Dems' all-night Iraq talk ends in their plan's defeat
Thousands say farewell to Lady Bird Johnson
Plane crash kills at least 189
Earthquake ruins houses, shuts nuclear plant
Catholic abuse victim reacts to record payout
Rail explosion leads to massive chemical hazard
Taking its place alongside firehouse pancake breakfasts and the Ames straw poll is a new campaign staple: the Trivial Story. The details change--Mitt Romney spends $300 for a makeup artist; John Kerry orders a Philly cheesesteak with provolone instead of "Whiz"; Al Gore wears earth tones on the advice of a consultant. The more trivial the story, the more newsprint and airtime it soaks up.
So it is with the tale of John Edwards and the $400 haircut. On July 16, Edwards embarked on a three-day, 12-city tour to highlight the persistence of poverty in the U.S. Asked why he thought poverty was a winning issue, Edwards gave an unusual response for a presidential candidate: "I don't know that it is. This is not a political strategy. It's a huge moral issue facing America."
Perhaps so. But many of the three dozen journalists accompanying Edwards couldn't seem to get those snipping shears off their minds. Nearly every news story about the poverty tour made reference to Edwards' lavish coif by way of calling into question the candidate's ability to relate to low-income Americans.
Reporters argue that seemingly small details can illuminate larger truths about a candidate. And they often do: Gore's sartorial hire told us about his insecurity as a candidate, Kerry's sandwich moment about his remoteness. When Elizabeth Edwards told an interviewer on July 17 that a female presidential candidate may by necessity be unable to fully embrace women's issues, she raised an important point. But her remarks were immediately characterized as a catfight between the Edwardses and Hillary Clinton.
The Trivial Story has its place, but in 2007 it needs to move to the sidelines. With the country at war and a presidency in crisis, this may be a good time to remember that a candidate's foreign policy instincts tell us more about his fitness for office than his grooming habits do.
U.S. Loses Height Hegemony
The U.S. had the tallest people in the world for years, but now it's in the middle of the pack. Improved prenatal care may have contributed to growth abroad, while fast food and uneven health care may be keeping U.S. height down. Another factor: more urbanites. The average Kansan man is as tall as his European counterparts, but male Manhattanites are about 1.75 in. (4.5 cm) shorter. A look at the pecking order [This article contains a chart. Please see hardcopy or pdf.]
Sales Fall Short
Retail sales unexpectedly plunged 0.9% in June, marking the largest drop in nearly two years, according to the Department of Commerce. Here is where consumers got gun-shy
Motor vehicles had the biggest drop-off in dollars. Sales of automobiles and car parts were down 2.9%
A housing slowdown affected chairs and tables too. Sales dropped 3% at home-furnishings stores
Retailers received little demand for other durable goods. Sales of gadgets and appliances fell 1.4%
Building materials and gardening supplies took a hit. Sales went down 2.3% after going up in May
After rising steadily for a month, apparel sales surprised retailers with a 1.4% drop
Packing for Disaster
ATTACK PACK Officials in Sydney are urging every citizen to make an emergency kit--called a Go-Bag--that contains survival tools such as maps and radios. Authorities are stressing preparedness in case of terrorism or natural disaster.
BLAST FROM THE PAST Before the 2004 elections, Australian officials sent refrigerator magnets inscribed with emergency contact numbers to every household.
WHAT TO THINK Sydney officials, at least, are being pilloried by local newspapers, especially after advising that pet owners stow cats in pillowcases. Critics think this is all just fearmongering for political gain, designed to instill a bit of panic before Australia's upcoming general elections.
Appalachia vs. Big Pharm
Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, have already agreed to pay a record $634.5 million for claiming, from 1996 to 2001, that the drug was less addictive than other painkillers when in fact it could be converted into a powerful street drug. A July 20 hearing at the federal court in Abingdon, Va., brings Purdue executives face to face with former addicts as a judge finalizes the penalties.
WHY IT MATTERS Oxy abuse waned with more careful controls, but this part of Appalachia had suffered its share of crime and overdoses. A rally of affected families at the courthouse aims to remind drug companies of their continued responsibility to label and advertise ethically.
Is rape a prejudicial term? A Nebraska judge ruled last year that rape, victim and assailant were among the words that could not be uttered in a rape trial, after the defense argued they were "unfairly inflammatory." More neutral terms like sex were allowed. The first trial ended in a hung jury, and on July 12 the second attempt was declared a mistrial because of the case's newfound publicity, driven in part by the outraged plaintiff, Tory Bowen, who says, "What happened to me was rape. It was not sex."
LOOKING AHEAD The power of word choice (an issue in Kobe Bryant's rape trial as well) could eventually end up before the Supreme Court.
The Promise Keeper?
On July 15, the world found out that Kim Jong Il had done something surprising: he had kept his word. International nuclear inspectors confirmed that North Korea's flagship reactor in Yongbyon had been shut down, as Kim's regime had pledged to do in February. It was the first vow actually honored by Kim since 1994, when he cut his original nuclear deal with Bill Clinton. But the central question for the U.S. remains: Is this time really different?