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The Edge of Weather

Deforestation Can Significantly Reduce Tropical Rainfall,

September 7th 2012

Trees burning in Amazon

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

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

The Edge of Food

Wild Bees: Champions For Food Security and Biodiversity

September 7th 2012


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

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

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

The Digital Edge

Can Computers "Understand" the Blogosphere

September 7th 2012

Columbia Supercomputer NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility

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

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

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

The Edge of Nature

Tracking Fish through a Coral Reef Seascape

September 6th 2012

Coral reef and fish

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

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

Skin and Bone

Pentagon, Congress Probe Tissue Contracts

September 6th 2012

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

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

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

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

The Weopan's Edge

Hundreds of Thousands of Deadly Cluster Munitions Destroyed

September 6th 2012

cluster munitions

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

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

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

Edge of the Universe

Explosion of Galaxy Formation Lit Up Early Universe

September 6th 2012

Big Bang

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

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

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

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

America and China

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

September 5th 2012

Hilary Clinton

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

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

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

The 2012 Vote

State Laws Vary Widely on Voting Rights for Felons

September 4th 2012

Prison bars

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

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

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

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

The Edge of Terrorism

Russian Activists Accuse Kremlin Of Trying To 'Forget Beslan'

September 3rd 2012

Beslan Carnage

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

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


The Edge of Space

First Multi-Planet Binary Star Solar System Discovered

September 3rd 2012

Kepler 36-c from Kepler 36-b

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

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

The Edge of Food

Camel Milk to Help Treat Diabetes

September 2nd 2012

Baby Camel Feeding

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

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

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

The Edge of Food

Can We Raise Abundant Crops and not Threaten the Environment?

September 2nd 2012


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

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

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

The Edge of Earth

Scientists Question Quake Map Prediction Methodology

September 1st 2012

Minato Japan after Quake

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

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

The Edge of Space

Space-warping White Dwarfs produce Gravitational Waves

September 1st 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy

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

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

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

Media on Edge

CNN Suffers Massive Drop in Viewership

August 31st 2012


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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Refugee Crisis Unsustainable

August 31st 2012

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

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

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

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

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

The 2012 Vote

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

August 31st 2012

Ann Romney at Tampa Convention

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

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

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

The Iranian Threat

European Banks and Iranian Sanctions

August 30th 2012

Iran Banknotes

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

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

Ghana on Edge

High Gold Prices Bring Chinese into Ghana's Mines

August 30th 2012

Ghana Gold Mines

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


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

The Edge of Sport

Kazakh Cycling Legend, New Olympic Champion, Looks Back

August 29th 2012

Aleksandr Vinokurov Cycling Crash

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

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

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

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

The Race for Solar

Microwave Ovens May Help Produce Lower Cost Solar Energy Technology

August 28th 2012

solar power plant

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

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

The 2012 Vote

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

August 28th 2012

Herbert Allison
Herbert Allison

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

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

The 2012 Vote

Republicans Remain Bullish about Romney and Ryan

August 28th 2012

Voting 2012

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

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

The Battle for Syria

Tripoli's Syria Street Separates Sectarian Clashes

August 27th 2012

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

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

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

The Battle for Syria

More than Two Thousand Feared Dead in the Suburbs of Damascus

August 27th 2012

Syrian tankers

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

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

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 ..

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