The Week/the Spin

Beanie Baby Panic

Reno retracts

The Justice Department agreed to an independent inquiry into the Waco incident. After six years of denials, the FBI confessed it had fired incendiary tear gas devices at the Branch Davidian compound. The FBI still says it’s unlikely that these devices caused the fire. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered federal marshals to seize videotapes from FBI headquarters on which agents reportedly can be heard discussing the use of these devices. The New York Times suggested Reno’s actions would damage an already strained relationship with the FBI. Pundits doubt her get-tough attitude will redeem her reputation as ” clueless, bordering on incompetent.”

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie

Violence broke out in East Timor. The South Pacific territory voted this week on independence from Indonesia. Results are expected to show that the referendum passed. Pro-Indonesia militias have killed three demonstrators and have threatened civilians, reporters, and U.N. officials. The Washington Post criticized Indonesia, which is still responsible for maintaining peace on the island, for failing to respond to the militias. The New York Times warned that international intervention might become necessary.

One-third of the Major League Baseball umpires lost their jobs. The 22 umps had resigned in July, hoping to win concessions from the league. When the league accepted their resignations, they sued to block their removal. The union accepted their removal in a settlement but claimed victory because 1) the league agreed to let an arbitrator decide whether to reinstate the umpires; and 2) in any event, they’ll be paid for the rest of the season. Most umpires disagreed, saying they’d rather be working.

BeanieBabies may be “retired” at the end of the year. The cryptic announcement by the toys’ manufacturer sent collectors rushing to stores. The anxious take: The manufacturer’s notorious quirkiness lends credibility to the announcement. The cynical take: It’s a marketing ploy to jump-start demand. Collectors warned that Beanie-loving children and their parents wouldn’t take kindly to being jerked around. (Slate’s James Surowiecki applauds the move.)

Scientistsimproved memory in mice by implanting a gene. Mice with the extra gene outperformed normal mice at learning and memory tasks, though the difference dissolved after a week. The media called the improved mice “smarter” and “geniuses.” The findings, published in Nature, are expected to boost 1) biologically based theories of intelligence; 2) development of medicines for memory loss and Alzheimer’s; 3) worries about “designer babies” and a superhuman race; and 4) concerns that humanlike animals will require humanlike rights.

SATscores may soon be adjusted for socioeconomic background. Under a plan being considered by the Educational Testing Service, students who score at least 200 points above the norm for their socioeconomic cohort would be classified as “strivers.” Supporters and detractors called the plan an end run around affirmative action bans at state universities. Affirmative action opponents warned that any consideration of race in the new formula would be unconstitutional. ETS did not comment on whether wealthy, low-scoring students would be classified as “underachievers.”

Hurricane Dennis stillhasn’t come ashore. Having disappointed the media hype, the storm lurked off the North Carolina coast. The old spin: It’s a threat to life, limb, and property. The new spin: It’s a threat to Labor Day beach weather.

TheClintons bid on a Westchester home. The century-old Georgian Colonial features five bedrooms, a swimming pool, and an exercise room. It is listed at $1.7 million.

Tarses: Too much woman for ABC?

The head of ABC Entertainment resigned. Jamie Tarses, who created hits such as Friends and Mad About You at NBC, left her ABC job after being demoted. The New York Times wondered if she was “too young, too immature, too emotional and, yes, too female for the job she was assigned.” The Wall Street Journal wrote that Tarses’ tenure at ABC was marked by few hits but a great deal of personal friction.

The Bank ofNew York may have laundered money for the Russian mafia. Investigators are examining whether mobsters diverted funds–including foreign aid–out of the country through an offshore network built by a former International Monetary Fund official. According to the Washington Post, Steve Forbes and George W. Bush are criticizing Al Gore for naively accepting Russian pledges of economic reform.

The U.N.war crimes tribunal caught a suspected Bosnian war criminal. Gen. Momir Talic, the highest-ranking Serbian official to be arrested so far, was seized in Vienna. The WashingtonPost predicts that the arrest will remind other suspected war criminals not to travel abroad.

American Airlines employees were caught smuggling drugs to the United States. They stashed cocaine and marijuana in food trays and used their security clearances to transport the contraband.

China will prosecute the leaders of Falun Gong. A government order excused most followers saying they had been brainwashed into joining a subversive political organization.

Samuel Sheinbein: sentenced

Samuel Sheinbein will serve a murder sentence in Israel. The American teen-ager had fled to Israel after allegedly committing murder in Maryland. The Israeli Supreme Court refused to let him be extradited back to the States. Under a plea bargain, he will be sentenced to 24 years in prison and will probably serve less. Prosecutors from both countries decried the way he manipulated the discrepancies between the two legal systems.

The Los Alamos whistleblower resigned. Colleagues had called Notra Trulock’s allegations against Wen Ho Lee racist and had said there was not a “shred of evidence” against Lee. Trulock countered that only three of the 12 initial suspects in the case were of Chinese background. He also called a recent report exonerating the Clinton administration a “whitewash” and said that Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Moler blocked him from briefing Congress.

French prosecutorsblame Dodi Fayed for Princess Diana’s death. The Guardian reported that Fayed commanded an intoxicated chauffeur to drive them and that both could have survived had they been wearing seatbelts. The British Sun labeled Maj. James Hewitt a “Judas,” a “heartless beast,” a “rotter,” a “love traitor,” and a “repulsive pariah” for publishing a book about his affair with Diana; see “International Papers” for more on the outraged reaction.

The NFL allegedly ignored positive drug-test results. In a 1995 tape of an NFL Players Association meeting obtained by the New York Times, an association official boasts of having secretly convinced the NFL to overlook 16 positive drug tests.