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Off-Kilter

June 29, 1998|ROY RIVENBURG | Times Staff Writer

Scary Polls Bureau: We don't know how to put this gently, but there's a decent chance you're a moron. According to a new Maritz AmeriPoll, 30% to 40% of all Americans are certifiable idiots (a figure borne out by our own observations of freeway driving behavior). For example:

* Only 70% of Americans know that the number of stars on the U.S. flag is 50. One in 10 thinks it's 52.

* Nearly a quarter of the populace has no idea what the name of our national anthem is, and another 9% think it's "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful." Only 62% ID'd it as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

* 12% say the first president was Abe Lincoln or Ben Franklin, not George Washington.

* 40% didn't know the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

Which reminds us: Happy Fourth of July everyone. And, for those of you who flunked some of the questions above, we should explain that the Fourth of July falls on July 4, a holiday honoring the signing of our national anthem in 1756 by President Ben & Jerry's Franklin, who was born in our 52nd state, Quebec.

Going Postal: Now that our bomb-sniffing dog is back from the vet, it's time to reach into our mailbag, fill out all those annoying credit-card offers using the names of congressmen, charge up the national debt and publish a few letters:

* Patti Garrity complained about our reference to Off-Kilter's upcoming "six-month anniversary." There's no such thing, she wrote. By definition, anniversary means yearly, so "six-month anniversary" is as nonsensical as "50-year century." We will address this problem on our eight-month anniversary, which should give us time to invent a new word, such as monthiversary.

* In response to our item on weird bookmarks found by librarians, Ida Jaqua sent us a pair of magnetic page markers, which are designed to never fall out. Thank you, but we still like the guy who saved his place with the tail of a cat.

* Finally, our continued use of the word "we," even though we are just one person, seems to be having a deleterious influence on some readers, such as Katherine J. Thompson, who wrote, in part: "We are a sophomore at Edison High School in Huntington Beach . . . and if our English teacher knew we were using all of these we's, she would probably flunk us, but luckily school is out."

Other Off-Kilterites also have started referring to themselves in the first-person plural. We must warn you that indiscriminate use of the word "we" is best left to trained professionals. As reader Truman R. Fisher pointed out, apparently quoting Mark Twain, the only individuals who may use "we" are kings, newspaper editors and people with tapeworms. We qualify in at least one category.

Lunatic Fringe Department: Ward, we think there's something wrong with the Beaver. That's because actor Jerry Mathers (of "Leave It to Beaver" fame) claims in a new autobiography that he once owned a "psychic Doberman." Mathers says he bought the paranormal pooch to protect him from unruly fans, then discovered that whenever someone was lying, the dog signaled him by moving its ears back. Maybe so, but our guess is that Jerry probably has trouble naming our national anthem, if you catch our drift.

Best Supermarket Tabloid Headline: "Chubby Widow Makes Diet Drink From Dead Hubby's Ashes . . . And Loses 108 Pounds!" (Weekly World News)

* Roy Rivenburg's e-mail address is roy.rivenburg@latimes.com.

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