McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Nov 15, 2001 12:00 AM
Months before anthrax infiltrated the U.S. Postal Service, e-mail sent over the Internet had become the second most popular means of communication among Americans - behind only the telephone. "In the United States, there are an estimated 96.6 million people over the age of 18 using e-mail; by 2003 this number is expected to grow to 140 million," reveals Larry Purpuro, president and founder of Washington-based RightClick Strategies, an Internet marketing firm. All told, more than 1 billion e-mail messages are sent daily in the United States, none requiring rubber gloves to open. KNOW YOUR POLLSTER One of this country's leading pollsters, John Zogby, says Americans can't always trust the polls. Especially when a two-sided war is brewing. "I think Americans have to be asking the question, is the polling being done scientifically, or is it a 'call-in' poll - which are pretty much worthless and not reflective of reality," Zogby tells this column. "Generally, such polls can be self-selective, and one side might have an ax to grind. It's the same thing with Web sites, which are often 'quicky' kinds of polls." We called upon Zogby after two of this country's biggest circulation newspapers, on the same day last week, presented readers with contradictory polling data of public sentiment surrounding the U.S.-led war against terrorism. One newspaper described an impatient public, its support of the war waning; the other showed Americans still solidly behind President Bush and his anti-terrorism efforts. "Good voters should be good consumers," is the advice Zogby gives Americans who rely on polling. "The news media should have to offer at least an additional sentence as to the sample size of a poll, or whether (the pollster) is a reputable firm or not." As for his own firm, Zogby International, it has been conducting daily tracking polls to gauge U.S. mood surrounding the war on terrorism. "As of yet, I haven't seen any real movement away from support for the president, one- or two- or three-point fluctuations at the most," reveals Zogby. "But, and I would appreciate the but, my polling does show the support is not monolithic - that is, the support can dwindle if the war is either protracted or does not show measurable gains." NEW BEST SELLER Stacked at the checkout counter of a Books-A-Million bookstore a few miles from Capitol Hill are beige-colored, U.S. Army-issue "Survival" handbooks, distributed to U.S. military troops in October 1970, and now being sold to the terrified public at a not-so-bargain price of $15. CHINESE CHECKERS When considering legislation to secure America's borders in the wake of the terrorist attacks in this country, perhaps Uncle Sam should take a hint from the Chinese. Several years ago, reveals Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., when Congress was looking into whether U.S. secrets were stolen by the Chinese during the Clinton administration, "the son of the equivalent of the head of the CIA in China had come to the United States" on a student visa. "The way we turned this up in the Committee on Government Reform is, we were investigating (former Democratic Party fund-raiser) Johnny Chung," says the congressman. "I'm not saying the son was a risk, but the plain fact of the matter is he was enrolled at a university in Los Angeles (and) did not show up. We lost him." Now, Souder is asking his fellow congressmen, "when George Bush Sr. was head of the CIA, and George W. - if he had visited in China to be a student - do members think China would have lost George W. being a student there? "I do not think so." HOOF AND MOUTH A rare 1790s portrait of George Washington, on loan from the private collection of Barbra Streisand, isn't nearly as intriguing as the full set of the first president's dentures now on display for the first time (at least since Washington displayed them) at Mount Vernon. And no, the dentures aren't wooden. "George Washington had many striking and memorable features," says the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which cares for the Virginia estate. "He was tall - nearly 6-foot-3 - had auburn hair for most of his life, and a striking face with piercing blue eyes and an aristocratic nose." "But his most famous characteristic, albeit not his most flattering, were his false teeth." In fact, from children in schoolyards to scholars at debate, the composition of the Founding Father's teeth has been subject to myth and storytelling. Now, determined to set the record straight, Mount Vernon's curators are displaying for the first time ever the original full set of Washington's dentures. "Contrary to popular belief, the dentures were not made of wood," say the Mount Vernon ladies. Rather, they were fitted with human teeth and fabricated teeth carved from cow teeth and elephant ivory. "The dentures hardly look comfortable," the ladies point out. "Viewing the archaic contraption helps explain the somewhat grumpy look captured by artist Gilbert Stuart and preserved on the $1 bill." In fact, Washington urged his dentist by letter to expedite the repair and return of his dentures, because his back-up set were "uneasy in my mouth and bulge my lips out in such a manner as to make them appear considerably swelled." RR AND TERRORISM Three months before Ronald Reagan was elected president, recalled former Reagan aide Peter Hannaford Monday, he took a stand on terrorism as timely today as it was in August 1980: "We must take a stand against terrorism in the world and combat it with firmness, for it is a most cowardly and savage violation of peace. We must remember our heritage, who we are, what we are, and how this nation, this island of freedom, came into being. "And, we must make it unmistakably plain to all the world that we have no intention of compromising our principles, our beliefs or our freedom. That we have the will and the determination to do as a young president said in his inaugural address 20 years ago, 'bear any burden, pay any price.' Our reward will be world peace; there is no other way to have it." TR AND TERRORISM In just over a week, "Theodore Rex," one of the most eagerly anticipated presidential biographies in years and the sequel to Edmund Morris' Pulitzer Prize-winning best seller, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," hits the nation's bookstores. Its Random House pages open in the shocked aftermath of the terrorist assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, as Roosevelt raced down from Mount Marcy, N.Y., to take his emergency oath of office in Buffalo. So it was that in his first major statement as president, Roosevelt warned Americans of the threats posed by terrorism, saying: "If ever anarchy is triumphant, its triumph will last but for one red moment, to be succeeded for ages by the gloomy night of despotism." In fact, as Morris notes, Roosevelt's subsequent two administrations - marked by several episodes of Middle Eastern terrorism - were the most security-conscious yet known in American history. And similar to President Bush today, Roosevelt's foreign-policy rhetoric was notable for its blunt warnings that the United States, as the century's new superpower, would use every pound of its military hardware in self-defense. And, also like our president today, Roosevelt continuously warned that the American way of life was threatened because terrorists take advantage of freedoms to attack freedom.
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