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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 ..


The Edge of Justice

Stanford Psychologists: How Race Affects Juvenile Sentencing

May 24th 2012

Kids Jail

When it comes to holding children accountable for crimes they commit, race matters. According to a new study by Stanford psychologists, if people imagine a juvenile offender to be black, they are more willing to hand down harsher sentences to all juveniles.

"These results highlight the fragility of protections for juveniles when race is in play," said Aneeta Rattan. Historically, the courts have protected juveniles from the most severe sentences. It has been recognized that children are different from adults – they don't use adult reasoning and don't have impulse control to the same degree.

The Supreme Court has barred the death penalty for juveniles and, in 2010, said life without parole for non-homicide crimes violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Currently the court is considering two cases regarding juveniles involved in murders who were sentenced to life without parole. The justices are weighing whether they will further limit harsh sentences for young people. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Black Sea Ecologists Alarmed By Dolphin Die-Off

May 24th 2012

Dead Dolphin

 Hardly a day goes by in Sochi, Russia's picturesque Black Sea resort, without a dead dolphin washing up on the beach. With the tourist season just kicking off, the unexplained deaths have yet to draw much scrutiny.

But environmentalists are increasingly alarmed. The dolphin carcasses are also turning into a real holiday spoiler for vacationers drawn to the region's scenic beaches and pristine vistas. Russian tourist Aida Kobzh was shocked to discover a group of dead dolphins last week at her local beach in Sochi.

"Everyone stood there and stared at the dead little dolphins lying belly up. Poor creatures!" Kobzh says. "There were some on the beach but also in the water, they were floating there, dead." The dolphins started washing up along Russia's Black Sea coast several weeks ago. They have also been spotted on Ukrainian shores.

Environmentalists are now talking about the biggest dolphin die-off to date in the region, with an estimated 300 animals dead so far. Local authorities have made no serious attempt to investigate the deaths, saying the animals are too decayed by the time they reach the shore for laboratory tests to be conducted. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Pacific Ocean Abyss is Dark, Cold - and Maybe Teeming with Life

May 24th 2012

Tripod Fish Deep Ocean

Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron is making an 11-kilometer dive to the deepest and most remote spot on the planet - the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a place of perpetual darkness, near-freezing temperatures, and immense pressures, yet Cameron and many marine scientists expect to find a host of life forms thriving down there.

In his 1989 deep-sea adventure film, The Abyss, director James Cameron used innovative technology to film far below the ocean’s surface. Now Cameron is using even more innovative technology to dive as far as one can go below the ocean’s surface, to a place visited only once before--by the two-man crew of the submersible Trieste--52 years ago. Cameron is making the nine-hour expedition in a one-man submarine he helped design, and recording ultra-high-definition video of the deep and collecting research samples. During a recent pause in preparations, the director-explorer explained what he hopes to learn from his dive. "We know very little about the species that live down there. We know little about the distribution of the biological communities. We don't know how these animals have adapted to this unbelievable pressure that exists down there," Cameron said. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Fever During Pregnancy More than Doubles the Risk of Autism or Developmental Delay

May 23rd 2012

pregnancy

A team of UC Davis researchers has found that mothers who had fevers during their pregnancies were more than twice as likely to have a child with autism or developmental delay than were mothers of typically developing children, and that taking medication to treat fever countered its effect.

"Our study provides strong evidence that controlling fevers while pregnant may be effective in modifying the risk of having a child with autism or developmental delay," said Ousseny Zerbo. "We recommend that pregnant women who develop fever take anti-pyretic medications and seek medical attention if their fever persists." The study is believed to be the first to consider how fever from any cause, including the flu, and its treatment during pregnancy could affect the likelihood of having a child with autism or developmental delay.

The results are based on data from a large, case-control investigation known as the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) Study. Another recent study based on CHARGE data found that mothers who were obese or diabetic had a higher likelihood of having children with autism.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of public health sciences at UC Davis and principal investigator of CHARGE, pointed out that fever is produced by acute inflammation — the short-term, natural immune system reaction to infection or injury — and that chronic inflammation, which no longer serves a beneficial purpose and can damage healthy tissue, may be present in mothers with metabolic abnormalities like diabetes and obesity. Read more ..


West Africa on Edge

Regional Conflicts Place West African Women in Danger of Abuse

May 23rd 2012

West Africa Domestic Violence

West African women are at greater risk of domestic violence following conflict, according to the International Rescue Committee. The group says physical and emotional abuse have a devastating impact on women in countries where the scars of political conflict have not yet fully healed.

When Fatima, a woman living in rural Liberia, was unable to go to the market to buy the ingredients to make dinner for her family, her husband came home and beat her. He took a kitchen knife, the knife Fatima would normally have used to slice vegetables, and cut three fingers from his wife's left hand. The reason she was unable to go to the market was that her husband had refused her money to do so. Fatima's story is just one of many cases of severe domestic violence, both physical and emotional, experienced by women living in post-conflict countries in West Africa, according to the International Rescue Committee.

A new IRC report explains fighting does not stop after conflicts end, instead it often continues behind closed doors in communities and homes where women bear the brunt of post-conflict tensions. The IRC calls the violence "alarming, pervasive and horrific." "Conflict increases women's risk to violence of all forms. Domestic violence in war and post-war settings, and more specifically the silence around it, is surprising given what we know about its prevalence. What we see during war time is that violence that was once very private often becomes very public," said IRC global women's protection and empowerment programs director Heidi Lehmann.

Using Money to Assert Control

She said women frequently report incidents of emotional manipulation alongside acts of violence. Lehmann said money often is used as a tool to control women and prevent them leaving abusive husbands. In many cases, women are trapped in unhappy marriages and lack the financial means to stand up to their husbands or seek emotional and medical support. IRC President George Rupp said domestic violence in post-conflict communities is more likely after wars fought along ethnic lines or between rebel groups that used fear tactics to intimidate opposing communities. Read more ..


The Biblical Edge

Where is the Upper Room and Does it Matter?

May 23rd 2012

Upper Room
Interior of the place believed to be the location of the Upper Room.

The exact location of the Upper Room, mentioned in the New Testament, is not known nor is it known whether the scripture speaks of the same location in each instance. Today in Jerusalem you can visit the site traditionally held to be the "Upper Room" but it is unlikely that it preserves the actual place where Jesus ate with his disciples or the place to which the disciples went after Jesus' ascension on Mt. Olivet. Acts 1:12 says, "then they (the Apostles) returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying."

Theories abound on where in Jerusalem this room might have been, some point to the lower city west of the Temple, others south of the Temple where the chief priests lived, while still other indications point to a place both near the Temple and King David's Tomb.

From scripture we do know that all of the events from Acts 1:13 through 2:41 occurred in proximity of that "upper room." Later, on the day of Pentecost it says: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place." Acts 2:1 Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Private Spacecraft Heads to ISS

May 23rd 2012

Falcon 9 liftoff
credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX

The private U.S. company Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and reusable Dragon space capsule from Cape Canaveral in Florida before dawn Tuesday.

“Three, two, one, zero and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as NASA turns to the private sector to resupply the International Space Station,” announced NASA launch commentator George Diller as the rocket, carrying the Dragon space capsule, soared into the dark sky. The unmanned Dragon capsule is heading to the International Space Station, an orbiting lab that zooms around the Earth at more than 32,000 kilometers per hour. It is the first time a private spacecraft has attempted to catch up to the orbiting lab, a feat that has only been achieved by official space agences of the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden grinned as he spoke to journalists at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the successful launch. “The significance of this day cannot be overstated,” said Bolden. “A private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And, while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to a good start, and I hope you would all agree on that.” Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Catholic Archbishop Issues Open Letter Defying HHS Mandate on Healthcare Reform

May 23rd 2012

Cardinal Donald Wuerl
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington DC.

In a statement on May 21, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), applauded 43 dioceses, hospitals, schools and church agencies for filing 12 lawsuits around the country that contend that the Health and Human Services mandate within the Obama administration’s healthcare reform package. At issue is the constitutionality of the mandate that would force Catholic and other non-profits to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptive services and sterilization in their insurance plans.

Cardinal Dolan's New York Archdiocese filed suit in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. Joining the archdiocese as plaintiffs are the Catholic Health Care System, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, and Catholic Health Services of Long Island.

"We have tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress -- and we'll keep at it -- but there's still no fix. Time is running out, and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now. Though the Conference is not a party to the lawsuits, we applaud this courageous action by so many individual dioceses, charities, hospitals and schools across the nation, in coordination with the law firm of Jones Day. It is also a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty. It's also a great show of the diversity of the Church's ministries that serve the common good and that are jeopardized by the mandate -- ministries to the poor, the sick, and the uneducated, to people of any faith or no faith at all." Read more ..


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 ..



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