Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "Weapons of mass hysteria," March 15, 2003

Material girl

Two decades after Madonna began entertaining America's teenagers, the pop star is turning her attention to younger children. The Penguin Group announced last week that the raunchy pop singer has written five children's books. Each book will feature a different celebrated illustrator, with the first, The English Roses, due out in hardcover in September. Madonna may be looking for new attention after the failure of last year's movie Swept Away. Her husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, directed the movie, but it bombed so badly that its distributor decided not to release it in Mr. Ritchie's home country. The star played a socialite stranded on a deserted island with a sailor. Critics called it a shipwreck.

Retrograde rating

Are family-friendly movies on the rise, or has Hollywood simply defined deviancy down? The National Association of Theatre Owners reported last week that in 2002, for the first time in almost 30 years, no R-rated film was among the year's top 20 in box-office receipts. (Eminem's movie 8 Mile was the highest ranking R film at No. 21.) "Family product sells, and R-rated product does not," said John Fithian, the organization's president. "Over and over again, we say that there are too many R-rated pictures made based on what they can generate in box office." But the industry's critics counter that many movies-such as last year's Austin Powers film-that would have received R ratings in the past are now rated PG-13. The three highest-grossing movies last year were Spider-Man ($403 million), Star Wars, Episode II ($310 million), and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers ($261 million).

Robed lawmakers

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Massachusetts may be on the verge of becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage, but it won't be the Bay State's voters who do it. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court, last week heard a case brought by seven same-sex couples against the state for denying them marriage licenses in 2001. The heart of the matter is whether the legislature or the courts should decide the issue. Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Judith S. Yogman argued that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples was in the best interest of procreation and child-rearing, and that voters and their representatives should decide the issue. Mary Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders said the court should overturn the ban "because it's the right thing to do." Family Research Council president Ken Connor called the case a "marriage mess" and said the activists will target every state through the U.S. Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause if they win. He also noted that a recent Massachusetts referendum against homosexual unions won 60 percent support.

License to kill?

In what Egyptian Christians are calling a "green light" for further attacks, an Egyptian court on Feb. 27 acquitted 95 defendants accused of killing 21 Coptic Christians in the village of El-Kosheh three years ago. The Sohag State Security Court convicted only two on manslaughter charges for the death of a Muslim in a nearby village. The massacre took place over the weekend of Dec. 31, 1999 to Jan. 2, 2000, as El-Kosheh celebrated the new millennium. It was the largest slaughter of Copts in decades, and different from other attacks because it was carried out by mobs and not terrorists, according to Freedom Forum. Egyptian police did little to prevent the massacre and did not begin investigations until several days later, reports Freedom House. Villagers interviewed by the center said the police withheld evidence from the court and used inaccurate versions of their eyewitness accounts. The Egyptian government has also never investigated reports of police misconduct, according to the U.S. State Department. "Egypt's claims to be a U.S. ally in the war on terror are undercut by the fact that it refuses to act to punish the domestic terrorists who attack its Christian minority," said Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.

Walkout on unions

Those who look for the union label have more trouble finding it every year. Organized labor's share of the U.S. work force continued its decades-long decline last year, according to the Labor Department, falling to 13.2 percent. That's down from 13.4 percent in 2001 and far below the 20.1 percent of U.S. workers who were unionized in 1983, when the government first recorded such data. The annual share of workers belonging to unions has never increased since then, and unions, in the meantime, have increasingly focused on organizing government workers.

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