Preparing for the worst
As the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaches, the New York Police Department wants to learn from the past. The department may make new plans for emergency procedures, including hiring a new chief of emergencies, reducing the number of cops who respond to a calamity, and building a "shadow staff" to take over if senior officers are killed. Right after the World Trade Center attack, thousands of police and firefighters flooded the complex. Twenty-three officers and 343 firefighters died. A private study added urgency to the proposals. A McKinsey & Co. review found that police communication systems were not prepared for a large-scale disaster. It reported that 38 percent of the police officers that responded to the World Trade Center attack did not know to whom to report. It also cited a "perceived lack of a single strong operational leader" and "unclear roles and responsibilities among senior leadership." Experts also cited a lack of communication between fire and police on Sept. 11. They say this problem predated the attack. Officials say that their top priority is ensuring that people donÕt flood a future disaster area as they did on Sept. 11. "On Sept. 11, you had thousands of police officers move into one small area. That is not going to happen again," one officer said.
Man knows not his time
Richard W. De Haan, former head of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based RBC Ministries and creator in 1968 of the weekly Day of Discovery television program, died last month. He was 79 and suffered from Parkinson's disease. When his father, well-known Bible teacher Martin De Haan, died in 1965, Richard took over the family's broadcast ministry. He was the voice of the daily "Radio Bible Class" broadcast for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 1985. Day of Discovery is one of the nation's longest continually broadcast TV programs.
Chaim Potok, prolific rabbi-turned-author who portrayed American Jewish life from an empathetic insider's perspective through bestselling novels such as The Chosen and The Promise, died of brain cancer on July 23 at his home in suburban Philadelphia. He was 73. The son of Orthodox Jewish Polish immigrants, Mr. Potok embraced Conservative Judaism as a young man in New York and became a rabbi. His literary works often portrayed young Jews struggling to sort out opposing religious and secular influences-a tension, he said, that grew out of his own experience. Among other achievements, he was the first major author to unveil for many in the outside world the inner workings of Hasidic life. | Edward E. Plowman
Law? What law?
The Pacific Northwest unit of the United Methodist Church again has trashed the denomination's law prohibiting "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from being ordained or serving as pastors. A seven-member church panel failed last month to come up with the five votes necessary to send the case of lesbian minister Karen Dammann to trial for violating the church law. As a result, the charges were dismissed. She had told her bishop in a letter last year she was in a "partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship." The action follows dismissal of charges in May against openly gay pastor Mark Williams of Woodland Park UMC in Seattle. | Edward E. Plowman
You have to pay to play
Seven years ago, a tiny California radio station started a revolution. The eclectic KPIG was the first commercial radio station to broadcast over the Internet. Hundreds of others followed, giving listeners a huge range of radio choices from around the world. But now KPIG no longer broadcasts to cyberspace, thanks to new copyright regulations. The new music royalties-which webcasters must pay to recording studios-raised the price of webcasting, and the little 2,850-watt radio station couldn't afford to pay. Radio stations large and small are up in arms over the new royalty standards, set by James H. Billington earlier this summer. (As Librarian of Congress, Mr. Billington oversees the U.S. Copyright Office.) A group of radio stations, including megapower Clear Channel Communications, went to a Philadelphia federal court to appeal his decision. The National Association of Broadcasters opposes Mr. Billington's decision on grounds of the financial burden. The broadcasting trade group also complained that the government's royalty system does not reflect free market conditions, which means that stations are stuck with abnormally high fees for music. This royalty controversy is part of an ongoing struggle to determine the role of copyrights and intellectual property in the digital age. The battle could last for years, which means the road ahead for online music will be bumpy. | Chris Stamper
Louis Rukeyser is back on TV-and still fighting with his former colleagues in public broadcasting. Now he competes with his old Wall Street Week show, and both sides may wind up losers thanks to the split in elite viewership. Mr. Rukeyser is the grand old man of business commentary. While his audience is small, he attracts a special crowd: old school, old money, and fiscally conservative. Too old, apparently, for Maryland Public Television, which unloaded the 69-year-old host after 32 years. The commentator jumped at the chance to move to CNBC and now has a new show. But ratings so far have been low, even by Wall Street Week's standards. The new Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street averages 410,000 viewers in its Friday-night time slot. That's more than twice the usual rating for CNBC, but less than a quarter of the 1.7 million viewers for the original Wall Street Week show. The revamped Wall $treet Week with Fortune draws barely a million viewers.
The controversial Church of Scientology is off the hook for now in France, where it is on a watch list of nearly 200 suspect "cult" groups. A Paris judge ruled that a 13-year-old criminal case accusing the group of fraud and illegal practice of medicine can't go to trial. She said authorities had dragged their feet in their investigation for more than three years, allowing the statute of limitations to expire. Mysteriously, in 1998, hundreds of documents that were to be used as evidence in the case disappeared from the Justice Ministry. | Edward E. Plowman
Budget is unbalanced. The world's third-largest car- and truck-rental company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week. The story is familiar: too much debt. In this case, the Daytona Beach-based Budget Group Inc. listed assets of $4.05 billion and debts of $4.33 billion. Blaming the post-9/11 decline as a major part of its troubles, CEO Sandy Miller said his company had "a level of nonvehicle debt greater than our operations can reasonably support." The current Budget Group actually started as a licensee called Team Rental that bought Budget from Ford Motor Company in 1997. Company stock peaked at $39 per share, but eventually sold for less than a quarter. Economic woes and the terrorism crisis have clearly hurt the rental-car industry, which relies heavily on business travelers. Rental companies also face the problem of consumer disloyalty: Numerous companies provide a similar service at similar rates, so the difference between one car-rental company and another is often insignificant (especially for those with expense accounts). Another major renter filed for bankruptcy several months ago. ANC Rental Corp., parent of the Alamo Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental brands, made its move last November. The company has tried to combine its two operations at several airports, fighting bankruptcy court opposition from Hertz and Avis.
Ever have trouble remembering names? A consulting company has cooked up a device that may help-but may also scare away potential conversation partners. The invention, known as the Accenture Personal Awareness Assistant, constantly records the previous 60 seconds of conversation in its memory. Then when you say the phrase "nice to meet you," it permanently stores the previous 10 seconds and the next five seconds of conversations. The idea is that this will capture a person's name for future reference. To capture a longer stretch of talk, a user says the phrase "Oh, that's interesting." The Assistant includes a wearable computer (worn around the user's waist), an earphone, microphone, and camcorder batteries. The prototype originally contained a tiny camera, but that was removed due to privacy concerns and technical problems. The device's maker, Accenture Technology Labs, focuses on technologies that may not attract users for several years, and this device isn't ready for everyday use. The Assistant itself is big and cumbersome, and people today aren't inclined to walk around carrying computers that can record conversations. Dana Le, leader of the project, said the privacy issue was one reason the Assistant prototype was built as a large, bulky device. "Etiquette will grow up around it when people know devices like this exist," she said. "But right now, it's important to be obtrusive." | Chris Stamper
Church, state, and courts
Did Louisiana violate the Constitution by promoting religion in its funding of sexual-abstinence programs? A federal judge in New Orleans ruled that it did, and on July 25 he ordered a halt to all such funding. In response, Gov. Mike Foster said that the government tells grant applicants they cannot use the money for religious purposes, and he will act to ensure the grant program is in compliance with the law (see "The method proven 100% effective," June 15). In Massachusetts, the parents of 7-year-old Laura M. Greska sued the Leominster school system last month. They charged school officials violated her speech and religious freedom rights during a holiday show-and-tell. According to their federal lawsuit, Laura's second-grade teacher asked students to bring books to class about their Christmas traditions. After some students read from books about Santa Claus and other holiday customs, it was Laura's turn. She pulled out a book about Jesus, The First Christmas. Her teacher forbade her to read from it. The parents complained to the principal, who said students could "share books about their Christmas traditions so long as those books were not religious." The Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice intervened on Laura's behalf and asked the school officials to reverse their decision. They refused. "This is a troubling example of a school district that is clearly exhibiting hostility toward religion, ACLJ lawyer Vincent McCarthy said. Attorneys with the state unit of the American Civil Liberties Union agreed. In Connecticut, Boy Scout officials say they will appeal a July 22 decision by a federal judge in Hartford. He ruled the state did not violate the Scouts' rights when it removed the group from a list of charities on the payroll deduction plan for state employees. A state panel removed the Scouts from the list in 2000, after a human-rights commission found that including the organization on the list violates state anti-discrimination laws. It cited the Scouts' ban on homosexual troop leaders. | Edward E. Plowman
More than just a name
Your next identification card may say much, much more about you. ID cards are becoming fancier with new security measures and more technology. The Pentagon is especially concerned with security post-9/11, so future military identification cards will encode information about fingerprints or other physical characteristics. The Defense Department's latest IDs already show some major changes: name, rank, and serial number are embedded on a computer chip located just below the user's picture. But the next generation of military identification may include what geeks call biometrics, which matches people to their physical characteristics. This includes fingerprints, hand shape, iris pattern, voice print, or face. Users would log in with their ID cards and then have their fingerprints or eyes scanned to verify identity. Such security is already famous in action movies. High security is also becoming popular in the private sector. A Harris Interactive survey last spring found that more than half of all employees want stricter ID procedures in the workplace and tighter computer protection. | Chris Stamper