At Least Pinocchio Had An Indicator

It's hard to know what to believe these days. Once upon a time you could rely on anything your mother, teacher, or priest told you. Then came bleary-eyed Baby Boomers telling their kids they never used drugs, teachers having babies with their students, and Catholic priests taking the first part of Boys Town's name way too seriously. Now we have President Bush telling 3 million recently unemployed people that the economy's getting better, prospective jurors in the Scott Peterson trial claiming they haven't made up their minds yet, and a 5-day weather forecast that has all the accuracy of a blind knife thrower. Is it any wonder we've become a world full of skeptics?

Turn on the news, it's all "he said, she said" all of the time. Bush and Kerry are this close to degenerating into "Did too!", "Did not!", "Nanny, nanny, boo-boo!" The Senate investigation into the World Trade Center bombing looks like an old Saturday Night Live version of Point/Counterpoint, which is why it might be smart for Condoleezza Rice to stay away lest someone call her an ignorant slut. And every day brings reports about the health benefits of certain foods, followed the next day by a report of how the same food can kill you. What's a person to believe?

Luckily, I'm here to help you cut through this. Here are a few guidelines to help you sort it out:

Don't believe everything you read.

While it's easy to say you know the difference between the New York Times and the National Enquirer, you'd better hope that's true. After all, the National Enquirer sells twice as many copies of an issue as does the Times. And the Internet? You need to be extremely cautious there. Just because you see it on a Web site doesn't mean it's true. Unless it's mine, of course. So yes, this means you might as well stop taking those pills that promise to make all your body parts larger, but trust me, it's for your own good. Besides, size doesn't matter. Much.

This tip would have saved the city of Aliso Viejo, CA, a lot of grief. Not the one about size, the one about the Internet. City Council was set to vote on a proposed law banning the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events because they're manufactured using a substance that could "threaten human health and safety." The substance is dihydrogen monoxide. They pulled the proposal after someone realized that the caustic, destructive substance they thought was deadly if inhaled is better known as H20, or water. Apparently someone found the information on a Web site and, well, the rest is dihydrogen monoxide under the bridge.

Truth is relative.

Take the near-miss we had with an asteroid this past week. At least that's what scientists were calling it when a 100-ft wide hunk of rock had the closest brush with Earth of any asteroid that's been tracked. Okay, so what if it was still 26,500 miles away, that's practically tailgating in astronomical terms. And just our luck, there wasn't anyone in the space shuttle to give it a ticket. The point is, a near miss to one person isn't necessarily a near miss to you. Unless you're talking about a guy who hasn't had his final sex change operation. That's pretty universal.

Examine the source.

They say a leopard can't change its spots. Of course that was before Photoshop. Recently a photograph circulated the Internet showing John Kerry and Jane Fonda on the podium at a 1970 anti-war rally. It made it into newspapers and on TV news broadcasts before someone figured out it was a composite of two different photos. Even though it was a good fake, it should have been easy to figure out. After all, Fonda appears to be singing and Kerry is wondering whose chin is larger, his or Jay Leno's. Think people! This was supposed to be 1970, long before American Idol was a glint in Simon Cowell's eye and back when Johnny Carson was still in charge of the Tonight Show. See how easy it can be if you think it through?

Take a look at the track record.

Like the boy who cried wolf, if you're caught not telling the truth no one will believe you again. Worse, they might make you go from room to room with gum on your nose, something which was bad enough in school but is really tough in the workplace. Trust me on this.

A good example is Jayson Blair. He's the former New York Times reporter who was fired for making up stories, quotes, and concert reviews for performances he hadn't bothered going to. Hard to imagine why that would be a problem at a newspaper, isn't it? Anyway, his new book, Burning Down My Master's House, just came out and it's not selling well. Okay, it's bombing. And why wouldn't it? What would lead anyone to believe that a book written by a liar about his lying would have any more truth to it than his newspaper articles did? Maybe if they classified the book as fiction it would do better.

So to sum it up, keep your eyes open, question everything, and always look both ways before crossing the street. At least that way even if you get sucked in by some cockamamie story you won't get hit by an asteroid.

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