Liars’ pants don’t actually catch fire

by Brian Clarey

I’ve convinced my children that when they lie give off a faint but very distinctive smell; that it seeps out of their pores like vapor when they mock the truth in a bodily function as involuntary as a reflex.

I’ve also convinced them that I am among the few humans able to detect this smell.

When I think they’re lying to me – the boys anyway, Babygirl is too young for that kind of bald-faced duplicity as of yet – I line them up in front of me and crouch down so my nose is near their heads.

“Now tell me again what happened,” I’ll say.

Then I take a deep sample of the air around them.

The action is usually followed by much foot shifting and gaze aversion, followed by brief internal monologues. I can actually see them calculating the odds of getting away with it in their heads.

It’s a tricky risk-reward ratio: Getting caught in a lie means, at the very least, some time in the corner and possible revocation of privileges like video games, dessert and extended bedtimes.

But children are short-term thinkers and they like to test boundaries, so they usually go for it.

When they retell the lie – “I had it first” or “I didn’t hit him” or some such thing – I again sniff the air around them deeply. Then I frown, furrow my brow, shake my head.

Then, generally, the truth will come out, but only in fits and spurts. Because by now the truth has become something else: a fusion of what actually happened and what was reported to me, all clouded bv wishful thinking and the debilitating effects of time on history.

But with my children we are usually dealing with situations involving toys or personal space or bedroom scraps.

When adults lie the consequences are generally more dire. And, of course, adults are better liars. They’re also experienced enough to know that when a lie is told artfully enough, nobody can sniff it out.

Autumn is the season of lies. We shed identities and don new ones in October; we tell a revisionist tale of peace and generosity in late November; we delude ourselves about the beauty of the season and don’t discuss the fact that the turning of the leaves, the annual riot of color from which we draw so much inspiration and metaphor, is nothing more than a slow decay, a slide towards death. We live in denial of the approaching winter.

Oh yes, the lies get thick in the fall like the beds of leaf corpses on the ground, which is why we hold elections this time of year.

It’s gotten to the point, of course, that the most prolific liars gravitate towards politics. We admire seasoned truth spinners in many professions – novelists, actors, salesmen, poker players and the like – but we elect the best of them to the highest offices in the land.

It makes sense, these days anyway, to distance ourselves from what a senior advisor to President Bush described to journalist Ron Suskind in the summer of 2002 as “the reality-based community.”

Because what good is reality when fiction will do just as well?

Or even better, reality-based fiction?

Vernon Robinson knows the power of nuanced truth. He’s taken what would normally be a sleepy 13th District congressional election and turned it into a slugfest by running a flashy, trashy campaign based on misrepresentation and reactionary politics.

Among the “reality-based” charges in his TV commercials are the allegations that, “Lesbians and feminists are attacking everything sacred” and that “liberal judges have completely rewritten the Constitution.”

Sounds pretty scary, huh?

All bets are off during the big power grab we hold every autumn, and things this year are particularly nasty due to an unpopular president and an administration desperate to maintain their influence.

My assertion of Bush’s unpopularity, by the way, is based on polls conducted by agencies like CNN, Time, FOX News/Opinion Dynamics, NBC/The Wall Street Journal and Gallup during the month of October as reported on the website In these studies Bush’s approval rating averages out to 37.5.

Some would have you believe that because of this, the Republicans face losing their majority of seats in the House and Senate. But others assert that polls lie, particularly polls sponsored by the notorious left-wing media conspiracy.

Karl Rove, for instance, mentioned last week on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that according to the polls he sees, the Republicans have nothing to worry about.

“I add up to a Republican Senate and Republican House,” he told show host Robert Siegel. “You may end up with a different math but you are entitled to your math and I’m entitled to the math.”

Such is the age in which we live that even math, once considered an empirical measure of things, is subject to the principle of multiple truths.