Ross Mackenzie

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.

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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