Today's Headlines

US News

Congress Approves Budget Plans
By three votes, the House of Representatives early on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion spending plan for the next fiscal year that would make room for the deep tax cuts President Bush proposed and lead to deficits for the rest of this decade. The measure passed by a vote of 215-212. Voting in favor were 214 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Voting against it were 12 Republicans, 199 Democrats and 1 independent. The Senate then rejected a proposal to trim Bush's proposed tax cut by more than half, but did approve a measure of reducing the proposed tax cut by $100 billion, reducing it to $626 billion over the next ten years. The reduction was introduced by Dianne Feingold, who argued that the budget needs to reflect the costs of the ongoing war.

Protests and Vigils Occur Nationwide
Undeterred by mass arrests, raucous bands of demonstrators marched through the streets of San Francisco, California yesterday in the largest of antiwar protests around the country, while smaller protests and vigils occurred in most large cities and many smaller ones. "We will sustain this for many days. This is really just the start," said Jamie Hurlbut, an office worker who joined protesters blocking downtown San Francisco traffic yesterday after eight hours in police custody Thursday. "I literally went to sleep and came back out to hit the streets again." By yesterday afternoon, about 300 people had been arrested in demonstrations around the nation, including 150 in San Francisco, 65 in Chicago, and 26 in Washington, D.C., down from the 2000 arrests on Thursday.

Slot Machine Pays Out $38.7 Million
A man in Las Vegas, Nevada to watch the NCAA basketball tournament hit a $38.7 million jackpot on Friday, the biggest slot machine payout ever. The 25-year-old software engineer from Los Angeles, California, whose name was not released at his request, won after putting three $1 coins in a machine at the Excalibur hotel-casino, said Rick Sorensen, a spokesman for slot machine maker International Game Technology. The progressive Megabucks Jackpot is generally paid out in equal amounts over 25 years, although winners can negotiate other payoffs, Sorensen said. The previous record was about $34.9 million, won at the now-closed Desert Inn in Las Vegas on January 26, 2000.

International News

Battle of Basra Unfolds; "Shock" And "Awe" Phase Of War Continues In Baghdad
Half a dozen large-scale explosions rocked Baghdad early on Saturday as the city awoke after a fearsome night blitz unleashed by the United States and Britain. "The earth is literally shaking," Reuters correspondent Khaled Oweis said on Friday night as he watched the assault. This is a continuation of the so-called "shock" and "awe" phase of the war in which the invading forces punished Iraq with precision hits on military targets. Meanwhile, US and British forces are being met with their first serious resistance in the southern city of Basra, which is being reinforced with members of Iraq's Republican Guard. The battle is currently being waged with a tank-based assault on the city.

Turkey Makes Military Move Into Iraq
Ignoring advice from Britain, Turkey sent 10,000 troops into northern Iraq for the nominal purpose of keeping Iraqi refugees from entering their nation. However, Britain and the United States claim that the troops are an intrusion into their military operations and that the troops are there to make a claim on northern Iraqi land for the nation of Turkey, in hopes of claiming a state from the Kurdish-led northern regions of Iraq. This invasion came shortly after Turkey agreed to allow planes from the United States and Britain utilize their airspace on a limited basis to aid with miltary operations in Iraq.

Kurds Claim United States Targeting al Qaeda
A Kurdish faction claiming leadership over part of northern Iraq said this morning that US forces had fired missiles and launched an air raid on the stronghold of an Islamic fundamentalist group, called Ansar al-Islam, that Washington accuses of ties to al Qaeda. "They launched Tomahawk missiles onto Ansar positions near Biyara," said Mustafa Sayyid Qadir, a Kurdish military commander in Halabja. The comment refers one of about a dozen nearby villages under Ansar al-Islam's control. "Just over five hours later there was an air raid by at least two U.S. planes. There has been no movement on our part," he said, adding: "The indication is that at least 100 people were killed or injured during the raids."


United, Northwest To Cut Flights, Jobs
Bankrupt United Airlines and Northwest Airlines announced the deepest cuts in flights and jobs so far by major carriers Friday as the war in Iraq wreaked havoc on the travel industry. Northwest, the #4 US airline, said it would cut 12 percent of flights and nearly 5000 jobs, totalling about 11% of its workforce. United Airlines, the #2 US carrier, said it would slash flights 8 percent and furlough an undetermined number of employees. Despite the cuts, airline shares closed out the week sharply higher on optimism the war could be short and on further price declines for jet fuel, a major cost component for airlines worldwide.

Markets Skyrocket On Positive War News
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 8.4 percent in the past week while the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 7.5 percent, its best week since the rebound after the terrorist attacks in September 2001. The rally pushed both indexes into positive territory for the year, along with the Nasdaq composite index. The strong uptick in the markets was mostly buoyed by a tremendous Friday, in which the Dow finished the day up 235.37 points, or 2.8 percent, at 8,521.97, the S&P rose 20.06 points, or 2.3 percent to 895.90, and the Nasdaq climbed 19.07 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,421.84. It is not clear yet if this change in sentiment reflects mostly a reversal of bets that the economy would continue to weaken and the stock market drift lower or a long-term interest in buying stocks.

Philip Morris Loses 'Light' Tobacco Suit
Philip Morris USA was ordered by an Illinois state judge to pay $10.1 billion for deceiving customers by advertising "light" cigarettes as less harmful. Judge Nicholas Byron told the world's largest cigarette maker to pay $7.1 billion in compensatory damages and $3 billion in punitive damages, according to court papers. Byron also ordered Philip Morris, a unit of Manhattan-based Altria Group Inc., to post a $12-billion bond. "The scale of the award represents a major challenge to Philip Morris USA because of the bonding issue," said Merrill Lynch analyst Martin Feldman. "The scale of this award is larger than the market anticipated."

Science & Technology

Microsoft Forced To Pull Ad
The Advertising Standards Authority as ordered that a Microsoft ad implying that its software will bring about the extinction of the hacker is to be pulled for being "unsubstantiated and misleading". The ad states: "Microsoft software is carefully designed to keep your company's valuable information in, and unauthorised people and viruses out. Which means that your data couldn't really be safer, even if you kept it in a safe. Which is great news for the survival of your company. But tragic news for hackers," which contradicts recent evidence of major security holes in Windows 2000 and IIS. An objection was lodged by freelance journalist Richard Clarke, in his personal capacity, who complained that the advert was untrue.

Overall Web usage Spikes
Traffic soared at news, government, and political Web sites this week after war erupted in Iraq, much of it coming from people surfing the Internet while at work, according to experts who measure Internet use. The number of people visiting the Web's top news sites and a dozen federal sites ran at more than twice the usual rate Thursday, according to ComScore Media Metrix. The top gainer was, which saw an increase in usage of 411% to 30,534 visitors, ComScore reported. The usage spike came from at-work users, which totalled 36.5 million people on Wednesday, almost matching the home audience of 37.1 million. Overall at-work traffic jumped 16 percent, while at-home traffic rose only 1 percent.

Public Hearings To Be Held On DMCA
The Library of Congress' Copyright Office said on Thursday that it will hold a series of public hearings over the next two months in Washington, D.C. and California to decide what changes, if any, should be made to the section of the DMCA that restricts bypassing copy-protection schemes. The Copyright Office's announcement comes as criticism of the DMCA's "anticircumvention" restrictions has grown, which restricts individuals from circumventing any "technological measure that effectively controls access to a work," which makes legal actions such as copying a CD for personal use illegal. "I'm glad they're holding hearings," said Mike Godwin, technology counsel for the Public Knowledge advocacy group. "This will present a chance for people to show up and make their case and build a good record."


FDA Issues New Security Guidelines In Conjunction With Operation Liberty Shield
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking more aggressive action to protect the nation's food supplies from criminal or terrorist action, according to an announcement from the agency yesterday. The FDA is issuing a series of recommendations to operators of food and cosmetic businesses describing steps that should be taken to protect the safety of their products. This announcement is in conjunction with increased surveilance of food shipping as well as food production and salesmanship of cosmetic and food products. "Securing our food supply against terrorist threats is one of our most important public health priorities, especially at a time of heightened alert," said Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services. "FDA is responsible for 80 percent of what we eat. Americans depend on FDA to keep food safe and secure, and we will keep doing all we can to fulfill this critical mission."

200 People In Hong Kong Now Infected With Mystery Disease
More than 200 people in Hong Kong have now contracted a mystery disease, and one more victim has died, officials said Saturday as health chiefs from Hong Kong and China discussed ways to cooperate in the fight against infectious illnesses. The disease, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (or SARS), has spread to all six continents and has resulted in at least twenty deaths. Meanwhile, Chinese Health Minister Zhang Wenkang said Saturday there was no proof that the disease spread from the mainland to Hong Kong, despite widespread suspicion of a link. A Chinese medical professor who visited Hong Kong in February infected six others in a hotel, and they then spread the disease in Hong Kong and several countries.


Butler Upsets Mississippi State On Second Day of NCAA Tournament
On the second day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the field was reduced to 32 with one surprising upset and a couple of exceptional games. In the day's biggest shocker, #12 Butler won a strongly defensive game against #5 Mississippi State 47-46. Meanwhile, #9 Utah won on a last second missed shot from #8 Oregon 60-58, and in the day's best game, #5 Maryland narrowly escaped #12 UNC Wilmington 75-73 as Drew Nicholas ran the length of the floor in the final five seconds of the game and, as time expired and his team down by one, threw up a desperation three pointer that won the game for the Terrapins. The second round begins today with marquee matchups between Illinois and Notre Dame as well as a match between Connecticut and Stanford.

Cricket World Cup Final Between India And Australia
Australian captain Ricky Ponting believes that his batsman must overcome India’s lethal pace attack if they are to triumph in Sunday’s World Cup final. Indians Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, and Ashish Nehra have combined for 49 wickets in the tournament, a clear example of the bowling strength of the Indian team. In an interview, Ponting said, "India are a good side, their batting line-up is long and good and (Sachin) Tendulkar has had a pretty fair tournament. All the same, the thing that has stood out about them for me is their fast bowling and that has done some damage. Their bowlers are the ones who have improved a lot over the last 12 months. Nehra seems to have come from nowhere, Khan has been steady and Srinath has been doing the same thing as he always has."


Academy Awards Go On As Scheduled
The Academy Awards will go on as scheduled tomorrow evening barring any major incidents in the Persian Gulf, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Frank Pierson said Friday. At a press conference, Peterson said, "As you saw on the last two nights, the situation is so unpredictable that we want, like the president himself, to keep our options open and to be flexible. So I'm not going to speculate under what conditions we might or might not postpone." The 75th Academy Awards are scheduled to be broadcast live by ABC tomorrow evening starting at 8:00 PM, although it may be interrupted with coverage of the war if conditions warrant.

War Protests Planned During Academy Awards
While Will Smith and Tom Hanks have cancelled their appearances at the industry awards show, other actors and actresses, including Dustin Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Jim Carrey, Ben Affleck, Michael Moore and Kirsten Dunst, are planning on expressing their disagreement with the war during the program. These protests could take the form of speeches, the wearing of peace pins, or "duct tape," in the case of Michael Moore, who is expected to win the Academy Award for best documentary for his film Bowling For Columbine. Another expected protest may occur during the finale, which is expected to involve all living award winners; several past winners are trying to organize a group protest during that event.

And Now, Some Typical Daylog Fare

As some of you may know from my homenode, I'm in the process of finishing up Churchill, a biography of Winston Churchill written by the late Roy Jenkins. I'm currently reading about the section of Churchill's life between his two premierships, around the year 1947, so it was very recently that I read in great detail about Churchill's role as prime minister of Britain during the darkest days of World War II during the Blitz.

Then, yesterday, I hear a reporter on television comparing Tony Blair to Winston Churchill during the war, and I am stricken with utter disbelief.

Churchill became prime minister of Britain on the eve of the blitzkrieg. Within a few weeks of his ascension, enemy forces were just a scant few miles from Great Britain. Planes were taking off just thirty miles away and delivering bombs to England. Every day and every night, London, Manchester, and other British cities were devastated by bombs continually dropping throughout the city. The House of Commons was destroyed.

Yet throughout all of this, Churchill kept his composure and arranged the things that needed to happen. He got the United States to donate armaments under lend-lease, he kept Parliament in order and supporting a very strong war policy in a very tough time, and most importantly, he kept up the morale of the British people by using his greatest gift, the power of phrases and words, to still their hearts with his wireless broadcasts and his visits to bomb locations. In short, he led Britain through their darkest hour.

Tony Blair, on the other hand, has ordered British troops to invade the nation of a tinpot dictator several thousand miles away who cannot hope to fight with any degree of sophistication against the weapons brought against him. There is no threat whatsoever to British civilians, and even the British troops have so many advantages as to make them feel at least somewhat safer than their forebears.

To compare Tony Blair to Winston Churchill is an insult both to the legacy of Churchill as well as to the intelligence of people today.

Lent Diary, Day 18

In my daylog for February 19, 2003, I outlined my plan for a challenging Lenten discipline: no food or water during daylight hours. Visit that daylog for more details.

I took a long walk last night, late in the evening. It was rather cold and I was underdressed in just a sweatshirt and jeans, but when I finally reached my destination, I didn't want to leave.

I was in the middle of a cornfield that hasn't yet received its spring planting, but was freshly tilled under. I looked up at the sky and mostly I saw darkness obscuring things, but in one small place, the clouds had opened up to reveal hundreds of faint stars bunched together.

It was amazingly beautiful, and yet analogous to how the last few weeks have been for me. It's almost as if once in a while everything clicks into place and the universe opens before me.

What an amazing universe we live in.