Today's Papers

Entangled Sub-Plots

The New York Times leads with the development of the first successful avian flu vaccine, easing fears that a global outbreak of the disease would kill millions. The Los Angeles Times leads with news that all seven Russian sailors were rescued three days after their mini-submarine became trapped at the bottom of the Bering Sea, with the Washington Post and the NYTstuffing similar stories. The WP leads with a report on terrorist cells’ increasing use of the internet for training and recruitment, replacing physical training camps like the ones al-Qaida had in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime.

The development of the avian flu vaccine comes on the heels of mounting concerns that health officials worldwide would be unable to stop an avian flu pandemic if the virus mutated to a more communicable form. The WP off-leads with the vaccine, noting that the U.S. government has already bought 2 million doses, but emphasizing that months of clinical trials lie ahead before it becomes publicly available. The NYT tells the story in a good news/bad news format. On the one hand, the vaccine does produce an antibody response that would almost certainly protect against infection, but that only helps people who can actually obtain the vaccine. As National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci puts it, “The critical issue now is, can we make enough vaccine, given the well-known inability of the vaccine industry to make enough vaccine?”

Despite uncertainty over how much air remained in the trapped mini-sub and with rough weather plaguing rescue efforts, a British unmanned vessel cut away the objects entangling the sub, allowing it to surface. The WP story focuses on the contrast between this successful rescue effort, by a joint British-American task force and a similar Russian submarine accident in 2001 in which 118 sailors died after the Russian government refused western rescue aid. All the papers note that in this crisis, as in 2001, the Russians were unable to mobilize a rescue vessel of their own in time, highlighting glaring deficiencies in their navy. The NYT piece asks more questions than it answers, however, listing contradictory reports of how, when, and why the submarine became entangled. Russian officials say the sub collided with a secret undersea antenna but reports from a U.S. navy spokesperson indicate that it was actually caught in several segments of fishing net. The WP goes with the official Russian response, while the LAT claims the sub was caught up in a little bit of both.  

Following the collapse of the Taliban, al-Qaida’s leaders fled to cyberspace. The WP reports that the World Wide Web has taken the place of al-Qaida training camps and recruitment centers, making it easier for terrorists to plan and train undetected. The WP covers the difficulties in disabling terrorist Web sites, which are often heavily encrypted and bounce their servers around from country to country. It also explains some of the tricks such groups use to avoid detection, like burying sensitive information in a hail of spam e-mails.

The NYT off-leads with news that military officials are planning to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq in late spring of next year by 20,000 to 30,000 troops, pending the continued completion of military and political goals at the projected rate. While it’s far from a timetable for leaving Iraq entirely, the plan marks the first time officials have mentioned reducing the number of U.S. troops in country in a specific time frame. The NYT makes it clear, however, that the plan is tentative at best, with the rest of the article amounting to a series of caveats as to why troop reductions might need to be delayed.

The LAT fronts a profile on Ronald Arnall, the embattled CEO of Ameriquest and recent Bush nominee for ambassador to the Netherlands. Arnall’s company, which provides home loans to persons with bad credit histories, has been accused by state and federal agencies of charging “hidden fees and higher-than-promised interest rates.” The piece scrutinizes Arnall’s generous campaign contributions to members of both parties, many of whom backed Ameriquest’s efforts to get lending standards relaxed, while asking how much Arnall really knew about what went on at his company.

The latest round of six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have ended without the drafting of a joint statement of principles on which to build further negotiations, the NYT and the WP report inside. Both stories cite North Korea’s insistence that it be allowed to develop peaceful nuclear technologies as the sticking point that ended negotiations. The NYT reports that talks will resume in three weeks.

Inside, the LAT runs a feature on the debate over programs which purport to completely remove “sensitive” files from one’s computer. While the story goes back and forth with he said/she said testimonials over whether or not the software really does eradicate all traces of say, embezzlement records or child porn, the paper concludes that the answer doesn’t really matter. Such programs can constitute destroying evidence and the paper cites a growing number of judges throwing the book at defendants who try to cover their tracks.

Put up your Dukes…

With the new Dukes of Hazzard film meeting tepid critical response, the WP’s Stephen Hunter takes a walk through the backwoods of film history to uncover Moonrunners, the 1975 film in which Dukes creator Gy Waldron first tried to tell the simple story of two country boys running moonshine in rural Georgia. Yee-haw, indeed. Meanwhile, to celebrate the DVD release of Manos: The Hands of Fate (sometimes cited as the worst film ever made) the LAT goes in search of why truly awful movies hold their own special appeal.