On drugs, steel, phonics, Mars, bagpipes, etc.

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Aug 14, 2003 12:00 AM

Last pieces from the files, for a while...

The mass of material after the 9/11 attacks contained this anguishing item - as phrased by a leading newspaper: "The terror network headed by Osama bin Laden has tried to develop a high-strength form of heroin that it planned to export to the United States and Western Europe. ... (The project's goal) was to create a high-potency heroin that would produce greater addiction and havoc than drugs available in Western cities."

Remember steel? U.S. Steel, Bethlehem, Jones & Laughlin, Youngstown, Ling-Temco-Vought, National, Wheeling-Pittsburgh, Nucor (now the biggest): Some are with us and some are not. Since 1998 more than a dozen American steel producers have sought bankruptcy protection, and some have liquidated; not long ago U.S. Steel, Bethlehem, and Wheeling were said to be talking merger.

The Bush administration has been promoting an ambitious $5-billion, six-year federal program to help children learn to read, particularly in needy areas. The program also favors phonics over "whole language" experimentalism - and, of course, many in the ingrown educational community are aghast. They contend phonics is no better than any other method, and disparage studies showing it is. But this is inarguable: When phonics was the major method for teaching reading, nearly every child learned to read - as opposed to the vast numbers today, taught in the latest la-de-da oh-so-chic ways, who cannot.

Does your sensitive feminist mom discourage her daughter from wearing her chic T-shirt bearing the demeaning message: "So Many Boys, Such Little Minds"?

More than three dozen states are considering legislation variously emulating a recent Kremlin order that outlaws holding a telephone while driving. Drivers may use car phones only in hands-free modes - the belief being that both hands are more effectively, and safely, employed on the wheel.

How about those recent stories and pictures about Mars - typified in this quote from The New York Times' distinguished science writer John Noble Wilford: "A new theory and a revised interpretation of earlier observations have bolstered the idea that Mars has more water than previously thought, and (has) encouraged speculation about the possibility of life on the planet." Photographs from the Mars orbiter "Odyssey" earlier this year showed many deep gullies now thought likely to have been caused by melting snow. Mars' polar regions are currently believed to be capped almost entirely with ice. Snow and ice mean oxygen-containing water. Oxygen well could mean ... life.

In an hour decrying judgmentalism in practically everything, how fitting that a movement should begin for euphemizing size in the women's clothing market. A Wall Street Journal reporter describes one retailer that "cultivates women of a certain age, 'avoirdupois,' and asset level with stylish private label clothing in just a few nonjudgmental sizes: zero (4-6), one (8-10), two (10-12), and three (14-16)."

The Canadian government has finalized an accord capping (at $16 million U.S.) sexual-abuse liability claims by Indians who attended government schools run by the Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Catholic churches. The costs of 560 settlements had threatened to bankrupt Canada's Anglican Church - with thousands more claims awaiting resolution. The accord means the church will pay up to $16 million and the government will pay the rest.

Until academics determined it as a fake, it seems likely that a 20-inch-long limestone burial box found in the Jerusalem area may be the earliest artifact corroborating biblical references to Jesus of Nazareth. The box bears the inscription, in stone: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Yet there is, and has been, little doubt that Jesus lived. Debate centers not on Jesus' historical existence, but his divinity.

The many services for the World Trade Center and Pentagon deceased, and the returning military dead from the terror war abroad, have brought bagpipers back into their own. Skirly Scottish renderings of "Will Ye No Come Back Again" and "Amazing Grace" can be as tear-yanking as a bugled "Taps." The words, too, often tell a haunting bagpipe story - such as these from "Minstrel Boy":

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you'll find him.
His father's sword he had girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him.