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A national briefing of people, issues and events around the country

Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page A02

Rhode Island Student Reinstated After Flap Over Principal Photos

For the irreverent student with a digital camera and a Web site devoted to exposing the truth, it was the scoop of the century.

Eliazar Velasquez, 17, of Providence, R.I., heard from a friend that his principal at Central High School, Elaine Almagno, liked to smoke after hours just outside a back door, in violation of a state law that bars lighting up within 25 feet of a school building.

So on March 7, Velasquez hid behind a nearby wall, snapping photos of Almagno, and later posted seven on the Internet.

"Looks like our dear principal doesn't really care much for following the law, eh?" he wrote on the site CentralScoop.tripod.com. "What kind of example is she setting for the students of Central High?"

A few days later, it was Velasquez who had an example made out of him. He was suspended from school March 18.

"It's about how this affects 1,500 students," Almagno told the Providence Journal, which reported the incidents on Tuesday. "When something like this happens, it's an extreme disruption of teaching and learning."

But when the news became public, Superintendent Melody Johnson intervened.

Velasquez was allowed to return to school on Wednesday, and his record was wiped clean. Asked by reporters what he had learned from the incident, Velasquez said: "You should know your rights so they won't be violated. And if they are violated, you should do something about it."

-- Jonathan Finer

T. Rex as South Dakota's State Dinosaur? Not So Fast, Big Boy.

Tyrannosaurus rex might have made other dinosaurs tremble in fear, but some South Dakota legislators weren't impressed by a plan to make the big meat-eater the state dinosaur.

Noting that the triceratops is already honored as the official state fossil, state Sen. Brock Greenfield called Sen. Stan Adelstein's T. rex campaign "ridiculous" and another example of an out-of-control frenzy of state symbol designation.

"The state sport is now rodeo, even though participation in it isn't near as great as other sports," Greenfield said. "We established fry bread as the state bread, even though most people don't know what it is. They felt compelled to vote for it, because they didn't want to be seen as racist."

South Dakota isn't alone in its fondness for naming obscure symbols. Minnesota has a state muffin, Virginia a state bat, New Mexico a state cookie, Mississippi a state reptile. Proposed legislation would make the jackalope Wyoming's state mythological creature. Often the state symbols are proposed as ways to promote tourism, though critics doubt their effectiveness.

"Having a state sport is not going to bring three more people to South Dakota," Greenfield said. "It's one thing to call us the Rushmore state, because that's what we're known for. But to establish some of these other things through state law is completely unnecessary."

-- Kari Lydersen

NASA's Recipe for Space Calls for More Fake Moon Dirt

Houston, we have a problem: a shortage of fake moon dirt.

The country's supply of fake moon dirt, dubbed JSC-1, has been depleted from 25 tons to a few pounds stored in a plastic bag in a paint bucket at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

JSC-1 has been distributed in large and small amounts since the early '90s to scientists, engineers and students for science fair projects.

In the renewed space race under the Bush administration to return to the moon for longer expeditions by 2020, NASA will need more than 100 tons of fake moon dirt for experiments.

The man with the secret recipe for JSC-1 is James L. Carter, 67, a geosciences professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The process to create the simulated lunar soil is a complex one, and the recipe calls for volcanic ash with a large percentage of glass. The secret is in the way that it is ground, Carter says.

And he is eager to make a new batch of the stuff. "I think it's very exciting. It means that we're going back to the moon. That's always exciting to me -- to have human beings involved instead of robots."

-- Caroline Keating

No Room in El Segundo for Agatha Christie or Jack London

No one is keeping readers at the El Segundo, Calif., Public Library from checking out as many Jack London and Agatha Christie books as they like. They just won't be able to delve into "The Call of the Wild" or "Murder on the Orient Express" in reading rooms named after the celebrated writers.

City Council members of the beachside community just outside of Los Angeles rejected a plan to name two new library additions after the authors -- dismissing London as a communist and Christie, whose novels have been outsold only by the Bible and William Shakespeare, for her nationality. She's a Brit -- not an American.

"They wanted someone more local," said city library director Debra Brighton. "And I think we're all aware London was a socialist."

The library has been inundated with support for the two writers. But city leaders have been brainstorming for alternatives for christening the reading rooms and two other additions. What they've come up with is decidedly unliterary: Conference Rooms A-D or Mariposa, Main, Palm and Richmond -- for the four streets that surround the library.

When the four additions are opened to the public next week, they will have the temporary names of Conference Rooms A-D. One alternative suggestion is for a rotating display of authors outside of the rooms -- a list that includes Samuel Clemens, Pearl Buck, John Steinbeck and Emily Dickinson. But even that may be too contentious, Brighton said.

-- Kimberly Edds


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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