Travel Log! The
Quantum Future Group Goes to Rennes-le-Chateau
Strike Flash Presentation by a QFS member
Publication! 'The Wave' finally in book form!
Wave: 4 Volume Set
With a new
introduction by the author and never before published, UNEDITED sessions
and extensive previously unpublished details, at long last, Laura Knight-Jadczyk's
vastly popular series The Wave is available as a Deluxe four
book set. Each of the four volumes include all of the original illustrations
and many NEW illustrations with each copy comprising approximately 300
is an exquisitely written first-person account of Laura's initiation at
the hands of the Cassiopaeans and demonstrates the unique nature of the
Volumes 1 and 2 now!
of the Day
Replete with esoteric symbols, conspiracy
research certainly warrants semiotic examination. Although fraught
with historical flaws and theological distortions, The DaVinci Code
by Dan Brown acknowledges the value of semiotics in studying the
conspiratorial world. In fact, the novel's central character is
a semiotician specializing in symbology. Evidently, Brown recognized
the potential of semiotics in analyzing the coded messages of cabals
occupying history's darker corners. September 11th is one such corner
that is worth semiotic analysis.
Numerous researchers like Michael Ruppert and Dennis Cuddy have
done an excellent job compiling the evidence of government complicity
in 9-11. Recapitulating their arguments is not the purpose of this
article. However, it is this researcher's contention that there
is a supranational power elite positioned above the political machinations
of national governments. It was this supranational elite that created
Bin Laden and, through strategically placed surrogates, de-activated
portions of American's national security apparatus that could have
prevented 9-11. Commenting on this supranational elite, Professor
Keller explains: "Like a secret society, those at the top rarely
reveal the inner workings of their worlds" (3).
Semiotics could provide the Rosetta Stone to deciphering the esoteric
language of the elite, particularly the subtle messages that they
embedded within the events of 9-11. This article shall semiotically
dismantle the early media reports that NBC broadcasted on September
11, 2001. It is this author's contention that these early reports,
working intertextually with sci-fi films of previous years, helped
the power elite to impose a politically expedient narrative paradigm
A Primer on Semiotics
Finding its proximate origins during the sixties, semiotics is
a relatively young field of study. Its simplest definition is the
study of signs. However, semiotics probes slightly deeper, examining
the application of signs in the daily social interchanges of humanity.
Moreover, signs are not merely images, like the proverbial STOP
sign. They are also spoken and written words. These last two categories
of signs have long been the providence of linguistics, a subsidiary
of the larger field of semiotics. All of these signs are used to
communicate messages, which semioticians refer to as "texts."
A text can inhabit any medium of communication. Whether verbal or
nonverbal, a text always has meaning.
Before proceeding any further, a list of basic terms used in semiotics
might be helpful to the reader. Throughout the course of this examination,
these terms will continue to re-surface. Hopefully, they will not
become two confusing.
Signs: There are three categories.
Iconic: These signs normally resemble something else. They are
approximations, facsimiles. Examples: statues, pictures.
Indexical: Like the index in the back of a book, these signs
refer the percipient to something else. They are used to establish
causal or physical relationships. Examples: Smoke is commonly
an indexical sign for fire. A shadow is normally an indexical
sign for a physical body in front of some light source.
Symbols: These signs express some convention and hold a shared
meaning for those interpolated into the culture. These signs must
be learned. Examples: Words, numbers, flags.
Intertextual reference: This type of reference creates a correlation
between more than one text, thus augmenting a sign's meaning.
Denotation: A sign's literal meaning.
Connotation: A sign's implied meaning.
It should be understood that this is just the basic terminology
of semiotics. However, it will work for the purposes of this examination.
The Narrative Paradigm: "Good" Americans vs. "Evil"
Few are not acquainted with the scene in Independence Day during
which the White House is destroyed by a powerful energy beam from
a hovering alien ship. In his semiotic analysis of this famous clip,
Professor Elliot Gaines discerns "the narrative qualities that
embody the paradigmatic character of the situation and images"
surrounding 9-11 (Gaines 123). This researcher would contend that
such synchronicities were consciously engineered by the entertainment
industrial complex. Intrinsic to the narrative characteristics of
Independence Day was a paradigmatic template that the elite successfully
imposed upon September 11th. Promulgated vigorously by Establishment
media organs, Independence Day was instrumental in creating a cultural
milieu that would be hospitable to future media manipulations. By
the time of the WTC attacks, the collective subconscious of America
was fertile with memes (contagious ideas) planted by Independence
This memetic fertility is most effectively illustrated by the comments
of MSNBC reporter Ron Insana. Insana witnessed the disintegration
of the World Trade Center firsthand (Gaines 125). In an interview
with Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and Tom Brokaw, Insana vividly recounted
[A]s we were going across the street, we were not terribly far
from the World Trade Center building, the south tower. As we were
cutting across a, a quarantine zone actually, the building began
disintegrating. And we heard it and looked up and started to see
elements of the building come down and we ran, and honestly it
was like a scene out of Independence Day. Everything began to
rain down. It was pitch black around us as the wind was ripping
through the corridors of lower Manhattan. (Qutd. in Gaines 125)
Gaines identifies the Independence Day reference as semiotically
significant (125). Given his distinction as a journalist before
a global audience, Insana is thoroughly cognizant of the fact that
his "intertextual reference to the film will be understood
as a commonly known cultural text" (125). At this point, the
previously dormant seeds of virulent thought implanted by Independence
Day have been activated. Insana's invocation of this "commonly
known text" has triggered the release of ideational spores
within humanity's collective consciousness. Gaines reveals the semiotic
effect of Insana's intertextual reference upon the percipient's
The violence in Independence Day, coded as fiction, constructs
a narrative binary opposition that clearly identifies good against
evil. The available images representing the events of September
11th, using inferences drawn from Independence Day's sign/object
relations, construct a narrative paradigm based upon the same
themes, but coded as reality. (126)
Indeed, Insana's intertextual reference helped establish the paradigm
of "good against evil" upon which the "War on Terrorism"
would be premised. Suddenly, Arabs became analogous to the "alien
invaders" of Independence Day. Simultaneously, the United States
became analogous to the beleaguered "home world." Semiotically,
Insana's intertextual reference prompted America's collective subconscious
to reconceptualize the relational dynamic between the West and the
Arab world. "Good" humans against "evil" aliens,
a narrative paradigm coded as fiction in Independence Day, suddenly
recoded itself in the guise of reality. However, according to the
elite's narrative paradigm for September 11th, being neither "good"
nor "human" is part of the Arab's role.
The Semiotics of Sci-fi Predictive Programming
It is not this researcher's contention that Insana consciously
designed his intertextual reference to achieve such an end. However,
it is this researcher's contention that Insana's intertextual reference
is product of a larger semiotic deception. This larger semiotic
deception is part of a program for cultural subversion known as
"sci-fi predictive programming," a term coined by researcher
Michael Hoffman. Elaborating on this concept, Hoffman states: "Predictive
programming works by means of the propagation of the illusion of
an infallibly accurate vision of how the world is going to look
in the future" (205).
Innocuous though the genre may seem, science fiction literature
has had a history of presenting narrative paradigms that are oddly
consistent with the plans of the elite. In Dope, Inc., associates
of political dissident Lyndon LaRouche claim that the famous literary
works of H.G. Wells and his apprentices, George Orwell and Aldous
Huxley, were really "'mass appeal' organizing documents on
behalf of one-world order" (538).
Such would seem to be the case with Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek,
which presents a socialist totalitarian world government under the
appellation of the Federation. Moreover, Roddenberry espoused a
core precept of the ruling class religion: "As nearly as I
can concentrate on the question today, I believe I am God; certainly
you are, I think we intelligent beings on this planet are all a
piece of God, are becoming God" (Alexander 568). This statement
echoes the occult doctrine of "becoming," a belief promoted
within the Masonic Lodge and disseminated on the popular level as
Darwinism. According to this doctrine, man is gradually evolving
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
presented a semiotic signpost for the next step in this chimerical
evolutionary ascent. Michael Hoffman explains:
2001, A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based
on the writing of Arthur C. Clarke, is, with hindsight, a pompous,
pretentious exercise. But when it debuted it sent shivers up the
collective spine. It has a hallowed place in the Cryptosphere
because it helped fashion what the Videodrome embodies today.
At the heart of the film is the worship of the Darwinian hypothesis
of evolution and the positioning of a mysterious monolith as the
evolutionary battery or "sentinel" that transforms the
ape into the space man (hence the "odyssey").
Clarke and Kubrick's movie, 2001, opens with a scene of the "Dawn
of Man," supposedly intended to take the viewer back to the
origins of humanity on earth. This lengthy sequence is vintage
Darwinism, portraying our genesis as bestial and featuring man-like
apes as our ancestors. In the film, the evolution of these hominids
is raised to the next rung on the evolutionary ladder by the sudden
appearance of a mysterious monolith. Commensurate with the new
presence of this enigmatic "sentinel," our alleged simian
progenitors learn to acquire a primitive form of technology; for
the first time they use a bone as a weapon.
This bone is then tossed into the air by one of the ape-men.
Kubrick photographs the bone in slow motion and by means of special
effects, he shows it becoming an orbiting spacecraft, thus traversing
"millions of years in evolutionary time."
The next evolutionary level occurs in "2(00)1" (21,
i.e. the 21st century). In the year 2001, the cosmic sentinel
that is the monolith reappears again, triggering an alert that
man is on to the next stage of his "glorious evolution."
The monolith or "sentinel" semiotically gesticulates
towards the next epoch of man's "glorious evolution."
Like the tabula rasa of human consciousness, the barren canvas of
the monolith awaits the next brushstrokes of unseen painters. A
new portrait of man is scheduled to be painted and the "glorious
evolution" of humanity continues. "Coincidently,"
this semiotic signpost reappeared before the public eye in the actual
year 2001. Michael Hoffman recounts the moment of this reappearance:
In keeping with the script, in the first dark hours of New Year's
2001, a "mystery monolith appeared on a grassy knoll in Magnuson
Park in Seattle, Washington." The image of this monolith
was that of an almost exact replica of the one featured in 2001:
A Space Odyssey. Neither the media nor the police would say how
the monolith got on the "grassy knoll" or who was responsible.
The 2001 monolith stood for a few days while the Seattle parks
department debated its fate. Then it disappeared. (Hoffman 14)
That same year, the World Trade Center attacks took place and the
Bush Administration began to erect a garrison state under the auspices
of "national security." The chronically recapitulated
theme of exchanging freedom for security is one of the most prevalent
symptoms of this transformational period. However, semiotic intimations
of this emergent garrison state may be discernible in the 1997 film
Starship Troopers. Based on the sci-fi novel by Robert Heinlein,
the film presents a socialist totalitarian world government that
owes its very existence to a threat from "beyond." Synopsizing
the theme of the film, literary critic Geoffrey Whitehall makes
an interesting observation:
Against, yet within, its clichéd ontological galaxy, Starship
Troopers mobilizes the beyond to critique this dominant us/them
narrative. It seeks to reveal how identity/difference, a relation
of fear, founds a political galaxy… fear is the order word
of a security discourse. Historically, a discourse of fear bridged
what it meant to be human in the world under Christendom (seeking
salvation) and the emergence of modernity (seeking security) as
the dominant trope of political life in the sovereign state. The
church relied on a discourse of fear to "establish its authority,
discipline its followers and ward off its enemies," in effect
creating a Christian world politics. Under modern world politics,
similarly, the sovereign state relies on the creation of an external
threat to author its foreign policy [emphasis - ADDED] and establish
the lofty category of citizenship as the only form of modern human
It is interesting that, the very same year of Starship Troopers'
release, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski published
The Grand Chessboard. In this overtly imperialistic tract, Brzezinski
delineated the geostrategy by which America would attain global
primacy. According to Brzezinski, this period of American hegemony
would represent little more than a transitional period preceding
her amalgamation into a one-world government. In one of the most
damning portions of the text, Brzezinski reveals the catalyst for
America's imperialist mobilization:
Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society,
it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign
policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and
widely perceived direct external threat. [emphasis - ADDED] (Brzezinski
A "truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat"
did appear. His name was Osama bin Laden. Starship Troopers was
premised upon the same thesis that would underpin American foreign
policy four years later… consensus facilitated by an external
threat. Like Insana's Independence Day analogy, the thematic similarities
between Brzezinski's Grand Chessboard and Heinlein's Starship Troopers
reiterate the semiotic notion of intertextuality. The various texts
comprising human discourse are not read in a cultural vacuum. On
the level of consumption, "any one text is necessarily read
in relationship to others and . . . a range of textual knowledges
is brought to bear upon it" (Fiske 108). Likewise, "a
range of textual knowledges" was brought to bear upon September
11th. Like Independence Day, Heinlein's Starship Troopers constituted
part of this body of "textual knowledges."
The centrality of an external threat to the formulation of foreign
policy, which thematically underpinned Brzezinski's geostrategy,
was semiotically communicated to the public through Starship Troopers.
In the elite's narrative paradigm for September 11th, the necessity
of the external threat was illustrated by the nationalistic fervor
that followed the WTC attacks. Suddenly, the appellation of "patriot,"
which was previously a stigma assigned to tax protesters and members
of militias, regained its place in the cultural lexicon of reverential
labels. The removal of the pejorative connotations previously imposed
upon the "patriot" facilitated the semiotic deception
that was to follow with the introduction of the Patriot Act. Connotatively,
the very title of the Patriot Act suggested that those who opposed
it constituted "unpatriotic" elements. Thus, acquiescence
meant patriotism. This inference echoes the mantra presented in
Starship Troopers: "Service guarantees citizenship." In
the post-911 cultural milieu where the term "patriot"
was as elastic as the term "terrorist," independent reasoning
was subverted by a burgeoning epidemic of cognitive dissonance.
Starship Troopers also reiterated the narrative paradigm of "good"
humans against "evil" aliens, a belief integral to the
imperial mobilization of Brzezinski's geostrategy. The forces of
"good," embodied by America, were mobilized against the
forces of "evil," embodied by the Arab world. In keeping
with the narrative paradigm of the elite, the media continued its
standard practice of typecasting. Like the extraterrestrial "bugs"
of Starship Troopers, Arabs were cast as hostile aliens. Meanwhile,
Americans maintained their roles as humans.
Again, it is not this researcher's contention that Ron Insana was
a conscious agent of this semiotic deception. Yet, as a part of
the Establishment media, Insana acted as the perfect transmission
belt for memes emanating from the ruling class itself. As the old
adage goes, "No one knows who invented water, but you can bet
it wasn't the fish." Immersed within the sea of Establishment-controlled
media, Insana could not identify the larger semiotic manipulation
in which he unwittingly played an integral role. Science fiction
has been called "the literature of ideas." Insana's intertextual
reference suggests that he had contracted an ideational contagion
through exposure to sci-fi films like Independence Day and Starship
Assembling the Picture
Ferdinand de Saussure observed that "normally we do not express
ourselves by using single linguistic signs, but groups of signs,
organised in complexes which themselves are signs" (Saussure
1974, 128; Saussure 1983, 127). Indeed, isolated signs say very
little, if anything at all. Communication and cogent thought are
contingent upon the coalescence of signs. Such coalescence constitutes
the complex social interchange called discourse. Likewise, the semiotic
significance of a particular scene becomes evident only once the
percipient has correlated all the constituent signs comprising it.
This is syntagmatic analysis, the study of a text's structure and
Because they are narratives, films largely depend upon sequential
configurations that produce the illusion of causal relationships.
Likewise, the narrative paradigm that the power elite wished to
impose upon September 11th was sequenced to create a false causal
connection between the WTC attacks and the Arab world. During the
interview with Insana, Couric abruptly announced an "upsetting
wire that just came across the wire from the West Bank" (qutd.
in Gaines 126). Couric proceeded to paint a disturbing portrait
of militant Muslims celebrating the destruction of the Twin Towers:
Thousands of Palestinians celebrated Tuesday's terror attacks
in the United States chanting 'God is great' and distributing
candy to passers by even as their leader, Yasir Arafat said he
was horrified. The U.S. government has become increasingly unpopular
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past year of Israeli-Palestinian
fighting. (Qutd. in Gaines 126).
As the report continued, Couric read the same "upsetting wire"
again, this time as a voice-over narrative to video footage of Palestinian
demonstrators (Gaines 126). The footage was accompanied by a title
card claiming that the event had occurred "EARLIER THIS MORNING"
(Gaines 126). This researcher contends that the juxtaposition of
this image with Insana's intertextual reference was intentional.
It was designed to reinforce the paradigmatic template of "good"
Americans against "evil" Arabs. Within the mind of the
percipient, causal connections were already being made. "Behold,
the face of the enemy," the subconscious declared. The syntagmatic
structure of the NBC report was designed to achieve precisely this
Upon closer examination, the semiotic deception grows even more
sinister. Gaines elaborates on the unfolding sham:
NBC later acknowledged that it had committed a breach of ethics
by using archive footage with an unverified wire report. Only
through convention do we assume the indexical nature of an image
grounded by the text of news. The image was not actually acquired
September 11th as an authentic Palestinian celebration of the
attack against the US. The image was selected from an archive
as a global sign to imply Islamic extremism as the enemy. (126)
Was this an accident or a consciously engineered psychocognitive
assault? Given the distinct possibility of a conspiracy to orchestrate
9-11, one cannot help but wonder if the NBC report was designed
to distract attention. Gaines states: "The stereotypical images
of Arab, mid-eastern-looking people celebrating on a street could
be falsely anchored to a specific people from a designated time
and place" (127). With the eyes of the world firmly fixed upon
Islamic extremism as the enemy, the true of criminals remained hidden
behind a semiotic veil.
Citing Richard L. Lanigan, Gaines asserts: "Fiction and nonfiction
are both mediated popular texts-the convergence of human experience
expressed through technology" (127). That the chief means of
deception is technological in nature is intentional. The word "technology"
is derived from the Greek word techne, which means "craft."
Moreover, the term "craft" is also associated with witchcraft
or Wicca. From the term Wicca, one derives the word wicker (Hoffman
63). Examining this word a little closer, researcher Michael Hoffman
explains: "The word wicker has many denotations and connotations,
one of which is 'to bend,' as in the 'bending' of reality"
(63). This is especially interesting when considering the words
of Mark Pesce, co-inventor of Virtual Reality Modeling Language.
Pesce writes: "The enduring archetype of techne within the
pre-Modern era is magic, of an environment that conforms entirely
to the will of being" (Pesce). Through the magic of electronic
media, the post-September 11th environment seemed to conform entirely
to the will of the elite.
The Druid magicians of antiquity used to carry wands, which were
made out of "holly wood." Does this sound familiar? The
famous Hollywood sign is but an enormous semiotic marker for an
industry that specializes in illusion. Independence Day could be
considered just one more of its spells. Given the public compliance
to the illusion of the so-called "War on Terror," it would
seem that the spell is working. Through the alchemical sorcery of
electronic media, America's consciousness remains immersed within
the semiotic mirage of the post-911 culture.
Alexander, David. Star Trek Creator. New York: Dutton
Brzezinski, Zbigniew. The Grand Chessboard: American
Primacy and Geostrategic Objectives. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Fiske, John. Television Culture. London: Routledge,
Hoffman, Michael. Secret Societies and Psychological
Warfare. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho: Independent History & Research,
Gaines, Elliot. "The Semiotics of Media Images
From Independence Day and September 11th 2001." The American
Journal of Semiotics 17 (2001): 117-131.
Keller, Suzanne. Beyond The Ruling Class: Strategic
Elites In Modern Society. New York: Random House, 1963.
LaRouche, Lyndon. Dope, Inc. Washington, D.C.: Executive
Intelligence, Inc., 1992.
Pesce, Mark, "Ontos and Techne," Computer-Medicated
Magazine, http://www.december.com/cmc/mag/1997/apr/pesce.html, April
Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics.
1916. Trans. Wade Baskin. London: Fontana/Collins, 1974.
---. Course in General Linguistics. 1916. Trans.
Roy Harris. London: Duckworth, 1983.
Whitehall, Geoffrey. "The Problem of the 'World
and Beyond': Encountering 'the Other' in Science Fiction."
To Seek Out New Worlds: Science Fiction and World Politics, Jutta
Weldes, ed. NY: Palgrave, 2003, 169-193.
About the Author
Phillip D. Collins acted as the editor for The Hidden Face
of Terrorism. He has an Associate of Arts and Science. Currently,
he is studying for a bachelor's degree in Communications at Wright
State University. During the course of his seven-year college career,
Phillip has studied philosophy, religion, and classic literature.
He co-authored the book, The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship:
An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the 21st
Century, is available online.
Jeff Brown is a passionate defender
of the borough where he lives. Dover, tucked away in the rural hinterland
of Pennsylvania, is a conservative place, he says.
It has never been the sort of place to attract attention. Until
now. Dover is becoming famous, after its school board decided to
introduce an alternative to evolution in parts of its biology curriculum.
The furore caused Brown and his wife, Carol, to resign from the
board. Extremist Christians, he believes, have taken it over with
an agenda to undermine the teaching of evolution. Now he is angry.
'This community is going to rebel,' he said. 'People believe your
religion is your own private business.'
Dover has been catapulted into the centre of a renewed battle over
the teaching of evolution in schools. The religious right, emboldened
by its spreading influence in the Republican party and an explosive
growth in the number of evangelical Christians, has launched a major
push to get an alternative to evolution - which they believe denies
the biblical version of God's creation of the world - into the classroom.
At least 40 US states have faced legal challenges in recent months.
At the forefront of the challenge is the concept of 'intelligent
design', which stipulates that the universe is so complex it shows
clear evidence of a 'designer'. Advocates say evolution is just
another theory, not a scientific fact. Critics, however, say intelligent
design is bringing religion into science. 'It is just creationism-lite,'
said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the National Centre for Science
The move in Dover was led by William Buckingham, a born-again Christian.
The decision has split the community and dominates conversation
in diners, bars and churches.
The Browns say Buckingham and a group of evangelical Christians
have hijacked the school board and imposed their views on a community,
where creationism in the classroom had never been an issue. 'They
are on a crusade,' Brown said. His wife added: 'Dover is just ahead
of the curve. There will be a lot more things like this in other
In fact, Dover is already just part of a growing phenomenon. In
Cobb county, Georgia, textbooks have had stickers stuck inside them
telling children that evolution is 'theory, not fact'. In Grantsburg,
Wisconsin, new rules direct teachers to analyse the 'strengths and
weaknesses' of evolution, as well as allow for the study of other
theories. In Ohio the state school board has sought to open the
way for the teaching of opposing theories to evolution. The Missouri
legislature will consider bringing intelligent design into its classrooms
Arguments over evolution - which has long been accepted as fact
by the vast majority of scientists - arouse deep passions in America.
Almost 80 years after the Scopes 'monkey trial', where Edward Scopes
was tried and convicted for teaching evolu tion in Tennessee, many
Americans still do not believe in it. A Gallup poll last month showed
that 45 per cent believe God created humans in their present form
within the past 10,000 years.
Now both sides are preparing to take the issue to the Supreme Court
for the first time since the Eighties. A conservative law firm,
the Thomas More Law Centre, has offered to represent the Dover school
board members. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is
looking for Dover complainants to take the case on from a pro-evolution
Conservatives are confident that they will prevail. 'We are going
to win. It is a free speech right for students to receive alternative
views,' said Richard Thompson, president of the law centre.
Thompson says intelligent design does not by its nature advocate
a religious point of view, which would be against the US Constitution.
'It is based on science that shows the world is so complex it could
not have happened by accident,' he said. Critics contend the very
concept of a 'designer' implies a god.
Religious groups have been galvanised by the re-election of President
George Bush, a born-again Christian who stated: 'On the issue of
evolution, the verdict is still out on how God created the Earth.'
Christians are being encouraged to join school boards and lobby
to get intelligent design on the curriculum. 'We have as much right
as the evolutionists to be on our school boards,' said Dr Patricia
Nason, of the Institute for Creation Research.
She and fellow creationists believe Bush's victory gave them a
chance to get their agenda into schools. 'I feel that if we don't
make progress in the next four years that window of opportunity
will close,' she said.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - May 5, the day that changed
Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari's lives, began like most others. They
shared coffee, dropped their 12-year-old son off at Cheat Lake
Middle School here, then drove to their laboratories at the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency
that studies workplace hazards.
But that afternoon, their managers pulled the Afsharis aside
and delivered a stunning message: they
had failed secret background checks and were being fired. No explanations
were offered and no appeals allowed. They were escorted to the
door and told not to return.
Mrs. Afshari, a woman not prone to emotional flourishes, says
she stood in the parking lot and wept. "I just wanted to know
why," she said.
Seven months later, the Afsharis, Shiite Muslims who came from
Iran 18 years ago to study, then stayed to build careers and raise
three children, still have no answers.
They have been told they were fired for
national security reasons that remain secret. When
their lawyer requested the documents used to justify the action,
he was told none existed. When he
asked for copies of the agency's policies relating to the background
checks, he received a generic personnel handbook.
Without any official explanations of why they failed their background
checks, they came up with their own theory: their attendance,
more than five years ago, at two conventions of a Persian student
association that has come under F.B.I. scrutiny, once with a man
who was later investigated by the bureau.
The Afsharis' case comes at time when immigrants from many nations,
but particularly Islamic ones, are facing tougher scrutiny from
Unable to clear their names or find new employment in their
field, the Afsharis on Thursday resorted to that most American
of recourses: they sued the institute and its parent agencies,
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department
of Health and Human Services, demanding back pay and reinstatement
or the chance to appeal.
The Afsharis, who passed background checks when they were hired
- he in 1996, she in 1997 - were not even aware of the new reviews
until they were told that they had failed.
In their suit, they do not question the government's right to
conduct background checks. But their lawyers contend that the
Kafkaesque nature of the process - in which the rules were unclear
and perhaps unwritten - has made it impossible for them to defend
"How can we expect the people of the Middle East to emulate
our democratic ideals abroad when we fail to apply those ideals
to people like the Afsharis here?" asked Allan N. Karlin, a lawyer
in Morgantown who, along with chapters of the American Civil Liberties
Union in West Virginia and Washington, is representing the couple.
The Centers for Disease Control has said
the Afsharis were not singled out because of their ethnic background,
asserting that other Iranians and Muslims have faced similar background
checks and passed. The agency also
notes that the couple, who are not citizens and do not have protected
Civil Service status, could have been fired at any time.
But the agency has declined to say anything else about the case
and did not respond to questions about its policies on background
checks. "All I can say is the Afsharis are no longer employed
by C.D.C.," said a spokeswoman, Kathryn Harben.
Federal employees have always faced routine background checks,
typically when they are hired. But experts
say that since the Sept. 11 attacks, checks at certain agencies,
including the disease control centers,
have become more frequent and tougher as the government attempts
to identify potential security leaks or spies with access to classified
or dangerous materials.
Those tougher checks
seem to have focused on immigrants from certain countries.
A C.D.C. document obtained by the Afsharis shows that the recent
background checks on them were ordered because they came from
a "threat" country, Iran.
Air Canada graphicAir Canada is seeing an
upsurge in business as passengers opt to fly via Canada rather than
brave the tighter visa and security regime facing transit passengers
at US airports.
The company says a growing number of international passengers are
choosing to travel via Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal rather than
Ben Smith, Air Canada's vice-president of planning, said the airline's
traffic destined for Latin America originating outside Canada had
trebled in the first 11 months of this year, compared with January
to November 2003. Passengers flying between Brazil and Japan made
up a sizeable part of the extra traffic.
US visa restrictions and airport congestion
have "certainly been a positive for us", he added.
"Because of 9/11, we have got this extra traffic, which we
weren't originally counting on." [...]
The new US visa requirements have also benefited Canada in other
ways. Several Canadian universities are seeking
to attract foreign students and researchers who might otherwise
have attended US institutions.
Canada has also become a base for some offshore
outsourcing companies to serve US customers without their employees
needing to enter the US. [...]
LONDON (Reuters) - The dollar lost ground
against the euro and the yen on Monday after a brief rebound last
week, as investors grew cautious ahead of U.S. data on trade,
the current account deficit and investment flows later in the
The figures will highlight investors' biggest concern about the
U.S. economy: its ability to attract enough future foreign investment
to plug the rising current account deficit.
Expectations for a deteriorating reading in the deficit data
undercut last week's demand for dollars, driven by profit-taking
on bets on further dollar losses. They
could also offset any support to the U.S. currency from a widely-expected
Federal Reserve interest rate rise on Tuesday.
"There is nothing which is holding
back the U.S. dollar from weakening and this is the theme for
2005. This week, the external funding needs and potential
flows will be closely observed," said Hans-Guenter Redeker,
chief foreign exchange strategist at BNP Paribas in London. [...]
The Bush administration has been
listening in on telephone conversations between the director of
the international nuclear agency and Iranian diplomats with the
aim of gathering evidence to remove the UN bureaucrat from his post,
it was reported yesterday.
With Washington's campaign against the IAEA chief, Dr Mohammad
ElBaradei, now in its second year, the administration has acquired
dozens of telephone intercepts of such conversations in the hopes
of finding evidence of wrongdoing, the Washington Post said. The
newspaper quoted three anonymous US government officials as saying
that the administration embarked on its eavesdropping mission to
collect material that would discredit Dr ElBaradei in his dealings
with Tehran in the crisis over its clandestine nuclear programme.
At the IAEA headquarters in Vienna it is taken for granted that
Dr ElBaradei's phone calls are tapped. Officials shrug that such
activities go with the territory. The CIA had no comment when contacted
For the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, Dr ElBaradei
has been an enemy since he exposed the hollowness of Washington's
claims about Saddam Hussein's nuclear arsenal during the run-up
to the war on Iraq. In recent months, as global efforts to halt
Iran's clandestine nuclear programme gathered pace, some US officials
who were sceptical of a diplomatic resolution accused Dr ElBaradei
of hiding evidence of Tehran's weapons programme from the nuclear
Under a deal brokered by Britain, Germany and France, Tehran agreed
last month to suspend uranium enrichment. However, Washington has
been pressing for Iran to be taken to the UN security council.
State Department hardliners, such as the under secretary for arms
control, John Bolton, have openly complained about Dr ElBaradei's
differing approach. However, the wire taps produced no clear evidence
of inappropriate contact between Dr ElBaradei and officials in Tehran.
"Some people think he sounds way too soft on the Iranians,
but that's about it," one official told the Post.
The IAEA director has said he intends to seek a third term when
his current mandate at the agency expires next summer. Dr ElBaradei,
a 20-year veteran of the IAEA, enjoys broad support among the agency's
Some experts argued yesterday that Washington would do better to
expend its diplomatic capital on urging the IAEA to get tougher
on Iran, rather than conducting a covert campaign against its chief.
"I think we should be more wholeheartedly supporting the Europeans,"
Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser for the
first President Bush, told CNN yesterday. "I think we have
little to lose by reaching out, and trying to draw them [Iran] at
least into freezing their programme."
During the run-up to the Iraq war, the nuclear chief was viewed
as an obstacle to America's campaign to convince the international
community that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The feud between Dr ElBaradei and the hawks in the Bush administration
flared again during last autumn's US presidential campaign when
the nuclear chief pointed out that hundreds of tons of explosives
had gone missing from Iraq's nuclear complexes following the US
Earlier this year the former international development secretary,
Clare Short, alleged in a BBC interview that the office of the UN
secretary general, Kofi Annan, had been bugged. The UN's former
chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, also told the Guardian he suspected
both his UN office and his home were bugged before the Iraq war.
Palestinian militants found a way around
the heavy fortifications at the Israeli-run crossing point between
Egypt and Gaza - tunnelling under the base and blowing
it up with more than a ton of explosives, killing five soldiers.
The attack yesterday at sundown was the bloodiest since Yasser
Arafat died a month ago, negating some of the good will flowing
between the two sides since then. Israel
said the bombing jeopardised chances for normalisation.
Several structures at the crossing collapsed and others were
damaged by the force of the blast. In a coordinated assault, Palestinian
gunmen rushed the base after the blast.
A gunman who escaped said he tried to kidnap a wounded soldier,
but killed him because the soldier resisted.
In a statement released early today, the military said five
soldiers were killed and five injured, two seriously, in the explosion.
The statement said two Palestinians charged the base and opened
fire after the blast, and soldiers shot them dead. Palestinians
said one of the attackers was killed and the other escaped.
Hitting back, Israeli helicopters fired at least five missiles
at targets in Gaza City early today, witnesses said. There
were no reports of casualties. One missile set a fire at
an abandoned metal workshop, and the other target was an empty
house near the Islamic University, they said.
The military said the targets were buildings where Hamas manufactured
and stored weapons, including mortars and rockets.
The attack and retaliation were clear signs that a lull in violence
that followed Arafat's death on November 11 is over. On Tuesday,
an Israeli soldier was killed in a blast at the entrance to another
tunnel near the Gaza-Israel border, setting
off Israeli retaliation that killed four Palestinians.
Palestinian mortar and rocket barrages have hit Jewish settlements
in Gaza daily, and militants have resumed firing homemade Qassam
rockets at Israeli towns just outside Gaza. Israeli forces returned
fire, wounding several Palestinians.
In another development, imprisoned Palestinian uprising leader
Marwan Barghouti declared in a letter yesterday that he would
throw his support to mainstream candidate Mahmoud Abbas in a January
9 election to replace Arafat, dropping out of the race.
Israeli army spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal said two explosions
rocked the border terminal while it was open.
"This was a very large, well coordinated, planned attack against
an international crossing, used by Palestinian civilians to cross
Dallal said the crossing would be closed until further notice.
Palestinians said one gunman was killed in the exchange of fire,
and a civilian was also killed, they said.
A Palestinian militant giving his name only as Abu Majad said
gunmen attacked the Israeli position after the blast. He claimed
responsibility in the name of the Fatah Hawks, an offshoot of
the mainstream Fatah Party, and the violent Islamic Hamas.
A Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 1.5
tons of explosives were set off in the blast. Masked Hamas gunmen
later told of the kidnap attempt and said a second, smaller bomb
was detonated after the first one.
Abu Majad said the explosives-filled tunnel was 800 metres long.
He said the attack was retaliation for
what he called "the assassination" of Arafat, who died in a French
hospital. Some Palestinians claim he was poisoned by Israel.
Raanan Gissin, a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon, said the attack could jeopardise efforts to normalise
Israeli-Palestinian relations and restart peace moves after Arafat's
"Unless there is decisive and sustained effort taken to dismantle
the terrorist organisations, it will be impossible to move toward
normalisation and toward political negotiations," he said, demanding
action by the Palestinian Authority.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - The Israeli
army fired three tank shells at the Khan Younis refugee camp in
the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, wounding
seven schoolchildren, Palestinian officials said.
The army denied firing tank shells, saying
it used only light weapons to target Palestinians it said
had fire a mortar shell at an Israeli target.
Associated Press Television News footage showed a large hole
in the roof of a building behind the school that appeared to house
Palestinian officials said the shell wounded seven children,
two of whom were treated at the scene. The others, aged eight
to 12, suffered shrapnel wounds and were taken to hospital, Palestinian
medical officials said.
"There is nothing to justify this random
shelling," Khan Younis Gov. Hosni Zourab said.
The attack came after Palestinians fired a mortar shell at an
Israeli target in the southern Gaza Strip, causing no damage or
injuries, the Israeli army said. Jewish settlers said militants
had fired two other projectiles at a settlement near Khan Younis
Israel often retaliates against such attacks.
On Friday, Israeli troops killed a seven-year-old Palestinian
girl in southern Gaza as they fired on insurgents who had launched
mortar shells against a nearby Jewish settlement.
Palestinian fighters also fired three mortar shells and a homemade
rocket toward Jewish settlements in the northern Gaza Strip on
Sunday, damaging a building, but causing
no injuries, the army said.
Most of the projectiles fell in open areas in the northern coastal
strip just inside Israel, the army said.
One of the shells badly damaged a building in the Jewish settlement
of Nissanit, settlers said. Palestinians in the area reported
hearing a large explosion from the area of the settlement.
(Australia) - Federal and state police now
have the power to use computer spyware to gather evidence in a
broad range of investigations after legal changes last week.
The Surveillance Devices Act allows police to obtain a warrant
to use software surveillance technologies, including
systems that track and log keystrokes on a computer keyboard.
The law applies to the Australian Federal Police and to
state police investigating Commonwealth offences.
Critics have called the law rushed and imbalanced, saying
police will be able to secretly install software to monitor email,
online chats, word processor and spreadsheets entries and even
bank personal identification numbers and passwords.
Irene Graham, executive director of watchdog Electronic Frontiers
Australia, said the law went too far in allowing police surveillance.
"The legislation has been passed without the proper scrutiny
and the ALP is too afraid to stick to their guns and oppose it,"
she said. [...]
In addition to redefining the kinds of surveillance devices
that can be used, the Surveillance Devices Act allows surveillance
for offences far less serious than those allowed under the Telecommunications
Interception Act. Warrants to intercept telecommunications can
only be obtained to investigate offences carrying a maximum jail
term of seven years or more. However, Surveillance Devices Act
warrants can be obtained for offences carrying a maximum sentence
of three years.
Ms Graham said the three-year benchmark was too low and the
act went too far in setting out circumstances in which police
could use surveillance devices.
A warrant could be obtained under the act if an officer had
reasonable grounds to suspect an offence had been or might be
committed and a surveillance device was necessary to obtain evidence.
They can also be obtained in child recovery cases.
The act also has secrecy provisions making
it an offence to publish information on an application for, or
the existence of, a surveillance warrant.
The Government said the act would consolidate and modernise
the law. Mr Ruddock said the power of Commonwealth law enforcement
using surveillance devices lagged behind what technology made
possible and what was permitted in other jurisdictions.
However, Electronic Frontiers is concerned
that key-logging software can even record words written and then
deleted or changed and thoughts that are not intended for communication.
Manila, Philippines — A powerful explosion
ripped through an outdoor market packed with Christmas shoppers
in the southern Philippines on Sunday,
killing at least 15 people and injuring 58 others, the
A homemade bomb or a grenade concealed in a box went off in
the market's meat section in General Santos city. Officials immediately
stepped up security, fearing more attacks in the port city 620
miles south of Manila.
"This is a terrorist attack by any measure," Sen. Richard Gordon,
who heads the Philippine Red Cross, told ABS-CBN television. He
criticized the military and police for failing to prevent the
attack despite what he said was intelligence information of an
imminent terror strike in the city.
"I'm getting reports from some of our people
there that they knew there was a plan to pull this off but still
it happened," Sen. Gordon said. "They need to bolster their spying
and their surveillance of places that should be under guard."
Army Col. Medardo Geslani, who heads a regional anti-terrorism
force, said no group claimed responsibility and it was not yet
clear if terrorist groups were involved. "It was most possibly
caused by an improvised explosive device," Col. Geslani said.
Islamic and communist rebels operate in provinces near General
Santos, and despite a crackdown by the military and police, Muslim
militants are believed to still have a presence in the predominantly
Christian city of 500,000.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo strongly condemned the attack,
saying there was no way to justify "this heinous deed."
Police investigator Capt. Maximo Sebastian said three people
were instantly killed by Sunday afternoon's bomb blast and other
victims died in hospitals.
"The market was packed with people because there were Christmas
flea market stalls there, and the explosion was powerful," Capt.
Sebastian told The Associated Press by telephone. [...]
MADRID (Reuters) - Some 70,000 people were
forced to evacuate Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium minutes
before the end of a league match on Sunday after a bomb threat
in the name of ETA Basque separatist guerrillas.
The decision to abandon the game against Real Sociedad three
minutes from time and evacuate the crowd was taken after Basque
newspaper Gara said it received a warning from a caller claiming
to represent ETA that there was a bomb in the ground.
The caller said the bomb would explode at 9 p.m. (3 p.m. EST)
but the warning proved false. Police with sniffer dogs searched
the stadium and found no bomb.
"The police have said they have completed their search and have
not found anything," Real Madrid president Florentino Perez told
reporters. "The best thing we can all do now is to put this nightmare
Real Madrid's star-studded team, including Brazil's Ronaldo
and England's David Beckham, suddenly trooped off the pitch with
the score tied at 1-1 against Real Sociedad, a team from San Sebastian
in the Basque country.
An announcement over the public address system told the crowd
Spectators left the stadium in an orderly way, clearing the
ground in less than 15 minutes. Hundreds streamed across the pitch
on their way to the exits.
Outside, a few people could be seen in tears due to nerves but
emergency officials said no one had been treated for any injury.
The police ordered the evacuation because their priority was to
ensure the safety of everyone in the ground, the Interior Ministry
said in a statement. [...]
PARIS—Ottawa will be home to an international
bioterrorism crisis centre set up in response to the threat of
germ warfare attacks.
The crisis centre could also help manage natural disasters like
the Asia bird flu outbreak, health ministers of the G-7 said after
a meeting Friday.
The centre will be based at the G-7 health ministers' secretariat
in Ottawa and will act as a clearinghouse for the pooling and
sharing of information, intelligence and the research being carried
out at government labs.
A spokesperson for federal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh yesterday
said officials would have more to say about the announcement tomorrow.
The move comes amidst concerns since the Sept. 11 terror attacks
that militants such as Al Qaeda might use biological weapons in
any future strike.
"Despite our efforts, we have to admit that
`they' can still hit us at any moment," U.S. Health Secretary
Tommy Thompson told Le Figaro daily in an interview published
The U.S. has earmarked the equivalent of 80 million doses of
smallpox vaccine for a 200 million-dose vaccine bank, run by the
World Health Organization, to which Canada has also made pledges.
British Health Secretary John Reid said the vaccine stock created
by the group, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany,
Italy, Japan, and the United States, plus the European Union and
Mexico, would be made available to any country in need.
Heavy oil washed ashore in an Alaska wildlife
refuge yesterday as huge waves, unrelenting winds and bone-chilling
temperatures stymied efforts to keep a smashed-up freighter from
spilling more fuel into the Bering Sea.
Last night, the search was suspended for the six missing crew
members from the freighter, Coast Guard officials said.
The 738-foot freighter, the Selendang Ayu, had been headed to
China carrying soybeans when its engines failed early Tuesday
morning, leaving the vessel adrift. A Coast Guard helicopter plucked
the six crew members off the foundering ship Wednesday, but it
then crashed amid high seas and heavy winds.
The crew of the helicopter was rescued, but the six men from
the ship were not found.
"We feel that if any of the men were on the surface, we would
have found them by now," said Jim Lawrence, spokesman for IMC,
the Singapore-based shipping company that owns the vessel.
Now cleaved in two and resting partly submerged just off Unalaska
Island, about 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, the Selendang
Ayu is oozing thick, sticky bunker oil that will be difficult
to clean up and could harm endangered sea lions as well as sea
otters, diving sea ducks, loons and salmon in the area.
Officials said there was also concern that birds would eat oil-coated
soybeans, now floating in the water near the ship.
The spill in the Aleutian Islands is potentially the worst in
Alaska since the Exxon Valdez spilled nearly 11 million gallons
of oil in 1989. [...]
Strong winds and choppy seas hampered efforts
of a Chinese government team trying to clean up a massive oil
spill that officials have declared the worst-ever in Chinese waters.
On Tuesday, a German-registered container ship, the MSC Ilona,
collided with the Panama-registered Hyundai Advance near the mouth
of the Pearl River.
The collision punctured the Ilona's hull, sending about 524,000
litres (138,000 gallons) of crude oil streaming into the South
The spill - 16 kilometres (10 miles) long and 200 metres (660
feet) wide - was the worst ever in Chinese waters, the official
China Daily newspaper reported, citing an official from the Guangdong
Provincial Marine Bureau.
Anti-pollution boats worked on Friday for their fourth day in
a row to clean up the spill, but were fighting strong winds and
high waves, the report said.
The clean-up effort was expected to last several more days,
The report said both the MSC Ilona and the Hyundai Advance had
been towed from the collision site for maintenance.
The 75,500-ton (tonne) MSC Ilona was on its way to the southern
Chinese city of Shenzhen from Shanghai when the accident occurred
about 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the mouth of the Pearl River,
The 21,000-ton (tonne) Hyundai Advance was departing Shenzhen
It was not clear what cargo the two ships were carrying or what
caused the accident. No injuries were reported.
Chinese authorities intercepted the Hyundai Advance on Friday
about two hours after the vessel left the site of the collision
without authorisation, said officials cited by the official Xinhua
PHILADELPHIA -- A 10-year-old girl was placed
in handcuffs and taken to a Philadelphia police station because
she took a pair of scissors to her elementary school. School district
officials said the Grade 4 student did not threaten anyone with
the 20-cm shears but violated a rule that considers scissors to
be potential weapons.
Administrators said they were following Pennsylvania state law
when they called police Thursday and police said they were following
department rules when they handcuffed Porsche Brown and took her
away in a patrol wagon.
"My daughter cried and cried," said her mother, Rose Jackson.
"She had no idea what she did was wrong. I think that was way
Police officers decided the girl hadn't committed a crime and
let her go. However, school officials suspended her for five days.
The scissors were discovered while students' belongings were
being searched for property missing from a teacher's desk.
School district officials have promised a crackdown on unruly
students this year. Administrators said the steps are needed to
regain control over a notoriously unruly school system but some
parents have complained discipline has been overly harsh.
EDMONTON (CP) - An underground explosion
at a gas well on the western edge of Edmonton forced hundreds
of people from their homes Sunday morning.
Police said no one was hurt in the blast, but that the people
were being moved because of fears the well could release poisonous
sour gas. The people forced from their homes are mostly residents
of the Enoch Cree Nation.
"They figure there's about 600 people that have been evacuated
to local hotels," said Const. Stewart Angus of the Stony Plain
"There's no flames, but it's still leaking." [...]
A magnitude-3.8 earthquake centered at Big
Bear Lake was felt in Palm Springs and other parts of the Coachella
Valley Saturday at about 9:05 p.m.
Buildings and residences shook most intensely in northern and
western Palm Springs and in parts of San Bernardino County west
of Big Bear Lake, according to a Community Internet Intensity
Map produced by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Nonetheless, area law enforcement -- in Indio, Palm Springs
and Cathedral City reported receiving no calls for damage. And,
in some areas of the Coachella Valley, like Indio and parts of
La Quinta, no shaking was felt.
The USGE measured the shaking level as "Light" even in areas
that felt the most shaking. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed
that a magnitude 3.8 quake hit coordinates 7.4 miles south/southwest
of Big Bear Lake at 9:05:52. Big Bear Lake is about 81 miles northwest
of Palm Springs.
The USGS also recorded a small earthquake Saturday in Baja.
The Saturday night quake is characterized as minor, at magnitude-3.8.
By comparison, the 1994 Northridge earthquake that caused extensive
damage was magnitude 6.7. [...]
A volcano in Indonesia's northernmost province
of North Sulawesi on Sunday belched smoke and heatclouds and covered
a town and several villages with ash.
Mount Soputan began rumbling close to midnight local time on
Saturday, with increasing frequency of tremors, and finally belched
heatclouds and ash at around 5:00am local time, said Yudi Juhara
from the nearby vulcanology office in Tomohon.
He says the heatclouds, with temperatures reaching as high as
600 degrees Celsius, did not fall far from the crater and that
there were no human settlements on the slope of the vulcano threatened.
The violent electrical storms that break as
a volcano erupts mystify scientists. David Adam reports on a new
explanation for the explosive phenomena - and the surprising amount
of water in magma
It must be the greatest light show on Earth. The most vivid demonstration
of power, beauty and mystery the natural world has to offer. And
it must be terrifying to witness at close quarters. In fact, the
greatest mystery about the phenomenon of volcanic lightning is how,
with every instinct urging them to run like the clappers in the
opposite direction, anybody hangs around long enough to see it.
There are now more than 150 recorded cases of vicious electrical
storms breaking out directly above craters of erupting volcanos,
dating back several centuries. The 1980 eruption
of Mount St Helens in Washington state, one of the most studied
eruptions in recent times, produced a lightning bolt every second.
The electrical activity does not pose the same hazard as a volcano's
boiling lava, choking dust clouds and drowning mud slides - though
there are reports of people and animals being struck as they fled
- but it sets a spectacular seal on mother nature's most awesome
display of destruction.
Awesome, but not really understood. Exactly
what causes volcanic lightning is still hidden in the clouds spewed
from the crater. Most volcanologists seem happy with the vague notion
that ash particles thrown into the air rub against each other and
generate enough static charge to trigger sparks. It's the
boiling lava, choking dust clouds and drowning mud slides that really
concern them - particularly if they are close to the action.
There is more to the lightning than shock and awe. A better understanding
of processes that cause it deep within eruption debris could help
predict how the giant clouds will behave. Airlines have long feared
the way volcanos can suddenly fill the sky with hazardous vertical
smoke columns several miles high that rise at speeds up to 400 metres
Now, an intriguing new idea that could explain volcanic lightning
has emerged. Earle Williams of MIT and Stephen McNutt at the University
of Alaska, say it might simply be caused by a build up of ice. Because
thunder and lightning in conventional storms are down to ice and
water, the two claim that large volcanic eruptions are nothing more
than dirty thunderstorms. [...]
KUALA LUMPUR: More than 4,500 people have
been evacuated and at least four people drowned in the worst floods
in 40 years on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia, reports and
police said Sunday.
A number of roads in the eastern states of Terengganu, Kelantan
and Pahang have been closed after being submerged following continuous
heavy rainfall during the monsoon season while rail services were
partly disrupted by landslides, police said.
Three people - a 37-year-old man, a three-year-old boy and another
aged six - drowned in floods Saturday.
Terengganu police chief Hussin Ismail said the body of a 16-year-old
boy was found early Sunday.
Hussin said rescuers were still searching for a 30-year-old
woman trapped inside a car that was swept away by a river.
Some 4,346 people have been evacuated in the state as floods
spread to six districts, he said.
Hundreds more people were evacuated in the other two states
Sunday, after water levels in 11 rivers in Kelantan breached the
danger level, officials said.
Most government buildings, including the police headquarters
and federal administrative centre, as well as shops in Kelantan
had to close as the state capital Kota Baharu remained under one
to two metres (three to six feet) of water, reports said.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mustapa Mohamed
was quoted by Bernama news agency as saying some areas of Kelantan
were experiencing the worst floods in 40 years.
He said part of the east-west highway may have to be closed
to traffic if the rain persisted, but pledged the government would
ensure adequate food and other supplies for flood victims moved
to make-shift centres in government schools.
PEKANBARU, Riau (Indonesia): While waters
are down in the Rokan Hilir, Siak and Indragiri Hulu regions,
new floods hit the Palalawang area on Saturday, officials say.
No injuries have yet been reported and the fate of many residents
was not known on Saturday night.
The Riau Social Welfare Office said the floods began on Friday,
submerging hundreds of homes, schools and other public buildings
in 10 villages in the area.
Floodwaters reached up to 1.5 meters high in several parts of
Palalawang, forcing some schools to close.
The flood also damaged roads and swept away bridges, including
one that linked Ukui village to neighboring areas.
BEIJING -- A flood at a mine in southern
China trapped 36 workers on Sunday, the government said, the latest
in a recent string of disasters in the country's perilous coal
The accident occurred around 12:30 p.m. (11:30 p.m. EST), when
80 miners were working in the Tianchi Colliery in Sinan, a county
in Guizhou province, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Rescuers saved 44 workers and another 36 were missing, it said.
The cause of the flood was under investigation.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, accounting for
80 percent of all coal mining-related deaths worldwide last year,
according to the government.
More than 4,500 Chinese miners were reported killed this year
in fires, floods and other disasters.
Last month, a blast in a central China mine killed 166 miners
- the nation's deadliest mining accident in years.
On Friday, a gas explosion at a coal mine in northern China
killed 33 people.
HAKHANSUR, Afghanistan - The Afghan farmers,
coated in dust, some of them barefoot, wielded their hoes, not
in the fields they are accustomed to, which lay barren, but at
the bottom of a dried canal.
"For the last seven years there is no work, no water," said
one old man, Muhammad Azam, after scrambling up a steep bank of
crumbly soil to tell his lament. "I am 70 years old. I did not
eat at all this morning. We would die if it weren't for this work."
The work is a canal-clearing project run by the United Nations
World Food Program, and the farmers employed are among 6.4 million
Afghan people who the agency estimates do not have enough to eat
Afghanistan remains in the grip of the
most debilitating drought in living memory, now in its seventh
year. Government and foreign aid officials warn that despite
the outside help and a good harvest last year, the country is
living on the brink, with nearly 40 percent of the population
below subsistence levels.
The World Food Program, which had hoped to reduce assistance,
put out an appeal to donor countries in September to help Afghanistan
through the winter until the harvest of 2005. The agency reports
that districts in 17 provinces are in urgent need of help and
that 37 percent of the population is unable to meet its basic
"You have a recurring drought in Afghanistan, particularly because
of deforestation and soil degradation," said Susana Rico, head
of Word Food Program in Afghanistan. "There is significant underlying
poverty, and a significant portion of the population that are
not able to feed themselves. Any shock will push more under the
The shock this year was simply the lack of rain. Crops failed,
farm laborers were left without work and food prices rose sharply,
by 50 percent in some places. Wells, rivers and canals have gone
dry. The World Food Program estimates that three quarters of a
million people in the country are in "severe distress" because
of an acute shortage of drinking water.
At least 4,000 families - 20,000 people - have abandoned their
homes in search of water and jobs, said the minister of rural
rehabilitation and development, Hanif Atmar. "These 4,000 families
are known, but the real figure may be higher," he said.
This province, Nimruz, in the far southwestern corner of Afghanistan,
bordering Iran and Pakistan, is probably the worst affected area.
The World Food Program estimates that 92 percent of the Nimruz's
population - 130,000 people - needs food aid or other assistance.
The great Helmand River, which descends from the Hindu Kush
and, along with other rivers, feeds the traditional wetlands of
the Sistan Basin, has run dry in Nimruz. A new bridge spanning
the Helmand at Zaranj, at the border with Iran - built by the
Iranian government and officially opened in November - crosses
a dry river bed.
"For the last four or five years we have not had a drop in the
river," said Hajji Qesim Khedri, the mayor of the provincial capital,
Zaranj, as he stood on the bridge. "We
used to use boats, now we drive our cars in it."
The province, once a cultural and rich agricultural center,
is fed by the rivers that descend from the snowfields in Afghanistan's
central highlands but the snow caps have shrunk to half their
size and the rivers no longer reach the river basin in Nimruz.
Annual rainfall, always low, was about 2 to 2.3 inches in Nimruz
before the drought, but for the past three years it has been a
little over a tenth of an inch, said Muhammad Akbar Sharifi, head
of the government's Agriculture Department in Zaranj.
Nearly all the wells in the province are salty. The desert is
advancing and huge sand dunes have smothered up to 100 villages,
many fields and orchards, and even parts of Zaranj. More than
90 percent of the animals have died or been slaughtered, Mr. Sharifi
said. "People are emigrating, the district bazaars are empty,"
The 100 men, old and young, cleaning and deepening the canal
at a section in Chakhansur, about 25 miles east of Zaranj, said
they had not harvested their fields for seven years, and most
families are surviving on bread. For the past two months, 500
men have been employed to clean the canal. Each family gets to
work one eight-day stint a month and is paid with a bag of wheat
weighing about 110 pounds, which can last a small family one month.
"This is not enough for us," a farmer named Malang, 46, said.
"The population is large and everyone is trying to get this job."
Another man, Lashkaran, 60, a father of 10, said: "We don't
have pomegranates or vegetables, or water. We used to grow wheat,
melons, vegetables. Without food, we will have to think of moving."
The district center still has sweet water in its wells, but
in the outlying villages, well water has turned brackish. Lashkaran
said a cow he owned had gone blind from drinking the well water.
A completely blind British man
has been shown to possess an apparent sixth sense which lets him
recognise emotions on people's faces, British scientists said.
The 52-year-old was able to react to pictures of human faces showing
emotions such as anger, happiness or fear, the researchers said
The man, identified only as Patient X, has suffered two strokes
which damaged the brain areas that process visual signals, leaving
However, his eyes and optic nerves are intact, and brain scans
showed that he appeared to somehow use a part of the brain not usually
used for sight to process visual signals linked to some emotions.
When researchers from the University of Wales showed the man images
of shapes such as circles and squares, he could only guess what
they were, and had a similar lack of success determining the gender
of emotionless male and female faces.
But when presented with angry or happy human faces, his accuracy
improved to 59%, significantly better than what would be expected
by random chance, with similar results for distinguishing between
sad and happy or fearful and happy faces.
He was unable, however, to tell apart images of animals which
appeared either threatening or non-threatening.
Brain scans showed that when the man looked at faces expressing
emotion, it activated a part of his brain called the right amygdala,
which is known to respond to non-verbal emotional signs.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggested
the man was able to process information gathered by his eyes in
a different part of the brain from the visual centre.
"This discovery is interesting for behavioural scientists
as the right amygdala has been associated with subliminal processing
of emotional stimuli in clinically healthy individuals," said
Dr Alan Pegna, who led the study.
"What Patient X has assisted us in establishing is that this
area undoubtedly processes visual facial signals connected with
all types of emotional facial expressions."
Beijing - An unidentified flying object, or
UFO, passed across the large north-western Chinese city of Lanzhou
and apparently exploded in the suburbs, state media said on Monday.
The unusual sighting of two bright trails of light, reported by
several witnesses, took place on Saturday shortly before midnight,
the China Times reported.
Police, working on the theory that it was a meteorite, went to
investigate the matter, but as of early Monday they had found no
evidence of what caused the nightly phenomenon, an officer said
A taxi driver told the paper he was in his car when everything
suddenly became "as bright as day."
When he pulled over, he saw a fireball with a tail of about three
metres darting across the sky, he said.
One witness who was on the late shift at his company reported the
courtyard outside his office was suddenly bathed in a ghostly red
light as the object passed overhead, the paper said.
Others said they heard a huge explosion and felt as if an earthquake
China has been hit by several waves of UFO sighting in recent years,
and the country has a research association devoted to the study
of possible extraterrestrial visits.
vicars have banded together to protest against a Christmas grotto
in which Santa lies beheaded, his elves have been impaled and
visitors are greeted by the devil.
The York Dungeon has done away with Father Christmas and installed
the devil in his place.
Operators of the tourist attraction in the northern English
city thought they were just having a bit of fun when they created
their macabre version of a Christmas grotto.
But it is all to much for local religious leaders.
Thirty have signed a letter outlining their fears, saying far
from being harmless fun it was all about darkness and evil which
could draw some people in.
The dungeon operators say it is a lighthearted dig at the commercialisation
It is not known if small children will be invited to sit on
the devil's lap or pull his beard.
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