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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 ..

Southern Africa on Edge

S. Africa, Zimbabwe Set Aggressive Goals in HIV/AIDS Fight

December 3rd 2011

South Africa - South African Aids Patient

The United Nations says the world is finally ready to achieve the goal of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths. There are various challenges and responses to that vision in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

What's Changed

In the past few years, South Africa has come to grips with the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The government is now reporting that new infections in pregnant women have stabilized. 

Even so, the country remains plagued by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The South African government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector currently treat about one million people infected with HIV or AIDS. Official statistics say another 5 million are infected among the country’s 50 million people. Read more ..

Voice of America

Exhibit Enlists Visitors in Helping Abused Women

November 30th 2011

Social Topics - Abused Woman

There is a Chinese saying that “women hold up half the sky,” yet in many societies, the contributions of women are ignored and women are often the victims of sexual violence and abuse.

Husband-and-wife journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn documented some of those women’s stories in the 2009 book Half the Sky.

The exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center features stories of women who have taken action to change their lives: Saima Muhammad, a Pakistani woman who built an embroidery business with a $65 dollar micro-loan and gained financial independence from her abusive husband and Goretti Nyabenda, a woman in Burundi, who started a business brewing banana beer to provide for her family. It also shows women who have made a difference on a wider scale, including Edna Adan Ismail, the former first lady of Somalia. She is a former nurse who has campaigned against female genital mutilation and used her life savings to build a maternity hospital in Somaliland.

Their stories are told through photographs, art works, and recorded sights and sounds.

It also shows women who have made a difference on a wider scale, including Edna Adan Ismail, the former first lady of Somalia. She is a former nurse who has campaigned against female genital mutilation and used her life savings to build a maternity hospital in Somaliland.

Their stories are told through photographs, art works, and recorded sights and sounds.

Columnist issues moral challege

In his columns in the New York Times, journalist Nicholas Kristof has described sex trafficking, denial of education and other abuses of women, and he says the exhibit conveys several important themes to visitors.


Inside America

Texas Couple Become Goat-Farming Entrepreneurs

November 30th 2011

Animals - Goat

Most people hold on to their jobs for security and whatever benefits they might provide. But some adventurous souls follow a more challenging path, becoming entrepreneurs, working for themselves with no safety net to catch them if they fail. One urban couple chose to move to the country in Waller County, Texas, northwest of Houston, to begin a new life and business, with goats.

Part of the daily routine for Christian Seger at the Blue Heron Farm is milking the goats at feeding time.

Most people hold on to their jobs for security and whatever benefits they might provide. But some adventurous souls follow a more challenging path, becoming entrepreneurs, working for themselves with no safety net to catch them if they fail. One urban couple chose to move to the country in Waller County, Texas, northwest of Houston, to begin a new life and business, with goats. Read more ..

Inside South Korea

For South Korean Youth, an Education Crossroads

November 30th 2011

South Korea - Sudo High School

In a country that wins praise for its education system - U.S. President Barack Obama frequently cites Korea as a model for scholastic performance - the 600 students at a Seoul vocational school aren't receiving a typical Korean high school education, and most won't head to universities once they graduate. "We are now focusing on some practical skills, which the IT field or the mechanics field really require," says Geum Donghoe, a teacher in Sudo’s information technologies department.

Although Korean students are among the highest scorers on international standardized tests, and up to 80 percent of high school graduates enroll in a university, some say there is a downside. Conventional schools, critics say, are too focused on getting students into top universities when there aren't enough jobs for highly educated graduates. Now the South Korean government is promoting alternatives to college, such as the electrical and electronics-engineering curricula at Sudo, much of which, says Donghoe, is on par with graduate-degree coursework. Read more ..

The Way We Are

More Stories Skin Deep

November 28th 2011

Social Topics - Singapore Tattoo Con 2009

This is part two of Stories On The Skin: The Life and Times of Tattoos, Piercings, and Modifications.

Tattoos had been used in ancient Greece and Rome to mark ownership of slaves and as punishment for criminals. Rather than being ornamental, the tattooing practices signified degradation, punishment, and permanent ownership. In Greek literature, the first reference to tattooing is as stigmatias or “a marked slave.” The word stigma in English is derived from the Greek and indicates discredit or shame.

Apparently the Greeks adapted their tattooing practices from the Persians, and later, the Romans continued the practice of tattooing slaves and the term stigmata. Within the medical text Medicae artis principes, by the sixth-century Roman physician Aetius, is the oldest known description of stigmata. Read more ..

Italy On Edge

Euro Crisis Prompts Italian Village to Declare Independence

November 28th 2011

Italy - Filettino City

Italy's tough austerity drive includes plans to force local authorities to merge, in a bid to rein in public spending. The tiny village of Filettino faces such a prospect - but its mayor is fighting back. The town is bidding to become an autonomous principality with its own currency. And it might just stand a chance.

Deep in the rugged mountains east of Rome lies the quiet village of Filettino. Not much has changed here for centuries. But the 554 residents are now part of a revolution in the making; Filettino is trying to break away from Italy. Under the government’s tough $67-billion [50 billion euro] austerity package, all towns with fewer than 1,000 residents are being forced to merge with neighboring communities. That would see Filettino’s Mayor Luca Sellari out of a job. So he’s leading the fight back. Read more ..

Poisoned Places

EPA Posts “Watch List” that Includes Chronic Polluters

November 28th 2011

Pollution - China Urban Pollution

The Clean Air Act “watch list” is secret no more.

Just days after a report that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains an internal list that includes serious or chronic violators of air pollution laws that have not been subject to timely enforcement, the EPA has posted the September and October watch list on its website.

The agency also has begun to publish watch lists that include serious or chronic violators of the Clean Water Act, governing the release of pollutants in waterways, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, involving hazardous waste disposal.

The EPA cited a FOIA request for the Clean Air Act watch list, later published for the first time as part of a series on air pollution afflicting hundreds of communities, and said the agency would publish the lists as a demonstration of its commitment to transparency. However, important details on why each polluter is on the list will continue to be kept confidential, the agency said. Read more ..

Panama on Edge

Privatization Without Representation: Panamanian Doctors’ Long Strike

November 24th 2011

Panama - Panama Strike

Panamanian doctors, medical workers, and teachers ended a month-long strike on November 18 by signing a series of agreements with the Panamanian government about Bill 349, or the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Bill, which appeared to permit the government to privatize healthcare and education. The agreement would send the bill back to a “first reading,” which means, according to The Council on Hemispheric Affairs’ interviews with journalist Eric Jackson of The Panama News, that the bill “dies unless brought up in a future legislative session.”

 The Panamanian Society of General Medicine contended that Bill 349 would have “allow[ed]… a relaxation in the duties and obligations of the state, and [would] open… the door for basic services at the mercy of capital and not for the great majority.” Perhaps even more troubling, however, was the structure outlined by the bill for decision-making regarding PPPs, which would have given the president and several of his cabinet members unprecedented authority. This and other ramifications of the bill stand in direct contrast with the laws and regulations about PPPs characteristically found elsewhere in the world that guarantee at least minimal limitations and attempts at transparency. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Managing a Bully

November 21st 2011

Social Topics - Bullying

I was once bullied by a jerk who wanted to show off in front of his friends. He took a chair from me during school when I was sitting down and I fell on the floor. I said to my friends, "That guy's an idiot" and he heard me. He started to hit and kick me and then walked away. I didn't hit him back because he was bigger and older than me.

The book Taking the Bully by the Horns, by Kathy Noll, explains why bullies bully. Now I understand that he bothered me because he felt really small inside and I was an easy target because I was new in the school. People used to make fun of him because of his grades and he probably felt bad about himself and decided to take it out on other people.

A bully picks on somebody so that he can take his anger about feeling bad about himself out on somebody else. He picks somebody smaller than him without too many friends. Somebody he thinks won't tell anybody. Read more ..

Poisoned Places

Many Americans Left Behind in the Quest for Cleaner Air

November 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Smokestacks

For all of her 62 years, Lois Dorsey has lived five blocks from a mass of petrochemical plants in Baton Rouge. She worries about the health of people in her life: A 15-year-old granddaughter, recovering from bone cancer. A 59-year-old sister, a nonsmoker, felled by lung cancer. Neighbors with asthma and cancer.

She's complained to the government about powerful odors and occasional, window-rattling explosions—to no avail, she says. Pollution from the plants—including benzene and nickel, both human carcinogens, and hydrochloric acid, a lung irritant—continues.

“If anything," said Dorsey, herself a uterine cancer survivor, "it’s gotten worse."

Americans might expect the government to protect them from unsafe air. That hasn’t happened. Insidious forms of toxic air pollution—deemed so harmful to human health that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president sought to bring emissions under control more than two decades ago—persist in hundreds of communities across the United States, an investigation shows. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Stories On The Skin: The Life and Times of Tattoos, Piercings, and Modifications

November 18th 2011

Social Topics - Singapore Tattoo Con 2009

Not one great country can be named, from the polar regions in the north to New Zealand in the south, in which the aborigines do not tattoo themselves.
– Charles Darwin

On a spectacularly sunny, end of March Sunday I attended a "tattoofest" in a Tampa hotel. Outside a group of bikers and other attendees sat soaking up the sun. I entered tentatively, not knowing what to expect.

I picked up a magazine at the check-in tables called "Prick", filled with ads for conventions and tattoo artists’ studios. A columnist, Chuck B, wrote, "Even the meanest looking heavily tattooed characters out there are longing to be coddled, not hurt. Believe me, I know. So let’s all get together and have a big love fest."

I was surprised by what I saw. This was not just displays and sales pitches. People getting their tattoos applied and those doing the applications occupied the majority of booths. Read more ..

Inside Russia

Tajik Migrant Workers Fearful in Russia

November 17th 2011

Russian Topics - tajik worker 2

Zulfiya Bobojonova and her two teenage sons haven't left their rented Moscow apartment for nearly a week. "There are rumors about Russian police detaining Tajiks in the streets and deporting them back to Tajikistan," says the shopkeeper, who hails from a small city in northern Tajikistan but has worked legally in the Russian capital for the past nine years. "Russian television channels talk about Tajik-migrant issues every night, and it's just adding to our fears."

In fact, the reports of migrant sweeps in Russia targeting Tajik nationals are more than rumors. In the week since a Tajik court sentenced a Russian and an Estonian pilot to prison sentences for their unauthorized refueling stops en route from Kabul, Russian officials have rounded up hundreds of Tajik immigrants for possible expulsion.

"Tajiks don't dare go outside or freely walk in streets right now," Bobojonova tells RFE/RL. "Everybody is in hiding inside their homes. I didn't even allow my 13-year-old son to go to school. What if the police detain him, find us too, and deport all of us? People are afraid. Nobody's going to work."

The pilots, working for a Russian air-transport company, were handed jail sentences on November 8 of 10 1/2 years each for arms trafficking, among other charges. Their aircraft were also seized. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Smile, Happy People Live Longer

November 15th 2011

Art Topics - Jerry Williams swamp dogg

Happy people may not only enjoy life more, but new research suggests they also have more life to enjoy.

Almost 4,000 people, enrolled in a long-term aging study in Britain, were asked to score how they were feeling on a particular day.

"We used quite simple measures," says Andrew Steptoe of University College London. "So the 'positive affect' measure was a combination of how happy people were feeling, how excited they were feeling, how content they were. And these were all rated on a simple scale, a five-point scale, from 'not at all' to 'extremely.' Read more ..

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