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What to watch for in April
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APRIL 5

Iraq War Fragging Trial

In the first instance since the Vietnam era that an American soldier has been tried for the wartime murder of a fellow GI, Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar faces court-martial today for a 2003 pre-dawn grenade-and-rifle attack on soldiers sleeping in their tents, which killed two and injured fourteen just hours before they were to march into Iraq. The defense team for Akbar, a Muslim, is expected to portray the Army as rife with anti-Islamic bias, whereby slurs ("raghead," "habib") and jokes about raping Muslim women are commonplace. Akbar could be sentenced to death.

APRIL 11

A Kinder, Firmer Implant?

With sheaves of new evidence refuting theories linking silicone breast implants to both cancer and lupus, the California company Inamed will petition the FDA today to end its ban on the implants, which have been restricted to reconstructive surgeries since 1992. Inamed touts its "cohesive silicone" implants as leakproof and just as safe as—but less sloshy than—the saline implants currently available.

APRIL 14

Beltway Baseball Is Back

Play ball! After overcoming territorial team owners, rival cities, and a bottom-of-the-ninth battle with the District of Columbia

City Council, the Washington Nationals (né Montreal Expos) finally made it to the nation's capital, ending a thirty-three-year hiatus in D.C. baseball. President Bush has accepted the Nationals' invitation to throw out the first pitch—a tradition started by William Howard Taft at a game between the original Nationals (motto: "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League") and the Philadelphia Athletics on this same date in 1910.

APRIL 15

Italian Earthquake Clairvoyance

Today an Italian astronaut arrives at the International Space Station to flick on a first-of-its-kind satellite, the Lazio, which its designers claim can predict earthquake tremors four or five hours before they happen. By picking up telltale fluctuations in radiation belts surrounding Earth, the technology (if it works) should fulfill the long-standing need for a space-based early-warning system to detect earthquakes like the one that caused December's devastating tsunami. The Lazio's designers caution that the "jewel of Italian technology" will only test a hypothesis about earthquake detection; initial results are due in about seven months.

APRIL 15

Pay Taxes—or Else!

State and federal income taxes are due today: time to pay up, file for an extension, or join the millions of delinquent taxpayers increasingly targeted by state and federal government. Last year, in an effort to crack down on scofflaws, Congress approved a plan, strongly supported by President Bush, that allows the IRS to outsource delinquent taxpayer accounts to private debt collectors. Many states are taking a different tack: trying to shame people into paying back taxes by posting their names on such Web sites as Debtor's Corner (South Carolina), DelinqNet (Minnesota), and CyberShame (Louisiana).

APRIL 18

Sanctioned Writers Publish Freely

Even after 9/11 it seemed odd: the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control forbade U.S. publishers without a license from printing, or even editing, manuscripts by authors from "sanctioned nations"—all part of the government's embargo against such countries as Cuba, Sudan, and Iran. Violators faced fines of up to $1 million and up to ten years in jail, which had the perverse effect of thwarting foreign dissidents who wished to publish in the United States. To challenge the ban, a group of publishers—joined by Salman Rushdie and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human-rights activist and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner—brought suit. Late last year Treasury relented; it will not swoop in to confiscate copies of Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature, published today.

APRIL 29

File-Sharing Felons

Today the federal government adds some teeth to the entertainment industry's effort to stop piracy when the United States District Court in Washington, D.C., hands down the first criminal sentences for illegal online file sharing. In January, William R. Trowbridge and Michael Chicoine pleaded guilty to felony copyright infringement for running two hubs of the members-only Underground Network, which, unlike more-popular file-sharing services such as Kazaa and LimeWire, required members to contribute material in order to participate. In a sting called Operation Digital Gridlock federal agents downloaded more than 100 copyrighted works—which they claim are worth more than $25,000—from Trowbridge and Chicoine's two hubs. The defendants face up to $250,000 in fines, up to five years in prison, the forced destruction of their equipment and bootleg recordings, and restitution to the victimized copyright holders.

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