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Broken Banking

Top Malaysian Politicians Use Offshore Secrecy

April 18th 2013

Malaysia city

Key members of the Malaysian government, their families, and well-heeled associates are among those owning secretive offshore companies in Singapore and the British Virgin Islands, according to a cache of leaked documents.

They include former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's son Mirzan, Federal Territories and Urban Well-Being Minister Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin and Michael Chia, the alleged ‘bagman' for Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman.

The files, which were obtained by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and examined by Malaysiakini, show more than 1,500 Malaysians owning offshore companies in Singapore – dubbed as the new Switzerland  – as well as the British Virgin Islands (BVI), an international tax haven. The ICIJ list comprises a curious mix of Forbes-listed tycoons, parliamentarians, retired politicians, civil servants and their spouses, members of royal families, famous and infamous businesspeople, underworld kingpins and even former beauty queens. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Jordanian Woman's Throat Slit in 'Honor' Killing

April 17th 2013

Burka cellphone

Saudi Gazette reports: "Jordanian police said on Sunday they found the burned body of a pregnant woman whose throat had been slit and belly cut open showing her four-month-old fetus, in an apparent "honor killing."

"We found the body of the woman at dawn in Ruseifeh (east of Amman). Her throat was slit in a hideous way. The body was burned after the murder," a police spokesman said. We believe it was an honor crime. The belly of the woman, who was in her twenties, was cut open and we could see her four-month-old unborn child, who was dead too. Investigations are still under way." Between 15 and 20 women die in so-called "honor" murders each year in the Arab kingdom, despite government efforts to curb such crimes. Murder is punishable by death in Jordan, but in "honor killings" courts can commute or reduce sentences, particularly if the victim's family asks for leniency. Read more ..

Psychological Edge

People See Bright Future despite Gathering Storm Clouds

April 16th 2013

Baby Boomer

People feel happy about their future even after imagining the many bad events that might occur, a new University of Michigan study found. People tend to "explain away" the presence of bad possibilities in their own lives, thinking that they won't actually happen to them, said U-M researcher Ed O'Brien. "But we have a harder time explaining the absence of good possibilities. The absence of good events in our future feels much worse than the presence of bad ones," he said.

O'Brien explored whether fluency—how easy or difficult it feels to think about different events—might play a role in how people think about well-being.

He conducted five studies, asking participants to complete surveys with questions that addressed past and possible future experiences and perceptions of well-being. Fluency amplified the effects of past events on participants' reports of well-being: The easier it was for them to generate positive experiences, the happier they said they were in those times. Likewise, the easier it was to come up with negative experiences, the more unhappy people said they were. Read more ..

Digital Edge

Social Media and Internet Cause Societal Fragmentation and Isolation

April 16th 2013

Click to select Image

The larger the group, the smaller the chance of forming interracial friendships, a new University of Michigan study shows. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examines how the size of a community affects the realization of people's preferences for friends. U-M researchers Siwei Cheng and Yu Xie tested their theoretical model using both simulated and real data on actual friendships among 4,745 U.S. high school students.

"We found that total school size had a major effect on the likelihood that students would form interracial friendships. Large schools promote racial segregation and discourage interracial friendships," said Xie, a sociologist with the U-M College of Literature, Science and the Arts, Institute for Social Research and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Read more ..

Addiction Edge

Putting an End toTobacco Use

April 16th 2013

What would it take to end tobacco use once and for all?

This is the question several scholars, scientists and policy experts address in a provocative series of articles on various strategies for eliminating tobacco use, if not entirely, at least enough to significantly slow the global death toll estimated at 1 billion people by the end of this century, with the status quo.

It's called the tobacco endgame—unique and radical strategies to end tobacco dependence.

From dramatically reducing nicotine to total abolition of cigarette sales, the series of articles includes six endgame strategies and a number of essays written to encourage public debate, said Kenneth Warner, the Avedis Donabedian Distinguished University Professor of Public Health and professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Turkish composer and pianist convicted of blasphemy on Twitter

April 16th 2013

Turkish Flags

Composer Say Fazil was accused of denigrating Islam in a series of tweets including a retweet of a verse by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyám. Photograph: AP

A Turkish court has convicted pianist and composer Fazil Say of blasphemy and inciting hatred over a series of comments he made on Twitter last year.

The musician was given a suspended 10-month jail term. His lawyer, Meltem Akyol, said his client would have to serve the term if he committed a similar offence within the next five years. Say, who was not present at the hearing, issued a statement calling the verdict "a sad one for Turkey". He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated.

The 43-year-old went on trial in October accused of denigrating Islam in a series of tweets earlier last year. In one message he retweeted a verse from a poem by Omar Khayyám in which the 11th-century Persian poet attacks pious hypocrisy: "You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?" In other tweets, he made fun of a muezzin (a caller to prayer) and certain religious practices.


Broken Banking

Billionaires Among Thousands of Indonesians Found in Secret Offshore Documents

April 15th 2013


Nine of Indonesia’s 11 richest families have found shelter in tropical tax havens, holding ownership of more than 190 offshore trusts and companies, secret records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists show.

The nine families, worth an estimated $36 billion among them, are at the top of a wealthy class that dominates Indonesia’s politics and economy. Six were closely tied to the late dictator Suharto, who helped a special circle of Indonesians grow rich during his 31-year rule by granting economic fiefdoms to family and friends. The billionaires are among nearly 2,500 Indonesians found in the files of Singapore-headquartered offshore services provider Portcullis TrustNet, which ICIJ has been analyzing and began reporting on last week. Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Texting, Social Networking and Other Media Use Linked to Poor Academic Performance

April 14th 2013

Teenager texting

The widespread use of media among college students – from texting to chatting on cell phones to posting status updates on Facebook – may be taking an academic toll, say researchers with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine.

According to a new study, freshmen women spend nearly half their day – 12 hours – engaged in some form of media use, particularly texting, music, the Internet and social networking. Researchers found media use, in general, was associated with lower grade point averages (GPAs) and other negative academic outcomes. However, there were two exceptions: newspaper reading and listening to music were actually linked to a positive academic performance. The findings offer some new insight into media use in early adulthood, a time when many young people are living independently for the first time and have significant freedom from parental monitoring. Read more ..

America and Columbia

The U.S. War on Communism, Drugs, and Terrorism in Colombia

April 13th 2013

FARC Terrorists

On Thursday, September 6, 2012, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, rejected a proposed bilateral ceasefire by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels aimed at bringing an end to Colombia’s decades of armed conflict. In fact, he declared that he had asked operations to be intensified and stated, “There will be no ceasefire of any kind.”  These comments reflected Colombia’s half-century dirty war, the actors involved, and some of the motives behind U.S. policies that have only served to worsen the conflict.

Today, more than 150 days of negotiating have passed since the start of the peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government. Undeniably, President Santos took the risk of agreeing to peace talks that have thus far failed to make significant inroads; an inability to reconcile the main source of friction, agrarian reform, is derailing positive advancement on other critical points in the process (i.e. political inclusion). Read more ..

Latin America on Edge

The Free Market Experiment in Latin America

April 13th 2013

Bolivian Miner

Poverty in Latin America has been reduced substantially in the last three decades. In the late 1980s, nearly half of Latin America’s population lived in poverty. Today the fraction is about a third. This marks important progress, and it has continued in some area nations. However, it is worth noting that between 2002 and 2008, poverty contracted most in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Argentina, countries which had largely abandoned neoliberalism; in Brazil, which had at least partially rejected neoliberalism; and in only two other states, Honduras and Perú, which still remained, at least partially, committed to free market polices.

It was mostly factors beyond economic policy that helps to account for recent declines in the rate of Latin American poverty.  One factor was increasing remittances from Latin Americans laboring in the developed world, especially in the United States.  Total remittances from Latin American workers rose from $12 billion USD in 1995, to $45 billion in 2004, and $68 billion in 2006.  However, “by far the main contributor to the reduction in the poverty rate,” as Jaime Ros has noted, was “the fall in the dependency ratio.”  The indicator measures the number of non-working age people—children and the elderly—who are supported by the working age population. The higher the dependency number, the greater the economic burden.

Latin America’s past demographic history underlies this shift in the dependency ratio.  The late 1940s in Latin America witnessed lower overall death rates (the number of people who died a year divided by the total population), especially due to lower infant and childhood mortality rates.  Initially, birth rates stayed high even as death rates fell, but after a generation passed Latin America’s birth rates began to drift downward to match the lower death rates. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Guys And Gals Meet Facebook To Facebook

April 12th 2013

Sahar Gul

High-school student Muhammad Akbar has never dated a girl in real life, but he's got plenty of girlfriends on Facebook. With social and religious taboos restricting face-to-face contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex, Facebook's popularity has skyrocketed as a virtual meeting place in Afghanistan.

Akbar spends nearly an hour every evening in a packed Internet cafe near his home in Kabul's Shah Shahid area to chat with his female "friends." To pay for his online habit, which costs about 100 afghanis ($2) an hour, he has taken a part-time job as a garage assistant.

"In Afghanistan, we don't have disco clubs to meet with girls. It's not allowed here to go on a date with girls, to meet and talk with them face to face," Akbar says. "Marriage is the only way to have a relationship with a woman, but many people can't easily afford to get married. Facebook has solved that problem for many." Read more ..

Broken Economy

Budgets Slash English Classes for Immigrants

April 10th 2013


When the Adult School in Fontana, California, opens its enrollment office each day, there’s always a long line, and not enough classes to accommodate everyone who wants to sign up.

Until recently, California law set aside funds specifically for adult education. But to help schools meet funding shortages during the recent recession, state legislators let them use that money for other programs. That’s meant a 90 percent cut for Fontana’s adult school

And no room for Maria Flores in an advanced beginner English course. “They put me in the basic course. And that’s ‘Hello, Good Morning, How are you?’ I already know that. I need to practice, but often, there’s no room.” Principal Cindy Gleason said many students have to settle for English classes that don’t match their abilities. And, with funds so short, she’s not sure how long her school can maintain even this level of service. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Vietnamese Businesses Embrace Gay Customers

April 9th 2013

Gay art

Right in the heart of the city, next to the Opera House and the old stomping grounds of war correspondents, a rare kind of party raged on a recent Friday: It was a drag show. A hip young crowd descended on Centro bar around midnight to mingle with drag queens, men who donned green eyelashes, lace tops normally worn by women, and even traditional Vietnamese silk.

That this happened so openly, in a square heavily trafficked by tourists, expats, and well-heeled Vietnamese, speaks volumes about the country’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people. Their movement is gaining momentum. “They no longer hide themselves,” said Tran Quoc Vu, who pitches in at his sister’s Papa cafe, perhaps one of the oldest LGBT-friendly joints in the city. After the coffee shop opened in the late 1990s at the Turtle Lake roundabout, the gay clientele started to grow, in part because LGBT singers and actors frequent the place. Read more ..

Egypt on Edge

Egyptian Women Reject Blame for Upsurge in Sexual Harrassment

April 8th 2013

Egyptian women protesting

In Egypt, women's rights groups are pushing back against some Islamists' attempts to blame women for an upsurge in sexual harassment. Post-revolution, the number of women reporting sexual harassment and violence has skyrocketed.  So, too, it appears, has the tendency to blame women for the assaults against them.

Psychologist Farah Shash, of the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, says Egyptian society is becoming increasingly conservative and patriarchal.

“The society always blames the victim.  She is the one to be blamed because she is dressed 'inappropriately' or she walks 'inappropriately' or she laughs loudly, or just because she is on the street when she got harassed,” Shash explained. Prominent Egyptian religious and political leaders, like Salafist sheikh Gamal Saber, a founder of the al-Ansar Party, have expressed just those sentiments. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Finding Genes for Childhood Obesity

April 7th 2013

Childhood Obesity

Researchers have identified four genes newly associated with severe childhood obesity. They also found an increased burden of rare structural variations in severely obese children.

The team found that structural variations can delete sections of DNA that help to maintain protein receptors known to be involved in the regulation of weight. These receptors are promising targets for the development of new drugs against obesity.

As one of the major health issues affecting modern societies, obesity has increasingly received public attention. Genes, behavior and environment, all contribute to the development of obesity. Children with severe obesity are more likely to have a strong genetic contribution. This study has enhanced understanding of how both common and rare variants around specific genes and genetic regions are involved in severe childhood obesity. Read more ..

Healthcare on Edge

Dietary Changes Help Lower Blood Pressure

April 5th 2013

heart patient hospital doctor health

Sunday, April 7, is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The World Health Organization has recommended reducing salt or sodium intake to lower the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. But researchers say the benefits would be greater if dietary potassium intake was increased at the same time.

The WHO says high blood pressure affects one billion people worldwide. It leads to many deaths or permanent disabilities. Hypertension is called the silent killer because there are few obvious symptoms. The good news is it’s often preventable. There are many studies indicating that reducing salt or sodium intake can lower the risk of stroke and related illnesses. Read more ..

Paraguay on Edge

The Children of Paraguay's 'Landfill Harmonic Orchestra' Give the World Hope

April 3rd 2013

The Landfill Harmonic Orchestra consists of children who live in a slum erected over a garbage dump approximately 35 miles northwest from Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.

With direction from a professional musician and friends, they make beautiful music with classical instruments made from scraps of lumber, tin cans, and refuse they find in a garbage dump. A real violin would cost as much as a real house for the inhabitants of Cateura, the village where people make do in shanties facing open sewers.

The children of Cateura need help to not only make music, but to break the cycle of poverty in which they find themselves. Watch the video. I hope you will be inspired to give them the help they need.

While the founder of Landfill Harmonic (a.k.a. Recycled Orchestra), Favio Chávez, provides a pithy quote, "The world send us garbage. We give back music," what the child musicians also give back is an example of resilience and optimism. Read more ..

Education Edge

Mean Girls Await High School Grads at College Too

April 3rd 2013

You're not done with high school when you go to college, according to a new study of student culture.

An in-depth look at the lives of young women who started college on the same floor of a large dorm at a middle-tier public university shows that the high school peer culture that divides students into homecoming queens, wannabes and nerds thrives in college, to the disadvantage of many.

"Parents and college administrators are naively optimistic about the atmosphere for freshman women in large party dorms," said Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who conducted the study with colleague Laura Hamilton of the University of California at Merced.

"The pressures these young women encounter make it very difficult for them to focus on academics. For many, the experience is not a good one, and we found that it can affect the trajectories of their lives for many years to come." Read more ..

Catholic Church on Edge

A New Pope Confronts American Catholic Nuns

April 2nd 2013

Iraqi Christians praying

As soon as it was determined that the smoke was indeed white, thousands of Facebook posts, tweets, and texts began to document reactions to the election of Pope Francis. Initial cryptic comments included: “This is a surprise”; “Jesuit pope”; “Love him already”; and some cautious remarks about his aversion to liberation theology, especially as practiced by Latin American priests and nuns.

Since that day, the election and recent installation of Pope Francis to the throne of Peter has continued to generate articles, commentaries, and conversations on social media sites expressing opinions about the first Latin American pontiff, and suggesting an agenda that would, in their opinion, revitalize an ancient church that is struggling to remain vibrant in the twenty-first century. Read more ..

Jewry on Edge

Warring Over Modesty: Hasidim and Women in Brooklyn

April 2nd 2013

Hasidim girls

Until recently, you could have lived your entire life in the United States and never have bumped into any Jewish Orthodox Hasidim, who live in scattered communities, mostly in the New York’s borough of Brooklyn.

In the last few years, however, the media have publicized the Hasidim’s cultural clashes with their non-fundamentalist neighbours. In each instance, the conflict has pitted the Hasidic view of women’s modest traditional dress and their appropriate role in the family, on the streets, and in their community against the sexualized dress and behaviour of their neighbours.

The first widely-publicized controversy over women’s modesty occurred in the neighbourhood known as Crown Heights. On a warm, summer evening in the summer of 2010, Clara Santos Perez’s new and trendy kosher café, Basil Pizza and Wine Bar, was filled with Orthodox Jews from the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidim, West Indians, and the local young professionals who have gradually moved into the neighbourhood. Read more ..

Gulf States on Edge

Youth Activism in the Small Gulf States

April 1st 2013

Bahraini tanks

Youths have been key drivers of revolutions across the Middle East since the beginning of the Arab uprisings in early 2011. For example, one recent study indicates that more than half of the protestors in the Egyptian revolution were between the ages of 18 and 30. Although young activists have not sparked similarly dramatic change in the small states along the Persian Gulf's western littoral -- Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman -- they will likely play an important role in structural reform and therefore merit more attention from both Washington and their own governments.

Increasingly muscular youth movements carry important implications regarding the extent of potential change in the Gulf, as already seen in fits and starts in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman. Like their counterparts in other Arab states, young Gulf activists tend to pursue political agendas that are more far-reaching than those of traditional opposition elements and older generations. Yet they generally call for legislative, judicial, and other structural reforms rather than all-out revolution. Read more ..

The Edge of Education

Teacher Finds Artful Way to Inspire Students

March 31st 2013

Hagen i Åsgårdstrand by Edvard Munch

Teacher Ryan Martinez knows how to encourage his students. "If there is silence, there is an opportunity for music," he says. "If there is a white surface, then there is an opportunity for color."

Martinez teaches French at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, where his classroom is decorated with colorful ceiling tiles. "As a teacher, you want to make your classroom space one that reflects your own approach to teaching," he says. "And when you make that an inviting, stimulating type of atmosphere, it makes it a more pleasurable learning experience."

It all started with one tile a year ago. "I brought it home. I just had some blue paint and sort of just covered it, and I installed it," Martinez says. "The students noticed that. I mean, immediately, it jumped out because, in an otherwise white ceiling, all of a sudden you have some color." French teacher Ryan Martinez has decorated his high school classroom with colorfully painted ceiling tiles. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Smoking Immediately Upon Waking: Increase Risk of Lung and Oral Cancer?

March 30th 2013

The sooner a person smokes a cigarette upon waking in the morning, the more likely he or she is to acquire lung or oral cancer, according to Penn State researchers.

"We found that smokers who consume cigarettes immediately after waking have higher levels of NNAL -- a metabolite of the tobacco-specific carcinogen NNK -- in their blood than smokers who refrain from smoking a half hour or more after waking, regardless of how many cigarettes they smoke per day," said Steven Branstetter, assistant professor of biobehavioral health.

According to Branstetter, other research has shown that NNK (4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-[3-pyridyl]-1-butanone) induces lung tumors in several rodent species. Levels of NNAL (4-(methylnitrosamnino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol) in the blood can therefore predict lung cancer risk in rodents as well as in humans. In addition, NNAL levels are stable in smokers over time, and a single measurement can accurately reflect an individual's exposure.

Branstetter and his colleague Joshua Muscat, professor of public health sciences, examined data on 1,945 smoking adult participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who had provided urine samples for analysis of NNAL. These participants also had provided information about their smoking behavior, including how soon they typically smoked after waking. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Americans Support Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants

March 29th 2013

Latino immigration rally

A new survey finds the majority of Americans say there should be a way for foreigners living illegally in the United States to stay in the country if they meet certain conditions.

The study published Thursday by the Pew Research Center shows 71 percent of Americans favor granting legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. What kind of legal status, though, is a more divisive issue. Forty-three percent of the public supports a path to citizenship, while 27 percent prefers just legal residency.

 The United States is struggling with a 7.7 percent unemployment rate, a condition that in the past has motivated many native-born Americans to accuse foreigners of stealing jobs and using up social resources. Despite the sluggish economy, Pew’s national survey of 1,501 adults conducted earlier this month found that “overall attitudes about immigrants in the United States are more positive than negative.” Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Muslim Persecution of Christians: January, 2013

March 28th 2013

Coptic woman weeping at funeral

The year 2013 began with reports indicating that wherever Christians live side by side with large numbers of Muslims, the Christians are under attack. As one report said, "Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest." Whether in Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, or Tanzania—attacks on Christians are as frequent as they are graphic.

As for the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity, a new study by the Pew Forum finds that "just 0.6 percent of the world's 2.2 billion Christians now live in the Middle East and North Africa. Christians make up only 4 percent of the region's inhabitants, drastically down from 20 percent a century ago, and marking the smallest regional Christian minority in the world. Fully 93 percent of the region is Muslim and 1.6 percent is Jewish." Read more ..

America on Edge

Supreme Court Weighs Challenge to DOMA in Second Same-Sex Marriage Review

March 27th 2013

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a second day of oral arguments in its landmark cases on same-sex marriage.

Wednesday’s case is a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal law that prohibits same-sex couples from receiving certain federal benefits. DOMA is widely seen as an easier case than the broader challenge the court considered on Tuesday — especially for Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote will likely determine how the court ultimately rules in both cases.

Kennedy signaled during Tuesday’s arguments that he is not ready to prohibit states from enacting their own bans on same-sex marriage. Read more ..

Travel Safe

How Air Travelers Can Minimize Reactions to Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies

March 26th 2013

airplanes shadows

Few situations can provoke more anxiety for people with peanut or tree-nut allergies than having an allergic reaction while flying on an airplane and being unable to get help.

But in a new study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology-In Practice, researchers found passengers who engaged in eight mitigating factors were less likely to report an allergic reaction.

This is the first study to show that in-flight peanut and tree nut allergy is an international problem, says lead author and pediatrician Matthew Greenhawt, M.D., M.B.A., M.Sc., of the University of Michigan’s Food Allergy Center and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Past research has focused on the U.S. and only on those who had reactions, instead of including those who did not. Read more ..

The Way We Are

How Sharers Become Hoarders

March 26th 2013

Click to select Image

Children as young as 3 years old understand they should share with others, but they fail to follow this rule until age 7 or 8, according to a new University of Michigan study.

"There is abundant evidence that children are aware of fairness standards at a young age, yet young children often allocate resources unfairly when they stand to benefit," said Craig Smith, a U-M postdoctoral psychology researcher and the study's lead author.

Smith and colleagues Peter Blake of Boston University and Paul Harris of Harvard University wanted to learn more about the gap between children's judgment and their behavior. The study also shed light on the youngsters' will power when faced with the actual decision of sharing. Read more ..

Broken Labor

Worker Suffocations Persist, Grain Storage Soars, Employers Flout Safety

March 25th 2013

Emergency Medical

Will Piper and Alex Pacas were being buried alive. It was July 28, 2010, just before 10 a.m., and the young men strained to breathe as wet corn piled up around them in Bin No. 9 at the Haasbach LLC grain storage facility. A co-worker, Wyatt Whitebread, had already been pulled under.

The ordeal in Bin No. 9 played out over 13 hours as hundreds of townspeople maintained a vigil outside. In the end, Whitebread, 14, and Pacas, 19, were dead. Piper, 20, avoided suffocation by inches.

Whitebread, compact and athletic, was happy to have summer work. Pacas, slight and musical, was an aspiring electrical engineer just days away from returning to classes at Hamilton Technical College in Davenport, Iowa. He’d started at Haasbach the day before. “He prayed for his life,” survivor Piper said of Pacas’s last moments. “He said all he wanted to do is see his brothers graduate high school. And then he spouted off the Lord’s Prayer very quickly, and shortly after that one last chunk of corn came flowing down and went around his face.” Read more ..

Our Darkest Edge

School Shootings May Provide New Uses for Weapons-Detecting Radar

March 25th 2013

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In the weeks after the Connecticut school shooting, as the nation puzzled over how it happened and what might prevent it from happening again, Kamal Sarabandi was listening to the news. Talk turned to giving teachers guns, and he paused.

"I said, there must be a better way," Sarabandi recalled.

Then he had an epiphany. Sarabandi is an electrical engineering professor at the University of Michigan. His specialty is remote sensing—detecting objects and gathering information from a distance. And for several years ending in mid-2012, he was funded by the Department of Defense to tweak a type of radar not too different from the kind police use to nab speeders and use it to find weapons and bombs concealed on a person's body.

The funders envisioned it for military uses. But after Newtown, Sarabandi wondered if his research had homefront applications. Maybe his millimeter-wave radar system could flag weapons on their way in to busy places where they're not allowed. "Schools, airports, stadiums or shopping malls—wherever there is a large number of people that you want to protect," Sarabandi said. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Gay Marriage Battle Reverberates at US Capitol

March 24th 2013

Gay Marriage

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two landmark cases on same-sex marriage.  While justices ponder the constitutionality of laws restricting gay-marriage rights, across the street from the court - at the U.S. Capitol - the politics of homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, are shifting.  

Earlier this month, Senator Rob Portman became the first Republican in the chamber to endorse same-sex marriage. “The joy and the stability of marriage that I have had for 26 years - I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son, who is gay," he said. 

The announcement, on CNN, did nothing to change the opinions of fellow-Republican senators like Orrin Hatch. “We are friends [Portman and I].  But where we differ is I do not believe we should change the traditional definition of marriage," he said. The cases before the Supreme Court include a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex unions.  The law, known as DOMA, received strong bipartisan support when it was enacted in 1996, including from then-Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat. Read more ..

The Edge of Security

Feds Mulling Mergers of Police and Fire Protection

March 23rd 2013

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Plagued by budget cuts and layoffs, police and fire departments from California to Michigan are exploring controversial options such as hiring civilians, contracting out and merging services.

Yet there remains a lack of reliable information on public safety consolidation, leaving many local officials unsure of which route to take.

A new program at Michigan State University will fill that gap. Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, the Program on Police Consolidation and Shared Services is the first in the nation to provide local officials a roadmap to maintaining effective levels of public safety amid dwindling resources.

“Communities are looking for solutions, but there are very few resources out there to guide them through the different options,” said Jeremy Wilson, program director and associate professor of criminal justice. “This program is exciting because if offers a whole series of projects aimed specifically at developing those resources.” Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

A Lollipop That Helps You Lose Weight

March 21st 2013

Chocolate Dessert

Say goodbye to pills and hello to fortified confectionery. An Israeli company has developed candies with health benefits. Colorful and sweet but also healthful. Willy Wonka may have the secret recipe for the Everlasting Gobstopper, but it’s an Israeli candy company that is taking the confectionery and health food world by storm with its new fortified sweets.

Carmit Candy Industries recently unveiled its original line of fortified confectionery products at the Natural Products Expo West industry event in the United States. The innovative lollipops, wafers and toffees are formulated to help shed pounds, boost the immune system and promote bone health. “Healthier food, and the importance that diet has on health, is a major consumer trend for many years,” says CEO Steve Grun.

“Food manufacturers have been answering this trend with many new products, ranging from reduced fat/sugar/sodium products to products fortified with vitamins/minerals/fiber. We are taking this a step further by combining really tasty candy products with the most up-to-date nutrition ingredients to create products that taste great and deliver a specific health benefit.” Read more ..

The Dating Edge

Dating in Middle School Leads to Higher Dropout, Drug Use Rates

March 19th 2013

Talking girls

Students who date in middle school have significantly worse study skills, are four times more likely to drop out of school and report twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use than their single classmates, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

"Romantic relationships are a hallmark of adolescence, but very few studies have examined how adolescents differ in the development of these relationships," said Pamela Orpinas, study author.

Orpinas followed a group of 624 students over a seven-year period from sixth to 12th grade. Each year, the group completed a survey indicating whether they had dated and reported the frequency of different behaviors, including the use of drugs and alcohol. Their teachers completed questionnaires about the students' academic efforts. The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study included schools from six school districts in northeast Georgia. Investigators used two indicators of students' school success: high school dropout rates and yearly teacher-rated study skills. The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Read more ..

Morocco on Edge

Is Morocco a Model or a Mirage?

March 18th 2013

Morocco election

Morocco is the one country where mass protests during the initial Arab Spring of early 2011 produced fundamental yet peaceful reform, but without regime change. In June of that year, a popular referendum approved a new constitution in which the king is no longer called "sacred" and must appoint his prime minister from the party with the most parliamentary seats. In November, a competitive election brought an opposition, avowedly Islamist political party to lead the government for the first time: the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) and its current prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane.

Since then, the country has been largely calm. Occasional small-scale protests persist in various cities and provincial towns. Yet a few weeks ago, on the second anniversary of the "Feb. 20 Movement" that brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators out into the streets of Morocco's major cities in 2011, barely a thousand turned out for protests in the capital of Rabat. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

She's Making Graffitit at the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

March 17th 2013

Malina Suliman

Sometimes graffiti can be seen from space. In Tunisia it graces the country’s tallest minaret. In Lebanon, they are making green graffiti for the city streets. In another inspiring way, Afghan artist Malina Suliman finds inspiration in southern Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and one of the most dangerous places in the world. She aims to change the cultural environment through sculpture and painting that depicts the challenges of her war-weary generation.

Born and raised in Kabul, Suliman moved to Pakistan in 2007 to study with Art Council Karachi. She returned to Kabul and its nascent art scene, joining local art association Berang.  The group works to promote the arts in her deeply conservative hometown.“Many people had never seen an art installation. Some were offended and others were hurt because they’d experienced [he pain of the subject matter] before,” Suliman said to Al Arabiya, speaking of  her painting “War and Chaos” which depicts the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Read more ..

Inside Uzbekistan

Uzbeks Toil To Keep Silk Industry's Traditions Alive

March 16th 2013


In the heart of the Ferghana Valley, the melting of the winter snows heralds more than the coming of spring -- it's the beginning of "cocoon season." From the end of April to late May, local farmers tend to one of Uzbekistan's proudest industries the old-fashioned way: one silkworm at a time, in the warmth of their own homes.

The spawn of the silk moth are carefully nurtured throughout the difficult larval stage in preparation for the day they will spin themselves their protective and highly valuable cocoons. Then, as they snuggle in to make the transformation from caterpillar to moth, they are boiled alive and their life's labor unraveled to make silk thread. Uzbekistan's silk-production tradition dates back to ancient times, and is a point of national pride. Today, the sector is strictly controlled by the government, but delivering the annual harvest has a family feel. Read more ..

UK and Israel

New Numbers Show UK-Israel Trade is Booming

March 16th 2013


Trade between Britain and Israel is booming. Last year’s two-way trade reached more than £3.81 billion ($5.77 billion), as compared with the £3.7 billion ($5.66 billion) recorded the previous year and on track for UK Trade and Investment’s target of topping £4 billion (roughly $6 billion) by the middle of the decade. Israel remains the UK’s largest individual trading partner in the near East and North Africa.

According to figures from that British body, trade from the UK to Israel fell slightly. However, imports in the reverse direction grew by 6.6 per cent from 2011 to 2012, representing a total of more than £2.3 billion (roughly $3.5 billion).

Israel is one of the top 20 countries investing in the UK, with its investments exceeding those of Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Israeli goods popular with Britons included fruit and vegetables, which accounted for £82 million ($124 million) worth of trade, and coffee, tea and spices.

On the flipside Israelis love their British cars, with £130 million ($197 million) worth of automotive goods exported from the UK to Israel, along with £70 million ($106 million) worth of industrial machinery and nearly £20 million ($30 million) worth of iron and steel — an 85 per cent increase on 2011. Israel also helps keep Britons healthy. Around £1.1 billion ($1.6 billion) worth of Israeli-produced pharmaceuticals arrived in the UK last year. Read more ..

America on Edge

A Majority-Minority U.S. is Closer than We Think

March 15th 2013

Latino kids in school

A major cultural and geographic divide is emerging between Americans under age 35 and over 50, according to University of Michigan demographer William Frey. "More than 70 percent of today's baby boomers and seniors are white, and they grew up during a time when the nation's minority population was relatively small and consisted mainly of African Americans," said Frey, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research and at the Brookings Institution. "By contrast, 40 percent of those under age 35 belong to minority groups. They have grown up during a period when racial mingling is the norm at school, work, social occasions and houses of worship."

The resulting differences in social and political attitudes will increase economic and cultural tensions in communities across the nation, Frey says, with some areas affected much sooner and more strongly than others. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Global Politics Shaken By Social Media

March 14th 2013

Facebook page

Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo drew the largest vote for a single party in Italy's election last month - despite shunning traditional campaign platforms such as TV, in favor of using social media like Facebook to spread his message. Analysts say it's the latest example of how new media and social media are changing politics - building on recent phenomena like the Arab Spring.

By his own admission, Beppe Grillo tries hard not to look like a politician. But his '5-star Movement' took 25 percent of the vote at the Italian elections last month - the highest share for a single party. Addressing his supporters, he said: "We have entered another phase; I don't know what it will lead to. It is incredible," he said. "We have changed. We are not only a movement but we are a community." Analysts say it is a community built in cyberspace. Grillo shunned traditional campaign platforms such as television and newspapers - instead relying on social media like Facebook and Twitter, where he has over a million followers. Read more ..

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