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Inside Iran

Iranian Jews Fear Their Phones Are Tapped

October 12th 2012

Jews in Iran

M., a Jewish man in his fifties from Tehran, celebrated the festival of Simhat Torah this week. He did not build a sukkah in his yard or invite his Muslim friends and neighbors in, but he attended the special Simhat Torah service. As an observant Jew, he goes to the nearby synagogue three times a day for morning, afternoon and evening prayers.

“It’s a small synagogue in downtown Tehran,” he tells us from Iran over Skype. “In the middle of the week, about 15 Jews who live in the area worship there. This week, like on any other holiday, there were more people than usual. The members of Tehran’s Jewish community attend the synagogue, pray in Hebrew and celebrate the festivals — but other than that, we’re just like all the Iranians.”

M. speaks with us in English. “I don’t speak Hebrew because I went to public school, where we studied with Muslims. But you can learn Hebrew in Jewish private schools. There is a large Jewish community in Iran. Tehran has a large synagogue that serves the community, but I go to a small synagogue that’s close to my home. I eat kosher food, which can be bought at the synagogue. There are also people who help me buy medications and take care of me.” Read more ..


Spain on Edge

Homeless Families in Spain Are Squatting After Eviction

October 12th 2012

Spainish squatters

Protest groups in Spain have helped families that were kicked out of their homes by banks find shelter in repossessed, empty apartment buildings. Police moved in quickly in most cases, but in Seville about 30 families are going on six months of illegal occupation.

Fifty-four-year old Mercedes Lladanosa showed us around the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her daughter and granddaughter. It has hardwood floors and a fancy faucet in the bathroom. But bare light bulbs hang uselessly from the ceiling. The electricity was shut off months ago. And the washing machine is only for show, as the city cut off the building’s access to running water last week. They cook with a gas camping stove. What little furniture Lladanosa has was donated or found in the trash. It is not much - a couch, a bed and a crib. 

Squatting for survival

She and more than 100 others have been living like this since May, in this five-story building that was completed three years ago and left empty when the developer went bankrupt.  Nearly 40 families moved in with help of members from the 15M activist group, like Antonio Moreno Rosana. “Right now in Spain we have something like 517 evictions a day. The thing is, just in Andalucía I think, there are 116,000 empty houses. It is outrageous that you have got empty houses when people are getting thrown out into the street,” said Rosana. Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Modest September Job Gains Controversial but Not Unprecedented

October 12th 2012

The hullabaloo surrounding last week's release of the nation's employment numbers was a bit overblown, says a University of Michigan economist.

While U.S. employers posted modest job gains in September, the unemployment rate fell sharply from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent—the lowest point in nearly four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"There is some controversy over the legitimacy of the BLS household employment measure and the unemployment rate that is derived from the same survey, but the numbers seem statistically reasonable," said Donald Grimes of the U-M Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranians Manage to Have Sense of Humor Despite Travails

October 11th 2012

Iranian women with mobile

Anxiety, fear, and hopelessness are becoming part of the daily lives of many Iranians as the country confronts a deepening economic crisis. The value of the national currency, the rial, has lost some 40 percent of its value.

But despite the difficult times, Iranians have apparently not lost their sense of humor, finding fodder for jokes in the sliding currency and their own misery.

As one Tehran-based businessman said “We share jokes [and] we try to laugh at these dark days. What else are we supposed to do?”

We’ve compiled several of the jokes that are making the rounds on the streets of the capital and other cities.

Here's one that refers to comments made by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on the eve of his 2005 election victory, when he said the country's real problems are unemployment and housing shortages -- not young people's appearances. That comment has now become infamous, as Ahmadinejad is blamed for the economic free-fall:

The day when Ahmadinejad said, "Are the hairstyles of the youth our problem? Let’s instead fix the economy," we were really lucky that he didn’t want to fix our hair -- because by now, we would all be bald! Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Southern Israel: Living on Rockets, Miracles, and the Iron Dome

October 11th 2012

Hamas troops w/rocket

Days and nights in southern Israel have been punctuated by a growing number of sirens and rocket explosions, with over 60 rockets striking Israeli cities and communities this past week. On Monday morning alone, 55 Qassam and mortar shells were fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. The rocket strikes damaged buildings, properties and a kibbutz petting zoo that is usually filled with children, but was empty because of the early morning hour. For residents in Netivot, Sderot and the Gaza-border communities, the rocket routine is not a new one.

On Tuesday night, three rockets were fired, with one towards the city of Netivot and the others landing near Sderot, which has been the target of rocket attacks for nearly 12 years. Speaking with Tazpit News Agency on Wednesday, Netivot resident, Elisheva Ratzon described the panic she experienced the previous night.

“I was on the computer, reading on the news that a rocket had struck Sderot earlier, when all of the sudden, the rocket siren for Netivot went off,” said Ratzon. “It was about 10:30 at night and the rocket struck just as I ran into the shelter in my apartment. There was an extremely loud boom.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

Depressed People Have Difficulty Detecting Others' Emotions

October 11th 2012

Emotional woman's faces

Clinically depressed people have a hard time telling the difference between negative emotions such as anger and guilt, a new University of Michigan study found. “It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it," said Emre Demiralp, a researcher at the University of Michigan Department of Psychology. The lead author of a study recently published in Psychological Science added that the ability to distinguish between various emotional experiences affects how individuals deal with life stressors.

Being unable to differentiate certain emotions from each other might lead to a person choosing an action that is not appropriate, thus exacerbating the problem, she said.

"It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it," Demiralp said. "For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car. It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

As Syria Economy Falters, Damascus Somewhat Spared

October 10th 2012

pro-Assad Rally Damascus

The Spice Market of Old Damascus is a strange sight in a country ravaged by civil war. The military pounds pro-rebel towns ringing the capital, but here at its heart, business is brisk. Naiem Bezraa stood in the shop once owned by his father and grandfather, topping off neat pyramids of cumin and dried peppers, pine nuts and almonds. Bezraa said work carries on, but prices have gone up, affecting both customers and  business.  But he said, "Thank God," his supplies are still coming in.

Syria's economy has suffered severely from 18 months of conflict. Bezraa conceded that people are cutting back, sticking mainly to buying essentials. Customers on this ancient, bustling alleyway complain that foreign products are especially expensive.

Sense of normalcy
Still, a certain normalcy prevails.  Goods are more expensive, but available. A man who declined to give his name carried several full shopping bags, noting the price of imported goods is high. 
Read more ..


India on Edge

Indian Girls Rise Up Against Child Marriage

October 10th 2012

Typical Indian Child Bride
Typical Indian Child Bride

Child marriage is an ancient practice in India, and despite being illegal, it continues today in mostly rural areas. Nearly half of women in India are married before the age of 18 and many of those become brides much younger. But one group in eastern India is looking to change this trend.
 
Bithika Das is concentrating on her school work. The 16-year-old girl from a small village in West Bengal state knows this opportunity to study is one that was nearly lost two years ago when her parents arranged her marriage to a young man.
 
“If I got married then, my education would have stopped at ninth grade. I could have achieved nothing in the future with an incomplete education. In my husband’s family, I was not going to get good respect,” she said.

Foundation fights back

After her parents' refusal to cancel the marriage arrangement, Bithika contacted the Murshidabad office of the Childline India Foundation. The group runs a 24-hour hotline, providing counseling and other help to children in crisis. Childline activist Debika Ghoshal led the team that helped stall the marriage of then-14-year-old Bithika. The group works with local police to lodge criminal complaints against parents who do not comply with the law banning child marriage. Activists then focus on ensuring that a young girl is able to continue with her education. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christianity

Egypt's Christians - Distraught and Displaced

October 9th 2012

Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall

Reuters reported last week that "Most Christians living near Egypt's border with Israel [in the town of Rafah in Sinai] are fleeing their homes after Islamist militants made death threats and gunmen attacked a Coptic-owned shop." Photos of desecrated churches and Christian property show Arabic graffiti saying things like "don't come back" and "Islam is the truth."

All media reports describe the same sequence of events: 1) Christians were threatened with leaflets warning them to evacuate or die; 2) an armed attack with automatic rifles was made on a Christian-owned shop; 3) Christians abandoned everything and fled their homes. Anyone following events in Egypt knows that these three points-threatening leaflets, attacks on Christian property, followed by the displacement of Christians-are happening throughout Egypt, and not just peripheral Sinai, even if the latter is the only area to make it to the Western mainstream media. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan: Teenaged Human Rights Advocate Survives Assassination Attempt

October 9th 2012

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

A Pakistani school girl who gained international fame for writing diaries about Taliban atrocities and attending school despite death threats, Malala Yousafzai, has been injured when one or more attackers opened fire on her school van. Because of the dangers posed to the young human rights advocate, she had been provided with a special car and unarmed security personnel.

Essa Khankhel, a local journalist, told RFE/RL Radio Mashaal that Yousafzai was targeted on October 9 while returning home from school in Saidu Sharif, the capital of the northwestern Swat district. Reports suggest one assailant asked which child was Yousafzai before opening fire. Yousafzai was struck in the head and the neck, Swat district coordination officer, Kaman Rahman, told Radio Mashaal. Another student was shot in her hand. Rahman suggested she was "out of danger." Read more ..


America on Edge

Slowed Progress in Gender Equity for High School Sports

October 9th 2012

female sprinter

While opportunities for girls to participate in high school sports increased during the 1990s, progress toward gender equity slowed and, perhaps, even reversed direction during the 2000s, according to a new report.

The report, released today by the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls (SHARP)—a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Women's Sports Foundation—provides insight into the state of high school athletics and the inequalities in the U.S. public school system, despite the passing of the landmark legislation, Title IX, 40 years ago.

"The Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports," co-authored by SHARP director Don Sabo and U-M postdoctoral fellow Philip Veliz, analyzes data from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Data Collection on girls' and boys' high school athletic opportunities between the 1999-2000 and 2009-10 school years.

Key findings from the report include:

Athletic participation opportunities expanded across the decade, but boys' allotment grew more than girls. By 2009-10, 53 athletic opportunities were offered for every 100 boys, compared with 41 opportunities for every 100 girls. Despite the level of economic resources, the opportunity gap between girls and boys continued to increase. By 2010, girls participated in greater numbers than in the beginning of the decade, but their share of total athletic opportunities decreased across the decade compared to boys. During a decade of expanding athletic participation opportunities across U.S. high schools, boys received more opportunities than girls, and boys' opportunities grew faster than those of girls. Read more ..


Rwanda on Edge

Amnesty Reports Unlawful Detentions in Rwanda

October 8th 2012

Rwanda Genocide

Amnesty International is accusing Rwandan military intelligence of torture, unlawful detention and forced disappearance of civilians in their custody.  Rwandan officials are questioning the credibility of the rights group report.

In its report, Amnesty says researchers in Rwanda documented 45 cases of unlawful detention and 18 allegations of torture at Rwandan military prisons between March 2010 and June of this year. The abuses took place as the military intelligence service, known as J2, investigated a series of grenade attacks in the country before the August 2010 presidential election.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s Acting Deputy Africa Director said civilians were rounded up, detained for months without access to lawyers or doctors and, in some cases, tortured. “They reported that they were subject to serious beatings, to electric shocks and to sensory deprivation, bags placed over their heads, water poured over them, to force confessions during interrogations,” Jackson said. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghanistan Headed For 2014 Crisis--Report

October 8th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

A new report is warning that Afghanistan is moving toward a potentially devastating political crisis as NATO-led combat forces withdraw and the Afghan government prepares to take control of security responsibilities in 2014. The report -- titled “Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition” -- was prepared by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), which describes itself as an independent nongovernmental organization committed to preventing deadly conflicts.

Candace Rondeaux, senior Afghanistan analyst for the organization, is quoted as saying there is “a real risk” that the U.S.-backed Afghan government “could collapse upon NATO's withdrawal in 2014.” Rondeaux added: “The Afghan army and police are overwhelmed and underprepared for the transition.” The report says Afghan stability is further threatened by the government’s failure so far to prepare for fair elections in the future. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrians Take Refuge in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

October 7th 2012

Syrian Refugees

As refugees continue streaming out of Syria to escape the violence of the civil war, tens of thousands of them are taking shelter in Lebanon, many in towns like this one near the frontier in the Bekaa Valley.

On a recent day, lines of laundry are draped across the school playground and aid workers mingle with children and their parents in the hallways of nearby buildings. The main topic of conversation for most is where their next meal is coming from and where they might be living in the coming weeks.

The latest United Nations figures estimate the overall number of Syrian refugees at more than 250,000, and of those, more than 70,000 are believed to be living in Lebanon. The number here is uncertain because many are afraid to register with official agencies out of fear of retribution due to the close ties between the governments in Damascus and Beirut. Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Nigerians Skeptical of Rail Revival Plans

October 6th 2012

Nigeria train

Nigerian leaders have championed the revival of the nation’s rail lines for years. And with a recent boost in infrastructure funding, the leaders say new trains will create jobs and revitalize the economy.  But some analysts say train projects are one of the Nigerian government’s biggest scams and they note that money for rail transportation in the past has disappeared.

This town is only about 30 kilometers outside of Abuja’s posh city center, but it feels like another country.  A few generators rumble in the marketplace because city power hasn’t been on in weeks.  Most stores are unlit, and shopkeepers say they have never had power in their homes. Osa sells bright purses and shoes in a store owned with her fiancé, Kenny.  They’ve heard of the city’s latest rail plan, a project that’s expected to get 500,000 commuters from other parts of the Federal Capital Territory surrounding Abuja into the city center for work everyday by 2015. Read more ..


Caucasus on Edge

Armenian President Says Azerbaijan Preparing For War

October 6th 2012

Azerbaijani Tank

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian has accused Azerbaijan of preparing for war over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-controlled separatist territory inside Azerbaijan. In an interview in Yerevan with the Reuters news agency, Sarkisian said Azerbaijan’s government has been acquiring what he called a “horrendous quantity” of arms to prepare for new fighting. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in conflict for more than two decades over Nagorno-Karabakh, with a fragile cease-fire in place since 1994.

"Now, 18 years after the signing of this cease-fire agreement, Azerbaijan threatens us with a new war," Sarkisian said. Sarkisian accused Azerbaijanis of having hatred toward Armenians and a “general xenophobia.” He said, however, that Armenia still hopes for a negotiated settlement that would end the conflict between the neighboring Caucasus states peacefully. Read more ..


Serbia on Edge

Tensions Mount over Restoration of WWII Serbian Chetnik Leader

October 6th 2012

Draza Mihalovic

Amid mounting public tension driven by months of delay, the Municipal Court in Belgrade has declared an official date of death for Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic. The commander of the Serb-nationalist, royalist Chetnik movement during World War II, Mihailovic led forces against Josip Broz Tito's Communist Partisans -- as fighting against the Axis Powers gave way to a bitter civil war. With the conflict raging, Chetnik forces hunted and killed not only their opponents, but Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and others on Yugoslav territory. Historians say tens of thousands were murdered by the Chetniks because of their ethnicity.

In 1946, with Tito at the helm of post-war Yugoslavia, Mihailovic was captured and tried. He was found guilty of war crimes, collaborating with the Axis Powers, and agreeing a ceasefire with the Nazis. He was reportedly shot on Belgrade's Ada Island. A protracted search for his grave in recent years has yielded nothing definitive. Nevertheless, the court said it had determined July 31, 1946 to be the day Mihailovic's died, based on an examination of official record.. Read more ..


Inside France

Femen's Topless Protest Tactics Hit Paris

October 5th 2012

Feminists

The Ukrainian feminist movement Femen, best known for its topless protests, is opening its first international training camp in Paris. New recruits are expected to start classes this month - learning how to apply warpaint and jump, run and fight against exploitation.

It is downtime for a group of young feminists, veterans of in-your-face manifestos. Sunlight slants into the first-story loft where they prepare signs for future battles. Signs with slogans like "Muslim Women: Let's Get Naked!"

Inna Shevchenko, 22, is painting slogans on a black punching bag. She's a long way from her native Ukraine. But in Paris and Kiev, she says, women share a common cause. "We are fighting against the same thing, for the same reason; we are fighting against patriarchy, all manifestations of it - church, religion, sex industry and dictatorship," she said. Shevchenko is in Paris to open the first international office of Femen - the Ukrainian feminist group whose topless protests capture headlines and rile the establishment. Read more ..


The Battle for Jordan

Jordan’s Election Law: Reform or Perish?

October 5th 2012

Jordan Protest

Since early January 2011, Jordan has witnessed the rise of a reform movement that has demanded political and social change. While the movement has not requested regime change, it seeks profound constitutional reforms that would strip the King of Jordan of his executive and legislative authorities. Above all, the movement seeks to immunize the parliament (the National Council) from being dissolved by the King, in addition to parliamentary control over the formation of the government (instead of being appointed by the King), and a direct election of the upper house (currently, it is appointed by the King). Thus, the ongoing debate in Jordan over electoral reform lies at the heart of the power struggle between the government and the opposition, and contributes to a poisonous political environment as Jordan approaches parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place by the end of this year.

For its part, the government insists on leaving in place the one-man-one-vote electoral law, which has been in effect since 1993. In late June of this year, the parliament passed the old electoral law with two amendments. First, it adopted a mixed electoral system that allows Jordanians to vote for the first time for a closed national list of 27 seats (18 percent of the total seats), in addition to the 108 seats reserved for Jordan’s 12 governorates. Second, it increased the women’s quota from 12 seats to 15 seats. The three additional seats have been reserved for women from Bedouin areas. In total, the size of Parliament increased from 120 seats in the last election to 150 seats. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Latin America’s Growing Social Network

October 4th 2012

LectureTools student user

In 2000 only 8 million Latin Americans were active online. Today that number has ballooned to 129 million regular users—more than a 1000 percent increase—with almost all (127 million) signing in to their social media accounts at least once a month. The number of absolute and relative users differs by country, but the upward trend has been steady across the region, led in sheer number by Brazilians and in time dedicated by Argentineans and Chileans (10 hours and 8.7 hours a month respectively).

Facebook dominates for most of the region, with 114 million unique Latin American visitors monthly, spending over a billion combined hours on status updates, wall posts, and photo browsing. Twitter comes in a (distant) second place, with some 27 million Latin Americans expressing their thoughts in 140 characters or less (here #Mexicans and #Brazilians outpace their neighbors). Millions more in the region access sites such as Orkut, Slideshare, Tumblr, and the more professionally oriented LinkedIn. Read more ..


Amazon on Edge

Tribal Body Counts among Amazonian Peoples has Bearing on Modern Violence

October 3rd 2012

Brazilian Amazonian people

In the tribal societies of the Amazon forest, violent conflict accounted for 30 percent of all deaths before contact with Europeans, according to a recent study by University of Missouri anthropologist Robert Walker. Understanding the reasons behind those altercations in the Amazon sheds light on the instinctual motivations that continue to drive human groups to violence, as well as the ways culture influences the intensity and frequency of violence.

“The same reasons – revenge, honor, territory and jealousy over women – that fueled deadly conflicts in the Amazon continue to drive violence in today’s world,” said Walker, lead author and assistant professor of anthropology in MU’s College of Arts and Science. “Humans’ evolutionary history of violent conflict among rival groups goes back to our primate ancestors. It takes a great deal of social training and institutional control to resist our instincts and solve disputes with words instead of weapons. Fortunately, people have developed ways to channel those instincts away from actual deadly conflict. For example, sports and video games often involve the same impulses to defeat a rival group.” Read more ..


South Sudan Rising

Israel Builds a Model Farm in South Sudan

October 3rd 2012

Soybeans

Israel is planning to build a model agricultural village in the new nation of South Sudan, aimed at teaching local farmers how Israel’s breakthrough agricultural methods and technologies can help the fledgling African nation survive and thrive. The idea took shape when Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon got to talking with South Sudan’s Minister of Agriculture, Betty Ogwaro, at the Agritech 2012 expo in Tel Aviv last May.

“Betty met not only people from our ministry but also our minister of agriculture, and the discussion became very productive,” Israeli Ambassador to South Sudan Haim Koren tells ISRAEL21c. “We suggested to her that we have plenty of experts in agriculture and irrigation who can give a hand, but since she knows better than we do what the needs are, we asked her to prioritize the issues.” Ogwaro recently told Koren, who travels to the year-old country frequently, that she wants the demonstration farm set up in Eastern Equatoria, one of the 10 states comprising South Sudan. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Plunging Currency Adds to Iran's Woes

October 3rd 2012

100,000 Rials

The long, steady decline of the Iranian rial took a precipitous turn Monday, with the currency falling more than 17 percent in trading. At one of the lowest points, it took 35,000 rials to buy one U.S. dollar. Less than a year ago, it took only 13,000 rials.

The drop was so steep that popular Iranian currency data websites were no longer providing information about the dollar exchange rate. On Mazanex.com, the dollar rate for the rial was blanked out, and Mesghal.ir was replaced with a message reading, “Account Suspended.”

Alex Vatanka, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said the rial’s fall was due to a combination of economic sanctions imposed by Western countries and internal attempts at economic reform. “It has resulted in an interesting and painful cocktail that Iranians are seeing when they go out and buy groceries,” he said. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Eels on Slippery Slope in East Asia

October 2nd 2012

eel

Japan is poised to declare an eel emergency, anxiously waiting to see if the popular seafood delicacies soon are placed on a “red list” of threatened species. That move would not, though, restrict eel catches. The United States is considering pushing international restrictions, however, on several types of eel and that could affect the global eel trade.

It's feeding time at the Gochang eel farm in South Korea. These fish are headed for kitchens across northeast Asia, where Japanese and South Koreans devour the vast majority of the global catch. Eels, served fresh or processed, are rich in vitamins, calcium and protein. They are popular, especially in the warmer months, to combat fatigue and boost stamina.

The species preferred by Asian diners is Anguilla japonica - the Japanese eel. The eel’s larvae migrate from the Philippines Sea to rivers around China, Japan, and South Korea, where the species is overfished. The owner of a chain of gourmet eel restaurants in Japan, Hiroshi Suzuki, said no substitute is as appetizing. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Numbers Imprinted on a New Generation

October 2nd 2012

Holocaust survivor

As the last survivors of the Holocaust begin to pass into history, some of their descendants have chosen to continue their legacy in an unusual way: tattooing concentration camp number of grandparents onto their bodies. The New York Times profiles one such second-generation survivor, Eli Sagir, who had her grandfather's number—tattooed on his arm at Auschwitz—tattooed on her own arm.

"All my generation knows nothing about the Holocaust," she said, "You talk with people and they think it’s like the Exodus from Egypt, ancient history. I decided to do it to remind my generation: I want to tell them my grandfather’s story and the Holocaust story." The phenomenon is unsurprisingly rare, but it nonetheless represents a real, if shocking, attempt to grapple with the imminent disappearance of the Holocaust from living memory. Read more ..


Georgia on Edge

Voters in Georgia face a Crucial Election

September 30th 2012

Georgia election

On Monday, Georgian voters are to elect a new parliament. In turn, that parliament is to choose a prime minister with new presidential powers. In a rarity for much of the former Soviet Union, this is an election in which the result is not known in advance. President Mikheil Saakashvili is facing the strongest challenge since he was first elected eight years ago. His challenger is Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man. Long known as a reclusive philanthropist, Ivanishvili is suddenly the new face in politics here.

Monday’s parliamentary elections will test whether Ivanishvili can convert his billions of dollars into millions of votes for his Georgia Dream coalition. Keti Tsiptauri, a Tblisi primary school teacher, says she is impressed by Ivanishvili's charitable donations in Georgia. “The first block of our university was reconstructed by Ivanishvili,” she said. “And we are grateful to him, and I want to thank to him for this.” Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Police and Russian Muslims Clash

September 28th 2012

Muslims Russian police

Shermamat Suyarov says he will think twice before returning to pray at Moscow's largest mosque. Suyarov, a 52-year-old Russian citizen of Kyrgyz origin, says he was sitting in a parked car waiting to attend prayers on September 17 when police ordered him out and detained him.

He was hauled into a police bus with scores of other would-be worshippers. Later, at a police station he claims he was beaten so severely after he complained about the rough treatment that he had to be hospitalized: "They beat me with their fists, batons and feet," he says. "There were five or six of them beating me and there were some others there too. I wasn't counting. I lost consciousness. I was in shock and broke a rib." Read more ..


The Arab Winter of Rage

Tunisians Fear Democracy Transition is Stalling

September 28th 2012

New Tunisian Assembly

Almost a year after Tunisia held its first free elections, many fear the North African country's transition to a vibrant democracy has stalled. The economy is struggling, the government is divided, and Tunisians are locked in intensive debates about their future.

After a tumultuous 2011, things are getting back to normal. As the evening falls, Tunis residents gather in cafes to drink tea and maybe smoke a water pipe. On the main Habib Bourguiba Avenue, coils of barbed wire and the occasional tank spark memories of last year's revolution - a revolution that triggered the wider Arab uprising.

Many here are worried about the future. Among them: architecture student Miriam Kricha, 19, who is strolling down Habib Bourguiba with her boyfriend. Kricha says she's worried about finding work, even with a university diploma. She believes it will be especially difficult as a woman. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Tunisian Women Fear Rights Curbs

September 27th 2012

Women protest Tunisia

For decades, women in Tunisia have enjoyed some of the most far-reaching rights in the Arab world. But a clause in Tunisia's draft constitution describing women as complementary - not equal - to men has sparked uproar and concerns over women's rights.

At her factory outside Tunis, owner Salma Rekik talks about the origins of her family-run business. The group, Cofat, specializes in automobile cables and food processing and Rekik says she feels comfortable operating in sectors traditionally dominated by men.

Rekik says there may be some wariness when she starts a new project. But that changes as soon as she asserts herself and proves she's efficient. Rekik's views are also shaped by her environment. Tunisia is a leader in the Arab world when it comes to women's rights. Past Tunisian presidents championed them - although they stifled other human liberties. Read more ..


Inside Viet Nam

Vietnam Outpaces Brazil in Producing Coffee

September 27th 2012

vietnamese slow drip coffee

When most people think of coffee they do not usually think of Vietnam. But, this year the Southeast Asian nation surpassed Brazil as the world's biggest coffee exporter. Almost all are robusta beans - a lower quality, higher-caffeine variety used to make espresso and instant coffee.

Vietnam's largest coffee company, Trung Nguyen, wants to change the country's reputation as a cheap coffee bean supplier. Chairman Dang Le Nguyen drinks 10 cups a day and wants others to do the same to raise low domestic consumption and coffee culture.

"We have the quantity and quality of robusta, which is number one in the world. But, we are lacking one thing that is the packing industry, display industry, and storytelling industry, to make the world understand exactly what the world needs," he explained. "Vietnam should be a great nation, not only in quantity." Vietnam's style of coffee preparation was influenced by the French, who introduced the bean to the former colony. But the industry has only taken off in the past few decades and its coffee culture is relatively unknown abroad. Read more ..


The New Egypt

Egypt’s Shiite Minority: Between the Egyptian Hammer and the Iranian Anvil

September 26th 2012

Mohamed Morsi Speaks at Press Conference
Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi

Much has been written about the visit of Egypt’s newly-elected president, Mohammad Morsi, to Iran at the end of August 2012 and its implications for Egypt’s regional and global policies, especially vis-a-vis Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh.

However, Morsi’s international debut made its biggest impact at home. After he publicly denounced Syria’s regime while being hosted by Damascus’s top ally, Iran, his speech pointed to the new image he is attempting to cultivate: The tough, fearless leader who speaks with the voice of the people who chose him. For Islamists, he was a Sunni hero against the Shia.

Clearly, Egypt intends to normalize its relations with Iran, whereas Mubarak’s Egypt was constantly raising the specter of Iranian plots meant to destabilize his regime. Still, even though Iran was the first Muslim country after Saudi Arabia that Morsi visited, the Arab street took note that Morsi, a life member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, rejects the notion of an Iran-led “Shiite crescent” posing a threat to the Sunni communities of the Muslim Middle East. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Drivers Unaware of the Amount of Texting while Driving their Cars

September 26th 2012

texting while driving

Texting while driving is a serious threat to public safety, but a new University of Michigan study suggests that we might not be aware of our actions.

U-M researchers found that texting while driving is predicted by a person's level of "habit"—more so than how much someone texts.

When people check their cell phones without thinking about it, the habit represents a type of automatic behavior, or automaticity, the researchers say. Automaticity, which was the key variable in the study, is triggered by situational cues and lacks control, awareness, intention and attention. "In other words, some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact," says Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies and the study's lead author. Read more ..


The Obama Edge

Obama Calls Human Trafficking 'Slavery'

September 25th 2012

Obama and Flag

After his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama used an appearance at the Clinton Global Initiative to announce new efforts to help crack down on human trafficking.

Calling the fight against human trafficking "one of the great human rights causes of our time," Obama announced new steps to deal with a problem he called "barbaric and evil" with no place in a civilized world.

"It is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric," said Obama. "It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name - modern slavery.” Obama issued an executive order to strengthen what he said is already a strict policy ensuring that government contractors do not engage in forced labor. Read more ..


Israel and Palestine

Israeli Medical Center Successfully Treats Parkinson's Disease among Palestinians

September 25th 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

A 51-year-old Palestinian man suffering from Parkinson’s disease received successful therapy treatment in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center this past summer. Tarik Sadek Abu Baker, an accountant who lives in Judea and Samaria, was treated for debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease through a special treatment known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), used to treat a variety of neurological disorders.

While medication is normally used to treat the disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which include tremors, rigidity, slowed movement, and walking problems, within 12 years, Abu Baker had stopped responding to Parkinson medication. Consequently, the Palestinian Authority directed Abu Baker to the Movement Disorders Center at Haifa’s Rambam hospital, lead by Senior Neurologist Dr. Ilana Schlesinger. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Women Lash Out against Lashings, Gang Rape and Beatings

September 24th 2012

Afgan Women in Burka

Unmarried girls in Afghanistan -- one of the most deeply religious and conservative countries in the world— are often restricted to their homes and banned from having relationships with men outside their immediate families.

Brutal punishments often await Afghan women and girls who break the social norm. Some women who are accused or found guilty of having a relationship with a man outside marriage or an extramarital affair are publicly flogged. Meanwhile, others, particularly in Taliban-controlled areas, are tried by shadow religious courts and publicly executed or stoned to death. But many Afghans consider these extrajudicial executions and floggings un-Islamic and unlawful. On September 24, outrage over the latest incident spilled over onto the streets of Kabul, with hundreds of people protesting the recent lashings of two teenage girls -- one of whom was later executed -- for having a relationship with their purported boyfriends. Read more ..


America on Edge

New Documentary Explores Chinese-American Adoptees

September 24th 2012

Chinese-American kids

Since China enacted the one-child policy in the late 1970s, tens of thousands of Chinese children, mostly girls, have been adopted around the world. Since 1989, over 80,000 have been adopted in the United States alone.

Four of these adoptees are the subject of the new documentary, “Somewhere Between,” in which filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton chronicles the lives of Chinese-American teenagers as they struggle to find themselves.

Haley, one of the subjects, jokes at one point in the movie, “I’m a banana. I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside.” Knowlton says her interest in the topic stems from her own experience adopting a child from China, particularly after she and her husband joined a one-year reunion of families who had also adopted children from China at the same time as they did.

“I really wanted to explore identity and how my daughter would develop her identity, growing up in a transracial family,” she said. Adolescence was particularly intriguing to Knowlton because “there is a part of it where all you want to do is stand out. Then all you want to do is fit in.” Read more ..


Inside America

New Statistics show Important Trends in U.S. Latino Population

September 23rd 2012

Arizona immigration rally

Based on the 2010 American Community Survey, researchers at the non-profit Pew Research Center have developed a ranking system and map that depict important population and migration trends among the Latino population in the United States.

While the data reported a consolidation and increase of the Latino presence in long-time strongholds including California, Texas, Florida, New York City and Chicago, the latest population numbers also document tremendous growth in places like Atlanta, Georgia, whose 530,000 Latinos made up 10.8 percent of the total metro area’s population, and Charlotte, North Carolina, where 189,279 residents, or 9.7 percent of the population, were of Latino heritage.

In both Atlanta and Charlotte, people of Mexican origin constituted the majority national group of the Latino population, with 58.5 percent and 50.5 percent of the population share, respectively. In 2010, El Paso ranked number 14 on the list of the top 60 Latino metropolitan areas. El Paso’s 662,000 Latinos constituted 82.3 percent of the overall population, with 30 percent of the Latino community born abroad. At 96 percent, Mexican-origin residents comprised the overwhelming majority of the Latino community. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

Middle East Conflict Coming To The New York City Subway

September 23rd 2012

SF city bus with AFDI ad

In the U.S., the Middle East conflict is reflected in a war of words, and the Big Apple is set to be the next battlefield.

Next week, commuters in New York will get their first look at a controversial ad campaign that depicts Muslim radicals as savages. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man; Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” the ads read. The advertising campaign was orchestrated by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), classified as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Earlier this summer, the AFDI also placed ads at several MTA commuter rail stations in the northern suburbs.The provocative ads, which made their debut in San Francisco buses in recent weeks, have been allowed in New York by way of a federal court ruling.

A similar legal decision is pending on whether they will appear in the U.S. capital, potentially putting the White House in a difficult situation as it tries to cool down protests over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States. Violence over “The Innocence of Muslims,” which denigrates the Prophet Muhammad, has resulted in numerous deaths and has prompted the Obama administration to go into damage-control mode, including an ad campaign shown on Pakistani television. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Will Massive Open Online Course Revolutionize Education?

September 23rd 2012

US Digital Divide

The hot new buzzword in university circles these days is MOOCs—massive open online courses. They may be the future of higher education. Or maybe not.

MOOCs are just what their full names imply: online courses that anyone anywhere in the world with access to the internet can take. And massive means just that: massive. A MOOC on artificial intelligence that Stanford offered last year attracted more than 160,000 students. This spring MIT offered a MOOC on “Circuits and Electronics” that enrolled more than 150,000 students.

Just how hot are MOOCs? Well, the New York Times reported yesterday that Coursera, a company that announced itself to the world just five months ago, has enrolled 1.35 million students in its free online courses. Coursera draws its courses from faculty at its thirty-three partner universities. And these aren’t obscure directional schools or pump-and-dump outfits that advertise on the back of matchbooks. These are the cream of American higher education: Michigan, Penn, and Princeton to name just a few. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Giving Lithium to Those who Need It

September 22nd 2012

Boy in pain

Lithium is a 'gold standard' drug for treating bipolar disorder, however not everyone responds in the same way. New research finds that this is true at the levels of gene activation, especially in the activation or repression of genes which alter the level the apoptosis (programmed cell death). Most notably BCL2, known to be important for the therapeutic effects of lithium, did not increase in non-responders. This can be tested in the blood of patients within four weeks of treatment.

A research team from Yale University School of Medicine measured the changing levels of gene activity in the blood of twenty depressed adult subjects with bipolar disorder before treatment, and then fortnightly once treatment with lithium carbonate had begun. Over the eight weeks of treatment there were definite differences in the levels of gene expression between those who responded to lithium (measured using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale) and those who failed to respond. Dr Robert Beech who led this study explained, "We found 127 genes that had different patterns of activity (turned up or down) and the most affected cellular signalling pathway was that controlled programmed cell death (apoptosis)." For people who responded to lithium the genes which protect against apoptosis, including Bcl2 and IRS2, were up regulated, while those which promote apoptosis were down regulated, including BAD and BAK1. Read more ..



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