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America’s Leading Edge

Independent Pharmacy Thrives with Personal Service

June 20th 2012

Morgan's Pharmacy DC

One hundred years ago, Morgan Pharmacy opened its doors in Washington. Despite economic ups and downs, the small, family-owned pharmacy has thrived. But how is it staying in business today with a larger drugstore just down the street?

Morgan Pharmacy has an old-fashioned feel, with its display of old prescription bottles and the original shelves from when the store opened in 1912. Pharmacist Barry Deutschman bought the store 20 years ago. “During the time period between then, and the time we stopped carrying tobacco, you can see people would rest their cigarettes on counter here,” he said.

The pharmacy is located in a residential neighborhood of Washington and most people hear about it word of mouth. “Once somebody comes in here who’s never been here they love the place,” said Deutschman. “And they want to come back.”

Sandra Sugar has been coming to Morgan’s for years. “This has nostalgia just coming in here,” she said. Toni Stephens feels a special bond. “The people who work here are helpful and more like family,” he stated. Read more ..

The Health Edge

How Food Packaging Affects Food Purchases

June 20th 2012

supermarket produce

Long before deciding on “paper or plastic” at the checkout, shoppers make a plethora of choices at the grocery store, especially in the produce aisle.

Packaging influences the way fruits and vegetables are chosen by consumers, according to a Michigan State University study.

The study found that shoppers prefer to purchase produce that come in a rigid, bio-based plastic container with a long shelf life and a low price. So much so that consumers will opt for sweet cherries in these kinds of containers rather than the loose ones in a bag.

“Consumers believe the type of packaging material could affect the quality of the food product, and the rigid container may provide better protection compared to the flexible bag,” said Georgios Koutsimanis, MSU packaging researcher. “The preference for bio-based versus petroleum-based plastics shows an increased awareness of the environmental aspects of packaging materials.” Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Tajik Mullahs Warn Of New Threat In Temporary Marriages

June 18th 2012

Tajik wedding

Mosque sermons in Tajikistan tend to focus on issues that affect people's everyday lives. These days, the hot-button topic of many sermons in Dushanbe has been temporary marriages -- a phenomenon that was almost unheard of in Tajik society until recently.

Recently, at a gathering following Friday Prayers on June 8, prominent Dushanbe Imam Eshon Abdul-Basir Saidov warned women against entering into temporary marriages, which religious leaders say have become a trend in Dushanbe over the past two or three years.

Echoing concerns voiced by his fellow imams, Saidov says dozens of Tajik women have fallen victim to "Iranian-style temporary marriage," known as mut'a. Fairly widespread, and legally approved in predominantly Shia Iran, mut'a is a fixed-term marriage in Shi'a Islam which automatically dissolves upon the completion of a term agreed upon by both parties prior to the marriage. Read more ..

Society on Edge

Many Poor, Pregnant Women with HIV not Screened for Depression

June 18th 2012

Pregnant and alone

It seems logical that programs to screen and manage depression in pregnant, HIV-positive Medicaid patients should already be in place, but they aren't.

It's the kind of glaring oversight that Rajesh Balkrishnan, associate professor at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, said he finds all the time in his research on health disparities. Balkrishnan also has an appointment in the School of Public Health.

"We find that many of these things are such common sense that they should already be in place and being done," said Balkrishnan. "Yet, time and again, we find nothing is being done, though these problems exist."

In a recent paper, Balkrishnan and co-authors found that roughly 28 percent of the low-income, HIV-positive pregnant women reported depression. The numbers could be much higher because the study only captured the women who were being treated for depression. Read more ..

The Way We Are

More to Facial Perception Than Meets The Eye

June 17th 2012

Wimbleton crowd

People make complex judgements about a person from looking at their face that are based on a range of factors beyond simply their race and gender, according to findings of new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The findings question a long-held belief that people immediately put a person they meet into a limited number of social categories such as: female or male; Asian, Black, Latino or White; and young or old.

Dr Kimberly Quinn at the University of Birmingham found that people 'see' faces in a multiple of ways. This could have wider importance in understanding stereotyping and discrimination because it has implications on whether and how people categorise others.

Categorisation is not done purely on the physical features of the face in front of us, but depends on other information as well, including whether the person is already known and whether the person is believed to share other important identities with us. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Protests Or Concerts? On Russia Day, Muscovites Get To Choose

June 16th 2012

Russian Protest

With the opposition and the Kremlin vying for their attention, Muscovites were spoilt for choices this year over how to celebrate June 12, Russia's national holiday. 

Opposition forces on June 12 held a march in downtown Moscow, the first mass protest since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin last month for a third presidential term.

Tens of thousands joined the march despite rainy skies and fears of a police crackdown. The rally came one day after the homes of key opposition figures were raided and just over a month after riot police violently disbanded a similar protest in the Russian capital. While the march has proceeded peacefully so far, authorities appeared intent on disrupting it. They summoned opposition leaders for interrogation, forcing them to miss much of the rally, and organized an unprecedented host of events that critics say were designed to draw people away from the protest. Read more ..

After Fukushima

Despite Risks, US Woman Teaches Near Japan Nuclear Meltdown

June 15th 2012


Few people would voluntarily move to a place where residents routinely scan their groceries with a Geiger counter and automated radiation monitors stand guard outside parks and schools. That place is Minamisoma, Japan, a city 25 kilometers away from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactors which melted down last year.

But for Kate O'Berg, 23-year-old art instructor from Pendleton, Oregon, working in this shaken city has been the realization of a dream. The young American is helping people in her hometown's sister city to rebuild their lives. In one district of Minamisoma, which was just recently removed from the nuclear no-go zone, signs of the earthquake and tsunami are still very apparent.​​​ Horses were the original connection that drew Minamisoma and Pendleton together as sister cities: samurai horsemanship in the coastal Japanese town and a famous rodeo - the Pendleton Round-Up - in northeast Oregon. Read more ..

The Edge of Fashion

African Fashion Finds a Home in Dakar

June 15th 2012

fashion show

Dakar Fashion Week celebrates its 10th year with the biggest lineup yet. The organizers of the international event aim to reach the heights of fashion weeks in Paris and New York, while remaining distinctly African.

High fashion is nothing new in Africa. And Senegalese designer Adama Ndiaye says it has its own special quality.

"We do one piece, one by one. We're not sending it to the factory because we don't have a big factory," Ndiaye said. "It's something we've been doing forever." But the industry, like many on the continent, is developing.

To help it along, Ndiaye started Dakar Fashion Week.  Ten years on, the event is drawing the attention of industry notables from all over Africa and the world. Originally from Cameroon, Marcial Tapolo came from Paris to participate for the second time. "It's like a high-class show that she's trying to do. Very sophisticated, which is rare in Africa, as a fashion show," he said. Despite the international presence, most of the talent is local, in a deliberate effort to showcase Senegalese designers and models. Arame Sarr has been to fashion weeks in New York and Paris, but she says Dakar is special. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Obesity, Depression Found to be Root Causes of Daytime Sleepiness

June 14th 2012

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Wake up, America, and lose some weight–it's keeping you tired and prone to accidents. Three studies being presented today at sleep 2012 conclude that obesity and depression are the two main culprits making us excessively sleepy while awake.

Researchers at Penn State examined a random population sample of 1,741 adults and determined that obesity and emotional stress are the main causes of the current "epidemic" of sleepiness and fatigue plaguing the country. Insufficient sleep and obstructive sleep apnea also play a role; both have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, obesity and accidents.

"The 'epidemic' of sleepiness parallels an 'epidemic' of obesity and psychosocial stress," said Alexandros Vgontzas, MD, the principal investigator for the three studies. "Weight loss, depression and sleep disorders should be our priorities in terms of preventing the medical complications and public safety hazards associated with this excessive sleepiness." Read more ..

The Edge of Learning

Early Learning About Spatial Relationships Boosts Understanding of Numbers

June 13th 2012

boy and math

Children who are skilled in understanding how shapes fit together to make recognizable objects also have an advantage when it comes to learning the number line and solving math problems, research at the University of Chicago shows.

The work is further evidence of the value of providing young children with early opportunities in spatial learning, which contributes to their ability to mentally manipulate objects and understand spatial relationships, which are important in a wide range of tasks, including reading maps and graphs and understanding diagrams showing how to put things together. Those skills also have been shown to be important in Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

Scholars at UChicago have shown, for instance, that working with puzzles and learning to identify shapes are connected to improved spatial understanding and better achievement, particularly in geometry. A new paper, however, is the first to connect robust spatial learning with better comprehension of other aspects of mathematics, such as arithmetic.

"We found that children's spatial skills at the beginning of first and second grades predicted improvements in linear number line knowledge over the course of the school year," said Elizabeth Gunderson, a UChicago postdoctoral scholar.

In addition to finding the importance of spatial learning to improving understanding of the number line, the team also showed that better understanding of the number line boosted mathematics performance on a calculation task.

"These results suggest that improving children's spatial thinking at a young age may not only help foster skills specific to spatial reasoning but also improve symbolic numerical representations," said co-author Susan Levine, a leading authority on spatial and mathematical learning. "This is important since spatial learning is malleable and can be positively influenced by early spatial experiences," added Levine, the Stella M. Rowley Professor in Psychology at UChicago. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Spate of Fatwas Against Women

June 13th 2012

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Fatwas against women's rights are being issued on an almost daily basis in Pakistan now. One of the most outspoken misogynist clerics, Maulana Abdul Haleem, a former Islamist legislator, recently issued a fatwa against formal education for women and another fatwa calling for the abduction of non-married female NGO workers. In May, Maulana Abdul Haleem also justified to the media killing women in the name of "honor" as a "local custom and a religious practice." In a similar tone, a Pakistani cleric issued a fatwa justifying acid attacks on women who use cell phones. A list of recent fatwas issued in Pakistan includes:

Fatwa: Women Using a Cell Phone Will Have Acid Thrown in Her Face

In an article published in the Pakistani media outlet The Express Tribune, Pakistani feminist writer Faouzia Saeed reported that in Noshki, a town in the region of Balochistan, a fatwa was announced in a mosque on May 11, stating that any woman using a cell phone will have acid thrown in her face. Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Woman Says Husband Shot Her For Not Having Children

June 13th 2012

Afghan Woman Shot by husband

Gulsika was 13-years-old when she was forced into an arranged marriage. The first 10 days or so, she says, were pleasant -- but then the abuse started. Today, seven years later, she lives in a safe house in Kabul, recovering from gunshot wounds. Her husband is in prison awaiting trial for allegedly shooting her in May at their home in the northern province of Takhar.

Gulsika, a native of Kandahar who is now 20, described the trauma she experienced after her husband shot her, apparently because she could not have children with him. "My intestines were out of my belly, lying on the ground," she said. "My mother-in-law put them back and tied my belly with a piece of cloth. She was telling me 'don't cry.' I couldn't breathe. It was difficult to push the air down my throat." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

HIV Superinfections Appear Common

June 13th 2012

blood test

They’re called HIV “superinfections” and a study indicates they’re much more common than first thought. Researchers say this raises concerns about possible resistance to treatment and may require new approaches to AIDS vaccine research. Dr. Andrew Redd said there are HIV infections and then there are superinfections.

“A superinfection occurs when an individual is initially infected with a strain or strains of HIV. And then at some point later on – after that person has developed an initial immune response to their first infecting strain – at that later time point they come into contact through risky behavior with a second viral strain and then are superinfected with that second strain,” he said. Redd is the lead author of the study and a scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said prior to the research done in Uganda it was thought that superinfections were rare, occurring in intravenous drug users or men who have sex with men. Not so. “What we found in our study was that when we looked at a general population of heterosexual individuals in Uganda we found that it actually isn’t as rare as what we thought. And that it is occurring at a significant rate even in the general population,” he said. Read more ..

Broken Borders

Immigrant Students Lobby for a US Dream

June 12th 2012


Millions of illegal immigrants have been drawn to the United States by employers looking for cheap labor.  Those who came with their parents as young children grow up culturally indistinguishable from their American-born peers.  But they are bluntly reminded of their status as undocumented outsiders when they apply for college financial assistance. A group of such students is trying to remedy the situation in New York State.

Undocumented students from Lehman College in New York City don academic robes for a protest in the office of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. They are almost immediately ushered out, their protest being deemed illegal.  It came at the end of a day of lobbying for passage of the New York DREAM Act, legislation that would make undocumented students eligible for college loans.  

The day began with a chartered bus ride to the state capital in Albany.  Melissa Garcia says dire economic circumstances in her native Colombia forced her mother to come to the United States 11 years ago.  “There are many undocumented youths who are brought here as early as six months.  They are babies.  They were not aware they were being brought, so going back is not a solution.  They do not know the language, they do not know their country.  This is what they call home," she said. “People want to know who we are," she said while leading a chant.

The sponsor of New York's DREAM Act, State Senator Bill Perkins, said the measure would lead to enactment of the federal DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented students. “I think it will sort of light the movement, the flame of support, that I think will trigger similar DREAM Acts throughout the country and alert the national legislature, the government, congresspeople and the president that it’s time to pass the DREAM Act on the federal level," he said. Read more ..

Europe on Edge

Black Soccer Fans Address Euro 2012 Racism Claims

June 12th 2012

Soccer Ball

A coach who once derided African soccer players in Europe as "some Zumba-Bumba" to be paid in bananas. Racist violence and Nazi salutes at a Ukrainian club match. And a former England player who warned fans not to go unless they wanted to come back "in a coffin." So, how dangerous is it to be a nonwhite soccer fan in Ukraine? Foreign fans traveling to Ukraine -- and Poland -- for the Euro 2012 championship that kicked off on June 8 thought they had plenty of reasons to be wary.

But in Kyiv at least, the picture so far has been mixed -- some foreign fans suggest the concerns about racist abuse have been exaggerated, while longer-term black residents tell of sporadic incidents of abuse or assault. The racism fears were heightened ahead of the tournament primarily by a BBC documentary that included footage of soccer hooligans from Ukraine assaulting a group of Asian students and making Nazi salutes at a recent match in Kharkiv. Former England defender Sol Campbell, reacting to the footage, said not to go to Ukraine and Poland or risk "coming back in a coffin." Read more ..

The Environmental Edge

Heaping Urban Trash May be More Serious than Climate Change

June 11th 2012

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Heaping urban trash may be an even more daunting global phenomenon than climate change, the World Bank warned in a recent report. What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management reveals that by 2025, city dwellers could produce as much as 2.2 billion tons of solid waste a year, up 70% than the 1.3 billion tons currently generated.

More waste is generated in cities than rural areas because more packaging is used and less is recycled, and because people living in rural areas are less likely to have a consumption-driven lifestyle. But getting a handle on the problem, particularly in developing countries, requires a strong social contract between the municipality and community, according to the report–a serious challenge in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. City dwellers will produce 1.42 kg of trash per day by 2025

By 2025, 4.3 billion living in cities throughout the planet will generate about 1.42 kg/capita/day of municipal solid waste, which will create a huge environmental and financial burden for the local governments tasked with managing it. Untreated solid waste emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and chemicals from plastic and other packaging leach into waterways. The World Bank sites untreated waste as one of the major causes of pollution in developing countries that are ill-equipped to handle mounting waste. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Top Risk of Stroke for Normal-Weight Adults: Getting Under 6 Hours of Sleep

June 11th 2012

ER Entrance

Habitually sleeping less than six hours a night significantly increases the risk of stroke symptoms among middle-age to older adults who are of normal weight and at low risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), according to a study of 5,666 people followed for up to three years. The participants had no history of stroke, transient ischemic attack, stroke symptoms or high risk for OSA at the start of the study, being presented today at SLEEP 2012.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham recorded the first stroke symptoms, along with demographic information, stroke risk factors, depression symptoms and various health behaviors. After adjusting for body-mass index (BMI), they found a strong association with daily sleep periods of less than six hours and a greater incidence of stroke symptoms for middle-age to older adults, even beyond other risk factors. The study found no association between short sleep periods and stroke symptoms among overweight and obese participants. Read more ..

Sudan's Leading Edge

Manute Bol's Legacy Honored in S. Sudan

June 10th 2012

Girls School in Sudan

  A U.S.-based organization is carrying on the legacy of the late basketball star Manute Bol by continuing to build schools and work for reconciliation in South Sudan. The recent work comes despite South Sudan’s many struggles during its first of year of existence as a country. Immediately as he enters the Washington offices of the U.S. aid group Sudan Sunrise, executive director Tom Prichard points to a series of pictures high up on the wall.

“We were visiting an elementary school to talk about the needs for schools in southern Sudan," he explained. "Manute was in terrible pain. He was in so much pain he had to use a wheelchair. Manute spoke seated the whole time, but when it was all over he said, ‘I want them to see how tall I am.’” The last picture shows Prichard holding up Bol so the American schoolchildren could see the full physical range of the 2.31-meter-tall basketball defensive specialist, who played for a decade in the National Basketball Association.

An Internet video by Sudan Sunrise shows construction of a school in Bol’s hometown of Turalei in South Sudan's Warrap state. Bol, whose first name Manute means “special blessing,” also appears, explaining the humanitarian ideas that drove the last years of his life. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Sleep Deprivation May Lead to Higher Anxiety Levels

June 10th 2012

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New research shows that sleep loss markedly exaggerates the degree to which we anticipate impending emotional events, particularly among highly anxious people, who are especially vulnerable.

Two common features of anxiety disorders are sleep loss and an amplification of emotional response. Results from the new study suggest that these features may not be independent of one another but may interact instead.

Researchers from the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, used brain scanning on 18 healthy adults in two separate sessions, one after a normal night's sleep and a second after a night of sleep deprivation. During both sessions, participants were exposed to an emotional task that involved a period of anticipating a potentially negative experience (an unpleasant visual image) or a potentially benign experience (a neutral visual image). Read more ..

The Edge of Health

High Levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Breast Milk of Amerindian Women

June 9th 2012

infant formula

Working with researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, anthropologists at UC Santa Barbara have found high levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids in the breast milk of economically impoverished Amerindian woman as compared to women in the United States. The study compared breast milk fatty acid composition in U.S. and Tsimane women. The Tsimane live in Amazonian Bolivia, and eat a diet consisting primarily of locally grown staple crops, wild game, and freshwater fish. Samples of Tsimane mothers' milk contained significantly higher percentages of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is crucial for infant cognitive and visual development.

Additionally, the percentages of DHA in breast milk did not significantly decrease across the first two years postpartum, the period during which infant brains experience peak growth and maximal uptake of DHA. This was also true for the U.S. women, and the study suggests that extended breastfeeding by both U.S. and Tsimane mothers may provide infants with a constant source of DHA during the critical period of brain development.

"The fatty acid composition of breast milk varies with the fatty acid composition of a mother's diet and fat stores. Ancestral humans likely consumed omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in equal proportions," said Melanie Martin, a doctoral student in UCSB's Department of Anthropology, and the study's lead researcher. "Tsimane mothers' omega-6 to omega-3 ratios were four to one, much closer to the ancestral estimates than observed in U.S. women." Read more ..

The Edge of Charity

Underprivileged Kids Get Free Prom Clothes

June 9th 2012


In the United States, when students graduate from high school, many celebrate that achievement by going to prom. It is a dance party where students dress up in formal gowns and tuxedos. But not every student who wants to go can afford to dress for the occasion. Organizations across the United States provide free dresses and suits so students can go to prom. A program called The Cinderella and Prince Charming Project allows teens from some of the roughest neighborhoods in the country to celebrate a milestone.

From sequins to lace, in reds, blues and blacks, gowns and tuxedos fill the courtyard of the "A Place Called Home" youth center. It is located in a Los Angeles neighborhood with a strong gang presence. The center provides mentoring, year-round education programs, and free dresses once a year for graduating high school students, like Leslie Pine, who otherwise could not afford to buy a dress for the celebration called prom. Read more ..

The Way We Are

What Does It Mean To Be Cool? It May Not Be What You Think

June 8th 2012

being cool

Do rebelliousness, emotional control, toughness and thrill-seeking still make up the essence of coolness? Can performers James Dean and Miles Davis still be considered the models of cool?

Research led by a University of Rochester Medical Center psychologist and published by the Journal of Individual Differences has found the characteristics associated with coolness today are markedly different than those that generated the concept of cool.

“When I set out to find what people mean by coolness, I wanted to find corroboration of what I thought coolness was,” said Ilan Dar-Nimrod, Ph.D., lead author of “Coolness: An Empirical Investigation.” “I was not prepared to find that coolness has lost so much of its historical origins and meaning—the very heavy countercultural, somewhat individualistic pose I associated with cool.

“James Dean is no longer the epitome of cool,” Dar-Nimrod said. “The much darker version of what coolness is still there, but it is not the main focus. The main thing is: Do I like this person? Is this person nice to people, attractive, confident and successful? That’s cool today, at least among young mainstream individuals.”

In research that has developed over several years, Dar-Nimrod, currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, and his colleagues recruited almost 1,000 people in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area, who completed an extensive questionnaire on the attributes, behaviors and individuals they associated with the word cool.

In the journal article, the research is described as the first systematic, quantitative examination of what characteristics recur in popular understandings of the cool personality.

The researchers conducted three separate studies. In Study 1, participants generated characteristics that they perceived to be cool. In Study 2, two samples of participants rated dozens of these characteristics on two dimensions: coolness and social desirability. In Study 3, participants rated friends both on their coolness and on a variety of personality descriptors that were identified as relevant in the other studies. Read more ..

The Edge of Corruption

Cities Mobilize Against Urban Corruption

June 8th 2012

Minneapolis skyline

More than half of the world’s people now live in urban areas and the United Nations expects two-thirds of humanity will be city dwellers by mid-century. Representatives of nearly 30 cities of the world are participating in a two-day conference in New York City to examine ways of combating corruption that is accompanying such rapid urbanization.

If taxpayers fund a kilometer of city sidewalks but only get 800 meters, they are robbed by corrupt officials who steal one fifth of the money. The mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, Antonio Ledezma, shared that observation with officials from 26 cities of the world, from the national government of South Africa and regional governments of Catalonia and Quebec. Ledezma warned persistent corruption can be lethal for democracy. Ledezma says this is because corruption generates mistrust in democracy itself. He says there are those who naively come to the conclusion or believe that authoritarian dictatorships or governments can efficiently control corruption. Read more ..

America on Edge

DC Community Activists Work to Curb Youth Violence

June 7th 2012

Kids Jail

 A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says youth violence is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24. Researchers suggests the violent behavior can start early in a child's life and continue into young adulthood. The problem is particularly widespread in urban, African-American communities.

From street corner fights to school yard assaults, violence among young African-Americans is on the rise. While youth violence has decreased nationally since 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says black children represent an overwhelming majority of crime victims and crime perpetrators. "I literally have seen my friends die. My friends got shot in front of me. I have held my friends while they die," said Tony Lewis Jr., who knows the tragic consequences of youth violence in Washington. He grew up on this crime-ridden neighborhood block known as Hanover Place. When he was just nine, his father was given a life prison sentence for his role in a large cocaine distribution network. 

"In these type of [poor] neighborhoods a lot of people went towards crime because that is what poverty does, and when crime comes violence comes," he said. Lewis says youth violence among African-Americans also stems from a lack of educational opportunities. He says there's a need for adult mentors to get young people to change their harmful behavior. Read more ..

Africa and China

Demand for Ivory Increases Elephant Poaching

June 7th 2012

Young Republicans

 An International Fund for Animal Welfare report has linked the increasing number of elephants being killed in Africa with the rising demand for ivory in China. According to the report,  in 2011 poachers gathered more than 5,200 elephant tusks,  (23 tons) resulting in the deaths of more than 2,500 elephants. It says the majority of that ivory went to China.

“The growing demand for ivory products in China is actually driving elephant poaching across Africa," explained Elizabeth Wamba, communications manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare in Eastern Africa. "It has just been too high. It has escalated by, in some places, in hundreds of percentages.” The report quotes an auction newsletter describing the 2011 sale of more than 11,000 ivory pieces in mainland China for a total of $95.4 million, an increase of 107 percent from the previous year. Read more ..

The Edge of Poverty

Sens. Sessions and Paul Seek Big Cuts to Food Stamps Program in Farm Bill

June 7th 2012

American poverty

Conservative Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have offered amendments to the farm bill that would greatly cut federal spending on food stamps.

At the same time, liberal Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is attempting to restore the $4.3 billion in food stamp cuts already in the bill and the White House is saying that the farm bill's current cut is too much.

Paul’s amendment would cut the most, by block-granting the entire food stamp program. The House-passed GOP budget backs this approach.

Sessions has four amendments to limit eligibility and trim spending more modestly. “We are confident that modest and thoughtful reforms to the food stamp program can achieve substantial budgetary savings for taxpayers, while ensuring that fewer dollars are wasted and improperly spent – targeting resources to intended recipients,” Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller said. One would restore an asset test for eligibility, saving $12 billion.

“Through a system known as categorical eligibility, states can provide benefits to those whose assets exceed the statutory asset limit as long as they receive some other federal benefit. One state went so far as to determine individuals as food-stamp eligible solely because they received a brochure for another benefit in the mail,” said Session’s office. Read more ..

America on Edge

Adolescents and Young Adults with Mental Health Disorders at Risk of Long-Term Opioid Use

June 7th 2012

Boy in pain

Long-term use and abuse of opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, has markedly increased in the United States in the last two decades. Of note, prescription opioids constitute 86.9 percent of prescription drug misuse among high school students. And last week in a two-day U.S. Food and Drug Administration public meeting, officials questioned the use of long-term opioids for chronic pain due to a lack of evidence for the effectiveness and concerns about the potential risk for addiction. While previous studies have shown that depression and substance abuse peaks during adolescence and young adulthood, studies assessing the link between mental health issues and opioid use in this population were lacking.

Laura Richardson, MD, and a team at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington conducted a longitudinal study to examine the association between mental health disorders and subsequent risk for long-term opioid use among adolescents and young adults ages 13 to 24. They found that those with mental health disorders were not only more likely to be prescribed opioids for chronic pain but also 2.4 times more likely to become long-term opioid users than those who didn’t have a mental health disorder. The study also found that long-term opioid use was more common among males, older youth and youth who lived in communities that were poorer, had more white residents, and had fewer residents who had attended college. Read more ..

Society on Edge

Religious Control of Women's Sexuality promotes Certainty about Paternity

June 6th 2012

Dancer of the Dogon people
Dogon male dancer.

Religious practices that strongly control female sexuality are more successful at promoting certainty about paternity, according to a study published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study analyzed genetic data on 1,706 father-son pairs in a traditional African population—the Dogon people of Mali, West Africa—in which Islam, two types of Christianity, and an indigenous, monotheistic religion are practiced in the same families and villages. "We found that the indigenous religion allows males to achieve a significantly lower probability of cuckoldry—1.3 percent versus 2.9 percent," said Beverly Strassmann, lead author of the article and a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan.

In the traditional religion, menstrual taboos are strictly enforced, with women exiled for five nights to uncomfortable menstrual huts. According to Strassmann, the religion uses the ideology of pollution to ensure that women honestly signal their fertility status to men in their husband's family. "When a woman resumes going to the menstrual hut following her last birth, the husband's patrilineage is informed of the imminency of conception and cuckoldry risk," Strassmann said. "Precautions include postmenstrual copulation initiated by the husband and enhanced vigilance by his family."

Across all four of the religions practiced by the Dogon people, Strassmann and colleagues detected father-son Y DNA mismatches in only 1.8 percent of father-son pairs, a finding that contradicts the prevailing view that traditional populations have high rates of cuckoldry. A similar rate of cuckoldry has been found in several modern populations, but a key difference is that the Dogon do not use contraception.

The study, which was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, is part of Strassmann's ongoing, 26-year study of the Dogon people.

"The major world religions sprang from patriarchal societies in which the resources critical to reproduction, whether in the form of land or livestock, were inherited from father to son down the male line," Strassmann and colleagues write. "Consistent with patrilineal inheritance, the sacred texts set forth harsh penalties for adultery and other behaviors that lower the husband's probability of paternity. The scriptures also place greater emphasis on female than on male chastity, including the requirement of modest attire for women and the idealization of virginity for unmarried females." Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Air Pollution Linked to Chronic Heart Disease

June 6th 2012

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Air pollution, a serious danger to the environment, is also a major health risk, associated with respiratory infections, lung cancer and heart disease. Now a Tel Aviv University researcher has concluded that not only does air pollution impact cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke, but it also causes repeated episodes over the long term.

Cardiac patients living in high pollution areas were found to be over 40 percent more likely to have a second heart attack when compared to patients living in low pollution areas, according to Dr. Yariv Gerber of TAU's School of Public Health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine. "We know that like smoking cigarettes, pollution itself provokes the inflammatory system. If you are talking about long-term exposure and an inflammatory system that is irritated chronically, pollution may well be involved in the progression of atrial sclerosis that manifests in cardiac events," explains Dr. Gerber. Read more ..

The 2012 Vote

The Obamas And the New Politics of Race

June 6th 2012

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With the 2012 US presidential election campaign in full swing, the meaning and significance of Barack Obama and his presidency are once again in the spotlight. Has the election of Barack Obama served as the watershed moment for American politics and race relations that many predicted? A number of experts in the field of critical race theory attempt to answer this question in a special issue of Qualitative Sociology: The Obamas and the New Politics of Race,¹ published by Springer and available to the general public. This series of six articles showcases the most recent critical sociological work on race, racism, and politics through the lens of Barack Obama's presidency.

One article provides a timely examination of how the concept of "family" has been used to both address and mask social inequalities generally, and racial inequalities in particular. In her article entitled "Just another American story? The first Black First Family," former American Sociological Association president Patricia Hill Collins shows – by highlighting their own 'family stories' during the 2008 campaign and in the post-election years – how the Obamas have been able to reintroduce race, gender, labor and equality into public policy discussions in a time when such debates are often deemed risky. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Higher Taxes, Smoke-free Policies are Reducing Smoking in Pregnant Moms

June 5th 2012

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It's estimated that almost 23% of women enter pregnancy as smokers and more than half continue to smoke during pregnancy, leading to excess healthcare costs at delivery and beyond. In one of the first studies to assess smoking bans and taxes on cigarettes, along with the level of tobacco control spending, researchers have found that state tobacco control policies can be effective in curbing smoking during pregnancy, and in preventing a return to smoking within four months on average, after delivery. The results were published online today in advance of the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"This is one of the first studies of pregnant women's smoking in the new era of more restrictive state tobacco control policies," says lead investigator E. Kathleen Adams, PhD, Department of Health Policy and Management, Emory University. "We found that a $1.00 increase in cigarette taxes increases the quit rate among pregnant women from 44.1% to 48.9%, a sizable effect. Moreover, tax policies appear to be effective in keeping these women from relapsing in the first few months postpartum, and the implementation of a full workplace smoke-free policy also increases quits."

Researchers from Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined cigarette smoking among 225,445 women with live births from 2000-2005 in 29 states plus New York City. Data on smoking status (pre-pregnancy smoking; quitting during pregnancy; and remaining quit 4 months after delivery) were merged with cigarette price data, including federal, state, and local cigarette excise taxes, data on state tobacco control spending for the period, and the existence of full or partial bans of worksite or restaurant smoking. Read more ..

The Media on Edge

Magazine Trends Study Finds Increase in Advertisements Using Sex

June 5th 2012

popular magazines

Sex sells, or at least that is what advertisers hope. A recent study from the University of Georgia looked at sexual ads appearing in magazines over 30 years and found that the numbers are up.

"Advertisers use sex because it can be very effective," said researcher Tom Reichert, professor and head of the department of advertising and public relations in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. "Sex sells because it attracts attention. People are hard wired to notice sexually relevant information so ads with sexual content get noticed."

People also succumb to the ‘buy this, get this' imagery used in ads, he said.

"Some young men actually think Axe body spray will drive women crazy," he said. "But, brand impressions are shaped by images in advertising, too. Arguable, Calvin Klein and Victoria's Secret are not much different than Hanes or Vassarette, but perception studies show those brands are perceived as ‘sexy,' and some customers want that." Read more ..

America on Edge

American Teenagers More Likely to Use Drugs than European Peers

June 5th 2012

Teen Drug sales

The U.S. had the second-lowest proportion of students who used tobacco and alcohol compared to their counterparts in 36 European countries, a new report indicates.

The results originate from coordinated school surveys about substance use from more than 100,000 students in some of the largest countries in Europe like Germany, France and Italy, as well as many smaller ones from both Eastern and Western Europe.

Because the methods and measures are largely modeled after the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future surveys in this country, comparisons are possible between the U.S. and European results. The 15- and 16-year-old students, who were drawn in nationally representative samples in almost all of the 36 countries, were surveyed last spring. American 10th graders in the 2011 Monitoring the Future studies are of the same age, so comparisons are possible.

The differences found between adolescent behaviors in the U.S. and Europe are dramatic, according to Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the American surveys.

About 27 percent of American students drank alcohol during the 30 days prior to the survey. Only Iceland was lower at 17 percent, and the average rate in the 36 European countries was 57 percent, more than twice the rate in the U.S. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Majority of Families in Urban Areas Have Access to Internet

June 5th 2012

Intel ultrabook

In a study of mostly minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged families, 99 percent of participants reported having access to the Internet. More than half of the families were interested in receiving health information electronically, an important finding in the quest to improve access to health information. The study, conducted in the Emergency Department at Children's National Medical Center, is published in the June issue of Pediatric Emergency Care.

Of the 509 families in the study, 503 reported access to the Internet, either at home, work, or via their mobile device. More than half expressed an interest in receiving electronic health information from the emergency department, with email being the preferred method of delivery. This represents a novel opportunity to engage a larger proportion of urban families in efforts to help improve their health through better education. "This study demonstrates the high prevalence of Internet access in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, a change from previous studies," said Mohsen Saidinejad, MD, the study author and an emergency medicine physician at Children's National. "It's an important first step as we try to improve health education and patient communication. Our ultimate goal is to improve compliance and health outcomes." Read more ..

The Digital Edge

Family Advocates Worry as Facebook Looks to Allow Access for Children

June 4th 2012


Consumer advocacy groups and lawmakers expressed concern on Monday about Facebook's plans to open up its social networking site to children younger than 13.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the social media giant is testing features that would allow young children to access the site. The children's accounts may be linked to their parents, so that the parents can control whom their children friend and which applications they use. Expanding Facebook's user base could open up a new revenue source after a disappointing initial public offering, but the company would have to navigate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a federal law that restricts the ability of websites to collect information from children younger than 13. James Steyer, the CEO of the nonprofit Common Sense Media, accused Facebook of putting profits above the interests of children.

“With the growing concerns and pressure around Facebook’s business model, the company appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders. But here's the most important issue: there is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13," Steyer said. "Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children."  Read more ..

The Weapon's Edge

The U.S. Navy Left Vieques Island behind, but Also Left a Mess

June 4th 2012

Vieques Island toxic dump

The island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, has long been known for its beauty and its distinct culture, which are unique to the island. The name of the island itself means “rich port” in Spanish, indicating that for years Puerto Rico has served as an economic asset for Spain and the U.S. and, more recently, as a tourist paradise in the Caribbean. The commonwealth of Puerto Rico historically has been subjected to abuse by foreign powers intent on exploiting its rich resources, including a small stretch of land off the island’s east coast called Vieques.

The U.S. Navy made extensive use of Vieques for weapons testing up until 2003, when it abandoned the island without cleaning up the traces of years of gunnery practice and test bombings, which were capriciously left behind. The consequences of these bombings continue to surface as cancer rates and incidents of ecological damage begin to mount. U.S. Congressman Steve Rothman has said that, “The injustice toward the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico must end. The time for the U.S. government to right this wrong is long overdue.” This is a sentiment shared by thousands of Puerto Ricans who today seek to rectify the past wrongs. Read more ..

The Edge of Archaeology

Spanish Archaeologists Find Oldest Remains of Twins

June 3rd 2012

Bones of twin girls 2nd C BC

The remains of newborn twin girls were discovered at the archaeological site of Olèrdola in Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city. They date back to between the middle of the 4th century B.C. to the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. The findings are the first bone remains of twins to be recorded.

"This is the first documented case in the Iberian Peninsula. There has been much talk of possible twins but never has sufficient data been gathered in the field to determine whether findings belong to the same chronological moment in time, nor has data ever been found on the same stratigraphic level to guarantee with such certainty like in this instance," as explained Eulalia Subira, researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and coauthor of the study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

The remains were found in the archaeological site of Sant Miquel d'Olèrdola in Catalonia and it is expected that they belong to two girls between 38 and 40 weeks of gestation who were buried at the same time in the same grave with their legs entwined. Read more ..

Edge of Anthropology

Inequities Among Human Beings is Prehistoric

June 3rd 2012

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Hereditary inequality began over 7,000 years ago in the early Neolithic era, with new evidence showing that farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without. The research, carried out by archaeologists from the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford, is published in PNAS.

By studying more than 300 human skeletons from sites across central Europe, Professor Alex Bentley and an international team of colleagues funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council uncovered evidence of differential land access among the first Neolithic farmers – the earliest such evidence yet found.

Strontium isotope analysis of the skeletons, which provides indications of place of origin, indicated that men buried with distinctive Neolithic stone adzes (tools used for smoothing or carving wood) had less variable isotope signatures than men buried without adzes. This suggests those buried with adzes had access to closer – and probably better – land than those buried without.

Professor Bentley, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, said: "The men buried with adzes appear to have lived on food grown in areas of loess, the fertile and productive soil favoured by early farmers. This indicates they had consistent access to preferred farming areas." The strontium isotope analysis also revealed that early Neolithic women were more likely than men to have originated from areas outside those where their bodies were found. This is a strong indication of patrilocality, a male-centred kinship system where females move to reside in the location of the males when they marry. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Goat-Grown Hashish

June 3rd 2012

Pakistan Hashis Seller

For Noor Muhammad Afridi, dealing in "Awal Namber Garda" is more than just his life's work. By providing the black, sticky hashish that keeps his customers very happy, he's keeping up a long, family tradition. Just like his forefathers in the Afridi clan, the 32-year-old from Pakistan's tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghan border has become a connoisseur of the local delicacy, aged to perfection with a centuries-old technique.

"If you put [freshly prepared] hash resin into a goatskin or a sheepskin, it matures into something very good," he says. "It is well-preserved inside the skin, which also adds oil to it." The technique is believed to greatly enhance the hashish's quality and, more importantly for its users, its effect. If the end product makes the cut, it earns the right to join the prize sheep skins hanging from the rafters of Afridi's hash shop in Jamrud, gateway to the Khyber Pass. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Khamenei Permits Facebook?

June 2nd 2012

Facebook egypt

Michael Rubin: The Islamic Republic has always had a love-hate approach to the internet. In the 1990s internet cafes sprung up across Tehran and in other major cities. Authorities were initially uncertain how to react. In early internet cafes, for example, the Intelligence Ministry simply paid managers and informants to look over shoulders and check browsing histories. The regime believed it could harness the power of the internet for its own purposes. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, for example, maintained his own internet site to disseminate his speeches, writings, and fatwas, not only in Persian, Arabic, and Urdu, but also in Japanese, Bahasa Indonesian, Swahili, Hausa, and various European languages. Security services traditionally worried more about cell phones than social networking.

Ordinary Iranians, however, soon embraced the internet to reach out both to each other and the outside world. For a short time Persian became the third largest blogging language after English and French, and it still places in the top ten. While President Mohammad Khatami preached “dialogue of civilizations,” regime hardliners increasingly worried about the mechanisms of that dialogue. "Rejection of Facebook became a regime loyalty test, with some political leaders forced to deny ever having an account." Read more ..

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