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Food raves: they gather secretly at night, and then they eat

SAN FRANCISCO — Along with big-wave surfing and high-altitude ultramarathons, eating is an extreme sport here. Which explains why, on a recent Saturday night, Tipay Corpuz, 21, a technology specialist for Apple, took a break from blogging about her obsession with fried chicken-and-waffles to join 2,500 fellow food geeks at the Underground Night Market.

At this quasi-clandestine monthly event, a tribal gathering of young chefs, vendors, and their iron-stomached followers are remaking the traditional farmer’s market as an indie food rave.

At midnight, the smell of stir-fried pork bellies was wafting through the Mission district. There was live music, liquor, bouncers, a disco ball — and a line waiting to sample hundreds of delicacies made mostly on location, among them bacon-wrapped mochi (a Japanese rice paste) and ice cream made from red beets, Guinness, and chocolate cake.

In a sense it is civil disobedience on a paper plate.

The underground market seeks to encourage food entrepreneurship by helping young vendors avoid roughly $1,000 a year in fees — including those for health permits and liability insurance — required by legitimate farmers’ markets. Here, where the food rave — call it a crave — was born, the market organizers sidestep city health inspections by operating as a private club, requiring that participants become “members” (free) and sign a disclaimer noting that food might not be prepared in a space that has been inspected.

—Patricia Leigh Brown, The New York Times

Lady Liberty postage stamp depicts a Vegas replica

As if further proof were needed that New York is not the center of the universe.

The U.S. Postal Service has issued a new stamp featuring the Statue of Liberty. Only the statue it features is not the one in the harbor but the replica at the New York-New York Casino in Las Vegas.

You might think that the post office would have just gone with the original, the one off Lower Manhattan that for 125 years has welcomed millions of New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, they accidentally used the 14-year-old statue that presides over thousands of gamblers a week.

The post office, which had thought the Lady Liberty “forever” stamp featured the real thing, found out otherwise when a clever stamp collector who is also what one might call a superfan of the Statue of Liberty got suspicious and contacted Linn’s Stamp News, the essential read among philatelists.

—Kim Severson and Matthew Healey, The New York Times

Spending agreement hurts police and fire agencies

It may have kept the federal government from shutting down, but the budget agreement that President Barack Obama struck with Congress over the weekend will make it harder for some struggling cities to keep their police stations and firehouses staffed.

A program that helps cash-starved cities hire police officers was cut by $52 million.

The reduction means that the program, under which the Justice Department awards cities grants that pay the full salary and benefits of new officers for three years, will be able to pay for roughly 200 fewer officers this year than it did last year, when it paid for 1,388 officers.

The budget deal also changed the rules governing a similar program that helps struggling cities hire firefighters — reducing the grants so much, union and city officials said, that many cities may find themselves unable to take advantage of the program.

The firefighter grants, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have been used in the past year to rehire 252 previously laid off firefighters, retain 161 firefighters in danger of losing their jobs, and hire 1,253 new firefighters.

—Michael Cooper, The New York Times

TVA considers improvements

for six US nuclear reactors

WASHINGTON — The Tennessee Valley Authority said Thursday it was considering millions of dollars of improvements to protect its six nuclear reactors from earthquakes and floods.

It is the first U.S. reactor operator to announce what safety changes it is weighing since an earthquake and tsunami set off a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan last month. Other operators have said publicly they might have to make changes, but they have avoided saying what those were.

The TVA issued a fact sheet saying that it was considering reducing the amount of fuel in its spent fuel pools by transferring older fuel to passively cooled “dry casks” and adding additional backup diesel generators.

It also listed three changes that are less commonly discussed: improving electrical switchyards to make them more resistant to earthquakes, adding small generators to recharge cellphone batteries and keep the lights on, and reinforcing the pipes that provide cooling water to spent fuel pools.

Of the six reactors operated by the TVA, three are boiling water reactors that resemble the Fukushima reactors. The authority said that none of its reactors are in areas where an earthquake risk is high. But it said it was looking at “potential vulnerabilities from a chain of events, such as damage from a tornado or earthquake combined with flooding from a dam failure.”

The spent fuel storage problem has been debated for years. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to look into the problem, and in 2005 the academy reported the pools might in fact be vulnerable to terrorism. It said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should evaluate whether some of the fuel should be moved to dry casks.

—Matthew L. Wald, The New York Times