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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 ..

El Salvador on Edge

National Sovereignty of Tiny El Salvador at Stake as it Considers El Dorado Mining Project

March 28th 2011

Latin American Topics - El salvador mine protest

President Obama arrived in El Salvador on March 22 in order to hold up that country as an example of what Latin American states can achieve through cooperation with the United States. Given the Central American country’s acquiescence in the militarization of Washington’s regional War on Drugs, and its enactment of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) after a bruising domestic struggle, Obama observed, “There are few better examples of both the opportunities and challenges facing the Americas today than here in El Salvador.” Obama and his counterpart, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, discussed a number of issues, including the advancement of military and civilian counter-drug initiatives, an additional $200 million in U.S. funds for Salvadoran legal institutions, and immigration reform affecting the nearly two million Salvadoran citizens in the United States. Discussion of reforming CAFTA however, which is a primary demand of civil society organizations in El Salvador, was conspicuously absent from the agenda. Such a renegotiation could profoundly affect not only El Salvador, but also the other signatories of the agreement: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

Local activist groups and a broader coalition of international civil society organizations used the arrival of the U.S. president to stage a popular protest under the banner of autodeterminación, or self-determination. In addition to calling for a renegotiation of CAFTA, their demands included an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, a withdrawal of the U.S. military from El Salvador, and a cessation of U.S. support for the tainted Porfirio Lobos regime in neighboring Honduras. CAFTA was a particularly contentious item at the protests because Obama’s trip coincided with an arbitration hearing at the World Bank (originally scheduled for March 23 but presently postponed) that will determine El Salvador’s responsibilities to American investors under the terms of the free trade agreement. Read more ..

The Music Edge

Carnegie Hall Master Workshops for High School Choirs Encourages Musical Excellence

March 28th 2011

Music - Carnegie hall choir

Wide-eyed high schoolers mingled with world-class talent recently at New York's Carnegie Hall. Since 1991, professional choruses have attended a week of master workshops, rehearsing a major choral work to be performed for the public at the famed music hall.

This year was a bit different. In order to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Carnegie Hall Professional Choral Workshop imported two top-notch high school choruses from North Carolina and Pennsylvania, to mix with the pros. Together, they all performed the monumental "Requiem" by 19th century Romantic composer Hector Berlioz. Read more ..

Border Wars

Motorcycle Women Warriors Ride for Charity and Justice in Mexico

March 21st 2011

Mexican Topics - Guerreras de Juarez

Mexico has had a pretty bad rap in the American media in recent years. “Mexican shoot-out kills 18 as drug violence surges” and “AZ beheading tied to Mexican drug cartel” and “Evil on the border” are some of this week’s headlines.  But where there is darkness, there also is light. Even amid the violence and desperation there spring up courage and compassion, especially in women.

First a good news / bad news story from Ciudad Juárez, reputedly one of the ten most dangerous cities in the world. Las Guerreras de Juárez (The Warriors of Juarez) are a group of ten Mexican bikers on pink choppers who spend Sundays traveling around Ciudad Juárez lending the poor a helping hand. Along with words of comfort, they dole out cash, medicines, food and clothes for unemployed, the elderly, young drug addicts, and single mothers. By day, the warriors are professional women -- teachers, businesswomen and travel agents. They’re not fighting drug trafficking, just the misery and poverty it generates. Read more ..

Islam's Against Christianity

Fearful Pakistani Christians Forced to Convert to Islam

March 21st 2011

PakistanTopics - Anti blasphemy protest

On a sunny afternoon in the second week of February 2011, 45-year-old Azra Bibi, clad in black shawl, entered the reception of Jamia Naeemia with her ten year old son, a leading Sunni-Barelvi madrassa situated in a congested area of Lahore. Accompanied by a 45-year-old Muslim witness, Chaudhry Muhammad Islam, Azra a recent convert to Islam along with her six children asked for the imam of the Jamia. She has come here to get proper documents to prove in the court that she was no longer a Christian.

The young receptionist at Jamia Naeemia talks to the principal on telephone opens the side drawer of his dented metal table and pulls out a two-inch-thick book wrapped in a blue cover. He finds a blank page and starts writing her details. The book is a registry used to keep record of religious conversions to Islam. One book is enough to record 100 cases of conversions. A newly built wooden cabinet brimming with many such books is used to store the record. Officials at the madrassa say the number of people converting from other religions, especially Christianity, to Islam is on the rise here. At least 50 to 60 Christians embrace Islam each month by signing a white and green paper on the book declaring that they accept Islam without any greed or pressure and promise to ‘remain in the religion of Islam for the rest of the life’, and will try to spend life according to the principles of Islam. Read more ..

Tuskeegee Redux

Guatemalans Seek US Compensation for Syphilis Infections

March 14th 2011

Politics - Kathleen Sibelius

Attorneys in Washington and Guatemala are seeking legal compensation for victims of experiments by U.S. doctors in Guatemala in the 1940s that involved the deliberate infection of around 700 people with syphilis. U.S. officials have already denounced the experiments and apologized to the victims, but they have not yet established a way to compensate the victims and their families.

A Washington, D.C. law firm sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week asking that some system be established to handle claims for people deliberately infected with syphilis in Guatemala more than half a century ago. One of the attorneys involved in preparing the case, Piper Hendricks, says there is a deadline for Holder to respond.

“Right now, what we have done is send a letter to Attorney General Holder asking for a response from the U.S. government," said Hendricks. "If there is no response by Friday we will be filing the complaint on Monday.” Read more ..

Malawai on Edge

Malawi University Lecturers Defy Presidential Order

March 14th 2011

Africa Topics - Malawai President Mutharika
Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika

In Malawi, lecturers at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, have defied a directive by President Bingu wa Mutharika to return to class Monday.

The lecturers have not been teaching for nearly four weeks protesting what they call “interference in their academic freedom.”

Malawi Inspector General of Police Peter Mukhito summoned associate political science professor Blessings Chinsinga over a lecture the professor gave which drew parallels between Malawi's current fuel crisis and the uprisings that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Read more ..

Edge of Terrorism

Fearful and Agitated Pakistani Christians in the Streets to Protest Impunity for Islamist Terror

March 7th 2011

PakistanTopics - Pakstan protest 2

Thousands of Christians on March 3 took to the streets in protest in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Layyah, Khushpur and other Christian population areas to protest the brutal assassination of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad.

The protesting Christians were holding banners and placards and they also chanted anti- terrorism slogans. In Islamabad, Father Anwer Patras Gill started with a prayer for Shahbaz Bhatti and the grieving family. The Christian community blocked the road towards Islamabad, burnt tyres and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits, they had banners stating "Anyone who speaks the truth is unsafe", " Bhatti your blood is the begining of a revolution." Read more ..

Internet on the Edge

Hate in the Digital Age

February 28th 2011

Computer Topics - Shadowy Computer User

The Internet and social media are proving to be a double-edged sword.  While they expand the possibilities of commerce and information-sharing, they are also used by terrorists to recruit members, to promote hate, and even to reveal ways to make bombs.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization, has been tracking potential online violence and issued a report in New York City Thursday entitled 'Digital Terrorism and Hate 2011'”  

The report, issued on DVD, documents how terrorists and hate groups use such digital technologies as the Internet, smart phone apps, Skype, YouTube and e-books to not only distribute hate messages, but to act on them as well. Read more ..

A Thirsty World

Michigan student Invents Solution Bringing Clean Water to Undeveloped Countries

February 28th 2011

Environment Topics - Water wheel

Cynthia Koenig knows that by reinventing the wheel she could change the world. In a few months, she hopes to make a difference in India.

Koenig, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, created the WaterWheel, a 20-gallon rolling water barrel and Wello, the business that distributes it in developing countries, where clean water is scarce.

After graduation this spring from U-M’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Koenig plans to launch a pilot program in Rajasthan, India to test the WaterWheel’s social impact and health benefits. Her goal is to sell 5,000 wheels in 12 months, positively impacting the lives of 40,000 people. She is working with an Indian company to manufacture the wheel. Read more ..

Health Edge

Health among African-Americans Appears to Vary According to Ethnic Origins

February 21st 2011

Health/Medicine - Black infant

A Caribbean-born black person living in the United States will most likely be healthier than a U.S.- born Caribbean black person, according to a new national study on ethnic differences in health among the American black population.

University of Michigan researchers examined the relationships among ethnicity, nativity, depressive symptoms and physical health in the two largest groups of American blacks: African American and Caribbean blacks, said Derek Griffith, assistant professor in the U-M School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

African Americans, Caribbean-born blacks who now live in the United States and U.S.-born Caribbean blacks had significantly different self-ratings of their health situations. Read more ..

Congo on Edge

International Gold Smuggling Shows Government Involvement in Democratic Republic of Congo

February 21st 2011

Africa Topics - Congo gold

"It is very likely a transaction, that for some reason, there has been a hitch and that has helped to confirm the involvement of the Congolese military in the illegal exploitation of Congolese mineral resources," said Fr. Loris Cattani in an interview with the FIDES news service. Rev. Cattani is a Catholic missionary and leader of the Network for Peace in the Congo. He commented on the detention of an aircraft at the airport of Goma, capital of North Kivu (eastern Democratic Republic of Congo). Read more ..

Haiti After the Earthquake

Contested Election Brings Further Uncertainty to Ruined Haiti

February 21st 2011

Caribbean - Haiti in ruins

On November 28, 2010 Haiti staged presidential and legislative elections. Even before the publication of their results, the process was surrounded by tension and controversy. To begin, the Port-au-Prince government agency in charge of supervising the elections, the CEP, prevented fifteen political parties from officially endorsing any popular candidate for the presidency. This included anyone coming from Haiti’s most representative party, the Fanmi Lavalas of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Moreover, outgoing President René Préval who appointed all nine of the members of the CEP, was accused of meddling in the elections in order to promote his chosen successor, Jude Célestin. Read more ..

Bangladesh on Edge

Bangladesh's Minorities Subjected to Violent Muslim Dispossession

February 21st 2011

Asia Topics - Bangladesh christians
Bangladeshi Christians

A village in Bangladesh was burned down and dozens of indigenous people have been injured and driven from Ragipara in the mountain district of Rangamati. According to sources at the Catholic Diocese of Chittagong, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian ethnic minorities were beset by Muslim marauders over the last week.

According to the Commission for Justice and Peace operated by Bangladeshi Christians, more than 300 Muslim settlers on February 17 dispossessed the indigenous villagers and seized their crop land. A school and more than 25 homes were destroyed in the affray that was instigated by a Muslim journalist and a religious leader. The Muslim settlers were backed by local police who legitimized the violence. Other cases like this (of attacks on tribal members and private land) have been recorded in recent days in the area of Gulishakhali. The Muslims settlers subjected their indigenous neighbors to the dispossession under the pretext of revenge, following the still unresolved death of Ali Saber - a Muslim found dead in Ragiparam. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Latin America Faces a New Gold Rush and Modern Conquistadores

February 14th 2011

Latin American Topics - Colombian gold diggers

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors were drawn to the Americas by a quest for riches; in their pursuit they were soon exploiting the land of its resources. Today, remarkably little has changed. Like the conquistadors, foreign companies today are seeking the fabled deposits of ores and minerals found in the western cordillera, the Andes chain. Mining technology has dramatically changed since the Spanish first reached South America: hand-dug tunnels have been replaced by open pits, and pickaxes supplanted by heavy machinery, explosives, and gargantuan dredgers. These mining methods, at times taking place in the heart of the Amazon, have had devastating consequences for the surrounding environment and local populations. In this respect, Colombia has become a poster child for irresponsible mining practices. Read more ..

Pakistan on the Edge

Punjab a Hot Spot for Blasphemy Charges

February 14th 2011

PakistanTopics - Anti blasphemy protest

An analysis of the reported blasphemy cases in Pakistan since 1986 (the year when 295-C was made part of the Pakistani legal code by General Zia) reveals that majority of these cases occurred in a few districts of central Punjab.

The data collected by Life for All (LFA), an NGO working on the repeal of blasphemy laws, reveals that since 1986, 1058 people (456 Ahmadis, 449 Muslims, 132 Christians and 21 Hindus) have been charged under the blasphemy laws.

According to Rizwan Paul, Executive Director of LFA, “Around 80 per cent of all these cases have been registered only in eight districts of central Punjab—Lahore, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, Gujranwala, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Gujrat and Kasur.” The worst part is that so far 37 accused blasphemers (16 Christian, 15 Muslims, five Ahmadis and two Hindu) have been killed extra-judicially. Read more ..

Dying in America

CSI America: Bungled Death Investigations Put the Living at Risk

February 6th 2011

Social Topics - Morgue

In detective novels and television crime dramas like "CSI," the nation's morgues are staffed by highly trained medical professionals equipped with the most sophisticated tools of 21st-century science. Operating at the nexus of medicine and criminal justice, these death detectives thoroughly investigate each and every suspicious fatality.

The reality, though, is far different. An intense examination of the nation's 2,300 coroner and medical examiner offices and found a deeply dysfunctional system that quite literally buries its mistakes. Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

50,000 Gather in Karachi in Support of Blasphemy Law

January 30th 2011

Islamic Topics - Pakistan antiblasphemy rally

Shouting anti-government slogans, thousands of people marched here in Pakistan’s financial capital to oppose any amendments in the controversial blasphemy laws and praised the man charged with killing Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who had dubbed it “black law.”

The massive rally, organized by religious parties, was addressed by Jamat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s Sahibzada Abul Khair Zubair, JI Karachi amir Muhammad Hussain Mehnati and others. Outlawed Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed appeared at the rally. The size of the Karachi rally, which was large even by the standards of the city of 16 million, showed how bitter the argument is over the decades-old laws. Read more ..

Inside Latin America

Jaguars Endure as Living Symbol of Native America

January 24th 2011

Animals - Jaguar

An enduring symbol of indigenous cultures in the Americas, the jaguar continues to hang on despite illegal hunting, habitat pressures and delays in implementing conservation plans. A new study that reveals the existence of more than 100 jaguars in the Mexican state of Jalisco is the latest report to document the ongoing presence of the wild cat. Contracted by the Jalisco Secretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development (SEMADES) the study identified jaguars in four mountainous and coastal areas of Jalisco, including Minantlan, Chamela-Cuixmala, Cabo Corrientes and the Sierra de Cuale. Headed by biologist Rodrigo Nunez Perez, who counts 14 years researching the jaguar, the study also noted the presence of pumas, ocelots, jaguarandis and other species.

"The jaguar performs a fundamental role in the our ecosystems," the SEMADES study stated. "It is considered a landmark species, which means where there is the reproduction of jaguars under good conditions, there is also the same happening with lesser species, above all with smaller felines still of great importance." Read more ..

The Ancient Edge

The Rise and Fall of Civilization Measured by Mathematical Models

January 24th 2011

Archaeology Topics - Roman ruins in Libya

The instability of large, complex societies is a predictable phenomenon, according to a new mathematical model that explores the emergence of early human societies via warfare. Capturing hundreds of years of human history, the model reveals the dynamical nature of societies, which can be difficult to uncover in archaeological data.

The research, led Sergey Gavrilets, associate director for scientific activities at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, is published in the first issue of the new journal Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, the first academic journal dedicated to research from the emerging science of theoretical history and mathematics.

The numerical model focuses on both size and complexity of emerging "polities" or states as well as their longevity and settlement patterns as a result of warfare. A number of factors were measured, but unexpectedly, the largest effect on the results was due to just two factors – the scaling of a state's power to the probability of winning a conflict and a leader's average time in power. According to the model, the stability of large, complex polities is strongly promoted if the outcomes of conflicts are mostly determined by the polities' wealth or power, if there exist well-defined and accepted means of succession, and if control mechanisms within polities are internally specialized. The results also showed that polities experience what the authors call "chiefly cycles" or rapid cycles of growth and collapse due to warfare. Read more ..

The Digital Divide

Will Digital Technology Reduce Gap in Health Between Rich and Poor?

January 18th 2011

Health/Medicine - StethoscopeAndKeyboard

Two years ago, the Ethio American Health Center opened its doors in the nation’s capital, promising the country’s largest community of Ethiopian immigrants a place where doctors spoke their language and understood their culture.

Many of the community’s poorest quickly flocked to the center. But for all the specialized services the center offers patients, there’s one area where it’s fallen short: moving from paper files to electronic health records. They don’t even have a website. “It would be great, but we can’t afford it,” said Dawit Gizaw, the center’s administrator.

The center is not alone. Although the federal government is directing billions of dollars in economic stimulus money to get electronic health record technology into hospitals and clinics nationwide, some doctors and small clinics indicate they’re unlikely to meet the Obama administration’s goal of going digital in the next five years. Read more ..

Inside Family Life

Study Shows Stress and Substance Abuse Among Fathers Associated with Spanking of Children

January 18th 2011

Social Topics - Angry Child

Biological fathers are more likely to spank their children when they are unable to cope with stress from parenting or they use abuse alcohol and drugs, a new study indicates.

The study also finds that fathers used corporal punishment—which involves physical force to a child to correct a behavior—more often on boys than girls.

The research is among the first studies to shed light on paternal stress, drug/alcohol use and corporal punishment, while accounting for the father's mental health and involvement with the child. Read more ..

Islam on Edge

Christian Pastor and Family Flee Islamic Wrath in Denmark

January 18th 2011

Islamic Topics - Little Burka Mermaid

The Iranian-born head of the Church of Love, Massoud Fouroozandeh, fled with his family from the Vollsmose area of Odense—Denmark's third-largest city—to a secret location in a small town, after two of the family's cars were smashed. Each of them had a Christian cross hanging inside, according to local media reports.

"I was told by young people in Vollsmose that I shouldn't drive around the area with the cross hanging in the car. Afterwards our car was completely smashed up and burned and the seats slashed. Since then the side-windows of our new car were smashed three times," he says.

After the vandalism, Massoud Fouroozandeh and his wife don't want their children to play at the playground in Vollsmose.

"They don't go with a headscarf, and 99 percent of the other children do that, so they attracted a lot of attention, and it wasn't safe to send them out to play. Therefore we moved far away from Vollsmose," he says. Read more ..

Great American Conferences

Historic Scholars Conference in Miami Explores US-Israel Relationship over Past Half Century

January 10th 2011

Event Logos - SPME Fl Meet logo

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a non-profit organization formed by leading academics seeking to dispel violent racism and anti-Semitism, is planning a historic interdisciplinary academic conference on the diplomatic and strategic relationship between the US and Israel over the last half century, and to explore directions and possibilities for the future of that relationship. The conference is entitled “Fifty Years of the Special US-Israel Relationship--1962-2012. The SPME conference will be held on January 16-18 at the Conrad Miami Hotel in Miami FL.

Keynote speakers will include Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, former US Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis, and Canadian Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler. Other scholars and researchers, such as award-winning journalist Edwin Black, Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University, Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, and Luis Fleischman of Florida Atlantic University will appear in panel discussions delving into the many issues facing faculty and students on college campuses. These include such topics as the de-legitimization of Israel, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and the binary of anti-Israel agitation and anti-Semitism. Read more ..

America's Farms on Edge

American Farm Workers and Families in Crisis

January 10th 2011

Farming - wheat fields

Innovation, and job outsourcing have eliminated or changed thousands of jobs in farming of crops such as cotton, pecans, chile peppers, onions, and other products and foodstuffs.

At the same time, many of the long-time conditions of farm work-temporary or seasonal employment, minimum wage violations, sub-contracting, reduced or no benefits, wage theft, and lack of union representation now characterize broader sections of the job market. To borrow a Spanish phrase, the “campesinizacion” of the working-class is arguably underway. Read more ..

Inside Africa

Everyone is Welcome to Pray in Sub-Saharan Africa

January 10th 2011

Africa Topics - Liberian women praying

The news event of a British air-stewardess dismissed for wearing a Christian cross around her neck while on duty bewilders most Africans; if this is an offense, why, they might rightly ask, are male rock stars, some with dubious personal lives, allowed to perform in cities of the West wearing large gold crucifixes? Why do Africans find all this hard to reason out? Didn’t Christianity come from Europe; doesn’t its message encourage moral goodness, and isn’t it something to be openly proud of?

As if to prove the point, many African Catholic men wear rosaries round their neck, at all times, except when telling their beads; many car drivers and mini-bus drivers hang a rosary, or set of Muslim prayer-beads, from the driver’s mirror, as a reminder of Who is in charge. And they are not considered sissies or “holy Joe’s”, but very normal people.

A preacher arraigned in a Scottish court for making a personal comment in the street about homosexual behaviour equally baffles people, in countries where what is deemed immoral is spoken about, and spoken against, spiritedly and openly. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Love Me, Love My Car--and Guns Too

January 3rd 2011

Automotive - Subaru hood

The way people treat their possessions looks like love, according to a new study. "Is it possible for consumers to be in love with their possessions?" ask authors John L. Lastovicka of Arizona State University and Nancy J. Sirianni of Texas Christian University. When it comes to cars, computers, bicycles, and firearms, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

The researchers visited five car shows in Arizona and conducted in-depth interviews with car enthusiasts (males and females, aged 19-68). They found that love-smitten consumers were more likely to use pet names than brand names when describing their cars and that some people seemed to use their attachment to cars to remedy pain and disappointment in their romantic lives. "Material possession relationships may reduce the negative consequences of social isolation and loneliness, and can contribute to consumer well-being, especially when considered relative to less-desirable alternative responses like substance abuse, delinquency, and the side-effects of anti-depressant medications," the authors write. Read more ..

The Urban Edge

Racial Segregation Causes Higher Cancer Rates in Some Neighborhoods

January 3rd 2011

Social Topics - Southside of Chicago

Older people who live in racially segregated neighborhoods with high crime rates have a much higher chance of developing cancer than do older people with similar health histories and income levels who live in safer, less segregated neighborhoods.

That is one of the key findings of a new study conducted by Vicki Freedman, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and colleagues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

One of a growing number of studies documenting the connection between neighborhood characteristics and chronic health conditions, it is the first to show that living in more highly segregated areas with higher crime rates is linked with an increased risk of developing cancers of all kinds—for whites as well as Blacks.

The chance of developing cancer is 31 percent higher for older men living in these kinds of neighborhoods, and 25 percent higher for older women. Read more ..

Edge on Religion

If You are Angry at God, You are Not Alone

January 3rd 2011

Social Topics - Praying to a purple sky

The notion of being angry with God goes back to ancient days. Such personal struggles are not new, but Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Exline began looking at "anger at God" in a new way.

"Many people experience anger toward God," Exline explains. "Even people who deeply love and respect God can become angry. Just as people become upset or angry with others, including loved ones, they can also become angry with God." Exline, an associate professor in Case Western Reserve's College of Arts and Sciences, has researched anger toward God over the past decade, conducting studies with hundreds of people, including college students, cancer survivors and grief-stricken family members. Read more ..

Religious Tolerance

Americans are Increasingly Tolerant But Divided Over Religion

December 27th 2010

Social Topics - Lighting a candle against the darkness

A recently published study on religion in America found that the country is becoming increasingly divided between those who are fervently religious on the one hand, and those who are not so religious or even hostile to religion on the other. But at the same time, the study’s authors say Americans have never been more tolerant of one another.

Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam is a highly influential academic. In 1995, he published an essay that transformed thinking about civic life in America. Together with University of Notre Dame Professor David Campbell, Putnam has now published what he describes as an in-depth study of the role of religion in American life in the last half century. Based on a random sampling of 3,000 people from all faiths and walks of life, they found that a “God gap” has formed. Very religious Americans tend to be Republican and conservative, while more secular people tend to be progressive or vote for the Democratic party. Read more ..

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