On the Market, Everest, Churches, Three Gorges, etc

Posted: Jun 19, 2003 12:00 AM

Strolling with brief comments, direct or implied, among items currently in the news...

Opinion remains divided about the long-term direction of the economy - and roger that! One of the principal indicators, the stock market, has thrilled bully optimists with its up-trend since March. Yet, even with a 20-plus percent jump in the Dow and S&P through the ensuing period, the market still has not regained its 9/11 lows.

The Bush administration was right to back away from its initial criticism of Israel for targeting Hamas honchos in response to a murderous suicide attack in Jerusalem. Both the White House and the State Department refused to condemn Israel further, with Ari Fleischer saying the issue is neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority but "terrorists who are killing in an attempt to stop a hopeful process from moving forward."

Maybe you saw that the ballyhooed AmeriCorps volunteer service program pushed so hard by the administration has just whacked its 50,000 volunteer slots for fiscal 2003 by nearly 50 percent - at precisely the moment when President Bush has been pushing for an increase to 75,000. The ostensible reasons: funding, or something; maybe mismanagement; lack of congressional support - whatever. The real reason: Such volunteer programs rarely achieve their desired levels because they are voluntary. Solution: Make one year of service for the young (with a front-end military component) compulsory for everyone 18-23 - no exemptions and no excuses.

Celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary's and Tenzing Norgay's successful summiting of Mt. Everest proceed. Hillary, now 83, thinks "the mountain should be given a rest" - perhaps for good reason, as this quote by The New York Times' James Brooke attests: "A record 65 expeditions are expected at Mount Everest this season. Since the 1953 ascent, more than 1,200 people from 63 countries have reached the summit. At the end of last year's season, the largest number of climbers, 258, came from Nepal (Everest's home country), followed by 160 from the United States. About 175 climbers have died trying, with as many as 120 bodies interred on the mountain."

Problems in the Catholic Church still garner the big headlines, but some of the leading Protestant denominations also are wrestling with the deviant sexuality that so troubles many parishioners. The Presbyterians, for instance, have decided to postpone - again - a decision on whether to repeal a ban on actively homosexual clergy. The Episcopalians are ahead of them on the affectional preference curve, with the New Hampshire diocese having just selected the U.S. Episcopal Church's first openly homosexual bishop. It all invites the query why mainline denominations keep flirting with the deviancy that so encourages many to give up the pews for, among other options, golf.

Remember the November deal top execs at American Airlines kept secret when negotiating with unions in the spring? It preserved cushy retirement packages for the execs, even if the airline should go toes-up. Following the disclosure of the deal in April, the airline's No. 1 departed the scene. And so, from a June 14 Washington Post news story: "American Airlines' ousted chief executive and chairman ... will receive a $13.5 million supplemental benefits payment and a $79,000 annual pension but no bonus or other severance pay, the company said yesterday, in a board decision intended to restore credibility with workers as the carrier continues to struggle." Question: How does $13.5 million in supplemental benefits "restore credibility"?

For staggering statistics, consider these about the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River, where engineers "on China's most formidable engineering feat since the construction of the Great Wall" have just closed 19 of the 22 sluice gates to allow the water behind the dam to rise - from a news report: "With as much water as Lake Superior (the world's largest lake), the reservoir will stretch 385 miles east to west and more than one mile north to south. Two cities, 11 county seats, and 1,352 villages will be submerged under the chocolate-colored flow. To make room for the massive basin, more than 1.3 million people are being forced to leave their homes."

Remember the blasting of the Bush administration and the U.S. military over "stolen" museum relics in Iraq - the "rape of civilization," as one archaeologist described it - rivaling the more sustained criticism of the administration for its failure to find Iraqi nuclear and biochemical weapons? Consider this whole-story headline: "All Along, Most Iraqi Relics Were 'Safe and Sound.'" It seems the number of artifacts looted from Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities was not 170,000, as reported widely in April, but 33.

New York magazine's media critic Michael Wolff believes ousted New York Times editor Howell Raines, described six months ago as "the Godzilla of U.S. journalism," has taken "the fall" for his publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger. Writes Wolff: "I think that the focus now becomes Arthur Sulzberger, and in fact I think that's the root of what's happened here. It's all about the survival of the publisher at this point." Without Sulzberger, Raines likely never would have been named editor. How can The Times truly restore its reputation lost under Raines without the departure of Sulzberger as well?