As you may recall, I handle chain letter threats for people who are afraid to do it for themselves.

Readers have sent me hundreds of chain "prayers" that threaten disaster to anybody who does not keep the chain going. I have deposited them in my wastebasket and have been blessed with a long and good life.

Most of the letters are similar, but one that arrived yesterday was a little bit different. It was accompanied by a note that said, "I'm not superstitious, knock on wood, but I prefer that you be the one who breaks this."

My doctor isn't superstitious, either. After he listens to my heart he grins, raps his knuckles lightly on my head, and says, "Regular as a clock, knock on wood."


I'm reminded of the fellow who said, "We atheists have rights, too, and they're protected by the Constitution, thank God."


A few days ago, I passed along Jack Eisen's story about the two teen-aged tourists aboard a plane that was preparing to land at National Airport. Instead of being interested in their first glimpse of the nation's capital, they were tuning a portable radio to find out what kind of rock music is available here.

James F. Harding of Adelphi writes: "I was given a slick, thin Panasonic personal pocket radio for my birthday. It is an amazing gadget. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I thought it would be fun to try it in flight.

"However, the little instruction card in the seat pocket said that the use of a portable radio is prohibited by federal regulations because it can interfere with the electronic guidance systems used by aircraft. You might want to alert your readers to this hazard."

Thank you, James. Now that you have prodded my memory, I recall that the point has come up before. I should have remembered and included the warning with the original story.


Around April 15, when the cry of the wounded taxpayer is heard throughout the land, I published a letter from a reader who was critical of congressmen who last year spent $3 million of our tax dollars on junkets to all parts of the world.

Part of my response pointed out that $3 million is a microscopic part of the cost of government. I said that if Congress spent $103 million less each year - not 3 but 103 - our taxes could be reduced by only 2 cents on each $100 we now pay. Frank Shepherd of Silver Spring immediately took out after me.

He rejects the argument that the amount is small. And don't try to tell him we're rich and can afford to be ripped off. "IT IS THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING," he says in capital letters. "It is a theft. Would you try to justify one of last night's burglaries with the argument that it amounted to only a small fraction of the gross national product?"

Frank, I neither defended nor attacked congressional travel. That is far too involved a subject for this limited space. Some travel by congressmen is in the public interest; some is questionable; some is a free vacation at the taxpayer's expense. I am not in a position to examine each set of travel vouchers and pass judgment on them. Each citizen can form his own opinion and vote accordingly.

What I was trying to do was center attention on a problem larger than $3 million in travel outlays or even $100 million in GSA fraud and waste. The government has grown so huge that it is difficult for the average person's mind to understand what the cost really is. The one thing we have learned is that whenever a cut is suggested in a specific program, any specific program, some group somewhere is going to scream, "Cut anything else, but not that."

I will agree that principle is important. We ought to give more time and attention to informing ourselves about candidates so that men and women of principle would stand a better chance of being elected.

With fewer hucksters, demagogues and snake oil peddlers in office, $3 million worth of waste might be worthy of attention. But as matters stand now, $3 million is pretty far down on the list of things I plan to get agitated about today. I'm much more upset about the special privileges Congress votes itself - like the airport VIP parking lots Mike Causey discussed in yesterday's Federal Diary column. As you noted yourself, Frank: It's not the money, it's the principle of the thing.