A Terrible Thing

A Terrible Thing

A Terrible Thing

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 26 1999 6:04 AM

A Terrible Thing

The Indian Airlines plane hijacked Friday en route to New Delhi from Katmandu remained idle in southern Afghanistan yesterday, while hijackers issued demands. They threatened to blow up the plane, and its remaining 161 passengers, if India does not release a number of prisoners--including the leader of a Kashmiri separatist movement jailed in 1994. Russian troops launched what they hope is their final assault on Grozny and the estimated 1,500 rebels still there. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post lead with reports from Moscow; the Los Angeles Times goes with the Indian Airlines story.

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Maulana Mansood Azhar, a Pakistani Muslim leader and the main prisoner in question, is believed to be the brother of one of the hijackers. The Post, which also fronts the story, and LAT report the identity of the passenger stabbed to death for not obeying terrorists' orders to sit with his head down and eyes closed: Rupin Katyal, a 25-year-old returning to New Delhi with his wife after their honeymoon. Only the LAT reports that a U.S. schoolteacher may be aboard the flight. Correspondents from the LAT and the Post file from Cairo. The NYT puts a Metro reporter's coverage on Page A8: easier access to U.N. headquarters? They don't print the known victim's tragedy.

A combination of Russian troops and loyalist Chechens started to take the Chechen capital piece by piece. This means the army learned from its mistake in the 1994-96 war, when a mad dash for the city's center allowed rebels to surround and pounce on the Russians, all three papers explain. The Post notes that the attack was delayed until after last Sunday's parliamentary elections, in which the pro-Kremlin block made a strong showing. Deep in its A-section, the Post reports accusations that Russian troops looted a town near the capital and murdered as many as 22 civilians. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in Grozny. The Russian foreign ministry is prohibiting foreign correspondents from traveling to the war arena without permission, the NYT reports. The paper also emphasizes the dearth of non-official sources: a subhead reads "Troops Said to Advance" and the lead explains the battle is "billed as" definitive.

"Nothing terrible is going on in Grozny," Russia's commander in the North Caucasus tells the NYT. This is an odd locution, not only in light of circumstance, but also because the Russian word grozny is commonly translated as "terrible" or "terrifying." (Although here, admittedly, he's probably used a different Russian word for "terrible.") Ivan the Terrible in Russian is Ivan Grozny. It seems terrible things go on in Grozny almost by definition.

More than 10,000 Italian-Americans living in California were forced to leave their homes during World War II, and 600,000 were classified as enemy aliens until Italy's surrender in 1943, according to the Post. San Francisco's mayor at the time, Angelo Rossi, was forced to testify before an un-American activities committee about his preferred form of government. House-approved legislation calling for a formal presidential acknowledgment is currently bound for the Senate.

The Post runs its third article in a series on Vice President Gore's life. Despite early ideological and professional tinkering, the senator's son sought the Freshman Council presidency at Harvard and cowed the opposition with his precocious campaigning skills. Gore did not seek a higher student office, perhaps because of the ribbing he took from friends, like suitemate Tommy Lee Jones, who declared that student government was "high school." A peer remarks that in their economics section, Gore "looked scared, and overmatched," but the paper reports him as "blessedly free of any such fears."

The NYTMagazine interviews computer engineers of the 1970s to pin down responsibility for the Y2K bug. The introductory paragraph asks "who is to blame," so the panelists come across as sitting ducks. They discuss their priorities at the time and cough up reasons why the problem was never addressed. Not all hold water. Quoth one former member of the Fortran Standards Committee: "We could have fixed that anytime in the 1970s. The trouble is, it would have affected all of our customers' existing programs, and that wasn't something they would have appreciated." Fortunately, customers in the '90s, mollified by lattes and cell phones, have been far more understanding.

Present company excluded: On the front of the NYT "Money & Business" Section, market watcher Gretchen Morgenson matches high-flying market capitalizations to equivalent Gross National Products. The exercise illustrates why one top investor believes "these stocks have become like major land masses." Among those market caps and GNPs compared: IBM and Colombia, $201 billion; Home Depot and Bangladesh, $155 billion; Microsoft and Spain, $593 billion. The piece does not illustrate where the papers' owners fit in. The New York Times Co., with a market cap of just over $8 billion, matches up with Phone.com and Jamaica. The Washington Post Co. ($5.5 billion) and Times Mirror ($7.5 billion), which publishes the LAT, together eclipse FreeMarkets and Papua New Guinea, which are listed at $11 billion.