World and Nation

Shorts (right)

A Pro-Church Law Opens Doors To a French Mosque

The Alsace-Moselle region is the great French exception. Having been variously French and German in the last few centuries — annexed, presumably for the last time, by Hitler’s Germany before returning to France after World War II — Alsace-Moselle still has a German feel, with rounded edges.

While France is a model for the centralized state, Alsace-Moselle is different, especially on the question of politics and religion. Because the region was German in 1905, when France passed major legislation separating church and state — a policy known as laicite, usually translated as secularism — the local government continues to involve itself in the established religions, providing a wide variety of subsidies and even religious education in the public schools.

Extraordinarily for secular France, here the state not only helps to finance the construction of places of worship but also approves the appointments of clergy members and even pays their salaries.

But not for Islam. Muslims are now the second-largest religious group in this region of 2.9 million people, and there is considerable debate about whether and how to extend to Islam the support given to other religions. The questions vary from Muslim education in the public schools to the size of a new mosque partly built along the banks of the Ill River, and even whether the mosque should be allowed to have a minaret.

Financial Crisis Takes a Toll On Already-Squeezed Cities

After the layoff of 160 full-time and part-time city workers, the slashing of recreation programs and a call for volunteers to shelve books at the branch libraries (open two days a week now instead of six), the people of Duluth, Minn., thought they had seen the worst of a bad year for the municipal budget.

To help close a gap of more than $6 million that yawned open over the summer, the city on Lake Superior had considered selling its prized Tiffany stained-glass window depicting Longfellow’s American Indian character Minnehaha, a one-of-a-kind work donated by a civic group more than 100 years ago.

City officials across the country say they are feeling increasingly squeezed as the national economic crisis eats away at the core sources of municipal revenue.

Add to that the abrupt and unexpected loss over the last several weeks of usually sound investments and credit in the municipal bond markets — the place to which local governments turn for relatively cheap, fast money — and it becomes clear that cities are facing their own financial crisis, arguably the worst in decades.

A Mixed Message On Health Effects of Hard Times

Most people are worried about the health of the economy. But does the economy also affect your health?

It does, but not always in ways you might expect. Whether the current economic slump will take a toll on your own health depends, in part, on your health habits when times are good. And economic studies suggest that people tend not to take care of themselves in boom times — drinking too much (especially before driving), dining on fat-laden restaurant meals and skipping exercise and doctors’ appointments because of work-related time commitments.

In May 2000, the Quarterly Journal of Economics published a surprising paper called “Are Recessions Good for Your Health?” by Christopher J. Ruhm, professor of economics at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, based on an analysis measuring death rates and health behavior against economic shifts and jobless rates from 1972 to 1991.

Ruhm found that death rates declined sharply in the 1974 and 1982 recessions, and increased in the economic recovery of the 1980s. An increase of one percentage point in state unemployment rates correlated with a 0.5 percentage point decline in the death rate — or about 5 fewer deaths per 100,000 people. Overall, the death rate fell by more than 8 percent in the 20-year period of mostly economic decline, led by drops in heart disease and car crashes.

One in Four Mammals Are Threatened, Study Finds

An “extinction crisis” is under way, with one in four mammals in danger of disappearing because of habitat loss, hunting and climate change, a leading global conservation body warned Monday.

“Within our lifetime, hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions,” said Julia Marton-Lefevre, the director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, an international network of campaign groups, governments, scientists and other experts.

Among 188 mammals in the conservation union’s highest threat category — critically endangered — was the Iberian lynx, which has an estimated population of 84 adults and has continued to decline as its primary prey, the European rabbit, has fallen victim to disease and overhunting.

The report, presented at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, was the conservation union’s most detailed study of mammals in more than a decade. It formed part of a Red List of Threatened Species issued annually by the group.

The fishing cat, found in Southeast Asia, was moved to the second most threatened category, endangered, from vulnerable, because of habitat loss in wetlands. The Caspian seal, also endangered, has declined in population by 90 percent over the past 100 years because of unsustainable hunting and degradation of its habitats.

Jan Schipper, director of the global mammal assessment for the IUCN and for Conservation International, an environmental group, gave a mostly bleak assessment.