Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Enron's collapse," Jan. 26, 2002

Better than they deserve
You could say Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters never had it so good. For those transported to the high-security prison at Guantanamo Bay, three square meals a day-a "culturally appropriate" diet-and quarters above ground will be some improvement over life in the caves and hills of war-depleted Afghanistan. Not to mention the absence of carpet bombs and jihad drills. But that's not good enough for human-rights workers. They claim the United States has put its war prisoners in "legal limbo." They complain that the military is not abiding by the 1949 Geneva Convention. The Pentagon says its captives do not fit the convention's definition of lawful combatants because they are terrorists. "They deny that they are prisoners of war (POWs), while at the same time failing to provide them with the most basic protections of any person deprived of their liberty," read a statement by Amnesty International. It and other groups fussed at Pentagon officials for "harsh" treatment of the first 20 terrorists transported to Guantanamo, who were hooded and shackled for the flight. One prisoner was sedated because he was afraid to fly. "These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines in the back of a C17 to bring it down," noted Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "These are very, very dangerous people and that's how they're being treated." Meanwhile, American Taliban fighter John Walker will get his day in court. The 20-year-old, captured in Afghanistan and quartered aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Arabian Sea, was charged on Jan. 15 with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals abroad and with providing support to terrorist organizations. On these charges, he will not face a death sentence. Attorney General John Ashcroft said other charges that may yet be brought could carry the death penalty. Mr. Walker met with Osama bin Laden when he visited an al-Qaeda camp where Mr. Walker was living. The U.S. military took Mr. Walker into custody in December after a bloody prison uprising in northern Afghanistan, where he was interviewed by CIA officer Johnny Michael "Mike" Spann just before fellow Afghan prisoners killed Mr. Spann. NETHERLANDS LIFTS LAST RESTRICTIONS
Terminate the terminal
How low can the Netherlands go? Dutch doctors can now euthanize their patients without fear of murder charges. The law, the first of its kind in the world, was passed last April and took effect this month. Euthanasia has been tolerated in Holland for decades, but the new law guarantees that the government won't prosecute doctors who follow the rules. One aspect of the new law may broaden the reasons for euthanasia to include mental distress. The new law permits euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide in cases of "interminable and unendurable suffering," not just in cases of terminal illness. The law also allows parents to choose euthanasia for their children between ages 12 and 16, while allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to make their own decisions as long as they consult with their parents. ZIMBABWE'S LEADER UNDER U.S. FIRE
Last straw?
Zimbabwe's president may have gone too far. Robert Mugabe sent government-backed militants on a fresh looting campaign of white-owned farms in the central African country. They forced 23 landowners from their homes last week in what has become the trademark of repression under Mr. Mugabe. Republican congressman Ed Royce, touring the region, said Congress would "ratchet up" pressure on Mr. Mugabe ahead of scheduled March 9 elections. President defies Senate delaying tactics, grants recess appointments to conservative nominees
A quiet rebellion
President Bush did a feisty thing without any feisty words. His distaste for Senate Democrats' ongoing delaying tactics quietly came to a head when he made recess appointments of two conservatives he nominated last spring to jobs requiring Senate approval. The Constitution allows the president to make such appointments when the Senate is not in session. Senate leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) placed the Senate in recess without acting on the nominees. "Tom Daschle overplayed his hand," said Grover Norquist, whose group, Americans for Tax Reform, rallied behind the forgotten nominees. "The president wanted to believe Daschle was operating in good faith, but he ceased to believe that." The president appointed Eugene Scalia, the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as solicitor of the Labor Department. The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee gave Mr. Scalia a hearing last year, but liberals led by committee chairman Ted Kennedy objected to his criticism of "junk science" behind tougher new ergonomics standards for employers. The Scalia nomination made it out of the committee but languished on the Senate floor. Otto Reich's nomination didn't even go that far. Named to the post of assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Mr. Reich discovered the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would not even schedule his hearing. Committee chairman Christopher Dodd still loathes Mr. Reich, a Cuban American, from his Reagan-era State Department days, when he was a major player in promoting the Nicaraguan contras. The recess appointments allow the two men to serve until Congress goes into recess again just before the November elections. Conservatives are hoping that the Senate tilts back to Republican control, so they might serve in their jobs a little longer than they sat in Senate limbo. Man knows not his time
Pastor, mentor
W. A. Criswell, one of the best-known and most-influential preachers in the 15.8-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, died on Jan. 10 in Dallas following a lingering illness. He was 92. He served as pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas for more than 50 years, assuming the title of "emeritus pastor" in 1994. In its heyday, First Baptist boasted nearly 28,000 members (Sunday attendance was much lower). Its services were aired nationally on radio and television. Leaders of the conservative resurgence in the SBC, some of whom Mr. Criswell mentored, credit him as the father of their movement. As SBC president in 1968 and 1969, he warned of a drift away from biblical authority, and he challenged liberals to leave the SBC and "start your own church." A decade later he began helping conservatives take the reins of power in the SBC. Also in 1969, he repudiated his and his church's segregationist past. States promote emergency contraception
EC or else
New laws that went into effect this month will allow pharmacists in California to begin dispensing emergency contraception (EC) without a prescription, and will require all Illinois hospitals, including Catholic ones, to tell rape victims about EC. Catholic hospitals will not have to provide the contraceptives, but they will have to tell patients where they can obtain them. Commonly called the morning-after pill, EC taken within 72 hours of intercourse will prevent pregnancy. The pills, similar to regular birth control pills but with higher levels of hormones, work by preventing ovulation, preventing fertilization, or preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. Whether prevention is through contraception or abortion affects the reaction of many pro-lifers to EC. The Fantasticks closes in New York after a 42-year run
All played out
The Fantasticks finally had to face the music. The world's longest-running musical closed last week after 17,162 performances over nearly 42 years in New York's Sullivan Street Playhouse. Veterans of the play include Jerry Orbach, who was part of the original cast and now plays Lt. Lennie Briscoe on NBC's Law & Order, and Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham. The show, a story of young love and adversity, cost $16,000 to open and had grossed over $23 million by 2000. It outlived mediocre reviews and became something of a self-sustaining legend. Plans to close the play in 1986 were shelved, but this time the show won't go on. Ticket sales declined in recent months and the producers decided to bow out after new owners bought the theater. Producer Lore Noto, who had fought for the show decades ago, is now 78 and has survived a heart condition and several bouts of cancer. "After 40 years of a roller coaster, you get tired," he said. Could a current show ever beat The Fantasticks' run? That's unlikely, say culture watchers. The economics of the New York stage tends more toward short runs. Being an inexpensive show with a big reputation in a tiny theater helped The Fantasticks go for a long time. A channel for everyone?
Changing the channel
Are there too many cable channels for anyone to watch? Dozens of networks compete for small slices of market share, and the audience may not be big enough to go around-so they have to search for new, smaller niches. The latest evidence: After five years, AOL Time Warner is shutting down the CNN-Sports Illustrated network in favor of a new channel that it will operate with the National Basketball Association. The move comes a few months after the company overhauled the struggling CNN Headline News. Cable companies are rapidly offering new niche channels like National Geographic, Hallmark, Style, and Tech TV in an effort to compete with satellite dishes. Meanwhile, established cable networks on hundreds of local systems have become like radio stations, changing formats to try to compete. The most jarring change was TNN's switch from The Nashville Network to "The New TNN," a mix of reruns and pro wrestling. TNT changed from a general mix of shows to a focus on drama. Meanwhile, The Family Channel is now "ABC Family," a channel that is centering more and more on recycling recent network fare. The rat race in cable parallels a shakeout in broadcast TV. ABC hired a new entertainment chief after viewership fell 21 percent this season. Scholar studies urban legends
Legend has it...
Does garlic cure anthrax? Was Osama bin Laden hiding in Utah? Does the Islamic terrorist secretly own Snapple? No to all three, but these are just a few of the urban legends to crop up in the months since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Two websites that catalog such myths, Snopes.com and Urbanlegends.com, have collected some of the most bizarre: that employees at a Dunkin' Donuts location in New Jersey celebrated the disasters, that airplane seats were found in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and that Osama bin Laden owns Citibank. One researcher says these false rumors offer valuable clues about human behavior. Chip Heath, an associate professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, points out that stories about poisoned Halloween candy, atheists trying to ban religious broadcasting, and corporate funding for the Church of Satan have continued for years after being repeatedly debunked in public. "People do care about the truth of an idea," he said, "but they also want to tell stories that produce strong emotion, and that second tendency sometimes gets in the way of the first." Mr. Heath argues that the urban myths fit the way people process information. Cold facts and statistics are hard to remember, while interesting narratives are more easily recalled, especially those that fit the audiences' sentiments. The lesson for Mr. Heath's MBA students is that managers must win both the emotion and reason of employees and customers to succeed.

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