What to watch for in the weeks ahead


Missile Defense's Debut

Okay, so maybe the system—which consists at this point of a handful of interceptors in silos in Alaska, sitting atop boosters that haven't been tested, hooked up to radar that's not fully operational—doesn't actually work. But on this date the Department of Defense's missile shield, which was the centerpiece of the Bush Administration's pre-9/11 security strategy, officially goes "on alert." Early tests have not inspired confidence: the system has a five-for-eight record knocking down dummy missiles that were flying low and slow on well-rehearsed trajectories. And it's not known whether the system can function in severe weather, against multiple missiles arriving simultaneously, or when confronted by simple countermeasures such as balloons. The first tests under these conditions won't be run until 2007. To date the Pentagon has spent at least $90 billion on the program.


War Cost Estimate Due

As of this summer the military costs for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had reached $150 billion—about three times the White House's favored pre-war estimate. Congress has now required that the Bush Administration produce a new estimate for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, projecting costs through 2011. The Congressional Budget Office has already estimated a cost as high as $213 billion (not including reconstruction costs). Any Administration estimate falling significantly below this number will arouse suspicion.


Afghan Elections

How much power will the interim President, Hamid Karzai, have to concede to local warlords in exchange for their support? In July he signaled that he planned to concede little, by dropping his presumptive running mate, the powerful warlord Muhammad Fahim. In response Fahim has thrown his support to Karzai's opposition. Because Fahim's private army still roams the countryside, there are concerns that political conflict could turn bloody. Meanwhile, violence in the Taliban-friendly south, where Karzai is unpopular, has slowed preparations for the election there.


Mayday for Marriage Rally

One indication of the depth of opposition to gay marriage will be the size of the rally against it on the National Mall, in Washington. The first Mayday for Marriage rally, this past spring, drew 25,000 people. Organizers of the second Mayday for Marriage rally have said they hope for as many as a million protesters in Washington and at satellite rallies in some states. That's a high bar. The optimistically named Million Man March of 1995 and Million Mom March of 2000 may have drawn only about 500,000 people each (exact numbers are disputed). For what it's worth, the actual Mayday permit request for the Mall estimates only 100,000 marchers.


Report on Anglican Schism

The consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire last November divided the Anglican Church. With talk of schism in the air, the Archbishop of Canterbury convened the Lambeth Commission. Its report is expected to suggest several models for a "trial separation" between churches that countenance gay clerics and those that don't. Anglican churches in Latin America and Africa appear ill disposed to compromise: Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, for one, has suggested that if the dioceses accepting gay clerics don't repent or get expelled, he will lead a breakaway faction.



U.S. soldiers in Iraq took to calling the Muslim holy month "Bombadan" last October, after four suicide car bombers killed thirty-five people in coordinated attacks at Ramadan's beginning. Although the holy month traditionally calls for peaceful fasting and self-reflection, it has militant associations for Islamic radicals—it was, after all, the occasion not only of Muhammad's first victory over infidels, in 624, but also of the 1973 invasion of Israel by Syria and Egypt.


Election 2004 Cookie Cook-Off Results

Each election year since 1992 the presidential candidates' wives have submitted cookie recipes to Family Circle magazine, whose readers then voted for a favorite. So far the cook-off winner has always been the next First Lady. Laura Bush's recipe this year is for oatmeal chocolate-chunk cookies, Teresa Heinz Kerry's for pumpkin spice. But the predictive effect of the cook-off may not hold this time, because Teresa recently revealed that she doesn't even like pumpkin-spice cookies; a panicked staffer submitted the recipe on her behalf after Family Circle determined that Teresa's first recipe (for "Yummy Wonders") simply didn't work.