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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 ..


The Edge of Nature

Grasshopper Anxieties Lead to Soil Changes

July 7th 2012

Grasshopper

Snakes, spiders and creepy-crawly things that go bump in the night are the creatures of children’s nightmares. But who ever thought that the little critters might actually be scared of each other? A new research project by Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and scientists at Yale University, shows that grasshoppers are afraid of spiders. And this fear has an impact on the soil quality after the scared grasshoppers die.

According to a new paper written by the researchers in the prestigious journal Science, a fear of predation by spiders stresses out the grasshoppers so much that it affects their metabolism and subsequently the nitrogen content in their bodies. Scared grasshoppers eat more sugary plants, a process that affects the microbes and chemical processes in the local environment. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

E-Waste: Mined for Gold and Silver

July 6th 2012

E-waste

'Urban mining' deposits are 40 to 50 times richer than mined ore, experts tell 1st GeSI and StEP e-Waste Academy in Africa; New PCs, cell phones, tablets, other e-products now use 320 tons of gold, 7,500 tons of silver per year, and rising

A staggering 320 tons of gold and more than 7,500 tons of silver are now used annually to make PCs, cell phones, tablet computers and other new electronic and electrical products worldwide, adding more than $21 billion in value each year to the rich fortunes in metals eventually available through "urban mining" of e-waste, experts say.

Manufacturing these high-tech products requires more than $16 billion in gold and $5 billion in silver: a total of $21 billion -- equal to the GDP of El Salvador -- locked away annually in e-products. Most of those valuable metals will be squandered, however; just 15 percent or less is recovered from e-waste today in developed and developing countries alike. Electronic waste now contains precious metal "deposits" 40 to 50 times richer than ores mined from the ground, experts told participants from 12 countries at last week's first-ever GeSI and StEP e-Waste Academy for policymakers and small businesses, co-organized in Accra, Ghana by the United Nations University and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

The New Particle Discovery—Could It Really Be the Higgs Boson?

July 5th 2012

cern-atlas nov 2006

The long and complicated journey to detect the Higgs boson, which started with one small step about 25 years ago, might finally have reached its goal. This was reported by Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator scientists on July 4 at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) near Geneva.

Named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs, the Higgs boson is the final building block that has been missing from the “Standard Model,” which describes the structure of matter in the universe. The Higgs boson combines two forces of nature and shows that they are, in fact, different aspects of a more fundamental force. The particle is also responsible for the existence of mass in the elementary particles.

Weizmann Institute scientists have been prominent participants in this research from its onset. Prof. Giora Mikenberg was for many years head of the research group that searched for the Higgs boson in CERN’s OPAL experiment. He was then leader of the ATLAS Muon Project—one of the two experiments that eventually revealed the particle. Prof. Ehud Duchovni heads the Weizmann group that examines other key questions at CERN. Prof. Eilam Gross is currently the ATLAS Higgs physics group convener. Three scientific “generations” are represented in the Weizmann team: Prof. Mikenberg was Prof. Duchovni’s supervisor, who was, in turn, Prof. Gross’s supervisor.

Prof. Gross says, “This is the biggest day of my life. I have been searching for the Higgs since I was a student in the 1980s. Even after 25 years, it still came as a surprise. No matter what you call it—we are no longer searching for the Higgs but measuring its properties. Though I believed it would be found, I never dreamed it would happen while I was holding a senior position in the global research team.” Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

More Evidence found of Mayan End of Worlds

July 4th 2012

Aztec calendar

Archaeologists working at the site of La Corona in Guatemala have discovered a 1,300-year-old-year Maya text that provides only the second known reference to the so-called "end date" of the Maya calendar, December 21, 2012. The discovery, one of the most significant hieroglyphic finds in decades, was announced today at the National Palace in Guatemala.

"This text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy," says Marcello A. Canuto, director of Tulane's Middle American Research Institute and co-director of the excavations at La Corona. Since 2008, Canuto and Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala have directed excavations at La Corona, a site previously ravaged by looters. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Freedom on the Net is Hotly Debated by Politicians

July 3rd 2012

twitter jail

Advocacy groups and politicians from across the political spectrum have taken up “Internet freedom” as their rallying cry in recent months. Although many people eagerly declare their support for a free Internet and promise to protect privacy, the broad consensus breaks down when people begin discussing specific policies, such as net neutrality or cybersecurity.

On July 3, a coalition of more than 100 advocacy groups unveiled their “Declaration of Internet Freedom,” and libertarian groups TechFreedom and the Competitive Enterprise Institute quickly countered with their own alternative Internet freedom proposal. Later in the week, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and his son, freshman Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), declared their support for an Internet freedom manifesto from the Campaign for Liberty. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) got into the act last month when they called for a “digital bill of rights” to protect Internet users from intrusive legislation.

The issue even burst on to the international stage when the United Nations Human Rights Council backed a resolution affirming that people have the same rights in the digital world as they do offline, including freedom of expression. The use of Twitter, Facebook and other online tools during the Arab Spring protests demonstrated to the world how the Internet can spread information and bolster political freedom. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Assessing Iraq’s Oil Industry

July 2nd 2012

Oil fields near Ramadi

Contributing 60 percent of GDP, 99 percent of exports, and over 90 percent of government revenue, the oil industry is by far the most vital sector of the Iraqi economy, with proven petroleum reserves of 143 billion barrels and a potential to recover and refine a further 200 billion barrels. The existence of substantial oil reserves in the area of Mesopotamia has been known since at least the end of the nineteenth century, with the monopoly of oil exploration and production originally lying in the hands of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), which was owned by a consortium of foreign oil companies until the Ba’th government completely nationalized the IPC in 1972. It should be emphasized that since that time, the oil industry has remained a state-run enterprise in Iraq.

In the run-up to and in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, a common theory among critics of the war has been that the coalition forces invaded the country to take over its oil reserves. This speculation was fuelled in 2011 by a report in the Independent on UK government memos that had been obtained through a Freedom of Information request. According to this report, in October 2002, the petroleum firms BP, Shell, and BG had a meeting with Baroness Symons, who was Trade Minister in the British government at the time, and agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf. Read more ..


The Polluted Edge

Plastic Pollution Reaching Surprising Levels Off Coast of Pacific Northwest

July 2nd 2012

Northern Fulmar

Plastic pollution off the northwest coast of North America is reaching the level of the notoriously polluted North Sea, according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

The study examined stomach contents of beached northern fulmars on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon, U.S.A.

"Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans," says Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study's lead author and a graduate student in UBC's Department of Zoology. "Their stomach content provides a 'snapshot' sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean."

Northern fulmars forage exclusively at sea and retain ingested plastics for a long period of time, making them ideal indicators for marine littering. Analysis of beached fulmars has been used to monitor plastic pollution in the North Sea since the 1980s. The latest findings, when compared to previous similar studies, indicate a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades. Read more ..


Edge of Environment

North Atlantic Algae Blooms and Uptakes Humanity's Carbon Output

July 1st 2012

North America sat image

On the extended July 4th week, U.S. beachgoers have thronged their way to seaside resorts and parks to celebrate with holiday fireworks. Across the horizon and miles out to sea toward the north, the Atlantic Ocean's own spring and summer ritual is unfolding: the blooming of countless microscopic plant plankton, or phytoplankton. In what's known as the North Atlantic Bloom, an immense number of phytoplankton burst into color, first "greening" then "whitening" the sea as one species follows another.

In research results published in this week's issue of the journal Science, scientists report evidence of what triggers this huge bloom. Whirlpools, or eddies, swirl across the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean sustaining phytoplankton in the ocean's shallower waters where they can get plenty of sunlight to fuel their growth, keeping them from being pushed downward by the ocean's rough surface. The result is a burst of spring and summer color atop the ocean's waters.

How important is the bloom to the North Atlantic Ocean and beyond--to the global carbon cycle? Much like forests, springtime blooms of microscopic plants in the ocean absorb enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, emitting oxygen via photosynthesis. Their growth contributes to the oceanic uptake of carbon dioxide, amounting globally to about one-third of the carbon dioxide humans put into the air each year through the burning of fossil fuels. Read more ..


The Safety Edge

OSHA Reforms Voluntary Protection Programs

June 29th 2012

Ash Grove Plant, KS

Citing a 2011 Center for Public Integrity investigation, a Labor Department official said Thursday that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has reformed a program that rewards workplaces reporting lower-than-average injury and illness rates.

OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), which exempt “model workplaces” from routine inspections, were established in 1982. VPP tripled in size between 2000 and 2011, as OSHA’s inspection staff diminished and membership requirements were relaxed. The Center’s investigation found that at least 80 workers had died at VPP sites during that period.

At a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Jordan Barab, the Labor Department’s deputy assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, said the department “is committed to VPP. But like every other federal agency, we need to make some very hard decisions about how to allocate our limited resources where we will get the most worker protection bang for our buck.” Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

Land Reform Issues Intensify as Paraguay Enters Into a Political Crisis

June 27th 2012

Fernando Lugo

 Lugo risks expulsion from office by an unlikely coalition of the Liberal and Colorado parties
 Both parties use the police-campesino clash as a self-serving ignition for the impeachment process, but fail to address any solutions to the fundamentals of Paraguay’s land tenure problems
 Extra-constitutional expulsion threatens the democratic legitimacy of the Paraguayan state and defies the OAS prohibition of extra-constitutional changes

The historic antagonism in Paraguay between the campesinos and the elites over land tenure morphed into a violent conflict in Curuguaty on June 15. In the aftermath of the clash, political, social, and religious leaders have expressed serious concerns over President Fernando Lugo’s administration’s ability to control internal security. When President Lugo took office in 2008, he promised sweeping agrarian reforms as well as a reduction in violence and corruption within the government. However, since his election the Paraguayan citizenry has seen a rise in both crime and congressional support for corrupt officials. In Curuguaty, Paraguayans witnessed the consequence of policies that have long sacrificed land reforms for elite interests. Horacio Cartes, the leader of the Colorado Party and a potential presidential candidate in the 2013 elections, has led the movement to impeachment Lugo, an action that has politicized the Curuguaty deaths and thereby threatens to sweep the underlying social concerns under the rug. The police-campesino clash in Curuguaty highlights the Lugo administration’s ultimate failure: its inability to protect and provide basic social rights for the Paraguayan citizenry across the entire socio-economic continuum. But more tellingly, the political coup initiated by the Colorado Party not only threatens Paraguay’s democratic legitimacy, but also exhibits the continued power-driven actions that have prevented any agrarian reforms as well as further distanced the political process from the majority of Paraguayans. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Corporate Dental Chains See Big Profits in Adults Who Can't Afford Care

June 26th 2012

Say ahhhh

Forty percent of Americans have a family member who can’t afford to go to the dentist. Private-equity firms have found a lucrative market in this statistic.

Surviving on a meager $1,300 a month, 87-year-old Theresa Ferritto fretted about the cost when her dentist told her she needed two teeth pulled. She figured an oral surgeon would be too expensive. So she decided to try out a dental chain that promoted steep discounts in its advertisements. She went to an Aspen Dental office just outside Cleveland.

Ferritto said Aspen Dental wouldn’t just pull the teeth but insisted on a complete exam. She was bewildered when they finally handed her a treatment plan four pages long. Total price: $7,835. Ferritto could not afford it, but Aspen Dental signed her up for a special credit card, with monthly payments of $186 for five years. She blames herself for signing the papers. “I made a big mistake going there,” she says. “I should have known better.” Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Mexico's Elections in an Era of Climate and Culture Change

June 26th 2012

Mexico election

As Mexico's political campaigns wind down in preparation for the big election day on July 1, mixed moods of doubt, anger, tension, confusion, excitement, exhaustion, resignation and hope grip the body politic. For the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the recapture of the presidency is within reach. At a June 24 campaign rally in the southern state of Guerrero, former Governor Rene Juarez Cisneros declared that his party’s presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, was the virtual winner.

“It can’t be that millions of compatriots across the country are mistaken or that the polls are wrong,” Juarez said to thousands of people in the Pacific coast town of Zihuatanjeo. “Pena Nieto’s triumph is irreversible.”

Although the national discussion has largely focused on the upcoming federal, state and local elections, other significant developments have grabbed public attention in recent days. Major stories include teacher strikes, the militarized Summit of the G-20 leaders in the posh resort of Los Cabos, the June 25 shoot-out at the Mexico City airport and the earlier arrest of the supposed son of fugitive crime boss Chapo Guzman, an event that proved to be false and left egg on the face of the Calderon administration, its Washington allies and presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Calderon's center-right National Action Party (PAN). Informed of the arrest of a young man who later turned out to have no relation to Guzman, Vazquez vowed to press ahead with President Calderon's campaign against organized crime if elected to replace him. Read more ..


The Archaeological Edge

Iberian Paintings Found to be Europe’s Oldest Cave Art

June 26th 2012

El Castillo cave art Spain

The practice of cave art in Europe thus began up to 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, indicating the paintings were created either by the first anatomically modern humans in Europe or by Neanderthals.

Fifty paintings in 11 caves in Northern Spain, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo, and Tito Bustillo, were dated by a team of UK, Spanish, and Portuguese researchers led by Dr Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, UK.

As traditional methods such as radiocarbon dating don’t work where there is no organic pigment, the team dated the formation of tiny stalactites on top of the paintings using the radioactive decay of uranium. This gave a minimum age for the art. Where larger stalagmites had been painted, maximum ages were also obtained. Read more ..


The Edge of Cimate Change

Significant Sea-Level Rise in a 2-Degree Warming World

June 25th 2012

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

Sea levels around the world can be expected to rise by several meters in coming centuries, if global warming carries on:

The study is the first to give a comprehensive projection for this long perspective, based on observed sea-level rise over the past millennium, as well as on scenarios for future greenhouse-gas emissions.

"Sea-level rise is a hard to quantify, yet critical risk of climate change," says Michiel Schaeffer of Climate Analytics and Wageningen University, lead author of the study. "Due to the long time it takes for the world's ice and water masses to react to global warming, our emissions today determine sea levels for centuries to come."

Limiting global warming could considerably reduce sea-level rise: While the findings suggest that even at relatively low levels of global warming the world will have to face significant sea-level rise, the study also demonstrates the benefits of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

Paraguay’s Nascent Occupy Movement Cut Short by Political Crisis

June 24th 2012

Fernando Lugo

 Fernando Lugo, whose presidency ended 60 years of Colorado-Party rule in Paraguay, faces impeachment charges and is unlikely to finish his term.
 The Paraguayan Congress began impeachment procedures in the aftermath of violent land conflicts that left 11 landless farmers and 6 policemen dead in the country’s rural interior.
 Today, four Liberal Party Ministers resigned as their party withdrew support from President Lugo and joined the opposition Colorado Party to vote the president out of office.
 The power grab by the two major parties comes nine months before the country’s general elections and following a successful wave of popular protests modeled on the Occupy Movement.

The Paraguayan lower house impeached President Fernando Lugo this morning in a vote of 76 to 1. The vote came six days after a land conflict in the rural district of Curugauty turned violent, claiming the lives of 11 landless farmers and 6 policemen. Paraguay is the world’s fifth largest soy exporter and a major exporter of beef. The country also has one of the world’s most unequal land distributions. While development experts agree that land reform is vital to improve the country’s economic and social performance, traditional landed elites make up a majority of the political class and have remained hostile to the idea. Polarizing land conflicts pit landless peasant organizations against the traditional landed elite and the Brazilian-dominated soy industry in a struggle to claim ownership over land with unclear or absent titles.

Land-owners accuse Lugo’s government of sympathizing with land invasions, inciting violence, and failing to protect their property. Lugo came to power in 2008, marking the first democratic change of power in the country’s history and ending 60 years of one-party rule in Paraguay. Read more ..



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