Surveying the scene

Ross Mackenzie
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Posted: Sep 04, 2001 12:00 AM
So the Army has begun issuing every Army person a black beret, long the exclusive possession of Army Rangers (the Rangers have switched to berets of tan). It's sort of like giving every boxer a championship belt. A wag wonders whether members of the New Army, thus attired, will wear the beret for doing or merely being. And North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones asks: "The bottom line is that we have troops without adequate ammunition and pilots who can't fly for lack of funds, so why in the world would the Army spend $23 million to change the color of a hat on the whim of one general?" Last year Denmark voted against adopting the Euro as its currency. Now Ireland, in likely the only referendum to be held by any country on the matter, has voted 54-46 against expanding European Union membership from 15 to 27 nations; the Irish vote may have single-handedly stopped expansion - and largely on fears of diminished Irish sovereignty before an aggressively socialistic European leviathan. Aye, Eire. Membership in the European Union has its pluses and minuses. With its own courts, parliament, bureaucracy, currency (the Euro), and army (60,000), the EU may enhance the independence prospects of places - such as Scotland - that long have hungered to go their own way. But with the EU's imposition of rules to promote fair competition, it is forcing countries - such as Sweden - to water down alcohol laws written to limit consumption of the stuff by a populace long known for its tendencies toward alcohol abuse. Is the move of many radio stations away from fiddle to twaddle an indicator that the public is tuning out what today's maestros are trying to fob off as music? As an indicator of the appalling downward spiral in urban public education, tardiness is a rampant problem - on average about 25 percent - in Washington, D.C., high schools. Says one high-school principal: "We haven't been able to impress upon our students - but more importantly on our parents - the importance of making sure our students get to school on time." Said a student in June, on her way to class an hour late: "When I get to class on time, no students are in class. The teachers are waiting for the late students. So I might as well be late. I figure I can catch another half-hour of sleep." Continuing on the bad-news front: In April, for the first time ever, cars carrying foreign nameplates outsold cars manufactured by General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. American automobile brands came in at just 49.4 percent of the total. Can America retain heavy industry? Will American automobile manufacturers ever get the message that American consumers reject inferior goods? Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore's reliance on the House of Delegates enabled him to prevail on car-tax repeal against a curiously obstreperous State Senate. Question: By increasing his reliance on the House of Representatives - as opposed to the resisting (and partisanly Democratic) Senate - on key legislative matters, is President Bush emulating Gilmore's example? Schism proceeds in mainline church denominations, as it has for centuries. Episcopalians are roiled by the acting bishop of Washington's refusal to approve a Maryland church's call of a rector outspokenly conservative on such matters as the liturgy, the hymnal and ordination. Presbyterians, echoing battles in other denominations, are roiled by proposals to ordain openly practicing homosexuals. At this rate, it may not be long before leftist social and political activism goes beyond mere schism to the destruction of precisely the mainline denominations it purports to serve. Created in 1971 by the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, the POW/MIA flag flutters - either by choice or by mandate - seemingly everywhere. It has become so popular it ranks second only to Old Glory. In the words of one recent newspaper account: "Historians and flag experts call the proliferation of the POW/MIA flag unprecedented in the history of the United States and perhaps the world. Never before, they say, have sovereign states and nations required that the flag of a political movement regularly be flown alongside their own."