Saturday, November 1, 2014


Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure
of Human Rubble
Nonfiction book by Marilyn Johnson
Publication Date: November 11, 2014

HarperCollins Publishers:
The author of The Dead Beat and This Book is Overdue! turns her piercing eye and charming wit to the real-life avatars of Indiana Jones — the archaeologists who sort through the muck and mire of swamps, ancient landfills, volcanic islands, and other dirty places to reclaim history for us all. 
Pompeii, Machu Picchu, the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon — the names of these legendary archaeological sites conjure up romance and mystery. The news is full of archaeology: treasures found (British king under parking lot) and treasures lost (looters, bulldozers, natural disaster, and war). Archaeological research tantalizes us with possibilities (are modern humans really part Neanderthal?). Where are the archaeologists behind these stories? What kind of work do they actually do, and why does it matter? 
Marilyn Johnson's Lives in Ruins is an absorbing and entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past. Johnson digs and drinks alongside archaeologists, chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu, and excavates their lives. Her subjects share stories we rarely read in history books, about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, children of the first century, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, mummies. 
What drives these archaeologists is not the money (meager) or the jobs (scarce) or the working conditions (dangerous), but their passion for the stories that would otherwise be buried and lost.

Friday, October 31, 2014


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
Uzbekistan is allowing foreigners to hunt animals, including rare and endangered species, in exchange for cash.
Tour companies are advertising the opportunity after the government adopted a resolution on October 20 allowing foreigners to hunt in the Central Asian state. 
A list of animals that it is permitted to be hunted, along with prices, was made public on October 27. 
It includes endangered species such as the snow leopard and Bukhara deer, as well as rare antelopes and other animals. 
Foreigners must pay between $1,000 and $20,000 for each animal killed.


Center for Biological Diversity: "For the first time since the 1940s, a gray wolf is roaming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon."

Raven Politics: 'Divide and Rule'

University of Vienna (Austria):
A group of ravens is sometimes called a conspiracy. Mythology and folklore have attributed many supernatural features to these large black birds. During the last decades, studies on the cognitive abilities of ravens have indeed revealed that they are exceptionally intelligent. Ravens live in complex social groups and they can gain power in these groups by building social bonds that function as alliances. Cognitive biologists of the University of Vienna and the Konrad Lorenz Research Station now revealed that ravens use a "divide-and-rule" strategy in dealing with the bonds of conspecifics: Socially well integrated ravens prevent others from building new alliances by breaking up their bonding attempts. The results of this study have been published in the scientific journal Current Biology. 
Thomas Bugnyar and his team have been studying the behavior of approximately 300 wild ravens in the northern Austrian Alps for years. They observed that ravens slowly build alliances through affiliative interactions such as grooming and playing. However, they also observed that these affiliative interactions were regularly interrupted by a third individual. Although in about 50% of the cases these interventions were successful and broke up the two affiliating ravens, intervening can be potentially risky when the two affiliating ravens team up and chase away the intervening individual. 
Interestingly, the researchers found that these interventions did not occur at random. Specifically ravens that already have an alliance tend to interrupt the affiliative interactions of those individuals that are in the process of establishing one. "Because of their already established power, allied ravens can afford such risky strategies," explains lead author Jorg Massen. "They specifically target those ravens that are about to establish a new alliance, and might thereby prevent them from becoming future competitors through a divide-and-rule strategy." 
Massen furthermore underlines that at the time of intervention the birds that are trying to establish an alliance are no threat yet to the already allied ravens. "It thus seems that the ravens keep track of the relationships of others and have a keen understanding of when to intervene in affiliative interactions and when not; i.e. not when these are just loose flirts, but also not when the alliance is already established and it is already too late," says Jorg Massen. This is the first time that such a sophisticated political maneuver has been described in animals other than humans.


Innovating Out of Crisis: How Fujifilm Survived (and Thrived)
as Its Core Business Was Vanishing
Nonfiction book by Shigetaka Komori
Publication Date: April 14, 2015

Perseus Books Group:
In 2000, photographic film products made up 60% of Fujifilm’s sales and up to 70% of its profit. Within ten years, digital cameras had destroyed that business. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Yet Fujifilm has boasted record profits and continues strong. What happened? What did Fujifilm do? What do businesses today need from their leaders? What kinds of employees can help businesses thrive in the future? Here, the CEO who brought Fujifilm back from the brink explains how he engineered transformative organizational innovation and product diversification, with observations on his management philosophy.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

U.S. State Dept.

Travel Warnings:


Voice of America: "Seven Indian sailors kidnapped by Somali pirates more than four years ago have been released."


University of Maryland: "A deadly disease that is wiping out salamanders in parts of Europe will inevitably reach the U.S. through the international wildlife trade unless steps are taken to halt its spread, says University of Maryland amphibian expert Karen Lips."


Oceana released a new study today that reveals misrepresentation of America's favorite seafood — shrimp — across the United States. In the only known study of its kind in the U.S., DNA testing confirmed that 30 percent of the 143 shrimp products tested from 111 grocery stores and restaurants were misrepresented. Oceana also found that consumers are often provided with little information about the shrimp they purchase, including where and how it was caught or farmed, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to make informed choices.  


Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker
Nonfiction book by Thomas Kunkel
Publication Date: April 21, 2015

Random House:
Man in Profile is a hugely entertaining biography of Joseph Mitchell, the beloved and enigmatic New Yorker writer "whose stories about ordinary people created extraordinary journalism" (The New York Times).

Scratching an Itch

Washington University in St. Louis: "Turns out your mom was right: Scratching an itch only makes it worse. New research from scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that scratching causes the brain to release serotonin, which intensifies the itch sensation."


Alexander Kühn and Ann-Kathrin Nezik at Der Spiegel: "Hamburgers may be named after the northern German city, but only recently has it become easier to find a good one in the country. A wave of gourmet burger joints is now sweeping Germany, and fast food restaurants could soon be feeling the pinch."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Xinhua writers Cheng Lu and Shi Linjing: "Monkey trainer Bao Fengshan has not yet recovered from the recent shock of his arrest."

Doing Business

World Bank Group:


Rutgers University: "More than a half century after claims that a new frog species existed in New York and New Jersey were dismissed, a Rutgers researcher and team of scientists have proven that the frog is living in wetlands from Connecticut to North Carolina and are naming it after the ecologist who first noticed it."

(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Feinberg)


Edward Yeranian, Voice of America:
Egypt began razing houses and moving hundreds of families living along the Gaza border Wednesday, as part of sweeping efforts to stop what authorities say are "terrorist operations" originating in the Palestinian territory via tunnels. 
The plan reportedly includes digging a channel filled with sea water to stop further tunneling under the border, according to Arab media. 
The evacuation follows a state of emergency declaration in northern Sinai prompted by an attack that killed more than 30 Egyptian soldiers last Friday. Authorities also announced a dawn-to-dusk curfew in the wake of the attack, the deadliest on Egyptian soldiers in years.


Hilary Heuler, Voice of America:
The emerald green tea fields at the foot of Mt. Kenya, dotted with pluckers picking leaves by hand, may look idyllic, but the orderly rows of cropped bushes present a growing problem for the farmers who planted them. 
Nelson Kibara has been growing tea in the Kerugoya region for 40 years. He said the prices this year have been so low that he has been left with almost no profit at all. To survive, he said, he needs to diversify. 
Kibara, along with hundreds of other farmers, has been ripping out some tea bushes to plant a new variety developed by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. Its purple-brown leaves produce a purple-tinged liquid when brewed. 
Because studies have found the purple tea has greater health benefits than black tea, some say the crop could fetch three or four times the price. 
But Kibara says it has not worked out that way.
Background: Purple Tea


The Politics of Piracy: Crime and Civil Disobedience
in Colonial America
Nonfiction book by Douglas R. Burgess Jr.
Publication Date: December 2, 2014

University Press of New England:
The untold story of how colonial pirates transformed America and brought it to the brink of rebellion. 
The seventeenth-century war on piracy is remembered as a triumph for the English state and her Atlantic colonies. Yet it was piracy and illicit trade that drove a wedge between them, imperiling the American enterprise and bringing the colonies to the verge of rebellion. In The Politics of Piracy, competing criminalities become a lens to examine England's legal relationship with America. 
In contrast to the rough, unlettered stereotypes associated with them, pirates and illicit traders moved easily in colonial society, attaining respectability and even political office. The goods they provided became a cornerstone of colonial trade, transforming port cities from barren outposts into rich and extravagant capitals. This transformation reached the political sphere as well, as colonial governors furnished local mariners with privateering commissions, presided over prize courts that validated stolen wares, and fiercely defended their prerogatives as vice-admirals. By the end of the century, the social and political structures erected in the colonies to protect illicit trade came to represent a new and potent force: nothing less than an independent American legal system. Tensions between Crown and colonies presage, and may predestine, the ultimate dissolution of their relationship in 1776. 
Exhaustively research and rich with anecdotes about the pirates and their pursuers, The Politics of Piracy will be a fascinating read for scholars, enthusiasts, and anyone with an interest in the wild and tumultuous world of the Atlantic buccaneers.


Brown University:
To understand the extent to which human activities are polluting Earth's atmosphere and oceans, it's important to distinguish human-made pollutants from compounds that occur naturally. A recent study co-authored by a Brown University professor does just that for ammonium, a compound that is produced by human activities like agriculture, as well as by natural processes that occur in the ocean. 
The research, based on two years of rainwater samples taken in Bermuda, suggests that ammonium deposited over the open ocean comes almost entirely from natural marine sources, not from anthropogenic sources. 
"That was a bit of a surprise," said Meredith Hastings, the Joukowsky Assistant Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences and one of the study's co-authors. "We have some sense of what the ammonium emissions are in the United States, so we would expect to see that signature in Bermuda, but we don’t see it." 
The findings, published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, don’t necessarily mean that ammonium emissions are lower than was previously thought, Hastings said. It could be that the ammonium is simply deposited closer to the continent before it reaches Bermuda, which is about 600 miles off the coast. Either way, the findings suggest that humans are not adding nearly as much ammonium to the ocean as some researchers had assumed.


Rossiya Segodnya (RIA Novosti):
The Roma people in Spain are outraged by the fact that the Royal Spanish Academy has called them "cheaters" in one of the definitions in the new dictionary, ABC Spain reported Wednesday. 
In one of the definitions the dictionary describes the Roma as "those who use deceit and trickery in order to swindle someone in any question. Those who try to cheat someone using lies and tricks." 
The Feminist Roma Association plans to stage protests on November 7 in front of the Royal Spanish Academy building in Madrid. 
According to the association, the Royal Spanish Academy's director stated that the dictionary does not have to be politically correct.

Maritime Piracy

International Maritime Bureau (IMB):
While pirate attacks on the world's seas have fallen for the third consecutive year, small tanker hijacks by armed gangs are escalating in Southeast Asia, reveals the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in its latest piracy report. 
IMB's 2014 third quarter global piracy report notes a total of 178 incidents so far this year, down from 352 for same period in 2011. In the first nine months of 2014, pirates killed three crew, kidnapped five from their vessels and took 369 seafarers hostage. A total of 17 vessels were hijacked, 124 were boarded and 10 were fired upon. There were 27 further reports of attempted attacks. 
"It's encouraging to see the huge decrease in maritime piracy and armed robbery over the last few years, thanks mainly to international navies deterring pirates off East Africa, and improved onboard security," said IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan. "However, there has been a worrying new rise in attacks against small coastal tankers in Southeast Asia. We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters and report all attacks and suspicious small craft to the IMB's Piracy Reporting Center." 
Oil Thieves 
IMB's Piracy Reporting Center says gangs of thieves armed with knives and guns are making Southeast Asian waters increasingly dangerous for small tankers carrying products such as gasoil or marine diesel oil. Boarding the ship at sea, pirates hold the crew hostage for a short time while they unload all or part of the cargo, which they then use, or sell locally. Of the six vessels hijacked worldwide in the third quarter of 2014, five were in Southeast Asia. 
Indonesia recorded 72 incidents between January and September, including 67 armed robberies and five hijackings. In two separate hijackings off Pulau Bintan in September, 26 crew were taken hostage. Elsewhere in Indonesia 59 vessels were boarded and there were eight attempted attacks. Waters off Pulau Bintan saw more attacks than any other area in the world, with 27 incidents reported. The incidents were low-level thefts or attempted thefts from vessels at anchor or berthed. The report commends the efforts taken by the Indonesian Marine Police in addressing the problem areas. 
Somalia's Forgotten Hostages
With just 10 incidents reported so far in Somalia this year, there is a risk that international attention will turn away from the 40 hostages still being held for ransom by suspected Somali pirates. 
"Some of those crewmembers have been held captive there for more than four years now, with fading hopes of immediate release," said Mr. Mukundan, adding that seafarers should not underestimate the continuing threat of Somali piracy. 
The number of incidents reported in Nigeria has dropped noticeably, down to 13 in the first nine months of 2014, from 29 in the same period last year. Elsewhere in the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana recorded four incidents in 2014 compared with no incidents in 2013. This includes the hijacking of two product tankers — and theft of their cargoes — and a fishing vessel and the taking hostage of 86 crew members.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Galápagos Islands


Michigan State University:
Financial experts do not make higher returns on their own investments than untrained investors, according to research by a Michigan State University business scholar. 
The first-of-its-kind study analyzed the private portfolios of mutual fund managers and found the managers were surprisingly unsuccessful at outperforming nonprofessional investors. The findings suggest average investors might be better served to handle their own portfolios rather than pay the often-high fees charged by mutual fund managers, said Andrei Simonov, associate professor of finance. 
"The point is you have these very educated people who are supposed to know what they are doing, but they are just not that good, on average," said Simonov. 
Simonov and Andriy Bodnaruk of the University of Notre Dame compared the portfolios of 84 mutual fund managers in Sweden against the portfolios of untrained investors who had similar incomes and backgrounds. The findings are applicable to the United States and most other countries in the global marketplace. 
Simonov said the inability of financial experts to make better investment decisions than their untrained peers is likely due to a lack of talent and the fact that succeeding in the mutual fund market is an extremely difficult task. 
"I am not disputing that there is a very small fraction of managers who are extremely talented," Simonov said. "But there are very, very few of these superstars, and the average investor probably can’t afford to invest with them anyway."

Monday, October 27, 2014

U.S. Air Force

The Thunderbirds at a recent air show in the U.S. state of Georgia

(U.S. Air Force photo by Manuel J. Martinez)


On Sunday morning a leopard attacked a four-year-old boy on the outskirts of a village in India's state of Gujarat.

"Hearing the boy's screams, villagers ran to help the child," a traveler reported. "The cat released the boy and escaped into a forest. The child died from his wounds."

Amazon Wars

University of Utah: "When Yanomamö men in the Amazon raided villages and killed decades ago, they formed alliances with men in other villages rather than just with close kin like chimpanzees do. And the spoils of war came from marrying their allies' sisters and daughters, rather than taking their victims' land and women."


Dana Goodyear, The New Yorker:

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Xinhua: "Chinese archaeologists have discovered more than 40 rock paintings in northwestern Gansu Province that may shed light on nomadic lives thousands of years ago."


God's Bankers: A History of Money and Power at the Vatican
Nonfiction book by Gerald Posner
Publication Date: February 3, 2015

Simon & Schuster:
A deeply reported, fast-paced exposé of the money and the cardinals-turned-financiers at the heart of the Vatican — the world's biggest, most powerful religious institution — from an acclaimed journalist with "exhaustive research techniques" (The New York Times). 
From a master chronicler of legal and financial misconduct, a magnificent investigation nine years in the making, this book traces the political intrigue and inner workings of the Catholic Church. Decidedly not about faith, belief in God, or religious doctrine, this book is about the church's accumulation of wealth and its byzantine entanglements with financial markets across the world. Told through 200 years of prelates, bishops, cardinals, and the Popes who oversee it all, Gerald Posner uncovers an eyebrow-raising account of money and power in perhaps the most influential organization in the history of the world. 
God's Bankers has it all: a rare exposé and an astounding saga marked by poisoned business titans, murdered prosecutors, mysterious deaths of private investigators, and questionable suicides; a carnival of characters from Popes and cardinals, financiers and mobsters, kings and prime ministers; and a set of moral and political circumstances that clarify not only the church's aims and ambitions, but reflect the larger dilemmas of the world's more recent history. And Posner even looks to the future to surmise if Pope Francis can succeed where all his predecessors failed: to overcome the resistance to change in the Vatican's Machiavellian inner court and to rein in the excesses of its seemingly uncontrollable financial quagmire. Part thriller, part financial tell-all, this book shows with extraordinary precision how the Vatican has evolved from a foundation of faith to a corporation of extreme wealth and power.