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Broken Banking

HSBC Nightmares and Money Laundering Dreams

July 27th 2012

HSBC

The $28 million fine levied by Mexican regulators against HSBC’s Mexico subsidiary announced on Wednesday is just the latest—but possibly not be the last—blow to hit the London-based bank for its failure to counter money laundering. Mexico’s National Securities and Banking Commission said the fine, about half the subsidiary’s 2011 profits, had been paid.

HSBC’s failure to act adequately in various countries, but particularly Mexico, to counter money laundering through its network was at the heart of a recent US investigation of the bank that could lead it to being fined up to $1 billion by US authorities.

Last week, HSBC issued an apology and its head of compliance resigned following disclosures by lawmakers in Washington that the bank had failed to implement anti-money-laundering procedures and had facilitated illicit Iranian transactions, terrorist activity, and drug proliferation around the world. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Big Business Prefers GOPs’ Super PACs to Democrats’

July 26th 2012

Mitt Romney expansive

Republican-aligned super PACs have benefited from far more corporate cash than their Democratic counterpartsca revenue stream created in the wake of the controversial Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago.

The top two super PACs—the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads—have raised nearly $24 million in contributions from companies so far this election cycle, an analysis has found. Donors include hedge funds, energy companies, dietary supplement makers, and even a popcorn manufacturer.

The list includes a handful of Fortune 500 and other publicly traded corporations, but donors are more likely to be privately held businesses, often organized as limited partnerships or limited liability companies. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Corruption A Cost Of Life For Ordinary Afghans

July 26th 2012

International Currency 3

The heat is scorching, and the hours-long wait arduous, but it is a price worth paying for the long line of angry customers standing outside the headquarters of Afghanistan's national power company. 

The bearded man who heads the line, Abdul Hadi, is there to complain about the "crazy" electricity bill he received this month. Hadi knows what to expect -- he went through the same thing with the company, Breshna Sherkat, just weeks earlier and ended up paying a bribe. Now a veteran of the game, he is sure he is being deliberately overcharged by unscrupulous employees keen on making some money on the side.

Afghanistan's status of one of the world's most corrupt countries is well-documented and features prominently in high-level discussion about foreign investment in the country. Lost in the shuffle, however, is the extent to which corruption permeates all levels Afghan society. Whether ensuring that they have a steady stream of electricity, acquiring identification, or dealing with judicial authorities, ordinary citizens have reluctantly come to accept bribery as an unavoidable cost of life. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Expands Gender Segregation in Universities

July 26th 2012

Iran students

The Islamic Revolution has from its victory in 1979 been a work in progress. Revolutionaries were united in their opposition to the Shah, but had no consensus on what Islamic society and culture meant. Revolutionary authorities have always paid special attention to the universities. The revolution was carried on the back of student unrest, and it was hardline students who seized the U.S. embassy nine months after Ayatollah Khomeini’s return. Upon seizing the reins of power, revolutionary authorities sought to implement a cultural revolution in the universities to purge them of Western influence. Revolutions evolve, however, and as Iran rebuilt after the Iran-Iraq War, universities became incubators for the reformist movement.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 he sought to revive traditional revolutionary values. Indeed, what many Western analysts call ‘hardliners,’ Iranians call ‘principalists,’ meaning those who reach back to the principles of the Islamic Revolution. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Building a Middleweight Black Hole

July 25th 2012

Black hole pulling gas from nearby star
Artist’s conception of black hole pulling gas from a star
(credit: NASA E/PO, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet)

A new model shows how an elusive type of black hole can be formed in the gas surrounding their supermassive counterparts. In research published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, the City University of New York, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics propose that intermediate-mass black holes—light-swallowing celestial objects with masses ranging from hundreds to many thousands of times the mass of the Sun—can grow in the gas disks around supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. The physical mechanism parallels the model astrophysicists use to describe the growth of giant planets in the gas disks surrounding stars.

“We know about small black holes, which tend to be close to us and have masses a few to 10 times that of our Sun, and we know about supermassive black holes, which are found in the centers of galaxies and have a mass that’s millions to billions of times the mass of the sun,” said coauthor Saavik Ford, who is a research associate in the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics as well as a professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), part of the City University of New York (CUNY), and a faculty member at CUNY’s Graduate Center. “But we have no evidence for the middle stage. Intermediate-mass black holes are much harder to find.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Dark Energy and the Fate of the Universe

July 24th 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy
Credit: Ann Feild, NASA/STScI

Dark energy makes up about 70 percent of the current content of the Universe and thus holds the ultimate fate of our Universe. Several possible scenarios are possible depending on the properties of dark energy; one is that the Universe will end in a so-called big rip.

This interesting topic was recently explored by five researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Northeastern University, and Peking University. Their work, “Dark energy and fate of the Universe,” was published in Sci China-Phys Mech Astron.

For millennia, human beings have been pondering two ultimate questions: “Where do we come from?” and "Where are we going?” Over that time, these questions have spurred theological and philosophical debate. Thanks to the rapid development of modern cosmology in the past three decades, scientists nowadays have obtained some important clues to answer these questions. The standard “inflation plus hot big bang” framework has been developed to explain the origin of the Universe. However, to forecast the destiny of the Universe, researchers have realized that the nature of dark energy is key. Read more ..


London Olympics

BBC Removes Israel's Capital for Olympic Coverage

July 24th 2012

London Olympics

In a letter to a BBC viewer who complained about the network’s omission of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on a list of countries scheduled to participate in this summer’s Olympic games, the British broadcaster says it chose to amend their list, in part, due to “online lobby activity”. After listing Palestine’s capital as East Jerusalem, and leaving blank the space where Israel’s capital was supposed to be placed, the BBC changed their list to note Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government”, while informing readers that Tel Aviv is where most embassies operating inside Israel are located.

Responding to a viewer’s complaint about Israel receiving unfair treatment by the British outlet, the BBC responded in a letter. “We feel it is worth explaining that a considerable number of complaints have been generated by online lobby activity,” the letter, which was uncovered by a blog called Guido Fawkes, reads. The broadcaster is being asked to identify which “online lobby” they’re referring to. The outlet’s omission of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and their amendment thereafter, led to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, notifying the BBC of the government’s ongoing concern. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Ancient Meteorites Give New Clues about the Early Solar System

July 23rd 2012

Johnstown meteorte showing diogenites
Johnstown meteorite showing diogenites (credit: Jon Taylor)

In order to understand Earth’s earliest history—its formation from Solar System material to the present-day layering of metal core and mantle, and crust—scientists look to meteorites. New research from a team including Carnegie’s Doug Rumble and Liping Qin focuses on one particularly old type of meteorite called diogenites. These samples were examined using an array of techniques, including precise analysis of certain elements for important clues to some of the Solar System’s earliest chemical processing. Their work is published in July in Nature Geoscience.

At some point after terrestrial planets or large bodies accreted from surrounding Solar System material, they differentiated into a metallic core, asilicate mantle, and a crust. This involved a great deal of heating. The sources of this heat are the decay of short-lived radioisotopes; the energy conversion that occurs when dense metals are physically separated from lighter silicate; and the impact of large objects. Studies indicate that the Earth’s and Moon’s mantles may have formed more than 4.4 billion years ago, and Mars’s more than 4.5 billion years ago. Theoretically, when a planet or large body differentiates enough to form a core, certain elements including osmium, iridium, ruthenium, platinum, palladium, and rhenium—known as highly siderophile (iron-lovng) elements—are segregated into the core. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

'Caffeinated' Coastal Waters Discovered--Sewer Overflows, Septic Tanks Suspected

July 23rd 2012

Ocean

A new study finds elevated levels of caffeine at several sites in Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of Oregon—though not necessarily where researchers expected. This study is the first to look at caffeine pollution off the Oregon coast. It was developed and conducted by Portland State University master's student Zoe Rodriguez del Rey and her faculty adviser Elise Granek, assistant professor of Environmental Science and Management, in collaboration with Steve Sylvester of Washington State University, Vancouver. In spring 2010, Rodriguez del Rey and Granek collected and analyzed samples from 14 coastal locations and seven adjacent water bodies as far north as Astoria, Ore., and as far south as Brookings.

Locations were identified as potentially polluted if they were near wastewater treatment plants, large population centers or rivers and streams emptying into the ocean. The study found high caffeine levels near Carl Washburne State Park (Florence, Ore.) and Cape Lookout, two areas not near the potential pollution sources, yet low levels of caffeine near large population centers like Astoria/Warrenton and Coos Bay. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Voters Blame President Obama for Wrong Economic Policies

July 23rd 2012

PBObama contemplative

The poll, conducted for The Hill by Pulse Opinion Research, found 53 percent of voters say Obama has taken the wrong actions and has slowed the economy down. Forty-two percent said he has taken the right actions to revive the economy, while six percent said they were not sure.

Obama has argued throughout the presidential campaign that his policies have made the economy better. He says recovery is taking a long time because he inherited such deep economic trouble upon taking office in 2009.

“The problems we’re facing right now have been more than a decade in the making,” he told an audience last month in Cleveland.

Obama’s campaign, under the slogan “Forward,” has sought to steer voter attention less toward current and past economic performance and more toward questions about Republican Mitt Romney’s work in the private sector economy. It has launched attacks on the challenger’s role as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, casting him as a jobs “outsourcer” whose firm shipped thousands of U.S. positions overseas.

The Hill Poll, however, shows the extent to which voters hold Obama responsible for the economy and reveals his vulnerability should the election become primarily a referendum on his economic management. Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Is There Another Higgs Boson Out There?

July 22nd 2012

Tired, and rushing to meet a looming deadline,  Dr. Pierre Savard and his colleagues didn’t realize what they’d found when they first came across a particle that looked a lot like the long-sought-after Higgs boson.

But it didn’t take long for them to realize their hard work had paid off. “When we looked at it, we kind of saw it,” Savard says. “It was unbelievable.” The University of Toronto  professor belongs to ATLAS, one of two teams tasked with finding whether the mystery subatomic particle – which is believed to give all objects mass ­- actually exists. The team’s excitement about finding the new particle grew when it discovered the second team, CMS, had found virtually the same thing.

“It’s a big thing.  Essentially, it’s as if we discovered a new fundamental force of nature,” Savard says. “So we know about, for instance, electromagnetism, electricity and magnetism. We know about gravity… but now we’ve found something new and it also plays a key role in our current theory for how we understand how matter interacts with particles and forces. It’s a big deal.” Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin Signs NGO 'Foreign Agents' Law

July 22nd 2012

Putin

The Kremlin press service reports that President Vladimir Putin has signed into law a controversial bill that requires nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) which receive funding from abroad to register with the Justice Ministry as "foreign agents." The law, which was cleared by the upper house of parliament and the Federation Council earlier in July, tightens control on the foreign-funded NGOs by compelling them to file detailed quarterly financial reports on their actitivies to Russian authorities every quarter. And it makes it possible for targeted NGOs to be subjected to regular and unannounced inspections.
 
Violations of the law are punishable by sizeable financial penalties or potential imprisonment. The bill has caused huge concern among activists who fear it will be used to stigmatise NGOs critical of government activities or policies. Observers have noted that the term "foreign agent" is synonymous with espionage for many in Russia and other nations. Yuri Dzhibladze, president of the Democracy Development and Human Rights Center, stated that he considered the law "anticonstitutional."
Read more ..

Skin and Bone

Abusing the “Gift” of Tissue Donation

July 21st 2012

X-ray showing leg bones replaced by PVC pipe

Mandi Eisenbeis stood over her dad. It was a Thursday in May 2011 when she said her private good-byes at a funeral parlor in Lodi, Calif. George “Randy” Eisenbeis had died young, felled at age 57 by a methamphetamine overdose.

As she looked at him lying in the coffin, she noticed his hands were oozing blood. Eisenbeis didn’t know what had happened until later, when she learned the funeral director had sent a scathing complaint to the California Transplant Donor Network, the nonprofit organ and tissue bank that had stripped out Randy Eisenbeis’s usable parts. “To say this was simply a ‘hack job’ would be a compliment,” Lodi Funeral Home’s Michael Collins wrote in a letter accompanied by a series of graphic photos of the torn-apart corpse. “I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that you left his head and his hands for viewing, and yes, that is his severed foot in the photo to the bottom left of the embalming table.”

In March the family sued the California organ bank, accusing it of fraud, mutilation of a corpse, and infliction of emotional distress. Read more ..


Skin and Bone

Global Trade of Human Parts—With Little Tracking

July 21st 2012

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

The Kentucky man died in an off-road vehicle accident last year. His liver and kidneys helped save three dying patients in his home state. Musculoskeletal grafts taken from his heart, skin and bones were used in medical products used to improve the lives of 15 people around the country.

But soon after the transplants, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) learned the organ recipients had contracted hepatitis C. It turned out the Kentucky donor had a history of substance abuse and had served prison time. The tissue bank that recycled his remains, the CDC said, had screwed up the usual testing done to verify that tissues and organs were safe.

The CDC’s Office of Blood, Organ, and Other Tissue Safety deployed a team of “shoe-leather epidemiologists” to track down the tissue before someone else got sick. Unlike hearts and other organs—or blood products that come with a unique barcode—there’s no easy way to track tissue. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pregnant Woman Killed In Burgas Terror Attack after Years of Struggling With Infertility

July 20th 2012

Bulgarian Bus Explosion 7-18-12

An Israeli woman who had received the news that she was pregnant the morning of her flight to Bulgaria was among the victims killed in yesterday’s terror attack at the Burgas airport according to Israel’s Channel 2 news.

Kochava and her husband Itzik Chriqui left on vacation for three days to Bulgaria. On the day of the flight, it was revealed that she was finally pregnant after attempting unsuccessfully to have a child for four years. Her husband suffered from minor injuries and returned to Israel to receive treatment. Her sister was shocked when she received the tragic news of Kochava’s death that afternoon, as they waited for Itzik at Ben Gurion airport.

“Those evil murderers. She is a 42-year-old pregnant woman. Two of them went, her and her baby. They were just going away for a three-day vacation and they had to return in a coffin” said one of Kochava’s sisters, Yael Mored, in anguish. “She was our little sister,” added another sister of Kochava. “She had no children and got pregnant after four years of treatment. The day she left for the trip, she received the news that she was pregnant.” Read more ..


Skin and Bone

Body Brokers Leave Trail of Questions, Corruption

July 20th 2012

Transplanted cornea
Transplanted cornea (credit: David Robinson)

In April 2003, Robert Ambrosino murdered his ex-fiancée—a 22-year-old aspiring actress—by shooting her in the face with a .45-caliber pistol. Then Ambrosino turned the gun around and killed himself. Soon after, Ambrosino’s corpse entered the United States’s vast tissue-donation system, his skin, bones, and other body parts destined for use in the manufacture of cutting-edge medical products.

But before they entered the system, Michael Mastromarino, owner of a New Jersey-based tissue recovery firm, needed to solve a couple of problems. He didn’t want to have to report that Ambrosino had perished in a murder-suicide. And he didn’t want anyone to know that Ambrosino’s family hadn’t given permission for his body to be used for tissue donation. Mastromarino solved both problems the same way: He lied.

He claimed Ambrosino died in a car accident. And he claimed that Ambrosino’s family had agreed to donate his tissue before the rest of his remains were cremated. Read more ..


Skin and Bone

Human Corpses are Prize in Global Drive for Profits

July 19th 2012

X-ray showing leg bones replaced by PVC pipe

On Feb. 24, Ukrainian authorities made an alarming discovery: bones and other human tissues crammed into coolers in a grimy white minibus.

Investigators grew even more intrigued when they found, amid the body parts, envelopes stuffed with cash and autopsy results written in English.

What the security service had disrupted was not the work of a serial killer but part of an international pipeline of ingredients for medical and dental products that are routinely implanted into people around the world. The seized documents suggested that the remains of dead Ukrainians were destined for a factory in Germany belonging to the subsidiary of a U.S. medical products company, Florida-based RTI Biologics—one of a growing industry of companies that make profits by turning mortal remains into everything from dental implants to bladder slings to wrinkle cures.

The industry has flourished even as its practices have roused concerns about how tissues are obtained and how well grieving families and transplant patients are informed about the realities and risks of the business. In the U.S. alone, the biggest market and the biggest supplier, an estimated two million products derived from human tissue are sold each year, a figure that has doubled over the past decade. Read more ..


The London Olympics

London's Snarled Transportation System Presents an Olympic Challenge

July 18th 2012

London buses

One of the biggest challenges at any Olympic Games is getting to and from the host city, and getting around once athletes, coaches, officials and fans get there. At the same time, the city needs to continue to function as normal. Central London is busy even on normal days. Major events like the Olympics can bring near grid lock. "It's going to obviously cause traffic," said Steve McCann, who has been driving a London taxi for seven years. "It's going to make you have to drive different routes that you wouldn't necessarily drive. It'll be a bit of a challenge. But it could be a nightmare. Nobody knows how bad it's going to be or how good it's going to be."

To make sure Olympics traffic gets through, the city will close some lanes and roads to regular traffic, making it even more difficult for taxis and other ordinary vehicles. To help, there is an interactive website showing the worst areas day-by-day and hour-by-hour. There will be competitions, concerts and other Olympics events all over the city.

"Cities are not made to function ordinarily, plus having all of the Olympic and Paralympic traffic on top of that," said Jonathan Edwards, a member of the London Olympics organizing committee."So I think transport and the coordination of it to keep London working and to make the Games work is always going to be a challenge." Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mormons Mark 100th Anniversary of their Mexican Exodus

July 17th 2012

Mormon in Mexico

Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency has cast some attention on the little-known history of Mormon settlement in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora. The Republican hopeful’s father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, was born into one of the Mormon settler families; the Romneys still have family ties in the state of Chihuahua.

But one hundred years ago, the Mormon colonists were on the move, displaced by the shifting political winds of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of what has since become known as the Mormon Exodus of 1912, the city of El Paso, Texas, will host a series of events later this month. Set for July 28, a conference featuring historians from across the U.S. will explore Mormon history in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as well as Latin America in general.

Among others, the scheduled presentations include Fred Woods on the Mormon Exodus of 1912, Barbara Morgan on Academia Juarez and Bilingual Education in Mexico and Jared Tamez on Mormon worship in the early 20th century. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

The Largest Mayan Dam in Central America

July 16th 2012

Maya dam

Recent excavations, sediment coring and mapping by a multi-university team led by the University of Cincinnati at the pre-Columbian city of Tikal, a paramount urban center of the ancient Maya, have identified new landscaping and engineering feats, including the largest ancient dam built by the Maya of Central America.

That dam – constructed from cut stone, rubble and earth – stretched more than 260 feet in length, stood about 33 feet high and held about 20 million gallons of water in a man-made reservoir.

These findings on ancient Maya water and land-use systems at Tikal, located in northern Guatemala, are scheduled to appear this week in an article titled "Water and Sustainable Land Use at the Ancient Tropical City of Tikal, Guatemala." The research sheds new light on how the Maya conserved and used their natural resources to support a populous, highly complex society for over 1,500 years despite environmental challenges, including periodic drought.

Starting in 2009, the UC team was the first North American group permitted to work at the Tikal site core in more than 40 years.

Detailed in the latest findings by the UC-led efforts are: The largest ancient dam built by the ancient Maya of Central America,  Discussion on how reservoir waters were likely released,  Details on the construction of a cofferdam needed by the Maya to dredge one of the largest reservoirs at Tikal,  The presence of ancient springs linked to the initial colonization of Tikal, Use of sand filtration to cleanse water entering reservoirs,  A "switching station" that accommodated seasonal filling and release of water,  Finding of the deepest, rock-cut canal segment in the Maya lowlands Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Weight Loss Today Keeps the Doctor Away

July 16th 2012

Obese man

Statistics show that today, almost one in four Canadians is obese. A deadly trend that has been on the rise for the last thirty years, obesity is associated with diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But is the obesity epidemic putting more pressure on an already strained Canadian health care system?

James McIntosh, a professor in the Department of Economics at Concordia University, is the first to look at the impact of obesity on the number of doctor visits nation-wide.

According to his research, obese individuals visit the doctor more frequently than regular smokers who are at a healthy weight.

"The fact that obesity is more serious than smoking helps people understand the gravity of the problem because they already have some kind of intuitive understanding of how bad smoking is," says McIntosh.

To calculate what would happen if obesity were eliminated entirely, McIntosh used a model created from data that included information from over 60,000 Canadians from the 2010 Community Health Survey. He found that if obesity were not a factor, doctor visits would decrease by 10 percent. Read more ..


The New Egypt

The Struggle and Fate of Egypt's Christians

July 16th 2012

Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall

Egypt's Coptic Christian minority fears that the restoration of parliament, which will grant greater power to Islamists, will be used to institute Sharia law and stifle religious freedom. In defiance of Egypt's top generals and highest court, Muslim Brotherhood President-elect Mohammed Morsi reopened parliament on July 10. In only his third week in office, Morsi's rapid-fire pursuit to broaden the Brotherhood's power openly challenged the country's ruling military council. Egypt's Coptic Christian minority fears that the restoration of parliament, which will grant greater powers to Islamists, will be used to institute Sharia law and stifle religious freedom.

Egypt's lower chamber, the People's Assembly, convened on July 10, after a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court on June 14 ordering the parliament's dissolution. Saad el-Katatni, the assembly's speaker, told lawmakers the session was being held to seek a "second opinion" by an appellate court in an effort to reinstate the Islamist-dominated legislature. The court, however, did not accede to the chamber's request; it upheld its earlier ruling that the parliament had been elected unconstitutionally and that its dissolution was "final and binding." If the parliament were to be reinstated, the Muslim Brotherhood—which holds nearly half the seats in the Islamist-dominated assembly—would head both the legislature and the presidency. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Poisons on Public Lands Put Wildlife at Risk

July 15th 2012

Prairie Dog

Rat poison used on illegal marijuana farms may be sickening and killing the fisher, a rare forest carnivore that makes its home in some of the most remote areas of California, according to a team of researchers led by University of California, Davis, veterinary scientists.

Researchers discovered commercial rodenticide in dead fishers in Humboldt County near Redwood National Park and in the southern Sierra Nevada in and around Yosemite National Park. The study says illegal marijuana farms are a likely source. Some marijuana growers apply the poisons to deter a wide range of animals from encroaching on their crops.

Fishers in California, Oregon and Washington have been declared a candidate species for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Fishers, a member of the weasel family, likely become exposed to the rat poison when eating animals that have ingested it. The fishers also may consume rodenticides directly, drawn by the bacon, cheese and peanut butter "flavorizers" that manufacturers add to the poisons. Other species, including martens, spotted owls, and Sierra Nevada red foxes, may be at risk from the poison, as well. Read more ..


Fabricating History

Reinventing Jesus as Palestinian and Other Founding Myths

July 15th 2012

Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

The vast literature proving the historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel has been extensively manipulated and distorted as part of the Palestinian politics of nationalism. Propaganda, indoctrination, and socialization, both domestically and internationally, are essential parts of the strategy and tactics of asserting Palestinian nationhood and statehood. By appropriating to themselves the values, traditions, and historical facts that belong to the Jews, Palestinians have managed to fabricate a "legitimate" history and political traditions out of nothing while denying those of Israel.

A Palestinian flag emblazoned with "Jesus." Not even Jesus's origin as a Jew is safe from the Palestinian fabrication of their history. While Jesus was certainly viewed for centuries as a Muslim prophet (along with Abraham and Moses), only recently has he become a model Palestinian shahid, a martyr to their cause. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

The Secret Life of Plants in an Ancient, Royal Judean Garden

July 14th 2012

Garden in Ramat Rachel

Researchers have discovered that an elaborate ancient garden near Jerusalem was home to a wide variety of exotic imported plants.

Ramat Rachel is an ongoing archeological dig on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem. A 2,500-year-old garden at the site, probably built by local Judeans, holds many secrets about the past waiting to be uncovered. An elaborate network of irrigation channels made it clear that this was a garden, but what was planted in it has been a big mystery.

New research by Tel Aviv University into ancient pollen found embedded in plaster suggests something very exciting for Jewish and natural historians of the region.

Among the imported species of trees and plants determined by pollen analysis to have grown in the garden is the citron tree. According to the researchers, this pollen is evidence for the first cultivation of the citron tree, which is not native to Israel. Read more ..


China and America

In Shanghai, US Consulate's Microblog Disappears

July 14th 2012

Chinese hackers

A social media account run by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet in China, prompting many to wonder if it is the work of government censors. The Shanghai consulate's account on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblog service owned by SINA Corporation, was known for its sometimes witty commentary, often on Chinese political and social issues.
 
But as of Friday, the consulate's account was still inaccessible, replaced by an error message that reads "temporarily unavailable" -- a message similar to those seen when accounts are deleted by government censors. Consulate officials say they do not know why the account has been removed and that they are working to find out how the service can be restored.
 
But Jeremy Goldkorn, the editor of   Danwei.com -- a website about Chinese media and Internet -- calls the incident "almost certainly" more than just a technical glitch. "This is very common. Sina, sometimes at the request of governments, and sometimes on their own initiative to avoid getting in trouble with the government, shuts down accounts and deletes tweets [posts] -- they do all kinds of censorship," he said. "So almost certainly this is what happened." It would not be the first dispute between American diplomats and the government of China, which employs a massive team of web censors to remove material deemed objectionable. Last month, a senior Chinese environmental official slammed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing's Twitter account for regularly posting air quality readings that are much worse than the government's official figures.
Read more ..

The Diplomatic Edge

Diplomacy Flowers with Cherry Blossoms

July 13th 2012

Cherry blossoms

A century has passed since Tokyo presented 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. That gift has blossomed into a remarkable public diplomacy success – worth remembering as the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws to a close today. What began more than 125 years ago as a one-woman campaign to beautify some reclaimed swamp land along the Potomac River has become a rite of spring for Washingtonians and more than a million awed visitors each year.

But like most diplomatic initiatives, this one had to overcome indifference, opposition, and many setbacks before it could reach full flower. It was Eliza Scidmore who first dreamed of planting Japanese cherry trees along the Tidal Basin abutting the Potomac. She had accompanied her brother, George Scidmore, a career diplomat, on a trip to Japan, where the blossoms’ beauty impressed her deeply. Read more ..


The Edge of Pollution

Marine Drones Wanted to Rid the Gulf Seas of Plastic

July 13th 2012

Marine-drone

Fourteen billion pounds of garbage, 90 percent of which is plastic, is dumped into the ocean every year and there is no sign of plastic waste reducing – in fact plastic waste has been increasing about 10 percnt each year for the past 20 years.

In the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden, dumping untreated sewage and Industrial waste directly into the sea is unfortunately an extensive practice, but an additional recent threat is the increasing number of landfill sites located near the coast which are resulting in considerable plastic pollution near coasts and coral reefs. One solution, the Marine Drone Elie Ahovi Industrial Design, could clean up our waste.

In response to a question by Veolia Environmental Services on how to collect plastic from the sea, a team of innovative industrial designers propose a Marine Drone capable of capturing drifting plastic. Read more ..


Society on Edge

Police Officer Stress Creates Significant Health Risks

July 12th 2012

Campus crime

The daily psychological stresses that police officers experience in their work put them at significantly higher risk than the general population for a host of long-term physical and mental health effects. That's the overall finding of a major scientific study of the Buffalo Police Department called Buffalo Cardio-Metabolic Occupational Police Stress (BCOPS) conducted over five years by a University at Buffalo researcher.

"This is one of the first police population-based studies to test the association between the stress of being a police officer and psychological and health outcomes," says John Violanti, PhD, professor of social and preventive medicine in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, and principal investigator on the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Research Raises Questions About Iris Recognition Systems

July 12th 2012

Eyeball Surveillance

Since the early days of iris recognition technologies, it has been assumed that the iris was a "stable" biometric over a person's lifetime — "one enrollment for life." However, new research from University of Notre Dame researchers has found that iris biometric enrollment is susceptible to an aging process that causes recognition performance to degrade slowly over time.

"The biometric community has long accepted that there is no 'template aging effect' for iris recognition, meaning that once you are enrolled in an iris recognition system, your chances of experiencing a false non-match error remain constant over time," Kevin Bowyer, Notre Dame's Schubmel-Prein Family Chair in Computer Science and Engineering, said. "This was sometimes expressed as 'a single enrollment for life.' Our experimental results show that, in fact, the false non-match rate increases over time, which means that the single enrollment for life idea is wrong.

"The false match rate is how often the system says that two images are a match when in truth they are from different persons. The false non-match rate is how often the system says that two images are not a match when in truth they are from the same person." Bowyer noted that there are several reasons the misconceptions about iris biometric stability has persisted. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

First Look at Dark Galaxies of the Early Universe

July 11th 2012

Quasar he0109-3518
Region of the sky surrounding the quasar HE0109-3518
(credit: ESO; Digitized Sky Survey 2; S. Cantalupo, UC Santa Cruz)

Dark galaxies are small, gas-rich galaxies in the early Universe that are very inefficient at forming stars. They are predicted by theories of galaxy formation and are thought to be the building blocks of today’s bright, star-filled galaxies. Astronomers think that they may have fed large galaxies with much of the gas that later formed into the stars that exist today.

Because they are essentially devoid of stars, these dark galaxies don’t emit much light, making them very hard to detect. For years astronomers have been trying to develop new techniques that could confirm the existence of these galaxies. Small absorption dips in the spectra of background sources of light have hinted at their existence. However, this new study marks the first time that such objects have been seen directly.

“Our approach to the problem of detecting a dark galaxy was simply to shine a bright light on it.” explains Simon Lilly (ETH Zurich, Switzerland), co-author of the paper. “We searched for the fluorescent glow of the gas in dark galaxies when they are illuminated by the ultraviolet light from a nearby and very bright quasar. The light from the quasar makes the dark galaxies light up in a process similar to how white clothes are illuminated by ultraviolet lamps in a night club.” Fluorescence is defined as the emission of light by a substance illuminated by a light source. In most cases, the emitted light has longer wavelength than the source light. For instance, fluorescent lamps transform ultraviolet radiation—invisible to us—into optical light. Read more ..


The Education Edge

Get Teens Interested in Math and Science: Target Their Parents

July 11th 2012

Students

Increasing the number of students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math – otherwise known as the STEM disciplines – is considered to be vital to national competitiveness in the global economy and to the development of a strong 21st century workforce. But the pipeline leading toward STEM careers begins leaking in high school, when students choose not to take advanced courses in science and math.

Experts in research and policy have examined different ways to enhance and promote STEM education, but most of these efforts are focused within the four walls of the classroom. A new study goes beyond the classroom to examine the unique role that parents can play in promoting students’ STEM motivation.

“Our focus for this project was different from our previous work,” says lead author Judith Harackiewicz, of the University of Wisconsin. “In classes, we try to promote students’ motivation and performance in that class, but with families, our goal is to promote choices about which courses to take.”
Because many math and science classes are not required, especially in the last two years of high school, student enrollment may be a more fundamentally important issue than student motivation. Harackiewicz and her colleagues Christopher Rozek and Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin, and Chris Hulleman of James Madison University, hypothesized that parents could play an instrumental role in helping to boost STEM enrollment.

The researchers decided to test this hypothesis with an intervention that involved 181 U.S. high school students and their parents who were part of the longitudinal Wisconsin Study of Families and Work. The intervention spanned the students’ 10th, 11th, and 12th grade years of high school. This longitudinal project was funded by the National Science Foundation. Read more ..


The Cyber Wars

New International Plan to Tackle Cyber Crime Launched

July 11th 2012

Hackers

A new international plan to tackle cyber crime has been launched Queen's University Belfast. The new research roadmap has been developed by leading international cyber security researchers along with industry and government experts who gathered for Second World Cyber Security Summit at the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen's in March.

More than 80 invited participants from around the world attended the event. They included Chief Scientific Advisor from the UK Home Office - Professor Bernard Silverman, Cyber Security Division Director of US Homeland Security - Dr Douglas Maughan, Chairman and CEO of Kaspersky Labs - Eugene Kaspersky, Director of Innovation, Connected Energy Networks Cisco - Barbara Fraser, and Raj Samani, CTO, EMEA, McAfee. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Mounting Pressure on the Syrian Army

July 10th 2012

syrian explosion

The Syrian army is Bashar al-Assad's main prop -- without it, his regime would soon fall. So far, the military has withstood the stresses associated with months of combat against an increasingly capable opposition force, the steady geographic expansion of its mission, and a stream of defections and casualties. Yet these pressures are mounting, and the army likely cannot resist them indefinitely. At some point it will break, disintegrate, or withdraw to the Alawite heartland in order to preserve remnants of the regime. Alternatively, some units may move against the regime in order to save themselves. To increase the pressure and accelerate the process, the international community should provide additional military assistance to vetted and effective armed opposition forces. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mexico Faces a Long Hot Summer Following PRI Presidential Victory

July 10th 2012

President Enrique Pena Nieto
Mexican president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto

A little more than a week after Mexicans went to the polls, conflict and controversy swirl around the July 1 elections. Almost everywhere-in the halls of Congress, on the Sunday talk shows, in bars and cafes and on the streets-the results are the hot topic of conversation. And claiming fraud, a growing citizen’s movement is crossing borders and transforming the elections into an international issue.

The so-called Mexican Spring has now transitioned into the Hot Summer of 2012.

“We’re protesting how the new president of Mexico has been imposed upon us,” said a woman who would identify herself only as Michele at a weekend protest in the international resort city of Puerto Vallarta. “They are buying votes and not respecting the votes of the people.”

The young protester held a placard written in English that appealed for international solidarity.

On Sunday, July 8, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), released a final vote count in the presidential election that gave Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party/Green Party Alliance (PRI-PVEM) the big prize with 38.21 percent of the votes, followed by the Progressive Movement’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with nearly 31.60 percent of the ballots. Read more ..


Iran’s Nukes

India and Iran’s Nuclear Imbroglio: The Consequences

July 10th 2012

Amedinejad and Singh
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran; PM Manmohan Singh of India

Indian policymakers have termed the Middle East/West Asian region as its “proximate neighborhood” with the presence of key human and economic links. About six million Indian citizens are working in the region—primarily in the Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. India’s trade with GCC countries was nearly $120 billion during 2010–2011. Over 450 commercial flights operate between India and these countries every week. India also receives nearly half of the large volumes of remittances (total of $58 billion in 2011) from its citizens residing in these countries.

The Iranian nuclear issue, which is currently poised at a delicate phase, continues to be the primary strategic priority for countries of the region. For India, developments vis-à-vis the issue have led to complications on its homeland security front, affected its energy security considerations, and have created uncertainties in its key bilateral relationships (United States and Israel primarily). India has, however, managed to maintain robust ties with Washington and Jerusalem along with continuing trade and energy cooperation with Tehran, though the latter has been declining in volume.

Current trends indicate that its policy preferences vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear issue have gained the upper hand. These include international and regional opposition to the exercise of a military option, continuing Iranian engagement with the IAEA, and the renewal of P5+1 talks in Istanbul in April 2012. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Pakistan: Burnt Alive for Defacing the Koran

July 10th 2012

roasted in Pakistan

No indictments have yet emerged in the horrific death of a man accused of blasphemy at the hands of a ferocious mob in Pakistan. Ghullam Abbas, who has been described as a man in his 40s, was in detention at a lock-up in Pakistan’s northeast Punjab region, having been accused of burning a copy of the Koran. The Deputy Superintendent of Police in the Bahawalpur District said that the Chani Goth police station received a complaint that Abbas had incinerated pages of Islam’s holy book. Once Abbas was arrested and in jail, Muslim religious leaders broadcast his offense on loudspeakers in the town. A mob of some 2,000 people soon showed up, baying for Abbas’ life.

Blocking the main highway through the town on the outskirts of Bahawalpur, the mob soon broke down the gates of the police station and attacked the officers inside. The station house commander along with four bodyguards were injured. In sum, 15 officers were injured in the affray. Read more ..


The Drug Wars

Colombia Enlists New Justice Minister in Fight Against Narco-Terrorism

July 9th 2012

Ruth Stella Correa
Colombian Justice Minister Ruth Stella Correa

On July 6, Colombia's President Juan M. Santos appointed popular attorney and law professor Ruth Stella Correa as the nation's Justice Minister, according to a source at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Correa, a member of the Board of Directors at the Colombian Institute of Procedural Law, takes the reins of the Colombian Ministry of Justice at a time when law enforcement officers and military personnel are battling radical groups such as the radical-leftist terror group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and a number of violent and well-financed drug cartels.

At a ceremony celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Santos announced the appointment of Ruth Stella Correa, saying that she has “dedicated her life to the [pursuit of justice]."

"She has dedicated her life to law. She has gained respect and admiration not only of her colleagues, but of all people with whom she is related because of her transparent and suitable performance," said Santos in a press statement. Read more ..


The Climate Edge

Satellite Research Reveals Smaller Volcanoes Could Cool Climate

July 8th 2012

Volcano

A University of Saskatchewan-led international research team has discovered that aerosols from relatively small volcanic eruptions can be boosted into the high atmosphere by weather systems such as monsoons, where they can affect global temperatures.

Adam Bourassa, from the U of S Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies, led the research. He explains that until now it was thought that a massively energetic eruption was needed to inject aerosols past the troposphere, the turbulent atmospheric layer closest to the earth, into the stable layers of the stratosphere higher up.

"If an aerosol is in the lower atmosphere, it's affected by the weather and it precipitates back down right away," Bourassa says. "Once it reaches the stratosphere, it can persist for years, and with that kind of a sustained lifetime, it can really have a lasting effect." That effect is the scattering of incoming sunlight and the potential to cool the Earth's surface. For example, the massive eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 temporarily dropped temperatures by half a degree Celsius world-wide. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Systematic Disenfranchisement and Violence Accompanied PRI Victory in Mexico

July 7th 2012

Enrique Pena Nieto
Enrique Peña Nieto

Making a surprise appearance in a television time slot that was previously billed as an official first look at the day’s election results, Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) strode before the television cameras late in the evening on Sunday to give a victory speech even as the ballots were still being counted.

As Mexicans huddled around their sets, Peña Nieto promised to chart a new course for his troubled country. Exuding a conciliatory tone, he vowed to listen to the concerns of the young, who emerged as a new political force during the campaign, but promised to be stern with the legions of criminals that keep dishing up violence on a daily basis.

“There will be no pact or truce with organized crime,” the 45-year-old, self-proclaimed victor pledged, in an apparent response to critics in Mexico and the United States who fear the return of the PRI will mean a coddling of the drug cartels.

The former Mexico state governor’s election victory was immediately recognized by President Calderón as well as rival candidates Josefina Vázquez Mota of Calderon’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party; the official runner-up, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Progressive Movement, demanded a recount. Read more ..



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