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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 ..

Thee Edge of Healthcare

Pediatric Eye Cancer Easier to Detect

November 6th 2013


Can parents use digital cameras and smart phones to potentially screen their children for the most common form of pediatric eye cancer? Baylor University and Harvard Medical School researchers believe so.

In their study the researchers discovered, through the use of amateur digital photography, evidence of leukocoria or "white eye," the cardinal symptom of retinoblastoma, which can be seen in photographs during the earliest stages of the disease. Their findings potentially pave the way for a new diagnostic tool that enables earlier diagnosis and treatment. Retinoblastoma, mostly occurring in children from birth to 5-years-old, is an aggressive eye cancer that, if not treated in time, can be fatal if it spreads to the brain.

Although children in the United States who are treated for retinoblastoma have a 95 percent survival rate that figure drops below 50 percent for children in developing countries. However, surviving retinoblastoma is just the first hurdle. Typically, "survivors experience moderate to severe vision loss" and in some cases loss of both eyes, but early detection and treatment can increase the chances of survival and vision preservation. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

HIV Antibody Infusions Show Promise as Treatment for AIDS Virus

November 5th 2013


Two teams of researchers are reporting progress in the development of an immunotherapy for HIV.  If successful, HIV antibody infusions could offer an alternative treatment for those infected with the AIDS virus. 

Antibodies are the body’s frontline soldiers.  When it detects an infection, the immune system activates proteins which try to neutralize the invader.

But not everyone infected with HIV can make sufficient numbers of these so-called neutralizing antibodies against the virus.  So, U.S. government scientists and researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts collected neutralizing antibodies from those who make enough of them, purified them and targeted them at a particular region on the AIDS virus.

The purified antibodies, known as monoclonal antibodies, were infused intravenously into rhesus monkeys infected with a virus very similar to HIV.  After the treatments, the monkey virus, known as SHIV, was reduced to undetectable levels in some of the animals. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

Financing the Flames from a Mobile Home in Florida

November 4th 2013

Financing the Flames

A regular feature of West Bank confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians seems to be a corps of intrepid young women that villagers call “internationals.” They specialize in upfront and personal, in-your-face, and often nose-to-nose verbal taunting hoping to provoke a reaction that video cameras can record. If and when soldiers finally do react, these incidents are then uploaded to the Internet to prove “the brutality of the IDF.” These “internationals” often seem to appear out of nowhere at a village flashpoint. Just as suddenly, they melt into the background.

Using false names and seemingly untrackable movements, the skilled and stealthy internationals have managed to inspire and encourage videographed confrontation far beyond their numbers. Who are they? What is the font of their financial wherewithal? Who is financing these flames?

Searching for answers, one night in early May 2013, I traveled to the tiny West Bank town of Deir Itsiya where the internationals quietly maintain a base of operations. The women are known to many in that local Arab community, where they are provided logistical assistance and deferential hospitality. They receive many European guests. When I asked my taxi driver, "Do you know where the house is?" he answered, "Yes, Sheik Haider (neighborhood)." He took me there.

At an elbow in a dusty road, I found their compound behind long, ornate iron fencing. I knocked on all the doors, the ones with knockers and the ones without. No answer. I called out for anyone who was home. A neighbor strolled by to remark. The driver translated: "He said the European girls are not sleeping in town tonight. But he knows how to reach them. I will take you where he said." Read more ..

Palestinians on Edge

Arabs Crowd Israeli Gas Stations as Shortage Plagues PA

November 4th 2013

Gas Station Long Line

Since the early hours of the morning hundreds of Palestinian cars have been riding over to Israeli gas stations because the stations in their towns no longer had any.

Tazpit News Agency has learned that the cities of Ramallah, Shchem and Hebron are dry of gas because they have neglected to pay their bills to the fuel providing companies. As a result the Arabs have been flocking to Israeli owned gas stations to fill up. Gas can still be found in Jenin and Jericho.

There were long lines in front of stations in the Israeli towns of Kdumim, Karney Shomron and Kiryat Arba. Many came with cans to fill and take back with them. Eventually traffic became so jammed that the IDF had to get involved and blocked the road leading from the PA to Kdumim. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Bipolar and Pregnant

November 3rd 2013


New Northwestern Medicine® research offers one of the first in-depth studies of how physiological changes during pregnancy reduce the effects of a commonly used drug to treat bipolar disorder, making women more vulnerable to recurring episodes. The new findings will help psychiatrists and physicians prevent bipolar manic and depressive symptoms during pregnancy, which are risky for the health of the mother and her unborn child.

When a woman with bipolar disorder becomes pregnant, she and her physician often don't realize her medication needs adjusting to prevent the symptoms from coming back – a higher risk during pregnancy. There also is little information and research to guide dosing for psychiatric medications during pregnancy. Approximately 4.4 million women in the U.S. have bipolar disorder with women of childbearing age having the highest prevalence. Read more ..

Society on Edge

Study Contends Catholic Schools No Better than Public Schools

November 2nd 2013

A national study led by a Michigan State University economist suggests Catholic schools are not superior to public schools after all. Math scores for Catholic students dropped between kindergarten and eighth grade, while math scores for public school students increased slightly. In addition, Catholic students saw no significant increase in reading scores or better behavioral outcomes between kindergarten and eighth grade.
“Across many outcomes, both academic and behavioral, we don’t find anything that seems to point to a real benefit of Catholic schools over public schools,” said Todd Elder, MSU associate professor of economics.

There are more than 2 million students in 6,700 Catholic schools in the United States, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

The study, published in the Journal of Urban Economics, is the first to examine test scores starting in kindergarten. Results from the first national standardized tests in math and reading – taken just weeks after the start of kindergarten – show that Catholic school students perform much better on average than public school students. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Americans Moving to Low Tax, Low Housing Cost States

November 1st 2013

Texas state capitol

Where are Americans moving, and why? Timothy Noah, writing in the Washington Monthly, professes to be puzzled. He points out that people have been moving out of states with high per capita incomes -- Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland -- to states with lower income levels.

“Why are Americans by and large moving away from economic opportunity rather than toward it?” he asks.

Actually, it's not puzzling at all. The movement from high-tax, high-housing-cost states to low-tax, low-housing-cost states has been going on for more than 40 years, as I note in my new book Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics. Between 1970 and 2010 the population of New York state increased from 18 million to 19 million. In that same period, the population of Texas increased from 11 million to 25 million. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Citizen Or Foreign Migrant? In Moscow, The Line Is Often Blurred

October 31st 2013

Migrant Workers

The two men have a lot in common. Both are in their 20s and moved to Moscow in search of a better life. Both face discrimination with employment, encounter harassment from police, and have struggled to find places to live. Neither has many Russian friends.

But there is one important difference between Mirzo Kurbonov and Zubeir (who declined to give his last name). The former is a foreign migrant from Tajikistan, while the latter is a Russian citizen from the North Caucasus. Despite his Russian passport, as an ethnic Ingush living in Moscow Zubeir’s experience is, in many ways, similar to that of an immigrant. He says he feels like an outsider in his own country. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Abandoned US Railroad Tracks Find New Life

October 30th 2013

amtrak train engine

The morning sun shines like gold on the two rails of train tracks that run through Sedalia, Missouri. An automobile rumbles over the tracks then disappears up the street.

A clanging crossing gate drops, allowing a lone engine to chug by pushing a single boxcar. When trains were king

Ten blocks away, three dozen tourists, dressed in bicycling clothes, gaze up at a train museum that looks like a palace topped by a towering, green tiled roof.

Tour guide Kathleen Boswell says this historic depot dates back to the 1860s, when trains were king.

Hundreds of trains stopped at the depot along the Kansas-Missouri-Texas Railroad, also known as the Katy, each week. However, by the 1970s, so many trucks and planes carried freight and people, that the train tracks were largely abandoned. In the 1980s, private donors worked with government officials to turn this stretch of track into the tourist attraction it is today. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Polio Confirmed in Syria

October 29th 2013

Polio Vaccination Clinc

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has confirmed 10 cases of polio detected in northeast Syria in mid-October.  The WHO warns protective measures must be taken to prevent the crippling disease from spreading in the region. 

The World Health Organization says 12 other suspected cases of polio are still under investigation.  A spokesman for WHO’s Polio Eradication Program says in a VOA interview there are no additional so-called hot cases at the moment.

Oliver Rosenbauer says disease surveillance is ongoing in Syria and in neighboring countries to look for other cases of acute flaccid paralysis.  But, for now, he says the only known cases are the 22 in Deir Ezzor that were detected and initially reported on October 17. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Simple Cancer Test Saves Lives in Burkina Faso

October 28th 2013

Nigerian baby with cap

Doctors in Burkina Faso are using a simple and low-cost method to detect cervical cancer at clinics throughout the country.  Doctors say that the test, which uses plain, white vinegar, can save thousands of lives each year.

Dr. Yacouba Ouedraogo runs the cervical cancer prevention program at the Jhpiego clinic in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou.

He says that cervical cancer has become the most common type of cancer in women in Burkina Faso, but the means of treating it are extremely limited.  He says detecting and treating cervical cancer in its early stages has recently become much easier. Doctors there are taking a cotton swab dipped in distilled white vinegar - the kind you buy in any market in Africa - and then rubbing it on the opening of a woman’s uterus, which is called the cervix.  Once the vinegar is applied, any pre-cancerous or cancerous cells will turn white. Dr. Stanislas Paul Nebie has been using the vinegar test on his patients since 2010. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Mississippi Museum to Look Back at Civil Rights History

October 27th 2013

Southside of Chicago

In the 1950s and 1960s, the southern U.S. state of Mississippi had a reputation worldwide as a hotbed of white racism, where black people were segregated by law and denied many basic rights. The civil rights movement faced hostility and violence in Mississippi until federal legislation ended segregation there and in other southern states in the mid-1960s. On Oct. 24, there will be a ground-breaking ceremony in the state capital of Jackson for a museum that will tell the story of that struggle.

The project involves the construction of two museums on one site. One will tell the general history of the state and the other will examine a particularly painful part of that history, according to Mississippi's Director of Archives and History, Hank Holmes. "The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum takes a 30-year period of the history presented in the Museum of Mississippi History and tells in great detail the story of the modern civil rights movement in Mississippi,” he said. Read more ..

The Edge of Hate

When An Anti-Semitic Hungarian Politician Finds Out He's Jewish

October 26th 2013

Hungary Jobbik party svastika

Csanád Szegedi is a man who means what he says. And until a year ago, what he said was that Jews and Roma were a plague on Hungarian society.

A key figure in the far-right Jobbik party, Szegedi had contributed significantly to its success, even surpassing party leader Gábor Vona in popularity. As a co-founder of the Hungarian Guard Movement, Szegedi was often mentioned in the press as proof that fascism was taking root in Hungary.

Then it was revealed that he was Jewish. For a year he retreated from the public eye, refused to give interviews and focused on the search for his identity.

Now he knows who he is. He is both Hungarian and Jewish. He keeps the Sabbath, goes to synagogue, is learning Hebrew and studying the Talmud. He is trying to keep the 613 laws of his religion. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Youth Group Steps in to Provide Sex Ed in Vietnam

October 25th 2013

The Pill

Don’t expect to see teachers demonstrating condom use with bananas or cucumbers during a sex education class in Vietnam. Teachers avoid the subject of sexuality as much as possible, eschewing the practical for the minimal. If students get any instruction on the topic at all, it’s usually folded into a brief biology lesson about puberty or HIV.

But a group of young people are trying to do what high school teachers are too shy to do: Teach students what they need to know about sex.
Phan Thi Hoai Yen guides students at a Vietnamese high school on how to use a condom. A local chapter of AIESEC, a global student organization, has been visiting high schools to deliver a crash course on sex. The members, who are college students, warn their audience about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and demonstrate how to use condoms, cucumber and all. “At some high schools, the students are very active,” AIESEC’s Nguyen Thi Thuy Linh said. “They raise their hand and talk, and go on stage to put the condom on the cucumber in front of everyone.” Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Nigeria Polio Cases Drop 50 Percent in 2013

October 24th 2013

Nigeria Polio vaccination

Nigeria is one of just a few countries where children are still at risk of paralysis or death from polio.  The government and aid organizations are working furiously to vaccinate as many children as possible.  But as World Polio Day arrives this Friday, the country's worst-hit regions remain inaccessible to health care workers, and adult victims find little relief from crushing poverty.  

At this busy street corner in the Nigerian capital, 20-year-old Mohammad moves from car to car, putting his hand out for money.  His legs are shrunken and useless, so he sits on his homemade wooden skateboard and pushes himself through traffic with his hands.

He wears flip-flops on his hands to protect them as he lifts himself onto the curb. Mohammad says he was four when he fell sick and lost the use of his legs.  By fourteen, his family couldn’t support him anymore, so he moved from northern Nigeria to the capital.  He’s never been to a doctor and he’s never heard of polio. Read more ..

The Technology Edge

New Technologies Reduce Health Risks From Traditional Clay Stoves

October 22nd 2013

South African town

It is a problem that affects more than a third of the world's population but often goes unnoticed.

Across the world, nearly 2.5 billion people routinely use wood or dried dung mixed with straw to cook with simple clay stoves and open fires.

The fires burn unevenly and frequently need fanning, producing both smoke and quantities of invisible toxic gases. Those clustered around the stove inhale the toxins and, over time, many develop lung diseases -- some fatal. Carlos Dora, a doctor and environmental health policy expert with the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO), calls cooking-smoke a huge problem in homes across the developing world: Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Heroin Habit

October 21st 2013

Afgan Drug Seizure

With his glassy pale-blue stare, missing teeth, and emaciated frame, Igor knows all too well the damage heroin can do. But after a decade of using the drug, the 27-year-old Muscovite can't imagine himself quitting.

The descent into addiction began before Igor was even a teenager. His mother died when he was 12 and he found himself on the streets. Within a year, he was drinking up to two liters of vodka a day; within two, he was shooting up heroin.

"Everyone starts out saying 'I can manage,' 'I know what I’m like,' 'I trust myself,'" Igor says. "And so I tried it in 2001, and here we are in 2013. Twelve years. To this day I tell myself the same: 'I can manage,' 'I know what I’m like,' 'I trust myself.'" Read more ..

Healthy Edge

Human Brain Releases Natural Opiod that Relieves Social Rejection

October 20th 2013

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” goes the playground rhyme that’s supposed to help children endure taunts from classmates. But a new study suggests that there’s more going on inside our brains when someone snubs us – and that the brain may have its own way of easing social pain. The findings, recently published in Molecular Psychiatry by a University of Michigan Medical School team, show that the brain’s natural painkiller system responds to social rejection – not just physical injury.

What’s more, people who score high on a personality trait called resilience – the ability to adjust to environmental change – had the highest amount of natural painkiller activation. The team, based at the Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute of the University of Michigan, used an innovative approach to make its findings. They combined advanced brain scanning that can track chemical release in the brain with a model of social rejection based on online dating. The work was funded by the U-M Depression Center, the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the Phil F. Jenkins Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Read more ..

Tajikistan on Edge

Road Wreck Prompts Rage Against The Tajik Machine

October 18th 2013


It's nothing new for the well-connected to raise hell on the streets of Dushanbe, racing through the capital in expensive luxury cars. But now there is blood on the streets, a young driver with connections to the first family, and it's an election year.

That combination is causing problems for President Emomali Rahmon as he campaigns for Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election.

On October 9, a 16-year-old youth was driving his brand-new BMW above the speed limit in the wee hours of the morning when he struck another vehicle, killing its driver and two passengers. Three others were gravely injured. Sources from Tajikistan's Interior Ministry confirmed that the son of a high ranking state official was behind the wheel during the incident, which took place at 2.30 am on October 9. Read more ..

The Edge of Disasters

Natural Disasters Worsen Poverty

October 17th 2013

Pakistan flooding

A new report says hundreds of millions of extremely poor people could be at the mercy of natural disasters in the coming years. It says unless they are better prepared to face droughts and floods, extreme poverty cannot be eliminated.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than one dollar and 25 cents a day – and there are growing calls to eliminate it by 2030. It could become one of the new goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.

However, Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, ODI, says ending extreme poverty is unlikely until governments “come to terms with the increased risk of natural disasters in some of the poorest parts of the world.” It’s released a new report called: The Geography of Poverty, Disasters and Climate Extremes in 2030. Read more ..

The Edge of Fear

25 Percent of EU Jews Afraid to Identify as Jewish in Public

October 16th 2013

European Anti-Semitism

According to a survey set to be released by the European Agency for Fundamental Rights, a quarter of Jews living in nine European Union countries polled are afraid to identify as Jewish in public, Israeli daily Maariv reported.

The survey, the full findings of which are to be made public in November, covered Sweden, Romania, Belgium, France, Hungary, Britain, Germany, Latvia, and Italy– chosen, according to the FRA, “based on the estimated size of their Jewish populations and/or to ensure coverage of various regions of the EU.”

Taken independently, the percentage in some countries is far greater than 25 percent; 50 percent of Swedish Jews, 40 percent of French Jews, and 36 percent of Belgian Jews are afraid to identify openly as Jewish.

A considerable amount of Jews also say they have experienced anti-Semitism firsthand in the past year— 37 percent of Romanian Jews, 35 percent of Hungarian Jews, and 31 percent of Belgian Jews. In Britain and Sweden, the number is considerably lower, with 21 percent saying they have experienced anti-Semitism in the past year. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

The Dalai Lama to Discuss 'Cravings' Research with Academics

October 15th 2013

At his exile home in India, the Dalai Lama of Tibet this month will pick University of Michigan researcher Kent Berridge's brain about cravings. Berridge, the James Olds Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, says he's honored to discuss his findings on how the brain's large "wanting" systems cause intense craving.

A dozen neuroscientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, addiction clinicians, philosophers and theologians have been invited by the Dalai Lama for a week-long dialog Oct. 28-Nov. 1 about craving, desire and addiction. Each person will give a half-day presentation; Berridge is scheduled for Oct. 29.

"I'm a little nervous but also excited," Berridge said. "It's a unique mix of people and approaches, and the chance of a lifetime to meet the Dalai Lama and have a long conversation with him. This will be an entirely different sort of discussion on the topic of craving, which has been a major interest during my nearly 30 years at Michigan." Read more ..

Broken Government

Refugees Waiting Overseas Are in Limbo as U.S. Shutdown Continues

October 14th 2013

Chinese-American kids

The U.S. government shutdown has temporarily frozen resettlement of refugees in some parts of the United States. Dozens from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East who hoped to arrive in the Midwest state of Missouri in October are in limbo abroad. Family members anxiously awaiting their arrival fear the longer the shutdown goes on, the less likely they will reach their destination.

When Man Subba arrived in St. Louis last year, it was the final stop on his flight from Bhutan that began more than a decade earlier. “It was a hard life,” said Subba.

A life spent mostly in a refugee camp in Nepal, where he lived with his parents and siblings. They belong to an ethnic minority that was politically persecuted in Bhutan. Now, his family has resettled in the United States - all except his parents. They are currently in a transition center in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. Read more ..

Iranian Boy Emulates Public Execution and Hangs Himself

October 13th 2013

When 12-year-old Mehran placed a noose around his neck and hanged himself with the help of his younger brother, suicide was the furthest thing from his mind. Instead, the boy was playing a game. And his fatal inspiration was a public execution of the sort often seen in his home province of Kermanshah in western Iran.

Mokhtar Khandani, a journalist working for the Mokrian News Agency, remembers the details well. Immediately after the boy died on August 31, Khandani traveled to the little village of Kelashlulem to talk to a family unable to understand what had just happened. "I talked to the family members, with his mother, his father, and his uncles," Khandani says. "They told me the younger brother prepared it, and the 12-year-old brother, Mehran, hanged himself. The younger brother thought Mehran was joking. After some time the younger brother became scared and let the grownups know. Unfortunately when they arrived they saw the child had already passed away." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Adobe's Subscription Model And the End of Owning Your Software

October 13th 2013

Frustrated computer user

You can't please all the people all the time, and nobody knows it better than tech companies. Any little change will infuriate some subset of your customers: change the layout, change how a feature works, change the system requirements. Even if the overall outcome is a step forward, a bit of customer disgruntlement is just a cost of doing business.

Apparently, however, it's also possible to enrage just about your entire customer base at once. That's what Adobe managed to do this spring when it announced that it would no longer sell Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and its other professional design programs. Instead this software is now available only for rent, for a perpetual monthly or yearly fee.

This idea—software as a subscription—is catching on. Earlier this year Microsoft began offering its Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) for a $100-a-year subscription, although you can still buy the programs the old way if you prefer. Big-corporation software, supplied by companies such as IBM and Oracle, has been subscription-only for years. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Forbidden Love And Execution Leaves Afghan Mullah Crying Foul

October 12th 2013

Afgan Women in Burka

It's a young woman's story of true love blocked by forced engagement, prompting a romantic nighttime escape with her beloved.

This is the tale that played out in the Afghan village of Kookchail, in the northern Badghis Province. And like many such cases in deeply conservative areas of the country, this one had a tragic ending.

On the eve of her forced wedding, Halima escaped with her boyfriend only to be tracked down days later and shot dead in a public execution. The case led to a 17-year prison sentence against a local mullah seen in a video ordering Halima's execution.

But now the mullah, 35-year-old Mawlavi Abdul-Qayum, is preparing an appeal, arguing he has been left holding the bag while the real perpetrators of the crime run free. Halima had been secretly dating a young man from her neighborhood, but the girl's parents agreed that she would be married to another man against her wishes. Read more ..

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