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The Edge of Sport

Muslim Olympians Face Ramadan Fasting Choices

June 13th 2012

Chinese buffet

To eat or not to eat? That is the question for about 3,000 Muslim athletes in London's 2012 Summer Olympic Games. All 17 days of competition, from July 27 to August 12, fall within the holy month of Ramadan - a time when Muslims are required to fast and refrain from drinking water from sunrise to sunset. But the obligation is more lenient for traveling Muslims, who are allowed to delay their fast. Some Islamic scholars say athletes traveling to London to compete in the games should take advantage of that exemption.

For medal contender Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, a 27-year-old Afghan taekwondo fighter, the issue is critical. Bahawi finished seventh in his weight group at the 2008 Olympics. He won silver medals in the 2007 Taekwondo World Championships and 2010 Asian Games. Bahawi says he will delay his Ramadan fast until later. "We have a very important competition. It is the dream of every athlete to win an Olympic medal. Because of that, we must not take part in the fast," Bahawi says. "But we will compensate by later respecting the same number of days that we did not fast during Ramadan. This is because we are training on daily basis," he adds. "During days when we have competition, it is completely impossible to fast because it is necessary for us to at least drink water."
Read more ..

Children on the Edge

Hundreds of Millions of Children Labor to Survive

June 12th 2012

mexican children working

The International Labor Organization (ILO) is urging nations to step up the fight against child labor.The ILO is issuing a call to action to mark the 10th anniversary of the annual World Day Against Child Labor on June 12.

More than half of the 215 million child laborers are exposed to slavery and involvement in armed conflict, which the International Labor Organization calls the worst forms of child labor. About five million children, out of 21 million people globally, are caught in forced labor, including commercial sexual exploitation and debt bondage. 

Senior technical specialist Patrick Quinn of the ILO international program for the elimination of child labor says the worst forms of child labor include work that is dangerous to the health, safety and moral development of children. He says hazardous work, such as mining, agriculture and domestic service is the largest part of the worst forms of child labor.  Read more ..


The Animal Edge

Free-Loving 'Hippie Chimps' Face Extinction

June 11th 2012

Bonobo chimp

Deep in the forest of the African Congo lives an animal most people have never heard of. It looks like a chimpanzee, but is smaller and leaner. And like the chimpanzee, it shares almost 99 percent of our DNA.

But these rare creatures of the rainforest are actually bonobos, a completely different species of primate. And while they are the last ape to have been discovered, bonobos may be the first to become extinct. While bonobos and chimps are our closest relatives, they are actually very different from each other, especially when it comes to their behavior.

Unlike chimpanzees, which can be aggressive and efficient predators - killing monkeys, and sometimes each other - bonobos are peaceful. “Whereas chimpanzees have a male-dominated society," says Sally Coxe, president of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative in Washington, "bonobos are matriarchal. The females are in charge.” Bonobos are also different in that they have a more egalitarian and cooperative society than chimpanzees, she says. Read more ..


Broken Government

Human Capital in a Global Age

June 11th 2012

Graduates

The rapid rise of emerging countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and others means new challenges and new opportunities for the United States. So how will America fare in this latest wave of global competition?

In many ways, the United States is exceptionally well-positioned to compete as the wealthiest, most advanced power in history. What’s more, America boasts abundant natural resources and other advantages—expanses of arable farmland; huge supplies of oil, coal, and natural gas; the greatest technical colleges and universities in the world; an entrepreneurial culture; and a large and growing population. No other country today possesses all of these endowments at the scale of our continental nation.

Nevertheless, to maximize these advantages—and to make sure the United States doesn’t lose a step—it would be wise for policymakers and the business community to focus attention on America’s human capital. Human capital includes an individual’s skills, education, talents, habits, personal networks, and more that enable him or her to produce income. Read more ..


Sudan's Leading Edge

Manute Bol's Legacy Honored in S. Sudan

June 10th 2012

Girls School in Sudan

  A U.S.-based organization is carrying on the legacy of the late basketball star Manute Bol by continuing to build schools and work for reconciliation in South Sudan. The recent work comes despite South Sudan’s many struggles during its first of year of existence as a country. Immediately as he enters the Washington offices of the U.S. aid group Sudan Sunrise, executive director Tom Prichard points to a series of pictures high up on the wall.

“We were visiting an elementary school to talk about the needs for schools in southern Sudan," he explained. "Manute was in terrible pain. He was in so much pain he had to use a wheelchair. Manute spoke seated the whole time, but when it was all over he said, ‘I want them to see how tall I am.’” The last picture shows Prichard holding up Bol so the American schoolchildren could see the full physical range of the 2.31-meter-tall basketball defensive specialist, who played for a decade in the National Basketball Association.

An Internet video by Sudan Sunrise shows construction of a school in Bol’s hometown of Turalei in South Sudan's Warrap state. Bol, whose first name Manute means “special blessing,” also appears, explaining the humanitarian ideas that drove the last years of his life. Read more ..


Somalia's Leading Edge

Somalia Steps Up Appeals to Foreign Backers

June 10th 2012

Edna-adan Maternity Hospital

 Somalis are working to change the image of their country from a war-torn African nation to an attractive destination for foreigners. Somalia, after decades of unrest, is now slowly opening its doors to business with the international community now that government and African Union (AU) forces have pushed al-Shabab militants from most regions of the country.

Nowhere is the transition more obvious than in Mogadishu. Expatriates are flocking back to the capital with a new vision of the future that includes trendy shops catering to a foreign clientele. Parliament member Mohammed Amin Osman says the capital is undergoing a transformation. "Now, business, hotels, restaurants have started opening, roads are building, schools are building so now, a lot of hope are [is] there," he said.

Ahmed Jama chops meat and vegetable at one of his restaurants in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ahmed Jama recently left Britain and returned to his native Somalia where he is opening two Western-style restaurants in hotels that he owns in Mogadishu. Jama says he is using the skills he acquired in Britain to help Somalia prosper. Read more ..


The Edge of Safety

OSHA Pares Inspections Goals

June 9th 2012

construction workers

Two weeks after a Center for Public Integrity story highlighted concerns about alleged quotas imposed on federal workplace safety inspectors, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has pared its inspection goal for the year. OSHA had established a target of 42,250 inspections nationwide for fiscal year 2012, which ends Sept. 30. An OSHA spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the new goal is 41,000 inspections.

The revision was made primarily because the agency has been conducting "more complex, time consuming" inspections this year, the spokesman wrote in an email. OSHA told the Center it sets goals, not quotas. But some former agency managers said that inspectors who fail to "make their numbers" face repercussions from their bosses. Read more ..


Coke and Confiscation

Jewish Egyptian vs. Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent in Lifetime Struggle over Stolen Family Property

June 8th 2012

Coke for Nazis

For 15 years, Egyptian-Jewish businessman Refael Bigio has been battling a goliath corporate adversary, The Coca-Cola Company. Bigio charges that Coke has been profiting from his family’s stolen property just outside Cairo. The Bigio family’s property was expropriated by Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in the mid-1960s during one of Egypt’s anti-Jewish purges. Over the course of a decade and a half, the Coca-Cola Company has steadfastly refused to bargain in good faith or to negotiate any fair compensation for the expropriated property, according to Bigio’s lawyers. In the company’s defense, Coke’s attorneys have defended Egypt’s anti-Jewish seizures and even those of Hitler’s Germany as confiscations that “did not violate international law.”

Coca-Cola’s stony refusal to even place a fair offer on the table, Bigio’s attorneys charge, stands in bitter contrast to hundreds of millions of dollars in profits derived since 1965 from the operations of “Coca-Cola Egypt.” Coke has always known that its multimillion dollar windfall in Egypt has been and is now being generated by property unlawfully stolen from its Jewish owners by Nasser’s regime in a Nazi-style property seizure. In other words, the company is in possession of stolen property—and knows it. Coke’s only defense is that the theft Bigio suffered, for no reason other that he was Jewish, actually did not violate international law and was perfectly legal. By Coke’s long-standing legal rationale, the property of every Jew in the world could be seized without violating international law. Read more ..


Broken Economy

‘Financial Seismograph’ Detects Early Signs of Global Crisis

June 8th 2012

Click to select Image

If the Germans only knew what a liability Greece would become to the European Union, they could have pulled out of Greek-tied investments earlier. This is one of the suggestions made by an Israeli-German team of researchers that has linked modern physics with contemporary economic theory to develop a new predictor of global financial hurricanes. World Bank executives take note.

The new team’s empirical-based research tool is built on a new understanding of principles from the modern field of complex biological systems, an increasingly popular subfield of physics. While the interconnected parts of a complex system, like in the case of the weather, might seem unrelated at first––such as cloud coverage in Singapore and puddles on a New York sidewalk––the new methodology to assess and quantify inter-market relations can explain the connectedness so that valuable data can be extracted and evaluated.

Examples of complex systems include ant colonies; the nervous system of the human body; climate; social structures; and living things. Global economics is also a complex system that can be explained with the right prediction tools. “Complex systems—this is the name of the game,” says Dror Kenett, a PhD student at Tel Aviv University’s School of Physics and Astronomy who worked on the research. “Based strongly on physics theory, this is the intersection between physics, economics and finance. Over the past 20 years, there have been ever-growing amounts of data for economics and finance, and we make use of physics tools, concepts and algorithms, and empirical data approaches to look at what’s really going on.” Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

This is the Year of the Grasshopper in Mexico

June 7th 2012

Mexico election

As Mexico enters the final weeks of the 2012 election campaign, the grasshoppers are hopping about the land. In Mexican political lingo, a chapulin, or grasshopper, is a person who jumps from one political party to another, even if the two organizations are diametrically opposed in ideology. On June 5, the secretary-general of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the strategic state of Guerrero became the latest politico to switch sides.

A 15-year PRI veteran, Flor del Carmen Sotelo resigned from her party and announced she was joining the political coalition that backs Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) for president. The same parties supporting the former Mexico City mayor in the presidential race are also running candidates for local offices in Acapulco and other municipalities under the banner of the Guerrero Unites Us coalition.

Criticizing the treatment of women in the PRI, Sotelo also said the party had become alienated from popular causes and no longer represented a “democratic option.”. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Free Education Programs and Quality: A Tale of Two Amazing Old Men

June 7th 2012

African school kids

This week, the Biannual Workshop of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) is being held in Arusha , Tanzania on June 3 to 8. The title of the day long plenary session held on June 3 was “Institutions and Service Delivery.” The primary objective of the session was to explore the paradox observed in many developing countries in which increased spending on social services such as education and health in is often not associated with concomitant increases in the quality and quantity of services. I presented one of the papers on the impact of free primary education program and the quality of learning in Kenya. Although the study used rather complex methodologies, the message can be explained easily with a tale of two amazing old men.

Using case studies investigating Kenya’s free primary education (FPE) program, which has been implemented since 2003, I outlined its major success – primarily the reversal of the hitherto declining school enrollment rates experienced during the 1990s. Eliminating user fees triggered massive enrollment of school age children who had dropped out or had never attended school. But even older people who had never set foot in school followed the young ones. One such example was an old man in his eighties—Mr. Kimani Murage—now well known as the “First grader” courtesy of a movie “The First Grader” depicting his life. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Bringing Clean Water To The Globe

June 7th 2012

First, the bad news: Clean water is in very short supply across the globe. Now the good news: Amiad Water Systems, founded 50 years ago at a kibbutz near the Sea of Galilee, has built a successful business by providing solutions to this pressing problem. Amiad’s filtration and treatment technologies bring clean water to industries, households and farms in 70 countries—even in remote areas such as Alaska, Antarctica, Siberia, Africa and Papua New Guinea.

Earlier this year, the Israeli company got more good news in the form of $10 million worth of contracts won by its Australian subsidiary. It will install automatic self-cleaning screen filters at a desalination plant near Perth, which is doubling its 50-billion-liter annual production capacity. And it will put automatic self-cleaning disc technology to work in the pre-filter stage as one of Australia’s leading integrated energy companies turns coal seam gas into liquefied natural gas. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

AntiGravity Yoga Gains Popularity

June 6th 2012

Lighting a candle against the darkness

A growing number of health clubs around the world is offering exercise that allows people to stretch and strengthen their bodies while hanging in the air, often upside down. It's called AntiGravity Yoga. At first glance, students hanging upside down on hammocks made of silk cloth hanging from the ceiling seems more like acrobatics than yoga. “When I first saw people hanging upside down from hammocks and calling it yoga I thought they were crazy," said Marie Bice. "But it ended up being a lot of fun and just swinging it felt very playful.”

That’s student Marie Bice. She says AntiGravity Yoga is not all play. It’s also hard work, with benefits. “I don’t have a lot of flexibility in my back and doing this work has really helped my back with that," she said. Instructor Heather Blair says hanging upside down helps the body in a way that regular yoga does not offer. “You actually have spinal decompression so when you’re upside down your vertebrae actually open up so the space in between the vertebrae opens naturally and gently," said Blair. Read more ..

South Africa on Edge

Silicosis Crisis Grips South Africa as 10,000 Gold Miners Getting Set To Sue

June 5th 2012

Lesotho gold mine workers
Lesotho mine workers listen attentively to a Mineworkers Dev. Ass. briefing.

Tagged as victims of "the world’s biggest, longest running industrial disaster; dwarfing Chernobyl," 10,000 known silicosis-affected, southern African, gold miners are finally set to negotiate a payout that could induce a painful paroxysm of shareholder coughing across the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Richard Spoor, the lead lawyer who a year ago secured a landmark Constitutional Court ruling allowing lung-diseased miners to sue their employers for substantial damages (under common law), said the application for certification of a class action, plus a process for establishing liability, would come before the South Gauteng High Court "within months."

Spoor has out-of-court settlements from asbestos mining houses totalling R1.1 billion since 2003, all of which precluded a ruling on the constitutionality of archaic mining legislation that in some cases limited medical incapacity payouts to just R1,000 for every year worked. The latest litigation is virgin legal territory and may well bring substantial financial relief to those injured or to relatives of those killed by mining-acquired silicosis. Read more ..


Broken Government

The State of Open Records Laws: Access Denied

June 4th 2012

Paper Stack

Early last month, lawmakers in Iowa completed work on a new open records statute. Senate File 430 creates the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission charged with enforcing the state’s open records and meetings laws.

For good government advocates in the Hawkeye State, the new legislation was cause for celebration — sort of. Indeed, there were smiles all around as Gov. Terry Branstad signed the law on May 3 in the ornate Capitol Building, surrounded by lawmakers and journalists — many of whom spent six years on the effort. And the law is undoubtedly a victory of sorts for open government in the state, where enforcement was spotty at best, divided among several local and state entities. If a citizen’s request for information was denied, the only option was to sue — a time-consuming and costly course of action. Now, the Board can investigate complaints and bring them to court on citizens’ behalf.

It all sounds good — except for the fine print. Tacked on to the bill is an amendment that exempts “tentative, preliminary, draft, speculative, or research material” from Iowa’s open records law. Translation: a document that is part of the policy making process can be held from public view. Such language was not part of Iowa’s original open records law, enacted in 1967, and its inclusion now is troubling to some. “You can use the drafts to learn things,” said Lyle Muller, executive director of the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, a nonprofit and nonpartisan news service. “I think they are valuable. They give you an idea of what the early ideas were that were rejected.”  Read more ..


The Edge of Health

OSHA Rules on Workplace Toxics Stalled

June 4th 2012

COPD

 Alan White, a 47-year-old foundry worker from Buffalo, N.Y., suffers from silicosis, a debilitating lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust. An unprotected restoration worker generates a cloud of silica dust while cutting masonry on a school in Michigan.

Each year, some 4,500 American workers die on the job and 50,000 perish from occupational diseases. Millions more are hurt and sickened at workplaces, and many others are cheated of wages and abused. In the coming months the Center for Public Integrity will publish, under the banner Hard Labor, stories exploring threats to workers — and the corporate and regulatory factors that endanger them. At 58, retired machinist Bruce Revers is tethered to his oxygen machines — a wall unit when he’s at home, a portable tank when he’s out. The simple act of walking to the curb to pick up his newspaper is a grind. “This is a hell of a thing to live with,” Revers, of Orange, Calif., said of his worsening lung disease. “There’s nothing I can do without my air.” Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Goat-Grown Hashish

June 3rd 2012

Pakistan Hashis Seller

For Noor Muhammad Afridi, dealing in "Awal Namber Garda" is more than just his life's work. By providing the black, sticky hashish that keeps his customers very happy, he's keeping up a long, family tradition. Just like his forefathers in the Afridi clan, the 32-year-old from Pakistan's tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border has become a connoisseur of the local delicacy, aged to perfection with a centuries-old technique.

"If you put [freshly prepared] hash resin into a goatskin or a sheepskin, it matures into something very good," he says. "It is well-preserved inside the skin, which also adds oil to it." The technique is believed to greatly enhance the hashish's quality and, more importantly for its users, its effect. If the end product makes the cut, it earns the right to join the prize sheep skins hanging from the rafters of Afridi's hash shop in Jamrud, gateway to the Khyber Pass. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Computer-Designed Proteins Programmed to Disarm Variety of Flu Viruses

June 2nd 2012

Bird Flu Eradication

Computer-designed proteins are under construction to fight the flu. Researchers are demonstrating that proteins found in nature, but that do not normally bind the flu, can be engineered to act as broad-spectrum antiviral agents against a variety of flu virus strains, including H1N1 pandemic influenza.

"One of these engineered proteins has a flu-fighting potency that rivals that of several human monoclonal antibodies," said Dr. David Baker, professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington.

Baker's research team is making major inroads in optimizing the function of computer-designed influenza inhibitors. These proteins are constructed via computer modeling to fit exquisitely into a specific nano-sized target on flu viruses. By binding the target region like a key into a lock, they keep the virus from changing shape, a tactic that the virus uses to infect living cells. The research efforts, akin to docking a space station but on a molecular level, are made possible by computers that can describe the landscapes of forces involved on the submicroscopic scale. Read more ..


The Ecological Edge

Where Have All The Hummingbirds Gone?

June 2nd 2012

black-chinned hummingbird

The glacier lily as it's called, is a tall, willowy plant that graces mountain meadows throughout western North America. It flowers early in spring, when the first bumblebees and hummingbirds appear. Or did.

The lily, a plant that grows best on subalpine slopes, is fast becoming a hothouse flower. In Earth's warming temperatures, its first blooms appear some 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970s, scientists David Inouye and Amy McKinney of the University of Maryland and colleagues have found. The problem, say the biologists, with the earlier timing of these first blooms is that the glacier lily is no longer synchronized with the arrival of broad-tailed hummingbirds, which depend on glacier lilies for nectar. By the time the hummingbirds fly in, many of the flowers have withered away, their nectar-laden blooms going with them.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds migrate north from Central America every spring to high-mountain breeding sites in the western United States. The birds have only a short mountain summer to raise their young. Male hummingbirds scout for territories before the first flowers bloom. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Republicans Fail in Attempt to Ban Sex-Selective Abortion

June 1st 2012

capitol building night #2

An effort by Republicans in the House of Representatives to outlaw abortions based on gender failed in a vote on May 31. The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), H.R. 3541, of 2012 would ban sex-selective abortions, the victims of whom are overwhelmingly female. The bill's author, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said before the vote that whatever the outcome, the point would be made that "When people vote on this, the world will know where they really stand."

The bill was defeated in a 246-168 vote. Even while that is a clear majority of the House, Republicans called up the bill under a suspension of parliamentary that limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. In this case, it would have required more support from Democrats. Twenty Democrats voted for the bill, while seven Republicans opposed it. The bill would have needed 30 more ‘yeas’ to pass. Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Robert Dold (Ill.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), and Ron Paul (Texas).

Democrats voting in favor of it were Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Mark Critz (Pa.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.). Republicans could attempt to pass the bill a second time on a simple majority vote. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

There's More Star-Stuff Out There But It's Not Dark Matter

May 31st 2012

gaseous ring on star

More atomic hydrogen gas—the ultimate fuel for stars—is lurking in today’s Universe than we thought, CSIRO astronomer Dr Robert Braun has found. This is the first accurate measurement of this gas in galaxies close to our own.

Just after the Big Bang the Universe’s matter was almost entirely hydrogen atoms. Over time this gas of atoms came together and generated galaxies, stars and planets—and the process is still going on. Astronomers want to understand where, when and how the atomic gas is transformed to better understand the Universe in which we live.

By taking a new look at some archival data, Dr Braun, Chief Scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science in Sydney, Australia, has discovered that galaxies around us are hiding about a third more atomic hydrogen gas than previously calculated. The study also shows that the gas is distributed very differently from how it was in the past, with much less in the galaxies’ outer suburbs than billions of years ago. “This means that it’s much harder for galaxies to pull the gas in and form new stars,” Dr Braun said. “It’s why stars are forming 20 times more slowly now than in the past.” Read more ..


The Edge on Fitness

New Research Shows Runners Can Improve Health and Performance With Less Training

May 31st 2012

walking on beach

The new 10-20-30 training concept can improve both a person's running performance and health, despite a significant reduction in the total amount of training. This is the conclusion of a study from University of Copenhagen researchers just published in the renowned scientific Journal of Applied of Physiology. Over the course of seven weeks, runners were able to improve performance on a 1500-metre run by 23 seconds and almost by a minute on a 5-km run – and this despite a 50 per cent reduction in their total amount of training. These are just some of the results from a research project involving 18 moderately trained runners following the 10-20-30 training concept developed by researchers from the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

In addition to enhancing running performance, the runners from the project also had a significant decrease in blood pressure and a reduction in cholesterol in the blood. "We were very surprised to see such an improvement in the health profile considering that the participants have been running for several years," says Professor Jens Bangsbo, Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences, who heads the project. "The results show that the very intense training has a great potential for improving health status of already trained individuals," says Professor Bangsbo. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Innovative Solar Retinal Implants May Give Sight to the Blind

May 31st 2012

Eye biometrics

Using tiny solar-panel-like cells surgically placed underneath the retina, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a system that may someday restore sight to people who have lost vision because of certain types of degenerative eye diseases.

This device, a new type of retinal prosthesis, involves a specially designed pair of goggles, which are equipped with a miniature camera and a pocket PC that is designed to process the visual data stream. The resulting images would be displayed on a liquid crystal microdisplay embedded in the goggles, similar to what's used in video goggles for gaming.

Unlike the regular video goggles, though, the images would be beamed from the LCD using laser pulses of near-infrared light to a photovoltaic silicon chip — one-third as thin as a strand of hair — implanted beneath the retina. Electric currents from the photodiodes on the chip would then trigger signals in the retina, which then flow to the brain, enabling a patient to regain vision. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Unchecked Dust Explosions Kill, Injure Hundreds of Workers

May 31st 2012

emergency room

Small fires were a part of the job at the Hoeganaes Corp. metal powder plant 30 miles northeast of Nashville. By early 2011, some workers later told investigators, they had become practiced in beating down the flames with gloved hands or a fire extinguisher. The company’s own product fueled the fires. Scrap metal rolls into the rust-colored plant on the town’s industrial periphery and is melted, atomized and dried into a fine iron powder sold to makers of car parts. Sometimes, powder leaked from equipment and coated ledges and rafters. Under the right conditions, it smoldered.

Wiley Sherburne, a 42-year-old plant electrician, sometimes told his wife how this dust piled up everywhere, she recalled. On quieter weekend shifts, he said he could hear the telltale popping sound of dust sparking when it touched live electricity. Read more ..


Japan after the Quake

Sandia Labs Technology Used in Fukushima Cleanup

May 30th 2012

Click to select Image

A Sandia National Laboratories technology has been used to remove radioactive material from more than 43 million gallons of contaminated wastewater at Japan's damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Sandia researchers had worked around the clock following the March 2011 disaster to show the technology worked in seawater, which was pumped in to cool the plant's towers.

"It's the kind of thing that sends a chill," said Mark Rigali, manager of the geochemistry group at Sandia. "We've helped really make a difference in the world. These are the kinds of successes we want to see with all our intellectual property."

UOP LLC, a Honeywell company, late last year renegotiated its license of the Sandia technology being used at Fukushima. The revised license makes UOP the exclusive U.S. manufacturer of crystalline silico-titanate, or CST, a molecular sieve that can separate highly volatile elements from radioactive wastewater. "Sandia has a very important and longstanding business relationship with UOP," said Bianca Thayer of Sandia's Intellectual Property Management, Alliances and Licensing Department. "This is an opportunity to grow our partnership with the company." Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

System Tests Afghan Graduates' Resistance To Radicalism

May 30th 2012

Afghan School

 The Afghan government has lauded its progress in restoring the country's education system as one of its preeminent achievements over the past decade. But despite some visible inroads, there are warning signs. At best, the effort to open opportunities through education has failed to meet expectations; at worst, the system has essentially become a breeding ground for extremists.

The Afghan government, from the onset, earmarked education as key to eliminating poverty and thwarting radicalism. It devised a plan to send all Afghan children to school, to construct universities and technical schools to address a skills shortage, and, above all, to create job opportunities.

Those who pass through the system find the going tough upon graduation, however, with jobs and university slots scarce. Wadir Safi, an Afghan law professor, says this leaves young graduates with few options.

The Afghan National Army and National Police Force are expanding, but the work is low-paid and hazardous. Some choose instead to eke out a living on the streets, which can descend into a life of drug abuse. In the end, joining the ranks of militant groups can begin to look appealing for some. Read more ..


The Economic Edge

Americans Appear Bullish About the U.S. Economy

May 29th 2012

No Bull

Consumer confidence improved in each of the past nine monthly surveys, rising to its highest level this month since October 2007, according to University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, director of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers. According to a release from the Ann Arbor-based institution, more favorable job and wage prospects were the main factors behind the improved outlook.

Curtin said, “Record numbers of consumers mentioned that they heard of favorable employment trends despite the jobs slowdown recently reported by the Labor Department," he said. "The continued revival of consumer confidence critically depends on renewed job growth. One issue that only a few consumers even mentioned was the potential impact on the domestic economy from the European financial crisis.”

Many more consumers reported hearing about recent job gains than job losses—the fewest consumers reported hearing of job losses in May than any time since mid 2007. In each of the past three months, a majority of consumers reported an improved economy and twice as many expected further improvement rather than renewed declines in the year ahead. Most consumers, however, expected the gains to be modest. Confidence in the government's economic policies remained relatively low, with 41 percent holding negative views. These surveys, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research, have been monitoring consumer attitudes and expectations for over 60 years. Read more ..


The Defense Edge

Michelle Obama Sponsors Navy’s First Submarine with All-Female Crew

May 29th 2012

michelle obama

The USS Illinois, the first Navy submarine to be staffed by an all-female crew, received the support of the White House on Memorial Day. On Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama officially sponsored the Virginia-class submarine, which will be one of the newest nuclear-powered boats scheduled to enter the fleet by 2015, according to a White House statement. “It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as sponsor of the USS Illinois,” the first lady said, according to the statement. “This submarine is a tribute to the strength, courage, and determination that our Navy families exhibit every day."

The Illinois is the second ship the First Lady has sponsored since coming to the White House. She sponsored the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, based in Alameda, California, earlier this year, according to administration officials. Former First Lady Laura Bush sponsored another Virginia-class attack sub, named the USS Texas, in 2004. In 1994, then First Lady Hillary Clinton sponsored the Los Angeles-class sub USS Columbia. Obama's endorsement of the Illinois, particularly its all-female crew, comes as women in the military are pushing the Pentagon for a larger role in combat operations. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Climate Change Led to Collapse of Ancient Indus Civilization

May 28th 2012

desertification New Mexico

A new study combining the latest archaeological evidence with state-of-the-art geoscience technologies provides evidence that climate change was a key ingredient in the collapse of the great Indus or Harappan Civilization almost 4000 years ago. The study also resolves a long-standing debate over the source and fate of the Sarasvati, the sacred river of Hindu mythology.

Once extending more than 1 million square kilometers across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, over what is now Pakistan, northwest India and eastern Afghanistan, the Indus civilization was the largest—but least known—of the first great urban cultures that also included Egypt and Mesopotamia. Like their contemporaries, the Harappans, named for one of their largest cities, lived next to rivers owing their livelihoods to the fertility of annually watered lands.

"We reconstructed the dynamic landscape of the plain where the Indus civilization developed 5200 years ago, built its cities, and slowly disintegrated between 3900 and 3000 years ago," said Liviu Giosan, a geologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and lead author of the study published the week of May 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Until now, speculations abounded about the links between this mysterious ancient culture and its life-giving mighty rivers."  Read more ..


The Enviornmental Edge

Groundwater Depletion in Texas and California Threatens US Food Security

May 28th 2012

wheat fields

The nation's food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture, according to a new study by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere.

The study paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California's Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. Researchers hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

"We're already seeing changes in both areas," said Bridget Scanlon, senior research scientist at The University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology and lead author of the study. "We're seeing decreases in rural populations in the High Plains. Increasing urbanization is replacing farms in the Central Valley. And during droughts some farmers are forced to fallow their land. These trends will only accelerate as water scarcity issues become more severe."

Three results of the new study are particularly striking: First, during the most recent drought in California's Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation's largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas—a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates. Second, a third of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just 4% of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Geologists give Evidence of Exact Date of Jesus' Crucifixion

May 28th 2012

Crucifixion lithograph

Archaeologists have provided evidence that would pin the date of the Crucifixion of Jesus on Friday, April 3, in the year 33 AD. Published in International Geology Review, the study focused on seismic activity in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, just thirteen miles from Jerusalem. Coincidently, the Gospel of Matthew mentions in its 27th chapter describes an earthquake that occurred following the execution of Jesus by the Roman imperial government: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

Geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical, along with Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences, studied three cores drilled from a beach of the Dead Sea adjacent to the Ein Gedi Spa. Upon examining annual layers of deposition in the sediments that settle in the Dead Sea, known as varves, the scientists could show that at least two major seismic events were evidenced in the core sample. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

10 Million Years to Recover From Mass Extinction

May 28th 2012

Crinoid

It took some 10 million years for Earth to recover from the greatest mass extinction of all time, latest research has revealed.

Life was nearly wiped out 250 million years ago, with only 10 per cent of plants and animals surviving. It is currently much debated how life recovered from this cataclysm, whether quickly or slowly.

Recent evidence for a rapid bounce-back is evaluated in a new review article by Dr Zhong-Qiang Chen, from the China University of Geo-sciences in Wuhan, and Professor Michael Benton from the University of Bristol. They find that recovery from the crisis lasted some 10 million years, as explained May 27th in Nature Geo-science.

There were apparently two reasons for the delay, the sheer intensity of the crisis, and continuing grim conditions on Earth after the first wave of extinction. The end-Permian crisis, by far the most dramatic biological crisis to affect life on Earth, was triggered by a number of physical environmental shocks - global warming, acid rain, ocean acidification and ocean anoxia. These were enough to kill off ninety-per-cent of living things on land and in the sea.

Dr Chen said: "It is hard to imagine how so much of life could have been killed, but there is no doubt from some of the fantastic rock sections in China and elsewhere round the world that this was the biggest crisis ever faced by life." Current research shows that the grim conditions continued in bursts for some five to six million years after the initial crisis, with repeated carbon and oxygen crises, warming and other ill effects. Some groups of animals on the sea and land did recover quickly and began to rebuild their ecosystems, but they suffered further setbacks. Life had not really recovered in these early phases because permanent ecosystems were not established. Read more ..


The Edge 0f Freedom

Chinese-American Recalls POW Past

May 27th 2012

Chinese-American POW

Looking at him today, few would guess Paul Loong, 88, has a larger-than-life story. Even his daughter, Theresa Loong, a filmmaker, was taken by surprise when she discovered her father's diary from his time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.

She chronicles her father's story in the documentary "Every Day Is A Holiday," which is being released to coincide with Memorial Day in the United States, a time when Americans honor those serving in the military. 

Japan entered World War II in December 1941, attacking British-controlled Malaya and Singapore almost at the same time as Pearl Harbor. Paul Loong, a young Malaysian, was fighting with the British. When they surrendered  the Malay Peninsula, Loong and thousands of others were shipped off to Japan, where they did hard labor as prisoners of war. ​​Life was brutal in the three years Loong spent as a POW. One out of every five prisoners died in the first year. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Scientists, Lawmakers Declare War on Invasive Leaping Fish

May 27th 2012

Leaping Carp

For about two decades, several species of fish commonly known as Asian carp have been swimming up the Mississippi River. The non-native fish, imported to help control algae in commercial fish farms, have been gobbling up food native fish need to survive. The U.S. government is spending millions to keep these invasive species from migrating through Chicago to the Great Lakes. And now the battle has spread north to Minnesota. However, critics say an all-out war on the Asian carp could be expensive and biologically unsound.

Tales of 14-kilogram fish leaping into boats and injuring anglers would probably be just a myth if it weren't for YouTube, the online site where fisherman have posted dozens of “flying Asian carp” videos, and a slew of TV news reports. While you might expect sport fishers would be delighted to have their catch literally jumping into their boats, it is actually the last thing anglers in Minnesota want. They're worried by the news that commercial fishermen caught Asian carp in the Mississippi River, in southeastern Minnesota, this past March. In April, another turned up in a tributary nearby. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Anti-Incumbent Super-PAC Puts Texas House Lawmakers in its Sights

May 27th 2012

Silvestre Reyes

The Campaign for Primary Accountability, the anti-incumbent super-PAC that has struck fear into the hearts of lawmakers, has turned its attention to next week’s Texas primary.

The Texas-based super-PAC has spent nearly $361,000 opposing Reps. Ralph Hall (R) and Silvestre Reyes (D) since the beginning of May. The money is buying everything from mail pieces to Internet, television, and radio ads to flood their districts with anti-incumbent information.

Together the two lawmakers have served almost a half-century in Congress and are prime targets for a group that has assisted in unseating at least three incumbents so far this cycle. The group, which aims to equalize the “message monopoly” of incumbents, has become a boogeyman for congressmen facing tough primaries. “I’m not nervous, I’m pissed,” Reyes stated. “Unfortunately, smearing and sliming good people works in the current political climate,” Reyes noted. “They’re not afraid of putting misinformation out there because there aren’t any consequences.” Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Isolation, Tradition, Poverty Drive Up Nigerian Maternal Death Rate

May 27th 2012

Breast Milk Flash Heated

Globally, the number of maternal deaths has been cut in half since 1990. But, in Nigeria 40,000 women die each year because of pregnancy complications. Aid organizations say poverty, isolation and dangerous traditions are the heart of the problem while some mothers say there are simply no doctors at the hospital. A United Nations study indicates that a third of the women who die from childbirth yearly are in two countries: India, the world's second-most populated, and Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation.

The report says Nigeria also has the distinction of having one of the world's highest maternal death rates - 630 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Bukola Danmusa is the mother of three who lives in a rundown neighborhood outside the capital. She says many women do not go to the hospital because it's too expensive. "Some people don’t have money to go the hospital to do [pre-natal care] and the results are complications or death when they have their baby," said Danmusa. She says, even if they go, to a hospital, there is usually no doctor and perhaps a single nurse. Read more ..

The Mineral Edge

Peak Phosphorus Fuels the World’s Growing Bellyache

May 26th 2012

Phosphorus

Looking for something new to worry about? Phosphorus hops onto the list of rapidly diminishing natural resources: a dangerous dwindling of something that probably never crossed your mind. Production will likely peak in our lifetime, and be fully depleted by 2100. So what’s the big deal? Phosphorus is the bedrock of food production.

This solid chemical element, most commonly found in inorganic phosphate rocks, was discovered in the late 1600’s by a German alchemist who experimented with his pee. Hennig Brand earned that cringe-worthy credit: on the Periodic Table of Elements, his discovery is named P15. The element is frisky. It glows in the dark and can spontaneously oxidize. It was a key ingredient in matchstick production throughout the 1800s until it was linked to accidental poisonings, suicides and murders. It was banned from match making by the end of that century, but it didn’t go away. It couldn’t, because phosphorus is essential for life. Read more ..


The Economic Edge

Senate Dems Propose Federal Grants to Boost Women's Salary Negotiation Skills

May 26th 2012

Barbara Mikulski

Senate Democrats in June will take up legislation that establishes federal grants to train girls and women to improve their salary negotiation skills. The legislation would also require the collection of data from companies on how they pay people to better enforce federal fair-pay laws.

Before leaving for the Memorial Day break, Senate Democrats scheduled a procedural vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act for June 5. The bill, S. 3220 from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), is a Democratic effort to counter what they say is a Republican "war on women," and appears to be an attempt to keep that issue in the forefront of political discussion as the November elections approach.

"Despite the enactment of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, many women continue to earn significantly lower pay than men for equal work," the bill says in its findings section. "These pay disparities exist in both the private and governmental sectors." To overcome these ongoing disparities, the bill authorizes a new program under which the Secretary of Labor can make federal grants to entities that "carry out negotiation skills training programs for girls and women." Eligible entities are state or local governments, or private non-profit or community-based organizations.

"The training provided through the program shall help girls and women strengthen their negotiation skills to allow the girls and women to obtain higher salaries and rates of compensation that are equal to those paid to similarly situated male employees," the bill says. The legislation does not specify how much grant money can be handed out by the Secretary of Labor, although it authorizes $15 million to implement the entire bill. Read more ..


America and Israel

U.S. and Israeli Teams Coordinate on Disaster Response

May 25th 2012

Disaster Training

Indiana National Guard Soldiers, U.S. Marines, the IDF and Israel’s ZAKA last week held a joint search and rescue (SAR) training exercise which focused on international collaboration in dealing with mass destruction events. These events would be the result of an earthquake or the falling of missiles, both of which require search and rescue missions.

One hundred and twenty participants from all units trained for two days, recovering hundreds of “live” and “dead” dummies which were buried among the ruins on the campus grounds at the Jerusalem College of Engineering. The training entailed the use of advanced technology, search dogs from the IDF’s Oketz canine unit, and the practice of strategic cooperation under pressure. The IDF and ZAKA have been holding joint exercises with the National Guard for several years. These operations are conducted primarily with the objective of sharing techniques and professional knowledge, and creating a better work dynamic between American and Israeli forces. In the event of a massive missile attack on Israel or a destructive earthquake, the Israeli Home Front Command will not be able to cope on its own, and the American Military SAR units will be called in to assist with rescue efforts. The training is conducted with these potential events in mind. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Viral Video calls on Catholics to Vote their Conscience in November

May 25th 2012

Produced by a Florida-based organization, a video calling on Catholics to vote against politicians favoring same-sex marriage, abortion, and euthanasia is going viral on YouTube. With over 1.5 million hits, ‘Test of Fire’ depicts a blacksmith in a darkened workshop pounding out on a forge the words ‘jobs,’ ‘taxes,’ and ‘energy,’ as haunting vocals and symphonic music provide a background reminiscent of Carmina Burana.

The video tells viewers that some issues, such as the above, are negotiable even while others are not. “Many issues are at stake,” the video declare, “but some are not negotiable.” Among these are the defense of life, "From conception. Until natural death," says the video in a quote from Pope Benedict XVI. “This November,” the video says, “Catholics across the nation will be put to the test,” in reference to the current contest between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Governor Mitt Romney. In the video, a presumably Catholic woman is seen striding to a polling place to cast her ballot on Election Day.

Polling shows that while a majority of Catholics supported Obama’s election campaign, there is now a majority that rejects his administration’s mandate requiring Catholic hospitals and charitable institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception to employees, even against Catholic teachings. This has been considered a dealbreaker by much of the Catholic hierarchy. As a result, this week some 43 Catholic universities and institutions have filed suit in federal courts to challenge the mandate imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“In generations past, the church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. This generation of Catholics must do the same,” declares the video in an opening graphic. Saying that issues such as jobs and energy require work by America’s citizens, the video asks rhetorically “But what if we labor in vain?’ Referring to Scripture, the video provides an answer from the 127th Psalm “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Read more ..



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