The Week/the Spin


Five major studios will start a movie-download Web site. MGM, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., and Universal Pictures will provide an encrypted, Web-download, pay-per-view rental service. Customers will use their hard drives to store movies—which will erase themselves 24 hours after the first viewing—and will be able to pause and fast-forward, as with video cassettes and DVDs. The studios will allow nonmember studios to post movies on the site. Executives’ spin: “We are not looking to undermine DVD, which is a great business”—just Napster, which, as the music industry discovered, is a rip-off business. Analysts’ spin: Maybe so, but if picture and sound quality is good enough, Web rental could put video stores out of business. It certainly will kill off the cable companies’ movie-download service, which has the participation of only one studio.

Wildfires raged in 10 states. The 42 fires, almost all in the West, have consumed 500,000 acres, including 270,000 in Oregon. (Rhode Island is 750,000 acres.) Wildfires have burned approximately 1.9 million acres this year, compared to last year’s record 8.4 million acres. In reaction to last year’s conflagration, the Bush administration recently allowed state and local government to make more fire-fighting decisions. Conservatives’ spin: Eight years of irresponsible Clinton land stewardship created the conditions for today’s unstoppable fires. Environmentalists’ spin: No, 50 years of ecologically ignorant, zero-tolerance fire-fighting created the conditions.

Astronomers discovered planets with circular orbits around another star. The star, 47 Ursae Majoris in the Big Dipper galaxy, is the only one other than our own sun known to have planets with orbits that might support life. More than 70 solar systems have been discovered, but all their planets have elliptical orbits, which produce uninhabitable climates. The scientists have found two Jupiter-size gaseous planets near 47 Ursae Majoris and say there could be Earth-sized planets closer to the star. Scientists’ spin: “Of all the solar systems that have been found, this is the one that looks the most like our own.” Skeptics’ spin: So what? The star is 50 million light years away, and we don’t have the technology to detect planets as small as Earth from that distance.

It may be easier to clone humans than other animals. Duke University scientists said that a major impediment to cloning healthy sheep, cows, and pigs—abnormally rapid fetal growth—may not apply to primates due to genetic differences. The report was published in Human Molecular Genetics and funded in part by the federal government. Scientists’ spin: “Scientists have been hiding behind technical issues. [Our findings] move the debate from ‘Can we do this?’ to ‘Should we do this?’ ” Dolly (the cloned sheep) creator’s spin: The fetal-growth problems we’ve encountered in farm-animal cloning are more complicated than the Duke researchers pretend. 

Rep. Gary Condit is maneuvering for re-election. Last weekend, his hometown paper, which had endorsed him in every election, called for his resignation, saying that he “has put his own interests ahead of the effort to find [Chandra] Levy. His self-absorption has been a lapse not only of judgment, but of human decency.” Meanwhile, Condit’s aides said that he plans to run for re-election next year and will hold his annual political fund-raiser in October as scheduled. Condit’s spin: “I am hopeful that my neighbors and constituents will be more understanding of the complexities of this case. I can only hope that … they will wait their judgment until they have heard what I have to say, which I plan to do very soon.” Pundits’ spin: Condit remained quiet for months, until support in his district began to erode. The true verdict will come next November.

Global violence roundup: In  Macedonia, ethnic Albanian rebels agreed to disarm in exchange for greater civil rights, but artillery battles continued. NATO sent peacekeeping troops on condition of a cease-fire. (Macedonian Albanians have been fighting for five months with the assistance of Albanians in NATO-controlled Kosovo.) In Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army submitted a disarmament plan but withdrew it when the Protestant Unionists hesitated to accept it. (The power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly—established by the 1998 Good Friday Accords—may now be suspended.) In the Middle East, peace negotiations have stopped in the wake of almost daily violence by Palestinian terrorists and Israeli-government assassins. (Israel is reportedly considering a full-scale invasion of the West Bank.) (To read Slate’s Anne Applebaum on why diplomatic logic may not put out the Macedonian fire, click here.)

A court ruled that a woman could destroy embryos against her ex-husband’s wishes. The New Jersey Supreme Court said that a man who wanted to donate frozen embryos, created jointly by himself and his ex-wife, to other infertile women could not do so if his ex-wife objected. The couple had created the in vitro embryos to improve their chances of having a child. Court’s spin: “On balance, the fundamental right of [the former wife] not to procreate outweighs [the former husband’s] right to procreate.” Pro-wife spin: If a woman can abort an implanted embryo without her husband’s consent, why can’t she destroy an in vitro one? Pro-husband spin: Because she has a bodily claim over an implanted embryo but not over an in vitro one.   

AIDS deaths stopped declining. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  reported that AIDS cases and deaths have remained steady since about 1998, ending the steep decline of the mid-’90s brought about by new medicines. The CDC estimates that AIDS deaths have decreased by more than half in the last decade, although HIV infection rates have remained steady. Meanwhile, President Bush reorganized his AIDS office. Spins: 1) AIDS medicine has reached nearly everyone who has access to it and who knows he is infected. 2) The CDC figures are inaccurate and misleading.

Ford will conduct the biggest car recall ever. The company will pay for new ignition systems on 5 million cars at a cost of nearly $1 billion, the New York Times reported. The proposed settlement stems from class-action lawsuits in five states by owners of more than 300 models who claim that their cars stall suddenly. Ford is already spending $3 billion to replace 13 million faulty Firestone tires on its vehicles, and it faces $2.4 billion in claims from Bronco owners who say the SUV rolls over. The settlement will pre-empt a court-ordered recall, the first in U.S. history. Plaintiffs’ lawyers’ spin: Federal regulators failed to order a recall, so we had to step in. Judge’s spin: I ordered a recall because Ford lied to regulators. It could have prevented the problem for an extra $4 per car but chose not to.

The state prison population declined for the first time in three decades. The 0.5 percent drop in the last half of 2000 marks the first slowing of the nation’s prison boom, which began in the early 1970s. The total federal and state prison population rose 1.3 percent in 2000, down from 6 percent annual growth in the 1990s. Spins: 1) A half-year decline is not a trend. The late-’90s crime drop is ending, and increasingly severe drug penalties—especially on the federal level—will keep the population growing. 2) Actually, the growth rate has slowed for several years now, partly because of more lenient parole policies.