• Giving Away The Store

    So you figure it's such a bad year that retailers will pay you to go Christmas shopping? You may not be far from the truth. K mart, for example, is courting shoppers by offering prizes ranging from free Coca-Cola to $500,000 in cash and trips to Disneyland. Even veterans of retail giveaways have the shakes. In the past, A-ABC Appliance in Houston has given purchasers of merchandise like microwaves and refrigerators a chance to reach into a freezer full of coins and pull out a handful of "cold, hard cash." Business is so sluggish that it started giving away money a week early this year. "These days, things are tough," says Gerald Freed of Freed Advertising in Houston, which engineered the promotion. "People walk in with a notepad and they've been to six of your competitors. Everyone is looking for something free." ...
  • Superstars And Super Hype To The Rescue

    In 1982 Michael Jackson single-glovedly revived a slumping music industry with his "Thriller" album, which sold more than 48 million copies worldwide and provided even mediocre satirists like Weird Al Yankovic with a brief moment in the sun (that's what you call long coattails). This year, with the industry again slumping like a Cleveland sports franchise, there is little hope that Jackson's "Dangerous" album, released last Tuesday, can work the same trick, no matter how many times he messes with his business. "This year when we've had some super product come out and done really well," says Mike Fine, CEO of SoundScan, a data-gathering firm that charts the sales of music products super and so-so, "it hasn't brought additional business to the stores. People are coming into a store, buying a certain album and walking out." ...
  • Have Trunk, Will Travel

    Babar the Elephant King has packed his trunk for Broadway. This year the popular pachyderm joins Snoopy and 15 other high-flying characters in the 65th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. A seasoned traveler, the debonair storybook hero has his own hot-air transport balloon; he knew better than to bring his sporty red car to New York.
  • Weary Of Buying American Ideas, Japan Will Grow I

    And why shouldn't the Japanese be delighted with their science education? They ace international tests. They produce more engineers than lawyers. And they manage to cull the best ideas from scientific articles written by American researchers and turn them into blockbuster profitmakers--while the Americans wait around for their Nobel Prizes. It happened with VCRs and fuzzy-logic software, it's about to happen with computer memory chips. Well, guess who's decided to stop the ripoff? Of course--the Japanese. In 1989 the Ministry of Education announced its third postwar reform of science education (following those of 1968 and 1977, which moved the curriculum away from pure science and toward applied). This time, the goal is to produce students who ask questions, form independent hypotheses and develop a creative turn of mind that cuts through the cult of obedience. "We are not here to produce more effective economic producers," says Shigeki Kadoya, the ministry's senior specialist for...
  • Talking Turkey

    Suffering from Holiday Chef Stress Syndrome? Take heart: the Butterball Turkey "Talk-Line" is in operation now through Dec. 23. Here are some cooking crises from holidays past: Locked turkey in oven self-clean mode. (Advice: Don't panic! Reset timer, wait for oven to cool.)Turkey ready at 10 a.m., guests arriving at 4 p.m. (Carve bird, refrigerate, reheat. Use Polaroid shot of pre-sliced bird for centerpiece.)Put turkey in tub to thaw; kids jumped in for bubble bath, (If still wrapped, bird's OK.)OK to hide surprise engagement ring in stuffing.? (Better to slip it on drumstick to avoid choking fiancee.)
  • The Last Days Of Vukovar

    Europe hasn't seen devastation like it since VE Day. The Serb-led Yugoslav Army and Serb guerrillas took the strategic Croatian city of Vukovar last week after an 87-day siege-revealing a ghostly post-cold-war Stalingrad where once a charming riverside town of 50,000 had stood. Some 5,000 civilians emerged from basements where they had sought shelter during the shelling; they join the ranks of the 500,000 refugees that have been created since the Serb-Croat war broke out in June. Row upon row of corpses lay on the ground; more than 3,000 people have been killed since the war began in June. Not only was the scale of destruction reminiscent of World War II; the Serbs eerily insisted the war was a literal replay of the ethnic and ideological conflicts that swept the Balkans during the '40s. Some of the dead in Vukovar, they said, were Serbs hacked to death with axes by Hitlerite Croatian forces. But at least one Serbian report, that 41 Serbian children had been butchered by Croats, was...
  • The Big Bcci Roadblocks

    It's anticlimactic--so far. Last summer's collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International was billed as the biggest scandal ever. But five months later, the grand total of new domestic indictments is exactly two. Abroad, where BCCI's real damage was done, the grand total of legal charges announced is zero. ...
  • Timeless Italy

    Just as cars carry NO RADIO signs to deter break-ins, packages sent to Italy should be marked NO SWATCHES. A craze for the colorful Swiss watches there has emptied stores, and "gray market" vendors are sending Swatches in from abroad. Now, almost any parcel is rifled in search of the watches, which can fetch 20 times their $60 retail cost. Stores like Saks in New York have limited the number of the most popular Chrono and Scuba models customers may buy. In Italy, Swatchmania is so acute a Swatch catalog sells on the street for $250.
  • Before You Lead A German Class, You Really Must Know Your Stuff

    In Germany, those who can, teach. They're paid handsomely--enough to support a middle-class family comfortably. And many teachers attain the coveted rank of civil servant, which gives them job tenure and fringe benefits such as low-interest mortgages and freedom from paying social-security taxes. The price of such prestige is rigorous teacher training, which is still another reason that some of the best and brightest German students are attracted to the field. "The way they educate their teachers makes a statement that teachers are valued and a valuable resource," says Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. "We do more or less the opposite here." ...
  • In A World Growing Smaller, The Dutch Want To Speak To You

    Two dozen 16-year-olds are debating the recent Clarence Thomas hearings. Scrawled on the blackboard are some provocative statements. "This wouldn't happen between white people." "This is a private matter. He should not have to defend himself" "Sexual harassment is a terrible thing and ruins working relationships between men and women." "Even ... during class, there is sexual harassment." Warner Immink, the lively, 32-year-old teacher turns to the students: "OK. Form groups. Go ahead. Talk about it." A cluster of four agrees that the first statement is wrong, but they're at odds on the second one: privacy. A boy thinks Anita Hill shouldn't have told all the details. "What?" snaps a girl. "He's going to the Supreme Court. What if you have a case like that? His judgment wouldn't be objective." ...
  • Fly Me, Air Uncle Sam

    One day last week Washington's scandal du jour posed a conceptual puzzle. Should not anything properly called a scandal be at least a little bit secret? Can a scandal be something done in plain view, with due process, by people who put out press releases boasting about what they have done? ...
  • Grandma Goes To Court

    Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go? Not necessarily. In our deracinated, fractured society, Mom and Dad might get a divorce and refuse to let Grandma see their kids. That's not surprising when the couple have split up; when they're happily married, it is. And in the last few years, more and more grandparents who are angry at being cut off from their grandchildren, whatever the family circumstances, have begun to fight back. Visitation rights have become one of the most emotional issues of -the growing grandparents' movement. ...
  • No Peaking

    There are no roles for dwarfs or drowned corpses, but "Twin Peaks" stars Kyle MacLachlan and Piper Laurie will be reunited in MGM's "Rich in Love," directed by Bruce Beresford. Laurie plays a flamboyant hairdresser, and MacLachlan dresses up as a hobo-but compared with "Peaks," the weirdness quotient here is infinitesimal.
  • More Women

    An all-out campaign effort by feminists paid off at the polls in Louisiana. Pro-choice Democrat Me. linda Schwegmann defeated incumbent Paul Hardy to become the state's first woman lieutenant governor. The number of women elected to state office has tripled since January (to nine), all of them in the House of Representatives. Four anti-abortion incumbents were ousted by prochoice women. Feminists also celebrated the defeat of Democratic State Rep. Carl Gunter by a pro-choice Democrat; Gunter, referring to victims of incest, once said that's how we get thoroughbred horses. "One of the sweetest victories was trouncing Gunter," said campaign activist Harriet Trudell.
  • Prescribing A 'Realistic' Cure For The Epidemic O

    Shaggy-haired and rumpled, Wim Schaafsma races around his math classroom at the Professor Greydamus School in Zwolle, the Netherlands, brandishing fanciful objects. He begins one lesson by displaying a Muslim prayer carpet embedded with a compass to guide the faithful to Mecca. For Schaafsma, it's a prop to help his students grasp the concept of degrees and methods for measuring ares and calculating angles. Meanwhile, his class of 15-year-olds clump their desks together, constantly interjecting questions and comments to Schaafsma as they solve problems in their workbooks. Momentarily stymied, one child suddenly grabs a globe to help figure out an answer. And everyone is busy manipulating calculators for even the simplest arithmetic. ...
  • It's Raining Cat And Dog Gifts

    The time for holiday giving is upon us. Even during the current recession, it's crucial not to forget Mittens and Rex. Rod and genuine spin-casting reel with catnip lure. Great exercise for fat cats. Beverage and accessories extra.Keeps small dogs from being squashed underfoot. Patch pocket holds pet's rain gear.Safety afloat. A must for the yachting pooch. But what about doggie Topsiders?Rawhide snacks for the gourmet dog. Don't forget the Grey Poupon.In vinyl or chintz. Keeps cat off your favorite La-Z-Boy.Perfect for Chanukah, Passover--or lox, bagel and cream-cheese day.
  • Nuclear Fishing

    Senior Bush administration officials worry that severe food shortages in the Soviet Union could threaten the security of that nation's strategic nuclear forces. U.S. intelligence analysts say that guards at a missile base recently abandoned their posts to forage for food in the countryside. Members of another unit left to go fishing because they were out of food. Further, the analysts say, an SS25 mobile missile regiment commander threatened to return his men to base from their field positions when food didn't arrive. If the military can't move food, "the disintegration [of the country] is proceeding apace," says a U.S. official.
  • Goodbye, Norma Jean

    To photographer and writer James Haspiel, she was the original Divine Miss M. Only 16 when he first met his idol in 1954, he devoted the next eight years to taking pictures of her and cultivating her friendship. He admits he is still in love with her. This week his book ("Marilyn: The Ultimate Look at the Legend") of 150 previously unpublished photos and fond reminiscences is out. Why did he wait so long? "Early on," he says, "the hurt [of her death] was too staggering."
  • How Much Hunger?

    It's the wisdom of the day: hunger is stalking Mother Russia. Soviet newspapers bristle with panic about the oncoming winter. There are fears of famine and popular revolt. The concerns have spread to the West, and last week President Bush announced a grant of $1.5 billion in food aid, to include not only technical assistance and credits for grain purchases but also direct food shipments, the first to the Soviet Union in 70 years. Even the U.S. Congress called a cease-fire in the sniping over Soviet aid. "It's time for each side to say we're not going to try to score political points on this one," said Sen. David Boren, a Democrat. "It's too serious." ...
  • After The Hostages: A New Game In The Gulf

    The Middle East is the classic balance-of-power arena, and the United States is the sole remaining outside power. For years Washington tried to keep the peace and advance its own interests in the region by tilting this way and that: toward Iraq and then away from it. Away from Syria and then toward it. Toward the Iraqi Kurds and back again, in two complete cycles that left the Kurds bloody and betrayed. Iran, once America's candidate for policeman of the Persian Gulf, became its bitter enemy after the Khomeini revolution in 1979. Now the door has opened, ever so slightly, to more tolerable relations with Teheran. Washington hopes to accomplish something more than just another tick of the metronome. In keeping with its call for a "new world order," the Bush administration wants to replace the balance-of-power game with a more stable system of collective security, one that cannot exclude Iran forever. But old habits die hard. ...