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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 ..

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


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


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 ..

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