The Week/the Spin

Stem Sell 

Three eBay users were charged with nearly half a million dollars in art fraud. The three men put forgeries up for sale and used more than 40 user IDs to bid up the price. They sold $450,000 worth of art through 1,100 fraudulent auctions, one of which was discovered by a New York Times reporter. Caveat emptor spin: Art on eBay may be cheaper than at Sotheby’s, but eBay’s not interested in protecting its users. eBay’s spin: Yes we are, but we can’t monitor every sale.   

The House will pass President Bush’s tax cut but the Senate may not. The House was set to pass the $1.6 trillion, 10-year reduction Thursday, but the plan lacks majority support in the Senate. Eleven Senate moderates, Democratic and Republican, support a “trigger” provision that would implement the cut only if federal debt-reduction targets are met. Senate moderates’ spin: We’re for giving people their money back, but not if it means Reagan-like budget deficits. Bush’s spin: Budget surpluses are already large enough. We don’t need a trigger. Democrats’ spin: Bush is pushing through his tax plan before he’s even submitted a budget. If he won’t negotiate, we’ll fight. Public’s spin: Bush should compromise with the Democrats. He has no mandate.

A type of stem-cell surgery for Parkinson’s patients failed catastrophically. The surgery, which involves the injection of embryonic “stem cells” into the deteriorated portion of the brain, produced no improvement in motor control and in some patients caused debilitating spasms. Meanwhile, another study suggests that intellectual activity early in life may ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Scientific spins: 1) Stem-cell cures for brain deterioration are overhyped and dangerous. We should focus on behavioral prevention. 2) Stem-cell cures are promising but need more research. Danger is part of experimental medicine. Political spins: 1) Stem-cell research uses aborted fetuses and should receive no federal funding. 2) Stem-cell research should receive federal support as long as it doesn’t promote abortion. In fact, new cell-generating technology may allow scientists to avoid fetal harvesting altogether. Glib spin: Alzheimer’s is God’s punishment for being a couch potato.

There are almost as many Hispanics as blacks in the United States. New census figures count about 35 million of each. The census also found that one in 20 blacks considers himself “biracial.” Traditional civil rights groups’ spin: Promoting “biracial” identity strips minorities of solidarity and political power. Counterspin: Politics aside, “biracial” is how America really is. Demographers’ spin: More blacks younger than 18—about one in 12—checked “biracial” than can be accounted for from (inter)marriage certificates. Many of them are acknowledging mixed-race grandparents and great-grandparents rather than mixed-race parents.

An eighth-grade Catholic schoolgirl reportedly shot a classmate. The 13-year-old wounded her friend in the cafeteria of Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport, Pa. The same day, two students in California were arrested for plotting a shooting spree. Two days earlier, a 15-year-old Charles “Andy” Williams allegedly opened fire at his San Diego high school, killing two classmates and injuring 13 people. He will be arraigned as an adult. Williams’ friends’ spin: He was a “little skinny kid [who] gets picked on a lot. He was smiling when he did [it].” He talked about his plans last weekend, but we thought he was joking. We searched him for a gun before class, just in case, but we didn’t find anything. Williams’ mother’s spin: “I never saw any moodiness there, other than teen-age stuff, and then you’d just change the subject and he was fine.” Neighbors’ spin: “He was like an Ivy Leaguer hanging around a bunch of hippies.” (To learn what’s wrong with the neighbors, click here.)

A computer virus promises a look at a “naked wife.” The infected e-mail has the subject line “FW: Naked Wife.” The attachment, which features a vulgar cartoon signed “BGK (Bill Gates Killer),” deletes many files in Microsoft’s Windows operating system and sends itself to everyone in the user’s e-mail address book. Antivirus experts’ spin: Network administrators should block messages with the attachment, because computer users cannot resist the temptation of virtual sex, even the virus-laden kind.

Vice President Cheney had a blocked heart artery cleared. Scar tissue had invaded a wire-mesh stent inserted last November to open the artery. Doctors cleared the tissue and reinforced the stent. Cheney did not suffer cardiac arrest. (He has had heart attacks in 1978, 1984, 1988, and November 2000.) Doctors’ spin: The procedure was “urgent” but not an emergency. Vultures’ spin: Let the race for the new vice president begin. (To read Chatterbox on the episode, click here; to read an “Explainer” on how to pick a new veep, click here.) 

A judge gave Napster 72 hours to block copyrighted music-swapping. A federal district court ruled that Napster must block the trading of copyrighted music—but only after a record company requests it. Napster must make a good-faith effort to block not just a given song title but variants on that title, such as misspellings or song titles encoded with numbers (e.g., “He22y Ju11de”). Analysts’ spins: 1) This is a victory for the record industry, because if Napster cannot filter copyrighted songs, it will be shut down. 2) Comprehensive filtering is nearly impossible, but Napster won’t be shut down as long as it goes through the motions of developing filtering software.  

Robert Hanssen may have told the Soviets about a U.S. spy tunnel under their embassy. Hanssen, the FBI officer arrested last week on espionage charges, has already been accused of betraying three U.S. agents in Moscow. (Two were executed.) Spins: 1) He may prove to have been the most damaging spy in American history. 2) Yes, but because his arrest has led to disclosure of the tunnel—a Cold War boondoggle that provided no useful information—he may have unwittingly performed a public service.

Harold Stassen died at 93. The former Minnesota governor ran for the Republican presidential nomination nine times between 1948 and 1988. After his second re-election as governor, during World War II, he resigned to join the Navy. He signed the United Nations charter and served in the Eisenhower administration. Later he ran unsuccessfully for Pennsylvania governor and Philadelphia mayor. Spins: 1) He was a political maverick who spoiled a promising career with quixotic campaigns. 2) They weren’t quixotic. They were principled.