Stories by Sally Atkinson

  • Latter-day Domination

    Maybe Mitt Romney should have taken up tango. While some voters are still uneasy about a Mormon presidential candidate, Americans seem plenty comfortable voting for Mormons in another type of election: prime-time dance shows. Mormons have already won "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Dancing With the Stars," and two of the front runners on ABC's current hit "Dance War" are, yes, Mormon. "Some of the greatest dancing on TV is coming out of this community," says Kenny Ortega, director of the "High School Musical" movies, both of which were filmed in Utah to capitalize on a hotbed of dance talent that Ortega noticed while choreographing the opening ceremony for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. "Dance is part of our culture," says Lee Wakefield, chair of Brigham Young University's dance department. "Mormons danced when they crossed the plains to Utah, and one of the first buildings they built was a dance hall." "Dance War" favorite Zach Wilson says he's happy to help shatter the...
  • Tuning In To President's Weekly Radio Address

    How can I tune in to the president's weekly radio address? I always hear about it, but I've never heard it. —Paul Koehler, Charles Town, W. Va. You can hear it live at 10:06 ET on Saturday mornings at whitehouse.gov, or listen to archived addresses (also available in Spanish). But if you're relying on the radio, you might be out of luck. The speech is fed to all national radio companies and affiliates, says Taylor Gross, the White House director of radio. But since it's a noncommercial entity, stations can choose whether to broadcast it. And, as you've noticed, many choose not to. Your best bet is probably NPR, which occasionally airs it on "Weekend Edition."
  • What Will Iraqi Dinars Be Worth After the War?

    I happen to have 100,000 Iraqi dinars. Will the currency be worth anything after the war? —Moshin Rauf, Lahore, Pakistan Sadly, they're not worth much even now. Before the first gulf war, one dinar equaled about $3. Now one is worth less than half a penny. So your 100,000 are good for only about 50 cents. And they'll probably be worth even less when the war ends, says Bob Hormats, a Goldman Sachs economist. At some point, the new Iraqi government will likely create a new dinar (without Saddam's picture on it) and allow old ones to be converted, but a war rarely helps the exchange rate. Hurry and sell them on eBay before everyone else does.
  • Is White Chocolate Really Chocolate?

    Is white chocolate really chocolate? —Karen MacDonald, Atlanta, Ga. Most purists would say no, even though it's made from the same small part of the cacao bean—the nib. White chocolate contains only the extracted cocoa butter (a vegetable fat) and not the remaining cocoa solids (which give chocolate its deep flavor). Without those cocoa solids, the white variety is rather bland—used mostly for color contrast, not as a stand-alone flavor. Even the FDA got sucked into the chocolate wars last year, cracking down on companies that were making "white chocolate" from other vegetable fats, not cocoa butter. That's not very sweet.
  • Traveling To France? Don't Worry About Anti-Americanism.

    I want to vacation in France this summer. Should I worry at all about anti-Americanism? —Stace Aspey, Long Beach, Calif. Well, travel guru Arthur Frommer says "absolutely and emphatically not." He knows colleagues, friends and relatives who have traveled through France in recent days without encountering the slightest animosity relating to political differences over Iraq. As in previous instances of political conflict, the French (and other Europeans) rarely express their disagreements with our government by acting discourteously toward American tourists. But if you are anxious, check out travel.state.gov for updated safety info on every country.
  • Harmful Environmental Consequences of Road Salt

    What happens to all the salt poured on our roads each year? Does it cause any environmental damage? —Ken Saltzman, Rochester, NY Sixteen million tons of sodium chloride was dumped on U.S. roads in 2001. And while all that salt helps keep our roads safe, the salty runoff does have harmful environmental consequences. It stays in water ecosystems for years, possibly drying or killing plants and hurting fish if the concentrations get too high. Other salt dangers are pretty minimal: car manufacturers now dip metal in a zinc sealant to combat salt corrosion and groundwater contamination is rare thanks to better salt-storage and drainage systems.
  • What Does the D in D-Day Stand For?

    What does the D in D-Day stand for? —Susanna Barrows, Lewiston, Idaho It seems everyone has a theory—debarkation day, decision day, even doomsday. But the truth is really much more boring. Used since WWI, the D merely means the generic day of an invasion, says Nick Mueller, director of the National D-Day Museum. The code terms D-Day and H-hour are used so the date and time of an operation can be kept secret (and so plans don't have to be rewritten if the mission is postponed). Technically, there have been countless D-Days in military history. But for most of us, since the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, there's only one.
  • Cheaper Ways To Fly To Europe

    You can fly round trip to London for $200 to $300, so why is it $1,000 to Germany? —Dan R. Foose, Schuylkill Haven, Pa....
  • Getaways: Nature's Night Life

    Point your dogsled north this winter for a glimpse of the stunning aurora borealis—a curtain of colored lights formed when solar flares react with Earth's magnetic field. They shine all year long but will be most spectacular in the next few months, particularly during March's equinox.
  • Why Gasoline Is Priced With Nine Tenths of a Cent?

    Why is gasoline always priced with nine tenths of a cent? No other products are sold that way. —Bob E. Peel, Stratford, Conn. A shirt that's $9.99 feels a lot cheaper than $10, doesn't it? Just like that, gas marked $1.36 9/10 strikes most drivers as a bargain compared with $1.37 per gallon—even though gas stations just round up. (Because you can buy fractions of a gallon of gas, they can charge you fractions of a cent.) Why do all stations do it? Because it works; most folks will never even notice they're paying more. And once one station goes with the cheaper-seeming prices, the others must follow suit to remain competitive.
  • Long Odds In Powerball Jackpots

    With those huge Powerball jackpots, do the odds of winning change substantially between buying $1 and $5 in tickets? —Dustin Ivanic, Gilbert, Ariz. Unlike a raffle, with Powerball your chance of winning isn't affected by how many tickets are sold. So if you get a $5 ticket with five different number combos, you're exactly five times as likely to win. But the probability of hitting is still astronomically small. (Let's face it, there's not much difference between 1 in 50 million and 5 in 50 million.) Also, since the big prize encourages people to play, the odds that you'll end up having to share the jackpot greatly increase.
  • Is It a Conflict of Interest to Be CEO and Chairman of the Board?

    Why don't we consider it a conflict of interest for one person to serve as a company's CEO and chairman of the board? —Carole Mcintyre, Waynesburg, PA. The CEO manages the company, while the board oversees the management. So, effectively, chair-CEOs must monitor themselves. But the benefits of a combined position outweigh the conflict, says Charles Elson, director of the Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. While controversial, the combined chair-CEO model—used by the vast majority of U.S. companies—helps avoid employee confusion about who's ultimately in charge.
  • How Birds Stay In Formation When Flying

    When birds fly south for the winter, how do they keep from bumping into each other? —Elaine Temper, St. Louis, Mo. Birds are "like chorus girls"—and not just because of the feathers. When the leader makes a move, the rest react almost instantaneously, says the National Audubon Society's Frank Gill. This visually triggered wave of reaction is so quick, it's not even noticeable to binoculars-using bird watchers. Also, to save energy, birds ride the air coming off the wings of the fowl in front, keeping them in flawless formation. And some birds, like geese, honk to signal their position to the flock. And you thought they were just in a hurry. —Sally Atkinson