The Week/the Spin

Separate but Equal

The Vermont House approved “civil unions” for gays. The measure, which was prompted by a state Supreme Court decision and is expected to become law, is the most “marriage-like” gay-union provision in the country. It would give homosexual unions the same inheritance and state-tax rights as married couples and would settle gay “divorces” in the same court as heterosexual ones. Gay activists’ spin: This is a huge step for civil rights. Gay dissidents’ spin: “Separate but equal” marriage—yeah, big advance. Other states’ spin: We’ll be damned if we’re going to recognize Vermont’s “unions” in our jurisdiction.

Human ancestors may have been thumb-size. A newly discovered primate species living in China 42 million years ago weighed only a third of an ounce, ate bugs and fruit nectar at night, and was probably ” eaten like popcorn” by predators. Scientists’ spin: This helps resolve missing links in the evolutionary pattern and casts doubt on our exclusively African origins. (For the full journal article, click here.)

The stock market split between the “old” and “new” economies may be healing. The previously battered Dow Jones industrial average jumped nearly 8 percent in two days, while the tech-rich Nasdaq has fallen 6.5 percent since its record high last Friday. Analysts’ spins: 1) This is a healthy, inevitable correction of the tech bubble. 2) No, it’s an aberration. The money will pour back into tech stocks soon. 3) You’re both wrong. The market is simply reacting to good inflation news; this has nothing to do with techs or industrials.

The National Rifle Association said President Clinton has “blood on his hands.” Three days after suggesting that Clinton is “willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda,” NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Clinton is responsible for the shooting death of a college basketball coach. (The coach’s murderer failed a Brady background check but was not arrested.) White House’s spin: This is “sick rhetoric” from a group that opposed the Brady Bill in the first place. The  NRA’s spin: Clinton should enforce existing laws before calling for new ones.

President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said genes should not be patented. Biotech stocks plunged, dragging down the Nasdaq. The two leaders’ announcement that human genome data “should be made freely available to scientists everywhere” came a week after a private gene-mapping firm broke off partnership talks with the Human Genome Project, a public consortium, over public-access issues. Investors’ view: This undermines biotech business models. Sell! Biotech sector’s responses: 1) Clinton and Blair’s announcement is unenforceable ” moral exhortation.” 2) We were always planning to release the gene data to the public. 3) In fact, the announcement confirms that we can patent treatments derived from public genetic maps. Analysts’ view: For tech firms, patent law is the great unknown. (To read Moneybox’s reaction to the biotech sell-off, click here.)

A software billionaire will give $100 million to launch a free online university. Michael Saylor, the 35-year-old CEO of Microstrategy, will build a studio in Washington, D.C., to film the brilliant and famous as they explain the world of ideas. He says he won’t pay the lecturers, arguing that the intelligentsia will participate for publicity and posterity. Saylor’s spin: “Universities will lose control of knowledge, as they should.” Universities’ spin: It’s a long way from a pipe dream to the Ivy League.

Scientists cloned five piglets in order to hasten pig-human transplantation. Millie, Christa, Alexis, Carrel, and Dotcom are creations of the same company that produced Dolly, the cloned sheep. Within four years, scientists hope to begin ” xenografting,” or transplanting, pig organs to humans. They first have to “knock out” the pig gene that triggers a human immune response. Scientists’ spin: Pigs are more medically useful to humans than sheep. Animal-rights activists’ spin: Don’t the pigs have a say in this?

The Tribune Co. bought Times Mirror. The combined company will own 22 TV stations and 11 daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, and Newsday (Long Island). Tribune Co.’s spin: We’ll make newspapers profitable by synergizing them with television and the Internet. (You know, like AOL Time Warner!) Tribune stockholders’ spin: Newspapers are money pits. We’ll believe the synergy hype when we see the profits. LAT reporters’ spins: 1) Mark Willes, that bottom-line Babbitt of the newsroom, is gone! 2) Wait, now we’re owned by a money-hungry megacorporation. 3) Wow, look at the price of our Times Mirror stock! We’re rich!

Simon & Schuster’s Web site crashed after cybershoppers clamored to download Stephen King’s new book. The publisher is selling King’s 65-page story, Riding the Bullet (read an excerpt here), for $2.50 on eBook and via computer download only. Simon & Schuster’s spin: We couldn’t publish a 65-page work any other way. Cyberwags’ spin: In 20 years, Mr. Middleman, you won’t be publishing anything.

The pope asked the world to forgive the Catholic Church’s sins. He acknowledged the ” errors committed by the children of the church,” while his surrogates listed specific wrongs, such as anti-Semitism, forced conversions, and injustice toward women and native peoples. The New York Times’ spin: It’s ” the most sweeping papal apology ever.” Liberal Jews’ spin: He hasn’t apologized enough. Conservative Catholics’ spin: He apologized too much. Vatican’s spin: He apologized exactly enough. And unlike some denominations—ahem!—we at least admit our guilt. (For more on national apologies in Slate, click here.)