Well, it's summer and time once again for the annual California budget crisis (though, technically, is it really a crisis if it happens with the precision of Swiss timing every year?). The legislature is scrambling, lawmakers are pontificating even as they duck for cover, state workers are wondering if their paychecks will bounce, and activists are filing lawsuits.But in the middle of all this, the government hasn't lost sight of what's truly important. On July 20, Governor Pete Wilson signed into law an Assembly bill allowing restaurants to use raw eggs in their caesar salads. A statute that took effect earlier this year outlawed the practice by setting minimum cooking standards for restaurants. Raw eggs are, of course, a health concern because of the danger of salmonella contamination. The USDA estimates that 661,000 Americans get salmonella poisoning from eggs every year. The high rate of contamination is due largely to the ungodly practices of the poultry industry, which would put Upton Sinclair off his food. By some estimates, 40 percent of all poultry and 49 percent of all animal feed is laced with salmonella.Speaking as someone who once was stricken by salmonella poisoning approximately five minutes into an art-history final (I will spare you the details; suffice it to say it's a good thing the classroom was next door to the ladies' room), this is a disease you want to avoid. But under the new regulations, restaurants can serve authentic caesar salads-complete with raw egg in the dressing-provided they inform patrons what they're eating.I was going to write about the budget standoff, but Wilson's courageous action has re-sculptured my priorities. So in the spirit of total disclosure, I urge all salad consumers to check out the following sites:The Microbial Underground's Salmonella Page (www.lsumc.edu/campus/micr/mirror/public_html/salmopage.html), decorated with a cute little drawing of a microbe, cilia aflutter, offers links to all kinds of information on the bacteria. Read reports on salmonella outbreaks, research and more. You can even soothe your artistic soul by staring at a Dan Beers painting titled Salmonella.A more authoritative look at the disease can be found at the Centers for Disease Control's site (www.cdc.gov/ncidod/publications/brochures/salmon.htm). Here you'll find a brochure lovingly detailing all the symptoms you can expect to enjoy if you're prone to quaffing raw eggs. The brochure also offers tips for reducing your chances of contracting the disease.And for those hardy do-it-yourselfers who like to risk death at home (like me), you can find recipes for caesar salad at an archive called Salad Recipes (www.cs.cmu.edu/~mjw/recipes/salad/salad.html) and Mia Nonna's Gourmet Italian Recipes (members.aol.com/mianonnas), where you can also listen to "When You Wish Upon a Star" until your brain disintegrates. Assuming there's anything left of it after the salmonella gets through with you.Bon appetit.ENDING CREDITS Consumers, take heart: a judge has ruled that saying mean things about huge corporations online is protected by the First Amendment. U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer, citing the Supreme Court's ouster of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), removed a temporary injunction July 17 against Mill Creek, Washington, resident William Sheehan. Sheehan's Web site, located at www.billsheehan.com, takes various credit-reporting agencies to task, including Orange-based company Experian, which he calls "criminally insane," among other things. The site also gives personal information about many of his opponents, including telephone numbers and home addresses, complete with detailed maps showing where they live.Sheehan, a former debt collector turned systems analyst, has been battling credit-reporting companies for some time. Last year, he filed a federal lawsuit against 16 individuals and companies for failing to remove what he said was inaccurate information from his credit report. In response, Experian and other defendants filed counterclaims alleging that Sheehan was guilty of defamation, commercial disparagement, negligence and more on his Web site. On June 10, Dwyer issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Sheehan from using his Web site to encourage people to harass Experian and its employees. Dwyer then reversed his decision one week later, saying: "The First Amendment is renowned for protecting the speech we deplore as thoroughly as the speech we admire. [Sheehan's site] has not suggested that readers take any specific action or that they put the information to any particular use." But in a setback for Sheehan, Dwyer dismissed his suit against Experian and two other defendants because Sheehan's lawyer had reportedly failed to file a meaningful response to the companies' move to get the case dismissed.Sheehan is nonetheless jubilant about the decision. "There are those who have tried to censor this Web site or shut it down entirely," he writes on the site. "They all have failed. Now I say with pride that 'I'm still here!' So forgive me for making this site look like I'm getting even." SNEAKY SENATORSA couple of weeks ago, the tale of the Internet virgins-two 18-year-olds who claimed they were going to broadcast their mutual deflowering live on the Internet-was debunked as a hoax. Some said the Our First Time site was a moneymaking scam. The site's creator, LA resident Ken Tipton, said he just wanted to start a dialogue about safe sex. But on the whack-a-moles in Washington, D.C., the site had a very different effect: Senator John McCain used the specter of live sex to push through his Internet School Filtering Act and Senator Dan "Let's Make the Internet Safe for Fetuses" Coats' commercial decency amendment, dubbed "Son of CDA."Arizona Republican McCain's bill would require schools and libraries receiving Internet funding from a special federal fund to install filtering software; Indiana Republican Coats' would make "commercial distribution on the World Wide Web of material that is harmful to minors" illegal. McCain chaired wildly stacked Commerce Committee hearings on his bill back in February, when the featured speaker was Huntington Beach police detective Daryk Rowland. Rowland painted a grim picture of an Internet awash in porn and perverts, where child molesters lurked in every chat room and hardcore porn sites contaminated every search engine. Not surprisingly, the Internet School Filtering Act passed the committee and headed to the Senate.But opposition to Internet censorship has been growing in recent months. The ACLU and other civil-liberties organizations have successfully fought off a number of laws that sought to regulate adult content on the Internet. A preliminary ruling by a federal judge in April indicates that the courts will frown on using filtering software in public libraries. And Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana) has been working on a bill that would allow local libraries to set their own Internet policies, which might or might not include filtering software.Earlier this month, McCain tried to get his bill passed in the Senate but failed. So on July 21, the two bills were added as amendments to the Senate's vast $33 billion appropriations bill, a strategy usually seen as a way to sneak nonviable bills through on the coattails of necessary legislation. (Without the appropriations bill, several federal agencies, including the Justice Department, would run out of money on October 1, 1999.)All is not lost, however. The appropriations bill now goes to a joint committee, which will attempt to reconcile the House and Senate versions, a process that could kill McCain's and Coats' wily amendments.And actually, the whole process gives me hope. Usually, it's nigh impossible to get politicians to vote against crowd-pleasing but wildly unconstitutional bills-witness the CDA. The fact that McCain and Coats felt the need to waltz their bills through clinging leech-like to a larger bill may mean that Internet censorship is a dying breed in the halls of Congress.Speak freely to Wyn at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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