Adjusting the Believability Index

Separating fact from fiction these days is like separating the whites and yolks from a plate of scrambled eggs -- you should have thought about 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, stop believing everything you hear on late-night talk shows. A survey last year by the Pew Research Center (motto: "If the results stink, just say Pew") found that 10 percent of the people polled got information about the presidential campaign from David Letterman and Jay Leno. Not from the newspaper. Not from campaign ads. Not even from the guy next door who sends e-mails from the underground bunker he crawled into on December 31, 1999 and refuses to vacate until he learns how to spell Armageddon.

It's worse if you're young, which Pew defines as anyone who thinks Paul Reubens got his start on You Don't Know Jack 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 24 percent say MTV is a source.

This isn't good. It's scary to think that people can't tell the difference between humor and reality, especially since I write humor. I'd hate to walk around feeling responsible for Paul Reubens becoming our next president because people based their vote on what they misread in this column. But it wouldn't be surprising. After all, another survey found that 80 percent of the youth of this country can't decipher a bus schedule, compute the change they should get back when they buy the new 'N Sync 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 brand of seat cushions that come in single, full, queen, and king size.

Movies are another source of information for people who have a light grasp on reality. It's amazing how many times I've heard someone spout something they heard 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.

Now it turns out that another thing we believe in, the wind chill factor, was full of hot air. It was invented by the Army in 1945 and supposedly lets us know how cold it feels outside by factoring in the temperature, air speed, and how bad TV weather people need ratings. The problem is they computed it based on how the wind affected the freezing rate of water at 33 feet in the air. And to think, it only took them 56 years to figure out this didn't correlate to human skin at five-feet above the ground.

The new adjusted chart will make a big difference. A combination of cold and wind that produced a teeth-chattering wind chill of 70 below last winter will be called a balmy 44 below this year. To put that in perspective, that's the difference between going to the grocery store wearing a bathing suit and having your tongue freeze to a belly button ring. Well, almost.

Even though they calculated the new chart using real people at real heights who get real frostbite, it still doesn't take into consideration other factors that affect how cold you feel, like whether it's sunny or if you have on a heavy coat. Neither does the heat index, which combines heat and humidity to indicate how often you should say "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."

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, so you can 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 kids, the result being a handy guide to knowing 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 President Paul Reubens in the lead. Then you'll know it's the truth.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com.

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