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Thursday, February 26, 2004

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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

A few weeks ago, the following article in the New York Times caught our eye. It makes for interesting reading.

The Myth of Love

By MARCELLE KARP

February 15, 2004 -- New York women are starved for romance, lamented Kristin Davis' character on "Sex and the City" this season.

And now it looks like romance never even existed in the first place.

According to Dr. Helen Fisher, romantic love is not an emotion, but a simple biological urge as base, and necessary, as hunger and sleep.

"People live for love, die for love," Fisher explains. "This drive is so powerful, [you feel like] it's out of your control!"

"Animal attraction is very rapid, and I think 'love at first sight' came out of that," says Fisher, an anthropologist, who wrote the national best seller "The Anatomy of Love," which argued that monogamy is an unnatural state.

But she was curious to know the exact origins and triggers of love: why we fall for some people and not others; discerning the difference, scientifically, between lust and love; why people in the first throes of love can't eat or sleep yet have boundless energy - in short, what happens to the brain in this very state.

So she and her research team got hold of the newest brain-scanning technology available, (a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine) and set up a lab at the State University of New York at Stonybrook.

Then they recruited 10 women and seven men, ages 18-24, who had all just fallen in love.

"I wanted to put people who were madly in love into a brain scanner to see if I could find out which parts of the brain become active when someone feels romantic passion," Fisher says. But she was also careful to slowly cultivate their trust - "or the [MRI] would have been measuring fear instead of love."

Some of her findings didn't come as a surprise.

People in love produce more dopamine, a chemical naturally produced by the brain.

It's a "stimulant associated with elation, higher energy and all the addictions," she explains.

And it is the central, natural chemical catalyst of romantic love - making the high as potent, euphoric and potentially devastating as drug addiction.

What's more, Fisher's brain scans showed that, when shown images of their significant other, her subjects all displayed the same pattern: the area of their brains associated with rewards lit up - but the areas associated with emotion did not.

"That's new," says Fisher, who also says she and her team are the first to discover the gender differences in love.

"In men, in relation to romantic love," she says, "we discovered that the most activity occurred in this region associated with visual stimuli and penile erection." In other words - men feel the need to have sex even more urgently than usual.

"In women," she continues, "we discovered memory recall." Thus explaining the ability of women to recall every last minute detail of anything having to do with their significant other.

"Simply put, when your best friend is regaling you with a blow-by-blow account of a particularly spectacular date, it's because she - and all women - are programmed to do so.

In terms of evolution, it has to do with paying close attention to a love object - looking for signs of reassurance and security, as well as warning signals. "This brain system evolved for a purpose - for our ancestors to focus on a mating process," says Fisher, 58, who's divorced with no children.

"It's evolved over a million years and it'll be here for millions of years." But, she takes pains to point out, love is most definitely not an emotion.

"We tack a constellation of different emotions onto love, this basic drive to find a mating partner. If things are going well, you feel elation. If things are going poorly, you feel despair."

In fact, she says, this is why people who get dumped find themselves in actual pain. Her brain scans showed that the withdrawal we suffer from love - or from the dopamine that helps fuel it - is just like the withdrawal a serious drug addict suffers. [...]

Few will deny that humans are self-serving beings, and as such the above revelations are not really surprising or shocking. As self-serving beings, we lie to ourselves all the time, and convince ourselves that we are not self-serving and that we really do express genuine "love" for another. Yet ask 20 people what they mean when they say "I love you" and you might receive 20 different answers. The answers will generally be a reflection of the needs of the person themselves rather than the needs of the "recipient" of their love. We tell ourselves that we love another, when in fact our motivation to say the words "I love you" is a result of need. If we were to be really honest, rather than saying "I love you", we would say "I am motivated by an unconscious and physiologically generated need to get a chemical fix. Please supply it". It has been said that household pets, such as dogs, understand need as love. Perhaps we have more in common with "Fido" than we might think.

We have discussed on many occasions, (yesterday being the most recent), the differences between the 'A' [material] influence and definitions and the 'B' [esoteric or spiritual] influences and definitions. These concepts are as relevant to our understanding of love as any other area of our lives. What we think of as 'love' is strictly material, physical, and chemical. We take the chemical highs of mundane love, and then convince ourselves that these are synonymous with the higher, or "spiritual" love that is talked of in sacred texts.

It is not surprising then that the entire issue of love tends to get horribly confused, leading to the inevitable and painful consequences of basing long term relationships with another person on such a mutually misunderstood concept. If we all understood and accepted the truth about the biological origin of that which we commonly term "love", we might save ourselves much pain. The alcoholic, for example, does not suffer the pain of disillusion and shattered dreams because he does not begin by projecting idealistic notions of "love" onto the liquor store owner. Nor does the drug addict believe that his drug dealer is his "soul mate" simply because he supplies the drug. Of course, we are not suggesting that the solution to the problem is to simply understand that standard love is a chemically induced sensation; the goal is to divest ourselves of addiction, and the need which gives rise to it.

What then of the idea of "true love"? Is it simply another self deception, dreamed up in order to facilitate and justify continuation of service to self and "feeding" in the name of love? It appears that there does exist a human aspiration to an ideal of "higher love" that is altruistic in nature, even if the ability to express it is not exactly instinctive or natural. St Paul, for example, is credited with the following:

"Love is patient, it is full of kindness, Love is not envious; Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up with pride, does nothing dishonest, does not seek its own interest, is not provoked to irritation, does not suspect evil, rejoices not in injustice but rejoices in the truth; it forgives all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

Love will never perish when prophecies come to an end, when tongues cease to be, when knowledge disappears." (I Corinthians xiii: 4-8)

The love described by Paul cannot be the result of a biological need for a chemical buzz, because it is the antithesis of need of any kind.

So what exactly is Paul talking about?

He is speaking of something permanent that is within us, the eternal part of ourselves with which we have lost touch. If we want such love in this world, we must find it within ourselves. To love ourselves, we must know ourselves. The more we know about ourselves, the more we will understand ourselves, and this, in turn, permits us to know and understand others.

But what does this mean? That we know where someone was born, the problems they had with his or her parents and family growing up, their successes and failures in life, their needs in the present and their desires for the future?

In part. But most importantly, we need to know where they are in the evolution of their consciousness, will and ability to DO. If we know where they are on this path, this is the understanding that will enable us to really love them, that is, to know what they need, if they ask, to help them further on this path.

In the same way, they need to know where we are in our evolution. In this case, the relationship will be one of mutual benefit. If either or both of the individuals do not truly know their partner, their combined path will be one of mutually assured destruction of their individual selves. It seems that it is only in a selfless and balanced sharing of knowledge - and the resulting growth of both people - that true love is born. This is the only form of "love" that embraces the creative principle.

As we pursue the path of self knowledge we may come to know and understand the true nature of "love" within ourselves. We will know that we have touched the Eternal. It is there that we may find the faith and hope to go on. This is not the love that comes from internal chemistry, the passing flash of the hormones or physical desire. It is the creative force that lies dormant within each of us, both the path home as well as the destination. It is "Love": you, and me, and the fabric of our existence. As Paul states:

"When that which is perfect is come, that which is incomplete disappears." The perfect is Love, which unites in itself the accomplishment of all virtues, of all prophecies, of all mysteries, and of all Knowledge

Our distance left to travel is measured in our distance from this Love within ourselves.

Pentagon downplays report on climate change that it commissioned

WASHINGTON (AFP) Feb 24, 2004

The US Defense Department downplayed a report on climate change that it had commissioned, saying it was speculative and shrugging off its call to make the issue a top political priority.

"The Schwartz and Randall study reflects the limits of scientific models and information when it comes to predicting the effects of abrupt global warming," said Andrew Marshall, an influential Pentagon adviser who ordered the study carried out.

"Although there is significant scientific evidence on this issue, much of what this study predicts is still speculation," he argued.

[...] The Pentagon report predicts that "abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies," The Observer reported.

The report, quoted in the paper, concluded: "Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.... Once again, warfare would define human life."

Its authors -- Peter Schwartz, a CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of Global Business Network based in California -- said climate change should be considered "immediately" as a top political and military issue.

It "should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern", they were quoted as saying.

Series of earthquakes off Russia's Far Eastern coast

MOSCOW (AFP) Feb 26, 2004

A series of five earthquakes measuring up to 5.7 on the Richter scale rocked Pacific waters off Russia's Far Eastern Kamchatka peninsula early Thursday, local emergency officials said.

The tremors' epicenter was located some 30 kilometers (20 miles) under the seabed, some 300 kilometers north-east of the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, officials quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency said.

No casualties or damage were immediately reported.

Bad weather forces 24-hour postponement of Europe's comet-chaser

Astronaut: We've had visitors:
The sixth man to walk on the moon shares his unconventional views.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published February 18, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The aliens have landed.

Thus declared Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell on Saturday to more than 200
admirers.

"A few insiders know the truth . . . and are studying the bodies that have been discovered," said Mitchell, who was the sixth man to walk on the moon.

Mitchell, who landed on the moon with Alan B. Shepard, said a "cabal" of insiders stopped briefing presidents about extraterrestrials after President Kennedy.

For those who might consider his statements farfetched, Mitchell, who has a doctorate in science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, noted that 30 years ago it was accepted that man was alone in the universe. Few people believe that now, he said.

US slams Asian rights violations

By Jon Leyne
BBC state department correspondent

The US has focused criticism on China, North Korea, Burma and Cuba in its annual human rights report.

The state department survey also condemned the activities of the Russian government for weakening civil society.

The report insisted that the United States was not compromising on human rights to help the war on terror.

[...] With the United States under attack for its own record on Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq, some human rights activists have asked whether Washington has any right to produce this report, but its authors argue that promoting respect for human rights is a central dimension of American foreign policy.

U.S. report cites Canada's problems with people trafficking, discrimination

06:25 AM EST Feb 26
BETH GORHAM

WASHINGTON (CP) - The U.S. State Department's annual rights report for 2003 laments Canada's problems with discrimination and with "lax immigration laws" that it says encourage trafficking in people.

The report, released Wednesday, said the Canadian government "generally respected" the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems with discrimination against women, people with disabilities and aboriginals.

[...] The annual report on the state of human rights worldwide hailed the end of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and "dramatic improvements" in democracy and rights in Afghanistan.

[...] Secretary of State Colin Powell called the country reviews a "vital policy instrument," since President George W. Bush regards advancing human rights as "America's special calling."

[...] While noting that Canada generally doesn't allow refugees facing torture in their home countries to be deported there, the report makes no mention of the high-profile case of Maher Arar.

Arar, 33, was detained Sept. 26, 2002, on suspicion of terrorist links as he passed through JFK International Airport in New York on his way home to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia.

Americans deported the dual citizen to Syria, where he spent a year in solitary confinement in a small cell. Arar, who says he was tortured while in detention, is suing U.S. authorities and a Canadian inquiry will try to determine the role of RCMP in the affair.

Detained Canadian wants answers from Ottawa: Syrian officials, CSIS agents asked same questions, torture victim says

By JAMES RUSK
From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Muayyed Nureddin, a Canadian who was held in a Syrian military detention centre for a month, said yesterday that ''one terrible torture session'' left him unable to walk for several days.

Syrian authorities arrested Mr. Nureddin, who is of Iraqi origin, on Dec. 12, 2003, as he was returning to Canada from a two-month visit to his family in Kirkuk. He was held in prison for a month, released on Jan. 13, and flown home by Canadian consular officials on Jan. 14.

In his first press conference since his return, Mr. Nureddin, 36, said he was forced to strip to his underwear and lie on the floor on his stomach, where he was soaked with cold water while a ceiling fan spun overhead.

"The officers did not like my answers. I was made to lift my legs, still lying on my stomach. The soles of my feet were lashed with a cable more than a dozen times. I was told to stand and they poured cold water on my feet. I was made to walk while standing in one place for 10 minutes. They then repeated the same process twice more," Mr. Nureddin said.

When he was sent back to his cell, Mr. Nureddin said he was told he should think about his answers and that the next time he was questioned, a worse form of torture would be used.

Now that he is back in Canada, he said he wants answers from the federal government about the situation he found himself in. Specifically, he said he would like to know if the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was responsible for his detention and torture in Syria.

[...] He said that one of the shocks of his interrogation by Syrian officials was that "they were asking me the same questions I was asked [by CSIS agents] in Pearson Airport," and that earlier in the trip, Turkish officials asked similar questions during a border crossing into Syria.

Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said the government should widen the terms of the public inquiry into the case of Maher Arar, who was also tortured in Syria after U.S. authorities sent him there, to cover the Nureddin case and to examine policy changes that would ensure security officials do not act in ways that could lead to human-rights violations outside Canada.

"What Mr. Nureddin's case tells us is that what happened to Maher Arar was not an isolated and exceptional case," Mr. Neve said.

Ex-minister: UK spied on UN chief

Thursday 26 February 2004, 12:46 Makka Time, 9:46 GMT

Former minister Clare Short has said Britain conducted spying operations on United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the run-up to last year's war on Iraq.

The claim comes a day after British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government dropped charges against a translator accused of leaking a top-secret US memo seeking London's help in spying on United Nations members in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Asked whether British spies had been told to carry out operations within the United Nations, Short replied: "Yes, absolutely."

Spy case casts fresh doubt on war legality

Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewen MacAskill
Thursday February 26, 2004
The Guardian

Dramatic new evidence pointing to serious doubts in the government about the legality of the war in Iraq was passed to government lawyers shortly before they abandoned the prosecution of the GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun.

The prosecution offered no evidence yesterday against Ms Gun, a former GCHQ employee, despite her admitting that she leaked information about an American spying operation at the UN in the run-up to the war.

She said she acted to try to prevent Britain illegally invading Iraq. But the prosecution at the Old Bailey said there was no "realistic prospect" of convicting her. She was arrested nearly a year ago and charged eight months later under the Official Secrets Act.

The leading prosecutor, Mark Ellison, said it would not be "appropriate" to go into the reasons for dropping the case.

But the Guardian has learned that a key plank of the defence presented to the prosecutors shortly before they decided to abandon the case was new evidence that the legality of the war had been questioned by the Foreign Office.

The unseen cost of the war in Iraq

Published: 10-Feb-2004 By: Jonathan Miller

The true extent of US casualties in Iraq are still unknown. This has fuelled suspicion that the administration may be hiding the true human cost of the war and its aftermath. Channel Four News has been allowed a rare opportunity to meet some of America's wounded soldiers.

In a dark corner of Andrews Air Force base on the outskirts of Washington DC, America's war-wounded come home.

The human cost of humbling tyrants.

No ceremony, no big welcome.

More than 11,000 medical evacuees have come through Andrews in the past nine months, the Air Force says.

Most, we suspect, from Iraq. But that's 8,000 more than the Pentagon says have been wounded there.

Most of those wounded in action come through the vast Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.

The American public is, for the most part, unaware that the true casualty count of the war in Iraq may actually be higher than official figures suggest.

The apparent discrepancy is fuelling suspicion that the US government's got something to hide.

There'd been a suicide at the Center the previous week. Another of what the Pentagon terms a "non-hostile" death - in other words, one that won't figure on its list of fatalities,

We were the first foreign TV crew to film at Walter Reed Army Medical Center since the invasion of Iraq one year ago.

One patient, Staff Sergeant Maurice Craft, had his leg blown off in November by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. He'd gone to liberate a land whose people turned out to be hostile. It was a nasty surprise :

"Doing that kind of operation over there, you don't really know who the enemy is. They use cowardly tactics, women and children."

Another patient, Staff Sergeant Roy Mitchell, lost his leg in Afghanistan three months ago:

"The ones that are covered are the KIAs. The “Killed in Action”. I'm not taking anything away from those soldiers. They deserve that coverage. But there is also us. To say we're forgotten, that would be going just a littl e bit too far to say we're forgotten but I'd say we are the missed soldiers of the army."

Says Sgt Craft, "A lot of people are getting hit. What they are showing are the deaths. They are not showing this here. They have a death toll but they're not showing the number of people being hit and being amputated bec ause of their injuries.

Channel 4 News: "And in you're opinion, the number of wounded in action, the number wounded generally, is quite high?"

"Yes."

Students of modern military history could be forgiven a sense of deja-vu. It was to Walter Reed Medical Center that America's war-wounded from Vietnam were brought.

Numbers-wise, there's still no comparison. 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; fewer than 600 have been killed in Iraq. But psychologically, Vietnam has a resonance that still shapes politics here.

Come November, President Bush, who never fought in South East Asia, may well be up against Senator John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam vet. Could that be why the dead and wounded return to Washington in the middle of the nigh t with no fanfare?

The images the US government does want us to see depict the return of America’s heroes ­ such as arrival back at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, of the 101st Airborne division after a year in Iraq.

It was to have been a six-month tour of duty. They are the survivors, the lucky ones.

But when it comes to the wounded, an astonishing situation has arisen: the Pentagon's figures clash wildly with those of the US Army.

The Pentagon lists 2,604 wounded in action and just 408 "non-hostile wounded".

But the Army says many thousands more have been medically evacuated from the conflict zone.

Why the discrepancy? Well, the Pentagon doesn't count as victims soldiers who come back with brain injuries or psychiatric disorders, those hit by friendly fire or those who've crashed in their military vehicles.

You could call them "the missing wounded" of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Some suspect the government's been deliberately massaging the figures.

According to Steve Robinson, from the National Gulf War Resource Center:

"Information warfare is a tenet of war. It's part of the strategy in war and it's something we employ in Iraq to win to gain the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. And in some cases it looks as if the Department of Def ense is employing information warfare back doing this at home by not releasing accurate information or making it difficult to obtain information. That prevents the story from being told or it makes it take longer for the story to be told or it frustrates people to where they don't even try to tell the story."

Steve Robinson is no anti-war liberal. A former Special Forces soldier with 20 years' service, he now briefs Presidents. He believes we're not being told the full story.

"People don't want bad news stories coming out from this war and at every level where I need information, every time I need information from the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans' Affairs, about the inju ries of this war, I run unto obstacles. None of this is national security. None of this will cause the collapse of the coalition. It's just information that we need to understand what's happening."

Heath Calhoun, 24, wasn't able to walk off the plane with his brothers from the 101st Airborne. This was how he broke the news from his hospital bed in Mosul to his 21-year-old wife Tiffany : "I called her and I told her she could have the good news or the bad news. I said I've got my legs blown off, but the good news is I'm coming home."

Heath's Humvee crew was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

"I didn't know what had happened. It hit and I saw a big burst of white powder and than I saw white and went flying into the air. I could see my legs were mucked up and blood coming out of them and I screamed.

He still wears the ID tag of his friend Morgan, who was blown to pieces.

Was it all worthwhile?

"I can't answer that question yet. If Iraq becomes a democracy, yes, but if it all falls apart, I think it will be in vain. We'll have to work that out."

This is a patriotic part of the south. Fort Campbell, headquarters of the 101st Airborne, straddles the state line between Tennessee and Kentucky. There is an awkwardness here when it comes to asking questions about America's adventure in Iraq.

There's a lot to work out and there's a lot going on inside the heads of some of these soldiers.

I went to meet some injured Iraq veterans on the base who'd formed a support group. Not a very macho thing to do, they admitted, but they said they needed to get stuff off their chests.

Pat Collins from New Jersey is 38. He took shrapnel though his neck in Baghdad and is in permanent pain.

"I was injured on patrol in Baghdad. Couple guys ambushed us. I've got nerve damage. A lot of pain. I took a lot of morphine. Readjusting. Getting my life back on track. I'm not going to do what I did before. Time to move on and find something else to do. I'm not going to what it was I did before."

His anger is, in some cases, producing political transformation.

Pat: "I was a Republican ... I'm going to be incredibly active in the Democratic Party once I get out."

And who's his democratic preference, we asked?

Pat: "Kerry."

It was at this point that we were asked to stop filming. Other members of the group had grown uneasy that things had taken a political turn.

Says Terry James, a Psychiatric Counsellor : "The only other war I can closely compare this with is Vietnam. When we went to Somalia, Bosnia, Panama, etc. once war was declared over, it was over. But this one is not over even though it' s declared over."

President Bush may have declared major combat operations in Iraq over ten months ago, but fresh planeloads of wounded soldiers continue to fly into Andrews Air Force base every week, unseen by most Americans.

If the US government was to admit to the true human cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the wounded as well as the dead, then how many Americans would support George Bush and his war?

The missing people-shredder

The horror of one of Saddam's execution methods made a powerful pro-war rallying cry - but the evidence suggests it never existed

Brendan O'Neill
The Guardian
Wednesday February 25, 2004

Forget the no-show of Saddam Hussein's WMD. Ask instead what happened to Saddam's "people shredder", into which his son Qusay reportedly fed opponents of the Ba'athist regime.

Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP who chairs Indict, a group that has been campaigning since 1996 for an international criminal tribunal to try the Ba'athists, wrote of the shredder in the Times on March 18 last year -the day of the Iraq debate in the House of Commons and three days before the start of the war. Clwyd described an Iraqi's claims that male prisoners were dropped into a machine "designed for shredding plastic", before their minced remains were "placed in plastic bags" so they could later be used as "fish food".

Not surprisingly, the story made a huge impact. When the Australian prime minister John Howard addressed his nation to explain why he was sending troops to support the coalition, he talked of the "human-shredding machine". Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, expressed admiration for Clwyd's work in an email and invited her to meet him.

Others, too, made good use of the story. Andrew Sullivan, who writes from Washington for the Sunday Times, said Clwyd's report showed that "leading theologians and moralists and politicians" ought to back the war. The Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips wrote of the shredder in which "bodies got chewed up from foot to head", and said: "This is the evil that the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican bishops refuse to fight." In his recent book, William Shawcross wrote of a regime that "fed people into huge shredders, feet first to prolong the agony". And earlier this month, Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's political editor, claimed that "Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial shredders".

Nobody doubts that Saddam was a cruel and ruthless tyrant who murdered many thousands of his own people and that most Iraqis are glad he's gone. But did his regime have a machine that made mincemeat of men? The evidence is far from compelling.

The shredding machine was first mentioned in public by James Mahon, then head of research at Indict, at a meeting in the House of Commons on March 12. Mahon had just returned from northern Iraq, where Indict researchers, along with Clwyd, interviewed Iraqis who had suffered under Saddam. One of them said Iraqis had been fed into a shredder. "Sometimes they were put in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 die like this ..." In subsequent interviews and articles, Clwyd said this shredding machine was in Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam's most notorious jail. Indict refuses to tell me the names of the researchers who were in Iraq with Mahon and Clwyd; and, I am told, Mahon, who no longer works at Indict, "does not want to speak to journalists about his work with us". But Clwyd tells me: "We heard it from a victim; we heard it and we believed it."

This is all that Indict had to go on - uncorroborated and quite amazing claims made by a single person from northern Iraq. When I suggest that this does not constitute proof of the existence of a human shredder, Clwyd responds: "Who are you to say that chap is a liar?" Yet to call for witness statements to be corroborated before being turned into the subject of national newspaper articles is to follow good practice in the collection of evidence, particularly evidence with which Indict hopes to "seek indictments by national prosecutors" against former Ba'athists.

An Iraqi who worked as a doctor in the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib prison tells me there was no shredding machine in the prison. The Iraqi, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes the prison as "horrific". Part of his job was to attend to those who had been executed. Did he ever attend to, or hear of, prisoners who had been shredded? "No." Did any of the other doctors at Abu Ghraib speak of a shredding machine used to execute prisoners? "No, never. As far as I know [hanging] was the only form of execution used there."

Clwyd insists that corroboration of the shredder story came when she was shown a dossier by a reporter from Fox TV. On June 18, Clwyd wrote a second article for the Times, citing a "record book" from Abu Ghraib, which described one of the methods of execution as "mincing". Can she say who compiled this book? "No, I can't." Where is it now? "I don't know." What was the name of the Fox reporter who showed it to her? "I have no idea." Did Clwyd read the entire thing? "No, it was in Arabic! I only saw it briefly." Curiously, there is no mention of the book or of "mincing" as a method of execution on the Fox News website, nor does its foreign editor recall it.

Other groups have no recorded accounts of a human shredder. An Amnesty International spokesman tells me that his inquiries into the shredder "drew a blank". Widney Brown, the deputy programme director of Human Rights Watch, says: "We have not heard of that particular form of execution or torture."

It remains to be seen whether this uncorroborated story turns out to be nothing more than war propaganda - like the stories on the eve of the first Gulf war of Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait taking babies from incubators and leaving them to die on hospital floors. What can be said, however, is that the alleged shredder provided those in favour of the war with a useful propaganda tool. The headline on Clwyd's story of March 18 in the Times was: "See men shredded, then say you don't back war".

Hastert Tells W.House He Won't Extend 9/11 Panel

By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a blow to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has told the White House and fellow Republicans that he will not bring up legislation to extend its May 27 deadline, officials said on Wednesday.

President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, personally had appealed to Speaker Dennis Hastert to reconsider, and the Illinois Republican met on Wednesday with Bush at the White House.

But the speaker's spokesman, John Feehery, said Hastert told the White House and members of the House Republican conference that "it's a bad idea to extend the commission and ... that we're not going to bring any legislation up."

The commission wants a 60-day extension through July 26 to complete its final report on the attacks. Despite initial objections, Bush backed the extension and the Senate is moving forward with legislation.

But Hastert cast serious doubt on its prospects for passage in the Republican-controlled House. "He thinks the (commission's) report is overdue and we need to get the recommendations as soon as possible. He is also concerned it will become a political football if this thing is extended and it is released in the middle of the presidential campaign," Feehery said. [...]

Comment: Bush didn't want the pressure of dealing with the 9/11 commission while campaigning, so he just got one of his Republican buddies to shoot down the idea of an extension. How convenient. Of course, we don't think for an instant that any of that would have an effect on the next election. Whatever the powers that be decide, you can bet that the votes of the American people will be quite effectively drowned out by rigged voting machines.

White House intruder arrested

Secret Service apprehend an unidentified man on the lawn of the White House after he jumped a fence and ran across the North Lawn at the White House on Wednesday Feb. 25, 2004. The man said he was a victim of terrorism and needed President Bush 's help. (China Daily/ Xinhua Photo)

Man believed God was commanding him to kill, court hears

25 February 2004

A man accused of murdering his aunt and attempting to murder his mother believed God was commanding him to kill, a New Plymouth High Court jury heard yesterday.

Lance Vincent Scott (28), who had a history of paranoid schizophrenia, is on trial on the charge of murdering 47-year-old Elizabeth Morris and attempting to murder Ina Scott on November 11, 2002.

"The night prior to the incident he believed he was hearing God telling him to kill his family," said Peter Dean, a consultant psychiatrist based at Hamilton's Henry Bennett Centre.

"He stated very clearly that he did not actually think he would ever harm his family, it was never an intention that he had, but the voices kept compelling him.

"There was a sense he was killing his family because of evilness, he was rescuing their souls and they were going to live forever in heaven."

Scott believed what he was doing was morally right, he said.

FLASHBACK! Signs of the Times, July 4, 2003

Global Eye -- Errand Boy

By Chris Floyd

[...] Here are Bush's exact words, quoted by Haaretz: "God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me, I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them." [...]

Devils From Heaven: How Religious Myths Prevent And Pervert Rational Debate

By John Kaminski
skylax@comcast.net
2-26-4

Lately it has been my distinct privilege to be in the middle of a group conversation about the origins of religion. The emphasis has been on debunking, on exposing the fictional roots of allegedly divine events that continue to control so many of world's minds, and complicate so many of the world's problems.

Many of these thinkers have lately focused their perceptual skills on the Macchiavellian machinations of the Jews, who claim to espouse an ethical ideology yet are primarily known in contemporary society as master manipulators, and revealed by their own holy scriptures as murderous maniacs who consider all non-Jews somewhat less than human, rendering their suspect creed profoundly offensive to all compassionate humans who encounter it.

But this is no anti-Jewish rant. The adherents of all other spiritual disciplines suffer from a similar snobbery, even if their claims to exclusivity, divine sanction, and being the only true creeds are somewhat less vicious than the habit of Jews to refer to religious groups other than their own by using the names of lower animals " cockroaches, grasshoppers, and cattle (also known as goyim) being the most frequent insults they typically use.

Still, Catholics have their own negative image, most notably the magical creation of their dogma some 1700 years ago that resulted in a worldwide pogrom against pagans (that, oddly, excluded Jews), which began the process now known as the Dark Ages, and carried out a process of ruthless extermination that decimated the native populations of the New World some six centuries prior to our own.

Catholics also have their own sinister intelligence operations (Knights of Malta, Opus Dei, and the Jesuits), the scrutiny of which has probably created more conspiracy theorists than anything except those sleuths bent on ferreting out facts about the worldwide Jewish conspiracy or the ever-elusive Illuminati.

But a Catholic friend of mine remains ever eager to point out that it is the Protestants who are always let off the hook in any debate about the negative influences of religion, but shouldn't be, as German Lutherans and E nglish Puritans have been the most eager and efficient killers in world history, if you consider the still-continuing genocide of the natives in North America and the death totals from two World Wars " and numerous other colonialist abuses " in the 20th century. [...]

Eagle Scout Accused of 'Arrogance' Murder

By CARRIE ANTLFINGER
Associated Press Writer

WEYAUWEGA, Wis. (AP) - Gary Hirte, a high school scholar, star athlete and Eagle Scout whose name seemed to be in the local paper all the time, is accused of committing murder _ not for money, or revenge, but just to see if he could get away with it.

The Weyauwega-Fremont High senior was charged last month in an arrest that was met with shock and disbelief in this small town of 1,800, where Hirte has long been the golden boy. He was accused of killing 37-year-old Glenn Kopitske.

"He wanted to see if he could do this. It was like a challenge for him," sheriff's Capt. Steve Verwiel said. "I would attribute it to arrogance.

[...] Hirte was the city's first Eagle Scout in 20 years. He was an honor student and a 6-foot-4, 270-pound member of the track, wrestling and football teams, and has a steady 14-year-old girlfriend. Readers of the town's weekly paper knew all about his achievements.

"This kid had everything going for him," Mayor Howard Quimby said. "He can do anything he sets his mind to."

Where are Iraq's Pentagon papers?

By Daniel Ellsberg, 2/22/2004
Boston Globe

AS MORE and more of our young men and women come home from Iraq crippled or in body bags this election season, Americans ask, with increasing urgency, "Why did we send our children to die in Iraq? Was this war necessary?" Indeed, Tim Russert asked the president precisely that on "Meet the Press" a few weeks ago: "In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction, do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?"

President Bush replied "It's a war of necessity. . . . the man was a threat. . . . the evidence we have uncovered so far says we had no choice." To the contrary. The evidence uncovered so far says that Saddam was not a threat, to us or his neighbors. Nor -- lacking any evidence of complicity in 9/11 or links to Al Qaeda -- was there a persuasive case that he would have been a significant threat even if he had possessed WMDs.

In order to bolster their arguments and gain congressional, public, and international support, high officials chose to conceal the fact that their belief in the existence of Iraqi WMDs was entirely inferential, reflecting flimsy evidence and testimony from sources whose reliability was highly controversial. This actual state of inadequate information, well known to the US and British intelligence community, was deliberately denied by the highest officials in repeated phrases such as, "we know . . . ," "bulletproof evidence," "beyond any doubt," "Saddam possesses. . . ," "British intelligence has learned," and "these are not assertions, these are facts." The euphemism for such descriptions of the strength of evidence favoring the need to go to war is "exaggeration." A more accurate term is "lies."

I've been here before.

[...] I urge patriotic and conscientious Americans who have access to these documents, and who know it is wrong for their bosses to lie to the public about why we are in this war, to consider doing what I wish I had done in 1964 or early 1965, years earlier than I did: Go to Congress and the press; tell the truth, with documents. The personal risks are real, but a war's worth of lives are at stake.

Top Iraqi Shiite cleric demands general elections by end of year

www.chinaview.cn 2004-02-26 18:37:04

BAGHDAD, Feb. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- The UN Security Council should guarantee that general elections will be held in Iraq by the end of this year, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top Iraqi Shiite cleric, demanded in a written statement released on Thursday.

An unelected Iraqi government which will receive power at the end of June should focus on preparing for elections and avoid making decisions on other major issues, Sistani said.

The statement represented a concession from the Shiite leader, who had earlier demanded that general elections be held before the June 30 transfer of power from the coalition forces.

US helicopter 'downed by missile'

Ireland Online
25/02/2004 - 13:14:05

A US military helicopter crashed today into a river west of Baghdad, police said, and a witness reported seeing a missile hit the aircraft.

The OH-58 Kiowa helicopter, which carries a two-member crew, crashed about 1.50pm near Haditha, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said.

He said there were two casualties but would not say whether they were dead or injured. Kimmitt also said the cause of the crash had not been determined. [...]

With the latest crash, the US military has lost 13 helicopters since the occupation began in May – most to hostile fire.

Comment: The US doesn't know where Saddam's WMD's (or WMD components, or plans for WMD's, or thoughts of making WMD's) are located. They can't find Osama. And they don't know why their helicopters are frequently crashing. Either we are being lied to, or America has the most incompetent government on the planet.

Israeli troops stage Palestinian bank raids

25/02/2004

Israeli security forces seized large amounts of cash from four Palestinian bank branches today, saying much of the money was sent by Iran, Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas to fund Palestinian militants.

During the raids, dozens of Palestinians threw stones at soldiers who clamped a curfew on Ramallah during the raids. Seventeen Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and live rounds, three of them in critical condition, doctors said.

The joint operation by police, army and the Shin Bet security service marked Israel’s largest-scale effort in more than three years of fighting to stop the flow of funds to Palestinian militant groups, including from Hezbollah, Israeli officials said.

Troops were accompanied by computer experts from two of the banks, who had been arrested overnight, Palestinian officials said. Soldiers covered the banks’ cameras with sacks or disabled them, and confined employees to back rooms, witnesses said. Customers were allowed to leave after ID checks.

“The purpose of this operation is to impair the funnelling of funds, which oil the wheels of terror against Israel,” an Israeli army statement said.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the raids were unjustified.

“This is destructive to the Palestinian economy and people are really worried,” Erekat said. He said he fears Palestinians will lose confidence in their banking system and there would be a run on the banks.

Israeli forces checked several hundred bank accounts, some belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, security sources said. An Israeli official said the forces were also looking for evidence of possible involvement by Yasser Arafat in funding terror attacks.

The forces took millions of shekels in cash from the bank vaults, corresponding to the amount of money they found in the targeted accounts, security sources said. Much of the funding came from Hezbollah, Iran and Syria, the sources said.

Security sources said the seized money would be used to fund Palestinian humanitarian projects.
The raids came a day after Palestinian security officials confirmed that Hezbollah helped fund the last two Jerusalem bus bombings in which 18 Israelis and a foreign worker were killed.

In the bank raids, troops driving jeeps, armoured personnel carriers and trucks blocked off main roads in Ramallah and declared a curfew. Shop owners were ordered to close their businesses, and residents and journalists were ordered indoors, some at gunpoint.

Soldiers fired tear gas, metal-core rubber bullets and also live rounds to disperse dozens of stone throwers, hospital officials said. Seventeen stone throwers were injured, 16 by rubber bullets and one by live fire, the officials said.

Troops raided two branches of the Arab Bank, as well as the offices of the Cairo Amman Bank and the International Palestine Bank, Palestinian security officials said. Soldiers also took over several other buildings, witnesses said.

Comment: When officially sanctioned Israeli soldiers can rob Palestinian banks, can there be any doubt about the nature of Israel's attitude towards Palestinian statehood? We are witnessing the systematic destruction of all things Palestinian, and we fear that the "coup de grace" is yet to come. In a world where the international community is content to sit back and watch an entire people destroyed, what hope can there be for the world?

Macedonian president killed in plane crash

By Eric Jansson in Belgrade
Published: February 26 2004 11:26 | Last Updated: February 26 2004 11:26

Boris Trajkovski, the Macedonian president, has died in a morning airplane crash in Bosnia-Herzegovina, local wire services reported on Thursday.

The Macedonian presidential aircraft carrying Mr Trajkovski, 47, and eight other passengers went missing over treacherous terrain near where a plane carrying Ron Brown, the former US commerce secretary, went down in 1996, killing all passengers.

U.S. to Help Kazakhstan Police Caspian

Combined Reports
Thursday, Feb. 26, 2004. Page 5

ASTANA, Kazakhstan -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pledged on Wednesday to help Kazakhstan ensure security in the oil-rich Caspian Sea, an area of acute interest for Washington as it seeks to diversify its crude oil supplies.

Rumsfeld flew into Kazakhstan, which is likely to become a major oil player in the next decade, as part of a trip to the region aimed at bolstering military ties and efforts to cut drugs trafficking.

[...] Kazakhstan decided last year to set up its own navy and is to take delivery of its first battleships in coming months.

The states around the Caspian -- Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia -- have still not agreed on its exact delineation following the break-up of the Soviet Union, potentially causing strife over the mineral wealth below.

As Rumsfeld arrived in Astana, the Kazakh government signed an agreement with a consortium of foreign oil firms, including U.S.-based ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, on oil production in the Caspian.

[...] "The Caspian security in the western portion of Kazakhstan is important for this country, it is important to the world that the security be assured in that area," Rumsfeld said after talks with Kazakh Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbayev.

The Pentagon has strengthened relations with Kazakhstan and other nations in former Soviet Central Asia since they provided crucial backing for the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign in nearby Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has offered the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition use of an airport for emergency landings and refueling aircraft.

CIA chief predicts war with no end

By David Rennie in Washington
The Telegraph
02/25/04

America's assault on al-Qa'eda has scattered its terrorist expertise across the globe, meaning that the United States will be menaced by Islamic extremism "for the foreseeable future", the CIA director, George Tenet, said yesterday.

He offered the Senate intelligence committee a bleak vision of a war on terrorism without end, in which even the destruction of al-Qa'eda would not make America safe.

The CIA chief, a Clinton appointee, has become a target of Washington's hawks, who have blamed his agency for flawed pre-war intelligence on Iraq and called for his resignation.

Mr Tenet said American operations had created "disarray in al-Qa'eda's central leadership" and destroyed safe havens in Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

But Osama bin Laden's destructive expertise had been broadly disseminated throughout the extremist branches of Sunni Islam.

He added that intelligence had uncovered "chilling" plots involving ships, aircraft and "special weapons".

Armed gangs roam Haitian capital as crisis nears boiling point

Thu Feb 26, 1:27 AM ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) - Armed supporters of President Jean Bertrand Aristide threw up roadblocks and looted the Haitian capital in anticipation of a threatened rebel attack as France became the first country to call on Aristide to stand down.

Hundreds of Haitians and foreigners braved masked, anger-prone gang members to mob the Port-au-Prince airport hoping to leave. At least two airlines cancelled flights due to deteriorating security and waning hopes for a peaceful solution.

Gunfire and looting were reported in the capital as Aristide's political foes demanded the president's departure as a precondition for any settlement.

The United States and other governments struggled to keep mediation plans alive, but France called on Aristide to step down so international peacekeeping force could be deployed. [...]

France Calls for Troops to Haiti Violence

Feb 25, 2:34 PM (ET)

PARIS (AP) - French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on Wednesday called for the "immediate" dispatch of an international civilian force to restore order in Haiti, where a rebellion threatens to topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The statement by the foreign minister also said Aristide was to blame for the violence in Haiti.

"This force would be charged with assuring the restoration of public order and support actions in the field of the international community," de Villepin said in a statement. "It should have the support of a government of national union."

France also said it wants human rights observers to be sent to the troubled Caribbean nation and a "long term" engagement of international aid aimed at reconstructing Haiti's economy. [...]

US to send election monitors for Philippine election

AFP
Thursday February 26, 3:30 PM

The United States is to join an international group of monitors for the Philippines presidential election in May, a US embassy official said.

An advance team will fly into Manila in the first week of March to consult with Philippine election officials and pave the ground for the deployment of the monitoring team, US charge d'affaires Joseph Mussomeli told reporters. [...]

Separately, the US will be sending at least 40 of its Manila embassy staff across the country to monitor the balloting, Mussomeli said.

President Gloria Arroyo is polling neck and neck with movie-star opposition candidate Fernando Poe ahead of the May 10 vote. [...]

He said the international monitors would be fielded at the invitation of Arroyo, who has been "very eager to demonstrate that this will be a fair and credible election."

Arroyo, the elected vice president in 1998, came to power in 2001 on the back of a military-supported popular uprising that toppled elected leader Joseph Estrada, a former movie star who is now on trial for corruption.

Comment: One has to wonder if US involvement will include the same type of "monitoring" of the 2000 election that saw Dubya installed in the White House.

Putin: Shakeup All About Reforms

By Simon Saradzhyan and Catherine Belton
Staff Writers

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday put a positive spin on his abrupt decision to fire veteran Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his government, saying it was designed to accelerate the formation of a Cabinet that could tackle stalled structural reforms.

Schröder sends warning over dollar weakness

By Bertrand Benoit and Quentin Peel in Berlin
Published: February 25 2004 21:56 | Last Updated: February 25 2004 21:56

Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, warned on Wednesday that the euro's current strength against the dollar was "not satisfactory" and said he would raise the issue with President George W. Bush in Washington this week.

Greenspan: Cut Social Security

By Glenn Somerville
Wed Feb 25,11:50 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Wednesday said Congress should weigh trimming future Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and offering less generous adjustments to future payments.

The influential Fed chief's comments stirred political ripples, with Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry saying he would never curtail benefits and Capitol Hill Democrats saying Bush administration tax cuts were to blame.

President Bush said he would safeguard those at or near retirement -- something that Greenspan suggested as well -- but did not rule out reduced outlays in future. [...]

Economists warn of dangers from 'globalised' inflation

By Stephen Foley
The Independent
25 February 2004

Inflation, dormant for a decade, is in danger of returning as a global phenomenon next year, according to an influential investment survey published yesterday.

The authors of the annual Equity Gilt Study at Barclays Capital warn that central bankers may be repeating the policy mistakes of the Seventies, lulled into a false security by a combination of historically unusual disinflation and flawed statistics. American inflation could hit 4 per cent by the end of 2005, they predict.

The study, which examines the performance of different asset classes since 1900, suggests that increasing globalisation could be a trigger for inflation, rather than the deflationary influence more commonly assumed. Tim Bond, co-author, challenged the view that inflation has necessarily been tamed by the additional supply capacity created in new markets in Asia. Inflation has just been globalised, he said. [...]

He said: "Provided the Fed gets motoring and the Bank of Japan does the right thing at the right time, they should be able to keep inflation in the 3-4 per cent range. But there is a risk that you will get some extraordinary squeezes in some raw materials that translates into something more vigorous."

The Barclays study shows how official statistics find it impossible correctly to measure the gap between demand and supply, and how the official measure of US inflation is distorted. The measure is 38 per cent composed of household rents ­ which have fallen as first time and buy-to-let buyers have increased. The study also argues that the widely used survey of US payrolls is a poor measure of job growth compared with the less widely publicised survey of households, which in recent months has diverged to suggest a strong recovery in employment.

US and EU reach agreement in Galileo talks

By Judy Dempsey in Brussels
Published: February 25 2004 19:20 | Last Updated: February 25 2004 19:20

The US and European Union on Wednesday night reached an agreement to end a four-year transatlantic dispute over Galileo, Europe's satellite navigation system and rival to the Pentagon-controlled Global Positioning System (GPS).

"The delegations were able to reach agreement on most of the overall principles," said a joint statement by the US and the European Commission that negotiated the deal for the EU.

The accord ends a period of tough negotiations that exposed deep differences in the transatlantic relationship. The US, which put its national security interests at centre stage during the talks, insisted that the Europeans did not need Galileo since GPS was already freely available.

The EU insisted on the need to develop a highly precise satellite navigation system for commercial and civilian reasons and to make its defence and security ambitions credible.

[...] For the US, however, its main argument was national security. It did not want Galileo's Public Regulated System (PRS) - its most secure and precise signal used only by governmental agencies - to overlay the Pentagon's future Military or M Code signal.

In the event of a big conflict in which the Pentagon might jam other signals, the US argued it could not jam Galileo without jamming its own M-Code. The EU said it agreed under certain circumstances to modify some of its frequency modulations.

The EU's commercial, or "open signal" to which subscribers have to pay, was also challenged by the US on grounds of national security.

Residents witness meteor shower

Friday, 20 February 2004

The spectacular sight of what was most likely a meteor breaking up in the sky captured the attention of several early risers on Tuesday, with three residents reporting the heavenly visit at 6am.

However, local viewers will be disappointed to learn that despite appearances, it did not pass or land nearby.
A spokesperson from Siding Spring Observatory at Coonabarabran said that reports of the sighting had come from across the state, and that given none had included a sonic boom, the object would have been high in the atmosphere and hundreds of kilometres away.

That didn't stop Lyndhurst resident Bronwyn Rhodes describing the sight as "absolutely beautiful".

She was driving down up Binni Creek Rd at the time and was spellbound by the flying object to the north.

"I've never seen anything like it," Ms Rhodes said. "I wish I had my camera with me. It was coming down in an arc and going to hit somewhere."

Even after it left her vision, she kept an eye out for any fires lit by pieces breaking off as it came down.
Cowra resident Richard Wells also saw the object, saying that it streaked slowly across the sky to the north at 6.03am.

"It was travelling in a straight line from west to east, approximately 10 degrees above the horizon and appeared to pass over Canowindra.

"It had a bright silvery tale trailing a larger circular leading edge, and appeared to break-up into an orange fireball about the direction of Mandurama."

Country-link coach driver Mick McCarthy at first thought the flaming object was a large aircraft on fire and about to crash.

He was driving his bus east towards Cowra from Grenfell when he sighted the object to the north of Broula Hill.
So far, there have been no reports of where the object landed.

Sussex noise remains a mystery

02/26/2004
Delaware Online

The cause of a sharp boom that rocked parts of eastern Sussex County late last week remains a mystery.

A spokesman for the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland said Wednesday that officials at the military base have determined none of their aircraft was in the area when residents reported a loud bang about 3:15 p.m. Friday.

Some speculated that what they heard was a sonic boom, the phenomenon that occurs when aircraft travel faster than the speed of sound. The speed of sound at sea level is approximately 758 miles an hour.

Patuxent spokesman John Romer said the air station received nearly two dozen calls about the boom, most from eastern Delaware and parts of Maryland. But officials couldn't pinpoint what caused the noise.

Romer said a sonic boom was caused earlier in the day by a training aircraft over parts of the lower Maryland Eastern Shore.

Dover Air Force Base officials last week said none of its aircraft was responsible for the boom. The C-5s based at Dover cannot travel faster than the speed of sound.

Pacific turtles 'gone in decade'

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

The steep decline of the Pacific Ocean leatherback turtle has gone so far the species could be extinct within no more than a decade, conservationists fear.

A report by the US group Conservation International says leatherback numbers there have fallen by 97% in 22 years.

Five of the six other species of sea turtle are also at risk of extinction, though not necessarily as acutely.

[...] Roderic Mast, vice-president of CI and president of the International Sea Turtle Society, said: "On land, the canary in the coal mine warns humans of impending environmental danger.

"Sea turtles act as our warning mechanism for the health of the ocean, and what they're telling us is quite alarming. Their plummeting numbers are symptomatic of the ocean as a whole."

Genetic map of bird flu virus completed

www.chinaview.cn 2004-02-25 13:28:11

BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Xinhuanet) -- Chinese experts have completed the genetic map of the killer H5N1 bird flu virus and their next step will be looking at how the virus mutates.

The mapping result was achieved by an avian disease research lab at the South China Agricultural University, which is in Guangzhou, the capital of South China's Guangdong Province, according to Guangzhou-based Nanfang Daily.

Scientists testing dangers of bird flu

World Health Organization bird flu information

Scientists are embarking on a series of experiments with the bird flu virus ravaging Asian poultry to see how dangerous it would be if it adapted to humans, the chief influenza expert at the UN health agency said.

Researchers will mix the virus with a human flu variety to see how well they swap genes and to test various combinations on ferrets and other animals to determine which would be the most hazardous, said Klaus Stohr, chief flu expert at the World Health Organization, which is co-ordinating the tests.

“What we want to do is reduce surprises. Every surprise will cost lives,” Mr. Stohr told Associated Press in a telephone interview from Geneva. “We still have the time here to do the research. We don't have much time, but the pandemic isn't there yet.”

The avian influenza outbreak has forced the slaughter of more than 80 million chickens and other fowl in Asia, but human infections remain rare.

Experts agree it is only a matter of time before a deadly human flu pandemic develops, and most suspect the current bird flu strain is the most likely candidate to cause it.

“It's not a virus which we have been able to get rid of. It comes back, comes back and these outbreaks are getting bigger and bigger,” Mr. Stohr said. “This is the virus which everyone would bet their money on.”

There are two ways the bird flu virus sweeping Asia could become a serious danger to humans.

In one, it could accumulate enough genetic mutations on its own. Experts are tracking it to detect any significant genetic changes, but none has been recorded.

The scariest possibility would be a sudden change in the virus brought on by combining with a human flu strain in someone's body. The two viruses could swap genes and create a potent hybrid with the deadliness of the bird strain and the contagiousness of a regular human strain. It only takes one person with a double infection to set off such a chain of events, Mr. Stohr said.

[...] Laboratory studies, which are expected to start by the end of March, aim to understand how likely the bird flu virus is to combine with a human flu variety.

Some of the tests will involve placing the two strains together in bottles to see how easily they mix and to track which genetic reshuffles occur most frequently. Each virus has only eight genes, making the number of combinations manageable to study.

Doubt cast on free radical theory

Scientists have questioned a widely accepted theory for a cause of diseases such as cancer and arthritis.

Many experts believe that molecules called free radicals, produced when the body fights infection, inflict damage on the body's tissues.

[...] Researcher Dr Tony Segal said: "White blood cells produce oxygen free radicals, and the process by which they do so is essential for the efficient killing of microbes.

"However, people in whom this process is defective are prone to severe, chronic and often fatal infections.

"This fact has led to the presumption that the oxygen free radicals themselves are highly toxic, and that if they can kill organisms as tough as bacteria and fungi they can also damage human tissues.

"However, our work shows that the basic theory underlying the toxicity of oxygen radicals is flawed."

The researchers discovered that it is not free radicals that give white blood cells their destructive power, but enzymes which effectively digest foreign invaders.

They discovered that production of these enzymes is triggered by the flow of the mineral potassium within the cell.

When this flow was blocked, using a chemical derived from scorpion venom, the cells were unable to kill off foreign invaders.

This, they postulate, shows that free radicals are by no means the toxic particles that had been assumed.

[...] Dr Segal said the pharmaceutical industry had spent millions of pounds on what effectively amounted to a red herring.

"Many patients might be using expensive antioxidant drugs based upon completely invalid theories as to their therapeutic potential.

"All the theories relating to their causation of disease by oxygen free radicals, and the therapeutic value of antioxidants must, at the very least, be re-evaluated."

U.S. laps up "boys are stupid" T-shirts

By Jean Scheidnes
Thursday February 26, 04:59 AM

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The maker of T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them" says business is booming despite -- or maybe because of -- protests that led some major U.S. retailers to stop selling them.

The shirts have been around for three years, but were recently thrust into the national spotlight by pundits debating whether feminism impugns the rights of males and whether a T-shirt could be an instrument of oppression. [...]

The company's $20 (10.60 pounds) T-shirts tend toward the dark and sarcastic. They mock blondes, smokers, Asians, vegetarians, prissy girls, sullen teenagers, cats and ex-boyfriends, among others. About 25 styles are "Rated R". [...]

Clear Channel Suspends Stern's Radio Show

By JONATHAN D. SALANT, Associated Press Writer
Thu Feb 26, 2:05 AM ET

WASHINGTON - On the eve of a House hearing on broadcast indecency, the nation's largest radio station chain suspended shock jock Howard Stern's show, saying it did not meet the company's newly revised programming standards. [...]

Under FCC rules and federal law, radio stations and over-the-air television channels cannot air material that refers to sexual and excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children may be tuning in. The rules do not apply to cable and satellite channels and satellite radio.

Dr. Frank Wright, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, questioned how long the broadcasters' concern about indecency will last.

"Some of this hand-wringing in public is from the very people who have brought us a rogue's gallery of shock jocks," said Wright, whose association of Christian radio and TV broadcasters counts 1,700 members.

Comment: This new "controversy" probably has nothing to do with indecency, and everything to do with distracting the public.

German stereotype destroyed by handbook

Ananova.com
February 26, 2004

The German government has issued a handbook for foreign visitors which destroys the myth of the efficient, punctual German.

"Of course, radio shows and television shows begin at exactly the time they are supposed to. This is also usually the case for most bus and trains," the authors explain.

But they have to admit that "just as in other countries, not everything goes exactly to plan all the time in Germany".

The online version of the book comes in six languages, including English, French and Turkish.

It is intended partly for tourists but mainly for people who come to Germany for a long-time stay or for good.

And while some of the information offered by the government deals with basic history and law, there are also detailed texts on the more mundane aspects of everyday life.

The manual says bratwurst with French fries, ketchup and mayonnaise was Germany's number one fast food dish for decades but adds that it's now been replaced by the doner kebab.

The book explains pubs as places where people meet to "spend the evening together, drinking beer and chatting" and says football has been described as the "only real and vibrant national culture".

Barbie-wielding man stalking neighborhood

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle

Pasadena police are looking for a masked man knocking on doors while carrying a Barbie doll.

The man, clad in black clothes and wearing a ski mask, knocked on a woman's door in the 6700 block of Tamar about 9 p.m. Sunday. He didn't say anything but
continued knocking while waving a Barbie doll. Finally he left.


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