WASHINGTON — Reaching the age of 85, one indulges oneself in a three-week vacation in the Colorado Rockies, hoping that some of the nation's problems will be solved - or at least ameliorated - in the interim.
Alas, one returns to find our shores besieged by sharks, our interior by black bears, our forests by wildfires, and human intelligence apparently unequal to keeping the nation on course domestically and internationally.
President Bush and Congress make clear, on their return from their holidays, that they are not much closer to coping with the vanishing budget surplus and the shaky economy.
The fading rosy revenue scenario portends a series of battles over government spending in the budget year starting Oct. 1, for which all the 13 department appropriations remain to be enacted.
Major issues remain unresolved. Who knows what will happen to Social Security, Medicare drugs, patient protection, money for education, and defense? The revamping of our military remains stymied, except that President Bush plans to forge ahead with missile defense, no matter what Russia and China do to thwart it.
The issue of Mexican immigrants lingers in contention, and the issue of Mexican trucks as well.
The vexing question of financing stem-cell research was, it turns out, not settled by the Bush compromise of endorsing some 60-odd existing stem-cell lines. Questions arise in Congress about whether that will be enough.
In the strife-torn Middle East, I expected no miracle in my absence. I was not surprised. But I did hope that the world conference against racism, discrimination, and intolerance in Durban, South Africa, would at least not lead to exacerbated racism and intolerance and an outcome so hate-laden that the United States and Israel could not abide being there.
Finally, when I went away, I hoped - although not with great confidence - that the Gary Condit scandal would, in my absence, recede from the media radar screen. No luck! Congressman Condit helped to keep it alive with his ill-conceived interview with Connie Chung on ABC (which I managed to miss). And this enduring whodunit (or whodonewhat?) survived for the start of the fall season.
On the national landscape, I found little better in early September than the way I left it in early August.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio.