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By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

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"Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better," said Richard Hooker. This was true in Iraq in January, as the nation continued its painstaking and violent change into a democracy, and in Israel, where new Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas brought new but contested hope for change. President Bush's second inaugural address was a call for change, in oppressive governments abroad and social programs at home. The horrific change wrought by the tsunami was on the world's mind in January. But even amid a tempest, some things can go from worse to better, as with Owen, a hippopotamus orphaned by the storm who came under the care of a tortoise. Over 900 million miles away, a rover's photographs of the exotic surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn, changed the way we looked at the ringed planet's companion. Philadelphia celebrated the change in fortunes of its football team, which finally qualified for the Super Bowl on its fourth straight try. Few of the teams' players had their lives change as suddenly as Jeff Thomason, a construction worker who was recruited to replace an injured player in the Super Bowl. You're never too old to change; at least Romanian Adriana Iliescu wasn't in January—she gave birth at age 66.

Johnny Carson, who presided over late-night television's finest hour for three decades with class and wit, died in January at age 79. Miriam Rothschild, the inimitable naturalist who discovered how fleas jump, died at 96. Arthur Walworth, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Woodrow Wilson, died at age 101. Rosemary Kennedy was the disabled sister of President John F. Kennedy. Bob Moch was the coxswain of a crew that overcame Germany for a dramatic gold medal win at the 1936 Olympics, with Hitler looking on. Peaches, an African elephant at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, died in January at the age of 55.

Timeline: December 2004


From the New York Times :

DRACHTEN, The Netherlands* — Like a naturalist conducting a tour of the jungle, Hans Monderman led the way to a busy intersection in the center of town, where several odd things immediately became clear. Not only was it virtually naked, stripped of all lights, signs and road markings, but there was no division between road and sidewalk. It was, basically, a bare brick square. But in spite of the apparently anarchical layout, the traffic, a steady stream of trucks, cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians, moved along fluidly and easily, as if directed by an invisible conductor. When Mr. Monderman, a traffic engineer and the intersection's proud designer, deliberately failed to check for oncoming traffic before crossing the street, the drivers slowed for him. No one honked or shouted rude words out of the window. Used by some 20,000 drivers a day, the intersection is part of a road-design revolution pioneered by the 59-year-old Mr. Monderman. His work in Friesland, the district in northern Holland that takes in Drachten, is increasingly seen as the way of the future in Europe.

LOS ANGELES* — A phantom oil slick floating somewhere along a 90-mile stretch of Southern California coastline is killing sea life as investigators scramble to find its whereabouts and origins. More than 700 seabirds have died, another 700 are under care, and at least one sea lion has been taken to a marine mammal center, officials say. Scientists were unaware that a killer blob was at sea until birds started turning up a week ago on the shoreline from Santa Barbara to Venice Beach. Most of the birds affected have been Western grebes, though a few are rare pelicans.

The Coast Guard has conducted an aerial search of the shoreline, and oil samples have been taken from the birds and shipped to laboratories for analysis. Still, officials are flummoxed. Among the possible sources that investigators are looking into are pipes broken during the La Conchita mudslide that killed 10 people last week, leaking oil platforms in the ocean, seepage from the seafloor, abandoned oil wells, runoff from the Los Angeles metropolis, even cars and trucks that slid into the ocean during the torrential rains that recently pummeled California.


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