Tourist Trap

Tourist Trap

Tourist Trap

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 2 2005 5:36 AM

Tourist Trap

The Los Angeles Times leads (at least online) with the explosions in Bali, Indonesia, that killed at least 25 and wounded more than 100 others. The New York Times leads with a report on the growing number of prisoners serving life sentences. The Washington Post reports on hurricane refugees struggling to find shelter before the end of the Red Cross' housing program on Oct. 15.

Details on the Bali blasts are hazy at best. The papers all agree (the story is the off-lead for the WP and the NYT) there were three explosions at different tourist destinations, which killed a total of at least 25 people and injured at least 100 others, including two Americans. The NYT, however, notes that initially the reported number of attacks was higher and that a definite body count remains elusive. Everyone points out that the attacks fall almost exactly on the three-year anniversary of a similar attack that killed 202 people. The 2002 attack is credited in every article with weakening the country's vital tourism industry, and subsequently waking up the Indonesian government to the realities of terrorist activity in the island nation, a problem it had previously ignored. Indonesia has since drawn praise from the U.S. for its no-nonsense stand on terror. No official suspect has been named in the bombings, but every article indicates that the government is looking at Jemaah Islamiyah, the group responsible for the 2002 attack, several members of which are still at large.

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The NYT finds that almost 10 percent of the America's inmates are serving life sentences, more than one-third of which are behind bars for crimes other than murder. Over the last 30 years, the number of life sentences has exploded, while commuted life sentences (once more common, now politically thorny at best) are almost nonexistent. The NYT's data is admittedly incomplete and the story's bias toward shorter sentencing is palpable. But even taken with a grain of salt, the numbers should make budget analysts and prisoner-rights advocates cringe. A "conservative estimate" puts a $3 billion-a-year price tag on housing inmates with life sentences. Meanwhile, the study finds that the recidivism rate for released lifers is about a third of the average, suggesting that keeping 70-year-olds behind bars may provide diminishing returns.

The WP points out that no one has yet figured out what to do with the 400,000 hurricane refugees whose housing assistance runs out in two weeks. The refugees are staying in hotel rooms paid for by the Red Cross through Oct. 15. Red tape has hampered FEMA efforts to house them in thousands of mobile homes, with some officials worrying that the resulting communities would too closely resemble depression-era "Hoovervile" shanty towns. Meanwhile, the NYT writes about the $100 million worth of ice FEMA purchased after Katrina, only to have much of it sit unused in storage units around the country.

The rebuilding of New Orleans could end up being even more difficult than anyone guessed. Not just because of the extent of the damage, or the amount of land that needs to be cleared away and redeveloped from scratch, but because fiercely divided local interests are engaged in a war of attrition over how best to proceed, according to the LAT. One would-be renovator refers to the process as "a game of three-dimension chess."

The WP fronts a profile on Ronnie Earle, the media-savvy (if somewhat eccentric) prosecutor who knocked Tom DeLay from his leadership perch last week with charges of funneling illegal campaign contributions. Earle comes across as a left-leaning reformer and something of a likable rogue. The WP reports that Earle once famously befriended a politician who had repeatedly threatened to kill him.

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A tale of catastrophic grief compounded by bureaucracy graces the LAT front page. A month after Hurricane Katrina and its attendant flooding claimed the lives of hundreds, those bodies remain largely unidentified and unreturned to the bereaved, some of whom are still don't know if their loved ones are dead or not.

Under the fold, the NYT finds that the ongoing violence and instability in Iraq has been rough on the Iraqi middle class, too.

Inside, the WP reports that Connecticut began issuing licenses for same-sex unions on Saturday. The WP points out that decision was made with little controversy or fanfare, in stark contrast to the flap over similar moves in Vermont and Massachusetts.

The WP runs a piece inside on the bizarre history of the only widely available treatment for alcoholism in Russia, where alcohol poisoning deaths top 50,000 annually.

It always looked like a bull's-eye to me …

A WP editor takes an informal look at the words different cultures use for that funny little "@" symbol that became ubiquitous with the rise of e-mail. While the prevalence of English abroad makes referring to it as simply "at" more commonplace, many countries cling to cute, if occasionally idiosyncratic, euphemisms for that most curlicue of symbols. The OED admits that it has no official name in English, but dourly notes that calling it, "the at sign" is "good enough for most people."