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The News You May Have Missed: June 2024

Solar Ecumenism

Six inmates who cited “religious beliefs” when suing their upstate New York prison for the right to view April’s solar eclipse reached a settlement allowing them to witness the celestial phenomenon (New York Post, April 5). The prisoners at Woodbourne Correctional Facility — who include a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santería, and even one atheist — were allowed to observe the eclipse from the prison’s yard, with administration providing them glasses to view safely “in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” their attorney said. The inmates had filed a suit insisting on their constitutional right to see the eclipse, calling it “a religious event that they must witness and reflect on to observe their faiths.” They claimed that the Bible describes an eclipse-like phenomenon during Jesus’ crucifixion, and Islamic books of worship depict a similar event during the death of Muhammad’s son. The atheist plaintiff argued that it is a “central aspect of atheism to celebrate common humanity and bring people together to encourage people to find common ground.” The next full solar eclipse won’t occur in the United States until 2044.



Red-eyed periodical cicadas will emerge from dormancy this spring in numbers not seen in decades, possibly centuries, in what University of Connecticut’s John Cooley calls “cicada-geddon” (Associated Press, April 1). Crawling out from underground, with a collective song as loud as jet engines, Brood XIX, which appears every 13 years, will inundate the Southeast, while Brood XIII, which appears every 17 years, will invade the Midwest. “When you put those two together…you would have more [cicadas] than anywhere else any other time,” said University of Maryland entomologist Paula Shrewsbury. The last time these two broods appeared simultaneously was in 1803, when Thomas Jefferson was president. The broods might overlap — but probably not interbreed — in a small area near central Illinois. The number of cicadas that will come out this year will easily be in the hundreds of trillions, maybe the quadrillions. It can be hard on the eardrums when all those cicadas get together. “It’s up in the 110 decibel range,” Cooley said. “It’d be like putting your head next to a jet. It is painful.”


Man vs. Macaque

Thai officials have a plan to bring peace to a city that’s suffered a decade of human-simian conflict (Associated Press, April 3). The macaques that roam Lopburi are a symbol of local culture — the ancient Three Pagodas temple celebrates an annual Monkey Buffet Festival — and a major tourist draw. But after years of dangerous encounters, citizens have had enough. The macaques frequently try to snatch food from humans, sometimes leaving people with scratches and other injuries. Outrage grew when a woman dislocated her knee after being knocked off her feet by a hungry monkey, and another man was knocked off a motorcycle. Authorities plan to round up some 2,000 macaques, prioritizing more aggressive alpha males, and place them in massive enclosures — while allowing a limited number to roam free. “I don’t want humans to have to hurt monkeys, and I don’t want monkeys to have to hurt humans,” said Athapol Charoenshunsa, director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Macaques are a protected species under Thailand’s wildlife conservation law.


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