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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 ..

The 2012 Vote

Major Storm Impacts US Political Convention

August 26th 2012

Hurricane Irene 28 Aug 0900

In U.S. politics, Republican Party officials are predicting a successful presidential nominating convention in Tampa, Florida, despite the approach of a powerful storm that forced the cancellation of Monday’s planned activities.  The four-day convention to nominate former governor Mitt Romney to face President Barack Obama in the November election has been pared down to three.

Every detail of the Republican National Convention was planned months in advance to provide the biggest boost possible for Mitt Romney and the party as a whole. Now the convention schedule is being reworked as a result of an unpredictable factor: the weather.  Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to become a hurricane and pass near Tampa late Monday. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says Isaac will not derail the gathering.

“The show is going to go on. We are going to get the business done at the RNC [Republican National Convention]," he said.  "We are going to nominate Mitt Romney and [vice presidential nominee] Paul Ryan.  We are going to have a great time here in Tampa.”. Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Who Is Behind Iran’s 'Dangerous' Satellite Jamming?

August 25th 2012

Iran signal jammer

That’s the question people have been asking in the Islamic republic in recent days.

While officials have acknowledged that signal jamming is taking place, and even warned of potentially negative consequences, no one in the government has stepped up to assume responsibility.

Earlier this week, Iran's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Reza Taghipour denied his department's involvement in jamming satellite signals, and said the ministry was "seriously" pursuing the case. "It is essential to trace and identify the source of jamming as the practice has many negative consequences," he said in an August 21 interview with the Iranian parliament's Icana website. The head of the Iranian parliament's health committee, Hossein Ali Shahriari, then reacted to Taghipour's comments by saying that the communications ministry was "very well" aware of the source of the jamming. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Aleppo No Longer a Safe Haven for Syrian-Born Armenians

August 25th 2012

Armenian orphans in Aleppo 1922
Armenian orphans in Aleppo, 1922
(credit: Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute)

Gevorg Payasian’s father, Asatur, was just 15 years old when he was forced to flee his home in the ancient city of Ayntap in what is now southeastern Turkey. His entire family had been killed by Ottoman troops in what many historians now term the Armenian genocide, the mass slaughter and deportation of Anatolia’s ethnic Armenians between 1915 and 1922. Alone, he set out on foot, walking about 130 kilometers before reaching a haven in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Unbeknownst to him, his 9-year-old sister, Nektar, had somehow survived the massacre and was making the same journey. Asatur went on to reunite with his sister in Aleppo. He went to school, started a family, and built a successful horse-breeding business from scratch.

But his son Gevorg, now a 69-year-old businessman specializing in radio equipment, believes even as he praised Syria’s “merciful embrace” of his people, his father never recovered from the trauma of seeing his home and family destroyed. “My father always remembered his ancestral home in Ayntap,” he says. “He would tell me about how he fled from the Turks and reached Syria. The Turks had killed his parents and relatives. My father and his sister were the only survivors in their family.”

Nearly a century later, it is the son who is fleeing—leaving the city that offered his father safe harbor as the bloody 17-month battle between government loyalists and opposition rebels settles over Aleppo. Read more ..

Inside China

Chinese Work to Improve Domestic Wine Industry

August 25th 2012


While Chinese wine connoisseurs spend lavishly at auctions for rare and esteemed foreign wines, inside China there are many working to improve the international reputation of the domestic wine industry.  The desert-like region of Ningxia enjoys the best conditions in China for growing wine grapes, according to the local government.

This area around the Helan Mountains is a key part of Ningxia's government’s five-year plan to make this an official wine-growing region. The area is home to a host of wineries, such as Jiabeilan and Domaine Helan Mountain.  One of the smaller wineries is Silver Heights, which was started in 2007.

Winemaker Emma Gao grew up in the area, but is one of the few Chinese to hold a French national certification for winemaking. "When I was growing up in the 1980s, the wine we drank was sweet, which is how we thought all wine was.  We would even add some other beverages to it, so that it would be more palatable. If it was like a proper red wine, very tannic, we would not like it very much," said Gao. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Supernovae of the Same Brightness—Cut from Vastly Fifferent Cosmic Cloth

August 25th 2012

Artist’s conception of the PTF 11kx system
(credit: Romano Corradi/Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias)

Type 1a supernovae—exploding stars—are ideal for measuring cosmic distance because they are bright enough to spot across the Universe and have relatively the same luminosity everywhere. Although astronomers have many theories about the kinds of star systems involved in these explosions (or progenitor systems), no one has ever directly observed one—until now.

In the August 24 issue of Science, the multi-institutional Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) team presents the first-ever direct observations of a Type 1a supernova progenitor system. Astronomers have collected evidence indicating that the progenitor system of a Type 1a supernova, called PTF 11kx, contains a red giant star. They also show that the system previously underwent at least one much smaller nova eruption before it ended its life in a destructive supernova. The system is located 600 million light years away in the constellation Lynx.

By comparison, indirect observations of another Type 1a supernova progenitor system (called SN 2011fe, conducted by the PTF team last year) showed no evidence of a red giant star. Taken together, these observations unequivocally show that just because Type 1a supernovae look the same, that doesn’t mean they are all born the same way. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorist Behind 2001 Jerusalem Bombing Expresses Joy over Israeli Deaths

August 25th 2012

In a July television interview, Ahlam Tamimi explained her role in planning the deadly 2001 bombing of a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem and expressed the disappointment she felt when initial reports claimed only 3 Israelis were killed in the explosion.

“Afterwards, when I took the bus, the Palestinians around Damascus gate (Jerusalem) were all smiling. You could sense that everybody was happy,” she said. “When I got on the bus, nobody knew that it was me who who had led [the suicide bomber to the target]. I was feeling quite strange because I had left Izz Al-Din (the bomber) behind, but inside the bus, they were all congratulating one another.”

Tamimi received 16 life sentences for planning and helping to execute the August 2001 bombing in Jerusalem, which killed 16 Israelis, however she was released as part of the deal that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from captivity under Hamas in 2011.

“But first, let me tell you about the the gradual rise in the number of casualties,” she said in an Arabic interview on Al-Aqsa TV which has been translated into English by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “While I was on the bus and everybody was congratulating each other, they said on the radio that there had been a martyrdom attack at the Sbarro restaurant and that three people were killed. I admit that I was a bit disappointed because I had hoped for a larger toll. Yet when they said ‘three dead’, I said, ‘Allah be praised.’” Read more ..

The WikiLeaks Case

Assange Supporters Hold 24-Hour 'Vigil' Outside Ecuador Embassy

August 25th 2012

Assange at Ecuadorian Embassy

Foreign ministers from Latin America meet in Washington Friday to discuss Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks who has been living inside Ecuador’s London Embassy for over two months. Ecuador has granted Assange asylum but Britain has made it clear that the founder of Wikileaks will be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorian embassy. Last week Britain made a written warning to Ecuador, saying it could invoke a 1987 act to arrest Assange inside the embassy. Ecuador said it saw that letter as a “threat,” which Britain has denied. But the situation has created diplomatic tension between Britain and Ecuador and infuriated Assange supporters.

Across the street from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, protesters are holding what they call a “vigil” - they say it is a 24-hour watch in order to ensure that Assange is not forcibly removed from the embassy by British police. One protester, who declined to give his name, said, “It’s a cause of deep concern that people have to seek extradition from the United Kingdom and it’s very much Mr. Assange’s right to do so and it’s the Ecuadorians’ authority to be able to grant that,” he said. Read more ..

Iran's Nukes

Iran Brushes Up its Image for the Non-Aligned Summit in Tehran

August 24th 2012

Ahmadinejad deaf

When Iran hosts a five-day summit of the Nonaligned Movement this week, it will be doing more than just staging its largest international event in more than a decade. It will be taking steps to shed its image as a global pariah.

Under the banner of "lasting peace through joint global governance," more than 40 heads of state and hundreds of high-level diplomats are expected to descend on Tehran from August 26-31 for the NAM summit. The movement was forged during the Cold War to unite countries that opted to remain independent of the prevailing power blocs. Today, NAM has 120 members, who combine to form the biggest voting bloc in the United Nations.

Iran hopes to use the summit as a platform to hone its diplomatic image, while also trying to gain much-needed support to counter Western pressure over its controversial nuclear program. Read more ..

The Transportation Edge

Wi-Fi To Be Used Improve Traffic Safety in the USA

August 24th 2012

Traffic Jam

A traffic safety initiative launched recently will equip 3,000 cars, trucks and buses with Wi-Fi connections designed to help vehicles avoid crashes and improve traffic flow, planners said.

The U.S. Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said its connected vehicle pilot project will test the ability of vehicles and highway infrastructure to “talk” to each other in real time. The second phase of the mobile Wi-Fi network will be installed in Ann Arbor, one of several Michigan cities to receive federal funding to develop auto-related technologies.

Federal officials called the connected vehicle program the largest of its kind for improving U.S. traffic safety.

Vehicles will be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications devices designed under the pilot program to gather data on how the safety network operates while gauging its effectiveness in reducing accidents. NHTSA estimates that vehicle-to-vehicle safety technology could help avoid or reduce the severity of four out of five crashes. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Big Bang Theory Challenged by Big Chill

August 23rd 2012

Big Bang

The start of the Universe should be modeled not as a Big Bang but more like water freezing into ice, according to a team of theoretical physicists at the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. They have suggested that by investigating the cracks and crevices common to all crystals - including ice - our understanding of the nature of the Universe could be revolutionised.

Lead researcher on the project, James Quach said current theorising is the latest in a long quest by humans to understand the origins and nature of the Universe. "Ancient Greek philosophers wondered what matter was made of: was it made of a continuous substance or was it made of individual atoms?” he said. “With very powerful microscopes, we now know that matter is made of atoms.” Read more ..

The New Egypt

Intelligence Document Reveals Muslim Brotherhood Role in Egyptian Revolution

August 23rd 2012

Egypt army protest

The revolution in Egypt was seen by many as impelled by submerged democratic and liberal tendencies in Egyptian society that, inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, erupted against President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorial regime. Much was attributed to the Egyptian youth, who were described as a driving force of the popular revolution, and great hopes were attached to them as the ones who would lead Egypt into an era of Western democracy. Facebook and Twitter were also credited with huge influence in motivating the masses to struggle for democracy, and indeed the phenomenon came to be known as the Facebook Revolution.

This view was, for example, emphatically expressed in columns by the American journalist Thomas L. Friedman. In a New York Times column on February 11, 2011, Friedman conveyed his impressions from a visit to Cairo: “It [the revolution] was started by youth and enabled by Facebook and Twitter….This was a total do-it-yourself revolution. This means that anyone in the neighborhood can copy it by dialing 1-800-Tahrir Square.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Voting Rights Battles Re-emerge in the South

August 23rd 2012

Voters exit polling place

Raymond Rutherford has voted for decades. But this year, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to cast a ballot. The Sumter, S.C., resident, 59, has never had a government-issued photo ID because a midwife’s error listed him as Ramon Croskey on his birth certificate. It’s wrong on his Social Security card, too. Rutherford has tried to find the time and money to correct his birth certificate as he waits to see if the photo voter ID law is upheld by a three-judge U.S. District Court panel, scheduled to convene in Washington, D.C., in late September.

In June, South Carolina officials indicated in federal court filings that they will quickly implement the law before the November election if it is upheld. Voters without photo ID by November would be able to sign an affidavit explaining why they could not get an ID in time.

South Carolina’s photo voter ID law is similar to a series of restrictive election measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures in states of the former Confederacy, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia. North Carolina’s General Assembly failed to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a photo voter ID bill. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republicans Say Americans Bummed Out by Obama

August 22nd 2012

Obama Campaign 2012

After an onslaught of overtly negative attack ads, conservative independent spending groups have taken a new tone in their criticism of President Barack Obama — disappointment.

The Republican National Committee and the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity released ads Tuesday that highlight voters who did not get the “hope and change” from Obama they wanted.

The 60-second spot from Americans for Prosperity features a handful of voters — all 2008 Obama supporters — explaining why the president has not earned their vote in 2012. “I think he’s a great person,” a woman named Maria says. “I don’t feel like he is the right leader for our country, though.” “I still believe in hope and change. I just don’t think Obama’s the way to go for that,” Robin says.

AFP President Tim Phillips told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the spot — the second in the group’s $25 million express advocacy campaign — cost about $7 million. Starting today, the ad will air in 11 swing states for one week. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Mexican 'Caravan of Peace' Rolls into U.S. Cities

August 22nd 2012

Javier Sicilia, Caravana de la paz
Javier Sicilia

If the Caravan for Peace and Justice with Dignity now crossing the U.S. had to pick a city where all the issues it is raising come together, perhaps no place would be better than Albuquerque, New Mexico. A crossroads of cultures, conflict and commerce of all kinds, the Duke City is traversed by interstates and railways that move people and goods in all directions. Creeping toward a million people in the metro area, it is a place that grapples with high rates of drug abuse, gang and drug-related violence, governmental corruption and impunity in the justice system.

New Mexico’s largest city also hosts a large population of immigrants living in the shadows. So when the Mexican travelers led by poet Javier Sicilia arrived in the Duke City for a visit and public event on August 17-18, they were treading on familiar turf. In helping to welcome the Caravan to the grounds of the Holy Family Church in the semi-rural South Valley, veteran community activist and poet Jaime Chavez reminded listeners that the site was historically part of the Atrisco land grant, founded in Spanish colonial times but part of an indigenous heritage. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Republican Senator Brown says GOP position on Abortion is Mistaken

August 22nd 2012

Scott Brown

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) on August 21 called Republicans' strict opposition to abortion rights in the party platform "a mistake." Republicans are set to adopt a platform, ahead of their convention next week, that calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Brown — whose race against liberal favorite Elizabeth Warren could decide which party controls the Senate — said the abortion plank is too rigid.

"Even while I am pro-choice, I respect those who have a different opinion on this very difficult and sensitive issue," Brown said in a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "Our Party platform should make the same concession to those of us who believe in a woman’s right to choose." Brown's race is all the more vital to Republicans in the wake of Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) refusal to drop out of the Missouri Senate race. Read more ..

After Fukushima

Mutant Fukushima Butterflies Should Discourage Nuclear Power Plants in Middle East

August 21st 2012

Mutant butterfly collected near Fukushima

Researchers who collected and studied 100 pale grass blue butterflies from the Fukushima prefecture following last year’s nuclear meltdown have discovered serious mutations resulting from exposure to radiation. The butterflies, which were collected two months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, had abnormalities in their legs, antennae and abdomens, as well as dents in their eyes. Some of them had broken or wrinkled wings and changes in wing size and markings.

A study published in Scientific Reports may give you additional convincing that nuclear power in earthquake-prone areas of the Middle East are an especially bad idea.

CNN reports that 12 percent of the pale grass blue butterflies collected in May, 2011 showed abnormalities as a result of radiation exposure. After the butterflies mated, 18 percent of the offspring had mutations of some kind. And when mated with butterflies that were nowhere near Fukushima throughout the nuclear disaster, the percentage of mutations rose to 34 percent.

“[This indicates] that the mutations were being passed on through genes to offspring at high rates even when one of the parent butterflies was healthy,” according to CNN. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

Restore Our Future is Sitting on a Super PAC $20 Million Kitty

August 21st 2012

Bob Perry - Texas Republican donor
Bob Perry

Conservative super PACs dominated their Democratic rivals in the latest round of fundraising, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission filed on August 21. Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, brought in $7.5 million in July, finishing with an imposing $20.5 million in the bank. Top contributors include Texas homebuilder and super donor Bob Perry, who gave another $2 million.

Perry was already top donor to the group and the latest donation pushes his total to a whopping $8 million. Another major donor was the Renco Group, a family-owned investment company associated with billionaire investor Ira Rennert, which gave $1 million.

Conservative super PAC American Crossroads brought in $7.1 million finishing the month with $29.5 million in the bank. Texas mega-donor and billionaire Robert Rowling’s TRT Holdings, a private holding company that includes Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym, gave $1 million. TRT also gave $1 million to American Crossroads in February. Rowling personally gave $1 million to the super PAC in May and another $1 million in July. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Massachusetts Butterflies Move North as Climate Warms

August 21st 2012

Butterfly 01

The authors of a Harvard study published today in Nature Climate Change gathered their data from an unlikely source—the trip accounts of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club. Over the past 19 years, the amateur naturalist group has logged species counts on nearly 20,000 expeditions throughout Massachusetts. Their records fill a crucial gap in the scientific record.

Once analyzed, the data show a clear trend. According to Greg Breed, lead author on the study and a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass., "Over the past 19 years, a warming climate has been reshaping Massachusetts butterfly communities." Subtropical and warm-climate species such as the giant swallowtail and zabulon skipper—many of which were rare or absent in Massachusetts as recently as the late 1980s—show the sharpest increases in abundance. At the same time, more than three quarters of northerly species—species with a range centered north of Boston—are now declining in Massachusetts, many of them rapidly. Most impacted are the species that overwinter as eggs or small larvae: these overwintering stages may be much more sensitive to drought or lack of snow cover. Read more ..

The Robotic Edge

Will Robots be Enabled to Disguise Themselves

August 20th 2012

Terminator Robot

A team of researchers led by George Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor, has already broken new engineering ground with the development of soft, silicone-based robots inspired by creatures like starfish and squid.

Now, they're working to give those robots the ability to disguise themselves.

As demonstrated in an August 16 paper published in Science, researchers have developed a system – again, inspired by nature – that allows the soft robots to either camouflage themselves against a background, or to make bold color displays. Such a "dynamic coloration" system could one day have a host of uses, ranging from helping doctors plan complex surgeries to acting as a visual marker to help search crews following a disaster, said Stephen Morin, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Chemistry and Chemical Biology and first author of the paper.

"When we began working on soft robots, we were inspired by soft organisms, including octopi and squid," Morin said. "One of the fascinating characteristics of these animals is their ability to control their appearance, and that inspired us to take this idea further and explore dynamic coloration. I think the important thing we've shown in this paper is that even when using simple systems – in this case we have simple, open-ended micro-channels – you can achieve a great deal in terms of your ability to camouflage an object, or to display where an object is." Read more ..

Japan on Edge

China-Japan Island Dispute Has Long History

August 19th 2012

Senkaku Islands
Senkaku Islands

The chain of uninhabited islands at the center of a territorial dispute between China and Japan sits on top of what are thought to be vast oil deposits, and are surrounded by rich fishing grounds.

But the islands, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, have a long history of straining relations and inspiring nationalist resentment between the two Asian neighbors, long before the issue of oil resources in the area came up.

China says the islands have been considered part of its territory since the 14th century, when it says they first appeared on Chinese maps during the Ming Dynasty. Beijing says Chinese fishermen have used the islands since ancient times.

But Japan disputes that claim, saying it discovered the islands in 1884. After determining the islands were uninhabited, Japan annexed them in 1895 after winning the First Sino-Japanese War. China objects, saying it was forced to sign the post-war treaty that effectively handed the islands over to Japan. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Asia Flood Disasters a Warning Signal for City Planners Everywhere

August 18th 2012

Sumatra village after tsunami

Recent flooding disasters in Asian capitals are a warning of worse problems to come for city planners. The Asian Development Bank says rapid urbanization is straining city infrastructure, leading to worse pollution, and putting millions in Asia at risk. 
Heavy monsoon rains this month left a third of the Philippine capital, Manila, under water. In July, the Chinese capital, Beijing, saw the worst flooding in 60 years. And last year, the Thai capital, Bangkok, was partly swamped by historic floods that killed over 800 people.

Asian Development Bank chief economist Changyong Rhee says although weather-related tragedies are common in Asia, it is not because of bad luck. “This kind of natural disaster, especially flooding in Asia, is a result of the combination of growing risk of global warming and climate changes together with rapid and massive urbanization in Asia without proper infrastructure,” says Rhee. Rhee was speaking to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand for the release of an ADB study titled Green Urbanization in Asia. The ADB says carbon emissions, believed to be a major cause of climate change, grew five times as fast in Asian cities as the world average and are set to triple by 2050. Read more ..

The Humanitarian Edge

World Humanitarian Day: It's Personal

August 17th 2012

Humanitarian aid

Four years ago, the UN General Assembly designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day, choosing this particular date in commemoration of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in which 22 people lost their lives. The idea is to set aside one day a year to remember humanitarian workers who have been killed or injured while carrying out their work. The theme for this year’s World Humanitarian Day is an upbeat ‘People Helping People’ and the commemorations actually kicked off last week in New York with a new song ‘I was here’ by Beyoncé and a video message from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon.

Encouraging people to reach out to those in need is a good message. But it’s also important to pay tribute to those who have given their lives in humanitarian service. I still vividly remember that August day in 2003 when news began to trickle out that there had been an explosion at UN headquarters in Baghdad. The reports came in dribs and drabs – through emails and phone calls. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

S. African Police Claim Self-Defense in Mine Shootings

August 17th 2012

Police miners

South African police say 34 people were killed in a shootout between police and angry miners at a troubled platinum mine. But police, unions and the presidency have stopped short of saying who is at fault.

South Africa’s police commissioner on Friday visited the scene of a deadly shootout between police and strikers at the Lonmin platinum mine in the nation’s northwest. A confrontration Thursday between striking miners and police turned into a gunbattle. Police spokesman Capt. Dennis Adraio said Friday that in addition to the deaths, 78 people were wounded. Police have arrested 259 people. Adraio said police did everything they could to avert a shootout - and have video to prove it. “The South African service national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega showed footage, which highlighted that police have exhausted all possible methods of crowd management using minimum force before having to resort to self-defense," said Adraio. Read more ..

The Archaeological Edge

Ancient Seal May Add Substance to the Legend of Samson

August 16th 2012

Samson seal, Beth Shemesh
The “Samson seal” found at Beth Shemesh
(credit: Raz Lederman/Tel Beth Shemesh Excavations)

Tel Aviv University researchers recently uncovered a seal, measuring 15 millimetres (about a ½l") in diameter, which depicts a human figure next to a lion. The artifact was found at the archaeological site of Beth Shemesh, located between the Biblical cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, where Samson was born, flourished, and was finally buried, according to the book of Judges. The scene engraved on the seal, the time period, and the location of the discovery all point to a probable reference to the story of Samson, the legendary heroic figure whose adventures famously included a victory in hand-to-paw combat with a lion.

While the seal does not reveal when the stories about Samson were originally written, or clarify whether Samson was a historical or legendary figure, the finding does help to “anchor the story in an archaeological setting,” says Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Prof. Bunimovitz co-directs the Beth Shemesh dig along with Dr. Zvi Lederman. “If we are right and what we see on the seal is a representation of a man meeting a lion, it shows that the Samson legend already existed around the area of Beth Shemesh during that time period. We can date it quite precisely,” Prof. Bunimovitz adds. Read more ..

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