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Living-Today: Issues of modern living

By United Press International   |   Feb. 21, 2002 at 4:45 AM   |   Comments

WEAPONS SALES

Representatives of the National Campaign to Close the Newspaper Gun Ad Loophole are scheduled to release a study this week that purports to show that classified ads are "a potential source of guns (including assault weapons) for terrorists, criminals, and the mentally ill."

The organization said such sales permit gun purchasers to avoid mandated background checks in the 16 states surveyed -- where more than 75 percent of the surveyed newspapers allow guns to be sold through classified ads.

"Sales of guns through newspaper classifieds offer the anonymity and ability to avoid law enforcement checks, which make them a potential source of guns for terrorists," John Johnson, executive director of the Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence, said in a release.

The Iowa group is one of 24 state and grassroots gun violence prevention groups that make up the campaign.

(From UPI's Capital Comment)


AMERICAN INDIANS

Thousands of Indians in Oklahoma are suffering financial hardship because of a federal court order that closed down the computer system that pays them oil and gas royalties.

Many tribal members have not received a payment in three months, some for as long as four months, said Gary McAdams, president of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes and a member of a task force working on reforms of the Individual Indian Money Trust. Some Indians depend on the payments totally to pay their living expenses. For many others the money is essential to pay utility bills, buy food and clothing, and make housing payments. Some members have already had their cars possessed, he said.

McAdams said his information comes from the seven tribes served by the Bureau of Indian Affairs agency in Anadarko but it's probably true across the state where many Indians lease their lands to oil and gas companies. Oklahoma has about 40 tribes.

The current payment stoppage began after U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth closed down the Interior Department's computer system because hackers were getting into the Indian account information. He ordered it closed until the agency could assure him that it was completely secure.

The Washington D.C. judge has been in charge of a class-action lawsuit filed three years ago on behalf of American Indians seeking billions of dollars because mismanagement of the their trust accounts. Attorneys are seeking billions of dollars dating back more than 100 years.

McAdams said his tribe and others have written Judge Lamberth, reporting the problem.

In an interview with the Daily Oklahoman, Neal McCaleb, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said the agency is working to solve the problem. He has asked Congress to approve a one-time payment until the new computer security system is approved by Lamberth. He said the payment would be for 1 1/2 months.

Lawyers representing Indians in the class-action lawsuit wanted the trust-fund system taken away from the federal government and placed into a receivership, but Lambert chose to force the government to fix the system.


BILINGUAL EDUCATION

The increasing push toward greater accountability from teachers and school districts could mean further trouble ahead for K-12 students with limited English-speaking abilities and administrators, a panel of educators told California lawmakers Wednesday.

The Assembly Education Committee was warned that districts with large numbers of non-English speaking students could see a chronic slump in scores on increasingly important standardized tests that are geared toward English speakers, but at the same time will likely be used more in the political arena as a measure of their competency.

The panelists testifying in Sacramento were unanimous in their concern that when scoring the various tests -- such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test -- the limited English skills of many students must somehow be factored in so that districts don't find themselves facing the appearance of abject failure. The consensus was that more time was needed to establish a testing protocol that takes limited-English students into account -- in terms of both district-wide test scores and as an accurate measure of what the individual student has learned about other subjects but may not be able to adequately demonstrate on a test geared toward English speakers.

The importance of standardized testing has taken on a new urgency in recent years as political leaders at the state and national level look for ways to more accurately measure the progress of students in public schools. The situation has revived the debate over bilingual education in California where voters four years ago approved Proposition 227, which eliminates the bilingual program in which students who speak languages other than English are taught in separate classes in their native tongues.

Prop 227 has not gone into full effect because education officials and lawmakers must first develop a formal set of regulations that will be used to implement the measure. That drafting of the regulations has run into obstacles in Sacramento as lawmakers representing heavily-Latino districts fight to keep the bilingual option open for parents.

(Thanks to UPI's Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)


THE HAJJ

Millions of Muslims began gathering in Mecca Wednesday for the annual pilgrimage known as the Hajj, a central tenet of Islam.

"This is the largest ever gathering of pilgrims," said Dr. Syed Mohammed Saeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America. "Of course the Hajj gatherings are always large, but Sept. 11 has increased the need for religious comfort among people of all faiths."

The Saudi Hajj Ministry said more than 2.3 million people had arrived by Monday, and more were still coming. 200,000 alone are coming from Indonesia.

Saudi Arabia -- the guardian and caretaker of the holy sites -- has made special security arrangements this year to avoid a possible terrorist attack. It has also arranged to shuttle pilgrims from one holy place to another and set up approximately 40,000 tents to house them.

The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for Muslim men and women whose health and means permit it. Muslims trace the origins of this ritual to the Prophet Abraham. The annual pilgrimage takes place each year between the eighth and the 13th days of Dhu al Hijjah, the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar.

In its first rite, pilgrims wrap themselves in the ihram, a white robe. On the first day, pilgrims visit Mina, a small, uninhabited village east of Mecca. On the second day, they leave Mina for the plain of Arafat for the wuquf -- "the standing" -- the central rite of the Hajj.

Just after sunset, the pilgrims proceed to Muzdalifah, an open plain about halfway between Arafat and Mina. There they pray, then collect a fixed number of chickpea-sized pebbles to use on the following days.

Before daybreak on the third day, pilgrims move en masse from Muzdalifah to Mina. There they cast their collected pebbles at white pillars, a symbolic condemnation of satanic temptations also attributed to Abraham.

Following the casting of the pebbles, most pilgrims sacrifice a goat, sheep or some other animal and give the meat to the poor. (Nowadays most of the meat is preserved and is sent abroad for distribution among the poor, both Muslims and non-Muslims.)

After the sacrifice, the pilgrims are allowed to shed their Hajj robe and put on their usual clothes. They now return to Mecca to perform another essential rite of the Hajj, the seven-fold circling of the Ka'bah, "the House of God" with a prayer recited during each circuit.

After completing this ritual, pilgrims pray, preferably at the Station of Abraham, the site where the Muslims believed Abraham stood while he built the Ka'bah. Then they drink of the water of Zamzam, a well they believe has been there since Abraham's days.

Another rite is the sa'y, or "the running," which commemorates Hagar's frantic search for water to quench the thirst of Ishmael, Abraham's son.

With this rite performed, the Hajj is complete. Pilgrims now return to Mina where they spend two more days before saying farewell to the friends they have made during the Hajj. Before leaving, pilgrims usually make a final visit to Mecca to say farewell to the Holy City.

(Thanks to UPI's Anwar Iqbal in Washington)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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