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The Ancient Edge

Ancient Manuscripts Reveal Thriving Jewish Community in Afghanistan

January 5th 2013

Afghan Jewish Document


Islam's War Against Christianity

Nigeria's anti-Christian Violence on Christmas

January 4th 2013

Helpless Nigerian man

Boko Haram-associated violence appears to spike around the major Christian holidays, especially Christmas. The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) documents this trend in 2011. This year, according to the Nigerian press, the security presence was beefed-up in the North and holiday leaves were cancelled. This may have had a positive impact, as no large-scale terrorist incidents were reported.

Nevertheless, the media reports numerous small scale attacks, especially in Borno and Yobe states. For example, the press reports two suicide bomber attacks in Kano, but with few casualties. A pastor and five members of his congregation were murdered on Christmas Eve, and alleged Boko Haram operatives slit the throats of some fifteen men, women, and children in a settlement outside of Maiduguri on December 29. Though details are scarce, these killings may have been of Christians. Ansaru, possibly a Boko Haram splinter group, killed two Nigerian security officers and kidnaped a French engineer the week before Christmas. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Beliefs about Dieting and Exercise Play into Weight Loss

January 4th 2013

Click to select Image

People setting a goal to lose weight in 2013 may want to first ask themselves if diet or exercise is more important to success. Whether a person believes obesity is caused by overeating or by a lack of exercise can predict whether he or she will gain or lose weight, according to University of Michigan research to be published in the journal Psychological Science. With two-thirds of the adult U.S. population classified as overweight or obese and similar numbers in many developed nations, obesity has become an important health concern.

In a series of studies across five countries on three continents, the research showed that people mainly believe either that obesity is caused by a lack of exercise or by a poor diet. "The greater the extent to which you believe it is diet, the thinner you are on average," said Brent McFerran, a marketing professor at the Ross School of Business. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Generational Changes Cause Drop In US Support For School Prayer

January 3rd 2013

Education - Child at Blackboard

There's a saying that goes, "as long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools." At one time, that likely reflected a fairly uniform view about school prayer: that despite what federal law said about the practice, religious Americans by and large approved of it. A new study, however, paints a more complicated picture of attitudes toward school prayer over the last four decades, finding sharp differences in school-prayer support between different generations and their religious denominations.

Forthcoming in the journal Sociological Forum, the study maps a general decline in advocacy for school prayer starting in the mid-1970s and accelerating as skeptical Baby Boomers became ascendant through the 1980s. According to the study's findings, school-prayer support remains markedly lower today among Catholics and mainline Protestants yet unwaveringly high among their evangelical counterparts.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel modeled data from the General Social Survey from 1974-2010 and created a measure for Americans' support for prayer and reading of religious scripture in public schools over the decades. The results tracked the impact of religious affiliation and generational differences on the role of religion in public education, he said. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Orthodox Christian Priest Excommunicated for Support of Israel

January 3rd 2013

church in israel

Last weekend, Father Gabriel Nadaf (39), a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth, challenged a boycott against him and attempted to enter the church there to recite a prayer and light a candle. He was accompanied by Israeli Border Police officers and supporters, who came to ensure his safe passage into the church.

Nadaf was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church Council after he expressed his belief that Christian youth in Israel should fully integrate into Israeli society, serving in the IDF or in the National Service. Since then, he and others, like Father André Alamiya, have been the target of virulent attacks from the opponents to this idea. For example, Father Alamiya's tires were slashed last weekend, and a rag saturated with blood was placed at his doorstep in Nazareth.

Father Nadaf believes Israel serves as an anchor for its Christian minority and cares for its security, and from this he derives his commitment towards Israel. Since his excommunication from the Council, which is headed by Dr. Azmi Hakim, a member of the Israeli Communist party, he has been forced to move around with bodyguards. Read more ..

Ethiopia on Edge

In Ethiopia, HIV Disclosure is Low

January 2nd 2013

In Ethiopia, where more than 1.2 million people are infected with HIV, disclosure of infection by patients is important in the fight against the disease. A new study led by a Brown sociology researcher investigates HIV-positive status disclosure rates among men and women in Africa's second most populous country. In the December 17 issue of AIDS Care, Ayalu Reda, a sociology graduate student, and colleagues from Jimma University in Ethiopia found that among a sample of 1,540 patients receiving antiretroviral treatment in eastern Ethiopia, a majority (66 percent) disclosed their HIV-positive status to their spouse, while fewer disclosed to siblings (17 percent) and other relatives (16.8 percent). A small number of patients (11.6 percent) did not disclose their infection status at all. None of the patients had disclosed to all of their family members. Unmarried and illiterate patients had higher levels of nondisclosure. Reda said he was prompted to conduct the study after working in Ethiopian hospitals and seeing many patients refuse to use local medical centers, opting to be treated farther from home.

Serbia on Edge

Serbia Tries To Scrap Its Gun Habit

January 1st 2013

 Belgrade metal recycling center

Belgrade and its international partners are hailing a decade of achievement in a long-running effort to rid Serbia of the postwar legacy of rampant gun possession.

News of the reductions comes with most eyes fixed on a raging gun-control debate in the United States following the horrific killings in Newtown, Connecticut.

But Serbia had one of the world's highest per capita gun ownership rates in the world -- right behind the United States -- after the former Yugoslavia's bloody wars of independence in the 1990s, and gun ownership was still alarmingly high early last decade.

So officials regard progress there to reduce the number of weapons in private hands as a good and stabilizing thing. Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic was joined by EU and other international officials on December 20 for the ceremonial destruction of some of the 17,000 rifles and handguns seized or otherwise collected most recently under a joint program with the United Nations and European Union. Read more ..

China on Edge

Reporter 'Forced Out' of China Following Visa Issue

January 1st 2013

Chinese soldier at Tienamen Square

China has forced the departure of a New York Times journalist after failing to renew his visa, prompting fresh accusations that Beijing is retaliating against foreign media because of coverage critical of the Communist Party. The Times says correspondent Chris Buckley "was forced to leave mainland China" Monday after authorities declined to issue him a visa for 2013 by year's end, despite "numerous requests" by the U.S. paper.

The paper also says its new Beijing bureau chief Philip P. Pan, who applied for a visa in March, has yet to be accredited. It said the visa and credential process normally takes only weeks or a couple months.

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said in a statement she hopes Beijing will approve the visas as soon as possible so the journalists can continue their work. Read more ..

India's Dark Edge

India Taking a Hard Look at Itself in Wake of Monstrous Gang Rape

December 31st 2012

Typical Indian Child Bride

India remains in mourning Monday, two days after the death of a 23-year-old woman who died of severe organ failure after suffering internal injuries and brain damage in a brutal gang rape. Six men have been arrested and charged with murder in the December 16 attack in New Delhi.  Police say the men could face the death penalty, if convicted. Candlelight vigils have been held in the capital and may cities across India since the attack. Out of respect for the unidentified victim, India's military has canceled its New Year's celebrations, as did Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party. The woman's death has set off a debate about what India needs to do to protect women.

Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse in India. Protesters and politicians have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the way the nation treats women. Read more ..

The Edge of Aging

Alzheimer's Disease Often Preceded by Early Cognitive Problems

December 30th 2012


People who study or treat Alzheimer's disease and its earliest clinical stage, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), have focused attention on the obvious short-term memory problems. But a new study suggests that people on the road to Alzheimer's may actually have problems early on in processing semantic or knowledge-based information, which could have much broader implications for how patients function in their lives.

Terry Goldberg, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine and director of neurocognition at the Litwin Zucker Center for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, said that clinicians have observed other types of cognitive problems in MCI patients but no one had ever studied it in a systematic way. Many experts had noted individuals who seemed perplexed by even the simplest task. In this latest study, published in this month's issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, investigators used a clever series of tests to measure a person's ability to process semantic information.

Do people with MCI have trouble accessing different types of knowledge? Are there obvious semantic impairments that have not been picked up before? The answer was "yes." Read more ..

Lebanon on Edge

Americans Help Re-Establish the Cedars of Lebanon

December 30th 2012

Lebanon forest reserve road sign
VOA photo by V. Undritz.

The fragrant cedar forests of Lebanon were first recorded in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, about 4,500 years ago. But Lebanon’s once mighty cedar forests survive today only as pockets of scraggly trees on mountain sides.

Now, there's a project to replant the ancient cedar forests. Lebanon’s government has set an ambitious goal of increasing the country’s forest cover by 50 percent by the year 2020. Up in the Shouf mountains east of Beirut, some ancient trees were saplings 2,000 years ago, during the life of Jesus. Now, new seedlings are part of a plan to replant the legendary cedars of Lebanon.

Hisham Salman runs Lebanon's Association for Forests, Development and Conservation. He said the government’s “Green Lebanon” slogan wins support across religious and sectarian lines in this fractured land. “People who are living in the cities, they like this idea that Lebanon is a green country,” he said in an interview at a nursery in the Shouf Mountains. “They want to see it again green, so they like this idea - the planting of trees,” said Salman. Read more ..

India on Edge

India Mourns 23-Year-Old Gang Rape Victim

December 29th 2012

India Rape Protest Dec 2012

The young Indian victim of a brutal gang rape has died in Singapore, where she had been taken for treatment. Thousands of people staged peaceful protests in the Indian capital -- where the incident took place -- despite tight security to prevent mass demonstrations. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the incident has sparked widespread calls for social change.
From people on the street, to the country's top leaders, messages of grief and vows to prevent similar crimes poured in as news spread of the death of the 23-year-old rape victim.
The young woman died early Saturday morning in Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore of severe organ failure, 13 days after she was brutally beaten and raped by a group of men in a moving bus in New Delhi. She had undergone multiple surgeries in the capital before being flown to Singapore Thursday for special treatment.

The Edge of Food

Which Fish Do Spanish Consumers Buy?

December 29th 2012

Tuna at Market

What is most important when buying fish: the price, the country of origin, whether it is fresh or frozen or whether it is wild or farm-raised? The average Spanish consumer prefers above all that their fish comes from Spain, according to a study published in the 'Food Quality and Preference' journal. Spain is the largest producer of fish in the European Union but in recent years its population has consumed less fish, especially seafood.

A team of scientists brought together nearly 900 consumers from nine Autonomous Communities (Andalusia, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Catalonia, Galicia, Madrid and Murcia) to analyse their preferences when buying fish. Evaluated factors included the country of origin (Spain, Morocco and Norway), whether they were fished or farm-raised, their conservation method (fresh or frozen) and the price (6€/kg, 12€/kg and18€/kg). Read more ..

Sri Lanka on Edge

In Sri Lanka, New Steps Target Mysterious Kidney Disease

December 28th 2012

Bangladeshi organ victim

The Sri Lankan government is vowing to impose tighter controls on pesticides and fertilizers amid growing concern the chemicals are helping fuel a mysterious epidemic of chronic kidney disease devastating its north central region.

In September, in Mystery in the Fields, an article explored how a rare form of chronic kidney disease is killing agricultural workers in Sri Lanka, India and Central America. Scientists in each region are struggling to identify the cause of these parallel epidemics, which have led to tens of thousands of deaths worldwide and are suspected to be linked to a toxic exposure. In a November 2012 speech laying out a national budget proposal, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged to take action to crack down on contaminated agrochemicals.

“There is a theory that pesticides and chemical fertilizer contribute to increase non-communicable diseases,” Rajapaksa said, referring in oblique terms to the politically controversial kidney epidemic. “Therefore, regulations will be formulated to require suppliers and distributors of all agrochemicals to comply with quality standards.”

A committee of government ministers is meeting with scientific experts and interest groups and will submit a report to the cabinet with recommendations for the regulations, said Sri Lanka’s Registrar of Pesticides, Dr. Anura Wijesekera. Wijesekara, whose office oversees imports and permitting of agrochemicals, said Sri Lanka had already taken a significant step earlier this year: establishing limits of detection for nine toxins including cadmium and arsenic. Pesticides and fertilizers containing more than the permitted amounts of these chemicals are prohibited from distribution. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Heartbreaking Anti-Adoption Bill to be Signed by Russian President Putin

December 28th 2012

Russian orphans

Jan Wondra says she saw her adoptive daughter, and loved her, before she knew her. "I kept having a dream that kept waking me up at night," she says. "There was always a little girl running toward me calling for Mama. [She had] a sad little face, her arms were outstretched, and she always disappeared in the dream before she reached my arms. When we started the adoption process they put a big book in my lap of waiting children all over the world. I randomly opened that book and looked at the page and I saw the face of the little girl in my dream. I almost fell off my chair."

The face that Wondra recognized was Yelena Lomonova's. The child had been born with congenital hip defects and given up at birth by her unwed mother. In 1994, Wondra traveled to Russia's Pskov region to pick up her daughter. The girl, she says, came to her with open arms, just like in the dream. Yelena is now Katie, who, after two hip surgeries, is a thriving college senior in Colorado. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Easily Readable Dashboards Make Driving Safer

December 27th 2012

driving dashboard simulator

Typeface aficionados perceive major differences among fonts that look broadly similar to the rest of us. Now an MIT study suggests that when it comes to the typefaces used on auto dashboards, such differences might not be just an aesthetic matter, but a vital safety matter.

In recent tests, researchers with MIT’s AgeLab have found that dashboard displays using the more open and differentiated lettering found in the “humanist” family of typefaces are easier for people to read quickly than displays using the more uniform and tightly spaced letters of the “square grotesque” style. Male drivers, in particular, can process messages in humanist lettering about 10 percent faster, on average. That might not sound like a lot, but under highway conditions automobiles will cover about 50 feet in the time it takes drivers to process the less user-friendly messages. In some circumstances, that could be the difference between an accident and a near miss on the road. Read more ..

Israel and Egypt

Egyptian Blogger Breaks Taboos About Israel

December 25th 2012

Maikel Sanad-blogger

“I’m breaking a taboo coming to Israel, but I’m not the first Egyptian to do so,” said Maikel Nabil Sanad, a political activist and blogger who was jailed and tortured for 302 days for criticizing the Egyptian army post-Mubarak. He was pardoned by the Egyptian military in January 2012 following international pressure and efforts of several different human rights organizations including UN Watch. During his first visit to Israel organized by the Geneva-based NGO, UN Watch, Maikel Sanad was warmly received by Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace on Sunday, December 23. Described as a peace-building mission, Sanad’s visit to the Holy Land sparked a myriad of responses.

Speaking to the Israeli and Arabic press in English and Arabic, before the open lecture to Hebrew University students, Sanad stated that he would like to see Israel exist in the Middle East but that Israel had to build initiatives and approach peace activists like himself. “I would like to see Israel coexist in the Middle East,” said the self-described pro-Israel dissident who was the first political prisoner in post-revolution Egypt. “The majority of my people don’t want war with Israel.” But he was sharply critical of settlement building and Palestinian rights.

“It’s amazing to see that people like Sanad exist,” said Orit Sulitzean, the spokeswoman for Hebrew University to Tazpit News Agency. “There is a thirst and hunger among Israelis to learn more about our southern neighbor,” added Hebrew University Professor Eli Podch. Others were significantly less happy. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria's Instability Reaches Lebanon

December 24th 2012

Beirut Bombing Oct19 2012

Recent fighting in Lebanon between pro- and anti-Assad forces raises the specter that spillover from Syria will engulf its neighbor. With Washington focused on the crises in Syria and Egypt, perennially-on-the-brink Lebanon is a second-tier concern for now, but it will not remain so if Islamist militants gain the upper hand politically or, worse, acquire Syrian chemical weapons.


In June, Lebanese president Michel Suleiman convened a meeting of the country's diverse sectarian and political leadership. During this so-called National Dialogue, the first such gathering in nearly two years, he forged a consensus between the pro-Western "March 14" opposition bloc and the Shiite militia Hizballah's "March 8" bloc, which controls the current government. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

'Mr. Cao Goes to Washington' Film Recounts an American Dream

December 24th 2012

Congressman Joseph Cao goes to Washington

One of the key parts of the immigrant experience is the journey itself. For two Asian-American filmmakers, moving to the United States provided them both opportunity - but under very different circumstances. Mingh Nguyen, a 40-year old filmmaker based in Los Angeles, arrived in the US from Vietnam in 1982 when he was nine years old. His travels began a year earlier as one of the Vietnamese boat people. Nguyen’s parents lost their business and home after the fall of Saigon. The decision was made to flee and done in secret. “Somebody would get a boat, and would calculate how many people would be on it, and at night you kind of sneak out and get on that boat,” Nguyen said. “You get out to sea and you try to reach one of the refugee camps in Thailand, the Philippines or Malaysia. We actually got to Thailand.” Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Celebrate the Holidays with Fruit

December 23rd 2012


We know high-fat, high-sugar foods cause obesity and promote heart disease, but most people don't realize that sugar and fat also contribute to conditions like osteoporosis by weakening bones. If this trend continues, this overlooked 'silent robber' will begin to cripple large numbers of at-risk baby boomers, say researchers at the University of Michigan and the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute.

While this high-fat, high-sugar diet trend and the subsequent risk of osteoporosis are climbing frighteningly fast, there's hope, says Ron Zernicke, dean of U-M's School of Kinesiology and a professor of orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering. The medical community and the public can reverse this trend by confronting the problem head-on and immediately, through diet, exercise and, in some cases, medication. Read more ..

China Rising

Why Is It in China’s Interest to Promote Health Security in Southeast Asia?

December 23rd 2012

Chinese Chicken Farmer

If there is a buzzword one needs to know to understand U.S. foreign policy toward Asia in 2013, it is “rebalancing,” or in the words of President Obama “pivoting.” Rebalancing is of course not solely about military redeployment. Indeed, a critical element of the U.S. rebalancing strategy in the region is to nurture partnerships with countries and international institutions to address common threats in areas such as regional health security.

Being the epicenter of major endemic and epidemic diseases, Southeast Asia has often been perceived as a major threat to global health security. Last week, Indonesia identified a more virulent strain of bird flu that has killed more than 300,000 ducks on the island of Java since November. That said, China and Southeast Asia share a range of health challenges, from SARS to HIV/AIDS and H5N1. Altogether, China and Southeast Asia account for approximately 90 percent of SARS cases and two thirds of the human cases of avian influenza. Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Cheese Making in Northern Europe in the 6th millennium BCE

December 22nd 2012

Ancient Cheesemaking

The first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Northern Europe made cheese more than 7,000 years ago is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, UK, published today in Nature.

By analysing fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery pierced with small holes excavated from archaeological sites in Poland, the researchers showed that dairy products were processed in these ceramic vessels. Furthermore, the typology of the sieves, close in shape to modern cheese-strainers, provides compelling evidence that these specialised vessels have been used for cheese-making.

Before this study, milk residues had been detected in early sites in Northwestern Anatolia (8,000 years ago) and in Libya (nearly 7,000 years ago). Nevertheless, it had been impossible to detect if the milk was processed to cheese products. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Eating Unhealthy Snack Foods May Affect Cancer Risk in Patients with Lynch Syndrome

December 21st 2012

woman headache head bowed

A new analysis has found that loading up on snack foods may increase cancer risk in individuals with an inborn susceptibility to colorectal and other cancers. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study suggests that an eating pattern low in snack foods could help these individuals—who have a condition called Lynch syndrome—lower their risk.

Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition characterized by a high risk of developing colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, and other cancers at an early age. The syndrome is caused by mutations in genes involved with repairing DNA within cells.

Numerous studies have investigated associations between certain foods and colorectal cancer, and now there is general agreement that red and processed meats and alcohol consumption can increase individuals' risk. Only a few studies have evaluated lifestyle factors and colorectal cancer in patients with Lynch syndrome, though. To investigate, Akke Botma, PhD, MSc, of the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and her colleagues collected dietary information from 486 individuals with Lynch syndrome. During an average follow-up of 20 months, colorectal polyps (precancerous lesions) were detected in 58 people in the study. Read more ..

Jewry on Edge

Turkish Jews Recoil from News That Intelligence Service Spied On Them

December 20th 2012

Quincentennial Museum of Turkish Jews.
Museum of Turkish Jews (Cr. Dr. Arnold Plotnick)

The relationship between the 30,000 or so Jews living in Turkey and the rest of the Turkish population has become tense ever since the  relationship between Israel and Turkey began to deteriorate shortly after the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010.  Anti-Israel sentiment is high in the country, and anti-Semitism has also been on the rise at the encouragement of Turkey’s Islamist government. A report in Al-Monitor quotes several Jews who fear a backlash against their community.

“As a Jew, I can attest to you there is a difference between being a Turk and an Israeli,” Ediz said. “But whenever there is fighting between Israel and the Palestinians, the atmosphere in Turkey turns against us, and people start acting as if we committed a crime.”

Leri, another Turkish Jew, told Al-Monitor that the media is also to blame. “The media is painting such an image that many won’t even consider us human.” Read more ..

Juvenile Justice

Tennessee County Overhauls Racial Imbalance in Juvenile System

December 19th 2012

Kid behind bars

After a three-year investigation, authorities in Shelby County, Tenn. signed an agreement Monday with the U.S. Department of Justice to revamp a  juvenile-justice system federal officials said was unduly harsh to black youth, including those accused of minor infractions. The agreement will require Shelby, which includes the city of Memphis, to initiate sweeping staff training and changes to improve minors’ defense options, alter court proceedings to guarantee the rights of accused offenders and eliminate detention practices federal officials found dangerous.

In April, federal investigators published a litany of accusations about the Shelby County juvenile-justice system. Investigators alleged that local officials were routinely violating the constitutional rights of youths put into court proceedings and detention. Among the accusations: “cursory” decisions to transfer youths to adult court, inadequate counsel and an adult-court transfer rate for black wards twice that of white wards.


The Darkest Edge

NRA Lobby Remains Powerful Despite Public Revulsion for Gun Violence

December 19th 2012

NRA cap and gun show

The National Rifle Association is keeping silent in response to calls for gun control measures in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Yet the massive trail of political money spent by the group shows the potent force any proposals for new restrictions will likely face when the anger and dismay over Sandy Hook recedes.

Since President Barack Obama took office, the NRA has spent millions to lobby Congress on gun legislation and bankroll the campaigns of supportive candidates. From 2009 through the first three quarters of 2012, the NRA spent more than $8.5 million to lobby on gun bills, according to mandated federal lobby disclosure records, most often to block proposed limits on weapons and ammunition access or support efforts to expand the right to carry concealed weapons in public. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Foreign Visitors React to Newtown Massacre and U.S. Gun Culture

December 18th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

“Shootings in high schools and colleges are unfortunately very ‘American’ things in my mind,” Nareg once wrote on this site. “Maybe it’s because of the media coverage, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of such tragic incidents with such regularity in other parts of the world.”

Nareg was reacting to a 2010 incident in which a student at the University of Louisville was arrested after pulling a gun at a meeting with faculty. Luckily no one was hurt in that incident, but it certainly wasn’t the first gun-related incident at an educational institution – universities are still reeling from the 2007 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, when student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people – and, as we found out last week, it’s far from the last. On Friday, December 14, the U.S. and the world were shocked by news that 20-year-old Adam Lanza had opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school, killing 20 young children and six women. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Connecticut Tragedy Renews National Debate on Gun Control

December 17th 2012


The horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn. has rekindled the always volatile debate in Washington over gun control policy. It appears unlikely that any of the oft-discussed proposals for change would have altered the tragic outcome in Connecticut. But outrage over the shooting is nevertheless engendering fresh discussion of steps that might curb gun violence or limit access to firearms.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the Justice Department last year considered changes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that grew out of the landmark Brady Act. Specifically, federal officials considered steps to increase the system's access to information on persons who should be prohibited from buying guns. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Nigeria Rises to Top-20 of Money Laundering Nations

December 16th 2012

Nigeria Oil

A new study by the US-based research and advocacy organisation, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), has placed Nigeria in the 7th position out of the 20 biggest exporters of illicit financial flows over a decade, with cumulative figure of US$129 billion and an average of US$12.9 billion. BusinessDay reports that the organisation also revealed that among the 20 top exporters of illegal capital in 2010, Nigeria occupied the same position with US$19.66 billion.

The GFI report, which is coming barely one week after Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index placed Nigeria 135th out of 176th corrupt countries, covered 2001 to 2010.

The report, co-authored by GFI Lead Economist Dev Kar and GFI Economist Sarah Freitas, is the first by GFI to incorporate a new, more conservative estimate of illicit financial flows, facilitating comparisons with previous estimates from GFI updates, identifies crime, corruption and tax evasion at near historic highs. It estimates that nearly US$6 trillion were stolen from poor countries within the decade and US$859 billion in 2010 alone.

The report fingered China as leading the pack with US$274 billion average (US$2.74 trillion cumulative); followed by Mexico with US$47.6 billion average (US$476 billion cum.); Malaysia, US$28.5 billion average ($285 billion cum.); Saudi Arabia US$21.0 billion average (US$210 billion cum.); Russia US$15.2 billion average (US$152 billion cum.); and Philippines US$13.8 billion avg. (US$138 billion cum.). Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

At Christmas, Christians Continue to be Persecuted by Muslim Neighbors

December 16th 2012

Dead Copts

Despite promises to reform the school textbooks, the Saudi education system continues to indoctrinate children with hatred and incitement, especially against Christians and Jews. The textbooks teach -- among a long list of hate-filled passages, all of which originate in the Qur'an or the Hadith -- that "Christians are the enemies of the Believers," and that "the Apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the Swine are the infidels of the communion of Jesus, the Christians." These reports of the persecution of Christians by Muslims around the world during the month of October include (but are not limited to) the following accounts, listed by form of persecution, and by country, in alphabetical order—not according to severity.

Canada: As happens regularly in Egypt (see below), a Molotov cocktail was hurled through the window of a newly opened Coptic church near Toronto. Unlike in Egypt, however, firefighters came quickly and little damage was done: "Police have no suspects or motive in the incident."

Egypt: A Muslim mob, consisting mostly of Salafis, surrounded St. George Church in the Beni Suef Governorate. Armed with batons, they assaulted Christians as they exited the church after Sunday mass; five were hospitalized with broken limbs. The Salafi grievance is that Christians from neighboring villages, who have no churches to serve them, are traveling and attending St. George. Read more ..

Inside Israel

Over 1,200 New Lawyers Join Israel’s Bar Association

December 14th 2012

New Israeli lawyer
Reemon Silverman receiving her legal certification from
the Israel Bar Association. 

It is not too difficult to find a lawyer in Israel, but to actually become one is a long and arduous process.

On 13 December, the Israel Bar Association admitted 1,248 new lawyers in a formal graduation ceremony held at the International Conventions Center in Jerusalem. Israel now has 52,142 active lawyers reports the Calcalist, which makes it the country with the highest number of lawyers per capita in the world according to Israel’s Courts Administration. In this year’s ceremony, more women than men received their licenses to practice: there are 664 female lawyers (53 percent) in comparison to 584 male lawyers (47 percent).

“It is moving to have all of you prepared to practice law in our Jewish democratic state, during a time when we celebrate the different holidays of the season,” said the Israeli Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman to the proud graduates, after the chanukiah (menorah) was lit. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey's Distinctive Brew

December 14th 2012

Turkey students

It is 5 a.m. in Istanbul, and I am looking for coffee. Having arrived in Istanbul's old city the night before and seriously jetlagged, I decided to walk into the Eyup quarter, which hosts Istanbul's most sacred mosque, Eyup Sultan. I hoped the revered shrine, which attracts early morning worshippers, would have an open coffee shop nearby, and I was right. As prayers ended, I watched Eyup's worshipers flow from the mosque, sipping a bland cup of instant coffee, unaware I was about to be treated to an experience of cultural flavor unique to Turkey.

A large group of Salafists, with their trademark trimmed beards and kaftans, walked out of the mosque, heading to my coffee shop. What happened next is a lesson in Turkey's distinctive direction compared to its Muslim neighbors: The Salafist men ordered coffee and Turkish bagels (simit) from the barista, a young woman sporting a tattoo and sleeveless shirt. Neither the exchange between the barista and the Salafists, laden with polite honorifics and formal Turkish speech, nor their body language, suggested tensions between the two opposing visions of Turkey brought into close encounter for me to witness.

As this encounter so succinctly encapsulates, Turkey's two halves are like oil and water; though they may not blend, neither will disappear. Turkey's Islamization is a fact, but so is secular and Westernized Turkey. But the historical roots and current manifestations of this synthesis indicate that it is a model that will be difficult to replicate elsewhere in the region, as Islamist governments rise to power after the Arab Spring. Read more ..

Education on Edge

The Challenge of Turning Education into Employment for Young People

December 13th 2012

Education - Child at Blackboard

The harsh reality of youth unemployment is that in many places where it is high, employers cannot find enough skilled workers to hire. In a report launched yesterday, Education to Employment: Designing a System That Works, the McKinsey Center for Government addresses what it describes as “two crises, one paradox”—widespread youth unemployment and jobs left vacant due to a lack of qualified people. The report looks at 100 skills training programs in 25 countries, and includes interview results from more than 8,000 youth, employers, and educational institutions across nine different countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco.

Part of the youth unemployment challenge is poor coordination and lack of information among students, education providers, and employers. Strikingly, “fewer than half of youth and employers…believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions,” whereas 72 percent of education providers believe they are. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Modern Mayas Sitting Out a 'Commercialized' Mayan Apocalypse

December 13th 2012

Maya codex

In Guatemala, the birthplace of the ancient Mayan culture, the descendants of the inventors of the most accurate calendar devised before modern times are upset over the “commercialization” of what some are calling the ‘end of the world.’ December 21 marks the Mayan date of Baktun 13, which marks the end of a celestial cycle devised long ago by Mayan astronomers who observed the stars and were able to predict solar and lunar eclipses and thus make advances in agriculture and other sciences long before Europeans arrived in the 1500s.

On the upcoming date, a group from the Kakchiquel nation of Guatemala – one of the two main groupings of native Americans in the Central American republic – will erect carved stone stelas to mark the occasion. The ancient Mayas placed these elaborately carved columns to commemorate their rulers and significant events such as wars and conquests and are found at famous archaeological sites such as Tikal and Uaxactun. In this case, the committee of Kakchiqueles have commissioned two stelas: one each at the Mixco Viejo and Iximché archaeological parks. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Hearing Screenings for Kids are a Good Choice for Holiday Gifting

December 13th 2012

Click to select Image

Just yelling “turn it down” isn’t enough when young people are blasting music directly into their ears via earbuds and headphones, parents say. A new poll from the University of Michigan shows parents are strongly in favor of required hearing screenings for kids all the way up to age 17.

The University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health recently asked a nationwide sample of parents of children 0-17 years old about whether they’d support requirements for hearing screening and where they’d prefer to have the screening done.

Overall, two-thirds of parents support hearing screening across all age groups. In the poll, 77 percent supported required hearing screening for 2- to 3-year-olds; 82 percent were in support for 6- to 7-year-olds; 71 percent for 10- to 11-year-olds; and 67 percent for 16- to 17-year-olds. Read more ..

The Gender Edge

Abuse during Childhood Linked to Adult-onset Asthma in African-American Women

December 11th 2012

Crying black woman

According to a new study from the Slone Epidemiology Center (SEC) at Boston University, African-American women who reported suffering abuse before age 11 had a greater likelihood of adult-onset asthma compared to women whose childhood and adolescence were free of abuse. The study, which is published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, was led by Patricia Coogan, DSc, senior epidemiologist at SEC and associate professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health.

This study followed 28,456 African-American women, all of whom are participants in the Black Women’s Health Study, between 1995 and 2011. They completed health questionnaires and provided information on physical and sexual abuse during childhood up to age 11 and adolescence, ages 12–18. The results indicate that the incidence of adult-onset asthma was increased by more than 20 percent among women who had been abused during childhood. The evidence was stronger for physical abuse than for sexual abuse. There was little indication, however, that abuse during adolescence was associated with the risk of adult-onset asthma. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Growth Faces Major Challenges

December 11th 2012

Bank of China

Analysts say although a recent U.S. intelligence assessment indicates China will emerge as a leading economic power in the near future, Beijing's economic growth faces several major challenges. The assessment released Monday by the National Intelligence Council projected China to surpass the United States as the world's largest economy by 2030, forcing the U.S. to serve as what it called the "first among equals" on the world stage.

The report said the rise of China, currently the world's second-largest economy, will be slowed if it cannot come up with a more sustainable, innovation-based economic model. Patrick Chovanec of Tsinghua University's School of Economics and Management in Beijing agrees. He says that the growth rates driven by China's current export-led model are not sustainable.

"If China wants to produce more than it consumes, the rest of the world has to consume more than it produces. And the rest of the world really cannot afford to do that anymore - we see that reflected in the slowing growth of Chinese exports," he said. Read more ..

Japan on Edge

Is Japan The Land of the Setting Sun?

December 11th 2012

sunset in japan

During a recent visit to Todaiji Temple in Nara with a group of 9/11 survivors from New York City, the Chief Abbot explained to us a Buddhist tenet that perceptions of reality are limited and shaped by position. Perhaps utilizing demographic or economic data, Japan appears to be a country in inevitable decline, withering away to irrelevance. However, for so many Americans, Japan continues to be viewed as a society from which there is much to learn. Within Japan, moreover, there are powerful signs of optimism and growth.

As an executive at a private U.S. foundation focused on U.S.-Japan relations, I am struck by the significant number of institutions and individuals that approach us to support projects to study Japan. If Japan is so much in decline, why then do Americans interested in clean energy technology see Japan as offering promising insights, why do architects and city planners in New York City attempting to deal with the need for compact apartments and homes see value in Japanese architectural design, why do so many U.S. educators want to travel to Japan to learn about its history, culture, and social structure, why do numerous think-tanks aim to work with Japanese intellectuals to solve Northeast Asian security issues, and why are numerous documentary film-makers making films about Japan? Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexicans March for End of Impunity for Crimes Against Women

December 11th 2012

Mexican women protesters

Human rights activists in the Paso del Norte region marked December 10 in commemoration of the 64th anniversary of International Human Rights Day. On both sides of the border, activists called attention to the struggles of women, immigrants and border residents.

In Ciudad Juarez, relatives of murdered and disappeared young women and their supporters displayed 300 pairs of red shoes in front of the offices of the northern district of the Chihuahua State Prosecutor. The shoes were placed as a protest against the lack of advances in clarifying hundreds of cases of slain and missing women.

Ernestina Enriquez, mother of Ciudad Juarez murder victim Adriana Sarmiento, demanded real justice for her young daughter. “I want to make it clear that I want a genuine guilty person, not an innocent one,” Enriquez was quoted in the local press. Sarmiento vanished in 2008, and although the teen’s remains were recovered the following year in the Juarez Valley her family was not notified of the discovery until last year. Read more ..

The Way We Are

US Supreme Court to Consider Same-Sex Marriage

December 10th 2012

Gay Marriage

The ability of same-sex U.S. couples to legally marry and whether the federal government must recognize those unions could be decided now that the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear two landmark cases on gay marriage.

One case concerns the constitutionality of a voter referendum banning homosexual marriage in California; the other concerns the constitutionality of a federal law that excludes same-sex couples from receiving government benefits.

Same-sex couples are getting marriage licenses in Washington state, where voters approved gay marriage in November. June, 1969: Gays in New York City riot to protest police raids of the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village. Event is considered the birth of the gay rights movement in America. December, 1973: The American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Read more ..

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