Ross Mackenzie

Pausing at random in a color-bursting May field to savor first this notable wildflower, now that..

Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has spoken eloquently of the recent papal succession: "(Benedict XVI) has a saying that has become almost like a mantra. Pope John Paul II's mantra was, 'Be not afraid.' What a great and important thing that is. Because Pope Benedict is a theologian, he comes at things differently. His mantra is, 'The church is alive.' To the church around the world, with all the problems that come up, he says: 'Don't give up hope. The church is alive. We're going to make it. We're going to do this. The church is young.'"

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Has there been a succession of a dramatically different sort in Russia? Among other things, President Vladimir Putin, in the old days a KGB colonel, has restored the music of the old Soviet anthem and resurrected a Soviet-era red banner as the flag of the contemporary Russian military. And last month, in his annual state of the nation address to parliament, Putin discussed the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in regions satellized by the Soviets and now breeding separatist movements: "First and foremost, it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the (20th) century."

"As for the Russian people," he said, "it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory. (Now) the epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself." It's enough to make one wonder whether Vladimir Putin is the ideological heir of bad Vlad Lenin.

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The quasi-governmental U.S. Postal Service, still trying to make ends meet, wants more of your money. It is talking about the need next year for yet another increase in the price of a first-class stamp - from 37 cents to 39.

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Maybe it was just bad timing, but that news arrived about the same time as a federal tax refund check containing an insert wherein the government asks for . . . more of your money. For what? A "United States Mint Proof Set (that) is an exceptional value and, in 2005, showcases the first newly designed Jefferson nickel obverse in 67 years. This set includes two new nickel reverses and each of the five commemorative quarter-dollars to be released through the 50 State Quarters Program this year." All for a measly $22.95. Each.

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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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