This Week

Issue: "Betting on the future," Aug. 1, 1998

Statist salads

Thanks to Gov. Pete Wilson, Californians can once again enjoy a proper Caesar salad. Ever vigilant to protect citizens from themselves, the state assembly in 1997 passed the Beth Rudolph Food Safety Act, named after a little girl who died after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli. To prevent similar tragedies, the law set minimum restaurant cooking temperatures. Restaurateurs protested that certain dishes, like the Caesar salad, could not be prepared without raw eggs, which would violate the temperature guidelines. So Gov. Wilson last week signed an amendment protecting gourmands while still requiring that hamburgers be cooked well done unless patrons specifically request rare or medium rare. Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), who proposed the change, joked of saving the salads: "Even a bad egg is entitled to enjoy a good Caesar salad."

Eat, drink, and...

Corporate marketing has hit a new low. In Cambodia's bars, "beer girls" wear gowns in the colors of various beer brands. Each tries to sell her particular label, hoping the customer will pick her to pour his drinks all night. And the relationship often extends past closing time. Many of the 4,000 to 5,000 beer girls sleep with clients, sometimes in exchange for money or gifts or simply to encourage sales. Though some brewers send inspectors to enforce their rules against fraternization with customers, others, such as Australia's Foster's Brewing Group Ltd., have no such restrictions, and even pay bonuses for higher sales-regardless of the sales technique. "We take no responsibility for what the girls may do outside working hours," says Malcolm Paul, the company's Hong Kong-based regional director. Mr. Paul noted condoms to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases are widely available in Cambodia and said his employees are adults. "I don't think there is a pressure on the girls to get that extra bonus, but it's a part of the job to make sure the guys and the girls have a good time," he said. Cambodian health officials worry that such attitudes among foreign beer companies may be encouraging the spread of AIDS. The threat of AIDS may be greater for beer girls because they don't consider themselves to be prostitutes and thus at higher risk for the disease. Despite the dangers, almost no one wants the companies to stop hiring beer girls, since jobs paying the equivalent of $50 a month are hard to come by in Cambodia.

Dr. Death redux

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John Biskind, an Arizona abortionist who earlier this summer "mistook" a full-term pregnancy for one just 23 weeks along, won't be making that same mistake again soon. The Arizona Board of Medical Examiners voted last week to suspend Dr. Biskind's license, pending a review of the botched abortion. "Dr. Biskind is incompetent to tell a woman in the middle of her pregnancy from a woman in the end of her pregnancy," said one member of the board. "Anybody that does this should not have the right to practice medicine." The baby survived the abortion attempt, but not all Dr. Biskind's patients fared so well. In April, a 32-year-old woman bled to death after the doctor punctured her uterus during a procedure. That death is also under investigation.

Death by computer

The world is waking up to the millennium bug. Among major American corporations, those making contingency plans for 2000 troubles jumped from 3 percent to 72 percent in three months. "Corporate America is finally dealing head-on with the Year 2000 challenge," says Jim Woodward, senior vice president of a computer consulting firm. Nevertheless, he reports, big businesses initially underestimated repair costs and fell behind schedule. The percentage of big businesses reporting Y2K-related breakdowns skyrocketed from 7 percent in December to 40 percent this month. Health care, transportation, and public utilities are the industries in critical condition. High-tech and financial companies are in better shape. Right now, billions of dollars are being poured into fixing the problem, which affects computers that recognize only the last two digits of a year. Those computers will be confused by the year 2000, meaning their software must be tediously reprogrammed or replaced. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who chairs a special committee on the bug, worries about medical equipment with bad microchips that must be replaced. He warns that only 2 to 5 percent of those chips are susceptible to the Year 2000 glitch, but "you don't know which 2 to 5 percent they are, and you don't know where they are.... If enough of them fail in enough medical devices in a major hospital, some people will die." To prevent such a tragedy, an industry trade group is currently trying to build a clearinghouse of information about which medical equipment will survive the millennial turnover.

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