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Archive for August 2014

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The Way We Are

Artworks Tell Story of American Culture, History

August 31st 2014

ocean of American flags

“Allies Days, May 1917,” an impressionistic scene of flags fluttering over midtown Manhattan, was painted by Childe Hassam to celebrate the United States' entry into World War I.  It is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, and throughout August at a bus stop in downtown Washington and in hundreds of other locations across the country.

It’s part of Art Everywhere, the largest outdoor art campaign in the U.S. The open-air art galleries present reproductions of 58 American paintings, photographs and other works of art spanning 230 years of history in 50,000 unexpected locations.

“It’s really educating people about the foundation of the American visual culture,” says Charles Brock, associate curator of American and British painting at the National Gallery of Art. “The idea of using public spaces to advertise great artworks of American art and to bring attention to works in parts of the country that might not even know about these paintings or their locations.” Read more ..

Christians on Edge

Conflicts Engulf Christians in Mideast

August 31st 2014

Capernaum church Israel

According to a study by the Pew Research Center the number of Middle Eastern countries experiencing sectarian violence between religious groups has doubled from five to 10 since 2011.

The research finds an increase in faith-based hostilities and that Christians faced persecution in growing number of countries in the region.

In this climate of religious intolerance, experts say nearly one million Christians have been displaced from Iraq, half a million have left Syria, and Egypt’s Copts have lost scores of their churches to arsons. In Jerusalem, the cradle of Christianity, the number of Christians has been dwindling for decades.

“At one time, it was estimated that 25 percent of the citizens of East Jerusalem were Christians, now they are less than 2 percent,” said Yvonne Haddad, professor of the history of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations at Georgetown University. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

How to Stop Putin’s War in Ukraine

August 31st 2014

Vladimir Putin cool sunglasses

The bloody crisis in Ukraine has entered a new phase, with regular Russian military forces now apparently fighting in the country’s rebel-held east. Although the elements of a possible political settlement are visible, so far, the Kremlin has shown little interest in de-escalating the conflict. Instead, at every turn, Russian President Vladimir Putin has met Western sanctions and opprobrium with fresh violence. Let’s admit it: The West’s current strategy isn’t working. It’s time for new steps designed to encourage Moscow to change course.

Putin met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Belarus on Aug. 26. Apparently the meeting did not go well. Ukrainian sources initially reported agreement on securing control of the Ukraine-Russia border and a prisoner release, but Russian sources gave a more downbeat assessment. For his part, Putin denied that Moscow had any role to play in achieving a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine—holding to the increasingly unsustainable fiction that Russia is not involved in the fighting. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

For Displaced Ukrainians, A Troubled Return To School

August 31st 2014

Ukraine homeless

Eduard Leontiyev is gearing up for the first day of school in Ulyanovsk, his new home city.

The teenager moved to this Russian industrial city, 700 kilometers east of Moscow, last month after fleeing the fighting in eastern Ukraine with his parents and four siblings.

The conflict has turned his life upside down, but Eduard is putting on a brave face. He says he's looking forward to starting school in Ulyanovsk. "It's a great school, I like it a lot," he says. "It has new plastic windows, spacious corridors, and two gyms."

For most families forced out of their homes by the violent clashes pitting the Ukrainian government against pro-Russian separatist rebels, the new school year is fraught with uncertainty. As they scramble to rebuild their lives, many parents still don't know whether their children will be able to start school on September 1.

"I want my children to go to school, but I don't have any answer from schools yet," says Marina Kononova, who recently arrived in the Siberian city of Tomsk and lives in a packed dormitory with other Ukrainian refugees. "This uncertainty is really frightening." Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

In Beslan, Struggle For A ‘New Life’ Decade After Tragedy

August 31st 2014

Iraqi church bombed

Nadezhda Guriyeva huddled with her children on the floor of the sweltering school gymnasium. An explosive device rested ominously just a few feet away. The two older children, Boris and Vera, were dressed for a folk dance performance to celebrate the first day of school. The festivities never began.

Boris and Vera were among the 334 people, including 186 children, killed amid explosions and a hail of bullets after being held captive for two days in a terrorist attack on School No. 1 in Beslan. Guriyeva’s youngest daughter, Irina, survived. The girl’s escape allowed Guriyeva to survive the aftermath of the horror. "I had no choice," Guriyeva says. “I had my little daughter. She was always watching me to see if I cried. I couldn't even cry."

Ten years have passed since armed militants stormed the school on September 1, 2004, and took 1,100 children, mothers and teachers hostage in the gymnasium. The ordeal came to an end 52 hours later. But for the survivors and their loved ones, it changed everything forever. Read more ..

Operation Protective Edge

Israel Downs UAV from Syria and is now 'Ready for Any Scenario

August 31st 2014

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The Israeli Air Force’s downing of a UAV from Syria that strayed into its airspace over the Golan Heights on Sunday underlined remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Jewish State was “ready for any scenario both in [the Gaza region] and in others including – of course – the Golan Heights.”

Speaking at the outset of the weekly Cabinet session, held in rocket-battered Ashkelon in identification with its residents, Netanyahu said Israeli forces had “struck Hamas very hard,” during the 50-days of Operation Protective Edge, meant to foil both rocket fire and terror tunnels into Israeli territory.

“The IDF and the ISA (Israel Security Agency – the Shin Bet) killed almost 1,000 terrorists, struck at the heads of the organizations, and struck at their network of tunnels and their terrorist high-rises. We foiled their rocket attacks, and their aggression from land, sea and air. We hit their command centers and delivered blows that Hamas has not experienced since it was founded. At the same time, Hamas withdrew from all of its demands for a ceasefire, with neither time constraints nor other conditions,” Netanyahu said. Read more ..

Obama's Second Term

Obama Should Solve Problems Instead of Creating Them

August 31st 2014

We are facing what the Defense secretary has characterized as an unprecedented threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al-Nusra is threatening Israeli Defense forces on the border of the Golan Heights, and the Russians are pushing further and more enthusiastically into Ukraine — it must be time to pick a huge political fight over immigration policy.

Administration officials confirm President Obama and his team are preparing an expansive new policy through executive action that bypasses Congress and defers deportations while increasing visas and green cards just two months before the midterm elections. Such a controversial move raises questions not only about the president’s political judgment and motivations but his accountability as commander in chief, as it would create a political firestorm for both Democrats and Republicans alike and reveal a willingness of the Obama administration to take its eye off of the numerous and far more urgent crises overseas. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

How to Define What's Going on in Ukraine

August 31st 2014

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Aleksandr Chernov, a doctor and journalist from eastern Ukraine, spent 10 days as a captive of pro-Russian separatists based in Slovyansk.

During that time he was blindfolded, brutally beaten, and interrogated by separatist leader Igor Strelkov. He watched a hardened militant break down in tears after accidentally shooting a stray dog. And he heard countless examples of how the months of violence in Donbas had taken a deadly personal toll.

"Some people's houses had been bombed, or their children's schools. Some of their wives had been seriously injured. So they picked up their weapons and went out to fight," Chernov says. "This is a war, after all." Read more ..

The Caliphate

U.S. Airstrikes Hit Islamic State Combatants Near Iraq's Mosul Dam

August 31st 2014

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The U.S. military says fighter aircraft and unmanned drones have struck Islamic State militants near Iraq's Mosul Dam.

In a statement issued on August 30, U.S. Central Command says the five latest U.S. air strikes were in support of operations conducted by Iraqi security forces. Officials say the air strikes destroyed an armed vehicle, a fighting position, and weapons and heavily damaged an Islamic State building. Central Command says it has conducted a total of 115 air strikes across Iraq.

Elsewhere, Iraqi army and Kurdish forces closed in on Islamic State fighters on August in a push to break the Sunni militants' siege of the northern Shi'ite town of Amerli. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

New Technology May End Medication Errors

August 31st 2014

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MIT alumni entrepreneurs Gauti Reynisson MBA ’10 and Ívar Helgason HS ’08 spent the early 2000s working for companies that implemented medication-safety technologies — such as electronic-prescription and pill-barcoding systems — at hospitals in their native Iceland and other European countries.

But all that time spent in hospitals soon opened their eyes to a major health care issue: Surprisingly often, patients receive the wrong medications. Indeed, a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine found that 1.5 million hospitalized patients in the United States experience medication errors every year due, in part, to drug-administration mistakes. Some cases have adverse or fatal results.

Frustrated and seeking a solution, the Icelandic duo quit their careers and traveled to MIT for inspiration. There, they teamed up with María Rúnarsdóttir MBA ’08 and devised MedEye, a bedside medication-scanning system that uses computer vision to identify pills and check them against medication records, to ensure that a patient gets the right drug and dosage. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Doing the Right Thing in Ferguson MO

August 30th 2014

Michael Brown RIP

The recent violence in Ferguson, Missouri triggered various associations, some historical, others social, for me. The name of the city and state held significant historical meaning regarding racism in America. First, the state.

In 1807, a Missouri statute held that a person kept in wrongful servitude could sue for their freedom. These freedom-suits became state law in 1824. That year, the Missouri Supreme Court created the legal precedent of, "once free-always free." Thus, if a slave had been taken from a slave state through a free state or territory, upon return to the slave state, they could use this legal strategy to attain their freedom.

Within a few years, this attitude toward attaining freedom hardened. The Dred Scott case decided in 1857, easily could have been judged by this doctrine. Scott, a slave purchased in Missouri, was taken by an Army doctor to a free territory and state and then returned to Missouri as a slave. He initiated a suit for his family's freedom. His case ultimately ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the guidance of Chief Justice Roger Taney, the Court raised and answered a number of fundamental questions. The first was whether any person of color, free or slave was a citizen. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Chechens Play Both Sides of the Street in Ukrainian Turmoil

August 30th 2014

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Eighteen years after the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord that ended the 1994-96 Chechen war, a veteran Chechen field commander has issued a timely reminder that there are still three sides to the ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the Chechen people.

In a statement dated August 28, Isa Munayev appeals to the United States and "the countries of the democratic world" to provide "comprehensive military assistance" to the Ukrainian people, whom Munayev describes as victims of Russian imperial aggression, just as the Chechens were 20 years ago.

Munayev identified himself in that statement as commander of the Dzhokhar Dudayev international volunteer peacekeeping battalion and a brigadier general of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) of which Dudayev was the first president. He spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Marsho a week ago, shortly before he travelled to Ukraine to show "international support for the Ukrainian people." The strength of his battalion, and who is bankrolling it, is not known. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Ukraine Approves of New EU Sanctions on Russia

August 30th 2014

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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says the EU summit in Brussels has agreed to prepare new sanctions on Russia, conditional on progress of his peace plan.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels as EU leaders meet on August 30, he also said he thinks the crisis over Russia's intervention in Ukraine is "very close to the point of no return, [of) full-scale war."

He said he hoped the contact group meeting on September 1 with Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE in Minsk could result in a cease-fire.

Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier on August 30 in a telephone talk with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that it was important to organize consultations of the contact group in Minsk with the participation of representatives of Kyiv, of Ukraine's southeastern regions, the OSCE, and Russia. Read more ..

Book Review

Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

August 30th 2014

Careless People

Careless People. Sarah Churchwell. Penguin Press. 2014. 432 pp.

Sarah Churchwell is Professor of Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia, which I assume means that part of her academic mission is to write for that endangered species, the “general reader.”  If so, her new book—a highly readable study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that combines biography, literary analysis, and what might be called “contextualization"-- fulfills that mission admirably.  It will also appeal, in particular, to historians.  By placing the author and his “invention” in their time and place, she demonstrates the importance of historical context—and also the interpretive limits of that context when trying to explain artistic creativity.

After publishing, in short order, two novels--This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922)—and two collections of short stories, Fitzgerald had already become the public personification of “The Jazz Age,” a promotional coup that he and his wife, Zelda, did nothing to discourage.  Indeed, as Churchwell’s close examination of the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks shows, they watched the press as closely as it watched them.

In the fall of 1922, while Scott waited for the ideas and inspiration for his next project—the one that would eventually become Gatsby—the Fitzgeralds rented an impressive home in Great Neck, Long Island, where they could “party” (a word that, appropriately for the “Roaring Twenties,” was about to become a verb).   Churchwell begins her own project here:  “Using newspaper reports, biography, correspondence, the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks, and other archival material, I piece together a collage of the Fitzgeralds’ world….a kind of two-part invention in which fact and fiction are in contrapuntal relation.”  She is appropriately restrained about what she might achieve:  “Instead of trying to be definitive, what follows mixes explication with intimation, trying to suggest how inspiration might have worked.” Read more ..

What is the Islamic State?

Five Myths about the Islamic State

August 30th 2014

Iraq ISIL double file of militants

As the United States widens its battle in Iraq against the Islamic State and contemplates strikes against it in Syria, the policy debate at home surrounding the intervention is heating up. Here are five myths circulating in the media that are clouding the discussion.

1. The Islamic State was never al Qaeda.
Recently, Andrew Sullivan has been flogging the idea that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or now just “The Islamic State”) was never subordinate to al Qaeda based on the short essay, “A Closer Look at ISIS in Iraq,” by Evan Perkoski and Alec Worsnop. The authors claim ISIS pledged its loyalty to al Qaeda but retained its autonomy “at all times.” It was never “directly a part of AQ” (al Qaeda). Aside from the obvious contradiction between pledging one’s loyalty and doing whatever one wants, there are two problems with the authors’ claim. First, ISIS itself asserts it never pledged loyalty to al Qaeda. Second, al Qaeda disputes ISIS’s claim, contending ISIS had privately pledged its allegiance. It is a complicated issue that will eventually be settled when captured al Qaeda documents or U.S. intelligence on the group come to light. In the meantime, Aaron Zelin, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has compiled what we know about the issue from publicly-available sources. And chew on this: why would Zawahiri issue a direct order to the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Baghdadi so loudly refuse to follow it if there was never any organizational tie between the groups? Read more ..

The Iranian Threat

Iran's Strategic Role in the Global Jihadist Movement

August 30th 2014

Iranian navy ship and guard

When the last of the Soviet military departed Afghanistan in 1988-1989,in1988-1989, thousands of well-trained "Afghan-Arab"in1988-1989, thousands of well-trained "Afghan-Arab" mujahideen already indoctrinated in Salafist concepts began to return home.  Soon, from Algiers to Jakarta and from Cairo to Khartoum there emerged the backroom and storefront preachers of an Islamist future. In general, they were recognized for their opposition to governments that either did not implement or directly opposed the institution of Islamic law, the Sharia. 

Because they tended to congregate in mosques whose leadership held analogous convictions, the returnees were soon watched closely by intelligence services. The more Islamist they appeared in dress, personal appearance and discourse, the more dangerous they were considered. Obviously unwelcome at home, the pariahs lacked a dependable venue where the Islamist cause could thrive. Read more ..

The Race for Natural Gas

To Recycle Fracking Water

August 30th 2014

Water Supply

Scientists have performed a detailed analysis of water produced by hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) of three gas reservoirs and suggested environmentally friendly remedies are needed to treat and reuse it.

Rice University researchers performed a detailed analysis of “produced” water from three underground shale gas formations subject to hydraulic fracturing.

More advanced recycling rather than disposal of “produced” water pumped back out of wells could calm fears of accidental spillage and save millions of gallons of fresh water a year, said Rice chemist Andrew Barron. He led the study that appeared this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts. The amount of water used by Texas drillers for fracking may only be 1.5 percent of that used by farming and municipalities, but it still amounts to as much as 5.6 million gallons a year for the Texas portion of the Haynesville formation and 2.8 million gallons for Eagle Ford. That, Barron said, can place a considerable burden on nearby communities. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Strange Neutrinos from the Sun Detected for the First Time

August 30th 2014


Deep inside the sun pairs of protons fuse to form heavier atoms, releasing mysterious particles called neutrinos in the process. These reactions are thought to be the first step in the chain responsible for 99 percent of the energy the sun radiates, but scientists have never found proof until now. For the first time, physicists have captured the elusive neutrinos produced by the sun’s basic proton fusion reactions.
Earth should be teeming with such neutrinos—calculations suggest about 420 billion of them stream from the sun onto every square inch of our planet’s surface each second—yet they are incredibly hard to find. Neutrinos almost never interact with regular particles and usually fly straight through the empty spaces between the atoms in our bodies and all other normal matter. Read more ..

The Ebola Outbreak

Patient Zero Believed to Be Sole Source of Ebola Outbreak

August 30th 2014

West Africa Domestic Violence

One glaring fact from the latest report on the Ebola outbreak is that five of the many study authors are dead, killed by the disease that is roiling west Africa. The new analysis, published in the August 29 issue of Science, reveals that the current Ebola outbreak stemmed from an earlier initial leap from the wild into humans, rather than the virus repeatedly jumping from a natural reservoir—perhaps infected animals—to humans. By essentially sketching out a high-tech molecular family tree, researchers concluded that the virus spreading in Sierra Leone and nearby countries is the descendent of an original Ebola viral jump, and not new versions of the pathogen that are being repeatedly introduced into the human population. That means the public health response to this outbreak—which focuses on tracking and treating those who have been exposed to people with Ebola, rather than attempting to keep people away from potential animal carriers—has been the right strategy.
That conclusion comes from a sweeping analysis of 99 Ebola virus genome sequences that comprise some 70 percent of the Ebola patients diagnosed in Sierra Leone in late May to mid-June. The virus samples were extracted from the blood of 78 patients early in Sierra Leone’s outbreak. And the work indicates that the first case of the disease in that country stemmed from the burial of a traditional healer who had previously treated Ebola patients in Guinea. Subsequently, 13 additional women who attended the burial developed Ebola viral disease. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

EU Offers Strong Words for Putin over Ukraine Imbroglio

August 30th 2014

Russian T 72 tank in Ukraine

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU is ready to take "very strong and clear measures" against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Barroso told a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Brussels on August 30 that he would propose a broad range of options to member states. "What I can tell you now on behalf of the European Commission is that we have already prepared some options, so we have done our work in case the member states decide to go for further levels of sanctions," he said. Barroso added that the EU was "keeping our doors open to a political solution" and that any tightening of sanctions was intended not to escalate the crisis but to push Moscow to negotiate.

"Sanctions or restrictive measures are just ways, means, or instruments to show to the Russian leadership that the current situation is not acceptable and that we urge them to come to reason, to work constructively," he said. Read more ..

The Caliphate

United Kingdom on Alert for Terrorist Britons

August 30th 2014

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Britain has raised its terrorism alert level in response to the rise of Islamic extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, and the belief that British citizens fighting with such groups could bring terror home. The new British terror threat level is called “severe,” which means an attack is “highly likely,” but there is no information about a specific terrorist plan.

This is the first time in three years that the level has been so high, just one notch below the top of the scale ['critical']. Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision was made by an independent government commission because the rise of the group in Iraq and Syria once called ISIL or ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, poses a threat to Britain. “What we’re facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before," said Cameron. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran Bolsters Surveillance of Telephones and Internet

August 30th 2014

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One year after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani assumed the office of President, the regime in Tehran is apparently stepping up surveillance of its citizens’ online and telephone activities, threatening some with punishment for “seditious” activities.

Recently, a viewer of VOA’s Persian service living in Shiraz sent several images of SMS text messages that were sent to his phone after he had called in to VOA’s interactive Straight Talk TV program.

“You have been influenced by foreign media’s anti-security propaganda,” reads one text message. “If you contact the media outlets outside Iran you will be subject to punishment by Islamic Laws.”

One message dates back to 2013, while the dates of others have been obscured. There is also incomplete information as to where the text was sent from. Read more ..

Holland on Edge

Does Fear of Nursing Homes Drive the Dutch to Euthanasia?

August 30th 2014


A Dutch euthanasia clinic is being investigated for helping an elderly woman to die because she did not want to live in a nursing home. This is the second time in four months that the Levenseindekliniek (End of Life Clinic) in The Hague has been reprimanded.

Even in the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, the clinic is controversial. It was set up to cater for patients whose own doctors refused to perform euthanasia and is financed by private health insurance. In the two years after it opened in March 2013, 322 people were killed there.

The official euthanasia monitoring committee says that the clinic had not observed the formal guidelines for euthanasia. In the latest case, a woman in her 80s had been partially paralysed after a stroke. Twenty years ago she declared that she did not want to live in a nursing home, a position she reaffirmed 18 months ago.

However, in order to qualify for euthanasia in the Netherlands, a patient must be ‘suffering unbearably’. The clinic’s doctors decided that this was the case, based on some of her gestures and her repeated use of the words ‘kan niet’ (a common Dutch expression meaning more or less ‘no way’) which they interpreted as ‘I can’t go on any longer like this’. Read more ..

The Caliphate

The Islamic State's Terror Laptop of Doom

August 30th 2014


Abu Ali, a commander of a moderate Syrian rebel group in northern Syria, proudly shows a black laptop partly covered in dust. "We took it this year from an ISIS hideout," he says.

Abu Ali says the fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which have since rebranded themselves as the Islamic State, all fled before he and his men attacked the building. The attack occurred in January in a village in the Syrian province of Idlib, close to the border with Turkey, as part of a larger anti-ISIS offensive occurring at the time. "We found the laptop and the power cord in a room," he continued, "I took it with me. But I have no clue if it still works or if it contains anything interesting."

As we switched on the Dell laptop, it indeed still worked. Nor was it password-protected. But then came a huge disappointment: After we clicked on "My Computer," all the drives appeared empty. Read more ..

The Edge of Weather

NASA's TRMM Analyzes Hurricane Cristobal

August 29th 2014

Hurricane Irene 28 Aug 0900

NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM Satellite provided a look under the hood of Hurricane Cristobal as it continues moving north and paralleling the U.S. East Coast. NASA's HS3 hurricane mission also investigated the storm. Cristobal is now close enough to the coast to trigger high surf advisories.

On August 28, the National Weather Service issued an advisory for high surf of 6 to 12 feet and rip currents on the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

Cristobal, still a minimal Category 1 hurricane on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale, has been slowly making its way northward up from the southeastern Bahamas on a track generally parallel to the eastern seaboard. The storm now appears poised to recurve away from the U.S. East Coast and head for the central Atlantic as it begins to feel the effects of an approaching shortwave trough (elongated area of low pressure) embedded in the westerlies (winds) that are moving eastward out of the Great Lakes Region.  Read more ..

The Way We Are

Cellphone Addiction Is An Increasingly Realistic Possibility

August 29th 2014

Walking-Cell phone

Women college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cellphones and men college students spend nearly eight, with excessive use posing potential risks for academic performance, according to a Baylor University study on cellphone activity published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

“That’s astounding,” said researcher James Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. “As cellphone functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”

The study notes that approximately 60 percent of college students admit they may be addicted to their cell phone, and some indicated they get agitated when it is not in sight, said Roberts, lead author of the article “The Invisible Addiction: Cellphone Activities and Addiction among Male and Female College Students.”  Read more ..

Broken Borders

White House Refuses to Set Deadline for Immigration Action

August 29th 2014

Immigration Protest

The White House refused Friday to commit to executive actions on immigration by the end of summer, stirring speculation that President Obama might be planning to delay some of the more controversial steps until after the November elections.

"I just don’t have any additional information to share with you about what that time frame is," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Earlier this year, Obama told reporters he expected recommendations "before the end of summer" and, after receiving them, planned to adopt them "without further delay." But asked Thursday whether the timeline for executive actions could be pushed back, the president pointedly did not repeat that pledge. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Fracking the Antifracking Movement (Part 2)

August 29th 2014

Fracking gas well

While science was moving slowly, the Park Foundation moved quickly. By simultaneously funding an interlocking triangle of sympathetic scientists, anti-fracking nonprofits and media outlets, Park helped move along the idea that natural gas is environmentally unfriendly from the activist fringe to the mainstream. The foundation has continued to provide numerous grants (in the range of $50,000-$60,000) directly to Howarth and his research colleagues. And the Howarth argument–fracking releases methane gasses at a rate that makes shale gas extraction more dangerous than coal–despite its dismissal by scientists of various ideological stripes, has taken on immortal life among many progressive organizations that are supported by Park.

The foundation’s mostly unknown ties to scientists, journalists and activist groups were on display last September in the brouhaha over a methane gas and fracking study that contradicted Howarth’s claims. Researchers at the University of Texas-Austin released a study done in cooperation with the Environmental Defense Fund that found that the national rate of leakage of methane during natural gas production was equivalent to four tenths of one percent of total U.S. extraction, vastly lower than Howarth’s claims. This was the most comprehensive shale-gas emissions study ever undertaken, covering 190 well pads around the country. Read more ..

Election 2016

Romney? Again? Please Stop

August 29th 2014


This week, Mitt Romney said there was a "one of a million" chance he'd run again for president in 2016. Political journalism being what it is, his comments were taken to mean that he was "opening the door" to another campaign.

Never mind that Romney was quoting a part of the movie "Dumb and Dumber" that is specifically about why treating a one in a million chance as real is, well, dumb.

People around Romney, on the other hand, are actually very serious about 2016. They've been pushing the idea of another run for months. They have various motives. Some of them want to avenge the wrong allegedly done Romney in 2012; some of them want more fees. Plenty of other Republicans are nervous because they're used to having clear frontrunners, and don't see any in the current field. Read more ..

Broken Government

Good Politics Trumps Good Governance, Again

August 29th 2014

Capitol Senate

The current so-called “do-nothing Congress” has an impressive resume of legislation left on the table: corporate tax reform, the budget, and the border crisis.  Yet it was able to pass a trillion dollar 2014 farm bill. Why did the farm bill pass when so many other pieces of legislation didn’t?

It would be nice if Congress’s passage of the 2014 farm bill—and its creation of two new subsidy programs—indicated the arrival at a cost-effective solution to a problem that required federal involvement.  Unfortunately, it seems that good politics trumped good governance—and there’s an explanation as to why.

About 30 years ago Nobel Prize recipient Gary Becker developed a theory explaining the two attributes political programs that gain enough political support to pass will have. First, they will do less damage to the economy than alternatives because economic damage gives political ammunition to opponents. Second, they can be disguised as good governance rather than good politics to deflect criticisms of their true purpose. Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

In Russia, Ukraine Conflict Hits Home With Secret Funerals, Missing Men

August 29th 2014

Russian Cross

In early spring, Vladimir Putin deployed soldiers without insignia into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea to ensure a quick annexation of the territory.

After a month of denying their very existence, the Russian president nonchalantly acknowledged that the thousands of well-armed fighters, who had previously been cheekily referred to as "little green men," were in fact Russian troops.

Decried in the West, Russians gave the move near unanimous support. A territory was won through military might -- and an overwhelming referendum vote that has not been recognized in the West -- but without a fight.

But now, as Moscow reinvigorates a flailing pro-Russian separatist insurgency with a barely concealed incursion into southeastern Ukraine, indications are that Russian military men are dying. And as captured Russian paratroopers are paraded on Ukrainian television and servicemen are buried in secrecy, some Russians are asking a seemingly simple question: "Are we at war?"

The answer to the question, originally posed in an editorial in the "Vedomosti" business daily, is one that is becoming increasingly obvious for military families. It is the details that they say are not forthcoming. In Kostroma, 1,300 kilometers from Russia's border with eastern Ukraine, family members of a group of 10 Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine say all their information has come from secondhand, online sources.

One mother, Olga Pochtoyeva, says when she originally approached officials with photos on her son's Vkontakte page that appeared to show he had been taken prisoner in Ukraine, her claims were dismissed as "provocations." "We showed them [these pictures] and they didn't believe it," she says. "It's Photoshop, they told us. I'm sorry, I'd never mistake my son's eyebrows for photoshop." Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

NATO Chief Demands Cessation of Russian Activity in Ukraine

August 29th 2014

Russian tank in Ukraine

NATO has called on Russia to cease its "illegal military operations" in eastern Ukraine, which it says are aimed at destabilizing the country.

The comments by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday followed an emergency meeting in Brussels to discuss the worsening crisis.

Rasmussen, referencing satellite images released by his organization Thursday, said it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border into eastern Ukraine. He said this is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern over many months to destabilize Ukraine as a sovereign nation. Read more ..

Lybia on Edge

Is Libya Plunging Into Civil War?

August 29th 2014

Libyan rebels

Inter-militia fighting is wreaking havoc in Libya, which is witnessing the worst violence since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Fierce fighting is raging between powerful Islamist and nationalist militias in the capital, Tripoli, and in the eastern city of Benghazi. Without a functioning national army, the government has been unable to rein in the militias and contain the surging violence.

With a parallel political struggle for power between Libya's former and newly elected parliament, many fear the country could slide into all-out civil war.

The Main Players
In Tripoli, the two main players in the violence are Islamist-affiliated forces from Misurata and the Zintan militia brigades. The two groups, both from western Libya, have turned Tripoli into a battlefield, forcing the United Nations and embassies to evacuate their staff. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Al Qaeda Magazine Hints Of Looming Attack; Urges Bombing Of Vegas, Military Targets

August 29th 2014


A new English-language Al Qaeda magazine features a how-to article on making car bombs and suggests terror targets in the United States, including casinos in Las Vegas, oil tankers and military colleges, and implies that an attack is imminent.

The online publication, called “Palestine-Betrayal of the Guilty Conscience Al-Malahem” and put out by the media arm of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, calls for Muslims around the world to follow “the recipe” provided to set off car bombs in crowded venues. It includes a timeline of "selected jihadi operations" that the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which first flagged the slickly-produced latest edition of the terror publication, finds chilling. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Paycheck for Terrorism: $5,300 for Suicide Attack

August 29th 2014

Money Bands=Happiness

For the first time, startling details are being made public about the millions of dollars funneled from Middle East charities to Islamic terrorists and their families. The money was used to reward terrorists and their families after attacks on Israelis and U.S. nationals visiting Israel between 2000 and 2005 during the second intifada or Palestinian uprising.

The evidence was presented today in a landmark case in New York federal court. Three hundred U.S. nationals claim Arab Bank knowingly provided financial services to terrorists and their financiers in violation of the U.S. anti-terrorism law. Arab Bank contends it did not knowingly serve terrorists.

Bank documents reveal an elaborate system for which Amman, Jordan-based Arab Bank served as the center point. Some Israelis refer to the bank as the “Grand Central Station of terrorist financing.” Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Yiddish Tango Reflects Jewish Life in Argentina

August 28th 2014


For most people, tango evokes a passionate dance form. For Argentine-born Gustavo Bulgach, tango is music with an attitude. 

“Tango means the blues. Tango is not just tango - it means - it’s an attitude that you want to express," he said. "In every language, in Yiddish, in Spanish - in whatever language - Tango represents that kind of attitude of losing or having your heart broken by life.”

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. 

Fusion of melodies, culture
The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Bulgach is the band leader of the Yiddish Tango Club, a group that fuses a form of Jewish dance music known as "klezmer" with Argentine tango. 

“Tango is not only Argentinian. It’s a loop from Europe also. It’s like something dramatic, and it’s the count…maybe one, two, three,” says vocalist Divina Gloria. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

August 28th 2014


A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility.

Ewing’s sarcoma is a bone cancer that usually attacks children and young adults, causing severe pain.  It can lead to deformity and even death. Twelve-year-old Qin’s second vertebra was so damaged by the cancer that doctors had to remove it.

But instead of replacing it with a simple titanium tube, surgeons made a computer-aided scan of the area and used special software to print a perfect replica on a 3-D printer. Instead of plastic, this printer uses biocompatible titanium powder, which does not trigger rejection. The director of orthopedics at Beijing University, who led the surgical team, Dr. Liu Zhongjun, said 3-D printing has a huge advantage for artificial implants. Read more ..

The Caliphate

Terrorism as Theater

August 28th 2014


The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent. Read more ..

The Race for Bicycles

The Smart Bicycle is Coming

August 28th 2014

crash test dummy

Emergency call, stolen vehicle localisation, predictive maintenance - these electronic bells and whistles known from the automotive industry could soon conquer the bicycle market. At the Eurobike trade fair in Friedrichshafen (Germany), bike manufacturer Canyon and Deutsche Telekom introduced a high-tech bike equipped with the abovementioned features.

The two-wheeler is equipped with a GPS-based e-call system that detects a crash, and in the case the rider is unable to act, it automatically transmits the request for medical assistance and the location of the bicycle to a service station. During normal operation, the electronics unit communicates with the driver through a smartphone app which processes and displays data as to performance and status of wear parts. The centrepiece of the solution is a communication unit (on-board unit) that fits into the hollow space within the vehicle's frame. The unit contains a SIM card that identifies it for mobile communications, a microcontroller, a motion sensor and a GPS module. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Connected Cars

August 28th 2014

Traffic Jam

The 'Connected Car' is one of the most hyped terms in the automotive industry. But is it real in terms of value creation and market impact? A study from consulting companies strategy& and PwC says yes - but is yet completely unclear who will be the winners.

Between 2015 and 2020, the total available market of networked mobility will almost quadruple - from 31.9 billion to 115 billion, says a market report jointly generated from PwC and strategy& (this is no typo - the consulting company formerly known as Booz & Company really chose this somewhat unusual name). The main drivers in this huge market are safety and autonomous driving.

While the segment safety in 2015 will amount to a mere 12.2 billion, products related to safety in the connected car context will be worth 47.4 billion. Likewise, autonomous driving - or better, its preparing efforts and technologies - will represent a value of 7.5 billion in 2015 with growth expectations to 35.7 billion by 2020. Other strong contributing sectors are infotainment (13.2 billion), comfort (7.1 billion and vehicle management (6.7 billion). And these are only the figures for the passenger car market; commercial vehicles were not subject of the study. This market analysis got granular on mobility management, vehicle management, infotainment, well-being, autonomous driving, safety as well as home integration, a field that is relatively new and refers to functions that connect the vehicle with the home and the office, thus creating holistic solutions. Read more ..

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