Life imitates art?
Movie director and producer Alan Pakula's death was like a scene from one of his movies. A car kicked up a 7-foot section of pipe that had fallen to the road, and it crashed through the windshield of the car Mr. Pakula was driving and hit him in the head. Police say Mr. Pakula lost control of his Volvo and struck a fence. Mr. Pakula, 70, was a mainstay in Hollywood from 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird through last year's The Devil's Own. His peak came with suspense dramas that he called his "paranoid trilogy": Klute (which helped turn Jane Fonda's image from Red-star-starlet to serious actress), The Parallax View, and All the President's Men. Mr. Pakula once told an interviewer that his obsession with paranoia started with a fear of being kidnapped as a child. "Why anybody would kidnap me, I don't know," The London Guardian recalls. "Some false sense of importance, I guess. But if you are a fearful person, or grew up in a fearful childhood, there is a god-like quality in frightening other people."
Call it the highest-rated snuff film in American history. Jack Kevorkian's footage of his assisted suicide of Thomas Youk aired on 60 Minutes and gave the show its best ratings of the season-even after six affiliates owned by the A.H. Belo Corp. refused to air the program. Mr. Youk, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, died Sept. 17; that's less than three weeks after the state of Michigan enacted a law that made assisted suicide a crime (punishable by up to five years in prison). Prosecutor David Gorcyca then subpoenaed CBS for an unedited copy of Dr. Kervorkian's home movie. The charges that Dr. Kevorkian could face include manslaughter, murder, assisted suicide, practicing medicine without a license, and possession of a controlled substance. His license to practice medicine was suspended back in 1991. Faye Girsh, executive director of Hemlock Society USA, cheered Dr. Kevorkian's publicity stunt. She claims thousands of doctors quietly support-and perform-assisted suicides: "Dr. Kevorkian is only the tip of the iceberg." Dr. Kevorkian, who claims responsibility for some 130 suicides since 1990, has already been acquitted in three trials involving five deaths; a fourth trial ended in a mistrial. This time he released the tape to dare authorities to come after him. "If they do not," he told CBS, "that means they don't think it was a crime." At the time of Mr. Youk's death, Dr. Kevorkian was under a court order barring him from assisting a suicide; it came after he was convicted for scuffling with police outside a hospital. For the death doctor, this evidently was the first time he directly administered the deadly dose; before, he used a contraption that let the patient start the flow of poison. Westminster Seminary in California theologian John Frame, author of the book Medical Ethics, says this video opens a window of opportunity for Christians to speak out on the issue. If assisted suicide is legalized in America-as it has been in Switzerland, Holland, and Colombia-the consequences will be horrifying. "When the barriers are taken down," Mr. Frame explains, "people are scared to go to the hospital because they don't trust their doctors anymore."
Which is out of place in this list?
On the eve of impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill, nearly 100 religion scholars issued a stinging declaration on "Religion, Ethics, and the Clinton presidency." It protests "the manipulation of religion and the debasing of moral language" in the national debate about presidential responsibility. "Serious misunderstandings of repentance and forgiveness are being exploited for political advantage," it says. The resulting "moral confusion ... is a threat to the integrity of American religion and to the foundations of a civil society." The statement appears on a Web site the scholars established (www.moral-crisis.org), along with their names and individual comments. The list of scholars displays mostly mainline conservatives but includes many social liberals; the signers represent a variety of universities and seminaries, some of them long known as bastions of liberalism. Hardly any of the scholars would be identified with the religious right. Yet they believe "the religious community is in danger of being called upon to provide authentication for a politically motivated and incomplete repentance that seeks to avert serious consequences for wrongful acts." They were talking about the Sept. 11 religious leadership prayer breakfast at the White House where President Clinton delivered his "I have sinned" statement. The scholars lay out their case in six points. They take Mr. Clinton to task on a number of counts, especially "the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one's actions." They reject the premise that "violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy." They challenge the "assumption that forgiveness relieves a person of further responsibility and serious consequences." Partisan politics have figured in past debates over public morality, the scholars acknowledge, but "we now confront a much deeper crisis: whether the moral basis of the constitutional system itself will be lost." They call on Americans to get serious about ethics and integrity in both public and private life, and to look on the impeachment process as a constitutional and ethical imperative.
You've got Netscape
Now that America Online is buying Netscape, Microsoft must face a new superpower in the Cold War for the Internet. This $4.21 billion combo joins the dominant online service with the company whose software popularized the Web. "The way great companies get built is through combinations, and this is a combination of a smaller company with two much bigger companies," said Netscape CEO James Barksdale. "This is the way AT&T got built." The duo has access to tens of millions of eyeballs on the Web; AOL has 14 million subscribers, and Netscape's Netcenter Web site alone draws 20 million visitors every month. Recently AOL also gobbled up its rival CompuServe along with ICQ, an Israeli-based chat service with 20 million customers. That means the company that popularized "You've Got Mail" is now a vast corporate empire. And that means Microsoft wants its antitrust suit discarded. Suit supporters, however, say the company's tactics may have driven Netscape into a merger. But what is a combined AOL/Netscape if not competition? The deal "shows how the competitive landscape in our industry can change overnight, making government regulation of this high-technology industry completely unnecessary," said Microsoft counsel Bill Neukom.
Just gimme that big-tent religion
The U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops' letter on abortion is starting to squeeze pro-abortion Republican governors. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge says he will avoid church events after being told by his bishop to stay away. Bishop Donald Trautman said Gov. Ridge's separation of public and private beliefs is no longer acceptable. "Those who justify their actions on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land need to recognize that there is a higher law," he told the Erie Daily Times. So Gov. Ridge decided to bail out on his fellow Catholics: "I had pretty much concluded in my mind that's pretty much what I should do anyhow." However, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a pro-life Catholic, defended Gov. Ridge at a Republican governors' meeting in New Orleans. He says the bishops should be more open minded. "The Catholic Church is a big tent religion," the Times-Picayune reported. "In this country, we have a clear separation of church and state. We do what our consciences tell us is best to do." Catholic columnist Joseph Sobran blasted this stance, saying it means that the church can't have any position not backed by the political establishment. "Truth imposes limits on opinion," he explained. "You have a legal right to talk nonsense, but that's all. We're talking about the slaughter of millions." Christians who are not horrified by abortion, Mr. Sobran said, "might as well stop being Christian."
Bishops get tough
American Catholic bishops are taking a harder line on abortion. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying that parishioners must do more than just hold pro-life positions privately. They say Catholics should vote for pro-life candidates-and abortion-backing Catholic office-holders are violating God's law. "No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life," the bishops wrote. While they say many strong things-"No one but the Creator is the sovereign of basic human rights," they write-they still hold to seamless garment theology, which expands "pro-life" to encompass support for government welfare and opposition to capital punishment. Even so, they say that being "right" on those issues "can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life." This means liberal politicians can no longer claim to be "pro-life" without opposing abortion. Frank Pavone of the Pontifical Council for the Family says this statement will help end the public scandal of Catholic politicians who support abortion. "There is simply no way to be Catholic and 'pro-choice,' when the choice in question involves the taking of innocent life," he says. "Those who hold that there is more than one Catholic position on abortion are mistaken and need to stop misleading others." Just days before the statement was issued, an awards ceremony for New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman was booted off Seton Hall University's law school campus when the school balked at her support for abortion. Seton Hall has a policy not to give public recognition to people who espouse positions "contrary to our Catholic mission," said university president Robert Sheeran.
Don't panic! Don't pull your money out of the bank! That's the message from the banking industry, which promises that America's ATMs, credit cards, and bank accounts will be OK during Y2K. Michael ter Maat of the American Bankers Association said that customers could "take out a few extra bucks," but withdrawing massive amounts of cash could make people vulnerable to criminals. And, he stresses, be on the lookout for Y2K con men who offer to "hold" stashes of cash through Jan. 1, 2000. Instead, depositors should pay attention to their monthly statements-and read any Y2K reports from their bank. Paper records should be kept filed away, especially in the last months of 1999. As bankers stress calm to their customers, they aren't taking any chances. The U.S. banking industry is spending more than $8 billion fixing bank computers. A survey by Weiss Ratings reported last month that at least 12 percent of America's banks and S&Ls were behind schedule in preparing for the year 2000. To hold off bank runs by Y2K-panicked people, the Federal Reserve will circulate an extra $50 billion in new currency. Some observers fear that social disorder caused by fear of millennial doomsday will cause more damage than the bug itself.
Bonfire of vanity
Sabbath observances on Nov. 22 did not put a rest to violence in Indonesia. Mobs of Muslim youths attacked and burned 11 churches. Thirteen people were killed and dozens injured in fighting between the rioting. Witnesses said other Christian places of worship were attacked, as well as a gambling hall and a Catholic girls' school near Jakarta's main cathedral. This latest attack on Christians followed a familiar pattern: Muslim youths took to the streets in anger after unsubstantiated rumors spread that Christians had attacked a mosque. The violence broke up worship services and at least one wedding. An angry mob barged through the front doors of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Jakarta's Chinatown, where groom Chandra Gunarto and his bride, Threewaty, were about to be wed. The Muslim youths broke stained glass windows, smashed pews, and threw Bibles on a bonfire. The couple, the priest, and about 60 guests ran to a community hall at the rear of the church and barricaded themselves in. Outside, anti-riot police broke up the melee. "After that, the priest asked us if we still wanted to get married. So we had the ceremony in a small prayer room at the back of the church," the 27-year-old groom said. Violence in Indonesia comes as the country grapples with its worst economic crisis in 30 years. With inflation and unemployment rates soaring, millions of people are finding themselves in poverty. While Muslim and Christian clashes took place in the capital, looting and arson spread in several areas to the north and west. Five armored personnel carriers were deployed to protect a shopping mall. Squads of soldiers were dispatched to protect churches as night fell.
More than one-third of cabinet ministers under newly elected German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder say they have no religious affiliation. Polled by a German evangelical news agency, four out of 16 ministers said they had no church affiliation. Two declined to answer. Foreign minister Joschka Fischer and interior minister Otto Schily refused to respond to the survey. Six ministers, including Mr. Schroeder, call themselves Protestant. Four say they are Catholic. The cabinet of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl included nine Catholics and seven Protestants. Mr. Schroeder, elected in September to lead a coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens, took the oath of office without using the pledge, "So help me God."
World in brief
The widow of celebrated African novelist Alan Paton says she is fleeing South Africa because of rampant crime. Anne Paton, 71, whose husband wrote Cry, The Beloved Country half a century ago, said she will return to England, her birthplace. "Crime is rampaging through the land," she wrote in the London Sunday Times. Mrs. Paton has been attacked at knifepoint in her home and gunmen have hijacked her car. She said nine acquaintances had been murdered since the black majority led by Nelson Mandela came to power three years ago. Mr. Paton was a founder and leader of South Africa's Liberal Party, which lobbied against apartheid beginning more than 30 years ago. Mrs. Paton said her husband "worked all his life for black majority rule. I am glad he is not alive now," she said. "He would have been so distressed to see what has happened to his beloved country." She said growing violence also affects blacks, who do not have the option of emigrating as many whites do. Bring back the beef
The European Union voted to end a ban on British beef that has slaughtered the UK's cattle industry. The ban was enacted in March 1996 after mad cow disease found in British cattle was linked to dozens of deaths in humans. Thirty-two months and multi-billions in losses later, the EU will certify that British beef is okay for export again. Improved animal hygiene and a new tracking system, an animal passport of sorts, led to lifting restrictions, with one final pruning: the upcoming slaughter of 4,000 offspring born after Aug. 1, 1996, to cows infected with the virulent disease.
Sodom and Georgia
Georgia's 165-year-old sodomy law survived a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 12 years ago, but didn't make it past the state's highest court. It voted 6-1 to overturn the conviction of Anthony Powell, found guilty of sodomizing his 17-year-old niece in 1996, saying his privacy was violated. Naturally, homosexual-rights groups, which are still fighting anti-sodomy laws in 18 other states, were overjoyed. David Smith of the Human Rights Alliance says he hopes this will "be a precursor to the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating all the nation's sodomy laws." Three other states-Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania-recently overturned their own versions of the law.
Saddam Hussein's right-hand man narrowly escaped assassination on Nov. 22 when bystanders tossed two grenades at him. Izzat Ibrahim, deputy commander of Iraqi armed forces, was attacked as he made his way to a religious ceremony where he was to give a speech in Mr. Hussein's stead. The attack, characterized by BBC as "extremely serious," was the first on a senior official since 1996.
Nation in brief
Gore gets a pass
Even as President Clinton "pardoned" the White House turkey last week, the attorney general spared the political life of Vice President Gore. She refused-against the advice of some senior advisers, including the director of the FBI-to petition for an independent counsel to probe Mr. Gore's role in the sleazy campaign dealings of the Democratic National Committee in 1996. Where theres smoke...
The 46-state, $206 billion tobacco settlement will cost smokers about a penny per state per pack, as the economics of the deal filters through the distribution chain. The 45¢ rise marks the largest price increase in the history of cigarette retailing. And it comes on top of the approximate 20 cent per pack rise following settlements with four other states. Tobacco industry investment analysts predicted the steep price hikes will make it all the more difficult for governments to raise new taxes on cigarettes-now that the price per pack is set to rise more than 25 percent, to about $2.45. Some economists worry that the high prices will create a black market.