The truth is out there: 13/02/2010

A weekly look at the world
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The Independent Online

*Evangelical churches are embracing the world of mixed martial arts, according to reports in last week's New York Times.

Xtreme Ministries in Nashville is one such establishment, combining church and mixed martial arts academy, operating under the motto "Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide". Mixed martial arts has something of a violent reputation, combining kickboxing, wrestling and other fighting styles. But the churches are keen to convert young men with low church attendance and are happy to use a sport which draws millions of television viewers. Several pastors put the number of churches taking up mixed martial arts at roughly 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in America.

*The Pentagon's mad science arm may have come up with its most radical project yet, said this week. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) wants to rewrite the laws of evolution to the military's advantage, creating "synthetic organisms" that can live for ever – or can be killed at the flick of a molecular switch. As part of its budget for next year, Darpa is investing $6m into a project called BioDesign, with the goal of eliminating "the randomness of natural evolutionary advancement". The plan would create creatures that are genetically engineered with molecules that bolster cell resistance to death, so they can "ultimately be programmed to live indefinitely".

*New York officials held a ceremony at City Hall this week to mark the 75th anniversary of Alligators in the Sewers Day, in recognition of the popular legend. According to the New York Post the myth began in 1935 when 16-year-old Salvatore Condulucci from Manhattan's East 123rd Street allegedly discovered an alligator in the sewer. The legend holds that alligators found their way into New York after holidaymakers returned to the city with them as pets, only to flush them away when they became too large.

*A mysterious billboard in Wyoming has set the blogosphere abuzz. No-one knows who paid for it. A smiling George W Bush with the caption "Miss me yet?" greets drivers on Interstate 35 in Minnesota. Some say it is the work of sarcastic Obama supporters, reminding disgruntled liberals about how bad things were under Bush. Others detect the handiwork of Bush fans. Yahoo! News tracked down the advertising company that owns the space but was told the group of Obama-supporting small-business owners behind it wished to remain anonymous. Democrat officials have denied the links. They say it could be "Tea Party people" posing as Obama fans.

*The number of students achieving top grades from Princeton University has dipped below 40 per cent, down from nearly 50 per cent six years ago. But rather than a tale of declining standards it is the symptom of a unique marking policy in which the university rations A grades to combat grade inflation. Though the policy was praised when introduced back in 2004, students are now speaking out against it, with almost a third citing it as their top source of unhappiness, reported The New York Times.