The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 36.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

News Briefs

Probe Finds Violent Material Marketed to Children


Movie studios, record companies and video game producers are aggressively marketing violent entertainment products to children even as they label the material inappropriate for young audiences, a yearlong Federal Trade Commission investigation has found.

A draft report shows that movie studios advertised violent R-rated movies during television shows with predominately teen audiences. It also shows that producers of violent video games touted products suitable for “mature” users in magazines aimed at young teens, according to sources who are familiar with the report’s findings.

Investigators reviewed thousands of pages of internal documents from the entertainment industry, including market research showing that violent material is an effective lure to get young people to buy movie tickets, music and video games, sources say.

The FTC report, slated to be released next month, is likely to reignite the debate between Hollywood and Washington over the influence of media on the violent behavior of the nation’s youth. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., is planning to conduct a hearing next month on the still-confidential FTC report.

Vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a frequent Hollywood critic, has expressed interest in testifying. The senator will make a final decision about testifying once he sees the results of the FTC investigation, according to Lieberman spokesman Dan Gerstein. However, an appearance could put Lieberman in a sensitive position because many of the high-dollar Democratic contributors include movie studio and other entertainment executives.

President Clinton ordered the FTC and the Justice Department to conduct the investigation last year in the wake of a series of school shootings, including the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in which two students shot and killed 13 people and wounded others before taking their own lives. Clinton’s directive came after the Senate approved a similar proposal authored by McCain, Lieberman and others.

FTC spokesman Eric London refused to comment on the substance of the report prior to its public release. FTC commissioners are still reviewing the staff conclusions, which are subject to change.

Low Morale Plagues Los Alamos


The Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb and one of the country’s pre-eminent centers for research on nuclear physics and supercomputing, is suffering from low morale, losing scientists to the private sector and having difficulty recruiting top-flight replacements.

In what surely must be the worst year in its storied history, the lab has been hammered by back-to-back FBI investigations into security lapses, intense congressional scrutiny, punitive budget cuts, an exodus of government computer experts to high-paying software companies, and an act of God -- a wildfire that shut down the lab for 12 days and forced the evacuation of surrounding towns.

If the lab remains under siege and cannot lift the spirits of its staff, administrators here and in Washington say, the United States may squander an asset that is as vital to national security as any military unit, weapon or secret.

To be sure, extraordinary research is still going on at Los Alamos. The lab is building a 300,000-square-foot facility for the world’s most powerful computer, capable of performing 30 trillion operations per second. Los Alamos, which designed 85 percent of the nation’s nuclear weapons and is responsible for certifying that the aging stockpile of warheads is still safe and reliable, will use the big machine to run three-dimensional simulations of nuclear explosions.

But 14 top computer scientists, nearly half of the permanent staff at Los Alamos’ Advanced Computing Laboratory, have quit this year. Most were lured away by higher salaries and stock options at dot-com companies in nearby Santa Fe. Replacing them has not been easy. When Los Alamos recruiters made their annual visit last fall to Stanford University, no one showed up to hear their pitch.

Anger -- at Browne, at the FBI, at Washington in general -- is simmering among the rank and file and has boiled over onto the lab’s electronic bulletin board for Los Alamos’s tech-savvy staff of 7,000, including 1,800 holders of doctoral degrees.

“It should be clear by now that the lab is in a major crisis with morale at a very low point,” William S. Varnum, a physicist in the top-secret X Division, said in an open message posted in July. “Many people are considering leaving. Individual staff members are being harassed and threatened by management, the Department of Energy, University of California, the FBI and Congress. Management is making no visible effort to support the employees.”