Thursday, March 29, 2012

20 years ago: The death of Theresa Ann Campo Pearson

On March 30, 1992, Theresa Ann Campo Pearson died at the age of nine days. She had been born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida without a complete brain or skull. Although her parents knew of her condition while she was a fetus, they had decided that she should be born so that her organs could be donated to other babies. The parents sought to have Theresa declared brain-dead, but on March 26, Florida Circuit Court Judge Estella Moriarty ruled that the baby had a functioning brain stem and could not be declared brain-dead. Two other courts also rejected the parents’ appeals. By the time Theresa died, her organs had deteriorated too much to still be viable for transplant.

It's not for me to pronounce judgement on Theresa's parents, but the thought of parents allowing their baby to be born just for the purpose of donating her organs--as opposed of allowing her to be born to experience what brief life she may have--nauseates me. As a way of illustrating how long or short life can be, March 30, 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Elizabeth the Queen Mother at the age of 101.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Use of drones is increasing in Idaho

I find it very hard to believe that the use of drones in Idaho will be limited to environmental concerns, such as the population density of the pygmy rabbit. As reported by Michael Fitzgerald in The Epoch Times, March 25, 2012:

Research into unmanned drones is on the rise in Idaho, and the technology is being used in a number of ways.

Idaho researchers are working with drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) by providing information for gathering and developing map data for landscape habitats, and working with entities such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Defense in addressing safety concerns in the national airspace.

In 2011, Boise State and Washington State University worked in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey on a project that took to the sky in utilizing UAVs to track environmental threats to Idaho wildlife.

The project re-purposed unmanned aircraft from the U.S. Army that was originally slated for destruction. These ex-military Ravens measured the cover of sagebrush habitat in an effort to determine population densities for the pygmy rabbit.

“It’s great,” says Jennifer Forbey, assistant professor of biology at Boise State University. “The aircraft gives us the missing spatial scale. It gives us a great picture of the land that we could never get from the ground.”

Forbey says future research plans involve the use of infrared cameras.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s National Laboratory (INL) has built a nationally recognized UAV program through successfully integrating advanced sensor technologies.

The INL is currently hard at work researching the use UAVs for both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. INL engineers are studying the possibility of completely autonomous flights—where the aircraft flies itself through sensors and computer programs.

“It’s an amazing technology,” says Matthew Anderson of the INL’s Robotics and intelligence Systems.

“When it’s ready to land, it lands. Of course, the coordinator can take over and fly manually, but the vehicle does not talk to the ground station. They operate themselves. We just say, ‘What’s the mission.’”

In response to the U.S. Air Force’s need for immediate assessment following attacks in an airfield, the INL has also developed a system known as the Rapid Airfield Damage Assessment System (RADAS), or the Raptor Eye. The state-of-the-art RADAS allows for damage assessment while saving the manpower and field teams that would normally be exposed to a hostile environment.

“We are working to show the UAV’s protection potential,” says Anderson. “It’s fantastic technology, but something that needs to be controlled...”

...In February, President Obama signed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012. According the mandate, the FAA must include regulation to allow for more widespread use of UAVs by 2015, and to lay out a path for future integration of UAVs, public and private, into the national airspace.

To date, there are only two certifications for flying UAVs in public airspace. One is a Certificate of Authorization, which guides INL program research. The other is an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate, which allows for research and development, crew training, and market survey.

In direct response to the mandate, the FAA is currently setting up a process for selecting six practice sites in order to acquire the data necessary to safely and efficiently integrate UAVs into the national airspace. The goal of the six practice sites will be to aid in safely developing certification standards and in designating the proper airspace for flight operations.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

25 years ago: The PTL scandal breaks, while Oral Roberts demands $8 million--or else!

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
II Timothy 4:3-4

On March 19, 1987, televangelist and Assemblies of God minister Jim Bakker revealed to the Charlotte Observer that “treacherous former friends” had betrayed him into a sexual encounter in a Clearwater, Florida hotel in 1980 with Jessica Hahn, then 21 years of age. Mr. Bakker said he then “succumbed” to paying blackmail to Miss Hahn to protect his family and ministry. More scandalous revelations followed, including accusations of homosexual acts on the part of Mr. Bakker, and accounts of a lifestyle that included an air-conditioned doghouse. Jerry Falwell then made the wrong move in agreeing to take over the "ministry" while the scandal was on the front pages.

Those of us with long memories will also remember that shortly before the Praise the Lord scandal broke, Oral Roberts had said that God had told him that he would be "called home" if he didn't get $8 million for his Oral Roberts University medical school by March 31. $3.5 million had supposedly been raised, but he needed another $4.5 million by the end of March--or else! On the appropriate date of April 1, Mr. Roberts announced that he had raised $9.1 million, with the last $1.3 million coming from Jerry Collins, owner of a dog track. According to newspapers at the time, when Mr. Collins presented Mr. Roberts with the cheque, the television studio was suddenly and mysteriously struck by lightning, knocking the broadcast off the air.

That was such a fun time; I get misty-eyed just thinking about those days.

10 years ago: The death of Carl McIntire

On March 19, 2002, Carl McIntire went to be with the Lord at the age of 95. Dr. McIntire, one of the foremost contenders for the Christian faith in the 20th century, was the pastor of the Bible Presbyterian Church in Collingswood, New Jersey from 1933-1999. He was a protege of J. Gresham Machen and one of the founders of the American Council of Christian Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches.

I first heard of Dr. McIntire when I came across his 20th Century Reformation Hour radio program in 1979, soon found his book Outside the Gate (1967) and began subscribing to his newspaper, the Christian Beacon. I had the privilege of meeting him on his last two visits to Edmonton in 1980 and 1981. Although his radio program was no longer carried here, I kept my subscription to the Christian Beacon, which was a gold mine of useful information. A lengthy post isn't necessary, so I'll just say that readers who are interested in the life and work of Carl McIntire should see the site Remembering the Ministry of the Reverend Dr. Carl McIntire.

Roman Catholic schools and teachers in Ontario are divided over sodomite-straight alliances on campus

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

As reported by Charles Lewis in the National Post, March 14, 2012:

A split has emerged among Ontario Roman Catholics over a new provincial bill that would force religious schools to accept gay-straight alliances on their campuses.

While the Roman Catholic Church and the province’s Catholic school trustees oppose the bill, arguing that a group advocating for a gay lifestyle is in direct conflict with Church teaching, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, which represents 44,000 separate board teachers, said fear of gay-straight alliances is based on ignorance of what these groups do.

“The Catholic bishops need reflect on whether a club like a gay-straight alliance is really going to be about advocating for a lifestyle,” said Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

“And the answer they should arrive at is no. These clubs are about building dialogue and safer classroms and that’s a good thing.”

Bill 13 would require all school boards to implement policies that combat bullying. It goes further than earlier anti-bullying legislation in mandating that students have the right to form peer groups on campus around four issues: racism, gender, disabilities and homosexuality “including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”

However, the bill does not make clear at what grades the act would apply.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association and the country’s major evangelical Protestant group, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, have issued reports that call Bill 13 a misguided attempt to deal with a serious issue by isolating groups into ghettos of victims — rather than deal with bullying as a whole.

The evangelical group said if Bill 13 were to be passed, the province would face years of litigation from religious schools and religious parents of students in public schools.

“Frankly, I think it’s counter-productive for the Ontario government to bully religious schools into adopting measures that are contrary to their beliefs,” said Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the evangelical group and the author of the report.

“This bill, unless amended, will set the stage for years of tax-payer funded litigation while parents and schools fight to regain recognition for their constitutionally and Charter protected rights.”

The evangelical report added that aside from the bill being an attack on religious freedom it will be detrimental to the very people it purports to help:

“Rather than permitting students to learn about their differences and recognize their commonalities in [more general] equity clubs, this Bill specifically sets out to isolate students into issue-specific groups,” the report said. “As such, students, teachers, principals and families do not have the ability to form groups based on their intimate knowledge of their communities’ demographics, history and challenges.

But Helen Kennedy, executive director of EGALE Canada, the largest gay advocacy group in the country, said religious groups are using the notion of religious liberty as a smoke screen to obscure their real concern.

“Let’s be realistic: the groups that are complaining are complaining about the word ‘gay,’” said Ms. Kennedy. “These religious groups say that their life is wrong and they are not worthy.

“Religious groups talk about isolating kids into groups but nothing is more isolating than feeling different. When you’re not embraced for who you are then fear sets and you can’t flourish.”

The issue was heightened last fall after 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, the son of an Ottawa city councilor, killed himself because of harassment he received from fellow students.

Bill 13 is likely to pass because it has the support of both the provincial Liberals and New Democrats. Sources say that Catholic bishops and education leaders are attempting to find common ground with the province behind closed doors.

But that opportunity might be fading. In a recent report from Canadian Catholic News, provincial Education Minister Laurel Broten made it clear that Catholic schools will do what the province wants.

Teresa Pierre, director of a private Catholic parents group called Parents As First Educators, believes Catholic bishops are keeping a low profile in this fight because they may be afraid of being labeled homophobic. She said the Church needs to make it clear to the public that its teachings are not based on bigotry but morality.

“The Church’s position on homosexuals is not different than any group struggling to abide by Catholic teaching. It is no different than straight teens that are sexually active. We wouldn’t have club centered around birth control,” said Ms. Pierre.

Statistics on bullying are not easy to come by. However, in 2006 the Toronto District School Board conducted a study to determine causes of bullying. The most cited reason was “body image” (38% in grades 7 to 8; 27% in grades 9 to 12), followed by grades or marks (17% and 12% respectively), and 7% in all grades noted language as a cause. The next three categories at 5% or lower were gender, religion and income.

But EGALE said its studies have found that gay students are at high risk of being abused for their sexual orientation. It cited a 2006 U.S. study that showed gay and lesbian youth commit suicide or attempt suicide at much higher rates than their straight contemporaries. There are no statistics available for Canada...

...The Catechism of the Catholic Church says homosexual behaviour is “intrinsically disordered” and “under no circumstance can it be approved.”

However, the Catechism also teaches that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Women lead Canada into the cashless society

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

As reported by Postmedia News, March 14, 2012:

Women are increasingly eschewing the ATM and relying on their debit cards to shop, while men are more likely to use old-fashioned paper money, says a new survey.

Twenty-eight per cent of women surveyed for RBC/Shoppers Drug Mart said they rarely or never withdraw cash. Just over three-quarters said they carry $50 or less in their wallet. By contrast, a third of the men surveyed said they often carry more than $50, and only 22% said they regularly avoid the bank machine. In a news release, RBC vice-president Wayne Bossert said that while Canadians are still willing to carry cash, debit cards are becoming the favoured means of payment. "We are increasingly becoming a cashless society," Bossert said.

The results of the survey also suggested that only one-third of women will use an ATM up to twice a week in an effort to keep cash on hand, compared to 41% of men.

The poll was conducted by Ipsos Reid between Feb. 21 and 27 and surveyed 1,013 Canadians. An unweighted survey of that size has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Canadian Muslim youth group with links to al-Qaeda loses its charitable status

As reported by Sarah Boesveld in the National Post, March 6, 2012:

A Canadian Muslim youth organization has been stripped of its charitable status after a Canada Revenue Agency investigation linked it to a Saudi-based group that allegedly financed Islamist terror campaigns.

An audit of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth revealed the charity had developed ties to a number of organizations that allegedly helped fund al-Qaeda operations around the world and failed to comply with a number of standards required for charities to maintain their status.

In a warning letter to the Toronto-area organization last summer, CRA director-general Cathy Hawara said “our analysis of the Organization’s operations has led the CRA to believe…[it] was established to support the goals and operations of its parent organization, located in Saudi Arabia, which has been alleged to support terrorism.”

WAMY, known in Canada for running Islamic camps and pilgrimages for youth, was stripped of its status on Feb. 11. It failed to keep proper books and records, maintain a specific charitable purpose and distinguish itself from parent organization WAMY (Saudi Arabia), which had been alleged to support terrorist activity, the CRA audit said.

“The audit findings did not reveal any apparent separation between the activities of WAMY (Saudi Arabia) and WAMY, with all related financial and operating positions being made by WAMY (Saudi Arabia),” it reads. “This leads to a reasonable inference that WAMY has little or no independent function; therefore it cannot be concluded that it is carrying out its own charitable activities for which it is registered.”

WAMY in Canada also appears to have a director, contact information and bank account in common with the Benevolence International Fund in Canada, whose assets were frozen by the Canadian government in 2002 because it was linked to attempts by Osama bin Laden to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons. WAMY, which had been inactive since at least 2005, also funnelled $50,246 to the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) in the U.S. in 2001 to boost its orphan program, the audit reads.

Both BIF-Canada and BIF-USA were added to the Consolidated List of the United Nations Security Council’s al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions committee in November, 2002, for having specific ties to al-Qaeda.

Under the heading of “Adverse Reporting on WAMY and its Affiliates,” the Canadian government audit cites testimony by counter-terrorism consultants before a U.S. Senate committee that says bin Laden identified three Muslim charities, including WAMY, as the “primary sources of al-Qaeda financial and fundraising activity” back in 1993.

The testimony went on to say these three organizations laundered money originating from bank accounts belonging to bin Laden and his associates in the Arabian Gulf, provided entertainment and travel documents to al-Qaeda operatives around the world and helped move funds to areas where al-Qaeda was operating.

Ties between WAMY and the BIF were inextricably close, even involving some of the same members, the CRA audit alleges: Mohamed Khatib was president of WAMY in 1999-2000, the same period of time he was listed as secretary to BIF-Canada, according to tax and government documents. The mailing address on WAMY’s November, 1998, application for charitable registration and documents submitted to Industry Canada when BIF-Canada incorporated in May 2000 matched up —both were Mr. Khatib’s home address, the CRA said.

The shared director between BIF-Canada and BIF-USA, Enaam Arnaout, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges a decade ago, admitting in his plea agreement that the “charity had provided financial assistance to individuals engaged in violent activities overseas,” the audit reads.

“Charities have to remember their obligations under Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation,” the CRA’s paper on guidance for activities outside of Canada reads. “As with all individuals and organizations in Canada, charities are responsible for making sure they do not operate in association with individuals or groups that are engaged in terrorist activities or support terrorist activities.”

In 2003, counter-terrorism officials in the U.S. said the WAMY organization there had been founded by bin Laden’s nephew Abdullah. Canada’s branch, which had an office in Mississauga, Ont., was operating under the supervision of the U.S. wing, according to the group’s own literature.

New Brunswick town removes priest's name from arena after diocese acknowledges sexual abuse

File under "Yet another one." As reported by Sarah Boesveld in the National Post, March 14, 2012:

An Acadian fishing village in turmoil over allegations a priest abused local boys decades ago found catharsis Monday night by removing the clergyman’s name from the local arena without waiting for a planned plebiscite.

After a quick vote at Cap-Pelé, N.B., municipal hall, dozens of townsfolk who had attended the council meeting walked to the arena and cheered as volunteer firefighters pulled down the sign from Aréna Père-Camille-Léger, named after a long-serving priest and community leader who is now, 20 years after his death, being accused of sexual assault.

The town had planned a plebiscite to coincide with May’s general municipal elections, but a weekend apology from the Archdiocese of Moncton that acknowledged abuses at the hands of Léger spurred council to call an emergency meeting Monday.

“To delay the decision to remove the name of Father Camille Léger by plebiscite will cause more pain and uncertainty from the victims,” read the motion, passed unanimously by the council shortly after 7 p.m. Monday.

The sign was supposed to be taken down Tuesday morning, but the crowd present at the meeting was restless.

“There was an electricity in the air,” said deputy mayor Hector Doiron. “[Residents] wanted to have this done as quickly as possible.”

Moncton Archbishop André Richard attended four weekend services in Cap-Pelé’s Ste. Therese d’Avila Roman Catholic chuch, where Léger served from 1957-1980, and another church in nearby Shemogue. Last week, village councillor Norbert Gaudet was the first to publicly come out as one of Léger’s victims. Others have since followed suit.

‘People are upset and it seems like most everybody knows of some victim of some alleged victims’

“Such an attack on vulnerable people is unacceptable and highly reprehensible, especially when done by people in authority as a priest. This is a betrayal of the Gospel and the Church,” Archbishop Richard said to parishioners in French. “On behalf of the Archdiocese of Moncton, I apologize to those who have been affected directly or indirectly.”

Two people have come to the church district office with complaints about Léger, who died in 1990, “but I understand there are more” allegations against him, Archbishop Richard said in an interview Tuesday.

“The local population is in somewhat of a turmoil,” he said. “People are upset and it seems like most everybody knows of some victim of some alleged victims.”

Archbishop Richard pledged support for those who’d been abused and encouraged them to come forward. He could not say whether financial compensation would be offered.

Council wanted to hold a plebiscite because they felt the village, which had been divided over whether the name should be changed, needed to weigh in on the issue as taxpayers. But the archbishop’s acknowledgment seemed to convince those who had opposed the name change that maybe all was not well.

“I’m not against the [name change], I just think it was a rushed deal,” said Regis Cormier, a 68-year-old resident of the town who was in Scouts and the parish when Léger was priest.

Council’s emergency motion Monday night also hinged on majority support from the municipal council of 1984, which voted to name the arena after Léger.

Leon Richard, who was mayor at the time, said he cautioned against giving the priest such an honour, mostly because rumours about abusive behaviour had been running rampant.

Léger was a powerful person in Cap-Pelé — intimidating even, said Mr. Richard, who served as mayor from 1976-1988. The priest coached and managed a championship-winning hockey team, led the local marching band and was involved in the Boy Scouts. But he was also a “dominant” figure that would chastise his challengers from the pulpit, Mr. Richard said.

There were also allegations at the time that Léger was using money from the church to fund his hockey team, Mr. Richard said. These took the form of rumours as well.

“The counter argument by some members [of council] was that he’d done a lot in terms of organizations,” he said. “You can’t deny that — he had actually done a lot. My arguments were ‘It didn’t matter,’” he said, if those kinds of allegations were out there.

Yahweh domain name approved in Israel

As reported by Ynet News, March 13, 2012:

The committee in charge of approving domain names which might be offensive, has voted this week to okay a new domain: "Yahweh.co.il." The decision was first reported by Tomer Persico on his blog "Minim."

However, according to some halacha views, typing and even deleting "Yahweh" on the computer is only allowed when absolutely necessary and not for humorous purposes.

Committee members Michael Birnhack and retired judge Boaz Okon agreed there was no reason to prohibit the possibly offensive domain name, whereas Committee Chairman Hank Nussbacher and author Yochi Brandes objected.

Birnhack explained that the committee is only authorized to rule out "domain names which include dirty language that might hurt the public or the public's feelings, or words that are not suitable according to the Israeli law."

According to him, the domain name "Yahweh," vommonly vocalized as "Jehovah," fit under either of these categories.

"I suppose there are those who might be somewhat offended by the actual use of the name as a domain name, for what they will view as degrading the explicit sacred name of God or for some other halacha reason," remarked Birnhack.

"However, since the explicit sacred name of God is not personally hurtful, and since it appears online in many other legal applications, both legitimate and acceptable including the bible, I believe that the extent of any offense which might be caused is limited."

Okon agreed with Birnhack, saying: "The explicit sacred name of God comes up anyway in any online search, including Wikipedia, and it's hard to see why the use of the name as a domain name arouses such difficulties."

However Brandes wished to reject the request. "The letters Y-A-H-A-W-E-H spell the first name of the god of Israel, which is considered to be the holiest of names in the Jewish culture.

"I believe Y-A-H-A-W-E-H should remain a name only written in Torah books and in bible quotes, and not anywhere else. There is no street or community in Israel names Y-A-H-A-W-E-H, and it's only right that there won't be an internet site by that name either."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rare wooden statue of Egyptian female "King" Hatshepsut discovered

As reported by Randy Boswell of Postmedia News, March 14, 2012:

A team of Canadian archeologists has unearthed a rare wooden statue of a pharaoh at a dig site in southern Egypt, and clues suggest the figure may be an important new representation of Hatshepsut - the great female king who enjoyed a long and successful reign about 3,500 years ago, but was almost erased from history by a male successor trying to secure his own power.

Researchers led by University of Toronto archeologist Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner also exposed two previously unknown religious buildings and found dozens of animal mummies - including cats, sheep and dogs - during a hugely successful excavation last summer near the ancient city of Abydos...

...The discovery, announced recently at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, is to be fully detailed in a forthcoming publication.

The pharaonic figure is not obviously a female, said Pouls Wegner, but is notable for its "smaller waist" and the "more delicate modelling of the chin."

These attributes were typically reserved for female subjects in Egyptian art. And because Hatshepsut was traditionally depicted in the manner of a male pharaoh, such subtle clues are often used by experts to confirm her identity in stone statues and other imagery, she said.

But relatively few depictions of Hatshepsut have survived because of a concerted effort by her stepson and immediate successor - Tuthmosis III - to erase all prominent images of the female ruler. Many experts believe the campaign of destruction was carried out so Tuthmosis could claim credit for Hatshepsut's achievements and suppress challenges towards the legitimacy of his own rule.

Hatshepsut had initially assumed power in Ancient Egypt after the death of her husband, Tuthmosis II, and before Tuthmosis III was old enough to perform his kingly duties.

But she soon consolidated her position as pharaoh and ended up ruling for about 22 years, directing wars, key trade agreements and the construction of many major monuments.

"I do think there was a problem with having two rulers at the same time," said Pouls Wegner, explaining why Hatshepsut's successor may have felt compelled to obliterate his stepmother from Ancient Egypt's pharaonic iconography.

But "she is one of the most fascinating rulers," Pouls Wegner noted, "first because she was a woman and second because so many of her monuments have been defaced."

Pouls Wegner said she hopes to pursue further research aimed at identifying the type of wood used to carve the statue and to conduct carbon dating on the object to more precisely pin down its age.

For more on Hatshepsut, see The Woman who Would Be King in the April 2009 issue of National Geographic.

Israeli collector Oded Golan acquitted in "James ossuary" trial

As reported by Ari Rabinovitch of Reuters, March 14, 2012:

The authenticity of a burial box purported to have been for the "brother" of Jesus Christ remained shrouded in mystery on Wednesday after a Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli private collector of charges he forged the artifact.

The court, in finding Oded Golan not guilty, noted that expert witnesses could not agree on whether an inscription on the 2,000-year-old limestone box which reads: "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus", was genuine or had been forged.

The authenticity of the so-called "James ossuary" will likely "continue to be investigated in the archaeological and scientific arena, and time will tell", the court said.

The decade-long mystery has haunted archaeologists and religious scholars worldwide. It has focused on what could be the earliest, most concrete evidence of Jesus's life in Jerusalem and suspicions of the most sophisticated of forgeries.

The saga began in 2002 when Golan, supported by Andre Lemaire, a renowned French scholar of ancient texts, said the ossuary, a limestone box for storing bones of the dead, had on its side the inscription "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".

James, who was believed to have been stoned to death in 62 AD, is mentioned in the Gospels as Jesus' brother. But the Roman Catholic and other Christian churches believe Jesus had no siblings.

Around the same time, another of Golan's artifacts surfaced, the Jehoash Inscription. It is a stone tablet supposedly carved with a Hebrew text that describes renovation work on the first biblical temple by King Jehoash nearly 3,000 years ago.

The trial shed no light on where or how the artifacts were discovered. Golan said he obtained the ossuary and tablet from Arab traders in East Jerusalem.

HOAX?

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) that oversees all excavation work in Israel called it all a hoax, saying the circumstances of the discovery of the two items were unclear and never properly documented.

In 2003, two IAA committees, including experts on inscriptions, burial customs, geology and restoration, found that while the ossuary may be genuine, the inscriptions were forgeries.

"I am glad that I was found innocent of all the very serious allegations that I had to face during the last seven years," Golan told Reuters after the final court session.

Skeptics accused Golan of exploiting religious beliefs and academic interest to make money, and the IAA recommended the state investigate. In 2004, Golan was indicted.

Amir Ganor, head of the IAA's Robbery Prevention Unit, told Reuters that while the court may have been unable to rule conclusively on the authenticity of the ossuary's inscription, the case had led museums and universities to cast a more critical eye on the origins of artifacts they received.

He also said the high-profile case had led to a steep drop in the number of robberies at archaeological sites in the Holy Land.

A year ago, when speculation about the case was high and both sides were waiting for the court to render its verdict, Gideon Avni, the IAA's Director of the Excavations and Surveys, summed up how the tale of a sensational discovery and suspected forgery has refused to go away.

"From the retrospect of almost a decade, the stories of the 'Brother of Jesus' ossuary and the 'Jehoash Inscription' will probably be recorded as an insignificant footnote in the history of the archaeological research of the Holy Land," Avni, wrote on the website The Bible and Interpretation.

"Nevertheless ... they are still likely to arouse the imagination of future mystery writers and filmmakers who, in the style of Indiana Jones, might make a decent living from the intriguing plot which has all the ingredients of a fascinating detective story."

For more on the trial, see James Ossuary Trial Jerusalem.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Parti Quebecois raises concerns over halal meat

Canadian readers with long memories may remember that when those in Quebec seeking "sovereignty-association"--loosely-defined independence from Canada--were narrowly defeated in the 1995 referendum, that Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau, leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois government, blamed the result on "money and the ethnic vote," which was widely taken to be a reference to Jews. Any doubts as to whom Mr. Parizeau was referring were erased a few months later when the PQ government refused to allow the importation of kosher food from the United States into Quebec for Passover. The Parti Quebecois are the opposition in Quebec now, and they've decided to criticize the dietary practices of Muslims. From Canada's most politically-incorrect province, as reported by Canadian Press, March 14, 2012:

QUEBEC - The Parti Quebecois is sounding the alarm bell over an Islamic food ritual, calling slaughter for halal meat an affront not only to the rights of animals but to the values cherished by Quebecers.

The pro-independence party declared its concerns Wednesday about halal animal-rights standards, and is worried that mainstream companies are selling the meat, without any labelling, to unsuspecting Quebecois customers.

Not to be outdone, the fledgling Coalition For Quebec's Future concurred later Wednesday that consumers should have the right to choose which product they buy and halal products must be labelled.

The halal flap is the latest iteration of Quebec's identity debates, which have raged on Montreal's populist talk radio in recent days.

Over the last week one radio show has featured complaints about Hassidic Jewish festivals disrupting traffic; Islamic halal meat being sold without labelling; and a convenience-store owner who got angry when asked to speak French.

The PQ is now demanding a report on the halal situation from the provincial government, by March 23.

The opposition party wants to know how many companies are involved in producing halal meat, and how many animals are being slaughtered per year under Islamic rituals. It says it's concerned about animal rights, in addition to potential food contamination.

"This type of slaughter slams directly against Quebecois values," the PQ said in a statement released Wednesday.

Halal meat is produced by cutting the throat of an animal and letting it bleed to death. The ritual is preceded by an expression of gratitude to God, and includes other stipulations like not scaring the animal before the slaughter.

The word, "halal," means, "permitted" or "lawful" — similar to the word "kosher" in the Jewish tradition.

"In Quebec, we made the choice a long time ago to slaughter our animals for consumption by taking steps to desensitize the animals and to slaughter them while minimizing the suffering," said PQ MNA Andre Simard, a veterinarian by training.

"In their great openness, the Quebecois people also accept that, as an exception to the norm, religious communities can proceed with slaughter under certain rituals. But when the exception becomes the rule, there's a problem."

The company at the centre of the political storm expressed bewilderment over all the fuss.

Olymel, a meat-processing giant with plants in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, said it obtained a halal certification for one of its poultry plants two years ago after some clients requested it. The clients wanted to label Olymel-produced meat with the certification when they sold it.

But Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault said his company's products are processed under all required food safety and quality control standards mandated by the federal government.

The certification process consisted of having an iman recite a prayer in the plant and did not affect the slaughtering methods at all, he said.

"In no way we're practicing traditional halal slaughtering — no way," he said in a telephone interview. "In matter of fact, this (halal) certification has changed nothing about our slaughtering."

He dismissed media reports — including one on the talk show of former politician Mario Dumont, who helped get the debate rolling — as "totally wrong."

Vigneault said Olymel's method, which he insisted is humane, is to stun the poultry with an electric shock first and then slaughter it mechanically. While Olymel's St-Damase, Que., plant is halal-certified, it has another poultry plant in Berthierville which is not.

"It's the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that regulates the slaughtering."

Mohammed Ghalem, a spokesman for the halal meat association, described the controversy as a "tempest in a teapot" and said it shows a lack of understanding of the Muslim community.

Liberty University has Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin as a guest speaker--after he's been exposed as a Jesuit

I missed this when it happened, but it's better late than never to find this out. On November 9, 2011, as part of its annual Military Worship Emphasis Week, Liberty University had as its guest speaker Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin. Knowledgeable readers are aware that Roger Oakland of Understand the Times revealed that Lt. Gen. Boykin, widely assumed to be a Christian, is actually a Jesuit and a Grand Chancellor with the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic order (see the Understand the Times post Jerry Boykin and the Calvary Chapel Connection). Liberty University is either unaware of this, or doesn't care. As reported by Liberty University News Service, November 9, 2011:

Liberty University honored our nation’s servicemembers and veterans in a special convocation service on Wednesday that featured Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, an original member and former commander of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force special operations unit.
The service was part of Liberty’s annual Military Emphasis Week.

Boykin’s military career is extensive. During his 36 years in service, he has been involved in numerous clandestine operations globally. He led a task force in Colombia to hunt the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar and helped capture Manuel Noriega in Panama. He commanded Delta Force during the Battle of Mogadishu, depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down. Boykin also served six years in intelligence and was a member of the National Security Policy Coordinating Committee for Terrorism.

Today he is an ordained minister serving with the Kingdom Warriors ministry and a distinguished professor at Hampden-Sydney College. He is the author of “New Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom.”

After the Posting of the Colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, Taps and a recognition of all servicemembers, veterans and families of active military and veterans, Boykin spoke on preserving the Judeo-Christian values upon which this nation was founded.

He said Americans are in a downward spiral of values and faith and they need to return back to God to preserve their country’s identity.

“I am very concerned about the direction of this nation, but my punch line is: If we as a nation of believers … will rise up and come together, we have nothing to fear in the future,” he said.

He asked veterans and active servicemembers to stand and recite the U.S. Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment.

“Let me remind you that the doctrine you signed when you took that oath … there is no expiration date on it; you are expected to continue to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. My charge to you is don’t forget your oath,“ Boykin said.

He encouraged students to be involved in politics, to vote, to run for office and to get involved with organizations that support Christian values.

“I really enjoyed how he incorporated the idea that political correctness is something we don’t need in politics or the military,” said junior Caleb Bliesner, a member of the U.S. Air Force. “I think we just need to say things how they are and get back to the basics.”

Special guests in convocation included members of the U.S. Armed Forces working at the Pentagon.

Liberty currently has more than 19,000 members of the U.S. military taking courses residentially and online.

70 years ago: Jewish refugees from Romania are denied admittance to Palestine, then to Turkey

As reported by Associated Press, March 5, 2012:

As Turkey welcomes Syrians fleeing violence, the anniversary last Friday of the deaths of more than 750 Jewish refugees who were denied shelter by Turkey in World War II was a reminder of perennial tension between pragmatic and humanitarian impulses.

The SS Struma, whose passengers fled Romania and docked in Istanbul, was denied entry to Palestinian territory by colonial power Britain. On February 23, 1942, Turkey towed the vessel to the Black Sea and set it adrift. A Soviet torpedo sank it the next morning, and only one person survived.

The episode is a stain on an upbeat narrative of the Jewish experience in the mostly Muslim country, even if Jews are treated with far more tolerance than elsewhere in the region. Turkey dwells on the legacy of Ottoman rulers who welcomed Jews fleeing Christian persecution in Spain in the 15th century.

Tension over the past shadows Turkey as it seeks to lead in the region, advocating democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey, which had sought closer ties with Syria's authoritarian regime, now demands that its president stop a bloody crackdown on opponents and quit, and it shelters some 10,000 refugees from Syria.


Center of tolerance?

Signs of Turkish inclusiveness are many. Singer Can Bonomo, of Sephardic of Jewish descent, will represent Turkey at the Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan this year. Last month, Turkey showed a French film about the Nazi genocide, the first time it was aired on public television in a mostly Muslim nation.

Huseyin Avni Mutlu, Istanbul's governor, attended a ceremony to commemorate Holocaust victims.

"We have strived to serve the world as a center of tolerance," read his prepared remarks. "Never was any nationality, religion or belief group oppressed in these lands. On the contrary, they were treated as equals, with respect, and their cultural heritages were conserved."

But the way Turkey — neutral in World War II — handled the Struma undercuts claims of favorable treatment that Jews and other minorities purportedly received in that era. Even today, deficits in equal rights and religious freedoms mar democratic advances in Turkey.

"This is a tragedy which is treated as something that has nothing to do with Turkey," said author Rifat Bali, who has written about non-Muslim minorities in Turkey. He said blame is assigned to Britain or the Soviet Union, with some justification, but described the refugee deaths as a "black spot" on Turkey's "rosy rhetoric" about benevolent policies.


Keeping low profile
A rare commemoration was held at Sarayburnu, a promontory near the Golden Horn inlet in Istanbul. Organizer Cem Murat Sofuoglu said the Turkish establishment was not interested.

"They don't want to shake the cage," said Sofuoglu, a lawyer who wants Turkey and Britain to apologize.

Turkey's Jewish community of just over 20,000 has traditionally kept a low profile to avoid controversy or worse, especially at a time when political ties between Turkey and Israel, a former ally, are frozen.

In 2003, two Istanbul synagogues were targeted in deadly bombings by militants tied to al-Qaida, and Turkey cracked down on radical Islamists.

Anti-Semitism has risen in Turkey's ultraconservative media over the past five years, said Murat Onur, an Istanbul-based commentator who has studied the issue. Activists want the government to incorporate "hate speech" legislation in plans for a new constitution.

Baki Tezcan, an associate professor of history and religious studies at the University of California, Davis, said the only place to buy a menorah in Istanbul is at the offices of Shalom, a Jewish newspaper. In December, he went there to get one because his father-in-law is Jewish, saw no sign outside, and encountered a strict screening procedure.

"This experience made me realize how difficult it must be to live as a Jew in Turkey, feeling so threatened that they have to hide their community newspaper's offices and apply such high security measures," he wrote in an email.

"This might go back to the original meaning of the word 'millet,' which is used to refer to 'nation' today," he wrote. "It actually meant a 'religious community.' So we are dealing with the repercussions of late Ottoman history, and the complex dynamics of growing local nationalisms, on the one hand, and European imperialism, on the other."

Eyal Peretz is the Israel-born chairman of Arkadas, a community of ethnic Turkish Jews in Israel. He said the Ottoman welcome to Jews was something "we cannot forget" and an "exceptional story" in a dire catalogue of persecution over the centuries.


Cherry picking survivors

However, he criticized Turkey for downgrading relations with Israel, alleging it seeks to curry favor with Muslims worldwide. Turkey is incensed over the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel, which has refused Turkish demands for an apology and compensation in the 2010 raid.

Some historians speculate the Soviets mistook the Struma for a troop ship from Romania, a Nazi ally, and thought they were firing on an enemy. A book, "Death on the Black Sea," cites Refik Saydam, Turkey's prime minister at the time, as saying Turkey was not responsible.

"Turkey cannot serve as a homeland for people not welcomed by others," Saydam said. "That's the way we choose. This is the reason we could not keep them in Istanbul. It is unfortunate that they were victims of an accident."

Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in the United States, said studying the past helped to provide a compass for future conduct. She said Turkey's wartime refugee policy was similar to that of other nations in that it welcomed only those Jews likely to make financial or cultural contributions. German Jews had a prominent role in archaeological excavations in Turkey in the 1930s.

"They were going to cherry pick precisely those Jews who would enrich Turkey one way or another," Dwork said. She noted that Turkish authorities waited 24 hours before sending lifeboats to the area where the Struma was struck.

"As far as I'm concerned, that is both compliance and complicity with mass murder," she said.

Secular Canadian journalist decries Supreme Court's assault on religious freedom

Before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms became part of the Canadian constitution on April 17, 1982, there were a few of us who were voices in the wilderness, warning that the only people who would end up with any rights would be perverts, criminals, deadbeats, and malcontents. It comes as no surprise to this blogger to see that one freedom that has consistently diminished over the last 30 years is freedom of religion, especially the beliefs and practices of those who helped to found and build up the country over several hundred years.

It's interesting that the following defense of religious freedom comes from George Jonas, who would probably check the space labelled "No Religion" if he were to get the long census form. Here's his column that appeared in the National Post on February 29, 2012:

God isn’t ecumenical. He spells out exactly what he is, in Exodus 20: 4-5. “You shall not make yourself an idol,” he tells prospective worshippers, “for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

When a jealous God talks about religion, he doesn’t say: “Hey, six of one, half a dozen of the other.” On the contrary, he commands his followers to regard him and his cosmology as the truth, and view others as being in error. Those who worship idols are idolaters. This doesn’t mean bash their heads in, or give them false measure, but it may mean pray for them, and it definitely means don’t tell your children: “Oh, it’s all the same.”

Jealousy isn’t the only thing religion is about, but it’s certainly one thing. “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me” is the second commandment in the Hebrew bible. In the Christian bible, it’s the first.

God speaks plainly; Supreme Court justices speak legalese. They’re different languages. If one looks for an innocent explanation of why the Ottawa Nine ruled as they did last Friday in S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, this may be it — though the real reasons are probably a little more complex or sinister.

Without blinking, the full court held that it’s okay for Quebec’s education minister to compel believers to describe God to their children, not as they see him, but as non-believers do. It does no injury to their Charter guarantee of religious freedom.

Hmm. What exactly is religious freedom, if it isn’t teaching God to your children as you see him? The justices didn’t say.

“Held without blinking” may be an overstatement. While Chief Justice McLachlin didn’t move a muscle and neither did Justices Binnie, Deschamps, Abella, Charron, Rothstein and Cromwell, Justices LeBel and Fish did squirm a little. In a separate opinion, they wrote that they didn’t intend “to conclusively uphold the ERC [Ethics and Religious Culture] Program’s constitutional validity.” With that and two bucks, religious parents can buy a cup of coffee, but still, in a famine a morsel is a feast.

Here’s the background. In 2008, Quebec’s provincial education ministry saw fit to replace religious instruction in elementary and secondary schools with a curriculum of its own. The state’s foray into ethics and metaphysics serves up the children’s spiritual inheritance, from aboriginal to Catholic, as a mess of pale pottage, nutrition-free and values-neutral. Attendance is mandatory.

About 2,000 parents requested to have their children exempted from having to take their religion from the state. The government and its minions circled the wagons. The parents lost in every forum, from administrative tribunals to the Quebec Court of Appeal. One case, identified by the initials of the Catholic appellants as S.L. and D.J., finally reached the unfriendly shores of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Like most courts and tribunals below, Canada’s top court sees its task as defending the state against the rights and freedoms it guarantees. Madam Justice Marie Deschamps, speaking for the nine justices, didn’t make too many bones about the court’s priority being policy over law. “The suggestion,” she wrote, “that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education.”

Pardon? Is replacing religious classes with liberal pap an educational obligation? If so, Quebec failed in its obligation until 2008. Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t talking about education, but ideology. Two ideologies, in fact: (a) The religious citizen’s ideology that’s protected by the Charter; and (b) the statist government’s ideology that’s protected by the courts.

Bills of rights don’t warrant that governments can do everything they regard as beneficial; they warrant that governments can’t infringe the rights of individuals. It shouldn’t matter if a fundamental right did amount to the rejection of a government policy. I don’t think it does in this case, but even if it did, what’s our Charter supposed to guarantee, multiculturalism or religious freedom?

Silly question. It wouldn’t be asked by anyone who went to law school. Section 27 of the Charter tells us that the document, “shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians.” That’s vague. But it doesn’t matter: As any lawyer could explain, our Charter guarantees whatever our judges say it does.

The ruling graciously reassures parents that they’re “free to pass their personal beliefs on to their children if they so wish.” Well, thank God for small mercies. It’s certainly more than parents can do in North Korea. But what about parents having to send their children to be indoctrinated in values different from their own? Sorry, says Justice Deschamps, “the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society.”

Well, er, no, it isn’t, Judge. Early exposure is very much under parental control in any society, except in tyrannies.

Canada is turning into a theocracy with its own jealous God: The smug, self-worshipping state. Lower-court judges are its acolytes; high-court judges its bishops. The Charter? It’s still available in courthouse washrooms for purposes of personal hygiene. No, I’m not Catholic, or even religious. Only appalled.

The Vatican exhibits documents from its secret archives

The Vatican began an exhibition of 100 documents from its secret archives in Rome on February 29, 2012. On that date, the London Daily Telegraph published the following articles on the exhibition, which you can read in full by clicking on the links:

Lux in Arcana: Vatican Secret Archives latest

Vatican archive reveals nobles' threat to papacy

Cardinals asked hermit to become pope

Mary Queen of Scots poignant letter months before her execution

Stone Age Europeans may have been the first people to reach North America

As is so often the case, new evidence forces scientists to re-examine long-held ideas--if they have the courage and honesty to do so. As reported by Matthew Day in the London Daily Telegraph, February 28, 2012:

Stone-age Europeans were the first to set foot on North America, beating American Indians by some 10,000 years, new archaeological evidence suggests.

In a discovery that could rewrite the history of the Americas, archaeologists have found a number of stone tools dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, and bearing remarkable similarities to those made in Europe.

All of the ancient implements were discovered along the north-east coast of the USA.

The tools could reassert the long dismissed and discredited claim that Europeans in the form of Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first to discover the New World.

Previous discoveries of tools have only been dated back to 15,000 years ago and prompted many archaeologists and historians to question claims that stone-age man managed to migrate to North America.

But the striking resemblance in the way the primitive American tools were made to European ones dating from the same period now suggests a remarkable migration took place.

Adding to the weight of evidence is fresh analysis of stone knife unearthed in the US in 1971 that revealed it was made of French flint.

Professor Dennis Stanford from Washington's Smithsonian Institution, and Professor Bruce Bradley from Exeter University believe that the ancient Europeans travelled to North America across an Atlantic frozen over by the Ice Age.

During the height of the Ice Age, ice covered some three million square miles of the North Atlantic, providing a solid bridge between the two continents. Plentiful numbers of seal, penguins, seabirds and the now extinct great auk on the edge of the ice shelf could have provided the stone-age nomads with enough food to sustain them on their 1,500-mile walk.

"Across Atlantic Ice", a book by professors Stanford and Bradley presenting the case for the trans-Atlantic trek, is published next month.

Neolithic enclosures in England may be older than previously thought

As is so often the case, new evidence forces scientists to re-examine long-held ideas--if they have the courage and honesty to do so. As reported by Stephen Adams in the London Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2011:

A series of large Stone Age earthworks spread out across the southern English landscape in as little as 75 years, new dating techniques show.

Previously it was thought that Neolithic causewayed enclosures, rings of raised ground up to 300 yards in diameter, emerged over as long a timespan as 700 years between 3,700BC and 3,000BC.

Now, however, academics have suggested the technique spread from the Thames estuary westwards, over less than 100 years from 3,700BC, and were largely completed in southern England by 3,500BC.

Dr Alex Bayliss, a scientific dating expert at English Heritage, said: "By dating these enclosures more accurately, we now know that something happened quite specifically some 5,700 years ago; the speed with which it took place has completely overturned our perception of prehistory."

She and Prof Alasdair Whittle from Cardiff University used radiocarbon dates in conjunction with the sequence that archaeological deposits were laid down, to more precisely date about 40 enclosures.

Recent statistical techniques have enabled they to narrow down their ages to as little as 60 years, in the case of Windmill Hill near Avebury in Wiltshire. They now think it was built between 3,700BC and 3,640BC. Before, the estimate was 3,700BC to 3,100BC.

The enclosures were used as occasional meeting places as more complex and competitive societies emerged, and were perhaps social symbols to "impress and astonish people", said Prof Whittle.

Some were used for long periods but others effectively abandoned after short spans, the new dating indicates.

The Neolithic age began in Britain in about 4,000BC, with the arrival of people from Europe bringing new settled farming techniques with them.

Prof Whittle believes the enclosures were essentially a continental import - although others dispute that idea - and it took 300 years for such foreign ideas to be absorbed by the local population.

He added: "This research fundamentally challenges the notion that little happened among our Stone Age farmers.

"We can now think about the Neolithic period in terms of more rapid changes, constant movement of people and fast diffusion of ideas. We can also populate our imagination with generations and communities of people making different choices."

Have the remains of some of Christ's disciples been discovered?

Some caskets have been discovered in Jerusalem, but given the unsound doctrine of the man leading the archaeological team, I'm suspicious of whatever conclusions he may arrive at. As reported by Adrian Blomfield in the London Daily Telegraph, February 28, 2012:

An amateur archaeologist and film maker claims to have identified what could be the remains of some of Christ's 12 disciples in a first century burial chamber buried beneath a block of flats in Jerusalem.

A team led by Simcha Jacobovic, a Canadian documentary director, used a robot to photograph a number of limestone burial caskets, found below a block of flats, which may provide an unprecedented glimpse into Christianity's earliest days.

But the potential significance of the discovery is almost certain to be overshadowed by controversy, with Mr Jacobovic using it as new evidence to bolster his widely disputed claims to have identified the bones of Christ and his family at a nearby burial site.

The caskets, known as ossuaries, were inscribed with what some independent experts said could plausibly be the earliest Christian iconography ever documented.

One of the ossuaries carries an etching of a fish with what appears to be a human head in its mouth, perhaps an image of Jonah, the reluctant Old Testament prophet. The story was of major significance to early Christians and is referred to in the Gospels because Jonah spent three days in the belly of the giant fish that swallowed him, just as Christ spent three days in the tomb.

The fish was also seen as a sacred symbol by early Christians; not only did fish feature in a number of Christ's miracles, but many of the disciples were fishermen, while the Greek for fish – ichthys – is held to be an acronym for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour".

Independent archaeologists say no Jewish tomb from antiquity is known to have carried a picture of a fish, giving further credibility to the theory that the etching is indeed Christian.

A second, adjacent ossuary is engraved with a Greek inscription that appears to refer to resurrection. It could be translated as "Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up." Some Israeli archaeologists, however, said that some contemporary Jewish communities, including the Pharisees and the Essenes, also believed in resurrection.

The tomb, like others uncovered in Jerusalem, would almost certainly date to before AD 70, the year the city was destroyed by a Roman army. As a result, if the bones are shown to belong to early Christians they may well have been contemporaries of Christ and perhaps even his disciples as the community in Jerusalem was considered to be small at the time.

Further investigation is likely to be tricky, however. Although the chamber was discovered in 1981, excavation has been impossible because of an edict by Jewish religious authorities who hold that it is sacrilegious to interfere with Jewish tombs.

After years of negotiation, Mr Jacobovic, himself an Israeli-born Jew, managed to win approval to lower a robotic arm beneath the tower block to photograph the ossuaries.

According to Mr Jacobovic and his colleague James Tabor, a biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina, the discovery gives greater credence to their controversial claim that a chamber they called "the Garden tomb" nearby housed the remains of Christ.

They have concluded that both tombs, which lie in the Jerusalem district of East Talpiot, are probably located on the rural estate of Joseph of Arimathea, who the Gospels say took charge of Christ's burial.

"These two tombs, both dating to around the time of Jesus, are less than 200 feet apart," they wrote in a report published yesterday. "Any interpretation of one tomb has to be made in the light of the other. As a result, we believe a compelling argument can be made that the Garden tomb is that of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."

Their widely challenged assertions rest on the discovery in 1981 of ossuaries in the Garden tomb that appear to carry names similar to those of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Two others carried the names of "Judah, son of Jesus" and a woman they claimed could have been Mary Madgalene, whom they suggested could have been Christ's wife in a theory given popular appeal in Dan Brown's novel the "Da Vinci Code".

But the Israeli archaeologists who discovered the ossuaries dismissed Mr Jacobovic's conclusions as nonsense, saying such names were common at the time.

Biblical scholars have also pointed out that, as a Galilean, Christ would not have been buried in Jerusalem, particularly not in a tomb that suggested considerable wealth given His humble origins.

Israeli archaeologists, who jokingly refer to Mr Jacobovic as "Indiana Jones", point out that he is a film maker with no academic qualifications beyond a bachelor's degree and say he has "cherry-picked" findings from experts on his team to create the flimsiest of cases.

"His Jesus theory is conjecture built upon deception built upon wilful misinterpretation in order to spin a moneymaking yarn and garner publicity," said one archaeologist who asked not to be identified in order not to link his name to the claims.

Mormon leaders attempt to restrict baptisms of dead Holocaust victims

Just one question, Chief: If baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is so essential for salvation that the rite is performed on behalf of dead people in order for them to be saved, why are Mormon leaders willing to suspend the practice in the case of members of a certain loud and politically-correct minority group who don't want it performed on behalf of their kinsmen? As reported by Associated Press, March 9, 2012:

Mormon leaders have put up a virtual firewall in their massive genealogical database to block out anyone who attempts to access the names of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims the church has agreed not to posthumously baptize.

The move comes amid criticism that the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not done enough to live up to commitments to stop its members worldwide from performing the baptism ritual on Holocaust victims and other notable Jews.


Troubled Waters

The new system will immediately block church members' access should they try to seek out names of Holocaust victims or other notable figures that have been flagged as not suitable for proxy baptisms.

The church said the move is aimed at ending the practice, but critics say it merely serves to block anyone from monitoring whether the posthumous baptisms continue.


Fostering an illusion?

"By not allowing public access to the records, it creates the illusion they have something to hide," Jewish genealogist Gary Mokotoff, who was involved in negotiations with the church over ending the practice for the past two decades, said.

Mormons believe the baptism ritual allows deceased people a way to the afterlife - if they choose to accept it.

But the practice offends members of many other religions, especially Jews, who have expressed outrage at attempts to alter the religion of Holocaust victims because they were killed based on their beliefs.

In the 1990s, after negotiations with Jewish leaders, the church agreed to end to the practice, but revelations by an ex-Mormon researcher have shown it continues.

In recent weeks, researcher Helen Radkey, using confidential Mormon sources who had access to the LDS database, revealed that Mormon temples had posthumously baptized the family of Holocaust survivor and Jewish rights advocate Simon Wiesenthal, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and Anne Frank.

Mormon Church leaders, in a letter to temples worldwide, asked that members be reminded of the policy during Sunday services this past weekend.

"The church is committed to preventing the misguided practice of submitting the names of Holocaust victims and prominent individuals for proxy baptism," LDS spokesman Michael Purdy said this week. "In addition to reiterating its policy to members, the church has implemented a new technological barrier to prevent abuse."

Radkey said she had already been blocked from the database under the new system, and was considering how she might continue her efforts toward revealing the ongoing practice.

"I don't believe for five minutes that they're going to stop baptizing Jewish Holocaust victims," Radkey said.

Purdy dismissed claims that the church was merely seeking to block Radkey's access, and said this week's move was just another step in the church's effort to stop the practice worldwide. He said that while nothing is foolproof, the church remained committed to keeping its word.

"We are doing exactly what we have been asked to do and what we said we would do - denying access to names that should not be submitted because they are against our policy," Purdy said. "There is no account for a Helen Radkey.

If she, or anyone else, is misusing a Church member's identity to search for Holocaust names, then the system is set up to block those kinds of activities."

Some Israeli postmen invoke Jewish law in refusing to distribute New Testaments

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.
Amos 8:11-12

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:9 (also Mark 7:7)

Fortunately, the top officials of the Israel Postal Company don't approve of the actions of some of their employees; let's see if they discipline the intolerant postmen. As reported by Kobi Nachshoni of Ynet News, March 5, 2012:

Dozens of Israel Postal Company employees in Ramat Gan refused to distribute thousands of copies of the New Testament to city residents. They claimed such distribution is forbidden according to the halacha laws, and might even be illegal.

Both religious and secular postal workers were asked to hand out mail and advertisements on Monday, along with thousands of holy Christian booklets translated into Hebrew. The workers informed their supervisors that they refuse to distribute such materials.

Postal officials discussed the issue with Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), who in turn talked it over with Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, who demanded to halt the distribution until the matter is legally clarified.

"We always distribute business flyers and we have no problem with that, whether we agree with them or not," one postal employee told Ynet. "But this time it's different. This is missionary material, and from our understanding there's a law against that. It's not a religious issue."

However, one religious mailman explained that distributing the New Testament goes against his word view. "The halacha forbids me from handing out such idolatry material, and when there's a contradiction between my religious belief and what my job requires of me, it's clear to me what I chose," he said. "It's like if my manager were to come and tell me to work on Shabbat."


Missionary material?

According to him this is not the first time the mailmen have refused to distribute the booklets. He said his Gadera counterparts were successful in dodging such distribution, as opposed to Petah Tikva mailmen who went along with it.

MK Orlev said: "It's unacceptable that the Israel Postal Company should participate in distributing missionary materials to the Jewish residents of Israel. We must clarify to the missionaries that the law forbids it."

Israel Postal Company officials responded: "The Israel Postal Company is a governmental company operating in accordance to the Postal Law, which obligates us to distribute any mail it receives. The Israel Postal Company has no right or ability to chose what it can or cannot distribute. Therefore, the mail will be distributed according to the law."

French Assemblée Nationale legislates the creation of a new biometric ID 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

As reported by Angela Daly of Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 8, 2012:

On Tuesday March 6, the French National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) passed a law proposing the creation of a new biometric ID card for French citizens with the justification of combating “identity fraud”. More than 45 million individuals in France will have their fingerprints and digitized faces stored in what would be the largest biometric database in the country. The bill was immediately met with negative reactions. Yesterday more than 200 members of the French Parliament referred it to the Conseil constitutional, challenging its compatibility with Europeans' fundamental rights framework, including the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence. The Conseil will consider whether the law is contrary to the French Constitution.1

The new law compels the creation of a biometric ID card that includes a compulsory chip containing various pieces of personal information, including fingerprints, a photograph, home address, height, and eye color. Newly issued passports will also contain the biometric chip. The information on the biometric chip will be stored in a central database. A second, optional chip will be implemented for online authentication and electronic signatures, which will be used for e-government services and e-commerce.

François Pillet, a French senator, called the initiative a time bomb for civil liberties, warning that those interested in protecting civil liberties must stop the creation of a database that could be transformed into a dangerous, draconian tool.2 EFF couldn’t agree more. Last year, Privacy International, EFF, and 80 other civil liberties organizations asked the Council of Europe to study whether biometrics policies respect the fundamental rights of every European. Governments are increasingly demanding storage of their citizens’ biometric data on chips embedded into identity cards or passports, and centrally kept on government databases, all with little regard to citizens’ civil liberties.3 France’s National Commission on IT and Freedoms (CNIL) also published a report criticizing the creation of the centralized biometric database.

France does not have a good track record of initiatives involving biometric identification. In 2009, it introduced biometric passports—which proved to be a disaster. Last year, the French Minister of the Interior admitted that 10 percent of biometric passports in circulation were fraudulently obtained. It is therefore ironic that the justification for the biometrics bill was that it is needed to combat identity fraud.

Biometric databases posed a mission-creep threat since the data can be used for reasons beyond identity fraud. The French legislation lists certain crimes in which authorities could use the biometric databases to identify suspects. History has shown that databases in France created for one purpose have been used for others: In 1998 for example, France created a national DNA database of sex offenders, but its scope was expanded to include data from those convicted of other serious violent criminal offences and terrorism. 4 The database was later expanded to include the data of those who committed a wide range of offenses. 5 Anyone suspected of any crime is now compelled to submit a DNA sample as well.

Moreover, the measure is non-proportionate, given that there are less than 10,000 annual instances of fraudulent identity documents reported in France. It is difficult to argue that this justifies fingerprinting and face digitization of an estimated 45 million individuals and storing this information in a central biometric database.

Disturbingly, it seems that there may be other motives behind this bill, besides the prevention of identity fraud. Several documents suggest that French smart cards and biometrics companies, such as Morpho, Oberthur, Thalès, and Gemalto, have been lobbying heavily for the creation of a national biometric identity card as a means of creating domestic market opportunities for French smart card and biometrics companies. Senator Jean-René Lecerf, who introduced the bill, bluntly noted that while French companies are leaders in biometrics technologies, they do not sell anything domestically. He claims that this creates an export disadvantage compared to competitors based in the United States.

EFF urges the Conseil constitutionnel to consider the negative implications of the new law on the rights and freedoms of French citizens, and especially noting the vast disproportionality to its aims. Furthermore, France’s poor track record on biometric passports and databases expanded far beyond their original purpose does not bode well for the success of this new law. This invasive law brings undue interference into citizens’ private lives. The Conseil constitutionnel should reject it as unconstitutional.


1. The Conseil is the main authority to rule on whether or not laws that are challenged are in fact unconstitutional.

2. Direct quote (in French): "Monsieur le ministre, nous ne pouvons pas, élus et Gouvernement, en démocrates soucieux des droits protégeant les libertés publiques, laisser derrière nous – bien sûr, en cet instant, je n’ai aucune crainte, en particulier parce que c’est vous qui êtes en fonction – un fichier que d’autres, dans l’avenir, au fil d’une histoire dont nous ne serons plus les écrivains, pourraient transformer en un outil dangereux, liberticide."

3. Other countries with compulsory biometric ID cards or cards that contain a chip with identifying information about the holder in Europe include Albania, Portugal and Spain, with various other countries considering their implementation.

4. As a result of the enactment of Article 56 of the LOI no 2001-1062 du 15 novembre 2001 relative à la sécurité quotidienne.5. As a result of the enactment of Article 29 of the Loi n° 2003-239 du 18 mars 2003 pour la sécurité intérieure.

Israeli Christians petition for equal treatment under tax law

As reported by Shirley Sasson Ezer of Ynet News, March 13, 2012:

Five foundations representing Christian communities in Israel have petitioned the High Court of Justice to implement equal treatment under the tax law for all religious houses of worship in the country.

The petition, lead by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, a civil rights group, was filed in response to an March 2010 amendment made to the capital’s municipal tax laws, fully exempting synagogues from property taxes.

As per the amendment, all religious prayer halls are exempt of property tax, while other facilities – classrooms, offices and event halls – are taxed as usual. Only synagogues’ entire properties – including spaces used for commercial purposes – are fully exempt.

The foundations claimed that the amendment undermines the Israel’s democratic character since it allows for discrimination against its residents.

The groups have demanded the court apply the amendment to all houses of worship, including the non-Jewish ones. Attorney Michael Decker, who represents the petitioners, said that the measure would not only bolster equality, but also allow followers of non-Jewish religions to make considerable savings.

“The municipalities charge tens of millions of shekels a year, in a manner that we consider a violation Basic Law,” he said.

Alternately, the groups have asked the court to annul the exemptions altogether.

Last month, Knesset members Moshe Gafni and Nissim Zeev have submitted a law proposal to rework the amendment and make it applicable to all religions, claiming that the amendment is not meant to discriminate against non-Jewish houses of worship.

“They want to promote the legislation quickly in order to benefit their own sector,” Decker said, estimating that the lawmakers fear that the court might strike the amendment, financially hurting synagogues.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Days on Venus are getting longer

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

Days on Venus are getting longer, and it's not because daylight saving time is being imposed on the planet. As reported by Agence France-Presse, February 29, 2012:

PARIS — Contrary to its alluring name, Venus is the planet from hell, with an atmosphere so hot, toxic and heavy that any visitor would risk being simultaneously melted, suffocated and crushed.

But not just that: the second planet from the Sun turns on its axis so slowly that, for any survivor, a Venusian day would seem interminable, for it is the equivalent of 243 days on Earth.

To make things worse, a day on Venus is getting even longer, French astronomers have discovered.

A team from the Paris Observatory analysed data from a spectrometer aboard a European orbiter, the Venus Express.

Called VIRTIS, the gadget measures infrared and visible light and is used to scan the planet’s surface beneath the thick, roiling atmosphere.

The astronomers were stunned when they checked landmarks against the last mapping of Venus, carried out between 1990 and 1994 by the U.S. probe Magellan.

At a given point in the Venusian day, landmarks were a full 20 kilometers behind where they should have been.

The team, publishing in the journal Icarus, say they have been over the observations again and again.

“After eliminating possible sources of error, we believe that the duration of the Venusian day must have changed over the 16 years,” they said in a press release.

Their calculation is that an extra six-and-a-half terrestial minutes have been added to the Venusian day during this time.

“On the astronomical scale, this is a major change,” said investigator Pierre Drossart.

The astronomers’ hypothesis is that friction by Venus’ atmosphere is braking the movement of the terrain below.

That sounds bizarre until one realises that the atmosphere is 100 kilometres thick, with extremely dense clouds of 96% carbon dioxide, driven by superwinds reaching some 350 kilometres per hour.

Atmospheric pressure at the surface is 92 times that of Earth — the equivalent of being more than 900 metres below the ocean.

“A braking effect from the atmosphere also occurs erratically on Earth, but the discrepancy is only a matter of a few tenths of a second and it is imperceptible,” Mr. Drossart told AFP.

So will Venus eventually stop spinning — or even go into reverse rotation?

“It’s difficult to say, given that we only have two points of measurement,” said Drossart.

“But theoretical models suggest that this is probably just a cyclical phenomenon. If the atmosphere speeds up, the planet slows. Then the energy goes into reverse, in a pendulum effect.”

The original article, Rotation period of Venus estimated from Venus Express VIRTIS images and Magellan altimetry, appeared in Icarus 217:2, February 2012, pp. 474-483. The February edition is a special issue devoted to Venus science.

Scientists are redefining the kilogram

Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.

Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
Proverbs 20:10, 23

As Reported by Randy Boswell of Postmedia News, February 24, 2012:

A team of Canadian researchers has made a "startling" leap forward in the international quest to establish a new, hyper-precise measurement of the kilogram, an achievement it says has moved science "closer to a redefinition of the metric system used around the world."

The investigative triumph took place in a special laboratory at the Ottawa-based National Research Council of Canada — the federal government's main scientific agency — and has been detailed in the latest issue of the journal Metrologia, published by the global headquarters of physical science, Britain's Institute of Physics.

The kilogram has long been defined by a single, man-made "international prototype" — a four-centimetre-tall cylinder of platinum — held by a Paris scientific institute, the ingot itself meant to represent the weight of one litre of water.

But the International Prototype Kilogram and its official clones at the NRC and other national labs are — in infinitesimal ways — imperfect. They can shed or accumulate atoms that, over the years, subtly throw off the accuracy of the very objects meant to be the gold standard for global measurements of mass.

In a world where advanced scientific research and various high-tech systems — from nanotechnology to satellite communication to global computer networks — increasingly rely on absolute precision in all timing, weights and measures, researchers have been driven to establish unerring and infinitely reproducible standards.

The metre, once based on a metal rod kept at the same Paris institute that possesses the IPK, has been officially redefined according to an immutable wavelength of light. And earlier this year, a contentious proposal to have "atomic" time — based on the special properties of the cesium atom — replace a system geared to the slightly irregular movements of the Earth, was seriously considered by a UN regulatory body, but ultimately deferred for more study.

Researchers in Canada and several other countries are now working to establish a new universal standard for measuring the kilogram based on two "fundamental constants of nature" — from physics, the so-called "Planck constant," named for the Nobel-winning German scientist Max Planck and calculated from the energy signature of light particles; and from chemistry, the "Avogadro constant," named for the 19th-century Italian molecular theorist Amedeo Avogadro and determined from the mass of a single silicon atom.

The Canadian breakthrough follows the NRC's acquisition in 2009 of a so-called "watt balance" from the U.K.'s National Physical Laboratory, which pioneered the search for a Planck-based kilogram but recently refocused its research priorities.

One of only two such instruments in the world, the multimillion-dollar device now owned by the NRC is a kind of super-charged scale designed to yield the Earth's most accurate measurements of mass.

But the Canadian team also is testing its watt balance calculations against separate Avogadro measurements based on the properties of a silvery, grapefruit-sized "silicon sphere" — chemistry's purest embodiment of the kilogram — held by a German research institute.

And in a first for any single scientific body in the world, the NRC researchers completed measurements using the two different methods and produced almost identical results — the vanishingly small variance expressed as just "20 parts per billion," according to the Metrologia paper.

"It's really exciting to see that convergence," said project leader Alan Steele, director of metrology — the science of measurement — at the federal agency.

"Our results agree with themselves really well."

The NPL, the British lab that build the watt balance and sold it to Canada, hailed the NRC's findings as a major advance in the quest for a better kilogram, issuing a statement that said the Canadian efforts "look set to provide considerably greater accuracy" in measuring the world's fundamental unit of mass.

Depending on the outcome of further research aimed at resolving minute discrepancies between the Canadian results and recent data from the U.S. and Europe, the latest findings could herald "the start of the end for the physical kilogram," the British institute stated.

Steele told Postmedia News on Friday that there's much more work to do. Even though Canada's measurements are converging toward a new definition of the kilo, NRC scientists are working closely with colleagues in the U.S. and Europe to try to identify the potential causes of the slight inconsistencies that remain between countries' calculations.

The instruments involved in the experiments, said Steele, are so precise that the gravitational differences between labs on the first and second floors of a research centre — or even the presence of a large delivery truck nearby — could severely skew the measurements made by a watt balance, which require exceedingly careful calibrations and compensations.

"We still have to understand why the Canadian results don't agree with some of the other results around the world," he noted. "We want not just the same answer, but the same right answer, using both the 'chemistry way' and the 'physics way.' The world will have the right answer when we have convergence of all of these things."



The original article Reconciling Planck constant determinations via watt balance and enriched-silicon measurements at NRC Canada was published in Metrologia 49:1, February 2012, pp. L8-L10.

Archaeologists to excavate the site of the battle between David and Goliath

As reported by Chippy Yan in The Epoch Times, March 3, 2012 (updated March 8, 2012):

An international archaeological dig will begin this summer at the city of Azekah in Israel, the location of the legendary battle between David and Goliath.

This famous biblical story describes a shepherd’s youngest son, David, who goes into battle for his Jewish kingdom and miraculously defeats the giant Philistine warrior Goliath.

Through this excavation, named the Lautenschläger Azekah Expedition, the archaeologists are aiming for a deeper understanding of the city to “shed light on some of the most intriguing riddles in its history throughout the second and first millennia BCE,” according to the project’s website.

Azekah was a prosperous city and historically held a strategic location, located on the western border of the ancient Jewish kingdom, next to the Philistine lands. It was conquered twice by Middle Eastern groups and now lies destroyed.

Although the collaboration is mainly between Israeli and German universities, numerous other universities around the world have joined the project, such as Duke University in the United States. Students can receive academic credit for participating, and even amateurs may participate in this effort...

...The first part of the dig will last from July 15 to Aug. 24.

For the biblical account of David and Goliath, see I Samuel 17.

More discoveries from nature showing God's greatness as Creator

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

From The Epoch Times:

Coral Embryos Can Clone Themselves Before Settlement

Sawfish Swipe Their Snouts Skillfully

Some Honey Bees Have Thrill-Seeking Personalities

Four-Winged Dinosaur Had Iridescent Plumage

How Spiders Avoid Sticking to Their Webs

The Curious Camouflage of Orchid Mantis