Powerful twisters kill at least 43
'Everything was gone'
When a killer Midwest tornado struck Moore, Okla., LeeAnn Richardson and 15 others hid in a storm cellar and waited for it to pass by. While they escaped unharmed, devastation stretched as far as the eye could see. "We opened up and everything was gone," Ms. Richardson said. Where some houses once stood, only rubble remained. The tornado stripped trees bare or ripped them from the ground. Natural gas leaked and downed power lines lay on the ground. The damage "looks like the Murrah Building, but instead of nine stories tall, it's spread out over a large area," Oklahoma City assistant fire chief Jon Hansen said, referring to the 1995 federal building bombing. Rescue crews looking for signs of life picked through shattered homes, twisted trees, overturned trucks, and mangled cars the day after a swarm of astonishingly powerful tornadoes chewed up entire neighborhoods in Oklahoma and Kansas and killed at least 43 people. Even by the standards of the region known as Tornado Alley, the twisters' wrath was extraordinary. One monstrous funnel cloud skipped across the ground for four hours and was classified F-5, the most powerful tornado category, with winds of more than 260 mph. It cut a path one mile wide, and along with the other twisters tore up 60 miles of the flat countryside. Catherine Meyers tried to hide from the storm under a mattress, but it didn't help. "I got hit four or five times on my head by something. I've lost a lot of blood," she said as a Red Cross volunteer treated her. Her husband, Melvin, had an injured right knee and left wrist and bled from the head. He said he hid under another mattress, which was sucked out of the house when the roof blew off. "The first burst, it took it out of there. Part of the ceiling fell in on me and shaded me," Mr. Meyers said. taking liberties with biblical account
NBC sinks the Ark
The disclaimer was only slightly deceptive: "For dramatic effect, we have taken poetic license with some of the events of the mighty epic of Noah and the flood." Poetic license? NBC had the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah precede the flood, and gave Noah a best friend-Lot. Dramatic effect? NBC's May 3-4 miniseries success Noah's Ark-rated No. 1 on its first night with a 20.9 rating and 32 share-achieved something much different: farce. When Noah's wife tells a peddler (James Coburn) that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, Mr. Coburn replies, "Oh, a religion thing, huh?" Lot does get some "take my wife, please" humor. When Mrs. Lot (played wonderfully by The Princess Bride's Carol Kane) leaves Sodom before the expensive special effects begin, she demands to see her old friends burned. As she turns around, she cries, "I never have any fun." After the inevitable, Lot snaps off one of her fingers and keeps it in a salt shaker. Executive producer Robert Halmi's farce showed not only disrespect for biblical history but also utter disrespect for God, who tells Noah about his decision-making process on sending the flood: "It was a difficult decision.... I wanted a second opinion, but who could I ask?" Mr. Halmi said Genesis "is almost fiction," and "You can take a bit of freedom with the Old Testament, especially Genesis.... Who knows how it really happened?" At least NBC's Noah was not one in which Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed for their intolerance, Noah is a tyrant who beats his wife, and at least one of his sons is a sensitive cross-dresser. But this kind of "poetic license" makes it clear that the late Francis Schaeffer was right again: American culture has reached the end of its stores of what Mr. Schaeffer called "Christian capital." That capital formed our cultural common ground; everyone knew the stories, at least. Not anymore. competition for popular translation
Beyond the NIV
Evidence of evangelical discontent with the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible continues to mount. In February, Crossway Books announced its plan to publish the English Standard Version, a conservative revision of the Revised Standard Version. Broadman and Holman, trade publishers of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), plans to enter the fray with the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Holman CSB), a Bible that will be "as accurate as the New American Standard and as readable as the NIV," according to general editor Edwin Blum, a former New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Although sponsored by the SBC's publishing arm, the new Bible is not solely a Southern Baptist project. SBC members make up about a third of the Bible's 77-member translating team. The rest come from other Protestant denominations, including the Evangelical Free Church, Church of England, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterian Church in America, and Vineyard Fellowship. Although some translators are employed by SBC institutions, others are affiliated with Biola University, Covenant Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Taylor University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Wheaton College. David Shepherd, vice president of Bible publishing at Broadman and Holman and executive editor of the translation, expects to have the New Testament in print by 2001 and the complete text of Scripture by 2004. Copies of the Gospel of John will be distributed at this year's Southern Baptist Convention in June. The Holman CSB's Southern Baptist connections give it a significant head start in the race to provide an alternative to the NIV. The CSV will eventually replace the NIV in the curriculum of the world's largest Sunday School publisher, LifeWay Christian Resources. Depravity watch
Targeting the innocent
Steven Allen Abrams wanted to execute innocent children, so on May 3 he plowed his big Cadillac through a day-care center playground and killed two toddlers and injured four other kids and one teacher's aide. The alleged killer had no connection to the Southcoast Early Childhood Learning Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., according to police. "Why he picked yesterday, why he picked this school, why he picked these kids, we don't know," Lt. Ron Smith said. When Mr. Abrams's car finally came to a stop, pinning several children underneath, he calmly sat behind the wheel until police arrested him. An angry crowd of neighbors, parents, and workers from a nearby church jeered as he was led away in handcuffs. A detective quoted Mr. Abrams telling them, "I was going to execute these children because they were innocent." Mr. Abrams, 39, was arrested for investigation of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Forty-five minutes before the schoolyard killings, according to Lt. Smith, he rammed his car into another vehicle that cut him off on a freeway. "I've been a cop for 20 years and I have never seen anything where someone deliberately drove a car into a playground and killed children. It's unfathomable to me," he said. Dole fires a shot across the NRA's bow
Doling out restrictions
First Elizabeth Dole waffled on abortion, now she's wobbling about guns. At a New Hampshire GOP dinner to kick off the 2000 presidential season, she brandished her "centrist" position on the Second Amendment. "I don't think you need an AK-47 to defend your family," Mrs. Dole said to a smattering of polite applause. In her speech, Mrs. Dole never once mentioned the GOP-allied NRA, but she made it clear enough who she was talking about: She would be "tough on crime-no matter what the special interests say." Mrs. Dole said she supports the continuation of the assault-weapons ban, elimination of bullets that pierce bulletproof vests, and full federal funding of instant background checks for gun buyers. But her reception grew colder when she said she endorsed child safety locks on handguns. Few applauded and one guest even booed. The NRA's chief concern: One restriction leads to another. Will web providers be saddled with federal mandates?
Janet Reno wants to regulate your Web site to make sure it is accessible to the handicapped. The tech news service ZDNet and the Freedom Forum report that an obscure federal agency called the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board is expected to come out with sweeping new rules telling Netters how they can present material online. Online graphics would have to be kept calm so as not to make virtual visitors dizzy. Any audio on the Web without accompanying text transcripts would be a no-no. While these rules will be first posted as suggestions for the general public, they could become law if online publishers refuse to play ball. They will soon become mandatory for all federal agencies. Since the government financed the Net, it can create "civil rights" rules telling people how to use it, supporters say. "The Internet is subject to market forces, but it didn't start through market forces, it was started by the federal government," Jennifer Simpson of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities told ZD Net. While various online free-speech groups have raised a massive ruckus over laws regulating pornography on the Net, precious little has been said over enforced accessibility. Securities industry ready for year 2000
Taking stock in Y2K
Could the stock market boom go bust because of Y2K? Not likely, securities industry officials say. They say the trading systems have been well-tested and that millennial problems were scarce. The Securities Industry Association spent six weeks testing important computer networks. They simulated 850 trades involving 260,000 transactions between Dec. 29, 1999, and Jan. 3. Y2K issues popped up only 0.02 percent of the time-no cause for alarm, said trade association executive Donald D. Kittell. "The Y2K issues were rare and quickly repaired," he said. "The test served its purpose in that it helped us detect problems or areas that needed further work while we still have time to fix them." The SIA, which represents 740 investment firms, is preparing contingency plans for the few problems that were found. It estimates the securities industry will spend $5 billion battling the bug. That number is a fraction of what some expect to come from frivolous millennial lawsuits now that the White House and congressional Democrats have blocked a limited liability bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The bill would give companies 90 days to fix computers before lawsuits can be filed, encourage mediation, put caps of $250,000 on some punitive damage awards, and make it harder to file class-action lawsuits. The No-Comment Zone
- Littleton, Colo., religious leaders are complaining about the memorial service held for those killed in the Columbine massacre: It was too Christian. One rabbi told The Washington Times that it reflected an "ignorant, narrow-minded" faith. A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister complained that it "was not inclusive to all faith communities." Liberals complained that the services focused too much on the slain victims' faith and that those attending were encouraged to follow Christ.
- "Smoking gun" documents obtained by the University of California tell how Wells Fargo cut a secret deal with revolutionary robber Pancho Villa, according to library curator Walter Brem. The legendary Mexican bandit stole 122 bars of silver worth $160,000 from a Wells Fargo Express train in 1913, then sold most of the loot back to the original owners for about 30¢ on the dollar. The new documents were contained in a collection of corporate history papers from a regional Wells Fargo office given to the university in 1996.
- Teen pregnancy has fallen to its lowest point since 1973, but the hard numbers from the federal government showed about 880,000 teen pregnancies in 1996. That's just under one for every 10 teenage girls between 15 and 19. About one in three of those pregnancies ended in the death of the unborn child.
- AT&T scooped up MediaOne, the nation's fourth-largest cable company, after a high-stakes takeover war that included Comcast, Microsoft, and America Online. This is another victory in AT&T's campaign for a media revolution that combines cable TV, Internet, and phone services in one package. For AT&T, the acquisition will give the company a prominence not seen since the Bell System breakup. For the customer, it means new media options that will make today's world of 28.8 modems and 40-channel cable TV seem puny. Cubans win a baseball game, lose a citizen
Throwing Castro a curve ball
When Fidel Castro's Cuban national team journeyed to Baltimore and beat the Orioles 12-6 on May 3, the news concerned more than baseball. Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Camden Yards to speak out against Castro, while a smaller group supporting the lifting of sanctions against Cuba protested nearby. Some protesters wore T-shirts with messages like "Fidel murderer" and "Justice and human rights now! Baseball later." Others held signs that read "The repression in Cuba is not a game." Cuban umpire Cesar Valdez won congratulations from the dictator after he tackled an anti-Castro protester who ran onto the field in the fifth inning carrying a sign that read "Freedom! Strike out against Castro." Mr. Valdez started punching the protester until Baltimore outfielder B.J. Surhoff separated them and police finally stepped in. "Above all, I am Cuban," Mr. Valdez said about the incident. "I just thought it was the right way to do it." About 10 hours after the game, one member of the Castro delegation discovered the right way to defect. Rigoberto Herrera Betancourt, a 54-year-old retired pitcher, headed straight to a Baltimore police station and told an officer he wanted political asylum; he's now in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. World in brief
Panama elected a woman president for the first time in its history. Mireya Moscoso will preside over the Central American nation as it takes possession of the Panama Canal from the United States at the end of this year. Mrs. Moscoso, widow of a former president, defeated Martin Torrijos, son of former military ruler Omar Torrijos. She has promised to allow independent businesses to operate land and buildings surrounding the canal operations, which are currently used as U.S. military facilities. New heights on Everest
An American-led expedition located the body of George Mallory on a windswept ledge 27,000 feet up Mount Everest. The British schoolteacher and his co-climber, Andrew Irvine, disappeared in 1924. The discovery reopened questions about whether the two Everest pioneers were the first to ascend the world's tallest hill, 29 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay stood atop the 29,028-foot summit in the first documented ascent, in May 1953. Sub-zero temperatures and dry air left Mr. Mallory's body well preserved, and evidence surrounding the discovery suggested he may have died from a significant fall. A more detailed investigation is expected to confirm whether or not Mr. Mallory-who famously quipped, "Because it is there," as his rationale for scaling the peak-ever made it to the top. Winged votes
Registered Israeli voters can fly to the polls, courtesy of a New York-based group. The privately winged motor-voter drive is sponsoring discounted round-trip air fares of $180 to Israel from May 16 to June 2 or June 6 for elections. Opinion polls show Labor Party candidate Ehud Barak leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the May 17 general election approaches. Neither candidate, however, is expected to win an absolute majority, forcing a second face-off around June 1. Breakthrough on kosovo?
Plan could end attacks
NATO leaders reached a preliminary agreement with Russia that could lead to an end to NATO attacks on Yugoslavia. The draft plan, reached while President Bill Clinton met with NATO officials and military leaders in Germany, cedes key stipulations the United States had said it would not negotiate when the air strike campaign commenced. It calls for "effective international civil and security presences" in Kosovo, which would include Russian forces and be endorsed by the United Nations. In keeping with Russian demands, the agreement does not mention NATO forces, although they are likely to be part of the peacekeeping contingent. The diplomatic breakthrough came when Belgrade agreed to accept armed international troops in Kosovo, but under a UN mandate. Belgrade also released three captured U.S. servicemen and a Kosovar Albanian leader. The prospect of peace provided shade for Mr. Clinton, who faced intensifying political heat last week over the war. The nation's largest veterans group, The American Legion, came out in opposition to the NATO attacks against Serbia, and the U.S. Senate voted 78-22 to kill a bipartisan resolution that would have authorized the use of "all necessary force" in Kosovo.