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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 ..

The Edge of Food

America (Re)Discovers Hard Cider

August 16th 2012

Woodchuck cider varieties

More Americans are quenching their thirst with hard cider. In 2011, U.S. sales of the alcoholic beverage made of fermented apple juice were up 20 percent over the previous year, according to the U.S.-based Beer Institute. There were about 5.6 million cases of hard cider sold in the U.S. in 2011. At the same time, mainstream beer sales are down.While cider still makes up only a tiny fraction of the U.S. alcohol industry, small producers are sprouting up across the country, and the nation’s two largest beer companies have recently entered the cider market.

Hard cider isn’t new. In the 1700s and 1800s, it was the drink of choice for early Americans. But as German immigrants brought their beer-making skills to America, cider fell out of favor. The drink’s popularity took another blow in the 1920s, during Prohibition, when alcoholic beverages were banned in the United States. But today, hard cider is making a comeback.

Bob Caloutti, who sells beer and wine in Rutland, Vermont, carries several brands of hard cider. It is a small niche market, he says, but sales are growing fast among both men and women. “Oh, I definitely think the potential is there,” Caloutti says. “Cider has been around forever and then if you throw in the gluten-free aspect, there’re a lot of people who can’t have gluten, which is obviously a common factor in beer, so I think cider is here to stay.” Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Last Survivors of Treblinka Holocaust Death Camp Remember the Horrors

August 15th 2012

Holocaust cattle cars

The last living survivors of Nazi death camp Treblinka have spoken about the excruciating torment they suffered during World War II. Kalman Tagiman and Samuel Willenberg were both 19 years old when they arrived at the camp, where they were forced to assist in the mass murder of men, women and children.

For Samuel, now 89, it is one particular memory which haunts him to this day, 70 years later. Samuel was sifting through the belongings of another trainload of doomed innocents, this time coming from his home town, when he made a discovery so horrific he fell to the floor. A young girl’s coat, and a pleated blue skirt, lying on top of a pile of clothes, just before the entrance to the gas chambers. The coat and skirt belonged to his two younger sisters. The Treblinka 'death factory' was located in occupied Poland but was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of the war as they tried to cover their tracks.

Less than 70 Treblinka prisoners survived the war – they were a small part of the slave-labour prisoners who attacked guards and escaped the camp. It is estimated that between 800.000 and 1.2million prisoners were taken to Treblinka. Prisoners arriving had only had one per cent chance of surviving the first three hours. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Lawmakers Unhappy with Air Force Launch Monopoly

August 15th 2012

ULA Atlas V liftoff, June 2012
ULA Atlas V liftoff, June 2012 (credit: United Launch Alliance)

For six years, the Air Force has relied mostly on a single, high-cost rocket manufacturer to loft its reconnaissance, communications, and GPS satellites into space—and it is about expand that. In the fall of 2013, it plans to give the company a new $19 billion contract for all of the Air Force launches scheduled through 2017.

Some members of Congress are upset by the price tag, however, and key lawmakers—acting with the support of an array of upstart rocket firms—are starting to push back against the Air Force’s plan to reward its contractor with a five-year lock on all its launches. The latest salvo comes from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who complained in an August 2 letter that the Pentagon’s largest launch project “lacks domestic competition and is unable to compete internationally due to high costs.”

The Air Force satellite project is known as the Evolved Expendable Vehicle Launch (EELV) program. The firm that the Air Force favors is United Launch Alliance, a joint project formed in 2006 by the Pentagon’s top two contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The Air Force plans to award the $19 billion deal between June and October 2013. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Replacing Red 40 with Israeli Tomato Dye

August 14th 2012


Israel’s LycoRed plant-derived food coloring is the only one of its kind to win the FDA’s green light. The reds and oranges in candies don’t have to be from synthetic dyes. Look at any Israeli dining table and the humble tomato is usually there front and center, diced into a cucumber salad or sliced in big wedges drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil.

No one knows fresh tomatoes like the Israelis. It makes sense, then, that the Israeli company LycoRed should corner the market for lycopene, a new super-food and natural dye extracted from the tomato. Lycopene is quickly replacing artificial and animal-based red dyes across America. Health-conscious, vegan, kosher and halal consumers are paying particular attention to this new “green” red dye.

Red food coloring is an attractive way to add a natural tint to milkshakes, red velvet cupcakes, candies and yogurts, but recent evidence on six synthetic dyes, including Red 40, links them to behavioral problems in children. As savvy parents demand better solutions for candies and snack foods, and big retailers such as Starbucks are searching for natural alternatives for their fruit shakes, all eyes are on Israel. Read more ..

The Edge of Art

Exhibit Gives Rare Glimpse of Mughal Art

August 13th 2012

Portrait of Abul Hasan from Gulshan Album

The Mughal Emperor Akbar—who is recorded as saying, “There are many that hate painting; but such men I dislike,” would probably be pleased with the curators at Washington’s Sackler Gallery. The exhibit “Worlds Within Worlds: Imperial Paintings from India and Iran” shows the gallery’s love of painting, particularly the finely-detailed works commissioned by Akbar, his son Jahangir, and his grandson Shah Jahan—the builder of the Taj Mahal.

The Mughals—who reigned from 1526 to 1857—were direct descendants from Genghis Khan through Chagatai Khan and Timur (also known as Tamarlane). Eventually they controlled most of modern day Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. As the Empire expanded, the Mughals imported the finest artists and crafstmen into their court - including from neighboring Persia.

The Mughals were avid readers and collectors—with Emperor Akbar reported to have 24,000 volumes in his library. Akbar’s son Jahangir is thought of as the greatest of the Mughal patrons—with the best books, the best artists, and the best craftsmen available in his court. The Mughal’s artistic tastes embraced many styles, from Persian and Indian painting to European Renaissance styles. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Smuggling Trail Quietly Brings Arms to Syrian Rebels

August 13th 2012

Some Western and Arab Gulf powers say they are increasing humanitarian and support aid to the Syrian opposition. At the Turkey–Syria border—the main conduit for foreign aid to rebel fighters—there are signs the aid trail also may include covert arms smuggling.

The Turkish city of Antakya is now a hub for Syrian rebels and their supporters. Just 20 kilometers from the border, analysts say it’s here that most of the deals are being forged to aid the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels. But few people here will openly admit that foreign countries are arming the opposition.

Opposition supporters have posted videos on social media sites allegedly showing big caches of weapons—mainly Kalashnikov rifles—and ammunition. Their origin is unknown. Ahmad al-Kanatre Abu Hamza, commander of the Omar al-Mukhtar brigade of the FSA, said in July that most of his fighters’ weapons are taken from Syrian forces. “Almost all our weapons are confiscated from the defeated regime army. We get no help from other countries,” he said. “All our arms are light weapons and they are old.” Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

With Husband’s Selection For GOP Ticket, Janna Ryan Finds Herself In The Spotlight

August 12th 2012

Janna Ryan 8-11-12

Former Washington tax attorney Janna Ryan reportedly used to go hunting with her outdoorsman beau, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), when they first began dating in 1999. Today, both she and her husband are setting their sights on much bigger game. On Saturday, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced Ryan as his running mate, catapulting Janna Ryan into the national media spotlight as her husband vies for the White House. The pretty blonde met Ryan in 1999 during his first term in the House. At the time, Janna Christine Little was working as a tax attorney for PricewaterhouseCoopers and lived in Arlington, Va.

The Wellesley College and George Washington University Law School graduate was introduced to the eligible political bachelor by a mutual friend, according to their April 2000 engagement announcement.

Ryan was 30, Little age 31 at the time of the marriage, which took place in December 2000 in the bride’s home state of Oklahoma. Immediately following the nuptials, Ryan had to choose between his new wife and the demands of Congress, opting to forego voting on unfinished budget matters in favor of a honeymoon to the Virgin Islands. Ryan allegedly first consulted then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) before being advised there were only minor votes scheduled, according to local news reports. "I'm going to keep my first commitment to my wife, and that's to take her on a honeymoon," Ryan said, as reported by the Associated Press. The Ryans subsequently made their home in Wisconsin, and in the decade to follow had three children, daughter Liza and sons Charlie and Sam. Not much is known about Janna Ryan, who's kept a low-public profile despite her husband's political fame. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Why Do Organisms Build Tissue Structures They Seemingly Never Use?

August 12th 2012

Frog life stages

Why, after millions of years of evolution, do organisms build structures that seem to serve no purpose?

A study conducted at Michigan State University and published in the current issue of The American Naturalist investigates the evolutionary reasons why organisms go through developmental stages that appear unnecessary.

“Many animals build tissues and structures they don’t appear to use, and then they disappear,” said Jeff Clune, lead author and former doctoral student at MSU’s BEACON Center of Evolution in Action. “It’s comparable to building a roller coaster, razing it and building a skyscraper on the same ground. Why not just skip ahead to building the skyscraper?”

Why humans and other organisms retain seemingly unnecessary stages in their development has been debated between biologists since 1866. This study explains that organisms jump through these extra hoops to avoid disrupting a developmental process that works. Clune’s team called this concept the “developmental disruption force.” But Clune says it also could be described as “if the shoe fits, don’t change a thing.”

“In a developing embryo, each new structure is built in a delicate environment that consists of everything that has already developed,” said Clune, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. “Mutations that alter that environment, such as by eliminating a structure, can thus disrupt later stages of development. Even if a structure is not actually used, it may set the stage for other functional tissues to grow properly.”

Going back to the roller coaster metaphor, even though the roller coaster gets torn down, the organism needs the parts from that teardown to build the skyscraper, he added.

“An engineer would simply skip the roller coaster step, but evolution is more of a tinkerer and less of an engineer,” Clune said. “It uses whatever parts that are lying around, even if the process that generates those parts is inefficient.”

An interesting consequence is that newly evolved traits tend to get added at the end of development, because there is less risk of disrupting anything important. That, in turn, means that there is a similarity between the order things evolve and the order they develop. Read more ..

The Geological Edge

Plate Tectonics on Mars?

August 12th 2012

Valles Marineris
Valles Marineris (Viking orbiter photomosaic
credit USGS/NASA Viking Project)

For years, many scientists had thought that plate tectonics existed nowhere in our solar system but on Earth. Now, a UCLA scientist has discovered that the geological phenomenon, which involves the movement of huge crustal plates beneath a planet’s surface, also exists on Mars.

“Mars is at a primitive stage of plate tectonics. It gives us a glimpse of how the early Earth may have looked and may help us understand how plate tectonics began on Earth,” said An Yin, a UCLA professor of Earth and space sciences and the sole author of the new research.

Yin made the discovery during his analysis of satellite images from NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft and from the HIRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. He analyzed about 100 satellite images—and approximately a dozen were revealing of plate tectonics. Yin has conducted geologic research in the Himalayas and Tibet, where two of the Earth’s seven major plates divide. “When I studied the satellite images from Mars, many of the features looked very much like fault systems I have seen in the Himalayas and Tibet, and in California as well, including the geomorphology,” said Yin, a planetary geologist. Read more ..

America on Edge

Racist Internet Sites Breed Hate

August 11th 2012

Sikh Milwaukee Shooting

American Sikhs have been mourning the victims of the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin - and are trying to comprehend an act that seems senseless.  The shooter's motives are unclear, but one organization that monitors hate groups points to the Internet as a breeding ground for racial hatred.

In the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, Sikhs and other community members gathered for a vigil to remember the victims of the Wisconsin shooting. Some also tried to understand what motivated the accused shooter, Wade Michael Page. California temple member Nachhatar Singh Bhullar calls the act senseless. "It could happen anywhere.  Somebody can come anywhere and do those things," he said. But researchers into hate groups say Page had ties to music groups with a white supremacist message and they speculate that his hatred sparked the rampage. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Homeland Security Proposes 'Expanded Border' with Mexico

August 10th 2012

Truncated border fence
Truncated U.S/Mexico border fence

In an era when border travel has become increasingly problematic, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now proposing to expand the geographic area Mexican nationals can travel within the state of New Mexico. Invoking its rule-making authority, the DHS proposed August 9 an expansion of the geographic limit in New Mexico for holders of a Border Crossing Card, or other proper documentation besides a CBP Form 1-94, from the current 25 miles north of the border to 55 miles. “This change is intended to promote commerce and tourism in southern New Mexico while still ensuring that sufficient safeguards are in place to prevent illegal entry to the U.S.,” the DHS stated in its notice of proposed rule-making.

Dating back to a system first put in place in 1953, the modern-day Border Crossing Card allows Mexican nationals to travel within certain geographic boundaries for up to 30 days. In 1999, the old Immigration and Naturalization Service expanded the geographic limit to 75 miles in Arizona but kept the 25 mile-limit for New Mexico, Texas and California. Currently, Mexican nationals can travel to Tucson for shopping and other purposes. According to the DHS, applicants for the Border Crossing Card and other appropriate travel documents are vetted by the department's personnel and/or staff from the Department of State. Read more ..

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