On gas, taxes, grades, art, water, sex, etc.

Posted: May 20, 2004 12:00 AM

The principal news lately has told of a beheading, Abu Ghraib and the Bush administration striving mightily to prevent Iraq and President Bush's re-election prospects from turning to mush. Yet other lesser items have competed for public attention, such as the 17-year emergence of the periodic cicada's Brood X, and - let's see.

(a) Moves for sanctioning homosexual "marriage" in, for instance, Massachusetts and (b) moves for acceptance of homosexuality as normal within such mainline Protestant denominations as Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian.

And let us not overlook (c) the evident split (for the second time within a year) between the nation's Roman Catholic bishops and their handpicked lay panel investigating the (primarily) homosexual predation within the Catholic priesthood. A year ago the panel's chairman quit after comparing the secrecy among some uncooperative bishops to the Mafia's code of silence. Now the panel finds the bishops still impeding the panel's work; the acting chairman and three other panel members (there are 12 members total) will leave next month.

It's odd, all this business relating to homosexuality, when AIDS and HIV are rampant across the globe, most recently roiling even the U.S. pornography industry.

So severe has the five-year drought been in the American West that Lake Powell, formed in the Nevada desert by the Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado River, has fallen to 40 percent of its capacity. Concerns are that if the drought persists, by 2007 Lake Powell - essentially a reservoir - may prove unable to provide water and the dam may prove unable to generate electricity.

As but the latest indicators that the contemporary art market has gone bonkers, earlier this month Christie's auctioned Jackson Pollock's drip painting "No. 12, 1949" for $11.6 million in good money, and Sotheby's auctioned Picasso's early "Boy With a Pipe" for $104.2 million (a record for any piece of art).

And speaking of ridiculous things, Al Gore has announced he is heading a group launching a cable-news network (Newsworld International) offering "irreverent and bold" programming for young adults. Gore insists "this is not going to be a liberal network, a Democratic network, or a political network." Yet that may prove true or mere blather, given that AirAmerica - an overtly leftist enterprise seeking to bring ideological balance to talk radio - is in the process of bombing big-time.

From the ivied halls, these notes: (1) Evidently following Yale's lead, Harvard is studying its curriculum for the first time in 30 years, and likely will decide to move away from liberal arts and Western civilization. (2) Princeton's faculty has voted 2-1 to cut the number of A's it awards from 45 percent (the percentage of all grades awarded from 1997 through 2002) to 35 percent. Yale, apparently, doesn't believe it awards too many A's; Harvard, agreeing with Princeton, does. Some trace grade inflation to the Vietnam era, when many profs - in the words of a Washington Post reporter - "were reluctant to give grades that would lead to their students flunking out and becoming eligible for the draft."

While many governors are recommending tax increases to address state budget problems, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger is not. Having promised not to raise taxes to meet California's $17-billion deficit, he has just submitted a $99-billion 2004-2005 budget based on spending cuts and $2 billion in borrowing. Any tax increase, he says, would be "the final nail" in California's coffin.

Ah, the dismaying secrets of too many pols. Remember Neil Goldschmidt - former mayor of Portland, Oregon, and former Secretary of Transportation (to Jimmy Carter)? A news report puts it this way: "While mayor in the mid-1970s, Goldschmidt 'had sex on many occasions with a 14-year-old girl' - to whom he paid $250,000 in hush money."

John Kerry blames George Bush for everything, of course - including, most recently, higher petroleum prices - and never mind Kerry's own votes against energy independence and opening now-closed areas to petroleum production. So it will be instructive to note Kerry's take on a decision now faced by his ideological buddy Ted Turner.

Turner owns the 588,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico. With natural gas prices rising, El Paso Corp. wants to tap the estimated $2.5 billion of gas it owns beneath Turner's vast spread. But El Paso cannot drill without Turner's permission. Will Turner go with ego or the nation's energy needs - and how will Kerry spin it? Stay tuned.