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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 ..


Inside China

China Bans Smoking in Restaurants, Hotels, Rail Stations, Airports

May 8th 2011

China Topics - Chinese man smoking

A ban on smoking in most public places in China went into effect May 1, a move that health experts say will help raise awareness of the dangers of smoking in a country where tobacco use is deeply ingrained.

There is a lack of public awareness of the health risks of smoking in China. The World Health Organization says seven out of ten non-smoking adults in the East Asian nation are exposed to second-hand smoke each week. Smokers light up in elevators and offices, and even in hospital waiting rooms.

Starting that Sunday, though, the country’s estimated 300 million smokers will no longer be allowed to puff their cigarettes in what the Chinese government is calling "enclosed public places." These include hotels, restaurants, theaters and public transport waiting rooms. The ban does not cover offices or factories. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Spirituality, But not Religion, Thought to Induce Scientific Discovery

May 8th 2011

Social Topics - Sullen Woman

More than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual, according to new research from Rice University. Though the general public marries spirituality and religion, the study found that spirituality is a separate idea – one that more closely aligns with scientific discovery – for "spiritual atheist" scientists.

Through in-depth interviews with 275 natural and social scientists at elite universities, the Rice researchers found that 72 of the scientists said they have a spirituality that is consistent with science, although they are not formally religious.

"Our results show that scientists hold religion and spirituality as being qualitatively different kinds of constructs," said Elaine Howard Ecklund, assistant professor of sociology at Rice and lead author of the study. "These spiritual atheist scientists are seeking a core sense of truth through spirituality -- one that is generated by and consistent with the work they do as scientists." Read more ..


Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking Allegations Test Diplomatic Immunity

May 2nd 2011

Qatar Topics - Qatar Embassy DC
Qatar Embassy, Washington, D.C.

Four women claim in a civil lawsuit that a high-ranking Qatari diplomat in the United States, and his family, forced them to work around the clock for little pay while enduring emotional abuse and—according to one woman—sexual assault.

The human trafficking lawsuit was filed March 25 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., against Essa Mohamed Al Mannai, Qatar’s second-highest ranking diplomat in the United States. The case has reopened debate over a problem that has vexed U.S. government agencies charged with making sure foreign officials, who enjoy the cover of diplomatic immunity, still obey U.S. laws and labor standards. Read more ..


The Edge of Computing

E-readers to Decimate Traditional Book Publishing--Experts Predict

May 2nd 2011

Technology - Amazon Kindle

Marking a major inflection point, the book publishing industry has entered a period of long-term decline because of the rising sales of e-book readers, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli.

Book revenue for U.S. publishers, including both e-books and paper books, will decrease at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to IHS. This marks a shift from the previous period of 2005 to 2010, when revenue grew slightly, the firm said.

The overall weakening will be spurred by a 5 percent decrease in the CAGR of physical book sales from 2010 to 2014, according to IHS. While e-book sales will soar by 40 percent during the same period, such an increase won’t be sufficient to compensate for the contraction of the larger physical book market, the firm said. Read more ..


The War on Malaria

In Kenya, One Community’s Fight against Malaria

April 27th 2011

Health/Medicine - Kenyan Mosquito Scout
Kenyan Mosquito Scout (credit: Michael Onyiego)

As World Malaria Day was observed worldwide April 25, Malindi, a city on Kenya’s coast that is fighting malaria through community action, came to the forefront.

As the world works to eliminate malaria deaths by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa is still struggling to confront the continent’s number-one killer of children under the age of five years old. In Malindi, the fight against malaria is a community affair. The city of about 150,000 is on Kenya’s coast, in one of the country’s two hotspots for the disease. For residents of Malindi, malaria not only is a threat to their lives and their children, it is a threat to their livelihoods. Read more ..


The Arab Spring

Palestinian Billionaire Airs His Vision of an Independent Palestinian State

April 25th 2011

Palestine Topics - Palestinian millionaire
Palestinian billionaire Munib Al Masri

It is a sight one would not expect in the Israeli-occupied West Bank: An Italian villa complete with ancient Greek statues, Picassos, and manicured gardens reminiscent of Versailles. Palestinian billionaire Munib Al Masri, whose personal wealth represents about a third of the Palestinian economy, has turned his extravagant dream into reality. Al Masri spoke at his lavish home near Nablus about his vision for a Palestinian state.

A palace on a hill overlooking Nablus, complete with authentic works of art from Europe.

"When I was 19, I was in Chicago and I saw a Palladian style house and I said to myself at that time when I go back to my home, Palestine, I would like to build a similar house," said Palestinian billionaire Munib Al Masri. Read more ..


Inside Asia

Psychologists Warn that Therapies Based on Positive Emotions May Not Work for Asians

April 25th 2011

Japan - Japanese girl

Psychologists warn that therapies based on positive emotions may not work for Asians

Thinking happy thoughts, focusing on the good and downplaying the bad is believed to accelerate recovery from depression, bolster resilience during a crisis and improve overall mental health. But a new study by University of Washington psychologists reveals that pursuing happiness may not be beneficial across all cultures.

In a survey of college students, Asian respondents showed no relationship between positive emotions and levels of stress and depression. For European-American participants, however, the more stress and depression they felt, the fewer positive emotions they reported.

The study indicates that psychotherapies emphasizing positive emotions, which can relieve stress and depression in white populations, may not work for Asians, who make up 60 percent of the world population. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Chernobyl's Cleanup Crew Pay a Steep Price, 25 Years On

April 25th 2011

Energy / Environment - Energy/Environment
Chernobyl aftermath

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.

Another Chernobyl worker, Aleksander Kramer, says he was one of the first to go into the plant after the explosion.  Kramer, who now lives in Germany, remains angry at how he was treated by authorities in what was then the Soviet Union.  From the very beginning, he says, the authorities doubted those claiming they were part of the clean-up effort.

And the suspicions have lingered. In 1993, Kramer says former rescue workers had to prove to Ukranian authorities “that their documents were not a sham and that their health problems were real.” Read more ..


The Way We Are

Happiness and Suicide Rates

April 25th 2011

Social Topics - Boy in pain

The happiest countries and happiest U.S. states tend to have the highest suicide rates, according to research from the UK’s University of Warwick, Hamilton College in New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

The new research paper titled Dark Contrasts: The Paradox of High Rates of Suicide in Happy Places has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. It uses U.S. and international data, which included first-time comparisons of a newly available random sample of 1.3 million Americans, and another on suicide decisions among an independent random sample of approximately 1 million Americans.

The research confirmed a little known and seemingly puzzling fact: many happy countries have unusually high rates of suicide. This observation has been made from time to time about individual nations, especially in the case of Denmark. This new research found that a range of nations - including: Canada, the United States, Iceland, Ireland and Switzerland, display relatively high happiness levels and yet also have high suicide rates. Nevertheless the researchers note that, because of variation in cultures and suicide-reporting conventions, such cross-country scatter plots are only suggestive. To confirm the relationship between levels of happiness and rates of suicide within a geographical area, the researchers turned to two very large data sets covering a single country, the United States. Read more ..


America on Edge

U.S. Wealth Gap Widens Between Black and White Households with Children

April 20th 2011

Social Topics - School kids

The wealth gap in the United States between white and black households with children nearly doubled to $47,000 between 1994 and 2007, according to a new report.

"Diverging Pathways: How Wealth Shapes Opportunity for Children," written by University of Michigan researcher Trina Shanks released by the Insight Center for Economic Development, found that the percentage of black households with no net worth or living in debt is on the rise.

In 2007, about 70 percent of Latino and black households with young children were poor and 40 percent had no financial assets—more than twice the respective rates for white households. Read more ..


Japan after the Quake

Some Japanese Evacuees Brave Radiation Fears to Briefly Return Home

April 18th 2011

Japan - Rad monitor Japan

Some residents forced to flee their homes a month ago, when radiation began spewing from a damaged Japanese nuclear power plant, are making furtive trips back into the so-called hot zone.

In Namie—about 15 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant—a dog crossing the main intersection is initially the only sign of life. The traffic lights still cycle between red and green. But, within the space of an hour, only a few cars pass through the intersection, paying no heed to the signal.

The virtual silence is only broken when a powerful aftershock rattles the already damaged downtown buildings and the pavement rumbles. Elsewhere in Fukushima prefecture, the tremor knocks out power to thousands of homes and temporarily forces a halt to repair work at the damaged reactors. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

Texas Man Wins Award for Standing up to Oil Companies

April 18th 2011

Environment Topics - Hilton Kelley
Hilton Kelley

Hilton Kelley won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his work confronting refineries on pollution in the town of Port Arthur, Texas

A resident of Texas has won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award for his work confronting refineries on pollution in the town of Port Arthur.  The city has a population of 60,000 and one of the highest levels of air pollution in the United States.  Hilton Kelley has spent a decade fighting to lower Port Arthur's air pollution through protests and legal action against major oil and chemical companies. The Goldman award is funded by the family of Richard Goldman, a San Francisco philanthropist who died last year.

Hilton Kelley grew up in a poor, African-American neighborhood. 

"I was born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, right next to the refineries," said Kelley. Read more ..


The Battle for Libya

Teenage Libyan Journalist Seeks to Describe Life Without Gadhafi

April 18th 2011

Libya - Normal Libyan teenage journalist Atem

Atem is 17 years old. Before the Libyan uprising began, she was finishing her last year in high school and acting very much her age. "I just like hanging with my friends. We all go out, like, every Thursday night, every weekend," Atem said. "I like movies. I like music. I'm addicted to Facebook. I love the Internet. It was normal."

Her English, learned in school and honed through those movies and music, helped her strike up Internet friendships around the world. And that's when she began to realize how far from normal the perception of her country was. Read more ..


Family Edge

First National Study of Multiple Partner Fertility Reveals Percentage of Women with Children by More than one Man

April 13th 2011

Social Topics - Pregnant

The first national study of the prevalence of multiple partner fertility shows that 28 percent of all U.S. women with two or more children have children by more than one man.

The study was presented in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America.

"I was surprised at the prevalence," said demographer Cassandra Dorius, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "Multiple partner fertility is an important part of contemporary American family life, and a key component to the net of disadvantage that many poor and uneducated women face every day." Read more ..


Algeria on Edge

Activists Fight to Save Crumbling Algiers Casbah

April 11th 2011

Africa Topics - Algiers - Casbah

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Algiers’s historic Casbah, or old quarter, bears the hallmarks and the scars of the country’s turbulent past. During the bloody “black decade“ of Algeria’s 1990s civil war, the Casbah was the feared bastion of Islamist terrorists. Now that ordinary residents and a few visitors have returned, and a new battle is underway to save what one historian calls the “heart“ of Algeria.

Sounds of construction fill the air as Abdelkarim Bouchouada, secretary-general of the Casbah Foundation, a local preservation group, takes me on a tour of Algiers’ historic Casbah. The oldest quarter of Algeria's capital is a maize of narrow streets lined with whitewashed houses, graceful fountains and the occasional, stunning Ottoman palace. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

A Battle Royal Unleashed in Russia over the Internet

April 11th 2011

Computer Topics - Russian computer user

A massive hacker attack knocked Russia’s most popular opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, off the internet on April 8. Earlier last week, three days of hacker attacks repeatedly knocked out LiveJournal, the nation’s main platform for blogs.

As Russia’s roughly 40 million internet users digested these attacks, the nation’s top communications security official proposed on April 9 to ban Skype, Hotmail, and Gmail as uncontrolled threats to Russian security. It is unclear if the official from Russia’s FSB, the successor agency to the Soviet KGB, will get his way.

With Russia’s internet users expanding by 10,000 people a day, security officials fret about the internet - a vast, uncontrolled cyberspace. After the youth revolts spread through the Arab world, the FSB proposed that every Russian user of Facebook and other social networks be required to sign user contracts that included passport information and home addresses. Read more ..


Border War

UN Committee Scolds Mexico for Lack of Progress in Protecting Migrants

April 6th 2011

Latin American Topics - Massacred Migrants in Tamaulipas Mexico
Murdered migrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico

According to the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, “it’s obvious that in Mexico the so-called ‘migration business’ exists and it is very worrying that the government has made no significant progress in prosecuting those responsible for human trafficking,” criticizing Mexico for its apparent inability to catch and prosecute human traffickers. “Migrants traveling across Mexico are prone to extortion and kidnapping by criminal organizations associated with drug trafficking,” commented Francisco Carrion Mena, a member of the committee meeting in Switzerland on April 4. Read more ..


Islam's War Against Christians

Wounded Christians of Egypt Wonder at Lack of Discussion Over their Fate at the Hands of Islamists

April 4th 2011

Christian Topics - Coptic Christian prays at blood splattered wall

A disturbing feature of the crisis in Egypt has been the paucity of any discussion of the implications of the possible rise of fanatical Islamists for Christians, particularly the sizeable Coptic Christian population, estimated at between 10-15 percent of the Egyptian population. The few vague references to their fate were generally voiced as an afterthought to reflections on the repression of women.

This puzzling gap is characteristic of Western analysts who respond only to political and economic explanations. But these have little to do with the deeper social historical complexities of the Middle East and everything to do with religion and the culture. Western analysts seldom understand the importance of religion. Unless conflict has an overt political face it is usually a mystery to them. Yet Christians were out on the street with their fellow Egyptians when Mubarak was ousted, desperate to ward off an Islamic take-over. In fact the persecution of Copts has intensified over the past 20 years even though few in the West have paid attention to it. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Bedouin Women Lighting Up the Desert as Barefoot Solar Engineers

April 4th 2011

Arab Topics - Bedouin women lighting up

For many living in the harsh and desolate deserts of south Jordan, life without electricity is the norm. Either the infrastructure which provides electricity doesn’t reach them or they simply don’t have the money to afford it. However, all that looks set to change as two women bring to light the advantages of solar energy.

Two Jordanian Bedouin women have recently returned from a six-month course at a unique college in India where they were trained as solar engineers. The two women, who are illiterate and have never been employed, were carefully selected by the elders in the village to attend the course at Barefoot College in India which helps poor rural communities become more sustainable. Read more ..


The Psychology Edge

Study Shows that Social Rejection Hurts as Much as Physical Pain

April 4th 2011

Social Topics - Boy in pain

Physical pain and intense feelings of social rejection "hurt" in the same way, a new study shows.

The study demonstrates that the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection.

"These results give new meaning to the idea that social rejection 'hurts'," said University of Michigan social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "On the surface, spilling a hot cup of coffee on yourself and thinking about how rejected you feel when you look at the picture of a person that you recently experienced an unwanted break-up with may seem to elicit very different types of pain.

"But this research shows that they may be even more similar than initially thought."

Kross, an assistant professor at the U-M Department of Psychology and faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), conducted the study with U-M colleague Marc Berman, Columbia University's Walter Mischel and Edward Smith, also affiliated with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and with Tor Wager of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Media Reports of Acts of Human Kindness Inspire Goodness in Others

March 30th 2011

Social Topics - Helping hands

People with a strong moral identity are measurably inspired to do good after being exposed to media stories about uncommon acts of human goodness, says a researcher at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

A new study by Brent McFerran, assistant professor of marketing at the Ross School, and colleague Karl Aquino, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, shows that exposure to media accounts of extraordinary virtue can spur "moral elevation"—thoughts and emotions about being a better person.

People who experience this moral elevation, they say, are more readily disposed to take positive moral action, including giving to charity. Read more ..


Edge on Environment

Deriving Greater Social Benefits from Forests with Greater Biodiversity

March 30th 2011

Asia Topics - India forest dwellers

When local residents are allowed to make rules about managing nearby forests, the forests are more likely to provide greater economic benefits to households and contain more biodiversity, two University of Michigan researchers and a colleague conclude from an analysis of forest practices in tropical developing countries of East Africa and South Asia. Lauren Persha and Arun Agrawal of the University of Michigan and Ashwini Chhatre of the University of Illinois used evidence from more than 80 forest sites in six tropical countries to test how local participation affects social and ecological benefits from forests.

The social benefits include access to forest products that households rely on for their subsistence, such as firewood, fodder for livestock and timber for housing. The main ecological benefit is higher biodiversity in the tropical forests. Read more ..


Significant Lives

No One Can Play Elizabeth Taylor except Elizabeth Taylor

March 28th 2011

Film - Elizabeth Cleopatra Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatria

If Hollywood were a building with its own flag, it would surely be flying at half-mast since the news of the death of Elizabeth Taylor on March 23. She had been one of the brightest and most enduring stars in Tinseltown’s glittering constellation.

But why on earth should her death matter to us ordinary mortals who have never known her except as a regular of the gossip columns? This is the question I have been asking myself as I scanned the obituaries wheeled out in the wake of her death.

Predictably, they emphasized the many sensational aspects of her life: the eight marriages, the addiction to drugs and alcohol, the extravagant lifestyle, the succession of dramatic and life-threatening illnesses. For Taylor, life eclipsed the art; in the intervals of this real-life Theatre she acted in a string of unmemorable films -- with a couple of notable exceptions. I saw the film of Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when it came out in 1966 and thought her Oscar fully deserved. Critics might say that in the part of Martha, the foul-mouthed, sexually voracious alcoholic, she simply played herself; actually, in a memorable performance  she brought to the part all the intensity, pathos and neediness of Martha and her ruined illusions. Read more ..



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