Posts Tagged ‘world news’

Pakistan test-fires pair of ballistic missiles – CNN.com

Samstag, Mai 8th, 2010

Pakistani forces conduct military exercises in April near the  Indian border.

Pakistani forces conduct military exercises in April near the Indian border.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) — Pakistan has test-fired two ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the military said Saturday.

Both the Shaheen-1, which can hit a target 400 miles (650 kilometers) away, and the Ghazvani, with a range of 180 miles (290 kilometers), were fired successfully, Pakistan military officials said.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who witnessed the event with several senior military officials, said that the nation had developed a strong nuclear deterrence capability, according to a government statement.

He said that Pakistan’s armed forces were “fully capable of safeguarding Pakistan’s security against all kinds of aggression,” according to the statement.

Gilani mentioned last month’s Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in Washington, an event aimed at enhancing international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism. Much of the event focused on Iran’s nuclear program, which has drawn deep concerns from the West.

However, the international community also has had concerns about the stability of the Pakistani government and the security of its nuclear arsenal, questioning whether it’s safe from the hands of the Taliban.

Gilani on Saturday said the world can now move “beyond safety and security concerns,” the statement said. “These were laid to rest at the Nuclear Security Summit where Pakistan forcefully projected a forthright stance on the issue and the world expressed satisfaction at Pakistan’s nuclear security arrangements.”

Estimates of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal currently range from 60 to 100 weapons. It first declared its status as a nuclear power in 1998, testing five bombs in an exchange with its south Asian archrival, India.

viaPakistan test-fires pair of ballistic missiles – CNN.com.

Geek Out!: Considering the lost iPhone – SciTechBlog – CNN.com Blogs

Dienstag, April 27th, 2010

Gizmodo got the iPhone

Gizmodo got the iPhone

Editor’s note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN’s SciTech blog.

When it comes to shiny gadgets, there are some constants that geeks should all be aware of:

1. Your new thing will be outdated in months when the next new thing comes out, and it will be faster, sexier and cheaper than your current thing.

2. There will always be rumors of the next new thing from Apple.

The rumors begin months, sometimes years, before Apple announces an actual device. There were rumors of an Apple phone years before it came out. An Apple tablet device like the iPad is a similarly old rumor.

With each announcement, speculation about the next version begins before the freshly removed cellophane on the current model has had time to float to the floor.

Some prognosticators are better than others, because they have a better idea of what is most likely – usually not because of any real secret insight from within Apple. Apple is notorious for their tight security (the KGB and CIA could take lessons).

So it was utterly unbelievable that not only had a new Apple device been spotted in the wild, but that a site as well known as Gizmodo had their hands all over it.

It was amazing that Gizmodo was talking about it and had even torn the thing apart for the morbid amusement of many a fanboy.

In the meantime, the revelations about the device weren’t too shocking for those already speculating about the device:

  • A flash for the camera on the back of the phone was an obvious inclusion (it’s lack has been a major oversight in many opinions).
  • A larger battery is a surprise to almost no one. And it’ll probably last even longer than its increase in size would imply.
  • A higher resolution display would also be an obvious addition. And might foretell HD video capture for the camera (putting the iPhone as a stronger competitor for devices like the Flip Cam).
  • But the overall design was somewhat surprising. The iconic iPhone has evolved into a sleek, less curved, device with a metal band around the perimeter. Solid metal buttons for volume. The SIM card slot has been moved to the side, and now apparently uses the same micro-SIM used in the iPad 3G being released at the end of this month.

    Will the micro-SIMs be swappable between the iPad and the new iPhone? The iPad offers 250MB or unlimited data monthly plans with no contract from AT&T. I suspect it will be locked down somehow.

    The back of the device seems to be different as well. Speculation seems to point to an Apple patent for a ceramic case, which is transparent to electromagnetic waves used by WiFi and cellular devices.

    Probably the biggest surprise is a forward-facing camera in addition to the standard rear camera. The only obvious purpose for this will be for video chatting. but just as the accelerometer was applied to unforeseen applications, don’t be surprised at the uses some developers may put the new camera (control apps with the wave of your hand).

    Apple requested, and received, the device back, which all but proves that it is a legitimate Apple produced device. But is it a final design? Many companies produce several different designs for new products. Is this the final configuration for the device?

    The iPad has a space for a forward facing camera, but one wasn’t included in the released product. Will this delay the release of the new product? Doubtful as Apple likes to keep to their timetables.

    And more importantly, will the poor engineer who lost the phone in the first place ever be released from Apple purgatory? Will his career ever advance beyond mop-pusher? Will he be re-located to Apple’s secret research facility at the South Pole?

    What do you think, fellow Apple geeks?

    viaGeek Out!: Considering the lost iPhone – SciTechBlog – CNN.com Blogs.

    Efforts to stop leak under way after oil rig explosion – CNN.com

    Montag, April 26th, 2010

    A boat works to clean up oil where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank last week in the Gulf of Mexico.

    A boat works to clean up oil where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank last week in the Gulf of Mexico.

    (CNN) — Efforts were under way Sunday to contain and stop oil leaking from a well after a rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

    Officials found oil was leaking Saturday from the well. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig was drilling when it exploded Tuesday night, the Coast Guard said. Rescuers on Friday suspended the search for 11 people missing after the blast and subsequent sinking of the rig.

    Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said Saturday that fresh oil was leaking from two places at the well, which is about 5,000 feet deep, at the preliminary estimate of about 1,000 barrels or 42,000 gallons a day.

    Poor weather conditions offshore hampered cleanup efforts on Saturday. Authorities have approved a plan to use submersible remote-operated vehicles in an effort to activate a “blowout preventer” on the sea floor, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O’Berry said in a statement Sunday.

    A blowout preventer is a large valve at the top of a well. Activating it will stop the flow of oil, O’Berry said.

    In addition, BP, which was leasing the rig, is mobilizing a drilling rig, expected to arrive Monday, to prepare for the drilling of a relief well, O’Berry said. A relief well is drilled to intersect the leaking well and isolate or kill it.

    As of Sunday, about 1,143 barrels, or 48,000 gallons, of oily water have been collected, officials said.

    “The oil recovery and cleanup operations are expected to resume once adverse weather has passed,” O’Berry said. “These efforts are part of the federally approved oil spill contingency plan that is in place to respond to environmental incidents.”

    Authorities expect the spill to remain 30 miles offshore for the next three days, Landry told reporters Sunday. A 72-hour period is used because of the availability of offshore forecasts.

    A thorough investigation is under way, she said.

    “We are committed to determining how and why this accident occurred,” Landry said.

    The remote-operated vehicles began working at about 8 a.m. CT (9 a.m. ET) Sunday. The task is expected to take 24 to 36 hours to complete, and the highly complex operation may not be successful, said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP’s global exploration and production business.

    “The amount of resources being focused on this effort are huge,” he said.

    More than 30 spill-response vessels, four aircraft, thousands of gallons of dispersants and a large amount of skimming resources have been deployed to help contain the spill, BP said Saturday.

    The Deepwater Horizon, a mobile unit that moved to different locations in the Gulf of Mexico, was about 52 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, when the explosion happened Tuesday night. The rig had been drilling for oil in its current location since January, said Eileen Angelico, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

    The explosion happened “in the process of turning the well from an exploration well into a production well,” BP spokesman Bill Salvin said.

    viaEfforts to stop leak under way after oil rig explosion – CNN.com.

    DNA-inspired: World’s first curved double helix bridge at Marina Bay | CNNGo.com

    Montag, April 26th, 2010

    Singapore’s waterfront now sports a curving structure that’s being called an architectural marvel
    Marina Bay bridge

    The opening of the bridges and the Youth Olympic Park is an important milestone event for Marina Bay, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority

    It’s 280 meters long, made of a special stainless steel, was lovingly assembled over two years with great precision and is already being touted as an architectural marvel and engineering feat. Officially named “The Helix,” the sweeping, curving structure is the world’s first double helix bridge and joins CNNGo’s list of 24 of the world’s most amazing bridges.

    The bridge by day.

    The bridge is located just beside the floating platform at Marina Bay, and when Phase 2 of Marina Bay Sands is open in June, it will allow pedestrians a direct link to the integrated resort. At its entrance is Singapore’s first art park — the Youth Olympic Park — which opened at the same time as the bridge, and alongside it is the vehicular bridge to the casino resort, called Bayfront Bridge.Designed by Australian firm Cox Group, engineering firm Arup and Singapore-based Architects 61, the bridge is made up of a major and minor steel helix that wind around each other. The bridge has five viewing platforms spanning across the entire length which provide great views of the Singapore skyline and events taking place within Marina Bay. It also functions as a outdoor gallery where children’s paintings and drawings are exhibited for public viewing.

    Why is this bridge such a big deal? To put it in perspective, if all the steel tubes forming the major and minor helix are laid end to end, it will measure 2,250 meters long, and the entire structure weighs about 1,700 tons, which is equivalent to about 1,130 saloon cars. There is also a night lighting feature built into the pedestrian bridge, which can be programmed to create various moods for different events.

    “When the (Marina Bay) Promenade is completed by the middle of this year, together with this bridge, it will form a 3.5-kilometer pedestrian loop around the whole bay,” said Fun Siew Leng, Group Director of Urban Planning and Design, Urban Redevelopment Authority, to Channel NewsAsia.

    Big fanfare at opening celebrations

    To mark the completion of the bridge and the opening of the Youth Olympic Park, a specially choreographed two-minute pyrotechnic show was held over the weekend, which was set against the backdrop of the pedestrian bridge. The Helix was officially named and declared open by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

    A series of music, dance, drum and gongfu performances choreographed by Aaron Khek, the chief choreographer for the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, was also held in the newly built Youth Olympics Park.

    viaDNA-inspired: World’s first curved double helix bridge at Marina Bay | CNNGo.com.

    Iceland closes airports for first time due to volcanic ash cloud – CNN.com

    Sonntag, April 25th, 2010

    A volcanic ash cloud towers over Hella, Iceland on Thursday. Some  Icelandic airports will close for the first time due to the ash.

    A volcanic ash cloud towers over Hella, Iceland on Thursday. Some Icelandic airports will close for the first time due to the ash.

    (CNN) — Iceland will close two airports on Friday for the first time, a week after ash from an Icelandic volcano forced the shutdown of airspace over much of Europe and stranded thousands of passengers around the world, the Icelandic aviation authority announced Thursday.

    The Keflavik International Airport and Reykjavík International Airport will be closed beginning early Friday morning, the aviation authority said, according to a statement on the Keflavik airport’s website.

    Though the ash cloud originated in Iceland, the country’s airports have been spared from closure until now. Strong northwest winds had been blowing ash from the volcano, in the south of Iceland, out to sea and over Europe.

    “Now the winds have died down, and the cloud is lingering around Iceland,” said Chris Almond, a forecaster with Britain’s Met Office, the nation’s national weather service.

    Two other Icelandic international airports, in Akureyri and Egilsstadir, will stay open to all air traffic, the aviation authority said. The ash cloud is not expected to reach those cities, which are in the north and east of the island nation.

    Icelandair announced Thursday that trans-Atlantic passengers from the U.S. and Europe who would have stopped in Keflavik will be rerouted Friday via Glasgow, Scotland.

    Icelandair said that passengers traveling to and from Iceland will have the option of being re-routed through the Akureyri airport, a four-hour drive from Reykjavík. The airline is arranging bus travel between Akureyri airport and the Reykjavík Bus Terminal.

    Elsewhere in Europe, most airports appeared to be open on Thursday and are expected to be open Friday.

    But the cloud still caused flight disruptions Thursday. The British Ministry of Defence temporarily suspended non-essential flying Thursday after volcanic ash was found on some of its Typhoon fast jets.

    The closure of so much European airspace for nearly a week left untold numbers of travelers stranded, and it’s not clear how long it will take to get everyone home.

    Many airlines added or rearranged flights to try to clear the backlog.

    At its peak, the crisis affected 1.2 million passengers a day and 29 percent of all global aviation, according to the International Air Transport Association.

    It was the worst disruption of air traffic since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. Following those attacks, the United States closed its air space for three days, forcing Europe to postpone all transatlantic flights.

    The International Air Transport Association estimated earlier this week that the Icelandic volcano crisis cost airlines more than $1.7 billion in lost revenue through Tuesday.

    The crisis began after the volcano beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted April 14 and sent a cloud of ash into the atmosphere. By the next day that cloud had reached Europe, where authorities quickly closed the airspace over safety fears.

    By Tuesday, however, airlines had started to complain that the measures were too restrictive. Ash levels in most parts of Europe, they said, were low enough to allow the safe operation of flights.

    Scientists in Iceland said Wednesday the volcano has decreased its ash output by 80 percent compared to the first day of eruption.

    Armann Hoskuldsson, a volcanologist at the University of Iceland, told a briefing that the volcano’s output is now “insignificant,” though it will continue to be active for a while.

    That reduction in volcanic activity appeared to be the main reason that flights resumed operating in Europe on Wednesday, along with European countries relaxing their restrictions on flight, according to a spokeswoman for Eurocontrol, an intergovernmental body that manages European air travel.

    In Britain, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued revised guidance on flying through volcano ash clouds, allowing airlines to conduct their own risk assessments and requiring them to report any ash damage to the authorities.

    The 27 countries of the European Union also agreed with Eurocontrol to split the airspace into zones based on their ash content and to allow flights in the unaffected areas, said Spanish Minister of Public Works Jose Blanco.

    “Airspace was being closed based on theoretical models, not on facts,” said Giovanni Bisignani, director general and CEO of International Air Transport Association. “Test flights by our members showed that the models were wrong.”

    viaIceland closes airports for first time due to volcanic ash cloud – CNN.com.

    Iran reportedly tests five new missiles – CNN.com

    Sonntag, April 25th, 2010

    Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard practice attacking a naval vessel during military exercises in the Persian Gulf.

    Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard practice attacking a naval vessel during military exercises in the Persian Gulf.

    Tehran, Iran (CNN) — Iran said Sunday it fired five new types of locally-made coast-to-sea and sea-to-sea missiles in the last stage of its “Great Prophet 5″ military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.

    The missiles were fired simultaneously and struck a single target at the same time — a feat the Revolutionary Guard Corps described to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting as “very important.”

    The military exercises on Sunday also included high-speed boats waging a “war” against a warship.

    The maneuvers fell on the 31st anniversary of the elite force and were designed to demonstrate new weapons systems.

    Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy chief of the Revolutionary Guard told Iranian media that the exercises were aimed at demonstrating Iran's “strength, will and national resolve to defend independence and territorial integrity.”

    The U.S. military official noted there have been several Iranian exercises in the past, but this one received attention because the Revolutionary Guard Corps discussed it publicly in advance.

    The U.S. Navy currently is operating several warships in the region, and commanders are often reminded not to let any encounters with Iranians inadvertently escalate.

    Iran's missile development is being watched closely by the United States, which is pressing for tougher sanctions against the Islamic republic for its controversial nuclear program.

    viaIran reportedly tests five new missiles – CNN.com.

    In the tech world, porn quietly leads the way – CNN.com

    Sonntag, April 25th, 2010

    A porn company's iPad announcement mirrors a history of adult  companies being out in front on tech advances.

    A porn company’s iPad announcement mirrors a history of adult companies being out in front on tech advances.

    (CNN) — It was just days after the release of the iPad — Apple’s slate computer heralded as a tool for gaming, book and magazine reading and Web consumption — when the announcement arrived.

    One of the world’s biggest porn companies claimed it had created a way to stream its videos onto the device, skipping the Apple store and its restrictions on salacious content.

    The announcement illustrates a widely acknowledged but seldom-spoken truth of the technology world: Whenever there’s a new content platform, the adult-entertainment industry is one of the first to adopt it — if they didn’t help create it in the first place.

    “It’s not necessarily that the porn industry comes up with the ideas, but there’s a huge difference in any technology between the idea and the successful application,” said Jonathan Coopersmith, a professor at Texas A&M University who teaches the history of technology.

    “They’re kind of the shock troops, and one of the nice things for them is that they can claim, ‘Hey, I’m advancing technology.’ ”

    While the shadowy nature of the adult-entertainment industry makes exact figures hard to nail down, it’s generally acknowledged that porn was the first product to make money on the Internet and still rakes in upward of $1 billion annually online.

    [Although porn, like many industries, has felt the pinch of the last couple year’s recession, leading Hustler’s Larry Flynt and others to jokingly ask for a federal bailout].

    From the printing press to instant cameras, from pay-per-view to VCRs, pornographers — both professional and private — have been among the quickest to jump on board with newly developed gadgets.

    The first public screening of a movie was in 1895. Less than two years later, Coopersmith notes, the first “adult” film was released.

    “The classic example is the VCR,” said Oliver Marc Hartwich, an economist and senior fellow with Centre for Independent Studies, a conservative Australian think tank. “When it was introduced, Hollywood was nervous because the big studios feared piracy. They were even considering suing the VCR producers.

    “Not so the adult industry. They saw it as a big new market and seized the opportunity.”

    On the internet, streaming video, credit-card verification sites, Web referral rings and video technology like Flash all can be traced back to innovations designed to share, and sell, adult content.

    iReport: Porn and the economy

    Experts attribute much of the success of AOL, the social networking forbearer of sites like Facebook and Twitter, to its private chat rooms — and anyone who remembers scanning the user-created chats remembers the adults-only nature of many of them.

    Websites that require memberships, encryption coding, speedier file-sharing technology — all can trace their roots back to the adult industry.

    These days, in addition to the race for the iPad screen, at least a couple of porn flicks are in production using burgeoning 3-D technology. While Hollywood has scored with a few blockbusters, 3-D tech for the television is still in its infancy — and porn, as always, is right there to capitalize.

    “Just imagine that you’ll be watching it as if you were sitting beside the bed,” Hong Kong-based producer Stephen Shiu Jr. said of his movie, “3D Zen and Sex,” which is set to begin filming this month with a budget of nearly $4 million. “There will be many close-ups. It will look as if the actresses are only a few centimeters from the audience.”

    For adult-entertainment companies, staying on the cutting edge of technology can be necessary to survive.

    Ilan Bunimovitz is the CEO of Private Media Group, the company that announced the iPad porn offering, which uses cloud computing to store a customer’s videos.

    In effect, he’s saying it’s like an iTunes for porn — an online service that lets users buy and access a personal collection of adult videos via their iPads. Of course, the slate computer’s browser can already be used to surf the internet for adult content.

    He said his company, with its 25-member technology department, began working on ways to take advantage of theiPad the day it was announced in January. By the time Apple released the device in early April, the system was ready, he said.

    “Every step of the way, when there’s a new technology, we explore it,” said Bunimovitz. “In the adult business, many times the traditional venues are not available to us, so we have to be innovative to get our content to the consumer.

    “With adult content, you need to create your own solutions.”

    Porn companies can capitalize on the latest technological advances because of their deep pockets and the relative certainty that their investments will be returned by customers willing to pony up for their product, experts say.

    “People are willing to pay a premium for pornography,” said Coopersmith, the Texas A&M professor. “You see this with movies, with VCRs — which is when it first really became noticeable. DVDs, computer games, cable TV — if you look at the price of those [adult] products, they’re higher profit margins for the vendors.”

    That fact creates a conundrum for product developers. Often, any new product’s pornographic potential remains a dirty little secret — privately discussed by the manufacturer but left unspoken in public.

    One of Coopersmith’s favorite examples is the early days of instant cameras. Manufacturers were fully aware how many customers would use a camera that didn’t require you to go to the local pharmacist to have your film developed, he said.

    One of the earliest was Polaroid’s provocatively named camera, “The Swinger” — ostensibly so-called because of a strap that let it dangle from the user’s wrist.

    In a television ad, a young man uses it to photograph a bevy of gyrating, bikini-clad models before eventually picking one to walk off into the sunset — with only the camera between them.

    “One of the silent slogans of the porn-tech world is ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Do sell,” Coopersmith said. “You don’t want to be public, but you’ve got your own private corporate plans.”

    “As for the future, Bunimovitz says he doesn’t expect his industry to back away from the cutting edge of technology. He’s currently intrigued with the potential of artificial intelligence, which he said one day might simulate a live porn star who could “interact” with the user.

    “There’s always something new,” he said. “At any point in time, we’ll be working on new initiatives. Some of them will flop and some of them will be big — but there’s always something in the works.”

    Google Street View logs WiFi networks, Mac addresses • The Register

    Freitag, April 23rd, 2010

    Why are you doing this?, ask Germans

    Free whitepaper – Taking control of your data demons: Dealing with unstructured content

    Google's roving Street View spycam may blur your face, but it's got your number. The Street View service is under fire in Germany for scanning private WLAN networks, and recording users' unique Mac (Media Access Control) addresses, as the car trundles along.

    Germany's Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Peter Schaar says he's “horrified” by the discovery.

    “I am appalled… I call upon Google to delete previously unlawfully collected personal data on the wireless network immediately and stop the rides for Street View,” according to German broadcaster ARD.

    Spooks have long desired the ability to cross reference the Mac address of a user's connection with their real identity and virtual identity, such as their Gmail or Facebook account.

    Other companies have logged broadcasting WLAN networks and published the information. By contrast Google has not published the WLAN map, or Street View in Germany; Google hopes to launch the service by the end of the year.

    But Google's uniquely cavalier approach to privacy, and its potential ability to cross reference the information raises additional concerns. Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said internet users shouldn't worry about privacy unless they have something to hide. And when there's nowhere left to hide…?

    More from ARD here and Der Spiegel, here. The latter describes Google as a “data octopus”. ®

    viaGoogle Street View logs WiFi networks, Mac addresses • The Register.

    NASA unveils new images of the sun – CNN.com

    Donnerstag, April 22nd, 2010

    (CNN) — Your mother always said not to look directly at the sun. In this case, you may want to make an exception.

    NASA released stunning new images captured by their Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, a space telescope designed to study our sun.

    “SDO is our 'Hubble for the sun,'” says Lika Guhathakurta, a NASA scientist, in a statement released Wednesday. NASA says SDO will play a critical role in helping scientists understand our nearest star more thoroughly, as well as its effect on our planet.

    Since its launch on February 11, SDO has been moving into a geosynchronous orbit and bringing its on-board instruments online. The images unveiled on Wednesday's press conference are among the first images sent back by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, the observatory's main telescope array.

    One thing that makes SDO unique it its ability to see the big picture — literally. Rather than just focusing on a section of the sun, the observatory is able to monitor the entire sun in what it calls the “full disk” view.

    NASA plans to have SDO in operation for the next five years, and says the observatory has enough fuel on board to continue to operate for an additional five years after it completes its initial science mission.

    viaNASA unveils new images of the sun – CNN.com.

    Has ‘South Park’ gone too far this time? – CNN.com

    Donnerstag, April 22nd, 2010

    Has ‘South Park’ gone too far this time? – CNN.com.

    (CNN) — Nothing is sacred on “South Park.”

    This is a show, after all, that once painted God as a gap-toothed rhinoceros-monkey, portrays Satan as a simpering milquetoast and regularly features Jesus as a superhero — the kind who’s not afraid to ignore the peaceful teachings of the Sermon on the Mount to smite his opponents. The show has mocked Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Scientologists and atheists, among (many) others.

    It’s a formula that’s generally served “South Park” well, allowing it to score comic points by riffing on hypocrisy while emphasizing a message of libertarianism and tolerance, and it’s one that goes back to the show’s beginnings, points out former Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark, who blogs at UncleBarky.com. After all, he recalls, the show began as a Christmas short violently pitting Santa Claus against Jesus.

    But have they gone too far this time with a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit?

    In the beginning, it wasn’t so much the religion that bothered observers but the language used by the series’ pint-sized cast, he said.

    “The most shocking thing back then was, you had little kids exercising a vocabulary that you hadn’t heard before [from children],” he said. “I go back to the days when [the sitcom] ‘Uncle Buck’s’ ‘You suck’ was a major point of contention on a CBS sitcom and everybody went crazy about ‘how can they have an 8-year-old kid saying this?’ And then ‘South Park’ ratcheted that way up.”

    However, the show can still ruffle feathers.

    For its 200th episode April 14 — the beginning of a two-part story that concludes Wednesday night — “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided to go all-in, creating a plot line about free speech in which most everybody the show’s ever offended comes back. Among the episode’s characters: the Prophet Mohammed, who is first pictured behind a black “censored” bar and later in a bear suit.

    That didn’t sit well with Revolution Muslim, an Islamic group that objected to Mohammed’s portrayal.

    According to some Muslim traditions, the visual depiction of Mohammed is not allowed.

    “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show,” the group said on its website. “This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality that will likely happen to them.”

    Islamic group: ‘South Park’ post a call to protest, not violence

    Van Gogh was the Dutch director who was killed in 2004 by an Islamic extremist. Among his works was “Submission,” a short film about abuse of women in Islam.

    The creator of the Revolution Muslim posting said that the group only wants those offended to be able to voice their opposition in letters to the show’s creators and that it did not advocate violence.

    CNN commenters were generally angered by the story, which was featured on Tuesday’s “Anderson Cooper 360°.”

    “I have no respect for a prophet or god that needs its followers to defend it by threats and murder. ‘South Park’ should be applauded,” Andrew said on the “AC360°” live blog.

    “I’m a Muslim that loves the message of the Qur’an dearly, but that is not MY Islam,” Erbab added.

    Parker and Stone knew what might be coming. In an interview with the pop culture and tech site BoingBoing.net during production of the 200th show, they acknowledged that Mohammed would be a character but didn’t know how he would be portrayed — or whether Comedy Central, “South Park’s” network, would let them show Mohammed at all.

    “If they would let us show it, that would be great,” Stone said.

    “We’re having fun with the same fight,” Parker said.

    Comedy Central had no comment on the controversy, the network said.

    It wasn’t the first time Mohammed was featured on the show. In the July 2001 episode “Super Best Friends,” he appears as “the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame,” along with other religious figures — Buddha, Moses and Mormon founder Joseph Smith among them — who help the other “South Park” kids rescue Kyle from a cult devoted to magician David Blaine

    But that, said Stone and Parker, was before September 11, the van Gogh murder and the 2005 Muslim protests over the Danish cartoons that appeared in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

    “Now, that’s the new normal. Like we lost. Something that was OK is now not OK,” Stone said.

    Of course, for a long time, religious mockery on TV wasn’t OK either, Bark observed. “Networks used to be loath to even touch religion,” he said.

    With rare exceptions (“The Simpsons” the most notable), until the mid-’90s, shows with religious themes — such as “Highway to Heaven” or “Touched by an Angel” — stressed earnestness and optimism.

    But in the 500-channel universe, questioning religion, and all that comes with it, is now more acceptable, Bark said.

    “Things are done now that weren’t done then,” he said.

    If the satire is handled well, there’s no reason for Mohammed to be untouchable either, Muslim writer Aziz Poonawalla said on his Beliefnet blog.

    “I don’t watch ‘South Park,’ and likely never will,” he wrote. “But I much prefer their attempt at depiction of the Prophet SAW [May Allah's prayers and greetings be upon him], which is rooted in a simple need to assert their creative freedom, rather than any genuine intent to defame or insult Islam — quite unlike the Danish newspaper cartoons, which were created with only malice in mind.”

    Bark remains surprised at the controversy the episode has stirred.

    “Religion is touchy, but … in this case, since they’re lumping all religions [together] — as usual — and they’ve made fun of Jesus [and others], I’m surprised that anybody gets upset anymore over what they do,” he said.

    Certainly, Stone and Parker aren’t going to suddenly change their attitudes. The pair recently announced a new musical based on the Book of Mormon, and they care too deeply about the “South Park” universe to go soft.

    “You guys aren’t afraid to pick at an old scab?” BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin asked.

    “We’re 200 shows now, so now what?” Parker responded.

    Belgium considers ban on Islamic face coverings – CNN.com

    Donnerstag, April 22nd, 2010

    Belgium considers ban on Islamic face coverings – CNN.com.

    (CNN) — The latest round in the battle of the burqa kicks off Thursday in Belgium, which could become the first country in Europe to ban face coverings worn by observant Muslim women.

    Lawmakers are considering a ban in all public places on niqabs, veils that cover the face, as well as burqas, which cover the face and everything else from head to toe.

    They’re motivated both by security and morality, they say.

    “We think all people in public places must show their face,” says Denis Ducarme. And, he says, “We must defend our values in the question of the freedom and the dignity of the woman.”

    His liberal Reformist Movement drafted the legislation, and claims broad cross-party support.

    Ducarme denies that Islam requires women to wear burqas or niqabs.

    “The majority of Muslims in Belgium and Europe don’t accept the burqa, don’t accept the niqab. It’s only 10 percent who are radical,” he says, blaming trends from Pakistan and Afghanistan for encouraging facial covering.

    And he rejects the suggestion that the proposed ban smacks of intolerance, saying it is the burqa — and the Islamist movement — that are truly intolerant and dangerous.

    He estimates that 300 to 400 women in the country wear the niqab or the burqa.

    Belgium is home to about 281,000 Muslims, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates. That would make the country about 3 percent Muslim.

    Abdullah Bastin, a Muslim political leader in Belgium, warns that the legislation could have an effect exactly opposite from what it intends. Today only a few women wear the burqa, he says, but if the law is enacted, thousands will wear it as an angry reaction.

    He dismisses the idea that the law is designed to protect women’s rights. This isn’t protecting their dignity, it’s colonialism, he argues.

    One town in Belgium banned the burqa six years ago.

    Jan Creemers, the mayor of the tiny picture-postcard city of Maaseik, says it was no problem to enforce the ban: “I had always the support of the Moroccan community here in Maaseik.”

    Some fines were handed out, he says. None were paid, but no one wears a veil in Maaseik today, he says.

    The bill before the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday would impose a fine of 15-25 euros ($20-33) or imprisonment of one to seven days.

    Amnesty International warned Wednesday that the bill would break international law.

    “A general ban on the wearing of full face veils would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs in this way,” said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s interim secretary general.

    “Women must not be compelled to wear a headscarf or veil, either by the state or by individuals; and it is wrong for them to be prohibited by law from wearing it,” Cordone said in a written statement.

    If the Chamber of Deputies approves the law, it will go to the upper house of the legislature for a vote.

    Belgium is not the only country considering banning the burqa. France said Tuesday that it would shortly be putting a similar draft law before Parliament.

    “Face-covering veils must be totally forbidden in the whole public space because women’s dignity is not divisible,” said Luc Chatel, a spokesman for the French government. “The second principle, of course, everything must be done so that no one feels stigmatized because of one’s faith and religion. The president of the republic and the prime minister have asked the members of government to work hard on this point.”

    He said the government will seek to avoid a partisan approach to the legislation, and will consult with all political groups “and of course, moral and religious authorities.”

    A panel of French lawmakers recommended a ban in January.

    France denied citizenship to a man a week later because he made his wife wear a veil, and denied a woman citizenship in 2008 because she wore a burqa. The country’s constitution fiercely guards the secularity of the state.

    Switzerland passed a ban on building minarets, the tall towers next to mosques, in a nationwide referendum in November.

    At the moment, Belgium has only “moderate” government restrictions on religion, a major Pew Forum study found last year. But Europe as a region is more restrictive than the Americas or sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study.