Nick Summers

Stories by Nick Summers

  • Transition: Vivian Malone Jones

    In the summer of 1963, Medgar Evers was shot, four black girls were killed in a Birmingham, Ala., church bombing, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I have a dream," and Vivian Malone enrolled at the University of Alabama. Before she did, Gov. George Wallace made a dramatic stand in the school's doorway, physically carrying out his inaugural vow of "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever"; he stepped aside, in a sequence choreographed by the White House, only after President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard. Two years after Wallace's "stand in the schoolhouse door," Malone became the university's first black graduate. (Another African-American student, Autherine Lucy, had integrated the college in 1956, but was expelled after three days of riots.) Malone went on to work for the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, where she was director of civil rights and urban affairs, and was involved with the NAACP and National Council of...
  • Fads: Battle of The Bands

    These days, wearing a rubber wristband can mean you support almost anything--yellow for cancer research, camouflage for the troops in Iraq, maroon for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.Now you can buy bracelets to show your support for nothing at all. Gloom Bands, a new product from retail and mail-order firm McPhee & Co., sport slightly less rosy slogans than "Livestrong" or "W.W.J.D."--try "Despair," "Apathy" and "Nihilism" instead. The bands' "colors" range from white to black and blacker. "Not every day is a good day," says co-creator David Wahl, a manager for McPhee & Co., which also sells a multicolored set of wristbands that salute the seven deadly sins. "The 'Livestrong' thing is such a cliche now. There was a whole portion of the population not represented by all those positive bracelets." Misanthropes and the archly ironic are buying up the bleak bands at mcphee.com, where they're the No. 3 seller (behind bacon-shaped bandages and a librarian action figure...
  • Books: Almanac Of the Absurd

    As he neared hobo name No. 436 (Hot Gnome Jimmy Jackson), John Hodgman hit a wall. "I really started to doubt not just the list of 700 hobo names, but the entire project," he says, referring to his new book, "The Areas of My Expertise," a kind of almanac parody that claims to contain "complete world knowledge." "It seemed to wholly embody the madness of doing this book, filled with fake history and fake facts." Such as: the abbreviated words used by submariners to conserve oxygen, failed palindromes to avoid when writing, a brief timeline of the lobster in America and jokes that have never produced laughter.Somehow, "The Areas of My Expertise" doesn't come across as silly. The entries, plainly false, are unnervingly plausible. "It was very important to me that it not be too absurd," says Hodgman, who is also a contributor to McSweeney's and NPR's "This American Life." "Somehow, these fake pearls of nonwisdom actually manage to contain some real wisdom." Hence, entries like "History...
  • TRANSITION

    SIMON WIESENTHAL, 96A survivor of 12 concentration camps, Wiesenthal pursued Nazi war criminals around the globe for almost 60 years. The relentless investigator played a role in the capture of more than 1,100 fugitives, including "chief executioner" Adolf Eichmann, Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl and the Gestapo officer who had arrested diarist Anne Frank. Though critics took issue with some of his claims--the title of his 1961 book "I Hunted Eichmann" was called an overstatement--Wiesenthal devoted his life to ensuring that the perpetrators of Adolf Hitler's "final solution" could never rest in peace, no matter how far they ran. Bringing as many to justice as possible, even decades later, was his way of making sure the world never forgot the millions who died. "For your benefit, learn from our tragedy," Wiesenthal once said in an interview. "It is not a written law that the next victims must be Jews. It can also be other people."
  • Media: Working Overtime

    Of all the jobs in the newsroom, some seem more likely to cause burnout than others. War correspondent. Obituary writer. City-council-subcommittee-on-zoning-beat writer. But sports reporter? That's what Scott Reinardy, an assistant professor of journalism at Ball State University and a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found in a new study: high levels of emotional exhaustion and cynical attitudes toward sources, especially among young sportswriters at local dailies.How could a dream job to office drones everywhere be so depleting? "Cops and court reporters didn't collect baseball cards of policemen or lawyers and judges as kids," Reinardy says. Realizing athletes are people, not heroes, can be disillusioning. Constant abuse from fans (it's not uncommon for a critical piece to draw death threats), plus a grueling schedule--games are played on nights, weekends and holidays, and free agency means no more off-season--all add up to burnout. But sports...
  • Fast Chat: Bloomin' Onion

    The Onion's A.V. Club--the smart, not-made-up pop-culture complement to the weekly's signature fake news items--gets home-page placement in a redesign of theonion.com; a print edition face-lift is scheduled. Nick Summers talked to editor Keith Phipps about the changes.Is it annoying having your big sister, The Onion, get all the attention? ...
  • Periscope

    CHINA: Guess Hu's Not Coming To DinnerOne might assume that a summit bringing together the world's sole superpower and its possible heir would be attended by equally great pomp and seriousness. Certainly presidents Hu Jintao and George W. Bush have a long list of heavyweight issues to hash out, from the global trade imbalance to record oil prices, the threat of nuclear North Korea and the management of the most critical bilateral relationship in the world: America and China. So what agreements have the two sides been hammering out? It's all about the pomp, such as whether Hu will enjoy the privilege of a visit with Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch (no), a 21-gun salute (yes) or a state dinner at the White House (no, but he'll get lunch).The U.S. protocol falls short of the full-blown state visit that Hu's aides had hoped for. But U.S. hawks--especially in the Pentagon, which suggested Chinese military power is now a "credible threat" --opposed lavishing too many honors on Hu in...
  • TELEVISION: ANGOLA TO ZIMBABWE

    When the Africa Channel launches on Sept. 1, network executives hope viewers will notice what's not being broadcast: images of HIV, famine, civil war and the other crises Americans usually associate with the continent. "We're not the Discovery Channel, either," says CEO James Makawa. "We're not dealing with animals here. We're dealing with lifestyle, travel, music, entertainment, showcasing a side of Africa that the Western world never sees."The network, with offices in Los Angeles and Johannesburg, plans to rebroadcast shows written and produced by Africans, re-edited to include commercials for American viewers. The fare includes "Carte Blanche Africa," universally described as the "60 Minutes" of the continent; South African soap operas like "Generations" and "Isidingo: The Need," and "Big Brother Africa"--just like the British forerunner, but with contestants from 12 countries, from Angola to Zimbabwe. The idea is to show a cosmopolitan Africa, ready for American tourist dollars....
  • TELEVISION: PORTRAYING THE POPE

    How do you turn the life of Pope John Paul II--actor, foe of Nazism and communism, assassin's target, global icon, spiritual leader to more than a billion people--into a TV movie? Piotr Adamczyk looks to the Polish fable of the artist told to paint God who, for a month, doesn't dare touch his brush to canvas. "God comes to him in a dream and says, 'Don't paint me down on your knees'," Adamczyk says. " 'Just paint me well'."He would know, as the actor portraying the young Karol Wojtyla in the Hallmark Channel's "A Man Who Became Pope" (Aug. 15 and 21), the first of three small-screen biopics racing to meet public interest in the late pontiff four months after 9 million Americans stayed up into the wee hours to watch his funeral. CBS began shooting last week on location in Cracow, with Cary Elwes and Jon Voight splitting the lead; ABC's "Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II" is also in the works.The historic parts of John Paul II's 26-year papacy, including his global travels...
  • FOOD: GET THE LEAD OUT

    Pediatricians investigating seven cases of lead poisoning at Children's Hospital Boston last year were surprised when none of the usual culprits, like lead paint, seemed to be the cause. Eventually, as the physicians report in the August issue of Pediatrics, they found an unlikely source: the spices their families used for cooking.Purchased from street vendors during trips to India and the Republic of Georgia, the spices contained minute amounts of lead that seeped slowly into the children's (and parents') bloodstream after being consumed at nearly every meal. Researchers aren't sure how lead got into the spices but speculate it may be from old grinding equipment.Tourists visiting developing countries shouldn't worry about brief exposure, says Dr. Alan Woolf, the study's head author. And any spices that have professional packaging and some proof of inspection should be OK. But steer clear of bulk spices in open markets, unless you're willing to have your blood tested for heavy metals.
  • PODCASTING: TALKING DIRTY ON YOUR IPOD

    Podcasting, that baby medium, is suddenly home to a lot of adult content. Introduced to a mainstream audience just last month, the technology--radio-like programming for your iPod--that was once the chaste province of "Geek News Central" and "Knitcast" is now reddening faces that sport those trademark white earbuds. "No matter what the technology is," says Andrew Leyden, founder of podcastdirectory.com, "sex finds a way to get involved."At podcast.net, the No. 2 most-searched-for term (right between BBC and NPR) is porn. At Leyden's site, six of the top 20 shows are adult-oriented. And at Apple's behemoth iTunes store, "Open Source Sex" is No. 11 and climbing. From the breathy erotica of "Pod Porn" to the subdued interviews of "SexGeeks," mature programming for the iPod can be titillating, educational or sometimes both, and it is spreading fast.Part of the appeal is populism. Just as indie-rock podcasts see themselves as the antidote to rigid corporate playlists, sex-themed shows...
  • HOCKEY: SCORING ON THE REBOUND

    In reaching an agreement to resolve the longest and most destructive labor dispute in sports history last week, pro hockey skated off a very thin patch of ice--and right onto another one. Equally treacherous, the sport's new problem (after official votes on the contract this week) is how to win back alienated fans and create new ones as well.Owners, who say they lost $224 million in 2003-04, and players, who accepted bruising pay cuts to get back on the ice, are now willing to consider almost anything to sell tickets and boost TV ratings. A new "competition committee," Detroit Red Wings star Brendan Shanahan told NEWSWEEK, is considering major rules changes--gambling that revved-up offense will grab new eyeballs without offending purists. Three-on-three overtime periods (imagine a baseball team limited to six fielders in extra innings), shoot-outs to break ties--even the size of the nets is up for review.Hockey has always televised poorly, with the weakest TV revenue of the four...
  • CEREAL: TRIX ARE FOR TRADERS

    The concept behind Cereality, the chain of all-cereal-all-the-time stores, sounds like a no-brainer for a college campus: for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or maybe all three), $2.95 gets you two scoops of more than 30 brands, plus toppings from bananas to Reese's Pieces to yogurt-flax bark, doused with the milk of your choice. Pajama-topped employees and TVs tuned to--what else?--the Cartoon Network help re-create the feel of home.But workers--sorry, Cereologists--at the Philadelphia branch, which looks out at Penn's Wharton School, say it's not just students who like regressing to their childhood Saturday mornings. Since the store opened in December, half the customers have been businessmen or whole families trekking in from the suburbs. "We get these really geeky business executives in buttoned-up suits," Cereality cofounder David Roth says, "and they show up at lunch with these big smiles--'Our wives don't let us eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but here we can eat it in secret!' "It's...
  • TRANSITION

    Anne Bancroft, 73 Best known for her icy seduction of Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate," Bancroft was a versatile and lasting actress onstage, screen and film. At 26, she stole the show from Henry Fonda in "Two for the Seesaw," winning her first Tony; as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker," she won again--and nabbed the Oscar, too, when the movie came out. But Bancroft was at her most searing as the sultry Mrs. Robinson, helping to make "The Graduate" an instant classic. The character "was using sex as a way to diffuse this rage inside of herself," she said of the devastating 1967 satire. Bancroft was married to director Mel Brooks for 41 years.