WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 

Cincinnati vs. The World 09.24.14

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Forbes ranked Cincinnati No. 19 in a new list of “19 Opportunity Cities.” Cincinnati’s low housing and unemployment rates, along with its high number of Fortune 500 companies, make it easi  

Cincinnati vs. The World 01.22.2014

0 Comments · Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Tea party activists and fiscal conservatives are securing seats on local school boards across the Tristate and taking their anger over big government and Obama out on tax levies and Common Core standards. CINCINNATI -1  

Absorbing Foreign Media Coverage Vital for Syria Context

0 Comments · Thursday, September 19, 2013
For a news junkie, the Internet helps me understand the Middle East where someone always seems ready to make life miserable for someone else.   

Curmudgeon Notes 09.04.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 11, 2013
• Accurate reporting requires context. Why is gassing hundreds of Syrian civilians in Damascus worse than shooting and killing as many or more civilians about in and around Cairo? Why is the killing and wounding of thousands in Cairo worse than endlessly raping, wounding, mutilating and killing millions of civilians in the horribly misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo?    
by Ben L. Kaufman 09.04.2013
 
 
enquirer

Curmudgeon Notes 09.04.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

 • I was at UPI in London during the 1963 March on Washington. I read about it in London dailies and the Paris Herald-Tribune. Since then, all kinds of “marches” on Washington have cheapened the brand. So has the obsessive replaying of snippets from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech as if it were the event. I’m grateful to news media that went further in recalling the magnitude of the 1963 march and roles played by organizers and other speakers. This was part of the 1960s that I missed.  • Court rulings allow the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s heir to own and control his “I Have a Dream” speech to the 1963 march. Anyone wanting to use more than a few words must pay. My first reaction was “WTF? It was a public event in a public place and a public speech to the public. That can be ‘owned’? Yup.  • Stenographic reporting of the so-called debate over whether to bomb Syria back into the Stone Age helps build acceptance for a new war. Similarly, assertions that Assad’s forces gassed civilians are repeatedly reported as evidence or proof.  As of this writing, reporters have quoted no top Obama administration official willing to offer evidence or proof. Instead, as evidence, we have unverified videos online and interpretations of what the images show. Reporters don’t tell us who provided death figures or who provided information that White House is using the claim Sarin gas was used.  • Meanwhile, the constitutional expectation that only Congress can declare war has suffered the same fate as the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable seizures and searches; dying if not dead.  Germany and Japan attacked us. Congress responded for the most recent time: 1942. Russia’s surrogate attacked our dictator across the 38th Parallel in 1950 and triggered the still-unresolved Korean police action. LBJ was conned or knowingly lied about reported 1964 attacks on American warships in the Tonkin Gulf and moved us into the undeclared Vietnam War. Luckily, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in1990 and started Gulf War I. The CIA’s totally mistaken 2002 “slam dunk” assurance about Weapons of Mass Destruction was used by Bush to justify undeclared Gulf War II. After 9/11, Afghans sheltered Osama bin Laden before our allies in Pakistan sheltered him and that was used to justify our unfinished and undeclared war against the Taliban in both countries although the Taliban never attacked us. Let’s not even get into the invasion of Panama or Grenada or fiasco in Somalia. All that’s missing in this latest rush to bash a hornets nest is a repeat of the New York Times sycophantic reporting that Saddam Hussein had and would use weapons of mass destruction.  • If you want a weapon of mass destruction, how about the AK-47, the totemic Soviet assault rifle that is ubiquitous on every continent or the simple machete/panga with which millions have been and are being murdered and/or mutilated. No chemical, biological or nuclear weapon has killed so many people.  • When will some national reporter ask, “What’s surgical about a surgical strike?” Nothing unless we’re comparing it to carpet bombing a la Germany, Japan, Laos or Vietnam.  Other than assassinating Assad with a drone-launched guided missile — good enough for Americans in Yemen —  any attack on Syria will create  “collateral” damage. They used to be called innocent victims, sort of like French civilians killed by Allies’ D-Day bombing.  “Surgical strike” is a debasement of the language. I’m surprised that surgeons — whose marketing mavens constantly promote ever-smaller and more precise bodily invasions — don’t ask the Pentagon to abandon the phrase, “surgical strike.”  However, it’s no mystery why news media are willing, even eager to echo this desensitizing insider language. It recalls “RPG,” “IED,” “smart bombs,” “boots on the ground” and similar military language embraced by civilian reporters for their civilian audiences. Except those buzz words weren’t for civilian audiences; it was how reporters assured military sources that journalists were savvy and sympathetic listeners.  “Surgical strikes” serves us as badly as reporting unsupported assertions and assumptions as fact. Accurately reported bullshit is still bullshit.  • Accurate reporting requires context. Why is gassing hundreds of Syrian civilians in Damascus worse than shooting and killing as many or more civilians about in and around Cairo? Why is the killing and wounding of thousands in Cairo worse than endlessly raping, wounding, mutilating and killing millions of civilians in the horribly misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo?  • Our selective condemnation of poison gas recalls the 11th-century papal ban of the cross bow; peasant crossbowmen could kill armored knights from an unmanly and impersonal distance. That also was bad for the social order. Welsh bowmen faced no such opprobrium although their arrows killed far more mounted knights. Jump ahead almost a millennium. There is debate on what is a chemical weapon and not all gasses — think tear gas — are poisonous. Poison gas was used infrequently but without sanction during the past 100 years.  Germans and the British gassed each other during World War I. Communists were accused of using poison gas during Russian Civil War. Italians gassed native troops in Ethiopia in the 1930s in years when colonial powers were suspected/accused of gassing rebellious native troops. Japanese gassed Chinese during early World War II. Egyptians gassed Yemeni forces in the 1960s but Americans denied using toxic/blister gasses in Vietnam and Laos. Iraq deployed lethal gas against its own people and Iranian forces in the insane Iraq-Iran 1980s war. Politicians and UN officials fulminate against gassing civilians but they only remind us how selective agony and journalism can be.  • No less authority than President Obama relegated the comparative to the dustbin of grammar. His speech at the Lincoln Memorial last week praised King and other civil rights activists, saying “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair.” True, but I’ll bet King would have said, “freer and fairer.”  • Everyone’s lauding David Frost’s evocative interviews with disgraced Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency. He died after a heart attack on Saturday. My memory of Frost is different: TW3, the original That Was the Week that Was on BBC TV. It was as irreverent as posh Brits from Oxbridge could be and Frost was a central figure in its creation in 1962 and weekly broadcasts until it was cancelled to avoid criticism as the 1964 general election neared. Two skits stand out in my memory, in part because my Saturday night duties at UPI included watching and filing a story on anything newsworthy that TW3 did/said.  The first showed an otherwise empty set with seemingly naked Millicent Martin, then young and drop-dead lovely, astride and leaning over the back of a curvy, modern Arne Jacobsen chair. It was the same pose call girl Christine Keeler used when photographed during the scandal over her affair with government minister John Profumo. You can see the original Keeler image at www.vam.ac.uk. Martin resembled Keeler just as Tina Fey looked like Sarah Palin. Martin looked straight at the camera and said something like, “John told me I was sitting on a fortune.” That was it. Perfect lampoon but there was no way to use that skit on UPI’s wire. The second memorable skit followed the apparent TW3 and BBC late night sign-off. A De Gaulle look alike, right down the uniform and kepi on his head, addressed the Brits contemptuously over some strategic or diplomatic blunder. Then the broadcast ended. That skit was newsworthy. BBC said its switchboard operators — remember, this was the early 1960s — were overwhelmed. Seemed the perfect jab at the Establishment by its children fooled a lot of Brits; they thought BBC really had broadcast a De Gaulle speech.   • On a celebratory note, authorities dropped charges against Tim Funk, religion reporter for the Charlotte Observer, who   arrested while he interviewed “Moral Monday” demonstrators at the Statehouse in Raleigh, NC.  He was charged with second-degree trespass and failure to disperse.  Tim’s a Northern Kentuckian and among the ablest of decades of my undergraduate students. After the local prosecutor came to his senses, Tim told the AP, “It was clear to everyone there that I was a news reporter just doing my job interviewing Charlotte-area clergy about how they felt about being arrested. The reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the public who can’t be present at important public events like this protest. That’s all I was doing.”   When his June 10 arrest was reported, at least one respondent noted that Tim was among the first detained, stopping him from seeing how police handled demonstrators.  His editor, Rick Thames, told AP, “This is clearly the right result, and we congratulate the district attorney for making the right decision. Tim Funk was working as a journalist inside the most obvious public building in our state. The videotape of Tim’s arrest demonstrates clearly that his only purpose in being there was to provide our readers a vivid firsthand account. He was clearly not obstructing the police. It’s hard to understand why he was arrested in the first place.” • Cincinnati taxpayers need to know more about competing — and inescapably costly — plans to overcome years of city council shortchanging the city pension fund. The news isn’t good. As the Enquirer’s James Pilcher put it Sunday, “if every man,woman and child living in the city of Cincinnati contributed $2,000 apiece, it still wouldn’t be enough to fill the plan’s current $870 million gap.” There’s a timeline with his explanatory story that screams for elaboration: What, if any, roles did mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley play in council decisions to deepen the pension debt? And I howled at the quote from state auditor Dave Yost: “ . . . the city is in a fork in the road . . . And I’m concerned Cincinnati is not doing enough to avoid going down that fork in the road.”  Don’t try this at home. Sort of like standing with a foot on each side of a barbed wire fence. Reminds me of a friend who’d look right, point left and say, “Go this way.”  Maybe with Yost’s sense of direction, Cincinnati should consider the road not taken. 
 
 

How Media React to Errors Is Enlightening

1 Comment · Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Given the news media’s historic reticence about admitting screw-ups, I have no idea whether we are more or less ethical than in recent decades. What has changed is the likelihood that unspeakable puffery and blatant conflicts of interest are likelier than ever to be caught and publicized.  
by Kevin Osborne 05.01.2012
 
 
osha

Morning News and Stuff

A federal investigation into a January construction accident at the Horseshoe Casino site is now completed and the fines in the case have been reduced. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration originally imposed $108,000 in fines, but has since cut that amount in half. Thirteen workers were injured when a concrete floor they were pouring gave way. Four firms were cited in the mishap.An article in a journal published by the American Heart Association states that a review of eight cases indicates the use of electrical stun guns by police can cause cardiac arrest. Douglas Zipes, a physiologist with Indiana University, wrote the article that examines the effects of the Taser X26 ECD. At least three people have died locally in recent years after being shocked by Tasers, most recently a North College Hill man who was shocked at the University of Cincinnati last August. Police in Colerain Township and Fairfax have stopped using stun guns, but Cincinnati police officers still use the devices.A single woman who used artificial insemination to become pregnant has filed a federal lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati after she was fired from her teaching job at a Catholic school. Christa Dias, who was fired in October 2010, isn't Catholic and says she wasn't aware of the church's teachings against the procedure. She taught computer classes and had no ministerial duties at the school. Employment law experts expect the issues involved in the case will attract national attention and could set a precedent.Nine local schools will receive part of a $21 million federal grant given to the state of Ohio to help improve low-performing schools. The Cincinnati facilities that will get aid are Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, Woodward Career Tech High, South Avondale Elementary, William H. Taft Elementary, George Hays-Jennie Porter, Schroder Paideia High, West Side Montessori High, Oyler and the district's Virtual High School. Local school officials say the grant money has been used the past two years to take all but one school out of the “academic emergency” classification.Cincinnati City Council could vote as soon as Wednesday on a proposal to extend insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. A council committee voted 8-0 Monday to give tentative approval to the plan, which was lobbied for by Councilman Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay man to serve on the group. The benefit is expected to cost the city between $300,000 and $540,000 annually, depending on how many claims are filed. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican and evangelical Christian minister, abstained from the vote.In news elsewhere, documents seized from Osama bin Laden's hideaway in Pakistan after his death reveal the terrorist leader was worried about al-Qaeda's image. The records show bin Laden trying to reassert control over factions of loosely affiliated jihadists from Yemen to Somalia, as well as independent actors whom he believed had sullied al-Qaeda’s reputation and muddied its central message. Bin Laden was killed in a raid by Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011.British lawmakers said today that global media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is unfit to run a major company and should take responsibility for a culture of illegal telephone hacking that has shaken News Corp. A parliamentary committee said Murdoch and his son, James, showed "willful blindness" about the scale of phone-hacking that first emerged at Murdoch's News of the World newspaper. In the United States, Murdoch owns the Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post.President Obama expressed support Monday for the blind Chinese dissident at the center of a standoff between Beijing and Washington. Speaking at a press conference, Obama said he wouldn't address specifics of the Chen Guangcheng case, but then went on to urge Beijing to address its human rights record. It's believed that Chen is hiding at the U.S. Embassy in China, but officials have declined to confirm the speculation or whether negotiations are underway.Although most Republican politicians are united in their opposition to federal health-care reforms known as “ObamaCare,” they disagree on what should replace it, Politico reports. Even after three years of railing against Obama’s plan, Republicans haven't coalesced around a full replacement plan. Although most Republicans support the health law’s requirement that insurance companies accept all applicants, the main replacement plan put forward by the GOP ignores that idea.Violence continues in Syria between government forces and rebels despite both sides agreeing to a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire. A human a rights group reported 10 civilians were killed in an army mortar attack and 12 soldiers killed in a firefight with rebel gunmen today as U.N. monitors tried to broker an end to the fighting, which has lasted more than a year.
 
 
by Kevin Osborne 04.23.2012
 
 
winburn

Morning News and Stuff

The sole Republican and independent members of Cincinnati City Council have called a special meeting of the group tonight to address black on black crime. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an independent, want their colleagues to allocate an extra $300,000 for CrimeStoppers, which offers cash rewards for tips leading to the arrest of suspects in crimes. Winburn and Smitherman, both of whom are African-American, say more needs to be done to help quell shootings and violence in Avondale and elsewhere. The special session is at 6 p.m. at City Hall, located at 801 Plum St., downtown. Smitherman also is president of the NAACP's local chapter.Winburn, however, was part of a council faction that voted two years ago to dramatically reduce funding for the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). The program involves using “violence interrupters,” usually ex-offenders, to intervene with gang members and offer advice for leaving their lives of crime. City Council cut CIRV's budget from $861,000 in 2010 to $184,000 for 2011, which reduced the number of street advocates from 16 to five. Councilman Cecil Thomas, an African-American and a retired police officer who heads council's Law and Public Safety Committee, opposed the cuts and said CIRV needs more support.The unexpected death of attorney and real estate investor Lanny Holbrook in January has led to an awkward legal battle over a promised donation to a Catholic high school. In fall 2001 Holbrook pledged $500,000 to McAuley High School in College Hill, in return for renaming a section of its building The Nancy & Lanny Holbrook Art Wing. A few payments were made, but Holbrook fell behind before his death. Now the school is seeking the $430,000 that was never paid.A well-known Cincinnati chef who once had his own television show on WKRC-TV (Channel 12) was arrested in March for drunken driving. Officers stopped Jean-Robert De Cavel on March 16 in Fairfax. De Cavel refused a Breathalyzer test, and eventually was convicted of a reduced charge of reckless operation. He served three days in a driving program and got his license suspended for six months with limited driving privileges. De Cavel owns Jean Robert's Table, and is a former executive chef at The Maisonette.Sunday was Earth Day, and Kemba Credit Union marked the occasion a day early by offering free paper shredding services at its locations in Bridgetown, West Chester and Florence, Ky. More than 100,000 pounds of paper were shredded and recycled, using special equipment donated by Cintas Corp.In news elsewhere, George Zimmerman was released early this morning from the Seminole County Jail in Florida. Zimmerman, the man who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February, posted $150,000 bail and left the Sanford jail fitted with an electronic monitoring device that the Sheriff's Office and Seminole County probation officers will use to keep track of him while he awaits trial on a charge of second-degree murder.The trial of one-time vice presidential candidate John Edwards begins today in Greensboro, N.C. Edwards is accused of accepting more than $900,000 in illegal contributions during his 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination to pay the expenses of his mistress and hide the extramarital affair. Edwards rejected a plea deal in the case, which would've required him to admit wrongdoing and serve some time in jail.What liberal bias? President Obama received more negative coverage from the mainstream media than GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, according to a new study. The Project for Excellence in Journalism, a Washington nonprofit that examined 52 key newspaper, television, radio, and Web outlets from Jan. 2-April 15, found Romney’s coverage was 39 percent positive, 32 percent negative and 29 percent neutral. That compares to Obama’s coverage, which was 18 percent positive, 34 percent negative and 34 percent neutral.French President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to lure Far Right voters after losing narrowly to his Socialist rival in the presidential election's first round. Francois Hollande came top with 28.6 percent of the vote, compared to Sarkozy's 27.1 percent. It's the first time an incumbent president in France has lost in the first round. The second round of voting will be held May 6.Syrian government troops reportedly stormed the Damascus suburb of Douma early Sunday, with soldiers shooting at an armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. A United Nations team of observers has arrived in Syria to try to get both sides to abide by a cease-fire agreement.
 
 
by Kevin Osborne 03.28.2012
 
 
pigs

Morning News and Stuff

Here they come again: the pigs, that is. Artists around Cincinnati are putting the finishing touches on another round of decorated fiberglass pigs that will be unveiled in May as part of the next Big Pig Gig. Co-sponsored by ArtWorks and C-Change, the event is modeled after the one held from May to October 2000 when local artists and schools decorated more than 400 statues and installed them throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The pigs eventually were auctioned off, raising money for area nonprofit groups. This year's pigs will debut at the Flying Pig Marathon in May and go on full display during the World Choir Games in July. The theme is the city's architecture, or as organizers call it, "pork-itecture."A decision is expected today in a lawsuit to stop a $12 million renovation project at the Anna Louise Inn. Western & Southern Financial Group wants to purchase the land on Lytle Street where the battered women's shelter is located and build upscale condominiums there. Union Bethel, the group that owns the shelter, have said they feel bullied by the powerful corporation.Gov. John Kasich is an odd man, so it should be no surprise that some items in his recent state budget proposal also are downright bizarre. They include reclassifying bottled water as a food so consumers no longer have to pay sales tax on it, and repealing a 2006 regulation that required all Ohio employers to have applicants fill out a form attesting that they weren't affiliated with any terrorist organizations. (Ahh, the early 2000s. Good times.)Trustees at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College have authorized bids to construct two 10-unit hangars at its Cincinnati West Airport in Harrison. The new structures would be built next to existing hangars, which house 22 planes and are leased to capacity.Longtime Reds sportscaster Thom Brennaman assessed the team's prospects for the upcoming season from its spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz. The interview can be found at the website for WNKU (89.7 FM).In news elsewhere, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich appears to have conceded that he cannot win enough delegates in the remaining primaries to nab the party's nomination. The ex-House Speaker from Georgia is reducing his campaign schedule, laying off about one-third of his cash-strapped campaign’s staff and has replaced his manager as part of what aides are calling a “big-choice convention” strategy. Gingrich will now focus on winning in a contested party convention scenario in Tampa, Fla., when the party meets there in late August.If you like the fact that an insurance can't drop you for a preexisting condition under President Obama's health-care reform law, or that a company can't impose a limit on paying the cost of your medical care, then you'd better hope the Supreme Court upholds it. That's because Obama and Congress have few contingency plans about what to do if the high court strikes down the mandatory insurance requirement.A dispute is brewing in Israel over plans to prevent the Canaan, an ancient breed of dog mentioned in the Bible, from going extinct. In recent decades, many Canaan dogs were destroyed in rabies eradication programs, and now only a few hundred subsist in the Negev desert. But the Israeli government is threatening to close the operation that has been helping preserve the breed by collecting rare specimens in the desert, breeding them and shipping their offspring to kennels around the globe.Syria's tentative acceptance of a United Nations-backed plan to end the nation's violent uprising has triggered skeptical responses from U.S. and British officials, amid concern that President Bashar al-Assad is trying to buy time and divide his opponents.Neighbors of the west African nation of Mali have threatened to use economic sanctions and expressed a readiness to use military force to dislodge those behind last week's coup, urging them to quickly hand back power to civilian rulers. A summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has sent a team of diplomats to confront the coup leaders in coming days. Meanwhile, the United States has cut off aid to Mali in protest.
 
 
by Kevin Osborne 03.27.2012
 
 
rally

Morning News and Stuff

A crowd estimated at close to 1,500 people attended a rally Monday evening at downtown's Fountain Square to express outrage that the alleged shooter of an unarmed teenager in Sanford, Fla., hasn't been arrested. The Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, has sparked widespread outrage, but some of the marchers at the Cincinnati rally said it's a time to remember all victims of violent crimes. The Rev. Peterson Mingo, who's lost five relatives to violence, urged attendees to take non-violent action. "The same thing can happen to either one of you, someone you know, family or friends,” Mingo said. “And it doesn't matter the color of your skin. We have all the same rights."Meanwhile, details about the shooter's account of the incident were leaked to a Florida newspaper near Sanford. Police reports indicate George Zimmerman, 28, the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin, told police the teenager punched him in the nose and tackled him, bashing his head into the ground. That's when Zimmerman shot Martin at point blank range in the chest, the reports said. The reports state that Zimmerman was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head. Some — but not all — of the witnesses to the incident have corroborated this version of events.Neighborhood activists in Avondale, where 11 murders occurred last year, will be the first in the nation to try a new anti-violence program that uses a relatively simple approach. The Moral Voice program involves using “people of influence” in the lives of criminals to speak to them, encourage them to stop shooting and selling drugs, and offer help to get their lives back on track. It's unclear how this differs from the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), which uses a similar approach.Some area Tea Party groups have taken umbrage at letters they've received from the IRS. The agency has sent questionnaires to various groups, including the Liberty Township Tea Party and the Ohio Liberty Council, seeking information about their political activities because they've applied for tax-exempt status. But some groups think the questions are too intrusive and constitute harassment. A University of Notre Dame law professor, however, said the IRS inquiries do not seem overly intrusive or unusual.The Great Recession hit Ohio harder than just about every other state in terms of private-sector job loss. Only three states lost more private-sector jobs than Ohio during the last four years, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Buckeye State lost 266,300 private-sector jobs between 2008-12, leaving it with about 4.36 million positions.A longtime West Side fixture has died. Demetrios Christos James Kostopoulo, or just “Jim” to his many friends and acquaintances, recently died at age 74 while working at his popular restaurant, Delhi Chili. A Greek immigrant, Kostopoulo came to the United States in 1956. He opened his eatery in 1963 and would work 12-day shifts before taking time off, his daughter said.In news elsewhere, the impact of the individual mandate in President Obama's health-care reform law is being vastly overstated, some economists say. Even as the Supreme Court hears arguments about the law's constitutionality, analysts note that most Americans already have coverage that satisfies the mandate. For the remainder, the law would create subsidies that would help pay for coverage. The mandate most likely will affect about 25 million people when it takes effect in 2014 — many of whom are younger, healthier people who were taking the risk of going without health insurance. (That's probably you, dear CityBeat reader.)Syria has reportedly accepted a ceasefire plan drawn up by Kofi Annan, a special envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League. Annan's spokesman confirmed that the government had accepted the six-point peace plan, which the U.N. Security Council has endorsed. Annan said it dealt with "political discussions, withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, (and) release of prisoners,” although few details were available. Syria has waged a violent crackdown against anti-government protestors for more than 12 months.A strong earthquake shook northern Japan today, but no damage was reported and there was no risk of a tsunami. The Japan Meteorological Agency recorded a 6.4 preliminary magnitude. There may be a small change in sea levels, the agency said, but it didn't issue any tsunami warnings.There was a close call in space over the weekend.  A leftover piece of an old Russian satellite forced six astronauts on the International Space Station to take shelter in a pair of lifeboat-like space capsules Saturday, but passed harmlessly by the outpost to the crew's relief. The space junk was spotted too late to move the orbiting laboratory out of the way and flew as close as 6.8 miles when it zoomed by, NASA officials said. Where's Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and those other Armageddon space cowboys when you need them?
 
 

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