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It's always fun when the rotating spotlight of the national media alights, however briefly, upon our fair city.

Back in the early '80s, when our then-bucolic little burg landed its first major high-tech employer (Digital Equipment, now Quantum), the Wall Street Journal ran a story which focused on the CEO's spouse who had gone wandering off to pick wildflowers after the groundbreaking ceremony.

A decade later, in the wake of the savings & loan crisis, we became officially known as the Foreclosure Capital of America. The New York Times duly noted that a sizeable percentage of the city was in foreclosure, including the massive 23,000-acre Banning-Lewis Ranch on the city's eastern border.

Then came the voter-approved amendment to the state constitution in 1992, which forbade local governments from enacting ordinances that protected gays against discrimination.

Since the amendment was both conceived and widely supported in the Springs, the national media pounced. We were right, we were religious, we were homophobic; we were a great story.

Times change. Foreclosures disappeared, and the boom began. The Supreme Court tossed out Amendment 2. Our "crazy" right-wing electorate chose moderate folks like Mary Lou Makepeace, Richard Skorman, Ted Eastburn and Sallie Clark to represent them. "Normal, white" anti-zoning County Commissioner Betty Beedy got trounced by a traditional conservative. Time for the national media to take another look.

Sure enough, the Sept. 23 issue of the Times devoted about half a page to the Springs. Its theme? Economic prosperity. "As the nation heads into an economic period with all the hallmarks of recession, affluent people in this affluent community of 358,000 splayed at the foot of Pikes Peak are still eating cake," intoned the news article. "They are beginning, though, to forego the icing ..."

But the rich folks whom the Times interviewed don't seem particularly worried. Gary Markle, who runs Colorado Springs Technology Incubator out of UCCS, reported that he recently, briefly considered halting construction on his $1.5 million dream house, but decided to go ahead, and buy a new car as well. Quantum exec George Kreigler, 48, thinks he might not be able to retire at 50; looks like a couple of more years of unrelenting toil for ol' George.

So the news is good -- from being cast as hopeful and bucolic in the '80s, to fanatical and foreclosed in the '90s, we've moved into middle-aged prosperity. And even with the stock market's precipitous decline, the affluent are still just fine. As Gary Markle noted, "I think people are saying to themselves, 'Well, I had $3 million, and now I only have $2 million. But $2 million is still a lot.'"

Well put. Even though most of us don't have $2 million socked away, many of us are doing just fine. As a community, we've done well: solved problems, grown up some politically, created wealth. America at its best, right? Sure, we're rich, we're successful, we're entrepreneurial, we're God-fearing, we're decent, we're well-intentioned, but we're just a tad ignorant.

There are, as Osama likes to remind us, a billion Muslims in the world. What do we know about 'em, and how would we find out more? Assuming that we know nothing (as in me and everyone I know), don't bother calling our local publicly funded colleges and universities, hoping to enroll in an Islamic Studies program. There aren't any.

If you look through the UCCS/PPCC course catalogs, most offerings are either professional (Math 565: Numerical Analysis) or utilitarian (Comm. 324: Business & Professional Communications). That's to be expected; professors can only teach what they know, or what their students need to know.

But having ignored the Arab/Islamic world for the last half-century or so, most Americans are living in the mist. Afghanistan? Pakistan? Uzbekistan? They might as well be empty spaces on a 16th-century map, with the famous notation: Here There Be Dragons. And there are dragons there, but we have no way of knowing much about them.

We have to rely upon storytellers -- travelers to distant lands, self-appointed experts. Who to believe? Well, who tells the best story? Colin Powell? Christiane Amanpour? Mullah Omar? Do we really think that, for all the billions we've spent on "intelligence," the preppies at the CIA know much more than we do? Probably not.

But we do have a genuine expert in our midst -- Colorado College political science professor Bob Lee, who has written a well-regarded book on Islam, and who teaches a course on the international politics of the Middle East.

Good for CC, and for the bright kids enrolled therein. As for the rest of us, if we could just get those utilitarian science geeks up at UCCS to clone about a thousand Bobs, we'd be OK ...

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