If a government body wants to spend tens of millions of dollars for a construction project, there are lots of ways to gauge the public temperature.

It's hard to imagine a more roundabout approach than the one chosen by the Rock Island County Board.

Last week, the board voted to put a referendum on the April 9 ballot, and if your eyes glaze over while reading it, that might be the goal. The measure asks: "Shall the County Board of The County of Rock Island be authorized to expand the purpose of The Rock Island Public Building Commission, Rock Island County, Illinois to include all the powers and authority prescribed by the Public Building Commission Act?"

Of course, most people don't know what the Rock Island Public Building Commission is, or that it even existed - let alone its current or potentially expanded authority.

And there's no way to know from the words what the endgame is. There's no mention of a new or renovated county courthouse or county office building, or of a location, or of a price tag - which could be anywhere from $13 million (the low estimate for a new court facility alone) to $50 million (the high estimate for a new courthouse and county office building in downtown Rock Island).

In short, the referendum appears designed for maximum obfuscation - a seemingly innocuous question about an obscure public body. The move could easily be interpreted as a deceptive attempt to gain public support for something the public otherwise might not support.

Two events in the past few months raised the profile of foods with genetically modified ingredients - and also put a spotlight on how messy the issue can be.

The first was the publication in September of a study led by Gilles Eric Séralini involving the herbicide Roundup and herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready corn (technically known as NK603) - both Monsanto products. Rats in the study developed tumors, died prematurely, and suffered organ damage.

The second was the defeat in November of California Proposition 37, whose ballot summary read that it would have required the "labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways."

There was a lot of heat with both events.

The Séralini study and its PR roll-out were met with an intense backlash from genetic-engineering apologists and much of the scientific community, and the European Food Safety Authority - among other scientific organizations - rejected its validity, saying it featured "inadequate design, analysis, and reporting."

In California, Prop 37 opponents - including Monsanto Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association - spent more than $40 million to defeat the labeling ballot measure.

Yet combined and detached from the rhetoric and motivations on all sides, these two events neatly summarized the national and international debate over foods with genetically modified ingredients. Are they safe for human consumption? And should the government require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients - the way nutrition and ingredient labels now note the presence of allergens?

Depending on whom you ask, the answer to the first question ranges from "absolutely" to "we don't know" to "absolutely not." And the answer to the second question is largely - but not wholly - determined by the answer to the first.

Peter Geye. Photo by Matt and Jenae Batt.

It happens in the second paragraph of the first chapter of his first book. Peter Geye's 2010 debut, Safe from the Sea, concerns a father and son, but it quickly establishes another character: Minnesota's North Shore, hanging over Lake Superior on its way to Canada.

The son, Noah, has just arrived in Duluth. Geye sets the scene: "Now he could see the lake, a dark and undulating line that rolled onto the shore. The concussions were met with a hiss as the water sieved back through the pebbled beach. The fog had a crystalline sharpness, and he could feel on his cheeks the drizzle carried by the wind. It all felt so familiar, and he thought, I resemble this place. And then, My father, he was inhabited by it."

Both of those italicized statements could apply to Geye, who will be reading from his work November 29 as part of the River Readings at Augustana series. In a phone interview last week, the Minneapolis-based author discussed the importance of the North Shore and the wilderness above it as a place (to him) and a setting (for his two published novels and the one currently in progress). He said either he or his editor came up with the term "Northern Gothic" to describe his books - a descendant of the Southern Gothic of such writers as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Cormac McCarthy.

[Note: Commentary from the Reader's editor, published on this topic, can be found here.]

A riddle: What do you get if you add $209 billion to $54 billion to $15 billion?

If you answered "a lot," you're correct and not particularly inclined toward math.

If you answered $278 billion, you're adept at arithmetic and correct, if literal-minded.

If you answered the respective unfunded liabilities for Illinois' state-run pension funds, its retiree health-care system, and its pension bonds, you're correct and probably cheating.

And if you answered "a time bomb," you're probably most correct. Because while the numbers are important, they're constantly changing and open to interpretation, and the most important aspect of them is their magnitude. Whether it's cast as an $83-billion pension problem or a $278-billion benefits issue, the sheer size of it shows that it can't be solved with tinkering.

As part of its yearlong "Building Common Ground: Discussions of Community, Civility, & Compassion" program, the Bettendorf Public Library held a water-themed essay, poetry, photography, and songwriting contest. Several winners will perform their entries at the "Quad-City Water Lore" event on Monday, November 5, at 7 p.m. in the Bettendorf Room at the library (2950 Learning Campus Drive). A reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

They will be joined by Bucktown Revue emcee Scott Tunnicliff, Rock Island Lines creator Roald Tweet with Chris Dunn, former Quad Cities poet laureate Dick Stahl, turtle expert Mik Holgersson, riverboat pilot Harry "Duke" Pelton, and Quad-City Times columnist Alma Gaul. Musical entertainment will include the St. Ambrose Bee Sharp men's a cappella ensemble, the Quad-City Ukelele Club, Dwayne Hodges, and Jon Eric.

Thanks to the Bettendorf Public Library for its permission to allow us to publish the winners below.

Read about additional censored stories in Kathleen McCarthy's editorial here.

Each year, Project Censored compiles a list of important news stories that go unreported, under-reported, or misreported by mainstream news outlets. These top-25 "censored" stories from the past year follow, and collectively they paint a much different picture of the world from what you'll find in daily newspapers and news broadcasts.

As Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff write in their introduction to the forthcoming Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution - The Top 25 Censored Stories & Media Analysis of 2011-12, Project Censored "holds to account the corporate media who, all too often it seems, would rather be let alone than bothered when it comes to real, important news; and it celebrates the efforts of independent journalists who in 2011-2012 brought forward crucial news stories to stir us from complacency."

Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution will be released October 30. In addition to the stories below, it includes expanded discussions of them in the context of five thematic "clusters"; a section exploring "narratives of power"; and international "censored" stories.

For more information on the book and Project Censored, visit ProjectCensored.org.

We received 69 entries in our fiction contest, and prize-winners and a selection of other favorites are published here.

To refresh your memory, we set a limit of 250 words per entry. (For future contests, a bit of advice: Count by hand - at least twice.) We also required each entry to conform to one of five prompts in genre (ghost story, romance, tall tale, noir, or biography), point-of-view character (inanimate object, child, polygamist, criminal, or nun), and conflict/action (betrayal, reunion, shame, obsolescence, or unrequited love). And for the brave and/or foolish, we offered the elective option of writing in the style of Dr. Seuss, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, William S. Burroughs, or Twitter. Who knew there were so many stories waiting to be told about longing objects, sensual nuns, and Seussian polygamists?

"Many in the crowd got roaring drunk - and the drunks at their most extreme were hard to tell apart from the fallers and the jerkers and the howlers. Others gave in to the general mood of riot and began fighting and beating each other up over nothing. But what made the camp meetings truly infamous were the orgies."

Lee SandlinThis is not the Mississippi River that most people remember from Mark Twain. This is the real deal in all its lurid detail.

Lee Sandlin, who will be speaking at the Bettendorf Public Library on September 27 and the Upper Mississippi River Conference on September 28, said in a recent phone interview that he aimed to re-create "the Mississippi River culture in the first half of the 19th Century" in his 2010 book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild. "Basically what I'm doing is trying to introduce people to that kind of very strange little world that had formed then around the river."

"Very strange little world" is the gentle way of putting it.

To grasp the concept of the Midwest Writing Center's new Spectra poetry-reading series, we might start with the 1916 book of the same name. In its preface, Anne Knish explained that the "Spectric" school "speaks ... of that process of diffraction by which are disarticulated the several colored and other rays of which light is composed. It indicates our feeling that the theme of a poem is to be regarded as a prism, upon which the colorless white light of infinite existence falls and is broken up into glowing, beautiful, and intelligible hues."

Before you flee this article, understand that Spectra was a satiric hoax created by Arthur Davison Ficke (a Davenport native writing as Knish) and Witter Bynner (writing as Emanuel Morgan). The pair gleefully mocked the abstruse pretensions of modern free verse, but several prominent poets - including Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams - actually embraced the work, not recognizing its intent. Poetry magazine Editor Harriet Monroe accepted a handful of Spectric works before the hoax was revealed by Bynner.

Although the poems were mostly nonsense, they were compellingly playful. One opens: "Her soul was freckled / Like the bald head / Of a jaundiced Jewish banker." It concludes: "This demonstrates the futility of thinking." One of the most charming starts: "If I were only dafter / I might be making hymns / To the liquor of your laughter / And the lacquer of your limbs."

And they were occasionally incisive. In one about "my little house of glass," Knish wrote: "Sometimes I'm terribly tempted / To throw the stones myself."

Adam FellTo show how this relates to the new poetry-reading series (which begins September 15), allow me to note that one of the first two featured writers, Adam Fell, closes his poem "Summer Lovin Torture Party" with these oddly familiar lines: "I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord. / I've been waiting for this moment all my life."

We recently freed our short-fiction-contest troll from his five-year captivity in the River Cities' Reader dungeon, and based on the rules he devised for the 2012 competition, he's grumpy. (Some might note that Jeff is always grumpy, but never mind.)

Let's start with the easy rules.

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