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Good luck finding a copy of Personal History, the 1997 memoir by The Washington Post's Katharine Graham. It sold out at bookstores and Amazon.com within three days of her death. Publisher Random House is out, too. A spokesman says only that a reprinting is "very, very likely." In the next few weeks, commissioners in Coos County, Ore. (pop. 65,000), will vote on a "proclamation" that all homeowners keep a firearm. Sponsor Michael Cook, a former sheriff, was inspired by other communities that have seen crime rates drop after passing similar laws. "It's like putting a Beware of Dog sign on your gate," he says.

If it passes, Coos County will join at least three U.S. jurisdictions with pro-gun laws. The towns, even though they don't strictly enforce the laws, believe that letting outsiders know homeowners keep guns can deter crime.

To some extent, it does. Kennesaw, Ga., was first to vote in 1982 to require homes to keep a firearm--a response to a 1981 law in Morton Grove, Ill., outlawing guns. In the 20 years since, the population has quadrupled in Kennesaw while the number of crimes has plunged 33%. That's miles ahead of the 13% drop in crime in the U.S. in that period. Crimes in Morton Grove also fell, but only 12.5%. (Another town, Virgin, Utah, has seen no change in crime since the law was passed last year.)

Yet gun-control advocates say the payoff isn't worth the risk. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says 77% of guns used by children in suicides and accidental shootings are found at home. "A gun in the home does not make you safer," says Brady's Soledad Roybal. But Cook disagrees: "The numbers of suicides are minuscule compared to the good that guns do." Search engines are a consumer hazard. That's what Ralph Nader says about the rising number of them that let companies pay to pop up prominently when people enter particular search terms. Nader's beef? The search engines don't clearly notify surfers that listings might be based on money rather than merit, and fail to explain criteria for search results. His advocacy group, Commercial Alert, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on July 16 alleging deceptive advertising practices at eight popular search engines: AltaVista, DirectHit, HotBot, iWon, LookSmart, Lycos, Netscape, and MSN. "Search engines have become crucial in the Internet Age. If these are being hijacked and skewed by corporate advertisers, that can lead to dramatic degradation of the information citizens really get," says Commercial Alert Executive Director Gary Ruskin.

But pay-for-placement is an important cash source for search engines, generating up to 50% of revenue. If the FTC finds in favor of Commercial Alert, it could force a change in their behavior. Meantime, watch for clues like the words "Sponsored Link" to tell you an advertiser has paid for listing. To hear competitors tell it, Windows XP, Microsoft's (chart) new operating system that's set to launch on Oct. 25, threatens everyone from Internet service providers to the music industry. If they're reading Microsoft's own marketing hype, they might add in phone companies. The Microsoft Insider newsletter says users can "retire your telephone" with XP's Windows Messenger. It lets users communicate with voice or video over the Web. Windows beta tester Barb Bowman writes that Messenger will be "probably the most exciting new communications tool since the telephone."

Not so fast. The only friends you'll be able to talk to are those who also have Windows XP. And they'll need to be online--unlike with Net telephone services, such as Net2Phone, which place regular calls. Even Windows XP's lead product manager Greg Sullivan says he has no plans to get rid of his phone anytime soon. One unreported casualty of last month's floods in Houston: 95,000 cars. Many of their air bags were water-damaged and should be junked. But because the damage isn't visible, many of the bags are ending up in repair shops as secondhand parts. Add the tens of thousands of air bags stolen each year, and the market for air bags is hot. There's plenty of incentive: A new air bag can cost up to $1,500; a second-hand one might sell for $400.

There's nothing illegal about air bags as secondhand parts. But there are also no regulations requiring repair shops to test them for safety or determine where they came from, and no requirement that drivers replace them after accidents.

That's causing growing safety concerns. Air bags with flood damage are dangerous because of residual moisture. They take up to a third of a second longer to inflate than new ones. By that time, "you've had your head buried in the steering wheel," says Peter Byrne, president of Airbag Testing Technology, which inspects recycled air bags.

Then there are the body shops and car owners who knowingly circumvent air-bag safety. Owners of banged-up cars may tell body shops to skip replacing the air bags, since they can tack $3,000 onto the repair bill for even a fender-bender. "The owner knows there's no air bag in there," says Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice-president at the Highway Loss Data Institute. "The next buyer doesn't." No laws require used cars to come equipped with air bags.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alert to the safety concerns, is looking into the issue and is expected to report by yearend. No doubt, that will be too late for some unfortunate drivers. Taxes in Belgium are through the roof. Most people hand over 65% of their pay in social security and income taxes. There's a 21% value-added tax, and a 16% tax on buying a home. Sure, Belgian beer is delicious, but who's got money left to buy a round?

Plenty of people, actually. Unlike some of its neighbors, Belgium doesn't tax everything all the time. So the land of chocolate and Eurocrats is becoming Europe's most surprising tax haven. Want to sell your high-tech startup and retire early? In Belgium, there's no capital-gains tax. Want to avoid having assets zapped by the French wealth tax? Move to Brussels. Even the tax on income from rentals is low, so absentee landlords are proliferating. All told, says Ren? Philips at KPMG International, about 100,000 tax refugees, mainly Dutch and French, are in Belgium. "Now we're seeing Germans and British," he says.

Neighbors are starting to cut taxes on stock trades and options. However, regionwide tax reform is still a long way off. Silicon Valley's dead dot-coms have discarded so much office furniture that the Salvation Army can barely take any more. Because bulky, high-tech-looking desks and chairs are harder to sell than items that blend in easily with living-room sets, the charity had been accepting just 25% of what was offered. That's now only 5%, says Robert Gregory, a San Francisco Salvation Army administrator. His dispatchers get swamped with end-of-month calls from dot-coms that need to vacate in a hurry, but the charity's warehouses have minimal storage space.

Even for a $699 Aeron chair? "We don't want Aerons," he says. Too high-tech. But as for those other icons of the dot-com era--Foosball tables--Gregory says bring 'em on over.


Toyota's Hydrogen Man
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