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.
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.
Coping with COPA
The Supreme Court last week upheld a law designed to protect children from online smut-but the court fight over it is not over. Justices rejected a challenge from civil libertarians, but other objections will go to a lower court for further review or a trial. The Child Online Protection Act (COPA) may wind up back before the nine justices. The law was signed by President Clinton and is endorsed by President Bush, but the government has never enforced it. COPA requires that commercial Internet sites use credit cards or other screening systems to keep children away from harmful material. First-time violators could face six months in jail and $50,000 in fines. COPA, if declared constitutional, would radically change the online porn business, with verification systems reducing access by minors. But the familiar cries over censorship have bogged the law down in the courts. The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, saying that the government has the authority to protect kids from dangerous material that they can dig up with a few mouse clicks. The justices had shot down an earlier, stricter law known as the Communications Decency Act. This time, five justices upheld COPA's community-standards doctrine, which is rooted in legal precedents (such as statutes that require storeowners to keep pornography on shelves away from kids). Spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said the Justice Department will take "all available steps to ... keep our nation's children safe from viewing the pornography for sale on the Internet."
The fax is getting the ax
Will the paper fax machine go the way of the telegram and the manual typewriter? Businesses aren't getting rid of faxes, but they're using computers to cut down on the mess and flurry of incoming documents. A familiar office ritual is vanishing almost as swiftly as it arrived. Today, faxing is becoming part of e-mail with services like eFax. For free, such services give users a phone number that lets them receive faxes, which are forwarded to e-mail. For an additional fee, users can send documents from their inboxes to another person's fax machine. Businesses are integrating this same concept into company computer networks, thanks to a new generation of fax machines. All sorts of devices and services are popping up that send and receive paper documents via the Net. An employee can put a document into a new networked fax machine and send it to numerous contacts without making a phone call. Or a traditional transmission can travel via the Net instead of phone lines, thus saving long-distance charges. Market consulting firm CAP Ventures Inc. predicts that in 2005, more than 60 percent of all large-capacity office fax machines sold will be Internet-enabled. Such efforts may be needed to keep the fax machine alive as e-mail takes over.
Give me accreditation
A creationist school is a deficient school, at least according to one accreditation board. The upstart Patrick Henry College was rejected by the American Academy for Liberal Education. The school's requirement that faculty sign a statement affirming six-day creation set off alarm bells. Patrick Henry, which does not accept federal money, was already approved by the state of Virginia. The two-year-old school targets homeschool graduates-and boasts average SAT scores of about 1300. It plans to start teaching biology this fall. Teachers will explain evolution to students, but teach creationism. Other aspects of Patrick Henry's Statement of Biblical Worldview-such as chapel services, bans on the opposite sex in dorm rooms, and the requirement that students show "evidence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ"-were not mentioned as problematic. Jeffrey Wallin, the academy's president, defended the rejection, saying the main issue was academic freedom: "It's very hard to have a liberal education if one does not have open inquiry." Patrick Henry president Michael Farris, a veteran homeschooling advocate, announced that the school would appeal the decision, saying the board is hypocritical in its claim to academic freedom. Since the group supports "diversity" in other areas, it should be able to accept dissent about origins, he said, adding that the same board had accepted a Mormon school with its own set of restrictions.
Bruised and Buffetted
Stop killing off customers. That was the message pro-life activist Steven Mosher delivered on May 4 to Warren Buffett and 10,000 shareholders of Mr. Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway investment group. At issue: Berkshire's "shareholder-designated" charitable giving to abortion and population-control groups. At the group's annual meeting, Mr. Mosher offered a resolution to stop such giving-and outlined the reasons why. "It should be self-evident that Berkshire-Hathaway, like the economy as a whole, is dependent upon people," said Mr. Mosher, president of the pro-life Population Research Institute (PRI). "It is people who produce the products and services of the various companies we own, and it is people who buy them." Mr. Buffett-who controls more than half the voting stock-shot down the resolution, but its presentation had an educational effect, said PRI's Scott Weinberg. PRI's next corporate education target is Microsoft, a significant donor to global population-control groups. PRI has already identified a shareholder in Bill Gates's company who wants to offer a resolution at this fall's annual meeting similar to the one offered at Berkshire. Mr. Buffett (the world's second richest man, according to Forbes) is a zealous supporter of abortion and population-control groups, donating, for example, $2 million to the RU-486-boosting Population Council. But Berkshire-Hathaway also funds abortion-providing organizations, Mr. Mosher pointed out, when he delivered to its shareholders a resolution approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Internal Revenue Service says charities and businesses don't always have to say who gives and how much, so it's tough to tell exactly how much Berkshire donates to anti-life groups. What is known is that Berkshire companies Dairy Queen, GEICO Insurance, General Re Corporation, and Wesco Financial all support Planned Parenthood, which kills more than 200,000 babies each year in the United States alone. Also, that Berkshire and its 30 subsidiaries made more than $16.5 million in total shareholder-designated contributions last year. Though Mr. Mosher owns no Berkshire stock, he was able to present the no-contributions resolution on behalf of shareholder Gloria Patrick in accordance with SEC rules. The pro-life group is working on gaining SEC approval in time for Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting. | Lynn Vincent
Waging war on common sense
Liberals and labor unions supporting so-called living-wage laws claim that requiring companies to pay a "living wage" would help the low-skilled poor. But a University of New Hampshire survey of U.S. labor economists showed that most people who study employment policy agree that local living-wage laws would displace-not help-lower-skilled workers. A "living wage" is an hourly pay rate scaled to the cost of living in a particular area. Such wages are almost always significantly higher than state and federally mandated minimum-wage rates. The UNH study revealed that nearly eight in 10 labor economists (79 percent) believe that a typical living-wage law, applied locally, would cause employers to hire entry-level employees with greater skills or experience than the applicants they previously hired. Seven out of 10 labor economists (71 percent) believe that even modest local living-wage proposals would cause employers to cut back on hiring entry-level employees. | Lynn Vincent