Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

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Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

Seattle flush

Since 2004, Seattle has dumped upwards of $5 million into purchasing and operating five high-tech public toilets downtown. Now the city is looking to unload the space-age units on eBay for a small fraction of the initial sticker price. The disastrous outcome of a plan once believed a boon to public health and safety is indicative of a false ideology prevalent not only in Seattle, but among many well-intentioned government officials-namely, the belief that people are only as bad as their circumstances make them.

That maxim got a quick flush in the Emerald City when toilets intended to eliminate public defecation became dens of prostitution and drug use. The hope that clean, well-maintained facilities would lead to cleaner behavior among the homeless backfired. In the first two years of operation, the city responded to 7,418 reports of human waste in the streets, more than three times the 2,400 reports in the two years prior.

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The city's first attempt to recover some of its financial losses failed when it listed the toilets on eBay with a minimum bid of $89,000. The stainless steel units, pictured with stains, dents, and graffiti, garnered plenty of online traffic but no bids. A second round of listings yielded dozens of bids in the neighborhood of a couple thousand dollars-an expensive lesson.

Kinda a terrorist

A jury of six military officers at Guantanamo Bay reached a split verdict Aug. 6 in the war crimes trial of a former driver for Osama bin Laden, clearing him of conspiracy charges but convicting him of supporting terrorism. Salim Hamdan wept as the verdict was read, but a day later it was the prosecution's turn to weep when the jury returned a stunning sentence of 5½ years--meaning, with time already served, the convicted terrorist could be released within five months.

Say it in a letter

Less than a week after the worldwide Anglican church, riven over diverse views on sexuality, ended its once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, the Times of London disclosed letters written between 2000 and 2001 by the archbishop of Canterbury claiming that the Bible does not forbid same-sex relationships. In a letter to psychiatrist Deborah Pitt, an evangelical Christian who lived in his diocese in Wales at the time and wrote to challenge him, Williams said: "I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness." Although written before he became archbishop in 2002, Williams describes his view in the letters as his "definitive conclusion" reached after 20 years of study and prayer and referred to it as his "conviction." As symbolic head of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, Williams has tried to straddle liberal and conservative factions which are splintering the church over differing views of homosexuality and the role of Scripture.

Co-ed quest

In 2004, the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute surveyed 112,000 entering freshmen at a nationally representative sample of colleges and universities. This spring, researchers followed up with a subsample of 15,000 of the same students and charted changes in their spiritual development. First the good news: Three-quarters of college students say they are on a spiritual quest to find meaning, purpose and God, according to a UCLA Higher Education Research Institute survey. Now the bad: Many students who say they frequently attended worship services in high school rarely attend in college. By their junior year, the number of students who say they never attend a worship service doubles.

"College is a critical moment in students' lives," said Mark Gauthier, U.S. Campus Director for Campus Crusade for Christ. "College can be either a spiritual greenhouse or a spiritual graveyard. It's a place where a student's faith blossoms or it dies."

San Francisco surge

Anti-war icon Cindy Sheehan has qualified to challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her seat in Congress. The 51-year-old mother of a soldier who died in Iraq says Pelosi failed to persuade her party to end funding for the Iraq War after Democrats reclaimed the House majority in 2006. In 2005 Sheehan drew national attention for holding a summer vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch as U.S. casualties in Iraq peaked. On Aug. 11 San Francisco election officials said Sheehan turned in 214 more valid signatures than the 10,198 she needed to qualify for the November ballot as an independent candidate.

The two women will face off at a time when the facts on the ground aren't helping them. Pelosi was criticized for statements this month that "the purpose of the surge has not been fulfilled" after the Pentagon reported in July the lowest monthly number of combat casualties in Iraq to date-seven.


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