News and Views


A new Pew Research Center analysis finds that, as of 2014, about a quarter of the world’s countries and territories (26%) had anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and that more than one-in-ten (13%) nations had laws or policies penalizing apostasy. The legal punishments for such transgressions vary from fines to death. — Pew Research Center, 8/2/2016

There hasn’t been a mosque in the Greek capital in 150 years. That’s about to change. The Greek parliament approved plans to build a state-funded mosque near the center of Athens. Construction will cost around $1 million. Athens was the last European Union capital without a mosque, despite the estimated 300,000 Muslims living there, many of them from the Balkans. — The Atlantic, 8/4/2016

The Vatican is hopeful it can improve ties with China after decades of tension, the Roman Catholic Church’s highest-ranking diplomat said. Beijing severed links with the Vatican in 1951 shortly after the Communist Party took power and launched a crackdown on organized religion, with China’s new rulers setting up their own church and appointing bishops without the pope’s backing. For China, good relations could burnish its international image and soften criticism of its human rights record. “One has to be realistic and accept that there are a number of problems that need resolving between the Holy See and China and that often, because of their complexity, they can generate different points of view,” Parolin said. — Reuters, 8/27/2016

The New York Times’ Washington bureau editor quit Twitter, saying the platform had not done enough to combat surging anti-Semitism. About 65 percent of young adults on the web have faced some level of harassment there, according to a 2014 Pew report. The numbers are especially bleak for young women: in a 2016 Australian study, more than 75 percent of women under 30 reported experiencing some form of abuse or harassment online. — Religious News Service (RNS), 6/28/2016


In rural Kenya, solar panels are replacing kerosene generators, providing cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy. Until recently, solar power has been elusive for residents in Kenya because of the high startup costs. However, recent advancements have led to solar cells that are less expensive, sturdier and able to produce more wattage. — Newsweek, 7/15/2016

Costa Rica ran on 100 percent renewable energy for 76 straight days between June and August this year, demonstrating that life without fossil fuels is possible for small countries, according to Costa Rica’s National Centre for Energy Control. The country has been powered on a mix of hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar energy, with hydro power providing about 80 percent of the total electricity in the month of August. Just like 2015, when Costa Rica managed to power itself for a total of 299 days without burning oil, coal, or natural gas, 2016’s milestone was helped along by heavy rainfalls at the country’s four hydroelectric power facilities. While the achievement is undoubtedly impressive, it’s important to note that Costa Rica’s success is largely due to its size. —, 9/8/2016

One of the most acclaimed designers in motorsport history has created the world’s first flat-pack vehicle. Gordon Murray, designer of such cars as the McLaren F1 supercar, has created a two-wheel drive off-road van made from plywood, the Ox. It is aimed at remote areas of the world like Africa, where transporting food, equipment and other supplies over rough terrain is difficult. The body parts, seats and windscreen are flat and fit into the same box. A team of three non-experts can fully assemble an Ox in less than 12 hours. Six Ox kits, complete with engines — the same 98 bhp motors that power the Ford Transit — can be fitted into a standard 40ft shipping container and the vehicles require no special tools to be built. The Ox itself is around the same length as a Ford Focus but can carry up to two tons despite its construction. —, 9/8/2016

Across all age groups, the U.S. homeownership rate — at 62.9 percent — has now fallen to its lowest level in more than five decades. Among younger Americans only, things look especially paltry. Homeownership rates among Americans under age 35 are barely more than half the national number, at just 34.1 percent. This too is a record low. Today about a third of 18-to-34-year-olds live with their parents. And for the first time since at least 1880, a greater share of this age group is bunking up with Mom and Dad than living in any other arrangement. Things have gotten so dire that young adults have now replaced the elderly as the age group most likely to live in multigenerational households, according to the Pew Research Center. — Washington Post, 8/22/2016

Record visitors at Yellowstone Park in Wyoming have transformed its annual summer rush into a sometimes dangerous frenzy, with selfie-taking tourists routinely breaking park rules and getting too close to storied elk herds, grizzly bears, wolves and bison. Such problems are on the rise across the National Park System. In July alone, enforcement rangers handled more than 11,000 incidents at the 10 most visited national parks. In Yellowstone, rangers are recording more wildlife violations, more people treading on sensitive thermal areas and more camping in off-limit areas. — AP, 8/29/2016

Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim countries in the world where prostitution is legal. When a young sex worker enters the brothel she is called a bonded girl. Bonded girls are usually 12 to 14 years old, come from poor families and are often victims of trafficking. They have no freedom or rights. They belong to a madam, have debts and are not allowed to go outside or keep their money. From the moment that a woman has paid her debts, she is free to leave the brothel. But these women are socially stigmatized outside their “homes” and thus often choose to stay and continue supporting their families with their earnings. — Washington Post, 8/29/2016

An Austrian museum team has recovered two giant tusks and other remnants of what experts say are apparently the remains of a rare mammoth breed, after construction crews unearthed them while working on an Austrian freeway. Officials of Vienna’s Museum of Natural History said the tusks are about 2½ meters (more than 8 feet) long. Also found at the site 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Vienna were parts of the animal’s vertebrae. Museum expert Oleg Mandic describes the discovery as “pretty sensational.” — AP, 8/29/2016


Almost 35% of all 358 of Turkey’s Armed Forces generals and admirals are in detention for participating in a July coup attempt outside the armed forces hierarchy. — Al Monitor, 7/22/2016 Fifty-eight percent of French people now see security and terrorism as their main concern, according to an Ifop poll taken July 27-29. In a country where joblessness is near a record high, only 17 percent still name unemployment as their top issue. The poll also showed that nearly three-quarters of voters want potential terrorists to be arrested on the grounds that in the current context the state must “take no risks.” — Bloomberg, 8/10/2016

Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, has been released from jail in Zintan, a town in western Libya, after spending nearly five years there since his capture in 2011. After his father was killed by rebel groups, Seif tried to leave Libya. Sources close to him say that he has already started contacting people inside Libya and abroad who are supporting him, trying to come up with his own plan to salvage the country. The majority of tribes that supported his father in the 2011 civil war see him as a savior, and are willing to support him as their de facto leader in any political process to bring about national reconciliation and reunify the country. — Al-Monitor, 7/22/2016

Italy is probing into the possibility of negligence in following building codes after the devastating earthquake in the town of Amatrice, just north of Rome. Investigations are focusing on a number of structures, including an elementary school that crumbled despite being renovated in 2012 to resist earthquakes at a cost of $785,000. Questions also surround a bell tower that collapsed, killing a family of four sleeping in a neighboring house. The tower also had been recently restored with special funds donated after the last earthquake. — AP, 8/29/2016


Hugh Richard Louis Grosvenor, who became the 7th Duke of Westminster after the sudden death of his father, has become the youngest billionaire among the world’s 400 richest people. As duke, the 25-year-old now heads his family’s $12.3 billion estate, which includes real estate, and an interest in a London-based real estate firm. Grosvenor is four years younger than Wal-Mart Inc. heir Lukas Walton, the next youngest billionaire, who inherited the bulk of his father’s fortune. Facebook Inc. cofounders Dustin Moskovitz and Mark Zuckerberg are next at age 32. — Bloomberg News, 8/10/2016

$100 billion — the amount of U.S. endowment funds representing foundations, family offices and colleges. $53 trillion — total asset-managed funds in the U.S. — Bloomberg, 8/29/2016

In the drought-prone West, California farmers are in a constant search for ways to efficiently use the increasingly scarce resource. Drones for farming, according to the drone industry’s Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, are now appearing throughout California with the ability to detect leaks in areas where it is difficult for farmers to see. Beyond California, drones are becoming fixtures on farms in places such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and Latin America. A farmer can order a commercial-grade drone online for $2,000 and receive it in the mail days later. Its video camera is then paired up with a smartphone or computer tablet that is used to control the drone. — AP, 8/29/2016


When American Bryan Kovach agreed to volunteer for an excavation north of the Sea of Galilee last week, he had no idea he would personally uncover one of the most historic archeological discoveries in the Middle East. During the dig in Tel-Hazor — the largest Biblical-era site in Israel — Kovach found a large limestone fragment of an Egyptian statue depicting an ancient official’s foot. Only the lower part of the statue survived, showing a foot standing on a square base, in which a few lines in Egyptian hieroglyphic script are inscribed, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced. The importance of Hazor in the Biblical period is verified in Joshua 11:10, where Hazor is called “the head of all those kingdoms.” — Jerusalem Post, 7/25/2016

In a scientific breakthrough, Tel Aviv University researchers have found a way to identify cancerous cells months before they develop into malignant brain tumors. Even after tumors caused by melanoma — also known as skin cancer — are removed, metastatic melanoma cells can disseminate undetected to other parts of the body, including the brain. Once they reach the brain, patients are usually inoperable. But a study published in the medical journal Cancer Research was able to track how metastatic cells can take advantage of the brain’s natural response to damage or injury in order to spur their own growth. Dr. Neta Erez’s new findings would allow for early detection of brain cancers and permit intervention. — The Tower, 7/28/2016

A synagogue dating back to the end of the Second Temple era was discovered on the Tel Recheš Peak in the Galilee in a rare and unique archaeological find. Diggers also discovered one of the two foundational pillars supporting the synagogue’s roof. The finding reveals insights into customs of the ancient Jewish community and sheds light on watershed moments in Jewish history. Prior to the recent discovery, archaeologists already suspected the presence of a Jewish community on the peak. According to Dr. Aviam the find also marks an important milestone for the Christian world. “The New Testament describes how Jesus delivered sermons in a synagogue in Capernaum and other synagogues in the Galilee,” he explained. — Ynet News, 8/14/2016

While opposition leaders keep silent over growing Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, the United States has been issuing rapid-fire condemnations of the government’s actions. In a little over one month, the US State Department has issued no fewer than four reactions against the Israeli government, each harsher than the one before. State Department spokesman John Kirby said President Barack Obama’s administration has been holding “tough discussions” with the Israeli leadership on this issue and discussing with international allies ways to confront these moves, which “raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions.” In a report published by the Institute of National Security Studies, researcher Zaki Shalom notes that the series of US protests could indicate that the administration is preparing the backdrop and diplomatic-ideological justification for an American decision to abstain from vetoing a UN Security Council initiative to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the period between the November presidential elections and the January 20 swearingin of the new president. — Al Monior, 8/23/2016

Palestinian workers affiliated to international aid organizations were charged with abetting the terror organization that rules Gaza. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, reported that the Gaza director of the Christian non-profit Organization, World Vision, admitted to diverting some $7.2 million per year to Hamas. The funds, collected from charitable donations around the world, were earmarked for humanitarian aid in the coastal enclave. — Ynet News, 8/12/2016

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s recent visit to Israel has sparked controversy and raised questions as to why Egypt is trying to resolve the Palestinian cause while drawing closer to Israel. A diplomatic source in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, “The Egyptian role in solving the IsraeliPalestinian conflict stems from the fact that the Palestinian cause is an Egyptian responsibility even before it is an Arab responsibility.” Concerning the nature of recent Egyptian movements, he stressed that they “support international efforts, particularly French efforts, at a time when the United States is preoccupied with presidential elections scheduled for this November.” He ascribed this to the fact that “Cairo has no independent vision or plans concerning these regional or international proposals.” — Al Monitor, 7/21/2016

Egyptian authorities have claimed that the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas has been crucial to the rise of ISIS-Sinai Province, transforming it from “a gang of Bedouin with light weapons into a well-trained, well-armed group of 800 militants.” In December, an ISIS commander met with Hamas officials to increase cooperation between the terrorist groups, especially in the area of arms smuggling. This isn’t the first time that ISIS has pledged to attack Israel. In a video released in October, a masked ISIS terrorist threatened Israel in Hebrew, saying: “We promise you that soon, not one Jew will be left [alive] in Jerusalem or across Israel and we will continue until we eradicate this disease [Judaism?] from the world.” — The Tower, 8/3/2016


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