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The Archaeological Edge

Oldest Known Writing Discovered in Jerusalem

August 2nd 2010

Archaeology Topics - akkadian cuneiform sample
A Sample of Akkadian Cuneiform

On July 12 the Hebrew University announced that a little clay fragment with the oldest known writing in Jerusalem had been discovered. From the late Bronze Age, it is considered a major discovery in Israel’s archeological community. The soil in which the fragment was found was taken from the fill excavated from beneath a 10th century B.C.E. tower dating from the period of King Solomon, at the Ophel area, located between the southern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem and the City of David.

The discovery was made by the team working under Dr. Eilat Mazar. The granddaughter of the late Professor of Archeology Binyamin Mazar, she is referred to as a “biblical archeologist,” as she uses the Bible as her blueprint. In 2008 Mazar told the Jerusalem Post, which had chosen her as one of their People of the Year, “I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other. The Bible is the most important historical source.” Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Fanning the Flames of Jihad

July 26th 2010

Terrorism - Zawahiri
Ayman al-Zawahiri

On July 11, 2010, al-Malahim Media, the media arm of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), published the first edition of its new English-language online magazine “Inspire.” The group had tried to release the magazine in late June, but for some reason — whether a technical glitch, virus (as rumored on some of the jihadist message boards) or cyberattack — most of the initial file released was unreadable.

The magazine was produced by someone who has a moderate amount of technological savvy, who speaks English well and who uses a lot of American idioms and phraseology. We did not note any hint of British or South Asian influence in the writing.

A government source has suggested that Inspire was produced by a U.S citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia named Samir Khan. Khan is a well-known cyber-jihadist — indeed, The New York Times did an excellent story on Khan in October 2007. Given Khan’s background, history of publishing English-language jihadist material and the fact that he reportedly left the United States for Yemen in 2009 and has not returned, it does seem plausible that he is the driving force behind Inspire. Read more ..

The Spiritual Edge

The Interpretation of Dreams by Ancient Rabbinical Authorities

July 26th 2010

Jewish Topics - Rabbi at schul

Dreams have always held significance for human beings through the ages, and dreaming has been associated with a multitude of different notions. The idea of dreams functioning as a link between humans and the divine has been particularly common. According to a thesis in religious studies from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, this notion is also found within Judaism from the period of Late Antiquity.

"The rabbis interpreted dreams using the same methods that they used to interpret the Bible. Texts and dreams were interwoven, for example stories in the religious documents tell of rabbis dreaming that they are reading verses from the Bible. Jewish prayers and dream rituals also recommend recitation of Scriptural verses as a way of dealing with bad dreams; the good text functioning as a kind of weapon against the evil dream," explained the author of the thesis, Professor Erik Alvstad, in a press statement.

The belief that gods and other divine forces convey knowledge and insights to humans through dreams is highlighted in many of the accounts of dreams that readers come across in ancient literary works, such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible, the works of Homer and the Icelandic sagas. Dream interpretation, prayers and rituals to ward off evil dreams, as well as methods that could be employed in order to encourage good dreams through the power of suggestion, also occurred in ancient cultures. Read more ..

The Urban Poor

Legal Aid Societies under Investigation as they Help the Poor and Help Themselves

July 19th 2010

Social Topics - baltimore povery art
Baltimore blight

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tony West hailed Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau with a rousing speech a few weeks ago that equated the nonprofit group with great American poverty fighters like Adlai Stevenson, Thurgood Marshall, and Clarence Darrow.

The Maryland group is “an institution where the overriding charge is to do not what is popular, or partisan, or political, but to do what is right,” the Justice Department’s top civil attorney boasted May 20 at an annual awards celebration in which the group rented out a red-bricked banquet hall inside Baltimore’s Camden Yard’s baseball stadium.

Unbeknownst to West at that moment, though, prosecutors inside his own department were preparing a criminal case exposing how Maryland’s Legal Aid Bureau failed for more than a decade to catch one of its top executives, who is accused of systematically defrauding the federally funded program.

Six days after West’s speech, Legal Aid Bureau’s former chief financial officer was charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with stealing, along with an accomplice, more than $1 million in federal, state and private monies that were supposed to help the poor get legal help but were instead spent on such things as personal junkets to Atlantic City for gambling and prostitutes, officials said. Read more ..

Lebanon on the Edge

Resistance Land--Hezbollah's Disneyland

July 12th 2010

Gaza Topics - Mleeta

On a hilltop overlooking Israel's former occupation zone in south Lebanon, Hezbollah has built what the international press has dubbed the Shiite militia's "Disneyland." Mleeta, Hezbollah's new "Tourist Landmark of the Resistance," is designed to celebrate the party's long war against Israel. As it pulls in the masses, Mleeta also provides another sign that Israeli deterrence in Lebanon is disintegrating.

A former Hezbollah command center, Mleeta is located 27 miles (44 km) southeast of Beirut. Built at a reported cost of $4 million, Mleeta attracted over 130,000 visitors in the first ten days following its opening on May 25 -- the 10th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon.

Abu Hadi, our Hezbollah guide, who employs the same nom de guerre as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, aimed to give visitors a glimpse into the high-risk life of killing Israeli soldiers. He began our tour in "The Abyss" -- a pit filled with Israeli helmets, boots, cluster bombs, and overturned military vehicles. At the center of the display is an Israeli Merkava-4 tank, with its gun turret tied in a knot. As we ascended a spiral walkway overlooking the display, I caught sight of a tombstone embossed with the Israel Defense Forces symbol, and the word "Abyss" written in big, concrete Hebrew letters. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

The 30-Year War in Afghanistan

July 5th 2010

Afghan Topics - Afghani Taliban

The Afghan War is the longest war in U.S. history. It began in 1980 and continues to rage. It began under Democrats but has been fought under both Republican and Democratic administrations, making it truly a bipartisan war. The conflict is an odd obsession of U.S. foreign policy, one that never goes away and never seems to end. As the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal reminds us, the Afghan War is now in its fourth phase.

The Afghan War’s First Three Phases

The first phase of the Afghan War began with the Soviet invasion in December 1979, when the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, organized and sustained Afghan resistance to the Soviets. This resistance was built around mujahideen, fighters motivated by Islam. Washington’s purpose had little to do with Afghanistan and everything to do with U.S.-Soviet competition. The United States wanted to block the Soviets from using Afghanistan as a base for further expansion and wanted to bog the Soviets down in a debilitating guerrilla war. The United States did not so much fight the war as facilitate it. The strategy worked. The Soviets were blocked and bogged down. This phase lasted until 1989, when Soviet troops were withdrawn. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

Washington Strikes out on Honduras

July 5th 2010

Latin American Topics - Honduras coup d'etat

When President Obama took office in January 2009, his administration espoused a new style of broad, multilateral and direct diplomacy. Within the context of the Western hemisphere, a primary channel for inter-American diplomacy is the Organization of American States (OAS), which was founded in its present form in 1948 to “promote and consolidate representative democracy.” Although the U.S government has nominally endorsed principles of multilateralism and non-intervention, which have been somewhat institutionalized by the OAS, the organization has traditionally been used by Washington to advance a specific agenda under the guise of hemispheric solidarity. After the end of the Cold War, the OAS made some efforts to develop a legal paradigm for collective, rather than unilateral democracy promotion. The bottom line is that the United States has never given up trying to use the OAS to promote its own policy priorities with the expectation that fellow member states will deferentially toe the line. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Car Dealers Try to Wheedle Their Way out of Financial Reforms

June 28th 2010

Automotive - Used Car lot

In Arizona, Hector Maldonado says he ran into trouble with his bosses because he objected to what he claims was his employer’s habit of faking financial information to qualify customers for loans they couldn’t afford. One manager, Maldonado alleged in a lawsuit, cursed and threatened him after he came forward with information documenting dishonest lending practices.

Main Street or Wall Street? Auto Dealer Loans Tied to Wall Street Financing

In Michigan, Matthew Manley claims his coworkers saddled customers with bigger loans by slipping unapproved charges into the deals. One manager, Manley alleges in his own lawsuit, urged him to target vulnerable customers — referring to the elderly as “people with oxygen tanks” and African Americans as “the dumb blacks.”

In the wake of the nation’s mortgage meltdown, Maldonado and Manley’s allegations sound familiar. But the pair weren’t employed in the subprime mortgage business. They worked for car dealers. They are among 20 former auto dealership insiders from Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Illinois and Hawaii who describe a culture in which forged documents, hidden fees and other questionable practices were tools of the trade. These accounts, provided in court records and in interviews, paint an unflattering portrait of the on-the-ground realities of auto financing. Read more ..

Argentina on the Edge

Indigenous Peoples had Little to Celebrate during Argentina's Bicentennial

June 28th 2010

Latin American Topics - Argentina Indians

"Los pueblos originarios están acá; están presente,” (the native peoples are here; they are present) an indigenous woman shouted to the camera of Argentina’s Canal 7 news program on May 18th. She was surrounded by fellow protesters from across Argentina. In a period of eight days this group had marched to Buenos Aires in an event called the “Marcha de los pueblos originarios; Camino por la verdad, hacia un estado plurinacional” (March of Native Peoples; Walk for truth towards a plurinational state).

Argentina’s indigenous have used the nation’s bicentennial celebration to raise their visibility and address issues facing their community. On May 24th and 25th, indigenous nations as well as non-indigenous supporters from around the country held an event outside the Congressional Palace called El Otro Bicentenario (The Other Bicentennial). This consisted of speeches, panels, and music promoting indigenous rights and demands. The bicentennial, native peoples say, is not a time “to celebrate [Argentina’s freedom from colonialism], but to reflect on past and present colonial policies.” Read more ..

Mendoza Against the Deaf

Mendoza Eugenics Stalled as California Legislator Considers Deaf to be Defective Americans

June 21st 2010

History-Genocide - Verschuer-Twins-Height

California Assemblyman Tony Mendoza has been stalled in his effort to pass legislation the deaf community feels will launch a eugenic campaign against them. Although originally scheduled for brief testimony and a vote last Wednesday, June 16, 2010, an informal survey of Health Committee members by Mendoza's office determined he did not have the votes. Other Health Committee members, stung by accusations of a slide back to California's dark history of Nazi-style eugenics, have declared their unwillingness to vote for the measure in its present form.

California eugenics was a system of eliminating unwanted bloodlines of those who were deemed "social misfits" in the twisted pseudoscience. Those targeted included such groups as the poor, prostitutes, Asians, whites with brown hair, those needing glasses, the deaf and many others. The radical early twentieth century social engineering plan became entrenched decades before Hitler came to power. Hitler emulated the California state statutes in his own Nazi eugenic crusade. Ultimately, some 66,000 Americans under 27 state laws were forcibly sterilized for a variety of eugenic reasons, with about a third to a half of the victims in California. That state's legislature has already issued a formal apology for targeting groups for extinction.

Mendoza's eugenic bill, known as AB2072, admittedly seems innocuous enough at first blush, critics argue. AB2072 calls for all newborns to be screened for hearing problems; and if found to be deaf, their parents are to be given an "informative brochure" describing the options. The problem, complain large numbers of deaf people, is that the brochure is under the control of the well-financed cochlear implant industry, the audiology profession and various Alexander Graham Bell foundations--all of which are determined to see deaf culture, and its distinctive American Sign Language, disappear. Alexander Graham Bell was a pioneer of American eugenics. Cochlear implants are controversial medical devices that augment hearing and, in many ways, tend to do away with the need to communicate using American Sign Language.

For their part, the generation-to-generation deaf are passionately determined to keep their special identity which depends upon visual communication, including sign language. They have fought back with mass protests and letter writing campaigns, as well as STOP AB2072 Internet sites and t-shirts. The deaf community also brought in the historical expertise of Edwin Black, author of the award-winning eugenics book War Against the Weak, which chronicled the deep relationship between California eugenicists and the Third Reich. Read more ..

The BP Spill

Coast Guard Fleet Slowed by Mechanical Woes During BP, Haiti Rescues

June 14th 2010

Energy Topics - Thad Allen

In the wee-morning hours after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, a Coast Guard rescue helicopter being dispatched to pluck oil rig survivors floating in the fire-engulfed waters could not launch because its hoist was broken.

The crew of the 25-year-old chopper was forced to switch to another aircraft, costing it 38 minutes at a time when the Coast Guard was trying to evacuate the wounded and search for missing workers who leapt into the Gulf Mexico to escape the fiery oil platform on the night of April 20.

Mechanical problems, like those detailed in the Coast Guard's official incident logs for the BP accident, have been experienced repeatedly during the last two major crises that summoned the service's famed search and rescue teams, investigation shows.

At least three Coast Guard aircraft and one cutter suffered serious mechanical problems that delayed, cut short, or aborted rescue missions during the Gulf incident, the logs reveal. The Coast Guard averaged one problem for every seven rescue sorties it operated during the first three days of the oil spill crisis in April, according to logs obtained. Read more ..

Edge on Narco-trafficking

Drug Policy and Violence in Mexico--Two Narratives

June 7th 2010

Crime Topics - Agent in Drug War

Two prevailing narratives have emerged in the American discourse over Mexico’s plague of drug violence. On the one hand, there are those who laud President Calderón’s hard-line anti-drug crusade while blaming Mexico’s plight entirely on Mexicans – on their “record of corrupt, weak and incompetent governance,” or on their “ineffective criminal justice system.” Then there is the more enlightened version of the tale, which similarly infantilizes Mexicans while at least conceding that the demand for drugs in the United States, along with private weapons sales in border states, are at least partly responsible for the country’s elevated level of drug violence.

Unfortunately, both of these archetypal accounts may miss the point. Commentators in the United States are almost uniformly unable or unwilling to discern the true underlying cause of Mexico’s drug-related violence, and instead settle for highlighting secondary symptoms. For example, the demand for drugs is not the issue; humankind’s desire to alter its consciousness has been a constant for virtually the totality of recorded history. The problem, rather, is their relegation to an underground market, which facilitates the growth of incredibly powerful criminal nexus – one of the lessons that alcohol prohibition should have taught us.


Inside Latin America

South America's Soy Bean Wars

May 31st 2010

Farming - Soybeans

After 35 years of Alfredo Stroessner’s brutal dictatorship (1954-1989) and six decades of wasted opportunity under the authoritarian Colorado Party rule, Fernando Lugo’s presidential victory in 2008 marked a historic breakthrough for Paraguay. While campaigning, then-Bishop Lugo characterized himself as the “bishop for the poor,” and was successful in giving hope to Paraguay’s indigenous and disadvantaged communities. However, after two years in office, comparatively little has been done to address the promised redistribution of land to landless farmers as well as the rising tensions between campesinos and large monocrop (primarily soy) producers. Read more ..

Edge on International Finance

The Fabulous Life of the Ravenous Vulture Funds

May 24th 2010

Africa Topics - Vultures eating zebra treat

Since the mid-90s, the so-called vulture funds have been suing poor countries so that they would fully pay back their debts which they had purchased for pennies on the dollar. In this way, the vulture funds frequently manage to exacerbate the economic situation in the poor countries, most of which are located in Latin America and Africa. Since the beginning of this year, Britain has worked to end these extortionist actions of the vulture funds. However, Christopher Chope, a Conservative member of the British House of Commons saw to it that the government’s “Debt Relief Bill for developing countries,” which had impressive cross-party support, would be terminated.

The purpose of the bill was to limit the amount that can be recovered by any commercial creditor from defaulting on countries designated as possessing unsustainable external debts. If passed, it would have limited successful claims to an internationally agreed level and would apply equally to all commercial creditors. The bill would cover the 40 countries qualifying for the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. The only chance of passing the bill before the British general elections this June was if there was unanimity in the House of Commons. Chope has single-handedly prevented the Debt Relief Bill applying to developing countries from passing in its third reading by shouting the word “object!” Read more ..

Inside the Financial Crisis

Legitimacy of Political Systems Puts European and Asian Economies in Doubt

May 17th 2010

Europe Topics - Greek riots

Financial panics are an integral part of capitalism. So are economic recessions. The system generates them and it becomes stronger because of them. Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious. They do so imperfectly, of course, as at times the reckless are rewarded and the cautious penalized. Political crises — as opposed to normal financial panics — emerge when the reckless appear to be the beneficiaries of the crisis they have caused, while the rest of society bears the burdens of their recklessness. At that point, the crisis ceases to be financial or economic. It becomes political.

The financial and economic systems are subsystems of the broader political system. More precisely, think of nations as consisting of three basic systems: political, economic and military. Each of these systems has elites that manage it. The three systems are constantly interacting — and in a healthy polity, balancing each other, compensating for failures in one as well as taking advantage of success. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Latin America's Poor Provide Fodder for Major League Baseball

May 10th 2010

Caribbean - Dominican Baseballer

After the April 4th start of the 2010 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, fans once again have been filling ballparks and clinging to the often passionate hope that this season will end with their favorite team ending up as World Series champions. However, beyond batting averages and home-run statistics of America’s favorite sluggers and fastball pitchers, often lie the startling facts of life and alarming tales that undergird the economic fundamentals of baseball and explain the evolution of the MLB’s demographics.

When looking at the demographics of professional baseball, one might wonder how many woeful tales lie behind the increasing number of success stories for players who hail from the Dominican Republic. For every successful player, how many personal tragedies occur as only a small percentage of the potential players make it onto even the minor league rosters? Major League Baseball invests upwards of $76 million in the Dominican Republic, of which $15 million is used in the operation of local, official MLB baseball academies, which frequently can be million-dollar “training facilities” that mirror the lavish resorts found on the island.

Twenty-eight of the thirty major league baseball teams own academies in the Dominican Republic, where new talent can legally qualify for admission to an academy as early as age 14. Here, the long road begins where the anointed are groomed to become the next Sammy Sosa or Vladimir Guerrero. Nevertheless, beyond the spotlight that falls on the one or two select players who make it are the hundreds of other prospects who will find themselves rejected. Most of the latter are likely to be returned to a life of poverty, with only the increasingly distant memories of chasing a dream that will never be captured. Read more ..

Thailand on the Edge

A Visit with Thailand’s Red Shirts

May 3rd 2010

Asia Topics - Thai Red Shirt

On the night of April 22, 2010, while in Bangkok on a business trip, I was walking the streets of the business district where a colleague and I walked into a mass of people, thousands participating in pro-government demonstrations to counter the nearly two-month long campaign of protests by the opposing anti-government demonstrators known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or the “Red Shirts.”  The pro-government demonstrators, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, or the “Yellow Shirts,” or “Multi-Color Shirts,” were jovial, dancing about and were left untouched by the police and army units who calmly lined the streets separating the opposing forces. 

The military units themselves were wearing different ribbons on their left sleeves, some wearing pink denoting support for the much honored and beloved Thai monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Read more ..

The Border's Edge

How Mexico and the US Can Secure their Shared Border

April 26th 2010

Latin American Topics - US-Mexico Border

On March 3, masked gunmen surrounded the United States consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, departing the exterior perimeter after a fifteen minute standoff. Ten days later, in Ciudad Juárez, three U.S. consulate employees were assassinated. Days later, Robert Krentz, an Arizona rancher who routinely gave water to illegal immigrants, was gunned down by a man who fled into Mexico. On April 2, after insurgents ordered civilians to leave the border town of El Porvenir, terrified locals sought asylum in Texas. One week later, a hand grenade exploded inside the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo. On April 21, armed men seized two hotels in downtown Monterrey, emptied all rooms, and whisked away four guests and two receptionists. Mexico may not be a failed state, but the north is in chaos. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Is A Life Sentence for Iowa Kosher Butcher Disproportionate Justice?

April 19th 2010

Jewish Topics - Sholom Rubashkin

Some people don't mind if Sholom Rubashkin gets life in prison and rots behind bars until he dies. Others are outraged at the harsh treatment being meted out to Rubashkin and ask in disbelief, “What's going on?”

Rubashkin is at the center of the torrid scandal swirling around the massively-investigated Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. Last November, a federal jury in South Dakota found Rubashkin guilty of 86 federal charges including bank, mail and wire fraud, and money laundering, as well as failing to pay livestock providers in the time required by law. Rubashkin, now 50 years old, is facing a tough Department of Justice sentencing request demanding that he be given the prison sentence that the Probation Department calculates, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, as life in prison. His sentencing by U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade is scheduled for April 28–29, 2010.

Those who want Rubashkin locked away for the rest of his days list his crimes as numerous and odious. Charges by bloggers, Jewish media reporters, and prosecutors include a heinous track record of mistreating illegal alien workers; tolerating drug dealing and gun smuggling in the plant; money laundering; obstruction of justice; perjury; and the painful ritual slaughter of cattle, all in the process of creating arguably the most successful kosher meat business in America. Read more ..

Archaeology on the Edge

Archaeologists Find Source of Blue Pigment of the Pharoahs

April 12th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Egyptian blue pottery

Jennifer Smith, PhD, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, was belly crawling her way to the end of a long, narrow tunnel carved in the rock at a desert oasis by Egyptians who lived in the time of the pharaohs.

"I was crawling along when suddenly I felt stabbed in the chest," she says. "I looked down and saw that I was pressing against the broken end of a long bone. That freaked me out because at first I thought I was crawling over bodies, but I looked up and saw a sheep skull not too far away, so I calmed down. At least the bones weren't human."

What was she doing in the tunnel?

The answer: seeking an uncontaminated sample of a mineral that might have been the key ingredient in the blue used to decorate "blue painted pottery" popular among the Egyptian elite during the New Kingdom (1550 to 1079 BCE). Read more ..

Africa on the Edge

Lord’s Resistance Army Still Kidnapping and Murdering

April 5th 2010

Africa Topics - Kids with Guns

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion started in 1987, one year after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power, to end twenty years of civil strife. Under its “charismatic” leader Joseph Kony, who is apparently alive and well and almost a recluse, it brought about the internal displacement of almost two million people in camps. It is estimated that 66,000 children and young adults were abducted during their twenty-plus years of terror in northern Uganda—the boys were forced to become porters, then soldiers, and the girls porters and wives to the rebel officers. In 2006, a cease-fire was agreed upon, and the rebels re-located to the forests of north-east Congo (DRC).

The rebels are notoriously brutal. They force their young captives to kill or be killed on the slightest excuse, such as a complaint or slowness in obeying. Some captives are forced to kill close relatives or friends. The weapons they make them use are machetes or wooden stakes. This is part of their strategy: make the children and young adults lose all terms of reference they have grown up with, such as manners, respect, and sympathy for others, and ties of friendship and family. Their aim is to sow such fear that when they attack, people are too petrified to react, and if they do they are hacked or bludgeoned to death. Read more ..

Africa on the Edge

South Africa Greets World Cup with 40,000 Victims of Human Trafficking and Child Prostitution

March 29th 2010

Social Topics - Prostitute

This June 11th is the kick-off of the 2010 World Cup, in South Africa; the first time a global event like this, with anticipated billions of TV spectators, will take place on the continent. Many critical eyes will be focused not only on the matches, but also on the security measures and the overall organization for the 350,000 soccer fans expected.

The South African Emergency Management Services divisional chief, Sean Knoetze, told Associated Press they were prepared for everything: biological and chemical incidents, stadium collapses, aircraft crashes and flooding. “We never know what to expect,” he said. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, addressing the Ugandan parliament in a state visit on March 25th, said the country intends to “disprove skeptics out to “de-campaign” Africa.” Leave for all military personnel will be cancelled during the one-month long tournament to forestall any civil demonstrations, and patrol the country’s borders to prevent trafficking in drugs and humans.

Breaking News!

Exclusive Coverage of Exodus: Children of Israel Flee Egyptian Bondage

March 22nd 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

EDITORS NOTE: All details of Edwin Black’s Passover coverage are taken faithfully from Exodus chapters 5-15, plus Rashi’s Commentary.

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 ..

Nigeria on the Edge

Christian-Muslim Clashes in Nigeria: Seeing the Truth Behind the Headlines

March 15th 2010

Africa Topics - Jos Nigeria violence

In the Jos region of Nigeria, in January of this year, hundreds of Muslims were massacred. And in what appears to be direct retaliation, on March 7, three largely Christian villages were attacked and several hundred Christians killed. The governor of Plateau state, Jonah Jang, had warned the national army about reports of suspicious people with weapons in the area hours before the attack, but the military failed to take action.

When he tried to locate the commanders by telephone, he couldn’t get any of them. Connivance or incompetence on their part, or a bit of both? The head of the northern area of Nigeria’s Christian Association told the BBC he believed mercenaries from neighboring Chad and Niger were involved. He said they had alerted the central government about training grounds in the northern state, but nothing had been done about it. Many people cross into Nigeria under the pretext of being pastoralists, but are in fact mercenaries. Read more ..

The Edge of Genocide

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

March 8th 2010

History-Genocide - Armenian Victims

In 1918, U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau wrote, “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915."

What happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, and who are the Armenians? The Armenians are an ancient people who have existed since before the first century C.E. Armenia has gained and lost a tremendous amount of territory throughout its long and turbulent history. Boundaries of the past have extended from that of the present-day Republic of Armenia and through most of modern day Turkey. The name “Armenia” was actually given to the country by its neighbors; inhabitants of Armenia refer to it as “Hayastan” derived from the name Haik, a descendent of Noah (from the Bible), and “stan” which means “land” in Persian. The Armenian language is unique from other Indo-European languages, with its own distinct letters and grammar. Read more ..

Edge on Archaeology

Jerusalem City Wall Discovered from 1000 B.C.E.

March 1st 2010

Israel Topics - Solomons Temple

A section of an ancient city wall of Jerusalem from the tenth century B.C.E.—possibly built by King Solomon—has been revealed in archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar and conducted under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The section of the city wall revealed, 70 meters long and six meters high, is located in the area known as the Ophel, between the City of David and the southern wall of the Temple Mount. Uncovered in the city wall complex are: an inner gatehouse for access into the royal quarter of the city, a royal structure adjacent to the gatehouse, and a corner tower that overlooks a substantial section of the adjacent Kidron valley. Read more ..

The Obama Edge

US Downplays Obama's Meeting with Dalai Lama as Part of Chess Game with the Chinese

February 22nd 2010

Obama Admin Topics - Dalai Lama at White House
Dalai Lama Exits White House Among Garbage Bags

The unceremonious departure of the Dalai Lama from the White House on February 19 gained almost as much currency as the actual meeting between the Tibetan Buddhist leader and President Barack Obama. While leaving the Executive Mansion, the Dalai Lama was captured on film exiting through a door usually used by household staff where the West Wing meets the main presidential residence. The saffron-robed monk, a recipient of the Nobel Prize and revered icon for Buddhists and lovers of liberty was seen walking around trash bags in his sandals in chilly Washington DC.

The photo promptly went all over the world, sparking criticism and bewilderment. For its part, the White House released only one photo of the actual meeting between the two leaders, showing them in conversation.

China, which has occupied the mountainous nation of Tibet since the 1950s, duly registered its diplomatic pique over the visit. The American ambassador in Beijing was summoned for a consultation with the Chinese foreign ministry in protest. A Chinese spokesman averred that the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit with Obama had “seriously harmed” Sino-American relations. The Chinese registered its “solemn representation” to the U.S. diplomat that international relations had been damaged because of Obama’s refusal to heed Chinese warnings. “We believe the actions of the U.S. side have seriously interfered in Chinese internal affairs, seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and seriously undermined China-U.S. relations,” said the Chinese spokesman. Read more ..

Edge of Narco-Terrorism

FARQaeda—A Real Threat or a Matter of Circumstantial Evidence?

February 15th 2010

Latin American Topics - FARC

Over the past several months, a number of reports have circulated that address the subject of drug trafficking ties between South American narcotics trafficking interests and terrorist organizations, principally Al Qaeda and its smaller affiliates now known to be based in Northern Africa. These assessments have cited evidence pointing to a disturbing ring, an “unholy alliance,” which reflects alarming links between FARC exporters and Al Qaeda distributors according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s Jay Bergman.

This expanding nexus involves transporting drugs from South America to Africa and, once there, smuggling them over established land routes to EU countries. The stakes are too high to ignore, especially if the charges turn out to be true, and the consequences of this operation could further destabilize impoverished and relatively lawless regions of Africa. However, upon closer examination, much of the evidence cited in these articles turns out to be circumstantial at best.

The Evidence

On January 11, 2010 the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article titled, “Lebanese drug rings active in Germany said to have funded terrorism,” in which it accused Hezbollah (which is classified as a terrorist organization by United States authorities) of using immigrant rings based in Speyer, Germany as a money-laundering conduit for the illegal sale and distribution of cocaine. Der Spiegel speculates that these same rings may have channeled at least some of their profits to support Hezbollah terrorist activities in Lebanon.
Previously, on January 4, 2010, Reuters reported that the DEA had established that a drug-trafficking alliance existed between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and Al Qaeda. Details in the article were rapidly disseminated by various media channels, inspiring both shock and disbelief.

The Edge of Archaeology

Earliest Known Hebrew Script found at Excavations in Israel at Khirbet Qeiyafa

February 8th 2010

Archaeology Topics - Bible pottery sherd

Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing - an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign. The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.) Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month. Read more ..

Turkey on the Edge

No Women, No Europe

February 1st 2010

Islamic Topics - Muslim Woman

The first president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, is a known opponent of Turkey's EU membership. Mr. Van Rompuy may find it easy to stick to his position: seven years after the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rose to power in Ankara, Turkey is sliding away from European liberal democratic norms, including gender equality. Under the AKP, Turkish women are barred from power and are nonexistent in the executive levels of the bureaucracy.

The AKP is rooted in Turkey's Islamist opposition; specifically the Welfare Party, or RP, which was shut down in 1998 by the country's Constitutional Court for violating the secular and democratic principles in the Turkish Constitution. The AKP was born out of the RP's ashes, with RP cadres bringing that party's organizational and financial network to the AKP.

The AKP rejects the Islamist epithet, though, describing itself as a conservative and democratic movement. Conservative as it might be, the AKP does not appear to be a democratic movement. Negative trends in women's empowerment in Turkey since 2002 demonstrate, as noted by Caroline Glick, that the AKP does not practice democracy as a “system of laws and practices that engender liberal egalitarianism.” Read more ..

Religious Freedom

Coptic Christians Demand Australian Government Intervention to End Persecution in Egypt

January 25th 2010

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

An Egyptian in Australia lives in fear of a backlash against his family because of his conversion from Islam to Christianity. "Mina," 36, is afraid for the safety of his family in Australia and in Egypt, for defying the police and fleeing the country after he converted to the Coptic Orthodox Church. He had been arrested and beaten numerous times, according to media reports.

His lawyer Jimmy Morcos said that after one arrest, "Mina" was thrown in a room with Islamic radical prisoners who were encouraged to beat him.

Mina is one of 70,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians who have fled persecution in Egypt and resettled in Australia since 1971, according to Coptic Orthodox Bishop Suriel. He is also one of 12,000 who marched on the Egyptian consulate in Melbourne to protest over the killing of six Coptic Orthodox Christians in a drive-by shooting in Egypt on December 6 during the Coptic observance of the birth of Jesus. Read more ..

Edge of Economic Recovery

Should Money Store Value?

January 18th 2010

Economy - Money Money Money

A series of powerfully written articles by Charles Eisenstein at Reality Sandwich has renewed my interest in money alternatives, in particular a money-type which by design does a poor job of storing value. This money contains a built-in “rotting speed” in the form of negative interest, or demurrage. Demurrage would mean a money that acted as a very poor store of value, as compared with, say, income-generating entities such as farms or property or corporations. Not storing money to secure against future want would speed up its movement through the economy, thereby improving employment and, hopefully, community bonds. It would help turn money into a medium of exchange pure and simple, not something to stuff under the mattress. A money suffering negative interest was conceived to reflect the fact that value decays over time, like grain and meat for example. So the theory.

At first I was attracted by the idea of demurrage, but more thinking on it has led me to doubt its potential efficacy long-term. Any money, no matter its design, is based on the presumption of insoluble scarcity. If everyone just knows scarcity is insoluble, they will hoard to protect against want. With a money that decays, all that would change would be that which is hoarded. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Islamists Erase Jewish Identity from Ezekiel’s Tomb in Iraq

January 11th 2010

Jewish Topics - Ezkiel
Ezekiel´s Tomb

The Iraqi news agency Ur news has revived fears that under pressure from Islamic political parties, the original Hebrew inscriptions and ornamentation on the walls around the tomb of Ezekiel are being (or have been) removed, this under the pretext of restoring the site. According to sources, the Antiquities and Heritage Authority in Iraq has been pressured by Islamists to historically cleanse all evidence of a Jewish connection to Iraq—a land where Jews had lived for over a thousand years before the advent of Islam.

Four months ago a German-based Iraqi journalist tipped off the Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq in Israel that plans were afoot to build a mosque on the site of the shrine of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel at al-Kifl, this was first reported on the “Point of No Return” news blog. Read more ..

Inside Islam

Al-Qaida Connection to Attempted Murder in Denmark

January 4th 2010

Islamic Topics - Little Burka Mermaid
Copenhagen's Little Mermaid in a burka

The assailant who was shot on January 1 by Danish police after battering the door of a celebrated cartoonist has been identified as a native of Somalia. Armed with an axe and a knife and accompanied by two other assailants, the 28-year-old Somalian male entered the home of Kurt Westergaard in the town of Viby.

According to a press statement, the man is accused of entering Westergaard’s home to kill him. Westergaard was at home at the time with his 5-year-old grandchild and managed to elude his attacker by locking himself in his lavatory – bolstered as a safe room.

Westergaard was denounced by Muslims worldwide for his 2005 cartoon that appeared in the Jyllands Posten newspaper that depicted the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a smoldering bomb. Outrage ensued in the Muslim world. Danish consulates and embassies were attacked and Danish products boycotted by Muslims worldwide. Read more ..

Edge of Archaeology

Minoan-style paintings in Ancient Canaanite Palace Link to Aegean Civilizations

December 28th 2009

Archaeology Topics - Tel Kabri
Tel Kabri

Tel Kabri is the only site in Israel where wall paintings similar in style to those found in the Aegean 3,600 years ago have been found; researchers say this was a conscious decision made by the city rulers to lean toward Mediterranean culture.

The remains of a Minoan-style wall painting, recognizable by a blue background, the first of its kind to be found in Israel, was discovered in the course of the recent excavation season at Tel Kabri. This fresco joins others of Aegean style that have been uncovered during earlier seasons at the Canaanite palace in Kabri. "It was, without doubt, a conscious decision made by the city's rulers who wished to associate with Mediterranean culture and not adopt Syrian and Mesopotamian styles of art like other cities in Canaan did. The Canaanites were living in the Levant and wanted to feel European," explains Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, who directed the excavations. Read more ..

Inside Mexico

Mexico Mourns Deaths of 5,000 Compatriots Along the US Border

December 21st 2009

Latin American Topics - Rape Tree

More than 5,000 Mexicans have died over the last 15 years while crossing deserts, mountains, and rivers in order to reach the United States, according to a report by the National Committee on Human Rights of Mexico (CNDH). “During 2007 and 2008, the average number of Mexicans who died on that border was three for each two days,” declared the report which was released in observance of the International Migrants Day – December 18.

The CNDH is a government agency that operates in cooperation with the Mexican Office of the Public Defender. It asked that the report not serve only to remember the plight of migrants but to also cause the Mexican government to promote economic development and sustainable growth so as to allow Mexicans to remain at home rather than seek employment in the U.S. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Robbing the Cradle

December 14th 2009

Book Covers - Banking on Baghdad

This article is based on the Banking on Baghdad--Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (Dialog Press). Buy it here

Mesopotamia—now known as Iraq--enjoyed a 2,000-year head start on Western civilization. What happened?

Part of the answer lays millennia before our current turbulent times. Understanding this pivotal land and its peoples is necessary.

A single ancient people did not monopolize the historic territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates to create one cohesive, shining civilization as a beacon to others. Mesopotamia was in fact a diverse, often contentious, network of competing city-states. At different times, in different centuries BCE, cities such as Uruk, Lagash, and Eridu in the south, and Kish, Nippur, and Sippar in the midsection, as well as Assur, Nineveh, and Nimrud in the north, each flourished and made their mark. These city-states were ruled by their own kings, developed their own gods and cults, spoke their own languages and dialects, and manifested their own distinctive cultures.

A succession of disparate groups came from near and far to conquer the developing prize of Mesopotamia, and each conqueror was in turn conquered. The Semitic Akkadians arose among the original Sumerians, for whom Sumer was named. In the third millennium BCE, the Akkadian king Sargon created history’s first “empire,” extending his political reign, military dominance, and commercial primacy from western Persia, through Syria, to what is now eastern Turkey. But Sargon’s almost 150-year dynasty was overrun by the Guti mountain people. The Guti ruled until the Sumerians regained supremacy, only to be succeeded by Amorites from the west, and then the Elamites from the Zagros Mountains. Other invaders included the Indo-European Hittites from Anatolia and the obscure Hurrians and Kassites.

These invading and pervading groups destroyed and built up the city-states between the two rivers, as well as those in surrounding lands. During Mesopotamia’s golden millennia, each of these dynasties and empires, no matter how transient, purloined or planted something valuable, advancing the ever more complex culture growing atop the ancient Sumerian foundation. Over 3,000 years—perhaps 120 generations—the region became not a cradle but a veritable engine of civilization, energizing the entire Fertile Crescent, that is, the lands from the Nile Valley up through Palestine and Syria into the Tigris-Euphrates valley and beyond. Read more ..

Africa on the Edge

Nigeria's Oil Boom Has Shunted Aside Farmers and Made the Country Dependent on Foreign Food

December 14th 2009

Africa Topics - Nigeria Oil

Large tracts of Nigeria’s fertile land has been abandoned since the oil boom attracted millions into the cities over the past five decades, leaving Africa’s most populous country dependant on food imports.

In her book, “Dinner with Mugabe,” Heidi Holland records events leading up to the “land reform” carried out by the Zimbabwean president, starting in the late 1990s. She reports an interview with a former Agriculture minister, appointed by Mugabe, a White farmer called Denis Norman.

According to Norman, in 1997 the war veterans who helped Mugabe come to power in 1980 complained bitterly that they had won the country’s freedom but had been overlooked, and demanded a large monthly payment, for life. Initially they were 27,000, but the number jumped to almost double.

The British government at this point was not ready to buy the farmers out, as Mugabe had been led to believe. There was not enough money in the Treasury. Mugabe, instead of saying he would introduce legislation for an equitable distribution of land, eventually told the war veterans that they had indeed been promised land, so perhaps they should just take it. Of course they did.  Read more ..

History on the Edge

Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor - Were They Just Playing Our Game?

December 7th 2009

Book Covers - Imperial Cruise

This article is based on the New York Times bestselling The Imperial Cruise (Little Brown Dialog Press). Buy it here

Sixty-eight years ago, Japan attacked America’s naval base at Pearl Harbor. Millions of soldiers and civilians were killed in the brutal Pacific war that would follow. My father — one of the famous flag raisers on Iwo Jima — was among the brave, young men who went off to the Pacific to fight for his country. So naturally, the war fascinated me. But I always wondered: why did we fight in the Pacific? Yes, there was Pearl Harbor, but why did the Japanese attack us in the first place?

In search of an answer, I read deeply into the diplomatic history of the 1930s, about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy on Asia, and his preparation — or lack thereof — for a major conflict there. But I discovered that I was studying the wrong President Roosevelt. The one who had the greater effect on Japan’s behavior was Theodore Roosevelt — whose efforts to end the war between Japan and Russia earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

When Theodore Roosevelt was president, three decades before World War II, the world was focused on the bloody Russo-Japanese War, a contest for control of North Asia. President Roosevelt was no fan of the Russians: “No human beings, black, yellow or white, could be quite as untruthful, as insincere, as arrogant — in short, as untrustworthy in every way — as the Russians,” he wrote in August 1905, near the end of the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese, on the other hand, were “a wonderful and civilized people,” Roosevelt wrote, “entitled to stand on an absolute equality with all the other peoples of the civilized world.”

Roosevelt knew that Japan coveted the Korean Peninsula as a springboard to its Asian expansion. Back in 1900, when he was still vice president, Roosevelt had written, “I should like to see Japan have Korea.” When, in February 1904, Japan broke off relations with Russia, President Roosevelt said publicly that he would “maintain the strictest neutrality,” but privately he wrote, “The sympathies of the United States are entirely on Japan’s side.”

Arab World Elections

Iraq's Elections Challenge: A Shifting Political Landscape

November 30th 2009

Arab Topics - Iraqi Election

On November 18, Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi vetoed an elections law passed by parliament just ten days earlier, likely delaying elections that had previously been slated for January 2010. Such elections are a factor in the planned U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, with U.S. military officials stating that they will gauge the pace of the troop withdrawal after the national polls.

When the elections take place, they will test the durability of several political trends manifested by the January 2009 provincial elections, including the modest shift toward cross-sectarian political coalitions and the emergence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as the nation's dominant politician.

The Vetoed Elections Law

In creating new elections legislation, the Iraqi parliament amended law number 16 of 2005, which compelled Iraqis to vote for lists—rather than individuals—chosen by party leaders in a non-transparent process. Under the new provisions, the election would be based on a modified open-list system, in which voters would have the choice of voting for an individual or for a list, creating greater accountability on the part of elected officials and lessening the influence of unelected party functionaries. Read more ..

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