Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Europe's Ground Zero: Fairy Tales and Fabrications in Eastern Ukraine
Alexander Hug isn't really supposed to be here. He hasn't seen his wife and three children, aged four, three and nine months, for weeks and his family came to Kiev for a short visit. Instead of Kiev, though, Hug now finds himself on a road some 650 kilometers (400 miles) away from the capital -- in eastern Ukraine, among fields of wheat and sunflowers. The next village, about a kilometer away, is called Grabovo.
"I experienced the Balkan wars and the Middle East, but what happened here was very extreme," the 42-year-old says, with typical Swiss understatement. But then he loses his composure after all. "This is an unbelievable tragedy of immense scope," he says. "An airplane crashes over a war zone, totally innocent vacationers fall from the sky, and then access to the disaster site is hindered."
Hug is the deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine. He has been monitoring activities at Europe's easternmost edge for months now -- in the "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk that have been proclaimed by pro-Russian separatists. The expectation of the OSCE's 57 member states is that Hug will provide an objective look at what is happening in the region.
Grabovo is Europe's Ground Zero -- a crime that must be resolved, because the findings are likely to determine how Europe deals with a Russian that is supporting self-proclaimed separatists in eastern Ukraine, both paying and equipping them. Europe has already indicated that it is losing patience with Moscow, and on Tuesday imposed the toughest round of sanctions yet.
Turkey Says[sic] In Talks With Israel, Egypt For Gaza Aid
Turkey is in talks with Israel and Egypt about establishing an air corridor to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza and evacuate potentially thousands of injured Palestinians for treatment in Turkey, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Aug. 6.
"Yesterday I spoke with (Palestinian) President Abbas and we want to get the injured people, thousands of them. They need urgent medical therapy, and we have already allocated places in our hospitals for them," Davutoğlu told Reuters in an interview.
"We are talking with both Egypt and Israel to have an air bridge to send humanitarian assistance ... If permission is given, our air ambulances will be carrying these passengers," he said.
Davutoğlu also said Turkey has stepped up humanitarian assistance to an estimated 1.5 million people internally displaced by violence in northern Iraq's Kurdish region. "We have sent thousands of tents as well as more than 200 trucks ... and there will be additional humanitarian assistance because in the Kurdish region, (Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud) Barzani told me they now have 1.5 million IDPs," he said.
Iraqi Yazidis: 'If We Move They Will Kill Us'
Khalaf Qassim looks visibly distressed, sitting in the courtyard of the home of the spiritual leader of one of Iraq's most ancient religions, in this usually quiet town about 50km north of Mosul.
Qassim is one of tens of thousands of people who have fled the predominantly Yazidi area of Sinjar, in Iraq's western Nineveh province, after Islamic State fighters overtook the area on Sunday.
"Where are you going to go? I swear [to] God I will cut you into pieces… We are coming for you, you pig, you enemy of God," read a text message that Qassim showed Al Jazeera on his cell phone. He said the message came from a member of the Islamic State group on Friday. "Didn't I tell you yesterday to come and repent," it continued.
Yazidis follow a religion that predates Islam and Christianity and originated in Mesopotamia, which encompassed modern-day Iraq and parts of neighbouring states. Yazidism, or Ezdayeti, as followers of the religion call it, shares elements with Abrahamic religions, but retains many individual practices and beliefs.
Yazidi sources told Al Jazeera that Islamic State fighters have asked the remaining Yazidis under their control to convert to Islam or face death. Islamic State-affiliated social media accounts , meanwhile, have posted images of summary executions of individuals in Sinjar and surrounding areas.
Hiroshima Marks 69th Anniversary Of Atomic Bombing
Hiroshima marked the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing Wednesday, as survivors of the attack and others gathered at the city’s Peace Memorial Park early in the morning to pay their respects and to attend an annual ceremony commemorating the event.
At the ceremony, held just a few hundred meters from the hypocenter of the bombing, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui called on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to work to bridge the gap between nuclear weapons states and the rest of the world in the quest for global nuclear disarmament.
While refraining from directly mentioning his stance on collective self-defense, an issue that sharply divides peace advocates, Matsui said that, “precisely because our security situation is increasingly severe, our government should accept the full weight of the fact that we have avoided war for 69 years thanks to the noble pacifism of the Japanese Constitution.”
The anniversary comes ahead of next year’s review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the international nuclear disarmament regime.
Attendees at the ceremony this year included Abe, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, and representatives from 67 other countries, including nuclear powers Britain, France and Russia, according to city officials.
Delays Persist For U.S. High-Speed Rail
On a 30-mile stretch of railroad between Westerly and Cranston, R.I., Amtrak’s 150-mile-per-hour Acela hits its top speed — for five or 10 minutes. On the crowded New York to Washington corridor, the Acela averages only 80 m.p.h., and plans to bring it up to Japanese bullet-train speeds will take $150 billion and 26 years, if it ever happens.
The Obama administration has spent nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, but the projects have gone mostly nowhere and the United States still lags far behind Europe and China, where some trains can top 220 m.p.h. Although Republican opposition and community protests have slowed the projects here, transportation policy experts and members of both parties also blame missteps by the Obama administration — which in July asked Congress for nearly $10 billion more for high-speed rail — for the failures.
Instead of putting the $11 billion directly into high-speed rail projects, they say, the administration made the mistake of parceling out the money to upgrade existing Amtrak service, which will allow trains to go no faster than 110 m.p.h. None of the money originally went to service in the Northeast corridor, the most likely place for high-speed rail. Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, all led by Republican governors, in the meantime canceled high-speed rail projects and returned federal funds after deeming the projects too expensive and unnecessary.
The Acela, introduced by Amtrak in 2000, was America’s first successful high-speed train, and most days its cars are full. The train has reduced the time it takes to travel between Washington, New York and Boston, but aging tracks and bridges — including Baltimore’s 100-year-old tunnel where trains come to a crawl — have slowed it down. Right now it takes two hours and 45 minutes to travel from New York to Washington on the Acela. If the Acela were a bullet train traveling on new tracks, it would take 90 minutes.
Another problem is that Amtrak’s funding is tied to annual appropriations from Congress, leaving it without a long-term source of money. “I do what I can do,” said Joseph Boardman, Amtrak’s president. “But I don’t sit back and wait for $15 billion to rebuild the Northeast Corridor.” For now, Amtrak is rebuilding a stretch of track in central New Jersey that will permit 160-mile-an-hour travel for 23 miles.
I’m The Head Nurse At Emory.
This Is Why We Wanted To Bring The Ebola Patients To The U.S.
A second American infected with the potentially deadly Ebola virus arrived at Emory University Hospital on Tuesday from Africa, following the first patient last weekend. Both were greeted by a team of highly trained physicians and nurses, a specialized isolation unit, extensive media coverage, and a storm of public reaction. People responded viscerally on social media, fearing that we risked spreading Ebola to the United States.
Those fears are unfounded and reflect a lack of knowledge about Ebola and our ability to safely manage and contain it. Emory University Hospital has a unit created specifically for these types of highly infectious patients, and our staff is thoroughly trained in infection control procedures and protocols. But beyond that, the public alarm overlooks the foundational mission of the U.S. medical system. The purpose of any hospital is to care for the ill and advance knowledge about human health. At Emory, our education, research, dedication and focus on quality — essentially everything we do — is in preparation to handle these types of cases.
As health-care professionals, this is what we have trained for. People often ask why we would choose to care for such high-risk patients. For many of us, that is why we chose this occupation — to care for people in need. Every person involved in the treatment of these two patients volunteered for the assignment. At least two nurses canceled vacations to be a part of this team. They derive satisfaction from knowing that, after years of preparing for this type of case, they are able to help, to comfort and to do it safely. The gratitude they receive from the patients’ families drives their efforts.
As human beings, we all hope that if we were in need of superior health care, our country and its top doctors would help us get better. We can either let our actions be guided by misunderstandings, fear and self-interest, or we can lead by knowledge, science and compassion. We can fear, or we can care.
Bold Obama Stand Shakes Up Net Neutrality Debate
President Barack Obama edged up to questioning the Federal Communications Commission's newly proposed net neutrality rules, a heavily criticized plan that would favor Internet content providers that can afford to pay more for faster delivery of their services.
Obama campaigned heavily on net neutrality during his 2008 election, but has been largely silent on the issue since the FCC voted to kill it with new Internet service rules that would create "fast lanes" for content providers that can afford to pay for them; those that can't will be hit with slower traffic.
"One of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That’s the big controversy here," he said. "You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you. And I personally -- the position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users."
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that he, too, opposes paid prioritization -- but critics argue that his proposal will create just that. The FCC is an independent entity within the executive branch and is free to ignore the weight of the president's opinion. Google and Facebook have both come out against allowing providers to charge for priority services, a policy that would cut deeply into their margins.
"There’s another problem, though — there are other countries — and I think this is what you were alluding to — that feel comfortable with the idea of controlling and censoring Internet content in their home countries, and setting up rules and laws about what can or cannot be on the Internet. And I think that that not only is going to inhibit entrepreneurs who are creating value on the Internet; I think it’s also going to inhibit the growth of the country generally, because closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind," said Obama.
Science and Technology
How Spiders Spin Silk:
Mechanism Elegantly Explains How Spider Silk Can Form So Quickly And Smoothly
pider silk is an impressive material; lightweight and stretchy yet stronger than steel. But the challenge that spiders face to produce this substance is even more formidable. Silk proteins, called spidroins, must convert from a soluble form to solid fibers at ambient temperatures, with water as a solvent, and at high speed. How do spiders achieve this astounding feat? In new research publishing in the open access journal PLOS Biology on August 5, Anna Rising and Jan Johansson show how the silk formation process is regulated. The work was done at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Karolinska Institutet in collaboration with colleagues in Latvia, China and USA.
Spidroins are big proteins of up to 3,500 amino acids that contain mostly repetitive sequences, but the most important bits for the conversion of spidroins into silk are the ends. These terminal regions of the proteins are unique to spider silk and are very similar between different spiders. Spidroins have a helical and unordered structure when stored as soluble proteins in silk glands, but when converted to silk their structure changes completely to one that confers a high degree of mechanical stability. These changes are triggered by an acidity (pH) gradient present between one end of the spider silk gland and the other. The gland proceeds from a narrow tail to a sac to a slender duct, and it is known that silk forms at a precise site within the duct. However, further details of spider silk production have been elusive.
By using highly selective microelectrodes to measure the pH within the glands, the authors showed the pH falls from a neutral pH of 7.6 to an acidic pH of 5.7 between the beginning of the tail and half-way down the duct, and that the pH gradient was much steeper than previously thought. The microelectrodes also showed that the concentration of bicarbonate ions and pressure of carbon dioxide simultaneously rise along the gland. Taken together, these patterns suggested that the pH gradient might form through the action of an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase, which converts carbon dioxide and water to bicarbonate and hydrogen ions (and thereby creating an acidic environment). Using a method developed by the authors, they were able to identify active carbonic anhydrase in the narrower part of the gland and confirm that carbonic anhydrase is indeed responsible for generating the pH gradient.
Rosetta Finally Reaches 'Rubber Ducky' Comet
After a 10-year journey, the Rosetta spacecraft finally reached its destination this morning. Launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, the spacecraft has traveled across four billion(!) miles to a comet named “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko." Now both objects are circling the Sun somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, traveling at 34,000 miles per hour.
Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, and if all goes according to plan, later this year the spacecraft will also be the first to land a probe on the comet's surface.
For the next several months, Rosetta will fly around around Comet 67P, mapping its terrain and magnetic field, while trying to find a safe place to drop the 220-pound lander that it’s carrying. The landing may prove to be a tricky one, as Rosetta’s approach revealed the comet’s extremely weird shape; it looks as if two large rocks fused together in the shape of a rubber duck or a boot.
The three-legged lander, named Philae, is scheduled to touch down on the comet’s surface in November. The 2.5-mile-wide comet doesn’t have a strong gravitational field, so Philae will have to harpoon itself to the surface to avoid drifting away and becoming space junk. Once in place, Philae's drill bit will allow it to take samples from eight inches below the surface, and various other instruments will investigate the comet's composition and internal structure. It’ll also be taking photos along the way (which we at Popular Science are particularly looking forward to).
Senior RIKEN Scientist Involved In Stem Cell Scandal Commits Suicide
Yoshiki Sasai, a noted stem cell scientist at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, who co-authored two controversial and later retracted papers that reported a simple way of reprogramming mature cells, was confirmed dead this morning, an apparent suicide. Local media reported he was found hanging from a stairway railing in the RIKEN complex in Kobe. Sasai was rushed to a nearby hospital but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. He reportedly left a suicide note, but it has not been made public.
Sasai, 52, was a corresponding author on one of the papers and a co-author of the other. Together, they reported the discovery of a new phenomenon the researchers called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). The papers, whose lead author was Haruko Obokata, also of RIKEN CDB, appeared online in Nature on 29 January. After months of mounting claims of problems and a finding of research misconduct by Obokata by a RIKEN committee, Nature retracted the studies on 2 July. The retraction notices cite duplicated and mixed-up images, mislabeling, faulty descriptions, and "inexplicable discrepancies in genetic background and transgene insertion sites between the donor mice and the reported" STAP cells.
To date, no other groups have succeeded in reproducing the work. RIKEN has a team attempting to determine what went wrong and conclusively determine if the STAP phenomenon is real. A separate committee has been charged with determining disciplinary measures for Obokata and her RIKEN co-authors and supervisors, including Sasai, although decisions have been put off pending the results of the ongoing investigation.
A prolific developmental biologist, Sasai had risen to be deputy director of the center and was considered a contender to become its director. He was credited with helping recruit Obokata. Adding his name to her papers gave them credibility because of his reputation and standing in the community.
Well, that's different...
Sheriff's deputies in Salina, Kansas, arrested Aaron Jansen, 29, but not before he put on quite a show on July 5. Jansen, speeding in a car spray-painted with derogatory comments about law enforcement, refused to pull over and even survived a series of tire-shredding road spikes as he turned into a soybean field, where he revved the engine and drove in circles for 40 minutes. As deputies set up a perimeter, Jansen futilely tossed items from the car (blankets, CDs, anything available) and then (with the car still moving) climbed out the driver's door and briefly "surfed" on the roof. Finally, as deputies closed in, Jansen shouted a barrage of Bible verses before emerging from the car wearing a cowboy hat, boots and a woman's dress.
Bill Moyers and Company:
John Lithgow, ‘King Lear’ and Our Uncertain World
John Lithgow joins Bill to talk about the challenges and triumphs of playing Shakespeare’s greatest role, and why we are so drawn to the tale of this flawed, contradictory leader at this moment.