November 28, 2005

News for November 28, 2005

| Bookmark at Delicious | Print This Page | |


Search Watchman Bible Study


Is God Saying Something About Our Justice System? (November 28, 2005) - A basketball-sized piece of marble moulding fell from the facade over the entrance to the Supreme Court, landing on the steps near visitors waiting to enter the building. No one was hurt. The chunk of Vermont marble was part of the dentil molding that serves as a frame for nine sculptural figures completed in 1935. The piece that fell was over the figure of Authority, near the peak of the building’s pediment, and to the right of the figure of Liberty, who has the scales of justice on her lap. (Video: Chunk falls from Supreme Court facade) A short time later, workers loaded the roughly 40 pieces into plastic fruit crates and carried them away. Architects estimated a 12 inch by 10 inch piece broke off from the pediment, Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. A structural engineer and photographer from the Architect of the Capitol’s office planned to use a lift to inspect the pediment, Arberg said. Officials with the Office of the Architect of the Capitol conducted a routine check of the pediment two years ago and found no indications of problems, spokeswoman Eva Malecki said. The weight of the chunk was not immediately available. However, a cubic foot of Vermont marble weighs 172 pounds, said Robert Pye, director of the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor, Vt. Earlier in the morning, dozens of people had lined up in hopes of getting a seat for arguments inside the court — a practice that is not unusual. Justices were back on the bench Monday following a two-week recess. The fallen marble lay directly in the center of the path up to the court entrance. more...


Toward a partnership of hope Javier Solana - This week we mark the 10th anniversary of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership by returning to the city where it all began: Barcelona. Ten years ago I was particularly proud to preside over the launch of a unique venture: the “Barcelona process.” At the heart of that lay an inspiring vision of our relations with the Mediterranean partners, but also a call to duty. To create a zone of shared security and shared solidarity, of open markets and open societies across the Mediterranean. The way we pledged to achieve these goals was through true partnership and close cooperation between governments and citizens.

The launching of the Barcelona process was an integral part of Europe’s response to the post-Cold War situation and to globalization. Above all it was a political act. It not only recognized our interdependence, but also created a new “Mediterranean identity.” In the past 10 years, there is much that we have achieved. We are working together across the full spectrum of government responsibilities: economy, security, governance and more. No issue is considered “too sensitive” to put on the agenda. The Barcelona process has also solidified a network of interlocutors beyond governments and it has been a great laboratory of ideas.

But clearly our world has also changed since 1995. This is the post-9/11 era and we have to come to terms with it. In many respects, the Mediterranean runs the risk of becoming a dangerous crossroads of many of the perils of the modern world: poverty, poor governance, terrorism, human trafficking and political extremism. At the same time, this sea remains our joint heritage and a unique platform for cooperation. I believe we should remain true to the original Barcelona vision, while adjusting our partnership to focus on new challenges. Above all, we must inject a greater dose of urgency in everything we do. The problems are piling up fast while our capacity to respond has to keep pace.

The Euro-Med partnership is not the only international framework for multilateral cooperation with this region. But it is the most developed and in many ways preferred one. The reason is that it promotes both security and reform simultaneously. We reject those who insist that we should sequence things, saying that either conflict resolution or political reform must come first. Barcelona is about pursuing both reform and security at the same time.

It is true that the Barcelona process was born of the hopes of the Oslo peace talks. And clearly, the absence of peace between Israelis and Palestinians casts a shadow over our work. But Barcelona was about supporting the peace process, not supplanting it.

Moreover, we Europeans have been working nonstop to promote a peace accord. We have long been by far the largest donor to the Palestinians. We are now also engaged in the diplomatic process through the Quartet and in the area of security. Take our training efforts for the Palestinian police plus, our new mission as third-party monitors at a border-crossing in Gaza. These are big changes since 1995 when Europe was not directly engaged, either diplomatically or operationally, in the peace process.

Security and reform go hand in hand. Thus, we must step up our cooperation on new security threats and inject new impetus into our work on political and economic modernization. There can be no mistake: Promoting democracy, pluralism and human rights was part of the original Barcelona recipe. For us Europeans, these are essential values. That is why it is natural to seek to promote them abroad and why we are glad that our Mediterranean partners agree on their importance. We all know that successful governments must meet the aspirations of their people.

What are we doing concretely? We are providing monitoring and assistance for the organization of elections. This often attracts headlines. But we are also working on the “building blocks” of democracy, through support for civil society, by strengthening the capacities and independence of the judiciary, and by promoting respect for human rights.

Many Mediterranean countries say they want to advance on the path of political reform but that it should be home-grown and that they need help. I agree. So I am pleased that the EU will launch a so-called governance facility. This will not be a cosmetic initiative, but one that, over seven years, will offer several hundred million euros to those countries that are making the greatest efforts concerning governance reform. They can then spend the extra money on the priorities they have set themselves. This is what I call a true partnership for political reform.

We should also give more money to education and we will. Education is the silver bullet. Concretely, this means improving standards, eradicating illiteracy, reforming the curriculum, and ensuring equality between girls and boys. Education also means openness to each other’s ideas. That is why we should increase international exchanges across the Mediterranean.

Managing the growing challenge of migration adroitly is another test of our partnership. Legal migration is an economic and demographic imperative for Europe, which must get better at integrating those who seek a better life on its shores. But illegal migration is often based on a cynical exploitation of the weak by human traffickers. All of us, countries of origin, transit and destination, have an interest in tackling these unscrupulous networks.

There will be a lot of speeches and declarations at the summit. Amid all this, let us remember that the Euro-Med partnership is there to serve our citizens, to prepare our societies for a challenging future. For me, the Barcelona process is essentially a project of hope and a means to banish hopelessness. It is our collective duty and our common interest to realize its full potential.

Javier Solana is the EU’s high representative for the Common Foreign & Security Policy (CFSP).

For more prophecy discussion on current events in the Middle East, go here. And here for coverage on the November 27/28 summit.

EU stays mum on East Jerusalem as ties with Israel improve (November 23, 2005) - The European Union has prepared a harsh report on Israel’s activity in East Jerusalem, but has decided to delay its release in the wake of the recent warming of ties between Israel and Europe. EU foreign ministers discussed the Middle East in a meeting Monday and decided to express “deep concern” over Israel’s activities in East Jerusalem and its environs, including establishing settlements, constructing the West Bank separation fence and demolishing homes. According to the EU, such Israeli activities minimize the chance for a final-status agreement over Jerusalem, threaten to make any solution based on the coexistence of two states impossible, and conflict with international law. The foreign ministers called for certain EU officials to prepare a detailed analysis of the situation in East Jerusalem, to be adopted and publicized during the next foreign ministers meeting. Political officials in Jerusalem said the EU report had already been prepared by European consuls in East Jerusalem and that the report severely criticizes Israel’s actions in the area. However, the foreign ministers apparently decided Monday that the timing was not appropriate - Europe is finally set to play an active role in the political process by sending monitors to the Rafah border crossing and establishing a European delegation to improve the Palestinian police. more...


Moscow to close foreign groups (November 23, 2005) - Russia’s parliament is expected to approve legislation today that would shut down foreign-funded human rights and pro-democracy groups while tightening controls over domestic civic organizations. Among the foreign groups that would have to close their Russian operations are some of the world's most prominent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Ford Foundation. The Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute, which aim to spread democracy by training political parties around the world, also would be forced to restructure or halt operations. The bill must pass a second reading in the State Duma on Dec. 9 and be approved by the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, but with all major political parties supporting it, there is little doubt that it will be passed. “If this law passes, we would essentially be closed down along with a whole range of other international organizations,” said Diederik Lohman, a senior researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, a frequent critic of Russia’s human rights record. “This goes beyond anything else in the former Soviet Union. Uzbekistan and Belarus have pretty draconian NGO laws, but even those countries don’t have a law that explicitly bars branch organizations of foreign NGOs.” Amnesty International yesterday expressed “serious concern” over the draft law and called it “a serious attack on freedom of association.” more...


Sharon Quits Likud, Calls for New Elections (November 21, 2005) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday he gambled and broke away from his hardline Likud Party because he did not want to squander peacemaking opportunities created by Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip or waste time with political wrangling. Sharon, whose split from Likud electrified Israeli politics and set the stage for likely March elections, ruled out unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, however. He also said he remains committed to the internationally backed “road map” plan, which calls for a negotiated peace deal culminating in a Palestinian state. “There is no additional disengagement plan,” he told a televised news conference, referring to the summer’s Gaza withdrawal. “There is the road map.” Sharon’s decision to form a new party he described as “liberal” cemented his transformation from the hawkish patron of Israel’s settler movement to a moderate peacemaker reconciled to the inevitability of a Palestinian state. Weekend polls indicated Sharon, Israel’s most popular politician, could marshal enough support to return to the prime minister’s office for a third term at the head of a moderate coalition. more...


Earthquake Hits Iran: Kills 10, Flattens 7 Villages (November 28, 2005) - An earthquake with a magnitude of at least 5.9 shook a sparsely populated area of southern Iran on Sunday, flattening seven villages, killing 10 people and injuring 70, officials and state-run television said. The tremor was felt as far away as Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Heidar Alishvandi, the governor of Qeshm, was quoted by state television as saying rescue teams were deployed to the affected area, and people in the wrecked villages moved quickly to safely. Another provincial official, Ghasem Karami, told The Associated Press that high casualties were not expected because the area was not heavily developed. Tehran’s seismologic center said the quake was of magnitude 5.9, but the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., said it had a magnitude of 6.1. A magnitude-6.0 quake can cause severe damage. Iran’s seismologic center said the epicenter was in the waters of the Persian Gulf between the port city of Bandar Abbas and Qeshm Island, about 940 miles south of Tehran. The USGS said the quake was 35 miles southwest of Bandar Abbas, which has about 500,000 residents. more...


Man held in child’s ‘ritual’ abduction (November 28, 2005) - David Rodriguez believed a satanic ritual would help him get his girlfriend back, but he lacked a key ingredient -- a little girl, prosecutors said. And so on Friday afternoon, Rodriguez, 18, and a buddy allegedly kidnapped a 6-year-old girl and her 8-year-old brother while they waited for their mother outside a Little Village library, authorities say. But prosecutors said Rodriguez was arrested before carrying out his demonic plan, which authorities said involved carving a pentagram in the girl’s chest. On Saturday, Cook County Judge Kevin Sheehan ordered Rodriguez, charged with aggravated kidnapping, held on $500,000 bond. The judge also ordered that Rodriguez undergo a mental evaluation. His unidentified alleged juvenile accomplice was also in custody, but there was no information about any possible charges, authorities said. Prosecutors said Rodriguez has no criminal history. In court, Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Tracy Senica said Rodriguez and his friend grabbed the girl and boy by their wrists and led them through back alleys to Rodriguez’s shabby two-story brick home in the 4200 block of West 25th Street. Rodriguez didn't need the little boy, so he gave him a fake note to take to a nearby clinic, Senica said. It was unclear what the note said. While the little girl and Rodriguez’s friend waited outside the home, Rodriguez went inside to retrieve some candles and incense. Meanwhile, several adults apparently spotted the 8-year-old boy crying and standing alone. The boy told them about the kidnapping and apparently helped lead them back to Rodriguez, Senica said. Police arrived, and Rodriguez was arrested. He later gave a handwritten statement to investigators, detailing his plan, Senica said. “He hoped to conduct a demonic ritual to [get] back his ex-girlfriend,” Senica told the judge.


Pro-Saddam insurgents embrace holy war-official (November 28, 2005) - Saddam Hussein loyalists leading the insurgency in Iraq have reinvented themselves as Islamic militants in a deadly new strategy generating plenty of recruits and funding, Iraq’s national security adviser said on Sunday. Mowaffaq al-Rubaie said the image makeover from secular insurgents to religious warriors was far more worrying than a deadly campaign waged by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al Qaeda in Iraq leader, and his suicide bombers. Embracing militant Islam has enabled Saddam’s former agents with long years of intelligence and military experience to expand their support base, he said. “This is very dangerous. These people now have broader appeal among angry Iraqis and money from Arabs in regional states,” he told Reuters in an interview. “It could take years to defeat them.” Saddam and his pan-Arab socialist Baath party imposed secularism in Iraq throughout decades of iron-fisted rule. Muslim militants either kept their beliefs to themselves or were jailed, or worse. But Islamic fundamentalism has gained a foothold since a U.S.-led invasion toppled the former president in 2003, with a proliferation of Sunni Arab militants opposed to the Shi'ite- led government backed by Washington.

FROM SOCIALISTS TO HOLY WARRIORS

Al Qaeda stepped in, forming loose alliances with Saddam’s former Baathists as the insurgency evolved into daily suicide bombings and assassinations that have killed tens of thousands of civilians and security forces. Rubaie said Saddam loyalists now portray themselves as holy warriors, a potent and sophisticated force in a country already plagued by Arab militant suicide bombers who enter over porous borders. “They no longer refer to themselves as the Arab Baath Socialists but Arab Baath al-Takfireen (those who declare other Muslims infidels),” he said. more...


Senate pressured to hold hearings on ET (November 27, 2005) - A number of groups have joined forces with former Canadian Defence Minister Paul Hellyer in urging Parliament to hold public hearings on ‘exopolitics’ - or relations with extraterrestrials (ETs). Three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were reacting to a speech made by Hellyer in September in Toronto in which he warned that “UFOs are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head.” Hellyer said he is concerned the United States is preparing weapons for use against the aliens and could get the whole world into an “intergalactic war.” According to Hellyer, the Americans’ interest in returning to the moon is in part based on the desire to build a forward military base there. The three organizations backing Hellyer’s request for hearings are the Institute for Co-operation in Space (ICIS), the Toronto Exopolitics Symposium and the Disclosure Project, a U.S.-based organization that has assembled high-level military-intelligence witnesses of a possible ET presence. Earlier this month, the Senate replied to the ICIS that their full agenda precluded any hearings in the near future on ET issues. “That does not deter us,” one spokesman for the NGOs said, “We are going ahead with our request to Prime Minister Paul Martin and the official Opposition leaders in the House of Commons now, and we will re-apply to the Senate of Canada in early 2006. “Time is on the side of open disclosure that there are ethical extraterrestrial civilizations visiting Earth.”


Fifty babies a year are alive after abortion (November 27, 2005) - A GOVERNMENT agency is launching an inquiry into doctors’ reports that up to 50 babies a year are born alive after botched National Health Service abortions. The investigation, by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH), comes amid growing unease among clinicians over a legal ambiguity that could see them being charged with infanticide. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which regulates methods of abortion, has also mounted its own investigation. Its guidelines say that babies aborted after more than 21 weeks and six days of gestation should have their hearts stopped by an injection of potassium chloride before being delivered. In practice, few doctors are willing or able to perform the delicate procedure. For the abortion of younger foetuses, labour is induced by drugs in the expectation that the infant will not survive the birth process. Guidelines say that doctors should ensure that the drugs they use prevent such babies being alive at birth. In practice, according to Stuart Campbell, former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s hospital, London, a number do survive. “They can be born breathing and crying at 19 weeks’ gestation,” he said. “I am not anti-abortion, but as far as I am concerned this is sub-standard medicine.” The number of terminations carried out in the 18th week of pregnancy or later has risen from 5,166 in 1994 to 7,432 last year. Prenatal diagnosis for conditions such as Down’s syndrome is increasing and foetuses with the condition are routinely aborted, even though many might be capable of leading fulfilling lives. In the past decade, doctors’ skill in saving the lives of premature babies has improved radically: at least 70%-80% of babies in their 23rd or 24th week of gestation now survive long-term. Abortion on demand is allowed in Britain up to 24 weeks — more than halfway through a normal pregnancy and the highest legal limit for such terminations in Europe. France and Germany permit “social” abortions only up to the 10th and 12th weeks respectively. Doctors are increasingly uneasy about aborting babies who could be born alive. “If viability is the basis on which they set the 24-week limit for abortion, then the simplest answer is to change the law and reduce the upper limit to 18 weeks,” said Campbell, who last year published a book showing images of foetuses’ facial expressions and “walking” movements taken with a form of 3-D ultrasound. more...


Tehran to Pyongyang: Trade oil for nuke help (November 27, 2005) - Western intelligence sources, cited in yesterday’s edition of Der Spiegel, say Iran has asked North Korea for assistance with its nuclear missile program in exchange for oil and natural gas. According to the German daily, a senior Iranian official visited Pyongyang in October to tender the offer. While North Korea’s response to the deal was unclear, revelation of Tehran’s outreach fuels further suspicion Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Last week, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency revealed that Iran had received what appeared to be blueprints for the core of a nuclear warhead in 1987 through the network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan’s nuclear program. During the same week, Tehran announced it had begun converting a second batch of uranium into gas, a necessary step toward enrichment for generation of electricity or development of a nuclear bomb. As WorldNetDaily has previously reported, Tehran is getting secret help for its Shahib 3 missile program from former Russian military personnel who are acting as go-betweens on a deal struck in 2003 between North Korea and Iran. The weapons technology, Western intelligence analysts believe, will be sufficient for Iran to develop a missile with a range of 2,200 miles while carrying a 1.2-ton payload – enough to deliver a nuclear weapon to Israel and most of Europe. more...


14 die, hundreds injured in China 5.7 Magnitude (November 27, 2005) - At least 14 people died, hundreds more were injured and thousands of houses collapsed when a magnitude-5.7 earthquake struck near a popular tourist destination in east China on Saturday, officials said. The quake, the biggest in the region in half a century, could be felt in cities hundreds of kilometres away when it hit at 8:49am, according to the China National Seismic Observation Network. “We’d just finished our breakfast, when we heard a huge roar, like someone setting off really loud firecrackers,” said a Civil Affairs official in the city of Ruichang in Jiangxi province. “Then, the houses started shaking, and we just jumped outside,” the official, surnamed Liu, said. Seven hours after the quake, official media reported that 14 were confirmed dead, while more than 370 had been injured, 20 of them seriously. Hundreds of thousands of people were also reported to have fled their homes, fearing further quakes. The epicentre was near the city of Jiujiang, home to half a million people and a traditional scenic spot that was praised by Tang dynasty poets more than a millennium ago. Thousands of rural homes were flattened in the quake, one official said. more...


Sharon readies plan for total West Bank pullout by ‘08 (November 25, 2005) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has drafted a plan for Israel’s withdrawal from virtually all of the West Bank by 2008. Political sources said Sharon has begun briefing senior U.S. officials of his intention to withdraw unilaterally from more than 95 percent of the West Bank. They said Sharon, who quit the ruling Likud Party on Nov. 21, would seek a U.S. and international security presence in the area as well as a commitment for the dismantling of Palestinian insurgency groups. On Wednesday, Haim Ramon, a Cabinet minister who joined Sharon’s new party, said the prime minister plans to withdraw unilaterally to what would constitute Israel’s final borders, Middle East Newsline reported. Ramon said Sharon does not plan to discuss this before the parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 28. “His decision [to quit the Likud] stems from his desire to bring the state of Israel to permanent borders during his term of office,” Eli Landau, a longtime confidante of Sharon, said. “He knows that this step will be a dramatic one.” The sources said Sharon’s plan was based on an assessment that the Palestinian Authority was not prepared to sign a formal peace agreement with Israel. They said that under this scenario Sharon would order a unilateral withdrawal from more than 90 percent of the West Bank, but retain control over air space. more...


PA admits Jewish towns turned into ‘training camps’ (November 25, 2005) - The Palestinian Authority admitted in an official document published that today parts of Gush Katif, the former Jewish communities of Gaza, are now “training camps” for terror groups. In an exclusive story last week, WND reported Hamas has turned Neve Dekalim, the former capital of Gush Katif, into a “martyrs training camp,” and has used the territory to fire rockets into Israel. Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef yesterday toured Gaza’s former Jewish communities and detailed a PA plan to bring security to the area. Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in August, the land that comprised Gush Katif has been the scene of regular internal Palestinian clashes. An official dossier of Yousef’s schedule released today by the Interior Ministry states, “The Minister Nasser Yousef toured the newly liberated areas of Gaza, parts of which are used by the Palestinian groups as training camps.” As WND reported, in what some expelled Jewish residents of the area called the “ultimate insult,” Hamas leaders said they turned Neve Dekalim into a “martyr training camp” and have used the territory to launch rockets into Israel. more...


Colombian volcano spews ash, fumes (November 25, 2005) - A volcano erupted Thursday in southwestern Colombia, spewing smoke and ash, and raising fears for the safety of nearby villagers, officials said. Police and emergency officials were on high alert after the 14,110-foot Galeras volcano became active at dawn and dumped heaps of ash on the city of Pasto, 12 miles away. “It was a brief eruption of ash for 30 minutes that was not preceded by a temblor inside the volcano,” said Marta Lucia Calvache of Colombia’s Volcanology Institute. “But there is still a thin plume of ash leaving the crater, and we can’t rule out the possibility of further eruptions.” The government this month ordered the preventive evacuation of thousands of people living in the shadow of the volcano amid signs of an imminent eruption. But many farmers are believed to have defied the order and stayed behind, fearful of losing their livelihoods by leaving crops unattended. more...


US Marines are locked in battle with Syrian troops (November 25, 2005) - US Marines are locked in battle with Syrian troops after crossing the border from Iraq into Syria at a point west of al Qaim. Both sides have suffered casualties. US soldiers crossed over after Damascus was given an ultimatum Thursday, Nov. 24, to hand over a group of senior commanders belonging to Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda force. According to US intelligence, the group had fled to Syria to escape an American attack in Mosul. Syrian border guards opened fire on the American force.


Cold Snap Grips Europe (November 28, 2005) - A sudden winter freeze gripped parts of northern Europe on Saturday with heavy snowfalls cutting power, cancelling football matches and spreading air and road traffic chaos. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was shut for most of Saturday as ice made its staircases treacherous, while heavy snowfalls meant thousands of people in France and Germany faced plummeting temperatures without electricity. “We hope power will be restored tonight. Our teams are out there working on it,” a spokeswoman for Electricite de France said. Some 7,000 homes out of 17,000 that suffered power failures in France’s western Vendee region overnight were still without electricity by nightfall on Saturday, she added. A quarter of a million people were also without electricity in Germany's most populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), authorities there said on Saturday. Soccer fans in the Belgian city of Liege were disappointed when a keenly awaited clash between Anderlecht and Standard, two giants of the premier division, was postponed because of the cold. A German league match between MSV Duisburg and Cologne was also postponed because of heavy snow. more...


Erasing America (November 28, 2005) - The United States of America, once—long ago—a Constitutional republic, is being erased. The erasure of America isn’t reported on the 6 o’clock news, of course. It isn’t much noticed, because it is happening too slowly—although the pace has increased over the past couple of decades. Be this as it may, there is no need to speak of “conspiracy theories.” For one thing, it isn’t a theory. It is as much a fact as gravity. It is being carried out in plain sight, not behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms. Anyone with Web access can follow the process. Those in the business of erasing America know, however, that they are operating in a culture whose educational system has been strip-mined, so to speak. America’s masses by and large don’t know what a Constitutional republic is, and use the Web the same way they use television—for entertainment. But all you need to know is there, and you don’t have to stick with NewsWithViews.com or Steven Yates’s blog. Go, for example, to the website of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). There you will find a document entitled Building a North American Community. It first appeared on the site this past spring. Checking in at 47 pages excluding acknowledgements and other front matter, Building a North American Community provides a blueprint for the integration of the United States, Mexico and Canada under a single supranational authority. This plan would, for all practical purposes, dissolve the borders between each nation and end the lip-service that must still be paid to the Constitution within our own. It would bring NAFTA to fruition, building more of the “architecture of a new international system” about which Dr. Henry Kissinger spoke candidly back in 1993 when NAFTA was being accorded bipartisan support as a “free trade” agreement. more...


Scatterbrained? You Need a Thought Bouncer (November 28, 2005) - When you forget a face or can’t find your car keys, it’s not because your brain is out of storage space. You just aren’t filtering out other thoughts well enough, a new study finds. The research contradicts a popular notion that memory capacity is solely dependent on how much information you can cram into your noggin. Rather, it shows that if you can disregard some of what you see, you’ll do a better job remembering the visual input you deem important. Researchers measured brainwaves as objects popped into the minds of the test subjects, who watched colored rectangles appear on a computer screen. In one experiment, researchers told the subjects to focus on two red rectangles and ignore two blue ones. Without exception, one group had all the rectangles in mind, while another group of individuals -- who were already deemed to have high memory capacity -- consistently excelled at dismissing the blue rectangles. “People differed systematically, and dramatically, in their ability to keep irrelevant items out of awareness,” said study leader Edward Vogel of the University of Oregon. Vogel thinks of this ability to focus as akin to having a thought bouncer in the brain, managing crowd control. The results, detailed in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Nature, suggest ways to improve memory abilities. “Being ‘scatterbrained’ is often a symptom of a hectic modern life in which we are often overcommitted, overworked, and inundated with information,” Vogel told LiveScience. “Given such an environment, it would not be surprising if many of our important cognitive control processes become overtaxed and less efficient. Attentional training may be able to improve one's ability to bounce irrelevant information from awareness.” Not that the lack of a bouncer is necessarily bad thing. “There may be advantages to having a lot of seemingly irrelevant information coming to mind,” Vogel points out. “Being a bit scattered tends to be a trait of highly imaginative people.” But for those who would like to do better at keeping track of their thoughts, help might be on the way. Vogel’s team is working on focusing drills based on the new research. Other work by Vogel’s University of Oregon colleague Michael Posner has found that five days of attention training helped children develop their memory bouncer and raise scores on general intelligence tests. “It appears that these functions can be improved through training, at least during childhood,” Vogel says. “Interestingly, there has been some recent evidence that similar improvements can also be seen in adults who have been trained on certain video games.” more...


Tel Aviv To Become Gay Capital of the World (November 25, 2005) - Israeli tourism officials announced this week that they plan on turning Tel Aviv into the gay capital of the world. Tel Aviv is known throughout the world as “The White City” due to the many Bauhaus-style structures that adorn its streets, but the city may soon be called “The Pink City,” as tourism industry heads are planning on transforming the city into the gay capital of the world, Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported. “Tel Aviv and gay people are a perfect fit,” an Israel Hotel Association (IHA) official said. The idea was born when IHA Director-General Eli Ziv visited London recently to participate in the 2005 World Travel Market exhibition. During the exhibition Ziv met with representatives of the homo-lesbian travel industry, and discovered an audience that would travel just about anywhere for a good party, even to the Middle East. “The gay community has amazing consumer power, and Tel Aviv has a lot to offer to this community,” Ziv explained. “We have the beach, sun, culture, and nightclubs. To our knowledge, gays are capable of hopping on a plane and traveling to the other side of the world just to participate in parties and events that are related to the gay community.” Tourism Ministry Director-General Eli Cohen said he would offer any financial assistance necessary to turn Tel Aviv into the gay capital of the world, and he is not alone: TUI, Europe’s largest tourism conglomerate, has recently decided to offer charter flights to Tel Aviv. Israeli tourism officials said they believe the decision would facilitate the travel of thousands of gays to the country. During the biblical period, the coastal area of modern day Israel was inhabited by the Philistines, while the Israelites lived in the hilly regions. The cultic practices of the Philistines included temple prostitution, noted for its debauchery, and the worship of multiple gods. In contrast, the children of Israel worshipped one God and were given a code of ethics, called the Torah (Gen.–Deut.). In the Torah, homosexual activity was forbidden. Interestingly, In Israel today, the more liberal, secular society tends to live in the coastal areas, and the more Torah observant live in the inland and more hilly areas, just as in days of old. more...


Multi-Pronged Hizbullah Attack on Northern Israel (November 22, 2005) - In a massive offensive, Hizbullah terrorists fired Katyusha rockets and mortar shells at Israeli targets and infiltrated an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) position in the Har Dov region on November 21, wounding nine–three seriously. Dozens of Katyusha rockets were fired at the cities of Kiryat Shemona, Metulah, and other targets in the Galilee throughout the afternoon and evening of Monday, November 21. In addition, two Hizbullah terrorists infiltrated the IDF’s Gladiola position, wounding four soldiers, including one seriously. The injured soldiers were evacuated to Haifa’s Rambam Hospital. Reports from the scene say the rocket attacks were particularly intense. The attacks then continued later in the evening, with rockets launched at the Galilee city of Metulah, followed by an IDF Northern Command announcement for all residents of the northern Galilee to enter their bomb shelters. The Metulah attack directly struck a home. Residents of nearby Kibbutz Snir (communal settlement), in the Galilee panhandle below Har Dov, took cover in their bomb shelters during the afternoon attack, as one rocket struck the kibbutz itself. As a precaution, children in three other Galilee kibbutzim were also rushed into bomb shelters due to the bombardment. During the barrage, Israeli security forces exchanged fire with several terrorists near the Arab village of Rajar, which straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border. Four Hizbullah terrorists were killed in the exchange. The IDF launched an air strike against a Hizbullah command post and surrounding roads used by the terrorists. Political commentators predict that Israel will not offer a stronger response than that already taken for fear that a more intense reaction would play into the hands of Hizbullah Chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who would benefit politically from an escalated conflagration. There has been a heightened alert along the northern border in recent days, with the reception of intelligence information pointing to planned Hizbullah attacks and kidnappings.


Hamas Lays Out Post-Election Agenda (November 20, 2005) - The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) on November 18 published a translation of an October interview in which Gaza-based Hamas Chief Mahmoud al-Zahar laid out his group’s post-election agenda. “Hamas’ mission upon joining the [Palestinian Authority] Legislative Council will be to eliminate the last remnants” of the so-called “Oslo” peace process, Zahar told elaph.com. Should Hamas one day control a majority of seats in the parliament and be asked to form the government, it will go one step further and end all relations with the Jewish state. “The national interest demands that we not cooperate with Israel in the security, political, or economic spheres,” Zahar explained. “The facts should lead us to cut off our relations with the Israeli enemy by all means. The question is whether to do this gradually or all at once.” Hamas is expected to garner up to 40% of the vote when Palestinians go to the polls in late January, giving the group considerable influence over official policy. Due to its overtly destructive agenda, Israel continues to insist the Palestinian Authority (PA) and western nations involved in the peace process prohibit Hamas from participating in the election, or risk the collapse of everything they have worked for. But following this summer's withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas views Israel as a vanquished foe, and “the defeated [party] does not dictate conditions,” Zahar said. Public opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of Palestinian Arabs agree with that view. And as for disarming, Zahar said everyone concerned can forget about it. “We will join the Legislative Council and serve the Palestinian street with our weapons in hand,” he insisted. “We want to turn into the weapon of resistance in all the Land.” more...


Hamas Leader Signals Resurgence of Terror Attacks (November 18, 2005) - Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal says there is no reason to maintain the “calm” to which his group has agreed, signaling a possible resurgence of terror attacks against Israeli targets, Israel Radio reported on November 18. Apparently basing their report on Arabic-language newspapers, the radio said Meshal called for the postponement of a summit of Palestinian groups scheduled to take place in Cairo at the end of the month because there was no reason to refrain from attacks. Israel Radio also said that Meshal had spoken by cell phone to Palestinian prisoners held in Israel's Ketziot Prison and told them that the Palestinian Authority security services were aiding Israel by arresting suspected militants in the West Bank.