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  • Tradition Down The Drain

    It's showtime at Showa Yokujo, a public bathhouse in central Tokyo. Wearing a brightly colored costume, Sumihiro Tajima shuffles and flips cards as part of his magic show. There is no stage; he performs in the bathhouse changing room among half-naked customers. The room is a little steamy, but no matter. Kids and grown-ups love the act. The 40-year-old Tajima owns the bathhouse, or sento, and performs for customers nearly every night.He needs the gimmick to bolster his business. Tokyo bathhouses flourished for centuries--from the start of the Edo period in the early 1600s until World War II. Most Japanese lacked private baths of their own, and the public facilities became popular places to socialize. But postwar modernization changed Japanese life-styles drastically, and the business has been in steady decline. In 1968 there were 2,687 sentos in Tokyo; today there are only 1,258. Likewise, the average number of bathers has fallen dramatically--from 500 a day in 1968 to 150 now.Sento...
  • Crashing Clones

    In the beginning there was only Nasdaq, the American mother of all high-flying tech markets. As the New York exchange took off, others would try to follow. Starting in 1996 with Easdaq in Belgium and Kosdaq in South Korea, a mania for cloning Nasdaq spread from Frankfurt to Tokyo and beyond. Whether indulged by the famously savvy (Singapore) or the merely wishful (Romania), the hope everywhere was to ignite an American-style boom by creating a market that allows small, unprofitable and unproved companies to sell stock directly to the public. Now some of these exchanges are as shaky as the dot-coms they were peddling. Since Nasdaq began to collapse in March 2000, many of its copycats have fallen into scandal, depression and disrepute on a scale that makes the New York original look calm by comparison. On its Web site, Romania Invest offers this blunt warning on the stillborn local market, Rasdaq: "We advise against investing."The shakeout is coming. At a time when investors are...
  • Even In The U.S.A.

    The first of my ancestors who came to North America, in the 17th century, were Dutch. They settled in a colony called New Amsterdam. Then the English took over. New Amsterdam became New York and New Jersey, and my ancestors had to put aside their Dutchness. Today, even Americans who live in old New Amsterdam no longer consider the Netherlands a mother country. When we think of the Dutch--which isn't often--we picture a small, oddball nation that permits many of the things we still regard as unlawful: euthanasia, prostitution, marijuana, same-sex marriages.Yet, without knowing it, we Americans are becoming a little more Dutch all the time--a society embroiled in rapid change, breaking down old structures and trying out new ways to live. The latest U.S. Census, conducted last year, shows that the presumed bedrock of our society, the nuclear family--Mom, Dad and 2.4 kids--is breaking down fast. Fewer than 25 percent of all U.S. households now consist of married couples raising children...
  • Perisccope

    Tony Blair brought "babes" to his last election--the 101 women M.P.s elected to Parliament in Labour's landslide victory. But this year they just haven't been as prominent. "Whatever happened to the women in this campaign?" wrote one columnist last week, echoing a national question.Has the Labour Party let its women down in 2001? Sheer numbers would suggest so. It has fielded fewer women--149, compared with 158 in 1997. And because not as many are fighting for winnable seats, fewer are likely to be elected this time around.But the future of parliamentary equality is not as bleak as those stats might suggest. Labour's recent constitutional reforms have given birth to the Welsh Assembly, 40 percent women, and the Scottish Parliament, 38 percent women. Only one in eight M.P.s in Westminster is a woman, but this is because British antidiscrimination laws bar the party from stacking its lists of parliamentary candidates in women's favor. Fair or not, Labour seeks to change that law after...
  • A War Against Intellectuals

    Searching for the Arabic word for "dissidence" a few years back, Egyptian writer Nawal el-Saadawi was stumped. In the end, she discarded al-ihtijaj (protest) and al-muarada (opposition), settling on al-nidal, struggle. The translation seems more apt by the day. Egyptian dissidents and intellectuals are under fire from two very different forces: the government and militant Islamists. In the 1990s, Parliament passed a series of laws cracking down on political activists. At the same time, fundamentalists launched a war on secular culture, agitating for censorship and prosecution of writers who criticize the Islamic status quo. Over the past decade, writers have been imprisoned for their political beliefs, and injured or killed for angering Islamic militants. Says Hisham Kassem of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights: "It's not safe to think in this part of the world."Saadawi knows the dangers. She's been writing for half a century, and her fierce critiques of Egypt's political...
  • The Odyssey Of 'Jeezum Jim'

    For Years Jim Jeffords Watched The Gop Drift To The Right, And Now He's Had Enough. The Unlikely Rebel Whose Socks Don't Match--But Who's Rocking The Capital.
  • Your Job: Ceo Of You, Inc.

    Something happens to otherwise sober writers when the subject at hand is the financial health of the American household. You've read these articles. Some start with the wrenching tale of one person's via dolorosa, ending in joblessness, worthless stockholdings and even bankruptcy. Others take the statistical approach: Very Official Studies show that the low savings rate threatens the stability of the American family, and so on. Whatever the dramatic device, the message is clear: we're toast.Do you feel like toast?We didn't think so. The true state of Americans' finances--found deep in Very Official tables of the Federal Reserve Bank--doesn't make for flashy headlines, unless you thrill to America's financial report card: b- to c+. In other words, we're not on the honor roll, but we aren't flunking, either.How can this be? Personal bankruptcy is a national crisis, right? The number of filings is still too high, true, but since peaking in 1998, it's been declining. How about...
  • Our Man In Venice

    The sculptor Robert Gober is the sole U.S. representative at this year's edition of the art world's equivalent of the Oscars, the Venice Biennale. (It runs from June 10 to Nov. 4.) Being asked to occupy the American Pavilion--a nice little brick neoclassical building constructed in 1930--with a solo exhibition is like being named best artist. The likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Bourgeois were previous representatives. But Gober's selection--while not entirely surprising given that he's been a steady presence on the high-end exhibition circuit since the mid-1980s--does have its question marks. In recent Biennales, the pavilion has been host to spectacular electronic installations such as Jenny Holzer's, Bill Viola's and Ann Hamilton's. Gober's specialty, on the other hand, is meticulously handcrafted, slightly irregular, eerily evocative copies of familiar objects. Although his work has a remarkable ability to fuse the mundane and the profound, the artificial and the real, in...
  • Trying On A New 'Sweater'

    It's late on a Friday in April when Rivers Cuomo calls. His band, Weezer, is about to put out a much-anticipated new album--its first in five years--and so this seems like the natural thing to discuss. But Cuomo's got a different agenda. He needs some tech support. See, he says, he had these binders--the three-ring kind, filled with song notes. They became unwieldy. So Cuomo entered the notes into Access, a database program that lets him organize his writings and engage in "very philosophical, scientific periods of musical study." "You know Access?" he asks. Uh, does it work like Excel? "I don't know Excel. I'm weird. But now I'm having second thoughts. Maybe it should all be in Excel?"Is this guy weird? Oh, yeah. Happy? Ask Cuomo if he feels that way about the release this month of Weezer's third effort, "The Green Album." "I don't like the word happy," he says. Okey-doke! But it's the band's quirks that make them so beloved. After all, Weezer shouted "Woo-ee-oo I look just like...
  • Breaking Up Is (Still) Hard To Do

    The best way to make money off AT&T since it announced its first breakup in 1982 may be to have won its printing contract rather than owning its stock. The company has sacrificed entire forests to produce the hundreds of pages of legalese that it mailed millions of shareholders in connection with its 1984 breakup, its 1996 breakup and its just-concluded offer to swap AT&T Wireless shares for AT&T shares. And soon, coming to a mailbox near you will be 400 pages or so more, describing the company's newest proposed split, into three pieces: AT&T Broadband, AT&T Business and AT&T Consumer.The more I look at the preliminary version of the breakup plan that AT&T has filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, the more convinced I become that if I owned AT&T stock, I'd vote no. AT&T says the breakup will liberate each business, eliminate internal conflicts over capital and end squabbles over the prices AT&T's disparate parts charge each...
  • Playing By Dutch Rules

    Ron Gerring missed the '60s the first time around, but he figures he's found a scene almost as good in Amsterdam today. "I see Holland as having only two rules," says the itinerant singer and songwriter from Toronto: "don't hurt anybody, and don't steal anything." Then there's the dope. "You don't have to worry about the police, the window being closed or your mother coming back," says Gerring, who is 39. "Yeah, this is hedonism." He smiles and sips his Heineken at the no-frills Hans Brinker Hotel. "Just short of debauchery, I think."Many of the Dutch government's critics would agree, only they're not smiling. The Netherlands' social liberalism--what a conservative columnist in Boston called "the Dutch Disease"--is often portrayed as radical, weird, just short of demented. It's not just a matter of marijuana. Prostitution--long and famously tolerated in the country's red-light districts--has just been fully legalized, complete with value-added tax on services rendered. This year the...
  • The Steel Behind The Smile

    When Tom Daschle first came to Capitol Hill as a congressman in 1979, his colleagues teasingly called him "Landslide." He'd been declared the winner in South Dakota by 14 votes; it took a full year for the state Supreme Court to certify the election. Fifteen years later, when he made a bid to become his party's leader in the Senate, he was elected by a single vote. When you build your career on those kinds of minuscule margins, Daschle says, you learn to find compromise--or you find yourself out of a job. "When I was young, I was far more vocal, more confrontational, probably more abrasive," he says. "I've been through some close scrapes, and it tempered me."Now Daschle is about to win another impossibly close election--this time a bizarre midsession vote to become Senate majority leader, and the most powerful Democrat in Washington. With the smooth and unassuming style of a hotel concierge, Daschle might be dismissed as a decent guy in the right place at the right time. But that...
  • A Working Knowledge

    In "Nickel and Dimed," journalist Barbara Ehrenreich experiments with trying to live off "unskilled" job wages and fails, but at least her book--despite faltering at sanctimonious pitfalls--works. For three months she works as a waitress and housekeeper in Key West, Fla., a cleaning woman and nursing-home aide in Portland, Maine, and a "Wal-Martian" in Minneapolis. It's no surprise that she can't survive on $6 to $7 an hour without a second job. But what makes this book so jarring is Ehrenreich down on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor at the feet of her employer. It turns out working even this hard isn't a way out.More startling than the author's experience, which she acknowledges could never really be authentic (the paid-for car, visits home, ATM card and freedom to walk out on a job don't help with the pretending), is the book's unobstructed view of the awful lives of low-wage workers. A waitress, Tina, can't afford a deposit for an apartment, so she pays through...
  • Chances Are, You've Only Surfed A Few Sites Today

    For more than a year now, consumer advocates and promoters of media diversity have warned about cyberhogs: giant companies that draw most of the traffic on the Internet. The fears swelled in the wake of AOL's January acquisition of Time Warner. Now, critics of media concentration have fresh ammunition: A study released Monday by market researcher Jupiter Media Maxtrix finds that just four companies-AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Napster-control roughly half of the time Internet users spend online. That's down from 11 companies two years ago. Moreover, 60 percent of online time is controlled by only 14 companies, a breathtaking plunge from 110 companies in 1999. That's "an incontrovertible trend toward online media consolidation," the authors of the report wrote.Jupiter says the numbers should be viewed as a cautionary sign-particularly by Washington regulators. The message: don't believe the hype from proponents of media deregulation. "Regulators should think twice about...
  • Bylines

    In the early 1980s, Jonathan Alter played on a softball team with Sen. Jim Jeffords, who was then a young congressman. "He was out there at second base every single game, and would often have a cheeseburger with us afterward at a Capitol Hill dive called The Tune Inn," Alter says. "And if the House was in session, he would sling a ratty sport coat and tie across a tree branch so that he could come off the diamond, put them on and then trot off to vote." Last week, of course, Jeffords switched teams of a different kind. Alter profiles him for this week's cover package. (Page 20)A Lesson for LifeBarbara Kantrowitz owes a lot to a 10th-grade teacher. "One day she had me read something aloud that I'd written," she recalls, "and it got everyone's attention. I decided on the spot to become a writer." Kantrowitz oversaw this week's feature on first-year educators. "Teachers live in a world that doesn't respect them," she says. "That means we're not respecting the future." (Page 42)Fools...
  • Playing It Too Safe?

    You've done all the right things. You funded your retirement as much as you could while still sending your 1.9 kids to college. You lived within your budget, even though it meant missing out on Monte Carlo.Now you've made it to the age of 60. The kids are gone, the mortgage is almost paid off and it's time for the retirement accounts to start paying out. Gas up the yacht, honey, we're headed for the Caribbean!Hang on, Ahab. The temptation is to switch from saving to spending immediately. But retirement is a beginning, not an end. We are living longer now than ever before. This means that if you want to stop working at 60, you'd better be ready to make it last a good 25 years or longer.The conventional wisdom suggests going for safety by moving out of stocks and into bonds, REITs, money markets and other investments that produce regular income. Perpetual income sounds good, but it's a trap. You may be earning a respectable income right now from your savings, but 20 years down the...
  • You've Got Mail, But How About Romance?

    When is the last time you found a letter in your mailbox? Not the false intimacy of a sweepstakes offer or a chatty update from your local congressman, but an actual letter written just to you. If you’re like most of us, it’s been a long, long while.
  • On The Brink: Are You Vulnerable?

    Many of us have a good feel for our monthly income and routine expenses. But when it comes to the stuff that comes due less frequently, our intuition--or maybe just our memory--fails us. Suddenly the six-month auto-insurance bill appears, that much-needed family vacation is looming and the taxman cometh.Or maybe true disaster strikes--and it's crazy to assume it won't. A tree falls through our roof in a windstorm. We can't work for a few months due to injuries from a car accident. Can we cover this deluge of expenses, or will it send us scrambling for the plastic? Statistics suggest that a lot of us are letting our lenders foot a bigger portion of our bills. According to the Federal Reserve Board, $17.60 of every $100 the median 1998 family made went to debt payments--up 11 percent from 1989.While credit cards are convenient tools, they can damage your personal finances. Why bother earning 11 percent on your stock portfolio if you're paying 16 percent to 18 percent on your credit...
  • American Beat: A Good Ride Spoiled

    It's not very often that I get story ideas from golf legend Jack Nicklaus, but the man was onto something.This happened the other day, after the Supreme Court ruled that it would not "fundamentally alter" the game of golf to allow Casey Martin-who suffers from a degenerative disease that makes it painful to walk the course-to use a golf cart even though professional golf bars the use of any conveyance other than the feet.You remember the facts in this case: Martin, who suffers from Klippel-Trenauay Syndrome, once played on the PGA Tour until his condition left him unable to compete without a golf cart. When the PGA refused to waive its "walking rule" on the grounds that physical endurance is part of the game, Martin sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a much-maligned law that supporters claim is the greatest civil rights achievement of the past 30 years and opponents claim will produce so many frivolous lawsuits that our entire legal system will be clogged until Jan. 14,...
  • My Life As A Teenage Mule

    One day last November a friend with a cousin in Mexico asked Juan if he would like to make $500. All he had to do was drive a Camaro across the border into the United States. A U.S. citizen born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Juan told the border inspector that he was returning from a family gathering in Mexico and was waved through. No matter that he has never had a driver's license and at the time was on probation for car theft. He would complete the same trip 15 more times before customs officials arrested him in March trying to enter El Paso with 44 bundles of marijuana weighing nearly 60 pounds--with a street value of at least $60,000--packed in the bumpers and door panels of his Ford. He was 16. "The first time I was nervous. After a while I was always on something," often cocaine, he says, "so I didn't care."Kids such as Juan have long been carrying narcotics across the Rio Grande. But as the United States has added new border agents, computerized license-plate readers and...
  • Japan's Young Slackers

    Tadashi Kato works hard for his money. Well, sort of. On fair-weather afternoons he peddles knockoff Nike T shirts (smuggled into Japan from Bangladesh) along Tokyo's swankiest shopping drag, Omotesando, netting about $100 on a good day. By Kato's standards that's good money; it sure beats the $7 an hour he earned busing tables in a cheap pasta joint and restocking shelves at 7-Eleven--two of many part-time gigs he took to bankroll meandering treks through Europe and Asia. Now, says the 24-year-old, it's time to get serious. "I will prove that street sellers can make it big in Japan," he exclaims, brimming with entrepreneurial zeal. "As long as I don't have a boss, I'm happy."Kato is a child of Japan's "Heisei Recession," a downturn that began shortly after its namesake, the Heisei emperor, Akihito, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in 1989. Kato and his generational cohorts are coming of age at a time when Japan's economy has run out of steam. Gone are the days when most young men...
  • Peru's New President

    Alejandro Toledo was a 26-year-old Stanford University graduate student when he returned to his native Peru in 1972 in the company of the young assistant professor charged with supervising his Ph.D. dissertation. Martin Carnoy had known "Alex" Toledo for two years by that point, and he had always been struck by the long-haired Peruvian's ambition and iron will to succeed. But nothing had quite prepared the American academic for the display of perseverance he was about to witness.Keen on showing Carnoy his old stomping grounds high in the Peruvian department (state) of Ancash, Toledo invited his professor to the city of Huaraz and the azure blue lagoons of Llanganuco, nestled high among the snow-capped Andes at 13,000 feet above sea level. When public transportation to the lagoons proved to be unavailable on that Saturday, Toledo suggested they proceed on foot. The two men embarked on what turned out to be six-hour hike that ended at a remote forest ranger's hut where they wound up...
  • Who's A Rock - And Who Rolls

    The Senate scorecard used to be easy to read. There were Republicans and there were Democrats, and the numbers always added up to 100. These days it's not so simple. The Democrats have regained control, barely, but it's a handful of mavericks from both parties who hold the real power. The faces of the new Capitol order. ...
  • What Bush Needs To Learn

    It was the kind of invitation Andy Card probably should have issued earlier. Last Monday the White House chief of staff called Sen. John McCain. Would he like to dine--alone--with the president the following Thursday? McCain accepted. But by Wednesday the world had changed: Sen. Jim Jeffords was leaving the Republican Party. McCain called Card back. Since the Senate would be working late on Thursday, the senator said, shouldn't they reschedule? Yes, Card agreed, it would be too hectic. But there were other, unspoken, reasons for the postponement. McCain didn't want to look like a prop in an emergency post-Jeffords outreach program, or like the next man about to leave the GOP. He's not--at least not yet. As for Card, he didn't want Bush to look desperate. He's not--at least not yet.As governor of Texas, George W. Bush managed to become the master of all he surveyed. But Jeffords's departure dramatized a message the president has yet to hear and seems not to want to accept: Washington...
  • Music: It's In The 'Air': French Pop Never Sounde

    For the last half of the 20th century, one of the worst insults you could hurl at a rock or pop band was to say they had that "French" sound. The otherwise cultured nation was as synonymous with bad music as England once was with taste-free cuisine. The French cornered the market on embarrassing Eurotunes--from cut-rate disco to painfully self-conscious new wave to shockingly bad house music. But the past few years have brought about a French revolution of sorts. Ruling American and British DJs such as Moby and Fatboy Slim may now have to watch for the Parisian invasion. The city is the newest creative hotbed for electronic music, and home to such critically acclaimed artists as MTV's newest electronic darlings Daft Punk, Madonna's "Music" producer Mirwais and society DJ Stephane Pompougnac. And in a surprising turnabout, their hybrid of kitschy French pop and cutting-edge techno is now influencing the styles and studio techniques of British and American artists.At the forefront of...
  • Kobe: Thanks For Sharing

    Kobe Bryant never imagined that watching his Los Angeles Lakers win could be so humbling. But confined to the bench with an ankle injury for a couple of weeks in March, Kobe couldn't kid himself: the defending NBA champion Lakers were clearly playing better without him. All season long the 22-year-old superstar had infuriated his teammates with his selfish play and aggravated Shaquille O'Neal, the league's reigning MVP, by challenging his leadership. Coach Phil Jackson had warned Kobe that the spat with Shaq could even jeopardize his Laker career. Bryant tried to distract himself by thinking about his impending nuptials, only a few weeks away. And it suddenly dawned on him how "for better or worse" just might apply to his team as well. "He was starting a whole new life with a lot of new rules," says a teammate in whom Kobe confided. "If he was going to have to share toothpaste and the remote with his wife, why not the ball with his team too?"When Kobe returned to action in April, he...
  • A Plot To Foil The Greens

    Only two weeks ago the mood of the Justice Department's environmental lawyers was upbeat. They had just won another big victory--a court-ordered decree forcing Marathon Ashland Petroleum to spend $265 million to install up-to-date pollution-control equipment. It was the latest settlement in a series of Justice lawsuits aimed at cracking down on toxic emissions at electric-power plants and oil refineries. Among those hyping the case was Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, in a press release, called the settlement "a victory for the environment."But just as quickly the lawyers at Justice--and their colleagues at the Environmental Protection Agency--got blindsided. A few days later the White House unveiled its National Energy Policy, a call for expanded drilling for oil and gas and new power-plant construction. Tucked away in the fine print was a blunt directive to Ashcroft to review "existing enforcement actions" under the Clean Air Act. White House aides said a study was needed to...
  • The Battle Of California

    Wandering around the offices of California Gov. Gray Davis these days, it's easy to get the impression that the Gore campaign, after limping offstage in Tallahassee, has successfully transplanted itself to the West Coast.In a comfortable suite, just down the hall from Davis, sit Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, former Gore campaign spokesmen, who have recently been hired as consultants (at $30,000 a month for six months) to help the governor devise an energy communications strategy. Former Gore deputy chief of staff Nancy McFadden helps Davis with legislative strategy. A former Gore associate, Monica Dixon, is in charge of Davis's energy conservation program for the state. Another half dozen former Gore aides do everything from handling Davis's schedule to planning his public appearances. "This is the biggest Democratic administration in the country today," says Roger Salazar, a Davis spokesman, who held a similar job for-you guessed it-Al Gore. "It's nice to see some familiar faces....
  • Fly In The Ointment

    When biotech firm Celera was attacked for its cockiness in vowing to sequence the human genome before university and government scientists did, the company had a powerful comeback: hey, we sequenced the fruit fly first, remember? Last year Celera and UC, Berkeley, finished sequencing the chemical "letters" (A's, T's, C's and G's) in the DNA of Drosophila. But when mathematician Samuel Karlin of Stanford University compared Celera's sequences with those worked out and corroborated in experiments, he found "significant discrepancies," he reports in Nature: 45 percent of the fly genes contained serious errors (like letters in the wrong place). Celera admits its sequence "is still a work in progress." And the human genome, which the public project and Celera were hellbent on finishing by this spring? It, too, may contain substantial errors. Oops.

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