MAD DOG: The Flexible Truth

It's getting so you don't know who to believe anymore. In the good old days, defined as any group of years which have become hazy in your mind, it was easy -- you believed your parents, your teachers, your Friends in Blue, and June Cleaver. You didn't believe the Russians, anyone running for public office, or the boy down the block who said you could get a girl pregnant by holding her hand. Yuck! As if anybody would want to.Back then priests spoke the truth, Richard Nixon spoke lies, and Marcel Marceau -- bless his lily white face -- didn't speak at all. Now priests are embezzling, teachers are molesting, and my Friends in Blue keep insisting they clocked me doing 72 mph in a 30 mph zone. What next?Judges, that's what. You know, those pillars of the judicial system who have the nerve to question Marv Albert's alleged propensity to wear women's underwear when they themselves run around in long black robes all day. Right, like anyone with a lick of sense doesn't know that below-the-knee black is for evening wear.Recently James Ware, a federal judge in San Jose, California, had a little problem with believability when he was being considered for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco. For years Ware told and retold the story about how, when growing up in Alabama, he and his 13 year-old brother went out for a bike ride one night, a ride which ended when two white teenagers shot and killed his brother. Ware has said that this incident molded him into "a person who was hungry for justice."The only problem is it never happened. Well, not to his brother, anyway. Yes, a Virgil Ware was shot in Alabama when he was 13 years-old. And yes, he had a brother named James. But the real Virgil's brother works in a coke company in Birmingham and not on a bench in San Jose presiding over people who are sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.Truth is supposed to be an absolute, like the Earth circles the Sun, matter can neither be created nor destroyed, and anything dropped into a purse immediately migrates to the bottom. But all that's changed. Nowadays the truth is whatever we want it to be.Recently, actress Fran Drescher -- you know, the one with the voice like your teeth being scraped down a blackboard -- lied on Jay Leno just to keep up her negative image. She told a story about how she cut her finger on Halloween, then took a shower and changed her clothes before the paramedics were called to take her to the hospital. It turns out the story was a complete fabrication.Her publicist claims this is done all the time on talk shows. Well, it also happens in books written by talk show hosts. In his book, Leading With My Chin, Jay Leno stretches the truth farther then Pinocchio with his fingers crossed when he recounts an embarrassing incident on Dinah Shore's TV show. Unfortunately it never happened. Not to Leno, anyway. It did, however, happen to comedian Jeff Altman, who gladly accepted $1,000 and gave Leno permission to use the story as his own.Maybe we should be happy that Fran Drescher, Judge Ware, and Jay Leno told such benign lies. After all, they could have lied about their sex like Felix Urioste did. He's the guy who was arrested a couple of years ago for stealing $40,000 from his husband of 3-1/2 years. Did I forget to mention that he also neglected to tell his husband that he happened to be a man?It seems that Bruce Jensen believed Urioste when he claimed to be pregnant with Jensen's twins after a single sexual encounter. Being an upright person, Jensen did the right thing and married the man he thought was a woman in a Mormon ceremony. Of course at the time he thought Felix's name was Leasa. "I feel pretty stupid," Jensen was reported to have said after the police convinced him his wife was a man.It's official now: this is the Decade of the Understatement.So who are we supposed to believe? After all, as cynical as we may be we're all really trusting souls at heart. We believe movie stars when they tell us which brand of denture adhesive is the best. We believe the Rolling Stones when they tell us each tour will be their last. And we believe Bill Clinton when he says he didn't inhale, drop trou in front of Paula Jones, or eat that last super-sized Big Mac Combo Meal.It's not easy. For every mass murderer who sprays a supermarket with an AK-47 mistaking it for a post office, there's a neighbor who says he was a gentle humanitarian who took in stray dogs and was loved by everyone. And no sooner do the police apprehend a serial killer who has a refrigerator full of suburban middle-aged rump roasts than his third grade teacher is on TV with a mystified expression telling us "what a nice boy he was. "The answer is simple: make lying acceptable behavior. It should be okay to appropriate someone else's life as long as it's for career advancement or mutual financial gain. It should be fine to make up stories if it means maintaining your public image. And having to declare your sex on a marriage license should be optional. After all, politicians are rewarded when they stretch the truth -- they're re-elected -- so why shouldn't we be? Besides, if we made it socially acceptable to lie it wouldn't be fun anymore, and before long everyone would want to start telling the truth just to rebel. Hey, would I lie to you?

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