Last week, an otherwise-intelligent acquaintance from La Jolla sent me (and about a hundred other of his closest friends) an email entitled “REFUSE NEW COINS!” The all-caps subject line is usually a good tip off that it’s either an urban legend or some mass hysteria among the wingnut set, which was only confirmed by the three-inch-high exhortation to “SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!” That always seals the diagnosis for me.
In this particular screed, “true Americans” (Strike 3) were implored not to accept the “new” dollar coins that were intentionally missing the words “In God We Trust”. In doing so, the email rants on, “Together we can force them out of circulation!”
Actually, that won’t be necessary. They’re already out of circulation since they constituted some 50,000 incorrectly imprinted coins out of a batch of three million that the U.S. Mint struck in early 2007, and instantly became collectibles. I ascertained this in approximately three seconds by typing the words “US coins without in god we trust” into my browser and getting pages of articles about the error – and the ongoing annoyance of the U.S. Mint plagued by the dingdongs who have persisted in circulating this story over the past five years.
It’s just so easy to check this stuff. So why don’t more thinking people do it? The election hasn’t even started to get as ugly as it’s going to but every day, both sides throw out quotes allegedly made by the other side which range from gross distortions to patent lies. When Rick Santorum, for example, quoted President Obama as saying that everyone should go to college (and calling him a “snob”), it was easy to type in “Obama speech on higher education” and instantly get both the text of Obama’s speech AND the actual video which not surprisingly showed he didn’t say that at all.
But both parties are equally guilty of this. At this point, politicians seem to be confident that they are preaching to a nation of sheep – and I say that with apologies to ovines everywhere.
As for internet rumors, there are a number of easy ways to check their validity (snopes.com, for example). Still, I’ve received so many disheartening internet rants – political and otherwise – from people whose intelligence I would hardly impugn but who seem inexorably committed to believe – and pass on - whatever shows up in their in-baskets. It just baffles me. Is curiosity dead?
In the coming months especially, it just seems like the entire nation needs to get a Ph.D. in skepticism. If the first four months of this election year have been any indication, the next six are going to be a bottomless slough of disingenuous, invidious, dissembling, specious, obfuscating, fallacious perfidy and prevarication. On top of that, I think there’s going to be a lot of lying.
We don’t have to believe any of it. We can fact-check it ourselves. So the next time someone sends you an urgent internet message exhorting you to spread the word that Medicare regulations now require doctors to ask if you keep guns in your home, that KFC can’t use the word “chicken” anymore since those paper buckets actually contain mutant bio-engineered organisms, that Bill Gates will send you $1,000 for forwarding a specific email to 1,000 people, that al-Qaida plans to blow up Fashion Valley Shopping Center on a certain date, or if someone sends you a loony screed mis-attributed to a famous person or the “secret” recipe for Mrs. Fields Cookies or wacky health tips alleged to have come from the Mayo Clinic – all emails that have ended up my in-box – PLEASE DON’T FORWARD IT.But in the meantime, SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!
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