Our "Dramamine" column item from earlier this week - that it costs just about the same for an 80-year-old American to live out his or her days on a luxury cruise ship ($230,497) as in an assisted-living facility ($228,075) - generated considerable response.
"On our October cruise on Royal Caribbean lines, there was an elderly lady who actually resided on the ship 'Voyager of the Sea,'" writes Becky Jackson-Turner of Acworth, Ga.
"Medicare took care of her medical needs, which were few, and whenever the ship would pull in to its main port, she would disembark for a few hours. . . .
"She told us that it was just more financially feasible to do this than living in an assisted-living home and was much more fun," Jackson-Turner recalls. "She got to meet new people all the time, always had great food and always had her bed turned down for her when it was time to sleep - with a mint to boot.
"We were blown away, but even more so when she told us of at least 20 other people she knew who did the same, except a lot of them change ships every once in a while to add a little variety."
What's become of Teresa Heinz Kerry?
Preceding its Women Who Make a Difference Awards Dinner on March 1, the National Council for Research on Women is featuring "a conversation with Teresa Heinz," chairwoman of Heinz Family Philanthropies and, up until Election Day, the highly visible better half of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
"Teresa Heinz will speak to her commitment to women's economic security, including Social Security and retirement," writes the council, not bothering to mention her married name in several references.
"I just checked, and she no longer uses her (entire) last name; only during the (presidential) campaign did she use Kerry," the council's Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg told The Beltway Beat upon our inquiry.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
When a political panel discussion in Washington this week turned to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's drifting to the center of the polity - including her recent praise of the Clinton administration for helping lower the number of abortions performed in this country - former Ambassador Richard Carlson, who was seated in the audience, couldn't help but recall a joke he'd heard that morning.
It had to do with Clinton's recent fainting spell in Buffalo, N.Y., and . . . well, what might have been behind it (come to think of it, the former first lady wouldn't be the oldest woman on the planet to carry a baby full term).
As one might expect, ladies in the audience were visibly aghast at the mere thought, while the few men in attendance who weren't laughing offered a polite smile.
Suffice it to say, Carlson, former president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, got the panel's undivided attention.
Chicago-based Tribune Media Services (TMS) is cautioning its lineup of nationally syndicated columnists not to get caught in the same honey trap as Armstrong Williams.
TMS dropped syndication of the black pundit's column after he acknowledged accepting $240,000 from the Bush administration to promote its education-reform law.
"Recent news events have cast a national spotlight on the subject of media credibility," TMS Vice President John C. Twohey writes in a two-page letter to columnists, this one among them. "I'm referring, in particular, to disclosures that two syndicated columnists - one associated with TMS - accepted money from the federal government to promote White House initiatives."
Reminding that credibility is among the most valuable assets of journalism, Twohey warns that columnists who "engage in activities that compromise their journalistic independence and integrity will jeopardize their relationship with TMS."
President Bush's special assistant for legislative affairs, Ginger Loper, is jumping ship to become vice president of the Washington lobbying firm Timmons and Co.
Loper, who handled the administration's hot-button issues such as Social Security, health care and taxes, is married to Brett Loper, deputy chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
Tuesday, on the eve of President Bush's State of the Union address, former Congressman (and actor) Fred Grandy, now co-host of "The WMAL Morning News" in Washington, moderated a panel of political observers examining Bush's agenda for this year and beyond.
"I don't think the president is sitting around stewing about his legacy," said veteran ABC White House correspondent Ann Compton, suggesting such grandiosity isn't Bush's style or even a concern.
However, she pointed out, Sept. 11 and the subsequent war on terrorism prevented this president from accomplishing what he otherwise might have set out to do during his first term, issues that only now he is addressing as he begins a second term. Which is exactly the opposite experience of the previous pair of two-term presidents.
"Ronald Reagan ran into Iran-Contra in his second term, and we all know what Bill Clinton ran into," Compton said. The differing obstacles nevertheless prevented each from making major inroads in their lame-duck years.
Now embarking on his final four years in office, and albeit with Iraq as a constant backdrop, Bush has a pile of major initiatives on his plate, not the least being Social Security and tax reform.
"President Bush might have to hold a retreat with congressmen every weekend to get this stuff through," said Tim Curran, editor of Roll Call. "He can't do this without Democrats, and he'll have to (appeal to) some to get it done."
Grandy said he counts exactly one Democrat in the Senate and one Democrat in the House who support Bush on Social Security privatization.
"There isn't a plan" on Social Security, argued Craig Crawford, White House columnist for Congressional Quarterly and former editor of the Hotline. "He's selling a black hole."
Which reminded Grandy of the cartoon: "Change is good. You go first."
It's difficult if not impossible in these secular days to lead the nation's public school students in prayer, but being the nation's top principal has its advantages.
"This was no wimpy pro-forma prayer," said one of 300 guests who crowded into the Education Department auditorium for this week's swearing-in of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
"It definitely said 'take a hike' to the ACLU, People for the American Way, atheist Michael Newhouse and all secular humanist activists who want to push religious faith totally out of any activities involving government and public education."
Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, offered the resounding prayer in the presence of President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, six Cabinet members, White House aides Karl Rove and Andrew H. Card Jr., Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and several other members of Congress.
"Let us bow our heads as we acknowledge God's holy presence," began Towey, going on to pray that the heavenly father "guide and inspire (Mrs. Spellings) in these important duties."
Ralph Neas, president of People For the American Way, says he is "outraged" by a Justice Department fee approaching $400,000 to handle a Freedom of Information Act request dealing with immigrants detained in the wake of Sept. 11.
"If you want to learn about secret trials carried out by your government with your money, you're going to need deep pockets," Neas suggests.
TIRED OF COMMUTING
"As crazy as it sounds, driving carpool and helping with algebra homework sounds very appealing to me."
- Resignation letter of David Lopez, longtime chief of staff to House Republican Conference Secretary Rep. John T. Doolittle of California, who noted that for 20 years he has been a "commuter dad and husband," flying from his home in Sacramento to Washington on a weekly basis when the House is in session.