DIGITAL CHICKEN LITTLE
Los Angeles Times: Visit the International Consumer Electronics Show, which began Monday in Las Vegas, and you can see sales representatives hawking new digital entertainment gadgets that let people mix content drawn from the Web, television, radio, music CDs and movie DVDs. These devices, although still unavailable in most stores, are already striking fear in the heart of the entertainment industry.
The industry has every right and obligation to vigorously defend its copyrights. But some of its leaders are pressing for restrictions that could end up hurting their business by turning off customers. Their knee-jerk opposition to allowing consumers to copy digital media has delayed revision of copyright laws for the digital era. That has prevented manufacturers from distributing new digital technologies, deepened the consumer electronics industry's current sales slump, slowed the deployment of high-speed broadband Internet access and halted the transition to digital TV, which is already years behind schedule.
Fair profit: Instead of suing to keep customers from "burning" CDs the way they used to record cassette tapes, or instead of imprinting highly restrictive and glitch-ridden anti-theft protection on every song or movie scene, industry leaders should vigorously work with the consumer electronics companies to develop ways to guarantee a fair profit when people download and then copy or otherwise alter digital content for personal use.
One scheme, for example, would allow a record company to charge for music in an all-you-can-eat bundle, much as AOL does for monthly access to its content. In an opinion piece published last month in the online magazine Salon, Paul Boutin, an editor at Wired magazine, accurately summed up the challenge now facing entertainment companies: "Remove the incentives for people to steal, rather than imposing more technology that treats customers as would-be shoplifters Instead of telling us not to steal, how about just giving us a way to pay?"
RISKS FROM OUT OF THE BLUE
Chicago Tribune: And so, after the nation expends almost four months of frantic efforts to increase security in the sky over America, a high school freshman honor student flies a small Cessna into the 42-story Bank of America Plaza in Tampa, Fla. As if reaching to make sense of his aerial suicide, 15-year-old Charles Bishop leaves a note expressing support for Osama bin Laden and the attacks of Sept. 11.
The temptation now is to greatly increase security regulations at airports used by small planes, which, like big airliners, can be turned into flying bombs. Some of that concern is appropriate. But so is the realization, no matter how uncomfortable, that we can never fully eradicate risks that come from out of the blue.
Low priority: It's true that security at many of the nation's 18,000 small airports has been a low priority. That's partly because few serious threats have emerged from the planes that use those airfields -- and partly because the independent, go-where-I-want-to-go culture of general aviation resists anything that smacks of restrictions. It's clear that not enough small airports have taken steps to assure that access to their grounds, and their planes, is tightly controlled.
But it would have taken extreme, almost militaristic restrictions to keep Bishop from violating an instructor's trust and sneaking down a runway with what was, in effect, a stolen plane.
No reports have surfaced that the boy had been guilty of suspicious behavior during his flying lessons or, for that matter, at school or home. Whatever motivated Bishop lay deep within a troubled young mind. The Tampa Tribune reported Monday that his death was as lonesome as his life. He and his mother had moved often, and he had few friends other than his terrier. The mention of bin Laden may have been a self-aggrandizing afterthought; one of Bishop's teachers distinctly recalls that after Sept. 11 the boy "was very disturbed because so many people lost their lives. He said it was a foolish thing."
REDUCING MEDICATION MIXUPS
Providence Journal: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is pushing a new labeling system designed to reduce the number of mixups over medication. The effort is important, since getting the wrong drug has led to numerous injuries and even deaths.
The problem is that too many drugs have similar names. Chlorpromazine, for instance, is a tranquilizer; chlorpropamide is for diabetes. About a year ago, a diabetic person died after mistakenly receiving the tranquilizer instead of the diabetes drug.
It is not known how many deaths are a result of such mixups. But 1.3 million Americans are thought to be harmed each year by medication errors. Frequently, the wrong dosage is the culprit. But one study suggests name confusion is behind as many as 30 percent of all cases.
Confusing names: Under the new system devised by the FDA, 30 drugs with confusing name will now be labeled in a mix of upper- and lowercase letters. Different colors will be used as well. For example, chlorpromazine will now appear as ChlorproMAZINE, to nudge pharmacists into extra vigilance.
The FDA is going further. For the first time, it is testing potential drug names before they hit the market. Under this initiative, fake prescriptions are scribbled out for volunteer medical workers and pharmacists. Where confusion results, the agency rejects the proposed name. Since the project has begun, a third of potential brand names have been scrapped.
Drug-safety experts are excited about the FDA's bid for greater accuracy. Rather than blaming doctors, pharmacists and patients for mistakes, the agency is sensibly moving to reduce the likelihood of error.
Even so, consumers should remain watchful. One way they can protect themselves is to ask their doctors to write the reason for a medication right on the prescription. That way, a pharmacist is less apt to misinterpret what has been written down. Consumers should also discuss new prescriptions with their pharmacists, to ensure that they are getting the type of drug intended for them.