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June 8, 2016

EU divided over Russia sanctions

EU divided over Russia sanctions – Wikinews, the free news source

EU divided over Russia sanctions

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

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Greece, Italy, Germany, Finland and Brussels are reported to be in favour of relaxing the trade sanctions imposed against Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Ahead of a NATO summit in July[1], which will discuss furthering the sanctions, Russia has sought to strengthen its diplomatic ties with EU nations involved in the summit, which it hopes will lead to a relaxation of the sanctions.

The sanctions restrict EU investment in Russian banks and energy firms, and the import and export of Russian military equipment.[2]

While EU relations with Russia appear to be warming, the U.S. has dispatched envoys to the EU, urging its member states to extend the sanctions. Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told a Senate Relations Committee that “the largest piece of leverage that we have on Russia is the sustainment over two years of deep and comprehensive sanctions across the U.S. and EU countries… So again this is why we are advocating – because Minsk is not being implemented – that the sanctions have to be rolled over again.”[3]

Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza also recommended that the committee extend the sanctions to other Russian politicians and journalists, who he claims are buying property and educating their children in the West.

“The most effective way and frankly the most principled way… to deal with those human rights abusers is to place them on that sanctions list,” he said.[4]

The EU has suspended travel and frozen the assets of 149 Russian nationals[5], while the U.S. has imposed similar sanctions on 39 individuals.[6]

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has voiced strong opposition to the sanctions, telling reporters at a press-conference in May that, “We have repeatedly said that the vicious circle of militarisation, of Cold War rhetoric and of sanctions is not productive. The solution is dialogue.”[7]

Recent comments by German senior ministers reflect a softening of the German Chancellery’s previously hard-line stance on Russian sanctions, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmier saying that, “My approach has aways been that sanctions are not an end in themselves. When progress is made on the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, we can also talk then about easing sanctions.”[8]

The Russian sanctions will be a key item on the NATO summit’s agenda, to be held in Warsaw on July 8-9.[9]



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September 1, 2015

Biologist Nick Bos tells Wikinews about \’self-medicating\’ ants

Biologist Nick Bos tells Wikinews about ‘self-medicating’ ants

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Formica fusca, from file.
Image: Mathias Krumbholz.

Nick Bos, of the University of Helsinki, studies “the amazing adaptations social insects have evolved in order to fight the extreme parasite pressure they experience”. In a recently-accepted Evolution paper Bos and colleagues describe ants appearing to self-medicate.

Cquote1.svg I have no doubt that as time goes on, there will be more and more cases documented Cquote2.svg

The team used Formica fusca, an ant species that can form thousand-strong colonies. This common black ant eats other insects, and also aphid honeydew. It often nests in tree stumps or under rocks and foraging workers can sometimes be spotted climbing trees.

Some ants were infected with Beauveria bassiana, a fungus. Infected ants chose food laced with toxic hydrogen peroxide, whereas healthy ants avoided it. Hydrogen peroxide reduced infected ant fatalities by 15%, and the ants varied their intake depending upon how high the peroxide concentration was.

In the wild, Formica fusca can encounter similar chemicals in aphids and dead ants. The Independent reported self-medicating ants a first among insects.

Bos obtained his doctorate from the University of Copenhagen. He began postdoctoral research at Helsinki in 2012. He also runs the AntyScience blog. The blog aims to help address “a gap between scientists and ‘the general public’.” The name is a pun referencing ants, its primary topic, science, and “non-scientific” jargon-free communication. He now discusses his work with Wikinews.

Beauveria bassiana on a cicada in Bolivia.
Image: Danny Newman.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What first attracted you to researching ants?

Nick Bos Me and a studymate were keeping a lot of animals during our studies, from beetles, to butterflies and mantids, to ants. We had the ants in an observation nest, and I could just look at them for hours, watching them go about. This was in my third year of Biology study I think. After a while I needed to start thinking about an internship for my M.Sc. studies, and decided to write a couple of professors. I ended up going to the Centre for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen where I did a project on learning in Ants under supervision of Prof. Patrizia d’Ettorre. I liked it so much there I ended up doing a PhD and I’ve been working on social insects ever since.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What methods and equipment were used for this investigation?

NB This is a fun one. I try to work on a very low budget, and like to build most of the experimental setups myself (we actually have equipment in the lab nicknamed the ‘Nickinator’, ‘i-Nick’ and the ‘Nicktendo64’). There’s not that much money in fundamental science at the moment, so I try to cut the costs wherever possible. We collected wild colonies of Formica fusca by searching through old tree-trunks in old logging sites in southern Finland. We then housed the ants in nests I made using Y-tong [aerated concrete]. It’s very soft stone that you can easily carve. We carved out little squares for the ants to live in (covered with old CD covers to prevent them escaping!). We then drilled a tunnel to a pot (the foraging arena), where the ants got the choice between the food with medicine and the food without.
We infected the ants by preparing a solution of the fungus Beauveria bassiana. Afterwards, each ant was dipped in the solution for a couple of seconds, dried on a cloth and put in the nest. After exposing the ants to the fungus, we took pictures of each foraging arena three times per day, and counted how many ants were present on each food-source.

Example of aerated concrete, which provided a home for the subjects.
Image: Marco Bernardini.

This gave us the data that ants choose more medicine after they have been infected.
The result that healthy ants die sooner when ingesting ROS [Reactive Oxygen Species, the group of chemicals that includes hydrogen peroxide] but infected ants die less was obtained in another way (as you have to ‘force feed’ the ROS, as healthy ants, when given the choice, ignore that food-source.)
For this we basically put colonies on a diet of either food with medicine or without for a while. And afterwards either infected them or not. Then for about two weeks we count every day how many ants died. This gives us the data to do a so-called survival analysis.
We measured the ROS-concentration in the bodies of ants after they ingested the food with the medicine using a spectrophotometer. By adding certain chemicals, the ROS can be measured using the emission of light of a certain wave-length.
The detrimental effect of ROS on spores was easy to measure. We mixed different concentrations of ROS with the spores, plated them out on petridishes with an agar-solution where fungus can grow on. A day after, we counted how many spores were still alive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How reliable do you consider your results to be?

NB The results we got are very reliable. We had a lot of colonies containing a lot of ants, and wherever possible we conducted the experiment blind. This means the experimenter doesn’t know which ants belong to which treatment, so it’s impossible to influence the results with ‘observer bias‘. However, of course this is proof in just one species. It is hard to extrapolate to other ants, as different species lead very different lives.
Cquote1.svg At the moment it seems that sick ants mostly take care of the problem themselves Cquote2.svg

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Where did the ants and fungus you used come from? How common are they in the wild?

NB For ants, see above about the collection.
This species of fungus does appear in Finland, but we chose to use a different strain from Denmark (with thanks to Prof. J. Eilenberg and the laboratory technician Louise Lee Munch Larsen from the University of Copenhagen). Animals can adapt to local strains (‘local adaptation’), and just to make sure we thought it would be good to use a strain of fungus that the ants definitely did not evolve specific resistances against. This means that the reaction of the ants (to self-medicate) is very likely to be a general response, and not just against their local fungal enemies.

The Univeristy of Helsinki from file.
Image: Smaug.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Are there any ethical considerations around exposing ants to toxins and parasites?

NB Legally, no. Insects do not have any ‘rights’ as such regarding ethics. That said, we do take measures to not make them ‘suffer unnecessarily’. For example, dissections are done when the ants are anesthetized (either by CO2 or Ice), and when ants need to be killed, we do it in alcohol, which kills the ants in a matter of seconds. So while the ants do not have ‘rights’ as such, we still try to handle them with as much respect as possible (even though the experiment involves infecting them with a deadly fungus).
But even though the 12,000 ants in our study sounds like a lot (and it is), this is negligible in the ‘grand scheme of things’. It has been calculated that in the Netherlands alone, nearly a trillion insects die against just the licence-plates of cars every six months. I don’t own a car, so that means I’m excused right? 😉

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png This is the first evidence for self-medicating insects. How widespread do you think this phenomenon could be in reality?

NB It’s not actually the first evidence for self-medication in insects. Moths and fruit flies definitely do it, and there’s evidence in honey bees and bumble-bees as well. So it seems to be quite wide-spread in the insect world. I have no doubt that as time goes on, there will be more and more cases documented. Insects (and animals in general) seem to be quite good at taking care of themselves.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png How might ants locate healing substances in the wild?

NB Very good question. This is something that’s important to know. If they would only do it in the lab, the behaviour wouldn’t be very interesting. We have some guesses where they might get it from, but at the moment we don’t know yet. That said, I plan to investigate this question (among others) further [in] the next couple of years.

Another file photo of Formica fusca, this time showing foraging workers feeding.
Image: Sedeer El-Showk.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For your PhD you researched ants’ scent-based communications. Could healthy ants perhaps tell other ants are infected and encourage this behaviour?

NB There’s not much known about this. There’s conflicting evidence about whether sick ants actually smell different from healthy ones or not. At the moment it seems that sick ants mostly take care of the problem themselves. Sick ants stop most interaction with nestmates and especially brood, and leave the nest to die in isolation. This is probably for reducing chance of infecting nestmates, but of course it also reduces the work load of their nest-mates, as their corpse doesn’t have to be dragged out etc.
So as an answer to the question, I would find it unlikely that such a behaviour would evolve, but it’s not known yet.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Ants generally avoided the peroxide if they were healthy, but in some circumstances might they try to build resistance against infection in advance?

NB Who knows? Also not known yet unfortunately. That said, there is a very interesting study about resin collection in ants. Wood ants collect tree-resin, which has anti-microbial properties. They collect this even if not infected, and when you infect them, they don’t collect more of the resin than normal. So basically it seems like they collect it in order to keep diseases out of the nest, so they stop the disease before it can actually infect them.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Are there plans to follow this research up? Might you research other species? Other substances?

NB I first want to find out where they get it from in nature. There might be many sources of medicine (recent evidence suggests that tobacco plays a similar role for bumble bees). Dalial Freitak, who is also on this paper is currently running tests with Ph.D. student Siiri Fuchs (who is also on the paper) with other substances to see if any have the same effect as H2O2 [hydrogen peroxide].
Once the behaviour has been well described in this species of ant, I might do a comparison with other species. For example, once we find the source of the medicine in nature… would species without access to this source also have evolved the same behaviour in the lab? And if so… where would they get it from?
Also… can ants medicate their friends? 🙂

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png What other research are you working on right now?

NB Phew…lots! 🙂
I still have some questions left unanswered from my Ph.D. work related to how ants recognize who is a friend and who isn’t. I also started collaborating with Prof. Michael Poulsen from the University of Copenhagen on immunity in fungus-growing termites, as well as their chemical recognition abilities. Furthermore we’re working on social parasitism in wood-ants (ants have lots of animals exploiting the nest for shelter and resources, which all somehow have to get in to the fortress without getting killed).



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November 28, 2014

Finland passes law allowing same-sex marriage

Finland passes law allowing same-sex marriage

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Friday, November 28, 2014

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  • 26 June 2014: Belgian men’s goalball team departs for Finland for World Championships
  • 10 March 2014: Wheelchair curling enters third day at 2014 Winter Paralympics
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Prime Minister Alexander Stubb welcomed the vote.
Image: Frankie Fouganthin.

The Parliament of Finland has voted 105 to 92 today to approve a citizen’s initiative to legalise same-sex marriage. The law now makes marriage gender-neutral and extends adoption rights and the right to use the same surname to same-sex couples.

Prime Minister Alexander Stubb supported the change to the law. Before the vote, he wrote: “Finland should strive to become a society where discrimination does not exist, human rights are respected and two adults can marry regardless of their sexual orientation.” Following the vote, Stubb said he was “sincerely happy that marriage equality, gender equality and human rights prevailed in this issue.”

Stubb also noted the citizen’s initiative process that led to the law being considered by Parliament is “important” and “a demonstration of civic activism.”

Timo Soini from the nationalist opposition Finns Party commented: “For me marriage will remain a union between a man and a woman. I will not change my position. […] This will be the first time we make it normal for children to be removed from their biological roots.” Soini suggested that if his party were to form the next government, it is unlikely they would make same-sex marriage a priority. “I would say that in government formation talks we would focus on the Finnish economy and employment. These kinds of issues would hardly be on the table,” said Soini.

Mika Niikko from the Finns Party said, “This is a question of the future of our children and the whole society, and such changes should not be made without thorough evaluation of their impact.”

Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen from the Christian Democrats Party said the vote represented a “deep question of principle” and “in the future a large group of Finns will continue to consider marriage to be a bond between a man and a woman, and that they will not consider relationships between people of the same gender to be marriages.”

In contrast, Archbishop Kari Mäkinen from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland welcomed the change: “I know how much this day means to the rainbow community, their loved ones and many others. I rejoice with my whole heart for them and with them.”

Archbishop Mäkinen had previously stated: “If the initiative is passed, no one’s marriage will lose any of its value, nor will the position of a single child be endangered. If the initiative is not passed, the recognition of and improvements in the status of sexual minorities will not stop here. Changes in attitudes have taken place and continue to take place.” The future treatment of weddings by the Evangelical Lutheran Church has not yet been determined.

Outside of the Parliament, supporters of same-sex marriage and opponents both turned up to demonstrate, although the former outnumbered the latter. Finland now becomes the 12th country in Europe to allow same-sex marriages, although the law is not going to take effect immediately. The country has had a registered partnerships law for same-sex couples since 2002.



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June 29, 2014

Medal-seeking Spanish men arrive at 2014 Goalball World Championships

Medal-seeking Spanish men arrive at 2014 Goalball World Championships

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

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Spain‘s men’s national goalball team arrived in Espoo, Finland Friday for the start of the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships. The team comes into the tournament with the goal of securing a medal, which would qualify them for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. The team missed the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

Head coach Francisco Monreal said, “The objective is to reach the medal round, and qualify directly for the 2016 Games, but we need to be realistic and not think game by game, we can get a surprise. […] The competition will be decided in one game, head or tails, where it doesn’t matter what happened before.((es))

Coming into the competition, the team was ranked eleventh in the world based on the IBSA Unofficial rankings published late last month, down one spot from the April rankings. The team is scheduled to play their first game against the ninth ranked United States men’s team on Monday morning, before playing twenty-first ranked Germany later in the afternoon. Their other scheduled competitors in pool play are top ranked Iran, third ranked Algeria, seventh ranked Finland, twelfth ranked Czech Republic and twentieth ranked Ukraine. The team needs to finish in the top four in their group to advance to the second round.

The team’s roster includes Jose Daniel Fernández, Cristian Santamaria, Félix Vargas, Roman Martínez, Jesús Santana, and Javier Serrato. They are led by head coach Monreal, with assistant coach Carles Estrany and physiotherapist José Bravo. The team is drawn from around the country, with Santana playing for a club in the Canary Islands, Serrato playing for Valencia, Fernández for Madrid area Chamartín, Santamaría for Cantabria, Vargas coming from Barcelona and Martínez from Aragón.

Absent from the 2012 Summer Paralympics, the last major international competition the team competed in was the 2010 Goalball World Championships in Sheffield, England where the team finished fifth. In last year’s IBSA European Goalball Championships in Turkey, the team finished second, behind World Championship hosts and Paralympic gold medalists Finland.

Goalball was created in 1946, exclusively for people with a visual disability and designed to help with the rehabilitation of veterans returning from World War II. Play in the Paralympics consists of two twelve-minute periods, with a three minute break between halves. Players are blindfolded to ensure all are equally visually handicapped on-court, and the game can be stopped to ensure goggles are properly fitted. Standing in front of a long goal, they throw the ball at the opposition team’s net who in turn try to block it by listening to the ball, which contains a bell, and using their bodies to prevent the ball from going in. The audience is asked to remain silent during play.



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June 26, 2014

Belgian men\’s goalball team departs for Finland for World Championships

Belgian men’s goalball team departs for Finland for World Championships

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

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Belgian national team selfie the day they departed for the World Championship. Pictured are Klison Mapreni, Tom Vanhove and Youssef Bihi
Image: Klison Mapreni.

This morning European time, the Belgium men’s national goalball team departed for Espoo, Finland for the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships. The championship is the biggest competition since the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

The team is scheduled to play their opening game on the morning of June 30 against Brazil men’s national goalball team. They are scheduled to play their second game of pool play against Turkey men’s national goalball team later that afternoon. Their remaining games in pool play are against Canada, Lithuania, Egypt, China and Japan.

The members of the team are Bruno Vanhove, Tom Vanhove, Klison Mapreni, Youssef Bihi, Wassime Amnir and Glenn Van Thournout. They are coached by Jean Claude Meulemans and Werner Van Thournout. 30-year-old teammates Bruno and Tom Vanhove are sextuplet brothers, who have been part of the national goalball program for about ten years. Three of the sextuplets, including Bruno and Tom, are visually impaired. When playing, Bruno can throw the ball at speeds of up to 60 km/hour, while Tom can throw the ball at just under 55 km/hour.

Last month, with all but one of the same roster scheduled to compete at the World Championships, the national team competed at the Belgian-hosted Parantee Paralympic Championships. They lost to Algeria 7–11, defeated Russia 11–5, lost to the United States 3–13, defeated the Netherlands 10–5, narrowly lost to Finland 5–6, and lost to Lithuania 6–13.

Goalball was created in 1946, exclusively for people with a visual disability and designed to help with the rehabilitation of veterans returning from World War II. Play in the Paralympics consists of two twelve-minute periods, with a three minute break between halves. Players are blindfolded to ensure all are equally visually handicapped on-court, and the game can be stopped to ensure goggles are properly fitted. Standing in front of a long goal, they throw the ball at the opposition team’s net who in turn try to block it by listening to the ball, which contains a bell, and using their bodies to prevent the ball from going in. The audience is asked to remain silent during play.



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March 10, 2014

Wheelchair curling enters third day at 2014 Winter Paralympics

Wheelchair curling enters third day at 2014 Winter Paralympics

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Wheelchair curling continued today at the Ice Cube Curling Center at the 2014 Winter Paralympics on difficult playing conditions as a result of the warm temperature outside. In the morning session, the South Korea lost to Russia in the eighth end by a score of 5–7, the United States lost to Canada 2–7 in seven ends, Norway edged out Finland 6–8 in extra ends, and China defeated Sweden 8–4 in seven ends.

At the conclusion of the morning session, round robin standing had Canada in first with 4 wins; Slovakia in second with 3 wins; Russia in third with 3 wins and 1 loss; Great Britain in fourth with 2 wins and 1 loss; China and Norway in fifth with 2 wins and 2 losses; South Korea, Sweden, and the United States in seventh place with 1 win and 3 losses; and Finland last with 4 losses.

Finland and Norway were evenly matched, going point for point in the first pair of ends, trading 2 points each in the next pair of ends, then Norway scored 2 points and 1 point in the next ends with Finland answering back. Tied after eight ends, they went to extra ends which Norway won with 2 points.

Outpacing other curlers on the ice, United States looked like they might be able to come back to tie things after their second end against Canada, and then only being down one after the fourth end, but Canada went on to score points in the next three ends.

While Sweden won three of the seven ends they played against China, they were unable to beat the Chinese team who scored 2 points in two ends and 3 points in another end. In the fourth end, the 3 points came after a precision takeout by the Chinese skip Wang Haitao that cleared two Swedish stones off the sheet.

With the crowd behind them the entire match, Russia came from behind after the first end and third end to tie things up in the fifth end and take the lead. They allowed the South Koreans to score two points in the seventh end to force an eighth end. Russian skip Andrei Smirnov cleared a South Korean stone sitting in front of three Russian stones off the sheet that gave the Russians a two point lead.

The United States has not medaled at the past two Paraympic Games, with their best finish a fourth at the 2010 Games. Of the United States’s curling team, two are returning wheelchair curling Paralympic veterans. James Joseph, the second, competed at the 2006 Winter Paralympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics. The skip and Madison, Wisconsin native, Patrick McDonald, competed at the 2010 Games. Penny Greely, the lead, competed in sitting volleyball at the 2004 Summer Paralympics where she won a bronze medal. David Palmer, the third, is competing at his first games after having a fourth place finish at the 2013 World Championships in Russia and a fifth place finish at the 2012 World Championships in South Korea. Alternate and Cape Cod native Meghan Lino is also at her first Paralympic Games after taking up the sport in 2009.

Sweden’s team has three team members who competed at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada: Jalle Jungnell, Glenn Ikonen, and Patrik Kallin. 60 year old Jungnell has the team’s most Paralympic experience, having competed at the 1988, 1992, and 1996 Summer Paralympics in wheelchair basketball, as well as competing at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Paralympics in wheelchair curling. Finnish born Ikonen had been suspended for six months following the Vancouver Games following a positive doping test. He claimed metroprolol was a drug he had been using for 4 or 5 years, and was unhappy that his doctor prescribed the blood pressure reducing drug because he would not have intentionally taken a banned substance.

The 2014 Games are the first Paralympics for Russia’s wheelchair curling team. Alternate Oksana Slesarenko from Yekaterinburg and skip Andrei Smirnov also from Yekaterinburg have the most experience on the team, both having taken up the sport in 2003, and competing at the 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, and 2013 World Championships.

Team Canada includes all five members of their 2013 World Championship winning team, including 63-year-old skip Jim Armstrong, 51-year-old Dennis John Thiessen, 52-year-old Ina Forrest, 47-year-old Sonja Gaudet, and 37-year-old Mark Ideson. Gaudet is the only wheelchair curling Paralympian with two gold medals, having won them in 2006 and 2010. Teammates Armstrong and Thiessen were part of the 2010 gold medal winning team. Gaudet also has gold medals from the 2009, 2011, and 2013 World Championships. While Armstrong was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1990 for his accomplishments in able bodied curling, Gaudet was the first wheelchair-only curler to be inducted when she was part of the 2013 class.

South Korea has two returning 2010 Games silver medalists, Kang Mi-Suk and Kim Myung-Jin. Both originally played other sports before taking up curling. Kang played table tennis and Kim played wheelchair basketball.

On Saturday, Russia beat China 5–4, South Korea lost to Norway 0–10, Canada beat Great Britain 6–3, and Slovakia defeated the United States 6–4 in the morning session. Sweden beat Finland 7–6, Canada beat Russia 5–4, the United States lost to South Korea 5–9, and Norway lost to China 3–7. In the morning session yesterday, the United States defeated Norway 8–5, Sweden lost to Great Britain by a score of 4–6, China lost to Slovakia 3–8, and Finland lost to Russia 4–7. In the afternoon session yesterday, Canada defeated Sweden 7–4, Finland lost to Slovakia 6–9, and Great Britain beat South Korea by a score of 8–4.

Unlike able-bodied curling, players release the stone from a stationary position and there is no sweeping. Another curler often sits behind the stone thrower to hold their chair in place while they execute their throw. Unlike a number of other Paralympic sports, there is only one classification in wheelchair curling and a variety of lower body disabilities compete in the sport. South Koreans Kim Myung-Jin and Kim Jong-Pan, Swede Kristina Ulander, Team USA’s Meghan Lino, Patrick McDonald, and David Palmer, and Russians Alexander Shevchenko, Svetlana Pakhomova, Oksana Slesarenko, Andrei Smirnov, and Marat Romanov have spinal cord injuries. Canadian Jim Armstrong has injured knees. Canadian Ina Forrest lost her leg in a farming accident. Team USA’s James Joseph has a limb deficiency.

Sochi Wheelchair Curling 3.jpg Team USA confers on a shot
Image: Laura Hale.

Sochi Wheelchair Curling 4.jpg The Russian team confers on a shot
Image: Laura Hale.

Sochi Wheelchair Curling 5.jpg Finland and Norway congratulate eachother following the conclusion of their game
Image: Laura Hale.
Sochi Wheelchair Curling 1.jpg Team USA fans watching the matches
Image: Laura Hale.
Sochi Wheelchair Curling 2.jpg Bagpipers playing before the start of wheelchair curling
Image: Laura Hale.



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October 9, 2013

Japanese adults rank high in literacy and numeracy in OECD survey

Japanese adults rank high in literacy and numeracy in OECD survey

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Members of the OECD
Image: Canuckguy and Emuzesto.

Yesterday, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a 34 member international economic organization founded in 1961 that traces its origins back to the World War II-era Marshall Plan, published results on the state of adult skills in 24 countries, most of them European. Compared to other countries surveyed, Japan ranks as one of the best-performing surveyed countries in both literacy and numeracy.

Internationally, Japan ranks first amongst surveyed countries for literacy proficiency amongst adults. At the highest proficiency level, level 5, Japan is tied with Sweden and ranks as the fourth highest percentage of surveyed nations at 1.2%. Only Finland, at 2.2%, and Australia and the Netherlands, at 1.3%, are higher. Readers at this level synthesize text, compare and contrast ideas and points of view, and process information across multiple sources. Japan has one of the smallest percentages, at 4.3%, of their population at reading proficiency level 1. This means adults have a basic understanding of what they read, can fill out forms and can understanding the meaning of sentences. Amongst young adults aged 16 to 24 years, Japan ranks first amongst surveyed countries, with a mean score comparable to Finland.

Japan ranks first amongst all surveyed countries in numeracy proficiency amongst adults aged 16 to 65 years. When only people aged 16 to 24 years are looked at, Japan finishes third amongst surveyed nations with an average score comparable to Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, South Korea, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Sweden, and the Flanders region of Belgium.

The correlation between individual performance on numeracy and literacy tests in Japan of 0.846 is below the surveyed average of 0.867.

In proficiency at problem solving, Japan finishes tenth amongst surveyed nations. Adults were allowed to opt out of using computers for this test, and Japan had the third largest percentage at 15.9% opting to do so.

The Japanese data said adult literacy skills did not impact on social inequality, and that literacy is not a barrier to social mobility. This contrasts to other countries like the United States where literacy skills correlate to social mobility.

The percentage of adults who have completed university in Japan is above the global average, particularly for people aged 25 to 34 years. Japan is also below the global average in terms of the percentage of the population who have not finished high school. Japan finishes in the middle of surveyed countries based on reading skills required at work.

The results are based on a survey of 166,000 adults from Australia, Austria, Flanders, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, England, Northern Ireland, the United States, Cyprus, and Russia. They survey was conducted from August 2011 to March 2012, with the exceptions of Canada where data was collected from November 2011 to June 2012, and France from September to November 2012.



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September 29, 2013

Finnish female politicians highlighted by World Bank\’s 2012 gender report

Finnish female politicians highlighted by World Bank’s 2012 gender report

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Earlier this week the World Bank released the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development. The report noted relatively high numbers of women participating in Finnish politics, and credited the Council for Equality between Men and Women in Finland with progress.

Pictured in 2003 during a state visit to Brazil, Tarja Halonen was Finland’s first lady President.
Image: Agência Brasil.

Finland bucks the global trend; the report notes globally “the number of women holding parliamentary seats is very low, and progress in the last 15 years has been slow.” Female representation in national parliaments has risen from 10% in 1995 to 17% in 2009. By contrast, Finnish female parliamentarians accounted for 38.5% of new members in 1991, rising to 42.5% in 2011. Finland was one of just nine nations whose total female cabinet members stood at more than 40% in 2008. Globally, females accounted for 17% of ministers, representing a rise from just 8% in 1998.

Although not specifically mentioned by the report, since the millennium the positions of President and Prime Minister have both been held by women; Tarja Halonen became the nation’s first female President in 2000 and in 2010 Mari Kiviniemi was selected to be the second female Prime Minister. Women gained suffrage in 1906 with little opposition, ahead of the US and UK.

Students at a maths lecture at the Helsinki University of Technology
Image: Tungsten.

The cross-party Council for Equality between Men and Women in Finland dates back to the 1970s; the World Bank dismisses its role at that time as “primarily symbolic” with little in the way of staff, funding, or influence. In the 1980s it was handed statutory power for gender equality issues and has gone on to press for reforms in areas including sex work, job training, and quotas on political representation. The report calls the council a “success”.

Education, however, showed gender segregation by subject at the tertiary level; Finland was one of several countries singled out as examples of high gender segregation in economically developed countries, compared to lower levels of segregation in less well-developed nations. Finland is one of the four members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development with the highest segregation by subject alongside Croatia, Japan, and Lithuania.

Finland has very high levels of education enrollment for both boys and girls, at almost 100% at primary level. Females are ahead of men in tertiary education enrollment, with 46% of men in the relevant age group enrolling in 1991 and 52% of women. By 2009 these numbers stood at 82% and 101% respectively.

Boys and girls were neck and neck with high scores in their 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment maths tests, both averaging around 540. Literacy also produced very high scores but with a gender gap; boys averaged around 510 while girls averaged around 560.

Internet access in Finland is high with men slightly ahead; for men and women alike access stands at around 85%. Finns have a legal right to a 1Mbps broadband connection and authorities plan to have 100Mbps connections for every citizen by 2015. The proportion of women teleworking at least 25% of the time has risen from around 7% in 2000–1 to 9% in 2005; the male figure was at 9% in 2005 and is now 15–20%. Rapid teleworking growth is a global trend but the report notes the female figures generally grew faster.

Marketplace activities also show gender disparity in Finland. Of activities performed by men and women, the female share stands at 41%, versus 63% for domestic activities such as housework. From 2006–9 services accounted for 87% of female and 56% of male employment. 10% of women and 37% of men were employed in industry and agriculture was only a minor employer, with 6% of male employment and 3% of female employment.

Life expectancy for Finnish men has risen from 71 years in 1990 to 77 years in 2009; in the same period, women’s life expectancy increased from 79 years to 83 years. The population stands at 5 million, representing a 0.4% annual growth rate from 2000 to 2010.



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February 22, 2013

Austria leads medal count at 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Following the second full day of competition at the IPC Alpine World Championships in La Molina, Spain yesterday, Austria led the medal race with three gold medals, a silver, and a bronze. Markus Salcher won gold in the men’s standing downhill on Wednesday, with Matthias Lanzinger also making the podium in the bronze medal position. Claudia Lösch earned a gold in the women’s sitting Super-G event. Slacher and Lanzinger went gold/silver yesterday in the men’s standing Super-G to round out Austria’s medal total.

Solene Jambaque of France in the Super-G event at the 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships in La Molina, Spain.
Image: Laura Hale.

France leads in the total medal count with six, two of each kind. Yohann Taberlet won a bronze in the men’s sitting downhill. Marie Bochet won a gold and Solene Jambaque won a bronze in the women’s standing downhill. In the Super-G, Bochet and Jambaque went gold/silver. Taberlet earned a silver in the Super-G.

With only eighteen medals available a day, a number of countries have failed to make the medal podium. They include the Netherlands, with Anna Jochemsen finishing ninth in the women’s standing class in the Super-G yesterday, and Finland with Katja Saarinen finishing tenth in the same event. Australia’s Mitchell Gourley finished eleventh in the men’s standing Super-G. Czech competitor Oldrich Jelinek finished sixteenth in the men’s sitting Super-G. Arly Velasquez of Mexico finished fifteenth in the men’s sitting Super-G. New Zealand‘s Adam Hall finished ninth in the men’s standing Super-G. Poland’s men’s visually impaired skier Maciej Krezel and guide Anna Ogarzynska finished thirteenth in the Super-G. South Korea’s Jong Seork Park finished twenty-fourth in the men’s sitting Super-G. Turkey’s Erik Bayindirli finished nineteenth in the men’s sitting Super-G.

Competition is scheduled to resume tomorrow with the slalom event after events were cancelled today because of predicted poor weather.

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Flag of Austria.png AUT 3 1 1 5
2 Flag of France.png FRA 2 2 2 6
3 Flag of Spain.png ESP 2 0 0 2
4 Flag of Germany.svg GER 1 2 1 4
5 Flag of Russia.png RUS 1 1 1 3
5 Flag of the United States.png USA 1 1 1 3
7 Flag of Japan (geometric).png JPN 1 0 1 2
8 Flag of Slovakia.png SVK 1 0 0 1
9 Flag of Canada.png CAN 0 2 1 3
10 Flag of Great Britain with border.png GBR 0 1 2 3
10 Flag of Switzerland.svg SUI 0 1 2 3
12 Flag of Italy.png ITA 0 1 0 1



Related news

  • “Spain starts 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships with first and fifth place finishes” — Wikinews, February 20, 2013
  • “Spaniard Jon Santacana wins downhill at 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships” — Wikinews, February 20, 2013
  • “Slovak Henrieta Farkašová wins downhill event at 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships” — Wikinews, February 20, 2013

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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

Austria leads medal count after second day of 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships

Austria leads medal count after second day of 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Following the second full day of competition at the IPC Alpine World Championships in La Molina, Spain yesterday, Austria led the medal race with three gold medals, a silver, and a bronze. Markus Salcher won gold in the men’s standing downhill on Wednesday, with Matthias Lanzinger also making the podium in the bronze medal position. Claudia Lösch earned a gold in the women’s sitting Super-G event. Slacher and Lanzinger went gold/silver yesterday in the men’s standing Super-G to round out Austria’s medal total.

Solene Jambaque of France in the Super-G event at the 2013 IPC Alpine World Championships in La Molina, Spain.
Image: Laura Hale.

France leads in the total medal count with six, two of each kind. Yohann Taberlet won a bronze in the men’s sitting downhill. Marie Bochet won a gold and Solene Jambaque won a bronze in the women’s standing downhill. In the Super-G, Bochet and Jambaque went gold/silver. Taberlet earned a silver in the Super-G.

With only eighteen medals available a day, a number of countries have failed to make the medal podium. They include the Netherlands, with Anna Jochemsen finishing ninth in the women’s standing class in the Super-G yesterday, and Finland with Katja Saarinen finishing tenth in the same event. Australia’s Mitchell Gourley finished eleventh in the men’s standing Super-G. Czech competitor Oldrich Jelinek finished sixteenth in the men’s sitting Super-G. Arly Velasquez of Mexico finished fifteenth in the men’s sitting Super-G. New Zealand’s Adam Hall finished ninth in the men’s standing Super-G. Poland’s men’s visually impaired skier Maciej Krezel and guide Anna Ogarzynska finished thirteenth in the Super-G. South Korea’s Jong Seork Park finished twenty-fourth in the men’s sitting Super-G. Turkey’s Erik Bayindirli finished nineteenth in the men’s sitting Super-G.

Competition is scheduled to resume tomorrow with the slalom event after events were cancelled today because of predicted poor weather.

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Flag of Austria.png AUT 3 1 1 5
2 Flag of France.png FRA 2 2 2 6
3 Flag of Spain.svg ESP 2 0 0 2
4 Flag of Germany.svg GER 1 2 1 4
5 Flag of Russia.png RUS 1 1 1 3
5 Flag of the United States.png USA 1 1 1 3
7 Flag of Japan (geometric).png JPN 1 0 1 2
8 Flag of Slovakia.png SVK 1 0 0 1
9 Flag of Canada.png CAN 0 2 1 3
10 Flag of Great Britain with border.png GBR 0 1 2 3
10 Flag of Switzerland.svg SUI 0 1 2 3
12 Flag of Italy.png ITA 0 1 0 1



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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.


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