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The Digital Edge

New MOOC Makes Computer Programmer Teachers out of Students

April 21st 2014

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The student becomes the teacher.

That's the concept of a new mass open online course (MOOC) on computer programming led by a University of Michigan professor.

Programming for Everybody is an introductory class offered on Coursera and taught by Charles (Chuck) Severance, an associate professor in the U-M School of Information. It's designed to allow its participants to turn around and teach the material in their own communities. All course materials, including Severance's textbook "Python for Informatics," the syllabus, videos and software, are open source via Creative Commons licenses and available for students to reuse. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Pilgrims Flock to Jerusalem to Celebrate Easter

April 20th 2014


Christians around the world are celebrating Easter, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Easter dawned in Jerusalem with a sunrise service at the Garden Tomb. The holy place is said to resemble biblical accounts of the place where Jesus was buried. Facing an ancient, empty tomb carved into a rock, the faithful sang hymns and proclaimed that “Jesus is risen.”

Pilgrims came from all over the world, including Jay Rackson from the U.S. state of Iowa. “Well there’s nothing really quite like it, to celebrate Easter Sunday morning at the Garden Tomb," he said. "The tomb is empty,  He’s no longer in the grave, he’s risen from the dead and he lives forever.”

A few hours later, Easter Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Priests and monks in festive robes chanted the Easter liturgy as a fragrant cloud of incense rose above ancient stone tomb, which Christians believe is the very place where Jesus rose from the dead. Read more ..

The Edge of Medicine

Treating Depression in Parkinson Patients

April 19th 2014


A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's disease (PD).

Published in the journal Psychiatry Research, the study, which assessed cognitive function in depressed and non-depressed patients with PD, found that the dopamine replacement therapy commonly used to treat motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease was associated with a decline in cognitive performance among depressed Parkinson patients.

In contrast, non-depressed Parkinson patients' cognitive function improved on dopamine replacement therapy.
The study also found that mood in depressed Parkinson's patients was actually worse while on dopaminergic medications.

"This was a surprise," said Lee Blonder, Ph.D., the study's principal investigator. "It is the opposite of our original hypothesis that both groups of PD patients would improve in cognitive performance on dopaminergic medications, and that mood in the depressed PD group would also improve."

A cohort of 28 patients with PD -- 18 nondepressed and 10 depressed -- were given a baseline series of tests to assess cognitive function and the incidence and severity of depression. They were then re-tested with and without their dopamine replacement therapy. Read more ..

The Way We Are

To the Bone: Anthropologists Discover the Tragedy of the Cherokee Nation

April 17th 2014

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Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Tennessee have found that environmental stressors – from the Trail of Tears to the Civil War – led to significant changes in the shape of skulls in the eastern and western bands of the Cherokee people. The findings highlight the role of environmental factors in shaping our physical characteristics.

“We wanted to look at these historically important events and further our understanding of the tangible human impacts they had on the Cherokee people,” says Dr. Ann Ross, a professor of anthropology at North Caroline State University and co-author of a paper describing the work. “This work also adds to the body of literature on environmental effects on skull growth.” Read more ..

Gaza on Edge

Egypt Has Created "Buffer Zone" Around Gaza Border

April 17th 2014

Rafah crossing

As part of new campaign to create buffer zone around Gaza, Egypt military forces have launched Sinai operation, destroying tunnels, homes, and raiding villages serving terrorists, Palestinian news agency report. Egyptian border forces destroyed tunnels leading into Gaza from Sinai as part of new campaign to create a buffer zone along the border with the Gaza Strip, Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported. 

According to the report, 10 tunnels and seven homes were destroyed on Saturday as part of the new plan to create the buffer zone, which would extend 500 meters in some places, the report claimed. According to Ma'an report which cited an Egyptian security source, the campaign began with a military operation in the border town of Rafah, where tunnels leading into Gaza were targeted. Read more ..

The Water's Edge

Israeli Tech Brings Water to a thirsty Africa

April 15th 2014

African ancestry

Ask any African who lives off the land, and they’ll tell you that water is life. But when the wells and rivers dry up, or become so polluted or full of disease that it kills their children and livestock, water can also be a great cause of sorrow.

Finding her mission in water, former Israeli diplomat Ornit Avidar is taking Israel’s “soft” water technology solutions — decentralized, simple to use and maintain, consuming little energy — and applying them all around Africa. Letters of intent are signed, companies have been chosen and projects are just beginning to roll out.

Avidar built connections and experience as a diplomat for Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, and in high-tech when she was the CEO at Delta Three Israel, the first Internet telephony company later traded on NASDAQ. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russians Rally for Press Freedom, Truth

April 14th 2014

Vladimir Putin sunglasses

Russian opposition supporters took to Moscow’s streets on Sunday to defend press freedom they allege is being replaced by government propaganda. It's a direct connection, they say, to the worsening situation in eastern Ukraine.

The air was alternately sad, angry and jubilant as activists turned out to “Rally for Truth.” In a concert-like setting, activists condemned the shutdown of Russian independent media outlets, and decried their Kremlin-linked colleagues whom they hold directly responsible for manipulating the population into supporting what they consider to be contemptible military action in Ukraine.

Muscovite Ekaterina, dressed in Ukrainian attire, who recently returned from Kyiv’s Maidan square, had strong words about the mainstream press in Russia. She said the nation is being turned into zombies by lies in the press.

Yeman on Edge

Presidential Panel Calls for Six State Plan in Yemen

April 13th 2014

Yemen Crisis

Yemen's President Abd Rabbou Mansour Haddi endorsed a plan on Monday to turn Yemen into a six region federation. The recommendation, from a special body established to help end tribal and sectarian unrest in the country, rejected an alternative plan for one northern and one southern Yemeni province.

The proposal outlines new regional boundaries where the more populous north of the country will be divided into four parts and the south will be split into two provinces; the capital of Sanaa would remain a special administrative area. Yemen's leaders hope the plan creates a mechanism for dealing with tribal difference and paves the way for the drafting a new constitution. A vote on the borders and the new constitution will be held within the next year, according to government sources. Read more ..

The Prehistoric Edge

Neanderthal Humans Loved their Kids Too

April 13th 2014

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Archaeologists at the University of York in the UK are challenging the traditional view that Neanderthal childhood was difficult, short and dangerous.

A research team from PALAEO (Centre for Human Palaeoecology and Evolutionary Origins) and the Department of Archaeology at York offer a new and distinctive perspective which suggests that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group, used play to develop skills and played a significant role in their society.

The traditional perception of the toughness of Neanderthal childhood is based largely on biological evidence, but the archaeologists, led by Dr Penny Spikins, also studied cultural and social evidence to explore the experience of Neanderthal children. Read more ..

The Edge of Sport

Republicans Oppose College Athletes' Unionization

April 12th 2014

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Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Richard Burr (N.C.) said collective bargaining rights for college players would stop universities from fielding sports teams.

The two lawmakers, who are both former college athletes, discussed the issue at length on the Senate floor Friday.

"While there may be some issues with intercollegiate athletics, the unionization of intercollegiate athletics is not the solution to the problem," said Alexander, a former track team member at Vanderbilt University.

A regional director with the National Labor Relation Board ruled last month that scholarship football players at Northwestern University are permitted to unionize because they meet the definition of college employees. The players are seeking medical coverage for sports-related care, compensation for sponsorships and a boost in financial help for student athletes. They will decide whether to form a union by secret ballot on April 25. Northwestern has appealed the decision. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Uncovering a New Angle on Mental Distance

April 10th 2014


Why does the second hour of a journey seem shorter than the first? According to research from University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and the Rotman School of Management, the answer lies in how we’re physically oriented in space.

In a series of six studies, Sam Maglio, an assistant professor in UTSC’s Department of Management, demonstrated that a person’s orientation — the direction they are headed — changed how they thought of an object or event. The research is forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Feeling close to or distant from something impacts our behavior and judgment,” says Maglio. “We feel more socially connected, more emotionally engaged, and more attuned to the present when something is perceived as close.” What we don’t know is what leads to a feeling of closeness, he says. Previous studies have focused on changing objective measures, such as distance or time, to make something feel subjectively close or far. Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Fear Drives African Gays to Seek Asylum in US

April 9th 2014

LGBT Youth

Homosexuality is a crime in 38 African countries and new laws in Nigeria and Uganda have increased potential punishments for engaging in gay sex. These strictures have driven some gay and transgender Ugandans to seek asylum in the United States.

"I can tell you that it’s so bad in Uganda. People just don’t know what is happening in Uganda," said Niki Mawanda, who recently fled his African homeland. "I’m worried about what is happening to my people. But I’m also scared that when I go back, I don’t know what will happen to me."

 Mawanda is one of more than 60 Ugandans who have applied for asylum in the U.S. so far this year. "They staged a big prayer next to my mom’s house praying for me to leave the village, saying that I’m bringing homosexuality on the village," he said. "I don’t want to leave my people, but this time around, I became so scared, so I left." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Archaeologists Recount Human Evolution from Athletes to Couch Potatoes

April 8th 2014

Human bones are remarkably plastic and respond surprisingly quickly to change. Put under stress through physical exertion – such as long-distance walking or running – they gain in strength as the fibres are added or redistributed according to where strains are highest. The ability of bone to adapt to loading is shown by analysis of the skeletons of modern athletes, whose bones show remarkably rapid adaptation to both the intensity and direction of strains.

Because the structure of human bones can inform us about the lifestyles of the individuals they belong to, they can provide valuable clues for biological anthropologists looking at past cultures. Research by Alison Macintosh, a PhD candidate in Cambridge University's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, shows that after the emergence of agriculture in Central Europe from around 5300 BC, the bones of those living in the fertile soils of the Danube river valley became progressively less strong, pointing to a decline in mobility and loading. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Over 76 Million Older People Lack Vital Care

April 7th 2014

Elderly man

Monday, April 7th, is World Health Day. An NGO is using the occasion to warn that 76-million older people around the world are being excluded from vital health care. HelpAge International is trying to raise awareness through its Age Demands Action campaign.

Amleset Tewodros, the group’s Country Director for Tanzania, said, “Age Demands Action is a campaign that empowers older people to directly engage with their leaders – in this particular case with the Ministry of Health officials – to demand the access to services, the health services, to be appropriate, age friendly, accessible to older people. So it gives older people an opportunity to present their demands and their requests to their relative policy and decision makers.”

She said millions of older people around the world are not getting the care they need for diseases and chronic conditions. “There are a number of noncommunicable diseases that are showing steady growth among older population groups -- for example, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, prostate cancer and respiratory diseases.” Read more ..

Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan Redux

April 6th 2014

Red Minaret, Hyderabad

With all the attention being paid to the Turkish election, the continuing "negotiations" between the six powers and Iran and the ins and outs of the talks that at some point may or may not take place between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, little attention is directed towards very concrete and significant events in a country that is not only strategically located but already has nuclear weapons--Pakistan.

The government of Nawaz Sharif, which is the first in Pakistan's history as an independent country to succeed another elected government with no period of military dictatorship in between, has been trying to reach an accommodation with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), ensconced in its mountain lair in North Waziristan, which borders on Afghanistan and which has been in constant violent conflict with the Pakistani government for years.  Read more ..

Afghanistan on Edge

Afghan Women Await Poll Results With Hope

April 5th 2014


Hopes are high that Afghanistan's election Saturday may result in the country's first peaceful transition of power in more than a century.  Militant attacks and electoral fraud are the main threats to the vote for a new president, who will take over after President Hamid Karzai ends his second term.  Afghan women, whose freedom has often been curtailed, also worry about their future under a new government.

In this beauty parlor in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, the presidential election is the main topic of conversation.  Owner Balqis Azizi says it is not clear what the future will bring regardless of who is elected. "We hope it will be good.  It is a concern for all of us.  What will happen?  Nobody knows what programs the candidates have for the future.  People are concerned about who is going to be elected," she said. Read more ..

Russia and Estonia

Russians Of Narva Not Seeking 'Liberation' From Moscow

April 4th 2014

Russia military symbol

Aleksandr Brokk calls himself an "Estonian patriot." His family has lived in the country for generations and he makes his living running a successful tech park.

Like the vast majority in the sleepy eastern Estonian border city of Narva, Brokk is an ethnic Russian. And while he's proud of his language and heritage, all he needs to do is look across the river at the dilapidated Russian fortress city of Ivangorod to know which side of the border he wants to live on.

"People come and go. When you cross into Ivangorod, straight away you can see the atmosphere there," Brokk says. "Who is going to want to join that?" Brokk's opinions are not an anomaly here. In Narva, Russian is the lingua franca, Russian media is the main source of news, and orange-and-black St. George ribbons symbolizing military victory adorn cars.

But the Russians of Narva, who make up 88 percent of the city's population, call the European Union and NATO their home. And while they may feel the emotional tug of Moscow and certainly have their grievances with the Estonian government in Tallinn, few say they want to follow the example of Crimea and join Russia. Most  here have become accustomed to their stable and predictable lives on the EU's eastern frontier. Read more ..

Cambodia on Edge

Half a Million Cambodians Affected by Land Disputes

April 3rd 2014

Vietnamese hat in mud

A leading Cambodian human rights group says more than half a million people have been affected by land disputes in the country over the last 14 years.

Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for Licadho, said Thursday that a “wave” of land grabs has continued this year, impacting families in nearly all provinces, including disputes between villagers and development companies or loggers.

“Before releasing the report, we conducted detailed research.  The main point is that starting from early this year, land disputes have occurred again. That’s the reason why we are concerned and issued this report; to remind the government to put extra mechanisms in place to find solutions for the people," said Ath.

The government has rejected those figures.  Sar Sovann, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, told reporters Thursday the report “does not reflect reality.”  There are only 3,000 to 4,000 sites that “have problems,” he said. Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Critically Ill Patients at Risk for Developing Mental Illness

April 2nd 2014

Boy in pain

A new study shows that people with critical illnesses are more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric illnesses than people who haven't experienced a life-threatening disease.

Studies show that people with diabetes and heart disease have greater than normal chances of suffering from depression, a mental illness that can interfere with daily life and any enjoyment of it. But what about illnesses so severe that those who have them end up in hospital intensive care units? 

Dr. Derek Angus of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center led a study that examined the relationship between critical illness and mental illness. Researchers reviewed the medical records of all patients admitted to intensive care units in Denmark over a three-year period.

“Denmark is important because for many years now they have been collecting national data on essentially the health and wellness of every person living in Denmark," said Angus.

“We were interested in people who got a new or sudden critical illness such as pneumonia or an episode of sepsis," said Angus. For example, patients on ventilators admitted the intensive care unit, or ICU,  were compared to similar patients in other wards of the hospital and in the general population.    Read more ..

The Way We Are

Jimmy Carter Calls for Stop in Abuse Against Women

March 31st 2014

Jimmy Carter

The World Health Organization reports one in three women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter calls abuse of women the most serious human rights issue facing the world today. In an interview with VOA, and in his new book A Call to Action, he outlines the seriousness of the abuse — both globally and in the United States. Human rights organizations and activists hope his attention to the issue will give them a boost in fighting the problem.

Former President Carter learned about these abuses through the global work of the Atlanta-based Carter Center, where abuse of women was the focus of a 2013 human rights conference.

"The most serious problem is murder of baby girls by their parents. And the abortion of the girl fetus if the parents find out she's going to be female," Carter said.

"We've been dealing with 79 different countries, and as I've been in those foreign countries, and also throughout the United States, I've seen the tangible examples of how horribly women and girls are treated, much worse than anyone knows," he added. His research into the scope and seriousness of abuse against women culminated in his 28th book, A Call to Action, which explores the culture and causes of the abuse. He says the United States is not immune to the problem. Read more ..

The Battle for Syria

Syria Tops List Of Asylum Seekers in Industrialized Countries

March 30th 2014

Syrian Refugees

A new report finds that Syria is churning out the largest number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries. The U.N. refugee agency's just-released report on asylum trends in 2013 shows a sharp rise in asylum claims in 44 industrialized countries last year.

The report says nearly 613,000 people lodged claims for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific last year. This is the highest total for any year since 2001. The UNHCR said this sharp rise in asylum seekers is being driven primarily by the crisis in Syria.

That country now tops the list as the world's main origin for asylum-seekers, bumping Afghanistan into second position, with Russia in third place. The director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection, Volker Turk, called Syria an international game changer. He said the number of Syrian asylum seekers shows how that country is affecting other regions and countries in the industrialized world, although they are far removed from the crisis in the Middle East. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Are Statins Good for Your Love Life?

March 29th 2014

Active Seniors

Statins are associated with a significant improvement in erectile function, a fact researchers hope will encourage men who need statins to reduce their risk of heart attack to take them, according to research to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

Erectile dysfunction is common in older men, especially among those with cardiovascular risk factors where cholesterol-lowering statins are frequently prescribed. Previous research has suggested a negative association between statin therapy and testosterone levels, leading to questions about the effects of these widely used medications on the quality of erection.

In the first meta-analysis of previous studies on erectile dysfunction and statins, researchers identified 11 randomized, controlled trials that measured erectile function using the International Inventory of Erectile Function – a self-administered survey with five questions, each scored on a five-point scale and totaled, with lower values representing poorer sexual function. Analysis of all 11 studies combined found a statistically significant effect of statins on erectile function in men who had both high cholesterol and erectile dysfunction. Overall, erectile function scores increased by 3.4 points in men who took statins (from 14.0 to 17.4, a 24.3 percent increase). Read more ..

The Edge of Healthcare

Rising Wealth Not Enough to Raise Child Health

March 28th 2014

Childhood Obesity

Getting wealthier does not automatically make a nation healthier, according to new research.

The study questions whether promoting economic growth is the best way to improve child nutrition in low- and middle-income countries.

The conventional wisdom, according to Harvard School of Public Health professor Subu Subramanian, is “‘Let’s just go after economic growth and then everything else will just follow.’”

But Subramanian notes that a booming economy has done little to reduce child undernutrition in India.

The country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the most common measure of the economy, has been growing by more than five percent per year for much of the last two decades. That’s faster than most Western countries. But more than two-fifths of India’s children are underweight and nearly half are stunted. And that has not changed much since the early 1990s. Read more ..

Edge of Hate

California Students Denounce Anti-Semitism at State Assembly Hearing

March 27th 2014

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Last week the new California Assembly Select Committee on Campus Climate held its first hearing. AMCHA Initiative urged members of the committee to examine campus antisemitism and take the proper steps to ensure Jewish students feel safe and welcome at California’s colleges and universities. AMCHA provided a full packet of information to the committee members about incidents of campus antisemitisim throughout California, including incidents from UC Davis, SFSU, UC Riverside and more.

You can see AMCHA’s unabridged remarks to the committee HERE.

Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) announced the creation of the Select Committee in January. March 21 was the first of four public hearings the Committee will hold over the next few months. The Committee was tasked with investigating issues pertaining to student welfare on college campuses. Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who worked as a San Diego State University professor, chairs the Committee.

With antisemitism at U.S. colleges, and, especially, in California, growing at an alarming rate, campus antisemitism is a concern AMCHA Initiative hears about daily from members of California’s Jewish community, including university alumni, rabbis, professors, religious school principals and, of course, students, parents and grandparents. Read more ..

The Battle for the Ukraine

Muslims in Ukraine: A Small Problem Amid a Larger One

March 27th 2014

Burka cellphone

In a long and detailed article on recent events in the Ukraine the Washington Post provided a tantalizing snippet, noted above, and then provided no further comment on an incident pitting Ukraine's Muslim and ethnic Russian communities.

With the exit of President Viktor Yanukovych, observers are left to speculate what will become of the Ukraine. In that nation there exists a plethora of political parties, and thus the election for President and to the 450-member unicameral legislature (the Verkhovna Rada) has in the past been subject to much horse-trading. Still, if simplification is demanded, it can be said that as of this moment the Ukraine is divided between the Russophiles found east of the Dneiper River and in the Crimea, and the Russophobes to the west.

A second question should be, what will happen in the Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula? If the Russophobes in Kiev retain the power they have won, will the emerging Russophobia lead Russia's President Vladimir Putin to seize the Crimea where ethnic Russians comprise about sixty percent of that region's population? Most importantly, as Sevastapol serves as a singularly important Russian naval base and is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet, the possibility that Russia will move against Kiev to protect its interest is all too real. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Police Shooting of Homeless Man Sparks Outrage in New Mexico

March 26th 2014

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In one of the most emotional demonstrations of its kind in recent New Mexico history, hundreds of people surged through the streets of downtown Albuquerque the evening of March 25 shouting for justice for homeless camper James Boyd and other men shot to death by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD).

To the loud beat of drums, a fired-up crowd chanted “We are all James Boyd” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Killer Cops Have Got to Go.” A mock coffin bearing the names of men killed by APD, as well as the 11 women and girls found murdered on Albuquerque’s West Mesa in 2009, accompanied the procession. Read more ..

The Edge of Womens Rights

It's Time to End Rape Culture Hysteria

March 25th 2014

Prison bars

“Rape is as American as apple pie,” says blogger Jessica Valenti. She and her sisters-in-arms describe our society as a “rape culture” where violence against women is so normal, it’s almost invisible. Films, magazines, fashion, books, music, humor, even Barbie — according to the activists — cooperate in conveying the message that women are there to be used, abused, and exploited. Recently, rape culture theory has migrated from the lonely corners of the feminist blogosphere into the mainstream. In January, the White House asserted that we need to combat campus rape by “[changing] a culture of passivity and tolerance in this country, which too often allows this type of violence to persist.”

Tolerance for rape? Rape is a horrific crime and rapists are despised. We have strict laws that Americans want to see enforced. Though rape is certainly a serious problem, there’s no evidence that it’s considered a cultural norm. Twenty-first century America does not have a rape culture; what we have is an out-of-control lobby leading the public and our educational and political leaders down the wrong path. Rape culture theory is doing little to help victims, but its power to poison the minds of young women and lead to hostile environments for innocent males is immense. Read more ..

Environmental Edge

Trapping Phosphorus with Magnets Captures Valuable Materials in Waste Water

March 24th 2014

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Phosphorus can be found in fertilizers, drinks and detergents. It accumulates in waterways and pollutes them. For this reason the German Phosphorus Platform has the goal to recover this valuable, but at the same time, harmful element from water. How this can be done will be shown by researchers at the Hannover Trade Fair / IndustrialGreenTec from April 7 – 11 in Hannover where visitors can try out the method for themselves.

Using magnets the superparamagnetic particles in the water can be removed along with their phosphorus load. Not only plants, but also humans and animals need phosphorus, which is a building block of DNA. Many biological processes in our body can only take place if phosphorus atoms are also present. But farmers and industrial enterprises use so much of this element that soil is over-fertilized and waterways are contaminated. Read more ..

Islam in Europe

Austria: Muslims Outnumber Catholics in Viennese Schools

March 21st 2014

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Austria is also in the process of introducing new taxpayer-funded textbooks for the formal teaching if Islam in all public elementary schools across the country.... This is the first time Islam is being taught to Austrian students in the German language.

"What remains, then, is to conquer Rome. This means Islam will come back to Europe for a third time, after it was expelled from it twice. We will conquer Europe! We will conquer America! Not through the sword but through our Dawa [proselytizing]." — Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim students, according to new statistics, now outnumber Roman Catholic students at middle and secondary schools in Vienna, the capital and largest city of Austria. Read more ..

Ancient Days

Ancient Maori New Zealanders May Have Killed Off the Giant Moa Bird

March 20th 2014

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Giant Haast eagle attacks Moas

A study by Curtin University researchers and colleagues from Denmark and New Zealand strengthens the case for human involvement in the disappearance of New Zealand’s iconic megaherbivore, the moa – a distant relative of the Australian Emu.

All nine species of New Zealand moa, the largest weighing up to 250 kilograms, became extinct shortly after Polynesians arrived in the country in the late 13th century.

Researchers have previously suggested, from limited genetic evidence, that huge populations of moa had collapsed before people arrived and hence influences other than people were responsible for the extinction.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, the researchers analysed the gene pools of four moa species in the 5000 years preceding their sudden extinction using ancient DNA from more than 250 radiocarbon-dated moa. Read more ..

Internet Edge

Serious Global Approach Needed to Attack Data Thieves

March 19th 2014

Stopping massive data breaches like the one that hit Target will require a more sophisticated, collaborative approach by law enforcement agencies around the world, a Michigan State University cyber security expert argues.

In a new research report for the National Institute of Justice, Thomas Holt found many hackers and data thieves are operating in Russia or on websites where users communicate in Russian, making it easier to hide from U.S. and European authorities. All countries need to better work together to fight hacking and data theft campaigns, he said, and use undercover stings in which officers pose as administrators of the Internet forums where stolen data is advertised.

The Target breach, which comprised 40 million credit- and debit-card accounts during the 2013 holiday shopping season, may have originated in Russia, the Wall Street Journal recently reported. “This is a truly global problem, one that we cannot solve domestically and that has to involve multiple nations and rigorous investigation through various channels,” said Holt, associate professor of criminal justice. Holt authored the 155-page report with Olga Smirnova from Eastern Carolina University. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

New Genetic Analysis Tools Pinpoint Disease Factors

March 18th 2014

Ancestral background has much to do with our likelihood of developing or staving off disease. But separating the associations between who we are and where we come from, and genetic variations that cause disease, can be difficult and often result in false genetic study leads.

A new statistical method, developed by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, can help those who study the human genome better identify ancestry as they go about isolating the genes that cause disease.

The LASER (Locating Ancestry from SEquence Reads) software can establish ancestry using very small amounts of sequence data, scattered across 1-10 percent of the genome and adding only a few dollars to the cost of a genetic analysis.

"You can use our method to describe the ancestry of an individual very precisely, even separating individuals from different parts of Finland," said Goncalo Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at U-M. "In studies of genetic diseases, this information helps separate changes that cause disease from more numerous changes that specify ancestry." Read more ..

The Way We Are

Mexican-Americans Show High Incidence of Post-Stroke Damage

March 18th 2014

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Mexican-Americans suffer more damage from stroke than non-Hispanic whites but they survive longer. New University of Michigan research shows that Mexican-Americans had worse neurologic, functional and cognitive outcomes 90 days after stroke compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Although this population has increased risk of stroke, they have a lower chance of dying from one, suggesting that prolonged survival is at the expense of increased disability.

"What we found most notable was the difference in functional outcome," said Lynda Lisabeth, the study's lead author and interim chair and associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health. "Mexican-Americans did worse on all the measures of daily living activities compared to non-Hispanic whites." Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Polish MEP Sponsors “Never Again” Event in Krakow

March 17th 2014

Concentration Camp

Every year in March, Jews from the city of Krakow, Poland commemorate the anniversary of the liquidation of the German Nazi Ghetto in their city. Using this opportunity MEP Michal Kaminski organized a photo exhibition in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, followed by a concert by Cantor Itzchak Horovitz with The Saints Klezmer band from Krakow city. Cantor Horovitz is an Israeli citizen who for 7 years has lived in Poland and is part of the Krakow Jewish Community. The audience heard songs in Hebrew known from the Shabbat table but also those in Yiddish. Joël Rubinfeld Vice-President of the European Jewish Parliament said: “It was especially moving to hear, yesterday evening, the song “A Yiddishe Mame” from the speakers of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.”

The sponsor of the exhibition is MEP Michal Kaminski: Read more ..

Africa on Edge

Ending Hunger and Undernutrition

March 16th 2014

Kenya Poverty

A new report says ending persistent hunger and undernutrition should be top development priorities. The International Food Policy Research Institute, IFPRI, has released its annual Global Food Policy Report.

IFPRI has set a goal of 2025 for ending hunger and undernutrition. The U.N. estimates more than 840-million people still go hungry every day, while over two-billion have a deficiency of essential micronutrients, such as iron, Vitamin A and zinc.

Although very high, those figures actually represent an improvement in recent years. But the progress has not been uniform. The report said there are still major hunger challenges in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

IFPRI Director General Shenggen Fan, said, “We have made tremendous progress in the last several decades. So poverty has come down – undernutrition has come down. However, we’re still facing some tremendous challenges.” Fan said that solving hunger and undernutrition is a “moral issue.”

“We’ve got to work together to solve that problem. Secondly, it is also [an] economic issue. It makes a lot of economic sense by reducing hunger and malnutrition.”

He said there is a very large return for every dollar invested in reducing hunger. The IFPRI report listed Brazil, China, Thailand and Vietnam as having made dramatic progress --  with policies that emphasize improving agriculture, providing social safety nets and targeting nutrition programs at those most in need. Fan said it requires cooperation among governments, the private sector, civil society, farmers and others. Read more ..

The Healthy Edge

Emergency Rooms Prescribe Increasing Amounts of Opioid Painkillers

March 15th 2014

George Washington University (GW) researchers report dramatic increases in prescriptions of opioid analgesics, such as Percocet, Vicodin, oxycodone and Dilaudid, during U.S. emergency department visits from 2001 to 2010. These findings were not explained by higher visit rates for painful conditions, which only increased modestly during the time period. This report was published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine.

“This trend is especially concerning given dramatic increases in opioid-related overdoses and fatalities in recent years,” said Maryann Mazer-Amirshahi, M.D., co-author of the study and adjunct instructor of emergency medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS). “Using prescription opioids to treat acute painful conditions in emergency departments and hospitals might do more harm than good, as they can potentially lead to misuse and addiction. More needs to be done to monitor opioid prescriptions in emergency departments — having recommended standard approaches may be a good starting point.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

Natural Selection Altered Europeans' Appearance over 5,000 Years' Evolution

March 15th 2014

Click to select Image

There has been much research into the factors that have influenced the human genome since the end of the last Ice Age. Anthropologists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and geneticists at University College London (UCL), working in collaboration with archaeologists from Berlin and Kiev, have analyzed ancient DNA from skeletons and found that selection has had a significant effect on the human genome even in the past 5,000 years, resulting in sustained changes to the appearance of people. The results of this current research project (Click here) have been published this week in an article entitled "Direct evidence for positive selection of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in Europeans during the last 5,000 years" in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more ..

The Way We Are

The GOP Is Making Progress with Millennials; with Minorities, Not Yet

March 14th 2014

Starbucks Wireless

One year ago, on March 18, the Republican National Committee issued its post-mortem on the 2012 election.  Its Growth and Opportunity Project report argued that the party was “marginalizing” itself, making it increasingly difficult for it to win future presidential elections. The candid 97-page report looked at some particular weaknesses including GOP deficits among millennials, minorities, and women. How is the party doing a year later?

We assume the GOP is doing a lot of things below our radar screen such as hiring field and communications directors who know how to reach these key groups and honing messages to improve performance. Our focus is on public opinion.  Is the needle moving?

Let’s look first on millennials, the generation born after 1980. There is some good news for the GOP in this age cohort, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.  Half of Millennials now declare themselves independents.  This high level of non-affiliation gives the GOP an opportunity to make its case to younger voters. Many Millennials are dissatisfied with President Obama, whom they supported by large margins in 2008 and 2012. Read more ..

The Way We Are

'Free to Be' Boys and Girls: 40 Years After the Failed Gender Revolution

March 13th 2014

Student Backpack

This week marks the 40th anniversary of an event close to the hearts of gender activists everywhere. On March 11, 1974, ABC aired Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be…You and Me” — a musical program celebrating gender-free children. Thomas and her fellow co-neutralists envisioned a world where the sex distinction would melt away. Instead of “males” and “females,” there would be mutually respectful, non-gendered human persons. The project resulted in a platinum LP, a best-selling book, and an Emmy. More than that, the idea of gender liberation entered the national zeitgeist. Parents everywhere began giving their daughters trucks and sons baby dolls. Like so many dream boats floating on the utopian sea, this one crashed and sank when it hit the rocks of reality.

In one “Free to Be” song, two babies discuss their life goals: the female wants to be a fireman; the male, a cocktail waitress. Another tells about a girl who liked to say, “Ladies First” — only to wind up being the first to be eaten by tigers. The songs drive home the idea that we are all androgynous beings unfairly constrained by social stereotypes. “William‘s Doll” is memorable. “A doll, said William, is what I need. To wash and clean and dress and feed.” In the end his kindly grandmother buys him the coveted toy. Read more ..

Society on Edge

Americans Still Don't Spare the Rod When it Comes to Disciplining Children

March 12th 2014

The same hands that parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and bathe their babies are also commonly used to spank their bundles of joy.

A new University of Michigan study found that 30 percent of 1-year-old children were spanked at least once in the past month by their mother, father or both parents.

A long-time topic of debate, many parents in the U.S. spank their children. Previous research has focused on disciplining children as young as age 3, in part, because spanking is common among children of this age. Studies have shown that spanking is related to children's greater aggression, depression and other negative behavior.

But the latest findings show that spanking is used on children who are so young that, in some cases, they haven't even taken their first step.

Researchers examined 2,788 families who participated in a longitudinal study of new births in urban areas. The study indicated that spanking by the child's mother, father or mother's current partner when the child was a year old was linked to child protective services' involvement between ages 1 and 5. During that time, 10 percent of the families received at least one visit by CPS.

U-M social work professors Shawna Lee and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor say that spanking babies is particularly misguided and potentially harmful, and may set off a cascade of inappropriate parental behavior. Their research is a snapshot of a larger problem: many people lack parenting skills that include alternatives to spanking. Read more ..

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