As a holy week begins for various faiths, many young people have taken up a fad that offends some clergy ("When it becomes this commercial, it loses its true symbolism.") but delights others ("We are quietly encouraging it."). What is this fad?
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Tuesday's Question (No. 418)—"Russia's Rush":
In Murmansk, part of the Northern Fleet headquarters for the Russian navy lost phone service for a week; at Polyarnye Zori, a nuclear power station had to be shut down; in Prokopyevsk, a "bright explosion" left 12-year-old Maksim Naumenko horribly injured. Three episodes, one cause—name it.
"As the Mir project winds down, its engineers find work around the country."—Cliff Schoenberg
"Wow, Edward Gorey's family followed the instructions in his will to the letter."—Francis Heaney
"Someone, evidently, has been missing his loan payments to the International Monetary Fund."—Neal Pollack
"I can't believe Oprah would release her magazine in Russia first!"—Barbara Lippert
"Abby Joseph Cohen, adjusting the ruble holdings in her portfolio."—Tim Annett
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If only Ronald Reagan were alive to see all this Russian misery. He so enjoyed the breakup of the Soviet Union. What do you think he'd like best—resurgent anti-Semitism, the emergence of a homegrown Mafia, the collapse of the health-care system, the precipitate decline in life expectancy, the rise in heroin addiction, the theft of nuclear materials, the bloody struggle in Chechnya? It's so hard to pick just one.
Even if he were still with us, it is unlikely that he'd repent his foolish policies. First, he'd have to realize what he'd actually done—not likely. By some accounts, he's continued to assert—and believe—that he never traded arms for hostages and that Bonanza is still on the air.
It's not just Reagan: Pretty much nobody recants anything. It's considered weak. It's considered waffling. But ought it not be a sign of strength, of intellectual rigor—a determination to continually scrutinize one's decisions in light of their consequences? Isn't that a good thing? Maybe. But here's something you'll seldom hear, one of the loveliest sentences in the English language: "You were right; I was wrong." Last time I heard it was on television the other night, when Hoss admitted he'd fouled up the griddle cakes (he could hardly deny it, with Little Joe puking his guts out), and he had the courage to acknowledge his error right to Hop Sing's face.
Neo-Third World Answer
"Thieves Looting Russia of Even Its Power Lines" is how the New York Times headline so tersely and vividly puts it (which is, after all, the point of a headline).
Thousands of miles of cable have been stolen from telephone poles, railroad power systems, and military complexes. A nation's most desperately poor and alienated citizens tearing up its infrastructure and selling it for scrap is a demoralizing spectacle usually reserved for emerging nations in their direst straits. But this practice is sufficiently widespread in the new Russia to have caused more than 700 electrocutions, 500 fatal, last year alone as thieves shred the country's power grid, turning out the lights in millions of households for weeks on end.
While stealing copper cable from the Tyrginskaya Coal Mine last month young Maksim Naumenko took an electrical shock severe enough to char the thumb and forefinger on his left hand down to the bone; they were later amputated. Two years earlier, when he was 10, he lost two fingers on his right hand trying to steal wire from a power pole.
John Leary's No Times Like the Present Extra
From the April 18 New York Times, re Harper's magazine's 150th anniversary: "Mr. Lapham, who in an uncharacteristically wordy statement ..."
—Were all the New York Times fact-checkers gunned down by the NYPD yesterday?
Ten years ago, the $2 billion Hubble Space Telescope rocketed into its clumsy and bumbling orbit. Last week astronomers gathered at the Space Telescope Science Institute to commemorate that event and enjoy some boozy nostalgia about the 271,00 observations made with the Hubble. Which of the following were genuine Hubble observations?
- Dazzling fireworks in the constellation Aquila
- Brooding clouds of stellar nurseries
- Cute girl in Tucson who walks around naked and never pulls her blinds
- Young galaxies near the edge of the observable universe
- Cubs games! Free! Even the blacked-out ones!
- Rings of glowing hot gas and showering streamers of cooler gas
- Hey! That's my car! Somebody stop that guy!
- Hurtling fragments of comet Shoemaker-Levy as it smashed into Jupiter
- Hurtling fragments of jockey Willy Shoemaker as he was thrown and trampled at Belmont Stakes
- 24-hour surveillance of Nixon's grave, just to make sure
1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 were actual sightings with the repaired better than new Hubble. Operating cost to you? A penny-pinching $200 million a year.
Boris Yeltsin's comical alcoholism.