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News Briefs

‘Vagina Monologues’ Premiere In China Halted By Censors

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- BEIJING

Eve Ensler once said she named her one-woman play “The Vagina Monologues” because the word vagina makes people feel anxious and awkward. “I say it because I’m not supposed to say it,” she said.

The challenge to social norms made the play a sensation in the United States. But in China, where the word vagina carries even greater shock value and is rarely spoken in public, “The Vagina Monologues” roiled the wrong people -- the country’s censors.

This week, propaganda officials ordered the indefinite postponement of the play’s China premiere in Shanghai, nominally the country’s most Westernized city. In the capital, Beijing, authorities stopped an avant-garde art gallery from staging an informal, nonprofit rendition of “The Vagina Monologues” that had been scheduled for Valentine’s Day.

Though Ensler’s play addresses some still-sensitive women’s rights issues and violence against women, the content does not appear to have set off official censure. Instead, it is simply the word vagina, which appears in most standard Chinese dictionaries but is almost never printed in the mainstream media, that broke an unwritten rule.

Despite Veto Threat, Senate Backs $318 Billion For Highways

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The Senate approved a $318 billion highway and mass transit measure on Thursday in the face of a presidential veto threat and resistance from conservatives who accused their colleagues of embarking on a spending spree despite a rising deficit.

After easily defeating a series of challenges aimed at cutting the cost of the measure, senators voted 76-21 in favor of the six-year proposal, which exceeds by $62 billion the spending level President Bush has said is acceptable.

“As a fiscal conservative, I say that I believe in spending more in certain areas,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “One area is national defense, one area is infrastructure.”

While the bill had strong support from most Democrats, Republicans spent the day in a pitched intramural fight over the price tag of legislation that is developing into an early test of Republican willingness to hold down spending. Some conservative Republicans said their colleagues were ignoring the implications of a deficit estimated to be $521 billion this year to win local road and bridge projects.

Fall Return Of Shuttle Is Doubtful

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- WASHINGTON

It is becoming doubtful that space shuttle flights will resume this fall, as NASA has planned, because there have been problems developing some required safety upgrades, the agency’s administrator, Sean O’Keefe, said on Thursday.

O’Keefe, speaking at a hearing of the House Science Committee, said there was a “very low prospect” of shuttles returning to flight during the Sept. 12 to Oct. 10 launching period because more work was needed to modify the external fuel tank and develop a device to inspect the heat shield.

O’Keefe would not speculate whether the shuttle would fly before next spring if it missed launching this fall. Daylight launching opportunities of only a few days are available in November and January, but some NASA officials have questioned if that is enough time to perform all the preparations for a first flight.

Efforts to understand and reduce the loss of foam insulation from the fuel tank have been expanded to include more of the 154-foot-tall structure, he said, requiring more testing. In addition, work has been going slower than expected in developing imaging instruments that would be attached to a boom on the shuttle’s robot arm for examining heat tiles and other remote parts for possible damage.