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Tuesday, January 27, 2004

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Has the reader ever considered the possibility that a great battle is being waged through each of us?

We do not mean the type of Cosmic Battle between Good and Evil so dear to Misters Bush and Ashcroft, with the armies of Satan confronting the returned Christ over the hills of the Holy Land to the accompaniment of the Angelic hosts from on high. Their pseudo-Christian hysterics are the manifestations of an age-old, fear-inducing system designed to cow people into submission to better control them. If the controllers in public view believe the inanities they are preaching, so much the better. They won't be able to betray the manipulation through inadvertent slips that reveal what lies behind the mask. For the likes of Bush and Ashcroft, the mask is all you get. The masters of these puppets do not like the light.

Ashcroft says Saddam's 'evil chemistry, biology' justified Iraq invasion

04:25 PM EST Jan 26

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - Saddam Hussein's past use of "evil chemistry" and "evil biology" and the threats they posed justified the war in Iraq, even if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday.

Ashcroft, in Vienna for talks with Austrian officials on measures to fight terrorism and drug trafficking and to improve air travel security, told reporters that Saddam's arsenal remained a menace and was sufficient cause to overthrow his regime.

"I believe there is a very clear understanding that Saddam Hussein continued to pose a threat," Ashcroft said.

"Weapons of mass destruction, including evil chemistry and evil biology, are all matters of great concern, not only to the United States, but also to the world community," he said. "They were the subject of UN resolutions."

Ashcroft made the comments a day after David Kay, the outgoing top U.S. weapons inspector, pressed U.S. intelligence agencies to explain why their research indicated Iraq possessed banned weapons before the invasion.

We agree that "evil chemistry" and "evil biology" are "matters of great concern" to the US administration. After all, they supplied Saddam.

Ayoon wa Azan (Readers Are Right, But…)

Jihad Al Khazen Al-Hayat 2004/01/26

I continue with the readers today. Lawson Alex Hanna called my office while I was out of the country, and said that Secretary of State Colin Powell did not work as National Security Advisor to former President Ronald Reagan, as I mentioned last week.

Actually, I have said this twice; the first was after he visited Halabjah. Powell was the National Security Advisor of President Ronald Reagan from December 1987 until January 1989; in this position, he blocked a resolution in Congress against Saddam Hussein, because of his use of chemical weapons to kill Kurds in the city he visited last year, and where he said that what Saddam Hussein did in Halabjah, is absolute justification for going to war against him.

But this is well known, if not to the majority of the US population, at least to the rest of the world. We have been discussing it here regularly, and we will not go into it further right now.

Our subject today is altogether different: the canned and preprogrammed character of so much of what leaves the mouths of the members of the Bush administration, their quality as puppets. You will remember a recent item that the press has been told not to ask Bush questions that haven't been prevetted. This move comes after Bush embarrassed himself when a reporter asked him a question he couldn't answer. Bush appears to have less prowess that the subject of our next article, who, while he might not be able to think of his feet, can at least have moments when his thoughts take wing.

Parrot's oratory stuns scientists

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short.

The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

He invents his own words and phrases if he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.

N'kisi's remarkable abilities, which are said to include telepathy, feature in the latest BBC Wildlife Magazine.

N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.

About 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English, so if N'kisi could read he would be able to cope with a wide range of material.

Polished wordsmith

He uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.

One N'kisi-ism was "flied" for "flew", and another "pretty smell medicine" to describe the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, an artist based in New York.

When he first met Dr Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert, after seeing her in a picture with apes, N'kisi said: "Got a chimp?"

He appears to fancy himself as a humourist. When another parrot hung upside down from its perch, he commented: "You got to put this bird on the camera."

Dr Goodall says N'kisi's verbal fireworks are an "outstanding example of interspecies communication".

In an experiment, the bird and his owner were put in separate rooms and filmed as the artist opened random envelopes containing picture cards.

Analysis showed the parrot had used appropriate keywords three times more often than would be likely by chance.

Captives' frustrations

This was despite the researchers discounting responses like "What ya doing on the phone?" when N'kisi saw a card of a man with a telephone, and "Can I give you a hug?" with one of a couple embracing.

Professor Donald Broom, of the University of Cambridge's School of Veterinary Medicine, said: "The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear, and the biggest leap of all has been with parrots."

Alison Hales, of the World Parrot Trust, told BBC News Online: "N'kisi's amazing vocabulary and sense of humour should make everyone who has a pet parrot consider whether they are meeting its needs.

"They may not be able to ask directly, but parrots are long-lived, and a bit of research now could mean an improved quality of life for years."

At least the parrot has a sense of humour. Perhaps it was thinking of Bush when he posed his question to Jane Goodall.

Bush and Ashcroft are mechanical beings, programmed in ways similar to Pavlov's dogs. Say the word "Oil" and they will salivate; say the word "Arab" and they'll respond "terrorist."

Here we have not even entered the realm of thought; we remain in the subterranean world of mere association of images, the more horrifying the better. It is action-reaction, a mechanical movement that bears as little resemblance to reflection as a mechanical doll in a tutu resembles Nouriev. When Bush starts to speak, you know the path he will take: they are evil, we are good, they hate us, we are bringing democracy to the world, etc.

It is easy to make comparisons with a parrot, but in how many areas are the rest of us no better, entering into conversations whose exchanges can be foreseen in advance:

"How are you feeling? "

"I'm fine. How are you?"

"Good. Strange weather we've been getting."

"Sure is. Don't remember another winter like this. Did you see the game last night?"

"Wasn't that great!"

"Sure was. Don't remember another one like it."

At least when you're talking with a parrot, there is an aspect of novelty.

Some have argued that this type of polite, social intercourse is the glue that binds our society together. They argue that you wouldn't want someone to start going into their real problems, holding you captive to their marital difficulties or problems with the boss. We think the problem may be elsewhere, in the fact that we live in a society that demands we constantly wear masks because we are all terrified of showing ourselves with our faults, our pettiness, our obsessive characteristics, our weaknesses, our ignorance and our other aspects of which we are ashamed. As Joseph de Maistre once said, he didn't know what the soul of a scoundrel was like, but he knew of what the soul of a good man consisted, and it was horrid.

Funny thing is, our cupboards are all filled with the same trash. You hide from your neighbor or your colleagues or your family the same traits they are hiding from you. Some joke.

We spend so much energy trying to convince others that we are good, noble, and above pettiness. Is this because we believe the masks that others wear, we take them for the reality?

Hardly, because we all too easily put the blame for all of our failures on others, on those around us, rather than accepting responsibility for these failures ourselves. So we buy further into the lie by knowing full well what "scoundrels" we good people can be, while refusing to put this knowledge into practice. We are hypocrites. Perhaps the real "scoundrels" referred to by de Maistre above do not have souls at all.

Might there be a connection between our programmed conversations, our mechanical natures, our masks, and our inability to be ourselves? If yes, might it be linked to the question we asked at the top: "Has the reader ever considered the possibility that a great battle is being waged through each of us?"

What if instead of the battle for good and evil, we are the battle zone for the struggle between being creative and just making do? And the greatness of the battle is not in the weight of one, ultimate act, but rather in the collective importance of small choices?

This would manifest itself as our daily struggle against inertia, the multitude of "I'll do it later's", of "I don't feel like it now's," of "someone else will take care of it." It would manifest itself in our refusal to think, preferring the easy way of reproducing and repeating the manufactured consent of the media and and its "experts," believing that our thought is as fated as our breathing or beating of the heart.

"The desire to appear, instead of really being, can vitiate even the legitimate operation of the intellect." So wrote Ernest Dimnet a decade after the end of World War I. He continues:

Two men can be supposed, for example, to apply their minds with equal intensity to the question of the origins of the great war. If one wants to display in his mastery of this question either his patriotism or his internationalism he will produce thought of a quality inferior to the other man's, whose sole object is to discover facts. The reason is that at every step onwards which he takes in his investigation, the former student sees himself using the information just gained, and the vision, like any parasitical phantasm, weakens, because it divides, his thinking power. [Ernest Dimnet, The Art of Thinking]

Dimnet identifies the same parasite as we have mentioned repeatedly: one must learn to see objectively, allowing the data itself to provide the answers. Fitting the data into a predetermined schema, anticipating results, leads to error, not to knowledge. Working with anticipation builds the mask over reality, hiding what is essential behind wishful thinking, veiling the real behind our desires.

The struggle to think objectively is a struggle against the ego, against the personality that takes itself for the real "I".

While this battle may not be the Cosmic battle of Bush and Ashcroft, it may well be of Cosmic proportions. If it is true that the universe is the manifestation of the interplay of the forces of Creation and Entropy, a proposition that is no less possible, even if out of fashion, in a world where ideas are reduced to the epiphenomenon of material cause, then each of our choices becomes the material expression of that interplay. Each of our acts sets into motion either a creative or an entropic vector. We have the choice, then, either to reinforce the mask while allowing the real to petrify and rot underneath, or to work on the substantial and allow the mask to whither and drop away. The choice us ours.

This is an individual battle in one sense because we must each choose for ourselves. We have each our own unique contribution to make. There are no recipes, no formulas, no "one size fits all" solutions, which is why all of us must learn to think, which means to think for ourselves because no other form of real thought exists. The alternative is a mental life subject to the laws of mechanical reproduction, of the production line, of prepackaged mental images purchased for a reduced price. Although, in reality the price may well be very high, the cost of your soul, for example.

'My life as a modern-day slave'

By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online

On the surface, Mende Nazer is a bright, bubbly, confident young woman, quick to break into a beautiful infectious smile, which lights up her whole face.

Nothing to suggest that she spent eight years of her life as a slave after being captured from her village in Sudan's Nuba Mountains.

But the smile soon disappears when she talks about her past and her eyes start to well up with tears.

"I still have nightmares," she told BBC News Online in London three years after she managed to escape to freedom.


She was just 12 when one night her village was targeted by Arab slave raiders, who snatched her away from her loving family to be a slave in far away Khartoum.

The story of her capture and life in servitude, published in her book Slave, reads like something from the Middle Ages but it happened in the early 1990s and she says this is still the lot of many young girls from southern Sudan.

Comment: After several years of servitude in Sudan, Mende Nazer was shipped off to relatives of her "owners" who lived in London! There she continued to live in slavery until, one day, her "owners" left on a trip. She realized this was her chance. She left the house secretly and approached people on the street who she thought might speak Arabic. After many attempts, she finally found someone from Sudan who helped her escape.

Iran vote row threatens elections

Iranian reformers have warned they may refuse to organise parliamentary elections due to a row over candidates.

A spokesman for reformist President Mohammad Khatami insisted on "fair competition for all the candidates".

"Without such a possibility... we cannot go ahead with such elections," spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told Iran's student news agency ISNA.

Reformists are furious the conservative Guardians Council has barred more than 3,000 candidates from the ballot.

Explosions near US HQ in Baghdad

A number of loud explosions have been heard near coalition headquarters in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

The minister at the head of the Iraqi police, Nouri Badran, openly claims that al-Qaida is most likely the cause of several suicide bombings in Iraq. Badran remarked, "A lot of the suicide attacks have the fingerprints of the crimes committed by al-Qaida." He then went on to confirm in no uncertain words that al-Qaida is operating in Iraq. Unfortunately, the good minister neglected to provide any evidence to back his claims. We seem to recall a recent claim by a US official that 70% of al-Qaida has been neutralized by American forces. The operatives in Iraq that are allegedly helping the "insurgency" must be the last remnants of bin Laden's terror organization...

Bush states that an al-Qaida operative was captured in Iraq last week. Reuters reports:

An al Qaeda operative with close ties to the suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks was captured last week in Iraq, President George W. Bush says.

Bush said on Monday Hassan Ghul was helping al Qaeda step up attacks by insurgents against U.S. troops in Iraq. Al Qaeda members are believed to have entered Iraq after the war last year that toppled President Saddam Hussein.

Bush said Ghul "reported directly" to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is suspected of coordinating the September 11 attacks on the United States that killed about 3,000 people and who was captured in Pakistan in March. He is now in U.S. custody. [...]

"He was captured in Iraq where he was helping al Qaeda to put pressure on our troops. There's one less enemy we need to worry about with the capture of Hassan Ghul," Bush said.

Secretary of State Powell, meanwhile, expressed concern about the state of Russia's democracy. Mr. Powell seems to think that Russia is becoming more autocratic, and that Russian politics are not, "sufficiently subject to the rule of law". Things are so much better in the US... there, it seems at least one judge doesn't like part of the Patriot Act. The federal judge ruled unconstitutional the portion of the Patriot Act that prevents giving expert advice to groups labeled "foreign terrorist organizations". The ruling is the first and only decision against any part of the Patriot Act. And if you think managing to get Bush ejected from office in 2004 will help stop America's march into fascism, guess again. It appears that even Howard Dean has a big brother "smart ID" plan that would make John Ashcroft himself beam with pride.

Israel rejects 'insincere' Hamas offer of 10-year truce

By Justin Huggler in Jerusalem
27 January 2004

Hamas, the most powerful Palestinian militant faction, could agree to a 10-year truce if Israel withdraws from all the land it occupied in 1967, one of the organisation's senior leaders has said. Israel immediately dismissed the comments, from Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a leader of Hamas's political wing, as insincere.

His words are seen by observers as an indication of how weakened Hamas has become following an onslaught of Israeli assassination attempts against its leaders. Dr Rantisi's comments on Sunday are the latest sign of a major shift in policy from Hamas, which until recently was dedicated not only to forcing Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which it occupied in 1967 but also the "liberation" of the whole of former British-mandate Palestine and the destruction of Israel.

The group, said Dr Rantisi in a telephone interview with Reuters news agency, has conceded "it is difficult to liberate all our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation...

Comment: It would appear that if the Palestinians are not sincerely committed to giving up any idea of ever getting an independent state or basic human rights, as promised to them decades ago by the international community, then Israel will never enter into negotiations with them. It is aburd, at this stage to suggest that Israel will accept anything other than total domination of the Middle East by Israel.

Bush losing favour in election run-up

January 26 2004

New York - A new national poll by Newsweek magazine showed on Sunday the surging Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts topping United States President George Bush in an election match-up.

The poll, conducted between January 22-23, showed Kerry commanding 30 percent of support from registered Democrats, up from 11 percent two weeks ago. And for first time in the poll's history a Democrat enjoyed a marginal advantage over Bush, with Kerry garnering a three-point lead over the president, Newsweek said.

Forty-nine percent of registered voters chose Kerry, compared to 46 percent favouring Bush.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, the Democratic front-runner until his dismal third-place showing in last week's Iowa caucuses, saw his support among registered and likely Democratic voters cut in half, to 12 percent.

That put Dean in a three-way tie for second place in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary with retired General Wesley Clark, 12 percent, and US Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, with 13 percent.

Bush saw his approval rating drop among registered voters to 50 percent versus 44 percent who disapprove, despite his having delivered a State of the Union address last Tuesday.

And more people said they were dissatisfied, 52 percent, than satisfied, 43 percent, with the way things were going in the United States, the poll said.

The Princeton Survey Research Associates poll interviewed 1006 adults by telephone. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

Comment: Replacing one Skull and Bones member with another. That's progress, right?

Biography: Blair Thought Chirac 'Out to Get Him'

By Andrew Cawthorne
January 26, 2004

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair thought French leader Jacques Chirac was "out to get him" by exploiting acrimony over Iraq to supersede him in Europe, according to extracts of a new biography of Blair published on Monday.

"I'm convinced he believed the conflict with Chirac had expanded beyond Iraq to become a contest for the political leadership of Europe," author Philip Stephens told Reuters.

"Chirac hoped that Blair would be toppled."

Stephens' view of the tense Anglo-French relationship was the most revelatory part of sections of his biography: "From Tony Blair," to be launched early next month.

In extracts published by his paper, the Financial Times, Stephens traced the growing feud early last year when Britain's support of the coming U.S.-led war in Iraq was bitterly opposed by Paris.

"During the next few months Blair came to believe -- partly on the basis of reports from British intelligence -- that the dispute over Iraq was in fact a proxy for a much more serious contest," Stephens wrote.

"Chirac, these reports said, had decided that Blair had usurped his own position as the natural leader of Europe. It was time for the French president to reassert himself and to clip the wings of perfidious Albion.

"Unsurprisingly, French officials dismissed this analysis. But Blair came to believe it, telling close aides that Chirac was 'out to get him."' Relations between London and Paris hit their lowest point days before the war when the British government accused France of scuttling a U.N. resolution authorizing military action. [...]

Comment: Ah, paranoia... And who do we think put this idea into Blair's head? The Bush administration, perhaps? Perhaps not. If the biography is true, it is certainly an interesting look into the games people play. In many instances, it seems powerful people are often unwitting participants. We are all unwitting participants - unless and until we decide that we have had enough lies, especially the lies we tell ourselves. Even then, the struggle to perceive objective reality is constant.

Libyan leader blasts Israel's WMD, labels as ''good'' cooperation with US

26-01-2004,13 :43

Libyan President Colonel Muammar Kaddafi has indicated the secret services of Tripoli and Washington were already working jointly against Islamists as he lashed out at Israel's weapons of mass destruction program.

"Cooperation between Libya and the United States is good," Kaddafi told the Italian La Repubblica Monday.

"There are groups that are working against all of us ... it's possible that there has been cooperation between secret services, especially regarding Libyan citizens who fought in Afghanistan," the Libyan ruler said.

Moreover, the Libyan leader strongly slammed Israel, blaming it of possessing weapons of mass destruction and flooding several Arab countries with drugs.

"I would say that there is a terrorism of individuals and a state terrorism; both need to be stopped. If someone destroys an inhabited building with an air-launched missile you cannot say that it is not terrorism," he stressed.

"The Israelis are throwing hashish along the Egyptian coast, in Syria and in North Africa. Maybe even the hashish that arrives in Libya comes from Israel. In fact, we're certain," Kaddafi said.

"I hope that on this point, the international community isn't deaf and blind as it has been on the point of Israeli weapons of mass destruction. It [Israel] has hundreds of atomic [war] heads and a large chemical and biological arsenal."

Do a hundred democratic deeds tomorrow

The vice-president of the United States, Dick Cheney, spoke rather elegantly this weekend in Davos, Switzerland, about the strategic importance of promoting democracy throughout the Middle East. He said that “encouraging the spread of freedom and democracy” in the Middle East “is the right thing to do, and it is also very much in our collective interest. Helping the peoples of the greater Middle East to overcome the freedom deficit is, ultimately, the key to winning the broader ‘war on terror.’ It is one of the great tasks of our time and will require resolve and resources for a generation or more.”

We agree. But we’re also getting slightly worried that the American government may feel that promoting democracy in the Middle East is primarily the responsibility of eloquent speechwriters in Washington, rather than a function of American policies on the ground in the region itself. Time will tell, to be sure. But the time that has passed during the last five decades does not provide much scope for comfort. The time that has passed since Spring 2002, when the United States started talking of changing the Iraqi regime in order to promote democracy in the Middle East, among other goals, also reveals a rather wide gap between US talk and US action on this issue.

If the world wants to end terror, it should acknowledge that one cause of the phenomenon of anti-American terror is popular exasperation with great powers far away whose eloquent rhetoric is out of synch with their unsubtle policies. Where is Osama bin Laden living and hiding, you ask? He lives and hides in those large spaces created by the large discrepancy between democratizing words written in Washington for American senior officials, and Washington’s support for nondemocratic systems and practices on the ground in the Middle East.

World appeal to contain bird flu

International agencies say the world only has a brief window to stop avian flu becoming a global threat to humans.

Pandemic fears

There are fears that the bird flu virus could mutate, attaching itself to a human flu virus which could spread between people.

"The spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza in several areas in Asia is a threat to human health and a disaster for agricultural production," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the WHO said in a joint statement.

"This is a serious global threat to human health," said WHO Director General Lee Jong-wook.

Bird Flu Outbreak Is Deadliest on Record

Jan 27

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - Thailand confirmed Asia's eighth human victim of the bird flu Tuesday in the deadliest outbreak on record, while the map of affected areas widened with Laos becoming the ninth government to report infections in its poultry.

Australia, which remains free of the virus, urged other countries to immediately reveal bird-flu cases, following allegations that Thailand and Indonesia initially covered up outbreaks.

"Countries in the region must learn from the SARS experience, and that is: 'Fess up as soon as you find a case, as quickly as possible," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "Make sure everybody knows about it and deal with it."

The virus has jumped to humans in two countries.

Flashback: Biosafety Irregularity in Spanish Flu Experiments

Highlights the Need to Strengthen Biodefense Transparency

The Sunshine Project
News Release
21 October 2003

(Austin and Hamburg) - Genetic experiments to recreate one of the most devastating viruses of the past century were not reviewed or approved by a biosafety committee. The University of Georgia claims that it was too troublesome to convene its Institutional Biosafety Committee to review research to genetically reconstruct the Spanish flu. Instead, the University signed off on the experiments based on ad hoc talks between only four members of its biosafety committee. As a result, no minutes were taken to describe safety review of the experiments. In fact, by not convening its committee, Georgia's actions ensured that there was no timely opportunity to raise concerns at all.

The case demonstrates a severe weakness in the public disclosure provisions of federal research rules (the NIH Guidelines) and underscores the need for mandatory committee-level (or higher) review of research projects with disease agents. By approving the experiments with an ad hoc subcommittee, requirements for public disclosure were avoided. The existence of the experiments only came to light through journal articles. According to Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project, "Genetic engineering of bioweapons agents has national and international implications for health, biosafety, and security. But Georgia shied away from these and simply rubber-stamped the Pentagon-led project to recreate the Spanish flu."

In 1918-19, the Spanish flu killed 20-40 million people worldwide. In the US, deaths from the flu strain resulted in a 10 year drop in life expectancy. Recreating the deadly flu may create international unease, in particular because of the leadership of the US military in the project.

The Spanish flu reconstruction began at a University of Georgia biosafety level three (BSL-3) facility in 1999. Researchers from US universities, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are involved. The lab specializes in diseases of poultry, including avian influenza. The Sunshine Project has confirmed - and reconfirmed - under the Freedom of Information Act that USDA has no biosafety committee minutes related to the experiments. The Project also directly contacted the University of Georgia and requested Institutional Biosafety Committee meeting minutes that are required by the NIH Guidelines for Recombinant DNA Research. Georgia's Biosafety Officer stated that no minutes exist

Comment: See our Signs Supplement on the Flu Virus for more

Severe weather wreaks havoc in Canada, U.S.

Last Updated Mon, 26 Jan 2004 16:17:10

TORONTO - Canadians nationwide were contending with frigid temperatures and, in some areas, blizzards on Monday.

By mid-afternoon, every province had issued at least one weather warning.

South battered by torrential rains

Samer Wehbi
Daily Star correspondent

The storm that has been battering Lebanon for the past few days caused significant damage to towns and villages in the South, especially to rural roads and agricultural areas. The storm also has led to higher than normal water levels in rivers and springs in the country.

Ten dead in European winter storms

January 26, 2004

PARIS (AFP) - Police closed highways, trains were held up and flights cancelled as winter storms battered parts of Europe which have left at least 10 people dead since the weekend.

Romania has been worst hit by blizzard conditions, the worst snow storms there in 40 years according to meteorologists, while Britain and France were bracing for heavy snowfalls creating potentially chaotic transport conditions. [...]

Winter Storms Blamed for Dozens of Deaths

Associated Press Writer
January 26, 2004, 4:37 PM EST

A pair of storms spread snow, sleet and freezing rain across the eastern half of the nation, glazing highways with treacherous ice as far south as Georgia and closing schools and government offices Monday.

The weather was blamed for at least 27 highway deaths and one sledding fatality on Sunday and Monday. [...]

Global warming will plunge Britain into new ice age 'within decades'

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
The Independent
25 January 2004

Britain is likely to be plunged into an ice age within our lifetime by global warming, new research suggests.

A study, which is being taken seriously by top government scientists, has uncovered a change "of remarkable amplitude" in the circulation of the waters of the North Atlantic.

Similar events in pre-history are known to have caused sudden "flips" of the climate, bringing ice ages to northern Europe within a few decades. [...]

MikeRoweSoft Names His Price

Associated Press
10:41 AM Jan. 26, 2004 PT

Mike Rowe, a 17-year-old resident of Victoria, British Columbia, has agreed to pick a new name for his website, currently called, said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler.

Mike's father, Kim Rowe, confirmed that his son had struck an agreement with Microsoft. Rowe said his son could not be interviewed Friday because he had to study for final exams.

Mike also is working feverishly to put together a new website, his father said.

Desler said Microsoft would cover Mike's costs of changing to a new website and redirecting traffic from the old site. Microsoft also had agreed to help the teen get Microsoft certification training and other gifts, including an Xbox game console, he said, and has invited Mike to a technology festival in March at the corporation's headquarters in suburban Redmond. [...]

Skull Details Suggest Neanderthals Were Not Humans

January 27, 2004

Ever since their discovery in the 19th century, Neanderthals have been like the uncomfortably odd relatives who show up at a family reunion. Should they be seated with the closest kin, sent to the back of the room with the distant cousins or tossed out as rank interlopers, despite a family resemblance?

In short, were the now-extinct Neanderthals of Europe full members of the modern human species, a subspecies or an entirely different species? The answer has implications for the ancestry of modern Europeans: whether some Neanderthal blood could flow in their veins.

Although many scientists think Neanderthals were a subspecies, which could have interbred with Homo sapiens, new research appears to confirm the more widely held view that Neanderthals and modern humans were significantly different, enough to qualify as separate species.

The findings were based on detailed measurements of variations in the skulls of modern humans and Neanderthals as well as 12 existing species of nonhuman primates. The research team, led by Dr. Katerina Harvati, a paleoanthropologist at New York University, reported its results yesterday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"What we are really saying is that Neanderthals did not contribute to the ancestry of modern Europeans," Dr. Harvati said in an interview.

The research lends strong support for the single-origin theory of modern human evolution, one of two models that have split anthropology into warring camps. This theory holds that modern Homo sapiens is a new species that arose relatively recently in Africa — more than 100,000 years ago — and spread out to replace indigenous archaic populations around the world. Neanderthals were one such group, a separate species that did not breed with the newcomers before it vanished.

The opposing regional-continuity theory holds that the new migrants from Africa bred at least to some extent with the archaic populations they encountered, perhaps accounting for some superficial differences among people today in different regions. In this view, Neanderthals were a subspecies and at least partly ancestral to modern Europeans.

Dr. Eric Delson, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and Lehman College, both in New York City, said the new research was a mathematically rigorous approach to the question of Neanderthal-human relationships. "It's a very convincing piece of work," Dr. Delson said.

But not convincing enough, it seems, to put the controversy to rest.

"This research will not change many minds," said Dr. Erik Trinkaus, a specialist in Neanderthal studies at Washington University in St. Louis. His research has suggested that there was some interbreeding.

"We have known for a long time what these fossils look like," Dr. Trinkaus continued. "We know that Neanderthals are distinctive, but this research doesn't address their underlying biology."

In the new research, Dr. Harvati and her colleagues, Dr. Stephen R. Frost of the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury and Dr. Kieran P. McNulty of Baylor University in Waco, Tex., used a technique known as geometric morphometrics to measure the degree of variation between and among living primate species, including chimpanzees, gorillas, baboons, monkeys and humans.

The researchers focused their analysis on the same 15 "landmarks" on the cranium and face of each specimen. They were examined in 3-D to determine even the finest variations in shapes.

The purpose, Dr. Harvati said, "was to devise a quantitative method to determine what degree of difference justified classifying specimens as different species."

The differences measured between modern humans and Neanderthals were found to be significantly greater than those found between subspecies or populations of the other species studied. The two living species of chimpanzees, for example, appear to be more closely related to each other than Neanderthals are to humans, the scientists concluded.

In a statement about the findings, Dr. Harvati said the research provided "the most concrete evidence to date that Neanderthals are indeed a separate species within the genus Homo."

Break-Dancers Perform For The Pope, Get His Blessing
2:33 PM EST January 26, 2004

VATICAN CITY -- In an unusual spectacle at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II presided Sunday over a performance of break-dancers who leaped, flipped and spun their bodies to beats from a tinny boom box.

The 83-year-old pontiff seemed to approve, waving his hand after each dancer completed a move, then applauding for the entire group. He watched the performance from a raised throne.

"For this creative hard work I bless you from my heart," he said.

During the show, one dancer -- part of a Polish group that helps poor and marginalized youths -- planted his head on the inlaid marble floor of the Vatican hall and spun to loud applause from his group and from Vatican officials. Another performer flung his body around in a series of spins and handstands. [...]

Show me heaven

By Amanda Hancox
Producer, BBC Radio 4
Monday, 26 January, 2004

As more and more people come forward with accounts of near-death experiences, new research is about to examine the out of body experience to see whether mind and body really do separate at the point of death.

It is only 30 years ago that the term near-death experience was coined. An American researcher, Raymond Moody, used it to describe the reports of a large number of people who, whilst apparently dead, had seen deceased relatives, tunnels of light, life reviews and felt an overwhelming sense of peace, before being resuscitated.

Recent studies have shown that one in 10 people who have had a cardiac arrest report an near-death experience (NDE). These experiences are reported across many cultures and religions. Some believe they offer a glimpse of an afterlife while others see them as the result of a dying brain.

In March Dr Sam Parnia and Professor Peter Fenwick will begin a year-long study, looking at patients who have had cardiac arrests to find out if they have had any experiences or memories whilst their heart stopped beating.

In particular they are interested in those who report an out-of-body experience (OBE), when the "experiencer" looks down on their body and surroundings from a height.

At Hammersmith Hospital and 12 other hospitals across the UK, symbols will be placed in strategic places so that only those who have an OBE will be able to see them.

"If these claims are verified" says Dr Sam Parnia, "then this will have a huge implication for science because what it would indicate for us is that our current understanding of mind, body and brain isn't sufficient and that it is possible for the mind/consciousness to separate from the brain at the end of life."

However, a similar but small scale study at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, last year was inconclusive. Over a five-year period eight out of 39 cardiac arrest patients had a NDE and of those only two had an OBE. Unfortunately, neither of them was in the right place to spot the symbols.

Evidence of the 'other side'

Penny Sartori, who conducted the research at Morriston Hospital, believes it is very easy for people to dismiss NDE as hallucinations.

"I documented 12 cases of people who had had hallucinations and I found that the hallucinations were very different from the NDE." Hallucinations tend to be random and non-specific whereas the NDEs follow a definite pattern and the reports are very clear and precise.

Professor Paul Badham, from the University of Wales, Lampeter, who helped oversee this study, believes these experiences are evidential for believing in heaven.

"People do describe a paradise or kind of environment, they do describe being met by a being of light who seems to know them, they often have a review of their past life. They often have a sense of passing self judgement on that kind of life that they have lived. So it does seem to me that many of the ingredients of a belief in heaven are present in the NDE and confirmed by it."

However, Professor Christopher French, who looks into paranormal experiences at Goldsmith College, London, is more sceptical. "Virtually all the aspects of the NDE have been reported in other contexts," he says.

"I think it will be a long time before we fully understand the NDE," says Professor French, "but it's an incredibly fascinating and profound experience for the people that have it and it would certainly be a mistake for science to close its eyes towards those kinds of experience.

"Potentially they can tell us an awful lot, not only about how the brain may operate at the kind of extremes but also about normal everyday consciousness and so, definitely, we ought to carry on studying these experiences and taking them seriously."

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