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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 ..


Broken Banking

Borrower Battles GE over Loan

January 7th 2012

Economy - Sheila Timmons
Sheila Timmons (credit: F. Brian Ferguson, iWatch)

Sheila Timmons, a single mother of two from a West Virginia coal town, is fighting a legal battle against General Electric Co., one of America’s most powerful corporations.

How this happened is a story about the dream of home ownership and, Timmons claims in a lawsuit, corporate fraud.

It began one day in 1998 when she had a talk with her youngest son, Travis. He was 7 at the time.

“My baby says, ‘Mom, I want a house with a triangle roof,’” Timmons recalls. “We lived in a trailer park at the time.”

She took out a loan and paid $28,000 for a small home in Gallagher, a former coal camp where she grew up. The simple, coal company-built house—known in West Virginia’s coalfields as a “Jenny Lind” home—didn’t have much insulation. The bathroom ceiling was falling in and windows needed replacing. But it was home for Timmons and her boys and she was willing to get her hands dirty and fix up the place, doing the rehab work herself. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Fraud and Folly at General Electric as Mortgage Bankers 'Lived it Up'

January 6th 2012

Business People - immelt
Jeffrey Immelt

For General Electric Co., hawking subprime mortgages was a long way from making light bulbs and jet engines. That didn't stop the industrial giant from jumping into the subprime business in 2004, lending blue-chip respectability to the market for risky home loans by paying roughly half a billion dollars to buy California-based WMC Mortgage Corp.

What GE got in the bargain, former WMC employees say, was a place where erstwhile shoe salesmen, ex-strippers and even a former porn actress could sign on as sales reps and make big money pushing home loans. WMC's top salespeople earned a million dollars a year or more and lived fast, swigging $1,000 bottles of Cristal and wheeling around in $100,000 Ferraris and Bentleys. In pursuit of these riches and perks, several ex-employees claim, many WMC sales staffers embraced fraud as a tool for pushing through loans that borrowers couldn’t afford.

Dave Riedel, a former compliance manager at WMC, says sales reps intent on putting up big numbers used falsified paperwork, bogus income documentation and other tricks to get loans approved and sold off to Wall Street investors. One WMC official, Riedel claims, went so far as to declare: “Fraud pays.” Read more ..


Personal Edge

Ambitious 'Athivist' Jonathon Prince wants to Run a Mile on the Moon

January 5th 2012

Social Topics - johnathon prince

Athlete and activist Jonathon Prince is used to setting high goals for himself, however, his resolution for 2012 is perhaps his most ambitious. Prince dreams of not just walking, but running, a mile on the moon. Prince, who has run more than 16,000 kilometers to raise awareness and money for a variety of social causes, hopes his moon run will ignite the imagination of a new generation. When astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface in 1969, he called it “one small step for a man.” Eleven other people have followed in his footsteps. Prince, who calls himself an athlivist, hopes to do so in 2016.

Lunar run

“One Mile on The Moon was actually a project I dreamed of two years ago, while I was running across the country and staring up at the sky at night,” says Prince, 31, who believes in the power of dreaming. “I honestly believe that when people start dreaming again they will be awaken to the magic that exists within the world. But in order to witness it, you have to believe in the unseen, and you truly have to trust the vision you have been given. It’s not easy because sometimes you have to step away from the workforce or the comforts of stability, but if you hold on, it will come full circle.” Read more ..


The Medical Edge

An Inside Look at Face Transplantation

January 5th 2012

Health/Medicine - Face Transplant Surgery

In a new research article, Brigham and Women's surgeons describe 3 successful full face transplants
    
A surgical team at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) performed the first full face transplantation (FFT) in the United States and went on to complete a total of three FFTs this year. Now, in the first research publication to evaluate FFT in the US, and largest series worldwide, the researchers describe details of patient preparation, novel design and execution of the operation as well as unique immunosuppression protocol allowing for lowest long-term maintenance drug regimen. They also share details of the early functional outcomes and demonstrate FFT as a viable option in the treatment of severe facial deformities and injuries. This research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the December 27, 2011 issue. Read more ..

Edge on Nature

Yellowstone Transformed, Fifteen Years after the Return of Wolves

January 4th 2012

Animals - yellowstone wolf

On the 15th anniversary of the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, a quiet but profound rebirth of life and ecosystem health is emerging, scientists conclude in a new report.

For the first time in 70 years, the over-browsing of young aspen and willow trees has diminished as elk populations in northern Yellowstone declined and their fear of wolf predation increased. Trees and shrubs have begun recovering along some streams, providing improved habitat for beaver and fish. Birds and bears also have more food.

“Yellowstone increasingly looks like a different place,” said William Ripple, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, and lead author of the study. Read more ..


A Broken Workplace

OSHA Acknowledges Database of Fatal Accidents Incomplete

January 3rd 2012

Social Topics - Construction Site Workers

At an Ohio chemical plant, an explosion launched pieces of metal that struck and killed a worker. At a Pennsylvania steel mill, equipment crushed a worker to death. At an Oklahoma oil refinery, a flash fire fatally burned a worker. Each death occurred at a plant deemed a “model workplace” by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but none of them appeared in the database the agency uses to monitor its Voluntary Protection Programs, known as VPP.

They aren’t the only ones. At least 15 deaths since 2000 that weren’t included in OSHA’s database, which the agency provided after an open records request. OSHA confirmed that the deaths should have been included but couldn’t explain why they weren’t. “The inclusion of fatalities in the database didn’t always occur as it should have,” OSHA said in a statement. “We are continuing to strengthen the procedures for the reporting and tracking of fatalities at VPP sites.” Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Sea Snails Help Scientists Explore a Possible Way to Enhance Memory

January 2nd 2012

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

Efforts to help people with learning impairments are being aided by a species of sea snail known as Aplysia californica. The mollusk, which is used by researchers to study the brain, has much in common with other species including humans. Research involving the snail has contributed to the understanding of learning and memory.

At The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), neuroscientists used this animal model to test an innovative learning strategy designed to help improve the brain's memory and the results were encouraging. It could ultimately benefit people who have impairments resulting from aging, stroke, traumatic brain injury or congenital cognitive impairments. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Empowering Patients as Key Decision Makers in the Face of Rising Health Care Costs

December 31st 2011

Health/Medicine - nurse w/stethoscope

Health care costs are consuming ever larger portions of the gross domestic product (GDP). There is broad bipartisan agreement on the need to control these rising costs and to control federal entitlement spending in general, including spending on the giant health care entitlements Medicare and Medicaid. However, the standard approach to limiting federal health care spending is to limit federal payments for medical goods and services. This limitation, in itself, is a form of health care rationing. In fact, rationing of one form or another is already a routine feature of public and private health insurance arrangements, although it is often covert, opaque, or subtle in its implementation.

For policymakers and the public, the basic question is not whether there should be rationing in health care: It already exists. Economics itself is an exercise in rationing among goods and services because limited resources cannot purchase unlimited goods. The crucial question is: Who should make the rationing decisions? Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

High-Tech Advances Reveal Mummy Secrets

December 30th 2011

Egypt - Mummy

Mummies seem to be all the rage in the United States these days. Not only are Americans flocking to see treasures from King Tut’s tomb, they are also finding mummies in other museums. In 1932, movie audiences were introduced to “The Mummy” for the first time. Mummies have been a part of popular culture ever since, but Egyptologist Salima Ikram says the ancient culture has mesmerized people for thousands of years. “Even the Greeks and Romans were coming there as tourists.”

Ikram, who teaches at the American University in Cairo, helped curate the new “Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt” exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History here in Washington. “I’m hoping that people will engage with ancient Egypt, not just as a bunch of dead people, but a bunch of people who were living just like you and I are.” Mummies had been on display at the museum for decades, but for the past year, they were in storage. Curator Melinda Zeder says the public demanded their return.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond is the only US venue for an exhibit of artifacts from the British Museum that includes four mummies. “We had a real outpouring from our fans from across not only Washington, but the country, wanting to know when we were going to bring the mummies back.” Now there are more mummies on display, and more information about how they lived and who they were in life, discovered in part from CT scans. The images reveal a wealth of information, says anthropologist Bruno Frohlich, who conducts scans in his lab. “We can determine the age of death. We can determine the sex. And we can determine the strength and composition of bone tissue," he says. "That can help scientiests determine what the person was doing while alive.” Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Study Finds Most Paramedics are Victims of Abuse in the Workplace

December 29th 2011

Health/Medicine - Paramedics

More than two-thirds of paramedics surveyed have experienced verbal, physical or sexual abuse on the job, new research has found. Verbal abuse by patients and their friends or relatives, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) co-workers or bystanders, was the most commonly reported, followed by intimidation and physical abuse, the study found. "EMS providers can experience violence in the workplace as they perform their jobs in unpredictable environments and near people in crisis," said Blair Bigham, the lead investigator. "Anecdotal reports and workplace safety records have highlighted cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, yet until now, there has been little scientific research. More research is needed to understand the impact of this workplace violence."

Bigham is an advanced care flight paramedic for York Region EMS and Ornge, and an associate scientist at Rescu, based at S. Michael's Hospital. Rescu is part of the Resuscitations Outcomes Consortium, a large, multinational research collaboration of 10 sites across the United States and Canada, studying how promising new tools and treatments can improve survival rates among people who suffer cardiac arrest or life-threatening traumatic injury outside of hospitals. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Ex-WaMu Worker Claims he was Shunned for Refusing to Push Toxic Loans on Borrowers

December 29th 2011

Corporate Logos - Washington Mutual

In the case of the salesman who wouldn’t sell, the two sides have starkly different tales to tell. Greg Saffer says conscience and common sense prevented him from pushing the product his bosses wanted him to sell – “Option ARM” home loans that, he says, put homeowners at risk. “I’m not going to steer people into a loan program that might not be good for them just because it’s more profitable for the company,” he says.

JP Morgan Chase Bank counters that Saffer didn’t sell because he didn’t have the chops to close deals. “Rather than a paragon of virtue, Saffer was simply a guy who could not sell loans in an increasingly tough market,” the bank’s lawyers say in legal papers. JP Morgan is matched against Saffer because it bought Saffer’s ex-employer, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Bank, in September 2008, after regulators seized WaMu in what was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. Saffer charged in a lawsuit filed in 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court that he was forced out of his job for refusing to take part in “fraudulent schemes.” In testimony in the lawsuit and in documents in  arbitration proceedings, he claims WaMu retaliated against him because he refused to push “toxic” Option ARMs and mislead borrowers about how the loans worked and how much they would cost. Read more ..


Edge on the Environment

A Fish so Ugly that Only Mother Nature can Love it

December 28th 2011

Animals - pancake fish

The Tortilla fish, also known as the Louisiana pancake batfish, Halieutichthys intermedius, belongs to the Ogcocephalidae family of batfish. A native of the Gulf of Mexico, it was discovered in 2010. The range of this hideous creature is  covered by the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, courtesy of BP.
 
Originally thought to be a single species, these fish were determined in 2010 to be divided into three distinct species, the others being Halieutichthys aculeatus and Halieutichthys bispinosus. While the other batfish are found along the Atlantic coast from Louisiana to North Carolina, the Tortilla fish (a.k.a. Louisiana pancake batfish) is only found in the Gulf of Mexico at depths of up to 1,300 ft (400 metres) The population of these fish is not known: in an initial trawl (that is to say, steel nets that scraped the bottom of the sea, catching fish willy-nilly and indiscriminately) of 100,000 fish, only three were Tortilla fish (a.k.a. pancake batfish). Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Beer Gets a Seasonal Taste Twist

December 27th 2011

Food / Wine - winter beers

It’s weird beer time in America.

Beer and ale are readily available, any time of year, in familiar varieties: lager, pilsner, stout, India pale ale. But, perhaps inspired by candymakers and coffee bars, U.S. brewers by the hundreds produce flavored seasonal varieties for the winter holidays.

Brews flavored with chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon, clove—even oatmeal and gingerbread—are said to spice up holiday parties, so to speak. The large Samuel Adams craft brand, for instance, ships out a Cranberry Lambic beer this time of year, not to mention holiday porters, black lagers, and a brew called “Old Fezziwig Ale.” One reviewer, sounding very much like a snooty wine critic, described Old Fezziwig as possessing “a nose full of roasted malt.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Fear No Supernova

December 21st 2011

Science - supernova

Given the incredible amounts of energy in a supernova explosion – as much as the sun creates during its entire lifetime – another erroneous doomsday theory is that such an explosion could happen in 2012 and harm life on Earth. However, given the vastness of space and the long times between supernovae, astronomers can say with certainty that there is no threatening star close enough to hurt Earth.

Astronomers estimate that, on average, about one or two supernovae explode each century in our galaxy. But for Earth's ozone layer to experience damage from a supernova, the blast must occur less than 50 light-years away. All of the nearby stars capable of going supernova are much farther than this. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Courts Debate Validity of Indian-Owned Payday Lenders

December 21st 2011

Corporate Logos - Miami Nation Ent

A six-year legal struggle by Colorado authorities to shutter a business making questionable payday loans over the Internet may soon come to an end.

The battle, highlighted in a recent investigation by iWatch News and CBS News, is over whether a deal cut to sell the payday-loan business to an Indian tribe was merely a sham to give “sovereign immunity” to the business while it was being investigated in several states. New evidence shows that the Miami tribe of Oklahoma reaps as much as $200,000 per month from payday loans it makes over the Internet, even in states where such loans are illegal. Yet that’s a pittance compared to the $2 million the tribe’s payday-lending business shells out in some months to the auto-racing team of Scott Tucker, a Kansas millionaire and a minor celebrity in the sport of endurance racing. Tucker competes in races such as the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Blamed for Dying African Trees

December 20th 2011

Africa - African savanna and elephants

A lot of trees are dying in Africa’s Sahel region and new study says climate change caused by humans is to blame. What’s more, many tree species are also disappearing.

The study appears in the Journal of Arid Environments. Climate change scientist Patrick Gonzalez led the research on six countries. At the time of the study, Gonzalez was a visiting scholar at the Center for Forestry at the University of California at Berkeley. “We conducted our research in the African Sahel, an arid region on the edge of the Sahara where people depend on trees for survival. And the Sahel has experienced the most severe drought in the world in the modern rainfall measurement record,” he said. The research shows that during the 20th Century rainfall in the Sahel dropped between 20 and 30 percent. “One in six trees died in the last half of the 20th Century and, second, one in five tree species disappeared locally. And then third, together these changes shifted vegetation zones southward toward areas of more rainfall,” he said. Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

EPA Allowed Unsafe Handling of Asbestos, IG Says

December 17th 2011

Construction - Demonlition

The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the use of unapproved methods to demolish buildings containing asbestos, threatening public health and possibly violating worker safety rules, the EPA’s inspector general has concluded.

In an “early warning report” to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that speaks to the urgency of the matter, Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. noted that asbestos is a human carcinogen “with no safe level of exposure.” Nonetheless, Elkins found, the agency allowed its own employees and contract workers to be exposed to the toxic, fire-resistant mineral — widely used in buildings after World War II — during tests in Texas and Arkansas in 2006 and 2007.

Elkins said his office’s preliminary research showed that the unsafe demolition methods — designed to save time and money — have been used more recently at the Hanford Superfund Site near Richland, Wash., a former Department of Energy nuclear weapons production site, and are under consideration at a DOE-owned uranium enrichment facility in Paducah, Ky. Read more ..


Broken Banking

Management Gurus Claim They Were Blindsided by Toxic Culture at Countrywide

December 14th 2011

Corporate Logos - countrywide
Cynder Niemela

On her first day at Countrywide Financial Corp., Cynder Niemela gave a talk to a gathering of her new colleagues. Every company, she said, has its own culture. Each is a tribe with its own rituals and myths.

Niemela, a management guru who’d worked for Boeing and other big employers, told the group of executives that research showed it took 16 months for a worker to become fully part of a corporate “tribe.” That time would allow her, she added, to offer a fresh perspective on how things were done at Countrywide. Afterwards, she recalls, one of her new colleagues introduced himself and, with a knowing smile, said, “I can’t wait to see if you’re here 16 months from now.” She lasted 16 months, but not much longer.

Countrywide fired her, Niemela claimed, after she raised questions about fraud against customers and employee discontent with top management. The last straw, she alleged in an arbitration claim, came after she complained that higher-ups had revised and distorted one of her PowerPoint presentations in an effort to obscure the company’s problems with employee dissatisfaction and turnover. Read more ..


The Bear is Back

Russian Plans to Disrupt US and European Relations Over Missile Defense

December 13th 2011

Russian Topics - putin

Tensions between the United States and Russia have risen in the past month over several long-standing problems, including ballistic missile defense (BMD) and supply lines into Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington also appear to be nearing another crisis involving Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The crises come as Washington struggles over its many commitments in the world and over whether to focus on present events in Afghanistan or future events in Central Europe. Russia has exploited the U.S. dilemma, using its leverage in both arenas. However, if Moscow takes its aggressive moves too far, it could spark a backlash from the United States and Central Europe.

The Persisting Disagreement over BMD

The U.S. BMD scheme for Europe has long been a source of U.S.-Russian tensions. Washington argues that its European BMD program aims to counter threats emerging from the Middle East, namely Iran, but its missile defense installations in Romania and Poland are not slated to become operational until 2015 and 2018, respectively, by which time Russia believes the United States will have resolved its issues with Iran. Moscow thus sees U.S. missile defense strategy as more about the United States seeking to contain Russia than about Iran. Moscow does not fear that the United States is seeking to neutralize or erode Russia’s nuclear deterrent, however; the issue is the establishment of a physical U.S. military footprint in those two states — which in turn means a U.S. commitment there. Romania and Poland border the former Soviet Union, a region where Russia is regaining influence. Read more ..


Campus Misconduct

Binge Drinking by Freshman Women Tied to Sexual Assault Risk

December 12th 2011

Social Topics - victim

Many young women who steer clear of alcohol while they're in high school may change their ways once they go off to college. And those who take up binge drinking may be at relatively high risk of sexual assault, according to a University at Buffalo-led study in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The college years are famously associated with drinking. But little has been known about how young women change their high school drinking habits once they start college.

So for the new study, the research team followed 437 young women from high school graduation through freshman year of college. They found that of women who had never drank heavily in high school (if at all), nearly half admitted to heavy episodic drinking -- commonly called binge drinking -- at least once by the end of their first college semester. Young women who were already engaging in binge drinking in high school continued drinking at similar levels in college.

What's more, binge drinking was linked to students' risk of sexual victimization - regardless of what their drinking habits had been in high school. Read more ..


Mideast on Edge

Mideast Water Shortages Threaten Millions

December 12th 2011

Environment Topics - Arid Desert

At Cairo's posh Gazeera Club, workers leave the showers running as they sit nearby drinking tea and chatting. Large quantities of water pour down the drain as water pipes around the city and its suburbs run dry.

For inhabitants of Cairo’s poor neighborhoods, water only infrequently arrives via government pipes. In order to cook and stay hydrated, says resident Hossam Abdel Razaq, housewives trek to a local water dealer and buy the precious liquid for 25 cents. When water does briefly flow, he adds, kids run to the faucets to drink.

A regional problem

Due to increasing populations, climate change, poor infrastructure and inefficient use of resources, serious water shortages are threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the Middle East.

In Egypt, government statistics indicate the country uses 55 billion cubic meters of water per year, 87 percent of which comes from the River Nile. But conflict with neighboring states upriver, however, is creating tension and could exacerbate the crisis. Governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Sudan argue that they should get a larger share of the Nile's waters, but Egypt and Sudan insist that a British colonial agreement gives them the right to use most of the Nile's waters.

Omar Ashour, who teaches political science at the University of Exeter in Britain, says Egypt is paying a price for years of benign neglect of southern neighbors. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

2010 Spike in Greenland Ice Loss Lifted Bedrock, GPS Reveals

December 11th 2011

Environment Topics - Siberian Glacier

An unusually hot melting season in 2010 accelerated ice loss in southern Greenland by 100 billion tons – and large portions of the island’s bedrock rose an additional quarter of an inch in response.

That’s the finding from a network of nearly 50 GPS stations planted along the Greenland coast to measure the bedrock’s natural response to the ever-diminishing weight of ice above it.

Every year as the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, the rocky coast rises, explained Michael Bevis, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Geodynamics and professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University. Some GPS stations around Greenland routinely detect uplift of 15 mm (0.59 inches) or more, year after year. But a temperature spike in 2010 lifted the bedrock a detectably higher amount over a short five-month period – as high as 20 mm (0.79 inches) in some locations. Read more ..


American History

The Road to War between the U.S. and Japan was Paved by Irreconcilable Worldviews

December 11th 2011

America Themes - Pearl Harbor Bombing

Anniversaries are not easy for the historian. Defining moments in history are typically commemorated in solemnity or regaled in celebration, both of which rely principally on emotional investment. For the historian, however, anniversaries are moments to reflect more critically on complex questions such as causation, consequence, and context. The seventy-year anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor—a watershed event that precipitated a slow-moving slaughter across the Pacific, culminating in the hell-fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—reminds us of these humbling challenges.

A central question surrounding Pearl Harbor is whether the U.S.-Japan collision was preventable. In particular, did the eleventh-hour diplomatic negotiations that occurred in 1941 offer a viable chance to reconcile differences? In the years since the end of the war, a number of historians have maintained that a window of opportunity did in fact exist as late as the summer and fall of 1941 and that war therefore was avoidable. In this narrative, war ultimately came because the Roosevelt administration was too uncompromising and wrongly assumed that Japan posed a threat to American national security. Read more ..



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