Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book

Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?:
The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization
Nonfiction book by Andrew Lawler
Publication Date: December 2, 2014

Simon & Schuster:
From ancient empires to modern economics, veteran journalist Andrew Lawler delivers a sweeping history of the animal that has been most crucial to the spread of civilization across the globe — the chicken. 
Queen Victoria was obsessed with it. Socrates' last words were about it. Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur made their scientific breakthroughs using it. Catholic popes, African shamans, Chinese philosophers, and Muslim mystics praised it. Throughout the history of civilization, humans have embraced it in every form imaginable — as a messenger of the gods, powerful sex symbol, gambling aid, emblem of resurrection, all-purpose medicine, handy research tool, inspiration for bravery, epitome of evil, and, of course, as the star of the world's most famous joke. 
In Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?, science writer Andrew Lawler takes us on an adventure from prehistory to the modern era with a fascinating account of the partnership between human and chicken (the most successful of all cross-species relationships). Beginning with the recent discovery in Montana that the chicken's unlikely ancestor is T. rex, this book builds on Lawler's popular Smithsonian cover article, "How the Chicken Conquered the World" to track the chicken from its original domestication in the jungles of Southeast Asia some 10,000 years ago to postwar America, where it became the most engineered of animals, to the uncertain future of what is now humanity's single most important source of protein. 
In a masterful combination of historical sleuthing and journalistic exploration on four continents, Lawler reframes the way we feel and think about our most important animal partner — and, by extension, all domesticated animals, and even nature itself. 
Lawler's narrative reveals the secrets behind the chicken's transformation from a shy jungle bird into an animal of astonishing versatility, capable of serving our species' changing needs. For no other siren has called humans to rise, shine, and prosper quite like the rooster's cry: "cock-a-doodle-doo!"

Niger

Craig Whitlock, Washington Post: "The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara."

Somalia

Claudette Roulo, DoD News:
Manned and unmanned aircraft operated by U.S. special operations forces participated in an airstrike yesterday in Somalia that destroyed an al-Shabab encampment and a vehicle located at that camp, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today. 
Kirby said the operation was a direct strike against the al-Shabab network, and specifically, the group's leader, Ahmed Abdi al-Muhammad, also known Ahmed Godane. 
The operation was carried out after actionable intelligence was obtained that suggested that Godane was present at the camp, located south of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, the press secretary said. It's too early to know whether Godane was killed as a result of the airstrikes, Kirby said, adding that if he were, it would be a "very significant blow to their network, to their organization and, we believe, to their ability to continue to conduct terrorist attacks."
The aircraft fired several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions, he said, noting that the Defense Department is still assessing the results of the operation. 
"We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at," the press secretary said. "And based on intelligence that, as I said, we believe was actionable — in other words, strong enough — we took this strike."
No U.S. forces were present on the ground, either before or after the attack, he noted. 
Al-Shabab is a jihadist group based in Somalia. It has claimed responsibility for last year's attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which resulted in more than 70 deaths and 200 injured. The group is also believed to be responsible for many bombings, including suicide attacks in Mogadishu and in central and northern Somalia, the admiral said.

Monday, September 1, 2014

U.S. Commerce Dept.

Latest Country Commercial Guide for American companies:

Book

Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue
and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
Nonfiction book by Cristen O'Keefe Aptowicz
Publication Date: September 4, 2014

Penguin Group:
A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country's most famous museum of medical oddities 
Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools — or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century. 
Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time. 
Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum. 
Award-winning writer Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz vividly chronicles how Mütter's efforts helped establish Philadelphia as a global mecca for medical innovation — despite intense resistance from his numerous rivals. (Foremost among them: Charles D. Meigs, an influential obstetrician who loathed Mütter's "overly" modern medical opinions.) In the narrative spirit of The Devil in the White City, Dr. Mütter's Marvels interweaves an eye-opening portrait of nineteenth-century medicine with the riveting biography of a man once described as the "P. T. Barnum of the surgery room."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Office Plants

University of Exeter, United Kingdom:
"Green" offices with plants make staff happier and more productive than "lean" designs stripped of greenery, new research shows. 
In the first field study of its kind, published today, researchers found enriching a "lean" office with plants could increase productivity by 15 percent.  
The team examined the impact of "lean" and "green" offices on staff's perceptions of air quality, concentration, and workplace satisfaction, and monitored productivity levels over subsequent months in two large commercial offices in the UK and the Netherlands. 
Lead researcher Marlon Nieuwenhuis, from Cardiff University's School of Psychology, said: "Our research suggests that investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers' quality of life and productivity.  
"Although previous laboratory research pointed in this direction, our research is, to our knowledge, the first to examine this in real offices, showing benefits over the long term. It directly challenges the widely accepted business philosophy that a lean office with clean desks is more productive."   
The research showed plants in the office significantly increased workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality.  
Analyses into the reasons why plants are beneficial suggests that a green office increases employees' work engagement by making them more physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work. 
Co-author Dr. Craig Knight, from the University of Exeter, said: "Psychologically manipulating real workplaces and real jobs adds new depth to our understanding of what is right and what is wrong with existing workspace design and management. We are now developing a template for a genuinely smart office."   
Professor Alex Haslam, from the University of Queensland's School of Psychology, who also co-authored the study, added: "The "lean" philosophy has been influential across a wide range of organizational domains. Our research questions this widespread conviction that less is more. Sometimes less is just less." 
Marlon Nieuwenhuis added: "Simply enriching a previously spartan space with plants served to increase productivity by 15 percent — a figure that aligns closely with findings in previously conducted laboratory studies. This conclusion is at odds with the present economic and political zeitgeist as well as with modern "lean" management techniques, yet it nevertheless identifies a pathway to a more enjoyable, more comfortable and a more profitable form of office-based working." 
Kenneth Freeman, head of innovation at interior landscaping company Ambius, which was involved in the study, said: "We know from previous studies that plants can lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve well-being. But this is the first long-term experiment carried out in a real-life situation which shows that bringing plants into offices can improve well-being and make people feel happier at work. Businesses should rethink their lean processes, not only for the health of the employees, but for the financial health of the organization."

Book

United States

Government Against Itself: Pubic Union Power
and Its Consequences
Nonfiction book by Daniel DiSalvo
Shipping Date: December 1, 2014

Oxford University Press:
As workers in the private sector struggle with stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, and retirement ages that are moving further and further out onto the horizon, unionized gym teachers and lifeguards employed by the public sector retire in their fifties with over $100,000 a year in pension and healthcare benefits. Some even supplement this generous income by taking other jobs in their "retirement." Attempts to rein in the unions, as in Wisconsin and New Jersey, have met with massive resistance. Yet as Daniel DiSalvo argues in Government against Itself, public sector unions threaten the integrity of our very democracy. 
DiSalvo, a third generation union member, recognizes the difference that collective bargaining made in the lives of his immigrant grandfather, a steelworker in Pittsburgh, and his father, a carpenter. He is not opposed to unions on ideological grounds. Rather, he opposes the form they have taken in the public sector, where they often face no real opposition in negotiations. Moreover, the public sector can't go out of business no matter how much union members manage to squeeze out of it. Union members have no incentive to ever settle for less, and this has a profound impact on the health of our society, as the costs get passed along to the taxpayer. States and municipalities break under the weight of their pension obligations, and the chasm between well-compensated public sector employees and their beleaguered private sector counterparts widens. Where private sector unions can provide a necessary counterweight to the power of capital, public employee unions are basically bargaining against themselves; it's no wonder they almost always win. The left is largely in thrall to the unions, both ideologically and financially; the right would simply take a hatchet to the state itself, eliminating important and valuable government services. Neither side offers a realistic vision of well-run, efficient government that serves the public. 
Moving beyond stale and unproductive partisan divisions, DiSalvo argues that we can build a better, more responsive government that is accountable to taxpayers. But we cannot do it until we challenge the dominance of public sector unions in government. This carefully reasoned analysis of the power of public sector unions is sure to be controversial, and will be an important contribution to the debates about public vs. private unions, increasing inequality, and the role of government in American life.

Middle East

Steve Coll, The New Yorker:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book

A Legacy in Arms: American Firearm Manufacture,
Design, and Artistry, 1800-1900
Nonfiction book by Richard C. Rattenbury
Forward by R.L. Wilson
Photography by Ed Muno
Publication Date: October 27, 2014

University of Oklahoma Press:
The history of American firearms is inseparable from the history of the United States, for firearms have played crucial roles in the nation's founding, westward expansion, and industrial, economic, and cultural development. This history unfolds in compelling words and images in A Legacy in Arms, a volume that draws upon the collections of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City to trace the business and art of gun making from the early national period to the turn of the twentieth century. With more than 200 images — almost all in full color — A Legacy in Arms not only documents the inspiration and innovation of arms makers from individual artisans to mass producers, but also describes the development of decorative expression in the gun maker's art. 
In an account both entertaining and enlightening, Richard C. Rattenbury details the development of commercial arms making, from the genesis of the Kentucky rifle to the arms of such iconic manufacturers as Colt, Remington, Smith & Wesson, Sharps, Marlin, and Winchester. Into this narrative he weaves the particulars of design evolution and the impact of mass production via the "American System." The accompanying photographs and illustrations stand as eloquent testimony to the range and richness of the gun maker's craft — and its rightful place in the story of American industry and culture.

Texas

FBI:

U.S. State Dept.

Travel Warning:

U.S. Commerce Dept.

New Country Commercial Guide for American companies:

Book

Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail
Nonfiction book by Sam Jefferson
Publication Date: November 4, 2014

Bloomsbury Publishing:
In the era of commercial sail, clipper ships were the ultimate expression of speed and grace. Racing out to the gold fields of America and Australia, and breaking speed records carrying tea back from China, the ships combined beauty with breathtaking performance. 
With over 200 gorgeous paintings and illustrations, and thrilling descriptions of the adventures and races on the water, this beautiful book brings the era vividly to life.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Liberia

Nurith Aizenman, NPR:

Florida

Voice of America: "Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by an Asian insect."

Israel

American Friends of Tel Aviv University:
In 1934, American archaeologist Nelson Glueck named one of the largest known copper production sites of the Levant "Slaves' Hill." This hilltop station, located deep in Israel's Arava Valley, seemed to bear all the marks of an Iron Age slave camp — fiery furnaces, harsh desert conditions, and a massive barrier preventing escape. New evidence uncovered by Tel Aviv University archaeologists, however, overturns this entire narrative. 
In the course of ongoing excavations at Timna Valley, Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures analyzed remnants of food eaten by copper smelters 3,000 years ago. The result of this analysis, published in the journal Antiquity, indicates that the laborers operating the furnaces were in fact skilled craftsmen who enjoyed high social status and adulation.

Auschwitz

Der Spiegel:

India

Times of India: "A two-year-old girl from a tribal village . . . fell prey to a leopard on Wednesday and she is yet to be found."

The attack occurred in the state of Maharashtra.

Book

Golden Horse: The Legendary Akhal-Teke
Nonfiction
Photography by Artur Baboev; Text by Aleksandr Klimuk
Publication Date: September 2, 2014

Abrams:
Hailing from central Asia, the home of fierce nomadic horsemen, the Akhal-Teke is a horse breed known for its speed, intelligence, and shimmering metallic coat. Featuring more than 150 remarkable images, Golden Horse captures the beauty of these ancient steeds. The photographs of Artur Baboev, a Russian photographer whose love for the breed sent him on a quest across the globe, are accompanied by an authoritative account of the history and qualities of the "golden horse."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Brazil

BBC: "The authorities in Brazil say they have dismantled a criminal organization they believe was the 'biggest destroyer' of the Amazon rainforest."

Toys

U.S. Justice Department: "Two New York residents pleaded guilty today in connection with importing more than 100,000 counterfeit and hazardous children's toys from China for sale in the United States."

Kennewick Man

At Smithsonian.com:

U.S. Commerce Dept.

New Country Commercial Guide for American companies:

Book

Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Swindlers, Frauds,
and the Rise of Modern Finance
Nonfiction book by Ian Klaus
Available October 14, 2014

Yale University Press:
Vice is endemic to Western capitalism, according to this fascinating, wildly entertaining, often startling history of modern finance. Ian Klaus's Forging Capitalism demonstrates how international financial affairs in the nineteenth century were conducted not only by gentlemen as a noble pursuit but also by connivers, thieves, swindlers, and frauds who believed that no risk was too great and no scheme too outrageous if the monetary reward was substantial enough. Taken together, the grand deceptions of the ambitious schemers and the determined efforts to guard against them have been instrumental in creating the financial establishments of today. 
In a story teeming with playboys and scoundrels and rich in colorful and amazing events, Klaus chronicles the evolution of trust through three distinct epochs: the age of values, the age of networks and reputations, and, ultimately, in a world of increased technology and wealth, the age of skepticism and verification. In today's world, where the questionable dealings of large international financial institutions are continually in the spotlight, this extraordinary history has great relevance, offering essential lessons in both the importance and the limitations of trust.

Jasper Johns

U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York: "Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that James Meyer, a former assistant to artist Jasper Johns, pled guilty in Manhattan federal court in connection with his sale of 22 works that he stole from Johns’ studio in Sharon, Connecticut."

Book

Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth
Nonfiction book by Lee Jackson
Available November 25, 2014

Yale University Press:
In Victorian London, filth was everywhere: horse traffic filled the streets with dung, household rubbish went uncollected, cesspools brimmed with "night soil," graveyards teemed with rotting corpses, the air itself was choked with smoke. In this intimately visceral book, Lee Jackson guides us through the underbelly of the Victorian metropolis, introducing us to the men and women who struggled to stem a rising tide of pollution and dirt, and the forces that opposed them. 
Through thematic chapters, Jackson describes how Victorian reformers met with both triumph and disaster. Full of individual stories and overlooked details — from the dustmen who grew rich from recycling, to the peculiar history of the public toilet — this riveting book gives us a fresh insight into the minutiae of daily life and the wider challenges posed by the unprecedented growth of the Victorian capital.

U.S. Commerce Dept.

New Country Commercial Guide for American companies:

Syria

United Nations: "Mass atrocities by government forces and non-state armed groups continue to take place in Syria, causing immeasurable suffering to civilians and contributing to a spillover of violence affecting international peace and stability, a United Nations-appointed panel said today."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

U.S. Commerce Dept.

Another new County Commercial Guide for American companies:

Botswana

Survival International:
Africa’s last hunting Bushmen have given formal notice of their intention to sue the Botswana government over its "unlawful and unconstitutional" attempts to starve them off their ancestral land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. 
The Bushmen rely on subsistence hunting to feed their families but face harassment, torture and arrest when found hunting for survival. Earlier this year, the Botswana government issued a nationwide ban on hunting without notifying the Kalahari Bushmen or offering any compensation. 
This is the fourth time the Bushmen have been forced to resort to legal action against the government in their desperate wish to live in peace on their land. In a landmark victory in 2006, Botswana’s High Court ruled that the Bushmen have the right to live, and hunt, in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. 
Despite the High Court ruling, not a single hunting license has been issued to the Bushmen living inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Ironically, wealthy trophy hunters are exempt from the ban and continue to legally hunt giraffes and zebras on private ranches.