Let’s start Saturday morning with a quiz:
The number of visibly oiled mammal carcasses found since the recent BP oil leach into the Gulf of Mexico is: ( a) more than a million; ( b) between 1,000 and 1,000,000; ( c) between 10 and 1,000; ( d) less than 10?
Hint: dolphins and whales are mammals.
The answer, according to this week’s sensitive environmental reporting in Time magazine, is three. Therefore ( d) (“ less than 10”) is correct. Those who got it right may now make coffee.
Note that if the question were changed to, “ How many mammal carcasses altogether?” the answer would instead be ( c), because 11 human beings were killed in the initial explosion. To my mind, that was the larger story.
I hate quiz questions, and I will spare readers the rest of this week’s news interrogation, with a remark in passing. Several of you commented that in Wednesday’s column, I left out the principal cause of the shrinking newspaper audience.
As a reader in Almonte, Ont., who is more than 50 years old, put it, that cause is: “ Young people ( under 40) don’t read squat serious stuff outside their job requirements. At best they may watch the 6: 00 TV news. Under 30 and they do not even do that.”
Yes, that is definitely a problem for us, here in the mainstream media, and let me add, one for which we do not feel entirely responsible. Though let me say we compound the problem by persistently hiring people who are under 40. ( Um, that was a joke.)
During a part of my childhood that was being wasted in an Ontario public school, I couldn’t help but notice the morning news quiz. Students were expected to know the leading events of the day, carry newspaper clippings to school, write an occasional précis, and so forth.
In other words, the school was purposely breeding another generation of attentive newspaper readers.
Interestingly enough, we were even quizzed on important baseball and hockey scores — the theory being, that a Canadian kid who didn’t know if the Leafs beat the Habs last night ( think 1966), would be seriously out of touch.
The focusing of attention, on matters that do not involve immediate appetite or danger, does not come “ naturally,” in the sense that it needs to be cultivated. Hence things like schools, or that most powerful of educational institutions, the family — so powerful that when it is working it can stand up to the second most powerful “ teacher,” which is, the street.
Yet it is this very capacity — to think around, behind, ahead, or even through the events of the moment in our immediate vicinity — that distinguishes us from the wild animals.
To read a little more into what that reader from Almonte is saying, is to grasp a deep insinuation, that we have been raising children who are reverting by generational increments to their animal state. And, not just any animal, but a dangerously intelligent and potentially malicious human one.
Paradoxically, the Web, laptops, cellphones — whatever the latest “ pods” supplying “ a universe” of dodgy half-digested information — feed that impulse to make the world an extension of the voracious animal self, even as it displaces people from the here-and-now. We have, for instance, kids self-organizing into animal-like packs through cellphone.
It was to such an audience that, for example, the U. S. President recently declared, “ the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” ( Scary, eh kids?)
As that Time article, and many others, now report, the fish and shrimp of the Gulf coast are still testing clean. ( In other words, the fishermen and shrimpers did not suffer from spilled oil, only from the bureaucratic restrictions associated with it.) Assessment teams have found only 350 acres of oiled marshes along the coast. ( Compare: 150,000 acres of wetlands lost annually, along the same coast, to natural erosive forces.) Surface oil has all but disappeared, already, by organic breakdown.
One could go into great detail on the farce of misrepresenting the scale of the BP disaster. The nonsense is now being quietly corrected, to a much smaller audience than the one that absorbed the lies.
Though not knowing lies: for most of the nonsense was spread by people who, like Obama, truly didn’t know any better, never having been raised in the habit of skeptical attention to details. I was: which is how I guessed the story was mostly a crock from the outset; along with many others, thus raised.
Our families and our schools having failed us, and we having failed in our own right, it yet remains the noble task of “mainstream journalism,” whenever possible, to elevate vulgar tastes, inculcate habits of skeptical attention, and lift alike our readers and ourselves out of the morass of ignorance.