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Poisoned Places

GOP Advances Legislation to Hinder Environmental, Health and Safety Protections

December 8th 2011

Pollution - Smokestack pollution

In the latest challenge to regulatory Washington, Republicans are expected today to gain passage in the House of the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act.” The legislation, also known as the REINS Act, would allow Congress to block the costliest regulations and add new hurdles for some of the more expansive environmental, health and workplace safety protections for citizens.

The REINS Act would send to Congress for a vote any “major rule” expected to have more than a $100 million annual economic effect, significantly increase costs or stifle productivity or innovation. The category could include proposed rules to strengthen protections from toxic air pollution that still plagues hundreds of communities across the country.

Though the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, it provides heightened visibility for an issue that repeatedly has surfaced on the campaign trail and in television advertising in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy.

December 6th 2011

Egypt - Tahrir Square protest

The first round of Egyptian parliamentary elections has taken place, and the winners were two Islamist parties. The Islamists themselves are split between more extreme and more moderate factions, but it is clear that the secularists who dominated the demonstrations and who were the focus of the Arab Spring narrative made a poor showing. Of the three broad power blocs in Egypt — the military, the Islamists and the secular democrats — the last proved the weakest.

It is far from clear what will happen in Egypt now. The military remains unified and powerful, and it is unclear how much actual power it is prepared to cede or whether it will be forced to cede it. What is clear is that the faction championed by Western governments and the media will now have to accept the Islamist agenda, back the military or fade into irrelevance. Read more ..


The Edge of Earth

Scientists Make Key Discovery about Early Earth Atmosphere and Beginning of Life Itself

December 4th 2011

Environment Topics - Southern California Coastal

Scientists in the New York Center for Astrobiology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have used the oldest minerals on Earth to reconstruct the atmospheric conditions present on Earth very soon after its birth. The findings, which appear in the Dec. 1 edition of the journal Nature, are the first direct evidence of what the ancient atmosphere of the planet was like soon after its formation and directly challenge years of research on the type of atmosphere out of which life arose on the planet.

The scientists show that the atmosphere of Earth just 500 million years after its creation was not a methane-filled wasteland as previously proposed, but instead was much closer to the conditions of our current atmosphere. The findings, in a paper titled "The oxidation state of Hadean magmas and implications for early Earth's atmosphere," have implications for our understanding of how and when life began on this planet and could begin elsewhere in the universe. The research was funded by NASA. Read more ..


Wall Street on Edge

The History of Wall Street

November 30th 2011

Economy - Wall Street Bull

In the seventeenth century the Dutch built a wall in New Amsterdam in order to protect its borders from incursions from natives and the occasional pirates.  This same location soon became known as Wall Street; merchants began to reside there, and since the renamed New York was the first U.S. capital, the city and street garnered quite a prominent financial concentration which eventually spread to its legacy.  Because of the assembly of merchants and stockholders on the street, it became more prominently financially linked over the years, until it came to signify the prosperity of America in relation to the rest of the world.

But this bastion of capitalism was built on slave labor:

Slavery began in the city soon after the Dutch landing in 1609, and enslaved Africans became vital to the colony's economy. Africans built the first homes, brought in the first crops, turned an Indian path into Broadway, and built the wall at Wall Street. When it became the British colony of New York its bankers and merchants so successfully invested in the international African trade they made it the slave-traders' leading port. Read more ..


Ethiopians on Edge

Remembering the Airlift of Ethiopians

November 30th 2011

Edwin Black

On the twentieth anniversary of Operation Solomon, we are reminded that Israel is the type of nation that has reached across the racial barrier to rescue Jews from Africa … in this case Ethiopia. As a young journalist, I covered both major Ethiopian airlifts as they were happened. The first was Operation Moses in 1984 which smuggled some 8,100 famine-starved Jews out of Ethiopia via Sudan and then Brussels. About three dozen flights over a seven-week period airlifted the dispossessed Ethiopians into Israel. Thousands more undertook a perilous escape trek across the desert – a journey that claimed many — perhaps an estimated 4,000 — who could to endure the heart and distance.

Operation Moses was a joint venture between the IDF and America’s CIA, using many intermediaries — paid and unpaid. During a 50-day effort, dozens of flights smuggled a few hundred Ethiopian Jews at a time creating an almost unprecedented airlift. Journalists such as myself who learned of the process were constantly implored by the authorities to not release the information. If we did, we would told, we would bring the rescue to a screeching halt as cooperating airlines and men on the ground would be exposed. There were leaks, but most of the leading journalists observed a type of Normandy Invasion type of operational secrecy.

The airlift of Ethiopians was repeated in 1991, when Operation Solomon mass transferred more than 14,000 in a high-speed two-day secret rescue. A combination of Israeli Air Force C-130s and El Al Boeing 747s, stripped down to allow maximum crowding, shuttled back and forth. The flights continued as long as the media held, and the operation remained viable. Once again, journalists familiar with the mass rescue were called upon to keep mum. Breach of security was a matter of life and death. A conveyor belt of muster points operated in darkness and stealth to bring these Jews home. A news leak would have compromised the in-gathering and brought certain death to thousands seeking to escape. Read more ..


The Edge of Trafficking

The Trafficking in Persons Report: Who is the United States to Judge?

November 29th 2011

Crime Topics - Sex Slave Motif2

Responding to a congressional mandate, the U.S. State Department annually produces the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which rates countries on their quality of participation in combating global human trafficking.

Several countries and organizations believe that the evaluation system used in the report to rank a country’s participation in fighting human trafficking is flawed. Numerous countries have complained that the criteria and requirements for each tier of placement are difficult to quantify and identify.

Cultural differences are not taken into account when analyzing a country’s human trafficking situation, and often present a distorted image. Research methods need further refinement if they are to portray a more accurate picture of countries’ participation levels in the TIP report. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Sludge Transformed into Electricity using Solar Power, Robots

November 29th 2011

Energy Topics - Sludge

Israeli startup Global Recycling Projects Ltd., is working on a system to treat sludge waste and transform it into energy and raw materials by harnessing solar energy to thermo-chemically transform the waste.

Toxic sludge, a byproduct of wastewater, is both bad for the environment and expensive to get rid of, requiring dewatering, conditioning, storage, hauling and disposal, either through dumping it in landfills, or incinerating it – neither option a particularly green one.

GRPL, however, has come up with a novel way of dealing with sludge, which not only disposes of the waste greenly, but also provides gas to power electricity-generating turbines in the process.

Using solar power to concentrate solar radiation using a field of tracking mirrors (called heliostats), GRPL directs the collected radiation to a solar tower where a solar biomass reactor has been placed. This then powers the reactor, which acts as a gasifier, capable of transforming the sludge into a gaseous state, which can be used to power electrical utility plants. Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Egypt's Revolution Continues

November 28th 2011

Egypt - Tahrir Square protest

New clashes between "youth protestors" and Ministry of Interior riot police in Egypt's Tahrir Square have resulted in thirty-five dead and several hundred wounded over the past three days, jeopardizing the country's November 28 parliamentary elections. Even before this weekend's mayhem, the voting promised to be chaotic and, in all likelihood, marred by violence. But now, with growing public anger aimed at the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for its undemocratic mismanagement of the transition, several secular political parties may boycott the polls. Should the elections proceed, the new crisis will benefit the Islamists, possibly widening their projected margin of victory. 

During the February uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, a popular Egyptian saying was "the army and the people are one hand." Nine months on, the military's public approval rating has dropped from an impressive 90 percent to the mid-60s. Initially, the facade of national unity was stripped away in large part because of the military's continuance of the hated Mubarak-era emergency law and ongoing heavy-handed reliance on military courts to try civilians. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

EPA Posts “Watch List” that Includes Chronic Polluters

November 28th 2011

Pollution - China Urban Pollution

The Clean Air Act “watch list” is secret no more.

Just days after a report that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains an internal list that includes serious or chronic violators of air pollution laws that have not been subject to timely enforcement, the EPA has posted the September and October watch list on its website.

The agency also has begun to publish watch lists that include serious or chronic violators of the Clean Water Act, governing the release of pollutants in waterways, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, involving hazardous waste disposal.

The EPA cited a FOIA request for the Clean Air Act watch list, later published for the first time as part of a series on air pollution afflicting hundreds of communities, and said the agency would publish the lists as a demonstration of its commitment to transparency. However, important details on why each polluter is on the list will continue to be kept confidential, the agency said. Read more ..


Chile on Edge

The Inequality Behind Chile’s Prosperity

November 27th 2011

Chile - Poverty in Columbia

Foreigners on business trips usually travel from Chile’s Santiago International Airport to the city’s financial center in the El Golf neighborhood via the Costanera Norte or Vespucio Norte highways. But hidden underneath these highways are the majority of Chileans from lower-class neighborhoods who are living a harsh reality far from the prosperity that the El Golf and its high-rise buildings exude. Although Chile boasts one of Latin America’s most stable economies, the economic inequality amidst Chile’s growing affluence has been a significant challenge for the well-reputed Andean nation.

Last year when Chile held its bicentennial celebration, President Sebastián Piñera introduced his plan to implement approximately fifty initiatives that would transform Chile into a “developed” country by 2018. Piñera referred to the plan as, “Chile: A Developed Country: More Opportunities and Better Jobs.” Piñera stated. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

Town Divided over Major Employer’s Permission to Pollute

November 20th 2011

Environment Topics - Ash Grove Plant, KS

“This person right here has cancer. His granddaughter has cancer.”

Jeff Galemore pointed to house after house as he steered his white pickup through a tree-lined neighborhood in Chanute, Kansas, a town of 9,000 on the state’s southeastern prairie.

“This gal has cancer,” the 53-year-old oilfield worker continued. “The one across the street from where I live has cancer. Two houses south of me has cancer. But they repeatedly tell us there’s not a problem.”

Three miles north and east, part-time Lutheran minister and pecan grower Ken Lott wondered why it had been so quiet on his rural Chanute farm. “I used to have bullfrogs out here all the time,” explains Lott, 71. It’s been at least seven years since he’s heard the melodic croaking.

At the opposite end of town, retired railroad worker Dale Stout, 80, lamented the deaths of seven hedge trees that were almost as old as him. “They planted it after the dust bowl,” Stout said of the sturdy row of trees used as windbreaks and natural fences. “You don’t just up and kill a hedge tree.” Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Secret Service Braces for Intense Year

November 19th 2011

Presidential - Barack Obama headshot
President Obama on the Campaign Trail

Authorities on Wednesday arrested a man who might have been involved in a shooting that broke a White House window.

The arrest comes as the Secret Service gears up for what it expects to be an intense year, providing both President Obama and as many as eight Republican presidential candidates with protection.

There are 16 declared contenders running for the GOP nomination. Of those, about eight have the polling numbers to indicate they are popular enough to have a chance at waging a successful campaign.

A spokesman for the Secret Service declined to say how many GOP candidates the agency was protecting or who among them had requested protection. Read more ..


China and Africa

The Incomplete Promise of China's Investments in Africa

November 19th 2011

Africa - Moussa Dadis Camara
Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara

For centuries, wave after wave of colonists and foreign investors have swept through Africa, looking for profits from the continent’s abundant reserves of oil and prized minerals.

Many instead left records of corruption and broken promises of shared wealth with Africans.

It is against this backdrop that an eager conglomerate has recently been drawing attention and generating headlines throughout Africa. China-Sonangol is part of a global network of companies extracting oil in Angola, buying gold in Zimbabwe, building luxury condominiums in Singapore and developing property in Manhattan. Its executives have met with African heads of state and challenged the global oil and mining giants who’ve been operating on the continent. And China Sonangol ventures have attracted strategic curiosity — some of its deals are the subjects of U.S. State Department cables made public by Wikileaks. Read more ..


Poisoned Places

Community Coated in Black—Until Citizens Fought Back

November 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Continental Carbon Plant, OK

Here in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the land of big skies and broad terrain, the air pollution flowing from local industry was so palpable residents could touch it. On their hands, on their shoes, on their pets, their clothes, their cars, their windows, their grass, their doors, their children’s toys.

For more than a decade, residents of this city of 25,000 filled the local Department of Environmental Quality office with so many complaints they required 20 binders to hold. Those complaints, some coming from members of the Ponca Tribe of Indians living nearest the plant, blamed Continental Carbon Co., manufacturer of carbon black, a product used in tires, rubber and plastic goods. The plant manufactures carbon black from petroleum refinery residual oil, and the finished substance is a form of almost pure carbon, classified as a possible carcinogen.

Homeowners said a black dust cascaded from the plant and blanketed their lives. One mother insisted her child ride her bike, with training wheels, inside the house to avoid the carbon black. A teenager kept his prized Dallas Cowboys jersey wrapped in a plastic bag inside the house to avoid black smudges. Others complained their dogs’ feet turned black walking through town; when they cleaned the dogs, the tub developed a ring of black. White tennis shoes changed color. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Ultrathin Flexible Electrode Array Enables Unprecedented Look at Brain Activity

November 17th 2011

Science - Brain Light

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have developed a flexible brain implant that could one day be used to treat epileptic seizures. In animal studies, the researchers used the device – a type of electrode array that conforms to the brain's surface – to take an unprecedented look at the brain activity underlying seizures.

"Someday, these flexible arrays could be used to pinpoint where seizures start in the brain and perhaps to shut them down," said Brian Litt, M.D., the principal investigator and an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. The findings appear in this month's Nature Neuroscience.

"These flexible electrode arrays could significantly expand surgical options for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy" said Story Landis, Ph.D., director of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which helped fund the work. Read more ..


The Edge of Pollution

Plastics in Oceans are More Damaging Than Climate Change

November 14th 2011

Energy / Environment - Ocean scene

Once upon a time, the oceans of our planet were beautifully clean.  Not any more.  Captain Charles Moore calls this 'the age of plastic.'

“Between 250 and 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year," said Capt. Moore. "To get that into terms you can understand, every two years we make enough plastic to be the equivalent of the weight of the 7 billion people on earth.” In his new book, Plastic Ocean, Moore says less than five percent of all plastic is recycled and nearly three percent of world production is dumped into the ocean. That debris kills millions of sea creatures every year.

“We know over 100,000 albatross chicks are dying every year with their stomachs full of plastic; we have evidence that about 100,000 marine mammals die every year being tangled in plastic," he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Making the Deserts Bloom in Israel

November 11th 2011

Israel Topics - Trees in the Arava
Trees in the Arava Desert

Israeli environmental scientists plant hardy trees meant to improve air quality and provide renewable fuel, using ‘unusable' land and water.

Leave it to Israeli scientists to figure out a way of growing trees in the barren sands of the Arava Desert.

The trees aren't just meant to look pretty. This pollution-reducing forest planted over the summer is soaking up harmful excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing beneficial oxygen. Another "green" bonus is that the trees are nurtured with recycled sewage water and saltwater.

The project is a research collaboration between Tel Aviv University's Porter School of Environmental Science, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the University of Tuscia in Viterbo, Italy. The Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea is financing the study, which is outlined in an article soon to appear in the European Journal of Plant Science and Biotechnology. Read more ..

Edge on Archaeology

Arab Spring Reveals Ancient Fortifications and Cities of Libya's Desert

November 8th 2011

Libya - Libya archaeological site
Mudbrick and stone castle-like structure in Libyan desert

Satellite imagery has uncovered new evidence of a lost civilization of the Sahara in Libya's south-western desert wastes that will help re-write the history of the country. The fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi has opened the way for archaeologists to explore the country's pre-Islamic heritage, so long ignored under his regime. Using satellites and air-photographs to identify the remains in one of the most inhospitable parts of the desert, a British team has discovered more than 100 fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns, most dating between the beginning of the Common Era and 500 CE.

These "lost cities" were built by a little-known ancient civilization called the Garamantes, whose lifestyle and culture was far more advanced and historically significant than the ancient sources suggested. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Build it Yourself Solar Solutions Available Now

November 6th 2011

Energy Topics - Do it yourself Solar
Home roof solar panels

In today’s growing solar energy market including large area projects occurring in the USA and in the Middle East too much attention is being placed on constructing large solar array farms in the middle of the desert.  One study made by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority even tries to show that large solar mirror arrays are dangerous to area wildlife. And that’s what BrightSource versus the turtles is all about in California. Among some new solutions for the homeowner are PV panels integrated into the roof of your house.

With this in mind, some solar energy system manufacturers, and the ones who market these systems are putting their efforts into the manufacture and installation of smaller individual solar energy systems that can even be used on private homes. Two local Israeli solar energy and smart electrical energy companies Shyrel Solar Energy Systems and Ludivine Solar have teamed up with a Swiss solar and thermal dynamics company Swiss Solar Tech Ltd, and  Schneider Electric from France to give homeowners the power to create their own renewable energy. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

A Glacier Grows in Sahara?

November 6th 2011

Energy Topics - Sun Glacier Leaf Project
Artist rendition of sun glacier leaf project in Sahara

We have learned time and again what a mistake it is to see the desert as a giant wasteland, a fact that artist Ap Verheggen intends to drive home with the incredible SunGlacier project. Based in the Netherlands, Verheggen is developing a giant sun-powered artificial leaf that uses condensation to create ice out of humidity in the Saharan desert.

This may sound like fantasy, but a pilot project that tests the theory behind the SunGlacier proposal is well underway. Instead of a 200m2 elm-leaf shaped structure with an PV cell coated underbelly, which powers cooling condensers that in turn convert humidity from the desert air into ice, engineers have simulated the desert environment inside of a shipping container. And they’ve already made a 10cm slab of ice! Read more ..


China and Brazil

Flow of Chinese Investments Continues to Aid Brazil’s Ascendency

November 1st 2011

Brazil - Rouseff and Jintao

China’s unstoppable emergence and influence as an economic super power has led to one of the most important changes to the global economic framework in the modern period. In the 1990s, the nation sought to consolidate its position regionally by nurturing bilateral trade relations with its neighbors and utilizing soft power to build state legitimacy. Gradually, after the rapid growth of its manufacturing sector, China’s resource-intensive economy has influenced the global expansion of its economic ties in order to sustain its growth pattern.

To meet the rising demand for agricultural and mineral commodities, China has developed trade relations with Latin America, particularly Brazil, which has both sets of resources in abundance. The trade statistics tell the story of a relationship that has developed at an exponential rate. Brazil’s exports to China have increased by US$28.8 billion since the turn of the millennium, while imports have increased by US$24.3 billion during the same period, helping the Latin American country to obtain an advantageous US$5.2 billion trade surplus in 2010. Trade between the two countries has more than tripled in the past five years to US$56.4 billion, solidifying China’s position as Brazil’s largest trading partner for some time to come; right now China’s share of Brazil’s exports is not far below that of the entire European Union. The major trade items—iron ore and soybeans, account for 83.7 percent of Brazil’s exports to the Far East, while 90 percent of the imports from China consist of manufactured goods, which are helping to satisfy the demand of Brazil’s expanding consumer class. Consuming up to half of the world’s annual output of iron ore, China has found the perfect partner in Brazil, the biggest supplier of the mineral in the world. Read more ..


The Sporting Edge

Olympics Don't Accurately Detect Female Sprinters' False Starts

October 31st 2011

Sports Topics - female sprinter

Olympic timing procedures don't accurately detect false starts by female sprinters, according to a new analysis by University of Michigan researchers.

Under the current rules, a woman can purposely anticipate the gun by up to 20 milliseconds, or one-fiftieth of a second, without getting called for a false start, the researchers say.

"This is unfair to the other women in the race because a medal can be won or lost in 20 milliseconds," said James Ashton-Miller, the Albert Schultz Collegiate Research Professor in the College of Engineering, the Institute of Gerontology and the School of Kinesiology.

The findings, published in PLoS One (Public Library of Science), have implications beyond competitive sports. They provide insights into the fastest whole-body reaction times humans are capable of, and they could possibly inform automobile brake engineering, the researchers say.

Olympic officials use the same criteria to disqualify both male and female sprinters for jumping the gun. A "false start" occurs if an athlete applies an estimated 25 kilogram force to the starting blocks within a tenth of a second (100 milliseconds) of the gun. Why 100 milliseconds? That was thought to be the fastest possible human reaction time. It's a threshold largely based on a 1990 study of eight Finnish sprinters, none of whom were Olympians and none of whom were women. Read more ..


Edge on Historical Archaeology

Archaeologists Discover Historical Artifacts of Australians at Gallipoli Battlefield

October 30th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Aussie canteen from Gallipoli
Aussie canteen with bullet hole, from Gallipoli.

More than one hundred artifacts from the First World War have been uncovered in an archaeological fieldwork survey on the Gallipoli battlefield in Turkey, leading to some interesting theories about life on the frontline, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Warren Snowdon said according to a press statement. 

Snowdon said the discoveries were made as part of a second season of fieldwork undertaken as part of the Joint Historical and Archaeological Survey – the only systematic survey of the battlefields of Gallipoli since the First World War.

“This survey covered the northern frontline areas on the Turkish and Allied sides. One of the most significant finds was the Malone’s Terraces area at Quinn’s Post,” he said.

William Malone commanded New Zealand’s Wellington Infantry Battalion. Malone’s men relieved the Australians at Quinn’s Post in June 1915. This was a key position, where even the smallest advance by the Turk’s would have forced the evacuation of the Anzacs.

Malone, who was killed during the fight for Chunuk Bair on August 8, 1915, greatly improved living arrangements at the post, including building terraces for troops to sleep in. These terraces were thought to have been lost. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

New Archaeological Evidence of Early Hunters Dates Earliest Americans to 12,000 BCE

October 29th 2011

Science - Mastodon bones

A new and astonishing chapter has been added to North American prehistory in regards to the first hunters and their hunt for the now extinct giant mammoth-like creatures – the mastodons. Professor Eske Willerslev’s team from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, has in collaboration with Michael Waters’ team at the Center for the Study of the First Americans, University of Texas A&M, shown that the hunt for large mammals occurred at least 1,000 years before previously assumed.

This new study concludes that the first-known hunters in North America can now be dated back at least 14,000 years. The results are published today in the internationally renowned scientific journal Science.

“I am sure that especially the Native Americans are pleased with the results of the study. It is further proof that humans have been present in North America for longer than previously believed. The “Clovis First” theory, which many scientists swore to just a few years back, has finally been buried with the conclusions of this study,” says Professor Willerslev, director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen. Read more ..


The Saudi Succession Question

The Next Generation of Saudi Princes: Who Are They?

October 26th 2011

Arab Topics - Saudi Royals Dancing the Ardha

Editor’s note: This series was originally written in 2009; we re-publish it now in light of Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud’s recent death.

Who are the candidates for succession to Saudi throne once King Abdullah passes? Many of the grandsons of Ibn Saud are already grandfathers; some have years of government experience. But which line should be favored in this next generation is among the most contentious aspects of the Saudi succession.

In discussing the younger generation, it is worth noting that sons of past kings are usually not considered worthy of mention. The respect accorded them and the extent to which they have a leadership claim seem to diminish upon the death of their fathers. Crucially, without their fathers’ backing, most seem to fall out of contention. The largest single group of second-generation princes are the sons of Saud, numbered at more than fifty (and a similar number of daughters), only a few of whom have any public role. Read more ..


American Songbook

The Spirit of Orchestral Mastermind Charles Stepney Lives on in Chicago

October 24th 2011

Art Topics - charles stepney

There is still a vibrancy and creativity of American music of the 1960s and 70s that has much to offer those who remember those days, as well as those inheriting the unique American penchant for syncretism in music styles. Certainly, the merging of jazz, gospel, funk, and rock is what distinguishes the 1970s as the U.S. emerged from days of the Civil Rights movement and the war in Vietnam. Definitions of what qualified as ‘Black’ music and ‘White’ music appeared to become fuzzier as young people breathed easier (without the Draft dangling over their heads) and could go to the dance floor and groove to tunes by Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder (imported from Saginaw, Michigan), Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament and Funkadelic.

But who was one of the masterminds? Who was it that helped shape the behind the microphone? The tunes are there to be heard on your MP3 player, YouTube, Songza, or even on an LP as God Himself intended those tunes to be heard. His name is Charles Stepney. You won’t hear his voice on those recordings, but you can feel his spirit. It lives. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Kenyan Army Marks Progress Battling al-Shabab

October 23rd 2011

Africa Topics - Kenyan Soldiers

Kenyan army officials say a five-day-old incursion into Somalia has been successful, and that troops are pushing deeper into the territory in pursuit of al-Shabab militants.

Army spokesman Emmanuel Chirchir says troops are targeting known al-Shabab hideouts.

“We've been doing targeting since 2009 in terms of al-Shabab bases in lower Juba,” he said. “So pretty much we know the training camps, we have pictures of well all of their locations and this is actually pointing towards where we are going to target.”

Chirchir also said a significant number of al-Shabab fighters have been killed in cross-border airstrikes.

“So far what we have counted is 73,” he said. “However, we know [that] because of air action it could be more, it could be hundreds.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Google Rides the Swiss rails for Spectacular StreetView

October 20th 2011

Switzerland railway

Google Street View technology has put imagery of some of the world’s most interesting and significant sites online. So now Google has now captured the beauty and majesty of the Swiss Alps from its winding train tracks and switchbacks.

Cooperating with Rhaetian Railways of Switzerland, a Google Street View team collected images from the Albula-Bernina line in Switzerland that will soon be live on Google Maps. The route winds through the Swiss Alps and is one of most famous in the world, passing through alpine forests from Thusis, Switzerland and past the resort town of St. Moritz, then to its final stop just over the border in Tirano, Italy Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Bulldozers and Residual Anti-Semitism Erase Jewish Remnants in Ukraine

October 20th 2011

Jewish Topics - Lviv synagogue remnant

In August of this year, I watched as bulldozers began to demolish parts of the remnants of what was once one of Europe’s most beautiful synagogue complexes, the 16th-century Golden Rose in Lviv. Most of the rest of the synagogue was burned down, with Jews inside, by the Nazis in 1941.

During the war, 42 other synagogues were destroyed in Lviv, which for much of its history was known by its Hapsburg (and Yiddish) name, Lemberg, then in the 20th century renamed Lwow by the Poles, and later Lvov after the Soviets annexed it in 1945. The remnants of the Golden Rose are one of the few remaining vestiges of Jewish existence in Lviv, the majority of whose residents, in 1940, were Jewish.

Lviv had already been the third largest Jewish city in Poland before the war, and then after the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, over 140,000 Jews fled from the Nazi-controlled part of the country into the relative-safety of Soviet-occupied Lviv. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Freeing Gilad Shalit: The Cost to Israel

October 16th 2011

Israel Topics - Gilad Shalit

On Tuesday, Israel and Hamas announced a two-phase prisoner exchange that would secure the release of Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 and held for more than five years in Gaza. In return, Israel would release 1,027 prisoners, including 280 who are serving life sentences for their involvement in terrorist acts. The deal was initially mediated by Gerhard Conrad, a senior German official with expertise in the Middle East who has overseen prisoner swaps between Israel and Hizballah since the 1990s. But it was Egyptian intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi who played the pivotal role in recent weeks.

According to reports of the deal, Israel will first release the most controversial 450 prisoners, in exchange for which Hamas will hand over Shalit to Egypt. Israel will then choose an additional 550 or so ostensibly non-Hamas prisoners for release. The group’s leader—Khaled Mashal, based in Damascus—has reported that the first release will occur within a week and the second within two months. After on-and-off negotiations since Shalit’s capture, new circumstances have apparently made a deal possible. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Recognizing a Great Speech when You Hear one

October 12th 2011

UK Topics - winston churchill declaiming

With the season for political oratory hard upon us, how does the rhetoric of this year's crop of presidential contenders measure up? "So far none of the Republicans stands out as a great orator," said Sara Forsdyke, an associate professor of classical studies and history at the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science & the Arts (LSA).

"And while President Obama has delivered some great speeches in the past, his oratory has gone downhill recently. I was quite disappointed in his jobs speech to the joint session of Congress."

Forsdyke teaches a class called "Great Speeches Ancient and Modern" in which she reviews the principles of public speaking that have been handed down by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and applies these principles to modern as well as ancient speeches.

"The power of persuasive speech isn't really a matter of inborn charisma," she said. "People can learn the techniques of effective public speaking that have been used both by great orators of classical antiquity and by great modern speakers, from Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama." Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Turkey’s New Policy on Syria

October 12th 2011

Syrian Issues - Assad and Erdogan

Ankara may soon slap the Assad regime with mild sanctions, but most of its Syria policy will remain just rhetoric in the absence of international consensus regarding stronger action.

Although Turkey has gradually distanced itself from Syria, policymakers in Ankara believe that their options for further action are limited. Without a proper game plan and international consensus, the United States and others cannot count on Turkey to make the Syria problem “disappear.”

The Arab Spring has posed a particular challenge to Turkish foreign policy under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Once characterized by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s catchy phrase “zero problems with neighbors,” in reality this policy has centered on “zero problems with regimes.” As the AKP successfully pursued its goal of turning Turkey’s EU-obsessed foreign policy eastward and boosting ties with the Arab world, its top new ally became the half-century-old Ba’ath Party dictatorship in Syria. Read more ..


Egypt after Mubarak

The Rains of the Arab Spring fall Hardest on the Heads of Egyptian Christians

October 10th 2011

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

The credibility of the Arab Spring took a bloody hit on Sunday, October 9, when Egyptian Army forces shot dead more than thirty Christian Copts and wounded scores of them. In addition, the action by the Army was paralleled by armed men, described as Salafi Jihadists by Coptic sources, seen also shooting and hitting demonstrators with knives. At a few weeks from the legislative elections in Egypt, this violence impacts the debate about the Spring of Egypt but also challenges US and European policies towards the current and perhaps the forthcoming Government. Can the West support - and fund - a regime that kills members of the weakest community in Egypt, months after the fall of Mubarak?

International news agencies, including AP, were late in reporting the real casualties, as Coptic sources have identified more than 30 bodies seen on the streets at the time this article was filed (forty by the latest unconfirmed account). Hundreds of demonstrators who were protesting against the attacks on Christian Churches in the south of the country were also wounded and dozens were taken to hospital. Read more ..


Technology on Edge

Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs, 1955–2011

October 6th 2011

Technology - Steve Jobs through the Years

Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs has died at age 56 after a long illness. Tributes have been pouring in from around the world. Jobs was an entrepreneur and innovator who changed several industries.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook called Jobs “an amazing human being, a visionary and a creative genius.” With his trademark black turtleneck and jeans, Jobs was known a charismatic business leader and an innovator.

“We just try to build products we think are really wonderful and that people might want. And, sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong,” Jobs said. Read more ..


Global Economy on Edge

Spain Hands Out Millions in Aid despite Fishing Company’s Record

October 5th 2011

Europe Topics - Vidal Armadores Galaecia
Vidal Armadores’s Galaecia (credit: New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries)

One of the world’s most controversial fishing operations—a family-controlled company in northwestern Spain linked to more than 40 cases of alleged illegal fishing—is changing tack. Antonio Vidal Pego, co-owner of Vidal Armadores, says the company is folding, and he’s devoting himself to renewable energy and fish oil. But fisheries officials in Brussels are not convinced.

Trafficking in fish is a thriving global black market. It fuels organized crime and the rapid disappearance of the oceans’ most valuable species, including top predators that scientists say are vital to the balance of the marine ecosystem. Nine out of 10 large fish are already gone, marine biologists say.

Many claim Vidal Pego has been one of the most infamous players in this trade—a so-called “pirate” fisherman.

“You can see I don’t have a hook, a parrot on my shoulder, or a wooden leg,” the 38-year-old says as he sits down to lunch in a private room at Restaurante Berenguela in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the Galician region. He says it is his company’s first on-the-record interview. Read more ..


Destination Israel

WeMakeIt Mobile Pocket Hotspot Connects Israel Travelers to the Country and the Planet

October 1st 2011

Jerusalem-Temple and Wall

More than three million people visit Israel each year. More every month. They are tourists, pilgrims, businessmen, diplomats, students, and celebrants. 

Most visitors to Israel are highly wired and connected individuals who need to stay in touch with home and business. But they also need to maximize their enjoyment of Israel's endless attractions. The problem is that getting connected in Israel is difficult. Naturally, your smartphones are going to become completely stupid in Israel due to incompatible signal. Therefore, any hookup for telephone is still going to require a global phone--very expensive, or a travel phone rental--less expensive.

The workaround for smartphone apps is your laptop or iPad. But your iPads and tablets will not work because you lack an Israeli wireless connection. When you finally connect at your hotel, the daily connect fee is often double or triple the cost of a typical US hotel fee—as much as $20 to $30 per day plus tax just to get connected. All this aggravation can be avoided with a small box about the size of a wallet--the mobile hotspot. It is offered by a recently formed Israeli hi-tech company called WeMakeIt. You will find it easily available on demand from the leading car rental company, Eldan, or delivered to your hotel. The fact that Eldan makes the mobile hotspot—or MiFi—as easily available as US rental agencies do for navigators, sets Israeli travel ease a notch ahead for ease and access. Read more ..


Environmental Justice

The Plight of the Waterless in Detroit

September 28th 2011

Social Topics - Water is Our Right

In Detroit, the business of water is a dirty one. Thousands of residents have their water shut off every year, but the issue reflects more than just unpaid bills. The shutoffs are at the heart of how the Great Lakes are being stewarded. As the world’s supply of fresh water dwindles, the Great Lakes will only continue to become more of a focal point. Who gets the water in these lakes and who goes without? The ways in which water equity issues play out in Detroit may foreshadow what’s on the horizon for other U.S. cities—and even the world.

Detroit resident Keith Bragg wears a faded blue jacket and stands behind a small wooden lectern. He glances down every now and again, but for the most part he keeps his head up. His voice and eyes are clear as he begins to tell the assembled crowd how he found himself without water. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

A Second Generation Group Looks Back Nine Years Later

September 28th 2011

History-Genocide - Holocaust survivor and flag

For the global Holocaust survivor community, a void was filled when Generations of the Shoah International (GSI) was formed in October 2002. What began with nine people in seven cities has grown into the largest family of survivors organization in the world as well as the bridge between the survivor community and major Holocaust organizations and institutions globally. We are proud to have accomplished all this without receiving funds from any program devoted to assisting needy survivors and without soliciting membership dues.

An all-volunteer organization, GSI devotes its efforts to two important areas: freely sharing information and resources towards the goals of Holocaust education, remembrance and commemoration; and promoting and remaining responsive to the interests of survivors and their descendents. Read more ..


The Mortgage Meltdown

Mortgage Industry Tanks, Fraud Continues at Countrywide

September 27th 2011

Economy - Foreclosure

The mortgage market was struggling in March 2007 when Countrywide promoted Eileen Foster to executive vice president and tapped her to take over the company’s mortgage fraud unit.

Home prices were sputtering, borrower defaults were climbing, and the industry leader, Countywide, would soon be forced to ask Bank of America for an infusion of capital to help it keep afloat.

The fraud investigation unit was also struggling. The company had laid off several experienced investigators, according to Foster. Those who remained were faced with an ever-growing number of fraud complaints.

Foster had roughly two dozen investigators working for her, but only four or five had real investigative chops, Foster says. Many of the rest had been brought over to the unit from clerical jobs, she says. Read more ..


The Caribbean on Edge

Caribbean Islands' Economies Too Dependent on Sun and Sand

September 26th 2011

Travel - Princess Juliana airport

As globalization has carried with it a greater degree of potential for economic integration among different nations, the tiny English-speaking Caribbean states are fighting for their place in an ever-shrinking world. Aside from the potential boon associated with globalization, the spread of free trade and increased competition between transnational corporations could pose another considerable threat to vulnerable Caribbean nations that are often ill-equipped to retaliate against more economically formidable societies.

As far back as the eighteenth century, national economies experienced the initial phases of industrial capitalism. During this era imperial powers, such as England and Spain, exploited the colonies, forcing them to export raw materials to the mother-countries for processing, which prevented the Caribbean islands from achieving a proper degree of progress. For instance, the island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis historically had come to depend heavily upon on sugar exports and had the potential to complete the entire production process from inception to launch. Read more ..



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