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Kyrgyzstan on Edge

Kyrgyz Fatwa Against Homosexuality Debated

February 11th 2014

Gay Pride

After a damning report called on police in Kyrgyzstan to stop targeting gay and bisexual men for violence and extortion, the country's highest Islamic authority promptly sent a reminder that homosexuality is strictly forbidden under Islam.

But the message, delivered in a fatwa by acting Grand Mufti Maksat Hajji Toktomushev in late January, sparked fears that it could be taken at its word -- and put sexual minorities at risk of deadly vigilante justice.

The resulting controversy has drawn in two powerful and influential forces in Kyrgyzstan -- advocates of secular government and the Kyrgyz Muslims Spiritual Directorate headed by Toktomushev.

Last week, representatives of the two, along with a prominent human rights lawyer, debated the potential impact of Toktomushev's religious decree during a roundtable discussion organized in Bishkek by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. Kyrgyzstan decriminalized homosexuality in 1998, and is generally regarded to have more liberal attitudes toward homosexuality than many of its neighbors. Sexual minorities have officially registered organizations, night clubs, and cafe-restaurants, and gay and lesbian leaders are well known and speak openly. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Poor School Performance is Associated with Vitamin A Deficiency

February 10th 2014

School-age children with vitamin A deficiencies are more likely to get gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, a new study shows. Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Michigan State University followed nearly 2,800 children, ages 5-12, in Bogota, Colombia, over the course of a year. They found that the less vitamin A (retinol) in the children's blood, the more incidence of diarrhea with vomiting and cough with fever.

Previous research on vitamin A deficiency had focused on infants and children under the age of 5, and has been somewhat inconsistent about the impact of vitamin A supplementation on respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

"Studies of older children have included a range of micronutrients administered together, but no study had estimated the potential role of vitamin A alone in this age group," said Dr. Eduardo Villamor, U-M associate professor of epidemiology and senior author of the study. The study is reported online in the Journal of Nutrition. Read more ..


Family Life

Saving for College is Not a Teenage Priority

February 10th 2014

High school seniors spend most of their earnings on clothes, music, movies, eating out and other personal expenses. Spending on cars and car expenses comes in second, especially for males. And way down the list come saving for college or other long-range goals and helping with family living expenses.

The findings come from a new study of 49,000 high school seniors from the classes of 1981 through 2011, based on the Monitoring the Future study conducted annually by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Authors include Jerald Bachman, Jeremy Staff, Patrick O'Malley and Peter Freedman-Doan.

"By the time they reach the end of high school, most students are also paid employees, working part-time jobs during the school year," Bachman said. Read more ..


The Edge of Shame

Uzbek Girl Grows Up In The Shadow Of HIV

February 9th 2014

HIV/AIDS

Ten-year-old Saida dreams of becoming a doctor, so she can help cure all the sick children in Andijon, her hometown in eastern Uzbekistan. But her mother isn't making many plans for Saida's future.

Saida is HIV-positive, although the girl's family has not yet told her about the potentially fatal condition.

Her mother, Umeda, has learned to keep many secrets since local doctors performed a routine blood test in 2008 and determined that Saida had the human immunodeficiency virus. Despite global advancements in the treatment and understanding of HIV and AIDS, many in Uzbekistan shun patients out of fear that the virus can be spread through general contact.

Fully aware of the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, Umeda tells her story only on condition that her and her daughter's real names not be disclosed. She says that, upon hearing of the diagnosis, her husband promptly walked out and hasn't contacted Saida or her two siblings since. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Slowdown Reported on Indigenous Rights

February 8th 2014

Indigenous Peoples

Two new reports say there’s been a dramatic slowdown in recognizing the rights of indigenous people to tropical forest land and resources. The Rights and Resources Initiative says it’s happening despite favorable court rulings and statements by corporations and governments.

The Rights and Resources Initiative says the slowdown comes “as the global hunger for food, fuel, water and mineral wealth continues.”

“Our main concern is that there are indigenous peoples and local communities around the world who have customary rights before us – but often those rights are not recognized legally by governments. And we have seen some progress over time in the legal recognition of those rights, but in fact our most recent research is showing that there’s been a slowdown in the recognition of rights since about 2008,” said Jenny Springer, the group’s director of global programs. Read more ..


The Way We Are

First American Female Muslim Athlete Inspires Girls in Dakar

February 7th 2014

Muslim American girl with flag

Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first-ever female Muslim athlete to compete on behalf of the United States in an international competition. Muhammad spoke to an all-girls school in Dakar Friday about her experiences as a female African-American Muslim fencer.

Growing up black and Muslim in the U.S. state of New Jersey, 28-year-old Ibtihaj Muhammad says she loved sports, but often struggled to find her place.

"Growing up, especially at this age, we all want to be liked by our friends; we all want to fit in with our friends. But as a Muslim woman, because I cover, I always had to change the uniform. So if I played tennis, if I played soccer or if I ran track, and my teammates wore shorts or short sleeves, I would always have to wear long sleeves or long pants, and it was hard for me as a kid, because I didn’t feel like I fit in," said Muhammad. It was her mom who urged her to try fencing - a sport where competitors must wear full body, head and even hand coverings. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Saving Sochi's Dogs From The Olympic 'Cull'

February 6th 2014

US Military Explosives-detecting Dog

Looking at Marusya, a lively 1-year-old mutt with floppy ears, you'd never guess she has just been rescued from the streets.

Marusya was brought to Moscow last month after being found wandering at a train station in Sochi. She has since been adopted by a family in Finland.

Animal-welfare activists are scrambling to save homeless dogs in the southern Russian city, where a pest-control firm hired by the government has been quietly culling strays ahead of the Olympic Games.

In the run-up to the Olympics, Sochi residents have come forward with horrific accounts of dogs being savagely beaten, gunned down, or left to die in agony after being shot with poisoned darts. Igor Airapetyan, the man who rescued Marusya, said: "The Olympics have always been a symbol of peace, wars have been halted for the duration of the Olympics. But in Russia, the Olympics are built on blood." Read more ..


The Future of Sports

Republicans Seek Revenue by Eliminating NFL Tax-Exempt Status

February 4th 2014

Click to select Image

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has proposed legislation that seeks to eliminate the tax-exempt status of the National Football League. Supporters of the the bill, such as Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) consider the status as an effective subsidy of a business. On January 30, Rep. Chaffetz acknowldeged that professional football and hockey leagues are for-profit concerns that have no need of an unfair tax advantage.

Speaking just days before the Superbowl, Chaffetz said "In reality, the NFL and the NHL are for-profit businesses, and they should be taxed as such," he said. "They are not charities nor are they traditional trade organizations like local chambers of commerce." Read more ..


The Cultural Edge

Croatia To Raise Museum Funds For Neighbor That, Seemingly, Cannot

February 3rd 2014

Pre Islam art

Croatia is throwing open the doors to 214 museums and cultural institutions for its annual Night of Museums, a chance for residents to enjoy an evening of free art.

The star attraction, however, is not Croatian, but Bosnian -- a valuable collection of ancient and antique jewelry on loan for one night from Sarajevo's National Museum.

"This is an exhibition of some 60 pieces of selected jewelry that span an extremely long period of time, from the fourth century B.C. to the beginning of the 20th century," says Arijana Koprcina, who's curating the exhibition, which will be held at the Mimara art museum in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. "And it includes the two biggest and most important departments of that very large museum, archaeological and ethnographic."

The exhibit is a rare outing for the Bosnian jewels, which have spent more than a year out of public view after the museum was closed amid a heated debate over who, in multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina, should fund a "national" museum. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Study Links Vodka Drinking To Risk Of Early Russian Deaths

February 2nd 2014

redbull vodka cocktail

An extensive study published on January 31 in "The Lancet," a leading British medical journal, has identified vodka consumption as a "major cause of the high risk of premature death in Russian adults."

The study tracked 151,000 Russian adults from 1999 to 2008 – 8,000 of whom died -- and found there was a "much higher" risk of early death among men who drank three or more bottles of vodka a week compared with men who consumed less than one.

According to co-author Richard Peto of the University of Oxford, the research confirms a correlation between government-imposed alcohol restrictions and lower death rates over the last thirty years in Russia. "The main thing driving the wild fluctuations in death was vodka," Peto said in a press release. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Afghan Men Speak Up About Domestic Violence

January 31st 2014

Kabul Shelter

Sabur has moved out of his marital home on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif. It was the only way to escape the domestic abuse he suffered at the hands of his wife.

"We've been constantly having arguments, and sometimes my wife loses her cool and gets violent," Sabur says, pointing to a bruise and cut on his forehead. In an almost apologetic tone, he cites his money problems and the lack of employment opportunities in the northern Afghan city as the root causes of his suffering.

"I can't find work and can't provide for my family," he says. "Obviously, when I come home empty-handed, it annoys my wife. Once she hit my forehead with the heel of her shoe. But I don't want people to know about my situation because I live in Afghan society, and it could ruin my honor and reputation if people hear about it." Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

The Limits of Turkey's Interest Rate Hike

January 30th 2014

Money Money Money

Turkey has been desperately trying to stem the plunge of the lira, which has declined about 10 percent against the U.S. dollar over the past year. Like several other once-celebrated emerging economies, Turkey has seen a rapid outflow of short-term portfolio investment that Ankara had been heavily relying on to help cover its burgeoning current account deficit, totaling $60.8 billion, or roughly 7 percent of gross domestic product, for January to November 2013.

The capital flight has been driven in part by the U.S. Federal Reserve's withdrawal of stimulus measures, which has limited Turkey's access to cheap liquidity. With the Federal Reserve's Jan. 29 announcement that it would again reduce its monetary stimulus, Turkey is now applying all of its tools to stabilize the lira, even with the knowledge that the move is unlikely to have a lasting impact. This is because Turkey's financial troubles have been greatly exacerbated by a deep-rooted power struggle that is only going to intensify in the lead-up to local elections in March, presidential elections in August and parliamentary elections in 2015. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Number of Americans Without a Vehicle Has Increased Since 2007

January 29th 2014

Highway

American households without a vehicle have increased nearly every year since 2007—providing further evidence that motorization may have peaked in the United States, says a University of Michigan researcher.

Following up his research from last year showing that Americans own fewer light-duty vehicles per household, drive them less and consume less fuel than in the past, Michael Sivak of the U-M Transportation Research Institute examined recent trends (2005-12) in the proportion of U.S. households without a car, pickup truck, SUV or minivan. He also studied variations in this proportion for the 30 largest U.S. cities for 2007 and 2012.

Sivak found that 9.2 percent of U.S. households were without a vehicle in 2012, up from 8.7 percent in 2007. Further, the proportion of such households increased in 21 of the 30 largest cities, with the 13 cities with the largest proportions showing an increase during that time. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Anti-Polio Drive in Peshawar, Pakistan Falters

January 29th 2014

Polio Vaccination Clinc

The war on polio is in danger of being lost in Pakistan, and in a dramatic development a new strain of polio has been identified in a part of the country where eradication efforts against the crippling disease are most at risk because of attacks against vaccinators. 

Pakistan is one of only three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria where polio remains endemic and while eradication efforts are making progress in Afghanistan and Nigeria they are faltering in Pakistan, the only country in the world where polio case rose from 2012 to 2013.

Dr. Sarfraz Khan Afridi, a WHO official based in Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhaw province in the northwest of the country,  told VOA’s Deewa Radio that 91 cases of polio were reported in 2013, up from 58 in 2012. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Combating Islamism in South Asia: Keeping Bangladesh on the Democratic Path

January 28th 2014

Bangladeshi Islamic militants

Bangladesh has experienced significant political tumult in the past year and there is concern that as the parliamentary election (scheduled for January 5, 2014) approaches, street violence will escalate, jeopardizing the country’s nascent democratic system. While the threat from terrorism had diminished to some extent under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the recent execution of an Islamist politician and the sentencing to death of other opposition leaders accused of war crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971 have unleashed furor among Islamists. The war crimes verdicts led to violent protests earlier this year that left over 150 dead. Following the December 12 execution of Islamist leader Abdul Qader Mollah, rioting broke out, killing at least five Bangladeshis in a 24-hour period. The international community urged the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to stay Mollah’s execution, but to no avail. Read more ..


Palestinians on Edge

Hamas Continues Military Training in Schools

January 27th 2014

Training Schools

On January 7, 2014, the ministry of the education of the Hamas administration in Gaza, in collaboration with the ministry of the interior, announced the opening of the training camps of the second round of the Al-Futuwa military training program. Al-Futuwa is a Sufi term that has some similarities to chivalry and virtue or young-manliness. The camps, which last for about a week, were held last year for the first time. Al-Futuwa includes theoretical military topics and practical military training. According to the organizers, this year the program was expanded to 49 high schools throughout the Gaza Strip, with 13,000 students participating, as opposed to 5,000 who participated last year.

Osama al-Muzeini, Hamas minister of education, held a press conference at one of the high schools, where he said that the ministry of education had decided to expand the program in light of its great success the previous year. He called it a "national project" which objective was to raise a generation of Palestinian youths capable of "liberating and defending their country." He added that the program would train the students in combat skills and make them familiar with weapons so that they would be able to "'resist the occupation." He condemned those who criticized the camps by claiming they were educating for violence and terrorism, saying that "the program instills good social values". Fathi Hamad, Hamas minister of the interior, said that the students participating in the camps will have "the main role in liberating Al-Aqsa mosque from the pollution of the occupation." He said that it was worth their while to train and prepare to participate in "the liberation of Ashdod, Yavne, Jaffa, Acre, Lod, Ramla and all the villages in Palestine." Read more ..


China on Edge

China Anti-Corruption Activist Gets 4-Year Sentence

January 26th 2014

China democracy demonstration

A court in China has sentenced a prominent anti-corruption activist to four years in prison for allegedly "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order."

The activist, Xu Zhiyong is the founder of the New Citizens' Movement. The group advocates for rule of law and other issues, including the rights of the children of migrant workers and for the public disclosure of the assets of high-ranking officials. ​

Shortly after the verdict was read, Xu's lawyer, Zhang Qingfang, came out of Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate People's Court and tried to speak with reporters. But he was quickly surrounded by plain-clothes and uniformed police and forcibly escorted off. Authorities say they were trying to protect his safety and maintain order outside the court. Zhang adamantly disagreed and protested as police carted him away. "I am perfectly safe," he told police. "It is not the journalists who are infringing on my rights." Read more ..


The Way We Are

Home Birth Movement in the US Challenges Norms

January 25th 2014

Newborn baby

In the United States since the 1940s, most births have taken place in the hospital, attended by obstetricians employing the full armament of modern drugs and technology.

In the last two decades, the rate of Caesarean surgical deliveries has shot up dramatically, to more than one in three births today. Partly in response, a home birth movement that began in the 1960s has sprung up again.

New York medical student Emilie Jacobs and her husband, Rowan Finnegan, parents of 22-month-old Elias, are planning another home birth for their second child. “If it’s a healthy pregnancy, and there’s no reason you would need more stringent medical care, more advanced procedures, then why not?” asked Jacobs.

The same licensed nurse-midwife will attend her, bringing along the emergency equipment of a paramedic, just in case. Although most problems in labor are detected in plenty of time, several top hospitals are only a few minutes away, Jacobs noted. Ten percent of planned home births do end up in the hospital, usually because labor has failed to progress. But if all goes well, Jacobs will have a peaceful, unmedicated birth - with no high-tech monitoring, surgery or drug-induced labor. Read more ..


Inside Abu Dhabi

Brestfeeding by Law, in Abu Dhabi

January 24th 2014

Woman Breastfeeding Abu Dhabi

According to Islam, being breastfed is a right for all children. Now Abu Dhabi has passed a clause in their Child Rights law that requires all women to breastfeed their children – up to the age of two.

Islam has some pretty interesting points of view when it comes to breastfeeding, where it is recommended that a child nurse at least until the age of two.

There are loads of environmental and health benefits to breastfeeding, basically cutting out an entire industry of formula, cow-made or soya products; breastfeeding makes sure your baby gets all the vitamins and micronutrients, some not even known to science. It also helps a woman get make in shape and good spirits after giving birth. Some say it’s worth more than oil, like the author of this book. But to make it law? What does this do for women’s rights?

The Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, according to The National, told law makers that men would then be able to sue their women if their wives didn’t breastfeed. But Salem Al Ameri from Abu Dhabi said that being breastfed was a right of all children. Another lawmaker agreed that the required age should be two. That it should be seen as a duty and not an option for women.  Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Night-Time Smartphone Use Disrupts Sleep and Saps Human Energy

January 23rd 2014

Click to select Image

Using a smartphone to cram in more work at night results in less work the next day, indicates new research co-authored by a Michigan State University business scholar. In a pair of studies surveying a broad spectrum of U.S. workers, Russell Johnson and colleagues found that people who monitored their smart phones for business purposes after 9 p.m. were more tired and were less engaged the following day on the job.

“Smartphones are almost perfectly designed to disrupt sleep,” said Johnson, MSU assistant professor of management who acknowledges keeping his smartphone at his bedside at night. “Because they keep us mentally engaged late into the evening, they make it hard to detach from work so we can relax and fall asleep.”

More than half of U.S. adults own a smartphone. Many consider the devices to be among the most important tools ever invented when it comes to increasing productivity of knowledge-based work, Johnson said.

Yet at the same time, the National Sleep Foundation says only 40 percent of Americans get enough sleep on most nights and a commonly cited reason is smartphone usage for work. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

Gush Etzion Doctor Brings Hope and Care to Ailing Palestinians

January 22nd 2014

Dr. Yitz Glick at the Efrat Emergency Medical Center
Dr. Yitz Glick at the Efrat Emergency Medical Center

On a day where snow still covers the Judean hills, a Jewish doctor from Efrat drives into the neighboring Palestinian village called Wadi Nis. He is greeted by the local Palestinian villagers with smiles and warm hellos. “There’s the doctor,” says one Palestinian woman to another as Dr. Yitzchak Glick lowers his car window to say hello.

To the villagers of Wadi Nis and six other Palestinian villages in the Gush Etzion region, the kippah-wearing Dr. Glick is a familiar and welcome face. The U.S.-born doctor, who made aliyah with his parents in 1974, makes personal house calls every week, providing medical treatment to ailing Palestinians free of charge.

When Dr. Glick sees Mohammed, a construction worker who he treated for injuries from a fall from a building a couple of years ago, he stops to get out of the car. With his red keffiyeh, Mohammed greets Dr. Glick with a hug and the two converse as old-time buddies. “The people here don’t forget what I and other doctors from Efrat have done – from treating expectant mothers and providing free medicine to saving lives, you become part of their families.” Read more ..


Indigenous Peoples on Edge

Taiwan MPs Give Aborigines Greater Autonomy

January 21st 2014

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples’ push for legal autonomy in Taiwan reached a milestone this month when parliament changed a local governance law to give Austronesian aboriginal populations more power. The amended law removes a barricade to deeper tribal self-rule, a longstanding hope among aborigines, and may grab the attention of indigenous people elsewhere.

Taiwan’s parliament amended a law to extend self-governing rights to majority indigenous towns throughout the island. Under the law, townspeople will elect their own local representatives, rather than falling under non-aboriginal mayors of larger surrounding cities. Local leaders can also rename local government departments and decide how to spend money rather than following the budgets of higher officials. That could mean, for example, the council could decide to pave a road to an otherwise isolated group of mountain homes instead of resurfacing the town’s main highway. Read more ..


The Refugee Problem

Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey – Beyond Camps

January 20th 2014

Syrian refugees

An estimated 700,000 Syrian refugees have poured into Turkey since the start of the Syrian war.  Many refugees have benefited from Turkey’s “temporary protection” policy and have received services ranging from food and shelter to education in camps along the border.  However, as the conflict has intensified, far greater numbers of Syrians populate makeshift camps or reside in host communities.  This has important ramifications for education: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that of the one million Syrians that will reside in Turkey in 2014, 795,000 will be children, half-a-million of whom will be of school-going age. Read more ..


The Education Edge

Researchers Evaluate Peer-Led Team Learning in Cyberspace

January 19th 2014

video chat

Peer-Led Team Learning in undergraduate education is growing in popularity in universities across the country in courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – known collectively as the STEM disciplines. New research by faculty and students from the School of Science and the Center for Teaching and Learning at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis evaluates peer-led team learning for STEM focusing on its newest iteration – cyber peer-led team learning.

Peer-Led Team Learning, known as PLTL, is an innovative model of undergraduate instruction that augments the traditional lecture with a weekly two-hour workshop in which six to eight students work together to solve challenging problems under the guidance of a peer leader. The peer leader is a fellow undergraduate who has mastered the material and is a good communicator. In addition to course content instruction, he or she receives training in teaching methods such as how to work with students who attempt to dominate sessions and how to provide a boost to students who have difficulty participating. In addition to face-to-face PLTL, IUPUI has developed an online version know as cPLTL. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Tajik Imams Get a Makeover

January 18th 2014

Koran and prayer beads

It has been said that in diversity there is beauty and strength. But the Tajik authorities, it seems, are more attracted to uniformity.

After introducing uniforms and dress codes for teachers, students, and religious pilgrims in recent years, the powers that be in Dushanbe have set their sights on giving the country's imams a wardrobe makeover.

The State Committee for Religious Affairs announced this week that the design for a new, standard issue, uniform for imams has been agreed upon.

"The uniforms are being tailored now, and the imams will soon have identical outfits," committee head Abdurahim Kholiqov told reporters in Dushanbe on January 14.

The uniform consists of a grey satin shirt, trousers, a turban, and a long powder-blue robe highlighted by traditional white embroidery on the cuffs, lapels, and front trim. The style, created by local female fashion designer Mukarrama Qayumova, has been approved by the state committee as well as the Council of Ulema, the country's highest religious authority. Read more ..


The Way We Are

What Comforts Targets of Prejudice the Most

January 17th 2014

Gay Pride

Rare in history are moments like the 1960s civil rights movement, in which members of a majority group vocally support minority groups in their fight against prejudice. New research not only confirms the power of speaking up for those facing prejudice but also underlines the importance of exactly what is communicated. Looking at YouTube video messages, researchers found that homosexual youth found the most comfort in messages that both supported them and advocated social change.

The new work takes a closer look at the "It Gets Better" YouTube campaign. "Like many people, I was fascinated and inspired when I saw the grassroots online movement that started in late 2010 of people posting video messages to teenagers who faced prejudice and harassment based on their actual or presumed sexual orientation," says Aneeta Rattan of London Business School. "I was not just moved as an individual, but as a researcher because this behavior – publicly addressing prejudice toward another group and communicating support for members of that group – is so rare that there is not a clear body of psychological science on it."  Read more ..


The Way We Are

Some African Countries Pushing for Tougher Anti-Gay Laws

January 16th 2014

Brazilian gay pride on parade

Nigeria's president has signed into law a bill that bans gay marriage, gay rights advocacy and public displays of affection between same-sex couples.  Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria.  Human rights activists say the new law reflects a larger trend to ramp up anti-gay legislation and penalties.

Nigeria's new Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act has been condemned abroad but applauded at home. And it has given President Goodluck Jonathan a much-needed popularity boost.

"I thought the Western world will so much pressurize us to bow to it, but hearing that the president signed against it, in fact it's a kudos.  I'm very glad that he could stand [on] his feet and sign against such a taboo, because, I mean, it's un-African," said one citizen. "We don't want such a thing in our country." Many African countries inherited their anti-sodomy laws from colonial rulers.  Some have since added stiffer penalties and sought to broaden the list of offenses. Read more ..


The Edge of Sports

Athletes Hope to Bring Sibling Advantage to Sochi

January 15th 2014

Olympic torch

A sibling teammate is one advantage a handful of athletes have at the Olympic games.

This year, U.S. figure skating just nominated the sister-and-brother ice dancing team of Maia and Alex Shibutani to the Sochi squad.

At Vancouver 2010, Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger took gold in the doubles luge ahead of Latvian siblings Andris and Juris Sics.

A brother-sister cross country ski duo from Washington State is hoping to join the Olympic sibling tradition. One has a ticket to the Winter Games, while the other still hopes to clinch a spot.

Competitive streak
Erik and Sadie Bjornsen grew up in a close knit family near the remote hamlet of Mazama, Washington. An enviable 200 km Nordic trail system starts practically at their doorstep. Their mother, Mary Bjornsen, says all three of her children had an athletic upbringing with constant friendly competition.

"I can remember people wondering when Erik was going to start beating Sadie," Mary said. "It took a while actually. Sadie was fast." "Everything was a competition from running to the car, the first one there," Sadie said. "Or balancing at the [their father's] job site on a beam as long as you could." Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Activists Decry Impact of New Anti-Gay Measure

January 14th 2014

Gay Pride

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has signed a law that makes gay marriage in Nigeria punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Activists say the law will have disastrous consequences for the gay community and beyond. Political analysts say the popular law will be a gain for the president, whose ruling party is going through severe internal struggles ahead of the 2015 elections.  

On Monday morning, it was illegal to be gay in Nigeria. By Monday night, gay marriage had become illegal, along with being a member of a gay organization - a crime that could mean up to 10 years in prison. 
 
Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike is a rights activist and one of the few people in Nigeria who has spoken out against the law. He said the law may be intended to target gays, but it may harm others as well. For example, he said, gay men in Nigeria have a high HIV infection rate - 17 percent - and the law will keep some some men from getting treatment out of fear. For others, no treatment will be available. Read more ..


The EU Refugee Crises

Syrian Refugees Flood Bulgaria, Expose Flaws in EU Refugee Policy

January 13th 2014

Syrian Refugees in unhcr

Bulgaria is facing mounting criticism for its failure to adequately provide shelter, food and medical care to thousands of migrants who have entered the country over the past year, the majority of them Syrian asylum seekers. Aid and humanitarian groups are also worried about rising xenophobia, which, they say, has refugees living in a state of chronic fear. But some analysts say these criticisms aren’t fair and that too much is being expected from one of the poorest countries in the European Union.

Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, Bulgaria is required to take in and protect all asylum seekers. Last year, roughly 11,600 migrants crossed into Bulgaria from Turkey, most of them Syrian. What these refugees found when they got there wasn’t much better than what they left. ­­­­­­­

Boris Cheshirkov, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency, (UNHCR) in Bulgaria, says up until recently, Bulgaria had only three refugee centers that could accommodate no more than 1,200 refugees. But these centers quickly filled up, and migrants were forced to sleep in hallways, tents and in the streets.  So the government seized several dilapidated public buildings to house the overflow, but these lacked heat and hot water and staffing.  Read more ..


The Race for LEDs

Why My Parents Have a Closet Full of Lightbulbs

January 12th 2014

LED bulb

My Mom stockpiles lightbulbs. One closet houses neatly stacked cardboard boxes of 60-watt and 100-watt bulbs, arranged by wattage and ready for use the moment an old bulb flickers. She orders them online, with each shipment adding to her supply. My parents don’t fear the apocalypse; they fear a world without incandescent bulbs, the energy-inefficient globes that people think are going lights-out starting January 1 under federal law.

Consumers are correct that conventional incandescent lightbulbs, which fail to meet new energy-efficiency standards, can no longer be legally manufactured or imported into the country. The old style 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs were phased out earlier this year. And this week the law hits 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs, as well. New incandescents that meet the new standards and generate almost the same brightness, however, have already hit the market. Read more ..


Israel’s Leading Edge

A Jordianian Named Yitzhak Rabin

January 12th 2014

IDF Officer training ceremony

In January 1996, a Muslim baby born in northern Jordan was given the name Yitzhak Rabin. The mother and father, who were supporters of peace with Israel, had wanted to honor the slain Israeli leader’s role in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan in 1994. It was an unusual move, to say the least, and at the time, the parents’ decision to give their child a Jewish name, sparked an unprecedented uproar in Jordan.

The father lost his job and was harassed by family members and neighbors following the name choice. Jordan’s state registrar had told the parents that it was illegal to give the boy a Jewish name, but the Jordanian Ministry of Interior later ruled that it was legal. However, the continuing hostilities forced the family to flee. Yitzhak Rabin Namsy has been living in exile with his family for nearly 16 years - in Israel.

The Atlantic recently ran an article following up on Namsy, today 18, who lives in Eilat with his mother, and follows Judaism -- keeping the Sabbath and going to synagogue. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

Lenin Statues Under Attack In Ukraine

January 12th 2014

Ukraine

If Vladimir Lenin had a grave, he would be turning in it.

Statues of the Bolshevik leader have fallen victim to a string of assaults in Ukraine that have left them missing limbs, splattered with paint, covered in insults and swastikas, bullet-riddled, and even smeared with excrement. In some cases, the statues were knocked off their pedestals, a feat requiring a considerable amount of physical exertion.

At least four have already been vandalized since the beginning of the year, including one statue toppled in the city of Berdychiv and another daubed with black paint near Odesa.

Communists have pinned the blame squarely on nationalists.
Communist flags fly next to the same statue of Lenin in Kyiv in 2009, three years before the "Euromaidan" unrest swept it off its feet.

Ukrainian lawmaker Igor Miroshnichenko, a member of the ultranationalist Svoboda party who personally felled a Lenin statue in the northeastern city of Okhtyrka last year, says this is, in fact, correct.

"Of course the dismantling of Lenin statues is directly linked to nationalists," Miroshnichenko says. "Any Ukrainian who loves his nation, remembers and respects its history, who remembers his ancestors, who loves and fights for his state, freedom, and independence, is a nationalist." Last month, a group of masked individuals carrying a flag of the Svoboda party toppled a statue of Lenin in downtown Kyiv. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Ariel Sharon Passes

January 11th 2014

Ariel Sharon Headshot

After eight years of a comatose state and after deterioration in his health this past month, Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon finally passed away on Shabbat, January 11th, 2014, at the age of 85. Hi adopted son, Roni Schayak made the announcement.

Ariel Sharon, also known as Arik, was born as Ariel Scheinermann, (February 26th 1928). He was an Israeli statesman and retired general, who served as Israel's 11th Prime Minister.

He was born in Kfar Malal, then in the British Mandate of Palestine, to a family of Belarusian Jews. His parents fled the pogroms associated with the Russian Civil War. In 1942, at the young age of 14, Sharon joined the Gadna, a paramilitary youth battalion, and later the Haganah, the military precursor to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Sharon was a commander in the Israeli Army from its inception in 1948. As a paratrooper and then an officer, he participated prominently in the 1948 War of Independence, becoming a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade and participating in many battles. He was an instrumental figure in the creation of Unit 101 - a Special Forces unit, the Retribution Operations, the 1956 Suez War, the Six-Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition and the Yom-Kippur War of 1973. As Minister of Defense, he directed the 1982 Lebanon War.

During his military career, he was considered the greatest field commander in Israel's history, and one of the country's greatest ever military strategists. His career was characterized by insubordination, aggression and disobedience, but also brilliance as a commander. After his assault of the Sinai in the Six-Day War and his encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army in the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli public nicknamed him "The King of Israel" and "The Lion of G-d".

Read more ..

Race and Racism

Unknown Factors in the Infant Mortality Gap Among U.S. Blacks and Whites

January 10th 2014

Click to select Image

The unobservable factors that underpin the infant mortality gap between blacks and whites have persisted for more than 20 years and now appear to play a larger role than the observable factors, according to a new study by Michigan State University researchers. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study is the first to investigate long-term changes in both sets of factors, providing vital context of the scope of the problem as medical experts around the world try to solve the mystery behind the gap.

“What’s surprising about our findings is that when we take out all the factors we can observe – including mother’s age, education level, marital status and state of residence – the difference in the rate in which black and white infants die remained absolutely stable for two decades,” said Steven Haider, professor of economics. “We made no progress in shrinking that part of the gap.” Read more ..


France and Islam

French Court Dismisses Veil Ban Challenge

January 9th 2014

Muslim Woman

A court in France has rejected a challenge to the country's controversial veil ban law and sentenced a woman for flouting it and insulting police. But the story isn't over: Europe's highest court will hear another challenge to the legislation.

The court in Versailles on Wednesday fined Muslim convert Cassandra Belin 150 euros - or just over $200 - and gave her a one-month suspended sentence for wearing the face-covering niqab in public and for insulting police who ticketed her.  The scuffle between Belin, her husband and police made headlines in France last year, and sparked riots in the Paris suburb of Trappes.

The court also dismissed a petition by Belin's lawyer Philippe Bataille challenging the constitutionality of France's 2011 law that bars the wearing of most face covers in public. The legislation is broad, but some believe it takes aim at France's 5 million-strong Muslim community - even though only a small minority of women wear the niqab. Read more ..


Ancient Americans

University of Michigan Grants Half of its Native American Collection from Burial Sites to Modern Tribes

January 8th 2014

With the beginning of the new year, the University of Michigan has completed the transfer of nearly half of its collections of Native American human remains and cultural objects from burial sites in Michigan to tribes that lived in the areas where they were found.

“This is a significant milestone as we work to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the law mandating the repatriation of these collections,” said Stephen Forrest, former vice president for research, who initiated the process that has led to the transfers.

Forrest stepped down as vice president December 31, 2013, to focus full time on his responsibilities as a faculty member.

To date, collections from 120 sites have been transferred — 111 of them in 2013 alone. The university worked with 14 Michigan tribes in arranging these transfers. The collections are being transferred under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a law passed in 1990 requiring museums to follow a mandatory process for transferring human remains and associated funerary objects to tribes that have requested them and have the legal right to them. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Reports Of Holy Vision Sparks Mass Pilgrimage In Georgia

January 7th 2014

Orthodox Church Azerbaijan

Residents of Mtskheta heaved a sigh of relief on January 7 as visitors finally trickled out of their city. Rumors of a holy apparition had drawn hordes of pilgrims from across the country to the ancient Georgian town.

The pilgrimage to Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, began last week. A nun was reported to have had a vision that Father Gabriel, an Orthodox monk buried at a local monastery and canonized in 2012, would grant two wishes to all those who visited his grave before Orthodox Christmas on January 7.

Thousands of faithful quickly streamed to the town some 20 kilometers north of Tbilisi, creating chaos on the roads and a giant queue in front of the grave.

Local police were deployed to ease road traffic and prevent stampedes, ordering pilgrims to move on after briefly touching the tombstone.

According to the nun, Mother Paraskeva, Father Gabriel appeared to her as she prayed at his grave days before Orthodox Christmas.

"When I prayed at the grave of Father Gabriel, I had a vision that he would fulfill the wishes of all those who come here to ask for his benediction," she said. "This miracle happened, and this is why so many people have come here." But she played down reports that she had advised visiting the grave before Christmas, saying that Orthodox followers were welcome any time in Mtskheta and that the saint would grant wishes for everyone in Georgia. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

One-Third of American Teens Get Their Weed from Medical Marijuana Users

January 7th 2014

According to a release from the University of Michigan, the use of synthetic marijuana by American teenagers dropped substantially in 2013, while a sharply increasing proportion of them see great risk in using so-called “bath salts.” Both of these drugs are synthetics sold over the counter in many outlets such as gas stations and convenience stores, as well as on the Internet. They have been the subject of great concern because of their serious and unpredictable consequences for the user’s health.

These and other findings come from Monitoring the Future study conducted by the Ann Arbor-based institution, which is funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse. National samples of 40,000 to 50,000 students in three grades (eight, 10 and 12) have been surveyed every year since 1991. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

Cameroon Cracks Down on Illegal Hospitals

January 6th 2014

nurse w/stethoscope

Cameroon has started a crackdown on medical institutions, including Chinese traditional medical practitioners, who are practicing illegally in the country. The health ministry says thousands of hospitals operating without authorization are responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of patients.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mirabel Ndi watches helplessly as her two-month-old baby cries in pain. She says that for the entire night, she had been at the private clinic in Yaounde with no medical staff on duty. “I came to the hospital and there is nobody to help," she said. "Nobody to help.”

Since the government of Cameroon started a crackdown on what it calls illegal hospitals, staff members have gone into hiding. The secretary-general of Cameroon's National Medical Council, Bijoko Atangana says the Council will continue to pursue order in the sector. Read more ..



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