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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 ..

Tibet on Edge

Teenage Tibetan Girl Dies from Self-Immolation

December 10th 2012

Tibetan Self Immolations

Tibetan sources say a 17-year-old girl set herself on fire Sunday to protest Chinese rule in ethnic Tibetan areas. Witnesses say Wanchen Kyi shouted slogans in support of the Dalai Lama and a free Tibet as she was engulfed in flames.  She died at the scene. More than 3,000 Tibetans and monks later gathered at the site of the self-immolation protest and recited prayers. A day earlier, two young monks also died after setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.

Ninety-five Tibetans have now self-immolated in western China since 2009, with 28 cases reported in November alone.  The acceleration of self-immolations has coincided with Tibetans staging several anti-China rallies, despite a heavy Chinese security presence.

On Sunday, Chinese state media quoted police in Sichuan province as saying a detained Tibetan monk and his nephew had confessed they incited eight people to set themselves on fire in anti-Chinese protests.  Read more ..

Ethiopia on Edge

Despite Fast Growth, Ethiopia Still Plagued by Poverty

December 9th 2012

African school kids

Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but remains one of the poorest countries at the same time.  It might take years before the majority of people benefit from the growth. Ethiopia's economy has grown at an annual rate of nearly 10 percent for the last seven years.  But a third of the population still lives below the poverty line.

Samuel Bwalya is the economic advisor for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Ethiopia.  Bwalya says that the country has to be patient while waiting for a trickle-down effect to lift more people from poverty:

"Ethiopia is starting from a very low base in terms of development, so it should actually take much longer for this impact to take root," Bwalya noted.  "So I think we are too much in a hurry to see seven-year growth to start asking questions about how many people are out of poverty.  Ethiopia is still very poor.  But if you look where Ethiopia is coming from, it has made significant progress in reducing poverty." Read more ..

Argentina on Edge

Argentina’s Clarin Wins Extension on Monopoly Deadline

December 9th 2012

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Argentine media group Clarin has won an extension on the time it has to sell off assets in line with an anti-monopoly media law, in a victory for the company and defeat for the Kirchner government. The company had been given until December 7 to hand in a plan to reduce its holdings, including many of its cable assets, in order to comply with a 2009 law. Hours before the deadline, the Civil and Commercial Appeals Court ruled that the company did not have to act until a review of the media law was complete, reports Reuters.

In May, Clarin obtained an injunction against the media law, which was due to expire today. It has now been extended until a lower court rules on whether the law is constitutional. The Financial Times called the ruling an “11th hour reprieve.” Government allies reacted angrily, criticizing the appeals court for holding up implementation of the media law, and said they would appeal to the Supreme Court. Martin Sabbatella, head of the AFSCA, the body in charge of implementing the law, threatening to have the appeal court judges disqualified, accusing them of being biased and accepting a Clarin-paid trip to Miami, reports the Financial Times. He said that the ruling was a disgrace, and hurt democracy. Read more ..

The Way We Are

'Decorate a Vet' Helps Military Families on the Holidays

December 8th 2012

Christmas Decorations

The holiday season is typically a time for giving.  A small, non-profit group in northern Virginia, called Decorate a Vet, is doing its part by helping local U.S. military veterans and their families.  Groups of volunteers spruce up the homes of veterans and disabled soldiers, and then decorate them for Christmas.

The volunteers do everything from fixing patios, to clearing out tree branches, to mulching garden beds.  Then they put up Christmas decorations.  

Today, they're working at the Spraul family's house. Angela Spraul and her husband are both in the military, but he is disabled.  It means a lot to her to have the volunteers helping her family. "The girls love the holidays," said Spraul.  "They're young.  It's really nice to be able to do something fun for them and have the help.  Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to do this." Read more ..

Inside Saudi Arabia

The Making of Kings in Saudi Arabia

December 7th 2012

Saudi Royal Burial

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah recently underwent relatively minor back surgery and his hospitalization triggered a host of increasingly dire rumors about the state of his health.  Though the 88-year-old monarch has since recovered and appeared in public, the episode has raised new questions about royal succession, an issue that has loomed over Saudi Arabia for years.

As they advance in age, one Saudi leader after another faces the same tough decision: should the crown continue to be passed from brother to brother – the sons of the Kingdom’s founder, Abdulaziz Ibn Saud? Or has the time come for a new generation of leaders?

After the sudden death of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef last June, his brother Salman, 76, was named Crown Prince and is likely to become the next king in spite of his poor health.  But who should succeed him?  Only a handful of his brothers are still living and in reasonable health, and some even ask whether they would be up to the task of leading the Kingdom.   Read more ..

The Race for Lighting

Goodbye to Flourescent Light Bulbs and Hello to New Office Lighting

December 7th 2012

Interior office and flourescent lights

Say goodbye to that annoying buzz created by overhead fluorescent light bulbs in your office. Scientists at Wake Forest University have developed a flicker-free, shatterproof alternative for large-scale lighting. The lighting, based on field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) technology, also gives off soft, white light – not the yellowish glint from fluorescents or bluish tinge from LEDs.

"People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes, and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them," said David Carroll, the scientist leading the development of this technology at Wake Forest. "The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more." Read more ..

The Edge of Trafficking

MTV Takes on Human Trafficking

December 6th 2012


The American-based cable and satellite channel MTV is training young people in Southeast Asia to use social media to raise awareness about human trafficking.  It is part of a global campaign to end the practice and event organizers and participants say social media amplifies the message. But critics of such campaigns say they have their limitations.

Raising Awareness
MTV has been working to raise awareness about human trafficking for nearly a decade through concerts, television documentaries and music videos. Now, it is through a campaign known as MTVExit, it is putting on awareness-raising concerts around the world and training youths how to use Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms to spread the fight against human trafficking.

Last week, 25 young people from around Southeast Asia participated in a four-day workshop where they learned how to link their offline activism to the Internet, increase their number of followers and craft messages about human trafficking to appeal to new audiences. Read more ..

The Edge of Corruption

Corruption: It's Easier Than You Think

December 6th 2012

money changing hands

When I lived in Cambodia, I got into a lot of fights. I’d protest the fruit seller who was overcharging me for mangoes because I was American. I’d wave my hands at the police officer who fined me for driving on the correct side of the road. I’d get angry with doctors at the “free” clinic for charging poor patients for drugs.

My Cambodian boyfriend usually just watched and shook his head. But when we went to the Justice Ministry to get papers for his U.S. visa application, he told me not to fight. Not this time. Just go with it, he said, as he handed money to the clerk to get his papers the same day.

It made me wonder, why do people accept corruption that’s exploiting them? Why defend a government that runs off bribes or nepotism?

“We rationalize the status quo because it reassures us that things are under control and we’re going to be able to have a predictable life,” says Justin Friesen, a doctoral candidate at Ontario’s University of Waterloo and co-author of “Why Do People Defend Unjust, Inept and Corrupt Systems,” published in Current Directions in Psychological Science. Read more ..

Egypt's Second Revolution

Egypt's Theocratic Future: The Constitutional Crisis and U.S. Policy

December 5th 2012

Cairo Protest Dec 2012

Egypt's newly drafted constitution, which will be put to a referendum on December 15, represents a tremendous step backward for the country's democratic prospects. President Muhammad Morsi's decision to rush the document through a constitution-writing assembly that non-Islamists abandoned, coupled with the many articles that Islamists in power can easily exploit, virtually ensures a theocratic Egyptian future. The charter also cements the Muslim Brotherhood's deal with the military, granting the generals relative autonomy in exchange for accommodating the Brotherhood's political ambitions.

Egypt's Constituent Assembly has faced two key challenges since the Brotherhood-controlled parliament appointed it to draft the new constitution in June. First, its domination by Islamists upset its non-Islamist members, and by mid-November almost all of the latter had abandoned the assembly in protest. Second, following the Supreme Constitutional Court's mid-June ruling that parliament had been elected unconstitutionally, the assembly became a target for litigation. After multiple postponements, a ruling on its legality was expected this week. Read more ..

Immigration on Edge

Media Coverage and Attitudes about Hispanics Drives Immigration Muddle

December 5th 2012

Stop the Raids immigration protest

The debate about immigration policies is shaped primarily by how one group feels about another—not solely based on economic concerns, according to a new University of Michigan study.

White Americans' feelings about Latinos, but not other groups, powerfully drive their support or opposition to immigration policies. Previous explanations based on threats all immigrants pose to the U.S. economy or due to general ethnocentrism—the preference for one's own group over all others—don't fare as well.

"When whites think of immigration, they think of Latinos," said Nicholas Valentino, U-M professor of political science. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

HIV/AIDS Afflicts Migrants Living in Wealthy Countries

December 4th 2012

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is calling on governments to provide migrants with preventive care and treatment for HIV/AIDS.  To mark this year's World AIDS Day, IOM is focusing on the plight of migrants who, it says, are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS in high-income countries. This year's UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic finds a sharp decline in HIV infections in low- and middle-income countries.  For the first time in the history of AIDS, the report indicates that an end to the epidemic may be in sight. 

But while the number of HIV infections is going down in the traditionally poor, less developed countries, it is rising in many of the more affluent nations.  Data shows the total number of people living with HIV has increased in the last 10 years in high-income countries in North America and Europe. The International Organization for Migration says migrants are particularly badly affected by AIDS in high-income countries.  IOM spokesman Chris Lom says this is widely overlooked. Read more ..

Afganistan on Edge

Afghan Businesswoman Breaks Boundaries, Taboos

December 3rd 2012

Roya Mahboob

Roya Mahboob is a rarity -- an Afghan woman in a position of power and influence.  The 25-year-old tech entrepreneur is the CEO of Afghan Citadel Services, an IT firm she founded in the western city of Herat. Her staff of 20 software programmers -- more than half of them women -- develops computer software for government ministries, universities, and international organizations in Afghanistan.

But in this deeply traditional country, success for women also comes fraught with danger. Mahboob says she has received abusive phone calls and e-mails warning her to stop working and threatening to target her family.

"Women face many challenges. Even when they have great ideas they cannot start up their own businesses. Women also face insecurity," Mahboob says. "They can't go and work in the districts or villages. Women have traditional and cultural [challenges]. When you're working, people want to stop you so you can't continue your work."  Read more ..

The Genetic Edge

Origin of Intelligence and Mental Illness Liked to Ancient Accident

December 2nd 2012

Baby Boomer

Scientists have discovered for the first time how humans – and other mammals – have evolved to have intelligence. Researchers have identified the moment in history when the genes that enabled us to think and reason evolved. This point 500 million years ago provided our ability to learn complex skills, analyse situations and have flexibility in the way in which we think.

Professor Seth Grant, of the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, said: "One of the greatest scientific problems is to explain how intelligence and complex behaviours arose during evolution." The research shows a direct link between the evolution of behaviour and the origins of brain diseases. Scientists believe that the same genes that improved our mental capacity are also responsible for a number of brain disorders. Read more ..

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