As the UN General Assembly prepares to debate a proposal calling for nations to take action against the defamation of religion, majorities in 13 of 20 nations polled around the world support the right to criticize a religion. On average, across all countries polled, 57% of respondents agree that "people should be allowed to publicly criticize a religion because people should have freedom of speech." However, an average of 34% of respondents agree that governments "should have the right to fine or imprison people who publicly criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion." Of the seven nations where most people agree with that criticism of religion should be prohibited five have overwhelmingly Muslim populations -- Egypt (71%), Pakistan (62%), Iraq (57%), Indonesia (49%), and the Palestinian territories (51%). Another two -- India (59%) and Nigeria (54%)-- have historically been plagued by sectarian violence.
LA Times - An estimated $10 million a day is smuggled out of Afghanistan, most of it through Kabul International Airport, rather than through secret routes over the mountains or across the desert, the country's minister of finance said today. The amount of corruption, by public officials and officials of private companies, makes him embarrassed to admit while traveling that he is an Afghan, Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said. "Corruption is a stronger threat than terrorism for Afghanistan," said Zakhilwal, who was appointed in February and is the top financial advisor to President Hamid Karzai. "It is a cancer, a disease. It has destroyed the reputation of Afghanistan."
TPM - At least one computer containing undercover recordings from the investigation of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been stolen from the offices of Blago's lawyer, reports a Chicago news outlet. . . It's possible the theft could delay Blago's trial, which is scheduled for June. He has been charged with seeking to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, among other transgressions.
The San Francisco Chronicle: A novel anti-crime surveillance program that will record the license plate number of every car entering and leaving Tiburon should be up and running within six months, officials said Thursday. The Town Council voted 4-0 - with Vice Mayor Miles Berger absent - to install six cameras that recognize license plate characters on Tiburon Boulevard and Paradise Drive. Those are the only two roads that feed into the Tiburon peninsula, which also includes the smaller city of Belvedere on its southwestern edge. Tiburon will be the first community in the Bay Area, and perhaps the country, to line its borders with the cameras, which have drawn criticism from privacy rights advocates. Plates will be compared to databases of stolen or wanted cars, with matches triggering an immediate alert to local officers. If detectives are investigating a crime, they will be able to search the records to try to find possible suspects.
SF Bay Guardian - San Francisco Police Department officers have added a controversial tactic to their aggressive raids on house parties: they're seizing laptop computers from DJs at the events. While SFPD officials deny the laptop seizures is a new policy, they admit it has been condoned by Police Chief George GascÃ³n, who took over in August . . . "The police chief is aware that officers are being proactive in gathering evidence," Sgt. Lyn Tomioka told the Guardian when asked about a string of laptop seizures by undercover cops over the last 10 months, most of them in cases in which the DJs weren't even charged with a crime.
Health & Science
MS Magazine - The Senate approved an amendment to the healthcare insurance reform legislation that requires insurance companies to provide women with free mammograms and other preventative screening services. The amendment was approved on a 61 to 39 vote.
Sue Sturgis, Facing South - According to the Center for Responsive Politics' Open Secrets database, the top recipient of defense industry money in the 2008 election cycle was Barack Obama, whose haul of $1,029,997 far surpassed Republican contender Sen. John McCain's $696,948.
Change - It costs $48,000 a year to keep an addict in prison, compared to $4,000 to $5,000 for outpatient treatment. . . A Washington Post report demonstrated that the alternative courts -- which funnel people charged with drug crimes to specific judges and courtrooms equipped to handle their cases wisely and offer a range of alternatives to incarceration -- are working, if you can get into them. Only 10% of drug cases nationwide find their way into drug courts.
Science Daily - Scientists may not be able to tell a good book by its cover, but they now can tell the condition of an old book by its smell. In a report in ACS' Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal, they describe development of a new test that can measure the degradation of old books and precious historical documents based on their smell. The nondestructive "sniff" test could help libraries and museums preserve a range of prized paper-based objects, some of which are degrading rapidly due to advancing age, the scientists say.
Furthermore. . .
Rules of Thumb - When going into a store, get a cart from the parking lot, odds are in your favor that it will not have a stuck or wobbly wheel since other shoppers should have exchanged them inside the store.
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