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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

It's been a while since the Rusty Saber has surveyed news items that you may have overlooked. We need to do something about that.

Here's the news.

I'm going to pass on the continuing soap opera in Washington, "The President and the Intern." You have probably read more about this story than you want to read. For the time being, I'll leave it to Jay Leno and David Letterman to make jokes about this one.

?Here's a story: AT&T plans to begin charging its long-distance customers a minimum of $3 a month. The company says it's taking this action to offset losses from customers who don't make enough long-distance calls.

This means that if you are an AT&T customer and don't call Aunt Maude or Uncle Dilbert for a month, you'll pay $3 for the privilege. If you go on vacation for a month, and don't use your phone, it will cost you.

I didn't realize there were enough people who don't regularly use long-distance service to cause big losses. If so, I guess I understand this action.

My question: How will AT&T advertise it? There must be a law that says all TV advertising for long-distance carriers must claim to be cheaper than the others; they all do it. (How can everybody be cheaper than everybody else?)

I wonder how the company spin doctors will manage a claim of being cheaper than the competition by charging for services customers may not use? Maybe the commercial message could be: "Save $3 when you call long distance!" In very small print, flashed on the screen for two seconds, the written explanation says that if you make calls you won't be charged for not making them. That should work. This is America in the 1990s.

?This story is from the "Idea Whose Time Has Come" department. The police in Rehoboth Beach, Del., will now send detailed news releases to the hometown newspapers of tourists charged with such offenses as underage drinking, public urination or destruction of city property.

Imagine going on vacation to the beach and letting yourself go, only to read all about it in the local newspaper when you get home. If the police in every resort city were to do this, and every hometown newspaper printed the stories, it might add a new dimension to spring break. In fact, it might change a lot of vacation behavior.

?I read in USA Today that 410 federally funded "passive alcohol detectors" have been distributed to South Dakota schools to help detect whether students attending school events have been drinking. The device can detect alcohol from a foot away.

Shoot, that's nothing. In another lifetime, I was a high school teacher, and student council sponsor. Since student council sponsored lots of school parties and dances, I was a human alcohol detector; I had to check everybody at the door for alcohol use.

I was a whole lot more efficient than this newfangled device. I could detect booze on the breath halfway across the gymnasium with one nostril tied behind my back.

I wasn't a "passive" detector, either. I was "active." Unlike the machine that just beeps, or whatever it does when alcohol is detected, I had to go nose-to-nose with drinkers, telling them they couldn't come in and hoping they wouldn't take too much offense at being rejected.

The article I read didn't say if the new detector would also kick drinkers out of school dances. If not, it will never replace human school-dance sponsors.

?The Las Vegas City Council is limiting front yard sodding for business and residential property owners. To conserve water, homeowners can plant grass on only 50 percent of their front yards; businesses can plant on only 25 percent. Let's see, the government can tell property owners how much grass they can plant.

Where are the civil rights groups?

Somehow, some way, this must violate a constitutional right somewhere. As I read the article, I expected to read a report that the city council is being threatened by some group with legal action if the law isn't revoked. There's always a group threatening to sue somebody for violating something. There was nothing! Some group was asleep at the wheel when this law was passed.

That's the news.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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