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Justine De Almeida

See more by Justine De Almeida

Kashmiri men in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir

Disputed Kashmir Wrestles With How To Bring Back Hindus

It's been two decades since the flight of many Kashmiri Hindus after an insurgency targeted them. Now even Kashmir Muslims want them to return.

JAMMU — Avtar Krishan used to own a large house and a successful fruit business in the Indian-administered Kashmir. But in the 1990s, he was forced out of his home after anti-India armed insurgency erupted in the region.

Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. The two neighbors, both nuclear powers, have fought three bloody wars to gain control over the region.Â

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A riot police member in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2015

Egyptian Intrigue As State Security Tightens Grip On Power

The state security apparatus that secretly exerted control over much of Egyptian society during the Mubarak regime is firmly back in command.

CAIRO — During the last decade of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, a popular chant among anti-regime protesters went like this: “State Security, State Security: you are the bullies, thieves of the state.”

The call for the end of the decades-old security body, which was first established to crack down on anti-colonial dissidents, came to relative fruition when State Security Investigation Services (SSIS) was abolished in March 2011, after the outbreak of the Jan 25, 2011 revolution.

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A mother waiting for her children during a music class in Yinchuan

Tiger Moms Be Tamed: A Different Chinese-American View On Education


BEIJING — There is a popular Chinese television series called "Tiger Mom: My Sweat, Your Success" that has prompted no shortage of debate in China. Indeed, discussion has even extended to Chinese people living in America, where the concept of Tiger Moms made waves after the publication of a book in by a hard-driving Chinese-American mother.

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Central Immigration Office in Hamburg

Her Job Is To Grant Or Deny Asylum To Desperate Refugees

Katrin Dölz is one of 385 officials in Germany handling cases of asylum seekers. Her days are filled with tragic immigrant stories and the power to change lives.

BERLIN — A young man with a quilted jacket, a red hat and finely chiseled features enters the small office. Mahmoud (not his real name) is from Iraq and is applying for political asylum.

"Are you medically fit?" Asks Katrin Dölz. "Please let me know if you need a break."

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Nurses in Assuta Haifa hospital, Israel

How The Russian Crisis Hurts Medical Tourism In Israel

JERUSALEM — Three patients are sitting in the spacious waiting room at the offices of the Israeli medical tourism agency iMer. Through the large glass windows of its offices inside the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, they can see the scenic Ein Karem valley with the surrounding mountains and green forests.

Despite the breathtaking biblical landscape, the visitors are not in town for any exclusive spa treatment: indeed, the kerchief one of them is wearing suggests she has come for chemotherapy.

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A Chinese GO giving a tai-chi class in Guilin
China 2.0

In China, Club Med Is A Brand New Idea 65 Years After Its Founding

Rich families from Guangzhou or Beijing are flocking to the new Asian "villages" of the famous French vacation brand. Activities include mahjong and karaoke but the beloved GOs (Genteel Organizers) are still here.

GUILIN — As soon as you step foot in the huge lobby of Guilin's Club Med, you're transported to a magical world. On the other side of the glass wall stretches a breathtaking panorama, far from the sunny beaches and the coconut trees that we tend to find in so many holiday pictures. Here, as far as you can see, there are only rock hills with strange shapes, surrounded by mist, dotted with thickets of trees, intertwined by ponds and streams.

Foreign visitors are astounded by this fabulous scenery. The Chinese, though, aren't moved in quite the same way. Guilin is a world-renowned location that has been glorified for centuries in numerous poems, paintings, pictures and tourism leaflets. Its splendor is no longer surprising to them.

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Extra! USA Says Bye-Bye David Letterman

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USA Today, May 20, 2015

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Crowd in Buenos Aires

A Close (But Not Too Close) Look At Personal Space

Boundaries of personal space can depend on geography and wealth. City planners and interior designers should keep it all in mind when drawing up blueprints for the future.

BUENOS AIRES — The problem with Guille is that he's a close talker. It's not like he has nasty breath or smells bad, but he gets in your face, even as you keep inching back. Leandro is the opposite: You try to move closer to talk to him, and he steps away. As you feel the need to approach a bit more, he again retreats, like in some kind of ritual dance.
A while back, I realized the reason for this is that each of us has our own idea of what represents an ideal distance with people, a bubble that feels neither too crowded nor too distant. Guille's bubble is clearly much smaller than mine, and Leandro's much bigger.
In 1966, anthropologist Edward T. Hall was the first to discuss this subjective frontier, or "personal reaction bubble," which influences our behavior. His book The Hidden Dimension describes four types of space: intimate space (about 46 centimeters around us), which is normally reserved for lovers, children, close relatives, friends and pets; personal space (from 46 to 120 centimeters), used in conversations with friends, colleagues or at gatherings of people you know; social space (120 to 240 centimeters), meant for strangers, new acquaintances or members of recently formed groups; and public space (more than 240 centimeters), used for large gatherings, public speaking, seminars or the theater.
Clearly Guille's personal space is less than 46 centimeters, which is why he's always entering mine, and Leandro's is bigger, which is why his body language always suggests that I'm encroaching on his! Hall was very clear on this: Personal space draws out our comfort zone and psychological security, but it's very difficult to measure. It changes according to personal experiences, culture, the time we live in, age groups and social classes. In the West, for example, Hall's studies found that the average person's personal space extends 60 centimeters from each side of the body, 70 centimeters to the front and 40 behind. But in Latin cultures, it's smaller. Anglo-Saxons seem to require the most.
The personal space divide
There are also social differences. Rich people expect to have larger personal space than the poor, who tend to live closer together. In large cities such as Buenos Aires, personal space tends to be smaller than in the countryside.
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El Subte, the subway in Bogota at rush hour Photo: galio
In some situations, people make exceptions about their personal space because life demands it: taking the subway, getting into the elevator, going to a concert or taking part in protests all require sacrificing personal space a bit. In these cases, people respond differently: they accept the discomfort more graciously, for example, if it's for fun or just for a short while. With public transport, it's different.
Psychologist Robert Sommer says people tolerate crowds on subways, buses and elevators by dehumanizing those next to them. That is, they regard them almost as objects instead of people invading their intimate space. Which explains why people tend not to make eye contact and look so lifeless on the subway.
The point is, distance influences our behavior and should, therefore, be considered when it comes to designing and furbishing buildings. Experiments on human communication have shown, for example, that people prefer to face each other when talking, rather than sitting next to each other. Obviously, you might say, so they can see each other's faces. Yet those studies also show that as personal distance increases, they prefer to sit beside one another, even in the best acoustic conditions. That is, we tend to keep ourselves inside our personal space.
Another finding is that the size of a room determines conversational distance. In smaller rooms, people tend to move closer, rather like my friend Guille.
Tired of it

A Disturbing Return Of Chinese 'Female Virtues'

Over the past two years, so-called "Female Virtues classes" have become popular across China, particularly among the less-educated. The classes mainly promote antiquated ideas about how women should be submissive. It's obviously a shrewd businessmen's way of cashing in — but the fact that flocks of women attend them also demonstrates a certain deep-seated ethical confusion amidst China is swept up in an ongoing economic boom.

BEIJING — Even during the ancient era of the Xia-Shang-Zhou dynasties, spanning from 2,070 to 256 BC, China was already a patriarchal society. However, the strict requirements of what came to be known as "female virtues" probably didn't develop until the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD). Before this time, even if the customary ideas of human morality and proper conduct existed, Chinese society's constraints on females was relatively loose. From the aristocracy down to the common people, illicit sexual relations or elopement were not unusual.

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Extra! Let The Cannes Of Coen Begin

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Libération, May 13, 2015

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In Cali, the "happiest city in Colombia"

Does This Colombian City Prove You Can Be Poor And Happy?

Latin America is starting to measure happiness or "well-being" levels to gauge social trends and set public policy. Surprising results in Cali, Colombia.

CALI — Gauging satisfaction among citizens has become a key factor in formulating public policy. It involves countless factors that all affect quality of life, but in broad terms such surveys tell us how people feel about their lives and perceive their immediate future.

"Subjective well-being," or SWB, as the survey jargon calls it, includes a range of qualitative and quantitative data that become relevant when considering how macroeconomic data fail to inform governments about issues of concern to the citizenry. Per-capita gross domestic product or infant mortality rates, for example, are useful measures, but they offer few clues about whether, and how much, people are satisfied with government services.
Obviously, life satisfaction is also based on non-government factors, such as family relationships and life within a couple. Other factors concern the public sphere and relate to policymaking, like whether people feel safe on the streets or whether health care is accessible, affordable and effective.
European states have been measuring SWB since 2011. An example of this is the Better Life Index in OECD countries, probably the largest-scale continuous measurement of life satisfaction with relevance to policymaking. The same practice is just starting in Latin America. Public opinion surveys such as Latinobarómetro and similar polls are increasingly including questions about how people feel about their lives, and these results are beginning to be included in official statistics in places like Colombia.
In the Colombian city of Cali — known for salsa, a steamy climate and stubborn crime rates — authorities have been implementing the CaliBRANDO surveys developed by Cali's ICESI university. The name plays on the ideas of "calibrating" and "branding." The first poll found that Cali residents were reasonably satisfied with their lives, on average scoring 8.3 out of a possible 10 points. This was the highest in Colombia and well above the average of 6.6 points reported for European states.

Yet this average hides factors that are hugely relevant to creating public policies. For example, the results show that people of ethnic minorities are less satisfied, which is at least an indicator of discrimination. Women on average declare themselves to be more satisfied with their lives, but they are paid less money or are far more affected than men by unemployment or the inability to save money. People without children say they are more satisfied than those with children, as do those who have a good education, compared to those have not.

Cali's citizens are incredibly optimistic about their economic conditions, though almost half work in the informal sector and very few have enough savings to last them three months, in case of an external "liquidity shock." Furthermore, very few people are able to buy assets here, fewer than 30% own some type of real estate, and only 31% own a motorized vehicle. But they believe they are doing better than their parents and are generally happy with their living standards. That may suggest the average resident in Cali is conformist or that their personal references allow them to be satisfied with what they have. The poll results prompt many questions, such as with whom people in Cali compare themselves.

The CaliBRANDO survey began in 2014 and is to be conducted annually to offer representative data for the city. These results, it is hoped, will help improve municipal governance, allow smarter allocation of resources, and inform the local government about whether it's successfully communicating its actions.

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Extra! Francois Hollande Meets Fidel Castro

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Granma, May 12, 2015

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