And now some fresh pickings from the wartime grapevine.

When AIDS first was grabbing headlines, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms clashed early and often with gay activists, resisting enhanced funding for AIDS research and blaming homosexuals for spreading the disease. Helms now says he's ashamed he hasn't done more to fight the worldwide AIDS epidemic. Speaking at a Christian conference in Washington organized by the Rev. Franklin Graham, Helms yesterday said he has been "too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS." He hasn't been entirely inert, however. In 2000, Helms co-authored legislation authorizing $600 dollars for AIDS treatment and relief in Africa. Helms will retire in 2003, after 30 years in the Senate.

Federal investigators in Memphis, Tenn., now say this car fire that killed Katherine Smith was deliberately set. Smith was a driver's license examiner who was charged with selling licenses to illegal immigrants. She was implicated along with five Middle Eastern men. Investigators haven't yet decided whether Smith was a victim of homicide or suicide. Meanwhile, the attorney for one of Smith's co-defendants has asked the court if the Justice Department is monitoring his conversations with his client.  You may recall that Attorney General Ashcroft said in the aftermath of Sept. 11 that the Justice Department might listen to conversations between terrorist suspects and their attorneys – but also promised to notify the parties under surveillance.

A soldier from Fort Benning has filed a federal discrimination suit against a movie theater and is seeking class action suits on behalf of all American Muslims. The soldier filed suit six weeks after he refused to remove his "kufi" – a traditional Muslim headpiece – at a movie theater in Columbus, Ga. Then, he and his family allegedly were ordered to leave. The theater chain – Carmike Cinemas – says its dress code prohibits attire that connotes gang membership, including certain types of headgear. The chain claims the theater manager tried to smooth things over when he discovered the kufi was a sign not of criminal intent, but of religious belief. 

Finally, The Washington Times reports one major environmental group isn't quite as eco-friendly as it claims. The Rainforest Action Network sent out a fund-raising letter, claiming the message was printed on tree-free paper. However, when Californian John Campbell received the letter and its request to "help compensate for the extra cost of using tree-free paper," he was suspicious. So he paid 100 bucks to have the paper tested – and lab results showed the paper was made from dead trees. Now Campbell has asked the U.S. Postal Inspector to investigate the group's fund-raising activities. A spokeswoman for the Rainforest Action Network says she believes Campbell's claims are a hoax.