Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Finding the Best in the Worst," Dec. 15, 2001

Escalation in Israeli-Palestinian conflict may provoke the downfall of both Arafat and Sharon
Political suicide?
Palestinian security forces placed the founder of Hamas under house arrest last week, but the move by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is unlikely to convince anyone he is serious about cracking down on suicide bombers who killed 25 Israelis in Jerusalem. If anything, it will fuel speculation that Mr. Arafat has no control over radical elements in his constituency. Mr. Arafat's forces posted guards outside the Gaza City home of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the ailing 65-year-old spiritual mentor to terrorists who spawned an outbreak of suicide bomb attacks on Israel in early December. By now Mr. Arafat should know that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon means business. Israeli helicopters fired three missiles into Mr. Arafat's walled compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah after the suicide attacks. The missiles destroyed cars and punched a hole in a stone wall less than 100 yards from Mr. Arafat's office, where he was reportedly at work. The escalation may be the downfall of both Mr. Arafat and Mr. Sharon. Mr. Arafat is looking increasingly like the head of a terrorist outfit, an image he has spent decades trying to shed. Mr. Sharon, with a militant image he has never tried to shed, could watch his own government disintegrate. Labor Party leader Shimon Peres threatened to pull out of the coalition government led by Mr. Sharon after Israel's retaliatory strikes. In those strikes, Israeli fire also took out helicopters and an airstrip frequented by the Palestinian leader in an attempt to halt the flow of arms between Palestinian-held areas of the West Bank and Gaza. The counterattacks killed at least one Palestinian security officer and a 17-year-old boy. The retaliation followed explosions on Dec. 1 in a crowded downtown Jerusalem pedestrian mall. An additional suicide bomber blew himself up but caused only minor injuries to others outside the King David Hotel on Dec. 5. "A war has been forced upon us," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the nation following the bombings. "A war of terror being conducted systematically, in an organized fashion, and with methodical direction ... Arafat chose the path of terror." "Dirty bombs" worry U.S. officials
Down and dirty
The war on terrorism entered its fourth month with American casualties abroad and new worries about terrorism at home. Gains in Afghanistan are apparently yielding new information about threats in the United States. Interrogation of captured al-Qaeda terrorists, together with diagrams discovered in al-Qaeda and Taliban hideouts, suggest that Osama bin Laden's network "may have made greater strides than previously thought toward obtaining plans or materials to make a crude radiological weapon," suggested a Washington Post report. A radiological weapon, or "dirty bomb," could be made by wrapping radioactive material in conventional explosives. Lower in force than a nuclear detonation, such a bomb nonetheless could be deadly in a zone of several city blocks up to several miles. The Post story said U.S. officials have been concerned for over a month that al-Qaeda operatives could be traveling abroad with radioactive material. That coincided with persistent tips to the press (including WORLD) that U.S. intelligence is on the lookout for dirty bombs in the United States. It was a factor in a renewed national alert issued last week. It also explained why, according to the Post, Vice President Dick Cheney did not meet with senior foreign officials last week but video-conferenced with them from a secure location outside Washington. AMA debates organ donation rules
Spare parts
How much are human organs worth? Should body parts be harvested without permission from a dead person's family? With numerous ethical questions looming, doctors are openly discussing such issues as donation rates stagnate. More than 80,000 people are on organ transplant waiting lists, and more than 5,700 died waiting for an organ transplant last year. The AMA claims that two-thirds of useful organs are buried with the dead instead of transplanted into living people who need them. To deal with this, the group launched a new committee charged with attracting more donations and better distributing available organs. At its first meeting, members tossed around ideas like compensation and the concept of "presumed consent," the idea that doctors may harvest organs unless the family specifically objects. Previously, efforts at boosting donations centered on public relations and education campaigns, but many say the results have been less than impressive. Federal law bars paying for organs, but some AMA members want the issue reexamined. An ethics panel at the American Society of Transplant Surgeons concluded earlier this year that small amounts of compensation are ethical. The AMA committee also discussed whether living donors should be paid or go to the top of the waiting list when they need transplants. U.S. customs service asks the National Guard for help
A run for the border
At the U.S. port of entry at San Ysidro, Calif., three khaki-clad immigration officers prowl through a crawling queue of northbound vehicles stretching five lanes wide and a mile into Mexico. Each guides a German Shepherd trained to detect both hidden drugs and hidden humans. "Got three illegals," one officer called to his supervisor, squinting toward Tijuana as he pulled his dog expertly to heel. "Back of a Ford Explorer, hiding under a blanket." Moments later, a customs inspector impounds a red Chevy Blazer, its spare tire vacuum-packed with pot. Is it like this here every day? WORLD asked the supervisor. "It's like this every hour," he replied. With border enforcement under intense scrutiny since the Sept. 11 attacks, customs and immigration officers are redoubling inspection of vehicles and pedestrians at U.S. ports of entry (POE). Now the U.S. Customs Service in California has asked the military for help, requesting that the National Guard deploy 100 troops to POEs at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa. Such troops already work with customs and border patrol units in a federally funded drug interdiction program. But customs officials say they need even more hands to perform routine luggage and vehicle searches at border crossings. So far, the "level one" lockdown at California POEs has slashed immigration fraud there by 70 to 80 percent, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. In addition, agents have since 9/11 busted more than 50 criminal fugitives attempting to cross into the United States, including a former governor of Baja California, Mexico, wanted for embezzling millions from the Mexican government. Both customs and border patrol officials also report an increase in drug seizures since an initial decline following the 9/11 attacks when officials suspect smugglers chose to lay low. Last month, customs inspectors seized 14 percent more marijuana and heroin than in November 2000. Cocaine busts jumped more than 500 percent. -Lynn Vincent Drug finds way onto campuses
Ritalin all around
As Ritalin use rises, so does abuse. The readily available stimulant is now popping up as a college party drug with young people passing around prescription pills. A few kids even call it Vitamin R, "just the thing for all-nighters." One survey found that more than a third of students who took medications like Ritalin and Adderall said they'd been asked to sell or trade them. The study, published in the journal Psychology in the Schools, found half of kids not diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder said they knew others who gave away or sold their pills. Nationally, doctors last year wrote nearly 20 million prescriptions for Ritalin, Adderall, and other stimulants, according to IMS Health, a health care information company. Most went to boys under 12. Critics say the drug is wildly overprescribed as a reaction to school systems that are unable or unwilling to properly teach and discipline kids. Terrance Woodworth, deputy director of the DEA's diversion control office, points out that the range of ages using Ritalin grows with the ADD population, which presents new challenges for fighting misuse: "The kids who were abusing in junior high and high school are now in college." "Out with a bang": SEC probes company's books
Enron's end run
Show us the money. The once-powerful energy company Enron last week entered one of the largest bankruptcies in American history amid disclosures of cash problems, a departing CEO, and questionable bookkeeping. The stock had sunk from nearly $85 per share a few months ago to a measly 26 cents. In early November, Enron restated its earnings since 1997-and over $580 million in reported income was gone. Houston-based Dynegy offered a bailout/merger, but that collapsed when Enron said that $690 million in debt was due within a week. "We kind of went out with a bang," Enron employee Nathan Will said. "It wasn't like we sat around for six months bleeding. It's a Wild West scenario that masks a lot of disappointment." Before the crash this fall, Enron was one of the darlings of Wall Street. The company operates a 25,000-mile gas pipeline system, and also markets and trades metals, paper, coal, chemicals, and fiber-optic bandwidth. Enron developed an online trading system that helped it expand rapidly, becoming the seventh biggest firm in the United States in terms of sales last year. Now the company is under SEC investigation due to revelations that its former chief financial officer maneuvered to keep half a billion dollars in debt off its books. The humbled giant is trying to figure out how to pay creditors, while many of the company's 20,000-plus employees worldwide face unemployment. Man knows not his time
East of Eden
George Harrison's death puts the '60s ever farther into the past. As the Beatles' lead guitarist, he helped popularize everything from new hairstyles to Eastern religion. When he died on Nov. 29 after a long bout with cancer, a huge wave of public grief and baby boomer nostalgia followed. Mr. Harrison brought his religious beliefs to the Beatles-and through them, to the world. In 1966, he went to India to study the sitar under Ravi Shankar. A year later he introduced the band to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For a time, they all took up transcendental meditation (though John Lennon would eventually mock the practice with the song "Sexy Sadie"). After the Beatles' breakup, Mr. Harrison presented his Eastern beliefs most famously in the controversial song "My Sweet Lord." After his death, the Hare Krishnas announced that Mr. Harrison's widow and son would scatter his ashes into India's Ganges River, which Hindus consider holy. The group considers the ex-Beatle a vital force in spreading their beliefs to the West. "When he was leaving his body, our devotees were chanting songs of Krishna by his bedside," said Hare Krishna official Vrijendra Nandan. Left celebrates Margaret Mead's centennial
Mead's creed
Dec. 16 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Margaret Mead, anthropologist, feminist, and cultural icon of the left. Mead, born in 1901 to a Quaker family in Philadelphia, went on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. Mead rejected the idea of absolute morality and instead contended that human nature is malleable and that upbringing determines culture. In her most famous book, Coming of Age in Samoa, she asserted that Samoan adolescents, freed from the sexual hang-ups of the West, grew up sexually healthy and uninhibited. Although her scientific findings have been challenged-the Intercollegiate Studies Institute named Coming of Age in Samoa the worst nonfiction book of the past 100 years for its sloppy scholarship and faulty conclusions-Mead soared to the top of the liberal academic pantheon. She used her theories about primitive peoples to challenge traditional gender roles, family structure, and sexual behavior. She spoke out against nuclear proliferation and in favor of birth control and abortion, and as a Redbook columnist spread her ideas to middle-class women. Time named her Mother of the Year in 1969. Mead, married and divorced three times, had a long-term lesbian affair with Elizabeth Benedict, an older colleague. Mead and her last husband, anthropologist Gregory Bateson, had one daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. In a book about her parents Ms. Bateson recounted how they decided once to care for her for a whole weekend by themselves: "They sampled the experience of bathing and changing the fretful infant and then handed me back to the English nurse Margaret had hired, secure in the sense of having experienced child care." Mead, a friend of Dr. Benjamin Spock when her daughter was born, let him try out on the newborn Catherine the controversial child-rearing notions that he later popularized through his famous baby book. -Susan Olasky

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