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The Edge of Sport

For U.S. Athlete And Georgian Birth Family, A Past And Present Revealed

November 23rd 2012

Paralympic simmer Elizabeth Stone

DIKHASHKHO, Georgia -- "Liana, stop shaking! Don't be so scared. She is fine in the United States. Someone has helped her!"

Liana Khurtsidze, 73, her back curved from years of plowing the small plot of land on which she now sits, hears her neighbor's words of comfort but struggles to contain her emotions. Her voice quivers, as does her wrinkled hand, as it grips her walking stick. Thin wisps of gray hair peek out from beneath the blue kerchief around her head, framing sunken eyes and hollowed cheeks.

Holding back tears, she speaks the name "Ketevan" -- a name that has taken on prayer-like status for Liana, her family, and even her neighbors in the rural Georgian village of Dikhashkho. Ketevan is the daughter she gave up at birth, the daughter born without the lower half of her right leg, and the daughter she has just learned is not only alive and well but is excelling as a Paralympic athlete on the other side of the world. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center Dedicates Gallery to House Boxcar

November 22nd 2012

Holocaust-era Boxcar

A crowd of 315 people were in attendance for the public ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Center The Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Gallery, dedicating a new addition that will house an authentic World War II-era boxcar. The Nazis used boxcars to transport millions of European Jews and other victims to concentration camps and their deaths during the Holocaust.

A generous gift from local philanthropists Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg funded construction of this new gallery, which was built in memory of Henrietta’s family murdered in the Holocaust, her parents, Sara and Israel Gastfrajnd, and brothers, Rubin and Hershel Gastfrajnd.  This gift also is being used toward an education endowment. 

The Weisbergs, who will be honored at the Holocaust Memorial Center’s Anniversary Dinner on Sunday, November 11 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, are longtime benefactors to the Holocaust Memorial Center, as well as to Congregation Shaarey Zedek, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Beaumont Hospital, among others. The Weisbergs’ daughter-in-law, Lori, is a docent at the Holocaust Memorial Center. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Stereotypes Deter Women From Becoming Scientists

November 21st 2012

Science students

Across the globe, fewer women are enrolling in college science programs or working in the science and technology sectors and education experts are blaming the problem on stereotypes about what a scientist looks like. In some scientific fields, women represent less than 30 percent of student enrollments and about the same percentage of the workforce, according to a global study of the issue.

That study, the Gender Equality and the Knowledge Society Scoreboard, was in part carried out by the Women in Global Science and Technology, a non-profit policy and research group. The study described the percentage of women in the sciences as “alarmingly low.”   

“Women are severely underrepresented in degree programs in science and technology,” said Sophia Huyer, executive director of Women in Global Science and Technology. Huyer said women in the countries surveyed, including the United States and the European Union, represented less than 30 percent of physics and engineering enrollments and around 30 percent or less of the science and technology workforce. The only exception is in biosciences and life sciences where women hover around 50 percent. Read more ..

Japan on Edge

A Referendum for Japan

November 21st 2012

Japanese businessmen

Japan’s politicians have been released from legislative deliberations, and are rushing to prepare for the next Lower House election, scheduled for December 16. The media is in hot pursuit as politicians change allegiances and new parties emerge and join forces against Japan’s old legislative guard. There is a palpable frenzy of criticism against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his much maligned ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). But to think this election is just a referendum against the DPJ misses the point. This election will shape Japan’s choices for years to come.

Ever since the DPJ came into power, the effort to force it back into an election has driven opposition parties, most notably the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Several rounds of no-confidence votes were put forward in the Diet, one purportedly a deal between the DPJ’s Ichiro Ozawa and then LDP president Sadakazu Tanigaki. Efforts to forge a policy consensus between the DPJ and the LDP seemed destined to fail, as electoral ambitions colored the policy deliberations more thoroughly than the pros and cons of policy options. Read more ..

The Battle for Jordan

The Gaza Conflict Reverberates in the West Bank and Jordan

November 19th 2012

Muslim Brotherhood Jordan

The effects of the Arab Spring have not really manifested themselves in Jordan, but the kingdom has not been stable either. Since the outbreak of the regional unrest in early 2011, King Abdullah II has replaced three prime ministers in response to low-level but steady protests. The dilemma that the Hashemites face is that unrest has spread into the ranks of the tribal forces (aka East Bankers), who until recently have served as the bedrock of the monarchy's stability. At the same time, in urban areas, the country's largest political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has departed from its traditional role as the loyal opposition and begun demanding that the palace share power with parliament. Read more ..

The Gender Edge

Over 115,000 Women Lose Health Insurance through Divorce

November 19th 2012

woman headache head bowed

About 115,000 women lose their private health insurance every year in the wake of divorce, according to a University of Michigan study. And this loss is not temporary: women's overall rates of health insurance coverage remain depressed for more than two years after divorce.

"Given that approximately one million divorces occur each year in the U.S., and that many women get health coverage through their husbands, the impact is quite substantial," said Bridget Lavelle, a U-M doctoral candidate in public policy and sociology, and lead author of the study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Lavelle conducted the study, which analyzes nationally representative longitudinal data from 1996 through 2007 on women ages 26-64, with U-M sociologist Pamela Smock. Their research was supported by the U-M National Poverty Center. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

A Pleasant Personality and Placebo Effect Make for Mental Health

November 18th 2012

Baby Boomer

Are you good at coping when life gets tough? Do people call you a straight-shooter? Will you help others without expecting anything in return?

Those personality traits might do more than help you win a popularity contest. According to new University of Michigan-led neuroscience research, those qualities also might make you more likely to get pain relief from a placebo – a fake medicine.

And, the researchers show, it’s not just your mind telling you the sham drug is working or not. Your brain’s own natural painkiller chemicals may actually respond to the pain differently depending on your personality.

If you’re more of an angry, hostile type, they find, a placebo won’t do much for you.

For the first time, the new findings link specific, established personality traits with an individual’s susceptibility to the placebo effect from a sham medicine for pain. The researchers showed a significant link between certain personality traits and how much relief people said they felt when given the placebo – as well as the level of a specific chemical that their brains released.

The work, published online today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, was done by a team of U-M Medical School researchers and their colleagues at the University of North Carolina and University of Maryland. Read more ..

Edge of Justice

Kids in Solitary Confinement Hallucinate and Harm Themselves

November 17th 2012

Click to select Image

A new report on solitary confinement of minors includes harrowing descriptions of the psychological and physical impact ‘solitary’ has on young people, as well as surprising revelations about why some authorities resort to isolating juveniles.

In “Growing Up Locked Down,” the groups Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union report that a substantial number of detained juveniles minors are placed in solitary confinement as punishment, or as part of their rehabilitation plans – or even for their own protection. Some custodians, researchers found, say they put juveniles who are in adult lockups into solitary confinement as a way to protect them from attacks by adult inmates.

Some minors interviewed said they were segregated in juvenile facilities for the same reason – to protect them from threats – and let out only for a couple of hours a day. Read more ..

Israeli and Arabs

Arab and Jewish Teens are Friends Forever

November 17th 2012

Arab-Israeli teens

A Rotary Club program puts groups of Muslim and Jewish Israeli high school students together for 16 days of bonding in New England. Daniel Mordechai’s parents talked him into spending two weeks of his summer vacation at a New England house with four classmates from the Leo Baeck Educational Center in Haifa and five peers from the nearby Arab-Israeli Ein Mahel school.

“They said it would be a very unusual opportunity to meet the Arab population, because in everyday life there is a distance between us,” the 10th-grader said. “It sounds surprising, but after a meeting or two, I realized they are just like us and I felt very comfortable with them.” Read more ..

Uganda on Edge

Britain Halts Uganda Aid over Corruption

November 17th 2012

Kenya Kids

Britain has suspended all financial aid to Uganda over a corruption scandal in which millions in donor funds were allegedly embezzled in the office of the prime minister, Amama Mbabazi.

Britain's international development department, or DFID, said in a statement on Friday that it was suspending development assistance immediately "as a result of initial evidence" from an ongoing audit.

Britain planned to give £27m (about $42m) to the East African country this year. Justine Greening, international development minister, said payments worth £11.1m ($17.6m) that were due before
the end of the financial year had been halted. "Unless the government of Uganda can show that UK taxpayers' money is going towards helping the poorest people lift themselves out of poverty, this aid will remain frozen," the international development ministry said. "We will expect repayment and administrative and criminal sanctions." Read more ..

Operation Pillar of Defense

Escalating Hamas Attacks a Result of the Arab Spring

November 16th 2012

Egypt Riots #1

The latest escalation along the Israel-Gaza border - which saw Palestinians fire more than 250 rockets at Israel since Wednesday after Israel, responding to days of only slightly less intensive rocket fire, assassinated a senior Hamas terrorist and destroyed most of Hamas's long-range missiles on Wednesday - may yet be interrupted by another temporary cease-fire, of which there have been many in recent years. But that's unlikely to change the trajectory: Israel and Hamas appear to be heading for another full-scale war, one more devastating than the one they fought in January 2009. In large part, this is thanks to the "Arab Spring," which eroded the deterrent effect of that earlier war by strengthening Hamas' position and weakening Israel's. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Employing Nurse Practioners May Relieve Shortage of Physicians

November 16th 2012

innoculation of child

Reports indicate that Michigan faces a physician shortage much larger than the national average, and it will grow as millions of Americans qualify for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Yet Michigan law prevents the medical professionals who could best mitigate this shortage from doing so, because it prohibits advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from using the full scope of their training and education to treat patients.

"Current regulations make it more difficult to provide much needed care," said Joanne Pohl, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

Pohl, former director of the U-M's Adult Nurse Practitioner Program, testified before Michigan's Senate Health Policy Committee on behalf of Senate Bill 481, which would allow nurse practitioners to practice under their own license, independently of physicians. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Turkey Tails and Polynesian Dietary Tales

November 16th 2012

turkey on a platter

While most Americans look forward to eating turkey on Thanksgiving, Pacific Islanders in the U.S. and on the islands are most likely to eat a part of the bird few other Americans are familiar with: its tail.

"Turkey tail is marketed selectively to Pacific Island communities throughout the U.S. and in Pacific Island territories, as well as independent nations," said University of Michigan researcher Sela Panapasa. "Actually it's not the tail but a gland that attaches the tail to the turkey's body. It's filled with oil that the turkey uses to preen its feathers."

Many islanders think turkey tail is delicious. It's also cheap but far from nutritious.

"It's full of fat and cholesterol, and contributes to one of the major health problems facing Pacific Islanders—obesity," said Panapasa, a Pacific Islander originally from Fiji. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

In Europe, Angry Workers Protest Austerity

November 15th 2012

French Economic protest

Workers in several European countries went on strike Wednesday to protest austerity measures designed to help their governments get out of debt, but which cut their salaries, pensions and benefits.

Angry workers chanted "strike, strike" inside Madrid’s main train station as they scuffled with police.  Outside, workers blew whistles and set off firecrackers, as commuters rode by, many on bicycles for the day.

Commuter and inter-city trains were canceled in several countries, along with flights and other forms of transport, while government services and some businesses also went idle. “They are taking all our rights away," complained a Spanish union member who spoke for many of his co-workers.  "The banks and other business people are bringing us onto the streets, they are stealing our salaries.  We do not have any rights anymore.” Read more ..

Africa on Edge

African Food Supply to Benefit From $7.8 million Grant

November 15th 2012

Kenya Poverty

A 7.8 million dollar grant offered through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation will help an American university work with eight African countries to improve their farming techniques.

Michigan State University, through funding from the Gates Foundation Global Development Program, says the research aims to intensify farming methods that meet the agricultural needs of Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Tom Jayne, professor of international development at Michigan State University, has been living in Lusaka, Zambia for the last two years, and has been involved in long-term projects to improve the sustainability of African farmland.  He said one of the main goals of this project is capacity, and its relationship to previous work done by MSU.  An example is Zambia.

“It’s been increasingly well known that African policymakers are I think more likely to get good policy advice, or wish to get good policy advice, from local African institutes. So we’ve been working to develop this agricultural policy institute here and I am pleased to report that as of February 9 of this year, that was the official launch of the Indaba Agricultural policy research institute, an independent, Zambian managed institute much like the Brookings Institute in the United States,” said Jayne.

Jayne emphasized the importance of capacity-building in Africa. He said he and his colleagues at the Gates Foundation lament that each year 15-20 good African PHD analysts in agriculture and economics graduate from programs around the world, but most do not return to their home countries to integrate their knowledge back into the African communities. Read more ..

The Automotive Edge

Women Overtake Men as Motorists

November 14th 2012

Click to select Image

While both young and middle-aged men and women are less likely to have a driver's license today than nearly 20 years ago, the proportion of male motorists is declining at a higher rate, according to University of Michigan researchers.

The likely culprit? Cell phones and the Internet.

"One possible interpretation of the finding that the decrease in licensure rate has been greater for males than for females is that males are relying more on electronic communication than females," said Michael Sivak, a research professor at the U-M Transportation Research Institute. "Because virtual contact through electronic means is reducing the need for actual contact, driving demand has been reduced more for males than for females." Using data from the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Census Bureau, Sivak and colleague Brandon Schoettle examined recent changes in the gender demographics of U.S. drivers from 1995 to 2010. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

OAS Demands Protection for Mexican Human Rights Activists

November 13th 2012

Mexico memorial

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has requested that the Mexican government protect seven Chihuahua rural activists who are spearheading movements against water over-exploitation and mining. The request was issued in favor of leaders of El Barzon, an organization of small farmers founded in the 1990s, and followed the murder of El Barzon activist Ismael Solorio Urrutia and his wife Manuela Martha Solis Contreras in the Chihuahua countryside on October 22.

An El Barzon leader in the north-central region of Chihuahua, Solorio was physically assaulted along with a son last October 13 by men allegedly connected to a Mexican division of the Canadian-owned MAG Silver Corporation, which operates a controversial mine on land belonging to the Benito Juarez Ejido in the municipality of Buenaventura. Read more ..

America on Edge

New Ethnic and Religious Groups in Contention for Next Presidential Election

November 13th 2012

Muslim vote

The elections are over, and the finger-pointing is in. Most factors that contributed to Obama’s advantage and conversely Romney’s weakness have been thoroughly rehashed in the media.

Obama’s more “human” personality, natural appeal for African-Americans, Asian-Americans (the Hawaii connection) and Latinos (immigration), stronger than expected national security and foreign policy record (except the Benghazi embassy tragedy, Bin Laden was killed on his watch – and that’s all that matters to most voters), record-breaking fundraising (being able to out raise businessman Romney is no small thing) and superior “ground-game” operations. Read more ..

Israel on Edge

Rocket-Ravaged Israelis Want to Retire to Normal Life

November 12th 2012

Bullet holes and rose

It was a daunting, dismal weekend for Israel’s south, particularly for Israelis living in communities bordering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Along with the rain, over 100 Gaza rockets struck the south, wounding four Israelis and sending countless others into shock and trauma, while damaging homes, businesses and vehicles.” Beginning Saturday night and continuing onto Monday morning, Gaza rockets have been pounding Israel's south with the Iron Dome system intercepting those headed towards Ashdod, Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. On Monday morning, three Netivot houses hit by a Gaza rocket explosion, which left 10 people in shock and heavy damage.

“I stood in my family’s bomb shelter on our kibbutz today during a siren warning and watched these two people try to run to shelter just as a rocket landed nearby,” said Shir Hermesh, of Sunday's rocket attacks. “They didn't take cover in time and were wounded by rocket shrapnel.” Read more ..

Israel and Palestine

Video Shows How Arab Extremists Use Kids to Provoke Israeli Military

November 11th 2012

Click to select Image
IDF soldier observes Palestinian girl. Photo credit: Ehud Amiton (Tazpit)

In a movie clip uploaded recently to YouTube, blond-haired young girls scream at IDF soldiers, try to engage them in some way and attempt to provoke them into a violent reaction.

This incident is part of ongoing and systematic anti-IDF provocation by Arabs, specifically those living in Nabi Tsalach. Riots are scheduled and organized at Nabi Tsalach every Friday, and soldiers are deployed there to prevent the spread of violence.

Tazpit News Agency has documented several of these incidents over the past months, exposing the fact that these are not "spontaneous reactions" to an IDF assault, but rather an orchestrated campaign to slander the IDF. Read more ..

Education on Edge

Preschooler's Counting Abilities Relates to Future Math Performance

November 10th 2012

boy and math

Along with reciting the days of the week and the alphabet, adults often practice reciting numbers with young children. Now, new research from the University of Missouri suggests reciting numbers is not enough to prepare children for math success in elementary school. The research indicates that counting, which requires assigning numerical values to objects in chronological order, is more important for helping preschoolers acquire math skills.

“Reciting means saying the numbers from memory in chronological order, whereas counting involves understanding that each item in the set is counted once and that the last number stated is the amount for the entire set,” said Louis Manfra, an assistant professor in MU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “When children are just reciting, they’re basically repeating what seems like a memorized sentence. When they’re counting, they’re performing a more cognitive activity in which they’re associating a one-to-one correspondence with the object and the number to represent a quantity.”

Manfra analyzed data from more than 3,000 children from low-income households in order to determine if the children’s reciting and counting abilities in preschool affected their first-grade math scores. He found that students who could recite and count to 20 in preschool had the highest math scores in first grade; however, less than 10 percent of the children in the study could count and recite to 20. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Link Found Between Child Prodigies and Autism

November 9th 2012


A new study of eight child prodigies suggests a possible link between these children’s special skills and autism.

Of the eight prodigies studied, three had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. As a group, the prodigies also tended to have slightly elevated scores on a test of autistic traits, when compared to a control group.

In addition, half of the prodigies had a family member or a first- or second-degree relative with an autism diagnosis. The fact that half of the families and three of the prodigies themselves were affected by autism is surprising because autism occurs in only one of 120 individuals, said Joanne Ruthsatz, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus.

“The link between child prodigies and autism is strong in our study,” Ruthsatz said. “Our findings suggest child prodigies have traits in common with autistic children, but something is preventing them from displaying the deficits we associate with the disorder.” Read more ..

China on Edge

Tibetan Protests Erupt in Western China

November 9th 2012

Tibetan Protest

Reports from China's western Qinghai Province say hundreds or even thousands of Tibetans marched on government offices Friday.  The protests come amid attempts by China's government to maintain social stability during a political transition.

Tibetans marched on government offices in Rebkong, a region of eastern Tibet, after a series of self-immolations that drew international attention.  Estimates ranged from hundreds to thousands of protesters who began gathering on the streets at 5:00 a.m.  Many said they were speaking out against China's education system.

"Our sources have confirmed that many of the students have been calling for freedom of language and for the return of his Holiness," said Stephanie Brigden, executive director of rights group Free Tibet. Mass protests in Rebkong also occurred in 2010, when demonstrators spoke out against China's plans to replace Tibetan with Chinese as the language of instruction in local schools.

The Edge of Health

Team Finds New Way to Inhibit Blood Clotting and Inflammation

November 8th 2012

Premature Baby

Scientists have identified a group of small molecules that interfere with the activity of a compound that initiates multiple steps in blood clotting, including those that lead to the obstruction of veins or arteries, a condition called thrombosis. Blocking the activity of this compound, polyphosphate, could treat thrombosis with fewer bleeding side effects than the drugs that are currently on the market. Their findings appear in the journal Blood.

Blood clots are formed at the site of an injured blood vessel to prevent blood loss. Sometimes, however, blood clots completely clog an artery or vein and the surrounding tissues are damaged. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that annually, 300,000 to 600,000 Americans are afflicted with deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, a blocked lung artery that often results from thrombosis, and 60,000 to 100,000 people die each year as a result of these conditions. Read more ..

The New Africa

West Africans Push Traditional Crafts as Economic Engine

November 7th 2012

African Arts

 More than 3,000 artisans from throughout West Africa showcased their creations in wood, bronze, fabric and other mediums at the 13th International Artisan Crafts Festival in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou. The 10-day fair wrapped up Sunday.

One of the objectives of the biennial crafts festival is to help West Africans thrive where they live - avoiding an exodus to urban capitals or abroad in search of work. Making traditional crafts a viable livelihood depends largely on stability in the region. Assemien Yapo is among the Ivoirians who came to Ouagadougou for the festival - a significantly larger group this year than was able to come in 2010, when Côte d’Ivoire was gripped by political unrest.

The Ivoirian government and artisans’ associations are working on revitalizing the sector as part of overall recovery and development efforts. Yapo said Ivoirians are working toward giving artisanship its rightful place in the country's economy. He said this kind of work not only can be a livelihood for individuals, but also a veritable job creator in Côte d’Ivoire. Read more ..

The Edge of Climate Change

Climate Change Could Alter Eating Habits

November 7th 2012

Arid Desert

Climate change might force changes in diets around the world as certain staple foods become harder to produce, according to international agriculture researchers.

However, future shortfalls could be offset by switching to crops which can thrive in those altered climates, according to new reports by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research. Important crops like maize and wheat produce less grain at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius. “Those kinds of temperatures are being reached on a regular basis and more frequently in many countries now,” says Sonja Vermeulen, head of CGIAR climate change research.

Widespread changes
Vermeulen says growing-season temperatures are not the only factors affected by climate change. Rainfall patterns are shifting, too. Water supplies will be strained in some areas, while others will see more floods. Freshly threshed rice near Sangrur, India. Salt water encroachment, flooding and droughts are more likely as the climate changes, which could impact crops such as rice.

Climate change is also altering habitats for pests and diseases, she says. "And for some crops, particularly crops we really value, such as potatoes, we think those are really likely to increase and change in their patterns in the future.” Rice will not be spared, either. Higher temperatures, salt water encroachment, more flooding and more droughts are likely as the climate changes.

Maize vs. millet
Some crops in some regions will be able to adapt, “But for others, we’re really going to have to think about switching out of growing some crops entirely,” Vermeulen says. For example, by later this century large parts of Africa will no longer be suitable for growing maize. Sorghum, millet and cassava are becoming better options. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

America Goes to the Polls

November 6th 2012

us voters

Polling stations have opened on the east coast of the United States, kicking off local, state, and national elections that include a presidential race that polls suggest will come right down to the wire. Voters are deciding whether to give Democratic President Barack Obama another term or put his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in the White House. On the last day of campaigning on November 5, Obama called on voters in Des Moines, Iowa, to keep the country moving forward.
"When we decide to make a difference, when Americans come together, determined to bring about change, nobody can stop us. We cannot be stopped," Obama said.

"And after all that we've been through together, after all that we've fought through together, we cannot give up on change now." At a rally in Columbus, Ohio, Romney urged people to vote for change. "The door to a brighter future is there. It's open. It's waiting for us," Romney said.


Inside America

Church-Going Teens Go Further with School

November 5th 2012


For many American teens, the road to college goes through the chapel. Sociologists from Brigham Young University and Rice University found religiously-affiliated youth are 40 percent more likely to graduate high school than their unaffiliated peers and 70 percent more likely to enroll in college. The researchers note that teens’ fellow church-goers are an important factor, serving as mentors who help teens set their sights high.

"Youth have a unique chance to form relationships with peers and mentors outside of their classroom at school or their neighborhood at home," said Lance Erickson, the lead study author and a sociologist at BYU. "Mentors especially care for, counsel with and encourage youth throughout their growing years in a way that teachers and parents might not be able to." Read more ..

South Sudan on Edge

Rights Groups: No Justice on South Sudan's Death Row

November 5th 2012

South Sudan Death Row Inmates

Rights groups are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in South Sudan, the world’s newest nation where the legal system may be sending people to the gallows who have not been granted basic rights and may well be innocent.

The clinking of shackles has followed 45-year old Mary Sezerina for seven years, reminding her of a crime she says she committed when not of sound mind.

Speaking through a translator, Widow Sezerina says that she killed her sister-in-law in the heat of the moment, on one of her trips to steal things from the family home as Sezerina was struggling to feed five young children.

“She says that that time she killed was the devil’s intention and it was stronger than me," said the translator. "Now that she is in prison, her heart is free and she has nothing against this person and the other relatives, but this is the life," she said. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexicans Outraged by Crime Take Security Matters into Their Own Hands

November 5th 2012

Protester Michoacan Mexico

In the final days of the Calderon presidency, anti-crime uprisings are spreading in parts of rural Mexico. Similar to the “citizen uprisings” in the Michoacan indigenous communities of Cheran and Urapicho, residents in a section of neighboring Guerrero state have now taken security matters into their own hands.

The most recent flashpoint is an indigenous zone known as La Cañada, where hundreds of armed residents responded to the ringing of a church bell, women disarmed the local police and locals set up barricades at the entrances to the town of Olinala on October 27. Classes were suspended, and an evening curfew ordered. Infuriated residents also set fire to a home and vehicles belonging to suspected criminals.

Only days later, on October 30, residents of the town of Cualac reportedly took similar action, while inhabitants of Temalacatzingo were also assuming security duties. Read more ..

Kenya on Edge

Kenyan Minibus Driver Seeks to Unionize to Stop Road Rage

November 4th 2012


Known for their erratic driving and frequent flouting of traffic laws, Kenyan public minibus drivers are either loved or hated. One driver wants to form a union in order to improve the quality of life for his colleagues, while helping to contribute to safer roads.

Called “matatus,” Kenya’s 14-seat minibuses account for roughly 11 percent of the more than one-million registered vehicles in the country, according to the World Health Organization. Trying to pick up as many passengers as possible during the day, matatu drivers are known for cutting off other motorists, overlapping long lines of waiting vehicles, driving at unsafe speeds, and showing general disregard for traffic laws.

Having worked as a matatu driver for 10 years, James Kariuki argues life is not easy for himself and his colleagues. He said he must pay the matatu owner about $53 per day for the use of the vehicle; he also needs to make enough money for fuel, police bribes, gang protection, and incidentals like tire-puncture repairs. Additionally, he hires a “conductor” who solicits passengers from the side door. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Kazakh Women Describe Slavery Ordeal In Moscow

November 3rd 2012

Abused woman

Two Kazakh women have said they were lured into slavery in Moscow on the promise of a job and held in captivity in a supermarket for 10 years where they were beaten and forced to work. Leila Ashirova, 26, and Bakiya Kasymova said they were among 14 migrants from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, including three children, rescued from slavery by a pair of Russian civic activists in the capital on October 29. 

"I personally worked there 10 years and I never left the shop once. I tried a couple of times and they beat me," Kasymova said. The
alleged captives were freed by civic activists Oleg Melnikov and Danil Medvedev who went to the shop accompanied by several local Russian TV crews after they received a tip-off from Leila’s mother Tazhinar Ashirova. 

Pakistan on Edge

Malala's Schoolmate Says Taliban Bullet Has Only Strengthened Her Resolve

November 3rd 2012

Kainat Ahmad
Kainat Ahmad

Recovered after being struck by a Taliban bullet, 16-year-old Kainat Ahmad is now focused on two things -- continuing her education and seeing her best friend again. Ahmad was wounded during the attempted murder last month of teen peace activist Malala Yousafzai, targeted by the Pakistani Taliban for her criticism of the hard-line group's influence in the restive Swat Valley.

On November 1, Ahmad returned to the girls' school she and Malala attend in Mingora, the capital of the Swat district. Ahmad spent nearly a week in a hospital in Mingora after being struck by a bullet in her right arm when Taliban gunman fired on the vehicle she and Malala were riding in. Malala is slowly recovering in a British hospital from a serious bullet wound to her head. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russia's Internet 'Blacklist' Law Sparks Free-Speech Fears

November 2nd 2012

Russian computer user

Russian authorities have been given the green light to shut down websites carrying information deemed harmful to children. A controversial new law came into effect on November 1 under which authorities can now close down sites promoting child pornography, suicide, or substance abuse, without the need for a court decision. The law also targets sites that a court has ruled extremist.

The legislation, formally intended to protect children from offensive Internet content, has prompted fears it could be co-opted to stifle the lively political debate taking place on the Russian Internet.

"This law can be seen as one of the elements that can, if the need arises, curb freedom of speech," information rights expert Ilya Rassolov says. The law is the latest in a raft of restrictive bills pushed through parliament in recent months, including legislation that dramatically hiked fines on protesters, made libel a criminal offense, and forced foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations to register as "foreign agents." Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

The Latest Word On The Afghan Street

November 1st 2012

Afghan street

In the latest twist in the controversy over naming Afghan streets after national heroes, the governor of Afghanistan's western Herat Province, Daud Shah Saba, has said that Afghan law stipulates that streets can only be named after people who died at least 50 years ago.

But municipal officials in Herat say the city is unlikely to change the names of two major thoroughfares in the city, which are named after mujahedin commander Ahmad Shah Masud and Mirwais Sadiq, a former civil aviation minister and son of Herati strongman Ismail Khan. Masud was killed in 2001, Sadiq in 2004.

Afghan officials, as well as the public, are sharply divided over the issue of naming streets and institutions after former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban leaders or their allies. Supporters see such steps as honoring the service and sacrifice of these figures. Opponents consider the bestowing of such honors as inciting further hatred and division among Afghans, some of whom see these jihadi figures as symbols of the suffering that Afghans endured during the civil war in the 1990s. Read more ..

China on Edge

China Prepares for Leadership Transition

November 1st 2012

Chinese swearing in

Senior Chinese Communist leaders have gathered amid heavy security for a closed-door meeting in Beijing, where they will put the finishing touches on a once-a-decade leadership handover that officially begins next week.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said the final gathering of the Communist Party's 17th Central Committee opened Thursday. The short memo said that changes to the party's constitution and other proposals are being discussed.

Expected to last for about a week, the meeting will likely result in the formal expulsion of disgraced politician and former Politburo member Bo Xilai, who is expected to stand trial soon for corruption and other charges. It also represents one of the last chances for Communist leaders to haggle over party leadership positions to be unveiled at the 18th Party Congress beginning next Thursday. Read more ..

American History

Fifty Years after the Port Huron Statement: a Radical Transformation?

November 1st 2012

SDS at University of Michigan 1968


This year, as The Port Huron Statement turns 50, we look back at what changed when this manifesto was written, calling for a nation of activists to rise up and revolutionize society. Sixty-thousand copies of the statement were distributed in the 1960s. Today, scholars and alumni weigh in on whether the writing had an impact—or whether it was dust in the wind.

In June 1962, 59 activists, mostly students, were holed up in a United Auto Workers (UAW) camp in Port Huron, Michigan. They were debating the contents of a manifesto that, they hoped, would be a clarion call to build a movement of college students to challenge the state of American society: the hypocrisy of racial segregation, the overblown rhetoric of the Cold War, the pervasiveness of poverty in the world’s richest nation, and the apathy of its citizenry. Read more ..

America on Edge

Woman Moves Into Commonly Male Domain

October 31st 2012

Volvo truck

Almost one-third of small businesses in the United States is owned by women. That number is on the rise, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, especially in fields which were once dominated by men.

Chances are, a few decades ago, a moving company, with all of its trucks and heavy duty equipment, would have been owned by a man. But Apple Transfer, a company located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, belongs to Barbara Ayers.

She is president and CEO of the company, which helps move households and businesses all across the U.S., and overseas. Ayers started the company with her brother Joe Garlick, in 1988. When they started out, it was just the two of them.

“We actually had one small truck, on trade," she says. "He did the moving and I took care of the office." Today, she oversees a fleet of trucks and a large storage facility, employing up to 100 people during peak moving season. Read more ..

Islam's War Against Christianity

Muslim Persecution of Christians Continues

October 31st 2012

Coptic Girl

The aftermath of collective punishment for Pakistan's Christians—the inevitable byproduct of the notorious Rimsha Masih blasphemy case, concerning a possibly mentally challenged, 14-year-old Christian girl falsely accused of desecrating a Quran—was more dramatic than the blasphemy case itself. Indeed, knowing what was in store for them, some Christians even held a symbolic funeral procession, carrying a Christian leader in a coffin and digging a grave for the "deceased."

Their apprehension proved too true—especially after another pretext for Muslims to riot emerged: the YouTube Muhammad video. After Friday prayers, Muslims attacked, killed, and robbed the Christians in their midst, who account for a miniscule 1.5% of Pakistan's population. St. Paul's Church in Mardan was attacked by hundreds of Muslims armed with clubs and sticks. After looting and desecrating the church, they set it on fire (see picture here). Next, Muslims raided a nearby church-run school; they looted and torched it, as well, and burned down a library containing more than 3,000 Christian books. Although the library also contained thousands of books on Islam—making the Muslim mobs' actions blasphemous under Pakistan's law—"the attack continued for more than three hours, with minimal efforts by the authorities to stop it." Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkish Government Allows Kurdish Language Classes

October 30th 2012

Kurdish Newspaper

Years of Turkish state policies of assimilation have put the Kurdish language under threat. But now the government is allowing Kurdish classes as part of the government's policy to ease restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language.

Halil Cecem is giving an elementary lesson in Kurdish to university medical students at Diyarbakir's Dicle University. Until the late 1980s, the Kurdish language did not officially exist and speaking it was a serious offense. But Kurdish classes are part of the government's policy to ease restrictions on its use. Cecem welcomes the move. He says it is a beautiful feeling because the people had so many expectations, and the government responded. He says unfortunately it has taken many years - 50 to 60 - and it is only just being implemented. Read more ..

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