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Washington Callling

Ides of March ... Kevlar shorts ... dogfight ... more
By Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


March 11, 2005

Washington - Syrian President Bashar Assad should beware the Ides of March.

The runes being read in Washington aren't looking good for the son of Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad. A computer geek and technocrat, Bashar never really wanted the job as Syria's leader, and is in office thanks to his late father's geriatric cronies.

Some analysts forecast that the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon will prove to be a political and economic powder keg for Damascus. Meanwhile, there is little work available in Syria for an estimated 1 million Syrians now employed in Lebanon.

Syrian intelligence agents have a stranglehold on any opposition, but some in Syria could soon blame Bashar for the Lebanese debacle, and replace him with a new leader.

That won't make neighboring Israel happy. Bashar certainly is no friend of Israel, but he's a known quantity. Syria is headed for a very unpredictable and unstable period.

Pentagon plans to order civilian employees to global hot spots on just 72 hours notice are raising the hackles of union leaders. The American Federation of Government Employees union has filed suit to overturn the new rules, issued by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. They're intended to give the Pentagon greater flexibility in deploying civilian workers to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Weighing in at eight pounds, and requiring special suspenders to keep 'em up, the Air Force's new protective Kevlar shorts sure aren't long on mobility.

But the brass has concluded that the shorts at least provide vital protection of vital parts, and has bought 50 pairs for use by flyboys doing guard duty on Iraqi airfields.

Each one is made of 28 layers of Kevlar fabric. They take more than 90 seconds to put on and come fitted with quick-release latches. They're designed to match the regular Kevlar vests that cover the chest area.

The U.S. English Foundation says its survey finds that 322 languages are spoken at American homes _ with a third of the languages having more than 10,000 speakers. The top 10 languages spoken in the United States today are, in order: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, German, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean and Russian.

Although millions are expected to claim Irish ancestry this St. Patrick's Day, the foundation concludes that Irish Gaelic is spoken in fewer than 26,000 American homes.

The insurance industry is battling dog lovers to head off bills in state legislatures that would ban hefty homeowner insurance premiums for owners of breeds prone to biting people.

The Humane Society of the United States says higher premiums depress adoption rates at animal shelters for breeds like German shepherds, rottweilers and pit bulls.

The Insurance Information Institute counters that dog bites comprised 25 percent of homeowner insurance claims in 2003, resulting in a cost of $321 million. The industry argues that investigations show some breeds have more of a propensity for biting people than other breeds. The industry also contends that it's not fair for those owning friendlier dog breeds or who don't own dogs at all to pay higher premiums.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, resulting in 800,000 injuries requiring medical attention.

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a 64-page document that tells agency officials how sensitive government information should be handled and secured. Although HHS deemed the document "for official use only," and not for public consumption, a footnote on the title page notes: "Disclosure is not expected to cause serious harm to HHS."


E-mail Lance Gay at GayL(at)

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