Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "California school shooting," March 17, 2001

Bush vs. his staff?
Although President Bush has stated repeatedly that religious and secular providers of social services should be on a "level playing field," with effectiveness the only measure, it now appears that the whole field may be level but some parts could be more level than others. John DiIulio, head of the White House's new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, spoke at the National Association of Evangelicals convention in Dallas on May 7. He proposed that "a faith-based drug treatment program" effective in fighting addiction by "urging each beneficiary to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior" should not be eligible for government grants unless it could "segregate accounts" by defining some of its activities as religious and some as nonreligious. Since Teen Challenge, the organization then-Texas Gov. Bush went to bat for six years ago (WORLD, July 29, 1995), does not separate its activity in that way, it would not be eligible, according to Mr. DiIulio's formulation. Nor would hundreds of other Christ-drenched groups around the country, particularly those concerned with maintaining their integrity in the face of potential secularizing pressures from government. The DiIulio Doctrine is this: Federal programs "ought to be open to all qualified community-serving groups, but not all groups ought to participate. Faith leaders, organizations, and communities that perceive the slope as secularizing and slippery ought simply to opt out." SOPHISTICATED OPINION RUSHES TO CONDEMN AFGHANISTAN'S ORDER
Idols for destruction
The "civilized world" is in an uproar over an order by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to destroy pre-Islamic statues of Buddha dating as far back as the seventh century. Leaders of the world's top industrialized countries, meeting in Trieste, Italy, for an environmental conference, professed shock at the ruling and issued a statement urging the Taliban not to go ahead with their "deeply tragic decision." Even China's state-run Buddhist Association has called for a stop to the destruction of two huge Buddhas. China, which cared nothing for the human lives destroyed in Tiananmen Square a decade ago, conducts forced abortions, and regularly jails or harasses anyone thought to be a threat to the Beijing regime, now wants to use its immoral authority to rescue things made of stone. What happened to the world's too-brief outcry against what the Taliban are doing to women? Female doctors cannot practice medicine. Female educators cannot teach children. All women must don the Burqua, a horrid head-to-toe covering that allows them to barely see through a screen over their faces. If they go out in public, a male relative, whose permission must first be sought, must accompany them. Why doesn't the world step up the pressure on the Taliban to loosen their grip on women? Instead, it pretends to be noble by attempting to save statues. The destruction of idols is not new, either in Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. Each religion offers chapter and verse to justify ridding a nation of objects of worship other than the God to whom they should be paying attention. The point is not to justify such destruction from a cultural standpoint. The point is that an increasingly secularized Western culture has little understanding of religious beliefs and practices. In America and Europe, where the dollar, celebrity, and material things are the focus of worship, any attempt to "purify" a people is regarded as retrograde and anti-culture. There is a problem here but it's not about objects made of stone. The problem is in our hearts-hearts that have turned to stone because we worship false gods of our own making.-Cal Thomas, © 2001 Tribune Media Services VIRTUAL JUSTICE: WILL TECHNOLOGY RESHAPE COURTS?
Courtroom 2.0
Virtual courtrooms sound like something out of science fiction. The litigants, lawyers, and judge can be in different places but are brought together in a computer-generated courtroom and communicate electronically in a way that's nice and legal. A jury could even convict a defendant they've never seen-raising a constitutional question about the right of the accused to confront witnesses against him. Imagine the whole thing done with holograms and virtual reality glasses. Something like this might actually happen. The experimental "Courtroom 21" at the College of William and Mary staged a demonstration in which a judge presided from Portland, Ore., and a witness testified from Orlando, Fla. And holographic demonstrations at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., may inspire future cyber-courts. Courtroom 21 director Fred Lederer is working to develop a cyber-court for the state of Michigan, where Gov. John Engler called for Web-equipped courts and techno-savvy judges to handle Internet cases. Microsoft's antitrust case has also inspired more interest in cyber-courts, but so far innovations have been small-like the use of the Lexis/Nexis database. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit required litigants in the landmark trial to submit court filings on CD-ROMs. What about the future? Would we actually have virtual courtrooms? Fantasies about virtuality were popular in the mid-1990s when the Internet went mass market and may be revived in the judiciary. Much of the cyber-court talk is really about getting lawyers and judges to be more computer literate and to allow more technology in the physical courtroom. Webcast testimony could be used the way the videotaped kind is used today. And those who like cameras in the courtroom may get to view cases over the Internet. The trouble with much of the cyber-talk is that it detracts from the dignity of the court system. Watching a virtual judge talk to virtual lawyers is just not the same as watching warm bodies in a well-guarded, wood-paneled room. NAPSTER PUSHED TO THE BRINK
Last gasp?
Is Napster on the ropes? The saga of the music-swapping software seems never to end, with the record industry hoping to shut it down soon-and for good. Napster unveiled a new filtering mechanism to screen out copyrighted music. The software is supposed to be smart enough to catch searches of name variations, such as "Bing's Christmas" for Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," or misspellings such as "Metalica" for "Metallica." Illegal files still could be saved on users' disks, but search requests will return no results if the song is on the banned list. But the entertainment industry isn't impressed. "What the well-intentioned mind can invent, the not-well-intentioned mind can destroy," said attorney Robert Schwartz, who has represented movie and television studios in copyright cases. Napster's $1 billion offer to settle the suit was rejected. Music swapping existed for years before Napster and will continue long into the future. With Napster itself looking out for violations-and a paid-subscription model on the way-trading is going underground to servers whose owners are harder to sue. A program called Napigator uses the Napster program to find such servers. In its initial launch, it listed more than 164 million files on such servers as far away as Italy, New Zealand, and Russia. The record industry may be fighting an unwinnable war. SEC TARGETS ONLINE SCAMMERS
Bears don't scare frauds
You pump, you dump, you pay. That's message the SEC wants to send to Internet stock swindlers who cheat gullible online traders out of millions of dollars. Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission made its fifth nationwide crackdown on Internet stock scams. Some of the 23 entities hit were plain old "pump-and-dump" schemes, in which a company or individual misrepresents a stock to inflate its value and then unloads shares at a greatly inflated price. Some allegedly pumped up the value of shares they continued to hold and others allegedly boosted the value of their own companies' initial stock offerings. The SEC said the fraudulent information traveled everywhere from spam e-mails to message boards to electronic newsletters. Scammers used all these routes to send supposed hot tips to suckers. Investigators are searching for needles in haystacks since there are thousands of venues that let people talk about stocks-and not all hype is illegal. Even in a bear market, greed is alive and well, and the sort of stunts once pulled by "boiler room" telephone scams can be easily done online. A company hypester may say that it will go public soon and shoot to the moon. Evidence may "prove" the value of a stock or tipster, but oftentimes it turns out to be bogus under scrutiny. Usually scams can be detected with common sense and a little research-so why do people fall for fraud? Does the drive for money just make people stupid? Part of the answer is that many see stock trading simply as gambling, so a hot tip may be just as good as a blue chip. Some, it seems, would rather roll the dice than do the hard work of due diligence. Hollywood labor dispute looms
Strike two
Hollywood is bracing for disaster. Two major strikes threaten the movie and TV industry, and the threat is sending studios into a frenzy of activity. Moguls fear weeks could pass with little but reruns and second-string fare gracing screens. Talks with the Writers Guild started in late January and ended in early March when the union walked away from the table. The guild says it wants a 3 percent pay raise and more money from home video and cable TV distribution-and its contract runs out May 1. The ever-powerful Screen Actors Guild has its renewal date two months later. A back-to-back strike would be very bad news for Tinsel Town. A writers' strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and delayed that year's fall TV season. Some say the networks permanently lost viewers due to it. Another strike could mean more news magazines, games, and reality shows cropping up just to fill time. Meanwhile, the schedule of film releases could be thinned as movies are stretched to fill gaps. Strikes are one result of Hollywood's policy of forced unionization, which places creative types under rules like those of auto workers and coal miners. That the entertainment industry lives in a swirl of left-wing political beliefs adds to the situation. Unions will thrive in Hollywood long after their necessity has vanished. Iditarod contest gains fans, critics
The last great race?
Mush! The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which began last week, is perhaps America's most rugged sporting event. Alaska's 1,100-mile trek is winning its share of fans-and detractors. The race from Anchorage to Nome started in 1973 to commemorate a 1925 dash to Nome to deliver lifesaving diphtheria serum during a disease outbreak. This year, 68 teams lined up for the start of the race, including six previous champion mushers. Teams of dogs must brave the snow, cold, and one another to make it to the finish. The trail goes over two mountain ranges and along the Bering Sea coast, considered one of the most dangerous parts of the trail because of storms that can quickly turn into raging blizzards. Compared to other sports, the Iditarod prize is paltry: The top 30 finishers split a $550,000 purse, with the winner taking home $62,857 and a new pickup truck. The Iditarod bills itself as "the last great race on Earth," a tribute to the days when snowmobiles and other transportation weren't readily available, thus making the use of sled dogs necessary for survival. This doesn't impress animal-rights activists, who claim the whole thing represents a fit of cruelty. "Dennis the Menace" turns 50
Too young for jail
He doesn't look 50. "Dennis the Menace" celebrates its golden anniversary on America's comics pages this month. The 5-year-old boy is still out there terrorizing Mr. Wilson. "I guess we're doing it right because we keep adding papers," remarked 80-year-old cartoonist Henry "Hank" Ketcham, who works from his home in Pebble Beach. The strip was born after his real son Dennis had started a ruckus. "Your son is a menace!" his wife announced after finding the boy had destroyed his room. A former animator for Walt Disney and Walter Lantz, Mr. Ketcham debuted the strip in March 1951 and inspired plays, a TV show, two movies, and a cartoon series. It still appears, reliably, every day in newspapers. "Nothing changes with kids 4 and 5 years old all over the world," he said. "They're still in that protective area of being too big for the playpen and too young for school and too little to hit, and you can't put them in jail." Mr. Ketcham himself is now mostly retired from the day-to-day grind of the comic strip and today oversees the work of other artists. Some comics fans dislike seeing staff artists carry on strips like "Dennis," complaining that such strips stay in newspapers by inertia. Still, the familiarity of the characters is likely to keep them running indefinitely.

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