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The Way We Are

Violent Video Games Turning Gamers Into Deadly Shooters

May 23rd 2012

Playing violent shooting video games can improve firing accuracy and influence players to aim for the head when using a real gun finds a new study in Communication Research, published by SAGE.

Authors Jodi L. Whitaker and Brad J. Bushman tested 151 college students by having them play different types of violent and non-violent video games, including games with human targets in which players are rewarded for hitting the targets' heads. After playing the game for only 20 minutes, participants shot 16 bullets from a realistic gun at a life-size, human-shaped mannequin. Participants who played a violent shooting game using a pistol-shaped controller hit the mannequin 33% more than did other participants and hit the mannequins' head 99% more often. Read more ..


The Edge of Privacy

Libya’s Big Brother: Inside Qaddafi’s Vast Surveillance Network

May 23rd 2012

Surveillance cameras
credit: C. Hustvedt

Wired has a long and insightful piece on the mechanics of Muammar Qaddafi’s surveillance operation. While the Arab Spring “showed the promise of the Internet as a crucible for democratic activism,” it also “demonstrated the Internet’s equal potential for government surveillance and repression on a scale unimaginable with the old analog techniques of phone taps and informants.”

The tactics varied in their focus and scope. There was the “Electronic Army,” a loose organization that would try to take down any Qaddafi material online, often by flagging YouTube videos for copyright infringements. The Electronic Army also hacked dissidents’ e-mails accounts and Skype conversations and made their private correspondence public.

But the most sophisticated part of the operation highlights an increasingly familiar and disturbing story of foreign companies—many of them from Western democracies—supplying the surveillance tools for a dictatorship. Read more ..


Kazakhstan on edge

Spacecraft Or Forage? What's Killing The Saiga Antelope?

May 23rd 2012

Saiga Antelope

Did a Soyuz craft from the International Space Station cause the deaths of hundreds of endangered saiga antelope in Kazakhstan this week? Some ecologists think so, although scientists and the Kazakh authorities remain skeptical. Officials say the carcasses of at least 543 saiga antelope have been found in northern Kazakhstan's Qostanai region since May 21, the latest reported mass death of the critically endangered animal. 

The fact that some 120 of the carcasses were discovered near the village of Sorsha -- the same location where a Soyuz capsule carrying a Russian-American crew from the International Space Station landed in April -- has sparked suggestions the animals may have been poisoned with chemicals left behind by the craft. Ecologist Musagali Duambekov suggested that the mass deaths could be connected to the Baikonur space-launch site in central Kazakhstan. "My personal opinion is that it is connected with human activity [and] that it is due to an anthropogenic factor," he said. "It could be from chemical elements left from space rockets that fly over this place, or from other chemical factors, such as the extensive use of fertilizers, which are very harmful." Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

New Means of Safeguarding World Fish Stocks Proven

May 22nd 2012

Tuna haul

Powerful and versatile new genetic tools that will assist in safeguarding both European fish stocks and European consumers is reported in Nature Communications (DOI 10.1038/ncomms1845 22/05/12). The paper reports on the first system proven to identify populations of fish species to a forensic level of validation.

With up to 25 percent of fish catches being caught illegally across the world, and with an estimated cost to Europe of up to €10 billion by 2020, the EU were eager to address the problems facing the European fishing industry. One major initiative was to fund the EU project behind the latest development: a three year, four million Euro pan-European project, called "FishPopTrace" led by Bangor University, UK.

The EU has already introduced a law requiring any fish sold in the EU to be identified with the species and region of origin on the label from 2011. The same regulation explicitly requires EU Member States to undertake pilot studies of novel traceability tools by 2013 to test the authenticity of this labelling. Furthermore, awareness and take up of the product is already in hand. In the UK, DEFRA have recently announced that they are to begin a pilot project to introduce the tools and train their own staff and the UK fishing industry to collect, manage and store the samples to forensic standards. Read more ..


Inside Australia

Dire Strategic Choices for Isolated Australia

May 22nd 2012

Australian navy diver
Australian clearance diver, Uri Korup on maneuvres.

Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, ranked in the top 10 in gross domestic product per capita. It is one of the most isolated major countries in the world; it occupies an entire united continent, is difficult to invade and rarely is threatened. Normally, we would not expect a relatively well-off and isolated country to have been involved in many wars. This has not been the case for Australia and, more interesting, it has persistently not been the case, even under a variety of governments. Ideology does not explain the phenomenon in this instance.

Since 1900, Australia has engaged in several wars and other military or security interventions (including the Boer War, World War I, World War II and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq) lasting about 40 years total. Put another way, Australia has been at war for more than one-third of the time since the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901.

In only one of these wars, World War II, was its national security directly threatened, and even then a great deal of its fighting was done in places such as Greece and North Africa rather than in direct defense of Australia. This leaves us to wonder why a country as wealthy and seemingly secure as Australia would have participated in so many conflicts. Read more ..


China on Edge

A Force for Liberty from China to Cuba

May 22nd 2012

Chen Guangcheng
Chen Guangcheng

On Saturday night, blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in Newark, N.J., after escaping seven years of persecution in China. With the sweet land of liberty under his feet, Chen breathed the free air and remarked, “We should link our arms to continue in the fight for the goodness in the world and to fight against injustice.” Chen’s newfound freedom is a cause for celebration, but it is also a reminder that America must continue to be a force for liberty in the world, whether on the other side of the world or 90 miles off the shores of Florida.

A 40-year-old self-taught lawyer, Chen was imprisoned for four years, placed under house arrest and suffered beatings after voicing opposition to communist China’s one-child policy, which brings with it government-forced abortions, coerced sterilizations, and fines or physical abuse for neighbors and family members of women with unauthorized pregnancies. Last month, he escaped the grip of Chinese authorities and found refuge in the U.S. Embassy. After a series of negotiations, Chen and his immediate family won their freedom — he is now a legal fellow at New York University Law School. Read more ..

Peru on Edge

Indigenous Peoples of Peru Harrowed by 'Shining Path' Narcoterrorists

May 21st 2012

Machiguenga people

One of the oldest indigenous communities of Peru, which predates the Conquest, now finds itself between the hammer of the Peruvian government and the anvil of remnants of Sendero Luminoso – the ‘Shining Path’ Maoist communists who plagued the Andean republic for decades. The Machiguenga people of the mid-altitude forested slopes of the Andes and the Amazon Basin now appear to be suffering a reprise of a conflict that was initiated by Sendero in 1980. Sendero was well-known for its brutal tactics, which included the murder of uncooperative peasants.

The Peruvian government, under President Alberto Fujimori, was largely successful in combating the Maoist group but at the cost of numerous human rights violations and disappearances of persons associated with Sendero. The group’s leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured in 1992, even while armed encounters with government forces continue sporadically. Between 1980 and 2000, some 70,000 Peruvians perished or disappeared as a result of the conflict.

The damage caused by the armed conflict near Cusco, in the province of La Convención, has been varied. These included casualties on the part of the army and police, as well as innocent civilians. The decades-long conflict, which continues sporadically, has meant that Peru has had a revolving door of ministers with portfolios for Defense and Internal Affairs. Home-made bombs and mines continue to claim lives. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Kurdish Dissident Pleads Break Syria Into Pieces

May 21st 2012

Syrian protests 2011

Sherkoh Abbas, a veteran Syrian Kurdish dissident, called on Israel this week to support the break-up of Syria into a series of federal structures based on the country’s various ethnicities. Speaking from Washington, Abbas was also critical of US attempts to induce Syrian Kurds to join and work with the main opposition body, the Syrian National Council. Abbas, who heads the Washington- based Kurdistan National Assembly, said that dismantling Syria into ethnic enclaves with a federal administration would serve to “break the link” between Syria and the Iran-led “Shi’a crescent.

Syrian Kurdish, Druse, Alawite and Sunni Arab federal areas, he suggested, would have no interest in aligning with Iran. At the same time, a federalized Syria would avoid the possibility of a resurgent, Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Sunni Islamist Syria emerging as a new challenge to Israel and the West. “We need to break Syria into pieces,” Abbas said. The Syrian Kurdish dissident argued that a federal Syria, separated into four or five regions on an ethnic basis, would also serve as a natural “buffer” for Israel against both Sunni and Shi’ite Islamist forces.
Read more ..


The Edge on Health

Health Prices Are Driving Health Spending Growth

May 21st 2012

Click to select Image

Rising prices for care were the chief driver of health care costs for privately insured Americans in 2010, according to the first report from the newly formed Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI). The per capita spending on inpatient and outpatient facilities, professional procedures, and prescriptions drugs rose 3.3 percent in 2010 for beneficiaries under age 65 with private, employer-sponsored group insurance. HCCI data show that this 3.3 percent increase follows spending increases in 2008 (6.0%) and 2009 (5.8%).

Hospital and ambulatory care facility prices rose by 5.1 and 10.1 percent, respectively, in 2010. Increases in facility prices were offset by decreases in the number of inpatient admissions (-3.3 %) and use of outpatient facilities (-3.1%). HCCI confirmed 2010 prices for the privately insured grew more than utilization after accounting for changes in the mix of medical services provided in hospitals (0.7%) and outpatient facilities (4.6%).

The Health Care Cost and Utilization Report: 2010 is based on de-identified, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant data sets from three billion health insurance claims provided by Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare, three of the nation's largest health plans. Future reports from HCCI will include data from Kaiser Permanente. The payers have agreed to share their data with HCCI to help researchers study what influences the use and cost of health care services in the United States. Findings from the 2010 report reflect the national health care spending of more than 33 million privately insured people with employer-sponsored group health insurance. "For the first time we have comprehensive data on the privately insured. This lets us develop a clearer picture of what is truly driving health care spending in the United States," says HCCI Governing Board Chairman Martin Gaynor, PhD, E.J. Barone Professor of Economics and Health Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. "Health care spending is a critical problem—it's not an exaggeration to say that if we solve the health care spending problem we solve our fiscal problems." Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Scientists Document Fragile Land-Sea Ecological Chain

May 19th 2012

Manta Ray

Douglas McCauley and Paul DeSalles did not set out to discover one of the longest ecological interaction chains ever documented. But that's exactly what they and a team of researchers – all current or former Stanford students and faculty did. Their findings shed light on how human disturbance of the natural world may lead to widespread, yet largely invisible, disruptions of ecological interaction chains. This, in turn, highlights the need to build non-traditional alliances – among marine biologists and foresters, for example – to address whole ecosystems across political boundaries.

This past fall, McCauley, a graduate student, and DeSalles, an undergraduate, were in remote Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific tracking manta rays' movements for a predator-prey interaction study. Swimming with the rays and charting their movements with acoustic tags, McCauley and DeSalles noticed the graceful creatures kept returning to certain islands' coastlines. Meanwhile, graduate student Hillary Young was studying palm tree cultivation's effect on native habitats nearby and wondering how the impact on bird communities would play out.

Palmyra is a unique spot on Earth where scientists can compare largely intact ecosystems within shouting distance of recently disturbed habitats. A riot of life – huge grey reef sharks, rays, snapper and barracuda – plies the clear waters while seabirds flock from thousands of miles away to roost in the verdant forests of this tropical idyll. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Bleeding Brain Aneurysms Benefit Most From Specialized Teams

May 19th 2012

ER Entrance

People with bleeding brain aneurysms have the best chance of survival and full recovery if they receive aggressive emergency treatment from a specialized team at a hospital that treats a large number of patients like them every year, according to new guidelines just published by the American Stroke Association. Diagnosing and immediately treating this kind of "bleeding stroke", and using advanced techniques to prevent re-bleeding and aneurysm recurrence, reduces the chance of immediate death and disability by 30 percent for patients with aneurysm-related sub-arachnoid hemorrhages (aSAH), according to the newly published guidelines.

What's more, this kind of evidence-based treatment means better long-term survival and quality of life for survivors, say the guideline's authors, who include University of Michigan neurosurgeon B. Gregory Thompson, M.D. In a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage, blood collects on the surface of the brain after leaking from an aneurysm, or a weak spot in a brain blood vessel. About 5 percent of all strokes are caused by aSAH, which can occur at any time in any of the millions of Americans who have brain aneurysms. Many people who suffer an aSAH have no idea they have an aneurysm. Their first sign is a severe headache–"the worst headache of their life" as many describe it--that comes on suddenly and doesn't fade away for hours, if at all. The condition is often misdiagnosed. Read more ..


Spain on Edge

An Enfeebled Spain Fears Contracting the Greek Flu and Economic Malaise

May 18th 2012

Indignant Spanish clowns

Spain’s economy has wrested some of the headlines away from Greece, whose political turmoil and fiscal woes has put its future as a member of the Eurozone in doubt. The two countries are among the southern European countries, which include Italy and Portugal, that share not along a Mediterranean climate but also generous social security schemes as well as unemployment. Both Greece and Spain have been faced with indignant citizens taking their grievances to the streets, but it is the latter that appears to be taking effective measures to trim its sails to the wider Europe’s fiscal and financial demands.

Under the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, of the center-right Popular Party, government spending has been slashed even while taxes have been raised so as to bring Spain’s budget into line with EU targets. In a speech to his party, Rajoy appealed for fiscal responsibility, saying “The first that has to be done…and besides this is a good rule for life …is to not spend what you don’t have. That is what Spain’s government must do, and it is what the local governments must do.” Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

A Scenario for Elections and Civil Unrest in Egypt

May 18th 2012

Egyptian protest

Egypt's presidential elections are set to be held on 23 May 2012, with a run-off round on June 16-17. According to Exclusive Analysis, a specialist intelligence firm based in the UK, Firas Abi Ali - who is Deputy Head of Middle East Forecasting for the firm - said in a note to clients, “No candidate is likely to win elections in the first round.” He continued, “A key indicator of the level of civil unrest risks stemming from the election is the 2 June scheduled verdict for President Mubarak's trial. In the unlikely event that Mubarak is acquitted, there would be an increased risk of mass civil unrest disrupting the elections."

In the event of such turbulence, the firm forecasts that protesters in Cairo would likely attempt to break into the Ministry of Defence building at Abassiya Square and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as the public media buildings (Maspero) near Tahrir Square. In a news release, Abi Ali warned that as a result, "there would be a collateral damage risk to property and individuals in the immediate vicinity of these buildings. The police would likely use live rounds, which would lead to even more protests." Read more ..


The Archaeologial Edge

Archaeologists Discover Lost Language in Southeastern Turkey

May 18th 2012

Lost Language

A list of women’s names written in cuneiform is the only remnant of this unidentified language, which was spoken 2,500 years ago.

Found in the remains of an enormous palace that was destroyed by a fire around 700 BCE, the clay tablet pictured  holds the only remnants of a language previously unknown to modern scholars. The language could contribute to our understanding of the ethnic groups who lived in the area thousands of years ago, and help map their interactions with the Assyrian Empire.

On the banks of the Tigris River in southeastern Turkey are the magnificent ruins of Ziyaret Tepe, probable site of the ancient Assyrian frontier city of Tušhan. The site has been under excavation for the past 15 years, with special attention paid to the palace, which may have been built by the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (883 — 859 BCE). The tablet seems to be a list of all the women associated with the palace and the local Assyrian administration. Of 144 names on the table, just 59 are legible. One or two are Assyrian, a few are from other languages spoken in the Assyrian Empire, and 45 belong to the mysterious language. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Years of Climate Data Confirms Australia's Warming

May 18th 2012

Kings-Canyon

In the first study of its kind in Australasia, scientists have used 27 natural climate records to create the first large-scale temperature reconstruction for the region over the last 1000 years. The study was led by researchers at the University of Melbourne and used a range of natural indicators including tree rings, corals and ice cores to study Australasian temperatures over the past millennium and compared them to climate model simulations.

Lead researcher, Dr Joelle Gergis from the University of Melbourne said the results show that there are no other warm periods in the last 1000 years that match the warming experienced in Australasia since 1950. "Our study revealed that recent warming in a 1000 year context is highly unusual and cannot be explained by natural factors alone, suggesting a strong influence of human-caused climate change in the Australasian region," she said. The study was published May 16, 2012 in the Journal of Climate and will form the Australasian region's contribution to the 5th IPCC climate change assessment report chapter on past climate. Read more ..


Edge of Environment

Drought-Stricken Southwest Faces a Bi-National Problem

May 17th 2012

Arid Desert

For the second year in a row, residents of New Mexico and neighboring Chihuahua, Mexico, find themselves in the throes of severe drought. On May 15, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez issued an emergency drought declaration, citing in part a forecast from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center that warned of persistent or intensified drought in the state.

As an example of deepening water woes, Martinez noted the water shortage in the northern town of Las Vegas. Martinez’s office stated that 2011 was the second driest year ever recorded in New Mexico.

“In addition to the work we’re doing at the state level to assist communities facing serious drought conditions, I’m hopeful this declaration will assist them in securing any available federal funding as well,” Martinez said.

Martinez’s counterpart in Chihuahua, Governor Cesar Duarte, also recently reached out to his own federal government for help in coping with drought. Last month, Duarte requested about $200 million from the Calderon administration for water infrastructure projects, emergency food aid and agricultural subsidies to help rural communities under environmental stress. According to Duarte, natural water supplies for 300 communities in the Sierra Tarahumara region have dried up and stopped giving the essential ingredient of life.

“According to the National Water Commission, Chihuahua is the state confronting the severest drought in the country..,” Duarte said. Under the circumstances, rain normally might be welcome relief in New Mexico and Chihuahua. But unseasonal storms accompanied by high winds lashed through the region last week and left minor flooding, some power outages and a tree crashed into a house in Albuquerque. In Socorro County, New Mexico, a highly unusual tornado startled the small town of Magdalena. “And we were so scared we had to run to the closet,” resident Monique Baca was quoted; no significant damages were immediately reported from the twister. Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

Trashing Unused Medications Best for Reducing Environmental Impact

May 16th 2012

Pills

A new study suggests that dumping old or unneeded medications in the trash can may be the best way to reduce the environmental impact of the 200 million pounds of pharmaceuticals that go unused in the U.S. each year.  Stephen J. Skerlos and colleagues explain that to avoid the risks of abuse and accidental poisoning, as well as other problems that unused, unwanted or expired pharmaceuticals pose, they shouldn't be kept in homes. If thrown away or flushed down a toilet, however, antibiotics, hormones and other drugs can get into lakes, rivers and other water supplies, where they can affect humans and animals. Some places in the U.S. have recently started take-back programs, in which pharmacies collect unneeded drugs and incinerate them with other medical waste, but this burning and transportation produces greenhouse gases and other pollution. The authors wanted to assess the different disposal methods to see which might make the most sense for U.S. households. Read more ..


The Anthropology Edge

Earliest Evidence of Wall Art Discovered in France

May 16th 2012

Wall art

Anthropologists working in southern France have determined that a 1.5 metric ton block of engraved limestone constitutes the earliest evidence of wall art. Their research, reported in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the piece to be approximately 37,000 years old and offers rich evidence of the role art played in the daily lives of Early Aurignacian humans.

The research team, comprised of more than a dozen scientists from American and European universities and research institutions, has been excavating at the site of the discovery—Abri Castanet—for the past 15 years. Abri Castanet and its sister site Abri Blanchard have long been recognized as being among the oldest sites in Eurasia bearing artifacts of human symbolism. Hundreds of personal ornaments have been discovered, including pierced animal teeth, pierced shells, ivory and soapstone beads, engravings, and paintings on limestone slabs.

"Early Aurignacian humans functioned, more or less, like humans today," explained New York University anthropology professor Randall White, one of the study's co-authors. "They had relatively complex social identities communicated through personal ornamentation, and they practiced sculpture and graphic arts."

Aurignacian culture existed until approximately 28,000 years ago. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Senator Feinstein Reveals Taliban Assassination Plans

May 15th 2012

Pakistani Taliban

The United States and NATO-led international forces have condemned the assassination of a top Afghan peace negotiator. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, but a high-ranking U.S. senator says the killing of Afghan High Peace Council member Arsala Rahmani is further evidence of Taliban intentions as American force levels are reduced. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein says the Rahmani assassination is the latest incident in a pattern of violence gripping Afghanistan. “What this does is demonstrate to many of us that the Taliban are just waiting to come back," she said.

Feinstein recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, and made headlines when she challenged the Obama administration’s assertion that a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan had halted Taliban momentum in the country. Speaking on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday on May 13, the senator described what she sees as the Taliban’s strategy.

“Militarily, I think, the Taliban are not going to beat us. But what the Taliban has done is insinuate itself in a shadowy presence, with shadow governors. They control over a third of the land in which people live. They have expanded into the north and the northeast," she said. Read more ..


America and Russia

Tit-for-Tat Snubs from Obama and Putin

May 15th 2012

Obama Putin

Eyebrows have been raised in both Washington and Moscow following the announcement that President Barack Obama will not attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. The official reason for Obama's absence at the annual conclave, which is to be held in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok on September 1-6, clashes with the Democratic Party's convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is expected to accept his party's presidential nomination.

Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement is bound to cause ripples given that it follows less than two days after newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would not to attend a Group of Eight (G8) meeting in Camp David, Maryland, later this week. Even though both the United States and Russia stressed that this pronouncement should not be interpreted as a snub, it did give rise to all sorts of speculation, especially as the White House had switched the G8 meeting from thes longstanding Chicago venue to the  Camp David retreat, seemingly to appear more welcoming to Putin and other leaders. Read more ..


Greece on Edge

Nazi Nostalgia in Greece Abets Holocaust Denial

May 15th 2012

Nikos Michaliakos
Nikos Michaliakos of Golden Dawn party.

Members of the Greek government, along with community leader, condemned remarks made by Nikos Michaloliakos - the leader of the nationalist Golden Dawn party - for denying that Nazis had exterminated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust era in Europe. Michaloliakos, whose party won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the May 6 election, said "There were no ovens, this is a lie...there were no gas chambers either," while speaking in a May 13 televised interview.

The party leader went on to say that the documented murder of 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, was an "exaggeration" and that "many people from different nations" perished in the death camps as did Japanese died in U.S. camps. "I most categorically condemn such views, which distort history and offend the memory of millions of Holocaust victims," said Michaloliakos.

Greece once had a vibrant Jewish community, many of whom were Sephardim who settled in the northern city of Salonika (Thessaloniki) after being expelled from Spain in the late 1400s. The area was then ruled by the Ottoman Turks, who remained in power until the early 1800s independence movement. Approximately 70,000 Greek Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps, many of whom were sent directly from Salonika to death camps in Central Europe during the Second World War. Read more ..


The Edge of Sport

US Fencers Prepare for Olympics

May 14th 2012

fencers

The United States is the only country to have qualified the maximum of 16 fencers for the London Olympic Games that begin in late July.  U.S. fencers are preparing for the competition not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. ​​

Nzingha Prescod trains at the Fencers Club in New York City.  The Columbia University student began fencing at the age of nine, and is trying to contain her excitement about going to the Olympics. "I don't think I want to think of it as the Olympics, because I feel like the nerves would overwhelm me," said Prescod.  "But if I just think of it as another competition that I've done a million times, then I can just fence like normal." Prescod's teammate James Williams says the Olympics magnify the psychological aspects of sports, because the games are so infrequent. "Everybody is pretty much on the level of parity physically at this point," said Williams.  "So it's mostly mental tenacity and mental fortitude that you're hoping to improve." Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Scientists Discover New Weak Point of the Antarctic Ice Sheet

May 14th 2012

Glacier calving

Bremerhaven, 9 May 2012. The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf fringing the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, may start to melt rapidly in this century and no longer act as a barrier for ice streams draining the Antarctic Ice Sheet. These predictions are made by climate researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. They refute the widespread assumption that ice shelves in the Weddell Sea would not be affected by the direct influences of global warming due to the peripheral location of the Sea.

The results of the climate modelers from the Alfred Wegener Institute will come as a surprise to the professional world with the majority of experts assuming that the consequences of global warming for Antarctica would be noticeable primarily in the Amundsen Sea and therefore in the western part of Antarctica. "The Weddell Sea was not really on the screen because we all thought that unlike the Amundsen Sea its warm waters would not be able to reach the ice shelves. But we found a mechanism which drives warm water towards the coast with an enormous impact on the Fichner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the coming decades", says Dr. Hartmut Hellmer, oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute and lead author of the study. Read more ..


China on Edge

“Shading” The Truth In China

May 14th 2012

Chen Guangcheng

The twists and turns of the fate of blind lawyer and dissident Chen Guangcheng have had much of China’s online community in thrall.

On April 27, Chen arrived in the US embassy from his native Shandong, where he had escaped from house arrest. Despite news of the event being censored, Chinese internet users quickly became aware of his situation. This was especially true on Weibo – the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. To bypass the censors, netizens used nicknames concocted for Chen Guangcheng, including “Shawshank” and “Sunglasses.” But even these terms were soon blocked.

On May 2, things took a dramatic turn when he left the embassy under the guidance of U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke to seek medical treatment at Beijing’s Chaoyang Hospital. It was said that he had left of “his own volition”.

Charles Custer, who runs blog site ChinaGeeks, explored in the post “Sina’s Softer Censorhip” how “on your own volition” had become a online meme by that evening. In the post, he says that instead of blocking the term, Sina Weibo simply stopped indexing any new posts that used the term. Custer said the maneuver created what he calls “an artificial silence”, where users may think no one is talking about the issue even though there were many posts discussing the matter. Read more ..


Inside Israel

An Israel Megalopolis

May 14th 2012

Tel Aviv Skyline

The future shape of the State of Israel may have been glimpsed via an article published in Saturday's YNet, and it seems like something out of a science-fiction film: In short, many experts believe that Israel is already on its way to becoming a mega-city or "megalopolis," which will one day compass the entire center of the country.

This model, known as megalopolis, would see Israel turning into an urban city-state, similar to Singapore and Hong Kong. According to proposal, the entire area between Haifa in the north and Beersheba in the south will become a continuum of urban communities, moving agricultural lands to Negev and Galilee frontiers. While this conjures up visions of a Blade Runner or Metropolis-style dystopia, advocates of the megalopolis idea believe that it offers certain important and perhaps essential advantages.

First, it would solve the housing crisis that is currently causing deep social unrest in the country, creating enough living space for "up to 10 million people without raising housing prices." Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

Time, Place and How Wood is Used are Factors in Carbon Emissions from Deforestation

May 13th 2012

Trees burning in Amazon

A new study from the University of California, Davis, provides a deeper understanding of the complex global impacts of deforestation on greenhouse gas emissions. The study reports that the volume of greenhouse gas released when a forest is cleared depends on how the trees will be used and in which part of the world the trees are grown. When trees are felled to create solid wood products, such as lumber for housing, that wood retains much of its carbon for decades, the researchers found. In contrast, when wood is used for bioenergy or turned into pulp for paper, nearly all of its carbon is released into the atmosphere. Carbon is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. "We found that 30 years after a forest clearing, between 0 percent and 62 percent of carbon from that forest might remain in storage," said lead author J. Mason Earles, a doctoral student with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. "Previous models generally assumed that it was all released immediately."

The researchers analyzed how 169 countries use harvested forests. They learned that the temperate forests found in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe are cleared primarily for use in solid wood products, while the tropical forests of the Southern hemisphere are more often cleared for use in energy and paper production. "Carbon stored in forests outside Europe, the USA and Canada, for example, in tropical climates such as Brazil and Indonesia, will be almost entirely lost shortly after clearance," the study states. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

House Lawmakers Face Renewed Fight over Detainee Provisions

May 13th 2012

US Marines capture Iraqis DoD photo 2003

The House will re-ignite a debate this week that last year sparked public outrage and a White House veto threat: Can terror suspects on U.S. soil be detained indefinitely?

Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans are planning to push an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill on the House floor next week that would strip out provisions allowing the military to hold terror suspects captured in the U.S. The amendment would undo language from last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and go one step further to change the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Opponents of the detention laws warn that U.S. citizens are at risk of indefinite military detention if the law is not changed. Proponents claim the detention laws are a necessary tool in the fight against terror and last year’s bill merely codified current U.S. law. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) offered a fix to this year’s authorization bill granting habeas corpus rights to terror detainees. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Filters Khamenei's Fatwa On Antifiltering

May 13th 2012

Assaholah Ali Khameini

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has apparently become the latest victim of Iran's Internet censorship regime -- to which he himself has given his blessing and approval.

The website Tabnak reports that Khamenei's "fatwa" on the illegality of using antifiltering tools in Iran was itself blocked in the country, some 30 hours after it was published on Iranian websites. The ruling was seemingly filtered because it contained the word "antifiltering," which triggered the country's censorship system to automatically block it. The misfire prompted the conservative website to write, "The filtering of a [religious] order is so ugly for the executive [branch] that it can bring into question the whole philosophy of filtering."

Tabnak has close ties to Mohsen Rezai, the current secretary-general of the Expediency Council and former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters in the Islamic republic, issued the ruling after being asked about inaccessible websites by the semiofficial Mehr news agency. Mehr wrote to Khamenei's office to say that some Iranians, because of their jobs -- including journalists -- need to visit blocked websites for news and information that is "usually not available on authorized websites." Mehr then asked what the religious ruling would be in such cases. Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

Old Habitats Re-Emerge After Chile 2010 Eathquake

May 13th 2012

Chile Earthquake Results Credit: Mario Manzano
Habitat Revealed After Chile Earthquake Credit: Mario Manzano

The reappearance of long-forgotten habitats and the resurgence of species unseen for years may not be among the expected effects of a natural disaster. Yet that's exactly what researchers found in a study of the sandy beaches of south central Chile, after an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami in 2010. Their study also revealed a preview of the problems wrought by sea level rise--a major symptom of climate change. In a scientific first, researchers from Southern University of Chile and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) were able to document the before-and-after ecological impacts of such cataclysmic occurrences. The study is said to be the first-ever quantification of earthquake and tsunami effects on sandy beach ecosystems along a tectonically active coastal zone.

"So often you think of earthquakes as causing total devastation, and adding a tsunami on top of that is a major catastrophe for coastal ecosystems," said Jenny Dugan, a biologist at UCSB. "As expected, we saw high mortality of intertidal life on beaches and rocky shores, but the ecological recovery at some of our sandy beach sites was remarkable. "Plants are coming back in places where there haven't been plants, as far as we know, for a very long time. The earthquake created sandy beach habitat where it had been lost. This is not the initial ecological response you might expect from a major earthquake and tsunami." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrian Kurds Could Tip Scales of Conflict

May 12th 2012

Ciwan and son, Syrian Kurdish refugees
Ciwan and son, Syrian Kurdish refugees (credit: M. Aksakal, VOA)

A tent city among the ruins of a former tobacco factory along the Turkish-Syrian border is home to Syrian refugee Ciwan and his four-year-old son. The Yayladagi camp is swarming with Syrians fleeing the bloodshed of their homeland. But for Ciwan, a Syrian Kurd, it’s unfamiliar living among the predominantly Arab population.

“Over there I lived mostly with my people, but here I am with them, it’s not very easy but slowly I am getting used to it,” he said. His unease defines the struggle of Syria’s largest ethnic minority, the Kurds. The violent year-long political and social upheaval in Syria has left the country’s estimated two million Kurds reeling.

Lodged between decades of oppression and the uncertainty of a future Syria ruled by the Arab-Sunni majority, Kurds have approached the uprising with caution. They say they want to see President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal reign end, but they also see this as an opportunity to reverse their suffering under the hand of an Arab nationalist regime. The Kurds fear a post-Assad, Sunni majority government might enact conservative Muslim policies curtailing a secular state. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Vidal Sassoon, Streetfighter

May 11th 2012

Vidal Sassoon

Rabbi Israel Elia, head of the venerable Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London’s Maida Vale district, remembers the day when he met Vidal Sassoon, one of the congregation’s most celebrated sons. Elia had been quietly working in his office on a spring morning two years ago when an anxious colleague relayed the news that a film crew had gathered outside the building. The rabbi went to investigate.

“At the head of the crew, there was a smartly dressed man with delicate, graceful features,” Rabbi Elia recalled yesterday. “He walked over to me and introduced himself as Vidal Sassoon. He was making a film about his life and career.” Pointing to an annex at the side of the synagogue, Sassoon explained that the building had housed the orphanage where he spent his childhood. “So, I took him inside,” Elia said. “He told me, ‘I want to show you where my dormitory was.’ We entered a room and he looked around. He was excited: ‘Yes, this was it, this was the dormitory.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Vidal, your dormitory is now my office.’ He threw his arms around me and hugged me, telling me about the kindness of our community, how his accomplishments would not have been possible without that generosity.” Read more ..


Bolivian Bondage

The Value of American Citizenship Today

May 11th 2012

Ostreicher Rally
Supporter holds a sign for Jacob echoing Nelson Mandela 

There is a prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia that is commonly referred to as a ghetto.  There are walls surrounding a huge complex, and there are buildings within it, and in the center, a large open courtyard.  Prison guards apply little controls over the lives of the prisoners; it is the prisoners of Palmasola who run the show.  They even created an organization called the Disciplina Interna that governs their affairs; if you can even use the term govern.  There are few rules, and “stay alive” is on top of that list.

No food is served; lucky prisoners are permitted to receive visitors bearing gifts.  Those who have no one outside usually fight, steal, beg or die.  There are small grocery stores run by inmates for anyone who can pay. Most of the 3000 inmates do not live in cells, so they sleep on the streets; if they are spiritual enough, or crafty, they can go to morning prayers at the church run by clergy who are themselves prisoners and be granted permission to stay the night.

Prisoners with money on the outside can buy a private five square-foot cell, and be the envy of those who want the same.  The poorest of the prisoners who cannot support their families outside have their wives and children join them on the streets, inside the walls of Palmasola.  Those visitors can come, get a full body search and be granted access.  They get a stamp on their arms, and only if they can produce that stamp on the way out do they get to leave. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Revenue-Driven Surgery Drives Patients Home Too Early

May 11th 2012

Face Transplant Surgery

Revenue-driven surgery and poor planning drive some surgical patients home too early, concludes a pair of logistical studies conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. The studies show a correlation between readmission rates and how full the hospital was at the time of discharge, suggesting that patients went home before they were healthy enough.

The researchers recommend better planning and other logistical solutions to avoid these problems. "Discharge decisions are made with bed-capacity constraints in mind," says University of Maryland Professor Bruce Golden, the Smith School's France-Merrick Chair in Management Science, who conducted the research with Ph.D. student David Anderson and other colleagues.

"Patient traffic jams present hospitals and medical teams with major, practical concerns, but they can find better answers than sending the patient home at the earliest possible moment," Golden adds. In the studies, Golden and Anderson tracked patient movement at a large, academic medical center located in the United States. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Vitamin K2--New Hope for Parkinson's Patients?

May 11th 2012

Parkinsons

Neuroscientist Patrik Verstreken, associated with VIB and KU Leuven, succeeded in undoing the effect of one of the genetic defects that leads to Parkinson's using vitamin K2. His discovery gives hope to Parkinson's patients. This research was done in collaboration with colleagues from Northern Illinois University (US). "It appears from our research that administering vitamin K2 could possibly help patients with Parkinson's. However, more work needs to be done to understand this better," says Patrik Verstreken.

Malfunctioning power plants are at the basis of Parkinson's. If we looked at cells as small factories, then mitochondria would be the power plants responsible for supplying the energy for their operation. They generate this energy by transporting electrons. In Parkinson's patients, the activity of mitochondria and the transport of electrons have been disrupted, resulting in the mitochondria no longer producing sufficient energy for the cell. This has major consequences as the cells in certain parts of the brain will start dying off, disrupting communication between neurons. The results are the typical symptoms of Parkinson's: lack of movement (akinesia), tremors and muscle stiffness.

The exact cause of this neurodegenerative disease is not known. In recent years, however, scientists have been able to describe several genetic defects (mutations) found in Parkinson's patients, including the so-called PINK1 and Parkin mutations, which both lead to reduced mitochondrial activity. By studying these mutations, scientists hope to unravel the mechanisms underlying the disease process. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA Space Telescope Sees the Light from an Alien Super-Earth

May 11th 2012

comet garradd

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected light emanating from a "super-Earth" beyond our solar system for the first time. While the planet is not habitable, the detection is a historic step toward the eventual search for signs of life on other planets. "Spitzer has amazed us yet again," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The spacecraft is pioneering the study of atmospheres of distant planets and paving the way for NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to apply a similar technique on potentially habitable planets."

The planet, called 55 Cancri e, falls into a class of planets termed super Earths, which are more massive than our home world but lighter than giant planets like Neptune. The planet is about twice as big and eight times as massive as Earth. It orbits a bright star, called 55 Cancri, in a mere 18 hours. Previously, Spitzer and other telescopes were able to study the planet by analyzing how the light from 55 Cancri changed as the planet passed in front of the star. In the new study, Spitzer measured how much infrared light comes from the planet itself. The results reveal the planet is likely dark, and its sun-facing side is more than 2,000 Kelvin (3,140 degrees Fahrenheit), hot enough to melt metal. Read more ..


The Political Edge

Tea Party Bachmann Recants, and is No Longer a Swiss Miss

May 10th 2012

Michelle Bachmann paramilitary

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) no longer wants to be a Swiss citizen, releasing a statement on May 10 that emphasized she is “a proud American citizen.” According to Bachmann’s office, the former GOP presidential candidate sent a letter on May 10 to the Swiss Consulate office asking it to officially withdraw her Swiss citizenship.

“I took this action because I want to make it perfectly clear: I was born in America and I am a proud American citizen,” Bachmann said in a statement. “I am, and always have been, 100 percent committed to our United States Constitution and the United States of America. As the daughter of an Air Force veteran, stepdaughter of an Army veteran and sister of a Navy veteran, I am proud of my allegiance to the greatest nation the world has ever known."

Bachmann’s office noted that she actually became a citizen by marrying Marcus Bachmann in 1978, though it first gained mass attention this week with reports that said she recently gained the citizenship. The Bachmann children reportedly sought to exercise their eligibility for dual citizenship fairly recently, but Bachmann's office declined to comment on their status out of respect for their privacy. Read more ..


The Mind's Edge

Ancient Math Problem Could Improve Medicine, Microelectronics

May 10th 2012

stacking

A hidden facet of a math problem that goes back to Sanskrit scrolls has just been exposed by nanotechnology researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Connecticut. It turns out we've been missing a version of the famous "packing problem," and its new guise could have implications for cancer treatment, secure wireless networks, microelectronics and demolitions, the researchers say.

Called the "filling problem," it seeks the best way to cover the inside of an object with a particular shape, such as filling a triangle with discs of varying sizes. Unlike the traditional packing problem, the discs can overlap. It also differs from the "covering problem" because the discs can't extend beyond the triangle's boundaries. "Besides introducing the problem, we also provided a solution in two dimensions," said Sharon Glotzer, U-M professor of chemical engineering.

That solution makes it immediately applicable to treating tumors using fewer shots with radiation beams or speeding up the manufacturing of silicon chips for microprocessors. The key to solutions in any dimension is to find a shape's "skeleton," said Carolyn Phillips, a postdoctoral fellow at Argonne National Laboratory who recently completed her Ph.D. in Glotzer's group and solved the problem as part of her dissertation. Read more ..


The World on Edge

Can Science and Technology can Help Solve Global Challenges

May 10th 2012

Sumatra village after tsunami

National science academies from 15 countries issued joint statements today calling on world leaders who are about to meet at the upcoming G8 Summit and other international gatherings this year to give greater consideration to the vital role science and technology could play in addressing some of the planet's most pressing challenges. The "G-Science" statements recommend that governments engage the international research community in developing systematic, innovative solutions to three global dilemmas: how to simultaneously meet water and energy needs; how to build resilience to natural and technological disasters; and how to more accurately gauge countries' greenhouse gas emissions to verify progress toward national goals or international commitments.

It is generally well-understood that water and energy are key considerations in global food security given the large demand agriculture places on both. However, one of the G-Science statements says, insufficient attention is being paid to the links between energy and water or, in other words, to the fact that energy requires water and water requires energy. Without considering water and energy together, inefficiencies will occur, increasing shortages of both, the statement warns. It recommends that policymakers recognize the direct interaction between water and energy by pursuing policies that integrate the two, and emphasize conservation and efficiency. Regional and global cooperation will also be required. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Tortured Afghan Bride Defies Odds, Embarks On New Life

May 10th 2012

Sahar Gul
Sahar Gul, mostly recovered after ordeal (credit: RFE/RL)

Sahar Gul, the young Afghan bride whose harrowing ordeal at the hands of her in-laws attracted international media attention, has received some solace after authorities handed down lengthy prison sentences against her tormentors.

When police in northern Baghlan Province followed a tip and rescued Gul in December, she was lying unconscious on the floor of a dark basement. Her fingers were broken, some of her nails had been torn out, patches of hair were missing, and her frail body was covered with bruises and scars. She was so feeble and traumatized that for weeks she could barely speak.

The Kabul Sessions Court delivered 10-year sentences against Gul's father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, who had been accused of imprisoning and brutally abusing the 15-year-old newlywed. Police are still looking for Gul's husband and brother, both of whom are suspects in the case. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Step aside, Gutenberg: Israel is about to Revolutionize Printing—Again

May 10th 2012

Replica of Gutenburg's printing press

For Benny Landa, it wasn’t enough that his Indigo digital commercial printers revolutionized the industry—making it possible to digitally print everything from photo albums to wine-bottle labels—after Indigo’s 2002 acquisition by Hewlett-Packard.

An American transplant to Israel, Landa (“the Steve Jobs of the printing world”) just unveiled his latest game-changer: a trademarked Nanographic line of sheet-fed and web presses for commercial, packaging and publishing markets. The six printers use Israeli-developed NanoInk to print on any kind of material at high speed and low cost.

“We wanted to help the planet reduce its energy use, and we spent the past 10 years working on that,” Landa announced to Israeli reporters during a May 2 teleconference from Drupa 2012 in Germany, the largest printing equipment exhibition in the world. “On the way, we found nanotechnology. It is a true breakthrough that enables our presses to achieve amazing results.”

By offering a whole new way to apply ink, Israel is now positioned to displace Germany as the king of the multibillion-dollar digital printing industry, he added. It was in Germany that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1450. Read more ..



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