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Saturday, February 21, 2004

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Picture of the Day

©2004 Pierre-Paul Feyte

Our world seems to be one of addiction. WordNet Dictionary defines the word "addict" as, "[n] someone who is physiologically dependent on a substance; abrupt deprivation of the substance produces withdrawal symptoms". There are countless types of addiction. Amidst a flurry of 'A' influences, man becomes physiologically dependent upon different "substances". While addiction to drugs and alcohol are most readily apparent, there are many more types of addiction that must be addressed. Sex can be an addiction, with some forms of the dependency naturally being more harmful than others.

The husband who cheats on his wife is addicted to physical self-indulgence, without regard to the effect that his actions may have on his spouse. In a similar vein, his new partner is engaged in the same act of pleasure for the self. In such a case, neither the husband nor his new partner consider the feelings of the man's wife. They also don't consider how they each have reduced the other people involved to mere objects. Of course, the example is just as true if the wife is cheating on her husband.

An individual can also be addicted to pornographic material, sometimes when the party involved already has a partner. There have been several stories in the news in recent years about people with families who become addicted to viewing pornographic material at work, for example. In this case, one might ask the question: Why would a person choose such a self-serving act, when the act of making love with his or her partner is supposedly the ultimate physical expression of love? The answer to this question can be quite complex. As always, the devil is in the details. Some sex-related addictions can reach new heights of absurdity and irrationality:

Man arrested for watching porn while driving

Ananova.com
11:08 Friday 20th February 2004

A man has been arrested in New York state after being caught watching a pornographic film while driving.

Police say 35 year-old Andre Gainey was driving near the Schenectady Police Station when he was spotted by an officer in an unmarked car.

According to a report on the MSNBC website, the officer saw Gainey watching the film on a DVD screen inside his Mercedes. [...]

Whatever the case, it is apparent that such activity is quite clearly an addiction. A person seeks a "quick fix" in the form of a complex chemical cocktail in the brain. Hormones are released, "feel-good" chemicals are produced, and the dependency is satisfied, if only temporarily. Eventually, the physical manifestations of satisfaction wear off, and another "hit" is required. If it is withheld by any means, including an act of will, withdrawal symptoms result. The same process seems to be true for addictions that do not involve sex, such as narcotics, alcohol, food, material possessions, shopping, inflicting pain on others, and the list goes on...

We even become addicted to "little" things that end up becoming big problems. Returning to the dictionary, we add a second definition of "addict": "[n] someone who is so ardently devoted to something that it resembles an addiction; 'a golf addict'; 'a car nut'; 'a control freak'". We become emotionally and socially identified with material possessions, or the mindless entertainment on our televisions, or patriotism, or a myriad of other elements of life in this realm. How many times have we told ourselves, "I should be doing [fill in the blank], but I'm so addicted to this new TV show!" Addiction can even spread to more obscure issues, such as the need to always be "right" in a discussion or argument, even when we know we are wrong. Obviously, the extent to which each of these "obsessions" takes hold depends on the individual. But, in the general sense of the word, they are all addictions.

Perhaps the biggest addiction of all is telling lies. In general, we are all addicted to lies - big lies, little lies, lies we tell others, lies we tell ourselves. We have previously discussed the concept of lies. Recognizing and divesting ourselves of these lies is so important, however, that we return today to the subject again from a slightly different angle. We can become so addicted to the lies we tell ourselves, that we feel offended when another's mere presence contradicts our illusions of ourselves. As Castaneda put it: "Self importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it - what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men."

A recent example of this phenomenon is the severe anti-French sentiment prevalent in the US at the beginning of Gulf War II. More than any other culture in the world, America is addicted to the idea that it is the best at everything. As such, if the US president says a war is necessary, by golly everybody better get in line! When France and Germany politely, rationally declined involvement and requested further UN inspections, many Americans were deeply offended. They were so offended, in fact, that they changed French Fries to Freedom Fries, they stopped purchasing French wine, and they generally insulted all things French. It was quite a violent and interesting reaction to a normal, level-headed response from a friendly European nation. America's self-importance led it down a path that the country has yet to recover from. Based on recent signs, it may never recover. But was it strictly self-importance? Perhaps these events also reveal another type of addiction: the obsession with war.

The May 22, 2003 Signs page contained a story about a graduation speech by Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of a recent book that describes war as an addiction. He was booed, the grads turned their backs to him, and they even rushed the stage and twice cut power to the microphone. Mr. Hedges decided to cut his speech short. There is an unspoken rule in the Land of the Free that a president should not be questioned during times of war. Soldiers that return home are generally portrayed as heroes, no matter how many innocent lives they have taken. Certainly, there have been exceptions to this rule. And certainly, the same could be said of wartime soldiers in other countries. But at present, there is no other country on the planet that has a more powerful or more expensive military than the US of A. America is a land addicted to its ability to destroy and control, all the while convincing itself that it is doing the exact opposite.

In a sense, addiction is self-imposed slavery. The US is the source of arguably the most obscene "reality TV shows" ever conceived by the mind of man. Simultaneously, the new police state is being rolled out, and the American Empire is spreading. Coincidence? We think not. Once again, the task of the puppet masters is made all the more easy by providing the populace with a means by which they can enslave their own minds, and perhaps even their souls. The greatest tyranny is not the one forced onto a people, but rather the one that the people implement and enforce themselves due to their illusions and addictions.

We also mustn't forget that war is profitable. Just ask Halliburton. Throughout history, the elite have profited handsomely from countless wars. The Bush family even profited from the horrible murder and mayhem of WWII. It seems that many addictions are inextricably linked. Become addicted to greed, and you become addicted to war. Become addicted to lying to yourself about sex, and you may become addicted to pornography, which then may lead to an addiction of lies to others to "excuse" your actions. In essence, we each impose our own internal network of interrelated addictions that keeps us enslaved and blind to the reality around us. It can be quite a vicious circle, indeed. Somehow, we must find a way out.

The definition of our word of the day has some interesting notes. Some synonyms of "addict" are: "freak, hook, nut". These synonyms highlight the depth of control and deception in the world. Many of the addictions we have, most especially those involving sex, are considered taboo in many societies. We associate words like "freak" and "nut" with addiction, resulting in a great deal of socially implemented fear. No one wants to discuss their addictions with anyone - even close friends, family, or a spouse - for fear of rejection. It may be refreshing to consider that, since we are all addicts of one sort or another, we are all freaks and nuts!

Denial will also rear its ugly head. In general, when confronted with a horrible truth, especially a truth about ourselves, we recoil in horror. Should this really be a big surprise? Even in the outer world, we deny the truth in favor of the lie. Dresden James wrote, "It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic."

Perhaps we should add "lunatic" to the list of synonyms. To further complicate matters, it seems that whether or not we see the truth, we are led to believe that we are crazy.

Sometimes, it is just too painful to see the truth. But growth implies change, and change implies something concrete - a leap in understanding, for example. Leaps don't necessarily have to be painful, but they require effort. To jump a great distance, one must exert energy. Sometimes a running start is needed, or a pair of good shoes with adequate traction. If our muscles are weak, we may barely be able to get off the ground. But with training, a healthy diet for good fuel, and a great deal of DOing, we can make the leap. No one ever made it to the Olympics by watching the tube and eating Twinkies.

The second note of interest is in Webster's 1913 Dictionary:

Definition: 1. Addicted; devoted. [Obs.]
Addict was formerly used in a good sense; as, addicted to letters; but is now mostly employed in a bad sense or an indifferent one; as, addicted to vice; addicted to sensual indulgence. "Addicted to staying at home." --J. S. Mill. Devote is always taken in a good sense, expressing habitual earnestness in the pursuit of some favorite object; as, devoted to science. Consecrate and dedicate express devotion of a higher kind, involving religious sentiment; as, consecrated to the service of the church; dedicated to God.

Originally, it seems the word "addict" was used in the same sense as the word "devotion" is today. Like so many other elements of this world, it became twisted over time. Of course, there is a difference between blind devotion related to the worldly, mechanical 'A' influences, and devotion of the soul that is centered around the higher 'B' influences. Regarding the topic of 'A' and 'B' influences discussed yesterday:

He who studies esoteric science must not naively oppose 'A' influences. That would only succeed in bringing catastrophe. [...] 'A' influences play a positive role in the economy of the Universe. They combine with devastating force to oppose anyone who tries to attack them directly in their ensemble. The task of the seeker is different. Instead of trying to annihilate the 'A' influences, or to carve out a path between them for himself by his exploits, while continuing his esoteric education, he should instead escape their grasp.

It is important to understand that we can never attain this goal by our own forces. It is by absorbing 'B' influences - divine influences from a higher level, which are consequently more powerful - and by putting full trust in them, as well as by giving proofs of capacity and devotion, that we shall be liberated from the dominion of these 'A' influences...

In general [we] will have to accomplish - as a mission - a task in the domain of the 'A' influences. Above all, this work will require study of the bipolar world. Intelligence is the only tool we possess with which to achieve this end.

[B. Mouravieff, Gnosis, Vol I, p. 79. For more information, see our article Boris Mouravieff and the Cassiopaeans or: The Way of Love]

When it comes to "curing" an addiction to the 'A' influences, there is no room for simply trying to extricate ourselves from the issue. One either succeeds at eliminating the effects of the addiction, or one fails. DOing is required. There is no room for lies or insincere efforts. And, just as an alcoholic is never fully cured, other addictions will not magically disappear, never to be heard from again. Work on the self is a constant struggle. As we learn more and grow more, the struggle may become easier.

If we are able to purge ourselves of the control of unhealthy addictions, perhaps we can replace them with an addiction - in the original sense of the word - to the truth. If we can learn to "consecrate and dedicate express devotion of a higher kind" to the truth of the inner and outer worlds, we may finally be capable of truly embracing and living the creative principle.

Bush Installs Judge, Bypassing Senate

By JEFFREY McMURRAY, Associated Press Writer
February 21, 2004

WASHINGTON - Bypassing Senate Democrats who have stalled his judicial nominations, President Bush installed Alabama Attorney General William Pryor on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday.

Bush praised Pryor as "this leading American lawyer" and complained that the Senate had unfairly blocked him and other White House nominees.

"A minority of Democratic senators has been using unprecedented obstructionist tactics to prevent him and other qualified nominees from receiving up-or-down votes," Bush said. "Their tactics are inconsistent with the Senate's constitutional responsibility and are hurting our judicial system."

Pryor was immediately sworn in in Alabama.

The White House had begun informing senators Friday afternoon of Bush's intention.

The recess appointment, which will last only until the end of 2005, was the second Bush has used to sidestep Democrats who have mounted successful filibusters against Pryor and five other appeals court nominees.

Last month, Bush used a similar appointment to promote Mississippi federal judge Charles Pickering to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bush picked Pryor last April for a seat on the 11th Circuit that covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Abortion rights advocates immediately mounted a campaign against him, citing Pryor's criticism of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that said women had a constitutional right to terminate pregnancy.

Republicans have been unsuccessful in five attempts, the last one in November, at breaking through the parliamentary blockade that Democrats erected against Pryor's nomination.

Pryor, 41, is a founder of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which raises money for GOP attorneys general. At his confirmation hearing, he said he had not lobbied tobacco companies or companies under investigation by his office, but Democrats said they had documents showing Pryor may have been involved in some fund-raising activities.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Bush of using a recess appointment to bolster himself with Republican conservatives before the fall election. [...]

Comment: Is Bush just trying to "bolster himself" before the fall election? He seems to be in a big hurry. Perhaps he is PLANNING something big and stacking the court before he does it...

High Court to Mull 'Enemy Combatant' Rule

By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
Fri Feb 20, 6:59 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed Friday to decide whether U.S. citizens arrested in America as "enemy combatants" may be held indefinitely without access to lawyers or courts, setting the stage for a major ruling on presidential powers versus civil liberties.

The justices had already agreed to consider the government's detentions of terror suspects — American and foreign — caught overseas and held incommunicado.

But the case of former Chicago gang member Jose Padilla is seen as the one that will set a key standard as the government pursues the open-ended war on terror: Does the threat of attack justify giving federal authorities unprecedented legal latitude to hold their own citizens? [...]

"The perception that the administration critics have, that innocent people were grabbed off the street, thrown in a black hole and are languishing, that's totally untrue," said David Rivkin Jr., a Washington lawyer who served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

He said the administration has done a thorough job ensuring that the detainees are threats to national security. [...]

Comment: Given that detainees are in fact languishing in a black hole without being charged and without legal recourse, it seems that we must at least consider that the remainder of Rivkin's statement is also wrong.

Ex-Officer's Book Attacks C.I.A. Legal Tactics

By JAMES RISEN
The New York Times
February 21, 2004

ASHINGTON, Feb. 20 — Jill, an alias for an undercover C.I.A. officer, was on temporary duty in Europe when she was the alleged victim of an attempted rape and beating by another C.I.A. officer.

Jill and her husband, who also worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, reported the incident to C.I.A. headquarters and demanded that the case be turned over to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. But, according to a new book about the difficulties facing C.I.A. employees who seek legal action against the agency, the two were soon pushed into menial jobs. Eventually, they received an out-of-court settlement and resigned.

That is just one of the things disclosed in a recent book by a former C.I.A. officer who now is a Washington lawyer specializing in representing current and former agency employees. The book, "Piercing the Veil of Secrecy" (Carolina Academic Press) by Janine M. Brookner, discusses the obstacles C.I.A. employees face in pursuing cases against an agency where even personnel records are classified. [...]

Comment: The timing of the release of this new book is rather interesting given the attempts by the Bush Reich to lay the blame for an "intelligence failure" on the CIA and DIA.

"We had to kill Wellstone"

Tribune Columnists
Paul Rolly and JoAnn Jacobsen-Wells
Salt Lake Tribune Columnists

During a Feb. 5 meet-the-candidate night for the newly formed College Republicans U. chapter -- not to be confused with the older and more established College Republicans -- representatives for several candidates revved up the jovial crowd with such statements as "We need to put an end to the liberal Matheson era" and support "the Democrat killers."

As the audience giggled off and on, Mike Clement, representing congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater, spoke excitedly about Republican successes when College Republicans work hard, citing the victory of Norm Coleman in the 2002 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota.

As Clement bantered with the audience, one Republican gadfly noted that they defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale in that race, adding: "We had to kill off Wellstone to get it." He was referring to the death in a plane crash of Sen. Paul Wellstone and his family before the election. [...]

Detective story

How the 9/11 investigation should really be conducted

By John Kaminski

If we had a real Attorney General in the United States, instead of a glossolalia-gagged demagogue who takes payoffs from industrialists to advance his religious pathologies, we would have solved the tragic riddle of 9/11 by now.

If we had a real Attorney General who championed the rights of all Americans instead of merely protecting the rich patricians he so obnoxiously serves, we would undoubtedly have hundreds of people — including the top leaders of our country — already indicted and awaiting trials for their roles in the treasonous tragedy of 9/11.
But we don't have such an Attorney General. And we don't have real law enforcement in this country, despite all this cynical blather about Homeland Security. And no one has been apprehended and charged in the most serious crime in American history.

The investigation has been bungled from the start. And the continuing coverup begins with President George W. Bush, who from day one has covered up the true facts of that dark day, and continues to do so to this very moment.

The official story of 9/11 posits that 19 Arab terrorists hijacked four planes and crashed three of them into well-known American landmarks, costing more than three thousand Americans their lives. Yet no conclusive evidence has ever connected these alleged Arab terrorists to the actual crime. Only a campaign of media hysteria centered around vague and unproved aspersions from Washington has swayed the American people like some drunken lynch mob into accepting government's story, which amounts to a massive hate crime against Muslims.

A paltry and essentially powerful government-appointed panel is right now frittering away more time dealing with nonessential aspects of the investigation. Public confidence in their deliberations is sinking day by day as one public official after another — including the President — insists they will testify before the panel but only in private, lest the public get wind of the shallow and self-serving lies they are sure to tell.

But if we had a real Attorney General who truly cared about justice for all those dead victims, and we lived in an actual democracy that was genuinely of, by, and for the people, this is what he'd do.

First, instead of locking up every headscarfed Muslim between Boston and West Covina, he would inquire discreetly about every single financial transaction that was made in the two weeks before 9/11, and quickly determine exactly who made the most significant profits. In a very short time he would discover the names of the investors who made millions from those "put" options purchased on United and American Airlines, and when he had those names, well, that's when the real fun would begin.

Those people would be, as they say in the cop business, brought in for questioning. And I mean questioning. There should be no more important law enforcement goal in the country right now than to identify those people who made that money because of their prior knowledge that 9/11 would happen.

And since these folks are probably such wusses, it wouldn't take much pressure — no more than, say, a dozen solid punches in the mouth — to get them to spill the beans on where they got their information.

And once that information, and those names, were in the possession of a real Attorney General, well, then the FBI boys and girls — instead of being ordered to sit on their hands as they so often are by high government muckymucks who are deftly and crookedly stealing from the American people on a regular basis ... then the FBI and all those other acronymmed agents could go out and make some real arrests.

Unfortunately, this could only happen in a legitimate democracy. And you can't possibly imagine it happening in this disgustingly corrupt and prejudiced mess we have called the United States of America, where the rich can commit any crime they want and get away with because they can pay off the judges and lawyers, while the poor don't even really have to commit a crime to get put in jail.

Anyway, in a legitimate democracy — one that actually worked — once the agents made the real arrests that would produce the perps who provided the inside information to investors that 9/11 was coming down and there was money to be made, then we could have some very interesting interrogations, which in a real democracy would definitely be televised. Talk about a ratings boost! [...]

A biological time bomb?

New book tells the story of the U.S. government's secret Plum Island germ laboratory and claims it's a ticking biological time bomb none of us can safely ignore.

MSNBC

It sounds like the script from a science fiction movie — dozens of deadly and rare biological diseases, housed on a bucolic island just a stone's throw from some of the wealthiest homes in America, with a history of contagious outbreaks, poor security, official denials, and perhaps most frightening of all, a potential terrorist target. Unfortunately, it's not science fiction. According to "Lab 257," a new book by Michael Carroll, it's exactly what's going on just hours from New York City at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Long Island, New York. Carroll discusses the book on “Today.” Read an excerpt here..

Sick workers seek justice

But many nuclear laborers die before feds process claims

By Ann Imse
Rocky Mountain News
February 21, 2004

George Barrie and his wife, Terrie, drive down a dusty country road near Craig to their mailbox every day, hoping against hope.

The Barries are checking for a letter from the government admitting that George's debilitating ailments were caused by the plutonium he inhaled at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver. [...]

Over the course of five decades, at plants across the country, bomb builders like George Barrie melted and ground plutonium and beryllium - metals so deadly that breathing invisible specks can kill.

Thousands of workers fell ill with cancer and other devastating diseases caused by radioactive and toxic substances at their jobs. Surrounded by snaking pipelines of corrosive, explosive and radioactive materials, they risked their lives just as surely as a soldier on the battlefield. [...]

Comment: Despite the fact that Bush has continually increased the fear levels regarding Muslim terrorists, we can see that far more Americans have been, or live under the threat of being, terrorized and poisoned by their own government.

The Ultimate Betrayal

by Howard Zinn

I cannot get out of my mind the photo that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on December 30, alongside a story by Jeffrey Gettleman. It showed a young man sitting on a chair facing a class of sixth graders in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. Next to him was a woman. Not the teacher of the class, but the young fellow's mother. She was there to help him because he is blind.

That was Jeremy Feldbusch, twenty-four years old, a sergeant in the Army Rangers, who was guarding a dam along the Euphrates River on April 3 when a shell exploded 100 feet away, and shrapnel tore into his face. When he came out of a coma in an Army Medical Center five weeks later, he could not see. Two weeks later, he was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, but he still could not see. His father, sitting at his bedside, said: "Maybe God thought you had seen enough killing."

The newspapers on December 30 reported that 477 American GIs had died in the war. But what is not usually reported is that for every death there are four or five men and women seriously wounded.

Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch, blinded in Iraq, and his mother with sixth graders recently in Blairsville, Pa. (NYT Photo/Ozier Muhammad) The term "seriously wounded" does not begin to convey the horror. Sergeant Feldbusch's mother, Charlene Feldbusch, who, along with his father, virtually lived at his bedside for two months, one day saw a young woman soldier crawling past her in the corridor. She had no legs, and her three-year-old son was trailing behind.

She started to cry. Later she told Gettleman, "Do you know how many times I walked up and down those hallways and saw those people without arms or legs and thought: Why couldn't this be my son? Why his eyes?"

George Bush was eager to send young men and women half a world away into the heart of another nation. And even though they had fearsome weapons, they were still vulnerable to guerrilla attacks that have left so many of them blinded and crippled. Is this not the ultimate betrayal of our young by our government? [...]

Anti-Semitism at the World Social Forum?

by Cecilie Surasky
February 19, 2004
CommonDreams.org

It is my first morning at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India and I am at a workshop on Palestinian women and the occupation. In the audience is a woman who I first think might be Israeli — she could easily be one of my friends and I feel an immediate kinship with her. She tells me she is 34 and has lived her whole life in Gaza except for college. I ask her if I can interview her.

She cautiously eyes my card, on which I have purposely written in thick, visible letters: Jewish Voice for Peace. “I don’t know, she says. “Do you support the occupation?” It seems such a surreal question. How could anyone support an occupation? The very word evokes domination, a kind of cruelty. No, I say, we want to end the occupation. We want a peace that is just.

I ask about the checkpoints. She describes sitting in her car waiting to be allowed to drive through. The young Israeli soldiers are in sniper posts. You can’t see them, but they can see you, she explains. They signal it’s time to go by shooting their guns. She waits a long time until the soldiers say, “OK, now the dogs can go.”

“You think, ‘Do I want to be called a dog, or do I just want to go?’ ” she tells me. “I don’t care, so I start my car and they yell ‘No! Not you, I said dogs!’ So she turns her car off, and sometime later they say, “OK, now humans can go!” She starts her car and they look at her and the others and say “No! I said humans.” And she turns her car off and waits until finally this “other” category of Palestinian — neither human nor animal — is allowed to pass.

"This," she says, ”is my only contact with Israelis.” And this, I think, and is my first contact with someone from Gaza.

The WSF and the new anti-Semitism

The World Social Forum (WSF) is the populist answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead of a gathering of the world’s mostly wealthy, white, and male heads of state and captains of industry in Davos, the WSF is a cacophony of anti-globalization/human rights activists from all over the globe. The roughly 100,000 participants represent every imaginable cause — from Indian “untouchables” and Bhutanese refugees to child trafficking and sexual minorities. They are seen in the hundreds of marches that seem to appear out of nowhere down the main thoroughfare, at the 500 information booths, in more than 1,000 workshops, and on the political posters filling every inch of available wall space.

I have come because my New Voices human rights fellowship has decided to send the fellows to the WSF. But I have an additional reason for being here. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) has cited the WSF as one of the centers of what it and others refer to as the “new anti-Semitism”, and these charges have been picked up by various journalists as evidence of a dangerous new trend on the left. [...]

I attend most of the workshops I can find on the Israel-Palestine issue. What I do not hear (or see) is anything I would consider anti-Semitic. In a global conference of 100,000 people, one expects to hear an enormous range of political perspectives, including the occasional extreme or intolerant remark. Given that I am prepared for the worst, I am shocked that the overwhelming majority of what is said in workshops critical of US and Israeli policies in the territories is milder than the articles and essays one can read in Israeli newspapers on any given day.

Two realities, one anti-Semitism industry

After I return home, the Wiesenthal Center publishes an alarming piece entitled "Networking to Destroy Israel" in the Jerusalem Post. The article claims that this year's WSF was "hijacked by anti-American and anti-Israeli forces" and leads me to wonder whether we attended the same conference. In this piece, and for the second year in a row, they strangely declare themselves the only Jewish NGO to attend the WSF.(I personally saw participants from Brit Tzedek and Yesh Gvul, to name just a few — and Jewish Voice for Peace is listed in the official program.)

They go on to cite a litany of statements, including mine, as proof that the WSF is a place where people who want to destroy Israel meet to plot and recruit. Employing a form of twisted logic that would make Donald Rumsfeld proud, they essentially claim that the absence of any blatant anti-Semitism is not proof that there was none, but merely an indication of a more “sophisticated" kind of anti-Zionism (and therefore anti-Semitism) in which sympathetic Jews such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) play a starring roll. The account is so riddled with errors — I am misquoted, JVP is described as “campus-based”, all of my colleagues are given the wrong attributions, and quoted either inaccurately or out of context — that it is pointless to list them all. It contains bits of truth but strings together isolated statements to make them sound like a tidal wave of hatred and part of what they call an “orchestrated” and "insidious" campaign to destroy Israel.

All this begs the question of why a group such as the SWC would want to fuel hysteria about anti-Semitism in general, especially in regard to the left. The SWC has an important history of hunting down former Nazis, exposing the activities of neo-fascists and other right-wing hate groups, and fighting genuine anti-Semitism.

But the SWC is like many other mainstream Jewish organizations in the United States that have expanded their mission from fighting the oppression of Jews by others to attempting to silence critics — including other Jews — of Israel’s human rights record. These organizations’ new role as arbiters of acceptable opinion is a far cry from their proud past. And it is ironic, given the spirited debate about Israel's occupation that takes place in Israel, but apparently is unacceptable in the rest of the world. [...]

What is perhaps most troublesome is that by fueling the fires of fear through hyperbolic statements, (an easy thing to do to a people with our history of suffering and persecution) these groups—who say they represent all Jews— play a critical role in giving the current Israeli government permission to violate virtually every moral and ethical standard central to the Jewish tradition in its effort to keep down the Palestinians.

They make peace ever more distant by perpetuating the myth that Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, have nothing to say to each other and are incapable of recognizing each other as full human beings with similar wants and needs. They get under our skin and seek to make Jews believe that indeed, the world is out to get us and we can trust no one. [...]

Black breaks his silence at last: 'I'm an honest man, not some embezzler'

By David Usborne in Wilmington, Delaware
21 February 2004

Conrad Black had been on the stand in this packed Delaware courtroom for an hour and a half answering in a monotone, almost brow-beaten manner, a long series of questions from his own lawyers. The responses were dry, as were the questions. Then, at two minutes before the lunch break, he broke lose.

"Can I say a sentence?" he asked Judge Leo Strine as the court was struggling over the admissibility or otherwise of certain documents that could support his position. The judge acquiesced, and the Conservative peer made an appeal that was addressed surely as much to the press gallery as to him.

"I have been horribly defamed," he began, glancing in our direction. "I have been characterised and stigmatised as an embezzler. I am trying to retrieve my reputation as an honest man."

Indeed, Lord Black was perhaps fairly describing the nub of the case that has been brought against him in this court by the board of Hollinger International, owner of The Daily Telegraph, which has accused him and other senior executives of receiving $32m (£17m) since 2000 in unauthorised payments arising from the sale of assets during that period. No one had uttered "embezzle" before, but that was the gist.

It was with these claims in hand, put forward by a special committee of Hollinger empanelled last summer to probe allegations of financial misdeeds, that Lord Black was persuaded on 16 November last year to sign an agreement to alter radically the structure of the company, to pay back the money he was said to have received, amounting to $7.2m, and to stand down as its chief executive officer.

"The impact," Lord Black went on, "has caused irreparable damage to my reputation." [...]

Black 'threatened people'

By Seth Sutel in Wilmington, Delaware
20feb04

AN adviser to Hollinger International Inc testified that Conrad Black, the company's founder and controlling shareholder, threatened members of a special committee investigating suspect payments he received.

Richard Breeden also testified that he suspected that Black would proably flee if a private deal he negotiated to sell his stake in Hollinger International's parent company went through.

Breeden, a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, testified on the second day of a trial that will likely determine the fate of Hollinger International Inc, publisher of The Daily Telegraph of London and the Chicago Sun-Times.

A special committee of Hollinger's board, which Breeden is advising, has determined that about $32 million ($40.4 million) in unauthorised payments were made to Black, his associates and entities he controls.

Black had originally agreed to repay the money, but changed his mind later after uncovering what he said was new evidence proving that the payments had in fact been properly authorised. Lawyers for Black argued that there was evidence that the payments did in fact receive proper approval from the board.

The case is pitting Black against his own hand-picked board of directors for control of the media empire he built. Black wants to sell control of the company his own way, but the board says he is improperly excluding other shareholder from the process and siphoning money from the company's coffers.

The company's directors say Black negotiated behind their back to sell his stake in Hollinger International's parent company, the Toronto-based holding company Hollinger Inc, to the Barclay brothers of Britain, undermining a separate sale process already under way.

The Barclay brothers run a retailing, hotel and media business from a small island in the English Channel.

Black's agreement with the Barclays valued his holdings of common stock at Hollinger Inc at about $US178 million. The company is asking the court, among other things, to temporarily block the deal.

Lawyers for Black suggest that Black acted properly in negotiating the sale because Hollinger Inc was facing a cash crunch and had no other option for meeting its obligations. Under a provision of an agreement Black made with his company, he would be allowed to sell his stake under those circumstances.

Asked how many times Black had made threats to members of the special committee, Breeden testified he was not sure he could remember them all. "Mr. Black begins many conversations by threatening everybody," Breeden said.

Breeden testified that Black began a meeting "glaring" at the directors present and threatened to sue them for libel in Canada. Black later did so. Black also noted that he knew where two of the members of the special committee lived, and could have one of those houses taken away, Breeden said.

Coming soon: The dirtiest show on earth!

February 19, 2004
By John Chuckman
YellowTimes.org Columnist (Canada)

Crowds cheering, bands marching, costumes glittering, high-wire stunts, and even animal acts (if the latest Bush stories about Kerry are to believed) -- all these and more are coming this fall to America's local fairgrounds and national airwaves.

American elections are not noted for depth of content. Despite constant disparagement, sound bites often are the only way to know what all the racket is about.

The candidates are typically such pasteboard-cutout figures, but what would you expect from people spending large parts of their lives in Washington? It is stifling preparation for anything useful, and, if the time were spent in Congress, the only solid skill you would likely possess is sniffing out campaign funds.

But even extravaganzas grow tiresome. How many times can an audience watch candidates with drippy television-smiles and capped teeth stand on a podium, hands clasped over their heads like boxing champs, while balloons and confetti rain down? If they can't come up with a new closing act for the conventions, some enterprising person should develop a computer program so that the parties only have to insert an image and voice sample for this year's candidate. Balloon colors would be adjustable as would theme music. Confetti and streamers could be added in any desired proportions.

The phoniness starts well before the conventions and actual campaigns. Honestly, have you ever seen a picture of a would-be presidential candidate in the primaries who isn't either stabbing the air with his forefinger, a la Kennedy 1960, or reaching out with both arms like one of those hog-sized television evangelists groping the air symbolically for his flock's wallets? The images are so repetitive, a good computer program could save everyone time and effort.

One thing is different this year. I don't recall such a wealth of filth being released at so early a date in the run-up to a campaign. We're in for a hilarious season. By November, even the most jaded viewer should have had some good laughs.

Ratings for the national debates, always guaranteed yawns unless one of the gents forgets his lines, should soar as viewers anticipate a darkly-serious Bush reaching into his jacket to pull out a pair of soiled panties in a sealed evidence envelope. Janet Jackson's breast-stunt was probably planned by a Republican ad agency to test audience reaction for the campaign. If a woman who looks much like her brother, minus the "skin condition," wearing a costume from a cheap 1950s sci-fi film about an invasion of giant cockroaches can get Americans excited, rating prospects for the fall are excellent.

Bush operatives already are reported to be conducting a worldwide search for any former intern who may have had an affair with John Kerry. The search will not overlook such past contacts as plump-bottomed baton-twirlers at county fairs and employees of the Boston branch of Hooters. The records of dry-cleaning establishments across the United States are being scrutinized by an ever-vigilant FBI for cleaning tickets identifying biologically-stained dresses or undergarments with torn straps.

Dick Cheney ordered the top-secret NSA to enter a salacious-word search into the supercomputers of its Echelon system that daily records and sorts through the world's telecommunications for clues to miscreants. By the way, if Dick Cheney were running, he'd only have to show a wallet-snap of his wife's embalmed-prune smile to be forgiven any straying from the marital bed, but Kerry is married to America's Grand Duchess of Pickles and Ketchup, and her five hundred million or so make up for an awful lot of shortcomings in other departments.

I must confess to not having mastered all the details. I wonder whether Intern-gate is supposed to have happened after Kerry's marriage-alliance with America's canned-spaghetti fortune? Maybe the Grand Duchess is a tolerant wife. I feel no compulsion to research these points since I'm sure I'll be filled in during the campaign.

Letters already produced suggest Republican politicians long ago closely vetted Bush's National Guard files and wiped them clean. Former Guardsmen, though, have come forward suggesting that Bush never showed up for duty in Alabama after leaving Texas. Bush drifting off into space should surprise anyone?

Bush still thought it worth countering with some murky pay records. Hell, Junior's entire career before going into crooked Texas politics was built on people trying to influence his dad by giving the boy the appearance of an honest living. Why would anyone expect his pay to have been stopped?

We all know what a vital role the National Guard plays, but it was a lot more vital during a protracted and vicious war. It was the only way to avoid Vietnam while getting yourself glossy, full-color pictures in uniform with a huge flag in the background - it was a future politician's dream duty. Bush joined by jumping the queue in front of scores of other influential people's sons. And, hell, he even got to play with a real jet plane once in a while, although for some reason, not explained in the record, his flying was cut short well before his service ended. Smart alecks have unkindly suggested that he was either too smashed or high to fly, but I'm sure this matter will be cleared up to everyone's satisfaction by the campaign.

The critical nature of Bush's service to the nation is brought home by a report concerning his using a National Guard plane to transport what were identified only as "tropical plants" to Texas. Apparently, either there was a shortage of pineapples at the base lounge or Bush invented a new role for the military in the war on drugs.

I'm just hoping a home-movie clip survives somewhere of Bush's legendary naked table-dancing in a bar. This would provide a hilarious finale to the campaign. CNN could show it again and again, frame by frame, with commentaries by a staff of legal experts. Who knows, if we're really lucky, there's a Polaroid out there somewhere of Junior with white powder stuck to his nose.

We may need porno-entrepreneur Larry Flynt to put up a million buck reward to get the goods. If Flynt is a bit short of cash after cutting down some prominent Republican hypocrites during the Clinton impeachment-farce, maybe George Soros, anxious to find a way to retire Bush before he blows up the planet, could send him the dough in a plain brown envelope.

I must end on a somber note. There are almost no genuine issues for Kerry and Bush to debate, unless you include Bush's low effective intelligence, which you may or may not think important since Cheney pretty much keeps Bush to ceremonial duties, a bit like the Queen of England. Kerry drones about jobs, seemingly unaware that a President has little influence on employment, although whenever a Democrat starts talking about jobs, you can bet protectionist trade measures aren't far behind.

As far as Bush's pointless brutality in Iraq, Kerry has long supported intervention there. He supported a resolution to that effect in 2002. He never said a word when limbs started being blasted off. But what would you expect from the rarified air of the Consort to the Grand Duchess of Pickles and Ketchup?

Bush prefers our pretty boy to his pretty boy

By JANE TABER
Friday, January 16, 2004

OTTAWA -- This is the tale of the two Scotts -- one American, the other Canadian. One is dark-haired, the other blond. Both are 35 and both work for the most powerful men in their respective countries.

Scott McClellan is the press secretary to U.S. President George W. Bush; Scott Reid is the senior strategist to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

But, according to Mr. Bush, Mr. Martin has the prettier Scott.

Indeed. Welcome to a new era of "pretty face" Canada-U.S. relations.

This is what happened:

Mr. Bush met Mr. Reid earlier this week at the summit in Monterrey, Mexico, just after the President's breakfast with Mr. Martin.

Mr. Reid was not initially in the hotel room where the two leaders and their closest advisers met, but was called in to brief the Prime Minister at the end as the group waited for the media.

Mr. Bush wandered over during Mr. Reid's chat with the Prime Minister. Mr. Reid introduced himself and shook hands with Mr. Bush.

"Well, what do you do for this guy?" the President asked as he pointed to the Prime Minister.

"Well, you know, sir, I can't really say," Mr. Reid said. "It's not that I don't want to. It's just that, you know, I don't really know from day to day."

This is true. Mr. Reid handles a number of files and performs a number of different duties, depending on the issue and the day.

The President chuckled. "Well, you got a pretty face," he told the surprised Mr. Reid. He wasn't done. "You got a pretty face," he said again. "You're a good-looking guy. Better looking than my Scott anyway."

This is true. His Scott has a receding hairline and is on the chubby side, while Mr. Martin's Scott has a full head of hair and is quite fit.

For the first time in his life, Mr. Reid had no reply. "I didn't know what to say," said Mr. Reid, noting later that he wished that Mr. Bush had referred to him as a "rugged-looking young man or something.

Quaker deserts as unit deploys

By Julia Oliver
Fayetteville Online
2004-02-19

Jeremy Hinzman said he could barely stomach chanting "kill we will" during basic training and, as a Quaker, he didn't want to shoot anybody. But it was the thought of serving U.S. interests in Iraq that made the 82nd Airborne Division specialist flee to Canada last month.

"I would have felt no different than a private in the German Army during World War II," he said by phone from Toronto, where he is seeking refugee status.

Hinzman, 25, who was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, is subject to prosecution as a deserter if he is caught within U.S. borders.

His name will go on a national database that law enforcement officers can access, said Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne. He can be arrested, but the Army won't go looking for him, she said.

"We don't have time to go and track down people who go AWOL," she said. "We're fighting a war."

Hinzman, who grew up in Rapid City, S.D., joined the Army in January 2001. The socialist structure of the military appealed to him, he said. He liked the subsidized housing and groceries and, at the end of his service, the money for college.

"It seemed like a good financial decision," he said. And, he said, "I had a romantic vision of what the Army was."

But from the beginning, basic training bothered him. He said he was horrified by the chanting about blood and killing during marches, by the shooting at targets without faces and by what he called the dehumanization of the enemy.

"It's like watching some kind of scary movie, except I was in it," he said. "People would just walk around saying things like, 'Oh, I want to kill somebody.'"

He felt that the prospect of killing should be taken more seriously and that soldiers should not talk about death in such a cavalier way, he said.

In August 2002, Hinzman turned in his first application to be a conscientious objector. He wanted to fulfill his service obligation, he said, but he didn't want to participate in combat. He wrote a six-page explanation of his beliefs, but the Army told him it was lost.

"I was informed three months later that it was never received," he said. Last fall, while doing clerical work, he was given a file that included that application.

By the time Hinzman applied again at the end of October, his unit was on track to go to Afghanistan. He deployed in December, and the application was pending.

"I didn't mind being deployed. I just didn't want to shoot anybody," he said.

Not allowed to go on patrol, he worked as a dishwasher, often 15 hours a day and, for the first few months, without a day off. He said his unit didn't get into any major combat.

Application denied

While he was in Afghanistan, his application for conscientious objector status was evaluated and denied, he said. Hinzman said he thinks one question - Would he defend his unit if attacked? - destroyed his chances. He said he answered yes, reasoning that he had no choice if he was forced to carry a gun.

"I was a little bit too honest, I guess," he said. [...]

More Japanese troops off to Iraq amid terror alert

TOKYO (AFP) Feb 21, 2004

Japan stepped up security at airports, nuclear power plants and government offices Saturday amid fears of a terrorist attack as a contingent of 140 Japanese ground troops left for Iraq by way of Kuwait.

The troops will beef up Japan's first military deployment since World War II in a country where fighting is still under way.

Police carried submachine guns at airports in and around Tokyo and Osaka as part of tightened security measures at 650 important facilities around the country, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's official residence and the US Embassy in Tokyo. [...]

Israel developing airship the size of a football field

By Amnon Barzilai
Haaretz Correspondent

The Israel Aircraft Industries is developing a craft 200 meters long and 60 meters wide that will be geostatically positioned 21 kilometers in the air to photograph objects as far away as 1,000 kilometers, sending the images back to a ground station.

"It will be an airship the size of a football field, nothing like it in the world," says engineer Avi Baum, head of the R&D department at Malam in the IAI. "The quality of the photographs will be very high, with optimum resolution. The quality will be good enough to read the license plates on moving cars on highways."

The airship will be able to carry a variety of payloads for both civilian and military purposes. [...]

Iraq may have to wait 15 months for elections

Ananova.com
11:51 Saturday 21st February 2004

US administrator Paul Bremer says it could take more than 15 months to hold elections in Iraq.

It is a much longer timeframe than the country's Shi'ite Muslim clergy and some political leaders seem prepared to accept.

Bremer has told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television station that it could take "a year or 15 months and may take longer" to arrange an election.

In his remarks, made in English and translated by the station, Bremer cited the absence of electoral laws and voter rolls as the main obstacles to a speedy vote.

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, demanded elections to choose a legislature before the planned June 30 transfer of power from the US-led coalition to the Iraqis. [...]

Police, army clash with settlers trying to enlarge rogue outpost

JERUSALEM (AFP) Feb 20, 2004

Police officers and soldiers on Friday clashed with over a hundred Jewish settlers who were trying to add caravans (trailer homes) to an unauthorized settlement outpost in the northern West Bank, a military source said. [...]

UN warns of Palestinian 'despair'

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC correspondent in Geneva

A United Nations agency says it is concerned at growing levels of despair among refugees in the occupied territories.

Speaking in Geneva, Peter Hansen, the head of UN Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (Unrwa), appealed for greater commitment from the international community.

He warned that unless the refugees were given some reason to hope for an improvement in their lives, they would be unlikely to have faith in the Middle East peace process.

The mood among Palestinian refugees is, he said, one of growing "hopelessness, cynicism and despair".

The agency believes that if the refugees are not given some reason to hope for an improvement in their situation, they will lose faith in the international community.

But Unrwa is under-funded. It has cut its emergency food distribution in the occupied territories from 60% to 40% of daily requirements, and will have to cut it again to 20%.

Barrier resentment

Malnutrition is, the agency says, a certainty.

Mr Hansen said the building of the security barrier, which Israel says it needs to protect itself from attacks by suicide bombers, is already adding to the problems, not just because people are cut off from their jobs or their land, but because Palestinians see the barrier as another sign that their situation is hopeless.

Israel's barrier is a source of despair, says Unrwa
"They see this fence as being the future border where less and less of their land is apparently going to be left for them," said Mr Hansen.

"That's how they read the wall, and that's how many observers read the wall, even though the Israelis are saying that that can be changed at any moment. It looks massive enough to me to appear to be difficult to move just like that."

France sees off Katzav, waits on Sharon visit

PARIS, Feb 20 (AFP) - Israeli President Moshe Katzav left France early Friday after a four-day state visit aimed at paving the way for a follow-up trip in April by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The stay by Katzav, who holds a largely ceremonial post, was long on diplomatic gestures as France and Israel tried to patch up a relationship strained by Israeli claims of French anti-Semitism and pro-Arab bias in the Middle East conflict.

"I will never forget my visit to France," he said in French before a large gathering in a Paris synagogue late Thursday.

During the trip, the first by an Israeli head-of-state since 1988, Katzav said he was met "everywhere with friendship, with warmth, with sympathy for the problems of the state of Israel."

But, while the blue-and-white Israeli flag fluttered on the Champs-Elysees in Katzav's honour and mutual flattery was extended, few solutions were found on the points dividing the Jewish state and Paris.

Foremost among those was Israel's construction of the barrier in the West Bank cutting off the Palestinian population.

Katzav and his host, President Jacques Chirac, toned down the rhetoric, but their conflicting points of view were still evident.

"As long as terrorism lasts, we have no other choice but to build the security barrier, to take unilateral measures and to conduct military actions to protect our citizens' lives," Katzav said a state banquet Monday marking the start of his stay.

Chirac, who has led international criticism of the barrier and who has previously called it illegal, said he recognised that Israel was concerned about its safety, but "the Palestinians also have the right to peace, to dignity, to a future, to a state". [...]

After a brief visit to Toulouse Thursday to tour the headquarters of aircraft maker Airbus, and the Paris synagogue visit, Katzav left the French capital early Friday on an El Al flight headed for Israel.

Israel's ambassador to Paris, Nissim Zvili, said the president's trip was a prelude to a visit by Sharon in April.

Bush wants to see Gibson's Passion

Last Updated Fri, 20 Feb 2004
CBC News Online

WASHINGTON - U.S. President George W. Bush wants to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, his spokesman said on Friday.

Although it won't be released until Feb. 25, the film - which depicts the life and death of Jesus Christ - has already been attacked on the grounds that it promotes anti-Semitism.

[...] Gibson, the star of such films as Lethal Weapon, belongs to a conservative Roman Catholic sect.

Comment: The conservative Roman Catholic sect referred to is Opus Dei. Let's look a little more closely at this group. It was founded in 1928 by a Spanish priest, Abbé Escriva, whose goal was to install a theocracy in Spain. Escriva began the Director of Conscience of Franco. Opus Dei began selecting and training the elites of the Spanish dictatorship. After the Second World War, Escriva was in Rome working to extend his organisation into Latin America, where it helped former fascists to find refuge. The double goal of Opus Dei was the struggle against communism and the propagation of the Catholic faith. In 1974 it celebrated the good works of the Chilean generals in overthrowing Allende.

Opus Dei was also active in setting up the European Community as a bulwark against the Communist countries. Robert Schuman, known as the father of Europe was a member, and Opus Dei had a hand in the elaboration of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Community.

Although Escriva died in 1975, the same year as Franco, Opus Dei continued its work. One report suggests that it was Opus Dei that convinced the College of the Cardinals to select Karol Wojtyla as Pope as a compromise candidate between the warring Italian factions. Jean Paul II has surrounded himself with members of Opus Dei who are apparently struggling for power in the Church against the Jesuits. They managed to have the Superior of the Jesuits sequestered "for reasons of health." The current Pope also launched an attack early in his Papacy on "liberation theology," a current in the Latin American Church that was siding with the revolts of the peasantry and the poor against the rich landowners.

For more information on Opus Dei, which has the appearance of a real cult, check out this website devoted to covering the group. See also this FAQ.

'Jesus' Nail Sale

By William Neuman
New York Post

February 19, 2004 -- Replicas of the nails used to hang Jesus on the cross have become the red-hot official merchandise linked to Mel Gibson's controversial new movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

Pendants made from the pewter, 2 1/2-inch nails - selling for $16.99 - all but flew out of the Christian Publications Bookstore on West 43rd Street as soon as they were put on display.

Hundreds of stores across the country will be selling licensed items tied to the movie, a graphically violent depiction of the last 12 hours of Christ's life, which opens next week on Ash Wednesday.

The souvenirs include a book, pins, key chains, coffee mugs and T-shirts.

But the most unusual collectibles are the nails, each of which hangs on a leather cord.

Its side bears the inscription "Isaiah 53:5," referring to a Bible verse that begins, "He was pierced for our transgressions..."

Look on the dark side of life: 'Positive thinking' can be a route to spiritual and political disaster

Karen Armstrong
Saturday February 21, 2004
The Guardian

[...] As TS Eliot said, humankind cannot bear very much reality. Some forms of religion encourage us to bury our heads in the sand to block out the suffering that surrounds us on all sides. The rich man in his palace can reconcile himself to the plight of the poor man at his gate by reminding himself that this is part of God's bright and beautiful plan; those who suffer poverty and oppression in this life will be recompensed in the hereafter. When thousands die in an earthquake, we can tell ourselves that God knew what he was doing.

At a literary festival, where I had been describing the fear that lies at the heart of religious fundamentalism, a man in the audience told me that he found this quite incomprehensible. If you have true faith, he argued, you cannot suffer. I suggested that if he lived in a more troubled part of the world (we were in Cheltenham at the time), he might find it more difficult to maintain his equanimity. But he seemed to regard religion as an anaesthetic that would even numb the pain of a concentration camp.

This is lazy, inadequate religion. If we deny the reality of suffering, we will ignore the distress of others. At its best, religion requires the faithful to see things as they really are. In Buddhism, the First Noble Truth that is essential for enlightenment is that life is dukkha: "unsatisfactory, awry". The Buddha's father tried to shield him from sorrow by imprisoning him in a pleasure-palace, walled off from disturbing reality. Guards were posted to drive away any distressing spectacle. For 29 years, the Buddha lived in this fool's paradise, locked into a delusion and unable to make spiritual progress. Finally the gods intervened and forced the young man to confront mortality, sickness and decay. Only then could he begin his quest for Nirvana.

The Buddha's palace is a striking image of the mind in denial. As long as we immure ourselves from the pain that surrounds us on all sides, we remain trapped in an undeveloped version of ourselves. Denial is futile: suffering will always breach the cautionary barricades that we erect around our fragile existence. The ideal is to find a still centre within that enables us to face pain with equanimity and use our experience of dukkha to appreciate the sorrow of others. [...]

Passenger from diverted Moroccan-bound flight accused of lying to FBI

04:36 AM EST Feb 21
GLENN ADAMS

BANGOR, Maine (AP) - An investment banker accused of making a phone call that triggered the diversion of a Morocco-bound jetliner was charged Friday with making false statements to the FBI.

Zubair Ali Ghias told investigators he phoned his family after boarding the plane Thursday to say he had been kidnapped in Chicago by Arabs who forced him to travel to New York and board the plane, according to an FBI affidavit.

Ghias, 27, who had been reported missing Monday, eventually admitted making up the story, saying he made the "rash decision" to "get away from everything" after getting into a fight with his wife, the document said.

Look Me in the Eye

Forget passport controls and get ready for some eye contact next time you enter Frankfurt airport. That’s where German Interior Minister Schily has kicked off the first high-tech biometric iris-scanning system.

[...] "Biometrics doesn’t just make travelling safer, but also simpler," German Interior Minister Otto Schily said as he launched the new technology on Thursday. The system is expected to cut long waiting lines at airports on account of its partly automated border controls.

[...] Furthermore, the iris doesn’t just betray the identity of the passenger, but can also tell much about his or her possible drug and alcohol consumption.

Comment: This is a system that is useless in security because there are no existing iris-scan databases of the "terrorists" they are trying to catch. Unless, of course, the CIA, Mossad and other intelligence agencies have iris-scans of their own employees. The scans they will be entering into the database are those of regular travelers. This will set up a system where you will be guilty is you are not in the computer or if you refuse because you consider this an abridgement of you privacy. You will have no more privacy. No matter where you live, now, new and more sophisticated methods of control are being imposed. It is obviously not because of "terrorism." So what is the real reason?

US offers to ease curbs on airline ownership

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Published: February 21 2004 4:00 | Last Updated: February 21 2004 4:00

The US administration has proposed a deal to liberalise the transatlantic air market that would ease restrictions on European airlines owning US carriers. But the proposal falls short of the comprehensive aviation area agreement sought by the European Commission.

Hawai'i 'earthquake machine' rumbles on

Dodging a space bullet

Atlanta firm envisions defending Earth with army of nuclear-powered robots

By MIKE TONER
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/20/04

A killer asteroid, the kind of space rock that did in the dinosaurs, is on a collision course with Earth. A fleet of nuclear-powered robots races to the rescue. Humanity's survival hangs in the balance.

By the second bag of popcorn, swarms of robotic MADMEN — short for Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Nodes — are descending on the doomsday rock. They attack like hungry dragonflies, gouging out chunks and hurling them into space with such force that the asteroid is slowly nudged into a new trajectory. The shift averts the ultimate catastrophe. The human race survives.
 
Hollywood has been spinning out variations of the theme for years in films like "Armageddon," "Deep Impact," "Fire From the Sky," "Meteor" and "Asteroid." Now, in a gleaming glass office building near Atlanta's Perimeter Mall, a small technology company is taking some of the fiction out of science fiction and proving that, sometimes, science is even stranger than fiction.
 
Inconspicuous in a building occupied by corporate tenants like H&R Block, Starwood Hotels and Target Stores, a handful of real-life engineers is pondering the defense of Planet Earth. Under a $75,000 NASA contract — less than a movie studio would pay for a good sci-fi script — SpaceWorks Engineering Inc. is studying one way the world might someday avert astrophysical Armageddon.

No one at the firm, founded by Georgia Tech aerospace engineering professor John Olds and staffed entirely by Georgia Tech graduates, has illusions that hordes of their MADMEN robots are going to be racing to humanity's rescue anytime soon.

Their study is purely a conceptual exercise. Like an architect's preliminary renderings of a new building, it will provide a few pretty pictures, a paper report and food for thought. If feasible, a defense of the planet would require decades to develop and cost tens of billions of dollars.

But given the near certainty that an asteroid will strike the Earth at some time in the indefinite future, Olds says, it makes sense to think now about ways such a catastrophe might be prevented.[...]

"When it comes to planetary defense, there are really two basic questions," Olds says. "Is something going to hit us? And what are we going to do about it? It's like insurance. If we wait until we answer the first question, it may be too late to do anything about it."
 
NASA is making progress on the first question. Over the last decade, ground-based telescopes have identified 2,672 "near-earth objects," whose orbits bring them in the general vicinity of Earth.
 
One of the latest found, minor planet 2004 CZ1, is a 150-foot-wide space rock that is due Tuesday to pass within 3.8 million miles of Earth — a virtual hair's breadth in the vastness of space.

By 2008, the NASA-led international Space Guard Survey hopes to have identified the orbits of 90 percent of the largest objects — a kilometer (0.6 mile) or more in diameter — that could pose a threat. Any object that large that struck the Earth would cause a planetary catastrophe.

The chances of that happening are one in a half-million years, according to one NASA report. But astronomers say there may be a million smaller rocks careening around the solar system, sufficient to wipe out a large city. The chances of such an impact are estimated at one in 1,000 years.

"It can happen," says Olds. "Just look at Tunguska."

In 1908, what is believed to have been a meteorite or comet exploded three miles above the Tunguska River Valley in Siberia with the force of 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. Because the area was so remote, populated primarily by reindeer herders, casualties are unknown. The blast leveled 800 square miles of forest, felling trees like toothpicks and knocking people to the ground 40 miles away.  

The blast wave from the explosion was detected by weather stations as far away as Berlin and the "salmon pink" glow of the fireball was visible in the night sky in London. The Tunguska object is thought to have been less than 200 feet in diameter. Scientists say a similar event on the U.S. East Coast today could easily kill 1 million people.

Over the years, in and out of Hollywood, a number of ideas for deflecting or destroying a doomsday asteroid have been proposed: blasting it into fragments or hitching up a massive engine that would divert it from a collision course with Earth.

The promise and pitfalls of a variety of schemes are on the agenda this month at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Planetary Defense Conference in Orange County, Calif. Scenarios to be considered include the threat of a 360-foot-wide asteroid destined to hit Europe, a comet aimed at the Mississippi Valley and a small asteroid headed for the Pacific Ocean 200 miles off the California coast.

Traditional concepts for intercepting and neutralizing the threat of an incoming asteroid or comet are fraught with problems.

Breaking up an asteroid without changing its trajectory would simply cause Earth to get smacked by smaller fragments. And changing the trajectory would require delivering and assembling an engine powerful enough to move a body the size of a football stadium — impractical with today's technology.
 
A.C. Charania, SpaceWorks' "senior futurist," says one possible key to an effective planetary defense may lie in numbers, not in sheer might. The concept invokes Newton's Third Law of Motion –- "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
 
An astronaut standing on a doomsday asteroid could, in theory, deflect its path by a miniscule amount simply by throwing a chunk of it into space. Unless he threw a lot of pieces very fast, however, he wouldn't alter the asteroid's course by much.
 
But Charania says thousands of nuclear-powered robots, working like an army of futuristic tennis ball machines, could launch into space enough of the offending rock, piecemeal, to shift its course by thousands of miles.
 
Olds says the robotic mass ejectors would be manufactured and stored in space until a threatening asteroid appeared. Then, they would intercept it, land, drill into the surface and use a conveyor-type system to hurl chunks of the asteroid into space. [...]

"Our hope is that projects such as ours can concretely lead to better detection systems and mitigation plans to show the extent of the threat and that something can be done against it," he says.

Comment: We have six pages of recent meteorite reports from the mainstream media, with several articles of scientists discussing "sci-fi" solutions to the problem.

FLASHBACK: FIRE FROM HEAVEN

The strange summer of 1783 saw an almost unprecedented number of fireballs and lightning strikes throughout England. In London alone, more than 16 people were killed and many houses destroyed. In the same period,a curious low-flying meteor exploded over south-eastern England. Nick Rawlinson ponders this exceedingly fortean coincidence.

Comment: A very entertaining article with some of the stranger fireball incidents recorded such as:

In 1256 a ‘comet’ coincided with exceptional high tides and storms, and “a great sound was heard in sundry parts of England, as if a mighty mountain had fallen into the sea.” Noisy meteors, note Knight and WG, also followed tremendous thunderstorms in Italy in 570 and in Constantinople in 611, with fatal incidences of ball lightning. On both occasions, the inhabitants were visited by two ‘humanoid creatures" and were afflicted with a spate of “deformed births” for months afterwards. In France, in the reign of King Gunthran, a fireball fell onto the city of Bordeaux, consuming it with fire and leaving a strange pestilence (a “cough and bloody flux”) in its wake.

New Data Shows Mysterious Force in Universe, as Einstein Said

By JAMES GLANZ
New York Times

A dark, unseen energy permeating space is pushing the universe apart just as Einstein predicted it could in 1917, according to striking new measurements of distant exploding stars by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. [...]

While the new results favor Einstein's nearly century-old prediction, they do not yet entirely rule out the stranger and more changeable forms of energy that some theorists have put forth. In particular, scientific proponents of the big rip, in which the energy would eventually become so powerful that it tears apart planets, stars and even atoms, have been left with some hope. But the data suggest, Dr. Riess said, that any ultimate cataclysm could not occur until well into the distant future, perhaps 30 billion years from now. [...]

Comment: This is the second article from the NYT about the "Big Rip" in less than a week. What are they saying? Don't worry the universe is stable, now go back to sleep? On the 18th we posted this article:

From Space, a New View of Doomsday

By DENNIS OVERBYE
New York Times

[...] "Theorists admit they are at a loss. Perhaps, some of them now say, Einstein's theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity, needs to be modified. "

"It sounds wacky," he said, referring to phantom energy, "but I think we're in a situation where we're going to need a really new idea. We're in trouble; the way out is going to be new imaginative things. It might be our ideas are not wild enough, they don't question fundamentals enough." [...]

Comment: A three page article that discusses the "Big Rip". It is quite possible that the real truth is even more wacky than their concepts of wackyness. And if general theory of relativity needs to be modified then perhaps the catastrophe may be ten years from now rather than ten billions years? This particular NYT article is silent about parallel and colliding universes in a five dimensional world.

US college football mired in rape scandal

By Rupert Cornwell
21 February 2004

A mushrooming sex-and-football scandal at the University of Colorado (CU) widened further yesterday, exposing yet more of the tawdry underside of the huge financial machine that is US college sports.

Police in Boulder, the site of the main CU campus, are investigating a sixth allegation of rape involving a player with the Buffaloes, the CU American football team. The affair has already led to the suspension of Gary Barnett, the team's coach. More broadly, the scandal is being held up as a case study in all that is wrong in the rotten world of college sports.

The affair, which had been simmering in Boulder for months, hit the national headlines this week when Katie Hnida, a former female place-kicker on the Buffaloes, claimed she had been sexually harassed and raped by her team mates.

Mr Barnett dismissed the accusation, saying, "Katie was awful. You know what guys do, they respect your ability ... Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible." Outrage was instant, and Mr Barnett was promptly placed on "administrative leave". But his departure fuelled revelations about strippers, escort services, sex parties and all-but-tolerated rape - all part of the package laid on to recruit promising high-school players to enrol at CU. [...]

Women Sold Into Sex Slavery In Houston

HOUSTON -- Modern-day slavery is a $9 billion a year worldwide industry, and Houston is one of the hubs for this business, the News2Houston Investigators reported Thursday. [...]

Detroit’s Jack the Ripper?

Slayings of 11 Women Have Neighborhood Angry, Police Baffled

Student arrested for taking Game Boy bomb to school

Generation X-rated

21 February 2004

Each March, America's student population flocks to the beach to enjoy the extraordinary hedonistic ritual of Spring Break. And nowhere parties harder than Panama City Beach, Florida

The girls next door must be lesbians - all seven of them - young and blonde, somehow managing to ignore the loud, drunk young men in room 3108. They are nice enough to these boys from Ohio, amused even, but they will not succumb. Not even on this final night of binge drinking and reckless escape from the grim responsibilities waiting back at college.

In the annual Spring Break ritual of Panama City Beach, Florida, sex and alcohol are supposed to flow cheap and easy for the thousands of young men and women who arrive each weekend throughout March. So the boys in 3108 watch with frustration as the girls next door spend their days lying on the beach, stumbling back to the hotel to drink heavily after dark, while still refusing to hook up, feel up or sex up with anyone. [...]

Tonight, at least 23 young men are crowded inside 3108, all in a room that is about the size of a prison cell. The furniture is stacked against a wall. A portable George Foreman Grill sits in the corner, ready for quick meals. Dresser drawers are filled with supplies: condoms, balloons, cigarettes and B12 vitamin supplements to fight the inevitable hangovers. Standing on a bed is Brad George, a 20-year-old from Youngstown, Ohio. His head is shaved; "Slim" is tattooed on a burly shoulder. The thick plastic tube in his mouth leads to a funnel in the hands of his brother and friends, who pour in three cans of Natural Light beer. It goes down fast, as everyone shouts, "Chug! Chug! Chug! Chug!" They each take turns on the "beer bong" as an old Guns N' Roses CD plays on the stereo. In the morning, after tomorrow's 8am checkout, they will be gone, on the road back to Ohio and their classes in computer programming and high finance, making room for the next round of fresh Spring Breakers.

Brad has already had some luck over at Harpoon Harry's, down on the strip. He'd only been at the bar for five minutes when a girl called him the sexiest man alive and offered to "make out", right then and there. Brad's friend's digital camera flashes. There on the screen is a glimpse of Brad's face buried in the breasts of an anonymous girl. There are 40 more like it. The pictures are common Spring Break souvenirs - women lifting their tops, dropping their thongs, kissing or licking each other, exposing themselves to the cameras of total strangers usually for nothing more than a string of plastic Mardi Gras beads - to be shared with friends back home or scattered on the world wide web.

Club La Vela could be a hedonist's paradise. Every day is the same. It is a formula. The host, a grinning muscleman in shorts and wraparound shades, stirs up the testosterone for the daily bikini and wet T-shirt contests. Girls and guys grind and rub and shake their bodies and hump the stage on command while surrounded by several hundred cheering, hooting, whistling Breakers. Nudity is not allowed, though anything close to it is absolutely encouraged, right up to the limits of the law. "Contestant number one in the wet T-shirt is Ruth. Come on up, Ruth! Make some noise!"

Ruth stands before the host. She's wearing a ripped T-shirt, her arms stretched out high above her head, as the water hoses the fabric against her skin. The audience cheers crazily, in lust and excitement. Contestants who drift too close to the crowd get pawed. Finally the host calls for "audience response voting". Lana! (Polite cheers.) Kristen! (Louder.) Britney! (Polite hooting.) Amanda! (Big cheers.) Ashley! (Bigger still.) The winner hardly matters and is immediately forgotten. The hunt continues, for the next thrill or f glimpse of skin, with no clear rules or boundaries, and none desired.

Outside the Beach Package Store (self-proclaimed "Spring Break Headquarters - ATM Inside"), Christians hand out roses, just five of the young cadets from the Maryland Naval Academy down South to spread salvation at Spring Break. A bus filled with 66 of them travelled to Panama City for this. They are among nearly 3,500 Christians who pass through during Spring Break each year, preaching an alternative to drink and debauchery. As is Bobbie Watson of St Louis, Missouri, a 19-year-old stalking the beaches and sipping nothing heavier than Pepsi and Mountain Dew. "I used to drink," he says. "I was a big partier in high school. If I hadn't been saved by Christ, I'd probably be here doing the complete opposite. It just doesn't seem like the kind of life I like anymore."

Italy turns on Berlusconi after tax evasion and thieving outbursts

Fri Feb 20, 2:01 PM ET

ROME (AFP) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the target of searing criticism from just about all corners of Italian society after an extraordinary sequence of questionable outburts.

The Italian leader found himself spiked by the Italian public, his political enemies, the Roman Catholic Church and even his friends after appearing to justify tax evasion and accusing senior opposition figures of stealing. [...]

Protein Helps Immune System Mount 'Instant Strike' Against Deadly Flu Viruses

University Of Rochester Medical Center
2004-02-20

Researchers at the University of Rochester have identified a protein in the immune system that appears to play a crucial role in protecting against deadly forms of influenza, and may be particularly important in protecting against emerging flu viruses like the avian flu. The researchers believe that a vaccine made with a live but weakened strain of flu virus – such as the inhaled flu vaccine introduced last year – may activate this part of the immune system and offer the best defense against avian flu.

In a paper being published in the February 20 issue of Immunity, the researchers report that a protein called VLA-1 enables the immune system to develop "peripheral immunity" by anchoring millions of virus-killing cells to tissues along the airways and lungs, where flu enters the body. The protein holds the cells in place and helps them survive there for long periods – sometimes years – where they stand ready to mount an immediate attack on the flu virus. [...]

Evolution caught in the act

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---An experiment which forced E. coli bacteria to adapt or perish showed that, in a pinch, they were capable of improvising a novel molecular tool to save their skins.

"The bacteria reached for a tool that they had, and made it do something it doesn't normally do," said James Bardwell, an associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Michigan. "We caught evolution in the act of making a big step." [...]

Workers on B.C. farm may have mild bird flu

Last Updated Fri, 20 Feb 2004 22:06:37

VANCOUVER - Five employees at a B.C. chicken farm have become slightly ill, but health officials said Friday it's not clear if they have contracted a form of bird flu.

[...] The type of influenza is not the same as a deadly version sweeping through parts of Asia.

All five B.C. workers are recovering officials said. Two patients had flu symptoms, two had cold symptoms and one had conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. Tests are being conducted to determine exactly what made them ill.

Bird flu kills house cats, raising fears infected pets could pass it to owners

04:36 AM EST Feb 21
DANIEL COONEY

BANGKOK, Thailand (CP) - A strain of bird flu has killed three house cats in Thailand, officials said Friday, a development the World Health Organization described as "very dangerous" because of pets' close contact with people.

[...] China on Friday confirmed two more outbreaks of avian influenza in birds on opposite sides of the country, Shaanxi province in the north and Yunnan province in the south.

Mild Strain of Bird Flu Found in Texas

Feb 20, 2:00 PM
By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bird flu virus was found at a chicken farm in Texas, the fourth U.S. state to be affected by a mild strain of the disease that is not harmful to humans but is devastating to poultry producers, state officials said on Friday.

The Texas Animal Health Commission quarantined a flock of chickens in Gonzales County after the birds tested positive for the H5N2 strain of avian influenza, a mild version of the deadly disease that has killed at least 22 people in Asia.

Texas officials emphasized that the strain of bird flu in the flock near San Antonio was not the same kind as the Asian outbreak caused by the H5N1 strain.

The Texas infection posed "no health threat to humans and causes relatively low mortality in chickens," said Texas state veterinarian Bob Hillman. "The clinical manifestation, or signs of disease in chickens, indicates this virus is a low-pathogenic strain."

Industry officials said the infected Texas farm sold chickens to live poultry markets in Houston.

Bird flu can be rapidly spread by farm equipment, feed delivery trucks, shoes and clothing, and the wind.

Comment: See our updated Flu Supplement for the scoop on what our governments have in store for us.

Indonesia's dengue death toll tops 200

Saturday 21 February 2004, 12:38 Makka Time, 9:38 GMT

Indonesia's dengue fever death toll has topped 200 as more than half the country's provinces are affected by the outbreak.

As of Saturday afternoon, 215 people had died and 11,013 had become infected with the mosquito-borne virus in 19 provinces, health ministry spokeswoman, Dr Mariani Reksoprojo said on Saturday.

The health department calls it an "extraordinary" outbreak because the number of infections is more than double those in the same period last year.

Kenya: Boost Bible Reading Urges Biblical Federation Chief

Nearly 40 years after the Second Vatican Council recommended that the Bible be made accessible to all Christians, there is not yet enough awareness of the central role of the Holy Scriptures in the lives of many African Catholics, the Secretary-General of the worldwide Catholic Biblical Federation (CBF) says.

"A lot of pastoral work remains to be done not simply to put the Bible in the hands of Christians but also to help them to understand it as being relevant to their daily experiences," Alexander Schweitzer told CISA on Thursday February 19, 2004.

Fire destroys Kenyan slum.

Nairobi - A huge fire razed down several acres in a poor residential district south of the Kenyan capital Nairobi overnight, causing several injuries, destroying property and displacing thousands of people, residents told AFP on Friday.

The residents suspect the fire may have been started with knowledge of government officials who had earlier warned them to vacate because their shacks, mostly made of corrugated iron sheets, stood under electric power lines and along the paths of proposed new roads, residents said.

Second Zim judge resigns

Harare - A Zimbabwean High Court judge, Justice Moses Chinhengo, has resigned without giving reasons, becoming the second judge to leave the bench in a month, the state-owned Herald said on Friday.

"Regrettably for reasons entirely personal I have had to tender my resignation," Chinhengo was quoted by the Herald as writing in his resignation letter to President Robert Mugabe.

Swedish troops for Liberia

[...]The Swedish artillery company will in March join the Irish battalion at the heart of Unmil.

The defence ministry in December issued the order for the Swedish army to begin preparing for eventual participation in the UN peace mission and parliament approved the move on Wednesday.

The 15 000-strong UN deployment from 20 countries is aimed at enforcing a ceasefire between government forces and rebel factions. It will also demobilize and disarm rebels and begin reconstruction ahead of elections in 2005.

Thai schools under armed guard

Bangkok - The death toll from a wave of violence in Thailand's Muslim-majority south has risen to 42 with the killing of a paramilitary soldier, officials said on Friday as more troops were drafted in to guard schools.

Major Chalor Kingthong, speaking for the Fourth Army which patrols the region, said a police captain was also injured in the separate attacks in two provinces, while an unidentified man was found with his throat slit.

Dog-shooting stirs Norway

Oslo - A videotape set to music of Norwegian peacekeepers in Kosovo laughing and shooting dogs drew furious reactions in their homeland on Friday.

The gruesome video, called "Hotdog" and aired on national television Thursday night, was edited to look and sound like a music video.

In one sequence, a soldier shot a dog at long range with a rifle, and then another Norwegian peacekeeper appeared to empty his pistol into it at close range as the animal writhed in agony on the ground.

Rover Microscope Detects Puzzling ‘Thread-Like’ Features

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
20 February 2004

Sharp-eyed Mars Exploration Rover (MER) scientists are puzzling over very fine thread-like features spotted in the soil at Opportunity’s landing site within Meridiani Planum.

The tiny objects are millimeters to a few centimeters in size. While the minds-eye might jump to a number of thoughts as to their origin, caution is the watch-word from Steve Squyres, MER Principal Investigator from Cornell University.

The objects may be from Earth, transported to Mars onboard Opportunity, Squyres said.

Tiny "thread-like" objects have been spotted in several Microscopic Imager photos taken by the Opportunity Mars rover. What they are is a puzzle, although they may be fibers tossed into the area via spacecraft landing bags.

"Before I would get too excited about something like this, I would recall that this vehicle [Opportunity] landed using an awful lot of fabric. That fabric took quite a beating in the process of through it [the landing]," Squyres told reporters Thursday during a press briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The miniscule objects seen in the Microscopic Imager (MI) pictures could be threads of airbag fabric tossed into the landing zone, Squyres said.

"I’ll be honest with you. We don’t know what these things are. We have seen them…just a very limited number of them and we’re puzzling it out."

Comment: We wonder what could have made "fine thread-like features"? "Fine threadlike creatures" perhaps?

Mysterious case of the piranha that fell from the sky

By Arifa Akbar
21 February 2004

The Thames is home to over a hundred species of fish but never, until now, has a piranha been found in its murky waters.

One of the deadly Amazonian fish, shoals of which can devour big prey in seconds, mysteriously landed on a moored vessel in Dagenham, east London, having apparently fallen out of the sky.

The three crew of the Thames Bubbler environmental boat, which pumps oxygen into the river, identified the razor-toothed fish as a piranha and called in marine experts to investigate.

Tom Cousins, a fisheries officer at the Environmental Agency, immediately recognised the specimen as a red-bellied piranha. He surmised that the fish had been accidentally dropped by a passing seagull which had plucked it out of the water.

Stan and Ollie help birds find their way home

London - A group of cockatiels stolen from a British aviary were tracked down after a member of the public heard them make their trademark call - a whistled rendition of the Laurel And Hardy theme tune.

Medical mysteries, bizarre cases

New book chronicles rare and odd ailments of human body, mind

(CNN) -- Jumping Frenchmen of Maine, Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome, wandering spleen.

They might sound like the names of the latest rock bands, but they're actually extremely rare and bizarre diseases and disorders that few people even know exist. [...]

Butcher said she had been collecting tales of strange medical mysteries for years, but the disorder the book is named after is what really spurred her to organize her research.

Dr. Jules Cotard is credited with first describing, in the late 1800s, the "walking corpse" psychiatric disorder. In this, deluded patients think they have lost body parts or their souls, and often believe they have died. Also called Cotard's syndrome, the mental disease has been found in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Another bizarre mental disorder Butcher describes is the Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome, in which a patient's sense of time, space and body image are distorted. People may appear tiny or patients may feel that part of their body shape or size has been altered.

Being extremely startled by an unexpected noise or sight is the main characteristic of the disorder with the peculiar name of Jumping Frenchmen of Maine.

It's not just bolting when someone sneaks up behind you, explains Butcher. Patients with the disorder flail their arms, cry out and repeat words. First identified in some of Maine's lumberjacks of French-Canadian origin, the odd reflex has been identified in other parts of the world, too. [...]

Red Cross visits "Saddam" in Prison

Saturday 21 February 2004

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in US custody on Saturday.

"Two ICRC representatives, including a doctor, visited Saddam Hussein on Saturday in Iraq and were able to stay with him long enough for a physical and mental evaluation," Nada Dumani said from the Jordanian capital Amman.

"In accordance with its rules, the ICRC is unable to give any indication about the condition of Saddam Hussein. The ICRC, following this visit, as in the case of all prisoners, will report directly to the coalition," she added.

US forces captured the former dictator on 13 December hiding in a hole on a farm in a village close to his hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

Santa missing

Seos Newswire

Speaking from her Lapland home today, Mrs Claus made an appeal to the world to help her locate her missing husband.

Disappeared over "Mesopotamia"

According to Mrs Claus, December 13 2003 was the last time she saw her husband. "He got up and ate his usual reindeer steak for breakfast, he seemed just fine" she said. "He was was planning a trip to Mesopotamia that day to get an idea of the delivery schedule for Christmas eve, he realised that it might be problematic with so much trouble there. He had even decided to fit the sleigh out with amour plating just to be on the safe side" she claimed.

Mrs Claus told this reporter that often her husband would be away for extended periods of time, "Sometimes he would be away for a week, or two at the maximum, but not this long, it's been over 2 months, I am very concerned for his safety" she said.

According to the distraught Mrs Claus, the last time she heard from her husband was on the day he left their home for Mesopotamia. "He called me on his mobile phone to tell me he had arrived safely in Mesopotamia, he said he had parked the sleigh behind a small vegetable warehouse.

Mrs Claus has provided this photograph of her husband in the hope that someone might have information on his current whereabouts.

 


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