Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Attacking the future now," Feb. 22, 2003

Network abstinence

If HBO's racy Sex and the City is such a groundbreaking success, why have three of the four big broadcast networks abstained from making the show part of their prime-time lineups? Executives at ABC, NBC, and Fox told Variety that they declined HBO's offer to let them air sanitized reruns of the show for $3 million per episode. (CBS execs wouldn't comment.) Variety reports that HBO executives may also seek a buyer for reruns of The Sopranos, another hit with critics that has gone unseen by the two-thirds of Americans who don't have access to HBO.

Breaking stereotypes

Diversity is increasingly a homeschooling movement strength. Citing the National Home Educators Research Institute as a source, The Washington Times' Ellen Sorokin reports that about 5 percent (or 85,000) of the nation's 1.7 million homeschooled children are black. That's a huge jump from 1999, when only an estimated 8,500 black children were homeschooled. Ms. Sorokin reports that growth is especially strong in California, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. "People are just getting disappointed with public schools," said Gilbert Wilkerson, a homeschooling father and founder of the Network of Black Homeschoolers. "We're finding that the public schools today are not doing enough to make black children competitive."

Tech difficulties

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Gullible e-mailers aren't the only ones taken in by Internet hoaxes. A major tech magazine this month ran a Web story claiming Islamic radicals launched the Slammer virus-like attack against the Internet on Jan. 25. Three hours later, Computerworld Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson yanked the article "due to questions about its authenticity." It turned out that one journalist had conned another. Reporter Dan Verton, a former Marine intelligence analyst and the connee, said the story came from an e-mail interview with "Abu Mujahid," supposedly a member of the Harkat-ul-Mujahadeen group. He wrote that the Slammer attack was part of "a 'cyber jihad' aimed at creating fear and uncertainty on the Internet." It turns out that "Mujahid" was actually a freelance writer named Brian McWilliams. The hoaxer says he wanted to teach his colleagues a lesson-"to be more skeptical of people who claim they're involved in cyberterrorism." He registered the Internet domain name harkatulmujahideen.org to attract correspondence from Muslim radicals. He even staged fake vandalism by phony pro-American hackers to add authenticity. Ms. Johnson called the experience "a real good object lesson" in the risks of e-mail interviews.

Your sin will find you

Fort Worth police caught a cat-napping burglar-asleep at the scene of the crime. The suspect allegedly broke into A Little Bit Country, a Western-themed store, stole some money, and then fell asleep on a promotional display. To make matters worse, the county district attorney's wife owns the shop. Employee Janie Sidener says she heard the suspect (whose name police have not released) snoring when she opened the store on Feb. 8. She recalled him saying, "Hey, I was asleep!" when police woke him up. "I think he was a pretty dumb burglar," Ms. Sidener told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "Of all the places in town he has to break into, he picks the DA's wife's shop."

Christmas presents?

A fugitive and a fictional character both received Oscar nominations last week. Best Director nominee Roman Polanski fled to Paris nearly 25 years ago to escape sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Mr. Polanski's sentence was never set, so he faces anywhere from one to 50 years in prison if he returns to U.S. soil. The other strange nominee (for Best Adapted Screenplay) is Donald Kaufman, a fictional twin brother and co-writer invented by Adaptation screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. In all, the nominations rewarded Disney's Miramax division for treating Hollywood's awards like a political campaign. The studio scored 40 nominations, including Chicago, Gangs of New York, and The Hours for Best Picture. UPI's Steve Sailer said the picks were a predictable example of "December bias," in which almost all Oscar recognition goes to films released at the end of the year. The critic argues that "voters have a back-scratching monetary incentive to hype films still in the theaters, because those can financially benefit the most from the publicity."


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