World and Nation

Shorts (right)

Divorce soars in Iran, stirring fears of society in crisis

TEHRAN — The wedding nearly 1,400 years ago of Imam Ali, Shiite Islam’s most revered figure, and Fatemeh al-Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, is commemorated in Iran’s packed political calendar as a day to celebrate family values.

But in a sign of the Iranian authorities’ increasing concern about Iran’s shifting social landscape, Marriage Day, as it is usually known in Iran, this year was renamed No Divorce Day, with Iran’s justice minister decreeing no divorce permits would be issued.

The officials’ concerns are understandable. Divorce is skyrocketing in Iran. The number each year has roughly tripled in a decade, to a little more than 150,000 in 2010 from around 50,000 in 2000, according to official figures.

Explanations for the rising divorce rate vary widely. More liberal commentators emphasize factors like rapid urbanization, high living costs and a jobless rate that official figures put at close to 1 in 4 among 16- to 25-year-olds.

Service members face new threat: identity theft

The government warns Americans to closely guard their Social Security numbers. But it has done a poor job of protecting those same numbers for millions of people: the nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

At bases and outposts at home and around the world, military personnel continue to use their Social Security numbers as personal identifiers in dozens of everyday settings, from filling out health forms to checking out basketballs at the gym. All of this is putting members of the military at heightened risk for identity theft.

That is the conclusion of a scathing new report written by an Army intelligence officer turned West Point professor, Lt. Col. Gregory Conti. Representatives for the military say they are aware of the problem and are taking steps to fix it, with the Navy and Marines making efforts in the last few months. The Defense Department said in 2008 it was moving to limit the use of Social Security numbers, and in a statement last week it said the numbers would no longer appear on new military ID cards as of May.

Tracing the spark of creative problem-solving

The puzzles look easy, and mostly they are. Given three words — “trip,” “house” and “goal,” for example — find a fourth that will complete a compound word with each. A minute or so of mental trolling (housekeeper, goalkeeper, trip?) is all it usually takes.

But who wants to troll?

Let lightning strike. Let the clues suddenly coalesce in the brain — “field!” — as they do so often for young children solving a riddle. As they must have done, for that matter, in the minds of those early humans who outfoxed nature well before the advent of deduction, abstraction or SAT prep courses. Puzzle-solving is such an ancient, universal practice, scholars say, precisely because it depends on creative insight, on the primitive spark that ignited the first campfires.

And now, modern neuroscientists are beginning to tap its source. In a just completed study, researchers at Northwestern University found that people were more likely to solve word puzzles with sudden insight when they were amused, having just seen a short comedy routine.

U.S. selling last of stake 
in Citigroup

Citigroup is finally wriggling free of Uncle Sam.

Two years after the financial giant was bailed out by the federal government, the U.S. Treasury is selling its remaining shares in the company.

The move, announced late on Monday, largely ends the remarkable federal rescue of Citigroup, whose downfall came to symbolize all that was wrong with Wall Street. It also represents another milestone in the post-bailout era.

While the government would retain a vestigial interest in Citigroup after the offering, the sale would effectively free the giant company from modest federal pay restrictions and lift a cloud that has hung over its chief executive, Vikram S. Pandit.

Bond prices rise, but shares finish flat

Bond prices rose and stock indexes ended flat on Monday after remarks by the Federal Reserve chairman over the weekend that left open the possibility of expanding the central bank’s bond purchases.

The remarks by the chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, came after a week of mixed news about the economy. On Monday, the central bank bought about $2 billion in mostly long-term Treasuries as part of its bond buying program.

He also said it was “certainly possible” that the Fed could expand the program, depending on inflation and how efficient the program is, but he added, “We’re not very far from the level where the economy is not self-sustaining.”

The program, known as quantitative easing, was announced in November. It calls for buying about $600 billion in bonds through June 2011.

On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average ended down 19.90 points, or 0.2 percent, at 11,362.19. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 1.59 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,223.12, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 3.46 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,594.92.