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Archive for December 2012

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The Media on Edge

I Resign--Here's Why

December 31st 2012

RFE

Ladies and Gentlemen of the BBG Board of Governors:

The first rule of journalism is never bury the lead. So here it is: I hereby resign as President and Chief Executive Officer of RFE/RL, Inc., effective as of the close of business on January 25, 2013. I submit this resignation with a heavy heart and solely for personal reasons.

Several of you know that my family was unable to move to Prague for a variety of reasons.  Christmas 2011 was the only time my three children were able to visit Prague.  At that time, slightly more than a year ago, I made a promise to my son that I would be home permanently in time for his 16th birthday in February, 2013. I have never wavered in this commitment. My closest associates at RFE/RL have known of my intention since early last summer when I began the first draft of this letter. Read more ..


India's Dark Edge

India Cancels New Years Celebrations

December 31st 2012

India Gang Rape Protest Placard

Many across India canceled festive New Year's Eve celebrations Monday out of respect for the young woman who died days earlier from injuries suffered during a brutal gang rape. The unidentified victim, a 23-year-old student, died Saturday from severe internal injuries that her assailants caused with a metal rod during the attack on a bus two weeks ago. Six men have been arrested and charged with murder in the December 16 attack in New Delhi. They could face the death penalty if convicted. Reflecting the country's somber mood, hotels, clubs, India's military and even the head of the ruling Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, called off their parties to greet the new year. Many have joined candlelight vigils in the capital and other major cities. Others have chosen to protest peacefully, in contrast to the violent demonstrations that erupted in New Delhi a week ago. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt "On the Verge of Bankruptcy"

December 31st 2012

Egyptian bannerman

"The country is on the verge of bankruptcy," Egyptian opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei told the newspaper al-Arabiya Dec. 23. Unable to reduce subsidies that account for most of a budget deficit that now exceeds 14 percent of GDP, and unwilling to raises taxes, it seems most likely that the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi will instead take the path of least resistance and allow a steady devaluation of the Egyptian pound. During the past two weeks, central bank intervention to support the pound's value on the foreign exchange market has stopped and the currency has fallen sharply. 

Central bank intervention in support of the pound is shown clearly on the chart of daily values for the Egyptian pound's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar during the year to date. The spikes in the exchange rate reflect central bank activity. The sharp drop in the pound's exchange rate during the past two weeks reflects an absence of central bank intervention. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

Latin America's Moment May Come in 2013

December 31st 2012

Latin American Leaders

Looking back at the past year, many of the posts on Latin America’s Moment touch on the region’s economic development, and its trade and investment ties with the rest of the world. Here is a recap of some of the main themes.

Overall, 2012 was a year of economic optimism for most Latin American economies. The IMF’s Latin America Economic Outlook report, which I write about here, was quite bullish. And ECLAC announced that Latin America hit an all-time $150 billion high in foreign direct investment, led by Brazil. Also crucial in the region’s economic development were the growing number of women in the workforce.

Brazil’s economy still dominated the headlines, though the positive near consensus faded, as analysts grappled with slow growth. I argue here and here that, while Brazil’s hype may have been initially overdone, the country still boasts a solid consumer base, a relatively high GDP per capita, and a successful conditional cash program that is helping to pull many into the middle class. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christianity

The Carnage of Christians in 'Schedule 2' Countries

December 31st 2012

Coptic Girl

Author Lela Gilbert, a Christian who lived for years in Israel, spoke for many of Israel's supporters when she said she finds the international community's attacks on the Jewish State "puzzling, especially when atrocities are taking place every day in Syria" and elsewhere in the Middle East. In an interview in The Daily Caller, Gilbert doesn't discount anti-Semitism, but thinks some of it is also ideological. "Israel is categorized as a pariah state, a 'colonial' outpost in a post-colonial world, or an infidel trespasser in pan-Islamic utopia."

Or, perhaps, Israel is simply a "schedule one" country. In 1982, The Guardian (U.K.) ran an odd -- and currently timely -- short piece called "Carnage in Schedule Two," an adjunct to a story on Hafez Assad's massacre of Syrians in the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold of Hama. Read more ..


Islam's War on Christianity

Christianity Continues to Disappear from the Middle East

December 31st 2012

Iraqi Christians

A new study warns that Christianity is at the risk of being wiped out in the biblical heartlands of the Middle East. According to the London Daily Telegraph, which cites the study, 10 percent of Christians worldwide - approximately 200 million - are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.” With over 2.3 billion Christians around the world, the study notes that Christians face the most persecution in the region of the world where Christianity first originated – the Middle East.

“The pace of this assault is now intensifying with the rise of militant Islam in countries such as Egypt, Iraq and now with the civil war, Syria,” states the report, entitled Christianophobia. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Pakistani Taliban Execute 21 Captured policemen

December 31st 2012

Terik i Taliban Pakistan

Government officials say 21 out of 23 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban have been executed by their captors in northwest Pakistan. Naveed Akbar Khan, a local government official, told the AFP news agency on Sunday: "We found 21 bullet riddled bodies of security personnel a short while ago in an uninhabited area." "One was found alive but wounded and admitted to hospital while another managed to escape unhurt," he added.

Khan said officials found the bodies shortly after midnight on Sunday after being notified by one policeman who had escaped. The victims were from a paramilitary force recruited from members of ethnic Pashtun tribes in northwestern Pakistan, reported the Reuters news agency. The militias support the government in its efforts against fighters battling the state, it added. Read more ..


The Race for Alt Fuel

Qatar Airways Praised for its Natural Gas/Biofuel Push to the Skies

December 31st 2012

Qatar Airlines

Qatar Airways ambitious new plan to erect a $19 billion Pearl project that will be the largest gas-to-liquids plant in the world, is receiving massive praise and optimism over its future success. The President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Roberto Kobeh González said at the recent climate event COP18 in Doha that the project could revolutionize air travel and alternative energy efforts.

“We really welcome this project as an example of the varying biofuel solutions that can be applied in different areas around the globe,” stressed Kobeh in Doha as he detailed the ICAO’s status updates for the aviation industry on energy. Qatar has the largest per capita carbon footprint in the world.

“The Qatar project is notable in that it is State-backed and employs resources natural to the surroundings. These do not depend on arable land vital to food consumption,” Kobeh added. Royal Dutch Shell said in November that the Qatar plant is to pump airline fuel made from natural gas from its gas-to-liquids plant near Qatar Airways’ Doha International Airport, which is to open in 2013 and has received much fanfare from airline industry executives. Read more ..


Obama and Israel

A Paradox of U.S. Middle East Policy: The Friend Who Acts like an Enemy is an Enemy

December 31st 2012

The expression, “With friends like you who needs enemies?” is an apt summary of a major problem for U.S. foreign policy during Obama’s second term.

Here’s the issue: a number of supposed allies of the United States don’t act as friends. In fact, they are major headaches, often subverting U.S. goals and interests. But to avoid conflict and, for Obama, to look successful to the domestic audience, Washington pretends that everything is fine.

Consider, for example, Pakistan. The United States has given billions of dollars to that country in exchange for supposedly helping keeping the lid on Afghanistan—and especially to ensure the Taliban does not return to power—and to fight terrorism, especially al-Qaida.

In reality, Pakistan supports the Taliban, wages a terrorist war on India, and hasn’t been all that helpful in fighting al-Qaida. It would be interesting to see the U.S. intelligence document evaluating how high up in Pakistan’s government was their knowledge that Usama bin Ladin was “hiding out” a few blocks from a Pakistani military complex. The fact that Pakistan threw into prison a local doctor whose work helped find bin Ladin indicates which side that regime is on.

Moreover, Pakistan’s regime is ferociously oppressing the Christian minority, becoming more Islamist, and giving women the usual treatment existing in such societies. Obama claims to be protecting women and religious minorities yet lifts not a finger in Pakistan. And rather than be a force against terrorism, the Pakistani government has been sponsoring a terrorist war against India. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Is the Kurdish Nation Re-emerging?

December 31st 2012

Ciwan and son, Syrian Kurdish refugees

In Syria, the Assad regime’s retreat back to Damascus and the Alawi heartlands in the west of the country has made possible the emergence of a Kurdish autonomous area in the country’s northeast. This area shares a border with Kurdish- controlled northern Iraq. As a result, a contiguous area of Kurdish control, stretching along the southern border of Turkey, has come into being. This emergent reality is raising again a question long dismissed from serious strategic discussion: namely, that of the establishment of a Kurdish state. However, the obstacles on the path to Kurdish sovereignty remain formidable, and the geo-politics of the situation are fraught and complex.

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, led by Massoud Barzani, possesses its own armed forces, political system, capacity for oil production, public services and Kurdish-language education system and media. Its capital, Erbil, has the feel of a boomtown, with construction cranes along the skyline and new malls and hotels emerging from the dust. Read more ..


Edging Toard the Fiscal Cliff

Overhaul of US Foreign Aid is Long Overdue

December 31st 2012

libya-consulate

At a time when competing government priorities face the chopping block, advocates of effective foreign aid have a responsibility to make the case that aid directly serves our country’s long-term national-security and economic interests, and in a cost-effective way.

A key goal of foreign aid is to make the right investments that reinforce America’s priorities. Unfortunately, the current foreign aid process and the underlying statute are encrusted with legislative barnacles built up over half a century that are messy, conflicting and outdated, and that actually hinder our ability to deliver foreign aid effectively and efficiently. It is time for a complete overhaul. The 21st century requires a foreign aid program that recognizes today’s priorities and streamlines the process in the post-Cold War era. For instance, do we still need language in current law, passed in 1961, that requires the president to assure Congress that foreign aid recipients are not “controlled by the international Communist conspiracy”? Read more ..


The Defense Edge

We Need Balance in Defense Cuts

December 31st 2012

Osprey

As the president and Speaker Boehner seek agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff, avoiding damaging across-the-board slashes in funding for defense is vital. The administration has already reduced defense expenditures by $500 billion over the next decade, cuts balanced in their application. The sequester would require additional and unbalanced cuts of an equal size. Even if applied selectively, that would severely damage national security.

In practical political terms, some budget reductions beyond those already adopted are certain. However, they must be applied in ways that pose the least risk to national security. We need to shrink force structure carefully, reduce or delay procurement of some weapons systems, streamline management and cut personnel costs. For example, we can reduce U.S. military forces in Europe. Their purpose is principally to reassure our NATO allies, especially those near Russia. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syria on Verge of Becoming a Failed State, Warns International Envoy

December 31st 2012

Syria fighting injured baby

Read more ..

The Edge of Autism

Neuroscientists Find Excessive Protein Synthesis Linked To Autistic-Like Behaviors

December 31st 2012

Autistic child

Autistic-like behaviors can be partially remedied by normalizing excessive levels of protein synthesis in the brain, a team of researchers has found in a study of laboratory mice. The findings, which appear in the latest issue of Nature, provide a pathway to the creation of pharmaceuticals aimed at treating autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that are associated with diminished social interaction skills, impaired communication ability, and repetitive behaviors.

"The creation of a drug to address ASD will be difficult, but these findings offer a potential route to get there," said Eric Klann, a professor at NYU's Center for Neural Science and the study's senior author. "We have not only confirmed a common link for several such disorders, but also have raised the exciting possibility that the behavioral afflictions of those individuals with ASD can be addressed." Read more ..


The Darkest Edge

Broader Background Checks And Denial Criteria Could Help Prevent Mass Shooting Catastrophes

December 31st 2012

Police Running

Garen Wintemute, a leading authority on gun violence prevention and an emergency medicine physician at UC Davis, believes broader criteria for background checks and denials on gun purchases can help prevent future firearm violence, including mass shooting catastrophes such as those that occurred at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine.

"To reduce the number of deaths and injuries from firearms in the United States, we need to develop policies that require background checks for all firearm purchases, including private-party sales — the most important source of firearms for criminal buyers and others who are prohibited from purchasing guns," said Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program and inaugural Susan P. Baker-Stephen P. Teret Chair in Violence Prevention at UC Davis. Read more ..


America Mourns with India over Gang Rape

December 31st 2012
The men and women of India should know that all those in America who have learned of the monstrous gang rape of the a young woman on a New Dehli bus mourn with the Indian nation. This is an unspeakable act. In an era of massacres at Newtown, and at movie theatres in the USA, it seems evil dwells everywhere--and must be confronted.

China Rising

Chinese Movie Industry Debates Proposal to End Censorship

December 31st 2012

The East is Red

For a country that wants to project "soft power," China is wrestling with how to reconcile its censorship system with the need to create films the world will want to watch. Xie Fei, a professor at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, recently sparked a debate on government control over the film industry when he called for abolishing the country’s censorship procedures in favor of a movie rating system similar to that used in the United States.

“In the past few years, there were so many unwritten laws when censoring movies,” Xie wrote in an open letter that was reposted tens of thousands of times online. “Unwritten laws such as: ‘ghosts are not allowed in contemporary settings,’ ‘extramarital affairs are not allowed,’ ‘certain political incidents are not allowed,’ etc. The censorship system [in China] is not defined by law, but done according to individuals.” Read more ..


India's Dark Edge

India Taking a Hard Look at Itself in Wake of Monstrous Gang Rape

December 31st 2012

Typical Indian Child Bride

India remains in mourning Monday, two days after the death of a 23-year-old woman who died of severe organ failure after suffering internal injuries and brain damage in a brutal gang rape. Six men have been arrested and charged with murder in the December 16 attack in New Delhi.  Police say the men could face the death penalty, if convicted. Candlelight vigils have been held in the capital and may cities across India since the attack. Out of respect for the unidentified victim, India's military has canceled its New Year's celebrations, as did Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party. The woman's death has set off a debate about what India needs to do to protect women.

Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse in India. Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the way the nation treats women. Read more ..


India's Dark Edge

India Gripped by Tragic Story of New Delhi Gang Rape Victim

December 31st 2012

India Rape Protest Dec 2012

Every morning for the past two weeks, more than a thousand residents of a small village on the Uttar Pradesh-Bihar border had been gathering at the local Shiva temple, to pray for the well-being of the 23-year-old gang rape victim battling for her life in a New Delhi hospital.

On Saturday, the temple looked deserted.

By 7 a.m., as news of the death broke, men, women and children braved the biting fog and cold to assemble outside her ancestral home. While some wailed, others mourned in silence the death of “Ballia’s daughter.” Infuriated, young men cried for immediate justice and threatened violence. Elders, however, restrained them. For the most part, the grief was directed inwards: some villagers even refused to light their stoves. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

US Shale Oil Boom Fuels Huge Boon For Railroads--Oil Shipments Double In Two Years

December 31st 2012

Shale Oil cliff

According to the Association of American Railroads, shipments of oil by rail this year will top 540,000 carloads, which will be a 46% increase over last year’s count of about 370,000 carloads.  And the number of train cars carrying oil this year will be almost double the number of carloads in 2010.

The Associated Press has a story today about how the U.S. oil boom has created a huge boom for U.S. railroads to transport the oil from oil fields in North Dakota and Montana to refineries around the country, here’s an excerpt: "Energy companies behind the oil boom on the Northern Plains are increasingly turning to an industrial-age workhorse – the locomotive – to move their crude to refineries across the U.S., as plans for new pipelines stall and existing lines can’t keep up with demand. Union Pacific Railroad CEO Jack Koraleski said hauling oil out of places like North Dakota will be a long-term business for railroads because trains are faster than pipelines, reliable and offer a variety of destinations. Read more ..


Benghazigate

New Senate Report Faults Pentagon, State Dept. in Benghazi Fiasco

December 31st 2012

Libyan riot at US consulate Sep 2012 #3

A new bipartisan report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee faults both the State Department and Pentagon for failing to adequately protect the Americans killed in the deadly September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. 

The report, titled “Flashing Red,” comes after a critical independent State Department-ordered review, and widens the blame for the assault, which left four Americans dead, to the Pentagon and White House. The Committee found that the State Department failed to appropriately assess and heighten security measures after intelligence showed that Americans stationed in Benghazi could be threatened by terror groups, according to reports from media groups which obtained an advance copy of the findings. Read more ..


Edging Toward The Fiscal Cliff

Lawmakers Have No Bill, No Deal And New Year's Eve On The Cliff

December 31st 2012

Cliff Face West Wales

Senate leaders are racing against the clock to reach a "fiscal cliff" deal the House and Senate can approve on New Year's Eve.

Leaders in the upper chamber narrowed their differences Sunday as Republicans agreed to drop a demand to curb cost-of-living increases to entitlement benefits, while Democrats showed flexibility on taxes. Yet after months of talks on ways to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts at the end of 2012, House and Senate lawmakers find themselves approaching the new year without a bill to present to their members.

Significant differences remain over two key parts of a deal — the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester and the estate tax. Instead of working through the night, the Senate recessed at 7:27 p.m. Sunday with plans to reconvene Monday at 11:00 a.m., and the House recessed around the same time. Read more ..


Ancient Times

Starvation Ended the Reign of Californian Sabretooth Cats

December 31st 2012

Sabretooth cats, PLos One

When prey is scarce, large carnivores may gnaw prey to the bone, wearing their teeth down in the process. A new analysis of the teeth of saber-toothed cats and American lions reveals that they did not resort to this behavior just before extinction, suggesting that lack of prey was probably not the main reason these large cats became extinct. The results, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University and colleagues, compares tooth wear patterns from the fossil cats that roamed California 12,000 to 30,000 years ago.

The saber-toothed cat and American lion were among the largest terrestrial carnivores that lived during their time, and went extinct along with other large animals approximately 12,000 years ago. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

NSA Reported Spent $91 Million On Secret Tests Probing Domestic Computer Systems

December 31st 2012

Network Control

he National Security Agency is conducting secret tests on the computer systems of U.S. private sector entities, including public utilities, a CNET report revealed this week. The secret program, dubbed Perfect Citizen, is part of an effort by the government to improve security systems in the private sector and test offensive operations against enemies’ computer systems. Targets reportedly include power grids and gas pipelines. The NSA’s operation reportedly probes their computer systems for vulnerabilities as part of a larger cybersecurity and cyberwarfare initiative.

Details about the program were revealed through documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a Washington, D.C.-based research nonprofit. Of the 190 pages obtained by EPIC about the program, 98 were heavily redacted for a number of reasons, including portions labeled “classified top secret.” The program’s existence was first revealed in a 2010 Wall Street Journal report. Read more ..


Broken Housing

The FHA: A Home Wrecker

December 30th 2012

Foreclosure

Imagine that a federal agency wanted to hurt America's working-class families on purpose. How would it inflict maximum damage?

It might start by aggressively marketing homeownership to marginal borrowers. It would tell them that bad credit scores aren't a problem. It would push them into homes they can't afford, saddle them with loans that barely build equity and provide no incentives for fiscal discipline. And when many of these homes go underwater and into foreclosure, it would leave families in financial ruin. In short, such an agency would follow the Federal Housing Administration playbook.

That's a shame, because Republicans and Democrats alike rightly applaud the FHA's mission to provide responsible mortgage credit to low- and moderate-income Americans and first-time home buyers. But all too often, the FHA turns the American dream into a nightmare, setting up failure for the very families and neighborhoods its mission is to help. Read more ..

Inside Israel

What Wingate Wrought

December 30th 2012

Wailing Wall 1967

Everyone still remembers T. E. Lawrence, if only because of David Lean’s magnificent movieLawrence of Arabia and Lawrence’s own literary masterpiece,Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Yet far fewer remember Lawrence’s distant cousin, the British Army officer Orde Wingate, who was in many ways his World War II counterpart​-​not least in his eccentricity, his pungent writing style, his flair for publicity, and his tragic, premature death. A partial exception is to be found in Israel, where he is still remembered asHayedid (the Friend) for his Zionist sympathies. But Wingate remains little known in the United States or even in Burma, the land whose freedom he gave his life for. Last summer while visiting Myanmar, as the country is now known, I asked several well-educated Burmese if they were familiar with Wingate. I drew only blank stares. No doubt his name would draw equally blank looks from well-educated Americans, even those with an interest in military history.

That is a shame because Wingate was one of the most interesting, innovative, and influential, if also most aggravating and outrageous, commanders of World War II. He was one of the pioneers in Special Operations. Remember the way that a small number of Green Berets and CIA operatives, with links to indigenous allies and radios to call in airstrikes, helped to overthrow the Taliban in the fall of 2001? Wingate was one of the first to mount such “deep penetration” missions, in his case behind Japanese lines in Burma, Italian lines in Ethiopia, and Arab lines in Palestine. More broadly Wingate was an innovator who helped nascent Special Operations forces win recognition and resources despite skepticism about their utility among conventional soldiers. Read more ..


The Edge of Aging

Alzheimer's Disease Often Preceded by Early Cognitive Problems

December 30th 2012

walking-cane

People who study or treat Alzheimer's disease and its earliest clinical stage, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), have focused attention on the obvious short-term memory problems. But a new study suggests that people on the road to Alzheimer's may actually have problems early on in processing semantic or knowledge-based information, which could have much broader implications for how patients function in their lives.

Terry Goldberg, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine and director of neurocognition at the Litwin Zucker Center for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, said that clinicians have observed other types of cognitive problems in MCI patients but no one had ever studied it in a systematic way. Many experts had noted individuals who seemed perplexed by even the simplest task. In this latest study, published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, investigators used a clever series of tests to measure a person's ability to process semantic information.

Do people with MCI have trouble accessing different types of knowledge? Are there obvious semantic impairments that have not been picked up before? The answer was "yes." Read more ..


Rape Against Girls Must Stop Throughout India

December 30th 2012

The All India Council has stated that the Christian community hangs its head in grief and shame as India loses yet another Braveheart girl to sexual violence. It offers prayers for the family members of the victim who has passed away. It demands immediate punishment under law for those who carried out the crime. In recent years the nation has watched with horror the growing crimes against women and girls and the sad comment by the UN that India is one of the most unsafe countries in the world for women and girls. There is not a single day now in India where there is no report in the Indian newspapers of some sexual crime occurring against women. The rape of Dalit and tribal women is common place. Rape of girls within extended families is widely reported. Those who prey on minor girls roam free in the land. We have yet to see justice for countless victims of rape including those who were gang raped in Gujarat in the communal violence and those who were gang raped in Kandhamal in Orissa. For too long we have allowed a culture that targets our young girls under flimsy excuses of them following some outside culture, dress code and fashion. Any element of society that targets the way our women dress, appear and carry themselves should be condemned and brought under the law'. We cal upon the national government to immediately institute a national registry for all sexual offenders. Sexual offenders have a pattern and history and turn out to be habitual. We cal upon the Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister, Mr Kiran Reddy to take the lead and begin a registry for such sexual offenders and to immediately act on complaints filed by victims. This menace of violence against women will not end unless there is a complete change of mindset in the culture towards women. A culture that allows degradation of human beings will not be able to effectively fight this menace, said the All India Christian Council.

The writers represent the All India Christian Council, Rev Dr. Joseph D'souza president, Rev Dr G Samuel, vice president, and Dr. John Dayal, secretary general.


Film Review

Hyde Park On Hudson

December 30th 2012

hyde park on hudson

Hyde Park On Hudson. Directed by Roger Michell and Richard Nelson. Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Sam West.

That Roger Michell’s and Richard Nelson’s Hyde Park On Hudson opened on December 7th could be said to add a new dimension of meaning to Franklin Roosevelt’s dictum after Pearl Harbor that it was "a date that would live in infamy." Certainly, he would not have been pleased by the film’s portrait of himself — assuming it were possible (as, of course, it wasn’t) that any such film could have been made in his lifetime.

Yet in our 21st century world it will doubtless come across to many as an effort to "humanize" the great man — who will, accordingly, shed some of the characteristics of historical greatness and take on some of those of the celebrity, that new thing in the world which, since Roosevelt’s time, we have learned to desiderate in our presidents and even in lesser politicians. FDR’s "star power" or "charisma" can only be retrospectively enhanced by this movie — though it is, as I say, more than doubtful that he himself would have valued any such commodities.

The movie is, as Mark Tooley has pointed out on the American Spectator’s website, a "tall tale" which imagines the aristocratic FDR’s behaving more like such low-life successors as Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton than there is any historical warrant for believing he actually did. Yet I would disagree with Mr Tooley’s characterization of the movie as "trash." Trash is, in any case, today’s cultural currency.

There is scarcely anyone now left alive who knew Roosevelt the man, so that if he is not yet he soon will be as much a subject for literary reinterpretation as the Plantagenet kings of England were by Shakespeare’s time, a century after the last of them had died. Shakespeare’s kings were probably as much at variance with their historical counterparts as Mr Michell’s FDR, but we may find an unexpected delight in what his picture has to say about the meaning and desirability of the celebrity culture which, as some of us believe, has had such a lamentable effect on our politics since Roosevelt’s time. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Even In Same Vineyard, Different Microbes May Create Variations In Wine Grapes

December 30th 2012

China

Choosing the perfect wine may soon involve more than just knowing the perfect vintage and chateau. Differences in the microbes present on grapes even in different parts of the same vineyard may contribute to flavor fluctuations in samples of grapes from different tanks, according to research published December 26 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Mathabatha Setati and colleagues from Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

"In the wine industry, the fungal communities on grapes are especially important. The microbial species present on the berry may contribute to the fermentation process, and therefore the aromatic properties of the resulting wine", the authors explain. For this study, the researchers sampled grapes from different vines in three well-established commercial vineyards, each of which used a different farming system - organic, traditional or biodynamic- to cultivate the grapes. Read more ..


Lebanon on Edge

Americans Help Re-Establish the Cedars of Lebanon

December 30th 2012

Lebanon forest reserve road sign
VOA photo by V. Undritz.

The fragrant cedar forests of Lebanon were first recorded in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, about 4,500 years ago. But Lebanon’s once mighty cedar forests survive today only as pockets of scraggly trees on mountain sides.

Now, there's a project to replant the ancient cedar forests. Lebanon’s government has set an ambitious goal of increasing the country’s forest cover by 50 percent by the year 2020. Up in the Shouf mountains east of Beirut, some ancient trees were saplings 2,000 years ago, during the life of Jesus. Now, new seedlings are part of a plan to replant the legendary cedars of Lebanon.

Hisham Salman runs Lebanon's Association for Forests, Development and Conservation. He said the government’s “Green Lebanon” slogan wins support across religious and sectarian lines in this fractured land. “People who are living in the cities, they like this idea that Lebanon is a green country,” he said in an interview at a nursery in the Shouf Mountains. “They want to see it again green, so they like this idea - the planting of trees,” said Salman. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Yemen Contemplates Alternative Energy Sources

December 30th 2012

Yemen USAID solar project
USAID solar project in Yemen

The Republic of Yemen - unlike its oil-rich neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula -- has been forced to explore alternative forms of energy to offset low crude oil production. But while desperate government officials in the capital, Sana’a scramble to revive an economy shattered by last year’s anti-government uprisings, renewable energy investments remain on the back burner.

In the face of the uprisings, the Yemeni government and international actors froze millions of dollars earmarked for alternative energy projects and in many cases redirected the funds to what they considered more urgent priorities. One such project, a 60 megawatt wind farm in Al Mokha city, had been stalled since Yemen’s political upheavals began, but is “now moving,” according to Wael Zakout, country manager of Yemen’s World Bank office. Read more ..


Edging Toward the Fiscal Cliff

Geithner Predicts 'Extraordinary Measures' Following Fall from Fiscal Cliff

December 30th 2012

Click to select Image

U.S. leaders are edging closer to an end-of-the-year "fiscal cliff" - sharp, mandated government spending cuts and tax increases for most American workers that could plunge the country into another recession if a compromise is not reached.

Congressional leaders continued to work on January 30 to negotiate a pact that would keep tax rates at their current level for all but the wealthiest wage earners, rather than have them revert on New Year's Day to much higher levels set in the 1990s.

Both the Senate and House scheduled unusual Sunday sessions on December 30 to vote on any compromise legislation their leaders might be able to craft in negotiations with the White House. In his weekly address on December 29, U.S. President Barack Obama pressured Congress to act, saying the country's economy would be damaged if tax rates increase. Read more ..


The Race for Magnetic Energy

A New Kind of Magnetism Discovered

December 30th 2012

Gamma Ray Burst

Following up on earlier theoretical predictions, MIT researchers have now demonstrated experimentally the existence of a fundamentally new kind of magnetic behavior, adding to the two previously known states of magnetism.

Ferromagnetism — the simple magnetism of a bar magnet or compass needle — has been known for centuries. In a second type of magnetism, antiferromagnetism, the magnetic fields of the ions within a metal or alloy cancel each other out. In both cases, the materials become magnetic only when cooled below a certain critical temperature. The prediction and discovery of antiferromagnetism — the basis for the read heads in today's computer hard disks — won Nobel Prizes in physics for Louis Neel in 1970 and for MIT professor emeritus Clifford Shull in 1994.

"We're showing that there is a third fundamental state for magnetism," says MIT professor of physics Young Lee. The experimental work showing the existence of this new state, called a quantum spin liquid (QSL), is reported this week in the journal Nature, with Lee as the senior author and Tianheng Han, who earned his PhD in physics at MIT earlier this year, as lead author. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Waqf Ignores High Court Ruling, Continues to Destroy Artifacts On Temple Mount

December 30th 2012

Temple Mount Artifacts
Temple Mount Artifacts

A demonstration was held last Wednesday (Dec. 26) at the northern entrance to the Temple Mount in protest of the Waqf's continued destruction of archeological artifacts on the Temple Mount. The demonstrators, lead by MK Aryeh Eldad, called on Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to intervene and to stop the obliteration of these unique antiques by the Waqf.

The Waqf, a Muslim Jordanian religious body entrusted with the management of the Temple Mount, has been renovating the Temple Mount for years. In the process they have been moving mounds of earth off the mountain. These piles contain numerous archaeological artifacts from many centuries. In 2004 the High Court of Justice passed a ruling prohibiting the removal of the dirt from the Temple Mount elsewhere until the contents are combed for artifacts. Since then, these artifacts have been lying at the bottom of the mountain in the accumulating mounds. Many of the artifacts dug up are currently being ruined by the weather, after being preserved for centuries.    Read more ..


Edging Toward The Fiscal Cliff

The Fiscal Cliff--Understanding the Terrain

December 30th 2012

Capitol Hill

The "fiscal cliff" is a term used describe a bundle of momentous U.S. federal tax increases and spending cuts that are due to take effect at the end of 2012 and early 2013. In total, the measures are set to automatically slash the federal budget deficit by $503 billion between FY 2012 and FY 2013, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections (PDF). If these numbers are converted to calendar year 2013, however, this contraction would be substantially higher, close to 4 percent of GDP. The abrupt onset of such significant budget austerity in the midst of a still-fragile economic recovery has led most economists to warn of a double-dip recession and rising unemployment in 2013 if Washington fails to intervene in a timely fashion.

But many analysts question what action, if any, will be taken either in the lame duck session of the 112th Congress or in the early days of 2013. While legislative inaction could have deleterious economic effects in the short term, analysts say putting off or cancelling all of the measures without a longer-term deficit deal in place would be equally dangerous for the U.S. economy. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Who were the Remarkable Women of 2012?

December 30th 2012

Malala Yousafzai

Among the many compelling stories of 2012 have been those of remarkable women fighting for rights and opportunities—for themselves, their communities, and their countries. In this post I highlight several such women and their courageous struggles.

1. Malala Yousafzai and Sakena Yacoobi

Malala Yousafzai is the 15-year-old Pakistani student who inspired headlines around the world when she survived a Taliban assassination attempt in October. The reason for the attack? Malala’s advocacy of girls’ education. Now recovering from her injuries in the United Kingdom, Malala has become an international figure. Time made her runner-up for its Person of the Year. As the magazine wrote, the Taliban “wanted to silence her. Instead, they amplified her voice.” The question is how she will wield her formidable power in the future—in particular, whether she will try to return to Pakistan or exercise influence from abroad. Although the government recently launched a “Malala Fund for Girls” in conjunction with the UN, the fatwa against her announced last month by Pakistani extremists shows the danger she continues to face. She and her family will need to weigh carefully how they can stay safe while still making a difference for girls and women in Pakistan and around the world. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

Why Some Grasses Evolved A More Efficient Photosynthesis And Others Didn't

December 30th 2012

New Mexico irrigation

Even on the evolutionary time scale of tens of millions of years there is such a thing as being in the right shape at the right time. An anatomical difference in the ability to seize the moment, according to a study led by Brown University biologists, explains why more species in one broad group, or clade, of grasses evolved a more efficient means of photosynthesis than species in another clade did.

Their findings appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Biologists refer to the grasses that have evolved this better means of making their food in warm, sunny and dry conditions with the designation "C4." Grasses without that trait are labeled "C3."

What scientists had already known is that while all of the grasses in the BEP and PACMAD clades have the basic metabolic infrastructure to become C4 grasses, the species that have actually done so are entirely in the PACMAD clade. A four-nation group of scientists wondered why that disparity exists. Read more ..


India on Edge

Murder Charges Filed Against New Dehli Gang Rapists

December 30th 2012

India Rape Protest

India continued to roil and heave in national amguish over the senseless and brutal and sadist gang rape of a young physiotherapist on a public bus.

The Times of India reported: Delhi Police on Saturday invoked murder charges against the six men allegedly involved in the gang-rape of a 23-year-old girl in a moving bus after she died in a Singapore hospital and decided to file the chargesheet in court on January three. Police said it will be their endeavour to ensure the "harshest punishment in the book" to the culprits. "We hope to file the charge sheet by the 3rd of January, 2013. Section 302 of IPC, which is the penal section for murder, has been added in the case," Dharmendra Kumar, special commissioner of police (law and order), said. He said a special public prosecutor of eminence has been appointed to conduct the trial in a fast track court on a day-to-day basis. "It will be our endeavour to ensure the harshest punishment in the book to the culprits," he said. The autopsy of the victim was done by a Singaporean medical team and the report will be made available to investigators at the earliest. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria: What If Globalization Reverses?

December 30th 2012

Nigeria Oil

According to Fortune Magazine, investments in foreign held assets are decreasing. Joshua Cooper Ramo points out that, “figures on investment in assets held overseas, probably the best indicator of enthusiasm for globalism, are drifting down toward 40 percent from more than 50 percent in 2008.”  Ramo further notes that during “most of the past twenty years trade has raced ahead of global economic growth,” but in the last twenty-four months, it has slowed and, “this year, globally we’ll be below the twenty year average rate of trade growth yet again.”  According to Ramo, “We find everywhere signs of a world turning inward and of an era when the inside will define success and deliver growth—for companies, for nations, even for your career—in the way the outside once did.”

If true, and if sustained, where would such a trend toward an “inside world” leave Nigeria?  The country has, and does, depend heavily on export markets and foreign investment to maintain its oil industry, which provides 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and 80 percent of its budgetary revenue.  Moreover, trade integration is believed to contribute to economic performance.  Nigerian officials have considered “deeper trade integration as a means to foster economic growth and alleviate poverty,” according to some researchers. Yet the country’s National Bureau of Statistics reports unemployment at 21 percent, implying, says the Leadership newspaper, “policy failure.” Read more ..



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