- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Fueling the 4th

"To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt."

Thomas Jefferson, who never lived to pump gasoline.

Oh say, can you see?

Nothing lasts forever, including the 187-year-old woolen flag that inspired our national anthem.

Still, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History says ongoing research indicates the huge, three-story flag could survive another 500 to 1,000 years on public display, albeit under optimal conditions.

The discovery comes in this, the first of the three-year Star Spangled Banner Preservation Project. The research includes scientific study in the museum's on-site conservation laboratory, and wool research conducted by New Zealand experts in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service.

Preliminary results show that the life span of the flag, measuring 30 by 34 feet (1,020 square feet), could be greatly expanded if the museum stabilizes the banner's environment by strictly controlling light, humidity and temperature.

"A conservative estimate is 500 years, an optimistic estimate is 1,000 years," says Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, chief conservator for the project.

Just recently, to preserve the banner, conservators carefully clipped and removed about 1.7 million stitches that attached a linen support backing to the flag. The backing was stitched on in 1914 when the Smithsonian hired professional flag restorer Amelia Fowler to preserve the then-100-year-old Star Spangled Banner.

Other new discoveries:

• In some areas of the flag, there is extensive fabric loss and deterioration. In some stripes, more than 60 percent of the original flag material is gone.

• With the stitches removed, the museum has found 27 patches sewn on over the years.

• Removing the stitches uncovered a hoist sleeve, to accommodate a rope that hoists the flag up a pole.

• Stains have been found that resemble cursive writing and conservators are investigating to determine if these are ink. These may be signatures that Fowler described in her 1914 report.

Ben's neighbor

The series of investigative stories in The Washington Times last week about China's state-run news agency trying to occupy an apartment building that overlooks the Pentagon providing the opportunity to covertly monitor Pentagon comings and goings got some employees of The Washington Post thinking about the security of their own newsroom.

Which happens to back up to a large red brick compound and mansion on 16th Street that once housed the Soviet Embassy and is now the Russian ambassador's residence.

For years, this highly-secured compound, surrounded by a 6-foot-high iron fence, was the Soviet Embassy, scene of several spy recruitments over the past several decades. After 1991, the compound became the Russian Embassy, until a new state-of-the-art facility was opened atop Washington's highest hill near Georgetown. Go figure.

"In relation to your Chinese stories, we've been wondering how much eavesdropping the Russians have been doing on The Post," says one Washington Post insider, who uses the alias "Ben Bradlee" when contacting this column.

"For many years, the back of the [Russian residence] looked like a dilapidated warehouse, but lately the Russians have been doing a lot of sprucing up painting and renovating, making it look more presentable," says the Postie, who smells something fishy.

Presidential material

In every race, there's a winner and a loser. So what happens to the loser in the 2000 presidential race?

"With the relative normality of George W's [Bush] upbringing, he seems like a regular guy who would very much like to be president, but it won't be the end of the world for him if he doesn't make it. He'll still have his family and he'll still do the fun, normal things he likes to do," opines Washington writer Melinda Ledden Sidak in the Women's Quarterly.

"Gore, however, is another story. There is something eerie about his robotic, mechanical speaking style and smarmy Eddie Haskell effect. He speaks as though his audience consists solely of dim souls who are hard of hearing each word carefully enunciated with every third word emphasized," she observes.

"Worse, he seems willing to do literally anything in order to become president. As one well-known Washington pundit told me, 'If you told Gore to get down and lick the floor in order to be president, he'd unhesitatingly drop to the floor. If you told Bush the same thing, he'd tell you to get lost.' "

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