Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Not over till it's over," Nov. 1, 2008

Friends again

On Oct. 15 Syria and Lebanon signed an agreement establishing diplomatic relations between the Middle East neighbors for the first time in their history. Now they must come to agreement on their shared border. During the Six Day War in 1967, Israeli forces seized the Shebaa Farms area from Syria. However, Lebanese and Syrian officials said Syria had officially given the territory to Lebanon in 1951. Now all three countries say they will negotiate the contested border area. But before that Syria will have to stop massing troops near Lebanon's northern Bekaa Valley. Syria reportedly has more than 10,000 troops there and claims they are needed to combat al-Qaeda elements in Lebanon. Syria had four times as many troops in Lebanon until a 2005 UN arrangement mandated their removal.

U goofed

After critics accused Baylor University of offering a "straightforward bribe," the school said it would likely end a program that offers students financial incentives to retake their SAT exams. Under the plan, students already enrolled at the Waco, Texas, school can earn a $300 bookstore credit just for retaking the test, and $1,000 in "merit" aid if they boost their scores by 50 points or more. "Did it have the appearance of impropriety, and was it going to raise unnecessary questions?" said university spokesman John Barry. "Yeah, I think we goofed on that."

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Baylor said 861 students retook their SATs and received the bookstore credit; 150 received the merit aid money. The program sparked national criticism that the university was trying to buy its way higher in the annual college ranking published by U.S. News & World Report. Baylor ranks 76th in the report's 2009 edition, but according to a published school-improvement plan, school officials aim to be ranked 50th.

Tell that to the girls

When Amina Said, 18, and her sister Sarah, 17, were murdered New Year's Day in the back of a taxi, their great-aunt Gail Gartrell alleged that their Egyptian-born father, Yaser Abdel Said, killed the Texas teenagers because they disgraced him by dating non-Muslims. With no word on Said's whereabouts months and months after the girls were shot and killed, the FBI acknowledged the possibility in a wanted poster for the 51-year-old Said: "The 17- and 18-year-old girls were dating American boys, which was contrary to their father's rules of not dating non-Muslim boys. Reportedly, the girls were murdered due to an 'Honor Killing.'" That drew protest from the Council on American-Islamic Relations-of the FBI, not of a father killing his daughters. Shortly after the poster's publication, the FBI issued new posters in October without the sentence. In Dallas FBI special agent Mark White told blogger Pamela Geller it was "a mixup" and said, "We are not labeling it an honor killing. It's a double murder."

Preemptive protection

President Bush signed into law Oct. 9 a bill aimed at reducing the number of babies aborted due to diagnoses of Down syndrome or other prenatal genetic conditions. The bill would require doctors giving such news to provide families with the latest information about the condition as well as resources that offer support. The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act, which received high-profile bipartisan backing from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., also calls for a national registry of families willing to adopt special-needs children. Brownback said he hoped the "bill is the start of something new: real help for families, deepened respect for the value of every life-especially those with disabilities-and one step closer to the kind of America we all know is possible."

Field trip follies

A San Francisco first-grade class went on a field trip to city hall Oct. 10-but they weren't there for a civics tour. The 18 students from Creative Arts Charter School gathered on the steps outside to throw rose petals as their teacher Erin Carder and her partner Kerri McCoy emerged from the building after Mayor Gavin Newsom had pronounced them "spouses for life." Although a parent initiated the 90-minute excursion, the school's interim director Liz Jaroslow told The San Francisco Chronicle she justified it academically because it was "a teachable moment. I think I'm well within the parameters." Two families opted not to have their children attend the event.

Taliban targets Christian worker

Taliban militia shot and killed a Christian aid worker in Kabul as she walked to work on Oct. 20, heightening concern over the safety of aid workers in the war-torn country. Gayle Williams worked with disabled Afghans through the British charity group SERVE Afghanistan and held dual citizenship in Great Britain and South Africa. Witnesses say two men on a motorbike shot the 34-year-old woman just before 8 a.m. "The team is holding up remarkably well but is grieving. They have lost a good friend, and of course this killing makes them all feel vulnerable since it is not an isolated incident but part of a developing pattern," SERVE Afghanistan board chairman Mike Lyth told WORLD. "As for the future, we need to step back from it all and see what it is all about from God's perspective."

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