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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


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


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


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

Click to select Image

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


 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 ..

The Battle for Syria

Syrian Children Struck With Polio

November 24th 2013

Polio Vaccination Clinc

A strain of polio originating in Pakistan has crippled more than a dozen children in war-torn Syria.  The cases were confirmed in a province bordering the Kurdish-controlled northeast, but the Kurds are running out of vaccine and say the United Nations has declined to give them more.

The anxiety on the face of Dr. Soliman Ahmed is obvious as he explains how fearful he and others at the Kurdish Red Crescent are about the possibility of a polio epidemic in northeast Syria. Arab refugees are flooding into Syria’s Kurdistan from the neighboring province of Deir al-Zor, where the World Health Organization confirmed last month an outbreak of polio that could potentially put neighboring countries and even Europe at risk of contagion. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

International Organizations Struggle During Syrian War

November 23rd 2013

Syrian Refugees

Continued violence in Syria highlighted the challenge posed to international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) operating in the region. Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last Wednesday that unrest would jeopardize the group's ability to meet a UN Security Council disarmament timeline. Meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped seven members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Sunday, before freeing four of them.

During a news conference, the OPCW director general expressed doubt over meeting a November deadline to eliminate Syria's ability to weaponize its chemical stockpile. Not all of the weapons sites are under government control, so a divided opposition and fighting in contested areas has hampered the OPCW's progress. Read more ..

Remembering JFK

Honor Guard Veteran Recalls Helping the Nation Mourn President Kennedy

November 22nd 2013

Like so many people born before 1963, George Perrault remembers where he was when he got the news on Nov. 22 of that year. It was early afternoon when his phone rang at the Naval Support Facility in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Anacostia. His wife, Lois, shouted on the other end: "The president's been shot!"

More than a thousand miles away in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy would be pronounced dead within the hour. In the hours and days that followed, Perrault would be sent to participate in the President's Honor Guard, giving him a front-row seat to history during a time of national crisis and grieving.

Watching history unfold

Perrault, then 24, worked a desk job in the Navy's supply division. Decades later, he would work a similar job at the University of Michigan, serving 18 years as a resource manager for the Navy and Air Force ROTC out of North Hall on the Ann Arbor campus. When he hung up the phone that fateful day in 1963, he shared the news with the men in the office, "and we all scurried to find radios," he says. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Muslims Force British Prison Inmates to Convert to Islam

November 21st 2013

Prison bars

In a disturbing report from a British prison guard organization on Sunday, convicted felons in the United Kingdom are being forcibly proselytized by radical Islamists who are their fellow inmates.

The Prisoner Officers Association, the group representing Britain's correction officers, claims gangs of Muslims increasing "their power and influence inside UK jails," and there are concerns with some converts becoming radicalized by Islamic extremists within the UK prison system.

According to a 2011 report from the U.S. House of Representatives, "The prison population is vulnerable to radicalization by the same agents responsible for radicalizing... outside of the prison walls. Despite appearances, prison walls are porous." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Lawyers Push for More Opportunities for Women in Africa

November 20th 2013

Berber women

Despite the strides, big and small, made on behalf of Sub-Saharan Africa’s women and children, many of whom are still vulnerable to wars, conflicts and antiquated traditions, much remains to be done to meet humanitarian and development goals set by world bodies. Such is the conclusion of a group of some 300 female lawyers from across Africa who met for a week in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, to discuss the impediments to improving the welfare of women and children.

Since its creation in 1944, the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA) has concentrated on advocating tackling the challenges facing lawmakers and society in the pursuit of protecting the human rights of women. Nigerian-born lawyer Okarafor Ezinva, one of FIDA's vice presidents for Africa, told VOA that advocacy alone is not producing the expected results. Read more ..

Central Asia on Edge

The Complexities of the Fergana Valley

November 19th 2013

Small Farm

A recent border dispute in the Fergana Valley, the core of Central Asia, highlights the growing tensions in the strategic and contested region. Kyrgyz and Uzbek border patrol units were removed from the Ungar-Too area in Kyrgyzstan's Jalal-Abad region Oct. 2, after a two-week standoff over an alleged Uzbek border incursion into the area. Such incursions, coupled with ethnic tensions and sporadic violence, have become increasingly common in the Fergana Valley region, which is split between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The valley has long been the population and agricultural heartland of Central Asia. It has also been one of the most unstable areas in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union due to several factors, including diverse and interspersed populations, complex borders, dwindling resources and religious extremism. Read more ..

The Edge of Terrorism

Hamas’s Specialized Tunnel-Digging Unit Revealed

November 18th 2013

Gaza Tunnels

On the one year anniversary following the heavy rocket bombardment of Israeli cities and Israel's Operation of Pillar Defense in November 2012, Al Jazeera recently ran a revealing television report about Hamas.  The Hamas military wing shed some more light about its new strategy of terror against Israel – a special Hamas operative unit that specializes in digging tunnels.

Al Jazeera, a media network based in Qatar, sent a correspondent to accompany a group of Hamas diggers who were filmed preparing infrastructure for firing rockets below ground. Using electric jackhammers to dig a tunnel through the packed rock, sand and soil, the Hamas operatives described their preparation for the inevitable next round of hostilities with Israel. They can spend weeks at a time underground without being detected explained one operative.

The offensive tunnels are created for the purpose of kidnapping Israeli soldiers, and are a central part of Hamas's military strategy, according to the Hamas military spokesperson, Abu Ubaida in the Al Jazeera report. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Libya

Libyan Protesters Slaughtered in the Streets by Militiamen

November 17th 2013

Lybian Gunmen

Members of a Libyan militia began to shoot protesters in the streets of Tripoli leaving at least 31 demonstrators dead and another 400 wounded on Friday, according to former police commander and counterterrorism analyst, Thomas McIntyre.

"The group of militiamen opened fire on thousands of protesters in Libya's capital city of Tripoli allegedly because they were demanding the militia -- which is not part of that nation's lawful military -- vacate their headquarters building in Tripoli," said McIntyre.

On Thursday, violent confrontations took place between different militia groups in Tripoli, and two people were killed in the exchange of gunfire. Citizens reportedly called for a general work-stoppage to demonstrate their anger over the presence of militias in their city and said they would continue their civil disobedience until the armed militia voluntarily leave Tripoli. Beginning on Friday morning, hundreds of civilians gathered in front of a mosque in Tripoli to urge the armed militias to leave Libya's capital city and allow the government troops and police to perform their functions.


Broken Aid

How Shipping Unions Sunk Food Aid Reform

November 16th 2013

Hungry African Widow/Children

As members of the U.S. House and Senate meet this week to hammer out a farm bill, they are likely to consider changes to the way the United States delivers food aid to hungry and impoverished nations. The debate will reprise an intense legislative battle that flared in June when food aid reforms were proposed in the House.

That struggle had a startling and little-noticed result: a plan to reshape the way in which the U.S. delivers half of the world’s food aid was dealt a decisive blow by a small but determined group of maritime unions.

Unlike other developed nations, which purchase most food aid in the regions that receive it, the U.S. buys food from American farms, ships it on American vessels, and gives away much of the goods free of cost for humanitarian groups to distribute. Although the Government Accountability Office has concluded that this system is “inherently inefficient” and can be harmful to farmers in recipient nations, for decades the setup has been politically untouchable. A powerful coalition including agriculture companies, the military, the shipping industry and humanitarian aid groups ensured that any changes were dead on arrival in Congress.


Nigeria on Edge

Nigerian Motorcycle Taxis Driven Away by Ban

November 15th 2013

Taxi in Guinea

In recent years many African urban centers have banned commercial motorcycle taxis, citing danger for the drivers and the passengers. But some drivers in Lagos say the danger of driving a motorcycle is much less than the danger of starving without a job.

In many parts of the world, a young man, or occasionally a woman, with a little money can buy a motorcycle and work as a commercial driver.

In Lagos, Nigeria’s financial capital and largest city, riders have been banned from the city center and work only in the suburbs. Drivers say since the ban took effect last year, most of their ranks have quit or left town.

Ken John drives a motorcycle, known locally as an “okada.”  He says he is still in business on the outskirts of town but his income has been cut in half to about $10 a day. "Sometimes I can’t have money to pay the school fees, sometimes the house rent. So that is the problem it is causing for my family,” he said. Analysts say the streets of Lagos are markedly safer now but estimate tens of thousands of drivers are still out of work. Read more ..

America's Darkest Edge

Films with Gun Violence Have 'Weapons Effect' on Young

November 13th 2013

Police Running

With the incidents of mass shootings taking center stage in the news media, a group of researchers on Monday released a study on the subject of youths being exposed to gun violence in their choice of motion picture entertainment which they claim is 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.'”

The American Academy of Pediatrics' latest research on the subject of young eyes merely viewing firearms examines a potential source of the so-called weapons effect: the use of firearms portrayed in movie box-office hits. Read more ..

Kazakhstan on Edge

In Kazakhstan, New Networking Site Groups Users By Tribe

November 11th 2013

Tablet Use

When Kazakhs meet for the first time, two key questions are all it takes to figure each other out: What part of the country are they from? And what horde and tribe are they?

The answers immediately establish a person's roots, history, and allegiances -- a holdover of ancient tribal divisions that remain relevant in modern-day Kazakhstan.

Now, a new social-networking site is hoping to tap into Kazakhs' tribal identity by grouping users according to their hordes and tribes. The site, Rulas.kz -- based on the Kazakh word for "tribemate" -- looks much like any other networking site, with photographs of stylish, mainly young, members decorating a brightly colored homepage. Read more ..

The Way We Are

TV Alcohol Ads Reaching Too Many Young People

November 9th 2013

Chivas whiskey

In twenty-five of the largest television markets in the U.S., almost 1 in 4 alcohol advertisements on a sample of national TV programs most popular with youth exceeded the alcohol industry's voluntary standards, according to researchers from the CAMY at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The report found that the percentage of alcohol advertisements that exceeded the industry standard for youth exposure on these programs was highest in Houston (31.5 percent), followed by Los Angeles (30 percent), Dallas (29.7 percent), Atlanta (27.6 percent) and Chicago (27.5 percent). If this advertising were eliminated and not replaced, the researchers estimate that total youth exposure to alcohol advertising on these programs could drop by as much as one-third. Read more ..

The Way We Are

We're Not Powerless Against Oreos

November 7th 2013

Chocolate Dessert

When Connecticut College researchers announced a few weeks ago that they found Oreo cookies to be as addictive as cocaine -- in rats -- they made headlines.

Their study (actually, their abstract; the study hasn’t yet been published) quickly drew well-founded criticism for its weak methodology and overstated conclusions. Nonetheless, the underlying premise -- that habitual excessive eating leads to the kind of brain changes that are seen in drug addiction -- is worth a closer look because it is a staple of anti-obesity campaigns and may someday be used in lawsuits against Big Food. Too often, this argument assumes that brain changes associated with addiction are all-powerful.

First, the experiment: The researchers allowed rats access to two side-by-side chambers, one in which they could eat tasty Oreos and one where they could nibble bland rice cakes. Once the rats learned which chamber had which food, the researchers cut off the supply and allowed the animals to wander into the empty rooms. As expected, the rats favored the chamber that had contained Oreos. Read more ..

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