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Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Redux

April 6th 2014

Red Minaret, Hyderabad

With all the attention being paid to the Turkish election, the continuing "negotiations" between the six powers and Iran and the ins and outs of the talks that at some point may or may not take place between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, little attention is directed towards very concrete and significant events in a country that is not only strategically located but already has nuclear weapons--Pakistan.

The government of Nawaz Sharif, which is the first in Pakistan's history as an independent country to succeed another elected government with no period of military dictatorship in between, has been trying to reach an accommodation with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), ensconced in its mountain lair in North Waziristan, which borders on Afghanistan and which has been in constant violent conflict with the Pakistani government for years.  Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Women Await Poll Results With Hope

April 5th 2014


Hopes are high that Afghanistan's election Saturday may result in the country's first peaceful transition of power in more than a century.  Militant attacks and electoral fraud are the main threats to the vote for a new president, who will take over after President Hamid Karzai ends his second term.  Afghan women, whose freedom has often been curtailed, also worry about their future under a new government.

In this beauty parlor in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, the presidential election is the main topic of conversation.  Owner Balqis Azizi says it is not clear what the future will bring regardless of who is elected. "We hope it will be good.  It is a concern for all of us.  What will happen?  Nobody knows what programs the candidates have for the future.  People are concerned about who is going to be elected," she said. Read more ..

Russia and Estonia

Russians Of Narva Not Seeking 'Liberation' From Moscow

April 4th 2014

Russia military symbol

Aleksandr Brokk calls himself an "Estonian patriot." His family has lived in the country for generations and he makes his living running a successful tech park.

Like the vast majority in the sleepy eastern Estonian border city of Narva, Brokk is an ethnic Russian. And while he's proud of his language and heritage, all he needs to do is look across the river at the dilapidated Russian fortress city of Ivangorod to know which side of the border he wants to live on.

"People come and go. When you cross into Ivangorod, straight away you can see the atmosphere there," Brokk says. "Who is going to want to join that?" Brokk's opinions are not an anomaly here. In Narva, Russian is the lingua franca, Russian media is the main source of news, and orange-and-black St. George ribbons symbolizing military victory adorn cars.

But the Russians of Narva, who make up 88 percent of the city's population, call the European Union and NATO their home. And while they may feel the emotional tug of Moscow and certainly have their grievances with the Estonian government in Tallinn, few say they want to follow the example of Crimea and join Russia. Most  here have become accustomed to their stable and predictable lives on the EU's eastern frontier. Read more ..

Cambodia on Edge

Half a Million Cambodians Affected by Land Disputes

April 3rd 2014

Vietnamese hat in mud

A leading Cambodian human rights group says more than half a million people have been affected by land disputes in the country over the last 14 years.

Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for Licadho, said Thursday that a “wave” of land grabs has continued this year, impacting families in nearly all provinces, including disputes between villagers and development companies or loggers.

“Before releasing the report, we conducted detailed research.  The main point is that starting from early this year, land disputes have occurred again. That’s the reason why we are concerned and issued this report; to remind the government to put extra mechanisms in place to find solutions for the people," said Ath.

The government has rejected those figures.  Sar Sovann, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, told reporters Thursday the report “does not reflect reality.”  There are only 3,000 to 4,000 sites that “have problems,” he said. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Critically Ill Patients at Risk for Developing Mental Illness

April 2nd 2014

Boy in pain

A new study shows that people with critical illnesses are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric illnesses than people who haven't experienced a life-threatening disease.

Studies show that people with diabetes and heart disease have greater than normal chances of suffering from depression, a mental illness that can interfere with daily life and any enjoyment of it. But what about illnesses so severe that those who have them end up in hospital intensive care units? 

Dr. Derek Angus of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center led a study that examined the relationship between critical illness and mental illness. Researchers reviewed the medical records of all patients admitted to intensive care units in Denmark over a three-year period.

“Denmark is important because for many years now they have been collecting national data on essentially the health and wellness of every person living in Denmark," said Angus.

“We were interested in people who got a new or sudden critical illness such as pneumonia or an episode of sepsis," said Angus. For example, patients on ventilators admitted the intensive care unit, or ICU,  were compared to similar patients in other wards of the hospital and in the general population.    Read more ..

The Way We Are

Jimmy Carter Calls for Stop in Abuse Against Women

March 31st 2014

Jimmy Carter

The World Health Organization reports one in three women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter calls abuse of women the most serious human rights issue facing the world today. In an interview with VOA, and in his new book A Call to Action, he outlines the seriousness of the abuse — both globally and in the United States. Human rights organizations and activists hope his attention to the issue will give them a boost in fighting the problem.

Former President Carter learned about these abuses through the global work of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, where abuse of women was the focus of a 2013 human rights conference.

"The most serious problem is murder of baby girls by their parents. And the abortion of the girl fetus if the parents find out she's going to be female," Carter said.

"We've been dealing with 79 different countries, and as I've been in those foreign countries, and also throughout the United States, I've seen the tangible examples of how horribly women and girls are treated, much worse than anyone knows," he added. His research into the scope and seriousness of abuse against women culminated in his 28th book, A Call to Action, which explores the culture and causes of the abuse. He says the United States is not immune to the problem. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Tops List Of Asylum Seekers in Industrialized Countries

March 30th 2014

Syrian Refugees

A new report finds that Syria is churning out the largest number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries. The U.N. refugee agency's just-released report on asylum trends in 2013 shows a sharp rise in asylum claims in 44 industrialized countries last year.

The report says nearly 613,000 people lodged claims for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific last year. This is the highest total for any year since 2001. The UNHCR said this sharp rise in asylum seekers is being driven primarily by the crisis in Syria.

That country now tops the list as the world's main origin for asylum-seekers, bumping Afghanistan into second position, with Russia in third place. The director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection, Volker Turk, called Syria an international game changer. He said the number of Syrian asylum seekers shows how that country is affecting other regions and countries in the industrialized world, although they are far removed from the crisis in the Middle East. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Are Statins Good for Your Love Life?

March 29th 2014

Active Seniors

Statins are associated with a significant improvement in erectile function, a fact researchers hope will encourage men who need statins to reduce their risk of heart attack to take them, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

Erectile dysfunction is common in older men, especially among those with cardiovascular risk factors where cholesterol-lowering statins are frequently prescribed. Previous research has suggested a negative association between statin therapy and testosterone levels, leading to questions about the effects of these widely used medications on the quality of erection.

In the first meta-analysis of previous studies on erectile dysfunction and statins, researchers identified 11 randomized, controlled trials that measured erectile function using the International Inventory of Erectile Function – a self-administered survey with five questions, each scored on a five-point scale and totaled, with lower values representing poorer sexual function. Analysis of all 11 studies combined found a statistically significant effect of statins on erectile function in men who had both high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. Overall, erectile function scores increased by 3.4 points in men who took statins (from 14.0 to 17.4, a 24.3 percent increase). Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Rising Wealth Not Enough to Raise Child Health

March 28th 2014

Childhood Obesity

Getting wealthier does not automatically make a nation healthier, according to new research.

The study questions whether promoting economic growth is the best way to improve child nutrition in low- and middle-income countries.

The conventional wisdom, according to Harvard School of Public Health professor Subu Subramanian, is “‘Let’s just go after economic growth and then everything else will just follow.’”

But Subramanian notes that a booming economy has done little to reduce child undernutrition in India.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the most common measure of the economy, has been growing by more than five percent per year for much of the last two decades. That’s faster than most Western countries. But more than two-fifths of India’s children are underweight and nearly half are stunted. And that has not changed much since the early 1990s. Read more ..

Edge of Hate

California Students Denounce Anti-Semitism at State Assembly Hearing

March 27th 2014

Click to select Image

Last week the new California Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate held its first hearing. AMCHA Initiative urged members of the committee to examine campus antisemitism and take the proper steps to ensure Jewish students feel safe and welcome at California’s colleges and universities. AMCHA provided a full packet of information to the committee members about incidents of campus antisemitisim throughout California, including incidents from UC Davis, SFSU, UC Riverside and more.

You can see AMCHA’s unabridged remarks to the committee HERE.

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) announced the creation of the Select Committee in January. March 21 was the first of four public hearings the Committee will hold over the next few months. The Committee was tasked with investigating issues pertaining to student welfare on college campuses. Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who worked as a San Diego State University professor, chairs the Committee.

With antisemitism at U.S. colleges, and, especially, in California, growing at an alarming rate, campus antisemitism is a concern AMCHA Initiative hears about daily from members of California’s Jewish community, including university alumni, rabbis, professors, religious school principals and, of course, students, parents and grandparents. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Muslims in Ukraine: A Small Problem Amid a Larger One

March 27th 2014

Burka cellphone

In a long and detailed article on recent events in the Ukraine the Washington Post provided a tantalizing snippet, noted above, and then provided no further comment on an incident pitting Ukraine's Muslim and ethnic Russian communities.

With the exit of President Viktor Yanukovych, observers are left to speculate what will become of the Ukraine. In that nation there exists a plethora of political parties, and thus the election for President and to the 450-member unicameral legislature (the Verkhovna Rada) has in the past been subject to much horse-trading. Still, if simplification is demanded, it can be said that as of this moment the Ukraine is divided between the Russophiles found east of the Dneiper River and in the Crimea, and the Russophobes to the west.

A second question should be, what will happen in the Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula? If the Russophobes in Kiev retain the power they have won, will the emerging Russophobia lead Russia's President Vladimir Putin to seize the Crimea where ethnic Russians comprise about sixty percent of that region's population? Most importantly, as Sevastapol serves as a singularly important Russian naval base and is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet, the possibility that Russia will move against Kiev to protect its interest is all too real. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Police Shooting of Homeless Man Sparks Outrage in New Mexico

March 26th 2014

Click to select Image

In one of the most emotional demonstrations of its kind in recent New Mexico history, hundreds of people surged through the streets of downtown Albuquerque the evening of March 25 shouting for justice for homeless camper James Boyd and other men shot to death by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

To the loud beat of drums, a fired-up crowd chanted “We are all James Boyd” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Killer Cops Have Got to Go.” A mock coffin bearing the names of men killed by APD, as well as the 11 women and girls found murdered on Albuquerque’s West Mesa in 2009, accompanied the procession. Read more ..

The Edge of Womens Rights

It's Time to End Rape Culture Hysteria

March 25th 2014

Prison bars

“Rape is as American as apple pie,” says blogger Jessica Valenti. She and her sisters-in-arms describe our society as a “rape culture” where violence against women is so normal, it’s almost invisible. Films, magazines, fashion, books, music, humor, even Barbie — according to the activists — cooperate in conveying the message that women are there to be used, abused, and exploited. Recently, rape culture theory has migrated from the lonely corners of the feminist blogosphere into the mainstream. In January, the White House asserted that we need to combat campus rape by “[changing] a culture of passivity and tolerance in this country, which too often allows this type of violence to persist.”

Tolerance for rape? Rape is a horrific crime and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture; what we have is an out-of-control lobby leading the public and our educational and political leaders down the wrong path. Rape culture theory is doing little to help victims, but its power to poison the minds of young women and lead to hostile environments for innocent males is immense. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Trapping Phosphorus with Magnets Captures Valuable Materials in Waste Water

March 24th 2014

Click to select Image

Phosphorus can be found in fertilizers, drinks and detergents. It accumulates in waterways and pollutes them. For this reason the German Phosphorus Platform has the goal to recover this valuable, but at the same time, harmful element from water. How this can be done will be shown by researchers at the Hannover Trade Fair / IndustrialGreenTec from April 7 – 11 in Hannover where visitors can try out the method for themselves.

Using magnets the superparamagnetic particles in the water can be removed along with their phosphorus load. Not only plants, but also humans and animals need phosphorus, which is a building block of DNA. Many biological processes in our body can only take place if phosphorus atoms are also present. But farmers and industrial enterprises use so much of this element that soil is over-fertilized and waterways are contaminated. Read more ..

Islam in Europe

Austria: Muslims Outnumber Catholics in Viennese Schools

March 21st 2014

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Austria is also in the process of introducing new taxpayer-funded textbooks for the formal teaching if Islam in all public elementary schools across the country.... This is the first time Islam is being taught to Austrian students in the German language.

"What remains, then, is to conquer Rome. This means Islam will come back to Europe for a third time, after it was expelled from it twice. We will conquer Europe! We will conquer America! Not through the sword but through our Dawa [proselytizing]." — Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim students, according to new statistics, now outnumber Roman Catholic students at middle and secondary schools in Vienna, the capital and largest city of Austria. Read more ..

Ancient Days

Ancient Maori New Zealanders May Have Killed Off the Giant Moa Bird

March 20th 2014

Click to select Image
Giant Haast eagle attacks Moas

A study by Curtin University researchers and colleagues from Denmark and New Zealand strengthens the case for human involvement in the disappearance of New Zealand’s iconic megaherbivore, the moa – a distant relative of the Australian Emu.

All nine species of New Zealand moa, the largest weighing up to 250 kilograms, became extinct shortly after Polynesians arrived in the country in the late 13th century.

Researchers have previously suggested, from limited genetic evidence, that huge populations of moa had collapsed before people arrived and hence influences other than people were responsible for the extinction.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, the researchers analysed the gene pools of four moa species in the 5000 years preceding their sudden extinction using ancient DNA from more than 250 radiocarbon-dated moa. Read more ..

Internet Edge

Serious Global Approach Needed to Attack Data Thieves

March 19th 2014

Stopping massive data breaches like the one that hit Target will require a more sophisticated, collaborative approach by law enforcement agencies around the world, a Michigan State University cyber security expert argues.

In a new research report for the National Institute of Justice, Thomas Holt found many hackers and data thieves are operating in Russia or on websites where users communicate in Russian, making it easier to hide from U.S. and European authorities. All countries need to better work together to fight hacking and data theft campaigns, he said, and use undercover stings in which officers pose as administrators of the Internet forums where stolen data is advertised.

The Target breach, which comprised 40 million credit- and debit-card accounts during the 2013 holiday shopping season, may have originated in Russia, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. “This is a truly global problem, one that we cannot solve domestically and that has to involve multiple nations and rigorous investigation through various channels,” said Holt, associate professor of criminal justice. Holt authored the 155-page report with Olga Smirnova from Eastern Carolina University. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

New Genetic Analysis Tools Pinpoint Disease Factors

March 18th 2014

Ancestral background has much to do with our likelihood of developing or staving off disease. But separating the associations between who we are and where we come from, and genetic variations that cause disease, can be difficult and often result in false genetic study leads.

A new statistical method, developed by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, can help those who study the human genome better identify ancestry as they go about isolating the genes that cause disease.

The LASER (Locating Ancestry from SEquence Reads) software can establish ancestry using very small amounts of sequence data, scattered across 1-10 percent of the genome and adding only a few dollars to the cost of a genetic analysis.

"You can use our method to describe the ancestry of an individual very precisely, even separating individuals from different parts of Finland," said Goncalo Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at U-M. "In studies of genetic diseases, this information helps separate changes that cause disease from more numerous changes that specify ancestry." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Mexican-Americans Show High Incidence of Post-Stroke Damage

March 18th 2014

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Mexican-Americans suffer more damage from stroke than non-Hispanic whites but they survive longer. New University of Michigan research shows that Mexican-Americans had worse neurologic, functional and cognitive outcomes 90 days after stroke compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Although this population has increased risk of stroke, they have a lower chance of dying from one, suggesting that prolonged survival is at the expense of increased disability.

"What we found most notable was the difference in functional outcome," said Lynda Lisabeth, the study's lead author and interim chair and associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health. "Mexican-Americans did worse on all the measures of daily living activities compared to non-Hispanic whites." Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Polish MEP Sponsors “Never Again” Event in Krakow

March 17th 2014

Concentration Camp

Every year in March, Jews from the city of Krakow, Poland commemorate the anniversary of the liquidation of the German Nazi Ghetto in their city. Using this opportunity MEP Michal Kaminski organized a photo exhibition in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, followed by a concert by Cantor Itzchak Horovitz with The Saints Klezmer band from Krakow city. Cantor Horovitz is an Israeli citizen who for 7 years has lived in Poland and is part of the Krakow Jewish Community. The audience heard songs in Hebrew known from the Shabbat table but also those in Yiddish. Joël Rubinfeld Vice-President of the European Jewish Parliament said: “It was especially moving to hear, yesterday evening, the song “A Yiddishe Mame” from the speakers of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.”

The sponsor of the exhibition is MEP Michal Kaminski: Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Ending Hunger and Undernutrition

March 16th 2014

Kenya Poverty

A new report says ending persistent hunger and undernutrition should be top development priorities. The International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI, has released its annual Global Food Policy Report.

IFPRI has set a goal of 2025 for ending hunger and undernutrition. The U.N. estimates more than 840-million people still go hungry every day, while over two-billion have a deficiency of essential micronutrients, such as iron, Vitamin A and zinc.

Although very high, those figures actually represent an improvement in recent years. But the progress has not been uniform. The report said there are still major hunger challenges in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan, said, “We have made tremendous progress in the last several decades. So poverty has come down – undernutrition has come down. However, we’re still facing some tremendous challenges.” Fan said that solving hunger and undernutrition is a “moral issue.”

“We’ve got to work together to solve that problem. Secondly, it is also [an] economic issue. It makes a lot of economic sense by reducing hunger and malnutrition.”

He said there is a very large return for every dollar invested in reducing hunger. The IFPRI report listed Brazil, China, Thailand and Vietnam as having made dramatic progress --  with policies that emphasize improving agriculture, providing social safety nets and targeting nutrition programs at those most in need. Fan said it requires cooperation among governments, the private sector, civil society, farmers and others. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Emergency Rooms Prescribe Increasing Amounts of Opioid Painkillers

March 15th 2014

George Washington University (GW) researchers report dramatic increases in prescriptions of opioid analgesics, such as Percocet, Vicodin, oxycodone and Dilaudid, during U.S. emergency department visits from 2001 to 2010. These findings were not explained by higher visit rates for painful conditions, which only increased modestly during the time period. This report was published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine.

“This trend is especially concerning given dramatic increases in opioid-related overdoses and fatalities in recent years,” said Maryann Mazer-Amirshahi, M.D., co-author of the study and adjunct instructor of emergency medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). “Using prescription opioids to treat acute painful conditions in emergency departments and hospitals might do more harm than good, as they can potentially lead to misuse and addiction. More needs to be done to monitor opioid prescriptions in emergency departments — having recommended standard approaches may be a good starting point.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

Natural Selection Altered Europeans' Appearance over 5,000 Years' Evolution

March 15th 2014

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There has been much research into the factors that have influenced the human genome since the end of the last Ice Age. Anthropologists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and geneticists at University College London (UCL), working in collaboration with archaeologists from Berlin and Kiev, have analyzed ancient DNA from skeletons and found that selection has had a significant effect on the human genome even in the past 5,000 years, resulting in sustained changes to the appearance of people. The results of this current research project (Click here) have been published this week in an article entitled "Direct evidence for positive selection of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in Europeans during the last 5,000 years" in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..

The Way We Are

The GOP Is Making Progress with Millennials; with Minorities, Not Yet

March 14th 2014

Starbucks Wireless

One year ago, on March 18, the Republican National Committee issued its post-mortem on the 2012 election.  Its Growth and Opportunity Project report argued that the party was “marginalizing” itself, making it increasingly difficult for it to win future presidential elections. The candid 97-page report looked at some particular weaknesses including GOP deficits among millennials, minorities, and women. How is the party doing a year later?

We assume the GOP is doing a lot of things below our radar screen such as hiring field and communications directors who know how to reach these key groups and honing messages to improve performance. Our focus is on public opinion.  Is the needle moving?

Let’s look first on millennials, the generation born after 1980. There is some good news for the GOP in this age cohort, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.  Half of Millennials now declare themselves independents.  This high level of non-affiliation gives the GOP an opportunity to make its case to younger voters. Many Millennials are dissatisfied with President Obama, whom they supported by large margins in 2008 and 2012. Read more ..

The Way We Are

'Free to Be' Boys and Girls: 40 Years After the Failed Gender Revolution

March 13th 2014

Student Backpack

This week marks the 40th anniversary of an event close to the hearts of gender activists everywhere. On March 11, 1974, ABC aired Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be…You and Me” — a musical program celebrating gender-free children. Thomas and her fellow co-neutralists envisioned a world where the sex distinction would melt away. Instead of “males” and “females,” there would be mutually respectful, non-gendered human persons. The project resulted in a platinum LP, a best-selling book, and an Emmy. More than that, the idea of gender liberation entered the national zeitgeist. Parents everywhere began giving their daughters trucks and sons baby dolls. Like so many dream boats floating on the utopian sea, this one crashed and sank when it hit the rocks of reality.

In one “Free to Be” song, two babies discuss their life goals: the female wants to be a fireman; the male, a cocktail waitress. Another tells about a girl who liked to say, “Ladies First” — only to wind up being the first to be eaten by tigers. The songs drive home the idea that we are all androgynous beings unfairly constrained by social stereotypes. “William‘s Doll” is memorable. “A doll, said William, is what I need. To wash and clean and dress and feed.” In the end his kindly grandmother buys him the coveted toy. Read more ..

Society on Edge

Americans Still Don't Spare the Rod When it Comes to Disciplining Children

March 12th 2014

The same hands that parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and bathe their babies are also commonly used to spank their bundles of joy.

A new University of Michigan study found that 30 percent of 1-year-old children were spanked at least once in the past month by their mother, father or both parents.

A long-time topic of debate, many parents in the U.S. spank their children. Previous research has focused on disciplining children as young as age 3, in part, because spanking is common among children of this age. Studies have shown that spanking is related to children's greater aggression, depression and other negative behavior.

But the latest findings show that spanking is used on children who are so young that, in some cases, they haven't even taken their first step.

Researchers examined 2,788 families who participated in a longitudinal study of new births in urban areas. The study indicated that spanking by the child's mother, father or mother's current partner when the child was a year old was linked to child protective services' involvement between ages 1 and 5. During that time, 10 percent of the families received at least one visit by CPS.

U-M social work professors Shawna Lee and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor say that spanking babies is particularly misguided and potentially harmful, and may set off a cascade of inappropriate parental behavior. Their research is a snapshot of a larger problem: many people lack parenting skills that include alternatives to spanking. Read more ..

The South African Edge

South Africa Welcomes Chinese Language, Influence in Schools

March 11th 2014

African school kids

South Africa's education minister says the nation of 11 official languages will introduce Mandarin into its school curriculum. The move is part of a greater effort to get closer to major trading partner China, and has been criticized and welcomed. 

If you want to say hello in South Africa, you have no shortage of options in this nation of 11 official languages.  It’s "sawubona" in Zulu, "hallo" in Afrikaans and "dumelang" [in the plural form] in Setswana. And, of course, there is always, "hello." 

But now, South Africa’s education ministry hopes to add another language to this polyglot nation, by saying "ni hao" to Mandarin Chinese. An agreement this month between the two nations focuses on five areas of cooperation: curriculum development, math and science, teacher training, vocational education, and research and development in basic education. Read more ..

The Edge of Poverty

One Billion at Risk of Extreme Poverty

March 10th 2014

Kenya Poverty

Climbing out of extreme poverty -- and staying there – can be very difficult. A new report warns up to one billion people are at risk of extreme poverty by 2030 unless more is done to support them in hard times.

Unemployment, poor health, high food prices, conflict and natural disasters – these are some of the things that can drive people below the poverty line of $1.25 a day.

The Overseas Development Institute and the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network have released the Third Chronic Poverty Report.  Network Director Andrew Shepard -- the lead author -- warns of poverty’s “revolving door.”

“People fall into poverty as well as escape it. And once they’ve escaped it they can fall back in again.” He said there are three legs of poverty that must be addressed.

“You can be poor the whole of your life, chronically poor. And policies, generally speaking, don’t deal very well with that. You can become poor. You can be impoverished. Policies are beginning to address that a little bit better than they did 10 years ago, but there’s still a long way to go on that, especially in Africa, and actually also in Asia. And then once you escape poverty, you need to keep on in an upward trajectory. You need to keep on moving away from poverty because you can easily fall back in again,” he said.

It’s estimated there were 1.2 billion people in extreme poverty in 2010. That’s a decline of 700 million since 1990. Shepard says that’s good news, but the trend may not continue. “People who are chronically poor, they’re poor over their lifetimes for reasons and those reasons can be quite hard to tackle. For example, they might be discriminated against. And some countries now have good policies against discrimination, buy many countries don’t yet or they don’t implement them.” Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

A Jewish Voice from the Crimea: "Living in Readiness"

March 9th 2014

Defaced Synagogue-Simferopol

Two weeks after the fall of the regime in the Ukraine, and as the flow of reports on Russian military advancement in the Crimea intensifies, the situation in the region continues to remain unstable and flammable.

The interim government in the Ukraine has issued new laws, many of them with a nationalistic orientation, creating unrest in the Russian speaking regions in the country. Many of these ethnic Russians in the east of the Ukraine fear the new regime and aspire to be annexed by Russia. These citizens go to sleep every night not knowing in which country they will wake up in the next morning. Russian President Vladimir Putin has effectively invaded the Crimea under the pretence that he is doing so to protect the ethnic Russian there from Ukrainian nationalism, and now the world's attention is focused on the key peninsula.

The residents of the Crimea don't know what to expect from the government in Kiev, and these latest developments have not left the Jewish community in the Crimea untouched. As always in history, when a region experiences strife and instability the first to come under threat are the Jews there, as the lack of a central government enables the violent expressions of anti-Semitism. Tazpit News Agency has interviewed two of the leaders of the Jewish community in the Crimea, and has learned of their precarious state. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iran's Dervishes On Hunger Strike Inside, Outside Prison

March 8th 2014

Iran protest

It started on March 1 when one jailed dervish -- blogger and rights activist Kasra Nouri -- went on hunger strike to protest what he described as the mistreatment of his fellow prisoners. Nouri was angered that two jailed members of the Nematollahi Gonabadi order of Sufis were not receiving proper health care. He then was joined by others.

Sources close to the dervishes now say that 10 of them in prison are refusing to eat. They have been reportedly joined by more than 2,000 other Sufis outside of prison -- in Iran and elsewhere in Europe, India, and other countries -- who have also gone on hunger strike. A number of them have said they will protest on March 8 in front of the prosecutor-general's office in Tehran.
The protest is not just about the mistreatment of jailed dervishes. But it focuses on state pressure on the Nematollahi Gonabadi dervishes who make the largest Sufi group in Iran. The group is believed to have more than 2 million members across Iran. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Fear Rife Among Crimea's Minority Tatar Population

March 7th 2014

Ukraine protest

Nurie -- a 48-year-old Tatar woman in the central Crimean town of Bakhchysaray -- was sitting in her home this week when a group of Russian-speaking Crimean men came walking down her street with truncheons.

One of the men had a list that appeared to contain the names and addresses of Tatars in the area -- a neighborhood called Aqchuqraq where most residents are either Crimean Tatars or ethnic Kazakhs. Next door, Nurie's Tatar neighbor Ava had just returned from picking up her 7-year-old son from school.

Ava could see the men checking their list and marking the gates of houses where Crimean Tatar families live. As the men approached her, brandishing their truncheons, Ava ran inside with her son to hide. Read more ..

The Way We Are

WHO Issues New Contraception Guidelines

March 6th 2014

Nigerian baby with cap

The World Health Organization says human rights must be respected and protected when women seek contraception services. The WHO has issued new guidelines for policymakers and healthcare providers in conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8th.

The WHO estimates over 220-million women are not able to meet their needs for modern contraception. It says many are among the most vulnerable, including the poor, those living with HIV and women displaced by conflict or other causes. Dr. Marleen Temmerman is an obstetrician and director of the WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research.

“It’s the first time that there is a guidance from the WHO where human rights is actually in the title – and not only in the title, but also in the content of the guidelines. We have guidelines for contraceptive use from the medical perspective looking at what is safe – what are the medical eligibility criteria – what [are] the contraindications and so on. But now we have worked towards ensuring human rights in the contraceptive guidelines,” she said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

US Gay Rights Supporters Applaud Recent Victories

March 5th 2014

LGBT Youth

U.S. Gay rights activists are celebrating a series of recent legislative and legal victories for same-sex marriage. The advancement of gay rights in the United States comes as other countries adopt tougher anti-gay laws.

Cheers erupted outside Arizona's state capitol building after Governor Jan Brewer vetoed of a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians.

Since the bill's passage by state lawmakers there was growing opposition from major corporations and civil rights groups. Proponents say it was designed, however, to protect businesses like bakeries, flower shops and wedding photographers who may have objections to same-sex marriage.

Arizona State Senator Steve Yarbrough said the measure was about protecting people's right to exercise religion freely. "I have to give credit to the opponents who have turned this into a discrimination bill against gays. It could not be further from that," he said. Read more ..

Saudi Arabia on Edge

The Saudi Dilemma

March 4th 2014

Saudi princes

These are perilous times for the desert kingdom, which sees itself as the very center of Sunni Islam, which for Sunnis is the only true Islam. It is facing a highly complex and dangerous confluence of circumstances that would have seemed most unlikely even a short time ago.


Internally, the regime is facing growing demands for emancipation by women and modernization by the Saudi youth, as well as resistance from Asian and African "guest workers" who are being sent back to their home countries.  In addition, within the Saudi royal clan open fissures have developed between those actively scornful of the United States, the Saudis' traditional allies and protectors, and those who prefer a softer approach hoping for a change in the American attitude.


Thailand on Edge

Bangkok Protests Splitting Thai Families

March 3rd 2014

Puea Thai

As protests in Bangkok continue, the growing political polarization in Thailand is splitting families throughout the country.  And there are growing fears the deepening political divide could lead to widespread violence.

Despite the carnival-like atmosphere of some anti-government protests in Bangkok, animosity between government supporters and opponents appears to be growing.

The underlying anger, fueled by public displays of hate mongering, has some observers worried that widespread violence could erupt within the country.

The conflict is attributed by some to a split between the "rural poor and elite urbanites," but some analysts say it is cutting much deeper into Thailand's social fabric. Human Rights Watch senior researcher Sunnai Pasuk warned that a deep-rooted hatred was spreading through communities across the country. Read more ..

Edge on Computing

Offices Make Space for Co-Working Freelancers and Consultants

March 2nd 2014

Cloud technology and wider use of freelancers has more people working from home, remotely or even from coffee houses. Being away from the rigid hierarchy of office cubes suits many, but some miss collaborating with colleagues. Enter co-working spaces: locations where freelancers and remote workers can do their jobs, share ideas or just talk during breaks.

Research from Gretchen Spreitzer and Lyndon Garrett of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business shows co-working helps isolated workers thrive and be more productive.

Co-working spaces are open and designed to enhance both productivity and encounters, either social or professional, they say. The lack of collaboration was cited as a reason Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer called remote workers back to the office. "If you give people freedom but not a mechanism to interact with each other, they'll just be in their own little world doing their own task," said Spreitzer, a professor of management and organizations and an expert on how organizations can help people thrive at work. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Colorado's Marijuana Regulations Strive to Balance Freedom, Responsibility

March 1st 2014

Teenager smoking marijuana

When the U.S. state of Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational purposes this year, it also imposed tighter restrictions and regulations on the drug, compared to those it has on tobacco and alcohol.

Amendment 64, the Colorado law that legalized the sale and possession of marijuana for personal use, is groundbreaking.

It creates for the first time an overarching regulatory structure on the industry and imposes strict limits on usage.

The regulations are based on three guiding principles, says Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue. “We want to keep it out of the hands of kids.  We want to keep it out of the hands of criminals and we want to keep it out of the hands of people who are not supposed to have it, so people from other states.  So we don't want it leaving our state," said Brohl. Read more ..

Islam and Europe

The Taste of Muslim Integration in the UK

February 28th 2014

In the city of Bradford UK, the local Reform synagogue was about to close its doors when members of a nearby mosque and some Muslim businessmen stepped in with money and advice -- and the synagogue has been saved. The two sides have started what they hope will become a tradition.

Although immigration can be of great benefit to societies, when it goes wrong -- such as illegal immigration, or when incomers cannot find work, or when new citizens refuse to adapt to the societies they enter -- the benefits are eroded and the native population starts to resent the people it had originally invited to join them.

The United States seems to have done a good job on integrating its immigrants, to the point where its many groups have made such wonderful contributions to life in their new country that it is hard to see what America would be without them. Although, as Moynihan and Glazer revealed in Beyond the Melting Pot, the pot never completely melts, the Poles have learned to speak English; they pledge allegiance to the flag and they serve -- and die -- in the military. But they still eat pierogi, attend Mass in a Polish church, play Polish music (however corrupted) and preserve memories of their grandmothers and grandfathers. To them, the future is American, and tastes of pierogi, kiełbasa, and hamburgers. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Ecological Disaster Looms over Lake Erie

February 28th 2014

Reducing the size of the Lake Erie "dead zone" to acceptable levels will require cutting nutrient pollution nearly in half in coming decades, at a time when climate change is expected to make such reductions more difficult. That's one of the main conclusions of a comprehensive new study that documents recent trends in Lake Erie's health. It offers science-based guidance to policymakers seeking to reduce the size of toxic algae blooms and oxygen-starved regions called hypoxic zones, or dead zones—two related water-quality problems that have seen a resurgence in the lake since the mid-1990s.

The report from the multi-institution EcoFore-Lake Erie project states that a 46 percent reduction in the amount, or load, of phosphorus pollution would be needed to shrink Lake Erie's Central Basin hypoxic zone to a size last seen in the mid-1990s—a time that coincided with the recovery of several recreational and commercial fisheries in the lake's west and central basins. Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Uprising Opens Doors for Ukrainian Women

February 27th 2014

Ukraine protest

Ukraine's protest movement, that led to the ouster of the government last week, involved many women in both traditional and non-traditional roles, and some of them hope it marked the start of a revolution in women's status.

Independence Square has been crowded with protesters and their supporters for months.  The men who guard the barricades against police assault are hailed as heroes, and those who were killed are honored as martyrs.

Women joined the effort, mostly in support roles - preparing food, passing bricks, and delivering sandwiches and tea to the men on the barricades. "The guys are just sitting there and pretending they are very important, very cool.  And the women are really working," said Nina, a security volunteer, who hides her face to stay safe. She broke out of the old stereotypes to stand guard with the young men. Read more ..

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