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Circumcision Quandries in Zambia

Public health officials have been urging circumcision on men in sub-Saharan Africa, arguing that the universal application of the practice could prevent two million HIV cases a year. A recent study in Zambia, however, shows that roughly a quarter of newly circumcised men resume sexual activities before they have fully healed, facilitating the spread of the virus. As a result, health experts fear that the spread of circumcision in the region could actually increase HIV infection rates.


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The South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea?

As the struggle for the Spratly Islands heats up, basic place names are coming into play. In the Philippines, news outlets and various official agencies now insist on calling the body of water in which the islands are located the “West Philippine Sea” rather than the “South China Sea,” as the latter term might seemingly grant China priority in this contested area. In China, however, the more neutral term “South Sea” (Nánhǎi) is generally used, while Vietnam favors “East Sea” (Biển Đông).

The “South China Sea” thus joins the Sea of Japan—which the Koreans call the East Sea—and the Persian Gulf—which the Arabs call the Arabian Gulf—in the list of political contested maritime place names. Atlas publishers, beware.


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Arming Equatorial Guinea

On February 2, 2012, the Russian newspaper Pravda ran a headline reading, ”Africa’s Richest Nation Ready For War.”  The country in question is the small, oil-rich state of Equatorial Guinea, noted for its rampant corruption and for the fact that its oil wealth has brought few benefits to its largely impoverished population. The county’s social ills have not, however, prevented it from engaging in a major military build-up. As Pravda notes, “The fleet of the 600,000-strong country will be larger than that of 160 million-strong Nigeria. Is Africa preparing for a major war?”

Equatorial Guinea’s military procurement program is highly global. It newest frigate was built in Bulgaria with Ukrainian oversight. Israel, Brazil, and South Korea have also provided ships. The country’s air force has been modernized by major purchases from Russia, and both Russia and China have been supplying equipment for its army.

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Scotland Vs. the Shetland and Orkney Islands

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has gained enough power to have arranged for a vote on Scottish independence in 2014. But although the party has made major gains in recent years in many parts of Scotland, it has done poorly in others. Voters in the northern islands have generally rejected the SNP. A local political leader, the Earl of Caithness, recently called for a “clause [to be] added to Westminster legislation to allow Shetland and Orkney to remain part of the UK if voters [there] reject Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum.”

As the electoral map posted here shows, support for the SNP is strong in the oil-rich northeast and in the Scottish-Gaelic-speaking Outer Hebrides in the northwest. Support reaches notably high level in and around the city of Fraserburgh in the northeast, Europe’s largest shellfish port.

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La Niña Floods and Droughts

La Niña conditions have recently brought unusual weather conditions to much of the world. In the Southern Hemisphere, large areas of Australia have been hit by torrential rain. In the semi-arid outback of central and southwestern Queensland, the intermittent Warrego River and a number of ephemeral streams have turned into torrents, flooding several towns and inundating extensive areas of pasture. Cattle producers, who rely mostly on natural forage, are pleased, but cotton farmers fear that they will lose their crops.

In Paraguay and northern Argentina, meanwhile, drought conditions are threatening corn and soybean production, and have reduced the flow of the mighty Paraguay River to its lowest flow in twenty years. On February 2, however, meteorologists finally saw substantial rains on the horizon. Agricultural commodity traders are closely following such weather news.

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