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Broken Labor

SuperShuttle: A Job or a Business?

April 22nd 2012

Super Shuttle

Okieriete Enajekpo needs money.

It’s not that the Nigerian-born Maryland resident is unemployed.

But as a driver for the airport van service, SuperShuttle, he must pay the company upwards of $900 a week before he takes home any money of his own.

And going into his fourth day this week in January, Enajekpo is still more than $100 short of paying off his weekly debt and starting to earn cash for himself.

“People back home [in Nigeria] think, ‘Oh you’re in America so you must be doing well,’” he says. “They don’t understand.”

It wasn’t always like this.

Once, drivers of this ubiquitous blue-van airport shuttle service were full-fledged employees, earning a moderate (and dependable) salary. But over the past 13 years SuperShuttle has transformed its cadre of drivers into so-called franchisees — what the company calls independent business owners. In doing so, SuperShuttle has shifted, in its own words , “hard to manage variable costs from the company” to the drivers, making “gross profits more stable and predictable."  Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Orthodox Church Assembles Thousands to Protest Perceived Assaults on Religion

April 22nd 2012

Pussy Riot
Pussy Riot at the Kremlin.

Tens of thousands of Christians gathered outside Russia's main cathedral as part of what religious leaders called a day of prayer "in defense" of the Orthodox Christian faith. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, led morning prayers at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral before launching a procession of supporters carrying icons and other property religious authorities say have been "defiled" by an alleged wave of attacks against the Church, including a so-called 'punk prayer' led by members of 'Pussy Riot', a girl band that gave a raucous performance in the cathedral in February.

In early March, a man broke into a church in Veliky Ustyug, some 500 miles northeast of Moscow, and hacked more than 30 holy icons into pieces with an axe. Two weeks later, another church was vandalized in the southern Russian town of Nevinnomyssk. There an assailant smashed icons, battered the priest, and ended his rampage by planting a hunting knife into a cross on the altar. The Russian Orthodox Church says these incidents are the latest in a string of attacks against the church, which clerics claim is under assault from unspecified "enemies of the faith." Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Psychological Operations at Work: Salamis, 480 B.C.

April 22nd 2012

Ramming at Salamis
Artists Conception by Kostas Nikelis

It was at the island of Salamis that the marine forces of the Greek city-states met their Persian oppressors in battle. It was thus that the West won its very right to exist. The Greeks originally pushed slowly towards the enemy singing the paean “Apollo Savior God” as “Apollo Delphinius” was patron of mariners. As they started to receive projectiles from Psyttalia island, they began rowing backwards but with their prows facing the enemy. The Persian fleet began to move forward with confidence but also facing the first problems as they had to narrow their frontage to get into the space between the Cynosoura and what today is the islet of St George.

The Greeks were no longer retreating, as their flanks were no longer exposed. And they no longer sang the hymn to Apollo. A murmur was raised from the Greek fleet, growing steadily like a threat. A new paean was heard: Forward, children of the Greeks, Liberate the fatherland! Liberate your children, your women, The altars of the gods of your fathers, And the graves of your ancestors: Now is the ultimate struggle!

Those of the Persian fleet, who understood Greek, froze. This was not a simple battle song just to give courage. It was addressed to the press ganged Greeks of the Persian fleet calling for mutiny and insurrection. It was rebuking them for aiding the enemy to desecrate the shrines of the land that was the origin of their forefathers. It certainly tore the heart of the Ionian rowers like a scorched knife! Curses and oaths was the response the Persian officers who might have used whips to prevent potential indiscipline. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Mystery Human Fossils put Spotlight on China

April 22nd 2012

Artist's Reconstruction of Fossil

Fossils from two caves in south-west China have revealed a previously unknown Stone Age people and give a rare glimpse of a recent stage of human evolution with startling implications for the early peopling of Asia.

The fossils are of a people with a highly unusual mix of archaic and modern anatomical features and are the youngest of their kind ever found in mainland East Asia.

Dated to just 14,500 to 11,500 years old, these people would have shared the landscape with modern-looking people at a time when China's earliest farming cultures were beginning, says an international team of scientists led by Associate Professor Darren Curnoe, of the University of New South Wales, and Professor Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology.

The team has been cautious about classifying the fossils because of their unusual mosaic of features. "These new fossils might be of a previously unknown species, one that survived until the very end of the Ice Age around 11,000 years ago," says Professor Curnoe. "Alternatively, they might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa, a population who may not have contributed genetically to living people." The remains of at least three individuals were found by Chinese archaeologists at Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province during 1989. They remained unstudied until research began in 2008, involving scientists from six Chinese and five Australian institutions. Read more ..


The Mortgage Meltdown

Foreclosure Affects Families, Children and Academic Achievement

April 21st 2012

Home for sale, mama and baby

A report released on April 18 by First Focus, an advocacy organization affiliated with The Brookings Institution, estimates that 8 million US children will be directly impacted by ongoing the mortgage crisis. The report, “The Ongoing Impact of Foreclosures on Children,” is the second released by First Focus on the foreclosure crisis’ impact on children and families. According to the group, of the 8 million children affected, 2.3 million have already lost their homes. Three million more children are at serious risk of losing their homes in the near future, and an additional 3 million have been evicted, or may face eviction, from rental properties that undergo foreclosures. This report is the first to quantify the children in rental units affected by foreclosure.

“Children are the often invisible victims of the foreclosure crisis,” said report author Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution. “Foreclosure affects not just the homeowner or landlord, but also the children living in the foreclosed properties.” Isaacs conducted the study while at the Brookings Institution and is now a senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Labor, Human Services and Population Center. She foreclosure and U.S. Census Bureau data in calculating the number of children affected. The report is the second released by First Focus on the crisis' impact on children, and it is the first to estimate the number of children affected who live in rental properties. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Tax on Salt Could Reduce Cardiovascular Disease Deaths by 3 Percent

April 21st 2012

salt

Voluntary industry reductions in salt content and taxation on products containing salt in 19 developing countries could reduce the number of deaths each year from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 2-3 per cent in these countries. The preliminary data presented today at the World Congress of Cardiology are the first findings from a new report from Harvard that will be published later this year.

The study set out to assess the cost-effectiveness of two interventions - voluntary salt reduction by industry, and taxation on salt - in 19 developing countries, that represent more than half of the world's population. The required salt reduction levels were modeled on the UK Food Standards Agency experience which set a series of targets for individual food products that have led to a net intake reduction, so far, of 9.5 per cent overall in the country. While a taxation increase of 40 per cent on industry prices (similar to tobacco), determined by previous work to lead to a 6 per cent reduction in consumption, was also evaluated. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Vanderbilt University Continues Discriminatory Policy towards Christian Student Groups

April 21st 2012

Vanderbilt u

Vanderbilt University’s Board of Trustee met on April 20 within the context of local and national criticism following the institution’s decision which numerous Christian faith groups consider discriminatory. The new policy, which prohibits belief-based student organizations from requiring that their leaders share the group’s beliefs, has sent the organization Vanderbilt Catholic off campus. In addition, the organization has been asked to not use Vanderbilt’s name anymore. Since then, eleven student organizations have defied the ban since September 2011. Vanderbilt, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, even defied 23 members of the state legislature who asked the university to reverse its policy. Tennessee state legislators are working to pass House Bill 3576 to ban policies like Vanderbilt’s at public universities in the state, and perhaps also private universities such as Vanderbilt.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and 22 other Republican members of the state house addressed a letter to Vanderbilt’s trustees asking for a reconsideration of the policy. Congressman Dunn wrote, “We acknowledge that private institutions such as Vanderbilt University have the freedom to establish its associations and maintain the integrity of its institutional mission.” Dunn also wrote, “But the state has a right not to subsidize any part of the operations of those organizations, like Vanderbilt University that engage in unequal treatment of individuals and organizations, the effect of which is religious discrimination.” Read more ..


The Health Edge

Study Finds Soda Consumption Increases Overall Stroke Risk

April 20th 2012

Soda

Researchers from Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute and Harvard University have found that greater consumption of sugar-sweetened and low-calorie sodas is associated with a higher risk of stroke. Conversely, consumption of caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee was associated with a lower risk.

The study is the first to examine soda's effect on stroke risk. Previous research has linked sugar-sweetened beverage consumption with weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gout and coronary artery disease.

"Soda remains the largest source of added sugar in the diet," said Adam Bernstein, M.D., Sc.D., study author and Research Director at Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. "What we're beginning to understand is that regular intake of these beverages sets off a chain reaction in the body that can potentially lead to many diseases – including stroke."

The research analyzed soda consumption among 43,371 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study between 1986 and 2008, and 84,085 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study between 1980 and 2008. During that time, 2,938 strokes were documented in women while 1,416 strokes were documented in men. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

NASA Rover in Ninth Year of Mars Work

April 19th 2012

Opportunity Rover Self-portrait
Opportunity Rover Self-portrait, December 2011
(credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univversity)

More than eight years after landing on Mars for what was planned as a three-month mission, NASA’s enduring Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is working on what essentially became a new mission last summer.

Opportunity reached a multi-year driving destination, Endeavour Crater, in August 2011. At Endeavour’s rim, it has gained access to geological deposits from an earlier period of Martian history than anything it examined during its first seven years. It also has begun an investigation of the planet’s deep interior that takes advantage of staying in one place for the Martian winter.

Opportunity landed in Eagle Crater on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time, three weeks after its rover twin, Spirit, landed halfway around the planet. In backyard-size Eagle Crater, Opportunity found evidence of an ancient wet environment. The mission met all its goals within the originally planned span of three months. During most of the next four years, it explored successively larger and deeper craters, adding evidence about wet and dry periods from the same era as the Eagle Crater deposits. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Hubble’s Panoramic View of a Turbulent Stellar Nursery

April 18th 2012

30 doradus stellar nursery
30 Doradus (credit: ESA, Hubble, STScI, NASA, et al.)

Several million young stars are vying for attention in a new NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a raucous stellar breeding ground in 30 Doradus, a star-forming complex located in the heart of the Tarantula nebula.

The new image comprises one of the largest mosaics ever assembled from Hubble photos and includes observations taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore released the image in celebration of Hubble’s 22nd anniversary.

“Hubble is the world’s premiere science instrument for making celestial observations, which allow us to unravel the mysteries of the universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington and three-time Hubble repair astronaut. “In recognition of Hubble’s 22nd birthday, the new image of the 30 Doradus region, the birth place for new stars, is more than a fitting anniversary image.”

30 Doradus is the brightest star-forming region in our galactic neighborhood and home to the most massive stars ever seen. The nebula is 170,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. No known star-forming region discovered to date in our galaxy is as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus. Read more ..


Safety on Edge

Flame Retardants Might Create Deadlier Fires

April 18th 2012

Click to select Image

In one of the deadliest nightclub fires in American history, 100 people died at a rock concert in Rhode Island nearly a decade ago. But the biggest killer wasn’t the flames; it was lethal gases released from burning sound-insulation foam and other plastics. In a fatal bit of irony, attempts to extinguish fires like this catastrophic one could be making some fires even more deadly.

New research suggests that chemicals—brominated and chlorinated flame retardants—that are added to upholstered furniture and other household items to stop the spread of flames increase emissions of two poisonous gases.

“We found that flame retardants have the undesirable effect of increasing the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide released during combustion,” study co-author Anna Stec, a fire specialist at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Knee Injuries In Women Linked To Motion, Nervous System Differences

April 17th 2012

Olympic Runners

Women are more prone to knee injuries than men, and the findings of a new study suggest this may involve more than just differences in muscular and skeletal structure – it shows that males and females also differ in the way they transmit the nerve impulses that control muscle force. Scientists at Oregon State University found that men control nerve impulses similar to individuals trained for explosive muscle usage – like those of a sprinter – while the nerve impulses of women are more similar to those of an endurance-trained athlete, like a distance runner. In particular, the research may help to explain why women tend to suffer ruptures more often than men in the anterior cruciate ligament of their knees during non-contact activities. These ACL injuries are fairly common, can be debilitating, and even when repaired can lead to osteoarthritis later in life.
More study of these differences in nervous system processing may lead to improved types of training that individuals could use to help address this issue, scientists said. “It’s clear that women move differently than men, but it’s not as obvious why that is,” said Sam Johnson, a clinical assistant professor in the OSU School of Biological and Population Health Sciences. “There are some muscular and skeletal differences between men and women, but that doesn’t explain differences in injury rates as much as you might think,” Johnson said. Read more ..

OIl Addiction

Sudan's Oil Supply is Strangled as Plenty of Blood is Spilled over the Heglig Oilfields

April 17th 2012

Sudanese SPLA wounded

The army of South Sudan – the SPLA – moved into Heglig - an oil-producing area that is disputed with Sudan, from which it was finally split in 2011. Fighting has been deadly in the oil rich area along the border. Dozens of Sudanese troops and civilians have been reported dead, while the road leading south from Heglig is now littered with charred buses and armoured vehicles, and human bodies. South Sudan vows to keep moving north and keep the territory for its own. For its part, Sudan has declared that no price is too much to keep the petroleum producing deposits. The Heglig area produces approximately half of Sudan’s oil, which is vital for the Muslim-dominated north and its largely Chinese and Indian investors.

SPLA spokesmen said that Sudan’s military bombed an oil well outside Heglig on April 16 that continued to burn on April 17. Troops from north of the disputed border are opening other fronts, while the SPLA are on alerg in Western Baah el Ghazal state. Fighting along the border has been intense. Sudan’s armed forces continue to bomb areas north of Unity State more than twice a day, according to SPLA spokesmen. SPLA soldiers occupy deserted oil facilities at Heglig, as well as a former Sudanese Army base in Heglig.

The former market at Heglig now serves as a forward base for SPLA forces from which they scan the front line through a dry forest and a road that may be littered with mines. Sudanese forces are close by. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Online Sales Tax Battle Pits Amazon Against Norquist And Sen. Demint

April 15th 2012

Proponents of an online sales tax aren’t letting up in their push to move legislation through Congress this year, despite the opposition of conservative heavyweights. Retailers have been lobbying aggressively for legislation that would help states collect sales taxes from online purchases. Joining in the effort are state and local governments and some unions, which see an opportunity to raise more revenue. Internet retail giant Amazon has been a vocal supporter of the tax effort, whose backing has been trumpeted by lawmakers and lobbyists alike.

David French, senior vice president of government relations for the National Retail Federation (NRF), said Amazon’s support serves notice to lawmakers that serious proposals are on the table. “Amazon is a strong consumer brand and having them engaged in support of the legislation sends a strong signal to Capitol Hill. It shows that Internet retailers and brick-and-mortar retailers are serious about getting something done,” French said. Still, there are long odds for an online sales tax to be passed this year. Campaign season is expected to slow down work in Congress, and opponents argue the tax proposals put forward in the House and Senate would be harmful to small business. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Challenge of Assessing the Free Syrian Army

April 14th 2012

Syrian uprising

Assessing the Free Syrian Army poses three analytical problems. First, it is difficult to get dispassionate reporting from the ground. Most reports come from involved parties who have an interest in misrepresenting their relative strength and the situation on the ground. Second, although the Syrian conflict appears to be a traditional order-of-battle problem, a similar hypothesis proved incorrect in Libya just a few months ago. Third, while Assad's forces appear very strong, there is a cost to ongoing operations, and that cost is difficult for outside analysts to calculate. Regime forces may therefore be stronger or weaker than they appear.

In addition to accepting these limitations on analysis, it is important to frame the conflict in broader terms. Members of the Syrian opposition are reluctant to label themselves "insurgents" given the terrorist connotation that term has assumed in light of recent events in the Middle East. Yet by the U.S. government's definition, the opposition is certainly an insurgency. Analysts have learned much about insurgencies over the past ten years. Insurgencies and civil wars, which make up about 80 percent of all wars, are common, protracted, and very difficult to win. About 80 percent of all insurgencies and civil wars are won by the established government, and third parties supporting such uprisings have an even more difficult time prevailing. Read more ..


The Rescue Edge

He's Not Heavy: He's My Brother on an Israeli-made Injured Personnel Carrier

April 14th 2012

Injured Personnel Carrier demo

If you've got a heavy load to haul, carrying it in a backpack will be easier than lugging it by hand -- whether it's camping gear or an injured person. And that's the simple reason why Jerusalem-based Agilite has gotten thousands of inquiries about its recently introduced IPC (Injured Personnel Carrier).

The patent-pending, trademarked IPC weighs in at three-quarters of a pound, yet it can bear 5,000 pounds and enables a rescuer to carry someone on his or her back. The unit's 12.5-foot length folds down to just 10 inches.

"The IPC is made of high-tensile military strength webbing or seatbelt material, and it folds into an accordion shape so it's small enough to throw in a camping bag," says Agilite founder Elie Isaacson. "It has built-in padding and it's sewn together in Delaware by the same people who make the harnesses for the U.S. Air Force's V22 and C5 Aircraft."

Search-and-rescue teams, hikers and emergency medical responders are among the eager markets for this Israeli-innovated advancement over the stretcher. "If you have a natural disaster with mass casualties, you don't have a helicopter and an ambulance for every casualty," Isaacson explains to ISRAEL21c. "You will have to evacuate people who are wounded, and maybe carry them long distances. An ordinary person can take heavy weight on his back if it's positioned correctly."

Many rescuers are trained to use the fireman's carry, putting the injured person across their shoulders. But that technique is uncomfortable and doesn't free the rescuer's hands."If you are stuck in a ravine or a confined space, having the ability to use your hands to crawl out with the injured person on your back, with hands free to climb, is a huge step forward," Isaacson points out. The IPC has a fluorescent strip for greater visibility at night, and it's adjustable to the size of the person being rescued. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Bats Save Energy By Drawing In Wings On Upstroke

April 13th 2012

Bat and moth

Whether people are building a flying machine or nature is evolving one, there is pressure to optimize efficiency. A new analysis by biologists, physicists, and engineers at Brown University reveals the subtle but important degree to which that pressure has literally shaped the flapping wings of bats.The team's observations and calculations show that by flexing their wings inward to their bodies on the upstroke, bats use only 65 percent of the inertial energy they would expend if they kept their wings fully outstretched. Unlike insects, bats have heavy, muscular wings with hand-like bendable joints. The study suggests that they use their flexibility to compensate for that mass."Wing mass is important and it's normally not considered in flight," said Attila Bergou, who along with Daniel Riskin is co-lead author of the study that appears April 11 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Typically you analyze lift, drag, and you don't talk about the energy of moving the wings." The findings not only help explain why bats and some birds tuck in their wings on the upstroke, but could also help inform human designers of small flapping vehicles. The team's research is funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Sponsored Research. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Santorum’s Withdrawal Leaves Super PAC Without a Candidate

April 13th 2012

What can the people who run super PACs do with all the cash they have collected when their favorite candidate drops out of the race?

“They can do pretty much anything they want with the money,” said Viveca Novak, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “They can have a margarita party in the Bahamas.” Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s decision to suspend his presidential campaign Tuesday means the “Red, White and Blue Fund” super PAC, which supported him, is without a candidate. The organization and its benefactors helped the under-funded Santorum stay in the game. The group will continue to advocate for conservatives, but there’s no rule that says it has to.

“Pretty much any use of super PAC money — other than coordinating expenditures with candidates or contributing to candidates – would be a legal and permissible use,” said Paul Ryan, an attorney at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. Practical considerations would likely prevent super PAC operatives from doing something extravagant — like buying a yacht or taking a junket to the Caribbean. Such a purchase would be “career suicide,” Ryan said.

Red, White and Blue founder Nick Ryan said the PAC will work to defeat President Barack Obama, “strengthen the conservative majority in the House of Representatives” and “oust the liberal leadership in the Senate.” Super PACs are permitted to collect unlimited sums from individuals, unions and corporations and spend the money on ads and other materials supporting or opposing a candidate. The only prohibition is that they cannot coordinate their expenditures with the candidates’ campaigns.

Through February, the Red, White and Blue Fund raised nearly $6 million, which provided Santorum with a significant boost. After a slow start, Santorum’s campaign raised just shy of $16 million during the same period, while Romney raised about $75 million — and the main super PAC supporting Romney’s candidacy raised an additional $43 million. Santorum chalked up an unexpected victory in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Afterward, his candidacy surged, especially among conservative voters, who helped him rack up wins — and delegates — particularly in the South and Midwest. Read more ..


Edge of Climate Change

Rapid Climate Change Threatens Asia's Rice Bowl

April 12th 2012

Click to select Image

As Asia's monsoon season begins, leading climate specialists and agricultural scientists warned today that rapid climate change and its potential to intensify droughts and floods could threaten Asia's rice production and pose a significant threat to millions of people across the region.

"Climate change endangers crop and livestock yields and the health of fisheries and forests at the very same time that surging populations worldwide are placing new demands on food production," said Bruce Campbell of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). "These clashing trends challenge us to transform our agriculture systems so they can sustainably deliver the food required to meet our nutritional needs and support economic development, despite rapidly shifting growing conditions." Read more ..


Inside Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan as U.S. Ally and Partner in the Middle East

April 12th 2012

Masoud Barzani
Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Iraq’s Internal Political Crisis and U.S. Policy

Despite a budding national political crisis originating from the consolidation of power under Prime Minister Maliki, the Kurdish region of Iraq has seen a number of successes in recent years. Per capita gross domestic product has risen dramatically since the fall of Saddam’s regime in 2003, illiteracy has been reduced from 56 to 16 percent, and the security situation has been greatly improved. Furthermore, the economic and commercial sector has seen increased foreign investment, and the people of Kurdistan have accepted a tolerant policy that rejects revenge and retaliation. In recent meetings with President Barzani, President Obama and Vice President Biden praised these achievements, reaffirming their commitment to a democratic, federal, and pluralistic Iraq.

Notwithstanding Kurdish achievements, the status quo in Iraq remains unacceptable. The people of Kurdistan have waited six years for promises that have not been delivered and agreements that have not been honored. The constitution is breached on a daily basis, and the same individual holds the powers of prime minister, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, defense minister, chief of intelligence, and interior minister. The central bank may soon be under his purview as well. It is important that these constitutional violations be addressed. The law requires that Iraq be ruled in a power-sharing partnership that consists of the Kurds, the Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and minority groups such as the Turkmens. If this problem is not resolved, the Kurdish leadership will be forced to return to the people and allow them to make their own decision. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Text Messages — Even Automated Ones — Can Soothe the Disconnected Soul

April 11th 2012

Teenaged Android

Text messaging often gets a bad rap for contributing to illiteracy and high-risk behavior such as reckless driving. But a social welfare professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has found an upside to texting, especially for people who feel stressed out, isolated and alone. Adrian Aguilera, a clinical psychologist who treats many low-income Latinos for depression and other mental disorders, said his patients report feeling more connected and cared for when they receive text messages asking them to track their moods, reflect on positive interactions, and take their prescribed medications. “When I was in a difficult situation and I received a message, I felt much better. I felt cared for and supported. My mood even improved,” reported one Spanish-speaking patient in Aguilera’s cognitive behavior therapy group at San Francisco General Hospital.

The project began in 2010 when Aguilera developed a customized “Short Message Service (SMS)” intervention program, with the help of UCSF psychologist Ricardo Munoz,  in which Aguilera’s patients were sent automated text messages prompting them to think and reply about their moods and responses to positive and negative daily interactions. The psychologists published the results of the project last year in the journal, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Aguilera has since been awarded a $75,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mexican Presidential Candidates Inundate Social Media During Shortened Season

April 11th 2012

Facebook page

As Mexicans took off from work and school for the long Holy Week-Easter holiday celebrations, the country’s presidential and congressional candidates inundated electronic media with new ads designed to win over the voters.

A sampling of spots aired on Ciudad Juarez’s public radio station 106.7 FM over the Easter weekend zoomed in on several themes that are hot points of debate in the weeks before the July 1 election. Standing out in the ads were issues of insecurity, violence and the so-called drug war. Poverty and the environment also made appearances in some of the political appeals.

The opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) hit on the security theme with a message that called attention to 60,000 families in mourning, meaning of course, the families which have lost a member to the violence that’s prevailed during the outgoing Calderon administration.

In another spot, PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who also represents two other political parties in the Progressive Movement electoral coalition, extolled the PRD’s long governance in Mexico City as solid evidence that his party is fully capable of administering public safety in a tough environment. The Mexican capital is now one of the safest cities in the country, the former Mexico City mayor and 2006 presidential candidate boasted. “We already know how to do it,” AMLO assured his listeners. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Solar Observatories Spot Something New—On the Sun

April 10th 2012

STEREO solar observing satellites
STEREO-A and STEREO-B, solar observatory satellites
(Artist’s conception; credit: NASA)

One day in the fall of 2011, Neil Sheeley, a solar scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., did what he always does—look through the daily images of the sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). But on this day he saw something he’d never noticed before: a pattern of cells with bright centers and dark boundaries occurring in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. These cells looked somewhat like a cell pattern that occurs on the sun’s surface—similar to the bubbles that rise to the top of boiling water—but it was a surprise to find this pattern higher up in the corona, which is normally dominated by bright loops and dark coronal holes.

Sheeley discussed the images with his Naval Research Laboratory colleague Harry Warren, and together they set out to learn more about the cells. Their search included observations from a fleet of NASA spacecraft called the Heliophysics System Observatory that provided separate viewpoints from different places around the sun. They describe the properties of these previously unreported solar features, dubbed “coronal cells,” in a paper published online in The Astrophysical Journal on March 20, 2012.

The coronal cells occur in areas between coronal holes—colder and less dense areas of the corona seen as dark regions in images—and “filament channels” which mark the boundaries between sections of upward-pointing magnetic fields and downward-pointing ones. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Archive Reveals New Details Of Holocaust In Moldova

April 9th 2012

Moldovan Jews, Transnistria, ca 1941
Moldovan Jews, Transnistria, ca 1941 (credit: USHMM/NARA)

In July 1941, Ura and Motl Gabis, two brothers living in the town of Edinet, in what is today Moldova, were taken with their mother and father from their home at gunpoint. They were lined up along the wall of a barn and shot. Their crime was their Judaism. The shooter, Stepan Derevenchuk-Babutsak, was an unemployed son of peasants who knew which homes were Jewish. His gun came from local authorities who sent civilians to get an early start on the systematic cleansing to come when pro-Nazi Romanian and German soldiers swept in.

Evidence that these local attacks were ordered by the Romanian military under then-Prime Minister Ion Antonescu—and were not spontaneous, as was long claimed—can be found among the more than 40 million pages of archives held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The plan, complete with a map of target villages (see below), turned neighbors into murderers on ground fertile for anti-Semitism.

But now, a tranche of documents newly delivered to the Holocaust Museum by the Moldovan government is providing researchers with fresh evidence of the plan’s execution—and a look into the lives of victims and perpetrators alike. Read more ..


Edge on Human Rights

Native Peoples in India Protest Plans for Mining the Niyamgiri Hills

April 9th 2012

Dondria peoples protest in India
Dongria people protest Vedanta mine. (Credit: Survival International)

One of the world’s most controversial mines is back in the spotlight after hundreds protested against renewed efforts to mine India’s Niyamgiri Hills. According to Survival International, an activist group that supports human rights for native peoples worldwide, supporters of the Dongria Kondh and Niyamgiri peoples held their own ‘public hearing’ in Orissa state, where they restated their resolve not to allow mining on their sacred mountain.

The meeting coincided with a Supreme Court appeal in Delhi, which sought to overturn a 2010 ruling preventing UK mining company Vedanta Aluminium Limited from building an open-pit bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills. However, the appeal was adjourned on April 9 and India’s Supreme Court has yet to issue a new date for the hearing. Shortly after the announcement, Indian activist Prafulla Samentra from the National Alliance of People’s Movements, spoke to Survival International. He said, "I hope India’s Supreme Court endorses the government’s ruling not to mine in Niyamgiri. This is in the interests of protecting natural resources and tribal peoples." Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Stalin Era: Misplaced Nostalgia

April 9th 2012

Stalin notebook cover
“Great Russians” notebook cover (credit: Alt Publishing)

In Moscow, adults are snapping up school notebooks for children. Why? The cover has a heroic image of Stalin.

The Stalin notebook is part of a “Great Russians” series. On one level, it is depressing that the art director of the Alt publishing house does not seem to know that “Stalin” was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, a Georgian. But far more importantly, Russia’s amnesia towards its Stalinist past is dangerous.

Winston Churchill, no friend of his wartime ally, once noted that Stalin dragged Russia from the wooden plow to the H-bomb. Similarly, many Russians prefer to focus on this “positive” of Stalin’s three decades of rule. As to the sinister side, Stalin’s close collaborators called him “Genghis Khan with a telephone.”

Those telephone calls led to the deaths of millions of people through executions, famines, and mass jailings. Add to that his criminally poor preparation for the Nazi attack in World War II, a war that cost the lives of almost 15 percent of the Soviet population.

Those telephone calls led to the deaths of millions of people through executions, famines, and mass jailings. Add to that his criminally poor preparation for the Nazi attack in World War II, a war that cost the lives of almost 15 percent of the Soviet population.

“When children see this magnificent cover with handsome mustachioed Stalin, they perceive him as a hero,” Nikolai Svanidze, a television historian, wrote this week about the Soviet leader in his marshal’s uniform, with military medals covering his chest. Read more ..


Egypt and The West

Brotherhood Launches PR Offensive in Washington

April 9th 2012

Khairat al-Shater
FJP presidential candidate Khairat al-Shater

A delegation from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) made its first official visit to the United States last week, where it spent time in New York and Washington, DC talking to think tank experts and White House officials about the Brotherhood’s growing role in Cairo.

"The purpose of the visit is to engage the American people on issues of mutual concern in international relations, reassure [the] business community of the prospects of investments and economic growth in democratic Egypt, and boost American tourism to Egypt," the Muslim Brotherhood’s English language website reported. In other words, the FJP is trying to assuage American fears regarding its political ambitions and depict itself as a moderate group that has the interest of all Egyptians at heart.

The delegation arrived in the U.S. after ruffling feathers by fielding a candidate for president in Egypt—after stating earlier that it wouldn’t do so. That candidate, Khairat al-Shater, this week declared that introducing sharia law would be his "first and final project and objective" as president, and that he would create a special entity to assist parliament in the process. Walking back from that announcement, at an event at Georgetown University, FJP lawmaker Abdul Mawgoud Dardery said that the party is dedicated to the objectives of sharia law rather than its specific practice. "The principles are universal: freedom, human rights, justice for all," he said. Read more ..


Labor on Edge

On-call Employment: Good for Business But Bad for Workers

April 8th 2012

Retail Sales Target Cashier

Like generations of college students, Caprice Taylor needed a job to help pay her school and living expenses. For the 24-year-old student of fashion merchandise management at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, sales work at a retail clothing shop seemed like a good option.

Taylor was hired last year at Club Monaco, a high-end clothing and apparel retailer owned by Polo Ralph Lauren. But her scheduled shifts at the Manhattan store were not guaranteed. Instead, she was given call-in shifts, which required her to call the store two hours before she was scheduled to arrive to see if she was needed.

Most often, she was not.

For months, Taylor said, she arranged her personal life around work days, waiting in her apartment, only to call in and learn the store wasn’t busy enough. On some weeks, Taylor logged as few as six hours, not earning enough to keep up with her living expenses. “It puts your day on complete hold,” Taylor said. “It pressures you.”

After four months of unpredictable paychecks, Taylor quit. She later found work at a Polo Ralph Lauren store that does not have on-call shifts. She was lucky to find it. Retail watchers say big-box stores and shopping-mall stalwarts are increasingly hiring workers for on-call shifts, a trend that cuts labor costs for employers, but leaves workers like Taylor struggling to get by.

Read more ..

Fixing Broken Government

Delaware Lawmakers Move to Address Low State Grades

April 6th 2012

Delaware Legislative Hall

Delaware lawmakers have launched a new legislative effort designed in part to improve the C- grade the state received on lobbying disclosure from the State Integrity Investigation. The First State’s grade put it 22nd among the 50 states in that category.

The bill would require lobbyists to disclose the number of each bill or resolution on which they lobbied. The measure also calls for electronic filing of expenditures and registration forms by lobbyists, and requires the state’s Public Integrity Commission to post reports online “to allow [the] public to review such information organized by bill, resolution, lobbyist, employer, and subject.”

In a press conference Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca (D-Varlano), called the proposed legislation a “big step” for public accessibility. “If you look overall at what we’re trying to accomplish, and you look at the electronics involved in this and the fact that we’re going to be getting an updated system that the public can easily access, that is a major thing,” DeLuca said.

But the bill does not address several areas in which Delaware lost points in the State Integrity Investigation. Delaware lobbyists would still not be required to disclose their salary or overall compensation—only expenses related to food, travel, gifts, and entertainment. And oversight would apparently not be affected. On a scorecard question about effective monitoring of lobbying disclosure, Delaware scored only 16 percent. Read more ..


Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus: Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

April 5th 2012

Edwin Black

EDITORS NOTE: All details of Edwin Black’s Passover coverage are taken faithfully from Exodus chapters 5-15, plus Rashi’s Commentary.

Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.

The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh's wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new “God,” previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.

The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented “feast and sacrifice” to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: “Let my people go.”

Laughter echoed throughout the hall as Pharaoh sneered, “Who is your 'God?' I know him not. Nor will I let Israel go!” Showing little patience, Pharaoh cited reports that Moses had been “disturbing the people from their works” in various building projects wholly dependent upon slave labor. As a punitive measure, Pharaoh proclaimed that henceforth slaves would be compelled to gather their own straw, even as their daily brick quota was maintained. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Israel's Friend on Iran's Border

April 5th 2012

Israeli Jets Parked
Azerbaijan

According to a report out this week in Foreign Policy magazine, Azerbaijan has granted Israel access to its southern airbases on Iran's northern border from which it could potentially launch airstrikes against Iran. "The Israelis have bought an airfield," a senior administration official reportedly said in early February, "and the airfield is called Azerbaijan."

Azerbaijan quickly denied the claims, and a senior official said that the allegations were "aimed at damaging relations between Azerbaijan and Iran." Azeri-Iranian ties have been strained in recent months over the former's relations with Israel. At the end of February, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called a meeting with the Azerbaijani Ambassador to Tehran and warned him not to let Israel use Azerbaijan to stage an attack. In a later meeting, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev confirmed that his country would not do so.

But according to Foreign Policy, Baku could still keep its word and provide Israel with essential support, such as allowing search-and-rescue units inside Azerbaijan or for Israeli bombers to land there after a strike, eliminating Israel's problem of refueling its jets midflight to ensure a safe return home. According to the report, an intelligence officer noted that Washington is "not happy about" Israel's alleged colluding with Azerbaijan. Read more ..


The Iranian Threat

The Danger Zone

April 5th 2012

USS Abraham Lincoln Flight Deck
USS Abraham Lincoln

U.S. President Barack Obama recently said that "all elements of American power" remain on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The USS Abraham Lincoln -- a nearly 100,000-ton supercarrier with a crew of around 4,800 and 50-plus aircraft -- is one of these elements. Steaming just 30 miles off the coast of Iran while launching F/A-18 Hornet strike aircraft, it is one of the most visibly impressive demonstrations of American military might.

If strategic power can be measured in decibels, the flight operations of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier must rank at the top. Even if one wears earplugs as well as ear protectors, the noise on the flight deck is overwhelming. Depending on the aircraft type and the payload it is carrying, each F/A-18 is catapulted off either at full power or with the additional fiery blast of afterburners. Similarly on landing, the throttles are opened in case the aircraft's hook does not catch on one of the four arrestor wires stretched across the deck. An aircraft that misses is labeled a "bolter" and has only yards to once again become airborne and fly round for another attempt. In several hours of watching, there were few "bolters." Most pilots caught their target, the third wire. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

Muslim Brotherhood Changes Tactics, Fields Presidential Candidate

April 4th 2012

Khairat al-Shater
Khairat el-Shater

The decision by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to field Khairat el-Shater as its presidential candidate marks the latest reversal in the group’s tactics during the nation’s political transition. Brotherhood politicians already dominate both houses of parliament, after initially pledging to contest a minority of seats. The prospect of an executive branch under the group’s control raises fears the country ousted an authoritarian government only to replace it with something equally monolithic, and secular, Christian, and even other Muslim groups have been quick to denounce the move.

Political analysts are split over whether this will help or hurt the Islamist cause.

Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo says it is no surprise the Brotherhood went back on its promise to stay out of the race. “The Muslim Brotherhood is like any totalitarian, ideological movement,” Sadek said. “They have objectives. They have an ideology and tactics, and the tactics are very flexible to changing circumstances.”

Similarly, the Brotherhood went back on its word on writing a new constitution. After promising to include a wide array of voices, the drafting committee is dominated by Islamists, with liberal and Christian groups as well as Islamic scholars withdrawing from the very limited role they were offered. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Tribal Payday Lender Sued by Federal Trade Commission

April 3rd 2012

Scott Tucker
Scott Tucker (credit: Level 5 Motorsports)

The Federal Trade Commission today took up a case that had thwarted state authorities for years, accusing an Internet payday lender with ties to Indian tribes of illegally deceiving borrowers.

The agency is asking a federal judge in Nevada to order AMG Services of Overland Park., Kan., to stop the deceptive practices and pay back borrowers who its says got cheated.

“The defendants have deceived consumers about the cost of their loans and charged more than they said they would, said Malini Mithal, the FTC’s assistant director of financial practices. “The FTC is trying to stop this deception and get refunds for consumers.”

While the company has won arguments in state courts that it has tribal sovereign immunity, allowing it to make loans even in states that restrict or forbid payday loans, that protection doesn’t apply to the federal courts. Court records suggest the business has made more than $165 million, charging interest rates as high as 800 percent on small loans. Borrowers have complained in droves about the lender’s tactics. Law enforcement authorities have received more than 7,500 complaints about the business, the FTC says. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Argentine Soldiers in Falklands/Malvinas War Endured Horrifying Antisemitism

April 2nd 2012

Silvio Katz of Argentina 1982
Silvio Katz (second from left) and fellow Argentine troops in 1982.

Three months after returning from the war with Great Britain that would prove disastrous for the Argentine Republic, Silvio Katz – a 19-year-old Argentine soldier – observed from the window of a bus in Buenos Aires a terrifying sight that would immediately recalls the horrors of combat and prejudice. 

In 1982, the combined forces of Argentina’s military descended on the islands due east of the South American republic, over which sovereignty had been disputed with the United Kingdom for over a century. Negotiations, threats and appeals by Argentina were unavailing for decades. Argentina and the United Kingdom could not even agree on the name of the little windswept archipelago where sheep still outnumber people. For Argentina, and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, the islands are known as Las Malvinas – in tribute to sailors from St Malo, France, while Anglo-Saxons still insist on the name Falklands. Read more ..


Inside Cuba

A Papal Visit and Cuba's Repression of the Ladies in White

April 1st 2012

Cuba's Ladies in White

The Cuban government, the Roman Catholic Church and the Cuban humanitarian group, the Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco), all formidable entities in their own right, found themselves thrust upon the world stage together this week as a result of Pope Benedict XVI’s first trip to Latin America in five years. Ahead of the papal’s three-day visit to Cuba,many of the Ladies in White were held by Cuban officials; a series of detainments that were initially prompted by the occupation of a local church in Cuba by members of the Republican Party of Cuba. The anti-Castro demonstrators were attempting to influence the Pope before his impending arrival to directly address the human rights abuses leveled against the Castro regime.

The United States, a long time advocate of the Ladies in White, naturally glommed onto the public protest and, unsurprisingly, Havana was quick to accuse Washington of propping up the “subversive” movement. Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council said the detainments revealed “the disdain of the Cuban authorities” for civilian rights and critiqued “the acts of those who are standing in the way of the basic aspirations of the Cuban people.” Read more ..


Environmental Edge

Water Scarcity in California's Bay-Delta Region Requires Hard Decisions

April 1st 2012

California Bay Delta

Simultaneously attaining a reliable water supply for California and protecting and rehabilitating its Bay-Delta ecosystem cannot be realized until better planning can identify how trade-offs between these two goals will be managed when water is limited, says a new report from the National Research Council. Recent efforts have been ineffective in meeting these goals because management is distributed among many agencies and organizations, which hinders development and implementation of an integrated, comprehensive plan. Additionally, it is impossible to restore the delta habitat to its pre-disturbance state because of the extensive physical and ecological changes that have already taken place and are still occurring, including those due to multiple environmental stressors.

The delta region receives fresh water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, and ultimately flows into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Water-pumping stations divert water from the delta, primarily to supply Central Valley agriculture and metropolitan areas in southern California, the Bay Area, and the delta itself. An increasing population and the operation of the engineered water-control system have substantially altered the delta ecosystem, including its fish species. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

ADHD is Over-Diagnosed

April 1st 2012

Autism

What experts and the public have already long suspected is now supported by representative data collected by researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and University of Basel: ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is over-diagnosed. The study showed that child and adolescent psychotherapists and psychiatrists tend to give a diagnosis based on heuristics, unclear rules of thumb, rather than adhering to recognized diagnostic criteria. Boys in particular are substantially more often misdiagnosed compared to girls.

These are the most important results of a study conducted by Prof. Dr. Silvia Schneider and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Margraf (both from RUB) and Dr. Katrin Bruchmüller (University of Basel) as reported in the American periodical "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology". 

Leon has ADHD, Lea doesn't

The researchers surveyed altogether 1,000 child and adolescent psychotherapists and psychiatrists across Germany. 473 participated in the study. They received one of four available case vignettes, and were asked to give a diagnoses and a recommendation for therapy. In three out of the four case vignettes, the described symptoms and circumstances did not fulfil ADHD criteria. Only one of the cases fulfilled ADHD criteria based strictly on the valid diagnostic criteria. In addition, the gender of the child was included as a variable resulting in eight different case vignettes. As the result, when comparing two identical cases with a different gender, the difference was clear: Leon has ADHD, Lea doesn't. Read more ..


Edge of Obamacare

Five Questions for the Supreme Court to Consider in the Healthcare Debate

March 31st 2012

US Supreme Court

A handful of specific questions from last week's oral arguments could help shape the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on President Obama’s healthcare law.

The over-arching question before the court is whether the law’s individual mandate is constitutional. But that’s a complicated question, and the two sides of the case don't even agree about how best to ask it.

A decision is expected to come in June — just months before the presidential election.

The biggest takeaway from last week’s arguments was that the mandate is very much in jeopardy. That doesn’t mean, however, that the court is sure to strike it down, and the oral arguments helped illuminate several areas the justices will likely consider in their private deliberations. Here are five questions that could shape the court’s ruling:

A handful of specific questions from last week's oral arguments could help shape the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on President Obama’s healthcare law. Read more ..


The Edge of Disaster

Staying Ahead of Asia’s Next Natural Disaster

March 31st 2012

Sumatra village after tsunami
Sumatran coastal village after tsunami
(credit: PM2 Philip A. McDaniel, US Navy)

This week’s moderate earthquake in Japan, one of the Asian countries best prepared for natural disasters, was a stark reminder of the value of readiness in a region disproportionately targeted by the forces of nature. While Japan continues to dig out from last year’s triple disaster, Thailand is scrambling to avert a repeat of last year’s historic floods.

Since then, Thai authorities have set aside billions of dollars for a long-term water resource management plan that they say will ensure that the disaster will not be repeated.

Bangkok resident Suthi Sun remembered the floods like a bad dream. When the waters reached his residence, he said in an e-mail interview that “this was the first time I found the high level of flooding. The highest level was 1.5 meter[s]. Meanwhile my ceiling is about 2.2 to 2.5 meters.”

Sun said the Thai government tried to do its best but had no “clear or certain policy.” Ruengrawee Pichaikul, Senior Program Coordinator for the Asia Foundation in Thailand, agreed, saying in an e-mail interview that some believed the scale of the flooding was beyond the government’s capacity. When responding to similar charges leveled against the government during the flood, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said, “I tell you the truth, we have done everything to the best of our ability. … We are facing the most severe flooding ever. We need encouragement, support, and cooperation from all sectors and from all the people as well.” Read more ..



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