MAD DOG: You Are What You Say You Are

For years we've been told we are what we eat. I sure hope that's not true since I'd hate to think we're a nation of S'mores cereal, Oreos with orange Halloween filling, and tuna jerky in plain and spicy flavors. But like customer service, quality control, and our waistline, what defines us as people has changed over the years. Today you are whatever you say you are.It's all a matter of image. George W. Bush says he's presidential material and he's managed to fool the better part of a political party. Internet start-ups with no chance in hell of doing anything but making its principals a lot of money are conning normally astute investors out of big bucks by putting an "e" in front of their name, a dot-com at the end, and a cute character on their website. Even Aaron Spelling does it. He told us his daughter's an actor and -- voila! -- she gets the roles. It's true this last one doesn't always work, but you can't say Francis Ford Coppola didn't give it his best.A great example of being what you say you are is in St. Augustine, Florida, which is the oldest city in the United States. True, by the standards of the rest of the world it's a recent renovation project, but they're just jealous because we get to see new episodes of V.I.P. before they do. St. Augustine boasts the country's oldest house, store, and wooden school house. They have the Historic Dr. Peck House, the Inn of Historic Nights and, according to an ad in a tourist magazine, the "Historic Dairy Queen." Now I drove by this Historic Dairy Queen and I have to say it looks pretty much like any other. In fact, it's not even an old one. But I'm sure this image campaign works like a charm and people flock in to buy an Historic Blizzard just like Ponce de Leon did during those hot summer nights while he was searching for the Fountain of Youth.Even countries have images to contend with. Look at Iceland. That's not exactly a name that inspires tourists to dream about taking their next vacation there. Greenland, on the other hand, sounds a lot better. Unfortunately most everyone knows it's technically called Iceland West Annex so it's not on many people's vacation list either. What they need to do is take a tip from Venezuela, which is changing its name to change its image. Tired of being plain old Venezuela, the Constitutional Assembly voted to rename it the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. While this will ensure that no one confuses it with a Soviet republic or Banana Republic, in the end it will probably just create more confusion among those who can't tell the difference between Venezuela and Bolivia. You know, like most Americans.If this works I expect we'll see a rash of countries following suit. Iraq could give themselves a much more modern, high-tech image -- and pick up some venture capital bucks -- if they'd change their name to Slobodan Milosevic would have a much easier time of it if he scrapped the name Kosovo and changed it to Kostco. Besides, think of the revenue source he'd have when he charged everyone in the country $25 for a membership card so they could go shopping. And Ireland, boy do they need help. Imagine what a simple hyphen in its name could do. Okay, it might not change people's image of the country, but calling it Ire-land would at least give them points for honesty.Image is important in science too. Take the Archaeoraptor lianoningensis, an animal which lived about 120 million years ago and went extinct because no one could pronounce its name. Not long ago a group of archeologists unearthed the animal's fossils in China, and after careful study figured out it was a feather-covered flying dinosaur, very possibly the missing link between birds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Scientists alternately described it as a flying lizard or a fierce turkey with sharp claws and teeth. Is there any doubt which of those images would put fear into the heart of the other dinosaurs and which just conjures up thoughts of stuffing and cranberry sauce?Politics, now there's something that's all image and little substance. If you don't believe me just look at the presidential candidates. Surprisingly, not all politicians have a bad image. In Easton, Pennsylvania, Rusandra DePaul (whose nickname was Sandra, not RuPaul) had such a good image that she was recently re-elected to the Borough Council despite having died a week before the election. This wouldn't be so important if it was an isolated incident, but it's not. In Woodside, California, Peter Empey won another 4-year term as Town Councilman and he died a full month before the election. Either his image was so good that the voters didn't care or 333 people mistook him for Al Gore.This being the case, I think it's time for me to make an image change and be what I say I am. So from now on I'm a presidential candidate Internet start-up company who is his own country. You know, The Republic of Considering what I had for dinner, it's better than being what I eat.Email:

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