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March 11,  2006

 'Oil at any cost.'  It may not have the patriotic ring of 'Fifty-four, forty or fight' or 'Remember Pearl Harbor', but there probably is no one who would seriously dispute that it would be the appropriate slogan for what is going on in the Middle East. Even those who believe President Bush was right when he sent troops into Iraq and is right in pursuing eventual, but probably unattainable, victory have to admit that securing the petroleum pipeline is a prime objective of a bellicose foreign policy.

The United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day -- nearly a fifth of the amount used in the world and more than three times as much as the second most prolific user, China. There are only 16 other nations where daily consumption is more than 1 million barrels.

That statistic has been cited so often that it fails to incite alarm. Since the gasoline crisis of 30 years ago, it has been common wisdom that it behooves us to conserve, to reduce our dependence on foreign-produced oil, to seek new technologies and alternate energy sources. Yet progress toward those goals has been moving at a glacial pace while demand has grown at supersonic speed.

Spikes in the price of gasoline, heating oil and natural gas have pushed the issue to the forefront of public interest, but only to the extent that most people concede that we, indeed, will have to get around to resolving it -- one of these days.

When it comes to seriously considering ways in which it may be solved, reasons why they are unacceptable far outnumber reasons why they should be tried. Using nuclear power to generate electricity, establishing a public transportation system which actually offers convenience comparable to private travel, and seriously working toward developing automobiles that run on something other than petrol are just some of the good ideas that could be implemented if there were a common will to make them work. With sufficient commitment, that can be accomplished without compromising legitimate environmental and other concerns, but it will require backing away from extremist views and outshouting their vocal advocates.

Involved are complex questions which defy easy solutions, we are told. So we stop asking them. A few weeks back folks were wondering why major oil companies are raking in huge profits while we are paying exorbitant prices at the pumps. While downplaying the bottom line, the pundits tell us taxes are to blame or that we are too unlearned to understand how the economics of petroleum work. Forget that, when all is said and done, profit equals price minus the cost of making and selling the product. Even those who majored in football math can figure out that the higher the price the greater the profit and that synchronization works in both directions.

The tragedy is not that most of us complain, then shrug and pay. How long will it be before we wake up to the fact that failure to demand fundamental change in national energy policy, which is costing us dollars, is inseparably linked to continuing a flawed foreign policy, which is costing not only dollars but, tragically, human lives in a part of the world which has little impact on any American interest except our insatiable appetite for the resource lying in its ground.

 Colm Connolly, United States attorney for Delaware, recently went on line and registered on a popular discussion website, using his correct name and government e.mail address. The next morning his e.mail included an unsolicited pornographic cartoon. That experience, he said, demonstrates the danger lurking on the Internet, especially for children and adolescents but also for adults.

Connolly and his staff have initiated an effort they're calling 'Project Cyber Safety' to alert the public to that danger. The are taking the message to a variety of school and other public groups. The effort is beginning to attract attention beyond Delaware.

Speaking last week at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting at Carrcroft Elementary School, Connolly said parents are either unaware or at a loss to know what to do. Ordinary common sense, he reasoned, offers a guide. "Parents who wouldn't think of letting 10-year-olds go to a mall by themselves let their 10-year-olds go on the Internet without supervision," he said.

When they do, he added, they are giving pedophiles and other predators virtually unrestricted access to children -- their children. That, he explained, is neither an alarmist view nor an exaggeration. His office and other law-enforcement agencies, here and elsewhere, are coming up against an increasing number of cases involving sexual attack or abuse which began with casual Internet contact.

One local officer established such contact and followed through the inevitable request for a face-to-face meeting. When he arrested the would-be abuser, the suspect admitted, as if by way of mitigation, "I thought you were a 14-year-old girl." In another case, also local, a teenage girl attracted to such a meeting by an offer of a ride in a flashy car berated the arresting officer for denying her the opportunity to take the ride.

As with any crime, Connolly said, law-enforcers are able to catch up with only a part of the activity. With children, the first line of defense are parents applying simple rules. He said children should never:

give out personal information without parental consent.

agree to get together with someone they 'meet' online.

respond to messages that make them feel uncomfortable in any way.

upload pictures of themselves to people they do not personally know.

download pictures from an unknown source.

He cautioned parents against overreacting. The value of the Internet as an educational tool and for other legitimate uses does not have to be compromised. All it takes to strike a balance is awareness, supervision and a willingness to talk openly about the topic.

Connolly's message is chilling, but unfortunately is reaching only a tiny fraction of people it should reach. For instance, despite considerable advance publicity, only 25 persons showed up for the P.T.A. meeting at Carrcroft school.

 In case you hadn't noticed, we've coming off an unusually warm winter. And, it seems, winters are getting warmer. That's correct in both cases. According to the U.S. Weather Service, temperatures in December, January and February -- considered meteorological winter -- averaged 36.29, or 1.2 above average, in the continental United States. That is the fifth warmest winter on record. Warmest was 1999-2000 at 36.95. Others warmer than this season were 1998-1999, 1991-1992 and 1997-1998.

 The most popular course at Harvard this semester teaches happiness. The final numbers came back this week: Positive Psychology, a class whose content resembles that of many a self-help book but is grounded in serious psychological research, has enrolled 855 students, beating out even Introductory Economics.  MORE

 No matter what they say about the postal service, we have to admit the mail does manage to get through most of the time. Over in Iraq, that goes double in spades. CLICK HERE to read the New York Times article.

2006. All rights reserved.

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