Based on what the camps of Arabs and lawyers were cooking up as last year drew to a close, it looks like we won't be seeing any letup in explosions in 2004.
The first story came out of the West Bank on Christmas Eve, a few hours before the pope headed off to the traditional Christmas midnight Mass at the Vatican to reiterate a call for world peace, saying, "Too much blood is still being shed on the earth." The crowd at St. Peter's Basilica had to enter through metal detectors.
"Letter boxes and other possible hiding places for bombs," reported Agence France-Presse, "were put out of use on the Conciliazione avenue leading to the Vatican."
Inside the basilica, a prayer read in German by a young German woman, Anna Dueringer, called for a stop in the violence in "countries martyrized by war and guerrilla activities." Another prayer, read in Arabic, called for a halt in "all feeling or action of hatred, vengeance and violence."
Meanwhile, while all that was going on, Ali Daraghmeh, a writer for the Associated Press, reported from the West Bank that playtime for Palestinian kids isn't just limited to nice things like kickball, not when there's a jihad to be staffed. "Palestinian children," reported Daraghmeh, "are collecting cards showing gunmen and soldiers the way American kids trade baseball cards, and some educators are concerned that the uprising hobby is helping to breed a new generation of militants."
And business is good, says Majdi Taher, a former candy salesman who makes the cards. All told, about 6 million cards have been sold over the past two years, plus sales in December alone of 32,000 albums in the two main population centers of the northern West Bank, with little slots for a kid's favorite suicide bombers and other assorted militants.
"The albums are sold in cardboard boxes shaped like Israeli tanks and include a dedication from Nablus governor Mahmoud Alul," wrote Daraghmeh. "A child who fills an album with all 129 pictures can win a computer, a bicycle, a watch or a hat."
It works. Overdose on 129 collectable martyrs and killers, stick some dynamite under your new hat and bicycle off to blow up some infidels.
Not everyone is happy about the new hobby. Teachers told Daraghmeh that "the desire to fill the albums has captivated children in Nablus and Ramallah, keeping them from their homework as they spend all their money on the cards." Said Saher Hindi, 28, a teacher at a Nablus elementary school: "I take hundreds of these pictures from children every day and burn them. They turn children into extremists."
Crazy as it all is, the whole thing works well for those opportunistic leaders in the Middle East who deliberately seek to intensify feelings of despair, alienation, humiliation, hatred and anger in order to recruit young cannon fodder for their kamikaze operations. No homework, no money, no hope -- just the glory of moral fervor and a supreme act of self-destruction to purify the world.
THE SECOND STORY, CLOSER TO HOME and with a somewhat different style of bombing, is about a new strategy that was unveiled right before Christmas that's designed to keep the litigation explosion going full blast across America.
"A new guide for trial lawyers advises them to be wary of Americans with 'extreme attitudes about personal responsibility' when selecting jurors in personal injury lawsuits," reports Jeff Johnson, senior staff writer at CNSNews.com. "The author of the guide says such jurors typically 'espouse traditional family values' and often 'have strong religious beliefs.'"
The guide's author, David Wenner, a psychotherapist-turned-trial lawyer and recently named by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America to co-chair its Blue Ribbon Committee on Juror Bias, warns that tort reformers are "stealing the message of personal responsibility from plaintiffs" in personal injury lawsuits.
Lawyers will have a much better shot at getting millions for themselves via the fat kids who overdosed at McDonald's, explains Wenner, if they divide potential jurors into two groups and ferret out all those who believe that "people should be self-reliant, responsible, and self-disciplined."
Jurors who are "extreme on the personal responsibility bias," writes Wenner, "will strongly favor the defendant," i.e., McDonald's. "In contrast, jurors who are extreme on the compassionate-altruistic bias, or who have a high need for compassion, will strongly favor the plaintiff," i.e., the fat kids (and their lawyers).
That sounds like jury-stacking to me, or case-fixing, plus profiling by way of some very shaky generalizations, all for the purpose, of course, of legalized plunder and money grubbing on an ever-expanding scale.
All told, it promises to be another wacky year.