For vacationers, a random walk through August

Posted: Aug 26, 2005 12:00 AM

For us, as for many, August is vacation time. She and I purposely withdraw - from electricity and phone and a world too much with us (about which more in a column to come). Yet, life goes on, and those in the newspaper business must stay current.

This annotated review of August's news, principally happenings in non-local realms, may help others catch up - just as it helps your correspondent..

Let's see:

- Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza. About the same time, oddly, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. threatened to divest its holdings in four U.S. companies (Caterpillar, Motorola, ITT and United Technologies) if they continue selling Israel military equipment and technology usable in Gaza and the West Bank.

- In Iraq, amidst bombings and death and mayhem, authorities seemed to move toward completing a constitution, but questions remained as to (a) whether it ever would become the law of the land there and (b) if it did, whether it would create more problems than it resolved. The fundamental question in Iraq persists: Is a unified democratic country possible, or is Iraq's future one of fracture into Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni segments?

- For his part, President Bush insisted the U.S. will stay the Iraqi course. He told the Veterans of Foreign Wars we owe it to the 2,000 Americans killed in the two Gulf Wars not to withdraw too soon: "Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home. . . . Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. . . . We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for." Here, Army recruitment limped along. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair prudently moved to expel hate-mongering denizens of the Islamist fringe. In the Jordanian port of Aqaba, rockets missed two berthing U.S. ships.

- Per-barrel oil prices bubbled upward, helping push average per-gallon gasoline prices above $2.60 nationally. Some members of Congress talked of holding hearings to point fingers and lay blame - which, of course, they bear none of.

- U.S. borders kept leaking illegals. The rising tide of illegal immigrants into this country now totals more than 9 million.

- Medically, these things: (1) scientists raced to address the rising threat (to humans) of avian flu; (2) word came that shots for common flu expected in the coming season, shots that may or may not prove effective, will be considerably more costly; (3) in its first Vioxx judgment, pharmaceutical company Merck lost - to the tune of a quarter-billion dollars; (4) dog ticks, which span the globe, were declared carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever; and (5) America's young were found to be suffering from two epidemics, among others: excess weight and skin cancer.

- The left aligned its guns against Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, whose confirmation hearings will begin Sept. 6.

- The shuttle Discovery landed safely, but with abundant questions as to whether it or its similar sisters ever will fly again.

- Iran and North Korea pressed on with reprising the debate last heard regarding Saddamite Iraq - i.e., whether they have nuclear weapons.

- After a three-day ordeal, a Russian minisubmarine fouled in undersea nets was freed with salvational assistance from the Brits.

- In an apparent expression of their displeasure with American bases in Central Asia, Russia and China held joint military exercises for the first time since the Cold War's end.

- Finally, these shorts: (a) the average cost of a Manhattan condo topped the $1-million mark, and (b) speaking of New York City, the 79-year-old monsignor of St. Patrick's Cathedral resigned his post in the wake of news stories alleging shenanigans with his 46-year-old married secretary, (c) Panasonic went national with a battery heralded as the first improvement in three decades on the alkaline battery (which powers seemingly everything), and (d) fresh from his seventh consecutive Tour de France victory, Lance Armstrong joined President Bush in bicycling the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas (President Bush dubbed the ride the "Tour de Crawford") - with Armstrong (the greatest athlete ever?) saying afterward he lobbied the president for more federal funds for cancer research.