Friday, January 10, 2003

News Feed 20100912

Financial Crisis
»‘Green’ Jobs No Longer Golden in Stimulus
»Italy: Cremona Businesses Continue City’s Tax Dodging Tradition
»Thanks Barack… US Debt is More Than All Money in the World
»Why New Bank Capital Rules Could Make Things Worse
»America’s Monumental Shame [Ground Zero is Still a Hole in the Ground]
»An Infuriating Search at Philadelphia International Airport
»At Last, Someone Who Speaks in the Language of the Constitution
»Burlingame Rebuts Obama on Gitmo, KSM, And Ground Zero Mosque
»Cities Increasingly Turn to ‘Trash Police’ To Enforce Recycling Laws
»Jimmy Carter’s Solar Panel Makes it Back to Washington, But Not Back Onto the White House
»Obama Makes Sept. 11 Comments at Pentagon
»Obama Attacks Boehner; NYT Runs Page One Article Attacking House Minority Leader for Lobbyist Ties
»Saudi Diplomat Seeking Asylum: ‘My Life is in Danger’
»Shifting Islamic Strategy to Strangle Speech
»The Constitution Trumps Islamic Law
»U.S. Names Asian Carp Czar
»Untangling the Bizarre CIA Links to the Ground Zero Mosque
Europe and the EU
»2000-Year-Old Pills Found in Greek Shipwreck
»Ancient Greeks Spotted Halley’s Comet
»Austria: Pax Christi Backs ‘More Mosques’ Appeal
»Belgians Begin Explosion Investigation
»EU Commission Worried by Israeli Law on NGOs
»Italy: Muslims Unveil Blueprint for Florence Mosque
»Italy: Andreotti Says Ambrosoli ‘Was Asking for it’
»Local Sweden Democrat: ‘Ban’ Practicing Muslims
»Netherlands: Cinemas Closed to Children for Sugar Festival
»Netherlands: PvdA Strategy Against ‘Wilders Cabinet’ Leaked
»UK: 10,000 Burglars Were Convicted Last Year… And Not One Got Maximum Sentence
»UK: Hospital Blunder Left Teatowel-Sized Swab Inside Me for Four Months After Surgery
»UK: Senior Labour Politician Helped Paedophile Headmaster Establish False Identity
»Italy-Albania: Visa Abolition, Berisha Thanks Maroni
North Africa
»Algeria: Le Monde, Anti-Corruption Militant Arrested
»Algeria: Patriots Converted to Security Agents
»Do Egyptian Mummies Have a Right to Privacy?
»Morocco: Further 10 Mln Euros From EU to Fight Illiteracy
»Tunisia: Best Healthcare System in Central Maghreb
»Tunisia: Raising of Pensionable Age, Talks
Israel and the Palestinians
»PM Demands Palestinians Recognize Israel as Jewish State
Middle East
»Boating: Focus on ‘Second-Hand’ Yachts in UAE
»Russian Spy Anna Chapman Finds Celebrity at Home
South Asia
»Christian Worshippers Attacked in Indonesia
»Pakistan: Tribes Clash Violently Over Water
Far East
»Winging it: Flying Fish Aerodynamics Directly Measured for the First Time
Latin America
»Vatican: Pope Eyes New Brazilian Converts
»Roma: France Against European Parliament, Losing Credibility
Culture Wars
»Teletubbies is as Bad for Your Child as a Violent Video Game, Says Leading Psychologist
»UK: Taxpayer Funds Council ‘Adventures in Sindia and Lesbianandgayland’
»Mind-Reading Tools Go Commercial
»New MRI Maps Assess Connectivity to Establish “Brain Age” Curve for Children and Adults

Financial Crisis

‘Green’ Jobs No Longer Golden in Stimulus

Noticeably absent from President Obama’s latest economic-stimulus package are any further attempts to create jobs through “green” energy projects, reflecting a year in which the administration’s original, loudly trumpeted efforts proved largely unfruitful.


After months of hype about the potential for green energy to stimulate job growth and lead the economy out of a recession, the results turned out to be disappointing, if not dismal. About $92 billion — more than 11 percent — of Mr. Obama’s original $814 billion of stimulus funds were targeted for renewable energy projects when the measure was pushed through Congress in early 2009.

Even some of the administration’s liberal allies have expressed skepticism over the original stimulus package’s use of green investments as a way to spur quick employment growth at home.

“Spending on renewables is slow to get out of the door. Leaks to foreign companies is an inadequate driver of jobs and growth and may not create a strong exporting industry,” said Samuel Sherraden, an economic analyst at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based progressive think tank.

[Return to headlines]

Italy: Cremona Businesses Continue City’s Tax Dodging Tradition

Cremona, 9 Sept. (AKI) — Italian tax police uncovered about 200 million euros in allegedly evaded corporate taxes in the northern city of Cremona. The city has a legendary history of not paying taxes that goes back about 1,000 years when it triumphed in a protest to withhold payments to the Holy Roman Empire.

Tax police on Thursday said an investigation led to the discovery of more than 100 companies from Italy’s wealthy north that dodged their legal share of tax by falsifying their income statements.

The Italian government recovered 4.9 billion euros of unpaid funds during the first seven months of 2010. That is a 9 percent jump over the same period last year, according to the country’s Rome-based tax collection agency

The country has pledged to crackdown on Europe’s second-worst rate of tax evasion following Greece as a way to reduce its budget deficit, which this year totals 78 billion euros.

According to folklore, Cremona declined to pay Henry IV what its said was an unfairly high rate. The tax strike led to a duel between the mayor and Henry. When the king was knocked off his horse Cremona for a year was relieved of its obligation to pay a 3 kilogramme golden bowl.

Henry IV of Germany was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1084 until his death in 1105.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Thanks Barack… US Debt is More Than All Money in the World

Thanks Barack. The US now owes more money than all of the money in the world combined. Kevin D. Williamson at National Review Online reported:

I have argued that the real national debt is about $130 trillion. Let’s say I’m being pessimistic. Forbes, in a 2008 article, came up with a lower number: $70 trillion. Let’s say the sunny optimists at Forbes got it right and I got it wrong.

For perspective: At the time that 2008 article was written, the entire supply of money in the world (“broad money,” i.e., global M3, meaning cash, consumer-account deposits, checkable accounts, CDs, long-term deposits, travelers’ checks, money-market funds, the whole enchilada) was estimated to be just under $60 trillion. Which is to say: The optimistic view is that our outstanding obligations amount to more than all of the money in the world.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Why New Bank Capital Rules Could Make Things Worse

Investors will likely breathe a sigh of relief when international regulators reach an agreement on bank capital requirements this weekend.

Early reports suggest the required levels of capital will be much lower than feared, and the kinds of assets that can be used to meet the requirements more expansive than earlier proposals suggested.

But there is good reason to worry that far from making the financial system sounder, Basel III may introduce even more systemic risk into global finance.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


America’s Monumental Shame [Ground Zero is Still a Hole in the Ground]


..The source of America’s monumental shame goes much deeper than turf wars, bureaucratic delays, and regulatory obstacles. America had no shared sense of urgency, no will, no ineluctable drive to build a great and proper tribute to the 9/11 fallen as quickly as possible. Government and business leaders failed. Miserably.

That abject failure was exacerbated by a culture of capitulation and dhimmitude reflected in appalling battles over 9/11 monuments not only at Ground Zero, but in Shanksville, Pa., and Arizona.

Let me give you some infuriating reminders.

Before the Ground Zero mosque controversy, 9/11 families had to battle NYC elites and left-wing George Soros radicals in 2005 to stop the 9/11 memorial from becoming a progressive human rights playground. The planners — whose board included prominent Gitmo opponents and transnationalists — proposed a moral equivalence museum dedicating 300,000 square feet to a “history of freedom” while sparing only 50,000 square feet to the actual memory of the 9/11 victims. Only after a grass-roots and blogosphere campaign called “Take Back the Memorial” broke through did the politicians scrap the plans.

Before the Ground Zero mosque controversy, 9/11 families had to battle far Left architects and do-gooders in 2005 who sought to convert the Flight 93 memorial at Shanksville, Pa., into a New Age, wind chime-filled field wrapped in a red crescent of embrace.

Before the Ground Zero mosque controversy, Arizonans battled anti-war zealots in 2006 — supported by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano — who turned the state’s 9/11 memorial into a Blame America complex. Some of the commissioners actually wanted to add 19 more characters to represent the deaths of the 19 terrorist murderers who killed the victims.


Nine years and one day after 2,977 innocent men, women, and children gave their lives, nothing is completed. This is a national disgrace. It’s time to stop burning and unite behind building. Jihadists destroy. America creates.

Where is the urgency, dedication, speed, strength, and clarity to show them how we roll?

If “never forget” is our post-9/11 mantra, why the hell is it taking so long to build fields and halls and museums of remembrance unsullied by political correctness and anti-American pandering?

[images and links in the original post]

[Return to headlines]

An Infuriating Search at Philadelphia International Airport

At what point does an airport search step over the line?

How about when they start going through your checks, and the police call your husband, suspicious you were clearing out the bank account?

That’s the complaint leveled by Kathy Parker, a 43-year-old Elkton, Md., woman, who was flying out of Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 8.

She says she was heading to Charlotte, N.C., for work that Sunday night — she’s a business support manager for a large bank — and was selected for a more in-depth search after she passed through the metal detectors at Gate B around 5:15 p.m.

A female Transportation Security Administration officer wanded her and patted her down, she says. Then she was walked over to where other TSA officers were searching her bags.

“Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, ‘Hey, I’ve always been curious about these. Do they work?’

“I was just so taken aback, I said, ‘Yeah.’ “

What happened next, she says, was more than embarrassing. It was infuriating.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

At Last, Someone Who Speaks in the Language of the Constitution

[Virginia’s Attorney General] Cuccinelli is at the forefront of the media right now — and for good reason. He’s suing the federal government over the federal government’s requirement that all individuals purchase health care insurance. He’s battling the Environmental Protection Agency over that agency’s insistence at regulating greenhouse gases — something Cuccinelli dares to publicly characterize as based on unsound science. And in the meantime, he’s opining away on issues like immigration and abortion clinics and religious displays, almost always to the consternation of those of leftist and progressive political bent. But for conservatives, traditionalists and others schooled in the untarnished history of the Constitution and Founding Father intent, Cuccinelli is a breath of fresh air.

His whole agenda, if it can be called an agenda, is to uphold the Constitution,..Cuccinelli speaks about states’ rights and individual authorities, the kind illuminated in the 9th and 10th Amendments. The very kind, he says, the federal government is encroaching at dangerous levels and speed…

The overreach, he added, actually began 10 years ago and continued under a Republican president who refused to “veto a single spending bill,” which led to more money and power in centralized hands. But the past couple years have seen an escalation in federal intrusions, he continued.

“The EPA is becoming a tool of economic transformation instead of environmental protectionism,..

[Return to headlines]

Burlingame Rebuts Obama on Gitmo, KSM, And Ground Zero Mosque

“President Obama’s remarks…on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, showed a regrettable disconnect with the American people who regard 9/11 as a world-changing event that touched all of our lives.

“The President dismissed opposition to a 15-story mosque and Islamic center at Ground Zero as a symptom of religious intolerance. The President knows this to be false.

“The American public, including the vast majority of 9-11 families, view the building of this mosque on Ground Zero as an insensitive and unnecessary provocation that will be viewed by our enemies as a symbol of triumph at the site of their bloodiest attack.

“The American public’s opposition to the mosque project is simply a call for respect for that historic site and for the innocent people who died there nine years ago.

“The President also made news today on another front.

“After dodging the question for nearly a year, the President signaled today that he is renewing his bid to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9-11, in a civilian court. This comes after the Justice Department and the White House, according to numerous reports, had apparently decided to shelve the issue until after the November elections.

“The American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress are overwhelmingly opposed to bringing KSM to American soil for trial, as such a trial would likely last many years, increase the security threat to the city in which he is tried, and provide KSM a high-profile, public platform for which to spew his hateful jihadist propaganda.

“Justice for KSM and the other captured 9-11 co-conspirators can and should be delivered by the safe, secure and effective military tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay.”

[Return to headlines]

Cities Increasingly Turn to ‘Trash Police’ To Enforce Recycling Laws

Beware the green police. They don’t carry guns and there’s no police academy to train them, but if you don’t recycle your trash properly, they can walk up your driveway and give you a $100 ticket.

They know what’s in your trash, they know what you eat, they know how often you bring your recycles to the curb — and they may be coming to your town soon. That is, if they’re not already there.

In a growing number of cities across the U.S., local governments are placing computer chips in recycling bins to collect data on refuse disposal, and then fining residents who don’t participate in recycling efforts and forcing others into educational programs meant to instill respect for the environment.

From Charlotte, N.C., to Cleveland, Ohio, from Boise, Idaho, to Flint, Mich., the green police are spreading out. And that alarms some privacy advocates who are asking: Should local governments have the right to monitor how you divide your paper cups from your plastic forks? Is that really the role of government?

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Jimmy Carter’s Solar Panel Makes it Back to Washington, But Not Back Onto the White House

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter had 32 panels installed atop the White House to capture the sun’s heat. Thirty-odd years later, at least one of the panels still works, warming up in the Northeastern sunlight of Boston and sending steam heat out of a spigot on September 8, en route down the east coast from its temporary home at Unity College in Maine. By September 10, that panel had made it back to the White House, courtesy of dedicated Unity College students and environmental campaigner Bill McKibben.

It did not receive a warm homecoming.

“They handed us a pamphlet,” Jean Altomare, one of the Unity students, told The New York Times of her meeting with White House officials to urge them to reinstall the solar panel. “I actually confronted the fact that what happens in the next few years will determine the quality of the lives my children and their children will have. We went in without any doubt about the importance of this.”

At a September 8 rally when the panel and its advocates made a pit stop in New York City at Solar One, a solar-powered building in Stuyvesant Cove Park, McKibben called the White House “important real estate.” When First Lady Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden on the White House lawn in 2009, seed sales went up by 30 percent the following year. The hope was to do the same for solar power, which could ultimately replace fossil fuel-fired power plants and their emissions of greenhouse gases to forestall catastrophic climate change.

The dream of restoring the panels may be a bit quixotic, however. After all, it took literally years of negotiation to put the panels up in the first place, according to mechanical engineer Fred Morse of Abengoa Solar, who helped lead that effort. And certainly the layers of bureaucracy surrounding the U.S. president’s home have not lessened in the intervening years…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Obama Makes Sept. 11 Comments at Pentagon

‘As Americans, we will not or ever be at war with Islam’

Speaking at “hallowed ground” at the Pentagon, the president alluded to the controversy over plans for an Islamic center near Ground Zero — and a Florida pastor’s threat, later rescinded, to burn copies of the Muslim holy book. Obama made it clear that the U.S. is not at war with Islam and called the al-Qaeda attackers “a sorry band of men” who perverted religion.


Update at 9:43 a.m. ET: Obama says we will not hunker down behind walls of mistrust and “suspicion.” Instead, he says, the nation will resist “those who sought to divide and demoralize us.” “We will stay true to our traditions at home, as a diverse and tolerant nation,” he says. “We will not give in to their hatred,” Obama said, despite the terrorists’ efforts to spark conflicts among faiths. “As Americans, we will not or ever be at war with Islam.”


Update at 8:46 a.m. ET: Mayor Michael Bloomberg says: “We will build, on the footprints of the past, the foundations of the future.”

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

Obama Attacks Boehner; NYT Runs Page One Article Attacking House Minority Leader for Lobbyist Ties

During the week, the president attacked Boehner.* On the weekend, the Times follows suit, without giving that Republican a chance to explain his votes. The writer took the “word of an anonymous lobbyist” while refusing, in the words of Boehner’s spokesman, “to get the information to prove that this allegation was false.”

New media seem to have blunted the effect of the Old Gray Lady’s hatchet. Before the official publication date of the paper’s hard copy, the paper’s bias had already been challenged, with the paper quickly correcting the original text. They can’t get away with hatchet jobs like they once could.

Perhaps, they’re trying to help build the negatives of a man about whom most Americans have yet to form an opinion. But, given the rise of alternative media, quick to call them on their bias as well as their declining readership, they lack the power they once had to so bring down a politician, particularly with such gruel as thin as this.

*Bonus question: in the fall of 2006, does then-President George W. Bush ever attack then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi?

[Return to headlines]

Saudi Diplomat Seeking Asylum: ‘My Life is in Danger’


The diplomat, Ali Ahmad Asseri, the first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, has informed U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials that Saudi officials have refused to renew his diplomatic passport and effectively terminated his job after discovering he was gay and was close friends with a Jewish woman.


Asseri’s bid for asylum is highly unusual: No Saudi diplomat is known to have taken such a step since 1994 when Mohammed al-Khilewi, then first secretary for the Saudi mission to the United Nations, was granted asylum after publicly criticizing his country’s human rights record and alleged support for terrorism. Asseri’s application could present an especially awkward dilemma for the Obama administration,..

[Return to headlines]

Shifting Islamic Strategy to Strangle Speech’s Patrick Goodenough reports today on activity at the OIC hive, where busy bees are attempting to use the Florida Koran incident (whether it comes off or not) as an impetus for advancing OIC plans to censor the Islam debate — to seek a law “criminalizing all forms of offense against religions [read: Islam] under any circumstances” — through changes in international law.

NB: “Religions” (plural) is a deception because under Islam it is in fact apostasy to believe in the validity of other religions because they have been in effect nullified by Islam. See, for example, w4.1(2) in Reliance of the Traveller, which states, among other things, that “previously revealed religions were valid in their own eras, as is attested in many verses of the Holy Koran, but were abrogated by the universal message of Islam. Both points are worthy of attention from English-speaking Muslims, who are occasionally exposed to erroneous theories … affirming these religions’ validity but denying or not mentioning their abrogation, or that it is unbelief (kufr) to hold that the remnant cults now bearing the names of formerly valid religions, such as 'Christianity' or 'Judaism', are acceptable to Allah … This is a matter over which there is no disagreement among Islamic scholars….”

[Return to headlines]

The Constitution Trumps Islamic Law

When reading stories about that formerly obscure Florida preacher who wants to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11 by burning a stack of Qurans, bear in mind that the only law he breaks in doing so is Islamic law. With this in mind, it should become clear that the extraordinary global campaign against this stunt is yet another concerted effort, aided by an army’s worth of useful fools, to bring our constitutional republic into conformance with Islamic law.

Islam demands “respect” with an intensity and strategic purpose well beyond other beliefs. (Still) don’t believe me? For indelible culture contrast, imagine the worldwide body count in reaction to a hypothetical NEA-funded project entitled “Piss Mohammed,” or the absence of a worldwide body count in reaction to the Army’s actual decision to discard and burn a bunch of Bibles on a U.S. base in Afghanistan last year for fear of offending Muslims in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — a land where Christian converts (Abdul Rahman) and promoters of (minimal) women’s rights (Sayed Pervez Kambakhsh) must flee with their lives, by the way.

As we have witnessed in Cartoon Rage, Pope Rage, Commode Quran Rage, “Fitna” Rage, More Cartoon Rage, etc., “respecting” Islam in fact means exempting this religious-political ideology from “slander,” “defamation,” any mockery, criticism, analysis, resistance, denunciation or rejection — or else. And we all know what “or else” means — or else murder and mayhem will convulse some region where Muslims live, leaving behind a permanent threat of death to non-repentant “offenders.”

What Islam is demanding, then, is a separate speech code for itself. This demand is manifested at the highest diplomatic levels in a strategic campaign by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Islamic bloc of 57 nations that functions in the international arena as an Islamic supra-state. The OIC has long been maneuvering to bring international law into conformance with Islamic law by prohibiting “defamation of religions” — namely Islam — at the United Nations.

This same demand also manifests itself in the society-level assumption that Islam should somehow exist in a state of exaltation that no Western society grants any belief system, or any God. This assumption is increasingly becoming consensus among non-Muslims. Why?

One answer is because people who do not believe in Allah, from Sarah Palin to Gen. David Petraeus to assorted ministers and rabbis, have succumbed to a specifically Islamic brand of blackmail (the “or else” of violence or other outbreaks of “extremism”), thus accommodating and even lobbying for the uniquely Islamic prohibitions against written, pictorial or symbolic criticism. In so doing, they have also succumbed to…

[Return to headlines]

U.S. Names Asian Carp Czar

The White House has tapped a former leader of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana Wildlife Federation as the Asian carp czar to oversee the federal response to keeping the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

On a conference call today with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and other congressional leaders, President Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality announced the selection of John Goss to lead the near $80 million, multi-pronged federal attack against Asian carp.

“This is a serious challenge, a serious threat,” Durbin said. “When it comes to the Asian carp threat, we are not in denial. We are not in a go-slow mode. We are in a full attack, full-speed ahead mode. We want to stop this carp from advancing.”


N.B.No, that’s not a transposition of letters. Yes, it IS a “carp” czar

           — Hat tip: Clarice Feldman[Return to headlines]

Untangling the Bizarre CIA Links to the Ground Zero Mosque

By Mark Ames

So far, the debate over the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero has unfolded along predictable lines, with the man at the center of the project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, drawing attacks from the right painting him as a terrorist sympathizer with ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But meanwhile, links between the group behind the controversial mosque, the CIA and U.S. military establishment have gone unacknowledged.

For instance, one of the earliest backers of the nonprofit group, the Cordoba Initiative, that is spearheading the Ground Zero mosque, is a 52-year-old Scarsdale, New York, native named R. Leslie Deak. In addition to serving on the group’s board of advisors since its founding in 2004 by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Deak was its principal funder, donating $98,000 to the nonprofit between 2006 and 2008. This figure appears to represent organization’s total operating budget—though, oddly, the group reported receipts of just a third of that total during the same time period.

Deak describes himself as a “Practicing Muslim with background in Christianity and Judaism, [with] in-depth personal and business experiences in the Middle East, living and working six months per year in Egypt.” Born into a Christian home, Deak became an Orthodox Jew and married a Jewish woman before converting to Islam when he married his current wife, Moshira Soliman, with whom he now lives in Rye.

Leslie Deak’s resume also notes his role as “business consultant” for Patriot Defense Group, LLC, a private defense contractor with offices in Winter Park, Florida, and in Tucson. The only names listed on the firm’s website are those of its three “strategic advisers.” These include retired four-star General Bryan “Doug” Brown, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command until 2007, where he headed “all special operations forces, both active duty and reserve, leading the Global War On Terrorism,” and James Pavitt, former deputy director for operations at the Central Intelligence Agency, where he “managed the CIA’s globally deployed personnel and nearly half of its multi-billion dollar budget” and “served as head of America’s Clandestine Service, the CIA’s operational response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Besides Pavitt, Brown and a third advisor, banker Alexander Cappello, the Patriot Defense Group is so secretive it doesn’t even name its management team, instead describing its anonymous CEO as a former Special Forces and State Department veteran, the group’s managing director as a former CIA officer experienced in counter-terrorism in hostile environments and the group’s corporate intelligence head as a “23-year veteran of the U.S. Secret Service who worked on the personal security details of former Presidents Bush and Clinton.”

Patriot Defense Group’s primary business involves leveraging its government connections and know-how. The firm is divided into two divisions: one that “focuses exclusively on the needs of the U.S. military and law enforcement communities as well as the requirements of friendly foreign governments,” and a corporate division, which “provides business intelligence and specialized security services to corporate clients and high net-worth family enterprises.”

So, to recap: From 2006 to 2008, R. Leslie Deak worked as a “business consultant” to this super-secretive security contractor with ties to the CIA and counterterrorism forces, and in those same three years he also donated nearly $100,000 in seed money to the foundation now advocating the construction of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.

Interestingly, during the same three-year period during which the Deak Family Foundation was financing the Cordoba Initiative, Deak also donated a total of $101,247 to something called the National Defense University Foundation. The National Defense University is a network of war and strategy colleges and research centers (including the National War College) funded by the Pentagon, designed to train specialists in military strategy. The organization recently announced a November 5 dinner gala in honor of Defense Secretary and former CIA chief Robert Gates. Sponsors include Northrup Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and…the Patriot Defense Group.

Deak also sits on the NDUF’s board of directors, the chairman of which is Mark Treanor, the former general counsel for Wachovia bank from 1998 through its collapse in 2008 and a major bundler of campaign donations for the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008. Wachovia, now owned by Wells Fargo, was recently fined $160 million for laundering “at least $110 million” in Mexican drug money between 2003 and 2008, while Treanor was Wachovia’s general counsel, though the figure is likely higher since Wachovia admitted it didn’t put any controls on at least $420 billion—that’s billion—in cash moved through its network of Mexico currency exchanges.

Which leads to another odd coincidence: Laundering money for drug lords is what brought down Deak & Co., the company run by Leslie Deak’s father, Nicholas Deak, years ago. The elder Deak, a former top intelligence commander during World War II for the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA), was the founder of Deak-Perera, which became for a time one of the world’s biggest foreign currency and gold dealers. But in 1984, a Presidential Commission on Organized Crime accused the firm of acting as a money laundering operation for Columbia drug cartels, who reportedly brought sacks of cash containing tens of millions of dollars into Deak’s Manhattan offices. By the end of 1984, Deak & Co. had declared bankruptcy, and a year later, Nicholas Deak was murdered in the company’s headquarters at 29 Broadway by a deranged homeless woman.

After the firm went bankrupt and Leslie Deak was left on his own, the corporation was broken up and sold off in pieces. One company that traces its beginnings to the defunct Deak empire is Goldline International, a business concern well known to fans of Glenn Beck as well as California investigators. Goldline is to Glenn Beck what General Electric was to Ronald Reagan: The company sponsors Beck’s TV and radio shows as well as his touring act, and Beck is its public face. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, along with the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office, are currently investigating Goldline for defrauding customers by railroading gullible customers into buying their most debased products.

Speaking of Glenn Beck, it has been reported that Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the second-largest shareholder in News Corp., the parent company Fox News, which airs Beck’s program, is also a major funder of Imam Rauf’s projects, as Jon Stewart viewers heard all about last week.

Coincidences happen, of course. (For instance, Pamela Geller, the blogger who’s become the leading voice denouncing the mosque project was once, bizarrely enough, associate publisher of The New York Observer.)

But add to this array of unexpected connections the work of Imam Rauf on behalf of the U.S. government—which includes serving as an FBI “consultant” and being recruited as a spokesperson by longtime George W. Bush confidante Karen Hughes, who headed up the administration’s propaganda efforts in the Muslim world—and a compelling picture begins to emerge. Bush’s favorite Imam, with backing from a funder with connections to the CIA, the Pentagon and the currency trading company that now sponsors rightwing firebrand Glenn Beck, proposes to build a mosque around the corner from the site of the most devastating terrorist attack ever visited on America. In the name of “[cultivating] understanding among all religions and cultures,” he puts forth a project that offends a majority of Americans and deals a significant setback to the broader acceptance of Muslim-Americans. It’s a little like Billy “White Shoes” Johnson claiming the only reason he moonwalks after scoring a touchdown is to lower tensions on the football field and raise the other team’s spirits.

Whether the Cordoba Initiative ever gets its way with the Ground Zero Mosque, it may well have a lasting legacy at odds with its stated intention: By damaging the very moderates and progressives who actually view New York, and the nation as a whole, as a tolerant melting pot, and strengthening the position demagogues on both sides, it will almost certainly deal a setback to interfaith relations. It will also help to hobble the Democratic party.. Which just might have been the point all along.

Either that, or it’s merely a coincidence that this controversy has erupted now, during crucial mid-term elections. In which case we can all go back to what we were doing before—either denouncing the Park51 Mosque as an affront to Americans, or championing it as a symbol of our fundamental rights-playing our accustomed roles in a drama that seems too perfect, somehow, to believe.

           — Hat tip: heroyalwhyness[Return to headlines]

Europe and the EU

2000-Year-Old Pills Found in Greek Shipwreck

In 130 BC, a ship fashioned from the wood of walnut trees and bulging with medicines and Syrian glassware sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. Archaeologists found its precious load 20 years ago and now, for the first time, archaeobotanists have been able to examine and analyse pills that were prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece.

DNA analyses show that each millennia-old tablet is a mixture of more than 10 different plant extracts, from hibiscus to celery.

“For the first time, we have physical evidence of what we have in writing from the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen,” says Alain Touwaide of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

The box of pills was discovered on the wreck in 1989, with much of the medicine still completely dry, according to Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, also in Washington DC.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Ancient Greeks Spotted Halley’s Comet

A CELESTIAL event in the 5th century BC could be the earliest documented sighting of Halley’s comet — and it marked a turning point in the history of astronomy.

According to ancient authors, from Aristotle onwards, a meteorite the size of a “wagonload” crashed into northern Greece sometime between 466 and 468 BC. The impact shocked the local population and the rock became a tourist attraction for 500 years.

The accounts describe a comet in the sky when the meteorite fell. This has received little attention, but the timing corresponds to an expected pass of Halley’s comet, which is visible from Earth every 75 years or so.

Philosopher Daniel Graham and astronomer Eric Hintz of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, modelled the path that Halley’s comet would have taken, and compared this with ancient descriptions of the comet (Journal of Cosmology, vol 9, p 3030). For example, the comet was said to be visible for 75 days, accompanied by winds and shooting stars, and in the western sky when the meteorite fell.

The researchers show that Halley’s comet would have been visible for a maximum of 82 days between 4 June and 25 August 466 BC. From 18 July onwards, a time of year characterised in this region by strong winds, it was in the western sky. At around this time, the Earth was moving under the comet’s tail, so its debris field would have made shooting stars.

None of this proves the comet’s identity, but Graham says such major comet sightings are rare, so Halley must be a “strong contender”. Previously, the earliest known sighting of Halley was made by Chinese astronomers in 240 BC. If Graham and Hintz are correct, the Greeks saw it three orbits and more than two centuries earlier.

The researchers’ analysis reveals this moment to be a crucial turning point in the history of astronomy. Plutarch wrote in the 1st century AD that a young astronomer called Anaxagoras predicted the meteorite’s fall to Earth, which has puzzled historians because such events are essentially random occurrences.

After studying what was said about Anaxagoras, Graham concludes that he should be recognised as “the star of early Greek astronomy”. Rather than predicting a particular meteorite, he reckons Anaxagoras made a general statement that rocks might fall from the sky.

At this time, says Graham, everyone thought that celestial bodies such as the moon and planets were fiery, lighter-than-air objects. But after observing a solar eclipse in 478 BC, Anaxagoras concluded that they were heavy, rocky lumps, held aloft by a centrifugal force. This implied that solar eclipses occurred when the moon blocked the light from the sun. It also meant that if knocked from position, such a rock might crash to Earth.

“When the meteorite fell, no one could deny it,” says Graham. “The headline was ‘Anaxagoras was right’.”

Did Halley’s comet play a role? It is always possible that the comet might have nudged a near-Earth asteroid from its course and sent it hurtling towards northern Greece. From that point on, the idea of rocks in the sky was accepted, and the Greeks had a new understanding of the cosmos.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Austria: Pax Christi Backs ‘More Mosques’ Appeal

A Catholic peace movement has come out in support of the construction of further mosques with minarets in Austria.

Pax Christi Österreich, the Austrian department of the international organisation, said today (Fri): “It is essential to provide worthy venues for Muslims so they can exercise their religion.”

The organisation added it was of the opinion that a mosque featuring a minaret would give Muslims “a home” and was of the same importance as churches to Christians and synagogues to the Jewish community.

Pax Christi Österreich further said: “Let’s take the chance of a western concept of democracy connected with religious freedom.”

The announcements come as all of Austria’s political parties and religious representatives engage in a debate on whether the country needs more mosques.

Syrian-born Anas Schakfeh, head of the Austrian Islamic Denomination (IGGiÖ), caused outcry among right-wing politicians by making another appeal for “distinctive” mosques with minarets in all of Austria’s nine provincial capitals.

Around 500,000 of the 8.5 million people living in Austria are Muslims. There are hundreds of houses of prayers and Islamic community centres, but just three mosques with minarets — in Vienna, Bad Vöslau in Lower Austria and Telfs in Tyrol — in the country.

Many Muslims and people of other denominations have welcomed Schakfeh’s idea, but at the same time also criticised him for expressing it just weeks before two crucial elections.

The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) is expected to improve in the provincial votes of Styria on 26 September and Vienna on 10 October after having poor shows five years ago. Political analysts have said it was almost certain the party’s campaign will benefit from the fresh controversy.

Meanwhile, Vienna-based researchers Karmasin found that a majority of 52 per cent of Austrians opposed calls for further mosques with minarets. Only 35 per cent supported the idea, the institute — which interviewed around 500 Austrians — said.

           — Hat tip: ESW[Return to headlines]

Belgians Begin Explosion Investigation

Danish police continue to remain mum about bomber’s identity, possible target

Belgian officials have opened an investigation into the identity of the man arrested in Copenhagen on Friday in connection with a minor explosion, reports public broadcaster DR.

The man, who has refused to give his identity, was reportedly carrying papers from two foreign countries.

Danish police have not stated the names of the countries, but according to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the suspect was carrying a passport from that country with a false name.

According to a spokesperson for Belgian prosecutors, such an investigation is normal when a Belgian resident is involved in a serious crime abroad.

A judge in Copenhagen on Saturday ordered the man held on remand until 4 October. Speaking through a French translator, the suspect, described as in his 40s and missing the lower half of one of his legs, plead innocent on charges of planning to detonate a bomb and reckless endangerment of other people’s lives.

He was also charged with illegal possession of a loaded pistol.

According to the police’s theory, the man assembled the bomb and intended to use it to kill or maim others.

No official announcement has been made of the suspect’s potential target. But Ekstra Bladet newspaper, citing sources close to the investigation, reported on Sunday that among the man’s possessions was a map with a ring around the main office of Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Århus.

Jyllands-Posten has been the subject of numerous threats since September 2005, when it published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. It recently completed a multi-million kroner security upgrade of its Århus office in order to ward off possible attackers.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

EU Commission Worried by Israeli Law on NGOs

(ANSAmed) — STRASBURGO, SEPTEMBER 8 — The new law on non governmental organisations (NGOs) that has been debated for months in Israel will, unless amended, effectively penalise private organisations that cooperate with European institutions.

That is why the EU will closely monitor the Knesset, and such is the message issued today to the European parliament by EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy during his speech to the plenary assembly.

Fule explained that “From our point of view, expected communication duties are becoming uselessly stiff. The administrative requisites for NGOs in Israel already guarantee adequate transparency in public financing and furthermore these new parameters only concern foreign public funds, not private ones”. That is why the EC commissioner believes that this kind of approach will “discriminate those who work with public funds, including those arriving from the EU”. Hence the worries over the debate that is being held in the Knesset, also taking into account the years of profitable cooperation between the EU and local NGOs. Fule concluded that “The law will be debated over the next months, and we will monitor developments closely”. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Italy: Muslims Unveil Blueprint for Florence Mosque

Florence, 10 Sept. (AKI) — Muslim leaders in Florence have unveiled a blueprint for a mosque that aims to blend in with the city’s renaissance architecture, with minarets that resemble the cathedral’s bell tower designed by Giotto.

“Florence needs to have a mosque that rivals the city’s historic beauty and cultural wealth,” said the central Italian art city’s imam, Elzir Izzedine.

“The project is almost complete and will soon be presented to the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi to plan its construction, Izzedine added.

He is also head of the union of Islamic communities in Italy, UCOII.

The municipality needs to grant planning permission for the mosque. But Muslims hope its stunning design will convince Renzi.

Florence’s 35-year-old centre-left ‘first citizen’ has said he is not against a mosque in the city.

“If our Muslim friends present a project, we will evaluate it and have an open-minded discussion about it,” he said.

The black, green and white marble mosque boasts an open gallery, six arches with a large circular ornamental window or rosette, a prayer hall and two minarets

A Muslim leader in Florence will present plans to authorities in coming weeks to build a mosque in the style of the city’s classic architecture with minarets that resemble the cathedral bell tower designed by Giotto.

Architect David Napolitano said he designed the exterior of the mosque to make it look similar to many of the city’s landmark churches and buildings.

The mosque has received several positive reactions to the plans, including messages of support from local Christian communities, Napolitano said.

But local leaders of the anti-immigrant Northern League opposed the proposal, describing the construction of mosques as a threat to the stablity of Italian society.

Some Northern League politicians have suggested a referendum should be held on its construction, such as the one held last year in Switzerland.

The referendum, Swiss voted to ban the building of minarets, reflecting unease about Islam in Europe.

The Northern League has paraded pigs over mosque building sites in Italy, which is home to more than one million Muslims.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Italy: Andreotti Says Ambrosoli ‘Was Asking for it’

Statesman sparks storm with remark on Sindona’s liquidator

(ANSA) — Rome, September 9 — Italian elder statesman Giulio Andreotti unleashed a storm of criticism Thursday when he said a widely regarded hero murdered while liquidating a Mafia-linked financier’s assets in the 1970s had brought it on himself. In an interview for a TV programme on the affair, Andreotti, 91, said “I don’t want to fill in for the police but certainly (Giorgio Ambrosoli) was someone who ‘was asking for it”.

Ambrosoli, 46, was murdered outside his house in July 1979 by a Mafia hitman commissioned by Michele Sindona, a Sicilian banker whose empire was crumbling amid speculation the Mafia was calling in favours and debts.

Previously Sindona had been a high-flying financier whose activities on the foreign-exchange market prompted Andreotti to dub him “the saviour of the lira”.

Sindona died of a poisoned cup of coffee in jail in 1986, after being convicted on several counts of fraudulent bankruptcy and Ambrosoli’s murder.

Ambrosoli had continued digging into Sindona’s affairs despite several death threats.

Posthumously awarded a medal for civic heroism, he has had piazzas named after him and was commemorated in a 1995 biopic entitled A Middle-Class Hero, directed by Michele Placido.

Most of the criticism of Andreotti’s surprising remark used this description of Ambrosoli.

Emanuele Fiano, law-and-order pointman for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said Andreotti’s “very serious statements take us back to terrible years”. “For us, Ambrosoli remains the middle-class hero who didn’t bow down to anyone.

“We could do with his example in today’s Italy. The words of life Senator Andreotti are the worst reminder of those Italian powers, which Andreotti was a part of, that left Ambrosoli alone in a just and tragic battle”.

Former PD chief and ex-culture minister Walter Veltroni called Andreotti’s remarks “incredible”.

The spokesman for ex-graftbuster Antonio Di Pietro’s Italy of Values (IdV) party, Leoluca Orlando, called Ambrosoli “a true middle-class hero” and added: “With just one phrase, (Andreotti) smeared the memory of brave Giorgio Ambrosoli, murdered because of his honesty, the same honesty of all the honest citizens and servants of the State who lost their lives because they refused to compromise”. For the ruling centre-right coalition, Interior Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano called Andreotti’s take on the incident “surprising”.

“It is surprising that 30 years after the fact Andreotti continues to show he is closer to Sindona than to Ambrosoli,” he said. Ambrosoli’s son Umberto, quizzed by ANSA, was more composed in his reaction.

“I think the remark doesn’t need any comment. It speaks for itself.

“I don’t know if Senator Andreotti’s words represent the prevailing school of thought. I, frankly, have the opposite impression.

“The economic and financial world learned from that affair to change things while the political world doesn’t seem to have done so”.


But the overall reaction was so strong that it spurred Andreotti to issue an apology, claiming he had been misinterpreted.

“I’m very sorry that an expression in Roman dialect caused a serious misunderstanding of my assessment of the tragic circumstances of Ambrosoli’s death,” Andreotti said in a statement.

“I was referring to the grave risks Ambrosoli had consciously exposed himself to,” he said.

Seven-time premier Andreotti was convicted and then cleared of helping the Mafia but the 2004 acquittal verdict said he stopped working with the Mob in 1980.

The appeals court said any pre-1980 crimes were covered by the statute of limitations.

During the trial, prosecutors detailed Andreotti’s extraordinary defence of Sindona and the pressure he put on the Bank of Italy to try to bail out the banker’s Banca Privata Italiana.

Prosecutors said Andreotti went on defending Sindona even when “reasons of decency might have advised him not to”.

The prosecutor told the jury this could only be explained by the fact that both men were tied to the Mafia.

Andreotti again refused to condemn Sindona in other remarks to the TV programme, to be aired on state broadcaster RAI Thursday evening.

“I tried to see things objectively. I was never a pro-Sindona advocate but I never thought he was the devil incarnate.

“His international activities showed a financial and economic competence which gave him cards others didn’t have. If there was no reason to be hostile to him, you could only speak well of him”.

During the final part of his career Sindona was also linked to Roberto Calvi, another Mafia-tied banker whose body was found hanging under London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982.

Calvi had been nicknamed God’s Banker because of his links with the Vatican Bank.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Local Sweden Democrat: ‘Ban’ Practicing Muslims

A local politician from the far-right Sweden Democrats argued during an election debate on Thursday that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to practice their faith in Strömsund in northwestern Sweden.

“I don’t think someone should be allowed to be a practicing Muslim in Strömsund,” Sweden Democrat Mikael Säbom said on Thursday during a live election debate broadcast on Sveriges Radio Jämtland.

Since 2006, the town of just over 4,000 residents has taken in scores of Muslims from Uzbekistan in the wake of a 2005 crackdown by Uzbek government troops in Andijan in which hundreds of protesters were killed, although the exact number of casualties remains in dispute.

At the time of the incident, known as the Andijan massacre, the Uzbek government claimed the demonstrations were organized by the Islamic radicals.

Strömsund has seen a rise in hate crimes, from racist graffiti to the burning down of a mosque in the city two years ago.

Säbom, who stands at the top of the Sweden Democrats’ list of candidates for election to the local council, later refused to elaborate on his comments when approached by the newspaper.

A spokesperson from the Sweden Democrats headquarters in Stockholm claimed that Säbon’s comments had been “misinterpreted”, but added that the party stands behind the politician’s argument.

One of Strömsund’s estimated 150 practicing Muslims who wished to remain anonymous told Aftonbladet he’s “very worried” about the Sweden Democrats gaining seats in the Riksdag.

The party’s number two candidate in Strömsund, Peter Dahlsted, nevertheless remained upbeat about the Sweden Democrats’ prospects, claiming that the influx of Muslims from Uzbekistan was a major driver for growth in the party’s support locally.

“Many come up to us and dare to say what they think,” he told Aftonbladet.

“It mostly has to do with the Uzbeks; that they’re disruptive in one way or another.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: Cinemas Closed to Children for Sugar Festival

AMSTERDAM, 11/09/10 — Cinemas in Amsterdam were closed on Friday evening for all children aged from 12 to 16. The city council wanted to avert escalation during the Sugar Festival by the measure.

The Sugar Festival concludes Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month. In recent years, the festival has been accompanied by problems caused by young Moroccans in particular. Last year, an entire cinema was even evacuated during a film showing because objects were constantly being thrown and fights breaking out in the cinema.

To prevent such incidents, Amsterdam decided that the cinemas would not be open to children aged from 12 to 16 on Friday evening. Non-Muslim children going to a film with their mother for example were unwelcome as well. According to a spokesman, the intention here was to avoid making any distinction between groups.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Netherlands: PvdA Strategy Against ‘Wilders Cabinet’ Leaked

AMSTERDAM, 11/09/10 — Labour (PvdA) seems to have accepted that there is going to be a coalition of conservatives (VVD), Christian democrats (CDA) and Party for Freedom (PVV). The party has even already drawn up an opposition strategy, which was leaked to De Telegraaf newspaper Friday.

The internal memorandum gives the PvdA MPs guidelines on how they can “convincingly and authentically” position themselves. The party must not be liberal-left like centre-left D66 and the leftwing Greens (GroenLinks) and equally, it must not be a protest party like the Socialist Party (SP). But where possible, the coalition must be landed in problems, says the memo.

In situations in which “a serious opportunity emerges for undermining (the stability of) the coalition, opportunism can take precedence over a consistent, credible performance.” Such chances will however be sporadic, the memorandum predicts. “The number of times that the rightwing coalition will make themselves dependent on the (leftwing) opposition will not be great.”

The PvdA will focus on the relationship between the PVV on the one hand and the VVD and CDA on the other. “It is up to us to constantly expose the tensions in this coalition and thus cause problems for the cabinet.”

The entire memorandum, entitled ‘The opposition strategy’, is on the website of De Telegraaf. The PvdA will deliberately refer to ‘the Wilders cabinet’.

Further, it is remarkable that the PvdA says that collaboration with D66 and SP must be targeted, while GroenLinks is not named. Open confrontation with leftwing parties has to be avoided.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

UK: 10,000 Burglars Were Convicted Last Year… And Not One Got Maximum Sentence

Victims’ rights campaigners have called for an inquiry after it emerged none of the nearly 10,000 burglars convicted in one year received the maximum sentence available.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice also showed only two of 4,614 robbers and 1.4 per cent of sex offenders were jailed for as long as they could have been.

Tory MP Philip Davies, who prompted the publication of the statistics — which relate to 2008 — told the Sunday Telegraph they painted an ‘outrageous’ picture.

‘The figures are unbelievably low. It is outrageous. I am sick to the back teeth of politicians talking tough on crime but not following it through,’ he said.

‘No doubt there are incredibly persistent burglars within these figures who come before the bench time after time, and it is extraordinary that not one of them has received a maximum sentence.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Hospital Blunder Left Teatowel-Sized Swab Inside Me for Four Months After Surgery

A hospital blunder left a woman with a swab the size of a teatowel in her body for four months after what should have been a routine hysterectomy operation.

Susan Misiewicz, 44, was in acute pain after the procedure and was put on a series of different antibiotics by doctors.

It was only when she was finally given a CT scan that the oversight was spotted — an 18in by 18in piece of thick cotton swab, wrapped around her bowel. But now she has hit a wall of bureaucracy in her attempt to claim compensation.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Senior Labour Politician Helped Paedophile Headmaster Establish False Identity

A paedophile who was sentenced to 21 years in prison last week has links with a Labour politician who is a senior figure in the judicial system, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Derek Slade, who abused boys at the boarding school where he was headmaster in the Eighties, was given help in establishing a false identity by Derek Sawyer, former leader of Islington Council and now chair of the London Region Courts Board.

Mr Sawyer facilitated Slade’s escape from his past by setting up educational companies in which the disgraced teacher used a fake name and CV.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Italy-Albania: Visa Abolition, Berisha Thanks Maroni

(ANSAmed) — TIRANA, SEPTEMBER 9 — Tirana thanks Italy and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni for their efforts for the liberalisation of visas for Albanians, said Albanian Premier Sali Berisha today during his meeting in Tirana with Italian chief of police Antonio Manganelli.

Italy was one of the European countries to strongly support the abolition of the need for a visa for Albanian citizens who want to visit the Schengen area. Albania and Bosnia are now waiting for the approval by the European Union this autumn. Manganelli has also had a meeting with Albanian Interior Minister Lulzim Basha, with whom he has discussed the ongoing joint Italian-Albanian efforts against the trafficking of drugs and weapons and for the arrest of fugitives.

“The underlying theme of the activities of the Department of Public Security in the Balkans is the economic impoverishment of mafia organisations”, said the chief of police. He underlined that “the goal is to stamp out any trafficking by criminal associations, both stopping their investments in Albania and their illegal commercial practices”.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

North Africa

Algeria: Le Monde, Anti-Corruption Militant Arrested

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 8 — The president of Algeria’s association against corruption Djilali Hadjadj was arrested on September 5 on the basis of a warrant for suspected fraud of the pension system.

According to the report by Le Monde, che ne da’ notizia, the man was arrested at the Constantine airport while he was boarding a flight for Marseilles together with his wife. He was unaware of the arrest warrant issued some months ago by the Algerian justice system.

Several NGOs, including Transparency international, expressed their concern that Hadjadj, a trained doctor and journalist, often criticised the Algerian regime. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Algeria: Patriots Converted to Security Agents

(ANSAmed) — ALGIERS, SEPTEMBER 9 — The “patriots”, members of the Groups of Legitimate Self-Defence (GLD) which arose in Algeria in the 1990s to combat terrorism, will be reconverted to security agents for public companies. Without supplying any further details, this is decreed by a new government directive which obliges public companies to recruit their agents exclusively from among the patriots. In the bloodiest decade of terrorism, there were about 10,000 “patriots” in the country, who proved fundamental in defending especially villages from attacks by Islamic-inspired armed groups.

Officially disbanded and disarmed in 2004, some GLD continue to be operational especially among the Kabylie mountains, a stronghold of Al Qaeda for the Islamic Maghreb in the northern part of Algeria.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Do Egyptian Mummies Have a Right to Privacy?

SHOULD we consider the privacy or reputation of the individual when analysing an Egyptian mummy? The assumption that ancient corpses are fair game for science is beginning to be challenged.

Though strict ethical guidelines apply to research on modern tissue samples, up until now there has been little discussion about work on ancient human remains. In a recent paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics (DOI: 10.1136/jme.2010.036608), anatomist Frank Rühli and ethicist Ina Kaufmann of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, argue that this is disturbing because research on mummies is invasive and reveals intimate information such as family history and medical conditions. And, of course, the subjects cannot provide consent.

“The human body, alive or dead, has a moral value,” says Rühli, who is himself involved in mummy research. He says that no matter how old a body is, researchers must balance the benefits of their research against the potential rights and desires of the deceased individual.

For example, the release of information about the medical history of an ancient Egyptian ruler such as Tutankhamun could violate his wish to be remembered as strong and healthy. On the other hand, it could increase his fame, which would fit with his desire to be remembered after death.

Others in the field take a different view. Franco Rollo of the University of Camerino, Italy, has worked on Ötzi the iceman (pictured), who died around 3300 BC and whose mummified remains were found in the Alps in 1991. Rollo argues that ethical considerations are minimal if remains are “old enough to belong to an historical and social epoch that is felt sufficiently different and far from the present one by most people”.

Likewise, Helen Donoghue of University College London, who has analysed human remains for signs of infectious disease, says she has no qualms about research on mummies as long as it is carried out for valid scientific reasons and is not opposed by any descendants.

But Søren Holm, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Medical Ethics, says ethical considerations do apply to ancient remains, especially where the individuals are identifiable. “In a certain sense these people still have a life,” he says. “We still talk about them. There are pieces of research that could affect their reputation.”…

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Morocco: Further 10 Mln Euros From EU to Fight Illiteracy

(ANSAmed) — RABAT, SEPTEMBER 9 — The European Union has allocated a further 10 million euros to the five-year literacy programme (2008-2013) that Morocco is implementing in 11 regions. The news was announced by Moroccan newspapers. “Morocco has made great progress in the fight against illiteracy over recent years, but efforts must continue,” stated Eneko Landaburu, head of the EU delegation to Rabat, announcing a further contribution of 10 million euros, which brings the total European assistance to 297 million dirhams (27 million euros).

The Moroccan Education Minister Ahmed Akhchichine said that in recent years the illiteracy rate had fallen from 42% to 30%, specifying that there are currently 8 million illiterate people out of a population of 31 million.

The Minister said he was confident that, thanks to the collaboration of the National Agency against Illiteracy, which was recently created, and the Ministry, it will be possible to eradicate the phenomenon of illiteracy over the coming years.(ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Best Healthcare System in Central Maghreb

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 10 — Tunisia boasts the best healthcare system in the central Maghreb, which includes Algeria and Morocco. The news results from a joint study by Canadian Sherbrooke University and the World Health Organisation (WHO). The ratio of doctors to residents in Tunisia in 2008 was 1.2 for every 1,000 residents. In Algeria it is 1.2 and in Morocco 0.6. As regards life expectancy, it is 70 years in Tunisia for men and 75 for women. In Morocco it is 70 and 74 respectively and in Algeria 70 and 72. As regards infant, child and youth mortality rates, the figure is 23 per 1,000 in Tunisia against 37 in Morocco and 38 in Algeria. The research reads that amongst the reasons for the positive Tunisian figure are the eradication of all endemic diseases and medical training that is line with international standards. (ANSAmed).

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Tunisia: Raising of Pensionable Age, Talks

(ANSAmed) — TUNIS, SEPTEMBER 10 — The problem of raising pensionable age from its current 60 years to 62 years is also being debated in Tunisia. The government’s bill also provides for an increase in social security contributions. The first meeting between the Welfare Minister and the unions is scheduled for next week. The bill also provides for raising the pensionable age to 65 years between 2016 and 2020.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Israel and the Palestinians

PM Demands Palestinians Recognize Israel as Jewish State

Netanyahu: “I don’t hear the other side saying ‘two states for two nations.’ I hear two states, but I don’t hear two nations”; ministers speak up on settlement freeze.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that a peace agreement is based, first of all, on the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People.

“The conflict between us and the Palestinians, as opposed to other conflicts that were resolved by peace agreements, is over the same piece of ground,” Netanyahu continued.

The prime minister stated that “we say that the solution is two states for two peoples, meaning two national states, a Jewish national state and a Palestinian national state. To my regret, I have yet to hear from the Palestinians the phrase ‘two states for two peoples’. I hear them saying ‘two states’ but I do not hear them recognizing two states for two peoples.”

Netanyahu referred to the scheduled meeting in Sharm a-Sheikh on Tuesday and said “I believe that if the Palestinian leadership adheres to continuous negotiations, despite the obstacles that are coming up on every side, and if it is serious and determined in its intention to advance towards peace, just as we are serious, then it will be possible to,within a year, reach a framework that will be the basis for a peace settlement.

The prime minister did not refer to an end of the settlement freeze at the beginning of the cabinet meeting.

Contrary to Netanyahu’s silence on the issue, a number of ministers gave their opinion on the issue of the West Bank building moratorium, which is set to expire at the end of September.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog referred to the settlement freeze and said that the talks scheduled for Sharm e-Sheikh “are an important step…. Brave steps need to be taken during the negotiations, even if it means that a continuation of the settlement freeze.”

In contrast, Interior Minister Eli Yishai claimed that “we need to face the truth and not hide our head in the sand. I am very skeptical. I do not believe that the Palestinians want political negotiations.”

           — Hat tip: KGS[Return to headlines]

Middle East

Boating: Focus on ‘Second-Hand’ Yachts in UAE

(ANSAmed) — ROME, SEPTEMBER 10 — Forget about luxury yachts, this time the spotlight will be on second-hand boats, a potentially valid market, which is still largely unexplored and that until now has not been adequate tested in the United Arab Emirates.

The organisers of the first “Used Boat Show”, which will be held on November 4-6 in the beautiful Dubai Creek Marina, are trying to change this situation. About 40 boats, starting at 18 feet in length, will be on display to give people a chance to experience this sector, and abolishing the image of the Middle East as the exclusive home of super-luxury yachts that are accessible only to a small minority. The head of the club, Mustafa Al Hashimi, underlined that “coming into contact with the sea is a very simple pleasure, enjoying the beautiful water of the coast of the UAE is not out of reach, there are accessible options, which will be demonstrated by the show”. In Hashimi’s view, this will be “the answer to a huge gap in the market, putting buyers and sellers directly into contact.

It is a good way to show people who want to buy a boat that they do not have to be rich to have fun and participate in the sport”. Various possibilities will be on display: boats will not only be moored on the water, but also parked on trailers, ready for easy transport on the road. Bankers that are experts in special financing and insurance will also be present, as well as salesmen of equipment and tools for fishing. A significant market exists for second-hand boats, which is fed by the yachts owned by many locals and foreigners who were more or less unscathed by the international financial crisis and who have decided to make the jump and buy larger boats.

According to experts in the sector, the boating sector in the Gulf region did not suffer excessively from the economic crisis, leaving room for growth for regional builders, who have the advantage of a young and ambitious population, but everything is still in the initial phases: compared to the American market, where 1 in 54 inhabitants owns a boat, in the UAE, the rate is 1 to 700. Furthermore, with 650km of coastline on the Persian Gulf, the country is in an optimal position for those who wish to enjoy the sea and its peace, also thanks to new government safety and emergency regulations. This growing market is in need of new infrastructure, with various projects in the works to increase the available space for boats. The CEO of Mourjan Marina IGY for the Middle East, Europe and Asia, Michael Horrigan, says that “the regional markets of Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar have experienced sharp growth in the last two years during the crisis. Currently, each of these countries is developing from two to three marinas”.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]


Russian Spy Anna Chapman Finds Celebrity at Home

Former Russian spy Anna Chapman, arrested in the United States and sent back to her home country as part of an exchange of agents, is cashing in on her sex appeal. Ex-spook Vladimir Putin welcomed her home with open arms and she is on her way to becoming a star.

The Starlite is in a small park in downtown Moscow, a two-minute walk from the monument to legendary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The restaurant serves steak and french fries, and the wall is decorated with Life magazine covers from the 1960s and a license plate from the US state of Michigan. CNN flickers on a TV screen.

Anna Chapman, the spy with the Bond-girl image, has selected a restaurant for lunch that reminds her of her former life, of the four exciting years she spent in the United States before the FBI arrested her in June and exchanged her for American spies in Russia.

The Starlite is a little bit of Americana in the middle of Moscow, and a popular meeting point for people who are at home in more than one world. A Syrian with an American passport is ordering a hamburger at one of the tables. Western intelligence agencies believe he is the right-hand man of Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer. The Starlite has the reputation, not unjustifiably, of having been thoroughly bugged by Russian intelligence.

Hands Off Our Anna

Chapman is sitting in the far corner of the terrace. She is wearing a tight-fitting dress, and her face looks pale in contrast to her red hair. She sits with her back to the room. “I wear sunglasses and a hat on the street,” she says.

And with good reason. Russia has been consumed by a Chapman cult since her return. The tabloids print page after page of love confessions by her previous boyfriends. In her hometown of Volgograd, known as the “City of Heroes” for its role in World War II, members of the city council have proposed making the 28-year-old an honorary citizen.

The local newspaper is sponsoring a contest for the most beautiful song written for Anna. The lyrics of the frontrunner are: “America is spying on everyone, and its enemies cannot sleep in peace. They’re looking for bin Laden, but what does our girl have to do with it? Hands off our Anna.”

A Face for Anti-American Sentiment

Chapman has become a fetish for a resentful nation, embodying most Russians’ deep dislike of the United States. Most of all, the Anna cult helps to gloss over the severely battered reputation of Russia’s intelligence agencies, which are infected by the same ailments afflicting the entire country: nepotism, corruption and greed.

The head of Russian foreign intelligence, for example, spends his weekends relaxing at a country house on a 10,000-square-meter (roughly two-acre) property. His annual salary of €140,000 ($178,000) is hardly sufficient to pay for the estate or, for that matter, for his 587-square-meter (6,300-square-foot) apartment in Moscow. Russians are very familiar with these figures, because President Dmitry Medvedev has forced the heads of the intelligence agencies to disclose their assets.

Anna, looking self-conscious as she sits in the Starlite, personifies the country’s misery. She is no master spy, no creation of the KGB, feared, in part, for its efficiency. She is an attractive intern, not a warrior.

A New Mata Hari?

“My website will be up and running soon,” she says. “The contact information for my PR people will be listed there. I am not permitted to talk about my time in America.” Her handlers are probably the ones who issued the instructions.

But they apparently did not bar her from capitalizing on her story. She has already posed for the celebrity gossip magazine Zhara (“Heat”) in Moscow’s Baltschug Kempinski Hotel.

The publisher characterizes the photos as “revealing,” and promises that “Anna’s mysterious eyes will drive men to distraction. Next to Mata Hari, Anna is simply the spy with the greatest sex appeal.”

Zhara is owned by News Media Russia, the country’s most successful tabloid publisher. An associate of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin holds the majority stake in the company.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

South Asia

Christian Worshippers Attacked in Indonesia

Islamic hard-liners are believed to be behind the violence

BEKASI, Indonesia — Assailants stabbed a Christian worshipper in the stomach and pounded a minister in the head with a wooden plank as they headed to morning prayers Sunday outside Indonesia’s capital.

Neither of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. But suspicion immediately fell on Islamic hard-liners who have repeatedly warned members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church against worshipping on a field housing their now-shuttered church.

In recent months, they have thrown shoes and water bottles at the church members, interrupted sermons with chants of “Infidels!” and “Leave Now!” and dumped piles of feces on the land.

Local police Chief Imam Sugianto said Asia Sihombing, a worshipper, was on his way to the field when assailants jumped off a motorcycle and stabbed him in the stomach.

The Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak was smashed in the head as she tried to come to his aid.

“I was trying to help get him onto a motorcycle so we could get him to a hospital,” she told reporters in the industrial city of Bekasi, 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Jakarta.

Indonesia, a secular country of 237 million people, has more Muslims than any other in the world. Though it has a long history of religious tolerance, a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.

Leading the charge against the Batak Christians has been the Islamic Defenders Front, which is pushing for the implementation of Islamic-based laws in Bekasi and other parts of the nation.

They are known for smashing bars, attacking transvestites and going after those considered blasphemous with bamboo clubs and stones. They also pressured the local government early this year to shutter the Batak church.

Perpetrators are rarely punished or even questioned by police. However, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono immediately called on security forces Sunday to hunt for those responsible.

           — Hat tip: Vlad Tepes[Return to headlines]

Pakistan: Tribes Clash Violently Over Water

Islamabad, 10 Sept. (AKI) — At least 12 people were killed on Friday when fighting broke out among tribes over the distribution of irrigated water in the troubled western region that borders Pakistan, according to Dawn News.

The fighting between the Shalozan and Shalozan Tangi tribes in the upper Kurram region started about a week ago and has resulted in the deaths of 27 people and wounded 40 others, according to the report, citing officials and residents.

The tribes used heavy arms in the fighting, said Dawn.

Heavy arms were used in fighting and several people were also injured during today’s clash

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]

Far East

Winging it: Flying Fish Aerodynamics Directly Measured for the First Time

Wind tunnel tests find that flying fish glide as well as some birds

A fish out of water is not usually a graceful or impressive sight, unless that fish is flying—or hovering inside a laboratory wind tunnel.

The members of the flying fish family soar above the waves on unusually large pectoral and pelvic fins, which act as wings. Although scientists have studied the anatomy and behavior of these peculiar finned gliders, understanding flying fish aerodynamics has never been more than educated guesswork: Researchers have approximated the physics based on known aerodynamics of other gliding animals with similarly shaped wings. Now, for the first time, a pair of researchers has directly measured the way that air flows around flying fish fins inside a wind tunnel, used the data to confirm earlier assumptions about how fish fly, and concluded that these fish glide as well as some birds. The new study, by mechanical engineers Hyungmin Park and Haecheon Choi of Seoul National University in South Korea, appears in the September issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology.

“Before, there wasn’t any real experimental data about lift and drag,” said Frank Fish, a West Chester University of Pennsylvania zoologist who has studied flying fish but was not involved in the recent study. “This is a step forward in that they actually have taken the bodies of the animals and put them in wind tunnels.”

The National Federation of Fisheries Cooperatives in Seoul provided Choi and Park with 40 darkedged-wing flying fish (Cypselurus hiraii) freshly caught in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). After freezing the fish in an icebox the researchers selected five fish that were the most similar in size and asked the Korea Research Center of Maritime Animals to dry and stuff the fish bodies, using urethane foam to maintain appropriate anatomical geometries. The researchers extended the pectoral and pelvic fins of three stuffed fish so they resembled biplanes, they extended only the pectoral fins of a fourth fish, and retracted all the fins of the fifth specimen, giving it the shape of a torpedo. Then the researchers gave each fish a turn inside a wind tunnel and compared how air moved around the differently arranged fins. The experimenters also attached force sensors to the fish and varied the angles of their bodies inside the tunnel, to assess which angles created the greatest lift or drag.

In further tests the researchers installed a tank of water beneath the tunnel to investigate how gliding just above the surface changes the way air moves around fins. To see these effects more clearly, the experimenters also observed how smoke flowed around the fins.

The analyses yielded a few key findings. First, Choi and Park confirmed that the angles that achieved the greatest lift in the wind tunnel were the same steep angles at which flying fish emerge from the water in the wild. Second, the researchers found that when the fish glided exactly parallel to the water—as observed in nature—they maximized their lift—to—drag ratio, ensuring they stayed airborne for as long as possible. Third, Choi and Park observed that the biplane arrangement of pectoral and pelvic fins helped stabilize the fish in flight, preventing them from pitching up or down. Fourth, they ascertained that flying fish glided just as effectively as some birds, such as hawks, petrels and wood ducks—all of which are excellent gliders. Finally, they discovered that flying fish achieved incredibly efficient flight when gliding just above the water’s surface—reducing drag up to 14 percent—because of something called ground effect.

Normally, a flying fish gliding some distance above the water experiences drag because of a difference in air pressure over the fin surface. The air pressure is higher below the fin than above and “that high pressure below wants to move toward the low pressure on top,” Fish explains, “but that can’t happen except at the wing tip, where the airflow starts to move around the tip and up to the top of [the] wing. Because you are moving forward, a wingtip vortex forms—a swirling mass that creates a long cyclone trailing behind the animal on each fin or wing tip.” These vortices are a major source of induced drag, but when a fish nears the water’s surface the vortices start to break up. At the same time, pressure builds below the fins, increasing lift. The combined effect makes gliding just above the water’s surface more energetically efficient than free flight. The ground effect is also responsible for the slight jolt you may feel when an airplane is moments away from touching down on the runway.

Flying fish can stay airborne for distances up to 400 meters by coupling the ground effect with a behavior known as taxiing, in which they whip their tail through the water while still aloft to reaccelerate whenever they are in danger of sinking below the waves. Some flying fish have even evolved specialized tail fins with enlarged lower lobes, providing greater thrust during taxiing to help keep them airborne. Two major hypotheses offer explanations for why flying fish fly: one hypothesis says that fish fly to escape ocean predators; the other argues that fish save energy when gliding instead of swimming.

Although Fish acknowledges the inherent flaws in drawing conclusions about behavior in nature based on laboratory tests with stuffed animals, he thinks the new study is the most accurate measurement of flying fish aerodynamics to date. “The problem that you always have with a stuffed system or a model is how close to reality it actually is: we don’t know the exact geometry of the wing when it’s deployed, for example,” Fish says. “But does this get you into the ballpark? It’s a closer approximation than what was done previously. It’s probably pretty close to reality.” Choi emphasizes how careful he was to preserve the living anatomy of the fish, especially the delicate fins.

Both Fish and Choi agree that the new research could have applications for airplane design. “Maybe the flying fish design is very good for traveling over the water surface and economizing fuel consumption,” Fish says. “It’s conceivable we could have little messengers going out over the ocean.” Choi refers to improving the design of wing-in-ground-effect (WIG) vehicles, which are specifically constructed to take advantage of the ground effect. “One of our next lines of research,” Choi says, “is to apply what we learn from flying fish to these special planes.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

Latin America

Vatican: Pope Eyes New Brazilian Converts

Vatican City, 10 Sept. (AKI) — Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged the Catholic Church to launch a new evangelising campaign in Brazil. The church faced an unprecedented challenge from new Christian proselytising groups that were continuing to spring up in the traditionally Roman Catholic country, he said.

“The continual increase of new Christian groups, some of which adopt aggressive proselytism, continues to pose a challenge,” the pontiff told a group of Brazilian Catholic bishops visiting Rome.

Many people in the ethnically and cultural mixed country have abandoned the Catholic faith, while Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal churches have rapidly expanded there over the past few decades, he said.

“The success of these groups is a sign of a widespread thirst for God among your people,” Benedict stressed.

The Catholic Church in Brazil must “commit to a new evangelisation which spares no efforts in seeking out lapsed Catholics and people who know little or nothing of the evangelical message,” the pontiff said.

Catholic priests must also undertake “ecumenical dialogue” with “new groups who claim to follow Christ, though divided among various communities and confessions,” Benedict said.

“Dialogue among Christians”, Pope Benedict went on, “is a current imperative and an indispensable option for the Church.

Brazil — a regional leader and emerging economic power — is the largest and most populous South American country.

Around three quarters of its population are nominally Roman Catholic.

           — Hat tip: C. Cantoni[Return to headlines]


Roma: France Against European Parliament, Losing Credibility

(ANSAmed) — PARIS, SEPTEMBER 10 — European Parliament “is losing its credibility”. French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, pointed the finger at the assembly in Strasburg after European Parliament voted on a resolution yesterday calling for France as well as other European countries such as Italy “to immediately suspend” the deportation of nomadic people and Roma. “I would like to respond to European Parliament, I would like to tell them that they are losing credibility, and I am telling them to their face,” said Lellouche in an interview by France Inter radio. He pointed out that with the new Treaty of Lisbon, European Parliament will have “important decision-making power with the EU council”. French Immigration Minister Eric Besson agreed with Lellouche, saying that the Strasburg’s resolution, which has strong symbolic value, but which is not binding, is a “political operation of little value conducted by left-wing MPs, Socialists and Greens, who once again want to accuse France,” said Besson to France Info radio.

           — Hat tip: Insubria[Return to headlines]

Culture Wars

Teletubbies is as Bad for Your Child as a Violent Video Game, Says Leading Psychologist

We must prevent children under three from watching television or risk irreversibly damaging their health.

It may sound shocking but, rest assured, far from being a Luddite, I am enjoying my brand-new iMac and we own a television set. However, I stopped my three youngest children watching TV before the age of three. Let me explain why…

Over the past ten years I have been collating data and my discoveries have troubled me greatly — both as a biologist and as a parent.

Last month, I presented my findings to MEPs in Brussels. My message was unequivocal.

There needs to be a recommended daily allowance for screen time as we have with salt and fat, or we risk harming our children when at their most vulnerable. Indeed, in 2008 the French government outlawed programming aimed at children under three.

Research suggests it is not what you watch, it is what age you start and how long you watch for that has a detrimental effect. In many ways Teletubbies, or any other educational programme for children, could be as physiologically damaging as a violent video game.

So, how does watching something on a screen — whether TV, a DVD, computer games or surfing the internet — have a negative impact, more so than other sedentary activities such as reading or knitting?

It is because we are instinctively transfixed by television. It elicits the orienting response — our sensitivity to movement and sudden changes in vision or sound. Studies have shown that infants, when lying on their backs on the floor, will crane their necks around 180 degrees to watch. Our attraction to looking at anything bright and fastmoving is an evolutionary mechanism, a survival instinct.

These images on screen trigger what psychologists call attentional inertia — we are dazzled and cannot take our eyes off the screen. The same behaviour is seen in some animals.

But it seems we pay the price for tapping into these primitive urges. Scientists have observed effects ranging from the immediate release of hormones into the blood, which can contribute to long-term health problems, to actual physical changes in the brain and learning disorders.

A study from the University of Florence in 2006 of children aged six to 13 who spent an average amount of time watching TV found that their levels of melatonin — a hormone that causes us to sleep, but is also important for a healthy immune system and regulating the onset of puberty — shot up by 30 per cent after one week with no screen time.

If TV does suppress melatonin release, could this explain why puberty now begins in girls, on average, aged nine years 10 months — a year earlier than two decades ago?

Hormones related to metabolism are also affected. A study at the University of Sydney published this summer found that of a group of 290 boys aged 15, those who watched TV or DVDs or played computer games for more than two hours a day had elevated levels of chemical markers related to the development of coronary heart disease in later life.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]

UK: Taxpayer Funds Council ‘Adventures in Sindia and Lesbianandgayland’

Council bosses are being asked to imagine they are English economic migrants in the fictitious region of Sindia, or go on an ‘adventure in Lesbian-andgayland’ as part of publicly-funded training sessions on equality and diversity.

More than 30 managers from Brighton and Hove City Council have been on the two-day ‘Leading on Diversity’ course in the past year — at a cost of several thousand pounds.

In the session entitled Adventures in Sindia, the English Exodus, staff are asked to imagine that it is 2030 and the ‘world is a very different place’.

In this scenario, much of the South-East of England and East Anglia is under water.

Millions of English families desperate for work have been forced to uproot to Sindia, an economic federation which is made up of China and India.

All the participants are asked to imagine that they are a seven-year-old child called Sarah Hardy, whose family has just moved to Delhi.

They are also warned that the English are largely despised in India because they have a reputation for ‘illegality, criminality, cultural conservatism and an inability to learn the host language’.

The course material states: ‘Your seventh birthday was a miserable occasion. Your parents invited all the children in your class to a party. All but one failed to turn up and none sent an RSVP.

‘The only child who came was a Jewish girl from Hungary. Somehow you felt that she understood what you were going through, even though you never talked about it.’

The course attendees are told that while in Sindia they can expect to hear comments such as: ‘Why do you insist on eating that bland food? What you need is a good masala’, ‘Do your parents really force you to drink alcohol at the age of ten?’, and ‘What do you call an English virgin? A contradiction in terms’.

In the other session, staff are asked to imagine that ‘while asleep one night they have slipped through a wormhole in space’ and woken up in a parallel world where it is normal to be lesbian or gay.

They are told that they are now in a country where ‘heterosexual teachers are very reluctant to come out’, ‘the ideal family consists of a lesbian or gay male couple’, and ‘that conceiving a child by heterosexual intercourse is viewed with distaste’.

They are then asked to consider how they would respond if people asked them: ‘What do you actually do in bed?’, ‘Don’t you think heterosexuality may be a phase you are going through?’, and ‘Is it possible that what you need is a good gay lover?’

The course for staff at Brighton and Hove Council was organised and run by Aziz Associates, a training consultancy founded in 1996.

The company is run by Razia Aziz, 45, a politics graduate, and clients include health trusts, local councils and Government departments.

           — Hat tip: JD[Return to headlines]


Mind-Reading Tools Go Commercial

The tools used by the commercial industry to detect our thoughts and brain states are very different, and somewhat limited, compared to those used in the research lab. Christie Nicholson reports

The ability for brains to control inanimate objects, like computer cursors, robotic arms, wheelchairs, has seen significant progress in the last decade. A case in point is the recent success at Andrew Schwartz’s lab at the University of Pittsburgh where macaque monkeys fed themselves using a robotic arm controlled only by their thoughts.

Even commercial companies are now using brain-computer interface (or BCI.) Products like Mattel’s MindFlex or the Star Wars Force Trainer allow players to move a ball with thoughts alone. Or there is also the consumer product Zeo that follows your sleeping brain waves in order to diagnose any restless nights.

But it’s important to note that there are very different tools being used in the lab versus the marketplace. In Schwartz’s lab, an electrode placed beneath the skull of the macaque can detect spikes from single neurons. The pattern of neurons firing is then translated into code that a computer can understand.

The commercial products, however, cannot be so invasive. These companies use an electroencephalography cap (or EEG) that is placed on top of your head, and reads your overall brain state. Here the results are fairly crude. We can detect if one is calm, angry, excited or distracted, and we can manipulate those brain states to activate switches, like move a ball forward and back. But if we want to go beyond any binary on/off activation, however, we need to get deeper into the brain.

To do anything more complex with an EEG cap is like trying to distinguish the cello in an orchestra from outside of Lincoln Center.

To put this into perspective, the electrodes that are placed under the skull and are tapping into our grey matter and are used to move robotic arms or surf the Web, are not only inside Lincoln Center but are right smack in the front row, directly monitoring every string bowed on that same cello. And it is this sort of extreme detail that we are probably gonna to need to do any complex tasks with thoughts alone.

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]

New MRI Maps Assess Connectivity to Establish “Brain Age” Curve for Children and Adults

As children grow, brambles of short brain connections are gradually pruned down to longer, stronger neural pathways. Research has shown this trend to follow a fairly standard curve during normal development to adulthood, and scientists are now using this information to create predictive models of brain maturation.

This approach allows for calculations of “brain age” that are based not on structural development, but rather on how well structures are communicating with each other. A new study, published online September 9 in Science, shows the new connection-based model to be at least 92 percent accurate in predicting whether a person was a child or an adult based just on the neural communication patterns in their brain.

The research team scanned the brains—using functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI)—of 238 normally developing subjects aged 7 to 30, for five minutes. By comparing 200 of 12,720 key functional brain connections and assessing them through multivariate pattern analysis, researchers then predicted volunteer subjects’ developmental status.

Some groundwork for the approach was described in a 2009 study, published in PLoS Computational Biology, in which some of the same researchers described ways in which children’s brains were organized differently from those of adults. Younger brains, they had found, had more close connections among the more physically proximate brain areas, whereas older brains had stronger ties among brain regions that were far apart. This adult organization “lets you connect one node with another in a relatively short number of steps via special nodes,” Damien Fair, of Oregon Health and Science University and lead author of that study, noted in a prepared statement last year.

The new analysis demonstrated that rather than resulting from a mix of trimming and building connections, development was most easily predicted (about 68 percent) by just the trimming of the vast number of childhood connections.

The scientists behind the study liken this neural connection curve to the standard height and weight measurements kids get each time they go to the doctor for a check-up. “When the patient deviates too strongly from the standardized ranges or veers suddenly from one developmental path to another, the physician knows there’s a need to start asking why,” Bradley Schlagger, a pediatric neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis and coauthor of the new study, said in a prepared statement. With enough fcMRI data across individuals at different developmental periods, the standard curve of a brain’s connectivity changes could be used to look for abnormalities, similar to the way in which doctors assess physical measurements—especially if a child is already showing other indications that something is amiss.

Children with cognitive irregularities are often already subjected to a barrage of tests, including MRI scans. But, as Schlagger pointed out, these scans are “typically looking at the data from a structural point of view—what’s different about the shapes of various brain regions.” And in many instances, those tests can come back puzzlingly normal. Scientists have known for decades that connections among brain regions are just as important as the health of the regions themselves, and Schlagger’s new research has shown that “MRI also offers ways to analyze how different parts of the brain work together functionally,” he noted in the recent prepared statement.

Testing is never cheap, but adding five minutes’ worth of fcMRI to assess brain connections “won’t add that much cost”—especially if a child is already undergoing scans to look for structural abnormalities, Nico Dosenbach, a pediatric neurology resident at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and lead author on the new paper, noted in a prepared statement.

Now that these baseline measurements have been established for a range of normal development, the team members hope to use the curve to study groups of individuals at risk for developmental disorders. “When a fraction of them later develop that disorder, you can go back and construct an analysis like this one that will help predict the characteristics of the next child at highest risk of developing the disorder,” Schlagger said. And as a passive measurement it does not rely on a subject’s ability or willingness to perform a task, a common current gauge for different disabilities.

Such an approach might also eventually be able to help parse out a collection of indicators for various developmental disorders. “The beauty of this approach is that it lets you ask what’s different in the way that children with autism, for example, are off the normal development curve versus the way children with attention deficit disorder are off that curve,” Schlagger said. “That’s very powerful both clinically and from the perspective of understanding the causes of these disorders.”

           — Hat tip: Fjordman[Return to headlines]