A classic returns
Dum de dum dum. Dragnet, the cop show once considered a 1950s relic, is making a comeback. The show is set to appear in mid-season on ABC, debuting after Monday Night Football closes its season. It comes as CBS and NBC have already decked their schedules with cop shows, including three hours of Law & Order variations plus two editions of CSI. Dragnet was perhaps the most pro-cop show in history. It debuted on radio in 1949, featuring stories taken from Los Angeles police files and "Joe Friday" as the archetypical cop. The show went off the air in 1959 and returned from 1967-1970. When Jack Webb, who portrayed Friday, died in 1983, the LAPD gave him a full-dress memorial service. Later years were not kind to Dragnet, as comics depicted it as silly camp or as too conservative for the times. A 1987 movie version had Dan Ackroyd portraying Friday as a doofus chasing an evil televangelist. But the show's subtle influence remained. Even people who never saw Dragnet have seen shows inspired by it-or know phrases like "Just the facts, ma'am" and "the names have been changed to protect the innocent." "Dragnet is the single greatest cop-show franchise in television history," Law & Order creator Dick Wolf, who will produce the new show, told the Hollywood Reporter. "It provided the blueprint on which everything has been built."
Lawrence Wollersheim fought the Church of Scientology in court for 22 years, and now he's collecting $8.6 million in a settlement against the group known for unusual therapies, celebrity members, and heated controversy. Mr. Wollersheim, who joined the church in 1969, claims the group made him suicidal. His lawsuit says that at one point the group held him on a ship for 18 hours a day and deprived him of food and sleep-all as part of a mini-navy assembled by founder L. Ron Hubbard. A jury awarded Mr. Wollersheim $30 million in 1986. An appeal brought that number down to $2.5 million, a figure that the Supreme Court upheld in 1994. The judgment collected interest over the years, until Scientology officials finally paid up last month. The deal came just before the case was headed back into court.
Pumping up GOP liberals
Is Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to muscle his way into GOP politics? The liberal Republican actor took his first step into serious political activity by throwing his weight behind a California ballot initiative to spend more on extracurricular activities in state schools. The 54-year-old star of The Terminator and True Lies also supported liberal Republican Richard Riordan's failed quest for the governorship of California, even appearing at one of Mr. Riordan's rallies. During a speech last week at the annual meeting of the California Society of Newspaper Editors, Mr. Schwarzenegger sounded a concern of many conservatives-that after-school idleness can lead to drug abuse and delinquency. "When [kids] go to school at the age of 6 there's an empty bucket there," he said, "and someone by the time they're 18 will fill that bucket." But his solution was drawn directly from the liberal playbook: $400 million more in state spending on public education.
The U.S. Government requested fewer wiretap warrants last year-but that doesn't mean the feds tap less these days. The modest decline was attributed to new, streamlined procedures that were enacted after the 9/11 attacks. The government received court approval for 934 wiretap warrants in 2001 compared to 1,003 in 2000. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that under the Patriot Act, warrants don't expire as quickly and can be used sometimes across jurisdictions. That means authorities make fewer requests. "The Patriot Act provides some measures of efficiency that can be of assistance to us, and I think it would be fair to interpret the data in light of that," he said. Experts say that investigators also may be using other tools, such as subpoenas for a suspect's financial records. Wiretaps are a common target for law-enforcement critics, who worry about privacy violations of innocent people. But authorities say they are crucial for catching terrorists and other criminals. The federal government used a surveillance warrant to search the offices and director's home of a charity with ties to Osama bin Laden, the Benevolence International Foundation.
Is the Napster saga over? The Bertelsmann conglomerate is buying up the struggling music-swapping (aka copyright-infringing) company. Napster began in a dorm room and boasted 60 million users, who traded music files for free, at its peak. Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker built the software to trade MP3s and wound up creating a sensation. After a court forced Napster offline, the company tried to develop a paid service. In the meantime, the labels launched their own subscription services (to mixed reviews), as song traders moved to other networks. Napster's absorption does not mean the piracy war is over, but an industry plan to stop such music trading is floundering. The Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) was supposed to digitally wrap songs in unbreakable code. Music on CDs would be SDMI-protected and play only on SDMI-compliant devices. It didn't happen. No hackerproof code ever came and new digital players like the Rio and Nomad sprang up that played standard MP3 files. Now the labels want legal measures to stop song trading. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) has proposed a bill to require any "interactive digital device" sold in the United States to prevent users from making unauthorized copies of copyright material.
Putting on a nice face
China has lightened up on Web censorship-slightly. The Communist government apparently decided it was in its interest to stop blocking access to the websites of at least three Western news organizations (The Associated Press, Reuters, and The Washington Post). China still blocks Taiwanese newspapers, as well as CNN and groups considered "subversive" to the state. Why did China partially lift the block? The move is most likely part of the country's continuing quest for more hard currency. Analysts say the rulers want to attract investors by making the country look more modern and less totalitarian. "China wants to put a nice face on its telecommunications enterprises because they're about to go out and raise money," said Steven Schwankert, editor of Computerworld Hong Kong magazine. The Communists themselves claim they want to encourage the Internet as a commercial medium without creating a forum for political dissent. Internet services must track users and report them if they visit forbidden places. The Chinese government claims about 30 million Chinese use the Net-and that population is growing fast. But the Chinese have shut down thousands of Internet bars-typically storefronts with a dozen PCs in a room-that offered access to contraband websites.
It might seem a little early, but the political parties are beginning to mobilize their 2004 convention planning, and they might just mobilize right over each other. The Republican National Committee has begun planning its convention for the comparatively late dates of Aug. 30 to Sept. 2, about two weeks later than usual. The Democratic National Committee announced last year that party delegates would meet the week of July 18, but now the Democrats are talking about stealing the GOP's thunder and holding their convention during the same week as the Republican convention. The DNC's indecision is driven by federal money. The major candidates can't acquire their general-election matching funds until their convention, and the Democratic nominee in 2004 is expected to be anointed early in a stacked primary schedule and then run out of primary cash by early summer. But Democrats fear leaving six weeks between conventions will give Republicans an advantage. They've pledged to nail down a date within a week.
Year of clones?
While Senate majority leader Tom Daschle drags his feet on his promise to hold a Senate debate on a human cloning ban, Sen. Sam Brownback is planning to introduce legislation that would prevent the patenting of human beings. If pro-cloning forces push to allow biotechnology firms to patent human embryos, the Kansas Republican argued, "we will be sending the message that humans are property and they can be exploited and destroyed for profit." The cloning issue gained urgency after Kentucky fertility specialist Panayiotis Zavos boldly claimed that his team of physicians and scientists was ready to create a human clone and impregnate a woman by year's end. Other cloning experts have cast doubt on Dr. Zavos's claim, and fear he could harm patients with his plans. But he predicted "2002 will be the year of the clones."
The social liberalism of the National Education Association may be about to cost the union some money. In a ruling made public on May 20, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ordered the NEA and its state affiliates to stop forcing religious teachers through an obstacle course of bureaucratic procedures to gain an exemption from funding the union's political and social causes. "The evidence obtained during the investigation establishes a violation of a federal statute has occurred," wrote Michael Fetzer, the Cleveland district director of the EEOC in a May 13 letter to the NEA. The EEOC said it would sue the union if it didn't stop making religious teachers fill out forms and send signatures from their pastors. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the employee's religious beliefs. "Religious objectors" can force the union to apply their fees to a charity of their choice. "The NEA is militantly opposed to this," said Stefan Gleason of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, which filed the complaint with the EEOC. "They try to avoid having teachers learn about this religious clause." Dennis Robey of New Carlisle, Ohio, is the Christian teacher who spurred the EEOC's action. He first heard about the "religious objector" provision from a Focus on the Family publication. He filed with the Ohio Education Association to object in 1994, after he noticed the NEA's annual set of national convention resolutions strayed far from his Bible-based beliefs. In addition to hailing "reproductive freedom," last year's resolutions repeatedly endorsed the fight against "sexual orientation discrimination," supported school-based family-planning clinics with "intensive counseling by trained professionals," and "freedom of information" in sex education for "the realization of human potential." But in 1999, after a few years of granting the waiver, the OEA started holding up his dues and requiring him to fill out a form asking him "probing personal questions" about his religious beliefs and requiring a signature from his pastor to prove he wasn't making up his faith. "My pastor was amused, but it felt like getting a note from my mommy," Mr. Robey said.