What Bob Knight had trouble learning
A concept neglected in the anything-goes 1960s and 1970s, "character," has been making a comeback in recent years. This week, that commendable trend caught up with Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight. His weaknesses in characterâ€¢stubborn pride, temper tantrums, defiance of authorityâ€¢were tolerated for three decades. But IU President Myles Brand fired the coach not just for grabbing a student's arm, but for failing to show character by living up to standards of behavior set for Mr. Knight earlier this year. Coach Knight has long been a controversial figure, but his ability to field winning teams went a long way in Indiana, where basketball is sometimes called a religion. Some observers contended that the coach got away with obnoxious and bad behavior for so long because he kept winning. But now, across the country and across the political spectrum, government and business leaders are emphasizing the importance of respect, trustworthiness, initiative, and determination. In Mr. Knight's home state, Gov. Frank O'Bannon has visited schools to praise their character emphasis programs. Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson visits schools on a regular basis and gives out Character Counts awards. The City-County Council has voted to make Indianapolis a "city of character." In South Carolina, Gov. Jim Hodges has proposed a character program to have public-school students address teachers and school administrators with courtesy titles: "Yes, sir!" Evangelical Christians are behind some of these initiatives, which teach biblical principles without direct reference to the Bible. Other backers come from non-religious backgrounds. The Character Counts Coalition is a coalition of nonprofit groups such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The International Association of Character Cities promotes the importance of character in government circles and in business. Such groups have been growing quickly in response to a hunger for character, fueled by the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and the activities of President Clinton. Bob Knight, in one sense, ran a character education program before the task was cool. He took players to much higher levels of determination and intensity than they had thought they could demonstrate. He helped them achieve diligence and self-control. His beneficial influence went well beyond the basketball court; many former players speak gratefully of his impact on their lives. He helped many people at a personal level, without letting the right hand know what his left hand was doing. All those strengths, combined with winning teams, helped create a tolerance for weaknesses that finally resulted in the loss of his coaching position this week. He could not follow what legendary coach John Wooden of UCLA, a native of Indiana, always advised: "Practice self-discipline, keep emotions under control." Mr. Knight had trouble learning the humility and self-discipline needed for a balance with his strengths. His downfall is a warning to everyone that weaknesses sown in character will reap results at some point of testing. â€¢Russ Pulliam Legislators approve PNTR for china, reject amendments
Senate: Trade at any price
The Clinton administration and its free-trade allies on Capitol Hill last week made it plain that there is no price too high to pay for permanent free trade with China. Lawmakers moved to strike all amendments before voting on the bill to grant Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) to the communist government in Beijing, already approved by the House last May. The Senate defeated three amendments that would have put China on a good-behavior regimen in order to maintain its free-trade privileges:
- an amendment by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) to retain annual review of U.S.-China relations, as has been required under a 1974 law on trade with communist states (defeated 81-13)
- an amendment by Sen. Robert Byrd (D- W. Va.) to require the United States to support the transfer of clean energy technology as part of any energy assistance to China (defeated 65-31)
- an amendment by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) to require the president to certify that China was allowing religious freedom before it could receive normal trade status (defeated 69-28).
Still pending but likely to be defeated: an amendment by Sens. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) linking trade relations to China's compliance with weapons proliferation agreements. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a leading supporter of PNTR, was clear about why the Senate showed little concern for religious freedom, national security, and even the environment: "We Americans would be giving up all the market-opening benefits that China has agreed to." Republican and Democratic supporters of the trade bill were quick to scuttle amendments because those riders would send the bill back to the House. Members of the House may not have time to vote on the changes before adjournment and electionsâ€¢throwing a wrench into preelection promises to the big-business constituency that wants lowered tariffs. But senators had to look the other way to ignore red flags about China's ability to be a good partner, trade or otherwise:
- A recent CIA report cited China, Russia, and North Korea as the key suppliers of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons technology, and other reports charged the Chinese with helping Pakistan, Libya, and Iran with their weapons of mass destruction programs.
- A September State Department report stated that in the past year China had intensified its repression against the Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs, underground Protestants, and Catholics.
- The International Commission on Religious Freedom last week called on Congress to withhold PNTR until China improves its record on religious freedom.
â€¢Mindy Belz Did Putin steal votes?
Moscow's leading English-language paper, the Moscow Times, issued a lengthy investigative report showing that President Vladimir Putin likely won election earlier this year through widespread vote fraud. The report in the paper's Sept. 9 edition cited ballot falsification from a dozen regions across Russia, including Moscow. It said high-level election officials used "the clumsiest imaginable" methods to falsify returns, adjusting official reports from the precinct level to favor Mr. Putin. By comparing local reports with those filed at the national level, the paper documented 88,000 votes stolen in the republic of Dagestan alone. In other regions it found evidence of ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of voters. Government officials seized and destroyed ballots for opposition Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov. Reporters collected ashes proving the Zyuganov ballots were burned. Further, the paper notes, figures from the Central Elections Commission indicate that the official number of registered voters grew by 1.3 million in three months, between Dec. 19 State Duma elections and the March 26 presidential election. The paper concluded, after a 6-month investigation, that the margin of victoryâ€¢Mr. Putin won with 52.94 percent of the electorateâ€¢could have been shifted by vote fraud. However, political observers, including opposition candidate Zyuganov, agree that if Mr. Putin had failed to win a majority last March, he likely would have won run-off elections. District allows gay-straight club
Funky El Modena
In California, embattled Orange Unified School District (OUSD) officials last week agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by homosexual students from El Modena High School. In December 1999, OUSD had refused to recognize a "gay-straight alliance" as a legitimate extracurricular club at El Modena. Student and club founder Anthony Colin sued the district with the support of the People for the American Way Foundation, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, and others. The lawsuit charged that OUSD had violated the federal Equal Access Act, which guarantees extracurricular clubs access to school facilities. Christian clubs have used the statute in the past to force school districts to allow them to meet on public-school campuses. The El Modena settlement, announced on Sept. 6, allows the gay club to meet on school grounds, use the school's public-address system to announce club meetings, and gain school yearbook publicity. In an attempt to mitigate the explicitly sexual nature of the clubâ€¢a nature that club supporters say doesn't existâ€¢the OUSD board is expected to amend the rules for all student clubs to prohibit discussion of "sexual activity." Sexual activity is to be defined as the "explicit discussion of sex acts or sexual organs." But discussion of sexual orientation and "related issues" would be permitted. Insecure government
Remember when federal security meant that something was safe? All major government agencies have significant computer security problems, according to a GAO report, and one-fourth of them, including the departments of Justice, Labor, Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, failed a congressional audit. "Our auditors have been successful, in almost every test, in readily gaining unauthorized access that would allow intruders to read, modify or delete data for whatever purpose they have in mind," the GAO report said. California assembly passes an online sales tax, other states may follow
Caesar goes after the Net
Think the government will refrain from taxing the Internet? Think again: The California state assembly voted to force companies with stores in California to collect 7.25 percent sales tax on products sold online. Another bill passed by the California senate would send Gov. Gray Davis off to negotiate a deal with other states for a multi-state sales tax system that would tax out-of-state purchases that currently carry no sales levy. State lawmakers fear losing revenue if people buy ordinary goods through a website instead of a local store. They lose their piece of the action. Proponents of such taxes treat the Net as if it were a "tax haven" somehow different from buying goods over the phone, off a TV commercial, or through a mail order catalog. Local retailers and national chains don't like having snazzy dot-com competitors, so they want the taxes to protect their markets. Opponents say consumers will pay more for goods and businesses will be forced to fiddle with more paperwork. The current bill wouldn't change things for a company like Macy's, which has stores in California and collects sales taxes anyway. But a dot-com that has a relationship with stores in California would collect taxes. So even though Barnesandnoble.com is separate from the Barnes & Noble stores, it would collect taxes anyway. The American Electronics Association and the Silicon Valley Software Coalition are fighting the proposal, while supporters look forward to this becoming a national trend. Neil Austin of the National Conference of State Legislatures said that he expects other states will follow California's lead. "I think the states have been waiting for someone to start," he said. FTC: Hollywood markets violence to children
Carnage for kids?
New ammo for conservative culture warriors: A Federal Trade Commission report released last week showed that the movie and music industries market violent entertainment to children. The study found that most media plans or promotions for R-rated movies target children. Fully 75 percent of the R-rated movies in the study tested rough cuts on audiences that included teens under 17. The FTC also studied marketing plans for explicit music, finding that 27 percent identified teens as part of a target group, while 73 percent placed advertising in media with large teen audiences. In Washington, one vice-presidential candidate and the wife of another took Hollywood to task. At a Senate hearing, Democrat Joseph Lieberman charged the industry with creating a "culture of carnage." Lynne Cheney, cultural critic and wife of Dick Cheney, expressed a similar concern, but asked the Democrats to raise the matter later in the week at a fundraiser with Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films. feds: office used for personal gain
Federal prosecutors last week charged Paul Adler, chairman of the Rockland County (N.Y.) Democratic Party, with corruption for making nearly $375,000 from three real estate transactions through fraud, extortion, and bribery. U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White accused Mr. Adler of telling Democrats on the planning board that they would lose their positions if they opposed his deals. She charged another New York Democrat, Haverstraw city attorney Sean Purdy, with offering the planning board a bribe. "Duty seemed not to matter to these defendants," she said. "Instead, they saw public service as a path to private enrichment." The matter became an issue in New York's closely watched U.S. Senate race when GOP candidate Rick Lazio challenged Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to return a $1,500 donation from Mr. Adler and renounce him as an adviser. But Mrs. Clinton stood by her man. "Hillary knows this is a difficult time for Paul and his family and she wishes them well," said campaign spokeswoman Cathy Levine. Late western Writer's work still sells
America loves L'Amour
Louis L'Amour has been dead a dozen years, but his books are still flying off the shelves. Hated by the literati but loved by Middle America, new material by the king of Western writers is still being published. Longtime L'Amour publisher Bantam unearthed some of his older pulp-style short stories and sent Off the Mangrove Coast up the charts this summer. Dozens of novels are still in print. L'Amour championed the modern Western even as the rest of pop culture was running away from it. He wrote dozens of simple, formulaic, but engrossing novels like Hondo, Flint, and the Sackett family series. Tales of rugged men challenging the frontier sell everywhere from drugstores to checkout racks. Granted, what L'Amour wrote was pulp fiction. How else could he build a canon of 101 novels? Yet he was able to take his audience to a civilization with deep family loyalties, constant challenges, and tests of hardiness. L'Amour himself was an old-fashioned adventurer and storyteller. Critics unfairly dismissed his work because of its milieu. "If you write a book about a bygone period that lies east of the Mississippi River, then it's a historical novel," he said once. "If it's west of the Mississippi, it's a Western, a different category. There's no sense to it." Mattel closes view-master plant
An old toy fades away
Cool toys don't always last. Remember View-Master? It's one of the great mechanical toys of the 20th century, but how is it supposed to compete with video games or the Internet? Current owner Mattel is managing declining demand for the classic toy, closing its Oregon View-Master plant and moving the production to Mexico. The View-Master revived stereo photography, which combines a picture for each eye to create a 3-D view. Several pictures are put together on a little 3H-inch-wide reel that slides into a viewer. During the heyday, fans would collect reels like baseball cards. The topics are usually travelogues or adaptations of movies and cartoons. Pop culture icons from Mickey Mouse to Michael Jackson to the Rugrats have been depicted on the reels. View-Master has been passed among various owners over the years as the kid audience grew more sophisticated and high-tech. As Ataris and Nintendos and PCs took hold, the main audience became more and more stacked in the kindergarten set. Even with 3D pictures, the View-Master is analog in a digital world. Yet those old reels still work and grown-up collectors build libraries of pictures. Are you ready for some football?
Hey, it only cost $700 million. Houston is getting a return flight to the National Football League with a new team called the Texans. Team owner Bob McNair shelled out the shekels to keep the franchise out of Los Angeles' media-rich hands. There's a new stadium coming when the team starts up in 2002, with 69,500 seats and a retractable roof. This expansion comes as football launches itself into the 21st century, with new doses of TV sensationalism coming to prominence. CBS is bringing out the UmpCam, which is supposed to bring the fans that much closer to the action. And the network will let its corporate sister MTV produce the halftime show at the next Super Bowl. Down the dial, smug comedian Dennis Miller entered the Monday Night Football broadcast booth in an attempt to boost ratings for the ABC war horse. Even though the broadcast is one of TV sports' crown jewels, ratings have dropped for five straight seasons. Al Michaels is the sole survivor from last year's team. So the search went out for someone to bring back Howard Cosell-style polarization and the result was Mr. Miller, who beat Rush Limbaugh and others for the chance. Whether it will work is anyone's guess, but ratings were down for the first two regular season editions of MNF. NBC cooked up an even wilder move: a partnership with pro wrestling mogul Vince McMahon called the XFL. Next February a 10-game season kicks off with franchises in New York, Chicago, Memphis, and five other cities. (LA, still out of the NFL, gets the XFL instead.) The battle for ratings likely will be a collision sport. -Chris Stampe