At Week's End

Capsules of Commentary on Recent Events

Starring Tim Kaine!

Virginia's new governor has not lacked for speaking engagements. There were all those appearances during the campaign. The inaugural address a week ago in Williamsburg. His speech to members of the General Assembly earlier this week. But he'll have a substantially larger audience on Jan. 31.

That's the day President Bush will give the State of the Union address, and Kaine has been chosen to give the Democratic response. Granted, he'd reach more people if he were singing alongside Aretha Franklin at next month's Super Bowl. And you might notice a power blip as television stations on the East Coast are turned off after Bush's speech and before the Democratic response. Still, this is a big opportunity -- a spotlight for Kaine and for Virginia.

Kaine has to work with a legislature controlled by Republicans. He can't afford to be overly partisan in his response to Bush, lest he ruffle Republican feathers in Richmond. But whatever the specific policy disagreements Kaine will have to deal with in his official response to the president, he'll surely find a way to place them within the overall theme of bipartisan problem-solving that worked so well for his predecessor, Mark Warner -- who might be giving his own State of the Union address one day. You never know.

Dumbing Ourselves Down

"The fact the federal government is disinvesting in the program is a national tragedy." — Newport News Mayor Joe Frank

In a world of hyperbole, you have to cull through the tragedies, the greatest hits and the ever-expanding number of idols in order to determine which ones really matter. Often the ones that do don't get much attention in the real news.

Fortunately, the one to which Mayor Joe Frank refers got a big headline on the Local front this week. Maybe that attention will give our representatives in Congress the boost they need to do something to avert the tragedy.

Because of federal budget cuts, 45 jobs may have to be eliminated at the Jefferson Lab in Newport News. The lab, run by the Department of Energy, does physics research unlike that being done anywhere in the world. It is unique, and that's not hyperbole.

The job cuts are not that significant to the local economy. That is not where the tragedy lies; it is, as Frank says, "a national tragedy."

Great nations don't shortchange scientific research. The United States should be investing more in pure scientific research, not less. The budget that brings cuts to the Jefferson Lab is the budget that's taking this nation in the wrong direction.

America's position in the world faces many challenges -- not the least of which is the failure of our schools to produce scientifically literate graduates who want to go on to careers in science. Cutting the budget for one of the world's most exciting research facilities sends a message to those children that their lack of interest is shared by their nation's leaders. If left uncorrected, that is truly a national tragedy.

A Chance to Smarten Up

The lack of interest some people show in science is not a consequence of the lack of effort by those who are interested. The folks at the Jefferson Lab are trying to build that interest, and part of that effort includes two events in the lab's Spring Science Series that should fascinate anyone with curiosity about where we live -- meaning, the universe.

On Feb. 21, teacher and author Jeffrey Bennett from the University of Colorado (Boulder) will address "The Scale of the Universe." (A hint: It's really big.) On March 21, Louis Bloomfield from the University of Virginia will tackle "How Things Work," an introduction to the physics involved in everyday life.

For more information about the presentations, which begin at 7 p.m. in the lab's CEBAF Center auditorium, call 269-5102. Or, go online to http://education.jlab.org/scienceseries/currentseries.html. For security purposes, those over 16 must have a photo ID. The programs are free. Entrance is on Onnes Drive.

Put Up Or Pay Up

Here's a bad bill, though perhaps not as bad as it looks.

SB163, sponsored by state Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. of James City, would remove the toll from the Coleman Bridge. Norment calls the legislation "a placeholder." Well, fine. There will, no doubt, be plenty of talk about transportation in this session of the General Assembly.

But the talk needs to be about funding transportation, which logically suggests imposing more tolls on more highways, not taking them off the Coleman. The deal -- the legal agreement -- that made improvement of the Coleman possible called for the debt to be paid by tolls. Without revenue from tolls, there wouldn't have been enough money in the state transportation budget to make the improvements. The fact that there was insufficient money in the absence of tolls was the fault of the Virginia General Assembly.

Perhaps those who use the Coleman on a daily basis will go to Richmond to lobby for higher taxes and tolls for transportation in general, to correct the mistakes of the past. Absent such support for additional funds, parochial whining about the Coleman toll should be ignored.

Still Time

We're close, and with a little more help, we'll make it.

The Daily Press Holiday Fund campaign ends on Jan. 31, and with 10 days left the drive is about $10,000 short of its $150,000 goal.

The more than $140,000 collected so far is a remarkable display of generosity by the community -- one that all involved should be proud of.

For more than 75 years, the Holiday Fund has served children and families in need. The Daily Press covers all expenses associated with raising the money and coordinating with the various charities to put that money to work in the community. And, again, the McCormick Tribune Foundation is matching donations at 50 cents on the dollar up to the fund goal.

There are several ways to donate. Contributions can be mailed to: Daily Press Holiday Fund, P.O. Box 746 -- MP 1105, Newport News 23607. They may be delivered to the newspaper's main office at 7505 Warwick Blvd., Newport News. Contributions may also be charged over the telephone at (800) 508-2930 or online at www.dailypress.com/holidayfund.

Thank you for your generosity.