Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

News highlights from around the world

Issue: "The GOP's Latino outreach," Sept. 28, 2002

Morning-after market

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.

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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.

Safe approach

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.

Hardware shopping

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.

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