World in brief
The fox and the hedgehog
Negotiators for unity and peace in Northern Ireland John Hume and David Trimble will be the recipients of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Fellow laureate Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1996, said the Catholic and Protestant negotiators had a working relationship like the fabled fox and the hedgehog. "John Hume is the hedgehog, who knew the big truth that justice had to prevail," wrote Mr. Heaney. Mr. Trimble, a lawyer, was the clever fox who chose the right moment to bring the dominant, pro-British Protestants to acceptance of Catholic positions on unionism. Mr. Heaney, a Catholic, attended college in Londonderry with Mr. Hume, who he said at that time gave the impression "of somebody with a very steady moral and intellectual keel under him, somebody reliable and consistent." Millenium dome
The roof is on, but organizers are not sure a subway link can be completed in time to transport Y2K enthusiasts to Britain's largest and latest attraction, the Millennium Dome. Larger than the current record-holder, the Georgia Dome, the Millennium Dome covers 20 acres, has a circumference of two-thirds of a mile, and is 165 feet high. Forty-four miles of cabling support the Teflon-coated glass fiber roof. Exhibits will be organized around 14 lifestyle zones, which include a "multi-faith spirit zone" that features a monastery and a Zen garden. The dome sits astride the Greenwich Meridian, marker of longitude zero degrees, where the dawn of the new millennium will first arrive.
Calling off trust busters
As one end of Washington pursues antitrust action against Microsoft, another end is lifting antitrust restrictions so American companies can fix the Y2K bug. En route to Middle East peace talks, President Clinton signed a law that encourages companies to help each other prevent massive computer malfunctions in the year 2000. "The Y2K problem is an enormous challenge, and we must meet it," Mr. Clinton said. This law lets competing companies show each other how to repair their computers without getting a knock on the door from Janet Reno. It includes limited liability protection so companies can help one another without the risk of lawsuits.
All aboard the runaway train
"Train wreck" is the shorthand term politicians and journalists in Washington use to describe the series of events that leads to the government's running out of money and having to shut down. The term evokes images of two unyielding locomotives-the Congress train and the White House train, each laden with different spending and policy priorities-bearing down on one another. Kablooey! There is no term, however, to describe the course of action Congress and the White House took last week to avoid a "train wreck." Time was running out to get home to campaign for reelection and there were billions of dollars left to spend to keep government running for fiscal year 1999. So Congress and the White House agreed to crunch together several funding bills-representing almost a third of all federal outlays-into one 4,000-page, 40-lb. budget bill worth more than $500 billion, funding 10 Cabinet-level agencies. The bill passed 333-95, but not without angry opposition. Congressional conservatives seemed to suggest a way to describe their leadership's anti-train wreck deal with the White House. Derailment, perhaps? "What does the Republican majority in Congress stand for?" a disgusted Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) asked rhetorically in a letter to colleagues last week. "Do we have an agenda? What is it? Do we believe in anything?" But it wasn't only Republicans. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) called it a product of "a kind of a bastard parliamentary system," where the leadership of the Congress and the White House cut a deal that is imposed on the rest of the membership. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) complained that members could not even get a copy of the legislation they were being asked to vote on. Mr. Taylor said on the House floor before the vote that he was wary of White House and congressional leaders saying "trust us"-noting that President Clinton faces perjury charges and House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted in 1996 to misleading the ethics committee. Mr. Gingrich took to the floor to criticize conservative opponents-whom he referred to as "the perfectionist caucus"-and to laud supporters: those "who have grown up and matured in this process understand we have to work together on big issues." Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) dismissed the "process" as "business as usual, in the form of high taxes and more spending." Conservative Republicans in the House took their criticism a step further. "It's unconscionable, it's un-American, it's untruthful," said Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). An aide complained that the deal busted by $40 billion the budget caps agreed to in the last White House-Congress budget deal. Although President Clinton won almost all of his spending priorities, there were sweeteners designed to attract conservative support. The legislation defunds the United Nations Population Fund, writes into the foreign aid budget some restrictions on coercive family-planning activities, and requires federal family-planning clinics to report evidence of sex crimes. The big budget deal brought to a conclusion the 105th Congress; members headed home to wrap up their reelection campaigns.
Conservative Judaism (not to be confused with Orthodox Judaism) took a decidedly hipper turn last week. Updating its 1965 Rabbi's Manual, the Rabbinical Assembly unveiled a gender-neutral update with modernized prayers and a new "grieving ritual" for couples who have their unborn children killed. The new Rabbi's Manual also has considerably more heft: 688 pages makes it three times the 1965 size. In 1965, abortion was frowned upon and there were no female rabbis. Today, abortion is a lifestyle choice, and Rabbi Amy Eilberg writes in the Manual, "We grieve with you over the loss of this seed of life, and we affirm your essence as people gifted with the ability to nurture other life." Then there's an update to the deathbed plea. In 1965 it was, "Forgive me for all the sins which I have committed.... I am abashed and ashamed of the wicked deeds and sins which I committed.... Forgive my wrongdoing." Now, instead of sins, it's "times I may have disappointed You." Goodbye, wicked deeds; now, they are "wrongs." Wrongdoing becomes "shortcomings."
Welcome in France
Former schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau, 35, has given birth to the second child fathered by a former student. Now the boy, Vili Fualaau, is in Paris on a book tour about the affair that began when he was a 13-year-old student in her sixth-grade class. In the book, Only One Crime, Love, which isn't available in America, they complain about living in a reactionary age. "We took, I know, a road different from others," Ms. Letourneau says in the book, "the road less traveled, but we're no longer in the Middle Ages, when they burned women, the unfaithful, the witches, who dared to love outside their marriage." That's quite a turnabout from her tearful plea to a judge to let her out of jail: "I did something that I had no right to do, morally or legally. It was wrong and I am sorry." The French publishing house Laffont paid a $250,000 advance for the book. Most of it goes to the boy. Ms. Letourneau's share goes to the two children. Meanwhile, Ms. Letourneau's husband Steve has filed for divorce. He's got custody of their four children (the oldest of them is about Master Fualaau's age). After the first Fualaau-Letourneau child, a girl named Audrey, was born last year, Ms. Letourneau pleaded guilty to second-degree child rape. A judge suspended the bulk of her sentence. When she was arrested in a car with the boy in February, her seven-year, five-month prison term was reinstated.
Internet pioneer dies
If ever a man ran the Internet, it was Jon Postel. His academic title as director of the Computer Networks Division at the University of Southern California disguised his real role as the guru of .com, .org, and .net. Mr. Postel, who died at age 55 last week of complications from heart surgery, ran the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). This bureaucracy gives out IP addresses, phone-number like codes that identify computers on the Internet. IP addresses are written like this: 126.96.36.199. When a Web surfer types a domain name into his browser, the domain name system translates that name into the Internet numbers. Mr. Postel helped turn this system into an oligarchy run by two semi-public contractors, Network Solutions Inc., of Herndon, Va., (which issues domain names like worldmag.com) and IANA. Now after much insider bickering, the Clinton Administration is trying to transfer control to a new group. Just before his death, Mr. Postel proposed a new global nonprofit group, called the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, which is supposed to be more accountable than its predecessors. Such a plan may make the White House happy, but critics say this group will be accountable to no one. Since few Internet users want a dictator, insiders will fight over this issue for months to come.
Spicing up the UN
As Congress was cutting off funding for the pro-abortion United Nations Population Fund, ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell joined the group as a goodwill ambassador. "Ever since I've entered the media arena I've always stood for the empowerment of women," the former Ginger Spice gushed to an audience at UN headquarters; the population fund supports China's coercive one-child policy. Ms. Halliwell explained her position on abortion this way: "I believe in pro-choice and non-judgment." UNFPA executive director Nafis Sadik said that since Ms. Halliwell has the ear of many young women, she will "be a powerful advocate for the right of women to reproductive health care." The pop singer will travel to some of the 160 countries that the UNFPA meddles in, as it works to have fewer "little girls made of sugar and spice."
Attempting to shift blame from local police, an Egyptian prosecutor charged three Coptic Orthodox clerics with interfering in the legal investigation of two Christians murdered in an Upper Egyptian village in August. The clergymen say that more than 1,000 Christians were rounded up, interrogated, abused, and forced to give untruthful testimony after the murders took place. They are charged with "hiding information influencing the investigation" and "influencing witnesses to change their position" after they took their charges to an Egyptian human-rights group. David Alton of Britain's House of Lords is protesting the charges to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He accused the Egyptian government of "trying to intimidate the Christian clergy" with criminal charges, instead of punishing "the police officers responsible for this grave abuse of human rights."
A fountain of black gold turned into a deadly fireball that killed at least 500 people in Nigeria. Reports of gasoline spewing from a pipeline leak in the small town of Jesse drew hundreds of nearby golddiggers. Their quest turned to tragedy when the fuel ignited, sending flares more than 60 feet into the air and setting hundreds on fire. Two days after the fire began, firefighters gave up bringing it under control and waited for the blaze, which spread thick black smoke for miles around, to burn itself out. Despite Nigeria's enormous oil wealth, years of government dictatorship and corruption have resulted in perpetual fuel shortages, skyrocketing black-market prices, and long gasoline lines. The same day, rebels in Colombia sparked another pipeline explosion after they sabotaged a 510-mile crude oil conduit owned jointly by the Colombian government and a consortium of U.S., French, British, and Canadian companies. The resulting explosion, which killed 47 villagers, was the 60th pipeline attack by the ELN, Colombia's largest rebel group, this year.
Can Wye talk?
Mideast leaders working on a peace agreement spent most of the week sequestered at the Wye River retreat center on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat moved out of stall after intervention from King Hussein of Jordan, who was in the United States for cancer treatment. The move by King Hussein, whose largely Palestinian country signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994, prompted President Clinton to cancel a(nother) fundraising trip to California, where he was scheduled to stump for Democratic candidates in congressional races. The obstacles to agreement were extremely familiar ones. Israel's delegation balked after a Palestinian terrorist hurled two grenades into a crowded bus stop near Beersheba on Oct. 19, injuring 64 Israelis. Palestinian delegates contended that security issues should not thwart Israel's concessions to cede more West Bank territory to the Palestinians. Israel countered that it will not withdraw a further 13 percent from the territory, which it agreed to earlier this month, until Mr. Arafat makes key security promises.