STILL AN ISSUE
The environment ranks well behind unemployment and Social Security as an issue in the current election campaign. Nevertheless, there are indications that the Administration is concerned lest its hard line on the environment come back to haunt it at the polls on Nov. 2. One indication is the disappearance from public view—or at least from public controversy—of environmentalist-baiting Interior Secretary James Watt, who has been a favorite target of Democratic candidates. Another is the fact that two weeks ago President Reagan quietly signed a bill that actually strengthens one of the linchpins of federal environmental protection, the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
It's safe to say that making the Endangered Species Act stronger wasn't what the Administration originally had in mind. Last year it tried to slash the Fish and Wildlife Service's budget for administering the law by more than one-third—Congress approved a 23% reduction—and refused to designate any new species for inclusion on the endangered list until threatened with a lawsuit. Then the Interior Department's solicitor's office recommended to Watt changes in the law that, in the view of environmentalists, would have gutted it. Watt chose not to accept those recommendations; instead he proposed extending the act in its existing form for one year. Environmentalists and their allies in Congress, who were angling for a three-year extension, suggested that Watt's strategy was simply to hold off emasculating the law until after the congressional elections.
If that was the plan, it failed miserably. The tug-of-war over the fate of the Endangered Species Act prompted expressions of alarm from pro-development forces, including one trade-group official who was quoted in The New York Times as declaring that "any species is expendable somewhere along the line except mankind." In the face of such anthropocentrically arrogant nonsense, which seemed to imply that Homo sapiens could somehow survive without the genetic diversity of plant and animal species necessary to sustain it, Congress not only approved a three-year extension of the act but also beefed it up by mandating that decisions on adding species to the endangered list be based solely on biological considerations, without regard, as previously was the case, to economic factors. Support for the bill crossed party lines; it passed by unanimous consent in both the House and Senate, where it was ushered through by Republican John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, who faces a tough reelection challenge next week. The President's subsequent signing of the measure was an acknowledgment that, on this issue at least, the hard-liners in his Administration had got nothing by trying to get too much.
Not that the Administration has lost its taste for the fray. There is widespread speculation that Watt is planning to end his hibernation and take a number of strong new anti-environmental actions immediately after the election. Meanwhile, the Administration continues to push for substantial weakening of another key environmental law, the Clean Air Act, and hardly a week goes by that it doesn't set its teeth into some environmental program or other. The Administration's failure to undermine the Endangered Species Act suggests, however, that it doesn't necessarily have to win all such battles.
YOUR MOVE, AGGIES
Remember the big fuss last January when Pitt football Coach Jackie Sherrill quit the Panthers to accept a six-year, $1.6 million offer from Texas A&M? Well, Texas A&M has been dickering to hire a Nobel Prize-winning physics professor away from Harvard, and there's speculation that the university, hoping to show that its priorities are in order, is prepared to give the scholar a money package matching Sherrill's. The professor, Sheldon Glashow, who shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1979, naturally isn't averse to hearing such talk. Confirming to SI's Jill Lieber that he's scheduled to visit College Station this week for a speech and job discussions, he laid down what sounded suspiciously like a challenge to the Texas A&M hierarchy. Referring to Crimson Coach Joe Restic, whose salary is believed to be in the $35,000 range, Glashow said, pointedly, "At Harvard I do make more than the football coach."
SO'S YOUR OLD MAN
A lot of swell fights take place in bars, so it's only slightly surprising that Johnny's Ringside Lounge in Ames, Iowa features a boxing ring on its dance floor complete with bell, stools and ropes. But instead of throwing punches, the combatants who climb into the ring at Johnny's pepper each other with insults.
Johnny Mascaro, who runs the joint, is the coach of the Iowa State University boxing club and the "Italian amateur heavyweight champ" of Des Moines. He opened the lounge on Sept. 1, which, he notes, just happens to be Rocky Marciano's birthday.
With a pitcher of beer on the line, the verbal pugilists trade slurs for three one-minute rounds. Between rounds there are 30-second rest periods in which cornermen can offer advice. In the interest of good sportsmanship, each contestant is required to smile throughout the bout. No body contact is permitted and the use of foul language is considered a low blow. So are mother jokes. "We hold mothers in high esteem and we don't want to offend any," says Mascaro. Three unbiased patrons are enlisted to do the judging.
Mascaro says the most common insults are directed at opponent's sisters, who apparently aren't held in the same esteem as mothers, and the hated Hawkeyes of archrival Iowa. The sometimes creaky barbs wouldn't make anybody forget that legendary heavyweight from Dublin, Oscar Wilde, or the current champeen, Don Rickles, who fights out of Vegas. Sample groaner: "Your sister swims out to meet troop ships." Another: "Who designed your face, Black & Decker?" The fact that all of this is taking place in Iowa may or may not lend substance to a putdown heard in neighboring Minnesota, where "Iowa jokes" have been all the rage lately among disc jockeys. Question: "What's the best thing ever to come out of Iowa?" Answer: "An empty bus."
AND WHO'S THIS LYNN IN CENTERFOLD?
We don't know quite what to make of the remark uttered by a secretary at the Wilcox (Neb.) Public School during the American League playoffs. Overhearing one of the school's coaches refer to Reggie Jackson of the Angels as "Mr. October," she earnestly asked, "In which magazine, Playgirl or Playboy?"
SIX WEEKS AND COUNTING
Notes on the six-week-old NFL strike, which took a new turn last week when mediator Sam Kagel recessed contract talks shortly before SI went to press:
•A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling earlier in the week that NFL owners can sue striking players in state courts to try to prevent them from participating in the "all-star games" sponsored by the NFL Players Association was a defeat for the union, which decided, at least for now, to cancel such games after only two of the scheduled 18 had been played. The ruling was also a setback for the rather strange alliance between the union and Ted Turner, whose Turner Broadcasting System televised the games. "With the other three networks lined up with the owners, it didn't seem like a fair fight," said Turner. That contrasted sharply with what Turner, who also owns the Atlanta Braves, said about players during last year's baseball strike: "Let's get rid of these guys and get new ones. That's what the Lord did. He drowned them all and started over again with two of each kind."
•Although owners hailed the Court of Appeals ruling, that decision could have the unwanted long-range effect of strengthening the idea that NFL teams are 28 competing individual entities and thus should be subject to antitrust laws. In its so-far-unsuccessful legal battle to stop Al Davis from moving the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles, the NFL has argued that, insofar as questions of franchise location are concerned, the league is a single entity and thus should be exempt from antitrust laws. It has invoked the same argument in pushing for a limited antitrust exemption from Congress.
•The NFL Management Council has regularly distributed compilations of media comments on the strike that it considers favorable to its position. Among the "pro-owners" quotes sent out by the council was this observation by Ron Martz in The Atlanta Constitution: "The players claim the owners are making obscene profits and [they] deserve the right to tell their bosses how to distribute those profits. The owners are making obscene profits. But, hey, that's the American way."
•The fact that the NFLPA reversed its bargaining position since the last contract negotiations in 1977 has been well documented. The union, which at that time favored individual salary negotiations, subsequently decided that the only way players can get their fair share of NFL riches is by means of a wage scale tied to a central fund. Less publicized was the fact that the NFL had similarly flip-flopped since 1975, when it made noises about wanting a wage scale in lieu of individual negotiations. The league can explain its subsequent turnaround by saying it could still accept a wage scale but not one in the particular form demanded by the NFLPA. But a well-informed strike watcher suggested that the virtual swap of positions by the two sides could also be explained by mutual enmity. "The negotiators genuinely don't like each other," he said. "Management figures out what the union doesn't like and then endorses it." As the strike dragged on, one sensed that the union was guilty of exactly the same thing.
Some 20 minutes after his Brewers lost the seventh game of the World Series to the Cardinals, Harvey Kuenn was sitting in the visiting manager's office in Busch Stadium with a couple of Milwaukee newspapermen when the phone rang. "It's probably the President," one of them told Kuenn. "Yeah, sure," he replied. He picked up the phone, listened a moment and then cupped his hand over the mouthpiece. "It's who you said it was," he whispered. While Kuenn waited for the operator to put President Reagan on the line to offer nice-try congratulations to the Brewers, he gave voice to a sudden dark thought: "I wonder if he's going to second-guess me."
FUN(?) AND GAMES
There was a front page story in The Wall Street Journal last week about a 19-year-old computer whiz from Boston named Jonathan Rotenberg, who, among other endeavors, is designing a video game in which a player wins by "building something rather than destroying it." To appreciate the significance of this project, one must realize how much time video game addicts spend simulating violent acts. When they're not demolishing space ships (Galaxians and Space Invaders) or obliterating intergalactic objects (Asteroids), they're doing battle with a giant ape (Donkey Kong) or trying to destroy monsters before being destroyed themselves (Pac-Man).
And for violence that modern man can really relate to, there's a new video game called Firebug, in which players pretend to race through buildings and use cans of gasoline to set them ablaze. After that one drew the ire of Ohio Senator John Glenn and the International Association of Arson Investigators, Firebug's largest distributor, Softsel Computer Products of Inglewood, Calif., said last week that it would no longer handle the game. Now if only the same results could be achieved with an "adult" video game called Custer's Revenge, which feminist groups and American Indian activists oppose on the grounds that it glorifies rape and is racist. The object of Custer's Revenge is to overcome various obstacles to reach and ravish an Indian maiden; on the game's display carton, the maiden is shown tied to a stake. A spokesman for the manufacturer, American Multiple Industries of Northridge, Calif., says the game is "meant to be funny."
THE WORLD'S LONGEST RUNNER
In addition to being a major sports event (page 24), the New York Marathon is equal parts Middle Eastern bazaar, sales convention, trade show and corporate promotional outing. Consider the pre-marathon activities of the Du Pont Company, which provided the carpeting used to partially cover the grating that forms the roadbed of two of the bridges along the race route. Although that might seem a relatively modest contribution, the fact that Du Pont Antron nylon carpeting was put to such use was ballyhooed at no fewer than five media events and "photo opportunities."
The press was invited to cover the installation of carpeting on both the Queensboro Bridge—this 3,975-foot strip was billed as the "world's longest runner"—and the Willis Avenue Bridge. It was also alerted to the display at the New York Road Runners Club's big Saturday night pasta party of a strip of carpeting and a section of steel bridge grating that Du Pont thoughtfully brought in so as to enable competitors to decide in advance whether they wanted to run the next day on bare or carpeted grating.
Another event on Du Pont's hectic schedule was the "Antron Sprint," featuring "internationally recognized superstar" Rod Dixon. Undeterred by a calf injury that kept him out of the race itself, Dixon, a New Zealander who won the bronze medal in the 1,500 meters at the 1972 Olympics and later switched to road racing, received $1,000 to "warm up" the carpeting on the Queensboro Bridge and to shmooze with Du Pont executives, who defied a frigid wind and don't walk signs (the signs said nothing about running) to join him. Also present was a reporter from Carpet and Rug Industry magazine, who vacuumed up quotes. Whatever the value of Antron carpeting in protecting runners' feet from what Du Pont called the "unforgiving" surface of the Queensboro Bridge and the "fierce, almost unrunnable" grating of the Willis Avenue Bridge, everybody who attended the media events agreed on one thing: Freshly laid carpeting sure has an appealing smell.
THEY SAID IT
•Johnny Carson, after the Angels blew a two-games-to-none lead and lost the American League playoffs to the Brewers: "Gene Autry has been in touch with Roy Rogers. He wants to know how to stuff a whole baseball team."
•Bill Yeoman, University of Houston football coach, whose players were immunized against a measles outbreak in Waco, Texas, where they proceeded to overcome a 21-0 halftime deficit to tie Baylor 21-21: "I thought we had a rather spotty first-half performance."