Sleeping with the enemy
Pamela Wiser was mad at the ex-boyfriend who infected her with the AIDS virus. So she decided to get even by passing on HIV to every man she could find. She says she spent the past year picking up men at bars in rural Tennessee. At first she bragged of flings with up to 50 men. Now she says there were "only" five, but police think the bigger number is closer to the truth. "We don't know who they are," says Michael Hunger, the local police chief. "Some we have first names, some we have no names." "I was just getting revenge for what he did to me," the 29-year-old divorcée and mother of two said from jail. She now claims she told her partners that she had the virus, but they didn't care. "The guys wanted to come home with me and I told them I had it," she says. "They didn't understand; they didn't care if they got it or not." A grand jury recently indicted Ms. Wiser on two counts of criminal exposure of sexual partners to HIV. In Tennessee, the charge carries a sentence of up to 12 years in jail. Right now, authorities are trying to find all her partners so they can be tested. In the first day after the story broke, police were swamped with about 80 calls from nervous men. Perhaps a lot more people should be nervous, because Ms. Wiser isn't the only person with AIDS to knowingly infect large numbers of others. The worst documented case was near St. Louis, where Darnell "Boss Man" McGee infected at least 18 women and girls. He had more than 100 known sex partners before he was killed last year in an apparent robbery attempt. Earlier this year, New York authorities said a drifter named Nushawn Williams infected 17 people, including several young girls.
Nation in brief
- NASA disaster
A Titan 4A rocket, reportedly carrying a top-secret spy satellite, exploded 22 seconds after liftoff Wednesday, showering toxic debris into the ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. The secretive National Reconnaissance Agency claimed ownership of the payload, though it would provide no additional details. Other sources, however, said it was a Vortex satellite with an antenna 300 feet in diameter, capable of intercepting transmissions from radios and cell phones. With a launch cost of $344 million and a satellite valued at $1 billion, the disaster was NASA's costliest ever.
- S.F. shakes ...
High-rise office towers in downtown San Francisco swayed Wednesday morning in the force of a 5.3-magnitude earthquake centered about 90 miles southeast of town. The quake, which occurred along the San Andreas fault, cracked freeways, halted commuter trains, and tossed boats moored under the Golden Gate Bridge. No serious injuries were reported, however.
- ... and BACKS HOMOSEXUALITY
Despite pressure from Congress, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors last week expanded the city's controversial domestic partners laws. Businesses that offer family discounts for married couples must now do the same for unmarried domestic partners. Two weeks ago, the House cut off federal housing funds to the city because of its law forcing private companies with city contracts to provide domestic partner benefits for all employees.
Lower the bar?
Books with Johnny Can't Read titles have been staples of the education debate for decades now. But Massachusetts recently pinpointed one cause of educational illiteracy. We may be seeing a new book titled, Teacher Can't Read. While the NEA continues to claim teachers are underpaid, Massachusetts's new statewide exam showed they're actually undereducated. According to results released last month, nearly 60 percent of would-be teachers failed the exam, which tests recent college grads in reading, writing, and one specialty field. College deans were red-faced. Some immediately announced new crash courses on test-taking, while others promised to up the GPA required for graduation. Naturally, some educrats continued to defend the system. Said one provost, aghast at the thought of raising the GPA requirement: "There's not good research that shows a good correlation between GPA and teacher performance."
Kids these days
For anyone who has ever thought that the above headline is just the standard lament of old fogeys, last week offered conclusive proof that "kids these days" really are different. Namely, because some can't distinguish right from wrong-even when it comes to murder. In Chicago, two boys aged 7 and 8 were charged with brutally murdering an 11-year-old playmate because they wanted her blue bicycle. Ryan Harris disappeared July 27 after riding her bike around the neighborhood with the older boy. When police found her body, her skull was fractured, clothing was stuffed in her mouth, and leaves up her nose. "I cannot think of a more heinous and egregious act," said an obviously shaken prosecutor. The boys, however, didn't appear shaken at all. The 8-year-old ran home to watch cartoons when it was all over. In court, he and his friend drew pictures at the defense table and munched on Skittles. One boy cried only when the judge ruled he could not go home with his mother. The defendants were held instead at a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, in Jonesboro, Ark., two other youngsters, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, were convicted of killing four classmates and a teacher in a schoolyard shooting last March. Mitchell turned 14 the day the trial began. "I am sorry it's on his birthday of all days," his mother lamented. "We can't give him any kind of presents, all we can give him is love." All four young defendants will receive a gift from the justice system in just a few years. Thanks to state law, juvenile offenders cannot be held beyond their 21st birthday, no matter how heinous their crime.
Ah, summer. The season of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie ... and lawsuits. When a Toronto Blue Jays farm team offered discounted tickets to families who showed a church bulletin at the box office, it became the target of an ACLU-sponsored lawsuit. The Hagerstown Suns, of the South Atlantic League, is expected to pay a $500 fine to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. "What the Suns are doing violates both state and federal anti-discrimination provisions and we hope they will agree to resolve the issue," said an ACLU attorney. A local TV station sponsored the promotion for five years until atheist activist Carl Silverman sued after finding he had to pay the regular ticket price. Now the team is hosting a "Faith Community Night" to raise money for the costs of its legal defense, indicating a likely appeal. The Suns claim no wrongdoing. "The club's goal is to promote wholesome family values at affordable prices to all fans in the four-state marketing area," according to a statement.
United we stand
The Religious Liberty Protection Act took a giant step toward passage last week when its principal House sponsor agreed to remove a controversial provision that protected religious liberties under the commerce clause of the Constitution. The original bill's chief critic, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, announced that his organization would cease "all active opposition to the RLPA in the House." That about-face followed a mark-up session by the House Subcommittee on the Constitution in which Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) agreed to strike the offending provision. As a June 20 WORLD cover story revealed, debate over the commerce clause split conservative Christian groups down the middle. Proponents had hoped to present a united front in support of the bill among religious believers, but defections by HSLDA, Eagle Forum, and other groups had stalled its momentum. RLPA opponents claimed that protecting religious liberties under the commerce clause was a dangerous expansion of federal power. But the bill's supporters insisted it was needed to combat an activist judiciary whittling away at religious freedoms. As passed by the subcommittee on Aug. 6, the amended RLPA now protects religious liberties under the 14th Amendment and the spending power granted to Congress by the Constitution. State and local officials may not "substantially burden" religious exercise in any program receiving federal financial assistance, unless it is the least restrictive means of furthering a "compelling state interest" such as health or safety. "Today we took an important step forward in the protection of religious freedom," Rep. Canady said following the vote. "Americans should not be unduly burdened as they exercise their individual faiths; rather, their faiths should be accommodated to the greatest extent possible." Though resolved in the House, the Senate's RLPA bill still includes the commerce clause language, setting up yet another possible fight.
Gay old time
Some 13,000 athletes and 200,000 spectators descended on Amsterdam for the 1998 Gay Games. As usual, controversy ensued-and this year it wasn't only about the male competitors in ballroom dancing wearing high heels and wedding veils. The day before the lavish opening ceremonies, the director of the games was fired for exceeding his $7 million budget by roughly $1 million. The games were threatened with cancellation until the city government pledged $2.5 million to cover any overruns. No big surprise there: Amsterdam estimated that gay visitors would pump more than $50 million into the local economy. The bulk of the games' funding came from corporate sponsors including Avis, Levi's, Kodak, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Competitions included basketball, billiards, bodybuilding, bowling, and bridge. Despite Amsterdam's well-known liberal attitudes, participants were warned to refrain from "exhibitionism and sexual behaviors." But even homosexual newspapers noted the "unabashed raunchiness" of the opening parade, in which men clad only in jock straps (or less) danced on floats drifting along the city's famous canals. That ballroom dancing competition did spark controversy over more than just costumes. Organizers ruled that "athletes" in the pairs competition must be same-sex couples. In a community where gender is widely regarded as a mere social construction, the ruling provoked howls of outrage and charges of sexism.
Thou shalt not
Here's one response to moral illiteracy among many children: South Carolina's attorney general last week issued a non-binding, 10-page opinion supporting the right of public schools to post the Ten Commandments on their walls. Charlie Condon, a Republican, said such postings were legal if used as an aid in teaching about law, history, or culture. Posting the commandments for their own sake would probably be unconstitutional, he said. Ever watchful for good fund-raising issues, the ACLU promised to defend the right of students to a morality-free education.
Digging for clues
The search for bodies in the rubble surrounding the American embassy in Nairobi ended Wednesday, five days after a car bomb flattened buildings and killed hundreds. But in Kenya, as in neighboring Tanzania, the search for the perpetrators was just getting underway. Tanzanian police detained 14 people for questioning, and Kenyan president Daniel Moi said police there were holding "a number of persons" who might have information, including at least one Iranian. Late last week, the death toll stood at 247 in Nairobi and 10 in Dar es Salaam, with 5,000 more injured. U.S. embassies in Yemen, Malaysia, Uganda, and the Ivory Coast were closed in order to strengthen security. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell had twice asked for similar measures in Nairobi, but her requests were turned down for lack of funds. (See story, page 19.)
world in brief
Taliban forces captured the remaining opposition strongholds needed to solidify Muslim fundamentalist rule of Afghanistan. Russia accused Pakistan of providing arms and troops to the fundamentalist militia. Tajikistan and other former Soviet states in Central Asia, wary of Taliban gains, asked Russia to help secure their borders against possible Taliban incursions.
Just months after ridding itself of a long-time dictator, the Congo is in danger of being broken up. President Laurent Kabila faces a two-front war against rebel forces reportedly under the command of a Rwandan, James Kabarehe, who was a key ally in the recent ouster of Mobutu Sese Seko. "This has all the markings of a world-class double-cross," said one European diplomat. "Kabila depended upon the Rwandans so completely that they know his situation inside and out. Now they are using that knowledge against him."
The situation in Kosovo is "steadily worsening," the UN Security Council was told in a high-level briefing. Observers say some 180,000 people have been forced from their homes because of the fighting. So far, the Security Council's strongest action has been to call for a ceasefire-a call which it renewed following the briefing. Russia and China openly oppose stronger action, and other council members are holding a tight rein on promises, aware of UN failure to halt bloodshed in Bosnia.
Medieval knights were known to fight for honor. Today, the ACLU is fighting to redefine the word. Somer Chipman and Chasity Glass were barred from the National Honor Society because they had babies out of wedlock. The national organization lets each high school chapter set its own standards in four areas: grade point average, service, leadership, and character. When their admission to the honor society was turned down-presumably because of the "character" requirement-the girls challenged Grant County High School's decision. Now they want compensatory damages for emotional distress and a court order that gets them accepted into the honor society. The American Civil Liberties Union took the girls' case, charging the northern Kentucky school district with sex discrimination. "It is important that society understands that not all teen mothers are thoughtless and irresponsible," said Miss Chipman, the mother of a 2-month-old daughter who plans to marry her 20-year-old fiancé. The ACLU says it is merely protecting women's rights. It compares this incident to a 1993 case in which three pregnant girls in Texas were booted from their cheerleading squad. "Treating pregnant or parenting students differently from others discriminates against young women," says Sara L. Mandelbaum, an ACLU staff attorney.
The Internet stock trading craze has hit a new low. The Hearst Corporation's HomeArts network of Web sites hired a "financial-astrologer-in-residence" to help users pick their stocks. "J.P. Morgan used an astrologer and now you can too," Hearst exclaimed in its publicity for the new adviser, Henry Weingarten. "Hold Henry" also manages something called the Astrologer's Fund, using the stars to pick winners and losers. "Just as people made money using technical analysis 40 years ago," he says on the Hearst site, "many traders make profits by using astrology today, but won't talk about it publicly." For example, in August the sun is in Leo, which is the sign of the entertainment industry. So Mr. Weingarten is watching Sony and Disney closely. He's got horoscopes too. Pisces, for example, should try ad agencies, hotels, and fish markets. People like Hold Henry give the lie to the Enlightenment dream. Years ago, some people believed that science and technology would liberate humanity from ignorance and lead to a world of reason. Instead, as the West enjoys enough peace and prosperity to drill Internet connections into every home, superstition is alive and well. It has merely found new applications.