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Afghanistan on Edge

No Refuge From Misery For Afghanistan's Displaced

February 24th 2012

Afghani Taliban

To the casual observer the thousands of caves that dot the sandstone cliffs of the ancient Afghan city of Bamiyan hearken to another era, when monks visiting the region's famous Buddha statues took residence there. But for hundreds of Afghans, the caves represent their current reality. The new residents have been forced to seek refuge in the caves, unable to return to areas they originally fled due to insecurity and the destruction of their former homes and villages. Upon their return to their native lands they have found it a struggle to survive, with basic essentials such as food, shelter, and health care in short supply. One is Gulsom, a 34-year-old mother of seven who has lived in the Bamiyan caves for over five years. Gulsom, who only has one name, returned to Bamiyan after she and her children were deported from Iran. After travelling to her former village and finding it deserted and completely destroyed, Gulsom followed the footsteps of hundreds of other returnees and displaced families in the region and moved into a cave. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

IBM’s Incriminating Holocaust-era Documents to be Published in Author’s New Edition

February 21st 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Bestselling author Edwin Black has announced that a provocative, new edition of IBM and the Holocaust will be released in the coming days, on the anniversary of the book's original publication in 2001. Buy it here.

The new “Expanded Edition” will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.

The new Expanded Edition was necessitated after 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust sold worldwide and the book became completely out of print at the end of 2011.

The new edition is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The event is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..


Edge of Narco-Terror

Mexico Offers Reward Following Deadly Prison Break while Investigation goes Forward

February 20th 2012

Nuevo Leon shoot out

Following a prison break near Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon – one of Mexico’s states that borders Texas – Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz has confirmed that at least 30 convicts have escaped following rioting at the Apodaca prison facility on February 19. In a February 20 press conference, Medina said “It was during a riot and disorder within the prison that a group of 30 prisoners managed to escape confinement,” adding that he could also confirm that they belong to Mexico’s ultra-violent Los Zetas narcotics cartel. The Mexican government is offering 10 million pesos ($782,129) for information leading to the arrest of the criminals. According to Mexican media, four high-ranking officials at the prison, including the chief warden, are now under investigation for possible complicity.

Medina said that he has ordered an intense manhunt following the prison break. The names of the escapees have been released, while their photographs will soon be distributed to the public. The governor said that he expects the public’s help in finding the escaped criminals. Following the break out, Medina has also ordered tighter security at all of Nuevo Leon’s prisons. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Weekend Delivery No Better Than Weekends For Infants With Birth Defects

February 18th 2012

Premature Baby

Weekday delivery is no better than night or weekend delivery for infants with birth defects, according to a new study presented at The Pregnancy Meeting, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual conference. The finding is good news for all parties – moms, babies and healthcare teams – and suggests that this high-risk population of women should deliver when their bodies are ready to deliver, regardless of the day or time. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, found that infants with birth defects that were delivered at night or over the weekend fared just as well as those delivered on a weekday – they stayed at the hospital for the same amount of time, were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at the same rate, and were given antibiotics or got help breathing just as often.

While several studies have looked at the relationship between delivery time and outcomes for healthy infants, there are no current studies on infants with birth defects. These physical abnormalities can occur in any major organ or part of the body and can profoundly influence an infant’s overall health and wellbeing, but little is known about delivery time and results for infants with these problems. Read more ..


The Water's Edge

Dutch Parliament Debates ICIJ’s Pacific Overfishing Investigation

February 18th 2012

Jack Mackerel

Members of the Animal Party asked the Dutch government Wednesday to ban catches of threatened jack mackerel that vessels from the Netherlands and other European countries have overfished in the South Pacific. "For years there have been meetings to bring to a halt the activities of big floating fish factories in whose nets whole soccer stadiums could fit," MP Anja Hazekamp of the Animal Party, said, according to the Dutch daily Trouw. “But there are still no binding fishing quotas established.” The parliamentary debate was sparked by a recent exposé by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which revealed that European, Asian and Latin American fleets have decimated the jack mackerel population in the once-rich waters of the southern Pacific. The stocks have declined from 30 million metric tons to less than 3 million in just two decades.

The bony, bronze-hued jack mackerel plays an important role in the marine ecosystem as food for bigger fish and is a key component of fishmeal for aquaculture. It can take more than 5 kilos of jack mackerel to raise a single kilo of farmed salmon. Fleets compete in a free-for-all in the southern Pacific, the ICIJ investigation found, because governments have failed since 2006 to create and ratify a regional fisheries management organization that can impose binding regulations. In the meantime, quotas are only voluntary. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

In Slums of Nairobi, Sex for Sanitation

February 17th 2012

Kenya Sanitary

Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign. Health educator Lydiah Njoroge, a field officer for the Freedom for Girls Program, an initiative of HEART (Health Education Africa Resource Team), distributes towels to girls in Mathare, a collection of Nairobi ghettos where poverty is so severe that girls are unable to purchase even the most affordable brands. "The least [expensive] in the market is 40 shillings ... a packet that has eight pieces in it," says Njoroge. "So, because this girl cannot afford 40 shillings -- their mother, their parents are poor, they have other things to provide food and shelter - sanitary towels are not a priority. So the girl just goes [and] has sex with an older man, most of the time not the same man -- they would have one this month, another one next month, so they are very, very at risk of having HIV." In other words, for 40 shillings - about 50 cents - girls and young women repeatedly put their lives at risk. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

FCC Sends Wireless Broadband Firm LightSquared Back to Square One

February 16th 2012

Science - voyager

Wireless broadband company LightSquared’s fast-tracked approval process came to a screeching halt late Tuesday when the Federal Communications Commission decided to “indefinitely suspend” its conditional waiver to operate.

The decision came in the wake of a second government study confirming the concerns raised by congressional Republicans and global positioning system users about the potential for the company’s planned network to interfere with millions of GPS devices.

The FCC described its decision as a setback for competition in the wireless market. It is also a huge blow for Philip Falcone, a major donor to President Barack Obama, and his hedge fund, Harbinger Capital Partners, which owns most of LightSquared. Falcone has invested more than $3 billion in the venture. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Dog Owners More Likely to Achieve Recommended Activity Levels During Pregnancy

February 16th 2012

Social Topics - Pregnant

Research has shown that pregnant women who own dogs are more physically active than those who don't. Researchers found that, through brisk walking, pregnant women who owned dogs were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes activity per day. The study assessed over 11,000 pregnant women in the UK using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and is the first of its kind to look specifically at the effects of dog ownership on activity levels during pregnancy. It therefore provides valuable new insights that could have important implications for maintaining women's health during pregnancy.

There is growing concern surrounding the health risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that maternal obesity can lead to an increased risk of a range of health complications and may even be linked to childhood obesity. This has led to recommendations that pregnant women, and those considering pregnancy, should take steps to manage their weight and ensure regular exercise under guidance from their healthcare provider. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Spice up Your Life and Reduce Cancer Risk with a Good Indian Curry

February 13th 2012

Food - Spices

Curcumin, an active component of the Indian curry spice turmeric, may help slow down tumor growth in castration-resistant prostate cancer patients on androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a study from researchers at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center suggests.

Reporting in a recent issue of Cancer Research, Karen Knudsen, Ph.D., a Professor of Cancer Biology, Urology and Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University, and colleagues observed in a pre-clinical study that curcumin suppresses two known nuclear receptor activators, p300 and CPB (or CREB1-binding protein), which have been shown to work against ADT.

ADT aims to inhibit the androgen receptor—an important male hormone in the development and progression of prostate cancer—in patients. But a major mechanism of therapeutic failure and progression to advanced disease is inappropriate reactivation of this receptor. Sophisticated tumor cells, with the help of p300 and CPB, sometimes bypass the therapy. Thus, development of novel targets that act in concert with the therapy would be of benefit to patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer. Read more ..


The World on Edge

A History of Self-Immolation

February 13th 2012

Tibet - Tibetan nun self-immolating

A growing number of Tibetans in China have set themselves on fire in recent months to draw attention to what they consider to be Beijing’s cultural and religious repression. This wave follows the self-immolation of dozens in Tunisia and other countries swept up in the Arab Spring. The suicidal act, while making new headlines, has a long history of being used as a political tool around the world.

In 1963, Buddhists in South Vietnam were facing discrimination by the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, a member of the Catholic minority. The treatment became intolerable for many, and one monk, Thich Quong Duc, made a decision that would have a resounding impact on Vietnam and beyond. “Thich Quong Duc sets himself on fire, and that becomes a major news story all over the world,” recalled Michael Biggs, a sociologist at Oxford University and the author of “Dying Without Killing,” a history of self-immolations.The iconic image of the monk engulfed in flames was captured in a prize-winning photograph. “And as a result of that, not only do other people in Vietnam start using that action, but other people in other places completely unconnected with Vietnam start using it as well,” said Biggs. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Mexican Citizens Demand Investigation of Police Brutality in Ciudad Juarez

February 12th 2012

Mexican Topics - mexican police dudes

In a February 10 press conference, non-governmental human rights organizations demanded that Ciudad Juarez Police Chief Julian Leyzaola straighten out the behavior of officers or step down. Representing more than a dozen organizations, the activists announced they had documented 23 cases of alleged torture committed by local police during the month of January alone. In one of the incidents, a man named Jose Cruz Sierra was allegedly tortured to death. Among the groups making the denunciation were the doctors and nurses organized in the Citizens Medical Committee and the Women's Roundtable.

In recent days, Leyzaola and his boss, Mayor Hector "Teto" Murguia, came under increasing fire from different quarters for the conduct of the Ciudad Juarez municipal police force, which was supposedly purged of bad elements and then redeployed as the front-line force against criminal gangs destabilizing the Mexican border city of more than one million people. Yet under the Murguia-Leyzaola administration, more than 100 complaints against officers for alleged abuses are stacked up in the justice commission of the public safety department. Broadly speaking, police officers have also been connected to the repression of public protests, harassment of citizens' organizations and attacks on journalists. Read more ..


Sudan on Edge

Northern Sudan may be on the Verge of its own Arab Spring

February 11th 2012

Sudan - sudanese and syrian protest khartoum
Protests at Syrian embassy in Sudan

Mounting economic hardships plaguing northern Sudan have given political activist group "Change Now" a reason to believe that the Arab-African state is on the verge of its own revolution. Protests, largely concentrated in Sudan's capital and other cities with universities, lack large numbers and longevity, but their increasing frequency and underlying denouncement of the government is beginning to reflect the 1985 ousting of President Gaafar Nimeiri's regime.

Last December a protest sparked by villagers displaced by a hydro-electric dam inspired a week of student demonstrations when authorities responded by closing the University of Khartoum. Similar to in Tunisia and other "Arab Spring" affected states, a participant in the demonstration explained, "It turned into a protest not just against the dam but against poverty, inflation and the bad situation for students." Read more ..


Politics of Religion

Obama Backpedals as Religion Burns Right Through His Policies

February 11th 2012

Presidential - Barack Obama

Chalk up yet another religious controversy on President Obama’s record.

The furor over contraception that consumed much of this week is just one more instance of the president having been put onto the back foot at the intersection of faith and politics.

It’s a problem that previously has popped up in controversies over Israel, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and even Obama’s 2008 comments about people holding on to “guns and religion.”

“It almost appears that every time he tries to steer clear of [the intersection of politics and religion], he steps right into it,” said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida. “He’s trying not to call attention to it and then he finds himself in the middle of it.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Conservative Lawyers Dismiss Threat of Foreign Money, Anonymous Spending at CPAC

February 11th 2012

Politics - C Pac Convention 2012

Anonymous political speech. Foreign money in U.S. elections. The proliferation of super PACs. How grave a threat do any of things pose to American democracy? Not much, according to a panel of conservative attorneys, who gathered Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

The high-profile legal minds on the CPAC panel largely agreed that the changes to the campaign finance landscape are grounds for celebration.

Thanks to the Citizens United decision, we’ve seen “more voices, more competition, and more accountability,” said panelist Benjamin Barr, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.

“Without SpeechNow.org, the Republican nomination would have been sewed up weeks ago,” added Brad Smith, the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who co-founded the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that promotes First Amendment political rights. “And in 2010, we would have had fewer competitive races.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Bain Execs Have Spent over $4.5 Million on Romney’s White House Runs

February 9th 2012

Politics - Ask Mitt

Of all the investments made by the super-wealthy partners at Bain Capital, perhaps none have a greater potential return than the one they have made in Mitt Romney.

Current and former Bain executives and their relatives have given about $4.7 million to organizations dedicated to making Romney the next president of the United States, according to an investigation. And they haven’t just come around lately. Some Bain associates have been filling Romney’s campaign coffers since 2004 when the former Massachusetts governor had early aspirations to become president, and long before he officially embarked on a run. Read more ..


Inside Mexico

Mexico Prepares for July 2012 Elections amidst Increasing Narco-Violence

February 7th 2012

Mexican Topics - Mexico votes

As Mexico's political season rapidly unfolds, attention is focused on the candidates and their political parties. But underneath the glare of the media spotlight, the nuts-and-bolts work of organizing the July 1 elections is quietly taking place without much fanfare. Unlike the United States where each state is in charge of carrying out national elections on the ground, the federal contest in Mexico is organized and conducted by a national institution, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).

Established in 1990 as part of Mexico's experiment in political reform, the IFE is in charge of recruiting and training election officials, setting up and running the polls on election day, monitoring media publicity round-the-clock and levying fines for campaign violations. The IFE does not have legislative authority, but it wields a great degree of power in interpreting the law and laying down the ground rules for elections. Despite the ongoing violence associated with the so-called drug war, the voting will go on as planned, an IFE official told Frontera NorteSur. In terms of election-day mechanics, "the problem of security is minimal," insisted David Delgado, president of the IFE council for the southern state of Guerrero. To make sure people will be able to vote, the IFE plans to "work with the state government and the country's security forces," Delgado said in an interview. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama Reverses Course to Accept Super PAC Funding

February 7th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama perplexed

In a clear signal that the 2012 presidential election is gearing up to be a monumental slug fest, the Obama campaign told big-money donors late February 6 to begin writing their checks to Priorities USA, a top Democratic "super PAC" and make the president's reelection effort competitive with its deep-pocketed GOP opponents. The president's blessing of the super PAC comes nine months before Election Day and gives Obama's top bundlers the opportunity to help jump-start the outside group, which donors had previously avoided.
 
Obama -- who has kept a distance from the outside group which supports his re-election bid -- plans to send campaign officials, cabinet officers and senior aides to super PAC events on his behalf. Campaign officials said Obama himself, Vice President Joe Biden and their spouses would not be appearing at the group's fundraising events. "We decided to do this because we can't afford for the work you're doing in your communities and the grassroots donations you give to support it, to be destroyed by hundreds of millions of dollars in negative ads," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote in an e-mail to supporters late the evening of February 6. "It's a real risk." Read more ..


Edge of Environmental Health

Costa Rica Seeks Causes of Mysterious Chronic Kidney Disease among Sugarcane Workers

February 6th 2012

Latin American Topics - nicaraguan funeral
Interment of Javier Zapata Pulido (35)

The Costa Rican government has launched a study into the causes of chronic kidney disease in its sugarcane producing northern region. At the same time one of the country’s biggest sugar producers said it is revamping its worker health and safety policies. The steps follow an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that explored the mysterious and largely overlooked epidemic of chronic kidney disease — or CKD — that is killing thousands of sugarcane workers and other manual laborers in Central America.

The Costa Rica study will seek to answer one of the thorniest and most politically sensitive questions surrounding what regional health experts call an epidemic: whether the illness should be classified as an occupational disease. Many workers believe the malady is caused by pesticide exposure and working conditions. They have demanded compensation from the sugar industry, which has vehemently denied responsibility. “The main objective is to test whether CKD is or is not a labor-related exposure,” said Dr. Roy Wong, an epidemiologist with Costa Rica’s national health service and lead investigator for the study. The cause of the disease’s outbreak remains unknown, although a growing body of research has shown links between declining kidney function and repeated heat stress and dehydration — the result of strenuous labor in hot climates. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Pro-Romney 'Super PAC' Brings Total Haul to $30 Million for Year

February 2nd 2012

Politics - Ask Mitt

Mitt Romney cemented his position as the favorite to win the GOP nomination with a first-place finish in Florida Tuesday thanks in no small part to an outside spending group that raised $30 million last year, more than the campaigns of any one of his rivals.

"Restore Our Future" raised nearly $18 million in the second half of 2011 to go with the $12.2 million the group brought in for the first half of the year. The group has spent $17.5 million so far in the primary races, just about double that of pro-Gingrich group "Winning Our Future." The super PAC has poured millions of dollars into advertising criticizing the former House Speaker.

The investment industry was far and away the most generous donor to the pro-Romney campaign. Donors included included several buddies from his old employer, Bain Capital, who gave a combined $750,000. The top donors were Julian Robertson of Tiger Management LLC and Paul Singer of Elliott Management Corp. Both gave $1 million. Robertson is a hedge fund pioneer and wealthy investor. Singer is known for buying other nations' bad debt and collecting on it for a profit. Rooney Holdings Inc., a Tulsa, Oklahoma, construction company, also gave $1 million. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Substantial Post-Operative Differences Found among Women having Mastectomies

February 1st 2012

Health/Medicine - exam

A new study reveals substantial differences - by both surgeon and institution - in the rates of follow-up surgeries for women who underwent a partial mastectomy for treatment of breast cancer. Those differences, which cannot be explained by a patient's medical or treatment history, could affect both cancer recurrence and overall survival rates, according to the study led by Laurence McCahill of Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, the Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary's, and Van Andel Research Institute.
 
The research appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "A partial mastectomy is one of the most commonly performed cancer operations in the United States," said McCahill, a surgeon with MSU's Department of Surgery and director of surgical oncology at The Lacks Cancer Center. "Currently, there are no readily identifiable quality measures that allow for meaningful comparisons of breast cancer surgical outcomes among surgeons and hospitals. "But the current U.S. health care environment calls for increasing accountability for physicians and hospitals as well as transparency of treatment results." Read more ..

The Edge of Gadgets

Eureka! Kitchen Gadget Inspires Scientist to Make More Effective Plastic Electronics

January 28th 2012

Food - vacuum food sealer

One day in 2010, Rutgers physicist Vitaly Podzorov watched a store employee showcase a kitchen gadget that vacuum-seals food in plastic. The demo stuck with him. The simple concept – an airtight seal around pieces of food – just might apply to his research: developing flexible electronics using lightweight organic semiconductors for products such as video displays or solar cells.

“Organic transistors, which switch or amplify electronic signals, hold promise for making video displays that bend like book pages or roll and unroll like posters,” said Podzorov. But traditional methods of fabricating a part of the transistor known as the gate insulator often end up damaging the transistor’s delicate semiconductor crystals. Read more ..


Inside the Middle East

Masdar Visionary Tells the Untold Story

January 28th 2012

Nature - ziad-tassmasdar
Ziad Tassabehji, one of the most influential men in the new green Middle East

He came from the dot-com market with a boom and a bust, but in the Arab world. Ziad Tassabehji has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Born in Lebanon and now living in the UK after more than two decades in the United Arab Emirates, Ziad started his first Internet company before there was even Internet in Dubai in 1995. By 2002 after a major downsizing to keep his tech company afloat, he changed course and moved into renewable energy and sustainable development.

Ever hear of Masdar, the zero-energy city in Abu Dhabi? The city that has moonscape mashrabiya surfaces, people podcar movers and a student body whose coffee is brewed by solar power? Read more ..


Oceans in Peril

Business as Usual for Peru as Fisheries Dwindle

January 27th 2012

Animals - anchoveta
Peruvian anchoveta

This northern port reeks of rotten fish year-round, but when anchoveta season begins in late November, its long row of factories belch oily columns of nauseating smoke that impregnate everything within miles. “That’s the smell of money,” a smiling cabbie tells visitors he sees wrinkling their noses as they approach the 27 de Octubre industrial zone, where more than 20 plants throb with activity.

Peru is the world’s second largest fishing nation after China, and 85 percent of its catch is anchoveta. It tastes like anchovy yet is seldom salted; some people eat it like sardines. Almost all is boiled down to fishmeal, a feed for farmed fish and pigs. Peru exported more than a million tons in 2010, mostly to Asia, worth $1.6 billion. Each year up to 6 million metric tons of anchoveta reach the docks of more than 100 fishmeal plants, along with others that can it and make byproducts. What happens inside these factories is known only to company personnel and contracted inspectors. Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela Prepares as Chavez's Health Deteriorates

January 25th 2012

Venezuela Topics - Hugo Chavez infirm
Hugo Chavez

According to a report published by Spanish newspaper ABC on Monday and Tuesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may only have 9-12 months to live as a result of his decision to prioritize presidential duties over personal health. Chavez's prostate cancer was reportedly discovered in January of 2011, at which point his prognosis was five years. Since that initial diagnosis, Chavez has repeatedly postponed treatments or skipped them altogether in the interests of concealing his illness and protecting his political position.

The leaked report, which ABC says was given to the paper by "intelligence services" (much like a November leak to The Wall Street Journal), is dated Jan. 12 and reviews a medical examination Chavez underwent Dec. 30. According to the report, the South American president needs to undergo a painful, debilitating treatment that, while preventing him from working for more than a month, could extend his lifespan. If he defers the treatment, he will likely to die within the year. According to ABC, when presented with a similar conundrum in November, Chavez chose to stay in Caracas rather than travel to Russia for treatment -- out of fear that the political situation in Venezuela was not secure. We have no way to be completely certain that the report accurately represents Chavez's medical condition, but the tenor of the report matches a series of accounts given to Stratfor and other open sources. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Earth Hit by Solar Space Storm

January 24th 2012

Science - Solar flare

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory witnessed an eruption early Monday morning and now astronomers are warning that the biggest geomagnetic storm since 2005 could cause considerable communication disruptions. A solar flare caused by an eruption of sunspot 1402, a region of the sun that has been highly active lately, has created a radiation storm that could effect power grids, satellites and even air travel. This particular eruption produced a M9 class solar flare, almost high enough to be rated as an X-flare, the most powerful of them all.

Solar flares occur when a build up of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere is released suddenly, emitting radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. The energy released is as powerful as the impact of an explosion of millions of hydrogen bombs detonating simultaneously. As magnetic energy is released, particles such as electrons, nuclei and protons are accelerated in the solar atmosphere. The first recorded solar flare was observed in 1859. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin's List: 100 Books For Russian Readers

January 24th 2012

Art Topics - Tolstoy
Tolstoy

In his latest campaign article, published in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily, Russian Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Vladimir Putin takes Russia's national question and breaks it in two. How do we deal with outsiders? he asks. And what does it mean to be an insider? Accordingly, Putin uses his piece to call for several hard-nosed policies for dealing with the "outsiders" -- the nation's growing immigrant population. But at the same time, he proposes a literary gateway for those who wish to become "insiders" -- a cultural canon of 100 books to serve as required reading for all students in Russia's schools.

Speaking on January 23 in the southern city of Kislovodsk, Putin acknowledged Russia's rich legacy as a multiethnic state, but said its inhabitants had much to gain from embracing a unified Russian identity. "No one who lives in our country should forget about their religion or ethnicity," Putin said. "But everyone should be, first and foremost, a citizen of the great country of Russia." Putin noted in his article that "every self-respecting" student at leading American universities has dutifully read their way through similar lists, such as the 51-volume Harvard Classics world-lit anthology or the works included in American educator Mortimer Adler's "Great Books of the Western World." Russia, Putin implied in his article, was not to be outdone. "Our nation has always been a reading nation," he wrote, and called on the country's leading cultural authorities to get cracking with a list of their own. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.xPrime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.
Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Carbon Dioxide is "Driving Fish Crazy"

January 22nd 2012

Environment Topics - Fish in net

Rising human carbon dioxide emissions may be affecting the brains and central nervous system of sea fishes with serious consequences for their survival, an international scientific team has found.

Carbon dioxide concentrations predicted to occur in the ocean by the end of this century will interfere with fishes’ ability to hear, smell, turn, and evade predators, says Professor Philip Munday of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“For several years our team have been testing the performance of baby coral fishes in sea water containing higher levels of dissolved CO2 – and it is now pretty clear that they sustain significant disruption to their central nervous system, which is likely to impair their chances of survival,” Prof. Munday says.

In their latest paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Prof. Munday and colleagues report world-first evidence that high CO2 levels in sea water disrupts a key brain receptor in fish, causing marked changes in their behaviour and sensory ability.

“We’ve found that elevated CO2 in the oceans can directly interfere with fish neurotransmitter functions, which poses a direct and previously unknown threat to sea life,” Prof. Munday says.

Prof. Munday and his colleagues began by studying how baby clown and damsel fishes performed alongside their predators in CO2-enriched water. They found that, while the predators were somewhat affected, the baby fish suffered much higher rates of attrition Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Obama's Donors Get Gifts: White House Invites, Appointments and Contracts

January 19th 2012

Obama Admin Topics - Obama working a crowd

As President Barack Obama ramps up his campaign for a second term, many of his top fundraisers are showing how money helps win influence and access to power in Washington.

Dozens of Obama’s elite donors — many of them wealthy business figures — have been appointed to advisory panels and commissions that can play a role in setting government policy. Others have been invited to a range of exclusive White House briefings, holiday parties and splashy social events.

And some have snagged lucrative government contracts that benefit their business interests or investment portfolios, an investigation has found. These fundraisers are known as “bundlers” because they solicit $2,500 con­tri­bu­tions from multiple friends, col­leagues and fam­ily members and provide “bundles” of checks to the campaign. The sum of contributions per bundler ranges from $50,000 to more than $500,000. Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

EPA Hopes Disclosure Will Lead to Greenhouse Gas Reductions

January 18th 2012

Energy / Environment - carbon emissions

About 25 years after the Environmental Protection Agency began collecting and sharing more information about toxic chemical releases in the hopes that awareness would spur reductions, the agency now hopes to do the same for greenhouse gases.

For the first time, the EPA unveiled data showing the amounts of greenhouse gases released in 2010 by the nation’s largest power plants, oil refineries and paper mills, among a handful of other industries.

The big-picture trends in the data aren’t surprising: Power plants are by far the largest sources of greenhouse gases, accounting for more than 72 percent of all reported releases. In a distant second are oil refineries, followed by chemical plants. Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

More Devastation in South Sudan due to Tribal Conflicts

January 17th 2012

Sudan - Tribal Violence in Sudan
Tribal Violence has greatly increased in South Sudan

Tribal violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei state recently reached alarming levels with thousands of armed young men involved in attacks on villages. The death toll has yet to be determined, but the United Nations says tens of thousands of people in Pibor County were forced to flee attackers.

In Pibor town, hundreds of displaced people gather in the midday sun, waiting for U.N. aid workers to distribute grain and cooking oil brought in by helicopter.

For many like Labakal Kalahin, whose daughter was killed by attackers firing on the family as they fled into the bush, this will be her first meal in seven days. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Impoverished Nigerian Workers Strike over Fuel Subsidy Suspension

January 15th 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria Oil

A labor union representing 20,000 oil and gas workers in Nigeria threatened on January 12 it would shut down all production starting Sunday, January 15 to take part in the crippling nationwide strike over spiraling fuel prices. Nigeria’s main workers’ unions are scheduled to resume their strike today (Monday) after the group said talks with the government failed to resolve their concerns over the removal of a popular fuel subsidy.

The spokesman for the Nigeria Labor Congress, Owei Lakemfa, says negotiations failed after the government refused to reinstate the subsidy. “We felt that the first thing to do is to stop the price increase, which has incensed a lot of Nigerians and pushed them on the streets,” said Lakemfa. “But the government felt that all it needed to do was to offer a price reduction, which wasn’t fundamental to us.” The unions want the government to return fuel prices to the levels before the $8 billion subsides were eliminated at the beginning of this month.

The removal, union workers say, caused fuel prices to double and led to sharp increases in food and transportation prices. The groups, which include the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Action Front (JAF) suspended their initial strike over the weekend to make room for talks with the government. But President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration have refused to reinstate the subsidy, saying it’s unaffordable. Labor spokesman Lakemfa said the government has been unwilling to resolve their concerns. Read more ..


Technology on Edge

Passwords Could Soon Be Obsolete

January 15th 2012

Social Topics - Eyeball Surveillance

Technology is constantly narrowing the gap between science fiction and reality, bringing fundamental changes into our lives. According to IBM researchers, in five years we won’t need passwords, won’t be bothered by junk mail and will be able to control many of our machines with our minds. The American technology company released its 6th annual Five-in-Five, a list of five innovations the firm expects to see within five years.

One of them will enable us to generate small amounts of energy to supplement the electric power we use in our homes. “You can do micro-electronic generation,” says Bernie Meyerson, vice president of Innovation at IBM. “For instance, you can have somebody in the third world who has access to a phone or a smart phone, but doesn’t have access to a power grid, which is a very common thing and literally in a shoe has something that recovers energy from walking and can charge the battery to enable that person to actually become connected with the rest of the world.”

Another innovation will make those hard-to-remember passwords obsolete. Soon, in order to access our e-mail or bank account, we'll use a technology known as biometrics. A tiny sensor could confirm your identity by recognizing the unique patterns in the retina of your eye. “Imagine that things recognize you," Meyerson says. "You walk up to an ATM. It takes one look at you and says, ‘Yep, you’re you.’” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

HokieSpeed: The Supercomputer for the Masses

January 14th 2012

Computer Topics - wu feng and hokiespeed
credit: Virginia Tech

After the success in 2003 of its System X supercomputer, Virginia Tech is again pushing the supercomputing envelope, announcing its new HokieSpeed machine, said to be 22 times faster than its predecessor.

At just one quarter of the size of System X and boasting a single-precision peak of 455 teraflops, with a double-precision peak of 240 teraflops, the HokieSpeed debuts with enough performance to vault it into the 96th spot on the most recent Top500 list. HokieSpeed is also energy efficient enough to place it at No. 11 in the world on the November 2011 Green500 List, making it the highest-ranked commodity supercomputer in the United States.

The $1.4 million supercomputer is made up of 209 separate computing nodes, interconnected across large metal racks, each roughly 6.5 feet tall. In all, the machine occupies half a row of racks, three times less rack space than the X. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

States Slow to Act against New England Polluters

January 14th 2012

Energy / Environment - old town fuel & fiber
credit: DoE

For many in New England, freshly fallen snow is a welcome sign of the season. For Maine resident Jill Callela, the flakes showcase something much darker—the dirty air her family is breathing.

“OK, we have black snow again,” Callela, 39, said, remembering recent winters when the factory directly across the river from her home in Bradley, Maine, polluted the snow in her yard with what she says was lead-laden soot spewed from its smokestack.

Tests Callela had done have shown elevated levels of lead in the snow, she said. Icy winds sweeping over the Penobscot River behind her home amplified the problem.

“It was in everyone’s house and got into the blowers in our cars,” Callela said. “When we would turn on our heaters it would come through the vents.” Read more ..


Edge on the Caribbean

Haitian Farmers Hurt by US Food Program that Benefits American Farmers

January 14th 2012

Caribbean - haitian farmer
Haitian rice farmer

In the months following Haiti’s devastating January 2010 earthquake, the United States government spent $140 million on a food program that benefited U.S. farmers but has been blamed for hurting Haitian farmers.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent 90,000 metric tons American of crops to Haiti as part of the Food for Progress and its related Food for Peace programs run by USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The programs send abundant American crops to nations in need of emergency relief. That amounted to almost three quarters of the U.S. government aid to Haiti after the earthquake, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Haiti Justice Alliance, a Minnesota-based advocacy organization.

Critics said that sending American food aid to Haiti undermined thousands of Haitian growers who were already struggling against imports of cheaper rice and corn — staples of the Haitian diet.

“If you look at the allocation of food aid after the earthquake, the fact that most of it is (Food for Progress) means that the priority for the U.S. government was exporting food from the U.S.,” said Nathan Yaffe, Board Member of the Haiti Justice Alliance. “The evidence suggests that U.S. foreign aid is structured around our economic needs rather than the humanitarian needs of people we’re supposed to be helping.” Read more ..


Edge on Violence

Firearms, Replica Guns, and BB Guns Subject to a Confusing Patchwork of Laws

January 13th 2012

Crime Topics - real Beretta and fake Beretta
Real firearm paired with replica gun

The fatal police shooting earlier this month of a Texas middle school student clutching a BB gun—the latest in a series of incidents involving imitation firearms—spotlights how localities and states have struggled to identify and control both look-alike toys and guns that fire something other than bullets. Like virtually every issue involving firearms, this one is complex and fraught with political peril. While real school shootings are rare, children show up at schools with imitation guns often enough to raise concerns, especially among law enforcement personnel.  In California, for example, about 1,330 school suspensions were issued to students for bringing imitation firearms to school during the 2010-11 academic year, according to an analysis of state data. Seventy California students were expelled for this offense during the same year.

And, even though some U.S. cities and states forbid it, kids regularly play with increasingly real-looking guns in neighborhood streets, parks or forests and in their own yards, sometimes attracting police attention that ends in children’s deaths. Regulation of imitation guns exists but is limited at the federal level.  Instead, a confusing patchwork of laws to regulate the sale, use, and color of replicas has developed among states and communities. But whenever proposals to restrict imitation guns come up, controversy and opposition are sure to follow. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

French TV Reporter's Death Highlights Journalism Dangers of Arab Spring

January 13th 2012

Terrorism - Gilles Jacquier

The death of French television reporter Gilles Jacquier in Syria adds to a mounting toll of journalists killed, detained and attacked as they try to cover the year-old Arab Spring uprising. According to watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, the Middle East was the most dangerous region for journalists last year. France has demanded a full investigation into the death of France 2 TV's Jacquier, who became the first western journalist killed in Syria since the anti-government uprising began 10 months ago. Unlike many journalists, who have tried to sneak into Syria without a visa, the 44-year-old Jacquier had traveled to the Syrian town of Homs with government permission. He was killed by rocket fire as he covered a pro-government rally.

Praise has poured in for Jacquier, a veteran war correspondent who had covered the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and the Balkans, among others. In a broadcast interview, France Televisions Information Director Thierry Thuillier called him a real professional, a pugnacious reporter who counted many friends among his colleagues. Jacquier adds to a mounting toll of journalists killed, attacked and detained while covering the Arab Spring uprising. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

The Muslim Brotherhood's Radical Plan for Egypt

January 13th 2012

Egypt - Members of Muslim Brotherhood

When the third and final round of Egypt's parliamentary elections concludes tomorrow, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is widely expected to cement its dominance of the next legislature. Although the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces still holds executive power, the FJP's political victory promises radical changes for Egypt, including a theocratic domestic program and a confrontational foreign policy. The United States should have no illusions about the party's aims or ability to moderate. As long as the FJP is in power, Washington should condition future bilateral relations on its behavior regarding key U.S. interests, including the treatment of religious minorities, Egypt's peace treaty with Israel, and counterterrorism.
Background

The FJP was licensed on April 30, 2011, making it the second new party to be recognized by the Egyptian government following Hosni Mubarak's February 11 ouster. Initially, it sought to assuage fears of a post-Mubarak Islamist takeover by promising to run for fewer than 50 percent of the seats. But after its electoral alliance with the Wafd Party broke down in late October, the FJP announced that it would contest 77 percent of the seats. In the first round of the elections, which began on November 28, the FJP's coalition won an estimated 73 of 150 seats (48.7 percent), and in the second round, which began on December 14, an estimated 79 of 172 seats (45.9 percent). Its margin of victory is expected to increase in the third round, which is taking place in traditional Brotherhood strongholds such as the Gharbiyah and Daqahliyah governorates. Read more ..


Edge on Ancient America

University of Michigan Complies with Federal Law on Treatment of Human Remains and Artifacts

January 12th 2012

Science - skull archaeological

The University of Michigan released a statement on January 12 that after "18 months of careful deliberation, U-M has completed a formal set of policies and procedures for handling Native American human remains and cultural objects from its museum collections under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)." The statement noted that NAGPRA was passed in 1990, requiring museums such as the Ann Arbor-based institution's Museum of Natural History to follow a mandatory process for transferring culturally affiliated human remains and associated funerary objects to individuals and groups that have requested them and have the legal right to them. On May 15, 2010, the law was expanded and clarified to embrace the transfer of culturally unidentifiable human remains.

Furthermore, read the statement, "Under the clarified law, unidentifiable remains must be transferred to the tribe or tribes that were historically located at the sites where the remains were collected. When more than one tribe has inhabited a particular area, the remains are transferred to all those that have made a request, and they then determine the final disposition among themselves." Read more ..


Election 2012

Right-Wing Republicans Come to the Aid of Capitalist Candidate Romney

January 11th 2012

Politics - Mitt Romney expansive

Conservatives are savaging Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for their attacks on Mitt Romney’s years at the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The attacks from Gingrich and Perry, whose presidential campaigns are on life support, are meant to resonate in South Carolina, the next state on the GOP calendar and a place hit hard by the economic downturn. Yet in slamming Romney as a corporate raider, the two candidates fighting for their party’s right-wing might have done what Romney never seemed capable of: rallying conservatives around the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign.

The influential Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced the criticism as “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism” on January 10, saying that “desperate” GOP candidates “sound like Michael Moore,” the left-wing filmmaker and provocateur. Other prominent conservatives similarly bemoaned what they viewed as liberal attack tactics that will be copied by President Obama’s campaign in November. Conservative talk radio stalwart Rush Limbaugh said on January 9 of Gingrich’s criticism that “you could have read this in an Occupy Wall Street flier.” “You could, after all these bites, say, ‘I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message,’” Limbaugh said. Former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin on January 10 warned on Fox News that candidates should shift the debate from “anti-capitalist mantra to what it is that the GOP really represents in free markets.” Read more ..



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