Washington Week

First flap for Frist is all about cats


Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 12:50 a.m.

WASHINGTON - The first flap facing the new Senate majority leader might be dubbed ''Frist and the cats.''

Seems when Bill Frist was a student at Harvard Medical School he ''adopted'' cats from Boston animal shelters, promising to give them good homes. Instead, the budding heart surgeon used the cats to hone his operation skills, killing the creatures in the process.

Now a GOP senator from Tennessee, Frist fessed up in his autobiography to both his prevarication and his vivisection and expressed remorse.

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals isn't about to give a pass to Frist, who owns a dog but no cats. PETA Vice President Mary Beth Sweetland is demanding he atone for his sins by backing federal spending on inexpensive nonanimal alternatives for medical research.

''One day, we will look back on animal testing with the same disgust with which we now look back on slavery and racism,'' Sweetland said.

  • Meanwhile, Frist's new post means he won't have the time anymore to put in a few days operating at a charity hospital in the rebel-held southern territory of Sudan, as he has for the past five years.

  • The White House press room in real life bears little resemblance to that seen on the hot TV show ''West Wing.'' Now President Bush wants it to.

    Except during news conferences, the room is largely the province of TV camera people and other techies, who are famed for their sloppy dress, loud banter and napping prowess.

    According to The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Bush took some guests on a backstage tour of the executive mansion and was annoyed by the appearance of the press room's scruffy denizens. So the White House has asked the White House Correspondents Association to clean up the zoo.

    Don't hold your breath.

  • Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, Bush's GOP nemesis in the Senate, will try to turn up the heat on the White House on Wednesday at a hearing on global warming. McCain and Democratic ally Joe Lieberman are putting together a bill to force big cuts in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but the plan is anathema to the energy industry. The bill doesn't have much chance of passage, but it's a good way for the senators to gig the White House for its ties to the oil and gas sector.

  • The Navy is spreading the (clean) cloak of secrecy over laundry dryers to keep U.S. enemies from benefiting from their technology. Under the Arms Export Act, the Pentagon is given wide authority to restrict the release of ''technical data'' that might help the bad guys make weapons or other nefarious items. So the Navy has ruled that this means it will not discuss the capabilities of its laundry machines, and has instructed its admirals to clamp down on any possible leaks of such information.

  • Look for a surge in gasoline prices if the Venezuelan crisis doesn't calm soon. Some energy analysts say the only way to avoid a spike is if the United States taps into its emergency oil reserve. The White House, at least for now, says it won't do so.

  • It's now OK to chow down on Chilean sea bass. Fish huggers tried to get the fish - actually a Patagonian toothfish, but marketed in trendy U.S. restaurants as chi-chi sea bass - declared endangered by the 160-nation Convention on International Trade during its meeting recently in Chile. But without scientific evidence that the stock is depleted, members of the convention said the fish doesn't rate protection.

    Thirty-two species of seahorse, however, were added to the list of fish that can't be traded.

  • Scientists think they've finally found the hole left in the moon when a small asteroid crashed into it in 1953, causing a sensation in the early era of rocketry when the flash from the collision was captured on film by an amateur astronomer.

    The resulting crater is too small to be detected by telescopes on Earth, but the Clementine space probe appears to have detected the site of the hole, which is roughly the size of three football fields and about 70 feet deep.

  • It's hard to believe, but 11 states have never adopted laws requiring children to wear life jackets on boats. Now, the federal government is ordering those states - Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming - to do so.

    Under the new rule, all children under 13 must wear the vests unless they are below deck or in an enclosed cabin. Violators can be fined up to $1,100 for each infraction.

  • Count on fireworks when scientists and homeland security officials meet to discuss ways to preserve scientific openness in this time of terrorism.

    There's a lot of angst in the scientific community because 1,000 labs nationwide are being forced to create new security systems to keep biological agents out of the wrong hands. More distressing is the government edict that all genetic experiments that might make a virus or bacteria vaccine drug resistant or better able to be used as a weapon must be approved by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Equally irksome are continuing denials of visas for foreign scientists trying to visit for professional purposes, such as the barring of a Russian who was to be made a member of the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

  • Here's a counter-intuitive factoid: The federal work force is getting bigger under the officially anti-big government Bush administration than it did in the pro-government Bill Clinton era.

    Under Bush, the federal payroll has grown by 14,700 full-time workers, bringing the total force to 2.7 million. The mass hiring of federal baggage screeners and other airport security personnel will add another 42,000.

    Clinton inherited a 3.1-million civilian bureaucracy, which he pared to 2.69 million during his two terms.

  • Similarly flouting conventional wisdom is the fact that college-educated workers are having a tougher time finding jobs now than are those with high school diplomas. It was the other way around during the 1991-92 recession, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

  • A congressional survey has found that just 5 percent of us have spent the elusive Sacagawea gold dollar coin or gotten it in change. Sixty-four percent of us oppose killing the dollar bill in favor of the coin, though that number plunges by half when told such a step would save a half billion dollars a year. More than half oppose an end to the penny.

  • The nation's blood banks are asking for more blood this month. Last January, Americans donated just over a million units, this year the goal is 1.2 million units.

  • QUOTABLE:

    ''Maybe it's the wine, but I've got to make a confession. I will put this very diplomatically: I am still working on acquiring a love of opera. Sorry, man.'' - Secretary of State Colin Powell, during a Kennedy Center event.

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