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Tasty alternatives

Toys over school, veggies over meat, and William F.

Playing school

Can you buy your kids a few IQ points? In the last few years, a huge industry has popped up offering mass-market educational toys to help parents give their children an edge on the 21st century. Stores with names like Imaginarium, Noodle Kidoodle, and Zainy Brainy boast that they can make learning fun. For example, check out the up and coming e-commerce site It sells Teletubbies, Barney, and Elmo like every other store, but it also has shopping areas divided by grade level offering everything from chemistry sets to chess and crossword puzzles. even has an online skills survey so parents can buy products "based on how your child learns most effectively." The site further brags of a "team of experts" that evaluates everything the store sells. Is all this emphasis on learning simply a corporate reaction to the homeschooling movement? Perhaps so, but it shows the rise of intelligence as a commodity in American society. Good work habits and even a college degree aren't enough to get ahead anymore. Fast-moving fields like technology, investing, and management require people who can out-think, out-analyze, and outmaneuver those around them. Apparently, many parents have decided to invest early, particularly since schools are not getting the job done. But one of the reasons so many schools are ineffective is that they downplay rigorous academic training in favor of classroom fun. It remains to be seen whether education through toys will give kids what they are not getting at school--or just more of the same. Don't have a cow

Move over, yogurt. Another politically correct food is invading the American mainstream. Vegetarian hamburgers are becoming increasingly common on menus from coast to coast. The most popular brand, Gardenburger, sold about $25 million worth in 1999 and boasts that the "meatless category" will ring up over $1 billion in sales by next year. And last November, Kellogg's gobbled up Worthington Foods, which means not only bogus burgers, but no-meat sausage, chicken, and hot dogs. The company lobbied the FDA for permission to say that eating 25 grams of soy protein daily may help fight heart disease. The rise of veggie burgers arrives as vegetarianism is coming out of the closet. According to a study last month by Kansas State University researchers, about 7 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarians and untold millions more are trying more meatless menus. Vegetarianism ranges from the consumer-friendliness of the Gardenburger to the bizarre screeds of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that "Jesus was a vegetarian." (He at least ate fish.) While mocked by previous generations, this stuff is serious business, reflecting a change in culture. The "old morality" has been replaced with self-improvement. The new commandments are to keep fit and live at one with nature. More and more people will do anything not to have a cow. Buckley leaves TV

Late last month, the patriarch of American conservatism said goodbye. William F. Buckley turned off the lights on the Firing Line TV show after 33 years. "You've got to end sometime and I'd just as soon not die onstage," he said at the end. That the show's demise went little noticed shows how far Mr. Buckley's cultural stock has dropped. But when he was hot, he was hot: Mr. Buckley burst onto the scene in the 1950s with books like Up from Liberalism and God and Man at Yale and a magazine called National Review that promised to "stand athwart history yelling, 'Stop.'" Mr. Buckley leveraged his role to build an entire movement. The mix of traditional values, free markets, and anti-communism that reached historic proportions during the Reagan years was carefully bred in the pages of National Review during the 1960s and 1970s. "Chairman Bill" brought to his magazine an all-star cast of conservative intellectuals, including Whittaker Chambers, James Burnham, and Russell Kirk. For years, National Review was the journal of record of American conservatism as Mr. Buckley returned fire on the dominant media culture and showed others that they could do the same. In later years he stepped away from the limelight, turning his attention to things like sailing and spy novels. He seemed to become more politically eccentric over the years, but the persona continued. Today, few people under 30 know Bill Buckley's name, but he created the role of public conservative gadfly that Rush Limbaugh would later assume. Firing Line was abandoned long ago by much of its audience and buried in obscure time slots on PBS stations, but its survival was a reminder of Mr. Buckley's role as one of modern America's few conservative cultural gatekeepers.