Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday NewsWatch

Odd Situations Spice Up Election

As Barack Obama moved to a decisive and historic victory Tuesday, some voters saw things that don't normally take place.

Kentucky Bucks Trends

In Kentucky, many long-term trends fell, Louisville television station WLKY reported. For the first time in 44 years, the state did not vote for the winner of the presidential election. Hamilton County, Ohio, however, voted for a Democrat for the first time in 44 years. Some things stayed the same, however. The small town of Rabbit Hash elected a dog as mayor. A border collie named Lucy Lou beat nine other dogs, a cat, one possum, one donkey and one person. The previous mayor - a dog named Junior Cochran - died in office.

State Senator Fights Over Sign

In Arizona, a Democratic Party worker said an Arizona state senator assaulted her when she tried to remove a sign near a polling location. Ruth Levin, 78, accused Republican Sen. John Huppenthal of driving up to the apartment complex where she was working, jumping out of a car and cutting down a sign that criticized his efforts to improve air quality at a high school. Huppenthal threw the sign into the back seat of the car and drove off, but not before Levin opened the car door, grabbed her sign and a handful of paperwork, police said. Huppenthal said the apartment complex's manager gave him permission to remove the sign from the property. Police said they are looking into the incident as a possible act of disorderly conduct or criminal damage.

Playoffs As Policy

While many voters chose their candidate based on policy issues, speaking ability or even as a way to protest against the current administration, other last-minute issues swayed some people. One Indiana University student told station WRTV in Indianapolis that he planned to vote for Sen. John McCain, but changed his mind when Obama said on "Monday Night Football" the day before the election that he would add a playoff system to college football if he could. McCain told ESPN's Chris Berman that he would do something about performance-enhancing drugs if he could change something about sports.

Father, Son To Serve Together

In San Antonio, a candidate for Bexar County Commission was elected to serve with his father. Kevin Wolff will join his father, Nelson Wolff. However, the younger Wolff said there will not likely be a conflict of interest, because he is a Republican, while his father is a Democrat.

Bush And Sewage

In San Francisco, voters rejected a measure that would have renamed a sewage treatment plant after President George W. Bush. Some critics said the name change for the facility wasn't fair - to the hard-working sewage plant, The Associated Press reported. The White House never commented on the ballot measure.

Voting At Barack

At one voting location, it would have been hard to imagine anyone but Obama winning. One Columbus, Ohio, poll was set up at the Barack Recreation Center.The rec center was dedicated in 1964 in honor of a former city recreation director. While the name is spelled the same, it actually pronounced BAYR'-ihk. Precinct presiding judge Hattie Harris said voting went smoothly at the rec center. She added lines weren't nearly as long as they were in 2004.

Medvedev: Russia to Deploy Missiles Near Poland

Russia will deploy short-range missiles near Poland to counter U.S. military plans in Eastern Europe, President Dmitry Medvedev has warned, setting a combative tone that clashed with global goodwill over Barack Obama's election.

In his first state of the nation speech, Medvedev blamed Washington on Wednesday for the war in Georgia and the world financial crisis and suggested it was up to Washington to mend badly damaged ties. Medvedev also proposed increasing the Russian presidential term to six years from four -- a change that could deepen Western concern over democracy in Russia and play into the hands of his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has not ruled out a return to the Kremlin.

Extending the presidential term could mean a possible 12 more years in the top office for the popular Putin. Echoing Putin, who made criticism of Washington and the West a hallmark of his two-term, eight-year presidency, Medvedev used the speech in an ornate Kremlin reception hall to cast Russia as a nation threatened by encroaching American military might.

"From what we have seen in recent years - the creation of a missile defense system, the encirclement of Russia with military bases, the relentless expansion of NATO - we have gotten the clear impression that they are testing our strength," Medvedev said.

He signaled Moscow would not give in to Western calls to pull troops from Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or rescind its recognition of their independence following the August war.

Talking tough, he fleshed out long-promised military measures in response to U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet satellites now in NATO. The Kremlin claims the system is meant to weaken Russia, not defend against Iran, as Washington insists. The contract for the missile defense has already been awarded to Boeing.

Medvedev said Iskander missiles would be deployed to Russia's western enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, "to neutralize, if necessary, a missile defense system." The Iskander has a range of about 280 kilometers (175 miles), which would allow it to reach targets in Poland but not in the Czech Republic -- but officials have said its range could be increased. Medvedev did not say whether the missiles would be fitted with nuclear warheads. Russia will also deploy electronic jamming equipment, Medvedev said.

After the speech, the Kremlin announced Medvedev had congratulated Obama for winning the U.S. presidency, saying in a telegram he was "counting on a constructive dialogue with you on the basis of trust and taking each other's interests into account."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack emphasized that the planned missile defenses were not aimed at Russia.

Medvedev appeared to be trying to improve Russia's bargaining position in potential talks with the Obama administration on missile defense. His wording suggested Russia would reverse the decision if the U.S. scraps its missile defense plans.

"Moscow isn't interested in confrontation, and if Obama makes some conciliatory gestures it will respond correspondingly," said Alexander Pikayev, an analyst at Moscow's Institute for World Economy and International Relations.

But independent military analyst Alexander Golts said Medvedev's "confrontational tone" could further harm relations with the United States, which plunged to a post-Cold War low over the war in Georgia.

Regional leaders criticized Medvedev's missile warning. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was "certainly the wrong signal at the wrong time" and urged the U.S. and Russia to see change in the White House as an "opportunity for a new beginning." Medvedev suggested the U.S. must make the first move to break the chill. The Kremlin hopes the incoming administration "will make a choice in favor of full-fledged relations with Russia," he said.

In addition to calling for a six-year presidential term, he said parliament's term should be extended to five years instead of four and its power over the executive branch increased.

Both changes could strengthen the hand of Putin, who can run for president again in 2012 and now heads the dominant United Russia party.

Huge Piece of Space Junk Splashes Down in Pacific

A refrigerator-sized piece of space junk fell harmlessly into the South Pacific Sunday night, according to NASA. The junk was a tank full of ammonia coolant on the international space station that was no longer needed. Astronaut Clayton Anderson threw it overboard during a spacewalk in July 2007.

Space station program manager Mike Suffredini said Monday that the debris splashed down somewhere between Australia and New Zealand Sunday night. The tank had served as a reserve supply of spare coolant at the space station since 2001.

Delta Charging $15 for Checked Baggage

Delta Air Lines, the world's biggest carrier, said Wednesday it will impose a $15 fee to check a first bag, becoming the last of the six legacy airlines to impose such a fee. It also said today it is cutting certain other fees as it aligns its policies with those of Northwest Airlines, which it acquired last week. Atlanta-based Delta says that effective immediately, for traffic on or after Dec. 5, customers flying within the U.S. will be charged $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second checked bag when traveling domestically, consistent with Northwest's existing policies. Delta also said it is eliminating SkyMiles and WorldPerks award ticket surcharges, reducing reservation sales direct ticketing charges and eliminating curbside check-in administrative fees.

Oldest Possibly Hebrew Inscription Possibly Found

An Israeli archaeologist digging at a hilltop south of Jerusalem believes a ceramic shard found in the ruins of an ancient town bears the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered, a find that could provide an important glimpse into the culture and language of the Holy Land at the time of the Bible.

The five lines of faded characters written 3,000 years ago, and the ruins of the fortified settlement where they were found, are indications that a powerful Israelite kingdom existed at the time of the Old Testament's King David, says Yossi Garfinkel, the Hebrew University archaeologist in charge of the new dig at Hirbet Qeiyafa.

Other scholars are hesitant to embrace Garfinkel's interpretation of the finds, made public on Thursday.

The discoveries are already being wielded in a vigorous and ongoing argument over whether the Bible's account of events and geography is meant to be taken literally.

Hirbet Qeiyafa sits near the modern Israeli city of Beit Shemesh in the Judean foothills, an area that was once the frontier between the hill-dwelling Israelites and their enemies, the coastal Philistines.

The site overlooks the Elah Valley, said to be the scene of the slingshot showdown between David and the Philistine giant Goliath, and lies near the ruins of Goliath's hometown in the Philistine metropolis of Gath.

A teenage volunteer found the curved pottery shard, 6 inches by 6 inches (15 centimeters by 15 centimeters), in July near the stairs and stone washtub of an excavated home. It was later discovered to bear five lines of characters known as proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.

Carbon-14 analysis of burnt olive pits found in the same layer of the site dated them to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., the same time as the Biblical golden age of David's rule in Jerusalem. Scholars have identified other, smaller Hebrew fragments from the 10th century B.C., but the script, which Garfinkel suggests might be part of a letter, predates the next significant Hebrew inscription by between 100 and 200 years.

History's best-known Hebrew texts, the Dead Sea scrolls, were penned on parchment beginning 850 years later. The shard is now kept in a university safe while philologists translate it, a task expected to take months. But several words have already been tentatively identified, including ones meaning "judge," "slave" and "king."

The Israelites were not the only ones using proto-Canaanite characters, and other scholars suggest it is difficult - perhaps impossible - to conclude the text is Hebrew and not a related tongue spoken in the area at the time. Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning "to do," a word he said existed only in Hebrew.

Other prominent Biblical archaeologists warned against jumping to conclusions.

Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription was "very important," as it is the longest proto-Canaanite text ever found. But he suggested that calling the text Hebrew might be going too far. Some scholars and archeologists argue that the Bible's account of David's time inflates his importance and that of his kingdom, and is essentially myth, perhaps rooted in a shred of fact.

But if Garfinkel's claim is borne out, it would bolster the case for the Bible's accuracy by indicating the Israelites could record events as they happened, transmitting the history that was later written down in the Old Testament several hundred years later.

It also would mean that the settlement - a fortified town with a 30-foot-wide (10-meter-wide) monumental gate, a central fortress and a wall running 770 yards (700 meters) in circumference - was probably inhabited by Israelites. The finds have not yet established who the residents were, says Aren Maier, a Bar Ilan University archaeologist who is digging at nearby Gath. It will become more clear if, for example, evidence of the local diet is found, he said: Excavations have shown that Philistines ate dogs and pigs, while Israelites did not.

The nature of the ceramic shards found at the site suggest residents might have been neither Israelites nor Philistines but members of a third, forgotten people, he said. If the inscription is Hebrew, it would indicate a connection to the Israelites and make the text "one of the most important texts, without a doubt, in the corpus of Hebrew inscriptions," Maier said. But it has great importance whatever the language turns out to be, he added.

Saar Ganor, an Israel Antiquities Authority ranger, noticed the unusual scale of the walls while patrolling the area in 2003. Three years later he interested Garfinkel, and after a preliminary dig they began work in earnest this summer. They have excavated only 4 percent of the six-acre settlement so far.

Archaeology has turned up only scant finds from David's time in the early 10th century B.C., leading some scholars to suggest his kingdom may have been little more than a small chiefdom or that he might not have existed at all.

Garfinkel believes building fortifications like those at Hirbet Qeiyafa could not have been a local initiative: The walls would have required moving 200,000 tons of stone, a task too big for the 500 or so people who lived there. Instead, it would have required an organized kingdom like the one the Bible says David ruled.

Modern Zionism has traditionally seen archaeology as a way of strengthening the Jewish claim to Israel and regarded David's kingdom as the glorious ancestor of the new Jewish state. So finding evidence of his rule has importance beyond its interest to scholars. The dig is partially funded by Foundation Stone, a Jewish educational organization, which hopes to bring volunteers to work there as a way of teaching them a national and historical lesson.

"When I stand here, I understand that I'm on the front lines of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines," said Rabbi Barnea Levi Selavan, the group's director. "I open my Bible and read about David and Goliath, and I understand that I'm in the Biblical context."

While the site could be useful to scholars, archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University urged adhering to the strict boundaries of science.

Finkelstein, who has not visited the dig but attended a presentation of the findings, warned against what he said was a "revival in the belief that what's written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper."

That style of archaeology was favored by 19th century European diggers who trolled the Holy Land for physical traces of Biblical stories, their motivation and methods more romantic than scientific.


Hebrew University, WLKY, WRTV, The Associated Press, NASA

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