On Congress, royalty, sols, aids, covering our di

Posted: Aug 10, 2001 12:00 AM
Surveying the landscape.... Congress is sending mixed signals. For instance, the House is coming around on patients' rights (permit suits against insurers but rarely against employers). It also has the right idea on arctic drilling for oil and gas - Alaskans and Eskimos want it, even Big Labor, leaving principally snooty greens and dubious Democrats who oppose it. The Senate seems far less in sync with right reason and public sentiment. It is sending all the wrong messages on missile defense, Social Security and Mexican trucks. An interim report of a presidential commission on Social Security co-chaired by former Democratic Senator Patrick Moynihan suggesting adding a private ingredient (as in e.g. Sweden, Germany, Australia and Britain), has set the Senate's Democratic dogs to yowling. And the Senate has voted to violate NAFTA and discriminate against Mexican (Hispanic?) trucks by holding them to higher safety standards than their American and Canadian counterparts. The House has done two additional commendable things. (a) It has voted to provide D.C. high-school graduates in-state undergraduate tuition rates at public colleges across the country - a perk D.C. residents never have enjoyed because of the District's unique non-state status. (b) The House has voted to allow federal employees to use privately the frequent-flier miles they accumulate flying on government business - as many private employees can do. (Speaking of turnabout, the House should lead the way on granting those NOT in government the broad choice in their health-insurance plans enjoyed by congressmen, senators, and other civilian federales.) Who needs royalty? These days, it does little more than provide cover for supposedly beautiful people to act stupidly - a la, in the United States, quasi-royal Hollywoodists and Kennedys. Young royals in Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Spain are all the rage of magazine covers everywhere. Bulgaria is restoring its monarchy; a zoned Nepalese prince has sent to Buddha everyone in his entourage, including parents and himself. There's Britain's Queen Mum and the Windsor family from Hell. But what do these people DO except raise plebeian eyebrows? Maybe the Norwegians are on the right road: There, with the future king set Aug. 25 to marry a woman with a child by a boyfriend who was a drug dealer, Norwegians are cogitating bagging the royal blues altogether. But here among the commoners there's a seemingly irresistible royal urge. Consider the extreme coverage The Washington Post gave its late lamented publisher, Katharine Graham: perhaps a dozen A-section pages, a full-column editorial, two three-quarter op-ed-page devotions, a kids-page piece about all she did for children, a metro section-front piece about her commitment to Washington, a sports section-front piece about her everlasting empathy for downtrodden jocks, and - oh, yes - a sort of lobby altar consisting principally of an aged linotype machine suitable for receiving flowers. Imagine the reaction of Posties et al. if Chicago Tribune staffers had gone that far out upon the death of Col. McCormick - or should Rupert Murdoch's or Al Neuharth's people go to similar lengths. Such over-muching suggests the commendable Kay Graham was our Lady Di, and the Post building our equivalent of the Temple of Diana. Are those who deplore the SATs for college admission, some of the same people who don't like SOLs for elementary and secondary schools? SOLs have swept the states, and now the feds are likely to join the bandwagon. Parent groups and teacher unions nevertheless continue to resist on the grounds the tests are variously too tough, ask the wrong questions, and stifle creativity; a trickle of teachers undone by stress and pressure they attribute to the tests are leaving the profession. Yet the tests do re-impose accountability and standards after endless experimentation in creativity that has driven public education down with whole generations lost. SOLs may represent the last chance to improve a very bad scene, immensely sad for what it is doing to our young. AIDS reality check: Only now are some governments even beginning to move away from denial - Russia, India, Myanmar (a/k/a Burma), China. All along they have been cooking the numbers, but that may be changing. A New York Times op-ed by a Brookings Institution fellow and an NIH virologist notes (a) "China has been slow in facing up to AIDS," (b) "intravenous drug use, prostitution, premarital sex, and histories of multiple sex partners are all on the rise in China," and (c) "even if China reduces the [declared] rate of its annual growth in HIV cases, which it now reports as 30 percent, to 20 percent in five years, its caseload under these projections would expand to more than 4 million by 2010." BRIEFS: (1) In the latest survey of college degrees awarded in science, by country, the United States landed in next-to-last place among 26 countries studied. (2) North Carolina's legislature has passed, and its (Democratic) governor says he will sign, a measure allowing Tar Heel public schools to post the Ten Commandments. (3) The weather people (who seem to be getting much more reliable) say a rising cycle of warmer-than-average water in the Atlantic suggests a corresponding cycle of more, and more severe, hurricanes. (4) If - measured by gross output of goods and services - the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and Houston metropolitan areas were countries, theirs would rank respectively as the 14th, 16th, 18th, 23rd, 27th, 29th, and 30th largest economies in the world. And (5) as an indicator of what physicists are thinking about these days, consider this from a wire-service report on a conference about particles, antiparticles, and the creation of the universe via the Big Bang: "All the matter in the universe exists because Nature prefers matter to antimatter by a small margin."