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Healthcare on Edge

Adolescent Smoking Prevention Progams Still Critical

August 31st 2012

cigarette burning

While many might see the case for programs to prevent adolescent cigarette smoking as already made, a pair of Wayne State University researchers believes that due to increasingly challenging economic times, policymakers need to be reminded to continue allocating funding for such programs. Xinguang Chen and Feng Lin have found a way to provide policymakers with some hard evidence.

Most adult smokers in the United States report trying their first cigarette before age 18, according to government statistics, with more than 80 percent of established smokers starting before high school graduation. Earlier initiation has been shown to be associated with greater smoking frequency and number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Only about 5 percent of established smokers ever quit completely, Chen said, making prevention in adolescence a critical and strategic priority for tobacco control. "The number of smokers year to year at any given time is an accumulation of past experience," he said. "Our methodology has the power to glean that information from one cross-sectional survey, overcoming the limit to track people over time."

School-, community- and family-based prevention programs have been effective, he said, but evaluating their success at the national level has been a challenge because of the high cost associated with longitudinal data collection and blank groups for comparison. Read more ..


Daghestan on Edge

Assassination Of Daghestan's Sufi Spiritual Leader Raises Specter Of New Violence

August 31st 2012

Said Efendi Chirkeisky,

As Daghestan's Sufis buried their spiritual leader on August 28, the sea of almost entirely male faces seemed to stretch to the horizon around his grave in the small town of Chirkeisk.

Observers put the number of mourners at more than 100,000 -- an almost unheard of crowd for a public figure in this small North Caucasus republic.

But Said Efendi Chirkeisky, born 74 years ago as Said Atsayev, was no ordinary mortal to his followers. He was the spiritual leader of Daghestan's official brand of Islam, Sufism, and regarded by his admirers as inspired by God. Now, his death at the hands of a suicide bomber threatens to add new fuel to the cycle of insurgent violence and security crackdowns that is gripping this corner of the Russian Federation. The suicide bomber who killed Chirkeisky and at least five of his followers on August 28 has been identified as Aminat Saprykina. Russian media quoted security officials as saying she was the wife of a fundamentalist Islamic militant who has long been on the police wanted list. Read more ..


Destination Tibet

Tibet Theme Park

August 30th 2012

Potala Lhasa Tibet

Just outside Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, the Chinese government is building a $4.7 billion theme park that critics describe as a fairy tale universe that trivializes Tibetan culture and glosses over the nation’s troubles. The construction gets into high gear as Tibetans continue to demonstrate and set themselves on fire to protests Chinese policies in the nation Beijing invaded 63 years ago. The 50th such self-immolation took place this week.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington refuses to comment on the theme park project, or the self-immolations. But Beijing’s official news agency, Xinhua, quoted the deputy mayor of Lhasa, Ma Xingming, as saying the project “is designed to improve Tibet’s tourism credentials and be a landmark of the cultural industry.”

Xinhua said the park, scheduled for completion in three to five years, will be centered on the theme of a Chinese princess who marries a Tibetan king. It said the park will include displays of Tibetan handicrafts, medicine and folklore. Read more ..


The Human Edge

Biggest Paralympic Games Opens in London

August 29th 2012

Paralympic

The Paralympic Games are opening in London, where the afterglow from the Olympic Games will shine on disabled athletes from around the world. The Paralympic flame was lit amid much fanfare Tuesday at the place where concept of sports for disabled people originated, the town of Stoke-Mandeville, about 75 kilometers from this year's Olympic Park. From humble beginnings in a hospital courtyard in the 1940s, the Paralympics has grown to involve nearly 4,300 athletes from 166 countries.

The athletes will compete in some of the same events as Olympians, including running, swimming and cycling. And the Paralympians have some of their own events, like wheelchair basketball, and football for the visually impaired, in which competitors use a ball fitted with a bell and wear blindfolds to ensure none of them can see at all during the game. British Paralympic team official Penny Briscoe is in charge of making sure her athletes perform at the highest level. But she says they will achieve something more. Read more ..


Inside China

Chinese Credit Card Usage Growing Quickly

August 29th 2012

Chinese Credit Card

In the past two decades, the Chinese economy has undergone many drastic reforms in an effort to compete more effectively on the international market. These reforms included allowing foreign banks to offer credit cards to Chinese citizens. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found about 30 percent of Chinese urban households now own at least one credit card and the growth rate of credit card adoption has been an average of 40 percent per year between 2004 and 2009.

Rui Yao, an assistant professor of personal financial planning in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at MU, says that this large growth in such a small amount of time has positive and negative implications for the Chinese economy. Read more ..


The Edge of Nature

The Beat Goes On in the Brain

August 29th 2012

Baby Boomer

Like a melody that keeps playing in your head even after the music stops, researchers at the Beckman Institute have shown that the beat goes on when it comes to the human visual system.

In an experiment designed to test their theory about a brain mechanism involved in visual processing, the researchers used periodic visual stimuli and electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings and found, one, that they could precisely time the brain’s natural oscillations to future repetitions of the event, and, two, that the effect occurred even after the prompting stimuli was discontinued. These rhythmic oscillations lead to a heightened visual awareness of the next event, meaning controlling them could lead to better visual processing when it matters most, such as in environments like air traffic control towers. The research was reported by Beckman faculty members Monica Fabiani, Gabriele Gratton, Diane Beck, Alejandro Lleras, first author and Beckman Fellow Kyle Mathewson, and undergraduate psychology student Christopher Prudhomme.

The researchers wrote that this entrainment of brain oscillators can be used to lock the timing of repetitive brain activity and, therefore, enhance, “processing of subsequently predictable stimuli.” Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Thousands of Syrian Refugees Strain Neighboring Countries

August 28th 2012

Syrian Refugees

The United Nations refugee agency says the number of Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries is swelling, signaling what could be an impending mass movement and a regional crisis. In Jordan, 10,200 refugees arrived during the past week, twice as many as the week before.  Jordan was already providing shelter to an estimated 150,000 Syrians.

Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says the new arrivals at the Za'atri camp in northern Jordan are mainly from Syria's southern flashpoint area of Daraa.  She says refugees reported "being bombed as they were trying to cross" the border. "We do believe that this could be the start of a much larger influx into Jordan," she said. "People coming across, disturbingly, especially last Friday, are reported being bombed as they were trying to cross." Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

Kenyans Protest Killing of Radical Muslim Cleric

August 28th 2012

Click to select Image

Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a Kenyan radical Islamic cleric, was killed Monday morning in a drive-by shooting in Mombasa. His death sparked protests and riots, spurring many businesses to close and pedestrians to stay away.  At least one person died as a result of the violence, and several churches have been vandalized.  As of Tuesday, pockets of Mombasa are still experiencing violence as riots continue.

Rogo's wife suffered a leg wound in the attack, while his five-year old daughter, his father, and another relative, who were also in the car, were uninjured. Riots quickly ensued, by hundreds of rampaging Muslim youths in the streets, as Rogo’s body was taken for burial. Devia de Souza, who works in Majengo, one of the areas hit hardest by the rioting,  has been barricaded inside her office since about 9:30 am (local time) Tuesday. She kept the shades down, to protect the 18 employees from attracting attention from the protesters outside.

“I can’t see anything right now but earlier, there were lots of people running around and shouting, that they should kill all the kafirs, which is, I guess, non-Muslims," she said.  "They were getting people off the streets, and beating them up and taking their mobiles and money and whatever they had on them.” One of these victims, Jackson Katana, a Mombasa driver and courier, suffered skin burns. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Discovery of Smugglers' Tunnel Brings Ukraine's Transparency into Question

August 27th 2012

ukraine smuggle tunnel

Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into a tunnel network running from its border into neighboring Slovakia, a member of the European Union. There has been mounting international concern that organized crime groups from the former Soviet Union smuggle people, weapons, drugs, cigarettes and other goods into the European Union.

Ukraine's secret service, SBU, says it has discovered a suspected smuggler tunnel running from the western Ukrainian border village of Mali Selmenci into Slovakia.

In a statement, the SBU says the tunnel's entrance was beneath a retail store, ironically called 'Europa.' The store sold clothing and household merchandise. But the SBU believes the real purpose was to hide a dangerous, four-meter-deep, underground tunnel, to smuggle goods or people into the European Union. Ukraine, which is not an EU member, has come under pressure to crackdown on organized crime. Slovaks found an even more advanced 700-meter tunnel last month, explained Slovakia's Interior Minister Robert Kalinak. Read more ..


South Africa on Edge

S. Africa Shooting Exposes Miners' Living Conditions

August 27th 2012

South African Miner Living Conditions

The shock, the mourning, and now the questions 10 days after the shoot-out in a South African platinum mine in which police killed 34 striking miners.  The tragedy laid bare the harsh living conditions of the workers and the growing anger in the mines. The sound of machines at the mine can be heard from the miners' shacks, in the what is called the platinum belt.  It is here, 100 kilometers west of South Africa's capital city Pretoria, that 80 percent of the world's platinum is dug out. Walking back home after eight hours of work, Nicolas is tired.  Since last year, the 26-year-old miner spends his days in the dark, hundreds of meters underground. 

He says accidents can happen very fast. "Down there, there is a lot of injuries," he said. "Even the hanging walls, sometimes, the rocks falling, something like that." Ten-thousand people live in Ikemeneng township.  Miners, like Nicolas, earn around $500 a month working for nearby mining companies, such as AngloAmerican. 

Read more ..

India on Edge

The Limits of Freedom in the Social Media Network--Tested in India

August 26th 2012

Computer User India

Where do you draw the line on free speech when extremists use social media to spread rumors that send thousands of people fleeing their homes in panic? And what about when political activists impersonate the prime minister on social media to put out offensive material to ridicule him?

Those are the questions India has faced in recent weeks as the world's largest democracy finds itself wrestling with what to do with Twitter -- the world's loudest public megaphone. The most urgent issue since mid-July is how to stop extremists in two rival communities stoking a full-scale sectarian conflict. The extremists have been using Twitter to spread rumors that each side is attacking the other across India and supporting the charges with falsified pictures of purported victims.

The two communities are both native to the northeastern state of Assam but have diasporas in cities across the country after a bloody clash in 1993. In that clash, the local Bodo tribe evicted local Muslim Indians from disputed land before thousands of members of both groups sought refuge or migrated to other parts of India, where they live uneasily together. Read more ..


Society on Edge

Pre-School Witnesses of Domestic Violence are at Risk

August 26th 2012

Little girl upset

Preschool children exposed to domestic violence and additional traumatic events are at increased risk for developing traumatic stress disorder, a new University of Michigan study shows.

Researchers sampled 120 children between ages 4-6 who were exposed to domestic violence in the past two years. About 38 percent of the kids were faced with additional traumatic events, such as sexual assaults by family members, physical assaults or life-threatening illnesses. Those children had higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder than the other children who were exposed to domestic violence.

The research involved children who lived in low-income households (less than $7,500 annually), where domestic violence incidents happen more often than in families with other economic backgrounds. Through flyers and brochures, women in a Midwest state were recruited and they chose where interviews would be conducted, such as a shelter or a home, if the woman was not living with an abusive partner. Respondents answered questions about the frequency of being abused within the last year and what their child's behavior was after being exposed to domestic violence and any other potentially traumatic events.

Preschool children exposed to domestic violence and additional traumatic events are at increased risk for developing traumatic stress disorder, a new University of Michigan study shows. Researchers sampled 120 children between ages 4-6 who were exposed to domestic violence in the past two years. About 38 percent of the kids were faced with additional traumatic events, such as sexual assaults by family members, physical assaults or life-threatening illnesses. Read more ..


India on Edge

India Defends Itself Against Charges of Internet Censorship

August 25th 2012

Computer User India

In India, the government is defending itself against charges of Internet censorship after asking companies such as Facebook and Twitter to block hundreds of websites. India's efforts to regulate online content and pressure social media companies have attracted criticism.
 
Following threats to take action against Twitter, Indian officials say the micro-blogging site has agreed to talk to the government. But the government’s face-off with Twitter is far from over.

The government wants Twitter to remove 28 pages containing what it calls “objectionable content,” but officials say Twitter has cited technical difficulties in complying with the request. The government asked social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to block hundreds of websites and pages recently after doctored online images fueled rumors of revenge attacks by Muslims on migrants from the north east, prompting them to flee cities. Communication and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal refutes charges that the government is trying to censor social media. But he says its misuse has to be prevented.
Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Climate Change was a Factor in the Collapse of the Maya Civilization

August 24th 2012

Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal, Guatemala.

A new analysis of complex interactions between humans and the environment preceding the 9th century collapse and abandonment of the Central Maya Lowlands in the Yucatán Peninsula points to a series of events — some natural, like climate change; some human-made, including large-scale landscape alterations and shifts in trade routes — that have lessons for contemporary decision-makers and sustainability scientists.

In their revised model of the collapse of the ancient Maya, social scientists B.L. "Billie" Turner and Jeremy "Jerry" A. Sabloff provide an up-to-date, human-environment systems theory in which they put together the degree of environmental and economic stress in the area that served as a trigger or tipping point for the Central Maya Lowlands. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Aleppo No Longer A Safe Haven For Syrian-Born Armenians

August 24th 2012

Sisi Street Armenian Quarter Aleppo

Gevorg Payasian's father, Asatur, was just 15 years old when he was forced to flee his home in the ancient city of Ayntap in what is now southeastern Turkey. His entire family had been killed by Ottoman troops in what has come to be known as the Armenian genocide, the mass slaughter and deportation of Anatolia's ethnic Armenians between 1915 and 1922.

Alone, he set out on foot, walking about 130 kilometers before reaching a haven in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Unbeknownst to him, his 9-year-old sister, Nektar, had somehow survived the massacre and was making the same journey. Asatur went on to reunite with his sister in Aleppo. He went to school, started a family, and built a successful horse-breeding business from scratch. But his son Gevorg, now a 69-year-old businessman specializing in radio equipment, believes even as he praised Syria's "merciful embrace" of his people, his father never recovered from the trauma of seeing his home and family destroyed:

"My father always remembered his ancestral home in Ayntap," he says. "He would tell me about how he fled from the Turks and reached Syria. The Turks had killed his parents and relatives. My father and his sister were the only survivors in their family." Nearly a century later, it is the son who is fleeing -- leaving the city that offered his father safe harbor as the bloody 17-month battle between government loyalists and opposition rebels settles over Aleppo. Read more ..


Inside Turkey

Language Barrier Creates Legal Hurdles for Brits in Turkey

August 23rd 2012

Turkish Land Sale

Many Brits who move to Turkey are failing to grasp local and international laws, leaving them financially at risk when making legal transactions, such as buying property, a study from Queen Mary, University of London has found. Being unable to speak or read Turkish has made navigating such issues a “legal minefield” for many Brits who emigrate in a quest for the affordable “good life” on the Aegean coast.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the study focuses on British citizens settling in Mugla, a popular tourist spot in Turkey, and their social and legal experiences as well as how Turkey is adapting its legal system to accommodate such “lifestyle” immigrants. Dr Prakash Shah and Dr Derya Bayir of Queen Mary’s School of Law, authors of the paper, entitled The Legal Adaptation of British Settlers in Turkey, specifically asked research questions on: The immigration status of British settlers in Turkey;
their legal standing in the Turkish legal system; the extent to which there is a choice of law – Turkish or British; the mechanisms that exist for the recognition of legal arrangements in Britain
British settlers’ views of the Turkish legal system in comparison to the British one; and the extent to which EU law is regarded as important Read more ..


America on Edge

Domestic Terrorism Emerges as a Persistent Threat in the United States

August 23rd 2012

Sikh Milwaukee Shooting

A string of incidents over the past month has served as a reminder that despite the intense, decadelong focus on the jihadist threat, domestic terrorism is still an issue in the United States. On Aug. 5, Wade Page opened fire on the congregation of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding three others. Though Page killed himself and did not leave any evidence explicitly listing his motives for the attack, his long association with the white supremacist movement was clearly a factor in his target choice.

On Aug. 15, Floyd Corkins shot and wounded a security guard in the lobby of the Family Research Council's office in Washington after the guard blocked him from entering the office. Corkins reportedly was carrying a bag containing a box of ammunition and a number of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. He apparently targeted the Family Research Council because of its public support for Chick-fil-A in the wake of the controversy over statements made by the fast food chain's founder regarding gay marriage. According to media reports, Corkins said, "I don't like your politics," before opening fire. Read more ..


Yeman on Edge

In Yemen, Women Take One Step Forward, Two Back

August 22nd 2012

Women Future

A halting and sometimes violent transfer of governing power is under way in Yemen and if the transition goes smoothly, one of the biggest beneficiaries could be the nation’s women.

When protests rocked the capital Sana’a last year, part of uprisings across the Arab world, tens of thousands of women were prominent among the demonstrators, many taking a leading role.

Yemen’s president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, responded by appealing to religious sensitivities, accusing the women of “un-Islamic” behavior. Saleh is out of office now, forced to turn over power to Vice President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi this past February. But Yemen’s women are still demonstrating, still pressing for their rights and arguing that their cause is fully compatible with Islam. Read more ..


America on Edge

Obesity is Biggest Child Health Problem in the United States

August 22nd 2012

Childhood Obesity

Adults across the U.S. rate not getting enough exercise as the top health concern for children in 2012, according to a new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

In the poll’s annual top 10 list, a nationwide sample of adults were asked to identify the top 10 biggest health concerns for kids in their communities.

For the first time, not enough exercise was rated by most adults at the top of the list (39 percent). That was followed closely by childhood obesity (38 percent) and smoking and tobacco use (34 percent).

“Childhood obesity remains a top concern, and adults know it is certainly linked to lack of exercise,” says Matthew M. Davis M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. “The strong perception that lack of exercise is a threat to children’s health may reflect effective recent public health messages from programs such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign. Read more ..


Tanzania on Edge

Emirati Royalty Threaten 48,000 Maasai in Lucrative Hunting Deal

August 21st 2012

Maasai women

A new campaign attempts to stop a hunting deal in Tanzania that would force 48,000 members of Africa’s Maasai tribe off their land so Middle Eastern royalty can hunt lions and leopards in the Serengeti

The Middle East’s love affair with wild animals has hit the headlines again. No, there haven’t been sightings of cheetahs on the streets of Dubai or dead wolves and owls on parade, rather Middle Eastern royals are being accused of aiding a massive sell-off of the Serengeti. And in a new twist to the land-grab meme, this land sell-off is not to secure access to precious food supplies but, rather, to indulge in the hunting whims of the Middle East’s elite. The campaigning group Avaaz has launched a online petition to ask Tanzania’s President Kikwete to reject the hunting corporation’s big deal and stop the sell-off of the Serengeti. Read more ..


Kazahkstan on Edge

Bizarre Mass Murder Silences Kazakhstan's Defender of Natural Treasures

August 21st 2012

Panayot and Irina Zakharopoulo
Panayot Zakharopoulo and Irina Zakharopoulo

Panayot Yevstafevich Zakharopulo was an imposing mountain of a man, who at the age of 76 could still perform the sign of the cross while holding a massive barbell. But his strength -- as well as his reputation as the fearless protector of one of Kazakhstan's most cherished nature preserves -- was not enough to prevent his murder in the country's latest bizarre mass killing.

Zakharopulo, who had served as chief ranger of the country's Ile-Alatau national park for more than three decades, was found dead on August 13 outside his home on the park grounds. He had been stabbed 26 times. Police eventually discovered a total of 11 bodies, including Zakharopulo's wife, Irina, and several other relatives and co-workers. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

A Brighter Future Emerges for Embattled Mexico

August 21st 2012

Mexican girls on parade

A few years ago, I wrote about Mexico possibly becoming a failed state because of the effect of the cartels on the country. Mexico may have come close to that, but it stabilized itself and took a different course instead -- one of impressive economic growth in the face of instability.

Mexican Economics

Discussion of national strategy normally begins with the question of national security. But a discussion of Mexico's strategy must begin with economics. This is because Mexico's neighbor is the United States, whose military power in North America denies Mexico military options that other nations might have. But proximity to the United States does not deny Mexico economic options. Indeed, while the United States overwhelms Mexico from a national security standpoint, it offers possibilities for economic growth.

Mexico is now the world's 14th-largest economy, just above South Korea and just below Australia. Its gross domestic product was $1.16 trillion in 2011. It grew by 3.8 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2010. Before a major contraction of 6.9 percent in 2009 following the 2008 crisis, Mexico's GDP grew by an average of 3.3 percent in the five years between 2004 and 2008. When looked at in terms of purchasing power parity, a measure of GDP in terms of actual purchasing power, Mexico is the 11th-largest economy in the world, just behind France and Italy. It is also forecast to grow at just below 4 percent again this year, despite slowing global economic trends, thanks in part to rising U.S. consumption. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

Syrians Work to Restore Services Amid War

August 21st 2012

Battle for Aleppo

Residents in northern Syria are trying to carry on with their lives despite a conflict that has killed thousands of people nationwide since March, 2011. Helping them are rebels from the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), who are organizing ad hoc local governments in areas under their control and offering services and supplies. At a makeshift gas station along the roadside in northern Syria, fuel sells for about $2 a liter. It is one of the precious resources the Free Syrian Army is helping to secure. The FSA is organizing Local Coordination Committees to help residents get back on their feet.
 
Samir Haj Omar is a former school teacher and now head of the FSA political council in the town of Azaz. He says they still lack necessities like milk for babies, and medicine, but have been able to organize basic services. "The services [we are providing] are securing water, electricity, bread, street cleaning, et cetera," he said. 
Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Homeless People Find Equality, Acceptance On Social Networking Sites

August 20th 2012

Starbucks Wireless

Many have argued the Marxist theories of a classless society died with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a faltering Cuba, but a University of Dayton study has found a place where such approaches may have a shot of survival—Facebook, and other social networking sites.

University of Dayton sociologist and criminologist Art Jipson discovered in his most recent research that the homeless, along with everyone else, are turning to social media and that social media sites are turning into places where all people are truly equal. Jipson, an associate sociology professor, will present his findings at the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"People think of Facebook as this billion-dollar entity with stock offerings that sells gobs of advertising," Jipson said. "But, on Facebook, the 'least of our brothers,' as it says in the Bible, have equal access to all of Facebook's offerings and establish a sense of belonging that is based on more than possessions. Read more ..


Inside Russia

Islam TV Takes To Russia's Airwaves

August 19th 2012

Islam in Russia

Live from Moscow's landmark Ostankino tower, Russia's television viewers will have a new offering come the end of Ramadan -- a nationwide channel aimed at a Muslim audience and promoting Islamic values. 

"The intended primary audience of the new channel is Russia's young Muslims," says Rustam Arifjanov, chief editor of Al-RTV. He admits that the new 24-hour satellite channel, which will goes on air on August 19, has its work cut out for it as it attempts to attract young audiences through its offering of news, talk shows, and entertainment and music programs. However, Arifjanov -- a well-known journalist with 20 years of experience in print, broadcast, and online media -- is confident Al-RTV will find its niche. 

"Russia doesn't have any federal television channel dedicated for Muslims. There are only regional Islamic channels in Chechnya and Tatarstan. So, there is a demand for [a television channel] with Islamic content among young Russians who follow Islam," Arifjanov says. "But our audiences don't have to be only Muslims. There are young people who have interests in the Oriental and Arab world, Indonesia, and Turkey, as well as these nations' traditions and culture."

Read more ..

Islam's War on Christianity

Iraqi Chaldean Children Reportedly Crucified by Islamists in Anti-Christian Terror Campaign

August 18th 2012

Iraqi Christians

A committee of the Canadian parliament studying the persecution of religious minorities heard hair-raising testimony about the treatment of Christians at the hands of Muslims in Iraq. Speaking before the human rights committee on August 17, Filham Isaac of the Nineveh Advocacy Committee testified that since warfare began in Iraq in 2003, approximately 12 Christian children, some as young as 10, have been abducted and murdered, then crucified near their homes in an effort to torment their parents and warn the Christian community at large. In one case, an infant was kidnapped and then decapitated. The tiny corpse was burned and left on his mother’s doorstep, the committee heard.

Isaac also spoke of the many Iraqi Christian churches bombed and burned, clergy murdered, and Christian women raped or doused with disfiguring acid. On August 1, 2004, there were six coordinated bombings of Christian churches on the same day. Subsequent fatal attacks included one on Christmas Day, 2010. Since 2003, there have been at least 45 church bombings in Iraq. Read more ..


Inside Islam

Alawites in Syria and Alevis in Turkey: Crucial Differences

August 18th 2012

Alawites

Sectarian differences, threatening to ensnare Muslims outside Syria’s borders, have emerged as a key aspect of the horrific bloodshed there. Since February 2011 the Syrian protestors, mainly followers of Sunni Islam, have mobilized against the Baathist government of Bashar Al-Assad, as a further chapter in the Arab Spring. As of the end of July 2012, fatalities in the Syrian fighting are estimated at more than 20,000.

In Syria, Al-Assad’s state, military, and irregular militias draw significantly on a small—and, to the world, mysterious—variant of Shia Islam known as Alawites. Of Syria’s population of 22 million, at least two million are Alawites; it is common to see them credited with 12 percent of the country’s inhabitants. They mostly reside in the Syrian province of Latakia, from the northwest border with Turkey along the Mediterranean coast, and in southern Syria. Alawites are also found in Lebanon, and among Syrians and Lebanese abroad.

In Turkey, northward beyond the uneasy Syrian-Turkish frontier, and concentrated in eastern Anatolia, another Shia sect, the Alevis, comprise, according to many estimates, a quarter of the Turkish census, or 20 million out of 80 million. They include, in addition, a million in the Turkish diaspora in Germany, and still more in the ranks of emigrants from Turkey to the Netherlands and other Western European lands. Read more ..


Healthcare on Edge

High Potency and Synthetic Marijuana: Dangers in First Weeks of Pregnancy

August 16th 2012

Pregnant

Marijuana is up to 20 times more potent than it was 40 years ago and most pregnant women who use the drug are totally unaware that it could harm their unborn child before they even know they are pregnant. American researcher's state the argument that marijuana is a harmless drug is no longer valid due to the emergence of 'high potency' marijuana and synthetic marijuana which pose a potential real threat for pregnant women.

They also express concerns that marijuana's increased popularity among teenagers and young adults could put this group at higher risk.

"The emergence of bioengineered crops and novel, medicinal marijuana strains, means that marijuana is no longer what it used to be in the 1970's and early 1980s': some new, high potency strains, including some medicinal marijuana blends such as 'Connie Chung' and many others, contain up to 20 times more THC, the psychoactive constituent of marijuana, than did 'traditional' marijuana from the 1970's and early 1980's " explains Dr. Delphine Psychoyos from the Center for Genetic and Environmental Medicine at Texas A&M University. "Furthermore, with the emergence of dispensaries and Internet websites, high potency marijuana and Spice products are now readily available to the general population." Read more ..


The Alcohal Divide

Istanbul Alcohol Ban Divides Secular, Religious Residents

August 16th 2012

Rock Festival

A last-minute decision to ban alcohol at an international rock festival in Istanbul has provoked a heated debate between religious and secular residents. The debate is taking place during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, traditionally a testing time for the diverse city, famed for both its historical mosques and vibrant nightlife. The controversy also reveals wider concerns for the future of the city.

The pious and the secular clashed head-on at a recent rock music concert at Istanbul Bilgi University. The all-day event was sponsored by Turkey's leading beer producer, but a late decision resulted in a prohibition on alcohol. Thousands of parched music fans instead had to make do with lemonade and water.

The concert was held in the Eyup district of the city, which has a large religious community where Ramadan is strictly followed. Local authorities, dominated by the ruling Islamic-rooted AK party, defended the ban, citing the religious sensitivities of the locals. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Speech Recognition On Cell Phones Grow to 68 Percent through 2017

August 16th 2012

Smart phone running voice recogniton

As mobile speech recognition technologies continue to improve in their efficacy, the vendors of the speech technology platforms are making concerted efforts to enable the long tail of mobile application developers with speech recognition capabilities.

ABI Research notes the efforts of companies such as Nuance, AT&T, and iSpeech for exposing their APIs and developer programs as the foremost strategy in reaching the long tail of mobile applications. “Reaching a varied group of developers working on different OS and hardware platforms makes cloud based solutions the optimum approach to enabling the masses,” says mobile devices, content and applications senior analyst Michael Morgan. “It is the approach of using network based solutions that will drive the rapid increase in cloud based revenues.”

Historically, mobile speech recognition was delivered to consumers through relationships between device OEMs and platform vendors. The other route to the consumer came through virtual assistant applications that were often developed by the platform vendors. Read more ..


The Genetic Edge

Prenatal Whole Genome Sequencing: Just Because We Can, Should We?

August 13th 2012

pregnancy

With whole genome sequencing quickly becoming more affordable and accessible, we need to pay more attention to the massive amount of information it will deliver to parents—and the fact that we don’t yet understand what most of it means, concludes an article in the Hastings Center Report. The authors are current or former scholars at the National Institutes of Health’s Department of Bioethics.

Most analyses of the ethical issues raised by whole genome sequencing have been “futuristic forecasting,” but the authors conclude that “this is problematic given the speed with which whole genome sequencing is likely to be incorporated into clinical care,” as its price falls to under $1,000.

Prenatal whole genome sequencing differs from current prenatal genetic testing practice in ethically relevant ways. Most notably, whole genome sequencing would radically increase the volume and scope of available prenatal genetic data. In contrast with current tests, which identify serious genetic conditions in fetuses at high risk of them, the new tests would likely be used by many more expectant parents and reveal a wide spectrum of genetic traits, including disease susceptibility. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Islamists threaten Acid Attacks on Women wearing Jeans

August 13th 2012

Women of Jaipur

Islamist militants in the Kashmir region contested by Pakistan and India have warned that they will shoot dead any women or girls seen to be using mobile phones in public. Hand-written posters appeared at mosques in the Shopian district of the region in time for Friday prayers on August 10, apparently placed there by the Lashkia al-Qaeda and Alqaeda Mujahideen terrorist jihadi organizations. The posters reiterated demands that girls and women be enveloped in veils in all public places.

Women were alarmed, since the jihadi posters also proclaimed "If we spot any woman without purdah (veil), we will splash acid on her face." Numerous cases of men attacking women with acid have plagued not only Pakistan, but also Afghanistan in recent years. Some women, disfigured by acid attacks, have required extensive reconstructive surgery or have committed suicide in despair.

Local police have said that they are investigating, but that it is premature to say whether these posters are genuine or a prank.

The posters also demanded the village council heads to announce their resignation during Friday prayers. Similar posters had surfaced in south Kashmir's Tral township earlier this year, prompting some of the village councils to quit. The names of the terrorist organization outfits, which have purportedly issued the posters, have surfaced for the first time in the Kashmir valley.

Meanwhile, similar posters threatening girls and women emerged in Ranchi, Jharkhand, a province of eastern India, on August 9. The handwritten posters were published by Jharkhand Mukti Sangh, an extremist group, which threatened girls and women with acid attacks if they venture out in jeans or without traditional veils after August 20. The posters appeared at public intersections, and a Catholic school. Read more ..


The Pre-Historic Edge

Neolithic Man: The First Lumberjack?

August 13th 2012

Neolithic tools

During the Neolithic Age (approximately 10000–6000 BCE), early man transitioned from hunter-gatherer to farmer and agriculturalist, living in larger, permanent settlements with a variety of domesticated animals and plant life, with significant changes in terms of the economy, architecture, man’s relationship to the environment, and more.

Now Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations has shed new light on this milestone in human evolution, demonstrating a direct connection between the development of an agricultural society and the development of woodworking tools.

“Intensive woodworking and tree-felling was a phenomenon that only appeared with the onset of the major changes in human life, including the transition to agriculture and permanent villages,” says Dr. Barkai, whose research was published in the journal PLoS One. Prior to the Neolithic period, there is no evidence of tools that were powerful enough to cut and carve wood, let alone fell trees. But new archaeological evidence suggests that as the Neolithic age progressed, sophisticated carpentry developed alongside agriculture. Read more ..


The Archaeological Edge

Earliest Domesticated Turkeys Found in Mexico

August 13th 2012

turkey head

A new University of Florida study shows the turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed. Researchers say discovery of the bones from an ancient Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, usually a significant mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the Maya world.

The discovery of the turkey bones is significant because the Maya did not use a lot of domesticated animals. While they cultivated domesticated plants, most of their animal protein came mostly from wild resources, said lead author Erin Thornton, a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and Trent University Archaeological Research Centre.

"We might have gotten the timing of the introduction of this species to the ancient Maya wrong by a significant chunk of time," Thornton said. "The species originates from central Mexico, outside the Maya cultural area. This is the species the Europeans brought back with them to Europe -- all domestic turkeys originated from Mexico." Read more ..


America on Edge

U.S. Lawmakers Troubled Over Soaring Gun, Ammo Sales

August 12th 2012

Bullets

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) urged on her fellow members of Congress on Thursday to pass "common sense' legislation to protect people and law enforcement. She spoke about the need for passage of the "Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act" as a first step in regulating ammo sales to private citizens. The congresswoman said in light of two recent mass-shootings -- one in Aurora, Colorado, the other in Oak Creek, Wisconsin -- there is a need to control the number of boxes of ammo being sold to private citizens.

Anxious citizens have been purchasing larger than usual amounts of ammo since 2008 anticipating a change in the laws and regulations of ammunition and ammo purchases, according to the Internet organization Ammo Alert in a Facebook entry on Aug. 8, 2012. Overall, ammunition manufacturers have reported their factories are producing ammunition at record rates and keeping their facilities operating 24/7. Yet, they still cannot keep up with the demand for bullets for everything from handguns to hunting rifles. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran and the Human Rights Opening

August 12th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

With tensions mounting over Iran’s nuclear program, the West has dealt the Tehran regime crippling blows on several fronts, including through sanctions, the targeted killing of scientists, and cyber operations such as the Stuxnet virus. Tehran is no doubt reeling, but regime leaders have spotted a silver lining: The West’s single-minded focus on the nuclear dossier has permitted them to widen their violations of human rights.

Indeed, since the protests that followed the 2009 election, Iran’s human-rights abuses have worsened substantially—a development that has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. and Europe. This is a tragedy with profound strategic implications for the West.

The Iranian legal system allows numerous human-rights violations, including discrimination against women and ethno-sectarian minorities, and the imposition of brutal penal sentences, such as stoning. Tehran’s ruling theocrats view human rights as a Western invention used to undermine Islamic culture and sovereignty as part of what Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei considers a soft war against Iran. They therefore do not believe themselves duty-bound to uphold their basic human-rights obligations, including those under international agreements to which they are party. Read more ..


America on Edge

Racist Internet Sites Breed Hate

August 11th 2012

Sikh Milwaukee Shooting

American Sikhs have been mourning the victims of the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin - and are trying to comprehend an act that seems senseless.  The shooter's motives are unclear, but one organization that monitors hate groups points to the Internet as a breeding ground for racial hatred.

In the Los Angeles suburb of Walnut, Sikhs and other community members gathered for a vigil to remember the victims of the Wisconsin shooting. Some also tried to understand what motivated the accused shooter, Wade Michael Page. California temple member Nachhatar Singh Bhullar calls the act senseless. "It could happen anywhere.  Somebody can come anywhere and do those things," he said. But researchers into hate groups say Page had ties to music groups with a white supremacist message and they speculate that his hatred sparked the rampage. Read more ..


Inside Qatar

Qatar: World's Richest Country is also the Fattest

August 10th 2012

Qatar yum yum

The developed world is getting fatter, but Western Hemisphere countries are facing a serious challenger when it comes to their status as global pound-packing champions.

Sporting a GDP of $181.7 billion and a population of close to two million, Qatar, in terms of per capita income, is the richest nation in the world. It also has the third-largest reserves of natural gas. However, with its booming economy and privileged lifestyle, Qatar is also becoming the world’s fattest country.

According to Qatar’s 2011-2016 National Health Strategy, 71 percent of Qataris, including the country’s expatriate population, are overweight and 32 percent are obese or morbidly obese. The country also has the highest rate of obesity among boys in the Middle East and North African region. The United States, in comparison, has one third of its adult population classified as obese, while an additional 17 percent of American children fit that description. Read more ..


The Archaeologoical Edge

Archeologists Unearth Extraordinary Sculpture in Turkey

August 10th 2012

Suppiluliuma statue in Turkey
Credit: Jennifer Jackson

A beautiful and colossal human sculpture is one of the latest cultural treasures unearthed by an international team at the Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) excavation site in southeastern Turkey. A large semi-circular column base, ornately decorated on one side, was also discovered. Both pieces are from a monumental gate complex that provided access to the upper citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 1000-738 BC).

“These newly discovered Tayinat sculptures are the product of a vibrant local Neo-Hittite sculptural tradition,” said Professor Tim Harrison, the Tayinat Project director and professor of Near Eastern Archaeology in the University of Toronto’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. “They provide a vivid glimpse into the innovative character and sophistication of the Iron Age cultures that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great imperial powers of the Bronze Age at the end of the second millennium BC.”

The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist, stands approximately 1.5 metres in height, suggesting a total body length of 3.5 to four metres. The figure’s face is bearded, with beautifully preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and its hair has been coiffed in an elaborate series of curls aligned in linear rows. Both arms are extended forward from the elbow, each with two arm bracelets decorated with lion heads. The figure’s right hand holds a spear, and in its left is a shaft of wheat. A crescent-shaped pectoral adorns its chest. A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in 858 BC.

The second sculpture is a large semi-circular column base, approximately one metre in height and 90 centimetres in diameter, lying on its side next to the human figure. A winged bull is carved on the front of the column and it is flanked by a sphinx on its left. The right side of the column is flat and undecorated, an indication that it originally stood against a wall. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Nearly One Phone in Five To Have Facial Recognition Capability by End of 2012

August 10th 2012

Eyeball Surveillance

By the end of 2012, almost 20% of annual smartphone shipments will include facial recognition capabilities, according to new data from ABI Research. In five years' time, shipments of smartphones and tablets with the technology will increase to 665 million annually. Currently, only Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean mobile operating systems support the technology in significant volumes. The Samsung Galaxy SIII is one of the most notable smartphones to feature this technology. Over the next two to three years, many more operating systems and mobile OEMs will incorporate the technology.

Facial recognition has been on the technology radar for some time. It was developed in the 1960s by three scientists: Woody Bledsoe, Helen Chan Wolf, and Charles Bisson. Historically, the major challenge for the technology in mobile devices has been incorporating an accurate enough sensor (camera) and a powerful enough processor to undertake the complex algorithms while limiting power consumption. Thanks to major technology advancements, this has changed, notes ABI Research. “Facial recognition technology has improved drastically over the last 10 years and accuracy is almost always above 90%,” says ABI Research senior analyst Josh Flood. “That said, lighting conditions and facial expressions can sometimes cause problems with the recognition. However, the improvements in camera resolution and processing power utilized by mobile devices has helped greatly.” Read more ..



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