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Archive for September 2013

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The Edge of Outer Space

Curiosity Rover Discovers Water on Mars

September 30th 2013

Click to select Image

The first scoop of Martian soil analyzed by Curiosity Rover’s built-in laboratory has revealed a high amount of water in the soil, according to NASA. “One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil,” said Curiosity researcher Laurie Leshin, of the Renesslaer Polytechnic Institute. “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

Researchers made their findings using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) unit, which includes three sophisticated instruments: a gas chromotograph, mass spectrometer, and tunable laser spectrometer. Read more ..

The War on Drugs

Brazil Container Terminals to Get Updated Mega-Scanners to Detect Contraband

September 30th 2013

Click to select Image

All the 21 container terminals in Brazil will get a mega scanner before January 2014. The Port of Santos (above), which is the biggest in Latin America, started using a mega scanner on Sept. 1. Brazil’s ports are becoming electronic fortresses designed to prevent the trafficking of weapons and drugs, as well as other illegal merchandise.

Marine cargo terminals up and down Brazil’s coast are receiving mega scanners capable of penetrating up to 30 centimeters of steel. The authorities hope the technology will help curb the drug trade, which in recent years has opened a new maritime route between Brazil and Africa.

“It used to take us six hours to release a container. With the mega scanner, we need only 10 seconds,” said Carlos Wilson Azevedo Albuquerque, the chief inspector at the Customs Office in the Port of Pecém in the state of Ceará.

The equipment scans all of the 10,000 containers that pass through the port monthly, Albuquerque said.

“Approximately 40% of the Brazilian fruits sent to Europe and the United States are shipped from Pecém. There’s no way to open and inspect every single case,” he added. “The scanner makes a big difference.”

Each mega scanner costs about US$3 million and processes up to 120 containers an hour. Read more ..

The Race for Solar

Joshua Tree Light Pollution Dims BrightSource Energy’s 500MW Palen Solar Project

September 30th 2013

solar power plant

Slated for a site 36 miles west of Blythe, California, the 500MW Palen Solar Plant – a collaborative project between BrightSource Energy and Abengoa Solar – is meeting resistance from critics concerned about its light pollution.

BrightSource energy bought the Palen Solar Project when Solar Trust of America went bankrupt last year, My Desert reports. At the time, the project had received state, but not federal approval, and now both BrightSource Energy and partner Abengoa Solar are required to undergo a whole new round of permitting.

As part of this process, two meetings were scheduled to give the public an opportunity to express their reservations about the project. And this time (BrightSource is no stranger to obstacles in its multi decade pursuit to provide clean solar energy), it isn’t the desert tortoise causing a ruckus, but light pollution. Read more ..

Broken Government

Senate Rejects House Funding Bill, Shutdown in Clear Sight

September 30th 2013

Harry Reid

Congress took another step toward a government shutdown Monday as the Senate voted 54-46 to strip language from a House funding bill that delayed ObamaCare by a year.

Senate Democrats called on House Republicans to pass a clean government funding resolution and warned the GOP would take the brunt of the public backlash if government services become severely curtailed.

Democrats also eliminated language allowing employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage of contraception if doing so violates their moral or religious principles.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needed only a simple majority vote to cut the House language delaying ObamaCare and repealing the medical device tax because the amended stopgap came from across the Capitol as a message to the Senate. Monday's vote was strictly on party lines. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Dutch Designer Seeks A Smarter Smartphone That Will Last Forever

September 30th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

The world's hottest new smartphone isn't even close to being on the market. In fact, it's not even being manufactured yet. But hundreds of thousands of consumers already say they want one.

With little more than a website and a YouTube video, Dutch designer Dave Hakkens is seeking to upend the smartphone market with something called Phonebloks.

The idea is simple: enable consumers to replace individual components of their phone -- the screen, speakers, battery, storage, camera etc. -- while retaining the device's basic frame. It's essentially a phone you assemble like Lego.

Hakkens argues in a Phonebloks promotional YouTube video, which has gone viral with more than 15 million views, that thinking about a smartphone as a series of replaceable components or modules would reduce electronic waste and lower costs. Read more ..

Broken Politics

Ted Cruz Filled Republican Leadership Vacuum, Then Burned his Bridges

September 30th 2013

Ted Cruz

Can anyone lead this Republican Party? The official party leadership hasn’t figured out how to lead in the current political environment. And Sen. Ted Cruz learned this week that he doesn’t know how to call the shots, either. To understand the Republican leadership vacuum, consider what's different today compared to five years ago.

The 2010 Citizens United ruling has spawned super PACs that offset the power of the political parties and K Street. The Republican earmark ban has taken away a vote-whipping tool. The Internet’s advances have turned the grassroots into kudzu vines. The committee process has grown feeble. And all of these changes have injected an anti-establishment fervor into the GOP base.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner don’t know how to lead in this environment. Sen. Tom Coburn in mid-September told the GOP Conference that the fractious state of the party stemmed from a lack of leadership – a lack of clear goals and strategies – according to GOP Senate aides. Sen. Ron Johnson – also not a Cruz minion – has loudly and regularly complained about this leadership gap, too.

The guy who figured out how to lead in the new environment also helped create it: Jim DeMint. DeMint first beat McConnell on the campaign trail: His Senate Conservatives Fund got Marco Rubio, Cruz and Rand Paul elected in 2010 and 2012 over the GOP leadership’s picks in those states. Allied groups elected Mike Lee over incumbent McConnell ally Bob Bennett. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Our Outlaw President? Obama Should Ignore the Debt Ceiling

September 30th 2013


The United States government is likely to shut down nonessential services tomorrow, after House Republicans voted before dawn yesterday to attach a one-year delay of President Obama’s health care law (and a repeal of a tax to pay for it) to legislation to keep the government running. The Democratic-led Senate is expected to refuse.

House Republicans also said last week that they would not agree to lift the debt ceiling unless implementation of the health law was delayed by one year. So the government is also headed toward a mid-October default on its debts — and a full-blown constitutional crisis.

Failure to raise the debt will force the president to break a law — the only question is which one. The Constitution requires the president to spend what Congress has instructed him to spend, to raise only those taxes Congress has authorized him to impose and to borrow no more than Congress authorizes. Read more ..

Obama' Second Term

Poor America

September 30th 2013

Professor Obama at work

As he waited in the wings at the United Nations, President Obama was struck with this sledgehammer from Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff:

Tampering... in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and is an affront of the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.

This impassioned defense of national sovereignty and fundamental human rights (self-serving as it might have been) was followed by a speech from Mr. Obama that was almost a parody of how other countries see the United States -- self-referential, militaristic, whiny, petulant, and riddled with faux humility and underlying threats. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Terrorists Kill 3 Policemen Egypt's Sinai

September 30th 2013

Egyptian Mil. Police Alexandria

Gunmen shot dead three policemen in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Monday, Reuters' Aswat Masriya reported. Security sources said unknown gunmen stormed a police station in the North Sinai city of Al-Arish and opened fire "intensely" at security personnel on duty, killing three. The assailants fled by car.

Other media reports said the policemen were ambushed while on their way to the police station.

The Egyptian army is carrying out a weeks-long air and ground assault in the sparsely populated peninsula, which borders Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, to uproot Islamist militants who have intensified their activities against the police and army amid a security vacuum following the overthrow of long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Al-Qaeda Entrenchment in Syria

September 30th 2013

Syrian Rebel w/SAW

During the Syrian civil war two branches of Al-Qaeda established themselves among the rebel organizations fighting to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. The most prominent is the Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), directly subordinate to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The other is The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, subordinate to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In addition, other Salafist-jihadi military organizations not necessarily affiliated with Al-Qaeda operate in Syria. The two Al-Qaeda branches have an estimated 6,000-7,000 operatives, and in our assessment the number is growing.

This study deals mainly with the Al-Nusra Front, an organization established at the end of January 2012, ten months after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising. Initially it operated as a branch of the Islamic State in Iraq, a Salafist-jihadi umbrella network affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. To make its status official, in April 2012 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, announced the union of the two organizations, to be called "The Islamic State in Iraq and in Al-Sham (Greater Syria)." However, the union was not honored by the Al-Nusra Front and was annulled by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in June 2013, who said the Front was the official Al-Qaeda branch in Syria. That resulted in a split between the two branches of Al-Qaeda in Syria and today they are antagonistic toward both each other and rivals. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

For Ray Charles' Birthday a New CD/DVD and a Postage Stamp

September 29th 2013


This week, marking what would have been Ray Charles 83rd birthday, the U.S. Postal Service honored the singer with a new postage stamp. And, there’s also a new CD and DVD collection featuring great Ray Charles performances.

“Ray Charles Forever” opens with a newly remastered version of fellow piano man Leon Russell’s “A Song For You.”  It's one of a dozen tunes on the CD in the collection. President of the Ray Charles Foundation Valerie Ervin says that while fans of the singer and pianist may already have most of this music, there are extras that make this set special. 

“We released some DVD footage, some of that has never been seen or put out in many, many years," she said. "Some of it was shot over in Europe, it was a live show, so we are releasing that to DVD. That will be bonus footage for everyone to enjoy. And a lot of the tracks were remastered, so the sound comes up to today’s quality of sound, if you will.” Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Cygnus Spacecraft Brings Cargo to ISS Astronauts

September 29th 2013

Orion and International Space Station

A privately-owned spacecraft named Cygnus successfully docked with the International Space Station on Sunday, becoming the second such craft to do so.  The docking came a week later than planned, in part due to a software issue and traffic at the orbiting station.

The unmanned Cygnus spacecraft was drifting near the International Space Station, as planned, when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency used the space station's robotic Canada-arm to grab the cargo capsule. Astronauts then used the Canada-arm to connect the capsule to the orbiting lab.  And with that, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences became the second U.S. company to show it can resupply the ISS.

It's a feat that had only been accomplished by a handful of governments until just last year, when the California-based company SpaceX made history by docking its Dragon spacecraft.  Orbital now joins SpaceX as a private provider of cargo resupply services. Read more ..

Broken Government

House Republicans Say Dems Trying to Run Out the Clock

September 29th 2013

john boehner

House Republicans accused Democrats and President Obama of wanting to shut down the government for political gain Sunday afternoon. A handful of GOP lawmakers gathered outside an empty Capitol building to implore the Senate to come back immediately and consider the funding bill that the House passed late Saturday night to avoid a government shutdown.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) charged that his Democratic colleagues are playing politics with the government shutdown. Holding a football in his hand, Griffin equated the Senate’s decision not to return on Sunday to vote on the House-passed funding bill – which includes provisions to delay parts of Obamacare – with “running out the clock” at a football game. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Advocates Applaud Sen Boxer's Transportation Funding Proposal

September 29th 2013

Traffic Jam

Transportation advocates are encouraged by a proposal this week from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to increase funding for road and infrastructure projects.

Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate committee that oversees transportation policy, said this week she is considering eliminating the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax in the next surface transportation appropriations bill in lieu of a wholesale tax on oil purchases.

The gas tax, currently paid at the pump by automobile drivers, has paid for road and transit projects since the 1930’s. However, with Americans driving less since the 2009 recession and cars now getting better gas mileage than ever, the gas tax is no longer bringing enough money into the Highway Trust Fund to keep up with the cost of transportation projects. AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said that makes Boxer’s proposal to sever the ties between the gas tax and transportation funding intriguing. Read more ..

The Edge of Protest

At 70, Lech Walesa Can Look Back On An Enduring Legacy

September 29th 2013

Lech Walesa

He had scaled the wall several times before, but this time it was more than just a worker evading the authorities. It was the first giant leap towards freedom for the countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

It was the morning of August 14, 1980, and Lech Walesa had just joined his fellow strikers at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk.

They had seized control over their workplace to protest against a recent rise of food prices, among other things.

Seventeen days later, Walesa appeared before them triumphantly and told them that they would be able to have "an independent, self-governing trade union" and had won "the right to strike."

Their stocky and mustachioed leader had cajoled Poland's communist government into granting workers the right to organize freely and to strike -- a move not yet witnessed in any other Warsaw Pact country.

He had also chaperoned the creation of the first independent trade union, Solidarnosc (Solidarity), in the Soviet bloc. Within months it had 10 million members, more than a quarter of the country's population.

It was an electrician -- with no higher education -- who had triggered what came to be seen as one of the key events leading to the downfall of communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe.

Hailed in the West as a champion of rights and liberty, Walesa remains, however, a more controversial figure at home in Poland, where he has faced criticisms of his management style and fought off allegations that he collaborated with the former communist authorities. Read more ..

Broken Government

If You Liked Sequestration 'One', You'll Love 'Two'

September 29th 2013


Sequestration was proposed from the beginning to be a hostage in larger and more complex political fights. Two years after the Budget Control Act was signed into law, sequestration remains a favored pawn in negotiations. This dynamic is one of the fundamental reasons that despite the fact that so many members of Congress dislike sequestration, it remains in effect.

In Washington, upcoming debates about government funding and the debt ceiling increasingly feel like Groundhog Day. Yet time has not altered or softened either side’s position on the size, scope or role of government. Unfortunately, this means the Defense Department seems on track for yet another “fiscal cliff”-like redux, which -- if so -- will result in sequestration sticking for a second year in a row. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

British Terrorist 'White Widow' Converted to Islam in High School

September 29th 2013


British subject Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the "White Widow," and who is allegedly linked to the terrorist attack on a major Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall, became a Muslim while attending high school in London, according to an Al Arabiya news story on Saturday.

When Lewthwaite was 17-years-old she had an Internet romance with a Jamaica Island-born Muslim named Germaine Lindsay, and she converted to Islam and married Lindsay, according to British law enforcement.

Whether or not she was involved in the Westgate Shopping Mall attack, the 29 year-old Lewthwaite is wanted by Interpol for her alleged participation in a terrorist plot to bomb holiday resorts in Kenya in 2011. Interpol last week issued a Red Notice for her capture. Read more ..

Liberia on Edge

UN Leaving Liberia: What's Next?

September 29th 2013

UNMIL Liberia

The United Nations military mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is no small endeavor. It is one of longest UN missions in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the largest, and one of the most widely supported—with 42 countries contributing military forces and 35 contributing police personnel.

After ten years, though, the need for armed troops has decreased, and the number of foreign soldiers has shrunk to around 5,000. By 2015, the end of the current drawdown phase, there will still be about 3,700 military personnel. In contrast, while the current police presence holds at 1000, there are plans to increase the number of officers to 1700. The questions to be asked are: why, after ten years with no significant outbreaks of violence, do so many troops need to remain? And,why is the number of international police increasing? Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hezbollah's Military and Politics: Any Difference?

September 29th 2013

Hezbollah Troops

Is Hezbollah a social welfare organization with a military wing, or a terrorist organization that takes care of the social welfare of its people?

The European Union’s recent decision to include Hezbollah’s military wing on its terrorist list raises questions regarding the nature of a terrorist organization and international politics. Even if one agrees with the dichotomy between a military and political wing, the fact that the EU did not blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing until July 2013 itself is telling; Bahrain, the first Arab country to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, did so in April 2013.  Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt's Muslim Brothers Have Three Options for Moving Forward After the Ban

September 28th 2013

ProMorsi Demo Post-Coup

In the 16 months after Hosni Mubarak's dramatic February 2011 ouster, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood quickly rose from the cave to the castle, winning the parliamentary and presidential elections, and then appointing its members to executive positions across the Egyptian government. But 15 months and an uprising-cum-coup later, even the Brotherhood's former caves are off-limits to it. On Monday, a Cairo court ruled the Brotherhood illegal and authorized the military-backed government to seize its assets and properties.

To some extent, the court's decision reinforces the decapitation strategy that the military has pursued against the Brotherhood since it toppled Mohamed Morsi on July 3, which has hampered the organization's capabilities significantly. But whereas decapitation left open the possibility that rank-and-file Muslim Brothers might select new -- and perhaps less aggressive -- leaders over time, Monday's court ruling will have much longer term consequences, unless it is overturned on appeal. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

What If Insurgents Close the Suez Canal?

September 28th 2013

Container Ship at Sea

Most of the attention these days is on Syria, but there is also a growing problem in Egypt with global implications. Nine Egyptian policemen were wounded by a bomb in the northern Sinai Peninsula on Monday. The week before, suicide bombers killed nine soldiers in the peninsula. Shootings, kidnappings and bombings -- roadside, car and suicide -- have become routine occurrences in Sinai. And the burgeoning Islamist insurgency is spreading to other parts of Egypt. In early September, the interior minister narrowly survived a car-bomb attack in Cairo reportedly perpetrated by a Sinai-based jihadist group.

Already reeling from more than two years of civil insurrection, a spike in crime, an epidemic of sexual assault and the military's killing in August of nearly 1,000 Islamists protesting the coup that removed the elected Muslim Brotherhood president from office, the insurgency is bad news for Egypt.

But things could get worse.

Film Review

The Family: Hobbesian Family Values

September 28th 2013

The Family

The Family. Director: Luc Besson. Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer. Length: 90 mins.

Luc Besson made a couple of pretty good or at least pretty interesting movies twenty years or so ago. They were La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional. You could look them up on Netflix. But, since then, whatever tether to reality those movies still had has disappeared, and M. Besson has become just another Hollywood fantasist — one belonging to the Quentin Tarantino school which regards violence as "the funnest thing you can do at the movies." If you were to point out to either man that, in real life, violence isn’t fun at all, let alone the funnest thing you can do, he would doubtless reply, "So what? What have movies got to do with real life?" There’s no answer to that except that the question is disingenuous. Movies must reflect reality if only to the extent that they avoid it. In the case of Mr. Besson’s latest film, The Family, I wonder if what is reflected isn’t a cultural turn away from Enlightenment principles towards something more primitive.

It stars Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer as a mafia don and his wife in hiding in the fictional village of Cholong-sur-Avre in Normandy — are people in the witness protection program really settled in foreign countries? — along with their two children (Dianna Agron and John D’Leo) after he rats on one or more of his former colleagues. These notably include one Don Luchese (Stan Carp), who directs from his prison cell the indefatigable efforts of DiCicco (Jimmy Palumbo) to see that he and the family get what the Mafia thinks they deserve. Just so that we are left in no doubt about what that is, the film begins with graphic images of DiCicco’s murder of an entire family as they sit at their dinner table — perhaps because he mistakes them for "Fred Blake" (as Mr. DeNiro, the former Giovanni Manzoni, is now known) and his family — before chopping off a finger of the dead paterfamilias for submission to Don Luchese. Read more ..

Broken Government

Opposing Obamacare Isn't Anarchy

September 28th 2013


‘It’s the law of the land.”

This is rapidly becoming the preferred shorthand argument for why criticism of Obamacare is just so, so wrong. It also serves as the lead sentence of a larger claim that all attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act are really symptoms of a kind of extremist right-wing lunacy.

For instance, here’s Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who walked out of the painting American Gothic to deliver this homespun wisdom: “We’re not going to bow to tea-party anarchists who deny the mere fact that Obamacare is the law. We will not bow to tea-party anarchists who refuse to accept that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional.”

Where to begin? For starters, I know a great many self-described members of the Tea Party, and I’ve yet to meet one who would not acknowledge — admittedly with dismay — that Obamacare is the law. Nor have I met one unwilling to concede that the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is constitutional. Though from my informal polling, I can report that most think the Court’s reasoning left much to be desired (logic, persuasiveness, consistency, etc.). Read more ..

Broken Government

Shutdown Looms as House Seeks One-Year ObamaCare Delay

September 28th 2013

john boehner

House Republicans plan to attach a one-year delay of ObamaCare and a repeal of its medical device tax to a stopgap spending bill on Saturday, a move that could ensure much of the federal government shuts down on Tuesday.

GOP leaders set a second conference meeting for 8:30 p.m. on Saturday to update their members on the timing of the vote, which was expected late at night. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) outlined the maneuver to Republicans in a closed-door conference meeting on Saturday; members could be heard cheering outside the room in a Capitol basement.

Republican lawmakers inside the meeting chanted, "Vote! Vote! Vote!" after hearing the plan, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. Republicans exiting the meeting applauded Boehner's decision and said the ball was in Senate Democrats' court. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

The Rouhani Tsunami: A Presidential Phone Call Offers Another Iranian Surprise

September 28th 2013


Capping a week full of headlines, controversy, spectacle and schmoozing, Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani made history on Friday by concluding his inaugural visit to the United States with an unprecedented telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama. In a perfect diplomatic minuet, the call was invited by Iranian officials and initiated by the White House. The conversation ended nearly 35 years of silence between the two leaderships and inspired hopes, as expressed by President Obama, that "we can reach a comprehensive solution" to the Iranian nuclear crisis and potentially even more — the start of a new relationship between America and Iran.

The phone call followed another historic first, a meeting between Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The news sparked giddiness among many Iranians on social media, where an account linked to Rouhani announced the call and recounted the details only moments before Obama spoke before a hastily-organized press conference in Washington, D.C. to do the same. However, upon his arrival at Tehran's Mehrbad airport, Iran's president was greeted with a more dissonant tone, as his effusive supporters were joined by a small group of hardliners hurling shoes and eggs in protest. It was a small but stark reminder of the obstacles the Iranian regime will have to navigate if it is to amend even slightly one of the defining elements of its raison d’être, antagonism toward America. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Life-Saving App for Smartphones and Tablets

September 28th 2013

Smart phone

A new application, or app, has been developed for smartphones and portable computer tablets that may soon save lives in developing countries.  Besides being highly portable, the technology is cheap and easy to use. 

Of the six billion mobile phone users in the world, experts say about two-thirds live in developing countries where millions of children die each year due to lack of oxygen from pneumonia.  The lung infection is highly treatable with antibiotics, but often caregivers are not aware of the critical nature of the child's condition.

So, Dr. Mark Ansermino of the University of British Columbia and his colleagues developed a small, inexpensive device that can be attached to the earphone jack of a smartphone or mobile tablet that measures pulse oximetry.  Assessing the level of oxygen in the blood is sometimes called the fifth vital sign - along with pulse, temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure measurements.

The app, called the Phone Oximeter, gets its data from a clip attached to a fingertip or earlobe. Ansermino, a pediatric anesthesiologist, explains the device shines light of different wavelengths through the skin, taking advantage of a unique characteristic of blood. Read more ..

Broken Government

Senate Passes Funding Bill, Puts Pressure on House

September 28th 2013

Capitol Hill

In a high stakes budget battle, the U.S. Senate has passed a bill to keep funding the federal government, stripping out a provision pushed by House Republicans to cut off funds for President Obama's health care law.  The amdended bill now goes back to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, putting pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to take action before a midnight Monday deadline to avert a partial government shutdown.

As the Pentagon and other government agencies prepare for a possible shutdown Tuesday, the Senate has passed a funding bill that would keep the government running, without defunding the health care law.  The final vote approving the "clean" spending measure was 54 to 44. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Surge in Tourism Impacts Glaciers in Northern Indian State

September 28th 2013

Melting Glaciers

Environmentalists say retreating glaciers and melting snows on high Himalayan peaks could impact millions of people in the Indian subcontinent who rely on rivers fed by the massive ice sheets on the mountains. A surge in tourism is impacting the mountains in India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state.  

Tucked in the high Himalayas, the picturesque hill town of Manali in the Kullu Valley thrives on the tourists who come to escape the scorching heat of the Indian plains.

D.S. Aditya, Manager of Sterling Resorts in Manali said a snow-covered pass that lies 50 kilometers up a snaking mountain road is a huge draw.   “Wherever you go there is one destination which is famous. If you visited in Manali, Rohtang is main attraction," Aditya said. "Because of the snow.” Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

'Donkey Ambulance' Rides To The Rescue Of Afghan Women In Labor

September 28th 2013

Donkey Ambulance Afghan

Afghanistan has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, and a high concentration of donkeys.

Enter the maternity saddle -- a new invention that promises to carry women in labor across Afghanistan's difficult terrain so they can get the medical care they need.

The British charity HealthProm and designer Peter Muckle developed the inflatable donkey saddle to ease the burden on women about to give birth in remote areas of Afghanistan.

The lack of suitable transport in mountainous areas leads many pregnant women to opt against heading to health centers in favor of giving birth at home, raising the risks should complications arise. According to Muckle, his invention provides a light-weight and comfortable way for women in labor to get the medical attention they need. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Qaeda Organizer Extradited from Nigeria Arraigned in New York

September 28th 2013

Prison bars

A member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is based in Yemen, was arraigned Friday in federal court in New York City after being extradited by the Nigerian government, according to the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. The suspect, Lawal Olaniyi Babafemi, a Nigerian citizen, is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, as designated by the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury.

Babafemi is also charged with using firearms in furtherance of that crime. At this initial appearance in court in the United States after his extradition from Nigeria, Babafemi was ordered held without bail by Judge John Gleeson at the federal court building in borough of Brooklyn, N.Y.


Book Review

Legacy of Ashes: A History of the CIA on Kindle

September 27th 2013

Legacy of Ashes

CIA: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Tim Weiner. Anchor. 848 pages.

One way to undermine your credibility in any argument about Latin American politics is to allude to secret operations involving the CIA; do so and you can come off sounding like Dennis Hopper spinning into one of his out of orbit rants in Apocalypse Now. Fortunately, there is a highly credible source of information on the CIA: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, published in 2007 by New York Times reporter Tim Weiner, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the CIA.

The book, now available on Kindle, is a first-rate piece of scholarship. Exhaustively researched, Weiner pored through countless declassified documents and interviewed dozens of former CIA employees, including ten former directors. Powerful and convincing, Legacy of Ashes has earned high praise, including a National Book Award.

The idea for a Central Intelligence Agency grew out of the failings of the previous U.S. spy organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the intelligence service widely operational during World War II. The OSS bungled its way through the war, its multiple mistakes leading to the death of many of its often-youthful agents. After the war the OSS was dissolved, but many of the former officers engineered a soft landing for themselves by pushing for the creation of a permanent replacement intelligence service, one that would employ them. President Harry S Truman agreed, and in 1947 signed The National Security Act which founded the CIA. Still, the CIA needed an enemy, and shortly came to find one in the perceived threat of international communism. As the Cold War grew more bitter, the CIA gained added authority and a much larger, and secret, budget. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Despite Advances, S. Africa Still Lags in Internet Usage

September 27th 2013

Computer-User Kenya

South Africa is one of the most technologically advanced countries in Africa, yet two-thirds of its adults have never used the Internet.

Described by some as Africa’s most sophisticated economy, South Africa has some of the best rail, road and communication facilities on the continent. The World Economic Forum’s most recent competitive index ranked South Africa as number two in Africa, behind Mauritius. South Africa boasts of having the only commercial nuclear energy station in Africa. In 2024, it will be home to the largest and most sensitive radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. However, the country's Internet usage stands in stark contrast.

A recent study by the South African Network Society survey - a research organization looking at the social impact of new telecommunications networks and technologies in Africa - found that only 34% of South African adults use the Internet. That’s about 12 million people. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Scientists 95% Certain Climate Change Is Man-made

September 27th 2013

NASA ICESCAPE Arctic melt pools

Scientists are more certain than ever that the planet is warming and that humans are to blame. That’s the finding of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The assessment will help inform policy makers and the public as they consider what action to take on climate change.

One hundred and ten governments adopted the scientific consensus that, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

At a news conference in Stockholm Friday, World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michael Jarraud underscored the importance of the finding. “It should serve as another wake-up call that our activities today will have a profound impact on society, not only for us, but for many generations to come,” Jarraud said.  Read more ..

The Edge of Violence

Chicago Crime Gang Members Indicted on RICO Charges

September 27th 2013

Crime scene tape

As part of federal law enforcement's quest to help the crime-ridden city of Chicago take back the streets from prolific and deadly crime organizations, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois on Thursday brought RICO charges against nine alleged members of a violent crime gang known on the streets of the Windy City as the Hobos.

The nine defendants allegedly directed or participated in committing murders, attempted murders, robberies, and narcotics offenses, according to U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro.

The five-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury accuses the nine defendants with five murders, solicitation of a sixth murder, four attempted murders, three robberies, and the operation of “drug spots” and “drug lines” on the city’s south side among a pattern of criminal activity between 2004 and 2009. Four of the defendants are charged with personally shooting to death five victims between 2006 and 2009, including one victim who was allegedly killed because he was cooperating with law enforcement, according to court documents. Read more ..

The Nuclear Edge

The Soviet Colonel Who Averted Nuclear War

September 27th 2013

Bomb blast

On September 26, 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty at the bunker outside Moscow that monitored the Soviet Union's Oko early-warning satellite system, when the alarm bells went off shortly after midnight.

A satellite was indicating that the United States had fired five ballistic missiles at the Soviet Union. As Petrov told the BBC, "suddenly the screen in front of me turned bright red. It was piercing, loud enough to raise a dead man from his grave."

Just a few weeks before, on September 1, the Soviets had mistakenly shot down a South Korean aircraft they had believed to be a military plane, killing 269 civilians, including a U.S. congressman. Tensions were high and Petrov could have been forgiven for trusting the warning. His orders were to pass the warning up the chain of command, which would approve the launch of a nuclear counterstrike that would have likely led to full-on nuclear war. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Scientists Compile 'Census Of The Galaxies' Using Power Of The Crowd

September 27th 2013

M55 in Sagittarius via VISTA

Cutting-edge instruments allow us to peer deep into time and space. But back on Earth, there are still just 24 hours in a day. That's the conundrum researchers have increasingly faced in recent years, as the quantity of images returned by telescopes has outpaced attempts at organizing them.

Now, an international group of scientists is tackling that problem by harnessing people power, plus the Internet, to help them take on the enormity of the universe. The result is "Galaxy Zoo," a project determined to catalog the skies. It has just completed its second groundbreaking phase.

"Galaxies tend to come in two main morphologies, or shapes: ellipticals or spirals," Lucy Fortson, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota and one of the project's leaders said. "The complexity of those shapes makes it very difficult for machine algorithms or computers to be able to tell the difference. The best machine algorithm that we have to tell the difference between these shapes is actually the human brain. There was a graduate student from Oxford [who was working on this] and his supervisor, and they sat in a pub and thought, 'You know, if we just put this up on the web, do you think people would come and classify the galaxies?'" Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

What Comes Next In Syria Chemical Weapons Deal?

September 27th 2013

Syria's chemicals

A deal that looks acceptable to all five world powers on the UN Security Council regarding Syria’s chemical weapons has finally emerged after weeks of negotiations and could be voted on as soon as September 27.

But implementing the resolution demanding Syria give up all of its chemical weapons for destruction could prove still more complicated than agreeing upon it. Here are five things to consider.

How enforceable is the deal
The draft resolution now before the Security Council reportedly sets several clear tasks which will be accompanied by deadlines. Damascus must declare what chemical weapons it has, in what quantities, and where they are located.  Next, equipment for producing chemical weapons must be destroyed. Then, all of Syria's chemical weapons material must be completely eliminated, likely by the first half of 2014. Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

Suriname and the Nefarious Case of the Union of South American Nations (NASUR)

September 27th 2013

biblioteca nacional brasilia

Suriname is the smallest country in South America. With a territory of 64,000 square miles and a population slightly larger than half a million residents, whose official language is Dutch, Surinam is a country mostly ignored by students of Latin America and observers in general. Though considered politically inconsequential and rarely mentioned, Suriname is now playing a big role involving many of the countries of the hemisphere.

Most recently Suriname served as the host country for the annual conference of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).  UNASUR is an organization founded with the objective of promoting regional integration, the development of a single Latin American market and cooperation on military matters between the different countries. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Rebels: Demand Radical Islamism; U. S.: We Can’t Hear You!

September 27th 2013

Syrian Rebels

Can it be more obvious? Thirteen Syrian rebel groups–including the most important in Aleppo and Damascus–demand an Islamist state in Syria and say they don’t care what the official rebel, U.S.-backed politicians say.

By the way, only one of these groups is an al-Qaida group, Jabhat al-Nusra. There is also the large Salafi Islamist group, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya. The others include the powerful Liwa al-Tawhid (Aleppo) and Liwa al-Islam. Both groups operated as part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) umbrella.

What about the U.S-backed Free Syrian Army? As the GLORIA Center’s Syria expert Dr. Jonathan Spyer put it: “This is much of the Free Syrian Army.”

The Syrian rebel statement, distancing these militias from the FSA’s leadership said, “These forces call on all military and civilian groups to unite in a clear Islamic context that… is based on sharia (Islamic) law, making it the sole source of legislation”. “The [Syrian] National Coalition and the proposed government under Ahmad Tomeh [the Obama Administration- supported “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood puppet who wields little power] does not represent us, nor do we recognize it,” said 13 of Syria’s most powerful Islamist rebel groups. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al-Shabaab Threatens Much More Bloodshed

September 27th 2013


In the aftermath of the shocking Westgate Mall attack, the relatively unknown commander of Somalia's Muslim terrorist group Al-Shabaab on Thursday threatened to spill more blood in his organization's quest to cause Kenyan military members to cross the border back into Kenya. In an audiotaped message sent to media organizations in the Middle East and North Africa, Ahmed Abdi Godane, the face and voice of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, admitted that his minions launched the shockingly bloody attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi as vengeance for Kenya's military presence in southern Somalia and its role in helping the African Union fight Islamist terrorism. Of the five countries providing troops to the African Union's Mission in Somalia -- Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda -- Al-Shabaab’s animosity appears directed most towards Kenya, according to Al Jazeera.


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