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A ZOO FOR BASHFUL CRITTERS



Published: Thu, May 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Chicago Tribune: Those of us who live in the zoo don't like to bite the hands that feed us, which is why you rarely hear us complain. After all, life in our exclusive gated residential community has some undeniable attractions.

We get to eat regularly, which is not always the case in the wild. We don't have to be looking over our shoulder every minute just because some predator has incorporated us into his food chain.

But while we're grateful to our human custodians, there is one big problem with people: They're so darn nosy. Their walls have walls, but they expect us to put up with see-through cages and fences. They come to inspect us anytime they want, without even bothering to call first. When we're having a bad fur day, we might prefer not to be on public exhibition, but we have to cater to our fans.

Romantic interlude

And suppose you'd like some privacy for a romantic interlude? Forget about it. If you want to do any mating here in the zoo, you need to be as immodest as a porn star, because there are no shades to pull.

But maybe things are changing. At least that's what we hear from our pals at the National Zoo in Washington. When a Washington Post reporter asked for medical records on Ryma, a recently deceased giraffe, the zoo director refused.

Her reason was that making the records public would violate Ryma's privacy and the animal-veterinarian relationship. From what we can tell, she said this with a straight face.

From what we hear, the National Zoo isn't fanatical about protecting the privacy of its creatures, which have been viewed by thousands via Internet sites. Nor have we ever run across a vet who would protect our secrets from, say, a zoo director. But maybe this is the start of something. In that case, where can we order some drapes?

THE CRUSADER

Washington Post: No one questions the urgent need to transform the U.S. military so that it will make full use of 21st-century technologies and prepare itself for the very different kinds of conflicts it will have to fight in the future -- and has already begun to fight in Afghanistan. The Bush administration and Congress are prepared to commit huge new resources to the Pentagon, in spite of the return of budget deficits; a spending increase of more than $50 billion is likely to be approved for next year. Yet though the need is recognized, and a lot of dollars have been pledged, transformation is happening -- at best -- only on the margins.

The Bush administration promised to tackle this problem, but early efforts by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his team were largely rebuffed by the uniformed military and Congress. Now, after considerable internal debate, Mr. Rumsfeld is trying again -- and once again is encountering a buzz saw of bureaucratic and congressional opposition. At issue is the $11 billion Crusader artillery system, a heavy and unwieldy weapon originally designed for set-piece battles against Soviet forces in Europe. Mr. Rumsfeld's team would like to kill this dinosaur and transfer the $475 million earmarked for it in the 2003 Pentagon budget to other Army systems that would better fill the same need.

Major weapons system

Eliminating a major weapons system is a big step, of course, and the administration has yet to fully explain its decision to Congress. But for now, the problem is that some Army officials and the Republican congressional delegation of Oklahoma, where the Crusader is due to be produced, are trying to make sure that the Crusader is never discussed on the merits. Last week the House Armed Services Committee, prompted by Rep. J. C. Watts, voted to keep the Crusader from being canceled for at least another year. Sen. James Inhofe is planning to offer similar language when the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up the defense authorization bill this week. Their effort was aided by officials in the Army bureaucracy -- possibly including Secretary Thomas E. White -- who faxed talking points to the Hill claiming, among other things, that canceling the Crusader would cost the lives of American servicemen.

Instead of shamelessly treating a major weapons system as simply another piece of congressional pork, the Oklahoma congressmen and their colleagues on the armed services committees should be inviting Mr. Rumsfeld to explain his decision and taking seriously their responsibility to make rational decisions about defense spending at a time of war.




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