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Friday, February 24, 2006

NASA Detects Mysterious 'Explosion' In Space

Astronomers have detected a new type of cosmic outburst that they can't explain, and it was close.

It was spotted by NASA's Swift telescope and is being monitored by other telescopes around the world as scientists wait to see what will happen.

Neil Gehrels, principal investigator for the Swift mission at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, called the event "totally new, totally unexpected."

The event, detected Feb. 18, looks as powerful as something like a gamma-ray burst (GRB), scientists said. But it is much closer—about 440 million light-years away—than others. And it lasted for about 33 minutes. Most GRBs are billions of light-years away and last less than a second or just a few seconds.

Other aspects of the newfound eruption were inexplicable, astronomers said. It was dimmer than most. Even so, the newly spotted point of light in the sky outshines the entire galaxy in which the event occurred.

Islamic Fundamentalists On The Rise In Africa

A recent upsurge in violence in Somalia's capital has focused attention anew on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the chaotic Horn of Africa state. The violence had killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 140 since Saturday.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew the government and then began fighting each other.

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, said by the United States to be linked to al-Qaida, describes his rivals as "forces of evil" supported by Western powers. Wednesday he pledged to keep fighting a new alliance arrayed against him in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

His rivals, meanwhile, describe the fundamentalists as terrorists, accusing them of killing moderate intellectuals, Muslim scholars and former military officials in a string of unexplained murders. Islamic militias have set up their own courts in some parts of Mogadishu, where they shut down bars and destroy shops that reproduce or sell pirated DVDs and music cassettes.

The United States linked Aweys, who has vowed to establish an Islamic state, to al-Qaida shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Aweys has said such allegations were invented by his enemies.

Last year, U.N. experts monitoring an arms embargo on Somalia reported that Islamic hard-liners were importing heavy weapons and establishing military training camps. Among them were members of Al-Ittihad al-Islami, which wants to impose Islamic law in Somalia and allegedly has ties to al-Qaida.

Also last year, the International Crisis Group reported the emergence of a Mogadishu extremist cell led by a young Somali militant trained in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was once based.

The International Crisis Group, a private think tank which tracks conflicts around the world, noted that al-Qaida contributed to attacks on U.S. and U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia in the early 1990s and used the country as a transit zone for attacks in neighboring Kenya and later as a hiding place for some of its leading members.

Saturday, a coalition of warlords and businessman announced they were taking a stand against the fundamentalists. They said in a statement they would "eradicate the extremists, terrorists and their supporters so as to pave the way for a peaceful country for the Somali children."

The emergence of the coalition is evidence the warlords see the fundamentalist as a serious threat. With stakes high on both sides, it could signal the start of a significant deterioration in security in an already lawless land.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

30 Christian Churches Down, Several Thousand To Go

Christians living in the Islamic world have become the targets of continuing violence. The L.A. Times has linked the recent burning of a church in the city of Sukkur in southern Pakistan to the climate of unrest caused by the cartoon riots. The day before that, Muslims protesting in the city of Maiduguri in Nigeria attacked Christians and burned 15 churches. And shortly after the cartoons were published, a 60-year-old Roman Catholic priest was shot to death in Turkey in an incident that observers believe to be linked to the cartoons.

The Christian Association of Nigeria claims at least 93 people have died as a result of the Nigerian Muslim's murderous rampage.

"The disruption of key oil supplies, and the simmering religious tensions in the north where 17 people have been killed and 30 Christian churches burned, Nigeria is again teetering on the edge of chaos."

Banning All Images For Fear Of Islamic Backlash

As violent protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continue around the world, a St. Paul charter school is quietly negotiating the delicate question of how to teach art to Muslims.

Any depiction of God and his prophets is considered offensive under Islam, and disrespectful representations are even worse, as the recent worldwide outrage over the Danish cartoons has shown. But some Muslims also refrain from producing images of ordinary human beings and animals, citing Islamic teaching.

That presented a challenge for Higher Ground Academy, a K-12 school just west of Central High School on Marshall Avenue that has about 450 students. About 70 percent of them are Muslim immigrants from eastern Africa.

Executive Director Bill Wilson said he had concerns for some time about how to reconcile the school's art curriculum with the views of Muslim families, but the departure of the art teacher at the end of last school year gave him a window to act. This fall, he hired ArtStart, a St. Paul-based nonprofit organization, to offer more options for about 150 kindergartners through second-graders, including visual arts and drumming. But parents were still upset that their children were drawing figures, Wilson said, and some pulled their children out of art class altogether.

Wilson then sat down with teacher and parent liaison Abdirahman Sheikh Omar Ahmad, who also is the imam at an Islamic center in Minneapolis, to work with ArtStart in determining how to meet state standards without running afoul of Muslim doctrine...

...Second-grader Hawi Muhammed said her parents don't mind if she draws people once in a while, but "God … doesn't like people to draw a lot," she said.

Lessons Of The UAE Port Deal

Lesson One of Portgate: Scream "Islamophobia/xenophobia" often enough, and people will start to back down.

Lesson Two of Portgate: Mislead and mischaracterize your critics often enough, and people will start to back down.

Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove tells Fox News Radio that Dubai is a "great military asset" and "vital to our security." Meanwhile, the WSJ reports today:
Dubai is believed to have been one of the most important conduits for Iran's nuclear technology acquisition program, according to U.S. court cases and interviews with experts in the field. The Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a nongovernment advocacy group, last year published a list of 38 weapons-related smuggling cases since 1982 in which the goods moved through Dubai and the other islands that constitute the United Arab Emirates. Most of the illicit goods crossing Dubai go through its ports.

More generally, according to sanctions experts and numerous U.S. court and regulatory cases, Iran uses Dubai to evade U.S. economic sanctions on Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. The UAE doesn't recognize those sanctions.

Iranian front companies in Dubai routinely obtain prohibited U.S. goods, federal court records show. In one undercover investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that resulted in a November 2005 guilty plea in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the representative of an Iranian front company was caught on tape assuring an undercover agent posing as a businessman not to worry about sanctions regulations.

"You are going to export to Dubai, which does not have any regulations. It's a free, uh, country for importing, exporting," said Khalid Mahmood, according to his guilty plea. Asked if the equipment would then be shipped to Iran, Mr. Mahmood replied, "Once it comes here, we'll ship it anywhere in the world, no problem."

Similarly, in 2003, UAE officials refused a U.S. request to intercept a shipment of nuclear technology bound for South Africa by a smuggler named Asher Karni, according to University of Georgia sanctions expert Scott Jones, who works with U.S. agencies on proliferation issues. Mr. Karni was convicted of violating sanctions against weapons of mass destruction last year in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The UAE also was believed to be a nexus for Pakistan's nuclear program and hosted at least two front companies that forwarded material to Islamabad.

The supporters of, and retreaters on, the deal are also silent about the unprecedented, Islamic law-compliant funding scheme that allowed state-owned Dubai Ports World to force its more experienced rival to drop its bid for P&O. (The underwriters of Dubai Ports World's $3.5 billion Islamic financing instrument called a "sukuk" --Barclay's and Dubai Islamic Bank--were both cited as probable conduits for bin Laden money.)

California Enforcing Lower Standard For Colored Lawyers

Courtesy of John Rosenberg, here's an article praising the ABA's new "diversity" standard on the theory that it will require California law schools to create more African American attorneys.

Putting aside the issue of Proposition 209, to the extent that as a result of the new standards California law schools bend their admissions standards in some legal or illegal way to admit more African American matriculants, it's not clear that this will have much of an effect on the number of African American lawyers, or that it would worth the cost if it did.

According to the very same article, only 33% of first-time African American bar exam takers in California passed, compared to 69% of whites. Some implications that seems rather obvious to me: (1) California (and the ABA) can most easily increase the number of African American attorneys by either (a) making the bar exam easier; (b) abolishing it altogether; or (c) finding some way to increase the passage rate for African Americans; and (2) Given that 2/3 of African American bar exam takers are already failing the bar exam on their first try (and that does not account for students who failed out of law school and never took the bar), and that many of those who fail the first time will never pass, where is the logic in encouraging law schools to admit even more African American students, unless there is some evidence that these students will be stronger than recent crops of students?

Vatican Calls Out Muslims On Their Hypocracy

After backing calls by Muslims for respect for their religion in the Mohammad cartoons row, the Vatican is now urging Islamic countries to reciprocate by showing more tolerance toward their Christian minorities.

Roman Catholic leaders at first said Muslims were right to be outraged when Western newspapers reprinted Danish caricatures of the Prophet, including one with a bomb in his turban.

After criticizing both the cartoons and the violent protests in Muslim countries that followed, the Vatican this week linked the issue to its long-standing concern that the rights of other faiths are limited, sometimes severely, in Muslim countries.

Vatican prelates have been concerned by recent killings of two Catholic priests in Turkey and Nigeria. Turkish media linked the death there to the cartoons row. At least 146 Christians and Muslims have died in five days of religious riots in Nigeria.

“If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us,” Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, told journalists in Rome.

“We must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts,” Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo told the daily Corriere della Sera.

Reciprocity — allowing Christian minorities the same rights as Muslims generally have in Western countries, such as building houses of worship or practicing religion freely — is at the heart of Vatican diplomacy toward Muslim states.

Vatican diplomats argue that limits on Christians in some Islamic countries are far harsher than restrictions in the West that Muslims decry, such as France’s ban on headscarves in state schools. Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim religion and sometimes arrests Christians even for worshipping privately. Pakistan allows churches to operate but its Islamic laws effectively deprive Christians of many rights.

Turkey Calling The Shot On 'Brokeback Mountain'

The pirate DVD version of Brokeback Mountain made it to Turkey before the offical screenings had a chance to, and evidently the title they’ve gone with translates in Turkish to “Faggot Cowboys.” Reader Odradek shares with us this scan from local paper Radikal showing the 'translation.'

Good job with that engrish.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Abortion More Important Than The Mother's Life

A spokesperson for the APA openly stated that the Association supports abortion as a civil right, and therefore research contradicting claims that abortion improves women’s health would have no effect on the APA’s position, because “to pro-choice advocates, mental health effects are not relevant.”

Researchers in Christchurch, New Zealand, whose extensive study found clear links between abortion and women’s mental health problems, accused the APA of selectively ignoring current research that shows the negative effects of abortion on women’s mental health.

They suggested that the APA defense of abortion is based on seriously flawed studies, long outdated, and refuted by research from the last seven years clearly showing negative effects from abortion. In an interesting twist, the Christchurch research team, which supports abortion, undertook their study in order to attempt to refute claims that abortion damaged women’s mental health.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

UofIllinois: Show Anti-Catholic Works, Get Accolades, Show Anti Muslim Cartoon, Get Fired

The February 9 edition of the Daily Illini, the student newspaper at the University of Illinois, republished cartoons that made fun of Muhammad. Those responsible for doing so, the editor in chief and the opinions page editor, have now been suspended.

The response of school officials to this incident is the subject of Catholic League president Bill Donohue’s news release:

“Richard Herman, the chancellor of the University of Illinois, is critical of the decision to reprint the anti-Muhammad cartoons. He maintains that a discussion about the controversial Danish cartoons could have taken place without republishing them. He’s right, but that is not the way the university treats anti-Catholic fare on campus.

“In March 1997, the same Urbana-Champaign campus displayed drawings by Michele Blondel that showed red glass vaginas hanging inside European Roman Catholic cathedrals; two of them had red glass holy water cruets with crosses on them. I wrote a letter to the president registering my objections, and received a reply from the chancellor, Michael Aiken.

“Aiken said he regretted that the art ‘disappointed’ me (flat beers disappoint me, not lousy art). He instructed, ‘Most viewers find Blondel’s art to be quite subtle as it invites the viewer to contemplate and reflect on topics as diverse as the body, the church, and architectural and religious symbolism.’ Stupid me—I thought it was Catholic-bashing porn. His closer was precious: ‘The University believes that true intellectual discourse extends not only to written communication but also to the visual.’ Except when Muslims get angry.

“So what’s changed? Do Catholics have to call for beheadings to get respect? How else to explain the condescending response I got, and the sympathetic response afforded Muslims? Similarly, nobody was disciplined for offending Catholics, but two kids have been suspended for offending Muslims!”