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Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Authorities Probe Child Marriage

December 29th 2013

Afghanistan tortured girl

Authorities in the Afghan province of Jowzjan have annulled the marriage of a seven-year-old girl, whose father admits giving her away in return for $2,000.

Authorities in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan have launched a probe against a father, who has acknowledged forcing his seven-year-old daughter to marry a man five times her age. Ramadan, who like many Afghans goes by one name, blamed his action on poverty that has plagued his family.

"We didn't have a place to live, we were hungry, we had debts," he said. "I regretted doing this the day I did it. I regret it now." He acknowledged marrying off his underage daughter in return of some $2,000, and foodstuffs, including rice and wheat. Read more ..


Saudi Arabia on Edge

Saudi Arabia Goes to War on Twitter

December 28th 2013

The Saudi government views Twitter as a national security threat.

Two studies released in November show once again Saudi Arabia's extraordinary appetite for Twitter compared to that in other countries. This has renewed interest in the potential for social media to facilitate political mobilization in the kingdom. Indeed, the Saudi Twittersphere reveals significant public discontent with the government's performance on addressing domestic problems like unemployment and corruption. However, persistent efforts by a relatively small number of Saudis using Twitter and other social media to mobilize their fellow citizens for reform have generally failed to translate into large-scale action. The fact that some of the kingdom's most popular Twitterati are clerics underscores the conservative nature of Saudi society, including the Twitter-happy youth. Read more ..


Inside Jewry

Origins and Meanings of Ashkenazic Last Names

December 28th 2013

Lviv synagogue remnant

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sora bas Rifke), had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.

Read more ..

The Toxic Edge

Lauded Public Health Researcher Also Worked for Industry

December 28th 2013

Peeling lead paint

At a memorial service held in November in her favorite classroom, Patricia Buffler was hailed as a champion of children.

While dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, Buffler started the nation’s largest program researching the causes of childhood leukemia. She expanded her study of this rare disease after stepping down as dean in 1998, continuing the work until she died unexpectedly in late September at the age of 75.

Buffler’s research, backed by more than $35 million in federal grants, could save lives. Her team concluded that sending your child to daycare might reduce the risk of getting leukemia, perhaps by bolstering the immune system. It found strong evidence suggesting that preschoolers should stay away from wet paint. One of her graduate students at the memorial was struck by something Buffler once said: “Children are fragile, so it is our role to protect them.” Read more ..


The Toxic Edge

High Bladder Cancer Rate Shrouds New York Plant, Exposing Workplace Chemical Hazards

December 27th 2013

Emergency Medical

Ray Kline, it’s said, bled Goodyear blue.

Compact and laconic, Kline signed on as an operator at the Goodyear chemical plant here in 1960 and logged just short of 40 years. He routinely worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, retiring in 1999 as head of maintenance. “I made a good living,” Kline said in the dining room of his comfortable home in Lewiston, N.Y., two blocks from the Niagara River -- betraying little bitterness over the price his family paid for economic stability. Kline, 75, has endured two bouts of bladder cancer. Strong evidence suggests the disease was work-related.

In a yet-to-be published study, federal health investigators have confirmed 50 cases of bladder cancer among plant employees through 2007, nearly three times the number that would have been expected in the general population of New York State. The unofficial tally to date, compiled by a lawyer for some of the cancer victims, is 58 cases. Read more ..


Singapore on Edge

Singapore Fights Image As Swiss Banker of Asia

December 27th 2013

$1B US Currency

In a place that restricts everything from chewing gum to pungent durian fruit.  Singaporean authorities pride themselves in having a high bar for strict laws and a low crime rate to match. So they’ve been none too pleased by reports that tax dodgers, corrupt officials, and money launderers might be closing their Swiss bank accounts and moving funds to Singapore.

In response, the government is ramping up measures to battle this reputation as a tax haven. It is now negotiating a deal with the United States that requires banks in Singapore to share details of Americans’ offshore assets with the Internal Revenue Service. The United States just signed the so-called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) with six other governments this month. “There is no basis for the allegation that wealthy individuals can hide money and avoid taxes in Singapore,” a Ministry of Finance spokesperson told said. Read more ..


China on Edge

Rising rivalry with China Increasingly Concerns U.S. Senate

December 26th 2013

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The recent flare-up in tensions in the Pacific has raised new doubts about America and China’s ability to peacefully coexist as both set their sights on Asia’s booming potential. On a range of issues — from territorial claims to business practices, economic policies to the environment — the two countries’ struggle to find common ground is all but certain to dominate the headlines for years to come.

Julian Pecquet visited China for 10 days in October at the invitation of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit that funds visits by lawmakers, journalists and others. He found that Beijing’s suspicions about the great power across the Pacific mirrored those in Washington, DC.

Congress is taking a hard line against China in the showdown over a handful of tiny Pacific islands, complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to manage the issue.

Senators of both parties are demanding that China rescind its new air defense zone over Japanese-held islands, going beyond the White House's own admonishments. And several Republicans have taken issue with the administration's recommendation that U.S. air carriers abide by China's request to be informed of all flights through the zone.
Read more ..


The Way We Are

Growing Up 'America' In Pakistan's Tribal Areas

December 25th 2013

Taliban in Swat

In the remote village of Tedi Bazaar, in Pakistan's volatile northwestern tribal areas, one woman's unusual name makes her stand out from the crowd: America Bibi.

The 65-year-old Pashtun grandmother says her name honors the unfulfilled American dream of her father, Akhtar Munir. Shortly after World War II, Munir left his village in pursuit of a better life in the United States. The journey, however, didn't go as planned.

"My father was a young man, eager to go to America," Bibi explains. "He went to India and boarded a ship there to sail to America. He was a handsome man with blue eyes, but he was illiterate. While sitting inside the ship, he was holding a newspaper upside-down and this led to his arrest. He was sent to Mumbai, and spent three years in prison there." Read more ..


Egypt's Second Revolution

Women in Egypt Treated Worse Than in Other Arab Nations

December 24th 2013

Egyptian cop and lady

Following the political upheaval in Egypt and the lack of a cohesive government authority, a survey reveals that as far as women's rights and women's security, "post-Arab Spring" Egypt is the worst country in the Arab world, according to the pollsters in a report released on Tuesday.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sex crimes against women, high rates of female genital mutilation, so-called "honor killings," and the increasing violence and Islamist unrest following the Arab Spring uprisings are responsible for making Egypt the worst country in which to be a woman in the Arab world.

Laws that single-out women and the increase in human trafficking and sex-slavery are additions to the list of social pathologies that have placed Egypt at the bottom of a ranking of 22 Arab states, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation's Crina Boros.  Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

Life In The Shadow Of The Soviet Union's Chemical Arsenal

December 23rd 2013

Chernobyl Today

Seventy-seven-year-old Klavdia and her husband Mikhail, 84, are struggling to put on a gas mask.

Mikhail: "So, I undid the zipper. Now, I'm looking at these straps. I loosened them. I'm loosening and loosening."
Klavdia: "We should have thrown these things out ages ago."
Mikhail: "I've unfastened this thing."
Klavdia: "That thing is supposed to reach over to here and that's it."

All the residents of the village of Mirny, in Russia's central Kirov Oblast, have gas masks tucked away somewhere, in cupboards or under beds. Klavdia explains how she was required to pick up the masks from local authorities about five years ago. She signed a receipt, tucked them away, and hasn't needed to think about them since.

But in Mirny, you never know. The village is located just across the railroad tracks from the Maradykovsky chemical-weapons facility -- one of eight sites in Russia where massive stockpiles of Soviet-era chemical weapons are being destroyed. Over the last seven years, nearly 7,000 tons of nerve agents like sarin, blister agents like Lewisite, and other deadly chemicals have been neutralized at Maradykovsky. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Two-Pronged Approach Helps Kids with ADHD and Aggression Disorders

December 22nd 2013

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Prescribing both a stimulant and an antipsychotic drug to children with physical aggression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), along with teaching parents to use behavior management techniques, reduces aggressive and serious behavioral problems in the children, according to a study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The study was conducted in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh, Stony Brook University in New York and Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. The findings published online this week ahead of publication in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Combination pharmacotherapy is becoming common in child and adolescent psychiatry, but there has been little research evaluating it,” said first author Michael Aman, director of clinical trials at Ohio State’s Nisonger Center and emeritus professor of psychology. Read more ..


The Way We Are

South Africa's First Black-Owned Brewery Opens for Business

December 21st 2013

winter beers

South Africa is a country that loves its beer.  It's a product that has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar industry for commercial beverage companies.  But now there's a growing popularity for craft beers made by smaller microbreweries which are opening across the country.

There's a new offering for South Africa's growing thirst for good beer. It’s called Soweto Gold, and it’s the creation of master brewer and businessman Ndumiso Madlala. He's making history by opening South Africa's first black-owned and locally brewed beer in the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto.

"A lot of people were very surprised that a black person can brew beer," he said. "So I am very proud that I have been able to demonstrate to other African people that it is possible to venture into brewing as an African person, and I so hope that a lot of people are going to follow suit in the brewing field." Read more ..


Business Sense

Seeing is Believing: Religion is Good for Business

December 21st 2013

Those looking for honest companies to invest in might want to check out businesses based in more religious communities, suggests a new paper from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. The study found that businesses with head offices in places with high levels of "religiosity" were less likely to experience stock price crashes as a result of not disclosing bad financial news.

And it didn't matter whether those at the top were religious or not. Just being in a town where social norms are influenced by religious codes of behaviour was enough to rub off on the companies operating there.

"There is nothing quicker to losing your good name in a religious milieu than doing something like withholding bad news and not being upfront. There's a real cost," said Jeffrey Callen, a Rotman professor of accounting who co-wrote the paper with former graduate student Xiaohua Fang, now an assistant business professor at Georgia State University. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Procreation Campaign Creates Criticism In Iran

December 20th 2013

Pregnant and alone

One flower does not make Spring. More children, a happier life." That's the message being sent to Iranians in an effort to encourage them to produce more offspring. 

Colorful billboards bearing the slogan and depicting a happy-looking family have cropped up along major highways in Tehran. The idyllic family of six is shown pedaling together on a tandem bicycle under a blue sky, leaving a family of two far behind. But a key component to any family is noticeably missing -- mothers.

Critics say the message and imagery are irresponsible, sexist, and far from the grim realities of daily life in the Islamic republic. The billboards appear after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech last year that Iran should double its population to 150 million, or even more. Khamenei argued that a baby boom was needed to boost an aging population and to sustain development.   Read more ..


Ancient Days

Very Human Neanderthals Buried Their Dead

December 19th 2013

Neanderthals, forerunners to modern humans, buried their dead, an international team of archaeologists has concluded after a 13-year study of remains discovered in southwestern France.

Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm that burials took place in western Europe prior to the arrival of modern humans.

"This discovery not only confirms the existence of Neanderthal burials in Western Europe, but also reveals a relatively sophisticated cognitive capacity to produce them," explains William Rendu, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City.

CIRHUS is a collaborative arrangement between France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and New York University. Read more ..


Health on Edge

Illicit Organ Harvesting in China Criticized

December 18th 2013

Surgeons

The international spotlight is increasingly focused on the alleged practice by China of harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience and members of religious and ethnic minority groups. The European Parliament called on China on December 12 to halt the practice and the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a similar resolution.

In front of the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles, Falun Gong practitioners protest with banners and speeches. They accuse the Chinese government of forcibly harvesting the organs of imprisoned Falun Gong followers. Speaking to journalists, Zeng Zheng recalled her experience after her arrest. 

“On the day that we were transferred from the detention center to the labor camp, the person we saw, to our surprise, was not the police guard but a doctor.  We were taken to an unknown place where a doctor was waiting for us and to interrogate us about our medical history," said Zheng. Read more ..


Egypt’s Second Revolution

Egypt, Qaradawi, and Qatar’s Balancing Act

December 17th 2013

Yusuf al Qaradawi

Egypt’s Al-Ahram reported on 13 December that Al-Azhar’s Supreme Clerical Committee, the paramount advisory body of one of Islam’s most influential religious and academic institutions, had just voted to accept the resignation of the noted Muslim intellectual Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

An octogenarian, Qaradawi is an active lecturer on theology at the University of Qatar, and periodically addresses the Muslim World through Al Jazeera radio and television. His name is known throughout the Dar al-Islam; and his program, “Shariah and Life,” has been heard by tens of millions of Muslims.

While his lectures directed to Western audiences may be snooze-inducing, his pronouncements issued through Islamonline, his internet outlet, and his recent fatwas (religious pronouncements issued by a respected Muslim) are often news-making. Indeed, recent fatwas have been quite controversial—especially those made in the wake of 9/11/2001. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Texas Christmas Features Tamales, Cowboys

December 16th 2013

Texas state capitol

In Texas, Christmas and New Year's celebrations are similar to those in the rest of the United States, but Mexican culture and the state's cowboy heritage both contribute a special flavor.

A lone star, the symbol of Texas, sits atop a tall tree in front of the Alamo, a Spanish mission where Texas rebels fought to the death against the Mexican army in 1836.

But the people who gather here on cold December evenings, leading up to Christmas, seek peace and harmony. And regardless of their ethnic background, they favor Mexican food for the holiday.

"We make our own food like tamales and menudo," said one man. "We traditionally have tamales on Christmas eve with other kind of hors d'ouerves kind of stuff. It is really not the turkey meal that you see in the movies or maybe that is what they do up north," a woman said. Read more ..


Aging in America

American Elderly Get By With a Little Help from Their Friends

December 15th 2013

Only about a third of Americans ages 65 and older are fully able to take care of themselves and go about their daily lives completely independently, according to a new study published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Understanding that there are different ways older adults adapt to disability is a big step in developing public health policies that maximize the quality of life for all older Americans, said the study's lead author, Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Freedman and colleagues analyzed data on a nationally representative sample of 8,077 older men and women, part of the National Health and Aging Trends Study. The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, funded the research. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Russian Doctor's Trial Highlights Suffering Of Terminally Ill

December 15th 2013

nurse w/stethoscope

When pharmacies ran out of the free pain medication he was entitled to under Russia's public health system, dying cancer patient Viktor Sechin turned to Aleftina Khorinyak, a doctor and longtime friend, for help.

For about a month in early 2009, Khorinyak prescribed him a nonsubsidized version of the opioid painkiller Tramadol to help ease the suffering caused by his terminal cancer.

"They didn't give him any Tramadol for 52 days. I could no longer bear watching him suffer," Khorinyak recalls. "He moaned and thrashed about on his bed, he was in such excruciating pain." Sechin, who was also severely disabled, succumbed to cancer two years later at his home in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, aged 57. What Khorinyak intended as gesture of compassion, however, has landed her in court on charges of drug trafficking and document forgery. Both are criminal offenses that carry a total of up to eight years in jail. Read more ..


Our Darkest Hour

One Year After Newtown, Obama Appeals for More Gun Control

December 14th 2013

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President Obama marked the anniversary of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and called for a nationwide grassroots push for gun control in his weekly radio address.

The president’s statement came a day after a gunman shot at least one student and then committed suicide at a suburban high school in Colorado, a few miles from Columbine High School, the site of a mass shooting in 1999.

“We haven’t yet done enough to make our communities and our country safer. We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily. We have to do more to heal troubled minds,” Obama said in remarks made public Saturday morning.

Gun-control legislation has stalled in the Senate, despite Democratic control of the upper chamber and widespread public support for strengthening background checks for gun buyers. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Court Cases Challenge France's Face Veil Ban

December 13th 2013

Burka cellphone

Two years after becoming law in France, a ban on face-covering Muslim veils is facing a pair of high-profile legal challenges.  The cases in French and European courts may force Paris to roll back the legislation and have ramifications elsewhere in Europe. 

In 2011, France became the first European country to ban face-covering Muslim veils in public places.  The legislation was generally to include items like ski masks as well as veils, but many felt it singled out France's 5 million strong Muslim community, the largest in Europe.  The debate also spread across the region.  Belgium followed France in adopting the ban.  In September, so did a canton in southern Switzerland.

France argues the ban is needed for security reasons and to protect its secular traditions. But today, France's ban faces legal challenges - one at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and another at a trial that opened this week in the Paris suburb of Versailles. Read more ..


Living in the City of Peace

Jerusalem Experiences a Record-breaking Snow Storm

December 12th 2013

Jerusalem became a white city on Thursday as heavy snows blanketed the city throughout the day and into the night. Considered a rare snowstorm, over 10 centimeters of snow fell on the city during the day, setting a December record.

Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat described the snowfall as a festive occasion for Jerusalem residents. “Snow in Jerusalem is a cause for celebration for Jerusalemites and the many visitors who come to see the worlds’ most beautiful city painted white,” the mayor stated. “We hope the snow does not disappoint – especially the children of Jerusalem who are waiting and excited.”

Schools as well as courses at Hebrew University were cancelled throughout the capital - much to the joy of students, teachers and faculty alike.

Schools in Judea and Samaria were cancelled for both Thursday and Friday, including in the more mountainous areas of Kiryat Arba, Gush Etzion, Shvut Rachel, Shilo, Tel Tziyon, Maale Levona, Psagot, Beit El, Eli and Ofra. The first snowflakes of the winter had already reached Hebron on Wednesday night. Read more ..


The South African Edge

Young S. African Nelsons Say They Will Carry Mandela’s Legacy

December 12th 2013

Mandela

South Africans say anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has left his country a legacy of freedom, hope and promise.  But for some young South Africans, he left an even more indelible mark.  Countless baby boys were named after Mandela in the 1990s. 

Greita Mahlangu was pregnant during Nelson Mandela’s first year as president of South Africa. The year before, she was one of millions of South Africans who lined up for hours to vote in the nation’s first democratic election.

She voted for Mandela, and then watched her country change seemingly overnight: from a nation riven by racial divisions to what Mandela, known here by his clan name, Madiba, called the “Rainbow Nation.”

When she was blessed with a baby boy on December 30, 1995, she named him Nelson. “I am very proud of my son because he’s very clever.  I named him Nelson because I love Madiba very much, because he [fought] for us.  He [fought] for freedom, for many years, he was in prison for 27 years just for us," Mahlangu explained.

Mandela died last week at the age of 95 after an extraordinary life in which he helped bring down South Africa's apartheid system and usher in peace and democracy.  He was actually given his first name by a teacher, who said his actual given name, Rohlihlahla, which translates roughly to “troublemaker,” was too hard to say. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Largest School Police Force Will Stop Ticketing Kids 12 and Younger

December 11th 2013

Kids Jail

Responding to demand for reforms, the nation’s largest school police force — in Los Angeles — will stop issuing tickets to students 12-years-old or younger for minor infractions allegedly committed on or near campuses during school hours.

A memo this month to officers from Los Angeles Unified School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman outlined the new policy, which goes into effect in December. The announcement comes in the wake of community demands for the school district to “decriminalize” minor school disciplinary matters and use more discretion when involving law enforcement personnel.

The post-Newtown push to place more police in schools nationwide makes it more urgent to set standards for officers’ roles, some juvenile court judges and others have warned.

In 2012, in a series of reports, the Center for Public Integrity and KPCC radio documented the citations of thousands of kids in middle school and even some elementary schools for disturbing the peace, graffiti, marijuana and cigarette possession, truancy, trespassing, jaywalking and other allegations. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Researchers: Films with Gun Violence Have "Weapons Effect" on Kids, Teens

December 11th 2013

Ammo

With incidents of mass shootings taking center stage in the news media, a group of researchers released a study on the subject of youths being exposed to gun violence in their choice of motion picture entertainment which they call the "weapons effect."

The journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that violence in motion pictures that are rated PG-13 has more than tripled, especially violent scenes involving guns in a study titled, "Gun Violence Trends in Movies," which was released on Veterans Day.

According to the team of researchers -- Brad J. Bushman, Patrick E. Jamieson, Ilana Weitz and Daniel Romer -- several academic studies have suggested that just the presence of "guns can increase aggression, an effect they dubbed the 'weapons effect.'" Read more ..


The Thirsty Planet

Providing Water in the Third World is Still a Long Haul

December 10th 2013

Pure Home Water has reached more than 100,000 poor rural women, children, and families with safe drinking water via ceramic pot filters produced at a factory in Tamale, Ghana. “It’s been a long, hard slog,” says Susan Murcott, a senior lecturer in MIT’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, describing her efforts to disseminate water-filtration systems to some three million people in northern Ghana. About half of these people presently lack access to a reliable supply of clean drinking water. But after nine years of efforts by Murcott and her students, the project has begun to make a difference.

Factories that produce these locally sourced, clay-pot filters — originally invented by Fernando Mazariengas of Guatemala and since improved and widely disseminated by Murcott and others — have already been built at 52 locations in 31 countries, she says, with the newest of these factories in Guatemala, Uganda, South Africa, and China. So far, the Ghana factory, built in 2011 and reaching full production last year, has provided sustainable, safe drinking water to more than 100,000 people in that country’s impoverished, rural northern sector. In January, 10 MIT students will work there to help expand production and monitor outcomes. Read more ..


Book Review

In Schooling, Context Matters--and Larry Cuban Provides It

December 9th 2013

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Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education. Larry Cuban. Harvard Education Press. 2013.

Larry Cuban has been a voice of reason during the past thirty years of stormy debates over school reform. A former high school teacher, district superintendent, and now professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, he takes quantitative data into account without being hypnotized by it, doesn’t tie himself into knots with pedagogical ideology, and never confuses with policy with practice.

The titles of his books over the years tell you where his research has taken him. When the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report sounded its alarm and inspired yet another round of reform-through-technology panaceas, Cuban added a cautionary note with Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920 (1986)—and when the drumbeat for computers in the classroom continued, he added Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom in 2003. My own favorites include How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms, 1890-1990 (1993), The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can’t Be Businesses (2007), and (with historian David Tyack) Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1997), a remarkably precise, concise, and evenhanded overview of what the efforts to improve K-12 education have and haven’t changed. Today, in the age of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, and now the Common Core, advocates of top-down reform (I’m looking at you, Arne Duncan, and you, too, Bill Gates) could still benefit enormously just from reading the chapter in Tinkering called “How Schools Change Reform.” Read more ..


The Philippines on Edge

One Month Later, Philippines Still Struggle With Typhoon’s Impact

December 8th 2013

Sumatra village after tsunami

One month ago, a powerful super typhoon slammed the central Philippines, knocking out power and communications, and kicking up piles of debris that cut people off from aid for days. Humanitarian officials say these days, there is progress in the devastated areas, but there is still a long road to recovery.

The Philippines Civil Defense office said a number of banks, restaurants, gas stations and other establishments were up and running in some of the hardest hit areas.  In Tacloban, the city that took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan’s beating, downtown streets were teeming with people.

A few schools have reopened and the number of displaced people in evacuation centers is now less than 100,000, according to the United Nations.  The storm displaced more than four million people and at its peak; the evacuation centers housed close to half a million people.

Chris Kaye is U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines.  He visited Tacloban and other hard-hit towns this past week. “They’re desperately keen to rebuild their homes - for themselves to rebuild their homes, to get back to work, whether as farmers or as fishermen and for their children to resume schooling,” said Kaye. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Americans Reflect on Passing of Mandela

December 7th 2013

Obama and Mandela

Across the United States, Americans are marking the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela with personal reflection and public tributes.

Visitors have been leaving flowers at the South African Embassy in Washington, creating a makeshift memorial in front of a statue of the anti-apartheid leader and former president. 

“I think it’s very sad. He had a long hard life, but he did some wonderful things. So it’s a sad day for the world,” said Washington resident Priscilla Sabatilli. The statue is a replica of one that stands outside the South African prison where Mandela spent 27 years of his life as a political prisoner. In New York, commuters paused to remember the prisoner turned president, who negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid and urged forgiveness for the white government that imprisoned him. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

A New Push Emerges to End Noise Pollution

December 6th 2013

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As the nation continues to focus on health care prevention through reform, one cause of serious illness and even death gets ignored—environmental noise pollution.

Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and the Network for Public Health Law say the problem not only takes its toll on hearing but contributes to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, stress, learning problems and even injuries.

"I can't think of any other environmental hazard that affects so many people and yet it is so ignored," said Rick Neitzel, U-M assistant professor of environmental science.

In an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Neitzel and colleague Monica Hammer lay out a case for federal, state and local officials to address the issue that impacts an estimated 104 million people exposed at levels loud enough to cause serious noise-related health problems. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

East Jerusalem Arab Family Attacked, But Left Alone Once Assailants Realized They Weren’t Jewish

December 3rd 2013

Jerusalem-Dome-of-the Rock

An Arab family from East Jerusalem was attacked while driving along the same road where baby Avigail Ben-Zion was injured last week, but the assailants left them alone once they saw they were Muslims, Ynet reported late on Sunday. The attack was at the hands of three Arab youths and occurred two weeks ago near the same road of Sur Baher, outside Jerusalem.

Rashuan Salman, his wife and their baby daughter were in the car, driving from Umm-Tuba to Jerusalem. “After driving along the road near Sur Baher three Arab youths jumped up on us,” Salman told Ynet on Sunday. “They tried to pull us out of the car and hit us, it seemed they were intent on lynching us. They tried opening the doors and my wife begged them to leave us alone. She spoke to them in Arabic and only then did they understand that we ourselves are Arabs, and left us alone. I hit the gas and drove away as fast as possible.” Read more ..


American Life

Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Makes for Deadly Cocktails

December 2nd 2013

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is riskier than just drinking alcohol alone, according to a new study that examines the impact of a growing trend among young adults. Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study was conducted by Megan Patrick of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Jennifer Maggs of Penn State University.

"We found that college students tended to drink more heavily and become more intoxicated on days they used both energy drinks and alcohol, compared to days they only used alcohol," said Patrick, lead author of the study.

While the U.S. no longer permits manufacturers to premix high-caffeine products with alcohol, mixed drinks such as vodka Red Bulls and Jäger bombs, made by dropping a shot of Jägermeister liquor into a glass of Red Bull, are becoming increasingly popular. Read more ..


Vitamin D Decreases Pain Among Women with Diabetes and Depression

December 2nd 2013

Vitamin D decreases pain in women with type 2 diabetes and depression, according to a study conducted at Loyola University Chicago. Type 2 diabetes is associated with depression and pain, but few studies have looked at how pain may affect the treatment of depression in patients with type 2 diabetes and no studies have evaluated the role of vitamin D supplementation on this association.

Researchers in this study tested the efficacy of weekly vitamin D2 supplementation (50,000 IUs) for six months on depression in women with type 2 diabetes. Depression significantly improved following supplementation.

In addition, 61 percent of patients reported shooting or burning pain in their legs and feet (neuropathic pain) and 74 percent reported numbness and tingling in their hands, fingers, and legs (sensory pain) at the beginning of the study. Researchers found a significant decrease in neuropathic and sensory pain at three and six months following vitamin D2 supplementation. Read more ..


On the Border

Immigrant Hispanic Women Seek to Get Focus on Misogynistic Violence

December 2nd 2013

Off a busy Albuquerque boulevard, one of the city’s most vital services goes on quietly with its work. Now 13 years old, Enlace Communitario, or Community Link, works non-stop to prevent and resolve domestic violence among the Duke City’s large, Spanish-speaking immigrant population.

Beginning with a handful of visionary founders, Enlace Comunitario now employs a fulltime staff of 31 and many volunteers who educate the community about the varied manifestations of domestic violence, as well as channels assistance and resources to victims.

To reach a big population in a geographically spread-out area, Enlace trains and deploys volunteers called promotoras, or promoters, who are typically survivors of domestic violence.

Recently, FNS sat down with three new promotoras to hear their stories and ideas as they get ready to hit the field. Now in the prime of their lives, all of the women express a deep desire to give back to the community. Read more ..


The Healthcare Edge

Vitamins and Mineral Supplements Slow Progression of HIV

December 1st 2013

Pills

 Patients with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often develop vitamin deficiencies.  A new study has found that giving these patients a multivitamin with a mineral supplement helps improve their immunity and slows the disease's progression. 

Sub-Saharan Africa has always been the center of the AIDS epidemic. In Botswana, despite aggressive prevention campaigns, one out of every four adults is infected with HIV. Professor Marianna Baum based her latest research there. 

Baum recruited almost 900 newly infected adults who had not yet received the anti-AIDS drugs that target the virus. These adults were then divided into groups that randomly received different combinations of vitamins B, C and E, the mineral selenium or a placebo.

Most patients with HIV become deficient in these vitamins, which help boost immunity. Baum said she initially thought the multivitamins alone or selenium alone would be effective in strengthening the immune system, but found that to be incorrect. “We were surprised to find that only the combination was effective,” said Baum. Read more ..


Broken Justice

Los Angeles Contemplates Juvenile Justice Reforms

November 30th 2013

Click to select Image

Responding to demand for reforms, the nation’s largest school police force — in Los Angeles — will stop issuing tickets to students 12-years-old or younger for minor infractions allegedly committed on or near campuses during school hours.

A memo this month to officers from Los Angeles Unified School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman outlined the new policy, which goes into effect in December. The announcement comes in the wake of community demands for the school district to “decriminalize” minor school disciplinary matters and use more discretion when involving law enforcement personnel.

The post-Newtown push to place more police in schools nationwide makes it more urgent to set standards for officers’ roles, some juvenile court judges and others have warned.

In 2012, a series of reports documented the citations of thousands of kids in middle school and even some elementary schools for disturbing the peace, graffiti, marijuana and cigarette possession, truancy, trespassing, jaywalking and other allegations. Read more ..


The Way We Are

From Yurts To Kimchi, Protecting The World's 'Intangible' Cultures

November 30th 2013

Brazilian Amazonian people

Seventy-year-old Kakesh Jumabai-Kyzy has spent her entire life working with felt.

The mother of eight lives in the mountainous Kyrgyz area of At-Bashy, where many families still tend flocks of sheep that provide the warm, fluffy wool that Jumabai-Kyzy transforms into traditional Kyrgyz clothing and the colorful felt rugs called shyrdaks.

"I learned carpet-making from my mother, and after that I continued working by myself. I make yurts, shyrdaks, kementais (wool coats for men), and kalpaks (national wool hats)," Jumabai-Kyzy says. "Dozens of my items have been sold abroad. But only my younger daughter-in-law and one of my own daughters are continuing my craft. My other children didn't learn it."

Jumabai-Kyzy is one of a dwindling number of artisans skilled in making shyrdaks and alakiyiz, an appliqued felt carpet. Kakesh Jumabai-Kyzy, a 70-year-old craftswoman living in Kyrygyzstan's remote At-Bashy region, collecting the dried wool she uses to make felt for traditional shyrdak and alakiyiz carpets. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Tajik Authorities Frown On Home Births

November 28th 2013

Newborn baby

Suffering from the highest maternal mortality rate in Central Asia, Tajikistan has embarked on an ambitious plan to improve access to obstetric care. But statistics on home births show the country has a long way to go.

A recent survey found that at least 44 percent of the women who gave birth in Khatlon Province's Yovon district over the past year delivered their babies at home. In nearly half of those cases, the women gave birth without the assistance of a qualified midwife.

Strategia Center, whose survey covered September 2012 to September 2013, earlier identified Khatlon Province as having the highest rates of home births in the country, with about one out of every three women giving birth at home. In the northern province of Sughd, the number stands at about 20 percent, and in the eastern Badakhshan Province, 10 percent. Read more ..


The Economic Edge

U.S. Economy May See Continuous Growth for the Next Two Years

November 26th 2013

The U.S. economy will continue its steady climb upward over the next two years, say economists at the University of Michigan. "Washington inflicted quite a bit of short-term damage to the U.S. economy in 2013," said Daniil Manaenkov of the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics in the U-M Department of Economics.

"Despite a seemingly heavy burden of domestic fiscal austerity and monetary slip-ups, the U.S. economy has demonstrated remarkable resilience. This makes us hopeful that once fiscal headwinds abate, we will see a meaningful acceleration of GDP and payroll job gains."

In their annual forecast of the U.S. economy, Manaenkov and colleague Matthew Hall predict the creation of more than 5 million jobs over the next two years—2.5 million jobs next year and another 2.8 million during 2015, as unemployment falls from 7.1 percent to about 6 percent during that time. Read more ..



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