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The Zeitgeist Checklist

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FOURTH AND LONG

Last week: -- Weeks on list: 1*

5 Sports. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, his team performing woefully in preseason and in need of a punter, hires out-of-work Tom Cruise. The partnership, First and Goal LLC, will give the Scientologist-actor up to $10 million a year for expenses such as couch repair and replacement.

WHO NEEDS TERRORISTS?

Last week: 5 Weeks on list: 4

6 Homeland Security. As polls show Americans abandoning the administration line that Iraq is part of the war on terror, Bush prepares a round of speeches to reinforce the point while planning much activity for the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Incompetence proves deadlier than terrorism as Comair flight crashes on wrong runway in Kentucky when lone worker in undermanned control tower isn't looking.

FLUSHED

Last week:-- Weeks on list: 1*

7 Weather. Hurricane Ernesto is a washout, and coverage of Katrina anniversary quickly reaches saturation. This compounds misery for cable news after charges are dropped against JonBenet confessor/hoaxster John Mark Karr. CNN's solution: Narrating a Bush speech with audio of anchor Kyra Phillips using the toilet and dishing on her sister-in-law.

ELDERS OF ZION

Last week: 4 Weeks on list: 8

8 Middle East. Israel won't lift its blockade of Lebanon. Hezbollah won't release the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. U.N. won't send enough troops to enforce a cease-fire. Kofi Annan won't stop whining. Meantime, Harvard's Stephen Walt and University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer come to town, guests of a Muslim group, to blame everything on American Jews and Israel.

THE ROAD MORE TRAVELED

Last week: 6 Weeks on list: 2

9 Economy. Census Bureau finds that Washington area has the nation's three wealthiest counties, which can be conveniently accessed by driving through the nation's second-worst traffic. From their Leesburg McMansions and Lexuses snarled on I-66, political Washingtonians have little worry of encountering the 46.6 million Americans without health insurance or the 37 million in poverty.

LIFE IMITATES ALI G

Last week:-- Weeks on list: 1*

10 White House. Brilliantly timed with the release of the new Borat movie, Bush will welcome Kazakhstan's autocratic president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the White House and in Kennebunkport. This appears to contradict Bush's initiative to foil foreign corruption, but Americans are unlikely to read about it: New SAT results show the biggest drop in verbal scores in 31 years.

* RESURFACES IN ZEITGEIST AFTER AN ABSENCE. THE ZEITGEIST CHECKLIST ALSO APPEARS IN SLATE, THE ONLINE MAGAZINE AT WWW.SLATE.COM.


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