Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

News highlights from around the world

Issue: "Mounting a defense," May 25, 2002

World Cup is half-empty

America is famous for soccer moms, but not soccer fans. This national ambivalence means this year's World Cup gets scant attention. The world's most popular sports event rivets fans from Beijing to Bombay to Buenos Aires, but not in Boise or Buffalo. The World Cup is as much a novelty here as the Super Bowl is overseas. While Gillette, MasterCard, and other U.S. brands can be found at the tournament, few Americans are expected to watch. Here, the World Cup is marketed mostly as a niche product for Hispanic viewers. Some thought interest might perk up back in 1994 when the United States hosted the games, but it didn't happen. The one World Cup boom in the United States may be online, as hardcore fans scour overseas sites for coverage. The 1998 finale earned only a 6.9 rating for ABC-and this year is expected to be worse because South Korea and Japan are co-hosting the games. Most games don't start until Americans are asleep for the night. This year's finale will air on June 30 at 7 a.m. on the East Coast.

Send 'em packing

Animal-rights activists want a Minnesota high school to pack up "Packers," the name of its sports teams. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling on the principal of Austin High to adopt the moniker "Pickers," which would "reflect a kinder profession." "Packers" refers to meatpacking-specifically that of Hormel, the maker of Spam and Cure 81 ham, whose headquarters are in Austin, Minn. So far, PETA's plea has gone unheard. Austin schools superintendent Corrine Johnson said the name Packers reflects the character of the community and its economic base. This effort is a classic example of windmill chasing by animal-rights activists, but sometimes these campaigns work. NCAA officials earlier this month responded to PETA demands and announced they'll use synthetic basketballs from now on; leather basketballs will no longer be used in NCAA tournaments.

Swan song

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Has Luciano Pavarotti said arrivederci to opera? When the singer announced he was too ill to perform at the Metropolitan Opera's season finale, this may have brought down the curtain on his career. Nothing is official, but the Met has not booked the superstar tenor for next season for the first time since 1969. Mr. Pavarotti's big smile, big voice, and big white handkerchief earned him recognition usually paid to rock stars; four decades in the spotlight attracted millions to his work who might never have considered opera before. His cancellation earned him a raucous New York Post headline: "Fat Man Won't Sing." Audience members paid as much as $1,875 for tickets-and saw Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra instead. Mr. Pavarotti was nursing his flu in his apartment, a few blocks south of the opera house. His absence was announced at the last minute-after the Met sent over a vocal coach, who confirmed the 66-year-old singer was too congested to sing. After the cancellation, Mr. Pavarotti issued a statement defending himself: "No matter how much I regret with a passion not being able to sing at the Met on this occasion, catching the flu was certainly not a willful mistake." Mr. Pavarotti has no opera bookings scheduled, although he does have some concerts and recitals ahead. He is scheduled to join Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo in a reunion of the Three Tenors in Japan next month.

Wag the human

Want to know what your dog is thinking? A new Japanese invention claims to translate barks and woofs into human language. A device called Bowlingual gives utterances like "I'm arf-ully lonely. Please play with me more," "This is fun," and "I'm bored." Users attach a wireless microphone to a dog's collar. When he barks, a message pops up on a handheld display. Bowlingual correlates barks with six different emotions: frustration, alarm, self-expression, happiness, sadness, and desire. From these, it selects a response like "I can't stand it," or "How boring." Bowlingual is a curious cousin of speech recognition software, which enables computers to accept voice commands. The gizmo will sell for about $100, although only a Japanese version is on the market so far. Takara, a company best known in the United States for the Transformers toys, developed it as part of something called the "Dolittle Project." Bowlingual pulls its phrases from a pre-programmed list, which, of course, may or may not reflect a dog's mood. Verifying canine thought is quite a challenge, but Takara executives say they called on animal behaviorists and pet owners to help judge animal barks.

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