Guy Taylor, a D.C.-based freelancer, had heard that "the media freedom situation is a little bit dire" in Syria, so he got an award from the Stanley Foundation to check things out for himself ("After the Damascus Spring," page 38). He found out how seriously Syrian dissidents take the issue when a human rights activist insisted on traveling from Aleppo to meet with him just hours after the man's wife had given birth to a stillborn baby. The activist, who makes an appearance in the article, told him that freedom of the press was so important that even a personal tragedy wasn't enough to keep him from spreading the message.

RU Sirius, host of the weekly podcasts The RU Sirius Show and NeoFiles and founder of the new webzine 10 Zen Monkeys, has a longstanding interest in death. He wrote a book on the subject, Design for Dying, with Timothy Leary in 1997. This month he reviews another book, William H. Colby's Unplugged ("Our Right to Death," page 61), which he calls "much drier" than his own. Sirius' next tome—True Mutations, due out in early 2007—is about transhumanism. He says the two topics are related. "If we do find drugs or methods that will radically expand our lifespan," he explains, "we'll still be subject to death in various ways for quite a while. There will just be an increasing complexity."

Contributing Editor Charles Paul Freund is a longtime devotee of Levi's 501s, which he has worn to weddings and embassy receptions without shame or embarrassment. In "The Politics of Pants" (page 70), Freund considers the cultural resonance of denim dungarees. "Of course, there are places where people still frown on jeans," Freund notes. "If you show up at their house in denim, they'll regard you as disrespectful." During a stay in Beirut he was about to make an impromptu visit when he realized that his jeans might be just such a problem. "Don't worry," a Beiruti friend assured him. "It's an American world now."