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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 ..


Africa on Edge

Lesbian, Gay Rights in Africa Hit Roadblocks

September 22nd 2012

Holding Hands

The arrest in Uganda of British theatre producer David Cecil, who staged a play about a gay man despite a ban by the country's media authorities, has raised questions about the influence of some Western Christian groups in Africa. Analysts say this influence has had a part to play in a number of African governments cracking down on gay rights.

Released on bail Monday, after being arrested two weeks ago over a play about a gay businessman who was killed by his staff, David Cecil’s case highlights the recent homophobic activity across Africa. “On the one hand there is a noticeable increase of homophobia on the continent but that's also a reflection of the growing strength of the LGBT movement,” said Graeme Reid, the Director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. Read more ..


Cambodia on Edge

Acid Attacks Continue in Cambodia Despite Harsher Punishments

September 21st 2012

Acid Victim

Here, the use of corrosive acid as a weapon to attack and maim is a major problem. The government passed tough new laws targeting acid violence last year, but many survivors are still waiting for justice. For Som Bunnarith, memories of the day acid violence changed his life forever are as vivid in his mind as the scars on his skin. “When it splashed on me, it felt hot. It even burned through the wood on the floor. I realized it was acid,” said Bunnarith. The attacker was his wife, he said, upset with his late nights out. When he came home one morning, she threw the burning liquid on his face.

“My son told me, jump into the river, daddy. I jumped into the river. I was blinking in the water. Then I couldn’t see anything,” said Bunnarith. That was more than 15 years ago. Today, Bunnarith is a peer counselor at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, a refuge where people recovering from acid attacks receive care and rehabilitation. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Prisons' Mother-and-Infant Program

September 20th 2012

Kid behind bars

Female prison inmates in Pakistan who have small children are allowed to have their children with them behind  bars - sometimes for years. Experts say this practice can protect the children, but it can also scar them. Mohib, aged five, has spent half his life in jail. His mother, a convicted murderer, brought her sons into prison with her two-and-a-half years ago.

Sehar Bibi says her boys would rather be free, but there was no one else to care for them. “It’s not good only because it’s a prison," she says. "Children want to roam around, they want to go to parks, they want to study outside.” Often, imprisoned mothers do not trust the child-protection programs offered by the state. Read more ..


Georgia on Edge

Georgian Prisons Minister Steps Down In Wake Of Abuse Videos

September 19th 2012

Georgia's former Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze

Georgian Minister of Corrections, Probation, and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze has resigned, one day after television channels controlled by political interests opposed to President Mikheil Saakashvili aired videos purportedly showing the abuse of prisoners at a jail in Tbilisi.

At a demonstration against prison abuse in the capital on September 18, Shorena Shaverdashvili, editor in chief of Liberali magazine, noted that such abuse is endemic in the Georgian prison system.

"This is not the first incident of torture in prisons," she said. "Year after year, there are documented cases in the ombudsmen's report about tortured prisoners. In last year's report alone, there are 140 different identified cases of torture or mishandling prisoners. So this is really a continuation of a tendency and a really horrendous continuation of that tendency." Shaverdashivili called on the ministers of interior and justice to resign. Read more ..


Inside Afghanistan

Afghan School Prepares Blind For A Brighter Future

September 18th 2012

Blind School

Scores of children descend from a creaky, old bus and pour through the doors of the Kabul Blind School, the only school exclusively for blind children in Afghanistan. Afghans suffering from blindness or other disabilities often face rejection in society, as evidenced by the blind who are forced to beg on the streets of the capital to make a living. But here young students are given a chance to learn job skills to prepare themselves for success in the uncertain future that awaits many upon graduation.

Some 120 children are currently enrolled in the modest school, beginning as early as first grade. There they spend a half-day learning basic lessons in math, science, literature, and other subjects using tactile methods. The other half of the day is dedicated to vocational training aimed at preparing blind students for future employment. The students choose their own path by taking art lessons, training on blind-friendly computer applications, or learning crafts such as knitting and broom-making. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Life Returns to Somali Coastal Town after Al-Shabab Exit

September 17th 2012

Al-Shabbab in Somalia

 
 
Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Oldest Roman Fortification in Germany Found

September 17th 2012

Romans and Picts

In the vicinity of Hermeskeil, a small town some 30 kilometers southeast of the city of Trier in the Hunsrueck region in the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, archaeologists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have confirmed the location of the oldest Roman military fortification known in Germany to date. These findings shed new light on the Roman conquest of Gaul. The camp was presumably built during Julius Caesars’ Gallic War in the late 50s B.C.

Nearby lies a late Celtic settlement with monumental fortifications known as the “Hunnenring” or "Circle of the Huns," which functioned as one of the major centers of the local Celtic tribe called Treveri. Their territory is situated in the mountainous regions between the Rhine and Maas rivers. "The remnants of this military camp are the first pieces of archaeological evidence of this important episode of world history," comments Dr. Sabine Hornung of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistory at JGU. "It is quite possible that Treveran resistance to the Roman conquerors was crushed in a campaign that was launched from this military fortress." Read more ..


The Edge of Sport

Sports Create Positive Learning Environment for Kids

September 14th 2012

Kids sports

If high school administrators want to create a positive environment, they should encourage students to participate in sports.

When high schools have strong interscholastic sports participation rates, they report lower levels of major crime and fewer suspensions, according to a new University of Michigan study.

The research includes violent behavior and attempted rape among major crimes, and suspensions involving five or more days out of school.

"Sport participation opportunities within a school might operate to slow down or stop more major forms of delinquency within a school environment from occurring," said Philip Veliz, a postdoctoral fellow at the U-M Substance Abuse Research Center and the study's lead author. He co-wrote the research with Sohaila Shakib, an associate professor of sociology at California State University-Dominguez Hills. The suspension rates also were reduced in schools with more sports participation opportunities, but this could be related to violent crimes being more likely to result in a long-term suspension, Veliz said. Read more ..


Destination Arizona

Southwest Focuses on Innovation in Food, Agriculture and Land Use

September 12th 2012

Chiles

In the waning days of summer, southern Arizona will become the hot spot for food. Convened by the Southwest Marketing Network, the upcoming Border Food Summit is meant to attract people from across the region for three days of farm tours, presentations, workshops, discussions and, of course, traditional foods sampling.

Scheduled for September 16-18 in Rio Rico, Arizona, a community located south of Tucson, the summit will address soil and land conservation, sustainable farming in an arid environment, community food systems, alternative food financing models, food justice and more. Gary Paul Nabhan, endowed chair for sustainable agriculture at the University of Arizona in Tucscon, set the tone for the meet in an article for the Southwest Marketing Network newsletter: “This is a region where tremendous innovations are occurring at the grassroots level-from La Semilla Food Center’s work between Las Cruces and El Paso, and the Why Hunger/Somos La Semilla initiative in border counties of Arizona, to innovations found in Mexico’s border towns, farms and ranch communities. Read more ..


Iraq on the Edge

Raid On Nightclubs Raises Fears Of Islamic State

September 12th 2012

Iraqi Liquor Cafe

Customers playing bingo in a restaurant and intellectuals in a cinema club don't usually expect to be beaten up by Baghdad's security forces. But because alcohol was served in the establishments that is exactly what happened to them.

On September 4, security forces raided 10 venues ranging from alcohol stores to bars to clubs. Behind them, they left smashed bottles, bruised bodies, and new fears Iraq could be heading toward an Islamic state. The raids, some of the most violent in recent years, targeted places the soldiers claimed were selling liquor illegally. But the owners say they have licenses and, in some cases, the establishments were well-known meeting places for Iraqi intellectuals. One is the Cinema Club, affiliated with the official Iraqi Union of Writers. There, security forces burst in at 8 p.m. local time, shouting curses and giving the 300 people inside to the count of 10 to get to the door. Read more ..


The Edge of Aging

Ageism Presents Dilemmas for Policymakers Worldwide

September 11th 2012

Elderly couple

The negative consequences of age discrimination in many countries are more widespread than discrimination due to race or gender, yet differential treatment based on a person’s age is often seen as more acceptable and even desirable, according to the newest edition of the Public Policy & Aging Report (PP&AR). This publication, which features cross-national perspectives, was jointly produced by The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and AGE UK. 

The PP&AR explores how discriminatory behaviors manifest themselves, steps that are being taken to address those behaviors, and the challenges associated with asserting elders’ individual rights while acknowledging vulnerabilities that are inevitably — although variably — associated with advanced chronological age.

Five separate articles illuminate the issues and options that face policymakers as they seek to eliminate negative discriminatory behaviors. Yet, the authors wrestle as well with how to identify and preserve age-biased provisions and practices that bring legitimate and needed benefits to older people. In particular, they ask if age discrimination is ever acceptable and whom might such discrimination advantage. Read more ..


Spain on Edge

Unemployment in Spain Spurs Widespread Pessimism

September 11th 2012

Spanish unemployed

The Spanish government says the number of Spaniards who are out of work rose in August for the first time in five months. The government says the pace of growth for unemployment appears to have slowed, but that is little comfort to the more than 4.6 million people without jobs.

At the provincial employment and state benefits office in downtown Seville, workers who have lost their jobs stream in to get help. Young, middle-aged, blue collar workers, well-dressed professionals - there is no typical profile, though unemployment is highest for those under 25-years old - at about 50 percent. In the sitting room, 28-year old Juan Rodriguez and his 20-year old girlfriend Sarah Dagnall wait their turn for help. He has a background in computer science and website design. He has worked odd jobs here and there as an electrician, plumber, and elevator installer, but he has not had steady employment in six years. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

World Food Prices Remain Steady But High

September 10th 2012

Corn stalk

Global food prices were unchanged in the August U.N. index, following a sharp rise in the previous month. A summer of drought in the United States and the Russian Federation has reduced anticipated global corn and wheat supplies. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s index of globally-traded food commodities rose six percent in July as a result.

But the worst appears to be over, says FAO economist Concepcion Calpe. “We’re not in a bad situation, or as bad situation as we were last month because the prospects are not worsening further. And that is already good news.” It is also relatively good news that the index remains about 10 percent below its February 2011 peak, Calpe says, but food prices are still double what they were a decade ago. “They’re high; they are not low," Calpe says. "But they are not as high as they were last year.” Read more ..


Iraq on Edge

Baghdad Neighborhood Imposes Strict Dress Code On Women

September 9th 2012

Bagdad Women

There used to be two dress codes for women in Baghdad's predominantly Shi'ite neighborhood of Kadhimiya. On the street, women were free to wear what they wanted in the busy market square -- a market that attracts people from all across the capital.

Only if they decided to enter the shrine complex behind the market, did stricter codes apply. Then they were required to wear hijab -- full Islamic dress including the shoulder-to-toe gown known as the "abaya" along with the hijab, or head scarf, itself. Now, things have changed. Vigilantes patrol the major avenues outside the shrine to demand that any women in the area are in full compliance.

Nawf al-Falahi, a women's activist, says one of her acquaintances living in the neighborhood was recently stopped by the self-appointed morality police. "She and her husband were stopped at a checkpoint at the edge of Kadhimiya. The men around the checkpoint refused to let her pass. They ordered her to go back home and get a shawl to put over her head and shoulders," al-Falahi says. "Now she keeps a shawl in her handbag and wears it to go in and out of her own neighborhood safely." Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Christian on Charges of Islamic Blasphemy Granted Bail in Pakistan

September 7th 2012

rimsha mashi
Rimsha Masih

A Pakistani court has granted bail to a Christian girl accused of blasphemy, in a case that has sparked an international outcry. Judge Muhammad Azam Khan ordered the release of Rimsha Masih, who was arrested in a poor Islamabad suburb on August 16 accused of burning papers containing verses from the Koran.

Khan told a packed courtroom on September 7 that he had accepted Masih's application for bail. He said bail had been set at around $10,500. However, it was unclear whether the girl's poor family would be able to afford bail. Robinson Asghar, an aide to the minister for national harmony, said if bail payment was met, Masih, who is believed to be 14, would be reunited with her family at a location that is being kept secret for security reasons. He told Reuters there were no plans to send the girl abroad Read more ..


America on Edge

The End of the American Dream

September 7th 2012

Flag and ladder

The rhetoric is relentless: America is a place of unparalleled opportunity, where hard work and determination can propel a child out of humble beginnings into the White House, or at least a mansion on a hill.

But the reality is very different, according to a University of Michigan researcher who is studying inequality across generations around the world.

"Especially in the United States, people underestimate the extent to which your destiny is linked to your background. Research shows that it's really a myth that the U.S. is a land of exceptional social mobility," said Fabian Pfeffer, a sociologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research and the organizer of an international conference on inequality across multiple generations being held Sept. 13-14 in Ann Arbor. Pfeffer's own research illustrates this point based on data on two generations of families in the U.S. and a comparison of his findings to similar data from Germany and Sweden. The U.S. data come from the ISR Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a survey of a nationally representative sample that started with 5,000 U.S. families in 1968. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Who Is Chopping Down Russia's Crosses?

September 6th 2012

Russian Cross

Topuchaya's 220 inhabitants never thought their tiny Siberian village would one day make headlines. Yet this week, news that a Russian Orthodox cross had been vandalized in this far-flung village in the mountainous Altai region spread through Russian media like wildfire.

The incident, in which the free-standing wooden cross was toppled and hacked with what appears to have been an ax, is the fifth of its kind to hit Russia in less than two weeks. The Moscow Patriarchate has been quick to link the attacks to what it describes as a campaign unleashed against the church by the opposition.

Vsevolod Chaplin, an influential priest who often acts as the church's spokesman, told RFE/RL that "it's hard to talk about isolated incidents when such acts take place in different regions and follow roughly the same scenario." "It's no coincidence that certain people in Ukraine and in Russia said such acts would be organized. So a campaign is clearly under way," Chaplin said.

Clerics blame Ukraine's feminist group Femen for triggering the acts of vandalism after a topless activist with the group used a chainsaw to topple a cross in Kyiv in mid-August. The stunt was intended to show solidarity with three members of the all-female Russian punk group Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison last month over an anti-Kremlin performance in Moscow's largest cathedral. Femen, famous for its provocative topless protests, has pledged to target more crosses in neighboring Russia. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

South Sudan's Lost Generations Determined to Catch up on Education

September 6th 2012

Girls School in Sudan

In newly-independent South Sudan, students whose education was lost to five decades of civil war are coming back to their ABCs in the hope of building a better future for their new country.  World Literacy Day is September 8.

At Lomuku Primary School in Yei, South Sudan, students perched on thin planks of wood for benches recite English words from a blackboard.

The gloomy, dirt-floor hut is packed, not with children, but with adults who are determined to catch up with the education that civil war took away. The director of fire brigades in Yei, Joseph Laku Henry, says he was in primary school when war broke out.  He joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army when he was 15 years old, a year after the second civil war began in 1983.  A 2005 peace declaration ended the fighting and paved the way for South Sudan’s independence last year. Read more ..


Colombia on Edge

Colombian Death Squads Continue to Kill with Impunity

September 5th 2012

Armed Police

On June 12, the Nasa tribe, an indigenous community from the southwestern highlands of Colombia, released a video of members of the Colombian army standing around the naked corpse of 30-year-old Luis Alberto Cunda. The Army insisted that Cunda belonged to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and had engaged in a firefight before they shot him dead. The Nasa tribe, however, disputed the army’s version of events, maintaining that Cunda was falsely accused of being a FARC guerilla, was forced from his home, beaten and finally murdered. According to human rights leader Francisco Isaias Cifuentes, as well as the Nasa community, Cunda’s body bore signs of physical abuse. Both the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) reported this was by no means an isolated incident but rather just one of thousands of extrajudicial killings carried out by the Colombian military since the early 2000s. Extrajudicial killings have become an increasingly troubling subject in Colombia since the first charges were filed against Colombian military officers in 2008. Read more ..


The Edge of Aging

Israel Children's Museum Busts Sterotypes on Aging

September 5th 2012

Couple

Adding to its world-renowned interactive exhibitions on blindness and deafness, the unique museum tackles the topic of growing old.

Visitors to the exhibition often choose pictures of happy elderly couples when they want to depict how they will look in 30 years. You have to sit for a “passport photo” before entering Dialogue with Time, the new multimedia educational exhibition on aging at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon. Later, the picture will be projected onto a large screen, and doctored to show how you might look in 30 years.

That’s just one of the surprises awaiting visitors to the museum, whose designers spent six years imagining ways to educate and entertain while encouraging discussion facilitated by guides aged 70 and over. Opened in August, Dialogue with Time has already gotten teens thinking and talking about the golden years. Gil Omer, director general of the museum, says that one group of youngsters ran after their guide at the end of the 90-minute tour, persuading him to talk for another 45 minutes. “When is the last time you ever saw teenagers pursuing an older person when it wasn’t in a violent context?” he asks with a smile. Read more ..


Ethopia on Edge

Ethiopia Looks to a Future Without Meles Zenawi

September 5th 2012

Click to select Image
Meles Zenawi

Ethiopia is starting to look to the future, following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who was buried after a state funeral on Sunday.
 
Life is returning to normal in Ethiopia's capital after more than two weeks of mourning for longtime ruler, Meles Zenawi.
 
Abi Hailemichael works in a barbershop in the Bole neighborhood of Addis Ababa.  Like many Ethiopians, he says Meles' work for the country must not be forgotten. “While we reflect on the diligent and tireless work he did for the nation, we have a responsibility to carry out his good plans," he said. Meles sparked rapid economic development during more than 20 years in power. Many wonder what will become of the country now that he's gone.
 
Meles' deputy Hailemariam Desalegn is due to replace the prime minister, but has yet to take the oath of office. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Dina Mufti says Hailemariam is officially in control. “The council has already decided that the deputy prime minister will take charge immediately because this is provided in the constitution.  In the absence of the prime minister, he is the acting prime minister.  He is now in charge of all national affairs," he said. Read more ..

The New Egypt

Veiled Female News Anchor May Signal Waning of Secular Egypt

September 4th 2012

Fatma Nabil Veiled Egyptian News Reader
Fatma Nabil

A long-standing ban against veiled women newscasters on Egyptian state TV was lifted over the weekend, following a decision by the new Islamist-dominated government's top media official. It was a decision that drew applause from women who wear the veil, and condemnation from others who adhere to a more secular society. Fatma Nabil, the new veiled TV anchor, was shown delivering the afternoon newscast with a male anchor on Egypt's Channel One station.

Egyptian Information Minister Salah Abdel Maksoud, who belongs to the politically influential Muslim Brotherhood, told the press Saturday that more veiled women announcers were being recruited by state TV, after secular-leaning regimes banned them for decades. A majority of Egyptian women wear some form of a veil during daily life. That trend has become much more marked since the late 1970s, according to analyst Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris. He says the Islamic trend in society began in the 1970s under former President Anwar Sadat and is rising now that the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power. He says that Egypt is giving more place to Islam, unlike the more liberal Egypt of the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

'Magic Carpet' Can Save Elders from Falls

September 3rd 2012

Old guy muscles

Plastic optical fibres, laid on the underlay of a carpet, can bend when anyone treads on it and map, in real-time, their walking patterns. Tiny electronics at the edges act as sensors and relay signals to a computer. These signals can then be analysed to show the image of the footprint and identify gradual changes in walking behaviour or a sudden incident such as a fall or trip. They can also show a steady deterioration or change in walking habits, possibly predicting a dramatic episode such as a fall.

As many as 30%-40% of community dwelling older people fall each year. This is the most serious and frequent accident in the home and accounts for 50% of hospital admissions in the over 65 age group.

Presenting their research to the Photon 12 conference, the scientists believe the technology could be used to fit smart carpets in care homes or hospital wards, as well as being fitted in people's homes if necessary. Physiotherapists could also use the carpet to map changes and improvements in a person's gait. The imaging technology is so versatile it could even be developed to detect the presence of chemical spillages or fire as an early-warning system. The interdisciplinary team, from three academic Schools and the Photon Science Institute at The University of Manchester, used a novel tomographic technique similar to hospital scanners. It maps 2D images by using light propagating under the surface of the smart carpet. Read more ..


Gaza and Israel

‘Hate’ Hebrew Class to be Taught to Gaza Children

September 3rd 2012

School Children

As the school year begins across the world, a new course will be taught in some of Gaza’s schools, called Know Your Enemy. The class is a Hebrew course which Hamas officials decided to include back in March as part of the Gaza education curriculum this year.

According to a New York Times article in May, the director general of Hamas’ Ministry of Education, Mahmoud Matar, stated that “through the Hebrew language we can understand the structure of Israeli society, the way they think.”

It will be the first time the Hebrew language will be taught in Gaza schools in almost 20 years. If successful, Hamas will have all 180 schools in Gaza teach the Hebrew language in the future. “We look at Israel as an enemy. We teach our students the language of the enemy,” said Matar in the Times article. According to Dr. Eldad Pardo, a senior researcher at IMPACT-SE, (Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education) and a teacher at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Matar’s hateful language against Israel is characteristic of the themes taught in Palestinian Authority school textbooks. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Karachi Crippled by Violence

September 3rd 2012

Pakistani military brass

Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi is the country’s economic engine and home to some 20 million people. It is also the country’s most violent city, where gangs aligned with local political parties settle scores with shoot-outs. The violence is taking a toll on the country's commercial hub. Political killings, honor killings, kidnappings and gang warfare are not uncommon in this city.

Violence taking a toll
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 1,450 people including children were killed in Karachi in the first six months of this year. That’s an average of about 6 people a day. Karachi produces more than 50 percent of Pakistan’s revenue. Businessmen like Naeem Ahmed, a member of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, say the daily violence is impacting the country’s economy. “If Karachi is not working well, it does not just mean that Karachi is not working, it means Pakistan is not working,” he explained. Police say they don’t have the manpower to secure such a large city, where there is high unemployment and poverty-driven crime.
Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

UN Launches Climate Change Resilience Project In Western Balkans, Turkey

September 2nd 2012

Flash Flood n Turkey

A two-year project to improve the disaster response capacities of Turkey and the Western Balkans has just been launched, reports the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). Co-sponsored by UNISDR and the World Meteorological Organization, the project will receive 2.2 million Euros ($2.8 million) from the European Commission.

Preparing for the worst

Turkey and its Balkan neighbors are already hit often by natural disasters — earthquakesfloods, flash frosts and heat waves, droughts, and forest fires. Increased climate variability, as well as new land-use and settlement patterns, “may compound such problems,” according to the UNISDR press release about the project. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Can Public Speakers Provoke Aggressive Public Response

September 2nd 2012

Clenched Fists

Leaders often use rousing speeches to evoke powerful emotions, and those emotions may predict when a group will commit an act of violence or terrorism, according to new research published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression. Analysis of speeches delivered by government, activist and terrorist leaders found that leaders' expressions of anger, contempt and disgust spiked immediately before their group committed an act of violence. "When leaders express a combination of anger, contempt and disgust in their speeches, it seems to be instrumental in inciting a group to act violently," said David Matsumoto, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University.

As part of a five-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Minerva Initiative, Matsumoto and colleagues studied the transcripts of speeches delivered by the leaders of ideologically motivated groups over the past 100 years. The analysis included such speeches as Osama bin Laden's remarks leading up to the bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The researchers analyzed the pattern of emotions conveyed when leaders spoke about their rival group and examined speeches given at three points in time before a specific act of aggression. They compared the results with the content of speeches delivered by leaders whose groups engaged in nonviolent acts of resistance such as rallies and protests. Among leaders of groups that committed aggressive acts, there was a significant increase in expressions of anger, contempt and disgust from 3 to 6 months prior to the group committing an act of violence. For nonviolent groups, expressions of anger, contempt and disgust decreased from 3 to 6 months prior to the group staging an act of peaceful resistance. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Do Affluent People Reach Out To Others In Times Of Chaos?

September 1st 2012

Homeless in Cheap Motels

Crises are said to bring people closer together. But a new study suggests that while the have-nots reach out to one another in times of trouble, the wealthy are more apt to find comfort in material possessions. While chaos drives some to seek comfort in friends and family, others gravitate toward money and material possessions, new study finds

“In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarization, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” said Paul Piff, a post-doctoral scholar in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. These new findings add to a growing body of scholarship at UC Berkeley on socio-economic class — defined by both household income and education –- and social behavior. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Super-Small Wireless Cardiac Devices Needs no Batteries

September 1st 2012

walking-cane

A team of engineers at Stanford has demonstrated the feasibility of a super-small, implantable cardiac device that gets its power not from batteries, but from radio waves transmitted from outside the body. The implanted device is contained in a cube just eight-tenths of a millimeter in radius. It could fit on the head of pin. Tthe researchers have demonstrated wireless power transfer to a millimeter-sized device implanted five centimeters inside the chest on the surface of the heart—a depth once thought out of reach for wireless power transmission. The engineers say the research is a major step toward a day when all implants are driven wirelessly. Beyond the heart, they believe such devices might include swallowable endoscopes—so-called "pillcams" that travel the digestive tract—permanent pacemakers and precision brain stimulators; virtually any medical applications where device size and power matter.

A revolution in the body

Implantable medical devices in the human body have revolutionized medicine. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of pacemakers, cochlear implants and drug pumps are today helping people live relatively normal lives, but these devices are not without engineering challenges.

First off, they require power, which means batteries, and batteries are bulky. In a device like a pacemaker, the battery alone accounts for as much as half the volume of the device it drives. Second, batteries have finite lives. New surgery is needed when they wane. "Wireless power solves both challenges," said Poon. Read more ..



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