Paul Greenberg

TOPSAIL ISLAND, N.C. - A German poet once said that the great advantage of being in love is that one loses all interest in newspapers. Much the same effect can be achieved by a walk on the beach, and without all the subsequent consequences.

Time slows. The clock disappears. Only high tide and low count. The sound of the surf lulls continually. Each wave is different, each the same. The sight of the ocean stretching to the horizon steadies like the stars in the night sky. The news of the day? It is put in its eminently forgettable place, unable to compete with the waves.

But a newspaper addict is not so easily cured. I find myself searching for the local papers. No USA Today, please. That's the paper for airports and hotels, for the permanently transient. I want my news, like my food, served up with a local flavor.

So I go scouring the little IGA next to the only intersection in town with a stoplight. I'll settle for even a week-old copy of the Topsail Voice or Pender Post. It may be old news to the locals, but it's fresh to a visitor. And I still maintain my umbilical connection to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is full of homegrown flavor.

But an unsettling story awaits in the Business and Technology section. ("Look, up in the sky, it's a logo cloud.") The things are called Flogos, and are the latest way to advertise, says their inventor. A former magician, he's developed a machine that sends foamy clouds as big as four feet across into the air, which can assume any shape the advertiser desires.

Next month the air above Walt Disney World in Orlando is due to be covered with Flogos shaped like Mickey Mouse. In the future you could follow a trail of Toyotas or Schwinns or longneck bottles of Bud to wherever they're sold. The sky's the limit, literally.

Imagine waking up on the beach one morning to find the sky filled with the kind of ads you went on vacation to escape. The Disneyfication of the world proceeds apace as a faux enchantment supplants the real kind that Nature provides.

What impressed most about this long story is that it raised - and dismissed - any number of questions about Flogos' effect on the physical environment, but nowhere did it discuss the visual pollution they represent.

Imagine getting up in the morning, taking your cup of coffee and morning paper out to the porch or deck for a few minutes of peace, and, instead of starting the day under God's pristine sky, you look up and see it's filled with Mickey Mouses or little purple pills or Nike Swooshes or political ads. Š The possibilities are as limitless as they are dismaying.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.