Friday, August 1, 2014


Isabella: The Warrior Queen
Nonfiction book by Kirstin Downey
Publication Date: October 28, 2014

Random House:
An engrossing and revolutionary biography of Isabella of Castile, the controversial Queen of Spain who sponsored Christopher Columbus's journey to the New World, established the Spanish Inquisition, and became one of the most influential female rulers in history. 
Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. In 1474, when most women were almost powerless, twenty-three-year-old Isabella defied a hostile brother and mercurial husband to seize control of Castile and León. Her subsequent feats were legendary. She ended a twenty-four-generation struggle between Muslims and Christians, forcing North African invaders back over the Mediterranean Sea. She laid the foundation for a unified Spain. She sponsored Columbus's trip to the Indies and negotiated Spanish control over much of the New World with the help of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI. She also annihilated all who stood against her by establishing a bloody religious Inquisition that would darken Spain's reputation for centuries. Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, where millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella's influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored. Using new scholarship, Downey's luminous biography tells the story of this brilliant, fervent, forgotten woman, the faith that propelled her through life, and the land of ancient conflicts and intrigue she brought under her command.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Myanmar (Burma)

Voice of America: "A court in northern Myanmar, also known as Burma, has sentenced eight Chinese nationals to long prison terms for illegally trafficking weapons near the border with India."


CDC: "The [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today issued a warning to avoid nonessential travel to the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone."


The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins
AuthorRobert B. Baer
Publication Date: October 28, 2014


Voice of America:
Of all the ways the United States is helping Somalia's fledgling national government, none may be more important than training the country's first rapid reaction force, known as "Gaashaan," or "the shield.” 
When al-Shabab militants stormed the Somali parliament building on May 24, Gaashaan soldiers were quickly sent from their base at the Mogadishu airport to reinforce African Union troops. According to witnesses, the Gaashaan team fought the gunmen at the main gates and a key staircase, and helped to clear the building room by room. 
When the fighting was over, eight attackers and a total of 10 Somali and AU soldiers lay dead, but the country's legislature remained in government hands. 
It was a promising sign that the Somali government, long dependent on the AU mission AMISOM for security, may be developing an armed force capable of fighting Islamist insurgents on its own.


The New Yorker:

Eastern Ukraine

Deutsche Welle (DW):


Los Angeles Times:

Run for the Border

Der Spiegel:


The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia
Nonfiction book by Bill Hayton
Publication Date: October 28, 2014

Yale University Press:
China's rise has upset the global balance of power, and the first place to feel the strain is Beijing's backyard: the South China Sea. For decades tensions have smoldered in the region, but today the threat of a direct confrontation among superpowers grows ever more likely. This important book is the first to make clear sense of the South Sea disputes. Bill Hayton, a journalist with extensive experience in the region, examines the high stakes involved for rival nations that include Vietnam, India, Taiwan, the Philippines, and China, as well as the United States, Russia, and others. Hayton also lays out the daunting obstacles that stand in the way of peaceful resolution. 
Through lively stories of individuals who have shaped current conflicts — businessmen, scientists, shippers, archaeologists, soldiers, diplomats, and more — Hayton makes understandable the complex history and contemporary reality of the South China Sea. He underscores its crucial importance as the passageway for half the world's merchant shipping and one-third of its oil and gas. Whoever controls these waters controls the access between Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Pacific. The author critiques various claims and positions (that China has historic claim to the sea, for example), overturns conventional wisdoms (such as America's overblown fears of China's nationalism and military resurgence), and outlines what the future may hold for this clamorous region of international rivalry.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania:
An indictment was unsealed today charging six members of the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit (NFU) in a conspiracy to abuse their official positions to rob suspected drug dealers. Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser are charged in a racketeering conspiracy that the indictment alleges included robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. In one alleged incident, a person was removed from his own home and held captive for several days in a hotel room while members of the enterprise threatened him and made threats against his family. Charges include RICO conspiracy, conspiracy to deprive of civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, Hobbs Act robbery, extortion, carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, falsifying records, and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The alleged conduct occurred between February 2006 and November 2012, while the defendants were working as members of NFU.
The charges were announced today by United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Edward Hanko, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.    
According to the indictment, during searches of suspected drug dealers and their homes, the defendants stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and personal items, including Rolex watches and electronics and, in some incidents, used excessive force such as: leaning one victim over an 18th-floor balcony railing in an attempt to obtain information; kicking a victim in the mouth; punching a victim causing damage to his teeth; and hitting a victim in the back of the head with a steel bar. 
The indictment alleges that the defendants not only stole suspected drug proceeds but also stole cash from safes in the victims' homes and, in one incident, stole the safe and then made false entries on official Philadelphia Police reports about what was seized.


U.S. Justice Department: "Nicholaus J. Rodgers, 31, of Shady Cove, Oregon, pleaded guilty in federal court in Denver to a felony conspiracy charge stemming from the assistance he provided to an outfitter who sold illegal mountain lion and bobcat hunts in Colorado and Utah, the Justice Department announced."


MBARI: "Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have observed a deep-sea octopus brooding its eggs for four and one-half years — longer than any other known animal."


RIA Novosti:
A bear has attacked an employee of a meteorological station in Yakutia, in northeastern Siberia. The woman was bitten on the hand before she  managed to scare away the carnivore with a scream.
The incident occurred on July 30 at about 2 a.m. local time (July 29 8 p.m. MSK) near the local airport in the village of Sangar. The bear wrecked the cabin door, got inside and attacked. 
The woman is currently in a state of shock. Hunters were informed that a bear was wandering in the area of Sangar. They are currently in search for the wild animal.


France 24: "Experts estimate that there are two rats for every person in Paris and most of them, it seems, have taken up residence in one of the city’s favourite tourist spots — the Tuileries gardens outside the Louvre museum."

U.S. Commerce Dept.

Latest Country Commercial Guides for American companies:


Empire of Cotton
Nonfiction book by Sven Beckert
Publication Date: December 2, 2014

Random House:
The epic story of the rise and fall of the empire of cotton, its centrality in the world economy, and its making and remaking of global capitalism.
Sven Beckert's rich, fascinating book tells the story of how, in a remarkably brief period, European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world's most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. Here is the story of how, beginning well before the advent of machine production in the 1780s, these men captured ancient trades and skills in Asia, combined them with the expropriation of lands in the Americas and the enslavement of African workers to crucially recast the disparate realms of cotton that had existed for millennia. We see how industrial capitalism then reshaped these worlds of cotton into an empire, and how this empire transformed the world.

The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, farmers and merchants, workers and factory owners. In this as in so many other ways, Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


The New Yorker: "Israel's intensified military campaign in Gaza reflects a country that views itself as capable of following its own course without having to seek approval."

Yesterday: Pew Research Center


Jim Garamone, DoD News:
WASHINGTON — Russian military forces continue to gather on the Ukraine's southeast border, and Russia continues to funnel heavy equipment to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, a Pentagon spokesman said today. 
More than 10,000 Russian soldiers in combined arms battalion tactical units are massed at the border, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said. 
These battalion groups consist of infantry, armor and artillery, and also have organic air defense capabilities, the admiral said. "They are capable across a wide spectrum of military operations," he added. 
Kirby called these forces capable and ready, and he said they are closer to the Ukrainian border than Russian forces were in the spring. "We continue to see advanced weapons systems moving across the border and being provided to the separatists," Kirby said. 
These systems include multiple rocket-launched systems, artillery, tanks and air defense systems — including the air defense system that allegedly shot down the Malaysia Airline flight last week. "That activity needs to stop," Kirby said. 
U.S. concern is less about the pace of the buildup than the fact that it is happening at all, the admiral said. "It does nothing, again, to de-escalate tensions," he said. "It only increases the risk of violence inside Ukraine."
Meanwhile, the admiral said, the Defense Department continues to look at requests coming from the Ukrainian government. "The nonlethal support and assistance that had been previously approved has made its way in the large part . . . to Ukrainian security forces," he said.
Related: U.S. President Barack Obama

North Korea

Voice of America: "The North Korean government’s efforts to produce better-quality beer seems to be paying off."

New York

U.S. Justice Department: "Canadian antiques dealer Xiao Ju Guan, aka Tony Guan, 39, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Manhattan today for conspiring to smuggle wildlife, including rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and coral, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Sam Hirsch for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York and Director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)."

Animal Attacks

A leopard killed a toddler in India and a herd of cows killed a woman in Austria.


Empire of Sin
Nonfiction book by Gary Krist
Publication Date: October 28, 2014

Random House:
Empire of Sin re-creates the remarkable story of New Orleans' thirty-years war against itself, pitting the city's elite "better half" against its powerful and long-entrenched underworld of vice, perversity, and crime. This early-20th-century battle centers on one man: Tom Anderson, the undisputed czar of the city's Storyville vice district, who fights desperately to keep his empire intact as it faces onslaughts from all sides. Surrounding him are the stories of flamboyant prostitutes, crusading moral reformers, dissolute jazzmen, ruthless Mafiosi, venal politicians, and one extremely violent serial killer, all battling for primacy in a wild and wicked city unlike any other in the world.

Arctic Ocean

University of Washington: "The first measurements of waves in the middle of the Arctic Ocean recorded house-sized waves during a September 2012 storm. More sensors are going out this summer to study waves in newly ice-free Arctic waters."

South Africa

Agence France-Presse (AFP):


Rashmee Roshan Lall, NPR:


Survival International: "Davi Kopenawa, shaman and internationally renowned spokesman for the Yanomami tribe in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, has demanded urgent police protection following a series of death threats by armed thugs reportedly hired by gold miners operating illegally on Yanomami land."


Aarhus University, Denmark:

Monday, July 28, 2014


The Rush
Nonfiction book by Edward Dolnick
Publication Date: August 12, 2014

Hachette Book Group:
A riveting portrait of the [California] Gold Rush, by the award-winning author of Down the Great Unknown and The Forger's Spell. 
In the spring of 1848, rumors began to spread that gold had been discovered in a remote spot in the Sacramento Valley. A year later, newspaper headlines declared "Gold Fever!" as hundreds of thousands of men and women borrowed money, quit their jobs, and allowed themselves — for the first time ever — to imagine a future of ease and splendor. In The Rush, Edward Dolnick brilliantly recounts their treacherous westward journeys by wagon and on foot, and takes us to the frenzied gold fields and the rowdy cities that sprang from nothing to jam-packed chaos. With an enthralling cast of characters and scenes of unimaginable wealth and desperate ruin, The Rush is a fascinating — and rollicking — account of the greatest treasure hunt the world has ever seen.


On Sunday a tiger killed a 65-year-old woman in Nepal.


Via IOL: "Timberwolf the koala was lucky to be alive on Monday after surviving a terrifying 88km ride down a busy Australian freeway clinging to the bottom of a car."


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL):
Moscow police have detained more than two dozen "false psychics" from Central Asia and Armenia.  
Moscow's Interior Affairs Department said on July 28 that 27 suspects, mainly from Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, have been detained in Moscow and suburbs. 
The suspects, led by a 48-years-old man and a 45-year-old woman from Moscow whose names were not revealed, are suspected in a mass fraud. 
Investigators say the group has been cheating ordinary people, "forecasting their future" and organizing "ceremonies to cure their health problems" and to solve other personal issues. 
The group has been active in Moscow for a long time and received up to 100 phone calls per day from potential "clients." 
According to police, the group has illegally obtained more than 800 million rubles ($22,800,000) from Moscow residents.



Sunday, July 27, 2014


In the Kingdom of Ice
Nonfiction book by Hampton Sides
Publication Date: August 5, 2014

Random House:
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age. 
In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.

James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever."

The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom, and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice — a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.

With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In the Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth.