Saturday, October 30, 2004

Springsteen of No Help to Kerry

The Boss doing Kerry no favours
Poll shows rock star Bruce Springsteen turning voters away
Steven Edwards
CanWest News Service
Saturday, October 30, 2004

NEW YORK - Madison Avenue had unwelcome news for John Kerry's campaign
yesterday as advertising executives said Bruce Springsteen, who is
campaigning with the Democratic presidential hopeful, turns away more votes
than he attracts.

The campaign trails have begun to look like Hollywood Boulevard as both
presidential candidates inject star power into their campaigns, with
Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing with George W. Bush in
Columbus, Ohio, yesterday.

While many stars have spoken out about their presidential preference, with
most opting for Mr. Kerry, a major ad industry study shows most voters
prefer candidates who keep their distance from Hollywood. The exception is
the celebrities who do not ram their political opinions down voters'

Known to fans as The Boss, Mr. Springsteen is so outspoken he drives twice
as many people to Mr. Bush as he keeps for Mr. Kerry, says the poll by Pere
Partners, a New York ad agency that specializes in the entertainment

But even though he's a movie star, Mr. Schwarzenegger is more easily
accepted when he pushes his views because he has already moved into
politics, being elected Governor of California.

"The results tell us if you go to a concert and pay $100 for a ticket, you
want to see The Boss sing because he is an American icon and tremendously
talented," said Glenn Pere, the agency's president.

"You also want to hear the lyrics. You don't want a lecture."

The survey names Michael Moore, director of Fahrenheit 9/11, as another
high-profile celebrity whose campaigning is doing more harm than good to Mr.

Not all the irritating celebrities are on the Democratic side. Actor
Charlton Heston, who backs gun rights, and Bill O'Reilly, a leading Fox News
host, are doing their best to annoy liberal Republican voters into the Kerry

Mr. Peres says the survey shows people want to know only the superficial
things about celebrities -- such as where they eat, what diet they are on,
what car they drive and where they vacation

"Americans don't want to know a celebrity's point of view when it comes to
politics," he said.

Nonetheless, there are a few celebrities with genuine clout, such as
talk-show host Winfrey Oprah, former Army General Norman Schwarzkopf,
comedian Jon Stewart and basketball player Charles Barley.

"Oprah is a Democrat, but comes across differently from other celebrities,"
said Mr. Pere.

"She doesn't preach, and you feel she understands both sides. Being well
informed also makes her extremely credible."

For his part, Mr. Bush has simultaneously tried to capitalize on celebrities
and criticize his opponent for being star struck.

"You might remember that my opponent said the heart and soul of America can
be found in Hollywood," he said in Michigan this week, adding, "I understand
most American families do not look to Hollywood as a source of values."

Yesterday, he took pains to refer to Mr. Schwarzenegger as "Governor" and
did not mention his movie career.

But the U.S. President was unable to distance himself completely from the
celebrity world.

The musician who co-wrote and sang the 1970s hit Still the One said Mr. Bush
should stop playing the tune at his campaign events. John Hall, who recorded
the song in 1976 after writing it with his then-wife, Joanna D. Hall, said
he has told his lawyers to write a formal letter of complaint to the Bush
campaign because he does not support his re-election bid.

Ottawa Citizen Editorial on Abortion

Canada's own moral majority
The Ottawa Citizen
Friday, October 29, 2004

With abortion generally available on demand in Canada since the Supreme Court declared abortion laws unconstitutional, it is surprising that so little attention has been paid to a new survey that shows a majority of Canadians want more legal controls on the procedure.

No doubt, some will dismiss the survey because it was commissioned by LifeCanada, an anti-abortion group. But as it was conducted by a reputable polling company, Environics Research Group, the results suggest policy-makers are out of touch with most Canadians. Indeed, the survey results contradict those who assume most Canadians support a woman's unfettered right to abortion on demand.

The poll shows 33 per cent of Canadians think the law should protect "human life" from the point of conception, while 24 per cent think such protection should be available after three months of pregnancy. In other words, 57 per cent of Canadians don't agree with abortions beyond the first trimester of pregnancy. More surprising, perhaps, is that more women than men -- 60 per cent to 53 per cent -- feel this way.

Equally startling, 73 per cent of Canadians support including "informed consent" provisions in abortion laws, requiring doctors to advise women on fetal development, abortion complications and alternatives before performing an abortion. As well, 55 per cent believe girls under the age of 18 should get parental consent to have an abortion. Finally, 72 per cent think tax dollars should not be used to fund abortions or should only be used in medical emergencies or in cases of rape and incest.

It's unlikely this poll will have much effect on abortion rules in Canada, but it's still a useful reminder that those who believe this issue was settled once and for all by the Supreme Court are probably mistaken.

School's Out: New housing good for Old Ottawa South. Please see City Editorial, Page F4.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004

U.S. Eyeballs Private Canadian Info

October 29, 2004
U.S. Patriot Act can eye Canucks

VICTORIA (CP) - The United States is willing to review a British Columbia report that concludes the U.S. Patriot Act has the power to eyeball private information about Canadians, Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said Friday.
The U.S., like Canada, is concerned about protecting the privacy rights of its citizens, but when it comes to fighting terrorists law enforcers need tools to get the job done, he said.
Cellucci made the comments following Friday's release of a report by B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis who concluded private information about Canadians could be viewed by U.S. authorities despite Canadian attempts to thwart the probes.
"We live in an age of terror," said Cellucci in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
"We have to make sure law enforcement can protect us while at the same time protect privacy rights," he said.
Loukidelis said the long arm of the Patriot Act allows U.S. authorities to access the personal information of Canadians if it ends up in the United States or if it is held by U.S. companies in Canada.
"Our research and analysis led us to the conclusion that the USA Patriot Act knows no borders," he said at a news conference at the B.C. legislature.
Cellucci said the U.S. will review the B.C. report and work with the province and Canada on privacy and protection concerns.
"We're willing obviously to have a look at this to have some dialogue," he said. "We want to find the right balance where law enforcement has the tools to protect people, but we also want to protect privacy rights as well."
Ottawa said it will work with Loukidelis to address the issue of cross-border information sharing.
"Striking a balance between the protection of privacy and the promotion of national security is one of the single most important issues facing our society today," said Jennifer Stoddart, privacy commissioner of Canada, in a statement.
Stoddart's office will work to address several of the 16 recommendations in Loukidelis's report, including reviewing the federal privacy and anti-terrorism acts.
"There is a considerable degree of uncertainty and anxiety with the broader issue of trans-border exchanges of information, done by both public-sector and private-sector organizations," said Stoddart.
"Canadians deserve to know how their personal information is being shared."
The B.C. government passed a law this month aimed at preventing U.S. authorities from examining information about British Columbians held by private U.S. companies. It included fines ranging from $2,000 for individuals to $500,000 for corporations.
Loukidelis said B.C.'s Bill 73 is a significant move forward in privacy protection, but tougher measures are needed, especially when it comes to sending signals to the Americans that British Columbia will fight outside security probes and will deal harshly with offenders.
"It is never possible to guarantee perfect protection of information. Regardless, our report concludes that measures can and should be put in place that meaningfully and adequately protect against the risk of access under the USA Patriot Act," he said.
Prison terms and a doubling of fines for corporate offenders to $1 million should be included in amendments to the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Loukidelis said.
Heavy fines and prison terms are ways of showing the Americans that Canada will not take lightly any attempts to access information about Canadians, he said.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union has already launched a lawsuit challenging the outsourcing of MSP administration.
"There is absolutely no doubt that this government has placed the private personal information of British Columbians at risk of disclosure to the FBI and American authorities and that they propose to continue to do so despite these very significant findings by Mr. Loukidelis," said George Heyman, president of the 27,000-member union.
The B.C. government will review Loukidelis's report even though it believes its privacy legislation is among the best in the world, said Joyce Murray, management services minister.
She said the Liberal government will continue with plans that could see a U.S. firm take over the administration of the provincial Medical Services Plan.
The 151-page report also concluded U.S. courts have the power to require American companies to produce records held in Canada by subsidiaries "because they have the legal or practical ability to obtain the records."
The Patriot Act was enacted following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Section 215 of the act allows a special court to secretly issue an order requiring "the production of any tangible things" to the FBI.
It gives the U.S. government sweeping powers to review information banks of private and public businesses in an effort to hunt down terrorists.
Loukidelis launched the Patriot Act review after concerns were raised U.S. authorities such as the FBI might have access to B.C. residents' health information if the provincial government contracts out the billing of medical premiums to a company with a U.S. parent.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft were asked last May to contribute to the B.C. study.
"We have concluded that if information is located outside British Columbia, it will be subject to the law that applies where it is found, regardless of an outsourcing contract," said Loukidelis's report.
"Therefore, if an outsourcing agreement calls for personal information to be sent to the United States, that information would be subject to the USA Patriot Act while in the United States."
The B.C. legislation amended the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to, among other things, restrict storage and access of information outside Canada and included fines for those who improperly disclose private information.
Loukidelis said he doesn't agree with earlier B.C. government statements that the risk posed by the USA Patriot Act to the privacy of British Columbians is minimal.
"There is no reason to think that the risk of USA Patriot Act access is minimal or vanishingly small," Loukidelis said.
He recommended overhauling Canadian and provincial privacy laws to make it tougher to access the Canadian information.
The commissioner heard more than 500 submissions from unions and the provincial government, from private citizens and from U.S. authorities.
He said people feel they are losing control over what happens to their personal information and worry their privacy rights are being overtaken by security concerns.
Many are also concerned there is too much blurring of the lines between information used for domestic law enforcement, information used by governments who provide services and information used by governments investigating terrorism threats.
Outsourcing to U.S. companies by provincial governments isn't unique to B.C., Loukidelis said.
Nova Scotia employs a U.S. based company to manage provincial government databases, including social assistance, payroll and motor vehicle registration. Control of the database remains in Canada.
Saskatchewan has outsourced some government services to U.S. companies and Ontario has outsourced social assistance operations to a private company.
Even Statistics Canada has signed a contract with Lockheed Martin Canada - which has a U.S. parent - to develop the hardware and software to process census forms, Loukidelis said. But all the data will be handled by Statistics Canada.
CIBC credit card holders in Canada sign an agreement that their information could be viewed by U.S. authorities, the report said.
The report does not call for a ban on the outsourcing of Canadian materials to U.S.-based companies or subsidiaries.
Loukidelis said a ban on outsourcing still doesn't completely protect Canadian information from the USA Patriot Act, but tough laws and policies send strong messages that Canada values its privacy.

Rare STD Spreading Among Gays

By Paul Simao
October 29 2004 at 05:45PM

Atlanta - A rare sexually transmitted disease that is spreading among gay and bisexual men in Europe could be poised to surface in the United States, the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention said on Thursday.

The CDC, a federal agency that monitors epidemics and other health threats, urged doctors and clinics across the nation to be prepared to diagnose and treat gay and bisexual men infected with Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV).

It issued the advice after receiving reports of recent outbreaks in the Netherlands. The northern European nation has uncovered 92 cases of LGV dating back to 2003. It typically sees fewer than five cases per year.

The infection is caused by specific strains of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and usually marked by genital ulcers, swollen lymph glands and flu-like symptoms.

However most of the men recently infected in the Netherlands developed gastro-intestinal bleeding, inflammation of the rectum and colon and other problems not often associated with the infection or other sexually transmitted diseases.

Belgium, France, Sweden and Britain also have reported infections. It is not known whether America is seeing a similar surge because US doctors are not required to report the infections to local health departments.

"We expect it's a question of time before we see cases appearing here," said Dr Stuart Berman, chief of the epidemiology and surveillance branch in the CDC's division of STD prevention. "This is an early warning."

Although LGV can be cured by a three-week course of antibiotics, US health officials could be hard pressed to keep a lid on the spread of the infection because it is uncommon in industrialised nations and easily misdiagnosed.

Efforts to combat the disease also are complicated by the tendency of some gay and bisexual men to engage in high-risk sexual behaviour.

Dutch authorities found that a large number of the men recently infected with LGV had participated in sex parties and unprotected anal intercourse in the year before getting sick.

Many also were infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

Halliburton Contracts Called Worst Abuse Ever

Whistleblower Says Halliburton Contract Abuse Blatant
Reuters | Oct 30 2004

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' top contracting official on Friday called the government's grant of multi-billion dollar contracts to oil services giant Halliburton the worst case of contracting abuse she has ever seen.
"It was misconduct, and part of that misconduct was blatant," said Bunny Greenhouse, in an interview on NBC's Nightly News program.
Greenhouse has already demanded an investigation into the contracts that last year were granted to Halliburton, the energy services firm run by Vice President Dick Cheney from 1995-2000. According to her attorney, the FBI has since asked her for an interview on the matter.
A spokesman for President Bush on Friday said the president expects a full investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in how Iraq-related contracts were awarded to Halliburton.
"If there is wrongdoing, the president expects it to be investigated fully and dealt with," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with Bush to New Hampshire.
That letter to Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee, sent by lawyers for Greenhouse, complained of repeated interference in the billions of dollars of contracts given to Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown and Root for work in Iraq and the Balkans.
"It was the worst abuse of the procurement and contracting system that I have seen," Greenhouse told NBC.
Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall earlier this week said KBR did not have any information on what Greenhouse may or may not have said to Pentagon officials in 2003 when the no-bid contract worth up to $7 billion was given to KBR to rebuild Iraq's oil industry.
"On the larger issues, the old allegations have once again been recycled, this time one week before the election," Hall told Reuters earlier this week in response to Greenhouse's letter. Hall could not be reached for comment on Greenhouse's latest remarks about the contracts.
Greenhouse, who is registered as an Independent, said she was not trying to influence the election.
Nonetheless, on Friday she also questioned the Pentagon's decision to award Halliburton that 5-year, no-bid contract worth up to $7 billion to repair the Iraqi oil industry.
"One year to me was reasonable. But not 5 years," she said.
That contract has since been replaced by a smaller competitive bid contract of which Halliburton's KBR was awarded a portion.
Greenhouse also questioned the Pentagon's waiver of its rules requiring Halliburton to justify pricing for services after a government auditor found the company may have overcharged by $61 million for fuel.
"It all favored Halliburton," she said.
Halliburton, which is already under investigation for overcharging for work in Iraq, has been a target of Democratic criticism ahead of the Nov. 2 election, with suggestions the Texas firm got special treatment because of Cheney.
But Greenhouse vowed she was not alleging any impropriety by President Bush or Vice President Cheney.
"None whatsoever," she said.

Kidman in Bathtub Scene With 10-Year-Old

Nicole Incites Bath Wrath in 'Birth'
Saturday, October 30, 2004
By Jordan Riefe and Megan Lehmann

It's been described as Mary Kay Letourneau meets "Ghost."
But Nicole Kidman (search) insists her new R-rated movie, which features a shocking scene of the Oscar-winner naked in the bathtub with a 10-year-old boy, is done in the best possible taste.
"Yes, it's an unusual scene, but the whole film is unusual," Kidman says of "Birth," (search) the controversial film that was booed at the recent Venice International Film Festival (search) and is likely to spark outrage when it opens here Oct. 29.
"It's not about sex, you know, it's certainly not about sex. It's about love, it's about being ... under the spell of somebody."
The high-concept drama stars Kidman as a fragile young widow named Anna, who believes her dead husband has been reincarnated in the body of a 10-year-old boy.
In one scene, Anna tenderly kisses the young boy, played by 11-year-old Canadian Cameron Bright (search), on the lips; in another, they share an ice-cream sundae and she asks him whether he has ever made love to a girl.
But the most controversial scene — which drew a hostile reaction in Venice — has the young pre-teen slowly undressing before joining Kidman's character in the bath.
Shot over Kidman's bare back, the scene shows him from the waist up in the water."The film disturbs some people and it makes them uncomfortable," Kidman said during an interview in Beverly Hills over the weekend.
"It's meant to do that, but not in a way where you're trying to exploit a young boy."
New Line Cinema is hoping to offset uninformed Internet gossip with early press screenings of "Birth."
"When you see the performances in the context of the plot, it makes perfect sense," studio exec Mark Ordesky has said.
Kidman admitted that kissing Bright felt strange — particularly as her own son, Connor, is almost the same age as her co-star.
"It sort of was, but ... the first time I read [the script] I really saw it, because when you read it you're not picturing a child.
"You're actually reading a story and it sort of washes over you and you absorb the themes of the film ... loss and grief and the desire for somebody to come back."
She says what she remembers most about filming the kiss, shot on a New York street in the middle of winter, was just that it was "freezing cold."
"Birth" director Jonathan Glazer (search) says he never set out to make a salacious film, although he's not surprised at the uproar it's caused.
"I'm aware that it is the ultimate taboo in many respects," he says. "But for me [the bathtub scene] was an important part of the story — it was essential for [Kidman's character] to be confronted by that absolute no-go area.
"The context of that scene is sacred in a way."
Kidman — whose hair was cut boyishly short and dyed brunette for "Birth" — says everyone involved with the film was careful to protect the young actor's innocence.
"We were very protective of him in the sense that he never got to read the script," she says.
And many of the reaction shots in the provocative bath scene were filmed separately.
"I wasn't there off camera sitting in a bath for him, you know?" she says. "And then when I was doing my stuff he wasn't off camera for me a lot of the time."
Kidman has worked with children before in adult-themed dramas such as "The Hours" and "The Others," and says it's possible to tell a disturbing story involving children without "screwing them up."
"I believe in ... keeping it so that Cameron just thinks it's kind of fun and a job and, you know, he gets to get a bit of money and have a great lunch and then he goes home.
"He doesn't quite know what he's doing, which is good."

Brit Hume on Liberal Media Bias

A top dog with bite
Brit Hume rules the yard at Fox News Channel, but ever since the 1980s, he's seen it as his duty to guard against liberal bias in the media
October 31, 2004

After spending a highly visible lifetime in a relatively small city where information -- particularly about media and politics -- is the coin of the realm, Brit Hume may be one of the best-known people in Washington.

The basics: He's the managing editor and chief Washington correspondent for the Fox News Channel and has long been a rabble-rouser in a trade where one rarely earns popularity points for rousing the rabble. As a young reporter he drew the wrath of Richard M. Nixon and had the distinction of being shadowed by the CIA for several months. The spooks' code name for Hume was "Eggnog," in wry tribute to his youth and his light blond hair.

Hume, 61, currently enjoys -- or suffers -- a rep as someone who especially relishes lancing what he sees as the ill-disguised liberal biases of other media outlets. This trait can be seen in full view on the "Political Grapevine" segment of "Special Report," his nightly show, which has become an essential part of the capital's media diet.

That's the well-known stuff. Now, here's something you almost certainly did not know: Hume was once a close, personal friend of John Kerry.

Kerry and Hume pals? In what universe? For those readers gobsmacked by that information, consider that the future presidential candidate and TV news power broker were only about 4 feet tall and shared a passion for cartoons instead of politics. They met in kindergarten and hung together through fifth grade.

When Kerry met Hume

In a recent phone interview, Hume recalled that Kerry was "a good athlete, kind of a hot shot, smart guy, aggressive." He adds, sotto voce: "One might even say he was ambitious."

Presidential aspirations in first grade? "Well, when you're smart and athletic and self-confident, you stick out, even in grade school."

Hume, an avowed conservative, adds, "I was less of all those things."

Kerry's family moved from Washington, and the friendship did not endure. But as further proof that Washington really is a small world after all, their paths have converged again. Hume is one of TV news' toughest journalists when it comes to the Democratic nominee, and this toughness has assumed a role in a rancorous media bias debate that has raged throughout this political season.

Fox's big gun in Washington, in fact, has been especially outspoken and occasionally prickly on the subject of media bias, while some critics -- at least left-leaning critics such as Al Franken or Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting -- have charged that the Fox News Channel is a relentless tout for George W. Bush with ill-disguised GOP sympathies. To them, Hume is guilty by association.

Media bias, right and left

Critics on both sides of the political divide have armed themselves with evidence of media bias, of course. CBS News and Dan Rather were blasted in the wake of the forged Bush service documents scandal. And two weeks ago, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the country's largest TV station owner, toned down a documentary on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that some Kerry supporters feared would smear their candidate. More presumed evidence of media bias: A recent network news content study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs found the evening newscasts on the Big Three stations seemed to air more negative news about President Bush, while Hume's "Special Report" took a decidedly more negative slant on Kerry.

That may be because Fox and Hume have intensely covered the swift boat veterans' charges that Kerry exaggerated his war record -- a story over which the Big Three have stifled yawns. Some media-bias police say that Fox's coverage is proof of its right tilt. Others, including Hume, naturally, say the Big Three's lack of interest is proof of their bias.

"We are controversial, and we are different," says Hume, "and my own view of that is we're different because we provide a much more balanced picture than do our competitors."

"Brit's very defensive about the accusations that Fox is the conservative network," says Steve Scully, political editor for C-SPAN and a longtime observer of the Washington TV scene. "There are some people who just feel the Fox News Channel is a bastion for conservative ideology, and he gets lumped into that because he is one of the highest profiles on FNC [Fox News Channel]. But I watch Brit's show almost every night, and I've found it to be straight down the middle."

How did a member of the Washington media aristocracy find his way to the media bias soapbox? The story goes back some 40 years after Hume graduated from the University of Virginia, found his way to Connecticut, where he worked for United Press International and the (now defunct) Hartford Times and discovered a passion for investigative journalism.

Hume learned he had the soul of a muckraker -- journalism's fond name for those hardy investigative types who stir up the muck to expose misconduct -- and would later land a job with one of its masters, Jack Anderson.

With the aid of assistants, Anderson wrote a widely syndicated column called Washington Merry-Go-Round. But Hume, who joined his staff in 1970, quickly became the star pupil by making one of the column's most sensational scoops when he got hold of a memo that proved International Telephone & Telegraph Corp. had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund the 1972 GOP convention in return for which the Nixon administration dropped an antitrust investigation against the company.

A 'Beltway Clark Kent'

Young, energetic, smart and a reasonable approximation of a Beltway Clark Kent, Hume testified at the subsequent congressional hearings, which "launched him on his television career," says Mark Feldstein, director of the journalism program at George Washington University, who's writing a biography of Anderson.

Hume was on the news every night, and "the folks at ABC News saw a star."

TV stardom had to wait. Hume left Anderson after a couple of years, wrote books, further built his rep as an investigative reporter and joined ABC in 1973 as a consultant on news documentaries. Over two decades, Hume's run at ABC would be considered -- by average mortals -- spectacular. As chief White House correspondent from 1989 through 1996, he held the second most visible job at "World News Tonight" when it was the nation's most-watched nightly news broadcast. Hume also explains, "Sometime in the early '80s, I began to look at things differently." He began to observe the national media's coverage of Ronald Reagan, he says, "and I began to think, 'Oh my God. We have a problem here.'"

The problem, he says, was bias, and it was something he decided he would address. He says he worked hard to provide balanced coverage of both Walter Mondale and then in the '90s Bill Clinton, Democrats both of whom he says he likes personally. But "I didn't have a long-range plan after the White House. It's the ultimate beat, and there's a long history of guys coming out who were put out to pasture."

Hume hoped to assume a major role at an all-news cable network that ABC had planned, but after the idea was dropped he finally became receptive to offers from Fox. They had made several pitches and also had hired one-time Nixon media adviser Roger Ailes, whom Hume knew to be "a straight shooter."

Broadcast news, he says, was "gradually and inexorably turning out the lights," but he also had this feeling "that if anybody ever built a network with news coverage that was fair and balanced, they would have a huge audience out there."

Fair and balanced? Code for "conservative news," as some have charged?

"We're all biased," he says, "but the questions is: How do you address that bias? If you're not careful, you're going to make a journalistic judgment that may be political, and I've got to be careful about that."

Friday, October 29, 2004

100,000 Iraqis Said to Have Died in Conflict

Oct 29, 9:57 AM EDT
Household Survey Sees 100,000 Iraqi Deaths
AP Medical Writer

LONDON (AP) -- Researchers have estimated that as many as 100,000 more
Iraqis - many of them women and children - died since the start of the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq than would have been expected otherwise, based on
the death rate before the war.

Writing in the British-based medical journal The Lancet, the American and
Iraqi researchers concluded that violence accounted for most of the extra
deaths and that airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition were a major factor.

There is no official figure for the number of Iraqis killed since the
conflict began, but some non-governmental estimates range from 10,000 to
30,000. As of Thursday, 1,106 U.S. servicemen had been killed, according to
the U.S. Defense Department.

The scientists who wrote the report concede that the data they based their
projections on were of "limited precision," because the quality of the
information depends on the accuracy of the household interviews used for the
study. The interviewers were Iraqi, most of them doctors.

Designed and conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia
University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, the study was
published Thursday on The Lancet's Web site.

The survey attributed most of the extra deaths to violence and said
airstrikes by coalition forces caused most of the violent deaths.

"Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and
children," the researchers wrote.

The report was released just days before the U.S. presidential election, and
the lead researcher said he wanted it that way. The Lancet routinely
publishes papers on the Web before they appear in print, particularly if it
considers the findings of urgent public health interest.

Those reports then appear later in the print issue of the journal. The
journal's spokesmen said they were uncertain which print issue the Iraqi
report would appear in and said it was too late to make Friday's issue, and
possibly too late for the Nov. 5 edition.

Les Roberts, the lead researcher from Johns Hopkins, said the article's
timing was up to him.

"I emailed it in on Sept. 30 under the condition that it came out before the
election," Roberts told The Associated Press. "My motive in doing that was
not to skew the election. My motive was that if this came out during the
campaign, both candidates would be forced to pledge to protect civilian
lives in Iraq.

"I was opposed to the war and I still think that the war was a bad idea, but
I think that our science has transcended our perspectives," Roberts said.
"As an American, I am really, really sorry to be reporting this."

Richard Peto, an expert on study methods who was not involved with the
research, said the approach the scientists took is a reasonable one to
investigate the Iraq death toll.

However, it's possible that they may have zoned in on hotspots that might
not be representative of the death toll across Iraq, said Peto, a professor
of medical statistics at Oxford University in England.

Lancet editor Richard Horton wrote in an editorial accompanying the survey
that more household clusters would have improved the precision of the
report, "but at an enormous and unacceptable risk to the team of

"This remarkable piece of work represents the efforts of a courageous team
of scientists," he wrote.

To conduct the survey, investigators visited 33 neighborhoods spread evenly
across the country in September, randomly selecting clusters of 30
households to sample. Of the 988 households visited, 808, consisting of
7,868 people, agreed to participate. Each household was asked how many
people lived in the home and how many births and deaths there had been since
January 2002.

The scientists then compared death rates in the 15 months before the
invasion with those that occurred during the 18 months after the attack and
adjusted those numbers to account for the different time periods.

Even though the sample size appears small, this type of survey is considered
accurate and acceptable by scientists and was used to calculate war deaths
in Kosovo in the late 1990s.

The investigators worked in teams of three. Five of the six Iraqi
interviewers were doctors and all six were fluent in English and Arabic.

In the households reporting deaths, the person who died had to be living
there at the time of the death and for more than two months before to be
counted. In an attempt at firmer confirmation, the interviewers asked for
death certificates in 78 households and were provided them 63 times.

There were 46 deaths in the surveyed households before the war. After the
invasion, there were 142 deaths. That is an increase from 5 deaths per 1,000
people per year to 12.3 per 1,000 people per year - more than double.

However, more than a third of the post-invasion deaths were reported in one
cluster of households in the city Fallujah, where fighting has been most
intense recently. Because the fighting was so severe there, the numbers from
that location may have exaggerated the overall picture.

When the researchers recalculated the effect of the war without the
statistics from Fallujah, the deaths end up at 7.9 per 1,000 people per
year - still 1.5 times higher than before the war.

Even with Fallujah factored out, the survey "indicates that the death toll
associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is more likely than not
about 100,000 people, and may be much higher," the report said.

The most common causes of death before the invasion of Iraq were heart
attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. However, after the invasion,
violence was recorded as the primary cause of death and was mainly
attributed to coalition forces - with about 95 percent of those deaths
caused by bombs or fire from helicopter gunships.

Violent deaths - defined as those brought about by the intentional act of
others - were reported in 15 of the 33 clusters. The chances of a violent
death were 58 times higher after the invasion than before it, the
researchers said.

Twelve of the 73 violent deaths were not attributed to coalition forces. The
researchers said 28 children were killed by coalition forces in the survey
households. Infant mortality rose from 29 deaths per 1,000 live births
before the war to 57 deaths per 1,000 afterward.

The researchers estimated the nationwide death toll due to the conflict by
subtracting the preinvasion death rate from the post-invasion death rate and
multiplying that number by the estimated population of Iraq - 24.4 million
at the start of the war. Then that number was converted to a total number of
deaths by dividing by 1,000 and adjusting for the 18 months since the

"We estimate that there were 98,000 extra deaths during the postwar period
in the 97 percent of Iraq represented by all the clusters except Fallujah,"
the researchers said in the journal.

"This isn't about individual soldiers doing bad things. This appears to be a
problem with the approach to occupation in Iraq," Roberts said.

The researchers called for further confirmation by an independent body such
as the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the World Health

The study was funded by the Center for International Emergency Disaster and
Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins University and by the Small Arms Survey in
Geneva, Switzerland, a research project based at the Graduate Institute of
International Studies in Geneva.

New Constitution Ignores Europe's Christian History

New constitution ignores Europe's Christian history
By Peggy Polk
Religion News Service
Friday, October 29, 2004, 12:00 A.M. Pacific

VATICAN CITY — When European Union leaders gather in Rome to sign their new constitution today, they will rebuff Pope John Paul II and his effort to acknowledge Christianity in the historic document.
The Roman Catholic pontiff has often voiced concern about Europe's increasingly secular society. In the signing of a constitution that does not acknowledge Europe's religious history, the Vatican sees proof that the EU is distancing itself from Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.
The drafters of the constitution have made it clear for months that they would ignore the pope's tireless 2-1/2-year campaign for explicit Christian recognition in the constitution's preamble. The pope's opponents, with France, Belgium and Finland in the forefront, argued that a reference to Christianity would have violated the principle of church-state separation. The charter, which still must be ratified by all 25 members of the enlarged EU to take effect, does uphold religious freedom, however.
Nonetheless, John Paul is clearly upset.
"You don't cut off the roots from which you have grown," the pope said with unusual bitterness when forced to acknowledge defeat last June.
Earlier this week came a second blow.
Opposition within the European Parliament blocked confirmation of an Italian candidate for commissioner of justice and security who was criticized for his conservative views on homosexuality and marriage, which mirror church doctrine.
Rocco Buttiglione, a center-right politician and academic, called homosexuality "a sin," although not a crime, and upheld marriage as an institution that existed for women to have children and be protected by their husbands.
Compounding the offense to the Vatican, Buttiglione has a warm acquaintance with the pope.
As liberals mounted opposition to Buttiglione's candidacy, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, the Vatican's longtime permanent observer at the United Nations who is now president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, exploded. He told a Vatican news conference Oct. 18 that Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular face "a new holy Inquisition full of money and arrogance."
"Everything goes, from intimidation to public dishonor, as long as it serves to silence their voices," he said.
Yesterday, the eve of the signing ceremony, the pope met at the Vatican with another Italian politician for whom he has affection, retiring EU Commission President Romano Prodi, a leader of Italy's center-left.
John Paul took the opportunity to make his own feelings about the EU known.
Those feelings are ambivalent. During the Cold War, the Polish-born pontiff spoke of his hope for the day when Europe would once more "breathe with both its lungs," East with West, and the Vatican assured Ukraine only Wednesday that it supports the "return of all the countries of the East to the bosom of the great European family."
"The Holy See favored the formation of the European Union even before it had a juridical structure and then followed its various stages with active interest," John Paul said in his welcome to Prodi.
But, the pope said, the Vatican also has felt the duty "to openly express the just expectations of a great number of Christian citizens of Europe."
"For this reason, the Holy See has reminded everyone how Christianity, in its various expressions, contributed to the formation of a common conscience of the European peoples and gave a great contribution to molding their civilization," he said.
"Recognized or not in official documents, it is an undeniable fact that no history will be able to forget," the pope said.
John Paul made a more guarded reference to the Buttiglione controversy, which has forced Prodi's successor, José Manuel Barroso of Portugal, to delay a vote on his own appointment and that of the entire new European Commission. Barroso is under pressure to withdraw Buttiglione's nomination.
"I express the hope that the difficulties arising in recent days regarding the new commission may find a solution of reciprocal respect in the spirit of harmony between all the requests involved," he said.
Because of the effects that Parkinson's disease has had on his ability to speak clearly, the 84-year-old pope did not go through the formality of reading the message.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Secret Service to Get ID Card Database Access

Secret services to be given access to ID card database
London Independent | October 28 2004

The intelligence services will be given unprecedented access to the government database underpinning the controversial identity card scheme, the Home Office said yesterday, prompting accusations of Big Brother-style surveillance of people's everyday lives.
The plan emerged as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced "refinements" to his ID card proposals, saying that the central register containing the cards' information would provide a "full audit trail" of when and where they were used. This could include every time holders use public services - including hospitals, benefits offices or colleges - buy an expensive item or make large withdrawals from banks.
The Home Office insisted that only the security services, such as MI5 and MI6, and not police or government officials, would be allowed to access the data.
But a spokesman for Liberty, the civil liberties organisation, said: "It's very easy to say today that only intelligence services could access this information. But they can't say that would be the case in five years' time. Once the information is in the system, it's open to misuse."
The Liberal Democrat MP, Bob Russell, of the Home Affairs Select Committee , said: "We've entered the world of George Orwell's 1984 20 years late."
The Home Office also announced yesterday that the Government had scrapped the idea of combining the ID card with passports and driving licences. Having assessed the "cost, implementation and risk considerations", it said it had decided to introduce a separate, free-standing card.
Under Mr Blunkett's proposals, the cards will include "biometric" details of each cardholder, such as fingerprints, an electronic scan of the face or the iris. These unique features will be compared against records held on a central National Identity Register - theoretically making the cards impossible to forge.
The Home Office had originally planned to phase in ID cards from 2007-08, as people applied for new or replacement passports, with combined driving licences and ID cards following a few years later. However, passport applicants from 2007-08 onwards will now get a new biometric passport and a separate biometric ID card.
The moves were announced in response to a recent report from the Home Affairs Select Committee, which broadly welcomed the ID card plans, but warned that some details were "poorly thought out".
This week Tony Blair said ID cards had an "important role" to play in fighting serious crime and terrorism and tackling illegal immigration, and hinted that legislation pushing ahead with them could be included in the Queen's Speech next month.
Results of the Home Office's own consultation process released yesterday revealed that 48 per cent of the public opposed the scheme, while 31 per cent were in favour.
Mr Blunkett said yesterday: "Our plans to bring in a national ID card scheme lie at the heart of our work to ensure that the UK can meet the challenges of a changing world. Biometric ID cards will provide a simple and secure means of verifying identity. This is a long-term project and we are determined to get it right."

Supreme Court to Consider Home Indecency

Supreme court to hear masturbator case
Sue Bailey
Canadian Press
Wednesday, October 27, 2004

OTTAWA (CP) -- Canada's top court will be asked to decide whether public indecency can begin at home.
The bizarre case of a B.C. man convicted of masturbating in a public place -- his own living room -- will be heard Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Daryl Clark was convicted of the offence after a neighbour spotted him manually stimulating himself in his house in Nanaimo.
It was dark and after 9 p.m. on Oct. 28, 2000.
A mother watching TV with her young children about 15 metres away could see Clark through her sliding glass doors.
She moved to a darkened bedroom to get a better view. Convinced that Clark was masturbating, she called to her husband.
He described the scene as "like having a spotlight on a person on a stage. He was lit up, completely visible, quite amazingly visible," says a court summary of the case.
The couple concluded that Clark was moving from side to side to maintain his view of something. They became alarmed that he was looking at their children and moving as a tree branch blocked his view.
The couple, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, called police. An officer witnessed the same behaviour, and flickered his flashlight at Clark's window to get his attention.
Clark stepped back and immediately turned off his living room lights.
He was convicted of wilfully committing an indecent act in public and sentenced to four months in jail.
The high court will be asked how a "public place" as defined in the criminal code should be interpreted.
Several other offences, including disorderly conduct and displaying an indecent exhibition, could be affected.
Also at issue is the legal test for defining when an act should be considered to have been wilfully committed in public. In other words, at one point should Clark have realized that he was likely to be seen by someone outside?
Clark won't be in court Tuesday, said his lawyer, Gil McKinnon.
He'll argue on Clark's behalf that lower courts were wrong to conclude his client meant to turn his private room into a public stage.
McKinnon would not comment on Clark's occupation, his age, or whether he has a prior record. His appeal was dismissed last year by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

Sheila Copps Again Exposed as a Liar

Thu, October 28, 2004
It's just a game, right, Sheila?
While critics attack the credibility of Sheila Copps' new book, Greg Weston
recounts the day she labelled him a liar
By Greg Weston, Sun Media

The national cacophony of "She lied! He lied!" that erupted this week
between Sheila Copps and critics of her latest hardcover muddle of fact and
fiction was like a bizarre acid flashback to my own day of the long nose. It
was just before the 1988 federal election when Copps went on national
television to call me a liar, claiming I had fabricated entire segments of a
book critical of then Liberal leader John Turner.

As evidence of this most heinous of journalistic crimes, Copps cited one
pivotal political meeting described in the book, an event she swore "never
even happened."

The surprise wasn't that the Mouth that Roared would do or say just about
anything for political gain -- as she showed in this week's performance of
the Copps circus, smearing reputations is barely a warm-up act.


What dropped my jaw that day in 1988 was something far more peculiar: Copps
herself had been the original source of the information she was denying on
live television.

Needless to say, this left me utterly speechless (no small feat),
floundering for explanations that did not involve either Monty Python or a
possible change in meds.

Either Copps had just accused me of fabricating information which she, in
fact, had fabricated. Or the big fiction was her TV performance, refuting
material in the book that she knew to be true.

What Copps probably didn't know at the time was that two other prominent
Liberal sources had confirmed the same story in the book, almost verbatim.

(Otherwise, I would never have used the information, such was -- and still
is -- my journalistic confidence in Copps as a reliable source.)


A tad stung by this cute little drive-by character assassination, I called
Copps in her parliamentary office to ask what, if anything, she might have
been thinking.

Reminded that all of her interviews with me for the Turner book were on
tapes that other journalists -- and other Liberals -- would surely love to
hear, she began sobbing and wailing that her political career would be

Then this: "You know it's just a game."

Just a game -- in many ways, it would have been an apt title for her book, a
prism through which much of her political career and personal behaviour
might actually make sense to average Canadians.

It is what helped make her such an effective attack dog during her
opposition years in the Commons, a star player of the daily question period,
strutting the stage of what her leader John Turner aptly dubbed "bulls--

Just a game.

But how to explain her book?


Poorly written, barely edited, factually sloppy if not fictional, Copps'
book is a pointless mix of delusional grandeur and what National Post
columnist Don Martin so eloquently described as sour grapes pressed into

For the first time, we discover that Sheila Copps saved the environment,
health care, old age pensions, Confederation, the Liberal Party, the CBC
and, well, pretty much life as we know it.

Of course, she saved it all from the clutches of that heartless monster,
Paul Martin, and the dreadful types around him.

All of which would be interesting, even political dynamite, if it were true.

So far, Copps has produced not a shred of evidence to back her most
controversial claims -- not a cabinet document, not an office memo, not even
one of Jean Chretien's famous napkin notes.

Indeed, the most remarkable aspect of Copps' book has been the deafening
silence of no one coming to her defence, even among her longtime Liberal

There is, however, no shortage of key players in this saga who have been
willing to say Copps is full of it.

"Obviously," she says, "they are all lying."

Hey, it's just a game.

Flu May Kill ONE BILLION This Year, Says Expert

Russian Expert Says Flu Epidemic May Kill Over One Billion This Year
Created: 28.10.2004 18:06 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 18:15 MSK, 3 hours 26 minutes ago

The world is on the brink of a major flu epidemic — one that could claim more than a billion lives, the head of the Russian Virology Institute, Academician Dmitry Lvov said at a press conference organized by the RIA-Novosti news agency on Thursday.

“Up to one billion people could die around the whole world in six months,” Lvov said. The expert did not give a timeframe for the epidemic, but said that it is highly probable that it will start this year. “We are half a step away from a worldwide pandemic catastrophe,” the academic said.

The Russian expert said that U.S. researchers possessed data suggesting that if a pandemic hits, up to 700,000 people will fall ill in the United States. He said that the population of the United States can be roughly compared to that of Russia and thus the number of cases will be approximately the same.

The academician said the pandemic was most likely to be caused by the so-called bird flu stem. “The death rate among those who contract this type of flu reaches 70 percent,” Lvov said.

The expert called for the Russian authorities to prepare for the epidemic. The country will need a reserve of at least 300,000 hospital beds if an epidemic breaks out, he said.

Web Searches for Sex Decline Drastically

Posted 10/27/2004 1:00 PM
Experts: Web searches for sex declining
By Joe Mandak, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Internet users are doing far fewer searches for sex and pornography and more for e-commerce and business than they were seven years ago, University of Pittsburgh and Penn State researchers say in a new book.

"Twenty percent of all searching was sex-related back in 1997, now it's about 5%," said Amanda Spink, the University of Pittsburgh professor who co-authored "Web Search: Public Searching of the Web" with Penn State professor Bernard J. Jansen.

"It's a little bit more in Europe, 8-10%, but in comparison to everything else, it's a very small percent," Spink said. "People are using (the Web) more as an everyday tool rather than as just an entertainment medium."

Experts aren't surprised by the results.

"They're not getting excited about using the Internet anymore," said Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto cyberspace researcher said of the findings. "Remember when cars came out, and people would say, 'Wow, we're going for a ride today!' Now they just go for a ride."

Or go shopping. Spink said her studies show queries for e-business or commerce increased by 86% in the past seven years.

"That makes sense because e-commerce in the last seven years has boomed," said Gary Price, news editor of, a branch of Connecticut-based, which reports on Internet surfing.

In one study detailed in their book, Spink and Jansen randomly selected thousands of search sessions from more than 1 million they culled anonymously from search engines such as AltaVista. They tracked the type of search terms used, how many search terms were entered and how deeply into the results computer users clicked for information.

What hasn't changed much in seven years is how hard people are willing to work at searching. The answer: Not very. Spink and Jansen found that people averaged about two words per query and two queries per search session.

"The searches are taking less than five minutes and they're only looking at the first page of results," Spink said. "That's why people are wanting to get their results on the first page" of search engine results.

That's one reason behind a proliferation of sponsored links that appear at the top of results pages, often highlighted or in bold print. And it's why search engine companies — and the creators of the Web pages they're sifting through — are trying to develop technology to help computer users hone in on desired results and filter out the rest.

Spink and Jansen have just begun a study on Pittsburgh-based Their findings will be used to improve the "metasearch" engine, which culls results from other search engines and categorizes them for users.

"We were surprised that people weren't doing more complex searches," Spink said. "If you put a couple of words into the Web, you're going to get hundreds of thousands of results. I think people aren't trained very well to use the search engines."

Kidman Defends Bathtub Scene With 10-Year-Old

Film has Kidman in love with 10-year-old
Actress defends bathtub scene that drew boos from audience
Posted: October 28, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2004

Raising the ire of a festival audience, a new Hollywood film pushes the limits of mainstream entertainment, featuring superstar Nicole Kidman in a romantic relationship with a 10-year-old boy.
The scene that has drawn the most attention has Kidman's character in a bathtub with the boy, although the filmmakers emphasize it involves no sexual activity.
But in a screening of the R-rated film at the Venice Film Festival, the scene drew boos from the audience.
In "Birth," the Kidman character, a widow named Anna, is confronted by the boy's claim that his body has been inhabited by her dead husband.
The woman initially dismisses the boy, but she eventually becomes convinced he is telling the truth and falls in love.
"I see this as a beautiful film about love, I do not see it as something that is exploitive or distasteful," Kidman told Associated Press Television News. "I would never want to make something like that; it's just not my thing."
The actress, 37, said she was drawn to the film, which opens tomorrow, because "it is about the strength of love, and the memory of love, and the desire to have that exist forever."
The New York Post said "Birth" has been described as "Mary Kay Letourneau meets 'Ghost,'" referring to the teacher convicted of rape for a relationship with a 13-year-old and the 1990 romantic comedy.
Kidman admitted to the Post that the bathtub scene – which is shot over her bare back and shows the boy from the waist up – is unusual, "but the whole film is unusual."
"It's not about sex, you know, it's certainly not about sex," she said, according to the Post. "It's about love, it's about being ... under the spell of somebody."
Another scene has Anna kissing, on the lips, the boy, played by 11-year-old Canadian Cameron Bright.
She asks, as they share ice-cream, if he has ever made love to a girl.
Kidman said the film is meant to make people feel uncomfortable, "but not in a way where you're trying to exploit a young boy."
With a son nearly the same age as Bright, Kidman admitted, however, it felt strange to kiss her co-star.
"It sort of was, but . . . the first time I read [the script] I really saw it, because when you read it you're not picturing a child," she said, according to the Post.
"You're actually reading a story and it sort of washes over you and you absorb the themes of the film ... loss and grief and the desire for somebody to come back."
"Birth" director Jonathan Glazer said he did not intend to be salacious, but understands he's touched on the "ultimate taboo in many respects."
"But for me [the bathtub scene] was an important part of the story – it was essential for [Kidman's character] to be confronted by that absolute no-go area.
"The context of that scene is sacred in a way."
Kidman insisted everyone involved with the film was careful to guard the boy's innocence and didn't allow him to read the script.
Many of the reaction shots in the bath scene were filmed separately, she pointed out.
"I believe in ... keeping it so that Cameron just thinks it's kind of fun and a job and, you know, he gets to get a bit of money and have a great lunch and then he goes home," she said, according to the Post.
"He doesn't quite know what he's doing, which is good."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

CBC Accused of Left-Wing Bias

'The pews are empty,' CBC told by Norma Greenaway
Oct 24, 2003
Senators accuse broadcaster of bias

OTTAWA - Carole Taylor, chairwoman of the CBC, faced accusations of
anti-Israel and anti-U.S. bias in the network's reporting as she lobbied
yesterday for more secure government funding for the public broadcaster.

Ms. Taylor, backed by Robert Rabinovitch, president and CEO, also said
ratings were not the best way to judge the success of CBC's multilingual
and varied programming on the French and English networks.

Ms. Taylor told a Senate committee exploring the state of the Canadian
media that steady funding cuts over the last 15 years, including another
$10-million last month, have squeezed CBC/Radio-Canada to the bone.

"This death by a thousand cuts cannot continue, not if we are to do the
job Canadians expect us to do," Ms. Taylor said.

Tory Senator Len Gustafson said he hears complaints, especially in Western
Canada, that CBC television is anti-American, anti-Israel and left-wing.

"I'm disappointed to hear that," Ms. Taylor said. The former broadcast
celebrity said the network tries to be balanced and "toe the line of fair

She also reminded the committee the broadcaster has two ombudsman to deal
with complaints about fairness and accuracy. Ms. Taylor urged Canadians to
use the "independent" system if they have complaints about the CBC's
coverage of events.

Liberal Senator Pana Merchant questioned CBC's impact, saying one set of
numbers she read said only 3.1% of women and 1.4% of men in Saskatoon
tuned into CBC radio and television. "I think you have a wonderful
message," Ms. Merchant said. "But I think the pews are empty."

Ms. Merchant also said people on the street complain the CBC is not
relevant to their lives.

Ms. Taylor and Mr. Rabinovitch said CBC is working to rebuild its regional
operations, decimated by the budget cuts in the 1990s, but the system
needs an infusion of serious money.

Ms. Taylor said she fears CBC/Radio-Canada will not survive if "we don't
get back to our roots."

On the issue of ratings, Mr. Rabinovitch acknowledged they are an
important measure of whether people are interested in a program, but said
they are not a CBC priority.

Fingerprints Compulsory on EU Passports

Fingerprints to become compulsory for all EU passports
The Register| Oct 26 2004

EU interior ministers are today likely to sign off regulations making fingerprinting a second compulsory biometric for passports. The latest proposed draft regulation will effectively overturn a decision made earlier this year to make only facial image compulsory, and fingerprint optional, and comes in the face of opposition from Sweden Finland, Estonia and Latvia, "could not accept this re-opening of discussions on the second biometric identifier to become mandatory."

The UK has the ability to opt out, but has apparently been supporting a German proposal for a third, "optional" identifier - iris scan. The EU proposal, which can be read at Statewatch, here, ostensibly addresses compliance with ICAO and US requirements for biometric passports and the security of the passport itself. For example, Article 4 (3) specifies that the biometric features shall only be used for verifying "the authenticity of the document" and "the identity of the holder by means of directly available comparable features when the passport or other travel documents are required to be produced by law."

These two basic of objectives of guarding against forgery or tampering, and linking the passport to the individual carrying it can be achieved simply by matching the document up against the individual's biometrics locally. And in fact this is currently the scenario where the preferred international standard of a facial image stands most chance of being reasonably effective, because you're doing a one-to-one rather than a one-to-many check. It is however intended that personal and biometric data will be held both on national databases and on a European Register of issued passports, to be used on the Schengen Information System and to be accessible by law enforcement agencies.

This central database has drawn strong objections on data protection grounds, with the Article 29 working party raising a fundamental objection to its establishment, and stressing that "the sole purpose of the draft Regulation should be verification of the identity of the holder of the travel document which ought to be dealt with by storing biometric data in the travel document itself."

Objections to the legality of the biometric move itself have been raised by the UK Parliament's European Scrutiny Committee, and these objections even seem to be supported by Home Office minister Caroline Flint in correspondence to the Committee. Flint however overcomes her misgivings sufficiently to conclude that the move is in fact legal, while the Committee said it retained "strong doubts."

The addition of fingerprints to the passport's mandatory biometrics is meanwhile helpful from the UK Home Office's point of view, because although the draft regulation is specified as not applying to ID cards, the Home Office views its own plans for an ID system and passports as to all intents and purposes the same thing, with new passports being used initially to build critical mass for the ID system. So it would be helpful if it 'had' to take fingerprints for passports, just as it was helpful that 'having' to (as David Blunkett told us) introduce biometric passports meant that we might as well introduce an ID system, as most of the costs would be incurred in the passport upgrade anyway.

Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan notes that the latest moves mean that 450 million EU citizens will need to attend processing centres to have facial scans and be fingerprinted, and that the intrusion into personal privacy is "compounded by the failure to limit access to the data held and its further use for purposes other than checking on a persons' identity." Statewatch's report and full analysis can be found here.

Seek and Destroy According to Genetics

The Mark of Doom: Computer-Activated Biological Warfare
In the not-so-distant future, a new kind of weapon could appear that would change the balance of political power in the world. This main principle behind this weapon: seek and destroy according to genetics.

by Vasili Sychev

American scientists have declared that in ten years they will succeed in creating a radically new type of biological weapon. This weapon would be capable of infecting people according to a genetically predetermined marker such as skin color or eye shape. Infection could have a delayed effect or only begin once a certain type of medicine was taken. A recent closed seminar held by the CIA was devoted to the topic. The event took place as part of the Project for the New American Century.

A slow sickness

Scientists have been exploring the possibilities of selective biological weapons for some time now. This is roughly how these weapons would work. Genetic information is implanted into bacteria's "programming," reflecting the gene structure or gene combination of a certain targeted group of people. Once the programmed bacteria enter someone's system, they "recognize" their target and kill the person. If the genetic structure of the infected person does not correspond, the microbe dies without harming him.

Even specialists will have a hard time differentiating bacterial ethnic cleansing from a regular epidemic, if only because the countries leading the development of these weapons could purposefully misinform the public. There will be few direct clues...

Another difficulty is that this weapon could have a delayed effect. It could be turned on by a trigger mechanism, meaning it could target not only specific people but also people under very specific conditions. This means that illness could be delayed not just by days but for an indefinite period of time. Yet the moment the infected person, say, comes down with strep throat and takes antibiotics, the bacteria begin to multiply, leading to a severe illness that eludes diagnosis.

"It is already possible today to create antibiotic resistant cultures," Alexander Prozorov, a professor in the microorganism genetics lab at the Russian Academy of Science Institute for General Genetics, told Expert. The most striking examples of this type of culture are streptomycin-dependent bacteria that only grow in the presence of the antibiotic streptomycin. This will make it hard for doctors to do much, as traditional pharmaceuticals won't help. On the contrary, treatment will only make the patient sicker.

Political germs

Yet the most terrifying new possibility is the hypothetical biological weapon that could infect people according to genetic markers. Not only would it allow for genocide; it would be created specifically for that purpose. A recent report by the British Medical Association stated that "the rapid progress in genetics could become the basis for ethnic cleansing on an unheard of scale in the near future."

Three years ago, ideologues like US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and PNAC Director William Crystal were already discussing genetic weapons. They recommended that the Pentagon consider the possibility for using this type of weapon not only to successfully wage war, but also to reconfigure world politics. According to a PNAC report, genetic weapons could completely change the politics of the entire planet: "cutting-edge biological warfare targeting a certain genotype could turn the reign of terrorism into a politically useful tool."

According to information from PNAC, Israel has also recently begun to work actively on mutagenic weapons. Israel geneticists confirm that Arabs carry a unique gene that no one else in the world has. This gene forms the basis for the Israeli research, believe American experts.

Things look far more frightening, in fact. Genetic weapons could do more than destroy an ethnic group. They could kill according to a person's "usefulness" or "talents." American journalist and bestselling author Thom Hartmann has argued that it would even be possible to kill those with the gene for attention deficit disorder. This means that if you are easily distracted and have a hard time concentrating (there could be other selection criteria as well), you could end up marked for destruction.

We will survive

Fortunately, it is not as easy to create a selective biological weapon as some scientists are claiming. Though it may be possible to create bacteria that multiple only when a person takes a specific medication, the creation of an effective genetic weapon that would not harm the developers themselves seems unrealistic in the foreseeable future.

"It is hard to imagine how a microbe would determine the presence or absence of a certain gene or its structure. Even a researcher armed with the last word in scientific technology has a hard time doing this. It would impossible for bacteria to accomplish such a task," believes Prozorov.

And so on. Even if bacteria could learn how to identify specific genes, how would this information be transformed into infection? That bacteria multiply in the presence of certain antibiotics is clear, but how would information about eye and hair color turn into certain doom for the world's blue-eyed blonds? For this kind of weapon to become a reality, its creators would have to stuff the bacteria with a powerful "computer" to identify genes and at the same time arm them with the means to begin an infection.

There is one more reason why this kind of biological weapon is unlikely to be as effective as the ideologues would wish. As Nazi doctor Josef Mengele put it, "Scratch a Frenchman and find an African." Humanity has existed for many millennia. In the context of all our past tribal and intertribal connections, it is not far from the truth to say that we are all brothers. "Over the many years of human existence, ethnics groups have intermingled to such an extent that the genetic structures determining ethnic identity have blurred and become difficult to recognize," notes Prozorov.


Read also the interview with Sergei Netesov, Deputy General Director of the Vektor Novosibirsk State Research Center for Bioengineering and Virology "Politically Desireable, Genetically Unviable"

© 2002 by Sianews/Friends of Liberty

Here's Religious Tolerance in Saudi Arabia ...

27 October, 2004
Ten months in jail and 300 lashes for Christian prisoner O'Connor

Indian Christian in prison for seven months charged with evangelisation sentenced only for “selling alcohol”. Indian Christian activist writes to Saudi monarch asking for his compatriot’s release.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – On October 20, a Saudi court in Deerah near Riyadh sentenced Brian Savio O’Connor, a Indian Christian resident in Saudi Arabia, to ten months in prison and 300 lashes for selling “alcoholic beverages”, this according to Middle East Concern (MEC), an organisation dedicated to the fate of Christians in the Middle East that has been monitoring the case of the Protestant man from the south-eastern Indian state of Karnataka.

Mr O’Connor has been incarcerated in Olaya prison since March 25 after the Muttawa, the Saudi religious police, abducted him from home and tortured for 24 hours in a mosque.

He was later charged with preaching Christianity, selling alcohol, drug use and possession of pornographic videos. He has always denied the charges, but has acknowledged leading Bible studies in his home for expatriate Christians after the authorities published information in the local press whereby non-Muslims could practice their religion at home. In practice, religious freedom does not exist in the country except for Muslims and any religious activity outside Islam is considered a felony.

In his October 20 court hearing, the judges found him guilty of selling alcohol but did not mention any of the other charges: drug use, evangelisation and, after September 15, possession of pornographic videos.

After reading the sentence, the court asked Mr O’Connor if he accepted this decision. He declined thus appealing the decision. He was warned that under Saudi law the higher court would most likely increase the sentence if it, too, found him guilty.

During the hearing Brian asked why the religious police who arrested him were not present as had been announced at the previous hearing. He was told that they had given their statement at a private hearing.
According to the MEC and Mr O’Connor’s family, the Muttawa did a good job at trumpeting up the alcohol charges. He was found in possession of banknotes—whose serial number the Muttawa had taken down—that had been used by an agent paid by the police to purchase the alcohol.

MEC sources claim that the O’Connor file has now moved to the “Departure” section of Olaya prison indicating that he might be expelled from the country after Ramadan.

Following the Court’s decision, Indian activist John Dayal wrote an appeal to Saudi King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud asking him to “give clemency to O’Connor” and urge the Saudi government to “release this Indian citizen who has already suffered much”.

“We are sure,” Mr Dayal said in the letter, that “we will not be disappointed in this appeal for mercy and justice in the name of universal brotherhood, human dignity and the friendly relations between the two countries, India and Saudi Arabia.”

John Dayal is the President of the All India Catholic Union (which represent India’s 16 million Catholics) and the Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, one of India’s major ecumenical Christian organisations. AsiaNews and other Catholic websites (see have followed the O’Connor case and promoted an awareness campaign on his behalf.

In the letter to the Saudi king, Dayal states that O’Connor’s “employers have declared that the allegations against their employee are not valid” even though it is accepted that he is a practicing Christian.

According to Dayal, Mr O’Connor’s arrest, his experience in jail and now his sentence have caused “deep concern” amongst Indian Christians. “Brian,” Dayal wrote, “has no criminal record at home or abroad, and has been arrested, we feel, just for his religious convictions.” (LF)

Copyright © 2003 AsiaNews

The Mandatory Mental Health Examination Plan

Who Needs A Psychiatrist?
Chuck Baldwin | October 27 2004

The mainstream press (and just about every prominent conservative in the country) has virtually ignored what should be one of this election year's top stories: the fact that President George W. Bush wants to have every American citizen, beginning with all school age children, examined by psychiatrists. However, a couple of notable personalities, Lew Rockwell and Howard Phillips, are attempting to alert the American people to this diabolical plan.

In his Issues and Strategy Bulletin (HPISB#750-September 30, 2004), Phillips quotes Rockwell as saying, "The New Freedom Initiative is a plan to screen the entire U.S. population for mental illness and to provide a cradle-to-grave continuum of services for those identified as either mentally ill or at risk of becoming so. Under the plan, schools would become hubs of the screening process, not only for children, but for their parents and teachers. There are even components aimed at senior citizens, pregnant women, and new mothers.

"In April 2002, President Bush established the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to conduct a 'comprehensive study of the United States mental health service delivery system.' The commission issued its recommendations in July 2003, chief among them being that schools are in a 'key position' to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work at educational facilities."

This Draconian federal program began in Texas while G.W. Bush was Governor. It was called the Texas Medication Algorithm Project as an alliance between the pharmaceutical industry, the University of Texas, and the mental health and corrections systems of Texas. Now that Bush is President, he has begun implementing the program at the national level.

Phillips also quotes Rockwell as noting that one pharmaceutical company that is set to reap a potential financial windfall from the Bush universal mental health screening plan is the Eli Lilly Company by saying, "Eli Lilly has multiple ties to the Bush administration. George Bush, Sr., was a member of Lilly's board of directors. Lilly made $1.6 million in political contributions in 2000, 82 percent of which went to George W. Bush and the Republican Party. President Bush appointed Lilly's chief executive officer, Sidney Taurel, to a seat on the Homeland Security Council."

A key component of the implementation of Bush's universal mental health screening plan was to pass Ted Kennedy's No Child Left Behind federal education bill, because one of the principle features of the NCLB bill is to "remove the emotional, behavioral, and academic barriers that interfere with student success in school."

Using the NCLB bill, Bush's plan seeks not only to assess youngsters, but "to expand school mental health programs and evaluate parents." This involves "psychotherapy and drugs" and "social and emotional check-ups." What this means is that "parents are supposed to be surreptitiously assessed for mental 'illness' every time they walk into their physician's office."

For anyone with even a modicum of history knowledge, this smacks eerily similar to Joseph Stalin's "psychiatric hospitals" in the former Soviet Union. This has also been a favored tactic of Chinese Communists. Under those regimes, anyone not agreeing with the political despots in power were determined to be "mentally ill" and sent off to "hospitals" for "treatment."

It is hard to imagine a more sinister and potentially dangerous plan than President Bush's universal mental health screening plan now being implemented. If Bush is reelected, this plan will certainly become accepted policy throughout the United States. This will result in pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly reaping billions of dollars in profits and the American people being subjected to unimaginable abridgements of privacy rights and personal freedoms!

I submit that it is not America's school children who need a psychiatrist, it is the people who would elect any president who dares to implement such a Machiavellian plan!

'Gene Wars' Only a Few Years Away, Say Doctors

Gene wars only a few years away, say doctors
London Times| Oct 26 2004

There is concern that bio-weapons could be programmed to wipe out specific ethnic groups within five years
GENETICALLY targeted weapons capable of ethnic cleansing could become a reality within five years because the “window of opportunity” to tackle their development is shrinking fast, doctors said yesterday.
The warning comes after a report by the British Medical Association (BMA), which stated that within a decade genetic research would unleash new and terrifying biological weapons capable of killing only people of specific ethnic groups.
Since the publication of the BMA’s first study five years ago, the association believes that governments have failed to halt the advance of biological and genetic weapons technology.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said: “The situation today is arguably worse than when we published our last report.
“The very existence of international laws to protect us is being questioned, the anthrax attacks in the US in 2001 caused widespread panic and fear and, most worryingly, it’s never been easier to develop biological weapons. All you have to do is look on the internet.”
Scientists are making great progress in identifying the human genetic code. BMA doctors are worried that legitimate research, often conducted to find potential therapies for debilitating diseases, could be perverted to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The author of the report, Malcolm Dando, head of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, has studied arms control for 20 years. “Every major piece of scientific research has been used for malign purposes,” he said.
“If the life sciences are misused, there are major threats to human rights, human dignity and human safety.”
Although the BMA insisted that genetic weapons have yet to be built, it conceded that their construction “is now approaching reality”. If a genetic bomb was developed, it could contain anthrax or the plague and be tailored to activate when it identified a certain group of genes — indicating membership of a particular ethnic group — in the infected person.
“Questions need to be asked about where the research could lead, where the results will be published and who has access to the data,” Professor Dando said.
He also gave warning that the threat from biological weapons has outstripped that of chemical and nuclear weapons because of the “riotous” development in biotechnology.
“Unless great care is taken to ensure openness about the vastly increased funding going into the US and other biodefence programmes, suspicions could easily arise and inadvertently help to fuel an arms race which would be in all our worst interests”, his report, Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity II, published yesterday, stated.
Professor Dando added that if biological advances continue unabated, then terrorists could misuse the research to wreak widespread havoc and destruction.
The reluctance of the United States to agree a multilateral approach to biological monitoring has hampered the international community’s attempts to stop the spread of biological, chemical and genetic weapons, he said.
“The US took their eye off the ball during the Clinton Administration. There were clearly inter-agency differences; therefore, although we had announcements that were in favour of strengthening existing agreements, they didn’t take a leadership role.”
In 1975 the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) was set up to try to provide protection from the proliferation of biological weapons. Calls in 1999 to strengthen the convention “failed abysmally” after the US Government claimed that imposing controls on biotechnology would interfere with benign research being carried out. As a result, the United States pulled out of international talks aimed at boosting the BTWC in 2001.
Yesterday the BMA urged governments around the world to find a way to strengthen up the convention. The doctors also called for scientists to realise the potential risks and responsibilities of their cutting edge work.
Dr Nathanson said: “This report does not make comfortable reading, but it is essential that governments take action on this issue now. If we wait too long it will be virtually impossible to defend ourselves.”

The Future Is in Alternative Media

The big media votes
By Cal Thomas

The Big Media — by which I mean the three major broadcast networks and the
"most influential" newspapers (i.e. the New York Times and The Washington
Post) — have been "voting" for the next president for much of the last two
years. In their news pages and on their news broadcasts, the Big Media
have backed any Democrat over President Bush, and now the long-awaited
mystery of which candidate they would officially endorse is over.
May I have the envelope, please?
The winner of the editorial endorsement of both the New York Times and The
Washington Post is: John Kerry. What, you're not surprised?
Reading like a script from Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," The New
York Times claimed in its Oct. 17 endorsement of Mr. Kerry that the
Massachusetts senator is "a man with a strong moral core."
For a newspaper that recognizes no morality except that which it
writes for itself, the Times might have disclosed its "moral code" and
the basis on which it can be deciphered. It certainly isn't rooted in
anything related to what has traditionally been known as morality, for
the Times consistently backs ideas, behavior and opinions that would
have scandalized the once immutable moral code that comes from an
Authority higher than its editorial boardroom.
Regardless of who wins Tuesday's election (and no matter how long it
takes to get the results following expected lawsuits and challenges to
ballots cast by ineligible voters), this may well be the last election
cycle in which the Big Media are taken seriously or regarded as
The Big Media (let's abbreviate and call them BM) have gone over the
top with this election. They have ripped off their final layer of faux
objectivity, revealing their ideological nakedness for all to see in a
desperate effort to get John Kerry elected.
No good news from the Bush administration is treated kindly by the BM.
Is employment up? They're not the "right kind" of jobs. Is most of
Iraq being pacified, and do many Iraqis speak well of the United
States for ridding them of Saddam Hussein? It doesn't matter, because
pockets of Iraq are unstable and Iraqis can be found who don't like
the "occupation." Any moral convictions held by anyone in this
administration are dismissed as right-wing fundamentalism by the BM as
if the only convictions that matter are their own.
CBS News, which has a credibility gap wider than the Grand Canyon
after it stood behind fake documents pertaining to Mr. Bush's National
Guard service, broadcast a report Friday night by Anthony Mason
questioning whether most Americans are better off financially than
they were four years ago. Mr. Mason claimed that while, on average,
Americans are making more money than they were in 2000, they are "in
fact, worse off." Mr. Mason's proof: "Median household income ... is
now $41,550, $30 lower than it was four years ago."
So, while Americans have more money than they did four years ago,
median household income is down $30, proving to the BM that Mr. Bush's
economic policies are a failure?
There are, and have been, countless examples of the most grotesque
media bias against all things Bush and Republican by the BM. But it
doesn't matter anymore. The BM are the past. Cable, newspapers in
"flyover country" and the Internet are the future. I seriously doubt
whether anyone's mind is changed by the BM's predictable endorsements
and their familiar reasoning, which goes something like this: Big
government and high taxes are good, sex with anyone for whatever
reason is good, abortion and gay rights are good, more regulation of
"evil corporations" (but not the BM corporations) is good and all
conservatives are evil. Anyone sharing the BM's platform gets their
endorsement. Anyone who doesn't gets unfavorable treatment in the news
pages and on the air.
The anger of the BM in anticipation of a Bush win has gone beyond the
fringe of a Michael Moore film or a George Soros 527 group. London's
Guardian newspaper printed a column Saturday by a Charlie Brooker,
who, after mocking Mr. Bush with the familiar leftist invective,
concluded: "The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance
and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and
save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. —
where are you now that we need you?"
Nice, huh? This is why the media future is in what is called
"alternative media." It will soon become the mainstream.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Bush Being 'Battered' By Critical Press

Bush 'battered' by critical press
By Jennifer Harper

The press has "battered" President Bush this election season, according to a Project for Excellence in Journalism analysis of 817 print and broadcast stories that ran between Oct. 1 and Oct. 14.
Mr. Bush "suffered strikingly more negative press coverage than challenger John Kerry," according to the study, which will be released today.
"Overall, 59 percent of Bush-dominated stories were clearly negative in nature," while "just 25 percent of Kerry stories were decidedly negative," according to the study.
The District-based group was succinct in defining a negative tone, reasoning that if combined headlines and content contained statements that were at least two-to-one critical of the politician in question, the story was deemed negative.
Both print and broadcast news organizations were critical of Mr. Bush.
Newspapers were the hardest on the president: 68 percent of daily stories or editorials about Mr. Bush were classified as negative, compared with only 26 percent of the stories about Mr. Kerry.
More than half of network TV news reports criticized Mr. Bush, while just 17 percent of the stories about Mr. Kerry were negative.
"The tendency toward negative tone stands out because it suggests the press is prone to act as an enabler, accomplice or conduit for negative campaigning," the study stated, though it did not offer any explanation for "the marked discrepancy between Kerry and Bush" in the coverage.
The answer "is beyond the scope of this study and would require a larger examination of tone throughout the campaign," the group said.
Still, it characterized the press as opinionated.
"The study reinforces the sense that the press, at least the political press, has become highly interpretive and even judgmental in its approach," the study noted.
The analysis found that only 14 percent of the stories recounted the day's events in what it considered "a straightforward and factual manner."
Another 55 percent of the reports offered accounts based on insider politics and candidate tactics, 13 percent dealt with clear policy, 9 percent dealt with such issues as the economy or terrorism, and 7 percent dwelt on "candidate fitness."
The study also determined that almost three-quarters of the stories emphasized the impact of events and commentary on politicians rather than on voters, noting "the effort to redirect political coverage more toward the concerns of citizens apparently has not significantly influenced the way coverage is constructed."
The group analyzed stories from the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Miami Herald and the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, plus morning and evening news shows on three networks — CNN's "NewsNight with Aaron Brown," PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" and Fox News' "Special Report with Brit Hume."
In the 2000 election, a similar study from the group found that 49 percent of stories about Mr. Bush and 56 percent about then-Vice President Al Gore were negative.
"This is the mirror image of what happened four years ago, when then-Governor Bush benefited from coverage in the closing weeks," the study stated.

This Is a Spelling Mistake You Wouldn't Want to Make ...

Health campaign makes 'L' of a mistake
Last Updated Wed, 27 Oct 2004 16:00:39 EDT

HALIFAX, N.S. - An embarrassing spelling mistake has caused Nova Scotia's Health Department to recall thousands of pins meant to support the annual flu-shot campaign.

The letter "L" was omitted from the word "public" on pins given out to health-care workers.

The pins are attributed to the "Office of Health Promotion and Pubic Health Services."

Health Department spokesperson Melissa MacKinnon said 4,700 pins are being recalled. She said the mistake will cost the government $2,200.

She said she isn't sure how many people wore the pins.

The pins were redesigned for the first time in years, which led to the error, MacKinnon said.

'Da Vinci Code' Fanatics Digging Up the Dead

`Da Vinci Code' Fans Besiege French Village in Mystery Quest

Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- There's profit in things that go bump in the night,
though for the mayor of the devil-infested French hamlet of
Rennes-le-Chateau, it's the dynamite going boom that has him tallying the
mysteries evoked in Dan Brown's bestseller ``The Da Vinci Code.''

``They set off explosions at all hours and climb over the cemetery wall to
dig up the dead,'' says Mayor Jean-Francois L'Huilier, whose mountain
village of 112 people atop the Valley of God in southwestern France has
become a Mecca for fans of novelist Brown's bestseller.

``It's a remarkable book, but I'm afraid the world has entered a period of
imperceptible folly,'' says the former French paratrooper turned
politician. ``And that's why I had to exhume the corpse of Berenger

Just who or what the devotees of the novel are trying to dig up in
Rennes-le-Chateau remains a lucrative bone of contention.

Local innkeeper Andrew Usher, whose Hotel au Coeur de Rennes serves as the
assembly ground for gravediggers and ghost busters from as far away as
Japan and Argentina, says ``The Da Vinci Code'' is the most successful
installment in a line of some 500 books and numerous documentary films
that orbit around a renegade Catholic priest named Sauniere.

The cleric arrived in the village in 1885 and spent the next 26 years
resurrecting a ruined 11th-century church dedicated to the Magdalene.
Above the door, he chiseled the message: ``This Place Is Terrible,'' and
then erected a life-size statue of a devil wearing a green toga while
balancing a holy-water font on his horns.

Shades of Rocky Horror

``It's right out of `The Rocky Horror Show,''' is how Usher explains the
cobwebbed house of worship to his guests.

L'Huilier says the impoverished priest became inexplicably wealthy.
Alongside the tiny church, Sauniere, who died in 1917 at the age of 65,
built a luxurious villa and a lavishly appointed tower from which he
corresponded with banks in Paris, received French financial newspapers and
surveyed the Valley of God below while sipping rum with his housekeeper
and the priest from neighboring Rennes-les-Bains.

In September, L'Huilier moved Sauniere's body from the village cemetery to
a fortified mausoleum in the garden of the refurbished villa. It now costs
three euros ($3.83) to visit the site, one euro to view the Valley of God
through a telescope installed by the Rotary Club and five euros for a
bottle of Cuvee de Rennes-le- Chateau, a red wine with a photo of Sauniere
on the label.

``Sauniere's devil and Brown's book have been marvelous for the economy,''
the 43-year-old Usher says. ``In 2003, we had 80,000 visitors to the
region. It's not yet Halloween and we've already topped 100,000 visitors
for the year.''

Conspiracy Theories

Valley of God merchants such as Usher say the money-spinning mystery of
Rennes-le-Chateau -- now in its 2,004th year -- is a creepy yarn that
``The Da Vinci Code'' last year detonated into a $20 million local
industry. The novel is the gory tale of a Harvard University professor who
discovers a Vatican conspiracy to cover up the marriage of Jesus Christ to
Mary Magdalene and his fathering of an ancestral lineage observable on
paintings that hang in the Louvre.

For the past 77 weeks, ``The Da Vinci Code'' has reigned supreme on 42
fiction bestseller lists globally, selling more than 9 million hardcover
copies and generating an estimated $225 million in retail sales in the
U.S. alone for its publisher Doubleday Broadway, a division of Random
House Inc., which is a unit of German media company Bertelsmann AG,
according to Constance Sayre, director of the publishing-industry
consulting group Market Partners International in New York.

``The book has a lock on the international market,'' Sayre says. ```The Da
Vinci Code' is a huge business.''

The book has been a commercial phenomenon, L'Huilier says, transforming
the crumbling village into a boom town for those seeking, among other
things, proof that Christ moved there with his family and that Sauniere
discovered and then hid the evidence.

Not for Sale

``The south of France always has been popular for foreign visitors,'' says
Marie Marselli, a broker who handles property transactions in the Valley
of God area at Cathare Immobilier, a real estate agency named after a
heretical medieval sect.

Since ``The Da Vinci Code'' was published in the spring of 2003, Marselli
says her agency has been inundated with international inquiries from
people seeking to purchase land in the village. ``But it's a small place
and there's no property for sale,'' she says.

The surplus of supernatural resources in Rennes-le-Chateau for centuries
has drawn paranormal tourists to the ancient Roman garrison outpost. There
are precisely 19.5 million gold francs ``spread on the mountain by the
devil,'' according to an oral history assembled by villagers and
transcribed in 1832 by French travel writer Labouisse-Rochefort.

Slaughtered Knights

The treasure story was rejuvenated in ``Southwestern France,'' an 1890
guidebook by Augustus Hare that recounts Vatican-backed French troops
laying siege to a Templar stronghold in nearby Montsegur in 1244.
Slaughtered along with the knights were 50 ``perfects,'' priests who
rejected all sacraments and maintained that Christ didn't die on the

Medieval historians mostly agree that a handful of knights and perfects
escaped the siege of Montsegur, and it's here where the mystery of
Rennes-le-Chateau begins to ripen.

Usher says some of his guests maintain the heretics fled with the mortal
remains of Christ and the Magdalene. Others suggest they left with two
coded scrolls that showed Christ siring the ancient French ruling family
called the Merovingians. Still others believe the survivors absconded with
the treasure of Solomon or found an underground passageway into Hell.

``Whatever it was,'' L'Huilier says, ``people believe it ended up near
Rennes-le-Chateau and the clues to finding it are in the Valley of God and
inside Sauniere's church.''

Dr. Who in Rennes

The priest remained a popular local ghost character until 1967, when the
French surrealist writer and prankster Gerard de Sede wrapped the entire
package in an adventure novel titled ``The Accursed Treasure of
Rennes-le-Chateau.'' In the book, de Sede uncoils a conspiracy protected
for centuries by a group of fictional guardians called the Priory of Sion.

In 1969, Henry Lincoln, a scriptwriter for the cult U.K. science-fiction
television series ``Dr. Who,'' said he read de Sede's pulp fiction while
on vacation in France. Three years later, Lincoln filmed the first of
three documentaries on the mystery for the BBC history and archeology
program ``Chronicle,'' interviewing art historians such as Anthony Blunt.

Priory of Sion

By the end of the decade, Lincoln hooked up with the U.S. short-story
writer Richard Leigh and the New Zealand photographer Michael Baigent to
collaborate on their 1982 bestseller, ``The Holy Blood and the Holy
Grail,'' originally published by Jonathan Cape. The book is perhaps best
described as a non-academic history that for many legitimized the Priory
of Sion as an authentic institution.

London lawyer Paul Sutton suspects it's no coincidence that the opening
page of ``The Da Vinci Code'' begins: ``FACT: The Priory of Sion -- a
European secret society founded in 1099 -- is a real organization.''

Earlier this month in a U.K. court, Sutton, on behalf of Leigh and
Baigent, filed a copyright infringement suit against Random House Group
Ltd., the U.K. publisher of ``The Da Vinci Code.'' Sutton says that the
suit seeks unspecified damages and an account of the book's profits.

``My clients spent 20 years using all their skill and labor to do the
historical research contained in Brown's book,'' Sutton argues. ``That's
the basis of the lawsuit.''

New Toilets

Back in Rennes-le-Chateau, L'Huilier dismisses Lincoln, Leigh and Baigent
as peddlers of historical twaddle. At the same time, the mayor says the
farrago has enhanced the Rennes-le-Chateau brand.

``The various quests for ultimate truth already have paid for new public
toilets and a parking lot for the tour buses,'' the 56- year-old mayor
says of the economic growth that includes a tapas bar, a mystical
bookshop, a hot-air balloon magical-mystery tour and a shop that sells
plaster busts of Sauniere's devil. ``We have plans to extend the size of
the village down the mountainside to accommodate the interest.''

Much of the curiosity hinges on the four encrypted parchments Sauniere
purportedly found hidden in a pillar while rebuilding the church. Other
aficionados say the area's sulfurous grottos and crumbling castles are
haunted by the wraiths of the Knights Templar protecting their treasure.
Still other enthusiasts hold that flying saucers land atop Mt. Bugarach to
pick up those pilgrims who have decoded the mystery.

`Real Live Alchemist'

``We also have a perfume shop run by a real live alchemist,'' Usher says
of the commercial development that for the past 30 years has fed off the
mystery. ``Now there's a French fellow who makes 6,000 euros a day
operating UFO expeditions. And please, alert people that Christ is buried
beneath Mt. Cardou and not under my hotel.''

For Marcus Williamson, the 39-year-old managing director of London-based
software company Connectotel Ltd. and Webmaster of a site ( ) devoted to the village, each of the
fictions contains wisps of truth.

``I've spent 20 years studying the history that Brown ultimately confected
into 'The Da Vinci Code,''' Williamson says. ``I bought a house here two
years ago because I found the facts so compelling.''

Williamson's Rennes-le-Chateau PowerPoint presentation, flashed to hotel
conference rooms across Europe, says the two most important documents,
genealogies of Christ written in 1244 and 1644, are locked in the safe
deposit box of an unknown bank in the City of London.

The other two scrolls mystery hunters say Sauniere discovered can be seen
on many of the 150,000 Web sites devoted to the whodunit, a computer game
called Gabriel Knight 3 and in a series of French comic books.

Bewildered Tourists

Sipping soda in a cafe filled with the clang of bells from a ``Medieval
Madness'' pinball machine, Williamson frets that the story has spiraled
out of control. ``It's like an Internet virus, with thousands of otherwise
intelligent people convinced that 'The Da Vinci Code' is a work of
non-fiction,'' he says.

Indeed, Jacques Le Roux, director of tour company Paris Avec Vous-Culture,
says many of his customers are ``shattered'' to discover otherwise. For
the past two years, Le Roux's company and five other groups have ushered
more than 180,000 people, including corporate clients from International
Business Machines Corp., Armonk, New York, and Paris-based Societe
Generale SA, through the Louvre on ``decrypting the thriller'' tours that
study the paintings cited in the novel.

``Rennes-le-Chateau doesn't appear in the book, so most people are unaware
of the link until we mention the importance of the village,'' says Le
Roux, a 40-year-old art historian. ``Almost 50 percent of the people on
the tours are disappointed to discover the book is total fiction.''

Ancient Cover-Up?

Dutchman Karel Van Huffelen says the story is factual. The 57- year-old
chartered accountant and former auditor for his country's internal revenue
service eight years ago abandoned his job, moved to the region to unravel
the mystery. ``The Da Vinci Code'' has brought new energy to his efforts,
he says.

``Brown's book is more than a novel,'' Van Huffelen insists. ``Oh, yes, he
knows a lot more about the mystery than he tells the reader. The treasure
is Templar gold, but there are more profound truths than where the money
is. It's difficult for non-initiates to grasp.''

That's putting it mildly.

Inside a stone house a few paces from the Church of the Magdalene,
self-educated archeologist Graham Simmans is wrapped in a tartan blanket
and slumped in a leather armchair. The retired U.K. Royal Air Force
squadron leader slices into a wedge of cheese and says he has devoted the
past 20 years to the quest. To hear him tell the story, the popular
delusions that have sprouted from ``The Da Vinci Code'' are the result of
``the most powerful and enduring cover-up in Christendom.''

Simmans, the author of monographs on the nuances Brown embroidered into
``The Da Vinci Code,'' also says he has discovered the Arc of the Covenant
and isolated the burial chamber of Alexander the Great.

Papal Pizza

It's commercial folly not to take the spiritual slapstick seriously, says
Will Cogan.

``Over 50 percent of my customers are lost souls looking for something,''
says the 31-year-old proprietor of the Pizzeria de la Place in
Rennes-les-Bains. ``I moved here in the summer of 2003 and land prices
already have doubled because of `The Da Vinci Code.' The mystery wasn't
originally part of my business strategy, but I'm looking to make Crusty
Christ and Papal Pepperoni pizzas part of the menu.''

Last Updated: October 26, 2004 21:14 EDT