Sunday, November 30, 2008

Modesto pastor: Consider confession if you voted for Obama

By Sue Nowicki
snowicki@modbee.com

last updated: November 29, 2008 02:20:20 AM

St. Joseph's Catholic Church Father Joseph Illo at his church in Modesto Thursday Oct. 05, 2006. Marty Bicek/The Modesto Bee - Modesto Bee - Marty Bicek

St. Joseph's Catholic Church Father Joseph Illo at his church in Modesto Thursday Oct. 05, 2006. Marty Bicek/The Modesto Bee - Modesto Bee - Marty Bicek

Parishioners of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto have been told they should consider going to confession if they voted for Barack Obama, because of the president-elect's position condoning abortion.

"If you are one of the 54 percent of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position and you knew the grav- ity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion. Don't risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously," the Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor of St. Joseph's, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 21.

The letter was sent to more than 15,000 members of the St. Joseph's parish. It is one of 34 parishes in the Stockton Diocese, which has more than 200,000 members in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and four other counties.

Illo also delivered this message in a homily.

Though Obama's support of abortion rights angered many Catholics nationally during the campaign, Illo's letter is believed to be the first in Central California from a priest to his parishioners on the topic.

The Most Rev. Stephen Blaire, bishop of the Stockton Diocese, disagrees with Illo. He said Catholics should not feel compelled to disclose how they voted to their priest.

Blaire said Catholics who carefully weighed many issues and settled on a candidate, such as Obama, who was supportive of abortion rights, were not in need of confession. He said confession would be necessary "only if someone voted for a pro-abortion or pro-choice candidate -- if that's the reason you voted for them."

"Our position on pro-life is very important, but there are other issues," Blaire said. "No one candidate reflects everything that we stand for. I'm sure that most Catholics who voted were voting on economic issues.

"There were probably many priests, and I suspect many bishops, who voted for Obama."

Illo's letter states, "Many Catholics voted for such pro-abortion candidates thinking that their good positions on other issues, such as the war or health care, outweighed their deplorable stand on abortion."

Illo also wrote that Obama "promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would do upon taking office is to sign the so-called 'Freedom of Choice Act,' which would grant unlimited access to abortion in all 50 states up until the moment of live birth."

Illo, in an interview Wednesday, explained his reasoning.

"In Catholic teaching, you have to go to confession when you have committed a mortal sin," he said. "Now, what is a mortal sin? It's somewhat complex. No one can say, 'You committed a mortal sin.' I can only say, 'It's a grave matter.' It's my job to look after my parishioners.

"I've gotten a lot of e-mails and phone calls. It's about 12-to-1 in favor of what I said. One person has left the parish. But I got all of these other positive things."

Across the country, Obama's nomination and campaign was divisive for many Catholics. Many priests and church officials sermonized against him because of his stance on abortion, as they did four years ago when Democratic John Kerry challenged President Bush. There were Catholic-inspired anti-Obama videos on YouTube regarding the issue.

In a story published in October in the Chicago Tribune, Joe Scheidler, president of the Pro-Life Action League, said it was hypocritical for any Catholic to vote for Obama -- even if they agreed with his positions on other health care topics.

"There are a lot of ways you can solve poverty and all these other issues," Scheidler said. "But abortion is the taking of a human life, and the church is very strict on that. Any involvement in abortion is not just a sin, it's an excommunicable sin. This is serious business."

But some loyal to the church disagreed. Patrick Whelan is one of the founders of Catholic Democrats, which supported Obama and other Democratic candidates in the election.

"I feel that every Catholic can vote for Obama in good conscience," Whelan told the Tribune. "I think Barack Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate who has come out and said he plans constructive measures to reduce the number of abortions in the United States."

National exit polling after the Nov. 4 election shows most Catholic voters rejected the hard-line position as 54 percent of them voted for Obama and 45 percent for John McCain, the Republican nominee.

A week after the election, a number of high-profile Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore signaled they intend to work with the president-elect on issues such as immigration and health, but remain strongly opposed to his position on abortion.

During the meeting, The Boston Globe reported, the bishops for the first time approved a new "blessing of a child in the womb," which could be said by priests for pregnant women.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville called the blessing "a very tangible way of us to witness, pastorally and sacramentally, the life of the unborn child."

Bishop Arthur Serratelli, of Paterson, N.J., said, "It is important to reaffirm and focus our attention on the life of the unborn."

American Cardinal Frank Stafford, formerly archbishop of Denver and now assigned to the Vatican, called Obama's election "apocalyptic" during a speech Nov. 14 at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. "On Nov. 4, 2008," he added, "America suffered a cultural earthquake."

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at snowicki@modbee.com or 578-2012.

Sought: Wal-Mart shoppers who trampled NY worker

Saturday, November 29, 2008

(11-29) 17:04 PST New York (AP) --

Police are reviewing surveillance videos of a post-Thanksgiving shopper stampede that trampled a suburban Wal-Mart worker to death, but they acknowledge it may be difficult to bring criminal charges.

Nassau County police and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said no new information was available Saturday on the employee's brutal death, which rattled shoppers even as they flocked to the Valley Stream store a day later.

"It felt a little freakish," customer Ellie Berhun, 48, told the Daily News. "Some man lost his life because a VCR was on sale? Please. It's just too sad for words."

Police said the temporary worker, Jdimytai Damour, was mowed down as about 2,000 bargain-hunters surged into the store at Friday's 5 a.m. opening, leaving a metal portion of the door frame crumpled like an accordion.

Other workers were knocked to the ground as they tried to rescue Damour, and customers simply stepped over him and kept shopping even as the store announced it was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

At least four other people, including a woman eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or treatment for minor injuries. The store, about 20 miles east of Manhattan, closed for several hours but reopened Friday afternoon.

The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday because it has traditionally marked the point when a throng of shoppers pushes stores into profitability for the year.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said it added staffers and outside security workers and put up barricades to try to prepare for the crush. But police spokesman Detective Lt. Michael Fleming said Friday that security was inadequate for a scene he called "utter chaos."

Criminal charges are possible, but identifying anyone in the store's videos may prove difficult, Fleming said.

Damour, 34, came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store, Wal-Mart said.

A woman reported being trampled by overeager customers at a Wal-Mart opening Friday in Farmingdale, about 15 miles east of Valley Stream, Suffolk County police said. She suffered minor injuries but finished shopping before filling the report, police said.

Items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart included a Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as "The Incredible Hulk" for $9.

___

AP retail writers Anne D'Innocenzio and Mae Anderson contributed to this report.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/28/national/a080140S70.DTL

The art of the toilet in Japan

Panasonic Tokyo showroom
Smart young women at Panasonic show off the latest wares
Duncan Bartlett discovers how, when it comes to lavatories, Japan is a step ahead of the rest of the world.

No country takes toilets quite so seriously as Japan.

Machines with heated seats, built-in bidets and a dynamic range of flushing options are almost ubiquitous in homes and public buildings.

A poem recently published by a stressed-out salary man captured their comforting appeal with haiku-like brevity. "The only warmth in my life is the toilet seat," he mourned.

But lavatories here can do much more than keep you warm. One even sends a tiny electrical charge through the user's buttocks to check their body-fat ratio.

The master of the modern convenience is the Panasonic Corporation.

Booming market

At its Tokyo showroom, located in a skyscraper near the BBC's office, a group of smart young women, dressed in uniforms resembling flight attendants, showed me the company's latest wares.

The lids lifted up when I approached. If I stood in front of one, it took a guess at my gender and lifted up the seat as well.

There was a loo that glowed in the dark and another that had built-in loudspeakers.

With manicured fingernails, the demonstrator pushed the control panel beside the seat and gentle light classical music began to play.

Pleasant enough, I thought, although I preferred a pastoral sound effect that provided the impression one was seated upon a white plastic throne surrounded by songbirds in a springtime meadow.

Japanese “Toilet professor” Atsuhiro Katsumata talks to a class of toilet cleaners in Singapore (file photo)
Japanese people do not see cleaning as a demeaning or shameful job
Kyoko Ishii, who heads up the public relations department for Panasonic, explained to me that most of the people who choose luxury loos are older women, so this is a booming market in rapidly ageing Japan.

Kyoko says that for this core customer group, the emphasis now is less on the gadgetry and more on convenience and cleanliness.

A new flush has been invented which does away with the need for a tank and saves dramatically on water.

The device costs about £1,950 ($3,000) including installation. But it is not easy to sell outside Japan as bathrooms in other countries are rarely fitted with the right mixture of sophisticated plumbing and electronics.

Clean culture

A visitor to Tokyo recently told me that he was surprised to find Japanese women rather than foreigners cleaning the toilets in his hotel.

An advert for the Neorest toilet
Advertisements for toilets are screened on public transport
It is of course often immigrants who take on such jobs in rich countries. But foreign-born workers are rare here as only about 1.5% of the population are made up of non-native Japanese.

However, the low immigration level is only part of the explanation. Japanese people do not see cleaning as a demeaning or shameful job.

School children are trained from a young age to sweep their classrooms and scour the playground for litter.

Lorry drivers wash their trucks at the end of every day. No restaurant ever serves a meal without first offering the customer a cleansing towel.

Recently, I visited a small technology company in Osaka. The president, Mr Sugimoto, is trying to inspire his staff to work harder as recession takes hold.

The Japanese - like the British - do not seem to mind too much when comedians sink into vulgarity and joke about scatological matters
He is noted for his drive and enthusiasm and that came across in a punchy presentation which he showed me on his laptop.

It included photographs of his staff on their knees scrubbing the urinals.

His point was that in preparation for a new project, the whole team had mucked in to clean up the workplace and this was clearly a source of pride to be included in the company's publicity.

Source of comfort

But toilets can raise a smile, too. Television comedies sometimes include scenes of pranksters luring people into loos whose walls then collapse, and the embarrassment this causes the victim is a source of great hilarity.

The toilet then appeared to give a welcoming robotic smile and its seat began to glow an inviting orange colour as it heated up, ready for action
The Japanese - like the British - do not seem to mind too much when comedians sink into vulgarity and joke about scatological matters.

But there is also a dark underground trade in DVDs filmed in ladies' toilets by hidden cameras, and only last week a man was arrested for placing "spycams" in the lavatories of a girls' school.

Most of the time, though, the Japanese are happy to think of a toilet as their comfort and their friend.

The other day, while catching a commuter train to work, I found myself transfixed by an advertisement which was being screened on a TV inside the carriage.

A young girl slowly walked towards a loo, which automatically raised its lid to greet her.

The toilet then appeared to give a welcoming robotic smile and its seat began to glow an inviting orange colour as it heated up, ready for action.

Fortunately, the advertisement ended there. But not before a broad and appreciative smile broke out across the face of the girl.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 29 November, 2008 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Dir en grey's melancholy metal

By Kirsty Evans

Published on November 24, 2008 at 4:44pm

Japanese underground sensation Dir en grey hits the Warfield on its second U.S. headlining tour. The experimental group just released its strongest album in years, Uroboros, a collection of melodic, goth-influenced metal with technically tricky rhythms that's slowly picking up radio play. It may be the first album to mix harpsichord and mandolin into metal and actually make it work. Try to forgive the group for the radio-friendly pop blandness of first single "Glass Skin" — and for the inexplicable pterodactyl flying overhead in the video.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

California to investigate Mormon aid to Prop 8

Monday, November 24, 2008

(11-24) 19:42 PST San Francisco (AP) --

California officials will investigate whether the Mormon church accurately described its role in a campaign to ban gay marriage in the state.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission said Monday that a complaint by a gay rights group merits further inquiry.

Executive director Roman Porter says the decision does not mean any wrongdoing has been determined.

Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, accuses the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of failing to report the value of work it did to support Proposition 8.

A representative from the Salt Lake City-based church could not be reached for comment.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/24/state/n180121S50.DTL

The Bible, but not as you know it

By Stephen Tomkins

Bible Illuminated
The Illuminated Bible is not dissimilar to a copy of ID or Wallpaper*

Most people think of the Bible as a densely printed book with no pictures, but a version of the scripture that resembles a glossy coffee table magazine aims to change that. It's part of a wave of radical presentations of the Bible, including a manga version and a Lego gospel. But how do Christians feel about these attempts to spread the word?

It's the kind of magazine you might find in a doctor's waiting room next to Cosmopolitan or Reader's Digest. On the front is a pale face heavy with mascara. A flick through throws up striking images: urban flooding, a Nigerian abattoir, a girl eating noodles, a pooch in a limo.

It's only when and if you get round to reading the text that the incongruity strikes you: "Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven." What kind of problem page is this?

BIBLE VERSION HISTORY
382: Jerome commissioned to tackle Latin Vulgate translation
1382: Wyclif's Bible, translations of Vulgate scripture into Middle English start to appear
1455: Gutenberg prints Bible using movable type
1522: Martin Luther translates New Testament into German
1526: Tyndale's English New Testament printed

Bible Illuminated is the latest attempt to bring the Bible into the modern world. In the format of a 300-page glossy magazine, it contains the whole text of the New Testament in a popular translation, with no chapter or verse numbers.

The images are by turns beautiful, violent, oblique and provocative - much like the book itself.

The text "She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus" is illustrated with a veiled Muslim. One verse has a photo of a pair of knickers draped over high-heeled shoes, sending you back to the passage to find out what it's really about.

The person behind this remarketing of holy writings is Dag Soederberg, a Swedish businessman. And contrary to expectations, he is not a Christian hoping to convert anyone. "I'm not on a mission from God," he explains. "I'm not particularly religious. I'm not telling anyone they should believe."

The Archbishop of Canterbury is intrigued by the Manga Bible

What he sees in the Bible is a profitable chance for people to look again at their world. "We are all affected by it," he says. "Morals are based on it, rightly or wrongly, government, laws. I'm saying to people: this is your history, read it.

"It's the most sold book in the world, but the least known. I want to take it off the shelves and put it on the coffee table."

It's the kind of thing that might provoke tuts and headshaking in the pews, one imagines. "Some people will feel it's dumbing down," says David Ashford of the Bible Society, an organisation that exists to "make the Bible heard". "How can it be the Bible when it's got Angelina Jolie in it?"

The Last Supper in Lego (picture courtesy of www.thebricktestament.com)
The Brick Testament is not exactly reverent (picture courtesy of www.thebricktestament.com)

He, however, welcomes it with open arms. "You have to understand that what we think of as the traditional serious-looking leather-bound Bible is actually a relatively new format. In the Middle Ages, picture books - with people in contemporary dress - were the way most people read the Bible.

"At first the Bible was a collection of scrolls, then illustrated handwritten volumes. When printing was invented they were produced in Latin with pictures. Later they were published in plain closely printed text, in the common language, to get them into as many people's hands as cheaply as possible."

So, ironically, Soederberg's attempt to popularise the Bible by getting away from its traditional format is exactly what the people who created that format were doing.

If you're looking for an alternative way into the Bible, there's no shortage of versions to choose from. Here are some of the more unusual:

1. The Jesus Loves Porn Stars Bible

The Jesus Loves Porn Stars Bible is part of a wider campaign

This arresting title is the work of the XXXChurch, an organisation that on the one hand helps people addicted to porn, while on the other hand taking the gospel into the porn industry. They print this Bible to give out free at porn shows and industry conventions, distributing over 15,000 in 2007.

2. The Manga Bible

The British Christian Ajin-bayo Akinsiku, known as Siku, tells the whole story in the form of a graphic novel. Cain says to Abel, "Whassup, bro?" Noah loads animals onto the ark, saying, "That's 11,344 animals? Arggh! I've lost count again. I'm going to have to start from scratch!" Christ strides out of the desert like a Marvel superhero.

It skimps on some of the less bloodthirsty episodes like the sermon on the mount, but Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is a fan, liking the way it conveys "the shock and freshness of the Bible".

3. The Bible in Cockney

Cockney Bible
Former archbishop George Carey gave a thumbs up to the Cockney Bible

The rhyming slang version of the Bible was written by Mike Coles, an RE teacher in Stepney, and started life as stories he told to his classes. In it, Jesus feeds "five thousand geezers" with "five loaves of Uncle Fred and two Lillian Gish". The Lord's Prayer morphs from "For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory" to "You're the Boss, God, and will be for ever, innit?"

This one got the seal of approval of Rowan Williams's predecessor George Carey, who grew up in London's East End, so must have known what he was rabbit and porking about.

4. The Brick Testament

This less-than-reverent online version by Brendan Powell Smith tells stories from the Bible using Lego. It started life in 2001 with stories from Genesis and today contains 391 stories with 4,214 illustrations. Though it is sometimes satirical or tongue-in-cheek, it is often used by churches and Sunday schools, and it's one of the versions that the Bible Society has welcomed as connecting people with the Bible in a new way.

5. Inspired By… The Bible Experience

The Bible Experience
The Bible Experience is one for the iPod generation

And for the iPod generation, you can get the whole thing on your MP3 player, read and performed by a Hollywood cast, including Forest Whitaker as Moses, Cuba Gooding Jr as Jonah, and a possibly typecast Samuel L Jackson as God.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this new wave of Bibles is how sympathetic the church is to people messing about with its sacred scriptures, whether in wording or binding, no doubt reasoning that there can be some good in anything that gets people hearing its stories.

But how successful these versions are at doing that is another question. The makers of the Bible Illuminated claim it has increased sales of Bibles by 50% in Sweden - though we are not told over what timescale. A version that could achieve such figures in the UK would be one of the most surprising Bibles yet.

Men guilty over fake penis scam


Urine samples from athletes at King's College, London, July 2008
Tests rely on testing urine samples to check for drugs

The makers of a prosthetic penis to help men cheat on drugs tests have pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy in a US federal court.

The two men, George Wills and Robert Catalano, had been selling the device - known as the Whizzinator - over the internet for three years.

The device was sold with a heating element and fake urine to help people test negative for illegal substances.

They could face up to eight years in prison and a $500,000 (£334,000) fine.

The men ran an internet company known as Puck Technology, which between 2005 and 2008 sold the Whizzinator and a similar device, known as Number One.

"The Whizzinator is the ultimate solution for a drug testing device," says a statement on the website of the California-based company, which calls itself the "undisputed leader in synthetic urine."

"The prosthetic penis is very realistic and concealing is simple, while our quality production and materials assures you that the Whizzinator will let it flow again and again, anytime, anywhere you need it!"

Mr Wills and Mr Catalano appeared before a federal court in Pittsburgh, and are scheduled to be sentenced in February.

Bra for the boys an online bestseller in Japan

Wishroom Representative Director Masayuki Tsuchiya is reflected in a mirror as Reuters – Wishroom Representative Director Masayuki Tsuchiya is reflected in a mirror as he poses while wearing …

TOKYO (Reuters) – Who said bras are only for women? A Japanese online lingerie retailer is selling bras for cross-dressing men and they've quickly become one of its most popular items.

Since launching two weeks ago on Rakuten, a major Japanese web shopping mall, the Wishroom shop has sold over 300 men's bras for 2,800 yen ($30) each. The shop also stocks men's panties, as well as lingerie for women.

"I like this tight feeling. It feels good," Wishroom representative Masayuki Tsuchiya told Reuters as he modeled the bra, which can be worn discreetly under men's clothing.

Wishroom Executive Director Akiko Okunomiya said she was surprised at the number of men who were looking for their inner woman.

"I think more and more men are becoming interested in bras. Since we launched the men's bra, we've been getting feedback from customers saying 'wow, we'd been waiting for this for such a long time'," she said.

But the bra, available in black, pink and white, is not an easy sell for all men.

The underwear has stirred a heated debate online with more than 8,000 people debating the merits of men wearing bras in one night on Mixi, Japan's top social network website.

($1=94.34 Yen)

(Reporting by Toshi Maeda, Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Mexican transvestite fiesta rocks indigenous town

JUCHITAN, Mexico (Reuters) – Attaching flowers to a ribbon headdress, pulling a lace slip under an embroidered skirt and draping a necklace of gold coins over his head, Pedro Martinez puts the finishing touches on the traditional costume of Zapotec women in southern Mexico.

"When I get all dressed up like this my father always says, 'Oh Pedro! You look just like your mother when she was young," beams Martinez, 28, gluing on fake eyelashes in front of a mirror.

Martinez spent two hours in the hair salon he owns getting ready for this weekend's festival of the "muxes," indigenous gays and transvestites in the town of Juchitan who have found a haven of acceptance in Mexico's macho society.

The muxes (pronounced moo-shes), mostly of ethnic Zapotec descent, are widely respected in the southern town where a dance and parade that crowns a transvestite queen and celebrates the harvest has been held annually for the last 33 years.

Anthropologists say the tradition of blurring genders among Mexico's indigenous population is centuries old but has been revived in recent decades due to the gay pride movement.

Several dozen muxes were blessed by a Catholic priest at a mass before joining visiting transvestites and other townsfolk at a raucous party on Saturday night. The muxes wore either traditional local costumes or ball gowns and high heels.

The beer-fuelled fiesta continued into Sunday at a parade through town.

Some of the muxes, a Zapotec word derived from the Spanish for woman, or "mujer", dress as women year round and others are gays who only don women's clothes at the annual party, or not at all.

The area around Juchitan, a laid-back town near the Pacific, has a history of women playing leading roles in public life.

"The legend here is that mothers pray for a gay son who can take care of them when they are old," theatre director Sergio Santamaria, 56, said over a traditional breakfast of iguana soup and sweet corn tamales.

DUAL-GENDERED GODS

Native people in the Americas with ambiguous gender were often regarded as wise and talented, said Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley.

"They were seen as have having a kind of spiritual power that comes from being more like the ancestors who are mothers and fathers at once, and more like the divinities who may be dual gendered," Joyce said.

Anthropologists have found evidence of mixed gender identities across Mesoamerica, from Mayan corn and moon gods that are both male and female and Aztec priests who ritually cross dressed.

The Spanish conquest in the 16th century and the Catholic Church snuffed out much of that tolerance.

"The colonizing power was very rigid about sex. They came in and rapidly suppressed all these practices, which doesn't mean they went away. It means they went underground," Joyce said.

While homosexuality has long been accepted in Juchitan, it is only recently that muxes feel secure enough to cross-dress and they have taken on causes like AIDS education, since the region has one of the highest HIV rates in the state of Oaxaca.

"There have always been muxes, but before they would wear just a dress shirt with a feminine touch, like gold buttons. The transvestites are the new generation," said Santamaria.

(Editing by Kieran Murray)

Malaysia clerics issue yoga fatwa

By Robin Brant
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

A Chinese man practices yoga at a yoga center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Many people see yoga as a way to maintain their health

Millions of people in Malaysia have been banned from doing yoga because of fears it could corrupt Muslims.

The Islamic authorities have issued a ruling, known as a fatwa, instructing the country's Muslims to avoid yoga because of its Hindu roots.

To most people yoga is simply a sport - a stress-busting start to the day.

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council said it goes further than that and that elements of the Indian religion are inherent in yoga.

Announcing the decision, the council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said practices like chanting and what he called worshipping were inappropriate and they could "destroy the faith of a Muslim".

The ruling is not legally binding but many of Malaysia's Muslims abide by fatwas.

Yoga classes here are filled with mostly non-Muslim Malaysians of Chinese or Indian descent, but in the major cities it is not uncommon to see several Muslim women at classes.

Prayers and gym

For Muslims across Malaysia the day starts at 5.30 in the morning, as the call to prayer goes out.

A handful of the most devout arrive at a mosque in the western outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

A Hindu holy man performs yoga postures during the Ardh Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India (file photo)
In India, yoga is an integral part of the Hindu religion

Over the other side of the road, in the shadow of the Mosque's golden dome, a few others start arriving to start their day - at the gym.

Each is carrying a yoga mat, slung over their shoulder.

Adam Junid is a Muslim Malaysian who does both - prayers and gym, specifically yoga.

An engineer in his 30s, he goes to a weekly class for about 30 people.

"I don't think it interferes with the religion at all," he says.

"In fact it helps you, makes you healthy and more aligned and it helps you become self aware," he adds.

Adam is a rarity because it is mostly women and not many Muslims who do this.

Islam is able to cater to the needs of Muslims - spiritual needs, intellectual needs and other needs, material needs - there is no need to bring in elements from outside
Professor Osman Bakar

"The yoga masters repeat that it actually can be quite compatible with religion," he said. "It makes you a better person."

Yoga comes in many forms. For some it is a stress-busting sport. For others a serious bit of soul searching.

What Adam does once a week is the serious stuff. The class I sat in on was two hours long.

Spiritual experience

It included breathing exercises, with the help of the tick-tock of a metronome.

There was meditation, then half an hour of darkness for intense relaxation.

Before that some of the class managed a very stable headstand. Others could touch the back of their head with their foot.

"It can go with any religion," instructor Mani Sekaran told me.

"Or it can go with those who don't believe in any religion, because it's purely sports," he added.

He is also founder of the Malaysian Yoga Society. A bald and very fit man, he once did martial arts.

"If I want to train for an Olympic gold medal... whether I believe in a religion or not doesn't matter. I just keep on training."

Man at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia is a secular democracy where Islam is the official religion

"Based on that we can use yoga to enhance whatever we are doing, whether it is religion or whether it's spirituality... but it [yoga] is stand alone."

During the class I sat in on, yoga's Hindu roots were mentioned, albeit briefly. A spiritual experience was on offer for those who wanted it.

This is the point where some Muslims in Malaysia worry about yoga. They think it is encroaching on their way of life.

One Muslim student told me that she combined yoga techniques with prayers. That concerns some Islamic experts.

"If people want to practice yoga, the physical exercise, I think that is no problem," Professor Osman Bakar, from Malaysia's Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies, told me.

"Many Muslims would say fine. But they would object to the mixing of the two things."

"Islam is a complete way of life. Islam is able to cater to the needs of Muslims; spiritual needs, intellectual needs and other needs, material needs. So there is no need to bring in elements from outside," he added.

Adam's yoga class ended with a quick discussion about self-awareness, concentration and why people do yoga. I was not sure if this was a weekly occurrence or for my benefit.

He told me that yoga has made him a better person. He has no plans to stop.

Vatican 'forgives' Lennon for 'more popular than Jesus' remark

More than 40 years after Christians were infuriated by the Beatles' claim that they were "more popular than Jesus", the Roman Catholic Church has made peace with the Fab Four.

The Beatles - the Vatican has forgiven John Lennon for claiming the band were 'more popular than Jesus'
All is forgiven: the Vatican has made its peace with the Beatles

Saturday's edition of the Vatican's official newspaper absolves John Lennon of his notorious remark, saying that "after so many years it sounds merely like the boasting of an English working-class lad struggling to cope with unexpected success".

In a lengthy editorial marking the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' famous White Album, L'Osservatore Romano heaps lavish praise on the British band.

"The talent of Lennon and the other Beatles gave us some of the best pages in modern pop music," said the newspaper, which has recently tried to shake off its stuffy image by covering popular culture events such as the Oscars and inviting articles from Muslim and Jewish contributors.

Only "snobs" would dismiss the Beatles' songs, which had shown "an extraordinary resistance to the effects of time, providing inspiration for several generations of pop musicians", said the newspaper, regarded as the Vatican's official mouthpiece.

It was in March 1966 that Lennon made his infamous claim.

"Christianity will go," he told a reporter from the Evening Standard.

"It will vanish and shrink We're more popular than Jesus now - I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was alright, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." T

he boast provoked outrage, particularly in the United States, where conservative Christians burned piles of Beatles albums. The band received death threats and radio stations, particularly in the South, stopped playing Beatles records.

More than a decade later Lennon said he was glad of the furore he had caused. "My life with the Beatles had become a trap," he wrote in 1978.

"I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that the Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."

SoCal's atheist billboard taken down

Friday, November 21, 2008

(11-21) 08:13 PST Rancho Cucamonga, CA (AP) --

Complaints have led to removal of an atheist group's "Imagine No Religion" billboard in Rancho Cucamonga.

The General Outdoor sign company took down the Freedom From Religion Foundation billboard on Thursday after the city asked if there was a way to get it removed. Redevelopment director Linda Daniels says they got 90 complaints.

The 12,000-member Madison, Wis.-based foundation, which advocates separation of church and state, has billboards in eight states that include such messages as "Reasons Greetings" and "Beware of Dogma."

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor says the city shouldn't be censoring speech.

In September, the city asked another billboard firm to take down a vagina rejuvenation procedure sign.

___

Information from: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, www.dailybulletin.com

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/19/state/n093009S43.DTL

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sunday, November 09, 2008

S. Korean TV Series to Hit the Big Screen

A still from "Dae Jang-geum" features South Korean actress Lee Young-ae. [File Photo: 163.com]

South Korea's highly popular 2003 television series "Dae Jang-geum," or "Jewel in the Palace," will be made into a feature film, the Chinese web portal 163.com reported.

China's Xi'an Film Studio will cooperate with a South Korean film company on the project, officials said at the company's fiftieth anniversary celebration on Saturday in Xi'an.

Lee Yeong-ae, who attained fame through the smash-hit TV series, again will play the heroine, Seo Jang-Geum. South Korean heartthrob Song Seung-hun also will be cast in a role, although the exact one has yet to be determined, the report said.

Chinese actors and actresses are expected to play some lead roles, but the details have not been decided.

Other reports have cited speculation that China's Zhang Yimou had been invited to direct the film, but he declined.

Cold snap threat to baby hedgehogs

Baby hedgehogs

A handful of rescued babies at a wildlife sanctuary. Photograph: Jeff Moore

Wildlife sanctuaries are being inundated with starving baby hedgehogs after recent cold weather took its toll on already declining populations. A combination of a mild autumn followed by snow has left juvenile hedgehogs particularly vulnerable, wildlife experts say.

They are now urging the public to report any young animals they see foraging for food during the day. The animals are normally nocturnal.

Tiggywinkles, the Wildlife Hospital Trust sanctuary near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, said it had taken in more than 120 young hedgehogs in the past seven days. 'They are coming in thick and fast. The cold snap really hit them,' said Les Stocker, who runs the sanctuary. 'Usually by about Christmas we will be looking after 500, but we have got 500 already and the numbers are rising.' Vale Wildlife, a treatment and rehabilitation centre in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, has launched an emergency appeal for tins of cat and dog food to help feed the 100 young hedgehogs brought in to the centre so far.

Folly Wildlife Rescue at Eridge Green, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, has reported 'unusually high' numbers of the animals.

'We have got about 90 and they are coming in smaller and smaller,' said Annette Risley.

Experts believe that wetter summers and warmer autumns are encouraging hedgehogs to produce second litters later in the year. But the baby hedgehogs then struggle during cold spells and can find it difficult to get enough food to put on the weight that is vital to their hibernation.

'It's a downward spiral. They are expending energy looking for food, and then they start coming out during the day,' said Risley. 'They can't keep warm enough and are susceptible to pneumonia, gut bacteria and, of course, starvation.'

People who may be worried about the condition of hedgehogs spotted in their gardens are encouraged to weigh them first to check if they are starving. If they weigh less than 300 grams, they need to be taken to a wildlife sanctuary.

Frank (Mack Heat) Navetta

Posted: Friday, Nov 7th, 2008


NAVETTA—Frank (Mack Heat) Navetta passed away on Oct. 31, 2008.

Born March 6, 1962, Frank was the youngest of six children born to Andy and Susie Navetta. He lived his early life in Inglewood, Calif. When Frank was 12 years old, he moved to Manhattan Beach, Calif., where he enjoyed fishing and surfing.

Frank was a founding member of the Southern California punk rock band, the Descendents. Frank turned his teenage angst into the anthem of a generation. Over the years his music inspired many bands and musicians and he has countless fans to this day. Frank was also a member of a band he started with his two brothers, Mike and Joe, named the Pagan Babies. Frank continued his love of music, playing with a number of local bands.

Frank moved to Lafayette, Ore., where he was married and fathered three children he loved dearly. Later Frank moved to Florence where his life was a celebration of Jesus, fishing, and guitar. Frank shared his art through many powerful and soul-searing paintings.

Frank read his Bible daily; when he passed, the page was marked at John 16:22: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Frank is survived by three children, Alicia, Amanda, and Albert; his mother, Susie; two brothers, Mike and Joe; three sisters, Marie, Annie and Barbie Navetta-Madden; and by a large family with many cousins, nieces and nephews. He will be missed by his many friends near and far.

For several years Frank purchased a fishing pole, reel, and tackle box to donate to the yearly PeaceHealth Counseling Services Christmas party where one lucky person would win it all in a drawing. A lot of love and joy went into filling the tackle box with lures and supplies and Frank truly enjoyed the thrill of passing on his love of fishing.

To honor Frank, contributions may be made to PeaceHealth Counseling Services in care of Katherine Hinman so this tradition may be continued in his memory.

The family will arrange a celebration of life at a later time.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Review the 501(c)(3) status of The Church of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons)

Target: Internal Revenue Service
The LDS church contributed a significant amount of money and effort to endorse PROP 8 in California via its network of church, media, and community outlets enshrining discrimination under the law for thousands of Californians and their families.

"In general, no organization, including a church, may qualify for IRC section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying)."

See: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf

The petition is here

Saturday, November 01, 2008

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