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NEW ARTICLE: Is the World Coming to An End?
Not necessarily - but the future doesn't look bright!
- Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Picture of the Day

©2004 Pierre-Paul Feyte

The Sky is Falling:A fairy story for children of all ages.

The image of the mad prophet on his soapbox declaiming, "The End is Nigh!" is probably ingrained in most of us, even if the only examples we have ever seen of this cliché come from movies or TV. How many of us have actually met up with the Doomsday Prophet?

Not many, unless you happen to live in the Bible Belt in the United States where it is common occurrence to be told from the pulpit that the End Times are near.

Today we would like to broach a serious subject in a humorous way. There are readers who accuse us of not having a sense of humour, of only looking at the negative. As evidence that this is not true, we offer you:

Chicken Little

Narrator: Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head. It scared her so much she trembled all over. She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.

Chicken Little: "Help! Help! The sky is falling! I have to go tell the king!"

Narrator: So she ran in great fright to tell the king. Along the way she met Henny Penny.

Henny Penny: "Where are you going, Chicken Little?"

Chicken Little: "Oh, help! The sky is falling!"

Henny Penny: "How do you know?"

Chicken Little: "I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!"

Henny Penny: "This is terrible, just terrible! We'd better hurry up."

Narrator: So they both ran away as fast as they could. Soon they met Ducky Lucky.

Ducky Lucky: "Where are you going, Chicken Little and Henny Penny?"

Chicken Little & Henny Penny: "The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We're going to tell the king!"

Ducky Lucky: "How do you know?"

Chicken Little: "I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head."

Ducky Lucky: "Oh dear, oh dear! We'd better run!"

Narrator: So they all ran down the road as fast as they could. Soon they met Goosey Loosey walking down the roadside.

Goosey Loosey: "Hello there. Where are you all going in such a hurry?"

Chicken Little: "We're running for our lives!"

Henny Penny: "The sky is falling!"

Ducky Lucky: "And we're running to tell the king!"

Goosey Loosey: "How do you know the sky is falling?"

Chicken Little: "I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!"

Goosey Loosey: "Goodness! Then I'd better run with you."

Narrator: And they all ran in great fright across a field. Before long they met Turkey Lurkey strutting back and forth..

Turkey Lurkey: "Hello there, Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, and Goosey Loosey. Where are you all going in such a hurry?"

Chicken Little: "Help! Help!"

Henny Penny: "We're running for our lives!"

Ducky Lucky: "The sky is falling!"

Goosey Loosey: "And we're running to tell the king!"

Turkey Lurkey: "How do you know the sky is falling?"

Chicken Little: "I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!"

Turkey Lurkey: "Oh dear! I always suspected the sky would fall someday. I'd better run with you."

Narrator: So they ran with all their might, until they met Foxy Loxy.

Foxy Loxy: "Well, well. Where are you rushing on such a fine day?"

Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey (together): "Help! Help!" It's not a fine day at all. The sky is falling, and we're running to tell the king!"

Foxy Loxy: "How do you know the sky is falling?"

Chicken Little: "I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!"

Foxy Loxy: "I see. Well then, follow me, and I'll show you the way to the king."

Narrator: So Foxy Loxy led Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey across a field and through the woods. He led them straight to his den, and they never saw the king to tell him that the sky is falling.

So the poor animals of Chicken Little's farm meet their fate in the den of Foxy Loxy, who happened to be there to take advantage of the mass hysteria subsequent to Chicken Little receiving a blow to the head, a new Pearl Harbor shall we say. If it was actually Foxy Loxy who dropped the acorn on Chicken Little's head, the story takes on a different meaning altogether, but those who know Foxy Loxy assure us that, even if he is willing to take advantage of such a tragedy, he would never, ever, go to the trouble of arranging it himself. We'll let the children decide for themselves.

A wiser fox might realize that in order to entice the animals into his den, he wouldn't even need to hit Chicken Little on the head with a stone to convince him that the sky was falling; he could simply spread the rumour that such an event was not only possible, but was imminent. If he were clever enough, he could blame the animals for the fact that the sky was falling: "The sky is falling because you have not respected the laws of the Sky God! While it is not too late to prevent the falling of the sky, you can protect yourselves by seeking shelter in my den! If you do what I say, then just before the sky falls, I will whisk you off to safety!"

Having heard this preaching from Brother Foxy Loxy, two wolves, Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy, who have designs of their own on the animals, decide to move in on Foxy Loxy's game. They notice that not all the animals believe Foxy Loxy can save them, so Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy convince the non-believers that they can build a shelter to protect all the animals. Only after the animals get excited about this idea, do the two tell them how much it will cost: half of all their food. The poor animals are so worried about the sky falling that they are willing to pay whatever price necessary, and so Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy get to work, hoarding the food.

All the while, off on the side of the farmyard, sits Lassie Cassie, the sheep dog. The others think Lassie Cassie is foolish and crazy because she is not hysterical about the imminent falling of the sky. She goes on her rounds each day, studying the chickens, turkeys, and, especially, the sheep. She also watches the sky very intensely, looking for signs that the sky is falling. She is suspicious because she saw Foxy Loxy lurking around the tree the day Chicken Little got hit on the head. She also noticed Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy acting strangely.

One day, while out tending the sheep, Lassie Cassie notices a streak in the sky, followed by a loud crashing noise just beyond the trees. She goes to investigate. In a clearing not far away, she notices some smoke. Moving carefully closer, she sees Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy inspecting the area. They are taking notes, inspecting a large rock that has fallen from the sky.

"Hmm," thinks Lassie Cassie. "Rocks do fall from the sky. But a rock that big would crash right through the shelter being built to protect the farm animals. There is more here than meets the eye."

Lassie Cassie decides to follow Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy that night when they take the days food payment to their hiding place. "I wonder why they need all this food," she muses.

When the sun has set, and the other animals are fast asleep, the two wolves set off with their booty. They head to the nearby hills. Through winding roads and up the steep hillsides, they huff and puff and push the food. After many hours, they come to a cave and go inside. Lassie Cassie stays hidden slightly higher so she can watch. Time passes. Finally, the two conspirators come out and head back towards the farm. Lassie Cassie decides to go into the cave and see for herself what is inside.

The cave is dark, with a long and winding passage that appears to lead into the depths of the hill. Lassie Cassie continues. She wants to get to the bottom of this mystery.

What! Light ahead! She can't believe her eyes. Very carefully, Lassie Cassie moves towards the light. Buried deep within the hill, she finds an underground palace, fitted with all the luxuries of the farmyard. There is running water from an underground stream. The food taxed from the animals is carefully stored in containers marked with numbers. What! Those are not just numbers, they are dates! Years! Enough for many generations of wolves!

Could Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy know something that Foxy Loxy does not?

Lassie Cassie does not know, but she does know that there is much more to learn about these rocks that fall from the sky. Foxy Loxy says that when the sky falls, the whole world will be destroyed. But if the whole world is to be destroyed, then why are the two wolves preparing for a long stay underground? Surely, if the whole world were to be destroyed, then so, too, would the hill and the cave.

No. Something doesn't add up. Obviously, Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy don't believe Foxy Loxy's stories. They are using the hysteria promoted by Foxy Loxy for their own agenda.

"Hmm," thinks Lassie Cassie.

She sets to work to learn about rocks falling from the sky. She goes to talk to her friend Owl Growl. The other animals avoid Owl Growl because he has no time for fools. When they come to him wanting help, he is likely to ignore them. When he was younger, he tried to help them learn, but they always said, "Why do we have to learn ourselves? You can give us the answers."

Lassie Cassie was different. She loved to go and talk with Owl Growl who gave her puzzles to solve and showed her how to find the answers herself.

"Owl Growl, I have a problem to solve that I think will take both of us. Because it is a question that affects us both, I think I am justified in asking for your help." She then told Owl Growl everything she had learned.

Owl Growl listened intently. When she was finished, he shifted from claw to claw.

Then he spoke.

"Lassie Cassie, you were correct in bringing this problem to me. The ancient tales speak of such things. Nowadays, the other animals laugh and ignore this wisdom. They prefer to believe that they will be safe in Foxy Loxy's den or under Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy's shield. To understand what is happening will take much study and much research. I hope we have the time." He then gave Lassie Cassie a list of things to study. He, himself, would fly to the far regions and learn all he could from the Wise Owls of other lands.

The two set out. We do not have the space here to recount all the wonderful and frightening adventures of Lassie Cassie and Owl Growl as they researched and studied and thought about the problems facing them. Suffice it to say for now that they studied and studied, talking to scientists and historians. By the end of their journey, they had discovered that there was a vast amount of evidence that history went in cycles, and that the farmyard and even the lands far away were subjected to recurring showers of rocks from the sky. Not only that, but the oncoming of such showers were accompanied by great changes in the weather.

After collecting all they had learned in a giant notebook, they returned to the farmyard to talk to the animals.

They carefully explained that it was normal for the sky to fall once in awhile, but this did not mean that the farmyard would end. Yes, it would be difficult, but if the animals began learning about the effects of falling rocks, they could prepare. The future was not set in stone.

Moreover, if the animals were to listen to Foxy Loxy, they would all be eaten once they were taken to Foxy Loxy's den. Lassie Cassie and Owl Growl related to the farm animals the old, forgotten stories about foxes, and how foxes were not the friends of the animals, but were sly creatures who would use any ruse to prey upon their victims. At this, all the animals who were planning to be saved by Foxy Loxy started shouting and screaming that Lassie Cassie and Owl Growl were liars, that they were the agents of the rocks from the sky who had been sent to test their faith in Foxy Loxy, and they left to tell Foxy Loxy what trouble Lassie Cassie and Owl Growl were making in the farmyard, shouting "You're a dangerous cult!" as they ran away.

Lassie Cassie and Owl Growl continued, speaking to the animals that had put their faith in Wolfy Lulky and Rumy Dummy. If the animals listened to Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy, they said, they would be killed when the shield fell on them. The two wolves were hoarding the food in a vast network of tunnels under the hill, which showed that they had no faith themselves in the shelter.

"What an outrageous story!" shouted those who had paid so dearly to build the shelter. "Tunnels under the hill! Only a fool would believe such nonsense!" And off they stormed to warn Wolfy Lulfy and Rumy Dummy of the subversive stories, shouting "You're a dangerous cult!" as they ran away.

Lassie Cassie and Owl Growl looked at each other. They looked at all the research on the ground at their feet, the hard facts about rocks falling from the sky. Why didn't the others see it?

"I'd like to study your findings," said a little voice nearby. It was Chicken Little.

Maybe there was hope after all.

US commandos 'closing in' on bin Laden

By David Rennie in Washington

The top-secret US commando team that spearheaded the capture of Saddam Hussein is heading for Afghanistan in the latest sign that the hunt for Osama bin Laden is coming to a head.

Battle-hardened units from Task Force 121 are being shifted as intelligence reports increase on the possible whereabouts of the terrorist leader, according to an article in the Washington Times by a reporter known for his access to the special forces.

Most of the "high-value targets" from Saddam's regime have been caught or killed, Pentagon officials told the paper. "Iraq has become more of a policing problem than a hunt for high-value Iraqis. Afghanistan is the place where 121 can do more."

Two long, frustrating years after bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, escaped US forces and their Afghan allies, American commanders are now openly talking about the likelihood of their capture this year.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of catching bin Laden to the American public, whose anger and grief over the September 11 attacks has not faded.

It would provide a spectacular election-year boost for President George W Bush, whose Democratic opponents criticised the Iraq war as a distraction from the hunt for al-Qa'eda. George Tenet, the CIA director, paid a secret visit to Islamabad this month as American and Pakistani troops began the largest manhunt for al-Qa'eda leaders to date.

President Pervaiz Musharraf of Pakistan, who has survived two recent assassination attempts linked to al-Qa'eda, has started deploying thousands of troops in the highly sensitive tribal region of Waziristan, on the Afghan border.

American forces are mounting a parallel spring offensive on the Afghan side of the frontier, aiming to create what Lt Gen David Barno, the US commander in Afghanistan, described last week as "a hammer and anvil" effect to trap terrorist fugitives between the two armies.

Pathan tribal elders have been given an ultimatum to hand over Taliban and al-Qa'eda fighters and America has been publicising its offers of large rewards for the capture of bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and other al-Qa'eda leaders.

Defence sources concede that specific intelligence about bin Laden's whereabouts might prompt a special forces raid across the Pakistani border.

Task Force 121 combines navy Seals and commandos of the army Delta Force, an elite group modelled on the SAS, as well as CIA paramilitaries.

Though regular troops from the 4th Infantry Division were given public credit for dragging Saddam from his "spider hole" in December, the task force played a key role in the capture.

Taking Bin Laden alive may prove the greatest challenge of all. Taliban fighters in Pakistan recently told Newsweek magazine that mines and high explosives are laid around each hiding place adopted by "the Sheikh", not only for protection but also to ensure that he can be "martyred" quickly, and his body destroyed.

Comment: Can ya see it comin' folks? No need for the crystal ball! It's as clear as the nose on your face, or the "yes" button on a "Diebold" voting machine. It's election year and Bush needs a surge in voter support. Might this be the right time period in which to rouse the sheeple with intimations of the potential capture of our arch nemesis Osama "prince of evil and lord of darkness" bin laden? We reckon so. So go ahead George, pull old Osammy out of the closet and wow the docile folks back home. It's as easy as stealin' candy from a Palestinian baby - if he could get over the 30 foot separation wall to get to the store.

Americans would pay to watch bin Laden die

Monday February 23, 07:48 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One in five Americans would likely pay to watch a televised execution of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden if he were found guilty and sentenced to death but more than a third said executions should not be televised, a poll says.

A national telephone poll of more than 1,000 people aged 18 or older, done for TRIO cable network by Harris Interactive, asked respondents who they would most likely pay to watch executed if executions were shown on pay-per-view television.

Bin Laden, accused of masterminding the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, was named by 21 percent of those polled. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was named by 11 percent.

Thirty-seven percent of those polled said they did not think executions should be televised.

The poll, conducted from January 24 to January 26 and released on Monday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Comment: Why stop there? How about pay-per-view Guantanamo prisoner torture sessions? The fact that this survey was even conducted in the first place is simply appalling.

Pakistan launches al-Qaeda offensive

Tue 24 February, 2004 04:06

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani troops have launched a fresh offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban militants hiding in remote tribal areas near the Afghan border, officials say.

A day earlier, U.S. military officials said the whereabouts of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden remained a mystery and the focus of hunts in border regions where many Islamic militants and Taliban remnants are believed to be hiding.

"We have launched an operation against foreign terrorists," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Reuters on Tuesday.

Asked whether operation was intended to hunt bin Laden, he said only: "It is against foreign terrorists."

FBI, CIA Heads Outline World Terror Threat

February 24, 2004

WASHINGTON - The Olympic Games in Greece and the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions are among the FBI's top security concerns this year.

Despite gains made against al-Qaida, FBI Director Robert Mueller believes the organization remains the primary terrorist threat against U.S. interests at home and abroad. The FBI is concerned the organization will attempt to launch another major attack.

Mueller, CIA Director George Tenet and the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency director, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, were appearing Tuesday to offer these and other assessments in an annual appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. [...]

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the committee's top Democrat, says it now appears that Iran has had more advanced weapons and closer links to dangerous terrorists than Saddam did.

"But our credibility has suffered because we have not found WMD in Iraq, and I fear we now will find it much harder to build international support to deal with Iran and other countries of concern such as North Korea," Rockefeller said in prepared remarks.

Comment: See how advantageous it has been for world domination for no WMD to have been found? Plenty of countries are falling into line and fighting, "foreign terrorists." Another big terrorist attack, any where, any place and perpetual war can really get cranking, all the while they can blame everyone who is anti-war, and who asks for proof, who asks for 9/11 evidence. The Regime will scream and shout and say the blood is on the hands of those who questioned the government, such a threat should be nullified, and those who would pay to see Osama executed would surely agree.


by Judy Bacharach
Vanity Fair
The Current Newstand Edition

In the summer of 2001, John Ashcroft, George W. Bush's new attorney general, was holding one of his early-morning prayer meetings in his office. It was a gathering of 12 — many of them Justice Department employees who had asked to attend, many carefully vetted as to their upbringing and religious affiliation. On the appointed day, they were ushered into a room containing a collection of baseball bats, a photograph of the Pope, and, most intriguingly, new beige-and-red furniture. "So much better than Janet Reno's," declared a participant, eager to curry favor with the boss.

Ashcroft beamed. At 61, he is a devout member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that disapproves of drinking, dancing, and pre-marital sex. As a boy, he never went to the movies, because, he has said, his parents told him, "If you pay 15 cents to get into a movie, 7 cents of that will go to support a Hollywood lifestyle we disagree with." But he is not indifferent to power and its trappings — indeed, he harbored strong presidential hopes as late as 1998 — and it is in his nature to combine piety with ambition. In 1995, for example, when he became the junior senator from Missouri, he was anointed by friends (in the style of "the ancient kings of Israel," he has noted) with Crisco oil from the kitchen. [...]

"The law is not about forgiveness," he said. "It is oftentimes about vengeance, oftentimes about revenge." [Ashcroft said that] before 9/11. [...]

"Things are different now," Ashcroft told the group. The role of the Justice Department had been altered, its goal now not simply to investigate crimes but to prevent them before they occur. "And if you are not ready or up for this, you should leave now," said Ashcroft. No one left, Adam Ciongoli, who was Ashcroft's counselor, tells me. [...]

Now government was permitted to listen in on attorney-client conversations without a court order, sanction secret searches in the name of national security, impose a gag on those who were searched, jail Americans indefinitely without counsel, and detain immigrants on secret charges, while withholding their names and even their numbers from the public. Government agents have been dispatched to houses of worship. With minimal oversight, they are now allowed to monitor e-mail traffic, discover which Web sites are being visited, track some online purchases, and more easily access medical histories, credit files, and even library selections. Hundreds of surveillance and bugging operations have been launched since 9/11; 113 emergency authorizations for secret warrants were issued in the first year alone — more than twice the number granted in the previous 23 years, the most extensive investigation in the history of the United States, as the Justice Department has noted. [...]

Six years ago he declared, "There are only two things you find in the middle of the road, a moderate and a dead skunk." He believes that "you can legislate morality," and that any senator who suggests otherwise will simply be legislating "immorality, and we've done too much of that already." [...]

Wisconsin Democrat Russell D. Feingold, the Senate's lone opponent of the act, was appalled when Ashcroft described critics as giving "ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends." [...]

Ashcroft routinely compares himself to Christ in his 1998 memoir, Lessons from a Father to His Son , in which he refers to his campaign victories as "resurrections." Conversely, his political defeats are compared to "crucifixions." [...]

[F]rom 1963 to 1969 he received seven military deferments [...]

Janet [Ashcroft's wife] had a disastrous time during their courtship. While in law school she was attacked by a rapist, an experience she would discuss publicly only years later. Her revelation came on ABC's Good Morning America at the precise time of her husband's confirmation hearings — an effort, evidently, to prove his compassion for women. At the time of her rape, she declared, "John's response was absolutely perfect, which amazed me."

"Why was Janet amazed?" wonders Roy Temple, a Missouri Democratic operative who ran Carnahan's race in 1996. "Who wouldn't be sympathetic toward a girlfriend at a time like that? The Ashcrofts thought they were speaking to mainstream America, but they were really speaking to fundamentalist America!" [...]

"The only thing more offensive than a nonbeliever to Ashcroft is a believer who is nonfundamentalist." [...]

"Are there any calico cats at the residence?" they inquired of embassy staff. Ashcroft, who would be dining with Schneider, considered such creatures "instruments of the Devil," his people explained. [...]

"[...] But what you're finding now is that they're taking pieces of Patriot II and sprinkling it across pieces of legislation."

As far as Ashcroft is concerned, says Leahy, "Congress is irrelevant." [...]

Controversial terror research lives on at other agencies despite closing of Pentagon office

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — The government is still financing research to create powerful tools that could mine millions of public and private records for information about terrorists despite an uproar last year over fears it might ensnare innocent Americans.

Congress eliminated a Pentagon office developing the terrorist tracking technology because of the outcry over privacy implications. But some of those projects from retired Adm. John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness effort were transferred to U.S. intelligence offices, congressional, federal and research officials told The Associated Press.
In addition, Congress left undisturbed a separate but similar $64 million research program run by a little-known office called the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA) that has used some of the same researchers as Poindexter's program.

"The whole congressional action looks like a shell game," said Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which tracks work by U.S. intelligence agencies. "There may be enough of a difference for them to claim TIA was terminated while for all practical purposes the identical work is continuing." [...]

U.S. terror watch list keeps eye on all groups

By Guy Taylor

THE WASHINGTON TIMES     The U.S. master terror watch list, used to stop suspected terrorists from entering the country, includes not only suspected al Qaeda members but other suspects from a wide spectrum of organizations around the world, a top federal law enforcement official says. [...]

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Michael McMahon, a National Institutes of Health employee, was detained for about 45 minutes at Washington Dulles International Airport on New Year's Eve and said FBI agents asked him if he had ties to the IRA.

The paper suggested the line of questioning meant the TSA no-fly list includes another Michael McMahon, apparently an alias for a man linked to IRA spinoff cells that rejected the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement between Northern Ireland and Britain.

A simple Internet search yesterday turned up more than 20 individuals in Maryland and Virginia with the name Michael McMahon, suggesting the same mistakes could be repeated with others.

Regardless, the incident raises questions in the ongoing debate about the terror watch lists and who is on them, a subject that some say is being kept so secret by federal law-enforcement and intelligence officials that mistakes are inevitable. [...]

'Mr Ferrer can't be with us tonight' : Artists from all over the world are being refused entry to the US on security grounds.

James Verini
Tuesday February 17 2004
The Guardian

In the spring of 2003, the celebrated Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi was travelling to South America from Hong Kong. He did not intend to stop in the US, but his flight path took him through New York's John F Kennedy airport. There, Panahi, a winner of the Golden Bear award at the Venice film festival who had visited the US several times, expected to while away a few dull hours. Instead, he was detained by officials; because his fingerprints were not on file, he was handcuffed and held in custody for several hours. He was so incensed at his treatment that he vowed never to return to the US.

Panahi's experience is extreme, but not rare. According to organisations connected with film, theatre, music, opera and dance, new American immigration and visa policies are making it extremely difficult, sometimes impossible, for foreign artists of all sorts to come to the US to perform and show their work.

No one, it seems, is exempt. Last week, at the Grammy awards, the Cuban guitarist Ibrahim Ferrer was supposed to have received an award - but he couldn't get into the country. The 76-year-old was cited as a security risk. A Peking Opera company had to cancel an 18-city tour because the American consulate in China claimed not all of the musicians could adequately prove that they intended to return home after the tour ended. The South African anti-apartheid leader and singer Vusi Mahlasela had to cancel a good chunk of a US tour because his visa took months to get approved, as did the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia.

And in late 2002, in a disheartening precursor to the Panahi case, the Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami, a Cannes Palme d'Or winner and one of the Middle East's most acclaimed film-makers, couldn't get to the New York film festival to show his latest work. "It really harms our image - not only in the Muslim world but around the world," says Richard Pena, director of the NYFF and a professor at Columbia University. "Someone like Kiarostami is not just anyone; not letting him in is going to have a negative reverberation for America's image around the world."

Artists from Muslim countries and Cuba seem to have the most difficulty [...]

Bush Deserves a Dishonorable Discharge

By Michelle Mairesse

During the second week of February 2004, Press Secretary Scott McClellan defended President Bush’s spotty National Guard service record by stolidly repeating the mantra of the week: Not only had reporters’ questions been asked and answered before the election, but an honorable discharge proved that Bush had met his obligations. On Thursday, veteran journalist Helen Thomas’s opened up a new line of questioning that must have given McClellan an eerie sense of being trapped in a time-warp.

The first time McClellan heard the question was during Bush’s run for the presidency when McClellan was his campaign manager. It came from biographer J. H. Hatfield. Here is Hatfield’s account:

"Presidential campaign spokesman Scott McClellan had previously told Salon, ‘We do not dignify false rumors and innuendoes with a response,’ after the on-line magazine asked him if Bush ever performed community service at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Houston in exchange for having his ‘illicit drug use’ record expunged.

"In the past, McClellan always seemed to be the consummate campaign spokesperson, always in control, never rattled by the sometimes raucous press corps and their continuous barrage of questions. But that impression was shattered when I queried McClellan about Bush’s involvement at Project P.U.L.L. in 1972 as a condition of having his cocaine possession charge purged. There was a moment of electric silence, and then McClellan muttered an almost inaudible, ‘Oh, shit,’ and after hesitating for a moment, finally said, ‘No comment.’" ( Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, J. H. Hatfield, Soft Skull Press, 2001)

Now here was Helen Thomas, in 2004, resurrecting a rumor that could have derailed Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign had the press been paying attention.

"Q: Did the President ever have to take time off from Guard duty to do community service?
Scott McClellan: To do community service? I haven't looked into everything he did 30 years ago, Helen. Obviously, there is different community service he has performed in the past, including going back to that time period --
Q: Can you find out if he actually had --
Scott McClellan: Helen, I don't think we remember every single activity he was involved in 30 years ago.
Q: No, this isn't an activity. Was he forced to do community service at any time while he was on --
Scott McClellan: What's your interest in that question? I'm sorry, I just --
Q: Lots of rumors. I'm just trying to clear up something.
Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?
Q: Pardon?
Scott McClellan: Rumors about what?
Q: About the President having to do community service while he was in the National Guard, take time out for that.
Scott McClellan: I'm not aware of those rumors. But if you want to --
Q: Could you look it up? Would you mind asking him?
Scott McClellan: That's why I'm asking what's your interest in that? I just don't understand your interest in that.
Q: It's what everybody is interested in, whether we're getting the true story on his Guard duty.
Scott McClellan: Well, you have the documents that show the facts.
Q: I'm asking you to try to find out from the President of the United States.
Scott McClellan: Like I said, it's well known the different jobs he had and what he was doing previously, that we know. That goes back to --
Q: I didn't say ‘previously.’ I said, while he was on Guard duty.
Scott McClellan: But you're asking me about 30 years ago. I don't think there's a recollection of everything he was doing 30 years ago.
Q: Well, he would know if he had to take time out. . . ."

. . . and so on, for fifteen minutes.

If Scott McClellan doesn’t know whether or not Bush performed community service while he was in the National Guard, he can look up this reference on the official State Department site:

"During this period, George W. worked for a former partner of his father's, who had left the oil-drilling business to start an agricultural company in Houston that had interests in a wide variety of things, from cattle and chickens to tropical plants. George's job was to travel around the United States and to countries in Central America looking for plant nurseries his company might want to acquire.

"In the spring of 1972, he left this job and went to Alabama to work on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Winton Blount. Returning to Houston, he became a counselor for African-American youngsters in a program called PULL (Professional United Leadership League). The program brought together volunteers from the athletic, entertainment, and business worlds to work with young people in a variety of ways. George taught basketball and wrestling and organized field trips to juvenile prisons, so his young charges could see that side of life and resolve not to end up there themselves.

"‘He was a super, super guy’ says Ernie Ladd, a professional football player who also worked with the program. ‘Everybody loved him so much. He had a way with people....They didn't want him to leave.’

"His work with Project PULL, Bush says in A Charge to Keep, gave him ‘a glimpse of a world I had never seen. It was tragic, heartbreaking, and uplifting, all at the same time. I saw a lot of poverty. I also saw bad choices: drugs, alcohol abuse, men who had fathered children and walked away, leaving single mothers struggling to raise children on their own. I saw children who could not read and were way behind in school. I also saw good and decent people working to try to help lift these kids out of their terrible circumstances.’"

Three sources told biographer J. H. Hatfield that Bush was performing community service on the orders of a judge. A Yale classmate said, "George W. was arrested for possession of cocaine in 1972, but due to his father's connections, the entire record was expunged by a state judge whom the older Bush helped get elected. It was one of those 'behind closed doors in the judges' chambers' kind of thing between the old man and one of his Texas cronies who owed him a favor ... There's only a handful of us that know the truth."

If the record of an arrest was expunged, Bush apparently received the equivalent of Youthful Offender status at the age of 26.

Another Bush associate told Hatfield, "I can't and won't give you any new names, but I can confirm that W's Dallas attorney remains the repository of any evidence of the expunged record. From what I've been told, the attorney is the one who advised him to get a new drivers license in 1995 when a survey of his public records uncovered a stale, but nevertheless incriminating trail for an overly eager reporter to follow."

Records prove that Bush did get a new drivers license at that time.

Newsweek (July 9, 2000) reported that the Bush campaign "launched a secretive research operation designed to scour all records relating to his Vietnam-era service" while preparing for Bush's 1998 re-election campaign. They paid Dallas lawyer Harriet Miers $19,000 to review the records.

In 1998, retired National Guard officer Bill Burkett said that in the spring of 1997, Bush’s chief of staff James Allbaugh asked Major General Daniel James to assemble Bush’s Guard records so that Bush aides could review them. Days later, Burkett says he saw about twenty pages from Bush’s military files in a trash can.

"'His records have clearly been cleaned up,’" says author James Moore, whose upcoming book, ‘Bush's War for Re-election,’ will examine the issue of Bush's military service in great detail. Moore says as far back as 1994, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas, his political aides ‘began contacting commanders and roommates and people who would spin and cover up his Guard record. And when my book comes out, people will be on the record testifying to that fact: witnesses who helped clean up Bush's military file.'" Salon, 04/ 02/14.

Before Bush’s run for the governorship of Texas and the presidency of the United States, journalists were put off by the missing records in Bush’s military files, but as researchers uncovered more records, a clearer picture of Bush’s military service emerged.

On January 19, 1968, Bush completed the Air Force officer qualifications test in New Haven while he attended Yale University. Although he scored 25%, the lowest possible passing grade, and had a record of arrests (2 misdemeanors, 2 collisions, 2 drunk driving citations), on the same day he applied he was accepted into the "Champagne Unit," where the sons of the politically well- connected trained. He jumped to the head of the line of 160 Texas applicants for two available pilot training slots, neatly avoiding a year and half on the waiting list. Lucky for him, because his draft deferment would have expired in twelve days. Former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes later admitted recommending George W. Bush for a slot in the Texas Air National Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.

On May 27, 1968, another family friend, commander of the Texas National Guard Walter B. Staudt, interviewed Bush, recommended him for pilot training, and arranged to have his picture taken with the aspiring pilot.

In June, Bush, with an undistinguished academic record, received his bachelor of arts degree from Yale.

On July 12, 1968, a three-member Federal Recognition Examining Board bypassed the requirement for 23 weeks of officers’ candidate school and declared Bush qualified for promotion to 2nd lieutenant in the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. Two days later, Bush attended basic military training in San Antonio and completed training August 25, about 100 hours short of the hours requirement.

From December 29, 1969 to January 20, 1970, Bush trained at Ellington Air Force Base, near Houston.

On August 24, 1970 a three-member board recommended Bush for promotion to first lieutenant.

In 1971, Bush participated in drills and alerts at Ellington. In his civilian job, he was said to be flying for Stratford of Texas to scout plant nurseries in Florida and Central America.

Bush had his last flight physical examination in May. From May 1971 to May 1972 he logged 22 days of active duty.

Then things began to get strange. In May 1972, Bush requested a transfer from his Texas unit to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base, a postal unit, after he had already moved to Alabama to work as a political director on the Senate campaign of Winton M. Blount, another family friend. The transfer was initially approved by his superiors in Houston but ultimately denied by higher-ups because the unit had no airplanes and met only one night a month. After spending from half a million to a million dollars on a pilot’s education, the National Guard is reluctant to allow pilots to fritter away their skills in a paper unit.

On September 6, Bush was finally approved for a transfer to a flying unit, although by now five months had elapsed since he established residence in Alabama. His orders required him to report to the unit commander, General William Turnipseed at the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Montgomery, Alabama, on the dates of "7-8 October 0730-1600, and 4-5 November 0730-1600," but he never appeared. In an interview with the Boston Globe, both General Turnipseed and his former administration officer asserted that Bush didn’t show up. Guard records reveal that Bush performed no military duties in Alabama until late October 1972. Until then, he was busy with the Blount campaign. The racist, reactionary Blount senatorial campaign plastered Alabama with billboards that proclaimed, "A vote for Red Blount is a vote against forced busing . . . against coddling criminals . . . against welfare freeloaders." Although Blount lost the election, Bush learned the rudiments of dirty-tricks campaigning without over-exerting himself.

He didn’t strike his peers as a go-getter. "Those who encountered Bush in Alabama remember him as an affable social drinker who acted younger than his 26 years. Referred to as George Bush, Jr. by newspapers in those days, sources say he also tended to show up late every day, around noon or one, at Blount's campaign headquarters in Montgomery. They say Bush would prop his cowboy boots on a desk and brag about how much he drank the night before." (First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, Bill Minutaglio, Times Books, 1999) The Progressive Southerner, February 2, 2004, describes "George W. Bush’s Lost Year in 1972 Alabama":

"Many of those who came into close contact with Bush say he liked to drink beer and Jim Beam whiskey, and to eat fist-fulls of peanuts, and Executive burgers, at the Cloverdale Grill. They also say he liked to sneak out back for a joint of marijuana or into the head for a line of cocaine. The newspapers that year are full of stories about the scourge of cocaine from Vietnam and China, much of it imported by the French. (Remember the French Connection?)

"According to Cathy Donelson, a daughter of old Montgomery but one of the toughest investigative reporters to work for newspapers in Alabama over the years, the 1960s came to Old Cloverdale in the early 1970s about the time of Bush's arrival.

‘We did a lot of drugs in those days,’ she said. "The 1970s are a blur."

In April 1972, the military began to include routine drug tests in servicemen's annual physical examination, including urinalysis, an examination of the nasal cavities, and queries concerning drug use. According to the regulation, the medical was scheduled for the month after the serviceman's birthday, August 1972 in Bush’s case.

On September 29, 1972 the National Guard Bureau sent Bush an order that put the seal of officialdom on Bush’s verbal suspension from flying that had occurred in August. Reason for the suspension: Failure to accomplish annual medical examination. Bush was ordered to acknowledge his grounding in writing and the Bureau noted that "the local commander who has authority to convene a Flying Evaluation Board will direct an investigation as to why the individual failed to accomplish the medical examination." There is no record that the investigating board was ever convened. Nor was there any record that Bush served from May 1, 1972 until April 30, 1973, although he should have logged at least 36 days of service.

There is no evidence that, in the 42 months between May 1971 and November 21, 1974, when he was officially discharged, Bush ever had an Air Force physical examination.

In December 1972, Bush returned to Houston, but apparently not to his Air Force unit. In January 1973 he did community service with the P.U.L.L. inner- city poverty program. On May 2, 1973, the two lieutenant colonels in charge of Bush's unit in Houston, one of them a friend of Bush, were unable to rate him for the prior 12 months, saying he had not been at the unit during that period. Later that month, Bush received two special orders to appear for active duty. Because he was officially grounded, during May, June, and July, he served 36 days of non-flying drills at Ellington before leaving the Guard early.

In September 1973, Bush asked to be discharged from the Texas Air National Guard and to be transferred to the Air Reserve Personnel Center. Transfer to the inactive reserves ends any requirements to attend monthly drills. Despite his shabby record, the Guard granted his request.

He was released eight months early to attend Harvard Business School, although he could have been compelled to fulfill his service obligation at a base near Harvard University. In all, Bush completed a total of 51 months out of 72 months he owed the Guard.

Commenting on Bush's record, two National Guard generals declared that Bush’s refusal to submit to a medical examination was, in itself, incomprehensible.

"Brigadier General David L. McGinnis, a former top aide to the assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, said in an interview that Bush's failure to remain on flying status amounts to a violation of the signed pledge by Bush that he would fly for at least five years after he completed flight school in November 1969.

"‘Failure to take your flight physical is like a failure to show up for duty. It is an obligation you can't blow off,’ McGinnis said.

"McGinnis said he, too, thought it possible that Bush's superiors considered him a liability, so they decided ‘to get him off the books, make his father happy, and hope no one would notice.’

"But McGinnis said there should have been an investigation and a report. If there were no investigation, it would show how far they were willing to stretch the rules to accommodate Bush."

It looks a though both Congress and the American people now realize they have been too willing to stretch the rules to accommodate Bush. Let’s give him a dishonorable discharge and send him back to Texas.

W's Reality Gap

By Mark Green, AlterNet February 20, 2004

George W. Bush is different, very different. Other presidents have misled, deceived, even lied. When Ike was asked his worst mistake, he candidly said, "The lie we told [about the U-2]." LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin were examples of both deception and self-deception.

The problem today is not simply that "Bush is a liar." While only he knows whether he's intentionally saying untrue things, it is a provable fact that he says untrue things, again and again, on issues large and small, day in and day out. The problem is not "16 words" in last year's State of the Union but 160,000 words on stem cells, global warming, the "death tax," the Iraq-9/11 connection and the Saddam-al Qaeda connection, the rise of deficits, cuts to Americorps, the air in downtown Manhattan after 9/11. On and on. It is beyond controversy that W "has such a high regard for the truth," as Lincoln said of a rival, "that he uses it sparingly."

Why this penchant for falsehoods?

First, George W. Bush begins any policy consideration with three fundamental questions: What does the religious right want? What does big business want? What do the neo-conservatives want? If he has stood up to any of these core supporters in the past three years, examples don't come readily to mind. Convinced by political advisor Karl Rove that the way to a second term is to "activate the base," his policy process is more catechismic than empiric ­ instead of facts leading to conclusions, conclusions lead to "facts."

Second, he is openly uninterested in learning and reading ­ the Bushes "aren't serious, studious readers" he has said, also admitting that he now reads headlines, not articles. The point is not that he's stupid, only that he knew less about policy and the world as a presidential candidate than the average graduate student in government. Lacking Eisenhower's worldliness or JFK's intellect, however, Bush is prone to grab onto a politically useful intellectual framework like a life preserver and then not let go ­ whether it's Myron Magnet's sour interpretation of the 60s in "The Dream and the Nightmare" or Paul Wolfowitz's Pollyannaish analysis of the likely consequences of an American invasion of Iraq.

The result: the most radical, messianic and misleading presidency of modern times. Frankly, no one else comes close. It has gotten to the point that President Bush appears to believe that he can do almost anything if he says the opposite: hence "no child left behind," "clean skies law," "healthy forests," and "love the poor" are mantras repeated in the hope that he can bend reality to his will. Arthur Miller calls it "the power of audacity."

Bush himself in the past has aptly called the first Tuesday in November "Reality Day" because talk ends when there's a real result. So what happens on presidential "reality days" when the results are the opposite of his wishful assertions ­ when we find neither WMD nor cheering crowds in Iraq, when a surplus of $5 trillion becomes a deficit of $4 trillion, when there are so few stem cell lines for scientific research that scientists leave for London, when the ice caps melt due to global warming, when a Supreme Court of largely Republican appointees rules that affirmative action is not "quotas" but desirable ­ and when the populations of even our allies regard us as a "bungling bully" (in the phrase of the Financial Times).

When Presidents Reagan and Bush were shown how their pie-in-the-sky economics were producing ruinous deficits, they enacted tax hikes to begin to correct the economy. Not Bush. Hearing only applause as he shuttles between his financial base to military bases ­ W retreats into messianic incompetence. "We don't second guess out of the White House," he announces, confusing stubbornness for strength; and he tells the G-8 leaders in 2001, "Look, I know what I believe and what I believe is right."

Whenever President Bush is now confronted with an unacceptable reality, he either changes the subject ­ is steroid use really more important than the environment? ­ or expresses confidence in his certainty. "I'm absolutely confident that..." he'll say, as if the issue is his determination rather than his conclusion. One is reminded of Igor in Young Frankenstein, who when asked about the foot-high hump on his back blithely answers, "What hump?"

This is not just a credibility gap but a reality gap. An empirically challenged and uninformed leader in denial and governing on a (right) wing and a prayer, however, is a big problem. What if Bush were president during the missiles of October ­ would he have been able to avoid a nuclear war? That he squandered a quarter trillion dollars and 4,000 American casualties attacking Iraq because al Qaeda in Afghanistan attacked us is not encouraging.

Just when they're needed, the usual mechanisms to bring a president to his senses are badly malfunctioning. A Congress of the same party now almost never holds adversarial hearings or holds him accountable, unlike how the Republican Congress treated Clinton. And with noteworthy exceptions, most of the media essentially gave him a pass on his eyebrow-raising military and business histories. The early and continuing storyline was that he was a charming guy who made up funny names for reporters and was no pompous prevaricator like his 2000 opponent. It was strange that, until the Niger-uranium fabrication, the media wrote far more about the spectacular deceptions of Jayson Blair than the more consequential deceptions of George W. Bush.

Of course, adding to his immunity is the understandable impulse to rally around a president during a crisis ­ a crisis the president regularly stokes as in his recent "State of Baghdad address" to the Congress. Or as commentator E.J. Dionne put it, W's slogan might as well be "the only thing we have to fear is the loss of fear itself."

So it comes down to November 2. If the public rewards W with a second term ­ and with no re-election contest to impose any possible moderating influence ­ then W's far-right impulses will be vindicated and corroborated. On that "reality day," which will prevail ­ Bush's certainty or our reality?

Comment: These two articles on Bush reinforce the opinion that we have had for a long time that W is a psychopath. Confront the psychopath with the truth, he will change his story without batting an eye. He uses his charm to manipulate his victims. Reality is not important for him because he lives in his own reality.

As Laura Knight-Jadczyk has written in her article on psychopaths:

"Likeable," "Charming," "Intelligent," "Alert," "Impressive," "Confidence-inspiring," and "A great success with the ladies": These are the sorts of descriptions repeatedly used by Cleckley famous case-studies of psychopaths. They are also, of course, "irresponsible," "self-destructive," and the like. These descriptions highlight the great frustrations and puzzles that surround the study of psychopathy.

Doesn't that fit the descriptions of W above? We encouraged our readers to download the book Masks of Sanity from this site to better understand the psychopath.

The Coming Implosion of the American Empire

by Gary North

The American Empire is scheduled to depart from Iraq in June. The unofficial word is out in Washington: Karl Rove has told President Bush that the body count, however much reduced by strange definitions of what constitutes a battlefield death, is going to cost him the election if it continues through the summer. Dutifully, the Commander-in-Chief has announced a June deadline for the transfer of Iraq's sovereignty to "the Iraqis," meaning whichever remnants of the coalition of the suppressed will still officially deal with him on his terms.

If you want a mental image of what is taking place in the White House today, picture Dorothy and her three companions walking through the forest of Oz. They are chanting, over and over, "Shi'ites and Sunnis and Kurds."

[...] The contraction of the American empire will begin in June. It has already lost considerable legitimacy in the eyes of the voters, not because of some great alteration of their principles, but because we are being car-bombed out of the place. The oil is not flowing. Sand isn't worth the price.

This will be an historic event. Historians will be able to establish a date on which to hang their narratives. Historians will do anything to find such a dated event. December 7, 1941 marks the beginning of the empire in the textbooks, although the Spanish-American War was the more obvious birthplace, assuming that the Louisiana Purchase wasn't – a major assumption. But Pearl Harbor gets all the attention because of the unarguable transformation of American foreign policy that it produced. Sporadic intervention prior to Pearl Harbor became permanent intervention after.

The troops' departure from Iraq will mark the day that Johnny comes marching home. There will be no parades, any more than there were when Israeli troops pulled out of Lebanon.

The implosion of the American empire is about to begin – not just the military one but also the commercial one. An empire that can no longer afford to keep its troops on active duty in occupied areas is not a good credit risk.

Mark the date on your calendar: June 30, 2004.

'Kelly was Murdered' Says UK Intelligence Insider

Shocking new details about the death of Dr David Kelly emerged today exclusively on the Alex Jones radio show. Michael Shrimpton, a UK national security lawyer who was a guest on the show, revealed that sources within MI5 and MI6 are `furious' that Kelly was murdered.

Shrimpton spoke in depth about the details of Kelly's murder on 17th July 2003, information which has been withheld by the British press.

With apparent backing from the organisations whose members he claims to speak for, Shrimpton presented their view that Dr Kelly had been murdered by a team of assassins and the charade of an apparent suicide was then played out to cover this up.

Speaking with impeccable credentials, including contributions to the Journal for International Security Affairs and having previously given a closed-doors confidential briefing the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Shrimpton exploded the much-reported myth that Dr Kelly had taken his own life.

Blair should quit before election, say Labour members

Nearly two-fifths of Labour Party members want Tony Blair to quit before the next election, according to a poll.

Some 16% want the Prime Minister to go now, with a further 23% saying he should leave office before the next election.

And 21% want him to stand down after the election. But 35% want him to fight the election after next.

The Guardian/ICM poll showed 55% of members would back Mr Blair in a leadership campaign, while just 30% would support Gordon Brown.

The results come after Mr Blair made clear in a weekend newspaper interview that he intended to lead Labour into the next General Election.

However the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, went one step further and called on Mr Blair to serve out a full third term in office if he was elected again.

The poll also shows the Government has dropped three points to 36% with the Tories remaining at 34%.

British FBI 'to get right to see bank records'

By Ed Harris, Evening Standard
23 February 2004

Britain's new FBI-style agency will get the power to seize secret client details from lawyers, bankers and accountants, it is reported today.

Professionals normally bound by secrecy rules will be told they must answer investigators' questions. Failure to do so could lead to fines and jail. [...]

Zawahri Condemns France Veil Ban in Tape-Al Arabiya

Tue February 24, 2004 03:09 AM ET

DUBAI (Reuters) - Osama bin Laden's right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahri condemned French moves to ban the Muslim veil in government schools in a new tape aired by an Arabic television channel Tuesday.

"This is a new sign of the Crusader hatred which Westerners harbour against Muslims while they boast of freedom, democracy and human rights," the voice, which sounded like previous audio tapes attributed to Zawahri, said on the Dubai-based Al Arabiya.

Comment: As we think that the monotheistic religions are filling people's heads with nonsense, we have a different view on this than Mr. Zawahri. Let us ask why people wear visible signs of their allegiance to a religion. One doubts that such an act would really influence a Supreme Being.

It might be taken as a sign of submission to a higher authority, but do we really want to "submit" to anything other than the Truth?

Does the quest for the truth about our existence demand submission? We think not. On the contrary, it demands continual awareness and effort to strive against those forces that would have us submit: fear, belief, certainty. To attain a link with our own creative force, that is, our own spark of the creator, we must strive higher, not bow our heads.

Outwards signs of religious belief may also mask self-satisfaction, a sense that one is better than those who do not belong to the "cross around my neck" or "yamulka or veil on my head" clubs.

Yes, one's attraction to a religion may well be motivated by the sense that some Higher truth exists and a deep-seated urge to discover that truth. Unfortunately, religion has long since given up any pretense of looking for the truth. They have erected competing houses of belief, setting believer against believer in a zero sum game where the house always wins.

In a secular society, religious views are meant to be private. The laws of the state are meant to be founded upon discussion and exchange among its citizens, without regard for religious influence or Divine Law. In the US, Thomas Jefferson felt so strongly about this that he refused to ever comment publicly on his religious views or to allow others to publish his private letters where he voiced his opinion. We think that Jefferson had a good idea, and it would be in keeping with his thinking for individuals to keep their religious ideas and accoutrements to themselves and their private lives. You might call this external consideration.

The other approach is that everyone should be free to wear what they want, where they want, when they want. This sounds good and is in keeping with the ideal of free speech in a democratic society. There are groups that defend this position, but the curious thing is that, while protesting their own need to express themselves freely, certain of these groups wish to prohibit others from having this same right. Thus we see Jewish groups trying to imprison people who deny the Holocaust, Evangelical Christian groups trying to prohibit the teaching of evolution, the fundamentalist Shiites in Iran barring the reformers from running for office, pharmaceutical companies trying to outlaw alternative medicine, and governments from the US to China to France trying to impose censorship on the Internet.

And behind the scenes, we sense the work of hidden forces manipulating all sides to promote hatred and intolerance. A year ago, the veil was not an issue in France. Today it is.

The conclusion for us is that there is no way to "fix" these problems. It seems we are always given two choices, neither of which we care for. Religious and other groups call for tolerance when they need to to "protect" themselves and intolerance when they can use it to crush their opponents. To stand against this, in a world that is spinning out of control, we must stand for the right to free expression. The lock-down has started. The true test of tolerance is whether or not you permit your opponent to express his ideas.

France continues to celebrate many holidays that are religious, but Catholic. These are public holidays. Are these not public expressions of what in a secular society should be private?

While we are willing to consider that this action of the French Government was done out of a sincere belief that it would reinforce the secular character of French society, we are worried that they have fallen into a trap laid for them by those who do not have French interests at heart. They may also be taking advantage of the situation to further their own plans.

Oil pipeline attacked in southern Iraq, UN's Annan set to release report

23 February 2004 0319 hrs

BAGHDAD : An oil pipeline was sabotaged in southern Iraq while deadly violence flared in the north, as the war-torn country awaited the release Monday of the UN's findings on the best way forward. [...]

In the first attack of its kind in the south since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime last spring, an oil pipeline was targeted near Karbala, 110 kilometres (70 miles) from Baghdad, an official Iraqi source said.

"An explosion damaged the pipeline and we don't know who the saboteurs are," said local Karbala official Hamid Salah al-Shebib.

The blast on the Kirkuk-Baghdad-Basra pipeline set off a fire around the site of the attack, and thick black smoke could be seen billowing from kilometres (miles) around.

Saboteurs have frequently targeted oil pipelines in oil-rich northern Iraq, where a gunbattle on Saturday night left one Iraqi dead and another seriously wounded when they attacked the home of a police chief, a police officer said. [...]

The Little Japanese Girl Who is Far Smarter Than George W. Bush

by Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers
February 23, 2004

Well, we already know that attacking Iraq was a huge mistake, even a crime. We all know George W. Bush doesn't read. Has a limited knowledge of history, geography, economics, etc. We also know he has no desire to learn about these things; he even admits it himself.

George is the epitome of the "Ugly American." He is an excellent example of typical hard-headed "American ethno-centric thinking."

I reckon that Americans think we are the smartest people in the world. Sometimes we are not too willing to accept the fact that we have no knowledge or common sense in areas that are so blatantly obvious to people in other countries, that once they are pointed out to us, we feel, well...Stupid.

Case in point: Me.

Here I have been living in Japan for all this time and I didn't know what I am about to tell you until day before yesterday.

Let me ask you a question: Who is the most famous Japanese person in the world? Baseball player Hideki Matsui or Ichiro? No way. They are only known in America and Japan. Famous movie director Akira Kurosawa? Perhaps. But you know he is not so famous here in Japan! Seiji Ozawa? Who? How about Emperor Hirohito? Hideki Tojo? Nope. They are past history.

I think, by far, the most famous Japanese person in the world is named "Oshin." In fact, after searching the subject, I'm sure about it.

Now I know what you are thinking: "Who is Oshin"? Well, of course from living here, I had heard the name many times. But I never really paid too much attention. Oshin is the main character in a very famous TV drama that is, far and away, the most successful TV drama ever made in this country.

The reason why I never really paid much attention to Oshin is because Oshin is a "tear-jerker" TV drama about a young girl who goes through some very serious hard times in her life only to finally overcome all and gain happiness. [...]

And the point of all this is; Sometimes I am amazed at what people think and do. Before I came to Japan, I was amazed at the Japanese. But now, after being here so long, I am often amazed at what Americans do. What I mean to say is that: "People are often wise or foolish in the most curious of ways."

Sorry, guys, but I know that the average American thinks that Americans are smarter than everyone else. But I got a point here where the Japanese just blow Americans away in the common sense area. There is no competition.

Alright, think about Oshin. Think about that story and that kind of suffering. I don't think Americans can relate to that. Of course Japanese can.

And, get this: Oshin has been broadcast in most Middle Eastern countries for at least the last 12 years. Iran? Sure. According to the Nikkei Shimbun News Oshin scores a remarkable 82% viewer rating; Iraq? Of course 76.7%; Thailand? 81.6%; China!? I thought most Chinese people hate Japanese because of the war! Yeah, well, maybe so, but they love Oshin! 75.9% viewer rating in China; Poland? 70%.

Gee, I wonder if the people in the Middle East can relate to this kind of starvation, suffering, and pain? Of course they can.

Which brings me to the next part of this puzzle: The Japanese military has ordered all troops in Iraq to grow beards and moustaches. Weird, eh? Well, no... Smart. Besides understanding the ways of society in the Middle-East, Oshin's husband has a moustache. Don't believe me? Check this out:

Japanese army opts for new form of camouflage

Just about every Japanese soldier in Iraq that I've seen on TV has a moustache.

So, now when Iraqi people see Japanese soldiers with beards and moustaches they all yell, "Oshin! Oshin! Oshin!"

Traditionally Japan has always had good relations with countries like Iraq and Iran. The Japanese may often seem quizzical and enigmatic to Americans (me too, sometimes) but this is just so ingenious, so brilliant in its simplicity, that it just blows my mind.

And here we have all our U.S. soldiers over there looking like they just stepped outta Miami Vice or Darth Vader's death star.

The Japanese also know that the big sport in the Mid-East is Soccer. So the Japanese soldiers are not handing out thirty-five cent chocolates, like the American soldiers. They are handing out thirty-five dollar Soccer balls. Don't believe me again? Check here:

Japanese troops go to Iraq with soccer balls

Comment: It gets better! From the above link, it seems that Japanese troops, "...will also hand out thousands of soccer shirts and hope to organise coaching and matches with the locals."

Think about it: Isn’t the purpose of giving these "gifts" to the children a sort of method to create goodwill? And isn’t that goodwill a sort of "protection"?

The American soldiers are handing out junky chocolates that will give a child 8 seconds of happiness. The Japanese are handing out quality soccer balls that will bring wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Those soccer balls must seem like treasure from heaven to those poor children.

And isn’t having friendly relations with the children and their parents so very important to your personal safety? Iraq is a war zone. These "presents" are a sort of "life insurance" for our soldiers, aren’t they?

If you were in a war zone, would you buy the thirty-five cent life insurance policy, or the thirty-five dollar life insurance policy?

The U.S. government will waste hundreds of billions of dollars on new high-tech junk, but be incredibly foolish and cheap-skate in the most absurd of ways.

Our soldiers are handing out cheap junk-food while the Japanese are giving out gold.

This is a case in point where the Americans must seem incredibly stupid. But you can’t really blame our foot soldiers for this too much. After all, they come from a very ethno-centric country. And they have a hard enough time having to pay for their own equipment, like body armor, that should be provided by the U.S. government for free.

It reminds me of that Clint Eastwood movie, "Heartbreak Ridge." After some military exercises, a high-ranking officer looks at Clint and says, "Sergeant? What’s your assessment of this situation?"

Eastwood answers: "It’s a cluster-f***, sir!"

And it sure is.

Now, you tell me, who has more common sense? Japanese or Americans?

Who do you think the Iraqi children like more: Darth Vader? Or Oshin?

Gunned down with abandon

By Robert Fisk

Feb 22, 2004: (The New Nation) Running the gauntlet of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades after check-in at Baghdad airportBaghdad, Iraq --I was in the police station in the town of Fallujah when I realised the extent of the schizophrenia. Captain Christopher Cirino of the 82nd Airborne was trying to explain to me the nature of the attacks so regularly carried out against American forces in the Sunni Muslim Iraqi town. His men were billeted in a former presidential rest home down the road--"Dreamland", the Americans call it--but this was not the extent of his soldiers' disorientation. "The men we are being attacked by," he said, "are Syrian-trained terrorists and local freedom fighters." Come again? "Freedom fighters." But that's what Captain Cirino called them--and rightly so.

Here's the reason. All American soldiers are supposed to believe--indeed have to believe, along with their President and his Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld--that Osama bin Laden's "al-Qa'ida" guerrillas, pouring over Iraq's borders from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia (note how those close allies and neighbours of Iraq, Kuwait and Turkey are always left out of the equation), are assaulting United States forces as part of the "war on terror". Special forces soldiers are now being told by their officers that the "war on terror" has been transferred from America to Iraq, as if in some miraculous way, 11 September 2001 is now Iraq 2003. Note too how the Americans always leave the Iraqis out of the culpability bracket--unless they can be described as "Baath party remnants", "diehards" or "deadenders" by the US proconsul, Paul Bremer.

Captain Cirino's problem, of course, is that he knows part of the truth. Ordinary Iraqis--many of them long-term enemies of Saddam Hussein--are attacking the American occupation army 35 times a day in the Baghdad area alone. And Captain Cirino works in Fallujah's local police station, where America's newly hired Iraqi policemen are the brothers and uncles and--no doubt--fathers of some of those now waging guerrilla war against American soldiers in Fallujah. Some of them, I suspect, are indeed themselves the "terrorists". So if he calls the bad guys "terrorists", the local cops--his first line of defence--would be very angry indeed.

No wonder morale is low. No wonder the American soldiers I meet on the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities don't mince their words about their own government. US troops have been given orders not to bad-mouth their President or Secretary of Defence in front of Iraqis or reporters (who have about the same status in the eyes of the occupation authorities). But when I suggested to a group of US military police near Abu Ghurayb they would be voting Republican at the next election, they fell about laughing. "We shouldn't be here and we should never have been sent here," one of them told me with astonishing candour. "And maybe you can tell me: why were we sent here?"

Little wonder, then, that Stars and Stripes, the American military's own newspaper, reported this month that one third of the soldiers in Iraq suffered from low morale. And is it any wonder, that being the case, that US forces in Iraq are shooting down the innocent, kicking and brutalising prisoners, trashing homes and--eyewitness testimony is coming from hundreds of Iraqis--stealing money from houses they are raiding? No, this is not Vietnam--where the Americans sometimes lost 3,000 men in a month--nor is the US army in Iraq turning into a rabble. Not yet. And they remain light years away from the butchery of Saddam's henchmen. But human-rights monitors, civilian occupation officials and journalists--not to mention Iraqis themselves--are increasingly appalled at the behaviour of the American military occupiers.

Iraqis who fail to see US military checkpoints, who overtake convoys under attack--or who merely pass the scene of an American raid--are being gunned down with abandon. US official "inquiries" into these killings routinely result in either silence or claims that the soldiers "obeyed their rules of engagement"--rules that the Americans will not disclose to the public.

The rot comes from the top. Even during the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, US forces declined to take responsibility for the innocents they killed. "We do not do body counts," General Tommy Franks announced. So there was no apology for the 16 civilians killed at Mansur when the "Allies"--note how we Brits get caught up in this misleading title--bombed a residential suburb in the vain hope of killing Saddam. When US special forces raided a house in the very same area four months later--hunting for the very same Iraqi leader--they killed six civilians, including a 14-year-old boy and a middle-aged woman, and only announced, four days later, that they would hold an "inquiry". Not an investigation, you understand, nothing that would suggest there was anything wrong in gunning down six Iraqi civilians; and in due course the "inquiry" was forgotten--as it was no doubt meant to be--and nothing has been heard of it again.

Again, during the invasion, the Americans dropped hundreds of cluster bombs on villages outside the town of Hillah. They left behind a butcher's shop of chopped-up corpses. Film of babies cut in half during the raid was not even transmitted by the Reuters crew in Baghdad. The Pentagon then said there were "no indications" cluster bombs had been dropped at Hillah--even though Sky TV found some unexploded and brought them back to Baghdad.

I first came across this absence of remorse--or rather absence of responsibility--in a slum suburb of Baghdad called Hayy al-Gailani. Two men had run a new American checkpoint--a roll of barbed wire tossed across a road before dawn one morning in July--and US troops had opened fire at the car. Indeed, they fired so many bullets that the vehicle burst into flames. And while the dead or dying men were burned inside, the Americans who had set up the checkpoint simply boarded their armoured vehicles and left the scene. They never even bothered to visit the hospital mortuary to find out the identities of the men they killed--an obvious step if they believed they had killed "terrorists"--and inform their relatives. Scenes like this are being repeated across Iraq daily. [...]

A carnival float carries a large papier mâché figure of U.S. President George W. Bush with a long nose, upon which is written 'Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,' during the traditional Rose Monday carnival parade, in Duesseldorf , Germany, February 23, 2004.

Bush goes on anti-democrat attack

Tuesday, 24 February, 2004, 02:26 GMT

President Bush has warned Americans against handing over power to the Democrats in November's election.

In a speech to Republican governors, he said his rivals would leave the US "uncertain in the face of danger".

Voters will decide "between two visions of government - one that encourages enterprise and one that raises taxes".

Mr Bush's approval rating has slumped in recent weeks amid fierce attacks from Democratic contenders over the war in Iraq and the economy. [...]

"It's a choice between an America that leads the world with strength and confidence - or an America that is uncertain in the face of danger."

Mr Bush also said that if re-elected he would "keep our enemies on the run and extend the frontiers of liberty".

Although he defended his policy on Iraq and said it had been a "tough choice", he acknowledged that he had erred on the side of caution given the situation in the world after the 11 September attacks.

But, he added, "We acted, we removed him. And the world is better off for it in my judgement." [...]

Risking Death, 2 Afghan Women Collected and Detonated U.S. Cluster Bombs

The New York Times

AJI BAI NAZAR, Afghanistan — Two women in this poor farming village have emerged as heroines after they witnessed the horror of two small boys being killed as they played with little cluster bombs from an American jet. The two cleared dozens of the bombs with their bare hands and detonated them, protecting the village.

Mine removers learned of their feat when surveying the area for cluster bomb strikes a few weeks later. "We told them they were crazy, that they could have been killed," said Dr. Nasiri, who is with the the Halo Trust, a nonprofit British organization that specializes in removing mines.

The women, Khairulnisah, 50, and Nasreen, 40, started to gather the dangerously volatile yellow canisters after the bombing in 2001 and after they had witnessed the explosion that killed the two boys and badly injured another child. The children had been playing with the two-pound bombs that littered the village.

Over several days, the two women cleared 60 or 70 of these cluster bombs from the immediate area and detonated them in a hollow at night, according to the villagers' accounts, which the Halo Trust vouched for.

In a country where women are subservient to the men of the family and excluded from decision-making, the courage of these two quickly took a place in local legend.

"One man came and said, `With such a heart, your wife will become prime minister,' " said Muhammad Isa, the husband of Ms. Nasreen, with a laugh.

The women are practical and hard-working, with rough hands and calm voices. Both said they had decided to clear the bombs out of concern for their children. "I was afraid my sons would get injured," said Ms. Nasreen, who was the first to pick one up.

"They were all over the street, and there were 10 in our yard," said Ms. Khairulnisah, her neighbor. "We were stepping around the bombs for five days and we were not touching them. We knew they were dangerous. But after the children were killed I decided to do something."

She added: "The men could not go close. They were not brave enough to pick them up and they were running back into the house. I was not afraid, I was just trusting in God."

The cluster bombs were dropped during the American operation against Taliban forces who were occupying the village in October 2001. They are armor-piercing missiles that scatter in the air from a larger bomb and can shred both humans and tanks.

Up to a third of the bombs do not explode on impact, but lie on or just below the surface of the ground, and detonate with the slightest vibration or increase in heat, mine removers at the Halo Trust said.

Hundreds were dropped along the front line near the town of Khojar Ghar in northern Afghanistan, and The Halo Trust has spent two years clearing dozens of bomb strikes in the area. Last fall, they found five new sites on nearby hills. They are the most dangerous unexploded ordnance of all, and the agency lost two senior leaders clearing cluster bombs in 2002.

The women said they felt endangered by handling the bombs. "Sometimes they made a noise, sometimes something turned inside, and that would press on my heart, and I would carefully lie them back down," Ms. Khairulnisah said. "Those ones I would pick up with a shovel."

Ms. Khairulnisah has "always been like that," said Muhammad Jan, her husband. "When the bombing was going on, she would go up onto the roof, saying, `Only God can take my life.' " Ms. Nasreen said she sensed that the bombs were full of liquid explosive. "Most of the time when I was picking them up, they would vibrate and shake my whole arm," she said. "One was so hot it was burning my hand and I had to put it quickly in water."

She collected 34 over three days, putting straw around them each time and setting fire to small groups of them, causing a big explosion, as she hid behind a wall.

"I knew they were dangerous," she said. "I was risking my life for the life of others. I was sick for nine days after that. I don't know if it was the gas. It smells so bad it makes you want to vomit."

When she began collecting them, she did not tell anyone what she was doing. But the explosions frightened the villagers, so she owned up. Her husband and son tried to stop her. "I will not pick up your body and I will say you committed suicide," her husband told her. But she ignored them.

The men said the women just did not understand the dangers of the bombs. "We see the incidents and repercussions of warfare, but the women don't know," said Abdullah, 18, Ms. Nasreen's son.

But his mother dismissed that idea. "That's not true," she said. "I saw the dead bodies of those children. I knew exactly the consequences but I thought we should clean the village of them and protect our children."

U.S.: Pentagon Denies Access to Guantanamo Trials

Human Rights Groups Shut Out of Military Commissions

Human Rights Watch
Washington, February 24, 2004

The Pentagon has refused to allow three leading human rights groups to attend and observe military commission trials of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. [...]

In a letter sent last week to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Amnesty International, Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and Human Rights Watch protested their exclusion from the proceedings and urged the U.S. government to rethink its position.

Despite the Bush administration's promise that the commissions would be open to the public, the Pentagon has refused to grant any of these organizations permission to attend the proceedings. Over the last month, the Department of Defense has responded to written requests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, with a brief statement that it intended only to provide seating for select members of the press and for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“The Defense Department wants to control who can talk to the journalists covering the trials,” said Wendy Patten, U.S. advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Pentagon has imposed a gag rule on defense lawyers, who can only speak to the press with the military’s permission. Now it wants to shut out experienced trial observers who could provide the public with independent analysis.” [...]

Putin Fires Russian Prime Minister

February 24, 2004

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday dismissed Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his Cabinet, saying in a statement on national television he purged the government in preparation for March 14 presidential elections.

Speculation had percolated for months that Kasyanov, the last major government holdover from Boris Yeltsin's years as president, was on his way out.

The dismissal of the prime minister also means the removal of the rest of the government ministers, although any of them potentially could be reappointed.

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko was named acting prime minister. [...]

Jordanian Charged With Spying for Israel

By SHAFIKA MATTAR, Associated Press Writer
February 24, 2004

AMMAN, Jordan - A Jordanian government employee has been charged with spying for Israel, after he allegedly confessed to providing the Jewish state with information about the Jordanian military and other installations.

Khaled Mohammed Salim al-Hayajneh was arrested Oct. 21, 2003, but the case came to light for the first time Monday, with the release of his indictment.

The trial in the State Security Court was set to begin Thursday. Conviction could carry the death penalty, although Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994, ending 46 years of war and animosity.

Al-Hayajneh, 42, was recruited by Israel in 1998, according to the indictment. At the time he was working in the print and photography department of the Royal Geographic Center.

In 2000, he allegedly requested a one-year sabbatical leave to go to Saudi Arabia but instead traveled to Israel, where he was in contact with an intelligence officer.

Al-Hayajneh was arrested in possession of Jordanian civil and military maps as well as military training manuals and other documents.

The charges said the defendant confessed to providing his Israeli contact with details of military airports and Palestinian refugee camps in the kingdom.

Israel declined to comment on the allegations, in keeping with its usual policy on matters of security.

The Dancing Bear

by Uri Avnery

Once upon a time there was a popular kind of street show: a bear would dance for the amusement of passers by, who would throw coins into his box. The bear was big and frightening, but his clumsy movements made people laugh. He was much stronger than his master, who kept him on a chain, but submitted to him completely. A wonder to behold.

The national symbol of the United States is the eagle. The bear, as everybody knows, is the national symbol of Russia . But looking at the Sharon-Bush relationship, it is the old master-and-bear show that inevitably springs to mind.

Ariel Sharon plays games with the American bear. He makes him dance, jump, lie down and get up again, turn around and perform somersaults, much to the amusement of the Israeli public.

Every few months Sharon invents a new act. The bear applauds and does what he is commanded to do, until the performance loses its novelty. Then Sharon comes up with something new.

That happened with the act called the Road Map. To be accurate, this one was not invented by Sharon , but by the bear himself. Bush had a Vision. A real inspiration. “Two States for Two Peoples.” Something new and revolutionary. (Never mind that the 1947 UN resolution establishing Israel included this, and that Israeli and Palestinian peace activists had been preaching this idea for decades. The bear’s brain works slowly, and, as the saying goes, better late than never.)

This vision brought forth the Road Map. A very complex and convoluted map. If an ordinary driver had to find his way with such a map, he would never see his destination. But the map bore the personal stamp of the President of the United States , as well as the signatures of Europe , Russia and the United Nations. So who could have any doubts about it?

The act started in Aqaba. George Double-U likes to have his picture taken against impressive backgrounds. Indeed, it seems that he spends considerable time and energy choosing the backdrop for his next photo--an aircraft carrier, a full army division on parade, jubilant soldiers in Baghdad . . . . This time, too, he found an impressive background: tropical shore, blue sea, tall palm trees, exotic landscape. Sharon and Abu-Mazen performing as extras. They received the Road Map in a solemn ceremony, much as Moses received – not far from there – the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

But photos can lie, and this one was misleading, too. It was not Sharon who was the extra in this act, but Bush. It was not the bear who made his master dance, but the other way around.

The act was devoid of content. The Road Map was already dead before it was born, because Sharon never dreamt of following its course. He has a different map, different routes and different destinations.

On the face of it, Sharon ’s response was “Yes, but . . . .” He added 14 reservations that emptied the document of any content. They stipulated that the Sharon government would implement its part of the deal only after the Palestinians had accomplished a number of impossible tasks. The Palestinians, of course, could not, and the result was that Abu-Mazen disappeared from the scene.

And Sharon ? He played the game to the end. Sent emissaries to Washington , conducted talks, received American functionaries, visited the White House and swore at every opportunity that he had no aim more sacred that realizing Bush’s Vision. The American President melted and sang the praises of this “Man of Peace.”

According to the Road Map, Sharon was obliged to remove all the settlements set up since the beginning of his term in early 2001. But he had the bear dance to the left and to the right, until the poor beast did not know the difference anymore. So, not all the settlements should be removed. Only the “illegal” outposts. (Illegal according to the laws of the occupation authorities, of course.) And not all the illegal outposts, by any means, just one or two. In the end, not a single one was removed. But the American bear danced on happily.

In the meantime, scores of new outposts have sprung up, all of them “illegal.” The Israeli government connected them up with water and electricity and built new roads for them. Huge sums were spent on them – money taken from the education, health and welfare budgets. The older settlements, too, were expanded at a frantic pace. The landscape of the West Bank was changing visibly. Everywhere, new roads for the convenience of the settlers came into being. And the bear danced on.

To all of this, the Wall was added. At first, it was presented as a security fence, and it was assumed that it would follow, more or less, the 1967 Green Line. But soon it became apparent that it was cutting deep into the West Bank , annexing large tracts of land and turning the declared aim of the Road Map – a viable Palestinian state--into a mockery. The American satellites took pictures, and the bear still danced on. The main thing was, after all, that Sharon continued to praise the Road Map.

And then Sharon got fed up with the act, and perhaps he was afraid that the bear would get tired or nervous. So he invented a new dance: Unilateral Disconnecting. We leave the Gaza Strip, dismantle 14 settlements there, and, for good measure, some settlements on the West Bank , too.

So everything has started again right from the beginning. Emissaries are being sent to America . Emissaries from America are being received in Jerusalem . Sharon’s confidant, Dov Weisglas, will go and see Condoleezza. An Israeli general will meet with an American general. Sharon will visit the White House. And in Israel itself the proper backdrop for the performance is being set up in the form of stormy demonstrations of the settlers, fierce denunciations by rabbis, threats of cabinet crises, dozens of articles by learned pundits promising that this time, this very time, the 101st time, he is serious. This time Sharon truly means what he says.

Washington is jubilant. Well, maybe it is not exactly the Road Map, but one can pretend that it is. The main thing is that Sharon is again shown to be a Man of Peace, ready for withdrawal and the dismantling of settlements. Who would have believed it?

This week, Bush sent Three Wise Men to Sharon (including Elliot Abrams, a gentleman slightly more Zionist than Sharon himself, if such a thing were possible) in order to ask politely: From where exactly does Sharon intend to withdraw? Exactly which settlements does he plan to give up? When exactly is it going to happen? And, please, could one perhaps have a look at a map?

Sharon laughed in their faces. No map. No timetable. No nothing. It is still an idea. People are working on it. Here in the corner, a Real General is thinking about it all the time.

Certainly. They will think, prepare papers, fly to Washington and back, Dov will meet Condoleezza, Sharon will see Bush. (In the meantime, the Americans are being asked to give some billions for the payment of compensation to the settlers. Since the Americans paid billions for installing the settlers in the first place, it is only right that they should pay a few more billions to move them out again.)

And so it will continue, until Sharon gets tired of this act, too. Then he will invent a new one. After all, the main thing is for the bear to keep on dancing.

Palestinians beaten for resisting barrier

Tuesday 24 February 2004

Israeli security forces have wounded at least 10 Palestinians protesting against an expansion of the controversial separation barrier as the World Court held a second day of hearings on the issue.

The confrontation in the West Bank village of Bait Sira with Israel followed a day of protests along the barrier which soldiers quelled with teargas in some instances.

Witnesses said Palestinian farmers and supporters in Bait Surik tried to prevent army bulldozers from razing an olive grove to make way for a new section of razor-tipped fence.

Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said security forces used stun grenades and teargas to disperse the crowd. Witnesses said 10 protesters were injured and evacuated by ambulance.

Three policemen were slightly hurt and five Palestinians and one Israeli were arrested, Kleiman said.

He said the border police acted after being pelted with stones by Palestinians and some leftist Israeli supporters as contractors sought to begin work on the barrier extension.

Annexation intended

Israel says the bulwark of fences and walls, which runs 180km so far and is to stretch over 700km is a stopgap security measure intended to keep out Palestinian bombers in the absence of peace talks.

Palestinians say the barrier, by snaking well into the West Bank and taking in Jewish settlements, is intended to annex territory that Israel occupied in a 1967 war, but which they claim for a viable state under a US-backed peace plan.

Monday's protests were staged as part of a Palestinian "Day of Rage" coinciding with the start of the World Court hearing in The Hague into whether the barrier is illegal and should be torn down, as argued by the Palestinians.

Israel boycotted the hearing, contending the barrier is a security issue beyond the court's jurisdiction.

Comment: Yes, only the wrathful YHWH has jurisdiction over the brutal polices of the Israeli government - and he probably approves.

Israel accused of 'illegal land grab'

By Stephen Castle in The Hague
24 February 2004

Israel was accused yesterday of erecting its controversial security barrier as part of an illegal bid to grab Palestinian land, as a landmark legal case began amid protests in The Hague.

The blackened shell of a bus, destroyed by a suicide bomber last month, was flown in by supporters of the Israeli government, while pro-Palestinian protesters included Gretta Duisenberg, the wife of the former president of the European Central Bank, and a group of anti-Zionist rabbis.

The opening of the case marks the first attempt to get a legal condemnation of the contentious West Bank barrier which Israel says is needed to prevent suicide bombers killing its civilians. Palestinian representatives said the 450-mile structure was part of an orchestrated Israeli "colonisation".

The most high-profile case to be heard by the court in recent years brought logistical problems for the Dutch authorities as campaigners converged on the Dutch capital under the watchful gaze of riot police. Both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups braved freezing temperatures to demonstrate at different times of the day to avoid any possibility of a clash.

At the start of the hearing, the Palestinian permanent representative to the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa, said the barrier, which is part fence and part wall, was constructed for political - rather than security -reasons.

"It is about entrenching the occupation and the de facto annexation of large areas of Palestinian land," he said. "If Israel wanted a wall for security it would have constructed it on its territory and raised it to 80m not eight metres".

Israel has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court but made a written submission: "civilians are literally being slaughtered - on buses as they go about their daily lives, in their homes, in restaurants and elsewhere - by those who operate from under the protective umbrella of 'Palestine'".

Comment: The Israeli government, aided and abetted by the US and world media, seeks to convince us that Jews are united in their support for Israeli policies. Almost no coverage is given to the many Israeli Jews and Jewish religious leaders that are strongly opposed to the obviously brutal and inhuman treatment of Palestinians by their government. Sharon hopes to cement the Jewish identity as a people under constant threat to their existence, and he himself is only too willing to provide facts on the ground to create this reality. See yesterday's Signs page for more on this. Click here to see a poster advertisement from Jews against the Wall.

Mossad chief visited Egypt: report

Tuesday 24 February 2004

Israel wants Egypt to prevent weapon smuggling from its territory

The head of Israel's Mossad, Meir Dagan, visited Egypt in the past few days to discuss a possible Israeli evacuation from Gaza Strip settlements, Israeli daily Haaretz has reported.

Dagan also sounded out Egyptian officials about the consequences of an army withdrawal from Israel's border with Egypt within the larger framework of the settlement pullout, the paper said.

It said Israel wanted guarantees Egypt would prevent weapon smuggling from its territory into the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz suggested on Wednesday Israel kept control of the Strip's border with Egypt at Rafah to prevent arms being smuggled into the Palestinian territory, particularly through tunnels.

Since the Palestinian uprising broke out in late September 2000, the army has blown up hundreds of houses in Rafah in an attempt to destroy the tunnels.

The hawkish Israeli premier told parliament's foreign affairs
and defence committee on Monday he had not decided whether troops would be maintained in the southern Gaza Strip.

"On one hand, this strip is supposed to prevent arms smuggling, but on the other it's a cursed route that has caused, and will continue to cause, daily conflict," he said.

"There are various opinions, and in any event I intend to discuss this with the Egyptians."

Sharon plan

Sharon announced in early February his intention to dismantle 17 of 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip. The move, that could begin within weeks, is part of a larger plan of unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians.

The prime minister said last December he would act unilaterally towards resolving parts of the Middle East crisis as he accused the Palestinians of failing to fulfill their obligations under the US-backed road map for peace.

The announcement was criticised by the international community, including its staunchest ally, the United States, which would prefer to see a negotiated solution to Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

Israeli women keep eyes on army

Three hundred Israeli women volunteer to monitor Israeli army actions at West Bank checkpoints.

By Ben Lynfield
The Christian Science Monitor

JUBARA, WEST BANK –Even before Israel's controversial separation barrier came under heightened international scrutiny this week, Adi Dagan was on the lookout at one of its gates in the West Bank, scribbling incessantly.

Armed with her notebook, mobile phone, and compassion, Ms. Dagan is among 300 Israeli women volunteers whose self-appointed task is to monitor the Israeli army, which operates about 65 manned and hundreds of unmanned checkpoints in the West Bank.

The group, Machsom Watch, or Women for Human Rights, scrutinizes soldiers' behavior at the checkpoints that constitute the main interface between the army and the roughly two million Palestinians who live there.
"I try to make sure the soldiers see I am writing," says Dagan,who holds a masters degree in history from the Hebrew University. "It is kind of a pressure on them to behave." She and others head to the checkpoints, or to gates in the barrier, at least once a week.

Israel says the barrier is essential to thwart the suicide bombers who have repeatedly attacked its towns. It says the gates are designed so that Palestinians can reach farmland and schools on the other side. But in Jubara, Dagan says "the gate is not opened regularly. Usually soldiers come to open it around 12:30 and are gone by 1:00, but sometimes they don't show up at all."

UNICEF has put up awnings on either side of the gate for children who have to wait in the rain.

On Jewish holidays, which are regular schooldays for the Palestinians, the gate is locked, say schoolchildren. [...]

"You put an 18-year-old soldier at a checkpoint and he decides whether people get to work, to hospital, or to see their relatives," Dagan adds." It's a lot of power and many times bad use is made of this power to humiliate people, harass people, or act violently."

Machsom Watch advocates the end of checkpoints and, in the meantime, easing the plight of Palestinians. The group has come a long way since it started with three Jerusalem women at a checkpoint to Bethlehem in January 2001. Its daily field reports are posted on the Internet. A group of Knesset legislators recently took up the cause, paying their own visits to checkpoints. [...]

However, in October, the army chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon raised eyebrows by saying that the tight checkpoint regime was harming innocent civilians and generating resentment that backfires against Israel.

Machsom Watch's appeal, its volunteers say, stems from the feeling of actually doing something, rather than merely holding up protest signs. "You can definitely say that as an Israeli I have pangs of guilt about what is being done in my name," says television producer Daphna Weiss. "At the checkpoints I have a chance to do something practical."

Others experience a sense of empowerment. "When you think about it, we women are able to monitor the checkpoints because we are psychologically less threatening to the soldiers than males would be," says Michal Bar-Or, a young volunteer. "But in fact we turn our perceived weakness into strength. We have the power to observe the soldiers, to criticize them, and to be the voice of conscience."

Dagan recalls as the most harrowing moment of her work witnessing soldiers at Qalandiya Checkpoint near Jerusalem opening fire at Palestinian children who were throwing stones at the fence of an airport that has been closed during the intifada.

"During previous times, I had seen them shooting in the air, but that day they were shooting towards the children," she says. Dagan and a colleague called a local army commander, who, she said, responded that the troops were only firing in the air. A 14-year-old Palestinian boy, Omar Matar, died of gunshot wounds to the head and neck.

"It was terrible, totally traumatic," Dagan said. "I couldn't believe my eyes, I couldn't believe soldiers were shooting at small children. After that, it was very difficult for me to return to Qalandiya Checkpoint. Every time I saw the soldiers, I was scared it would happen again. The whole place became so terrifying for me, but I kept on going there."

Results of an investigation into the shooting "are being reviewed in order to decide what legal steps will be taken," an army spokesman said.

When she heads back to Tel Aviv, Dagan feels "sad, depressed, usually frustrated and angry. Mostly, I feel sad."

"The pictures still run in my mind," Dagan says. "It's like I'm still at the checkpoint even afterwards." [...]

Forecast of Rising Oil Demand Challenges Tired Saudi Fields

The New York Times
February 24, 2004

When visitors tour the headquarters of Saudi Arabia's oil empire — a sleek glass building rising from the desert in Dhahran near the Persian Gulf — they are reminded of its mission in a film projected on a giant screen. "We supply what the world demands every day," it declares.

For decades, that has largely been true. Ever since its rich reserves were discovered more than a half-century ago, Saudi Arabia has pumped the oil needed to keep pace with rising needs, becoming the mainstay of the global energy markets.

But the country's oil fields now are in decline, prompting industry and government officials to raise serious questions about whether the kingdom will be able to satisfy the world's thirst for oil in coming years.

Energy forecasts call for Saudi Arabia to almost double its output in the next decade and after. Oil executives and government officials in the United States and Saudi Arabia, however, say capacity will probably stall near current levels, potentially creating a significant gap in the global energy supply.

Outsiders have not had access to detailed production data from Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, for more than 20 years. But interviews in recent months with experts on Saudi oil fields provided a rare look inside the business and suggested looming problems.

An internal Saudi Aramco plan, the experts said, estimates total production capacity in 2011 at 10.15 million barrels a day, about the current capacity. But to meet expected world demand, the United States Department of Energy's research arm says Saudi Arabia will need to produce 13.6 million barrels a day by 2010 and 19.5 million barrels a day by 2020.

"In the past, the world has counted on Saudi Arabia," one senior Saudi oil executive said. "Now I don't see how long it can be maintained." [...]

Building Blue-Collar … Burgers?

NY, Feb. 20, 2004

Manufacturing jobs making things like airplane engines, cars and farm equipment are disappearing from the American economy.

Or are they? According to a White House report, new manufacturing jobs might be as close as your nearest drive-thru.

The annual Economic Report of the President has already stirred controversy by suggesting the loss of U.S. jobs overseas might be beneficial, and predicting that a whopping 2.6 million jobs will be created in the country this year.

As first reported by The New York Times, the fast food issue is taken up on page 73 of the lengthy report in a special box headlined "What is manufacturing?"

"The definition of a manufactured product," the box reads, "is not straightforward."

"When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?" it asks.

Manufacturing is defined by the Census Bureau as work involving employees who are "engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products."

But, the president's report notes, even the Census Bureau has acknowledged that its definition "can be somewhat blurry," with bakeries, candy stores, custom tailors and tire retreading services considered manufacturing.

"Mixing water and concentrate to produce soft drinks is classified as manufacturing," the president's report reads. "However, if that activity is performed at a snack bar, it is considered a service."

The report does not recommend that burger-flippers be counted alongside factory workers.

Instead, it concludes that the fuzziness of the manufacturing definition is problematic, because policies — like, for example, a tax credit for manufacturers — may miss their target if the definition is overly broad or narrow.

But reclassifying fast food workers as manufacturing employees could have other advantages for the administration.

It would offset somewhat the ongoing loss of manufacturing jobs in national employment statistics. Since the month President Bush was inaugurated, the economy has lost about 2.7 million manufacturing jobs, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That continues a long-term trend.

Comment: After reading this article, we do not know whether to laugh or cry.

Canada gets airline threats

By David Ljunggren
Monday February 23, 09:01 PM

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is receiving specific threats about civilian planes taking off from Canadian airports and needs greater powers to deal with such issues, a top security official has said.

"I can tell you...there are specific threats against Canadians and Canadian aircraft that we have an obligation to protect them from," Robert Wright, the new national security advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, told the Senate's national security and defence committee on Monday. [...]

US accepts German "no" on troops for Iraq: ambassador

BERLIN (AFP) Feb 24, 2004

The United States accepts Berlin's decision not to send troops to Iraq, the US ambassador to Germany said Tuesday in a radio interview ahead of a visit by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Washington.

"The German government has said that it does not want to send Bundeswehr soldiers to Iraq," Ambassador Daniel Coats told Bayerischer Rundfunk.

"We accept that. We are happy that the federal government announced it would not stand in the way of a NATO engagement in Iraq. There is no need for German troops there," he said, in comments translated into German.

NATO is considering deploying troops to help stabilize the war-torn country. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said earlier this month that Germany would not stand in the way of a consensus in favor of NATO involvement but has ruled out supplying troops for the effort. [...]

Libya 'not responsible for deaths'

The Telegraph

There is no evidence to prove British policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was murdered by a Libyan gunman in London 20 years ago, according to the country's prime minister.

Shokri Ghanem's comments have provoked outrage just weeks after moves began to thaw the relationship between Britain and Libya.

He also insisted Libya had not admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, but had paid compensation to "buy peace".

Mr Ghanem's comments on the shooting of Wpc Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London in 1984 were described as "absolute garbage" by the Metropolitan Police Federation, which claims the identity of the culprit was well known.

Wpc Fletcher was killed by a marksman who opened fire on Libyan dissidents protesting at the embassy. The gunman was smuggled out with 21 other embassy staff under diplomatic immunity the next day.

Libya accepted responsibility for the murder in July 1999 and agreed to pay compensation to Wpc Fletcher's family, from Semley, Wilts. However, a lawyer who has studied the incident said there was no evidence Wpc Fletcher was killed by a Libyan, or even that the fatal shot was fired from the embassy. [...]

'Dozens of bodies were drained of blood'

By Dino Mahtani
February 24 2004 at 02:12AM

Lubumbashi - Peasant Mai Mai warriors have slaughtered about a hundred civilians and seven military officers in south-eastern Congo since January, often mutilating bodies and draining their blood, Congolese military officials said on Monday. [...]

Hundreds slaughtered in Ugandan camp

Survivors describe how rebels massacred over 200 civilians

Indians strike for the right to strike

February 24 2004 at 09:09AM

New Delhi - Millions of Indian workers went on strike on Tuesday in protest to a Supreme Court ban on strikes, shutting down government offices, schools and banks and hitting public transport.

Extra police were on the streets of major cities, but the impact of the action varied across the country, hitting Calcutta and Mumbai worst and barely affecting the capital, New Delhi. [...]

India's twins pose DNA puzzle

By Rajan Chakravarty
BBC in Mohammad Pur Umri
Monday, 23 February, 2004, 16:34 GMT

Scientists from around the world are flocking to a small Indian village to try to find out why an extraordinarily large number of identical twins are being born there.

One in 10 births in Mohammad Pur Umri, near Allahabad, involves twins, most of them identical. Looking at the faces of Umri's residents, you can be forgiven for wondering if you have stepped onto the set of a sci-fi film on cloning.

Globally, the odds of a woman giving birth to identical twins is one in 300.

"Over the last 10-15 years, the number of twin births has gone up significantly," Netaji, a village headman who has lived in Umri for over 70 years, told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"There would have been more, but infant mortality has claimed many lives." [...]

WHO ‘suppressed’ scientific study into depleted uranium cancer fears in Iraq

By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

An expert report warning that the long-term health of Iraq’s civilian population would be endangered by British and US depleted uranium (DU) weapons has been kept secret.

The study by three leading radiation scientists cautioned that children and adults could contract cancer after breathing in dust containing DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic. But it was blocked from publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which employed the main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, as a senior radiation advisor. He alleges that it was deliberately suppressed, though this is denied by WHO.

Baverstock also believes that if the study had been published when it was completed in 2001, there would have been more pressure on the US and UK to limit their use of DU weapons in last year’s war, and to clean up afterwards.

Hundreds of thousands of DU shells were fired by coalition tanks and planes during the conflict, and there has been no comprehensive decontamination. Experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have so far not been allowed into Iraq to assess the pollution.

“Our study suggests that the widespread use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq could pose a unique health hazard to the civilian population,” Baverstock told the Sunday Herald.

“There is increasing scientific evidence the radio activity and the chemical toxicity of DU could cause more damage to human cells than is assumed.”

Baverstock was the WHO’s top expert on radiation and health for 11 years until he retired in May last year. He now works with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Kuopio in Finland, and was recently appointed to the UK government’s newly formed Committee on Radio active Waste Management.

While he was a member of staff, WHO refused to give him permission to publish the study, which was co-authored by Professor Carmel Mothersill from McMaster University in Canada and Dr Mike Thorne, a radiation consultant . Baverstock suspects that WHO was leaned on by a more powerful pro-nuclear UN body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“I believe our study was censored and suppressed by the WHO because they didn’t like its conclusions. Previous experience suggests that WHO officials were bowing to pressure from the IAEA, whose remit is to promote nuclear power,” he said. “That is more than unfortunate, as publishing the study would have helped forewarn the authorities of the risks of using DU weapons in Iraq.” [...]

“It is ridiculous to leave the material lying around and not to clear it up where adults are working and children are playing. If DU is not taken care of, instead of decreasing the risk you are increasing it. It is absolutely wrong.”

Comment: Tying in with commentary on yesterday's Signs page; After reading the above article, is it reasonable to suggest that some members of the UN's World Health Organisation "joined in a secret agreement" in order to carry out this "unlawful and wrongful act"? If so, then that is the definition of a conspiracy. For those who do not believe in conspiracies, might we suggest that certain people in the government and the mainstream media also "joined in a secret agreement" to carry out the "wrongful act" of ridiculing conspiracy theories and theorists, in order to convince the public that conspiracies do not exist. Machiavellian, ain't it? Welcome to reality.

Quake jolts eastern France, southwestern Germany

February 24, 2004

BESANCON, France (AFP) - An earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale jolted parts of eastern France, southwestern Germany and western Switzerland, seismologists said.

The tremor plunged part of the French town of Besancon into darkness for more than one hour after it cut electricity supplies, but fire and police services reported no immediate casualties or major damage.

France's earth sciences observatory in Strasbourg said the epicenter of the quake, which struck at 6:31 pm (1731 GMT), was in Baume-les-Dames, a town of 6,000 people around 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Besancon.

France's electricity utility EDF said the power cut affected some 25,000 people in several areas of Besancon, including the town centre.

"I haven't heard of any consequences from the quake," Antoine Berthaut, head of Baume-les-Dames' town hall services department, told AFP.

The tremor was felt in an area stretching from the French cities of Lyon and Strasbourg to Geneva in Switzerland to southwestern Germany, and sparked worried calls to media stations and local services from inhabitants.

"The quake happened in a region where there are regular earth tremors, even if they are much less powerful. It is related to the collision between the African and European plates," said Michel Granet, head of the national seismic monitoring network.

At least nine killed in Morocco Strong earthquake
2004-02-24 15:19:47     

CAIRO, Feb. 24 (Xinhuanet) -- A strong earthquake hit northern Morocco early on Tuesday, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens, reports reaching here said.

Morocco's official news agency MAP said the quake struck at around 2:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) and was felt in the areas of Al Hoceima, Fez and Taza.

The US Geological survey said the quake measured 6.5 on the Richter scale.

Most of the victims were in villages near Al Hoceima, the news agency said.

Comment from a Reader: The African plate and Eurasian plate meet right in the Mediterranean and appears to go directly under where the earthquake occurred, extending out to the Azores, and, interestingly, appears to go through where the recent strange fires were occurring in Sicily.

Tsunami Hazard in the Eastern Caribbean

John B. Shepherd B.Sc. Ph.D.

Tele-tsunamis are tsunamis generated outside the region which are transmitted into it. Three of these have been recorded in the eastern Caribbean:

•The first was on November 1 1755. This was generated by a major earthquake in the
Azores fracture zone which is often called the Great Lisbon Earthquake since it caused
widespread damage in Lisbon.

• The tsunami crossed the Atlantic and was noticed throughout the eastern Caribbean
from Barbados to Antigua and as far west as Cuba. The amplitude in all islands was
about 2 - 3 meters and waves continued to arrive for many hours. No damage or
casualties were reported.

• The second (possible) tele-tsunami was generated by another earthquake in the Azores
fracture zone on March 31 1761. European sources say that a tsunami was observed in
Barbados but this has not been confirmed by local sources.

Mega-tsunami: Wave of Destruction


Scattered across the world’s oceans are a handful of rare geological time-bombs. Once unleashed they create an extraordinary phenomenon, a gigantic tidal wave, far bigger than any normal tsunami, able to cross oceans and ravage countries on the other side of the world. Only recently have scientists realised the next episode is likely to begin at the Canary Islands, off North Africa, where a wall of water will one day be created which will race across the entire Atlantic ocean at the speed of a jet airliner to devastate the east coast of the United States. America will have been struck by a mega-tsunami. [...]

At least five dead, 180 injured in Damascus storms

DAMASCUS (AFP) Feb 23, 2004

At least five people were killed and 180 injured as gale force winds of up to 150 kilometres (95 miles) an hour and snow showers swept through the Syrian capital, newspapers reported on Monday.

Sunday's gusts uprooted trees, knocked down electricity pylons and blew away television antennae, as well as causing power cuts and heavy damage to properties in Damascus.

The government daily Tishrin said five people were killed, while Syria Times gave an injured toll of 180.

Arctic weather spreads southwards

The Arctic snap is continuing across the UK, with icy temperatures, sleet and snow showers heading south.

Temperatures were forecast between 6C (43F) and 8C (46F) across the country, but falling to a few degrees above zero in the Scottish Highlands.

John Hutchinson, weather expert, said: "There'll be some rain, sleet and snow moving southwards. Quite a lot of it's going to be rain but, in the northern edge, there's going to be a risk of some sleet and snow.

"Because the cold air is already in Scotland, it will be colder there than it will be across England and Wales with some snow showers pushing in from the north.

"There will be some snow on the hills in northern England and Wales, and the tops of hills in the Midlands and southern England. It may descend to lower ground."

[...] "At the end of the week and over the weekend, it looks like staying cold with snow showers in the north and east," added Mr Hutchinson.

Two Killed in West Texas Dust Storms

Friday February 20, 7:42 PM

Thick, reddish-brown dust swirled over parts of West Texas, contributing to a series of traffic accidents that killed two people and injured dozens of others.

As many as 30 vehicles crashed Thursday on U.S. Highway 84 between Southland and Post, about 20 miles southeast of Lubbock, said Cpl. John Gonzalez with the Department of Public Safety.

A New Mexico truck driver and his wife were killed in a crash that injured at least 11 others, authorities said.

[...] "All I see is dirt right now," said Marla Mason, who was working at a Lubbock truck stop. "It's kind of cleared up a little. The closer you get to the cotton fields, you can't see at all. ... It's just been blowing all day."

Heavy Seas

Deadly Strain of Texas Bird Flu Spreads

By T.A. BADGER, Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 23,10:38 PM ET

SAN ANTONIO - A strain of avian flu found on a Texas chicken farm is considered far deadlier to poultry than originally thought and has spread to live bird markets in Houston, federal officials said Monday.

However, the flu is not the same strain that has killed at least 22 people in Asia, said Dr. Ron DeHaven of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The highly contagious strain, found in Gonzales County in South Texas about 50 miles east of San Antonio, poses little threat to people, said Dr. Nancy Cox of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Nonetheless, as we move forward in this particular situation, we have to keep an open mind," Cox said.

On Friday, state officials said the outbreak was a low-pathogenic version of bird flu, meaning it posed little risk to humans and only low risk to chickens.

However, it was reclassified as high-pathogenic after genetic testing during the weekend, DeHaven said.

It is the first time since 1983-84 that high-pathogenic avian flu has been found in the United States, DeHaven said. [...]

The UFO Map

Chemical test scars linger

Feds offer payout to soldiers

Dan Kinvig
The StarPhoenix

[...] Coleman was exposed to poisonous gases in 1942, one of 3,500 Canadian veterans who were unwitting guinea pigs in their own government's chemical weapons experiments during the Second World War.

Sixty-two years later, he inhales emphysema medication whenever he has trouble breathing, which can be up to five times daily.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced a $50-million compensation package for those subjected to the secret tests. Each veteran would receive $24,000.

That's not enough, say veterans who have filed a class-action suit in the B.C. Supreme Court. Their lawyer, Rodney Pacholzuk, has said they would settle for $50,000 each. [...]

Monsignor Mulls Accused Priests' Mindsets

Monsignor Says Some Catholic Priests Once Believed Having Sex With Young Men Was Acceptable

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. Feb. 23 — The interim head of the Diocese of Springfield said the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic church in recent years stems from a belief once held by some priests that having sex with young men was acceptable.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk said that as a seminarian and a young priest in the 1950s and early 1960s, he heard of priests who had sex with young men, but "no one thought much about it."

"They did good ministry, they were good to their people, they were kind, compassionate, but they had no idea what they were doing to these young men that they were abusing," Sniezyk told The Boston Globe on Sunday. "It was that era of the '60s most of it took place from the mid-'60s to the early-'80s and the whole atmosphere out there was, it was OK, it was OK to do.

"Certainly that atmosphere is not present in the church today," he said. [...]

"He's saying priests were that lame in the brain not to know this was wrong?" Scahill told the newspaper. "Any sensible person would know this is evil."

Children 'at risk from smokers at home'

The hidden dangers of household dust for young children living in smoking households has been highlighted in a new study.

Infants are being exposed to levels of tobacco fumes equivalent to several hours of active adult smoking in just a few weeks, the American research found.

And parents who try to limit the impact of their habit by smoking outside are still failing to protect their children fully, the authors said.

Comment: Aside from the fact that all government sponsored smoking research is very possibly biased and flawed, what's their point since, as the Pentagon has reported, we are facing the end of the world as we know it? Shouldn't people be a little more concerned about what really matters?

Children are a lot more at risk from the Bush Reich than from smokers at home.

Headteacher 'shoots dead exam cheat'

The headteacher of a school in northern India has allegedly shot and killed a student because he was cheating during examinations.

Harnek Singh, principal of the government higher secondary school at Chhajjalwadi near Amritsar opened fire on Sandip Singh for smuggling in notes during tests.

The 20-year-old student was reportedly supplying material to his colleagues in the examination hall for copying when the principal warned him and other boys but allegedly fired after they failed to comply, reports The Statesman of Calcutta.

Sandip who was hit in the chest by a bullet was rushed to a local hospital but was dead on arrival.

[...] The newspaper reports villagers alleged the police are under pressure not to arrest the principal because of his "proximity" to a local politician.

Kicked out of kindergarten

By Jennifer Mrozowski and John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A student at Quebec Heights School in Price Hill strikes his classmates and kicks a teacher.

A student at Princeton's Woodlawn Elementary stabs another kid in the face with a plastic fork.

A student at New Burlington Elementary in Springfield Township urinates in a garbage can.

All three students are expelled or suspended from school.

All three students are kindergartners.

Forget recess, storybook corner and sharing hour. [...]

For some 5-year-olds, kindergarten means fights and classroom tantrums - behavior problems so severe that little kids sometimes are kicked out of school. [...]

More than 200 times last year, Greater Cincinnati kindergartners were expelled or suspended from school for at least one day, an Enquirer analysis of city and suburban school records shows

Real pain dulled in virtual worlds

"With PTSD such as that suffered by the survivors of the WTC attacks, there is an avoidance component," says Dr Hoffman, whose center is attached to the University of Washington.

"Virtual 'exposure' therapy allows access to the event a step at a time, starting with getting up on the morning of September 11th and gradually working up to the most disturbing events of the memory. It is a controlled way of eliciting and processing the memories."

Comment: Relive it, but, whatever you do, don't look behind that curtain!

Workers dig up dinosaur egg from Jurrassic age

February 23 2004 at 06:30PM

Ahmedabad - A dinosaur egg weighing more than five kilograms and measuring 30cm in diameter has been found in western India, government officials said on Monday.

The egg was discovered by telecommunications workers digging in the town of Balasinor, in the south of Gujarat state.

"Two feet from the ground, we struck an oblong stone. On breaking the stone, a football-sized egg was found. It is white with some orange spots on it," said MP Patel, sub-divisional officer of the telecommunications department. [...]

Amateur Finds New Nebula with Small Telescope

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer,
Mon Feb 23,12:00 PM ET

In an era of huge ground-based telescopes, clever robotic sky scanners and powerful observatories in orbit, there are few deep space objects in our galaxy that escape notice by professional astronomers. So no one was more surprised about the discovery of a new nebula than the amateur who stumbled upon it with his small backyard telescope.

"I was absolutely shocked," Jay McNeil told a few days after his remarkable finding was announced by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) earlier this month.

While comets and asteroids are occasionally discovered by backyard skywatchers, astronomers can't remember the last time an amateur found something this unique. By many accounts it has been several decades. [...]

Thieves steal bridge in Ukraine

Monday, 23 February, 2004, 16:48 GMT

Thieves in western Ukraine have dismantled and stolen an 11m steel bridge over the river Svalyavka.

Police blame locals, saying it would have been impossible to take the bridge apart without a crane and a lorry - or to take it away unnoticed.

Metal theft is a problem in Ukraine, where people steal statues, wires and sewage hatches to sell as scrap.

Officials are now checking all scrap metal yards in the region to find the remains of the one-tonne bridge.

Meanwhile, the residents of several villages along the river have to find another way of reaching their local town, Svalyava.

Student accused of stealing 1p worth of electricity
10:24 Tuesday 24th February 2004

A German student who plugged his laptop into a socket at a train station is facing legal charges for "stealing electricity" worth less than a penny.

Jan Michael Ihl, a 23-year-old student from Trier, found the socket by an abandoned information stand and used it to find out the address of a hostel he was staying at in the town of Kassel.

But he had not got very far out of the train station when three police officers arrested him for "illegally extracting electricity" from the train station.

The officers said they had watched as Ihl crouched by the plug socket and constantly looked over his shoulder before running away.

The matter has now been handed over to the public prosecutors who will decide if it is worth taking the student to court.

After conducting his own calculations on how much electricity he "stole", Ihl, who is also an energy specialist for environmental organisation Greenpeace, said: "The whole thing is ridiculous. I 'stole' electricity worth less than one cent."

And that's the way the cookie crumbles...
February 24 2004 at 01:44AM

São Paulo - Eight people in Brazil won the lottery after getting the numbers from fortune cookies.

The Caixa Economica Federal Bank launched an investigation because they were all from the same region. Eight of the 15 people who won the lottery in the north-east of Brazil told investigators they got the numbers from fortune cookies. [...]

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