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The Skinny: Of Cavemen And Airline Customers

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The Skinny, Hillary Profita's take on the top of the news and the best of the Web, appears daily here on Public Eye and on the "Evening News" page at CBSNews.com.

Here's a headline that's going to get e-mailed around the Web about 93 billion times along with cute one-liners: "New DNA Test Is Yielding Clues to Neanderthals." That's probably at least part of the reason it ended up on the front page of three major papers. Oh, along with the fact that the beginning of Neanderthal mapping is expected to reveal, "by its differences with the human genome, many distinctive qualities of what it means to be human," says the New York Times. More specifically, reconstructing the genetic code of Neanderthals by using a 38,000-year-old fossil of a bone will, researchers hope, reveal "the entire DNA sequence of the closest cousin humans ever had," says The Washington Post.

"Obviously, it's just really cool to get genetic results for Neanderthals," Bruce Lahn of the University of Chicago, told USA Today. Anyway, get your quips ready early to distribute along with the article to family members you dislike.

Sunny Iraq

One more American general is taking issue with the idea of a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq within the next four to six months – this time it's the top military commander for the Middle East region, Gen. John Abizaid. The New York Times and several other papers report the news on their front pages.

He told the Senate Armed Services committee that such a withdrawal would incite sectarian violence, echoing the concerns of those generals quoted yesterday. He also made an unlikely admission that a larger force of troops should have been deployed back in 2003. That meant this sound bite from Abizaid was repeated on cable news yesterday until most viewers likely had it memorized: "I think you can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable in the early stages of May, June, July."

Axis Of Evil Update

The Los Angeles Times takes a different angle on the story – leading with Iran's reaction to the potential of troops pulling out in the next several months. While Iran's official position opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq, some analysts told the LAT that a growing number of Iranians would prefer that the U.S. remain there, as an unstable Iraq could pose a threat to Iran.

"They've not said it directly and openly as an official policy line, that they'd like the U.S. to stay, but I think there's a sense among the Iranians that they understand that the U.S. cannot just leave immediately," Hadi Semati, an Iranian political analyst at the Brookings Institution, told the newspaper.

Hunger Is Out, "Low Food Security" Is In

There's a fun little adventure in the semantics of government labeling on the front page of the Washington Post today: Every year the Department of Agriculture issues a report measuring Americans' access to food. This year, instead of referring to people without much food as "hungry" -- the term that has traditionally been used in the report to describe, um, hungry people – they are identified as experiencing "very low food security." Kind of like how a short person experiences "very low height." Or a young person experiences a "very low assemblage of years of life." I'd love to go on, really, but I have a deadline. Anyway, the lead author of the report says "hungry" is "not a scientifically accurate term for the specific phenomenon being measured in the food security survey," adding, "We don't have a measure of that condition."

As for the results of the report, 11 million Americans "reported going hungry at times. Beginning this year, the USDA has determined 'very low food security' to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group."

Will Airline Merger Stiff You, The Customer?

Will US Airways' proposed hostile takeover of Delta mean higher prices for airline passengers? The New York Times says "it is unclear at this point" whether higher prices would accompany a merger of the two airlines – a consequence that often follows the consolidation of companies. One industry consultant told the Times that would depend on whether the number of flights are reduced in certain routes. The Wall Street Journal came to a similar conclusion, noting that Delta's creditors and the federal government must support the merger and they "may be concerned about the two airlines' tight grip in markets up and down the East Coast. If competition decreases in those markets, consumers could see increased fares." Judging from my own personal experience with our nation's airlines, which has primarily been unpleasant, I'm going to go ahead and bet on higher fares.

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