For web applications, the most popular are Arial, Trebuchet ms and Verdana. My personal favorite is Trebuchet ms for mid-size and large title fonts and Arial for small words. I make it a point to only use either black or white for the font color of my content, with the negative as the background. This is by no means a strict design rule, as you will find many very effectively used colors on different backgrounds. I just do it for the contrast and make it more readable for those with poor eyesight. I did use a colored font on our forum, but only because a monochrome forum is incredibly dull.
To make your site degrade gracefully, the answer is not less css. you should first layout your site without css positioning, then add it back in.
I personally would like some kind of a blog or dynamic content, it would also raise the rating of your website, and give your visitors a reason to keep checking back.
You were asking about the gradients, thats the fading around the FIRST logo (which if you check the rules btw, theres something about leaving a whitespace of at least a certain size between the logo and anything else) and the excessive drop shadow behind your logo on the header. The logo is way too big, and should be shrinked about 30%. its overflowing out of the header! Remove the mirroring of your text and give it the same gradient as the logo; it’ll look awesome. the mirroring and fading of the first logo don’t look very well done.
The FIRST logo looks really out of place anywhere on your website because of the lack of white, so i would recommend having a 1px black border put around it (which isolates it), made a link to usfirst.org, then placed centered in the links content box.
The curved corners are the yellow rounded edges of every content block. They are really bright compared to the content area and i get the feeling that my eyes are being stretched because their attention is being drawn to the outlines not the content. What i mean when i say don’t use curved corners is because now your navigation looks out of place, and it’ll take a lot of work to make all of that curved too. Thin down the borders to one pixel or so, it will make the page look much better.
Anyway I shouldn’t talk so much about other people’s websites, heres ours to give you an idea of a ‘modern’ looking website http://srvhsrobotics.org/
heres a more fluid, but still modern website that uses rounded corners very effectively http://mapable.com/
i personally prefer the crisp, professional look so i went for sharp lines and bold colors. turn off css and you are left with the exact same page, without the background image and fonts.