History will probably record it as the most significant news of 1998, maybe the century. They've discovered water on the moon, and in large quantities -- up to 26 billion gallons is estimated. For the first time, human space exploration is possible; water means not only H20 for astronaut survival, but hydrogen for rocket fuel.
Yet although this important discovery was announced on the slow news day of Feb. 5, it was eclipsed by the minor fuss and speculation in "Lewinsky-gate" and other political scandals. Barely did it make the front pages, and in most evening news broadcasts it was buried in the last few minutes. And not a single report mentioned the most important aspect of the story: Who owns this resource, which might guide humanity's future for centuries?
Once upon a time -- 1959, to be exact -- the UN formed an ad hoc group to figure out who had dibs on space. Over the next few years, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) wrote the "Outer Space Treaty" (a.k.a. "Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies"), with common-sense rules: anyone within shouting distance should help astronauts in trouble, countries are responsible for damages caused by their spacecraft, and no nuclear weapons were welcome (with exceptions, of course). They also decided that no country can declare ownership of somewhere in space -- such as, the moon. The treaty was ratified by 90 countries.
But one part of the COPUOS agreement -- the section dealing specifically with the moon -- was never passed. Codified in 1979, Russia and the U.S. refused to sign it. And now that something valuable has been found on Luna, it's apparent why; although no nation can claim to "own" part of the moon, they can damn sure claim they own the resources found there. That is, as long as the COPUOS treaty isn't legal.
Former NASA astronaut Phillip Chapman, now with the Center for Enterprise in Space (sorry, apparently no web page) told Space News that the water could be worth as much as $9 trillion, when calculating its value for life support, energy storage, agriculture and industry at some future lunar base. Chapman added that rules governing the rights to lunar ice must ensure that NASA doesn't give away the farm by releasing more detailed info that non-U.S.interests could use to find the valuable water. Sounds like lunar ice could be the start of another "cold war." (March 6, 1998)
Police detained 314 youths following a Max Resist concert and riot near Stockholm in early January, convicting four Americans for violating Sweden's hate law. Michigan singer Shawn Sugg and guitarist Andrew Miokovic, sentenced to a month in jail along with two supporters, told police that they didn't know that the salute was a crime in Sweden.
Swedes, however, take neo-nazi activity seriously. Maybe it's because of their history; officially neutral during WWII, Sweden rescued almost all Jews in Denmark. And more than 100,000 Hungarians were saved by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg -- probably the greatest humanitarian act of the war.
While the United States mostly ignores the growing number of racist skinhead groups, Swedes and many other Europeans consider the movement a serious threat -- and for good reason. Anti-semetic emotions still lie close to the surface. On January 25, hundreds of neo-nazi supporters violently protested an exhibit showing that even rank- and- file soldiers murdered Jews. Counter- demonstrators travelling to Dresden were attacked and beaten by nazi apologists, who maintain that "ordinary soldiers" only fought other soldiers. That incident follows another confrontation last March, when thousands marched in Hitler's hometown of Munich to protest the same exhibit.
Important disclaimer: Only a minority of skinheads are racist, or member of any organized group. (March 6, 1998)
Although Kansas state law allows first-degree murderers to be eligible for parole after 25 years, a Republican coalition of 38 state representatives thought that was too kind for anyone found with 100 or more marijuana plants. If enacted, House Bill 2367 would have been the most severe marijuana- related punishment in the country.
A spokesperson for the Kansas legislature said yesterday that the bill failed to leave the House Judiciary Committee at the end of February, which kills it for this session. It might, however, be resurrected as part of another bill. (March 6, 1998)
Now the British Medical Journal has published an article warning that CJD might follow the AIDS pandemic, with the fatal disease spread through blood transfers. Author Maurizio Pocchiari, Professor of Virology for Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Rome, fears that it is impossible to predict how many people are now incubating the disease. Definite diagnosis of CJD is only possible by examination of the brain once the patient has died, and Pocchiari says a specific blood test is badly needed.
Pocchiari writes that the disease may be accidentally transmitted by medical procedures and cites particular concern about plasma- derived products because they are prepared in huge pools, with the chance of including blood from potentially infected donors. If we were able to detect variant CJD at an early stage, batches of plasma suspected of contamination could be withdrawn. (March 6, 1998)
Cases of E. coli poisoning alone have increased dramatically in the past decade, from virtually zero to approximately 20,000 per year. Their report on the growing threat of food contamination. Safety Last: The Politics of E. Coli and Other Food-Borne Killers, finds conditions that would have horrified investigate reporter Upton Sinclair, author of the turn- of - the- century book, "The Jungle."
Investigators found two out of three chickens contaminated with the potentially lethal bacterium, campylobacter -- which the government does not require in field testing.
Dr. Patricia Griffin, a scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, put this in perspective for The New York Times: "Is it reasonable that if a consumer undercooks a hamburger, that their three-year-old dies?"
Among the Center's major findings:
The Center called the meat industry one of Washington's most effective influence machines, with at least 28 lobbyists who had previously served in Congress.
The industry is also generous to its friends. Over the past decade, more than $41 million has poured into the campaign treasuries of Capitol Hill lawmakers. Among the leading recipients were the current Agriculture Secretary, Dan Glickman, while he served in the House of Representatives; the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle; the Speaker of the House and the House Minority Leader, Newt Gingrich and Richard Gephardt; and six past and present chairmen or ranking minority members of the Senate and House agriculture committees. (March 6, 1998)
The network, playing with new graphics and music for the expected death and destruction, broadcast twenty minutes of a fake war, complete with commentary by anchorman Dan Rather and a CBS News correspondent. According to Associated Press reports, even experienced TV news professionals thought it was legit. "It looked like a real broadcast of what was going on," a technician at a West Virginia station told the wire service. "What is usually a quiet room in the back of our department became very packed."
It was an accident, according to spokeswoman Kerri Weitzberg; she told AP that the network had planned to use a fiber optic link that would ensure the war demo would only be seen in New York and Washington newsrooms, she said. Oops. (March 6, 1998)
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