Today's Story Line:

It takes all the skill of a fighter pilot to follow the twists and tailspins of the latest Iraqi-American confrontation . Both sides' motives are suspect as their jets wage a mini-version of the 1991 war. America is locked in a war of attrition to militarily contain Iraq. A second front for Saddam Hussein is his battle with Egypt over leadership of Arab opinion.

One reason for hoping that China and Taiwan will never go to war is that they may eventually be too much alike. The two are now engaged in a culture war to dominate the emerging blend. Quote of note: "If you took a high school student from Beijing and put him in Taipei, he would fit right in - in terms of language, fashion, and musical tastes." - Zhu Feng, an executive at MTV Asia's Beijing office.

Family vacation in Chiapas? Yes, staff writer Howard LaFranchi took a busman's holiday to Zapatista land.

- Clayton Jones World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB

WARTIME DIARY: Reporting on Iraq's attacks in the "no-fly" zones, Mideast bureau chief Scott Peterson recalled what it was like for him to get into northern Iraq in March 1991. He traveled with Kurdish guerrillas, paying $800 for a "guide" to sneak him past Turkish soldiers across a smugglers' trail, then through an Iraqi minefield in which the fuses of the mines glinted in the moonlight. After several hours of fitful sleep in a mountain cave, he went to the front line and found Kurdish soldiers (peshmerga) at first

confident, then fleeing as Iraqi tank shells began to fall. Racing away in a truck, they were overtaken by an Iraqi helicopter.

The guerrillas jumped out and gamely sprayed the copter with bullets as it fired rockets. For the first time, traces of fear clouded rebel faces. They knew the game was up. High in the sky - even as the Iraqi rockets were falling - Scott saw the contrail of an American fighter jet, which watched this reversal of fortune but did nothing to stop it.

MILESTONES

RANKING YANKEE INGENUITY: Surprise, America still has the most competitive economy in the world. "Privatization, deregulation, flexibility in the labor market, and especially massive investment in new technology has worked," says the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, in its latest World Competitiveness Yearbook. The 256 criteria include cost of capital, savings, population characteristics, and research and development. Singapore and Hong Kong have been second and third since 1995. That's when Japan was No. 4, dropping to No. 18 in 1998. Now the Netherlands is No. 4, up from No. 8 in 1995. Finland is No. 5, up from No. 18.

Let us hear from you.

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