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  • Joel Achenbach
    Joel Achenbach

    School Eclipses Storms, Clintons, Tennis
    Monday, August 30, 1999; 12:39 p.m. EDT

    Behold another exercise in raw, unbridled media power, the posting of the midday column. You are looking at the future of journalism, unless you're looking at the recapitulation of the CB radio. This is our second week on the job and we are now hoping to "hit our stride," and may even at some point figure out what the column is "about," besides being fast, electronic, and hyperlinkable. Now we're ready to take the next step, and develop an overriding thematic principle, like Remember the Little People.

    The tedious Dennis has coasted up to the edge of the Outer Banks, within sniffing distance, but is being prevented from moving directly onto land by an area of high pressure in the Northeast created by overachieving weenies. It appears at the moment that Dennis is just going to sit there, and huff and puff, and may become a permanent offshore feature. All this gives us the chance to report what an actual meteorological expert said in answer to our question on Friday about why tropical storms don't have corporate sponsorship (for example, "Hurricane Bed, Bath & Beyond").

    Frank Lepore, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said that the idea of corporate sponsorship has, in fact, periodically surfaced. Then it submerges again.

    "We have a file called Conceptually Challenged. It's the file of the conceptually challenged folks who write us with these kinds of suggestions," Lepore said. There's a very good reason, he said, that corporations haven't tried to use hurricanes as potential billboards: "You're attaching your corporate name to something that causes something like $5 billion in damage a year, on average, and probably scores of deaths."

    Oh yeah. We forgot about that.

    The Clintons are spending their first full day in someplace called Skaneateles, N.Y. They want to send a signal that they are willing to take a personal vacation in New York, where Mrs. Clinton may run for the Senate, so long as they first get a chance to take their real vacation in Martha's Vineyard.

    In sporting news, the U.S. Open started this morning, and it appears that if you go to you can get instant updates and won't have to read the rest of this column (the magic of the Internet!). Or you can be tremendously patient and wait an hour or so for our own staff-produced story out of the Open on this very web site.

    The big news this morning is that school's back, accompanied in the Washington area by strikingly autumnal air, a sudden, double-whammy obliteration of the summer. The buzzword this year: Security. Our kids are safe. The biggest danger they face is that they will discover that their new backpack is lethally uncool.

    It used to be that first grade was the big step for a child, but nowadays by first grade most kids are battle-hardened veterans of school, seasoned wise-acres and chair-slouchers. Now, the great leap for the child is the entering of pre-K, two years before first grade. There are children of four, or even three years old, who are going off to a six-and-a-half hour, five-day-a-week class.

    A parent sending such a child to school is keenly aware that this creature is only a few steps from drooling babyhood, that this is not exactly a disciplined scholar, that this is at best a rough simulacrum of a human being, and at any moment may revert to her natural, uncivilized self, an entity still deeply immersed in a dreamworld of make-believe and personal indulgences. As a parent, you drop off this kid, and go down the list of preparations fed? rested? dressed properly? socialized? and finally realize, with mounting horror, the one forgotten element: You forgot to teach her to count! Holy cow, the poor child's just a big blank slate up there! (And the other kids look like they're practically ready to take the PSAT!) In such moments you have to take a deep breath, and let her go. Your baby is launched into the big adventure of life she's her own person.

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    © 1999 Washington Post Newsweek Interactive

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