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ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO UNDERSTAND

It's hard to decide now how much time to spend reading the newspaper every day. One of the problems is that it's part education and part entertainment. You have to allocate your time so you spend less on the things you ought to know than you spend on the stories that are fun or interesting to know.

This accounts for why some people turn to sports, some to the features pages and some to the stock market before they read page one. The important news stories are the least read, and this makes it difficult for a responsible editor.

I never know how much time to spend on stories I don't understand. I assume the story is important if I don't understand it and make an effort to read it even if I'm not interested. I want at least to know the good guys from the bad guys.

Today a headline says that the former head of Peru's spy organization, who was also a longtime CIA agent, has been captured in Venezuela. I have to go to my atlas to see where Peru is and where Venezuela is.

Once I have my geography down, I try to figure out why one of our CIA operatives got involved with trying to overthrow a Peruvian regime. (The only thing I remember hearing about Peru was that in some parts of the country, there are villages so high up in the mountains that residents have to come down to have their children.)

It doesn't have to be a foreign story for me to fail to understand it. My eyes glaze over reading about Medicare, Medicaid, health insurers, patients' rights and drug companies. There's always something about the stories mentioning "health insurance" that suggests we'd all live forever if we could just get the details right about who pays the doctors.

In any health care story, I'm always on the side of patients and doctors and against drug companies and "the health care industry." It's too bad that health care has to be an industry, but even though their interest is money, not health, the drug companies come up with some good stuff.

Politics is often confusing. Two politicians are running in the Republican primary for governor in New Jersey. Fortunately, I don't vote in New Jersey, because the statements they have made are incomprehensible to me. One of them is apparently a liar and a crook, according to the other, but I can't figure out which one. If I could vote in New Jersey, I'd vote against both of them.

Reading the paper, I give 15 minutes to sports and two or three to business. I own five stocks and if the headline says the stock market was up, I look up where my stocks went. If the market is down, I never look. I don't want to know. I don't read other stories in the business pages and always skip the mergers and takeovers.

Stories about the tax cut aren't clear to me. When do I get the money? The inheritance tax is going to be phased out over the next 10 years, and then the next year, we go back to the inheritance tax we have today. Is this true? If it is, a person my age has to be very careful about when he dies.

While I was dismayed recently when President Bush refused to sign the global warming agreement negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, I don't know where I stand on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty because I don't know enough about it to have an intelligent opinion. That doesn't usually stop me, of course.

There are even stories on the sports pages that puzzle me. Why do they say that a player who hits the ball once every four times he goes to bat is "hitting 250"? He's hitting it 25 percent of the time. Why don't they say he's hitting 25?

I can accept being dumb about some stories, but there's one thing that always makes me nervous: that's when I don't understand a comic strip.

Tribune Media Services

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