Dressed for stress

I would not be surprised if President Bush decided to give up his relaxed, "everything's under control" approach and immediately declare a national "time out." The stock market is faltering, energy prices are climbing, and now we've crash-landed into the middle of a diplomatic dust-up with Beijing. Stress is coming at us from all directions these days, and I'm not alone in this assertion. A headline on the AP wire earlier this week proclaimed "More Stress in US-China Relations."

Those relations are already complicated by a number of ironic elements. And in politics irony can be extremely stressful. Our Army, in case you hadn't heard, has already signed contracts with firms in China (and several other countries) to supply thousands of new black berets, which will become a standard uniform item later this year.

Previously, black berets had only been worn by elite Ranger units, and the decision to have all soldiers wear them sparked an uproar that took five months to sort out. As part of a compromise arrangement, the Rangers will now wear tan berets to maintain a distinctive appearance.

But in order to have the new berets available in time for their scheduled introduction in June, foreign hatmakers were hired, and that caused a new controversy to erupt. Critics of the deal charged that American firms were being unfairly and unpatriotically bypassed. So Pentagon officials said they would review the beret contracts, and I suspect the news of our surveillance plane falling into Chinese custody has added a new level of stress to their deliberations.

At times like this, it would be easy to throw up our hands and believe that such ongoing tumult is inevitable in a complex world of competing interests, but that would be a false assumption. Which brings me to another large-scale apparel review that was accomplished without rancor.

Last weekend in Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts unveiled their new uniforms, which are said to be more in tune with youthful fashion trends.

The updated look includes zippered, stretch-fabric navy tops and flared cargo pants. Scout officials reportedly spent three years working on the makeover, with a lot of research focused on what girls wanted and, equally important, what their parents would go along with.

The organization even handled its own headgear transition without emotional turmoil. Girl Scouts will switch from baseball-style caps to floppy brimmed bucket hats. (Brownie beanies and uniforms are not being changed.)

Several other adjustments are being made that reflect the rapidly changing realities of modern teenage culture. New badges will be given for adventure sports and - what could be more timely? - coping with stress.

Perhaps the Girl Scouts should consider an honorary recipient for the latter award. I have a feeling President Bush would be happy to accept.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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