Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Portable Pentagon," March 1, 2003

Dirty bomb

Acclaim Entertainment's commitment to keep it dirty may end up cleaning out the company. Pro bike rider Dave Mirra is suing Acclaim for more than $20 million because, he says, the company's controversial video game BMX XXX (slogan: "Keep it dirty") is pornographic and hurts his image. The game features strong sexual content (including nudity) along with sports action. Mr. Mirra says the company used his name and likeness even after agreeing not to do so. The suit says he originally let Acclaim use his name to promote its game, then changed his mind when he discovered it would be so explicit. The company bills BMX XXX as a "hilarious gaming experience" for older players, but few seem to be laughing: The game is selling well below expectations as many major retailers, including Toys R Us and Wal-Mart, refuse to carry it.

"Money for nothing" watch

Do high levels of Medicare spending really help seniors? Researchers last week reported that large per-patient Medicare spending differences between regions didn't affect medical outcomes. The government, they say, could cut Medicare spending 30 percent without hurting recipients' health care. The study, published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that patients in high-spending areas received more tests, had more procedures, and saw more specialists than patients in low-spending areas. Yet the extra effort did not improve survival rates, slow illness, or make patients more satisfied. The study even found that patients in areas that spent more money were less likely to receive preventive care like flu shots and Pap smears.

Science class

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Top scientists are taking a second look at their research-in hopes that terrorists won't have a first look. Science, Nature, and 30 other major journals announced on Feb. 15 that they would begin screening out material that could help radicals make biological weapons. Editors say they are not trying to censor scientific data, but they fear that potential terrorists could misuse sensitive information. The joint agreement covers many of the publications that announce the world's great discoveries-from the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science to the New England Journal of Medicine. The agreement is voluntary and contains no classification scale for secret information. Editors say that they will spike very few articles but may tweak many stories to hide certain details. "We do live in different times now," explained Ronald Atlas, president of the American Society of Microbiology. Researchers and journal editors announced the agreement at the national meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Talk isn't cheap

Liberals are still looking for their Limbaugh, and some left-leaning venture capitalists in Atlanta and Chicago are putting their money where they hope his (0r her) mouth will be. The group plans to start its own radio network to compete with the phalanx of conservative talkers who dominate the AM dial. Democratic donor Anita Drobny leads the group, which is investing $10 million in seed money for a startup called AnShell Media. Talk radio is one major medium that liberals have been unable to hold sway over, with hosts Mario Cuomo and Jim Hightower failing to gain a national following.

Fire starter

Remember the oil-well fires that Iraqi troops set as they left Kuwait after the first Gulf War? USA Today's Del Jones reports that a defiant, defeated Saddam Hussein could leave a much bigger and more expensive mess for Americans to deal with this time around. It took 200 days and $2.5 billion to extinguish the 690 Kuwaiti wells that Saddam set ablaze in 1991. But analysts note that Iraq has 1,500 wells for Saddam to order torched and that those wells are spread over a country that is much larger than Kuwait. They estimate that the price tag this time could run as high as $50 billion. Meanwhile, preparation to fight such fires is moving slowly, reports Mr. Jones. The Pentagon has asked for contingency plans from companies that deal with well fires, but the companies are hesitant to spend money on extra equipment and personnel without guarantees that they will recoup those massive costs if Iraqis don't set well fires. (Iraqis may disobey Saddam's orders, or Saddam may have some other mess in mind, like dumping oil into the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.) Firefighter safety is also a concern. Wild Well Control president Patrick Campbell told the paper that minefields, booby traps, unexploded ordnance, and a hostile citizenry could threaten his workers.

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