It's About Time Dept.:

N. Ireland: a Step Forward

Wipe away those TV images. All those grim shots of bomb blast debris. Yes the violence happened. But it doesn't represent the majority of Ulster life. And it certainly doesn't represent the progress the economy has made in the past year of uneasy peace. Businesses are expanding. New investors are arriving. Ditto tourists.

But commerce and tourism seemed to have gotten ahead of the politicians, who until this week remained stuck in a stubborn impasse. That was the matter of whether the Irish Republican Army had to start turning in its guns and bombs before peace talks could start. Now the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland have finessed that question by delegating the weapons issue to a three-member commission led by former US Senator George Mitchell. It is to report back a nonbinding recommendation by January in hopes of getting all-party talks started in February.

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Protestant Unionist leaders have criticized this formula, but haven't shut the door. Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, may find this a way out of its opposition to continuing the peace search it agreed to 15 months ago.

Reality on the ground is favorable to a resumption of the peace effort. The Northern Ireland public has become healthily accustomed to peace. It should not be thwarted by zealots.

Oil for the Lamps of China

After more than 20 years, Washington has finally done the sensible thing and permitted Alaskan oil to be exported. The policy prohibiting overseas sale of North Slope oil was wasteful and uneconomic from the start. But at least it had the rationale of safeguarding domestic supplies during the first Middle East oil boycott. That rationale disappeared at least 15 years ago. Shipping directly to Japan and East Asia would have meant more jobs and more profit. Any business would have changed policy immediately.

Political Science 101

After much foofaraw, Massachusetts Senate President William (Billy) Bulger has been selected to head the University of Massachusetts. Critics argued an academic should have gotten the job. Perhaps. But UMass is more likely to grow into a respected university under Mr. Bulger's skillful hand than under a nonmanagerial type who doesn't know how to woo legislators. Bulger shows more genuine awe of learning than many a candidate jaded by campus politicking. Bulger quoted Woodrow Wilson as saying he'd had to run for president in 1916 to get away from university politics. Harvard Provost Al Carnesale, commenting on his many flights between Cambridge and Washington, says he's never set foot in reality at either end.

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