Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Judicial overreach?," Dec. 2, 2000

CBS show presents an unflinching look at the consequences of abortion
A touch of truth on TV
Television has been rightly criticized for failing to address important subjects in a balanced way and when it does, it too often preaches a one-dimensional, mostly left-leaning perspective that reflects the bias of the writer, actors, and/or producer. On Nov. 19, one TV series dared to offer something different. Touched By an Angel presented a profound and powerful program about abortion called, "The Empty Chair." Actually, the plot is more about a decision that led to an abortion and the delayed personal and professional consequences that followed. In the episode, Betsy and Bud Baxter have hosted a local morning television show in Omaha, Neb., for 12 years, exactly as long as they have been married. They came to Omaha from Boston, hoping to establish themselves and then hit the big time, but the big time never called. The Baxters get some bad news when management informs them the station has been sold and the new owners have cancelled their show. What follows is a sensitive but profound unpeeling of the layers the couple has wrapped around themselves in order not to have to deal with a decision both of them made for the sake of their careers. Betsy Baxter had an abortion just before they left Boston. A baby would have interfered with their plans. The unexpected end of their show has forced the issue back to the surface and the "angels" are on hand to help them sort it out. It would have been easy for Executive Producer Martha Williamson to get preachy, but she resisted that temptation. Realizing that her audience is full of millions of women (and men) who may be struggling with guilt and depression for having made a similar choice, her script leads, it doesn't push, and it makes a point of not judging. The show exposes some of the consequences that can come from an abortion, a perspective hardly ever dealt with in the media. And, for the first time I can remember on an entertainment program, it mentions "PACE," which stands for Post Abortion Counseling and Education, a program for women who have had abortions and need help dealing with the emotional and spiritual fallout they were told they wouldn't have by the people who sold them the procedure. The most profound and honest moment of the show comes when Betsy, addressing the angel named Monica (Roma Downey), says, "You know, Monica, they can talk all they want to about politics and choices and rights. I did. And then you're in that room and you're putting your clothes back on and you know that when you walk out that door, you're leaving a piece of your soul behind that you'll never, ever get back." This is the voice of a woman, women really, one does not get to hear. This is a voice with which many women who have had abortions will be able to identify. Betsy and Bud come to terms not only with the child they lost, but with their own selfishness in putting themselves in the place of God and deciding their careers were more important than the baby they clearly wish they had had. Most importantly, God's forgiveness that comes from a repentant heart is clearly presented. How does Martha Williamson know so much about this subject to write such an insightful script? Because, like many women of her generation (and many of this one) she had an abortion. -Cal Thomas, © 2000 Tribune Media Services, Inc. Net adds suffixes
Web of names
The Internet is about to experience some dot-proliferation. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) last week added seven new suffixes for use on websites. Starting next year .info (for general information), .biz (for businesses), .name (for individuals), .pro (for professionals), .museum (for museums), .coop (for business cooperatives), and .aero (for the aerospace industry) will join .com, .net, .org, and .edu on the Internet. The additions came as some sites complained that, with 20 million .com names worldwide, most easy-to-remember names are taken. "Dot-com is out of gas," said Ken Hansen of NeuStar Inc. "It's time to refill the tank so good names are available for users and businesses." Analysts believe more suffixes may be on the way. Man knows not his time
Clinton lawyer dies
Washington lawyer Charles Ruff died on Nov. 19 at the age of 61. He was Bill Clinton's chief legal advisor and during Mr. Clinton's impeachment trial attacked Republican leaders for having a vision "too dark, a vision too little attuned to the needs of the people, too little sensitive to the needs of our democracy." Mr. Ruff also represented Anita Hill in her attack on Clarence Thomas, and defended Sens. Charles Robb and John Glenn, and former White House aide Ira Magaziner, when they were embroiled in scandals. Inquiring reader
No controlling authority?
Talk about mixing church and state. Hillary Clinton won her Senate seat, but her road to glory set some New York Catholics hopping mad. WORLD reader Nannette Silvernail asked about a report that Hillary Clinton on Oct. 29 spoke at St. Michael's Church in Rochester, N.Y., to a select, ticketed Democratic audience, and that others were silenced and kept from the church by police. It turns out that Mrs. Clinton did speak and that worshippers protesting Clinton positions on abortion and other issues were removed from the largely Hispanic church. Rev. Dennis Shaw had granted a local community group permission to use the church for Mrs. Clinton's appearance, but Diocese Bishop Matthew Clark said the whole thing was a grave policy violation: "I regret that this event took place and apologize for any confusion that may have resulted." Nannette Silvernail will receive a WORLD cap. New guidelines may spell doom for top-loading washers
Washington versus washing machines
The latest dirt out of Washington: The Department of Energy is trying to force traditional, top-loading washing machines out of the marketplace. Manufacturers such as Kenmore and Maytag will soon have to cease production of these models if the DOE adopts newly proposed energy-efficiency standards. The lengthy proposal, published this fall in the Federal Register, requires washing machine manufacturers to boost their products' water and electrical efficiency in two phases: 22 percent by 2004 and 35 percent by 2007. The new standards identify specific requirements for reaching these goals, including the elimination of the agitator-the rotating cylinder in the center of the wash tub that is the true "washing" component of most current models. The DOE claims that washers produced under these new guidelines will "save consumers money and help maintain a cleaner environment." Several current models already meet the proposed standards, but these are mostly of the very expensive, front-loading variety. A Sears store in Santa Barbara, Calif., for instance, has three washers for sale that match the DOE criteria, ranging in price from $799 to $1,399. While these energy-efficient models do offer some consumer advantages over traditionally styled machines, this Sears store sells few of them, explains floor salesman Alfredo Lopez. The higher costs are prohibitive to many (traditional machines are available at Sears for as low as $229), and front-loading washers have a reputation for poor results with heavily soiled clothes. Mr. Lopez recommends machines to customers based on expected use. "If you have a kid like Pig Pen, you've got to use a top-loader," he told WORLD. Energy-efficient washing machines do have the potential to save consumers money in water and electricity savings, but this benefit only occurs over an extended period. DOE calculations admit an average cost increase of $200 per washer under the new guidelines. And James Plummer, a policy analyst with Consumer Alert, suggests a dirty little secret about the new standards: They may have the unintended consequence of increasing dryer usage. "If the 'efficient' washers don't spin the clothes around as much during the spin cycle, that could leave the clothes wetter before they go in the dryer-requiring more dryer time and, therefore, more energy use," writes Mr. Plummer in Consumers' Research magazine. Consumers, or other interested parties, have until Dec. 5 to comment. Russians scrap 1986 space station
No more Mir
Say good night, Mir. The Russians want to dump the space station and send it plunging into the Pacific in February, with a new NASA-led international space station taking its place. The Russians launched Mir in 1986, expecting it to last three to five years. Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov set a space endurance record by staying aboard for 438 days in 1994-1995. Mir's life has always been chaotic: Its crew was stuck in space for several months in 1991 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now Mir is deteriorating-and the Russian Space Agency says it would be unsafe to leave it aloft without new, expensive missions to refurbish it. They plan to send an unmanned cargo ship to the station next year, then fire its rockets and push it quickly into the atmosphere. It should splash down in a remote area 900 to 1,200 miles off Australia. Mir was supposed to come down last winter, after the Russians ran out of money to keep it going. Then an outfit called MirCorp promised to pay for its operation. The Netherlands-based company financed a mission to Mir earlier this year, but the Russians say it failed to meet other commitments. IRS finds discrepancy in forms
Name game
What's in a name? Plenty, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The agency has sent letters to millions of American women, warning them that their married names on their tax returns don't match their names on Social Security records. Unless taxpayers straighten out the conflict, the IRS may deny them the earned income tax credit or the personal exemption a spouse receives when a couple files jointly. "You may have your refund delayed, or you may have to have a lengthy conversation with us," warned John Dalrymple of the IRS. TV talk-show host takes the helm at McCall's
Rosie monthly
Rosie O'Donnell is joining Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart in the core of women's pop culture. She's getting her own magazine. With Ms. O'Donnell, though, it isn't a new magazine. The venerable McCall's will be cannibalized and relaunched next spring, adding to the usual women's magazine fare a focus on social issues and topics such as gun control. Ms. O'Donnell will become "editorial director" of the 125-year-old magazine, which is part of the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann. She said it would be "less spiritual than Oprah's magazine, more pragmatic than Martha Stewart's, and with my annoying, Democratic political agenda somewhere in the middle." Both Ms. Winfrey and Ms. Stewart have been unabashed supporters of left-leaning politics, and it hasn't alienated them from their core audience of mothers and housewives. Rosie's McCall's already has 4.2 million readers, but its new figurehead says she won't keep as prominent a place as Ms. Winfrey does with her magazine. "I don't really know anything about the magazine business," she said. Time will tell how well Ms. O'Donnell's politics come across in a magazine that usually avoided most controversies. The star says she won't tone down her divisive style: "I don't think I'm ever going to hide my opinion. That's a risk you take." Ms. O'Donnell still is avidly anti-gun, even though she was accused of hypocrisy on the issue earlier this year. The bodyguard she hired to accompany her 5-year-old son to kindergarten applied for a gun permit, with the celebrity's blessing. -Chris Stamper Triple-blade Venus to hit stores
Luxury razor?
One of the most popular gizmos in America has little to do with technology: it's the triple-blade razor. The Mach 3 men's razor is the jewel in the Gillette crown, selling 125 million razors and 1.5 billion cartridges since its 1998 debut. Now the company is preparing a women's model-the Venus-for a heavy-fanfare introduction. About 400 million women worldwide wet shave, according to Gillette, but about half use products intended for men. That fact sent the company into considerable research trying to figure out what this audience wants. Gillette's solution, the triple-blade Venus, hits stores next year, and like Mach 3, it's protected with a long list of patents. Venus will cost considerably more than any other brand-from $7.49 to $7.99. Products like this often sell well because they are cheap luxuries. Mach 3, like Starbucks coffee and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, lets customers pamper themselves without spending much money. People may feel guilty about high-priced cars or vacations, but who frets over a razor blade? Wealth effect is dead
Retail blues
Last year's Christmas season was boom time for Internet retailers. This time around, the dot-coms are trying to survive the bust. Many have closed down, and the rest wonder what to expect this time around. The body count of dead online retailers is still rising, with Furniture.com, Pets.com, and Garden.com joining the fallen. Fledgling companies now find capital hard to find. Meanwhile, the regular, "brick and mortar" segment is having a hard time as well, with stores like K-Mart, The Gap, and Best Buy reporting disappointing earnings. Observers don't expect customers to spend as much money this year-on the Internet or elsewhere. "This is a new chapter in retailing and spending, and it will continue through the holiday season," Kurt Barnard, publisher of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, said. "The Wall Street wealth effect is dead." So the shakeout is on. One of the most unusual moves came from Toys R Us. It scrapped its standalone website and cut a deal with Amazon.com. Toys R Us controls the inventory and Amazon controls the website-and both cancel out a potential competitor. Dot-coms still scare traditional retailers who claim the upstarts have an advantage: no sales tax on interstate orders. A tax-the-Net campaign continues to lobby against this, with help from state governors upset about lost revenue. Online stores are here to stay, but the next few years will produce lots of growing pains.

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