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The Edge of Nature

Tree Deaths Linked to Climate Change

September 13th 2012

Aspen Tree Death

Hot and dry conditions triggered by climate change are killing the world's trees, according to a new report which examines dozens of scientific articles on the subject.  

Stanford University graduate student William Anderegg has seen this forest die-off firsthand. His doctoral thesis documents the impact of drought on trembling aspen, the most common tree in North America.

“These are complete hillsides of trembling aspens that are dying off," Anderegg says. "And when the main tree in a forest goes, you tend to see a lot of the other species, especially the grasses and the wild flowers, tend to disappear as well. But you lose a lot of those species from those forests.”

With colleagues from Stanford and North Arizona State University, Anderegg co-authored the new report which presents a picture of accelerating worldwide tree deaths that appear to be linked to changes in the global climate. Read more ..

The New Libya

Slain Ambassador Stevens Leaves Behind a Diplomatic and On-Line Legacy

September 13th 2012

Ambassador J Christopher Stevens
Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens

A senior U.S. State Department official killed on September 11 at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya was not only a diplomat in real life but in the virtual world as well. Sean Smith, an information management officer, was better known as “Vile Rat” on EVE, a popular online science fiction video game in which nearly 400,000 players explore, fight and build communities in space.

As news of his death broke, popular gaming sites and forums exploded with outpourings of grief at the loss of a prominent member of the EVE community. Mark Heard, another EVE player who goes by “Seleene,” noticed something was wrong when he saw “Vile Rat” type an expletive and then “gunfire” on the instant messaging service Jabber.

In an online tribute, Heard says his first thought was, “Oh, hell, he’s in another one of those places” with spotty Internet and lax security, like Smith’s previous post in Baghdad. But this time was different. Heard and other EVE players say they have lost one of their most important members. “Sean was one of the most well known and respected diplomats for one of the most powerful alliances in EVE. He helped shape the universe we all play in,” said Heard, adding that diplomacy in the game is as complex as anything you would see in the real world. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

Mexico Awash in the Blood of Endless Narco-War

September 12th 2012

Mexican soldiers on the march

As the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon enters its final weeks, parts of Mexico remain awash in blood from the so-called narco war. And Mexico’s old beach resort of Acapulco is among the most violent places. Practically on a daily basis, executions, shoot-outs and the discovery of dismembered bodies disturb the social peace.

The state of Guerrero’s biggest city, Acapulco is a hub of violence that extends into the countryside and reverberates back into the Pacific port city. “The corridor of the Costa Grande of the state, from Acapulco to the municipality of La Union that borders the state of Michoacan, has been a constant news item because of the criminal acts that are now common in the zone,” recently wrote a reporter for the Guerrero daily El Sur. Read more ..

Broken Banking

Financial Crisis Offers Lessons for Future

September 12th 2012

Lehman Bros

Four years ago, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a huge financial firm, marked the start of the worst recession in decades.  Frightened investors dumped stocks, banks stopped lending, the economy shrank, and millions of people lost jobs, homes, and savings.  The crisis prompted financial firms and regulators to make changes intended to prevent another financial disaster.  But some experts say it could happen again.
Since the crisis, committees investigated what went wrong, regulators demanded that banks take less risk, and Congress passed new laws.  Many of the regulations that spell out the practical details of these laws are still being written, amid intense lobbying by financial firms and other interests.  Prosecutions for alleged fraud have frustrated one key investigator who says they have mostly targeted low-ranking people.  Bart Dzivi, was Special Counsel to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. "They have not really focused on trying to round up the senior officers at the major institutions who may have had criminal culpability," he said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Obama Snubs Bibi in Pursuit of a Line in the Sand for Iran

September 11th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

A request for a bilateral meeting of President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the sidelines at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly was refused by the American leader. Both governments reported that President Obama would not agree to the Israeli request. While the Israelis said that their request was refused, White House spokespersons said President Obama had a scheduling conflict. There may come a meeting at a later time.

The Obama administration's rejection of Netanyahu's request demonstrated how strained U.S./Israeli relations have become. Obama will be in New York on September 24-25, while Netanyahu arrives later. White House sources claimed that a meeting outside of the international conclave is a possibility.

Such a request from a head of state from an allied country, coming about as Israel has grown increasingly worried about Obama’s wait-and-see approach to Iran, which continues its nuclear weaponization program and its threats to annihilate Israel. Netanyahu has demanded so-called “red-lines” to mark actions made by Iran that would trigger possibly a military response by the U.S. Read more ..

Remembering 9/11

Remembering the Man whose Warnings America Ignored

September 11th 2012

NYPD and flag

Each year on September 11, many police officers and security managers remember the contributions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Counterterrorism Chief, the late John P. O’Neill. And Sept. 11, 2012 will be no different.

While the Clinton Administration slept during the terrorists' war against the United States, O'Neill did all he could to fight the radical Islamists who wished to place the American people in harm's way. Unlike America's leadership, O'Neill realized early-on that the Islamists were at war with the United States.

O'Neill faced political opposition from members of the Clinton Administration, who ignored his reports and warnings. On many occasions he was denied funding for his frequent trips to the Middle East to investigate leads on terrorist groups. On several trips, he paid for his own expenses -- plane fare, hotel accommodations, etc. -- in order to wage his one man war against terrorism. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Destroyed Coastal Habitats Produce Significant Greenhouse Gas

September 10th 2012

Coastal Habiitat
Credit: Duke University

Destruction of coastal habitats may release as much as 1 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, 10 times higher than previously reported, according to a new Duke led study. The analysis provides the most comprehensive estimate of global carbon emissions from the loss of these coastal habitats to date: 0.15 to 1.2 billion tons. It suggests there is a high value associated with keeping these coastal-marine ecosystems intact as the release of their stored carbon costs roughly $6-$42 billion annually.

"On the high end of our estimates, emissions are almost as much as the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the world's fifth-largest emitter, Japan," said Brian Murray, director for economic analysis at Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. "This means we have previously ignored a source of greenhouse gas emissions that could rival the emissions of many developed nations."  Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Why We’re More Likely Than Ever Before To Believe Fake News

September 10th 2012

Fake News in Russia

The story sounded almost too good to be true. Valery Gergiev, a conductor known as a strong supporter of the Putin regime, interrupted a performance at London's Covent Garden to speak out in favor of the feminist performance artists Pussy Riot: "The thing is, yesterday Moscow saw another day of hearings in the fabricated case of Pussy Riot.... I apologize for such a vulgar comparison, but the Russian state is acting like a dominant male in a group of monkeys, compelled to show off his sex organs to make the others fear him." The text of Gergiev’s speech went viral.

But in fact, Gergiev never made the speech -- it came instead from a Russian spoof website called Fognews.com. Gergiev later denied he made the comments, but the damage was already done. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Presidential Candidates Seek to Deliver Knock-Out at Debates

September 10th 2012

romney buttons

Three looming debates represent the last, best chance for President Obama or Mitt Romney to force a decisive moment in the presidential race. The Romney team will be especially eager to maximize the opportunity, in light of several polls showing that Obama has widened his previously small lead since last week’s Democratic National Convention.

The president’s boost from that event might well dissipate in the weeks ahead, but, for now, it has bolstered the confidence of the Obama camp — and deepened worries among Republicans. For Romney, the task he faces is to connect with voters, present himself as a candidate worthy to be considered on the same level as a sitting president and persuade the electorate that his plan for the economy would work and Obama’s has failed. For Obama, the priority is to emphasize once again that the election is a choice and Romney is an unacceptable alternative. Read more ..

Israel and America

Israel is Where US Vets Come to Heal

September 9th 2012

The unique Heroes to Heroes Journey to Israel gives America’s disabled veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan a spiritual and physical new start. The pressure sleeve on Harrison Manyoma’s arm relieves the physical wound he received in combat in Iraq. For relief of his emotional wounds, he came to Israel.

“I’ve only been here five days so far and I feel at peace,” says Manyoma, a 35-year-old Houston US Army veteran who was injured during a 2004 tour of duty. “I have been able to interact emotionally while at the same release things that have been in my heart and my spirit.” Manyoma is one of 10 former soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) visiting Israel from August 30 through September 9 with the American charitable organization Heroes to Heroes. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Tigers Take to the Night Shift to Avoid Encroaching Human Beings

September 8th 2012

Tiger Tiger of the Night

Tigers don’t have a reputation for being very accommodating, but a new study challenges the long-held conservation belief that these large carnivores need lots of people-free space. This new understanding is especially critical because, since the start of the 20th century, the tiger population has declined by 97 percent to approximately 3,000 worldwide largely due to loss of habitat from encroaching cities and agriculture.

Michigan State University graduate student Neil Carter set up motion-detecting camera traps in and around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park to study human-tiger interaction. The park, nestled in a valley of the Himalayas and protected by army patrols, is home to about 120 tigers. But the area is home to people, too. Tourists visit the park and local villagers live on its periphery, where tigers also roam. Read more ..

China on Edge

Sluggish Growth of Chinese Economy Concerns APEC Summit

September 8th 2012

Industrial and Commericial Bank of China
President Hu Jin Tao of China

As Asia-Pacific leaders gather in the Russian city for their annual heads-of-state forum on Saturday, slowing growth and investment in China, Asia's largest economy, is set to dominate the agenda. Despite slower orders for Chinese manufacturers, China's growth still tops seven percent. "In the very near term, I think the key word is stabilization," said Hong Kong economist Shen Minggao, head of China research for Citigroup, who expects to see measures to stabilize the economy and avoid social unrest undertaken. "But promoting consumption or services are deemed longer-term measures," he says. "So in the very near term, they have to go back to the traditional growth engines, for example exports."

At a meeting of APEC ministers held on Thursday, Australian Finance Minister Penny Wong said China has a record of making the right moves. "While there has been some moderation in Chinese growth, our observation would be — and I think that it is a sound one — that Chinese authorities have room to move, to support growth consistent with the plans they have outlined," she said. But according to Dan Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank, Chinese research and development lags behind most other major economies. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Could Istanbul Be Hit by a Big One?

September 7th 2012

Turkey Earthquake

The drilling has started for a seismic monitoring network on the Marmara Sea near Istanbul. Specially designed seismic sensors in eight boreholes on the outskirts of Istanbul and around the eastern Marmara Sea will monitor the seismic activity of the region with high precision. In each of the respective 300 meter deep holes several borehole seismometers will be permanently installed at various depths. These detect even barely perceptible earthquakes with very small magnitudes at a high resolution and can thus provide information about the earthquake rupture processes associated with these.

To determine and monitor the seismic hazard of the region and the processes occurring in the fault zone beneath the Marmara Sea off Istanbul with the latest earthquake monitoring technology, the GONAF plate boundary observatory (Geophysical Observatory at the North Anatolian Fault) was set up under the auspices of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences. Read more ..

Destination Israel

Tel Aviv Bids for Artificial Island International Airport At Sea

September 7th 2012

Macau Island Airport
Macau's Island Airport - Simialr to Tel Aviv Plan

There has been talk for a couple of years already that Tel Aviv’s international airport will move to the sea, literally. A proposal has been submitted to create an artificial island off the city’s coast to replace the Ben Gurion Airport, one that services local, domestic and international flights. A couple months ago I interviewed a geologist helping to develop feasibility studies for such a structure. And according to media reports it looks like the crazy plan is going ahead despite environmental risks to the fragile Mediterranean Sea, and security risks of sabotage.

A new committee from the Ministry of Science and Technology in Israel developed a feasibility report for this artificial airport island to be built off the coast of the Tel Aviv suburb Rishon LeZion. Goodovitch Architects have drafted some sketches (above) of how the airport could look. Among the parties involved in the far-flung idea is Elie Schalit, 92, a chairman and founder of the Colbert Group, which builds giant cruise ships. He was the man who built the first ships for Ted Arison and his Carnival Cruise Lines. Read more ..

The Edge of Weather

Deforestation Can Significantly Reduce Tropical Rainfall,

September 7th 2012

Trees burning in Amazon

Deforestation can have a significant effect on tropical rainfall, new research confirms. The findings have potentially devastating impacts for people living in and near the Amazon and Congo forests.

A team from the University of Leeds and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that for the majority of the Earth's tropical land surface, air passing over extensive forests produces at least twice as much rain as air passing over little vegetation. In some cases these forests increased rainfall thousands of kilometres away. By combining observational data with predictions of future deforestation, the researchers estimate that destruction of tropical forests would reduce rain across the Amazon basin by up to a fifth (21 per cent) in the dry season by 2050. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Wild Bees: Champions For Food Security and Biodiversity

September 7th 2012


Pollinating insects contribute to agricultural production in 150 (84 percent) European crops. These crops depend partly or entirely upon insects for their pollination and yield. The value of insect pollinators is estimated to be €22 billion a year in Europe. Declines in managed pollinators, such as honeybees, and wild pollinator such bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies, are therefore of growing concern as we need to protect food production and the maintain wildflower diversity.

Scientists involved in STEP, a large-scale project funded by the 7th Framework Program (FP7) of the European Union, have therefore taken an inclusive approach looking at the status and trends of all Europe's pollinators.

New findings have been presented at a dedicated STEP symposium at the 5th EurBee meeting held in Halle. Prof Simon Potts from the University of Reading, UK and coordinator of STEP opened the discussion: "To help Europe secure sustainable food production and conserve its biodiversity we need to provide policy makers with clear evidence of who pollinates our crops and flowers and what are the best options to safeguard pollination services in a changing world" Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Can Computers "Understand" the Blogosphere

September 7th 2012

Columbia Supercomputer NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility

Can a computer "read" an online blog and understand it? Several Concordia computer scientists are helping to get closer to that goal.

Leila Kosseim, associate professor in Concordia's Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science, and a recently-graduated doctoral student, Shamima Mithun, have developed a system called BlogSum that has potentially vast applications. It allows an organization to pose a question and then find out how a large number of people talking online would respond. The system is capable of gauging things like consumer preferences and voter intentions by sorting through websites, examining real-life self-expression and conversation, and producing summaries that focus exclusively on the original question.

"Huge quantities of electronic texts have become easily available on the Internet, but people can be overwhelmed, and they need help to find the real content hiding in the mass of information," explains Kosseim, one of the lead researchers at Concordia's Computational Linguistics Laboratory (CLaC lab). Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Tracking Fish through a Coral Reef Seascape

September 6th 2012

Coral reef and fish

Ocean scientists have long known that juvenile coral reef fishes use coastal seagrass and mangrove habitats as nurseries, later moving as adults onto coral reefs. But the fishes’ movements, and the connections between different tropical habitats, are much more complex than previously realized, according to a recent study. The findings have important implications for management and protection of coral reefs and other marine environments.

A number of studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between the presence of coastal wetlands and offshore fish abundance and fisheries yield, but it has proved difficult to develop quantitative assessment of habitat use by fish or their movement among different habitats. “The rationale for this study,”says Simon Thorrold, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), “was to determine the relative importance of different nursery habitats to reef fishes that spend their adult lives on coral reefs but may spend at least part of their juvenile residency elsewhere.” Read more ..

Skin and Bone

Pentagon, Congress Probe Tissue Contracts

September 6th 2012

Meshed human skin
Human skin, meshed for transplant (credit: Mar Cabra)

The Pentagon has announced a new program to better oversee human cadaver tissue used in Defense Department hospitals around the world and is investigating allegations that some tissue-based medical implants provided to service members may have been obtained improperly, military officials said Wednesday.

At the same time, Congressional investigators say they are looking into government contracts between the Department of Veterans Affairs and RTI Biologics, a Florida-based manufacturer of medical implants made from human bones, skin, ligaments and other tissues. RTI is one of the world’s largest players in the billion-dollar human tissue industry—processing a quarter of all material recovered from cadavers in the United States.

As reported in July, RTI obtained tissues from suppliers in the U.S. and the Ukraine that have been investigated for allegedly forging documents or bullying families into signing donor consent forms. “We are currently in the process of determining if our Military Treatment Facilities—administered by the Army, Navy, and Air Force respectively—have conducted business with RTI or its subsidiary, Tutogen,” Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in a prepared statement. Read more ..

The Weopan's Edge

Hundreds of Thousands of Deadly Cluster Munitions Destroyed

September 6th 2012

cluster munitions

A new report says governments that joined the treaty banning cluster munitions have destroyed nearly 750-thousand of the weapons since 2008. However, it also says there are credible allegations of new use of the weapons in Syria and Sudan.

Cluster munitions are canisters containing either a few or hundreds of smaller munitions called bomblets. They can be dropped by aircraft or fired from artillery and spread over a wide area. The Cluster Munitions Coalition says they have killed thousands of civilians in nearly 40 countries and territories.

The Cluster Munitions Monitor 2012 report has been released prior to the September 11th meeting of countries that support the treaty or convention. It says the destruction of 750,000 of the weapons means about 85-million bomblets were also destroyed. Read more ..

Edge of the Universe

Explosion of Galaxy Formation Lit Up Early Universe

September 6th 2012

Big Bang

New data from the South Pole Telescope indicates that the birth of the first massive galaxies that lit up the early universe was an explosive event, happening faster and ending sooner than suspected.

Extremely bright, active galaxies formed and fully illuminated the universe by the time it was 750 million years old, or about 13 billion years ago, according to Oliver Zahn, a postdoctoral fellow at the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics (BCCP) at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the data analysis.

The data provide new constraints on the universe's first era of galaxy formation, called the Epoch of Reionization. Most astronomers think that early stars came to life in massive gas clouds, generating the first galaxies. The energetic light pumped out by these stars is thought to have ionized the hydrogen gas in and around the galaxies, creating "ionization bubbles" millions of light years across that left a lasting, telltale signature in the cosmic background radiation (CMB). This relic light from the early universe is visible today everywhere in the sky and was first mapped by UC Berkeley physicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot, founder of the BCCP.

"We find that the Epoch of Reionization lasted less than 500 million years and began when the universe was at least 250 million years old," Zahn said. "Before this measurement, scientists believed that reionization lasted 750 million years or longer, and had no evidence as to when reionization began." Read more ..

America and China

China tells Clinton I'm Okay You're Okay in Southeast Asia

September 5th 2012

Hilary Clinton

China says there is no questioning its sovereignty over waters and islands in the South China Sea, some of which are claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines. But Chinese officials told visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that they are willing to work with Southeast Asian nations to resolve the dispute peacefully.

Secretary Clinton discussed the South China Sea disputes with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi Wednesday.

China has been critical of outside involvement in the dispute, saying foreign governments are trying to divide the region. Speaking to reporters following their talks, Yang repeated China's insistence that this be resolved by the claimants themselves and made clear that China's position is unassailable. The foreign minister says there is plentiful historic and legal evidence for China's sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and adjacent waters. As for disputes to those claims, he says these should be discussed by those directly concerned on the basis of respect for historic facts and international law, to be settled through "direct negotiation and friendly consultation." Yang says that the stance is in keeping with a 10-year old "declaration of conduct" between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. But the United States believes a more specific "code of conduct" is the way to resolve competing territorial claims on which Secretary Clinton again insisted the Obama administration has no position. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

State Laws Vary Widely on Voting Rights for Felons

September 4th 2012

Prison bars

Josh and Katy Vander Kamp met in drug rehab. In the seven years since, they have been rebuilding their lives in Apache Junction, Ariz., a small town east of Phoenix. He’s a landscaper; she’s studying for a master’s degree in addictions counseling. They have two children, a dog and a house. Their lives reveal little of their past, except that Katy can vote and Josh can’t because he’s a two-time felon.

She’s been arrested three times, but never convicted of a felony. By age 21, Josh was charged with two — for a drug-paraphernalia violation and possessing a burglary tool. “I didn’t do anything that he didn’t do, and he’s paying for it for the rest of his life,” Katy said.

With voting laws a heated issue this election year as civil rights groups and state legislatures battle over photo ID requirements in this election year, felon disenfranchisement laws have attracted less attention despite the potential votes at stake. A patchwork of restrictions in every state but Maine and Vermont keep about 5.85 million Americans with felony convictions off voting rolls, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice reform advocacy group. The report also suggests that some races are hit by these laws more than others.

A felon in Maine can vote from prison using an absentee ballot, while a felon convicted of the same crime in Florida, the state with the highest percentage of disenfranchised African Americans in the nation, might never regain the right to vote — even after release. People convicted of more than one felony in Arizona lose gun ownership and voting rights until a county court restores them. Josh Vander Kamp’s first attempt at regaining his rights failed last year. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Russian Activists Accuse Kremlin Of Trying To 'Forget Beslan'

September 3rd 2012

Beslan Carnage

September 3 was a solemn day in Russia -- the Day of Remembrance of Victims of Terrorist Attacks. In Moscow, wreaths were laid and candles lit at the sites of 12 different terrorist incidents that have taken dozens of lives in the capital in recent years.

But relatives of victims of perhaps Russia's most horrific terrorist attack of all -- the September 2004 hostage-taking at a school in Beslan -- are disappointed with the way their particular pain has been handled. On September 1, 2004, armed Chechen militants seized more than 1,000 children, parents, and teachers who were gathered at the Beslan school to mark the start of the school year. Three hundred and thirty-four people -- including 186 schoolchildren -- died, many of them in the chaotic storming of the school two days later by Russian security forces. Ella Kesayeva, a member of the Beslan Mothers Committee, says Moscow's policy on the tragedy now amounts to a very simple one: "Forget Beslan."


The Edge of Space

First Multi-Planet Binary Star Solar System Discovered

September 3rd 2012

Kepler 36-c from Kepler 36-b

NASA's Kepler mission has found the first multi-planet solar system orbiting a binary star, characterized in large part by University of Texas at Austin astronomers using two telescopes at the university's McDonald Observatory in West Texas. The finding, which proves that whole planetary systems can form in a disk around a binary star, is published in the August 28 issue of the journal Science.

"It's Tatooine, right?" said McDonald Observatory astronomer Michael Endl. "But this was not shown in Star Wars," he said, referring to the periodic changes in the amount of daylight falling on a planet with two suns. Measurements of the star's orbits showed that daylight on the planets would vary by a large margin over the 7.4-Earth-day period as the two stars completed their mutual orbits, each moving closer to, then farther from, the planets (which are themselves moving). Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Camel Milk to Help Treat Diabetes

September 2nd 2012

Baby Camel Feeding

Nomads have always considered camel’s milk a medicine, but only recently has science confirmed it. We’re in agreement – see our 6 green reasons for drinking camel milk.

While folks in Dubai enjoy coffee- and chocolate-flavored camel milk drinks, researchers view the thin, bland milk in a more serious light. Improved blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics drinking camel milk was proved by Dr. Rajendra Agrawal in the Diabetes  Care & Research Centre in Bikaner, India. This caught the attention of researchers at Cairo University, Egypt, and King Saud University, Saudi Arabia,

At Cairo University, a 4-month trial was conducted involving 54 participants receiving insulin. Of those, 27 drank 500 ml. of camel milk every day. Test results showed that those drinking camel milk had significantly reduced blood sugar and higher C-peptide levels, which indicate improved insulin function. Following this, Prof. Agrawal conducted a 2-year study which concluded with proof that three participants no longer needed insulin. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Can We Raise Abundant Crops and not Threaten the Environment?

September 2nd 2012


Can we have enough to eat and a healthy environment, too? Yes—if we’re smart about it, suggests a study by a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and McGill University in Montreal.

Global demand for food is expected to double by 2050 due to population growth and increased standards of living. To meet this demand, it is often assumed we will need to expand the environmental burden of agriculture. The paper, based on analysis of agricultural data gathered from around the world, offers hope that with more strategic use of fertilizer and water, we could not only dramatically boost global crop yield, but also reduce the adverse environmental impact of agriculture.

“We have often seen these two goals as a trade-off:  We could either have more food, or a cleaner environment, not both,” says lead author Nathaniel Mueller, a researcher with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and a doctoral student in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “This study shows that doesn’t have to be the case.” Read more ..

The Edge of Earth

Scientists Question Quake Map Prediction Methodology

September 1st 2012

Minato Japan after Quake

Some high profile researchers in the earth sciences are questioning several long-standing assumptions about predicting earthquakes. They contend it is time for a major reassessment on the methods used to forecast where and when killer earthquakes will strike.

Three recent major earthquakes: in Sichuan, China in 2008, in the Caribbean  nation of Haiti in 2010 and in northeastern Japan last year - have led to what some scientists acknowledge is an embarrassing failure. They did not foresee such intense tremors would cause widespread destruction and casualties in those specific locations. Even in Japan, with state-of-the-art seismological and tsunami research and sophisticated hazard mapping, the size of the March 11 quake and the resulting tsunami were vastly underestimated. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Space-warping White Dwarfs produce Gravitational Waves

September 1st 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy

Gravitational waves, much like the recently discovered Higgs boson, are notoriously difficult to observe. Scientists first detected these ripples in the fabric of space-time indirectly, using radio signals from a pulsar-neutron star binary system. The find, which required exquisitely accurate timing of the radio signals, garnered its discoverers a Nobel Prize. Now a team of astronomers has detected the same effect at optical wavelengths, in light from a pair of eclipsing white dwarf stars.

"This result marks one of the cleanest and strongest detections of the effect of gravitational waves," said team member Warren Brown of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO).

The team discovered the white dwarf pair last year. (White dwarfs are the remnant cores of stars like our Sun.) The system, called SDSS J065133.338+284423.37 (J0651 for short), contains two white dwarf stars so close together -- one-third of the Earth-moon distance -- that they make a complete orbit in less than 13 minutes. Read more ..

Media on Edge

CNN Suffers Massive Drop in Viewership

August 31st 2012


Atlanta--we have a problem. CNN viewership is so massively down, it is now just a shadow of what it was a year ago. One outlet reported, "Just days after CNN President Jim Walton announced his departure from the network, the latest ratings suggest he never got the memo. CNN’s numbers are once again plummeting fast."

Another report stated, "For the month of July 2012, CNN’s viewership was only around one-fifth of what they saw just a year earlier." Media Bistro released numbers that demonstrated the network has suffered top to bottom losses and is now struggling to attract viewers. What is called "serious revamping" has not helped.

The LA Times wrote: "CNN's current predicament is a stunning reversal from years past, when the network was a news colossus." RT reported: "Compared with statistics for July 2011, total viewership for CNN has sunk 20 percent, and in other categories the figures are ever worse. Among 24-54 year olds, CNN is seeing a drop of 23 percent this year, with the same decline in ratings down for its primetime broadcast. In terms of how often same age group tunes in during primetime hours, CNN’s statistics are down 26 percent from last year." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Refugee Crisis Unsustainable

August 31st 2012

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

Syria’s neighbors, who have absorbed more than 220,000 refugees fleeing violence in that country, told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that they need international assistance to meet the growing tragedy. Syria’s humanitarian crisis is spreading to its neighbors as they try to cope with a growing refugee crisis.

Turkey has so far taken in the largest number of Syrians -- around 80,000.  Ankara says it cannot handle much more than another 20,000, which it could reach soon.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the 15-nation Security Council that Turkey has spent more than $300 million, built 11 camps, and is finding it increasingly difficult to cope without international help. “Yes, we are building new camps and will try to transfer them to these camps.  Yet, we are fast getting short of suitable areas to build camps and means to support them,” Davutoglu said.

The United Nations says there are more than 2 million displaced people inside Syria. Davutoglu said something should be done to protect them. “In the face of such a humanitarian disaster, the U.N. should initiate the establishment of IDP [i.e., internally displaced persons] camps within Syria without delay.  Needless to say, these camps should have full protection,” Davutoglu said. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Mitt Showed the 'Deepest Part of his Soul' say Ann Romney

August 31st 2012

Ann Romney at Tampa Convention

Ann Romney on Friday said her husband’s personal - and at times emotional - speech to the Republican national convention showed voters “the deepest part of his soul.”

Appearing on several news networks the morning after the GOP candidate accepted his party’s presidential nomination, Ann Romney said she couldn’t be prouder of his performance. "This is how I see him, this is the emotional part of him that I know so well," she told NBC's "Today" show. 

Mitt Romney’s speech had been anticipated as a chance for him to tell his "story" and get personal about his religion and history. At one point in his speech, the Republican candidate choked up when he spoke about how his father – former Michigan Gov. George Romney – left a rose for his mother every morning at her bedside throughout their marriage. “That's how she found out what happened on the day my father died – she went looking for him because that morning, there was no rose,” Romney said. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

European Banks and Iranian Sanctions

August 30th 2012

Iran Banknotes

Many policy­makers on both sides of the Atlantic view tough economic sanctions against Iran as perhaps the last peaceful means of curbing the Islamic Republic's appetite for nuclearization. While sanc­tions aren't a silver bullet, properly targeted, they might yet succeed in pressuring the regime to change course. Most banks worldwide have stopped providing Iran financial services, yet it has recently come to light that London-based HSBC and Standard Chartered have served Iran as a gateway to the international financial market. Both are under heavy fire from U.S. regulators, who have made it clear that banks doing business in the United States must cut their ties with illicit Iranian entities or risk losing access to the U.S. market.

The U.S. government has accused HSBC of facilitating illicit transactions worldwide for much of the last decade, becoming a "sinkhole of risk" that acted counter to the public interest, pursuing financial gain above all. U.S. lawmakers recently issued a 335-page report (and 530-page addendum of evidence) providing a vivid picture of the bank's shortcomings. Read more ..

Ghana on Edge

High Gold Prices Bring Chinese into Ghana's Mines

August 30th 2012

Ghana Gold Mines

A recent influx of Chinese nationals into Ghana’s gold mining sector is raising concerns among policy makers and the country's citizens.  This is because the Chinese are engaged in small-scale mining, an area that in theory, is solely preserved for Ghanaians.  Most of them are also apparently working without a permit and on occasion extend their operations into some restricted areas, devastating the land in the process.


Ghana was known as the Gold Coast before gaining independence in 1957.  Since then the mineral has been one of the backbones of the nation’s economy.  So why this sudden interest in Ghana by Chinese small-scale miners?  Ahmed Nantogma is director of public affairs at Ghana’s Chamber of Mines. He said the main reason is the rise in the price of gold on the world market. From $200 an ounce about 10 years ago, gold is now trading at more than $1,500 an ounce.  Therefore, the Chinese are assured of good returns on their investments. “You go where your product is," said Nantogma. "So that is why they are not going to say, Congo or Liberia, they come to Ghana.  And they know they can take advantage of the situation and hide somewhere in a bush and mine illegally without paying taxes.” Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Kazakh Cycling Legend, New Olympic Champion, Looks Back

August 29th 2012

Aleksandr Vinokurov Cycling Crash

 Like most professional cyclists, Kazakhstan's Aleksandr Vinokurov is no stranger to pain. In 2003 his closest friend, fellow cyclist Andrei Kivilev, died of head injuries after a horrific fall in a French road race.

Four years later, Vinokurov tested positive for doping, earning a two-year competition ban that kept him out of the Beijing Olympics. And in 2011, he sustained a broken femur and cracked pelvis during a crash at the Tour de France. A week later, he announced his retirement -- only to come back and win the gold in the men's road race at this summer's London Olympics.

Elite Group
The London gold, Vinokurov now says, "outweighs all his past failures" and defies critics who said he would never bounce back from his two-year drug ban.

"In 2007, I became embroiled in a doping scandal. Because of this, I could not take part in the Beijing Olympics. I didn't participate in any competitions for two years, but I continued to train full-time," Vinokurov says during a recent conversation with journalists in his Almaty home. "Many experts were speaking out against me, saying that I had suffered a heavy psychological trauma and would never return to the sport. But all that's behind me now." Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Microwave Ovens May Help Produce Lower Cost Solar Energy Technology

August 28th 2012

solar power plant

The same type of microwave oven technology that most people use to heat up leftover food has found an important application in the solar energy industry, providing a new way to make thin-film photovoltaic products with less energy, expense and environmental concerns. Engineers at Oregon State University have for the first time developed a way to use microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound that is less costly and toxic than some solar energy alternatives. “All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU.

“Several companies are already moving in this direction as prices continue to rise for some alternative compounds that contain more expensive elements like indium,” he said. “With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive.” These thin-film photovoltaic technologies offer a low cost, high volume approach to manufacturing solar cells. A new approach is to create them as an ink composed of nanoparticles, which could be rolled or sprayed – by approaches such as old-fashioned inkjet printing – to create solar cells. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Investigator who Absolved Obama for Billions in Waste is a Generous Campaign Donor

August 28th 2012

Herbert Allison
Herbert Allison

The financial institution executive who was in charge of the “independent probe" that ended up absolving the Obama Administration for wasting billions of taxpayers' dollars spent on green energy schemes was neither bi-partisan or non-partisan, but a big contributor to the Obama reelection campaign, according to a report by a Washington, D.C., public-interest group that investigates corruption.

According to a report on Friday, Herbert Allison’s role as a special investigator of the Department of Energy's stimulus-funded loan program that is sparking curiosity. Not long after Allison determined that billions in taxpayer dollars invested in Obama-favored “green” technology companies were at nominal risk, "he made campaign donations -- big ones -- to the Democratic National Committee and the president’s re-election efforts," officials at the National Legal and Policy Center claim. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republicans Remain Bullish about Romney and Ryan

August 28th 2012

Voting 2012

Three-quarters of Republican voters believe Mitt Romney is a stronger presidential candidate than John McCain was four years ago — and a sizable majority said the party is more closely aligned with their personal views than in 2008, according to a new poll.

The survey found 74 percent of GOP voters feel better about Romney as their candidate in 2012 compared to Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008, while only 18 percent feel the former Massachusetts governor is a weaker candidate. The results suggest the Republican faithful, who are gathering in Tampa, Fla., this week to nominate Romney, have grown comfortable with the candidate after a bruising primary season in which he faced grassroots doubts about his conservative credentials. The poll showed Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is highly popular among Republicans, with 71 percent of GOP supporters saying the selection has made them more likely to vote for the GOP ticket. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Tripoli's Syria Street Separates Sectarian Clashes

August 27th 2012

Tripoli Lebanon Embattled Street Aug 2012
Tripoli Embattled Credit: Jeff Neumann VOA

 A sniper's bullet cracks overhead as Abu Ibrahim crouches into his sandbagged fighting position. Seconds later, two gunmen respond with bursts of automatic rifle fire. Between the sniper and Abu Ibrahim's men two Lebanese army armored personnel carriers idle. Then quiet, as a dozen or so fighters emerge from bunkers and doorways nearby to smoke cigarettes and chat. Young boys scurry to pick up empty shell casings. This is life on Syria Street, a battle-scarred thoroughfare that separates the rival Bab Tabbaneh and Jebel Mohsen neighborhoods in the coastal city of Tripoli, Lebanon's second largest.

At least 16 people have been killed and over 130 injured in clashes that began last week under murky circumstances. Some here have attributed the latest fighting to post-Ramadan fireworks. But whatever the case, it has underscored just how fragile this sectarian tinderbox is and how intertwined these two communities are with Syria.​ Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

More than Two Thousand Feared Dead in the Suburbs of Damascus

August 27th 2012

Syrian tankers

Dozens of bodies were buried in mass graves in the Daraya suburb outside of Damascus on August 26. Anti-government activists assert that the victims were killed over the past week by forces of dictator Bashar al-Assad who sought to bring the opposition to heel around the national capital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights asserts that 32 more corpses were found in the streets of Daraya on the same day, claiming that they had been felled by government “gunfire and summary execution.” Among the dead were three women and two children, according to the group. There are reports that more than 1,300 Syrian civilians and insurgents have been arrested, thus leading to fears that reports of more deaths are imminent.

The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 32 more dead bodies were found in the streets of Daraya on Sunday and that they had been killed by “gunfire and summary executions.” Among them were three women and two children, the group said. It put the toll for the past week as at least 320. The Local Coordination Committees, which is another group of activists, claimed 300 bodies were discovered on August 25 in Daraya and that 633 people have been killed there since the government launched its assault over the last ten days. Read more ..

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