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Deregulation Prompts Merger Mania in Media

AS merger mania swept through the entertainment industry this year, Mickey Mouse became a corporate fat cat, Ted Turner traded in his much-vaunted independence, and CBS suddenly found itself the golden hope of a limping industrial giant.

Technological advancements and talk of deregulation spurred the realignments.

Disney started off the frenzy in August by announcing its intention to buy CapCities/ABC. Several days later, Westinghouse confirmed Wall Street reports and announced it planned to buy CBS.

That prompted speculation that CNN's Ted Turner was bent on spoiling the Westinghouse deal with a higher bid for CBS. But Turner announced he was selling out to Time Warner.

Consumer advocates worry that centralization of control could lead to a loss of diversity, choice, and high-quality news programming.

The regulations that forbade networks from owning much of the material they broadcast were lifted, and Congress once again began revamping the nation's 60-year-old telecommunications law. But the reform bill stalled and still has not been enacted.

Hitting Hollywood

CONGRESS focused once again on the violent images Hollywood's dream machine routinely produces. Outraged lawmakers attacked everything from "trash talk" television to violent kids' programming to misogynistic "gangsta rap."

Talk TV took center stage after a guest on the "Jenny Jones" talk show shot and killed a homosexual acquaintance after he revealed a "secret crush" on him.

Congress voted to require television manufacturers to install a computer v-chip for parents to screen out violent programs from their children. Broadcasters worry it will lead to censorship.

Supporters contend "gangsta rap," with its angry, drug-riddled lyrics, is art, a warning cry from the ghetto that is ignored at society's peril. Critics call it trash that tells kids that killing, rape, and drugs are okay.

C. Delores Tucker, stalwart of the civil rights movement, and former US Department of Education Secretary William Bennett helped force Time Warner to divest its interest in one of the country's leading producers of "gangsta rap."

- Alexandra Marks


Taking 'Family Responsibility'

Instead of abstract talk about "family values," the new political theme song for 1995 was "family responsibility."

Requiring families to take care of their own, rather than relying on the government, is the underpinning of welfare reform.

In 1995, domestic violence received heightened attention during and after the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Merely deploring spouse battering and child abuse graduated from rhetoric to activism in the form of tough new legislation in states like Minnesota.

New laws also crack down on so-called "deadbeat dads" (and moms), with states such as Maine taking away the driver's licenses and professional licenses of those who refuse to pay child support.

- Marilyn Gardner

A mixed report on crime

ANYONE who thinks the stock market provided the year's most astounding statistics hasn't looked at crime and punishment.

Murders? Down 12 percent in the first half of 1995 for the largest drop in 35 years.

Executions? More than in any year since 1976. And the pace is accelerating. It took 12 years after the death penalty was legalized again to reach the first 100 executions, but just 2.5 years to reach the latest 100.

Incarceration? The 12 months through last June saw the biggest increase in state and federal inmates in United States history. The US incarceration rate leads the world.

Tough-on-crime politicians might feel good about 1995. Others are troubled. The application of capital punishment continues to be shockingly imprecise. Three death-row inmates were acquitted this year when evidence of their innocence was heard at retrial. That boosts to 57 the number of men since 1973 who wrongly faced the death penalty but were proved innocent in time.

Nonetheless, legislation is pending in Congress to curb appeals by death row inmates. Another inmate, whom a judge this year concluded is probably innocent based on compelling new evidence, would not have been granted a hearing under the proposed law.

Then there's the rising number of black males in the grips of the criminal-justice system. Some 32 percent are either incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. The figure soared from 23 percent just six years earlier. Unlike the stock market, these statistics provide nothing to cheer about.

- Scott Pendleton

Religion on the rise

The ongoing return of the baby boomer population to church is a significant trend in American religion. "Mega-churches" - suburban congregations with as many as 10,000 members - are increasing as well as churches of "small groups" offering spiritual fellowship and support.

This "respiritualization of the suburbs" is also seen in the "Promise Keepers" phenomenon - huge rallies of Christian-oriented men pledging devotion to the idea of marriage and family. In addition, the conservative Christian Coalition has organized strongly inside the Republican Party in 31 states.

The profile of Muslims in America reached a new level with Louis Farrakhan's "Million Man March." Hate crimes against Muslims increased, and several mosques were firebombed. At 4 million to 6 million in number, there are more Muslims than Episcopalians today in the US.

- Robert Marquand

Debate continues on education reform

Education issues at the national level were a virtual no-show in the political battles between Congress and the White House. The long-standing education-reform debate centers on school choice, giving parents a greater say in where and how their children are educated.

Expectedly, the new Congress wants to leave school choice issues to the states. At the state and local level, 19 states had or passed charter-school laws, while in more than a dozen others, charter-school legislation was pending. Proponents of charter schools see them as a way to improve all public schools by providing a competitive choice. Opponents see charter schools as a thinly disguised voucher plan.

The much heralded development of private companies running troubled inner-city public schools for profit (privatization) got a sharp setback when both the Hartford and Baltimore public school systems canceled their private contracts.

- Jim Bencivenga


1995: the Year of the Internet

In 1995, Americans went on-line in droves to connect with the Internet.

New software, called "browsers," allowed users to easily navigate the World Wide Web, the graphic part of the Internet

It was especially hip for anyone in search of an audience. Artists, writers, publishers, politicians, and even teenagers put material on-line. At year end, 169 of the Fortune 500 companies had a Web "home page." A year earlier almost none did.

No one knows exactly the size of the Web audience. Estimates range from under 10 million to more than 30 million people, most in the US. Businesses wondered how money could be made on-line. In 1995, hardly anyone made money on the Web.

The Web also sent shock waves through the computer industry. Analysts suddenly perceived that Web browser software might compete with dominant Microsoft. IBM and other companies saw the possibility of marketing stripped-down computers aimed at browsing the Web.

While most analysts were bullish on the Web, Frank Gens, a vice president at IDC predicted that 20 percent of Fortune 500 companies would abandon their Web sites in 1996 thanks to poor sales and disappointing financial results.

- Laurent Belsie

Planet ho!

In October, researchers from the University of Geneva announced striking evidence of a planet orbiting a star in the constellation Pegasus, 57 light years from Earth. A pair of astronomers in California confirmed the finding.

After analyzing changes in the star's spectrum caused by the planet, the astronomers concluded the planet has a mass of between half and twice that of Jupiter. Its orbit's radius is about one-sixth that of Mercury's, and it speeds around its star in 4.2 days.

If the discovery survives other explanations, it not only would represent the first evidence for planets around sun-like stars, it also would raise doubts about how well astronomers understand planet formation. In light of our solar system's experience, such huge planets should form much farther away from their suns.

New state of matter

In June, researchers from the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology confirmed a prediction of Albert Einstein and Indian physicist Satyendra Bose when they supercooled atoms to 36 billionths of a degree above absolute zero and created the Bose-Einstein Condensate, a new form of matter.

In the world of quantum physics, you can measure an atom's velocity and its location, but not both with the same precision. Pin one down and the other can only be described in terms of probabilities. At a temperature close to absolute zero, when atoms' movement has come to a near standstill, their velocity is known with a high degree of certainty. So their locations become indistinct, Einstein theorized, and the atoms could overlap and act as one superatom.

- Peter N. Spotts


Baseball Finishes Season on a High Note

Baseball came close to alienating its fans because of a strike, but finished on a high note provided by Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken's new record and a postseason marked by new teams and good games.

Public disillusionment was high when Major Leaguers finally returned to work in late April. Hundreds of replacement players were let go and a labor-management truce was reached. Both sides agreed to play out the '95 season, but the issues are still unresolved.

Disgusted by baseball's disregard for its paying customers, fans stayed away in droves. Attendance declined about 20 percent despite the teams being friendlier to fans.

Baltimore's Ripken singlehandedly helped restore luster to the game by surpassing Lou Gehrig's record of playing in 2,130 consecutive games. Ripken, one of the most admired athletes, broke the mark on Sept. 6.

The Cleveland Indians moved into the postseason for the first time since losing the 1954 World Series. The Indians met the Atlanta Braves in the World Series with the Braves winning in their third try in five years.

The baseball world was jarred by two events: Mickey Mantle's passing and the guilty pleas of two Hall of Famers - Duke Snider and Willie McCovey - in tax-evasion cases stemming from autograph activities.

Two tennis greats deliver

Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf owned tennis in 1995 - as they did in 1993 and 1994. Each won Wimbledon and the US Open. Sampras triumphed in Moscow during December's Davis Cup finals, winning three matches to help defeat Russia. Rival Andre Agassi was injured and didn't play. The two met five times this year, with Agassi holding a 3-2 advantage. Graf captured three Grand Slam titles, including the French Open. She beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario there and at Wimbledon, then upended Monica Seles in her return to the US Open after a stabbing attack in 1993.

Football teams on the move

Surprisingly the Cleveland Browns announced a move to Baltimore next year. The Browns have long enjoyed a strong local following, but club owner Art Modell felt he had to save his franchise, which plays in an aging stadium. Maryland has promised Modell the moon, including a new stadium.

Both the Rams and the Raiders have relocated from Los Angeles, the Rams to St. Louis, and the Raiders back to Oakland in a reversal of the 1982 shift revealing the NFL's weakness in such cases.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also jarred the NFL by cutting some major marketing deals outside the league's established business parameters. His actions threaten the basic "one for all, and all for one" principle of the league.

The college football year began with Nebraska winning its first national championship under coach Tom Osborne, and will end with the Cornhuskers playing for the title again - this time at a Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl date with Florida.

- Ross Atkin


New management at the Times Mirror Company, closed the doors on New York Newsday in July and the Baltimore Evening Sun in September.


Giving in to the Unabomber's threat to continue a mail-bombing campaign that has killed three and maimed 27 since 1978, The Washington Post, with the help of The New York Times, printed the terrorist's manifesto on Sept. 19. So far, there has been neither a break in the case nor any new bombings.


Celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II brought protests in Washington over the Smithsonian Institute's proposed exhibit about the world's first atomic bomb.


Pope John Paul II made headlines and drew large crowds for five days in a much-celebrated visit to the East Coast of the United States in October.


The 15 leaders of the Eastern Orthodox church gathered on the Greek island of Patmos in November for the second such meeting since the Middle Ages. Primates from Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine, discussed greater Orthodox unity.


After a six-year voyage, the Galileo probe and orbiter reached Jupiter on Dec. 7. The atmospheric probe sent back 57 minutes of data before it burned up in Jupiter's harsh atmosphere.


The US space shuttle rendezvoused with the Russian Mir space station twice this year in preparation for the international space station project.


The UN-sponsored International Panel on Climate Change issued a report this year for the first time confirming speculation that human activities are having a discernible effect on Earth's climate.


Led by Hakeem Olajuwon, the Houston Rockets repeated as National Basketball Association champions, sweeping the Orlando Magic and Shaquille O'Neal, four games to none.


The University of California at Los Angeles won its first men's college basketball title since John Wooden last coached UCLA in 1975. In the finals, the Bruins beat defending national champion Arkansas.


Boxer Mike Tyson returned to the ring after three years in an Indiana prison for rape. In his first fight, Peter McNeeley's corner threw in the towel after 89 seconds.


Barred from the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991, South Africa, hosted and won the event this time, beating New Zealand in overtime in the final.


Northwestern University sent shock waves through college football circles by knocking off Notre Dame, Michigan, and Penn State, and earning the school's first Rose Bowl berth since 1949.

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