Lear shifts gears
Norman Lear is 80 years old and planning a new show, but this one won't be on TV. Instead, he wants to send a rare 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence on tour around the country.
The once-dominant TV producer is planning what he calls "a red, white, and blue revival," starring the document. He and a partner put up $8.14 million for the historic heirloom two years ago.
Mr. Lear is most famous for steering American TV into a far-left turn. Shows like All in the Family, Maude, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman openly attacked conservative values and portrayed Middle America as an unenlightened, bigoted backwater. Mr. Lear also founded People For the American Way to do the same things in the political arena and oppose religious conservatives. When President Clinton gave him the National Medal of Arts in 1999, he said that the producer "has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it."
Mr. Lear's Declaration of Independence Road Trip starts in October with school kids as the target audience. (Scholastic is an "education partner" in the tour.) While the document will appear at libraries, museums, and state capitols, Mr. Lear will send to schools videotapes of it being read by actors Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Whoopi Goldberg, and Renee Zellweger.
When 9-year-old Amber Hagerman was kidnapped and killed in 1996, her case sparked a wave of concern about child abductions. Texas and California implemented "Amber Alert" systems to mobilize law enforcement and emergency service against such abductions. The term became a national buzzword because of radio and TV news coverage, and now Amber Alerts may go national.
The system aggressively publicizes kidnappings, with broadcasters and journalists receiving a flurry of bulletins. Meanwhile, freeway emergency signs flash a description of the suspect's car and license plate number.
Authorities credit Amber Alerts with helping rescue at least 26 children since 1996. Thanks to several recent high-profile abductions, politicians, police, and broadcasters are scrambling to set up more systems. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) jointly proposed legislation to create a national alert network.
"The underlying premise is that time is the enemy in child-abduction cases. In 74 percent of cases, the child is dead within three hours," explained Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Yet even Amber Alert proponents fear too much of a good thing. Without strict guidelines, they could become like car alarms, creating a lot of noise that most people ignore. "We don't want the Amber Alert to be the new millennium's milk carton," said California Assemblyman George Runner, a Republican who wrote a bill to fund a statewide system.
Donna Harrison is a homeschooling mother of five children, but they are not her only years-long labor of love. She also spent 12 years as a practicing OB-GYN, and she chairs an RU-486 subcommittee for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. When pro-life groups filed a citizens' petition with the Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 20 to revisit the rushed election-year approval in 2000 of the abortion-drug combination, she said, "It's like telling me 'it's a boy.'"
Based on 22 months of investigation, the 90-page petition from AAPLOG, Concerned Women for America, and the Christian Medical Association calls on the FDA to suspend its decision to approve Mifeprex-one half of a two-drug abortion regimen. The reason: evidence that Bill Clinton's FDA ignored its own laws and procedures for drug approvals, including:
- Railroading the approval through the accelerated review process known as "Subpart H," designed by the FDA only for drugs intended to treat life-threatening illnesses where there is no safer remedy.
- The creation of a regimen for Mifeprex that does not reflect safeguards used in the FDA's clinical trials. For example, while the trials used sonograms to determine the age of the fetus, FDA regulations do not require an ultrasound before usage-even though the drug is not recommended for pregnancies beyond 49 days' gestation and does not terminate ectopic pregnancies. In one case, an American woman bled to death because of a ruptured tubal pregnancy that wasn't distinguished from the normal heavy bleeding typical of an RU-486 abortion.
- The failure to test the drug on adolescents-even though they represent a target market, since clinics advertise it as an abortion method that increases privacy. (Pro-lifers fear that school-based clinics could become a major source of the drug, since it evades a surgical procedure.)
- The lack of objective research methods. The FDA normally requires that the selection of patients be random, that some patients receive a placebo to create a control group, and that participating physicians do not know who is and is not receiving the actual medication. In FDA trials for Mifeprex, the selection of subjects was not random, and no one received a placebo.
Reports of RU-486 dangers have trickled in this year. In April, Danco Laboratories, the drug's American manufacturers, issued an alert that two women had died, one from an ectopic pregnancy and one from a fatal bacterial infection. Canadian drug trials were halted when a participating woman died.
The FDA's own "adverse events" reporting system has received some reports, including life-threatening events suffered by two 15-year-old girls. But the FDA has no enforcement mechanism that requires Danco to share all the reports it receives on negative effects.
"How many have there really been? We just don't have any idea," complained Dr. David Hager of the Christian Medical Association.
What happens now? The petition should trigger the FDA to conduct an internal investigation of its approval procedures. In the meantime, pro-lifers insist that all these scientific shortcuts put a big dent in the argument of abortion advocates that their greatest concern is the life and health of the mother. | Tim Graham
The shoes still fit
Out with the new, in with the old. Growing numbers of teenagers today reject hip, hyper-expensive sports shoes for designs from a generation ago. Happily for parents, these classic models are less expensive than the latest styles.
What some call "old-school" sneakers have retro looks like those of the 1970s and '80s. Dozens of old designs have returned to meet the demand, like the Nike Cortez, the Converse Weapon, and the Adidas Copenhagen. Such shoes now make up about one-quarter of the $5 billion global sports shoe market. At Footlocker stores, the classic shoe rack exploded in size last May; it now takes up half of the chain's displays of men's athletic shoes.
Price may be driving this boom. Most of the retro shoes sell for under $100 a pair, even when bearing major logos, while the newest lines cost around $160. Still, the rise of old-school sneakers may be a sign of a trend away from the ultramodern toward the tried and true.
Old designs are also attractive for shoe companies. They paid for the designs years ago and the shoes don't require costly marketing campaigns. Teenagers are snapping them up, and older customers like rediscovering shoes they wore years ago.
The king of all old-school shoes may be the Converse canvas Chuck Taylor All Stars. The model has scarcely changed since its 1917 debut, and Converse reportedly has sold over 500 million pairs of the classic basketball shoe.
Leopard changes spots
Raymond Leopard feels guilty-and he wants tobacco companies to pay $65 million as his penance.
Mr. Leopard modeled for R.J. Reynolds cigarette ads between 1978 and 1980, but he claims that he didn't understand at the time the dangers of smoking. So now he's suing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and one-time parent company R.J.R. Nabisco for $65 million in "damages." But lawyers for the companies last week tried to have the suit dismissed.
The former model, now 52, posed as the "Winston Man" in magazine ads. He said they featured a made-up testimonial that he smoked Winstons because of the taste. But the model claims he never smoked the brand-and even had to leave the photo studio to smoke because he used a competing brand.
Saying that millions died because of his work, Mr. Leopard wants to use the $65 million to promote an anti-tobacco message. "Back when I did the ads ... I was a health nut," Mr. Leopard said. "I was a vegetarian; I did smoke, I smoked a different brand," he said. "I thought basically it makes you winded."
The companies call Mr. Leopard's lawsuit frivolous, and they filed a motion to have the case dismissed. He "seeks to recover $40 million in compensatory damages, in addition to punitive damages for alleged health effects of smoking even though [his] complaint never alleges the plaintiff ever smoked a single Winston cigarette," the motion said. "That is untenable."