Slip up

Buzz was just a boy when the great Sears catalog penis scandal rocked the nation. Maybe you remember. A model for a pair of men's boxer shorts had a vague shadow on his inner thigh that might have been the man's dangling johnson peeking out -- if you squinted and had a desperately dirty mind and if the model was particularly well-endowed. This was back when the Sears catalog weighed a good 5 pounds and the garbage collectors in Buzz's small town nearly herniated themselves gathering the trash that week from all the good Baptists who tossed away their books.

So we wonder: Did anyone cancel his or her Dallas Morning News subscription after reading the Today section two weeks ago? We ask because someone at the News with a dirty mind and too much time on their hands -- we're guessing someone from the executive offices -- sent Buzz a copy of the section's cover, which featured a picture of the comedy troupe The Kids in the Hall decked out in drag. One of the members, Mark McKinney, is wearing a sheer number. He's backlit. There's a silhouette of, well, a dangling something.

"Now you simply must have a look at this. This photo was approved by [arts and entertainment editor] Rick Holter -- even after much debate about running it...Rick's excuse was that this does not look like a penis, it looks like boxer shorts," Buzz's anonymous correspondent wrote, along with a few choice words about Holter's intelligence.

Ahhh, it must have been a particularly entertaining debate at the stodgy News. "It's a dick!" "No, it's his boxers, and you can't say dick at the Morning News!" (Note the clever double meaning.)

For the record, it looked like boxers to Buzz, but in the future we suggest that any men in drag they photograph should wear a slip. Let's keep the penises at the News on the editorial page where they belong.

Sinking ship

Think that turning over the management of public classrooms to a private company like Edison Schools is a good idea? Dallas schools Superintendent Bill Rojas certainly does. Rojas and company plan to promote Edison and its specialized curriculum at a community fair on February 26 and 27.

With one lawsuit already in the works to block a decision by DISD trustees to transfer some local campuses to Edison, Rojas is likely to have a tough time selling the project to the public. That hard sell could be made even harder by news that a pioneer in the realm of for-profit public school management, Tesseract Group Inc., is slowly sinking under a load of debt. Tesseract operates 37 preschools, private schools, and charter schools nationwide.

Tesseract paved the way for companies like Edison, but had trouble getting past notoriety it gained after Baltimore and Hartford, Connecticut, school officials ejected the company in the early '90s amid charges of low performance and mismanagement. (Sound familiar?) On February 10, the company suffered the indignity of being taken off the NASDAQ stock exchange after its stock had sunk to less than $1 a share. In 1993, the company reached a high of $48.50 per share.

The company, which amassed $39 million in debt since its 1991 inception, also fired 10 headquarters employees, closed three "unprofitable" schools, and shut down its Web site. In comparison, Edison Schools disclosed that last fiscal year it amassed $51 million in debt on revenues of $133 million, although it claims its losses are shrinking.

Cookie cutters

How much do you value your privacy on the Internet? Is it worth, say, $150 billion? Where exactly have you been surfing lately, you little deviant? The Morning News Web site?

Dallas lawyer Lawrence J. Friedman last week filed a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against Web company Yahoo! Inc. and Inc. alleging that the companies' practice of placing "cookies" on the computers of people who visit their Web sites invades the privacy of 50 million computer users. Cookies are little bits of information that Web sites place on your computer to store passwords and track which sites you visit and how long you visit them. As a marketing tool, they can tell Web developers what works, what doesn't, and how to tailor ads to specific visitors. (The Dallas Observer's Web site places cookies on your computer, but don't worry. They're not really that intrusive. Honestly. Though, you, Mr. Howard X. Freebish of Oklahoma, need to keep that finger out of your nose when you're surfing. Ick.)

It's the latter types of cookies that Friedman says are particularly objectionable. He calls them "surveillance cookies," and says his office has fielded dozens of calls from people supporting the lawsuit.

He claims that Yahoo's use of cookies violates Texas' trespassing, theft, and stalking laws.

"Within the privacy of users' homes, cookies have the ability to trace users' every computer movement," Friedman alleges in the lawsuit, which describes the cookies as "insidious and infernal homing and spying devices."

That's not exactly true, the Observer's computer pros tell Buzz. Besides, you can tell your Web-browser software to block sites from placing cookies on your hard drive.

In other words, please don't sue us -- and if you do, get in the back of the line.

Ironically, Friedman also represents Universal Image Inc. of Dallas, which is suing Yahoo! as well. That suit claims that, which Yahoo! owns, failed to live up to a contract to provide the video company some of the information it collects from its visitors. (Friedman says -- a bit disingenuously -- that it's a different type of information, and that he is seeking a judgment from the court on whether Yahoo! has the right to collect it.)

-- Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

E-mail Buzz at [email protected]. Or, if you're visiting our Web site, just speak clearly into your monitor.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams