Arson attempt on publisher of Jewel of Medina – 3 arrested

Three men seized by armed anti-terrorist officers during an apparent arson attack on the London publisher of a novel featuring the prophet Muhammad were being questioned last night.

In a “pre-planned” operation, detectives arrested the suspects outside the home of Martin Rynja in Islington, north London, after a petrol bomb reportedly exploded. Neighbours described seeing smoke before firemen broke down the front door.

The attack was believed to be linked to the forthcoming publication of The Jewel of Medina, a fictionalised account of the relationship between Muhammad and his child bride A’isha.

The book by Sherry Jones, described by the independent publisher, Gibson Square, as a “historical novel of the love story”, has been at the centre of a growing international dispute.

Announcing his decision to publish the book earlier this year, the publisher, Martin Rynja said: “In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear. As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate.”

I’ve posted about the book and the controversy, recently. None of that bit needs updating.

Frankly, I’d add a bit of criticism for the American expert in Texas who panned a review copy of the book as soft-core porn – and passed her opinion along to Muslim websites. Another dim 21st Century version of Political Correctness.

Face it, though. People who promote violence because of their religion hangups are going to do so regardless of content or context.

Pakistan faces twin threats

How many times must they march?

A week after the bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel here, Pakistan is struggling to deal with a financial meltdown and a terrorism threat that has moved to the nation’s heart and badly shaken confidence in the new government among Pakistanis, diplomats and investors alike.

President Asif Ali Zardari met Friday in New York with representatives of a group of donor countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, who were trying to come up with $5 billion to prevent Pakistan from defaulting on its debt…

As the financial situation has deteriorated, diplomats here have become increasingly uneasy about the government’s capacity to prevent further attacks on the scale of the hotel bombing, which killed at least 53 people and wounded more than 250 others.

In an extraordinary attempt at calming the jitters, Rehman Malik, the senior adviser at the Interior Ministry, met Friday with more than 50 ambassadors to try to reassure them that their embassies and their staffs would be safe. Malik’s audience went into the meeting with “very deep concern,” a senior diplomat said. They came out barely reassured, he said…
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Back in China after a walk in space

Zhai Zhigang waves to photographers

Three Chinese astronauts emerged from their capsule Sunday upon a jubilant return to Earth after successfully completing the country’s first spacewalk mission.

The state broadcaster CCTV showed their Shenzhou-7 spaceship landing under clear skies in the grasslands of China’s northern Inner Mongolia region at 5:37 p.m. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao applauded at mission control in Beijing.

The astronauts feel very good,” the mission commander, Zhai Zhigang, said.

After landing, the astronauts were given medical examinations inside the module. They stayed inside for about 45 minutes to adapt to Earth’s gravity before crawling out of the entrance.

The astronauts waved as they emerged and were each presented with a bouquet of flowers.

The spacewalk, which was broadcast live Saturday and watched by crowds gathered around outdoor screens, further stoked national pride that has burgeoned since the Beijing Olympics.

Bravo! It’s a step forward for the whole world. And very nice that everyone made it back home safely.

Arab television audiences grow – so does criticism from Islamists, conservatives

Bab al-Hara

Many Arabs were shocked and appalled this month when a prominent Saudi cleric declared that it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that broadcast “immoral” material. But the comment, by Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan, was only the most visible part of a continuing cultural controversy over Arab television.

This summer another Saudi cleric denounced the Arab world’s most popular TV show ever – the dubbed Turkish series “Noor” – calling it “replete with evil, wickedness, moral collapse and a war on the virtues.” He also urged Muslims not to watch the series, which portrays the lives of moderate Muslims who drink wine with dinner and have premarital sexual relations.

And last week, as if to provide comic relief, a third Saudi cleric said (in all seriousness) that children should not be allowed to watch Mickey Mouse, labeling that Disney cartoon character a “soldier of Satan” who should be killed.
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Israeli PM “discovers threat” from Jewish underground

Peace activists targeted by nationalist thugs

A new ultranationalist underground is apparently active in Israel and responsible for a bombing that wounded an outspoken critic of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The attack on Thursday at the home of political scientist Zeev Sternhell rekindled fears that ideological friction in Israel could explode into internal violence as its leaders pursue a land-for-peace deal with Palestinians.

The security agencies have been ordered to deal with this case, investigate it and act with the utmost speed to bring to justice what appears to be another underground,” Olmert told his cabinet in broadcast remarks.

Sternhell, a leading opponent of settlement building in the Palestinian territories, was slightly wounded by the pipe bomb that blew up at the gate to his home in Jerusalem…

After the explosion outside Sternhell’s home, police found posters in his neighborhood offering a one million shekel ($294,000) reward to anyone killing a member of Israel’s Peace Now movement, which opposes Jewish settlement on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Perish the thought that land, peace and justice for Palestinians should be allowed public support from the Israeli public or individual activists. And we’re to believe the Israeli government and police – secret or otherwise – knew nothing of the fascist bombers before this particular act of terrorism, eh?

I know it’s hard to comprehend; but, there are lands beyond the United States where the dialectic of lies and deceit flows between government and a gullible public in a perfect stream of offal. Israel being a prime example.

Financial journalists didn’t see the economic crunch coming

It is not often that the world wakes up to the same headlines right around the globe. But that is what happened last week when the news media told the story of the international economic system going into a tailspin.

The collapse of investment banks and a huge global insurance company had media outlets using terms like “Wall Street meltdown”, “an economic 9/11”, even the “end of capitalism”…

To hear much of the global media tell it the economic crash blindsided the world, including banks, regulators and even those who had been reporting the financial world to the public.

“I don’t think anyone saw this coming, least of all the financial press,” Ryan Chittum from the Columbia Journalism Review, says. “Should financial journalists be fortune tellers? No. But should they have done a better job of reporting that the structure of Wall Street was such that something like could have happened and clearly the answer is yes…”
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Loneliness makes you cold

Loneliness and coldness are often associated in everyday language, but psychologists have found that social isolation does make people feel cold. A University of Toronto team found people feeling excluded said a room was colder than those feeling included. And people who felt left out also chose comforting hot soup, rather than an apple or soft drink…

Dr Chen-Bo Zhong, who led the research, which is published in the journal Psychological Science, said: “We found that the experience of social exclusion literally feels cold. “This may be why people use temperature-related metaphors to describe social inclusion and exclusion.”

Writing in the journal, published by the American Association of Psychological Science, they say: “An interesting direction for research would be to determine whether experiencing the warmth of an object could reduce the negative experience of social exclusion.

“Such an implication has been used metaphorically in the self-help literature, but our research suggests that eating warm soup may be a literal coping mechanism for social exclusion.”

They also suggest that raising the temperature could help someone who is feeling low – in the same way that people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are helped with light therapy.

So, turn up the thermostat – or in my case, put an extra log in the woodburning stove – and make a pot of soup, when you hit those gray, cold winter days. And all the news from Congress is about tax breaks for millionaires.

Joking aside, the research and where it may go certainly is interesting. I wonder if they’ll differentiate between frugal types like me who’d rather put on a sweater than add wood to the fire – and my wife who always adds another wood chunk to the stove – just in case the dogs are cold.

Pundits: debate even. Viewers: Obama clearly won. Why the disparity?

AP Photo by Alex Brandon

It often happens that the pundit “scoring” of a presidential debate ends up quite at odds from the polls of viewers that soon follow.

We’ve seen it again with Friday night’s debate, which most pundits (on TV and in print) scored very or fairly even, with perhaps some recognition that Obama made some small gains because he pretty much held his own on McCain’s turf. Of course, as we now know, virtually every poll taken by the networks and outside sources gave Obama an edge — and not a small one. He easily swept surveys of undecideds, even carried a Fox focus group. At least in the polls, it was no contest.

We’ll see if and how it affects the head-to-head matchup surveys in days ahead but for now we have to ask: Why did so many mainstream pundits blow it?
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