Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Untouchable?," April 7, 2001

Violence intensifies between Israel and Palestinian militants
'A state of war'
Now they're killing even babies. Six months of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants claimed its youngest victim last week when a Palestinian sniper shot and killed a 10-month-old baby. The shooter picked off the infant as her father moved her into a stroller near a park in the West Bank city of Hebron. As shots rang out, the mother grabbed the child to run for cover, not realizing her baby had already been hit. The father sustained bullet wounds to his legs. The sniper fire came during a bloody week in both Jerusalem and the West Bank. That same day, March 27, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas carried out two bombings in Jerusalem. The first injured seven people. The second attack, by a suicide bomber in a Jewish neighborhood, killed the assailant and a passenger and injured 28 others. "We have to assume that there will be further events like this," said Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. "We are in a state of war." On March 28 a suicide bomber walked up to a clutch of Jewish students awaiting an armored bus that took them to school in the West Bank. The Palestinian detonated explosives strapped to his chest and packed with nails, killing himself and two boys, aged 14 and 16, and injuring four people. Fifteen-year-old Rafael Somer said the assailant approached three of his friends. "He looked at them. Then the explosion went off. I was hurled backward. When I got up, I saw one of my friends without hands. Another friend was torn apart," said the lightly injured Somer, suppressing tears. Hamas claimed responsibility for the deadly blast, and said seven more bombers were ready to strike. The attacks drew retaliatory fire from Israeli forces, which killed an 11-year-old Palestinian boy near a refugee camp in Hebron. Overseas, the fighting drew further condemnation for Israel. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking at an opening session of the Arab Summit in Jordan, criticized Israel's "excessively harsh response" to the Palestinian uprising. His comments lent support to the Arab leaders, meeting for the first time in 10 years, who said they "strongly condemn" Israel. They also pledged to give Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat $40 million a month in aid. The United States stood alone in support of Israel, vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that would have sent a UN observer mission to Israel as protection for Palestinians. The move to strike a troop call-up came after Britain, France, Norway, and Ireland abstained from the vote and Russia switched sides to favor the Palestinians. The U.S. mission said sending UN forces to the Middle East without the consent of both sides could not work. It was only the fifth time in the last decade the United States has used its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council. Russia's plague
Abortion nation
Abortions in Russia now exceed live births, according to a report by Russian health officials. Only 1.7 million births are registered annually, compared to 2.1 million abortions. The country's chief gynecologist, Vladimir Serov, said 350 women per year become invalids and some 250 women died last year as a result of abortion. He also said that 7 million couples are childless due to abortion-related complications and sexually transmitted diseases. And these are only the figures from official health sources, he said, indicating that the real numbers could be even higher. Russia's population has declined by 2 percent-2.8 million people-as abortion rates have soared in the last eight years. Demographers predict that it will fall by 700,000 this year to less than 150 million. Hanssen could face death penalty for espionage
Countering intelligence
Will Robert Hanssen die for his crimes? Attorney General John Ashcroft last week left the door open to the death penalty for the former FBI agent charged with spying for Russia. He said he might have to negotiate a plea bargain to find out what secrets were leaked. "I believe we have to have an assessment of the national interest that relates to whether or not the penalty should be the ultimate penalty or not," Mr. Ashcroft said. Meanwhile, the U.S. government told four Russian diplomats to leave the United States in connection with Mr. Hanssen; 46 more may be sent home by this summer. Russia responded by vowing to boot the same number of Americans and stating that both countries should try to move past the scandal and work to improve ties. The FBI announced plans to give lie-detector tests to about 500 FBI employees with access to confidential data. Critics blasted the agency for never giving Mr. Hanssen a polygraph in his 25-year career. "With the occurrence of the Hanssen case, it's abundantly clear to everyone in the agency that we have to do this," FBI spokesman John Collingwood said. Lawmakers urge bush to appoint a sudan envoy
Famine ahead?
Pressure on President George W. Bush to name a special envoy to Sudan is growing on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Half a dozen lawmakers have joined House Republican Leader Dick Armey, calling on the president to name a high-level diplomat to search for a way to end the atrocities from Sudan's 18-year-old civil war. Their numbers were not so unusual as their political diversity: In addition to the conservative Mr. Armey were liberal Democrats Charles Rangel of New York, and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume. The pressure came as a Christian relief organization reported back from south Sudan's contested oil region. A team of 14 from California-based Safe Harbor International reached Nieldu, about five miles from Bentiu, the center of current oil pumping and a hotbox of the fighting. Safe Harbor head Gary Kusunoki told WORLD the town was completely destroyed by a government-aligned militia on March 6. According to residents, soldiers torched houses and shot randomly at fleeing villagers. The attack separated parents from children, as villagers fled in all directions. Mr. Kusunoki said the militia tactics, designed to clear the area for further oil drilling, have displaced at least 25,000 south Sudanese. Local estimates of homelessness are up to 10 times higher. Relief groups say that significant areas of south Sudan may be heading toward famine conditions not seen since 1998. Lurid anti-abortion site wins appeal
No threat
In a decision viewed widely as a test of free speech and how far abortion protest can go, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week overturned a mammoth 1999 judgment against the sponsors of a lurid anti-abortion website. The website, called "The Nuremberg Files" after the similarly titled war-crimes inquiry, listed the names and addresses of abortionists, calling them "baby butchers," and declaring them guilty of crimes against humanity ("Pro-life? Then be quiet," WORLD, May 29, 1999). The website was dressed up with Old West-style "Wanted" poster graphics and dripping animated blood. Planned Parenthood sued the site's sponsors, charging that the Web page incited violence against abortionists. Three abortionists whose names had appeared on the site were killed during the 1990s, including Dr. Barnett Slepian, who in 1998 was gunned down in his Buffalo, N.Y., home. Attorneys for the site's sponsors argued that the website content was protected speech because it merely listed doctors and clinics and did not threaten them. But a Portland, Ore., jury disagreed and handed down a record $109 million verdict. Following the verdict, the Internet service provider on whose server the site resided removed it from the Web. Last week's ruling overturned that decision, affirming a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a threat must be explicit and likely to cause "imminent lawless action." "If defendants threatened to commit violent acts, by working alone or with others, then their [works] could properly support the [original] verdict," 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. "But if their [works] merely encouraged unrelated terrorists, then their words are protected by the First Amendment." Judge overturns state's anti-sodomy law
Arkansas justice?
Only a day after the Arkansas trial of 23-year-old homosexual Joshua Macabe Brown for the rape and murder of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, a judge in a separate case ruled that Arkansas' anti-sodomy law is unconstitutional. "The people of Arkansas have a right to legislate on issues involving morals, but homosexuality is not only a question of morals," declared Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge David Bogard on March 23. The state had never prosecuted anyone under the 1977 law, but seven people told the court that they feared being arrested and losing their jobs. The state has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling. That same week, an Arkansas jury found Mr. Brown guilty. According to prosecutors, he drugged, gagged, and repeatedly sodomized Jesse while his homosexual partner, 39-year-old Davis Don Carpenter, watched and gave instructions ("Small-town predators," WORLD, Nov. 20, 1999). Medical examiners determined that Jesse had suffocated to death after being drugged and gagged for several hours. The jury sentenced Mr. Brown to 25 years in prison for the rape charge, but split 11-1 on the penalty for the murder charge, refusing to give Mr. Brown the death penalty. That left Mr. Brown's sentence for the murder charge in the hands of Judge David Clinger. Mr. Carpenter will stand trial on May 7 on rape and capital murder charges. Court rules against school's affirmative-action program
Dueling decisions
University affirmative-action programs may be headed to the Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman last week ruled that the University of Michigan Law School's admissions standards are unconstitutional because they use race as a factor. He said the state has no compelling interest in achieving the goal of a racially diverse student population. Supporters of the program vow to appeal. "This decision threatens to resegregate higher education and to increase the unfair racist stigma that is faced by minority students in higher education," said Miranda Massie, an attorney for a group of students. In a separate lawsuit, another federal judge ruled late last year that the university's undergraduate admissions policy, which also takes race into account, is constitutional. Both suits could wind up before the Supreme Court, provoking a landmark decision. Terrence Pell, chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights (which brought the suits), said that last week's decision sent notice to the academy. "The University of Michigan spent millions and millions of dollars assembling the best possible legal defense," he said. Man knows not his time
Gag man
Yabba Dabba Doo! William Hanna and partner Joseph Barbera together made up one of animation's most creative forces. From Tom & Jerry to The Flintstones to the Super Friends, their work spanned seven decades. They successfully maneuvered from the big screen to TV and helped define what the world expects from cartons. Hanna-Barbera's long career dates back to the 1930s and is now concluded with Mr. Hanna's death last month at age 90. Mr. Hanna's last credit was a live-action version of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar that will be released next year. Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera were able to reinvent themselves over decades and keep providing innovate cartoons. During their years at MGM, they created cat-and-mouse games with rich animation and told tales with action instead of dialogue. "This writing-directing team may hold a record for producing consistently superior cartoons using the same characters year after year without a break or change in routine," critic Leonard Maltin wrote in his book Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. When the studio quit making cartoons, they moved into TV and dealt with greatly slashed budgets. So they switched their focus to verbal wit and visual gags, openly borrowing from successful TV shows. Top Cat was modeled on Phil Silvers' Sgt. Bilko character, The Flintstones was an obvious riff on The Honeymooners, and The Jetsons took the gag one step further. But low budgets and obvious hack work led to a generation of boring cartoons with the Hanna-Barbera name. By the 1970s things became tired and formulaic with their versions of existing characters from Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and The Harlem Globetrotters. Still, lots of Hanna-Barbera cartoons will age well and run indefinitely in reruns. -Chris Stamper Spoof magazine loses circulation, changes with the times
Mad's new colors
Mad magazine now takes ads and plans a switch to full-color publication. That's a big change as the once-edgy humor magazine tries to find a place in the 21st century. Millions of people remember reading it as a kid, but many don't even know it is still on newsstands. Mad's circulation in the early 1970s hit a peak of 2.3 million, but now is only around 250,000. Economics (and undoubtedly new managers at AOL Time Warner) force traditions to change. The March issue made the official announcement with Mad's typical irony: "We offer two exciting new concepts that are sure to revolutionize the magazine business: color and advertising." The cover price will remain $2.99, still "Cheap!" Mad's content has been consistent for decades as other mass media has grown coarser, so it no longer shocks people. "Once it was something you'd read under the covers with a flashlight for fear of your parents catching you," said comics store owner Roger Williams, "but now it's pretty G-rated." Turner drops professional wrestling
Bodyslammed
Ring the bell. After booming through the late '90s, the pro wrestling business is starting to fall. After 29 years of telecasts, Turner Broadcasting canceled all its World Championship Wrestling (WCW) programs and announced it would sell off the promotion to World Wrestling Federation Entertainment. Why? It lost $80 million last year and drove away affluent viewers. This ends a two-decade war between Turner and Vince McMahon's WWF that made Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Bill Goldberg into pop-culture icons, with promoters burning through cash and controversy. Now the glitter is fading as the mainstream is turning its back on the sham sport. The new Turner regime at AOL Time Warner doesn't think bodyslams fit its image. "Professional wrestling, in its current form and its current style, is not consistent with the higher-end, upscale brands we've created at TNT and TBS," Turner spokesman Jim Weiss said. Much of the backlash stems from sexual innuendo and the language of wrestling storylines. R-rated content on programs that target children and teenagers scared advertisers even when ratings were good. Now World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, which still makes unabashedly raunchy product, is left as the only surviving wrestling company in America. It has its own troubles with its disastrous football creation, the XFL.

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