Wednesday, December 29, 2004

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Picture of the Day


St Orrens
©2004 Pierre-Paul Feyte

Observation
Donald J. Hunt
Signs Economic Observer

I heard an NPR reporter on the radio this morning back from having
been embedded with the US military in Iraq mention something that
puzzled him. It seems that there have been no abductions of foreigners in Iraq "in the last couple of months or so."

Let's see, what happened almost two months ago? The US election!

More evidence that these kidnappings and beheadings were false flag operations. Of course, Rumsfeld did admit that this week when he said that the same people were beheading hostages in Iraq and shooting down our planes in Pennsylvania.

Comment: Don sent us this post today. We thought it merited being passed on.

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Asteroid Earth impact in 2029 ruled out
Wednesday, December 29, 2004 Posted: 1412 GMT (2212 HKT)

PASADENA, California (AP) -- Additional observations have ruled out the chance that a recently discovered asteroid, believed to be about 1,300 feet long, could hit Earth in 2029, NASA scientists said.

Last week, asteroid 2004 MN4 had been given a small chance of impacting Earth, based on observations in June and again this month. Astronomers then began independent efforts to find earlier observations of the asteroid.

The Spacewatch Observatory near Tucson, Ariz., found faint pictures of the asteroid in archival images dating to March 15, the Near Earth Object Program Office, located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement on its Web site this week.

The pictures from March allowed scientists to refine the asteroid's projected trajectory, and "an Earth impact on 13 April 2029 can now be ruled out," the program office said.

Scientists also ruled out an impact with the moon.

Spacewatch is associated with the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Observatory.

Comment: Now, doesn't that feel better?

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BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OXNARD CA
1034 PM PST TUE DEC 28 2004

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN OXNARD HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
SOUTHWESTERN LOS ANGELES COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA
INCLUDING PALOS VERDES...SAN PERDO...ROLLING HILLS...
TORRANCE AND CARSON

* UNTIL 1130 PM PST

* AT 1026 PM PST...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO 22 MILES SOUTH
OF PALOS VERDES ESTATES...OR ABOUT 26 MILES SOUTHWEST OF LONG
BEACH...MOVING NORTH AT 45 MPH.

* THE TORNADO IS EXPECTED TO BE NEAR...
PALOS VERDES ESTATES BY 1055 PM PST
TORRANCE AND REDONDO BEACH BY 1100 PM PST
MANHATTAN BEACH AND 8 MILES WEST OF COMPTON BY 1105 PM PST
INGLEWOOD BY 1110 PM PST

Comment: Notice these words from the Gospel of Matthew:

13:5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you:
13:6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
13:7 And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.
13:8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows. [...]
13:12 Now the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son; and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death. [...]
13:19 For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. [...]
13:21 And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not:
13:22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
13:23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
13:25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. [...]
13:28 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near:
13:29 So ye in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors.
13:30 Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

And we have the following comments from the C's:

A: Disasters involve cycles in the human experiential cycle
which corresponds to the passage of comet cluster. [...] Human cycle mirrors cycle of catastrophe. Earth benefits in form of periodic cleansing. Time to start paying attention to the signs. They are escalating. They can even be "felt" by you and others, if you pay attention.
[...]
Q: (L) Well, the weather is completely bizarre. The fires,
the heat...
A: Yes.
Q: (L) I notice that the tides are awfully high all the time with no ostensible explanation...
A: And low, too.
Q: (L) Yes. I have noticed that particularly. (F) I have
too. Not too long ago I noticed that the tides were so
incredibly low for this time of year. (L) And also the
signs in people - these kids killing their parents, all
these people going berserk - you know...
A: Spike.
Q: (L) What do you mean spike?
A: On a graph... [...] We are glad you noticed this birth of the spike. [...] 27 days of record heat out of 30, oh my oh my! Suggest you awaken your internet pals, as they are too busy chasing "goblins" to notice. [...] where to next? How about a shattering subduction quake in Pacific Northwest of U.S.? We estimate 10.4 on the Richter scale. We have warned of Ranier. Imagine a 150 meter high tsunami in Puget Sound... [...]
Q: (L) Now, you have mentioned this earthquake. I know that you don't usually give predictions, why have you done so now?
A: We do not give time tables.
Q: (L) Anything else other than a tsunami in Puget Sound and a big subduction quake... 10.4 on the Richter scale is
almost inconceivable.
A: Ranier... caldera.
Q: (L) What about the caldera?
A: Expect one.
Q: (L) Other than floods, anything else for Florida upcoming?
A: All areas experience accelerating "freak weather
patterns." [...] Human experiential cycle intersects. [...] Approach of wave stimulates precursor activity which in
turn causes effects which in turn stimulates further
"heating up" of activity... "El Nino, La Nina," etc...

It is certainly much more reassuring to think that we can go about polluting our world, treating others as cattle or means to ends, living as if there were no tomorrow, and never have to face the consequences, than to ponder the possibility that all is connected, that every choice we make will be reflected in the higher order.

Of course, if you read this page regularly, you may be willing to consider the idea that we are in some sense calling down our own destruction -- not in the sense of living beyond our means in the way we generally consider it, but rather, that we as individuals are each transducing a certain type of energy, we are magnetising the earth to a certain polarity. And the polarity of the world today is definitely negative.

Perhaps we are setting up a feedback loop, and the energies that are conducted then call down more of the same, speeding up the process. It certainly feels as if events are moving more and more quickly, as if the recent US election was a new threshold.

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Ticking time bomb
By John Atcheson
Originally published December 15, 2004
WASHINGTON - The Arctic Council's recent report on the effects of global warming in the far north paints a grim picture: global floods, extinction of polar bears and other marine mammals, collapsed fisheries. But it ignored a ticking time bomb buried in the Arctic tundra.

There are enormous quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gasses trapped in ice-like structures in the cold northern muds and at the bottom of the seas. These ices, called clathrates, contain 3,000 times as much methane as is in the atmosphere. Methane is more than 20 times as strong a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

Now here's the scary part. A temperature increase of merely a few degrees would cause these gases to volatilize and "burp" into the atmosphere, which would further raise temperatures, which would release yet more methane, heating the Earth and seas further, and so on. There's 400 gigatons of methane locked in the frozen arctic tundra - enough to start this chain reaction - and the kind of warming the Arctic Council predicts is sufficient to melt the clathrates and release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Once triggered, this cycle could result in runaway global warming the likes of which even the most pessimistic doomsayers aren't talking about.

An apocalyptic fantasy concocted by hysterical environmentalists? Unfortunately, no. Strong geologic evidence suggests something similar has happened at least twice before.

The most recent of these catastrophes occurred about 55 million years ago in what geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when methane burps caused rapid warming and massive die-offs, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years.

The granddaddy of these catastrophes occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, when a series of methane burps came close to wiping out all life on Earth.

More than 94 percent of the marine species present in the fossil record disappeared suddenly as oxygen levels plummeted and life teetered on the verge of extinction. Over the ensuing 500,000 years, a few species struggled to gain a foothold in the hostile environment. It took 20 million to 30 million years for even rudimentary coral reefs to re-establish themselves and for forests to regrow. In some areas, it took more than 100 million years for ecosystems to reach their former healthy diversity.

Geologist Michael J. Benton lays out the scientific evidence for this epochal tragedy in a recent book, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time. As with the PETM, greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide from increased volcanic activity, warmed the earth and seas enough to release massive amounts of methane from these sensitive clathrates, setting off a runaway greenhouse effect.

The cause of all this havoc?

In both cases, a temperature increase of about 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit, about the upper range for the average global increase today's models predict can be expected from burning fossil fuels by 2100. But these models could be the tail wagging the dog since they don't add in the effect of burps from warming gas hydrates. Worse, as the Arctic Council found, the highest temperature increases from human greenhouse gas emissions will occur in the arctic regions - an area rich in these unstable clathrates.

If we trigger this runaway release of methane, there's no turning back. No do-overs. Once it starts, it's likely to play out all the way.

Humans appear to be capable of emitting carbon dioxide in quantities comparable to the volcanic activity that started these chain reactions. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, burning fossil fuels releases more than 150 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by volcanoes - the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes the size of Hawaii's Kilauea.

And that is the time bomb the Arctic Council ignored.

How likely is it that humans will cause methane burps by burning fossil fuels? No one knows. But it is somewhere between possible and likely at this point, and it becomes more likely with each passing year that we fail to act.

So forget rising sea levels, melting ice caps, more intense storms, more floods, destruction of habitats and the extinction of polar bears. Forget warnings that global warming might turn some of the world's major agricultural areas into deserts and increase the range of tropical diseases, even though this is the stuff we're pretty sure will happen.

Instead, let's just get with the Bush administration's policy of pre-emption. We can't afford to have the first sign of a failed energy policy be the mass extinction of life on Earth. We have to act now.

John Atcheson, a geologist, has held a variety of policy positions in several federal government agencies.

Comment: In the mid-eighties, a book was published called The Mother of All Storms. A science fiction thriller, it describes the effects of such a methane burp -- on a vast scale. Hurricanes that don't die and that spawn baby hurricanes, that are so powerful they can jump the isthmus over Panama and move from the Pacific into the Gulf of Mexico, spawning more monster storms as they go. The scenario is reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow, without the snow and ice.

Are these more extreme scenarios possible? Who knows. But if we continue to transduce negative energy as we are at the moment -- and looking at the history of the 20th century, we see our immediate predecessors refined it into an art form --, we may well enter into a period unlike that in written history. The geological record tells us that the earth has been hit by massive catastrophes in the past, but modern science doesn't like discontinuity.

It upsets people.

We think, however, that there is good evidence to show such catastrophes are cyclic, and that much information about them is being hidden away from view. If we have been able to piece together this unwritten history, and we are a small group, we think that there are other groups, more powerful and who do not have our best interests at heart, who are also aware of the potential for radical and drastic change in the near future. Our best guess at the moment is that this is the real reason behind the crackdown on civil liberties and freedoms across the globe. The men behind the curtain are putting the pieces into place to try and "manage" the next crisis. While they are down in their bunkers, they are hoping we'll be left to fight it out on the surface.

But all that is just crazy talk, right? That is just more of this "conspiracy theory", right?

Then, on the other hand, you have those who think that our "space brothers" are going to come and save us all at the last minute.

And those who think that there is no difference between talk of "space brothers" coming to the rescue and talk of cyclical catastrophe.

We have been programmed through our schooling and socialisation to be unable to tell the difference between the truly outrageous and absurd, such as the "space brothers", and the admittedly extreme idea that life on Earth involves cycles, and that these cycles can be punctuated by quantum leaps as the former system becomes unstable and seeks a new equilibrium. Evidence for these former cycles, for the existence of ancient civilisations from ten thousand years ago or more, are put into boxes behind locked doors and then ridiculed. We can't have people thinking that there were older civilisations that spanned the planet that were then wiped from the face of the globe, so we are taught that society started in Mesopotamia five thousand years ago.

But if modern society started then, and there was another that was wiped out around 10,000 BC, that suggests that it took five thousand years to recover from the last great catastrophe. Will it take another 5,000 to start the ball rolling again?

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Eastern Nepal jolted by a mild quake, no reports of casualties: radio

28 December 2004 2057 hrs
- AFP

KATHMANDU: A mild earthquake measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale shook eastern Nepal in the predawn hours Tuesday, state-run radio said.

"The earthquake measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale shook the Nagpa area in Dolakha district (east of Kathmandu)" Tuesday morning, the radio said.

The earthquake, which prompted residents to flee their homes for safety, occurred two days after a massive quake off Indonesia led to deadly tidal waves and devastation across Asia.

"So far, no reports of casualties have been received from the quake-affected areas in Dolakha district," the radio said, quoting the National Earthquake Centre.

The Nepal earthquake came after another temblor measuring 4.3 on the Richter scale shook the kingdom's far western Bajura district Sunday.

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4.9 degrees Richter earth tremors in Venezuela's western Zulia State
Monday, December 27, 2004
Bylined to: David Coleman

The Maracaibo daily newspaper Panorama is reporting a 4.9 degrees (Richter scale) earth tremor in western Zulia's Machiques, Maracaibo, San Francisco, La Concepcion, Cabimas, Lagunillas with its epicenter in the Rosario de Perija municipality,some 29 kilometers from La Villa del Rosario at 5:08 a.m. on Christmas Day.

Reports from the scene say the tremors were the worst of three seismic events in Zulia so far this year; previous 'shakes' have been in the  region of 2.5 on the Richter scale. [...]

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Aftershocks hit Indian death islands
irishexaminer

A string of Indian islands were rattled by aftershocks today while emergency aid was rushed to survivors of the tsunami waves that killed at least 4,300 people along the nation’s south-eastern coast.

In addition to the confirmed dead, another 3,000 people are feared to have been killed by Sunday’s killer waves on the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which were shaken by seven aftershocks of 4.4 to 5.5 magnitude overnight. [...]

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Experts: Tsunami Kills Few Animals
By GEMUNU AMARASINGHE, Associated Press Writer
Wed Dec 29, 6:18 AM ET

YALA NATIONAL PARK, Sri Lanka - Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka expressed surprise Wednesday that they found no evidence of large-scale animal deaths from the weekend's massive tsunami — indicating that animals may have sensed the wave coming and fled to higher ground.

An Associated Press photographer who flew over Sri Lanka's Yala National Park in an air force helicopter saw abundant wildlife, including elephants, buffalo, deer, and not a single animal corpse.

Floodwaters from the tsunami swept into the park, uprooting trees and toppling cars onto their roofs — one red car even ended up on top of a huge tree — but the animals apparently were not harmed and may have sought out high ground, said Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, whose Jetwing Eco Holidays ran a hotel in the park.

"This is very interesting. I am finding bodies of humans, but I have yet to see a dead animal," said Wijeyeratne, whose hotel in the park was totally destroyed in Sunday's tidal surge.

"Maybe what we think is true, that animals have a sixth sense," Wijeyeratne said.

Yala, Sri Lanka's largest wildlife reserve, is home to 200 Asian Elephants, crocodile, wild boar, water buffalo and gray langur monkeys. The park also has Asia's highest concentration of leopards. The Yala reserve covers an area of 391 square miles, but only 56 square miles are open to tourists.

The human death toll in Sri Lanka surpassed 21,000. Forty foreigners were among 200 people in Yala who were killed.

Comment: No dead animals, eh? And yet humankind, with all its marvelous technology, apparently couldn't communicate the impending danger of tidal waves to the appropriate communities...

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Tsunami warning halted ‘for tourist industry’
Expressen
12/28/04

This from the Swedish paper Expressen:

Just minutes after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning, Thailand’s foremost meteorological experts were sitting together in a crisis meeting. But they decided not to warn about the tsunami “out of courtesy to the tourist industry,” writes the Thailand daily newspaper The Nation.

The experts got the news around 8:00 am on Sunday morning local time. An hour later, the first massive wave struck. But the experts started to discuss the economic impacts when they discussed if a tsunami warning should be issued.

The primary argument against such a warning was that there had not been any floods in 300 years. Also, the experts believed the Indonesian island Sumatra would be a “cushion” for the southern coast of Thailand. The experts also had bad information; they thought the tremor was 8.1. A similar earthquake occurred in the same area in 2002 with no flooding at all.

One expert The Nation spoke with also noted that the department had only four earthquake experts among their
900-strong meteorological department. A second told The Nation that a tsunami warning was discussed but that because of the risk, they opted not to issue a warning.

“We finally decided not to do anything because the tourist season was in full swing,” the source said. “The hotels were 100 percent booked. What if we issued a warning, which would have led to an evacuation, and nothing had happened. What would be the outcome? The tourist industry would be immediately hurt. Our department would not be able to endure a lawsuit.

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Death toll reaches 100,000
By Andrew Gilligan In Colombo And Valentine Low In London, Evening Standard
29 December 2004

The death toll in the tsunami disaster soared past 100,000 today - and is set to climb higher.

A total of 50 Britons are now confirmed dead and at least 100 are unaccounted for after tidal waves swept away resorts in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and around the Indian Ocean.

Officials in every country today warned the final number of dead will be even higher as rescue teams reach remote areas.

The UN said there were now strong grounds to believe that the toll in the Sumatran province of Aceh, the worst affected area, would be as high as 80,000. The number dead has now climbed in every country affected, including:

• Thailand: 1,700 confirmed dead, including 43 British tourists.

• Indonesia: more than 42,000 confirmed dead.

• India: nearly 7,000 dead, and many coastal areas including parts of Kerala still to be searched.

• Sri Lanka: 22,500 are confirmed dead and there are fears for hundreds of independent British travellers on the east coast.

Aid agencies today warned disease will also cause massive casualties among the survivors as the biggest relief effort in history began. [...]

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Germany Calls Suspension of Indonesia Debt
AP
Wednesday December 29, 2004 2:01 PM

BERLIN (AP) - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called on creditor nations Wednesday to suspend debt repayments from Indonesia and Somalia to help in their recovery from the quake-tsunami disaster.

Germany will propose the measure at a meeting of the Paris Club of creditor countries in January, Schroeder told reporters. Indonesia and Somalia are the only two nations with debt repayment agreements with the Paris Club out of the dozen nations ravaged by this week's catastrophe.

With the death toll in southeast Asian and East African coastal areas soaring in the tens of thousands, Schroeder said relief and reconstruction would require a massive international effort. "This is a disaster of truly worldwide dimensions,'' he said.

The Paris Club groups 19 creditor nations, including the United States, Japan, Russia and several European countries.

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U.S. Adds $20 Million to Earthquake Relief
By BARRY SCHWEID, AP Diplomatic Writer
Tue Dec 28, 6:12 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agency for International Development is adding $20 million to an initial $15 million contribution for Asian earthquake relief as Secretary of State Colin Powell bristled at a United Nations official's suggestion the United States has been "stingy."

Confirming the new assistance, Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli also disclosed Tuesday that a large number of missing Americans had been found and were safe. But Ereli said hundreds of others remained unaccounted for and that seven had perished in Sri Lanka and five in Thailand.

Describing the $20 million as a "line of credit," Ereli said the money will be made available to countries devastated by the most powerful earthquake in 40 years. This new total of $35 million is bound to be increased, he said.

"We know the needs will grow," Ereli said.

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, the Navy said the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which had been in port at Hong Kong, had been ordered to sail for the stricken area to provide assistance. A five-ship fleet headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard will skip a port call in Guam to sail for the region.

Supplies of plastic sheltering, food and water bags are on their way to Indonesia from Dubai in the Persian Gulf.

Powell, irritated by the U.N. official's criticism, toured morning television talk shows to say the Bush administration will follow up its contributions with additional large sums. [...]

Initially, the U.S. government pledged $15 million and dispatched disaster specialists to help the Asian nations devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunamis that claimed tens of thousands of lives, including at least 12 Americans. Seven perished in Sri Lanka and five in Thailand.

Powell chafed at statements that Egeland made at a Monday news conference, at which the humanitarian aid chief exhorted "rich" nations to do more.

"We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries," Egeland said. "And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really ... even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become."

Appearing Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Powell said: "We will do more. I wish that comment hadn't been made."

"We'll make an assessment as the days go by, to see what more is needed of us," he said. "It will take us awhile to make a careful assessment of what is needed ... to see what the specific needs are and then we will respond to those needs."

Egeland said on Tuesday, however, that his remarks had been misinterpreted.

"It has nothing to do with any particular country or any particular disaster," he told reporters.

In an interview on NBC's "Today," Powell said Tuesday: "Clearly, the United States will be a major contributor to this international effort. And, yes, it will run into the billions of dollars." [...]

Comment: Egeland's comment is not the only thing that happened yesterday. Japan pledged $30 million to the relief efforts, and sent three ships to the region. Note that the extra $20 million from the US is not being given away; it is characterized as a line of credit. In other words, the US is not being generous at all. Then again, that may not be a bad deal for the countries receiving the loans, since the dollar seems to be on the verge of crashing.

In any case, what does it say when numerous countries come forward to provide funds, aid, and manpower to nations struck by a huge natural disaster, yet none of those same nations will do anything about the invasions and subsequent death and suffering in Iraq, for example? Death toll estimates at the time of publication are around 100,000. How many hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died in the man-made disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Latin American countries who saw their elected governments overthrown by elements of the US government? Some estimates of the deaths that have occurred in Iraq easily surpass 100,000 people.

It is clear to the vast majority of governments and people outside the US that the US illegally invaded Iraq, is illegally occupying Iraq right now, and continues to illegally torture innocent Iraqis. One might even say that George W. Bush - and most certainly Bush Sr. - have each unleashed their own massive earthquakes upon humanity. So, where are the funds to save the Iraqi people right now? Why aren't ships sailing to the Middle East to intervene?

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Storm Pounds California, with More Chaos on the Way
Wed 29 Dec 2004

A powerful storm pounded California for a second day, flooding freeways and desert roads, tossing boats ashore and triggering a rockslide that blocked the central coast highway.

Two deaths were linked to the storm that roared down from the Gulf of Alaska and into the nation’s most populous state on Monday.

One victim was apparently killed as he tried to surf big waves at Montara State Beach south of San Francisco. A lorry driver died in a crash on an interstate north of Los Angeles.

Downtown Los Angeles got a record 3.98 inches of rain by last night, topping the 2.09 inches set on December 28, 1931.

More heavy weather was on its way, according to forecasters. A potentially stronger system was due to enter northern California tonight, bringing heavy snow and high winds to the Sierra Nevada and eastern parts of the state through Friday.

Flash-flood warnings were posted in south-eastern California for parts of San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. Authorities reported flooding along highways near Joshua Tree National Park, and warned motorists to be alert crossing washes and driving near creeks.

Residents were ordered to evacuate about 50 homes in the San Bernardino County town of Devore, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. A flash flood on Christmas Day 2003 killed 16 people near there. [...]

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Snow, sleet, wintry mix falls along East Coast, snarling airports and highways
By MARK PRATT | Associated Press
December 27, 2004

BOSTON - A storm spread sleet, freezing rain and more than a foot of snow along the Eastern Seaboard, knocking out power to thousands in the Carolinas and New England, stranding hundreds of motorists along icy highways and causing airport delays.

At least two traffic deaths were blamed on the weather in North Carolina.

Fourteen inches of snow had fallen Monday in Virginia and 18 inches fell in eastern Massachusetts as the storm skimmed the coast on a northeasterly track. Up to 20 inches of snow was possible in southeastern Massachusetts, the National Weather Service said. Just over 8 inches fell on the eastern tip of New York's Long Island.

Boston's Logan International Airport was operating a single runway Monday morning, and substantial delays were expected, airport spokesman Phil Orlandella said. Rhode Island got up to 10 inches and T.F. Green Airport in Warwick had flight delays Monday after shutting down late Sunday night so crews could clear runways. [...]

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Mini Tornado Strikes
Tue 28 Dec 2004
1:24pm (UK)
By Laura May, PA News

Slates were ripped off roofs and a lamppost was uprooted when a mini tornado hit just a handful of streets, it emerged today.

Firefighters were called to repair wind damage to several houses in Haverfordwest, South Wales, late last night.

Properties in the Priory Estate area were damaged and in Geralds Way a lamppost was blown over in the high winds.

But neighbouring streets escaped the effects of the freak weather. [...]

“I’ve spoken to neighbours and it took all of 15 minutes. People in unaffected streets didn’t even hear anything.”

A spokesman for the Met Office said that it was possible for a tornado to rip through one street while neighbouring areas did not experience any wind at all.

He said: “They could be so localised they affect one or two streets. The ones that happen in the US are on a much larger scale than the ones which happen in the UK. But we do have a few reports of tornados in Wales and the South West of England each year.”

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NOAA Reports Record Number of Tornadoes in 2004
Dec. 27 /PRNewswire/
NORMAN, Okla., -- The total number of tornadoes reported in the United States reached a record high during the year 2004, surpassing the previous record by almost 300, according to officials at NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. The findings are based on a preliminary review of reports filed by NOAA's National Weather Service forecast offices, and compared to historical records dating back to 1950. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"One tropical storm and five hurricanes affecting areas from Florida to the mid-Atlantic states, as well as several outbreaks in four of the last ten days in May contributed to the year's total number of 1,717 tornado reports in the U.S" said Dan McCarthy, SPC's warning coordination meteorologist. This tops the previous record of 1,424 tornadoes in 1998, and the total of 1,368 in 2003.

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Heavy hurricane season kills thousands of baby sea turtles
Tue, Dec. 28, 2004
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Thousands of baby sea turtles were smothered by excess sand or drowned after a series of tropical storms hit the beaches of Cape Island this year, biologists say.

Despite efforts to protect the loggerhead turtles, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that just 62 percent of the eggs hatched at the undeveloped barrier island north of Charleston. In a normal year, about 80 percent of the island's eggs would hatch, the service said.

Cape Island, in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, is one of the most important sea turtle nesting sites in South Carolina. About one-third of the nests established in the state are built in the sand dunes of Cape Island.

The loggerhead is the only sea turtle to nest regularly on South Carolina beaches. The reptile, which can live 75 years and weigh 350 pounds, is listed by the federal government as a threatened species.

For more than two decades, loggerhead populations have declined as a result of pollution, overdevelopment of beaches and commercial fishing. [...]

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Vietnam hit by severe drought
28/12/2004 14:51

An ongoing drought in Vietnam has caused water shortage for nearly 300,000 hectares of crops and over 500,000 local residents nationwide, local newspaper Pioneer reported Tuesday.

Out of 262,700 hectares of crops affected by the drought, 142, 300 hectares, mainly rice, maize, sugarcane, cotton and coffee, have already been destroyed. Over 500,000 people now lack water for domestic use, while around 44,000 others suffer from hunger.

The drought is predicted to last in the coming weeks, causing total losses of more than 5 trillion Vietnamese dong (US$318.5 million).

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China faces water shortage of 40 billion cubic metres every year
28 December 2004 1531 hrs
BEIJING: China faces water shortage of 40 billion cubic meters (1,400 billion cubic feet) every year with severe water pollution posing a threat to the health of millions of people, state media reported.

More than 400 of 669 Chinese cities are facing water shortages, among which the situation in 110 cities was described as "serious", said Xinhua news agency, quoting Wang Shucheng, Minister of Water Resources.

Some 20 million hectares (49 million acres) of farmland were affected by drought, reducing grain production by 28 million tons, Wang told the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature.

Severe water pollution in China made water shortages even worse and threatened the safety of drinking water.

"China's water pollution is very serious," Wang said, adding that just 38.1 percent of China's river water was drinkable.

China pumped out 68 billion tons of sewage in 2003, double the amount in 1980, Xinhua said.

In some regions, high levels of metal and organic pollutants caused cancer and deformity in humans, Wang was quoted as saying.

According to an earlier Xinhua report last week, more than 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes were polluted to different degrees.

"Currently, 300 million Chinese people are drinking unsafe water", Wang said in the report. [...]

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New York Gang Member Faces Trial as Terrorist
By Maria Castro
Reuters
Wed Dec 29, 8:57 AM ET

NEW YORK - Every time Lourdes Morales watches the TV news and sees a story on terrorism, she weeps.

Family members have stopped trying to console her, but they, too, cannot understand why Edgar Morales, the family's youngest son, will see the new year arrive in prison where he is waiting to be tried as a terrorist.

"They are comparing my son to (Osama) bin Laden ... and all those people who used bombs and killed thousands of people at random," said Morales.

"They are making him look as if he was this cold-hearted person, and he is not like that."

Morales, 22, was indicted on murder and other charges as acts of terror in May, along with 18 other members of the St. James Boys Gang, a Mexican and Mexican-American street gang.

Morales faces the most serious charge of second-degree murder as a terrorist act. A New York grand jury returned the charges against him in connection with the shooting death of 10-year-old Melanie Mendez, who died from gunshot wounds two years earlier.

Morales plans to plead innocent, said his attorney, Lewis Alperin. No date has yet been set for his trial.

Morales is the first gang member in New York to be indicted under the state's terrorism statute, which became law shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

If the charges did not include the terrorism stipulation, he would face a sentence of 25 years to life if found guilty. With the stipulation, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

PROMOTING TERRORISM?

At least 33 states passed laws amending criminal codes related to acts of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most changes focused on money laundering, cyberterrorism, agri-terrorism and supporting terrorist groups.

New York's use of the statute to prosecute gang-related crime has sparked disagreement among lawmakers who voted for the legislation.

A spokeswoman for state Sen. Michael Balboni, who sponsored the bill, said he does not mind that prosecutors have decided gang violence is a form of domestic terrorism and are using the statute to prosecute Morales.

"Gangs are a forum to promote terrorism," said Balboni spokeswoman Lisa Angerame. "Therefore, the anti-terrorism statue would be applicable against them, even if the original intent for this law was not exactly to prosecute them."

Others say the law is not being used as intended.

"It is not that I want to defend gangs," said state Rep. Jeffrey Dinowitz. "But it should never be justifiable to use laws with purposes other than their original intent.

"We already have the appropriate laws to prosecute gang members for their crimes," he added. [...]

Comment: Indeed, there are already laws in place to prosecute gang members. Slowly but surely, normal crimes are being associated with terrorism. Recently, a case of arson in an expensive neighborhood was suspected to have been committed by "ecoterrorists". Has anyone ever seen an ecoterrorist, or do they also live in caves in Afghanistan and use ancient camcorders with terrible picture quality to film their Evil Messages?

The natural "evolution" of this process is to classify all those who toe the line as "patriots", and all who disagree as "terrorists". It's the old 'frog in a slowly heated pot of water' routine. One day, the frog will find himself in boiling water.

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GOD, FEAR, AND GEORGE W. BUSH
Steven A. Hass

Although it pains me to no end, I may finally have to give George W. Bush (or at least his handlers) some positive credit for the first time in his presidency. Call me slow, but I just realized why he plays the "religion" card so often, and how he plays it so effectively. To echo a popular slogan: it's the fear factor, stupid.

Fear is one of the most powerful tools available for manipulating a group of people to do your bidding. This has been proven throughout military history, used brilliantly by everyone from the leaders of ancient Rome to the political leaders of today. Whether there is an actual enemy or not, a fearful populace is a willing populace. Therefore, in the absence of a real enemy, one needs simply to create a convincing alternative. Keep the people in fear, and they will support your agenda - it's very simple, really, and it works.

An unbiased look at Christianity also proves the effectiveness of fear in manipulating a group of people. Whether they admit it or not, at the core of every Christian's faith is the fear of burning in eternal fire if they don't believe. Sure, they have the standard list of recitable reasons for their faith, but once you run them through the list they are eventually left alone with this trembling fear of eternal damnation. It has been quite possibly the most effective psychological exercise in all of history. It has also been extremely lucrative for those who know how to exploit it.

Combine the proven effectiveness of fear in garnering support for military campaigns, and the proven success of the fear inherent in religious doctrine, and your power knows no end. Any group of people who fear an enemy, whether that enemy be real or created, and this same group can be convinced that this God who holds the key to eternal damnation supports a military campaign against this enemy, is a group of people who have surrendered their last thought of dissent. Your will is now their will, and it is obvious to me that George W. Bush's handlers have discovered this.

We have seen time and again how immorality can be made supportable with a wave of a Bible and a few selective quotes from the same. Christians in America number in the millions. It is already known that these millions, at their core, fear this particular God over all else, because he will roast them if they don't. Logic and reason, as out of place as they are in a discussion of religion, expose an enormous advantage for anyone requiring the use of fear to pursue an agenda involving this group of people.

Here is a large segment of the population which enters the arena with an unshakable fear already instilled. Additionally, due to the fact that they willingly believe what they do, manipulation is no longer doubtable. The concept is brilliant in its simplicity - use this group's fear of their God against them by proclaiming to fear the same, while proclaiming the support of this God-to-be-feared in whatever your agenda may be. The mantra becomes, "God dictates my agenda, so you better support it, or you'll burn in eternity". Those who write the scripts for George W. Bush have applied this concept with impressive results. Many Christians in America not only believe that 9-11 was a Saddam/Osama team effort, but they also believe that Bush really won the latest election fairly, that the economy is doing great, that Israel is just a poor victim of those mean Arabs, and that George W. Bush is really a Christian just like them.

Shortly after the latest election, George W. Bush laid claim to a mandate for his agenda, presumably in no small part coming from the Christian version of God himself. Even though the seperation of church and state was an important ideal in the minds of America's founders, the combination of church and state has proven to be much more successful for George W. Bush - and that's a genuine enemy the rest of us should fear. However, the rest of us should use the fear of this genuine enemy not to cower and submit, but to organize, plan, and fight. Bush's handlers have successfully (if sadly) reduced his supporters to a submissive herd of followers. In contrast, a well-organized opposition with a clear plan and a continual pro-active agenda will restore hope for those to whom we leave this nation.

The time for talk is over; the time for action is here. With effective leadership, organization, and active participation, change will come. Fear is indeed a powerful motivator - until it meets the power of dissent.

Comment: Indeed, seeing the true terror of the situation does suggest the time for talk is over and the time for action is here.

But what kind of "action" is best called for in these frightening and unstable times? What can we really do against a force so powerful as the U.S. government? Even if we do organize and plan, rally the people and fight, what hope is there against those shadowy figures in positions of power who control almost everything in the world, including the government, media, banking and military/industrial complex? There seems hardly one corridor of power on this planet that the puppet masters do not wield some influence and control.

Alas, what chance in hell do we have of fighting the beast head on and changing the system from within?

The answer, none.

So then, what can we do about the hopeless situation that confronts us? What kind of "action" can realistically be taken that is beneficial to our collective destiny but avoids being dangerous or futile? For to sit in one's hands and do nothing while Dubya and his gang of fanatics takes the planet down in flames seems like waste of creative energy of the many people all over the world who really do care and are beginning to SEE what is really going on.

One thing we can do is not take anything at face value. To constantly question, do research, check sources and not passively accept every expert opinion, half-truth or talking-head media spin that emanates from those whose agenda is served by the religion of perpetual war.

One thing we can do is stop lying to ourselves about being able to change anything "out there".

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43 killed as Iraq insurgents deal pre-election blow to security forces
- AFP
29 December 2004 0541 hrs

SAMARRA, Iraq : At least 43 people were killed as insurgents launched a string of attacks on the Iraqi security forces raising questions about their readiness to secure landmark elections next month.

The flurry of assaults followed the airing on Arabic television of a purported voice recording of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden naming fugitive Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi his Iraqi "emir" and calling for a boycott of the January 30 poll.

Outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell warned the deadly insurgency would rage on, no matter what the outcome of the election.

The latest bloodshed came even as a US general in Baghdad announced Iraqi forces would play the lead role in protecting polling stations from attack.

Once more overwhelming Iraqi security forces, rebels stormed a police station in Dijla, between Tikrit and Samarra, and executed 12 policemen before dynamiting the building, one police source said.

Just outside Tikrit, the hometown of ousted president Saddam Hussein, three policemen were killed in an attack on a checkpoint, police said.

Another four policemen and a national guardsman were shot dead at a police station in Ishaki, south of the formerly rebel-held city of Samarra, they added.

Three guardsmen and three civilians were killed in a car bomb attack targeting a joint US-Iraqi convoy in Samarra itself, hospital sources said.

The US military said four US soldiers and three civilians were wounded in the blast.

One US soldier and five interior ministry commandos were also wounded when a bomb blew up by their convoy in Samarra Tuesday evening, the US military said.

In Baquba, 50 kilometres (30 miles) northeast of the capital, six national guardsmen were killed in a suicide bombing, medics said.

South of the main northern city of Mosul, two policemen were killed in the town of Shorgat, an officer said.

In the same area, an Iraqi interpreter for the US army was killed and an Iraqi businessman travelling with him kidnapped, another officer said.

Further south, near the refinery town of Baiji, a roadside bomb killed one Iraqi civilian and wounded another on a route frequented by US convoys, a hospital official said.

At Suleyman Beg, northeast of Samarra, three Iraqi businessmen working with the US army were killed and a curfew imposed on the town, an officer said.

An Iraqi police officer was shot and wounded by insurgents in Ad Dawr, just south of Tikrit, the US military said.

In Baghdad, six people were wounded in a suicide attack on the convoy of a senior national guard commander, General Modher Abud, in which the bomber died, the interior ministry said.

Another policeman was killed in Balad, north of the capital, when insurgents opened fire on security forces guarding a voter registration centre, police said.

And west of Baghdad, in the rebel bastion of Ramadi, the body of deputy provincial deputy governor Muyad Marwan al-Ithawi was found riddled with bullets hours after his kidnapping by unknown gunmen.

The bloodshed brought the death toll in Iraq since Sunday evening to at least 75, including two US soldiers. [...]

Comment: Funny that Osama is back making another special "election" appearance, just like he did before the November elections in the US. Why would he do something like that. Well, here is what Juan Cole thinks:

Bin Laden's intervention in Iraq was hamfisted and clumsy, and will benefit the United States and the Shiites enormously. Most Iraqi Muslims, Sunni or Shiite, dislike the Wahhabi branch of Islam prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and with which Bin Laden is associated. Nationalistic Iraqis will object to a foreigner interfering in their national affairs.

Gee, it's almost as if it was planned that way! Bin Laden offered his support for Musab al-Zarqawi, the phantom Jordanian terrorist whose death has been reported and whose fingerprints the US claims are all over the kidnappings of foreign nationals in Iraq. George Malbrunot, one of the recently released French journalists, said that a Moslem fighter he talked with during his captivity was hoping for Bush to win the election because it would increase the contradictions between the West and the Moslem world, furthering the the agenda of the fundamentalists. The two extremes play off of each other.

Of course, the other explanation is that they are both serving the same master, the Puppet Master hidden behind the headlines, the one whose existence must be discerned through the reading of the Signs of the Times.

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The Chinese Dragon Awakens in a Wary World
Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Dec 23 (IPS) - As a year of subtle but significant geopolitical shifts draws to an end, China looms ever larger in a world unable to decide whether its rise is an opportunity or a threat.

For better or worse, every ripple from this giant economy, which is driven by the fast-expanding needs of 1.3 billion consumers, can now be felt across the world. The country's frenetic construction is driving up world prices of nearly every commodity, while large-scale foreign investment is powering a flood of exports, which is bringing down global prices for manufactured goods.

Without China, even the mighty United States could not run its huge trade and budget deficits. China is the world's second largest buyer of U.S. government debt, as it recycles a 124 billion U.S. dollar trade surplus with the United States.

Not less significant, a series of recent multibillion-dollar acquisitions announced by Chinese companies around the world show that Beijing is aiming for even a bigger role on the global stage. China has long been the world's strongest magnet for foreign investment and is now sitting on a near 540 billion dollar pile of hard currency, which it seems anxious to spend as the dollar plunges.

Intended buy-offs are in industries that include car manufacturing, minerals, airlines, banks, consumer electronics, oil and telecommunications. Not all of them have taken off. A reported five billion dollar bid to buy Noranda, Canada's largest mineral company, faltered this autumn amid concerns about Beijing's potential use of leverage in the North American country.

Nevertheless, the announcements are causing a buzz of excitement around the world.

Officially, China represents less than four percent of the world's economy. But its spectacular rate of industrial production - which grew by 16.3 percent last year alone - is making its effects felt all over the world. Last year, China accounted for seven percent of global oil consumption, 27 percent of steel, 31 percent of coal and 40 percent of cement.

And just as optimists are busy making plans on how to make money by satisfying China's growing demand for raw materials -- everything from timber to grain --others are looking at China with a feeling of impending gloom. [...]

Similar hesitation marks the EU's protracted decision-making process whether to lift the arms embargo imposed on Beijing after 1989 Tiananmen massacre of unarmed students and demonstrators. EU members seem torn between the lure of China's market and moral scruples, which back in 1989 dictated that China should be treated as a giant rogue state for murdering its youth.

Supporters of lifting the ban like France and Germany are confident that China is moving in the right direction. But the evidence is slim.
Detractors argue Beijing is blocking democracy in Hong Kong and is threatening to use military force against Taiwan.

Chinese leaders have just announced their intention to enact an anti-secession legislation - the sign of a dramatic hardening of Beijing's stance towards Taiwan's independent movement, which may provide the legal ground for launching a war against the island. Taiwan and China have been governed separately since 1949, and Taiwan remains the only functioning democracy in Chinese history.

This year China said it had its first ever peaceful transfer of power. Jiang Zemin unexpectedly stepped down from his post as head of the military after 15 years in power. But hopes that his successor -- president and party chief Hu Jintao -- will allow more freedom of expression, initiate negotiations with Taiwan and advocate political reforms, have been upset by Beijing's latest campaign to stifle dissent.

In recent months, the Communist party has rounded and threatened at least half a dozen intellectuals who had been vocal on the Internet and in the media about the country's growing gap between rich and poor, pervasive unemployment and the increase of big protests in the provinces.

And Beijing is now trying hard to silence the remainder - those that say its growing economic power is propped up beneath a shaky foundation.

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Russia, China to hold unprecedented joint military manoeuvres next year
11:20 PM EST Dec 27

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia and China will hold unprecedented joint military manoeuvres on Chinese territory next year involving both nations' air forces and navies, Russia's defence minister said Monday.

Sergei Ivanov, speaking at a cabinet session chaired by President Vladimir Putin, said the exercise would involve submarines and possibly strategic bombers, the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies reported.

"For the first time in history, we have agreed to hold quite a large military exercise together with China on Chinese territory in the second half of the year," Ivanov said, according to ITAR-Tass.

"The Russian side will not bring big numbers of servicemen, but mostly state-of-the art weapons - navy, air, long-range aviation, submarines to practice interaction with China in different forms of military manoeuvres," he reported.

After decades of bitter rivalry, Moscow and Beijing have developed what they describe as a strategic partnership in the years since the Soviet collapse. China has become the No. 1 customer for Russia's struggling defence industry, purchasing billions of dollars worth of fighters, missiles, submarines and destroyers.

Officials with Russia's state arms-trading company, Rosoboronexport, said last week that China is expected to sign new contracts for the purchase of Russia's most advanced fighter jets.

Both nations have frequently spoken about their adherence to a "multi-polar world," a term that refers to their opposition to a perceived U.S. domination in global affairs.

Some observers have speculated that Russia, which has had a falling out with the West over Ukraine's presidential election, could respond by trying to forge a closer partnership with China.

Russia has staunchly backed Ukraine's Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, fearing that his rival, Viktor Yushchenko would bring the nation closer to the West and away from the Russian orbit.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst who has long followed Russian-Chinese military co-operation, said the announced exercise was clearly intended to show Moscow's irritation with the West.

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China puts crushing Taiwan independence at core of new defence policy
27 December 2004 1258 hrs
- AFP

BEIJING: China issued a national defence policy for the first time since President Hu Jintao became military chief, with crushing "the vicious rise" of Taiwan independence forces at its core.

An 85-page white paper outlined a list of security threats, including nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula and Japan's constitutional changes, but its main thrust was on its strained relations with Taiwan.

It described then as "grim" and made clear any attempt at independence would be harshly dealt with.

"Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of Taiwan independence, the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost." it said.

"The Taiwan authorities under (President) Chen Shui-bian have recklessly challenged the status quo ... and markedly escalated the Taiwan independence activities designed to split China."

The document said it was the "sacred responsibility" of the Chinese armed forces to stop Taiwan independence forces from splitting the country.

It accused Chen and his Democratic Progressive Party of inciting anti-China sentiment and also slammed US arms sales to the island, which China considers part of its territory.

"(The United States) continues to increase, quantitatively and qualitatively, its arms sales to Taiwan, sending a wrong signal to the Taiwan authorities," it said.

"The US action does not serve a stable situation across the Taiwan Straits."

The policy paper came as China's legislature deliberated a proposed "anti-secession law" aimed at preventing Taiwan from declaring formal independence.

China sees Taiwan as part of its territory even though it broke with the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.

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China issues 'strong protest' over ex-Taiwan president's Japan visit
28 December 2004 1037 hrs
BEIJING: China issued a "strong protest" against a visit by former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui to Japan, saying it "severely disturbed" relations between Beijing and Tokyo, state media said.

"The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was quoted as saying on the People's Daily website.

"The Chinese foreign ministry has lodged a strong protest with the Japanese government," he said.

Lee Teng-hui, who was president of Taiwan until 2000, on Monday began a week-long visit to Japan despite protests by China which was furious that Tokyo allowed the trip by the pro-independence politician.

"Lee Teng-hui is the chief representative of radical separatist forces on Taiwan," Liu was quoted as saying. "On the global stage, he is every inch a trouble maker."

He said allowing Lee to visit Japan sent the wrong signal to Taiwan's pro-independence forces and a step that "severely disturbed the political foundation of Sino-Japanese ties."

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Ukraine cabinet minister found dead
December 29, 2004

As the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovich, refused to concede defeat in the nation's presidential run-off, his Transport Minister was found shot dead at his dacha.

It is not yet clear whether Heorhiy Kyrpa, 58, who is one of Ukraine's most prominent businessmen, killed himself or was murdered. A gun was reportedly found near the body. [...]

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Unexploded bombs still kill 31 years later
Dec. 27, 2004, 12:15AM
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Three decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the United States is increasing aid to help remove unexploded ordnance that continues to kill people in the former war zone, especially in Laos where 2 million tons of bombs were dropped.

During the war, the United States bombed Laos relentlessly for a decade in an effort to cut off North Vietnamese supply lines. Though the war ended 30 years ago, the carnage from those bombings continues.

Nearly a third of the bombs failed to explode, lying in wait as "de facto anti-personnel mines," according to a Human Rights Watch report. The bombs have killed roughly 6,000 Laotians since the end of fighting.

"Every time I go to Laos I meet fresh bomb victims who have lost an eye or a leg or two," said Jim Harris, a retired Wisconsin school principal who helps educate people about the experience of Laotian refugees in his state.

U.S. pilots dropped 2 million tons of bombs on Laos from 1964-1973, double the amount dropped on Germany in World War II. [...]

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Office Workers Killed in Blast Horror
Wed 29 Dec 2004

A massive explosion razed a Minnesota office building, killing three women employees and critically injuring a fourth.

The blast in Ramsey, a suburb of Minneapolis, caved the single-storey building into its empty basement, sheriff’s Capt Robert Aldrich said. The site was strewn with concrete chunks, cinderblocks and shreds of office furniture.

A gas leak was the most likely cause of the explosion, but nothing was immediately ruled out, Aldrich said.

The building housed a property developer’s business and bank offices.

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Man Torches Family Home over Christmas Presents Snub
Tue 28 Dec 2004

A man angry that he got no presents for Christmas burned down his parents’ house early the next morning, police in the US said.

Steven Murray, 21, was charged with arson and risking a catastrophe in the blaze that broke out early on Sunday in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. No one was injured.

Police said Murray had himself committed to a hospital on Christmas Day, but then signed himself out and walked eight miles home. Later he told police he saw the flames in the distance.

But officers said his jacket smelled of smoke and they found a lighter in his pocket and a petrol can near the front door.

“He was irritated that his family gave him no presents for Christmas,” a police spokesman said.

Murray was jailed on 1 million US dollars (£516,000) bail. It was not immediately known whether he had a lawyer.

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Small Plane Crash in Mich. Leaves 5 Dead

AP
December 28, 2004

IRONWOOD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - A small plane crashed Tuesday near the airport in this northern Michigan town, killing all five people on board, authorities said.

The victims in the twin-engine Piper were the pilot, his wife and three children, Deputy Sheriff Jay Kangas said. The weather was clear at the time of the crash, Kangas said.

"The pilot reported an engine problem followed by a landing gear problem, and was circling the airport at the time of the crash," said Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Mike Ruotsala said he heard the crash and looked out the window of his parents' home. The plane was nose down amid trees between the house and a nearby pond, he said.

Ironwood Township is on Michigan's Upper Peninsula near the Wisconsin state line.

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Human brain result of 'extraordinarily fast' evolution

Emergence of society may have spurred growth

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Wednesday December 29, 2004
The Guardian

The sophistication of the human brain is not simply the result of steady evolution, according to new research. Instead, humans are truly privileged animals with brains that have developed in a type of extraordinarily fast evolution that is unique to the species.

"Simply put, evolution has been working very hard to produce us humans," said Bruce Lahn, an assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"Our study offers the first genetic evidence that humans occupy a unique position in the tree of life."

Professor Lahn's research, published this week in the journal Cell, suggests that humans evolved their cognitive abilities not owing to a few sporadic and accidental genetic mutations - as is the usual way with traits in living things - but rather from an enormous number of mutations in a short period of time, acquired though an intense selection process favouring complex cognitive abilities.

Evolutionary biologists generally argue that humans have evolved in much the same way as all other life on Earth. Mutations in genes from one generation to the next sometimes give rise to new adaptations to a creature's environment.

Those best adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and pass on their genes to the next generation.

The evolution of a large brain in humans, then, can be seen as similar to the process that leads to longer tusks or bigger antlers. In general terms, and after scaling for body size, brains get bigger and more complex as animals get bigger.

But with humans, the relative size of the brain does not fit the trend - our brains are disproportionately big, much bigger even than the brains of other non-human primates, including our closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Prof Lahn's team examined the DNA of 214 genes involved in brain development in humans, macaques, rats and mice.

By comparing mutations that had no effect on the function of the genes with those mutations that did, they came up with a measure of the pressure of natural selection on those genes.

The scientists found that the human brain's genes had gone through an intense amount of evolution in a short amount of time - a process that far outstripped the evolution of the genes of other animals.

"We've proven that there is a big distinction," Prof Lahn said. "Human evolution is, in fact, a privileged process because it involves a large number of mutations in a large number of genes.

"To accomplish so much in so little evolutionary time - a few tens of millions of years - requires a selective process that is perhaps categorically different from the typical processes of acquiring new biological traits."

As for how all of this happened, the professor suggests that the development of human society may be the reason.

In an increasingly social environment, greater cognitive abilities probably became more of an advantage.

"As humans become more social, differences in intelligence will translate into much greater differences in fitness, because you can manipulate your social structure to your advantage," he said.

"Even devoid of the social context, as humans become more intelligent, it might create a situation where being a little smarter matters a lot.

"The making of the large human brain is not just the neurological equivalent of making a large antler. Rather, it required a level of selection that's unprecedented."

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Arab astrologer predicts Bush assassination
Oracle famed for prophesying deaths of Diana, Yassin, Arafat
Posted: December 28, 2004
10:44 a.m. Eastern
© 2004 WorldNetDaily.com
A Tunisian astrologer who reportedly predicted the deaths of Princess Diana, Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Yasser Arafat says President Bush will be killed by an assassin's bullet in 2005.

So seriously are Hassan al-Sharibi's predictions taken in the Arab world that a similar prophecy about Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Mahmoud Abbas has resulted in increased security around the candidate to replace Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas' aides put a "great deal of credence" in the prediction, according to a source quoted by the Jerusalem Post.

However, the paper tempered its report by saying critics label Sharibi "a quack with flair who relies on logic and wishful thinking. After all, predicting Yassin's assassination – he was Israel's 'public enemy No. 1' – and the death of an already ailing Arafat are hardly major feats."

Soothsaying is not unusual, nor forbidden, in Islam – as it is in Christianity and Judaism. Muslim caliphs relied on court astrologers as early as the eighth century, according to the report in the Jerusalem Post.

Sharibi also predicted the sudden death of Saddam Hussein before his trial begins.

"The Middle East region will be sitting on a volcano in 2005, and the situation in Iraq will get even more dramatic as Saddam Hussein is expected to die suddenly before his trial even starts," Sharibi said, according to a report by United Press International.

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And Finally...

Dog Drives Truck Into Auto Parts Store

AP
Tue Dec 28, 5:33 PM ET

SPRINGDALE, Ark. - Michael Henson left the auto parts store with more problems than when he arrived. For that, he can thank his dog.

Henson, whose truck had a sticking throttle, brought his dog along for company when he drove to O'Reilly Auto Parts store in Springdale on Sunday.

"He'd left the truck running — I guess to show the people at O'Reilly's — and the dog jumped over and knocked the truck into gear," Springdale police Sgt. Billy Turnbough said.

The truck raced into the building, stunning Henson and clerk Josh Hopper.

"The guy said he was standing there, looked up, and saw his dog driving his truck through the building," Turnbough said.

Hopper said he heard the crash and looked up from the transaction.

"His truck was in the window," Hopper said. "I thought, 'Oh no.' Everybody was fine. His front left tire just made it onto the brick wall."

No one was hurt and no humans or animals were cited, police said.

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