Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

News highlights from around the world

Issue: "GOP: No room for error," Oct. 19, 2002

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.

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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

Genetic defect

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

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