Maps, lipids and toy hand grenades: Some bad news

It can be very disconcerting if you really try to keep up with the news.

You are constantly running up on stories that make you question the things you've just read the day, or the week, before.

For example, on Tuesday, Feb. 17, The Seattle Times had a story on its local front page about the wife of a Fort Lewis soldier who confused Vancouver, B.C., with Vancouver, Wash.

Now this Lady Lost tale shouldn't be surprising in itself. After all, our misdirected bride is from Texas, and likely never before had to ask herself why two places only a few hundred miles apart would have the same name; it's not geographically logical, after all.

That story made me question what kind of folks we are sharing the I-5 corridor with. Originally it was reported that the lady was caught with a live hand grenade in her glove compartment. Visions of unsolicited explosions danced through my head like a Janet Jackson halftime show. I remember thinking, What kind of nut would "forget" a live hand grenade in her glove box?

It seemed to me the lady should have been arrested and then billed for the delay at the border because, for 60 minutes after she arrived, nothing moved on either side of Blaine. Instead, she was held one hour and then released. Canadian border officials were quoted as saying, "This was simply an error," and not terrorism.

Two days later, the Times reported that the grenade had been a fake. A toy.

The new question for me became, 'What kind of border guards would mistake a toy for a live grenade?'

And why did it take two days for them to admit their mistake?

The border guards must have been trained by the same people President Bush had scanning all those aerial photos for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The border guards also must have employed the same public-information outfit as Bush, because they didn't apologize or admit they'd been wrong. Instead, two days later they praised their own earnestness; after all, they did discover the fake grenade. Great.

Some other stories where incomplete or erroneous information gets out don't get corrected as quickly as the Lost Lady with a Live Grenade did.

Both Seattle dailies and all three major television news outlets went on and on a few weeks ago about Gov. Gary "I Love Boeing" Locke's amazing deal, which kept Boeing in Everett - as if the Olympia-based politician had done something to benefit all of us.

The local media seem to feel this story doesn't need any serious follow-ups. So, if you didn't read Rick Anderson's article about exactly how much of your future Locke gave away to keep 600 jobs that won't benefit Seattle in the Feb. 18 Seattle Weekly, you might think Locke is your friend.

It turns out Boeing is the tip of the iceberg. According to Anderson, Washington state has granted 503 tax breaks or exemptions valued at $64.7 billion per biennium budget. At least $13 billion of this "lost" money could have helped pay public costs such as police, fire and health (for all those Washingtonians without health insurance).

Not all of this can be traced to Locke. But Boeing in Everett can.

Good luck, though, if you want to see precisely what Locke and Boeing were up to. Locke and Boeing have claimed that much of the insider information on their "deal" is exempt from disclosure under the state's record act. The details of their deal are unavailable.

Just trust them.

But can we trust our fellow citizens in upcoming elections to have read enough to know who not to vote for - to know who is the corporation's friend, not the citizen's ally?

The news here isn't looking too good.

According to The New Yorker, a recent National Geographic-commissioned study discovered that more than 80 percent of American teens tested couldn't locate Iraq on a map.

Eleven percent of these teens couldn't even find the United States on a map.

Blame television. Blame the Internet. Blame our schools. Blame parents and guardians.

Placing the blame for this astounding cultural ignorance is less important to me than the fact that we are in this mess.

One of my current jobs is clerking at a local bookstore. I worked there previously in the mid-'90s, and the biggest difference, returning after a decade away, is the paucity of customers under 35 these days.

A decade ago at least 25 percent of my customers were young people. Mainly they were reading Kerouac, Burroughs, Bukowski and others of that oppositional (to mainstream culture) ilk. But they were reading, and moved enough by the experience to tell me about it.

I don't see their younger siblings and nieces and nephews all that often.

Maybe they are on the Internet downloading snapshots of Janet's partially uncovered body parts.

Or maybe they're just too tired, after reading an hour or so every day in school, to peruse pages for pleasure, or even information.

But in a land where four out of five teens polled can't even find the country where their fellow Americans are dying daily, one might wish we were getting smarter, and more involved with the real news concerning the world of preemptive war for other peoples' liberty, coupled with unpublicized, quasi-legal advantages for those greedy few already at the top of our greased cultural pole.

But the news is not all bad.

We are getting bigger. Forty percent of Americans are now considered overweight, even by the more generous recent actuarial tables, and slightly more than 20 percent of us are listed as chronically obese.

We may not read more, but we eat more.

It's Wednesday again, and my question isn't: What's for dinner?

It's: Can your kids read, and do they?

Freelance writer and potential Great White North visitor Dennis Wilken resides in Lower Queen Anne.

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