среда, 4 июня 2008 г.

The top stories

1 Oxford university is planning to raise Pounds 1.25billion from donations to compete with the US Ivy League. The university has already raised Pounds 5.75 million of its ambitious fundraising target.

2 The NHS spent hundreds of millions of pounds to avoid a surplus before the start of the financial year. Hospitals were pressed into a spending spree to hide a Pounds 1 billion surplus.

3 Schools could be judged on how many pupils they send to university. The National Council for Educational Excellence will hear the proposals on using university entry data to rank schools next month.

4 Social workers are putting children at risk, according to Ofsted. It said a backlog of work had left children vulnerable in family breakdown cases.

5 The Government is preparing to publish death rates of patients undergoing major surgery in England. The information will be published on the NHS Choices website this summer.

6 Prisons have released 26,347 inmates up to 18 days early in the first ten months of a scheme to ease overcrowding in jails, against an official estimate of 25,500, government figures show.

7 The cost of mental healthcare is set to rise sharply, according to a report from the King's Fund. The cost of services provided through the NHS and social services is expected to rise from Pounds 22.5billion in 2006 to Pounds 47.48billion in 2026, mainly because of a projected rise in dementia cases.

8 Every school has at least one bad teacher, according to Jim Knight, the Schools Minister. The Government is trying to remove more underperforming teachers.

9 Parents are turning to relatives to look after children even though there has been an increase of half a million nursery places. Cost and availability were the main barriers to accessing nursery places, despite Gordon Brown's pledge of affordable childcare for all.

10 Independent schools have criticised the Government over its new national curriculum for under-fives. The Independent Schools Coalition claims that the new curriculum will deny parents the freedom to choose how they educate their children.

11 The Home Office announced an advertising campaign using shocking images as part of its move against the carrying of knives. London's own campaign has also stepped up a gear. More than 4,000 people were stopped and searched in the capital within a two-week period, in a Pounds 1m operation.

12 Plans to publish detailed maps of reported crime in London have been delayed, because of doubts over their legality. The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, wants to highlight problem areas and make commanders publicly accountable but the maps may breach data protection laws.

13 Britain is poised to sign a treaty outlawing the use and stockpiling of cluster bombs. Millions of pounds will have to be spent on destroying the existing stock, senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office sources said.

14 The Government has compiled a package of concessions over its proposed change to rules on the detention of terrorism suspects. The Prime Minister hopes to avoid a Commons defeat on a proposal to detain suspects without charge for up to 42 days.

15 The number of operations cancelled by the NHS at the last minute has increased in the past year, figures from the Department of Health show. In the three months to the end of March there were 16,800 cancellations, compared with 14,600 in the same period of last year.

Finally, a hopeful story emerges out of Afghanistan

In every niche of Afghanistan, there are horror stories.

Even in relatively tranquil regions, such as this one in the north, occasional flashes of violence - unspeakably ruthless, without any semblance of tactical purpose - remind that the insurgency remains vigorous and scattered, probing far beyond its throbbing core in the southern provinces.

A top Taliban commander was arrested by Afghan National Police here last month, a rare triumph for that benighted organization. But in the previous month, a teacher who had just finished condemning suicide bombings as un-Islamic, speaking at a public gathering, was ambushed and killed on his way home. Shortly afterwards, unknown gunmen attacked an open-air school for 700 students, setting tents alight and slicing off the ears of a watchman.

Of course, in Kunduz brutality is no stranger, although the bad memories have been diminishing.

This is where the repressive and loathed and foreign Taliban movement died, at least in northern Afghanistan, in a plateau town surrounded by plump brown hills pocketed with craters.

In late 2001, the last of the Taliban fighting forces was besieged in Kunduz by National Alliance troops. A ceasefire was negotiated and thousands were taken captive, sent mostly to prisons run by the notorious Uzbek warlord, Gen. Rashid Dostum. Hundreds died of suffocation while being transported in sealed freight containers.

Many more, mainly non-Afghan Taliban - from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Chechnya - were incarcerated in a Dostum prison in Shibarghan, two provinces distant. When they rose up against their guards, the U.S. launched an air strike that killed at least 300, some dying with their hands still tied behind their backs. It was a singularly damning event for the coalition campaign, sickening to the world.

But there's little sympathy for those victims here, even among the minority population of ethnic Pashtuns.

"They were murderers and they occupied us, just as the Soviets did before them," says Abdul Zaman, a Tajik, chopping off a lamb's head and securing the carcass to a hook in his meat stall. "Why should we pity them? They had no pity for us. Their ways were not our ways."

Kunduz city has bounced back as a farming and marketing hub, bright and lively with high-stepping horses - the area is famous for its quality of horse breeding - bedecked in jangles and scarlet pompons. Unemployment is distressingly high, however, with young men sitting idly outside the job centre.

It was here that the Germans opened NATO's first Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2004. UNICEF and the World Health Organization have offices in town and non-governmental agencies operate a myriad of services. Last week, a three-day workshop was held on "Human Rights and Support of Disabled Persons." There's a legal aid office, too.

The Star, unable to find a habitable guest house, threw itself on the mercy of UNICEF and was kindly provided with the entire fourth floor staff dorm of their building.

Downstairs, Dr. Abdul Nazar Ahmadi is proud to talk about the success of one particular project - polio eradication.

It was actually the mujahideen, back in the late 1980s, who first began advocating and enabling polio vaccination for children in the regions they held. In 1988, there were 350,000 documented cases of polio in Afghanistan; by 2006, under programs established by the central government through the auspices of the UN and the WHO, that number had been slashed to 1,956.

But Afghanistan remains one of four countries where crippling polio is still endemic. There was a huge outbreak in 1997 and again in 2006. Six cases have been found so far this year, though none in the north, where eradication has been declared complete.

"For every single case, that means up to a thousand have been exposed to the virus and have it in their system," says Ahmadi, who is in charge of the regional polio office. "It's like the iceberg phenomenon. We only see the tip of it."

Of the six cases this year, two are in Helmand, the rest in Herat, Kandahar and Farah.

"With the security situation in the south, accessibility for vaccination is very difficult," says Ahmadi.

"We need to vaccinate them at least three times over three years to completely control the disease. But in some conflict areas, the Taliban have shot at our volunteers or they have intimidated tribal elders so we can't go into villages."

A Taliban spokesperson has denied this, insisting volunteers have been guaranteed secure access to immunize children. They lie.

What is it? An emergency room emerges

Patients in beds in the hallways. Five patients a day who walk in and wait so long they walk out before being seen. Privacy at a premium. Storage space a luxury.

That's how it is today, but things are about to change.

MultiCare Health System and the emergency departments at Tacoma General Hospital and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital will soon enter the 21st century.

"It's physically impossible to see any more patients," says Audrey VanVeen, MultiCare's clinical project manager.

"We can't fit any more staff," says Sara Long, vice president of philanthropy at MultiCare.

"We're in a very old, small department that we outgrew more than 10 years ago," says Bob Stoecker, medical director of the Tacoma General emergency department and a director with Tacoma Emergency Care Physicians, which contracts to staff the department.

You may have seen the construction site along Martin Luther King Jr. Way at the site of the former First United Methodist Church. The church has been torn down, and the congregation has moved to a new location, while contractors have dug a hole to accommodate the hospital addition.

And from that hole they removed 83,000 cubic yards -- or approximately 3,320 dump-truck loads -- of soil.

From that hole will rise a new building four stories tall, with oncology treatment facilities on the top and bottom and a new emergency department, including an express care facility, in the middle.

--The emergency departments of Tacoma General and Mary Bridge will occupy the second floor with 41 "universal" examination rooms that allow simple and advanced care.

--The express care center will contain 32 examination rooms -- 17 for the treatment of adults, seven for pediatric patients and two for triage. Six observation rooms will allow for extended monitoring of patients. And where a current examination room at Mary Bridge offers 64 square feet, each new room will offer 175 square feet. All examination rooms will be private, so no longer will a patient be heard through a curtain describing his or her ailments and medical history.

--A second-floor trauma suite will contain six large rooms and 11 patient beds.

--The new department will have 88 percent more beds than the facility it replaces. The project will also nearly double the space available for patients awaiting treatment and for families who accompany patients to the emergency department.

--Space for ambulances will double, and valet parking will be available for drive-up patients.

--Both the express and critical care units will feature "continuous negative air flow" to segregate any airborne infectious agents or toxins.

--Overall, both departments will comprise more than five times the space currently available -- expanding from 13,000 to 73,500 square feet.

--A new ecumenical chapel on the third floor will offer space for small services, worship or simple meditation. All faiths will be welcome.

MultiCare has begun a fundraising campaign to secure $25 million of the total $72 million cost of the project. The balance will be financed through cash reserves, operational income and debt.

"At the end of the day, we're a nonprofit," says Long. "There are three sources of funding for any health care organization -- money we earn, money we can borrow and philanthropy. If you look around the country and find the highest performing institutions, they will be nonprofits, and they will be highly supported by philanthropy. You'll never be able to earn enough or borrow enough to be able to reinvest in the technology and services that we all want."

The $25 million campaign has already raised $16.3 million, primarily from local foundations and what Long calls the "MultiCare family" of employees and physicians.

The facility will be ready for patients in March 2010 -- but its design has already had an impact.

Stoecker said Monday that his group recently hired five physicians who will work in the new emergency department.

They were impressed, he says, with what's about to happen.

Chick lit author gives girls good read

Meg Cabot does chick lit, and she does it well.

She's had steady success with dozens of fun, sassy titles for women, including the Heather Wells mysteries and the recent "Queen of Babble" series.

Her charming book for young adults, "The Princess Diaries," spawned sequels and spinoffs in the double digits, including two Hollywood movies.

And it seems like every few months, she's produces another title for teen girls. A recent example is "Airhead." Its grabby premise: A down-to-earth New York City girl suffers an accident and wakes up in a model's body.

With "Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day," Cabot targets third-and fourth-grade girls for the first time, and she hits the mark.

Allie Finkle is edgy and interesting enough to engage bright, savvy 8- and 9-year-olds. But at heart, the story is wholesome and family-oriented.

The great cover is the first sign that this book will win over kids and parents.

Allie is represented by a photo. She's adorable, full of attitude and with cowgirl boots and beaded belt, she's clearly got style. But she's not dressed like a 25-year-old.

Even cooler, the cover folds out into a poster, with variations on Allie's outfit and some of her "rules."

Inside, each chapter starts off with a rule foreshadowing the contents. Some are goofy, some serious. Rule No. 1 will draw readers right in: "Don't stick a spatula down your best friend's throat."

Bad choice, but readers will empathize. The friend could be a spoiled brat.

Things get even rougher when Allie's parents announce the family is going to move. They've found a big old house in town.

It's one of those decisions that seems so right from a parental point of view. A glorious old Victorian to restore. More room for Allie and her two little brothers. A school within walking distance. It's only a half-hour away. Allie can see old friends.

The move seems all wrong to Allie. She'll trade pink carpet in her room for a house that looks haunted. She's leaving her modern suburban school for a rundown school in town. Plus, she'll be a new kid in fourth grade, a scary prospect in itself. But one teacher seems wonderful and the other, deadly dull. There's no telling which class she'll land in.

Cabot does a terrific job weaving many layers into Allie's story. She has friend troubles at home, so a fresh start has advantages, especially when she discovers a spunky girl lives next door to the new house. But the unknown is terrifying.

A funny, harrowing side plot deals with Allie's passion for animals. She rescues a turtle from a Chinese restaurant and a prize show cat that a classmate has shut in a suitcase, earning her both admiration and a heap of trouble.

Characters, both adults and kids, are multidimensional. Discerning youngsters will see that Allie's mom and dad aren't the bad guys. And readers will be as delighted as Allie when her parents unveil the pretty bedroom they've created for her in the new house.

Adults sometimes cast a rosy glow around childhood. For each of us who wishes we were 9 again when life was easy, there's a 9-year-old who knows it's not.

Polk students blaze trail in mariachi band

Eight middle-schoolers are setting a new tone for the Polk County School District.

Students at McLaughlin Middle School and Fine Arts Academy this year joined the first mariachi band class offered in the county -- and possibly the state.

Although school-based mariachi programs have exploded nationwide, they remain uncommon in Florida.

The Polk seventh-and eighth-graders practice the Mexican folk music during their elective class three times a week. They sing and play the violins, acoustic guitar, trumpet and Mexican vihuela [a five-string guitar].

"They're not just songs to enjoy; they're stories," trumpet player Jacob Keiling, 14, said. "They tell something about the [culture]."

School officials launched the mariachi program to reach out to the growing Hispanic population in the area, said Madalyn Walton, McLaughlin's fine arts coordinator.

"We felt this would be another way to have a buy-in with the parents," she said. "As they come see their children perform, you see them get more involved" in the school.

More than 150 of the academy's roughly 800 students are Hispanic, according to school officials.

Mack Ruiz, a violinist with Orlando's Mariachi Cobre, said programs are popular in areas with high Mexican concentrations, including Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The McLaughlin program is the first he has heard of in Florida.

Ruiz, who serves on the National Council for Mariachi Educators, said, "Polk County is one of the first to catch on."

Ruiz's mariachi group, which has performed at Epcot for about 26 years, helped the school build a curriculum.

Erik Castillo, 14, who plays the acoustic guitar, said the band brought him closer to his parents and grandparents, who are originally from the Mexican state of Veracruz. The eighth-grader said they share stories about the country's history.

"I'm glad of what I'm doing," said Erik, who also plays other instruments, including the violin and piano. "It never came to me that it [mariachi] could affect me like that."

About half of the mariachi band members are Hispanic, said Gian Carlo Monacelli, who teaches the class.

He said students learn about the music and culture, which they otherwise wouldn't get a chance to learn in school.

Jacob, the trumpet player, knew little about Hispanic culture before taking the class. Although he still struggles with Spanish, he said he has learned about the meanings behind the folk songs.

Residents have embraced the group, Monacelli said.

The students have performed eight or nine times at nursing homes, country clubs and festivals.

In the next few years, Walton hopes to expand the program, adding folk dancing and mariachi suits -- as long as the students continue to embrace the music.

"The children choose to be part of this," Walton said. "Nobody is making them [enroll]."

Will Lito Sheppard show up?

It was an odd thing for Andy Reid to say.

The Eagles had just closed their first full-squad camp of the spring last month, and the head coach, before reprimanding the Philadelphia media for their inability to find a positive story, noted that the next time all his players gathered at the NovaCare Complex, they would do so on a voluntary basis.

"Again, this is not a mandatory camp coming up," Reid said. "These are OTAs [off-season training activities], and players have the option of being here or not being here."

Why Reid started his thought with the word again is a mystery because he had never said anything quite like that before.

Show up if you want? Stay at home if you'd prefer?

That's not the kind of thing any NFL head coach is in the habit of saying.

The player voted most likely to take up Reid on his invitation to stay away from the full-squad workouts that begin today is cornerback Lito Sheppard, who is feeling both underappreciated and underpaid these days.

With Sheppard having lost his starting job to prized free agent Asante Samuel, it wouldn't be surprising if the six-year Eagles veteran decided to boycott this camp. His closest friend on the team, however, said he thought the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback would take the high road and show up today.

"To be honest with you, I think he'll be there," fellow cornerback Sheldon Brown said yesterday.

Sheppard, who refused to say whether he would attend this camp at the end of the previous one, did not return a phone call yesterday.

Since we last saw Sheppard, there has been a report on ESPN-AM (950) radio that the Eagles would give him some repetitions at wide receiver during this camp.

"That wouldn't surprise me," Brown said. "Lito has wanted to play wide receiver since he came to Philadelphia."

Sheppard would probably prefer that the Eagles pass him some extra cash rather than the football, but maybe lining up wide on offense can appease him for one season.

Of course, a scenario that still remains a distinct possibility is that the Eagles will trade Sheppard before the start of the season. There have been reports that the Eagles are interested in Miami Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, and the team has not denied them recently. One team official did say during the draft that the Eagles were not interested in Taylor.

The dream scenario for Eagles fans remains the acquisition of a star receiver such as Detroit's Roy Williams or Cincinnati's Chad Johnson, but neither the Lions nor the Bengals have expressed an interest in trading their star players.

Johnson's situation could get interesting later this month. According to ProFootballTalk.com, the disgruntled receiver plans to attend the Bengals' mid-June mandatory minicamp, but he is likely to behave in much the same manner Terrell Owens did during training camp with the Eagles in 2005. Owens, of course, was sent home from that training camp by Reid.

For now, Sheppard is an Eagle, and a voluntary camp begins today at the NovaCare Complex. As Reid has said, the "players have the option of being here or not being here."

Turn of the Screw

Like the best ghost stories, "The Turn of the Screw" draws its power not from oversize effects, but from the intimacy and taunting plainness of its approach. That's true of Henry James' novella, and just as true of the intricate and beautiful chamber opera that Benjamin Britten created from it in 1954.

Intimacy and precision are the hallmarks of San Francisco Lyric Opera's splendid production of the opera, now playing at the Cowell Theatre in Fort Mason. Conducted with exemplary care by Artistic Director Barnaby Palmer and sung by a uniformly fine cast, Sunday's matinee performance allowed the audience to witness the work's magic right up close, without flinching or cheating.

That transparency is part of the challenge in this swift, crystalline masterpiece. Scored for just 13 instruments and a small cast - at least one of whom is a child - "The Turn of the Screw" is a fully exposed venture that leaves performers nowhere to hide.

Instead, the shadows and secret corners are in the story itself. As in James' original text, it concerns an unnamed governess who takes a job at a remote country house tending to two seemingly angelic, but mysterious, children.

Her assignment turns out to involve grappling with two malevolent specters for possession of her young charges - a struggle in which the children's allegiances are unclear. For that matter, the very existence of the two ghosts is a matter of speculation.

Britten and his librettist, Myfanwy Piper, necessarily bring things into somewhat crisper focus for the stage. They give the ghosts - the former valet, Peter Quint, and the former governess, Miss Jessel - music to sing, and they make far more explicit the subtext of sexual predation, including a portentous quotation from Yeats ("The ceremony of innocence is drowned!").

Still, the elusive quality of the original lives on in the evasions and ambiguities of the libretto, and especially in the haunting flourishes and mood changes of Britten's score.

Britten understood that the spookiest effects come from the presence of the otherworldly within the everyday. So his score is laden with images of childhood innocence - nursery rhymes, schoolroom mnemonics and the practicing of early piano lessons - alongside the eerie vocal swoops of the phantoms and the ghostly tinkling of the celesta.

Among the opera's difficulties, perhaps none is so daunting as the composer's expectations from his two child stars (although in other productions the role of Flora, the younger child, is sometimes taken by a woman). The Lyric's production is blessed with not one but two young artists who rise magnificently to the challenge.

Brooks Fisher, who plays Miles, boasts a clear, sumptuous treble whose pure tones don't interfere with either audibility or clarity of diction. He captured Miles' unnerving combination of innocence and darkness in a performance that always seemed, tantalizingly, to be holding something back.

He was well matched by Madelaine Matej as Flora, her singing bright and true, and her stage presence a compelling mixture of playfulness and turmoil.

The rest of the cast was no less fine. Soprano Anja Strauss brought vivid vocalism and a keen sense of anguish to the part of the Governess, and Kathleen Moss was a warm-toned, vivacious presence as the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose.

Tenor Trey Costerisan, doubling as Quint and the Prologue who narrates the premise of the story, gave a sensational performance marked by fluid phrasing, lustrous tone and uncanny accuracy. Soprano Lara Bruckmann's Miss Jessel was aptly dark and menacing.

Palmer led a crackerjack instrumental ensemble with assurance, if a bit too fastidiously. Director Heather Carolo's staging, helped along by the video projections of scenic designer Jean-François Revon, underscored the work's unknowable qualities.

Turn of the Screw: San Francisco Lyric Opera. By Benjamin Britten. 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason. Tickets: $18-$32. Call (415) 345-7575 or go to www.sflyricopera.org.

Trey Costerisan, doubling as Peter Quint and the Prologue, was sensational with phrasing and a lustrous tone.

Recession? What recession?

There's no such thing at Escala, the 31-story, mixed-use condominium complex under construction at Fourth and Virginia in downtown Seattle.Escala is so confident about Seattle's prospects that this week, the builder is raising prices between 3 and 7 percent for the unsold units. Prices reach $8.5 million.

Raising prices in a recession? Who's the developer, Alfred E. Neuman?

No matter that the 16-story European Tower in Bellevue has been put on hold until the market turns around and its financing smooths out.

No matter that on Seattle streets, people are panhandling and biking to work; or that the economic pinch we started feeling this year has broken the skin. We're bleeding cash.

And yet, at 1920 Fourth Ave., the mantra repeats: Grandeur. Exclusivity. Elegance.

The Escala folks refuse to believe in any other life.

In fact, John Midby, of the Las Vegas-based Lexas Companies, which built Escala, said he just closed on another Seattle property, this one at Stewart and Denny. He couldn't tell me the name, "But I can tell you that it will be very, very nice."

It figures that people from Vegas are the ones willing to gamble on this place, while we look over their shoulders, hoping for a free whiskey sour.

But Midby says the numbers prove that we needn't worry:

There are 7 million square feet of office space being built in Seattle. If you put five workers per 1,000 feet of office space, which is the standard, "That's a lot of people downtown," he said, adding that there are only 848 condos funded and under construction downtown.

If he's right, I need to start breathing again. If he's wrong, well, my moth-eaten hat is off to his brilliant marketing ploy.

Since announcing the price increase in April, Escala has had over $6 million in sales, Midby said. Other developers, he said, are following suit and raising their prices, too.

In doing so, they will build equity for those who have already bought, build anxiety for those on the fence, and build even more exclusivity within their walls.

So if I were ever going to get into Escala, now was the time. The other day, I got buzzed into the "presentation center." I dipped into a bowl full of Hershey's Nuggets (no cheap hard candy here), and strolled through a life I'll never know.

Marble entryways like New York's Park Avenue. Italian cabinetry. A terrace the size of a studio apartment -- complete with a fireplace. And there's a private Club Cielo for buyers.

I picked up one of the Matchbox cars pulling into the model's garage. A Porsche.

The cheapest unit at Escala is a 909-square-foot, one-bedroom, 1.5-bath unit listed at $577,180 -- not a stretch for a couple who have saved, or sold something bigger and want to downsize.

"Do you honestly think this building is going to sit vacant?" asked sales manager Chris Steibler. (Sure, if you're waiting for me to move in.)

Midby waved off my worry.

"It's a psychological thing," he said. "Everyone gets drowned in the bad stuff, only to find that it's not that bad."

If you say so ... Grandeur. Exclusivity. Elegance.

Party at the Park

The village is throwing a party, and the public is invited.

The Hartford Beautification Committee is hosting its inaugural Party at the Park on June 21 at Seventh Street Park and is seeking public involvement.

Tamie Buehrer, a member of the committee, said the event is being made possible because of generous donations from area businesses, and the majority of it will be free to the public. The "free" section will include inflatables, carnival games, a dunking booth, balloon artist, face painting and more.

There also will be live music, a car cruise and a cutest pet photo contest.

"We are also holding a 'Little Miss/Little Mr. Hartford' beauty pageant and pie-eating contests for both adults and children," Buehrer said.

Buehrer said an area also will be set up for crafters and other small businesses to sell their products; a nonprofit area for organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts of America; and a food vendor area.

READ MORE ON THIS STORY in the print edition of Tuesday's Telegraph.

A captured interview

Sitting on the subway, walking down the street, glancing into the car next to us at a stoplight, from time to time, almost everybody wonders about the stranger we see before us. What sort of a job does she have? Is the Chinese takeout for his date or his mother? Photographer Kevin Connolly knows that people wonder about him. He was born without legs. He's just over three feet tall and gets around mostly on top of a skateboard.

He travelled through 15 countries in three months to take photos of the people staring and wondering about him, and learned about some of the stories that people made up about him. In some places, they thought he was a beggar, or an Iraq war veteran. His photo project is called "The Rolling Exhibition." It's currently on display at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C. You can see a selection of his photographs at npr.org/talk.

So, what strangers have you wondered about? And what story did you come up with? What do you think strangers see when they look at you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Photographer Kevin Connolly joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you on Talk of the Nation today.

Mr. KEVIN CONNOLLY (Photographer, The Rolling Exhibition): Yeah, thanks for having me over.

CONAN: And I guess people have stared at you your whole life.

Mr. CONNOLLY: A couple of times, maybe, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Once or twice.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, seven or eight, I think, was the most common count.

CONAN: And I gather this project started when you were in Vienna.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah. The first photograph that I took was at the end of November in 2006 in Vienna, Austria. And really, the first shot was taken somewhat on a lark. I'd been travelling around by myself for the past - oh, about a week or so, and it had come down to, you know, due to kind of both language barriers and me being, you know, a little strange-looking. You know, my only real human interactions was either, you know, the subject of these projected narratives - I was either a beggar or a holy man, most commonly, between Ukraine and Austria, where I was travelling - or it was just these kind of rampant stares.

And it's something, you know, of course, I've been subjected to my whole life, although "subjected," I think might be a little bit too much harsh of a word. But when you're travelling by yourself, of course, you know, you feel it all that much more. And I was travelling down this backstreet of Vienna, and knew this man was coming the other direction, and looked the other way. Because we've all done this at some point or another, in which, you know, we'll be staring at someone and, you know, they're not aware of it. But the second they catch you, you know, you try and avert your eyes anywhere else.

CONAN: You get self-conscious.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah. So I stared across the street kind of giving this man tacit permission to, you know, take a look, and snapped his photo. I snapped it without looking through the viewfinder and I was just holding it from my hip. And thankfully, that first photo came out really well. I got back to my hostel and there was some really cool things going on aesthetically within the photo.

And so, for the next three weeks or so, I travelled around throughout Europe and the East Coast of the United States taking these photographs. And initially it was just kind of a half-developed project, but more importantly, it just gave my hands something to do while travelling by myself. So, got back to the United States and had about 1200 photographs which formed the skeletal prototype of "The Rolling Exhibition."

CONAN: What's it like to be mistaken for a holy man?

Mr. CONNOLLY: I wouldn't say ego-stroking ever, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNOLLY: Actually no, it was probably the most - it was the most surreal situation. I was on a Ukrainian subway, and you know, I was with my friend who I'd met when I was 18. He's a native Ukrainian. His name is Serge (ph). And we're travelling along, and this woman came up, and she began blessing me in Yiddish, pushing her hand down on my head.

And you know, kind of just due to my height and how crowded the subway was at the time, you know, I actually ended up having my head kind of nestled in this bunch of Ukrainian butts. They kind of formed a little bit of a helmet as this woman's screaming blessings at me. And I think it was at that point when I began to realize, you know, how surreal and how strong some of these projected narratives could be.

CONAN: And what are some of the others? You mentioned beggar, and I guess people see somebody without legs, in some parts of the world, they assume there's a cup there they should put some money in.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, I think so. I think that, you know, the reason they assumed I was a beggar was for a number of reasons. One of the first, I think, being, is that, you know, there's certain kind of accepted archetypes that we think of when we think of someone disabled, and certainly none of those is on a skateboard. A wheelchair would be the most common for someone like myself. And so, to see someone on a skateboard, you might assume that, you know, he might not have the means to acquire a wheelchair.

And so, you know, as a result of that, I ended up getting quite a bit of money, and the reason, you know - even despite saying, you know, no, I don't need any, and you know, I was well-dressed, shaven, carrying a reasonable expensive camera, and it was kind of due to those elements and having money - despite my objections - physically pushed in my hands and my backpack, that I kind of came to realize that, in many ways, they might be trying to explain me away as much for their own kind of sanity as for mine.

CONAN: And again, the people in this country who mistake you for an Iraq war veteran, I guess that seems like a logical explanation.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, and I think that there's something really amazing in it, in that, you know, I was also assumed to be, when I was in Bosnia, you know, a veteran or victim of the Balkan wars. And you know, if you compare those two instances together, it shows a little bit of nuance from country to country in terms of how we form our narratives. I would never be, you know, assumed to be a victim of the Balkan War here in the United States just as, vice versa, in Bosnia.

CONAN: You would never have been assumed to have been an Iraq war veteran.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah.

CONAN: And I understand it must have been a little uncomfortable for you in Bosnia, in Sarajevo, in that situation.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, and really, I think, Sarajevo is kind of the - where I really realized the heart of the series was, and that was these stories. And I guess the reason that it really hit me in Sarajevo, of all places, was that, you know, you get this variety of stories, you know, you're a car accident victim, or you're a shark attack victim.

CONAN: I wouldn't have - yeah, sure, shark, OK.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Well, it was a little boy, actually, that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNOLLY: He was in a grocery store in New Zealand, and he started to try and get out the words, was he eaten by a shark? And you know, his mom was standing in line at the grocery store, and I'm sure there's a number of mothers out there who have done this, where, you know, the kid starts to ask a question just a little too loud, you know, and you start getting a little flushed and you cup their mouths. So he only got about half the question out.

CONAN: Kids ask really interesting questions.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think one of the best was - I was in Bozeman, which is where I've been going to school for the past couple of years, and I was in a grocery store and this little girl came up to me in a summer dress, and she just walked up, and she was like, is it a trick?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNOLLY: And you know, I had just shaved my head. I had been skateboarding around town. So here's this sweaty, reasonably bulky guy on a skateboard sitting eye-to-eye with this little girl in a summer dress, and she's being just as assertive as I could ever be. And so I end up, you know, getting a little riled up. I'm like, no, it's not a trick! There's no smoke or mirrors. And she looked down at - I wear a shoe, kind of, with a Birkenstock sole and a leather exterior around myself to just kind of protect me when I'm running around, and she looked at it, and she was like, take off the tire. It was like a really funny kind of confrontational moment there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I understand somebody once walked away with your shoe.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah! I was told, anyway. I went out skiing one day and I stuffed my shoe underneath a bench in the ski lodge, and got back, and sure enough, it was gone. And I was scared. It's not something that you can pick up at Payless, this shoe, and I was getting ready to head out to New Zealand, so to try and find a replacement would have been difficult in the best of situations.

And ran around putting up signs, being, like, you know, you stole this guy's shoe, and please give it back. He can't really get around too well without it. And talked to one of the ladies who was cleaning at the time, cleaning the lodge, and she said there were two middle-aged women who had been sitting down and they pulled the shoe out and they were looking at it. And she heard that they'd considered making it into a flower pot, as it was quite pretty and vaguely in a pot shape. So, you know, it was returned later that night, anonymously.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNOLLY: But yeah, it was certainly...

CONAN: So, you not only get mistaken for all kinds of things. People make up narratives about your shoe.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Oh, yeah. Well, and I - I think that's a reasonable thing to do. I mean, a lot of the stuff I use and do is just so, for lack of a better word, weird-looking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get some callers on the line. What do you - narratives do you make up about strangers? What narrative do you think strangers make up about you? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Toms on the line from Rochester, New York.

TOM (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

TOM: Yeah, I - talking to your screener, I'm handsome, and I think that people look at attractive people - I've heard this in studies - and say, gosh, they must a have a great social life or great sex life. Life is totally easy for them, if you appear to be in shape, whether you keep yourself in shape or not. And they just assume all these things. And I've got health problems like everyone else, and I've got family problems and money problems, and interested to hear your response to that.

CONAN: Hm. Is that a narrative that has occurred to you, Kevin Connolly?

Mr. CONNOLLY: You know, as far as the difference that people project from what appears to be on the surface versus what's actually going on, yeah, I think, absolutely, and I think that, you know, anyone, you know, whether or not they're the subject of these prolonged looks, and you know, certainly people are. Anyone who sits kind of out of what any individual would consider to be the aesthetic norm, you know, we're all culpable of doing these things. We're all culpable of staring and making up these stories. It's the sole reason why, you know, a filmmaker or a writer can actually eat at the end of the day. It's just something that we do as human beings.

TOM: Can I ask you a question?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yes, sir.

TOM: I have 12-year-old twins, and I try to tell them, I mean, it's interesting, so I said, don't stare, you know, you're going to take two looks, and I often try to do it, if the time is right, to have them engage the person and introduce themselves, and if they feel like talking about whatever the condition is, especially my daughter who is very empathetic. Do you feel uncomfortable when people engage? Or I find, often, people are just relieved, you know, not always, but often are relieved to have someone actually be interested in their condition or whatever.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think you're right on in that respect, in that, you know, this storytelling, you know, impulse, and also the impulse to kind of stare and have your curiosity satisfied, is very human. And so, to try and suppress that is kind of, you know, counteracts whatever you're doing. And so, yeah, to be forthright and honest about, you know, something you want to know, I think, is a perfectly good thing to do. And you know, who knows? You might spark a dialogue and maybe make a friend out of the deal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOM: Oftentimes I do. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Tom.

Mr. CONNOLLY: No sweat.

CONAN: We're talking with Kevin Connolly, who was born without legs, and visited 31 cities and 15 countries taking photographs of people looking at him, and the exhibit is at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, D.C. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Let's get Jenna (ph) - is that right?

GINA (Caller): Gina.

CONAN: Gina from San Jose, California. Go ahead. Gina.

GINA: Yes, hi, thank you for taking my call. My brother, who is now 30 years old, is autistic, and when I was a child and growing up, my brother would often have outbursts in public places, and - like the mall or a restaurant or someplace like that. And you know, I grew up being stared at. And as a child you develop kind of - I don't know - kind of like an animosity towards people who are staring at your sibling.

We had people come up to us and say, you know, are you abusing that child? You know, things like that, and it was just really hard. It got to a point where, as a kid, I would say things like, well, he's for sale if you want him, you know? I mean, I was just - it just - you develop these really interesting defense mechanisms, and you know, these interesting...

CONAN: It sounds...

GINA: Go ahead.

CONAN: It sounds like, Gina, as a kid, were you mortified to attract this attention?

GINA: More when I was in, like, junior high, you know, when I was in that real awkward phase. I was very, very mortified. But as a younger child, it just seemed normal to me, because I didn't know any better. But I didn't understand why people were staring until I got older, and then, when I moved out of my house, my parents' house, and I realized what it was like to not live with someone who was autistic, that attracted attention, it was quite an eye-opener for me. I mean, it was a huge paradigm shift in my reality.

CONAN: I wonder, Kevin, did you go through that awkward phase?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah. I mean, I was concerned about anything that I think, you know, a standard middle-schooler would be as well. I think, to a certain extent, it might be a phase of life. I was worried about the no-legged thing. Trying to go to a school dance was always a little difficult.

CONAN: I can see that.

Mr. CONNOLLY: But you know, also, like, you know, acne and being inarticulate and little overweight, you know, all those things added up, and was just kind of, personally for me, was just part of my insecurities going through middle school.

CONAN: Well, Gina, thanks very much for the phone call.

GINA: Thank very much for taking my call.

CONAN: Thanks.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Bye, Gina.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to Amanda, Amanda's calling us from San Francisco.

AMANDA (Caller): Hi, thanks. Yeah, I - when I was in my 20s I lived in Utah and I decided - and this was, like, early 1990, and I put a fake nose ring in, and the response that I got was so incredibly negative. I would have security guards following me around, accused of changing prices on things that were actually on sale. And I even had somebody chase me down in a car and get out and yell at me about being on welfare, and he was tired of paying of me being on welfare. And I was actually an honors student in college.

So that was pretty shocking, and I decided I needed to get my nose actually pierced, because I wanted to know the truth of people and how they judge based on the surface. And so, I also really want to honor the inspiration of your attitude that you're bringing to this subject and making it open and inviting people to explore their own biases and how they see others and themselves. Thank you so much.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, well, thank you, and I mean, congrats on getting the nose piercing. That's absolutely awesome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMANDA: Well, thanks.

CONAN: It's a little less unusual in San Francisco.

AMANDA: Well, completely, and I actually don't have it pierced anymore, because my body doesn't like the metal, but yeah, it's - I mean, you can pierce anything out here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Amanda. We'll leave it right there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMANDA: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Bye. And Kevin, where are you going next?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Oh, jeez, well, in the near future, hopefully, I'll be going home to have a nap at some point. It's a bit of a long day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONNOLLY: Then, you know, I think I'm going to back to Montana for the next three weeks, and after that, going to work on a documentary about artists performing at the Olympics and Paralympics. So I'll be bouncing around the world again, going to China, India, South Africa and England. A short leap thereafter, moving to New Zealand.

CONAN: Moving to New Zealand?

Mr. CONNOLLY: I'm moving to New Zealand. I'm going to get an apartment on the beach.

CONAN: Sounds like a great idea.

Mr. CONNOLLY: That's the post graduate present.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's the post - well, congratulations.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Thank you.

CONAN: And thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yeah, thank you.

CONAN: Kevin Connolly is a recent graduate of Montana State University. His exhibition, "The Rolling Exhibition," is on display at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. You can see selected photographs at our website, npr.org/talk. He was with us here in Studio 3A. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington

Summer council

The Sumner City Council voted 5-2 Monday against prohibiting parking garages within the downtown business district.

Councilman Steve Allsop said now isn't the time to "stick a finger" in Sound Transit's eye as both the transit agency and the city explore ways to provide more parking for commuter rail patrons around the stations in Sumner and Puyallup.

Both cities want more parking options for the increasing numbers of commuter rail users that are taxing existing parking downtown.

"I believe we need dialogue, and we have been doing that," he said, defending Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow's work as a member of the Sound Transit 18-member board of directors.

Councilman Matt Richardson, who proposed the prohibition, took direct aim at Enslow for what he called seven months of silence and delays in meeting with Sound Transit officials to discuss parking issues in Sumner. The council passed a resolution last November asking for alternatives to a downtown parking garage.

Richardson said it is his opinion that a five-story concrete parking garage on Traffic Avenue across from the rail station would be the worst possible place for it.

He said now is the time for the city to tell Sound Transit it doesn't want a garage downtown as the agency prepares a second ballot measure to fund expansion of Sound Transit to include expanding parking at stations. Only Councilman Randy Hynek voted with Richardson.

Enslow said Sound Transit has indicated that it wants to work with communities to come up with options for expanding parking. He noted that Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl plans to attend the City Council's June 9 study session to talk about Sound Transit plans.

Richardson said he supports a parking lot halfway between Puyallup and Sumner to serve both communities. He has met with several Puyallup City Council members to talk about that idea.

Puyallup City Councilmembers Rick Hansen and John Knutsen showed up at the council meeting to also urge cooperation between the two cities to find alternatives to downtown garages.

Sumner City Councilman Curt Brown said he would vote against the prohibition because he did not want any alternatives taken off the table before there has been more public discussion.

The daily press and blogs

The Daily Press will cover Tuesday's election returns with a live blog and field video hosted by political reporter Ryan Orr.

The coverage will focus primarily on the races for 1st District supervisor and 36th state Assembly District. Orr's blog "Politically Speaking" will include up-to-the minute election results plus reaction from the candidates' victory parties.

Also for the first time ever, the blog will include election night video from the field.

"I will be blogging on the results and getting comments from the candidates," Orr said.

He will also field questions from the public as he talks with candidates and political insiders. "I will answer some of their questions if I can," said Orr, who has covered politics for the Daily Press for two years. "If people are having trouble at the polls, I want to hear about it."

On the blog, readers are currently commenting on what they look for in a candidate and reactions to the flood of political mailers.

More blogs will be added about how the candidates are feeling before the first results come in. Reader are encouraged to weigh in with their thoughts before during and after the results start to come in tonight.

To participate, go to www. VVDailyPres.com, click on "blogs," then click on "Politically Speaking." Or click on the link "Orr's Blog" on the right hand side of the online story.

Man charged with arson in Owego fire

The Owego Police Department reported Monday that Michael Lumnah, age 40, of Endicott, N.Y., has been charged with felony arson charges in connection with the fires that destroyed and damaged five homes and one garage in the Village of Owego on Saturday.

Lumnah, who owns the property located at 42 Temple St. in Owego, one of the homes that was damaged, is charged with conspiring with others to set fire to one of the structures, according to police. Further arrests are anticipated.

Owego Fire Chief Tom Taft reported that the cause of the fire was still undetermined and the investigation being handled by Tioga County investigators.

An investigation revealed that the fire was set behind the home at 42 Temple St., spread into the 42 Temple St. home, and then ignited two other homes on Temple Street and two homes on Liberty Street, police report.

A garage behind the 70 Liberty St. home was also destroyed. Twenty residents were displaced because of the fires and are currently being provided with temporary shelter through the American Red Cross.

The statement by police noted that Lumnah was sent to the Tioga County Jail in lieu of $25,000 cash bail pending further court action.

Pets, aid for victims

A previous story about the fire reported that a mother cat who lost her kittens in the fire was also without a home.

After the information was posted on the Web and published in the Review, Taft returned to the scene of the fires and located one of the kittens, which was still alive, but burned from the fire.

The chief made the reuniting of the kitten and its mother possible, and a relative, who learned about the plight of the cat on the Web, took the mother cat as well as the kitten. She will be seeking medical attention for both as soon as possible.

Also, another reader who viewed the story was interested in helping fire victims. Following a rummage sale for Relay for Life at the Fish Haven Farm on Rt. 96 this weekend, the organizers decided to box and bag everything up and make it available for fire victims.

The items are located at Fish Haven Farm on Route 96 in Catatonk, and are free to fire victims. According to a woman who called, there are clothing and household items available. These items will be available outside the facility until Tuesday.

Ala Moulin Rouge

From a nobody to an enviable position, the story of Mayawati is that of an enigma that continues to mystify Hats off to Ajoy Bose for skillfully tracing the trajectory of this woman from the bylanes of Delhi's down-market Inderpuri colony to the grandeur of the sprawling official residence of Uttar Pradesh's chief minister, from where she is now getting ready to knock at the portals of power in New Delhi.

For some reason, Bose repeatedly seeks to impress upon the reader that Behenji is not an official biography of the four-time CM. He also emphasises that without having interacted closely with Mayawati, he has drawn up her life sketch on the basis of feedback from people belonging to her inner coterie. While dwelling on her early years, the author narrates incidents that convey her instinctive handling of adversities. Mayawati's grit and determination to fight back has been well brought out at the very outset where the author narrates a few episodes from her childhood days.

Bose has been quite candid in conveying the relationship that Mayawati shared with her political mentor Kanshi Ram, the founder of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). He describes it as "an amazing relationship that has been the subject of much speculation and considerable gossip for over two decades". He goes on to add: "...their association was fundamentally political in nature, giving birth to the BSP and helping it grow to the formidable force that it is today.

But there is no denying that the two shared a strong emotional bond as well. And they did live in close physical proximity to each other from the day Mayawati moved into Kanshi Ram's room in Karol Bagh".

Bose has also gone into finer details of how Kanshi Ram and Mayawati never hesitated to strike or break alliances. And it also spells out how each time this took the BSP graph higher. Even as he praises them for their smart moves, he has not hesitated to criticise Mayawati for aligning with the BJP for the third time -- "against the backdrop of the horrendous bloodbath in Gujarat in 2002".

He observes that "despite her past record, Mayawati's overtures to the BJP when its leaders and activists were running amuck against Muslims in Gujarat, offended the sensibilities of even those who believe that no party can be regarded as a political untouchable". He adds that "the manner in which Mayawati pushed the communal flames of Gujarat out of her vision to single-mindedly pursue power is chilling". Yet, Bose wraps it up by giving Mayawati a few more brownie points and even praises her for her unscrupulous machinations.

It was during this stint that she added another feather to her cap -- humbling the 'invincible' feudal lord-turned-politician Raghuraj Pratap Singh a.k.a Raja Bhaiya. "By daring to take the proverbial bull by the horns and sending him to the ground in such a comprehensive manner, Mayawati added several notches to her already larger than life reputation as a gutsy leader," observes Bose.

He also mentions that "the spectacle of a 'Dalit ki beti' making a Thakur goon bite the dust reversed centuries and centuries of rape, murder and loot by marauding landlords of the upper caste, quite a lot of them thakurs". That this was another turning point in her life is spelt out in Bose's words when he writes: "...she became the stuff of folklore in Dalit villages and ghettos, acquiring an aura that would remain a great political asset in the future".

While dealing with her rise to power for the fourth time, Bose appears to shower praise after praise on Mayawati. He also seems to justify her fad for building memorials dedicated to her party icons and her political mentor. In fact as the book proceeds further, this becomes visible in enhanced doses -- especially as one embarks upon the second section of the book where it seems that the author finds a silver lining behind every dark cloud. Notwithstanding his caution in maintaining balance, he occasionally does go overboard.

In his oft-repeated references to the media's criticism of Mayawati's inimitable and erratic workings, what Bose overlooks is the fact that the same media have been equally critical of other CMs including Mayawati's sworn adversary Mulayam Singh Yadav on those very counts. Still, one cannot underscore the fact that the chapter dealing with the 'Rags to Riches' story frankly charts out the long list of Mayawati's wealthy acquisitions.

The truth will set you free!

Fact and fiction come together in a heady often corrosive, mix in this sassily written novel about the life of an actor who would have become India's first silent screen star had not a genetic propensity for surreally bad luck tripped him just as his career was about to take off. Abani Chatterjee's karma is obviously on a slippery/slapstick/tragic-comic track.

Indrajit Hazra has, in his third novel, deftly conjured fictitious characters, and with them their destinies, to portray the era of silent films.

Abani Chatterjee may be a figment of the author's wacky imagination (though an actor of the same name did act in Satyajit Ray's film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne). But the author has placed his protagonist in a very real and well-researched context. Real figures coexist -- even if much of the time tangentially-with the imaginary in bringing , alive the romance, adventures and misadventures of the early days of moviemaking -- both here and overseas.

The Bioscope Man is set in the Calcutta of early 20th century However, echoes of what is happening on the other coast in Bombay keep intruding into the margins of the story of the rise and fall of his protagonist.

Two years after Dadasaheb Phalke made the first full length feature film in India, Raja Harishchandra, in 1917, a Bengali film, Bilwamangal, produced under the banner of Madan Theatres, was screened in Calcutta. Harishchandra S. Bharvadekhar, a still photographer and dealer in equipment in Bombay was the first to make a film (two , brief films, in fact) in India in the late 19th century And not too long after, in 1901, Hiralal Sen set up Royal Bioscope in Calcutta to make films: he photographed dance sequences and scenes from plays being staged at Classic Theatres. ('Bioscope' is the name of an early film projector for splashing moving images on a screen. It became the generic name for cinema after the American Charles Urban -- producer of the world's first successful natural colour motion picture system, Kinemacolor, as Hazra mentions in his book -- popularised it.)

Hazra, a journalist who happens to be a novelist (perhaps it is the other way round), uses his ferreting skills to take the reader behind the silent parde ke peeche, into the fairly cut-throat world of the early pioneers of silent movies in Calcutta.

He also situates his story against a vividly portrayed background of a city whose confidence is being undermined by the decision of the British to shift their capital to Delhi. In the background as well, but palpably present, are the repercussions of the first partition of Bengal -- usually through the fringe characters who keep popping up in the novel and the stray remarks tossed occasionally.

While the author has woven many themes into the novel -- a critique of Orientalism, a portrait of the Bengali bhadralok in Victorian India, self-deception, the birth and infancy of silent movies -- it is the marvellously drawn portrait of the actor whose rapid rise and fall marks him. The actor's reflections upon his life and work are riveting.

Abani almost comes through as comically existentialist: is there anything under the layers of the personas created for him, or those he has created? Is it empty in the inner sanctums of the mind? Hazra points at this when he quotes the actor, Peter Sellers, at the beginning of the novel: "There is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed." Our Abani could also be a childe of Descartes: I am not on screen, therefore I don't exist, or something like that.

The actor is painfully aware of the dangers of seductive fame and, even worse, the consequences of failure. "I let out my trademark smile. It had worked in the past and there was no reason why it wouldn't protect me from popular praise, the smoothest odourless poison that goes to one's head."

Hazra has comic flair, heavily underlined by black humour. The funnier bits often come as asides, almost as if they were being spoken from the corner of his mouth.

The characters of the actor's parents are bitterly funny His 'comatose' . mother, who was perpetually in self-de nial when up and about being a hausfrau, is surreptitiously licked by the family doctor. His babu-father's fateful trip on a train in the opening chapter of the book would make a wonderful silent movie skit that Charlie Chaplin could have enacted had he been a 'native'.

Introducing Fritz Lang and his mon ocle into the novel is a clever move. The German director did come to India to make his two-part adventure movie about India -- The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb.

But what the author does to him in his book, one would not wish on one's worst enemy in the world of cinema. Of course, it provides the space to turn the tables on Orientalism, fashionable at the time. In the novel, Lang comes to India to make a film on Orientalist William Jones but ends up making a film called The Pandit and the Englishman, with, of course, Abani in the lead.

Another memorable character is Lalji Hemraj Haridas, the shrewd Marwari businessman who owns the bioscope company our protagonist works for. He is endowed with "cold business acumen" and actually draws a diagram (printed in the book) for a 'geometry of taste' for "bioscope-making and bioscope-showing".

Today producers hire whiz-kids of , market research to come up with his conclusions. "...There is an overlap of the kind of motion pictures that can be considered artful and non-artful and motion pictures that affect morally and immorally If a man goes alone to watch a .... bioscope that's one ticket. If a man is comfortable enough going to a bioscope with his family that's at least five tickets , sold at the counter.... I want people, all kinds of people -- the degenerate, the loafer class included..."

His solution: the 'Theory of Compensating Values'. It was a given that virtue had to be rewarded and sin had to be punished, but in a long drawn-out eventuality. So, you could show all the sin you wanted. And relish the vice until 'The End' scrolled up.

The businessman took his cue from the disrobing of Draupadi that he explains was the most remembered scene in all the plays about the Pandavs. Obviously Bollywood followed his advice. Villains have all the fun in the movies: they get the good cars, gals, clothes, life and lust actually -- until the last reel.

I suspect that there's a filmmaker lurking under the wordsmith. Sections hilariously called 'Intervals' punctuate the book, ostensibly written by Abani Chatterjee -- which one only finds out at the very end. Printed in a different font these pages are about characters the actor has played in his films; some of them include descriptions of various shots.

The Bioscope Man does keep you turning the pages. But I have one complaint: there are too many metaphors and similes, some of them just tumbling out unnecessarily And I do wish Hazra had . been more frugal with his use of 'shapeshifters'. However, this is must-read for anyone with a sense of humour and who is also interested in Indian cinema. The last chapters on Fritz Lang in Calcutta are inspired and masterful.

The death is confirmed, the sources said, in a bit of HuJI cyber communication picked up by Indian intelligence. The intercept contains a picture of the dead Bilal, his head seemingly punctured by multiple bullets, and a glowing obituary, in Urdu and English, lauding his "embrace of martyrdom in the path of Allah".

The obituary, written with poetic flourish, described the Class 12 dropout of Hyderabad's Mumtaz College as the "magnificent commander of the battle of India," hoped to welcome "more Bilals" in the future to further jehad: "This coup is the coup of Truth, defeated you will be in it, Shahids will emerge from every home, how many Shahids can you kill?"

Hyderabad's police chief B Prasad Rao told HT: "We are aware of this communication that shows his dead body, that his family has mourned for Bilal and his brother Samad. But we are not in a position to verify the death on our own... the union home ministry has been trying to do this... The blasts at Mecca mosque, the twin blasts, and the attack on the STF headquarters were done by Bilal or modules associated with him."

A Pakistan-trained Hyderabadi terror suspect, Riyazuddin Nassir, one of the eight men arrested since January 2008 by police

in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, has also confirmed Bilal's death during interrogation, the sources said.

Last man standing

Do you remember the first Indiana Jones movie? It wasn't called an Indiana Jones picture in those days, of course. We had no idea who Jones was and no series of movies was planned. The film was called Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I remember queuing up to see it on the very first day of its release and being wowed by the opening shot: The Paramount mountain turning into the Blue Mountain of Peru.

After that, it was a thrill a minute. I loved every last bit of it. I adored Karen Allen's feisty Marion Ravenwood as she entered the movie drinking a bunch of Nepalis under the table.

I liked Paul Freeman's Nazi collaborator The special effects (especially the climax) were amazing. And Harrison Ford was absolutely perfect in the role. Why was I so taken with Indiana Jones?

Partly I suspect, because it predated the trend for comic book movies. In the 1930s, Hollywood made three types of pictures. There were 'A' movies with big budgets and real stars. There were 'B' movies with low budgets and contract players. And the lowest form of movie making consisted of the serials. The serials (made usually by such lowrent studios such as Republic Pictures) were exactly what the name suggests.

They were the 1930s and 1940s equivalent of TV serials. Each week, the studio would release one chapter in the cinemas. Usually the serial would focus on adventure stories and at the end of each episode, the hero would be trapped in a situation from which sudden death seemed to be the only escape.

Audiences would return to the cinemas the fol. lowing week to see how the hero escaped because, unsurprisingly enough, the villain never won and the hero never died. Almost every comic book character you can think of got a serial. Superman got two (with Kirk Alyn as the screen's first Man of Steel). So did Batman (with two different Batmen: Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft), Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe played Flash), The Phantom (Tom Tyler lived in the Skull Cave), Mandrake the Magician (but the studios decided that audiences would not accept a black sidekick so Lothar was replaced by a man in a turban), The Lone Ranger (made famous by Bob Livingstone) and Captain Marvel (Tom Tyler again).

The serials were cheaply -- and generally shoddily -- made. Each serial probably cost less than Clark Gable's remuneration for an 'A' movie. The special effects were a joke. Because they did not have the money to make Superman fly, they switched to animation each time Alyn took to the skies.

The plots were preposterous and often xenophobic: a Batman serial made during the Second World War dispensed with the Joker and all the other Bat villains to make an evil Jap (played by J Carrol Naish who wasn't even Japanese), the Caped Crusader's chief enemy I missed the serials because I was part of the wrong generation but whenever I could, I caught a re-run in some cinema.

Many serials, such as the Lone Ranger and The Phantom were later edited (badly) into feature length movies and in the 1960s, many Bombay cinemas ran them as morning matinees. It wasn't till Christopher Reeve breathed life into Superman in the late 1970s that the super-hero picture took off. But even then, it soon spluttered to a halt, till the big boom of the last decade or so. (As I write, Iron Man is America's number one movie and Batman The Dark Knight and a new version of The Hulk are on their way) George Lucas grew up in an era where serials were the principal entertainment for boys. Despite serious movie credentials (he made American Graffiti and Apocalypse Now was his movie till his mentor Francis Ford Coppola took it over amidst some acrimony), Lucas longed to recreate the world of the serials.

Star Wars was inspired, he says, by Flash Gordon and when that movie became a super-hit, he set out to make more such serial-inspired features.

Steven Spielberg was less keen but also interested in recreating the spirit of the serial. (His company developed and produced a disastrous Lone Ranger film in the 1980s.) Raiders of The Lost Ark emerged out of both men's desire to make a 1930s serial with the budget of a 1980s 'A' movie. They meant it to be hokum.

They wanted to portray foreigners in the insensitive two-dimensional manner of the Republic serials. They wrote in plenty of improbable action. And they wanted a big climax.

Their first choice for Indiana Jones (meant to be a Clark Kent-type professor who turns into a Jungle Jim-style adventurer when he hits the road) was Tom Selleck. But he'd already signed up for MagnumPlon TV So, in desperation, they settled on Harrison Ford. Ford had followed a strange career trajectory A journeyman actor, he knew the Lucas gang and was cast in a small role in Apocalypse Now by Coppola as a prissy army officer (the in joke was that his name in the movie is G Lucas) but never really hit the big time till he played second lead in Star Wars to Mark Hamill (remember him?).

Ford thought that the movie was a mess but it went on to become one of the biggest grossers of all time, the first in a trilogy and his launch pad when he acted Hamill off the screen. Despite starring in Blade Runnen (a film that is not only ten million times better than Star Wars but is one of the most influential movies of recent times), which received critical acclaim but was a box office flop, Ford was not able to follow his Star Wars success with a major blockbuster So, he was glad to take on the role that Selleck could not accept.

Which brings us back to Raiders of the Lost Ark. One of the reasons I loved the movie was because it combined Lucas's passion for the serials (which mirrored my own comic book sensibility) with people who had serious talent. Fortunately, Lucas did not direct it himself.

He is God-awful at making movies. (Have you seen the second Star Wars trilogy?) He chose Steven Spielberg who is one of the world's greatest directors. Nor did he write the final script. He is notoriously bad at working out how real people talk and his dialogues usually stink. On the sets of the first Star Wars, Harrison Ford famously complained to Lucas about his lines, "You can type this shit, George, but you sure as hell can't say it." So they enlisted Lawrence Kasdan, one of Hollywood's best writers, to turn Lucas's idea into a finished script.

The success of Raiders prompted Lucas and Spielberg to contemplate a sequel. Trying to capture the xenophobia of the old serials, they made the ghastly Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Set in some imaginary maharaja-ruled India (they filmed in Sri Lanka) it was filll of racial stereotypes but nobody got the joke. Spielberg was stung by the criticism of racism and resolved to make another, better Indiana Jones movie to make up to fans. It's clear now that the third film, (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) owed more to Spielberg than Lucas.

The original idea was to have Indiana look for the Holy Grail. Spielberg thought that was boring: "it's just a cup." He suggested imbuing the Grail with magical powers -- immortality, for instance. And he decided to write in Jones' father and chose Sean Connery (who stole the movie from Ford) to play the role.

In many ways, it's the best of the trilogy because, apart from the action set-pieces, the serial-style hokum (the search for the Grail etc.), it made the Indiana Jones character seem less one dimensional. The pacing was just right -- better even than Raiders. And the dialogue was so hokey-pokey ("You have chosen wisely, my son") that it was irresistible. And that should have been that. Spielberg certainly told interviewers that the trilogy was over Ford moved on to bigger movies.

NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI -- Mohammed Abdul Shahid, better known as Shahid 'Bilal', former chief of HuJI's Indian operations, and alleged mastermind of a series of terrorist attacks since 2005 including the blast at Hyderabad's historic Mecca Masjid on May 18, 2007 and the twin Lumbini theatre-Gokul Chat blasts in the same city on August 25 last year, is dead.

Hyderabad's most famous jehadi was shot dead by masked gunmen in Karachi on August 30, 2007, central intelligence sources have told Hindustan Times. The 34-year-old Bilal's elder brother Samad too was killed in the attack.

According to these sources, both R&AW and the IB have been aware of Bilal's death, but have never confirmed it.

Over two dozen of Bilal's associates were arrested by the Hyderabad police last year for their suspected role in the two bombings. Hindustan Times was the first to track down Bilal's home at 16/11/240, Malakpet, one of Hyderabad's Muslim-dominated areas, and speak to his mother, Hafeeza Begum, 61, and sister, Umera Begum, 26.

The story appeared in Hindustan Times's August 30, 2007 edition, the same day that, it now appears, Bilal was murdered.

Neighborhood addresses street numbers

Fire trucks driving into gated communities usually have little problem finding their destination by following all the identical address labels on each house. But outside the gates, it's a different story.

Some of the older areas of Hilton Head Island have antiquated or inaccurate addresses that can frustrate emergency crews. Unclear markings, overgrown bushes or addresses that don't match the town's records can lead to fire trucks stopping by three or four houses before locating the right one.

"Sometimes that delay makes a significant difference," Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas said.

In the Marshland Road and Chaplin area, Dot Law and other members of the property owners association decided to change that.

Law, the president of the association that covers Marshland, Chaplin, Candy Doll Bluff and parts of the Singleton and Mathews Drive areas, contacted the town's Fire and Rescue Division about a year ago to try to match the maps the town uses with the addresses on the streets.

Some residents of the mostly native island area live in trailers or mobile homes and may have post office boxes or mailboxes grouped together on a street, Law said, but no clear addresses. Others had been using street numbers that were different than what was on the official town maps, she said.

Law and other members went door to door to more than 100 homes to reconcile the address issues. Some residents had emotional attachments to their addresses, so the town offered to change its official maps in some cases.

"Even though you may have used that number for a long time, that is not the number the town has for you," Law said. "The idea behind that is if there is an emergency, you want to get help as fast as you possibly can."

The association began paying the $37 for the small, reflective address plaques to install on residents' lawns to help sort out the addressing problems. At first some residents were reluctant to participate, but once they saw other houses getting address plaques, they jumped on board, Law said.

The addressing problem is prevalent in other areas, particularly native island neighborhoods where the homes and families predate roads and fire departments by generations, said Suzanne Brown, the addressing technician for the Fire and Rescue Division.

With the success of the Marshland/Chaplin project, Brown said she hopes other areas will follow the example to improve the safety of all residents.

Arizona state

Six times before 2008, the Arizona State Sun Devils have made it to the Women's College World Series -- and each time they loaded the bus before the championship series.

This year is a different story.

ASU is one win from hoisting the championship trophy. Knowing that it could be the team to win the school's first-ever softball title is just another incentive.

"We've never won it before," said Katie Burkhart, who pitched seven shutout innings in Monday's 3-0 victory over Texas A&M. "But we've practiced this dream for so long in our heads, and now we've got a chance to play that out."

This is ASU's fifth WCWS in the last 10 years, with its most recent exit being in 2007.

Coach Clint Myers said he feels a little extra drive knowing his team is the closest it's ever been to bringing a softball championship to Tempe, Ariz.

"Absolutely, it's motivation," Myers said. "It's also the last (chance) for our seniors. But the girls expect to be here, and I've said all along that this is our year."

Arizona State's softball counterpart, Arizona, has won eight national championships.

Burkhart said it's time somebody else in the state takes the crown.

"[Arizona] has been here a lot," she said. "But this is what we've worked hard for. We feel like it's about time the Sun Devils shine."

Dave Neuman, an ASU fan from Gilbert, Ariz., said he feels like this is his team's year, despite the lack of experience in the championship series..

"Hopefully, we're going to watch them get their first," Neuman said. "It's a great feeling, and we're excited to be here for it."