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Recent headlines show we're getting this world into a serious mess

Ah, the news. Last week, among the usual studies of the obvious--"Three studies suggest TV can harm kids' academic success"--we got a couple of real gems, truly memorable bits of important national information tucked amid the pointless homicides and fatal rollovers for which Tucson is so justly known.

First, "Iraq is site of prime training for terrorists" (Knight Ridder, July 5).

The headline is a little bit misleading: It's the site, not the training, that's prime. Then there's the weird, wordy headline-ese for which newspapers are so justly known. "Site" is one of those words, like "youngster," "axed" or "feared"--as in "Antidepressant link to suicide feared"--that only copy editors use. What's wrong with "Many terrorists train in Iraq?" or "Iraq now tops with terrorists, CIA says?" They're in English--that's what's wrong. And you will never, ever see a really compressed, information-heavy hed (as we say) in the Arizona Daily Star, because the executive editor long ago declared that all heds and cutlines (captions) be complete sentences. No one knows why.

And the Star's managing editor is a former photo editor for Disney, so there's no help there: Photo people call text "the gray stuff" and resent the space it takes up. Making someone from the photo side managing editor is, to put it politely, an interesting choice. (Isn't this exciting? A glimpse inside the Star newsroom! Next time, I'll tell you about when Tom Beal shaved his head.)

So a hed like "Spy at center of leak case still in shadow" (The New York Times, July 5) would never pass muster at the Star. Our paper simply has higher standards.

(By the way, reporters at most newspapers are not allowed to write heds. We hate most of what gets stuck on our sparkling prose, so don't blame us.)

But I digress.

Having exhausted the phenomenology of the headline, let us return to the content of our original story: "Iraq is site of prime training for terrorists."

Well, duh. You make a hell; you get demons.

Good going, George, and a big "thank you" to every one of you who voted for him. It's great to hear what we suspected all along: The world is a more dangerous place than it was before March 2003. A new generation of IEDs--improvised explosive devices--are now a major concern in Europe, where people have some experience with day-in, day-out terrorism. Homemade bombs have gotten much more sophisticated since the war started, as thousands of young American amputees can attest. The bad guys are getting in loads of practice. (We should note this column was turned in the day before the London bombings. Creeps us out, too.)

Oh, and the poppy crop is looking good in Afghanistan, a country that's quickly slipping back into tribalism. Only rulers as mean and knowing as the Taliban could keep a lid on that place, a truth that a few thousand years of history might have told us had we only listened. And we apparently lost 19 soldiers last week in those deadly mountains--does the name "Khyber Pass" ring any bells?--for absolutely nothing.

Are we ready to use the "I" word yet? (Impeachment: It's not just for adulterers any more.)

And speaking of criminal ignorance in our elected officials, we now turn to another of last week's headlines, "Scientists told to turn over data behind global-warming theory." Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, demanded that three distinguished climatologists give him all their data, presumably so that he could analyze it and figure out where they'd gone wrong, because he does not believe in global warming. (Nor do his owners--Big Awl, as Molly Ivins spells it.) He does not believe in it in the same way that the Kansas school board does not believe in evolution, as John Bolton did not believe the State Department's analysis of Syria's nuclear potential, as a 16-year-old driver does not believe he is mortal. He doesn't want to believe it.

It's as if we all went down the rabbit hole. Tourists are swarming Inland Passage cruises because they want to see the glaciers before they all melt, at the same time that the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is trying to impugn the work of three researchers who probably have 18 or 20 combined years of schooling on him, and who are only saying what everyone already knows. There's this surreal disconnect between reality and rhetoric, and the media just play along. Theory. Coalition forces. Operation Iraqi Freedom. They accept the vocabulary without thinking about it.

Nothing about this time scares me more than its intense anti-intellectualism. It's as if we all agreed not to think. Real Americans believe.

Folks, we've got a C-minus student for president. And guess what? Our kids get to inherit a C-minus world.

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