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JIM HIGHTOWER Zap Me! I’m for Sale! f someone was hanging around the schoolyard gathering information on your children, would n’t you want to do something about it, like tell the creep to scram? Well, someone has virtually crept into the schoolyard and is gathering information via computer without parents knowing about it, much less being asked permission. The “somebody” is the ZapMe! Corporation, an Internet provider that’s backed by such giants as Microsoft and Dell Computer. The Wall Street Journal reports that ZapMe! already has contracts with 6,000 schools and, on the surface, the contracts look great: the company provides computers, Internet access, maintenance, and support services free of charge. What does the company get? An agreement that their computers will be in use by the students at least four hours a day. This is where ZapMe!’s public service turns out to be self-serving, for the computer constantly flashes ads at the bottom of the screen as the students use it. In other words, the company is selling our kids’ eyeballs and minds to advertisers. Also, the schools must agree to hand out sponsors’ promotional materials for the kids to take home. Now here’s where the deal turns creepy. With the help of the schools, ZapMe! and its advertisers collect the names, ages, genders, addresses, and other personal information about the students. These profiles are compiled without informing parents or gaining their consent, and there’s no control over how the information is used and to whom it can be sold. Not only is this insidious Internet intrusion into our schools another step toward commercialization of the classrooms, but it’s also an outrageous invasion of our children’s privacy. LOOK WHAT THEY DONE TO GUACAMOLE Let us now consider the new, global guacamole. Guacamole, of course, is the simple \(and the pulp of a fresh avocado, then spicing it with salt, pepper, and lemon juice plus, if you want, adding chopped onion, tomato, hot sauce, or whatever. In the new world order, however, nothing so pure, tasty, and uncomplicated can be allowed to stand in the way of global profiteering. So along comes the food-processing conglomerate, J.R. Simplot Company, taking advantage of NAFTA to move U.S. guacamole-making to Mexico, paying poverty-level wages there to mass-produce what amounts to a sort of industrialized green glop, then shipping the guacamole paste back here to Taco Bell, TGIF, Bennigan’s, Chili’s, and other restaurant chains. In a report on the Simplot guacamole factory in Morelia, Mexico, The Wall Street Journal notes that wages start at $48 a week a level that’s well below the Mexican minimum wage. But such poverty pay is not the only advantage Taco Bell and the rest get by having Mexican women mash up avocados rather than paying U.S. restaurant workers to do it: “By outsourcing, vendors also cut down on the workers compensation they pay for injuries,” the Journal reports. Not that there are fewer workers injured in Mexico, mind you, but that the companies don’t have to pay for the injuries there. It’s a corporate savings paid by the workers in blood. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the restaurants lower the price of your guacamole one dime. Indeed, some try to fool you the Journal notes that TGIF and Chili’s add chunks of avocado to the paste it gets from Mexico, giving their guacamole a made-on-site look. But even the avocado chunks come frozen from the Mexican factory that made the paste. IF YOU DON’T HAVE A SPACE STATION… GET ONE! Time for another trip into the Far, Far, FarOut Frontiers of Free Enterprise. Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you on the ultimate vacation outer space itself! Tired of summering in Provence? Have St. Moritz and the South Sea Isles become too humdrum? How about a week or two aboard the beautiful MIR space sta tion, orbiting earth sixteen times a day, 225 miles above everyone else? Well, if Mr. Walt Anderson has his way, MIR could soon become literally an out-of-this-world vacation spot for the rich and beautiful, the place to go, don’t you know. Knight-Ridder Newspapers report that Anderson, a wheeler-dealer in the telecommunications trade, already has anted-up $21 million to convert the abandoned, fourteen-year-old, Russian MIR into the first for-profit space station in the known universe. But wait wasn’t MIR abandoned because it was a wreck, having suffered a major fire, power failures, and even a collision with a supply craft, and weren’t the Russians planning to scrap it? Yes, but one man’s junk is another’ s treasure. Anderson says: “Yes, it’s old, and yes, it has a few problems. Yet any old building has that. You don’t tear down an old building because it has a few heating and air-conditioning problems. You renovate it.” Maybe so, Walt, but this is going to be a bit dicier than your usual fixer-upper. At present, MIR’ s orbit is not stable, it has a pressurization leak, corrosion on the hull, metal fatigue, and chemical contamination. As an astronaut who lived on MIR put it: “Good luck getting the insurance.” Still, it has one of the world’s best views. Plus, Anderson and partners are prepared to sink “vast sums of money” into refurbishing it, and there’s always the snob appeal of the jet set being able to ask: “You have been to MIR, haven’t you darling?” Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts nationwide daily from Austin. His new book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is now available from HarperCollins. Find him at , or e-mail: . MARCH 3, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23