Sign Of The Times

There is one trading card in a new "Enduring Freedom" series that stands out - Osama bin Laden - and the chief executive of Topps Co. encourages kids to do what they want with it.

"Stamp it out. Rip it apart," says CEO Arthur Shorin.

The card bearing the likeness of bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant the United States accuses of being the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks, is one of 90 in a new series, "Enduring Freedom," that Topps, the maker of baseball cards and Bazooka gum, sent out en masse last week to Wal-Mart Stores.

The company has chronicled historical events with its trademark cards going back to the Korean conflict; the war in Afghanistan with the Taliban was an automatic addition, according to Shorin, who also is chairman and president of the company.

Sales of the patriotic cards, which have already been on smaller retailers' shelves since mid-October and go for $1.99 a pack, are not expected to replace the fizzled-out Pokemon card craze, which largely accounted for a 72 percent drop in the New York-based company's second-quarter profits.

But that is fine with Shorin, who is donating a portion of the sales to the World Trade Center relief fund. He believes the cards are a way to educate children about the events unfolding from the Sept. 11 attacks that destroyed New York City's World Trade Center and damaged part of the Pentagon, killing about 4,800 people.

He says children are picking up bits and pieces of the events from television and newspapers, "but kids need to get information on their own terms...This is their medium."

Nearly half of the "Enduring Freedom" trading cards feature military hardware - F-16s, B-2 bomber and F-117 stealth fighters in action - and statistics.

There are also Old Glory cards, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani cards, and cards featuring National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat giving blood for the victims of the attacks. Depictions of the attacks themselves and the rubble were left out, to avoid controversy.

Shorin says the company is also considering issuing another batch of cards, a series he calls "Freedom's Force," involving high-tech special forces employed in combat, such as nighttime vision.

By Jackie Sindrich © MMI Reuters Limited. All Rights Reserved

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