It's a Fact, Jack. Isn't It?
Separating fact from fiction these days is like separating egg whites and yolks from a plate of scrambled eggs -- you should have thought of it before you ordered the Grand Slam breakfast with the extra side of hash browns. Between hype, spin, sound bites, ads, and web sites masquerading as information when all they're really trying to do is sell useless products to people who have more money than sense, how's a person supposed to have any idea what to believe?For starters, you might consider believing everything you hear on late-night talk shows. That's what ten percent of Americans do. A survey by the Pew Research Center (motto: "If the results stink, just say Pew") found that ten percent of the people they spoke to got information about the presidential campaign from late-night hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman. Not from the newspaper. Not from campaign ads. Not even from the guy next door who sends emails from the underground bunker he crawled into on December 31st and refuses to vacate until he learns how to spell Armageddon.The Pew folks say it's worse if you're young, which they define as anyone who thinks George Segal got his start on "Just Shoot Me" or is under 30, whichever comes first. According to the survey, a whopping half of the young people in this country get political information from late-night talk shows, 37 percent get some from comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, and 24 percent say MTV is a source.This isn't good. It scares me to know that people can't tell the difference between humor and reality, especially since I write humor. Or so my mother tells me. I'd hate to walk around feeling responsible for George Segal becoming our next president because people actually based their vote on something I wrote. But it wouldn't be surprising. After all, a survey done last year found that 80 percent of the young people in this country can't decipher a bus schedule, compute the change they should get back when they buy the new Backstreet Boys CD, or understand that Lara Croft isn't going to the prom with them no matter how many times they ask. This buttresses my concern, and right now those very people I'm talking about are probably snickering because they think buttresses is a new brand of seat cushions that come in single, full, queen, and king size.Movies and TV are other sources of information for people who have a light grasp on reality. It's amazing how many times I've heard someone spout off something they saw in a film as if it's the gospel. The only time they don't seem to do it is when they see "The Greatest Story Ever Told" which actually is the gospel. I hate to be the one to tell you, but here's a news flash: Movies aren't reality.Oh, stop crying. It's not surprising that directors play loose and fast with the facts because, face it, real life is rarely dramatic enough. Not to mention that it doesn't happen in three acts and time out to a little over two hours (less if it's on TV and you don't count the commercials). Just because Oliver Stone has made a living out of changing history in peoples' minds doesn't make it true. Just because Denzel Washington played Rubin "Hurricane" Carter doesn't necessarily mean that's the way it went down. My parents used to joke that Don Ameche invented the telephone but they weren't serious. They understood that he played Alexander Graham Bell in a movie and that he actually invented the electric light bulb. Of course my parents can also decipher a bus schedule, make change, and don't like the Backstreet Boys. See what intelligent stock I come from?Now it turns out that another thing we believe in, the wind chill factor, may be full of hot air. The wind chill factor, for those of you who get your weather forecast from Judge Judy, is an index invented by the Army in the 1940s that supposedly lets you know how cold it feels outside. It factors in the temperature, air speed, and how bad TV weather people need ratings. After all, like everything else these days, the weather report has to be bigger, better, faster, and colder if people are going to watch. Cold fronts, warm fronts, inversions, and isobars only get you so far. And there just aren't enough hurricanes, tornadoes, and hail the size of the average weatherperson's brain to go around. What's a poor meteorologist to do?The problem with the windchill index as it stands is it doesn't take into account that the temperature is measured on the ground while the wind is measured 30 feet up. Or that other factors affect how cold you feel, like whether it's sunny or if you have on a heavy coat. The same thing holds for the heat index, which combines heat and humidity to supposedly indicate how low you need to set your air conditioner.Both of these indices need to be adjusted. And while they're at it they should start a few more, like the rain index, which factors in how hard it's raining, what you're wearing, whether you remembered to take your umbrella, and if you actually listened to your mother and wore galoshes. This will let you judge how wet you'll get when you go out. Or the snow index, which factors in the amount of snow, whether it's wet or powdery, and if you have teenage sons, the result being a handy index that lets you know how long you'll be laid up in bed with a sprained back after shoveling.But don't believe me when I tell you these will make your life easier. Wait until they're talked about on late-night TV. Or they make a movie about my life story and cast Denzel Washington -- or maybe George Segal -- in the lead. Then you'll know it's the truth.