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Dispatches Quick Takes

Affordable war

Can the United States financially afford a war with Iraq? Yes, argues economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson. Without commenting on whether the country should make such a war, he points out that "the United States has become so wealthy it can wage war almost with pocket change." He notes that even a $100 billion price tag would only add up to about 1 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, on top of a military budget that runs 3 percent of GDP. By contrast, defense spending was 38 percent of GDP in 1944 (during World War II), 14 percent in 1953 (during the Korean War), and 9.4 percent in 1968 (during Vietnam). Mr. Samuelson identifies two trends: The U.S. economy has grown enormously over the last several decades, while wars have become more localized. The result: "A possible war with Iraq raises many questions, but 'can we afford it?' is not one of them."

Winter war

If we're going to take out Saddam, when should we? Probably winter, reports Anne Scott Tyson of The Christian Science Monitor. She argues that the cold weather and long nights would work in the allies' favor. Ms. Tyson writes that experts believe "November through February is the optimal window for an Iraq campaign, given seasonal considerations of daylight, temperature, and climate." Factors affecting the first strike include such logistical issues as planning flights and securing bases. In addition, sending out troops in hot weather wearing protective suits can be risky. It was no accident that the last Gulf War started in January. "In the summer there's not a lot you can do in a MOPP [Mission Oriented Protective Posture] suit," James Carafano, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told Ms. Tyson.

At least they're recycling

College students need to drink less milk and more beer. That's the message from the animal-rights group PETA, which last month renewed its "Got Beer?" anti-milk campaign, a spoof of the "Got Milk?" ad slogan. The group ran "Got Beer?" ads in student papers at four large state universities. Among PETA's controversial claims is that milk is unhealthy and that the dairy industry harms cattle. But "Got Beer?" is hard for many to swallow: "It's an irresponsible, recycled publicity stunt that literally puts cows before kids," said Wendy Hamilton, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

A day for Pampering

The Austin American-Statesman headline on Sept. 22 reads, "For a day, agencies pamper hundreds of the homeless." The story concerns a local event in which the American Red Cross, other agencies, and some churches joined to give clothes, sleeping bags, and food to some 300 individuals who are homeless for any reason. The Statesman notes in passing that one young man "has been homeless since leaving his wife three months ago." That's it-no explanation of whether he left his wife because she came at him with a butcher knife, or whether he left her because he felt like it, leaving her adrift and impoverished. The young man, standing in line for a free haircut, "called the day a great experience. 'It's really nice of the people who put this together for people like us.'" Nice? For sure. Helpful? If he abandoned his wife for no reason or just about any reason, we should hope that he is so thoroughly miserable on his own that he'll do the right thing and go back. In some situations "nice" may be evil. Compassion doesn't mean giving someone something, it means loving our neighbors as ourselves-and if we have any self-understanding, we know that our own best interests are served when we are challenged to act rightly, not when we are treated like babies to be wrapped in Pampers.

Lonely battle

Nancy Reagan says her husband may not even recognize her anymore. The former first lady told CBS' 60 Minutes II that the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease have set in for the 91-year-old former president. "I'd love to be able to talk to him about it, and there were times when I had to catch myself because I'd reach out and start to say, 'Honey, remember when?'" she recounted. Ronald Reagan spends his days in his Bel Air home with his wife by his side. "The golden years are when you can sit back, hopefully, and exchange memories, and that's the worst part about this disease: There's nobody to exchange memories with ... and we had a lot of memories," Mrs. Reagan said. The 40th president is rarely seen in public, and his wife admitted that caring for him often leaves her feeling alone. "Yes, it's lonely, because really, you know, when you come right down to it, you're in it alone and there's nothing that anybody can do for you."