Another atheist blogger/publisher killed by islamists in Bangladesh

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A Bangladeshi publisher of secular books has been hacked to death in the capital Dhaka in the second attack of its kind on Saturday, police say.

Faisal Arefin Dipon, 43, was killed at his office in the city centre, hours after another publisher and two secular writers were injured in an attack.

A local affiliate of al-Qaeda said it carried out the attacks.

There has been a series of attacks on secularists since blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death in February.

Both publishers targeted on Saturday published Roy’s work.

Mr Dipon was found dead at the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, in his third-floor office.

“I saw him lying upside down and in a massive pool of blood. They slaughtered his neck. He is dead,” his father, the writer Abul Kashem Fazlul Haq, said, quoted by AFP.

Earlier on Saturday, armed men burst into the offices of publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul.

They stabbed Mr Tutul and two writers who were with him, locked them in an office and fled the scene, police said.

The three men were rushed to hospital, and at least one of them is in a critical condition.

The two writers were named by police as Ranadeep Basu and Tareque Rahim.

Ansar al-Islam, al-Qaeda’s Bangladeshi affiliate, posted messages online saying it had carried out Saturday’s attacks.

Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and critic of radical Islamism, was murdered in February by suspected Islamists. His wife and fellow blogger Bonya Ahmed was badly injured in the attack.

Three other bloggers have since been killed.

Source: http://bbc.in/1XHACfc

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International Court Deals Blow To Scientology Tax-Free Status

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The Dutch branch of the Church of Scientology has lost its tax status as “public welfare institution”, and the tax benefits that go along with it, in a ruling made by the court in The Hague on Wednesday. The court decided that the sales of the Church’s expensive courses and therapy sessions are clearly aimed at making a profit, and thus it does not belong on the tax authorities’ charity list.

Scientologists believe that there are two major divisions of the mind – the reactive mind and the analytical mind, according to Wikipedia. The reactive mind stores painful and debilitating images, “engrams”, that move people further away from their true identity. The Church promises believers that they can get rid of these engrams with special techniques and eventually achieve a “clear” state – a sort of super human with a clear mind. The Church offers courses and therapy sessions to work towards this “clear” state, and these quickly cost thousands of euros.

The court ruled that these courses cost significantly more than commercial educational institutions’ average school fees. “If providers on the secular education market had similar prices, prospective students would experience it as prices for top education by top teachers in prime locations.” The court finds the prices to be very commercial. According to the court, Scientology consciously seeks profits to fill its purse and was able to build “substantial wealth” like this.

The Church can still appeal against this ruling, but it is not yet clear if they will. A spokesperson called the judge’s ruling “discrimination based on religious beliefs”.

This ruling puts a provisional end to a long ongoing process that started in the Amsterdam Court two years ago, according to newspaper Trouw.  Back then the court ruled that the Church of Scientology does not have a commercial character because it gave courses and therapy sessions to poor Scientologists as gifts. The Supreme Court questioned this ruling late last year, also being concerned about the prices Scientology charges.

Source: http://bit.ly/1M4cbor

China Ends One-Child Policy for All Couples

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All couples will now be allowed to have two children, the state-run news agency said, citing a statement from the Communist Party.

The controversial policy was introduced nationally in 1979, to reduce the country’s birth rate and slow the population growth rate.

However, concerns at China’s ageing population led to pressure for change.

The one-child policy is estimated to have prevented about 400m births since it began.

Couples who violated the policy faced a variety of punishments, from fines and the loss of employment to forced abortions.

Over time, the policy was relaxed in some provinces, as demographers and sociologists raised concerns about rising social costs and falling worker numbers.

The Communist Party began formally relaxing national rules two years ago, allowing couples in which at least one of the pair is an only child to have a second child.

Source: http://bbc.in/1KHq2LU

Israeli Cafe Offers Discounts For Jews And Arabs Who Share A Meal Together

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During a month of renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence, one hummus restaurant is paying Jews and Arabs to sit down together for a meal. On Oct. 13, Kobi Tzafrir, owner of the Humus Bar in a shopping mall in Kfar Vitkin, north of Tel Aviv, advertised a 50 percent discount to Jews and Arabs who eat together on his restaurant’s Facebook page. It read:

“Are you afraid of Arabs? Are you afraid of Jews? By us there are no Arabs, but also no Jews. We have human beings! And real excellent Arab hummus! And great Jewish falafel!”

His post was shared more than 1,900 times, and news of the deal has made headlines around the world.

Tzafrir says he cooked up the promotion as a way to wipe away some of the gloom of the current Israeli-Palestinian animosity. “We hear a lot of extremists on the news, on Facebook, on TV, and it seems like everything here is very bad,” Tzafrir tells NPR’s The Salt. “But I wanted to show that everything here is not so bad. Things get out of proportion.”

Tzafrir, an Israeli Jew, is a latecomer to hummus — and a true believer in its powers. Growing up in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, he ate mostly packaged hummus from the supermarket. When he was about 20, he tried his first bowl of freshly ground chickpea paste, served hot, at an Arab restaurant — and he became an evangelist.

“If you eat a good hummus, you will feel love from the person who made it,” he says. “You don’t want to stab him.”

Hummus is ubiquitous across the Middle East. A 2012 film, Make Hummus Not War, documented the competing Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli claims to the chickpea paste.

In recent years, at least one new hummusiya, or hummus restaurant, has opened every week in Tel Aviv, according to Shooky Galili, an amateur hummus historian in Tel Aviv and author of the comprehensive review site humus101.com.

Tzafrir opened Humus Bar four months ago. Since announcing his hummus peace deal earlier this month, Tzafrir says only about 10 tables of Arabs and Jews have received the discount. But, he says, business is up by at least 20 percent — even if a substantial part of the boost is from local and foreign journalists.

Galili says hummus has a long history of bringing Arabs and Israelis together.

Before the founding of modern Israel in 1948, Jews in the area would eat hummus in Palestinian restaurants as a way of showing fearless bravado, he says. And even today, he says, a well-known hummus restaurant will draw Israeli Jews into Arab neighborhoods and towns they would otherwise have no reason to enter. About a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. Many Arab Israelis have close family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A bowl of Kobi Tzafrir's hummus. Both Israelis and Palestinians love the hummus chickpea paste. Tzafrir is trying to use this shared love to bring people together.

A bowl of Kobi Tzafrir’s hummus. Both Israelis and Palestinians love the hummus chickpea paste. Tzafrir is trying to use this shared love to bring people together.

But in the current atmosphere in Israel, hummus restaurants have become a litmus test of race relations. Since October, Palestinians have killed 10 Israelis in a series of stabbings and shootings. Israeli security forces have killed at least 48 Palestinians, including Arab Israeli assailants, in the same period. In this environment, Israelis who normally visit Arab restaurants have been shying away from them.

Abu Hassan, a boisterous hummus restaurant in Jaffa, the Arab quarter of Tel Aviv, has seen business plummet in recent weeks. Its Facebook page is filled with posts from customers expressing their shock at the lack of the usual snaking lunch line.

In early October, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai posted a photo from a hummus meal at a different Jaffa Arab restaurant. “The hummus is fantastic as ever, just come,” he wrote.

Israelis were quick to respond. “They wait tables by day, throw stones and fly Hamas flags by night,” one commenter said. “Bon appetite, we’re eating at Jewish places,” another added.

On Thursday at Humus Bar, lunch business was brisk. Several Jewish Israeli customers dropped in from work for a bowl of hummus, topped with warm cooked chickpeas, hot fava beans, or stir-fried mushrooms and onions. Tzafrir took care to make every plate of hummus himself, dusting each with paprika, cumin, olive oil and chopped parsley. He says he has not yet trained his staff in how to put together the perfect serving.

Tel Aviv resident Nira Shiran, who stopped in for takeout, told us the discount is “wonderful. Anything that can bring the peoples together gets my blessing.”

Shiran, who is Jewish, says she grew up in northern Israel, in Jewish towns surrounded by Arab villages, where she had good relations with her neighbors. But now, she says, it’s dangerous to venture into Arab towns. “I will not go to Jaffa until the situation calms down,” she says.

Amin Tabri, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, was one of the few Arab customers. He was visiting Humus Bar with colleagues — including Jewish ones. Tabri says he’s keeping his three children home these days because he fears for their safety.

Tabri says he didn’t think hummus could bring about peace, “but maybe the idea will reach politicians that we’re fed up.”

Itai Stern, an Isareli Jew from Tel Aviv, told me this was his first visit to the Humus Bar. He’d come with a Jewish colleague and didn’t know about the deal. “This whole story is pretty funny,” he says. “I don’t have problems with Arabs. I can sit with them without the discount.”

Source: http://n.pr/1Mmgiyf

Black Lives Matter group will not endorse any presidential candidates for 2016 election

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The Black Lives Matter network will skip a presidential endorsement but keep up its political activism by confronting candidates about the treatment of African-Americans in the United States, one of the group’s founders says.

In an Associated Press interview, Alicia Garza discussed the organization’s refusal to settle on a preferred candidate in the 2016 race to succeed President Barack Obama and pledged to press ahead with protests and interruptions during the campaign.

“Sometimes you have to put a wrench in the gears to get people to listen,” said Garza, who spoke at the 7th Annual Black Women’s Roundtable Policy Forum last week.

The Black Lives Matter movement traces its roots to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012, and gained national ground after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. Since then, deaths of other unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement officers have inspired protests under the “Black Lives Matter” moniker.

Some are affiliated with the original network founded by Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors, Garza and their allies. Some are not, although they use the slogan.

While the Black Lives Matter groupwill not officially endorse any candidate, Garza said any member of the group is free to do so on their own. Corey Williams/AP

While the Black Lives Matter groupwill not officially endorse any candidate, Garza said any member of the group is free to do so on their own.

Black Lives Matter activists grabbed headlines when they disrupted a Seattle rally last month right before Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, was about to speak. Others claiming to represent Black Lives Matter have met with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group of African-American lawmakers in the House and Senate, also was focusing on criminal justice and police reforms during its annual legislative conference this weekend.

The Democratic National Committee acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement at its Aug. 1 meeting in Minneapolis with a resolution saying it “joins with Americans across the country in affirming ‘Black lives matter’ and the ‘say her name’ efforts to make visible the pain of our fellow and sister Americans as they condemn extrajudicial killings of unarmed African-American men, women and children.”

The network said the resolution would not get its endorsement, and Garza reaffirmed that the official Black Lives Matter organization will not endorse any political party or candidate this election cycle.

The group said in the future it may endorse candidates or even run candidates of their own. Pictured is Renda Writer, a muralist expressing his support for the movement one word at a time on a Detroit art gallery exterior wall. Corey Williams/AP

The group said in the future it may endorse candidates or even run candidates of their own. Pictured is Renda Writer, a muralist expressing his support for the movement one word at a time on a Detroit art gallery exterior wall.

“Black Lives Matter as a network will not, does not, has not, ain’t going to endorse any candidates,” Garza said. “Now if there are activists within the movement that want to do that independently, they should feel free and if that’s what makes sense for their local conditions, that’s fantastic. But as a network, that’s not work we’re engaged in yet.”

In the future, the organization may become more involved with candidates and parties, and even run candidates, she said, but added that “we’re not there yet.”

“It’s too early in the development of the network and it’s too early in the genesis of the movement to rally around anyone in particular who hasn’t demonstrated that they feel accountable to the Black Lives Matter movement or network,” said Garza, who also works with the National Domestic Worker Alliance.

“What we’ve seen is an attempt by mainstream politics and politicians to co-opt movements that galvanize people in order for them to move closer to their own goals and objectives,” she said. “We don’t think that playing a corrupt game is going to bring change and make black lives matter.”

Source: http://nydn.us/1MH9oC7

Scientists reduce belief in God by shutting down the brain’s medial frontal cortex

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New research involving a psychologist from the University of York has revealed for the first time that both belief in God and prejudice towards immigrants can be reduced by directing magnetic energy into the brain.

Dr Keise Izuma collaborated with a team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to carry out an innovative experiment using transcranial magnetic stimulation, a safe way of temporarily shutting down specific regions of the brain.

The researchers targeted the posterior medial frontal cortex, a part of the brain located near the surface and roughly a few inches up from the forehead that is associated with detecting problems and triggering responses that address them.

In the study, half of the participants received a low-level “sham” procedure that did not affect their brains, and half received enough energy to lower activity in the target brain area. Next, all of the participants were first asked to think about death, and then were asked questions about their religious beliefs and their feelings about immigrants.

The findings, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, reveal that people in whom the targeted brain region was temporarily shut down reported 32.8% less belief in God, angels, or heaven. They were also 28.5% more positive in their feelings toward an immigrant who criticised their country.

Dr Izuma, from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “People often turn to ideology when they are confronted by problems. We wanted to find out whether a brain region that is linked with solving concrete problems, like deciding how to move one’s body to overcome an obstacle, is also involved in solving abstract problems addressed by ideology.”

This interest in the brain basis of ideology led the team to focus on religion and nationalism.

Dr Izuma added: “We decided to remind people of death because previous research has shown that people turn to religion for comfort in the face of death. As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas despite having been reminded of death.”

The investigators asked participants to respond to both negative and positive emotional aspects of religion and of nationalism. Specifically, they rated belief in the Devil, demons, and Hell, in addition to God, angels, and heaven. All potential participants were pre-screened to make sure that they held religious convictions before beginning the experiment.

With regard to nationalistic ideology, the participants read two essays ostensibly written by recent immigrants. One essay was extremely complimentary toward the United States, and the other essay was extremely critical.

The investigators found that the magnetic stimulation had the greatest effect on reactions to the critical author.

“We think that hearing criticisms of your group’s values, perhaps especially from a person you perceive as an outsider, is processed as an ideological sort of threat,” said Dr Izuma.

“One way to respond to such threats is to ‘double down’ on your group values, increasing your investment in them, and reacting more negatively to the critic,” he continued.

“When we disrupted the brain region that usually helps detect and respond to threats, we saw a less negative, less ideologically motivated reaction to the critical author and his opinions.”

Dr Colin Holbrook, from UCLA and the lead author of the paper, added: “These findings are very striking, and consistent with the idea that brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are repurposed to also produce ideological reactions. However, more research is needed to understand exactly how and why religious beliefs and ethnocentric attitudes were reduced in this experiment.”

The scientists say that whether we’re trying to clamber over a fallen tree that we find in our path, find solace in religion, or resolve issues related to immigration, our brains are using the same basic mental machinery.

Source: http://bit.ly/1PlCcSz