Odds and Ends ...

Almighty dollar?

IT'S time, maybe past time, to make those summer vacation bookings. What a pleasant surprise for people heading to Europe. That hotel balcony overlooking the Mediterranean should cost less than it did last year, thanks to the stronger dollar in Europe.

Meanwhile, that same dollar has been doing flipflops in Japan. First, it gained about 50 percent against the yen over the past two years. That served Japan well as it tried to recover from its burst stock, real estate, and bank loan bubbles. A weaker yen made Japanese products more competitive again in world markets. And competitive foreign goods in America also helped keep US inflation under control.

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But then the surge in Japanese exports boosted the notorious US trade gap and Washington started getting restive. So Tokyo's finance ministry went to work and, voil, the dollar took its biggest drop in 10 years against the yen. That should lasso the trade gap, at least temporarily. And it's already showing up in a stronger Tokyo stock market. Japanese investors see logic in staying home instead of buying US stocks, whose returns buy fewer yen. Further, a more competitive dollar should help already successful US service industries (investment, insurance, accounting) expand in Japan.

That's good for both parties. So, of course, are more American tourists flocking to cheaper French and German hotels and restaurants.

Clean slate

WE NOTED with amusement a droll essay last month by our once-ink-stained colleague Michael Kinsley, now keyboarding for his online magazine, Slate.

Kinsley parodied US and European worries about terrorism and porn on the Net. His device was a warning about political extremists, conspiracy mongers, and bad casserole recipes running rampant via that technological marvel - paper. Children are never safer, he deadpanned, than when they're staring at a computer screen; you know where they are. Print, he added darkly, can be hidden in pockets. He called, therefore, for Congress to pass a Paper Decency Act to close the "giant loophole" left by last year's Communications Decency Act.

Aw, c'mon, Kinsley. Legislators have been doing just that for centuries.

The serious point behind this joshing is that each new medium down the millennia has been a blank page, neither good nor bad, till people started using it. Speech, writing, printing, radio, TV, tape, CDs, the World Wide Web - each had the potential to be (1) vastly educational, entertaining, a repository for memory, history, scientific information, etc; or (2) a vehicle for misinformation, disinformation, porn, fraud, vacuity, and general grunge.

As is always the case, if users don't patronize and fund the former kinds of usage, the latter gain a foothold, then a grip. And that, understandably, invites intervention by elected or unelected watchdogs. So, all you users, it's up to you to help keep the slate - or papyrus or ether - clean.

Whose hues?

SPRING. Time to clean up. Time to paint. That used to mean get a bucket of white. Or possibly yellow or gray.

But go to the store now and what do you find? A veritable Seventh Avenue fashion house of hues - selected not by some pigment grinder but by Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren.

Before you know it, couples are arguing over the dinner table whether to redo the bedroom in Martha's aubergine taupe or Ralph's Polo mallet oak. Or, who knows? Escada scarlet or Hugo Boss pin stripe may be next at Sears. Not for us, though. Our house-painting style runs more to Jackson Pollock dripdrop.

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