Smith and Smith

For some reason that scientists have, so far, not been able to figure out, people tend to believe things they read in the newspaper. This seems strange, considering that newspaper articles are written, by and large, by humans, and humans make mistakes. The 1948 presidential election comes to mind, after which, you will recall, a major U.S. newspaper reported that the wrong candidate had won. I won’t name the paper, except to say that I did not, as far as I know, work there. What happened was, the editor of the paper was so sure of how the election would come out that he went ahead and authorized a front page headline that said “GORE DEFEATS TRUMAN.” After several recounts in certain Florida counties it was determined that it was actually Thomas ‘E’ Dewey who had defeated Gore, and Harry ‘S.’ Truman became president. Dewey was bitterly disappointed, and spent the rest of his career inventing a cataloging system for libraries that makes it impossible to find any given book, thereby making sure that all the books stay in the library, where they belong. My point here is that people, even brilliant journalists, sometimes make mistakes. I myself have, on occasion, committed a slight faux pas, although you won’t catch me admitting it in print. The problem is research. Nobody told me, when I decided to go into journalism, that I would have to do research, which is often extremely boring, and sometimes more or less fatal. So I often do my research by counting the buttons on my shirt, or holding my hands above my forehead and looking in the mirror, to try and see what I would look like bald. As you might imagine, this type of research is not famous for producing a large number of facts, which are the desired result of research. So, when I sit down to write a column, I find myself in possession of very few facts, and I end up having to make some up. The facts I make up are, on occasion, surprisingly inaccurate, which causes me to send something to the newspapers that is, technically, wrong. This doesn’t bother me, but sometimes my readers don’t appreciate it. I never take the blame, though, my theory being that this is why God made editors, to catch these mistakes and correct them, so that I will look smarter than I am. The problem with this system is that editors are often too busy to catch all my mistakes. After all, I’m not the only brilliant journalist they have to ride hard, and sometimes mistakes slip through. This is what happened recently when I mentioned, in a column, that Pikes Peak is the tallest mountain in America with a road to the top. My wife, who seems to suffer from the false impression that my columns should be fairly factual, read the column and asked me if this were true. I told her that, according to my research, it was. She rolled her eyes in a loving manner, which is what she always does when I mention research. After the column came out I received an email from Mickey Smith, who not only lives in Colorado, but is also an expert on mountains and roads, in that his cousin, Larry Smith, is in charge of the Brady Standard-Herald newspaper. Mickey politely informed me that I was full of potpourri. According to Mickey’s research, Pikes Peak is not the tallest mountain with a road to the top. You can also drive up Mt. Evans, which happens to be 14,264 feet above sea level. 154 feet higher than Pikes Peak. Mickey did not mention, nor do I have any idea, how he does his research. This issue may come into question here since, in a later email, Mickey said that Mt. Evans is Colorado’s highest, at 14,433 feet. This is a discrepancy of approximately 169 feet, and he never even mentioned how many buttons his shirt has. Or what he looks like bald. Mickey also pointed out that Mt. Massive is 14,421 feet high, making it Colorado’s second highest mountain, and that for years a group of people would climb the mountain and work on a rock cairn, trying to build it up high enough to make Mt. Massive higher than Mt. Evans. I have no idea why they would go to all that trouble, but it seems to me that they would have had an easier time packing some dynamite up Mt. Evans and making it thirteen feet shorter. Would’ve been a lot more fun, too. My point here is that, by not making the effort to look up the fact that Pikes Peak is not the highest mountain in America with a road to the top, I allowed Mickey to do this research for me, and I even ended up learning more that way. The information is useless, of course, but if you are after useful information, what are you doing reading my column’ Having someone else do your research for you is, by far, the best way to do it. This is the method Dave Barry uses, and he is, without question, the funniest writer in the world. Dave has a research department named Judi Smith who is, as far as I know, not related to Mickey. I have corresponded with Judi by email on several occasions, and my impression is that she is a highly competent person who hardly ever misspells words. She could probably even pinpoint the elevation of a mountain in Colorado at least as accurately as Mickey, and she lives in Florida, where people can’t even vote properly. Not that I’m complaining. I realize that Dave is a Big Time Writer with two dogs, and I am a Small Time Writer with one cat, which doesn’t even like me. And, for all I know, Dave may even pay Judi actual money for doing his research for him. So, since Mickey seems to be willing to do my research for me, and as long as he can get within 200 feet on mountain elevations, and determine who won presidential elections half the time, I’ll stick with my own Smith Research Department. Besides, he’s free. And he’s worth every penny . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who never gets any help from his cat. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Tx 76856 or email hemphill@towa.org

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