Century Marks

Century Marks

Independent study

The One Laptop per Child organization dropped off computer tablets in two remote Egyptian villages. The tablets were preloaded with alphabet games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings and other programs. The organization wanted to see if children could teach themselves to read without any help from instructors. Within five days the kids were using 47 apps each, after two weeks they were singing ABC songs, and within five months they had figured out how to use the camera (MIT Technology Review, October 29).

Unholy gambling

A hacker group calling itself the “moroccan­ghosts” took over the French website of the Euromillions lottery early this month. The hackers posted verses from the Qur’an and warned that gambling would “turn you away from God and prayer.” France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, many of whom come from Morocco and Algeria (The Week, November 9).

Wake-up call

Last summer scientists documented that the sea level is rising faster in the northeastern United States than in almost any other place on the globe. They spelled out a series of risks, including the flooding of the New York subway system—which happened last month during Hurricane Sandy. It’s unclear whether New York City can build sea walls to protect against future storms and higher seas. New York is 17th on a list of cities worldwide that are subject to calamities from flooding due to global warming. Leading the list are Mumbai and Kolkata, which are less likely than New York to be able to hold back rising seas (Bill McKibben at commondreams.org).

Brazil’s religious right

More than 20 percent of Brazilians are evangelicals, and while they don’t yet have a unified agenda the way many evangelicals in the U.S. do, they are making a political mark. They hold only about 10 percent of the seats in the legislative assembly, but they had enough power to kill a measure that would have supplied Brazil’s schools with antihomophobia materials (Los Angeles Times, October 21).

Insubordination

Two years ago Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, prime minister and defense minister of Israel, directed the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad (the country’s intelligence and special operations agency) to prepare for a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the heads of both the IDF and Mossad were opposed to a strike and never fully prepared for it. The former heads of these agencies, now retired, have spoken against an Israeli attack. Gabi Ashkenazi, former head of the IDF, has said that Israel should continue to carry out covert actions against Iran but not start a war. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has said it would be stupid to attack Iran. Dagan has worried that Netanyahu and Barak would go to war illegally, bypassing the cabinet (Haaretz, November 4).