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Longwood Gardens Orchid Extravaganza 2012
Longwood Gardens. March, 2012. Photo credit: joanneleon
Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?

~ Khalil Gibran


Pulitzer win for 24-year-old reporter
A young reporter who led coverage of a sexual abuse scandal at a US college is among the winners of the top prize in US journalism, the Pulitzers.

The award for local reporting went to the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and its 24-year-old police and courts reporter Sara Ganim.

The Associated Press won an award for its series on the profiling of Muslims by the New York Police Department.

But for the first time since 1977 there was no prize for fiction.

Krugman published in the Irish Times.
European leaders seem determined to ruin their economy

Just a few months ago I was feeling some hope about Europe. You may recall that, late last autumn, Europe appeared to be on the verge of financial meltdown but the European Central Bank, Europe’s counterpart to the Fed, came to the continent’s rescue. It offered Europe’s banks openended credit lines as long as they put up the bonds of European governments as collateral; this directly supported the banks and indirectly supported the governments, and put an end to the panic.

The question then was whether this brave and effective action would be the start of a broader rethink, whether European leaders would use the breathing space the bank had created to reconsider the policies that brought matters to a head in the first place.

But they didn’t. Instead they doubled down on their failed policies and ideas. And it’s getting harder and harder to believe that anything will get them to change course.

Rachel Maddow and conservatism, the new liberalism

The 'prominent liberal' misses the point that it is not politicians, but the system itself, which is corrupt.

Washington, DC - Once upon a time - say, three years ago - your average Democrat appeared to care about issues of war and peace. When the man dropping the bombs spoke with an affected Texas twang, the moral and fiscal costs of empire were the subject of numerous protests and earnest panel discussions, the issue not just a banal matter of policy upon which reasonable people could disagree, but a matter of the nation's very soul.

Then the guy in the White House changed.

Now, if the Democratic rank and file haven't necessarily learned to love the bomb - though many certainly have - they have at least learned to stop worrying about it. Barack Obama may have dramatically expanded the war in Afghanistan, launched twice as many drone strikes in Pakistan as his predecessor and dropped women-and-children killing cluster bombs in Yemen, but peruse a liberal magazine or blog and you're more likely to find a strongly worded denunciation of Rush Limbaugh than the president. War isn't over, but one could be forgiven for thinking that it is.

Egypt disqualifies 3 leading presidential candidates
Egypt's presidential election commission removes 10 candidates from next month's ballot, including Mubarak-era spy chief Omar Suleiman and Islamists Khairat Shater and Hazem Salah abu Ismail.

CAIRO — Egypt's volatile presidential race was jolted Saturday when the election commission disqualified three controversial front-runners — the nation's former spy chief and two impassioned Islamists — just five weeks before voters go to the polls.

The commission removed Omar Suleiman, the intelligence director under deposed President Hosni Mubarak; Khairat Shater, a leading voice for the ascendant Muslim Brotherhood; and Hazem Salah abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Salafi Islamist with wide populist appeal. Seven other candidates were also expelled, and appeals were expected.

Historic transition in Libya must not forget survivors of sexual violence
New York, NY - As the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN's political mission in Libya, its members expressed their deep concern about sexual violence in the country. The United Nations' mandate includes supporting the government in promoting democracy, restoring public security, and explicitly mentions the monitoring and protection of human rights - particularly those of women and vulnerable groups, which I welcome. It is now crucial that Libya's own role in the country's historic transition must give hope and translate into assistance also for survivors of sexual violence.

We have all been closely following the developments in the Arab world. In Libya, as well as in Egypt, Tunisia and beyond, a brighter future is possible. The political possibilities - as well as the challenges - are infinite. Extensive support from the international community is continuously required in order to ensure a democratic society. But when the challenges are described by politicians, journalists and commentators, most fail to mention the most obvious but invisible resource - the women. Where are the women now? Can they feel safe?

The wide circulation of weapons does not mean that women feel safe; quite the contrary. From experience, we know that too often men in uniform carrying weapons use their power to abuse women and children. Preliminary findings from UN monitoring in Libya confirm that both women and men were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence during the conflict. While women were abducted from their homes, from cars or from the streets and exposed to rape in places unknown to them, men were sodomised in prisons and in places of detention as a means to obtain intelligence. This serves as a reminder of the importance of including sexual violence in the list of possible human rights violations whenever war crimes are being investigated.

UK businessman 'poisoned' in China scandal
New sources come forward to claim Neil Heywood was murdered by ex-Communist Party official's wife over business deal.

The British businessman whose murder has caused political upheaval in China was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by a Chinese official's wife to move money abroad, two sources with knowledge of the police investigation have said.

The new information, which came to light on Monday, was the first time a specific motive has been revealed for Neil Heywood's murder last November, a death which ended Chinese leader Bo Xilai's hopes of emerging as a top central leader and threw off balance the Communist Party's looming leadership succession.

Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, asked Heywood late last year to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected due to the size of the transaction, the sources said.

US in denial: Watershed in Afghanistan
Diplomatic statements have ignored the strategic and psychological battles won by the Taliban.

Doha, Qatar - In one of the first official US reactions to the attacks against Kabul and cities across eastern Afghanistan last weekend,  Ryan C Crocker, US ambassador to Afghanistan, said: "The Taliban are really good at issuing statements, Less good at actually fighting."

And after accusing (or crediting) the Haqqani network based in the tribal area within the Afghan-Pakistan borders' region, the ambassador added: "Frankly I don't think the Taliban is good enough."

These declarations have come after the insurgents targeted sensitive installations in the country's most important population centres - including at least three prominent targets in Kabul - in one of the most coordinated and pronounced assaults since the occupation began 11 years ago.

The US government has clearly chosen to shift the blame across the border to Pakistan, and to put a brave face on its  humiliation - by downplaying what the Taliban are calling the beginning of their "spring offensive".

For the sake of Europe, Sarkozy must stand down
Sarkozy has repeatedly pushed an Iran policy that exacerbates a root cause of the continent's economic malaise.

Throughout this period, France has pushed against diplomatic compromises and advocated escalation. Sarkozy was at the forefront of pushing for an EU oil embargo on Iran at a time of record high prices, rising demand in Asia and most of Europe on the verge of economic collapse. The economies of Greece, Italy and Spain are on life support - and they were among the leading EU importers of Iranian oil. Sarkozy's poor economic management is equally damaging at home, with France's own credit rating downgraded after nearly five years under his watch.

Memory Foraging: When the Brain Behaves Like a Bee
Researchers test the idea that we hunt for memories in our minds the same way some animals search for food

In search of nectar, a honeybee flies into a well-manicured suburban garden and lands on one of several camellia bushes planted in a row. After rummaging through the ruffled pink petals of several flowers, the bee leaves the first bush for another. Finding hardly any nectar in the flowers of the second bush, the bee flies to a third. And so on.

Our brains may have evolved to forage for some kinds of memories in the same way, shifting our attention from one cluster of stored information to another depending on what each patch has to offer. Recently, Thomas Hills of the University of Warwick in England and his colleagues found experimental evidence for this potential parallel. "Memory foraging" is only one way of thinking about memory—and it does not apply universally to all types of information retained in the brain—but, so far, the analogy seems to work well for particular cases of active remembering.

Women job losses: A deeper look at the data

We criticized Republicans last week for promoting the “true but false” assertion that under Obama, women have lost seven times as many jobs as men. This did not stop the Mitt Romney campaign from trying to promote this idea, which Treasury Secretary Geithner on Sunday labeled “ridiculous and deeply misleading.”

 We did not think much of the GOP claim because, even though the numbers added up,  it is silly to think any economy begins or ends with a presidency. Over the course of the recession (December 2007 to June 2009), the number of jobs declined by just over 5 million, with women accounting for nearly 1.8 million of that figure.

 Still, since the recession ended, 2.2 million jobs have been added under Obama, with women accounting for just 284,000 of that figure. So something’s going on. Geithner’s theory — that women started to lose jobs later in the recession — is an interesting one, so we decided to dig deep in the Bureau of Labor Statistics database for some answers.

If the food’s in plastic, what’s in the food?

In a study published last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers put five San Francisco families on a three-day diet of food that hadn’t been in contact with plastic. When they compared urine samples before and after the diet, the scientists were stunned to see what a difference a few days could make: The participants’ levels of bisphenol A (BPA), which is used to harden polycarbonate plastic, plunged — by two-thirds, on average — while those of the phthalate DEHP, which imparts flexibility to plastics, dropped by more than half.

The findings seemed to confirm what many experts suspected: Plastic food packaging is a major source of these potentially harmful chemicals, which most Americans harbor in their bodies. Other studies have shown phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) passing into food from processing equipment and food-prep gloves, gaskets and seals on non-plastic containers, inks used on labels — which can permeate packaging — and even the plastic film used in agriculture.

The government has long known that tiny amounts of chemicals used to make plastics can sometimes migrate into food. The Food and Drug Administration regulates these migrants as “indirect food additives” and has approved more than 3,000 such chemicals for use in food-contact applications since 1958. It judges safety based on models that estimate how much of a given substance might end up on someone’s dinner plate. If the concentration is low enough (and when these substances occur in food, it is almost always in trace amounts), further safety testing isn’t required.

Convicted defendants left uninformed of forensic flaws found by Justice Dept.

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

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