Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Egypt's military begins rebuilding burned Coptic church

From Reza Sayah, CNN Correspondent

Egypt's military has started rebuilding a church burned down in an outbreak of unrest between Christian Copts and Muslims, a military official told CNN on Sunday.

The Shahedin Church in Helwan province south of Cairo, the capital, was burned earlier this month in what was believed to be a feud between a Muslim and Coptic family. Further clashes last Tuesday killed 13 Copts.

"The engineering department of the Egyptian Armed Forces has started to rebuild the church in Atfeeh today at the same exact location," Army spokesman Maj. Mohamed Askar said. "The Armed Forces will bear all expenses."

Meanwhile, thousands of Christians in Cairo have protested outside the offices of the Egyptian state broadcaster for nine consecutive days, demanding the rebuilding of the church and an end to what they call government persecution and discrimination.

Read the full story here about the Egyptian military rebuilding a Coptic Church.

Japan Tsunami: Christian Relief Workers Urge Help, Prayers

Christian relief workers in Japan are appealing to the public for financial help and prayers as millions are still left without water, food and heating amid near-freezing temperatures since a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami struck the country's north-eastern coast Friday.

A three-person World Vision relief team has begun procuring water, blankets and diapers to serve an initial 6,000 people in the city of Tome, some 190 miles from Sendai.

World Vision also plans to establish Child-Friendly Spaces. These are areas where children can enjoy supervised play and express themselves in music, art and dancing. The structure and safety of these places protects children from some of the psycho-social impact of surviving a disaster.

"Children in Japan are keenly feeling the fear and insecurity that often set in following natural disasters like yesterday's earthquake and tsunami," said World Vision relief manager Kenjiro Ban on Saturday. Child-Friendly Spaces are a key way to address the unique needs of child survivors. This is what World Vision found in its work in Haiti, Chile and other disaster-affected areas.

Mr. Ban is himself a veteran of disaster response. The World Vision Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs manager in Japan was involved in relief operations following numerous recent disasters. This comprises the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2008 Myanmar Cyclone Nargis, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Tomorrow the assessment team will travel to Fukushima, where nuclear contamination has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. The team will inform World Vision's response to the needs there.

World Vision is appealing for $10 million to fund its response in Japan, which may continue for several years. The organisation plans to focus its attention on providing vital relief supplies and Child-Friendly Spaces. But the programme will expand as new assessments are done and staff gain a better understanding of the needs.

On Monday night, World Vision U.S. emergency communications officer Casey Calamusa urged prayers for three groups.

Firstly, he called for prayers for those affected that they do not lose hope. He urged prayers for a quick recovery, especially for children, who are vulnerable in such times. Finally, he urged prayers that aid would reach the hardest-hit areas quickly and help the people on their path to recovery.

Another Christian relief organisation working in Japan, Christian Relief, Assistance, Support, and Hope or CRASH, sent four survey teams Monday to the Tohoku region. This includes Sendai and Fukushima, coastal cities hardest hit by the disaster. The teams went by train, car and motorcycle to assess the damage, find staging grounds and make contact with local communities to prioritise their needs.

CRASH Japan found that the disaster has impeded communication to the affected areas. So it is using funds to purchase vital equipment to facilitate communication between the Tokyo command centre and cities where infrastructure has been weakened or destroyed.

Read More at the Christian Post

Japan's Christians pray, muster funds for relief

Posted on Mar 14, 2011 | by Susie Rain TOKYO (BP)--Japanese Christians, although a small minority of the battered Asian nation's populace, gathered in churches and Bible studies Sunday to pray for those still missing after the March 11 earthquake -- now listed as 9.0 in magnitude -- and tsunami.

Teresa Seelen, a Southern Baptist missionary, worshipped at one church where believers spent the entire service praying for friends and family by name, as well as collecting a love offering for disaster relief following the country's strongest-ever earthquake and the tsunami's walls of seawater that destroyed vast numbers of neighborhoods and villages along Japan's northern Pacific coast.

"Through tears, they called out names and lifted them to God," Seleen said of the members' prayers. "We prayed for courage for the believers to reach out with the Gospel. … It was precious to see the generosity of this small group of believers."

With most stores and gas stations closed, the main task for many in the hardest-hit areas Sunday was just getting by. Scores lined up at the few gas stations and grocery stores that were open. International Mission Board missionary Sharon Bennett said shelves were largely empty amid the rush to get food.

Christian organizations gathered Sunday to figure out a game plan for distributing aid strategically as they minister to the needs of the Japanese. A Baptist disaster relief assessment team is on the ground evaluating needs and opportunities for response.

Japanese authorities were continuing to operate on the presumption March 14 that meltdowns may be underway at two nuclear reactors after the earthquake and tsunami. However, government officials said there are so far no indications of hazardous emissions of radioactive material into the atmosphere. About 180,000 people have been evacuated from the area.

No International Mission Board personnel live within the area affected by the evacuations, said Renae Oue, another IMB representative in Japan.

IMB missionaries to Japan spent most of their weekend shoveling tons of sand and sludge with their neighbors. Almost every street near the home of Sharon Bennett and her husband Mark in northern Japan was buckled, cracked and covered with gray sand. A few children played in the park as adults worked together.

The Bennetts were homeschooling when the largest earthquake in Japan's history hit. They took shelter under a table and watched as items fell off shelves and walls.

"I prayed out loud," Mark Bennett said. "In my heart I was preparing for the worst. I honestly thought the house was going to come down on top of us. After 20 years in Japan, this was the worst and longest earthquake I have ever felt. I was preparing myself to meet the Lord."

READ MORE at Baptist Press

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AT&T puts broadband users on monthly allowance

(WIRED) -- AT&T broadband users will soon face a cap on the amount of internet data they can download a month.

Traditional DSL users will be capped at 150 GB per month, while subscribers to the fiber-backed UVerse system have a 250-GB limit. Usage over that will be charged at $10/month for 50 GB, the company says.

The company says that currently only a small percentage of users -- around 2% -- use this much data a month. If that's the case, it's not clear why the company is bothering to install the caps.

It is, however, the same rationale (and the same usage stat) that the company relied upon to explain why it would be capping iPhone data plans last summer, which had hitherto been "unlimited."

WIRED: Congressman wants to ban download caps

DSL and UVerse connect fairly directly to a hub -- unlike cable connections where users share a local loop that can become congested. Bulk-bandwidth costs for an ISP are a tiny portion of its business costs, and those prices continue to fall even as users consume more and more data.

So, how could a user end up hitting these caps? Streaming video such as HD movies from Netflix, using bittorrent to download movies and heavy gaming with services like Steam can easily eat up lots of data, especially in households with multiple heavy internet users.

AT&T isn't the first large broadband provider to impose caps. Comcast imposed a 250-GB cap shortly after the company was caught throttling bittorrent downloads.

Time Warner Cable tried going further with trials of a service that imposed very low limits for users, which led to a furor among users and lawmakers.

There's little data to demonstrate whether large ISPs actually are experiencing real issues with congestion. Skeptics see the limits as ways to discourage cable video customers from "cutting the cord" and getting their video online, or as a way to pocket profits instead of re-investing in bulking up their infrastructure.

Read More From CNN Tech

Scientists Say Powerful Neurotoxin Killed Millions Of Sardines In California

(CNN) -- A powerful neurotoxin likely drove millions of sardines to their death last week in King Harbor Marina in Redondo Beach, California, scientists said.

David Caron, a University of Southern California professor of biological sciences, said his team took samples and found traces of a toxin that caused the fish to become disoriented and swim chaotically into the marina.

"We looked at the stomachs of the sardines because we have had recurring toxic algal blooms ... in our coastal waters in recent years," Caron said. "We were interested to see if we could find or if we could detect a particular type of neurotoxin ... called domoic acid and these fish were positive for domoic acid."

At the time, local authorities and scientists said the fish were washed into the harbor by strong winds and waves, then died from oxygen deprivation -- there were too many fish and not enough oxygen for all of them.

Caron agrees that lack of oxygen was the ultimate cause of death.

"On the day of the event we observed a very precipitous drop in the dissolved oxygen concentration in the harbor," according to Caron, who said the domoic acid may have made matters worse.

Caron said the domoic acid poisoning may have exacerbated the stress the fish were under due to the low oxygen, or the poisoning could have contributed to the huge congregation of fish near King Harbor.

Either way, Caron suggested that more testing on the fish may be necessary.

Read More From CNN

Hospital Refuses To Hire People Who Smoke

14 Year Old Boy Arrested For Cyber-Bullying

Police arrested a 14-year-old Jersey City boy for allegedly threatening two 12-year-old boys on Facebook because he thought they were interested in his girlfriend.

The teen faces charges of harassment and making terroristic threats.

He sent Facebook messages to the victims that called them "gay," "fat," and "a punk," according to acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murphy. He also threatened to kill and hurt them, prosecutors said.

In a message to one of the Belleville victims, the teen threatened to tie the boy to a pole, attach a rope and hook to the boy's stomach, tie it to his car and drive off, tearing off his body, said Murphy.

He used fake screen names on Facebook to threaten one victim, prosecutors said. He used a second and third name when the first was blocked.

The 14-year-old apparently sent the messages because he believed the other boys were interested in a girl he liked.

Investigators do not believe he knew the boys personally.

The boys finally told their parents about the threatening messages they had been receiving since early February, and the parents contacted Belleville Police.

Belleville Police, along with Jersey City Police and the Essex County Prosecutor's Cyber Crimes Unit, arrested the 14-year-old Monday morning after executing a search warrant at his Jersey City home.

The teen was processed and released to his parents.

Read More From NBC New York

Radioactive Cantamination Found On 17 U.S Navy Crewmembers In Japan

Seventeen U.S. Navy crew members have been contaminated with low-levels of radiation during disaster relief missions in Japan, military officials said Monday.

The radioactivity was detected when the service members returned to the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan aboard three helicopters. They were treated with soap and water and their clothes were discarded.

"No further contamination was detected," the military said.

The helicopters were also decontaminated.

The U.S. 7th Fleet, positioned about 100 miles northeast of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to deliver aid to Japan's coastal region, moved its ships further away due to "airborne radioactivity" and contamination found on its planes.

The military noted, however, that the level of contamination was very low, and the ship movement was merely a precaution.

For perspective, the maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship's force personnel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun," the Navy said.

Missouri Legislators Propose Bill To Ban Sharia Law

EFFERSON CITY | Missouri Reps. Paul Curtman and Don Wells agree there’s no evidence that state courts are judging cases based on Islamic principles or foreign laws.

But that’s not stopping them from sponsoring legislation to ban the practice.

Bills introduced this year by the Republican lawmakers aim to prevent Missouri courts from applying laws from other countries or those based on Sharia, the Islamic religious law.

Wells maintains his measure is necessary because an oppressive and violent Islamic legal system is spreading across the world and could someday threaten Missouri.

Curtman’s bill, meanwhile, is less concerned with the encroachment of Islamic law, although its language is a near-exact copy of model legislation from a stridently anti-Muslim source.

Critics in the General Assembly, legal circles and the Muslim community call both measures bigoted and meaningless.

“This is an attack on Islam and clearly an Islamophobia bill,” said Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat who is Muslim. “It’s a bill that’s being pushed by ignorant people that know nothing about Islam.”

Similar measures have been considered in a handful of other states, including Oklahoma, where last November, 70 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment banning the use of Sharia law in state courts. The amendment has since been challenged in federal court as unconstitutional.

Missouri’s debate comes at a time of increasing scrutiny on Muslim Americans nationally and criticism that they’re being unfairly targeted. That discussion peaked last week with a high-profile congressional hearing examining radicalization in the American Muslim community.

The Missouri lawmakers’ bills differ slightly, as does the reasoning behind their introduction.

The constitutional amendment sponsored by Wells, a Cabool Republican, stipulates that Missouri courts “shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures” and specifically bars judicial consideration of Sharia law.

School Faces Lawsut For Not Allowing Student To Pass Out Invitations To Church Christmas Party

A Pennsylvania elementary school that allegedly prohibited a student from inviting classmates to a church Christmas party is now the focus of a discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed the suit against the Pocono Mountain School District on behalf of a fifth-grade student.

The student claims she was not allowed to pass out fliers inviting Barrett Elementary Center students to a party at her church.

District policies, according to attorney ADF David Cortman, prohibit any student speech promoting Christianity.

“It’s another example where schools need to be educated about the First Amendment,” Cortman told Fox News Radio.

“The policies that are at the heart of this lawsuit are unconstitutional.”

A spokesperson for the Pocono Mountain School District said they were not aware of the lawsuit and would be unable to comment on any pending litigation.

Cortman said the incident in question occurred last December when the child tried to distribute the fliers before class started.

The 28-page lawsuit only identifies the student by her initials, “K.A.” and refers to her as a Christian who “desires to share her religious views with her classmates.”

According to the lawsuit, the church Christmas party was not overtly religious. It invited children to participate in “face painting, ping pong, foosball,” along with refreshments.

“The teacher said she needed to get permission from the principal, so she went to the principal who then said she needed to get permission from the superintendent,” Cortman said.

“The superintendent denied her request.” Cortman said the irony is that students are allowed to distribute fliers and invitations for non-religious events.

“Other students can hand out fliers for birthday parties, pizza parties, and Halloween parties,” he said.

“In this case, because it was religious, it was denied.”

Hawaii Tsunami Damages Estimated In The Tens Of Millions

HONOLULU -- Lost homes, sunken boats and damaged piers caused tsunami damage estimates to jump into the tens of millions of dollars Monday.

The rough estimate combines damage to homes, businesses, hotels, boats, piers and government infrastructure.

The most serious damages were near Kealakekua Bay and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. Haleiwa and Keehi Lagoon on Oahu, as well as areas of Maui and Molokai, also lost significant value.

At least 25 boats sank at Keehi Lagoon, and an undetermined number of homes may have been destroyed along the Big Island's west coast beyond the two previously reported, including one that floated out to sea.

No one was killed or injured during the tsunami, which arrived in Hawaii early Friday morning as a result of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan.

"It's in the millions in terms of property, but it's very small in terms of personal injury and deaths. Of course, we're very, very fortunate," said Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Additional losses may pile up because thousands of Japanese tourists have already canceled vacations to Hawaii since the tsunami, dealing a crushing blow to the state's tourism-dependent economy.

"The economic consequences will be severe for us," Abercrombie said. "It's going to be terrible. It's going to be rough. It's something we have to come to grips with."

He said he would call the state Council on Revenues back into session to revise last week's forecast, which already put the state government's projected shortfall at nearly $1 billion over the next two years.

Radiation Leaking From Crippled Japanese Nuclear Plant

SOMA, Japan -- Dangerous levels of radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear plant forced Japan to order 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors Tuesday after an explosion and a fire dramatically escalated the crisis spawned by a deadly tsunami.

France's nuclear watchdog warns the situation at Fukushima's No. 1 nuclear plant now rates at six on a seven-point scale of gravity, according to AFP.

In a nationally televised statement, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said radiation has spread from the four stricken reactors of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant along Japan's northeastern coast. The region was shattered by Friday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that is believed to have killed more than 10,000 people, plunged millions into misery and pummeled the world's third-largest economy.

Japanese officials told the International Atomic Energy Agency that the reactor fire was in a storage pond and that "radioactivity is being released directly into the atmosphere." Long after the fire was extinguished, a Japanese official said the pool, where used nuclear fuel is kept cool, might be boiling.

"We cannot deny the possibility of water boiling" in the pool, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, an official with the economy ministry, which oversees nuclear safety.

That reactor, Unit 4, had been shut down before the quake for maintenance.

If the water boils, it could evaporate, exposing the rods. The fuel rods are encased in safety containers meant to prevent them from resuming nuclear reactions, nuclear officials said, downplaying the risk of that happening.

But they acknowledged that there could have been damage to the containers. They also confirmed that the walls of the storage pool building were damaged.

Though Kan and other officials urged calm, Tuesday's developments fueled a growing panic in Japan and around the world amid widespread uncertainty over what would happen next. In the worst case scenario, one or more of the reactor cores would completely melt down, a disaster that could spew large amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

Robots Aid In Rescuing People In Aftermath Of Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

Japan is home to some of the most advanced robotic technology available. So when disaster strikes, search and rescue is carried through with the help of dedicated automatons.

IEEE Spectrum reports that two separate robotic teams are deploying on the field in Japan. One is working in tsunami-stricken Sendai (see video of the city's airport being flooded) and one in Tokyo. The first team, led by the Sendai-based Satoshi Tadokoro, will bring a device called Active Scope Camera, an eight-meter-long, snakelike contraption that manages to wiggle itself into spaces as tight as three centimeters wide, thanks to an elaborate set of cilia that vibrate in unison. At the end of the probe, there's a a camera with a powerful light that feeds video back to operators on the surface. Satoshi Tadokoro is also president of Rescue Systems, a research body that explores the use of high technologies in response to disaster.

(More on TIME.com: See the calamity of Japan's 8.9-magnitude quake)

The second team is led by Eiji Koyanagi, director of the Future Robotics Technology Center at the Chiba Institute of Technology. Dr Koyanagi and his team will bring Quince, a flat robot with tracked wheels; the robot is equipped with a camera and a carbon dioxide sensor to detect the presence of survivors in locations out of reach to rescuers.