Sun, Jan 01, 2006 - Page 9 News List

What does the New Year herald?

An asteroid calamity and free Internet phone calls are among the musings of soothsayers

AFP , PARIS

In 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor of California, Internet giant Google will suffer a setback and Brazil will hang on to the World Cup.

If Earth doesn't get wiped out by a giant comet first, that is.

Maybe it will all come true and maybe not, but a legion of soothsayers -- from business gurus to Bible decoders -- are making predictions for the year to come.

Some use elaborate computer programs like Torah4U to ferret out remarkably precise predictions allegedly hidden within the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and the Torah.

One Web site complete with diagrammed excerpts from Holy scripture, exodus2006.com, foresees the November re-election of Schwarzenegger along with the re-establishment of a military draft in the US.

It also predicts that Aug. 3 will be a blood-drenched day, yet just a mere shadow of the calamity that will befall us in 2010.

Annie Stanton, one of countless psychics plying her trade on the Internet, predicts that catastrophe will come this year in the form of a massive asteroid crashing into the planet.

Another mystic seer, Anita Nigam from India, has extended her powers of the paranormal into another realm -- sports betting.

For a mere ?50 (US$88) a week, you can receive her insights into the outcomes of English soccer's Premier League matches. World Cup rates are yet to be announced, but rumor has it she's keen on Brazil.

Bill Gray of Colorado University uses turbo-charged computer models that crunch data on global sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions to forecast the number and intensity of hurricanes that will hit the US each year.

Gray, whose track record is startlingly good, says this year will be no picnic -- 17 named tropical storms, nine hurricanes and five major, high-wind hurricanes, nearly twice the average in all categories.

Meanwhile, Wired magazine co-founder John Battelle, whose crystal ball is closely watched by Internet technology fans, says "Google will stumble" due to a bad partnership or a legal setback.

He also predicts legislators in the US and elsewhere will take steps to protect citizens against "the perils of unprotected Internet data mining" into their personal lives, including credit and health histories.

Like many of his high-tech colleagues, Battelle thinks 2006 will be the year when mobile technologies plug into the Web, so get ready for the first truly useable electronic newspaper.

Another wide-ranging forecast is that by the end of the year there will be a one-in-three chance that you will be making your phone calls, especially long-distance ones, over the Internet for free.

With the possible exception of the Apocalypse, no single event inspires more fevered speculation than the Oscars -- who will be nominated and who will win?

Bookmakers have cooled considerably on King Kong after the release of Brokeback Mountain, but Memoirs of a Geisha and Jarhead have loyal supporters too.

But even the most confident and qualified of forecasters are advised to recall Yale economics professor Irving Fisher's infamous assessment of the US stock market.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau," he said on the eve of the 1929 crash that sparked the Great Depression.

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