Daily Archives: November 7, 2011

Vatican tells Roman Catholic priests to spice up their sermons with scandal

Daily Mail | Nov 7, 2011

Advice: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi has said that priests should liven up their sermons by inserting scandal from parts of the Bible

Roman Catholic priests have been told to inject ‘scandal’ into their sermons by a senior official from the Vatican.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said priests needed to liven up their often ‘dull’ sermons with the scandalous parts from the Bible.

Cardinal Ravasi, the Vatican’s most senior cultural officer, added that if priests did not change their ways sermons risked becoming ‘irrelevant’.

The cardinal was speaking at an event in Rome where he said that social networking sites such as Twitter were a good way to spread the word of God.

His Eminence said that priests should remember that congregations were ‘the children of the television and the internet’.

The 69-year-old, who some believe is a candidate to become the next Pope said: ‘The advent of televised and computerised information requires us to be compelling and trenchant, to cut to the heart of the matter, resort to narratives and colour.’

‘We need to remember that communicating faith doesn’t just take place through sermons. It can be achieved through the 140 characters of a Twitter message.’

The Cardinal added that the Bible was ‘crowded with stories, symbols and images.’

Ravasi was made a cardinal but Pope Bendict XVI in November 2010 and is currently the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

He also writes a blog for the Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

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Norway firm on anti-European Union stance

theforeigner.no | Oct 24, 2011

by Michael Sandelson

As European leaders’ debt crisis fears mount and Silvio Berlusconi’s budget deficit balance busts further southwards, comes news Norwegians’ ‘no’ to EU membership is even stronger.

Following this year’s generally downward spiral for EU membership from January and June, just 18.6 percent of voters are now in favour, according to the latest poll.

“My goodness, it must be difficult campaigning for Norwegian EU membership these days,” says Heming Olaussen, leader of organisation “No to the EU”, to Nationen.

The results may also come at an opportune time for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who decided to bury the issue of EU membership and the Euro almost two weeks ago.

“I’m going to spend my life on more fruitful things than working towards Norway having something to do with the Euro,” he told Klassekampen.

According to Mr Olaussen, saying ‘no’ to the Euro is also a de facto answer to the question of membership.

About today’s poll, he says, “There’s been a majority ‘no’ for the last six-and-a-half years, but we’re now seeing an extra effect due to the EU crisis and the EU’s deficient way of handling it.”

On the other side of the North Sea, Paal Frisvold, European Movement in Norway’s leader tells The Foreigner, “Although I’m confident the Euro is going to survive, I can understand the main impression at the moment is that the Euro being under such pressure creates strong arguments against becoming a member [of the EU].”

His view from Brussels is that now “is not a time to look at EU membership, but more of a time to look at how to solve the European economic crisis.”

“I don’t blame the views of those who mainly just read the front pages of newspapers. I would also be opposed to membership today, but now is not the time to jump to conclusions,” he says.

Publishing house owned by the Catholic Church quietly sells pornography, books on Satanism and the occult

Mr Müller said that in 2008, a group of concerned Catholics had sent bishops a 70-page document containing irrefutable evidence that Weltbild published books that promoted pornography, Satanism and magic.

Germany’s bishops promise to stop the company’s distribution of erotic novels

independent.co.uk | Nov 5, 2011

by Tony Paterson

Berlin – Germany’s biggest Catholic-owned publishing house has been rocked by disclosures that it has been selling thousands of pornographic novels with titles such as Sluts Boarding School and Lawyer’s Whore with the full assent of the country’s leading bishops.

The revelations made in the publishing-industry newsletter Buchreport concern Weltbild, a company with an annual €1.7bn (£1.5bn) turnover and 6,400 employees. It is Germany’s largest bookseller after Amazon and wholly owned by the Catholic Church.

Buchreport revealed that Weltbild’s massive assortment of titles available to customers online includes some 2,500 “erotic” books with unmistakably lewd titles including Call Me Slut!, Take Me Here, Take Me Now! and Lawyer’s Whore, to name a few. The publisher’s website also pictures the titles’ lascivious dust jackets that feature colour photographs of scantily clad women in high heels and erotic underwear.

Yesterday, Carel Haff, Weltbild’s managing director, was quoted as saying that the revelations had provoked “a very intense and critical dialogue” within the company. He said discussions were under way about possibly limiting the assortment of titles that would be available in future.

Catholic bishops responded with a statement claiming that “a filtering system failure” at the publishing house had allowed the books to stray on to the market. “We will put a stop to the distribution of possibly pornographic content in future,” they said.

But Bernhard Müller, editor of the Catholic magazine PUR, dismissed the clerics’ reaction as grossly hypocritical. He alleged that the pornography scandal at Weltbild had been going on for at least a decade with the Church’s full knowledge. Mr Müller said that in 2008, a group of concerned Catholics had sent bishops a 70-page document containing irrefutable evidence that Weltbild published books that promoted pornography, Satanism and magic. They demanded that the publisher withdraw the titles.

But their protests appear to have been completely ignored. Writing in the Die Welt newspaper, Mr Müller said most of the bishops refused to respond to the charges. “The sudden proclaimed astonishment of many church leaders that pornographic material is being distributed by their publishing house, is play acting – bad play acting,” Mr Müller said. “Believers have been complaining to their bishops about this for years.”

The Catholic Church bought Weltbild more than 30 years ago. The publisher has gradually transformed itself into one of Germany’s largest media companies with the help of some €182mof Catholic Church tax levied on believers. To increase its profits, in 1998 the company merged with five other publishing houses that market pornographic titles. One of them is Droemer Knaur, which is 50 per cent church-owned. Another is Blue Panther Books, which was excluded from the list of participating publishers at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair allegedly because of the pornographic content of is titles.

It emerged yesterday that in an attempt to clear itself of potential embarrassment over the sale of porn, the Catholic Church tried to sell Weltbild in 2009. But the bishops apparently abandoned the idea after they failed to get the price they were asking.

CIA “vengeful librarians” monitor world on Twitter, Facebook


A mural depicting a man in shackles and the Facebook logo and a mobile phone is seen on the wall of the University of Helwan arts academy in the Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, in March. A clandestine CIA operation saw the uprising in Egypt coming, and had “predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime.” Manoocher Deghati  /  AP

In any language, in any place, social media give agency a view of local mood

AP | Nov 4, 2011

By Kimberly Dozier

McLEAN, Va. — In an anonymous industrial park in Virginia, in an unassuming brick building, the CIA is following tweets — up to 5 million a day.

At the agency’s Open Source Center, a team known affectionately as the “vengeful librarians” also pores over Facebook, newspapers, TV news channels, local radio stations, Internet chat rooms — anything overseas that anyone can access and contribute to openly.

From Arabic to Mandarin Chinese, from an angry tweet to a thoughtful blog, the analysts gather the information, often in native tongue. They cross-reference it with the local newspaper or a clandestinely intercepted phone conversation. From there, they build a picture sought by the highest levels at the White House, giving a real-time peek, for example, at the mood of a region after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden or perhaps a prediction of which Mideast nation seems ripe for revolt.

Yes, they saw the uprising in Egypt coming; they just didn’t know exactly when revolution might hit, said the center’s director, Doug Naquin.

The center already had “predicted that social media in places like Egypt could be a game-changer and a threat to the regime,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the center. CIA officials said it was the first such visit by a reporter the agency has ever granted.

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The CIA facility was set up in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, with its first priority to focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation. But its several hundred analysts — the actual number is classified — track a broad range, from Chinese Internet access to the mood on the street in Pakistan.

While most are based in Virginia, the analysts also are scattered throughout U.S. embassies worldwide to get a step closer to the pulse of their subjects.

The most successful analysts, Naquin said, are something like the heroine of the crime novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” a quirky, irreverent computer hacker who “knows how to find stuff other people don’t know exists.”

Those with a masters’ degree in library science and multiple languages, especially those who grew up speaking another language, “make a powerful open source officer,” Naquin said.

The center had started focusing on social media after watching the Twitter-sphere rock the Iranian regime during the Green Revolution of 2009, when thousands protested the results of the elections that put Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power. “Farsi was the third-largest presence in social media blogs at the time on the Web,” Naquin said.

The center’s analysis ends up in President Barack Obama’s daily intelligence briefing in one form or another, almost every day.

After bin Laden was killed in Pakistan in May, the CIA followed Twitter to give the White House a snapshot of world public opinion.

Since tweets can’t necessarily be pegged to a geographic location, the analysts broke down reaction by languages. The result: The majority of Urdu tweets, the language of Pakistan, and Chinese tweets, were negative. China is a close ally of Pakistan’s. Pakistani officials protested the raid as an affront to their nation’s sovereignty, a sore point that continues to complicate U.S.-Pakistani relations.

When the president gave his speech addressing Mideast issues a few weeks after the raid, the tweet response over the next 24 hours came in negative from Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria, the Persian Gulf and Israel, too, with speakers of Arabic and Turkic tweets charging that Obama favored Israel, and Hebrew tweets denouncing the speech as pro-Arab.

In the next few days, major news media came to the same conclusion, as did analysis by the covert side of U.S. intelligence based on intercepts and human intelligence gathered in the region.

The center is also in the process of comparing its social media results with the track record of polling organizations, trying to see which produces more accurate results, Naquin said.

“We do what we can to caveat that we may be getting an overrepresentation of the urban elite,” said Naquin, acknowledging that only a small slice of the population in many areas they are monitoring has access to computers and Internet. But he points out that access to social media sites via cellphones is growing in areas such as Africa, meaning a “wider portion of the population than you might expect is sounding off and holding forth than it might appear if you count the Internet hookups in a given country.”

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter also have become a key resource for following a fast-moving crisis such as the riots that raged across Bangkok in April and May of last year, the center’s deputy director said. The Associated Press agreed not to identify him because he sometimes still works undercover in foreign countries.

As director, Naquin is identified publicly by the agency although the location of the center is kept secret to deter attacks, whether physical or electronic.

The deputy director was one of a skeleton crew of 20 U.S. government employees who kept the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok running throughout the rioting as protesters surged through the streets, swarming the embassy neighborhood and trapping U.S. diplomats and Thais alike in their homes.

The army moved in, and traditional media reporting slowed to a trickle as local reporters were either trapped or cowed by government forces.

“But within an hour, it was all surging out on Twitter and Facebook,” the deputy director said. The CIA homed in on 12 to 15 users who tweeted situation reports and cellphone photos of demonstrations. The CIA staff cross-referenced the tweeters with the limited news reports to figure out who among them was providing reliable information. Tweeters also policed themselves, pointing out when someone else had filed an inaccurate account.

“That helped us narrow down to those dozen we could count on,” he said.

Ultimately, some two-thirds of the reports coming out of the embassy being sent back to all branches of government in Washington came from the CIA’s open source analysis throughout the crisis.

China’s Internet Bosses Agree to Stop Spread of ‘Harmful’ Information

voanews.com | Nov 6, 2011

Chinese state media say the heads of China’s largest Internet and technology companies have agreed to help the Communist government stop the “spread of harmful information” on the web.

The official Xinhua news agency says the agreement came Saturday at the end of a three-day government workshop in Beijing attended by the corporate leaders of e-commerce giant Alibaba, search engine Baidu and online portal Sina.

Xinhua says the technology companies agreed to ensure the spread of “positive” Internet content and to “resolutely curb” online rumors, pornography, fraud and other information deemed “harmful” to the state.

China’s State Internet Information Office hosted the workshop. It is one of the Chinese government’s Internet regulators.

Xinhua says Chinese information technology minister Miao Wei told the seminar that Internet companies also must increase their investment in “tracking surveillance.”

China’s Communist rulers have become increasingly concerned about a boom in social media websites and blogs that enable users to express their opinions and frustrations about society. Such websites sometimes avoid state monitoring and censorship. Chinese leaders vowed to strengthen their control of the Internet at a meeting last month.

China Detains Internet Users for Spreading Rumors

IDG News | Oct 26, 2011

By Michael Kan

Chinese authorities have started to detain Internet users for allegedly spreading online rumors, in its latest measure to control the country’s social media sites.

China’s State Internet Information Office said it determined several online Internet rumors were fabricated, and instructed relevant departments to prosecute the offenders, according to a Tuesday report from China’s state-run press agency Xinhua.

The so-called rumors include a case where a user spread alleged misinformation about income tax provisions by forging state documents. The user was detained for 15 days. In another case, a Chinese college student from the province of Yunnan was detained after spreading what the government called a rumor on blogs and forums, about an incident where a man killed eight officials in his village. The “rumor” had said the man killed the officials because of pollution generated from a cement factory.

China already censors the Internet heavily for anti-government and politically sensitive content, with local websites and news organizations required to abide by the laws. But in recent months, Chinese authorities have talked about the need to control the country’s popular microblogging websites, also known in Chinese as weibo, which operate much like the U.S.’s Twitter service.

While the microblogging sites have gained hundreds of millions of Internet users, the sites have also become a hotbed for rumors. This past August, a top Chinese communist party official urged Internet companies to stop the spread of fake information.

In taking action against the recent round of online rumors, authorities have also closed several microblogging accounts, according to the Xinhua report. The websites operating the accounts have been required to make changes. Authorities are also currently looking to find the originators of several other rumors, including one that involves a female middle-school student being paid for sex by a government official.

China’s State Internet Information Office could not be reached for immediate comment. But according to the report, the office said certain users and websites that lack credibility are disrupting the orderly spread of information with their rumors. “This is affecting the social order, and it must be dealt with according to the law. We will not allow the unhealthy trend of rumors being spread over the Internet,” the office said.

News of the detentions come as China has grown to understand the importance of online social networks, as well as the influence they can have over society, said Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch. That lesson became apparent when in July, Chinese Internet users took to the nation’s microblogs to complain and criticize authorities’ handling of a high-speed train wreck that killed dozens.

“The government wants to neuter the weibo. It wants to be able to frighten people into not sharing information, to think twice about sharing information which might or might not be ‘sensitive’,” Kine said.

Governments have a right to stop the spread of information that may be harmful to the public, Kine said. But in the case of China’s actions, there has been no independent regulatory body set up to determine what information is in fact rumor. “This is a huge problem in terms of freedom of expression,” he said, adding that Chinese microblogs may eventually resort to requiring their users to register with their real names.

Some Chinese Internet users, however, said in interviews that they support the government’s actions.

A Chinese microblog user, named Chen Zhirong, said all online rumors should be stopped, and that the Internet users behind them should be held responsible. “Right now, the rumors on the Internet and on microblogs have been rampant,” he said. “To not fight them and to not punish the rumor starters, will only encourage the arrogance of the Internet firms operating the sites.”

Another Chinese microblog user, who declined to give his real name, said authorities must strictly deal with the online rumors. “These rumors can damage the goodness of ordinary Chinese people,” he said.

China holds Europe to ransom over £62bn bailout deal

Beijing plays down expectations of immediate cash injection

independent.co.uk | Oct 29, 2011

by Clifford Coonan

Eurozone leaders were left sweating last night after China played down expectations that it would quickly make a much-needed cash injection to the EU bailout fund.

The chief executive of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), Klaus Regling, was in Beijing yesterday with the hope of coaxing a speedy investment from the world’s second-largest economy. But, despite hopes that the opportunity to take a leading role in managing global finances would prove a powerful incentive for Beijing, European observers were prepared for the Chinese to exact a heavy price in return for providing up to €70bn (£62bn) to the fund.

After meetings with senior officials, Mr Regling told reporters that a quick deal was unlikely. Meanwhile, the Chinese Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said China would need more details of the planned boost to the EFSF before it would commit to any deal. “We must wait for the technical structure to be very clear and have serious and specialised discussions before making a decision on investment,” Mr Zhu told a news conference in Beijing.

Mr Regling was nonetheless bullish about the prospects of China ultimately putting in the cash that the eurozone countries so urgently want for the fund, which was set up in May 2010 and is set to be boosted to £880bn under the plan.

China is a likely candidate to provide a share of that money. Europe is a key export market, and Beijing has cash to spend. With a war chest of £2 trillion, it has the biggest foreign exchange reserves in the world and is keen for vehicles to invest its funds in.

“We all know China has a particular need to invest surpluses,” said Mr Regling. He said a quick deal was unlikely but he was “optimistic we will have a longer-term relationship”.

He said that China had not made any conditions about how it would buy EFSF bonds and that China had been a “good and loyal” buyer so far.

In a sign of the importance of Chinese participation, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, spoke to President Hu Jintao by telephone this week. “China hopes all these measures will help stabilise the European financial market and conquer the current difficulties and promote economic recovery and development,” Mr Hu said, quoted on China’s state television.

Mr Sarkozy said the Chinese leader had expressed his relief that Europe had announced a deal to tackle a debt crisis that otherwise could have taken down the entire world economy.

“China has a major role to play. China must deploy more resources to stimulate the world economy. If they decide to invest in the euro rather than the dollar, why reject that? Why not accept that the Chinese place their trust in the eurozone?” he said.

But Mr Hu made no explicit commitment of Chinese help. And speculation was rife yesterday that it would not provide Europe with the necessary funds without strong incentives.

Some analysts suggested that China could channel money through the International Monetary Fund because it would want to see stringent conditions over the extent of eurozone fiscal deficits applied to its investment. They also pointed to Beijing’s irritation at previous European criticism of its human rights record and suggested that a less interventionist approach from the EU could be a quid pro quo of any deal.

A Chinese official implied earlier this week that the Chinese investment would not come easily.

“The chief concern of the Chinese government is how to explain this decision to our own people,” Li Daokui, a monetary policy adviser to China’s central bank, told the Financial Times. “The last thing China wants is to throw away the country’s wealth.”

While China’s current holdings of euro bonds are not known, they are said to be focused on Germany and France, and much smaller than its holdings of US Treasury bonds. Some analysts reckon probably around one-quarter of its holdings are in euro assets.