Anna Kuchment

Stories by Anna Kuchment

  • State Of The Ice

    The conventional wisdom about global warming holds that the polar ice caps are melting. Enormous chunks of ice will break off the Antarctic mainland and float into the sea to melt, sending water levels rising around the world, inundating seaside cities and submerging islands. But recently, glaciologist Ian Joughin at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, threw even that basic theory into question. After analyzing satellite data, he concluded that a massive ice sheet along the Ross Sea in Antarctica is not losing 20 billion tons of ice each year, as previously thought, but is in fact gaining 26 billion tons a year. The thickening, caused by a slowing of the streams that transport chunks of ice toward the sea, is probably due not to global warming but to the glacier's own "internal clock." ...
  • Superbug Killers

    Alfred Gertler had never been so ill. In 1997 the 45-year-old jazz musician was hiking in Costa Rica when he fell and broke his ankle. He contracted a staphylococcus infection so severe that flare-ups kept him in bed for weeks at a time. Antibiotics were of no use: the circulation in his ankle was too poor to transport the medicine to its target. When doctors told him that they might have to amputate his foot,Gertler buried himself in books and magazines, looking for a solution. He found one: bacteriophage therapy, a little-known medical treatment that doctors in the former Soviet Union had been using for decades. Last February, Gertler flew to the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia. He found doctors laboring by the light of kerosene lanterns in poorly heated buildings with just one hour of running water per day. They applied a solution of bacteriophages--tiny viruses that destroy bacteria--directly to his ankle. It worked. "The infection was completely gone in three days," says...
  • Selling The U.S.A.

    Most of the new PR plan was ready to go. As the new moon ushered in the month of Ramadan last week, U.S. officials prepared "Mosques of America" posters, showing glossy images of domes and minarets, for distribution across the Arab world. President George W. Bush and ambassadors in the Middle East and Asia would welcome Muslims into their homes to mark iftar, or the breaking of the fast. Muslim Americans were set to mingle with foreign Islamic journalists from the Washington area, no doubt to extol the virtues of the Bill of Rights. Said a senior State Department official, "We are demonstrating to the Muslim world that Americans take [Muslim] holidays as seriously as they do Christian and Jewish holidays."The education won't happen overnight. America learned that lesson during the cold war, when it patiently committed vast resources to teach Eastern Europe the virtues of democracy, helping to soften up the Soviet empire before the fall of the Berlin wall. But while the new campaign...
  • Music: The Next Generation

    Rossen Guergov, 20, is struggling with the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Baton in hand, he gestures stiffly to a piano quintet assembled inside a rustic rehearsal room at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's outdoor venue in western Massachusetts. "Tadada-DAAH!... Tadada-DAAH!" The musicians sound oddly hesitant and out of sync. "Why is this not working?" asks Seiji Ozawa, music director of the BSO, who is paying an impromptu visit to the workshop. "It should come from a man's power, from here," he says, pointing to his gut. He then steps, shoeless, to the front of the room and conducts the passage himself. Leaning close to the musicians, arms stretched forward and brows furrowed, he takes a short, loud breath to signal the upbeat and... it's as if five new musicians have entered the room. They play the famous passage with newfound strength and drama. "With me, the musicians sounded a little surprised," says Guergov, a conducting fellow. "But when [Ozawa] came...
  • Joy, Then Tragedy

    Sue Shaw was in her Providence, R.I., office early Tuesday morning when she heard the news of the attack on the World Trade Center. Her immediate concern was for her niece, 25-year-old Bethany LaBarre, who worked on the 29th floor of the south tower. When she spoke to LaBarre's mother Claire, she learned from her distraught sister that LaBarre had not yet called home.That same fateful morning, Shaw's nephew on her husband's side, 25-year-old Shawn Nassaney, had departed Boston with his college sweetheart Lynn Goodchild on United Airlines Flight 175, bound for Los Angeles. Shaw hadn't even thought about her nephew being in danger, although her son Al, who shared a three-family house with Nassaney, had. At 9:30 a.m. Al called his mother, saying not to worry about Nassaney and Goodchild because they had flown on United Airlines. "On the news, they kept saying that it was two American Airlines planes that had hit the tower," says Shaw. LaBarre remained the family's primary concern until...
  • Rumble In The Himalayas

    Images of the devastating earthquake that hit Gujarat, India, last January have yet to fade from memory: buildings reduced to rubble, weeping relatives, the occasional dust-and blood-covered survivor miraculously plucked from the wreckage. That magnitude-7.6 quake, with an epicenter near the city of Bhuj, was India's deadliest ever, wiping out more than 20,000 people. Now, a study published last week in the journal Science says Bhuj may be a mere shiver compared with what lies in store for the subcontinent. The Gujarat quake, says the report, distracts attention from the region where the greatest loss of life should be expected: the 2,100-kilometer Himalayan arc, which stretches from Kashmir in the west to Bhutan in the east. This is the site of the greatest continental collision on earth, where the Indian tectonic plate is ramming northward against Eurasia. Its progress is slow--about 2 centimeters per year--but energy has been building up over the centuries. Eventually the rock...
  • Coming Home To Harlem

    It was the type of event Bill Clinton relishes. At his welcome-to-Harlem rally last week, the former president grooved with a group of sax players, reminisced about his boyhood, expounded on the troubles of the downtrodden and indulged in his favorite type of food: fried. He was in Harlem to open his postpresidential office among some of his most loyal supporters. "No, no, no, no, don't mess with Bill!" the crowd chanted, sporting Clinton buttons and waving cardboard fans with his likeness. "You supported me on the best days and on the darkest days," he told them. "I want to be a good neighbor in Harlem on the best days and the dark days."It's unclear which mood Clinton will usher in. His supporters hope the ex-president will speed the area's economic recovery, on display all around his West 125th Street office with new chain stores, banks and pharmacies. Some are even calling it Harlem's "second renaissance," after the vibrant black cultural and civil-rights movement of the 1920s...
  • Momma, I Want To Swing

    On a recent sweltering afternoon, about a dozen Japanese housewives, students and office workers gathered inside a tiny church on West 126th Street in Harlem. Staring at lyrics printed on bright yellow sheets of paper, they listened as the pastor explained the gospel song they were about to learn. "This song we call a praise song," said Terrance L. Kennedy, from his seat behind the organ. "We're saying many wonderful things to God and about God." Then he began reading the verses, stressing their syncopated rhythm. "We sing praises to the king, for he is the king of kings," said Kennedy. "We sing praises to the king, for he's the king of kings." The singers, organized by sopranos, altos and tenors, repeated the verses as best they could. Words like "hail" and "Immanuel" (a Hebrew term for God) had to be translated. But half an hour later, the choir members--a mix of tourists and regulars who live around New York--were swaying, clapping their hands and singing at the tops of their...
  • Tea And Silk Slippers

    Twenty years ago New York had only one Chinatown, in lower Manhattan. Now there are three others. One is in Flushing, Queens, and two are in Brooklyn, which has become a prime destination of Chinese immigrants: a fledgling one in Sheepshead Bay and a thriving one in Sunset Park. Since 1990 Sunset Park's Chinese population has more than tripled to 30,000, now comprising 22 percent of the total population. The streets are lined with Chinese restaurants displaying aquariums full of exotic fish, herbal-medicine shops, teahouses and carts of colorful silk slippers. The newcomers--who hail largely from Guangzhou and Fujian provinces--are drawn to Sunset Park for its wealth of commercial space and private housing. In addition, the neighborhood's N train links it directly with Chinatowns in Manhattan and Queens, where many work or visit relatives.The influx has revitalized the neighborhood. A hilly enclave of majestic brownstones and small apartment buildings, Sunset Park first became...
  • The Revolt Against Right Angles

    Crowded inside a white-washed showroom in Chicago, office-furniture professionals are gawking at the cubicle of the future, which is notable mainly for the complete absence of solid walls or right angles. That absence, explains designer Hani Rashid, is the whole point of his curvilinear work tent, which comes draped in white, red and red-and-white polka dot. Called the A3 by Knoll Inc., which makes it, this futuristic office space might also be called the dot-com bubble. For it was designed, says Rashid, in the spirit of the dot-com--fun, free and, yes, bored with "the 90-degree angle."It is hard to know whether or not to laugh, now that square business conventions like suits and profits are back in style. Knoll started designing A3 before the tech-stock crash of March 2000, but unveiled it only last month at NeoCon, an annual office-furniture summit at the Merchandise Mart, a convention center in Chicago. So Knoll's curvy creation is either one more dot-com idea doomed to the...
  • Letter From America: Apartment Living

    New York's tabloids are agog over Gotham's latest grisly murder. Three thugs burst into a man's apartment, beat him brainless with a baseball bat, strangled him, dumped him into a bathtub, drained his blood by slitting his wrists, then sawed him into bits. One of the suspects, it turns out, had strangled a neighbor only a few months before. The motive then, as now: they needed a place to live. Their likely plea? Insanity.Sure, the crimes were horrific, macabre, tragic. But insane? In a town where the average apartment now sells for $870,000, what could be more rational? Last week I viewed an $8 million apartment on Park Avenue. The real-estate broker had called me out of the blue, wanting to drum up publicity for her exclusive. "I want the building address and my name in the piece," she told me in no uncertain terms. Of course, I rushed right over. In New York, nothing seduces like real estate. It's all people talk about--at cocktail parties, over dinner, in bed. It drives...
  • Fashion And Design Trends

    Whoever knew computer hardware could look so good? With the advent of Palm's ultra-thin handheld organizers has come a bevy of fashionable covers, from Hermes's gold matte alligator skin ($1,525) to the classic Burberry check ($195). According to Sunny Kate, an actress by trade whose eponymous company has begun making the cases, it was a niche just waiting to be filled. "I was on the set one day, and while looking up something on my planner, I stopped and thought, 'Why is this thing that I use all the time so boring?' " she says. "I wanted to create something that would be functional, sexy and fun." That she has, with covers in faux zebra and leopard skin, Lichtenstein-like comic images and an aloha print called Bikini Girl. Among our favorites from other image-conscious companies: the Louis Vuitton in screaming orange glace leather with a nifty hand strap ($350), the elegant traditional Gucci logo ($135), the water-resistant neoprene PalmGlove by Body Glove ($24.95) and the eye...
  • Looking Back In Dismay

    Kaleil Isaza Tuzman has President Bill Clinton in stitches. Halfway through the documentary film "Startup.com," the 28-year-old is seated next to the president at a White House conference on the New Economy, poking light fun at one of the other panelists, a Harvard graduate school dean. Afterward, Isaza Tuzman slips Clinton his business card, and later boasts to co-workers, "I told him that if he moved to New York, he should consider a job with us." Just one month later, in May 2000, Isaza Tuzman's cockiness has vanished as he explains to his teary-eyed childhood friend and business partner, Tom Herman, that the board of directors wants him out. They don't think he's up to the job of chief technology officer. Herman is later escorted from the building. ...
  • Loving Pandas To Death

    The first tour buses pull up to China's Wolong Nature Reserve just after lunch. Giddy from the drive past polluted towns and chemical factories, the passengers stagger out into the parking lot and make their way to the four white-tiled souvenir booths. Cigarettes, lighters, backpacks and almost everything else for sale bears the likeness of China's national treasure, the panda. After stocking up on tchotchkes, the tourists move on to the Panda Center to experience the real thing: 43 pandas being raised in concrete pens. Wolong, home to about 10 percent of all China's pandas, is the largest of 33 reserves in the country and the most popular by far. ...
  • Ethnic Education

    As America welcomes its largest influx of immigrants since 1910, it is seeing the rise of an alternative kind of educational institution--the culture school. From California to Connecticut, more and more such programs, also known as cram schools or ethnic-heritage schools, are opening to help preserve children's native culture and language. In some cases they also aim to compensate for shortcomings in the American education system. "There is a real rebirth of interest in these programs now," says Laurie Olsen, an education scholar who is directing a two-year study of ethnic-culture schools in America for the organization California Tomorrow. In part, she says, it's a reaction to America's very vocal English-only movement; both California and New York recently ruled to end or limit bilingual education, gestures many immigrants find troubling. ...
  • A Furor Over Abortion Aid

    President George W. Bush still calls himself "a uniter, not a divider." But he used his first full workday in office last week to tilt toward his supporters on the religious right. His order banning U.S. aid to international organizations that conduct or "actively promote" abortions was apparently intended as a small gesture, issued during a week devoted to a high-profile plan for education reform. But U.S. pro-choice activists, caught off guard, reacted with anger--and the impact of the Bush rules could spread far overseas.The measure had been in effect under Ronald Reagan but was repealed by Bill Clinton in 1993. Though no more than a handful of the 450 groups that receive funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are likely to be directly affected, many more worry that they will feel the pain.Some accused the U.S. government of promoting a double standard. "What the Bush administration is saying is, 'It's fine for us American women to have safe,...
  • Europe On A Platter

    Udy Law, a real-estate agent from California, didn't intend to travel extravagantly when she toured northern Italy last month with her husband. "We planned to low-budget it," she said, "but with the cheap exchange rate we got to go first class all the way." The couple stayed at four-star hotels in nearly every town they visited; in Verona, they splurged on an 18th-century table and matching bench that cost $2,500. "It's an amazing deal," said Law. "Everything was so cheap in Italy."The combination of a strong U.S. economy, low airfares and the falling euro has turned Western Europe into an American bargain-hunter's paradise. "What's happening now is Euromania," says Linda Cabasin, a senior editor at the American guidebook publisher Fodor's. Not since 1985 has a European vacation been so affordable. Some currencies, including the Italian lira, the Irish punt and the Portuguese escudo, have fallen to postwar lows against the dollar. As a result, American travel to Europe is expected...
  • One Step Ahead

    Lately, Scott Halford, a corporate lecturer from Denver who travels more than 100,000 miles a year, has been wowing his fellow fliers. "They just think I'm Mr. Magic," he says via mobile phone from Baltimore, on his way to the airport. Two months ago Halford, 40, began logging on to the travel Web site Trip.com from his Web-enabled mobile phone. The site, which links to an FAA database, gives up-to-the-minute info on a flight's precise location, as well as its estimated arrival or departure time. In many cases, Halford finds out about flight delays before the airport-gate attendants. "I had somebody buy me a beer in Washington, D.C., one time because I was able to give them information that was 45 minutes different than what the airline was giving," he said. But Halford also sees other benefits in the features. "I'm able to make some real plans, like changing flights or making phone calls from the business lounge, and not sit there on my tuchis for an hour and a half," he says. "It...
  • Coffee, Tea Or Gluten-Free?

    Four years ago Boston-based designer Judy Samelson was content--if not exactly happy--to eat regular airplane food. Then, one evening on a flight from Toronto to Winnipeg, Manitoba, she glimpsed something tempting on the tray of the woman sitting next to her. "The rest of us had the standard garbage fare--some hideous chicken in some hideous glop," Samelson recalls. "But this woman had poached salmon and a delicious, fresh-looking salad with a small carafe of balsamic vinaigrette." Samelson's neighbor had preordered a gluten-free meal, one that has none of the grain substance often found in heavy sauces and packaged foods. Samelson has been hooked ever since.Ah, airline food. For years it's been the butt of jokes and the bane of air travel. But the ever-expanding variety of in-flight special meals is changing that--at least for travelers who are in on the airline industry's best-kept secret. Airlines don't advertise their special meals much, in part because they cost 40 to 50...
  • Agca At Home

    It's a dream!" declared Mehmet Ali Agca. With Pope John Paul II's urging, Italy's president had finally pardoned the prematurely aging Turk for the near-fatal shooting of the pontiff in 1981. A few hours after last week's annuncement, armed guards escorted Agca from Rome to his new home: a maximum-security prison in Istanbul.His troubles are far from over. A variety of unrelated criminal charges are pending in Turkey against the former member of the neofascist Gray Wolves terror network, and he's facing nearly 10 years in jail for the 1979 murder of a progressive Turkish journalist. Agca, found guilty of the killing in absentia, angrily denounced the charge last week as "a fairy tale." Photo: His 'dream' came true
  • Finance Fumble

    Michio Ochi was brought in last year to overhaul Japan's crippled banking system. But during a recent speech, the head of the Financial Reconstruction Commission suggested that he was willing to help banks circumvent government inspections. "Please inform us of any complaints about the inspection," he told a gathering of bankers. "I will give it the utmost consideration." Last week members of Japan's largest opposition party played the taped remarks for reporters. Ochi stepped down last Friday and was replaced by Sadakazu Tanigaki, the former head of Japan's Science and Technology Agency. "My comment caused a lot of trouble for the cabinet," Ochi said. "I had no choice."
  • Worth A Thousand Pictures

    The "Mona Lisa" is undoubtedly the world's most reproduced painting," says Atsushi Miura, a University of Tokyo art historian. He and French curator Jean-Michel Ribettes have brought together more than 100 reproductions - some less literal than others - of the enigmatic 16th-century portrait. "Les 100 Sourires De Monna Lisa" will run at Tokyo's Metropolitan Art Museum through March. The only Lisa missing is Leonardo'.
  • Was America Snooping On Europe?

    In the bad old days of the cold war, America spied on its enemies in the interest of national security. Now, says a report debated last week by the European Parliament, it is snooping on its friends in the name of economic dominance. According to the report, written by British journalist Duncan Campbell, the United States is using an old network of high-tech listening posts--code-named Echelon--to eavesdrop on leading EU companies. Then it uses that information to help U.S. firms beat foreign competitors to contracts. "The level of use is out of control," said Campbell.Washington denies that it has used the system improperly. But that hasn't curbed Europe's outrage. French Foreign Minister Elisabeth Guigou has cautioned businesses over transmitting confidential data. And a group of French companies who believe they lost business through Echelon's spying is threatening a joint lawsuit.America won't be alone in the dock. Echelon is a joint partnership of America, Canada, Australia,...
  • Muji Madness Crosses The Atlantic

    Susanna Sirefman, an architectural writer from New York, first discovered Muji when she was studying in London in the early 1990s. Since then, she claims, she can't do any work without the Tokyo-based chain store's products. So twice a year she travels to Europe to stock up. "I buy folders, notebooks, aluminum and plastic cardholders, mirror cases, toothbrush holders, canisters, aluminum boxes, lovely pencils," says Sirefman. "My husband thinks I am crazy."Sirefman is not alone. As the 20-year-old Japanese design chain launches a push onto the Continent, its line of sleek, moderately priced furniture, clothing, accessories and stationery is attracting an international cult following that includes celebrities like Johnny Depp and Catherine Deneuve. Its fans, mostly cosmopolitan twentysomethings, have spread the word about Muji--short for Mujirushi Ryohin, or "no brand goods"--via Internet, Concorde and bullet train.Americans, though separated from the shops by an ocean on either side...
  • A Furor Over The Torture Tape

    The video is about as grisly as it gets: Russian soldiers shoveling dirt into a ditch filled with dead bodies--all Chechen men. Last Thursday a German TV station aired the video and said some of the bodies bore marks that suggested they had been tortured. Coming in the wake of allegations that Russian soldiers have raped, beaten and killed civilians, the film caused an immediate furor. A Russian spokesman denounced it as the "fraud of the year." This week Alvaro Gil-Robles, the human-rights representative of the Council of Europe, will be in Russia to investigate the abuse allegations. He will also be interested to hear from Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky, who resurfaced last Friday after five weeks in captivity in Chechnya. Babitsky told his wife in a phone call that he was relatively well "but not entirely free." He said he hoped to return to Moscow on Saturday, but that didn't happen.
  • Hong Kong: Cashing In

    In Hong Kong, the name Li Ka-shing has become synonymous with "goldmine." So last week when one of the billionaire businessman's subsidiary companies, tom.com, launched an IPO, thousands of eager investors raced each other to the bank to apply. One branch drew a crowd of 50,000. Hundreds of police officers kept order and blocked off roads. At 23 cents a share, the offering will raise nearly $113 million for the information and entertainment portal. Not a bad turnout considering many had no idea what they were buying into. "What's the Internet?" a local reporter heard one housewife asking. When tom.com shares begin trading this week analysts expect the stock value to soar tenfold.
  • Poor Sports

    Republicans got swift revenge against monarchist Prime Minister John Howard last week. Days after Australians rejected the chance to ditch the queen in a referendum, republicans spoiled Howard's plan to open the Olympics. Under Olympic rules, that task falls to the head of state--in this case, Queen Elizabeth II. "The prime minister cannot have it both ways," said Labor Sen. Chris Schacht. Howard has since passed the task to the queen's representative in Australia. But the republicans still aren't satisfied. "Did the prime minister invite the queen to perform the ceremony?" asks Sydney's Lord Mayor Frank Sartor. "If not, why not?"
  • A Scramble For Clues In Bombing

    Though no one took immediate credit for last week's set of explosions in Islamabad, the timing may have been explanation enough. The six nearly simultaneous blasts--at two U.S. Embassy installations and a United Nations office building--went off two days before the initiation of U.N. economic sanctions against the Taliban, the extremist religious group that rules most of Afghanistan. There was one reported injury of a Pakistani national but no deaths. The Taliban had assailed the sanctions, which the U.N. Security Council applied because the group has refused to expel Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, whom Washington accuses of masterminding last year's deadly explosions at two U.S. embassies in Africa.Taliban leader Mohammed Omar condemned the attack and urged the U.N. and Washington "to find the real causes and pinpoint the enemy." Taking the lead, Pakistani antiterror specialists examined the four shells discharged in the attack and the identification numbers of the assailants'...