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web posted February 12, 2001

Sharon wins landslide victory in Israeli election

Ariel Sharon enjoyed an overwhelming victory over incumbent Ehud Barak in the February 7 special election for prime minister.

Ariel SharonIn his victory speech, Sharon said Israel was embarking on a new path of "security and true peace," reinforcing his campaign message that he will provide security for Israel while continuing to negotiate peace with the Palestinians.

The ex-general, nicknamed "The Bulldozer," gave his victory speech three hours after Israeli TV exit polls projected his landslide victory. It was a stunning comeback for the 72-year-old Likud party leader, whose election was once thought nearly impossible. His supporters danced with joy while shouts of "The end of Oslo!" were heard, referring to the interim peace accord that Sharon opposed.

With 99.9 percent of the vote counted, Sharon led Barak, 62.6 percent to 37.2 percent, which outstripped even the initial exit poll projections by Israeli television.

The vote was a stinging rebuke of Barak, who conceded defeat an hour after the exit polls were released. He also surprised his supporters by saying he would resign his seat in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, step down as head of the Labor Party as soon as a new government was formed and retire from politics for now.

But Barak said his pursuit of peace with the Palestinians was the "one and only true path" and that his government was ahead of its time.

"Friends, we have lost a battle but we will win the war," the 58-year-old Barak said.

Many Israelis were turned off by both candidates and their disgust was reflected in the turnout, estimated by Israeli election officials to be around 62 percent of the 4.5 million eligible voters. That is a sharp drop from the 1999 election turnout of 78.7 percent. Israel's voting average of close to 80 percent is among the democratic world's highest.

Arab Israelis, traditionally supporters of Barak's Labor Party, apparently boycotted the election as voter turnout was low throughout all Israeli Arab villages, according to the Israeli-Arab Center for Equality. Arab Israelis were angered by the fatal shooting of 13 Israeli Arabs by police during riots in October.

Sharon said he had received a call from U.S. President George W. Bush congratulating him. The American leader reportedly said how remarkable it was that he had been elected president and Sharon had been elected prime minister.

Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have been speaking with U.S. allies in the Middle East, urging restraint. But Powell acknowledged the U.S. can do little else but simply encourage the region to remain calm.

"As a practical matter that is pretty much all we can do right now, and hope that the leaders in the region recognize the absolute importance in controlling the passions and controlling the emotions," he said. "If they do that and if they give the next Israeli government time to establish its policies then good things will flow from that besides just jawboning."

Sex scenes more frequent on television, study finds

More than two-thirds of the shows on U.S. television now have sexual content, compared with just over half just two years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation said February 6 as it released its biennial report on sex in entertainment.

The study, meant as a yardstick for the entertainment industry, found that programs with sexual content increased from 56 percent of shows in the 1997-1998 television season to 68 percent in the 1999-2000 season.

Programs portraying teens in sexual situations increased from 8 percent to 9 percent in the period, and teen television characters involved in intercourse jumped from 3 percent to 9 percent.

The study noted that 32 per cent of shows involving teens talking about or engaging in sexual intercourse made reference to sexual risks and responsibilities. Only one in 10 of all shows with sexual content did so, the study said.

"Every year in this country, there are three-quarters of a million teen pregnancies and 4 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases among teens," said Vicky Rideout of the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Now, we're not blaming TV for this, but we are saying that young people watch a lot of TV. There's obviously a lot of sex on TV, so it's important to think about the messages about sex that television is communicating."

The biggest jump in sexual content occurred in situation comedies, an increase from 56 percent to 84 percent. Reality shows were the least likely to include sexual content (27 percent) and movies were the most likely to do so (89 percent).

Rideout said sexual content could include sex talk, characters planning to have sex and scenes with sexual intercourse.

An industry conference coinciding with the release of the report featured network executives, producers, writers, advertisers, researchers and policy makers.

Jessica Klein, executive producer of the NBC Saturday morning teen show "Just Deal," said she has made a point of producing a responsible show.

"It's an educational show," Klein said. "So when we deal with issues of romance particularly, not specifically sex necessarily, it's important for us to give kids a guidebook about what can be a helpful way for them to navigate the rough quarters of adolescence."

The Kaiser study, titled "Sex on TV: Content and Context," found that messages in programs about sexual health can impact viewers positively. Viewers of the NBC drama "ER," the report said, were found to have an increased knowledge of emergency contraception and the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus, or HPV.

The Kaiser Family Foundation calls itself an independent organization dedicated to providing information and analysis on health issues. It is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

Clinton, Gore had 'blunt' exchange after election

A few days after former Vice President Al Gore conceded the 2000 presidential election, he and former President Bill Clinton had what sources described as a "blunt" exchange, the Washington Post reported February 7.

In what sources close to both men described as uncommonly blunt language, Gore forcefully told Clinton that his sex scandal and low personal approval ratings were a major impediment to his presidential campaign, the Post said.

People close to Clinton told the newspaper the former president responded with equal force that it was Gore's failure to run on the administration's record that hobbled his ambition.

Before the White House showdown, which lasted for more than an hour, Gore and Clinton had barely spoken for a year, the Post said.

Only Clinton and Gore were present for the meeting, which Gore initiated and which never appeared on internal schedules distributed to White House staff, according to the Post.

A Clinton adviser described the tone of the meeting as "tense" while a Gore aide called it "cathartic." One Democrat who has worked closely with both men called the session "very, very blunt," the Post said.

The report said that where descriptions differ is on the conclusion of the meeting. Sources who heard descriptions from either man said the meeting essentially ratified what for many months had been an unspoken truth between them: Their relationship suffered irreparable harm in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Clinton's lies to Gore and the nation about it. The report quoted one Democrat as saying Gore "seemed eager to get things off his chest."

The Post said others put a more upbeat spin on the session, calling it a useful clearing of air that should allow the two men to move forward.

The report said the two camps have not come close to finding common ground on why Gore lost the election. According to the Post, a senior White House official close to Clinton scoffed: "I don't thing the fact that they lost four out of four debates had anything to do with Bill Clinton."

Aides close to Clinton told the newspaper he was mystified and at times angered by Gore's refusal to run on the strong economy and other issues in which Clinton felt both he and his vice president deserved credit. They said just as voters made a distinction between Clinton's personal conduct and his job performance, Clinton believed Gore could campaign on the record without being tied to the presidential scandals.

Clinton spokesman Jake Siewert and Gore spokeswoman Kiki McLean both said their bosses would not comment on a private conversation.

The two camps around both men have also become estranged, the Post reported. Some senior Clinton advisers said they were once close to many top Gore advisers, but friendships among generations of Democrats ruptured during 2000.

And sources told the Post that former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta is angry that Gore aides have allowed Clinton to take blame for damage left in the Executive Office Building, even though most of the mischief took place in the vice president's office.

NBA: No spying on fans

What's good for the NFL is not good for the NBA.

The pro hoops league would not allow its fans to be analyzed by high-tech security cameras at its high-profile All-Star Game on February 11 the way the NFL let Viisage Technology and the Tampa Police Department spy on fans at its marque event, Super Bowl XXXV.

"We have no plans of ever letting that happen at an NBA event," a spokesman for the league told The New York Post.

Major League Baseball said the computer face-matching identification technology, which in one second can match the mug of an individual with that of a wanted criminal, has never been used at an MLB game.

Similarly, the Denver Police Department said it did not use the fledgling technology at the NHL All-Star Game.

Word that high-tech spying, approved by the NFL, was used at the nation's No. 1 sporting event has spread across the country like wildfire and is forcing other sports leagues to confront the issue. Police departments welcome the help while civil liberties group are up in arms.

Caught in the middle is Littleton, Mass.-based Viisage, which owns the biometrics technology used at the game. Tom Colatosti, 53, CEO of the publicly traded company, doesn't understand what all the hullabaloo is about.

Plain-clothed cops customarily patrol sporting events armed with photos of known perps, he said, and this high-tech method eliminates the chance of human error.Viisage's facial identifaction cameras, posted at turnstiles, can capture an image, scan a police department's database using 128 characteristics and come up with a match - in one second.

There were 19 matches at the Super Bowl, Colatosti said.

"The ACLU said it was scary and chilling, but what is really scary and chilling is that terrorists or petty criminals are in the stadium at large sporting events," Colatosti said. "My system is much less intrusive and is without bias to race or income level, compared to human methods."

Colatosti sees big things for his biometrics division.

"We see this business exploding over the next three to five years," he said.

Right now, just 10 percent of the company's $30 million in sales comes from its biometrics division, and most of that cash comes from the 70 casinos which use Viisage's MIT-engineered technology.

The rest of the revenue comes from the less-than-sexy photo driver license and voter registration card systems it sells.

But the Super Bowl gig gets the attention."I must have fielded 100 calls this week," Colatosti told The Post. "We usually get about two or three calls when we send out a press release."

Fidel is hacker threat

Admiral Tom Wilson, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, says 74-year-old communist dictator Fidel Castro may be preparing a cyberattack against the United States.

Wilson told the Senate Intelligence Committee during a public hearing on February 7 that Castro's armed forces could initiate an "information warfare or computer network attack" that could "disrupt our military."

The panel later went into closed session to discuss classified material.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked in response: "And you would say that there is a real threat that they might go that route?"

Replied Wilson: "There's certainly the potential for them to employ those kind of tactics against our modern and superior military."

He said that Cuba's conventional military might was lacking, but its intelligence operations were substantial.

The partly classified hearing is an annual event -- and an important one: It represents this year's World Threat Assessment discussion. That's a chance for the intelligence committee to set its agenda for this session of Congress and hear from senior intelligence officials about the latest national security threats.

In addition to the aging president of Cuba, witnesses and senators both cited encryption as another technology-related threat during a far-ranging discussion that also encompassed nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the committee's hawkish chairman, said that the classified hearing later in the day would "explore the challenges posed by, among others, the proliferation of encryption technology, the increasing sophistication of denial and deception techniques, the need to modernize and to recapitalize the National Security Agency, and other shortfalls in intelligence funding."

Shelby has been a vehement opponent of any proposal to remove encryption export regulations. In 1998, he said "the effects on U.S. national security must be the paramount concern when considering any proposed change to encryption export policy."

He is currently the co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. The week before, Shelby sent out a press release saying, "Personal privacy is one of the most important issues that we must confront in the new world of the information economy."

Also warning of the dangers of encryption products, which let users shield communications from prying eyes, was CIA Director George Tenet, who has frequently spoken out against the technology in the past.

Tenet testified that terrorists such as Osama bin Laden are now using the Internet and encryption to cloak communications within their organizations. "So, you know, you recruit people on Internet sites, and you use encryption," Tenet said. "You move your operational planning and judgments over Internet sites' use of encryption. You raise money."

Tenet said that bin Laden "and his global network of lieutenants and associates remain the most immediate and serious threat" to America.

And what about Castro? It might seem odd to view a country best known for starving livestock, Elian Gonzalez and acute toilet paper shortages as a looming threat, but the Pentagon seems entirely serious.

The DIA's Wilson said: "Cuba is, Senator, not a strong conventional military threat. But their ability to ploy asymmetric tactics against our military superiority would be significant. They have strong intelligence apparatus, good security and the potential to disrupt our military through asymmetric tactics."

Asymmetric tactics is military-ese for terrorist tactics when your opponent has a huge advantage in physical power.

Shortly after those comments, Shelby adjourned the hearing until the afternoon, when it resumed behind closed doors.

FBI investigates parody web site

A website devoted to squishing kittens into Mason jars is one of two things: A trenchant parody designed to provoke, or a nefarious kitty-mutilation scheme that must be stopped, and probably outlawed.

Count the FBI among the many visitors to bonsaikitten.com who are anything but amused at the descriptions of how to use muscle relaxant, feeding tubes and Klein bottles to shape a perfect Bonsai Cat.

FBI agents in the Boston field office have launched an investigation into the site. They also have served MIT with a grand jury subpoena asking for "any and all subscriber information" about the site, which was initially hosted in a campus dormitory but has since moved to a commercial provider.

MIT said in a letter to bonsaikitten.com's pseudonymous webmaster, a graduate student using the alias Dr. Michael Wong Chang, that it will wait until February 11 to turn over records that would identify him by name.

"I was surprised," Chang said. "I really thought that the FBI had better things to do. That's your tax dollars at work."

Bonsaikitten.com is, of course, a joke devised by prankster MIT students -- who else would talk about "rectilinear kittens?" -- to provoke owners of kittens, an adorably fuzzy topic that's usually beyond parody.

Bonsaikitten.com offers to sell visitors a custom-shaped kitten -- the site says "typical wait time for a fully shaped Bonsai Kitten is 3 to 4 months" -- but the site does not list prices or a mailing address for where to send money orders. It does, however, occasionally receive requests for more information.

It also has sparked tens of thousands of hate-mail messages, anti-Bonsai Kitten groups on Yahoo, and even a blistering denunciation from the venerable Humane Society of the United States.

For the site's fans, watching e-mail nastygrams arrive has become a kind of spectator sport: There's even a mailing list that lets bonsaikitten.com aficionados view any mail sent to the site's webmaster. A typical message: "This site is horrible! You should go in a mental hospital! You son of a bitch! I'll do my best to shut down this site and your disgusting hobby!"

A gun-toting investigator from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reportedly stopped by campus and quizzed MIT network administrators about the intent of the site. Under state law, MSPCA investigators are deputized as "special state police officers" with investigation and arrest abilities.

The combined efforts of animal rights proponents, including such ardent activists as the closed-subscription "meowmies" group, seem to have prompted the FBI to launch its investigation.

"Why are they doing this?" asks Harvey Silverglate, a prominent Boston criminal defense attorney. "I think the answer is that political correctness has infected the FBI."

"The kind of fanatical end of the spectrum animal protection movement has affected them," says Silverglate, a partner at Silverglate and Good. "They want to be the good guys. They massively run rampant over Americans' liberties but they want to be seen as nice fuzzy guys who want to protect kittens."

Silverglate predicts that when the FBI realizes bonsaikitten.com is not serious, the bureau will quietly abandon its investigation.

Ellen Kearns, an FBI agent in the bureau's Lakeville, Massachusetts office who is involved in the investigation, could not be reached for comment.

Nadine Pellegrini, the assistant U.S. Attorney who signed the subpoena, refused to discuss the investigation. "I'm making no comment," Pellegrini said.

The subpoena does not discuss what law the bonsaikitten.com operators allegedly violated. But Pellegrini hinted that it was based on a relatively recent federal statute: "I would assume there's a case, if there's a law, but I'm not making any comment."

In December 1999, President Clinton signed a law that makes it a federal felony to possess "a depiction of animal cruelty" with the intent to distribute across state lines -- such as on the Internet. During a floor debate, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) claimed that "sick criminals are taking advantage of the loopholes in the local law and the lack of federal law on animal cruelty videos."

The law, which observers at the time said probably violated the First Amendment, only applies to images, videos, and sound recordings that are distributed "for commercial gain" -- and bonsaikitten.com's tongue-in-cheek descriptions of mail-order cats in bottles appears to have given the FBI sufficient justification for an investigation.

The national Humane Society, based in Washington, applauded the FBI's efforts.

"If the FBI is looking into this, that's great," said spokeswoman Karen Allanach. "Anything to discourage animal cruelty would be very helpful.

Allanach said she's not sure if the site is a parody -- and even if it isn't, it should be taken offline because it could encourage people to experiment on their own household pets.

"It's totally promoting animal cruelty," Allanach said. "They consider it a sick joke. People will take it seriously. Animal cruelty is not funny. Animal torture is not funny. We would like bonsaikitten.com to be removed permanently."

When asked whether someone has the First Amendment right to advocate for animal cruelty, Allanach replied: "That's a great question. That's at the heart of a lot of debate."

Jered Floyd, a recent MIT graduate, says animal rights activists -- who have successfully pressured hosting services to ban bonsaikitten.com until rotten.com offered it server space -- don't have a sense of humor.

"The First Amendment protects all speech, no matter how offensive some people may find it," Floyd says. "The site is clearly a humorous endeavor. The fact that a number of people seem to have very little sense of humor isn't relevant."

A letter dated February 1 from MIT lawyer Jeff Swope says that federal law requires the university to notify students when it receives subpoenas for information about them. It says that "pursuant to that legal process, MIT will produce such information, no earlier than Feb. 11, 2001."

Contender controversy rubbish: Oldman

Actor-filmmaker Gary Oldman now claims that his caustic comments against director Rod Lurie about their movie The Contender were misrepresented.

"That's all rubbish they put out over the Internet and stuff," Oldman said during interviews for the February 9 Hannibal debut. "I said a few things and Mr. Showbiz got on the Internet and put it all out of context. I've moved on -- new canvas." He refused to go into detail on the issue.

In October, the Web site and Premiere magazine reported that Oldman, one of the executive producers of The Contender, was "very hurt" that Lurie had re-edited the political drama to make it more left-leaning and less sympathetic to Oldman's character, a conservative congressman.

According to the reports, Oldman had charged that Lurie caved in to pressure from the DreamWorks studio, which is run by known Democratic supporters Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Lurie denied that his film became propaganda for the Democrats during the U.S. election.

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