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Giant asteroid to pass close to Earth
Sunday, 26 September 2004

On Wednesday, Earth will get its closest known shave this century from a major asteroid, a monster big enough to extinguish billions of lives were it ever to hit.

But, in contrast to the warnings of a handful of doomsayers, scientists say the peril from this rock is beyond negligible.

In fact, they say this particular risk is zero and will remain so for several centuries, thanks to an increasingly successful effort to spot asteroids and calculate their future orbits around the Sun.

The asteroid in question is 4179 Toutatis, a behemoth some 4.6 kilometres long by 2.4 kilometres across.

It will be at its closest to Earth at 1337 GMT on Wednesday, when it will be 1,549,719 kilometres away, according to the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

That may seem comfortingly far, but in galactic terms it is narrower than a whisker: just four times the gap between Earth and the Moon.

Discovered in 1989, Toutatis is probably one of the most studied asteroids of all because its most recent circuits have brought it so close to Earth. It takes four years to loop around the Sun, although it has a very odd, almost chaotic spin quite unseen in any other asteroid.

It has not been so close to Earth since 1353 and will not be this close again until 2562, says the specialist website space.com.

Toutatis owes its name to a trio of French astronomers, who baptised it after a Celtic god well-known in France for the comic book hero Asterix.

Protected by Toutatis, Asterix and his friends fear nothing except the idea of the sky falling on their heads.

Comment: There has been quite bit of speculation and general hoopla surrounding the close passage of Toutatis. Many are proclaiming that we are all doomed. Others claim that there is far too much hype and paranoia surrounding the event. One reporter decided to comment on Toutatis, the doomsday tradition, and the end-times, and he makes some rather interesting comments...

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As the world awaits the passing—or crashing—of planetoid Toutalis, thoughts on the doomsday tradition and our own end-times culture.

By David Ritchie
New York Press

DURING A TAXI ride one day in February, a driver in Baltimore asked how I was doing. I told him my plans for the near future.

He turned around, gave me a very strange look and said: "I don't want to scare you, but the world is gonna end in seven months."

Hundreds of taxis, and I get this guy. But nothing about him seemed dangerous, so I engaged him in conversation. Apparently a disciple of a certain radio preacher, this cabbie could expound at length on why the world was expected to end that September. Drawing on my meager knowledge of eschatology, I asked, "Isn't the antichrist supposed to reign for several years before the world ends?"

"Oh, he's already here!" the driver assured me. "People just don't know it!" At my destination, he left me marveling at the vagaries of belief.

That was in 1994. Ten years later, the world is still here. How that driver explained its survival, I have no idea. If he truly trusted that seven-month countdown, then he must have been disappointed at the dawn of October 1.

The human brain appears to have a receptor for such stories, as for opiates, because the neo-doomsday crowd never lacks an audience. Just now, a lot of people again imagine the world ending very soon.

As I write, fears focus on the asteroid Toutatis, a mountain-sized planetoid that is expected to pass very close to Earth on Wednesday, September 29, 2004. For months, the internet has been abuzz with woeful speculation that Toutatis will hit us rather than miss by a few Earth radii. Depending on where such an object landed, it might devastate a hemisphere—or worse. An impact at sea might send colossal waves, or tsunamis, roaring around the globe to smash and drown coastal cities from New York to Singapore.

Yes, for some, for us, this could be scheduled for next Wednesday.

Well, relax. Not everyone anticipates "the end" tomorrow or next week. We might survive 2004, and maybe even 2005. But thereafter, doomsayers are having a field day. According to one Canadian website, the much-publicized "Bible code," which supposedly reveals future events as encoded in portions of the Bible, has been cited as warning of a global nuclear war in 2006.

But the big time for doomsday lovers is six years later. The other day, a friend who monitors end-times chatter told me, "They're predicting 'the end' for 2012 now." Specifically, "they" include:

  • The Bible-code set, who also imagine the Pentateuch points to a comet striking Earth that year;
  • Exegetes of the Mayan calendar, who appear to think it indicates something really horrible (conceivably the end of the universe) on December 21, 2012;
  • An exponent of "novelty theory," according to which some unspecified but unpleasant "trans-dimensional" event is due on that same date, as the "center" of the galaxy rises;
  • An unnamed doomsayer who puts the big event three days later, on December 24, when one-third of the Oort cloud, a giant swarm of comets circling the sun, supposedly will crash into our planet; and
  • Another seer who suggests the sun and Earth both will undergo reversals of their magnetic fields in 2012, leading to tremendous geophysical upheavals on Earth.

The online literature about "earth changes"—from mammoth tsunamis to a runaway greenhouse effect—is extensive and lurid. At one representative website, a visionary who practices "dousing" [sic] presents maps depicting vast but vaguely defined changes affecting the U.S. Pacific coast, Georgia, South Carolina, and southern Japan by the year 2005. Even greater changes are projected to reach inland as far as the western borders of Kansas and Nebraska by 2010.

Depending on whose imaginings you sample, there is a terrifying risk that rising sea levels caused by global warming will put present-day seacoasts under water…North America soon will look like a tattered croissant…the San Andreas fault will give, with calamitous results for California…Antarctica and the Arctic will wind up on the equator…the Yellowstone caldera will erupt again…a huge undersea landslide will send monster waves crashing into shores around the Atlantic basin…we will freeze and/or starve in darkness as global oil supplies are exhausted during the coming decades.

That is, if the sun doesn't go out, the arrival of a mystery planet in our solar system doesn't devastate the world and we somehow avoid extinction from pandemics or pollution or a great cosmic shift in something or other.

Yet no one I know is buying oceanfront property in Omaha. After all, we have heard such talk time and again before, without any of it coming true.

MY MEMORIES OF middle school in the early 60s include an end-of-the-world scare. Some would-be prophet had caused a stir by predicting the world would end at a particular date and time in, I think, 1964 (the year after singer Skeeter Davis, by coincidence, released her tearful song "The End of the World"). When the dread hour arrived, during a volleyball game or whatever, someone near me looked at the clock and screamed, "Aaaaah! We're gonna die in our gym class!" Nervous laughter ensued.

The game finished, the bell rang and school continued as usual.

So did dire anticipations. In 1968, a cult assembled its followers atop a mountain in Colorado to flee a perceived threat from the asteroid Icarus, which passed Earth at a distance of four million miles on June 14 that year. Icarus' visit, they feared, would coincide with California sliding into the Pacific Ocean.

Actually, no danger existed. Four million miles is 1000 times Earth's radius. That was a very comfortable margin of safety. Still, the cultists were not alone in their apprehension, groundless though it was. Harvard University astronomer Brian Marsden, for example, reported later that he had to spend time on the telephone reassuring a woman whose mother was afraid the world was about to end.

Warnings about another close encounter with Icarus in 2006 have been circulating online. One newsgroup posting about "Doomsday Icarus" cited an article in a Costa Rican newspaper to the effect that Icarus' next visit to our vicinity might be its last. The article quoted scientists as saying an impact was all but inevitable and discussed a proposal to shatter the asteroid with nuclear explosions.

If this plan sounds familiar, then perhaps it should. Similar schemes were formulated more than 30 years ago and have been dramatized in science fiction movies including Japanese director Kenji Fukasaku's The Green Slime (1968), Ronald Neame's Meteor (1979) and the more recent Deep Impact and Armageddon (1998).

What if Icarus misses us? Then there will still be plenty of "Earth-grazers" out there, because more than 100 "potentially hazardous asteroids," or PHAs, zip past us on a regular basis. Though minuscule by planetary standards, PHAs still would cause tremendous destruction in the unlikely event that one of them struck Earth. A PHA discovered in 1997, XF 11, led to a scare the following year when it was projected to pass within 600,000 miles of us in 2028. One astronomer attributed that flap in part to "overeager" internet use.

Planetoid impact lore is a particular interest of mine, and tracing its history can be a colorful exercise. The trail leads back to 1910, when fears about Halley's comet had much of the world cowering. According to one local report, a 20-pound blade came loose from a cooling fan at a company on 8th Ave., flew through the air, and shattered windows in a passing trolley car. "The comet!" passengers screamed as they ran from the car.

Over the next half-century, works of science fiction such as When Worlds Collide (both the 1934 novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie and its 1951 motion-picture adaptation) and the classic 1955 film This Island Earth capitalized on fears of spectacular impacts. The latter depicted meteorite impacts used as weapons during an interplanetary war.

In the factual realm, a projection of a planetoid strike's effects - everything from tsunamis to severe climate change - appeared in the March 1966 issue of Analog magazine, supported by maps and figures. Such serious treatment gave the topic legitimacy. Soon, it was almost fashionable to imagine giant rocks dropping from space. Tales of that kind became television fare by 1978, when the tv movie A Fire in the Sky depicted a comet destroying Phoenix. Clearly, end-of-the-world scenarios sold.

Sell they still do, especially when linked to prophetic texts. The Japanese went into a tizzy five years ago after an alleged Nostradamus prophecy foretold a conqueror descending from the skies in 1999. This was interpreted as an invasion by space aliens. In Korea at that time, a tongue-in-cheek magazine illustration showed a monster with a flying saucer for a mouth that was devouring humans. (Koreans often enjoy a chuckle at the expense of Japan, as their memories of the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945 remain bitter. Indeed, one wonders how much Japanese fears of invasion from space in 1999 may have reflected a guilty conscience, much as H.G. Wells' fantasy The War of the Worlds a century earlier appeared to be a parable about the British rape of Tasmania.)

Though the 1999 Nostradamus ruckus in Japan may have owed something to the 1996 movie Independence Day and its vision of extraterrestrials devastating Earth, that invaders-from-space scenario was circulating long before. I recall reading it around 1968. Now I wonder: Had someone back then watched the 1953 movie adaptation of The War of the Worlds—or The Mysterians, a 1957 Toho Corporation epic about invaders from another planet—and based a similar scenario on Nostradamus' murky quatrains?

Impact scenarios such as the one involving asteroid Icarus have added to the apocalyptic religious fervor of our day by providing a plausible mechanism for certain "last days" expectations among evangelicals. Consider the events mentioned in Luke 21: 25-26:

And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

Read those lines carefully. A planetoid impact in mid-ocean indeed would set "the sea and the waves roaring." The tsunami from such an event in the mid- Atlantic might come ashore at New York as a breaker the height of Manhattan's tallest towers, roll over Long Island and inundate much of the eastern U.S. coastal plain. Ejecta from the impact would obscure the sun, moon and stars. So, one easily might interpret those two verses as describing the aftermath of a planetoid strike at sea, a prospect to make even the stoutest heart falter. Is it any wonder then that projections of planetoid impacts have reinforced the apocalypticism of recent years?

AS IMPRESSIVE AS the scope of world-enders' thinking these days is its overwhelming detail. Everything from events in the Middle East to the technology of cloning has been worked into one end-times commentary or another.

As one might expect, 9/11 has acquired apocalyptic dimensions of its own, explained at Boston University's Center for Millennial Studies website. In that specific context, the level of detail may extend even to the frequency of individual words in the book of Revelation. A pious acquaintance, apparently aware of Manhattan's equation with mystery Babylon, tried to relate the fall of the WTC's two towers to the repetition of the two words "is fallen" in Revelation 14:8:

"And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."

Being no biblical scholar, and certainly no eschatologist, I can only make a guess (albeit uninformed) that the words are repeated for emphasis and not to represent a specific number of buildings destroyed.

The detail of these scenarios reflects more than just zeal and fascination. It also serves two important purposes. One, to overwhelm the reader or listener with information. Presented with countless particulars and tiny specifics, one simply cannot investigate, much less evaluate, all of them one by one. Potential critics are swamped. That effect accounts, at least in part, for the success of many end-times models. Doomsday artists are well aware of this principle: The more detail, the better, for the same reason that a hurricane is more powerful than a single raindrop.

Now for the second, less evident but equally important purpose of abundant detail: It provides a doomsday scenario such as a conspiracy hypothesis about the "last days" with countless points of attachment to other scenarios. Together, they support and reinforce one another in the same manner as the interconnected girders of a building.

A well-built steel-frame structure can survive even a nuclear blast, as happened at Hiroshima. In like fashion, a conjoined set of end-of-the-world scenarios, attached by countless shared details, may resist even the strongest factual rebuttal. The techno-paranoid culture of our time, with its innumerable high-tech conspiracy scenarios, illustrates this principle. Paranoia about the "face on Mars" reinforces UFO paranoia, which in turn reinforces "black helicopter" paranoia. And so on.

A similar interdependency helps make the neo-doomsday movement so powerful. No one can break all its countless links or disprove all its little particulars. No one has the time or energy. Ergo, the movement both survives and thrives. Like a tsunami, it just rolls on.

If we cannot stop it, can we at least, then, understand it? How is one to interpret such neo-doomsday enthusiasm?

Doomsday scares are diversions meant to take our attention away from things that we are not meant to contemplate. When something sinister and shadowy is happening of which alert minds might become aware and warn others, excitement and fear about another issue or event (scary prophecies, killer asteroids, invaders from space) are effective distractions.

Preferably, the threat should be something recurrent, so that frequent scares can be manufactured. Toutatis and other "hazardous" asteroids serve this purpose well. They return every few years. Better yet, their putative menace can be emphasized with eye-catching graphics such as computer-generated images of a tumbling rock the size of Ellis Island, or a miles-wide crater where Manhattan used to be. And when that particular scare turns out to have been unjustified, no problem. There's always another Earth-grazing asteroid on the way—the sky is, almost literally, never far from falling.

A scare from space makes a great diversion from dark doings on Earth, doesn't it? "Look! Up there!"

WHAT IF FORECASTS of imminent doom are, as techno-paranoids call them, "psy- ops"? That is, psychological operations designed to redirect popular thinking in certain ways? What if we are being conditioned to live in fear of some world- ending super-menace—from outer space or wherever—that could be simulated and then seemingly averted at the last moment by a "miraculous" rescue? Whoever "saved" the world through such global stagecraft would acquire unprecedented influence. Dictators have risen to power and even claimed divinity for themselves using much more modest ruses.

Fantastic though such a scenario sounds, something like it probably could be done with technologies of the very near future, if not the present. One easily can imagine a tyrant with worldwide ambitions and high-tech capabilities scheming even now to pull off the greatest hoax of all time, after years of conditioning the public to anticipate precisely such a crisis. This may sound like the ultimate techno-paranoid nightmare, yet it's consistent with the high volume of current warnings that the end is nigh. Quite a large number of people around the globe believe that the world is in its sunset years.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the appeal and distribution of such a belief. Note how often it turns up in everyday conversation. At a cookout I attended some years ago in Maryland, a young woman startled me when she said about the world in general, in a glib evangelical manner, "It's all going to burn up anyway!" Even modern legends are changing to reflect belief in an imminent apocalypse. The old tale of the "phantom hitchhiker" who vanishes from a motorist's vehicle now includes accounts of mysterious travelers, sometimes identified as "angels," who say something like "Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ is coming soon?"—and then disappear.

Hoaxes or not, on both the secular and religious levels, someone is successfully inciting fears about "the end" arriving very soon. Even in the years before 2000, and accounting for religious and non-religious prophecies (Y2K), the neo-doomsday chorus has never been louder than right now. Is it all the buildup to some contrived mega-fright?

Proof is lacking. But so many scaremongers are screaming at once about a planetary upheaval within the next several years that even taxi drivers, famed for their skepticism, can be persuaded that the world has only a few months left.

Comment: There is another idea regarding the promulgation of "Doomsday scenarios" that the author fails to mention. Based on a re-examination of history, one can clearly see the repeating cycles of relative calm followed by one or more catastrophic events. For further details, the reader will want to read Laura Knight-Jadczyk's book Ancient Science.

A psy-op that creates "cults" that spread doomsday scenarios is the perfect method by which the powers that be can discredit and debunk any group who does happen to discover any bit of truth - no matter how small - regarding cyclic disasters and real Earth changes. It doesn't matter how many meteors or fireballs are being sighted, or how unusually destructive the weather becomes - it can all be written off as just more conspiracy theory and doomsday nonsense.

What better way to establish complete control over the masses than to keep them in denial of what is actually occurring around them? By the time they realize what has hit them - perhaps even literally - it will be too late.

But don't take our word for it - see for yourself...

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Mystery of fireball in dawn sky
25 September 2004 06:06

Early morning motorists driving through Norfolk and Cambridge-shire yesterday could hold the key to finding out more about the meteorite or fireball sighted over the region.

Around 20 motorists driving along the area's roads from around 6.30am reported seeing the fireball, which many described as having a bright glow followed by a long trail of light.

They reported their findings to Graham Barnard on his Today in Norfolk early morning programme on BBC Radio Norfolk.

Mr Barnard told the EDP that around 20 callers rang in from around 6.30am to report initially to presenter Wally Webb seeing the fireball mainly in the sky above the west and south of the county.

"Callers had their own theories as to what it was, ranging from a fireball, firework or, in the case of a caller from the Thetford area, an aircraft on fire, but we quickly put listeners' minds at rest that it wasn't an aircraft," said Mr Barnard.

Comment: Wouldn't an aircraft in distress be the least disturbing possibility? Although it would certainly be distressing to witness an airplane crash, it seems that witnessing one of the many recent fireballs that have been raining down upon the planet would cause more concern than an airplane malfunction or even another possible terrorist incident...

Yesterday, the mystery sighting was confirmed as being a fireball or meteorite by Mark Lawick-Thompson, chairman of the Norwich Astronomical Society.

He said the fireball could have broken up while in the atmosphere and the fragments might have landed but, until more detailed information about the sightings was available, it was not possible to say if fragments had landed.

The last reported sighting of a fireball in East Anglia was in Peterborough in 1991.

He appealed to people who had seen the fireball to contact with their detailed descriptions via his e-mail: astronomy4all@btopenworld.com

His view was shared by research scientist Vicky Pearson who said the sighting had been reported early yesterday morning in locations mainly in Southern England, including Oxford and Poole in Dorset, but there had also been sightings in the Midlands.

Miss Pearson, who is based at the Planetary and Space Science Research Institute at the Open University at Milton Keynes, said she had not received any of the reported sightings in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

She said that, until more information was available, it would not be possible to say if fragments had landed.

Miss Pearson asked people who saw it to call her on 01908 652814 during weekday office hours.

Comment: If this fireball was an isolated incident, we might be able to write it off as a rare occurrence and go back to the sleepy comfort of our "normal lives". The reader will note, however, that this is not the only fireball in recent days.

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Mysterious fireballs ram the Earth
09/27/2004 17:13

A mysterious fire tornado that ripped through the jungles had torn out trees in some areas, while leaving the vegetation untouched.

At night of 14 September 2004 many people got a chance to witness the fall of a fire object near the southern Argentinean town of Ushuaia. Further searches in the region yielded fascinating results: the area of approximately 150 sq meters had absolutely no trees. At first sight, it appeared as though the trees were chopped down; however, all the vegetation remained untouched. More so, according to the Argentinean media, scientists were unable to find any traces of the mysterious fire object that had "melted down" the woods. The next day, on September 15th, another fire object was spotted in that same region.

Currently, researchers are trying to determine the nature of such mysterious phenomenon. It is likely that it has got something to do with the kind of research work many scientists from all over the world have been preoccupied with for ages. In particular, Sandia National Laboratories hosted a workshop in August of this year which was dedicated specifically to such kind of unexplained phenomena involving descending burning objects.

One Russian scientist, candidate of physic-mathematical sciences Andrei Ol"khovatov was one of the participants of the workshop.

In his exclusive interview to "PRAVDA.RU", Mr. Ol"khovatov noted that due to the lack of evidences regarding recent events in Argentina, it is rather difficult to draw any conclusions at this point. However, if our analysis of the eyewitnesses" words will be confirmed concerning the fact that the fire object had in fact landed in the area with major tree-anomaly and the date of the anomaly will correspond to that of the fall, then this occurrence could be classified as something of a mystic origin. In that case, it will be referred to as a "geophysical meteors."

Scientists have yet been unable to determine physical mechanism of geophysical meteors. All that is known today is the fact that geophysical meteors somewhat resemble high-voltage ball lightning and has a tendency to remain in certain geophysical environment.

According to Ol"khovatov, geophysical meteors are far from harmless. In January of this year, a fire ball has nearly completely destroyed a house in the Iranian town of Babol. However, there were plenty of far worse cases. In 1935 for instance, hundreds of kilometers of jungles have been completely burnt down in South America, in British Guiana.

Comment: While we are generally a bit skeptical regarding information on the Pravda site, in this case it seems there is some truth to the reporting of the Argentinean fireball...

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Flashback: Unknown Elements Found at Fireball Impact Site

Fri Sep 17
Translated from "El Sureño"

The elements were recovered by members of the Special Services Division of the Police, who took photographs of the Valle de Andora region. Experts from CADIC shall try to ascertain their origin.

USHUAIA -- Objects of unknown origin were found in the forested area located behind the Le Martial Glacier, where the luminous objects reported late Tuesday and Wednesday allegedly fell.

The objects were recovered by personnel of the Special Services Division of the provincial police, who scoured the area. The objects and some photos taken in the area shall be submitted for analysis by experts of the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Cientificas (CADIC).

No details on the items found were put forth, but it was learned that they did not correspond to the characteristics of the area.

The survey in Valle Andorra and the Le Martial Grlacier - indicated as the sites of the fireball impacts - will continue today, weather permitting. Strong winds are forecasted for today, according to the weather report issued by official agencies.

The new projected expedition may include scientists from CADIC interested in discovering "in situ" the conditions under which the strange elements were found, and which drew the attention of police researchers. It is worth noting that Dr. Acevedo, a member of this research center, was one of the witnesses to the fall of strange luminous bodies over the skies of Ushuaia.

Acevedo suspects that the objects could be the remains of a meteorite or otherwise of a satellite tha burned out upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

Readers will remember that on Tuesday night, almost at the same time -- between 20:30 and 21:00, over a hundred residents of Ushuaia alerted the Civil Defense and the Police about "fireballs" falling behind the Martial Glacier.

The phenomenon was also seen on Wednesday by residents of the city of Rio Grande. There were even rumors yesterday that new luminous objects had fallen from the sky around 9:00 o'clock at night.

Comment: Regardless of the number of "cults" pushing doomsday scenarios, it seems that things on the BBM are certainly becoming more interesting by the day. Indeed, it seems that there have been many interesting events in our history, precious few of which ever reached public awareness.

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Could a meteorite or comet cause all the fires of 1871?

By Dale Killingbeck, Cadillac News

CADILLAC - The skies around Sherman and the village of Clam Lake undoubtedly turned from blue to black.

In Chicago, flames were racing through the city and in Peshtigo, Wis., people were running for their lives. Flames from the woods near Manistee invaded the town on a quiet Sunday - and people fought for their homes.

Within three days of the fires, thousands were homeless, hundreds from Chicago, Wisconsin and Michigan dead, and many pioneers faced the winter without a home or crops to eat.

In the month of the Perseid Meteor shower, it is interesting to ponder - could a disintegrated comet be the cause of the fires?

An Upper Peninsula systems design engineer thinks so, as does a former physicist with McDonnell Douglas Corp.

Consider a statement by the Detroit Post on Oct. 10, 1871: "In all parts of the state, as will be noticed by our correspondence during the past few days and also today, there are numerous fires in the wood, in many places approaching so near to towns as to endanger the towns themselves."

In Holland, fire destroyed the city, in Lansing flames threatened the agricultural college and in the Thumb, farmers trying to establish homesteads soon would be diving into shallow wells to escape an inferno some newspapers dubbed: "The Fiery Fiend." Many did not escape.

Fires threatened Muskegon, South Haven, Grand Rapids, Wayland and reached the outskirts of Big Rapids. A steamship passing the Manitou Islands reported they were on fire.

A horror story? Yes. And so real that historic markers to the event can be found at Manistee and in the Thumb. Lots has been written about the storm of fire that killed 2,000 in Peshtigo, Wis., and the Great Chicago Fire and the fires that devastated the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

Theories for the fires are many - but one thing is certain, the devouring flames showed up at the same time.

Most historians point to the dry weather of the summer and the poor logging practices of the day for creating conditions ripe for a hot dry wind from the southwest that blew into the area whipping up small fires already smoldering and carrying destruction through the state.

Theories for the Chicago and Michigan fires include Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocking over the lantern and then firebrands from Chicago being driven across the lake to ignite Michigan. But there is another interesting theory that continues to make the rounds on the Web and in at least one presentation by a retired physicist who worked for McDonnell Douglas Corp.

In 1871, fire erupted in Chicago, Wisconsin and northern Michigan at the same time. Some believe a meteorite or comet was to blame.

The Discovery Channel reported on its Web site in March a presentation by Robert Wood, a retired McDonnell-Douglas physicist, who theorizes fragments of a comet discovered in the early 1820s possibly caused the fires.

Wood theorized that small pieces of frozen methane, acetylene or other high combustive materials hit the earth sparking the flames.

That theory also resounds with Munising's Ken Rieli who believes he found a chunk of meteorite in the waters off the Port Sanilac shore a few years ago.

"We started doing an investigation on where the meteorite came from," he said. His investigation also took him back to the Comet Biela that was discovered in 1821 and returned every six years and nine months. It was last seen in 1866 and never showed up in 1872.

"It was supposed to recycle and it wasn't there," Rieli said. He questions how fires could start simultaneously in Chicago, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario. He also notes how dry summers and strong winds since have never produced a similar result in America's history.

"If these are coming down like buckshot with real dry conditions ..." Rieli theorizes how flaming space rocks could have ignited fires in many places. He said he's been contacted by relatives of survivors of the Peshtigo fire who shared stories from their ancestors about seeing fire falling from the sky.

Physicist Wood in his report cited eyewitness reports of spontaneous ignition and "fire balloons."

Rieli said Canadian geologists found a huge impact crater 200 feet below Lake Huron in the Port Huron area in the early 1990s. He said he has a relative who participated in drilling for a water pipeline to serve the Detroit in the same area at the same depth. He said crews discovered meteorite-like rock as they bored a hole for the pipeline.

"They were bringing it out and piling it up," he said. He said the rock was reformulated and either was volcanic or a meteorite.

"It's another piece of evidence that the Michigan area and parts of Canada, Illinois are ground zero for an active meteor strike zone."

Michigan State University's David Batch, director of the Abram's Planetarium, said he had not heard the theory before and is skeptical that a comet or meteorite could have caused the fires.

Batch said meteorites that have come through the atmosphere and hit the ground are never hot when people have had the opportunity to run over to the piece of space rock immediately.

"When they run over to them, there is a frost to them," he said. "There's no known evidence of a comet or a meteorite causing a fire in history."

Batch said comet particles are mostly ice and would not survive to hit the ground while the meteorite only glows hot in the very outer surface as it passes through atmosphere.

"It's only heated to those temperatures for a very short time," he said. "It's like the outer millimeter that is heated up. The rest of it stays cold."

Rieli counters that if the meteorite chunk exceeds one pound and has enough mass, it will not cool by the time it hits the ground.

"That's only true under a certain mass of rock," he said.

He said the Comet Biela had to have hit an asteroid belt when it broke up around Jupiter and likely the debris carried a mixture of rock and ice when the Earth plowed through the field in October 1871. The result was hundreds of hot rocks flying through the atmosphere and in many cases striking tinder-dry woods.

While residents around the state battled flames, information about the area around Cadillac, then Clam Lake, is fuzzy. The first newspaper did not start until 1872.

The village began the same year as the firestorm and by October of that year there was a sawmill, hotels, a general store some boarding houses, along with other buildings, according to Judge William Peterson's "The View from Courthouse Hill."

Peterson recounts near Sherman, the area between Mesick and Sherman Hill, there were numerous fires at the same time Manistee and Chicago were burning down.

"It was said sparks from the fires in Wisconsin that summer or the great Chicago fire in October or the conflagration that destroyed Manistee at the same time, started a large number of fires in the Sherman area," Peterson wrote.

Among the losses were a sawmill and the prosecutor's house.

Rieli acknowledges his theory is controversial. His Web site is meant to spark conversation - but he believes his chunk of carbonaceous chondrite meteorite bolsters his theory. Any certainty would require more research.

"It's just a present thing we are doing," he said. "People need to expand their minds."

Comment: For an even larger list of meteor and fireball sightings, consult the Signs Meteor Supplement.

Fireballs are not the only phenomena pelting the planet. Tropical storms and especially hurricanes are particularly numerous and destructive as of late...

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Fla. Cleanup Is Biggest in FEMA's History
Sep 28, 9:06 AM (ET)

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) - Floridians were again settling into the discomforts of a post-hurricane reality: lines for bags of ice or a hot meal, damaged homes that will take months to repair, and stifling heat and darkness amid widespread power outages.

The havoc caused by hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne have prompted the largest relief effort ever undertaken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Jeanne, downgraded from a hurricane after cutting a swath of destruction through Florida over the weekend, steered north Monday evening as a tropical depression, spawning tornadoes and flash floods across the Deep South. Two deaths were blamed on the storm in South Carolina. The weakened weather system was expected to move into the mid-Atlantic states Tuesday.

Hurricane Jeanne, the fourth storm to hammer Florida in six weeks, has left behind a trail of death, destruction and frustration.

"We're weary. We're tired. We have been doing this for more than 30 days," said Jay Clark, the owner of CYS Yacht Management and Sales in Fort Pierce, on Monday. "Preparation, then cleanup. Preparation, then cleanup."

Jeanne killed at least six people in Florida during the weekend, bearing down upon the state with winds of 120 mph.

The storm weakened on Monday after plowing across Florida, but brought heavy rain and fierce wind to the already-soggy South.

In Georgia, the storm's remnants toppled trees, washed out dozens of roads and left more than 76,000 residents without power. Tornadoes spawned by the storm also destroyed buildings in South Carolina.

Flooding remained a concern along the Peace River in west-central Florida. Officials ordered evacuations for about 400 families living in low-lying areas near the river. Many of the families had not yet returned to their homes because of damage from Charley and Frances.

President Bush asked Congress late Monday for more than $7.1 billion to help Florida and other Southeastern states recover from their lashing by four hurricanes. His third request for additional storm aid brings total possible funding to at least $12.2 billion.

Patience was in demand at staging areas along the state's central Atlantic coast, where volunteers from the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross passed out bags of ice and containers of water to help residents keep cool under temperatures in the high 80s and massive power outages.

In Indialantic, a line of 40 cars waited in the parking lot of a strip mall where volunteers loaded bags of ice from a semitrailer that had arrived from St. Louis. Residents left behind homes without electricity to dine on hot plates of ravioli and corn and bottles of Snapple.

"It hasn't been a fun month," said Louann Dowling, 40, of Satellite Beach, who picked up food and ice for her four children.

Florida is the first state to get pounded by four hurricanes in one season since Texas in 1886. Two months remain in the 2004 hurricane season.

Dowling said the combination of the storms have caused financial hardships; her husband lost his job in the telecommunications industry after Frances and she has had her hours cut back at the hospital.

Down the line, Jeff Sermon, 46, a car dealer, and Ann Yates, 43, sat in their red pickup truck in search of a hot meal, ice and water to bring back to their house in Melbourne Beach that lacks power.

"I have an awful headache," Yates said, reclining in the passenger seat, perspiring in the hot, humid weather.

At the only Home Depot in nearby Vero Beach, 75 people waited for tarps, gas cans and other supplies to begin repairing their homes. In a separate line, 25 people waited for generators on the promise that a shipment of 300 was on the way.

In Fort Pierce, Gladys Caldwell knew exactly how long she had waited for water and ice at a distribution station - "two hours and 18 minutes" - but could keep it all in perspective. The city's historic downtown area was marked by dangling power lines and flooded roads.

"I thank God that at least I have part of my house," Caldwell said. "Some people lost everything."

The unprecedented relief effort includes more than 5,000 FEMA workers spread over 15 states. Nearly 3,800 National Guardsmen were providing security, directing traffic, distributing supplies and keeping gas lines orderly.

In Florida alone, relief workers have passed out at least 16 million meals, 9 million gallons of water and nearly 59 million pounds of ice over the course of the four storms, state officials said.

Jeanne also caused more problems to two key industries in Florida: citrus and tourism.

Florida citrus growers lost about half of their grapefruit crop during Frances. And with the ground soaked from previous storms, trees toppled more easily this time. Fruit was scattered throughout groves.

Orlando's theme parks closed for the third time this season during Jeanne, and many hotels along the Atlantic coast were heavily damaged.

Earlier, Jeanne caused flooding in Haiti that killed more than 1,500 people.

Insured losses from Jeanne were estimated at $5 billion to $9 billion, insurance experts said.

Nearly 1.9 million homes and businesses were still without power from Jeanne. About 40,000 people in the Panhandle were still without power in the area hit by Ivan.

Charley hammered Florida's southwest coast Aug. 13; Frances blanketed much of the peninsula as it crawled through Labor Day weekend; and Ivan blasted the Panhandle when it hit Sept. 16. The three storms caused billions of dollars in damage and killed 73 people in Florida alone.

Comment: Given the unusual number and severity of these recent hurricanes, many people have developed theories to explain the surge. Some suggest that we are nearing the destructive phase of the aforementioned cycle that seems to be the order of human history...

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Nature's Rampage Might Signal Start of New Ice Age
Robert Felix

(Seattle, Wash.) - The recent rash of record-breaking blizzards, record-breaking hurricanes, and record-breaking floods - the greatest in more than 500 years (since before Christopher Columbus) - is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, says science writer Robert W. Felix. The worst is yet to come, says Felix, author of NOT BY FIRE BUT BY ICE: Discover What Killed the Dinosaurs . . . and Why it Could Soon Kill Us.

The next ice age could begin any day. Ice ages begin or end abruptly every 11,500 years. They alternate. It's a naturally recurring cycle, a dependable, predictable, natural cycle. (See Pacemaker of the Ice Ages chart.) This little-known - but undeniable - cycle has struck like clockwork for millions of years. And it's about to strike again, says the Seattle researcher. The last ice age ended almost exactly 11,500 years ago, which means that the next ice age could begin any day. And when it begins, it will begin with a bang.

Until recently, scientists assumed that ice ages began slowly. New studies show, however, that all previous ice ages began abruptly. Many ice ages began catastrophically, with the climate shifting from periods of warmth such as today's to full-blown glacial severity in less than 20 years. The next ice age should begin just as quickly. But what about global warming? Global warming (which is really ocean warming) is caused by the same natural cycle that causes ice ages, says Felix. Indeed, many ice ages began when temperatures were warmer than today.

Conditions are perfect - right now - to cause an ice age. All we need is more moisture. And we're getting it. The number of what scientists call extreme precipitation events - major blizzards and heavy rainstorms - has increased almost 20 percent just since 1970. The next ice age may have already begun . . . and we don't even know it.

Comment: Note the comment that global warming is essentially ocean warming. Note also the remark about how many ice ages began when temperatures were warmer than today. In other words, ice ages don't just happen and the planet cools significantly - the state just prior to an ice age appears to be one of increasing ocean temperatures.

The popular conception of ice ages is that they take hundreds or thousands of years to develop. Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence to indicate that this not necessarily the case - it seems ice ages can happen much, much faster than scientists previously thought.

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Abrupt Climate Change
Ocean and Climate Change Institute

Most of the studies and debates on potential climate change have focused on the ongoing buildup of industrial greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a gradual increase in global temperatures.

But recent and rapidly advancing evidence demonstrates that Earth's climate repeatedly has shifted dramatically and in time spans as short as a decade. And abrupt climate change may be more likely in the future.

Comment: Remember the heat wave in France last summer? How about the heat waves in Germany and Portugal this summer? As we have reported on this page, some parts of Europe and the US were also considerably cooler this past summer, with some midwestern states in America experiencing their summer weather right now. Strange weather patterns would certainly result from a shift in ocean temperatures...

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Global mean temperature has been on the rise since 1880

American Chemical Society
November 27, 1995

Climate experts agree that the average global air temperature has risen 0.3 to 0.6 Celcius over the past century. This finding is substantiated by other indicators - accelerated melting of alpine glaciers, a sea-level rise of 10 to 25 cm over the past 100 years, and coral bleaching caused by anomalously high sea-surface temperatures - that are all consistent with the increase in global air temperatures. [...]

These experts identify a number of other changes that have occurred in global and U.S. climate, some or all of which can be attributed to global warming. [...]

This temperature range results from varied economic and population projections as well as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases. Even with a change of 1 Celsius, the global rate of warming would be greater than it has been at any time in the past 10,000 years. Only a few experts expect the atmosphere to warm less than 1 Celsius by 2100, and virtually no scientist who has studied the issue expects global temperatures to decline during the next century.

Moreover, the warming is predicted to continue, reaching much more elevated temperatures over the next several centuries, unless bold measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even a 1 Celsius change would be significant. During the so-called Little Ice Age, a period lasting from 1500 to 1850 that was marked by extensive glacial advances in almost all alpine regions, the global temperature was only about 0.5 Celcius lower than it was in 1900. [...]

There has been a lot of speculation recently about whether more frequent hurricanes and more intense and longer lasting El Nios are related to global warming. "Until our models become a little more certain, it's difficult to conjecture whether hurricanes would increase or decrease with global warming," Karl says. "On a theoretical basis, there has been some work suggesting stronger hurricanes," he adds.

A warmer sea surface is the primary feature of global warming that might cause more significant hurricanes, he explains, but ocean circulation changes may counter the effects of this added warmth.

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Lessons from the Ice Ages?
University of California, San Diego

What can be learned from all of this? [...] Sudden warming can melt glaciers and produce a freshwater layer in the oceans, re-enforced by a warm-water layer. This makes for stable stratification in the high-latitude ocean. In turn, this changes circulation and the associated heat transport in ways that are hard to predict. [...]

Threshold effects are rarely predictable. Well-known examples in the earth sciences are earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, El Niņo events, toxic algal blooms, and hurricanes. These things happen unannounced or in any case with but little warning. Abrupt climate change, as exemplified in the deglaciation period, differ in scale but not in principle.

Comment: So, does global warming really have an effect on hurricanes? And how exactly does a hurricane form?

An isotherm is a line drawn on a weather map which joins together all the places which have the same temperature. Another way of saying it is that it is an imaginary line along which the temperature is constant.

Most of you have seen these lines on your TV weather maps when the weather person indicates what the high and low temperatures are going to be on the following day. There is one at left that includes color coding to show the patterns formed by the flow of air of different temperatures. Isotherms are also drawn over water, and in such cases, an isotherm of some considerable interest is that for 27.5 degrees Celsius or 81.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

A hurricane is a humongous engine - an engine that converts a temperature difference into mechanical energy basically in the same way any other engine does it. But where an ordinary gas, diesel or steam engine converts some of the heat of the burning fuel to drive the pistons by releasing most of the heat to the cooler environment, a hurricane works by moving heat from the hot ocean surface to the cold bottom of the stratosphere - converting some of it into wind through the process. The "work" that a hurricane engine does, then, is to drive furious waves and winds. What most people don't realize is that the average hurricane releases heat energy equivalent to 200 times the global production of electricity!

There are five conditions that must be present for a tropical system to develop and intensify and become a hurricane.

  1. Warm sea surface temperature; this is needed for a constant supply of water vapor for the release of latent heat of condensation.
  2. The system must be located in the area of latitude 5 degrees or greater for the minimum coriolis force required to initiate rotation of the system. (Once air has been set in motion by the pressure gradient force, it undergoes an apparent deflection from its path, as seen by an observer on the earth. This apparent deflection is called the "Coriolis force" and is a result of the earth's rotation.)
  3. Absence of high level winds that would shear off the system. This will allow for unrestricted vertical development from the surface to the upper troposphere.
  4. Upper level divergence greater than lower level convergence which is needed for a strong outflow of incoming winds at the surface.
  5. Pre-existing low-level disturbance. If the water temperature is too low, it takes the wind more energy to move the heat than the heat can supply and the hurricane will die quickly. But at temperatures above 26.5 Celsius (ideal is 27.5), the hurricane not only lives - it feeds and grows. Each gust of cool air blowing over the warm water is warmed, rises, releases heat and moisture, and returns with more force each time. The rising air creates a low pressure area near the ocean that draws in more energy-laden air, feeding the continuing storm.

So it is that areas inside isotherms marked 27.5 degrees Celsius are "hurricane formation zones" if all the other conditions are present. The force of the hurricane is determined not only by the temperature of the water it passes over (the warmer the more force), but also by the length of time it spends passing over that warm water. So it is that the size of the hurricane formation zone limits the power of hurricanes.

Historically, hurricane formation zones have been 1,500 to 2,000 miles across so that few hurricanes stay in them for more than 24 hours. The warmer the ocean surface gets, the larger the hurricane formation zones become, and the bigger the zone, the longer the hurricane runs in it, and the bigger and more powerful they become.

Usually, when a big hurricane hits land, it is already dying before it clears Florida, for example. But if the oceans continue to warm, hurricanes that can run in a "formation zone" for 2,000 or more miles will increase. Hurricanes not only move from east to west, they also move toward the poles due to the coriolis force. This means that if the oceans get warmer further to the north, a giant hurricane could circle in the ocean for a long time, building force before a steering current comes along and drags it over land.

Given the information presented in the preceding articles, one might hypothesize that the planet is indeed in a bit of a bind. But don't count on the major media outlets to put the pieces together for you...

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Flashback: Xtreme weather meets Xtreme media bubble

by Tom Engelhardt
September 26, 2004

When it comes to weather news, it's been all-hurricane-all-the-time -- and under the pressure of storm after storm, news language has escalated. "Bizarre" and "strange" have been two recent words of choice in describing Florida's weather disasters. Yesterday, I heard a CBS radio announcer complain that "Mother Nature's piling on"; while the "chief meteorologist" for a local Florida TV station recently wrote, "But I think I echo the sentiment of many when I say, 'Come on, Mother Nature, you are out of control!'"
When "Ivan the Terrible" threatened New Orleans, correspondents there had a field day discussing whether the city might literally disappear beneath the waves -- this was referred to as the "Atlantis scenario." Then there were those dramatic shots of gridlocked highways filled with fleeing refugees -- whether from New Orleans or the Florida Keys; there were the pans of massive post-storm destruction; the close-ups of weeping survivors; the dramatic tales of rescue; the interviews with people who had "lost everything"; the discussions of President Bush's trips to "comfort" the survivors; and above all, the endless shots of correspondents in rain slickers in front of dripping camera lenses trying to keep their balance in the pelting rain and swirling wind, shots which have become the sine qua non of hurricane coverage in recent years.
And yet something was missing. For the first time in history, four hurricanes -- Charley, Frances, Ivan (the Terrible), and now Jeanne -- have smacked into Florida's long coastline one after another in a single hurricane season (not yet over), and here's the strangest thing of all:

Forget that in March Brazil experienced the South Atlantic's first hurricane ever -- Brazilian meteorologists didn't even know what to name it; or that the Atlantic coast of Canada got whacked by Hurricane Juan, "the storm of the century," late last year (and the Canadian government suspects a link to global warming); or that the United States has already experienced a record number of tornados in 2004; or that Japan has had the worst season of typhoons in memory; or that Xtreme weather events have increased in recent years across the planet, including massive flooding in Europe, Bangladesh, and China, and a deathly summer heat wave that struck Europe in 2003. Forget the rising sea levels and the increased melt-off toward the poles.

Forget that the head of at least one (hated) country in the path of Hurricane Ivan -- Fidel Castro -- was ready to warn his people about global warning and hurricanes, or that the Bush administration's closest ally, Tony Blair of Britain, made a major speech, widely ignored in the American press, labeling global warming a danger beyond compare.

"What is now plain is that the emission of greenhouse gases...is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long-term. And by long-term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence."

Forget all that, and just focus for a moment on the fact that it took almost to the moment Jeanne hit Florida for our media to produce a spate of pieces that even speculated in passing about possible links between the hurricanes in Florida and global warming -- and almost all of those articles denied that there were any connections at all. [...]

Comment: And yet, it appears that there IS a connection between global warming and weird weather. As the reader will note, we have based this statement on simple research into the phenomena involved. If the truth is that the globe is apparently in for a rough ride, the purpose for labels like "doomsday cult" are obvious, especially if they are promoted by the major media outlets (for more information on the "independent US media", see our special CBS, the CIA, and the Roving Eye report).

And here is another bit of information on the natural global chaos enveloping us all these days: another series of earthquakes to add to the recent deluge...

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One or Two Quakes a Minute at Mt. Saint Helens in Wash.
Associated Press
Sep 27, 7:10 PM (ET)

SEATTLE - Small earthquakes rattled Mount St. Helens at the rate of one or two a minute Monday, and seismologists were working to determine the significance of some of the most intense seismic activity in nearly 20 years.

Carbon dioxide and sulfur gas samples collected above the volcano - which erupted to devastating effect in 1980 - will help scientists figure out what is going on beneath the 925-foot-high dome of hardened lava within the mountain's gaping crater. They want to know whether the quakes are the result of water seeping into the mountain or magma moving under its crater.

In either case, scientists will continue to watch it from the Cascade Volcano Observatory operated by the U.S. Geological Survey in Vancouver, Wash., about 50 miles away.

"But if it's magma, we'll be a lot more nervous," said the observatory's chief scientist Jeff Winn.

A helicopter was to carry scientists and instruments over the crater Monday afternoon, to assess the gases and ground deformation that would indicate pressure building below the dome.

Measurements of ground movement "will tell us whether there's any new magma coming into the system," said Seth Moran, a seismologist at the observatory. That data will not be immediately available.

Swarms of small earthquakes began Thursday and increased in frequency and magnitude until Sunday, when there were more than 10 events with a magnitude of 2 to 2.8. The quakes are at depths less than one mile below the lava dome.

By Monday, the pace was unchanged but the magnitude had lessened, Winn said.

Moran said there was potential for explosions within the crater that could throw rocks as far as the rim.

The USGS issued a notice of volcanic unrest on Sunday, citing "an increased likelihood of a hazardous event." U.S. Forest Service officials closed hiking trails above the tree line at 4,800 feet on the 8,364-foot mountain, though the visitor's center and most other trails at the Mount St. Helens National Monument remained open.

St. Helens' May 18, 1980, eruption killed 57 people, leveled hundreds of square miles of forests and dumped volcanic ash across the Northwest.

In October 1980, the lava dome began building in the crater. The last dome-building eruption was in October 1986, but there have been periodic steam explosions.

Sunday's activity was the most in a 24-hour period since the 1986 eruption, said survey geologist Willie Scott. Earthquake swarms in 1998 and 2001 did not result in any surface activity.

If there is an explosion, Scott said concern would be focused within the crater and on the upper flanks of the volcano. A five-mile area, primarily north of the volcano, could receive flows of mud and rock debris.

On Monday, a helicopter lowered a geophysicist onto the lava dome to replace a failed instrument used to measure tiny movements that indicate whether the dome is swelling, Winn said.

While the chopper was near the dome, the pilot was in radio contact with Bobbie Myers, another geophysicist who during the 1980 blast learned to detect subtle changes in seismic monitors.

"She's known to be able to predict explosive events up to a couple of minutes ahead of time," Winn said.

Comment: These quakes follow recent quakes all over the world, including swarms in California and Alaska.

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Gigantic mushroom stuns Swiss scientists
Monday September 27, 12:07 AM

BIRMENSDORF, Switzerland - Swiss scientists have discovered what they think may be the biggest mushroom in Europe, a monster fungus the length of eight football pitches and mostly lurking underground. The mushroom, which covers a whopping 35 hectares (86 acres) area in a Swiss national park near the eastern town of Ofenpass is thought to be more than 1,000 years old, forestry experts say.

The mushroom, which is 800 metres (yards) long and 500 metres wide, is of the armillaria type, according to the Swiss Federal Institute Forest, Snow and Countryside Research (WSL).

It consists of a vast network of sometimes very thick filaments which reach out along the path of tree roots in the mountainous, wooded region.

The visible parts of the mushroom that poke out above the ground or on the boughs of trees are the tip of the iceberg, representing a tiny part of the vast undersoil organism.

Some species within the family are formidable parasites which invade trees, gradually strangling them. They have been blamed for the widespread destruction of pines within the national park, a WSL statement said.

One reason why the fungus may have survived for so long undetected and untroubled is that it is only edible when young, and even then is not a favourite with lovers of mushrooms.

Comment: Well, we can't have a special report on global weirdness without mention of a giant Swiss mushroom, now can we? Now, there are no references to giant mushrooms in biblical end times prophesy, but the rebuilding on the "temple on the mount" does indeed figure prominently...

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Experts: Temple Mount’s collapse inevitable

By Jerusalem Newswire Editorial Staff

JERUSALEM - The collapse of major sections of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is inevitable, and will likely occur during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in just three weeks, archeological and defense officials said Sunday.

Israel is fervently trying to convince the Muslim authorities atop the Mount of the danger of allowing thousands of worshippers to enter potentially unstable sections of the compound, knowing that any collapse would be blamed on the Jews.

Their warnings have fallen on deaf ears, with the PA-appointed Islamic clerics insisting the entire episode is merely an Israeli ploy to regain control over Judaism’s holiest site.

Unilateral action by Israel to head off a catastrophe by denying access to the Temple Mount would likely result in widespread Arab riots, while the death of thousands of Muslims in the compound’s collapse could spark regional war.

Inevitable collapse

Israel Radio quoted defense establishment sources as saying ongoing illegal Muslim construction atop the Temple Mount, coupled with recent earthquakes, had severely weakened the area known as Solomon’s Stables at the southern end of the compound.

Officials with the Antiquities Authority concurred, saying a “collapse of the building’s roof and walls is almost certain,” according to Ha’aretz .

The start of Ramadan typically sees up to 300,000 Arab Muslims ascend the Temple Mount to pray to their god, Allah.

Officials fear the weight of the gathering will result in a catastrophic collapse, killing thousands and possibly doing great damage to the Al Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the massive underground corridors that make up Solomon’s Stables.

Unheeded warning

Israel has warned the Islamic Trust (Waqf) that oversees the Temple Mount of the impending danger and insisted that access to potentially unstable areas be denied.

Jerusalem is also urging Jordan, which administered the site until the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, to help pressure the current PA-appointed Muslim authorities.

Waqf officials, however, accused Israel of plotting to grab control of the Temple Mount and dismissed the warnings as unfounded.

Many believe the Waqf in fact wants a collapse to occur in order to use it as a catalyst for a unified Muslim front against the Jewish state.

Waqf clerics typically use their Friday sermons to demonize Israel and urge Arab violence against its citizens.

What to do?

Israel’s leaders have found themselves in a tricky situation, knowing that a deadly collapse of the Temple Mount could potentially spark a regional war.

They also know, however, that taking unilateral action to prevent such a catastrophe by limiting access to the Temple Mount during Ramadan would lead to widespread Muslim riots.

Comment: So many Christian fundamentalists around the world are waiting with bated breath for an actual physical appearance of Jesus on a cloud to herald the end times and the rapture. In this regard, religion has served its main purpose of indoctrinating the masses with blind belief to the extent that, when the events that were symbolically foretold in so many "religious" or ancient texts transpire in a very "mundane" way, they will fail to recognise them. Of course, in attempting to discern the truth or otherwise ofany such prophecies, clear and objective "thinking with a hammer" is essential - blind belief just doesn't get it...

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Israel's deadly message to the Arab world
Tuesday, September 28, 2004

For those who think Israel is a non-invasive entity in the Middle East, Sunday's assassination of Hamas official Izzeddine Sobhi Sheikh Khalil in Damascus proves, once again, that it is. Israeli security sources have been quoted on Israeli television as saying they were behind the killing, and deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim has threatened Syria with further pre-emptive strikes for "directing terrorism" against the Jewish state. If Israel were not a colonial-settler entity founded on Palestinian land, if it did not continue to occupy Arab territory seized in wars of conquest, if it did not continue to oppress the Palestinian people and deny them their own state with consistent belligerence and racist policies, then one could concede it had a right to defend itself against unprovoked aggression. Even so, striking inside another sovereign state is an act of war. By this latest act of war, Israel has introduced a new element of instability in the region that will persist at least until after November's U.S. elections when that defacto Middle Eastern power can exert its influence once again to ease yet another brewing crisis situation.

This crisis situation in the making is a measure of the chaos that results when serious issues are put on the backburner. The second Palestinian intifada is now four years old, hard-line Israeli Prime Minister and accused  war criminal Ariel Sharon has virtually been given a free hand for nearly as long, Palestinian infrastructure has been destroyed and futile Palestinian "resistance" such as wild bombings against Israeli civilians are the whirlwinds now being harvested from the seeds of neglect.

Arab governments are as guilty of this neglect as anyone else, probably even more so. More than this, the duplicity displayed by paying lip service to the Palestinian cause while secretly cooperating with Israel has only made the region an open target range for Israeli military might. This duplicity will remain until there is more focus in the Arab world and greater will to meet the relevant challenges with appropriate diplomacy

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Syria accuses Israel of impeding U.S. in Iraq
By Mayssam Zaaroura
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Syria accused Israel on Monday of worsening the U.S. situation in Iraq by blocking the Middle East peace process with the Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians.

Speaking to the UN General Assembly in its 59th session in New York, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa lashed out at "extremist and intolerant policies."

"We refer to the arguments promoted by Israel that the situation in Iraq and its repercussions is more dangerous and complicated than that prevailing in the occupied Arab territories," he said.

"Israel bears an important share of the responsibility for intensifying and worsening the American predicament in Iraq by avoiding the resumption of the peace process despite the hand extended in peace by the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese," he said.

"This Israeli course of action may come back to haunt it in the future, because its continued occupation of Arab lands is a major cause of the rejection of American policies in the broader Middle East," he said.

Sharaa also criticized Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for "trying to mislead world public opinion into believing that he is standing up to Jewish settlers before being able to withdraw from Gaza."

The previous night, after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that was described by the latter as "positive" in a heretofore unprecedented occasion, Sharaa had also spoken out against Israel, claiming that U.S.-Syrian relations "are complicated, with Israel being a constant source of negativity, giving false facts about the region and fabricating Syria's reputation in it." [...]

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CNN journalist abducted in Gaza
Last Updated Mon, 27 Sep 2004 14:59:59 EDT

GAZA CITY - Israel sealed off the Gaza strip on Monday evening, barring journalists from entering the territory, after suspected Palestinian militants earlier abducted a CNN television producer at gunpoint.

The U.S. cable television news network reported from Gaza that men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and pistols abducted Riyad Ali, who is believed to work for CNN's Jerusalem bureau.

CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman said the gunmen emerged from a car and took his colleague out of the CNN van, and then drove away.

Wedeman said he had no idea why Ali was kidnapped.

"These men were not very communicative. They just asked, `Which one of you is Riyad?' and that was it," he said in a broadcast. "Their appearance was not unusual. They weren't dressed in any way different than your average Gazan of their age, which was somewhere in their early twenties."

Wedeman said CNN was making attempts to secure Ali's release. Ali's location, however, was unknown and no one claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

The CBC's Adrienne Arsenault said the journalist's abduction was "one hell of a shock, because this is not the sort of thing journalists have seen in Gaza."

Arsenault explained that since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had announced plans for a withdrawal from the Palestinian enclave earlier in 2004, violence had increased as militant groups jockeyed for position.

CNN is believed to have contacted Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and other senior Palestinians for help with the case.

The Arabic-language satellite television station Al-Jazeera said the abducted producer was Arab-Israeli. Israeli media, too, said he was an Israeli citizen.

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Israeli troops raid hospital for militants
Associated Press

Jenin, West Bank — Israeli troops hunting militants raided a West Bank hospital on Monday, searching rooms and calling on fugitives over loudspeakers to surrender.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, three Palestinians were killed by army fire, including two suspected militants and a civilian at the gate of as school when he was hit.

In the West Bank raid, dozens of Israeli armoured vehicles raided the town of Jenin before dawn Monday. Troops took over buildings, including a school and a government office, and exchanged fire with gunmen. Eight Palestinians were wounded, hospital officials said.

After dawn, troops entered the private Al Arazi Hospital, the army said, confirming Palestinian witness reports. Yehiyeh Alan, who lives near the hospital, said he saw a firefight outside the hospital.

Talal Khamad, director of the hospital, said soldiers were running through hospital hallways and searching rooms for fugitives. “They have caused a lot of damage to hospital equipment and cabinets in the rooms,” Mr. Khamad said.

The soldiers subsequently left the hospital without making any arrests.

In other operations, the army imposed curfews on two refugee camps adjacent to the West Bank city of Nablus and sealed off all exits, witnesses said.

In the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers fired machine-guns toward the Khan Younis refugee camp, Palestinian security officials said. A 55-year-old civilian was killed as he stood at the gate of a local school, the officials said.

Military officials said the army was investigating the incident but said the only shooting in the area was at a Palestinian who appeared to be planting a bomb. The officials said that soldiers did not identify hitting anyone when they fired.

In the nearby Rafah refugee camp, five Palestinians, including four children aged nine to 15, were injured by Israeli army fire, hospital officials said.

Also in Gaza, troops killed two armed Palestinians near the Jebaliyah refugee camp, the army said. The militants, who were carrying explosives, were crawling in a no-go zone near the border fence with Israel when soldiers opened fire, the army said.

Palestinians fired several rockets at the Israeli border town of Sderot, and one hit a house, paramedics said. Two people were treated for shock.

Militants have fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and Jewish settlements in Gaza in the past four years of fighting. Three Israelis have been killed by the rockets in the past three months.

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More foreign visitors to U.S. to be photographed, fingerprinted
September 27, 2004 

WASHINGTON (AP) - Beginning Thursday, foreign visitors from 27 more countries will be fingerprinted and photographed when they enter the United States, according to the Homeland Security Department.

Until now, citizens of 22 European countries such as England and France, along with Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, haven't had to undergo such screening because they can travel to the United States without a visa. That changes Thursday.

Since January, most foreign visitors who travel with a visa have had to be photographed and fingerprinted under the US-VISIT program when they arrive at 115 major airports and 14 major seaports. The information is checked against databases to verify documents and flag names that appear on terrorist or law enforcement watch lists.

The Homeland Security Department estimates the new requirement will affect 33,000 people coming to the United States every day.

Homeland Security spokesman Dennis Murphy said the government wanted to make sure that US-VISIT worked before expanding it.

Canadians can enter the country with little more than a declaration of their citizenship.

Mexicans with laser visa cards - border crossing cards - who stay for 30 days or less are exempt from the system for now.

US-VISIT must be up and running in the 50 busiest land ports by the end of the year.

Comment: How times have changed. Back in the old days, the only time someone found themselves getting "prints and mugshots" taken was after they had been arrested for commiting a crime . Now, in the post 9/11 era, almost everyone outside the U.S can expect the same treatment just for planning a family trip to Disneyland.

If we are interpreting this article correctly, it appears the only two countries exempt from such intrusions now are citizens of Canada and Mexico, and the way things are going, it's only a matter of time before they too will be added to the list.

It seems that the States is doing everything in it's power to impede travel in and out of the country. Perhaps some Americans will see these changes happening, and drawing inevitable conclusions, will choose to leave the country now, before the borders close permanently and it's too late.

Yet even for those left within the US borders, the ever watchful eye of "big brother" (or is that the anti-christ?) will not relent...

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'Fortress America' focuses on future of siege mentality

By Stephen Lyons, Special for USA TODAY

Imagine a chip implanted in your body that carries all your pertinent information as well as your current body temperature and, of course, your exact location.

Sounds harmless when applied in commerce to track shipments or in the livestock industry to monitor animals.

But when the idea is broached of injecting the chip into political prisoners, as is rumored in China, or into convicted sex offenders, a proposal in this country, then the name of George Orwell quickly surfaces.

Matthew Brzezinski explores this high-tech surveillance technology and other new and often frightening frontiers in a post-9/11 USA in his riveting Fortress America.

A siege mentality - a maximum security state similar to Israel - is emerging in the USA, he says.

The manufacture of such sophisticated hardware as the RFID - radio frequency identification - is easy, but moving it into place and solving delicate legal issues before another terrorist attack is the tricky part.

"The technological and legal foundations for blanket surveillance had already been laid in 2003," Brzezinski writes. "All that was lacking was the political and social will to bring all this technological wizardry to bear in the war on terror. It wouldn't happen overnight or without another catastrophic incident, something that upped the ante and put America in the same survival mode on par with Israel: a nuclear detonation, a biological outbreak, a mass casualty event. But if the stakes were high enough, would we be more willing to accept life in a maximum security surveillance state?"

As for RFID, the future is here. Brzezinski writes, "Special Ops forces reportedly had tiny chips injected in their hips on sensitive missions where they could not wear dog tags."

The former foreign correspondent at The Wall Street Journal and the nephew of Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, Brzezinski takes readers inside a mock drill with first responders in Denver, to a simulation of an emergency session of the National Security Council and to the inner sanctums of the Department of Homeland Security.

And as the 9/11 Commission reported, Brzezinski confirms that the USA is vulnerable to attacks on its under-protected chemical and natural gas depots.

Readers are asked to contemplate the unthinkable. One doctor tells Brzezinski, "If I were al Qaeda I'd send twenty terrorist martyrs infected with smallpox or pneumonic plague to crisscross the country on as many domestic flights as possible." Brzezinski writes that "75 million people could be infected" within a month's time from the suicide infectors.

At the heart of Brzezinski's solid reporting and evenhanded summaries is this question: How much disruption will the American people tolerate as its government tries to find "the balance between security and liberty"?

Comment: How's that for the "mark of the beast"... but let's face it, all machines need a "barcode", right?...

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Rise of the Machines

Fri Sep 17
Translated from "El Sureño"

Research into developing robots must continue despite the risks involved, an artificial intelligence expert has said.

Rodney Brooks, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Massachussets Institute of Technology, said: "The benefits of having robots could vastly outweigh the problems."

And he dismissed fears of robots taking over the world as a "Hollywood plot device".

Any new technology - such as a new drug or a new digital TV - could cause problems, he acknowledged.

But he said it was more important to understand how humans exist and operate in the world.

The meaning of life

"It is a quest that mankind has had for a long time: what is our meaning?", Professor Brooks told BBC HARDtalk's Lyce Doucet.

He went on: "Every technology, every science that tells us more about ourselves is scary at the time.

It's extraordinarily arrogant to say there are questions we don't need to ask

"We've so far managed to transcend all that and come to a better understanding of ourselves.

"I think we're pretty much glad for it - glad that we have modern medicine, glad that we have technology."

But he conceded that there had been "some terrible things" along the way to progress which had needed controlling.

He explained: "Nuclear weapons are an example."

"It's reasonable to say that certain things we understand should perhaps have limits on how they're used and how certain technologies are deployed.

"That's very much what we should do as a society."

Professor Brooks said the nature of exploratory science meant scientists had to keep asking questions.

"I think it's impossible and extraordinarily arrogant of us to say there are questions we don't need to ask."

Human nature also meant that people always wanted to know answers, he added.

"To try to repress answers, repress questions, leads to the same sort of things that we were all horrified to see going on in Afghanistan under the Taleban."

Getting emotional

Robots will play an increasingly important role in our lives, said Professor Brooks, and the most sophisticated of them can already show emotions.

A robot called Kismet, developed in the professor's lab, is programmed to mimic expressions of emotion.

"If it is happy and you bring out a toy it may respond to it positively; if it's already annoyed at you and you bring out a toy and start waving it around, it might make it more annoyed", said Professor Brooks.

What is unclear however is whether such simulation of emotions in robots is the same as experiencing them.

Professor Brooks said that this was a "deep question", but pointed out that humans are programmed in exactly the same way as robots.

The main question for him, he said, was: "Can we, as humans, ever accept such things as real? What does it mean to be really afraid, what does it mean to be really happy?"

He challenged people to drop the belief that humans are special, saying we should recognise ourselves as machines.

Although at the moment he treats his children as very special, he said "it doesn't mean that in the future I might not treat a machine with equal respect, or a kind of respect which is more than any of our current machines deserve."

Comment: From the comments of the professor in the above article, it seems he would find himself right at home with the current residents of the White House and Pentagon. What better way to anesthetise oneself to the continuing bloodshed and death as a result of the "war on terror" than to see the innocents, and oneself, as merely machines. Then again, the idea that, at least some people on this planet are little more than emotionless machines (most notably those that rule the masses), answers a lot of questions about why we, as a species, currently find ourselves perched on the edge of the abyss.

But how did we get here? Well, lies seem to figure very prominently - lies told to us by our "leaders" and lies told to us by ourselves about our "leaders"...what a mess...

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Is CIA at war with Bush?
September 27, 2004

A few hours after George W. Bush dismissed a pessimistic CIA report on Iraq as ''just guessing,'' the analyst who identified himself as its author told a private dinner last week of secret, unheeded warnings years ago about going to war in Iraq. This exchange leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the president of the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency are at war with each other.

Paul R. Pillar, the CIA's national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, sat down Tuesday night in a large West Coast city with a select group of private citizens. He was not talking off the cuff. Relying on a multi-paged, single-spaced memorandum, Pillar said he and his colleagues concluded early in the Bush administration that military intervention in Iraq would intensify anti-American hostility throughout Islam. This was not from a CIA retiree but an active senior official. (Pillar, no covert operative, is listed openly in the Federal Staff Directory.)

For President Bush to publicly write off a CIA paper as just guessing is without precedent. For the agency to go semi-public is not only unprecedented but shocking. George Tenet's retirement as director of Central Intelligence removed the buffer between president and agency. As the new DCI, Porter Goss inherits an extraordinarily sensitive situation.

Pillar's Tuesday night presentation was conducted under what used to be called the Lindley Rule (devised by Newsweek's Ernest K. Lindley): The identity of the speaker, to whom he spoke, and the fact that he spoke at all are secret, but the substance of what he said can be reported. This dinner, however, knocks the Lindley Rule on its head. The substance was less significant than the forbidden background details.

The Bush-CIA tension escalated Sept. 15 when the New York Times reported a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was circulated in August (not July, as the newspaper reported), spelling out ''a dark assessment of Iraq'' with civil war as the ''worst case'' outcome. The NIE was prepared by Pillar, and well-placed sources believe Pillar leaked it, though he denied that at Tuesday night's dinner.

The immediate White House reaction to the NIE, from spokesman Scott McClellan, was to associate it with ''pessimists'' and ''hand-wringers.'' With Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi at his side at the United Nations, Bush said of the CIA: ''They were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.''

A few hours later, Pillar discussed the Iraqi war in a context of increased aversion to the United States -- an attitude he said his East Asia section at the CIA was aware of three years ago and feared would be exacerbated by U.S. military intervention. When Pillar was asked why this was not made clear to the president and other higher authorities, his answer was that nobody asked -- not even Tenet.

The CIA official spokesman said Pillar's West Coast appearance was approved by his ''management team'' at Langley as part of an ongoing ''outreach'' program. However, the spokesman said, Pillar told him that the fact I knew his name meant somebody had violated the off-the-record nature of his remarks. In other words, the CIA bureaucracy wants a license to criticize the president and the former DCI without being held accountable.

Through most of the Bush administration, the CIA high command has been engaged in a bitter struggle with the Pentagon. CIA officials refer to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary Douglas Feith as ''ideologues.'' Nevertheless, it is clear the CIA's wrath has now extended to the White House. Bush reduced the tensions a little on Thursday, this time in a joint Washington press conference with Allawi, by saying his use of the word ''guess'' was ''unfortunate.''

Modern history is filled with intelligence bureaus turning against their own governments, for good or ill. In the final days of World War II, the German Abwehr conspired against Hitler. More recently, Pakistani intelligence was plotting with Muslim terrorists. The CIA is a long way from those extremes, but it is supposed to be a resource -- not a critic -- for the president.

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Dozens killed in Iraq violence as Egypt, Britain seek to free hostages

Sep 27 2004
Channel News Asia
Iraqi Children - "Liberated" by Bush and Co. and those that believed his lies
FALLUJAH, Iraq : US airstrikes on rebel-held Fallujah left 15 dead while an insurgent attack in another troubled Sunni Arab town killed 10 more, as Britain and Egypt stepped up efforts to secure the release of hostages in Iraq.

The arrest of a top national guard commander with links to the insurgency dealt a blow to a fledgling security apparatus under pressure to secure Iraq in time for January elections, as Britain admitted dismantling Sadam Hussein's old army was a mistake.

The latest US air strike on Fallujah targeted what commanders said was a meeting place for militants of suspected Al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's Unity and Holy War group, which is holding Briton Kenneth Bigley hostage.

But medics in the town, west of Baghdad, said there were again women and children among the casualties.

"Intelligence sources indicated that approximately 10 terrorists were meeting at this location to plan operations targeting innocent Iraqi civilians and multinational forces," the US military said.

Two hospitals in the city reported receiving eight dead and 22 wounded, including women and children, while residents said many victims remained under the rubble.

At least two homes in the area were destroyed while others suffered significant damage.

An earlier US air strike on another alleged hideout of the militants killed seven Iraqis and wounded 11, again including women and children, according to medics. [...]

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Key Bush Assertions About Iraq in Dispute
By Adam Entous
Sun Sep 26, 4:38 PM ET

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - Many of President Bush's assertions about progress in Iraq -- from police training and reconstruction to preparations for January elections -- are in dispute, according to internal Pentagon documents, lawmakers and key congressional aides on Sunday.

Bush used the visit last week by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to make the case that "steady progress" is being made in Iraq to counter warnings by his Democratic presidential rival, Sen. John Kerry, that the situation in reality is deteriorating.

Bush touted preparations for national elections in January, saying Iraq's electoral commission is up and running and told Americans on Saturday that "United Nations electoral advisers are on the ground in Iraq."

He said nearly 100,000 "fully trained and equipped" Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security personnel are already at work, and that would rise to 125,000 by the end of this year.

And he promised more than $9 billion will be spent on reconstruction contracts in Iraq over the next several months.

But many of these assertions have met with skepticism from key lawmakers, congressional aides and experts, and Pentagon documents, given to lawmakers and obtained by Reuters, paint a more complicated picture.


The documents show that of the nearly 90,000 currently in the police force, only 8,169 have had the full eight-week academy training. Another 46,176 are listed as "untrained," and it will be July 2006 before the administration reaches its new goal of a 135,000-strong, fully trained police force.

Six Army battalions have had "initial training," while 57 National Guard battalions, 896 soldiers in each, are still being recruited or "awaiting equipment." Just eight Guard battalions have reached "initial (operating) capability," and the Pentagon acknowledged the Guard's performance has been "uneven."

Training has yet to begin for the 4,800-man civil intervention force, which will help counter a deadly insurgency. And none of the 18,000 border enforcement guards have received any centralized training to date, despite earlier claims they had, according to Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.

They estimated that 22,700 Iraqi personnel have received enough basic training to make them "minimally effective at their tasks," in contrast to the 100,000 figure cited by Bush.

"Let me tell you exactly what the story is. They're saying they're trying to train them, yet they have not trained," Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNN.

The White House defended its figures, and a senior administration official defined "fully trained" as having gone through "initial basic operations training." Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command that covers Iraq, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the number of trained Iraqi forces "will continue to grow."

Comment: Did you catch that? To the White House, "fully trained" means that an individual has passed basic training. The other 87% aren't even "minimally effective" at their jobs. But no matter, because they do know how to kill people, and that seems to be what is really important...

On CBS "Face the Nation," Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Bush needed to deploy more troops to secure areas of Iraq before the elections.

"We are making progress, but we need to adjust," Graham said.


The status of election planning in Iraq is also in question. Of the $232 million in Iraqi funds set aside for the Iraqi electoral commission, it has received a mere $7 million, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.

While Bush said the commission has already hired personnel and begun setting election procedures, congressional aides said preparations in other areas were behind schedule.

According to a one-page election planning "time line," registration materials are supposed to be distributed in early October and initial voter lists to go out by the end of October, which is during the holy month of Ramadan.

So far, the United Nations has been reluctant to send staff back into the battle zone. It only has 30 to 35 people now in Baghdad, no more than eight working on the elections.

"The framework for it (free and fair elections) hasn't even been set up. The voter registration lists aren't set. There have to be hundreds of polling places, hundreds of trained monitors and poll watchers. None of that has happened," Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State for President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, told ABC's "This Week."

With the violence expected to intensify in the run-up to the elections, congressional experts were also skeptical $9 billion could be spent on reconstruction projects within several months, as Bush asserted.

A top Republican aide briefed by the administration said, "at best," the $9 billion would be disbursed by late 2005 or early 2006. A top Democratic aide called Bush's projections "laughable."

Comment: The following article provides an interesting look into the mind (or lack thereof) of the man behind the disputed assertions on the state of Iraq...

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The Unfeeling President
E.L. Doctorow

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D- Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life . . . they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.

How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.

He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.

Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one thing -- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends.

A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills - it is amazing for how many people in this country this president does not feel.

But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.

Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

The novelist E.L. Doctorow has a house in Sag Harbor.

Comment: If you think that Kerry will be any better, think again. But then, it seems that Kerry isn't really even trying to win the election - it is almost as if Kerry is the straw man who is meant to be easily knocked over by Bush. In any case, Bush and gang are up to their old vote-rigging tricks again - and it appears they even have some new feats of electoral prestidigitation to unleash upon the unsuspecting American public...

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Politics and sleaze envelop Orlando
The Independent
27 September 2004

As the presidential campaign approaches its showdown, the Republicans in the state run by George Bush's brother are up to their tricks again. Andrew Gumbel reports from the heart of Florida

In Orlando, the Florida home of Disneyworld and a vital political battleground, the campaign for the November presidential election is getting sly, nasty and very, very personal. Normally, at this stage of the proceedings, Ezzie Thomas, a well-known character on the predominantly African-American west side of town, would be out chatting to the people, registering them to vote before the 4 October deadline and helping them with absentee ballots if they do not think they will have time to make it to the polls on election day. But the 73-year- old Mr Thomas, an affable ladies' man, is staying out of public view for fear of exacerbating what is already a highly controversial - and highly political - criminal investigation of his election-related activities.

A similarly low profile is being taken by Steve Clelland, the head of the local firefighters' union. Last week, he did not even dare attend a local appearance by John Kerry, the candidate he is supporting for President, in case it added to the legal troubles facing his own organisation. The firefighters are also subject to a criminal investigation, the chief allegation - for which no evidence has been produced - being that they colluded with City Hall to set up an illegal slush fund for political campaigning.

What makes the troubles facing the two men particularly sinister is that they are declared Kerry supporters, with the power to bring in hundreds if not thousands of votes for the Democratic Party. The investigations are being conducted by the state police, known as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which reports directly to Governor Jeb Bush, brother of President George Bush.

The Republicans, naturally, deny the investigations are politically motivated. But even they acknowledge that a chill has spread through Orlando's overwhelmingly Democratic black voting community after a flurry of unannounced visits by armed state police to at least 52 homes whose mostly elderly residents had signed up for an absentee ballot with Mr Thomas's help.

The Republicans have been hard put to explain what exactly the two men have done wrong. The media has aired official allegations ranging from vote fraud to campaign finance irregularities to racketeering, but no charges have been brought, despite exhaustive investigations. A grand jury examining allegations concerning the firefighters' union concluded that no laws had been broken, which has not deterred the FDLE from pursuing the case. [...]

Although the FDLE's public statements have been less than transparent, it appears to have relied on a paragraph in the Florida statute books which says it is illegal to receive or offer "something of value" for absentee ballots. Mr Thomas and his organisation, the Orlando Voters' League, have not been accused of paying for votes, but they have acknowledged paying the 37-cent postage for some people's absentee ballots. Mr Thomas, who received $10,000 from the Dyer campaign for his get-out-the-vote efforts, has also acknowledged paying his volunteers between $100 and $150 for petrol and other expenses over the campaign season.

The allegations seem particularly absurd because such practices are absolutely par for the course for both parties. "A 37-cent postage stamp is a very interesting definition of racketeering," Mr Egan said. "Now, it's well known that most absentee ballots come out of the white community ... I seriously doubt the police would behave in the same way in a white community."

As it happens, Mr Thomas had been been hired before by Republican candidates to perform exactly the same services he provided for Mr Dyer, without falling foul of the law. Among his past clients are two names with particular resonance in the 2004 presidential race. One is Mel Martinez, the Bush administration's outgoing Housing Secretary who is now running for the Florida Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Democrat, Bob Graham. (Mr Thomas helped Mr Martinez run for chair of the Orange County commission a few years ago.) And the other is Glenda Hood, who was mayor of Orlando for 12 years before being appointed Jeb Bush's Secretary of State, the office responsible for running Florida's elections.

And Mayor Hood, not Mayor Dyer, allowed the firefighters' union to spend up to $40,000 a year in city funds on political activities. In those days, the firefighters were considered allies of the Republican establishment in Orange County and had endorsed George Bush for President in 2000. But Mr Clelland and his members were deeply disappointed by the White House's failure to follow through on promises to put an extra 100,000 firefighters on American streets and update their equipment. So, in early June, they joined a statewide union vote endorsing Mr Kerry for President in 2004.

Days later, the FDLE, with television cameras in tow, raided City Hall, seized several computers and announced that the union and its so-called "leave bank" were being investigated. The beefy Mr Clelland said he was scared to death in his interview with the FDLE supervisor in Orlando and was told he might be slung into jail if he insisted on having his lawyer present. He duly asked Mr Egan to leave the room.

Like the black absentee voters, Mr Clelland also noticed the officer tapping the 9mm pistol in his ankle holster as he let loose his barrage of questions. "You would think these investigators were going after John Gotti [the late Mafia don]," he said bitterly. "Their actions have gutted this organisation locally." After the grand jury ruled that the union leave bank was legal, Mayor Dyer asked Florida's attorney general for a ruling to get the FDLE off their backs. But Mayor Dyer's bad luck was that he had run for the office of attorney general in 2002, and his successful Republican opponent, Charlie Crist, was not about to cut him any slack. Mr Crist has refused to offer an opinion either. [...]

With workers from both parties rushing to register as many voters as possible while there is still time, the race remains nerve-rackingly close, close enough that the votes controlled by Ezzie Thomas and the firefighters might just make the crucial difference.

Comment: Does this sound like freedom and democracy, or does it sound more like a blossoming police state, where the political opponents of those in power are harassed, threatened, and a lot worse...?

Let's look on the bright side however, if the deliberate malevolent intent of our esteemed leaders doesn't get us, then they can always manufacure some seemingly "natural" pandemic to do the job...

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First Human to Human Transmission of Bird Flu


The world's first human-to-human transmission of a lethal strain of bird flu is suspected to have taken place in Thailand

The alarm has been raised by the World Health Organisation, as Peter Lloyd reports from Bangkok.

Suspicion of human to human transmission centers on the case of a 26 year old woman who traveled from Bangkok to northern Thailand to visit her daughter in hospital and then attend her funeral. A week after returning to the capital the woman also died from what is believed to have been bird flu. It was only then that her child's fatal illness fell under suspicion of being the deadly strain of avian influenza. The W.H.O's Thai representative Kumara Rai says there is no evidence of the mother having had any contact with fowl, instead suspecting she caught the deadly virus from close physical contact with her daughter. Her sister is now in hospital with severe pneumonia. Lab test results are expected as soon as Monday but the Geneva headquarters of W.H.O has been asked to send experts to Thailand to help in the investigation.

Comment: See our Signs Flu Supplement from last year for evidence of the fact that, with enough objective observation of the nature of our world and those tha control it, anyone can prophesise, even the Signs Team.

Ok, so say you escape the clutches of "Big Brother", and have the sense to avoid the Flu vaccine "like the plague" (pun intended), will everything return to normal? Maybe, just don't count on there being any transport, home heating, food on the table, or a job to go to, not that you would want to run the gauntlet of the troops and armored vehicles on the streets...

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Crude Oil Prices Top $50 Per Barrel
Sep 28, 9:56 AM (ET)

LONDON (AP) - Crude oil topped the psychological milestone of $50 per barrel Tuesday for the first time, and a Saudi Arabian oil official said the world's largest petroleum exporter would raise its production capacity by nearly 5 percent in a bid to calm prices.

Analysts said instability in the Middle East, political unrest in Nigeria, Africa's top oil exporter, and damage to U.S. production from the Caribbean's hurricanes were keeping traders on edge about world supplies. Some said the price may not be sustainable and may soon fall.

In response to the increase, Saudi Arabia announced it will raise its oil production capacity from 10.5 million barrels a day to 11 million barrels in order to "stabilize" prices. It is currently producing about 9.5 million barrels a day.

By increasing capacity, Saudi Arabia will be able to raise production when it wants. A Saudi oil ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the kingdom would increase production "depending on demand."

The capacity increase by the world's largest oil exporter will go into effect within weeks, using new fields where production has just begun, Oil Minister Ali Naimi said.

"The fields of Abu Safa and al-Qatif, which have just started production, will be used to increase the kingdom's production capacity in the coming few weeks to 11 million barrels per day," the minister said in a statement.

"In light of the recent developments in the oil market and the increase in prices that exceeded $50 ... Saudi Arabia is closely monitoring the various developments in the international oil market and is working on stabilizing that," he said. [...]

The United States has lost more than 11 million barrels of oil production in the past two weeks, according to U.S. government data, with Gulf of Mexico output still down nearly 500,000 barrels a day following the devastation brought by Ivan.

The price of oil is up roughly 75 percent from a year ago and some analysts predict the latest surge - which is already hurting airlines and other big consumers - could lead to a global recession.

Although oil is at an all-time high, prices are not at record levels when inflation is taken into account. Adjusting for inflation, today's prices are still more than $30 below the level reached in 1981 after the Iranian revolution.

That hasn't eased the fears gripping the market, however. [...]

Jason Kenny, and oil and gas analyst with ING Financial Markets in Scotland, said: "There is a lot of supply concern in the market, I think we'll have a lot of volatility over the next few weeks, until we get some clarity about U.S. oil inventories, OPEC output movements, geopolitics."

Kenny said oil prices could conceivably rise to $60 in the near future, but he said they were more likely to fall, barring another major terrorist attack. "I personally think the $50 level is unsustainable," he said, because some oil importing nations can't afford that price. [...]

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Nothing OPEC can do to bring oil down - Purnomo
09/27/2004 23:12

JAKARTA - OPEC is powerless to stop the rise in oil prices at the moment although it has about 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of spare capacity to add to supplies, president Purnomo Yusgiantoro said on Tuesday. As U.S. crude rose to a record $50.17 a barrel on Tuesday, Purnomo said he had not yet had any contact with OPEC's 10 other members.

"At the moment there's nothing we can do. OPEC has spare capacity, however, whatever we do there is no sensitivity in the market," Purnomo, who is also Indonesian oil minister, told Reuters.

"OPEC has the ability to add output. There is around 1.5 million bpd of spare capacity. Saudi Arabia has the capability," he said.

"We are worried because there is an increase in the price of goods and services because of high oil prices. We are watching closely the price movement. If prices continue to go up, there will be a danger to the global economy," Purnomo said.

"I warn that high oil prices will result in the start of a recession, there are already some indications in some industrialised countries."

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Comment: So when the economic crash happens and we all return to the caves, take comfort in the knowledge that we did it all before, over and over again...

Signs of an earlier American
By Peter N. Spotts
Christian Science Monitor
September 23, 2004

Al Goodyear is holding his breath in anticipation. Within days, the affable archaeologist expects to read the results of lab tests indicating that stone tools he recently found in South Carolina are 25,000 years old - or older.

Such results would be explosive. They would imply that humans lived on this continent before the last ice age, far earlier than previously believed. Even if the dates came in younger than 25,000 years old, researchers say, the find would add to the mounting body of evidence that humans trod North and South America at least 2,000 years before the earliest-known inhabitants, known as the Clovis culture. Dr. Goodyear's efforts are among the latest from a growing group of archaeologists and anthropologists who have become emboldened to buck conventional wisdom and probe far deeper into the hemisphere's past than many of their predecessors did. What they are finding not only could rewrite old chapters in the history of two continents, it could write new ones.

"With all these new discoveries, it's almost a rebirth of excitement in the field. All sorts of new ideas are coming forward about migration routes and timing of arrival," says Michael Waters, a geoarchaeologist at Texas A&M University who is involved in several pre-Clovis digs around the United States. "You still have to be careful. Every claim of pre-Clovis occupation needs to be looked at quite carefully."

And they are. When stunning discoveries surface in North America's paleolithic past, they can ignite debates conducted with all the gentility of the Stanley Cup finals - as Goodyear knows.

"When these dates come back, I'll be hiding in a coal mine. I've already got a little Groucho Marx disguise I'm going to put on," quips the University of South Carolina scientist, who along with colleagues is working what's called the Topper site in Allendale County, S.C., along the Savannah River.

For decades, the Clovis culture has held sway as the oldest in the New World. Evidence for this group's presence was first unearthed in 1936 near Clovis, N.M. A second site that emerged in Arizona in 1959, and others since. A uniquely fluted spear point became the culture's icon. Radiocarbon dating at Clovis sites so far has bracketed their presence from roughly 11,200 to around 10,800 radiocarbon years ago. (Archaeologists prefer expressing dates in radiocarbon years because converting to modern calendar years becomes tricky beyond a certain age threshold.)

Searching for Big Foot

As evidence for the Clovis culture's presence cropped up throughout the continent and the sites became the subject of intense study, the notion that Clovis people were the oldest immigrants to the Western Hemisphere became firmly entrenched. Although some research teams periodically claimed to have found older sites, their evidence was shaky or later proved to have a less radical explanation. To claim a pre-Clovis find was akin to claiming to spot Big Foot.

Researchers often hesitated "to dig below the Clovis horizon for fear of ridicule," Dr. Waters says.

By many accounts, the turning point came seven years ago when anthropologist Tom Dillehay published the second of two encyclopedic volumes of results from a site in southern Chile known as Monte Verde. His team's evidence pointed to a human presence there 13,000 years ago. Other sites began to appear with evidence for pre-Clovis occupation that many saw as more credible than evidence from earlier efforts.

One of these sites, known as Mud Lake, sits near Kenosha, Wis. It was discovered by accident in January 1936, the same year as the first find of a Clovis point, when a Works Progress Administration crew was digging a drainage ditch and unearthed most of a foreleg from a juvenile mammoth. Turned over to the Kenosha Historical Society, it sat there until 1990, when an amateur archaeologist noted cut marks on the bones. Bones from nearby sites, known as the Fenske and Shaefer sites, showed similar markings. In 1992 and 1993, researchers excavated Shaefer and found bones with cut marks on them and stone tools underneath a pelvis bone. Radiocarbon dates on the bones and on plant material at the same level of the dig ranged from 12,500 to 12,300 years ago, nudging them beyond the Clovis time scale.

Dates from the Mud Lake bone were more stunning, says Dan Joyce, senior curator at the Kenosha Public Museum. Purported hunters slew the mammoth 13,450 years ago. He remains cautious about the presence of hunters. Cut marks are suggestive, but not conclusive. This past August, he and his team searched for the rest of their mammoth. But so far it has remained elusive enough to earn the beast the sobriquet Waldo, after the children's "Where's Waldo?" series.

While Dr. Joyce and his colleagues were planning their hunt for Waldo, Goodyear was taking a deeper look at Topper, a site he had been studying for 20 years. An adherent to the Clovis-first idea, he began to rethink his position after reading a site report from Cactus Hill, a pre-Clovis site in Virginia, in 1998.

His subsequent work at Topper uncovered what looked to be industrial-scale toolmaking well below the level at which Clovis artifacts were found. With no organic material available to radiocarbon-date the level, the team had to use a different technique that stunned them with date estimates of 16,000 to 20,000 years ago.

In May, he took his crew back to Topper for another, deeper look. They found what they interpret as tools in a layer roughly two meters (6.5 feet) below their earlier pre-Clovis finds. The soils and geology suggest that the artifacts are several thousand years older, he says. But nothing beats radiocarbon dates. Fortuitously, they found a sample of wood charcoal to derive three radiocarbon dates.

"I'd be very surprised if they're less than 25,000 years old, but I'm preparing myself mentally for the possibility that they could be a lot older," perhaps as old as 30,000 or 40,000 years, he says.

Such finds raise intriguing questions. Clovis groups were thought to have crossed a broad land bridge across the Bering Strait, hiking through breaks in the glaciers to what is now the lower 48. But if people lived on the continent at least 2,000 years earlier, they would have arrived at a time when the glaciers were impassable. This has led some to argue for a sea route along the land bridge and then the western coastline. Others suggest some may have come from Australia or the Iberian peninsula.

But is it civilization?

Not everyone is convinced by the evidence so far for pre-Clovis finds, although some doubters don't rule out the possibility that some groups where here earlier.

"The tools people find are not self-evidently hunting or butchering tools" in the way Clovis artifacts are, says Stuart Fiedel, an archaeologist with the Louis Berger Group in Washington, D.C.

Like Vikings making landfall in North America before any other modern European group, pre-Clovis sites don't seem to represent the first long-term colonization of the Western Hemisphere, he says. Interest in Clovis grew out of their apparent role as a continent-wide colonizing population and a key to the origins of the native Americans Europeans encountered after they arrived.

But others see potentially deeper insights coming from pre-Clovis finds.

"This could help us get a better handle on the amount of genetic variability we see in the descendants of these populations," says David Meltzer, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It also could reset the clock for the development of civilizations in the New World.

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Comment: But wait! Hope springs eternal! If we can clone ourselves, we could all live on this god-forsaken planet forever!...

Dolly scientists' human clone bid
Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 09:10 GMT
The scientists who cloned Dolly the sheep have formally applied for a licence to clone human embryos to find a cure for motor neurone disease.

If granted, Professor Ian Wilmut's team at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute would clone cells from MND patients to see how the illness develops in an embryo.

The licensing body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority granted a similar licence in August.

The application has provoked criticism from pro-life campaigners.

Therapeutic cloning for research has been legal in the UK since 2001.

In August this year, scientists at the University of Newcastle were given permission to perform therapeutic cloning using human embryos for the first time.

They wanted to duplicate early stage embryos and extract stem cells from them which can be used for radical new treatments for a host of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes.

In comparison, Professor Wilmut wants to create cloned embryos with MND.

Cloning process

Professor Wilmut has stressed that his team has no intention of producing cloned babies, and said the diseased embryos would be destroyed after experimentation.

Professor Wilmut said: "I would emphasise that, at this time, our objective is to understand the disease.

"Knowledge often does have two edges to it.

"We owe it to the people who suffer from it (MND) and are going to suffer from it in the future to try and develop treatments for them."

MND is caused by the death of cells - called motor neurones - that control movement in the brain and spinal cord.

It affects about 5,000 people in the UK. Half of people with MND die within 14 months of diagnosis. [...]

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Comment: And if the notion of "eternal life" doesn't "float your boat", take the example of someone who's been around the block a few times - just sit back, light up an old stoagie, and enjoy what's left of the really big show that has come to be known as life on 3rd density earth...

108-Year-Old Man Starts Smoking Again
September 27, 2004

GREAT FALLS, Mont. - A 108-year-old man has taken up smoking again, encouraged by gifts of cigars from as far away as London. Retired railroad worker Walter Breuning spoke at his birthday party Tuesday of how he reluctantly quit smoking cigars at the age of 99 because he couldn't afford them.

After his story was widely distributed, the Great Falls man heard from people like the English cigar fan who sent two Havanas.

"They were $12 cigars and they were good," Breuning said. "You can't get good Havana cigars like that out here."

He also got a birthday note and a few more cigars from a former Great Falls resident now living in Oregon.

"They were pretty good cigars, too," Breuning said.

Fred Aimi, of Lolo, was reading newspaper stories to a group of blind neighbors when he came across an account of Breuning's birthday. "That hurt," Aimi said. "I like a good cigar myself."

Aimi said he sent a box of two dozen cigars on Friday to Breuning. "At 108, they can't do him much harm," he said.

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Comment: Yes, we know... "we're just too negative!"

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