Saturday, October 13, 2007

Weekend News Roundup

Vagabondblogger hopes the first article answers all your questions regarding Islam and space travel. As usual, the regular dose of censorship, and F.I.S.A. related articles are also included.



Allah is watching – even in outer space. And that poses a problem for a devout Muslim astronaut who is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian rocket this week.

Imagine trying to pray five times a day in zero gravity while having to face an ever-shifting Mecca hundreds of miles below. How do you ritually wash yourself without water? And, now that it's Ramadan, how do you fast from sunrise to sunset when you see a sunrise and a sunset every 90 minutes? Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian astronaut, must decide before the Oct. 10 launch.

Five times a day (before sunrise, at midday, in late afternoon, after sunset, and at night), earth-bound muezzins call Muslims to prayer. A spaceship traveling 17,400 miles per hour orbits the earth 16 times in a day. Does that mean praying 80 times in 24 hours?

The next problem: Where is Mecca?

The attitude while at prayer is also an issue. In zero gravity, the sequence of the praying postures – standing, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating oneself – is difficult at best.

Before worship, a Muslim must perform ritual washing – cleaning face, hands, arms, feet, and hair. The problem: Water on the ISS is so precious that even sweat and urine are recycled.

Then there's diet. Pork and alcohol are forbidden. Animals to be consumed for food must be slaughtered in a particular way. All food must be halal (allowed by Islamic law). But how can the astronaut know if the food aboard the ISS is halal?

Meals raise another complication. Ramadan – the holy month during which Muslims abstain from all earthly indulgences (including eating) during daylight hours – doesn't end until Oct. 13.

Laughing at "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week"
An ex-senator that opposes individual rights of women; a pundit that calls people "faggots" and considers Islam a "cult"; a Christian scholar who is considered a "polemicist" and an "Islamophobe" by conservative Christians themselves; and an intellectual who has received millions from "far right" organizations since 2001, are rising up for the rights of women, gays, and religious minorities in the Muslim world. This laughable spectacle is called the Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. It will be coming to a university near you on October 22 - 26.
Bono speaks out against torture - and gets censored

Archbishop Tutu barred by U. of St Thomas because of criticism of Israel

Now it’s official: winning the Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t protect you from charges of anti-Semitism if you criticize Israeli human rights violations. Neither, apparently, does being one of the most compelling voices for social justice in the world today, or even getting an honorary degree from and giving the commencement address at Brandeis.

Minneapolis/St.Paul’s City Pages just reported that members of the St Thomas Justice and Peace Studies program were thrilled when Bishop Tutu agreed to speak at the University– but administrators did a scientific survey of the Jews of Minneapolis, which included querying exactly one spokesperson for Minnesota’s Jewish Community Relations Council and several rabbis who taught in a University program– and concluded that Tutu is bad for the Jews and should therefore be barred from campus.

To make matters worse, when Cris Toffolo, the chair of the Justice and Peace Studies program told Tutu what happened and warned him of a possible smear campaign, she was immediately demoted.

Utah mine investigation documents should not be public, agency says
(CNN) -- Court proceedings of the investigation into the collapse of Utah's Crandall Canyon mine should not be made public, argue attorneys for the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The documents included MSHA's response to a federal lawsuit filed in Utah earlier this week by news organizations, including CNN, The Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News.

The suit seeks to stop the investigation into the mine incident until a judge decides whether the proceedings should be open to the public. It also asks for a temporary restraining order to stop investigators from conducting closed proceedings.

The suit also demands that a transcript of all closed hearings be released immediately.

On August 6, six miners were trapped when the Crandall Canyon mine caved in. Their bodies have not been recovered. Three other people, including an MSHA inspector, died as they attempted to rescue the trapped miners August 16.

Cubans go to unusual lengths to post blogs
HAVANA (Reuters) - When 32-year-old Yoani Sanchez wants to update her blog about daily life in Cuba, she dresses like a tourist and strides confidently into a Havana hotel, greeting the staff in German.

That is because Cubans like Sanchez are not authorized to use hotel Internet connections, which are reserved for foreigners.

ONI researchers are conducting tests that have so far found censorship in 24 of 40 countries. Testing involves local users in each country trying to access various websites. Certain patterns and failure messages emerge, indicating which filtering system a country uses.

The software companies involved sell this technology primarily to private companies in the US and abroad. Companies use these tools to keep employees from accessing pornography sites and websites infected with viruses.

Repressive governments also turn to these American systems, not only to filter out porn and viruses, but also to block political, religious, and other websites.

A Websense spokeswoman denies the firm has sold software to Iran, which would be illegal.

ONI also found in 2005 that Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, countries with Internet censorship, use SmartFilter. The company wouldn't confirm or deny.

"We are a US organization that adheres to US rules. We only do business with organizations and countries we are approved to do business with," says Mr. Chatterjee.

That position is echoed by Blue Coat Systems Inc., whose sales materials have boasted that Internet access across Saudi Arabia is "monitored and controlled" by its technology.

Moves are afoot in Washington to take a harder line against censorware exports. High-profile congressional hearings last year examined the roles of Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco in helping China censor the Internet. Rep. Christopher Smith (R) of New Jersey has introduced the Global Online Freedom Act, a bill that would, among other things, study the feasibility of restricting censorware exports.

There is some debate over whether such filtering software merits real concern. In Burma, the regime ultimately decided to shut off the country's Internet access after it appeared unable to selectively filter out antigovernment communication.

Internet-censorship tools can be defeated with the use of proxy servers. But many people living under repressive government are not going to hear about, or dare to try, methods to get around Internet fire walls, say experts.

"Some people say [censorware] is ineffective because dissidents can get around it," says Seth Finkelstein, a programmer and anticensorship activist. "I say political control doesn't have to be 100 percent to be effective. Controlling the ability of the vast majority of the population to see outside information is still very effective for the goals of the totalitarian regime."

Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm
Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

The allegations could affect the debate on Capitol Hill over whether telecoms sued for disclosing customers' phone records and other data to the government after the Sept. 11 attacks should be given legal immunity, even if they did not have court authorization to do so.

In May 2006, USA Today reported that the NSA had been secretly collecting the phone-call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by major telecom firms. Qwest, it reported, declined to participate because of fears that the program lacked legal standing.

In a statement released after the story was published, Nacchio attorney Herbert Stern said that in fall 2001, Qwest was approached to give the government access to the private phone records of Qwest customers. At the time, Nacchio was chairman of the president's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

"Mr. Nacchio made inquiry as to whether a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request," Stern said. "When he learned that no such authority had been granted and that there was a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process, including the Special Court which had been established to handle such matters, Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act."


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Here’s an odd factoid, NASA calibrates all of its satellites and navigation systems via the star Canopus, conveniently located above the kaba in mecca. so I guess tracking mecca might not be so hard lol..

  3. Aah, I didn't know that. That's a new one - for me.