1. Some 6000 protesters marched in Jordan on Friday. They said they wanted to transform the Jordanian monarchy into a European-style, constitutional monarchy and to return to an unamended 1952 constitution.
2. Some 100,000 Tunisians came out into the streets of Tunis on Friday to demand the resignation of caretaker prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. The interim government has set elections for mid-July, a key demand of protesters. It has also dissolved the former ruling party, the Rally for Constitutional Democracy to deny it advantages in the elections. But they don’t trust Ghannouchi, an insider in the regime of deposed president Zine El Abdidin Ben Ali, to oversee the lead-up to the elections. Ghannouchi is attempting to gain popularity by seizing the assets of Ben Ali’s corrupt inner circle, but so far has not been able to shake his reputation as a Ben Ali crony himself.
3. Tens of thousands of protesters came to Tahrir Square in dowtown Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, demanding the cancellation of the emergency laws that have suspended civil liberties in Egypt for 30 years. They also wanted Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, an appointee of deposed president Hosni Mubarak, to step down so there would be a clean break with the old regime. The Egyptian army prevented the crowd from going to the prime minister’s residence for their protest, and generally cracked down on the dissidents.
4. Some 200,000 protesters marched through Manama, the Bahrain capital, on Friday. They want Bahrain’s monarchy to become a constitutional monarchy, with guaranteed civil liberties. The also want the prime minister to be fired. The king has dismissed three other cabinet ministers.
5. Protesters in Aden, Yemen demanded that strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh step down. About 4 persons were killed and two dozen wounded as security forces over-reacted to the demonstration.
6. Overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi. The dictator’s security forces abandoned the working class district of Tajoura on Saturday after several days in which they tried just shooting down protesters to quell the demonstrations. They failed. If Qaddafi is losing significant portions of Tripoli itself, the writing is on the wall for him.
The protesters in Egypt and Tunisia had had only partial success, removing a strong man but wondering where genuine reform might have gone. Libyans still have not even removed the dictator, Qaddafi. And in Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan, popular demands for genuine economic and political reform have still largely fallen on deaf ears.
Fascinating screed from an Anglican Priest about the BHA, and 'Cultural Christians"
Any pretence that the British Humanist Association had to “fairness” in the public sphere is swept aside this week as it launches its campaign to stop respondents to the ten-yearly national Census on 27 March saying they’re religious. The New Atheists have been beside themselves with rage since the 2001 Census, when 72 per cent of people in England described themselves as Christian. And so the BHA will this week be commanding us all from posters and bus-sides thus: “If you’re not religious for God’s sake say so” (which may be rather more theologically profound than they intend to be).
The thrust of the BHA’s argument is this: “Cultural” Christians are not proper Christians and should not self-identify as such. Baptism doesn’t mean that you have to consider yourself a Christian. And that religious practice, rather than “cultural” affiliation, ought to be what the Government is surveying.
It’s difficult to know whether these “Humanists” are being more patronising than ignorant here. The English have never taken kindly to being told by bossy people what to believe and what to call themselves. And only some fringe hardliners in the Church of England have ever claimed that religious affiliation is what qualifies you to be a Christian – the great Archbishop William Temple is credited with saying that the C of E exists principally for the benefit of its non-members...
....Christianity is in our national DNA, in our responsibilities for the vulnerable, in our commitment to family, in our laws and in our parliament. We may not want to be in a Christian group, but we want to live in a Christian society. (sic)
UK: Pagans are campaigning for druids and witches to declare their religious affiliation in next month's Census to gain greater recognition for the group. The Pagan Federation says it wants the same recognition as other faiths.
Secularists say the optional question about what religion people are could lead to artificially large numbers identifying themselves as Christian. That in turn could lead to an over-provision of faith schools, the British Humanist Association argues.
In the 2001 Census, more than 70% of people described themselves as Christian. The Pagan Federation insists druids, wiccans, witches and other pagans constitute a serious and growing religious group.
Ten years ago 42,000 people declared themselves as Pagans - the seventh highest number for any UK religion - but some experts believe the true figure was nearer 250,000 - and is significantly higher now.
For the third time in three years President Obama's proposed budget will attempt to reduce tax deductions for high-end charitable donors, and for the third time nonprofits and religious organizations are pushing back.
Many religious nonprofits, which supplement their budgets heavily with donations from wealthy donors, are concerned that reducing the tax write-offs for charitable donations will cause a decrease in giving, said Diana Aviv, the president and CEO of Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofit organizations.
Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 includes a 30 percent reduction in itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers. Individual donors making more than $200,000 or families earning more than $250,000 would be able to claim 28 percent of any donation as a tax deduction rather than the current 35 percent. That would mean that a wealthy taxpayer who donates $10,000 to a charity would be able to only claim a $2,800 deduction on his taxes, rather than $3,500.
Online astroturfing is more advanced and more automated than we’d imagined. From Monsanto to Koch to the US Air Force, public debate is now being artificially manipulated on a giant scale...
Every month more evidence piles up, suggesting that online comment threads and forums are being hijacked by people who aren’t what they seem to be. The anonymity of the web gives companies and governments golden opportunities to run astroturf operations: fake grassroots campaigns, which create the impression that large numbers of people are demanding or opposing particular policies. This deception is most likely to occur where the interests of companies or governments come into conflict with the interests of the public. For example, there’s a long history of tobacco companies creating astroturf groups to fight attempts to regulate them.
After I last wrote about online astroturfing, in December, I was contacted by a whistleblower. He was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them. Like the other members of the team, he posed as a disinterested member of the public. Or, to be more accurate, as a crowd of disinterested members of the public: he used 70 personas, both to avoid detection and to create the impression that there was widespread support for his pro-corporate arguments. I’ll reveal more about what he told me when I’ve finished the investigation I’m working on.
But it now seems that these operations are more widespread, more sophisticated and more automated than most of us had guessed. Emails obtained by political hackers from a US cyber-security firm called HB Gary Federal suggest that a remarkable technological armoury is being deployed to drown out the voices of real people...
- companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.
- this software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.
- fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically re-posting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.
- human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and re-tweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.
- with some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, “make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas”
But perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:
a. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent. … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”
b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet.” [An IP address is the number which identifies someone's computer]. These are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation.” The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organization. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”
c. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time.” It should also allow “organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization.”....
n a stunning reversal of policy announced Wednesday, President Barack Obama decided that a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era law that restricts the benefits of marriage to a man and a woman only, is unconstitutional, and ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending it.
The nation's top law enforcement agency said in a media advisory that in reviewing two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, the president concluded that the act did not meet constitutional standards against discrimination.
From now on, they added, in cases where Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is challenged, the Department of Justice will no longer offer a defense.
"In these cases, the Administration faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply," the department's media advisory said. What this means is that the administration will no longer uphold Section 3 of the act as it applies to couples that are already legally married in states that have allowed same-sex couples.
HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex civil unions into law Wednesday, calling it "a triumph for everyone" that gay and lesbian couples will have the same state rights as married partners.
Civil unions in the Rainbow State would start Jan. 1, 2012, making Hawaii the seventh state to permit civil unions or similar legal recognitions for gay couples. Five other states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.
Now in its eighth season, the Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival continues to inspire me with a wide range of new films. Co-presented with TIFF, the festival opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox today with 10 new films that highlight human rights issues around the world, and tell amazing stories in the process.
Special guest, Shelley Saywell, explored 'honour killings' — the subject of tonight’s feature film When We Leave — in her documentary film, In The Name of The Family, which detailed the killing of Mississauga teen, Aqsa Parvez, at the hands of her father and brother.
When We Leave was also based on a highly publicized 'honour killing', which took place in Berlin in 2005. The story follows Umay (Sibel Kekilli) a young Turkish Muslim woman who decides to leave her abusive husband in Istanbul and join her family in Germany.
Shortlisted for the 83rd Academy Awards®, When We Leave has won numerous awards, including the Prix Lux, the European Parliament’s honor for the best European film of the year.
See the full schedule HERE.
A handful of Senate Democrats are presenting a united front against new reproductive-rights restrictions being pushed by House Republicans. The House on Friday, during its debate of a spending bill to keep the government running past March 4, approved an amendment by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) stripping federal funding from Planned Parenthood, which receives about $350 million each year in federal, state and local grants.
The newly empowered House Republicans are pushing ahead with a slate of anti-abortion legislation, and a few Senate Democrats have been fighting back hard for weeks.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Al Franken (Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) have promised recently to block the Republican agenda to limit abortion services and defund Planned Parenthood.
Asked by reporters Thursday if the Senate had the votes to defeat Pence’s battle against Planned Parenthood, Franken offered a one-word answer: 'Yes.'
Earlier today, Maryland Senators introduced SB 116, 'Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act,' which would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the state while exempting religious institutions from conducting the same-sex marriage ceremonies. State Senator Robert Garagiola introduced the measure and stressed that religious institutions would not be required to recognize these relationships:
GARAGIOLA: Under the terms of the Act, an official of a religious institution or body who is authorized to solemnize marriages, may not be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, or Article 36 of our Constitution. As amended, the bill also provides that a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit operated by one, may not be required to provide services accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs.
Monkeys trained to play computer games have helped to show that it is not just humans that feel self-doubt and uncertainty, a study says. US-based scientists found that macaques will "pass" rather than risk choosing the wrong answer in a brainteaser task.
Awareness of our own thinking was believed to be a uniquely human trait. But the study, presented at the AAAS meeting in Washington DC, suggests that our more primitive primate relatives are capable of such self-awareness.
Professor John David Smith, from State University of New York at Buffalo and Michael Beran, from Georgia State University, carried out the study. These results could help explain why self-awareness is such an important part of our cognitive makeup and from whence it cam...
They trained the macaques, which are Old World monkeys, to use a joystick-based computer game. "Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error," he told BBC. "They seem to know when they don't know." In the same trial, capuchins, which belong to the group known as New World monkeys, failed to take this third option.
Dr Smith explained: "There is a big theoretical question at stake here: Did [this type of cognition] develop only once in one line of the primates - emerging only in the line of Old World primates leading to apes and humans?
He said that the capacity think in this way was "one of the most important facets of humans' reflective mind, central to every aspect of our comprehension and learning. These results... could help explain why self-awareness is such an important part of our cognitive makeup and from whence it came".
KABUL, 17 February 2011 (IRIN) - Girls can attend separate schools provided students and teachers wear the hijab, and the curriculum and education environment are in keeping with religious and cultural values, Taliban commanders have told elders in southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban appear to be changing their attitude to female education, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE) which said there had been no opposition to the reopening of dozens of schools in the past year. “All Afghans, including those in armed opposition to the government, support education for the children of this country and we see no opposition from anyone to girls’ education,” said Abdul Sabour Ghofrani, an MoE spokesman in Kabul.
The Taliban’s self-proclaimed government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, has not publicly confirmed its policy shift. Girls were banned from education and women were prohibited from outdoor activities during Taliban rule in 1996-2001. "If this is true, it’s a major step forward and we truly welcome it," Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, told IRIN, adding that it was time for communities to get their girls to school.
"Why not believe in God? If you believe and you turn out to be wrong, you haven't lost anything. But if you don't believe and you turn out to be wrong, you lose everything. Isn't believing the safer bet?"
In debates about religion, this argument keeps coming up. Over, and over, and over again. In almost any debate about religion, if the debate lasts long enough, someone is almost guaranteed to bring it up. The argument even has a name: Pascal's Wager, after Blaise Pascal, the philosopher who most famously formulated it. And it makes atheists want to tear our hair out.
Not because it's a great argument... but because it's such a manifestly lousy one. It doesn't make logical sense. It doesn't make practical sense. It trivializes the whole idea of both belief and non-belief. It trivializes reality. In fact, it concedes the argument before it's even begun. Demolishing Pascal's Wager is like shooting fish in a barrel. Unusually slow fish, in a tiny, tiny barrel. I almost feel guilty writing an entire piece about it. It's such low-hanging fruit....
In fact, I've seen (and written about) an atheist version of Pascal's Wager that takes this conundrum into account. In the Atheist's Wager, you might as well just be as good a person as you can in this life, and not worry about God or the afterlife. If (a) God is good, he won't care if you believe in him, as long as you were the best person you could be. If (b) God is a capricious, egoistic, insecure jackass whose lessons on how to act are so unclear we're still fighting about them after thousands of years... then we have no way of knowing what behavior he's going to punish or reward, and we might as well just be good according to our own understanding. And if (c) there is no god, then it's worth being good for its own sake: because we have compassion for other people, and because being good makes our world a better place, for ourselves and everyone else...."
WASHINGTON -- House Republicans voted on Friday to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, cutting money for contraceptives, HIV tests, cancer screenings and reproductive health services as part of an attempt to weaken the abortion provider. Planned Parenthood does not currently spend federal money on abortion services.
The 249-177 vote added the regulation ban to a sweeping spending bill that would fund the government through Sept. 30. The restriction is opposed by the Obama administration, which is using its regulatory powers to curb greenhouse gases after global warming legislation collapsed last year. The administration also says the ban would cost thousands of construction jobs.
EPA has already taken steps to regulate global warming pollution from vehicles and the largest factories and industrial plants. It is expected to soon roll out rules that target refineries and power plants.
Texas Republican Ted Poe pressed the anti-EPA measure. His Texas district is home to many oil refineries.
The violent sexual assault on CBS correspondent Lara Logan in Cairo last week has highlighted a huge problem in Egypt. According to one recent report by a women's rights group, some 80 percent of Egyptian women and 90 percent of foreign women visiting the country have been sexually harassed. And the former government did little to stem the problem.
But Egyptian women hope the revolution will change all that. Activists say attacks on women have been encouraged by the culture of impunity that has existed for many years here. The regime of former President Hosni Mubarak did little to punish perpetrators — and the victims, because of the stigma, often stayed silent.
Women are hoping that will now change. A unique aspect of the revolution was that women participated in huge numbers. They slept in Tahrir Square and marched alongside their male counterparts. They say harassment was rare during that period. Khaleefa says Egyptian women are trying to preserve that sense of respect that briefly flowered during the recent weeks. "I think this whole sense of awakening will spread in all fields and, hopefully, in gender rights as well."
"The appearance of women, unveiled women, veiled women, all together — Christians, Muslims, everyone, I think it gave a sense of this is a popular movement and these are the ordinary citizens," says Daadi Khaleefa, a human-rights activist. It was not only extremely inspiring for women but empowering for the whole society.
Shuleimy is a professor of gender studies at the American University in Cairo. She says harassment is now endemic in Cairo. "I also find that many veiled women get harassed and many little girls get harassed and people who are not particularly hot get harassed. I think it has more to do with denigrating femininity in whatever guise," she says.
Mohammed Saffi is the spokesman for harassmap.org, which is an initiative that was kicked off in Egypt in 2010. The idea behind the project, says Saffi, is to allow women to report where and how they've been harassed so that other women can avoid those areas. The website has a map with red circles around the neighborhoods where women are most at risk.
Saffi says harassment of women is a huge problem in Egypt. And the reason is twofold.
"The Arab world is a male-dominated society," he says. "And you can imagine if you mix a male-dominated society with an oppressive way of life for the past 30 years, that's not gonna garner good results in the field of women's rights."
Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, today said that "secular ethics" and dialogue would ensure that the present century is peaceful.
"Although the development of science and technology was taking place since 18th century, the 20th century was witnessed as a century of blood. However, the 21st century will be a century of dialogues to bring world peace," the Dalai Lama said at an interactive session at the three-day convention of Academia Eurasiana Neurochirurgica on A holistic approach to the realm of Neurosurgery here.
"Use of violence will not bring peace and it has to be through dialogues in the 21st century" (that peace can be ensured), he said.
It is also important to practise "secular ethics" to restrain use of destructive power in these modern times, he said adding"all these require peace of mind." The world has to learn from the 1,000-year-old tradition of secular ethics in India, he said.
India should also play an active role in promoting non-violence and secular ethics in the world community, Dalai Lama said. "Non-violence is not a sign of weakness but is a sign of strength."
Emphasising need to keep the mind calm, he said, too much of emotions, anger, jealousy, fear and corruption are signs of "negativity". "We must find solutions (as to) how to overcome these negativities through holistic approach without touching the religious basis," he added.
Yesterday at a conference about Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US strongly supported the shelters, only to be accused by Afghan authorities of not respecting Afghan culture. According to Clinton, it’s an example of people using cultural differences as an excuse for human rights violations.
The government is considering a draft regulation on Women's Protection Centers that would allow it to take over management of existing shelters for women, almost all of which are operated by nongovernmental organizations or the United Nations.
"The Afghan government claims that taking over the shelters would lead to sustainable funding and better management, but the real agenda is clear," said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The government is increasingly dominated by hard-line conservatives who are hostile to the very idea of shelters, since they allow women some autonomy from abusive husbands and family members."
Shelter providers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they often face death threats from families demanding the return of women or girls in the shelters' care. Human Rights Watch has also documented cases in which women in NGO-run shelters who fear lethal retribution from their families have come under pressure to return home from government officials. "This government is full of misogynist warlords and wide open to corruption," Reid said. "A government shelter is far more likely to cave in to pressure from families and tribes to hand back the victims, which will put women's lives at risk."
The draft resolution contains a number of other deeply problematic provisions, Human Rights Watch said. One would require every woman admitted to a shelter to undergo a forensic examination. Women and girls fleeing abuse should not be assumed to require a forensic examination, or to have committed a crime, which the compulsory imposition of such an examination implies.
Another problematic provision states that residents can be evicted from the shelter if they are "accepted into the home of her family or another relative," or upon "marriage," but does not say that the woman's consent should be a precondition for such a decision. A woman or girl facing domestic abuse, which usually involves one or more members of her own family, should not be forcibly returned to her family or relatives.
The need for shelters for women and girls in Afghanistan is acute, Human Rights Watch said. Violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape, is endemic. Forced and child marriage remain widespread and socially accepted...well over half of the marriages in Afghanistan are forced or involve girls under age 16. Since violence and abuse often take place inside the family, there is a vital need for safe and secure places for women, Human Rights Watch said.
Fewer than half of the 34 provinces in the country currently have shelters. Many women and girls are prosecuted for "running away from home" when they flee abuse, even though there is no such crime under Afghan law.
What underlies this punishment of victims is a failure by the police and other security officials to recognize forced and child marriage as a crime under Afghan law, Human Rights Watch said. This practice was recently codified by a Supreme Court directive in October 2010 (1497/1054), which said that women and girls were only permitted to seek refuge in the home of a relative or with the Security or Justice Departments, and that those who sought refuge elsewhere could be prosecuted. Research by Human Rights Watch and other organizations shows that many women are afraid to seek help from justice or security departments because they fear they will face further abuse or be forcibly returned home.
Werner Herzog's new film "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is a stunning 3D documentary about a cave in France that is home to the world's oldest known human art. Herzog has always had a fascination for extreme places. Whether it's the rainforests of 1972's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and 1982's "Fitzcarraldo," the ravaged oil fields of Kuwait in the 1992 film "Lessons of Darkness," or Antarctica as featured in the 2007 documentary "Encounters at the End of the World," the seems happiest when he is in the kind of location that tests human endurance to the limits.
But seldom has Herzog filmed in a place as inaccessible as the location of his latest documentary. In "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," which features in the official program of the , Herzog visits the Chauvet Cave in southern France, which is home to unique examples of Paleolithic rock art. The cave was sealed off for dozens of millennia -- and even today, no one is granted access apart from a handful of scientists. The cave, discovered in 1994, is home to hundreds of pristine artworks. Over 30,000 years old, they are the oldest known pictures created by humans.
In honor of Darwin Day 2011, the documentary Kansas vs. Darwin is freely available on-line for thirty days, from February 12 to March 12, 2011. Simply visit the film's website and click on the yellow sunflower or visit the film's Facebook page and click on the Events icon. Directed by Jeff Tamblyn, Kansas vs. Darwin covers the May 2005 hearings of proposed revisions to the Kansas state science standards.
The hearings, orchestrated by three anti-evolutionist members of the board, were widely condemned as a kangaroo court, intended only to provide political cover for the anti-evolution faction on the board to override the consensus of the committee of scientists, science educators, and citizens appointed to revise the science standards in order to undermine the treatment of evolution and allied topics in the standards.
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott praised the documentary as "a thoughtful and thorough introduction to a greatly misunderstood event: the 2005 Kansas Board of Education hearings on intelligent design and evolution. With remarkable footage of the hearings themselves along with candid interviews of the principals, the film presents both sides accurately and fairly, and with a healthy dollop of humor."
Over 100 people held hands at noon on Valentine's Day to honor the compassion shown by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' doctor at University Medical Center. "It was inspired by the health care given by Dr. Randall Friese," said Stephanie Hartz, a fourth-year medical student and member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.
The human chain, which took place at the Arizona Health Sciences Plaza at UMC, was part of a celebration for the first National Day of Solidarity for Compassionate Patient Care.
The chain also included a banner-sized photo of students at the UA College of Medicine in Phoenix. Participants were encouraged to take a moment and notice the people they were holding hands with. After the event participants were invited to share stories of humanism in medicine.
"As you may have noticed by following their writings, (US) Conservatives are not sticklers for historical accuracy, especially when they have a point to defend and not a lot of evidence to support it.." This whole article is good, but you might particularly like following the links for #2:
2. Darwin is a menace to Western Civilization.
You will from time to time hear about how some conservatives, at least, are cool with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. But they're usually discussing the science of evolution -- and on that score, they still can't bring a majority of Republicans onto their side.
On the philosophical implications of man evolving from monkeys, prominent conservatives have long believed and still believe that, in the words of Center for a Just Society Chairman Ken Connor, Darwin would have us believe that "God is simply a creature of our imagination. Human beings emerged gratuitously from the primordial ooze. Since we are the product of mere chance, we have no inherent dignity, value or worth." And that just ain't right.
Thus at the Conservative Book Club you can buy The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, which assures us that "Darwinism -- like Marxism and Freudianism before it -- is simply unfit to survive," and you can buy from the Conservative DVD Club films like How the Cambrian Fossil Record Disproves Darwin, and so on.
Some intellectual cons who can't quite go full knuckle-dragger try to finesse their way out of it. Dinesh D'Souza noted that, while "evolution does seem to turn many Christians into unbelievers," the discovery of evolutionary principles didn't sour Darwin himself on God -- Darwin's own bitterness over the death of his child did that; and when the evil Thomas Huxley later tied evolution to atheism, the embittered atheist Darwin supported him by becoming "increasingly insistent that evolution was an entirely naturalistic system, having no room for miracles or divine intervention at any point." If Darwin had been in his right mind, of course, he'd be singing Glory Hallelujah.
First Things author Peter Lawler made a noble effort, writing that as Darwinism shows that "our happiness comes from doing our duty to the species as social mammals. .. this account of who we are is basically conservative. It promotes family values—including such insights as people who come from large families are generally happier…."
Nice try, Poindexter! But, as with so much in conservative thinking, Jonah Goldberg iced the cake with his statement that while "I disagree with those who would lump Darwin with Freud and Marx… I don't think one can glibly say that just because the book was scientifically correct (speaking broadly, we've discovered lots of new things since then) and pioneering, doesn't mean it can't also be harmful. Darwinism certainly led to many horrors and abuses across the ideological spectrum…."
This thing goes way back and, despite the efforts of some pointy-heads, conservatives aren't backing off it anytime soon.
Gay and lesbian kids are still bullied and harassed in schools and they have to fight to get access to gay/straight alliances where they can get support and camaraderie. Often, opposition to such clubs is based in religion—as was the fight over a GSA in Irmo, South Carolina. The principal of Irmo High School, Eddie Walker, eventually resigned over the club, later saying he opposed it because he views “the world from a biblical perspective and my view of that was that it was wrong.”
Gays and lesbians are not alone in their battle for high school clubs. Next up: atheists.
The Secular Student Alliance, which promotes atheism and humanism with chapters at more than 200 colleges, is sending in reinforcements for teen free-thinkers—a push to launch 50 new high school clubs. Godless teens want the same social benefits that evangelical teens find at the annual “See you at the pole” flagpole prayer events at thousands of schools every September, and the court-sanctioned afterschool Bible clubs, and Christian, Jewish and Muslim student groups.
School administrators have reacted much the way they did to gay and lesbian groups. The groups faced hurdle after hurdle, one was even called a “hate group,” and a faculty sponsor was told that supporting the group would be a “bad career move.” But this opposition has only steeled the will of many students, including 18-year-old Brian Lisco, a senior at Stephen Austin High School in the Houston suburbs. The school offered a compromise— call it a Philosophy Club and drop any affiliation with the Secular Student Alliance. He refused. "We atheists are already invisible— we don’t come out. That’s a form of repression in itself. It’s about getting pushed to the margin of our community."
As a Christian lesbian, all I can say is, welcome to the margins, Brian. Margins can make for some strange bedfellows. We may not agree on God’s existence, but it’s always nice to have more allies in the battle to end repression of any kind.
By a vote of 143-135, the Canadian Parliament has narrowly approved a bill granting transgender and gender identity anti-discrimination protections nationwide. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it faces a tough battle. Via Dented Blue Mercedes:
Bill C-389 now goes to the Senate, where it must go through three readings. Readings in the Senate don’t take months-to-years as they do for Private Members Bills in Parliament. However, as far as I know, a Senator still needs to be found who is willing to bring the bill to the floor. There could be some perils in the Senate. In the past, the Senate has mostly just ratified and tweaked legislation passed by Parliament, but as Harper has packed more conservatives into the Senate (rather than reforming it to create an elected Senate, which he once campaigned on), it has been sometimes used more undemocratically. In one recent such move, he used a lack of attendance of Liberal senators to kill a climate change bill. It is also still entirely possible that an election call could kill the bill before it is enacted into law. What would happen then is that as a community, we would need to press candidates and parties to pledge to finish what was started, and also to address other glaring omissions such as the absence of sex / gender from the hate crimes provisions from the Criminal Code of Canada.
The Berlinale has always had a strong political streak. During the Cold War era, the choice of films caused disputes with Warsaw Pact countries on more than one occasion. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the festival has regularly featured films by directors working under oppressive regimes and movies with a strong political message.
But seldom has the Berlinale opened on such a politicized note. On Thursday evening, the Iranian director was the focus of the festival's opening gala, traditionally a star-studded spectacle. The festival's organizers appointed Panahi, who was recently sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year ban on making films after falling foul of the Iranian regime, as a member of this year's jury as a gesture of solidarity, even though he is unable to attend.
During the opening ceremony, jury president Isabella Rossellini read out an from Panahi which was openly critical of the Iranian regime. "The reality is I have been kept from making films for the past five years and am now officially sentenced to be deprived of this right for another 20 years," Rossellini quoted Panahi as writing. "But they can not keep me from dreaming that in 20 years inquisition and intimidation will be replaced by freedom and free thinking." Panahi wrote that he had been condemned to 20 years of silence. "Yet in my dreams, I scream for a time when we can tolerate each other, respect each other's opinions, and live for each other."
After Rossellini, who was standing beside Panahi's empty jury-member chair, had read out the letter, there was absolute silence in the theater for a moment. Then the gala guests gave Rossellini a long standing ovation.
I was waiting for Juan Cole to respond to the Egyptian Revolution - he was at Columbia, and here is his response, and a clip from Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. Have fun reading this and applying the ideas to WESTERN 'Democracy' :)
he said it seemed that three major outcomes are possible:
1. The old elite of officers and businessmen around Mubarak survives him to remain more or less in power, and further protests over time are repressed.
2. There are new presidential and parliamentary elections, but the Mubarak cronies take advantage of their experience in organizing and the wealth they have gained from their crony status to dominate these institutions, while the officer corps remains a power behind the scenes.
3. There is a genuine social and political revolution, wherein substantial amounts of wealth and power are redistributed to new actors.
"Hosni Mubarak is gone to the wild elation of Egyptian crowds. The country is now being run by a council of military officers. They say that they want a transition to a civilian elected government this fall. What do the people who made the revolution want? I argued in Detroit News that this movement is at its core a labor movement. The constant drumbeat on Faux News that the crowds want a Muslim fundamentalist dictatorship is ridiculous. Egyptians are religious, but the keywords of the protests have been secular ones – elections, parliament, the people, the army, the nation (watan, the secular word for nation, not ummah, the religious community).
A communique issued by the “January 25" leadership is consistent with that finding:
* Repeal of the state of emergency, which suspends constitutional protections for human rights, immediately.
* The immediate release of all political prisoners
* The setting aside of the present constitution and its amendments
* Dissolution of the federal parliament, as well as of provincial councils
* Creation of a transitional, collective governing council
* The formation of an interim government comprising independent nationalist trends, which would oversee free and fair elections
* The formation of a working group to draft a new and democratic constitution that resembles the older of the democratic constitutions, on which the Egyptian people would vote in a referendum
*Removal of any restriction on the free formation of political parties, on civil, democratic and peaceful bases.
* Freedom of the press
* Freedom to form unions and non-governmental organizations without government permission
* abolition of all military courts and abrogation of their rulings with regard to civilian accused
These demands are generally in accordance with the current state of human rights law in Europe.
While a thoroughgoing social revolution may or may not take place in Egypt with regard to property and capital (such events are rare in modern history), I do not mean to in any way diminish the importance of achievements such as the rule of law and constitutional liberties. If the demands released Friday by the protesters are even partially met, especially with regard to freedom of expression and of unionizing and party formation, Egypt will certainly be a very different and far more democratic place. Since it is an opinion leader for the Arab world, moreover, its example may well prove crucial in spreading these freedoms elsewhere in the region, even to Iran."
On 13 February, women will take to the streets for a nationwide day of protest, to demonstrate to demand greater respect for feminine dignity and gender equality, and to condemn the degrading image of womanhood highlighted by the recent sex scandals which have implicated Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. News of the planned demonstration, which has barely been mentioned in the press, has spread like wild fire on the internet.
Following the example of democracy activists in Egypt who used web to mobilise thousands of people to protest against the arrogant despotism of the Egyptian government, Italian women are spreading dissent on the Internet. But what exactly do they aim to achieve with their demonstration? Paradoxically, in a country that is supposed guarantee freedom for its citizens, they are campaigning for the same rights as those demanded by the young people in Tunisia and Egypt: freedom of speech and opinion, more democracy, better access to the working world and more action to combat corruption.
Italy, which is one of the world’s most developed countries, is increasingly marked by waning respect for women’s rights and aspirations, and growing pressure to keep women at home. In an atmosphere of general indifference, women have been forced to contend with dwindling job prospects and declining prestige. Italy is now the country in Europe where women are least likely to work outside the home. It is also the country where – setting aside certain high-profile exceptions – women are less and less likely to be actively involved in state institutions or to occupy positions of power.
In an almost surreal atmosphere of anticipation, anger, hope and disbelief, Vice President Omar Suleiman just appeared on Egyptian national TV to announce that President Hosni Mubarak had decided to leave the presidency. He had entrusted the army to take over the country's affairs. The jubilation in Cairo's Tahrir Square is indescribable.
While there were no further details, we can report that newly appointed secretary general Hossam Badrawi's resignation from the National Democratic Party may have been an indicator of things to come. He released a statement saying that Egypt needed new parties
Al Jazeerah in English
Timeline of Mubarak's 30 Years in Power
"They're advancing extreme legislation," Pelosi said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. "It's dangerous to women's health, disrespects the judgment of American women -- I don't know if they even gave that a thought -- and it's the most comprehensive and radical assault on women's health in our lifetime. It's that bad."
There are three pieces of legislation that Republicans are currently trying to advance to limit abortion access. Arguably the most high-profile of those is H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). Current law already bars federal money from being used to directly pay for abortions, but H.R. 3 would also deny tax credits and benefits to employers who offer health insurance to their staff if that coverage includes abortion access. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has introduced H.R. 217, which would deny federal family-planning funds under Title X to groups that offer abortion access -- a measure that would devastate groups like Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, a bill introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), H.R. 358, would allow hospitals to turn away women who need to terminate a pregnancy in order to save their own lives. Federal law currently requires hospitals receiving Medicaid or Medicare funding to provide emergency care to all individuals, regardless of the patient's ability to pay. If the facility can't provide the necessary care, it must transfer the patient to someone who can. Under Pitts' bill, hospitals would not have to perform abortions or even transfer the pregnant woman.
“Darwin’s birthday is a good time for us to reflect on the important role of science in our society,” commented Representative Stark. “It is also a time to redouble our efforts to ensure that children are being taught scientific facts, not religious dogma, and to fight back against those who seek to undermine the science of climate change for political ends.”
“Representative Stark’s Darwin Day resolution is a thrilling step forward for the secular movement,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Not only is this an opportunity to bring the scientific impact of Charles Darwin to the forefront, but this also signifies the potential for greater respect for scientific reasoning on Capitol Hill. The American Humanist Association appreciates the work done by Rep. Stark’s offices, and their efforts in sponsoring this bill”
The resolution points out how "human curiosity and ingenuity exemplified by Darwin" has given rise to new scientific discoveries that expand our knowledge of the world and improve living conditions. It continues to explain how Darwin’s theory of evolution “provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth” and that the “teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States’ education systems.”
To read the text of the resolution in its entirety, click here.
US Residents: Ask your Representative to Endorse the Resolution HERE
“Thirteen percent of our public schools still advocate creationism as the primary cause of life on this planet," said Roy Speckhard, President of AHA. “For Congress to step forward and propose a resolution in honor of Darwin sends a clear message – scientific discovery is invaluable to our nation, and our nation’s future.”
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood & the Demonstrations: Fact vs. Fiction
Since the start of mass popular protests by Egyptians against their country’s autocratic government, headed by the aging president Hosni Mubarak and his new vice president, Omar Suleiman, a great deal of attention has been paid to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun). Attention on the opposition movement has been particularly heavy and skewed in the United States where pundits from both the left and the right breathlessly claim that the Brotherhood is poised to take over Egypt in a repeat of what happened in 1979-1980 in Iran and erroneously tie the Egyptian movement to Usama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda Central. Much of this analysis is based on fallacies and conjecture rather than fact.
The claim that al-Qaeda emerged seamlessly from the Brotherhood is the most egregious claim that has been made. Pundits who make this claim point to former members of the movement such as al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj who founded militant jihadi-takfiri groups that declared Muslims with whom they disagreed to be apostates. A fact that it usually left out is that these individuals left the Brotherhood after it swore off the use of violence to achieve its ends. Al-Zawahiri, who had been an Brotherhood activist at age 14, was particularly bitter about the movement’s “betrayal” of “Islamic principles” and in the 1990s he wrote a lengthy monograph harshly criticizing it entitled The Bitter Harvest: The Muslim Brotherhood in 60 Years. For its part, the Brotherhood frequently condemns al-Qaeda in its public statements and positions.
The ghost of Sayyid Qutb, perhaps the Brotherhood’s most well-known member, is another recurring connection used to paint the movement as inherently militant and radical. The Egyptian litterateur-turned-Islamist revolutionary ideologue was imprisoned for a decade by Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir’s government and eventually executed by it in 1966. Journalists and pundits looking for an easy answer to the “root causes” of jihadi-takfiri groups such as al-Qaeda frequently point to Qutb and the medieval Hanbali Sunni jurist Ibn Taymiyya. Although Qutb was clearly a revolutionary and radical thinker and the Brotherhood’s position toward him has been ambiguous in many ways, past analysis of Qutb and his thought have been based on, at best, a shallow reading of a fraction of his many writings.
John Calvert, a professor of Middle East history, has written what will become the standard scholarly study of Qutb, Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism. Rather than study only one segment of Qutb’s life and thought, Calvert examines his entire life and tracks the evolution of his thought. Calvert points to the ambiguity of much of Qutb’s writings as one of the causes for their use by extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and Egypt’s al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group), the latter of which has since renounced violence. Far from being an apologia for Qutb, Calvert’s book takes a holistic approach to examining Qutb’s life and thought. He and other scholars also point out that Hasan al-Hudaybi, the “general guide” of the Brotherhood during Qutb’s lifetime, wrote an influential book entitled Preachers, Not Judges in which he was critical of many of Qutb’s ideas. Ultimately, though Qutb was certainly a radical, revolutionary Islamist thinker his ideas alone did not create al-Qaeda and like-minded groups. As Calvert shows, many of these groups actually take positions that are contradictory to what Qutb was arguing. Al-Qaeda is instead best seen as a group that has taken selectively from a myriad of different sources, including Qutb and Ibn Taymiyya, and combined them with positions espoused by ideologues such as al-Zawahiri to create a new, hybrid ideology.
Longtime scholars of the Brotherhood have cast doubts on exaggerated claims that the movement will be swept into power in a post-Mubarak/post-authoritarian Egypt. In fact, many doubt that the movement has the power to take over the entire country even if it wanted to. The Brotherhood, though the oldest and arguably best organized opposition group in the country, currently suffers from a number of ills. First, it is beset with a generation gap between the older generation of leaders, such as the current general guide Muhammad Badi‘a, and a younger generation that has sought to change the movement’s policies on a host of issues including the role of women in leadership positions and Coptic Christians. The Brotherhood is in fact no longer the dominant force that it was in the past. As a movement it has lost a lot of credibility in recent years after allowing itself to be co-opted by the Mubarak government says Khalid Medani, a professor of political science and Islamic studies at McGill University who has conducted extensive field work in Egypt including interviews with the movement’s members representing various veins of thought within it. Despite remaining the country’s largest formally organized opposition group the Brotherhood is failing to attract many new members, he says.
Although it eventually decided to participate in the January 25 demonstrations in Egypt the Brotherhood only announced its decision two days before. Its endorsement was also far from enthusiastic. Following the unprecedented size and staying power of the mass popular demonstrations against the Mubarak’s authoritarian government, the Brotherhood took a much more proactive approach in supporting the demonstrators. To date it has released eight official statements, including three signed by Badi‘a. In them the movement has been careful to not claim leadership of the demonstrations and instead says that it is simply one party among many that make up the opposition. Observers on the ground have noted that the Brotherhood is not the most visible or powerful voice represented among the hundreds of thousands to millions of demonstrators who have defied government curfews and violence to continue calling for their civil and human rights.
The Brotherhood has joined other opposition groups and demonstrators in calling for the resignation of Mubarak, the abolition of the “emergency law” that has been in place since 1981 when Mubarak came to power, the holding of new elections that are actually free and fair, the release of all political prisoners, substantial amendment of the constitution, and the prosecution of government officials who have ordered the use of violence against the demonstrators. The movement has also been careful to explain its decision to enter into cautious talks with the government, which is increasingly under the public direction of Vice President Suleiman. Thus far, the Brotherhood remains unconvinced by the government’s claims that it is trying to address the popular will of the Egyptian people.
Although it is far from being a force for social or political liberalism, certainly of the kind that is desired by progressives in the U.S. and Europe, the Brotherhood is also not the all-powerful Islamist bogeyman and twin sister of al-Qaeda that it is often portrayed as. Facing its own internal divisions and problems of legitimacy among the Egyptian public, the Brotherhood is unlikely to be able to “seize control” of the country even if it wanted to. Its internal problems are recognized by no one more clearly than by the Brotherhood itself, which has been careful not to further alienate the Egyptian people who have collectively led the popular uprising against authoritarianism that continues to defy an aging autocrat’s decrees even in the face of extreme state violence.
Why are the secular democratic forces in Egypt so much weaker than the Muslim Brotherhood? There are a number of factors. One reason is that they are an amalgam of very diverse elements: There are tribal leaders, free-market liberals, socialists, hard-core Marxists and human rights activists. In other words, they lack common ideological glue comparable to the one that the Brotherhood has. Finally, there is a deep-seated fear that opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose aim is to install Sharia once they come to power, will be seen by the masses as a rejection of Islam altogether.
What the secular groups fail to do is to come up with a message of opposition that says "yes" to Islam, but "no" to Sharia -- in other words, a campaign that emphasizes a separation of religion from politics. For Egypt and other Arab nations to escape the tragedy of either tyranny or Sharia, there has to be a third way that separates religion from politics while establishing a representative government, the rule of law, and conditions friendly to trade, investment and employment.
The bravery of the secular groups that have now unified behind Mohamed ElBaradei cannot be doubted. They have taken the world by surprise, by mounting a successful protest against a tyrant. Mubarak may be deaf, but the message is loud and clear: He has to go.
The secular democrats' next challenge is the Brotherhood. They must waste no time in persuading the Egyptian electorate why a Sharia-based government would be bad for them. Unlike the Iranians in 1979, the Egyptians have before them the example of a people who opted for Sharia -- the Iranians of 1979 -- and who have lived to regret it.
The 2009 Green Movement in Iran was not a "no" to a strongman, but a "no" to Sharia. ElBaradei and his supporters must spell out over and over again that a Sharia-based regime is repressive at home and aggressive abroad. Moreover, as the masses cry out against unemployment, rising food prices and corruption, Egypt's secular groups must show that a Sharia-based government would exacerbate these agonies.
There is nothing like an Arab revolution to show up the hypocrisy of your friends. Especially if that revolution is one of civility and humanism and powered by an overwhelming demand for the kind of democracy that we enjoy in Europe and America.
The pussyfooting nonsense uttered by Obama and La Clinton these past two weeks is only part of the problem. From "stability" to "perfect storm" – Gone With the Wind might have recommended itself to the State Department if they really must pilfer Hollywood for their failure to adopt moral values in the Middle East – we've ended up with the presidential "now-means-yesterday", and "orderly transition", which translates: no violence while ex-air force General Mubarak is put out to graze so that ex-intelligence General Suleiman can take over the regime on behalf of America and Israel.
Fox News has already told its viewers in America that the Muslim Brotherhood – about the "softest" of Islamist groups in the Middle East – is behind the brave men and women who have dared to resist the state security police, while the mass of French "intellectuals" (the quotation marks are essential for poseurs like Bernard-Henri Lévy have turned, in Le Monde's imperishable headline, into "the intelligentsia of silence".
And we all know why. Alain Finkelstein talks about his "admiration" for the democrats but also the need for "vigilance" - and this is surely a low point for any 'philosophe' – "because today we know above all that we don't know how everything is going to turn out." This almost Rumsfeldian quotation is gilded by Lévy's own preposterous line that "it is essential to take into account the complexity of the situation". Oddly enough that is exactly what the Israelis always say when some misguided Westerner suggests that Israel should stop stealing Arab land in the West Bank for its colonists.
Indeed Israel's own reaction to the momentous events in Egypt – that this might not be the time for democracy in Egypt (thus allowing it to keep the title of "the only democracy in the Middle East") – has been as implausible as it has been self-defeating. Israel will be much safer surrounded by real democracies than by vicious dictators and autocratic kings. To his enormous credit, the French historian Daniel Lindenberg told the truth this week. "We must, alas, admit the reality: many intellectuals believe, deep down, that the Arab people are congenitally backward."
There is nothing new in this. It applies to our subterranean feelings about the whole Muslim world. Chancellor Merkel of Germany announces that multiculturalism doesn't work, and a pretender to the Bavarian royal family told me not so long ago that there were too many Turks in Germany because "they didn't want to be part of German society". Yet when Turkey itself – as near a perfect blend of Islam and democracy as you can find in the Middle East right now – asks to join the European Union and share our Western civilisation, we search desperately for any remedy, however racist, to prevent her membership.
In other words, we want them to be like us, providing they stay away. And then, when they prove they want to be like us but don't want to invade Europe, we do our best to install another American-trained general to rule them. Just as Paul Wolfowitz reacted to the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow US troops to invade Iraq from southern Turkey by asking if "the generals don't have something to say about this", we are now reduced to listening while US defence secretary Robert Gates fawns over the Egyptian army for their "restraint" – apparently failing to realise that it is the people of Egypt, the proponents of democracy, who should be praised for their restraint and non-violence, not a bunch of brigadiers.
So when the Arabs want dignity and self-respect, when they cry out for the very future which Obama outlined in his famous – now, I suppose, infamous – Cairo speech of June 2009, we show them disrespect and casuistry. Instead of welcoming democratic demands, we treat them as a disaster. It is an infinite relief to find serious American journalists like Roger Cohen going "behind the lines" on Tahrir Square to tell the unvarnished truth about this hypocrisy of ours. It is an unmitigated disgrace when their leaders speak. Macmillan threw aside colonial pretensions of African unpreparedness for democracy by talking of the "wind of change". Now the wind of change is blowing across the Arab world. And we turn our backs upon it.
"Hosted by BBC political commentator, Andrew Marr, this three-part series celebrates the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and examines the dramatic impact that Darwin’s work has had on religious, scientific, political and social debates. (all 11 segments are posted on this Youtube channel, in 10 minutes sequences) See the Gravitationalist channel for the other segments..
The Apostate Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology. by Lawrence Wright February 14, 2011
[fascinating article available online about Canadian (born and educated in London Ontario), director and celebrity Scientologist, whose public split with Scientology is reverberating through the 'Church' and the Hollywood elite - note also the FBI is investigating Scientology for Child Trafficking]
Asked how high he got in Scientology’s levels of study, Haggis said, “All the way to the top.” On August 19, 2009, Tommy Davis, the chief spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International, received a letter from the film director and screenwriter Paul Haggis.
"For ten months now I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego". Before the 2008 elections, a staff member at Scientology’s San Diego church had signed its name to an online petition supporting Proposition 8, which asserted that the State of California should sanction marriage only between a man and a woman. The proposition passed. As Haggis saw it, the San Diego church’s public sponsorship of Proposition 8, which succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California - rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state - "is a stain on the integrity of our organization and a stain on us personally. Our public association with that hate-filled legislation shames us..."Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent." He concluded, "I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Scientology."
If you are killing time on the ferry in British Columbia by surfing the internet, you'd better not bother looking for sex education resources, reproductive health access or services. Those sites have all been blocked to protect families from possible inappropriate content, says the ferry spokesperson.Via the Vancouver Sun:
"Ferry riders using BC Ferries free WiFi service are out of luck if they want to buy condoms online or research where to get an abortion.That's because BC Ferries online web filters are designed to block any websites about "sex education and abortion", along with those for sites like pornography, hate speech and privacy. BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the ferry corporation decided to block such material because it feared websites about abortion or sex education might contain inappropriate photos.
As for what sort of inappropriate pictures could be found on a website that offers abortion services, I'm totally unsure. The only graphic pictures I have seen that might disturb children are on sites that advocate against having the procedure done".
(CNN) -- The head of human rights for the United Nations has expressed alarm at the number of executions carried out by Iran in the new year. "We have urged Iran, time and again, to halt executions," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday. "I am very dismayed that instead of heeding our calls, the Iranian authorities appear to have stepped up the use of the death penalty."
At least 66 people were executed during January, according to Iranian media reports. Most of the executions were reportedly carried out for drug offenses, although at least three involved political prisoners, a U.N. statement said. The U.N. response comes two days after the United States condemned the execution of a Dutch-Iranian woman whom Tehran accused of smuggling drugs.
Last month, the New York-based group, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said the Iranian regime was on an "execution binge orchestrated by the intelligence and security agencies," said spokesman Aaron Rhodes.
FILM REVIEW: Living in a part of the world where politics, and the pursuit of politics by warring means, are the rule, director Elia Suleiman is the exception.
In his work, at least, he’s a humanist with an eye that gazes dispassionately across the Mideast divide and finds on both sides an abundance of dark comedy, pure tragedy, patent absurdity, of large cruelties and small kindnesses. Of course, these are commonalities at all points on the globe, but a bellicose region treats them differently – there, they link everyone but unite no one.
That has long been Suleiman’s message, and it’s much the same in The Time That Remains. Indeed, the absence of change, the sheer constancy of the situation, is the central theme here. A semi-autobiographical account of his family’s travails, the film is framed in the present, in the celebrated town of Nazareth but quickly circles back to the troubled heart of the matter – to 1948, when Israel is created and the Palestinians are dispersed...
There are fears that the problem could send global prices soaring at a time when food costs are already causing governments headaches. According to the UN last month world prices broke their peak levels of 2008 to hit a record high."If the dry spell continues into March or April, wheat production could be seriously affected, with losses of more than 10 million tonnes," Ma Wenfeng, an analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultants, told AFP.
More than 2.5 million people lack drinking water, particularly in the eastern and central provinces of Shandong and Henan, which each have 95 million inhabitants.
Weather authorities are not forecasting much rain over the next two months for the regions around Beijing, in the Yellow River basin and along the Huai, the waterway that divides the rice-plenty south and the wheat-growing north. Shandong's Rizhao city, which means "sunshine", has suffered from its longest drought in 300 years, stretching back to September 11, according to local media.
Beijing meanwhile has not seen any rain or snow for 100 days - its worst run since 1951. The water shortage is also expected to worsen as warmer weather kicks in after two months of particularly cold temperatures. In some areas, the earth is all cracked and if rain does not fall in the next few weeks, the wheat that farmers sowed in autumn might not even germinate when the weather warms up.
Around the world, wheat exporters such as the United States, Russia or France are closely monitoring the weather forecast not only for China but also for India, which is experiencing an even worse drought, according to Ma.China and India are both the world's largest producers and consumers of wheat.
Chen Lei, minister for water resources, said Sunday that two-thirds of Chinese cities are short of water. The nation's per capita water resources only amount to 28 percent of the global average...It will also invest four trillion yuan over the next decade to improve water stocks and distribution, amid warnings of worse to come.
"With the urbanisation planned for the next five years, the shortage will become even more acute," warned Re
Very interesting article from an Indian perspective on Conservative religious movements (in all religions) and more modern moderate /secular/ humanist movements, and the influence of urbanization, media, and popular economic uprisings. This article discusses Religious Pluralism, but it is very interesting and helpful from a North American perspective. - Mary
(Washington, D.C., February 3, 2011) Leaders at the American Humanist Association (AHA) were pleased today with remarks made by President Obama at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast recognizing his non-theistic family upbringing. While Obama focused on his current Christian faith, he also noted that his mother, widely regarded as a secular humanist, bestowed him with the values responsible for his strong character.
"President Obama's remarks acknowledge that children can be raised with a strong moral and ethical foundation, free from the presence of dogmatic religion," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "He's living proof that one can lead a successful, moral, and dedicated life of service without the drumbeat of religion in one's upbringing. The humanist community has fought for the validation of this fact, and to hear the President of the United States echo the sentiment is gratifying."
"For as some of you know, I did not come from a particularly religious family," said Obama at the breakfast. He continued, "My mother, whose parents were Baptist and Methodist, grew up with a certain skepticism about organized religion… She was somebody who was instinctively guided by the Golden Rule and who nagged me constantly about the homespun values of her Kansas upbringing — values like honesty and hard work and kindness and fair play. And it's because of her that I came to understand the equal worth of all men and all women, the imperatives of an ethical life, and the necessity to act on your beliefs."
The AHA previously praised President Obama's account of his secular upbringing in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope. In his 1995 book, Dreams from My Father, Obama wrote that his mother stood alone in her community as a "witness for secular humanism."
Speckhardt concluded, "While it would be better for government officials not to engage in public prayer events, it's refreshing to hear President Obama reiterate his secular roots. In a climate awash in religious rhetoric, the importance of these values – secular values – shouldn't be underestimated."
Germany has generally steered clear of the issue of what Muslim women can wear in public. But that might now change. The announcement by a city employee in Frankfurt that she will begin wearing more than her usual headscarf to work has sparked widespread criticism, including barbs from inside the Muslim community.
A woman sits at a desk. He face is covered and one can only faintly make out her eyes. A large veil enshrouds her entire body. Residents looking for help approach the unrecognizable woman to ask her questions. A theoretical situation like this might sound strange, but it's precisely the one that public administrators in Frankfurt are currently having to deal with. A 39-year-old German woman of Moroccan descent has announced she will be completely veiled when she returns from maternity leave to reassume her position in the offices of the city's administration. At this point, nobody knows if it will be a blue full-body veil, known as a burqa, or a black niqub, the face veil that only leaves slits for the eyes.
The move also caught her co-workers at the office, where she has worked for years, completely by surprise. Though she wore a headscarf, she was a model of integration and reliability. According to newspaper reports published earlier this week, at some point, she married a very devout Muslim man. Now she is reportedly demanding a severance package from her employer because it refuses to allow employees to come to work with completely enshrouded bodies.
As the personnel department official responsible for such matters puts it: "Our employees show their faces." He added that the woman would be allowed to wear a headscarf, but that she couldn't show up in a burqa. The state government of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, has announced a decree forbidding civil servants and other state employees from wearing full-body coverings during working hours. The measure is backed by all of the state's political parties, too. Even the Green Party, who are part of the government coalition in Frankfurt, have announced that, if necessary, the matter will be taken before the country's highest court, the Karlsruhe-based Federal Constitutional Court.
The debate over forbidding full-body concealment has erupted at full strength in Europe. France and Belgium have passed bans on wearing burqas in public, and in the past German politicians have called for similar legislation. Critics of the proposal label it "a merely symbolic debate," claiming that the number of women wearing burqas in Germany is negligible.
Representatives of Muslim groups have publicly criticized the move by the Muslim woman in Frankfurt. Nurhan Soykan, the secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, says: "We are bothered by the woman's behavior and do not accept it." She adds that, although her organization supports people's right to choose, it still views her move as counterproductive and as one that "breeds considerable distrust of young Muslim women who are courageous enough to wear headscarves when starting new jobs." Still, she doesn't believe there has to be an official ban. "This is about a single case in Frankfurt," she says, "and, in this case, a solution can be found without a ban."
Soykan's views are echoed by Ali Kizilkaya, the head of the (German) Islam Council, who says: "With her demands, this woman is hurting all Muslims." He adds that the majority of Muslims do not share her belief that Islam requires women to be fully covered. "I can sympathize with the view that people in public offices need to see their co-workers' faces," Kizilkaya says.
"We can't allow a woman to work in a city office who has no personality because she is completely veiled," says Serkan Tören, a Turkish-born member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). He argues that doing so would be a violation of social order and of the state's obligation to remain neutral when it comes to religious issues. As far as Tören is concerned, the case in Frankfurt proves that a general ban on covering your entire body in public is necessary so that the private sector also has a clear way of handling the issue. "Then we will have a clear policy," he says, adding his belief that the burqa and niqab represent an affront to human dignity and the equitable treatment of men and women.
Feridun Zaimoglu, a popular Turkish-German author who formerly held a position on a national panel on Islam convened by Germany's Interior Ministry called the Islam Conference, has a similar stance. "To put it briefly," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "wearing a burqa in Germany just doesn't work. This kind of opaque cloth tent is an extreme form of masking one's identity. Just seeing a burqa scares me." He says Muslims should eschew veiling their entire bodies because "it's well known that it's viewed as a provocation in Germany." Still, Zaimoglu cautions against making women the target of any criticism in this debate or "calling them foolish." You have to go after the men behind them, he says, the ones who are pressuring them to wear it.
At this point, it's anybody's guess what will come out of the dispute in Frankfurt. The woman at the center of the debate was scheduled to come to work for the first time after her maternal leave on Tuesday, Feb. 1. She didn't show up because -- given all the reporters, cameras and media interest -- her lawyer and city officials decided it would be best for her to stay at home.
Very good article by Dr Cole (as usual) on the breakdown of support in Egypt for the various factions. A good counter to some of the right wing hysteria in the US, where the Tea Party is accusing Obama of secretly being part of the Muslim Brotherhood ..mary
"..alarms have been raised by those observing the popular uprising in Egypt that, while it is not itself a Muslim fundamentalist movement, the Muslim fundamentalists could take it over as it unfolds. The best-positioned group to do so is the Muslim Brotherhood. Some are even conflating the peaceful Brotherhood with radical groups such as al-Qaeda. I showed in my recent book, Engaging the Muslim World, that the Muslim Brotherhood has since the 1970s opposed the radical movements. In any case, the analogy many of these alarmists are making, explicitly or implicitly, is to Iran in 1978-79, which saw similar scenes of massive crowds in the street, demanding the departure of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, their king...
"...SECULAR FORCES. When I say ‘secular’ with regard to Egypt, I do not mean that these groups are made up of atheists and agnostics. Their members may go to mosque and pray and be personally pious. But such people can nevertheless vote for parties that are not primarily organized around religion. These include the New Wafd Party, a revival of the old liberal party that dominated Egypt 1922-1952 during its “liberal” period of parliamentary elections and prime ministers. The Wafd had originally represented the interests of great landlords and budding bankers and industrialists, though its original role in fighting for independence from Britain also gave it popular support. It reemerged when Egypt began turning away from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s socialism and it again championed private property rights. It attracted the allegiance of many Copts, as well as middle class Muslims. Although it has suffered divisions and declining popularity in recent elections, in a situation of free and fair elections it could regain some popularity. Then there is the Tomorrow (al-Ghad) party of Ayman Nur, who won 8% of the vote in the 2005 presidential election. And there is the Kefaya! (Enough!) movement. All three favor human rights and parliamentary democracy. There are also many secular figures in the literary establishment and in the film world (such as comic Adil Imam). And, of course, there is the ruling National Democratic Party, which has a generally secular bias and dislikes Muslim fundamentalism. Whether it can overcome its association with Hosni Mubarak and continue to contest elections credibly remains to be seen. It is now by far the dominant party in parliament, though nobody thinks the elections were free and fair..."
worth reading - as well as the comments - Mary