Weekly Review — November 26, 2002, 12:00 am

Weekly Review

The United States Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill creating a department of “homeland” security one week after the House did so. Nine senators opposed the bill, including Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who argued forcefully that this “monstrosity,” which will be cobbled together from the parts of 22 separate agencies, will do very little to prevent terrorist attacks. “Osama bin Laden is still alive and plotting more attacks while we play bureaucratic shuffleboard,” Byrd said. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review issued its first opinion ever; the court decided that the federal government need not be bound by a procedural “wall” that has kept criminal prosecutors from fully utilizing wiretaps authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has accused the Department of Justice of using FISA wiretaps to evade the more stringent requirements of standard criminal investigations. The ruling was denounced as a misguided expansion of the government’s powers to spy on American citizens. “This is a giant step forward,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “This revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts.” Al Gore denounced George W. Bush for taking “the most fateful step in the direction of the Big Brother nightmare that any president has ever allowed to occur.” Investigators concluded that a fatal train wreck last year in Michigan occurred because the engineer and the conductor on the train were both suffering from severe sleep apnea. American intelligence experts decided that the new Osama bin Laden tape is probably genuine. United Nations weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad. The State Department warned Americans traveling abroad that they might be the targets of terrorist attacks, which “may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations or kidnappings.” The Senate voted to cover the financial losses of insurance companies in the event of a major terrorist attack; the bill will cover losses up to $100 billion annually for three years. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for overseeing the security of the nation’s nuclear stockpile, ordered a hiring freeze because of budgetary problems. The head of the Transportation Security Administration admitted that his agency would not be able to scan all airline baggage for bombs by the end of the year as required by law. A judge rejected a challenge to the detention of prisoners at Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, saying that the plaintiffs, a coalition of clergy and professors, have no legal standing in the matter. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist fell down and hurt his knee.

Amram Mitzna, the mayor of Haifa and a former general, was elected as leader of Israel’s Labor Party on a peace platform; Mitzna promised that if elected prime minister he would immediately enter into negotiations with the Palestinian leadership and that he would withdraw all settlers from the Gaza Strip without delay. “The majority of the people in Israel have already seen where the last year and a half have led us,” Mitzna said. “There is no security, no economy, no society, no education. Nothing.” An Israeli soldier shot and killed a senior United Nations official, Iain John Hook, in the agency’s compound in Jenin, in the West Bank. American soldiers were practicing their invasion tactics just a few miles from the Kuwait-Iraq border. Protests continued in Iran against the death sentence of a reformist scholar, who was also sentenced to 8 years in prison, 74 lashes, and a 10-year ban from teaching for saying that Muslims should not blindly follow religious leaders like monkeys. More than 200 people were killed in rioting by Nigerian Muslims opposed to the Miss World pageant after a newspaper suggested that the Prophet Muhammad would have married one of the contestants if he were alive today. Churches in Kaduna were burned and armed youths attacked people suspected of being Christian; the local governor threatened to shoot rioters on sight. Pageant organizers decided to move the event to London. An American evangelist was shot dead in Lebanon, and two American soldiers were shot by a Kuwaiti policeman. It was reported that Pakistan and North Korea have been swapping parts for their nuclear-weapons programs; Pakistani officials have promised to be good from now on. In response to a question about Iran-Contra star John Poindexter andhis Total Information Awareness project, Secretary of Defense DonaldRumsfeld had the following to say: “And then there was the officeof strategic influence. You may recall that. And ‘oh my goodnessgracious isn’t that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.’ Iwent down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage thisthing, fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can havethe name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to bedone and I have. What was intended to be done by that office is beingdone by that office, NOT by that office in other ways.” Rumsfeldalso said that “the Soviet Union is continuing to make nuclearweapons, I mean the Russians.”

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon agency that created the Internet, said it had no plans for further research into a scheme called eDNA, which would have reconfigured the Internet to require users to display a unique personal identifier based on biometric data. Oil from a tanker that sank off the coast of Spain was washing up along the coast of Galicia, an area famous for its seafood. Members of the Evangelical Environmental Network were selling bumper stickers reading “What would Jesus drive?” as part of a campaign to convince automakers to build more fuel-efficient cars: “The Risen Lord Jesus is concerned about the kinds of cars we drive because they affect his people and his creation.” The Bush Administration approved the drilling of two new gas wells along the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. The administration also revised the regulations governing power plants; officials said that the new rules, which will permit more pollution, will make the air cleaner. The Environmental Protection Agency said that it will spend $715,000 to determine whether oak trees are causing air pollution in St. Louis. In Yacolt, Washington, a man who tried to kiss his pet rattlesnake was bitten on the lip and almost died. An 89-year-old hunter in Minnesota shot a horse out from under a 12-year-old girl thinking it was a deer. Strom Thurmond was finally permitted to go home. Astronomers said that two super-massive black holes that have been circling each other were likely to collide and send ripples through the fabric of space, causing an infinitesimal wobbling in all matter. Two sisters in Alabama who were driving to visit each other died in a head-on collision. British television broadcast the public autopsy of a dead German. Anne Elizabeth Alice Laurence, the princess royal of England, was convicted of losing control of her three-year-old English bull terrier, Dotty, which bit two young boys. Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, denied an accusation from Princess Diana’s “energy healer” that he had sent letters to the late princess calling her a “harlot” and a “trollop.” Russia’s Ministry of Education proposed a ban on Barbie dolls.

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Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

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