XFL Finally Hits Its Stride

Finally it happened — the XFL went where no sports broadcast (or any other broadcast) had gone before. Saturday night’s game between the Orlando Rage and the Los Angeles Xtreme was apparently the lowest rated prime time show in television history.

Game 3 of the 2000 Stanley Cup finals was the previous marker of futility, garnering only a 2.3 share. Overnight ratings suggest the XFL broadcast could beat that soundly with a 2.1 share.

Vince McMahon still keeps saying the league is going to be a success in the long term, but NBC will almost certainly bail on the experiment sooner rather than later. Meanwhile WWF stock is down 35 percent since the league’s debut.

PETA: Stop "Hunting in the Water"

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter last week demanding that the Boy Scouts of America eliminate its “Fishing” and “Fish and Wildlife Management” merit badges, since they require Scouts to engage in violent acts that are training young men to enjoy violence. Specifically, both badges involve Fishing — or as PETA calls it, “hunting in the water.”

According to PETA’s letter,

Fishing is no longer considered a benign activity. It is hunting in the water, and the idea of a scout armed with a gun or rod, setting out to actively attack animals who were minding their own business, is not in keeping with the image of scouting, now or in the past.

Promoting fishing teaches young people that hooking, maiming, suffocating, and killing is acceptable. We call on you to help break the cycle of cruelty by promoting activities that teach only compassion, rather than indifference and violence.

In case any reporters missed the point, in a news release, PETA said,

Desensitizing children to the suffering of others is a dangerous lesson. According to FBI profilers, the American Psychiatric Association, law enforcement officials, and child advocacy organizations, cruelty to animals is a warning sign commonly seen in people who eventually direct violence toward humans.

“In an era of school shootings and hate crimes, it is folly to encourage young boys to harm innocent animals,” says PETA’s Dawn Carr. “The Boy Scouts are supposed to be compassionate role models, not bloodthirsty fish killers.”


PETA’s letter to Milton H. Ward, president of the Boy Scouts of America. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Press Release, March 15, 2001.

Confessions of a killing machine. Terry Tomalin, St. Petersburg Times, March 18, 2001.

PETA Asks Boy Scouts To “De-Merit” Badges Promoting Cruelty To Animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Press Release, March 15, 2001.

Scientists Modify Zebrafish Germ Line

A discovery by researchers at Purdue University may not sound all that exciting, but it could revolutionize genetic research.

Researcher Paul Collodi and his team developed a technique that allowed them to genetically modify cells they had removed from a zebrafish embryo. When they inserted the modified cells back into the embryo, they demonstrated that the genetic changes they made were present in the zebrafish’s germ line. When the embryo grows into an adult and breeds, the changes in its genome will be passed on to its offspring.

This is an incredible discovery because until now the only animal that germ line changes could be made to was the mouse. But using mice for this sort of research has a number of problems, not the least of which is the cost. The process with mice can end up costing thousands of dollars per mouse.

“With mice you have maybe a dozen embryos to work with,” Purdue’s Paul Collodi told Science Daily, “and you have to do surgery to transplant the embryos back into the mother. Compare that to the zebrafish embryo where we can modify 100 embryos an hour, and, because the embryos develop outside the mother, we don’t have to do surgery. The entire developmental phase takes only four days.”

With a little more refining of the process, genetically modified zebrafish could play a key role in the research that will occupy those studying the human genome — mapping how various genes work to produce specific proteins.

“With the human genome project they’re sequencing genes, and each of those genes causes the body to produce various proteins at different times,” Collodi said. “If you want to understand what the genes actually do, you have to study the function of the proteins they produce, and the zebrafish makes a nice model for that.”

The one hurdle that researchers still have to overcome is finding a way to prolong the length of time they can keep the zebrafish embryo cells in the lab before they have to reinsert them. Currently researchers have only been able to keep the embryo cells alive for a few days. They will need to find a way to keep them alive for several weeks in order to make the sort of genetic modifications that researchers will want to study.


Zebrafish could become genetics “lab rat” of choice. Science Daily, March 6, 2001.

The Web and Illiteracy — Putting the Cart Before the Horse

What was Jon Katz thinking when he wrote this little ditty,

The Net and the Web have revolutionized certain areas like academic and scientific research. But they’ve done little to eradicate illiteracy or poverty, or alter education for most students.

I think it’s the other way around — the web presupposes literacy. Saying the web hasn’t helped eradicate illiteracy is a lot like saying that television hasn’t helped eradicate blindness.

And illiteracy is going to be the ultimate source of the over-hyped “digital divide.” Channel surfing past CNN the other day they had the mayor of Washington, DC, begging for more government funds. The voice-over claimed that a survey of DC residents indicated that up to 40 percent of them were functionally illiterate to the point where they would not be able to read and understand a classified ad for a job.

The web isn’t going to be able to touch that level of mismanagement except indirectly.

Vaccine Prevents AIDS-like Disease in Monkeys

Emory University researchers made international headlines after they announced the phenomenal results of a vaccine that stopped AIDS-like infection in monkeys in its track.

Researchers first administered the vaccine to 24 monkeys, who received an initial vaccination as well as a booster shot. Seven months later they infected all 24 monkeys, as well as 4 monkeys in a control group, with a modified HIV/SIV virus.

Within 7 months all of the control monkeys had developed AIDS-like symptoms and had to be euthanized. Of the monkeys who received vaccinations, however, 23 of 24 test subjects had virus levels so low they were undetectable. The other monkey had very low levels of the virus.

The vaccine contains DNA fragments for three proteins similar to those found in the AIDS virus. When the immune system of the monkeys encountered the vaccine, it quickly developed a sophisticated immune response that persisted over time so that when they were finally exposed to the HIV/SIV virus, their immune system kept the virus in check and the monkeys remained healthy.

Peggy Johnson of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy said, “These are among the very best outcomes we have seen in an animal model.” However, she added, nobody knows if this approach will work in human beings.

“It’s encouraging,” Dr. Bernard Moss, Chief of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “but we don’t know whether we can translate this information directly from monkey models to protection [in people].”

Resolving that question will take several years of research and many more studies. Still, this is an amazing step forward that could light the path for development of an AIDS vaccine, which would be the most effective way to stop the global HIV epidemic.


Monkey study shows promise for AIDS vaccine. Reuters, March 8, 2001.

AIDS vaccine experiments promising. The Associated Press, March 8, 2001.

AIDS vaccine shows promise. The BBC, March 8, 2001.