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Crank Call

Gosh, what a month it's been for news! Already. Here we are, not even in the middle of July, and I've had to start a flow chart just to keep track of all the things that have and haven't happened. On July 4th, the United States turned 230 -- that definitely happened. Then, on the 6th, George Bush turned 60. That happened, too, although, as always, Bush tried to equate himself with the nation and celebrated the event two days early at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the next crop of mutilated corpses and missing body parts -- about 3500 soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division -- gave him a birthday cake "decorated as a flag," according to the Associated Press.

"On this day when we give thanks for our freedom," said Bush, "we also give thanks to the men and women who make our freedom possible. You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you. And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America."

Whether every day in America is also Bush's birthday (it certainly seemed like it last week) remains a matter of tight security. So does the answer to his question at Fort Bragg when it came time to cut the cake: "Anyone got a knife?"

Well, let's not go there. As Laura Bush remarks, "George is not an overly introspective person," and if we talk about him in the same breath with knives we might find ourselves "extraordinarily rendered" and hanging naked by our heels in some chamber in Estonia, reading our Bibles upside down. Besides, I'm more interested in the things that didn't happen last week to spoil either America's or Bush's birthday parties.

First, there was the space shuttle Discovery, which took off from Cape Canaveral and, despite having lost a few pieces of insulating foam, failed to explode in fiery horror, killing everyone on board. True, the shuttle isn't down yet, and there may still be some thrills at the end of the road. But something tells me that Discovery's current mission, which even NASA describes as being "rather pedestrian," will be completely successful. It's also the next-to-last time the damn thing is going to be sent anywhere but a museum, for which we can all be grateful. Amen.

Next, there was that new group of "Islamo-fascists," eight wannabe terrorists tracked down in an Internet chatroom while talking vaguely about blowing up the Holland Tunnel, which, thanks to the vigilance of our security forces, failed to explode in fiery horror, killing everyone on their way to and from New Jersey. Granted, as The New York Times reports, these terrorists have never met each other. They've "secured no financing, gathered no explosives," made no plans and never even been to the United States. But why take a chance? "These are bad guys in Canada and a bad guy in Lebanon talking," says an unnamed "counterterrorism expert" in Washington, "but it never advanced beyond that. Like most plots that you get before they develop, it doesn't look that serious, but you never know."

You sure don't! Those "bad guys in Canada" are on a par with those bad guys in Florida last month, who also had no plans, no plot, no money and no explosives, but who apparently wanted to demolish the Sears Tower in Chicago, which failed to explode in fiery horror, etc., on the very day that my Aunt Claire was stuck at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on a layover from California, desperately wishing that some terrorist would light a fuse and blow her back to Vermont, because it would be faster than going through security.

Finally, last week there was that "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA)," called "Apollo Asteroid 2004 XP14" by international astronomers, which came within 269,000 miles of Earth and sped right on by, failing "to wipe out a small country," as London's Daily Telegraph insisted it could if it ever hit the planet, which it didn't. Indeed, there were so many warnings in the press about how this asteroid wasn't going to hit us -- almost as many as there were about Bush's "Big 6-0" -- that I began to get suspicious, especially when a scientist in Ireland remarked that there are "782 known PHAs" currently circling the Earth. "At least we knew about this asteroid," he said. "We should be more worried about the unknown ones."

"Hmm," I thought. "What are they hiding?" Then Kenneth Lay died, fresh from his conviction in the Enron trial, but before his sentencing, and thus before the government could get its hands on his ill-gotten loot. Bush, who sort of knew Lay "pretty well" and sort of not at all, made a surprise birthday appearance on "Larry King Live" and said he hoped that Kenny Boy's heart "was right with the Lord" when he died. If he died, that is -- a lot of people think he didn't, and that the Bush administration or the Carlisle Group have whisked him back to Houston or the Cayman Islands, where he can live out his days in the style to which he's accustomed.

Me, I'm not so conspiracy-minded. But I do hope that asteroid, next time it comes around, hits a small country such as Texas and wipes it off the map.

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Peter Kurth

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