Natural disasters on the rise

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The World Disasters Report 1999, just released by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, paints an ominous picture of a world increasingly vulnerable to “super-disasters.” According to the report, 1998 saw more major natural disasters than in any other year on record. Red Cross/Red Crescent workers assisted five and a half million people last year, compared to just half a million six years ago.

The report blames the increase in “natural” disasters on a dangerous cocktail of global warming (which causes more powerful storms and drought), deforestation, and exploding urban populations in cities vulnerable to earthquakes and floods. As none of these causes can be expected to diminish, the report predicts the destruction of last year marks the beginning of a disturbing trend. Compounding the problem is a drop in funding for disaster aid, just as the need for help has increased dramatically. Emergency funds have dropped 40 percent in the last five years.


First human embryo cloned

June 24

The BBC reports the first successful cloning of a human embryo. American Cell Technology (ACT) actually did the deed back in November, by replacing the DNA in a cow’s egg with human DNA from a cell taken from a man’s leg. The company allowed the embryo to develop for 12 days (in a human pregnancy the embryo attaches itself to the womb after 14 days) and then “destroyed” it. ACT claims that it has no interest in reproductive cloning, but critics are still concerned about the legal and ethical implications of the technology. A second U.S. company, Geron, is also reportedly attempting to clone human embryos.

Provided that public funds are not used, human cloning research is permitted in the U.S. Most research here is geared towards the development of “replacement tissue” to replace diseased parts of the human body. However, the British government announced today that it is banning the cloning of human embryos for any kind of medical research. British Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell said that cloning is “ethically unacceptable and cannot take place in this country.”…


Taliban drives out Red Cross

June 23

The International Committee of the Red Cross is shutting down all non-emergency functions and pulling international workers from Afghanistan, following the kidnapping of 10 Red Cross workers last week. Kidnapped workers were beaten and robbed before being released, according to the ASSOCIATED PRESS. Though the Taliban, the party that has seized control of 90 percent of Afghanistan, promises that international aid workers will be safe in the war-torn country, the Red Cross says it cannot trust those promises.

The kidnapping was one of the latest incidents of violence against aid workers in a country where the Taliban is exerting a repressive form of Islamic rule. It has effectively imprisoned many women in their own homes, and tortured women and men who violated strict rules of conduct.

THE ECONOMIST reports that United Nations aid workers left Afghanistan last August after two were killed. Now the Taliban has permitted the largest international aid organization in the country to be driven away. As aid workers are forced to flee, a terrorized nation must stay behind.


Pat Robertson’s gay Scottish nightmare

June 22

When the Bank of Scotland first cut a partnership deal with the Pat Robertson’s financial services venture, it had no idea how strongly the Scottish people would object, according to PLANET OUT. Robertson, in turn, reacted to the public outcry on his “700 Club” cable television show by saying, “Homosexuals [in Scotland] are riding high in the media. … [I]n Scotland, you can’t believe how strong the homosexuals are. It’s just unbelievable.” The bank dumped the Robertson deal earlier this month and apologized to its fellow Scots, to much public fanfare.

Over the weekend (and probably to his mortal horror) Robertson became the central figure in one of the largest gay pride rallies in Scottish history. The Pride Scotland March — with an estimated 5,000 gays, lesbians and bisexuals in attendance, and including the first-ever Scottish version of “Dykes on Bikes” — passed a branch of the Bank of Scotland as it snaked through downtown Edinburgh. The crowd erupted in a mix of cheers and boos — the former for the bank’s decision to sever the Robertson deal and the latter for having signed the deal in the first place.

We bet Jerry Falwell was jealous.…


Yodaville: First “urban” bombing range

June 21

According to military experts, cities will likely be the battlefields of the twenty-first century — and thus, urban warfare the way of the future. So what better place to practice lobbing missiles and bombs than the middle of the Arizona desert?

Welcome to Yodaville, Ariz., a bombing range designed to look like a small town. According to THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, the “town” — complete with cargo containers disguised as buildings, eight feet tall houses, streetlights, junked cars, and people made out of metal bars — is the result of a half-million dollar investment and seven months of work by Marine Corps engineers. The project is a response to calls for the military to “develop more efficient and safer ways to attack villages, towns and cities from the air.” (Funny, we thought the military just had plenty of practice in that in Yugoslavia.)

And how did the “urban warriors” fare? In the first exercises, conducted last week, laser-guided bombs only hit two out of eight targets.…



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