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World Briefs I

U.S. Trade Deficit Shrinks for First Time in Eight Months

Los Angeles Times

The nation's foreign trade deficit narrowed in June for the first time in eight months, the government reported Wednesday, but analysts said the shrinkage was likely to be temporary and did not signal any long-term improvement in the trade picture.

Commerce Department figures showed that imports exceeded exports by only $8.2 billion over the month, down from a revised $9.5 billion in May, but still high by historical standards. Imports declined slightly from May levels, while exports surged to a record high.

Analysts said the better-than-expected performance was likely to push the economy's overall growth rate for the second quarter of this year above the 2.2 percent annual rate projected in preliminary estimates - possibly even sending it to a 3 percent to 4 percent pace.

Trade is one of the components that makes up the gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services that the United States produces. In the first quarter, the economy grew at a 4.9 percent annual rate - a pace policy-makers worried was too rapid to keep inflation in check.

Although the Federal Reserve Board passed up a chance to raise interest rates Tuesday, the central bank has warned that it will not hesitate to do so in the future if the economy does not slow down. The Fed is aiming for an overall growth rate of between 2 percent and 3 percent a year.

Science Educators Debate the Value Of Individual vs. Team Competitions

The Washington Post

While their schoolmates have been at the pool, teenagers who dream of winning the Westinghouse Science Talent Search have been in laboratories or garages or basements this summer, nurturing plants, mixing chemicals or contemplating the structure of quarks. The deadline is Nov. 24, and those who enter the nation's oldest and best-known youth science competition need a head start.

Yet, in many of the country's best high schools, some have come to see such contests as a misuse of time and energy. Their message: Einstein is dead, and contests that glorify individual scientific achievement ignore the fact that science these days is mostly teamwork.

The disenchantment with the Westinghouse contest and similar science competitions reflects a growing preference in U.S. schools for activities that emphasize group rather than individual work, educators say. One major science competition sponsor, the Junior Engineering Technical Society, has reorganized its contests to test teams rather than individuals, and others are likely to follow suit.

This trend does not sit well with some education specialists. Chester Finn, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education, said Nobel Prizes still appear to be won through individual work and inspiration. Shunning individual-based science competitions also contradicts the view of many education reformers that "high-school curriculums are much too shallow, and it is better to go narrow and deep," Finn said.

Celebrities Enhance Clinton's 51st Birthday Celebration

The Washington Post

A 50th birthday calls for celebrating in black tie and evening gowns with thousands of your best friends, champagne, video tributes, this-is-your-life surprise guests and, if there's time, a bit of soul searching about What It All Means. A 51st birthday, on the other hand, seems to suggest a khakis-and-blazer kind of affair, a more intimate gathering with less glamorous fare - say, a bucket of clams.

Of course, when you're the president of the United States, even an intimate clambake can still draw some boldface names, such as actors Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson, singers Carly Simon and Jimmy Buffett and game show impresario Merv Griffin.

President Clinton celebrated his 51st birthday Tuesday night at the oceanfront Steenburgen-Danson spread in the Chilmark area of Martha's Vineyard, amid an extraordinary cloak of secrecy rarely seen in Washington for less important events such as budget negotiations.

The White House went out of its way to keep details quiet. The pool of reporters that typically follows the president anywhere he goes was brought by the house Tuesday night but was unable to identify anyone entering before being shuffled away to another location. Asked who was on the guest list, deputy White House press secretary Barry Toiv said helpfully, "Friends."