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Taliban lead terror on multiple fronts

NEW DELHI: Pakistani militants have bounced back with two weeks of terror, culminating yesterday in a blast in Peshawar that killed at least 11.MORE AFGHANISTAN STORIESA fortnight ago it seemed the insurgents were under pressure.The Pakistani Army had recently flushed Taliban fighters out of the Swat valley and questions were being raised about the authority of the Taliban’s new leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, who took over after the death of the ruthless commander Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone missile strike in early August.The army is now preparing a ground offensive on the Taliban’s heartland in South Waziristan. But multiple militant attacks since early last week have put the pressure back on the Government and its security apparatus.More than 150 Pakistanis have died in the attacks of the past fortnight, which have left the country on edge.The bloody wave of terror demonstrates the capacity of the militant groups to strike at will across the country. It has also called into question the capacity of security apparatus to combat the terrorist threat.Speaking in Lahore after the city endured a deadly three-pronged terrorism strike, the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, admitted Pakistan was ”not prepared for these kinds of attacks”.”The kind of terrorism we are facing – our forces neither had capacity nor training to counter this,” he said.The attacks have also shown the militants are capable of deploying a variety of tactics.They are adept at complex commando-style assaults as well as suicide bombs using cars and individuals. Many of the armed fighters who have staged raids over the past week have also been wearing suicide jackets.Soft targets such as city market places have been hit with devastating effect. But the recent operations have also targeted high-security installations.These ambitious operations have included a UN compound in a high security area of the national capital, the fortress-like headquarters of the Pakistani Army, and police facilities in Lahore. An increasing number of attacks have involved hostage taking, ensuring a drawn-out stand-off.The insurgency has also proven its ability to launch sophisticated attacks simultaneously, pointing to a high level of training and motivation.On Thursday there were five separate terrorist attacks on a range of targets in different parts of the country.The range of locations is a cause for concern. Many of the most important cities, including Islamabad, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Lahore, have been attacked over the past two weeks.Lahore, the cosmopolitan cultural and political hub, was for years spared a big terrorist attack. Now it is a prime target. This year it has been subject to a spate of prominent attacks, including the ambush of the Sri Lankan cricket team in March.Lahore’s terrorist nightmare worsened on Thursday with simultaneous attacks on a Federal Investigation Agency office and two police training centres. Gun battles raged for several hours on the streets as security forces struggled to regain control.Police said the city was calm yesterday, but its people have been left wondering where and when the militants might strike again.A network of terrorist groups led by the Pakistan Taliban is behind the latest wave of terror, which has broken as the military prepares an assault on South Waziristan.But the attacks suggest that military campaigns like the recent operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley cannot stop the militants from staging terrorist attacks.News Review – Page 5
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World wonders if balloon boy took everyone for a ride

WASHINGTON: Even as the Heene family attended a press conference to say how happy they were that their son had not, after all, drifted off aboard a home-made helium balloon into the blue, but had been at home in a box the whole time, the question was being asked. Was Falcon’s disappearance a fake to gain notoriety?The incident riveted America – and many parts of of the world including Australia – for hours yesterday, Sydney time.The six-year-old had reportedly stowed away in a basket or cabin beneath the balloon which his amateur scientist father built as an elaborate experiment.The dirigible then floated away from the family’s Colorado home, heading south-east to Kentucky.As live video was beamed from local TV helicopters tracking the balloon, authorities from the sheriff’s office, rescue services, the military, the Federal Aviation Authority and Homeland Security raced to determine how and when the balloon might come down.Ambulances screamed through cornfields.But when the balloon landed, no boy was found beneath it and the drama ran out of puff when it emerged that Falcon had spent the entire afternoon in an attic above the garage, some of it asleep in a box. At first, questions about the incident centred on child discipline.Father Richard, who spends his spare time studying storms, clouds and weather patterns, was asked, clearly by a reporter who had not thought the question through, if he had plans to ground his son.”We don’t ground our children. But we are going to talk to him,” he said.Then came suggestions the family had planned the whole thing as a publicity stunt. Mr Heene bristled. ”That’s horrible. After the crap we just went through, no, no, no.”But the CNN exclusive interview arranged with the family soon after did not end speculation. The older son seemed to suggest the family was videoing at the time the experiment went wrong.Asked why he did not answer when people called out his name, young Falcon replied, ”We did it for the show.” A stunned interviewer asked the father what his son had meant. Mr Heene said that was not what he expected from CNN when he agreed to the exclusive deal.Rescuers insist they do not think the incident was a fake.But the family is not media-shy. Richard Heene is an enthusiastic iReporter for CNN, filing clips of storms and extreme weather. The Heenes had also been on the show Wife Swap.Was this a true story? Perhaps we will never know. But for the media it certainly paid off in short-term ratings.with agencies
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All the president’s pennies: Washington, the meticulous businessman

WASHINGTON: One day in 1791 George Washington received a bill for £60, 1 shilling and 7 pence from his friend Dr James Craik, who regularly made the rounds at Mount Vernon, where the great man lived. The invoice ran two pages:”Anodyne Pills for Breachy … Laxative Pills for Ruth … syphilic Pills for Maria … oz 1 Antiphlogistie Anodyne Tincture … Bleeding Charlotte … oz 4 Powdered Rhubarb … Extracting one of your Negroes tooth … a Mercurial Purge for Cook Jack …”This brief glimpse of life in the 18th century is contained in what historians say is a vast and underappreciated cache of financial documents from the life of the first US president.Washington’s diaries and letters have been carefully transcribed, annotated and bound in stately volumes. But his financial records have been treated as scraps.Documenting lives of ordinary people – merchants, tradesmen, servants and slaves – these records are scattered around institutions. In most cases, they have never been transcribed or published in accessible form.That archival quandary lured 25 scholars, some of them ”forensic accountants”, to Mount Vernon, now an educational tourist attraction, for a workshop to plan how to get the records online. ”It is going to be a treasure trove,” said Ted Crackel, editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington, a project co-ordinated at the University of Virginia.Washington’s first record dates to when he was 15: a list of books he bought. In the years thereafter he seems to have noted every bag of seed he ever bought. He documented his gambling losses.There are chilling passages for the modern reader: In February 1773, for example, he recorded buying, at a public auction, ”Ned”, ”a girl Murria”, ”Old Abner” and ”a Wench Dinah” and her four children.Scholars hope that, with hyperlinks in online records, some of the more than 300 black Americans who lived at Mount Vernon can be tracked as they reappear in other documents, letters and diaries.As thoroughly researched as the life of Washington has been, his career as a warrior and statesman has largely overshadowed his entrepreneurial history. He was the chief executive, in effect, of a farming, manufacturing and real estate operation that by the end of his life encompassed more than 20,000 hectares of field and forest. Farms, fisheries, weavers, smithies, a grist mill, a distillery – these were just part of the empire.By the end of his life he was one of the richest men in the nation he had helped create. But he knew the frustrations of doing business in a land that lacked banks, roads and industry, where there was little capital, and where he had to depend on trans-Atlantic commerce using information moving at the speed of a sailing ship. Washington was so cash-strapped in 1789 that he had to borrow money from a neighbour to travel to his presidential inauguration.He detailed business matters with double-entry bookkeeping in ledgers running to 100 pages or more. ”He was extraordinarily careful with his accounts,” Mr Crackel said. ”He checks them. Inevitably, they balance.”Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard historian, said the papers offered a picture of ”material culture.” She asks: ”What kind of clothing, what kind of food, what kind of medical care did people have? When did ordinary people have cash?”As Washington aged, he was increasingly repulsed by slavery. After commanding black soldiers during the Revolutionary War, he recognised the hypocrisy of espousing liberty while remaining a slave owner.In the final major gesture of his life, he wrote a will that freed his slaves upon the death of his wife, in effect dismantling the estate he had spent a life creating. He lacked a direct heir so his assets went to nephews and other relatives.His most enduring gift, though, may be his records.The Washington Post
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Kokoda Track still a testing ground

There are not the words in Koiari to ask about Kokoda’s spirit. That is an Australian construct, and a reasonably modern one: the sort that made Paul Keating bend down and kiss the earth at Kokoda in 1992, that wrote the word ”mateship” on the memorial built there a decade later, and sends almost 6000 Australians down the track each year.After six days on the track I sit in front of one of the last Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, Ovuru Ndiki, and attempt to ask the question anyway; to understand why it is everyone but the Australians must be paid to walk what was, 100 years ago, a simple mail route. Why four years ago we started doing it in such numbers, at such cost, to such risk.”It’s something to remark on what happened,” Ndiki tries to explain the idea of spirituality, 105 years closing in around his eyes and emptying his mouth of teeth. ”There is some of us left behind. Walking the track, you can pick up pieces of that.”In the past decade, the number of people picking up those pieces has increased 74 times. It is now Papua New Guinea’s most popular land-based attraction – a band of wealth in the jungle, worth as much as $50 million a year, supported entirely by Australians.Sports teams come here to bond. Kevin Rudd and Joe Hockey made it one of the first legs of 2007’s Sunrise election. Bags at the airport must now be X-rayed for souvenired grenades. Where two years ago there were five trekking companies, now there are 30. ”If you can get yourself a business card, you can take people up the track,” says John Nalder, who guides me through the 133 kilometres. ”It’s really exploded since 2005.”At night, you can hear the sound of sobbing coming from tents. The track is, without question, the most difficult thing I have done. The climbs are ceaseless and painfully steep. At one point, doubled over with food poisoning that will last six days, I black out from vomiting.”Amazing” is the most common description of the trek. Then gruelling. In 10 days, I lose 13 kilograms. ”Everything is a search for something, a search for identity, for who they are,” Nalder says. ”Australians have had a cringe about who they are, and that’s changing. I do get people who want to brandish the flag, but it’s a love thing, it’s a patriotic thing. It’s not the redneck, white supremacist one.”The track itself is almost an extension of Australia. It was, until 1975, part of an Australian territory. Even now, villagers along the track wear jerseys from the National Rugby League. There is a discarded Vegemite jar on the climb out of Isurava and dull triplets of ”Aussies” and ”Ois” ring through the Owen Stanley Ranges.Many more Japanese soldiers died here than the 625 Australians killed. But Japanese almost never walk Kokoda. Those that come are usually flown in and out by helicopter. They are there not to experience some national myth but to farewell ancestors. Of the two Japanese memorials on the track, one has had the muzzle of its gun set into the ground – a mark of submission lobbied for by the RSL. The other has been destroyed by trekkers.”We get so much exposure to American culture that’s so strong and so steeped in history. Perhaps we’re trying to get on to some of that,” says Andrew Skehan, a 30-year-old history teacher who won a 2GB competition to walk the track. ”The new national curriculum – Australian history is the first thing on there. Perhaps Australia’s push towards a place on the international stage makes us see we have to define ourselves so we can say we stand for something.” For the most part, however, trekkers struggle to explain why they have come; what made them spend up to $6000 on a journey through heat, mud and steep climbs, with heavy packs and sickness. For those without relatives who fought in the 1942 campaign, there is vague mention of achievement. A walk that would buy them a beer back home, with something about national history on the side.But the words of Nathaniel Ryan, a 17-year-old preparing to join either the police or the army, are more common: ”Mate, I’m just concentrating on where to put my feet.”The place of Kokoda in Australia’s psyche is a vestige of Keating’s cosmopolitan prime ministership. This was his region. In 1995, wearing a hornbill headdress, he was inducted as an Orokaivan chief in Kokoda. But it was only after a decade of John Howard’s narrowed patriotism that Australians started walking the track in any great numbers – and the story of Australians defending Australia really set in. A book from Peter FitzSimons helped, too.Three years before Keating’s chiefly induction, he and his entourage flew three RAAF Caribou transport planes to the Kokoda airstrip. It is a cleared piece of jungle, below the razorback country where the fighting took place, with a palm oil plantation on one side and grassland on the other.At the expense of Gallipoli, he described this earth as the essence of Australia’s nationhood. Standing a day’s walk from that spot, on the hillside where the monument Keating wanted was finally built, two girls start crying. My trek leader cries also. A 17-year-old youth announces he will join the army.”There can be no deeper spiritual basis for the meaning of the Australian nation than the blood that was spilled on this very knoll, this very plateau, in defence of Australia,” Keating said here the year that youth was born. ”This was the place where I believe the depth and soul of the Australian nation was confirmed … The lesson of this place is that those young men believed in Australia and we need to give Australians – all Australians, particularly young Australians – an Australia to believe in.”By 2004, as Howard began in earnest his flag-pole assault on Australia’s ”values neutral” schools, the Kokoda walking had already begun. Records, which only start in 2001, show 76 trekkers in a year. By 2005, that number had grown to 2374 and has continued to almost double each year since.That there are both a 96-kilometre tourist track and the 133-kilometre wartime version says a lot about what Kokoda has become. ”I was moved, more so than I expected to be,” says Bec Walsh, a 21-year-old medical science student, part-way down the track. ”It’s hard not to be affected.” Walsh is there as part of an RSL program to educate young leaders. It is the same program that was used, more or less, for the national rehabilitation of Ali Ammar after he desecrated the Australian flag in the Cronulla Riots reprisals. ClubsNSW also fund a group.”I don’t know if I feel more Australian,” says Clair Edwards, who was chosen to walk the track because her grandfather fought there. ”But I feel more deeply in touch with my heritage. I have this deep attachment, it’s not just knowledge; now, it’s emotional. I know my country on a more personal level.”The people walking the track have changed in the past two or so years. There are fewer trophy trekkers, fewer people walking simply to say they did it. They are now more likely to be middle-aged than young adventurers – men with to-do lists, who carry pictures of fathers who fought on the track. But while their fathers had an average age of 18 when they fought here, these men have an average age of 50. ”My dad told the larrikin story, the fun stories,” says Martin Stuart, a 48-year-old engineer whose father was in the 39th Battalion. ”But I’m here to find out the rest, to piece it together.”A day earlier, a trekker in Mr Stuart’s group died after less than two hours on the track. Four others have died in the past 12 months.They are joined by the 13 who died on a Twin Otter flying to Kokoda to begin the trek in August. The deaths are, in some ways, understandable – the trekkers are older, there are more of them, unscrupulous providers are walking without satellite phones or medical supplies – but the effects on the market are unknown. Some suggest the deaths make the myth more real, that memorials to modern dead have been seen up and down the track for years.”It’s not helpful,” the chief executive of the Kokoda Track Authority, Rod Hillman, says. ”It’s difficult to move forward until we find the cause of death. The newspaper here is reporting [the most recent death] as an aneurysm. That could happen watching TV. But the growth’s been quite exponential. I think it’s unlikely to get that growth again.”Erik Jensen travelled to the Kokoda Track with the assistance of ClubsNSW.
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Big back car seats a danger to children

CHILDREN aged up to 12 should be made to sit in booster seats because back seats on most Australian cars are too deep to allow them to sit up properly, making them seven times more likely than teenagers to sustain spinal and abdominal injuries in a crash.Although about 60 per cent of all back seat passengers are children, researchers at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute tested 50 common cars and found some had seats so deep that a 14-year-old of average height could not sit comfortably without slouching.”[Slouching] causes the lap belt to slide up over their abdomen instead of sitting low across the hip bones, and the shoulder belt to lie across the neck,” the institute’s Lynne Bilston, said yesterday.”This can put all the force of a crash on the child’s soft abdomen and lower spine and allow the head to hit the car. Having the belt across the neck can cause serious neck injuries.”She is calling on car manufacturers to consider urgently reducing the depth of back seats by at least five centimetres, a change which would fit about 34 per cent more children aged eight to 15 but also allow adults to sit comfortably.An average 12-year-old, at 150 centimetres tall, had thighs longer than the base of the rear seat and were tall enough to allow the shoulder belt fitted properly in more than half of the cars measured, she said.”Car manufacturers have slow design cycles so if this change was made, it would be three or four years before we would see it introduced, but it would definitely reduce spinal and abdominal injuries and save lives.”More than 3000 children are injured in car accidents every year, and older children would accept being in booster seats if it became normal practice, Associate Professor Bilston said.”It’s all about peer pressure. It’s common practice now in Europe and if it became common here, I doubt parents would have problems getting children to comply.”The institute also wants the NSW Government to introduce new road rules, approved by the Australian Transport Council in February last year, making it compulsory for children aged up to seven to sit in booster seats.The rules have been adopted in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, and a spokeswoman for the Roads Minister, David Campbell, said they were expected to be introduced in NSW soon.
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