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A Nervous Industry Finds
Hostility at Auto Show

Just a year ago, working as a product presenter at an auto show was a pretty straightforward job. You stood next to a vehicle, you called it a marvel of engineering, style and comfort and then you fielded softball questions like, “What does this baby cost?”

But that was before the bailout. Now that the government has helped General Motors and Chrysler stave off bankruptcy with billions of dollars in loans, these companies are finding somewhat hostile crowds at their exhibits at the New York International Auto Show.

Donald Han, an accountant from Queens, sounded unmoved. “Why now?” he asked the woman, rather curtly, once she had finished her patter. “How come you’ve got to nearly go bankrupt before you come out with a car like this?”

It does not seem to matter that these women — they are nearly all women, most of them young and attractive — work part-time for marketing firms and talent agencies with contracts to staff the exhibits. Many know little about the car companies they are shilling for beyond the scripts they have memorized.

“I try to explain that we’re not involved in corporate decisions, so complaining to us doesn’t really make a lot of sense,” said Kerri Moss, standing on a large turntable next to a Jeep 4 X 4 Laredo, a Chrysler product. Recently laid off from her job as a teacher, she is trying to earn some money on the car-show circuit, which runs from September to May. “And if that doesn’t work, I tell them we’re doing the best we can.”

Mortars Threaten U.S. Congressman’s Plane in Somalia

Rep. Donald M. Payne, the chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, narrowly escaped a mortar attack on Monday as he was ending a visit to Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-ridden capital, that he undertook against the advice of the Obama administration.

Just a day after U.S. military snipers killed three Somali pirates and freed a kidnapped sea captain, eliciting vows of revenge from pirates and other Somalis, several mortar rounds exploded in the vicinity of Payne’s plane as it was taking off from Mogadishu for Nairobi, Kenya. At least 10 civilians were wounded in the explosions.

The congressman, a Democrat from Newark, N.J., was unhurt and it was unclear if insurgents who routinely shell the airport were trying to hit his plane or were simply unleashing another assault on the city’s main lifeline.

The Shabab, an Islamist insurgent group vying for control of the country, later took responsibility for the attack, Reuters reported.

Amazon Ranking Errors Ignite
A Twitter-Fed Outrage

In response to nearly two days of angry online commentary, particularly on Twitter, Amazon.com said on Monday that “an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error” had caused thousands of books on its site to lose their sales rankings and become harder to find in searches.

Most of the company’s online critics complained that the problem appeared to have a disproportionate effect on gay- and lesbian-themed books, leading to cries of censorship.

The titles that lost their sales rankings during the weekend included James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room,” the gay romance novel “Transgressions” and “Unfriendly Fire,” a recently published book about the government’s policies on gays in the military.