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News Briefs, part 2

Agencies Overseeing Humanities, Arts Endowments Draw Fire

The Washington Post

Two former chairmen of the National Endowment for the Humanities told a congressional hearing Tuesday it's time to kill that agency and its better-known sister, the National Endowment for the Arts.

William J. Bennett, head of the endowment under President Ronald Reagan, and Lynne Cheney, who held the post in the Bush administration, fired the first official shots in a war that has been building since the Republicans took power over Capitol Hill in the past election. For years, certain conservatives have wanted to eliminate the federal cultural agencies; only now have they had the clout to make it possible.

With the elevation of anti-endowment critics to leadership positions in Congress, experts have predicted that this will likely be the year when the fate of the cultural agencies is decided. Their budgets will be debated, and their authorization to exist must be renewed.

Some critics are calling for the elimination of the whole family of federal cultural programs. The Smithsonian Institution is in hot water over a proposed exhibit on the atomic bombing of Japan, and the National Gallery of Art has been attacked as an amusement for the rich. The Kennedy Center, which receives $20 million a year as a presidential memorial, has been pointedly challenged to make its case.

Scientists: Pacific Ocean Current Promises More Downpours

Los Angeles Times

Scientists using a satellite to peer down on remote expanses of the Pacific Ocean said Tuesday the disruptive ocean current known as El Nino is increasing in strength, promising more downpours along the west coast, extended drought in the Caribbean and winter daffodils on New England ski slopes.

Government climate experts predict that the unusual current in the Pacific will shape weather on the west coast and throughout the United States for the rest of the year.

Among climatologists, the vast, periodic upwelling of tropically warm water named for the Christ child because it usually appears around Christmas time.

Climate experts believe that when an El Nino appears every three to seven years, it rearranges the atmosphere's normal currents to redirect storms and upset more predictable seasonal weather patterns. The result ranges from disasterous rains in Los Angeles to balmy, spring-like winter days in New York City.

Images from NASA's TOPEX/Poseidon satellite reveal a protruding tongue of tropically warm water thousands of miles long pointing at the coast of South America. The satellite images offer new insights into the evolution of an El Nino current. They provide a kind of topographic map of the world's oceans. The highest areas of sea level are caused by El Nino's warmer water and the troughs by relatively cooler currents, experts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

JPL scientists used the satellite to monitor the upwelling El Nino current over the last six months and determined that the tropical Pacific is about 4 to 8 inches higher than normal as a result of the additional warm water.