FEEDING THE WORLD A LINE: News of St. Louis' own biotech giant, Monsanto, flooded the world this year, despite the silencing of Florida journalists Steve Wilson and Jane Akre after a threatening letter from Monsanto. A special issue of The Ecologist got pulped by a timid printer who read its anti-Monsanto contents; people voted across Europe, Asia and Oceania to ban or label genetically modified foods; activists in India and eco-terrorists in Ireland protested biotech firms' unprecedented power to alter nature for profit; government scientists in Canada issued a bravely critical report and took the rap for it. Prince Charles warned that "if something does go badly wrong, we will be faced with the problem of clearing up a kind of pollution which is self-perpetuating." And Monsanto's chorus echoed: Agricultural biotech will save the world's resources, feed its people, preserve its diversity.... (JB)

NOAH'S ARK, WE AIN'T: Unless they're twinkling with white lights in the frontyard, we're just not sure what to do about urban deer -- as the battle in Town and Country showed -- or any other wild animal whose former territory we now occupy. Hell, we're not even sure what to do with dogs that bite or get tortured. These problems are real, and dangerous, and they set "animal lovers" apart from those loyal to human beings, as though the two are mutually exclusive. Have we built a society so inhospitable to the other animals that intelligent coexistence is impossible? (JB)

THROWING AWAY THE KEY: In a year punctured by the acts of inexplicably violent children, 15-year-old Vince Greer was an easy target for local prosecutors. Any child who could shoot his sweet, loving mother to death and wound his father -- senselessly, but with obvious deliberation -- should be locked in the darkest penitentiary for life, they reasoned. The system's mental-health professionals bolstered this by repeatedly diagnosing "conduct disorder" and fretting over Greer's use of marijuana. Then the state's own appointed psychiatrist said Greer was suffering from schizophrenia, a major mental illness that is believed to be biologically caused and can indeed drown out rational moral thought. But Greer's still incarcerated with seriously criminal adults, waiting to be tried for Murder One. It's just not popular these days to treat a criminal differently if he's sick. (JB)

ONE NATION, INCLUDING ISLAM: Two hundred years of religious freedom, and Americans still run the words together when they utter phrases like "Muslim terrorists." Muslims living in St. Louis are, by and large, decent, charitable, successful and God-fearing (their Allah being not an exotic separate entity but the same Creator referred to so smugly on the country's coinage). Their personal blurring of church and state can make dyed-in-the-wool patriots nervous, but overall the Koran's much better than the Bible at making room for other faith traditions. And the Muslims who've become U.S. citizens know the importance of American freedom and pluralism a lot better than most WASPs. (JB)

HAVE GUN, WILL CAMPAIGN: In November, John Ross, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat from the 2nd District, lost the election to Republican incumbent James M. Talent, but his candidacy may have helped promote two of Ross' other passions: guns and literature. The Clayton-based stockbroker garnered 57,665 votes to Talent's 142,313. Ross' unorthodox political views caused the Democratic Party to shun him. A licensed gun dealer, Ross is also the author of the novel Unintended Consequences, a fictional account of how jackbooted thugs from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms wreak havoc on constitutional rights. The book, popular among members of the gun culture, is being sold through Internet sites, including one created by a member of the Missouri Sport Shooting Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association. Some proceeds from the book's sales through Amazon.com, the online bookseller, are being added to the coffers of a campaign to legalize carrying concealed weapons in Missouri. Look for the measure to come to a ballot box near you. (CDS)

CRITICAL MASS: When Washington University began excavating near the corner of Wydown Avenue and Big Bend Boulevard last year, former St. Louis building commissioner Martin Walsh became concerned. The university has since completed the construction of new dormitories at the location. Walsh, an alumnus, recalled that he had been warned in the 1950s to stay clear of that area of the campus because it contained radioactive waste. The caveat came from his chemistry professor, the late Joseph Kennedy -- a co-discoverer of plutonium. A Wash. U. spokesman said the radioactive waste had all been located and removed years ago. But university documents indicate that low-level radioactive waste was buried at the site for more than a decade. University records further show that in 1958, when the first residence halls were built in the vicinity of the nuclear dump, the administration could not pinpoint the location of all the waste. (CDS)

ON THE RIGHT TRACK: It's a senator! No, it's a presidential candidate! Wait, it's our own U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, a politician who spent 1998 launching an early bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000. Ashcroft spent February fighting a doomed battle to prevent Dr. David Satcher from becoming U.S. surgeon general -- a stand that even some of his Republican Senate colleagues believed was harebrained. In the spring, Ashcroft released a new classic in the field of spiritual autobiography, Lessons from a Father to His Son, and he spent much of the year setting up political-action committees to raise campaign cash. Ashcroft even joined the wave of national candidates taking advantage of a campaign-funding loophole in Virginia to raise large sums of cash that evade Federal Election Commission scrutiny. Ashcroft didn't ignore President Bill Clinton, either. He was one of the first talking heads to appear on CNN and MSNBC as Clinton was testifying to a grand jury in August, and one fundraising letter that Ashcroft sent out before the disastrous GOP election campaign in 1998 could be summed up as "Bring me the head of Bill Clinton!" Keep on running, John! Mel Carnahan is right behind you! (RB)

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