Feb 09
Her eye on the news
‘She was happy’

Doctors performing awake brain surgery on a woman with epilepsy helped keep her calm during the procedure by stimulating a part of the brain associated with laughter, according to a new report of her case published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. Neurosurgeons at the Emory University School of Medicine said that after they stimulated the “cingulum bundle” — a part of the brain that scientists once thought was solely involved in control of the muscles that pull sides of the mouth upward during laughter — the patient immediately felt “profound relief,” and remained happy and relaxed until the surgery was complete.

“Immediately she had profound relief, she was happy, able to communicate and able to make jokes,” said study author Dr. Jon Willie, one of the Emory neurosurgeons who operated on the woman. The pioneering technique has reportedly been performed successfully on at least two other patients, both of whom reported feeling a sense of well-being and reduced anxiety, Willie told Live Science. Scientists say the new study supports the notion that the cingulum bundle is connected to both the physical response of laughter and also the very emotions associated it.

When surgeons perform awake open-brain surgery, they leave patients awake and responsive to ensure that they don’t accidentally interfere with other aspects of brain functionality such as language. Historically, surgeons have used sedation and distraction during such procedures to try to keep patients docile — and prevent them from potentially damaging themselves by panicking, moving their heads, or even compulsively reaching out to try to touch their own exposed brain. But the new approach, doctors say, is not only more effective at ensuring patients don’t interfere with the surgery, but less emotionally stressful on the patients as well. And for one woman, at least, the technique turned a potentially traumatizing surgery into one that she looked back on with a smile.

Read the full story at Live Science.


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A new report from Harvard Business Review makes a strong case for the economic importance of female leadership — particularly in countries with ethnically diverse populations. In fact, according to HBR’s report, women leaders in diverse countries vastly outperformed their male counterparts as they led their economies to an average of 5.4 percent GDP growth in the year following their assumption of power. Male leaders in diverse countries, by comparison, managed an average GDP growth of just 1.1 percent for male leaders.

In many cases, the report found, these economic gains were closely tied to women leaders’ efforts at economically empowering historically marginalized groups. In Liberia, for instance, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf helped overcome the country’s difficult history of ethnic conflict by achieving gender equity in her cabinet and constructing a government with representatives proportionate to each ethnic group’s size — a difficult task, especially given that Liberia boasts more than a dozen prominent ethnic groups. Under Johnson Sirleaf, the country’s GDP grew at an average of 4 percent each year from 2006 through the end of 2010. Her predecessor, President Charles Taylor, was infamous for helping members of his own ethnic group, the Krahns, seize resources for themselves at the expense of other tribes. During his tenure from 1986-1990, Liberia’s GDP grew at a 1 percent rate — and the country was ultimately engulfed in rebellion.

Current Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, the first woman to hold the position, made similar efforts to reach out to her country’s largest minority groups and to limit the advantages given by prior governments to the country’s majority ethnic group, the Hans. By empowering a country’s minority groups, Harvard Business Review found, leaders were able to prevent the stunted economic growth that results from ethnic conflict, systemic bias and discrimination. And women leaders, they concluded, appear to be the ones best equipped to lead the way.

Read the full story at Harvard Business Review.


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‘Breaking Conventions’

Michal Zernowitski, a veteran programmer, project manager, and developer, is making history in Israel as the first ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman to run for MP in the center-left secular Labor party. Born into the notoriously conservative Haredi community — which is typically represented by the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, both of which have refused to field woman candidates based on religious grounds — the 38-year-old mother of four insists that there is nothing within the laws of Judaism that bars women from holding office. Her campaign slogan, appropriately, is simply: “Breaking Conventions.”

There are “hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox [Israelis] who no longer vote automatically for ultra-Orthodox parties, who want change and who believe in equality, social justice and peace,” said Zernowitski in a statement announcing her candidacy in January.

Once a proud UTJ supporter, Zernowitski said her views began shifting left in her early 20s after she grew increasingly disturbed by the grim reality of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It started to really bother me that there are a few million Palestinians, living in areas we control, who have no real status,” she said. “So, it all began for me out of a concern for human rights.” As a member of ultra-Orthodox feminist group Not Elected, Won’t Vote, Zernowitski has worked to end the ban on women politicians in the Shas and UTJ parties. She is also at the forefront of a movement to end the economic exploitation of ultra-Orthodox women in the workforce. In most Haredi families, she says, women are the principal wage earners as the men spend their days studying scripture. These effectively unrepresented women, she explains, have no recourse or champions to fight for them despite being “among the lowest-paid workers in the country.”

Zernowitski faces a steep challenge in her bid to be chosen as a candidate for MP during Labor’s April polls. She has faced criticism in the Labor party over her faith’s conservative stance on issues such as homosexuality, and many remain unconvinced that the legions of liberal Haredi that Zernowitski speaks of will show up to vote for her. Nonetheless, she has resolved to continue to fight for greater equality — both within her community and outside of it.

“I am a religious woman but also a liberal,” she said. “I don’t want to force people to do what I choose to do.”

Read the full story at France 24 and Haaretz.


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‘Smoking hot’

A Canada woman has become an unlikely — and posthumous — celebrity thanks to a hilarious obituary written by her children, in which they joke that being cremated finally gave her “the smoking hot body I have always wanted.”

“It hurts me to admit it, but I, Mrs. Ron Hicks from Baysville, have passed away,” they wrote, as if by Sybil Marie Hicks herself. “I leave behind my loving husband, Ron Hicks, whom I often affectionately referred to as a ‘Horse’s Ass.’”

“I also left behind my children whom I tolerated over the years,” it continues, naming one of them, Bob, as her “favorite,” while simultaneously chastising “Baby Brace” for not eating “homemade turkey soup because he didn’t want to be alert looking for bones.”

The spicy tongue-in-cheek testimonial went viral after being published on social media, as users paid tribute to the Hicks family’s sense of humor and speculated about the identity of “Dorothy,” who is identified as the “special friend … who is now lovingly taking care of my horse’s ass.” After a spirited debate, most users appeared to conclude that “Dorothy” was more likely to be a family pet than a human mistress.

“Thank you all for sharing my life with me,” the obituary continues, more tenderly. “I am off to swim to the buoy and back.”

Read her full obituary below.

Read the full story at The Spec.


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An opposition party in Thailand has named a princess as their nominee for prime minister, a bold move that threatens to upend the ruling military party’s close ties with the country’s popular royal family.

Customarily under the Thai constitutional monarchy system, royals recuse themselves from politics. But the status of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, 67, falls into a gray area since she had her highest royal titles taken from her by her father in 1972 after she married a fellow student, American Peter Ladd Jensen, who she met while at school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ubolratana, who returned to Thailand following her divorce from Jensen in 1998, will represent the Thai Raksa Chart Party in next month’s elections. The party is associated with former P.M. Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist who went into exile in 2008 after being convicted on a corruption charge that he claimed was fabricated by royalist enemies and the military.

Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the leader of a 2014 coup that ousted the country’s previous elected government, will serve as the nominee for the Palang Pracharat Party, which is widely perceived as being controlled by the military. Prayuth had been expected to be a runaway winner ahead of the March 24 polls due to legal changes that made it impractical to become prime minister without the support of the military.

But the selection by the opposition party of the popular member of the royal family, experts say, will make it hard for the military to block her should she win the vote — and raises questions about the king’s allegiances with the military.

Just hours after Ubolratana’s nomination was announced, the king made a televised statement suggesting he had been caught by surprise. “Involvement of a high-ranking member of the royal family in politics, in whatever way, is an act that conflicts with the country’s traditions, customs and culture and therefore is considered extremely inappropriate,” he said.

It is thought the king’s opposition will result in Ubolratana’s disqualification by the election commission.

Since her return to Thailand, Ubolratana has found success as an actress, TV hostess, and anti-drug campaigner. A savvy social media user, the princess’s posts went viral in 2017 with videos featuring her singing holiday songs such as We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

“I have relinquished my royal titles and lived as a commoner,” she said in an Instagram post announcing her decision to run.

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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