Today's Papers

The Fair Witch Project

The Los Angeles Times leads with a late-breaking deadly fire in a beer hall in Inchon, South Korea, which killed at least 54 people. The New York Times leads with a seemingly-local report–on the dubious financial backing of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s “Sensation” exhibition–that carries national cultural significance, and the Washington Post goes with a story that broke in USA Today over a week ago about the FBI’s finding that religious cults and hate groups might incite violence as New Year’s Eve approaches.

The LAT reports that most of the known victims trapped in the South Korean fire were under the age of 18. Eight days ago police closed the beer hall down; but last night it was back in business and, according to local reports, caught fire when a spark from a light bulb in the basement, which was under renovation, ignited some paint thinner. Though the LAT reports that President Kim Dae Jung ordered reviews on fire-safety regulations after a fire at a summer camp in June, it’s clear that the beer hall, a cramped, illegal bar known to sell alcohol to adolescents, operated beyond the purview of the law.

The NYT lead reveals that the Brooklyn Art Museum’s director financed “Sensation,” the museum’s controversial art exhibit, with funds collected from companies and individuals who stood to profit from the promotion of contemporary art, including the owner of the collection displayed and Christie’s auction house. At issue? Nothing less than museums’ independence and integrity, according to museum-ethics experts. Seeking funding from financially interested sources compromises a museum’s commitment to display art on the basis of merit. The NYT reports that several museum officials agree that the “Sensation” exhibit blurred the lines between commerce and art to an unprecedented extent. Some experts find the blurring unconscionable: Marie C. Malaro, who retired last year as director of the museum-studies program at Washington University, said: “If I was on that board, I’d either resign or have the heads of all the staff who are involved.”

In a 34-page report obtained by the WP, the FBI warns that the new millennium could be a catalyst for criminal activity. The report indicates that groups with religious beliefs associated with the apocalypse and those who believe the United Nations is surreptitiously trying to conquer the world are prime candidates for perpetrating violence. But how likely is an eruption of millennial terrorism? The report is a “strategic assessment” of the potential for domestic violence. In other words, despite FBI evidence that a number of individuals associated with radical groups have been engaging in suspicious behavior–stockpiling weapons, securing “safe houses,” and recruiting converts, among other things–there is no evidence that groups mentioned in the report, including the white supremacist groups singled out by the FBI, have specific plans to wreak havoc this New Year’s Eve or at any other time. The report itself says, “Acts of violence in commemoration of the millennium are just as likely to occur as not.”

The NYT off-leads with a long story about Slobodan Milosevic’s tenacity. After highlighting Milosevic’s personal qualities, including an affinity for indulging in the Serb pastime of vulgar speech over whiskey and cigars, the NYT claims Milosevic has been empowered by two developments the West should have been able to control: the current chaos in Kosovo and the inability to control Albanian crimes against the remaining Serbs (which underlines the idea that Milosevic had no choice but to fight the KLA), and the West’s overt support of a popular uprising to oust Milosevic (which proves to the Serbs that the West’s intention was–hypocritically–to overthrow Yugoslavia’s democratically elected leader at their expense). The report seems unoccasioned, nonetheless, and the comparison of Milosevic as “isolated, unpopular, but apparently unmovable,” like Saddam Hussein, is old hat.

Below the fold, the WP reports that the Gore campaign is frustrated by constraints Gore faces by running for president as the sitting vice president. A similar but more emphatic story fronted by the LAT reports Gore has declared his candidacy more important than his official duties as VP. On separating himself from his office, Gore said, “It’s a breaking-away process that’s exactly right.” But surely the sitting vice president has enjoyed more advantages than, say, a former senator from New Jersey. Gore’s main problem, it seems, is a lack of focus, the absence of driving themes; according to the WP’s unnamed sources Clinton has grumbled to his associates about this very problem.

An interesting inside WP story addresses the fate of Tibetan culture in the face of a new resettlement plan that authorizes thousands of people, including some Han Chinese (who make up 93 percent of the Chinese population), to move onto land traditionally claimed as Tibetan. Proponents of the resettlement project point out that the land in question is not part of Tibet proper and is already populated by a number of groups in addition to Tibetans, including Mongols, Muslims, Turkish peoples; opponents criticize the plan as evidence of a Chinese version of manifest destiny.

Halloween: otherwise known as Samhaim, the Wiccan New Year.

The NYT reports that Wicca (contemporary witchcraft) is growing in the United States and abroad–and shedding its negative reputation. Today’s witches are spiritual, believe in a dual divinity, a goddess and a god, and practice rituals akin to self-help techniques for “healing and good fortune.” The movement has attracted a variety of followers, from veterinary technicians to firemen to, quite possibly, your next-door neighbor.