Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Soccer

U.S. Justice Department:
A 47-count indictment was unsealed early this morning in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer. The guilty pleas of four individual defendants and two corporate defendants were also unsealed today. 
The defendants charged in the indictment include high-ranking officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the organization responsible for the regulation and promotion of soccer worldwide, as well as leading officials of other soccer governing bodies that operate under the FIFA umbrella. Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner — the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States — are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offenses. The defendants also include U.S. and South American sports marketing executives who are alleged to have systematically paid and agreed to pay well over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain lucrative media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments.

Book

Portrait of an Island: The Architecture and Material Culture
of Gorée, Sénégal, 1758–1837
Nonfiction book by Mark Hinchman
Publication Date: December 1, 2015

University of Nebraska Press:
The once-famous trading center of Gorée, Sénégal, today lies in the busy harbor of the modern city of Dakar. From its beginnings as a modest outpost, Gorée became one of the intersections linking African trading routes to the European Atlantic trade. Then as now, people of many nationalities poured into the island: Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Tukulor, and Wolof. Trading parties brought with them gold, firewood, mirrors, books, and more. They built houses of various forms, using American lumber, French roof tiles, freshly cut straw, and pulverized seashells, and furnished them in a fashion as cosmopolitan as the city itself. 
A work of architectural history, Portrait of an Island explores the material culture and social relations of West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Multiple features of eighteenth-century Gorée — its demographic diversity, the prominence of women leaders, the phenomenon of identities in flux, and the importance of fashion and international trade — articulate its place in the construction of an early global modernity. An examination of the built and natural landscape, Portrait of an Island deciphers the material culture involved in the ever-changing relationships among male, female, rich, poor, free, and slave.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

DRC

Greenpeace:

Mozambique

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) : "A major decline in elephant numbers in Mozambique was announced by the Minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Minister Celso Correia, at a signing ceremony for trans-boundary conservation cooperation between Mozambique and Tanzania in Maputo last night."

North Korea

Radio Free Asia: "Details of the bizarre execution by antiaircraft fire of a former senior North Korean military official have shocked neighboring South Korea, but have left North Koreans, who are used to such 'cruel' executions, undisturbed, sources say."

Americans

Gallup:

Book

Privateering: Patriots and Profits in the War of 1812
Nonfiction book by Faye M. Kert
Publication Date: August 20, 2015

Johns Hopkins University Press:
During the War of 1812, most clashes on the high seas involved privately owned merchant ships, not official naval vessels. Licensed by their home governments and considered key weapons of maritime warfare, these ships were authorized to attack and seize enemy traders. Once the prizes were legally condemned by a prize court, the privateers could sell off ships and cargo and pocket the proceeds. Because only a handful of ship-to-ship engagements occurred between the Royal Navy and the United States Navy, it was really the privateers who fought — and won — the war at sea. 
In Privateering, Faye M. Kert introduces readers to U.S. and Atlantic Canadian privateers who sailed those skirmishing ships, describing both the rare captains who made money and the more common ones who lost it. Some privateers survived numerous engagements and returned to their pre-war lives; others perished under violent circumstances. Kert demonstrates how the romantic image of pirates and privateers came to obscure the dangerous and bloody reality of private armed warfare. 
Building on two decades of research, Privateering places the story of private armed warfare within the overall context of the War of 1812. Kert highlights the economic, strategic, social, and political impact of privateering on both sides and explains why its toll on normal shipping helped convince the British that the war had grown too costly. Fascinating, unfamiliar, and full of surprises, this book will appeal to historians and general readers alike.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Turkmenistan

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL):

China

Xinhua: " Eleven people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from ten years to life over organized prostitution in a nightclub in central China's Henan Province between Aug. 2012 and Nov. 2013."

Syria

From BBC News: "A rare bird may become extinct in Syria because of the capture of Palmyra by Islamic State, experts say."

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
Nonfiction book by Steven Lee Myers
Publication Date: September 29, 2015

Penguin Random House:
The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current president — of his emergence from shrouded obscurity and deprivation to become one of the most consequential and complicated leaders in modern history. 
Former New York Times Moscow bureau chief Steven Lee Myers has followed Vladimir Putin's path for many years, and gives us the fullest, most absorbing account we have of his rise to power. This gripping narrative elucidates a cool and calculating man with enormous ambition and few scruples. We see Putin, a former KGB agent, come to office in 2000 as a reformer, cutting taxes, expanding property rights, bringing a measure of order and eventual prosperity to millions whose only experience of democracy in the early years following the Soviet collapse was instability, poverty, and criminality. But Myers makes clear how Putin then orchestrated a new authoritarianism, consolidating power, reasserting the country's might, brutally crushing revolts, and swiftly dispatching dissenters, even as he retained — and continues to retain — the support of many. As the world struggles to confront a newly assertive Russia, the importance of understanding Putin has never been greater. This keenly insightful, riveting book provides an essential key to that understanding.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mexico

Reuters:

Echoes

Acoustical Society of America:
 Play a flute in Carnegie Hall, and the tone will resonate and fill the space. Play that same flute in the Grand Canyon, and the sound waves will crash against the rock walls, folding back in on each other in sonic chaos. The disparity in acoustics is clear — to the modern listener, the instrument belongs in an auditorium.
"Distinct echoes would be totally unforgivable in today's performance spaces," says Steven J. Waller, an archaeo-acoustician who has studied prehistoric rock art and the acoustics of ancient performance spaces. "But, in the past, people sought echoes." 
According to Waller, the response of audiences and performers to acoustic characteristics is a function of their worldview, and it is as fluid as the environment they inhabit. He presented his findings this week at the 169th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 
"It's a parallel to 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder': perfect performance spaces are really in the ear of the listener. Today we value qualities like clarity — how it makes a modern orchestra sound," Waller continued, "whereas prior to sound wave theory, echoes were considered mysterious and divine." 
Myths About the Origins of Echo
While far from unique, the most famous echo origins myth is perhaps from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which tells the tragedy of Echo, a young nymph who disappears from the world except for her voice after she is spurned by her would-be lover, the young Narcissus, who falls in love with his own reflection instead. Over the past 28 years, Waller has collected more than fifty echo myths, and several hundred pertaining to thunder gods, from a swath of cultures spanning every inhabited continent. 
According to Waller, a common current runs through many of these myths. A spirit living behind the rock surface, often as form of punishment, calls out to passersby to trap them within the walls as well. Not by coincidence, the same indigenous groups often left their paintings, petroglyphs and artifacts at locations within cavernous sites that helped to generate the strongest echoes.
"Some of the earliest flutes in the caves of Germany were found in very reverberant environments in the cave," Waller said. "It wasn't just a matter of 'well, they happened to drop a flute there.' The places where they used the flutes had these fabulous echoes and thunderous reverberations." 
To measure the acoustics of those areas, Waller employed a spring-loaded device that emits a consistent percussive sound. He used portable digital recorders and audio software to quantify the acoustic strength of any "extra" reflected sounds. 
"When you put all of that together, it forms a picture of our ancestors valuing sound reflection, and seeking it out, and in some cases even worshipping it," Waller said. "They not only had myths about it, they also responded with paintings and engravings." 
In the migration story of the Native American Acoma tribe, Masewa, the "son of the Sun," led his people out of their place of emergence, heading for a place called "Aako." As they traveled, Masewa tested each area they came upon by shouting out, "Aaaaaaakoooooo!" If the echo resounded, the people would stay to test the place further; if it proved to be imperfect, they moved on. At a place just east of the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, where they eventually settled, the echo was perfect, and there now stands Petroglyph National Monument, hosting an estimated 24,000 pecked, or lightly inscribed, images. The site's strong echoes were music to ancient ears, though perhaps cacophonous to ours.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book

The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation,
and the Rise of the West in World History
Nonfiction book by Tonio Andrade
Publication Date: January 26, 2016

Princeton University Press:
The Chinese invented gunpowder and began exploring its military uses as early as the 900s, four centuries before the technology passed to the West. But by the early 1800s, China had fallen so far behind the West in gunpowder warfare that it was easily defeated by Britain in the Opium War of 1839–42. What happened? In The Gunpowder Age, Tonio Andrade offers a compelling new answer, opening a fresh perspective on a key question of world history: why did the countries of western Europe surge to global importance starting in the 1500s while China slipped behind? 
Historians have long argued that gunpowder weapons helped Europeans establish global hegemony. Yet the inhabitants of what is today China not only invented guns and bombs but also, Andrade shows, continued to innovate in gunpowder technology through the early 1700s — much longer than previously thought. Why, then, did China become so vulnerable? Andrade argues that one significant reason is that it was out of practice fighting wars, having enjoyed nearly a century of relative peace, since 1760. Indeed, he demonstrates that China — like Europe — was a powerful military innovator, particularly during times of great warfare, such as the violent century starting after the Opium War, when the Chinese once again quickly modernized their forces. Today, China is simply returning to its old position as one of the world’s great military powers. 
By showing that China’s military dynamism was deeper, longer lasting, and more quickly recovered than previously understood, The Gunpowder Age challenges long-standing explanations of the so-called Great Divergence between the West and Asia.

India

Times of India:

Denmark

University of Copenhagen:
Related: National Museum of Denmark

Sentinels in the Sky

Air & Space magazine:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Syria

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) :
The Islamic State captured the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra after government defense lines there collapsed May 20, a stunning triumph for the group only days after it gained control of the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq.
It was unclear by nightfall how close to Palmyra's famed archaeological site the militants had advanced, activists said, adding that Syrian soldiers were seen fleeing the area. 
The ruins at Palmyra are one of the world's most renowned historic sites and there were fears the extremists would destroy them as they did major archaeological sites in Iraq.  
The UNESCO world heritage site is famous for its 2,000-year-old towering Roman-era colonnades and other ruins and priceless artifacts. Before the war, thousands of tourists a year visited the remote desert outpost.
Update: RFE/RL

Indonesia

AramcoWorld:

Kenya

Earth Institute at Columbia University: "Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Snakes

Yale University:

Latvia

BBC News:

Book

Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii
Nonfiction book by Susanna Moore
Publication Date: August 18, 2015

Macmillan Publishers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):
The dramatic history of America's tropical paradise. 
The history of Hawaii may be said to be the story of arrivals — from the eruption of volcanoes on the ocean floor 18,000 feet below, the first hardy seeds that over millennia found their way to the islands, and the confused birds blown from their migratory routes, to the early Polynesian adventurers who sailed across the Pacific in double canoes, the Spanish galleons en route to the Philippines, and the British navigators in search of a Northwest Passage, soon followed by pious Protestant missionaries, shipwrecked sailors, and rowdy Irish poachers escaped from Botany Bay — all wanderers washed ashore, sometimes by accident. This is true of many cultures, but in Hawaii, no one seems to have left. And in Hawaii, a set of myths accompanied each of these migrants — legends that shape our understanding of this mysterious place. 
In Paradise of the Pacific, Susanna Moore, the award-winning author of In the Cut and The Life of Objects, pieces together the elusive, dramatic story of late-eighteenth-century Hawaii — its kings and queens, gods and goddesses, missionaries, migrants, and explorers— a not-so-distant time of abrupt transition, in which an isolated pagan world of human sacrifice and strict taboo, without a currency or a written language, was confronted with the equally ritualized world of capitalism, Western education, and Christian values.
 Related: Amazon

Massachusetts

U.S. Navy: "The world's oldest commissioned warship afloat is no longer afloat after entering dry dock May 19 for a planned multiyear restoration."

Giant Pandas

American Society for Microbiology:
 It's no wonder that giant pandas are always chewing and eating, say Chinese researchers: their gut bacteria are not the type for efficiently digesting bamboo. 
The bamboo-eating giant panda actually harbors a carnivore-like gut microbiota predominated by bacteria such as Escherichia/Shigella and Streptococcus, according to new research published this week in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. 
"Unlike other plant-eating animals that have successfully evolved, anatomically specialized digestive systems to efficiently deconstruct fibrous plant matter, the giant panda still retains a gastrointestinal tract typical of carnivores," said lead study author Zhihe Zhang, director of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, China. "The animals also do not have the genes for plant-digesting enzymes in their own genome. This combined scenario may have increased their risk for extinction."