The Week/the Spin

Lesser Evil Al

Bill Bradley endorsed Al Gore. Bradley’s spoken spin: ” Winning is a team sport!” Bradley’s unspoken spin: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. (Even if he is a liar and negative campaigner.) Gore’s spoken spin: I will ” carry the [Bradley] banner high.” Gore’s unspoken spin: I, not Ralph Nader, am the heir to Bradley’s cerebral politics and maverick style.

Teen pregnancy declined nearly 8 percent nationally from 1995 to 1997. Reported pregnancies fell from 9.8 percent to 9.1 percent among 15- to 19-year-olds, the government reported. The drops continue a downward trend begun in 1991. Abortions declined by nearly as much. Analysts’ spins: 1) Education has increased condom use. 2) Female contraception has become more convenient. 3) Teen-age girls are having less sex.

A twin study suggests that environmental factors account for two-thirds of cancers. The study examined the medical records of 44,788 pairs of identical and fraternal Scandinavian twins. On average, environmental differences accounted for 65 percent of cancers. Prostate cancer (42 percent heritable) is the least susceptible to the environment, followed by colon (35 percent) and breast (27 percent). Researchers’ spins: Just because we’ve mapped the genome doesn’t mean it’s important. Moreover, a genetic susceptibility to cancer hardly ever derives from just one gene. Geneticists’ retort: Every cancer is a genetic mutation of some sort, whether inherited or triggered by the environment.  New England Journal of Medicine’s spins: 1) Identifying the genetic susceptibility to a cancer may suggest its environmental trigger, and vice versa. 2) When a nature-plus-nurture cancer risk is greater than the sum of its parts, removing either component dramatically reduces risk. 3) Environmental factors are not always preventable, and genetic factors are not always unpreventable. We should address both.

DNA tests implicate the death-row inmate reprieved by George W. Bush. Lab results link Ricky McGinn to a pubic hair found on the body of his 12-year-old stepdaughter. McGinn, who was convicted of the slaying in 1995, was the first death-row prisoner to receive a stay from Bush, who has presided over 136 executions. Civil libertarians’ spin: DNA tests are the best of both worlds—they exonerate the wrongly accused and debunk appeals by the guilty. Death-penalty opponents’ spin: But appeals by the guilty are the last barrier to state-sanctioned murder. Prosecutors’ spin: If convicts agree to the tests, they have to live (and die) with the results. (To read Slate’s “Frame Games” on the media’s role in Bush’s death-penalty “controversies,” click here and here.)

A common spermicide does not decrease the risk of HIV infection. A study of sex workers in Africa and Asia found that the vaginal detergent nonoxynol-9 actually increased the transmission of HIV, possibly by causing genital ulcers. Half-glass-full spin: Less frequent use among non-sex workers probably does not increase HIV risk. Half-glass-empty spin: That’s great for the First World, but in the Third World HIV is spread primarily by prostitutes, and there’s still no effective microbicide for them to use.

Scholastic will print 2 million more copies of Harry Potter. The Saturday release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (you can buy it here), which had an initial American press run of 3.8 million copies, led to Barnes & Noble’s biggest weekend ever. Author J.K. Rowling, who wrote the first volume while on welfare, has sold 21 million books and has become the third-richest person in Britain. Pro-Potter spin: It feeds your inner child. Backlash: Potter is derivative and unimaginative; it appeals to “reader non-readers” (Harold Bloom, the Wall Street Journal). Warner Bros.’ spin: Just wait for the movie! (And action figures, and key rings …) Parents’ spin: We may have to camp overnight at the bookstore, but at least our kids are reading again. (To read a Slate “Book Club” on The Goblet of Fire, click here; for one on the first three Potter books, click here.)

Scientists have caused mice to inherit “artificial” chromosomes. Canadian researchers implanted mice with an extra chromosome containing a protein-producing gene. The chromosome and protein appeared through three generations. Genes implanted into an extra chromosome—which is cleansed of other functional genes—may be safer than those implanted into an organism’s existing chromosomes. The researchers plan to use cell cultures and lab animals to create therapeutic proteins, possibly for human use. Technophiles’ spin: The miracles of the fathers’ doctors will be visited on the sons. Brave New World spin: The mistakes of the fathers’ doctors will be visited on the sons.

Gas prices dipped an average of 4.5 cents, to $1.67 a gallon. Economists’ spins: We should thank OPEC production increases and better pipeline delivery in the Midwest. Refiners’ spin: Gas prices would be even lower if it weren’t for government-mandated reformulated gasoline. (To read Slate’s Chatterbox on how to lower gas prices, click here.)

Ehud Barak survived a no-confidence vote on the eve of peace talks at Camp David. After several right-wing parties abandoned his governing coalition, the Israeli prime minister survived a motion to call a new election. Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrive Tuesday at President Clinton’s Maryland retreat, where Jimmy Carter finessed the Israel-Egypt peace in 1978. President Clinton’s spin: This will be difficult. Barak’s spin: I’m confident we can make a deal. The Israeli people support me, even if the politicians don’t. Arafat’s spin: I’m not. And if there’s no deal by Sept. 13, I’ll declare Palestinian statehood. Pundits’ spin: It’s a long shot, but Clinton has nothing to lose.

The Pentagon’s third anti-missile defense test failed. The interceptor missile failed to detach from its booster rocket. Pentagon’s spin: This failure had nothing to do with the underlying ballistics technology. Critics’ spin: The tests are rigged anyway. Pundits’ spin: Clinton should let the next president decide whether to spend $60 billion to deploy the system.