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Inside Nigeria

Concern grows in Oil-Rich Nigeria over Political Support for Boko Haram terrorists

June 2nd 2012

Nigeria joint military task force

Northern leaders in Nigeria may indeed be sponsoring the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram for political reasons. Recently the national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur a prominent northern leader, said that “Boko Haram is fighting for justice” in a meeting with the Governor and party officials from Gombe State.

The statement has already enraged the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) prompting CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritesejafor to call for the ruling party’s national chairman to explain himself. Some say that Tukur may have indeed been referring to the youth in the north of the country that have been recruited by the group and not the group or its leaders, but his soft stance against the sect echoes many northern leaders who have been making calls for dialogue and negotiations between the group and the government to address the group’s “grievances”.

What is clear from the exchange between Christian Leaders and their northern Muslim counterparts is that there is a wide difference of opinion on the group and how it should be handled. The claims that the group is fighting injustice is problematic since many of the same injustices are prevalent throughout the country. Further, prominently among the list of past corrupt officials are Muslim political elite from the nations north Read more ..

Oil Addiction

Oil-Rich Nigeria Soon to Become Africa's Leading Economy

May 31st 2012

Nigeria Oil

Nigeria is currently on record as Africa’s second-largest economy, and one of the fastest growing economies on the continent and in the world. However, it is only a matter of a year or two before Nigeria becomes Africa’s largest economy. Presently it is roughly equal to South Africa.

Nigeria is expected to rebase its economy in 2012 in order to provide an accurate measure of its actual size. When neighbouring Ghana rebased its economy in 2010 it was found to be 60% larger than had previously estimated jumping from USD 18 to USD 31 billion. Nigeria is expected to have a similar jump once the rebase is completed this year. Rebasing adds different weighting on sectors that have changed over the last 30 years.

In Nigeria the telecommunications industry, banking industry, and real estate and infrastructure sectors will receive different weights due to the growth in these sectors over the last few decades. According to Renaissance Capital, Nigeria could eclipse South Africa by 2014 and is presently likely to be roughly equal in size already at over USD 400 billion.

According to projections by Price Waterhouse Coopers, Nigeria not only will be the largest African Economy in the next few years but will also eclipse major European Economies like Italy and Spain by 2050 and become one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

One Size Does Not Fit All Diabetics with High Blood Pressure

May 31st 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

Aggressive efforts to lower blood pressure in people with diabetes are paying off – perhaps too well, according to a new study.

The research shows that there have been dramatic improvements in blood pressure control among patients with diabetes in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, with as many as 82 percent of patients having blood pressure controlled and 94 percent getting appropriate BP treatment.

However, given the dramatic rise in control, as many people now may be getting over-treated with blood pressure medications as are being under-treated.

That suggests it might be time to reconsider the current one-size-fits-all approach to blood pressure control, and turn to a new model that adjusts the blood pressure goal according to the individual, say a team of researchers from the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and the University of Michigan Health System.

Modern healthcare electronic record systems should help make this possible, they say, because blood pressure, prescription and other health data on individual risks such as heart disease or balance problems can all be combined. Read more ..

El Salvador on Edge

Los Angeles Gang Workers Praise El Salvador Truce

May 31st 2012

Cocaine guns and dollars

A gang truce mediated by the Catholic Church in El Salvador has dramatically reduced gang-related killings in the Central American country since it was implemented in March. Those who work with gang members in the United States support the fragile agreement and hope to reduce the lure of gangs in both countries. El Salvador and neighboring Honduras, which are plagued with gangs, have homicide rates 10 times the global average.

The gang truce in El Salvador has reduced the murder rate, and brought concessions from authorities for better treatment of gang leaders in prison. Police suppression and deportations in the 1990s also brought down the murder rate as many immigrant gang members were returned to their home countries. Executive director of the group Homies Unidos, Alex Sanchez, works to get young people out of gangs. The one-time gang member was deported in 1994 and saw the gangs take hold in his native El Salvador. “The common people were really afraid of us. But then you had kids that were troubled attracted to us. So all these kids that were troubled in El Salvador were attracted by this gang thing,” Sanchez said. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

May 30th 2012

North Korean soldiers

For North Korean refugees, the journey to freedom can be physically grueling. Many swim across a river into China and then travel undercover, avoiding authorities before they reach Southeast Asia and head to South Korea. Imagine making the trip with only one foot and one hand. ​​Every week, Ji Seong-ho holds a silent demonstration against North Korea. He is one of the 23,000 defectors in South Korea who have fled the repressive Pyongyang government. Ji's journey south was more challenging than most. During the famine of the mid-1990s, when Ji was 14, he suffered a terrible accident.

"I was helping my parents make a living by stealing coal off trains and selling it in the market. I got dizzy once and I ended up falling off a moving train. It ran me over," Ji explains. He lost his left hand and foot. Eventually, Ji crossed into China to find food. But on the way back, he was caught by North Korean guards. "The police severely beat me for a week, maybe more than other escapees. They told me that because I am disabled I brought shame to North Korea and that someone with only one leg should stay home," Ji recalls. "That is when I lost my trust in the North Korean government." Read more ..

Palestine and Israel

Middle East Violence and Its Effect on Children

May 30th 2012

Fogel child
Murdered Israeli Fogel child

Wars have obvious victims. The dead, the injured. Those left behind. But there is another class of victims that often goes unnoticed: children. Not kids who are abducted or killed, but those who simply witness acts of ethnic or political violence, and whose lives and behavior are changed forever.

“Violence is really like a contagious disease,” says Rowell Huesmann, director of the Research Center on Group Dynamics at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). “Except in one sense, it’s worse. With contagious diseases, you have to be near the person in order to get it. Violence is contagious even at a distance.”

Huesmann has studied the impact of violence on children in a number of contexts. Most well known is his research showing that kids who watch lots of violent TV programs or movies, or who often play violent video games, become more aggressive. He has also studied how community and peer violence affect kids in inner city neighborhoods. Read more ..

Economy on Edge

Nail Polish Business Booms In Weak Economy

May 30th 2012


While many U.S. businesses are suffering in the weak economy, one industry has been picking up speed. Women are now spending more money on their nails. They are getting more daring - straying from the basic shades of red and painting blues, greens and even animal prints on their nails. Those in the business of nails and nail color are profiting from the trend. In a factory north of Los Angeles, glass bottles are filled, boxed and then shipped to more than 100 countries around the world.

This is the home of OPI, a company that produces nail polish for women from the United States to Asia, from the Middle East to Latin America. Suzi Weiss-Fishmann is executive vice-president and artistic director. She says women are getting more adventurous with their nails. “You can really be kind of that conservative professional and wear blues and greens and any color and dark shades year round," she said. Many women in the U.S. are experimenting with nail art. “I was blown away by the nail art that I saw. I couldn’t believe it," said customer Judy Gabor. Judy Gabor plans on getting glitter on her nails at Marie Nails, a salon where many nail artists are trained in Japan. Marie Ueno has salons in Japan and the U.S. She says nail art has been popular in Japan for a decade. It became trendy in the U.S. over the last few years. “American people like impact, impact design," she said. Read more ..

The Health Edge

House to Vote on Bill Penalizing Abortion Based on Sex of Child

May 29th 2012


The House will vote this week on legislation imposing criminal penalties on anyone performing an abortion based on the sex of the child, but the measure runs the risk of failing on the floor because of how the GOP is calling it up.

Republican leaders have scheduled a vote on H.R. 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), under a suspension of House rules, which will require a two-thirds majority vote for passage. Suspension votes are usually reserved for non-controversial bills, but Republican leaders have occasionally used the process for bills that Democrats oppose, and the PRENDA bill appears to be one of those.

Democratic opposition to the bill began with its original name, the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Non-discrimination Act. Democrats argued in February that while the bill was named after these civil rights heroes, it has nothing to do with protecting civil rights. "It is offensive that the sponsors of this bill would invoke the names of two of our nation's historic civil rights pioneers," House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said. The original name reflected that the bill also sought to ban abortions based on the race of the child, but took out that language in committee. Republicans agreed to strike that language in the Judiciary committee, and also changed the name of the bill.  Read more ..

Edge of Health

Husband-Wife Discussion Key to Healthy Diets and Living

May 29th 2012

Rib dinner tasty

Married men will eat their peas to keep the peace, but many aren't happy about it, and may even binge on unhealthy foods away from home. "The key to married men adopting a healthier diet is for couples to discuss and negotiate the new, healthier menu changes as a team," said Derek Griffith, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

This seems obvious, but most times it doesn't happen, according to a new study called "'She looks out for the meals, period.' African-American men's perceptions of how their wives influence their eating behavior and dietary health."

Researchers conducted focus groups with 83 African-American men. The majority of men said their wives didn't consult them when helping them to adopt a healthier diet. Even though the healthier diet was often ordered by a physician, the husbands often disliked the food changes, but to avoid conflict, they didn't object. Men focused more on maintaining a happy home than having a say in what they ate.

In fact, the only examples found of couples negotiating healthy food choices came about to benefit the children in the home, Griffith said. Read more ..

Libya on Edge

Olive Oil - Libya’s Other Oil Economy

May 29th 2012


As Dr Khaled looked out over the now quiet, olive-tree covered hills of Zintan, he recalled the fighting and destruction that rocked this area just a few short months ago. Zintan is a town of 40,000 people tucked into the Nafusa Moutnains of northwest Libya. Six thousand Zintanis joined the armed opposition to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi, forming one of the country’s most formidable militias. During the eight-month conflict, Zintan’s able-bodied boys and men joined the fighting, its businesses shut down, and electricity and water stopped flowing. Like in the rest of Libya, the economy came to a standstill. In less than one year, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by a staggering 60 percent.

For Khaled, who runs the local media center, nursing the economy of his town and his country back to health is among the most critical challenges facing the country’s transitional government. The focus thus far has been on restoring oil production to pre-war levels. Libya’s oil minister said the country is now producing 1.6 million barrels per day (b/d) of crude oil, just short of the 1.77 million b/d the country was producing before the revolution. Getting the oil sector up and running should indeed be a primary focus, as hydrocarbons have long dominated the Libyan economy; before the war, oil accounted for over 70 percent of GDP, 95 percent of exports, and nearly 90 percent of government revenue, as estimated by the International Monetary Fund. Read more ..

The Edge of Health

Less Couch Time Equals Fewer Cookies

May 29th 2012

Childhood Obesity

Simply ejecting your rear from the couch means your hand will spend less time digging into a bag of chocolate chip cookies. That is the simple but profound finding of a new Northwestern Medicine study, which reports simply changing one bad habit has a domino effect on others. Knock down your sedentary leisure time and you'll reduce junk food and saturated fats because you're no longer glued to the TV and noshing. It's a two-for-one benefit because the behaviors are closely related.

The study also found the most effective way to rehab a delinquent lifestyle requires two key behavior changes: cutting time spent in front of a TV or computer screen and eating more fruits and vegetables. "Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," said Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of the study published in Archives of Internal Medicine. "Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits," Spring said. "This approach simplifies it." Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

Climate Change Led to Collapse of Ancient Indus Civilization

May 28th 2012

desertification New Mexico

A new study combining the latest archaeological evidence with state-of-the-art geoscience technologies provides evidence that climate change was a key ingredient in the collapse of the great Indus or Harappan Civilization almost 4000 years ago. The study also resolves a long-standing debate over the source and fate of the Sarasvati, the sacred river of Hindu mythology.

Once extending more than 1 million square kilometers across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, over what is now Pakistan, northwest India and eastern Afghanistan, the Indus civilization was the largest—but least known—of the first great urban cultures that also included Egypt and Mesopotamia. Like their contemporaries, the Harappans, named for one of their largest cities, lived next to rivers owing their livelihoods to the fertility of annually watered lands.

"We reconstructed the dynamic landscape of the plain where the Indus civilization developed 5200 years ago, built its cities, and slowly disintegrated between 3900 and 3000 years ago," said Liviu Giosan, a geologist with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and lead author of the study published the week of May 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Until now, speculations abounded about the links between this mysterious ancient culture and its life-giving mighty rivers."  Read more ..

India on Edge

India's Agriculture Boom Fuels 'Rural Urbanization'

May 28th 2012

Rural Construction

Forget what you think you know about rural India. Pastoral scenes of oxen carts and bicycles are increasingly being replaced by the symbols of modern prosperity - from motorbikes and home electronics, to hair and skin care products. Life in India's countryside still involves plenty of hard work. But standards of rural living have gone up dramatically in recent years.

Inflated food prices - otherwise a headache for politicians and urban consumers - have put more money in the pockets of farm workers. Generous government subsidies and lenient credit policies have helped fuel investment in tractors and other heavy equipment. It also has created a consumer market that makes many of India's hundreds of thousands of remote villages look a little more like cities. “We have amenities the previous generations could never afford to have. We have motorbikes, mobile phones, a fridge, and other things,” said Sanjay Singh, a rural villager.

The rural appetite for vehicles is especially strong. Shankar Prasad is one businessman cashing in on the trend. “In the case of motorcycles we find that about 50 percent of our buyers are from rural areas and only 50 percent, rest of them are from urban areas. In case of consumer durables when there was no sale about 10 years back of consumer durables. Now, we find that 50 percent of our sales are from the villages. So I will tell you the divide between the urban and rural area is blurring,” said Prasad. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

The Clerics vs. Modernity

May 27th 2012

Iranian clerics

In a speech in 2003 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that "More than Iran's enemies need artillery, guns and so forth, they need to spread cultural values that lead to moral corruption. They have said this many times. I recently read in the news that a senior official in an important American political center, said: 'Instead of bombs, send them miniskirts.'

He is right. If they arouse sexual desires in any given country, if they spread unrestrained mixing of men and women, and if they lead youth to behavior to which they are naturally inclined by instincts, there will no longer be any need for artillery and guns against that nation." It is striking here how the government uses military literature, vocabulary and metaphor to speak about culture. Since Khamenei is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces he also regards himself as the commander in chief of Islamic culture. He is the one who defines it and he is the authority who implements it. What Khamenei considers a cultural invasion should be seen as the broadest war in the history of mankind. In his eyes the enemy's armies are innumerable and include all members of Western society who adhere to modern liberal values and cultural institutions—from art to tourism. Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Police, Suspensions in Schools Need Reform, New Report Urges

May 27th 2012

Campus crime

When it comes to student discipline, suspending kids and a heavy police presence in schools are policies that are doing more harm than good, according to a new report on three especially troubled California districts. 

The report released Thursday by University of California scholars and Human Impact Partners is an exhaustive profile of students in South Los Angeles, Oakland and the agribusiness hub of Salinas in Central California. All these communities have high levels of family poverty, high rates of student suspension and high dropout rates. Oakland-based Human Impact Partners reviews data and conducts on-the-ground interviews to assess the effects that public policies have on equity and health in communities.

The report was funded by the California Endowment. The Center for Public Integrity also receives some support from the Endowment. The Los Angeles school district has already adopted what’s called “positive behavioral support” as an alternative to out-of-school suspension. But researchers found that some L.A. schools are still failing to use the method. As a result, students are still being suspended and losing hundreds of days of school time. The report delves into the high rate of suspensions for “willful defiance,” and the serious discipline challenges the schools face. Read more ..

Nigeria on Edge

Isolation, Tradition, Poverty Drive Up Nigerian Maternal Death Rate

May 27th 2012

Breast Milk Flash Heated

Globally, the number of maternal deaths has been cut in half since 1990. But, in Nigeria 40,000 women die each year because of pregnancy complications. Aid organizations say poverty, isolation and dangerous traditions are the heart of the problem while some mothers say there are simply no doctors at the hospital. A United Nations study indicates that a third of the women who die from childbirth yearly are in two countries: India, the world's second-most populated, and Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation.

The report says Nigeria also has the distinction of having one of the world's highest maternal death rates - 630 deaths for every 100,000 live births. Bukola Danmusa is the mother of three who lives in a rundown neighborhood outside the capital. She says many women do not go to the hospital because it's too expensive. "Some people don’t have money to go the hospital to do [pre-natal care] and the results are complications or death when they have their baby," said Danmusa. She says, even if they go, to a hospital, there is usually no doctor and perhaps a single nurse. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Survival of Portuguese Health Care Questioned

May 26th 2012

innoculation of child

  Free state-funded health care is one aspect of the post-WWII political settlement of which Europeans are most proud. But now it could be under threat as governments are strapped for cash, and in Portugal, one of the continent’s poorest performers, the question of whether free health provision is still affordable is pressing.

Portuguese citizens have their vices like anyone else. But if their health deteriorates, they know, like most Europeans, there is a high quality yet mainly free health care system to look after them. But big spending cuts were a condition of the country’s recent bailout, and hospitals are cutting salaries and getting rid of staff. In short, people have to pay more to see the doctor.

Antonio Arnaut, former Minister of Social Affairs, helped set up Portugal’s health service after the fall of the dictatorship in the 1970’s. Now a lawyer in Coimbra, north of Lisbon, he’s angry at the cuts. "I'm worried about the future of the National Health System, but not because of the economic difficulties that Portugal is now experiencing, my main concerns are about this right wing government," he said. "There’s an ideological project to destroy the National Health System. The National Health System is a part of the European social model." Read more ..

The Edge of Justice

Police, Suspensions in Schools Need Reform, New Report Urges

May 26th 2012

Little girl upset

When it comes to student discipline, suspending kids and a heavy police presence in schools are policies that are doing more harm than good, according to a new report on three especially troubled California districts. 

The report released Thursday by University of California scholars and Human Impact Partners is an exhaustive profile of students in South Los Angeles, Oakland and the agribusiness hub of Salinas in Central California. All these communities have high levels of family poverty, high rates of student suspension and high dropout rates. Oakland-based Human Impact Partners reviews data and conducts on-the-ground interviews to assess the effects that public policies have on equity and health in communities.

The report was funded by the California Endowment. The Center for Public Integrity also receives some support from the Endowment. The Los Angeles school district has already adopted what’s called “positive behavioral support” as an alternative to out-of-school suspension. But researchers found that some L.A. schools are still failing to use the method. As a result, students are still being suspended and losing hundreds of days of school time. The report delves into the high rate of suspensions for “willful defiance,” and the serious discipline challenges the schools face. Read more ..

Philippines on Edge

Philippines Look to Bridge Education Gap

May 26th 2012

Armin Luistro
Education Secretary Armin Luistro

In the Philippines, the new school year begins in June and a few dropouts in the Manila area are hoping to be back in a regular classroom by then. Right now, a pilot program of the national education system is helping them catch up at “pushcart classrooms.” These mobile classrooms travel to street corners in six of the most impoverished neighborhoods of the metro area, complete with books, supplies, a meal and throngs of volunteers. On a street corner in the Novaliches neighborhood just north of Manila, dozens of children are busy with school work shaded by a tarp against a searing sun. The kids, ages five to 18, read, write, draw and do arithmetic problems as they sit at plastic chairs and tables borrowed from the local town council.

A wooden cart painted in shades of green is near the entrance to the makeshift classroom. The pushcart- or “kariton” in Filipino- is a cupboard on wheels that typically holds school supplies, books, personal hygiene items and meals. “All of them are street children, they are not studying,” said Yolanda Peñalosa, a public school teacher who volunteers at the pushcart. "Volunteers spend two hours each Saturday doing one-on-one lessons with the children who are first assessed to see what level they are in. The goal is to get them back into a formal classroom. “… because of the reason the father has no work, the parents they are separated.

Problems have been encountered to make them stop.” While public education is free in the Philippines, school supplies, uniforms and meals are not. The expenses can exceed some impoverished families’ budgets. Seven-year old Marvin stopped school when a typhoon washed away his family’s house. Marvin mostly spends his time playing outside and helping his mother with chores. He says his father is unemployed. Marvin says his father’s life is dominated by gambling and alcohol. Because Marvin was recently in pre-school, his teacher says his chances of going back to regular school in June are strong. Efren Peñaflorida created the pushcart classrooms to give any child the ability to go to school. Read more ..

The Health Edge

'Personality Genes' May Help Account for Longevity

May 24th 2012

Holding Hands

"It's in their genes" is a common refrain from scientists when asked about factors that allow centenarians to reach age 100 and beyond. Up until now, research has focused on genetic variations that offer a physiological advantage such as high levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. But researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University have found that personality traits like being outgoing, optimistic, easygoing, and enjoying laughter as well as staying engaged in activities may also be part of the longevity genes mix.

The findings come from Einstein's Longevity Genes Project, which includes over 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95 and 700 of their offspring. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews were selected because they are genetically homogeneous, making it easier to spot genetic differences within the study population. Previous studies have indicated that personality arises from underlying genetic mechanisms that may directly affect health. The present study of 243 of the centenarians (average age 97.6 years, 75 percent women) was aimed at detecting genetically-based personality characteristics by developing a brief measure (the Personality Outlook Profile Scale, or POPS) of personality in centenarians. Read more ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Establishment Makes New Social Media Foray With Imam Site

May 24th 2012

Iran Cyber Cafe

Hadinet.ir is Iran’s latest foray into the social media sphere, the domain of young, middle-class Iranians that's often reserved for poking fun at state policies and religious rulings.

The new social-networking site is devoted to Imam Naghi, a Shi'ite saint. Employing a basic layout, it features a collection of quotes attributed to the imam and posts by members who express their love and devotion to the ninth-century figure. Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency says the site, which will be officially unveiled on May 23 by Iran's Culture Minister, is a reaction to "insults" against the imam.

But critics, including many ordinary Iranians, say the site will likely join the list of previous, largely unsuccessful attempts by the establishment to make use of social networking. Many young Iranians say they are unlikely to be interested in the new site. Mehr's mention of "insults" toward the imam appears to be a reference to a popular Facebook page titled, "The Campaign to Remind Shi'ites about Imam Naghi," which satirizes political and religious sayings and attributes them to him. Read more ..

The Edge of Farming

Revolutionizing Chicken Feed

May 24th 2012

credit: Andrei Niemimäki

Chicken is the most widely eaten meat in the world. About a thousand chickens are slaughtered for consumption every second worldwide. In the West, the trend is obvious: From about 35 pounds per capita in 1970, poultry consumption in the United States leaped to 83.6 pounds per person in 2010, according to the National Chicken Council.

Yet poultry farmers still dish out feed using equipment that hasn’t fundamentally changed since the 1960s. An Israeli inventor is aiming to modernize the system for the sake of both the farmers and their animals. “Contemporary feeding methods treat broilers—and other livestock such as pigs and turkeys—as products in a production line, with fixed feeding rates and minimal regard for their welfare,” according to Ziv Dubinsky.

Dubinsky, a mainly self-taught inventor from Kibbutz Beit Keshet in the Lower Galilee, has devised a robotic enhancement that could revolutionize chicken-house feeding systems. “The idea is to improve the method of feeding poultry and other livestock with a robot that automatically adjusts the amount of feed at any given time,” he explains. “This saves farmers a lot of money, with far less wastage, while significantly improving the animals’ welfare by reducing mortality levels and rivalry within the flock.” Read more ..

The Congo on Edge

Distress of Child War and Sex Abuse Victims Halved by New Trauma Intervention

May 24th 2012

Congolese child

A new psychological intervention has been shown to more than halve the trauma experienced by child victims of war, rape and sexual abuse. Researchers at Queen's University Belfast pioneered the intervention in conjunction with the international NGO, World Vision as part of a wider programme to treat psychological distress in child victims of war and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Eastern Congo has the world's highest rate of sexual violence. Known as 'the rape capital of the world', it is estimated that girls and women in the eastern DRC are 134 times more likely to be raped than their counterparts in the West. In war-affected countries, such as the DRC, victims of rape and sexual violence often do not receive any psychological or even medical help.

After only 15 sessions of the new group-based Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (TF-CBT), Queen's researchers found reductions of: Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Docs Slower to Drop 'Black Box' Drugs When Drug Rep Access Restricted

May 23rd 2012

nurse w/stethoscope

After years of reducing their contact with pharmaceutical sales representatives, physicians now risk an unintended consequence: Doctors who rarely meet with pharmaceutical sales representatives — or who do not meet with them — are much slower to drop medicines with the Food and Drug Administration's "black box" warnings and to adopt first-in-class therapies.

According to a study published May 21 in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, doctors whose access to pharmaceutical sales representatives is limited can take more than four times longer to change prescriptions based on new information than their peers who have more frequent contact. This longer response time holds true whether the physicians are responding to "positive news" related to an innovative therapy or "negative news" related to a newly discovered medicine risk.

George Chressanthis, professor of healthcare management and marketing and acting director for the Center for Healthcare Research and Management at Temple University's Fox School of Business, led the study in collaboration with ZS Associates, a global sales and marketing consulting firm with a very deep presence in the health care industry. Read more ..

West Africa on Edge

Regional Conflicts Place West African Women in Danger of Abuse

May 23rd 2012

West Africa Domestic Violence

West African women are at greater risk of domestic violence following conflict, according to the International Rescue Committee. The group says physical and emotional abuse have a devastating impact on women in countries where the scars of political conflict have not yet fully healed.

When Fatima, a woman living in rural Liberia, was unable to go to the market to buy the ingredients to make dinner for her family, her husband came home and beat her. He took a kitchen knife, the knife Fatima would normally have used to slice vegetables, and cut three fingers from his wife's left hand. The reason she was unable to go to the market was that her husband had refused her money to do so. Fatima's story is just one of many cases of severe domestic violence, both physical and emotional, experienced by women living in post-conflict countries in West Africa, according to the International Rescue Committee.

A new IRC report explains fighting does not stop after conflicts end, instead it often continues behind closed doors in communities and homes where women bear the brunt of post-conflict tensions. The IRC calls the violence "alarming, pervasive and horrific." "Conflict increases women's risk to violence of all forms. Domestic violence in war and post-war settings, and more specifically the silence around it, is surprising given what we know about its prevalence. What we see during war time is that violence that was once very private often becomes very public," said IRC global women's protection and empowerment programs director Heidi Lehmann.

Using Money to Assert Control

She said women frequently report incidents of emotional manipulation alongside acts of violence. Lehmann said money often is used as a tool to control women and prevent them leaving abusive husbands. In many cases, women are trapped in unhappy marriages and lack the financial means to stand up to their husbands or seek emotional and medical support. IRC President George Rupp said domestic violence in post-conflict communities is more likely after wars fought along ethnic lines or between rebel groups that used fear tactics to intimidate opposing communities. Read more ..

The Health Edge

Socioeconomics May Affect Toddlers' Exposure to Flame Retardants

May 23rd 2012

Black infant

A Duke University-led study of North Carolina toddlers suggests that exposure to potentially toxic flame-retardant chemicals may be higher in nonwhite toddlers than in white toddlers. The study also suggests that exposure to the chemicals is higher among toddlers whose fathers do not have a college degree, a proxy measure of lower socioeconomic background.

Hand-to-mouth activity may account for a significant amount of the children's exposure to the contaminants, according to the study. Age and duration of breastfeeding also were associated with exposure.

The scientists, led by Heather Stapleton, assistant professor of environmental chemistry at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment, tested 83 toddlers ages 12 to 36 months for levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). This class of exceptionally long-lasting chemicals was widely used over the last 30 years to reduce flammability in a variety of consumer products, including polyurethane foam padding, electronics and furniture.

Studies have shown that over time, PBDEs migrate into the environment and accumulate in living organisms, where they can disrupt endocrine activity and impair thyroid regulation and brain development. Early exposure to PBDEs has been linked to low birth weight and impaired cognitive, motor and behavioral development. One study in 2010 showed that children with high levels of exposure to PBDEs scored lower on infant development and preschool IQ tests. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Violent Video Games Turning Gamers Into Deadly Shooters

May 23rd 2012

Playing violent shooting video games can improve firing accuracy and influence players to aim for the head when using a real gun finds a new study in Communication Research, published by SAGE.

Authors Jodi L. Whitaker and Brad J. Bushman tested 151 college students by having them play different types of violent and non-violent video games, including games with human targets in which players are rewarded for hitting the targets' heads. After playing the game for only 20 minutes, participants shot 16 bullets from a realistic gun at a life-size, human-shaped mannequin. Participants who played a violent shooting game using a pistol-shaped controller hit the mannequin 33% more than did other participants and hit the mannequins' head 99% more often. Read more ..

Edge of Gaming

Sid Meier - Gaming Genius - Shares his Magic with Students

May 22nd 2012

Sid Meier - gaming genius - by Laura Rudich
Sid Meier (Photo credit: Laura Rudich)

You are navigating the jungles of the city, desperately trying to catch the bus. Dodging traffic, jumping skateboards and avoiding construction zones. But first, you must make a decision: would you rather be a hippo, a man or a mouse?

This is the theme of a video game designed by three engineering students at a two-week-long "boot camp" at the University of Michigan that ended on May 18, when students showcased their projects.

The first-ever "Sid Meier Game Design Boot Camp" was an intensive 11 days of lectures, activities, game design and development at the Ann Arbor-based institution. The camp, sponsored by Microsoft, featured talks from designers at that company, as well as EA Games, Zynga and Binary Creative (founded by U-M alumnus Matt Gilgenbach). But when asked what drew them to the camp, the participants immediately exclaimed, "Sid Meier!"

Meier is a verifiable celebrity in the video game world, designing such popular games as "Sid Meier's Civilization" and "Sid Meier's Pirates!" He is one of the rare game developers who can claim to be a household name. A U-M computer science alumnus, Meier came up with the idea during a visit to the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, where his son, Ryan, attended. Ryan Meier graduated in 2011 and now works for Blizzard Games. "I would drop by every now and then to see how he was doing," says Meier. "It was fun to see how much things have changed. When I started, the computers here were not like they are now!" Read more ..

The Ukraine on Edge

Ukrainian Female Students Protest Minister's 'Ugly' Insult

May 22nd 2012

Dmytro Tabachnyk anti-rally 2010

Ukraine's education minister is in hot water after saying that women at the highest levels of study in the country's university system are less attractive than other Ukrainian women.

Dmytro Tabachnyk said last week that the country's better graduate and post-graduate students "are girls who have a less bright, less attractive, and less model-like appearance." A group of about 10 women who are graduate students or doctoral-level students at Ukrainian universities gathered in front of the Education Ministry in Kyiv on May 21 to complain about Tabachnyk's statement. The women -- students of fields such as law, medicine, and education -- dressed in long gowns for the protest and carried placards saying, "I read that I am ugly!" Each also held a university diploma to prove that they had obtained a four-year university degree in Ukraine. The women demanded that Tabachnyk either apologize for his remarks or resign from his cabinet post. Read more ..

Mexico on Edge

Mexico's Protestants and Secularists Concerned about Changes to Constitution

May 21st 2012

Light of the World temple, Chiapas Mex.
Light of the World temple in Chiapas, Mexico.

In the United States, evangelical leaders have been at the forefront of pushing prayer in public schools. But in Mexico, they are in the vanguard in opposing it. While the so-called narco war and economic distress are generally regarded as the top two issues in this year’s electoral races, fundamental issues of church, the state and religion are also swirling around the political scene. A flash point is the Mexican Congress’ recent approval of changes to Article 24 of the Mexican Constitution.

Seemingly innocuous, the reform guarantees the right to practice religion in “public as well as private” places. Supported by President Felipe Calderon, the reform was passed last December by Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies just as the country was shutting down for the long winter holiday break. In March, as Mexico was gearing up for another extended holiday season, the Senate followed suit.

According to La Jornada daily, National Action Party (PAN) Senator Sergio Perez Mota justified the reform as a necessary one to prevent Mexico from sinking into a "lay state” that curtails “essential freedoms.” Although the reform also contains language that defends the secular character of the Mexican State, opponents contend it could open the door to religious instruction in public schools. Read more ..

Peru on Edge

Indigenous Peoples of Peru Harrowed by 'Shining Path' Narcoterrorists

May 21st 2012

Machiguenga people

One of the oldest indigenous communities of Peru, which predates the Conquest, now finds itself between the hammer of the Peruvian government and the anvil of remnants of Sendero Luminoso – the ‘Shining Path’ Maoist communists who plagued the Andean republic for decades. The Machiguenga people of the mid-altitude forested slopes of the Andes and the Amazon Basin now appear to be suffering a reprise of a conflict that was initiated by Sendero in 1980. Sendero was well-known for its brutal tactics, which included the murder of uncooperative peasants.

The Peruvian government, under President Alberto Fujimori, was largely successful in combating the Maoist group but at the cost of numerous human rights violations and disappearances of persons associated with Sendero. The group’s leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured in 1992, even while armed encounters with government forces continue sporadically. Between 1980 and 2000, some 70,000 Peruvians perished or disappeared as a result of the conflict.

The damage caused by the armed conflict near Cusco, in the province of La Convención, has been varied. These included casualties on the part of the army and police, as well as innocent civilians. The decades-long conflict, which continues sporadically, has meant that Peru has had a revolving door of ministers with portfolios for Defense and Internal Affairs. Home-made bombs and mines continue to claim lives. Read more ..

The Congo on Edge

Islamic Investment Bank Buys Thousands of Acres of Congo forest

May 20th 2012

Congo forester and tree

When I first read about the acquisition of 500,000 hectares of high value forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo by an Islamic investment bank in Jordan, I thought one thing: land grab.

Over the last couple of years, countries across the MENA region have been buying tracts of land all over Africa. Worried about the rising cost of food as well as declining natural resources locally, they have been trying to make sure that their eggs (so to speak) aren’t all in one basket. Egypt has bought up land in Sudan, Saudi Arabia has staked a claim on land in Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates has farms in Sudan, Morocco and Algeria.

However, this latest land acquisition by Sanabel is a little more interesting as it claims to come with some green credentials. According to news reports, Sanabel which is Jordan’s first Islamic investment bank is considering a number of “Sharia’ compliant forestry activities” for the land it has purchased. These range from afforestation and reforestation projects, and protecting the land from deforestation and sustainable agro-forestry projects. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russian Opposition 'Likes' Facebook

May 20th 2012

Russia - Facebook

Not long ago, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill warned his clergy not to be tempted to seek "illusory popularity" online by engaging with the masses on social networking sites. This week, however, Kirill relented and opened his own Facebook page.

The decision by the erstwhile Internet-phobic patriarch to make his presence felt on the world's top social networking platform -- which raised at least $16 billion in an initial public offering (IPO) on May 17 that valued the company at a staggering $104 billion -- is a sign of the times. Facebook, whose shares will begin trading publicly on the Nasdaq stock exchange on May 18, has been famously slow to take off in Russia, lagging far behind more popular local sites like Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki, and Moi Mir.

Nonetheless, it has grown more than threefold over the past year. To be sure, Facebook still ranks fourth among social-networking platforms in Russia. But it is increasingly becoming the platform of choice for the urban professionals who made up the backbone of the opposition protests that have rocked Russia over the past several months -- a phenomenon that has made it the place to be for politically engaged Russians. Read more ..

Azerbaijan on Edge

Visitors to Azerbaijan wary over Hotels' Hidden Cameras

May 20th 2012

Baku Azerbaijan Airport Sheraton
Sheraton Baku Airport Hotel

No sex under any circumstances.

That's what one local rights group is advising visitors to Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, for the Eurovision Song Contest there next week. The group, Azad Genclik Teskilati (Free Youth), claims "hidden cameras are installed on the premises of all...hotels without exception," and that footage made with the cameras "can later be used against tourists for blackmail." The corporate headquarters of major international hotels in Baku have given assurances that they have policies in place to protect guests' privacy.

But the concerns arose after hidden cameras were used in some Azerbaijani hotels to make secret sex videos of opposition journalists and critics of Azerbaijan's government -- violating their right to privacy in an attempt to blackmail them and silence dissent. In one case, a video of two opposition journalists engaged in sexual acts was later broadcast on a television channel owned by a cousin of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Oxytocin Improves Brain Function in Children with Autism

May 20th 2012


Preliminary results from an ongoing, large-scale study by Yale School of Medicine researchers shows that oxytocin—a naturally occurring substance produced in the brain and throughout the body—increased brain function in regions that are known to process social information in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorde (ASD).

A Yale Child Study Center research team that includes postdoctoral fellow Ilanit Gordon and Kevin Pelphrey, the Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology have found the first, critical steps toward devising more effective treatments for the core social deficits in autism, which may involve a combination of clinical interventions with an administration of oxytocin," said Gordon. "Such a treatment approach will fundamentally improve our understanding of autism and its treatment."

Social-communicative dysfunctions are a core characteristic of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that can have an enormous emotional and financial burden on the affected individual, their families, and society. Gordon said that while a great deal of progress has been made in the field of autism research, there remain few effective treatments and none that directly target the core social dysfunction. Oxytocin has recently received attention for its involvement in regulating social abilities because of its role in many aspects of social behavior and social cognition in humans and other species. Read more ..

The Medical Edge

Acid in the Brain Linked to Panic

May 19th 2012

Boy in pain

University of Iowa neuroscientist John Wemmie, M.D., Ph.D., is interested in the effect of acid in the brain. His studies suggest that increased acidity or low pH, in the brain is linked to panic disorders, anxiety, and depression. But his work also suggests that changes in acidity are important for normal brain activity too.

"We are interested in the idea that pH might be changing in the functional brain because we've been hot on the trail of receptors that are activated by low pH," says Wemmie, a UI associate professor of psychiatry. "The presence of these receptors implies the possibility that low pH might be playing a signaling role in normal brain function." Wemmie's studies have shown that these acid-sensing proteins are required for normal fear responses and for learning and memory in mice. However, while you can buy a kit to measure the pH (acidity) of your garden soil, there currently is no easy way to measure pH changes in the brain.

Wemmie teamed up with Vincent Magnotta, Ph.D., UI associate professor of radiology, psychiatry, and biomedical engineering, and using Magnotta's expertise in developing MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)-based brain imaging techniques, the researchers developed and tested a new, non-invasive method to detect and monitor pH changes in living brains. According to Wemmie, the new imaging technique provides the best evidence so far that pH changes do occur with normal function in the intact human brain.

Specifically, the study showed the MRI-based method was able to detect global changes in brain pH in mice. Breathing carbon dioxide, which lowers pH (makes the brain more acidic), increased the signal, while bicarbonate injections, which increases brain pH, decreased the MRI signal. The relationship between the signal and the pH was linear over the range that was tested. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Obama Announces Food Initiative for Africa

May 19th 2012

Hungry African Widow/Children

U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a plan aimed at lifting 50 million Africans out of poverty in the next 10 years. Private companies from around the world have pledged more than $3 billion toward the effort. With the leaders of several African countries watching, the president said Friday that governments, private industries and organizations will work together to improve Africa's food security. "Today, I can announce a new global effort we are calling a 'New Alliance' for food security and nutrition. And, to get the job done, we are bringing together all the key players around a shared commitment," said Obama.

At a food security forum in Washington, the president said ending hunger by making African farms more productive is a moral imperative. "Because of smart investments in nutrition and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia did not need emergency aid in the recent drought. But when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message that we have still got a lot of work to do. It is unacceptable. It is an outrage. It is an affront to who we are," he said. The president spoke as he prepared to host the annual economic summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington. Read more ..

The Arab Winter in Egypt

Egypt's Moussa Stresses Experience in Time of Flux

May 18th 2012

Tahrir Square 22 nov 2011

Veteran diplomat Amr Moussa is one of the top contenders in Egypt's presidential election May 23-24. Moussa's past is both a strength and a weakness. The former foreign minister and ex- Arab League chief says he is ready to lead the nation. "The country is in a major crisis," noted Moussa. "And a major crisis would not justify at all a president who will ask around 'What do I do on this point, or that point' and gaining experience as he goes." 


But how the presidential candidate got his experience is proving one of the biggest hurdles of his campaign. Cairo voter Hussein Ali will not be casting his ballot for him. Ali says he doesn't want someone from the former government as president.  The country, he says, needs "new blood." At a recent debate, the urbane, veteran diplomat defended his past by pointing to the last decade spent at the Arab League.

Rights on Religion

Myths and Misperceptions Surround ‘the Top Ten’

May 18th 2012

Bottom 6 Commandments

Last week, a U.S. district court judge sitting in Roanoke, Va., made an extraordinary suggestion about the document commonly referred to as “The Ten Commandments.” He suggested it be cut to six. He appointed another judge to oversee negotiations to accomplish that goal.

The case involves Narrows High School in Narrows, Va., a part of the Giles County school district, which is the actual defendant in the case. After Narrows High put up a display of “The Ten Commandments,” the American Civil Liberties Union objected and brought the case to the U.S. District Court in Roanoke. It cited the separation clause of the First Amendment, as well as a number of federal court decisions, as its reasons.

Hearing the case is Judge Michael Urbanski. The issue, Urbanski told the litigants last week, boils down to a matter of intent. Was the display intended to convey a message of morality and ethics, or was the intent to promote a religion? Read more ..

France on Edge

What Hollande and the French Socialists Owe to the Muslim Community

May 18th 2012

French muslim woman

Bill Clinton was once feted as the first black American president, while Barack Obama has since been called the first ‘gay’ American president. So it is with equal aplomb that an observer of the recent election of the Socialist Francois Hollande can be dubbed the first Muslim president of France. This is because of the news that ninety-three percent of French Muslims voted for Hollande in the second round of the French presidential election, giving him the margin of victory over the right-of-center Nicolas Sarkozy and nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen.

According to the French website, La Vie, the final tally for the poll showed that Hollande won by only 1.13 million votes. Since an estimated 2 million Muslims voted, the Socialist obviously owes that community a great favor. Photographs found at the French website ‘Observatoire de l’Islamisation’ shows Muslims waving the flags of their native countries and jubilant over the defeat of Sarkozy.

Hollande’s victory can be attributed to the growing good relations between elements of the Socialist Party and other leftist groupings with the Muslim community, even with those segments associated with the notorious Muslim brotherhood. Read more ..

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