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Pakistan on Edge

Pakistani Hindus Allege Forced Marriages, Islamic Conversions

March 16th 2012

Pakistan Islamic women

Leaders of the minority Hindu community in Pakistan's southern Sindh province complain that young girls in the area are being abducted and then forced to convert to Islam and married off to Muslim men. Pakistan People's Party MPA Pitanber Sewani appeared agitated when he reminded the government and its institutions not to force Hindus in Sindh to follow the path of Baloch nationalists who are waging “a war for their rights”. Moving a resolution against post-marriage conversion of Hindu girls, Pitanber Sewani wanted the government to frame a law against the forced marriages. During his fiery speech, he said that young Hindu girls are being kidnapped and converted to Islam after they are subjected to forced marriage with Muslim boys. He said that this practice has created resentment among the minority communities living in Sindh.

The most recent case is that of Rinkel Kumari (renamed Fariyal Shah). Kumari's family is claiming her back from what they say is a forced marriage with a Muslim man. The man's family and clan deny abducting her and insist she converted to Islam of her own free will. Human rights activists say that other reported abductions of members of minority communities in Pakistan, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, have not been properly investigated by the authorities. In the most recent case, Hindu community leaders say that an oath Ms Kumari made in front of a court in her home town that she had freely got married and converted to Islam was made under duress. They say that many others like her have been forcibly taken away by powerful politicians - some allied to the governing Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The Hindu community has accused one of the party's MPs, Mian Abdul Haq, of supporting the abduction and the forced conversion. But in an interview with the BBC he strenuously denied the allegations. Read more ..

Sudan on Edge

Israelis Imagine a Better Future for Sudan’s Girls

March 15th 2012

Girls School in Sudan

West of Eritrea and Ethiopia, and north of Uganda, a new African state has emerged from decades of civil war to gain its independence. Last July, South Sudan was declared an official country and was recognized by the United Nations. Israel, which had been assisting the people of the region for the past decade, extended a warm diplomatic hand right from the start.

Eager to help this new country gain a foothold amongst its complicated host of societal problems, the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID is launching diplomatic and humanitarian efforts including a new social-worker training program in cooperation with the Israeli NGOs FIRST and Operation Blessing-Israel. Read more ..


China on Edge

China Struggles to Bridge Gap Between Rich, Poor

March 15th 2012

China Great Hall of the People

China’s National People’s Congress is wrapping up 10 days of meetings in Beijing, where officials are laying out policy priorities. Among the biggest concerns is addressing the growing gap between rich and poor. At this year's annual legislative session, some 3,000 delegates discussed China’s economy, ethnic unrest and reform of the country’s legal system. But for many, the growing gap between rich and poor is the most pressing issue, especially in Beijing's slums, where the country's most affluent and the least can live in close proximity.

In a network of alleys behind one of the city’s luxury shopping malls, dozens of shacks are a block away from a Bentley dealership. In one of these tiny rooms, constructed from a patchwork of aluminum and metal siding held down by rocks and bricks, Li Yulan, 78, runs a small shop that sells snacks and soft drinks. She says the rich are too rich. The poor are too poor. Of eight people in her family, just two have income, she says. Li says the family needs the income from her little store. For Li Yulan, the biggest worry is the rising cost of living. Her income has grown in recent years, but she says it is not enough to offset the rising cost of goods. She says she and many others in this small neighborhood, sandwiched between the city’s skyscrapers, hope the legislators understand their struggle. Li says the NPC is good so long as the problems are solved, but she says just vain talk is useless. She says people in her community are most concerned about rising food prices. Read more ..


Edge of Human Rights

Human Organ Business Exploits the Poor

March 15th 2012

Bangladeshi organ victim
Bangladeshi woman shows scar caused by kidney removal.

A Michigan State University anthropologist who spent more than a year infiltrating the black market for human kidneys has published the first in-depth study describing the often horrific experiences of poor people who were victims of organ trafficking. Monir Moniruzzaman interviewed 33 kidney sellers in his native Bangladesh and found they typically didn’t get the money they were promised and were plagued with serious health problems that prevented them from working, shame and depression.

The study, which appears in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, and Moniruzzaman’s decade-long research in the field describe a growing worldwide market for body parts that include kidneys, parts of livers and even corneas.

Moniruzzaman said the people selling their organs are exploited by unethical brokers and recipients who are often Bangladeshi-born foreign nationals living in places such as the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Because organ-selling is illegal, the brokers forge documents indicating the recipient and seller are related and claim the act is a family donation.

Doctors, hospital officials and drug companies turn a blind eye to the illicit act because they profit along with the broker and, of course, the recipient, said Moniruzzaman, who questioned many of the people involved. Most of the 33 Bangladeshi sellers in his study had a kidney removed across the border in India. Generally, the poor seller and the wealthy recipient met at a medical facility and the transplant was performed at that time, he said. Read more ..


The Environmental Edge

Bright is the New Black: New York City Roofs Go Cool

March 14th 2012

Click to select Image
credit: Kris Arnold

On the hottest day of the New York City summer in 2011, a white roof covering was measured at 42 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the traditional black roof it was being compared to, according to a study including NASA scientists that details the first scientific results from the city’s unprecedented effort to brighten rooftops and reduce its urban heat island effect.

The dark, sunlight-absorbing surfaces of some New York City roofs reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit on July 22, 2011, a day that set a city record for electricity usage during the peak of a heat wave. But in the largest discrepancy of that day, a white roofing material was measured at about 42 degrees cooler. The white roof being tested was a low-cost covering promoted as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.

On average through the summer of 2011, the pilot white roof surface reduced peak rooftop temperature compared to a typical black roof by 43 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study, which was the first long-term effort in New York to test how specific white roof materials held up and performed over several years. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Ancient Graffiti Illuminate the Life of the Common Man

March 14th 2012

greek graffiti beth she'arim

History is often shaped by the stories of kings and religious and military leaders, and much of what we know about the past derives from official sources like military records and governmental decrees. Now an international project is gaining invaluable insights into the history of ancient Israel through the collection and analysis of inscriptions—pieces of common writing that include anything from a single word to a love poem, epitaph, declaration, or question about faith, and everything in between that does not appear in a book or on a coin.

Such writing on the wall—or column, stone, tomb, floor, or mosaic—is essential to a scholar’s toolbox, explains Prof. Jonathan Price of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Classics. Along with his colleague Prof. Benjamin Isaac, Prof. Hannah Cotton of Hebrew University, and Prof. Werner Eck of the University of Cologne, he is a contributing editor to a series of volumes that presents the written remains of the lives of common individuals in Israel, as well as adding important information about provincial administration and religious institutions, during the period between Alexander the Great and the rise of Islam (the fourth century BCE to the seventh century CE). Read more ..


Health on Edge

Body Clocks May Hold Key to Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

March 14th 2012

sleeping person

Scientists have gained insight into why lithium salts are effective at treating bipolar disorder in what could lead to more targeted therapies with fewer side-effects.

Bipolar disorder is characterised by alternating states of elevated mood, or mania, and depression. It affects between 1 percent and 3 percent of the general population. The extreme “mood swings” in bipolar disorder have been strongly associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms—the 24-hourly rhythms controlled by our body clocks that govern our day and night activity.

For the last 60 years, lithium salt (lithium chloride) has been the mainstay treatment for bipolar disorder, but little research has been carried out to find out whether and how lithium impacts on the brain and peripheral body clockwork.

“Our study has shown a new and potent effect of lithium in increasing the amplitude, or strength, of the clock rhythms, revealing a novel link between the classic mood-stabiliser, bipolar disorder, and body clocks,” said lead researcher Dr Qing-Jun Meng, in the University of University of Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

How Will Iran Choose its Next Supreme Leader?

March 13th 2012

Iranian clerics

This is part two of “Supreme Succession: Who Will Lead Post-Khamenei Iran?”; read part one here.

The formal succession process may not matter much. Iran’s constitution lays down a clear procedure for designating a Supreme Leader’s successor. Yet in all likelihood, the officials charged with this responsibility under the law will not be the ones making the key decisions. In fact, the regime may bypass the constitutional procedure altogether.

The previous succession did not follow the constitutional requirements. As mentioned before, Khomeini appointed a council to revise the constitution shortly before his death. Before the council had the opportunity to vote on a final amended version of the charter, however, Khomeini died.

The changes were intended to separate religious authority from political authority, perhaps totally. In particular, they allowed an ordinary ayatollah or mujtahid—not just a marja-e taqlid (grand ayatollah)—to become Supreme Leader. Indeed, immediately after Khomeini’s death, Khamenei was selected as Supreme Leader even though he was not a mujtahid, let alone a marja-e taqlid. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Personal Cloud Replaces PCs as the Center of Our Digital Lives

March 13th 2012

CG cloud

The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the center of users' digital lives, according to research from Gartner.

Gartner analysts said the personal cloud will begin a new era that will provide users with a new level of flexibility with the devices they use for daily activities, while leveraging the strengths of each device, ultimately enabling new levels of user satisfaction and productivity. However, it will require enterprises to fundamentally rethink how they deliver applications and services to users.

"Major trends in client computing have shifted the market away from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices," said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner. "Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life." Read more ..


Inside Germany

Germany's World Strategy

March 13th 2012

Angela Merkel

The idea of Germany having an independent national strategy runs counter to everything that Germany has wanted to be since World War II and everything the world has wanted from Germany. In a way, the entire structure of modern Europe was created to take advantage of Germany's economic dynamism while avoiding the threat of German domination. In writing about German strategy, I am raising the possibility that the basic structure of Western Europe since World War II and of Europe as a whole since 1991 is coming to a close.

If so, then the question is whether historical patterns of German strategy will emerge or something new is coming. It is, of course, always possible that the old post-war model can be preserved. Whichever it is, the future of German strategy is certainly the most important question in Europe and quite possibly in the world.

Origins of Germany's Strategy

Before 1871, when Germany was fragmented into a large number of small states, it did not pose a challenge to Europe. Rather, it served as a buffer between France on one side and Russia and Austria on the other. Napoleon and his campaign to dominate Europe first changed the status of Germany, both overcoming the barrier and provoking the rise of Prussia, a powerful German entity. Prussia became instrumental in creating a united Germany in 1871, and with that, the geopolitics of Europe changed. Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iranian Succession--Who Will be the Next Leader?

March 10th 2012

Khameni and Khomeini

Over the past two decades, and in the wake of the controversial 2009 presidential election, real power in Iran has been consolidated in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei more than with anyone else, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As head of the government and, more significantly, commander-in- chief of the armed forces, Khamenei has either sidelined or suppressed all of his domestic rivals, allowing him to abandon consensual governance by relying on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The succession process that will follow his eventual departure is therefore much more important than the next presidential election, assuming there even is one.

To be sure, there is little reason to believe that Khamenei will soon pass from the scene. Besides the IRGC, Iran has no real power center capable of forcing him to abdicate. And even the IRGC shows no evidence of potentially disobeying his orders or developing a circle of leadership independent from him. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Intercontinental Trade in a Leafy Narcotic Funds Somalian Terrorists

March 10th 2012

Yemen khat cud
Chewing khat in Yemen.

Analysts believe that this benign-looking plant popular in the Middle East may be funding the Al Shabaab terrorist organization in southern Somalia.
 
A very popular narcotic in the Middle East, khat maybe be funding the terrorist organization Al Shabaab in Somalia, CNN reports. Chewing the red stems of Catha edulis produces mild euphoria and an alertness akin to that produced by caffeine, and it is openly and widely use in the Horn of Africa. In Yemen, growing Khat uses more water than the country can afford and takes priority over more sustaining crops. Now Dutch officials are banning khat in the Netherlands, where a large Somali community imports large quantities of the plant from farmers in Meru County, Kenya. Government spokespeople insist that this decision was taken to protect against grave economic, health, and social concerns, but analysts believe that funds generated by the trade are funneled to Al Shabaab and that the Dutch aim to curtail that. Read more ..


Inside Israel

Women's Rights in Israel

March 10th 2012

Modern Women Leaders
Golda Meir

Israel is widely considered among the world's most progressive nations in defending the rights of women. 

Israel's Declaration of Independence - calling for the equal treatment of citizens regardless of race, religion, or gender - stands as a beacon of civility, freedom, and justice in a region where women are denied many basic freedoms.

In fact, Israel was one of the first countries in the world to be led by a female head of state. From 1969 to 1974, Golda Meir served as Israel's Prime Minister, setting the stage for future generations of women to follow in her political footsteps. Today, 24 women serve in the 120-member Knesset, a higher proportion than sit in the U.S. Congress. Three women also are ministers in the Israeli cabinet - Sofa Landver, Orit Noked, and Limor Livnat. Additionally, the leaders of two of Israel's three major political parties - Kadima and Labor - are both women, Tzipi Livni and Shelly Yachimovich, respectively.

Livni was first elected to the Israeli Knesset as a member of the rightist Likud party in 1999. When Likud leader Ariel Sharon became prime minister in July 2001, Livni was appointed Minister of Regional Co-operation, and thereafter held various Cabinet positions including Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Housing and Construction. She received the Abirat Ha-Shilton ("Quality of Governance") award for 2004. in October 2005, she was appointed Minister of Justice after several months acting in that position.

In Sharon's Cabinet, Livni was an avid supporter of the prime minister's disengagement plan, and was generally considered to be among the key dovish or moderate members of the Likud party. She often mediated between various elements inside the party, and made efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including successful efforts to have the pullout from the Gaza Strip ratified by the Knesset. On November 12, 2005, she spoke at the official annual commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Read more ..


Edge of Peace

Eco-Park For a Green Peace

March 10th 2012

Kishon River

If you are paddling a canoe down one of rivers that flows through Israel to the Mediterranean Sea, you might want to hold onto your oars. Some of these rivers are full of sewage effluent, agriculture runoff, wastewater from animal farms and industrial byproducts.

The Kishon River, which flows from the Palestinian city of Jenin through the Haifa Bay, is one of the most polluted of them all. Oil refinery waste dumped into the Kishon is thought responsible for giving Israeli divers cancer.

Recent conservation efforts on Israel's part have greatly improved the river's condition. But upstream it's a different story. Upstream, where the 70-kilometer river starts in Jenin, Palestinians rely on the river to carry away partly and poorly treated sewage. Open cesspits further downstream siphon into the river from the West Bank side, while heavy loads of fertilizers run off with every rain. Wildlife has returned to the Kishon following conservation efforts, but the situation is still grim near the West Bank end of the waterway. Read more ..


Humanity on Edge

Ethics of the Singularity

March 6th 2012

NGC 1097 Spiral Galaxy
NGC 1079 (credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, SINGS Team (SSC))

What Is the Singularity? If we manage to create a general artificial intelligence (AI)—an AI with intellectual capabilities similar to our own—this may well launch a Technological Singularity.

The possibility of a Technological Singularity is a key issue for the future of the AI community and of human society. If the Singularity occurs, it is very likely that the main social and technological problems facing us will then be eliminated, for better or worse. The first possibility excites Singularity enthusiasts; the second excites Hollywood directors and other pessimists. As AI researchers, we would like to be enthusiasts; here we review our prospects for remaining enthusiastic. Read more ..


Turkey on Edge

Istanbul’s Main Square To Become Lifeless And Isolated In New Urban Plan

March 5th 2012

Istanbul

Today, Istanbul’s Taksim Square is a bustling hub of activity, with majestic Gezi Park providing some natural solace — even when the trees are brown in winter, as in the above photo. But a new plan would eliminate most of the greenery in this photo and cut off Taksim from the rest of the city. That’s the argument of the Taksim Platform, a group of concerned citizens, urban planners, lawyers, and academics who have so far collected more than 13,500 signatures against the project. See what the new square would look like after the jump.

In the government’s vision for the new Taksim Square, the front of Gezi Park would be replaced by a building with a courtyard, while the back would be reduced to a small patch of grass and a mall. The streets running through and around Taksim Square would be paved over and replaced by deep underground tunnels, increasing the volumeand speed of traffic as vehicles exit the tunnels. Read more ..


Edge of Poverty

UNICEF's 2012 State of The World's Children Report: Vital Services Denied to Millions

March 4th 2012

Multiracial kids
Urban Children

The United Nations Children's Fund warns hundreds of millions of children who live in cities and towns are excluded from vital services, as it relates to their health, education, clean water and sanitation. In this year’s 2012 State of the World's Children report, UNICEF describes the grim reality of children growing up in poverty in city slums, which offer few of the benefits that are available to children of a wealthier class. For those individuals and families who can afford to go to the doctor, get an education and take advantage of the many recreational activities available, cities are great places to live. And yet, they are not such great places for poor children forced to live in slums and shantytowns. The U.N. Children’s Fund says these children are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the world. They live amid violence and exploitation, in addition to being deprived the most basic services.
Read more ..

Analysis of the Youth

A Healthy Teenager is a Happy Teenager

March 2nd 2012

Sullen Woman

Teenagers who turn their backs on a healthy lifestyle and turn to drink, cigarettes and junk food are significantly unhappier than their healthier peers. New research also shows that 12-13 is a catalyst age when young people turn away from the healthy habits of their younger years and start to get involved in risky behaviours.

The research, which used information from Understanding Society, a long-term study of 40,000 UK households funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), looked at the responses of 5,000 young people between the ages of 10-15 to questions about their health-related behaviours and levels of happiness. The results show that young people who never drank any alcohol were between four and six times more likely to have higher levels of happiness than those who reported any alcohol consumption.
Youth who smoked were about five times less likely to have high happiness scores compared to those who never smoked. Higher consumption of fruit and vegetables and lower consumption of crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks were both associated with high happiness.The more hours of sport youth participated in per week the happier they were. Read more ..


America on Edge

See America on $2 Per Day, Like 2.8 Million American Kids Do

March 2nd 2012

Homeless Black Teenager

One in five households with children in poverty are surviving on the cash equivalent of a half gallon of milk per person per day in a given month. The National Poverty Center has released a new report that examines poverty trends between 1996 and 2011. The number of households with children who are in extreme poverty in a given month—living at $2 or less in income per person per day—in 2011 totaled roughly 1.46 million households, including 2.8 million kids. This number is up from 636,000 households in 1996, nearly a 130 percent increase.

The study finds that in-kind public programs are having an effect, though. The number of children living in extreme poverty is cut in half to 1.4 million in 2011 when the statistics take into account benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program). Read more ..


Edge of Health

New Influenza Virus May not be Harmful to Humans, Maybe

February 28th 2012

Cough

A new influenza A virus discovered in fruit bats in Guatemala does not appear to present a current threat to humans, but should be studied as a potential source for human influenza, according to scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who worked with Universidad del Valle in Guatemala City, Guatemala. “This is the first time an influenza virus has been identified in bats, but in its current form the virus is not a human health issue,” said Dr. Suxiang Tong, team lead of the Pathogen Discovery Program in CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases and lead author of the study.  “The study is important because the research has identified a new animal species that may act as a source of flu viruses.” 

For the bat influenza virus to infect humans, it would need to obtain some genetic properties of human influenza viruses. This can occur in nature through a process called reassortment. Reassortment occurs when two or more influenza viruses infect a single host cell, which allows the viruses to swap genetic information. Reassortment is a complicated chain of events that can sometimes lead to the emergence of new influenza viruses in humans. Preliminary CDC research on the new virus suggests that its genes are compatible with human influenza viruses. Read more ..


Inside Spain

92 Percent of Spanish Families With Adopted Children Are Satisfied With Their Decision

February 26th 2012

Premature Baby

Two separate surveys six years apart have been used to analyse the level of satisfaction with adoptions in Andalucía. The study shows that 77.7 percent of families are happier after the process and variables that make it more difficult have been identified, such as the age of the children when arriving, multiple adoption and previous experiences of abuse. There is a significant link between the parents' assessment and that of the children.

"We wanted to know to what extent adoptions in Spain are providing children who need it with a healthy family environment that promotes their development" Yolanda Sánchez-Sandoval, a researcher from the University of Cádiz (UCA) states. In order to assess that, a comprehensive questionnaire was sent to families with adopted children in Andalucía, which was employed, amongst other uses, to assess family's satisfaction with the decision as a measurement of success. Read more ..


India on Edge

India's Surging Vehicle Count Creates Public Health Hazards

February 24th 2012

India Highway congestion

India's economy is growing at a blistering pace, and while that is increasing welfare for millions, it's also raising some alarming public health red flags. Respiratory pediatrician S.K. Kabra has busy Saturdays. His outpatient waiting area at this New Delhi hospital teems with parents whose children complain of breathing difficulties. Kabra says poor air quality is a key component in a grim U.N. statistic: 13 percent of Indian children under five years of age, who are hospitalized for respiratory infections, die. "Pollution increases the morbidity, increases the frequency, increases the severity. If a mother and a baby are exposed to some pollutant, that will increase respective morbidity," noted Kabra.

A recent U.S. study using satellite data gave India the lowest air quality rating in the world, citing concentrations of particulates five times higher than those deemed safe for human health. For poor and rural Indians, a significant danger comes from cooking with wood and other biomass. But the fastest-growing source of dangerous pollution is actually related to India's increasing wealth. Anumita Roychowdhury is an executive director at the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment. She speaks of a "toxic spiral" with the growing number of vehicles on India's streets. "Imagine a city with more than 5.6 million vehicles, adding nearly 1,200 to 1,300 vehicles a day," said Roychowdhury. "The pace of the problem is growing faster than our ability to deal with it." Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

No Refuge From Misery For Afghanistan's Displaced

February 24th 2012

Afghani Taliban

To the casual observer the thousands of caves that dot the sandstone cliffs of the ancient Afghan city of Bamiyan hearken to another era, when monks visiting the region's famous Buddha statues took residence there. But for hundreds of Afghans, the caves represent their current reality. The new residents have been forced to seek refuge in the caves, unable to return to areas they originally fled due to insecurity and the destruction of their former homes and villages. Upon their return to their native lands they have found it a struggle to survive, with basic essentials such as food, shelter, and health care in short supply. One is Gulsom, a 34-year-old mother of seven who has lived in the Bamiyan caves for over five years. Gulsom, who only has one name, returned to Bamiyan after she and her children were deported from Iran. After travelling to her former village and finding it deserted and completely destroyed, Gulsom followed the footsteps of hundreds of other returnees and displaced families in the region and moved into a cave. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

How The Kremlin Is Using Sex To Sell Putin

February 23rd 2012

Putin Ad

I'm scared," the girl says, "I want my choice to be based on love." The doctor, his glasses perched on his nose, looks down at her reclined on a leather chair. "I understand you, it's always scary the first time." The doctor then points to a copy of "Time" magazine with Putin on the cover and says, "Trust is love." Sweeping panpipes kick in, reminiscent of the "Titanic" theme tune, and the girl happily trots off to the polling station. The campaign ad from the youth group Nashi is the latest in a series of pro-Kremlin campaign videos that use sex to sell Putin's candidacy ahead of the March 4 election. Last year, Putin's Army of scantily clad women ripped off their clothes and lovingly unboxed Apple products. One time, the girls got together to make a chocolate cake for Putin. Or, with aesthetics borrowed from the car-washing scene in "Cool Hand Luke," Putin's girls strip off and get soapy.

The ads just get more and more bizarre. Before shaking hands with Putin, one Russian man decided that he would somehow transfer good vibes by fondling the breasts of 1,000 girls on the street. Many accepted the offer, many didn't. And in what might be a metaphor for the end of innocence, in this video a teddy bear is ripped up and then -- with pornographic predictability -- all the ladies start catfighting and ripping off each other's clothes. But the one that really takes the cake is the "Girls for Putin" music video, where at one point the singer pines for Putin while nursing a bottle of Jack Daniels. For some reason she also wants to be Putin's dog, Connie, so she paints her face (as a dog). Then she drinks more whisky, plays air guitar with a baseball bat, strips, and spits on a smashed pumpkin. Read more ..


Edge of Hunger

Action Needed to Address Perennial Problem of Hungry School Kids

February 23rd 2012

Homeless Black Teenager

Hunger is on the rise in America. The Conference of Mayors recently reported that 86 percent of surveyed cities have seen increases in the need for emergency food aid. These findings coincide with a Feeding America reportthat 20 percent of children in the United States are hungry. To turn the tide, we need to rekindle the passion and innovation of those who started the fight to end hunger in America more than a century ago.

In 1908 a Cincinnati school teacher, Ella Walsh, saw that her students were struggling. They looked pale. The students were not getting enough to eat. This obviously had serious health as well as educational repercussions. They could not learn on an empty stomach. Walsh could see malnutrition before her eyes. But she did not just “file it and forget it.” She took action. She got some cooking materials together, found a room, arranged a table, and started serving what came to be known as the “penny lunch.” Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Iran's National Internet Gets Late Spring Launch Date

February 22nd 2012

Shadowy Computer User

Iran’s so-called "national Internet" will be launched in either in late May or June, according to an announcement by Iranian Telecommunications Minister Reza Taghipour. Speaking on February 20 at a cyber-defense forum in Tehran, Taghipour said the national Internet is one of the steps Iran is taking toward creating infrastructures aimed at boosting its cyber-defense capabilities. Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Taghipour as saying, "Supporting local software and creating secure communication infrastructure are among the most important strategic decisions in the field of cyber defense, and in this regard the first phase of this network will become operational in the month of Khordad" -- the third month of the Iranian civil calendar, which begins in May and ends in June. Iranian officials have been promising to launch a national Internet since at least 2006. But they have provided little details about its scope, which has stoked fears that it could cut off citizen’s access to the World Wide Web. Iran already has one of the world’s toughest Internet censorship regimes, routinely blocking thousands of websites deemed immoral or threatening to the country’s national security.

  Read more ..


The Edge Of Justice

Social Workers Better Prepared to Address Juvenile Delinquencies than Law Enforcement Personnel

February 21st 2012

Juvenile Law

In the pioneering days of the juvenile corrections system, social workers often served as the primary probation officers who rehabilitated young offenders. As the field of corrections became dominated by law enforcement officers, the role of social workers was marginalized. A University of Missouri expert on juvenile justice and child welfare says social workers should return to the juvenile corrections system and reclaim their role as rehabilitators. Less than 2 percent of trained social workers are employed in the corrections system, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

Clark Peters, an assistant professor in the MU School of Social Work and a policy research scholar at the Institute of Public Policy in the Truman School of Public Affairs, says social workers’ specialized qualifications as counselors and facilitators better prepare them than law enforcement personnel to address youth offenders’ psychological and social needs. Compared to those trained in criminal justice, social workers are more likely to advocate for offenders’ access to needed services, such as mental health or substance abuse counseling, education or vocational training, or increased support from their family and friends, Peters said. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

New Afghan Textbooks Sidestep History

February 21st 2012

Afghan School

Afghanistan's recent history is comparable to a war epic -- a story encompassing four decades of foreign invasions, civil war, and political turmoil.  How that story is told, however, has proved highly controversial, with the country's rival ethnic and political groups writing their own accounts of history, shaped by their own ideologies, and with their own villains and heroes. Now Afghan officials think they have found a way to teach the country's contentious history that is acceptable to all Afghans regardless of their politics, ethnicity, or religion. The answer, they say, is to omit the past four decades from the history books. As of the next school year, which begins this spring, the Afghan government plans to distribute textbooks to high school students that do not mention the Soviet invasion, the country's devastating civil war, the reign of the extremist Taliban regime, the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, and the international presence that continues today. The Afghan Education Ministry says the textbook, the only one to be officially approved by the government, is part of a new nonpolitical curriculum. It is part of an initiative launched three years ago that has seen the government distribute books which avoid contentious recent history to some elementary and secondary schools around the country. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Tymoshenko's Daughter Says She Fears For Her Mother's Life

February 20th 2012

Yulia Tymoshenko

The daughter of Ukraine's jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko says she's afraid her mother may die because of what she describes as abusive prison conditions. Yevhenia Tymoshenko -- who this month accused Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of seeking to "get rid of" her mother -- said the former prime minister has been subjected to poor medical care and abusive conditions since she was initially jailed in August. The 31-year-old Tymoshenko, speaking to RFE/RL in Prague, said her worries about her mother have grown ever since an alleged incident in January where prison officials took 20 minutes to respond after her mother lost consciousness in her cell. "Of course, we understand that she's there for political reasons. And the whole democratic world states the same, that it's a politically motivated repression," she said. "But at the moment, we are actually worried just for her life. I'm not worried whether she's going to be back in politics or not, I'm just worried that she'll be alive."

Yulia Tymoshenko, who twice served as prime minister under the presidency of her Orange Revolution cohort Viktor Yushchenko, was handed a seven-year sentence late last year on charges of abuse of office. In late December, she was moved to a remote women's prison in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Since then, her family members and lawyers have complained of harsh conditions in her jail cell, including too-bright lighting and around-the-clock video surveillance. Read more ..


The Edge of Psychology

Babies Know What’s Fair

February 18th 2012

Angry Child

“That’s not fair!” It’s a common playground complaint. But how early do children acquire this sense of fairness? Before they’re 2, says a new study. “We found that 19- and 21-month-old infants have a general expectation of fairness, and they can apply it appropriately to different situations,” says University of Illinois psychology graduate student Stephanie Sloane, who conducted the study with UI’s Renée Baillargeon and David Premack of the University of Pennsylvania.

In each of two experiments, babies watched live scenarios unfold. In the first, 19-month-olds saw two giraffe puppets dance around at the back of a stage. An experimenter arrived with two toys on a tray and said, “I have toys!” “Yay!” said the giraffes. Then the experimenter gave one toy to each giraffe or both to one of them. The infants were timed gazing at the scene until they lost interest. Longer looking times indicated that something was odd—unexpected—to the baby. In this experiment, three-quarters of the infants looked longer when one giraffe got both toys. Read more ..


American History

African Slave Rebellion Lives On

February 18th 2012

America Themes - Amistad Ship

In 1839, African slaves bound for a Cuban sugar plantation escaped their shackles. They killed the captain and cook aboard the schooner Amistad and ordered their two slavemasters to sail to Africa.

Instead, the slavers steered the ship into U.S. waters. The slaves were recaptured off Long Island and tried for murder in the northeastern state of Connecticut - one of the few northern states that still permitted slavery. Now, the Custom House Maritime Museum in New London, Connecticut, offers a permanent exhibition on the saga. It tells the story of the criminal and appellate trials of the mutinous slaves, including their leader, Cinque, a 26-year-old Mende tribesman from what is now Sierra Leone. The trials became the rallying cry for abolitionists as various courts decided whether they were pirates, murderers or simply property. If property, how could they be guilty of crimes?  Read more ..


Inside Great Britain

United Kingdom is for True Life Partners

February 18th 2012

Holding Hands

Partners provide a vital source of positive emotional support for the vast majority of people in the UK. Nine out of ten people who were married or cohabiting talk to their partner about their worries, according to data from Understanding Society, the world’s largest longitudinal household study of 40,000 UK households. Ninety four per cent of those surveyed rely on their partner for support when a problem crops up.

As part of the Understanding Society study of 40,000 UK households, researchers asked people how much personal and emotional support they felt they received from not only their spouse/partner, but also other family members and friends. Respondents were also asked to rate negative support from their partner, other family members and friends including how much they felt criticised and let down by those people. Read more ..


Kenya on Edge

In Slums of Nairobi, Sex for Sanitation

February 17th 2012

Kenya Sanitary

Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign. Health educator Lydiah Njoroge, a field officer for the Freedom for Girls Program, an initiative of HEART (Health Education Africa Resource Team), distributes towels to girls in Mathare, a collection of Nairobi ghettos where poverty is so severe that girls are unable to purchase even the most affordable brands. "The least [expensive] in the market is 40 shillings ... a packet that has eight pieces in it," says Njoroge. "So, because this girl cannot afford 40 shillings -- their mother, their parents are poor, they have other things to provide food and shelter - sanitary towels are not a priority. So the girl just goes [and] has sex with an older man, most of the time not the same man -- they would have one this month, another one next month, so they are very, very at risk of having HIV." In other words, for 40 shillings - about 50 cents - girls and young women repeatedly put their lives at risk. Read more ..


The Frontiers of Language

What Causes Language Switching in Bilinguals?

February 16th 2012

Social Topics - International Flags

The proficiency that a bilingual person has of both languages, the context in which he speaks them or unconscious changes in their use are the factors that make people who speak Spanish and Catalan switch from one language to another. The group of Cognition and Brain Plasticity at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), led by Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, has designed a questionnaire that allows understanding individual differences among bilinguals when they change the language (switching).

The study was conducted on a sample of 566 college students Spanish-Catalan bilingual and has been published in the latest issue of the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Court Reviews Baby Mix-Up Involving Muslim, Christian Parents

February 16th 2012

Social Topics - Sullen Woman

A Russian court has begun to review the case of a hospital baby mix-up that led to a Russian Orthodox girl being raised by a Tajik Muslim family, and a Russian family raising a Tajik girl. The girls were switched in a maternity ward in the town of Kopeisk in the Ural region, where they were born at the same time in December 1998. The two families have been raising the daughters since then. In the court case, the Russian mother, Yulia Belyaeva, is demanding full access to her biological daughter, saying she is concerned the girl is being raised according to Muslim traditions.

The Tajik father, Nemat Iskandarov, says the two families' different customs and values have become a source of disagreements. "We don't frequently go to cinema, our children don't [excessively] spend time on the Internet, we don't approve of short skirts, or girls playing with boys," he says. "[Belyaeva] sees it as a problem that our girl doesn’t go to discos, and goes to an aqua park instead, and that she doesn't have a boyfriend at this age." Both Iskandarov and Belyaeva have told media that the girls would want to remain with the families who have been raising them. Read more ..


Edge of Environment

US/Mexico Cross-Border Battery Pollution Investigated

February 15th 2012

batteries
Mexican lead recycling facility

Across the Rio Grande and over numerous desert land crossings, the golden scraps of U.S. throwaway society head south. Used clothes, appliances, cars and other commodities are shipped to the huge, second-hand Mexican market where low wages guarantee steady sales. And during the last five years or so, a new market has opened up for used lead-acid batteries.

Now an international environmental agency headquartered in Canada is investigating the business amid reports from citizen advocacy groups and the media that have raised red flags. In a landmark 2011 report, the U.S.-based group Occupational Knowledge International and its Mexican partner Fronteras Comunes (Common Borders) explored the ecological and public health risks of lead-acid batteries sent from the U.S. to Mexico, where at least 21 plants extract lead for recycling purposes. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Wireless Will Redifine the Home Audio Market as We Know It

February 14th 2012

Technology - bluetooth connecting devices

Over the next five years, wireless connectivity to mobile devices and the Internet will redefine the mainstream products within the home audio market. Despite differences in capabilities, form factors, and usage scenarios, a variety of home audio products will all increasingly incorporate wireless functionality in order to play audio streamed from mobile devices, home networks, and the Internet.

In recent years the home audio industry has been challenged to adapt to changing trends in consumers’ media consumption habits and the proliferation of Internet-based streaming audio services. As a result, consumer home audio is rapidly evolving by integrating wireless connectivity into devices such as A/V receivers, soundbars, standalone speaker docks, and home theater in a box (HTIB) systems. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Spice up Your Life and Reduce Cancer Risk with a Good Indian Curry

February 13th 2012

Food - Spices

Curcumin, an active component of the Indian curry spice turmeric, may help slow down tumor growth in castration-resistant prostate cancer patients on androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a study from researchers at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center suggests.

Reporting in a recent issue of Cancer Research, Karen Knudsen, Ph.D., a Professor of Cancer Biology, Urology and Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University, and colleagues observed in a pre-clinical study that curcumin suppresses two known nuclear receptor activators, p300 and CPB (or CREB1-binding protein), which have been shown to work against ADT.

ADT aims to inhibit the androgen receptor—an important male hormone in the development and progression of prostate cancer—in patients. But a major mechanism of therapeutic failure and progression to advanced disease is inappropriate reactivation of this receptor. Sophisticated tumor cells, with the help of p300 and CPB, sometimes bypass the therapy. Thus, development of novel targets that act in concert with the therapy would be of benefit to patients with castration-resistant prostate cancer. Read more ..


America on Edge

California Makes History by Closing its Juvenile Prisons

February 12th 2012

Social Topics - prison cell northern ireland flickr

California, often a trendsetter, could make history if it approves Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to close all state-run youth prisons and eliminate its state Division of Juvenile Justice. Much depends, though, on whether the state’s politically influential prison guards, probation officers and district attorneys can be convinced — or forced by legislators — to agree to Brown’s proposal. That won’t be an easy sell, due to both public-safety arguments and sure-to-surface haggling over just who pays to house juvenile offenders. owing to restructure government more efficiently, Brown, a Democrat, wants to close the last three of 11 youth prisons that have long been attacked by critics as “expensive failures.” If the state phases out the last three of its aging detention centers, all future young offenders would be held, schooled and treated by California’s 58 counties.

This is the second time since taking office last year that Brown has proposed closing the state juvenile division, which is part of its corrections system. The division’s responsibility has already been slashed dramatically from 10,000 wards in the mid-1990s to about 1,100 in state custody today. Their numbers may be few, but the cost for keeping those youth in state custody runs about $200,000-a-year for every ward. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korean Accordionists are Smash Hit on Internet, and Didn't Even Know it

February 12th 2012

Korea Topics - trio in north korea
Moreton Traavik in Panmunjon, North Korea

Norwegian synthpop and North Korea are an unlikely combination. But that’s exactly the mix that has spawned the Internet’s latest viral hit. A video of five North Korean accordionists playing the 1980’s song “Take On Me” by a-ha has nearly one million views on YouTube. And that’s only in its first week online. Norwegian artist and director Morten Traavik shot the video in Pyongyang last December in preparation for the Barents Spektakel, an international arts festival currently underway in Kirkenes, Norway.  It was the culmination of multiple trips to North Korea over several years.

“I wanted them to play, since they would be playing in Norway, to include some Norwegian tunes in their repertoire,” Traavik said in a telephone interview with VOA. “I brought them three Norwegian songs that are more of a classical nature, and also the “Take On Me” by our only world-famous pop group a-ha on a CD.” Traavik says he was impressed by how quickly the young North Koreans, who attend Pyongyang’s Kum Song Music School, mastered the tune.

“I gave them the CD with no notes, no annotations, nothing whatsoever, only the song on a CD on a Monday evening, and the clip that you see was filmed on Wednesday morning,” he said. In the video, three men and two women sway to the beat of the music, their arms wrapped around the accordions. “I think this has been a revelation to quite some people around the world, you can actually have a good time in North Korea as well,” said Traavik, who is known for his sensational projects, including the Miss Landmine pageants in Angola and Cambodia Read more ..



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