On space, taxes, liars, ditzes, base schools, rats, etc.

Posted: Jan 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Picking up pieces of news from the past month...

President Bush apparently is going to go for it - for the moon and beyond. With humans. The dazzling success of the Mars "Spirit" robot, with "Opportunity" set to follow in 10 days, simply whets the appetite for more of the real space thing experienced by real people. No peacetime initiative has so galvanized the nation as John F. Kennedy's early '60s manned reach for the stars.

Government enthusiasm flagged, and public interest soon plunged. By the time of the last manned landing on the moon (Apollo 17) a decade later, the public was yawning. And NASA has floundered ever since. The truth is, wild public interest runs just under a superficial blase. It needs only to be tapped. Another truth is that man in space is the fulfillment of his destiny to explore the unknown.

If the public were bored with air and space, the new annex of the National Air and Space Museum would not have seen nearly half-a-million visitors since it opened less than a month ago - to an out-of-Washington (28 miles from the main D.C. museum on the Mall), hard-to-reach facility on the south side of Northern Virginia's Dulles Airport. It is the largest display of (essentially) manned air and space artifacts anywhere, and people are flocking to it. Who could deny many of those visitors are implicitly saying, Let's put man back in space?

At about five one recent morning, ditzy Britney Spears did the equivalent of a drive-thru marriage in Vegas - only to sober up later that day to declare the marriage over. La Spears thereby demonstrated to herself the limits of her own mind so obvious to so many for so long. Clearly smarter is Renee Zellweger, of "Chicago" and "Cold Mountain" fame, who has discussed with Reader's Digest her views on getting hitched drive-thru style or otherwise: "Like anything, when (marriage) is the right thing to do, I'm sure it will present itself. And if it doesn't, then I don't expect to be less happy."

How perilous is keyboarding and taking photographs and scratching notes? Consider this: In 2002, 19 journalists lost their lives on assignment; the number for 2003 was 36 - mostly as a consequence of Iraq, where 13 were killed by hostile action. Because of their reporting, about half the 36 were targeted and killed outside Iraq. The past year, 2003, wrote "30" for 36 assigned journalists. R.I.P.

Despite the dangers inherent in this risky business, as Samwise Gamgee says toward the end of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "There's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for."

Many Democrats running for president are still trying to figure out various aspects of what The Good is - notably regarding taxes. As the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary loom just ahead, Howard Dean et al. are running into one another in a Keystone Kops operation trying to decide whether it's better to propose middle-class tax cuts or to reverse the Bush tax cuts they long have campaigned against. What's good - always? The three-part philosophy espoused by the 20th century's most influential economist, Milton Friedman: (1) Cut taxes. (2) Cut taxes. (3) Cut taxes.

In an effort to forestall SARS II, China first targeted cats known as civets, which some scientists believe to be SARS carriers. Now the communist commissars have declared a "patriotic campaign" - SARS-related - against rats. Yet, in the realm of self-preservation, any campaign targeting the wretched rat, anywhere, is always "patriotic."

Some of the worst news of the past month: A Defense Department cost-benefit study may lead to the closing of some or all of the 58 schools it runs for children of military personnel on bases across the country. The Defense Department annually spends $363 million on the schools (plus 11 in Puerto Rico and Guam that are not slated for possible closure). The schools provide continuity for military families famously underpaid and constantly on the move. And various surveys show the schools often turn out better percentages of well-trained students than many of their civilian counterparts. For the privilege of defending the nation, is the military to be asked to sacrifice this rare benefit, too?

The lying politician is a cliche: Bill Clinton and, now, Connecticut Governor John Rowland - who has admitted he lied in his denials of ethical improprieties - are but two of the latest. The Enron era turned the spotlight on liars in the corporate world. And then, in sports, there's baseball's Pete Rose, who just has admitted he lied for 15 years in denying he placed bets in the game he managed and played. He evidently hopes his mea culpa will win him sympathy and thereby aid his entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the contrary, his late-hour reversal confirms the rightness of keeping him - and any acknowledged liar - out.