Get ready fans and foes of Dan Brown: The Vatican has "discovered" a cache of documents from the Knights Templar. For those of you who were spared the bad movie and worse prose (via AP):

The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land after the First Crusade. As their military might increased, the Templars also grew in wealth, acquiring property throughout Europe and running a primitive banking system. After they left the Middle East with the collapse of the Crusader kingdoms, their power and secretive ways aroused the fear of European rulers and sparked accusations of corruption and blasphemy.

The documents in question "reproduces the entire documentation of the papal hearings convened after King Philip IV of France arrested and tortured Templar leaders in 1307 on charges of heresy and immorality," which includes "a 14th-century parchment showing that Pope Clement V initially absolved the Templar leaders of heresy, though he did find them guilty of immorality and planned to reform the order, according to the Vatican archives Web site."

AP continues: "Historians believe Philip owed debts to the Templars and used the accusations to arrest their leaders and extract, under torture, confessions of heresy as a way to seize the order's riches."

Okay, this is all juicy stuff but what I love best is this:

Only 799 copies of the 300-page volume, "Processus Contra Templarios," - Latin for "Trial against the Templars" - are for sale, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican's secret archives. Each will cost $8,377, the publisher said Friday. An 800th copy will go to Pope Benedict XVI, said Barbara Frale, the researcher who found the long-overlooked parchment tucked away in the archives in 2001.

The Da Vinci Code book was published in 2003. The movie came out in 2006. So the entire stupid "is the Da Vinci Code right or wrong" industry could have been, I dunno, at least arguing over the facts for the past four years had only the Vatican released this earlier.

And, though this isn't strictly relevant, before he became Pope Benedict, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, known until 1908 as the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

It's about damned time.

It's only been in the last two weeks that the black church came to Jesus about AIDS. Let us pray that it's not too little too late.

Having long ignored the alarms about the AIDS epidemic decimating an already ravaged community, blacks' most prominent ministers officially joined elected officials, the National Medical Association (formed when the AMA was segregated) and other groups in moving past their homophobia and brimstone to reality: blacks must do something about the cultural underpinnings that feed the flames of AIDS. Not since the 60s has the black church so thrown itself behind a community issue.

Read this for a snapshot of the crisis and news about the group's first meeting, but the bottom line is this: black refusal to deal with its attitudes about male privilege, sex, drugs, homosexuality and superstitions (please don't mention Tuskegee again) was threatening us with near extinction (AIDS is the number 1 cause of death for black women 25-34). Blessedly, last week's meeting was a success, complete with action plan:

"Following a two-day conclave, over 150 African American leaders proposed the National HIV/AIDS Elimination Act, which they plan to introduce to Congress as early as January. The act calls on the federal government "to declare the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the African American community a 'public health emergency'" and urges "the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use his emergency authority to redirect resources to address this emergency."


As of today, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has begun using a new kind of x-ray to search passengers for possible weapons. The radiation-free x-ray, called a "millimeter wave," scans a person's entire body. In the process, it creates a blush-inducingly graphic image of the person being scanned. The TSA blurs the face in scans, and only allows a remote screener to see the final scan. But for some, that isn't enough: "If you want to see a naked body," ACLU director Barry Steinhardt told the Associated Press, "this is a naked body."

The millimeter wave is just one of a few kinds of advanced technology (AT) x-rays being tested by the TSA. Another kind of AT x-ray has received similar outcry (it's been called a "virtual strip search"). In response, the TSA altered the machine, but so much so that it obscured the very weapons it was supposed to find, as we reported in our July/August issue. The technology was initially developed for use in prisons and courthouses.

Despite privacy concerns, the TSA seems determined to roll out AT x-rays across the nation: they recently awarded more than $30 million in contracts to the companies that produce the machines and have used them at several airports including New York-Kennedy, Los Angeles International, and Regan National. So far, the machines have been voluntary, as an alternative to a pat-down in secondary screening. And, the TSA says, it has disabled the "save" function so that images cannot be stored or distributed. However, with the TSA's history of violating passengers' rights, I wouldn't bet on it.

Tutu, Part Two

Last week I noted that the University of St. Thomas had rescinded a speaking invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu because administrators deemed Tutu's previous criticisms of Israel to be "hurtful" to some Jews. This morning, Scott Jaschik of InsideHigherEd has some good news: St. Thomas' president has reversed his decision and will invite Tutu to campus after all.

The twist here is that Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman wrote a letter to St. Thomas objecting to its decision to cancel Tutu. This is an unusual outburst of sanity from Foxman and the ADL, which Glenn Greenwald has been pounding in recent days for seeming to apply "its outrage practices selectively and politically" and marching in lockstep with the right on issues like Iran. While Foxman still indulges in his annoying tic of describing people in terms of whether they are, in his opinion, "a friend of Israel"—in the letter, he deems Tutu "not a friend of Israel" simply for voicing a criticism of an Israeli policy—the ADL deserves credit here for standing up for free exchange on campus. Maybe the group is taking Greenwald's criticisms to heart.

—Justin Elliott

Military leaders said yesterday that they plan to accelerate the Army's expansion, adding 74,000 soldiers by 2010, not 2012 as originally planned. The goal, they say, is to relieve the strain on troops currently serving while maintaining the numbers necessary to continue the war effort.

Sounds great, right? Hire more soldiers, give the troops on the ground a much-needed break. But where are they going to get these people? Defense Secretary Robert Gates specified that the recruiting needs to be done without forcing anyone to stay or loosening entry standards. That might be tough, considering how much the Army has already had to widen its net to meet recruiting goals. In addition, a big part of the plan involves retention—convincing servicemen and women not to leave the Army at the end of their tours. While in a perfect world this might mean rest between deployments, practically speaking, it probably means more time in Iraq.

To top it all off, last time I checked, General Petraeus had announced plans for a troop drawdown beginning next spring. Bush endorsed the plan provided he saw evidence of progress. But given the Army's current numbers, a troop reduction is inevitable. Does the expansion push mean there won't be a drawdown after all? More likely that even with the departure of 30,000 soldiers, we're still planning for the very long term.

—Casey Miner

Surfing wikipedia can lead to wonderful things. Check out this neat chart we found showing the evolution of telephone company consolidation. Click the box to see a larger version.


Old AT&T really knows how to be persistent.

Update: Stephen Colbert has a typically awesome take on this.

What do Chevron and BP have in common, besides being leading members of Big Oil? Computer games, apparently. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on BP's latest rebranding move—a "collaboration" with the video game company Electronic Arts. To learn more about these companies' quests into unknown territory, read the rest of this post on Mother Jones' environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

New York City again shows that the as one of only two American city cities* actually attacked by Islamic terrorism, it is the one perhaps most willing to embrace Muslims, immigrants, and its own rich cultural diversity. From Newsday:

The Empire State Building will be illuminated green this weekend to mark the Islamic holy days of Eid-al-Fitr (EED-ALL-FEET-er).
The joyous "Festival of Fast-breaking" marks the end of Ramadan, a month of intense spiritual renewal.
This year is the first time the famous skyscraper will be aglow for the Islamic holiday. A spokeswoman for the building's owner says it will be an annual event, in the same tradition of the yearly skyscraper lighting for Christmas and Hanukah.
In Islam, the color green symbolizes a happy occasion and the importance of nature.

* I am a complete idiot. Thanks to melissa in the comments.

I've blogged before about how much I love They come through again with some real treats on the Republican debate in Dearborn, Michigan.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson got the facts straight for his GOP debate debut Oct. 9. But former Mayor Rudy Giuliani added to a lengthening string of exaggerations and misstatements:
Giuliani claimed Sen. Hillary Clinton once called the free-market economy "the most destructive force in modern America." She didn't say that. She quoted another author who said free markets were "disruptive." She also said free markets bring prosperity.
The mayor falsely claimed Clinton proposes to give $1,000 to "everybody." Her proposed subsidies to workers' retirement accounts would be for couples making up to $60,000 a year and would be $500 for those making up to $100,000.
Giuliani falsely claimed that more than 2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product is spent on "frivolous" lawsuits. The figure is from a study about the cost of all lawsuits.

One of the great enduring myths created by the American auto industry is that SUVs are safer than regular cars. The Ford Explorer rollover scandals in 2000 helped pierce this image a little, but Americans still seem to believe that an SUV is a safe place to store a family on the road. (The Frost children, in fact, who've been attacked by right wingers during the SCHIP debate were nearly killed when the family SUV slid off the road and hit a tree.)

The data, however, continue to show that most people would be safer in a Mini Cooper (or a minivan) than a Chevy Trailblazer. The latest news comes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose new crash tests show that most SUVs perform poorly when hit from the side, even though they're much higher off the ground than other cars.

"People often think they're safer in one of these vehicles, but many cars hold up better than some of these midsize SUVs in this test," David Zuby, the institute's senior vice president, told the Associated Press.

You can watch the crash videos here.