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Sudan on Edge

S. Sudan Agrees to Release Child Soldiers

March 18th 2012

Kids with Guns

The United Nations says a new deal signed with South Sudan's army could lead to the newest country being delisted from nations which use and recruit child soldiers. Special Representative to the U.N. Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, announced in Juba Friday that the deal signed this week could lead to 2,000 more children being released soon. The SPLA - a former guerrilla movement that fought Sudan for decades and secured South Sudan's independence in July - has released 3,000 children since a 2005 peace agreement ended the civil war. On Monday, South Sudan's army formally signed an agreement with the United Nations to release all children within its ranks. U.N. Special Representative Radjika Coomaraswamy says swift implementation is important as the army has many more children to release due to the military absorbing many child combatants from rebel groups who responded to a government amnesty offer. "If you're a violator that's been persistent, there's the possibility of sanctions against the party," said Coomaraswamy. "So the purpose of this visit was because the SPLA has been on this list since 2006. And it's very important that we delist them as soon as possible, and now they are a national army, it becomes extremely important." Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Rising Seas Threaten Millions of US Homes

March 17th 2012

Stormy Seas

Small island nations, such as the Maldives and Kiribati, raised the alarm first. Now larger and more populated places are assessing their vulnerability to sea level rise caused by climate change. A new study suggests millions of American homes could be inundated over the next century. Recognizing the change is one thing, though, and taking action and deciding who pays is another matter. The latest projections of the impact sea level rise will have on coastal communities appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study authors - from the non-profit Climate Central and University of Arizona - calculated how many people in the United States live less than one meter above the high tide line. And how many is that? Close to 2 million homes sheltering 3.7 million Americans could be flooded by rising seas. The biggest concentrations of vulnerable homes are in Florida, followed by Louisiana, coastal California, and then New York and New Jersey.

Nate Mantua is co-director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. He was not involved in the Climate Central study. He said the study’s authors used a novel combination of high resolution elevation, population, and tidal datasets - but didn’t factor in that the rate of sea level rise can differ from place to place. "They didn't actually consider any specific future sea level rise scenario. Instead, they are using a one-meter increase as a reference and asking how many people would be vulnerable to a sea level rise of one meter. They didn't actually say that's our scenario for 2100." Read more ..

The Edge of Education

New Federal Discipline Data has More Bad News for Kern County schools

March 17th 2012

Education - Child at Blackboard

A newly released pool of federal data reveals that Kern County, California — whose schools were the subject of a recent Center for Public Integrity story — has exceptionally high rates of suspension and expulsions for minority students. The new federal information dovetails with the findings of the Center’s investigation last December, which showed that Kern County, an oil and farm region in the Central Valley, is California’s expulsion capital. In 2010-2011, Kern’s schools had four times the state average for expulsions and more than seven times the last known national average in 2006. The raw number of students expelled in sparsely populated Kern was even greater than the number expelled in Los Angeles, which has nine times the student body.

Parents in Kern complained about high rates of removal for children and about the process for challenging decisions, and some black parents told the Center they felt schools were too quick to oust their children. California state data analyzed by the Center demonstrated that the vast majority of Kern expulsions were not for “zero tolerance” violations that require expulsion, such as gun possession. The analysis showed that most of Kern’s expulsions were discretionary, and that the schools had unusually high rates of expulsion for defiance, disruption and obscenity. More than one in four expulsions statewide for obscenity or vulgarity took place in Kern. Read more ..

Moldova on Edge

Moldova Adopts 'Chemical Castration' To Stem Tide Of Pedophilia, Sex Tourism

March 15th 2012

jail door closeup

In May 2009, U.S. citizen Anthony Mark Bianchi was sentenced to 25 years in prison for traveling to Moldova and Romania for the purpose of having sex with minors. "Sex tourists are a special breed of predatory pedophile," said Michael Levy, the U.S. prosecutor who handled the Bianchi case at the time. "They have the means to travel to foreign places where they think the law cannot reach them and where no one will care about their crimes."
Since its independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago, Moldova has been one of the places such predators visit. With its combination of poverty and weak governance, Moldova is particularly vulnerable to this kind of exploitation. In addition to being Europe's poorest country, Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region has been de facto independent since 1992 and is a notorious haven for trafficking of all kinds.

Lawmakers in the country, alarmed by scandalous cases in recent years, many of which involved citizens of Western European countries and the United States, have voted to punish sexual assault against children under the age of 15 with compulsory "chemical castration." In addition, the law makes the treatment -- which involves the injection of drugs that reduce testosterone levels and, hence, sexual desire -- permissible on a case-by-case basis in cases of rape. Read more ..

Iraq on Edge

Iraqi Gay, 'Emo' Youth Targeted For Killings

March 15th 2012

Holding Hands

Roby Hurriya holds up two pictures of his friend, which tell the story of what it now means to be gay in Iraq. One is a portrait of a handsome youth with a stylish haircut. The other shows the body of the same young man lying sprawled in the back of a white pickup truck, his head disfigured by blunt trauma. According to a police report, Saif Asmar was found bludgeoned to death on February 17. "In popular neighborhoods gays can be easily recognized because the one who has sex and who sells his body is known to 10 or 12 [people], unlike the one who has sex with him. He can be easily picked up." says Hurriya -- a pseudonym used by the 25-year-old doctor's assistant and gay activist. "They called me at sunset and told me that they laid him down on the pavement and smashed his head with a cement block." Homosexuals have lived in fear in Iraq for years, notably since religious militias claimed control of the streets in the sectarian warfare that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, which toppled Saddam Hussein. But Hurriya says a surge in killings in the past two months is by far the worst he has seen.

Since the start of this year, death squads have been targeting two separate groups -- gay men, and those who dress in a distinctive, Western-influenced style called "emo," which some Iraqis mistakenly associate with homosexuality. At least 14 young men have been bludgeoned to death in the last three weeks in east Baghdad, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslims, according to local security and medical sources who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Looking for Interplanetary Defense Work?

March 15th 2012


We were shocked to read on Discover magazine’s website last week that an asteroid 450 feet across, lurking just now on the other side of the sun, stands a (remote) chance of smacking us — or someone else on earth — in about 29 years. Scientists presently judge the probability to be around 1 in 625, which seems like a substantial upgrade from the usual estimate of a one in 5,000 chance that a major asteroid will hit Earth in the next century. More will be known next year, after new calculations, and everything hinges on the asteroid — with the mild name of AG5 — passing through what astronomers are calling a space “keyhole” that could bend its orbit toward earth sometime in 2023. So there will be some time to prepare. But frankly we can see the opportunity for some defense industry contracts right now, and it’s not hard to pick out a front-runner.

With uncanny foresight, some scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory prepared a video that was uploaded to YouTube in the middle of last month extolling how their newest Cray supercomputer can model the impact of an “energy source” on an asteroid. Robert P. Weaver, identified only as an R&D scientist at the New Mexico lab, narrates how the shock wave from a one-megaton-sized explosion — he never mentions the “n” word, for the nuclear weapons at the heart of the lab’s work — would blast a much larger asteroid into smaller bits of rock. Read more ..

Fukushima--One Year later

Reflections on the Devastation of Japan's Major Earthquake

March 14th 2012

It is still difficult to grasp the enormity of Japan's disastrous 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami and to realize how close the nation came to an unimaginable evacuation of Tokyo.

The overall tally from the natural disaster is sobering: 20,000 people killed - most by the tsunami - more than a quarter of a million buildings destroyed, and nearly 400,000 people made homeless.

The human tragedy has been heartrending.  Some parents are still hunting for the bodies of their children.  More than 1,500 children have lost at least one of their parents.

The unprecedented physical destruction has also left Japan with piles of debris, known as gareki.  What to do with all of that gareki is still a question the country is grappling with. Some rebuilding has commenced, but a major frustration is that too many people are languishing in temporary housing.  Read more ..

The Political Edge

Candidates Weigh Family's Privacy vs. Political Gain in Campaigns

March 13th 2012
Barbara Perry was surprised to see President Obama’s recent campaign advertisement featuring a photo of his wife and two young daughters.

“I had seen their official Christmas picture,” said Perry, a senior fellow and associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, which focuses on presidential studies. “And then, all of a sudden, it just appeared in this ad.”

The Internet ad features a smiling first couple, their hands clasped with their two young daughters, Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10. But it wasn’t a politician’s use of his children in campaign imagery that startled Perry. It was seeing the Obamas do it after they had fought for so long to shield their children from the spotlight. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Obama girls were kept largely out of the media glare. The then-Illinois senator granted one interview with his daughters on “Access Hollywood,” a move he later publicly lamented. “I think that we got carried away in the moment,” Obama said days after the interview aired. “We were having a birthday party and everybody was laughing, and suddenly this thing cropped up, and I didn’t catch it quickly enough, and I was surprised by the attention it got. “I don’t think it’s healthy, and it’s something that we’ll be avoiding in the future,” he told reporters Read more ..

Edge of the Mideast

Netanyahu Explains to Obama: Israel has Sovereign Right to Self-Defense

March 12th 2012

Obama and Netanyau

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama at the White House on March 5 to discuss Iran's nuclear program. The two-hour meeting, which took place in the Oval Office, came amid rising concerns in the international community that Israel will launch a preemptive military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

While PM Netanyahu denied that Israel already made the decision to launch a preemptive strike against Iran, he warned President Obama that Iran's leaders view the U.S. as the "Great Satan" and Israel as the "Little Satan." "We are you, and you are us. We are together," said the Prime Minister, who also offered Obama a gift of the biblical Book of Esther, which tells the story of an evil Persian king who ultimately fails in his attempt to annihilate the Jewish people. Read more ..

Edge on Paleontology

Feathered Dinosaur Fossils Yield New Behavior Clues

March 11th 2012

Art courtesy of Jason Brougham/University of Texas

Paleontologists say winged dinosaurs with glossy feathers likely used their flashy plumage to attract a mate in the same way as their modern descendants—birds. Researchers from the U.S. National Science Foundation teamed up with experts from China’s Beijing Museum of Natural History to study a newly-discovered dinosaur fossil they say is the earliest known record of iridescent color in feathers.

The fossil is that of a four-winged, pigeon-sized dinosaur called a Microraptor that lived about 120 million years ago during the height of the Cretaceous period. The bird-like dinosaur’s long, narrow tail was adorned with a pair of “streamer feathers.” After comparing the detailed pattern and color of dinosaur feathers to those of modern birds, the scientists believe the Microraptor’s plumage was an iridescent black, with the same glossy sheen as the feathers of a modern crow. Read more ..

Inside Washington

House Speaker Boehner Admits some of America's 'Dumbest' Serve in Congress

March 11th 2012

Capitol Building at night

Congress includes some of the “dumbest” and “raunchiest” people in the country — but also some of the smartest — House Speaker John Boehner said in a report published this weekend.

Boehner (R-Ohio) told the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan that it can be difficult to wrangle misbehaving members of Congress, while arguing that the chamber is not uniquely corrupt or scandal-prone.

"We got 435 members. It's just a slice of America, it really is,” he said. “We got some of the smartest people in the country who serve here, and some of the dumbest. We got some of the best people you'd ever meet, and some of the raunchiest. We've got 'em all."

Boehner also downplayed tensions with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "Eric and I have never disagreed on strategy, ever,” he said. “From time to time there's been some disagreement on tactics, not usually between Eric and I, usually on the staff level." Read more ..

The Gourmet Edge

It's Not All About Cabernet or Merlot

March 10th 2012

Israeli Wines

It's a sign of the times: A country once synonymous with pioneering farmers and cloying sacramental wine is now associated with high-tech and fine wines. "Israeli wines are now considered quality wines," says premier wine connoisseur Haim Gan.

Gan organizes the annual International Wine Exhibition in Israel, held this year over two days in February. IsraWineExpo was the fourth such event at the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center in Tel Aviv. The first modern winery in Israel, the award-winning Carmel Winery, was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild in Zichron Yaakov in 1882. Since the 1990s and especially in the past 15 years, the industry has become state-of-the-art. 

"You can see the change everywhere -- in the service, the presentation, greater public awareness of wines, wine lists in restaurants. A vintner is no longer a farmer -- he's an expert in his field. The best of our youth are now studying winemaking all over the world, instead of law or medicine." IsraWineExpo has become a fixture on the worldwide circuit, says Gan. "About 18,000 visitors passed through in three days. There were dozens of exhibitors, representatives of wine importers from abroad, buyers and critics from all over the world." Several new wines were launched at the expo, he adds. "The first day was devoted to the professionals -- buyers, barmen, exporters, importers, restaurateurs, critics, etc. The other two days we opened to the general public," he explains. Read more ..

Edge of Justice

Deportation of Salvadorean General on Murder Charges Signals Changes for Central America

March 10th 2012

Carlos Vides Casanova (center) 1979
Carlos Vides Casanova (center) in 1979.

On February 23, Judge James Grim of Florida’s Immigration Court set a legal precedent whose impact is destined to reverberate across Central America in years to come. Judge Grim found Salvadoran General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova legally responsible for numerous counts of torture and murder committed under his direct orders, and thus under provisions of a 2004 anti-terrorist law, he is now awaiting deportation from the U.S.

Vides is recognized as culpable for some of the most heinous crimes committed during the Salvadoran Civil War, including the rape and assassination of four American church women in 1980—a notorious event which brought attention to the growing conflicts in Central America. However, ironically, Vides was once the recipient of the Legion of Merit award given to him by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan before he became a permanent resident of Florida in 1989. Once back in El Salvador, Vides is unlikely to have to face further judicial proceedings due to a controversial but longstanding amnesty. Nevertheless, the prosecution affirms that deportation is a strong symbolic act that shows some form of justice has been served. Read more ..

Energy vs Environment

Fukushima Disaster Anniversary Finds US Nuclear Regulation Debate Still Hot

March 9th 2012

Rad monitor Japan

One year ago on Sunday, an earthquake off the coast of Japan and the resulting tsunami triggered a month-long partial meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. In the days leading up to the anniversary of the crisis, advocates and opponents of nuclear power are squaring off in a fight over the lessons U.S. regulators should learn from the disaster.

But both sides are making policy recommendations without a full accounting of the facts. The most definitive, independent study of the disaster isn’t due to be released for months. In one corner, and at one press conference this week, advocates at the industry-funded Nuclear Energy Institute were eager to highlight the “diverse and flexible” response operators of America’s 104 reactors are taking to improve their disaster preparedness. NEI is touting the $100 million the industry is investing in some 300 additional emergency pumps, generators, and batteries that it says could be used to keep the pools that spent fuel rods are kept in from overheating like they did in Japan. Read more ..

Edge of Architecture

Sleek Prefab LoftCube in Lebanon is the Ultimate Home for Nomads

March 5th 2012

Cube for Nomads

Nearly a decade ago Werner Aisslinger aspired to design a temporary, minimalist domicile that would suit the nomadic lifestyle while still retaining all of the aesthetics that contemporary society seeks. Voila! the 420 square foot LoftCube was born. Since 2004, the ultimate home for nomads has popped up in gardens and on rooftops all over the world: in Spain, Belgium, Canada, and now in Lebanon. Mark Doumet’s sleek home has 360 degree views of the Mediterranean Sea and is installed just a short ride north of Beirut. And as the country’s official LoftCube distributor, he encourages visitors. Prefab construction has become increasingly popular in the last decade or so.

By manufacturing modular pieces in the factory and then transporting the intact structure to its destination site, designers significantly reduce waste materials and also cut down on carbon emissions associated with shipping. The LoftCube can be transported in either two truck loads or in two shipping containers. It is wrapped in glazing that permit all kinds of light and ventilation and most of the interior is finished in Corian to create a breezy, comfortable home. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Libya

New Fighting May Emerge in Libya as its Eastern Region seeks Autonomy

March 5th 2012

Abdul-Jalil of Libya
Abdul-Jalil, leader of National Transitional Council of Libya

Eastern Libya will declare itself as an autonomous province, according to a report from the London-based Exclusive Analysis, thus increasing the risk of further war and risks to global oil prices.

The region – called Barqa – will become a self-governing state within a federal Libya. The new state will extend beyond historical Cyrenaica to include part of oil-rich Fazzan in the Gulf of Sirte. Eastern Libya has 65 percent of Libya’s oil production but only 25 percent of its population.

The report from Exclusive Analysis reported that 'Barqa' (Arabic for Cyrenaica) and its territory will stretch from the Egyptian border in the east to the city of Sirte in the west. It was Sirte that served as a stronghold of the rebels who eventually brought down the government of Muammar Gaddaffi. The declaration will stipulate that Barqa will have its own parliament and separate oil, defence and finance ministries, and its own army. The report noted that a so-called 'Barqa Army' has already been formed out of former eastern-based units of Gaddafi's Army and the rebels’ eastern militias. Read more ..

Edge of Mexico

Mexico's High-Tech Maquiladora Workers Demand Dignity and Improved Conditions

March 5th 2012

Mexican maquilador high tech worker

The two high-tech workers laughed when asked if they could afford the smartphones made by their colleagues on Mexican production lines. “No, no, no,” chuckled Maria and Alma, two Guadalajara workers who have labored for years in Mexico’s Silicon Valley. A cheap $20 cell phone has to make do for Maria, while Alma uses a similarly low-priced contraption she won on a five-dollar raffle ticket. “It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially when you have kids,” Alma said.

The two women, who asked that their real names not be used because of possible employer retaliation, recently sat down to discuss their jobs and lives as factory workers in Mexico’s second largest city and one of the world’s most important centers in the electronics industry supply chain. An assembly-line worker, Maria makes about $10 for an eight hour shift six days a week. Although Maria said she gets all the benefits afforded by Mexican law, she must renew her work contract every two months. A quality control specialist, Alma has more responsibilities than Maria but gets the same amount of pay. A third woman who joined the conversation worked in the local high-tech industry until she was fired two years ago. Unlike Maria and Alma, the friend completed higher education training for a technician’s career but still maxed out her earnings at approximately $500 monthly after a dozen years in the industry. Read more ..

Middle East on Edge

Obama Tells Israel: I've Got your Back, But Chill Out

March 5th 2012

Barack Obama Israel speech

President Obama reaffirmed his staunch commitment to Israel on March 4, making clear in no uncertain terms that “I have Israel’s back.” But, at the same time, he urged Israel and its supporters to allow time for diplomacy and “crippling” sanctions on Iran to take hold to halt Tehran’s nuclear program.

Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby group, Obama tried to reassure the crowd of 13,000 people, who initially greeted him with a lukewarm response, by saying that if Iran fails to meet its obligations and the problem remains, “we must accomplish our objective.”

“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment, I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said, drawing hearty applause from the crowd. “And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.” During his address, which comes one day before he sits down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama sought time and again to reassure Israel and its supporters that he will do whatever it takes to help defend the country. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Tech Boost Arms Citizens To Monitor Russian, Other Votes

March 4th 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Russia's parliamentary elections in December were characterized by the opposition and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as seriously flawed. Few were surprised. But what did raise eyebrows was the response of tens of thousands of ordinary Russians who took to the streets to protest. Why did so many, in a country notorious for political apathy, react so differently to violations well-known from votes in the past? At least part of the answer appears to be how those violations were reported, and by whom. The Russian case, analysts say, is a prime example illustrating that technologically-advanced, citizen-driven election monitoring has potential for impact beyond that of more traditional electoral observation by the government and international bodies.

Researchers like Lisa Kammerud of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Washington also maintain that the pairing of citizens and new technology for election monitoring is probably here to stay, both in Russia and elsewhere. "The advent of the use of these new digital and personal technologies to monitor elections is definitely on the rise because the technology that's available now simply wasn't available before," she says. "And that's part of why this has definitely increased in the last few years. And there's no reason to think that it won't continue as more people have access to cell phones [and] personal devices that take videos and pictures." Read more ..

Venezuela on Edge

Venezuela Emerges as New Source of ‘conflict’ Minerals

March 4th 2012

Hugo Chavez infirm

Crouched near a mound of rocks and dirt, Ramón swings a short-handled pick at a shallow hole, showing off the technique he uses to mine what he calls “black pebbles” — stones laced with minerals important to high-tech manufacturers worldwide. Over the last couple of years Ramón has labored at small, out-of-the-way mines, walking up to a week to reach claims he’s staked out deep in southwest Venezuela’s Amazon jungle, near the country’s border with Colombia. It’s worth the backaches and sweat, Ramón said, rolling a near-black rock in the palm of his hand. He said he earns good money supplying brokers with stones that hold coltan ore. Applied to microchips, the metal enables electronic capacitors to perform superbly in an array of devices, like smart phones in the pockets of more and more consumers. Refined into a powder and applied to solar panels, coltan increases energy efficiency. And as a strategic mineral, Coltan carries weight because it allows guidance controls in smart bombs to work in extreme climate conditions. Because of that, Venezuelan coltan has raised concerns in Washington, D.C., as the government of President Hugo Chávez has selected Iranian, Chinese and Russian firms to explore minerals and is looking to develop future supplies of different ores. Read more ..

Obama and Israel

Obama and Netanyahu to Meet During Annual AIPAC Policy Conference

March 2nd 2012

Obama and Netanyau

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference, being held in Washington D.C., promises to be the largest Policy Conference in AIPAC history, with more than 13,000 people participating and thousands heading to Capitol Hill on the final day of the March 4-6 conference to lobby Congress in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

According to organizers, this year’s conference comes as the global threat posed by Iran is at an all-time high. Diplomatic efforts by the United Nations, and the United States and its allies, to effectively halt a feared Iranian nuclear weaponization program Iran have been frustrated, leading to increased fears of Iranian hegemony. Read more ..

North Korea’s Nukes

North Korea Gets Food in Exchange for Suspension of Nuclear Weapons Tests

February 29th 2012

Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

North Korea has agreed to temporarily suspend nuclear tests, long-range ballistic missile launches, and other nuclear activities, including enrichment of uranium. U.S. and North Korean officials announced the surprise breakthrough after talks in Beijing. The development came just a little more than two months after the death of the secretive communist state's supreme leader Kim Jong Il.

"On the occasion of Kim Jong Il's death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will chose to guide their nation on to the path to peace by living up to its obligations. Today's announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton says the United States will continue to watch North Korea closely and judge the country's new leaders by their actions. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

'100-Percent Iranian' Kentucky Fried Chicken Opens In Iran

February 26th 2012

Ahmadinejad pointing

Amid growing tension between the United States and Iran and sanctions that ban U.S. companies from doing business with the Islamic republic, an outlet of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has opened in the Iranian city of Karaj.

Other outlets are also due to open in Tehran and other major cities throughout the country, presumably satisfying citizens' taste for some down-home southern U.S. cooking. Yet the CEO of Iran's first KFC franchise, Amir Hossein Alizadeh, has gone to great lengths to emphasize that his fast-food restaurant is not American despite its name. Alizadeh says it took him a "huge" investment and five years to obtain the required national and international permits to open KFCs in Iran. When asked how an American brand made it into Iran, he said, "The name of our restaurant is KFC, but we're not an American brand. We're not an American company.” "With the purchase of the rights from the mother company, Iranian KFC -- and not American -- has been inaugurated," he added. Alizadeh also said that his franchise would fully follow general KFC standards but offer a menu of 32 items suited to Iranian tastes. While many Iranians have probably never eaten at KFC, the name of the chain is generally known and there are rip-offs with similar names. KFC branches existed in Iran before the 1979 revolution. Afterward, they maintained their decor and continued to sell fried chicken. Read more ..

The Edge of Fashion

Nation's Capital Nurtures Local Fashion

February 26th 2012

US Capital Day

The business of Washington, D.C., is government. However, as it seeks to diversify and create more jobs, the city is looking to build a new industry, one that is usually associated with New York - fashion. A new effort mentors local designers in hopes of nurturing and growing a local fashion industry. Gennet Purcell has always loved fashion, but it wasn’t her career until recently. “I was a practicing attorney by trade for almost 13 years,” she says. For much of that time, she was also designing and making clothing. A year ago, she decided she couldn’t do both. “I realized that this is something that makes me really happy, and I realized that it was a way for me to make a living doing it full time.” Purcell founded her own fashion line, Maven. Her designs were recently featured in a fashion show in the Washington area. And she was one of four designers chosen for the DC Fashion Incubator, a program that launched in January. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

US Delegation Remembers Holocaust Hero Wallenberg in Hungary

February 26th 2012

Concentration Camp Survivor

A United States Congressional delegation and other officials have gathered in Hungary's capital Budapest to remember Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with saving the lives of as many as 100,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. Friday's commemoration was part of a series of events marking the Raoul Wallenberg Year to commemorate his centennial birth. On a chilly day, representatives of the U.S. Congress and other officials laid a wreath at the Budapest monument of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, hidden behind old trees. While serving as Swedish envoy in Budapest from July 1944, Wallenberg gave Hungarian Jews Swedish travel documents and set up safe houses for them. Among the thousands he saved was the late Tom Lantos, who was the first Holocaust survivor to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Wallenberg is also credited with dissuading German officers from massacring the 70,000 inhabitants of Budapest's main Jewish ghetto. Read more ..

Kenya on Edge

Millions in Education Money Stolen in Kenya

February 25th 2012

Nairobi Square

Kenya’s education sector continues to suffer fallout from the theft of millions of dollars two years ago from a government program that, among other things, funds the country’s Free Primary Education initiative. Overcrowded classrooms and fragmented programs are some of the results of the theft, cases of which are still in court. The Kenya Education Support Sector Program was launched with much fanfare in 2005. The $5.8 billion program promised to make basic education available to everyone, improve the quality of that education, increase opportunities for post-secondary education, and train education managers. The World Bank, Britain’s Department for International Development, or DFID, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the U.N.’s children’s agency threw their support behind the program. DFID, for instance, kicked in more than $83 million. Read more ..

The Edge of Physics

Einstein May Be Right After All, Says CERN

February 25th 2012


Researchers say they have found a possible flaw in the setup of an experiment that appeared to show particles traveling faster than light. The result of the experiment was met with widespread skepticism by the scientific community when it was announced last September by the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN. The speed of light was considered by physicist Albert Einstein to be the ultimate speed barrier. James Gillies said two potential issues have been identified that could have influenced the timing of the speed of neutrino particles during the Swiss-Italian experiment known as OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-Racking Apparatus experiment). Gillies explained that results of further measurements and tests will be announced later this year, but it looks increasingly likely that Einstein will be proven right after all.

Question: Scientist and layman alike were surprised and skeptical when CERN announced last September that neutrinos -- electrically-neutral particles -- had traveled the 730 kilometers from Geneva to Italy’s Gran Sasso 60 nanoseconds faster than light. If proven correct, the implications were enormous. Now we are being told that this ultra-sophisticated experiment may have gone slightly wrong. What’s the explanation?

James Gillies: First of all, we don't yet know whether there is an explanation, and we won't know that for sure until we repeat the measurements with [the] beam. But what the OPERA collaboration has seen is two possible effects in their operators that could affect their timing measurement. Read more ..

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 ..

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