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."

Bermuda

ABC News (USA):
Statements from Norwegian Cruise Line:

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."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Drugs

University of California, Berkeley: "Fans of homebrewed beer and backyard distilleries already know how to employ yeast to convert sugar into alcohol. But a research team led by UC Berkeley bioengineers has gone much further by completing key steps needed to turn sugar-fed yeast into a microbial factory for producing morphine and potentially other drugs, including antibiotics and anti-cancer therapeutics."

Related: Canada's Concordia University

Sunday, May 17, 2015

China

Xinhua: "A lion was shot dead at a zoo in east China's Shandong Province on Sunday, after it attacked a trainer and broke out of the cage."

Book

The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underworld
Nonfiction book by Jake Adelstein
Publication Date: January 19, 2016

Penguin Random House:
A riveting, behind-the-scenes look at the life and times of yakuza mob boss Makoto Saigo, aka Tsunami, by America's foremost expert on Japanese organized crime. 
Makoto Saigo could have been a rock star. Instead he became a yakuza. Born in Japan, but the son of an American-born Japanese woman — who moved back to Japan to avoid internment camps — Saigo was never a typical Japanese boy. As a child, other children referred to him as "a damn American," or simply a "nonperson." He was always an outsider, but as a teenager in 1970s Tokyo he found his tribe in Japan's notorious motorcycle gangs — the Bōsōzuko. His life was full of speed, whether synthetically through crystal meth, mechanically from the engine of his bike, or rhythmically as he played guitar for Japan pioneering punk-rock group Gedo. But a chance encounter — and perhaps a bit too much lust for life that kept leading him to Toyko's notorious red light district — placed him on a different path of becoming a boss in the Inagawa-kai, the country's third largest organized-crime group. 
Full of swordfights, gun battles, finger amputation, rock 'n' roll, financial crimes, gang wars, tattoos, and personal vendettas, Saigo's story is one of a kind. But it is not the only story told here. The Last Yakuza also tells the history of the yakuza since World War II, and explains how the yakuza became so entrenched in Japan. Saigo's life is the axis around which tales of yakuza life and their role in Japanese society are told. It is the story of one yakuza boss — not a good man, but a man with a code of honor — and the history of the rise and fall of Japan's underworld as it is almost literally tattooed on his body and charted by his missing finger.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Yellowstone National Park

U.S. National Park Service:
Yesterday a Taiwanese girl sustained serious, but not life-threatening injuries resulting from an encounter with a bison in the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone National Park. 
Shortly after noon on Friday, a 16-year-old exchange student was visiting Upper Geyser Basin with her host family. While hiking near Old Faithful Geyser, the family joined a group of people watching a bison grazing adjacent to the trail. According to first hand reports, the group was somewhere between three and six feet from the bison. The girl turned her back to the bison to have her picture taken when the bison lifted its head, took a couple steps and gored her.

Mediterranean Sea

BBC: "Islamic State (IS) fighters are being smuggled into Europe by gangs in the Mediterranean, a Libyan official has told the BBC."