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China on Edge

South Korea Uncovers 'Stamina' Capsules made of Human Fetal Tissue and Babies from China

May 8th 2012

Lots of Pills

Officials in South Korea seized thousands of pills featuring the powdered flesh of babies and aborted fetuses. Customs agents discovered a shipment of the grim material that brought from China and billed as a ‘cure-all.’ The SBA news service of South Korea reported that the corpses of the dead babies and fetuses are sold by medical staff to companies which then process them into products for sale outside of China. Stored in refrigeration in the homes of the perpetrators, the corpses are then dried by microwave. Then, they are ground into powder and turned into capsules with the admixture of herbs, according to health inspectors and customs agents.

The finding was publicized on May 7, but seizures have been ongoing since August 2011. Veteran customs agents were shocked and troubled by the discoveries. Hospitals and abortion-providers are apparently providing the raw material for the trade. South Korean has detained a number of smugglers who claim that they did not know the ingredients of the offending capsules. Chinese officials now claim that an investigation into this use of human issue is going forward. Read more ..

Environment Edge

Bleak News for Irrigation-Dependent Agriculture in Southwestern U.S.

May 8th 2012

New Mexico irrigation
New Mexico irrigation canal.

Dependent on melting snowpack in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico for much of their water, Rio Grande irrigators in the Paso del Norte borderland are in for more bad news. In their just-released water supply forecast for New Mexico, the National Weather Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service noted that spring runoff forecasts for the Rio Grande into New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir are only 21 percent of normal flows. The large man-made lake supplies water to farmers in southern New Mexico, west Texas and the Juarez Valley in Mexico.

The latest news followed April’s water supply outlook that gauged Elephant Butte storage at 385,800 acre-feet of water in comparison with 466,400 acre-feet at the same time in 2011. For the second year in a row, irrigators below the gates of Elephant Butte are up against the reality of very limited water from the Rio Grande, forcing them to rely on expensive groundwater pumping. The word has gone out to expect only one Rio Grande water delivery this year, just as in 2011.

Last month, the Juarez Valley and Lower El Paso Valley received their water while the Hatch Valley, the farming belt closet to Elephant Butte, was delivered its supply in recent days. According to the Elephant Butte Irrigation District website, irrigators in New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley near Las Cruces south to the Texas border should expect their water on May 15. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Increasing Speed of Greenland Glaciers Gives New Insight for Rising Sea Level

May 7th 2012

Antarctic Ice flow
Greenland Glaciers

Changes in the speed that ice travels in more than 200 outlet glaciers indicates that Greenland's contribution to rising sea level in the 21st century might be significantly less than the upper limits some scientists thought possible, a new study shows.

"So far, on average we're seeing about a 30 percent speedup in 10 years," said Twila Moon, a University of Washington doctoral student in Earth and space sciences and lead author of a paper documenting the observations published May 4 in Science.

The faster the glaciers move, the more ice and meltwater they release into the ocean. In a previous study, scientists trying to understand the contribution of melting ice to rising sea level in a warming world considered a scenario in which the Greenland glaciers would double their velocity between 2000 and 2010 and then stabilize at the higher speed, and another scenario in which the speeds would increase tenfold and then stabilize.

At the lower rate, Greenland ice would contribute about four inches to rising sea level by 2100 and at the higher rate the contribution would be nearly 19 inches by the end of this century. But the researchers who conducted that study had little precise data available for how major ice regions, primarily in Greenland and Antarctica, were behaving in the face of climate change. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Black Hole Caught in a Feeding Frenzy

May 7th 2012

Click to select Image

When it comes to scary things in the universe, it's hard to get much scarier than supermassive black holes. These gigantic, invisible menaces lurk in the centers of galaxies, hungrily vacuuming up everything within reach - or so we think. But the truth is more benign. Supermassive black holes snack infrequently, making the recent discovery of a black hole in the act of feeding all the more exciting to astronomers.

"Black holes, like sharks, suffer from a popular misconception that they are perpetual killing machines," said Ryan Chornock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "Actually, they're quiet for most of their lives. Occasionally a star wanders too close, and that's when a feeding frenzy begins."

Chornock and his colleagues, led by Suvi Gezari of Johns Hopkins University, reported their discovery of a feeding supermassive black hole in the May 3 issue of the journal Nature. If a star passes too close to a black hole, tidal forces can rip it apart. Its constituent gases then swirl in toward the black hole. Friction heats the gases and causes them to glow. By searching for newly glowing supermassive black holes, astronomers can spot them in the midst of a feast. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

The Legacy of a Chinese Diplomat who Saved Thousands of Jewish Refugees

May 7th 2012

Shanghai memorial Yitzhak Rabin
Memorial to rescuers of Shanghai, signed by Yitzhak Rabin.

Tens of thousands of Jews living in Austria wanted to leave their country after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938 and started persecuting the Jews. The persecution of Jews in Austria (and in Europe in general) came to a peak on November 9-10, 1938 with a series of attacks on Jews known as “Kristallnacht” (also known as the Night of Broken Glass). During Kristallnacht, Jewish homes, shops, towns and villages were ransacked, as SA stormtroopers and civilians destroyed buildings with sledgehammers, leaving the streets covered in pieces of smashed windows—the origin of the name “Night of Broken Glass.”

In Vienna alone, 95 synagogues or houses of prayer were destroyed. However, in order for Jews to leave Austria, they needed to have a visa from a foreign country. This was not easy, especially after the July 6-13, 1938 Evian Conference.

This was a conference initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution, but the result of the conference was that 31 countries (out of a total of 32, with the Dominican Republic as the only exception) refused to increase or even allow Jewish immigrants due to their fear of Nazi Germany.

Dr. Ho Feng-Shan, the young Chinese consul-general in Vienna from May 1938 to May 1940, risked his life and career and acting against the orders of his superior, Chen Jie, the Chinese ambassador to Germany, issued visa to any Jew who requested one. Read more ..

Greece on Edge

More Uncertainty for Greece after an Uncertain Election

May 7th 2012

Golden Dawn - Greece
Flag of Golden Dawn party of Greece.

Greek voters have pushed the country into more political uncertainty after no party garnered enough votes to form a government. Results on May 7 from parliamentary elections the day before show the New Democracy party winning about 19 percent of the votes. That is the most of any single party, but the percentage falls far short of the number needed to form a government on its own.

The Socialist PASOK party won less than 14 percent of the vote, after taking 44 percent just three years ago to take power in Greece. The leftist, anti-EU bailout Syriza party won about 17 percent in Sunday May 6 election.

New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras now has three days to form a coalition government. He is expected to begin coalition talks later on May 7. Failure to form a coalition after three days leaves the task up to smaller groups. New Democracy has long been identified with business and military leaders associated with the dictatorship of the 1970s, while it has also been an ally to NATO and the U.S.  Relations between PASOK and the U.S./NATO have historically been more fractious, especially during the period in the late 1980s and into the 1990s under Prime Minister Andreas Papandreas. Papandreas was the son and father of Greek premiers. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change ‘Time Machine' Experiment Opens In Australia

May 6th 2012

mexico drought

One of the world’s most complex experiments on the impact of rising levels of carbon dioxide is taking shape in eastern Australia, where giant steel frames nine stories high have been built on native woodland.  The project near Sydney will mimic future climatic conditions by simulating higher atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is pumped into an environmental “time machine” on the outskirts of Sydney, aiming to predict how vegetation will react to future climate change.

The experiment features giant cylindrical steel frames 28 meters tall that rise above native woodland, called bushland.  They will simulate elevated levels of CO2 that the planet could experience in the next half century. Professor David Ellsworth from the University of Western Sydney is in charge of this unique project. “We have six of these arrays of pipes up in the woodland designed to emit carbon dioxide in a computer-controlled system so we can study how this ecosystem responds a rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration,” he said. Read more ..

The War in Afganistan

Obama's Pull-Out Pledge puts DoD on Edge in Afghanistan

May 6th 2012

US 10 MT departing
Members of 10 Mountain Division Infantry

President Obama's pledge to not build any permanent military outposts in Afghanistan could throw a wrench in the Pentagon's postwar plans for the country, once U.S. troops leave in 2014. The president's promise, made during Tuesday's nationally televised speech from Afghanistan, is an integral piece of a postwar agreement between Washington and Kabul.

President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai formally agreed to the plan on Tuesday, which lays the foundation for future American involvement in Afghanistan for the next decade.

Roughly 23,000 American soldiers are scheduled to leave Afghanistan this summer. The remaining 68,000 U.S. troops are expected to completely withdraw from the country by 2014. The postwar deal signed on May 1 will govern U.S-Afghan operations from 2014 until 2024. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Waking Embryos Before They Are Born

May 6th 2012

Chicken Flock

Under some conditions, the brains of embryonic chicks appear to be awake well before those chicks are ready to hatch out of their eggs. That's according to an imaging study published online on May 3 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, in which researchers woke chick embryos inside their eggs by playing loud, meaningful sounds to them. Playing meaningless sounds to the embryos wasn't enough to rouse their brains. The findings may have implications not only for developing chicks and other animals, but also for prematurely born infants, the researchers say. Pediatricians have worried about the effects of stimulating brains that are still under construction, especially as modern medicine continues to push back the gestational age at which preemies can reliably survive. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Higher Risk of Birth Defects from Assisted Reproduction

May 5th 2012


A University of Adelaide study has identified the risk of major birth defects associated with different types of assisted reproductive technology. In the most comprehensive study of its kind in the world, researchers from the University's Robinson Institute have compared the risk of major birth defects for each of the reproductive therapies commonly available internationally, such as: IVF (in vitro fertilization), ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and ovulation induction. They also compared the risk of birth defects after fresh and frozen embryo transfer.

The results are being presented in Barcelona, Spain at the World Congress on Building Consensus in Gynecology, Infertility and Perinatology. "While assisted reproductive technologies are associated with an increased risk of major birth defects overall, we found significant differences in risk between available treatments," says the lead author of the study, Associate Professor Michael Davies from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute and School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health.

Researchers linked a census of more than 6100 assisted reproductive technology births in South Australia to a registry of more than 300,000 births and 18,000 birth defects. They compared risks of birth defects across all infertility treatments to pregnancies in women with no record of infertility. They also compared successive pregnancies for women.


The Edge of Music

'Game-powered Machine Learning' opens Door to Google for Music

May 4th 2012


Can a computer be taught to automatically label every song on the Internet using sets of examples provided by unpaid music fans? University of California, San Diego engineers have found that the answer is yes, and the results are as accurate as using paid music experts to provide the examples, saving considerable time and money.  In results published in the April 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that their solution, called “game-powered machine learning,” would enable music lovers to search every song on the web well beyond popular hits, with a simple text search using key words like “funky” or “spooky electronica.”
Searching for specific multimedia content, including music, is a challenge because of the need to use text to search images, video and audio. The researchers, led by Gert Lanckriet, a professor of electrical engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, hope to create a text-based multimedia search engine that will make it far easier to access the explosion of multimedia content online. That’s because humans working round the clock labeling songs with descriptive text could never keep up with the volume of content being uploaded to the Internet. For example, YouTube users upload 60 hours of video content per minute, according to the company. Read more ..

Freedom Edge

Greeks Recall America's Contribution to Liberation from Ottoman Turks

May 4th 2012

Greek freedom fighters

The Hellenic National Anthem, the longest in the world (158 stanzas – verses) says in verse 22:

Cordially rejoiced

and Washington’s land.

And remembered the irons

in which she too was shackled.

When in 1821, the Greeks revolted against the violent rule of the Ottoman Turks, waves of sympathy spread across Europe. But the waves did not stop there. With lighting speed they crossed the Atlantic and reached the America shores.

Nine years before, the people of the United States had fought to liberate their land from the mighty British Empire and there were some very senior American citizens who retained their memories of the American Revolution. And while in Europe there were people who openly talked of intervention on the part of the “Holy Alliance” in favor of the Ottoman Sultan, the Americans openly spoke in favor of a new nation fighting for the very same reasons that they themselves had braved the measured volleys of the British muskets. It is said that the notion that “Christian troops should not impose a Muslim despot on Christians” was first raised in the U.S. Read more ..

Inside Afghanistan

Fifteen-Year-Old Girl Forced into Marriage Demands Retribution in Afghanistan

May 3rd 2012

Tortured Afghani girl after rescue
Sahar Gul, survivor of slavery and forced prostitution in Afghanistan

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

The Kabul Sessions Court on May 1 delivered 10-year sentences against Gul's father-in-law, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, who had been accused of imprisoning and brutally abusing the 15-year-old newlywed. Police are still looking for Gul's husband and brother, both of whom are suspects in the case. When police in northern Baghlan Province followed a tip and rescued Gul in December 2011, she was lying unconscious on the floor of a dark basement. Her fingers were broken, some of her nails had been torn out, patches of hair were missing, and her frail body was covered with bruises and scars. She was so feeble and traumatized that for weeks she could barely speak. "I wanted them to be punished," Gul said after hearing the verdicts from the court. "I want them to have their nails ripped off and for them to receive burns like they gave me. I wanted to get my divorce." Read more ..

The Edge of Agriculture

Farming by GPS Saves Money, Environment

May 3rd 2012

wheat fields

As spring planting goes into high gear in the United States, farmers are going high-tech in order to use less fertilizer, save money and protect the environment. Satellite-based GPS navigation systems are becoming standard on modern farm equipment, helping farmers get the most from their fields.

On a weedy patch of land an hour and half from Washington, D.C., farmer Brad Eustace is tilling razor-straight lines with a GPS-guided tractor. With the computer in control, he barely has to steer. “You can do a straight line a whole lot easier,” he says. The GPS computer receives signals from earth-orbiting satellites to keep track of where his tractor is and where it has gone. Hoses deliver precise amounts of fertilizer right into the grooves that the tiller cuts. Virginia farmer Brad Eustace uses a GPS-guided tractor to til his fields. That process prepares the field for when farmer Jimmy Messick comes back days, or even weeks later, with a GPS-guided corn planter… "The seed goes right on top of this row. This tilled row," Messick says. "The corn planter will come back, and it will be putting the seeds exactly on top of these tilled strips that the machine previously has put the fertilizer in.” Placing seed and fertilizer together with centimeter precision means fewer loads of fertilizer go on the fields. “You’re able to use less," Messick says. "Of course, you’re saving money. And you get the same performance out of the crop.” Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Contempt Charge Against Holder by Congress Closer Today

May 3rd 2012

Eric holder

GOP House of Representatives members who are investigating the Operation Fast and  Furious debacle received the nod from their party leadership to seek a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, a federal law enforcement source told the Law Enforcement Examiner this morning.

The House resolution accuses Holder and his Justice Department  of obstructing lawful investigation of accusations that the Obama Justice Department allowed thousands of guns to be smuggled -- or "walked" -- across the U.S.-Mexican border into the waiting  hands of Mexican organized crime gangs currently fighting a de facto war against President Felipe Calderon's government. If passed by a House vote, the contempt citation would order the controversial Attorney General to deliver to the House Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee  thousands documents related to the probe of the gun-smuggling operation that resulted in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent -- Brian Terry -- and possibly an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, Jaime Zapata, near Mexico City.    
Attorney General Holder insists he has cooperated fully with the investigation and he will continue to assist congressmen in their probe.

Congressional Republicans and their investigators have been probing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF's) Fast and Furious "Gunwalker" scandal. Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been openly vocal about seeking a contempt citation against Holder.  Read more ..

Haiti After the Quake

Haiti, Cholera and the U.N.

May 3rd 2012

Haiti Eathquake Devastation

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has faced numerous crises over the last two years, from a devastating earthquake and hurricanes, to political instability and a cataclysmic cholera outbreak.

As a result, the country seems to be in perpetual affliction. In your article published on April 30th entitled Haiti, cholera and the U.N., Jane Change and Muneer Ahmad provide an interesting analysis of the spread of the cholera epidemic in Haiti and the U.N.’s involvement in the proliferation and spread of the disease. Although the outbreak was inadvertently caused by the U. N.’s Nepalese troops, as the article points out, the international body did little to address the issue satisfactorily. The reason why Haitians have limited means of redress is not only due to the U. N.’s unwillingness to take action on the issue, but also in part due to what can be described as a lack of quality regarding the leadership of the Caribbean country. Read more ..

The Edge of Peace

Peace from the Grassroots

May 2nd 2012

Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi
Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi

Diplomats haven’t made many inroads in relations between the Arab and Jewish populations of Israel. A Bedouin-Arab professor of social workbelieves better results would come from the collective wisdom of the educators and mental-health professionals who understand the situation’s everyday impact on those populations.

“Human-service professionals and educators in Israel and Palestine possess untapped potential to positively impact peace-building and reconciliation in this most volatile region,” says Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Department of Social Work Prof. Alean Al-Krenawi. “They have the potential to proliferate a message of understanding, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

The notion arose from eight years of researching the impact of political violence on Jews and Arabs, he tells ISRAEL21c from Canada, where he is finishing his newest book, “Psychosocial Impact of Political Violence: The Israeli Palestinian Case.” After interviewing people across the region, he concluded that the suffering among what he terms “tomorrow’s players” on both sides is acute, and not much is being done about it. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Nanotechnology That May Enhance Medication Delivery and Improve MRI Performance

May 2nd 2012

MRI Machine

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have shown a new category of "green" nanoparticles comprised of a non-toxic, protein-based nanotechnology that can non-invasively cross the blood brain barrier and is capable of transporting various types of drugs. In an article Gordana Vitaliano, MD, director of the Brain Imaging NaNoTechnology Group at the McLean Hospital Imaging Center, reported that clathrin, a ubiquitous protein found in human, animal, plant, bacteria, and fungi cells, can be modified for use as a nanoparticle for in-vivo studies.

"Clathrin has never been modified for use in vivo and offers many new and interesting possibilities for delivering drugs and medical imaging agents into the brain", said Vitaliano. Clathrin is the body's primary delivery vehicle responsible for delivering many different types of molecules into cells. Vitaliano therefore believed that the protein's naturally potent transport capabilities might be put to practical medical use for drug delivery and medical imaging. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

As Peshawar’s Bookstores Close, Isolation Grows

May 2nd 2012

Bookstall at Peshawar's agriculture university
Book stall at Peshawar's agriculture university (credit: RFE/RL)

For more than 55 years, the Maktaba-e Sarhad bookstore has been a cultural monument in the heart of Peshawar.

But now, the store is closing. “Those who love reading books have no money, and those with money are busy in other activities,” owner Haji Rasheed says, with tears in his eyes, amid his once-crowded bookshelves. When he opened in 1956, he says, he had a “missionary’s zeal” to squeeze the whole world of ideas into his medium-sized shop. And he succeeded. His shop had 30,000 books in English, Pashto, and Urdu, ranging from literature to studies of law, theology, medicine, and political science.

But beginning last month, Rasheed priced everything at 50 percent off. Now, with just 3,000 books left, he is turning from selling books to the more profitable business of selling computers, radios, and televisions instead. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Webb Telescope Spinoff Technologies Already Advancing Industry

May 1st 2012

Webb space telescope (full-size model)
Full-size model of the Webb Space Telescope

A critical component of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is its new technology. Much of the technology for the Webb had to be conceived, designed, and built specifically to enable it to see farther back in time. As with many NASA technological advances, many of the innovations are being used to benefit humankind in many other industries. The Webb telescope is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Webb telescope will provide images of the first galaxies ever formed, and explore planets around distant stars. It is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. New technologies developed for NASA’s JWST have already been adapted and applied to commercial applications in various industries including optics, aerospace, astronomy, medical and materials. Some of these technologies can be explored for use and licensed through NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Optics Industry: Telescopes, Cameras and More

The optics industry has been the beneficiary of a new stitching technique that is an improved method for measuring large aspheres. An asphere is a lens whose surface profiles are not portions of a sphere or cylinder. In photography, a lens assembly that includes an aspheric element is often called an aspherical lens. Stitching is a method of combining several measurements of a surface into a single measurement by digitally combining the data as though it has been “stitched” together. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Are We Alone in the Universe?

May 1st 2012

Allen Telescope Array
Allen Radio Telescope Array (credit: SETI.org)

Many of us believe finding some form of life beyond our own planet is inevitable, and the recent discovery of Earth-like planets—in a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface—has renewed excitement about the possibility of eventually finding extra-terrestrial life.

However, two Princeton University researchers suggest those expectations may be more based in optimism rather than scientific fact.

Princeton’s Edwin Turner and David Spiegel wanted to separate fact from expectation. So they took what science currently knows about the existence, or likelihood of extra-terrestrial life, and performed a Bayesian analysis, which evaluates just how much of what is considered to be a scientific conclusion comes from actual hard scientific fact and what comes from assumptions made by the scientist involved. Read more ..

The Americas on Edge

Latin America's Growing Scourge: Child-Soldiers

April 29th 2012

El Salvadoran Child Soldier

Approximately 300,000 children around the globe have been recruited as child soldiers. These children are forced to enter “various armed groups, civil militia, paramilitaries and government armed forces.” According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, any person under the age of 18 years unless under specific law is considered a child. In accordance with international law, it is illegal for a child under the age of 18 to actively participate in the armed forces of their country, and the recruitment of a child under the age of 15 is deemed a “war crime.”

A child soldier is deemed as anyone “under eighteen years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force, any group serving in any military capacity, including, but not necessarily limited to: cooks, porters, messengers, and anyone accompanying such groups other than family members.” Young girls and boys are also noted to be recruited “for forced sexual purposes and/or forced marriage,” and are often times trafficked.

Although this age limit is moderately new (created in 2002 by the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of a Child), this decadent practice stills occurs in different parts of the world, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is important to highlight the fact that prior to the above-cited protocol passed in 2002, the minimum age for participating in the armed conflict was fifteen, according to the 1949 Geneva Convention and the 1977 additional protocols. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Pacific Islands May Become Refuge for Corals In a Warming Climate

April 29th 2012

Easter Island statues

Scientists have predicted that ocean temperatures will rise in the equatorial Pacific by the end of the century, wreaking havoc on coral reef ecosystems. But a new study shows that climate change could cause ocean currents to operate in a surprising way and mitigate the warming near a handful of islands right on the equator. As a result these Pacific islands may become isolated refuges for corals and fish.

Here's how it would happen, according to the study by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists Kristopher Karnauskas and Anne Cohen, published April 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change. At the equator, trade winds push a surface current from east to west. About 100 to 200 meters below, a swift countercurrent develops, flowing in the opposite direction. This, the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), is cooler and rich in nutrients. When it hits an island, like a rock in a river, water is deflected upward on the island's western flank and around the islands. This well-known upwelling process brings cooler water and nutrients to the sunlit surface, creating localized areas where tiny marine plants and corals flourish. On color-enhanced satellite maps showing measurements of global ocean chlorophyll levels, these productive patches of ocean stand out as bright green or red spots, for example around the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific. But as you look west, chlorophyll levels fade like a comet tail, giving scientists little reason to look closely at scattered low-lying coral atolls farther west. The islands are easy to overlook because they are tiny, remote, and lie at the far left edge of standard global satellite maps that place continents in the center. Read more ..

The Edge of Food

Basil by the Tree-ful

April 29th 2012

Basil Tree

Sacred to some, and with a long list of medicinal properties, basil is an herb Americans usually like tossed into spaghetti sauce or on top of pizza. Like most herbs, basil tastes best when it’s fresh.

The Israeli company Hishtil (“seedling” in Hebrew) revolutionized the market for fresh herbs and spices around the world, and now it has developed a new strain of basil for discerning taste buds. Normally basil has a short shelf life, and the plant rarely lives longer than a year.

Using patented techniques, Hishtil grafted two types of basil plants together — a hardy “secret” strain that grows a sturdy trunk, and a leafy aromatic Greek variety with tasty leaves. Together they form the world’s first basil tree. And while the tree still may be sensitive to lower temperatures come winter, bring it inside where it’s warm, says Menny Shadmi, the head of marketing for the company, and it will live a long time.

One of the company’s first grafted trees is already five years old and is doing well, Shadmi adds, hoping the new basil tree will attract hobby plant growers and the nurseries that cater to them. The new basil tree can also be grown as a bonsai — perfect for city-dwellers looking to grow their own herbs and spices, and also for suburban vegetable gardeners. It can be harvested regularly, but it must keep two-thirds of its leaves at all times to stay healthy. Read more ..

The Cultural Edge

Caught Between Turkey, Russia, and Persia: 19th-Century Azeri and Armenian Perceptions of National Identity

April 28th 2012

Turkey in Asia and the Caucasus (1885 Colton map)
1885 Colton map, “Turkey in Asia and the Caucasian Provinces of Russia”

The ethnic conflicts that have dominated the political landscape of the South Caucasus—a historical crossroads of many civilizations, empires, cultures, and peoples—since the years following the Soviet Union’s collapse have generated strong ethno-nationalisms. They have played a crucial role in determining inter-ethnic, and to a certain degree also inter-state, relations in this post-Soviet area. Given the strategic location of the South Caucasus—with its small populace historically sandwiched between great powers—local ethno-nationalisms have been considerably affected by the perceptions of neighboring states. These states once used to be empires encompassing what are now Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.

In fact, modern nationalisms of contemporary Azerbaijanis and Armenians have been significantly shaped in a complex historical context of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century. This reflects the way local elites interpreted the ethno-linguistic, cultural, and political legacy of three major empires—Turkey, Persia (Iran), and Russia, of which Azerbaijan and Armenia had been part for centuries. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Price of Pollination-Dependent Products Such as Coffee and Cocoa Could Continue to Rise

April 27th 2012

Bee and pollen

In recent years the economic value of pollination-dependent crops has substantially increased around the world. As a team of researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), the Technical University of Dresden and the University of Freiburg headed by the UFZ wrote the value of ecological pollination services was around 200 billion US dollars in 1993 and rose to around 350 billion US dollars in 2009. For the first time, the researchers were also able to show in which regions of the world pollination plays a particularly important role and agriculture is furthermore particularly dependent upon the pollination carried out by animals. The researchers analysed this relationship on the basis of 60 crops, such as coffee, cocoa, apples and soya beans, which are dependent upon pollination by animals, mostly insects such as honeybees and wild bees, butterflies or bumble bees. The researchers analysed this relationship on the basis of 60 crops, such as coffee, cocoa, apples and soya beans, which are dependent upon pollination by animals, mostly insects such as honeybees and wild bees, butterflies or bumble bees. Read more ..

Space Program on Edge

US Space Shuttle Enterprise Arrives in NYC

April 27th 2012

Enterprise over NYC
Space Shutte Enterprise arrives in NYC (credit: NASA)

The U.S. space shuttle Enterprise has arrived in New York after hitching a ride on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA)—NASA’s second shuttle flyover in just two weeks after Discovery traveled to replace Enterprise at a Washington area museum. Enterprise was used as an Earth-bound test vehicle and never flew into space.

The U.S. space agency had planned to transport Enterprise earlier this week, but the trip had to be postponed because of bad weather. The specially-modified 747 carrying Enterprise took off Friday morning from Dulles International Airport outside Washington.

Just as Discovery recently flew over Washington landmarks, Enterprise flew over high-profile locations in New York, including the Statue of Liberty, before landing at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Discovery is now on display in Enterprise’s old home, the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington. In the next few weeks, the Enterprise will be demated from the SCA and transported by barge to its new home at Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. Read more ..

After Chornobyl

Work Begins On New Chornobyl Shell

April 27th 2012

Chernobyl in 2007

Ukraine has begun construction of a new protection shell over the damaged reactor at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The work to replace the existing shell, which is crumbling and leaking radiation, comes on the 26th anniversary of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster there. The new shelter, weighing 20,000 tons, is due to be completed by 2015.

Speaking in a ceremony marking the start of construction, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych thanked international donors for pledging a reported $980 million to build the new shelter and a nuclear fuel waste facility. “I am pleased to say that Ukraine was not left alone to face the tragedy,” he said. “We saw the whole world coming to help us.”

The biggest donors are the Group of Eight leading industrial nations—including Japan, which itself is still dealing with the effects of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Fire and an explosion at one of Chornobyl’s reactors on April 26, 1986, caused radiation to spread across parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere in Europe. Dozens of workers died in the cleanup effort following the catastrophe. Read more ..

The Violent Roads of Mexico

Victims of Narco-Violence are Remembered in Nightly Memorials

April 26th 2012

Mexico crosses

Every night this week, a street in central El Paso will light up with the names of more than 10,000 people killed in the violence that’s ravaged Ciudad Juarez and Mexico since 2008. Sponsored by Annunciation House, the nightly projection/vigil is part of a week-long series of activities that will culminate with a dinner honoring in person the Mexican poet and anti-violence activist Javier Sicilia on Saturday, April 28. A shelter for migrants and the homeless, Annunciation House, has named Sicilia the recipient of its 2012 Voice of the Voiceless award.

To call attention to the loss of human life in the so-called narco war, Annunciation House will project the names of murdered people on one side of the organization’s building on East San Antonio Avenue while simultaneously flashing large photos on another side of the red-brick structure. Accompanied by music, the stunning images show grieving families, funerals galore, freshly-killed victims laying in the street, masked soldiers in the streets and outraged citizens protesting in public. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Do Urban 'Heat Islands' Hint At Trees Of Future?

April 25th 2012

Red Oak

City streets can be mean, but somewhere near Brooklyn, a tree grows far better than its country cousins, due to chronically elevated city heat levels, says a new study. The study, just published in the journal Tree Physiology, shows that common native red oak seedlings grow as much as eight times faster in New York's Central Park than in more rural, cooler settings in the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. Red oaks and their close relatives dominate areas ranging from northern Virginia to southern New England, so the study may have implications for changing climate and forest composition over a wide region.

The "urban heat island" is a well-known phenomenon that makes large cities hotter than surrounding countryside; it is the result of solar energy being absorbed by pavement, buildings and other infrastructure, then radiated back into the air. With a warming climate, it is generally viewed as a threat to public health that needs mitigating. On the flip side, "Some organisms may thrive on urban conditions," said tree physiologist Kevin Griffin of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who oversaw the study. Griffin said that the city's hot summer nights, while a misery for humans, are a boon to trees, allowing them to perform more of the chemical reactions needed for photosynthesis when the sun comes back up. Read more ..

After Fukashima

Rapid Tsunami Warning by Means of GPS

April 25th 2012

Japan debris
Tsunami Damage

For submarine earthquakes that can generate tsunamis, the warning time for nearby coastal areas is very short. Using high-precision analysis of GPS data from the Fukushima earthquake of 11 March 2011, scientists at the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ showed that, in principle, the earthquake magnitude and the spatial distribution can be determined in just over three minutes, allowing for a rapid and detailed tsunami early warning.

One advantage of a GPS monitoring network in the vicinity of the epicentre is the availability of data shortly after the quake starts. Even as the earth shakes, the horizontal and vertical movements of the tectonic plates are observed. Along with gradually incoming seismic data, this leads to an image of the rupture process while it is still in progress. This result was presented by GFZ scientist Dr. Andrey Babeyko at this year's assembly of the EGU (European Geosciences Union) in Vienna. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Warm Ocean Currents Cause Majority of Ice loss from Antarctica

April 25th 2012

Antarctic Ice flow

 An international team of scientists led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has established that warm ocean currents are the dominant cause of recent ice loss from Antarctica. New techniques have been used to differentiate, for the first time, between the two known causes of melting ice shelves - warm ocean currents attacking the underside, and warm air melting from above. This finding brings scientists a step closer to providing reliable projections of future sea-level rise. Researchers used 4.5 million measurements made by a laser instrument mounted on NASA's ICESat satellite to map the changing thickness of almost all the floating ice shelves around Antarctica, revealing the pattern of ice-shelf melt across the continent. Of the 54 ice shelves mapped, 20 are being melted by warm ocean currents, most of which are in West Antarctica. In every case, the inland glaciers that flow down to the coast and feed into these thinning ice shelves have accelerated, draining more ice into the sea and contributing to sea level rise. Read more ..

Earth on Edge

Tiny Spherules Reveal Asteroid Impact Details

April 25th 2012

Rock Showing Impact Spherules
Spherules created from asteroid impact
(credit: Bruce M. Simonson, Oberlin College)

Researchers are learning details about asteroid impacts going back to the Earth’s early history by using a new method for extracting precise information from tiny “spherules”—about one millimeter in diameter—embedded in layers of rock. The spherules were created when asteroids crashed into the Earth, vaporizing rock that expanded into space as a giant vapor plume. Small droplets of molten and vaporized rock in the plume condensed and solidified, falling back to Earth as a thin layer. The round or oblong particles were preserved in layers of rock, and now researchers have analyzed them to record precise information about asteroids impacting Earth from 3.5 billion to 35 million years ago.

“What we have done is provide the foundation for understanding how to interpret the layers in terms of the size and velocity of the asteroid that made them,” said Jay Melosh, an expert in impact cratering and a distinguished professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, physics and aerospace engineering at Purdue University.

Findings, which support a theory that the Earth endured an especially heavy period of asteroid bombardment early in its history, are detailed in a research paper appearing online in the journal Nature on April 25. The paper was written by Purdue physics graduate student Brandon Johnson and Melosh. The findings, based on geologic observations, support a theoretical study in a companion paper in Nature by researchers at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Study Finds Soda Consumption Increases Overall Stroke Risk

April 25th 2012


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 – recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – 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." Read more ..

The Armenian Genocide

Georgia in Disarray over Turkish Genocide of Armenians

April 25th 2012

Djondo Baghaturia, MP
Djondo Baghaturia

Georgia’s tumultuous political scene descended further into disarray this week with a bitter scuffle in parliament.

The dispute erupted on April 24 when Jondi Baghaturia, an opposition lawmaker, brought up the prickly issue of whether to recognize as genocide the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War I. “Citizens of our country, ethnic Armenians, came here yesterday and demanded that Georgia’s parliament recognize the Armenian genocide,” Baghaturia said. “I told you, when you organized this one-day PR campaign and recognized the Circassian genocide, I told you not to do it! Now, I’d like to know what you will tell these people! After all, they are citizens of our country.”

Last year, Georgia became the first country to recognize the expulsion of Circassians from the North Caucasus by the Russian Empire in the late 19th century as genocide. The recognition was personally backed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

“Unruly Class”

Baghaturia’s comments drew the ire of fellow deputy Azer Suleimanov. His family’s country of origin, Azerbaijan, is a staunch ally of Turkey, which rejects the term “genocide” for the Armenian mass killings. When Baghaturia dismissed his objections with a wave of his hand, Suleimanov angrily reached into his pocket, drew out a tube of Vaseline and flung it at Baghaturia. The pair quickly began scuffling and had to be separated by security. Read more ..

China and Philipines on Edge

Report Says China Worsening Tensions in South China Sea

April 25th 2012

Pagasa Island

A new report from a Brussels-based think tank says Chinese government agencies are exacerbating tensions in the South China Sea. As relations worsen between China and its South China Sea neighbors, some analysts say Beijing governmental agencies with little experience in foreign affairs are jockeying for influence, presenting inconsistent policies across the disputed region.

The International Crisis Group (IGC) says Beijing's highlighting of historical claims to the territory is also stoking nationalist sentiments. Stephanie Kleine Ahlbrandt, the China and Northeast Asia Policy Director for the ICG in Beijing, says the growing U.S. military presence in the area is also upsetting the balance of power among the neighboring countries.

“This raises the stakes in the entire region,” says Ahlbrandt. “It’s beyond the South China Seas, in places like Myanmar, in places like India, and this profoundly disturbs China because China feels like [the region belongs to it], and they’ve responded by engaging in more military build up, which is sort of a circle whereby these countries feel more afraid and then they ask the U.S. to come in.”

The United States has long held annual military exercises with countries in the region, but escalating tensions have brought those efforts under new scrutiny. The U.S. and Philippines held annual naval drills earlier this month, and China and Russia have begun their own joint military exercises in the region. Read more ..

Edge Of Climate Change

Geophysicists Employ Novel Method To Identify Sources Of Global Sea Level Rise

April 24th 2012

Glacier calving

As the Earth's climate warms, a melting ice sheet produces a distinct and highly non-uniform pattern of sea-level change, with sea level falling close to the melting ice sheet and rising progressively farther away. The pattern for each ice sheet is unique and is known as its sea level fingerprint. Now, a group of geophysicists from the University of Toronto, Harvard and Rutgers Universities have found a way to identify the sea level fingerprint left by a particular ice sheet, and possibly enable a more precise estimate of its impact on global sea levels.

"Our findings provide a new method to distinguish sea-level fingerprints in historical records of sea levels, from other processes such as ocean waves, tides, changes in ocean circulation, and thermal expansion of the ocean," says Carling Hay, a Ph D candidate in the Department of Physics. "It may indeed allow us to estimate the contributions of individual ice sheets to rising global sea levels." Scientists around the world are trying to estimate both the current rate of sea level rise and the rates of ice sheet melting, and yet little work has been done to combine the two problems and answer these questions simultaneously. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Europe's Traveling Dog and Pony Show

April 23rd 2012

euro flags

Along the corridors of European Parliament in Brussels, janitors are making their way from floor to floor, pushing trolleys loaded with black plastic trunks. It will take them five hours of work to cart some 6,000 cases down to the basement before loading them on to eight large trucks bound for Strasbourg.

The black plastic trunks are essentially the mobile offices of approximately 5,000 staffers. "On a Friday you open the trunk and you load it with the files you will need in Strasbourg the week after -- which you do not have electronically or which you prefer to have just with you," says Rosalie Biesemans, an MEP's assistant at the European Parliament. When the trunks arrive in the French city, the contents are unloaded and used in the Strasbourg offices of the European Parliament for a week, before they're packed up again and sent travelling 440 kilometers back to the Belgian capital. This cycle, which repeats itself every month, has become one of the European Union's odder features. Read more ..

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 ..

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