When Public Schools Aren't Color-Blind

Louisville's racial guidelines keep its schools from having too many or too few black students. Most parents like the policy. Will the Supreme Court strike it down?

Stephanie Brown admits that moving from a small Kentucky town into sprawling Louisville made her a "very paranoid" mother-- so much so that she won't let her kids play in the front yard unless she's with them. But she willingly puts Joe, 8, and Julianna, 6, on a bus every day for the 75-min. ride to a school in a rundown, mostly black neighborhood. The bus picks her kids up in their mostly white suburb at 7:30 a.m. and doesn't bring them back until 5 p.m. "It was a very hard thing to put my baby girl on a bus and let her go out into the world with people I don't know," says Brown, who is white.

Some 58,000 children crisscross Jefferson County on school buses in much the same manner, with 1 out of 7 of these kids traveling an hour or more each way. What's more, most of their parents--Brown included --are happy with the system. So much to-ing and fro-ing is a result of the school district's generally popular racial guidelines, which aim to keep the percentage of African Americans in any one school from falling below 15% or rising above 50%. The district as a whole is about one-third black.

Parents aren't simply bystanders in this numbers game. They can apply for the schools they want their child to attend--many have magnet programs that make it worth going that extra mile--and 92% of families wind up with their first or second choice. Even if some don't get what they ask for, race is never the sole factor in how assignments are made. "We look at choices first, we look at siblings, we look at capacity," says Pat Todd, the district's student-assignment director. "Race is way down the list."

The system, which has been in place for a decade, has made Jefferson County one of the most integrated school districts in the country. But if Crystal Meredith, a single mom who was told her son could not transfer to another elementary school because he is white, has her way, the whole thing will be dismantled. And plenty of critics agree that it should be. Meredith and others contend that the guidelines amount to an unconstitutional quota system. So Jefferson County finds itself in an ironic position. After years of court-ordered desegregation, the school district will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court next Monday, arguing that it should be allowed to use the same system voluntarily.

Jefferson County is one of two cases that will help the Supreme Court decide how--or if--race can be used to deploy kids across a school district. The court next week will also consider whether Seattle can continue to use a student's race as one of several tiebreakers when too many kids seek admission to the same high school. Taken together, these cases could represent, as Georgetown law professor James Forman puts it, "the last gasp of the integration movement."

The Jefferson County dispute has in some ways been brewing for more than a half century, ever since the Supreme Court in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed school segregation. The busing battles that followed this landmark ruling were the stuff of civil rights lore. But in 1991 the court ruled that school districts could abandon that unpopular strategy and return to neighborhood schooling, even if that meant some schools would resegregate. That's what happened in many districts, and the proportion of black students attending nonwhite-majority schools has increased over the past dozen years from 66% to 73%. In some parts of the country, Latino segregation is even higher, according to Harvard University's Civil Rights Project. Many school districts have given up trying to break up racial concentrations and instead are working to deal with the achievement gaps that accompany largely segregated schools-- a de facto return to the separate-but-equal idea that Brown v. Board of Ed. sought to abolish.

Jefferson County has worked hard to avoid this first by racially gerrymandering school- attendance zones in the 1980s and then by instituting its 15/50 "managed choice" program in the '90s. This system has maintained not only integrated schools but also community peace. Despite all the long bus trips--the average ride for Jefferson County students is about 45 min.--77% of Jefferson County parents agreed that guidelines should be used to ensure diversity, according to a survey conducted in 2000 by the University of Kentucky. The district also assiduously tracks the percentage of the county's school-age children who attend public school, and in recent years, when private schools were gaining students nationwide, Jefferson County's public schools were inching up in "market share," from 76% in 2001 to 80% last year.

To keep things moving in that direction, the school district emphasizes customer service. In many neighborhoods, the buses stop every fifth of a mile. "Legally, we only have to put a stop every two miles, but we wouldn't be very popular if we did," says Mike Mulheirn, who oversees the school district's transportation system. "The seats," he notes, "are well padded."

All of this is paying off where elected officials feel it most--at the ballot box. School-board members who are pro-guidelines keep getting re-elected. Two years ago, when Meredith's lawyer, Teddy Gordon, ran for the school board, promising a return to neighborhood schools, he came in--as guideline advocates like to point out-- dead last. "I don't care if my children go to school on the moon as long as they are getting a good education," says Ronald Thomas, who lives downtown and sends his three children to school on a half-hour bus ride via the Interstate.

But critics offer a lot of complaints about the system, not the least being that some just find it galling. Why should schools that are more black than white be inherently suspect, even if they don't reflect the racial breakdown of the district as a whole? "It doesn't make sense," local PTA-board member Dreema Jackson says of the guidelines. "It's O.K. for the minority to be between 15% and 50%, but if you flip those percentages, a school is no longer diverse?"

Worse, by stressing racial balancing, critics say, you take the focus off improving educational outcome. Thirty years of seating black students next to white ones has failed to close Jefferson County's achievement gap. Black high school students still trail their white counterparts by 25% in reading-proficiency tests and by 34% in math. The gap is closely linked to factors like parents' education level and income, which no amount of school balancing is likely to fix. "We have the most integrated school system in the country," says Carmen Weathers, a retired Jefferson County schoolteacher. "That sounds good on a business brochure, but it has nothing to do with education."

Weathers, who is black, favors a return to schools that are all or mostly black because he thinks the teachers would be more attuned to the particular needs and learning styles of some black students. But where are those teachers supposed to come from? Raoul Cunningham, who heads the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., points out that it is harder to recruit experienced teachers to work in largely minority schools. Critics "blame all the ills of the current system on desegregation," he says. "Desegregation did not cause the achievement gap."

One challenge facing the Jefferson County school district is to convince the Supreme Court that racial integration not only does no harm but offers concrete benefits that would be lost without the guidelines. To help make this case, 553 social scientists--including professors at Harvard, the University of Hawaii and myriad institutions in between--have submitted a friend- of-the-court brief detailing how racial integration in schools reduces prejudice and prepares students to enter a diverse workforce. More support will come from a study to be released this week showing that blacks and Latinos perform better academically in integrated schools. Based on an analysis of No Child Left Behind data conducted by Doug Harris, an assistant professor at Florida State University, the study reveals that test scores of minority students in high-minority schools fall about 4 percentile points a year behind those of minority students in lower-minority schools.

Meredith's lawsuit seeks an end to the guidelines (and $25,000 in damages for her son, who was eventually admitted to the school that originally rejected him and is now a fourth-grader there). While dozens of civic organizations, the Louisville Chamber of Commerce and five former Secretaries of Education have sided with the school district, the Bush Administration has taken up Meredith's cause. The Solicitor General submitted a brief arguing that schools should not be in the business of racial balancing and that even Brown v. Board Ed. declared that public schools should ultimately admit students "on a nonracial basis."

The district fears that if the guidelines are overturned, the schools will quickly return to sorting themselves by race. PTA-board member Mary Myers is so concerned that she is organizing a bus trip to Washington so Louisville parents can protest outside the Supreme Court next week. "What in the world are we trying to go backward for?" she asks. In a sign of what might be coming, a judge in 2000 forced Jefferson County to stop applying the district's guidelines at an inner-city magnet school because the career academy offers unique programs--like legal services and veterinary science--that students can't get anywhere else. Since then, Central High, a historically black school, has seen its white population shrink from 51% to 18%. And this shift could mark the beginning of a vicious cycle. "The greater the racial isolation," says district administrator Pat Todd, "the more difficult it is to recruit children of different races."

Whatever the merits of Meredith's case, even her supporters can admit she is hardly the ideal plaintiff. She didn't attempt to sign her son up for kindergarten until August, despite numerous radio and TV announcements and signs posted in day-care centers and Laundromats reminding parents to apply for their choice of school by March. By the time Meredith (who declined to be interviewed for this article) did apply, most of the seats had been allocated. Cheryl Wirth, a waitress at Waffle House whose son attends a magnet school, thinks this alone ought to be enough to dispose of the case. "It's like life," she says. "You gotta stay on top of things." Myers, like many mystified locals, can't believe the suit has even gone this far. "In the end, [Meredith's] son is where she wants him to be," she says. "Would you dismantle a whole system over that?"

With reporting by With reporting by Deirdre van Dyk / New York

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'Veil Wars' Reveal Europe's Intolerance

Politicians seeking to stop a small minority of Muslim women from wearing the veil in public are actually trying to send a harsh message to an embattled community.

Europe's traditions of secular tolerance appear to be haunted by the Islamic veil. Every week seems to bring new headlines announcing moves to crack down on the wearing of what critics appear to deem this most alienating symbol of Muslim faith, whether in French public schools, British government buildings or out in public in the Netherlands.

But is European tolerance more threatened by hijab head-scarf, or even the face-covering niqab — and the Islamic fundamentalism and subjugation of women critics ascribe to these symbols — or by the hypocrisy and low-grade xenophobia of those telling Muslim women that this attack on their religious practice is really for their own good? Beneath all the reminders of secularist tradition and progressive discourse cited in Europe's headscarf debate lies the mean, provincial "not in our country, you don't" attitude — even when many of the women at whom it's addressed to were born and raised in "our country". When all is said and done, the headscarf furor reflects a broader sentiment wafting across: it's fine to be Muslim, just don't remind us about it by the way you dress.

Following France's school laws and the calls by Britain's Prime Minister to refrain from wearing the niqab in public, the Dutch center-right government has pledged that if it is returned to power in Wednesday's election, it will pass a law prohibiting the wearing of niqab and full-body burqa in public. Holland's 1 million Muslims have lived under an air of suspicion from the wider society since the 2004 murder of controversial film-maker Theo van Gogh by a Islamist radical. That killing and the subsequent arrests of extremists plotting terror attacks have understandably raised Dutch concerns over violence committed in the name of Islam, but they don't justify the over-kill and subtle bigotry behind the promised ban. Opponents of the move note that only a few score women wear a burqa or niqab in the Netherlands, and that such high-profile measures directed at a statistically irrelevant minority are really a message to all Muslims to start acting more Dutch (whatever that means) and less Muslim.

The promised Dutch ban is only the most recent and bizarre in a spate of assaults by European democracies that appear to be targeting the veil as a proxy for what they see as a dangerous spread of Islamic culture in Western Europe. In Britain, former Foreign Minister Jack Straw last month groused that the niqab created unnecessary barriers between people, and prevented communication because meaningful exchange "requires that both sides see each other's face". Prime Minister Tony Blair later added that it created a divisive "mark of separation." Wearing the hijab in schools is against the law in certain German states, and similar bans are on the books in some parts of Belgium. France's 2003 legislation banning headscarves in public schools has been hailed by supporters as a success of secularity over furtive proselytizing by fundamentalists. But it has further strained relations between the wider society and the nation's estimated 6 million Muslims — the vast majority of whom are moderate or non-observant Muslims who nonetheless resent the heavy-handed treatment of the approximately 1,200 female students who previously wore a headscarf to class.

It is this fact, that both in France and much of the rest of Europe the veils in question are worn by such a small minority of Muslim women, that makes the crackdown seem downright obsessive. Supporters of such action counter that veils symbolize a subordination of women, and that they challenge or threaten more progressive Muslim women who decline the veil. Such arguments might sound convincing until one bothers listen to women wearing those same veils, and their earnest explanations that the coverings symbolize modesty, humility, devotion to their faith, and subservience to no one but their god. Unless all these women are self-denying liars manipulated by radical males, shouldn't their interpretation of headscarf symbolism be regarded as at least as legitimate as hijab and niqab opponents? The problem with symbols is they are exactly as potent or weak as the passion invested in them — and both sides of this debate see some powerful symbolism in headscarves.

French Islam expert Olivier Roy writes that since 9/11, Muslims find themselves, their actions, and their motives being interpreted, characterized, and frequently skewed from non-Muslim perspectives. He's got a great point. One shouldn't doubt the concern and good intentions of progressives and secularists calling for Muslim women to resist socio-cultural coercion and shed the hijab and niqab as an impediment to full integration into European society. Still, those same opponents of the veil shouldn't presume they can dismiss as misguided or deluded the conviction of women who say they wear hijab by choice, and who argue that the only coercion they feel is coming from opponents of these symbols of their faith.

How can any non-Muslim — or even male practitioner of Islam — claim to have a stake in this debate without having ever walked a mile in someone else's hijab? In a modern and open-minded world comfortable with self-indulgent fashion preferences, permanent "body art", or cosmetic surgery, isn't there something particularly inappropriate to heated public rowing over someone else's notion of modesty? Fundamentalism is deserving of criticism, we can all agree — but that should extend to the "progressive" fundamentalism driving the campaign against the veil, too.

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I Admit It: I Liked The Fountain

Richard Corliss risks expulsion from the movie critics' guild with this review of a woozy romantic epic.

Movies critics can't agree on much, but there's one assumption most of them hold deeply without ever discussing it. It's that a film that says life is crap is automatically deeper, better, richer, truer than one that says life can be beautiful.

That's a 180 from the prevailing notion in classic Hollywood, where optimism was the cardinal belief, at least on-screen. (It was in the front office that the knives came out.) Most movies, whatever their genre, were romances; they aimed for tears and ended with a kiss. But to serious critics then, and to the mass audience now, sentiment is suspect. Feeling is mushy, girly — for fools. To be soft-hearted is to be soft-headed. So critics will see a horror film with extreme violence, or (less frequently) an erotic film with extreme sex, and accept these as genre conventions, whether or not they're grossed out or aroused. But a movie that tries to make them feel is somehow pandering to their basest or noblest emotions and, as they see it, deserves a spanking from any smart reviewer. These days, nothing is as easy to deride as dead-serious romance.

Darren Aronofsky must have known the risk he was taking as he prepared the ambitious movie romance called The Fountain. His previous films, the no-budget Pi (1998) and the low-budget Requiem for a Dream (2000), both quirky art-house hits, had been on the somber side, to put it mildly. To put it accurately, they were visual monologues that took place inside the deranged minds of their protagonists — respectively, a math whiz obsessed by the number 216 and a heroin addict with a possessive (and understandably perplexed) mom. Instantly, anybody could see that Aronofsky was one of the few American filmmakers who saw the cinema past as a jumping-off point, not a toy store to plunder. His films were full of promise; and more, they delivered on their promises.

Aronofsky then went the route of so many phenoms: being courted and misused by the big studios. Having spent $60,000 to make Pi, and $4.5 million on Requiem, he suddenly had hundred of millions dangled in front of him to direct a Batman prequel, or an adaptation of Theodore Roszak's meta-cinematic novel Flicker. Projects collapsed; time marched on.

Throughout, Aronofsky pursued his own epic, The Fountain, about a man who will do anything to save his critically ailing wife. The film was to cost near $100 million and to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The original financiers dropped The Fountain when those two bowed out. (They later reunited to make Babel, in which they played virtually the same roles.) Aronofsky slimmed down the budget to $35 million, cast Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in the main roles, and made the damn movie. The whole trip, with all its frustrating detours, took six years. Then the Cannes Film Festival rejected The Fountain for its Competition selection. (You'd have to have seen the films the Festival chose to understand what an insult that was to Aronofsky.) The picture finally received its world premiere in September at the Venice Film Festival.

The history of movie romance is the story of beautiful people with terrible problems. That's The Fountain in a nutshell. Jackman is medical scientist Tom Creo, who's conducting experiments to "stop aging. Stop dying." He has been injecting Mayan medicine into the tumorous brain of a monkey named Donovan (a tribute to the 1953 surgical science-fiction movie Donovan's Brain) to find a cure for the cancer that threatens the life of his novelist wife Izzy, played by Weisz. That's one story. Another is the quest of a 16th-century conquistador, Tomas, to locate the Mayan Tree of Life for his Queen Isabella; this is also the plot of Izzy's latest novel. Finally, Tom is a space traveler in the 26th century, finding the Tree, and his destiny, in a giant translucent bubble.

At Venice, the bubble popped, and neither star could save The Fountain from a death sentence of boos at both the critics' and the public screenings. The film was dismissed as an expensive waste of time (although another high-IQ sci-fi epic shown at Venice, Alfonso Cuaron's dystopic City of Men, was reported to have cost between $80 million and $150 million). Weisz, who earlier this year received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Constant Gardener and became a mother, seemed equally maternal in defense of her new movie. "I think it's wonderful that this film is so different," she told the press. "I would love to work with Darren again." (She'd better say that. Weisz and Aronofsky live together, and he is the father of her child.) The film had an equally risible reaction at early screenings in the U.S. It opens in theaters today. Or as they used to say about movie bombs: it wasn't released — it escaped.

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How to tell an African from an African

It comes, as something of a surprise to many Africans to discover that all Africans look the same to non-Africans. How do you tell a Nigerian from a Kenyan? And I am not talking about passports or clothing. The easiest way, of course, is the name for example Ogunkoye can only be a Nigerian and Njoroge a Kenyan. And where do the Dunns come from? They are surely from Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Surely everybody knows that the loud and cocky ones are the West Africans; the brooding ones and sly ones are the North and South Africans; the East African always say yes even when they disagree violently. If you want to be more specific, the Cameroonians will borrow money to buy Champagne whilst the Ghanaians think they invented politics.
The Congolese think they have the best music and the best dancers. The Nigerians have a THING about clothes, and the Ethiopians think they have the most beautiful women on God's earth. Moroccans think they are French, and so do Burkinabes.

Algerians hate the French. Sierra Leonians smile profusely. Liberians can't get over America. All East and South African countries have the same national anthem, but the South Africans sing it the best. The South Africans have no hair; the Zambians and Kenyans have prominent foreheads. The West Africans have short memories and never learn from their mistakes; the concept of order and discipline must have been invented in East Africa; the words don't exist in West Africa, especially in Nigeria. When a cabinet
minister is caught in a corruption scandal, he commits suicide in Southern Africa, in West Africa he is promoted after the next coup d'etat.

In athletics, the divisions are easy: from 800m to the marathon the East Africans hold sway; the West Africans are only good at the sprints.
The South Africans can only sing. But when it comes to football the North and West Africans dominate the lesser skilled East and South Africans.

Please read this and forward to all Africans

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Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields
and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to
forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so
extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is
habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil
war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to
invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has
been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed
everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly
contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth
and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not
arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our
settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded
even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding
the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country,
rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect
continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor
hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most
High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered
mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and
gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I
do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who
are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last
Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father
who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the
ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with
humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender
care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable
civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of
the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be
consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States
to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one
thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

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George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

G. Washington (his actual signature)


Shortly after the Thanksgiving Proclamation was written, it was lost for 130 years. The original document was written in long hand by William Jackson, secretary to the President, and was then signed by George Washington. It was probably misplaced or mixed in with some private papers when the US capitol moved from New York to Washington, D.C. The original manuscript was not placed in the National Archives until 1921 when Dr. J. C. Fitzpatrick, assistant chief of the manuscripts division of the Library of Congress found the proclamation at an auction sale being held at an art gallery in New York. Dr Fitzpatrick purchased the document for $300.00 for the Library of Congress, in which it now resides. It was the first official presidential proclamation issued in the United States.

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1676 Thanksgiving Proclamation

"The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgements he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions: The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being persuaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."

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The Thanksgiving Story

The Pilgrims who sailed to this country aboard the Mayflower were originally members of the English Separatist Church (a Puritan sect). They had earlier fled their home in England and sailed to Holland (The Netherlands) to escape religious persecution. There, they enjoyed more religious tolerance, but they eventually became disenchanted with the Dutch way of life, thinking it ungodly. Seeking a better life, the Separatists negotiated with a London stock company to finance a pilgrimage to America. Most of those making the trip aboard the Mayflower were non-Separatists, but were hired to protect the company's interests. Only about one-third of the original colonists were Separatists.

The Pilgrims set ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was devastating. At the beginning of the following fall, they had lost 46 of the original 102 who sailed on the Mayflower. But the harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one. And the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast -- including 91 Indians who had helped the Pilgrims survive their first year. It is believed that the Pilgrims would not have made it through the year without the help of the natives. The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true "thanksgiving" observance. It lasted three days.

Governor William Bradford sent "four men fowling" after wild ducks and geese. It is not certain that wild turkey was part of their feast. However, it is certain that they had venison. The term "turkey" was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.

Another modern staple at almost every Thanksgiving table is pumpkin pie. But it is unlikely that the first feast included that treat. The supply of flour had been long diminished, so there was no bread or pastries of any kind. However, they did eat boiled pumpkin, and they produced a type of fried bread from their corn crop. There was also no milk, cider, potatoes, or butter. There was no domestic cattle for dairy products, and the newly-discovered potato was still considered by many Europeans to be poisonous. But the feast did include fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums.

This "thanksgiving" feast was not repeated the following year. But in 1623, during a severe drought, the pilgrims gathered in a prayer service, praying for rain. When a long, steady rain followed the very next day, Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving, again inviting their Indian friends. It wasn't until June of 1676 that another Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed.

On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unanimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving. It is notable that this thanksgiving celebration probably did not include the Indians, as the celebration was meant partly to be in recognition of the colonists' recent victory over the "heathen natives,".
October of 1777 marked the first time that all 13 colonies joined in a thanksgiving celebration. It also commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. But it was a one-time affair.

George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789, although some were opposed to it. There was discord among the colonies, many feeling the hardships of a few Pilgrims did not warrant a national holiday. And later, President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea of having a day of thanksgiving.

It was Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, whose efforts eventually led to what we recognize as Thanksgiving. Hale wrote many editorials championing her cause in her Boston Ladies' Magazine, and later, in Godey's Lady's Book. Finally, after a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents, Hale's obsession became a reality when, in 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was proclaimed by every president after Lincoln. The date was changed a couple of times, most recently by Franklin Roosevelt, who set it up one week to the next-to-last Thursday in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the president to move Thanksgiving back to its original date two years later. And in 1941, Thanksgiving was finally sanctioned by Congress as a legal holiday, as the fourth Thursday in November.

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What It Means to Go Hungry

A controversial new government report has excised the term "hunger" altogether in favor of more supposedly accurate measurements. But sometimes words have a power that statistics do not.

Since Thanksgiving is the day we count our blessings instead of our carbs, it is a ripe moment to talk about hunger.

Or perhaps, to talk about how we talk about hunger.

When the government released its annual survey on Household Food Security in the United States last week, as it has every year since 1995, there was for the first time a word missing — a very important word. The report stated that about 35 million Americans sometimes don't always know where their next meal will come from, and a third of those sometimes experience "very low food security." But as of this year, the word "hunger" no longer applies.

That curious change in language, which the Washington Post denounced as "linguistic airbrushing," inspired some poverty activists to charge officials with trying to cover up the problem. "We're very concerned about 'hunger' disappearing," said Ross Fraser of America's Second Harvest, the country's largest hunger-relief charity. "How do you talk about hunger if the government isn't providing you with data about hunger?"

It was easy to suspect a conspiracy, that someone in the government who didn't like the fact that every year for the last five the hunger statistics had gotten worse had pushed the USDA to dilute the bad news somehow. (Some Democrats suggested that the report was delayed until after the election; the department responded that the release schedule has always been a bit erratic and this year's was set months ago.) But behind the predictable fight was a practical challenge: How should we talk about hunger in America in a way that both accurately describes the problem and pushes people to solve it.

The dehydrated phrase "food insecurity," in fact, has been the accepted language of aid workers and the UN and government studies for years. Until now, Americans who had to scramble to put food on the table but somehow always managed, with the help maybe of a food bank or soup kitchen, were said to experience "food insecurity without hunger." There are12.6 million such households; about 4.4 million families actually had to reduce or skip meals altogether because they ran out of money to buy food. They used to be called "food insecure with hunger." Now they are described as experiencing "very low food security."

The shift in terminology, which inspired such a furor, came about as bureaucratic translations so often do: slowly, earnestly, and all but blindly when it came to the larger meaning. "It seems that 'hungry' means different things to different people," explains Mark Nord, one of the principal authors of the USDA report. Some anti-hunger activists said that any household that had to struggle to keep food on the table should be classified as hungry; others countered that this diminished the power of the term, and that it should refer only to the more severe cases. So about three years ago the Agriculture Department asked experts at the National Academies of Science to weigh in, and their committee agreed that "hunger" should be reserved for cases when persistent food insecurity results in "prolonged, involuntary lack of food," and the result is "discomfort, illness, weakness or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

But that pain was not what the USDA was measuring — researchers were not going out and interviewing poor or homeless people about how they felt when they'd gone for a day without eating. What they could quantify was exactly how often people said that "We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more," and how often they had cut the size of meals or skip them all together. As a result, we now get a study that paints an even more scientifically accurate portrait of an even more deeply divided country. The Dow is as plump as its ever been, and 4 million families skip meals because they sometimes have no choice.

So does the phrasing matter, or do the facts speak for themselves?

The problem is that by making the language more precise the message becomes less clear. It is true that another person's hunger is impossible to measure. But sometimes a word's power is independent of its precision. Talking about poor people's hunger binds us to them; we can at least sense their suffering because we have felt it ourselves, however briefly. Talking about their "very low food security" pushes them away at a safe clinical distance, all but pinning them on a spreadsheet. It may describe their predicament accurately, but it sterilizes it at the same time. That's why Orwell warned that "if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." "It's like the government announcing it would no longer talk about 'uninsured people', but 'people with reduced health care access,'" says Jim Weill, President of the Food Research and Action Center. "It's replacing a phrase which has emotional punch for people with one that's drained of any power."

Nord himself acknowledges the weight of the word. "Those who work closest with us and know firsthand what hunger is feel that this problem may be lost sight of if the USDA is not using this word to describe the condition," he says. And he pauses for a long time. "I wear a lot of hats," he says. Back when he worked outside of government, with the local homeless and in the local community caf�, he might have expressed a personal opinion. But now, "I'm a government number cruncher." And the best numbers he has are the ones that describe how poor people behave, not how they feel: how often a parent skips a meal so a child has enough to eat, how often they can't afford to eat a balanced meal, how many ate less, lost weight, went for a full day without eating sometimes.

But there's also a need for some consensus on what hunger is, what to call it, how to measure its severity and translate those findings into information which in turn can shape the policy to try to remedy the problem. All of that type of research, which the National Academies also endorsed, would have to be sanctioned by someone much higher up the food chain.

In the meantime, in churches and soup kitchens and community centers around the country, a great many people will spend at least part of Thanksgiving day, like every other day, feeding hungry people. Jesus didn't teach his followers to pray that God would "give us this day our daily food security." He did say "I was hungry, and you fed me." If the problem is that the current means of measurement don't capture the full experience of hunger in the United States in the 21st century, that argues for better measurements and better solutions-not weaker words.

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10 Questions for Emilio Estevez

He is best known for his parts in the Brat Pack movies The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire and, of course, Disney's Mighty Ducks kiddie trilogy. But now Emilio Estevez, 44, has taken on a weightier role as writer and director of the new film Bobby, about the day that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Estevez, a lifelong R.F.K. buff, talked with TIME's Julie Rawe about the pleasures of C-SPAN, the perils of focus groups and the downside to having a famous father.

You were 6 when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel. Do you remember hearing the news?

I remember running upstairs and waking both of my parents and telling them. The following year, when we relocated from New York to Los Angeles, the very first stop that we made was the Ambassador. I remember my father [Martin Sheen] walking us through the lobby and the ballroom and listening to him explain that this is where it happened, this is the place where the music died.

This is hardly a plot spoiler, but the movie ending is a real downer. What do you want viewers to come away with after seeing Bobby?

The death of Bobby Kennedy was the death of decency in America, the death of formality and manners, the death of dreams and of hope. Politicians no longer speak from the heart. They are focus-grouped and packaged in a way that I think the public can sniff out. The movie can serve as a reminder that there was a time when our leaders were trustworthy, when they weren't mouthpieces for special interests.

Do you think the world would be much different if R.F.K. had lived?

I do. We would have been out of Vietnam a lot sooner. There would've been a better chance for peace in the Middle East, since that was on his agenda, and I think we would be a more united nation than the divided nation we've become. I don't think he would have talked about red states or blue states.

Is it hard being an idealist in Hollywood?

Yes and no. I am optimistic, I am idealistic and I am earnest, and sometimes that flies in the face of the current resignation and cynical culture that we live in.

So how hard was it to get this movie made? Did you have to call in a lot of favors?

It wasn't necessarily favors because I never wanted to be that guy--the actor-writer-producer-director who always has his script in his car. And because I've never been that guy, I was able to call the agents and make the offers. And actors who normally say no to more money than the entire budget of this movie were saying yes to the spirit of Bobby Kennedy, and they were saying yes for free.

Bobby includes a chaotic scene during the California primary [Kennedy was shot that night at a victory party] in which voters are warned that a new type of ballot comes with the risk of snafus like hanging chads.

Right. This was the first time [punch-card] voting machines had been used in Los Angeles. [News footage showed] massive confusion, especially among the elderly, as to how to use this newfangled device. It was just so curious and sadly relevant.

What do you think of campaign coverage today?

Campaign advisers need to let the candidates be themselves. Had Al Gore been allowed to be Al Gore and not been focus-grouped to death, we might have been able to hear his message about the environment in 2000. On the other hand, it's difficult for candidates when the gaffe squad is out in full effect, waiting for candidates to slip up. Then they spend the next five days doing damage control, so the message is lost.

Do you watch The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert?

I'm a C-SPAN fan, actually.

No filtering, eh?

I love not having a filter, and I love watching the House of Commons. We could take a few lessons from the lively debate the fellas across the pond engage in. It's certainly more entertaining.

When you were trying to keep the Ambassador from being torn down so you could film the movie there, your dad was lobbying on behalf of the Kennedy family to hasten the demolition so a school could be built on that site. Maybe you two should chat from time to time, have lunch. [Laughs.]

We have open lines of communication. This is just one thing that slipped through the cracks.

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Tips For Driving In The Winter

Bob Bondurant

Despite record-breaking warm temperatures in much of the country the past week or so, winter is coming, accompanied by the usual arrival of onslaught of snow, ice and the hazardous roads such weather produces.

Many of us will be heading to the mountains to take advantage of winter sports, or visiting the resorts. While winter and the holiday season can be an enjoyable time of year, we must take special care of our vehicles and pay particular attention to our driving during these colder months.

One of the simplest tips to keep in mind is to make sure that the windows and mirrors are always clean. Good visibility is always important, but even more so during the winter months when road conditions can make driving extremely hazardous. Scraping a small patch to see through the windshield isn't good enough. Before you drive, remove ice and snow from all of your vehicle's windows and mirrors.

Be sure that your windshield wipers are in good condition and working properly. The summer has a tendency to dry-out wiper blades, making them brittle enough to crack and come apart. Now is the time to change your windshield wipers before you get caught in the rain or in a snowstorm.

Be sure to check the fluid levels, tires, hoses and belts at least once a month. The transition from summer to winter places a large strain on many parts of your vehicle. Be sure that the radiator is properly filled with an anti-freeze solution. If you are not certain of the level of antifreeze left from the previous winter, play it safe and have it changed.

Also be aware of the tire wear and amount of pressure that you maintain in your tires. If your tires are worn and low on tread, this is the time to replace them. If you are uncertain as to the condition of your tires, again play it safe, drive to your local tire center and have them examined by a professional.

Once you have readied your vehicle for winter, keep in mind a few basic driving tips to help keep your driving excursions safe. One of the most basic tips is to sit properly in the seat. Sit up straight with a nice bend in your arm, and hold the steering wheel at the three o'clock and nine o'clock hand positions. Sitting upright helps you to be more alert, and ready to respond to any type of driving situation.

Once you are behind the wheel, RELAX. You will have better control of your vehicle with smooth steering, gradual acceleration, and by squeezing gently on the brakes. Smooth application of the brakes is especially important while driving on slick surfaces. Be consistent with all the controls, the vehicle will tend to respond more predictably.

Although driving in the winter can sometimes be hazardous, it can be made safer if we follow these simple pointers. As a general rule of thumb, if something doesn't appear correct with your vehicle, have it checked out by a professional. Likewise with your driving -- if you're going to be rushed or in a hurry, you're better off not driving at all. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Debating the Desire for a Diamond

What does it say about you if you want one, or if you don't? Here are two points of view.

Why do women want a diamond in the first place?

Amidst the whole debate over the ethics of the global diamond trade that is explored in the new Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamond, this basic question often gets lost. How did they become the norm for the about-to-be-married couple? What is it about those particular gemstones, which are notoriously hard in structure and (perhaps) even harder on the wallet, that makes them so desirable in the first place? And what does it say about you if you really want one? Or really don't?

So, to address this question, Time.com's executive producer Cathy Sharick and I have agreed to a friendly E-mail debate. We come from opposite ends of the diamond engagement ring spectrum, and it won't take long to figure out which of us is on which side. By the way, neither Cathy nor I is married... yet.

I first had qualms about diamonds when I was about 10 or so. I remember holding my grandmother's hand and noticing that her wedding ring did not look like what I thought a ring should be. It was a large light blue stone. She couldn't even recall what kind and didn't seem to care. I asked her why she didn't have a diamond ring, and she replied that when she married my grandfather, people didn't give each other diamonds.

She was basically right. When she got married in the early 1940s, diamonds were for aristocrats and De Beers was only just beginning its marketing push for the middle class — one which still continues today. I'm paraphrasing, but the message is: if you really love her, you'll spend two months' salary on a ring; it's only true love if it's a diamond; like your love, a diamond is forever.

When I realized that the tradition of the diamond ring stemmed from a very deft advertising campaign, I grew suspicious of their place in our society and their hold over young couples in love. After all, we were taught as kids that we should not go out and buy a Big Mac every time we saw a McDonald's commercial. So how did adults gets so duped by the diamond industry's marketing that they thought they had to buy one or else their relationship wasn't worth it? To me, a diamond had become a giant gleaming commercialized cliche rather than a symbol of love. —Rebecca

When I was little, I remember holding my mom's hand and admiring her diamond engagement ring. I thought it was the prettiest stone I had ever seen and I really liked the way it sparkled in the sun. My mother loved it, and she often recounted how my father gave it to her. I guess he had bought into the marketing push because he had spent the two months salary on the Tiffany setting. It was hard on them financially at the time but my dad said when he got down on one knee and my mom lovingly said yes, he knew he had made the right decision.

Then one summer when I was about 8 my mom took off her engagement ring to wash some dishes. After the kitchen was cleaned up, we went out for a walk on the beach with her friend Brenda and her 6-year-old daughter, Sally. When we returned my mom realized that her ring was gone. It wasn't in the sink, or down the drainpipe which my dad tore apart, or behind the counter tops. It wasn't in her pocket, or in the bedrooms.

And it wasn't until hours later that we realized what happened to the ring. Sally had found it on the sink and had brought it to the beach with us during our walk. She confessed that she was wearing it with the stone turned down — sneaking peeks when no one was looking at the sparkle I liked so much. We did not notice. And we did not notice when she dropped the 1.5 carat diamond in the sand where it was never to be found again.

My parents were devastated and there was a lot of crying the weekend the ring went missing. But there was not one moment where I thought — wow, this really has taught me not to love engagement rings. Instead I think I knew I wanted one even more because it meant so much to my parents. The loss was something that brought them even closer, and that was nice.

What I did learn that weekend was that a kitchen without a dishwasher was a no-no. And that Sally was a real pain in the ass. —Cathy

Oh, poor little Sally!

You bring up an interesting point: that your parents shared in, fretted over, and eventually lamented the loss of something so valuable. I'm not against wedding or engagement rings in theory — they are a tradition that dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And although I'm not about to wrap a string of organic hemp around my finger and call it a ring, I do sometimes wonder if a couple about to be married could better spend that money elsewhere. Interestingly, as Tom Zoellner writes in his book on the diamond industry THe Heartless Stone, American men are expected to spend two months' salary, but for British men, it' s only one month. Japanese men have an even worse deal: they're expected to spend three month's of their hard-earned yen.

So, let me ask you: has the diamond engagement ring become so popular because it's a symbol of value? Does a man give it to a woman to show how much he's willing to spend on her, and that somehow is a demonstration of his love? What if, through some freakish market devaluation, diamonds suddenly cost a tenth of what they do now — and everyone wore huge rocks for all occasions... would you still want one? —Rebecca

My parents lamented the loss of the ring because it was a valuable symbol of their connection to one another. I am sure they were sad about the loss of the money, but (according to what they tell me at least) it was the ring itself they missed. And my mom was so sad about it that she chose not to replace it with another diamond. She wanted a ruby instead. But I think my dad regrets not replacing the diamond. He always says that the ruby does not say "my wife is married and off the market" the way a diamond would. If everyone was wearing diamond "engagement" rings, (not the right hand rings that are so popular these days — which by the way are only popular because of the huge marketing campaign behind them too) they would no longer symbolize a something special, and so no, I would not want one. But I would not want one because they were really cheap. I would not want one because they would not mean anything anymore. —Cathy

But if you wanted something that had a lot of meaning, shouldn't men have more room for creativity? What if your boyfriend gave you a sapphire ring because he said it made him think of your blue eyes? Or an emerald if you, say, loved forests and it reminded you of them? Wouldn't that be more unique — and more of a symbol of the relationship — rather than the same diamond that everyone gets? —Rebecca

Men do have room for creativity. Remember J-Lo's pink diamond from Ben Affleck? (Remember how that turned out?)

Seriously though, my boyfriend's brother just got his fiance a sapphire and I think that's fine. If I wanted an emerald, I'm sure that would be an option. For me, though, it needs to be something that says "I'm engaged." If the sapphire or the emerald covers it, well then ok. I just personally want a diamond because I like the way they look - and I don't think there's anything wrong with that as long as you get one from a supplier who is in compliance with the Kimberly Process What type of symbol are you thinking about wearing on your finger? A waxed walnut half? A split pea? —Cathy

Ha! Well, if there were a company that had a monopoly on split peas and used aggressive marketing tactics convincing men to give one to their fiancees or else the love wasn't real, maybe we'd all be wearing one.

I'm not even sure I want an engagement ring. I find the exchange of wedding rings a poignant ritual — because there's a sense of equality, or at least reciprocity (which is how I envision marriage). Since women don't usually make a similar extravagant purchase for their mates, I find diamond engagement rings so one-sided. They're like dowries for the modern man. The bigger the ring, the better off he is and the more he can provide for his wife-to-be. At least an old fashioned dowry given by the bride's family was generally discussed privately and the money and goods went towards the new matrimonial home. A diamond just sits ostentatiously on a woman's hand for all to see (that is, when it's not getting lost in the sand).

Plus, you can eat a pea. —Rebecca

I think you can have equality in your marriage and still wear nice jewelry. If it is a big concern, when your boyfriend gets down on one knee with a ring, hand him keys to a new car you've just bought for him. You could think of this as a dowry for the modern woman. —Cathy

I think I may do something more along the lines of what two friends of mine did. They gave each other engagement backpacks to use on their extended honeymoon. The backpacks were of some value (albeit not at a Harry Winston level, but also not something they would normally buy); but they were also unique gifts that reflected who they were and what they wanted to do together as husband and wife.

I'm not against diamonds per se, especially now that the industry is taking steps to clean up their practices. But I personally would prefer something less commonplace, more practical and definitely more personal. —Rebecca

That is really nice. A nice long trip is a probably the best present I could ever be given.

Just don't tell my boyfriend I said that. And definitely don't mention the car. —Cathy

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U.S. Muslims outraged after imams kicked off plane

Michael Conlon

Muslim leaders expressed outrage on Tuesday after six imams were removed from a commercial airline flight in Minnesota for what they said was nothing more than trying to say evening prayers.

"They were treated like terrorists ... humiliated," said Abu Hannoud, civil rights director for the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who said the men were taken off the US Airways flight in handcuffs.

He said the men were still trying to find a flight back to Phoenix where most are affiliated with a major mosque after the carrier refused them passage following the incident on Monday evening.

"We are concerned that crew members, passengers and security personnel may have succumbed to fear and prejudice based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam," added Nihad Awad, executive director of the council, in a statement from the group's Washington headquarters.

"We call on relevant authorities to investigate whether proper procedures were followed by security personnel and members of the US Airways flight crew," he said.

The group said the men told it they were accused of "suspicious activity," which they believed was only their attempt to pray.

Hannoud said in an interview that the men had been attending a three-day meeting of the North American Imams Federation in the Minneapolis area "discussing how to build bridges" between Muslims and American society, and that the FBI and local police had been informed in advance about the meeting.

"They were rewarded by being treated like terrorists," he said. "Their humiliation is really a humiliation for the entire Muslim community," he added, and further proof that Islam phobia is a growing problem in the United States.

Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission, said the airline asked airport police to remove the six men from the Minneapolis to Phoenix flight because their actions were "arousing some concerns" among both passengers and crew.

He said the men had been praying at the gate area but he did not know if they tried to pray once at their seats inside the plane.

He also said some witnesses reported the men were making anti-American statements involving the Iraq war, asked to change seats once inside the cabin, that one requested an extender to make his seat belt larger even though he did not appear to need it and that in general "there was some peculiar behavior."

US Airways issued a statement saying it was "diligently conducting our own investigation ... We are debriefing crew members and ground personnel as well as working with law enforcement."

The carrier said it is "always concerned when passengers are inconvenienced and especially concerned when a situation occurs that causes customers to feel their dignity was compromised. We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and will continue to exhaust our internal investigation until we know the facts of this case."

Hogan said the men were questioned by local police, the FBI and federal security officials and released. Under normal procedures, he said, people taken off a flight under those circumstances would have been handcuffed, though he did not know if they were in this case.

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Pope-commissioned condom study passes first hurdle

Philip Pullella

A study commissioned by Pope Benedict on the use of condoms to fight AIDS has passed its first hurdle and is now being reviewed by top theologians for possible use in a Papal document, a cardinal said on Tuesday.

"This is something that worries the Pope a lot," said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.

The Catholic Church opposes the use of condoms and teaches that fidelity within heterosexual marriage, chastity and abstinence are the best ways to stop the spread of AIDS.

It says promoting condoms fosters immoral and hedonistic lifestyles and behavior that will only contribute to its spread. It teaches that homosexual acts are sinful in the first place.

"Following the wishes of Benedict, we carried out a careful study on condoms, both from a scientific and moral point of view," Barragan told a news conference.

Barragan spoke on the day a United Nations report said HIV infections were on the rise in all regions and that nearly 40 million adults and children are infected worldwide.

His department had completed a 200-page study on condoms and passed it on to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which would add its own theological and doctrinal opinions.

The study, which would not be made public, would then be passed on to the Pope, who may use it for his own pronouncement.

"First, we must consider if there is a need for an answer (on the use of condoms) at the supreme level," he said.

He said his department's study was based on scientific data and "took all points of view" into consideration.

"We hope the theologians and the Holy Father will say what is best regarding this subject ... but no response from the Church can be one that encourages a libertine sexual attitude," he said.

Barragan, who spoke at the presentation of a Vatican conference on the pastoral aspects on the treatment of infectious diseases, declined to give any details on the study.

In recent years, several top Church officials have called for a change in Vatican policy on condoms to allow their use by married couples where one partner is affected by HIV or AIDS.

But the Vatican has been loath to issue any document that could be interpreted as a green light for the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS, fearing it would endorse promiscuity.

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Japan's oldest profession sees slide in work ethic

Ryann Connell

Changes to the law regarding adult entertainment earlier this year were supposed to be a boon for Japan's burgeoning call girl industry, but they've been a flop, according to Weekly Playboy.

With the tightened law cracking down on sex services that have storefronts, hoteheru, the business where women visit customers waiting in places like love hotels was supposed to skyrocket, but the poor quality of worker is having an adverse affect, the weekly says.

"I use a lot of other rivals' services, just to check out their performance, y'know. And what really stands out is that the quality of girl working for them is disgraceful. They show no inclination to open up to you, don't even try and have a conversation and seem to just want to get it over and done with," an ejaculation industry insider tells Weekly Playboy. "It's become the norm for girls to complain of having sore throats and refusing to perform fellatio. Others have absolutely no qualms about telling paying customers they won't do it at all. You can't possibly ask them for sumata (a technique where a woman uses her thighs to masturbate a man). Even if you show them how to do things, they just say it's a bother learning them and offer me (illegal) intercourse."

A reporter with 12 years experience using Japan's adult services elaborates on the recent trends that have been affecting the sex industry here.

"There are many girls who go all the way, who'll go on dates with customers and do other good stuff, so there are plenty out there who enjoy what they have to offer. The problem is the attitude in which service is performed. It's at the worst level ever," the reporter says. "They're supposed to be professionals, but they're puerile. If the cops don't start cracking down on hoteheru, they'll be dominating the sex business by 2007."

As hoteheru have become the main form of servicing customers, the number of workers who don't provide the services the industry was once famous for is increasing.

"Storefront sex services had shifts with the popular women getting the most lucrative work times, which meant if customers didn't like you, there was no chance of getting put on a roster for weekend work (where the best money can be made). All the women had to compete to make money," the hack continues. "But with hoteheru, the women only have to sit around for a while and wait for the customer to call. It's become totally normal for girls to turn up for work hours later than they were supposed to. They walk all over the weaker operators who tell them they aren't allowed to have dyed hair or tattoos."

A 19-year-old girl working in Tokyo's Shibuya district as a hoteheru is dismissive of the claims."Hey, I'm working in the sex business and still only giving (her pimp) 5,000 yen a pop," she tells Weekly Playboy. "I hate fellatio and sumata. Rather than do them, I'd rather go all the way and get paid a bit more on the sly."

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The sexual concerns of Korean men

Korean men are not very considerate of their sexual partners, but they are more interested in sex. They are also more willing than their counterparts elsewhere to treat sex problems like impotence, though it seems they do not back up their words with action by seeing a doctor for accurate diagnosis of their condition and taking the right medication. Those are the findings of a Bayer HealthCare team in charge of the erectile dysfunction treatment Levitra, who conducted a two-year extensive survey of 1,000 men in Korea between 2004 and 2005.

Are Koreans "vitalsexual"?

The term "vitalsexual" was coined to refer to men over 40 who put high priority on their healthy sex life. Vitalsexual men emphasize the satisfaction of their sex partners and a romantic and natural sexual relationship and are also willing to treat erectile dysfunction. This is the ideal role model for most middle-aged customers of the pharma giant. The concept was first introduced in Europe in a report titled "Sex and the Modern Man" in 2005 and came from a survey of a total of 8,500 men in Europe and South America.

Some 50 percent of men over 40 in Australia and 63 percent of men over 40 in Taiwan were classified as vitalsexual in a survey of Asian nations, but only 26 percent of men over 40 in Korea were vitalsexual. The figure is just half the Asian or Western average and shows Korean men as relatively passive and inhibited in thinking about sex. But when it comes to their sex life, which most vitalsexual men consider high on their priority, 89 percent of Korean men answered they believed it was very important, the same percentage as among Western men, and more than the Asian average of 85 percent.

Korean men are inconsiderate

Most men both in Western and Asian nations consider the satisfaction of their partners an important factor in their sex life. The figure was slightly lower for Asian men with 91 percent than Western men with 96 percent. But in Korea the figure was 87 percent, the lowest among surveyed nations. And while 60 percent of men in Germany answered that the satisfaction of their sex partners is a crucial thing to consider, only 30 percent of men in Korea agreed.

Asian men are more willing to treat impotence than their counterparts in the West. When asked whether they would actively consider taking medication for impotence, 75 percent of vitalsexual men in the West answered yes, but the figure was 100 percent in Korea and Asia.

Stress-related sexual problems

Stress turned out to be the greatest factor affecting the sex life of vitalsexual Koreans. Some 63 percent of Western men cited stress as the greatest factor in their sex life, as did 66 percent of Asian men. But among Koreans it was 70 percent. Other factors suppressing men's sexual desire included relationship problems, health problems and concerns over the dissatisfaction their sexual partners may feel. While a far higher number of Korean men chose stress as a cause for waning sexual desire, a relatively low 31 percent said relationship problems with their spouse affect their sexual desire. Concerns over their sexual partners' dissatisfaction was the second biggest reason after stress with 52 percent, more than twice higher than for Western men. That shows a clear contradiction in Korean men's attitude toward sex: They are less considerate of their sex partners but then worry more about any resulting dissatisfaction.

Another noticeable thing is that Western men expect more effective communication with their wives, a more romantic and natural sex life and more frequent sex after their sex problems are resolved, in that order. But for Korean men, better ability to satisfy their sex partners came first, followed by better communication with their partners and longer and more frequent sex.

"The survey shows that Korean men are more self-centered in many areas in their sex life than their western counterparts," says Kang Han-goo of Bayer HealthCare. "Sex issues concern not only men but both men and women as a couple, and Korean men need to care more about their sex partners." An official with the Levitra brand says, "Korean men are more willing to treat impotence, but they rarely try to see a doctor and consult them about their condition to treat it." He also warned of under-the-counter treatments, or inappropriate self-administered treatment.

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Deadly 'iku iku byo' reaches a climax in Japan

Ryann Connell

Growing numbers of Japanese women are afflicted with an illness that gives them orgasms virtually 24 hours a day. And with suggestions that it could be deadly, the women hardly know whether they're coming or going, according to Shukan Post.

"If a guy simply taps me on the shoulder, I just swoon. Even when I go to the toilet, my body reacts. I'm a little bit scared of myself," one woman sufferer tells Shukan Post.

Another adds: "When I got on the train one day, I could feel blood gushing toward a certain part of my body and it felt so good I almost let out a moan. It was sheer murder when everybody got pushed into the carriage."

Yet another woman has her say.

"Even the vibration of my mobile phone is enough to set me off," she says. "My friend said there's something called Iku Iku byo (Cum Cum Disease). I guess I've got that."

What may be afflicting these women, the best-selling weekly says, is an ailment called persistent sexual arousal syndrome (PSAS).

PSAS has been described as an affliction that brings about orgasm through the slightest of jolts regardless of whether they're aroused, or even thinking about sex. What's more, orgasms experienced by PSAS sufferers are not just momentary phenomena, instead affecting women over anywhere from a few days to a week, with one reported case seeing 300 orgasms in a single day.

Awareness in Japan of PSAS -- which was first documented by Dr. Sandra Leiblum in the United States five years ago -- is growing, especially in the blogsphere, where it is being called Iku Iku byo.

Hideo Yamanaka, a doctor at the Toranomon Hibiya Clinic in Tokyo says the disease can be debilitating.

"For women to orgasm, they need to have some sort of sexual stimulation. There are nerves around the female genitals which react to sexual stimulation. The body gradually builds up to a crescendo, that ascends to a climax," the doctor tells Shukan Post. "However, with this disease, women are mysteriously reaching climax without any external sexual stimulation at all. One possible cause that I can think of is an irregularity in the sensory nerves."

PSAS discover Leiblum says that the disease has a tendency to strike post-menopausal women in their 40s and 50s or those who've undergone hormonal treatment. But she adds that there have also been cases reported among women in their 30s, stressing that too little is known about the syndrome to pinpoint anything and adds that the nature of the ailment means that many sufferers may be too ashamed to report it.

PSAS numbers in the U.S. are high enough for support groups to have popped up, suggesting it won't be too long before Japan sees the same.

"Awareness levels are still too low," Jeannie Allen, the head of PSAS Support, tells Shukan Post. "I think there's a strong possibility that there are Japanese patients."

Manga artist Akira Narita, who says he has slept with over 1,000 different women, says he has come across some he believes may have had PSAS.

"There must have been about 15 who came without me doing a thing. We'd only need to stare in each other's eyes and they'd start wiggling about, gripping tightly onto whatever was around them and their bodies would start to shake. There were others who'd orgasm repeatedly just because I'd stroked their hands," the self-professed sexpert says. "I'd always thought of these women as types who got off in their minds, but I think perhaps they may have had PSAS."

PSAS is not sex addiction and, considering the constant orgasms can be draining, can often be a painful and demeaning experience. Many sufferers are driven to the verge of suicide, prompting medical experts to recommend anybody who suspects they have the ailment to seek a doctor's advice immediately.

"Anybody who has the slightest suspicion," physician Yamanaka tells Shukan Post, "should get to a gynecologist or neurologist straight away."

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Desperate for a date, Singapore courts matchmakers

Singapore is playing matchmaker again. Desperate to boost its fertility rate, the government of the city-state says it will fund new services and activities that encourage dating.

The government said on Friday it will pay up to 80 percent of costs up to S$50,000 (USD$32,090) for approved projects that "provide gender-balanced social interaction opportunities to singles".

Interested parties can apply at www.mcys.gov.sg.

Singapore is on a drive to get its hard-working citizens to mix and mingle more often, introducing campaigns such as "Romancing Singapore" and offering financial incentives to encourage bigger families.

The island-state ranked 40th out of 41 countries in a survey on how frequently people have sex, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey published last December.

With just 4.4 million people, Singapore cannot afford to see its population shrink as that could affect its labour market and talent pool.

Its fertility rate, defined as the average number of babies born to women during their reproductive years, hit a low of 1.24 last year, below the 2.1 needed to sustain the population.

The fertility rate was as high as 6.0 in the late 1950s.

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The Pope Lays Down the Law on Celibacy

A shortage of priests has some calling for a loosening of the traditional restrictions, but Benedict makes clear it won't happen on his watch.

Pope Benedict XVI believes Catholicism is growing sick in its historic birthplace of Western Europe, where a shortage of priests is both a symptom and an aggravating condition. But the 79-year-old pope made clear Thursday that he does not think opening up the Church to a married priesthood is the cure. After a roundtable with top Roman Curia cardinals to discuss the case of renegade Zambian archbishop Emanuel Milingo, who was excommunicated in September for having ordained four married men, the Vatican publicly reaffirmed "the value of the choice of priestly celibacy."

In normal circumstances, Milingo's taste for the spotlight might cause the Vatican to simply ignore him. But the fact that the Pope called the meeting in the first place is telling. The question of specific dispensations and the broader question of celibacy is not a matter of fixed church doctrine, but has long been a tradition in the Latin church, while Eastern rite churches allow married men to become priests. Church insiders say that a small core of progressive Cardinals have been trying to open up discussion of the rules going well back into John Paul's papacy. Some observers even speak of the risk of a new schism with Milingo's departure, though he is largely considered an unpredictable and isolated figure who's lost much of his original following.

His becoming a de facto public spokesman for those opposing the Church's centuries-old tradition of priestly celibacy, however, may have offered Benedict a unique opportunity to clearly state his position on this hot-button request early in his papacy, as John Paul II did in his second year in office. Vatican sources note that there are several prominent Cardinals who want to at least fine tune the policy on celibacy. "I don't think the Pope cares about Milingo," says one senior Vatican official. "But he wants to give the Cardinals a chance to have their say. It's better to respond head-on."

The plot of the African Archbishop's soap opera, which could be dubbed "As Milingo turns," has been twisting for years. Attentive viewers may remember that Milingo, who'd built a loyal international following for his passionate sermons and purported faith-healing prowess, shocked the Catholic Church in 2001 by suddenly marrying a South Korean woman in Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Milingo later patched things up with the Vatican, which simply never recognized his marriage to his handpicked bride, who held a weeks-long sit-in protest in St. Peter's Square, demanding her husband back. Milingo later published a book in which he repented his marital vows, and was eventually placed in a backwater Italian diocese where Church officials could keep an eye on him. But two months ago, Milingo, 76, burst back on the scene, ordaining four married American men as bishops in defiance of the Vatican. He was automatically excommunicated. He says he doesn't recognize the excommunication, and has organized a convention for more than 1,000 married priests — and their wives — in New York for December 8-10.

That show of support, however, isn't likely to sway the Vatican's thinking. Regardless of the shortage of future ranks for the priesthood, most Cardinals do not see allowing married men into the priesthood as the solution. "The value of the choice of priestly celibacy, according Catholic tradition, has been reaffirmed, and the need for solid human and Christian training, for seminarians as well as already ordained priests, has been reiterated," the Vatican said in its statement released Thursday afternoon, which did not mention Milingo. The note also cited discussion in the meeting of the requests of dispensation from the obligation of celibacy by those who leave the priesthood, as well as the rare readmission to their ministries for formerly married priests whose wives may have died and "who now meet the conditions required by the church," the statement said.

The debate is unlikely to take on much steam under the current reign, though supporters of loosening the celibacy vows say that Benedict officially addressing the issue helps keep it alive for the future. One Vatican source told TIME that a surprising sign of support for the progressives on this issue may be coming from one of Benedict's most loyal deputies and a noted traditionalist, Vienna's Cardinal Cristoph Schonborn. Austria, coincidentally or not, is one of the countries most sorely in need of priests. So while the latest Milingo chapter may be over, there may be more plot twists to come.

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