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Archive for August 2013

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Inside the Catholic Church

How Pope Francis is Changing the Catholic Church

August 31st 2013

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“How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure!” – Pope Francis, 2013

On March 13, the Catholic Church’s elective body, the conclave of Cardinals, selected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, formerly Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as the new pope. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is the first non-European, as well as the first Latin American, to serve as pope.

His election demonstrated the Church’s acknowledgement of Latin America’s 425 million Catholics, the largest Catholic population of any region in the world. This development brings great hope, as Pope Francis’ actions and speeches seem to be setting forth a new agenda for the Catholic Church that incorporates the world’s poorest, especially those in Latin America. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Access to Fresh Produce and Good Nutrition Reduces Diabetes Risk for African-Americans

August 31st 2013

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Trying to find a produce store or a large grocer in an economically depressed neighborhood is about as easy as finding an apple in a candy store. Lack of access to good nutrition impacts racial and ethnic minorities and recent immigrants disproportionately. Poor nutrition combined with higher stress can contribute to other health problems, including type 2 diabetes.

But a new University of Michigan study may help explain how to cope with this stress and perhaps curb some of these health problems.

Rebecca Hasson, assistant professor at the U-M schools of Kinesiology and Public Health, found that overweight and obese African-American children and teens who successfully adapt to mainstream American culture—while maintaining strong ties with their own—could reduce stress and stress eating. In turn, this could reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Ethiopian Taxi Driver, Keyboardist Reinvents Music Career

August 31st 2013


One of the most popular keyboardists in Ethiopia is now working as a taxi driver in Washington, D.C. In the 1970s, Hailu Mergia performed with a famous band in Ethiopia. In 1981, he toured the United States with that band and then settled in Washington. But he kept his name and music alive in Ethiopian communities worldwide by producing his own recordings. Now one of those cassettes, from nearly 30 years ago, has been reissued after it was discovered in a music store in Ethiopia.
Mergia plays music from his 1985 reissued cassette, titled Mergia and his Classical Instrument, as he waits for customers at Dulles International Airport, located outside Washington. He said his Ethiopian customers get excited when they realize who he is.

“When I tell them my name, then they recognize my name, and then they say 'Are you Hailu Mergia, then they tell me how they appreciate my music," he said, beaming with pride. "Most of them ask me ‘Why do you drive a taxi,’ so I tell them the same answer, ‘Look, I just have to make money.’” Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Feather Forensics Prevent Aviation Accidents

August 31st 2013


Minutes after U.S. Airways flight 1549 took off from New York’s La Guardia Airport in 2009, pilot Chesley Sullenberger radioed the control tower:  "This is cactus 15-49, hit birds, lost thrust in both engines returning back towards La Guardia.”

Sullenberger had few options and made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. The passengers and crew were evacuated safely. The plane had hit a flock of Canada geese.

“The Canada goose is a beautiful bird. I love birds, but there is a place for birds and there’s a place not for birds and you do not want birds around the airfield, especially large-bodied birds,” said Carla Dove, director of the Bird Identification Lab at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

It was Dove who identified the birds that brought down Flight 1549.  As director of the Bird Identification Lab, she manages a reference collection of 620,000 bird specimens housed in floor to ceiling cabinets on the sixth floor of the museum. “[The collection] is about 150 years old," Dove said. "We probably have about 85 percent of the diversity of birds of the world represented here. So there are 10,000 species. We have about 8,500 in our collection.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Ethnic Armenians In Syria Brace For Missile Strikes

August 31st 2013

Bombing in Syria Mar 2012

As the United States and its allies lay plans for what many believe will be a sustained missile strike inside Syria, the sizable ethnic Armenian community in that country is bracing for the worst.

Zhirayr Reisian, a spokesman for the Syrian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, said Armenian Service that the estimated 100,000 ethnic Syrians in Aleppo were aware of the dangers that could lie ahead but were trying to continue with normal life.

"After all, we are residents of this city and this country. We are part of the people of this country," Reisian said. "If something is going to happen to all, it will also happen to us. If something happens, we are sure to use our means to be helpful with whatever we can to anyone who suffers and is in need of help." Syrian Armenians interviewed say they have begun preparing for possible missile strikes, and many say they will take shelter in the basement of their buildings, if necessary. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Booming Oil Production Boosted GDP Estimate

August 31st 2013

Oil Barrels

Two of President Obama’s top economic advisers are crediting increasing petroleum production with the rosier estimate for second quarter economic performance announced this week.

“This is yet another reminder that the President’s focus on increasing America’s energy independence is not just a critical national security strategy, it is also part of an economic plan to create jobs, expand growth and cut the trade deficit,” Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

The United States petroleum trade deficit hit a record low in June as booming domestic oil production displaced imports and exports of refined petroleum products increased. That played a significant role in revising U.S. gross domestic product growth in the second quarter to 2.5, up from 1.7 percent, said Furman and Sperling. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama to Seek Congressional Approval for Syrian Military Strike

August 31st 2013


President Obama announced Saturday that he’s seeking congressional authorization for a limited military strike against Syria over the Bashar Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against Syria.

Obama said he had made the decision that military action was justified by U.S. intelligence showing the use of chemical weapons. He also said he had the authority under his executive powers to launch an attack, but argued seeking the blessing of Capitol Hill was a better route.

“I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” Obama said in the Rose Garden. “The country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be more effective,” Obama said. Obama said congressional leaders have agreed to schedule a debate and vote when Congress comes back into session. It is unclear whether Congress would grant authorization for a strike. Read more ..

Broken Education

Don't Stifle the Schools of Tomorrow

August 31st 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

For all of the doom and gloom surrounding the American education system, it is an exciting time to be involved in schooling.

Yes, it is true that on international assessments, American students have been found to lag behind their peers around the world. On the most recent iteration of the Trends in International Math and Science Study exam, U.S. eight graders scored just above the international average in math, placing them in the same pack as Hungary and Slovenia, well below Asian nations like South Korea and Japan.

It is also true that reports show an intellectual gulf between where students are when graduating from high school and where they need to be for college. ACT, for example, reported that only 25 percent of students that took its exam hit college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects. But at the same time, all across the country numerous organizations are rethinking how to deliver instruction and redefining what it means to be a "school" and a "teacher." Read more ..

Broken Education

Access Plus Learning: Age Matters

August 31st 2013

Student at Blackboard-Togo

Age matters for learning.  Most, if not all, education systems in the world are organized by cycles and grades that are intended to correspond with different moments in the developmental process of children.  While other methods for organizing learning can be effective, the fact is that this key organizing principle of education systems should be taken into account when assessing the extent to which these systems are effectively ensuring people's right to a quality education.

From a very simple point of view, one can assume that educational policy should ensure that every child enters the school system on time, moves through it without being held behind and achieves the expected learning objectives.  Thus, a straightforward way of monitoring the extent to which education systems are doing their job should involve looking at levels of access, progress, completion and learning for specific cohorts of children. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Black Oakland Youth Arrested, But Not Charged, In Stunning Numbers

August 31st 2013

Southside of Chicago

African-American youth in Oakland, Calif. are arrested — but then not charged — at “vastly disproportionate” rates compared to others, which raises troubling questions about police interactions with some of the city’s most vulnerable young people, according to a report released this week by civil rights advocates.

During a five-year period between 2008 and 2012, black children represented 29 percent of Oakland’s school-age population but 78 percent of the more than 13,680 juveniles arrested — mostly by city police — and referred to the Alameda County Probation Department, according to the study, “From Report Card to Criminal Record.”

“Shockingly,” the report also says, more than half of those arrests did not lead to charges or further involvement by probation officials. Black kids represented 78 percent of the youths whose arrests were not “sustained” in the end, according to an analysis of information obtained by the report’s authors. Read more ..

Security Edge

Obama's Relations with Russia Need a 'Reset'

August 31st 2013

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From the first day he entered the White House, President Barack Obama has tried to make better relations with Russia a cornerstone of his foreign policy. That worked for a while, but relations with Moscow have been on a downward spiral lately and sharp disagreements over Syria could make matters even worse.

Foreign policy in Obama’s first administration was dominated by what his advisers called the “reset” – a program designed to improve relations between the Washington and Moscow that had reached a low point during the last few years of George W. Bush’s administration.

The “reset” did bring some concrete results, however, such as a major strategic arms control treaty. Moscow also allowed U.S. forces to transit through Russia to get in and out of Afghanistan. And Russia even voted along with Washington at the United Nations to impose tougher sanctions on Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons program. In addition, Washington played a key role in getting Russia admitted to the World Trade Organization. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Suicide Rate for Veterans Far Exceeds That of Civilian Population

August 30th 2013

Soldier Crying

Veterans are killing themselves at more than double the rate of the civilian population with about 49,000 taking their own lives between 2005 and 2011, according to data collected over eight months by News21.

Records from 48 states show the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared to a civilian rate of about 14 per 100,000. The suicide rate among veterans increased an average 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011, or more than double that of the 1.1 percent civilian rate, according to News21’s analysis of states’ mortality data. Nearly one in every five suicides nationally is a veteran — 18 to 20 percent annually — compared with Census data that shows veterans make up about 10 percent of the U.S. adult population. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

How Would US Attack on Syria Affect Washington's Asia Pivot?

August 30th 2013

USAF Desert Storm

What does a possible U.S. attack on Syria mean for the Obama administration's pivot to Asia, which Washington is presenting as part of its disengagement from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  

Preparations for a possible U.S. attack on Syria were part of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's talks with Asian allies in Brunei. "I think it was made clear by President Obama, and I have said it on a number of occasions, that if any action would be taken against Syria it would be an international collaboration," he said.

Hagel meeting with Asian defense ministers amid U.S. preparations for attacking Syria is an important sign for the region, according to Asia analyst Patrick Cronin. "These are countries that really look to the United States, not just for economic influence but ultimately for the security insurance," Cronin said. "And for the United States not to show up at a meeting like this, not to take a trip that has long been planned, would send the completely wrong signal." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama Declares Syrian Chemical Weapons Use Threat to US Interests

August 30th 2013

Barack Obama in Thought

U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he has not made a final decision on attacking Syria, but made clear he thinks doing so would be in the interest of national security.

Syria has become a threat to the United States, he said, "by violating well established international norms against the use of chemical weapons, by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel, and Turkey and Jordan, and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future, and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us."

Speaking briefly at the White House, Obama said he has consulted with the U.S. military, members of Congress and U.S. allies, as well as the wider international community. He also made clear his frustration with the United Nations' inability to agree on a course of action against Damascus. Read more ..

Defense on Edge

'Hello, Hello, Dmitry': Fabled Cold War Hotline Turns 50

August 30th 2013


It is sometimes hard to separate the myth from the reality of the Moscow-Washington hotline, which turned 50 years old on August 30.

The hotline is not a telephone that sits in the offices of the two most powerful leaders in the world and can be picked up personally by either for urgent calls. That image comes from movies which, in America at least, have commonly portrayed the hotline as a red phone -- red being the color for emergencies.

A popular U.S. film in 1964, "Dr. Strangelove," showed the American president phoning the Soviet premier, with the main concern being if they could hear each other: "Hello, hello, Dmitry. Listen, I can't hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? That's much better, yes. Fine, I can hear you now Dmitry, clear and plain and coming through fine. I am coming through fine, too, eh? Good. Well then, as you say, we are both coming through fine. Good." Read more ..

The Edge of Space

More Than 150,000 Earthlings Line Up For One-Way Ticket To Mars

August 30th 2013

Mars Rover

Five months ago, the MarsOne foundation began its search for the four people it says will become the first human settlers on Mars. Now, with one day remaining before the deadline, more than 150,000 people from around the world have applied.

Many have even posted online video applications, making passionate -- and sometimes playful -- arguments for why they're the best choice. "I would like to go to Mars because I'm a Martian myself," says Filipp, a 44-year-old Russian with a tattooed chest, who poignantly dabs at his eyes with a tissue as he talks about his professed home planet. "You'll need a local dude to help you out."

Others, like 28-year-old Morteza, speak wistfully of freedoms unavailable here on Earth. "As an Iranian engineer, I guess I can have a better, more influential life on Mars while I'm boycotted from doing anything on Earth," he says. Viktoria, 20, a Belarusian science buff with a penchant for chess and fencing, says the chance to go to Mars is a privilege -- "a chance to better understand human psychology, the body, and its limits. An opportunity to learn about a new world, and teach its wonders to others." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Losing Isn't Better

August 30th 2013

John Kerry

"It's a pity they can’t both lose.” So Henry Kissinger famously said about Iran and Iraq during their long and ugly war in the 1980s. Having squandered the many opportunities created by the uprising in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and with the Syrian opposition increasingly dominated by al Qaeda-associated fighters, this has now become the de facto policy of the Obama administration.

Even accounting for Secretary of State John Kerry’s finely crafted expression of outrage at “the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons,” actions he called a “moral obscenity,” the White House remains strategically and militarily ambiguous. Interviewed on PBS NewsHour, President Obama repeatedly struck a “jaw-jaw” tone that undercut Kerry’s “war-war” speech. “I have not made a decision” to attack Syria, he told Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

US Intervention in Syria May Come over Labor Day Weekend

August 30th 2013

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the United States will continue to seek an international coalition in response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, despite opposition by British lawmakers to any military action. "Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together," Hagel said in The Philippines on August 30 while visiting Manila.

Syria's government has denied responsbility for the attack, noting that some of its own soldiers were killed. It blamed the rebels now arrayed against. UN inspectors are now on the scene to ascertain the type of toxic chemical used in an attack that killed hundreds. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

No Simple Fix for the Horrors of Syria

August 30th 2013

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There are no simple solutions to the horrors unfolding in Syria. Had the West responded sooner, there might have been a remote chance for moderates within the rebel camp to form a functional political authority. Today, that possibility is inconceivable.

Now the forces of darkness and evil dominate the behavior of the government and rebels alike. The depths of unimaginable barbarism to which both parties have descended exceed the worst horror films.

Merely a few kilometers from Israel’s border in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad has been butchering and massacring his own people for two years. He has now added chemical weapons to his arsenal. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who, until recently considered Assad a “reformer,” has condemned Assad’s chemical weapons attack as defying “any code of morality” and representing a “moral obscenity.” Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Canadian Appointed to the Chief of the Political Bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria

August 30th 2013

Qaradaqi in Cairo

The political bureau of the Syria's Muslim Brotherhood (MB) announced (August 9, 2013) the official return of the Islamic movement to open political activity on Syrian soil after more than three decades of being banned by the Syrian regime.

Following is a translation of the MB's announcement (originally in Arabic):

"Hassan Hachimi, MB's head of political bureau, inaugurated during his visit to Aleppo in northern Syria few days ago the first office of the organization in the country after an absence that lasted decades of open political activity of the MB."

"The opening of an office of the MB party inside Syria is a great challenge in the face of Assad's regime and a step that stresses the Muslim Brotherhood's determination for a public return and to found, along with all other Syrian groups, a new political life in the country." Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

President Obama has Big Choices on Syria

August 29th 2013

Free Syrian Army fighters

What will the commander-in-chief order our military to do in Syria, and what will it accomplish?

President Obama has two big sets of choices should he want to launch military action against Syria: What to do before the first shot is fired, and what to do once military action commences. As U.S. warships cruise off Syria, Obama’s national security team has already presented him with a menu of options. For a president who likes to take his time deliberating, decision time is fast approaching.

Question one: Go it alone? The president abhors unilateralism; it was one of his big objections to the war in Iraq, and to earlier intervention in Libya. But the UN Security Council is a nonstarter, given veto promises by close Syria ally Russia. No wonder the State Department said on Wednesday the U.S. would do what it needs to do with or without the UN. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Pakistan, Taliban and the Afghan Quagmire

August 29th 2013

Taliban soldiers

With American and NATO combat troops scheduled to depart Afghanistan next year, the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan has become more important than ever. It is a complex and complicated nexus. Without doubt, Pakistan and its intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of the army (ISI), have more influence over the Taliban than any other country or intelligence service. It provides critical safe haven and sanctuary to the groups’ leadership, advice on military and diplomatic issues, and assistance with fund raising. But its influence is not complete, and whether it could persuade the Taliban to settle for a political settlement in Afghanistan, is unclear at best.

Pakistan’s Support for Survival and Revival of the Taliban
Pakistan has been intimately associated with the Taliban since its birth in the mid-1990s. The ISI provided support to Mullah Omar when he founded the organisation in Kandahar. It had trained Omar even earlier in the 1980s at one of its training camps for the mujahedin that fought the Soviet occupation of the country. Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognised the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in the late 1990s (Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the other two). Read more ..

The Defense Edge

America Continues to Fail its Post-911 Veterans

August 29th 2013

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In the 12 years since American troops first deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 2.6 million veterans have returned home to a country largely unprepared to meet their needs. The government that sent them to war has failed on many levels to fulfill its obligations to these veterans as demanded by Congress and promised by both Republican and Democratic administrations, a News21 investigation has found.

Many of these combat veterans, returning from war with what will be lifelong illnesses and disabilities, are struggling to get the help they were promised in the form of disability payments, jobs, health care and treatment for such afflictions as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities and military sexual trauma. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Music Played Key Role in US Civil Rights Movement

August 29th 2013

Martin Luther King I have a Dream crowds photogs

For all its unity of purpose, there were many divisions in the civil rights movement. One of the most stark divisions played out in the music that urged the movement forward.

When we think about the civil rights struggle in the United States, a tune called “Freedom Song” comes to mind.  It was the type of music you could expect to hear at the civil rights movement’s mass meetings and protest rallies.  

“It was usually based musically in the spiritual tradition," said Suzanne Smith, author of Dancing In The Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. "But the lyrics often reflected the exact situation that the activists were confronting at that moment. If they were arrested at a rally, they would often sing the songs in jail to keep their spirits up.” Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Increasing Mercury Levels in Pacific Fish Stocks

August 29th 2013

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University of Michigan researchers and their University of Hawaii colleagues say they've solved the longstanding mystery of how mercury gets into open-ocean fish, and their findings suggest that levels of the toxin in Pacific Ocean fish will likely rise in coming decades. Using isotopic measurement techniques developed at U-M, the researchers determined that up to 80 percent of the toxic form of mercury, called methylmercury, found in the tissues of deep-feeding North Pacific Ocean fish is produced deep in the ocean, most likely by bacteria clinging to sinking bits of organic matter. The study also confirmed that the mercury found in Pacific fish near Hawaii likely traveled through the air for thousands of miles before being deposited on the ocean surface in rainfall, said U-M environmental scientist Joel Blum. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

U.S.-Iran Rapprochement: Over Before It Started?

August 29th 2013

Assad and Ahmadinejad

A U.S.-led military attack on Syria will inevitably cause collateral damage, and one casualty could be rising optimism for rapprochement between Tehran and Washington.

President Hassan Rohani's election victory in July was widely seen as an opening for improved relations between Iran and the United States. Rohani took a relatively moderate position on policy issues during his campaign, pledging to improve ties with the West and try a different approach in negotiations over Iran's contentious nuclear program.

That was welcomed by Iranian voters keen on seeing international economic sanctions lifted, and by many U.S. lawmakers open to talks that could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says a U.S. intervention in Syria would considerably complicate such efforts.

"A military strike is likely to highlight the serious differences between the United States and Iran about developments in Syria," Clawson says. "That is more likely than not to complicate matters for reaching an agreement between the United States and its international partners with Iran about the nuclear impasse."

'A Disaster'
In turn, Iran's continued backing of the Syrian government, its main regional ally, could abruptly end any talk of lifting economic sanctions. This is because military intervention in Syria would be retaliation to a toxic gas attack the West believes was carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"It would be very difficult for the United States to agree to a lifting of sanctions on Iran if Iran is perceived as providing vital support to a regime that uses chemical weapons," Clawson says. The Iranian leadership has denounced possible military action against the Assad government, which is also a lifeline for the militant Shi'ite group Hizballah, Iran's proxy in neighboring Lebanon. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russian Artist Who Painted Putin In Lingerie Flees, Fearing Arrest

August 29th 2013


A Russian artist who painted President Vladimir Putin in lingerie stroking the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said threatening phone calls and the fear of arrest compelled him to flee St. Petersburg for France.

In a telephone interview with Konstantin Altunin he said does not want to return to Russia.

"Today, I appealed to the French prefecture in Paris because I have no other [option]. I would gladly get [local residence and work permits] so that I can be useful to France and to work and pay taxes," he said. "But now, I am forced to request political asylum because I fled very quickly without luggage or money."

On August 26, police seized several of Altunin's paintings that poked fun at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and lawmakers who promoted controversial legislation against "gay propaganda." Altunin defended his artistic freedom and described the Russian authorities' response to his paintings as "very unpleasant and very ugly." Read more ..

Film Review

Blue Jasmine: A Bleakness in Woody Allen's Worldview

August 29th 2013

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Alec Balwin, Kate Blanchett. Length: 90 mins.

A key piece of information which is only revealed in the final minutes of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and which, therefore, I must not reveal here changes everything we have thought about the film’s victim-heroine, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), up to that point. It’s obvious from the beginning that Jasmine — lately the wife of a fabulously rich Wall Street type who, like pretty much all Wall Street types in the movies, has turned out to be crooked — is an emotional wreck. We see her apparently chatting to her first-class seat-mate on a transcontinental flight about having met her husband to the strains of the Rodgers and Hart standard "Blue Moon" as if it were just a fond romantic reminiscence. We soon realize that she is talking to herself, as she does periodically throughout the movie, her own flashbacks to her comfortably well-heeled life with the fraudster Hal (Alec Baldwin) tracking closely with the movie’s.

Only in the last of these do we learn what has brought her to this pass, taking refuge not only in vodka and Xanax, but also in the fantasy of her former life on Park Avenue from her much less desirable real life in the present. "When Jasmine doesn’t want to know something, she has a habit of looking the other way," says her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) with whom she has come to live and whose supposedly proletarian apartment in San Francisco — are there still such things in the Mission District? — represents her new reality. Though both Jasmine (née Jeanette) and Ginger were adopted, Ginger jokes about Jasmine’s having got the family’s "good genes" as a cover for her own presumed inferiority. That is echoed in the vulgarity of her ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and her new boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Chili tries to match Jasmine up with a similarly low-life pal, Eddie (Max Casella) whose blindness to his own unsuitability as a romantic attachment to this exquisite creature is the principal evidence of his social inferiority. Read more ..

American History

Martin Luther King's Dream Still Eludes America

August 29th 2013

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A quarter of a million people rallied “For Jobs and Freedom” at the Lincoln Monument in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, and tens if not hundreds of thousands will do so again at this year’s fifty-year commemorations of the event.

The March for Jobs and Freedom came one hundred years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Recognizing the unfulfilled promises facing African Americans, King wanted President John F. Kennedy to issue a second proclamation to open the way to full civil and voting rights. But he demanded more than that: King and March organizers could not separate civil rights from people’s economic needs, and we should not do so today.

At the time of the 1963 march, most Southern states prohibited African Americans from voting. Segregation laws and practices in many parts of the country prohibited African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans from using restaurants, parks, libraries, and even cemeteries reserved for so-called “white” Americans. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Obama's Actions in Syria are His Defining Event

August 29th 2013

Because so many war plans simply do not survive the reality of war itself, each war is a unique universe unto its own and thus comparisons with previous wars, while useful, may also prove illusory. One of the many wrong assumptions about the Second Gulf War before it started was that it would somehow be like the First Gulf War, in which the pessimists had been humiliated by the ease of the victory. Indeed, the Second Gulf War unfolded in vastly different ways, this time proving the pessimists right. That is why the recent media refrain comparing a military operation in Syria with the one in Kosovo in 1999 worries me.

There are profound differences.

Syria has a population ten times the size of Kosovo's in 1999. Because everything in Syria is on a much vaster scale, deciding the outcome by military means could be that much harder. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

French Military Ready for Syria but Hollande Non-committal

August 29th 2013

French troops Mali

The French military is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria if President Francois Hollande decides to do so, the defence minister said Thursday. But the chief of state, who met with the head of the Syrian opposition, stopped short of announcing military intervention over a suspected chemical weapons attack.

Hollande offered his political and humanitarian support for the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, but said the group will only be a viable alternative to Syrian President Bashar Assad if it has military credibility — and if the international community can stop the spiral of violence.

The United States, France and Britain are believed to be preparing possible military action against Assad's regime after an apparent poison gas attack in Syria on Aug. 21. U.N. experts are currently in Syria investigating the attack. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

America’s Impending Defeat in Syria

August 29th 2013

Barack Obama in Thought

It’s really pretty simple. The American people understandably don’t want to go to war with Syria — not to mention with Syria’s patron, Iran — and especially not for the goal of putting the Muslim Brotherhood and murderous Islamists into power there. Going to war is a serious matter, to say the least. There’s no assurance how long it will take, how many lives it will cost, and what turns it may take. And the Middle East has just had several examples of these wars.

Iraq and Afghanistan cost a lot of money and lives as they extended for a much longer time than had been expected. In addition, they derailed the Bush administration’s electoral fortunes and domestic programs. With the main emphasis of the Obama administration being a fundamental transformation of America, such distractions are not desired. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria and the Limits of Comparison

August 29th 2013


Because so many war plans simply do not survive the reality of war itself, each war is a unique universe unto its own and thus comparisons with previous wars, while useful, may also prove illusory. One of the many wrong assumptions about the Second Gulf War before it started was that it would somehow be like the First Gulf War, in which the pessimists had been humiliated by the ease of the victory. Indeed, the Second Gulf War unfolded in vastly different ways, this time proving the pessimists right. That is why the recent media refrain comparing a military operation in Syria with the one in Kosovo in 1999 worries me.

There are profound differences.

The Battle for Egypt

The Implications of Obama’s Failure in Egypt

August 29th 2013

Isi Libler

To date, US President Barack Obama’s efforts to appease or engage Islamists have either failed or backfired. US influence in the Mideast is at an all-time low and Islamic fundamentalism continues to gain strength at an alarming pace.

Egypt, which until a year ago was regarded by the US as an ally, is perhaps the most dramatic example of Obama’s complete failure to understand the nature of the region and the steps that must be taken to stabilize it. The current horrors and barbarism in Syria should not divert attention from events in Egypt, the outcome of which is likely to have a major impact on the entire region.

Obama’s first blunder in Egypt was the antagonism he displayed toward President Hosni Mubarak. Immediately following his first election, Obama insisted on inviting members of the outlawed Moslem Brotherhood to his Cairo address. As a result, Mubarak boycotted the event.

Obama displayed the full extent of his contempt for Mubarak when the public riots first erupted against the Egyptian regime when he called on him to step down immediately. This provided an opening to the Islamists and sent shock waves throughout those Arab regimes that regarded themselves as US allies.

While there is no disputing that Mubarak was an odious authoritarian leader, he was considered a moderate within the context of the Arab world, a loyal ally of the US, and a combatant of Islamic terrorism -- facts whose implications Obama either inexplicably failed to grasp or naively chose to ignore.

The Obama administration’s greatest failure with regard to Egypt has been its inexcusable and naive mischaracterization of the Moslem Brotherhood. The Moslem Brotherhood is a fanatical Islamist organization, established in 1928 with the objective of imposing medieval Islamic sharia law throughout the world, employing violence and terror to achieve the goal. The organization was suppressed for most of its 85-year history, and many of its leaders were jailed in Egypt during the Mubarak era. Read more ..

The Race for EVs

EV Fast-charging Stations to Reach 200,000 by 2020

August 29th 2013

Electric car Israel

Fast-charging technologies are driving the growth of the electric vehicle (EV) recharging market, with the cumulative number of stations established worldwide expanding by a factor of more than 100 times from 2012 to 2020, according to a new report from IHS Automotive, part of IHS Inc. Total fast-charging stations for EVs are set to reach 199,000 locations globally in 2020, up from just 1,800 in 2012. The number of these stations, meanwhile, is anticipated to rise more than threefold in 2013 to 5,900 and then nearly triple to 15,200 in 2014. Overall growth will continue at a rapid pace through 2020.

Hooked up to a fast-charging system, which offers a high-voltage DC charge instead of a slower AC charge, a vehicle can be fully charged in as little as 20 minutes. This could be a major step toward EVs becoming generally equivalent to ICE vehicles when it comes to refuelling. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Barnes & Noble's CEO Dumps Most of His Stock in Failing Retailer

August 28th 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

Mitchell Klipper, the CEO of Barnes & Noble's retail group, which includes its bookstores but not its Nook unit, sold about 67% of his shares of the company, according to an SEC filing late Monday. Klipper sold a total of about 400,996 shares for between $13.99 and $14.53 per share. He had about 598,371 shares as of July 17, according to FactSet, equivalent to a 1% stake in the company.

The crumbling Barnes & Noble is said to be in "a transition period" following the departure of CEO William Lynch. It is reviewing its strategy related to its Nook e-book readers, which it invested heavily in as consumers increasingly turn online to buy books. In its most recent quarter, its net loss nearly doubled and revenue fell nearly 9% to $1.33 billion. Last week, Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio took his offer to buy the company's retail operations off the table. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Combating Concussions

August 28th 2013

MRI Machine

In the United States there are millions of sports related concussions each year, but many go undiagnosed because for some athletes, the fear of being benched trumps the fear of permanent brain damage, and there is no objective test available to accurately diagnose concussions on the sidelines. Researchers at San Diego State University have set out to change that.

A team led by Daniel Goble, an exercise and nutritional sciences professor at SDSU, have developed software and an inexpensive balance board that can measure balance with 99 percent accuracy on the field and in the clinic. They are testing the device on SDSU's rugby team, with the hope of soon making it available worldwide to athletes of all ages and levels. Balance tests are a primary method used to detect concussion. The current means of scoring these tests relies on the skill of athletic trainers to visually determine whether or not a concussion has occurred. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Gas Mask Supply Limited Due to Budget Cuts as Israelis Scramble to Prepare for Syria Attack

August 28th 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons

Members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, pointed to budget cuts Wednesday as the reason why 40% of the country’s population has been left without access to gas masks, as Israelis scramble to prepare for potential retaliation by Syria if the U.S. moves forward with an expected attack on the regime as a response to its use of chemical weapons.

MK Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Communications Minister, who is responsible for Israel’s postal authority, which distributes the gas mask kits and atropine syringes used as an antidote to some chemical weapons, called a meeting for late Wednesday with representatives of the Home Front Command and the National Emergency Authority for a new assessment of what preparations are still required, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Home Front Command call center lines collapsed due to the high number of inquiries for the gas mask kits. In Jerusalem, a distribution center was mobbed, and gas mask kits were looted, while in Sharon, Israelis rioted and the Army requested police to help restore order. Read more ..

Cities on Edge

Wanted: A Modern, Global Mayor

August 28th 2013

New York skyline dusk

New York’s upcoming mayoral election is a pivotal one, and not just because Mayor Bloomberg is leaving office after 12 intense years. This election also coincides with a remarkable shift in power and leadership in the country as a whole, which is radically altering and elevating the role and responsibility of mayors.

New York City’s mayor, executive of the nation’s largest city by far, should be among the leaders of this new, ambitious group of public chief executives.

It is no secret that U.S. cities face enormous challenges. The country needs to gain 10 million jobs to make up for the jobs lost in the Great Recession and to keep up with population growth; the vast majority of those jobs will be created in cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas. We also need better jobs to counter the sharp growth in poverty and near-poverty: Between 2000 and 2011, the number of poor and near-poor in the United States increased from 81 million to 107 million. Read more ..

Broken Government

Veterans Affairs, Defense Depts. Spend Billions in Effort to Coordinate Records

August 28th 2013

Paper Stack

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense spent at least $1.3 billion during the last four years trying unsuccessfully to develop a single electronic health-records system between the two departments — leaving veterans’ disability claims to continue piling up in paper files across the country, a News21 investigation shows.

This does not include billions of other dollars wasted during the last three decades, including $2 billion spent on a failed upgrade to the DOD’s existing electronic health-records system.

For a veteran in the disability claims process, these records are critical: They include DOD service and health records needed by the VA to decide veterans’ disability ratings and the compensation they will receive for their injuries. Stacks of paper files — including veterans’ evidence from DOD of their military service and injuries — sit at VA regional offices waiting to be processed instead of being readily accessible in electronic files. Read more ..

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