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Religious

2013 -Mar/April Issue -Article 6

 

Dutch authorities approved a motion abandoning a law under which it is a crime to insult God. A majority of parties in parliament said the blasphemy law was no longer relevant in the 21st Century. The legislation, introduced in the 1930s, has not been invoked in the last half century. — BBC, 11/28/2012

People with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest global group in a new study of the size of the world’s faiths, placing after Christians and Muslims and just before Hindus. The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths most likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects. Overall, 84 percent of the world’s inhabitants, which it estimated at 6.9 billion, identify with a religion, according to the study entitled “The Global Religious Landscape” issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. — Reuters, 12/18/2012

For years, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ fiercely-held belief that blood transfusions are contrary to God’s will led to public disputes, hospitals clashing with parents over whether to infuse sick children. That long history of messy legal confrontations appears to be vanishing … on both sides. The church’s ban on accepting blood still stands, but some major pediatric hospitals have begun officially acknowledging the parents’ unorthodox beliefs, while many Jehovah’s Witnesses are signing letters recognizing that doctors may sometimes feel obliged to transfuse, they say. — National Post, 12/20/2012

A new report from the International Humanist and Ethical Union names the seven countries in which atheists can be executed for their beliefs: Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. — Reuters, 12/11/2012

Poland’s top court has ruled that the religious slaughter of animals is illegal, weeks before an EU law allowing the practice takes effect. The Constitutional Tribunal said it was against Polish law to allow animals to have their throats cut and bleed to death without first being stunned. Poland has small Muslim and Jewish communities who use such methods. — BBC, 11/28/2012

In Columbia, the so-called Anusim or Marranos, Jews from Spain who fled the Inquisition and converted to Christianity, had found refuge. Today, they are embracing their Jewish heritage. The journey back to Judaism began after the minister of a 3,000-member evangelical church visited Israel in 1998 and 2003 and began to feel the pull of Judaism. They were committed evangelicals, believing in Jesus and preaching fire and brimstone, who were awakened to Judaism. At the University of Antioquia, a geneticist found that 14 percent of the men there are related to the Kohanim, a priestly Jewish class. — Washington Post, 11/24/2012

The Amish are, by one measure, the fastest-growing faith community in the US. Yet as their numbers grow, the land available to support the agrarian lifestyle that underpins their faith is shrinking, gobbled up by the encroachment of exurban mansions and their multi-door garages. The result is, in some ways, a gradual redefinition of what it means to be Amish. Some in the younger generation are looking for new ways to make a living on smaller and smaller slices of land. Others are looking beyond the Amish heartland of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, seeking more space in states such as Texas, Maine, and Montana. — Christian Science Monitor, 11/30/2012

Social

Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean has dropped to its lowest level in three decades according to U.N. regional economic chief Alicia Barcena. 167 million people, about 29 percent of the population, live in poverty. — AP, 11/28/2012

The number of adults in prison in the U.S. fell to its lowest level in 2011 since 2000, according to the Justice Department. Almost 7 million people were under some kind of supervision by federal, state or local corrections officers. — Arizona Republic, 11/30/2012

Crops could soon be grown in greenhouses the size of skyscrapers in city centers. Food producers are investigating building “plantscrapers,” which could accommodate hundreds of stories worth of crops, in a bid to make farming more economical, sustainable and meet increasing demand. The ‘vertical farms’ would use an innovative feeding system which nourishes plants with enriched water, therefore cancelling out the need for soil -and the need for food to be grown and harvested in the countryside. — Daily Mail, 12/31/2012

Neuroscientists have known for a while that odor receptors in the nose send signals to the brain’s taste center, also known as the gustatory cortex. But does the converse happen? Do taste receptors in the tongue talk to the smell center, the olfactory cortex? New research suggests the answer is yes. The smell center gets and uses information from the tongue even if an animal is not consciously sniffing — or even inhaling. The experiments are reported in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. — Washington Post, 12/3/2012

Mosquito control officials in the Florida Keys are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for an experiment that would release hundreds of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the risk of dengue fever in Key West. The mosquitoes would pass along a birth defect that kills their progeny before reaching maturity. The idea is that they will mate with wild females and their children will die before reproducing. Dengue fever is a viral disease that inflicts severe flu-like symptoms. — AP, 12/9/2012

The 2010 census found 80 percent of the 53,364 people age 100 and older are women. —USA Today, 12/14/2012

Research in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that a compound found in chicken soup — carnosine — helped the body’s immune system to fight the early stages of flu. The authors warned this benefit ended as soon as the soup was excreted by the body, so that means you may need to have a fairly constant supply. — Daily Mail, 12/23/2012

Researchers found that adults performed much better in a creative test after spending four days in the great outdoors disconnected from modern technology. They say it is the first time that scientists have proven being in a park or woodland can improve your problem-solving skills. — Daily Mail, 12/13/2012

While the murder rate has been falling for 20 years, over the past ten years the number of people getting shot has actually increased. The murder rate continues to fall because if you get shot and then the emergency room staff saves your life, there’s no murder. And emergency medicine has gotten much better. A related development in terms of improved battlefield medicine is one reason that many fewer American soldiers died in Iraq and Afghanistan than lost their lives in Vietnam. — Wall Street Journal, 12/16/2012

Twitter announced that it has reached 200 million monthly active users worldwide. That makes it either the second or third largest social network in the world, depending on what figures you use for Qzone, a Chinese Facebook substitute. More impressive is the speed at which it has reached that milestone. It was only last fall [2011] that Twitter reached the 100-million user mark, meaning that it has doubled in size in the past 15 months. — The Slate, 12/18/2012

Political

In the five decades since the fall of Saigon, Vietnam has become a major exporter to the West and Asia. Average incomes have risen and poverty is down, according to the World Bank. The U.S. based analytical firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has forecast that Vietnam’s economy will grow almost 9 percent in the near future. — USA Today, 11/28/2012

Chinese leaders issued an order last year quietly directing universities to root out foreigners suspected of plotting against the Communist Party by converting students to Christianity. The 16-page notice, obtained by a U.S.-based Christian group, uses language from the cold war era to depict a conspiracy by “overseas hostile forces” to infiltrate Chinese campuses under the guise of academic exchanges while their real intent is to use religion in “westernizing and dividing China.” — Washington Post, 12/18/2012

Bangladesh’s $20 billion-a-year garment industry accounts for 80 percent of its total export earnings. Bangladesh exports more garments than any other country in the world except China. It is responsible for 4 out of every 5 export dollars and has turned factory owners into members of parliament and leaders of sports clubs. An important reason for their success is cheap labor. Almost a third of the South Asian country of 150 million lives in extreme poverty, making about $38 month. — AP, 11/28/2012

A new opinion poll indicates a growing support for political Islam in France, with nearly 70 percent of respondents advocating establishment of Islamic political parties in the country. The results of the new survey show a growing support for and declining opposition to the idea of forming Islamic parties in France, as a previous IFOP poll in 2011 indicated that 52 percent of the respondents agreed with the issue while 45 percent of them opposed the idea. — Press TV, 11/22/2012

After nearly a decade of strife made the country a no-go zone for tourists, Zimbabwe is now undergoing a major economic revival, more political stability — and the return of its legendary safari guides. — Wall Street Journal, 12/29/2012

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered at Egypt’s presidential palace and in Tahrir Square to protest a draft constitution and a recent decree by President Mohamed Morsi giving him sweeping powers. Before a date for the constitutional referendum was set, the president had issued a constitutional declaration that shields his decisions from judicial oversight and protects the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council from dissolution by court order. — Ahram Online, 12/4/2012

Nearly a decade ago, Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf began promoting the use of compressed natural gas, or CNG, in private vehicles. The idea was to reduce the money the government spent on buying oil internationally and instead rely on Pakistan’s domestic natural gas reserves while also cutting pollution. The policy was so successful that the 3.5 million private vehicles now running on CNG, more than 80 percent of the vehicles can’t get natural gas due to shortages. The fields are expected to run dry by 2022. The government is now trying to wean drivers back onto gasoline. — AP, 12/16/2012

Financial

The richest people on the planet got even richer in 2012, adding $241 billion to their collective net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals. The aggregate net worth of the world’s top moguls stood at $1.9 trillion at the market close on Dec. 31, according to the index. Of the 100 people who appeared on the final ranking of 2012, only 16 registered a net loss for the 12-month period. — Bloomberg, 1/1/2013

Mexican cartels were first detected growing marijuana in national forests in California in 1995. Now the practice has spread to 20 states and 67 national forests, according to David Ferrell, the Forest Service’s law enforcement and investigations director. In 2011 over 6 million plants were eradicated in outdoor plots. Drug organizations find it easier to “grow within this country” than to risk bringing the drug across the border. Growers cut down trees and use poisons, fertilizers and insecticides that can damage streams. — USA Today, 12/14/2012

In a deal that highlights the dwindling stature of what was once a centerpiece of capitalism, the New York Stock Exchange is being sold for $8 billion to Intercontinental Exchange, a 12-year old Atlanta exchange that deals in futures contracts. The NYSE dates to 1792, when 24 brokers and merchants traded stocks under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. Today, most trading is done on computers that match thousands of orders a second. — AP, 12/21/2012

Anonymous “layaway angels” have swelled into a national phenomenon. From Toys “R” Us to Wal-Mart, philanthropic Americans opted to help those in need rather than indulge in commercialism at the holidays. Donors asked store personnel to identify layaway accounts that include toys and children’s items and then pay the balances off anonymously. — USA Today, 12/21/2012

Obesity is a bigger health crisis globally than hunger, and the leading cause of disabilities around the world, according to a new report published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Nearly 500 researchers from 50 countries compared health data from 1990 through 2010. “We discovered that there’s been a huge shift in mortality. Kids who used to die from infectious disease are now doing extremely well with immunization,” said Ali Mokdad, co-author of the study. Every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82% globally in the past two decades. — CNN, 12/14/2012

The Treasury Department is ready with its plan to return General Motors to full private ownership by selling its remaining 500 million shares in the company over the next fifteen months by accepting a net loss that will total a few billion dollars. The original investment in the company was to the tune of $49.5 billion of which Treasury has already recouped $28.7 billion through repayments, sales of stock, dividends, and interest. That leaves a net $20.8 billion investment. After several liquidation steps, the current share price would leave the government with about a $15 billion total loss which will be offset by TARP investment gains in the banking sector. — MoneyBox, 12/19/2012

Top Technologies of 2012, per technologists

(1) The iPhone5 with Google Maps
(2) The iPad and the iPad Mini
(3) Google Voice Search
(4) Workflowy (5) Card.io (6) Square
(7) Same-day delivery (from many retailers)
— Slate.com, 12/2012

Israel

The United Nations General Assembly voted 138-9 to grant Palestine nonmember state status. There were 41 abstentions. Israel said that peace can only be achieved through negotiations, not by unilateral declarations. — USA Today, 11/30/2012

During the eight-day military conflict between Hamas and Israel [November 14-21], Hamas broadcast various ideological messages on its official Al- Aqsa TV station. One recurring message called for the killing of Jews, which Hamas defined as a religious Islamic act in worship of Allah. During one music video, these words were shown on the screen: “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” — Palestinian Media Watch, 11/27/2012

Police have been asked to take “proactive measures” to prevent further anti-Semitic incidents across Britain, after November’s Israel-Gaza clashes prompted a spike in anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitic incidents, suggested a possible doubling in the total number took place during one week in the London area as a result of violence in the Middle East. — Politics. com.UK, 11/10/2012

Israeli and Jewish officials in Denmark warned Jews to avoid openly wearing religious symbols and dress when moving about Copenhagen amid rising anti-Israeli sentiment. Visitors were also advised not to “speak Hebrew loudly” or demonstrably wear Star of David jewelry. The warnings came a few weeks after an attack on the Israeli embassy in Copenhagen in which no one was hurt. Denmark’s Jewish community is estimated at between 6,000 and 8,000 people. — AFP, 12/12/2012

The Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Google, launched The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, a new website that allows visitors to view and search high-resolution images of the complete Dead Sea Scrolls archive online. The project uses the most advanced and innovative technologies available to image the entire collection of about 930 manuscripts, comprising thousands of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, in high resolution and multiple spectra. Through this process, hundreds of images are now accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world over the web, with many thousands more on the way. Several hundred fragments are already viewable, and it is hoped that transcriptions and translations for many scrolls will soon be available as well. — Bible History Daily, 12/18/2012

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of a temple and cache of sacred vessels dating back to the First Temple period, providing a unique archaeological glimpse into public religion in the early monarchy before the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah. The 2,750-year-old ritual center was discovered at Tel Motza on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. — Bible History Daily, 12/27/2012

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