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10/4/2009 2:31 AM
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Sooner or later, I had to open a thread of this kind - eventually science may deserve its own thread - because I believe in providing a concrete secular context and background for Benedict XVI's Pontificate, in my puny effort to chronicle his Pontificate as best and as comprehensively as I can.

So, here comes Ardi, far older than Lucy... pushing the KNOWN frontiers of human evolution from the apes, in Darwin's double jubilee year. The anthropological 'detective' work is fascinating.

Oldest hominid skeleton provides
new evidence for human evolution

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, October 1, 2009 — A Los Alamos National Laboratory geologist is part of an international research team responsible for discovering the oldest nearly intact skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus, who lived 4.4 million years ago. The discovery reveals the biology of the first stage of human evolution better than anything seen to date.

The 17-year investigation into the discovery of the extremely fragile remains of the small ground ape, found in the Afar region of Ethiopia, is described today in a special issue of the journal Science, which includes 11 papers about the discovery.

Nearly 15 scientists from 10 different countries were responsible for the 1994 discovery, including Los Alamos geologist Giday Wolde Gabriel, who led the field geology investigations and sampling of ancient lavas and ashes that were used to determine the age of the fossilized remains.

The fossil, nicknamed Ardi, is the earliest skeleton known from the human branch of the primate family tree. The branch includes Homo sapiens as well as species closer to humans than to chimpanzees and bonobos.

The discoveries provide new insights about how hominids — the family of great apes comprising humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans — may have emerged from an ancestral ape.

Until the discovery of Ardi, the earliest well-known stage of human evolution was Australopithecus, the small-brained, fully bipedal ape man that lived between 4 million and 1 million years ago.

The most famous Australopithecus fossil is the 3.2-million-year-old Lucy, found in 1974 about 45 miles north of where Ardi would later be discovered. Ardi's skeleton and associated Ardipithecus ramidus remains are older and more primitive than Australopithecus.

After Lucy's discovery, there was some expectation that when earlier hominid remains were found, they would converge to a chimpanzee-like anatomy, based on the genetic similarity of humans and chimps. The Ardipithecus ramidus fossils do not, however, corroborate this expectation.

Ardi's skeleton contains enough of the skull, teeth, pelvis, legs, feet, arms, and hands to estimate her body weight and height; that she walked on two legs on the ground, but climbed trees and spent time in them as well; and that she probably was omnivorous.

Perhaps surprising, Ardi and her companions did not have limb proportions like chimps or gorillas, but rather like those of extinct apes or even monkeys, and her hands also are not chimpanzee- or gorilla-like, but more closely related to earlier extinct apes.

WoldeGabriel and his colleagues used field and laboratory geological methods to determine the age of the extremely fragile fossils by painstakingly analyzing and dating the stratigraphic markers of ancient lavas, ashes, and sedimentary deposits in which the bones were discovered. He also was able to precisely characterize the environment in which Ardi lived.

Ardi's woodland home included fresh-water springs and small patches of fairly dense forest. Palm trees graced the forest edges, and grasslands extended perhaps many kilometers away.

Other fossils associated with Ardi included fig and hackenberry trees; land snails; diverse birds, including owls, parrots, and peafowl; small mammals such as shrews, mice, and bats; and other animals such as porcupines, hyenas, bears, pigs, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, two kinds of monkey, and several different types of antelope.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to look back in time into the lives of mankind's oldest relatives, said WoldeGabriel. This is a fascinating and important discovery.

WoldeGabriel's research collaborators include Tim White, University of California at Berkeley; Berhane Asfaw, Rift Valley Research Service, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Paul Renne, Berkeley Geochronology Center; Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Cleveland Museum of Natural History; C. Owen Lovejoy, Kent State University; and Gen Suwa, University of Tokyo.

Here's the full article introducing Ardi in the Oct. 2 issue of SCIENCE magazine:

Ardipithecus ramidus:
A New Kind of Ancestor

by Ann Gibbons

In this special issue of Science, the oldest known hominin skeleton, Ardipithecus ramidus, reveals the upright origins of humankind. Third photo shows the kind of woodland habitat Ardi had; fourth photo is Aramis where her bones were found.

Every day, scientists add new pages to the story of human evolution by deciphering clues to our past in everything from the DNA in our genes to the bones and artifacts of thousands of our ancestors. But perhaps once each generation, a spectacular fossil reveals a whole chapter of our prehistory all at once.

In 1974, it was the famous 3.2-million-year-old skeleton "Lucy," who proved in one stroke that our ancestors walked upright before they evolved big brains.

Ever since Lucy's discovery, researchers have wondered what came before her. Did the earliest members of the human family walk upright like Lucy or on their knuckles like chimpanzees and gorillas? Did they swing through the trees or venture into open grasslands?

Researchers have had only partial, fleeting glimpses of Lucy's own ancestors — the earliest hominins, members of the group that includes humans and our ancestors (and are sometimes called hominids).

Now, in a special section beginning on page 60 and online, a multidisciplinary international team presents the oldest known skeleton of a potential human ancestor, 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus from Aramis, Ethiopia.

Artist's reconstructions show how Ardi's skeleton, muscles, and body looked and how she would have moved on top of branches. Photos show the team responsible for the discovery. Gen Suwa (top left) in Tokyo focused on the skull; C. Owen Lovejoy (top right) in Kent, Ohio, studied postcranial bones; and Yohannes Haile-Selassie and Berhane Asfaw found and analyzed key fossils in Ethiopia; and Tim White (lower left) with Afar jelpers in the field.

This remarkably rare skeleton is not the oldest putative hominin, but it is by far the most complete of the earliest specimens. It includes most of the skull and teeth, as well as the pelvis, hands, and feet—parts that the authors say reveal an "intermediate" form of upright walking, considered a hallmark of hominins.

"We thought Lucy was the find of the century but, in retrospect, it isn't," says paleoanthropologist Andrew Hill of Yale University. "It's worth the wait."

To some researchers' surprise, the female skeleton doesn't look much like a chimpanzee, gorilla, or any of our closest living primate relatives. Even though this species probably lived soon after the dawn of humankind, it was not transitional between African apes and humans.

"We have seen the ancestor, and it is not a chimpanzee," says paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, co-director of the Middle Awash research group, which discovered and analyzed the fossils.

Instead, the skeleton and pieces of at least 35 additional individuals of Ar. ramidus reveal a new type of early hominin that was neither chimpanzee nor human. Although the team suspects that Ar. ramidus may have given rise to Lucy's genus, Australopithecus, the fossils "show for the first time that there is some new evolutionary grade of hominid that is not Australopithecus, that is not Homo," says paleontologist Michel Brunet of the College de France in Paris.

In 11 papers published in this issue and online, the team of 47 researchers describes how Ar. ramidus looked and moved.

The skeleton, nicknamed "Ardi," is from a female who lived in a woodland, stood about 120 centimeters tall, and weighed about 50 kilograms.

She was thus as big as a chimpanzee and had a brain size to match. But she did not knuckle-walk or swing through the trees like living apes. Instead, she walked upright, planting her feet flat on the ground, perhaps eating nuts, insects, and small mammals in the woods.

She was a "facultative" biped, say the authors, still living in both worlds — upright on the ground but also able to move on all fours on top of branches in the trees, with an opposable big toe to grasp limbs.

"These things were very odd creatures," says paleoanthropologist Alan Walker of Pennsylvania State University, University Park. "You know what Tim [White] once said: If you wanted to find something that moved like these things, you'd have to go to the bar in Star Wars."

Most researchers, who have waited 15 years for the publication of this find, agree that Ardi is indeed an early hominin. They praise the detailed reconstructions needed to piece together the crushed bones.

"This is an extraordinarily impressive work of reconstruction and description, well worth waiting for," says paleoanthropologist David Pilbeam of Harvard University.

"They did this job very, very well," agrees neurobiologist Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

But not everyone agrees with the team's interpretations about how Ar. ramidus walked upright and what it reveals about our ancestors. "The authors ... are framing the debate that will inevitably follow," because the description and interpretation of the finds are entwined, says Pilbeam.

"My first reaction is to be skeptical about some of the conclusions," including that human ancestors never went through a chimpanzee-like phase.

Other researchers are focusing intently on the lower skeleton, where some of the anatomy is so primitive that they are beginning to argue over just what it means to be "bipedal."

The pelvis, for example, offers only "circumstantial" evidence for upright walking, says Walker. But however the debate about Ardi's locomotion and identity evolves, she provides the first hard evidence that will inform and constrain future ideas about the ancient hominin bauplan.

The first glimpse of this strange creature came on 17 December 1992 when a former graduate student of White's, Gen Suwa, saw a glint among the pebbles of the desert pavement near the village of Aramis. It was the polished surface of a tooth root, and he immediately knew it was a hominin molar.

Over the next few days, the team scoured the area on hands and knees, as they do whenever an important piece of hominin is found, and collected the lower jaw of a child with the milk molar still attached. The molar was so primitive that the team knew they had found a hominin both older and more primitive than Lucy.

Yet the jaw also had derived traits — novel evolutionary characters —shared with Lucy's species, Au. afarensis, such as an upper canine shaped like a diamond in side view.

The team reported 15 years ago in Nature that the fragmentary fossils belonged to the "long-sought potential root species for the Hominidae." (They first called it Au. ramidus, then, after finding parts of the skeleton, changed it to Ar. ramidus — for the Afar words for "root" and "ground.")

In response to comments that he needed leg bones to prove Ar. ramidus was an upright hominin, White joked that he would be delighted with more parts, specifically a thigh and an intact skull, as though placing an order.

Filling a gap. Ardipithecus provides a link between earlier and later hominins, as seen in this timeline showing important hominin fossils and taxa.

Within 2 months, the team delivered. In November 1994, as the fossil hunters crawled up an embankment, Berkeley graduate student Yohannes Haile-Selassie of Ethiopia, now a paleoanthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, spotted two pieces of a bone from the palm of a hand. That was soon followed by pieces of a pelvis; leg, ankle, and foot bones; many of the bones of the hand and arm; a lower jaw with teeth—and a cranium.

By January 1995, it was apparent that they had made the rarest of rare finds, a partial skeleton. It is one of only a half-dozen such skeletons known from more than 1 million years ago, and the only published one older than Lucy.

It was the find of a lifetime. But the team's excitement was tempered by the skeleton's terrible condition. The bones literally crumbled when touched. White called it road kill. And parts of the skeleton had been trampled and scattered into more than 100 fragments; the skull was crushed to 4 centimeters in height.

The researchers decided to remove entire blocks of sediment, covering the blocks in plaster and moving them to the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa to finish excavating the fossils.

It took three field seasons to uncover and extract the skeleton, repeatedly crawling the site to gather 100% of the fossils present. At last count, the team had cataloged more than 110 specimens of Ar. ramidus, not to mention 150,000 specimens of fossil plants and animals.

"This team seems to suck fossils out of the earth," says anatomist C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University in Ohio, who analyzed the post-cranial bones but didn't work in the field. In the lab, he gently unveils a cast of a tiny, pea-sized sesamoid bone for effect. "Their obsessiveness gives you — this!"

White himself spent years removing the silty clay from the fragile fossils at the National Museum in Addis Ababa, using brushes, syringes, and dental tools, usually under a microscope. Museum technician Alemu Ademassu made a precise cast of each piece, and the team assembled them into a skeleton.

Meanwhile in Tokyo and Ohio, Suwa and Lovejoy made virtual reconstructions of the crushed skull and pelvis. Certain fossils were taken briefly to Tokyo and scanned with a custom micro–computed tomography (CT) scanner that could reveal what was hidden inside the bones and teeth.

Suwa spent 9 years mastering the technology to reassemble the fragments of the cranium into a virtual skull. "I used 65 pieces of the cranium," says Suwa, who estimates he spent 1000 hours on the task. "You go piece by piece."

Once he had reassembled the pieces in a digital reconstruction, he and paleoanthropologist Berhane Asfaw of the Rift Valley Research Service in Addis Ababa compared the skull with those of ancient and living primates in museums worldwide. By March of this year, Suwa was satisfied with his 10th reconstruction.

Meanwhile in Ohio, Lovejoy made physical models of the pelvic pieces based on the original fossil and the CT scans, working closely with Suwa. He is also satisfied that the 14th version of the pelvis is accurate. "There was an Ardipithecus that looked just like that," he says, holding up the final model in his lab.

As they examined Ardi's skull, Suwa and Asfaw noted a number of characteristics. Her lower face had a muzzle that juts out less than a chimpanzee's. The cranial base is short from front to back, indicating that her head balanced atop the spine as in later upright walkers, rather than to the front of the spine, as in quadrupedal apes. Her face is in a more vertical position than in chimpanzees. And her teeth, like those of all later hominins, lack the daggerlike sharpened upper canines seen in chimpanzees.

The team realized that this combination of traits matches those of an even older skull, 6-million to 7-million-year-old Sahelanthropus tchadensis, found by Brunet's team in Chad. They conclude that both represent an early stage of human evolution, distinct from both Australopithecus and chimpanzees.

"Similarities with Sahelanthropus are striking, in that it also represents a first-grade hominid," agrees Zollikofer, who did a three-dimensional reconstruction of that skull.

Another, earlier species of Ardipithecus — Ar. kadabba, dated from 5.5 million to 5.8 million years ago but known only from teeth and bits and pieces of skeletal bones — is part of that grade, too.

And Ar. kadabba's canines and other teeth seem to match those of a third very ancient specimen, 6-million-year-old Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya, which also has a thighbone that appears to have been used for upright walking (Science, 21 March 2008, p. 1599).

So, "this raises the intriguing possibility that we're looking at the same genus" for specimens now put in three genera, says Pilbeam. But the discoverers of O. tugenensis aren't so sure.

"As for Ardi and Orrorin being the same genus, no, I don't think this is possible, unless one really wants to accept an unusual amount of variability" within a taxon, says geologist Martin Pickford of the College de France, who found Orrorin with Brigitte Senut of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Whatever the taxonomy of Ardipithecus and the other very ancient hominins, they represent "an enormous jump to Australopithecus," the next hominin in line, says australopithecine expert William Kimbel of Arizona State University, Tempe.

For example, although Lucy's brain is only a little larger than that of Ardipithecus, Lucy's species, Au. afarensis, was an adept biped. It walked upright like humans, venturing increasingly into more diverse habitats, including grassy savannas. And it had lost its opposable big toe, as seen in 3.7-million-year-old footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania, reflecting an irreversible commitment to life on the ground.

Lucy's direct ancestor is widely considered to be Au. anamensis, a hominin whose skeleton is poorly known, although its shinbone suggests it walked upright 3.9 million to 4.2 million years ago in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Ardipithecus is the current leading candidate for Au. anamensis's ancestor, if only because it's the only putative hominin in evidence between 5.8 million and 4.4 million years ago. Indeed, Au. anamensis fossils appear in the Middle Awash region just 200,000 years after Ardi.

But the team is not connecting the dots between Au. anamensis and Ar. ramidus just yet, awaiting more fossils. For now they are focusing on the anatomy of Ardi and how she moved through the world.

Her foot is primitive, with an opposable big toe like that used by living apes to grasp branches. But the bases of the four other toe bones were oriented so that they reinforced the forefoot into a more rigid lever as she pushed off.

In contrast, the toes of a chimpanzee curve as flexibly as those in their hands, say Lovejoy and co-author Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Ar. ramidus "developed a pretty good bipedal foot while at the same time keeping an opposable first toe," says Lovejoy.

The upper blades of Ardi's pelvis are shorter and broader than in apes. They would have lowered the trunk's center of mass, so she could balance on one leg at a time while walking, says Lovejoy. He also infers from the pelvis that her spine was long and curved like a human's rather than short and stiff like a chimpanzee's. These changes suggest to him that Ar. ramidus "has been bipedal for a very long time."

Yet the lower pelvis is still quite large and primitive, similar to African apes rather than hominins. Taken with the opposable big toe, and primitive traits in the hand and foot, this indicates that Ar. ramidus didn't walk like Lucy and was still spending a lot of time in the trees.

But it wasn't suspending its body beneath branches like African apes or climbing vertically, says Lovejoy. Instead, it was a slow, careful climber that probably moved on flat hands and feet on top of branches in the midcanopy, a type of locomotion known as palmigrady. For example, four bones in the wrist of Ar. ramidus gave it a more flexible hand that could be bent backward at the wrist.

This is in contrast to the hands of knuckle-walking chimpanzees and gorillas, which have stiff wrists that absorb forces on their knuckles.

However, several researchers aren't so sure about these inferences. Some are skeptical that the crushed pelvis really shows the anatomical details needed to demonstrate bipedality. The pelvis is "suggestive" of bipedality but not conclusive, says paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Also, Ar. ramidus "does not appear to have had its knee placed over the ankle, which means that when walking bipedally, it would have had to shift its weight to the side," she says.

Paleoanthropologist William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York state is also not sure that the skeleton was bipedal. "Believe me, it's a unique form of bipedalism," he says. "The postcranium alone would not unequivocally signal hominin status, in my opinion."

Paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., agrees. Looking at the skeleton as a whole, he says, "I think the head is consistent with it being a hominin, ... but the rest of the body is much more questionable."

All this underscores how difficult it may be to recognize and define bipedality in the earliest hominins as they began to shift from trees to ground. One thing does seem clear, though: The absence of many specialized traits found in African apes suggests that our ancestors never knuckle-walked.

That throws a monkey wrench into a hypothesis about the last common ancestor of living apes and humans. Ever since Darwin suggested in 1871 that our ancestors arose in Africa, researchers have debated whether our forebears passed through a great-ape stage in which they looked like proto-chimpanzees (Science, 21 November 1969, p. 953).

This "troglodytian" model for early human behavior (named for the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes) suggests that the last common ancestor of the African apes and humans once had short backs, arms adapted for swinging, and a pelvis and limbs adapted for knuckle walking. Then our ancestors lost these traits, while chimpanzees and gorillas kept them.

But this view has been uninformed by fossil evidence because there are almost no fossils of early chimpanzees and gorillas.

Some researchers have thought that the ancient African ape bau-plan was more primitive, lately citing clues from fragmentary fossils of apes that lived from 8 million to 18 million years ago.

"There's been growing evidence from the Miocene apes that the common ancestor may have been more primitive," says Ward. Now Ar. ramidus strongly supports that notion. The authors repeatedly note the many ways that Ar. ramidus differs from chimpanzees and gorillas, bolstering the argument that it was those apes that changed the most from the primitive form.

But the problem with a more "generalized model" of an arboreal ape is that "it is easier to say what it wasn't than what it was," says Ward.

And if the last common ancestor, which according to genetic studies lived 5 million to 7 million years ago, didn't look like a chimp, then chimpanzees and gorillas evolved their numerous similarities independently, after gorillas diverged from the chimp/human line. "I find [that] hard to believe," says Pilbeam.

As debate over the implications of Ar. ramidus begins, the one thing that all can agree on is that the new papers provide a wealth of data to frame the issues for years.

"No matter what side of the arguments you come down on, it's going to be food for thought for generations of graduate students," says Jungers. Or, as Walker says: "It would have been very boring if it had looked half-chimp."

10/6/2009 3:49 PM
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Italian scientist says
he has 'reproduced'
the Shroud of Turin

By Philip Pullella

ROME, Oct. 5 (Reuters) – An Italian scientist says he has reproduced the Shroud of Turin, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ's burial cloth is a medieval fake.

The shroud, measuring 14 feet, 4 inches by 3 feet, 7 inches bears the image, eerily reversed like a photographic negative, of a crucified man some believers say is Christ.

"We have shown that is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud," Luigi Garlaschelli, who is due to illustrate the results at a conference on the para-normal this weekend in northern Italy, said on Monday.

A professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, Garlaschelli made available to Reuters the paper he will deliver and the accompanying comparative photographs.

The Shroud of Turin shows the back and front of a bearded man with long hair, his arms crossed on his chest, while the entire cloth is marked by what appears to be rivulets of blood from wounds in the wrists, feet and side.

Carbon dating tests by laboratories in Oxford, Zurich and Tucson, Arizona in 1988 caused a sensation by dating it from between 1260 and 1390. Sceptics said it was a hoax, possibly made to attract the profitable medieval pilgrimage business.

But scientists have thus far been at a loss to explain how the image was left on the cloth.

Garlaschelli reproduced the full-sized shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages.

They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.

The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ's passion.

One of Christianity's most disputed relics, it is locked away at Turin Cathedral in Italy and rarely exhibited. It was last on display in 2000 and is due to be shown again next year.

Garlaschelli expects people to contest his findings.

"If they don't want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world's best laboratories they certainly won't believe me," he said.

The accuracy of the 1988 tests was challenged by some hard-core believers who said restorations of the Shroud in past centuries had contaminated the results.

The history of the Shroud is long and controversial.

After surfacing in the Middle East and France, it was brought by Italy's former royal family, the Savoys, to their seat in Turin in 1578. In 1983 ex-King Umberto II bequeathed it to the late Pope John Paul.

The Shroud narrowly escaped destruction in 1997 when a fire ravaged the Guarini Chapel of the Turin cathedral where it is held. The cloth was saved by a fireman who risked his life.

Garlaschelli received funding for his work by an Italian association of atheists and agnostics but said it had no effect on his results.

"Money has no odor," he said. "This was done scientifically. If the Church wants to fund me in the future, here I am."

Garlaschelli's news conference will certainly be very well-covered. Regardless of the authenticity of his 're-creation', what about the remarkable correspondence between the Face on the Shroud and the Holy Face of Manopello - despite an utter lack of convergence between the histories of the two relics? Will Garlaschelli also try to explain or re-create how the Holy Face cloth was 'produced'?

It's unfortunate that this news comes just a few months before the Shroud goes on public exposition next spring.

10/7/2009 2:14 AM
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Not news, I grant you, but a great musical commentary. Having come to Bruckner (via Herbert von Karajan's memorable recordings of the symphonies) after revelling in Mahler's genius for symphonic extravaganzas, I was well prepared and instantly captivated. Then, there's his musica sacra, too! I was mightily pleased to find this essay in FIRST THINGS today... A hymn of sorts not just to Bruckner but to the infinite varieties of musical experience. than which I cannot think of any human activity more protean, and since music can be prayer, more uplifting.

The Music of Eternity
by David B. Hart

Oct. 5, 2009

A famously cultured friend of mine, now sadly deceased, used to express polite amazement at my ability to enjoy the music of Richard Wagner, despite my almost idolatrous devotion to Bach; apparently this struck him as a combination of tastes as improbable as a successful alloy of fire and water.

And, on the one occasion that I touched upon the topic of Anton Bruckner in his presence, he merely arched an eyebrow and directed me to the table where the drinks were being served. Consequently, I never quite learned his opinion of the old Austrian schoolmaster, but I suspect it fell somewhat short of rapt veneration.

So it goes. It was ever Bruckner’s fate to elicit pursed lips and skeptically oblique glances from many — perhaps most — serious music lovers. In his own day, he was cordially despised or contemptuously ignored by legions of Brahmsians and other restive “classicalists”, even as he was adored by a small coterie of earnest — sometimes ponderously earnest — souls.

To his contemporary detractors, his symphonies were great, lumbering, shapeless monstrosities, whose immense Wagnerian periods and orchestrations made a travesty of what was supposed to be a rigorously structured and elegant form of music.

And even now, more than a century after his death (1896), those who dislike Bruckner really dislike him, and utterly detest what another friend of mine once called his “gigantic blocks of sheer sound”.

I confess I was once of the same opinion, or at least affected to be. I don’t know if I ever really disliked Bruckner’s music, but I certainly knew I should dislike it, and set about doing so with a sense of mission.

I recall, with several small twinges of embarrassment, sitting around a table with some friends in Cambridge, when I was a student there, playing one of those precious pretentious games people like to play when they’re students at Cambridge. We were inventing farcical technical terms for Bruckner’s music from Greek roots.

I proposed “brontoctypic” and “brontobromic” (both meaning “thunderous noise”), but then a somewhat older and wiser friend, with more capacious sensibilities, amended those to “brontophonous” and “brontomelodic.” (There was wine involved, incidentally, which I hope mitigates the offense for all concerned.) That, at any rate, was how I thought of Bruckner’s oeuvre in my salad days: a series of vast, overbearing, Teutonic perorations in music, “thundering” 0n (and on and on), humorlessly, excruciatingly “profound” and relentless, with scherzos that had all the frothy frivolity of an invasion of the Sudetenland. I was, it seems, not really listening very closely.

Mahler (who regarded Bruckner as his master and “forerunner”) once told Sibelius that a symphony should be a whole world, able to accommodate absolutely everything the composer can pour into it. For Mahler, this meant symphonies that are defiantly incongruous, enormous metropolitan farragoes of disparate parts, always somewhat ironic (even at their most pompous junctures), buoyant and wild, but sophisticated and whimsical too, and shot through with Viennese urbanity.

Bruckner’s symphonies are also worlds unto themselves, but of a somewhat more pastoral and elemental kind. Whereas Mahler’s music is what English is among languages, grandly and insatiably heterogeneous, Bruckner’s music is for the most part pure German — and not the lucid Hellenic German of Goethe or the nimble cosmopolitan German of Heine or the sharp acerbic German of Nietzsche, but the plain slow German of rural Upper Austria. It’s a music full of sublimities: flowing streams and mountain winds and — yes — rolling thunders.

But that’s hardly all there is to it. When I learned to slow down my listening, and to adjust my expectations to the atmosphere of Bruckner’s sonorities, I found that his symphonies did not lack structure, and that most of them are utterly captivating if one surrenders one’s prejudices before listening, and that they abound not only in huge tempestuous crescendos but in glittering passages of Schubertian lyricism, at times almost mercurial in its delicacy.

And, of course, I fell under the spell of his magnificently beautiful adagios, at which he had no rivals among nineteenth century composers. And then, in addition to all of this, there is that undeniable quality of spiritual fervor — almost mystical at times —which makes the best of his symphonies seem like more than mere music.

Perhaps none of this would have surprised me if I had become acquainted earlier with his sacred music —t hose austerely polyphonic and luminously lovely motets and Masses — but, as it was, I was chastened by the discovery.

A great part of Bruckner’s difficulty with many of his contemporaries, of course, was the notorious absurdity of the figure he cut. It was all too easy for his early critics to caricature him as an oaf and a peon — because, as it happens, it wasn’t entirely a caricature.

He was not a deeply cultured man; he was not a man of the city; he knew little about art or philosophy or literature. He was simply a musical genius, and nothing more. His manners, moreover, were untutored, to say the least, and if he possessed any sense of style he never let it show.

The anecdotes are legion: His habit of wearing trousers with ridiculously short legs so as to leave his feet free for pedal-work at the organ. His infatuation with various beautiful young women and his bizarre belief that it could possibly be reciprocated.

The tip he gave the rather patrician conductor Hans Richter to express his delight after the latter’s rousing rehearsal of the fourth symphony (which Richter, kind man that he was, took with good grace and kept as a memento on his watch-chain).

And then, of course, there was Bruckner’s deep, ardent, very Catholic piety, which in the artistic milieu of the late nineteenth century seemed to many the very essence of rustic buffoonishness.

Emotionally and intellectually, Bruckner was defenseless against his critics. Many believe it was the lack of confidence inspired by his most censorious listeners that prompted him to revise his symphonies with such unsentimental brutality (leaving us with an annoying plurality of versions for most of them).

But he strove on nonetheless, building his massive cathedrals in sound, and producing at the end — in the last three of his nine symphonies — music that was genuinely unprecedented in its logic and its dimensions, and far too beautiful to ignore or dismiss.

The last of these works, I’d even go so far as to say, almost succeeds at transcending the limits of music as such.

Bruckner began sketching out his ninth symphony in 1887, but largely set those drafts aside while he worked and re-worked his seventh and eighth symphonies. He returned to the ninth in 1891 and by December 1894 had more or less completed the first three movements; by that point also he knew that this was to be his last symphony and that, in all likelihood, he would never finish it.

In this he was correct: the fourth movement, which was to be a great fugue, exists now only in the form of haunting fragments. Perhaps it was his sense that this work would be his leave-taking from the world — he called the leading motif of the third movement his “Abschied vom Leben” (“departure from life”) — that prompted him to dedicate the work “dem lieben Gott” (“to God the beloved”); but in a sense God had always been the object of all his artistry.

As he had done with his eighth symphony, in the ninth he placed the adagio after the scherzo; and this was a fortunate decision, as the third movement was to be the last he composed, and it is only proper that he passed from this world — as his notations read — langsam, feierlich[slow, celebratory). It’s doubtful that any further musical statement could possibly have improved on the effect of that final, ecstatic, and serene farewell.

And, by the end, he was well aware that the fourth movement he contemplated was beyond his failing powers. He briefly considered attaching his earlier choral and orchestral Te Deum to the end of the work instead, and even tried to compose a plausible bridge. But the transition from the grandly somber D minor basis of the symphony to the radiant C major of the Te Deum was too jarring, and no sequence of modulations, however ingenious, could make a single coherent musical experience out of two such very different pieces.

The symphony’s first movement — Feierlich, misterioso — announces in its opening bars, with their dark string oscillations and mournful horn melody, that this is sad music, twilight music, coming at the end of things; even the first great crescendo to which the opening builds is oddly elegiac, and yields to a lighter, more canorous, but still wistful middle section, which then in turn dissolves into a movingly melancholy D major theme.

The second movement is the scherzo, though whether music as drivingly propulsive as this initially is should still be called a scherzo is open to debate (is there such a thing as a “sublime scherzo”?). Whatever the case, it is powerful music, moved along on driving string figures, which bracket an interlude of extraordinary sweetness, and it leads beautifully — almost by exhausting itself —into the adagio.

That final movement, with its opening, ascendingly chromatic theme —the Abschied theme — and its meltingly lyrical secondary themes, and its hugely dissonant climax, and then its final, artfully fragmentary descent into silence, is full of sorrow and rebellion and resignation and, finally, perfect peace.

There are some pieces of music that, by their nature, should remain unfinished. No fourth movement that Bruckner could have composed this side of death would have fulfilled the deeper design that unfolded throughout all his work.

That last adagio is already so otherworldly, and so overflowing with a sweet hunger for God, and so deep a longing for the timeless within time, that only eternity could bring it to its proper completion. And there are some artists who, by all rights, should write themselves into eternity.

Bach is obviously the most perfect example, leaving that final great fugue on B-A-C-H in Die Kunst der Fuge abruptly unfinished; one senses that it had to be taken beyond time in order to be made perfect. But Bruckner too was an artist who required more of his art than time could supply.

I should like to take this, I think, as a metaphor for all our lives, each of which is in some measure always unfinished within the limits of time.

At least, if faith provides any wisdom that can simultaneously humble and console us, it is this knowledge: each of our lives is an opus imperfectum, which within its own immanent terms must in some sense end largely thwarted and unrealized; but we may truly hope that, sub specie aeternitatis, all the scattered and incomplete truths time contains will be gathered up into a final truth, and everything lost that is worth finding and everything broken that is worth mending will be restored, and all of it will finally be brought to a consummation that fulfills — but also immeasurably surpasses — the work we have always only begun.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 10/7/2009 2:37 AM]
10/7/2009 6:37 PM
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Experts question claim
of 'reproducing'
the Shroud of Turin

How comforting to have such a prompt and plausible response from experts to the new agnostic/atheist hypothesis on the Shroud of Turin!

Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct 6, 2009 (CNA).- An Italian scientist is claiming to have re-created the burial cloth believed to have covered the crucified body of Jesus, called the Shroud of Turin. However, CNA spoke with experts who maintain that there are still several major differences between the new shroud and the ancient one.

According to Reuters, Luigi Garlaschelli, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Pavia announced that he and his team “have shown it is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud.” The scientist plans to present his findings at a conference on the paranormal this weekend in Italy.

The Shroud of Turin is considered by many to bear an image of the face of Jesus Christ. Made of herringbone linen, the shroud is nearly four feet by 14 feet and bears faint brown discolorations forming the negative image of a crucified man.

The shroud’s positive image, revealed by modern photography, shows the outline of a bearded man. While skeptics contend that the shroud is a medieval forgery, scientists have been unable to explain how the image appeared on the cloth.

Garlaschelli and his team, who were funded by an Italian association of atheists and agnostics, created their image by placing the linen over a volunteer before rubbing it with a pigment called ochre with traces of acid.

The linen was then “aged” by heating it in an oven and washing it with water. Reuters reports that the team then added blood stains, burn holes and water stains to finalize their product.

CNA spoke with Dr. John Jackson who runs the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado and is a physics lecturer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Jackson led a team of 30 researchers in 1978 who determined that the shroud was not painted, dyed or stained.

He explained to CNA that that based oN the Reuters report as well as photos of Garlaschelli’s shroud on the internet, it appeared that it doesn’t exactly match the Shroud of Turin.

Dr. Jackson first questioned the technique used by Garlaschelli’s team, taking issue with the method of adding blood after aging the cloth. Jackson explained that he has conducted “two independent observations that argue that the blood features on the shroud” show “that the blood was on it first, then the body image came second.”

Dr. Keith Propp, a physicist who is also a colleague of Jackson's, told CNA that while Garlaschelli’s shroud “does create an image that could’ve been done in medieval times,” there are many things that “are not consistent with what the actual shroud shows us.”

For example, he continued, we know that the blood contacted the shroud before the body “because there’s no image beneath the shroud.” He added that this image pattern would be difficult to duplicate “because it would ruin the blood stains.”

Another area concern for the scientists is the three dimensionality of the shroud.

Propp explained that while Garlaschelli’s cloth does have some aspects of light and dark to create a three-dimensional perspective, “it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as the shroud” and that “it misses out on the accuracy and subtleties that are in the actual image.”

Dr. Jackson from the Turin Shroud Center also touched on the same point, saying, “The shroud’s image intensity varies with” the distances in between the cloth and the body.

While he admitted that the images of Garlaschelli’s shroud on the internet look authentic, when taken from a 3-D perspective, “it’s really rather grotesque.”

“The hands are embedded into the body and the legs have unnatural looking lumps and bumps,” he explained.

Jackson noted that he or his colleagues would be open to testing the Garlaschelli shroud or any other “idea about the shroud relative to the scientific characteristics that have been documented in respect to the shroud,” however to do so they would need “more detailed information about what was specifically done.”

Garlachelli’s technique has also received criticism from other experts. One scientist from the Shroud Science Group, a private forum of about 100 scientists, historians and researchers provided CNA with some of the critiques made in the forum.

One English-speaking expert explained that the blood used on the Shroud of Turin is not whole blood. “They didn't just go out and kill a goat and paint the blood on the cloth. The blood chemistry is very specific,” he said explaining that the blood is from “actual wounds.”

He added that most of the blood on the shroud flowed after death. “The side wound and the blood that puddles across the small of the back are post-mortem blood flows,” he said, adding that blood flowing after death “shows a clear separation of blood and serum.”

Propp added, “In some ways, it comes out better than most others I’ve seen before. Still there are too many things – the shroud is more than just the image.”

Jackson also pointed out that Garlaschelli’s findings have yet to be peer-reviewed. What scientists need “to do is present their work for publication before their peers.”

He explained that any person can conduct his or her own research, but it doesn’t matter whether or not the author believes his or her hypothesis was proven. In the end, what the scientific community decides “upon seeing and reviewing the work” is what counts, he said.

Pope Benedict has announced that the Shroud will be open for public viewing in 2010 and that he is planning to visit the image at some point during its exposition.

The Catholic Church has not taken an official position on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.
10/8/2009 8:12 PM
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Hamas finds $500-M loss
on Gaza tunnel speculation
worse than Madoff scam

By Jonathan Ferziger

What could be more cynical and perverted than buying stocks in illegal tunnel operations undertaken to keep an arms pipeline to Hamas????

Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Investment opportunities are rare in the Gaza Strip. So when Nabila Ghabin saw one last year, she pawned her car and jewelry and put $12,000 into a network of tunnels that brought in supplies smuggled from Egypt.

She was one of about 4,000 Gazans who gave cash to middlemen and tunnel operators in 2008 as Israel blocked the overland passage of goods. Then Israeli warplanes bombed the tunnels before and during the Dec. 27 to Jan. 18 Gaza offensive and the investments collapsed.

Now investors, who lost as much as $500 million, want their money back from Hamas, which runs Gaza. Hamas Economics Minister Ziad Zaza says about 200 people were taken into custody in connection with the tunnel investments; most have been released. Hamas is offering a partial repayment of 16.5 cents on the dollar using money recovered from Ihab al-Kurd, the biggest tunnel operator.

The imbroglio over the 800 to 1,000 tunnels has deepened Hamas’s decline in public opinion in Gaza and highlights the Wild West nature of the underground economy that supports this jammed enclave of 1.4 million people.

“When you compare the U.S. economy with ours and see how dependent we have become on the tunnels, I assure you that our scandal is much worse than Madoff,” said Omar Shaban, director of Pal-Think, an economic research institute in Gaza City, speaking of New York financier Bernard Madoff’s $65-billion Ponzi scheme.

Madoff, 71, is serving a 150-year prison sentence in Butner, North Carolina, after pleading guilty to defrauding investors by using money from new clients to pay off old ones.

In Gaza, tunnels were first dug under the border to smuggle weapons from Egypt when Israel controlled the territory before its pullout in 2005.

Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza’s borders in June 2007 after Hamas broke off its power-sharing arrangement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seized power as its militiamen threw rival Fatah members from high-rise buildings and shot others in the street, according to a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Top Hamas leader Ismail Haniya has not commented publicly on the losses to tunnel investors.

“There is no transparency, no public records, no regulators, none of the mechanisms that would let you trace what happened to all the money that people invested in the tunnels,” said Samir Abdullah, the Palestinian Authority’s former planning minister. “The smugglers provide essential revenue for Hamas.”

Hamas, classified by the U.S. and the European Union as a terrorist organization, isn’t offering enough to cover losses, said Ghabin, 43, whose husband is blind and who has five children. She blames Hamas for encouraging the investments.

“The imam told us that we wouldn’t regret joining this blessed business,” she said in her apartment in an unfinished 12-story high-rise overlooking the Mediterranean as her husband played the lute. “This happened in mosques all over Gaza.”

Support for Hamas has fallen amid dissatisfaction over its stewardship of Gaza, where the United Nations estimates that three-quarters of the population has insufficient food and more than 40 percent are unemployed.

A poll published Aug. 17 by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research said Hamas would get 28 percent of the vote if an election were held, down from 33 percent three months earlier. Rival Fatah’s support rose to 44 percent from 41 percent in the same period, according to the survey of 1,270 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The margin of error was 3 percent.

“You can feel the frustration because thousands of families lost their money and they hold Hamas responsible,” Pal-Think’s Shaban said.

In the absence of formal records of transactions, Shaban based his “educated-guess” estimate of losses to investors of $300 million to $500 million on professional contacts as well as friends and relatives who lost money. He himself did not invest.

Digging and operating a tunnel, typically about 50 feet (15 meters) deep and 250 feet long, costs as much as $100,000, according to Shaban.

With Israel restricting the flow of goods into Gaza after Hamas took power in 2007, tunnel owners began seeking funds for more tunnels. They built under license from Hamas: Four operators who declined to be identified said they each paid 11,000 shekels ($2,950) to Hamas for a digging license.

According to investors Ghabin, Mohamed Shurab and Shadi Qishawi, the financing worked this way: In exchange for their money, investors were promised monthly dividends of 10 percent. They were not owners of the tunnels. The returns came from the profits of smuggling as well as new investments, Shaban said.

Ghabin invested $8,000 the first month and added $4,000 from her daughter in the second month, coming away with a total return of $2,000 before the collapse. Gaza City real estate broker Shurab, who invested about $500,000 of his family’s money, said he got as much as $50,000 a month in three months.

Israel began three weeks of bombing in Gaza last December in an effort to stop the firing of Hamas rockets, some of which were smuggled in through the tunnels, at such southern population centers as Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod.

From Sept. 12, 2005, when Israel completed its pullout from Gaza, to the beginning of its bombing operations on Dec. 27, 2008, Hamas and other Palestinian factions fired 5,180 rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory, according to Israeli Army statistics.

In the conflict, 1,450 Palestinians were killed, according to the Hamas Health Ministry. The Israeli Army says that 13 Israelis and 1,166 Palestinians died.

Most of the 200 arrested on tunnel-related fraud charges were released after agreeing to cooperate with investigators, Economics Minister Zaza said. He estimated the losses at $60 million, based on records he declined to reveal.

“Our people had no choice but to use these tunnels in order to survive,” Zaza said in his plum-curtained office in Gaza City. “There were corrupt people who took advantage of the situation, but they are in our custody now. I don’t blame people for being angry, but we hope to return more money.”

Ghabin said her imam in Gaza City recommended that worshippers invest in the tunnels, saying he was acting under instructions from the Hamas Ministry of Religious Affairs. Her daughter was pitched by an imam at the al-Bureij refugee camp, where she lives. Officials at the ministry declined to comment.

Some tunnels still operate. A tunnel collapse killed one worker and injured two others on Sept. 27, Mo’aweya Hassanein, Gaza chief of emergency medical services, told reporters.

Economics Minister Zaza said Hamas arrested and detained al-Kurd for fraud and “stealing money from the Palestinian people.” Zaza said al-Kurd was the kingpin behind collecting tunnel investments, largely through middlemen who met potential customers at cafés, soccer fields and mosques. About $10 million of al-Kurd’s assets were confiscated, he said.

Al-Kurd has since been released; Zaza provided no details on why. Al-Kurd couldn’t be reached for comment.

Ihab al-Ghusin, a spokesman for the Hamas Ministry of Interior, said losses from the tunnel investments were discovered when “thousands of people complained.”

“After a quick investigation, we discovered that a well- known businessman identified as Ihab al-Kurd is behind this scheme,” he said. “Al-Kurd was initially jailed but later released after his property was confiscated.” The ministry declined to name others who have been arrested.

The bilked customers want more than the 16.5 percent they have received. Shurab, the real-estate broker, says Hamas should return all of the $500,000 that he invested for 25 relatives.

Qishawi, who plays the electric organ at weddings, said he needs the $6,000 he got from selling his wife’s gold bracelets and their bedroom furniture. The middleman who invested their money in the tunnels seemed trustworthy because he was a religious man, well-known in the neighborhood, he said.

“It’s a complete insult considering that Hamas encouraged people to invest in the tunnels,” said Qishawi, on a couch in his Gaza City living room near a vase of plastic flowers. “Gaza is a desperate place. They took advantage of desperate people.”

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 10/9/2009 6:25 AM]
10/9/2009 6:23 AM
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Global Muslim population
hits 1.57 billion


NEW YORK, Oct. 8 (AP) - The global Muslim population stands at 1.57 billion, meaning that nearly 1 in 4 people in the world practice Islam, according to a report Wednesday billed as the most comprehensive of its kind.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report provides a precise number for a population whose size has long has been subject to guesswork, with estimates ranging anywhere from 1 billion to 1.8 billion.

The project, three years in the making, also presents a portrait of the Muslim world that might surprise some. For instance, Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon, China has more Muslims than Syria, Russia has more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined, and Ethiopia has nearly as many Muslims as Afghanistan.

"This whole idea that Muslims are Arabs and Arabs are Muslims is really just obliterated by this report," said Amaney Jamal, an assistant professor of politics at Princeton University who reviewed an advance copy.

Pew officials call the report the most thorough on the size and distribution of adherents of the world's second largest religion behind Christianity, which has an estimated 2.1 billion to 2.2 billion followers.

The arduous task of determining the Muslim populations in 232 countries and territories involved analyzing census reports, demographic studies and general population surveys, the report says. In cases where the data was a few years old, researchers projected 2009 numbers.

The report also sought to pinpoint the world's Sunni-Shiite breakdown, but difficulties arose because so few countries track sectarian affiliation, said Brian Grim, the project's senior researcher.

As a result, the Shiite numbers are not as precise; the report estimates that Shiites represent between 10 and 13 percent of the Muslim population, in line with or slightly lower than other studies. As much as 80 percent of the world's Shiite population lives in four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq.

The report provides further evidence that while the heart of Islam might beat in the Middle East, its greatest numbers lie in Asia: More than 60 percent of the world's Muslims live in Asia.

About 20 percent live in the Middle East and North Africa, 15 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2.4 percent are in Europe and 0.3 percent are in the Americas. While the Middle East and North Africa have fewer Muslims overall than Asia, the region easily claims the most Muslim-majority countries.

While those population trends are well established, the large numbers of Muslims who live as minorities in countries aren't as scrutinized. The report identified about 317 million Muslims — or one-fifth of the world's Muslim population — living in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.

About three-quarters of Muslims living as minorities are concentrated in five countries: India (161 million), Ethiopia (28 million), China (22 million), Russia (16 million) and Tanzania (13 million).

In several of these countries — from India to Nigeria and China to France — divisions featuring a volatile mix of religion, class and politics have contributed to tension and bloodshed among groups.

The immense size of majority-Hindu India is underscored by the fact that it boasts the third-largest Muslim population of any nation — yet Muslims account for just 13 percent of India's population.

"Most people think of the Muslim world being Muslims living mostly in Muslim-majority countries," Grim said. "But with India ... that sort of turns that on its head a bit."

Among the report's other highlights:

_ Two-thirds of all Muslims live in 10 countries. Six are in Asia (Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey), three are in North Africa (Egypt, Algeria and Morocco) and one is in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria).

_ Indonesia, which has a tradition of a more tolerant Islam, has the world's largest Muslim population (203 million, or 13 percent of the world's total). Religious extremists have been involved in several high-profile bombings there in recent years.

_ In China, the highest concentrations of Muslims were in western provinces. The country experienced its worst outbreak of ethnic violence in decades when rioting broke out this summer between minority Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese.

_ Europe is home to about 38 million Muslims, or about five percent of its population. Germany appears to have more than 4 million Muslims — almost as many as North and South America combined. In France, where tensions have run high over an influx of Muslim immigrant laborers, the overall numbers were lower but a larger percentage of the population is Muslim.

_ Of roughly 4.6 million Muslims in the Americas, more than half live in the United States although they only make up 0.8 percent of the population there. About 700,000 people in Canada are Muslim, or about 2 percent of the total population. [Remember how Barack Obama said in Cairo that there were eight million Muslims in the United States????]

A future Pew Forum project, scheduled to be released in 2010, will build on the report's data to estimate growth rates among Muslim populations and project future trends.

A similar study on global Christianity is planned to begin next year.

On the Net:
■Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,:

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 10/9/2009 6:24 AM]
10/19/2009 2:31 AM
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Oct. 18, 2009

On the feast of St. Luke today, I am glad that Ignatius Insight has reprinted the foreword to Taylor Caldwell's book. To anyone who has not read the book, go out and get a copy. It is a truly fascinating and compelling read, with an irresistible protagonist, that is also spiritually exalting, as it takes you back to a complete and very plausibly recreated world of the past.

As a pre-teen who was starting to devour books insatiably, the book on St. Luke (which first came out in 1959, so I must have read it in 1960) was one of a handful of 'early Christian' fiction that I read and reread, among them Quo Vadis, The Robe, and The Silver Chalice. It made me partial to St. Luke among the evangelists ever after.

This book has been forty-six years in the writing. The first version was written when I was twelve years old, the second when I was twenty-two, the third when I was twenty-six, and all through those years work did not cease on this book.

The last version began five years ago. It was impossible to complete, as the other versions were impossible to complete, until my husband and I visited the Holy Land in 1956, and until my husband could give me the information for the last third of the book, and other assistance.

From my early childhood Lucanus, or Luke, the great Apostle, has obsessed my mind. He was the only Apostle who was not a Jew. He never saw Christ. All that is written in his eloquent but restrained Gospel he acquired from hearsay, from witnesses, from the Mother of Christ, from disciples, and from the Apostles. His first visit to Israel took place almost a year after the Crucifixion.

Yet he became one of the greatest of the Apostles. Like Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, he believed that Our Lord came not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles, also. He had much in common with Paul, because Paul too had never seen the Christ. Each had had an individual revelation. These two men had difficulty with the original Apostles because the latter stubbornly believed for a considerable time that Our Lord was incarnated, and died, only for the salvation of the Jews, even after Pentecost.

Why has St. Luke always obsessed me, and why have I always loved him from childhood? I do not know. I can only quote Friedrich Nietzsche on this matter: "One hears--one does not seek; one does not ask who gives--I have never had any choice about it."

This book is only indirectly about Our Lord. No novel, no historical book, can convey the story of His life so well as the Holy Bible. So the story of Lucanus, or St. Luke, is the story of every man's pilgrimage through despair and life - darkness, through suffering and anguish, through bitterness and sorrow, through doubt and cynicism, through rebellion and hopelessness to the feet and the understanding of God.

This search for God and the final revelation are the only meaning in life for men. Without this search and revelation man lives only as an animal, without comfort and wisdom, and his life is futile, no matter his station or power or birth.

A priest, who helped us write this book, said of St. Luke, "He was Our Lady's first troubadour." Only to Luke did Mary reveal the Magnificat, which contains the noblest words in any literature. He loved her above all the women he had ever loved.

My husband and I have read literally over a thousand books about Luke and his times, and a bibliography is included at the end of this novel for anyone who wishes to do further reading on these matters. If the world of Luke sounds astoundingly modern to any reader, with modern implications, it is a fact.

This book may not be the best in the world, but it was written with love and devotion for our fellow men, and so it is finally given into your hands, for it concerns all mankind.

Almost all the events and background of St. Luke's earlier life, manhood, and seeking, also his family and the name of his adopted father, are authentic. It should always be remembered that St. Luke was, first of all, a great physician.

When I was twelve years old I found a large book written by a nun who then lived in Antioch, containing many of the legends about St. Luke, which will not be found in historical books about him nor in the Bible. She related the legends and some obscure traditions about him, including the many miracles, at first unknown to him, which he accomplished before he even went to the Holy Land.

Some of these legends are from Egypt, some from Greece. They are included in this novel about him. He did not know at that time that he was one of the chosen of God, nor that he would attain sainthood.

The mighty and splendid Babylonian Empire (or Chaldea) is not familiar to many readers, nor its studies in medicine and its medical treatments by the priest-physicians, and its science--all of which the Egyptians and the Greeks inherited.

The Babylonian scientists understood magnetic forces, and used them. These things were contained in thousands of volumes in the wonderful University of Alexandria, which was burned by the Emperor Justinian several centuries later in an excess of misguided zeal.

Modern medicine and science are beginning to rediscover these things. The present age is poorer for Justinian's fervor. Had Babylonian science and medicine come down to us unbroken, our knowledge of the world and man would be vastly more advanced than it is at present.

We have not as yet discovered how the Babylonians lighted their sails at night by a "cold fire, more brilliant than the moon", and how they illuminated their temples by this same cold fire.

Apparently they had some way of utilizing electricity unknown to us, and not in our present clumsy manner. It is reported that they used "land vessels" without horses, lighted at night, and attaining great speed. (See the Book of Daniel.) It is also reported that they used strange "stones" or a kind of ore for the cure of cancer. They were expert in the employment of hypnotism, in psychosomatic medicine.

Abraham, a resident of the city of Ur, in Babylonia, brought this treatment of psychosomatic medicine to the Jews, who used it through all the centuries. The Magi, "the Wise Men of the East", who brought gifts to the Infant Jesus, were Babylonians, though that nation long before had suffered a great decline.

Where authorities differ about some of the incidents in this book, or the background, I have used the major decisions. The Gospel of St. Luke is used exclusively here, so much that appears in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and John is not included.

I wish, at this time, to thank Dr. George E. Slotkin of Eggertsville, N.Y, famous urologist and professor emeritus, School of Medicine, Buffalo, N.Y., for his invaluable assistance in the field of ancient as well as modern medicine.

Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985) was an internationally best-selling novelist in the mid-twentieth century whose numerous books sold over thirty million copies during her lifetime. Dear and Glorious Physician is considered by many critics as her greatest work. Ignatius Press reissued it last year.

Here is the publisher's blurb for the book:

Today St. Luke is known as the author of the third Gospel of the New Testament, but two thousand years ago he was Lucanus, a Greek, a man who loved, knew the emptiness of bereavement, and later traveled through the hills and wastes of Judea asking, "What manner of man was my Lord?" And it is of this Lucanus that Taylor Caldwell tells here in one of the most stirring stories ever lived or written.

Lucanus grew up in the household of his stepfather, the Roman govenor of Antioch. After studying medicine in Alexandria he became one of the greatest physicians of the ancient world and traveled far and wide through the Mediterranean region healing the sick.

As time went on he learned of the life and death of Christ and saw in Him the God he was seeking. To find out all he could about the life and teachings of Jesus, whom he never saw, Lucanus visited all the places where Jesus had been, questioning everyone--including His mother, Mary--who had known Him or heard Him preach. At last, when he had gathered all information possible, he wrote down what we now know as the Gospel according to St. Luke.

Taylor Caldwell has chosen the grand, the splendid means to tell of St. Luke. Her own travels through the Holy Land and years of meticulous research made Dear and Glorious Physician a fully developed portrait of a complex and brilliant man and a colorful re-creation of ancient Roman life as it contrasted in its decadence with the new world Christianity was bringing into being. Here is a story to warm, to inspire, to call forth renewal of faith and love lying deep in each reader's heart.

"A portrait so moving and so eloquent I doubt it is paralleled elsewhere in literature. It is Caldwell's greatest novel!"
-- Boston Herald

"Alive with the bustle of ancient times . . . Movingly reconstructs St. Luke's search for God."
-- The New York Times

"Magnificent! Taylor Caldwell, who has splendid powers of narration, unleashes them all in this, her finest novel. She has made St. Luke a real and believable man and recreated on a vast canvas the times and people of his day. You see as large as life all the glory and decadence of Rome and all the strife, turmoil and mysticism of Africa .... A glowing and passionate statement of belief!"
-- Columbus Citizen

11/15/2009 12:16 PM
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My original post on this topic was in the CHURCH&VATICAN thread
on the day the Vatican briefing was held.

This singular story has drawn a number of tongue-in-cheel treatments in the world media of the 'ET, phone Rome!' variety, so I am posting here - as I should have done earlier, since the interventions were made in English - what the participants in the Vatican briefing said by way of introduction.

The briefing was held at the end of a Study Week on "Astrobiology", organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Vatican Observatory at the Academy's headquarters in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican Gardens, Nov. 6-19.

Speakers were Fr. José Funes, S.J., Diretctor of the Vatican Observatory; Prof. Jonathan Lunine, Department of Physics, University of Tor Vergata (Rome); Prof. Chris Impey, Department of Astronomy and the Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson (USA); and Dr. Athena Coustenis, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, LESIA/CNRS (France).

Here is what they said in their introductory remarks:

Why the Vatican is involved in Astrobiology

On the occasion of the International Year of Astronomy the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has organized a Study Week on Astrobiology.

This is a quite appropriate topic for the Academy which has a multi-disciplinary membership, since it is a field which combines research in many disciplines, principally: astronomy, cosmology, biology, chemistry, geology and physics.

This is not the first time that such a topic is subject of interest in the Vatican. In 2005 the Vatican Observatory conducted a Summer School on this topic and brought together as a faculty some of the most important researchers in this field.

Although Astrobiology is an emerging field, and still a developing subject, the questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration. These questions offer many philosophical and theological implications, however the meeting will be focused on the scientific perspective.

Among the objectives of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the promotion of natural sciences and stimulation of interdisciplinary approach to scientific knowledge are counted; the Study Week on Astrobiology tries to accomplish these goals.

What is Astrobiology?

Astrobiology is the study of life’s relationship to the rest of the cosmos: its major themes include the origin of life and its precursor materials, the evolution of life on Earth, its future prospects on and off the Earth, and the occurrence of life elsewhere.

Behind each of these themes is a multidisciplinary set of questions involving physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, planetology, and other fields, each of which connects more or less strongly to the central questions of astrobiology.

Stimulated by new capabilities for scientific exploration on and off the Earth, astrobiology seems to be establishing itself as a distinct scientific endeavor.

The Study Week provides a special opportunity for scientists from different basic disciplines to spend an intensive week understanding how the work in their particular specialty might have an impact on, or be impacted by, that in other areas.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the work being done on how life formed on the Earth and evolved with the changing environment. It is becoming clear that Earth’s climate has not been particularly stable over time, and major environmental crises have occurred that are documented in the geologic record.

How life has responded to this, and what the implications might be for Earth-like planets around other stars with somewhat different histories, cuts across all the disciplines of astrobiology from astronomy, to planetary and geological sciences, to biology.

The prospects of life beyond earth

Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei turned his telescope to the heavens and forever changed the way we view ourselves in relation to the universe.

In addition to cementing the Copernican revolution with his observations, he showed that the Moon was a geological body like the Earth, with mountains and valleys.

Four hundred years later, the study of other worlds has grown to prominence in astronomy. In the past 15 years, technological breakthroughs have led to the discovery of over 400 planets beyond the Solar System. The smallest of these is not much more massive than the Earth.

Meanwhile, lab experiments have made progress in tracing the processes by which simple chemical ingredients might have evolved into cells about four billion years ago, and scientists have discovered life in surprisingly diverse, inhospitable environments on the Earth.

It is plausibly estimated that there are hundreds of millions of habitable locations in the Milky Way, which is just one of billions of galaxies in the universe.

As scientists gather to discuss progress in astrobiology, we still only know of one planet with life: our own. But there is a palpable expectation that the universe harbors life and there is hope that the first discovery is only a few years away.

This meeting gathers an interdisciplinary set of scholars, whose expertise spans astronomy, planetary science, geology, chemistry, biology, and environmental science.

They will present the latest research results and engage in deep discussion on the nature and prospects of life in the universe.

If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs bio-chemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound.

It is appropriate that a meeting on this frontier topic is hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The motivations and methodologies might differ, but both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe.

There is a rich middle ground for dialog between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe.

The exploration of Outer planets and their systems

The outer giant planets and their systems offer many opportunities from the astrobiological point of view.

In Jupiter’s system, Europa, a large satellite covered with a fractured icy crust is thought to contain vast amounts of liquid water beneath its surface. Within this ocean might be life, though to find it will require penetrating a crust whose depth will be measured by the Europa Jupiter System mission in the 2020’s.

In the Saturnian system, two satellites are of particular interest for astrobiologists: Titan and Enceladus. Titan is a complex world more like the Earth than any other: it has a dense, mostly nitrogen atmosphere with about 2% of methane, and active climate and meteorological cycles where the working fluid, methane, behaves the way that water does on Earth.

Titan is therefore very rich in organic molecules, which are formed in the upper atmosphere and then deposited on the surface. Its geology, from lakes and seas to broad river valleys, dunes and mountains, while carved in ice is, in its balance of processes, again most like Earth.

Beneath this panoply of Earth-like processes an ice crust floats atop what appears to be a liquid water ocean. The organic deposits, in coming into contact with the liquid water in the underground could possibly undergo an aqueous chemistry that could replicate aspects of life’s origins.

Enceladus, a smaller moon, ejects large amounts of water and organics in the space from plumes located in its southern pole. The implied requirement for liquid water reservoirs under its surface, significantly broadens the diversity of solar system environments where one might possibly expect conditions suitable for living organisms, and calls for future exploration of the Saturnian system both with orbiting and in situ elements.

The Study Week on Astrobiology was one of the international projects undertaken during the current International Year for Astronomy:

Abstracts of the papers presented and biodata on the seminar participants can be found on the downloadable brochure (left) on

11/17/2009 1:27 PM
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Tribute to Schiller
on his 250th birthday

by David P. Goldman
Monday, November 16, 2009

From my “Spengler” essay at Asia Times this morning:

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) wrote tragedies about Europe’s wars of religion that serve as Europe’s epitaph.

“History brought forth a great moment,” the German poet, philosopher, historian and playwright wrote of the French Revolution, the defining event of his lifetime, “but the moment found a mediocre people.”

The 250th anniversary of his birth came and went on November 10 with less attention than it deserved.

Schiller created a new kind of tragedy, in which the flaw applies to the people as much as to the protagonists. The hand of destiny is revealed as the tramp of boots on the ground worn by human beings with real needs and passions. The Chorus itself becomes a tragic actor.

The Weimar Classic era of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Schiller, Johann Gottfried von Herder and Christoph Martin Wieland proposed to substitute art for religion long before the Victorian schoolmaster, Matthew Arnold. Victorian aesthetics, like Victorian parlor verse, is to a great extent second-hand Schiller.

Schiller’s aesthetic philosophy is a period curiosity – academic scholarship treats it as a minor commentary on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. I am not sure whether this is correct, but I doubt it is worth the trouble to find out.

The best reason to read it today is so as not to have to read Matthew Arnold. As a pedagogical insight, Schiller’s notion of Spieltrieb, the play-impulse that unifies form and substance through artistic beauty, still has some influence through such currents as Waldorf education.

Like Kant’s categorical imperative and schemes for universal peace, Schiller’s hopes for social improvement through aesthetic education seem quaint to us. Schiller the philosopher of art is much less interesting than Schiller the artist, though. His best work still convulses the heart, as Coleridge said.

“Only through the morning-gate of the Beautiful do you make your way into the land of cognition,” Schiller wrote in one of his most famous (and worst) poems, The Artists (1789).

As a playwright, though, Schiller felicitously ignored his own aesthetic doctrine, which advanced the conceit of the “beautiful soul”, the perfected human personality who can integrate life through a Hellenistic appreciation of beauty.

But the characters that still convulse the hearts of theater audiences are not “beautiful souls” but desperately flawed human beings whose residual capacity for good makes their predicament tragic rather than sordid.

Coleridge responded to the bandit Karl Moor in The Robbers, who took to a life of crime after calumny caused his disinheritance. The Catholic queen Mary Stuart, an adulteress and mariticide, becomes a figure of pathos and sympathy in his eponymous 1801 drama, which ran for months last year in London and New York in Peter Oswald’s English version.

There are few moments in theater more chilling than the concluding chorus sung in Wallenstein’s Camp, the first of the Wallenstein trilogy by the Soldateska, the “new people” whom the imperial field-marshal of the Thirty Years’ War has summoned together from every corner of Europe.

A minor Bohemian noble, Wallenstein crushed the Protestant revolt against the Austrian empire by raising a mercenary army that was large enough to live off the land. But his success ruined civil society and turned the Thirty Years’ War into a horror that killed more than a third of the population of Central Europe.

In Chinese terms of reference, imagine that the emperor had elevated a bandit rebel to commander of all imperial forces in order to defeat a rival.

12/8/2009 3:13 AM
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I've adapted the 'logo' of the Vatican's Latinitas Foundation for this banner.
NB: Pope Paul VI established the Foundation in 1976 "to promote the study of the Latin language, classical literature and Medieval Latin". How ironic that his Novus Ordo reform had by then made all the seminaries drop Latin from their curriculum!

On bringing back Latin
by Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

December 2009

It is certain that there has been a drastic decline in the knowledge of Latin in the Catholic Church since Vatican II. It probably did not occur to most of the bishops at the council that their approval of the use of the vernacular in the liturgy of the Church would result in the near disappearance of Latin among bishops and priests.

Here are a few examples of what I mean. Most priests now being ordained do not know enough Latin to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Most bishops elected to go to the Roman Synods cannot understand Latin when it is spoken, cannot write Latin and cannot speak it. I have been a personal witness of this for the past thirty-five years. And this takes place in a Church whose official language is Latin!

Important Vatican documents, which for over 1,500 years were written in Latin, are now written in vernacular languages and then translated into Latin. A good example of that is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was composed in French and then later translated into Latin.

The neglect of Latin in seminaries started around 1960. Pope John XXIII tried to stop the decline in Latin with his apostolic constitution Veterum Sapientia in 1962. But bishops and religious superiors did not implement the wish of the Pontiff and he did not enforce it, so it was a dead letter.

I remember asking a Jesuit seminarian in the early 1970s if he knew Latin. He said, “No, we don’t need that any more. Everything we need is available in English translations.”

I would like to call your attention to an article in this issue on “Bringing Back Latin” by Professor Mark Clark, who teaches Latin at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

Dr. Clark points out that almost two thousand years of Catholic history, theology and culture exists in the Latin tongue. Those who do not know Latin have access to that treasure only in vernacular translations, and no translation can give the full nuance of meaning that is found in the original.

So ignorance of Latin on the part of bishops and priests means that they have no direct access to the sources of Catholic culture. This is a tragedy of the first order and something should be done about it.

I have been told that now there are only five or six Latin scholars in Rome itself who are capable of translating into Latin documents like the Catechism.

The Fathers at Vatican II assumed that Latin would continue to be the common language of Catholic priests around the world. In their very first Constitution on the Liturgy they said: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (#36 [1]).

But then, not really realizing what they were doing, they went on to approve the use of the vernacular which “may frequently be of great advantage to the people.” This was one of those “time bombs” inserted into the documents of Vatican II that most bishops who voted for it did not recognize.

Is it too late to recover Latin as a living language among Catholic clerics and lay scholars? Professor Clark sees certain signs that Latin could make a comeback.

One of them certainly is the growing popularity of the traditional Latin Mass and its growing acceptance across the nation. The issuance by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum is another sign.

Many young priests now are learning Latin so they can celebrate Mass according to the Extraordinary Form as contained in the 1962 Roman Missal. At St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome there is currently a revival of Gregorian chant.

A strong move to bring back Latin would be for the Pope to order that all seminarians studying for the Catholic priesthood must know how to celebrate Mass in Latin. There is a rumor that this is being considered in Rome. That would mean that all seminaries must again teach Latin and require at least a reading knowledge of it as a requirement for ordination.

When I was being trained as a Jesuit seminarian in the 1950s classes were taught in Latin, our textbooks were in Latin and the annual oral examinations were in spoken Latin. At ordination, we could read, write and speak Latin.

Latin is a unifying factor for all Roman Catholics. I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will move our Pope and bishops to bring back Latin as a sign of the oneness of the Church.

How I always envied my brother who went to high school in the early 1960s at the Ateneo run by the Jesuits in our hometown, where he had four years of Latin, whereas all I had was the single semester of 'Latin for medical and paramedical students' at university! Of course, the Ateneo, too, had dropped Latin from the curriculum by 1970!

12/9/2009 12:39 AM
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Building peace in Palestine
without Obama’s interference:
A promising, independent Palestine
is quietly being developed,
with Israeli assistance

By Tom Gross

Dec. 7, 2009

Tom Gross is the former Jerusalem correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.

It is difficult to turn on a TV or radio or pick up a newspaper these days without finding some pundit or other deploring the dismal prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace or the dreadful living conditions of the Palestinians.

Even supposedly neutral news reporters regularly repeat this sad tale. “Very little is changing for the Palestinian people on the ground,” I heard BBC World Service Cairo correspondent Christian Fraser tell listeners three times in a 45-minute period the other evening.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. I had spent that day in the West Bank’s largest city, Nablus. The city is bursting with energy, life, and signs of prosperity, in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region.

As I sat in the plush office of Ahmad Aweidah, the suave, British-educated banker who heads the Palestinian Securities Exchange, he told me that the Nablus stock market was the second-best-performing in the world so far in 2009, after Shanghai. (Aweidah’s office looks directly across from the palatial residence of Palestinian billionaire Munib al-Masri, the wealthiest man in the West Bank.)

Later I met Bashir al-Shakah, director of Nablus’s gleaming new cinema, where four of the latest Hollywood hits were playing that day. Most movies were sold out, he noted, proudly adding that the venue had already hosted a film festival since it opened in June.

Wandering around downtown Nablus, the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most important of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of Pres. George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank, and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

(There was one border post on the return leg of the journey, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, but the young female guard just waved me and the two Palestinians I was traveling with through.)

The shops and restaurants were also full when I visited Hebron recently, and I was surprised to see villas comparable in size to those on the Cote d’Azur or Bel Air had sprung up on the hills around the city.

Life is even better in Ramallah [the capital of the West Bank, where Abbas has his offices], where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships, and health clubs are to be seen.

In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first-ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A new Palestinian city, Ruwabi, is to be built soon north of Ramallah. Two weeks ago, the Jewish National Fund, an Israeli charity, helped plant 3,000 tree seedlings for a forested area the Palestinian planners say they would like to develop on the edge of the new city. Israeli experts are also helping the Palestinians plan public parks and other civic amenities.

Outsiders are beginning to take note of the turnaround, too. The official PLO Wafa news agency reported last week that the third quarter of 2009 witnessed near record tourism in the Palestinian Authority, with 135,939 overnight hotel stays in 89 hotels that are now open. Almost half the guests come from the U.S or Europe.

Palestinian economic growth so far this year — a year dominated by economic crisis elsewhere — has been an impressive 7 percent according to the IMF, though Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayad, himself a former World Bank and IMF employee, says it is in fact 11 percent, partly helped along by strong economic performances in neighboring Israel.

In Gaza too, the shops and markets are crammed with food and goods — see, for example, the photos from last Friday’s Palestine Today newspaper about the Eid celebrations in Gaza. These are not the pictures you are ever likely to see on the BBC or in Le Monde or the New York Times.

No, Gaza is not like a “concentration camp,” nor is the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza is on the scale of Darfur,” as British journalist Lauren Booth (who is also Tony Blair’s sister-in-law) has said.

In June, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl related how Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had told him why he had turned down Ehud Olmert’s offer last year to create a Palestinian state on 97 percent of the West Bank (with three percent of pre-1967 Israeli land being added to make up the shortfall).

“In the West Bank we have a good reality,” Abbas told Diehl. “The people are living a normal life,” he added with a candor he rarely employs when addressing Western journalists.

Nablus stock exchange head Ahmad Aweidah went farther in explaining to me why there is no rush to declare statehood, saying ordinary Palestinians need the IDF to help protect them from Hamas, as their own security forces aren’t ready to do so by themselves yet.

The truth is that an independent Palestine is now quietly being built, with Israeli assistance.

So long as the Obama administration and European politicians don’t clumsily meddle as they have in the past and make demands for the process to be completed more quickly than it can be, I am confident the outcome will be a positive one.

(The last time an American president — Bill Clinton in 2000 — tried to hurry things along unrealistically, it merely resulted in blowing up in everybody’s faces — literally — and set back hopes for peace by some years.)

Israelis and Palestinians may never agree on borders that will satisfy everyone. But that doesn’t mean they won’t live in peace.

Not all Germans and French agree who should control Alsace Lorraine. Poles and Russians, Slovenes and Croats, Britons and Irish, and peoples all over the world, have border disputes. But that doesn’t keep them from coexisting.

Nor — so long as partisan journalists and human-rights groups don’t mislead Western politicians into making bad decisions — will it prevent Israelis and Palestinians from doing so.

This is the first positive news I can ever recall reading about Palestine. Of course, I understand that Palestinian leaders and their international supportrs deliberately want to maintain the universal impression that Palestinians are a basket case in all respects, that they are so because they are being held down and held back, the oppressed victims of a relentless Israel with its relative power and prosperity.

But no positive reports have ever seemd to come out of the Palestinian territories. Even the occasional stories on their version of Sesame Street, for instance, simply underscores the 'jihad is good/God is with us and against our enemies' line in which their children are being schooled.

If even half of what the above report says is strue, then we must thank God that good things are still possible despite all the self-interested power games played in behalf of the Palestinians by their supporters and advocates on the world stage, and we must pray that the good continues and lives on... Insh'Allah!

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 12/9/2009 12:44 AM]
1/11/2010 4:50 PM
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It's hard to think God isn't sending a message to all those ideologues pushing junk science - much of it manipulated to their ends - to drive their social re-engineering agenda for the world. But they will probably find a way to say that the most unusual 'big freeze' now happening worldwide is a side effect of global warming!

I must post this, for the record! And I hope it causes all serious scientists at least look at all available data and interpret them honestly, before scaring the world into taking drastic anti-warming measures when the science is far from conclusive.

Sensible measures shoulc still continue on the personal, community and national levels to reduce air pollution and keep the environment from further degradation, but the operative word is sensible, namely, fair, responsible, practical and proportionate - not draconian as the green fanatics would want it.

Climate scientists warn a mini-Ice Age
likely for the next 20 to 30 years

by David Rose

The bitter winter afflicting much of the Northern Hemisphere is only the start of a global trend towards cooler weather that is likely to last for 20 or 30 years, say some of the world’s most eminent climate scientists.

Their predictions – based on an analysis of natural cycles in water temperatures in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans – challenge some of the global warming orthodoxy’s most deeply cherished beliefs, such as the claim that the North Pole will be free of ice in summer by 2013.

According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007 – and even the most committed global warming activists do not dispute this.

The scientists’ predictions also undermine the standard climate computer models, which assert that the warming of the Earth since 1900 has been driven solely by man-made greenhouse gas emissions and will continue as long as carbon dioxide levels rise.

And here, from Joe Hart of

just to gibe an example, are stories in the past few days about the Big Freeze. Each line is really supposed to be a hyperlink, so here's the address with the hyperlinks -

Brrrr… Antarctica Records Record High Ice Cap Growth
Brrrr… South America Has Coldest Winter in a 90 Years
Brrrr… Iraqis See First Snow in 100 Years As Sign of Peace
Brrrr… Worst Snowstorms in a Decade in China Cause Rioting
Brrrr… Jerusalem Grinds to a Halt As Rare Snowstorm Blasts City
Brrrr… Worst Snowstorms in 50 Years Continue to Cripple China
Brrrr… China Suffers Coldest Winter in 100 Years
Brrrr… Pakistan Suffers Lowest Temps in 70 Years– 260 Dead
Brrrr… Record Cold Hits Central Asia– 654 Dead in Afghanistan
Brrrr… Severe Weather Kills Dozens in Kashmir
Brrrr… Tajikistan Crisis!! Coldest Winter in 25 Years!
Brrrr… Record Cold Wave Blasts Mumbai, India
Brrrr… Snow and Ice in San Diego?
Brrrr… Wisconsin Snowfall Record Shattered
Brrrr… The Disappearing Arctic Ice Is Back And It’s Thick
Brrrr… Turkey’s snowiest winter continues.
Brrrr… Record Cold & Snow Blankets Acropolis in Greece (Video)
Brrrr… Longest Ever Cold Spell Kills Cattle & Rice in Vietnam
Brrrr… Most Snow Cover Over North America Since 1966
Brrrr… Australia Suffers Through Coldest Summer in 50 Years
Brrrr… Record Snowfall Slams Ohio River Valley
Brrrr… New Data Gives Global Warming the Cold Shoulder
Brrrr… Global Cooling Causes Armed Clashes in Canada
Brrrr… Snake Oil Salesman Admits to Ca$hing In on Global Warming Hysteria
Brrrr… New Research Claims Earth Sliding Into an Ice Age
Brrrr… Blizzard Blasts South Dakota– 4 Feet of Snow Reported
Brrrr… An Inconvenient Debate- Czech Pres. Challenges Gore
Brrrr… Record Snow Blankets Spokane, Washington In June!
Brrrr… Peru Declares Emergency– Cold Kills 61 Children & 5,000 Alpacas
Brrrr… Arctic Sea Ice Levels Are Up By 1,000,000 Square Kilometers
Brrrr… Denver Breaks 118 Year-Old Cold Record– Arctic Ice Refuses to Melt
Brrrr… NASA Reports Bogus Global Warming Numbers- Again
Brrrr… Goracle: Mayan Civilization Collapsed Because of Climate Change, Too
Brrrr… Global Warming Predictions Overestimated– Its a Hoax
Brrrr… It’s Snowing in the Desert But Gore Warns the North Pole Is Melting
Brrrr… CNN Meteorologist Says GW Theory ‘Arrogant’ (Video)
Brrrr… Ice Comes Early to Lake Superior For First Time in 17 Years
Brrrr… Sea Ice Ends Year At Same Level As 1979
Brrrr… Goofy Hillary Says “Global Warming May Incite New Wars”
Brrrr… “Shivering” Al Gore Gets Put on Ice
Brrrr… Snow Falls in UAE For 2nd Time In Recorded History
Brrrr… Al Gore Braves Snow & Ice to Testify to Congress on Global Warming
Brrrr… Record Storm Dumps Foot of Snow on DC Global Warming Protesters
Brrrr… It’s Snowing in North Dakota– In June!
Brrrr… Rep. Broun Gets Cold Shoulder After Confronting Global Warming Hoaxers
Brrrr… Record Low Temps in 31 States– 256 New Records
Brrrr… Global Temperatures Continue to Drop– Green Peace Caught in a Lie
Brrrr… Antarctic Ice Melt at Lowest Level in Recorded History

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 1/11/2010 4:53 PM]
6/21/2013 12:52 PM
Mahler (who regarded Bruckner as his master and “forerunner”) once told Sibelius that a symphony should be a whole world, able to accommodate absolutely everything the composer can pour into it. For Mahler, this meant symphonies that are defiantly incongruous, enormous metropolitan farragoes of disparate parts, always somewhat ironic (even at their most pompous junctures), buoyant and wild, but sophisticated and whimsical too, and shot through with Viennese urbanity.
8/14/2016 10:10 PM
Alleged paranormal activity in Scotland
By Jane Hamilton on 13 August, 2016.

POLICE investigating reports of disturbances at a house were left stunned when they witnessed paranormal activity.

The officers witnessed clothes flying across a room, lights going off and when they went back on the lampshades were upside down and oven doors opening and closing.

Even a chihuahua dog which was playing in the garden was then discovered sitting on top of a seven-foot hedge.

The family who live at the property had called the police in a panic. They endured two days of the bizarre occurrences before moving out of the property in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire.

The situation has been discussed at high levels within Police Scotland, with senior officers perplexed as to how they best handle the incidents.

A police source said: “These were incidents that were witnessed by our own officers. Incidents that are not easily explained.

“One problem we’ve got is where we go from here as no crime has been established, so what else can we do but deal with any reports of disturbances.

“But officers with more than 20 years’ service are saying they’ve never seen anything like this. It really is something that down-to-earth police officers are having trouble getting their heads round.

“How do you handle what, despite us liking to use the word, has been described as a poltergeist.”

The family at the centre of the drama are devoutly Catholic and police did seek assistance from the church.

A priest has been to the house in Stonelaw Road and performed what has been described as a ‘blessing’ at the property.

The saga unfolded when the family, a woman and her son in his early teens, contacted police on Monday and Tuesday to report ‘disturbing incidents’ in her home.

The woman and the teenager, described as extremely distressed, had been experiencing violent and unexplained circumstances and in desperation contacted police.

A source said: “The officers attended expecting it to be a mental health issue but they witnessed the lights going off, clothes flying across the room and the dog sitting on top of the hedge.

“The officers called their superiors who also attended thinking the cops were perhaps being a bit silly but it’s being taken very seriously.

“The fact it was witnessed by our officers has lent itself to a very different but active inquiry.”

With no reasonable explanation for what they witnessed police, acting with the support of the family, contacted the Catholic Church who sent a priest to bless the house.

No-one has been harmed, though the family were given safety advice by baffled officers and chose to leave the house. They are understood to be living with relatives.

The source added: “The main concern is with the family’s welfare and well-being but with no crime committed and no culprit we are at a loss how to proceed with it. Inquiries are ongoing but it’s difficult to know where to go with it.”

Police are understood to be looking into the family’s background, and working with doctors and social services to provide support.

They are also thought to be checking the history of the property, to see if there been any reports of similar occurrences from previous residents.

Our source said all options were being considered by way of explaining the goings-on: “Is it some form of hoax, or is it real or not real? These are the questions being asked by officers but without coming to any conclusion.

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “On 8 and 9 August police attended a house in Rutherglen to reports of a disturbance. No evidence of criminality was found and advice and guidance was given to the family.”

The Catholic Church was approached for comment but failed to respond.

By Jane Hamilton on 14 August, 2016.

THE MUM at the centre of Scotland’s incredible “poltergeist” case broke her silence yesterday.

Catherine Shreenan told of the stress the whole affair had placed her under - but insisted she didn’t want to discuss the bizarre occurrences at her home.

The Record revealed on Saturday how police who went to the Rutherglen house where Ms Shreenan lives with her teenage son had themselves witnessed a series of unexplained happenings.

Called by the frantic mum to deal with what was described as a “disturbance” officers saw clothes flying across a room, lights going off and when they went back on the lampshades were upside down and oven doors opening and closing.

A chihuahua dog which was playing in the garden was then discovered sitting on top of a seven-foot hedge.

Yesterday Ms Shreenan said: “It’s placed enormous stress on the family. I’ve had people, teenagers, going past my home singing Ghostbusters.”

She declined to be interviewed further on the story, which has been reported worldwide by news organisations and shared globally via social media.

Mrs Shreenan said: “We don’t want to be in the papers, we don’t want people coming to our house. I’m not interested in talking to newspapers. You can imagine the stress we have been under.”

Mrs Shreenan was speaking from outside her parents’ house where it’s understood she and her son have been living since being driven out of their home last week.

Their refuge is just a few miles away from the scene of the perplexing events which left experienced officers stunned and caused distress to Mrs Shreenan and her son.

However their chihuaha dog looked none the worse for its ordeal yesterday as it peered through the downstairs window of Ms Shreenan’s parents’ home.

Yesterday all was quiet at Ms Shreenan’s home in Stonelaw Road.

The property - one ground floor section of a subdivided home - was under seige when our story broke according to one neighbour.

He said: “We read the story in disbelief. We hadn’t even seen the police so it was a shock to open paper and read about a ghost!

“There were quite a few kids and some adults appearing on Saturday singing the Ghostbusters theme. A few cars peeped their horns as they went by. But to be honest it hasn’t been that bad and is a bit excitement for a change.”

Another neighbour said: “It’s all a bit surprising. I’ve been here for years and never seen a ghost.”

Police were called to the house on Monday and Tuesday last week.

The situation has been discussed at high levels within Police Scotland, with senior officers perplexed as to how they best handle the incidents.

Police sources said officers with 20 years experience at the force had witnessed the strange events and nobody knew how to proceed.

The source said: “One problem we’ve got is where we go from here as no crime has been established, so what else can we do but deal with any reports of disturbances.”

A priest has been to the house in Stonelaw Road and performed what has been described as a ‘blessing’ at the property.

Police are looking into the family background as well as the history of the property to see if there is any explanations for the strange occurrences.
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