Hurricane Ike became the third Atlantic storm in weeks to roll through the Caribbean, causing additional drownings in Haiti and bringing the death toll from it, Hurricane Gustav, and Tropical Storm Hanna to over 320. Haiti's fourth-largest city, Gonaïves, still was underwater from Gustav and Hanna when Ike hit.
"What I saw in this city today is close to hell on earth," UN special representative to Haiti Hédi Annabi told The New York Times.
Haitian pastor Charles Amicy said one of his congregations outside Port-au-Prince was flooded with up to 8 feet of standing water after Ike passed through. The church lost all its vehicles and its walls collapsed. Amicy and his family spent an evening on the roof of their home before being rescued by relief crews. Others did not fare as well, he said, and "several church families lost children in the flood." Amicy's Presbyterian Mission in Haiti helps to supervise six churches and is building a school and orphanage, with a medical clinic also underway in nearby Messailler.
Flawed business model
The federal government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Sept. 7 with promises to inject up to $200 billion into the floundering mortgage giants and with hopes of injecting life into the housing and financial markets. The companies, now under the direct control of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, had posted losses of several billion dollars over the past year and seen their stock prices plunge. As part of the move, regulators ousted the two companies' CEOs, removed their boards, and placed a ban on the companies' lobbying efforts.
As "government-sponsored enterprises," Fannie and Freddie had for years offered investors an implicit guarantee of a federal bailout should problems arise. This arrangement, critics say, encouraged the firms to take on risky subprime mortgage-backed securities. In announcing the federal takeover, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called the GSE structure a "flawed business model," but the takeover plan leaves for the next president and Congress the decision on whether to make permanent changes to that model.
Barack Obama had Greek columns and a better rep on speech delivery, but more viewers tuned in to watch John McCain's acceptance speech in St. Paul than watched Obama in Denver. According to Nielsen, more than 38.9 million people tuned in to coverage on the final night of the GOP convention. Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention drew 38.4 million viewers. Gov. Sarah Palin's speech the night before McCain's drew 37.2 million viewers, while her counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden, drew 24 million viewers.
Feeling the squeeze
In San Diego County, churches are feeling the squeeze from tough economic times. A tight labor market, soaring energy costs, and the protracted housing slump have cut into giving, said Rev. Bruce Humphrey, senior pastor of Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church. Falling tithes have forced the church to trim $300,000 from its $4.5 million annual budget. "In my 30 years in ministry, these have been the hardest financial times I've experienced in a local congregation," Humphrey told the San Diego Union-Tribune. Following Sunday services, Humphrey said, he and church members pray with other members in need. "This is the first time I can remember people putting in prayer requests for family financial struggles at this level."
It took Odysseus 10 years to get back to Ithaca, and it has taken researchers thousands of years to decide on just where Ithaca may be. The Greek isle of Ithaki, northeast of the island of Kefalonia, has never fully matched Homer's description as "farthest out to sea, towards the sunset."
Now using what amounts to 3-D body scans, satellite, and sonar technology, British researchers in the "Ithaca Unbound Project" this month released a report (geolsoc.org.uk/page4237_en.html) indicating that the western peninsula of Kefalonia, opposite modern-day Ithaki, at one time may have been its own island, separated by an underwater valley now covered in rock from seismic activity and well established with roads and houses. After more tests to verify the new location (Ithaki travel guides, beware) scientists will present their findings at London's Geological Society next month.
A senior al-Qaeda field commander from Saudi Arabia was killed Aug. 30 in fighting between U.S. forces and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, according to a Sept. 1 statement by al-Qaeda Afghanistan commander Mustafa Muhammad Abu Yazid, who had himself been rumored dead.
Five U.S. missiles on Sept. 8 hit a Taliban compound in Pakistan, killing nine and injuring up to 18. Not known: if target Siraj Haqqani, accused of masterminding recent attacks on NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was one of the victims. The attack was yet another sign of cross-border work by U.S. forces to take out Taliban strongholds in Pakistan.
9/11 OK, just no terrorism
Only days before the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, UN leaders rallied to fight terrorism-only they couldn't agree on how to define it. The UN's 192 member states pledged to address the conditions that spread terrorism, but describing a "terrorist" has stymied the UN's four-year effort to draft a counterterrorism accord. A planned Sept. 9 symposium was in question because some nations demand an exemption for "freedom fighters," including Hamas militants who battle Israel.
Out of Anbar
The U.S. military in Iraq on Sept. 1 reached a major milestone, handing over control of once-violent Anbar province to Iraqi forces. The transfer of security responsibility is significant for a number of reasons. First, Anbar, the birthplace of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was once a terrorist stronghold and feared lost for good. Second, Anbar is not an outlying or remote province, but borders Baghdad, signaling U.S. confidence in Iraq's newly trained military. Finally, the transfer means that control of 11 of 18 Iraqi provinces has now been handed to Iraqi security forces.
"Not long ago, Anbar was one of the most dangerous provinces in Iraq," President Bush said in a statement. "Al Qaeda was in control of almost every major population center, and its leaders intended to turn Anbar province into a safe haven from which to plan and launch further attacks against Iraqis and others in the region, as well as here at home."
News that a U.S.-Vietnam adoption agreement expired Sept. 1 dashed the hopes of hundreds of families seeking to adopt a Vietnamese child. The indefinite suspension of all U.S. adoptions follows months of disagreements between the two countries over allegations that officials stole children from their parents and sold them to American families. Earlier this year, Vietnam stopped accepting new U.S. adoption applications after a U.S. government report accused Vietnam's adoption system of corruption and fraud. This marks the second time in recent years that the United States has shut down the adoption program due to similar concerns.
Lost letters found
Decades after a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, technological advancements have uncovered additional text never before decipherable on the ancient biblical manuscripts. Using infrared technology, the Israel Antiquities Authority recently began digitally photographing the scrolls in order to monitor their condition. After the initial scans came back, officials noticed that the images contained letters that had never before been seen. Israel Antiquities Authority head of conservation Pnina Shor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation it was "like letters coming back to life." Once the digital scans of the scrolls are completed, the Israel Antiquities Authority plans to make them available on the internet where anyone can view them.
Eighty and counting
Anne wore a white wedding veil, and when her husband Dominick kissed her, he laid his hand on her heart. But the Cosentinos aren't newlyweds. The Clearwater, Fla., couple just celebrated 80 years of marriage. Married in 1928, Mr. and Mrs. Cosentino met when he was 18 and she was 16. Now, they're 98 and 96, and attend a Clearwater Catholic church. The secret to a lifelong marriage? Couples "shouldn't anticipate their entire marriage will be rosy," Mrs. Cosentino told the St. Petersburg Times, "but compassion and devotion can keep them together."
Reports that August was the first month since 1913 without a single recorded sunspot took a hit when two leading climate watch organizations determined that one small speck on Aug. 21 and 22 should count as a spot. Nevertheless, the minimal amount of solar activity is striking given its correlation to cooling global temperatures. The eight-month stretch from January through August this year was the coldest for that period since 1994. And August alone was .22º C cooler than August 2007.
The connection of dropping temperatures to solar inactivity is not new. William Livingston and Matthew Penn, scientists at the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Ariz., predicted in a 2005 report that sunspots would vanish completely within a decade, leading to far cooler temperatures on earth. Many scientists, especially those convinced that global temperatures have more to do with greenhouse gases than solar cycles, scoffed at the prospect of dramatic cooling. But the occurrence of a near spotless month amid falling temperatures lends credence to the Livingston-Penn theory, one that holds far greater potential for calamity than even the worst of Al Gore's warming scenarios.
Pro-life analysts say the pro-life plank hammered into the Republican Party's platform this year is the strongest in the history of the party. It includes the same language on babies' fundamental right to life but then adds some language that Texas delegate Kelly Shackelford introduced: "At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life. Women deserve better than abortion." The platform also opposes partial-birth abortion, and-to clearly differentiate from Democratic rival Barack Obama-supports the Born Alive Infant Protection Act.
In a different platform section, the convention approved language opposing all embryonic stem-cell research. "There was the Bush position, which says if you don't create the embryos for the purpose of reproduction, then it's okay to experiment on them and destroy them," Shackelford said. "My position was that no matter why you created them, it's not OK to experiment on and kill human embryos. We had a fight on that and won."