Nick Summers

Stories by Nick Summers

  • What Would Google Do?

    According to author Jeff Jarvis, taking a page out of the company's playbook could put the economy back on track.
  • The Games Gap Grows

    If you can feel the excitement as the International Olympic Committee nears a July vote on the site of the 2014 Winter Games--well, you have a delicate enough touch to win gold in curling. After frenzied bidding for '08 (Beijing) and '12 (London), this race--between Pyeongchang, South Korea; Salzburg, Austria, and Sochi, Russia--is low-profile even by Winter standards. Winter Olympiads are largely a way to put a ski village on the map; the Summer Games can be an image-changing urban-renewal tool. IOC pickers increasingly vote for the Winter site defensively, factoring in whom they favor for the next Summer Games. One aspect that could add urgency: global warming may cut the number of cities cold enough to host. "The Alps may become a dwindling prospect," says Ed Hula, editor of the Around the Rings newsletter.
  • Comics: An Obama Problem

    Pundits, donors, opponents red and blue--everyone's getting ready for a Barack Obama presidential bid. But one group is still unprepared: the nation's comedians, who say the pol appears almost invulnerable to caricature. How do you make fun of someone when all the audience knows is that he's popular and charismatic? "There's this thing in America where you can't make fun of someone who's a nice guy, works hard, does well," says Darrell Hammond, the pitch-perfect "SNL" impersonator of Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others. "And that's all we know about Obama right now." He does have a funny name and big ears, but that's not enough to play off, like "Gore is dull" or "Kerry flip-flops." Race works to his advantage, too. White comics might tread cautiously--which rarely makes for good comedy. At least until the campaign is underway and Obama says or does something that gives them some meat, comics and writers are scratching their heads. They told PERI what they think might work...
  • BeliefWatch: Church-League Baseball

    In the Greater Nashua (N.H.) Men's Evangelical Softball League, it doesn't matter if a base runner is safe—so much as if he's saved. Church leagues have always made up a big part of American softball; the Amateur Softball Association counts 4,200 such teams nationwide, or more than 5 percent of the total. But the Greater Nashua MESL (motto: "We play to win others") and its counterparts in Massachusetts, Illinois and elsewhere take the usual church-league practices, like prayer at home plate before and after games, to a higher plane.Or, put another way: evangelical leagues are like church leagues, only more so. It starts with the rules. In the Cape Cod (Mass.) Evangelical Church Softball League, players become ineligible if they don't attend two Sunday services a month. In eastern Massachusetts, teams in the evangelical league are limited to three "unsaved" players each—and must turn in a roster specifically highlighting them as such before the start of the season, so that others in...
  • What Would It Take to Put Pete Doherty Away?

    British rocker and erstwhile Kate Moss squeeze Pete Doherty has been arrested at least 20 times on drug charges. So how come he's still a free man? An American view of the British legal system.
  • The Games Gap

    If you can feel the excitement as the International Olympic Committee nears a July vote on the site of the 2014 Winter Games--well, you have a delicate enough touch to win gold in curling. After frenzied bidding for '08 (Beijing) and '12 (London), this race--between Pyeongchang, South Korea; Salzburg, Austria, and Sochi, Russia--is low-profile even by Winter standards. Winter Olympiads are largely a way to put a ski village on the map; the Summer Games can be an image-changing urban-renewal tool. IOC pickers increasingly vote for the Winter site defensively, factoring in whom they favor for the next Summer Games. One aspect that could add urgency: global warming may cut the number of cities cold enough to host. "The Alps may become a dwindling prospect," says Ed Hula, editor of the Around the Rings newsletter.
  • Barbaro’s Hopeful Legacy

    The Kentucky Derby Winner Is Gone, But His Impact On Veterinary Medicine Lives On.
  • Periscope

    Can President Felipe Calderón pull an Alvaro Uribe? Since taking office on Dec. 1, the embattled Mexican president has been aping the tough tactics of his Colombian counterpart. In December, he sent 7,000 troops to Michoacán to destroy marijuana crops; last week, 3,000 soldiers descended on the drug- and crime-ridden border town of Tijuana, and ordered the allegedly corrupt local police to disarm.The military moves are part of Calderón's broader goal of cracking down on a soaring crime rate, taking the drug war to the enemy and, perhaps most important, showing a firm hand in the face of challenges to his presidency. Six months after the vote, Calderón is shoring up his hold on the presidency, as the defeated opposition continues to challenge the legitimacy of his victory.Whether he can achieve Uribe's success is another matter. Elected in 2002 by a nation fed up with violence, the right-wing leader has battled urban crime with military might. The result: last week, police announced...
  • ZINES: Less Is More

    The only thing harder than writing a long essay, many authors will tell you, is writing short. "But give people harsh restraints," says Katherine Sharpe, 27, "and sometimes it spurs creativity, rather than hampering it." That's the idea behind 400 Words, the new zine she edits that limits its pieces to just what you'd think."I don't remember the three times my mom tried to kill herself before I was five. I do remember visiting her in the hospital, and I remember the long drive when dad kidnapped me," one piece in the "Autobiographies" issue begins. Another, in "Compulsions," recites the real-estate listings a man visits week after week--with no intention of ever buying. Not every piece in 400 Words is a gem. Sharpe gets her submissions--hundreds of them, all for no pay--by posting prompts on her blog and the Web site Craigslist, drawing writers and nonwriters alike; collectively, their work is personal, fascinating and distilled to the very core. "I teach writing, and that's exactly...
  • Satire: Singing a Different 'Toon

    Political cartoons can shape an election. They can shift society. But for decades, the one thing political cartooning hasn't changed is itself. Some are now drawn in color, and the humor has shifted toward pop culture, but political cartoons largely remain what they were a century ago: rectangular slabs, usually in black and white, parked in a corner of the editorial page.But evolution is finally happening, in the form of animated online cartoons. New technology has made them cheaper and easier to produce, and with the newspaper business looking increasingly gloomy, full-time cartoonists--there are perhaps 60 today, down from more than 200 in the 1980s--are beginning to realize that this could be the future."It's definitely where the action is," says Mark Fiore, 37, who left newspapers for online animation in 2001 and says he's convinced the traditional print panel is facing its demise. "When I'm hanging out with print guys and they're crying into their beers, I try to keep my mouth...
  • Adoption: Material Mommy

    Red tape can keep adoptive parents waiting years for a child. So news that the government of Malawi had expedited Madonna's adoption of a 1-year-old named David--waiving requirements like a period of local residency--disturbed many. "It's frustrating," says Tennessee's Emily Fannon, who's been waiting nine months with her husband to adopt a Chinese daughter. "Just because [a celebrity] may be able to provide more, that's not really what families are made of."Human-rights groups in the impoverished African country said they'd seek a court injunction this week to stop the adoption. But some adoption research groups had a guardedly positive reaction. "Practically speaking ... there's no line for Madonna to have cut in front of," says Tom Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption. State Department records show that only three visas were granted to Malawian orphans last year--versus 7,906 for China. Madonna's rep didn't return requests for comment.
  • Look What I Learned!

    If the Federation of American Scientists made a list of educational videogames, you might expect to find Oregon Trail, the story of Conestoga wagons trekking into the American West, or the geography favorite Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? And don’t forget Half-Life 2. That’s the one where you burn alien zombies to death with exploding barrels of fuel.OK, that’s exaggerating—but only a little. Where parents see hours wasted in front of a screen, these scientists see potential. An FAS study released this week, titled “Harnessing the power of video games for learning,” reports that best-selling games are built in surprisingly pedagogical ways. Players improve at their own pace. Beating a level requires experimentation, failure and learning from mistakes. Most new games can be played online, requiring collaboration and leadership. Game play is precisely calibrated to balance challenge and progress. It’s a stark contrast to a typical classroom in which one teacher tries to engage...
  • Hockey: Frozen-Solid Fans

    In November 2004, pro hockey was on the brink of disaster. The lockout that would eventually cancel the 2004-05 season was one month old, and as players and owners waited out the billion-dollar staredown, the worst part was that no one seemed to notice. Across the country, in newspapers and on TV, the NHL simply wasn't missed.Ted Leonsis, watching his $85 million investment in the Washington Capitals melt away, knew he had to keep interest alive. But instead of courting traditional reporters, the owner and AOL executive turned to the Web--inviting the 25 most vocal commenters at Washingtoncaps .com to a private dinner at a D.C. restaurant. This month, as the NHL returns for its second post-lockout season, newspapers and TV shows are still cutting back on coverage, but the hockey blogosphere is exploding. While the Los Angeles Times announced recently that it would no longer send sportswriters on most road trips with the Kings and Ducks, hundreds of fan sites have launched. Puckheads...
  • Olympics: Will Doha Get the Gold?

    Is the world ready for a Mideast Olympics? While there are no formal campaigns until after the 2014 Winter Games are announced next July, Doha, Qatar, is weighing a bid for the 2016 Summer Games. Speculation about the capital city's international sporting ambitions has only increased since it was awarded the 2006 Asian Games, taking place this December. If Doha aces its job as host, after spending $2.8 billion on sports infrastructure, it could mount a credible campaign.Working against Doha are factors it cannot control, like the consensus among people who gossip about host-city horse races that 2016 is the Western Hemisphere's "turn" after what will have been 20 years of unfriendly time zones. And with security the biggest and ever-escalating expense, it might be difficult to persuade IOC delegates to put the Games so close to Iran. (The last time the region made a push was Tehran's campaign for the 1984 Games. Had the city not withdrawn its bid in 1977, the revolution two years...
  • Movies: Going for 'Brokeback'

    "Brokeback Mountain" is many things, according to critics. Breathtaking. Tragic. Heart-wrenching. Turns out it's ripe for comedy, too. In early January, even when filmgoers' awareness of "that gay cowboy movie" was low, there were Photoshop posters that replaced Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal's iconic denim-and-Stetsons pose with Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff ("Kickback Mountain"), and Skeletor and He-Man ("Grayskull Mountain").Now there are Brokeback "mash-ups"--homemade trailer parodies that recast existing movies as tales of forbidden male love. One, "Top Gun 2: Brokeback Squadron," hints at what Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer do belowdecks when not piloting fighter jets. By last week, more than a million people had downloaded "Brokeback to the Future," an Emerson College comedy troupe's re-envisioning of Marty Mc-Fly and Doc Brown as time-traveling, star-crossed lovers. They're sophomoric takes with high production values, made possible by newly cheap video software and the public's...
  • Football, Eh?: Border Bowl XL

    Aside from the obvious changes that come with moving the Super Bowl to a cold-weather city--indoor stadium, more frostbitten tailgaters--there's this: holding the big game in Detroit makes No. XL the first international Super Bowl, with 300 volunteers from nearby Windsor, Ontario, joining 8,000 Americans in putting on the festivities. ...
  • Books: Seen, and Not Read

    There are the books we read, the books we mean to read, and then there are the ones--c'mon, admit it--that mainly just look impressive on the shelf. Take "A Brief History of Time": the classic has sold more than 10 million copies and is hailed as brilliant--but good luck finding people who've finished it.A recent study of 2,100 Brits found that more than a third of them buy certain titles solely to look intelligent--a bit of statistical confirmation of "book snobbism," something long suspected in literary circles. "It does ring true," says Mark Tavani, an editor at Random House. "Certain books will sell, and you're left wondering, 'Are people really reading this thing?' " According to various members of the literati, certain recent titles are notorious for having sales figures that belie their readability: Michael Faber's "The Crimson Petal and the White," Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" and Zadie Smith's "White Teeth," to name a few. Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things,"...
  • College Papers Grow Up

    David Burrick edits a daily newspaper in Philadelphia. When big news breaks he deploys a staff of 200 reporters and photographers, flying them across the country if necessary, keeping an eye toward his $1 million budget. And then he goes to class. Burrick's paper? The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania. "We're a bunch of 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds," he says, "but we operate like a major business and a professional paper."Even as the commercial press is hammered by shrinking profits, layoffs and falling circulation, college newspapers are thriving. Today's premier college dailies--big, colorful and aggressive--are often indistinguishable from professional broadsheets, and the resemblance goes beyond the front page. The UCLA Daily Bruin's offices, with more than 100 top-of-the-line Apple workstations, rival those of a medium-size professional paper. The Indiana Daily Student has an annual payroll of $380,000. The Harvard Crimson recently spent ...
  • History: Dr. Mudd Revisited

    When Dr. Samuel Mudd set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865, was he in on the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, or just a country doc treating a mysterious visitor in the night? History buffs have been drawn to Mudd's story--he was sentenced to life, but President Andrew Johnson pardoned him for staunching a yellow-fever outbreak in prison--for 140 years, debating his guilt or innocence.But if those arguments have been made with the scholarly equivalent of Springfield muskets, here's a modern bomb: "Manhunt," a Harrison Ford thriller due in 2007 that will include Mudd as a supporting character. The role hasn't been cast yet, but filmmakers say Mudd will be portrayed as being in on a previous, discarded plot to kidnap Lincoln; the character will aid and abet Booth but ultimately throw him out. Mudd's descendants are dismayed. "People are going to think that that's engraved in stone, and it's just wrong, an absolute insult to history," says Thomas...
  • Sports: Play-by-Play-by-Play-by-Play

    Every Sunday, sports-bar owners face a perilous decision: of all the football games on all the channels on all the bar's TVs, which one matchup gets piped into the house speaker system? It's enough to make a Redskins fan in a Jets city, forever watching the burgundy and gold on mute, go crazy.New technology offers hope in this critical area. TableSound is a wireless audio system that lets bartenders beam up to four audio feeds to special battery-powered speakers on each table, with a selector that allows patrons to hear the color commentary of their choice. "You could be listening to the Yankees while the guy next to you is listening to the Mets and the next guy down is listening to MSNBC," says Scott Schaefer, the company's president, who envisions a role for TableSound--which was originally designed for educational uses--in homes, retail stores and even churches.Multiscreen sports bars remain the most obvious home for the technology. And such play-by-play versatility isn't cheap....
  • Gadgets: Be A Pro-- It's A Snap

    As digital photography prices fall and features improve, more amateur shooters are upgrading to pro-caliber cameras. By 2007, the market is expected to more than double for digital SLRs, or single-lens reflex cameras, now that their prices have dropped below $1,000. These heavies feature interchangeable lenses and a bewildering array of manual settings--so many that their instruction booklets are often inadequate. Ditto for most photo software. The new question facing SLR owners: how the heck do you use these things?To learn more about your new camera's mechanics, try the Magic Lantern books ($20; amazon.com ) or the JumpStart Guides on DVD ($30; adorama.com ). The "Teach Yourself Visually" series ($25; amazon.com ) explains advanced computer editing. Head to the Web for help with aesthetics: moosepeterson.com has essential tips on composition and lighting for wildlife and nature photography. And if the promise of breathtaking shots tempts the semipro in you, visit santafeworkshops...
  • Transition: The Jazz Singer

    Shirley Horn, 71 With an unforgettably slow, smoky voice, Horn took her time in joining Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae as one of the century's great jazz vocalists. A longtime Washingtonian, she recorded her first album, "Embers and Ashes," in 1961, which caught the ear of Miles Davis, who brought her to mainstream attention with two albums and shows in New York. But Horn preferred to stay close to home, raising her daughter and establishing herself as queen of the Washington and Baltimore jazz scene. She was "rediscovered" in 1986 when she signed with Verve Records and began a string of 11 critically acclaimed albums. She collaborated with Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis on "You Won't Forget Me" in 1990, and "I Remember Miles" won a Grammy in 1998. An anthology, "But Beautiful: The Best of Shirley Horn," was released this month.
  • Cutting the HIV Rate?

    A landmark study with major implications for the global AIDS epidemic, published this week by French and South African researchers, seems to confirm what scientists have long suspected: that circumcision cuts the risk of HIV infection dramatically, by as much as 60 percent. If similar studies now underway in Kenya and Uganda corroborate the results, circumcision could become a powerful weapon--with condom use and other measures-- in the fight against AIDS.While more than 40 studies since 1989 have found lower HIV rates among circumcised men, this study, led by the French national agency for AIDS research and conducted in the Gauteng region of South Africa, is the first to test circumcision as an active intervention. Its publication, in the journal PLoS Medicine, was controversial: the authors announced their findings at an AIDS conference in Brazil in July, only to have their paper rejected by the British medical journal The Lancet over ethical concerns. (The researchers had not...