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Argentina on the Edge

Argentina is 200 Years Older and Some Say Not a Bit Wiser

June 14th 2010

Latin American Topics - Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner bicentenario
President Cristina Fernández

Since its independence from Spain, Argentina has experienced two British invasions, a series of illegitimate governments, the Peronist movement, a dictatorship that cost 30,000 lives, the Falklands War and a neo-liberal economy during the 1990s followed by a major economic default. Today, as Argentina celebrates its bicentennial anniversary, the political debates in the country are not very different from those faced by its founding fathers. The country still suffers from conflicts between the oligarchy and the poor (many near starvation) which have thwarted President Cristina Fernández’s left-wing political project. It will be interesting to see if Cristina Fernández’s increased popularity following the incredible bicentennial celebrations will help her husband, former president Néstor Kirchner, win a second term in the presidential election next year. Read more ..

Africa on the Edge

High Court in Namibia to Investigate Allegations of Forced Sterilizations

June 7th 2010

Africa Topics - Namibia HIV Sterilazation

A court case, alleging that HIV-positive women were forcibly sterilized in Namibian State Hospitals will begin in Windhoek's High Court this June. Human rights groups claim the practice has continued long after the authorities were notified.

The Windhoek-based Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) is litigating 15 alleged cases of forced sterilization. Three women's cases will be heard initially. Each woman is demanding the equivalent of $132,000 in damages. The sterilizations were first uncovered by the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW). The first cases emerged during community meetings in early 2008.

"In the months that followed, we interviewed 230 women, 40 of whom were sterilized against their will," says the ICW's Veronica Kalambi. Kalambi also said, "In August 2008 we formally alerted the ministry during a meeting with the deputy minister.”

Although the Namibian government argues that consent forms were signed in all three cases, the women's lawyers maintain the process necessary for “informed consent” was not followed and the women were coerced, or did not understand the procedure. Read more ..


Child Rearing on the Edge

Spare the Rod, and Spare your Child the Aggression

May 31st 2010

Social Topics - Angry Child

Discipline—whether it's spanking, yelling or giving time-outs—may sometimes do little to reduce children's behavior problems, a new study indicates.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and five other universities looked at practices and perceptions of discipline in six countries. They found that spanking leads to more child aggression and anxiety, regardless of the country.

So what should parents do to teach children right from wrong?

"It may be that the long-term investments that we make in children, like spending time with them, showing that we love them and listening to them, have a more powerful positive effect on behavior than any form of discipline," said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, U-M associate professor of social work.

The study examined the associations of mothers' discipline techniques with children's aggressive and anxious behaviors in China, India, Italy, Kenya, Thailand and the Philippines. Read more ..


Turkey on the Edge

Islam, Alcohol, and Government-Engineered Social Change in Turkey

May 24th 2010

Turkish Topics - Raki

Since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and, for that matter, anywhere in the world. The AKP leadership is known for their aversion to alcohol. Yet, the Turkish people are divided on this issue, with some who believe that drinking alcohol is a sin according to Islam, while some believe it is not. While the debate continues, the AKP is implementing policies to make alcohol exorbitantly expensive and therefore out of reach for many Turks.

The issue at stake in Turkey is not whether the government promotes or condemns drinking, nor is it defending one’s ability to get drunk, as would be the case in non-Muslim societies. Rather, given the split religious and cultural attitudes towards drinking in Muslim Turkey, which is also a democracy, the issue at stake is maintaining the notion that citizens in a liberal democracy are free to choose for themselves. Drinking might, therefore, be seen as one of the litmus tests of the AKP’s commitment to liberal democratic values within the context of the Turkey’s majority faith, Islam. Research shows that after eight years of rule by the AKP, drinking has become an expensive luxury in Turkey due to large tax hikes.

For starters, the AKP’s tax hikes against alcoholic beverages do not appear to be connected to a drinking problem in Turkey. In fact, Turkey has traditionally low alcohol consumption rates. According to data provided by the World Health Organization, at the time when the AKP came to power in 2003, Turkey's per capita alcohol consumption rate was 1.4 liters (L) per year. For that same year, this amount was 10.9L in Belgium; and 11.5L and 9.0L in neighboring Cyprus and Greece respectively. Even, Qatar, which implements a rigid version of the Shariat under the Wahhabi school, had higher per capita alcohol consumption rates than Turkey, at 4.4L per capita. Read more ..


The Determined Edge

Afghanistan’s Last Jew

May 17th 2010

Afghan Topics - Zablon (Zebulon) Simontov
Zebulon Simontov Credit: Emilio Morenatti, AP

Until January 2005, Afghanistan’s “Odd Couple” of Yitzhak Levy and Zebulon Simintov lived separately but together in Kabul—in opposite ends of the same synagogue. Consistently at each other’s throats, their Muslim neighbors testified to their ongoing volatile screaming battles, alternately accusing each other of heinous crimes including that of stealing Afghanistan’s only Torah. Both men laid claim to the scroll, which they described as having been written by hand on deerskin and wrapped in silk, some 500 years old and worth $2 million. Each brought charges against the other and the Taliban jailed and tortured them with cables because of this unbending dispute, confiscating the Torah for added measure. Levy’s death has made Zebulon Simintov Afghanistan’s last Jew—a man who refuses to leave the country. Read more ..


Latin American on the Edge

Migradollars and Economic Development-- Remittances are Big Business in Latin America

May 10th 2010

Latin American Topics - Casa de Cambio

Remittances, the funds sent by foreign-based Latin American workers to their families back home (also called migradollars in Mexico, where they constitute the third highest source of income after oil exports and tourism), represent one of the major economic trends shaping Latin America’s recent development. They are considerably more important than official development assistance (ODA) and equal the foreign direct investment (FDI) volume for the region. In some of the poorest countries of the hemisphere (Haiti, Guyana and Honduras, to name a few) they account for more than 10 percent of the GDP, and, in several Latin American countries, remittances per capita readings are higher than the GDP per capita of the poorest 40 percent of the population.

Despite their prevalence and assumed transcendent importance, the transfer of these funds back to the motherland have not been extensively studied. Indeed, remittances signify a relatively new economic phenomena; they are hard to track and only have been registered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) for the past 10 years. The current economic and financial crisis has resulted in the first drop in remittances since those transfers were first tracked and gives us further insight into their impact on the region. It is therefore a felicitous occasion to examine remittances and to see what impact they have on economic development in Latin America. Read more ..


Religious Freedom

More than a Clash of Religions Stirs the African Continent

May 3rd 2010

Islamic Topics - Somalian women praying

The growth of religious adherence in sub-Saharan Africa from 1900 to the present day is impressive by any standards, and probably makes for the world record. In this huge expanse, between the Sahara and the Cape, and from Somalia to Senegal there were some 11 million Muslims in 1900; now they number 234 million: a more than 20-fold increase. Christians were then 7 million, and now, at 470 million, have grown by almost 70 times. 21 per cent of all Christians world-wide are to be found in this part of Africa, and 15 per cent of all Muslims. The total population of sub-Saharan Africa is presently around 820 million.

But isn’t this the religious fault-line where Christians are under mounting pressure from Muslims to convert, and al-Qaeda finds it easy to penetrate? Aren’t the troubles in northern Nigeria and southern Sudan spats over contrasting beliefs? Do Africans lack tolerance for each other’s religion? Is religion a source of conflict in the huge swathe of central and southern Africa, or a reason for hope? Isn’t it rather a meeting place for Christians and Muslims, and perhaps could even provide a lesson for other parts of the world?

The growth of religious adherence in sub-Saharan Africa from 1900 to the present day is impressive by any standards, and probably makes for the world record. In this huge expanse, between the Sahara and the Cape, and from Somalia to Senegal there were some 11 million Muslims in 1900; now they number 234 million: a more than 20-fold increase. Christians were then 7 million, and now, at 470 million, have grown by almost 70 times. 21 per cent of all Christians world-wide are to be found in this part of Africa, and 15 per cent of all Muslims. The total population of sub-Saharan Africa is presently around 820 million. Read more ..


The Edge of Aging

Age-old customs in China Confront New Realities of Aging

April 26th 2010

Asia Topics - Aged China

Deborah Lowry has always liked older people.

“They tend to be more comfortable with themselves than younger people are,” she said, “and I’ve always enjoyed hearing about history from someone who’s lived through it.”

A postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research’s Population Studies Center, Lowry’s other long-time interest is China, where a grey tide is now sweeping the land. More than 100 million Chinese people are 65 and older, and the proportion is expected to increase rapidly, reaching 20 percent of the population by 2025 and more than 30 percent by 2050.

In the future, experts predict with foreboding, one Chinese child may have to care for two parents and four grandparents. Read more ..


Religious Freedom

Acting Against Anti-Semitism on American University Campuses

April 19th 2010

Islamic Topics - Irv Malik

 “We ask young people to carry on our struggle against Nazi ideology,” declared President Obama on June 5, 2009 at Buchenwald.  He continued advocating  “…for a just, peaceful and tolerant world; a world that has no place for anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and right-wing extremism."  On March 16, 2010, thirteen American Jewish communal organizations wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan seeking to ensure that struggle continues, through protection for Jewish students on American University campuses under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Under Section 2000d of the Act, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  These groups contend that Jews are entitled to protection under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights policy mandate of 2004 prohibiting discrimination against Jewish students at educational institutions receiving federal funds. 

Secretary Duncan’s Education Department however, views the issue as providing protection to adherents of a religion, therefore making it essentially permissible for discrimination to take place against Jewish students.  While perhaps not their intention, their refusal thus far to act to protect Jewish students is for all intents and purposes legalizing anti-Semitic discrimination against Jewish students on American campuses.  This failure to act runs counter to President Obama’s stated intent at Buchenwald, the public good, common sense, and simple decency. Read more ..


Latin America on the Edge

Brutal War Against Women Rages in Central America as Narcotics Reign

April 12th 2010

Latin American Topics - Woman in Guatemala

In 2009, some 847 women were murdered in the Central American republic of Guatemala. Over the last 10 years, some 5,000 have been similarly killed. So far in 2010, the death toll for women now stands at 160. These are not cases of domestic violence: the victims are women who were tortured and killed in public places. In nearly all the cases, no perpetrators have been identified. 

 

Since 2008, Guatemala has “feminicide” on its law books: the murder of women simply because of their sex or out of hatred for their sex. According to Walda Barrios-Klee, a Guatemalan activist, “We consider feminicides to be impersonal crimes. Those who kill a woman have no relationship to her. It is an anonymous crime. The one who kills does not know the victim and kills her because of the fact that she is a woman. This is what is new about the phenomenon,” said Barrios-Klee.

 

Another distinction of these murders is in the brutality employed before and after the death of the victims. “There is not only a killing; there is a ritual to the murder: torture, mutilation, and rape. There is always rape, accompanied by overwhelming sadism,” said the activist. Bodies are frequently dismembered; fingernails are torn out and faces disfigured.   Read more ..


Fighting Obesity

School Lunches May Make for Obese Children

April 5th 2010

Social Topics - Childhood Obesity

Findings by University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center show need for initiatives such as Project Healthy Schools, which teaches sixth-graders heart-healthy lifestyles. Children who eat school lunches more likely to be overweight  Middle school children who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, develop poorer eating habits, and have high levels of “bad” cholesterol compared to those who bring lunches from home, according to new University of Michigan Health System research presented at the recent American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session.

Although previous studies have looked at the nutritional content of school lunches, this is the first study to assess the impact of school lunches on children’s eating behaviors and overall health—a critical issue amid skyrocketing rates of childhood overweight and obesity, which can set the stage for future heart disease and premature death.

A team of U-M Cardiovascular Center researchers collected and analyzed health behavior questionnaires completed by 1,297 sixth graders at Michigan public schools over a period of almost three years. They discovered that children who consume school lunches were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.8 percent vs. 24.4 percent) than those who ate lunches brought from home. Children who ate school meals were more than twice as likely to consume fatty meats (25.8 percent vs. 11.4 percent) and sugary drinks (36 percent vs. 14.5 percent), while also eating fewer fruits and vegetables (16.3 percent vs. 91.2 percent). Read more ..


Religious Freedom

Pakistani Christians Burned and Raped for not Converting to Islam

March 29th 2010

Asia Topics - Arsed Masih burned
Christian Burned Alive for not Converting to Islam

Arshed Masih, a Pakistani Christian of Rawalpindi, died in a Pakistani hospital on March 22 at approximately 7:55 PM local time. He had been assaulted on March 19 in front of a police station in Rawalpindi and set alight by Muslim assailants after he had refused to convert to Islam. His wife Martha was then jailed by police and reportedly raped by officials during her imprisonment. Both were taken later to the Holy Family Hospital of Rawalpindi. Their three children, who range in age from 7 to 12, were forced to watch their parents’ torture. The wife of Arshed Masih continues to be hospitalized. A funeral for Masih is expected on March 24.

The couple’s assailants remain at large even while police say that they are launching an investigation. Christian churches and human rights groups have condemned the assault and have protested outside of the police station where the couple met their fate. Local officials have declared that they are aware of the attacks. No arrests have been made. There are fears that local political authorities will prevent any effective investigation of the murder or any consequences for the culprits.

The incident stems from a dispute between the Masih family and their employer, the prominent Muslim Sheikh Mohammad Sultan. Masih had worked for the Sultan as a driver, while wife Martha was a domestic servant. In January 2010, the Sultan demanded that Masih and his family convert to Mohammadism, threatening them with “dire consequences” should they refuse. When Masih asked to leave, he was threatened with death by the Sultan – a threat that was carried out last week. Read more ..


Uganda on the Edge

Uganda Faces the Loss of a Cultural Treasure and the Prospect of Renewed Violence

March 22nd 2010

Africa Topics - Uganda tombs

Barely six months after the riots that ensued after the Kabaka (King) of Uganda’s largest ethnic group, the Baganda, was prevented by government forces from visiting Kayunga, a corner of his kingdom—for fear of public unrest, which ironically erupted in Kampala itself, leaving 17 dead, instead of Kayunga—another stand-off threatens.

On the night of March 16, the massive grass-thatched huts that house the remains of the four past Kabakas in Kasubi, a Kampala suburb, caught fire and burned to the ground.

The Royal Tombs of Kasubi, an international tourism site recognized by UNESCO and placed on the heritage list in 2001, was one of the “must-see” sites for visitors to Uganda, together with the source of the Nile and the magnificent Mountains of the Moon (Ruwenzoris). It was a major spiritual centre for Ugandans. Read more ..


Chile on the Edge

Chile Dusts Itself Off and Shines following Devastating Earthquake

March 15th 2010

Disaster - Chile earthquake

In Latin American terms, it couldn't have happened to a better country. Chile is struggling with the aftermath of the February 27 early morning earthquake. It was estimated to be the fifth strongest in the last 100 years, with a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale. So far the death toll in Chile has reached 800. The devastation affected the whole country, but especially the central and southern regions.

Half of the victims died in a tsunami that swept across 500 kilometres of the coast shortly after the earthquake. More than 350 died in the coastal town of Constitución. Between the tremors and the tsunami, more than 500,000 houses collapsed. Two million people have been affected, bridges have collapsed, roads have cracked, hospitals have been destroyed. According to Eqecat, an American company specialising in risk estimates, the cost of the damage could be between US$15 and 30 billion, which represents about 10–15 percent of Chile’s GDP.

But this was a calamity with which the most developed Latin American country, with a strong democracy and with solid institutions, can cope with. Despite some looting and violence in cities like Concepción—which was worst hit—Chile will survive. Read more ..


Significant Lives

Arnold Forster Fought for Decades Against Anti-Semitism and Extremism

March 15th 2010

Jewish Organizations - Arnold Forster

The Jewish teaching of Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Ba-Zeh (“All Jews are responsible for one another”) comes to mind when one considers the remarkable life and incredible achievements of Arnold Forster.

In a career spanning nearly 60 years with the Anti-Defamation League, Forster was perhaps the very embodiment of this quintessential rabbinic teaching. An attorney who fought against anti-Semitism and extremism and who advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel, Forster, 97, who passed away in March, has left us a towering legacy.

In his many years at ADL, he created an impressive body of writings on anti-Semitism, and an equally impressive record in the courts defending the civil rights of All Americans. He did so with tireless devotion, both in his personal and professional life, to the fight against religious prejudice and discrimination.

Arnold was a force of nature. He was a powerful and mesmerizing public speaker and any time one was in a meeting with him, his was a presence that could not be ignored.

He had a remarkable instinct for finding the right instrument to publicize matters of concern to the Jewish community. Through press conferences and the revelation of documented information, he, together with his longtime colleague then-ADL National Director Benjamin R. Epstein, exposed those American companies that observed the Arab boycott and refused to do business with Israel.

This was a time when there was no anti-boycott legislation, and Arnold understood that public exposure of these companies was the only weapon at our disposal. And he played it to a fare-thee-well. Read more ..


Cambodia on the Edge

Cambodia Urged to Act Against Culture of Rape and Sex Crimes

March 8th 2010

Asia Topics - Cambodian Family of Rape Victim
Family of Cambodian Child Rape Victim

Amnesty International says rape and sexual crimes committed mainly against women and children has become a growing problem in Cambodia. To mark the 100th International Women's Day, the human-rights group Amnesty International is releasing a report on the scourge of rape and sexual violence in Cambodia. Amnesty's report, called Breaking the Silence, criticizes what it says is a culture of impunity, corruption, and indifference to victims of sexual violence. The result is justice denied for Cambodian women, and increasingly for Cambodian girls.

During its research, Amnesty interviewed 30 victims of rape, as well as 50 non-government aid workers, police and government officials, and even a number of perpetrators. Brittis Edman, who wrote the report, explains its focus, “What we specifically looked at is the aftermath of rape, what are the obstacles that victims face when they seek justice and when they seek access to services.” Read more ..


Latin America on the Edge

Will Climate Change Drive Migration in Latin America and Beyond?

March 1st 2010

Mexican Topics - Mexico Flood

Typhoon Morakot, the unusually strong tropical storm that hit South East Asia in mid-August 2009, displacing more than 1.5 million people in China alone, is only one of the most recent natural disasters that raise questions about environmental change and its link to migration. This link has increasingly attracted attention over the past few years, in particular since 2007, when the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report confirmed that human migration would be one of the most important consequences of anthropogenic climate change. The manifestations of environmental change derived from human activities notably include sea level rise (SLR), intensified drought or rainfall, and the increasing attracted recurrence and strength of natural hazards such as hurricanes. Read more ..


Edge on Mental Health

Wounded Warriors Have a New Weapon to Fight Depression

February 22nd 2010

Military - Soldier Crying

The University of Michigan Depression Center is partnering with the Real Warriors Campaign, a successful United States Department of Defense public education initiative designed to combat the stigma associated with seeking care for PTSD, depression, sleep disturbances, and traumatic brain injury. Originally geared toward servicemen and women, the partnership seeks to encourage athletes to also get the care they need, and to use their powerful voices to convey that getting help is a sign of strength.

Players on the football field have expressed similar concerns to real warriors on the battlefield, and have been rapidly learning that real strength comes from seeking help and returning to their team.

“The stigma around seeking care for PTSD, depression, TBI and related issues can be overcome,” says John Greden, M.D., executive director of the U-M Depression Center. “Players and veterans in sports, and soldiers and veterans in the military are learning that they are not alone, that treatment works, that buddies and teammates can help, and that getting help is a sign of real strength. As a center that has developed special programs specifically to help members of the military and athletes overcome these barriers, we are proud to be partnering with the Real Warriors Campaign.” Read more ..


Campus Distress

A Week of Uncivil Discourse on Campus

February 15th 2010

Palestine Topics - Irvine California arrest

Anti-Israel individuals and groups on college campuses are beginning to show a pattern underlying a shift in the form of their anti-Israel activities which attack the very core of what many consider the most important aspect of the university experience, the free flow of information and opinion. Just in the last week we have seen the following events take place at UC Irvine, UCLA, and York University in Canada, Cambridge and Oxford Universities in Great Britain.

On February 1, at York University in Toronto, 20 Jewish students who had gathered to raise awareness of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and terrorist acts committed by Hamas were surrounded by about 50 protestors chanting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs. Two of the Jewish students were slapped, one on the arm and one across the face (http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=168116).

On February 3, during his lecture at Oxford University, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was heckled by a Muslim student who shouted, among other things, "Itbah Al-Yahud" - "kill the Jews" (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=168320).

On February 7, the Israel Society at Cambridge University canceled a talk by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev historian Benny Morris after protesters accused him of "Islamophobia" and "racism" (http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=167972).
Read more ..


Edge of Health

Eating Dinner as a Family Reduces Childhood Obesity

February 8th 2010

Social Topics - Childhood Obesity

A new national study suggests that preschool-aged children are likely to have a lower risk for obesity if they regularly engage in one or more of three specific household routines: eating dinner as a family, getting adequate sleep and limiting their weekday television viewing time.

In a large sample of the U.S. population, the study showed that 4-year-olds living in homes with all three routines had an almost 40 percent lower prevalence of obesity than did children living in homes that practiced none of these routines.

Other studies have linked obesity to the individual behaviors of excessive TV viewing, a lack of sleep and, to a lesser extent, a low frequency of family meals. But this is the first study to assess the combination of all three routines with obesity prevalence in a national sample of preschoolers.

The researchers suggested that adopting these three household routines could be an attractive obesity-prevention strategy for all families with young children, especially because these routines may benefit children's overall development. However, they also cautioned that this study alone does not confirm whether the routines themselves, or some other factor, protect children from obesity. Read more ..


Inside Saudi Arabia

Saudi Public Opinion: A Rare Look

February 1st 2010

Arab Topics - Saudi princes

What issues are of concern to ordinary Saudis? How does the average citizen view the state of the domestic economy? What are the prevailing public attitudes toward religious extremism? As in most countries, long-term stability in Saudi Arabia is ultimately dependent -- to one degree or another -- on popular acceptance of the current system. Even in the short term, the Saudi government, while far from democratic, is no doubt sensitive to social crosscurrents and diverse reactions to its initiatives. As a result, understanding Saudi public opinion is an important part of gauging the country's likely future direction. Opinion polls, however, are almost unknown in the kingdom, and anecdotal or indirect measures of these very delicate subjects are notoriously unreliable.

To help remedy this analytical deficiency, the following paragraphs present a rare data-based perspective on current political and social issues in Saudi Arabia, as viewed by that kingdom's own citizens. This survey reveals a moderately satisfied public—but one that is also concerned about economic conditions. More surprising, it shows clearly that many Saudis are willing to express concerns about corruption and religious extremism. Most also want new political steps such as local elections—but, again contrary to some Western misconceptions, this dimension of public life is not nearly as high on their agenda as other issues. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Fifty Years of The Pill... and Counting

January 25th 2010

Social Topics - The Pill

On May 9, 1960, the FDA took the momentous step of approving the contraceptive pill for birth control.

The acceptance of the hormonal contraceptive pill has been cited as one of the most important historical events of the 20th century because of its effects on marriage and family life. In this paper, I would like to discuss the medical history of the development of the pill, presenting historical events primarily from the perspective of science and scientists, but also – and necessarily – from the perspective of other personalities outside of science whose contributions to the cause were just as important.

I will focus on the 50 year period from 1910 – the year of the birth of reproductive endocrinology as a scientific discipline – to 1960 – the year in which the first orally active hormonal contraceptive was first approved for sale to the general public in the US.

At the turn of the 20th century, there was growing confidence in the power of the medical sciences to finally understand human physiology and the patho-physiology of diseases. The source of this confidence was due in no small part to advances in the field of endocrinology: the study of hormones and the glands that produce them.

The term "hormone" was coined in 1905 by the British physiologist Ernest Starling, after the Greek word meaning "to incite to activity". In the early 20th century, a variety of chemicals were found to have "hormonal" effects in humans: they were produced in one tissue, entered the bloodstream and incited a specific effect on another distant and unrelated tissue. Insulin, thyroxine,testosterone and cortisone were discovered at this time and were found to have remarkable restorative properties when given to patients with a number of common diseases. Read more ..


Religious Freedom

Renewed Violence Against Egypt's Coptic Christians

January 18th 2010

Christian Topics - Coptic Girl

On January 6—Christmas Eve according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar—six Coptic Christians and a policeman were killed in a drive-by shooting while exiting church in Naga Hammadi, Upper Egypt. The attack, which came in retaliation to an alleged rape of a twelve-year-old Muslim girl by a Christian man, was the largest assault on Copts in Egypt since a January 2000 massacre left twenty dead in Sohag. The days since the shooting have been marked by violent clashes and the burning of Christian and Muslim property.

These developments have unfolded against the background of increased political pressure on Islamists—evoking the 1990s, when the killing of Copts by Islamist militants was a routine occurrence and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was banned from political participation. Thus, while Naga Hammadi might be an isolated incident, it could also presage the return of Egypt's Islamists to the bloody sectarian attacks of the 1990s.

Coptic Christians constitute nearly 10 percent of Egypt's population at 8 million strong. Long integrated into Egyptian society, the community was politically marginalized after Gamal Abdul Nasser's 1952 coup. Although Copts have since served in prominent positions such as minister of finance and foreign affairs, they have not held the premiership—which they did twice prior to 1952—or served as minister of defense or interior. And with only six members in the 444-seat parliament (only one of whom was actually elected), they are vastly underrepresented on legislative matters. Read more ..


Inside Africa

Life for Africa's Albinos is Nasty, Brutal--and Short

January 11th 2010

Africa Topics - African Albino

White people no longer stand out, literally, in sub-Saharan Africa, not even in the villages and urban slums where a NGO Land-cruiser, with its White crew, is now a familiar sight. For Albino Africans it’s a different story.

The Whites are visitors, who are there usually for a specific purpose, but they won’t stay forever. An Albino may not find it easy to move out. He or she was born there and from an early age is likely to have encountered discrimination and taunts: at school, at sports and leisure, and later when looking for work.

An Albino child will very likely be rejected by his father. He will accuse the child’s mother of “infidelity”, or tell her that he, the father, is normal; there must be something wrong with the mother, and so will leave her because he doesn’t want “more children like that one”. But Albinos were left to follow their own way, a grim one in a place where the sun is bright and hot, and shines every day of the year. Despite popular misconceptions, they are not mentally-handicapped. They are intelligent and smart. They have to be; they are survivors.

That was until three years ago, when a “trade” in Albino body parts started, especially in the south-west of Lake Victoria, where Albinos are about 1 in 4,000 of the population, as opposed to the 1 in 20,000 of Europe and North America, where they are also less noticeable from their complexion. Read more ..


Moving On

Name That Decade: the '00s, or the “Whatever Decade”

January 4th 2010

Social Topics - Sand Clock at Sunset

As we enter the last few weeks of the first decade of the twenty-first century, if we had a better name for this period, we might have a firmer fix on its identity. Modern Americans are decade-focused, packaging our historical memories in easily-labeled ten-year chunks: the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties. Yet neither the “oh-ohs” nor the “oughts” has stuck as a label, making this decade’s character elusive. With 2010 fast approaching, branding our trying times can help us understand them better.

Yes, as historians we know that we should not fall into this decade-labeling trap. We know that it leads to oversimplification. But we also know that periodization is a valuable weapon in our historians’ arsenal, helping us make some sense out of the passage of time. And we also know that just because we don’t plunge in and offer our judgments it won’t stop others. Let’s face it. Journalists – and more superficial popularizers -- rush in where historians fear to tread.

At first blush, this period has been marked by catastrophes. The Al Gore-George W. Bush electoral deadlock of 2000 exposed major fault lines in American democracy. In 2001, the dot-com bubble burst and the most lethal attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor murdered nearly 3000 Americans on 9/11. Two years later, in 2003, President Bush led us to war in Iraq. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Finally, the financial meltdown of 2008 triggered America’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.   Read more ..


Mexico on the Edge

Modern Day Slavery in Mexico and the United States

December 28th 2009

Latin American Topics - Mexico Prostitution Trafficking

On December 3, Mexico City police freed 107 human trafficking victims who were forced to manufacture shopping bags and clothespins under “slave-like” circumstances. Officials reported that the victims exhibited signs of physical and sexual abuse, and were also malnourished, as they had been given only chicken feet and rotten vegetables. Twenty-three individuals were arrested and charged with human trafficking after one of the workers escaped and informed the authorities about the dire situation. Despite that fact that Mexican states have enacted some forms of anti-trafficking legislation, there have been no criminal convictions of traffickers to date. In the coming months, it awaits to be seen if those captured on December 3rd will be convicted. While the discovery of this trafficking ring has made for lurid headlines, doubt regarding whether or not these criminals will be brought to justice illuminates the fact that Mexico still has a long road ahead in eradicating the destructive industry of human trafficking.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal industry in the world and, by 2010, it is predicted to surpass the illicit drug trade, which will make it the world’s largest criminal activity. The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, […] for the purpose of exploitation.” A common misconception is that an individual must cross international borders to be considered a victim of human trafficking; however, as evidenced by the United Nations’ definition, this is not always the case. Read more ..


Inside Africa

Pedophile Tourism Grows in Africa

December 21st 2009

Africa Topics - Kenya Strollers

A little-reported phenomenon is spreading in holiday resort areas of the developing countries, largely unreported by international or local press, and which goes under the benign name of “child sex tourism” (CST). This euphemistic term for a different brand of pedophilia has moved its focus, in the eastern hemisphere, from the tsunami-prone areas of Sri Lanka and points east to the coast of Kenya and Africa.

Pedophiles seek out and travel to those places where they are sure of finding children and young people ready for sexual relationships. Many “child sex tourists” –men and women- are “situational abusers” at home, but they also seek out children as partners with a trip to a foreign country. There they are known by no-one, will never meet the partner again, and the victims are easy prey, with little notion of their rights. Pedophile tourism is fueled by poverty, the Internet, ease of travel and weak law enforcement.

The laws of most developing countries in Africa are unprepared for this. Gambia has recently set up a hotline to inform on cases of sex tourism, and Senegal has a special anti-CST unit within the police force in two of its popular tourist destinations. But in Kenya’s present constitution, which goes back to 1963 independence, prostitution is not illegal even if living on the earnings of prostitution is termed a “misdemeanor.” Read more ..


Sexual Assault on Campus

Barriers Curb Reporting of Campus Rape and Discourage Victims

December 14th 2009

Social Topics - Sullen Woman

Buried in the pages of the 2006 student handbook for Dominican College, a small Catholic institution in the northern suburbs of New York City, were five dense paragraphs about what would happen if a student reported a rape.

The college would investigate. That much is required by law. Evidence would be collected and preserved. And if the alleged rapist were another student, campus disciplinary proceedings would ensue, allowing both sides to speak before a hearing board.

The policy was tested in May 2006, with Megan Wright, 19, a freshman from New Jersey. After drinking heavily with others in a friend’s dorm room, she woke up in pain on a Sunday morning, with blood in her underwear. On Monday, she elbowed through a lunchtime rush of students to the glass office of director of residence life Carlyle Hicks to report that she had been raped by a man — or men — she could not identify.

But Wright found cold comfort in Hicks’ response.

“He didn’t seem to have a clue,” says Wright’s mother Cynthia McGrath, who attended the meeting. Hicks didn’t mention a word about a campus disciplinary process, says McGrath, or even ask if the shy redhead was okay. “Just a lack of concern, like he couldn’t be bothered.” Read more ..


Hispanics in the USA

Mexican Politicians Register their Compatriots in USA for Mexico's Conservative Party

December 7th 2009

Latin American Topics - Cesar Nava

Mexican congressman César Nava Vásquez was in Los Angeles CA on December 2 to recruit for Mexico’s ruling National Action Party (PAN). Mexico’s presidential elections will not occur until 2012, but Los Angeles is important for President Felipe Calderón and his party since it has long been the home of millions of Mexican nationals, even some U.S. citizens who are allowed to vote in Mexican elections.

California, and other Southwestern states, could be crucial in an election which will decide on the next president Mexico and its congress. Nava is the president of PAN and represents a district in Mexico City. He was accompanied by other party representatives who visited 10 other U.S. cities where they set up booths where Mexican nationals could register their party preference. Read more ..


Inside Africa

Is the End Near for The Lord's Resistance Army?

November 30th 2009

Africa Topics - Kids with Guns

The hounds seem to be closing in on Joseph Kony and his horde of dreadlocked young rebels, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has created havoc in Central Africa for over twenty years. Will the dreaded captor soon become a helpless captive?

On November 17, the UN Security Council condemned the increasing attacks of the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Sudan. The Austrian ambassador, Thomas Mayr-Harting, who this month holds the council’s presidency, said, “The attacks have resulted in the death, abduction and displacement of thousands of civilians.” Read more ..


Family Life

Childhood Abuse Can Accelerate Aging

November 23rd 2009

Social Topics - Child Abuse

Children who suffer physical or emotional abuse may be faced with accelerated cellular aging as adults, according to new research from Butler Hospital and Brown University.

The new findings draw a direct connection between childhood psychological trauma and accelerated reduction in the size of telomeres, the “caps” on the end of chromosomes that promote cellular stability. Telomeres typically shorten with age.

After measuring DNA extracted from blood samples of 31 adults, researchers found accelerated shortening of telomeres in those who reported suffering maltreatment as children, compared to study participants who did not.

“It tells us something. It gives us a hint that early developmental experiences may have profound effects on biology that can influence cellular mechanisms at a very basic level, said Dr. Audrey Tyrka, the study’s lead author. Tyrka is assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and associate chief of the mood disorders program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I.

The work of Tyrka and the other authors builds on previous research that established psychological stress and trauma as risk factors for a number of medical and psychiatric illnesses. Other work has linked some of these psychiatric and medical problems with shortened telomere length. This study now establishes a link between early psychosocial stress and shorter telomere length.

Researchers have also found that telomeres shorten at a higher rate when exposed to toxins, such as radiation or cigarette smoke. Other studies have looked at adult female caregivers who are responsible for children with developmental delays, determining a link between accelerated telomere shortening and the higher stress levels the caregivers faced. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Thoughtful Words Help Couples Stay Fit When Arguing

November 16th 2009

Social Topics - Couple

Couples who bring thoughtful words to a fight release lower amounts of stress-related proteins, suggesting that rational communication between partners can ease the impact of marital conflict on the immune system.
"Previous research has shown that couples who are hostile to each other show health impairments and are at greater risk of disease," said Jennifer Graham, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, Penn State. "We wanted to know if couples who use thoughtfulness and reasoning in the midst of a fight incur potential health benefits."

Individuals in a stressful situation -- as in a troubled relationship -- typically have elevated levels of chemicals known as cytokines. These proteins are produced by cells in the immune system and help the body mount an immune response during infection. However, abnormally high levels of these proteins are linked to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, arthritis and some cancers.

"Typically, if you bring people to a lab and put them under stress, either by engaging them in a conflict or giving them a public speaking task, you can see an increase in proinflammatory cytokines such as Interleukin-6 (Il-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)," explained Graham. Read more ..


Society on the Edge

Why Did One Nevada County Suffer a Cluster of Birth Defects?

November 9th 2009

Science - Newborn baby

The results of an investigation conducted by University of Nevada, Reno researchers, public health officials and area physicians indicate that Washoe County in Nevada experienced a cluster of a particular birth defect, gastroschisis, during the period April 2007 – April 2008. Subsequent review of medical records since the study's conclusion indicates that while the rate is still elevated, the cluster appears to have subsided.

Gastroschisis is a birth defect that occurs early in pregnancy, characterized by incomplete closure of the baby's abdominal wall. It is most common in births by young women, age 21 or younger. Babies with this birth defect are born with part of their intestines outside their bodies, which necessitates repair of the abdominal wall in the first week of life. Read more ..


Inside Africa

Mass Rape Orgy and Bloodbath by Presidential Guard in Guinea

November 2nd 2009

Africa Topics - Guinea Rapes - Red Berets

See French video report.

September 28, 2009 was Bloody Monday in the West African state of Guinea. A peaceful festival-style demonstration staged by 50,000 opposition members in a Conakry soccer stadium ended in a bloodbath and an orgy of rape. The opposition was protesting—illegally according to government officials—the rule of the military regime of Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara, and Camara's proposed candidacy in the forthcoming elections. He had originally said he would not stand for president. Camara came to power on December 23, 2008, in a military take-over, one day after President Lansana Conte died. Conte had ruled for 24 years.

At first, Camara was warmly welcomed by the public when he took over power, but relations soon turned sour. He dissolved the constitution and imposed a military junta, and then authorized raids on the homes of Conte's inner circle "to recoup money and property stolen from the state."

According to official government figures, 934 were wounded and 56 were killed in the stadium massacre—four by live bullets and the rest as they stampeded to escape. But human rights groups have said that 157 were killed and over one thousand injured. Camara actually admitted on Radio France that "the violence had been beyond his control. The perpetrators were uncontrollable elements in the military." Read more ..


Inside Africa

Corruption and Bribery as a Way of Life in Africa

October 26th 2009

Africa Topics - Kenya Poverty

In his book Africa--Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Richard Dowden quotes John Robertson, a Zimbabwean economist, on corruption. Robertson says: “We imagine corruption to be like a tick on a dog. There are some places in Africa where the tick is bigger than the dog.”

Transparency International’s 2009 Global Corruption Report (GCR) bears out Robertson’s insight. Yet, corruption in Africa does have its explanation. In her book Dead Aid, the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, writes: “Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and up until the 1990s, the Cold War had provided richer countries with the political imperative to give aid monies even to the most corrupt and venal despots in Africa. One of the features of the Cold War was the West’s ability and eagerness to support, bankroll and prop up a swathe of pathological and downright dangerous dictators from Idi Amin… to Mobutu Sese Seko… to Samuel Doe. Bokassa’s coronation as Emperor of the Central African Republic in 1977 alone cost $22 million.” This view is augmented by a World Bank study which found that as much as 85 percent of aid flows were used for purposes other than that for which they were initially intended, often diverted to unproductive, if not grotesque ventures.

According to Transparency International, Mobutu is estimated to have looted Zaire of $5 billion. Roughly the same amount was stolen from Nigeria by President Sani Abacha and placed in Swiss private banks. In Africa, natural resources such as oil, minerals and high-quality wood provide unlimited opportunities for personal wealth accumulation. Read more ..


Inside Islam

Somalia's Islamic Enforcers Punish Women for Wearing Bras

October 19th 2009

Islamic Topics - Somali Women

In lawless Somalia, the Al Shabaab—“the Youngsters”—Muslim terrorist group has sent its gunmen into the streets of Mogadishu to gather up women who appear to violate Islamic law for wearing bras that they claim are “deceptive.” According to locals, Al Shabaabi round up women who appear to have firm bosoms and then inspects them to determine whether that firmness is natural or not. If the firmness is the result of wearing a bra, they are ordered to remove it and shake their breasts in the presence of the Al Shabaab men.

Al Shabaab—many of whose members appeared masked when in public—have forced Somali women to wear full veils. They whipped two girls on October 15, as other women have also been whipped, for wearing bras. Al Shabaab believes that women’s breasts should be firm naturally, or lie flat. Read more ..


Great Gatherings

Scholars Assemble to Debate Iran Issues

October 12th 2009

Iran - Iran Protestor with Cell Phone

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an international organization of university academicians, is convening an international conference in Cleveland November 8-19 to analyze and debate some of the salient issues of Iran now in the news. Entitled, "The Islamic Republic of Iran: Multidisciplinary Analyses Of  Its Theocracy, Nationalism, And Assertion Of Power," the conference brings together scholars, diplomats and experts from several countries. This Conference is being held in conjunction with the Program in Judaic Studies at Case Western Reserve University.

Keynote speakers include Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Special U.S. Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Israeli Parliamentarian Effie Eitam, and Former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler of McGill University. Among the featured speakers and panelists are: Andrew Apostolu who sits on the Iran Desk of Freedom House, Edwin Black, award-winning author and investigative journalist, and Patrick Clawson, Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director. Other speakers include Amir A. Fakhravar of the Iranian Enterprise Institute, Barry Rubin of the GLORIA Center in Israel, and Samuel Edelman, California State University-Chico and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

Panels will focus on Iranian anti-Semitism, Iran in the media, the concept of “pride and humiliation” in Iran, Shi'ism and Holy War, nuclear proliferation, human rights and “the rhetoric of genocide.”

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East has emerged in just a matter of months to become a preeminent voice on the key issues involving Israel and her neighbors. Read more ..


The Edge of Economic Recovery

Household Food Insecurity May Be Underlying Contributor For The Overweight

October 5th 2009

Health/Medicine - Waistlines

Both household food insecurity and childhood obesity are significant problems in the United States. Paradoxically, being food-insecure may be an underlying contributor to being overweight. A study of almost 8,500 low-income children ages 1 month to 5 years, published in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggests an association between household food insecurity and overweight prevalence in this low-income population. However, sex and age appear to modify both the magnitude and direction of the association.

 

Food insecurity is defined as the lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life, which results from limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods in socially acceptable ways. In 2004, 11 percent of households in the United States reported household food insecurity, and households with children younger than 6 years old and black and Hispanic households experienced higher rates of household food insecurity and hunger. Read more ..


The Edge of Financial Recovery

Values from the Great Depression

September 28th 2009

Contributors / Staff - Armstrong Williams Headshot
Armstrong Williams

When I was growing up during the post war prosperity of 1960s, my parents continually reminded us about how fortunate we were to mature in the relative prosperity of an upper middle class farming family community in Marion, SC. They often shared with us the impact of the Great Depression on their lives and values. Mom--then and now--continues to impress upon us the value of hard work, education, thrift, God, and charity.

Like most young people of our generation, we often tuned out my mother’s stories but subconsciously absorbed the values. It is only with the advent of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, that I began to reflect on my parent’s recollections of the extreme hardships they endured in the late 1930s.

My maternal grandparents ran a seamstress and beauty shop which provided their family of several children with a modest, working-class lifestyle. They were better off than the men in business suits selling tobacco on the street downtown. All the children helped with chores around the house. When the children were old enough, they looked for part-time jobs or worked in the seamstress /beauty shop or the tobacco fields. At mealtime, everybody ate all the food on their plates without complaining. If an unemployed friend dropped by at dinner time, everybody ate a little less and the friend was fed. The younger children only wore hand-me-down clothes. At Christmas time, the children each got one present. Often it was a hand-made toy or winter clothing, and when the business was profitable for that year, they could find a fire truck under the tree.

When many of my older cousins graduated from high school, college was not an option. They pursued vocational training, went to work and sent money home to help support their younger siblings. It was not until after WWII that many of my relatives went to college under the GI bill. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Negative Public Opinion and Terrorism

September 21st 2009

Islamic Topics - Islamic Terrorist

An analysis of public opinion polls and terrorist activity in 143 pairs of countries has shown for the first time that when people in one country hold negative views toward the leadership and policies of another, terrorist acts are more likely to be carried out.

Princeton University economist Alan Krueger and co-author Jitka Malečková of Charles University in the Czech Republic have found that there is a strong relationship between attitudes expressed toward a foreign country—indicated in surveys on foreign leaders' performance—and the occurrence of terrorism against that country.

"Public opinion appears to be a useful predictor of terrorist activity," said Krueger, the Bendheim Professor in Economics and Public Policy. He has held a joint appointment since 1987 in Princeton's Department of Economics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "This is the first study to relate public opinion across countries to concrete actions such as terrorism," he added.

Read more ..


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