Saturday, May 3, 2008

Is Word Getting Out?

Is it me, or is word beginning to leak out at last?

It's not that reasonable people disagree about immigration. It's that we are two groups of people operating from two diametrically opposite databases. "Agreement" and "disagreement" are irrelevant in that situation.

We need to get on the same page.

One of the few things I've retained from my MA degree is a good set of research skills. That and my native suspicion about life on this planet -- you would believe it if you saw my baby picture -- equipped me automatically to distrust some information under all circumstances, and most information under some circumstances.

Take the recent e-mail virus that's urging people to express outrage to Congress or the White House (depending on which version you get) because, it says, Congress is about to, or has, or wants to grant Social Security benefits to "illegals."

Of course that's a warm, steaming pile of doo-doo being fed to the great masses of Americans to make them even madder at Mexican immigrants than they already are.

And of course they don't know that because they haven't picked up an actual fact in about 8 years. They wouldn't know a fact if they saw one. But there are some things that even lazy, uninformed, dim-witted, bad-tempered, jumped-up 'Merkuns can do to protect themselves against further injections of E-coli into their bloodstreams.

1. Know the author. If it's anonymous, that ought to tell you something. If there's no bill number, that's a big clue, too. (If there is a bill number, and it's from Congress, go to Thomas and look it up. That's a Library of Congress website. Good to know about. People do make up bill numbers.) If you can't go to Thomas, call your US Representative or US Senator's office and ask.

2. Know the bias. For instance, the language used will tell you a lot. If it says "illegals," it's rightwing. If it says "undocumented workers," it's leftwing. Probably. Neither is necessarily right and neither is necessarily wrong.

3. Know the agenda. Who's behind it? Do you know? Does it appeal to your reason or your passions? Does it play to your fears or to your judgment? What does it ask you to do? Why? Who benefits? Who loses? Does it give you a bad feeling? If so, pay attention to that.

4. Know the source. Is it published by an organization? How long has that org been in existence? Who's on its board? What kind of reputation does it have? Has that reputation altered lately? Ask around but ask people better informed and smarter than you are. Otherwise it's kind of a waste of time, isn't it?

5. Cross-check the information. Has anyone checked the facts? As Ann Coulter demonstrates, you can't even rely on footnotes anymore. She makes hers up. If all else fails and you don't have time to do your own research, you can always check That site exists to rate urban legends -- the junk you get unrequested in your inbox, like that one about Social Security for immigrants.

6. Remember: Not all opinions are created equal. But you know that. "Measure twice, cut once." "Consider the source." "That and a buck will get you a cup of coffee."

Be very careful before you invest your credibility. In a way, it's like investing your money. Both say a lot about what kind of person you are, and both will either generate profits or losses.