Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011: A lost day for Samoa and Tokelau

And he changeth the times and the seasons: Daniel 2:21a

And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: Daniel 7:25a

The first passage cited above refers to God, and the second to the Antichrist. I don't believe the item below is a fulfillment of end time prophecy, but it shows how time can be changed, and a whole day on the calendar can be made to disappear, just by passing a law. As reported by Keni Lesa of The Associated Press on December 30, 2011:

APIA, Samoa (AP) — Sirens wailed and fireworks exploded in the skies over Samoa as the tiny South Pacific nation jumped forward in time, crossing westward over the international date line and effectively erasing Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, from the country's calendar.

Samoans who had gathered around the main clock tower in the capital Apia cheered and clapped as the clock struck midnight on Thursday, Dec. 29, instantly transporting the country 24 hours ahead to Saturday, Dec. 31. The switch, also being observed by neighboring Tokelau, is meant to align the islands' time with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

The time jump means that Samoa's 186,000 citizens, and the 1,500 in the three-atoll United Nations dependency of Tokelau, will now be the first in the world to ring in the new year, rather than the last.

The moment was greeted with celebrations across Samoa. Fireworks danced across the sky and police, ambulance and fire truck sirens wailed throughout Apia to signal the change. Drivers circled the clock tower blaring their horns, and prayer services were held across the country.

The date line dance comes 119 years after a group of U.S. traders persuaded local Samoan authorities to align their islands' time with nearby U.S.-controlled American Samoa and the U.S. to assist their trading with California.

But the time zone has proved problematic in recent years, putting Samoa and Tokelau nearly a full day behind neighboring Australia and New Zealand, increasingly important trading partners.

In June, the Samoan government passed a law to move Samoa west of the international date line, which separates one calendar day from the next and runs roughly north-to-south through the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Under a government decree, all those scheduled to work on the nonexistent Friday will be given full pay for the missed day of labor.

In addition to the economic advantages, the time jump is also expected to make the everyday rituals of family life a little more pleasant. Like many small Pacific island states, more of Samoa's people live permanently in other countries than on its islands; Around 180,000 Samoans live in New Zealand and 15,000 in Australia. The date line switch means that families split between the island nation and Australia or New Zealand can now celebrate important events such as birthdays at the same time.

"We've got to remember that over 90 percent of our people emigrate to New Zealand and Australia. That's why it is absolutely vital to make this change," Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi told The Associated Press just hours before the country catapulted into the future.

Officials have begun work on changing maps, charts and atlases to reflect Samoa's new date line position. A postage stamp, featuring the phrase "into the future," has also been created to mark the switch.

Although generally embraced by most Samoans, the date change wasn't expected to happen without a few little glitches. Digicel, the most popular mobile phone service provider in Samoa, said the company would have to update its systems immediately after the time jump, leaving phone service dead for about 15 minutes.

"The interruption will only take a few minutes so we can adjust our system," CEO Pepe Fiaailetoa Fruean said. "So I would like to inform all of our customers to have alternative communication means available in case of an emergency."

Being a day behind the rest of the Asia-Pacific region has meant that when it's dawn Sunday in Samoa, it's already dawn Monday in adjacent Tonga and nearly dawn Monday in nearby New Zealand, Australia and increasingly prominent east Asian trade partners such as China.

The original shift to the east side of the line was made in 1892, when Samoa celebrated July 4 twice, giving a nod to Independence Day in the U.S.

The date line drawn by mapmakers is not mandated by any international body. By tradition, it runs roughly through the 180-degree line of longitude, but it zigzags to accommodate the choices of Pacific nations on how to align their calendars.

This item reminded me of a now-departed Canadian time zone called Yukon Standard Time. According to Wikipedia, Yukon Standard Time, which included Canada's Yukon Territory and a small area around Yakutat, Alaska, was nine hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (Coordinated Universal Time), one hour behind Pacific Standard Time. Yukon officially switched to Pacific Time in 1975. In 1983, Alaska switched from four time zones to two, and the Yukon Standard Time Zone officially became known as the Alaska Standard Time Zone. Most of Alaska was in that time zone, with the Aleutian Islands remaining in the Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time Zone, known until 1983 as the Alaska-Hawaii Standard Time Zone.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. I Thessalonians 5:1

1981 Israeli bombing of Iraqi nuclear reactor caught the U.S. by surprise

On June 7, 1981, Israeli planes bombed a French-made nuclear reactor near Baghdad, killing one French technician. The Israeli government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin believed the $275-million reactor was being used to build bombs for the purpose of attacking Israel, and was near completion. The action was the first air strike against a nuclear plant.

The United States and Arab governments condemned the Israeli raid on June 8, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced on June 9 that Congress would be notified that Israel may have violated its arms agreements with the U.S. by using American-made planes in the attack. Also on June 9, the U.S.S.R., predictably, accused the U.S.A., because she had armed the Israelis, of being an accomplice in the attack. On June 10, the U.S. suspended the shipment of four F-16 fighter bombers to Israel because of Israel's possible violation of her arms agreements.

In the United Nations, Great Britain and France joined Arab and Third World governments on June 15 in censuring Israel for the attack. Britain agreed with a French demand that Israel pay reparations to Iraq, but both Britain and France refused to support an arms embargo against Israel. On June 16, U.S. President Reagan said that it seemed that Israel had violated her arms agreement with the U.S.A., but he stated his confidence that the Israelis might have sincerely believed that their action was defensive. On June 19, the UN Security Council strongly condemned the raid and urged Israel to open her nuclear plants to international inspection, but did not ask for an arms embargo. On June 21, Israel rejected the UN Security Council's condemnation.

On June 24, former Israeli Defense and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan said that his country had the capacity to produce nuclear weapons and that if the Arabs decided to manufacture them, that Israel could do the same in a short time.

30 years later, files released by the U.S. National Archives show that the Israeli raid caught the United States by surprise. As reported by Duncan Gardham in the London Daily Telegraph on December 30, 2011:

The United States had no warning of the attack on the Osirak reactor ordered by Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, in June 1981 amid fears that Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Files released by the National Archives show that Britain's ambassador to Washington, Sir Nicholas Henderson, was with US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger as the news came in.

"Weinberger says that he thinks Begin must have taken leave of his senses. He is much disturbed by the Israeli reaction and possible consequences," Sir Nicholas cabled London.

Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, Sir Stephen Egerton, disclosed that the Iraqis had been just as surprised when the Israeli F15 fighters appeared in their skies.

"The diplomatic corps had a ringside view of the belated ack-ack and missile reactions to the raid when we were gathered for the Italian national day reception on the Bund [waterside]," he wrote.

"The raiders had gone but the fireworks were spectacular."

Scottish college principal and his wife claim they were sacked for being white Christians

So far, these are just allegations, but stay tuned for further developments. As reported by Murray Wardrop of the London Daily Telegraph on December 30, 2011:

A college which aims to promote multiculturalism has been thrust into a race row amid allegations that its principal and his wife were sacked for being white Christians.

Professor Malory Nye, 47, claims he was dismissed from his job at the Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education in Dundee, Scotland, because its hierarchy viewed his race and religion as a threat to its Muslim values.

His wife Isabel Campbell-Nye, 42, alleges she was also forced out of her position as head of the college’s English language centre because she brought in too many students who were not Muslims or Arabs.

The independent college, sponsored by the Dubai royal family, advertises itself as a research-led institution “that promotes a greater understanding of different religions and cultures in a multicultural context, for the benefit of the wider community”.

However, the couple allege that its claims of multiculturalism were a charade and that Prof Nye was dismissed to make way for a Muslim replacement.

They are taking the college to an employment tribunal claiming racial and religious discrimination, and unfair dismissal.

Mrs Campbell-Nye is also claiming sex discrimination on the grounds that she was allegedly suspended and later dismissed because she is married to Prof Nye.

Prof Nye and his wife began working at the college eight and four years ago respectively and were so happy there that they chose to marry on the campus last year.

However, they believe they fell out of favour with leaders at the college, whose patron is Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Deputy Ruler of Dubai, over fears they were pushing it in a more cosmopolitan direction.

They allege that Abubaker Abubaker, the director of operations, and Mirza al-Sayegh, chairman of its board of directors and private secretary to the Sheikh, decided to force them out because they were British, white and Christian.

Prof Nye said: “It is clear to me that there is collusion between these two individuals that I should be removed from my position on the basis that I am not an Arab and not a Muslim and that the person who has the role of principal should be Arab and/or Muslim.

“Multiculturalism and respect for cultural and religious differences are, I had thought, core values of the college.

“However, I believe that such inclusive multiculturalism no longer fits the particular type of multicultural vision of certain managers and the chairman, that is accepting of different cultures, so long as the majority of students are Muslims and/or Arabs and the ethos is distinctly Islamic.

“My face and lack of Muslim faith no longer fit.”

He said his suspension also came just days after he changed the college’s name from its former title: Al-Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic studies.

The couple, from Perth, were frogmarched off the college grounds in June and suspended and have not been allowed to return since.

They claim they were given no reason for their suspensions and were dismissed in November despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.

The couple have also lodged grievances against the Labour peer Lord Elder, Chancellor of the college and a close friend of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for his handling of what they describe as a "sham" disciplinary process.

Mrs Campbell-Nye claims Mr Abubaker also sought to remove her because she had attracted too many non-Muslim, European and Asian students to study English at the college.

“Some are from Arab and other Muslim backgrounds. However, a substantial number are from other parts of the world and other cultures.

“I believe Mr Abubaker does not feel happy with us recruiting students from these backgrounds as it does not fit the particular multicultural vision he has for English language.

“The only times Mr Abubaker has encouraged me to bring in students to English language are when they are Arabs or Muslims.

“I believe that Mr Abubaker’s discrimination against me, because I am not Muslim, I am not Arab, and I am also a woman – and because I have brought a number of non Muslim/non-Arab students to the college – is a significant reason for my suspension.”

Despite a waiting list to get on its English language courses, the college abruptly closed the department last month, leaving its two remaining tutors redundant at Christmas.

The independent college, which operates as a charity in partnership with the University of Aberdeen, advertises in its prospectus that “multiculturalism is at the centre of our vision and structure”.

“Our multicultural ethos is visibly translated and implemented in our day-to-day operation. Our staff and students come from diverse national, cultural and religious backgrounds including Muslims and non-Muslims,” it says.

A spokesman for the college said: “We can confirm that we have been notified that Employment Tribunal proceedings have been raised in the name of Professor Malory Nye and his wife, Isabel Campbell-Nye.

"The College, an independent, not-for-profit charity, places diversity, religious pluralism and multiculturalism firmly at the core of its Higher Education programmes – and its day-to-day activities," the spokesman said.

“The Al-Maktoum College will vigorously defend its reputation as a centre of excellence within the higher education sector and the good name it has won over the last ten years here in Dundee, nationally and internationally.

“Professor Nye was dismissed from his post as Principal at the College following a period of suspension on full pay and an inquiry conducted by the College Chancellor.

“Contingency plans were put in place to ensure the continued smooth running of the College.

“We are in consultation with our team of legal advisers and, as a result, we are not in a position to discuss the matter further at this stage.”

"Peace on Earth?" Not at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:10-14

As reported by Mark Weiss of the London Daily Telegraph on December 28, 2011:

The annual Christmas cleanup at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity turned into a mass brawl on Wednesday as rival clergy from the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations attacked each other with broom sticks.

Club- wielding Palestinian police stormed into the church, the traditional birthplace of Christ, to break up the fist fight which involved about 100 priests and monks.

The 6th Century holy site is jointly administered by the Latin, Orthodox and Armenian churches, with each fiercely guarding their turf against possible encroachment from the rival sects.

Bethlehem police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi said order was quickly restored and such scuffles between the rival clergy occur every year. "No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God," he explained.

Every year the different denominations co-operate in the annual Christmas cleaning operation which occurs between the Latin Christmas and early January, when the Orthodox sects celebrate Christmas.

Tension and scuffles between rival clergy are also common at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is also jointly administered by the Latin, Orthodox and Armenian churches.

The Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem, and Israel, which controls Jerusalem's Old City, adopted the delicate status quo in operation since the British mandate, under which no changes, however minor, can be made without the approval of all three denominations.

The result has been that the Church of the Nativity has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair.

Last month, after years of arguments, the sects finally reached agreement to replace the church's leaking roof. The renovations, planned for next year, will mark the first major repairs in 150 years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blood Foundation's religious tourism trivializes religious differences

Let's go Sufi now,
Everybody's learnin' how,
Come on and safari with me...

(to the tune of Surfin' Safari--with apologies to the Beach Boys)

According to secular journalist Gwynne Dyer's column of July 4, 2011:

Gandhi, born a Hindu, once said: “I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew.” Most people will never achieve such enlightenment (or spout such pious tripe, if you are of a less reverent turn of mind). But such thinking certainly creates an opening for innovative programmes like “Muslim for a Month.”

No, really. There is an organisation that invites people of other religions or none to come to Istanbul and live as Muslims for a month. Well, not a month, exactly: the 9-day “Explorations” programme costs $900 and the 21-day “Ruminations” programme costs $1890.

“We like to think that “Muslim for a Month” facilitates more understanding of a religion which gets a lot of bad press,” explained Ben Bowler, who lives in Thailand and runs similar “religious immersion tours” in Buddhism for the same organisation. “There’s a huge difference in the public perception of Buddhism, for example, and Islam – Islam is thorny, while Buddhism is warm and fuzzy.”

People who think Buddhism is warm and fuzzy would probably benefit from Bowler’s “Monk for a Month” programme in Thailand. People who think that Islam is a religion of hatred and terrorism would likewise benefit from the “Muslim for a Month” programme. Indeed, if all that’s going on here is a simple download of information and perspective, you could argue that every religion should be doing it.

Much of the human race lives in places where two or more major religions co-exist – Buddhists and Muslims in Thailand; Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in India; Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews in South Africa. Not to mention countries where up to half the population are non-believers (like Britain and Korea). A crash course in your neighbours’ religious beliefs ought to be part of the school curriculum. In some places, it already is.

But there is still something disturbing about the very idea of religious tourism. Immersing yourself in the prayers and rituals of a religion EVEN THOUGH YOU THINK ITS GOD IS FALSE smacks of condescension at best, blasphemy at worst. And although a sense of politeness prevents most people from saying it loudly in public, religious people generally believe that the gods of all religions but their own are indeed false.

Non-believers go even further. As Richard Dawkins, the world’s leading advocate of atheism, once put it: “We are all atheists about most of the gods that people have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” Fine. That’s a perfectly respectable position to hold. But if that’s what you think, then pretending to pray to Allah as a “cultural experience” is downright disrespectful.

The people who are organising “Muslim for a Month” have the best of intentions. The Blood Foundation is a Thailand-based enterprise whose goal is “to promote the ideal of the sister/brotherhood of all humanity. We operate cultural exchange programs that build bridges of understanding between diverse peoples through the means of shared, authentic experience.”

According to the Blood Foundation, the “Muslim for a Month” programme aims “to foster a spirit of good will and increased mutual understanding between Muslims and the west. It is not the purpose of the program to bring converts to the Islamic faith but rather to strive towards a greater sense of unity among people.”

I believe that that is truly their goal. I also very much like the Sufi tradition of Islam, one of the most attractive forms of religious expression that I have ever encountered, and it is the Sufis who are providing the facilities and the teachers for the “Muslim for a Month” programme in Turkey. But it still doesn’t feel right.

Here’s the thing. Almost all of the “modern” religions that have arisen in the past 2,500 years (and Judaism, which is much older) have sacred texts that are held by the believers to be divinely revealed truth. They are not negotiable or mutually compatible, like the old pagan beliefs were. To believe in any of the modern gods requires the faithful to reject all the others as false.

If Muslim beliefs are right, then Christian beliefs are wrong, and vice versa. If the Sikhs are right, then the Baha’i are wrong, and vice versa. If the Buddhists are right, then the Jews are wrong, and so on ad nauseam.

Why stop there? If the Mormons are right, then all the other Christians are horribly, catastrophically wrong. If any of the other Christian sects (or any of the non-Christian faiths) is right, then Mormon beliefs are downright ridiculous. If the Shia are right, then the Sunnis are wrong, and vice versa. So in a world where something like 90 percent of the population is still religious (though much less in the developed countries), what is one to do?

We minimise conflict by simply not talking about the huge, irreconcilable differences in our religious convictions. (The non-religious play the same game: they rarely challenge the beliefs of the believers either.) It’s not an attractive behaviour, and it doesn’t always avert conflict, but most of the time it works. On most of the planet, we are no longer at each other’s throats about religion.

The world does not need “Muslim (or Sikh, or Christian) for a Month.” Let sleeping dogs lie.

Here's what the Blood Foundation says about itself:

About Blood Foundation

Blood Foundation is a small NGO based in northern Thailand near the Thai-Burma border. We are a group of volunteers from different nations committed to serving the various people of this region through a series of education, health and income-generation projects...

What we Believe

We believe in a universal spiritual heritage shared by all people which we hold to be the foundation of the human family. As with any family this carries an obligation and duty of care towards the less fortunate members. We believe there is much of value in all our great spiritual and philosophic traditions and we encourage the ongoing search for the Universal in human experience. We celebrate the diversity of our cultures and marvel at the absolute uniqueness of each individual and still we see that the greater truth is that which unites us, - our common humanity, the mystery of our origin, the search for meaning and the love of family.

What we Advocate

We advocate that alongside the globalisation of markets, economies and world culture we must strive for the globalisation of justice, fairness and ideals based on the expansion of our philosophic frameworks and the enlargement of our religious perspectives. While we are bound to each other through shared biology, economics and environment we also share a simple human desire for peace, prosperity and purpose. Blood Foundation advocates for greater expression of this unity as we join with the people of good faith everywhere in calling for respect of human dignity, freedom from oppression and justice for the poor. We proclaim that as human beings we are in fact spiritually related to one another and so promote the high ethical ideals that come with being members of a common family. We are inclined to look after our own immediate family because we place such a high value on blood relations, - the idea is to make the circle bigger. It's a high ideal but we believe it's worth striving for and we invite you to join with us in making it real.

What we Do

Currently working on the Thai-Burmese border in northern Thailand, we have a number of education and income-generation projects directly benefiting Burmese refugees, hill tribes and Thai people. These humanitarian efforts are supported by commercial projects that remain in line with our overall philosophy such as Monk for a Month and Flow.

From the Monk for a Month home page:

Monk for a Month offers you an authentic Thai Buddhist
experience and a journey of a lifetime.

Live at the temple
Study with the monks
Follow the ancient precepts
Practice meditation and chanting

Men and women are invited to formally receive the eight precepts and for men staying two weeks or longer there is the chance to be ordained as a novice monk at the discretion of your preceptor.

And from the Muslim for a Month home page:

Muslim for a Month is a Blood Foundation cultural exchange program run in partnership with Islamic scholars and peace activists in Istanbul Turkey.

Blood Foundation is a social enterprise and NGO dedicated to promoting positive intercultural experiences.

We operate the successful Monk for a Month temple stay program in northern Thailand’s Fang Valley, offering guests an immersion experience into Buddhism and Thai culture as well as a unique opportunity for personal spiritual progression.

In a similar vein the Muslim for a Month program offers an inner experience of the Islamic faith with the focus being on the Sufi path and the universal spiritual teachings of Mevlana Rumi.

PROGRAMS
The word ‘month’ in the name of these programs is used with poetic license – typical length of stay is 10 days

We are launching Muslim for a Month by offering the 10 day program and the ability for group bookings. The 10 day program consists of a broad introduction to Islam, Sufism, Rumi, and Turkish culture and a deep exploration of Sufi mysticism and a more thorough immersion into the life and works of Rumi.

I generally agree with Mr. Dyer's position, although I take a less benign view of the Blood Foundation's sincerity, especially with the prices they charge for their programs. The Blood Foundation programs have the effect of trivializing religious beliefs, practices--and differences. Adopting religious beliefs and practices is not a matter of taking on the trappings for the duration of a workshop. When I was drawn to trust in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord, I didn't do so "for a month," but for the rest of my life and into eternity.

As for the Blood Foundation's beliefs in "a universal spiritual heritage shared by all people" and "that as human beings we are in fact spiritually related to one another," the only such commonality taught in the Bible is a unity in sin, the need for a saviour, and God's provision of salvation through the shedding of the blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Romans 3:23

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
Acts 17:29-31
Let's pray that those involved with the Blood Foundation will come to know the salvation that comes only through the blood of the Lamb.

I expect the Blood Foundation's programs to become increasingly popular and to expand to embrace other religions. The emphases on mysticism and experience are the very sort of thing to appeal to the Emerging Church crowd. It will come as no surprise to this blogger to see promotion of the Blood Foundation programs from those involved with Emerging "Christianity."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Rare 2nd century coins shed light on Jewish rebellion against Roman rule

Another old item about an old event--as reported by Associated Press on April 18, 2003:

JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists excavating caves near the Dead Sea have found nine rare silver coins believed to date back to a failed Jewish rebellion against the Romans in the second century.

The coins add another layer to the story of the families Shimon Bar Kochba led into hiding in the caves of the Judean Desert--what turned out to be the end of the second Jewish uprising against the Romans, which resulted in their exile. Archaeological finds relating to the three-year rebellion are rare.

About 2,000 coins from the rebellion are known to exist, and this is only the second time archaeologists have found such coins on a dig, said Hanan Eshel, who led the digs and is the head of the Jewish Studies and Archaeology Department at Tel Aviv's Bar Ilan University.

Of particular rarity is the largest Jewish coin ever issued, a half-ounce silver coin known as the Petra Drachma.

One side of the coin shows Jerusalem's second Jewish temple, destroyed by the Romans during the first Jewish rebellion in the year 70. The other side shows another important Jewish symbol--the image of four plants, known as the four species, used during ceremonies for the festival of Sukkot.

"Bar Kochba never minted his own coins, so what we have here is a Roman coin with the temple and the four species stamped over the portrait of the Roman emperor," Eshel said.

Historical records tell little about the rebellion or its leader.

"Neither the Jews or the Romans considered the rebellion to be a success, so very little was written about it," Eshel said. "That is why archaeological finds are so important."

Archeologists from Bar Ilan and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Center for Cave Research have been investigating caves near the Ein Gedi oasis on the shore of the Dead Sea.

With the collapse of the rebellion that broke out in the year 132, many Jews fled to the caves in the hope of avoiding the advancing Roman legions.

The nine coins were found in an otherwise empty cave, hidden under a large rock.

"It appears the people first hid their money before fleeing to caves farther in," Eshel said, adding that the money was a significant enough sum to buy a house but was abandoned because it was useless in the barren desert.

The coins will be displayed to the public at Jerusalem's Israel Museum.

Rare find in Israeli caves confirms the Jews' return from exile in Babylon

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
Ezra 1:1-3 (also II Chronicles 36:22-23)

An old item about some old items--as reported by Gavin Rabinowitz of Associated Press on February 20, 2004:

JERUSALEM - Israeli archaeologists excavating caves near the Dead Sea discovered jewelry, a makeup kit and a small mirror - 2,500-year-old fashion accessories for women.

The trove apparently belonged to Jews who returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., said Tsvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

"This find is very rare. Both for the richness of the find and for that period, it is almost unheard of," Tsuk said on Friday.

Using metal detectors, archeologists found the treasures under a stone-like accumulation of sediment thrown up by a nearby spring. They included a necklace made of 130 beads of semiprecious stones and gold; a scarab; an agate medallion of Babylonian origin; and a silver pendant with an engraved crescent moon and pomegranates.

What appears to be a makeup kit contained an alabaster bowl for powders, a stick to apply the cosmetics and a bronze mirror.

They also found a pagan stamp showing a Babylonian priest bowing to the moon.

"These finds confirm the (biblical) accounts of Jews returning from exile in Babylon," Tsuk said.

When the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 597 B.C., he sent many Jews into exile in Babylon. These Jews and their descendants were later allowed to return by the Persian monarch Cyrus in 538 B.C.

Tsuk said the find shows that there was a wealthy and flourishing community of returnees living in the area. "These are not the belongings of a simple person," he said.

The archaeologists were part of a joint team from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. They have been excavating caves near the Dead Sea for the last three years.

Two Earth-sized planets are discovered--but they're too hot to support life

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalms 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

Astronomers working with NASA's Kepler mission recently discovered a planet similar to Earth, but too big to support life. Now, they've discovered two planets in the same solar system that are the right size to support life, but are too hot. As reported by Natalie Stechyson of Postmedia News on December 20, 2011:

The quest to find alien life took a step forward Tuesday as the discovery of the first Earth-sized planets was made public.

The two planets, part of the newly discovered Kepler-20 solar system, are the smallest discovered to date. They were spotted as part of NASA's Kepler mission, which was designed to survey our region of the Milky Way to try to identify habitable planets.

"For the first time, we've found honest-to-God, Earth-sized planets. That's never been done before," said David Charbonneau, a professor of Astronomy at Harvard University who was involved in the research...

..."What we ultimately want to do is find planets that might have life on them. To find a planet that's habitable, you need a planet that's roughly the same size as the Earth," Charbonneau said.

But the planets also have to be the right temperature, and these are too hot. Two weeks ago, the Kepler team announced the discovery of another planet that was just the right temperature for life, but too big.

"We're looking for a Goldilocks-type planet," Charbonneau quipped, meaning a celestial body that orbits its star at a distance that is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to be present.

The newest discovery shows that the Kepler team has the ability to find an "Earth twin" and needs to just push out to find planets further from their stars, Charbonneau said.

The two rocky planets - Kepler 20e and Kepler 20f - are part of a five-planet solar system located about 1,000 light years away. The other three planets are large and gaseous. Research on the project began in May 2009.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Belt of the Virgin Mary shows that idolatry is thriving in Russia

Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 26:1

Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: Isaiah 2:8

Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. I Corinthians 10:14

The Soviet Union dissolved 20 years ago, and the idolatry and superstition of eastern Orthodoxy came back to the surface after 70 years of Communist suppression. As reported by Maria Antonova of Agence France-Presse on November 24, 2011:

MOSCOW — Braving sub-zero temperatures and a line stretching several kilometres, almost half a million Russians lined up this week to venerate a relic of the Virgin Mary brought to Moscow from Greece.

The Moscow authorities said 400,000 people had waited outside Moscow’s vast Cathedral of Christ the Saviour since The Belt of the Virgin Mary relic arrived on Saturday. Around 82,000 were queuing on Thursday alone.

In an extraordinary display of the strength of Orthodox Christianity in post-Soviet Russia, the faithful have stood in a line stretching five kilometres.

The Belt of the Virgin Mary is believed to help women’s fertility and cure illnesses. It toured ten other Russian cities before arriving in the capital.

“There is something I need to ask. Nobody in this line is here just for fun,” said 40-year-old Ivan, who was waiting at the front of the line for his wife and child.

He said venerating the belt is especially meaningful since it rarely leaves mount Athos, a Greek peninsula with very strict visitation policy, where only men are allowed to go.

“I joined the line at midnight, so it’s been about 12 hours,” he said. The wait could be up to 26 hours, news agencies said.

“I am 74, and I have suffered a heart attack. I am handicapped in my arm and leg,” said another man, identifying himself as Vladimir, after exiting the imposing white cathedral and leaning on his wife’s supporting arm.

“Maybe it will help?” he said, tears welling up in his eyes.

The head of the Moscow city centre prefecture Pavel Bolshunov told Russian news agencies that as of Thursday morning over 407,000 people had visited the relic since the weekend and another 82,000 were currently waiting.

Faced with the lines, the Russian Orthodox Church extended the relic’s stay in Moscow by three days to Sunday.

An intercom announcement on the Moscow metro at the stop nearest to the Cathedral warned people arriving by the subway that the line stretched along the Moscow river for nearly five kilometres and its end was in a distant neighbourhood four metro stops away.

Struggling to contain the throngs of Orthodox believers, the city erected a maze of metal barriers, rerouted traffic on some of the streets, and brought in 1,500 police officers to ensure order.

The Cathedral asked on its website that people simply touch the small silver chest holding the relic with their hand, without kissing it in the Orthodox tradition, “so that as many people as possible could touch the relic.”

But by Thursday afternoon the cathedral staff moved the chest to sit atop of an arch which people simply walked through, allowing 80 people to worship it every minute, RIA Novosti reported...

...The Belt of the Virgin Mary is kept permanently in Vatopedi monastery on the Greek mount Athos and this is its first ever appearance in Russia.

Russia’s Orthodox Church had an incredible surge of influence and power in recent years as millions of Russians began to practice religion in the 1990s after decades of state-dictated atheism in the Soviet Union.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour became a symbol of this change when its replica was built in 1997 in the same spot where the original was blown up by Soviet authorities in 1931.

Bodies of 44 young victims of pagan sacrifice discovered in Peru

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1 (NIV 1984)

While the true God desires His people to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, pagan "gods" often require their devotees to offer human bodies as dead sacrifices. It's unlikely that the perpetrators of the atrocities described below will be prosecuted; these sacrifices to Peruvian pagan "gods" took place in the 14th century. As reported by Agence France-Presse on November 21, 2011:

LIMA -- A Peruvian archeologist on Sunday announced the discovery of the remains of 44 infants and young children sacrificed to appease ancient deities in the 14th century at a site in the high Andes near the border with Bolivia.

The remains were found near a stone funeral tower -- known locally as chullpas -- in the Sillustani archeological site, located some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) south-east of the capital Lima, near Lake Titicaca, which Peru shares with Bolivia.

"These are children and babies of both sexes, with ages going from newborns to the age of three," archeologist Eduardo Arisaca told local regional media. His remarks were picked up by the daily El Comercio.

The infants were buried in pairs inside funeral baskets or in ceramic urns near a 10 meter (32 feet) tall circular stone brick tower known as Chullpa Lagarto (Lizard Chullpa).

The children were buried with a volcanic stone on their chest, and are surrounded by offerings -- animals, food, dishes, and pitchers. Early research suggests they were sacrificed during a period of warfare.

"The faces of the children point towards the east," where the sun rises, said Arisaca. He estimated the children were buried between 600 and 700 years years ago.

The children also had artificially elongated skulls, common among some nobles of the time.

Up to now the remains of 200 people have been unearthed around the Chullpa Lagarto, Arisaca said.

In September Arisaca announced the discovery of the 700 years-old remains of a two-year-old boy at a separate funeral tower in Sillustani, buried in a ceramic urn along with a dog.

At another funeral tower nearby experts found the remains of 12 adults buried together along with food, ceramics, and animals. Archeologists found sheets of gold attached to the clothing as part of the attire.

The funeral towers are common sights in the high Andean region between Peru and Bolivia, are the burial sites of ancient nobles and community leaders. Most are round towers built of stone, but some are rectangular.

The original article appeared in Spanish in the Lima El Comercio on November 20, 2011.

The latest from the Netherlands: Euthanasia house calls

The Netherlands, a country that resisted the Nazis 70 years ago is increasingly implementing their policies. As reported by Simon Caldwell in the London Daily Telegraph, December 6, 2011:

Mobile euthanasia teams being considered by Dutch government
Plans to introduce mobile medical teams that can euthanise people in their own homes are being considered by the Dutch government.

The teams of doctors and nurses would be sent out from a clinic following a referral from the patient's doctor.

The proposals were disclosed by Edith Schippers, the health minister.

In a written answer to questions from Christian Union MPs she said that mobile units "for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out" was worthy of consideration.

"If the patient thinks it desirable, the doctor can refer him or her to a mobile team or clinic," the minister wrote.

In her written answer Ms Schippers suggested that "extra expertise" could be summoned in complicated cases involving mental health problems or an inability to consent to euthanasia because of dementia.

Dutch advocacy groups want to expand the eligibility criteria for euthanasia as well as open facilities specifically for euthanasia along the pattern of the Dignitas centre in Switzerland.

Hundreds of Britons have either made the journey to Switzerland to end their lives or registered with the clinic.

Phyllis Bowman, a pro-life campaigner in Britain, said that the proposals amounted to a "campaign to speed up euthanasia and to make it cheaper by doing it at home instead of in institutions".

The Netherlands legalised euthanasia in 2001 in cases where patients are suffering unbearable pain due to illness with no hope of recovery.

Euthanasia is usually carried out by administering a strong sedative to put the patient in a coma, followed by a drug to stop breathing and cause death.

To qualify patients must convince two doctors they are making an informed choice in the face of unbearable suffering.

Dutch medics have been accused of practising euthanasia on demand.

A total of 21 people diagnosed as having early-stage dementia died at the hands of their doctors last year, according to the 2010 annual report on euthanasia.

The figures from last year also showed another year-on-year rise in cases with about 2,700 people choosing death by injection compared to 2,636 the year before.

A Dutch government spokesman said: "The greatest care has been taken to regulate care for patients who are suffering unbearably with no prospect of improvement."

"Euthanasia may only be carried out at the explicit request of the patient."

As for that last statement, I offer two words in response: "Yeah--right." According to Mr. Caldwell's report in the Daily Telegraph on June 20, 2010, not only has the use of euthanasia increased since it was legalized by the Dutch government in 2002, but the health minister responsible for the legislation is now regretting that euthanasia has had the effect of destroying palliative care:

Euthanasia cases in Holland have increased by 13 per cent in the last year, new figures have shown.

Last year a total of 2,636 Dutch people were killed by euthanasia, with 80 per cent of cases involving people dying at home after their doctors administered a lethal dose of drugs.

This compares to 2,331 reported deaths by euthanasia in 2008, which saw a 10 per cent rise on 2007.

In 2003, the year after Holland became the first country in the world to legalise the practice since the fall of Nazi Germany, there were 1,815 reported cases.

Euthanasia is usually carried out by administering a strong sedative to put the patient in a coma, followed by a drug to stop breathing and cause death. To qualify patients must be in unbearable pain and their doctor convinced they are making an informed choice. The opinion of a second doctor is also required.

Dutch medics have been accused of applying a liberal interpretation of the law and practising euthanasia on demand, sometimes killing people who cannot properly consent.

Jan Suyver, chairman of the government's euthanasia monitoring commission, said the rising number of cases came as the "taboo" once attached to euthanasia began to fade.

"It could also be that doctors are more likely to report it," he said.

Anti-euthanasia groups say, however, that the sharp increase is probably be linked to the collapse of the palliative care system in the Netherlands following the legalisation of euthanasia eight years ago.

Phyllis Bowman, the executive officer of Right to Life, said: "I am sure that the increase in numbers of people opting for euthanasia is largely a result of inadequate pain control."

The rise in cases in 2008 has prompted the Dutch health ministry to launch an inquiry into the working of the 2002 law and it is due to open its investigations by the end of the month.

Dr Els Borst, the former Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who guided the law through the Dutch parliament, said in December that she regretted that euthanasia was effectively destroying palliative care.

Dr. Borst's regret is understandable, although a decline in palliative care is a natural and foreseeable consequence of the increased use of euthanasia. Why bother with weeks or months of palliative care when you can short-circuit the process with one injection?

Thousands of children may have been sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests in the Netherlands since 1945

As reported by Bruno Waterfield in the London Daily Telegraph, December 16, 2011:

Dutch Catholic sex abuse scandal exposed as inquiry says up to 20,000 were victims
Up to 20,000 children were sexually abused by 800 Roman Catholic priests or lay workers in the Netherlands since 1945, an independent inquiry has estimated.

The investigation by Wim Deetman, a former Dutch minister, received 1,800 reports of sexual abuse by clergy or volunteers within Dutch Catholic dioceses, congregations and religious orders. At least 105 abusers are still alive.andy rain

Children involved in Church organisations were twice as likely as non-Catholics to be exposed to abuse and the "mild, severe or very severe sexual behaviour" was covered up by senior clergy.

"The problem of sexual abuse was known in the orders and dioceses of the Dutch Catholic Church," the inquiry concluded. "No adequate action was taken, nor was sufficient attention devoted to victims."

Based on a survey of more than 34,000 people, the 1,100-page Deetman report estimated that one in five children in Catholic school institutions between 1945 and 1985 suffered abuse, twice the average level in the general Dutch population.

Allegations of abuse by the Salesian Fathers at the Don Rua boarding school Heerenberg in the 1960s triggered the wider investigation in March 2010 of paedophile assaults within the Church, a process mirrored in Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Canada and the US.

The Deetman commission began work last year and as evidence of widespread abuse emerge the Dutch Roman Catholic Church last month set up a compensation system based on the severity of abuse suffered. The total bill for the church could be higher than £4 million.

Over 2,000 people have now registered abuse with the Church and Dutch authorities and a number of cases will be taken to court.

Friday, December 16, 2011

40 years ago: Canada's Parliament debates a national identity card

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Revelation 13:16-17

I didn't know that the subject of a national identity card in Canada went back 40 years, until I discovered the following op-ed piece by Arthur Blakely in the Montreal Gazette, October 15, 1971, p. 7. For those who don't know, or are too young to remember, the Quebec crisis referred to in the column involved terrorists who were members of the Front de Liberation du Quebec (FLQ), who favoured independence from Canada for the province of Quebec. On October 5, 1970, James Cross, British Trade Commissioner to Canada, was kidnapped from his Montreal home by FLQ terrorists. Five days later, the FLQ struck again, kidnapping Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. Mr. Laporte's dead body was found stuffed into the trunk of a car a week later. The Canadian government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, which resulted in troops in the streets of Montreal and the arrests of hundreds of people known to favour Quebec independence. Mr. Cross was freed unharmed on December 3, 1970.

Question of ID cards stalls on trial run in Commons

Ottawa--A proposal that all Canadians be required to carry identification cards has had a trial run in the House of Commons.

It didn't encourage optimism that the project once favored by Quebec's Justice Minister Jerome Choquette would have the slightest chance of securing parliamentary approval, even in a free vote.

For the record, the sponsor of the motion is Fernand-E. Leblanc, Liberal member for Laurier.

Choquette behind it
Some have suspected Choquette of being the real sponsor.

But Leblanc points out that he placed the motion on the Commons order paper in October of last year, before the Quebec minister of justice had expressed himself as being in favor of the idea.

He introduced it, of course, as a personal reaction to the tragic events then unfolding in the Front de Liberation du Quebec crisis.

Under parliamentary rules, so little time is set aside for the debating of the legislative projects of the individual members of Parliament, that it was not until last week that the Leblanc motion was debated for the first time, and then only for an hour.

In his introductory speech, Leblanc drew attention to the fact that the strong public interest in, and support for, the identity card idea didn't begin with the Quebec crisis.

In 1962, the Montreal municipal election featured a referendum on the mandatory ID card, and some 75 per cent of the Montreal voters endorsed the idea. So too, Leblanc noted, had several Quebec governments, Mayor Drapeau, and a 1967 conference of Quebec judges.

The motion calling on the federal government to "consider the advisability of requiring Canadian citizens and immigrants to carry an identification card" didn't come to a vote.

It is now unlikely, in fact, that it will reach a vote during what remains of this session of Parliament.

But even during the single hour of discussion, it was evident that the proposal has few supporters in the Commons.

Problems arose
Leblanc, naturally enough, supported his own motion.

Some measure of his difficulties became apparent when his fellow-liberal, E.B. Osler (Winnipeg South Centre) rose to second his motion.

"I am glad to second this motion," he said.

"I think it is a motion that should be brought forward, discussed, examined from every angle with very long tongs, then dropped into a furnace and burned."

Seconders of this kind are a luxury which few sponsors of a motion feel that they can afford.

Gordon Aiken (PC--Parry Sound-Muskoka) and Stanley Knowles (NDP--Winnipeg North Centre), speaking for their respective parties, were more thoughtful in their opposition to the Leblanc motion, but opposed nonetheless.

There was only one other participant in the brief debate, Albert Bechard (L--Bonaventure-Iles de la Madeleine), who took a friendlier view of the proposition.

A little better
If Bechard wasn't, perhaps, quite as enthusiastic an advocate of the compulsory ID card as its sponsor, he was certainly much more receptive to the idea than its hostile seconder.

Bechard summed up his views this way:

"...I find certain advantages in the use of an identification card issued by a governmental agency. I do not think it should be mandatory and I would object to a measure making it mandatory for Canadian citizens to carry one or to produce it on request.

"I recognize that such a system raises problems and can lead to abuses, but I think the problems can be solved and the abuses eliminated."

Bechard's willingness to accept a non-mandatory system of ID cards attracted attention because he had been, for a long period, parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister John Turner.

But as far as can be ascertained, he was speaking on this occasion as an ordinary member of Parliament.

He didn't specify that he had been given the authority to speak for the government. And without that authority, his statements carry no more weight than those of any other Liberal MP.

In any event, he took a more uncritical view of the ID card than have such federal Liberal spokesmen as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Justice Minister Turner in the past.

While the federal government has never rejected the idea out of hand, it has questioned the desirability of the compulsory ID card, noting the political perils of any such big-brother-is-watching innovation.

Trudeau has also questioned the capacity of any government except the federal government to introduce such a system. Compulsory ID cards would be national, or nothing.

Bad timing
In all probability, a government-sponsored bill creating compulsory ID cards would have passed easily enough, had it been introduced and pushed through while the Quebec crisis was at its height.

But even the one-hour debate last week suggested that this motion sponsored by a Liberal backbencher and coming up for debate a year after the crisis, faces certain defeat even in the unlikely possibility that it reaches a vote this fall.

The text of the full debate on Mr. Leblanc's motion can be found in House of Commons Debates, October 8, 1971, pp. 8672-8678. His motion was placed on the order paper on October 27, 1970, just over a week after Pierre Laporte had been murdered.

40 years later, there is no federal law in Canada requiring a national identity card, but the social insurance number, introduced in 1964 only for the ostensible purpose of facilitating payment of unemployment insurance and pension benefits, is required on an amazingly large number of forms that Canadians fill out. Because of concerns about identity theft--a term that wasn't part of the popular vocabulary until the last 10-15 years--photo identification is required for many credit card transactions, although that usually takes the form of a driver's license issued by a provincial government. Until at least 2000, if my name was on the voter's list, I could vote in federal or provincial elections just by showing up at the poll and giving my name. Now I have to provide proof of my identity: one piece of photo ID, or two pieces of ID without a photo, both of which have my name, and at least one of which contains my address.

I agree with Mr. Blakely when he says that Mr. Leblanc's bill would probably have passed if it had been introduced a year earlier, in the midst of the FLQ crisis--just as, in 2001, the PATRIOT Act was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Perhaps it was in the providence of God that a bill calling for a national identity card didn't come up for debate in Canada until the immediate crisis had passed, and the need for such a measure seemed a lot less urgent. If Mr. Leblanc's bill were to be introduced in 2011 or 2012, it would probably pass both houses of Parliament--and I suspect that it would be introduced and be most enthusiastically supported by the "Conservative" government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Time will tell if we ever see such a law in Canada.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Planet similar to Earth discovered outside solar system--but it's too big to support life

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Psalms 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Psalms 19:1

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

As reported by Seth Borenstein of Associated Press on December 5, 2011:

WASHINGTON - A newly discovered planet is eerily similar to Earth and is sitting outside Earth's solar system in what seems to be the ideal place for life, except for one hitch. It is a bit too big.

The planet is smack in the middle of what astronomers call the Goldilocks zone, that hard to find place that is not too hot, not too cold, where water, which is essential for life, does not freeze or boil. And it has a shopping mall-like surface temperature of near 72 degrees, scientists say.

The planet's confirmation was announced Monday by NASA along with other discoveries by its Kepler telescope, which was launched on a planet-hunting mission in 2009.

That is the first planet confirmed in the habitable zone for Kepler, which already had found Earth-like rocky planets elsewhere. Twice before astronomers have announced a planet found in that zone, but neither has been as promising...

...The new planet, named Kepler-22b, has key aspects it shares with Earth. It circles a star that could be the twin of Earth's sun and at just about the same distance. The planet's year of 290 days is even close to Earth's. It probably has water and rock.

The only trouble is the planet's a bit big for life to exist on the surface. The planet is about 2.4 times the size of Earth. It could be more like the gas-and-liquid Neptune with only a rocky core and mostly ocean.

"It's so exciting to imagine the possibilities," said Natalie Batalha, the Kepler deputy science chief.

Floating on that "world completely covered in water" could be like being on an Earth ocean and "it's not beyond the realm of possibility that life could exist in such an ocean," Batalha said in a phone interview.

Kepler cannot find life itself, just where the conditions might be right for it to thrive. And when astronomers look for life elsewhere, they are talking about everything ranging from microbes to advanced intelligence that can be looking back at us.

So far the Kepler telescope has spotted 2,326 candidate planets outside Earth's solar system with 139 of them potentially habitable ones. Even though the confirmed Kepler-22b is a bit big, it is smaller than most of the other candidates. It is closest to Earth in size, temperature and star than either of the two previously announced planets in the zone.

The confirmation of one of two, though, has been disputed. The latest discovery has been confirmed several ways, including by two other telescopes.

This year, a European team of astronomers said they had confirmed another planet in the habitable zone, but that one was hot and barely on the inside edge of the habitable zone.

For Marcy, who is on the Kepler team, the newest planet is a smidgen too large. But, "that smidgen makes all the difference," he said.

Because its size implies that it is closer to Neptune in composition than Earth, "I would bet my telescope that there is no hard, rocky surface to walk on," Marcy said.

Chief Kepler scientist William Borucki said he thinks the planet is somewhere between Earth and gas-and-liquid Neptune, but that it has a lot of rocky material. It is in a size range that scientists do not really know anything about. Measurements next summer may help astronomers have a better idea of its makeup, he said.

The planet is 600 light years away. Each light year is 5.9 trillion miles. It would take a space shuttle about 22 million years to get there.

Kepler spots a planet when it passes in front of its star. NASA requires three of those sightings before it begins to confirm it as a planet. Borucki said the third sighting for 22b happened a year ago, just before the telescope shut down for a while. It took several months to finish the confirmation.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Your church steeple may actually be a cell phone tower in disguise

It seems appropriate to me that cell phone towers may be disguised as church steeples, since they're being placed at community service and entertainment centres disguised as churches. As reported by Kevin Maimann in the Edmonton Examiner, November 16, 2011:

Some west-end residents are fuming over Telus's latest cellphone tower proposal on the property of Gospel Centre Pentecostal Church at 9445 153 St.

Tamisan Bencz, who lives near the proposed tower, is concerned about property values, and about radio waves being emitted near family homes and Sherwood elementary school.

The Sherwood West Jasper Place area is already teeming with cellphone towers, including a Rogers tower four blocks away.

"Pretty soon we're going to have towers every few feet. And what I don't understand, is some places I drive I don't see a tower anywhere. And yet, they're surrounding us," Bencz says, speaking from her cellphone at home.

"There are towers everywhere. And there is no issue with reception whatsoever."

Bencz has been frustrated by attempts to discuss her concerns with Telus after the company sent a letter to area residents and held an open house last month.

Residents are also upset with the church after it signed a contract with Telus to accept payment for the use of its property – something Bencz did not find out about until the Oct. 27 open house.

"When you're a neighbour, you're supposed to be a part of the community. Well, they kind of made a decision that affects everybody else, on their own," Bencz says. "The church didn't do their due diligence."

Church Pastor Murray Coughlan declined an interview but e-mailed a statement saying the church is "in communication with our neighbours and Telus."

Residents of the south-side Greenfield community are fighting a similar battle over a Telus tower proposed on Greenfield Baptist Church land at 3712 114 St.

CELL-STEEPLES

The director of community engagement for Telus says church properties are increasingly common locations for cellphone towers because the towers can be disguised as steeples.

"The typical design is either a lattice-type tower, or a monopole, which is a large pole. And those aren't nearly as attractive as the ones that we're able to disguise as church steeples," says Jim Johannsson. "Churches actually make really good locations, because they are well situated and it does allow us to visually blend the antenna into the community"...

..."A lot of people assume that because we have signed an agreement with the church, that it's a done deal and the tower will go ahead. And that's not true at all," he says. "There are so many steps that have to be followed."
May 15, 2012 update: This item from Saskatoon, as reported by Fan-Yee Suen of CKOM radio, April 10, 2012:

A 30-meter cross may soon adorn the top of a proposed cell tower in a church parking lot in the Preston Avenue South and Adelaide Street East area.

The project was pitched by Rogers Communications about a year ago after the company expressed an interest to lease 100-square-feet of land, a board member of the Preston Avenue Community Church said.

“That was one of their ideas because apparently they’ve done it in other places,” Mervin Hartman said of the cross which will loom approximately 80-feet above the air.

“We felt it was a good idea because the cross is important to us and indicates Christ’s death and resurrection,” Hartman said.

If the project is approved by the city, funds from the lease contract – an undisclosed sum Hartman said was “inappropriate” to share at this time – will be used for charity.

He said the deal to lease the land was not contingent upon the cross being erected however the religious symbol did make it a “little bit more appetizing” for the church.

Over the past decade, health concerns surrounding cell phone towers have sprouted up as the number of Canadians who rely on wireless telecommunication continues to increase.

However, according to the Health Canada website, the consensus in the scientific community is that the radiofrequency energy emitted from cell towers is “too low to cause adverse health effects in humans.”

“When building or upgrading infrastructure we meet or exceed Health Canada standards, Industry Canada regulations, and the processes and protocol of the local municipality,” an e-mail from a Rogers Communications spokesperson read.

“Sites are chosen based on numerous factors including the proximity to the area requiring service. The surrounding community and local municipality are often notified and consulted with prior to a site being finalized.”

On May 10, 2012, a public consultation meeting will be held to discuss the project.

Ward Councillor Charlie Clark could not be reached to comment on the project at the time of publication.
January 18, 2013 update: Gospel Centre Pentecostal isn't the only church in Edmonton to face opposition over a cellphone tower. As reported by Cailynn Klingbeil of the Edmonton Journal, January 13, 2013:

EDMONTON - About a dozen people who protested Sunday outside a south Edmonton church said they will return every week until their concerns about a cellphone tower proposed for the property are heard.

“We’re just getting started,” said protest organizer Marcey Kliparchuk, standing outside Dayspring Presbyterian Church, 11445 40th Ave.

The Greenfield resident’s main worry is that radiation given off by the 30-metre tower Rogers wants to build on the site could be a health risk, particularly for her two children, aged two and 10.

Rogers has said the company needs the tower to improve wireless service in the area and the application will comply with all the requirements of Industry Canada and Health Canada, which states on its website that there is no scientific reason to consider cellphone towers dangerous as long as exposure is within its guidelines.

“We’ll be here every Sunday until they change their mind,” said Kliparchuk. She said in addition to organizing the peaceful protests, she will continue knocking on doors in the neighbourhood and delivering flyers to residents informing them about the proposed tower and its risks.

“I don’t want this in my front yard,” said protester Cheryl Gerdes, holding a sign that read “Protect your children ... Stop cell towers where children live and play.”

The signs came from Citizens for Safe Technology, a national coalition concerned about exposure to unsafe levels of radiation from technology.

The protesters waved at parishioners entering the church’s parking lot before Sunday’s service.

Kliparchuk said she has tried to meet with leaders of Dayspring to discuss her concerns and alternatives to a cell tower for raising money, but they have refused.

Dayspring elder and spokesman John Carr said the church has done its research and science does not indicate there are health issues with cell towers.

“They’re entitled to their beliefs and they’re entitled to protest peacefully.”

He said it’s not the church’s job to consult with the community.

“We’ve consulted with the congregation,” he said, estimating more than half of their members live in the community.

Carr said any money made from the tower will go back into the community, through making the building more accessible to residents and such social services as a food bank.

While Dayspring signed a contract with Rogers in 2011, Carr said a timeline for the tower’s construction is not yet known.

Final approval must come from Industry Canada.