Mommy, cut the crusts off
Will parents fork over extra dough for a loaf of bread with no crusts? Sara Lee hopes so. The company believes parents will pay about 75 cents more so that they won't have to pull the crusts off their young children's bread. Sara Lee Bakery Group claims America's prosperity and increased daily stress will make IronKids Crustless Bread attractive. "Is everyone going to pay for it? No," admitted Sara Lee's Matt Hall. "But convenience and simplicity are important consumer needs right now. Consumers told us they'd be willing to pay a premium for this product. Twenty years ago, they probably wouldn't have paid for it." Since no loaves can be cooked without crusts, Sara Lee tweaked its breadmaking procedures at its bakery in Paris, Texas. It uses larger baking pans, along with an automated slicer that removes crusts. The result is normal-sized bread-and the rejected crusts are used for croutons, bread crumbs and other products.
Beaten at the buzzer
The Charlotte Hornets finished near the top of the NBA's Eastern Conference standings this season, but the team was dead last in one crucial statistic: attendance. Fans apparently couldn't muster enthusiasm for a team that they knew was leaving them next season for New Orleans. When Hornet's co-owner Ray Wooldridge announced his team's 10-year contract with the New Orleans Arena, he said the team lost $15 million in Charlotte last season. The move may show some shakiness in the NBA's status as an American cash cow. The league went 16 years without a relocation, but the Hornets' move will be the second in two years, following the Grizzlies' departure last year from Vancouver to Memphis. The Hornets' relocation struggle dragged on for two years-and players themselves have had little to say about the matter. "Who cares? I don't," guard Baron Davis said. "We know what's going to happen, we're moving, it's over with."
Even kingmakers can be dethroned. Michael Ovitz used to be Hollywood's most powerful talent broker, but now he's unloading his troubled talent agency, whose roster includes Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. The former manager of stars is himself a fading star. As co-founder of Creative Artists Management, Mr. Ovitz became the master of the package deal, in which he used one or two of his big stars as leverage to force studios to sign up a number of lesser talents. Some resented Mr. Ovitz and compared his tactics to extortion. Mr. Ovitz left Creative Artists to become president of Disney in 1995, but he lasted only 16 months in that job. He resurfaced in 1999, running Artists Management Group, but he had lost his touch. The company turned out to be a money loser, and a fired executive, Eric Tannenbaum, sued Mr. Ovitz for $9.6 million, claiming fraud, deceit, and defamation. Now Mr. Ovitz is selling the company to another agency, which is ominously named the Firm. Other recent Ovitz ventures have also proved less than blockbuster. He invested in an online music service called Scour that went bankrupt, and he also tried and failed to bring an NFL franchise to Los Angeles.
A nation prayed
"My husband and I find strength in the word of the Lord, and we realize the power that prayer has in our own lives. I'm truly blessed to be married to a man who's strong enough to bear the burdens and humble enough to ask God for help." The 200 people in the White House East Room on the National Day of Prayer May 2, many of them evangelical luminaries, gave Laura Bush's words a long ovation. On his turn to address the gathering as thunder rumbled in the skies outside, Mr. Bush said prayer "strengthens our commitment to things that last and things that matter." In a proclamation he issued earlier, he looked back to 9/11 and said, "We have all seen God's great faithfulness to our country." Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie unintendedly evoked laughter, including a loud chuckle from Mr. Bush: "Today, along with millions of Americans, we pray for nothing less than a spiritual awakening in America and an unprecedented unity in Congress." Some Bush proposals and appointments have stalled in the narrowly Democrat-controlled Senate. Thousands of similar gatherings to pray for the nation convened that day in government buildings, parks, churches, office buildings, and other sites across the nation and even in Canada. Organizers said 30,000 such prayer events were held in 2001, and this year's numbers would be about the same. The 1775 Continental Congress informally began the day of prayer; it was signed into law in 1952 by President Truman.
When Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Philadelphia's Roman Catholic archbishop, returned from the recent summit with the pope on the homosexual-abuse problems among some American Catholic priests, he said publicly what many conservatives in the church think but are afraid to say: Homosexuals aren't "suitable candidates" for the priesthood because such priests, even chaste ones, are at a "much higher" risk of becoming sexually active. Heterosexual celibates give up the good of family and children, he said, while gay celibates give up "what the church considers an aberration, a moral evil." Homosexual activists blasted the 71-year-old archbishop, and liberal scholars in the church distanced themselves from his "unusual" position. Yet his stance is in harmony with an official Vatican position. Some church scholars argue that the directive doesn't apply to seminarians. Others contend that it should, because seminaries have been a known breeding ground for homosexual activity. Some of the priests accused of abuse of adolescent boys in the national news claim to have been victims of abuse themselves while in seminary.
Freedom to fire
In a case many denominations, churches, and parachurch ministries followed closely, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit on April 30 rejected Lee Ann Bryce's claims of sexual harassment and civil-rights violations against St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colo., the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, and other defendants. St. Aidan's had terminated her as lay youth minister because she was a practicing lesbian. The court said religious institutions are protected under the so-called church autonomy doctrine, a First Amendment?based legal tenet that allows churches and religious organizations to make decisions about their own internal affairs and beliefs. As long as a church's hiring decisions are made for ecclesiastical and not secular reasons, courts shouldn't interfere, the three-judge panel said. When St. Aidan's hired Miss Bryce, a non-Episcopalian, in 1997, its leaders didn't know her sexual preference. In November 1998 she and her partner, Sara D. Smith, an ordained United Church of Christ minister, had a civil "commitment" ceremony. Two months later, St. Aidan's rector, Donald Henderson, and other church leaders learned about the ceremony. When they confronted Miss Bryce, she acknowledged she was a lesbian living in a sexual relationship with another woman. They fired her, saying she had violated Episcopal doctrine that opposed sexual relationships outside of marriage. The two women sued, but a lower court dismissed the case on church autonomy grounds.
Clergyman Edward Mullins is back in his pulpit at Christ Church Cranbrook near Detroit following a three-month suspension by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan over charges of plagiarism and other complaints. As part of the agreement with the diocese, he apologized to the audience of about 900 his first Sunday back and said, "I'm sorry." But he didn't sound very repentant. He joked he would be using "three primary sources and God knows how many secondary sources" in his sermon. Many in the congregation laughed and twice gave him standing ovations. Earlier, 159 members had signed a letter criticizing the diocese, and saying attendance and giving had nosedived. Rev. Mullins has been at the church about five years. Some in the 800-family congregation accused him of being lax in pastoral responsibilities and loose with his temper. His 13-member staff last year complained to the bishop that they no longer could work with him. But it was the discovery by several members that he had lifted verbatim from the Web, and without crediting the sources, some sermons and articles for the church newsletter that captured the attention of diocesan officials. They banned him from serving or attending the church while they investigated. Rev. Mullins insisted to reporters that "oral use of anything is permissible under any circumstances." He pointed to U.S. presidents who in their speeches never credit the speechwriters. He claimed the "academic world is trying to impose its standards on public figures and pastors ... without understanding how clergy do their business." It takes a lot of time to prepare sermons, he said, and "the purpose of these online services is to help speed up that process."
Lower standards, lower giving
The 2.5-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been reeling from one crisis to another lately. The latest: a shortfall in income. Officials announced more than $4.2 million in personnel and program cutbacks to balance next year's mission budget of $132 million. In all, PCUSA executives eliminated 66 positions at denominational headquarters in Louisville, Ky., along with 34 international mission workers. Forty-three workers, some in place for decades, had to vacate their jobs in Louisville early this month with one week's notice. There are lessons here for leaders of other denominations to note. The PCUSA officials blamed the sagging national economy, reduced yields from investment portfolios, and the need to juggle priorities and fund new programs. But the denomination also lost nearly 32,000 members last year, continuing a pattern that has seen the departure of more than 1.76 million since 1965, nearly 138,000 of them in the past five years. Individual churches are assessed per capita giving quotas based on the number of members. And more churches of late are designating formerly unrestricted donations. Data show members tend to leave the pews in higher numbers during times of doctrine-related disputes, when principles of the Reformed faith are under attack. The denomination avoided a disaster this spring when presbyteries (regional governing units) voted 126 to 46 against stripping from the PCUSA constitution a moral standard of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness for clergy and lay leaders. Homosexuals and their supporters have fought for years to have the standard removed. Many of the largest PCUSA churches are led by conservatives. Some were poised to leave if the pro-homosexual measure had passed; others were set to curtail their giving. The conservatives say it is harder to attract new members in their communities as a result of such efforts to downgrade standards. A new source of evangelical clout in the PCUSA is the Confessing Church Movement. A grassroots movement, it arose in reaction to the pro-homosexual mood at last year's left-leaning PCUSA General Assembly (annual meeting) and what appeared to be attempts to undermine the uniqueness of Christ as the only way of salvation. The movement encompasses the governing boards of 1,260 congregations with more than 420,000 members. They represent 11.3 percent of the PCUSA's 11,142 churches and 16.9 percent of its membership. Meanwhile, a time bomb continues to tick in the PCUSA. Some liberals are tooling up to do battle in the church courts to gain the changes denied them in the churchwide votes.
A need for more than speed
Home broadband connections are powerful, fast, and cool. So why aren't more people using them? Broadband business is growing, but the most-ballyhooed digital revolution may need more time. Jupiter Media Matrix reports that only about one-quarter of today's dial-up customers plan to switch to cable modem, DSL, or other high-speed service within the next 12 months. Several cable industry executives said at an industry convention that the public needs more compelling content to add broadband. That means video-on-demand, where subscribers can watch any program at any time by downloading it. Richard Parsons, co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner, admitted that today's broadband experience might not be interesting enough to attract a mass market. "Essentially, what you get with broadband now is narrowband faster," he told the National Cable and Telecommunications Association convention. "The challenge is not having the same old stuff faster." To reach critical mass, broadband providers must recruit the Internet's low-end users, the people who only go online a few times per week to check e-mail. Since those users aren't heavy downloaders, they need strong reasons to upgrade their services. As it stands, dialup access could survive for many years to come.
The Best Buy electronics chain was using new wireless cash registers-until managers discovered a serious security risk. Criminals apparently could sit in the parking lot and eavesdrop on the signals, silently grabbing customer data and credit card numbers. So the company shut down the registers nationwide while officials try to find better security. Such snoopery is the stuff of paranoia and urban legends, but many executives and information technology experts take these concerns seriously as wireless networks become widespread. Older-style wires and cords may be cumbersome, but they provide a useful bit of security. In order to access such a network, a user must be physically linked to it. Wireless signals, on the other hand, can go through walls and travel hundreds of feet, which means a crook with the right equipment could get close enough to capture data. Best Buy officials don't know whether hackers actually tapped cash registers, but one anonymous poster on an Internet discussion group claimed to do so. That scared them enough to take action. "People need to protect [systems] commensurate with the value of the data," said Brian Grimm, a spokesman with the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance. "As with any new technology, it provides benefits but there are responsibilities affiliated with it."
Screens as scrolls
You could wear your next computer-or roll it up and stick it in your pocket. Researchers are looking for ways to make full-size computer screens that are flexible and portable instead of stiff and bulky. If successful, cheap displays could be embedded in walls, plastic, and even clothing. While microchips and circuitry continue to become smaller, screens remain a problem. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) found on laptops and cell phones are hard and rigid because they are sandwiched between two pieces of glass. While they can be miniaturized, tiny screens are hard to read. If manufacturers could make screens using materials other than glass, they could design all sorts of new portable devices. So five researchers at Royal Philips Electronics of The Netherlands have devised a way of making screens by painting the raw materials onto a surface. The technique, described in the journal Nature and called "photo-enforced stratification," could lead to new computer displays that users could roll up or fold. Philips is also working with an American company called e-Ink on a type of electronic paper display. Such flexible screens could help make the dream of pervasive computing a reality. Interactivity one day could be taken for granted like running water, long-distance phone service, and AC electrical current.