Saturday November 25, 2017

Visitors to National Christmas Tree in Washington strolled around carefully manicured paths designed to show off Traditional cone-shaped Evergreen Tree

Overall, in the 2013 Pew survey of about 2,000 people, nine in 10 Americans said they celebrated Christmas

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President Barack Obama, with Michelle Obama, and daughter Sasha, sing with Santa Claus and others during the lighting ceremony for the 2016 National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse near the White House, Dec. 1, 2016. VOA

Washington, December 21, 2016: On a cold December afternoon under bright blue skies, visitors to the National Christmas Tree in Washington strolled around carefully manicured paths designed to show off the traditional cone-shaped evergreen tree strung with brightly coloured lights.

Around the National Christmas Tree ran a toy train that captivated children in the crowd, while the parents admired the lights and the 56 small trees surrounding it. The small trees represent each of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

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However, people’s reasons for coming to the site, between the White House and the Washington Monument on the National Mall, were varied. Some concentrated on the religious significance of the holiday, while others were there simply to enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Carved wooden figures populate the Nativity scene on the Arkansas state Capitol grounds in Little Rock, Dec. 17, 2007. VOA

“For us, if we didn’t remember the religious part, [the holiday] wouldn’t be significant,” said Kim Richeson of Columbia, Maryland. He said he and his wife, Audie Lea, go to a non denominational church and consider the holiday “primarily religious.”

But, Richeson added, for those who see the holiday as more of a cultural celebration, a time to be together with family and exchange presents, “to each his own.”

Kids’ enjoyment

Also admiring the tree was Paula Mikowicz, also of Columbia, who said she was not religious but was married to a Roman Catholic. She said she didn’t mind the religious aspects of the holiday, but her focus was on family.

“I’ve just been a part of it for so long — it doesn’t mean anything to me, the religious part of it, but watching the kids celebrate, it’s enjoyable,” she said.

An 8½-foot-tall letter “A,” which stands for atheist or agnostic, erected by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, is on display at the annual Christmas market in Chicago’s Daley Plaza, Dec. 10, 2013. VOA

A Pew Research Center poll in 2013 found that 81 percent of non-Christians in the United States celebrated Christmas despite the holiday’s founding as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Eighty-seven percent of people who said they were religiously unaffiliated said they celebrated Christmas.

A Pew survey from the previous year found that 76 percent of Asian-American Buddhists and 73 percent of Hindus also celebrated Christmas. Thirty-two percent of U.S. Jews kept Christmas trees in their homes, the 2012 survey found, despite the fact that the Jewish faith celebrates Hanukkah in December rather than Christmas.

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Overall, in the 2013 Pew survey of about 2,000 people, nine in 10 Americans said they celebrated Christmas. But only about half said they saw Christmas as a religious holiday.

Family time

“I think it’s more of a family holiday,” said Carrie DeBlasis of Maryland, who was visiting the National Christmas Tree with her friend Stephen Gregg of Farmington, New Jersey.

The two are students at George Mason University in Virginia, and said they looked forward to relaxing with family at the holidays after long months of study.

“My family is more religious,” said Gregg, “but for me it’s more of a family thing, like going back for the holidays after finals and everything. It’s just nice being with family.”

A house and tree are decorated for Christmas in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights, New York, Dec. 14, 2016. VOA

Erdal Dervish and his wife, Asli, who live in McLean, Virginia, brought their young son to see the tree. They were pleasantly surprised to see the electric train, which fascinated their little boy. Erdal is of Turkish origin but grew up in America, and Asli is from Istanbul.

“I think in America, there’s a pretty big disconnect between [people who celebrate the holiday as a religious one and those who consider it a cultural experience],” Erdal said. “I don’t think people really appreciate or understand the religious aspect. … In other countries they celebrate the actual religious aspects of it more closely,” he said. “Here, not so much.”

Mingling traditions

But Marilyn Lusk Ault of Frankewig, Tennessee, said her family keeps the focus on religion.

“When I quit celebrating Christmas, I will be dead!” she joked. “I will then sing with the angel choir on Christmas Day, celebrating the one for whom the celebration started.”

She said she carried on the tradition of Santa Claus with her grandchildren, but added, “They usually have a birthday cake for Jesus and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ … so as not to forget what the true celebration is about.”

Dan Chrzczonowski of Cleveland, Ohio, said Christmas is a time to celebrate his family’s Polish heritage.

“For most people of Polish ethnicity, the religious and the cultural are intertwined,” he said. “We start by celebrating Advent — a season of preparation, penance and charitable giving — for the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas. We go to Mass on December 8 for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.”

Luis Cajigas, 82, rides his tricycle decorated with religious and cultural symbols in the procession marking the 35th Anniversary of the Three Kings Parade in East Harlem, New York, Jan. 6, 2012. VOA

He said his family also follows other Polish traditions, like Pasterka, or midnight Mass, at their local church.

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“There is something so incredibly peaceful and magical about heading out on a cold, quiet night and entering the big, dark church by candlelight. The Polish koledy [carols] are quite beautiful,” he said.

As for many Americans, Chrzczonowski’s holiday celebration will be a mix of traditions, because his wife is Jewish. Their home’s holiday decorations include not only a Christmas tree and Advent wreath, but also a collection of menorahs — the traditional Jewish candelabra used to celebrate Hanukkah. And with the first night of Hanukkah falling on Christmas night this year, the extended family — Catholic and Jewish alike — will gather for a celebration of both holidays.

In a nation that for years has called itself “a melting pot,” that mix of Catholic and Jewish traditions — not to mention immigrant and American — seems perfectly appropriate. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)

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Satellite sends First Quantum Signal to Earth

This is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them

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Micius
Micius satellite. wikimedia
  • An orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth
  • It is a big step towards achieving a secure and developed way to encrypt communications
  • They can not be cracked by ever-improving computer algorithms

June 18, 2017: It was reported by scientists today that an orbiting satellite has sent the first entangled pair of photons to Earth. It is a big step towards sending quantum keys from satellites — an approach that has been heralded as a secure and developed way to encrypt communications because ever-improving computer algorithms can not crack them.

A laser on China’s Micius satellite, which was launched last year and is dedicated to researches related to quantum satellite communications, spit out pairs of entangled photons from its position, 500 km above Earth. Then two telescopes on Earth – about 1200 km apart — had 5 minutes each day to look for them as the satellite passed over both telescopes. It was found that paired photons survived the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. They detected 1 entangled pair per second out of the 6 million sent in that time.

So how exactly does all this work?

A quantum key needs to be generated first by two people who are looking to communicate. Then, one person receives one of the entangled photons in the pair, the other person receives the other. When the received photons have measured the photons, they obtain bits of information strung together to create a key that they both have. That key can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. The users can also share a portion of the key publicly to check if it has been compromised. In case if someone tries to intercept the communication at any point, they would then notice a difference between their strings.

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There is a certain set of problems as well. Caltech’s John Preskill believes even though it is an important proof of concept, the feat doesn’t address one of the biggest problems with quantum communications. Currently, these messages can’t be sent long distances. Photons, using an optical fiber to carry a quantum signal, can only make it about 100 km before the dissipation of the light.

Quantum systems are similar to optical telecommunications here on earth and need repeaters that are able to amplify the message so it can be passed long distances. But amplifying a quantum message in the same way optical ones are done would effectively result in the destruction of the information. That is why satellite-based communication are being eyed by researchers. The reported 500 km from space is an improvement over optical. Quantum signals were measured in another study published today from a satellite 38,000 km away to a single point. But in deploying a global network which would likely be able to combine optical fiber and satellites, the repeater problem still stands.

Preskill has predicted that it is more likely we will first come up with another form of encryption for communication. “There will be other ways of doing classical public key cryptosystems that we won’t know how to break with quantum computers,” he added.

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang

 

 

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Construction for Arab Residents in Palestine at the expense of the Jews

It should be mentioned that this is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years.

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Yossi Dagan
Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council. Wikimedia
  • 14,000 housing providing accommodation for 50,000 Arab residents were approved for marketing for the city of Qalqiliya
  • The government approved about 2,000 housing units for Jews a week ago in the entirety of Judea and Samaria
  • This is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years

Qalqiliya (Palestine), June 16, 2017: 14,000 housing providing accommodation for 50,000 Arab residents in Palestine were approved for marketing in Area C, which is under full Israeli responsibility, for the city of Qalqiliya. The size of the city, located in Area A, would be doubled by the move at the expense of land in Area C which was meant for Israeli development. The plan would work well in bringing the city and nearby Jewish communities far closer together.

At the same time, the government approved about 2,000 housing units for Jews a week ago in the entirety of Judea and Samaria. Judea and Samaria have a Jewish population of approximately 450,000 people.

It should be mentioned that this is a long-term outline, the implementation of which could take up to 35 years. The wait for an approval has already been about ten years.

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The move was slammed by Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, who also called it a scandal.

According to him, “at the time of the calculation of every housing unit with us, and when only 66 housing units have been approved by the Samaria Regional Council, the political echelon decides to grant the city of terror Qalqiliya the ultimate reward for terror: doubling the area and doubling the population. In the morning, we can say that we are doing everything for the settlement and in the evening [we act] to stop construction in the settlements and to promote Arab construction. We cannot allow the government to continue with this illusion.”

It is believed by the Regavim movement, which is the legal representative of the nearby town of Tzofim that the planned expansion of the city will result in bringing it very close to the territory of the town.

According to Regavim’s statement, the proposed plan will be severely detrimental for the settlement of Tzofim, which the Palestinian city will effectively encircle. They also added that the Palestinian proposal is nothing but a planning disaster. It allows for low construction on a huge area and unreasonably wastes land resources instead of approving the maximum urban construction height based on the existing plan.

The heads of the Knesset Land of Israel lobby, MKs MKs Yoav Kish and Bezalel Smotrich, responded to that saying, “This is unreasonable and intolerable behavior that is taking place under the table and we will demand clarification [on the matter].”

The heads of the lobby also said that the construction and allocation of extensive land to Palestinians in Area C, on the one hand, and the limited number of Israelis on the other, crosses the red line that can be afforded by a national government.

According to reports in Israel National News, the response statement from the Prime Minister’s clarified, “This is a plan that was brought in by the defence minister last year and approved by the cabinet, and since then, more than 10,000 housing units have been approved for Jewish settlement, and therefore the claim [that the move was taken at the expense of Jewish residents] is incorrect and even absurd.”

– prepared by Durba Mandal of NewsGram. Twitter: @dubumerang