Tuesday, December 30, 2003

This week in my B&C blog:
December news and obituaries in review, with links to each of my monthly news roundups throughout 2003. Plus a look back at some of the most intriguing articles I found this year, including why chemical and biological weapons should not be considered "weapons of mass destruction," the mysterious disappearance of a Boeing 727 in Angola, the building of China's Three Gorges Dam, the science of itching, how often "the butler did it," and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

A look back at the year is never complete without reading the annual review essays by George Will and Dave Barry.

Also, saw this today in the Wash. Post's year-in-magazines column:

Redbook published a cover photo of actress Julia Roberts that USA Today revealed to be a composite created by sticking the head of a year-old photo of Roberts atop the body from a four-year-old photo. The cover line read: "The Real Julia."

May next year again be a time for pursuit of truth. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Wishes of holiday peace and health to all readers!

Here's some of my column from the Tribune one year ago on Christmas Web sites:

In a pickle over Christmas? Get your mouse a stirring
December 20, 2002, Tempo; Pg. 2; AT RANDOM. INTERNET

Admit it: you're no Grinch, but at some point during the ordeal of hauling your Christmas tree into your living room, leaving your stomach lined with pockmarks from needle pokings, you may have asked: Why exactly does society mandate we transplant a tree inside our homes each December?

The answers to these and other Christmas-related queries can be found online, if you know where to look.

This is Christmas 101, or, in keeping with the theme of the site, "How Christmas Works." Why the tree? Why the caroling? Why the poinsettias? (Hint: it has to do with a guy named Poinsett, and no, they're not poisonous -- that's a myth). It's a cursory review, and the answers are sometimes a little thin, but it does cover most of the basic questions and you're guaranteed to learn something.

More in-depth (and occasionally morbid) ventures into Christmas folklore are best handled by Barbara and David Mikkelson, arbiters of truth, myth and urban legend at the Urban Legend Reference Pages. It's not true, for example, that anyone has ever died after dressing up as Santa and getting stuck in a chimney. It is true that in German tradition, a pickle ornament is the crowning touch on the tree. The Mikkelsons also offer a more comprehensive history of Santa Claus and the strange superstitions surrounding holly and mistletoe. And the poinsettia myth gets debunked again.

Whether or not your Christmas tree has you perplexed, it's a good idea to take this advice from the experts at the National Christmas Tree Association. Their tree-care tips cover topics such as tree stand size, cutting the stump for maximum water absorbency and a rule of thumb for adding water to the stand (one quart for every inch of the trunk's diameter). But it doesn't take an expert to tell you, "The best secret for keeping your tree fresh is water, water, water."

www.christmasarchives.comTo get a taste of the holiday's international flavor, start with this series of essays on Christmas in Hungary, Poland (see also www.polishworld.com/christmas), Spain and Egypt, a collection edited by Christmas historian Maria Hubert Von Staufer. ...

http://us.imdb.com/Tsearch hristmas
Can't think of a Christmas movie you haven't seen five times already? According to the Internet Movie Database, you have 568 to choose from (if you include TV movies). One page has helpfully culled IMDB's list to a manageable few dozen (including the seven different versions of "A Christmas Carol). ...

IMDB's most intriguing features are trivia and goofs; here you read, for example, that one scene from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" originally included a soft drink logo posted in the background; that "It's a Wonderful Life" originally ended with "Ode to Joy," not "Auld Lang Syne"; and that "Miracle On 34th Street," an ode to Christmas cheer trumping commercialism, was originally released in May in order to maximize ticket sales.

www.christmas-carols.net'Tis the season for bustling through malls so fast you find yourself humming the slick soundtracks pumped through the stores without knowing what you're humming or what the words are. This site lists the lyrics to over 50 Christmas songs, and plays the related tune when you click on a title.

For popular recordings, see the oldies lyrics database at www.webfitz.com/lyrics/xmas.html which ranks the top 101 Christmas songs (No. 1, of course, is Bing Crosby's "White Christmas") and features a to-the-second Christmas countdown. For Christmas music of a different flavor, check out "Cajun Twelve Days of Christmas" ("Nine oysters stewin', eight crabs a brewin'") at www.cajunradio.org/christmas.html

And to really outdo yourself, learn the words to "Auld Lang Syne" and wow fellow revelers on New Year's Eve: www.elmbronze.demon.co.uk/scotland/burns /langsyne.htm That intimidating title, which means "old long since," can be rendered "times gone by," says www.howstuffworks.com/question279.htm

www.infostarbase.com/tnr/xmasFor a more contemplative Christmas surf, delve into readings such as the original "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" editorial from the New York Sun in 1897 and Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." This site also tells you how to say "Merry Christmas" in a variety of languages, from Polish to Punjabi.

You can find other classic and contemporary Christmas stories at www.christmas-stories.com, and if you have a laptop, you can curl up with the full text of "A Christmas Carol" by clicking on "Charles Dickens" at www.literature.org/authors
Here's the NY times on a mall Santa in culturally diverse Richmond, Calif., who speaks eight languages.

And here's a clever op-ed contribution from Sunday's Tribune:

The flack in the hat

By Martin Kimel. Martin Kimel lives in Potomac

December 21, 2003

(with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Sally and I had nothing to do.

We stared out the window.

We were bored with the view.

So we turned on the tube, and what did we see?

The Cat in the Hat! He was there on TV!

He was on Ch. 2!

He was on Ch. 4!

He was peddling goods in commercials galore!

"These burgers are good for you kids," said the cat.

"They are good for you, yes,

"Though they'll make you grow fat.

"Have plenty of soda, potato chips too.

"Your mother won't mind it at all if you do."

But our fish did not like it.

Not one little bit.

He loudly complained.

He would not let it sit.

He said, "You wouldn't be selling out all we hold dear

"If Theodor Geisel--Dr. Seuss--were still here!"

"Look at me!" said the cat.

"Yes, it's fun to be funny.

"But in the real world, you have to make money.

"For a reasonable fee,

"I'll pitch what you wish.

(Just get me away from that bothersome fish.)

"I can plug Mr. Clean.

"Or push dishwasher soap.

"I can sell you 10 kinds of Jam-jigger-roo rope.

"I'll sell digital toys,

"Or girls' clothes for boys,

"Or useless devices that make funny noise.

"But I am not through.

"No, I am not done.

"If you like, I can sell you Thing Two or Thing One!"

Then the cat turned to pick up a rake he had bent.

On his back was a sign reading, "This space for rent."

With a tip of his hat,

The famed cat gave a wave.

And he left Dr. Seuss to spin, spin in his grave.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Latest Tribune article:
My first story in the Sunday Q section, on Alica Magal, daughter of Holocaust survivors, former tour guide in Israel, and recently installed rabbi at a small downtown synagogue
This week in my B&C blog:
A mini-essay on O'Hare Airport on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. Plus, Stephen King on the function of fear, analyzing brain waves of spiritual experiences, the legacy of astrology, what's going on at Guantanamo Bay, the state of the essay, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE

Speaking of the Wright Brothers, here's the Washington Post on the bumpy flight of a Wright replica, and on the first father-daughter cockpit team in a 737.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Latest published article:
My first op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, on college grads who live with their parents:
This week in my B&C blog:
Roundup of the news of November. Plus, a postcard from Megan Feenstra in New York City, a primer on the Nobel Prizes, David Brooks on gay marriage, how to save Mount Kilimanjaro's ice cap, the short shelf life of scholarly references to Web pages, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
Number of the Day: 5 million
People infected by HIV this year, including 700,000 children. 3 million people died of AIDS this year.


-Previous Number
Thought of the Day: obligatory Christmas cheer
My Metra train slowed to a halt not 50 yards from the Ravenswood Station right about this time last year. Eventually, a conductor appeared in the front of our car. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have had a suicide. The train will be delayed." Everyone gasped, but, detestably, it was half-saddened, half-annoyed reaction. We pitied the poor soul, but we were also late (amazing how stubbornly petty people can be). Later, I asked the conductor how rare these incidents were. I think he said they happened a few times a year. "But," he said, "they're more common this time of year."

This is the first Christmas in several years that hasn't snuck up on me. Usually December ambushes me; this year I wanted to put the tree up on November 1 and start singing carols. The sole reason, of course, was that this was the year I spent mostly at home, writing, lonely as anything, and I longed for the sense of hearth and togetherness that is embedded in the holidays. But I've been wondering about how we experience these feelings and about the holidays. We use--as I have--this aura of goodwill and cheer as a stimulant, an opiate to stave off the rest of the year, when we carry on our "lives of quiet desperation," as Thoreau said. But we also dread that aura, or at least the sense of obligation that comes with it--an unwanted mandate to be happy. I was talking with a friend a week or two ago who was on the verge of tears as she talked about how the holidays make her depressed after getting married a couple years ago and adjusting to different family dynamics. For her, the incessant chipper Christmas soundtracks oozing through department store speakers must be especially grating (most of all, the constant "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"). And I remembered one of my favorite episodes of West Wing, Excelsis Deo, in which Charlie asks Mrs. Landingham why she has been feeling down. Turns out her sons were killed in Vietnam on Christmas Day. This time of year, more than any other, she says, "I miss my boys." The man who stepped in front of my Metra train might have been feeling much the same way.

This obligatory giddyness and persistent glumness--what to make of it? For these people, would it not do more for cheeriness on earth to forego the whole season, to just call it off? And yet, for others, like me this year, don't we need the rhythms of tradition and warmth of reunion with loved ones to anchor the end of our year? The least we can do, I guess, is keep our sugary salutations and holiday platitudes in check, mindful of those for whom the holidays and their "cheer" have the opposite effect.

Footnote: It's worth noting that "Christmas cheer" has little to do with the first Christmas, and is largely a contrivance of our nostalgia and our department stores. Christ's arrival, as profound an invasion of hope as it was in a world of despair, was not the kind of material of which carols are easily made. His unmarried parents had hassled with traveling to register for a census by an oppressive Roman regime, no doubt unnerved by the whispers surrounding their pregnancy. Their baby was born in a nondescript house (most likely--the Bible says nothing about a stable) and cradled in a trough, bound for a lifetime of misunderstandings, especially in a Jewish society starved for a heroic political revolutionary after a series of thwarted wannabes. It was a day of victory, but of delayed victory--almost as much of a reminder of the misery that lay ahead as the eventual end of that misery. Walking through a mall today, Mary and Joseph would wonder how the heck we turned the birthday of their firstborn into this extravaganza.

Previous Thought: Why does nature evoke childhood?
I'd never actually seen Christmas Vacation start to finish, so I taped it last weekend and watched it last night (it is set in Chicago, more or less, so I watched for civic pride purposes). I nearly shut it off halfway through. Nothing but a thrown-together series of pyrotechnic electricity stunts and one-liners as old and tired as Chevy Chase himself. How horrifying to discover this at IMDB.com this morning: "Frank Capra III, the grandson of It's A Wonderful Life director, Frank Capra, was the Assistant Director of Christmas Vacation."
One small step for product placement: I cracked open one of the fortune cookies left in the lunchroom at my new part-time job, and was advised--by my local energy company, it turns out: He who signs up for the Automatic Payment Plan worries less about the monthly payments. I can't tell you how endeared to the company that made me.
Etymology Today from M-W: bathetic \buh-THEH-tik
1 : extremely commonplace or trite
2 : characterized by insincere or overdone pathos : excessively sentimental

When English speakers turned "apathy" into "apathetic" in the 1700s, using the suffix "-etic" to turn the noun into the adjective, they modeled it on "pathetic," the adjectival form of "pathos" from Greek "pathçtikos." People also applied that bit of linguistic transformation to coin "bathetic." In the mid-19th century, English speakers added the suffix "-etic" to "bathos," the Greek word for "depth," which has been used in English since the early 1700s and means "triteness" or "excessive sentimentalism." The result: the ideal adjective for the incredibly commonplace or the overly sentimental.

Previous E.T.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

City by Douglas RaeMy latest B&C article:
Book of the Week: "City," a copious record of the rise and fall of downtown New Haven, Connecticut, is heavy on the what and when, but fuzzy on the how and why. It rolls right past this central question: Were Americans meant to spread out through the countryside, as Thomas Jefferson wished, or should we be less isolated and more concentrated in cities?

"City" is on New Haven; here's an article from Common-place.org on Concord, Mass. Earlier: My review of "Sidewalks in the Kingdom" by Eric Jacobsen.

Update: Urban Design in His Kingdom from ByFaithOnline.com. Joseph Terry's New Urbanism Links, Periferia's NU bibliography, Listmania lists here and here; Amazon book pages: Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000 by Dolores Haydn and Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950 by Robert M. Fogelson; Reason on the brawl over sprawl; companion blog to the book How Cities Work, blogger and author Dave Hegeman, Jacobsen on Kuntsler and sprawl (more), Planetizen on Florida sprawl and the end of suburban sprawl, USA Today on shopping shifting to off-mall stores, Franklin&Marshall on Levittown, architect-books.com page on Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Update Two: More here, here, and here.

My B&C blog is idle this week; it returns Monday with a roundup of news from the month of November.
Number of the Day: 70
Percent of Americans who put up an artificial tree last year as opposed to a real one, up from 50 percent just over a decade ago.
-Globe & Mail

-Previous Number
Thought of the Day: Why does nature evoke childhood?
Why are pastoral paintings so evocative of childhood? Maybe it's just me, but when I see a portrayal of a field or countryside, or take a walk in the woods, it triggers flashbacks to some of my earliest memories. Which is odd, because I didn't grow up in the county, though it must have something to do with the fact that I now live in a big city. I think it also has to do with how the child's mind conceives places and scenes. Calling on some of my earliest accessible memories of storybooks, Sesame Street, and the paintings of fields and barns on my grandparents' walls, I recall just how vivid the scenic drawings were to me--they weren't just pictures, they were places that my mind brought to life. (In contrast, seeing the Marshall Field windows on State Street this year, with their serial renderings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, reminded me of how viscerally horrified I was when they sat my second grade class in front of the movie adaptation. I had nightmares about the boy who plunges down the chute and the girl who balloons and turns blue because they were so real to me.)

The child's mind is so vivid because it is not conditioned. Part of becoming an adult, I've been reflecting, is seeing what you expect to see when you look around. You lose at least half of your sense of wonder. When you drive around, you care less about the scenery and more about where you have to be and when. When you watch a movie now, it's harder to "suspend disbelief" because disbelief is now wired into you, especially in an age of cynicism about the entertainment industry. As a child, though, on a parent's lap, there were no boundaries, no cliches, no formulas or rehearsed meanings to the text and pictures before my face. What an evocative state to be in. At the same time, what a horrific one. Those Marshall Field windows evoked such dread in me, some 15 years after watching that movie as a child. And that was just a movie. I can only imagine what children who were abused go through. Lately I've found myself dissing the Freudian principle that, as one columnist once put it, our emotional selves are the "sum of our childhood traumas." But the warmth and wonder of these idyllic flashbacks, this instant transportation back to early youth (as Antoine Fisher experienced in the opening scene of that movie), has a gruesome parallel. Maybe that is why we shed some of our wonder as we get older.

Footnote: "For it is rather in nature that we see resemblance to art, than in art to nature; and we say a hundred times, "How like a picture!" for once that we say "How like the truth!" The forms in which we learn to think of landscape are forms that we have got from painted canvas." Robert Louis Stevenson, An Autumn Effect

Previous Thought: Do we define ourselves by what we are not?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

One of my college friends, Phil Christman, writes with a rare blend of verve and intelligence. I just found some of his stuff from Paste Magazine here, here, and here.
More on life and narrative: Anthony Lane in last week's New Yorker:

The film proceeds with a stop-start motion, as if it lacked enough gas for a certifiable plot. This may be deliberate; you could argue that plotlessness is the family’s problem, as they fight to lend thrust and purpose to their survival in a foreign land. And thus we get the search for a home ... link

Also from that issue: Malcolm Gladwell on institution as a moralistic buzzword, and Louis Menand on John Updike.
? Places&Culture Extra
As I wrote in the debut of my B&C blog, some of my favorite writing is about places--how we shape them and how they shape us. The ongoing daily drama of people in places--and the context of a place's history, landscape, culture and social shifts--mostly eludes the headline-driven news media. Here is a file from the past year of exceptions to that rule, which I had clipped but never ran in my B&C blog. Since they aren't driven by the "news cycle," they're well worth revisiting months later.

See also:
-Places&Culture strand in my B&C blog
-Previous Places&Culture strand in this blog

? From Wash.Post

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- As a damp dusk fell on this hard-luck port, Manuel Pereira guided the Sea Siren ashore, its hull packed with 15 tons of lemon sole and yellowtail flounder, its future uncertain. These are the darkest days for the fishermen who trawl the North Atlantic's frigid depths, shackled by regulations, while they wait for barren seas to grow bountiful again. ... All along New England's craggy coast, fishermen face the same sad choice: Soldier on toward economic -- and ecological -- ruin, or abandon the only livelihood they have ever known. Theirs is a self-inflicted wound. Decades of overfishing depleted all ground-fish species -- tasty bottom dwellers such as flounder, cod and haddock -- from New England waters by the early 1990s. Cod, the region's signature fish, declined by more than 70 percent in that time.

SEATTLE, Sept. 17 -- The tax seemed perfectly brewed for a city addicted to latte and liberalism -- at least to those who managed to get it on the ballot. Voters here were asked to tax espresso drinks for the sake of children. Ten cents more per cup for expanded preschool programs, tax supporters had reasoned, would be noble and barely noticeable. After all, these are citizens who, without a trace of self-consciousness and rarely a complaint about price, will bustle into a Starbucks (the world headquarters is here), order a triple tall non-fat decaf vanilla cappuccino and pay nearly $4. Seattle, too, has a progressive tradition of taxing itself to clean up lakes and build low-income housing and mass transit. Good intentions, though, were crushed Tuesday by caffeinated reality. Voters resoundingly rejected the tax, 68 percent against to 32 percent for.

The Rev. Bob Gomez says people can find Jesus anywhere. Even, he says, under a disco ball at a Texas bar. For the past two Sunday evenings, Gomez, a four-person choir and a keyboardist have spread God's word on the dance floor at Christopher's Bar and Grill in Kingsville, Tex., a town about 200 miles south of San Antonio. The services -- which Gomez characterizes as "lively and celebrative, with a little bit of Latin flair thrown in" -- have been a hit, attracting nearly 100 people each time. Just a few weeks ago, Gomez, a Southern Baptist minister who also conducts services at a Corpus Christi Ramada Inn, was preaching in Kingsville to "huddles" -- small groups that meet weekly to study the Bible. When Gomez started searching for a place to convene the huddles on Sundays, Christopher's was the first place to offer.

MONTERREY, Mexico -- Jose Maiz Garcia, a 100-pound power hitter, played left field on this city's Little League team in 1957, when it became the first non-American team ever to win the Little League World Series. Now Maiz hopes to make more Mexican baseball history by bringing the first Major League Baseball team south of the border. Maiz, a construction magnate, is one of the partners bidding to move the vagabond Montreal Expos to a new permanent home here in Mexico's richest city.

GREENWICH, Conn. -- Once the U.N. headquarters and a vast international city of skyscrapers were supposed to rise here, amid the genteel estates and rolling hills of this wealthy suburb. To obtain the land for this new city, a State Department official in 1946 proposed to use eminent domain to seize several dozen estates, not the least those of Time publisher Henry Luce, jazz leader Benny Goodman, financier John S. Rockefeller and Wall Street banker and future U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush, father to the former president and grandfather to the current one. This proposal failed to amuse Greenwich estate owners. ... With a referendum and a few dirty tricks, they beat back the plan. Only then did the U.N. selection committee turn a covetous eye toward Turtle Bay in Manhattan. A new exhibit here has cracked open the door on this long-forgotten episode, the story of how the United Nations lost its battle in 1946 for a massive, 100-square-mile campus in southern New England and Westchester, N.Y.

ULAGUPITCHANPATTI, India -- Two years ago, after graduating from high school at the top of her class, Sukanya Sakkarai put aside her dreams of college and resigned herself to the fate of most young women in this farming village of trampled earth and mud-brick houses: marriage to a stranger in a match arranged by her parents. Then the Information Age arrived on her doorstep. Life hasn't been the same for Sakkarai, or her village, since. Scouts from a communications company approached the teenager last year, when she was working one day a month as an accountant for a village credit cooperative, and asked if she was interested in opening a computer-equipped "information kiosk" in the village, which at that point didn't even have a telephone. .. Today the 19-year-old runs a thriving small business, charging modest fees for services that range from Internet browsing and e-mail to daily computer classes to weekend screenings of Tamil-language films by means of her computer's CD-ROM drive. Perhaps most important, she acts as a kind of village ombudsman, brokering e-mail exchanges and even videoconferences -- again, for a fee -- between semiliterate villagers and the government bureaucrats who still control many aspects of their lives.

Hurricane Isabel whipped up gusts of winds, unleashed torrential rains and introduced modern farming technology to the Amish of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. Meteorologists probably could not have predicted the last one. The hurricane tore up cornfields and the Amish method of harvesting. Horse-drawn wagons and gas-powered corn binders had no chance of navigating the fields, and farmers needed a quick way to pull the corn off the downed stalks before the crop grew moldy. Local bishops gave their blessing for the one-time use of modern-day heavy farm machinery. So for the past few weeks, contractors operating corn harvesters from as far away as Maryland have worked the Amish cornfields in central Pennsylvania, saving what nearly became a ruined season.

NANJING, China -- On Aug. 22, Weng Biao was preparing to buy a lunch of steamed fish and pickled vegetables for his wife when officials from the government Office of Demolition showed up at his family's two-room shack in a small field slated to become a shopping mall and ordered him to come with them. A 39-year-old part-time laborer with a bad leg, Weng limped to the office 200 yards away. Minutes later, several other officials barged into Weng's house, took a jerrycan of gasoline and forced his wife, 11-year-old son and 74-year-old father outside. A bulldozer arrived and knocked down the house even though local residents had been given until Aug. 30 to leave the area, witnesses and Chinese reporters said. ... Weng's neighbors and family members say they suspect that demolition officials sprinkled his body with fuel to persuade him to stop demanding more compensation for his condemned house. Somehow the fuel ignited. Weng's story is the latest tragedy in a war being fought across China pitting a juggernaut of development against growing grass-roots resistance.

SEOUL -- On the thoroughfares of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, five remarkable roadside billboards are scheduled to go up later this month. In one, a young man will stare out with an expression of wonder once reserved for official posters of North Koreans gazing upon their leader, Kim Jong Il. This time, the object of awe will instead be a shiny new Fiat. The billboards are part of what is being dubbed the first corporate media blitz to hit North Korea. Pyeonghwa Motors Corp. -- a South Korean company with close ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church -- coaxed the North Korean government this year into a major break with its communist doctrine: the launch of a capitalist marketing campaign. Even as North Korea has belligerently confronted the West with threats to become the world's newest nuclear power, foreign business leaders, political analysts and South Korean officials say the government has been quietly taking bold steps to deepen a budding foray into capitalism.

NEW DELHI -- This is one war that PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are not waging against each other. Since an Indian environmental watchdog group released a report alleging that the drinks contain high levels of pesticide residue, the two international cola giants have battled consumer panic, "smash-the-bottle" street campaigns and angry lawmakers calling for a ban on the products. Both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have issued countless rebuttals and published advertisements disputing the allegations. ... The unlikely alliance formed soon after the release on Tuesday of a report by the Center for Science and Environment, a private group based in New Delhi that has fought numerous environmental battles against the bottled water, automobile and paper industries. Tests of 12 leading drinks produced and marketed in India by the two companies showed that "all samples contained residues of four extremely toxic pesticides and insecticides: lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos," the report said.

Wash.Post"Give me one red abstraction, two green landscapes and an orange soda -- and super-size it, please." Practice placing such an order before heading to "China Pizza Chicken King," the weird and charming summer exhibition at G Fine Art in Georgetown. The links between fast food and fine art don't spring immediately to mind, but this new show makes a strong argument for them. A local art collective called Team Response (recent Corcoran graduates Matt Sutton, Jason Balicki and Justin Barrows) has turned brave Annie Gawlak's gallery into a full-scale facsimile of your average food court restaurant. The main space, painted floor to ceiling in an electric, eat-up-quick yellow, now hosts seven built-in booths such as you would find in any chicken joint. Or make that any burger dive; there are squeeze bottles -- one red, one yellow -- on every table. ... There are handy yellow trash bins in the corners, with a cheery cursive "Thank You" on the swing-top of each one.

The forest-green 1994 Buick LeSabre with whitewalls is still reliable at 100,008 miles, the salesman said. It sits on the lot next to a maroon Toyota Supra with peeling paint and a rusting gold Camry that's seen better days. Like the other cars parked on the gravel patch on Hyattsville's main drag, none of them sells for more than $5,000, the kind of bargain that Vernon Wolverton's customers have expected for 33 years. Head north out of the District on U.S. Route 1 and you'll pass dozens of places like Wolverton's Suburban Motors. Nearly half the 97 licensed used-car dealers in Prince George's County do business on or around the 20-mile stretch from the District line to Laurel, a road once known as the Washington region's Car Alley. Over the decades, large new-car showrooms and secondhand dealers left for less-crowded suburbs. That left the small independent lots that cater to a local clientele -- a landscape like many sections of Route 1 between Key West and the Canadian border. Now, under a plan set in motion by county leaders three years ago, the car lots are about to be zoned out of existence. Beginning Sept. 1, it will be illegal for used-car lots smaller than 25,000 square feet to operate in the county, a limit that will force nearly all of the dealers on the highway to close.

Andy Del Gallo was down on both knees carving the word "Dream" into the hard granite, aiming his chisel like a dentist's drill over the middle letter, when someone asked for his autograph. ... People who make inscriptions in stone are rarely at the center of attention or the focus of autograph-seekers. But Del Gallo's recent assignment is an exception -- etching five lines onto the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that mark the exact spot where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood to deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech 40 years ago. So Del Gallo, 38, one of the owners of Eastern Memorials, the Falls Church company that does work for the National Park Service, signed his name on a folded piece of paper. The man, Herbert James Anderson III of Houston, wrote the date below Del Gallo's signature. Anderson said that was probably the closest he would ever come to being in King's presence, and he wanted something to remember it by. That's how it has been for Del Gallo since Tuesday, when he first knelt down and started carving -- moments of intense concentration, pleasantly interrupted.

Wash.PostMONROVIA, Liberia -- Sekou Bility waited in a house built on the ruined promise of Liberia. It stood well up Snapper Hill, in the shadow of the towering, formerly majestic Masonic Temple that lately reeked from the exposed filth of a thousand people cowering within its moldering walls, listening for the sound of shooting. Among them, until recently, was the sister of Bility's fiancee, who during her stay in the temple's dank caverns contracted cholera. So did her 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. Now they were living with Bility. Nine people were crowded into a single room in a city of crowded rooms, another fact of life during wartime. ... In a steaming capital swollen with families uprooted by fighting that resumed with a vengeance over the weekend, Bility's crowded room on Snapper Hill offered a glimpse at what passes for refuge in Liberia after 14 years of war. A day last week with this lean and likable 33-year-old, once the well-off sales manager for an oil company, was a window to the daily struggle of people living inside the collapse of Africa's oldest republic.

Wash.PostATLANTIC CITY -- Over the years, this seaside city has been given more write-offs than a bankrupt airline, but still has continually tried to reinvent itself. It's where the spectacle of women on diving horses evolved into the Miss America pageant, where the boardwalk was enshrined on the Monopoly board and where the Beatles played at Convention Hall -- which, long before the Astrodome, presented football games indoors. When casino gambling came to the resort in 1978 the competition was Nevada, a bit of horse and dog racing, and a few state lotteries. These days it seems every mosh pit has a slot machine; there are more riverboats than Mark Twain could count, and Powerball is rapidly becoming the national pastime. And, again, Atlantic City is looking for a new new thing. The latest hope is Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, a 2,002-room edifice with a three-acre casino floor covered with 145 gaming tables. Its 3,650 slot machines are coinless and issue tickets when players win -- no unseemly clinking of coins, nor any reason to bend over to pick them up off the floor.

Wash.PostSHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK -- This mountain sanctuary is under siege. The air pollution tainting its magnificent views is thick enough that it violates federal standards for ozone, which, scientists say, is stunting forest growth and pocking leaves with black spots. The effects of acid rain are killing prized young brook trout. An almost invisible exotic bug has doomed thousands of the park's mighty hemlocks. Meanwhile, poachers have slaughtered black bears for their gall bladders, considered an aphrodisiac in Asia, while other harvesters are depleting the park's wild ginseng root. Many visitors to the 197,000-acre Blue Ridge preserve about 80 miles west of Washington are blissfully unaware of these troubles. The pollution diminishing the vistas from Skyline Drive -- the scenic north-south road that runs the 105-mile length of the park, from Front Royal to Waynesboro -- strikes many as a natural haze.

BUENOS AIRES -- The ghost train arrives at dusk. Hauling rucksacks, pushing grocery carts and makeshift dollies, the people known as cartoneros tumble to the platform in clots, then scatter through this twilit neighborhood of leviathan high-rises and marbled condominiums to sift though the evening's garbage for soda bottles, cardboard, newspapers: whatever the recyclers will take off their hands. ... When night falls, an occupying army of mostly cashiered factory workers rides the trains into the city from its rust-belt perimeter. On any given night, government officials estimate, there are as many as 40,000 garbage-pickers, or cartoneros -- cardboard men -- roaming Buenos Aires. That number has increased more than tenfold since Argentina's economic collapse.

WARANGAL, India -- In the early morning buzz of a busy market, hundreds of cotton farmers arrive on tractors and bullock carts with sacks full of their harvest of "white gold." But this season, some crops are attracting more attention than others. Farmers have planted India's first approved crop of genetically engineered cotton, known as Bt for the soil organism that is toxic to some plant pests. The new seed, developed by St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and approved by the government after four years of bitter opposition, is hailed by some as the solution to a vicious cycle of devastation by pests, heavy pesticide use and soil depletion that has trapped Indian farmers for decades.

MANNING, N.D. -- In a bar in this hamlet on the great American prairie, some wheat farmers gathered one night not long ago. They drove for miles through blowing snow, and more than 50 of them packed the Little Knife Saloon, doubling the regular population of Manning. They came to ask questions about a new kind of wheat, and the more they heard from a panel skeptical of the crop, the more their brows knitted in worry. The wheat was created in a St. Louis biology laboratory, through genetic engineering. It is meant to benefit farmers, but a lot of people in the room fretted that it would put them out of business. ... In the states that grow the fabled amber waves of grain that symbolize America's heritage of plenty, the most plentiful commodity these days is trouble.

VAIL, Colo. -- A week's vacation in this pampered mountain mecca can set you back thousands of dollars. That's the bad news. The good news is that if you do it right, you can deduct your ski trip when you fill out your income tax return. Among those who can do that were the doctors and lawyers who gathered around a television set one afternoon last week in the Geneva Room of Vail's elegant Swiss Hotel and Spa, where rates run about $350 per night. In stretch pants and ski sweaters, they had just come in from a day on the slopes. Before heading for the hot tub, they watched a one-hour educational video on "Employment Law for the Healthcare Office." The taped lecture was designed to help the skiers improve their medical and legal skills. But it also improved their bank balances, because attending that apres-ski class brought them within the ambit of Section 162.5 of the federal income tax code, the "travel and education" write-off. ... According to American Educational Institute Inc., the training firm that runs the video seminars here and at 30 other ski and golf resorts around the country, those who attend its classes can write off not only the $425 tuition but also "travel, lodging and meal expenses" as long as "the primary purpose of your trip is to maintain or improve professional skills."

? From the NY Times

NY TimesREYDON, Okla. ? Tornadoes, droughts and the brutal busts after gas and oil booms have chased people from western Oklahoma for decades. Settlement after settlement has crumbled into the red-slate soil. Others hang on, barely. In Reydon, population 161, a turtle crosses Main Street unscathed. And yet after 70 years of flight from the rural Great Plains, a resolute core of people just will not go. They are people like David and Berla Barton, both 45, owners of a three-bedroom white stucco bungalow on Fifth Avenue, where spider plants hang over the patio, an orphaned black calf lies in a shed and eight fishing rods line a wall of the garage.

NY TimesINDIANAPOLIS - A huge, light-gray building, trimmed jauntily in blue, rises from the rolling, grassy fields on the far side of the runways at Indianapolis International Airport. From the approach road, the building seems active. But the parking lots are empty and, inside, the 12 elaborately equipped hangar bays are silent and dark. It is as if the owner of a lavishly furnished mansion had suddenly walked away, leaving everything in place. That is what happened. United Airlines got $320 million in taxpayer money to build what is by all accounts the most technologically advanced aircraft maintenance center in America. But six months ago, the company walked away, leaving the city and state governments out all that money, and no new tenant in sight. The shuttered maintenance center is a stark, and unusually vivid, reminder of the risk inherent in gambling public money on corporate ventures. Yet the city and state are stepping up subsidies to other companies that offer, as United once did, to bring high-paying jobs and sophisticated operations to Indiana. Many municipal and state governments are doing the same, escalating a bidding war for a shrunken pool of jobs in America despite the worst squeeze in years on their budgets.

KOKOMO, Ind., Nov. 6 - The worst has been removed from this industrial city's largest hazardous waste site. Barrels of chemicals have been carted away. Contaminated front yards have been stripped and covered with fresh sod. The rusty buildings where rats and homeless men took shelter have been demolished and removed. Three years ago, a chain-link fence with barbed wire was put around the site, the former home of Continental Steel, a Kokomo manufacturer that went bankrupt in 1986. Since then, the city has been waiting for the federal government to finish the cleanup. But the money for the Superfund program, which restores the nation's worst abandoned toxic waste sites, has not kept pace. Kokomo officials have been told for two years that the full cleanup is not being paid for and they fear that the delay will continue indefinitely. A three-inch-thick redevelopment plan sits on the shelves of the downtown library. And the city, which is trying to revitalize itself by building brick gazebos and renovating condominiums downtown, has a toxic site centrally located along one of its busiest roads.

NY Times
WEST JORDAN, Utah - Sears, Roebuck is a 117-year-old retailer wandering in search of its future. And the trail has led here, to this prosperous Salt Lake City suburb, and a month-old store called Sears Grand. From the outside, the 210,000-square-foot store is a box like the other chain-store boxes lined up in a shopping plaza in one of the nation's fastest-growing regions; Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Lowe's are all here, too. Inside, though, an evolving Sears personality is on display. Along with the usual array of Craftsman tools and Kenmore dishwashers, shoppers find merchandise Sears has not stocked before: racks of DVD's and music CD's; a grocery section with milk, eggs and frozen pizza; and a garden center, empty now ahead of the Utah winter but soon to brim with seedlings and fertilizer as well as rakes and hoses.

In a 21st-century twist on Roosevelt-era public works projects, Salt Lake City and 17 other Utah cities are planning to build the largest ultrahigh-speed digital network in the country. Construction on the project is scheduled to start next spring -- if the cities can raise the money to pull it off. The network would be capable of delivering data over the Internet to homes and businesses at speeds 100 times faster than current commercial residential offerings. It would also offer digital television and telephone services through the Internet. With a $470 million price tag, the project is considered one of the most ambitious efforts in the world to deploy fiber optic cables, which carry data in bursts of light over glass fibers. Though it has not received much attention outside the area, the project has raised questions here about the role of government, particularly from telecommunications companies, which are starting to complain about the prospect of competing against a publicly sponsored digital network.

SAYRE, Okla. -- Nearly 1,000 criminals were hauled away from here this summer, all of them incarcerated convicts, never to return. It pained nearly everyone to see them go. The exodus from this remote western Oklahoma town took with it about 225 jobs and a third of the government's revenues after a furor over the cost of inmates' phone calls led to the closing of a prison. ... With the prisoners gone, the operating budget this year has been chopped by a third to $2.7 million, Ms. Barker said. Plans for a new City Hall have been halted indefinitely. The city has put off renovating an old building for the Police and Fire Departments and constructing a 60-unit apartment complex to relieve the acute housing shortage. Hiring has stopped. One of five water department jobs has been cut. With nothing to build, the city construction manager has been let go. The job of economic development director has been eliminated. The city had budgeted for a full-time treasurer to succeed the part-time treasurer, who retired, but now Ms. Barker has inherited those duties.

Harlem, which has everything from an Old Navy shop to a Disney store these days, has been without a major hotel since 1966, when the Hotel Theresa, where Fidel Castro once stayed while visiting the city, closed for good. This morning, however, real estate developers and a group of investors that includes Gene Autry's widow and the president of Def Jam Records planned to announce the construction of a Marriott Courtyard Hotel in a parking lot near the 125th Street Metro-North station. An artist's rendering of the building shows a soaring 29-story glass structure that will hold more than 200 hotel rooms, some 250,000 square feet of office space and another 46,000 square feet for retail businesses. It will also include a public park and a sidewalk cafe that promise to brighten a dingy central Harlem intersection where the elevated train now runs the length of upper Park Avenue. The planned hotel is yet another sign that Harlem, which in the last 10 years has undergone a boom, is continuing its second major renaissance.

It has taken more than a decade, but the United States Postal Service and the General Post Office in New York City are finally about to part company. In fact, seemingly overnight, most of the building is already empty. That is because the president is coming to town. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan worked for years to transform the grand old building at Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street into a train station, but even after securing federal, state and city cooperation, no one could pin down the Postal Service on an exit date, said Kevin Sheekey, Mr. Moynihan's former chief of staff. Then the Republican National Committee chose New York City for its national convention. Mr. Sheekey, who went on to work for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and now coordinates convention preparations for City Hall, saw a dual opportunity in the post office building: Use it as a media center for the 15,000 journalists who will cover the convention, and use the convention as a wedge to get the post office out. ... Sometime after the convention ends, in early September 2004 and once the Empire State Development Corporation actually owns the building, construction on the train station is expected to begin.

TOYOTA CITY, Japan -- Though the writing on the wall is still faint, to Nobuhiko Narita it is unmistakable: Toyota City and its 350,000 residents are on a collision course with industrial inevitability. As director of the city government's industrial and labor policy division, Mr. Narita knows that Japan's motor city has prospered for years because of its namesake, Toyota Motor, Japan's richest corporation. But he also knows that the Japanese auto market is in a long, slow decline and that Toyota Motor must rush overseas to keep growing. Last year, the company earned more than America's Big Three automakers combined. Still, the job market in its hometown peaked a decade ago, and workers can no longer take raises and bonuses for granted. Every year, Toyota Motor builds more cars and buys more parts overseas, and its hundreds of domestic suppliers are having to compete ever harder with foreign rivals, sometimes by cutting prices so low that many cannot make ends meet. Many are quietly closing their doors because their outlook is bleak. With the seeds of decay in the city's signature industry now planted, Mr. Narita and local business leaders are doing something they never dreamed would be necessary: Looking to attract new commerce.

Autumn is always wedding season in China, but this week record numbers of couples have been marrying in cities like Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, according to officials and news media reports. In Beijing, by one report, more than 2,000 couples were married on Oct. 1, while the state news agency put the nationwide total that day at tens of thousands of couples. Some began lining up at wedding registration offices at 5 a.m. The surge began on Oct. 1, when China celebrated its National Day and enacted a handful of new laws. None has garnered more attention or enthusiasm than the new marriage law, which ends two longstanding requirements: a health certificate and, most annoying, a letter from an employer confirming that a person is single. Chinese officials are touting the new marriage law, as well as a new streamlined divorce law, as evidence of government reform. ... But the new law is not causing social change as much as keeping up with it.

ELSINORE, Denmark -- Traveling by ferry from Sweden, Bjorn did not bring so much as a bag. But he did not forget his large yellow mover's dolly. He needed it for the return trip, to cart his newly purchased beer back home. "Alcohol is much less expensive in Denmark," explained Bjorn, 37, who did not want to give his last name and who was pushing the heavily laden dolly as he boarded the ferry for the 20-minute return trip to Sweden. His trip to Elsinore had been brief -- basically, he went to the liquor store -- and familiar: he makes it every few months, when supplies run low. Every year, millions of Swedes travel to Denmark and bring back 20 percent of all the alcohol consumed in Sweden each year. Their reputation in towns like Elsinore, which is known as much for its multitude of liquor stores as for the castle where Shakespeare set "Hamlet," is of weekend bingers, people who drink themselves into insensibility.

A vast and remote expanse of green in the heart of Siberia is part of the largest wetland on earth. It produces oxygen at a rate rivaled only by the Amazon. It contains ancient forests, endangered species of beavers and Siberian sturgeon. It also holds oil, lots of it, and environmentalists are warning that a sudden splurge of hurried extraction, along with a virtual absence of government oversight, is changing the face of this delicate wilderness. Much damage in Siberia was already inflicted during the Soviet era, when the Communist government ravaged the environment on a calamitous scale. ... While there is little doubt that industry practices have improved, the exploitation now is being driven by the aggressive entry of private oil companies into an arena that just a decade ago was the exclusive domain of the state.

KOMPONG PHLUK, Cambodia -- The power of the Mekong's current forces the Tonle Sap River to swallow its own water, change direction, and flow back up to fill the lake again. The changeable river, forever retracing its past, is often taken as a metaphor for Cambodia, a nation that cannot seem to break free of its unhappy history. Around it, though, the world is marching forward. In southern China, ambitious plans are under way to transform the landscape by damming the Mekong and its tributaries. ... The annual floods and the regular rise and fall of the lake here will be affected, threatening its finely tuned environment. Most of Cambodia's protein comes from the fish of Tonle Sap and more than a million people make their livings directly from the lake. This poverty-ridden nation has little alternative food or employment to offer. Few people here know anything about dams or China, and for now, the seasonal ebb and flow of the great lake and the life around its edges continue as they always have.