The so-called morning-after pill could become an over-the-counter drug, if some physicians have their way. Currently, the pills are available by prescription. But Dr. David A. Grimes, with a group called Family Health International, argued in the New England Journal of Medicine that public health would benefit if more unwanted pregnancies were eliminated: "The prescription requirement for hormonal emergency contraception jeopardizes women's health."
The hormone-containing pills, which became available in the United States in 1998, are used as emergency contraceptives if taken in high doses soon after sex. Pro-life opponents say the pills alter the uterine lining, making it more difficult for an already fertilized egg to develop.
California Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill this month requiring hospitals-even those that oppose abortion-to offer the pills to rape victims, 8,000 of which are reported in the state annually. If patients cannot afford the pill, they will receive it free of charge. Previously, rape victims could get the pills by request, but hospitals didn't have to explicitly offer them. The California law goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Supplies on demand
Tensions in the Middle East haven't shaken American gasoline prices-and they may not even in the case of war. Analysts say that once a U.S. attack on Iraq begins, oil prices likely will rise, but markets will quickly adjust to a halt in Iraqi crude shipments.
So far, prices hardly changed from early April through September, according to analyst Trilby Lundberg, with the average price for a gallon of gasoline dropping a penny from $1.46 to $1.45. Meanwhile, the oil industry has had plenty of time to prepare for war, as talk of hostilities has escalated for months. Some analysts say that a "war premium" of between $5 and $10 is already priced into each barrel of oil.
OPEC has promised not to use oil as an "economic weapon" once the U.S. attacks Iraq (one of its members), and analysts estimate that cartel members other than Iraq can spare at least 5 million barrels a day to meet rising demand.
You can't legislate Internet security. That's the conclusion of a White House panel that turned away proposals for government mandates on companies to protect them from cyberspace attacks.
The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, unveiled in a report released last week at Stanford University, is now open for comment before it reaches President Bush's desk in two months.
Among the suggestions: more careful software design, tougher passwords, and anonymous reporting of vulnerabilities. The panel also suggested an industry code of conduct for fighting online attacks. But the group stopped short of suggesting laws to force companies to take such actions, which surprised some observers considering the ongoing war against terrorism.
Critics claim that industry lobbyists pressured the panel with arguments that new rules would raise costs during hard economic times. Supporters, however, say that imposing such laws on companies is overkill, like ordering a homeowner to buy a lock for his front door.
Since most computer networks are in private hands, regulating cyberspace would be a complicated task. The panel considered some regulatory mandates but ultimately dropped them. One would have forced companies to support a fund to improve national computer security. Another would have restricted use of emerging wireless networks until security improves.
Need a new computer? Now is a great time to buy one, as more and more customers demand bargains. Many computers bought in the mid-to-late 1990s to catch the dot-com wave are starting to age, sending people to stores looking for new models. But the sluggish economy means they have tighter budgets.
So more expensive computers, with fast processors, booming sound, and gorgeous graphics, aren't so attractive. Some PC makers have turned to heavy consumer marketing-like the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" campaign. Chip makers are also taking notice. Both Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. reported selling far fewer high-end processors in the second quarter than they planned.
For the big-three PC tasks-Web surfing, e-mail, and word processing-low-cost computers work just fine. A fairly nice package can be had for about $900: a 1.8-gigahertz processor, 128 megabytes of RAM, a 20-gigabyte hard drive, 15-inch monitor, plus a modem and network connection.
Decent laptops run about $1,000, which is historically cheap. For those who don't need Windows, the classic iMac costs $799 and lives as the computer industry's answer to the VW Beetle.
Worse than tobacco
More teenagers are addicted to marijuana than to alcohol or to all other illegal drugs combined, says drug czar John Walters, and he's warning parents against taking the drug lightly.
The nation's drug policy director says many Americans are misguided about the substance, believing pot is harmless and nonaddictive or has few long-term health consequences. His office last week announced a new publicity campaign against marijuana use, including announcements on TV, radio, print, and at sporting events.
"For too long our nation's teens have been getting the wrong message about marijuana. Youth popular culture has trivialized the real harm of marijuana in kids," he said.
According to Surgeon General Richard Carmona, the idea that a joint is safer than a cigarette is an urban myth. He reports that marijuana contains three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide than a comparable amount of tobacco. It attacks the brain in ways similar to cocaine and heroin. Dr. Carmona said one out of five eighth-graders has tried marijuana, double the rate of a decade ago. Also, about 60 percent of young drug users use marijuana only.
Mr. Walters's new effort runs head-on into another crusade-to legalize marijuana in Nevada. A measure on the ballot would allow adults to possess up to 3 ounces of the drug.
McDonald's, the chain that is almost synonymous with fast food, may be losing its dominant status in the industry. Changing tastes and new competition have battered the company's sales and market share, and its stock hit a seven-year low this month after the company reduced its profit estimates.
The company that served billions and billions is trying to stop a sales slump by boosting its 13,000 U.S. restaurants. That means more low-cost items, better service, and restaurant renovations. New signs, new drive-throughs, and even complete overhauls are popping up throughout the country.
One recent image-boosting effort is a new McDonald's cooking oil for french fries that reduces trans-fatty acids. All U.S. restaurants will use the oil by February. Health activists-who blame fast-food burgers and fries for American obesity-brushed off the move, saying it may make customers more complacent about eating junk food.
Over the years McDonald's became a global power-and much of the company's woes are due to a slump in European sales, particularly in Britain and Germany. Yet the company will plant more Golden Arches around the world. Most of the chain's over 30,000 restaurants are located overseas, and of the 1,300 to 1,400 openings planned this year, all but 350 are abroad.
The big worry about e-commerce-whether it's secure-became bigger this month when an online scam compromised more than 60,000 credit-card accounts.
Thieves somehow obtained thousands of credit-card account numbers and tried to verify those accounts' existence by obtaining authorization codes. Spitfire Ventures, an online seller of novelty items, was hit with 140,000 credit-card orders in 90 minutes on Sept. 12. On a good day, the company would normally see 30 transactions.
Online Data Corp., an online credit-card processor, gave authorization codes for 62,477 of the transactions. Spitfire discovered the scam when concerned credit-card holders called the company about the strange credit-card charges. The scam was thwarted before any money was transferred.
All the affected credit-card numbers have been deactivated, and federal authorities are investigating the scam. "People have nothing to be concerned about," said Online Data's John Rante. "We are cooperating with the authorities and we will catch the people behind this."
Yet the fact that some crooks were able to verify so many credit-card numbers shows a serious security weakness. "The bigger story is where the thieves got this information," said Dan Clements, who follows credit-card fraud for Cardcops.com. "It's possible that the thieves found a hole in a database that still needs to be plugged. They could still be mining for credit-card numbers."
A federal appeals court last week upheld an Indiana law that may save hundreds of children each year from being aborted. The 1995 law requires abortion clinics to counsel women-in the presence of a physician or nurse-about alternatives to an abortion 18 hours before their scheduled procedures.
The abortion industry fought the rule in court, and U.S. District Judge David Hamilton held in March 2001 that mandatory counseling unfairly forced women to make two trips to a clinic. He wrote that the law "is likely to prevent abortions for approximately 10 to 13 percent of Indiana woman who would otherwise choose to have an abortion-roughly 1,300 to 1,700 per year."
But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, in a 2-1 decision, overturned Judge Hamilton's ruling. Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana, said the group is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.