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George Carlin said that? Wowzer!

Published on -5/17/2013, 9:34 AM

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Whatever happened to healthy skepticism? You know, the call to question stuff that's just too good to be true. Maybe something that makes you feel so good you can't bear to believe otherwise. Or something just so wild or goofy you can't wait to be the first to regale your coffee klatsch ... and pass it along to all your email friends.

A couple weeks back, a lady in our area was telling me that in Sharon Springs, a railroad car had a bad wheel showering sparks. The train stalled on a railroad bridge. The bridge caught fire and burned. Six cars fell into the creek below. No lives lost, but "stupid EPA regulations" wouldn't permit a train with a defective wheel being towed off the bridge. This "stupid affair" cost the railroad and taxpayers a combined $2 million. Wowzer.

Well, the bridge did burn and the cars were lost. That was 2002.

Eight years later in 2010, somebody concocted the EPA baloney -- still circulating as gospel. Even here in western Kansas ... or maybe because this is western Kansas.

Another neighborly guy emailed me a list of examples how our Founding Fathers would be ashamed of what's happening in government today. One example: A 9-year-old had been suspended from school three days just for calling his teacher "cute." A healthy skeptic might want to know more, beginning with the youngster's previous behavioral record. That we'll probably never learn.

However, some additional details were reported by the local press. First, the incident occurred in North Carolina. Second, the student was black.

We also know that in the North Carolina free public schools didn't exist until 1837 and were segregated until 1954. In the Founders' day, black kids would have been picking cotton or sweeping Massa's floors, not sitting in a classroom. The press also revealed the school district reversed the decision, and the principal submitted his resignation. Several progressive improvements have been made since Founders' day. The neighborly guy hadn't thought that much about it, just passed the email along.

Then in a newspaper column, a local preacher played up a nicey-nice letter allegedly from snarky comedian George Carlin. The email began circulating in 1999. According to Snopes the letter, published in 1995, is still making the rounds. However, it was written by a Seattle, Wash., preacher. Carlin, asked to take credit, predictably called it "a sappy load of ..." uh, let's say "doo-doo." Several readers told the preacher he had screwed up.

Well, the preacher (nice guy but gullible) quickly appended an apology -- sort of. One of his readers had comforted him, saying, well, it was full of Christian thoughts, and it wasn't a big deal who said them. Me, I think incorrectly identifying the source is bad journalism -- no matter how the message trips your twig.

A few weeks back, a voluble Kansas-Arizona citizen delivered yet another letter to Reader Forum, this time on the evils of Obamacare. One eyebrow raiser was his repetition of the right-wing claim there were 2,700 pages in the new law. In fact, as signed into law, the bill had 906 pages -- still long, yes, but why the easily disproved exaggeration? (tinyurl.com/6uwb3vl and tinyurl.com/avfcqb2)

(Now we might understand why Nancy Pelosi said to wait for passage of the final version to know what was in it. She was right.)

Among other things, the gentleman also declared the Congressional Budget Office had found Obamacare would add more than a "trillion to our national debt." Well, health care is not free. But let's see what the CBO actually said.

This March, in considering the total budgetary impact, the CBO said "On balance, CBO and JCT (Joint Committee on Taxation) have estimated that the legislation as a whole will reduce deficits over a 10-year period." (cbo.gov/publication/44008) I could find no more recent estimate.

Responding to Speaker John Boehner's question about repealing Obamacare, the CBO estimated repealing it would cause "a net increase in federal budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period." (cbo.gov/publication/43471)

I wish the examples I've cited were rare. Nope.

A representative democracy depends on an active -- and accurately informed -- citizenry A citizenry that is merely active can breed contagious and sometimes dangerous stupidity. Especially in the internet age, Americans can and should do a better job of informing themselves. They should refuse to pass along claims without some basic fact-checking. Maybe it's time for an adult-education class on how to do that. Yeah, I think so.

Me, I'm taking the summer off to garden -- planning to grow less grumpy.

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net

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