Raiders on a lost lark
An Atlanta company that helped raise the Titanic has struck an iceberg. It planned to raise cash by selling artifacts from the famous wreck, but the courts blocked this plan and the Supreme Court last week refused to hear an appeal.
This means that control of the world's most famous disaster site is up in the air. The Titanic has been shrouded in mystery and fascination since it sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The Atlanta company, R.M.S. Titanic, gained the salvage rights in 1994 and spent $11 million on six expeditions. The company recovered about 6,000 artifacts, many of which were exhibited around the country.
The collected objects ranged from bits of glass and debris to part of the ship's wheel, from passengers' personal belongings to the base of a statue from the grand staircase. After the company hit financial trouble, it decided to sell some items, which started a court battle over ownership. The company claimed rights to the sunken ship under admiralty law.
With R.M.S. Titanic giving up the site, other explorers could jump in to go searching. The company claims that the 6,000 items it found represent less than 5 percent of the ship's treasures. | Chris Stamper
Gene therapy receives a lot of hype, but only one treatment has ever been found to work. Now the FDA has suspended even that treatment because of questions over deadly side effects.
The treatment fights the so-called "bubble-boy disease" that short-circuits the immune system. Scientists believe the disease comes from a genetic flaw that blocks production of an enzyme that makes immune cells.
The disease, technically known as severe combined immunodeficiency disorder, affects only about 50 people per year but is usually fatal. Some researchers have tried to hold back the disease by isolating patients in sterile environments, and a Houston boy named David Vetter survived 12 years in a bubble.
The gene treatment involves stem cells found in bone marrow (not embryos) that are genetically modified and injected into patients. It was the first reported successful cure. After injections, children in the experiment began growing normal blood cells. Soon they were able to fight common infections.
Then something went wrong. A toddler in France started overproducing a type of white blood cell, producing an ailment resembling leukemia. He is responding to chemotherapy, but the problem spooked scientists in France and the United States, and they decided to suspend the treatments.
The bully pulpit
Troubled, Miss America 2003, Erika Harold, telephoned her pastor in Urbana, Ill., early on Oct. 8. A news conference at the National Press Club in Washington was just hours away.
"She was upset because officials at the Miss America organization had instructed her not to talk about sexual abstinence," Pastor Gary Grogan of First Assembly of God told WORLD. Miss Harold, 22, had promoted abstinence among thousands of teens during her run for the Miss Illinois crown ("A fighting Illini," Oct. 5). She said the theme fit naturally in the anti-teen-violence platform assigned her by the pageant. Now she was wondering how to respond to the gag order. "Share what's in your heart in a kind way," Pastor Grogan recalls counseling her. "She's not a rebel," he says. "She's committed, and she's passionate, but she hasn't got an ounce of rebellion in her."
That did her a pound of good. The next day, George Bauer, interim CEO of the Miss America organization in Atlantic City, removed the gag following what the Washington Times described as "intense discussions."
Times reporter George Archibald "brought this controversy to the forefront," Miss Harold said, with a 1,100-word front-page article after the Washington news conference. During the reporters' Q&A, Mr. Archibald, aware of Miss Harold's previous pro-abstinence advocacy, asked why she had gone silent on this issue.
"Quite frankly," she answered, "and I'm not going to be specific, there are pressures from some sides to not promote [abstinence]." The sponsor of the news conference tried to shut down the line of questioning by accusing the journalist of "bullying" Miss Harold. "You won't be bullied, right?" Mr. Archibald asked.
"I will not be bullied. I've gone through enough adversity in my life to stand up for what I believe in," she said. On Oct. 10, at an event to crown her Miss Illinois successor, Miss Harold announced she'd won the battle: "I don't think the pageant organizers really understood how much I am identified with the abstinence message. If I don't speak about it now as Miss America, I will be disappointing the thousands of young people throughout Illinois who need assurance that waiting until marriage for sex is the right thing to do." | with reporting by Edward E. Plowman
One child, no choice
The United States no longer stands alone against coercive family planning in China. Britain's Foreign Office has-for the first time-included a section in its annual human-rights report condemning China's one-child policy.
The report highlights "enforced sterilizations, the abortion of female fetuses, and the abandonment of female children" as sources of concern for the Blair government and "for many Chinese people." While the Bush administration closed off family-planning funding to the UN over China's policy, European governments until now have not debated it.
"The wall of silence [with] which the Foreign Office surrounded forced abortion in China has been broken," said Anthony Ozimic of Britain's Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. But he acknowledged: "Britain and the EU still has a long way to go if it wants to match the United States' record in defending the human rights of Chinese women." - Mindy Belz
Fall season begins flu season, and signs are popping up everywhere from pharmacies to medical clinics urging inoculation. This year, doctors want to see babies and toddlers vaccinated along with their elders. They say that influenza's high-risk group includes children under age 2, nursing home residents, and women in the first trimester of pregnancy.
In previous years health officials have faced concerns about vaccine supply, but not this year. According to federal health officials, about 94 million doses will ship this year, with shots at grocery and drug stores costing around $20.
Influenza infects 20 percent of the U.S. population every season, according to the CDC. About 14,000 flu sufferers are hospitalized and 20,000 die. Henry Schein, a New York-based vaccine distributor, claims the flu kills as many people as HIV and far more than exotic viruses like West Nile.
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced a policy that gives standing orders to Medicare and Medicaid health providers concerning flu shot reminders. This is supposed to simplify vaccination distribution.
A revolt among clergy in the Church of England is underway against incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. He takes office next month and will be enthroned in February. The Church Society-which represents hundreds of conservative clergy-called on Archbishop Williams this month to recant his liberal views on homosexuality or resign.
The Society promised "direct action" if he doesn't, but didn't spell out details. The action could include protests at the enthronement, withholding of funds to central coffers, and inviting orthodox bishops from Africa or Asia to provide spiritual oversight of certain parishes.
Reform, a larger conservative network, and the more mainstream Church of England Evangelical Council also were expected to take strong stands against the archbishop's views.
Reform asked Archbishop Williams early this month to affirm that extramarital sex is unacceptable and to renounce his position on homosexuality. At first, he refused to respond. His office later released a clarification: His refusal doesn't mean he regards extramarital sex to be compatible with Christian morality. However, the statement confirmed that he is sympathetic to sex between homosexuals in "committed relationships." He followed up with a letter saying that as archbishop of Canterbury he will "state" the "majority teaching of the church" and uphold the church's discipline. The archbishop has admitted to knowingly ordaining a practicing homosexual, and he has dismissed the church's position on homosexuality as hypocritical.
The archbishop woke up to more bad news on Oct. 7: The Telegraph reported that its survey of 500 Church of England clergy found 54 percent disapprove the ordination of any practicing homosexual. One in four said they had seriously considered leaving the church, and that ordination of homosexuals was a main reason. | Edward E. Plowman
What Lili left behind
In the aftermath of Hurricane Lili, the initial relief that the Category 2 storm left no casualties gave way to the demoralizing realization that days of arduous drudgery lay ahead. Hundreds of southwest Louisiana residents suffered catastrophic property damage from high-velocity winds and collapsing trees (uprooted oaks and pines dotted neighborhoods, downtowns, and highways for miles). Thousands of homes, schools, and businesses were deprived of water and electricity for the better part of a week, requiring Wal-Marts to convert their parking lots into ice-distribution centers (limit: two bags per family). And with Lili numbering transmission towers among her victims, television and radio stations were relatively unhelpful. Generator and insurance ads proliferated on those stations that did manage to stay on the air.
Still, most people retained the use of their phones, and gas stations were pumping fuel in all but the hardest-hit areas within 24 hours of the hurricane's onset. One week later, with a cool front alleviating the post-hurricane humidity and many people intent on getting "back to normal," the drone of chainsaws and the smoke of burning wood were the most noticeable reminders of what many Louisiana residents were calling the worst hurricane they had ever seen. | Arsenio Orteza in Opelousas, La.
The Church of England isn't the only body facing critical questions about homosexuality in the clergy. The Vatican is circulating for review a draft document containing directives against the admission of homosexuals to seminary and the priesthood, the Catholic News Service reported. The document's position is based in part on what the revised Catholic catechism says: Homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered."
Vatican scholars and officials have quietly debated for years whether to exclude homosexuals from the priesthood, but with no consensus. The issue is receiving new and more urgent attention in the aftermath of U.S. clergy sex-abuse cases, most of which involved homosexual acts.
Officials say there is no deadline for publication, but when the finalized paper is published it will be in the form of directives or norms to be applied throughout the church. | Edward E. Plowman
Because of one undetected organ donor with hepatitis C, one person is dead and five others are ill. Transplant doctors did not spot the disease in time and gave the man's tissue and organs to over three dozen people in 14 states.
The infected man died two years ago after a hemorrhage inside his skull. Doctors tested him for hepatitis C but didn't detect the infection. The problem is with the test, which looks for antibodies that fight infection. These appear from six to eight weeks after infection, which means a sick person can still test negative within that window.
"This was the classic window case," Mike Seely, executive director of the Portland-based Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank (which tested the man), told The Oregonian newspaper. With no reason to suspect a problem, doctors transplanted kidneys, lungs, liver, heart, veins, tendons, skin, bone, and corneas into 40 other people. This summer, a patient who received a knee ligament tested positive for hepatitis C. Soon the Oregon Health Division was contacting doctors, so they could warn the remaining recipients. None of the people involved has been publicly identified. Health officials point out that cases like this are very rare.
Hepatitis C kills around 10,000 Americans annually. It attacks the liver and typically spreads via sexual intercourse, dirty needles, and accidental punctures by medical workers. It is the primary reason liver transplants are necessary.