Capitol Hill newstand operator Annie Cooper's age was listed incorrectly last Friday. She gives her age as 53.
Every spring I run through my own Cost of Living Index, which measures not the dollar price of staying alive, but the tone of this capital, and what life really costs.
Unlike the government's somewhat absurd Index, which itself adds greatly to our general problems, my own Index is based on a more complicated, more sophisticated and more delicate set of factors -- level of occupancy in bird houses, relative attention accorded non-junk books, instances of civilized behavior to clerks, etc., etc., and of course the result usually shows there is some hope but, believe me, good friend, we are far from a 10.
Annie Cooper, to begin with her, is near 80 and has operated a newsstand at 331 First St. NW since the days of Noah. Senate staffs (for example) have standing orders with her for 7 Posts and 3 Stars and she is faithful in providing them and cheerful and splendid as well.
The reason the senators buy a lot more Posts than Stars, apart from the obvious one, probably relfects the well-known habit of legislators to depart their offices in early afternoon.
Anyway, Cooper has given joy over the years as many, who had otherwise had to deal with those infuriating coin machines that dispense papers and which have often stolen money from me, especially dimes which the machines would kill for.
An evening of appreciation is planned in the Dirksen Senate Office Building at 5 p.m. today, to salute Ms. Cooper, possibly with a few of those soggy sandwiches the Capitol specializes in, and which I find totally delicious, but also with orations by Mark Russell, the wit. Cooper has a pacemaker in her heart now, and like everybody else was mugged on Capitol Hill, and Capitol staffers propose to cheer her up.
David Passafaro of the sergeant-at-arms office hopes it will be a dandy occasion.
Against this sparkling coordinate of the Index -- before you rise into the clouds like larks and heavengate -- there are darker factors of the capital scene:
The 5:56 p.m. N bus simply did not run on March 3, and I have brooded over it for some days, since its nonappearance made me miss a Kennedy Center showing of rare Hollywood films (some from 1903) that had been discovered in Alaska. The permafrost in which they were buried had preserved them like new.
During my 43-minute wait for a bus that never came, 10 N buses passed going the opposite direction. You might think one of those 10 drivers would have returned during the 43 minutes. Until Metro makes up its mind that buses really have to run, as scheduled (though I would never complain of a 12-minute lateness) people are going to continue to use their cars instead of Metro.
A perhaps more serious coordinate of confusion here is the bird situation on my own grounds. Like all right-thinking people I have built or otherwise acquired several bird houses, and herewith tender my report:
The flicker house is occupied by starlings. The purple martin house is occupied by sparrows. The Carolina wren house is occupied by chickadees. The wren house has been examined by sparrows who almost certainly will move in, despite assurances of bird books the wren entrance hole is too small for sparrows. The tufted titmouse house (the work of my hands and my heart) is not occupied by anybody.
I consider this a poor showing.
On the other hand none of the goldfish died over winter. Usually three do. Furthermore, the hound's eczema has somewhat cleared up on the tail.
I have also spoken with Dr. Mortimer J. Adler Jr. about the likelihood that God's in his heaven, or anywhere else, and Adler is of the opinion it is reasonable to believe God exists, even if you do not take any great leap of faith.
Adler has a Jewish background, attends the Episcopal church, where I gather he is somewhat shocked at the bumbleheaded asses (not his words) who have botched up the formerly lovely liturgy.
As an undergraduate at Columbia University Adler fell in with a Roman Catholic buddy (there is no telling what you run into in New York) who spoke of Aquinas. Adler had never heard of Aquinas. He went to the university library and discovered there was no single volume of Aquinas in English.
So much (you may note in passing) for the cultural of New York and of great centers of learning.
But to get on (and Columbia in later years has acquired some copies of Aquinas, Adler said) Adler has been interested in religion ever since -- a subject he has given deep thought to, decade after decade.
He discovered, to his astonishment, that he has drawn standing-room audiences whenever he lectures on the general question of the existence of God. People flock, more than to his talks on his other great projects like the Encyclopedia-Britannica and the Great Books programs.
Some people, he finds, do not give a damn one way or another, while others are firmly rooted in a particular religious faith, but there is a vast number who simply do not know, but who are curious, whether it is all nonsense or whether there are reasonable grounds for belief.
He has written a book, "How to Think About God" which is a guide for the 20th century pagan. He assumes the universe had no beginning -- that it was not created.
"If you assume it had a beginning," he observed, "then you also assume, rather than reasonably conclude, there is God.
"The Big Bang theory does not settle much," he went on, "because then there had to be matter for the Big Bang to bang with, and you are faced with the question where that matter came from.
"It is conceivable, however, that the cosmos had no beginning. So you do not have to assume there was a God to create it."
But if there is a God, he goes on, then what would God have to be, at a minimum? In other words, what are you talking about when you say "God"? He starts with the definition that God would have to be greater than any other power that can be thought of. But the mere fact that you can think, in your head, of a being greater than any other, would not prove such a being existed outside your head. What evidence is there, if any, that can be comprehended by a reasonable mind without recourse to blind faith?
Adler considers several arguments for God that he considers utterly illogical. He sets them up and knocks them down. It is only with the advent of 20th-century physics that he thinks he sees logical reasons (not an absolute certainty) for the existence of God.
The argument hinges on what Adler believes is the reasonable assumption that the cosmos as it exists is only one of many cosmoses that could exist.He does not believe it is reasonable to believe that our cosmos had to be as it is, envitably and of necessity. Since the cosmos could be otherwise, then why is it not otherwise? Since it does not exist as it is of necessity, why does it exist at all, and what keeps it from deteriorating into nothingness?
He reaches, eventually, the conclusion there must be a power greater than the cosmos that has ordered our cosmos and not some other.
The God that Adler reaches by logic and philosophy (not allowing any blind faith) is a great distance from the God that notes a sparrow's fall or concerns itself with the death of your cat. Or yourself.
Adler cannot see hwo to prove the God of Abraham or Jesus or Mohammed. But he thinks he has proved that you cannot lightly assume there is no God, merely because you never gave it much thought, or because you may have prejudices against the religious enthusiasts you run across.
He does attempt to prove or disprove the God of the major faiths, merely to show what he considers the evidence that a God greater than the cosmos exists, or that it is not unreasonable to believe it exists.
The book (Macmillan publishers) gives you time to think up your rebuttals and reread a chapter to see if you have caught him in a baseless assumption.
On the whole, as I feed Adler into my Index, I fancy he is more like the party for Annie Cook than he is like the 5:56 bus that didn't run.
But wait -- the Index is brought down again by news from Karlin V. Jackson of Takoma Park who wants to switch political parties to vote in the May primary.
In Prince Georges County, she discovered, she cannot switch after Jan. 14.
Why? The primary is not until May. Furthermore, if she had never voted before, she would have until April 14 to decide which party's primary she wished to vote in.
New voters have three full months to pick up information about candidates that registered voters do not.
This is not merely unfair and dumb, but probably sinister.
There is also the matter of the Social Security Office:
A man went to pick up a standard form there. He was told to sit down. After 50 minutes he ventured to say again he just wanted to pick up a form. After making a fuss (pointing out that others had been waiting for an hour and a half and not liking the receptionist's insistence he would have to wait for an interviewer, which [she said] might be a further hour in the future) he got his form and left.
He found one page of the form blank. A printing failure.
"It's clear to me," he said, "they have a stack of defective forms. If you raise a stink, they give you one." But fortunately he found somebody at Social Security, when he phoned to say the form had a blank page, who said she was sorry and mailed, MAILED -- he did not have to make another trip -- him a complete and perfect form.
In sum, the capital scores 6.5 and holding, but can go either way.