Ross Mackenzie
WASHINGTON - Al Sharpton, who wants the voters to install him in the White House, has begun his campaign by getting himself stashed in a New York slammer for protesting Navy bombing on the island of Vieques. Al's gambit is purely political. Three other Puerto Ricans are with him behind bars; the reverend seeks to build his voter base by combining Puerto Ricans with African-Americans. His problem is reality. The Navy needs Vieques for live-fire training. Not only that, the Navy owns the 3 percent of the island it uses for exercises - an area 10 miles, that's 10 miles, from the first hint of civilization. Peace, bro'. Al for prez. XXX Perhaps the White House is right not to talk about twins Jenna and Barbara Bush, 19, so as to keep their lives as private as possible. Yet the girls have just been slammed for alcohol infractions - Jenna for the second time - and of course such episodes make their way into the press. President Bush had a famous bout with alcohol and gave up the stuff years ago. How lamentable if, in keeping with the administration keeping mum about the twins, a pretending public fails to open up about the great Unspoken underage drinking has become.... XXX Heavy drinking is what too many college students do, despite the supposed best efforts of college administrations. Cultural and campus structures, dynamics and practices aid and abet. If students are not studying (a recent Pew study found (a) just 15 percent of undergraduates weekly spend more than 25 hours in academic-related pursuits, with (b) 56 percent spending fewer than 16 hours), they're clearly doing something else requiring them to recover from their rigors by checking out for a while - and maybe complete their degree in oh, five or six years. XXX There's this about that, too: Parents may be a big part of the problem. In rich and ripe Scarsdale (New York), parents of about 100 eighth-graders resent standardized testing so much that, with the apparent blessing of school officials, they're keeping their children home when the tests are administered. In not an isolated incident, they call it a protest of tests that sap creativity, or something; others might call it stupid. The inquiring mind wonders how adults setting such dubious examples regarding standardized testing, handle matters of booze (etc.) affecting the pre-college set. XXX GOOD NEWS: (1) A Field poll finds 59 percent of Californians, a genus known for its hummy, far-out views, is returning to the land of the rational by favoring the construction of nuclear power plants to resolve the state's energy crisis. (2) The Taliban, wacky as that Afghan governing bunch may be, could be doing something positive - successfully banning the growing of opium poppies; in at least one major Taliban-controlled heroin-producing province, there are no planted poppies to be seen. (3) At the height of the crisis involving the damaged American surveillance plane on Hainan Island, countless K-Mart shoppers told the company to stop buying so many goods from China - and K-Mart responded by warning Chinese diplomats it would seek new suppliers unless the crew quickly came home. XXX BAD NEWS: (1) Further word is getting out from China (and India) about the selective aborting of female fetuses. (2) Word continues to come in about the scale of the horror in war-torn Congo - after three years, 2.5 million dead in eastern Congo alone. (3) Here in the States, according to last year's Census, for the first time less than one-quarter of the population consists of members of "nuclear families" - married couples with children; in contrast, during the past decade the number of unmarried couples, some with children, has nearly doubled. And (4) the American Medical Association, perhaps because it has moved so far left a la the American Bar Association, now represents just 32 percent of American physicians. XXX Vermont's formerly Republican Senator James Jeffords, immortalized perhaps for all time as Senator JJ, has given the Senate to the Democrats - as who, now, does not know? The agenda changes, gridlock is here, anti-missile defense is dead, nuclear power may not be resurrected, and the renegades already are beating the tom-toms about the merest centrist judicial nominee. Radio's Nina Totenberg, typifying press reaction, fell over the edge: "Republicans, when they govern from the right and castigate their moderate members, do so at their peril. And: The modern Republican Party and its moderate wing are in a sort of, to use the psychobabble of the era, in an abusive relationship. The conservatives are the abusers." XXX Robert Bork, one of the few people to give his name to the nation as a verb, sized the situation up better 10 days ago. Discussing Senate leftists' fevered hostility to Theodore Olson as Solicitor General, Bork noted: "Difficult as it may be, liberals must adjust themselves to the fact that sometimes conservatives will win elections and that they have a right to choose conservative aides and implement conservative policies. Conservatism is a legitimate political and cultural philosophy, and its proponents ought not be demonized with irrelevant accusations." XXX Among the several crises affecting commercial aviation, these two: First, a mounting shortage of trained pilots - exacerbated by a 1959 FAA rule requiring all pilots to retire at 60. Second, a runway shortage. Says Southwest Airways' Herb Kelleher, calling for a concrete solution: "The political will to build more runways has been startlingly absent. We need the declaration of a national economic emergency. If 4,600 manufacturing plants sat idle for several hours each day for lack of electricity, it would be treated politically as an American economic crisis. America's 4,600 commercial airplanes are manufacturing plants. They manufacture available seat miles - so why is their increasing idleness not considered a national economic crisis? "If you took all the Air Traffic Controllers' improvements in prospect now and advanced them by five years, you possibly might produce a 10 percent increase in system efficiency. If you build a runway that would allow an airport to have simultaneous landings, you can double capacity overnight."

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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