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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 ..


The Edge of Sport

Israel’s Gold-Medal Windsurfer

December 14th 2011

Sports Topics - Lee Korzits
Lee Korzits wins the gold at an Australian women's competition

Olympic hopeful Lee Korzits nearly quit the sport she loves but came back with renewed vigor as seen in the 2011 World Sailing Championships.

For Israeli windsurfing champion Lee-el Korzits, "it's all about getting to the Olympics. That's the dream and we work very hard for it from the time we are young."

And now she's one step closer. Earlier this week, on December 11, Korzits won the gold medal in the Women's RS:X competition at the Perth (Australia) 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships -- the second of four qualifying rounds leading up the 2012 London Olympics. Read more ..


Immigration Edge

Catholic Bishops ask Americans to Thank Illegal Immigrants

December 13th 2011

Christian Topics - Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio TX

Writing in Spanish and English, 33 Catholic bishops of the US released a frank "letter to immigrants" suggesting illegal immigrants deserve thanks from Americans, while calling for "denunciation of the forces which oppress them."

The bishops, who the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identified as 'Hispanic/Latino', support comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a position which they reiterate in the letter. In it, they offer further support to illegal immigrants - the vast majority of whom come from Mexico. The letter was released by San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the highest ranking Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. Archbishop Gomez and Archbishop Garcia-Siller are U.S. citizens born in Mexico, while the former is a member of Opus Dei. The rest of the bishops publishing the letter are U.S.-born. Read more ..


Edge Next Society

National Pride Brings Happiness — But What You’re Proud of Matters

December 12th 2011

Social Topics - International Flags

Research shows that feeling good about your country also makes you feel good about your own life—and many people take that as good news. But Matthew Wright, a political scientist at American University, and Tim Reeskens, a sociologist from Catholic University in Belgium, suspected that the positive findings about nationalism weren’t telling the whole story. “It’s fine to say pride in your country makes you happy,” says Wright. “But what kind of pride are we talking about? That turns out to make a lot of difference.”

Reeskens and Wright divided national pride into two species. “Ethnic” nationalism sees ancestry—typically expressed in racial or religious terms—as the key social boundary defining the national “we.” “Civic” nationalism is more inclusive, requiring only respect for a country’s institutions and laws for belonging. Unlike ethnic nationalism, that view is open to minorities or immigrants, at least in principle.

The study authors analyzed the responses to four key questions by 40,677 individuals from 31 countries, drawn from the 2008 wave of the cross-national European Values Study. One question assessed “subjective well being,” indicated by general satisfaction with life. Another measured national pride. The other two neatly indicated ethnic and civic national boundaries—asking respondents to rate the importance of respect for laws and institutions, and of ancestry, to being a true . . . fill in the blank . . . German, Swede, Spaniard. The researchers controlled for such factors as gender, work status, urban or rural residence, and the country’s per capita GDP. Read more ..


London on Edge

After London's August Rage

December 9th 2011

Social Topics - london riots

In the days after the August riots few disagreed that something had to change. With five lives lost and an estimated cost to the taxpayer of £100 million, scenes of burning buildings, looting and uncontrolled violence shook the nation.

Though the finger of blame couldn’t be rested upon a single cause, the shock to the average citizen’s system opened up a nationwide dialogue on the direction British society was taking. Impassioned pleas from community leaders flooded the nations television screens along with assurances from David Cameron that government would re-establish the nation’s lost sense of security. The diagnosis was far from simple. A clamor of voices from all sections of society put forward a host of theories, poverty, unemployment and social exclusion being amongst the many. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Why Do Some People Never Forget A Face?

December 8th 2011

Social Topics - Eyeball Surveillance

“Face recognition is an important social skill, but not all of us are equally good at it,” says Beijing Normal University cognitive psychologist Jia Liu. But what accounts for the difference? A new study by Liu and colleagues Ruosi Wang, Jingguang Li, Huizhen Fang, and Moqian Tian provides evidence that the inequality of abilities is rooted in the unique way in which the mind perceives faces. “Individuals who process faces more holistically”—that is, as an integrated whole—“are better at face recognition,” says Liu.

In daily life, we recognize faces both holistically and also “analytically”—that is, picking out individual parts, such as eyes or nose. But while the brain uses analytical processing for all kinds of objects—cars, houses, animals—“holistic processing is thought to be especially critical to face recognition,” says Liu.

To isolate holistic processing as the key to face recognition, the researchers first measured the ability of study participants—337 male and female students—to remember whole faces, using a task in which they had to select studied faces and flowers from among unfamiliar ones. Read more ..


America on Edge

The Raw Deal for Americans, Courtesy of Wall Street and Washington

December 8th 2011

Social Topics - American poverty

Dave Esmay made a good life for his family as a construction superintendent in North Carolina, managing commercial projects worth $15 million to $30 million.

Then came the Great Recession. In North Carolina, and many other states, the construction industry collapsed. And Esmay lost his job.

His family life was wracked by “stress ... from not having any money,” Esmay recalls. He cashed in his retirement account and sold his truck, and when the Esmays could not make the payments on their mortgage, they lost their home.

A daughter postponed plans for post-graduate study, and took work as a waitress.

Esmay couldn’t afford to keep paying the orthodontist, so he took his son’s braces off himself, with a pair of pliers. Read more ..


America on Edge

Older Floridians Have No Backup Plan After Hanging Up Their Keys

December 5th 2011

Social Topics - walking-cane

Florida is home to one of the highest percentages of residents ages 65 and older in the United States, but very few of them have thought ahead to a time when they will no longer be able to drive a vehicle safely or considered how they will get around without a car, according to a new survey developed by Florida State University and the Florida Department of Transportation.

In fact, 13 percent of survey respondents indicated they would not stop driving at all, with 3 percent expressing the opinion that they would die before they would stop driving.

The findings reflect a serious issue in Florida—and across the nation—that older drivers are at a disproportionate risk for being involved in a fatal vehicular crash, according to John Reynolds, the Eagles Professor of Sociology at Florida State and director of the university's Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. Read more ..


America on Edge

Health Gap Has Grown Among Young US Adults, Study Finds

December 5th 2011

Health/Medicine - medicine and money

Levels of health disparity have increased substantially for people born in the United States after 1980, according to new research.

The study also found that health disparity tends to increase as people move into middle age, before declining as people reach old age.

These two results suggest that the gap between the healthiest and least healthy people in the United States as a whole will grow larger for the next one or even two decades as the younger generations grow older and replace previous generations.

"As young people today reach middle age and preceding cohorts with a smaller health gap die off, we expect health disparities in the whole population to grow even larger," said Hui Zheng, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

A lot will depend on whether future generations will continue the trend, seen in post-baby boomers, of large health disparities.

"If that trend continues, as I expect it will, health disparities in the whole population will increase in the coming decades," Zheng said. The health gap has not always been growing, according to the study. Health disparities continuously declined from those born early in the 20th century to the baby boomer cohort, before increasing for post-baby boomer cohorts, especially those born after 1980. Read more ..


Ethical Edge

Would you Kill the Few to Save the Many?

December 5th 2011

Terrorism - Twin towers burning

Imagine a runaway boxcar heading toward five people who can’t escape its path. Now imagine you had the power to reroute the boxcar onto different tracks with only one person along that route.

Would you do it?

That’s the moral dilemma posed by a team of Michigan State University researchers in a first-of-its-kind study published in the research journal Emotion. Research participants were put in a three dimensional setting and given the power to kill one person (in this case, a realistic digital character) to save five.

The results? About 90 percent of the participants pulled a switch to reroute the boxcar, suggesting people are willing to violate a moral rule if it means minimizing harm.

“What we found is that the rule of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ can be overcome by considerations of the greater good,” said Carlos David Navarrete, lead researcher on the project. Read more ..


Inside Gaza

Gaza’s Getting 20 Zero-Emissions Eco-Schools

December 3rd 2011

Environment Topics - Gaza's Green Initiative
Green Prophet

In an unprecedented move, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has unveiled plans to build as many as 20 zero-emissions schools throughout the Gaza Strip, which will rely entirely on renewables for their energy supply. The agency has teamed up with architect Mario Cucinella to apply the most cutting edge sustainable innovations to the schools that will be completely self-sustaining. Plans for the Gaza schools are currently being displayed at the COP 17 conference in Durban and will render education in the Gaza Strip significantly less vulnerable to the politics du jour. Find out how after the jump.

sustainable development, green design, solar energy, eco-schools, Gaza, UNRWA, environmental education, green building, renewable energy. Read more ..



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