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The Battle for Syria

Understanding Russia's Involvement in Syria

January 9th 2016

Medvedev and Assad

Russia's engagement in the Syrian Civil War is nothing new. Since the very beginning of the conflict, Russian experts have been present on the ground and advanced Russian weaponry, including SA-17 and SA-22 surface-to-air missiles, has been flowing into the country. Russia has also provided the Assad regime with light arms and ammunition. Without this support, Assad would already have fallen.

So what sparked even greater Russian involvement in Syria? Why did the Russians change their strategy, to include such major undertakings like deploying their air force and using submarine-launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea?

There are four factors.
The most important factor was Assad's dire situation. Russia has invested heavily in the regime and was deeply concerned that Assad would fall. With rebel forces in control of Idlib, they would have been well positioned to target the port city of Latakia, which is vital to the survival of the Assad regime. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Original Americans Came from Siberia 23,000 Years Ago

December 13th 2015

The first people to reach the Americas came from Siberia, now in Russia, in a single group around 23,000 years ago, at the height of the last Ice Age, says a new study.

After reaching Alaska, they apparently hung out in the north - perhaps for thousands of years - before spreading throughout North and South America, said the study based on genomic analysis.

The findings dispel the popular idea that Polynesians or Europeans contributed to the genetic heritage of Native Americans.

The study revealed that the the first people to reach the Americas used a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska called Beringia.

"There is some uncertainty in the dates of the migration and the divergence between the northern and southern Amerindian populations. But as we get more ancient genomes sequenced, we will be able to put more precise dates on the times of migration," said one of the study authors Yun Song, associate professor at University of California, Berkeley. Read more ..

Palestinians and Israelis

The Economic Costs Of Palestinian Unrest In The West Bank

October 30th 2015

Palestinian Rock Attackers

The recent wave of violence and Mahmoud Abbas' threats to dismantle the Palestinian Authority could represent not just a security emergency for Israel, but also an economic nightmare.

More than 1,000 factories in the West Bank rely solely on the manpower of Palestinian workers. And they're just a small part of the financial cost that Israel will pay in the event of the Palestinian administration's collapse.

When the Israeli government was passing power over to the Palestinian Authority 20 years ago, there were approximately 20,000 Palestinians working in government institutions, most in the health and education systems. Today there are more than 150,000 public workers to which we must add pensioners whose monthly checks support about one million people. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Britain's Status as a Trading Nation Ties It to Europe

September 8th 2015

British army privates on parade

At some point in the next two years, British voters will decide whether to remain a part of the European Union. This will be the first time Britons have been consulted on the subject since 1975, when 67 percent voted to stay in. If it does decide to leave, the United Kingdom will become the first country to leave the European Union since it was created as the European Community in 1957. The repercussions would be felt not just in Britain, but also across the Continent and indeed across the world. To predict the eventual result of the vote, it is first important to understand the factors that have kept the United Kingdom in the union this long.

The story starts with geography. Britain is a relatively small island situated off a large but historically divided continent. It is narrow, with navigable rivers, natural resources and fertile land. These factors have various implications for the country's development. As an island with narrow dimensions, the coast is always nearby, making a large portion of the population maritime. Add an ample supply of wood, and conditions are ripe for the construction of a strong navy. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Stops Paying Marketplace Sellers

August 10th 2015

Barnes-and-Noble store shot


The main Barnes & Noble website was operational after the late-June relaunch, which was designed to feature better search capabilities and offer an improved user experience. But when the site relaunched, third-party sellers were shut out from the marketplace.

We reported on the outage in early July, when a Barnes & Noble spokesperson acknowledged the problem. "We recently launched our bn.com website without Marketplace going live. Our plan is to have Marketplace back up and live tomorrow," she said - but according to sellers writing to EcommerceBytes, the marketplace was down for the first half of July.

"It has been partially back up since then but is not functioning at 100%," wrote one reader. "We have been receiving and shipping out orders from Barnes & Noble since July 19th, but have still not been paid for any of them." Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Dispatch from Iraq: the Stealth Iranian Takeover Becomes Clear

August 1st 2015

Iranian Revolutionary Guard

In late June, I traveled to Iraq with the purpose of investigating the role being played by the Iranian-supported Shia militias in that country.

Close observation of the militias, their activities, and their links to Tehran is invaluable in understanding what is likely to happen in the Middle East following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement between the P5 + 1 powers and Tehran.

An Iranian stealth takeover of Iraq is currently under way. Tehran's actions in Iraq lay bare the nature of Iranian regional strategy. They show that Iran has no peers at present in the promotion of a very 21st century way of war, which combines the recruitment and manipulation of sectarian loyalties; the establishment and patient sponsoring of political and paramilitary front groups; and the engagement of these groups in irregular and clandestine warfare, all in tune with an Iran-led agenda.


The Edge of Terrorism

How ISIS Makes Money From The Art Market

July 27th 2015

Islamic State Destroys Nimrud April 2015

Imagine: you are window-shopping on a quiet street, perhaps in London or Paris or New York. Something remarkable catches your eye: an ancient coin, a gold chain, a tiny figurine. Impulsively, you enter the shop, where the owner explains to you that the sculpture comes originally from Mesopotamia, that the necklace is Byzantine. It isn't inexpensive, but the shopkeeper has guaranteed its provenance and the price seems fair; and besides, you quite love it. You say yes, and leave the shop with your new treasure tucked safely in a bag.

You may have just handed your money over to the Islamic State. Read more ..

The Farhud

International Farhud Day -- An Insider's Eyewitness Account

July 7th 2015

Edwin Black

While I was speaking to the packed room, a woman I did not know, sitting in the front row, slowly shook her tear-stained head in disbelief and muttered softly … barely audible … "I never thought I would hear these words in this building."

The woman, it turns out, was of Iraqi Jewish ancestry. The building was the iconic United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, astride the East River. The event was in a hall routinely used by the UN Security Council. The day was June 1, 2015. The occasion was the proclamation of "International Farhud Day" at the UN as a live global event broadcast by UN TV.

Farhud in an Arabic dialect means violent dispossession. The words I spoke that gripped the woman listening described in detail how the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of the Arab community in Mandate Palestine, organized a blood-curdling massacre by Nazi-allied Arabs against Baghdad’s peaceful Jewish community on June 1-2, 1941. The ensuing mass rape, beheading, murder, burning, and looting spree was the first step in a process that throughout the Arab world effectively ended 2,600 years of Jewish existence in those lands. Ultimately, some 850,000 to 900,000 Jews were systemically pauperized and made stateless in a coordinated forced exodus from the Arab world.

Many Sephardic Jews consider the 1941 Farhud, which murdered and maimed hundreds, to be their Kristallnacht. However, for the past 74 years, neither the facts about the brutal, two-day pogrom, nor the culpability of the Nazified Iraqi and Palestinian Arab perpetrators, nor the expulsion of 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab world that followed were topics the UN wanted to hear of. Nor for the past 74 years was this blood-letting and its aftermath commemorated in the vast chronicles of organized Holocaust remembrances. Nor for the past 74 years was this constellation of tragedies commonly known and/or spoken of within the Jewish community. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

'Transparent' Truck Lets Drivers Behind It See Road Ahead

June 25th 2015

Traffic Jam

A prototype "Safety Truck" developed by Samsung allows drivers following behind it to "see through" the truck to the road ahead. The truck features a front-facing wireless camera and four rear monitors in the back that provide a streamed real-time view of the traffic conditions in the road ahead to trailing drivers behind the truck. The company developed the truck to help reduce the risk of accidents caused by drivers attempting to pass such large vehicles, which block the view ahead.

The prototype truck was tested in Argentina where two-lane roads - and traffic accidents - are common. Nearly one person per hour dies in a traffic accident there, according to Samsung, and a majority of fatalities are caused by drivers attempting to pass other vehicles. Another advantage of the truck, according to Samsung, is that it could reduce accidents due to sudden braking in the event of a slowdown ahead or an animal crossing the road. Read more ..

BDS Jihad

Interview with Richard Allen of JCCWatch: Fighting BDS and the New Israel Fund

June 22nd 2015

Click to select Image

Richard Allen of New York City, is said to have quietly raised millions of dollars for Israel. In 2011, he and his wife were awarded the Theodor Herzl Medallion by Israel Bonds and the Israeli Minister of Finance. But lately, Richard Allen has become both the most criticized and the most listened-to man in the New York City Jewish community. What is he now trying to do for Israel, and why?

Richard Allen, you are a businessman. Why did you decide to get involved in public affairs?

JCCWatch.org started in November 2010, with our first internet post — a smiling photo of Uri Zaki, U.S. director of B’Tselem, standing behind a table given to him by our local Jewish Community Center, the JCC in Manhattan. Zaki was raising money to promote an anti-Israel agenda, handing out literature that defames our people, while soliciting contributions, all from inside the JCC in Manhattan.

I love Israel and the Jewish people. The buck stops here. We cannot turn a blind eye to Israel’s detractors. I decided to do something.

We started JCCWatch.org to protest the presence of B’Tselem and the New Israel Fund (NIF) at the Jewish Community Center. The JCC did get this message from the community, and has somewhat modified their public support for nefarious organizations. Read more ..

The Edge of Science

Bioengineers Invent Engine Powered By Water Vapor and Artificial Muscles

June 17th 2015

Caribbean Sea Shore

Bioengineers have invented the world’s first engine that runs on energy created from the process of natural water evaporation at room temperature, by utilizing cleverly engineered artificial muscles.

The small device, created by researchers at Columbia University, is a fully functional engine which can generate 1.8 microwatts of energy – enough to power LED lights or even a tiny car – all for the cost of $5. It works by drawing power from a process never considered to be a potential energy source before.

“Engineered systems rarely, if ever, use evaporation as sources of energy, despite myriad examples of such adaptations in the biological world,” a paper published in Nature by a team of authors, including researchers Xi Chen, Ozgur Sahin and others, claimed.


Campus Jihad

Rival U.S. Billionaires United to Fight Israel Boycotts

June 8th 2015

Boycott Israel

One donated more than $100 million to the Republicans, the other has been the Clintons’ biggest backer. Now billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, split on U.S. politics, have united to fight boycott threats against Israel.

Adelson and Saban hosted a conference of pro-Israel business executives and activists over the weekend in Las Vegas to begin an initiative aimed at countering the growing threat of international sanctions against Israel.

“That he’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican has really very little to do with it,” said Las Vegas Sands Corp. founder Adelson, who holds the 25th slot on Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index, in a joint interview with Saban on Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday. While you can “rest assured” the two men will not be supporting the same person in the 2016 presidential election, Saban said, “when it comes to Israel, we are absolutely on the same page.”


The Aviation Edge

Rugged Drone Readying for Market

June 5th 2015

Flying Robot

Phoenix-based startup Ascent Aerosystems has come up with a new form factor for prosumer drones with its rugged cylindrical-shaped Sprite drone now showing on crowdfunding site KickStarter.

Sprite is the feat of two brothers, Jonathan and Nathaniel Meringer, both keen climbers but also qualified aerospace engineers. They got their first idea of designing their own drone around 2010, when they couldn't find an easy to pack and rugged-enough product to withstand repetitive harsh landings in rocky and mountainous Arizona where both enjoyed finding new routes for rock-climbing.

They had once considered a quadcopter drone with a camera, but none of what they had seen on the market was compact nor tough enough to be stuffed in an equipment bag with rope and water bottles. They had their first prototypes flying in 2013 and many design iterations later, they successfully launched a campaign on KickStarter in May (still some days to go, but Sprite has already raised more than the original $200,000 goal). Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Bin Laden's Bookshelf: In the Shadow of Anders Breivik

May 23rd 2015

Osama bin Laden in mufti

On July 22, 2011, the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik killed seventy-seven people in and near Oslo. Not long before he attacked, he emailed a 1,500-page document titled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," which included conservative critics of radical Islam among his sources. Immediately, some in the media, academic, and think tank worlds declared these persons guilty by association and charged them with shaping Breivik's thought, even though the manifesto cited about the same number of liberals and conservatives.

Yesterday we were given a look inside the mind of another mass killer when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released Bin Ladin's Bookshelf, a "sizable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin." The 409 items range from publicly available U.S. government documents to personal letters from bin Laden to family and fellow terrorists. Read more ..

The water's Edge

Israeli Water-tech Flows to Thirsty California

May 13th 2015

mexico drought

Parched California is already working with Israeli industrialists, government experts and academics on advanced water technologies and long-term strategies to lessen the effects of its severe drought.

One example is the $1 billion ocean-water desalination plant  Israel’s IDE Technologies is building to provide 50 million gallons of water daily in the San Diego area starting in November.

But that’s just a trickle compared to the flood of joint projects that could get flowing in the coming dry years.

Israel’s population is 8.3 million, while California’s is 38.8 million. Yet California can implement many aspects of Israel’s holistic approach combining education, technology and water management, says Yossi Yaacoby, director of the WaTech innovation center for Mekorot, Israel’s national water-management consortium. Read more ..

World War II

World War II and the Origins of American Unease

May 12th 2015


We are at the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. That victory did not usher in an era of universal peace. Rather, it introduced a new constellation of powers and a complex balance among them. Europe's great powers and empires declined, and the United States and the Soviet Union replaced them, performing an old dance to new musical instruments. Technology, geopolitics' companion, evolved dramatically as nuclear weapons, satellites and the microchip — among myriad wonders and horrors — changed not only the rules of war but also the circumstances under which war was possible. But one thing remained constant: Geopolitics, technology and war remained inseparable comrades.

It is easy to say what World War II did not change, but what it did change is also important. The first thing that leaps to mind is the manner in which World War II began for the three great powers: the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Israeli Ex-Soldiers Angered over NIF-funded 'Breaking the Silence' Claims Against IDF

May 11th 2015

Exhausted Israeli Soldier

A group of former IDF soldiers, incensed over an Israeli NGO's claims that they abused Palestinians during last summer’s fighting in Gaza, have taken to social media to fight the allegations.

Under the hashtag #my_truth in Hebrew, the soldiers, many of whom faced heavy fire from Hamas and other terrorist groups during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge, have begun posting stories of cases showing how they went to great lengths to avoid harming Palestinians. They also mentioned cases in which civilians took part in terrorist activity.

The goal of this initiative is to counter damning anonymous testimonies by other troops published by the NGO Breaking the Silence, which frequently publicizes claims that the IDF mistreats Palestinians. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Big Bang Secrets Swirling in a Fluid Universe

May 3rd 2015

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy

To a sound wave, the cosmos has the consistency of chocolate syrup.

That’s one discovery that scientists investigating the Big Bang have made using a new approach that treats the matter in the universe as a peculiar kind of fluid. They have calculated properties that characterize the universe’s behavior and evolution, including its viscosity, or resistance to deformation by sound waves and other disturbances.

“Twenty pascal-seconds is the viscosity of the universe,” said Leonardo Senatore, an assistant professor of physics at Stanford University — just as it is for the ice cream topping.

The viscosity calculation could help cosmologists sleuth out the details of the Big Bang, and possibly someday identify its trigger, by enabling them to track the fluidlike flow of the cosmos back 13.8 billion years to its initial state. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Exclusive Story: The Brothers Who Fled Syria and Joined IDF's Intelligence Corps

April 13th 2015

Sunset in Jerusalem

They took nothing from their old home, crossed the border by foot in the dark and had gun bullets flying over their heads. Now they serve at the same base in the IDF's elite 8200 intelligence unit. Their story is one of bravery and determination

As they look at pictures and videos showing the ruins of the battle-scarred Syrian city of Aleppo, the three brothers who are now serving in the IDF's elite intelligence 8200 unit can barely recognize the place they grew up in. Channel 2 News Online met them for an exclusive interview.

They were raised as Syrian children, but learned biblical Hebrew in Jewish education centers. Their parents told them from a very early age that someday they were all hoping to flee Syria and make Aliyah to the holy land. When they heard about other families who managed to escape from the Syrian regime and cross the border into Israel, their determination grew stronger. Read more ..

Armenian Genocide

Pope Decries Turkish 'Genocide' of 1.5 Million Armenians

April 12th 2015

Armenian genocide

Pope Francis used the word "genocide" on Sunday to describe the 1915 mass murder of Armenians in a move likely to severely strain diplomatic ties with Turkey. "In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies," he said during a solemn mass in Saint Peter's Basilica to mark the centenary of the Ottoman killings of Armenians. "The first, which is widely considered 'the first genocide of the 20th century', struck your own Armenian people," he said, quoting a statement signed by Pope John Paul II and the Armenian patriarch in 2001. Many historians describe the killings as the 20th century's first genocide, but Turkey hotly denies the accusation.

While Francis did not use his own words to describe the murders as genocide, John Paul II's use of the term provoked a sharp reaction from Turkey at the time, and citing the beloved former pope will again ruffle feathers. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

The Internet of Things: How will the Dream Come True?

April 9th 2015

Retail Sales Target Cashier

Matthias Poppel, chief operating officer for EnOcean GmbH claims that all of the technologies are in place to allow the Internet of Things to flourish. All that is needed are the standards and the vision to overcome the fragmented nature of the applications space.

A major challenge implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) is deploying large numbers of sensor and actuator nodes and connecting them in a suitable way. The characteristics of energy-harvesting wireless technology make it the perfect fit to bridge the last mile in an IoT network: small devices working without cables and batteries allowing a simple installation as well as quite easy gradual up-scaling in the number of deployed units. At the same time, the components require minimal service and maintenance effort. Read more ..

The Book Biz

Another Major Amazon Brawl with a Book Publisher Expected

April 8th 2015

Amazon box

Another battle may be brewing between Amazon and one of the world’s largest book publishers.

HarperCollins, which is one of the publishing industry’s â€œBig Five,” is refusing to sign the exact same contract that three other book publishers just agreed to, reports BusinessInsider, which quotes sources familiar with the situation.

An Amazon spokeswoman confirmed the two companies are in negotiations, saying: “We have offered Harper the same terms for a contract that Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Macmillan have all recently agreed to.”

According to the report, if the two companies don’t come to an agreement before HarperCollins’ current contract runs out, Amazon will stop selling print and digital books from the publisher.


The Edge of Terrorism

Lessons Learned from Six Big Terrorist Windfalls

April 6th 2015

Hezbollah Nazi Salute

Terror finance trials over the last ten years have frequently involved transfers by individuals of a few thousand dollars to terrorist organizations abroad. Sometimes those cases get as much attention from the news media and law enforcement as multi-million dollar cases of funding terrorism. 

This tendency is unfortunate because it causes us to lose sight of the big time patrons of terrorism and their methods. Small transfers are likelier to involve individual actors, small groups, and criminal activity. High-dollar terrorist transactions are likelier to involve state sponsorship, or at least large organizations such as major charities, and sometimes corporations which are targeted for extortion or kidnapping-for-ransom schemes by militants. Read more ..

Egypt and Israelites

Breaking: Israelites in Sinai Suddenly Achieve Freedom From Pharoah -- Good Times Forecast

April 3rd 2015

Edwin Black

Approximately two million Children of Israel are now encamped in the Sinai following their extraordinary exodus from Egypt yesterday. Just days ago, they were slaves to Pharaoh. Today, they are free men and women, destined for self-determination in a land of their own. Only now are the details of their fantastic experience coming to light.

The dramatic sequence of events began some weeks ago with the unexpected return of exiled prince Moses, who previously fled Pharaoh’s wrath after slaying a taskmaster. In his daring appearance at the Palace, the inarticulate Moses, speaking through his brother Aaron, declared himself to be the personal emissary of a powerful new "God," previously unknown to the Royal Court. Moreover, Moses asserted that his God was the protector of the Children of Israel, who have been in bondage for more than four centuries in Egypt.

The entire Royal Court was aghast as Moses demanded that the Children of Israel be permitted to travel three days into the desert for an unprecedented "feast and sacrifice" to their God. Making clear that he was not asking a Court indulgence, Moses looked straight at Pharaoh, stamped his roughhewn staff and issued the ultimatum that would be his rallying call during the coming days: "Let my people go."

Laughter echoed throughout the hall as Pharaoh sneered, "Who is your 'God?'  I know him not. Nor will I let Israel go!"

Showing little patience, Pharaoh cited reports that Moses had been "disturbing the people from their works" in various building projects wholly dependent upon slave labor. As a punitive measure, Pharaoh proclaimed that henceforth slaves would be compelled to gather their own straw, even as their daily brick quota was maintained. Read more ..

China Rising

China's Fragile Evolution

March 24th 2015


Last week, China's anti-corruption campaign took a significant turn, though a largely overlooked one. The Supreme People's Court released a statement accusing former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, the highest-ranked official thus far implicated in China's ongoing anti-corruption campaign, of having "trampled the law, damaged unity within the Communist Party, and conducted non-organizational political activities." In Chinese bureaucratic speak, this was only a few steps shy of confirming earlier rumors that Zhou and his former political ally and one-time rising star from Chongqing, Bo Xilai, had plotted a coup to pre-empt or repeal the ascension of Chinese President and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. Thus, the court's statement marks a radical departure from the hitherto depoliticized official language of the anti-corruption campaign. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

House Democrats Angry over Obama’s Classified Trade Meeting

March 17th 2015

Obama calling

House Democrats are criticizing President Obama's administration for holding a classified briefing on trade with top administration officials, saying it's an attempt to push a trade program in secret.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman will meet with House Democrats on Wednesday in a classified briefing to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Members will be allowed to attend the briefing on the proposed trade pact with 12 Latin American and Asian countries with one staff member who possesses an “active Secret-level or high clearance” compliant with House security rules. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) stated that the administration is being “needlessly secretive.” Read more ..

Campus Hate

From Durban to Los Angeles: the BDS movement’s long trail of anti-Semitism

March 13th 2015

uc davis swastika door

Last month, in a breathtaking display of anti-Semitism reminiscent of Nazi Germany, members of the student government at South Africa’s Durban University of Technology (DUT) called for the expulsion of all Jewish students from their campus. The very next day, halfway around the world, the student government at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) engaged in a similar display of anti-Jewish bigotry, nearly denying a highly qualified young woman a position on the student judiciary board after four student representatives brazenly argued that her Jewishness and affiliation with Jewish organizations should make her ineligible for the position. Read more ..

The Caliphate

Danish Jewish Community Grapples After Islamic Terror Attack

February 16th 2015

Copenhagen cafe attack

“It’s a hard time to be a Danish Jew whether you’re in Denmark or living outside the country,” said Shimon following the deadly attacks in Copenhagen this past weekend that left Jewish security guard, Dan Uzan dead. “Most people are shocked in the Danish Jewish community.  Copenhagen is no longer this isolated paradise – there are real dangers.”

The small Jewish community of Denmark, which numbers around 6,400 people today, was the first Scandinavian country to open its doors to Jews. In 1622, King Christian IV welcomed Spanish and Portuguese Jews from Hamburg and Amsterdam and 62 years later, King Christian V ordained the establishment of a unified Jewish community. During the Holocaust, the Danish resistance movement smuggled 7,220 Jews in fishing boats to the safety of neutral Sweden during the German occupation. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Robot Surgeons Are Coming

February 15th 2015


For much of its brief history, robot-assisted surgery has been synonymous with Intuitive Surgical, Inc.’s da Vinci system. It’s the only robot with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to help surgeons perform a number of laparoscopic soft-tissue procedures, including hysterectomies, gall bladder and kidney removals, prostate cancer treatment and heart valve operations. Da Vinci has improved vastly since Intuitive introduced it more than a decade ago. Like many new technologies, however, it has experienced growing pains, leading some engineers and medical professionals to question whether a single company can meet growing demand while still delivering a safe product.

A team of researchers is looking to address these issues by developing a robotic surgery system based on hardware designs and software that are freely available. In this open-source approach, the builders would keep whatever intellectual property they’ve invested in the project but must make their knowledge and discoveries available to others. Read more ..

The World on Edge

The Lunch Question

February 12th 2015

International Currency 2

At an event in Beijing last November, I had the good fortune to meet the French economist Thomas Piketty, who has sold 1.5 million copies of his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, since it was first published in 2013. Pacing up and down in front of a packed auditorium, Piketty explained that because the rate of return on capital is now higher than the growth rate of the global economy, the proportion of the world's wealth that is owned by a small elite will likely keep increasing; in other words, we should expect to see a divergence of wealth as the rich get much richer. As his book says, "capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based."

No strategic forecaster can afford to ignore this alarming prediction — or the enthusiastic response it got from the audience in Beijing. In the 20th century, the two world wars were the only force powerful enough to reverse the concentration of wealth in the elite and the mounting class conflict; in the 21st century, we seem to be falling back into a comparable world of revolution, political extremism and mass violence. Read more ..

America and Israel

Israeli Premier Netanyahu Reiterates Intention of Addressing Congress

February 9th 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday doubled down on his intention to speak to a joint session of Congress next month, despite criticism from Democrats who say they will boycott the event.

Netanyahu said he fully intended to make the speech and that he will use the moment to criticize negotiations the Obama administration is holding with Iran, which he argues are endangering Israel. "A bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel's existence," Netanyahu said at an event for his Likud Party, according to The Associated Press. "Therefore, I am determined to go to Washington and present Israel's position before the members of Congress and the American people." Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Sea Walls May Be Cheaper Than Rising Waters

February 7th 2015

Stormy Seas

Every country worldwide will be building walls to defend itself from rising seas within 90 years because the cost of flooding will be more expensive than the price of protective projects, researchers predict in a new study.

The encroaching seawater threatens to flood hundreds of millions of people every year by 2100 as homes that are already below flood heights, or will be, succumb to climbing oceans. If governments fail to take any action, the annual cost of damage stands to reach hundreds of billions of dollars, at best, and as high as $100 trillion under grimmer scenarios, according to the paper, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The bleakest outcome could result in nearly 5 percent of the world's population facing yearly floods that drain almost 10 percent from the globe's economy, the paper says. That would require a collision of severe scenarios that involve leaping ocean levels, high numbers of people living along seashores and a lack of defensive efforts. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Documents Prove Palestinian Authority Studied Details Of Each Terrorist Act Before Issuing Salaries

February 7th 2015

Edwin Black

Congressional legislators were astonished last year to learn that the Palestinian Authority was issuing monthly payouts totaling $3-7 million as salaries and other financial rewards to specific terrorists and their families. The money was channeled, in part, through the Ministry of Prisoners pursuant to the Law of the Prisoner. The law set forth a graduated scale, pegging monthly salaries to the length of Israeli jail sentences, which generally reflects the severity of the crime and the number of people killed and/or injured.

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Thousands of documents, newly obtained by this reporter through a lawsuit to unseal court-protected files, demonstrate that these payouts are not blind automated payments. Rather, senior Palestinian Authority officials as high as President Mahmoud Abbas scrutinize the details of each case, the specific carnage caused, and the personal details of each terrorist act before approving salaries and awarding honorary ranks in either the PA government or the military. Ministry of Prisoners spokesman Amr Nasser has explained, “We are very proud of this program and we have nothing to hide.” Nonetheless, in response to the international furor, the Palestinian Authority announced it would replace the Ministry of Prisoners with an outside PLO commission known as the Higher National Commission for Prisoners and Detainees Affairs.

The PA is dependent upon foreign donor countries to supply much of its budget, which now exceeds $4.2 billion annually. About ten percent of the PA budget, more than $400 million, is contributed annually by United States foreign aid. The US and many other countries have enacted laws forbidding any payments when the monies directly or indirectly support or encourage terrorism. The interdepartmental bureaucratic notations the Palestinian Authority has recorded on each terrorist before approving the level of salaried compensation is extensive. For example, one prominent case involved Ahmad Talab Mustafa Barghouti, who personally coordinated numerous terrorist acts. These included a January 2002 shooting spree on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, killing two and wounding 37; a March 2002 shooting spree at a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing three and wounding 31; and finally a March 27, 2002 attempt to smuggle an explosive suicide belt in an ambulance. The Israel Defense Forces arrested Ahmad. On July 30, 2002, a military court concluded that he was responsible for murdering 12 Israelis, and Barghouti was sentenced to 13 life sentences. Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Argentina's President Fends Off Challenges from the Intelligence Service

February 5th 2015


Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced Jan. 26 that she would reform her country's civilian intelligence organization, the Intelligence Secretariat (SI). Soon after, the office of the president said it would submit a draft law to reform the SI to the Senate on Feb. 3. In addition to changing the organization's name to the Federal Intelligence Agency, the reform is expected to significantly weaken the SI by limiting its ability to gather signals intelligence, revealing a wider political dispute.

Fernandez's motivations for reforming the SI are not completely clear, but concerns that criminal charges could be brought against her and other members of the government once they leave office might have been a factor. Moreover, though the reform appears to be immediately motivated by concerns over the SI's loyalty to Fernandez, it may significantly affect how the Argentine security apparatus functions long after her term in office ends.

Although the Fernandez government has not released the details, the reforms would drastically alter the way the SI functions. Previously, the organization could engage in domestic intelligence collection after obtaining a federal judge's approval, but the new reform will likely require more steps and more oversight. A federal judge would have to request a warrant to conduct intelligence gathering from the prosecutor general's office, and the actual collection process would be either conducted or overseen by that office. The president appoints the prosecutor general, and approval of the reform would grant this post, currently filled by Gils Carbo, significant intelligence collection abilities for the remainder of Fernandez's presidency and likely into the next presidency. Read more ..

The Genetic Edge

When a Virus Jumps Species

February 2nd 2015


When HIV jumped from chimpanzees to humans sometime in the early 1900s, it crossed a gulf spanning several million years of evolution. But tobacco ringspot virus, scientists announced last week, has made a jump that defies credulity. It has crossed a yawning chasm ~1.6 billion years wide.

And this is likely bad news for its new host, the honeybee, matchmaker of crops and bringer of honey. These are two services for which humans are both eternally indebted, and, in the case of the former, possibly unable to live without. Bees pollinate the majority of our fruit and nut crops and many vegetables — some 90 all told — without which humanity would be nutritionally impoverished. Yet shortages are a possibility we are confronting, as bee populations in America have declined in recent years for reasons that seem to be both diverse and elusive. Colony collapse disorder, as whatever it is is called, was first reported in 2006 and has spread globally. Many viruses, parasites, and pesticides have been implicated, but no smoking gun has emerged.


Europe on Edge

Are Seismic Changes Ahead for Europe

January 27th 2015

German police at Brandenburg gate

The story is well known. The financial crisis of 2008, which began as a mortgage default issue in the United States, created a sovereign debt crisis in Europe. Some European countries were unable to make payment on bonds, and this threatened the European banking system. There had to be some sort of state intervention, but there was a fundamental disagreement about what problem had to be solved. Broadly speaking, there were two narratives.

The German version, and the one that became the conventional view in Europe, is that the sovereign debt crisis is the result of irresponsible social policies in Greece, the country with the greatest debt problem. These troublesome policies included early retirement for government workers, excessive unemployment benefits and so on. Politicians had bought votes by squandering resources on social programs the country couldn't afford, did not rigorously collect taxes and failed to promote hard work and industriousness. Therefore, the crisis that was threatening the banking system was rooted in the irresponsibility of the debtors. Read more ..

Palestinians on Edge

Palestinians Sternly Warned on Funding Cut-off by Rep Lowey

January 9th 2015

Capitol Hill

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and the Staate and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, today issued the following statement on Palestinian actions related to the International Criminal Court: 

"Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent actions before the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) clearly indicate an abandonment of the goal of a negotiated two-state agreement and ignore the necessary compromises that all sides must make for peace.  

"For decades, the United States has been the Palestinian Authority’s partner by generously providing billions of dollars to foster security cooperation with Israel, support economic development, and address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. At the same time, our assistance has included specific conditions in order to discourage provocative actions aimed at undercutting the peace process.  Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Paris Attack Underscores a Deeper Malaise

January 8th 2015

Paratroopers at Eiffel

Wednesday's deadly attack against a French satirical publication has the potential to upset relations between European states and their Muslim citizenries. The strategic intent behind such attacks is precisely to sow this kind of crisis, as well as to influence French policy and recruit more jihadists. Even though Islamist extremism is, at its core, an intra-Muslim conflict, such incidents will draw in non-Muslims, exacerbating matters.

Three suspected Islamist militants attacked the Paris office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with high-powered assault rifles, killing 12 people. Among the dead are the editor and cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier, who was on a hit list appearing in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine for "insulting the Prophet Mohammed." Eyewitness said they heard the attackers shouting, "We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed," and chanting, "God is Great" in Arabic. This is the third such attack in a Western country in less than three months. The Paris incident involves perpetrators who displayed sophisticated small arms and small unit training.

Whether or not these attacks are the handiwork of self-motivated grassroots jihadists and cells or of individuals tied to international jihadist entities, such incidents aggravate tense relations between the Western and Muslim worlds. This is all the more significant in Europe, where states are experiencing the rise of right-wing nationalism and Muslim communities have long experienced disaffection. The jihadist objective is to get the states to crack down harder on Muslim communities in order to further their narrative that the West is waging war on Islam and Muslims.


The Islamic State

Northern Storm and The Situation In Azaz

January 7th 2015

Syrian Sunni jihadis

Situated in the northern countryside of Aleppo province, the town of Azaz–the center of the Azaz district–is the nearest major settlement to the Bab al-Salama border crossing that leads into the southern Turkish city of Kilis. At the present time, Azaz town is controlled by the group Liwa Asifat al-Shamal ("The Northern Storm Brigade"), which is affiliated with the Islamic Front rebel coalition. Also present within Azaz town but lacking any governing authority is Syria’s al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. To the east of Azaz town lies the smaller settlement of Sawran, beyond which is a frontline, an area of no-man’s land of about 800 meters to a kilometer, and then the localities of Doudyan and Dabiq to the northeast and southeast, solely controlled by the Islamic State (IS). Northern Storm also solely controls the town of Sawran. Read more ..

The Race for LEDs

The Big Lie about LED Lighting

January 1st 2015

LED bulb

I've had it with LED lamps. The world has been told that LEDs are the future, in part because they are economically the right form of long-term lighting, and there are environmental benefits as a great aside. Well, maybe the environmental argument is true, but the economical one is not.

My wife has converted a substantial amount of our home lighting, as well as our holiday decoration lighting, to LED bulbs. Despite all this investment, I have yet to experience the primary benefit of long life. This made me sit down recently and ask myself why.

As it turns out, the answer is quite simple. The lifetime is not a function of the LED, but rather the total circuit solution.

Figure 1 shows the schematic for an incandescent light bulb. As I once read in a college textbook, the analysis of this circuit is left to the reader.

Contrast the Figure 1 schematic with the Figure 2 schematic that shows an offline LED lamp schematic minus the LEDs. As I'll show soon, there is no need to analyze the Figure 2 circuit operation. Read more ..

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