Information can be so squishy

Friday, February 24, 2006

Maybe you're interested in the political ins and outs of getting state funding for Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus.

Maybe not.

I think it's an important issue. Anyone who pays taxes, cares about higher education, understands the importance of the university to Southeast Missouri, votes for political candidates and participates in matters that affect our lives ought to be interested in it.

But that's a big leap for some.

I find the process intriguing. Beyond the actions, statements and news conferences intended for public consumption is an undercurrent of questionable information, some of it factual, on which decisions are made and positions are taken.

As I have said before, I continue to be amazed by how many important decisions are based on rumor, innuendo, spin and only those facts that support a particular position, whatever it is.

Folks who watch the goings-on in Washington tell me rumors are the lifeblood of our nation's political and bureaucratic systems. So I guess it shouldn't be such a surprise that many state and local decision makers prefer to rely on whatever information suits them rather than making an honest effort to get real facts and listening to the persuasive arguments on both sides of an issue.

At the regular Monday lunches I attend every week, a good many questions are raised to which there are no good answers. As I've told the group many times, this presents a wonderful opportunity to start a rumor.

Everyone laughs, but they know how easy it is to set a particular thought process in motion.

Just being seen in certain situations can spark giant leaps to conclusions with no basis in fact. My wife and I experienced that very phenomenon when we spent a delightful couple of hours as the guests of a wonderful couple at the fabulous Sunday brunch of one of our premier retirement communities. By the middle of the week, word was out that we were moving to the retirement community.

As it happens, we would happily consider such a move except for one teensy, tiny fact: We're not retiring. Not yet anyway. So we've shared a good laugh with several folks who have accepted the responsibility of setting the record straight.

Sometimes something said in jest turns into rumor and becomes the basis of a serious response.

Any of you who have read this column for any length of time are all too familiar with the Louis J. Lorimier Memorial World Famous Downtown Golf Course and All-You-Can-Eat Catfish Buffet that is either in the works or under construction or on the drawing board or something to that effect.

No matter how firmly I plant my tongue in my cheek when I relay progress reports on the downtown golf course, someone thinks it's real.

Take this Speak Out comment, for example: "I am sick and tired of the way the city is wasting money on something as stupid as a downtown golf course. We need street repairs and firefighting equipment and more police officers. First the city wanted a water park. Now a downtown golf course. Where will it end?"

Answer: Right here.

If the city is spending any money on the downtown golf course, it's make-believe money, because the golf course exists only in the gray matter of yours truly. By the way, my brain's bank account is seriously overdrawn. Can you help?

Now for a teaser: There's a big plan afoot for the downtown golf course. Details are coming soon.

Ask yourself: Is that a fact? Or am I just messing with you?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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