Monday, September 24, 2012

Blasphemy, Poverty, and Cults (Link Round-Up 9/24/12)

[via Reddit]

Eastern Germany has world's highest proportion of atheists
When we look at western Germany however, we see that there Catholics are in a majority and indeed, political power in West Germany has traditionally been built on western-orientated Catholic support for the Christian Democratic Union in the south and west. Indeed, the first chancellor of postwar West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, had been mayor of Cologne in the 1930s and even then was in favour of the division of Germany and a "Rhineland Alliance" as a sort of precursor of the European Union.

What all of this means is that rather than simply just being an area that was occupied by the Soviet Union and their satraps in the East German Communist party, the eastern part of Germany has an identity which – almost a quarter of a century on – continues to make unification more difficult than expected. Religious confession, or rather the lack of it, plays an important role in this. This has led some to talk of East German atheism as a form of continuing political and regional identification. For example, in 2000 the Catholic theologian Eberhard Tiefensee identified what he called an "East German folk atheism" which could be argued to constitute a substantial part of a regional identity against West German Catholic domination.
Egyptian atheist arrested on blasphemy charges
Saber was originally arrested over claims that he published the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” on Facebook, but when it emerged that there was no evidence to support the claim, he was later charged on the basis of an atheist video that he had made.

Two days after protests and clashes between security forces and protesters broke out over the film near the US Embassy on 11 September, neighbors of Saber claimed that he shared the anti-Islam YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” on his Facebook account, which led an angry mob to storm Saber’s house in Marg district, kicking out Saber and his mother.

Kariman Meseha, Saber’s mother, told journalists attending a press conference at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression yesterday that she called the police to protect her son, but once police arrived, it was Saber who was arrested, not those who attacked his home.
Scientology makes its way to India 
There is no way of confirming the exact number of Indian Scientologists, but an estimated 6,000-7,000 individuals have taken various Scientology courses offered by the Delhi mission. According to Kumar, there are around 25 committed Scientologists in Mumbai. By year-end, this figure is likely to rise dramatically, when Kumar, with the help of other Scientologists, establishes the faith’s Mumbai chapter.

Unlike on other shores, Scientology has been gaining adherents in India rather quietly. Perhaps this explains why the Delhi mission’s founders refused to answer any queries for this article, despite Open’s persistence.

Here in India, its religious aspect is kept muted—its set-up is termed a ‘mission’, not ‘church’, and no conversions are held—and is promoted as an organisation that offers various self-help courses to make one excel in assorted aspects of life, be it by way of one’s state of mind or success in business.
MEK is a power-hungry cult (and future US foreign policy mistake)
The MEK says it renounced the use of force in 2003, a claim that Hillary Clinton has now accepted. For its part, the Iraqi government sees the MEK not only as the enemies of its Iranian allies but also as a militia that was paid millions of dollars by Saddam Hussein to repress Kurdish and Shia rebellions. It has also complained that the MEK’s base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, has become a no-go area: a state within a state.

Many in Iraq, and other dispassionate observers, such as the Rand Corporation, believe that MEK is also a cult. It is led in perpetuity by a married couple, Mariam and Masoud Rajavi, who require their most active members to divorce and get rid of their children. Former residents of Camp Ashraf who have left the MEK say that they were allowed just one phone call a year to talk to their children. The MEK claims the divorces are voluntary and enable members to focus more intensely on regime change. As for the children sent to pro-MEK foster families in Europe and North America, the MEK says it’s for their own good.

Aware of these bizarre practices and not trusting the renunciation of violence, some State Department officials argued against delisting. But the process was driven by a different concern: the fear that Iraq’s hostility to the MEK would result in a massacre and that Clinton would be blamed for having ignored all the warnings from pro-MEK lobbyists that a bloodbath was imminent.
Slumdog Millionaire child stars still live in poverty
"I am very grateful to Danny Uncle because whatever we are is because of him. If he had not come into our lives nothing would have changed," says Rubina.

But for the people he appointed to look after them and those who promised them the earth and delivered nothing, the children have only contempt and anger.

The trust stuck Azhar in a down-at-heel neighbourhood and took three more years to find Rubina a permanent home. Last month, she says, the trust told her it would not pay to make the house habitable.

"I am feeling very angry about what has happened, but what to do? The trust says that Danny Boyle has done what he wanted to do and we are to take care of ourselves."
Where's the Arab Deng Xiaoping?
Deng oversaw the creation of eighteen hypercapitalist “special economic zones” in the 1980s in coastal provinces, where industrial manufacture could easily be brought to port for sale on the international market. Incentives like preferential tax exemptions welcomed overseas business interests to invest in the new Chinese industry that blossomed there.
The results for the Chinese ancestral homeland were, as we know, monumental. Between 1979 and 2005, the number of Chinese living below the poverty line dropped by roughly 70 percent, according to the World Bank.
First ever Etruscan pyramids found in Italy
According to Bizzarri, there are at least five Etruscan pyramids under the city. Three of these structures have yet to be excavated.

"Clearly, they are not quarries or cisterns. I would say that there is nothing like these structures on record anywhere in Italy," Bizzarri said.

According to George, the underground pyramids could represent some sort of a religious structure or a tomb. In both cases, it would be a discovery without precedent.
You can harvest uranium from seawater
Next time you go to the beach, think about this: You’re swimming in nuclear fuel. Our oceans contain an estimated 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium, diluted down to a minuscule 3.3 parts per billion. The idea of extracting uranium from seawater has been kicking around for decades now, but the materials and processes to do so may finally be economically viable.

The best method works like this: A polymer substrate—basically, plastic—is irradiated, and then chemicals with an affinity for uranium are grafted onto it. The material is woven into 60-meter-long braids, and these are then brought out by boat to water at least 100 meters deep. The braids are chained to the ocean floor and allowed to float passively in the water, like an artificial kelp forest. After about 60 days, the boat returns and pulls in the adsorbent materials—now sporting a healthy yellow tint from the uranium. The plastic is then brought back to shore, and the uranium is eluted off.

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