With the closest thing we have to a national presidential primary coming just two days after the Super Bowl, some fear that the sports sanctity of the football championship might be sullied by the presence of political ads.

Several campaigns investigated investing in super-expensive Super Bowl spots, figuring that might be an efficient way of advertising in the 22 states that hold contests on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5.

But the Fox TV network, which will air the contest, just decreed that the broadcast will remain a politics-free zone, at least on the national level.

The local or regional TV commercial picture could be another matter, and the word is some candidates are intent on injecting themselves — welcome or not — into the game on Super Sunday.



Maybe if the presidential candidates ever stop snarling at each other they can answer a few questions posed to them by a coalition of catastrophe experts, who have launched a campaign to bring the issue of disaster protection front and center.

The ProtectingAmerica.org coalition — made up of emergency-management officials, disaster-relief experts, insurers and groups such as the American Red Cross — is also advocating the establishment of a privately financed national catastrophe fund.

That pot of money would go to those who lose homes or businesses to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and other major disasters, as well as to efforts to improve building code enforcement and other preventive measures.

So far, just GOP presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani — who has staked his White House bid on hurricane-battered Florida — has embraced the idea.



What may be the "repository of last resort" for the world's agricultural heritage is close to creation, with the first seeds now on their way to an island vault off the Arctic coast of Norway.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault officially opens Feb. 26, with a stock of more than 200,000 varieties of rice, wheat, beans, corn, peas and a host of other plants from the United States, Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere.

The climate-controlled vault in a mountain near the village of Longyearbyen is designed to preserve the seeds in plantable condition for several thousand years as a precious backup for biodiversity in the future. Eventually, the United Nations' agriculture agencies hope to stash samples of more than 600,000 species at the site.



Another sign of a brewing recession? Fewer Americans volunteered last year than in 2006, the U.S. Department of Labor reported this past week. Economic theory holds that fewer folks can afford to volunteer during bad times.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics survey conducted last September reported that about 60 million people said they had engaged in volunteer work. That was less than the 61 million who said so in September 2006.



It went all but unnoticed, but Wednesday (Jan. 23) was the 40th anniversary of North Korea's seizure of the USS Pueblo, a Navy spy vessel on an intelligence mission in international waters.

After attacking the ship and killing a crew member, the North Koreans held the 82 American sailors prisoner in terrible conditions for 11 months before letting them go. The ship remains in Pyongyang, where it is a tourist attraction and an icon of anti-Americanism.

In 2005, North Korea said it would repatriate the ship if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or another top official went to Pyongyang for high-level talks. The United States said no thanks.


(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at hoffmanl(at)shns.com. SHNS correspondent Lee Bowman contributed to this column.)