “Red Line”

September 30th 2012

Netanyhu-UN

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a bright red line across a drawing of a bomb representing Iran’s nuclear program at the U.N. General Assembly, he used a phrase that has bled into the vernacular: Red line. “I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down and this will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy to convince Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program all together,” he told world leaders gathered in New York on Thursday.

He didn’t invent the phrase, which has been related to military conflicts for at least a century, but he has given it a new spin.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “red line” as the center of an ice hockey rink or a mark on a gauge indicating a safety limit or critical point. It also lists it as a reference to British soldiers’ iconic red uniforms. One of the expression’s earliest appearances came in the 1850s, when the “thin red line” was used to describe the British army at the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, according to Ben Zimmer, a language columnist for The Boston Globe newspaper. Read more ..


Inside Islam

Know Your Ansar al-Sharia

September 29th 2012

Muslim Street Prayer NYC

There is a new trend sweeping the world of jihadism. Instead of adopting unique names, groups increasingly prefer to call themselves ansar, Arabic for “supporters.” In many cases, they style themselves Ansar al-Sharia—supporters of Islamic law—emphasizing their desire to establish Islamic states. Yet despite the fact that these groups share a name and an ideology, they lack a unified command structure or even a bandleader like the central al Qaeda command (or what’s left of it), thought to be based in Pakistan. They are fighting in different lands using different means, but all for the same end, an approach better suited for the vagaries born of the Arab uprisings.

The name Ansar al-Sharia shot into the news last week in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when the local organization Katibat Ansar al-Sharia was accused of perpetrating it—charges the group denied. Many reports seem to have confused Benghazi’s Ansar al-Sharia with another Libyan group, based in Derna. Read more ..


Broken Government

Constitutional Scholar Slams new NYC Subway Rules for Advertising

September 28th 2012

Alan Dershowitz
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In an interview, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz slammed new approved advertising guidelines announced by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, calling them “Plain Dumb” and “Unconstitutional.” “A. it’s clearly unconstitutional” he said, and “b. it incentivizes people to engage in violence. What it says to people, is that if they don’t like ads, just engage in violence and then we’ll take the ads down.”

“It’s very bad policy,” he continued, “and it’s just plain dumb, because it is going to encourage violence.” Responding to the charge in an interview with The Algemeiner, M.T.A. spokesperson Aaron Donovan declined to comment. The new M.T.A. rules, announced yesterday, came after pro-Israel ads, which were initially rejected by the M.T.A., ran in ten New York City subway stations, after the group running the ads sued the M.T.A on first amendment grounds. Protesters objecting to the ads set about defacing them, including in one widely reported incident where Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy was charged with criminal mischief misdemeanor for spraying one with pink paint. Referencing the incident, Dershowitz said, “what the transit authority is doing, is giving people like Mona, the power to censor.”

The new rules allow the M.T.A. to ban ads that it “reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.” Referring to the recent uptick in violence in the Middle East, Dershowitz added, “It is the worst possible approach to dealing with radical Islam.” “In the age of radical imams whipping up reactions, it just gives them more encouragement to do it. So if somebody wants to put up a picture of Mohammed in the subway, all people have to do is threaten violence and its censorship comes into effect,” he said. Read more ..


The American Edge

Invention that 'Won World War II' Showcased

September 28th 2012

Higgins Boat

You may have heard the name “Higgins.” Chances are, it was Henry Higgins, the famous, if fictional, professor who teaches proper diction to a working-class English lass, Eliza Doolittle, in the musical “My Fair Lady.”

It is much less likely that you’ve heard of the Higgins that Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II. You can learn why at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, which opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum.

D-Day was June 6, 1944, when 150,000 U.S. and British troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, to gain the first Allied foothold in Nazi-controlled territory. The National World War II Museum, established in an old brewery in New Orleans’s arts district, is full of vintage uniforms, boots, helmets, berets, firearms and flags from that invasion. Jeeps and Spitfire airplanes, plus scale models of the Normandy coastline, are on exhibit. There's also a boat made by this fellow Higgins. Read more ..


Inside Russia

Russia to Turn Vladivostok Into Hot Pacific Rim City

September 27th 2012

Vladivostok

The world spotlight shone on Vladivostok in early September when 20 Asia-Pacific heads of government gathered for a business conference in Russia’s main Pacific port. Looking ahead, regional officials and investors are working to turn Vladivostok into Russia’s first hot Pacific Rim city.

The region’s new governor, Vladimir Miklushevsky, says a key will be to attract investment from China - and to cut red tape. He is lining up investors for 19 development projects totaling $95 billion over the next decade. “We are going to reduce the administrative barriers for business projects,” he said.

Near the new $200 million airport, construction starts next year on a “Northern Macao” - Russia’s largest casino and resort complex “We are planning to develop it has an integrated resort, with gambling used as an anchor,  and we’re planning to receive 10-12 million tourists a year,”  said Miklushvesky, Governor of Russia’s Primorye region. “Why is tourism possible in Vladivostok?  First, it’s the unique location of Primorye.  There is a population from 200 to 300 million people within 1-2 flight from us.  Of course, I mean citizens of China, Korea, and Japan.  And we are waiting for, and anticipating, their arrival.” Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

New Blood Test Accurately Detects Early Lung, Breast Cancer in Humans

September 27th 2012

exam

Researchers at Kansas State University have developed a simple blood test that can accurately detect the beginning stages of cancer. In less than an hour, the test can detect breast cancer and non-small cell lung cancer—the most common type of lung cancer—before symptoms like coughing and weight loss start. The researchers anticipate testing for the early stages of pancreatic cancer shortly. The test was developed by Stefan Bossmann, professor of chemistry, and Deryl Troyer, professor of anatomy and physiology. Both are also researchers affiliated with Kansas State University’s Johnson Cancer Research Center and the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Gary Gadbury, professor of statistics at Kansas State University, helped analyze the data from tests with lung and breast cancer patients. The results, data, and analysis were recently submitted to the Kansas Bio Authority for accelerated testing.

“We see this as the first step into a new arena of investigation that could eventually lead to improved early detection of human cancers,” Troyer said. “Right now the people who could benefit the most are those classified as at-risk for cancer, such as heavy smokers and people who have a family history of cancer. The idea is these at-risk groups could go to their physician’s office quarterly or once a year, take an easy-to-do, noninvasive test, and be told early on whether cancer has possibly developed.” Read more ..



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