Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "Signs and wonders," Jan. 26, 2008

Evasion ball

Donald Fehr, head of the baseball players union, had a moment of apparent contrition before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Jan. 15: "Baseball's problem with performance-enhancing substances was bigger than I realized. The players association accepts its share of responsibility for what happened, and . . . so do I."

But moments later, Fehr griped about the prospect of baseball commissioner Bud Selig unilaterally imposing stiffer steroid policies and argued that collective bargaining was the only legitimate means to settle the matter. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., fired back: "This is almost surreal to me. Why should cheating be a matter of collective bargaining?"

Even in the face of a devastating report on rampant doping throughout the game, an indictment against baseball's home-run king, and congressional threats of intervention, Fehr still cannot seem to grasp that his resistance to transparency is hurting the players he tries to protect.

Cancer

Scientists from four leading research institutions say they have isolated five DNA variants that can predict a man's risk of getting prostate cancer. The results, published in the Jan. 31 New England Journal of Medicine, will lead in coming months to a DNA screening for the disease that will cost under $300. Such tests will push patients and physicians to new dilemmas: The screening may help young men seek early treatment, but aggressive treatment also can lead to serious side effects: in the case of prostate cancer treatment, to incontinence and impotence.

Housing

Construction of new homes fell by 25 percent in 2007, the Commerce Department reported Jan. 17. It was the second-largest annual decline on record, exceeded only by a 26 percent plunge in 1980, a period when the Federal Reserve was pushing interest rates in an effort to combat an entrenched inflation problem. At that time construction fell for four straight years, but the runaway inflation and high interest rates of that time are not factors now.

Getting out

The nation's toughest law on illegal immigrants, HB 1804 in Oklahoma, takes effect July 1. It denies government contracts to employers who fail to check workers' names against federal immigration databases. It also makes it a felony to transport or shelter illegal immigrants, and denies them public benefits such as rental assistance and fuel subsidies. With six months to go, workers around the state are simply disappearing. Same with schoolchildren, as illegal immigrant families leave Sooner country for states with less strict laws. Pro-1804 lawmakers are fine with that, saying the exodus will mean a lower tax burden for residents. But those who oppose the law predict economic disaster-and perhaps just as a presidential campaign focuses attention on national policy.

Newbery winner

At 6:30 a.m. Jan. 14, Calvin College professor Gary D. Schmidt was preparing to teach an interim American lit class to Calvin students taking the three-week class in Concord, Mass., when he got a phone call from the American Library Association: Schmidt had won a Newbery Honor for his children's novel, The Wednesday Wars. The honor, among the most prestigious in children's literature, was his second. The English professor, 50, earned a Newbery in 2005 for his young adult novel Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

"It's an incredible honor to get it once," Schmidt told the Grand Rapids Press. "To get another is just an incredible affirmation." The Wednesday Wars (Clarion Books, 2007) tells the story of Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grade boy who must learn Shakespeare while his classmates attend Catholic or Jewish lessons.

This year's top Newbery Medal winner is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz.

Peace peace

President Bush concluded a trip across the Middle East Jan. 16 that included meeting with Palestinian leaders in their West Bank stronghold at Ramallah, visiting U.S. soldiers in Kuwait, and a session with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia. A peace arrangement granting Palestinian statehood was the focus of the trip, a deal the president maintains can be signed by the time he leaves office. To that end he went to greater lengths than before to smooth not only political but religious divides. Speaking to Al Arabiya television on the eve of his trip, he declared, "I pray to the same God as a Muslim prays."

Dream vs. reality

Hillary Clinton's recent comment that Martin Luther King's dream needed the passage of President Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Act to come to fruition likely exposed more about her commitment to government solutions than anything about her views on race. But that didn't stop some members of the Barack Obama camp from fanning the race flame in hopes of cutting into Clinton's strong support among African-Americans.

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