Saturday, July 14, 2007

Weekend News Roundup


Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, the country’s most revered ancient theater is under fresh assault. Chewing gum and stilettos are eroding the vast theater’s marble. Strengthened by a metal rod, stiletto heels and their metal tips transmit more pressure per square inch than a 6,000-pound elephant, architects and archaeologists say.

“They had been advised ahead of the event,” said Dimtris Simopoulos, an usher in the theater’s V.I.P. section. “They obviously put their Manolo Blahniks over theater rules.”
“I guess our ancient ancestors knew best,” said Korina Krothaki, 25, a painter. “They all came barefoot and chewed on laurel leaves.”

Muslims in America:
This is the third year that the Muslim group, the Islamic Circle of North America, has held its annual convention in Hartford. Families mostly from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania crowded the Connecticut Convention Center to shop at a huge bazaar and attend seminars on topics including "what you need to know before you get married" and "Muslim teen rebellion: causes and solutions."
The First Amendment seeks to balance an individual's right to practice one's religion without undue government interference while at the same time barring the government from endorsing or favoring any particular faith. In addition, in 2000, Congress approved the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which requires religious accommodations in many instances.

Schools elsewhere in the country have made decisions quietly, such as allowing Muslim students to avoid strenuous exercise while they're fasting.

In Dearborn, Mich., schools offer students the option of eating hot dogs and chicken nuggets made with meat that has been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law. The Dearborn district, where at least 1 in 3 students is of Middle Eastern descent – some of which are Muslim – also schedules two days off during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.
That may sound unusual, "but most Americans don't think about the fact that schools naturally accommodate Christians," says Lisa Soronen, an attorney with the National School Boards Association. "There's no school on Sunday, and we get days off for most of the major Christian holidays."
Muslim and Jewish groups drop lengthy lawsuits, and a house of worship moves forward.
Aiming to present a less threatening face of Islam on the global stage, the Aga Khan, one of the world’s wealthiest Muslim investors, preaches the ethical use of wealth. “If you travel the developing world, you see poverty is the driver of tragic despair, and there is the possibility that any means out will be taken,” he says in a telephone interview from Paris.

By assisting the poor through business, he says, “we are developing protection against extremism.”
Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford University who specializes in the problems of poor countries, says he believes that aid agencies could benefit from operating more like venture capitalists — and more like the Aga Khan.

“He gets a multiplier effect from his investments that’s really lacking in foreign aid,” Mr. Collier says. “I’m impressed with his way of accepting risk and thinking long term.”
He says he prefers to put money into unglamorous enterprises that are engines of employment and have great long-term potential — even if profits aren’t immediate. Mixing business and charity, while long at odds with mainstream capitalist practice, is growing in prominence, making the Aga Khan an unlikely innovator.

Egypt and Travel:
Zawiyas, simple rooms where the faithful gather, offer space in a city with little room for politics or rest. Many elude the state's grasp. The zawiya has endured since the days of the great caravans when merchants sought rest and God on journeys across the desert. Partly inspired by the mystic Sufi branch of Islam, zawiyas spread from hinterland to city, providing spiritual fulfillment and help for the poor. These days, with Egyptians disgruntled over a corrupt government and President Hosni Mubarak's aloofness and failure to improve their lives, zawiyas have become entrenched community outposts.
"Every year brings less and less business," Ayman said over cold hibiscus juice a few weeks ago. "Before, in the 90s, our best customers were Americans. Now it's the opposite. The foreigners now are not like they were before, when they would ask any Egyptian in the street, 'Can you help me find this, I want to buy that." "Now I think they are scared a little. Now, it's only 'le shukran' (no, thank you) or 'leave me alone.'"
For Arab tourists, Cairo can be sin city
Worried by violence in popular Lebanon, Arab tourists are heading to Egypt instead, and causing waves as they ignore Islamic customs adhered to at home. To be sure, tourists of all stripes in Egypt drink more than their share of the locally brewed Stella beer, but the exceptional wealth of the Arab tourists coupled with what Egyptians see as violations of religious rules grates more than the bad behavior of Westerners.

Only in Egypt!
Don-key Juan arrested after beastly tryst

A MAN from Lower Egypt's Sharkia district was recently arrested on charges of bestiality, after having been caught engaging in coitus with his neighbor's donkey.

Imagine his horror when he discovered that the burdened beast's cries were due to its being sexually assaulted by his stark-naked neighbor and erstwhile friend.

The owner's attorney also argued that the defendant's offense should be classed as a major crime against donkey's rights, given that public appreciation for these animals, today, was at record levels, and citing the popular hit, "I Love You Donkey," in support of his point. (Al Nas)

CHRONOLOGY: History of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt


Ex-Surgeon General Says White House Hushed Him

"Much of the discussion was being driven by theology, ideology, [and] preconceived beliefs that were scientifically incorrect," said Carmona, one of three former surgeons general who testified at yesterday's hearing. "I thought, 'This is a perfect example of the surgeon general being able to step forward, educate the American public.' . . . I was blocked at every turn. I was told the decision had already been made -- 'Stand down. Don't talk about it.' That information was removed from my speeches."

Carmona said that when the administration touted funding for abstinence-only education, he was prevented from discussing research on the effectiveness of teaching about condoms as well as abstinence. "There was already a policy in place that did not want to hear the science but wanted to just preach abstinence, which I felt was scientifically incorrect," Carmona said.

He is the latest in a string of government employees to complain that ideology is trumping science in the Bush administration.

Satcher, Carmona's predecessor, who served from 1998 to 2002, said that under President Bill Clinton he could not release a report on sexuality and public health, in part because of sensitivities triggered by the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Clinton also forced out Joycelyn Elders as surgeon general in 1994 after her controversial remarks that public schools should consider teaching about masturbation.

Koop, who served as surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, spoke out on AIDS, despite political pressure not to do so. He said Reagan was pressured to fire him every day -- but he did not.

Google's Half-Hearted Commitment to Transparency

The common thread is transparency. If you're forced to do evil, Google believes, you should at least make everyone aware of it. That lets users in on what's happening, and ultimately might lead to a change from the grassroots level or through international pressure.

It's a good policy for dealing with censorship. But, sadly, Google takes the opposite approach on the equally-important issue of user privacy.

The company collects and retains forever an enormous amount of information from the public, including a record of every search query a Google user has ever run. If the user is also signed up with Gmail, the company can pull those search results by name. If not, Google can still get them by IP address, or look them up through the everlasting cookie it installs on every user's PC.

And now the company is even offering to store users' word processing documents and spreadsheets.

This is particularly troubling with civil subpoenas, which typically aren't seen by any judge unless the subpoena is challenged in court. At the very least, Google should revise its privacy policy to guarantee that it will make every reasonable effort to notify a customer before turning over private data, giving that customer a chance to ask a judge to quash an inappropriate subpoena.

Until it does, Google's stated devotion to transparency is transparently flawed.

Under fire from US, Iran reacts by cracking down at home

The government has put restrictions on the media, targeted academics, and detained 150,000 – including four Iranian-Americans.

That is the result of a new Machiavellian calculation, says Sadjadpour: "Whereas Khatami and the reformists said our best security is people's happiness, [this hard-line] worldview is that it is much better to be feared than to be loved.

"Their behavior is much more out of desperation than of strength," he adds. "It doesn't show that you are very confident about your place as a regime, when 67-year-old women are being suspected of undermining Iran's national security."

Magazine covering civil-society groups is shut down in China

For Chinese NGOs, much of the Chinese language edition's value lies in its role as a "very effective, friendly hub for Chinese NGOs to communicate and exchange information," said Ms. Ge, who heads the Xinjiang Conservation Fund. The publication's closure would leave China's budding civil society groups atomized and out of touch with one another.

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