Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Schundler's bliss," July 7, 2001

Jury convicts retired army colonel of espionage
You can't run
For over 20 years, George Trofimoff sold military secrets to Moscow. Now he may spend the rest of his life in jail as the highest-ranking U.S. military officer (a colonel) ever convicted of espionage. Col. Trofimoff, 74, is a retired Army colonel who was the civilian chief of an Army interrogation center in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1968 to 1994. The United States questioned Soviet bloc escapees and stored volumes of secret documents at the center. A former KGB general, Oleg Kalugin, testified that Col. Trofimoff was one of the Soviet Union's top spies during the 1970s. Prosecutors said he collected $300,000 for photographing U.S. intelligence documents and giving them to the KGB. His go-between was Igor Vladimirovich Susemihl, a Russian Orthodox archbishop in Vienna. Born in Germany to Russian emigres before becoming a U.S. citizen, Col. Trofimoff was captured on videotape in 1999 putting his hand to his heart and telling an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian agent: "I'm not American in here." When he was arrested he was collecting a $71,000 annual Army pension. On the stand, Col. Trofimoff said that he only pretended to be a spy during the meeting with the FBI agent because he needed money. Jurors, however, laughed when he said it was a coincidence that he was able to name several Soviet spies when shown them by the undercover agent. The jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding him guilty. Prosecutors said the conviction would deter other potential spies. "The message should go out that you can't run far enough or fast enough to get away," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter Furr. Man knows not his time
Bunker mentality
Character actor Carroll O'Connor entered TV history playing arch-bigot Archie Bunker on Norman Lear's All in the Family. He died last week of a heart attack at age 76 with his wife of 50 years, Nancy, at his side in a California hospital. Archie was supposed to be a feisty but vulnerable and stupid relic of the past, someone who couldn't handle America's far left turn. He fit the Hollywood stereotype of conservatives as uneducated rabble. What Mr. Lear didn't at first realize was that many people actually liked Archie Bunker even though he was played as a tyrant. But Carroll O'Connor was more than just Archie. He had an active career spanning numerous movie and TV shows, most recently Mad About You and the film Return to Me. Personal tragedy darkened Mr. O'Connor's later years. His only child, Hugh, a co-star with his father on the show In the Heat of the Night, shot himself in a drug-related suicide in 1995. UN MEETING PRODUCES TRADITIONALIST/WESTERN SPLIT OVER HOW TO CONTAIN THE SPREAD OF AIDS
Culture war goes global
Once again, the meaning of words became central to the debate over UN documents. In New York, 3,000 government officials, activists, and business leaders came together to define a global agenda for tackling AIDS and to rally support for a new fund to pay for it. The UN's first high-level meeting on AIDS highlighted a philosophical split: Western nations on one side, Muslim-ruled countries (which generally have low AIDS rates) and the Vatican on the other. Muslim countries objected to European-proposed language in a draft declaration that specified homosexuals, prostitutes, and intravenous drug users as groups "susceptible" to the disease. The United States, satisfying neither side, proposed a compromise that would refer vaguely to "vulnerable individuals" who engage in "risky sexual behavior." The Vatican, meanwhile, disagreed over the promotion of the use of condoms rather than sexual abstinence as a means of prevention. And larger debate focused on whether to emphasize prevention or treatment in funding priorities. A final declaration is expected to become a blueprint for AIDS programs around the world. What no one at the gathering seemed to question was its premise. While AIDS is ravaging Africa and spreading there primarily through heterosexual contact, other parts of the world actually see declining rates of infection and its primary locus in the homosexual community. Adopting a global agenda, under the circumstances, could straitjacket locally tailored approaches just beginning to show promise of success. COLOMBIA: GUERRILLAS BELIEVED RESPONSIBLE FOR MURDERING CHURCH LEADERS' CHILDREN
The price of peace
Church leaders in Colombia's drug cartel region believe guerrilla forces murdered two children of prominent church leaders in June. An anonymous tip led Ederino Rentería, pastor of the Inter-American Church near Medellín, to the unmarked grave of his 22-year-old son Antonio. An unidentified group of heavily armed guerrillas abducted Antonio from the Rentería home in May. On June 17, anonymous gunmen killed Joni Palacio, 20, the daughter of another Inter-American Church clergyman and a prominent youth worker. Officials for the Protestant evangelical denomination, which has planted 245 churches from its base in Medellín, told Compass Direct the rapid growth of churches may be cutting into the civil war that surrounds the region's drug trade. "Every person who hears a presentation of the gospel and is brought to the feet of Jesus lays down their weapons. Therefore, [armed groups] consider the church a real enemy to the cause, especially leftist groups," said Julio César Cabrera, president of the Association of Inter-American Churches. TERROR ALERT FOLLOWS 13 HEZBOLLAH INDICTMENTS
Never too careful
U.S. military forces and diplomatic compounds around the world went on high alert in response to unspecified threats linked to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The warning came just as the United States indicted 13 Saudi members of Hezbollah in connection with the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. It also coincided with an FBI decision to pull investigators looking into the bombing of the USS Cole out of Yemen. Commanders of the U.S. Fifth Fleet ordered its warships in the Gulf region to sea, and the U.S. Marine Corps cut short a training exercise in Jordan. FORMER SOVIET REPUBLIC ORDERS BIBLES OFF SHELVES
Banned in Turkmenistan
Bibles are disappearing from bookstalls in Turkmenistan after a government letter ordered vendors to remove the books. Copies of the Koran are still widely available, according to Keston News Service. Turkmenistan restricts all religious activity and allows only two religious groups, Russian Orthodoxy and Islam, to register legally in the former Soviet republic. Hype campaign starts for Rings
'It's not going to bomb'
With the first Lord of the Rings film coming in December, a Star Wars-style advance hype campaign is already underway. With a combined budget of $270 million, AOL Time Warner's New Line studio doesn't want anything to go wrong. Already, trailers are beginning to appear and new editions of Tolkien's masterpieces are in bookstores bearing the new logo. Soon America may be more deluged in Middle-Earth than it was during the series' last boom during the 1970s-winning both devoted followers and sarcastic critics. The toy line geared for kids during the holidays includes all sorts of figurines, electronic swords, marbles, and a bow-and-arrow set. The three movies were shot together over 15 months in New Zealand to save costs and logistics hassle, with a film coming each Christmas for the next three years. The cast includes Ian Holm as hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and Christopher Lee as Saruman. "It's not going to bomb," executive producer Mark Ordesky said at the Cannes Film Festival. "There's a hundred million of these books out there in 40 languages worldwide. You've got a missionary effect in that you've got three generations who've been reading it since the '50s, when the book first came out. We've got an amazing pedigree in these films." For better or worse, The Lord of the Rings will be a landmark for translating epic literature to the screen. Throngs of fans are likely to be upset if the filmmakers revised too much of the stories, but considering plans to revise and secularize The Chronicles of Narnia, anything is possible. The Harry Potterization of Middle-Earth is surely not just a worst-case scenario. -Chris Stamper Changing tastes take their toll on the Gap
Falling into hard times
Is The Gap still cool? Just a few years ago, the chain and its sisters like Old Navy and Banana Republic helped define America's taste in casual clothes. Now hard times are forcing layoffs on the company that gave new life to khaki and cargo pants. Analysts say The Gap lost sight of popular tastes and has had a hard time catching up. The country's economic slowdown didn't help. Some customers complained the clothes were too youth-oriented for older people, but The Gap even lost popularity with teenagers and college students. Steady sales losses mean 500 to 700 jobs cut, mostly from The Gap's San Francisco-based administrative staff. The company isn't giving up on growth though, even after its hypergrowth in the 1990s made the stores almost ubiquitous. Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway revealed last April that it was optimistic enough to invest $204 million. But The Gap's troubles may signify a cultural shift away from the old, so-called Gen-X styles and corporate casual looks. As youth tastes endlessly mutate and older people turn back toward more professional looks, this megapower may find its niche slipping away. GH's Luke and Laura divorce
Soap-opera splitsville
Love in the afternoon never lasts. Even the biggest marriage in soap-opera history had to break up eventually. Nearly 20 years after their much-watched storybook wedding, Luke and Laura Spencer (Anthony Geary and Genie Francis) signed divorce papers on ABC's General Hospital. Nearly 30 million viewers watched the Nov. 16, 1981, wedding episode, but today's daytime shows can't draw numbers anywhere close to that. The characters were on and off the show through the 1980s, including one presumed death by Laura and one round-the-would tour for both of them. The couple has been together continuously on the show since 1993, an eternity in soap time. GH played the official breakup with full gush: "He watched her walk away in the rain and she looked back at him one last time," reads ABC's official summary. "He raised his hand in a final farewell and with tears streaming down her face, she waved goodbye." The divorce is, of course, something the show's writers can erase on a whim. Soaps have always been a bloated version of American fantasies about romance-in this case, that passion is everything and stability is nothing. Once fictional couples become too happy, something must be wrong.

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