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On Wednesday and Thursday, the modern state of Israeli celebrated the 70th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence. Here are nine things you should know about the creation of the modern Israeli state.

1. In AD 138, the ancient nation of Israel ceased to exist when the Roman emperor Hadrian crushed the Bar Kochba revolt and banned all Jews from Palestine (i.e., the biblical regions known as the Land of Israel). The land was conquered by various nations until 1517, when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans retained control until 1917, when the British captured Jerusalem during World War I.

2. By 1850, only about 14,000 Jews remained in Palestine. But in 1881, in reaction to growing anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia, a number of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) organizations were established with the aim of furthering Jewish settlement in the area. The Hovevei Zion groups were the forerunners of modern Zionism, the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.

3. Theodore Herzl—officially referred to in the Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel as “the spiritual father of the Jewish State“—launched the modern Zionist movement in 1896. In his pamphlet Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), Herzl considers the “Jewish Question”:

Everything tends, in fact, to one and the same conclusion, which is clearly enunciated in that classic Berlin phrase: “Juden Raus!” (Out with the Jews!)

I shall now put the Question in the briefest possible form: Are we to “get out” now and where to?

Or, may we yet remain? And, how long?

Herzl answered that question by proposing a Jewish homeland:

The whole plan is in its essence perfectly simple, as it must necessarily be if it is to come within the comprehension of all.

Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.

Herzl also proposed two possible locations for the homeland—Palestine and Argentinia. “We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by Jewish public opinion,” he said.

4. In 1897, Herzl began to put his plan into action by convening the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. At this symbolic congress—which was referred to as the Basel Congress—the group adopted the Basel Program with this stated goal: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” A few weeks after the event, Herzl wrote in his diary, “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word—which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

5. During World War I, the Allies drove the Turks out of Ottoman Syria. In 1917, the British government announced its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in the 67-word statement know as the Balfour Declaration:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

After the war the British controlled the area of Palestine and was given a mandate by the League of Nations to administer the territory. Under British rule, the land was sometimes referred to as Mandatory Palestine.

6. The Jewish population in Palestine grew between 1919 and 1923 as Jews began to flee persecution in Russia and Ukraine. This influx of Jews, along with the Balfour Declaration, led the Arab inhabitants of the land to develop their own political movement, known as Palestinian nationalism. A nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs led to the “Great Revolt” of 1936-1939. This insurrection led the British to propose a partition of the land into Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs rejected the proposal.

7. In 1939, the British began limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine. Even after the Holocaust began creating Jewish refugees in Europe, the UK refused to lift the immigration cap. Thousands of Jews died trying to flee to Palestine in small boats, and thousands more were caught and turned away. The American government supported a move to allow 100,000 new immigrants into the region, which prompted the British to abandon the Palestine Mandate and leave the issue to be resolved by the United Nations.

8. On May 15, 1947, the United Nations created UNSCOP (the UN Special Committee on Palestine), with representatives from 11 “neutral” countries: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia. UNSCOP offered two proposals to solve the “Palestine Question.”

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The 2018 Winter Olympic officially starts tomorrow in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. (See also: 5 Christian Athletes to Watch in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.) Here are nine things you should know about the world’s leading international winter sports event:

1. The original ancient Olympic Games were dedicated to the Olympian gods (especially Zeus and Hera) and held in Olympia, in southern Greece. The first games are believed to have been held in 776 BC. During this time, Jeroboam was king of the northern kingdom of Israel and Azariah was king of Judah (2 Kings 15:1). It was the era of the prophet Jonah and about a year before the birth of the prophet Isaiah.

2. The idea of reviving the modern Olympic Games came to Pierre de Coubertin, a French aristocrat and educator, in 1889. Coubertin proposed the idea at a conference on international sport in Paris in June 1894, and it was unanimously approved by the nine participating countries. His efforts led to the establishment of the International Olympic Committee and the organization of the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. He also helped launch the Winter Olympics in 1924. He would later say, “Thanks to the Olympic Winter Games . . . the winter sports became an integral part of the Olympic Games. Since 1884 this possibility was taken into consideration and partly realized. And why not? The top of the Mount Olympus is covered with snow, isn’t it?”

3. In 1901 Viktor Balck, a Swedish army general, started the Nordic Games, a precursor to the Winter Olympics. Balck was a close friend of Coubertin and one of the original members of the International Olympic Committee. This event was the first international multi-sport competition that focused solely on winter sports. The first Winter Olympics was held in Chamonix, France, in 1924. It was so popular that the Nordic Games were discontinued two years later.

4. The Winter Olympics has been hosted on three continents by eleven different countries. The Games have been held four times in the United States (1932, 1960, 1980, 2002); three times in France (1924, 1968, 1992); twice in Austria (1964, 1976), Canada (1988, 2010), Japan (1972, 1998), Italy (1956, 2006), Norway (1952, 1994), and Switzerland (1928, 1948); and once in Germany (1936), Yugoslavia (1984), and Russia (2014). Pyeongchang, South Korea, will host the 2018 Winter Olympics and Beijing, China, will host in 2022. Because the event is held in February, when it is summer in the southern hemisphere, no city below the equator has ever hosted the games.

5. The Winter Olympics is limited to “winter sports,” which the Olympic Charter defines as “only those sports which are practiced on snow or ice.” The list of winter sports currently includes 102 events in 15 categories: alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, luge, Nordic combined, short track speed skating, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboard, and speed skating.

6. Since 1924, 136 athletes have competed in both the summer and winter Olympic games, and only five won medals in both. American Eddie Eagan is the only person to ever win gold medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympics: He won in boxing at the 1920 Antwerp Games and in four-man bobsled at the 1932 Lake Placid Games. Jeroen Straathof of the Netherlands is the only athlete to have ever competed in the Winter Olympics, the Summer Olympics, and the Paralympics. Although he is not handicapped himself, Straathof joined with a visually impaired cyclist for a tandem bike race at the 2000 Summer Paralympics.

7. During the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Jamaican national bobsleigh team became the first to represent a tropical nation in an international winter sports competition. This year, an African nation where it has never snowed will be represented for the first time ever in the sport at the Winter Olympics. Three women from Nigeria—Seun Adigun, Akuoma Omeoga, and Ngozi Onwumere—will be competing in the women’s bobsled competition. Another female Nigerian athlete, Simidele Adeagbo, has also qualified to compete in the skeleton event, and Akwasi Frimpong of Ghana will be competing in the men’s skeleton event.

8. The International Olympic Committee announced in December 2017 that it was barring Russia’s national Olympic committee from this year’s Winter Olympics as a punishment for its alleged state-sponsored cover-up of doping by its athletes.

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On Thursday, Edgar Ray Killen died in prison at the age of 92. Killen, a former pastor and Ku Klux Klan leader, was the only person to face state murder charges in the killings of three civil-rights workers in 1964.

Here are nine things you should know about the case known as the “Mississippi Burning” murders.

1. The Mississippi Burning murders (also known as the Freedom Summer murders) involved three civil-rights activists—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—who were abducted and murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in June 1964. Michael Schwerner and James Chaney worked for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in nearby Meridian, Mississippi, and, Andrew Goodman was a college student who volunteered to work on voter registration, education, and civil rights as part of the Mississippi Summer Project.

2. On Memorial Day 1964, Schwerner and Chaney spoke to the congregation at Mount Zion in rural Neshoba County about setting up a Freedom School, a type of alternative middle and high school that helped to organize African Americans for political and cultural engagement. State-level Klan leadership had previously decided to murder Schwerner, and so attacked and beat members of the church thinking he was there at a meeting. The Klan returned that night and burned the church in an attempt to lure the CORE activist back to the area.

3. On June 21, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman drove from Meridian to Neshoba County to talk to the church members at Mount Zion. As they were passing through Philadelphia, Mississippi, they were pulled over a deputy sheriff and arrested for speeding. They arrived at the jail at 4 p.m. and were released around 10 p.m. that night. The activists were followed by a lynch mob of at least nine men, including a deputy and a local police officer.

4. When the Klansmen caught up to Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, they forced the men into one of the mob’s vehicles and drove them to a secluded county road. Chaney a black man, was beaten with chains, castrated, and shot while Schwerner and Goodman, the two white activists, were forced to watch. When Schwerner cradled Chaney in his arms (see image below) a Klansman asked, “Are you that n***** lover?” When Schwener replied, “Sir, I understand your concern” he was shot in the heart. Goodman attempted to run and was also shot. The bodies were then taken to a farm pond where Herman Tucker was waiting. Tucker used a bulldozer on the property to cover the bodies with dirt. An autopsy revealed that Goodman was likely buried alive since there was red clay dirt in his lungs and in his grasped fists. Evidence at the burial site appears to show he was trying to dig his way out.

‘Murder in Mississippi,’ Norman Rockwell, 1965.

5. The next day the FBI began searching for the three men, and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered 150 federal agents to be sent from New Orleans to Mississippi. FBI agents found the remains of the car driven by the activists near a river in northeast Neshoba County. The car was abandoned and burned, which led the FBI to name the case “MIBURN,” for Mississippi Burning.

6. Fearing the men were dead, the federal government sent hundreds of sailors from a nearby naval air station to search the swamps for the bodies. Although they didn’t find the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, the Navy divers who dragged the river discovered two other young black activists, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore; a 14-year-old named Herbert Oarsby, found wearing a CORE T-shirt; and five other black men who remained unidentified.

7. Acting on a tip from an informant, the FBI discovered the bodies in the earthen dam. The agents also arrested more than a dozen suspects, including Deputy Price and his boss, Sheriff Rainey. Three years later, seven of the 18 defendants were found guilty of conspiring to deprive the three activists of their civil rights.

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A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry this month finds that the rate of alcohol use disorder (i.e., alcoholism) rose by 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s. One in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to the study.

Here are nine things you should know about the problem of alcohol abuse in America:

1. The most commonly used diagnostic tool to determine alcohol abuse is the DSM-IV-TR, which defines it as a maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by at least one of the following occurring within a 12-month period: (1) Recurrent use of alcohol resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use; alcohol-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household); (2) Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by alcohol use); (3) Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct); (4) Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication); and (5) Never met criteria for alcohol dependence.

2. The DSM-IV-TR defines alcohol dependence as a maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following occurring at any time in the same 12-month period: (1) Need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol; (2) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol; or drinking (or using a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms; (3) Drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended; (4) Persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking; (5) Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of drinking; (6) A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking; (7) Continued drinking despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to be caused or exacerbated by drinking; (8) No duration criterion separately specified, but several dependence criteria must occur repeatedly as specified by duration qualifiers associated with criteria (e.g., “persistent,” “continued”).

3. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men—in about two hours. In 2015, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month

4. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on five or more days in the past month. In 2015, 7 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month

5. Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition in a child that results from alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, the problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome vary from child to child, but defects such as brain damage and growth problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome are not reversible. The prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome is estimated to be two to seven cases per 1,000, and the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders to be as high as 20 to 50 cases per 1,000. (As the Mayo Clinic notes, there is no amount of alcohol that’s known to be safe to consume during pregnancy. If you drink during pregnancy, you place your baby at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.)

6. An estimated 88,009 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Of the 9,967 people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2014, there were 6,391 drivers (64 percent) with BACs of 0.08 g/dL or higher. The remaining fatalities consisted of 2,752 motor vehicle occupants (28 percent) and 824 non-occupants (8 percent).

7. An estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 (2.5 percent of this age group) had alcohol use disorder. This number includes 298,000 males (2.3 percent of males in this age group) and 325,000 females (2.7 percent of females in this age group). An estimated 37,000 adolescents (22,000 males and 15,000 females) received treatment for an alcohol problem in a specialized facility in 2015.

8. In 2015, 33.1 percent of 15-year-olds report that they have had at least one drink in their lives. About 7.7 million people ages 12 to 20 (20.3 percent of this age group) reported drinking alcohol in the past month (19.8 percent of males and 20.8 percent of females). Approximately 5.1 million people (about 13.4 percent) ages 12 to 20 (13.4 percent of males and 13.3 percent of females) reported binge drinking in the past month, and approximately 1.3 million people (about 3.3 percent) ages 12 to 20 (3.6 percent of males and 3.0 percent of females) reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.

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by  / June 24, 2017

An American college student returned to the United States with severe brain damage after being held in a North Korean prison camp died last week. When Otto Warmbier, 22, arrived back home earlier this month he was reported to be in stable condition, though doctors said he had severe brain damage. Warmbier was accused of entering the country with the intent of “bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity” and charged with subversion and a “hostile act” for purportedly attempting to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel. After a one-hour trial Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Here are nine things you should know about North Korea, the most repressive nation on the planet:

1. North Korea was created after the country was divided in the aftermath of World War II. Following the surrender of Japanese forces in 1945, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander for the Allied powers, issued General Order No. 1. In this order, the Japanese empire was required to surrender all portions of Korea north of 38 north latitude to the Soviet Union and all of Korea south of that marker to the United States (the arbitrary choice of the dividing line, which has affected international relations for more than 70 years, was “recommended by two tired colonels working late at night”). That December, the Soviets installed a communist guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung as the chairman of the North Korean branch of the Korean Communist Party. When the DPRK was formed in September 1948, the Soviets recognized Kim Il-sung as the leader of Korea, both North and South. The autocratic Kim family—Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and grandson Kim Jong-un—have ruled the country every since.

2. Attempting to make his dream of unification a reality, Kim Il-sung launched the first military action of the Cold War by invading the Republic of Korea (ROK) in July 1950. The United Nations came to the aide of South Korea, with the United States providing more than two-thirds of the military forces. After four months of fighting, the DPRK was on the verge of losing when China came to their rescue. The fighting continued until 1953 when an armistice was signed that created the Korean Demilitarized Zone, separating North and South Korea. Because no peace treaty was ever signed, and because the United States has a mutual defense treaty with the Republic of Korea, the United States is positioned to go to war if the DPRK resumes attacks on South Korea.

3. Soon after taking control of his country, Kim Il-sung developed such a strong personality cult that under the DPRK constitution he remains, even in death, the “eternal President of the Republic.” Within a year of being appointed premier, Kim Il-sung was referring to himself as “The Great Leader” and erecting statues of himself (the country now has more than 500 statues of him). His birthday is a national holiday known as the “Day of the Sun,” and in 1997 Kim Il-sung even created a new calendar that recalculated time from the year 1912, when he “came to earth from heaven.”

4. In 1972, after he surrendered his Soviet premiership and became president of North Korea, Kim Il-sung instituted the ideology known as Juche, a form of hyper-nationalistic self-reliance. As the DPRK explains, “The Juche idea means, in a nutshell, that the masters of the revolution and construction are the masses of the people and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and construction. The Juche idea is based on the philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Writing in the Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Grace Lee explains how this official autarkic state ideology is used to keep the North Korean population under control:

The Kim Il Sung regime instructed the North Korean people in the juche ideology using an analogy drawn from human anatomy. The Great Leader is the brain that makes decisions and issues orders, the Party is the nervous system that channels information, and the people are the bone and muscle that physically execute the orders. This belief system, inculcated in North Koreans since early childhood, made them docile and loyal to Kim Il Sung even in the face of famines and energy crises that have devastated the country.

5. Kim Il-sung placed his son in positions of power so that in 1994 Kim Jong-il would become the “supreme leader” of the DPRK. Over the next three years, Kim Jong-il’s agricultural system would cause a famine that killed 3 million of the country’s 22 million people. (Under the idea of JucheThe Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann says, “Farmers were expected to overcome mother nature and grow enough crops to feed the entire population.”) In 2012 North Koreans again suffered from another man-made famine that led to mass starvation. According to a credible report by Asia Press international, North Korean authorities even imposed severe punishment for suspected acts of cannibalism and selling human meat.

6.  As his people starved, Kim Jong-il focused on a policy of songun (military first), spending about one-third of the nation’s income to maintain the world’s fourth-largest army. The citizens of the country are extremely poor (annual GDP per capita in 2014 was $538, compared to $27,221 in South Korea and $55,836 in the United States), so to keep control of the population the Kim family has maintained a massive system of kwanliso (gulag-like political prison camps). As Human Rights Watch explains:

Between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are estimated to still be in kwanliso, which are characterized by systemic abuse and deadly conditions, including torture and sexual abuse by guards, near-starvation rations, back-breaking forced labor in dangerous conditions, and executions. Working conditions at these sites are extremely difficult, including exposure to harsh weather, rudimFor the entary tools, lack of safety equipment, and high risks of workplace accidents. Death rates in these camps are extremely high, political prison camp survivors told Human Rights Watch.

7. Knowledge of the outside world is limited for most North Korean citizens. All legal televisions are tuned to state-controlled domestic programming, and outside of a closed domestic network, there is no internet access. The state maintains a network of informants who monitor and report to the authorities fellow citizens they suspect of criminal or subversive behavior, USA Today notes, and unauthorized access to non-state radio or TV broadcasts is severely punished.

8.  Freedom of religion or belief does not exist in North Korea and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed…

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 Last year the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the health effects of marijuana use. The committee considered more than 10,700 studies for their relevance and arrived at nearly 100 different research conclusions related to marijuana (cannabis) or cannabinoid use and health. Their findings were recenty published in a 400-page report.

Here are nine things about the effects of marijuana you should know based on this report:

1. The terms marijuana and cannabis refer to all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., including the seeds, the resin extracted from any part of such plan, and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, or resin. The compounds that cause intoxication and may have medicinal uses are cannabinoids, a class of chemical compounds that acts on cannabinoid receptors in cells that represses neurotransmitter release in the brain. The marijuana plant contains more than 100 cannabinoids. Currently, the two main cannabinoids from the marijuana plant that are of medical interest are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

2. There is substantial or conclusive scientific evidence for only three medical benefits of cannabis or cannabinoids: treating chronic pain in adults; treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and nausea after chemotherapy; and improving symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

3. There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.  Self-reported cannabis use or the presence of THC in blood, saliva, or urine, has been associated with 20 to 30 percent higher odds of a motor vehicle crash.

4. In states where cannabis use is legal, there is increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children. There is insufficient evidence to support or refute a statistical association between cannabis use by adults and death due to cannabis overdose.

5. Recent cannabis use (within the past 24 hours) impairs the performance in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention. A limited number of studies also suggest there are impairments in cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention in individuals who have stopped smoking cannabis. Cannabis use during adolescence is related to impairments in subsequent academic achievement and education, employment and income, and social relationships and social roles

6. Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses—the higher the use the greater the risk. However, cannabis use does not appear to increase the likelihood of developing anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder.

7. The evidence suggests that any cannabis use is related with increased suicidal ideation (i.e., suicidal thoughts or preoccupation with suicide), augmented suicide attempts, and greater risk of death by suicide. Studies reveal that heavy cannabis use (used 40 or more times) is associated with a higher risk of suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts.

8. There is substantial evidence that initiating cannabis use at an earlier age is a risk factor for the development of problem cannabis use. There is moderate evidence that during adolescence the frequency of cannabis use, oppositional behaviors, a younger age of first alcohol use, nicotine use, parental substance use, poor school performance, antisocial behaviors, and childhood sexual abuse are risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use. Anxiety, personality disorders, and bipolar disorders are not risk factors for the development of problem cannabis use.

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by   / December 16, 2016

The recent struggle for control of the Syrian city of Aleppo has brought renewed attention to the ongoing war crimes that have devastated this Middle East nation. Here are nine things you should know about Aleppo and the Syrian crisis:

1. In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest, and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion that has spread across the country. Although the conflict was originally between factions for and against President Assad, the civil war has broadened into a battle between the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The conflict has drawn in neighboring countries and world powers and led to the rise of jihadist groups, including Islamic State (ISIS).

2. Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and contains the country’s largest population of Christians. Aleppo is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world behind only Damascus (also in Syria) and Byblos (Lebanon). Prior to the Syrian civil war, Aleppo contained about 10 percent of Syria’s population (roughly 2.3 million people).

3. The battle for Aleppo began in mid-July 2012, when anti-government rebels gained control of several districts within the city. Since then the city has been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east. Beginning at the end of 2013, the Syrian government began aerial bombing of the eastern sections of the city, a tactic that has caused a humanitarian crisis that has disproportionately affected the city’s children.

4. Syria has a young population (median age is 24.1). While about half of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria are children, Unicef estimates that about eight million children remain in the country. Save the Children also estimates about 40 percent of the besieged population in eastern Aleppo are children. As Save the Children spokeswoman Carol Anning told the BBC, in war you should expect to see a much higher population of adult males being killed in frontline action. “But what we have seen in Aleppo in the last couple of days is totally indiscriminate bombing from the air,” Anning says. “So children are impacted just as much or more than adults in those situations.”

5. A 2015 report by the UN’s Human Rights Council notes “the conduct of an ever-increasing number of actors is characterized by a complete lack of adherence to the norms of international law.” A prime example is the use of sexual violence against girls and women. The report says, “Women and girls were found to have been raped and sexually assaulted in government detention facilities, in particular in the investigation branches of the Military Intelligence Directorate and prisons administered by the General Security Directorate in Damascus. State officials have perpetrated rape, a crime against humanity.” Rebel groups have also committed similar atrocities, with girls and women kept as slaves and “subject to horrific and repeated sexual violence. Girls and women in ISIS-controlled areas live in fear of forced marriage to the fighters.”

6. Since 2012, the Syrian government has used aerial “barrel bombs” (aka “flying IEDs”)—often dropping them on civilian populations. According to the Weapons Law Encyclopedia, a barrel bomb refers to an improvised container (e.g. an oil drum or gas cylinder) dropped from an aircraft and filled with explosive, incendiary, or other substances and often includes additional materials to increase fragment projection. The UN claims the Assad regime has dropped barrel bombs containing chemical agents, likely chlorine, on “crowded areas, such as bakery lines, transportation hubs, apartment buildings, and markets.” The use of such weapons against civilian populations or containing chemical weapons clearly violates international laws.

7. Throughout the conflict, anti-government forces have relied on a variety of terrorist tactics against civilians. The groups have kidnapped women and children—sometimes holding them hostage for years—to use them for ransom or prisoner exchanges. They have also used suicide and car bombs attacks against civilian and government targets. Rebel groups associated with ISIS have executed civilians who refuse to recognize their self-proclaimed rule, publicly amputated limbs as punishment for theft, and whipped residents for smoking and trading during prayer times.

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 by / November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro, the former dictator of Cuba, has died at the age of 90. Here are nine things you should know about the long-ruling Marxist leader.

1. Fidel Castro was born Fidel Ruz in 1926 near Birán, Cuba. His father, Ángel, was a Spanish migrant who moved to Cuba and became a wealthy sugar plantation owner. His mother was a household servant and Ángel’s mistress. When Fidel was age 17 his father married his mother and formally changed his son’s last name from Ruz to Castro.

2. Castro was baptized a Catholic at the age of 8 and attended several Jesuit-run boarding schools. After graduation in the mid-1940s Castro began studying law at the Havana University, where he became politically active in socialist and nationalist causes, in particular opposition to U.S. involvement in the Caribbean. By the end of the decade he became interested in the writings of Marx and Lenin and the cause of revolutionary socialism.

3. During his law school days Castro began to adopt the practice of revolutionary political violence. In 1947 he journeyed to the Dominican Republic to participate in a failed attempt to overthrow of the country’s dictator, Rafael Trujillo. That same year Castro was also accused of instigating an assassination attempt on Cuba’s president, Ramón Grau. When in 1952 General Fulgencio Batista seized power, Castro began making plans to overthrow him too. Castro’s use of political violence continued even after he seized power. The Cuba Archive project has documented almost 10,000 victims of Castro between 1952 and today, including 5,600 men, women, and children who died in front of firing squads and another 1,200 in “extrajudicial assassinations.” Thousands more Cubans also died trying to flee his repressive regime.

4. In 1955, Castro traveled with his brother Raul to Mexico, where he met up with other revolutionaries in exile, including an Argentine doctor named Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The next year the group returned to Cuba to instigate an overthrow the Batista government. Castro’s insurgency succeeded in 1959, and he was installed as prime minister of Cuba. A few months later he implemented “socialist” policies that were similar to those of communist countries.

5. In 1962, while still declaring his country to be merely a socialist state, Castro worked with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, on a plan to install Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuban soil. When aerial reconnaissance detected them it sparked the 13-day (October 16 to 28) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro wanted Khrushchev to threaten to use nuclear weapons if the United States attacked Cuba, but the Soviet leader refused and ultimately conceded to U.S. demands to remove all the missiles from the island nation.

6. In 1965, Castro merged Cuba’s Communist Party with his own Integrated Revolutionary Organizations and installed himself as head of the party. This move officially made Cuba the first Communist country in the Western Hemisphere. Over the next few years Castro founded several organizations to promote revolution and communism throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Castro also allowed several violent revolutionary groups from across the world, including America’s Black Panthers and the Vietnam’s Viet Cong, to train in Cuba.

7. During the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations, the U.S. government had a policy to overthrow Castro (which included the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, led by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles). The CIA also made several attempts to assassinate Castro. The Cuban government claimed that 638 attempts had been made on Castro’s life, but the 1975 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the “Church Committee”) substantiated eight assassination attempts that had been made between 1960 and 1965. Some of the attempts reportedly included the use of exploding cigars, cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, and a fountain pen with a hidden needle capable of injecting lethal toxin into a victim without his knowledge.

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/ November 22, 2016

 Today is the 53th anniversary of the death of Clive Staples Lewis, one of the most well known, widely read, and often-quoted Christian authors of modern times. Here are nine things you should know about the author and apologist who has been called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”

1. Lewis is best known for his seven children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. But he wrote more than 60 books in various genres, including poetry, allegorical novel, popular theology, educational philosophy, science-fiction, children’s fairy tale, retold myth, literary criticism, correspondence, and autobiography.

2. Lewis’s close friend Owen Barfield, to whom he dedicated his book The Allegory of Love, was also his lawyer. Lewis asked Barfield to establish a charitable trust (“The Agape Fund”) with his book earnings. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Lewis’s income went to charity.

3. Lewis had a fondness for nicknames. He and his brother, Warnie, called each other “Smallpigiebotham” (SPB) and “Archpigiebotham” (APB), inspired by their childhood nurse’s threat to smack their “piggybottoms.” Even after Lewis’s death, Warnie still referred to him as “my beloved SPB.”

4. In 1917, Lewis left his studies to volunteer for the British Army. During the First World War, he was commissioned into the Third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his 19th birthday and experienced trench warfare. On April 15, 1918, he was wounded, and two of his colleagues were killed by a British shell falling short of its target. Lewis suffered from depression and homesickness during his convalescence.

5. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland. He became an atheist at 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically “very angry with God for not existing.”

6. Lewis’s return to the Christian faith was influenced by the works of George MacDonald, arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.

7. Although Lewis considered himself to an entirely orthodox Anglican, his work has been extremely popular among evangelicals and Catholics. Billy Graham, who Lewis met in 1955, said he “found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious.” And the late Pope John Paul II said Lewis’s The Four Loves was one of his favorite books.

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Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, red states and blue states—the political divides in our country tend to fall into binary structures. The ones we are most familiar with tend to be firmly established, and we often know, through intuition or experience, what side we align with.

But over the past few months there has been a new political divide, an intramural division within American social conservatism. And this discord has been felt most prominently within the evangelical wing of this movement.

Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity, and there have always been differences and disagreements on politics. Still, within the social conservative faction (which accounts for around 60 percent to 75 percent of evangelicalism) there has been a general sense of unity. At least there was before this election season. The candidacy of Donald Trump has caused a split within this group that has grown increasingly rancorous as we inch closer to the election.Even by the standard of partisan politics, Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure. Before this year few could have predicted he’d bisect socially conservative evangelicals into warring camps.

Witness vs. Justice

In an attempt to bridge this chasm I want to explain the reasoning of both sides (at least as I have observed the debates), examine their strengths and weaknesses, and propose a way forward. While the two sides may not agree on much before November 8, we can at least attempt to seek a modicum of understanding and reconciliation.

There are differences and disagreements within each group and just as many areas of overlap between the two sides. By painting their outlines with a broad brush we will miss many important aspects and nuances. Still, doing so will help us focus our eyes on a few of the most essential elements.

To give a label to each side, we can identify the division as between those focused on Witness and those foregrounding Justice. Let’s start with by explaining the Justice side.

Justice Side

The concern of this group can be summed up in two words: Supreme Court. Many of the issues they care about most are matters of justice that will likely be decided by the court—abortion, marriage, transgenderism, religious liberty, and so on. They’re legitimately worried that if the liberal party candidate, Hillary Clinton, is allowed to choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia it will set us back decades, and even push us to a point from which our country may never recover.

Although Trump might not have been their first choice of candidates, they see him as the lesser of two evils. They don’t necessarily know what he would do in office, but they are quite certain how Hillary will govern. For this reason they are willing to take a chance on Trump. To reverse an old saying, “Better the devil you don’t know than the one you do.”

The strength of this position is its clarity and simplicity. This group reasons that even if Clinton and Trump were to govern in the exact same way on every issue and differ only on Supreme Court nominations, we would be no worse off and would, in many ways, be much better off since the Court would be returned to its former status quo.

This is form of minimax strategy, which is often used in two-player, zero-sum games (like presidential elections). Minimax is a strategy of always minimizing the maximum possible loss that can result from a choice a player makes. The Justice side believes by supporting and voting for Trump they are minimizing the maximum possible loss of justice that would result from a Clinton presidency.

For the Justice side, the timeline we should be thinking on is decades, rather than the next four to eight years. My TGC colleague Bethany Jenkins summed up this rationale when she said, “As a lawyer who has read hundreds of cases, I’ve found one thing certain: Presidents come and go, but a SCOTUS Justice lasts a lifetime.” (NB: Bethany is not a Trump supporter, though she is sympathetic to the concerns of the Justice side.)

That is the main strength of the Justice position. The drawback is the trade-offs they have to make to endorse Trump, specifically sacrificing the “character issue” not only from this current presidential election but also from every election in the future.

A prime example of a champion on the Justice side is Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. After hearing Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, Jeffress said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.” But he said he’d still support Trump for President. “I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday school teacher,” he said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”

The implication is that there is not even a minimal biblical standard of character for a man or woman seeking a leadership role in America’s government. While integrity and a reputable character might be preferred, it’s a luxury good, not a prerequisite to receive the political support of evangelicals.

The result of this decision to disregard character is likely to live longer than even the most robust Supreme Court Justice. No longer can we credibly claim a lack of character is a disqualifier from public office. If Hugh Hefner decides to run for president and chooses Larry Flynt as his running mate, they could credibly claim to be the candidates for evangelical “Values Voters,” so long as they promised to appoint conservative judges.

Witness Side

Now let’s examine the Witness side. This group is also concerned about the long-term threat that will result from allowing Clinton to choose Supreme Court justices. In fact, on this matter they share all of the same concerns as the Justice side. Where they differ is in fervently believing the damage done to our gospel witness in choosing Trump outweighs the potential devastation caused by a liberal Court.

This side rejects the concept of the “lesser of two evils” as being unbiblical since Scripture calls us to reject all evil. They believe the character of both candidates has made them unfit for the highest office in the land, and that voting for either to be President would violate their conscience. Additionally, they believe Trump has made comments that reveal him to be racist, sexist, and/or anti-life—all while claiming to be a Christian. For this group, turning a blind eye to Trump’s character for the sake of political expediency betrays our calling as Christians.

The strength of the Witness position is its integrity and faithfulness. They contend that by supporting Trump (or Clinton) evangelicals are sending the message that we’re willing to sacrifice our witness as ambassadors of Christ, and that we’re willing to choose evil on the chance it will lead to a good outcome.

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