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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 ..


Inside Islam

Leading UK Islamist Leader Vows Islam Will Dominate America

August 9th 2012

They’ve been called “megaphone jihadists,” radical Muslims who take to the streets of Western cities demanding Islamic sharia law. It’s a rising movement in Europe that also shows signs of growth in America.

Meet Anjem Choudary

Anjem Choudary has been called the face of radical Islam in Great Britain. He holds frequent rallies calling for sharia law to be imposed on the United Kingdom.

We first interviewed him in 2010, right after the British government banned his group, Sharia4UK, and on a recent visit to London, we found the ban has failed to stop Choudary from spreading his message that Islam will soon dominate Britain and the world.

“So you believe America, Great Britain, all of Europe, will be Islamic states living under sharia?,” we asked Choudary.

“I am convinced,” he replied. “I am 100 percent certain that the sharia will be implemented in America and in Britain one day. The question is, ’when?’ and how it will come to fruition.” Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Supreme Court Justice to Face Questions about Treatment of Raoul Wallenberg Case

August 8th 2012

Morris Wolff
Morris Wolff

Renowned human rights attorney Morris Wolff is spearheading a contingent of metro Detroit attorneys and judges to reopen the case of Holocaust hero and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. The announcement came on August 5 during a presentation at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills in suburban Detroit that capped off a weeklong tribute to the University of Michigan alumnus who rescued thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

Wolff cited Wallenberg's close ties to Detroit and the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor as a reason for enlisting the support of people in the metropolitan area to support his legal action. Wallenberg attended the School of Architecture at the University of Michigan as a four-year student before launching his own career.

In a case filing that he expects to complete within the next 30 days, Wolff plans to confront U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts about his advice as White House lawyer to President Ronald Reagan to avoid the issue and subsequent involvement to cover up actions that prevented the release of this great humanitarian. Wolff indicated that the new legal action will be brought either in the Supreme Court in Washington DC or in federal court in Detroit. “What we are going to do is file an action to retrieve my judgment in court and put it back before the Supreme Court and ask that Chief Justice Roberts enforce the judgment I originally received for $39 million from the Soviets,” said Wolff. “We also want him to explain why he advised the President back then to duck the issue after he already confirmed that I was correct in my interpretation of the law.”

Wolff became involved in the case in 1983 after being hired by Guy von Dardel, Wallenberg’s half brother, to sue the Soviet Union to force them to release his brother. Although with the approval of Congress Wolff secured a court judgment of $39 million—valued today at $142 million—and demand for Wallenberg’s immediate release from the Soviets, the decision was later reversed. Wolff then wrote President Reagan, requesting his assistance to free Wallenberg through the Hostage Act of 1981. While Reagan agreed that something must be done, Wolff claims that Roberts responded with an internal White House memo stating that although Wolff was right in his interpretation of the law, that the White House should dodge the issue. Read more ..


Paraguay on Edge

The Paraguay Imbroglio and its Implications for the Southern Cone

August 8th 2012

Paraguayan soldiers at Curuguaty
Paraguayan security forces at Curuguaty showdown.

The June 15 clash between police and campesinos in the Paraguayan region of Curuguaty sparked a political crisis that resulted in Fernando Lugo’s impeachment, Paraguay’s removal from both the Mercosur trade bloc and the Unasur customs union, as well as international condemnation. That violent encounter, which left 11 campesinos and six policemen dead, threatened to destabilize the traditional land tenure regime that had been in place in Paraguay since the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1800s. But instead of enacting change, the Curuguaty affair has enabled a return to the traditional power structure of Paraguayan politics, with the historically powerful, but corrupt, Colorado and traditional Liberal parties overthrowing the left-leaning Lugo.

For the average Paraguayan, the country is no better off after the impeachment then before: corporations remain more important then the citizenry, political power remains concentrated, and corruption remains culturally ingrained. Regionally, the impeachment has jeopardized Paraguay’s economic standing; Brazil and Argentina removed Paraguay from Mercosur, replacing the soybean-producing country with the oil rich Venezuela. Internationally, the United States has failed to even comment on the impeachment, and by doing so, has implicitly supported the de facto government that was comprised of almost entirely primarily pro-U.S. politicians. For Paraguayans their political crisis nears its end as one more story of arrested development. Read more ..


Yemen on Edge

Yemen Battles Hunger While Struggling with Multiple Crises

August 8th 2012

Hunger in Yemen

Tucked away in the corner of the Arabian Peninsula and somewhat obscured by surrounding Persian Gulf countries, Yemen is struggling with multiple crises: If an ongoing uprising and endless clashes between Yemen’s security forces and al-Qaida militants weren’t enough of a challenge for the impoverished nation, nearly half of Yemen’s people are going hungry, with many facing the danger of starvation.

The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that nearly 10 million Yemenis are “food insecure.” They fall into two categories - five million are classified as “severely food insecure,” that is, those who are unable to buy or grow food themselves, and another five million who are “moderately food insecure,” that is, they are at risk of going without food due to rising food prices and the ongoing civil conflict. Combined, they account for 44.5 percent of Yemen’s population of close to 25 million. Read more ..


Inside Afghanistan

Afghans for Afghanis: Crafting a Cultural Connection

August 8th 2012

Crocheted afghan

I found a bag of small yarn balls. I’d left it long ago at a friend’s house in New Jersey; my Amman-bound suitcase was fatter than the airline allowed. That bag was big, but the skeins of wool were no larger than my grandma’s meatballs. Name a color, it was in there. I’m incapable of tossing the leftovers from a knitting project, but what to do with these pretty scraps?

I took the bag to my mom’s knitting group, where a woman suggested something shocking: crochet the bits into an afghan. Rabid knitters rarely pick up crochet hooks: we don’t like to play for the other team. But I remembered a blanket from my childhood, thrown over the back of a rocker. It was made by my Italian grandma Rose, colorful like her name. A hundred squares bordered in black: splotches of color like stained glass windows or a new box of crayons. She could reel off memories of earlier projects embedded in each yarn. Little me lost hours looking at that thing.

I returned to those knitters, took their crash course in crochet, and with my ma’s 80-year-old girlfriends cheering me on, I was off to the races. A hundred and twelve squares were born on the flights and layovers from New York to London to Amman. That bag of wool was like an unpublished fairy tale; no matter how many squares I crocheted, the supply never stopped. Read more ..


Inside the Amish

New Amish Communities in U.S. and Canada Emerge Monthly as Population Quadruples

August 7th 2012

Amish buggy

A new census of the Amish population in the United States estimates that a new Amish community is founded, on average, about every 3 ½ weeks, and shows that more than 60 percent of all existing Amish settlements have been founded since 1990. This pattern suggests the Amish are growing more rapidly than most other religions in the United States, researchers say. Unlike other religious groups, however, the growth is not driven by converts joining the faith, but instead can be attributed to large families and high rates of baptism.

In all, the census counts almost 251,000 Amish in the United States and Ontario, Canada, dispersed among 456 settlements, the communities in which members live and worship. The 1990 census estimated that there were 179 settlements in the United States. If the growth of the Amish population continues at its current rate, the Ohio State University researchers predict that the census could exceed 1 million Amish and 1,000 settlements shortly after 2050, and these numbers will bring economic, cultural, social and religious change to the rural areas that attract Amish settlement.

Among the changes the researchers predict: Amish will buy up land vacated by farmers in rural areas close to community services, but the availability of farmland might not keep pace with population growth. This means many Amish men will likely look for nonfarm jobs such as woodworking and construction trades, which could affect land prices and potentially enhance local economies through the establishment of business startups. The census restricts the count to Amish among the “Old Orders,” those who maintain a horse-and-buggy lifestyle and avoid or limit their use of most modern technologies. Read more ..


America on Edge

Jail House Conversations Detail Triggers for Domestic Violence

August 7th 2012

jail door blue

An analysis of jailhouse phone calls between men charged with felony domestic violence and their victims allowed researchers for the first time to see exactly what triggered episodes of violent abuse. The findings showed that violence often immediately followed accusations of sexual infidelity made by one or both of the partners. Drug or alcohol use was often involved.

Researchers have long known that sexual jealousy played a general role in abuse, but this is the first time it was shown that it was a specific form of jealousy – infidelity concerns – that tended to initiate the violence, said Julianna Nemeth, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in public health at Ohio State University. “What we were looking for was the immediate precursor – what was the one thing that happened right before the violence that was the catalyst,” Nemeth said. “I have worked in domestic violence intervention for many years, but still the findings shocked me. We never knew that it was the accusation of infidelity that tended to trigger the violence.”

The findings are powerful because they come directly from conversations of the couples involved in domestic violence, said Amy Bonomi, co-author of the study and associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State.

“What we had before was what the abuser and victim said to police, to courts, to advocates, to health care providers,” said Bonomi, who is also an affiliate with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.

“But we never before had the couple together discussing just among themselves what happened during the violent episode.” The study involved 17 heterosexual couples in which the male was in detention in a facility in the state of Washington for felony-level intimate partner violence. The victims had sustained serious injuries during the attacks, including severe head trauma requiring hospitalization, bite wounds, strangulation and lost pregnancy. Read more ..


The Edge of Food

Israeli Mom's Earth-Friendly Food and Drink Wrap

August 6th 2012

Soda

Distressed by all the landfill her kids were generating, Daphna Nissenbaum invented a packaging material you can put in the compost heap. Imagine pulling back the tab of a drink box, drinking its contents, and then throwing what’s left in the backyard compost heap to fully decompose –– just like one would a fruit peel? This was the dream of mother and computer-engineer-turned-entrepreneur Daphna Nissenbaum from Israel.

Her dream has turned into an award-winning green packaging company, Tipa, which won a first-place prize at Israel’s Cleantech 2012 out of 50 promising companies and also won a prize at Anuga Foodtec, a leading food industry packaging conference in Germany. Tipa is starting to roll out a few products already, and eventually may change the way we consume and dispose of products we use every single day. Read more ..


Kurdistan on Edge

The Kurds Remain The Middle East’s Wild Card

August 6th 2012

Kurds in Turkey

As the battle for Damascus rages, the Kurds are positioning themselves to exploit the growing security and power vacuum in Syria, to the detriment of Turkey. Last week, Syrian Kurds raised their flag over several towns located on Syria’s border with Turkey. In addition, Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — which Turkey considers a branch of the Workers Union Party (PKK) that has been fighting a separatist war against Ankara since the 1980s — reportedly abandoned its presumed alliance with the Syrian regime and is now the main Kurdish group responsible for seizing territory inside Syria. This is not to say, however, that Syria’s Kurdish rebels are siding with the broader revolt. Indeed, they remain suspicious of the opposition. But these developments indicate that trouble may be brewing for Syria’s neighbor, Turkey.

Fearing that an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria, or even emboldened Syrian Kurds, could support the armed Kurdish PKK in Turkey, Ankara launched a series of military exercises near the border with Syria on Wednesday in an apparent bid to intimidate the rebels. Ankara went even further when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey will not tolerate a Kurdish operated region in Syria and that his country would attack any base that houses Kurdish separatists inside the embattled neighboring country. Read more ..


America on Edge

Michigan Courts Punish the Poor and Marginalized with HIV Disclosure Laws

August 5th 2012

Juvenile Law

Michigan's felony HIV disclosure law is a tool to control and punish marginalized and poor individuals in criminal court cases, according to new University of Michigan findings. In many states, a person with HIV can be charged with a crime if he or she engages in sexual activity without telling the other person. Many of those convicted under Michigan's law are African-American men with female partners and people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse problems, the research showed.

Trevor Hoppe, a doctoral student in sociology and women's studies, presented his findings—Punishing HIV: How Michigan Trial Courts Frame Criminal HIV Disclosure Cases—at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

Framing HIV as a deadly disease is a strategy used by prosecutors seeking to convict a defendant of failing to disclose the health status. Although HIV has been transformed into a chronic, manageable illness since the introduction of effective therapies in 1995, prosecutors and judges in Michigan routinely compare the failure to disclose to murder in criminal nondisclosure cases and treat HIV as though it were still a death sentence. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Next Flashpoint Between Turkey, Iraq, and the Syrian Revolt

August 5th 2012

Talabani  Barzani

In the wake of the steady disintegration of the Assad regime, Syrian opposition activists reported that several towns, such as Amouda and Qabani in Syria’s Kurdish northeast, had passed in mid-July 2012 without a fight into the local hands of a group called the Free Kurdish Army. Thus emerged for the first time in modern Kurdish history the nucleus of an exclusively Kurdish-controlled enclave bordering the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. After largely sitting on the sidelines of the Syrian revolution, political groups from Syria’s Kurdish minority in the northeastern region appear to have moved decisively to claim control of the Kurdish-populated towns.

The Free Kurdish Army was formed from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a group with historical links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The PKK, it should be remembered, is regarded by both Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds are reportedly concentrating their efforts on wresting control of Qamishli, the largest of the Kurdish cities, from the Syrian government. Kurdish forces have already captured the city of Ayn al-Arab in the Aleppo Governorate, where they are flying the Kurdish flag. Read more ..


The Family on Edge

Parents Tend to Punish Children Physically More often in Public than in Lab Settings

August 5th 2012

Clenched Fists

Parents get physical with their misbehaving children in public much more than they show in laboratory experiments and acknowledge in surveys, according to one of the first real-world studies of caregiver discipline. The study, led by Michigan State University’s Kathy Stansbury, found that 23 percent of youngsters received some type of “negative touch” when they failed to comply with a parental request in public places such as restaurants and parks. Negative touch included arm pulling, pinching, slapping and spanking.

“I was very surprised to see what many people consider a socially undesirable behavior done by nearly a quarter of the caregivers,” Stansbury said. “I have also seen hundreds of kids and their parents in a lab setting and never once witnessed any of this behavior.” Stansbury is a trained psychologist and associate professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. With the study, she wanted to get a realistic gauge of how often parents use what she calls positive and negative touch in noncompliance episodes with their children, in a real-world natural setting, outside the laboratory.

A group of university student researchers anonymously observed 106 discipline interactions between caregivers and children ages 3-5 in public places and recorded the results. Stansbury said another surprising finding was that male caregivers touched the children more during discipline settings than female caregivers – and the majority of the time it was in a positive manner. Positive touch included hugging, tickling and patting. Read more ..


The Health Edge

Concussions and Lesser Injuries May Hasten Natural Aging of the Human Brain

August 5th 2012

Injured female soccer player

Concussions and even lesser head impacts may speed up the brain's natural aging process by causing signaling pathways in the brain to break down more quickly than they would in someone who has never suffered a brain injury or concussion. Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and the U-M Health System looked at college students with and without a history of concussion and found changes in gait, balance and in the brain's electrical activity, specifically attention and impulse control, said Steven Broglio, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Neurotrauma Research Laboratory.

The declines were present in the brain injury group up to six years after injury, though the differences between the study groups were very subtle, and outwardly all of the participants looked and acted the same. Broglio, who is also affiliated with Michigan NeuroSport, stressed that the studies lay out a hypothesis where concussions and head impacts accelerate the brain's natural aging process. "The last thing we want is for people to panic. Just because you've had a concussion does not mean your brain will age more quickly or you'll get Alzheimer's," Broglio said. "We are only proposing how being hit in the head may lead to these other conditions, but we don't know how it all goes together just yet." Broglio stressed that other factors, such as lifestyle choices, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical exercise, family history and whether or not you "exercise" your brain also impact the brain's aging process. Concussion may only be one small factor. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

Tourism Stays Strong, Despite Violence in Mexico

August 4th 2012

Mexico crosses

The gruesome violence associated with the drug war has done grave damage to Mexico’s global image, and potential tourists searching for a sunny, safe vacation cannot overlook the 50,000 drug-related homicides that have been committed throughout the past six years. Tourism accounts for nine percent of the country’s GDP and provides 2.5 million jobs for Mexican citizens. The importance of sustaining this industry is twofold in that it is not only an important sector of the economy, but also a shrinking tourist industry will come with the cost of already scarce jobs, with the unemployed being inclined to resort to the illicit drug market as a source of income. The year 2009 proved to be a low point for tourism in Mexico, but since then, President Felipe Calderón’s administration’s attempts to protect this key industry have led to positive and visible results. Despite the drug war’s widespread violence and Mexico’s besmirched image, the tourism industry has continued to perform in spite of the persistent violence.

According to former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, drug-related violence has plateaued at a relatively high level but is not increasing, with a steady 1,000 drug-related homicides per month, which eventually could prove to be a disaster to the Mexican economy. Although foreign media networks tend to concentrate on the violence in Mexico, the rate of homicides per every 100,000 people in Mexico is still less than Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia, and Brazil. Read more ..


Greece and Macedonia

UN Chief Pledges Action On Macedonia-Greece Name Dispute

August 2nd 2012

Macedonian Flag on Face

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pledged to Macedonia's parliament that he will try to speed up the process of resolving Macedonia's long-running name dispute with Greece. He told the parliament after a meeting with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov that his "personal representative [for the name dispute], Mr. Matthew Nimetz, will also brief the Greek government authorities about what we have discussed and he will engage more seriously and deeply to help facilitate the resolution of this issue as soon as possible."
 
Ban also expressed his regret that the Skopje-Athens standoff over the country’s name is presenting an obstacle for regional cooperation and development. "I will try to engage with [Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras] to help expedite this process. I feel it regrettable that two neighboring countries, over this name issue, have not been able to fully use their potential for regional cooperation, reconciliation, and development," Ban said.
Read more ..

Wolrd Health on Edge

Uganda and America's CDC Cooperate on Ebola

August 2nd 2012

African school kids

Two more deaths were confirmed Wednesday in Uganda’s ongoing Ebola outbreak, raising the total to 16. Officials are fighting to prevent further transmission of the virus. Through a partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the country is uniquely positioned to respond quickly to suspected cases of Ebola and other hemorrhagic viruses. Representatives from the World Health Organization say 36 possible Ebola cases have been reported in Uganda, mostly in the west of the country. At least one death occurred in Kampala, raising concerns that the virus had reached the capital. However, there is no evidence of any transmission within the city.

Ebola is no stranger to Uganda. Last year a 12-year-old girl living an hour outside of Kampala died from the virus. Thirty-nine people died in a 2007 outbreak in an area bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. But unlike other countries in the region that have seen similar outbreaks, Uganda has a team of virus hunters from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on hand to respond quickly to hemorrhagic fevers, like Ebola. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Sum of the Parts: Our Brains Perceive Men and Women Differently

August 1st 2012

being cool

When casting our eyes upon an object, our brains either perceive it in its entirety or as a collection of its parts. Consider, for instance, photo mosaics consisting of hundreds of tiny pictures that when arranged a certain way form a larger overall image: In fact, it takes two separate mental functions to see the mosaic from both perspectives.

A new study suggests that these two distinct cognitive processes also are in play with our basic physical perceptions of men and women—and, importantly, provides clues as to why women are often the targets of sexual objectification.

The research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found in a series of experiments that participants processed images of men and women in very different ways. When presented with images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on “global” cognitive processing, the mental method in which a person is perceived as a whole. Meanwhile, images of women were more often the subject of “local” cognitive processing, or the objectifying perception of something as an assemblage of its various parts.

The study is the first to link such cognitive processes to objectification theory, said Sarah Gervais, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the study’s lead author.

“Local processing underlies the way we think about objects: houses, cars and so on. But global processing should prevent us from that when it comes to people,” Gervais said. “We don’t break people down to their parts—except when it comes to women, which is really striking. Women were perceived in the same ways that objects are viewed.”

In the study, participants were randomly presented with dozens of images of fully clothed, average-looking men and women. Each person was shown from head to knee, standing, with eyes focused on the camera. After a brief pause, participants then saw two new images on their screen: One was unmodified and contained the original image, while the other was a slightly modified version of the original image that comprised a sexual body part. Participants then quickly indicated which of the two images they had previously seen. Read more ..


Mali on Edge

Islamist Group Executes Two in Northern Mali

July 31st 2012

Tuareg

Islamist militants in northern Mali say they have executed a man and a woman for alleged adultery. Sanda ould Bouamama, a spokesman for militant group Ansar Dine, said the group carried out the executions Sunday in Aguelhok, a small town in Mali's Kidal region. Bouamama said the man and woman received, in his words, "the punishment called for under Islam: death." The French news agency AFP reports the couple was placed in two holes and stoned to death in front of some 200 people in the center of Aguelhok.

Islamist groups and Tuareg separatists seized control of northern Mali in April, after renegade soldiers toppled the government in Mali's capital, Bamako. The al-Qaida-linked Islamists have since taken full control of the north and imposed a strict version of Islamic law, despite protests from much of the population. On Sunday, Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore announced plans to overhaul his transitional government and request foreign help in an an effort to retake the north. Read more ..

Inside New Mexico

New Mexico's Pecan Growers Face Uncertain Times with Aplomb

July 29th 2012

Pecans

Observant travelers on New Mexico Highway 28 that passes through the immense, shady corridor of the Stahmann Farms pecan orchard in Dona Ana County will notice something is not the same. “Closed” signs now hang on the large white building off to the side of the road that was once the popular Stahmann’s Country Store, a place where shoppers could encounter not only a tasty bite of pecan candy but learn about southern New Mexico’s agricultural history as well.

Two months ago, the reality of the establishment’s pending closure was gnawing at Eva Valerio, then Stahmann’s Country Store manager.

“It’s starting to hit me. It’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s sad to see it go down,” Valerio told Frontera NorteSur, as the last customers strolled in on Memorial Day weekend to get a few final scoops of pecan ice cream or perhaps a bargain on the rapidly diminishing furnishings and office supplies for sale. “I’m going to miss a lot of the customers. We’ve built a lot of personal relationships,” Valerio said.

A second Stahmann’s store, on the historic Mesilla Plaza, was closed on May 6, Valerio said. According to the longtime New Mexican, 35 to 40 employees in the two outlets were impacted by the business decision, with a dozen or so quickly assigned new jobs within non-retail parts of Stahmann’s operation Read more ..


The Way We Are

Comic Genius? Maybe You're Just Overconfident

July 27th 2012

Red Skelton

Knock, knock! Who's there? Cows go. Cows go who? No, cows go moo!  OK, OK. So it's not a side-slapper — especially if the teller has zero sense of comic timing. But most likely the person sharing the joke over the water cooler thinks he or she is pretty funny.

No matter how badly the joke is told, it will sometimes elicit a few polite laughs. Why?

Because social norms make us averse to providing negative feedback, says Joyce Ehrlinger, a Florida State University assistant professor of psychology whose latest laboratory research recreated everyday interactions in which people might feel pressured to withhold negative information.

Ehrlinger maintains that because society trains us not to hurt others' feelings, we rarely hear the truth about ourselves — even when it's well deserved. And that can be a problem for overly self-confident people who carry around inaccurate, overly positive perceptions of how others view them.

Three studies conducted by Ehrlinger and two Florida State graduate students — Adam J. Fay and Joanna Goplen — were modeled after awkward social situations in which one person argues for a political position that others find reprehensible. The researchers suspected that such moments usually lead to awkward silence more often than impassioned debate.

To test this, they brought together unacquainted participants with opposing views on a controversial issue. They then asked one participant to persuade the other of his or her view on the issue. Typically the targets responded by smiling or vaguely agreeing, which most likely reduced the potential for conflict, but left the political persuaders with inaccurate, overconfident perceptions of their debating skills. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Young People Navigate Relationships, Romance and HIV

July 27th 2012

Couple

Relationships and romance. They are tough to navigate for all young men and women, and they are even more complicated for young people who are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV-positive youth who work with AIDS Alliance discussed disclosing one's HIV status at the International AIDS conference in Washington.

The exercise in this panel discussion: whether to disclose HIV status in a hypothetical relationship. Red means no, green means yes and yellow means maybe. There's a variety of responses in the scenario.

Jahlove Serrano, an entertainer from New York City, says there is a lot to consider. "Do I need to disclose this soon? Am I close to putting my partner at risk? Is our relationship ready for sex?" he pondered. The young panelists have faced the dilemma about disclosing their HIV-status. "When I date, I openly disclose a soon as I meet somebody, just hoping they'll give me the same respect and tell me if they're dealing with anything else or anything I should be aware of that could probably compromise my health even more," Serrano clarified.

Cristina Jade Peña, who studies public policy in California, recalls the conversation with her first boyfriend, back when they were teenagers. "I sat down with him and told him and it took a long time. It was a long conversation and he picked me up for a date the next day and we've been together ever since," she recalled. That's 11 years and counting. It's proof that, with proper precautions, young people with HIV can have fulfilling relationships with partners who aren't infected. "As a teenager or as a young adult who is sexually active, HIV changes its meaning. It's no longer just your disease," said Peña. "You have to be mindful of your partner or your potential partner, or at least that's the way I saw it at that age." Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran Expands Gender Segregation in Universities

July 26th 2012

Iran students

The Islamic Revolution has from its victory in 1979 been a work in progress. Revolutionaries were united in their opposition to the Shah, but had no consensus on what Islamic society and culture meant. Revolutionary authorities have always paid special attention to the universities. The revolution was carried on the back of student unrest, and it was hardline students who seized the U.S. embassy nine months after Ayatollah Khomeini’s return. Upon seizing the reins of power, revolutionary authorities sought to implement a cultural revolution in the universities to purge them of Western influence. Revolutions evolve, however, and as Iran rebuilt after the Iran-Iraq War, universities became incubators for the reformist movement.

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 he sought to revive traditional revolutionary values. Indeed, what many Western analysts call ‘hardliners,’ Iranians call ‘principalists,’ meaning those who reach back to the principles of the Islamic Revolution. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Corruption A Cost Of Life For Ordinary Afghans

July 26th 2012

Brit with Afghani Soldier

The heat is scorching, and the hours-long wait arduous, but it is a price worth paying for the long line of angry customers standing outside the headquarters of Afghanistan's national power company. The bearded man who heads the line, Abdul Hadi, is there to complain about the "crazy" electricity bill he received this month.

Hadi knows what to expect -- he went through the same thing with the company, Breshna Sherkat, just weeks earlier and ended up paying a bribe. Now a veteran of the game, he is sure he is being deliberately overcharged by unscrupulous employees keen on making some money on the side. Afghanistan's status of one of the world's most corrupt countries is well-documented and features prominently in high-level discussion about foreign investment in the country. Lost in the shuffle, however, is the extent to which corruption permeates all levels Afghan society. Whether ensuring that they have a steady stream of electricity, acquiring identification, or dealing with judicial authorities, ordinary citizens have reluctantly come to accept bribery as an unavoidable cost of life. Read more ..


The Work Life

Identifying The Arrogant Boss

July 25th 2012

Baby Boomer

Arrogant bosses can drain the bottom line because they are typically poor performers who cover up their insecurities by disparaging subordinates, leading to organizational dysfunction and employee turnover.

A new measure of arrogance, developed by researchers at The University of Akron and Michigan State University, can help organizations identify arrogant managers before they have a costly and damaging impact. 

The Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS) will be presented at the American Psychological Association convention in Orlando on Aug. 2 by industrial and organizational psychologist and professor Stanley Silverman, dean of UA’s Summit College and University College.

Arrogance is characterized by a pattern of behavior that demeans others in an attempt to prove competence and superiority. Silverman says this behavior is correlated with lower intelligence scores and lower self-esteem when compared to managers who are not arrogant. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Cell Phone Screener to Combat Anemia

July 24th 2012

HTC thunderbold droid phone

Could a low-cost screening device connected to a cell phone save thousands of women and children from anemia-related deaths and disabilities?

That's the goal of Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering undergraduates who've developed a noninvasive way to identify women with this dangerous blood disorder in developing nations. The device, HemoGlobe, is designed to convert the existing cell phones of health workers into a "prick-free" system for detecting and reporting anemia at the community level.

The device's sensor, placed on a patient's fingertip, shines different wavelengths of light through the skin to measure the hemoglobin level in the blood. On a phone's screen, a community health worker quickly sees a color-coded test result, indicating cases of anemia, from mild to moderate and severe.

If anemia is detected, a patient would be encouraged to follow a course of treatment, ranging from taking iron supplements to visiting a clinic or hospital for potentially lifesaving measures. After each test, the phone would send an automated text message with a summary of the results to a central server, which would produce a real-time map showing where anemia is prevalent. This information could facilitate follow-up care and help health officials to allocate resources where the need is most urgent. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

How Yoga Reduces Stress

July 24th 2012

Alzheimer

Six months ago, researchers at UCLA published a study that showed using a specific type of yoga to engage in a brief, simple daily meditation reduced the stress levels of people who care for those stricken by Alzheimer's and dementia. Now they know why.

As previously reported, practicing a certain form of chanting yogic meditation for just 12 minutes daily for eight weeks led to a reduction in the biological mechanisms responsible for an increase in the immune system's inflammation response. Inflammation, if constantly activated, can contribute to a multitude of chronic health problems.

 Dr. Helen Lavretsky a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues found in their work with 45 family dementia caregivers that 68 of their genes responded differently after Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM), resulting in reduced inflammation.

Caregivers are the unsung heroes for their yeoman's work in taking care of loved ones that have been stricken with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, said Lavretsky, who also directs UCLA's Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program. But caring for a frail or demented family member can be a significant life stressor. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Social Deprivation Has an Effect on Brain Growth

July 23rd 2012

Father and son reading

Severe psychological and physical neglect produces measurable changes in children's brains, finds a study led by Boston Children's Hospital. But the study also suggests that positive interventions can partially reverse these changes.

Researchers led by Margaret Sheridan, PhD, and Charles Nelson, PhD, of the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital, analyzed brain MRI scans from Romanian children in the ongoing Bucharest Early Intervention Project (BEIP), which has transferred some children reared in orphanages into quality foster care homes.

Their findings add to earlier studies by Nelson and colleagues showing cognitive impairment in institutionalized children, but also showing improvements when children are placed in good foster homes. "Increasingly we are finding evidence that exposure to childhood adversity has a negative effect on brain development," says Sheridan. "The implications are wide ranging, not just for institutionalized children but also for children exposed to abuse, abandonment, violence during war, extreme poverty and other adversities." Read more ..


The Gender Edge

Asia to Achieve Climate, Poverty Goals: Recognize Women's Rights

July 22nd 2012

Asian peasants

New research released today by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) shows that despite more understanding, more resources, and policy recommendations, women continue to be largely marginalized and ignored or exploited in resource management processes throughout Asia – to the detriment of global climate and poverty reduction goals.

This suite of analyses demonstrate that exclusion and inequality on gender grounds are still rife and complicated by the intersection of cultural and social norms, economic pressures, and inadequate legal and institutional frameworks. Authors of the studies call for emerging programs and policies to combat climate change or encourage sustainable development to incorporate lessons learned.

"The volume highlights continued discrimination against women, despite the positive ecological, economic and social benefits enabled by their inclusion in the management and decision making processes regarding natural resources," said Arvind Khare, Executive Director of the Rights and Resources Group (the coordinating mechanism of the Rights and Resources Initiative). "Asia is unlikely to achieve its climate and poverty goals if women's rights to forest and land resources are not recognized." Read more ..


Education on Edge

Los Angeles School Discipline Policy Stirs Controversy

July 22nd 2012

Teen Drug sales

In response to controversy over court citations to students as young as 10, the police chief of Los Angeles’ largest school district said he’s working with school officials to reduce such tickets and establish, by mid-August, more out-of-court counseling options for kids who are cited.

But Chief Steven Zipperman, who leads the nation’s largest school police force, defended his 340 sworn officers’ authority to issue citations when officers believe it’s appropriate. Students have been cited for everything from truancy to vandalism to possessing a marker that could be used for graffiti. They’ve also been summoned to court for jaywalking, cigarette and pot smoking. Large numbers of students have additionally been cited for fisticuffs and for being disruptive inside and outside school. “Our number one priority is for these to be handled administratively,” inside schools, Zipperman said in a recent interview. “But sometimes a court visit is something that’s necessary.” Read more ..



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