Dispatches > The Buzz

THE BUZZ

Issue: "California's wall of fire," Nov. 8, 2003

WALL OF FIRE California's largest fire-the Cedar Fire-claimed the life of firefighter Steve Rucker, 38, when his crew was overcome by flames in eastern San Diego County. Three other crew members were critically injured. Of the nearly 700,000 acres burned, the Cedar Fire has claimed more than a quarter million acres and 1,400 of the 2,600 total homes destroyed. Mr. Rucker was among the 20 people who have died in the week of wildfires that have devastated Southern California. The disaster pushed the Senate closer to approval of more extensive logging on 20 million acres of federal forests as a way to reduce the threat of rapidly spreading fires. (Cover story, page 16.)

NOT IN A PARTY MOOD Former Tyco head Dennis Kozlowski, on trial alongside ex-CFO Mark Swartz for stealing some $600 million in company money, endured the viewing in open court of a videotape of a $2 million party he threw for his wife-complete with women in gauzy gowns, half-naked male models, and singer Jimmy Buffett. Jurors watched the recording and heard Mr. Kozlowski welcoming guests to the Mediterranean island: "It's going to be a fun week. Eating, drinking, whatever. All the things we're best known for."

THE MULTI-FRONT WAR ON TERROR Amid a wave of unpredictable suicide-bomb attacks-and an exodus of international relief groups with the UN pulling its remaining staff-coalition forces in Iraq are told that during the month-long Muslim holiday Ramadan they must be especially culturally sensitive. In particular, they are told not to be alarmed to "see large groups of people gathering in homes." (Story, page 22.)

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But it's not U.S. soldiers who are disturbing the peace. Striking in a period of 45 minutes, suicide car bombers bent on death for "collaborators" hit the Red Cross headquarters and three police stations on Oct. 27, killing three dozen people and wounding more than 200 in the bloodiest day in Baghdad since the start of the occupation.

In Washington, a veto threat prompted Congress to back off a proposal to turn the president's Iraqi relief package into a loan. And the Pentagon continues its probe into remarks to church groups by a Pentagon general about the spiritual nature of the war on terrorism. (Story, page 24.)

Meanwhile, schools in Iraq are up and running, but the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council has yet to reform what one Iraqi critic calls the "distorted, outdated, and completely politicized" educational curriculum that glorifies Saddam Hussein. (Story, page 32.)

MEDIA CRUSH The coverage may be broad, but the early parts of Scott Peterson's preliminary hearing dwelt mainly on the minutia. As witnesses talked about mitochondrial DNA, the media crushed in on the hearing to determine whether Mr. Peterson should stand trial for the murder of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.

7.2 PERCENT The White House received longed-for news that the recession is over-and then some. Economic data released on Oct. 30 showed the GDP growing at a rate not seen since Ronald Reagan was president. The numbers vindicate the president's tax-cut strategy and place Democratic challengers on the defensive. (Story, page 25.)

ROADBLOCK REMOVED Senate Democrats failed to make good on a threatened filibuster to block the appointment of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency-to protest the president's environmental policies. Mr. Leavitt, confirmed by a vote of 88-8, was scheduled to be sworn in Nov. 6.

THAT'S 'PRESIDENT VILE BETRAYER' TO YOU Christian college alum Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, is "betraying" Islam-in the words of Osama bin Laden's right-hand man-by denationalizing Christian schools in the 97 percent Muslim nation. "We will treat Christians as equal citizens of the country," says President Musharraf, who graduated from Pakistan's Forman Christian College, which is run by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Islamic schools pay little attention to liberal arts, providing Christian schools an opening to offer students an education that will help them build better lives. (Story, page 30.)

DIGITAL GUTENBERG An online project (gutenberg.net) to provide free access to a valuable cross-section of great Western thought-all public-domain works-rolls out its 10,000th volume. Also: An online survey shows that more Americans now recognize as "wrong" music and movie piracy. (Story, page 35.)

KOBE DID WHAT? L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant's sexual-assault trial is turning sports-loving kids to their parents with tough questions. "It's an opportunity to talk to them about the sanctity of marriage," says a seminary professor. (Story, page 36.)

NEW FINANCIAL WATCHDOG? A public-relations strategist for a number of large ministries-including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association-warns the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability that it risks losing members because the organization "repeatedly breaches confidentiality." If influential members quit, it's likely ECFA will lose clout and a new watchdog will spring up. (Story, page 37.)

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