Wikinews:Briefs/July 15, 2010

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Today on Wikinews : The United States Senate passes the contentious financial overhaul bill; same-sex marriage is legalized in Argentina; India approves a new symbol for currency; Harry Potter is back in court and, in history, the key to deciphering an ancient language is dug up in the port city of Rashid.

Today is Thursday, July 15th, 2010. I'm Dan Harlow and this is Wikinews.


United States Senate passes financial overhaul bill (0:36)[edit]

On Thursday, the United States Senate approved the financial overhaul package in a 60-39 vote. The bill is now awaiting President Barack Obama's signature. This bill is the second major domestic policy victory for Obama, after his revamp of the health care system.

Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law next week, and the focus now switches to how the new regulations will be implemented in the coming weeks and months. The legislation will give financial regulators significant discretion in shaping the rules.

The legislation also puts faith in regulators to spot developing problems in the financial system, and gives them the authority to act to attempt to prevent another financial crisis. The bill calls for banks to hold more money in their reserves to prepare for bad economic situations, but the details of how this will be done are also up to regulators.

Australian Prime Minister denies striking a deal with predecessor (1:29)[edit]

In the wake of a special caucus vote that removed former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd and instated Julia Gillard as the new Prime Minister, claims have arisen regarding a deal made between the two in the Prime Minister's official residency that allegedly occurred the night before the special caucus vote and Gillard's apparent breaking of the agreement.

During the question portion of Gillard's recent address to The National Press Club, veteran journalist Laurie Oakes asked if a deal had been made between Rudd and Gillard during the negotiations in the PM suite prior to the announcement of the leadership spill.

Claims were further made that Rudd then contacted his supporters to inform them of what he thought was a deal, while Gillard did the same. However, in that time Gillard learned that she had gained the numbers in the caucus to challenge Rudd, and proceeded to tell him that she would indeed be challenging his position.

Gillard refused to answer to the claims stating out of respect she would not speak publicly about the events of that night.

"It's not my intention to canvass any of the matters that were discussed in that room." she went on to say, "I intend to respect that confidence for the rest of my life."

If the claims were to be true, the only other notable time where an event such as this occurred was in 1989 where former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke promised to stand down for former Prime Minister, Paul Keating for the 1990 election. This never happened and a similar caucus vote took place.

A spokesperson for Kevin Rudd, said he had no comment to make regarding the claims.

Same-sex marriage legalized in Argentina (2:58)[edit]

Earlier today, Argentina's senate approved legislation that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, making it the first country in Latin America and the tenth country in the world to do so.

The law, which also allows same-sex couples to adopt, was voted on at 0400 local time after 14 hours of debate and passed with 33 votes in favor to 27 opposed with three abstentions. Since the lower house of Argentina's government has already passed the bill and President Cristina Fernandez is in favor of the bill, it is expected to enter into law in only a few days, once it is published in Argentina's official bulletin.

The legislation, backed by President Fernandez's government, was the subject of a campaign by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups, which held rallies against it, including a march on Argentina's Congress, and encouraged citizens to protest the bill. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as part of his opposition to the bill, said that "children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother."

Members of Senate were divided in their views of the bill. One senator, Juan Perez Alsina, said that "[m]arriage between a man and a woman has existed for centuries, and is essential for the perpetuation of the species." Speaking in favor of the bill, another senator, Daniel Filmus, said that "[s]ociety has grown up. We aren't the same as we were before."

Elsewhere in Latin America, same-sex civil unions have been legalized in Uruguay and in parts of Mexico and Brazil. Mexico City legalized same-sex marriage in 2009.

Facebook and UK government clash over tributes to killer (5:21)[edit]

Social networking site Facebook was yesterday refusing to remove pages set up in tribute to British killer Raoul Moat, despite pressure from the highest levels of the UK government. A Downing Street official had earlier said that a complaint would likely be lodged with Facebook, following questions to Prime Minister David Cameron in Parliament.

Raoul Moat killed one person and seriously wounded two others in Northumbria following his release from prison, prompting a major week-long manhunt. A standoff with police ended early on Saturday morning with Moat shooting himself. An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission is ongoing.

Thirteen people have now been arrested, with several under suspicion of assisting Moat in evading the police. Flowers have been left on the riverbank where Moat shot himself, and outside his home in Newcastle. A tribute page on Facebook titled "RIP Raoul Moat You Legend" has attracted over 30,000 members.

During the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session, Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris asked David Cameron to contact Facebook about removing the page, which he described as containing "a whole host of anti-police statements".

The Prime Minister described Moat as a "callous murderer", and condemned the expressions of sympathy for him.

"I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man," stated Cameron. "There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister later said that Facebook would be contacted over the matter. In response Facebook issued a statement saying that the page did not breach its terms of service and would not be removed.

"Facebook is a place where people can express their views and discuss things in an open way as they can and do in many other places, and as such we sometimes find people discussing topics others may find distasteful, however that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening."

Animal rights protestor found guilty of Oxford arson plot (7:14)[edit]

An animal rights protester who left home-made petrol bombs at buildings of the University of Oxford has been jailed for ten years. Mel Broughton, a prominent member of the campaign group SPEAK, had denied the charges of conspiracy to commit arson and possession of an article with intent to destroy property, but the jury at Oxford Crown Court found him guilty by unanimous verdict after deliberating for over five hours.

Broughton made his devices using water bottles and sparklers. He put one on the roof of a cricket pavilion belonging to The Queen's College in November 2006, and two under a portable cabin at Templeton College in February 2007. The device at the cricket pavilion, which contained twelve liters of petrol, went off and caused about £14,000 of damage. The Templeton College petrol bombs, together containing nine liters of petrol, did not ignite, and DNA on one of them linked Broughton to the attacks. He was protesting about the university's decision to back the construction of an animal research laboratory, and a police search of his home found more sparklers, as well as documents about the university and its staff.

This was the second time that Broughton had been convicted of the offences: his conviction in February 2009 was overturned by the Court of Appeal and a re-trial was ordered. This began on June 16, and ended on Tuesday with Broughton's conviction. Judge Patrick Eccles QC imposed a ten-year prison sentence, which will be reduced by two and a half years for the time that Broughton has already served in custody. When sentencing Broughton after the first trial, Judge Eccles said that these events "were part of a ruthless conspiracy to instill fear in all those connected to the laboratory."

An officer from Thames Valley Police, Detective Superintendent Mark Jones, said that Broughton "was someone who believes direct action, in the form of planting explosives and setting fires, is acceptable", adding that the conviction was the "right result". A university spokesperson said that it "accepted the rights of protesters to voice their objections within the law", but would work "to protect staff and students from criminal activity of any kind."

India approves symbol for currency (9:21)[edit]

A symbol for the Indian Rupee was approved by the Government of India today. The Indian currency had previously lacked a distinctive symbol like those associated with the US dollar, euro, pound sterling and the yen.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting of India, Ambika Soni announced the symbol chosen for the currency. "The symbol for the rupee would lend a distinctive character and identity to the currency and further highlight the strength and robustness of the Indian economy as a favored destination for global investments," Soni stated.

A competition was held to select the symbol, which drew more than 3,000 entries. After evaluation by the head of the Reserve Bank of India, five entries were shortlisted. The winning design came from a post-graduate student, D Udaya Kumar, who won $5,000.

The government announced that the symbol will not be printed on currency notes or coins, but would be added to the Unicode Standard and other scripts used in the world. Soni said the symbol would be adopted in India by the next two quarters and globally within a year and a half to two years. She mentioned that it would soon feature in worldwide keyboards for easy use.

Please visit to take a look at the new symbol and possibly even donate a few symbols of your own by clicking on our donate link. We'll gladly take Rupee's.

Dog's throat cut in Cairns, Australia (11:05)[edit]

In what the RSPCA calls a "horrific" case of animal cruelty, a dog's jaw was taped shut, and its throat cut, in Cairns, Australia.

The Staffordshire mix, who was found by police in a critical condition last Thursday, was reportedly struggling to breath and bleeding heavily due to her throat being slashed and her muzzle being bound.

"The way they cut was almost down to the larynx, so muscles were cut but luckily they missed the jugular veins," said Sarah Gill, the vet who stitched the 10 cm long, 3 cm deep cut.

In a statement reported on Tuesday, Inspector Cameron Buswell, a law enforcement officer with the RSPCA animal welfare charity, said it is hard to comprehend that there are people in the community capable of this level of cruelty.

"This would have to be up there as one of the more horrific cases we've dealt with [...]The poor dog must have been petrified. How she didn't die is miraculous." he said.

Named 'Franky' by rescuers, the dog is progressing well along her road to recovery, has a warm, loving and kind nature, and has begun to come out of her shell, Buswell said.

This has become apart of string of violent attacks on pets in Queensland. Another dog in North Queensland named 'Boof' was beaten and left to die with a 30kg chain around his neck in January. In May, a family dog in Toowoomba had its throat slit and a rubber band placed around the wound, twice.

The RSPCA is appealing for information from the public regarding the person or persons responsible for the latest attack.

Scholastic sued for Harry Potter copyright infringement (12:40)[edit]

A trustee of the estate of the late author Adrian Jacobs filed a lawsuit against the US publisher of the Harry Potter series, Scholastic Inc, on Tuesday. He claimed that J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, had copied scenes from Jacob's novel, The Adventures of Willy the Wizard, to the fourth novel of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The suit followed a similar case last year, in which the trustee sued the UK publisher of the series, Bloomsbury Publishing plc. Both of these cases are currently pending.

The complaint stated that both books, the protagonists "are required to deduce the exact nature of the central task in the competition", and had done so in a bathroom. Both books also involved "rescuing hostages imprisoned by a community of half-human, half-animal creatures." The suit also claimed that Christopher Little, a literary agent of Rowling, was originally the literary agent of Jacobs. The claim was denied by Scholastic.

Scholastic called the claim "completely without merit". They pointed out that Rowling had said in February that she had never read Jacobs' book. The trustee said that the US was the world's largest foreign market, so they brought their first overseas action there. He demanded that all copies of the Harry Potter novel be destroyed, and all the profit made by the book given to him.

No word if either of the court cases will require the use of the magic, mind reading spell Legilimens.

On this day in history (14:11)[edit]

In the year 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte had begun his ill-fated campaign in Egypt and Syria to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain's access to India. Accompanying the expeditionary army was a corps of 167 technical experts known as the Commission of the Sciences and Art and was comprised of mathematicians, astronomers, artists, architects and other scientists.

A year into the campaign as French soldiers under the command of Colonel d'Hautpoul were strengthening the defenses of Fort Julien, a couple of miles north-east of the Egyptian port city of Rashid (also known as Rosetta), Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard spotted a slab with inscriptions on one side. Immediately recognizing that this slab was unique, the find was announced to Napoleon's newly-founded scientific association in Cairo, the Institut d'Égypte. In a report by Commission member Michel Ange Lancret, he noted that it contained three inscriptions, including Greek and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, and rightly suggested that the three inscriptions could be versions of the same text.

The slab Bouchard found was made of black granite measuring 45 inches high, 28.5 inches wide and 11 inches thick, weighed 1,700 lbs and was classified as a Ptolemaic-era stele, objects which are tall, slender stone monuments, often with writing carved into its surface. It was thus named the Rosetta stone after the town it was discovered in and it quickly became one of the most famous archeological and important linguistic finds in modern history.

The Rosetta stone as we now it exists in a damaged state, as it is actually a fragment of a larger stele and all three texts are incomplete. The Greek text contains 54 lines, of which the first 27 survive in full; the rest are increasingly fragmentary due to a diagonal break at the bottom right of the stone. The demotic text (a form of evolved Egyptian writing) has survived best: it has 32 lines, of which the first 14 are slightly damaged on the right side. The hieroglyphic inscription has suffered the most damage. Only the last 14 lines of the hieroglyphic text can be seen; all of them are broken on the right side, and twelve of them on the left.

The text recorded on the stone is an inscription recording a decree, known as the Memphis decree, that was issued roughly around March 27, 196 BCE by a congress of Egyptian priests in honor of 13-year-old King Ptolemy V and establishing the worship of the new ruler as a god. The Decree records that Ptolemy V gave a gift of silver and grain to the temples, adding that in the eighth year of his reign during a particularly high Nile flood, he had the excess waters dammed for the benefit of the farmers. In return, the priesthood pledged to celebrate the king's birthday and coronation days annually, and that all of the priests of the land are to serve him along with the other gods.

A portion of the stone reads "and his priesthood shall be entered upon all formal documents and private individuals shall also be allowed to keep the feast and set up the aforementioned shrine, and have it in their houses, performing the customary honors at the feasts, both monthly and yearly, in order that it may be known to all that the men of Egypt magnify and honor the God Epiphanes Eucharistos the king, according to the law."

Using the Rosetta stone to decipher Egyptian glyphs was, in hindsight, a relatively straight forward affair.

At the time of the stone's discovery, Egyptian hieroglyphs were undeciphered and there had been no understanding of the ancient Egyptian language since shortly before the fall of the Roman Empire. By the 4th century A.D., few Egyptians were capable of reading hieroglyphs, and the myth of allegorical hieroglyphs was ascendant. Monumental use of hieroglyphs ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in 391 AD by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I and the last known inscription is from Philae, known as The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, from 396 AD.

Efforts to translate the glyphs date back as far as the fifth century when Horapollo wrote the Hieroglyphica, a spurious explanation of almost 200 glyphs. Considered authoritative yet largely false, the work was a lasting impediment to the decipherment of Egyptian writing. Later attempts at deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs were made by Arab historians in medieval Egypt during the 9th and 10th centuries. Dhul-Nun al-Misri and Ibn Wahshiyya were the first historians to be able to at least partly decipher what was written in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, by relating them to the contemporary Coptic language used by Coptic priests in their time.

The study of hieroglyphs continued centuries later, when various modern scholars attempted to decipher the glyphs, notably Johannes Goropius Becanus in the 16th century, Athanasius Kircher in the 17th, and Silvestre de Sacy, Johan David Åkerblad and Thomas Young in the early 19th century, each of them making important steps toward the solution but failing to find it.

It wasn't until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone on July 15, 1799 that the critical missing information would eventually allow the French scholar Jean-François Champollion to discover the nature of the script.

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While ancient Greek was widely known to scholars, the details of its use in the Hellenistic period as a government language in Ptolemaic Egypt were not so familiar: large scale discoveries of Greek papyri were still a long way in the future. Thus the earliest translations of the Greek text of the Stone show the translators still struggling with the historical context and with administrative and religious jargon.

It was Hubert-Pascal Ameilhon who produced in 1803 the first published translations of the Greek text, in both Latin and French to ensure that they would circulate widely. This work was then further refined by Christian Gottlob Heyne and at Cambridge, Richard Porson worked on the missing lower right corner of the Greek text.

At the moment of the Stone's discovery in Egypt, the Swedish diplomat and scholar Johan David Åkerblad was working on a little-known script of which some examples had recently been found in Egypt, the script known today as Demotic. He called it "cursive Coptic" because, although it had few similarities with the later Coptic script, he was convinced that it was used to record some form of the Coptic language (the direct descendant of ancient Egyptian).

When the French Orientalist Silvestre de Sacy received a lithograph of the Rosetta stone he realized that the middle text was in this same Demotic script so together with Åkerblad, they set to work on the middle text of the stone, assuming that the script was alphabetic. They attempted, by comparison with the Greek, to identify within this unknown text the points where Greek names ought to occur. Then in 1802, Silvestre de Sacy reported that he had successfully identified five names ("Alexandros", "Alexandreia", "Ptolemaios", "Arsinoe" and Ptolemy's title "Epiphanes"). However, de Sacy and Åkerblad could not identify the remaining characters in the demotic text, which, as is now known, included ideographic and other symbols alongside the phonetic ones.

Though de Sacy eventually gave up work on the Stone, he was able to make one other contribution. In 1811, prompted by discussions with a Chinese student about Chinese script, de Sacy recalled a suggestion made by Georg Zoëga in 1797 that in Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions foreign names might be written phonetically; he also recalled that as long ago as 1761 Jean-Jacques Barthélemy had suggested that the characters enclosed in cartouches in Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions were proper names. Thus, when Thomas Young, foreign secretary of the Royal Society of London, wrote to him about the Stone in 1814, de Sacy suggested in reply that in attempting to read the hieroglyphic text Young might look for cartouches that ought to contain Greek names, and try to identify phonetic characters in them.

Young did so, with two results that together paved the way for the final decipherment. He discovered in the hieroglyphic text the phonetic characters "p t o l m e s" that were used to write the Greek name "Ptolemaios". He also noticed that these characters resembled the equivalent ones in the Demotic script, and went on to note as many as 80 similarities between the hieroglyphic and demotic texts on the Stone, an important discovery because the two scripts were previously thought to be entirely different from one another. This led him to deduce correctly that the demotic script was only partly phonetic, also consisting of ideographic characters imitated from hieroglyphs.

Finally, in 1814, Young first exchanged correspondence about the Stone with Jean-François Champollion, a teacher at Grenoble who had produced a scholarly work on ancient Egypt. Champollion, in 1822, saw copies of the brief hieroglyphic and Greek inscriptions of the Philae obelisk, on which William John Bankes had tentatively noted the names "Ptolemaios" and "Kleopatra" in both languages.

From this, Champollion identified the phonetic characters "k l e o p a t r a". On the basis of this and the foreign names on the Rosetta Stone, he quickly constructed an alphabet of phonetic hieroglyphic characters, which appears, printed from his hand-drawn chart, in his famous letter to Bon-Joseph Dacier, secretary of the Paris Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres at the end of 1822 and immediately published by the Académie.

This "Letter" marks the real breakthrough to reading Egyptian hieroglyphs, not only for the alphabet chart and the main text, but also for the postscript in which Champollion notes that similar phonetic characters seemed to occur not only in Greek names but also in native Egyptian names. During 1823, he confirmed this, identifying the names of pharaohs Ramesses and Thutmose.

The stone itself currently resides in the British Museum, and in July of 2003, Egypt first requested the return of the Rosetta Stone. Zahi Hawass, the chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, asked that this piece be repatriated to Egypt, as one of several key items belonging to Egypt's cultural heritage.

In December 2009, Hawass said that he would drop his claim for the return of the Rosetta Stone if the British Museum loaned the stone to Egypt for three months, for the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza in 2013.

It is unlikely that the British Museum will hand over the Rosetta Stone permanently to Egypt. In response to repeated Greek requests for repatriation of the Elgin Marbles and similar requests to other museums around the world, in 2002 over 30 of the world's leading museums—including the British Museum, the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City—issued a joint statement declaring that "objects acquired in earlier times must be viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values reflective of that earlier era" and that "museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation".


And those are the top headlines for Thursday, July 15th, 2010

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