On May 7, 1999, NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three and injuring 20.
The bombing caused widespread anger in the U.S. and Britain, whose own embassies in Beijing became the scene for days of protest. Relations between China and NATO were gravely impacted. Since embassies are considered national territory, the bombing of the Chinese embassy, if intentional, would be an unambiguous act of war.
NATO claims that the bombing was the result of human error. Three cruise missiles, we are told, slammed into the embassy simply because NATO was using an outdated map.
China's leadership -- along with much of the world -- still doesn't buy it. But that's NATO's story, and they're sticking to it.
But is it likely that NATO intelligence didn't know where the Chinese embassy was?
No. As a matter of standard operating procedure, NSA, CIA, M-I6, and possibly the blues band NRBQ would have been monitoring communications from the Chinese embassy since it was first placed at the site in 1996.
Is there a more plausible explanation?
The Observer, London's liberal newsweekly, reported last Sunday that NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy was entirely deliberate. (I first heard about it from the fine folks at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.)
The Observer quoted three widely separated sources within NATO as stating that the Chinese embassy was bombed because it was transmitting Yugoslav military communications.
Why would the Chinese assist Milosevic? The Observer suggests that they might have wanted access to information on stealth technology which Belgrade had gleaned from the downing of an F-117 bomber at the outset of the war.
Moreover, the story also notes that the Chinese military attache openly stated shortly before the attack that the embassy was monitoring incoming NATO cruise missiles in order to develop countermeasures.
The attack on the Chinese embassy would therefore have had a clear military purpose.
Of course, since the NATO sources are as yet unnamed, The Observer story should be approached with caution.
But so should NATO's denials.
Remember, NATO spokesfolks committed numerous deceptions and distortions regarding the Kosovo war, regarding items as fundamental as the success of the bombing strategy, the necessity, number, and causes of civilian casualties, and even the terms of pre-war negotiation and the final peace agreement.
And if the bombing of the Chinese embassy was indeed intentional, NATO has tremendous incentive to continue its truth modification program. So does China.
If the Observer story is true, then both China and NATO engaged in direct violations of international law amounting to acts of war. Moreover, the story came out precisely as Jiang Zemin began a two-week tour of Western capitals to discuss both a) NATO's military posture toward Beijing and b) China's bid to enter the World Trade Organization.
An independent press, however, supposedly serves the interests of the public over the state, pursuing truth over expedient nonsense. We might hope for at least some serious attempts to follow up on The Observer's report.
However, according to their online archives, here's what America's leading dailies have had to say about the news that NATO sources now state that the bombing of the Chinese embassy was intentional, for reasons which China's military attach has already partially confirmed:
The New York Times? Nothing. The Los Angeles Times? Nothing. The Chicago Tribune? Nothing.
The Washington Post carried exactly 93 words on page A14 -- headlined "NATO Denies Story on Embassy Bombing," thereby providing no hint of what the story actually was -- buried beneath news of an execution in Yemen and projected election returns in Botswana.
So did NATO bomb the Chinese embassy intentionally? We still don't know for sure.
And if we are to depend on America's commercial news media to find out for us, there's a good chance we never will.
NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter crashed and burned almost as badly as Jay Mohr's new sitcom, and all because some folks can't do the metric system. But then again, these aren't exactly rocket scientists here.
Um. Wait, actually, they are. Hmm.
Anyhow, according to the U.S. Metric Association, there are exactly three countries in the world not using the metric system: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States.
Which makes sense: How good can the English system be if even the English don't use it anymore? The English are famously reluctant to admit defeat. (Except in India, China, the Middle East, much of Africa, pretty much all of North America, Australia, New Zealand, and a wide variety of island nations. Other than that, the sun never sets on Her Majesty's Empire. Until like about 9. Then it gets dark.)
Created in France in 1799, the metric system -- or, as the world calls it, the "SI," the French abbreviation for "too many @#$%ing prefixes" -- is widely considered better than the English system because it's based on real life.
For example, one kilojoule is the exact amount of energy necessary to raise the temperature of one liter of water by one degree Celsius, something most of us do several times a day. For most people, your weight in kilograms is almost precisely what you wish your weight was in pounds. And one meter was originally measured in 18th-century France to be the precise distance you had to stand away from someone not to smell them.
These basic units are modified by relating them to each other in multiples of ten, not unlike many of my neighbors here in West Hollywood. These relations are defined by a series of prefixes, including micro, nano, pico, zeppo, and gummo.
Here are some other metric terms you should understand:
None of which anyone does.
Nonetheless, America's eventual adoption of the metric system is actually mandated by a federal law, the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, which Congress passed as a fraternity prank. The only people who paid attention at the time were a) cola manufacturers, whose speedy reaction time might be attributed to consuming large amounts of their own products, and b) drug dealers, same notation. Nobody else noticed because we were all just glad Nixon was gone.
Bottom line: Difficult as metrication may seem, I have an engineering degree, and I promise -- the metric system's not that bad.
Then again, engineering school also taught me how to do math in base 16 while going four years without sex.
Metric might only seem easy by comparison.
Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide. His new book, Steal This Book And Get Life Without Parole, is now available at Common Courage Press.