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Ancient Americans

War: What is It Good For?

July 26th 2011

Latin American Topics - Inca woman

Warfare, triggered by political conflict between the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D., likely shaped the development of the first settlement that would classify as a civilization in the Titicaca basin of southern Peru, a new UCLA study suggests.

Charles Stanish, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Abigail Levine, a UCLA graduate student in anthropology, used archaeological evidence from the basin, home to a number of thriving and complex early societies during the first millennium B.C., to trace the evolution of two larger, dominant states in the region: Taraco, along the Ramis River, and Pukara, in the grassland pampas.

"This study is part of a larger, worldwide comparative research effort to define the factors that gave rise to the first societies that developed public buildings, widespread religions and regional political systems — or basically characteristics associated with ancient states or what is colloquially known as 'civilization,'" said Stanish, who is also a professor of anthropology at UCLA. "War, regional trade and specialized labor are the three factors that keep coming up as predecessors to civilization."

The findings appear online in the latest edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russia’s Perfect Storm … of Human Error

July 25th 2011

Russian Topics - volga rescue crew

The rain was light. The winds were moderate, And the waves were only one meter high.

Russia’s mid-July shipping tragedy was a perfect storm—of human error.

The Volga riverboat Bulgaria was designed to carry 140 people, but it was loaded with 208. Most of the 59 children seem to have been waved on board without tickets. Almost two thirds had the same birth date: Dec. 30, 1999.

Launched shortly after Stalin died and last overhauled in 1980, the 56-year-old Bulgaria was no longer licensed to carry passengers. But, oddly, on June 15, a Russian river inspector signed off on its seaworthiness. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Australian Muslim Convert insists Islam is Beautiful Despite 40 Lashes for Drinking Alcohol

July 20th 2011

Islamic Topics - Australian victim of shariah
Chris Martinez displays wounds from lashing

An Australian who had recently converted to Islam was allegedly punished with lashings by four fellow Muslim believers who broke into his home during pre-dawn hours because he had been drinking alcohol. Chris Martinez of Sydney said, nonetheless, that the Australian Muslim community has been supportive since the July 17 assault. Martinez confessed to a drinking problem and that he had been imbibing before the lashing. Two men have been charged in the incident. Non-Muslims raised concerns about the application of Islamic religious law known as Shariah in Australia.

Martinez was held down on his bed and whipped up to 40 times by the four bearded strangers who awakened him at approximately 1 am at his apartment on Sydney’s west side. Three of the men restrained him as the fourth applied the canonical 40 lashes with a cable. The assault lasted approximately 30 minutes and left Martinez (31) covered with welts. Martinez said, nonetheless, that Islam is a “beautiful religion.” Read more ..


Guyana on Edge

Guyana Sails into Uncharted Waters as Legislative Elections Loom

July 16th 2011

Latin American Topics - Guyanase politicians

As Guyana prepares for its upcoming parliamentary elections, tensions between its two major political parties ride high.  The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC), bitter adversaries since their inception in the 1950s, are the main contenders for the presidency, with the majority party’s presidential candidate assuming office.

Guyana, a small nation of fewer than 800,000 people, is a former British colony and South America’s lone English-speaking country. Read more ..


The Way We Are

African-American Men Prioritize Family and Community over Their Own Health

July 13th 2011

Social Topics - Father and son reading

Black men place a higher priority on fulfilling social roles such as family provider, father, husband and community member than they do on physical activity—and their health suffers because they don't often find time for both. A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health looks at why many African-American men aren't more physically active.

"This is our most important paper to date, because the findings underpin all of our other research on African American men's health behaviors. It also flies in the face of the way African American men are often portrayed in health literature," said Derek Griffith, assistant professor in the U-M SPH and study author. "The men in our study are interested in being healthy, but they put their job and family responsibilities before their own health." Read more ..


Edge of Mental Health

Children Who Seldom Smile are At Risk for Depression

July 13th 2011

Social Topics - Child alone and sad

A new study from the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh shows that even if a child isn't crying, frowning or displaying other negative emotions on a consistent basis, another warning sign is when a child shows fewer positive displays, like hugging a parent or smiling and laughing.

"Surprisingly, it seems that it is low levels of happiness, as opposed to high levels of sadness, what may help explain why these kids too often develop depressive disorders," said Nestor Lopez-Duran, an assistant professor of psychology at U-Michigan and one of the study's authors. Read more ..


Inside Russia

Buddhism Rebounds in Russia Despite Opposition

July 12th 2011

Russian Topics - Ivolga Buddhist Monastery
Ivolga Buddhist monastery

For four generations, the Soviets waged war on Buddhists, sometimes branding them “Japanese spies.” Now, 20 years after the collapse of communism, Buddhism is experiencing a massive revival in its historic areas. Yes, there are Russian Buddhists.

The drums, the bells and the chants are redolent of Asia. But the language spoken between the monks here near the shores of Lake Baikal is Russian.

Ulzutuev Yondon, who teaches philosophy at Ivolginsky datsan, Russia’s main Buddhist monastery, says that when he was studying Buddhism in India, people did not believe he was Russian. Read more ..


China on Edge

Chinese Firm Demands CNN Apology for Century Egg Slur

July 11th 2011

Food - Century Egg
Pi dan, or century egg (credit: Kowloonese)

China’s largest egg processing company says it is demanding an apology from a U.S.-based television network for describing a traditional Chinese dish as the world’s most disgusting food.

Chinese broadcast and print media said Wednesday the demand was issued by the chairman of the Hubei Shendan Healthy Food Company on behalf of his 3,000 workers.

The company makes a dish called pi dan, or century eggs, in which eggs are preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and traditional medicines until the yolk turns a dark green or gray and the white becomes a brown, translucent jelly. Read more ..


Edge of History

Maryland and Texas Excavations Reveal the World of 19th Century immigrants

July 11th 2011

History American - Texas historical archaeology

An archaeological team from the University of Maryland is unearthing a unique picture of the Baltimore-area's early Irish immigrants - of city children taught to read and write at home before widespread public education and child labor laws, as well as insular rural residents who resisted assimilation for one hundred years.

The excavation in the city represents the first formal archaeological research to focus on Baltimore's early Irish settlement and labor force.

"Behind the closed doors of their modest Baltimore homes, beyond the view of their bosses, these unskilled railroad workers maintained a rich social, religious and family life," says University of Maryland archaeologist Stephen Brighton, whose students just finished digging in the backyards of 19th century Baltimore immigrants.

Now, Brighton's team has begun work excavating another Baltimore-area site - a small settlement in Texas, Maryland that resisted adopting a more mainstream American lifestyle up to the Eisenhower years. This is the third year Brighton's team has worked there. Read more ..


Edge on Genetics

Population Genetics Reveals Shared Ancestries

July 8th 2011

Social Topics - African ancestry

More than just a tool for predicting health, modern genetics is upending long-held assumptions about who we are. A new study by Harvard researchers casts new light on the intermingling and migration of European, Middle Eastern and African and populations since ancient times.

In a paper titled "The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines and Jews," published in PLoS Genetics, HMS Associate Professor of Genetics David Reich and his colleagues investigated the proportion of sub-Saharan African ancestry present in various populations in West Eurasia, defined as the geographic area spanning modern Europe and the Middle East. While previous studies have established that such shared ancestry exists, they have not indicated to what degree or how far back the mixing of populations can be traced. Read more ..


Health Edge

Do-it-Yourself Home Air Purifier for About $25, Researchers Say

July 7th 2011

Science - UM do it yourself air purifier

Avoiding indoor allergens can help ease sinus congestion. Many people with sinus problems have underlying allergies to dust, pollen, mold or animal dander. All of these can build up in the air inside homes.

One of the best ways to get rid of allergy symptoms is to avoid allergens in the first place, says Jeffrey E. Terrell, M.D., director of the University of Michigan Health System’s Michigan Sinus Center. To avoid indoor allergens, many doctors recommend using an air purifier with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.

The cost of these machines can run from $75 up to $800 for high-end systems. For those who are looking for a cheaper alternative for high-use rooms such as the bedroom, Terrell offers a do-it-yourself solution at a fraction of the cost. “This is a filtration system that you can put together with items from your local hardware store for $25 to $30 and use in your home to cut indoor allergens by about 90 percent,” says Terrell.

Start with a 20-inch by 20-inch box fan, which often retails for about $12. To the front of it, tape a 20-inch by 20-inch by 1-inch furnace filter. Read more ..


Inside America

Urban Farming Continues to Sprout in Metropolitan Areas

July 5th 2011

Social Topics - Urban farming

For 30 years, Charlie Koiner, 90, has continued to farm, even as development springs up around him.

On a warm day, Charlie Koiner tends to the fruits and vegetables growing on his patchwork farm, which is made up of a collection of small plots. A few blocks - and a world - away is downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, an urban area just outside Washington, D.C.

Koiner, 90, has grown a wide variety of produce on the lot next to his home since he bought the land 30 years ago. He calls it the best investment he ever made, but not in terms of money. “I have an acre (4,000 square meters) of ground here and that gives me plenty of room and plenty of ground to work," he says. "So it keeps me busy just raising all this stuff. I enjoy it.” Read more ..


Education on Edge

The Military Children Left Behind

July 5th 2011

Military - Military Dependent
Catie Hunter (credit: Emma Schwartz, iWatch)

While parents make sacrifices, sons and daughters endure overcrowding, disrepair, and budgetary neglect at school.

Catie Hunter is only 11 years old. Her father, an Army platoon sergeant, has spent five of those years away from her, serving his country in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. At her elementary school on an Oklahoma military post, ceiling tiles are removed so that when a Great Plains storm rumbles in, rain can cascade from the rotting roof into large trash cans underneath. To get to class, Catie must dodge what she calls “Niagara Falls.” Read more ..


Inside Judaism

The Benei Menashe of India and Burma--A Unique Jewish Community

July 5th 2011

Jewish Topics - Aizawal Synagogue
Aizawal Synagogue

The Benei Menashe are a community from northeast India and northern Burma who have adopted Judaism, believing they are descendants of the biblical tribe of Manasseh.

In March 2005, Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar accepted their claim to Jewish ancestry, calling for their formal conversion and reintegration with the Jewish people. The Benei Menashe have emerged from the culturally and linguistically linked Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes, found predominantly in the hill districts of the Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram and Chin State in Burma. Read more ..


Edge on Iran

A Detailed Analysis of Iran’s Constitution

July 5th 2011

Iran - The 12th Imam

On February 16, 1979, fifteen days after the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from France after the fall of the Shah, Richard Falk, currently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights on Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967, published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times entitled “Trusting Khomeni.” Falk noted that President Carter and National Security Advisor Brzezinski “have very recently associated him [Khomeni] with religious fanaticism” and claimed that “the news media have defamed him in many ways, associating him with efforts to turn the clock back 1,300 years, with virulent anti-Semitism, and with a new political disorder, ‘theocratic fascism,’ about to be set loose on the world.” Read more ..


Edge of Neuroscience

False Memories--How Easy Are They?

July 5th 2011

Social Topics - Praying to a purple sky

How easy is it to falsify memory? New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science shows that a bit of social pressure may be all that is needed. The study, which appears in the July 1, 2011 issue of Science, reveals a unique pattern of brain activity when false memories are formed—one that hints at a surprising connection between our social selves and memory.

The experiment, conducted by Prof. Yadin Dudai and research student Micah Edelson of the Institute’s Department of Neurobiology, along with Prof. Raymond Dolan and Dr. Tali Sharot of University College London, took place in four stages. In the first, volunteers watched a documentary film in small groups. Three days later, they returned to the lab individually to take a memory test, answering questions about the film. They were also asked how confident they were in their answers. Read more ..


America on Edge

Forty Years and Counting in the Policy Flop that is The War on Drugs

July 4th 2011

Crime Topics - Cocaine guns and dollars

June 17, 2011 marked a little-known, yet significant, anniversary in U.S. history – the U.S.’s war on drugs turned an infelicitous 40. Four decades, one trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives later, we must pause and reevaluate not only whether this war’s costly means justify its ends, but if its methods actually work.

The Ill-Fated Origins of the War on Drugs

President Richard Nixon initiated the “war on drugs” in June 1971, when he denounced drug abuse as “public enemy No. 1.”  With this pronouncement, he catapulted the country into a decades-long stalemate founded largely on fallacious data, virulent prejudices and ill-calibrated policies. Despite personally appointing the members of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, President Nixon refused to read the 1972 report in which the authors advocated decriminalizing marijuana for personal use. Read more ..


Senegal on Edge

Protests in Senegal Disrupt President Wade’s Plans for Succession

June 29th 2011

Africa Topics - Abdoulaye Wade and Karim Wade
Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade and son Karim Wade

Violent protests and opposition from his own party late in June forced Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to give up changes that would have made it easier for him to win re-election. The reversal also disrupts Wade’s plans for a vice presidency, which could have benefitted his son.

Objections to creating a vice president for Senegal focus chiefly on concerns, both within the ruling party and within the opposition, that President Wade would use that post to put his son, Karim, in place to succeed him.

Karim Wade is already a powerful member of his father’s Cabinet. As minister of state for international cooperation, regional development, and infrastructure, he controls more than one-quarter of Senegal’s federal budget, including the energy portfolio. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

Forever Changed: A Belarus Shtetl 70 Years After the Nazis

June 29th 2011

Russian Topics - Senno, Belarus
Senno, Belarus (credit: D. Markosian, VOA)

On a recent afternoon, Rosa Faitelson was sitting at her kitchen table eating cucumbers—a typical lunch on just another ordinary day. She didn’t seem at all surprised that strangers walked unannounced into her wooden cottage in northern Belarus bringing her oranges, a rare treat on a hot day. Maybe that composure was to be expected from a woman who, at age 91, had lived through extermination of her people and had decided to stay on when nearly everyone else was gone.

Seventy years ago last week, on June 22, Nazi forces rampaged through this part of Belarus. In three years, they wiped out 80 percent of the country’s 980,000 Jews. Mobile death units rounded up entire shtetls, or towns, of Jews, confined them to cramped ghettos, and then marched them off to pits where they were shot dead. That’s what happened in Faitelson’s village, Senno. Read more ..


Cuna on Edge

Cuba Faces a New Revolution to Throw Off Crippling Racism

June 22nd 2011

Caribbean - Cuba talking

Cuba’s economy has struggled during the fifteen years since the fall of the Soviet Union, bringing economic disparity of an increasingly racial nature. Cuba’s population is split primarily between whites, mestizos and Afro‑Cubans (blacks and mulattos), with the percentage of Afro-Cubans varying between 62 percent and 33 percent depending on the source. Like most former colonies, Cuba’s history of racism originated with the arrival of colonial Spanish settlers and their subordinated African slaves. Cuba was the last Latin American country to abolish slavery, by means of a royal decree issued by the Spanish King in 1886.

In his 1891 essay “Nuestra América,” Cuban author and independence fighter José Martí stated that there is no racism in Cuba because there are no races. He argued that Cuban unity and identity depended on all Cubans identifying as Cubans, instead of racially. White Cubans have often cited Martí’s position subsuming race to national unity as an argument that racism is not an issue in Cuba because “we are all Cubans.” Read more ..


After Chernobyl

Chernobyl's Survivors Still Paying the Price 25 Years Later

June 19th 2011

Environment Topics - chernobyl memorial

The nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has focused attention on a small and often heroic group of people: those who risk their lives by going inside the facility to contain the damage.

Perhaps no one knows this better than those involved in the 1986 cleanup effort at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, scene of what is still considered the world’s worst nuclear accident. On April 26, 1986 a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl plant caught fire and exploded, sending radioactive debris high into the sky. Aleksey Breus was an engineer at Chernobyl at the time of the explosion. He worked four straight days inside the plant after the explosion. He wore protective equipment, but still received a large dose of radiation.

According to Breus, all “lucheviki” – the Russian word surviving cleanup workers use for describing one another – have been left with one thing in common: illness and a lack of money to pay for medications. He says virtually all of them live in poverty. Read more ..


Mexico's Wars

Drug Cartels Enlist Teenaged Girls as Trained Assassins

June 18th 2011

Mexican Topics - Mexican girl and Zeta graffiti

In Mexico, young girls and women work as look-outs and even soldiers for criminal syndicates. This week, security officials in the western state of Jalisco presented to the media three alleged female spies and hit women who were tied to the Zetas organization. The young women were arrested following a pair of shootouts June 14 with Jalisco state and municipal police that left six suspected Zetas dead and 10 others arrested, almost all of them between 16 and 21 years of age.

Maria Celeste, a 16-year-old from Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, was reportedly fresh out of boot camp. The teen told reporters she had received a two-month training course conducted by former military personnel in the handling of AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, but had not yet been instructed in the use of grenades. “I was invited by some friends who were going to work for the Zetas,” she said. Read more ..


Edge on the Environment

Prenatal Exposure to Vehicle Exhaust Linked to Anxiety, Depression and Attention Deficit in Children

June 15th 2011

Environment Topics - Exhaust fumes and baby

Mothers’ exposure during pregnancy to pollutants created by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and other organic material may lead to behavioral problems in their children, according to a new study. Researchers found that within a sample of 215 children monitored from birth, those children with high levels of a pollution exposure marker in their cord blood had more symptoms of attention problems and anxiety/depression at ages 5 and 7 than did children with lower exposure.

The study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) and the Institute of Cancer Research in England is the first to examine the behavioral effects of prenatal exposure to these air pollutants in children using a biologic marker. Read more ..


The Race for Bikes

Electric Bicycles and e-bikes to Light Up a $210 Billion Market in Ten Years

June 15th 2011

Transportation Topics - Electric bicycle

According to a recent report “Light Electric Vehicle (LEV) Industry Worldwide 2011-2021” from IDTechEx on the various types of electric vehicle - hybrid and pure electric, electric vehicles by land, water and air will be a market of over $210 billion within ten years from now. The segments of this market are very different in certain respects yet they increasingly share some technical challenges and vehicle and component suppliers.

This report concerns electric bicycles, ebikes and other Light Electric Vehicles (LEVs) that constitute an important part of the overall EV business. Other reports in the series cover aircraft, marine, buses/taxis, military/police/security and cars. Read more ..


The Road's Edge

Women Drivers More Prone to Certain Kinds of Vehicle Crashes

June 15th 2011

Transportation Topics - Woman driver

While men and women often disagree about which gender has better driving skills, a new study by the University of Michigan may shed some light on the debate. Using data from a nationally representative sample of police-reported crashes from 1988 to 2007, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-Michigan Transportation Research Institute studied the gender effects in six different crash scenarios (based on crash angles, direction of approach and speed). These two-vehicle crash scenarios included various maneuvers in which one vehicle turned in front of the other, one vehicle side-swiped the other or both vehicles collided head-on.

"The likelihood that a given driver will be involved in a two-vehicle crash depends on a variety of driver, vehicular and environmental factors," said Sivak, research professor at UMTRI. "There are three dominant driver-related factors, including the probability of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, one's own driving skills and the driving skills of the other driver involved." Read more ..


The 2012 Vote

Anger Plays Pivotal Role in Electioneering

June 10th 2011

Social Topics - Baby Boomer

Though pundits and candidates suggest there is too much anger in politics, the emotion does have a potential benefit—it significantly motivates citizens to vote, according to a University of Michigan study.

"Anger in politics can play a particularly vital role, motivating some people to participate in ways they might ordinarily not," said Nicholas Valentino, the study's lead author and a professor of communication studies and political science. "We normally think people with a lot of resources and political skills are the ones who participate, but many citizens in this category regularly abstain from politics. Furthermore, many citizens with few resources can be mobilized if they experience strong anger. Read more ..


South Korea Gets Edgy

More South Koreans Break Away From Tattoo Taboo

June 9th 2011

Korea Topics - S Korean Tattoo Artist
Tattoing during Ink Bomb (credit: S. Herman, VOA)

Tattoos have been a part of Asian culture for hundreds of years. But body ink in Asia traditionally has been the mark of an unsavory character. Thus, until recently, Asians in the mainstream rarely got tattoos. But, that is changing.

More people in South Korea these days are not ashamed to show a little skin—and ink.

The country now has its own annual tattoo convention—Ink Bomb, which attracts artists from neighboring Japan and the United States.

But anyone using needles to penetrate the skin is supposed to be a licensed medical doctor—credentials in short supply at this event and in the thousands of tattoo parlors across the country. Read more ..


Nepal on Edge

Nepal’s Youth Turn to Social Media in Constitution Campaign

June 9th 2011

Nepal - Nepali pro-democracy protests 2011

In Nepal, thousands of young Nepalese have launched a campaign, using social networking sites, to pressure political parties to draw up a new constitution for the country.

For four straight Saturdays, hundreds of young Nepalese men and women have demonstrated in the capital, Kathmandu, demanding that lawmakers should forego their salaries if they cannot give the country its long overdue democratic constitution.

They are being mobilized through social network sites like Facebook. The campaign, “Nepal Unites,” has been triggered by deep anger with political parties, which have failed to reach a consensus and produce a new constitution. Read more ..


Family on Edge

Victims of Head Injures Report Violent Behavior

June 8th 2011

Health/Medicine - head injury

Young people who have sustained a head injury during their lifetime are more likely to engage in violent behavior, according to an eight-year study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Further, the research found that young people who suffered a recent head injury (within a year of being questioned for the study) were even more likely to report violent behavior.

The report, which appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, is one of the few studies to examine long-term effects of head injuries in a general population of young adults. Most other similar studies were conducted in prison populations.

There's been a recent blitz of media and research attention regarding youth, college and professional athletes who suffer head injuries and concussions while playing. This study is broader, but confirms previous findings about the connection between violence and head injuries, says lead author Sarah Stoddard, a research assistant professor at the School of Public Health. Read more ..


Edge on Politics

Obama's Election Boosted Opposition to Race-Related Policies--Says Study

June 4th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama in deep thought

Many Americans changed their perceptions of discrimination and racism after Barack Obama became the nation's first black president. This belief that racial biases had softened, however, did not translate to positive feelings about policies that address racial disparities, according to a new University of Michigan study. In fact, opposition to affirmative action and immigration may have increased since 2008.

"When racial progress is made, and perceived, by many Americans from a variety of racial backgrounds, it may seem counterintuitive that opposition to affirmative action would increase," said Nicholas Valentino, an associate professor of communication studies and political science. Read more ..


Inside the Brain

Brain Training Increases I.Q. and Short-Term Memory

June 3rd 2011

Science - glowing neuron

Forget about working crossword puzzles and listening to Mozart. If you want to improve your ability to reason and solve new problems, just take a few minutes every day to do a maddening little exercise called n-back training.

In an award address at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Washington, D.C., University of Michigan psychologist John Jonides presented new findings showing that practicing this kind of task for about 20 minutes each day for 20 days significantly improves performance on a standard test of fluid intelligence—the ability to reason and solve new problems, which is a crucial element of general intelligence. And this improvement lasted for up to three months. Read more ..


Mexico on Edge

New Mexico offers a new Vision for Land Development

June 1st 2011

Architecture - Picacho Mt site model
Picacho Mountain site model

Every spring, the British flag flutters over the old Mexican village of Mesilla in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Ringing the historic plaza, classic and antique British cars attract hobbyists, sight-seers and tourists who gather around models such as a 1949 Roadster, a 1968 MGB-GT and a 1958 Jaguar with a fluffy leopard doll hanging out the passenger’s window. In addition to locals, the annual spring-time show of the British Motor Car Club of Southern New Mexico draws a sprinkling of out-of-towners who give a small boost to New Mexico’s $5 billion tourism industry. “Last year, we had one guy who drove all the way from Washington state,” says car club member Ed Townley. Read more ..


Media Freedom

Journalists Intimidated with Impunity by Salvadoran Death Squads

May 31st 2011

Latin American Topics - Protest against killing of journalists

Death threats targeting journalists were distressingly common during the tumultuous Salvadoran Civil War that took place in the late seventies and eighties. Over the course of the war, a total of twenty-five to thirty journalists fell victim to the various death squads operating in the country. Alarmingly, today in El Salvador, journalists are once again the objects of threats aimed at silencing human rights advocates working within its borders. On May 5th, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) posted an urgent notice stating that death threats have been issued against Radio Victoria journalists.

Radio Victoria, based in the department of Cabañas, provides a critical source of news and information concerning the social, environmental, and controversial labor impacts of The Pacific Rim Mining Company. Radio Victoria’s forthright journalistic style and its tenacious anti-mining stance, as well as its vigorous investigative journalism, may have prompted these threats, which were issued undoubtedly in an effort to stifle freedom of expression. Despite national police security officers posted to stand guard outside the station, the anonymous “extermination group” has successfully delivered a series of threats both to the Cabañas office of the radio station and to the journalists’ personal phones via text message. Read more ..


Edge of Human Rights

Latin America's Advances Towards Gay Rights

May 30th 2011

Latin American Topics - Gay Guevara

The Brazilian Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex unions in early May marks the latest victory for gay rights in Latin America. The Court’s ruling grants equal legal rights to same-sex civil unions as those enjoyed by married heterosexuals, including retirement benefits, joint tax declarations, inheritance rights, and child adoption. While the Supreme Court did not go so far as to legalize gay marriage, gay rights groups such as Rio de Janeiro’s Rainbow Group have nevertheless praised the decision as an “historic achievement.” The decision passed 10-0 with one abstention, but the justice who abstained had previously spoken in favor of same-sex unions.

An Unlikely Victory

As the world’s largest Roman Catholic country, Brazil was an unlikely venue for such a promising gay rights victory. The Roman Catholic Church has actively fought proposals for same-sex unions in Brazil, arguing that the Brazilian Constitution defines a “family entity” as “a stable union between a man and a woman.” Read more ..


Ancient Edge

Research Uncovers Decline of Inca Population under Spanish Rule 440 Years Ago

May 29th 2011

Latin American Topics - Inca woman

Analysis of a 440-year-old document reveals new details about native population decline in the heartland of the Inca Empire following Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

According to the analysis, the native Andean population in the Yucay Valley of Peru showed a remarkable ability to bounce back in the short term from the disease, warfare, and famine that accompanied the initial Spanish invasion. However, it was the repetition of such disasters generation after generation, along with overly rigid colonial administration, that dramatically reduced the population over the long term.

The research, by R. Alan Covey (Southern Methodist University), Geoff Childs (Washington University in St. Louis), and Rebecca Kippen (University of Melbourne), is published in the June issue of the journal Current Anthropology. Read more ..


Edge on Aging

Protein Drinks After Exercise Maintain Aging Muscles

May 29th 2011

Social Topics - Old guy muscles

A new research report shows that what someone drinks after exercise plays a critical role in maximizing the effects of exercise. Specifically, the report shows that protein drinks after aerobic activity increases the training effect after six weeks, when compared to carbohydrate drinks. Additionally, this study suggests that this effect can be seen using as little as 20 grams of protein.

"It is not a mystery that exercise and nutrition help slow the aging process," said Benjamin F. Miller, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. "Studies such as ours help to explain how exercise and nutrition work so that we can better take advantage of those pathways to slow the aging process." The study was published online by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

To make this discovery, scientists recruited 16 participants age 37 and older and instructed them to exercise on treadmills for 45 minutes three times a week for six weeks. After each bout of exercise, one group was given a protein drink and another group was given a carbohydrate drink. To measure the making of new structures in the muscle, metabolic pathways were measured using heavy water labeling. Subjects consumed heavy water, which becomes incorporated into many synthetic processes allowing measurement of the rates at which different components of the muscle are being made. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Cell Phones Bridge Digital Divide for Low Income Teens

May 25th 2011

Social Topics - Teenager texting

Without Internet access at home, teens from low income households are more likely than their wealthier counterparts to use their cell phones to go online.

But those teens with the least money who are using their phones for Internet access are likely paying the most to get online, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers.

U-M researchers Katie Brown, Scott Campbell and Rich Ling wrote the findings in an article recently published in a special issue of the journal Future Internet. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Way We Talk May ... Uh ... Sway our Listeners

May 19th 2011

Social Topics - Talking girls

Want to convince someone to do something? A new University of Michigan study has some intriguing insights drawn from how we speak. The study, presented May 14 at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, examines how various speech characteristics influence people's decisions to participate in telephone surveys. But its findings have implications for many other situations, from closing sales to swaying voters and getting stubborn spouses to see things your way.

"Interviewers who spoke moderately fast, at a rate of about 3.5 words per second, were much more successful at getting people to agree than either interviewers who talked very fast or very slowly," said Jose Benki, a research investigator at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). Read more ..


The Way We Are

Scientists Show How Adversity Dulls—Not Sharpens—Our Perceptions

May 18th 2011

Social Topics - Boy in pain

Adversity, we are told, heightens our senses, imprinting sights and sounds precisely in our memories. But new Weizmann Institute research, which appeared in Nature Neuroscience, suggests the exact opposite may be the case: Perceptions learned in an aversive context are not as sharp as those learned in other circumstances. The findings, which hint that this tendency is rooted in our species’s evolution, may help to explain how post-traumatic stress syndrome and other anxiety disorders develop in some people.

To investigate learning in unfavorable situations, Dr. Rony Paz of the Institute’s Department of Neurobiology, together with his student Jennifer Resnik, had volunteers learn that some tones lead to an offensive outcome (e.g., a very bad odor), whereas other tones are followed by a pleasant outcome, or else by nothing. The volunteers were later tested for their perceptual thresholds—that is, how well they were able to distinguish either the “bad” or “good” tones from other similar tones. Read more ..


Economic Recovery on Edge

FICO Has Key Role in Every American’s Access to Credit

May 18th 2011

Economy - credit report request form

Like Kleenex or Xerox, the word “FICO” has become shorthand for an entire industry, in this case the credit scores that determine every American’s access to loans, credit cards, apartment rentals and insurance.

Despite a name that vaguely sounds like it must be federal something-or-other, FICO actually stands for Fair Isaac Corp., a Minneapolis company that creates proprietary mathematical algorithms used to calculate consumer credit scores. But FICO, which had $605 million in revenue last year, is not directly regulated by any government agency and its credit rating formulas are secret.

Credit scores boil down consumer payment histories on short and long-term debts ranging from a home improvement loan to phone bills into a three-digit number between 300 and 850. A score over 650, for example, is generally considered to be pretty good, while a score of 580 is not. Read more ..



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