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Edge of the Mind

Group Settings can Diminish Expressions of Intelligence, Especially Among Women

January 23rd 2012

Science - Mind

In the classic film "12 Angry Men," Henry Fonda's character sways a jury with his quiet, persistent intelligence. But would he have succeeded if he had allowed himself to fall sway to the social dynamics of that jury? Research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that small-group dynamics -- such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties -- can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. "You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well," said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity. "We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ," said Montague. "Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect." "Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning," said lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. "And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit." Read more ..


Edge on Parenting

The School of Hard Knocks does Develop Resilence

January 22nd 2012

Social Topics - Little girl upset

Your parents were right: Hard experiences may indeed make you tough. Psychological scientists have found that, while going through many experiences like assault, hurricanes, and bereavement can be psychologically damaging, small amounts of trauma may help people develop resilience.

“Of course, everybody’s heard the aphorism, ‘Whatever does not kill you makes you stronger,’” says Mark D. Seery of the University at Buffalo. His paper on adversity and resilience appears in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. But in psychology, he says, a lot of ideas that seem like common sense aren’t supported by scientific evidence. Indeed, a lot of solid psychology research shows that having miserable life experiences is bad for you. Serious events, like the death of a child or parent, a natural disaster, being physically attacked, experiencing sexual abuse, or being forcibly separated from your family, can cause psychological problems. In fact, some research has suggested that the best way to go through life is having nothing ever happen to you. But not only is that unrealistic, it’s not necessarily healthy, Seery says. Read more ..


Edge of Terrorism

Northern Nigeria Faces Apparent Ethnic Cleansing

January 21st 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria christmas day bomb
Christmas Day, 2011, bombing in Abuja

"I am trying to get in contact with Mgr. John Namanza Niyiring, Bishop of Kano but the lines do not work", reported Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos in central Nigeria. On the evening of January 20, in Kano, northern Nigeria's largest city, a series of coordinated bomb attacks and armed assaults hit several targets, among which where some police stations.

"Last night, I spoke with the pastor of the church of Our Lady of the Apostles who, over the phone, and told me he was forced to hide because he was under attack. But the information that we have so far are still fragmentary, and we are waiting for confirmation. Telephone lines are interrupted, I do not know if it is due to a technical problem or other causes. The situation is still confusing. We will see how the government reacts to this new attack", said the Archbishop of Jos.

A 24-hour curfew has been imposed in Nigeria's second-largest city, Kano, after a coordinated series of bomb attacks. Nigerian police say at least seven people have been killed in the bombings that targeted police and government offices in the northern city. The Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Read more ..


The Spiritual Edge

Religious People Better Adjusted Psychologically

January 20th 2012

Social Topics - victim

Psychological research has found that religious people feel great about themselves, with a tendency toward higher social self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than non-believers. But a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that this is only true in countries that put a high value on religion.

The researchers got their data from eDarling, a European dating site that is affiliated with eHarmony. Like eHarmony, eDarling uses a long questionnaire to match clients with potential dates. It includes a question about how important your personal religious beliefs are and questions that get at social self-esteem and how psychologically well-adjusted people are. Jochen Gebauer of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Constantine Sedikides of the University of Southampton, and Wiebke Neberich of Affinitas GmbH in Berlin, the company behind eDarling, used 187,957 people’s answers to do their analyses. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Non-invasive Tool Identifies Alzheimer's, Depression and ADHD

January 19th 2012

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

One out of every three people suffer from a brain-related disorder such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ADHD, chronic pain or depression. But because the human brain and the conditions that affect it are so complex, blood tests and imaging are of limited value for diagnosing brain diseases and documenting the effects of treatment.

Even in the 21st century, there's a lot of guesswork involved, and that means low treatment success rates at high costs.

The Israeli company ElMindA could revolutionize the field by opening a new window into how the brain works. Its trademarked, non-invasive BNA (brain network activation) technology has shown promise in clinical studies.

"Our vision is that every psychiatrist and neurologist in the world will routinely send every patient for BNA tests," says Dr. Eli Zangvil, ElMindA's strategic advisor for business development. "Our test would add information and aid in diagnostics in a way no other existing technology can do." Read more ..


The Way We Work

Happy Workers are Better Workers

January 18th 2012

Social Topics - cubicle workers

While it may come as little surprise that happy employees are more productive, a high-performing workforce needs more than just a feeling of contentment—workers need to thrive, says a researcher at the University of Michigan. "We think of a thriving workforce as one in which employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future—the company's and their own," said Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the Michigan Ross School of Business. "Thriving employees have a bit of an edge—they are highly energized—but they know how to avoid burnout."

Over the past seven years, Spreitzer and Christine Porath, assistant professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, have researched the nature of thriving in the workplace and the factors that enhance or inhibit it. They, along with colleagues Cristina Gibson of the University of Western Australia and Flannery Garnett of the University of Utah, have surveyed more than 1,200 white- and blue-collar workers in various industries about learning, growth, personal energy, retention rates, health, overall job performance and organizational citizenship behaviors. Read more ..


South Sudan on Edge

More Devastation in South Sudan due to Tribal Conflicts

January 17th 2012

Sudan - Tribal Violence in Sudan
Tribal Violence has greatly increased in South Sudan

Tribal violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei state recently reached alarming levels with thousands of armed young men involved in attacks on villages. The death toll has yet to be determined, but the United Nations says tens of thousands of people in Pibor County were forced to flee attackers.

In Pibor town, hundreds of displaced people gather in the midday sun, waiting for U.N. aid workers to distribute grain and cooking oil brought in by helicopter.

For many like Labakal Kalahin, whose daughter was killed by attackers firing on the family as they fled into the bush, this will be her first meal in seven days. Read more ..


The Edge of Justice

Our Youngest Killers

January 16th 2012

Crime Topics - Kids Jail

One 16-year-old went looking for pot at a Brookline High School graduation party, then shot the guest of honor in the chest when he got a racial slur instead. The other 16-year-old stabbed a man 23 times inside his Springfield apartment, returning the next day to steal things from the victim’s home while his body lay nearby. Both crimes were horrific, but the punishments were strikingly different. The murderer in Springfield, Edgardo Rodriguez, accepted a plea deal for the 2004 killing of Joel Rivera Delgado, allowing him to potentially walk free within the next decade. The other teen, Antonio Fernandez, took his 2002 case to trial and received the harshest juvenile sentence Massachusetts permits — the harshest in the country, in fact — for shooting Perry Hughes: life in prison without the possibility of parole. Until then, Fernandez had never been charged with anything worse than stealing video games. Now, he’s sentenced to die in prison.

The two cases illustrate the profound inequities that have grown up in the juvenile justice system in the wake of a 1996 law aimed at cracking down on juvenile “super predators,” by requiring them to be tried in adult court where they face the maximum adult penalty for first degree murder, an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found. Before the change, juvenile killers could only be sentenced to serve until age 21 unless their case was transferred to adult court. Read more ..


Edge on Parenting

Tiger Mothers Can Learn from Nurturing Techniques of Both East and West

January 16th 2012

Social Topics - tiger mom
Dr. Desiree Baolian Qin and daughter

The Eastern view of parenting, as defined by best-selling author and self-described “tiger mother” Amy Chua, is that children should be pushed to excel at all costs. Parents needn’t worry about their happiness, she argues, only their success. But now a Michigan State University scholar is refuting that theory. In her research, Desiree Baolian Qin – who, like Chua, is a Chinese mother – found that high-achieving Chinese students were more depressed and anxious than their white counterparts. And contrary to the tiger mother philosophy, Qin said, a child’s happiness is vitally important.

“I strongly believe that happiness matters tremendously for children to develop well, so they don’t just have success now and then later on experience maladjustment,” said Qin, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. “It’s really important for parents to pay attention to this.” In her best-selling book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua, a Yale Law School professor, created a firestorm of controversy for her hardline parenting. In the book, Chua describes how she demanded straight As from her two daughters and drilled them for hours every day on the piano and violin. The girls were not allowed to watch TV, be in a school play or have a play date with friends. Qin called these restrictions “ridiculous.” She said she and her husband, Tom Buffett, would never keep their daughters – Olivia, 4, and Helena, 2 – from having play dates or other activities that build social and emotional skills. Read more ..


Edge on Human Environment

Controlling Smokers through the Social Contagion Theory

January 16th 2012

Social Topics - exploding cigaret

Citizens aren't just blowing smoke when it comes to anti-tobacco legislation—and they tend to copy what neighboring states do, new research shows. In adopting anti-smoking bans, public opinion is much more important than originally thought, said University of Michigan School of Public Health researcher and lead study author Julianna Pacheco. The closer a person lives to a state that has enacted smoking bans the likelier it is for that person to support smoking bans. Eventually, politicians respond by enacting bans in those home states.

"Democratic responsiveness is alive and well at the state level," said Pacheco, who is also a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the Ann Arbor-based institution. "We've always thought that public opinion was important for state policy making, but this is the first paper to empirically test the causal relationship between opinion and policy over time," Pacheco said. "Furthermore, this paper suggests that public opinion is the driving force behind why policies often spread across neighboring states." Read more ..


Nigeria on Edge

Impoverished Nigerian Workers Strike over Fuel Subsidy Suspension

January 15th 2012

Nigeria - Nigeria Oil

A labor union representing 20,000 oil and gas workers in Nigeria threatened on January 12 it would shut down all production starting Sunday, January 15 to take part in the crippling nationwide strike over spiraling fuel prices. Nigeria’s main workers’ unions are scheduled to resume their strike today (Monday) after the group said talks with the government failed to resolve their concerns over the removal of a popular fuel subsidy.

The spokesman for the Nigeria Labor Congress, Owei Lakemfa, says negotiations failed after the government refused to reinstate the subsidy. “We felt that the first thing to do is to stop the price increase, which has incensed a lot of Nigerians and pushed them on the streets,” said Lakemfa. “But the government felt that all it needed to do was to offer a price reduction, which wasn’t fundamental to us.” The unions want the government to return fuel prices to the levels before the $8 billion subsides were eliminated at the beginning of this month.

The removal, union workers say, caused fuel prices to double and led to sharp increases in food and transportation prices. The groups, which include the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Joint Action Front (JAF) suspended their initial strike over the weekend to make room for talks with the government. But President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration have refused to reinstate the subsidy, saying it’s unaffordable. Labor spokesman Lakemfa said the government has been unwilling to resolve their concerns. Read more ..


Aging on Edge

'Virtual Village' Helps Elderly Stay in Own Home

January 15th 2012

Social Topics - walking-cane

At 91, Philip Theil lives in a century-old house in Seattle's University District and that's the way he wants to keep it. "As far as I'm concerned, I would not like to leave this place," says the naval architect. "Living in a group situation is something I couldn't tolerate. I'd kill myself before I had to do that." Many elderly Americans, who can no longer manage on their own, spend their final years in a nursing home or assisted living facility. However, the vast majority of seniors would prefer to live in their own homes as long as possible. Theil says he and his wife manage pretty well right now. Their two-story house is stuffed to the rafters with the books, artwork and projects of a life well lived. But the couple can feel their advancing age and realize they'll soon need more help with basic household chores, like changing that light bulb at the top of the stairs. "To change that tube, I have to bring in a stepladder and put it partly on the landing and partly on the stairs and climb up," Theil says. "It's kind of trepiditious."

In the old days, the Theils could ask their children to climb up there or maybe the teenager from down the street when he came over to mow the lawn. But those young helpers have grown up and gone. "We have kids and we call them occasionally, but one lives in Munich, Germany, another lives in London and a third lives in Los Angeles," Theil says. "They're not going to drop around for a weekend call type of thing." Read more ..


Medicine Edge

32 Million Americans Have Autoantibodies That Target Their Own Tissues

January 14th 2012

Science - Research and Development Chemistry

More than 32 million people in the United States have autoantibodies, which are proteins made by the immune system that target the body's tissues and define a condition known as autoimmunity, a study shows. The first nationally representative sample looking at the prevalence of the most common type of autoantibody, known as antinuclear antibodies (ANA), found that the frequency of ANA is highest among women, older individuals, and African-Americans. The study was conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health. Researchers in Gainesville at the University of Florida also participated.

Earlier studies have shown that ANA can actually develop many years before the clinical appearance of autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. ANA are frequently measured biomarkers for detecting autoimmune diseases, but the presence of autoantibodies does not necessarily mean a person will get an autoimmune disease. Other factors, including drugs, cancer, and infections, are also known to cause autoantibodies in some people. Read more ..


Society News

I Recognize You! But How Did I Do It?

January 14th 2012

Social Topics - Brain Waves

Are you someone who easily recognises everyone you've ever met? Or maybe you struggle, even with familiar faces? It is already known that we are better at recognising faces from our own race but researchers have only recently questioned how we assimilate the information we use to recognise people.

New research by the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus has shown that when it comes to recognising people the Malaysian Chinese have adapted their facial recognition techniques to cope with living in a multicultural environment.

The study 'You Look Familiar: How Malaysian Chinese Recognise Faces' was led by Chrystalle B.Y. Tan, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. The results have been published online in the prestigious scientific journal PloS One, This research is the first PhD student publication for Nottingham's School of Psychology in Malaysia. Read more ..


Edge on Ancient America

Americans have been Smoking for Nearly Three Thousand Years

January 14th 2012

Archaeology Topics - mayan tobacco jar

Archaeologists examining late period Mayan containers have identified nicotine traces from a codex-style flask, revealing the first physical evidence of tobacco use by ancient Mayans. The study published in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry reveals the flask is marked with Mayan hieroglyphics reading, "y-otoot 'u-may," ("the home of its/his/her tobacco,") making it only the second case to confirm that the text on the exterior of a Mayan vessel corresponds to its ancient use.

"Investigation of food items consumed by ancient people offers insight into the traditions and customs of a particular civilization," explains Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman from the University at Albany in New York. "Textual evidence written on pottery is often an indicator of contents or of an intended purpose, however actual usage of a container could be altered or falsely represented."  Many of the Mayan flask vessels from the Kislak collection of the Library of Congress examined in this study were filled with other substances, such as iron oxide used in burial rituals, making it difficult to detect the original content. Read more ..


Edge on America

The Latin-Americanization of the United States Proceeds as Informal Businesses Proliferate

January 14th 2012

Social Topics - Los Angeles street vendor

Pirate profiteers and street merchants are central players in the economies of Mexico and other nations of the developing world. Although informal businesses are far from new in the United States, recent reports indicate they are growing in scope and diversity. In the pinnacle of advanced capitalism, commercial transactions based on hard cash and record-free trails exist alongside high-tech gadgetry and instantaneous financial services.

With poverty on the rise and millions of unemployed and underemployed people still scratching by in urban and rural areas of the US, the potential for expansion of the informal sector is enormous. At the same time, as some people tinker with creative ways to make a living in tough times, spurts of growth in the underground economy are laying the groundwork for new tensions and conflicts over immigration, jobs and taxes, quality of life and even national security.

In southern California, for instance, the growth of informal commerce is unleashing complaints that echo long-running ones heard south of the border. After a federal court decision struck down a local anti-street vending ordinance as unconstitutional, the number of street vendors at popular Venice Beach increased to such an extent that some locals complained it impaired their beach views. Many of the entrepreneurs sell mass-produced items including T-shirts and jewelry. Read more ..


The Way We Are

We May Be Less Happy, But Our Language Isn't

January 12th 2012

Social Topics - Wimbleton crowd

“If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the cynical saying with television and newspaper editors. In other words, most news is bad news and the worst news gets the big story on the front page.

So one might expect the New York Times to contain, on average, more negative and unhappy types of words—like “war,” “ funeral,” “cancer,” “murder”—than positive, happy ones—like “love,” “peace,” and “hero.”

Or take Twitter. A popular image of what people tweet about may contain a lot of complaints about bad days, worse coffee, busted relationships and lousy sitcoms. Again, it might be reasonable to guess that a giant bag containing all the words from the world’s tweets—on average—would be more negative and unhappy than positive and happy.

But new research shows just the opposite. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Maternal Health Poses Another Major Challenge for Somalia

January 11th 2012

Somalia Topics - Edna-adan Maternity Hospital
Edna Adan Maternity Hospital

Two decades of civil war in Somalia have made the country one of the most dangerous places in the world for a woman to give birth. The World Health Organization says Somalia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.  In southern Somalia, the situation is grave, and the recent famine has made the health crisis for mothers and infants even worse. In camps for internally displaced people in Mogadishu, women give birth in their tents.  If there are complications, they are either taken to the clinic in the camp or, if the resources exist, transported to one of Mogadishu’s three hospitals.

At the Medina Hospital, which focuses on trauma and emergency maternal medicine, nearly 200 women give birth every month. The director, Dr. Mohamed Yusuf, says the famine is straining the hospital's already limited capacity. "A lot of people who are IDPs today, you can imagine how they are malnourished while they are in pregnancy," Yusuf said.  "And the premature delivery is frequent here, and not having an incubator is another problem.” A lack of equipment in Somalia is endemic.  There are no neonatal facilities in the south.  And without respirators or incubators - caring for premature babies is difficult. The closest incubator can be found 846 kilometers north in Hargeisa, the capital of the autonomous region of Somaliland. Read more ..


Inside Jakarta

Indonesians Use Sandals as Justice Symbol

January 8th 2012

Asia Topics - Sandals of Indonesia

Officials from Indonesia's Child Protection Commission collect sandals sent to their office in Jakarta by outraged citizens as part of a campaign to support a boy who was beaten by police and faces five years in jail for stealing footwear, January 4, 2012.

The humble flip flop is being used as a satirical symbol of Indonesia's justice system this week, with mountains of the plastic sandals piling up on the doorsteps of police stations across the country. In protest of a juvenile being tried for petty theft, rights groups say the response highlights the public's growing frustration with an institution riddled with corruption.

The flip flops frenzy was sparked by the case of a 15-year-old student from Palu, Sulawesi, who allegedly stole a police officer's plastic sandals worth around $3. The juvenile defendant, who was also interrogated and beaten by police, now faces up to five years in jail. The case has sparked nationwide condemnation, with thousands of flips flops appearing on the doorsteps of police stations across the country. Read more ..


Edge of Health

Poor Maternal Diet Increases Diabetes Risk

January 6th 2012

Health/Medicine - Diabetic Diet

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have shown one way in which poor nutrition in the womb can put a person at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other age-related diseases in later life. This finding could lead to new ways of identifying people who are at a higher risk of developing these diseases and might open up targets for treatment.
The team, from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester, publish their findings today (Friday 6 January) in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation.

The research shows that, in both rats and humans, individuals who experience a poor diet in the womb are less able to store fats correctly in later life. Storing fats in the right areas of the body is important because otherwise they can accumulate in places like the liver and muscle where they are more likely to lead to disease. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Splitsville—Online

January 5th 2012

Social Topics - gavel and rings

Matchmaking and marriage services on the Internet have brought millions of Americans together. But the Net has also become a helpful tool when people want marriages to end.

Splitting from a spouse is rarely easy emotionally, but in many divorces, the Internet has made the process quicker, more efficient, and cheaper.

Lindsey Short, Jr., a past president of the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is a partner in the largest family-law firm in Houston, Texas. He says that thanks to the Internet, the firm, which handles many high-profile divorce cases, has all but done away with its library of law books. And you’ve seen enough photos or courtroom dramas showing law libraries to know how many expensive, leather-bound volumes that must have entailed.

Simply put, Short says, “We do our research online. We hire experts through Internet resources—investigation analysts. We use the Internet dramatically, daily.” Read more ..


The Arab Fall in Egypt

Final Round of Egyptian Parliamentary Elections Underway

January 4th 2012

Egypt - 2012 Egptian Elections

As voters in rural areas of Egypt go to the polls in the third and final phase of elections that have so far been dominated by Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood says it intends to form a unity government,

Voting continued for a second day Wednesday in nine provinces, including al-Gharbiya, North Sinai and South Sinai, the last areas to hold polls in the elections that began in late November. The areas include historic Brotherhood strongholds, where a number of the group's best-known candidates are running.

The Brotherhood looked to possibly win an outright majority instead of the plurality indicated by previous results.  It has in the past sought to ally itself with secular liberal groups instead of the ultra-conservative Salafists. Their triumph has come at the expense of liberal parties and youth groups behind the popular uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak from power nearly a year ago. Read more ..


Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Newlywed Girl Rescued From Torture

January 2nd 2012

Afghan Topics - Afghan Newlywed Torture
Sahar Gul

The torture endured by a 15-year-old newlywed allegedly at the hands of her husband and in-laws has shocked Afghan officials and the world alike. The wounds, bruises, and scars that cover Sahar Gul's battered body provide gruesome evidence of the abuse Gul has endured in the six months since being sold into marriage far from home with a man twice her age. Her left eye is nearly sealed shut; her right leg is wrapped in gauze; fingers are broken, and some of her nails have been pulled out. Still, all of it is an improvement from last week, when police found her near death when they arrived to free her from the dark basement where she was being held.

At a hospital in the northern Pol-e Khomri Province, where she first underwent treatment after the rescue, Gul could barely muster a reply to questions posed by a local official, Rahima Zarifi. "My father-in-law, sisters-in-law, [and] brother-in-law used to beat me," she responded to Zarifi's question. She accused them of abusing her with pincers and said her mother-in-law pulled out clumps of her hair and tore out her fingernails. Read more ..


Inside the Congo

Pushing Goods in Carts Provides Needed Work for E. Congolese

January 2nd 2012

Congo - Chikudu Cart

In Eastern Congo, formal jobs are rare and locals say survival is "by chance."  Self-reliance is a way of life, and is immortalized by a golden statue of a boy pushing a wooden chikudu cart in the center of Goma. Almost exclusively used in eastern Congo, they are chipped out of solid wood plucked from forests crawling with rebel militias. In this dusty corner of Eastern Congo, locals say unemployment is 70, 80 or 90 percent.  With no available jobs, many seek out a living carrying things - vegetables to the market, construction materials, crates of goods to the supermarket. Unlike other parts of Congo, this region boasts a vehicle they say is only found here: the Chikudu cart.  It is a two-wheeled scooter of sorts that these men can push more than 24 kilometers a day, carrying more than 114 kilos of materials.  On a good day, they can make $6 to $8.

But for Eastern Congo natives, the Chikudu cart is more than just back-breaking work.  It is a symbol of Congolese endurance through decades of conflict and crushing poverty. One man takes photos to sell to tourists of the Chikudu statue in the center of downtown Goma. “The statue that you see here represents the hard work of the drivers to survive and to develop our town,” he said. Like other Congolese tools and art, Chikudu carts are hand-made, deep in the countryside.   They cost drivers $50 to $100 dollars and are crafted from wood found in the Virunga Forest, a national park that has been plagued by conflict for decades. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Did Russian Civil Society Wake Up In 2011?

January 2nd 2012

Russian Topics - Moscow Rally 2011-12-24
December 24, 2011 protests in Moscow

He moved to Moscow in the autumn of 2001, graduated from the prestigious Russian State University for the Humanities, and ultimately landed himself a good job as a deputy editor at "Afisha," a popular lifestyle magazine and web portal.

"I always thought of my generation as one deprived of historical opportunity," the 27-year-old Gorbachev wrote in a recent column explaining his reasons for participating in antigovernment protests. "I haven't had a lot to complain about over the past 10 years. I have a job, a career, wealth, and comfort.... But eventually you want to become part of something bigger than yourself -- especially in a territory of 150 million. You want to feel not only that you belong to this territory, but that it belongs to you." Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Disease-Causing Strains of Fusarium Prevalent in Plumbing Drains

January 2nd 2012

Technology - sink-drain

A study examining the prevalence of the fungus Fusarium in bathroom sink drains suggests that plumbing systems may be a common source of human infections.

In the first extensive survey of its kind, researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences sampled nearly 500 sink drains from 131 buildings - businesses, homes, university dormitories and public facilities - in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and California.

They analyzed fungal DNA to compare the spectrum of Fusarium species and sequence types found in drains with those recovered from human infections. Read more ..


Edge on Health

Have a Little Esophageal Cancer with Your Turkey, Gravy and Dressing

January 2nd 2012

Food - roast turkey

Jack Selby had suffered from heartburn all of his life, especially around the holidays when he overindulged in some of his favorite food and drink.

“Special days anytime of the year, but particularly holidays, the turkeys and the gravies and all of the dishes with onions, great salads, punches and alcohol bothered me a great deal because of the stomach acid and of course you overeat and fall asleep,” says Selby, a 68-year-old retiree living in Lansing, Michigan. “So that’s not a particularly good thing to have happen.”

He thought over-the-counter antacids had solved his problem. It turns out they were only masking a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, a disorder that frequently leads to a form of esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma. The incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma has increased by 350 percent over the last decade, making it the most rapidly increasing malignancy among white males. “People who have ongoing gastro-esophageal reflux, which is backwash of acid from the stomach into the esophagus, for years and years, expose the lining of the esophagus to this bombardment of acid,” says Mark Orringer, M.D., professor of surgery in the Section of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Michigan Health System. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Diet, Nutrient Levels Linked to Cognitive Ability, Brain Shrinkage

January 1st 2012

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

New research has found that elderly people with higher levels of several vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids in their blood had better performance on mental acuity tests and less of the brain shrinkage typical of Alzheimer's disease – while "junk food" diets produced just the opposite result.

The study was among the first of its type to specifically measure a wide range of blood nutrient levels instead of basing findings on less precise data such as food questionnaires, and found positive effects of high levels of vitamins B, C, D, E and the healthy oils most commonly found in fish.

"This approach clearly shows the biological and neurological activity that's associated with actual nutrient levels, both good and bad," said Maret Traber, a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute and co-author on the study. Read more ..


Inside Latin America

The United States Defines Democracy in Latin America

December 30th 2011

Nicaragua - Daniel Ortega
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

In 2003, Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica, appealed to the Constitutional Court (Sala IV), claiming that the article that prohibited the re-election of a president and vice-president was in violation of basic human rights guaranteed by the same Constitution, which declares that all laws must apply equally to every citizen.  The Constitutional Court ruled 5-2 in favor of Arias, who was subsequently re-elected by a suspicious margin in a controversial election. In 2009, Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, as a result of an election staged in 2006, appealed to the Supreme Court of Nicaragua, asking it to revoke the article that prohibited his re-election, where he used the same arguments as Arias.  After studying the case, the Nicaraguan Supreme Court followed the example of Costa Rica and declared the article unconstitutional, thereby opening the way for Ortega to be a candidate for re-election in 2011. Read more ..


Inside North Korea

North Korea Hails Kim Jong Un as 'Supreme Leader'

December 29th 2011

Korea Topics - Kim Jong-Un
Kim Jong Un

With a distant siren the only sound, an ocean of people bowed silently Thursday before North Korea's Kim Jong Un. From a balcony, he looked out over hundreds of thousands gathered for a silent memorial to his father - and a pledge of unwavering loyalty to him. The North’s new leader is not yet 30-years-old, but is already referred to in state media as "Supreme Commander" and "Great Successor." As the military fired weapons in salute, senior leaders flanking the younger Kim sought to leave no doubt about a smooth power transition from father to son.

Kim Yong Nam is North Korean Supreme People's Assembly President.  He says our great comrade Kim Jong Il has solved the leadership succession matter perfectly, which is the most precious accomplishment for our country's destiny and endless prosperity of our descendants. Korean Workers' Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam says by following our party and people's supreme leader Kim Jong Un's leadership, we are going to transform today's sorrow into a thousand times more strength and courage.

Estimates of how many North Koreans died of starvation and malnutrition under Kim Jong Il's rule range from several hundred thousand to more than a million. In neighboring South Korea, experts say Kim Jong Un's very survival depends on his ability to improve the economy. "Even a strong state, shall we say, like North Korea, armed to the teeth, can only last if its economy can continue to feed its soldiers, never mind its people," said Lho Kyungsoo, a Seoul National University professor and chairman of the Asia Society Korea Center. "But in order to earn the loyalty that his father and grandfather had the young Kim Jong Un is going to have to find the means to feed his people. And in order to do that he is going to have to change the makeup of the system to a certain degree and cooperate peacefully with its neighbors - especially South Korea." Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Israel's Cancer Ambassador

December 26th 2011

Health/Medicine - Miri Ziv

After losing her son and brother to the disease, Miri Ziv became ‘the' source for cancer news, breakthroughs and research in Israel.  “Together we work against the disease and for the patients,” says Miri Ziv. "I'm not answering that!" calls out Miri Ziv, director general of the Israel Cancer Association (ICA), when told that yet another head of an organization must speak with her. Ziv, of course, picks up the telephone. She is sitting at her desk at ICA headquarters in Givatayim, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Piles of papers, newspaper clippings, research documents and advertising material fill her office. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Massive Russian Protests Pose Growing Challenge to Putin

December 25th 2011

Russian Topics - Moscow Rally 2011-12-24
Moscow Rally, December 24, 2011 (credit: Bogomolov.PL)

When Russia’s protest movement started three weeks ago, many in the Kremlin calculated that winter would kill it off. The December 24 rally to protest alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary elections, however, was bigger than the first large protest on December 10.

The protesters shouted “New Elections, New Elections,” and organizers say their densely packed mass on Sakharov Avenue reached 100,000 people, which would exceed the numbers who showed up to protest at a similar rally in Moscow two weeks ago. Russian police estimated this Saturday's turnout at only 30,000.

The crowd Saturday protested the allegedly tainted victory on December 4 of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. Read more ..


Religious Tolerance

Condemned to Death for Violating Islamic Law, Pakistani Christian forgives her Tormenters

December 24th 2011

PakistanTopics - Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi

Pakistan's Mashi Foundation, which advocates for human rights and interfaith understanding, issued a press release from Brussels concerning Asia Bibi: a Pakistani Christian woman who is facing a death sentence under Muslim law for alleged blasphemy. The Masihi Foundation's International delegation met Asia at the District Jail Sheikpura to deliver Christmas greetings, in fulfillment of a Scriptual mandate "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body,”- Hebrews 13:3.

The Mashi Foundation is providing legal assistance to Asia at the Lahore High Court (LHC) as her appeal is still pending. Since the assassination of the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer by Islamist terrorists, this is the first time any delegation has met with her.  Her solitary confinement has taken a toll: Asia now appears much older than her 46 years. She has become frail during her confinement. Asia's family and husband, as well as human rights campaigners, have expressed repeatedly their concerns for her safety and integrity in prison. Read more ..


The Noise Edge

Do You Hear What I Hear? Noise Exposure Surrounds Us

December 23rd 2011

Science - Sound little boy

Nine out of 10 city dwellers may have enough harmful noise exposure to risk hearing loss, and most of that exposure comes from leisure activities. Historically, loud workplaces were blamed for harmful noise levels.

But researchers at the University of Michigan found that noise from MP3 players and stereo use has eclipsed loud work environments, said Rick Neitzel, assistant professor in the U-M School of Public Health and the Risk Science Center. Robyn Gershon, a professor with the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco is the principal investigator on the study. This proved true even though MP3 player and stereo listening were just a small fraction of each person's total annual noise exposure. Read more ..


The Edge of Health

How Pregnancy Changes a Woman’s Brain

December 21st 2011

Health/Medicine - pregnancy

We know a lot about the links between a pregnant mother’s health, behavior, and moods and her baby’s cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But how does pregnancy change a mother’s brain? “Pregnancy is a critical period for central nervous system development in mothers,” says psychologist Laura M. Glynn of Chapman University. “Yet we know virtually nothing about it.” Glynn and her colleague Curt A. Sandman, of University of the California Irvine, are doing something about that. Their review of the literature in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, discusses the theories and findings that are starting to fill what Glynn calls “a significant gap in our understanding of this critical stage of most women’s lives.” Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il Dead—But the World Worries

December 19th 2011

Korea Topics - kim jong il and 'family'

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, 69, has died after nearly two decades in power.

The White House said it was closely monitoring reports that the reclusive leader was dead. President Obama has been notified of the reports, and the U.S. is in touch with South Korea and Japan, the White House said in a statement Sunday night.

“We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies,” the statement said.

Kim’s death introduces new uncertainties into the stability of Asia, where Obama has sought to advance U.S. economic and security interests. Asian stock indexes fell with the news he had died. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Václav Havel, Playwright and Former Czech President, Dead at 75

December 19th 2011

Czech Topics - vaclav havel

Dissident playwright and freedom fighter Václav Havel, a leader of Czechoslovakia’s anti-communist revolution in 1989, has died at his weekend house in the northern Czech Republic at the age of 75. He was a modest writer whose powerful words catapulted him from political prisoner to president.

Born in Prague three years before the outbreak of World War II, Václav Havel was persecuted by the communists who seized power in 1948 because his parents were wealthy. They would not allow Havel to receive a university education.

The plays Havel wrote in the early 1960s gained an international following. When he loudly protested the Warsaw Pact invasion of his homeland in 1968, his passport was confiscated. Read more ..


China on Edge

Chinese Village Ejects Authorities in Rare Revolt

December 18th 2011

China Topics - China Security

Villagers embroiled in a land dispute in southern China have managed to do what so many others have not: force the Chinese Communist Party out of their neighborhood. At least for a while. This has many wondering if Wukan is the epicenter of China's own "Arab Spring," or just another "incident" like the tens of thousands of village protests that came before it.

Residents of the Guangdong province fishing village became incensed last September when they learned of plans by a local company to sell farmland to Country Garden, one of China's biggest property developers.  They accused local officials of corruption, raided the government offices and clashed with police. The local party boss fled Wukan, and the people began demanding negotiations with higher authorities.

The police had a different idea. They seized the village mediators and tried unsuccessfully to regain control of Wukan last week. But when police retreated, what some villagers considered a victory turned into a deadly standoff. One protest leader died in police custody and the entire village is still blockaded. Many Wukan residents suspect the activist died from police abuse. Chinese state media have quoted local officials and doctors saying he suffered heart failure. Read more ..


Inside the Middle East

Ancient Middle East Craft is Knitting Bridges

December 18th 2011

Turkish Topics - Turkish Woman Knitting

Often-ridiculed craft with ancient Middle Eastern roots serves as gentle conduit to change.

It’s pretty much agreed that the origins of knitting are placed somewhere in the Middle East. The craft spread to Europe via Mediterranean trade routes, then on to the Americas with European colonization. Some of the earliest examples of knitting have been found in Egypt: a tatty pair of Egyptian woolen socks estimated to be 1500 years old are on display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

I confess. I knit like a woman possessed. Knit my whole life: through lectures, on subways, in meetings, and sitting in the dentist’s chair. And this Chick with Sticks has endured every joke in the surprisingly large book of knitting wisecracks.

Knitting flows in and out of style with tidal precision, but once hooked, a knitter generally stays committed for life. Knitters seek other knitters. Knitting groups form. And in short order the knitting becomes secondary to the conversation and connectivity of the knitters themselves. Therein lays its power.

The internet amplifies this natural tendency of knitters to sit and knit and chit and chat, and there are plenty of knitting web sites to choose from. Several specific to the Middle East, knitters have come online via fiber arts website Ravelry which offers members a chance to create sub-groups bespoke to their particular interests.

There’s Muslim Knitters where you can get tips on knitting a cool kafti, and Veiled Knitters offers recipes for yarmulke and flowing headscarves. Read more ..


India and America

Maryland Celebrates Succesful Trade Mission to India

December 15th 2011

Food - Indian Spices

As you may know, I joined Governor Martin O’Malley and more than 100 other business leaders, educators and elected officials as he led the first economic development and trade mission to India by a sitting Maryland Governor.  Our successful trip deepened the close relationship between Maryland and India.  Already, India is Maryland’s 12th largest export market and our 13th largest import market. 

Over six days spent in Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi, we helped Maryland companies sign deals worth $60 million dollars. Some of these deals are:

Jasco Nutri Foods plans to invest $10 million in opening a facility on a 1,500 acre location yet to be determined in Maryland.  This facility could generate up to 100 jobs when operational.

Sheladia Associates of Rockville – an engineering, architecture and development company – will partner with M/S Sai Matarani Toll Ways Ltd. and Gayatri Projects Ltd. in a deal valued at $3.7 million to provide design and project management services to upgrade a portion of an Indian National Highway to a four lane highway in the State of Orissa. Read more ..



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