Nov 21, 2021


Study finds California condors can have "virgin births"

Endangered California condors can have “'virgin births," according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said genetic testing confirmed that two male chicks hatched in 2001 and 2009 from unfertilized eggs were related to their mothers. Neither was related to a male.

The study was published Thursday in the the Journal of Heredity. It's the first report of asexual reproduction in California condors, although parthenogenesis can occur in other species ranging from sharks to honey bees to Komodo dragons.

But in birds, it usually only occurs when females don’t have access to males. In this case, each mother condor had previously bred with males, producing 34 chicks, and each was housed with a fertile male at the time they produced the eggs through parthenogenesis.

Pope thanks journalists for helping expose Church sex scandals

Pope Francis on Saturday thanked journalists for helping uncover the clerical sexual abuse scandals that the Roman Catholic Church initially tried to cover up.

The pope praised what he called the "mission" of journalism and said it was vital for reporters to get out of their newsrooms and discover what was happening in the outside world to counter misinformation often found online.

"(I) thank you for what you tell us about what is wrong in the Church, for helping us not to sweep it under the carpet, and for the voice you have given to the abuse victims," the pope said.

Francis was speaking at a ceremony to honour two veteran correspondents -- Philip Pullella of Reuters and Valentina Alazraki of Mexico's Noticieros Televisa -- for their long careers spent covering the Vatican.

Former Strongsville, Ohio priest sentenced to life in prison for sex crimes against juveniles

A former priest was sentenced to life in prison in Akron Federal Court Tuesday afternoon after being convicted of numerous sex crimes involving children.

Robert McWilliams pleaded guilty on July 16 to various crimes, including production and distribution of sexually explicit images of minors and juvenile sex trafficking.

. . .

McWilliams assembled a “disturbing” child pornography collection of over 1,000 videos and images, extorted teen victims for more graphic images, and compensated at least two other boys for sexual acts, prosecutors claimed in the pre-sentencing report.

According to the court records, McWilliams used confession as a way to extort inappropriate material from the minor victims.

Additionally, federal officials said McWilliams pretended to be a female on social media sites to contact minor male victims he knew from his parishes in Strongsville and Newbury Township.

Lead pastor at Virginia Beach’s Rock Church steps down after being charged with soliciting sex with minor

A day after news broke that the lead pastor of Virginia Beach’s Rock Church had been charged with soliciting sex from an underage girl, the church announced he will step away from all ministerial duties until the case is resolved.

. . .

Police said the operation targeted 17 men who’d been communicating online with someone they believed was a teenage girl but was actually a police officer.

Rock Church is non-denominational and was founded in 1968 by Anne Gimenez and her late husband, John. Rock Church International has over 500 churches in multiple countries, according to its website.

John and Robin Blanchard have been senior pastors at the Virginia Beach church since 2013, and are the parents of two girls, the website said.

The couple attended a Virginia Beach school board meeting on Oct. 24, during which they spoke out against a proposed policy that would allow transgender students to use restrooms that align with their gender identity. The couple said they feared the policy would put girls at risk of being assaulted.

A gun church that glorifies the AR-15 and is led by the son of the 'Moonies' church founder has been making alliances with far-right figures

Wearing his signature crown of gleaming bullets and with a gold AR-15 often strapped to his chest, the 42-year-old Pastor Sean Moon is a bizarre religious leader.

Sean Moon is the founder of the Pennsylvania-based The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church, also known as the Rod of Iron Ministries.

He is the son of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed Messiah who founded the controversial Unification Church, widely described as a cult. (Its followers are the so-called Moonies.)

. . .

The event also laid bare Moon's relationship with top MAGA figures. Other high-profile figures advertised to speak were former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who called in on a crackly phone line, and former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.

Conservative Baptist Network Promotes Film Claiming Some SBC Entities Are Marxist

The Conservative Baptist Network (CBN), an association within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has been promoting a film entitled “Enemies Within the Church.” In the trailer of the film, which the CBN shared in a tweet, various interviewees claim that Christian educational institutions and churches have been brainwashed by Marxism, including some within its own denomination.

On the film’s website, the makers of “Enemies Within the Church” offer a fourfold plan to “save America.” These steps include watching the film, repenting of your sins, building a biblical worldview, and confronting evil. Terms like “sin” and “evil” are framed within the context of the film’s thesis that the Church’s involvement with issues of social justice is inherently godless.

Many Christian leaders have responded negatively to the film’s trailer, drawing attention to the misleading nature of the film’s claims. Some are calling for a formal rebuke of the CBN by the SBC for promoting the film.

SBC says church planters must pledge not to hire women as pastors just like they pledge not to drink alcohol

Tom Buck, an East Texas pastor affiliated with Founders Ministries — who earlier this year called Vice President Kamala Harris a “Jezebel” — had been leading the charge against perceived lack enforcement of the SBC’s no-women-pastors policy in NAMB church starts. After the Oct. 14 NAMB statement, Buck tweeted his gratitude for NAMB President Kevin Ezell and said: “For the record, whether approved or not, multiple NAMB plants had women preaching and some with title of pastor. This policy on prohibition of women pastors/preaching in corporate worship of NAMB church plants is new & needed!”

Also on Oct. 14, Founders Ministries President Tom Ascol said on Twitter that the primary credit for this victory goes to Buck, who he said had diligently pursued the concern through NAMB’s administration.

This reiteration of the SBC’s male-headship policies comes as the denomination is embroiled in a highly publicized investigation of alleged mishandling of sexual abuse cases within the SBC, largely abuse cases against women by male leaders.

. . .

Controversy over women’s roles in mission leadership, both overseas and domestically, is nothing new to the SBC. Opposition to women serving as pastors was one of the drivers of the schism within the SBC in the 1990s. At that time, a few women had served as pastors of SBC church starts or of congregations that received some kind of financial assistance.

FLDS church, its bishop and a contractor ordered to pay nearly $1 million for making children work without pay for years

A federal judge in Utah ordered the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and two of its affiliates to pay nearly $1 million for allegedly violating child labor laws when they employed minors on a ranch without paying them for years.

The decision comes after a 2012 video showed women and children working to harvest pecans at a farm in southern Utah. The US Department of Labor had filed a complaint, accusing bishop Lyle Jeffs and his business contractor, Brian Jessop, of illegally hiring the children.

U.S. District Court Judge Jill Parrish on Wednesday ordered Jeffs to pay $312,079.30 in back wages and $312,079.30 in damages, according to court documents. Another $281,336.32 in back wages were also ordered for Jeffs, Jessop and the church. The U.S. Department of Labor alleged Paragon Contractors -- the company Jessop ran at the time -- used children from FLDS to work on the pecan farm without pay from 2008 to 2013, court documents from 2019 show.

The U.S. Department of Labor alleged Paragon Contractors -- the company Jessop ran at the time -- used children from FLDS to work on the pecan farm without pay from 2008 to 2013, court documents from 2019 show.

Christian radio host Doc Gallagher gets 3 life prison terms for bilking listeners out of millions of dollars

A Texas radio host was sentenced to three life prison terms Monday for a Ponzi scheme in which he bilked elderly listeners out of millions of dollars. William Neil "Doc" Gallagher also got a 30-year prison sentence from state District Judge Elizabeth Beach for his August guilty pleas. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

The sentencing came after more than a dozen senior victims testified during a three-hour court hearing about losing anywhere from $50,000 to $600,000 invested in the Gallagher Financial Group. Some said they had to sell their homes, borrow money from their children or take part-time jobs to supplement their Social Security benefits.

"'Doc' Gallagher is one of the worst offenders I have seen," said Lori Varnell, chief of the Tarrant County District Attorney's Elder Financial Fraud team. "

Gallagher, 80, and his Gallagher Financial Group advertised on Christian radio with the tagline, "See you in church on Sunday." He promoted his investment business in books, such as "Jesus Christ, Money Master," and on Christian radio broadcasts.

Signs of first planet found outside our galaxy

Nearly 5,000 "exoplanets" - worlds orbiting stars beyond our Sun - have been found so far, but all of these have been located within the Milky Way galaxy.

The possible Saturn-sized planet discovered by Nasa's Chandra X-Ray Telescope is in the Messier 51 galaxy.

This is located some 28 million light-years away from the Milky Way.

This new result is based on transits, where the passage of a planet in front of a star blocks some of the star's light and yields a characteristic dip in brightness that can be detected by telescopes.

This general technique has already been used to find thousands of exoplanets.

‘AR Is Where the Real Metaverse Is Going to Happen’

As the CEO and founder of Niantic Labs, Hanke launched Pokémon Go in 2016, and he remains obsessed with a vision of a physical world enhanced by digital objects, the concept now called augmented reality. He has been pursuing this vision since at least 2010, when he founded Niantic as an internal startup at Google, then spun it out and launched Go. The game, in which players wander the streets with phones held to their faces trying to capture Weedles, Squirtles, and Nidorinas, was both a cultural phenomenon and a financial success, reaping over a billion dollars in revenue. Like Wendy sewing Peter Pan’s shadow to his foot, Hanke has been gradually binding the ephemeral to the real, providing a substrate for the merger of pixels and atoms that he sees as the future.

But now people are babbling and swooning about this thing called a … metaverse. Companies like Facebook—well, mainly Facebook—are pitching a more immersive vision where people don hardware rigs that block out their senses and replace the input with digital artifacts, essentially discarding reality for alternate worlds created by the lords of Silicon Valley. “Our overarching goal … is to help bring the metaverse to life,” Mark Zuckerberg told his workforce in June.

Hanke hates this idea. He’s read all the science fiction books and seen all the films that first imagined the metaverse—all great fun, and all wrong. He believes that his vision, unlike virtual reality, will make the real world better without encouraging people to totally check out of it. This past summer, he felt compelled to explain why in a self-described manifesto whose title says it all: “The Metaverse Is a Dystopian Nightmare. Let’s Build a Better Reality.” (Facebook’s response: Change its name to Meta so it could focus on constructing Hanke’s nightmare.)

‘Yeah, we’re spooked’: AI starting to have big real-world impact, says expert

A scientist who wrote a leading textbook on artificial intelligence has said experts are “spooked” by their own success in the field, comparing the advance of AI to the development of the atom bomb.

Prof Stuart Russell, the founder of the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley, said most experts believed that machines more intelligent than humans would be developed this century, and he called for international treaties to regulate the development of the technology.

“The AI community has not yet adjusted to the fact that we are now starting to have a really big impact in the real world,” he told the Guardian. “That simply wasn’t the case for most of the history of the field – we were just in the lab, developing things, trying to get stuff to work, mostly failing to get stuff to work. So the question of real-world impact was just not germane at all. And we have to grow up very quickly to catch up.”

. . .

For example, asking AI to cure cancer as quickly as possible could be dangerous. “It would probably find ways of inducing tumours in the whole human population, so that it could run millions of experiments in parallel, using all of us as guinea pigs,” said Russell. “And that’s because that’s the solution to the objective we gave it; we just forgot to specify that you can’t use humans as guinea pigs and you can’t use up the whole GDP of the world to run your experiments and you can’t do this and you can’t do that.”

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