Arab leaders at the Beirut summit voiced support Wednesday for Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative -- though some did so in terms that made it clear that important differences remain about the detail of any Arab peace plan.
"This initiative is a basket of ideas where we put all our principles and ideas to be presented to the world," Syrian President Bashar Assad said. The son of the late Hafez Assad -- considered one of the more hard-line Arab leaders -- said the prince's initiative confirmed to the world the Arab desire for peace.
Abdullah's initiative offers -- in his own words -- "normal relations and the security of Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with noble Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the (Palestinian) refugees." Normal relations is Arab shorthand for recognition of Israel.
Assad said the initiative would expose Israelis who are not working for peace. He called on Arab nations to sever relations with Israel until a comprehensive peace was achieved -- something not envisaged by the Saudi plan.
Assad also proposed the creation of a committee made up of Saudi Arabia, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and concerned Arab countries to thrash out the details of Abdullah's initiative. Observers pointed out that this would be a way to postpone discussion of any arguments about the plan until after the summit, allowing a facade of unity to be maintained.
A similar suggestion was made by Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh, who called for a mechanism to implement Abdullah's initiative and the formation of a committee made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinians and the Arab League's secretary-general to propose the plan to the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.
Saleh also echoed Assad's call for all Arab nations to sever their ties with Israel, and to allow those nations that wanted to use military force against the Jewish state to protect Palestinian civilians.
-- What do you think?
(Thanks to UPI's Dalal Saoud in Beirut)
A survey of the policies controlling use of personal information gathered by Internet sites shows companies are taking privacy more seriously.
The Progress and Freedom Foundation sponsored the survey, which basically mirrored a Federal Trade Commission study done in late 2000 to provide the most comparable data possible, said Jeffery Eisenach, PFF's president. The survey looked at 85 of the most popular sites, such as amazon.com, cnn.com and yahoo.com, as well as a random sample of sites receiving more than 39,000 visits a month.
"The most interesting finding in our survey, or at least the most unexpected, is the fact that Web sites are collecting significantly less information than they were 21 months earlier," Eisenach told a news conference Wednesday. "Fewer sites overall are asking for information ... the Web sites that do collect it are asking for less personal information (beyond an e-mail address)."
Among the most popular sites, the collection of detailed personal information decreased by 8 percent, he said, and the practice fell about 10 percent in the random sample.
The study's biggest surprise came in the area of "cookies," small text files a site stores on a user's computer to track visits or other Web activity. The practice has drawn a lot of public criticism, and companies seem to have gotten the message, Eisenach said -- the most popular sites saw a 30-percent decline in cookie use, and the random sample showed the same drop.
The numbers could be skewed, however, since the 2000 survey was at the height of the dot-com boom, when businesses might have been more likely to see value in personal information, he said.
Sites, especially the most popular ones, were also more likely to offer visitors choices in how personal information might be used or shared outside the company. The biggest sites offered options 93 percent of the time, as opposed to 77 percent of the time in the 2000 study. The use of more restrictive "opt-in" choices, where a user must choose to take part instead of saying "no thanks" to an offer, more than doubled among the biggest sites, the study showed.
FTC commissioners Thomas Leary and Orson Swindle also were at the news conference. Both said the study seems to indicate market forces are doing a good job in shaping proper online privacy behavior.
"We're seeing businesses competing based on good privacy practices," Swindle said. "That might be the ultimate (privacy) goal we could hope to attain."
The increased knowledge consumers have gained online also seems to be rubbing off in the real world, as indicated by great interest in a national "do not call" database to stop telemarketers, he said.
-- How concerned are you about the personal information gathered by Web sites? Do you mind sharing such information? Why or why not?
(Thanks to Scott R. Burnell, UPI Science News)
The world may never again know an entertainer such as Milton Berle.
The legendary comedian was one of the last of the burlesque comics to span the eras of vaudeville, movies, radio and television. He also headlined in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., wrote several books, and helped found the Hollywood branch of the Friars Club.
Bob Hope once said Berle's career spanned every area of show business -- "television, film, radio, vaudeville ... the Crusades."
The cigar-chomping comic was known for his shamelessly mugging, ribaldry, cross-dressing and theft of other comedians' material. Fellow comedians called him "The Thief of Bad Gags."
During the early days of television, Berle wasn't the biggest star -- he was the ONLY star. His instant popularity made him "Mr. Television." He gained a second nickname one night when he signed off by telling children to "listen to your Uncle Miltie."
Berle's "Texaco Star Theater" was so popular that on Tuesday nights, families and viewers across the country crowded in front of their TV sets. Movie theaters were half-full and restaurants empty as people stayed home to watch "Uncle Miltie."
It was said that Berle's show sold more TV sets than any advertising campaign.
"The Texaco Star Theater" soon became "The Milton Berle Show," which ran on NBC for more than a decade.
In recent years, Berle lived quietly in Beverly Hills, Calif., with his wife, Lorna. But he remained active in the show business community, visiting the Friars Club and frequently attending parties. In 1995, he provided the voice for the character Illuzor in the animated adventure "Storybook." He performed his act on stage in Atlantic City and Florida in the fall of 1997. In 2001, he appeared on the MTV Video Music Awards.
As he approached his 89th birthday, Berle remarked, "Our theme is 'We Drink, We Smoke, We Gamble,' Throw in a lotta laughs and that's not a bad formula for longevity is it?"
Berle was diagnosed with colon cancer last year and had been under hospice care for several weeks when he died Wednesday at the age of 93.
-- What are your favorite memories of Milton Berle?