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.
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.
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.
God on trial
Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, 38, has filed suit against God for causing "widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants." He claims the litigation is meant to make a serious point about equal access to the court system. But the senator's past criticism of Christians and regular habit of skipping morning prayers during the legislative session suggest that other forces are at work.
The court has threatened to dismiss the lawsuit due to its inability to serve God with notice. But Chambers argues that courts routinely acknowledge God's omniscience and omnipresence while swearing in witnesses and therefore should recognize that God is already aware of the proceedings and will be present for all hearings.
Former Christian Coalition president Ralph Reed announced plans to appear at a fundraiser with Sen. John McCain in Atlanta Aug. 18. Reed once worked for former lobbyist Jack Abramoff to win support from Christians for anti-gambling projects that benefited the gambling interests of Abramoff's Indian tribal clients in other states. McCain spearheaded the Senate Indian Affairs investigation that led to Abramoff's arrest in 2005 on felony charges of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion related to his lobbying work. Abramoff pleaded guilty in 2006. Reed was never accused of illegal activity, but he lost a 2006 bid for Georgia lieutenant governor after facing criticism for his connections to Abramoff.
Attorneys for Calvary Chapel Christian School (CCCS) in Murietta, Calif., filed an appeal Aug. 8 with the 9th Circuit just after a judge threw out the school's lawsuit charging the University of California (UC) with anti-Christian viewpoint discrimination. The university system requires that incoming freshmen complete core high-school courses to meet acceptance criteria. But the university in recent years has refused to approve more than 150 courses to be taught by Christian, Catholic, and Jewish high schools, citing "biased" content. UC is a public agency and "is required to remain neutral when it comes to religion, politics, or other philosophical viewpoints," said CCCS attorney Robert Tyler. "Instead of remaining neutral . . . UC is discriminating against our clients' viewpoints merely because they are religiously based."
Democrats looking to woo evangelical voters rolled out a new strategy ahead of the party's convention in Denver this month: changing the Democratic platform on abortion to assert that the party "strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child," and offering assistance to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, helped write the new language and told reporters that he was pleased: "Pro-life voters of either party can now support Sen. Obama on the basis that more lives will be saved than if they had just taken a moral stand hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade."
But Obama has voted in favor of pro-abortion legislation in Congress, including an amendment to nullify federal policy prohibiting funds for overseas groups that promote or perform abortions. Hunter told WORLD he shares evangelicals' concerns over those votes, but he said: "I'm just speaking to one issue at a time here."
Other evangelicals may balk at the section's first paragraph: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."
Too racey for safety
Random House yanked a $100,000, two-book deal because the first installment gave a racy portrayal of Muhammad's child bride, Aisha. The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones was scheduled for an Aug. 12 publication, but Random House feared the book "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
After months of denials, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards admitted on Aug. 8 to committing adultery with a campaign worker in 2006. The National Enquirer first reported the affair with Rielle Hunter, a 44-year-old videographer hired by the Edwards campaign to document his 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Edwards released a statement saying he made a "serious error in judgment," adding: "In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic."
Edwards said he wouldn't attend the Democratic National Convention, where he was originally expected to deliver a primetime speech.
Three's not a charm
SpaceX, a private space transportation service that has contracts with NASA and companies in Canada and Sweden, lost control of its unmanned Falcon 1 rocket on Aug. 2-for the third time in a row. Communication with the 90-foot rocket blinked out about two and a half minutes after liftoff from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, when, after the planned separation of Falcon 1's two stages, the first stage engine accelerated unexpectedly and bumped into the upper stage. The first Falcon 1 launch in 2006 resulted in an engine fire attributed to a faulty aluminum nut. A 2007 flight was lost when the second stage rocket began to roll and experience a fuel slosh problem.
As one of two commercial space companies chosen by NASA to prove their ability to shuttle cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX has $278 million in grants riding on its Falcon rocket system, billed as one of the most cost-efficient launch services available. Everything riding on the Aug. 2 launch was lost, including two NASA satellites and another built by the defense department. Billionaire Elon Musk, former PayPal entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, cited an easily fixable engine pressure issue as the cause of the failed flight. He's glad his company caught the problem on Falcon 1 rather than Falcon 9, a much larger rocket designed to visit the ISS with cargo and eventually crew.
NASA might be glad, too. With space shuttle retirement to occur in 2010 and NASA's Ares launch vehicles several years away from completion, the U.S. space agency is investing millions in the development of private vehicles today in hopes of buying seats on them tomorrow. Falcon 9, scheduled for a maiden launch in coming months, will need to fly further than its predecessor for that to happen.
-by Daniel James Devine