Dispatches > News
Associated Press/Photo by Koen van Weel

Thought police

And other news briefs

Issue: "2010 Election: The Governors," Oct. 23, 2010

A case against Dutch politician Geert Wilders went to court in Amsterdam starting Oct. 4 and could land the 47-year-old conservative lawmaker and head of the Freedom Party up to a year in jail and a fine. Wilders is charged with inciting discrimination and hatred and with insulting a people on religious grounds. Responding to what he calls Muslim-led "street terror," Wilders has called for banning the Quran and further immigration from Islamic countries to the Netherlands. In the United States he has been a vocal critic of building a new mosque near New York's Ground Zero. Muslims in the Netherlands charge that his remarks have poisoned attitudes toward them: "My family and I no longer feel safe in the Netherlands because Mr. Wilders is continually making hateful remarks about Islamic Dutch people," said one complaint read out by the judge. Wilders said in an opening statement, "I am standing trial . . . because of my opinions on Islam . . . and because the Dutch establishment-most of them non-Muslims-wants to silence me. I have been dragged to court because in my country freedom can no longer be fully enjoyed. In Europe the national state, and increasingly the EU, prescribes how citizens-including democratically elected politicians such as myself-should think and what we are allowed to say."

Rare wind

Four tornadoes touched down in northern Arizona early Oct. 6, derailing 28 cars of a parked freight train, blowing semis off the highway, and smashing dozens of homes. Authorities reported no deaths but minor injuries in what are the first injury-causing tornadoes in Arizona since 1968. The sparsely populated state reports on average four tornadoes a year, but the National Weather Service office in Flagstaff issued 28 tornado warnings on Oct. 6 alone as a storm system moved across the region.

Ocean census

Scientists from all over the world have spent a decade at sea counting the creatures of the deep, and as a result they have discovered about 6,000 new species in the first Census of Marine Life, released this October. In the Gulf of Mexico, they found an aquatic Venus fly trap, and in the Pacific Ocean they discovered a furry crab dubbed the "yeti crab." They found a species of blind lobster, a snail that lives in the steaming fissures on the ocean floor, and a deep-sea clam thought to be extinct. The information will be added to global libraries cataloguing species and DNA. The 2,700 scientists working on the $650 million project counted about 250,000 species in total, and they estimate that for every one species they can name, four remain to be discovered.

Name calling

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Beware the Taliban label. Freshman incumbent Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., took a nosedive in polls after he labeled his opponent "Taliban Dan" in a controversial ad aired in late September. Within 48 hours Grayson was trailing former state Senator Dan Webster by 7 points, 43 percent to 36 percent-and Webster, a Republican, had raised $100,000 in campaign contributions. In the ad Grayson played clips of Webster, who is a Christian, saying that wives should submit to their husbands and replaying the refrain, "Submit to me. . . ." But unedited footage of the speech showed that Webster was in fact telling husbands to focus not on the Ephesians 5:22 verse but on later verses that tell husbands to love their wives. Grayson's ad was condemned by FactCheck.org and the Orlando Sentinel.

In for life

Faisal Shahzad was sentenced to life in prison on Oct. 5 after he admitted to trying to detonate a crudely made car bomb in New York's Times Square in May. A U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan, Shahzad pleaded guilty to a 10-count indictment in June, including charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and attempting an act of terrorism. If given 1,000 lives, "I will sacrifice them all in the name of Allah," Shahzad, 31, told U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum.

Religious illiteracy

Atheists know the most about religion, says a recent survey, followed by Jews, Mormons, and then evangelical Protestants. The Pew Research Center's "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey" shows that in some areas, Americans are startlingly ignorant about their own religions. Fewer than half of Catholics are able to name Genesis as the first book of the Bible. Only 28 percent of white evangelical Protestants know that Protestantism teaches salvation through faith alone, and only a slim majority of Catholics can identify their church's doctrine on communion. Seventy percent of Jews know that Martin Luther inspired the Reformation, but less than half of Protestants do. The survey also reveals misunderstanding about the constitutional restrictions on religion. Only 36 percent of the respondents knew a public-school teacher may teach a comparative religion class, and only 23 percent knew a teacher may teach the Bible as literature, although the Supreme Court permits both.


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