Periscope

As veterans of the oil bidness, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney want to prove that solar-panel-brandishing greens haven't cornered the market on high-tech solutions to energy problems. The vice president's still-secret energy plan, NEWSWEEK has learned, will tout new technology not just for "renewable" sources such as sun and wind, but for more accurate and efficient oil and gas exploration and extraction. The plan, expected to be released as early as next week, will call for use of "3-D seismic readers," which use tiny explosions to take soundings of geological formations, and "horizontal drilling," which uses surgically precise methods to minimize the number of surface wells.

The aim is to "disabuse Americans of the false-choice notion" that the United States must choose between producing energy and protecting the environment. The report will be top-heavy with proposals for increasing energy supplies. And it will have an urgent tone, foreshadowed in briefing papers privately distributed at the White House last week ("The Coming Energy Crisis: A Legacy of Neglect") and in the veep's own growing number of public comments. "We're going to need to build at least 1,300 new power plants over the next 20 years," he says.

The list of other proposals is said by sources to include loosening EPA regulations to make it easier to expand old coal-fired power plants and build new ones; establishing a repository in Nevada for the long-term disposal of nuclear waste, and permitting the construction of roads in Rocky Mountain national forests. Last week, the Interior Department recommended that the report support drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Both ideas are generating heated controversy--and there are no high-tech drilling techniques to make it go away. JUSTICEThe Son of a Preacher Man Attorney general John Ashcroft never made a secret of his religious beliefs. But since taking office he's quietly sought to institutionalize his faith--holding daily prayer sessions in his office and suggesting staffers make correspondence more pious. Although the morning prayers are Christian, the small RAMP gatherings ("Reading, Argument, Memorize and Prayer") are "relaxed" and "extremely educational," said Shamon Stein, a regular attendee and Orthodox Jew. A memo, obtained by NEWSWEEK, offers seven "stylistic preferences" for letters bearing the A.G.'s name. "Do not use the phrasing, 'no higher calling than public service'," the memo states, and avoid using "proud"--God being a higher calling and pride being a sin. All this was deemed "highly objectionable" by Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The A.G.'s rep dismissed the criticism: "What part of this is imposing his religious views?" PHYSICSAfter the Bang Universe: pretty weird. That's the take-home from an American Physical Society meeting in D.C. Cosmologists presented new research backing up "inflation," the idea that an instant after the Big Bang, 12 billion to 15 billion years ago, the universe expanded ultrafast. Inflation predicts temperature fluctuation patterns in the "cosmic microwave background," the Big Bang's radiation echo--patterns now seen with a South Pole telescope and a detector balloon over Antarctica. The weird part? Inflation also says the universe is mostly enigmatic dark matter, and that galaxies grew from subatomic static. ((((((THE BUZZ))))))Now That's Entertainment! If "The Producers" is this great onstage, imagine how good the movie's gonna be! ... Oh, really? Well, in that case, Mel Brooks, whose show has revived the musical comedy, is free to make a run for mayor. Here's what people are saying in print, on air and online:

Stage Right 'After years of self-important musicals, of spectacles exploring the dark side of life, of edgy revues and inflated classics,' B'way's got a show that's--gasp!--fun. (Hartford Courant)

Reich Stuff What kind of Nazi charges $100 to see a show? Counterbuzz: Oh, stop with the kvetching! If you really want to get ripped off in N.Y.C., go to the movies.

Fresh Breath The show's 'definitely not for the stereotype- sensitive.' (Variety) But, 'for a production that makes a point of being tasteless, "The Producers" exudes a refreshing air of innocence' in this stuffy, P.C. era. (N.Y. Times)

'Springtime' Fever Speaking of producers, who do I have to know to get a ticket? Fighting Hitler was nothing compared with battling for a seat at the St. James Theater. THE ECONOMYThrift Shop After it made Alan Greenspan cool, anything was possible. Now the economy--this time the softening thereof--has made bargain-hunting hip. Even high-end brands are trying to sound cheap. The May Conde Nast Traveler features an unprecedented list of "Cheap Chic" hotels. Zagat just published its first "America's Best Meal Deals." And after burning out in the rich early '90s, the BlueLight Special is back at Kmart with a different image. It's as thrifty as ever, but now, says a Kmart spokesman, "I see teens checking it out." And they're not looking at Martha Stewart. BULLYINGFright Club In the old days," says Colorado state Rep. Don Lee, "if one kid was bullying another, they would just duke it out in the schoolyard." But "the culture's changed," which is why Lee co-sponsored a new state law making schools outlaw bullying. California, Georgia and New Jersey have drafted similar bills to address what the National Association of School Psychologists and a new NIH study say now ranks as one of the hottest topics in schools. FASHIONWhose Dress Is It Anyway? Oleg Cassini, 88, Jackie Kennedy's official White House designer, has been making a fuss over the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current show of Jackie's clothes. In the Met's catalog, several outfits Cassini claimed as his own in his 1995 book, "A Thousand Days of Magic," have been attributed to other couturiers. "I stand by everything in my book," says Cassini. "Everything." That would include a deep pink wool boucle dress and jacket that Jackie wore to lunch with Queen Elizabeth in 1962. Cassini has a signed sketch of it in his book. But the Met documents it as a Givenchy from 1959--a year before Cassini began to work with Jackie. "If a dress or suit bears a Givenchy label and Parisian zipper," said Met curator Hamish Bowles, "and I was further able to document it in the Givenchy archives, then the attribution is unquestionable." Said Givenchy: "When I saw the Cassini book and saw clothes of mine [in it], well, it was quite surprising." HOT PROPERTYYou Decorated My Life When Kenny Rogers Roasters, the country singer's chicken chain, was bought out of bankruptcy in 1999 by Nathan's Famous, there was one item not on the corporation's list of assets: a portrait of Rogers by Ralph Cowan from the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., headquarters. Post-bankruptcy, is it now worth a lot more? Cowan, who charges $24,000 for a painting of that size, says it had other added value. "I put in a big crotch," says the artist, to meet Rogers's request to look thin and sexy. But the portrait, hanging at eye level, caused too much of a stir at headquarters. Shortly thereafter, says Cowan, "I'm heading down to Ft. Lauderdale to de-crotch a painting." Where is it now? Last week, Kenny's brother Randy Rogers called back to say he'd just found it in his closet. He says he'd like to donate it to charity. "Or I may hold on to it until, God forbid, Kenny has to go and it's worth even more." Kenny Rogers could not be reached for comment. ITALYYou Wanna Piece of This? Culinary piracy of the pizza pie has cost Italians a lot of, uh, dough. Invented in Naples or Sicily (depending on whom you ask), pizza's an Italian invention, says Agriculture Minister Alfonso Scanio. To prove it, he's registering the cheesy treat as an "immaterial treasure" with UNESCO's World Heritage Commission. Scanio wants Italy to own the intellectual copyright, though he's not expecting royalties. Says a Conn. pizza purveyor: "Pizza's American. Italians don't have a clue." SPORTSWicked Game As if Britain didn't have enough to worry about: mad cows, foot-and-mouth disease--now suicidal cricketers? According to a new book by David Frith, pros in Britain have a suicide rate 70 percent higher than the average for British males. The picture is even worse elsewhere, like New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Why? Crowds are small, weather is bad, games can drag on for days--and tours can last for several months. "Cricket wraps itself around people," says Frith. "They vanish from ordinary lives for the whole of their careers." TREKLive Even Longer and Prosper Spock lives on, and not just by way of the original pointed-ear molds auctioned off last year. Before "Star Trek: Voyager" airs its final episode in May, a new series, as yet untitled, goes into production. With network negotiations still underway, Paramount would not confirm details, but a casting announcement obtained by NEWSWEEK reveals some clues about the new series, including that it will take place aboard the starship Enterprise. Last week the show was still scouting for the female lead, Sub-Commander T'Pau. (According to a source, the Vulcan is the only role yet to be filled in this incarnation of the irony-challenged phenomenon.) Fan site TrekToday.com says the series will take place "at a time when starship travel was a relatively new endeavor," suggesting the series will be a prequel to the original. As if it's possible to get any lower-tech than those Styrofoam rocks. SHOPPINGTouch Type Fewer people are reading Braille these days (thanks to books on tape and computers), but the raised text is popping on products worldwide--from Christopher Roule's jewelry in N.Y.C. to India, where Wendell Rodricks has a line of fashions for the seeing-impaired (beads give the garment's color, etc.). Even French beauty purveyor L'Occitane has Braille labels. Please touch!

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM Special First 100 Days Edition At the arbitrary milestone, Dubya is dong better than (most) expected -- except on the environment. But for CW aficionados, he's as much fun as a pile of sandbags.

                     C.W.
Bush         =       Bottom line: he'll do for now, but CW is
                     worried about his Taiwan/China strategery.

Kerrey       -       Belated admission he killed civilians in 'Nam
                     taints him. But intentionality still unproven.

Economy      +       GNP beats expectations thanks to
                     consumers. But the bear's still in the woods.

Drug war     -       Missionaries shot down, new czar against
                     treatment. Didn't these guys see "Traffic"?

Downey       -       Busted again. He's off "Ally McBeal."
                     Didn't that guy see "Traffic"?

Midwest      +       Plucky Davenporters fight back the Big
                     Muddy. Twins, Cubs in 1st place. Holy cow!