Putting things in perspective

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Sorry it’s been awhile. I’ve been so busy trying to get ready for a vacation that I’m not even going to take that I’ve hardly had time to breathe, much less think about keeping up with my blog.

Take yesterday, for example. On top of trying to meet an impossible –albeit self-imposed — work-related deadline,  long laundry list of things to do. Literally.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

So I grabbed some money, two full bags of dirty clothes, detergent, and trundled everything across the street to the neighborhood laundromat. Inside, I loaded my favorite washing machine and then got some quarters from the only functioning change dispenser.

Back at the washing machine, I began dropping quarters into the slot one by one. Clink, clink, clink, clink… I didn’t think much of it when one failed to register, and deposited another one. But that one got stuck, too. Slightly aggravated, I pushed the coin return button. And… nothing happened.

Then I got that sinking feeling. You know, the one you get when you’ve dumped a whole bunch of coins into a vending machine and it either gets stuck or the item you want doesn’t pop out. Then I got really mad. I could see the quarters — I just couldn’t reach them. And I didn’t have anything with me that I could use to dislodge them.

So before I went back home, I asked if anyone in the laundromat had car keys or a paperclip that I could borrow. One of the guys asked what was going on and offered to help. As it turned out, it was a good thing he was there, because he had just what I needed, a utility knife with a long, thin blade. Working quickly, he easily freed the quarters, and then waited while I inserted a different quarter.

For some strange reason, the rest of the quarters registered with no trouble, averting any additional drama. I thanked the man for his help and we went our separate ways.

And that was that. A random, yet ordinary encounter between two strangers on an ordinary day. One needed help. The other was willing and able to provide it.

Oh, I almost forgot. The guy who helped me is black.

Just something to think about the next time you hear a news report about racism and hatred in America. After you’ve given that some thought, ask yourself why the media is promoting that narrative. Who stands to gain from it? And who stands to lose?

That is what is known as critical thought. And that will go a long way towards healing this country.

Why Americans ‘dwell’ on Nine-Eleven

A few days ago, I was scanning through some Facebook posts when I came across a question that made my blood boil: “Why do Americans dwell on 9/11?”

Nine-Eleven memorial. Cos Cob Park, Cos Cob, CT.
Sunlight behind the 9/11 Memorial at Cos Cob Park, Cos Cob, CT. June 2017. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

I wasn’t sure whether it was posted out of ignorance, malice, or both. I started to reply — and then I realized I wasn’t sure what to say. Now, as I watch and listen to the annual reading of the victims’ names at Ground Zero — as I do every year — I will try to explain.

Of course, I can’t speak for all Americans. I can only speak for myself. So I will start by saying that as someone with family that has survived recent wars, I am well aware that there are places in the world where events the magnitude of Nine-Eleven, and worse, happen every single day. Given that, I can see why some people can’t understand — and some may even resent — America’s preoccupation with the terrorist attacks on our country on September 11, 2001.

That being stated, here’s why I will never forget that day, or the days, weeks, months and years that followed. I will never forget it because I was living and working in the New York City suburbs on that fateful day. Like millions of Americans, I witnessed the horror and devastation on TV as it unfolded. Watched in horror as the planes struck and  bodies fell from the wreckage of the Twin Towers less than 30 miles from home. Screamed as the buildings collapsed, another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon and the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93 paid the ultimate price for averting further devastation. Wept as the world changed.

As seen at the 9/11 Memorial. New York, NY. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

I will never forget it because I was a reporter tasked with writing about the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and their effects in the small, tight-knit community of Rye, N.Y. There were so many stories of close calls and tremendous loss. There so much sadness. So much grief. So much anger.  There were so many tales of heroism. And there were tales of resolve.

In the face of tremendous adversity, we were united. On that day, and in the weeks that followed, all lives mattered. There was no black versus white. There was no left versus right. We were all Americans. We helped those in need regardless of their race, religion, gender or political ideology. We stood as one.

Today I grieve for strangers. I also grieve for friends who were directly affected by the tragic events that transpired 16 years ago. I grieve for my country — a country ravaged by divisiveness and hate.

On September 11, 2001, and every year since, we have sounded the rallying cry, “Never forget.”

I am afraid we already have.

Eli says: take a breath, America

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

Eli hates it when I’m angry.

He doesn’t even like it when I raise my voice.

There’s no doubt about it.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

He makes his feelings on the subject perfectly clear.

If I raise my voice for any reason, but especially in anger, he bites me. Repeatedly.

I don’t know why he does that, but I think it probably has a lot to do with the abuse he took before I adopted him. Or perhaps it was the violence that he witnessed…

At any rate, he has very sharp teeth, so it gets my attention. Believe me.

So perhaps I should turn him loose on the rest of the country. He could just go around biting anyone who’s yelling about something, or yelling at someone else, for that matter.

It would get their attention. Believe me.

On second thought…

But then again, that’s a huge responsibility for huge responsibility for one cat.

I mean, let’s be honest. It seems like everyone in America is angry about something these days. It seems like everyone is yelling. People are yelling on TV. People are yelling on radio talk shows. People are yelling on social media. People are yelling about politics, politicians, and anything remotely political.

And there’s only so much Eli could do. It would take him a long time to bite everyone.

So maybe it’s time to take a collective breath, America. And maybe it’s time to take a take a good, hard look at ourselves, our behavior and the way we treat others. Maybe it’s time to take responsibility for our actions, and our words. Because that old line about “sticks and stones” is a myth.

Words are incredibly powerful. Especially when everyone is screaming invective at the top of their lungs.

Some unsolicited advice…

For what it’s worth, here’s how I keep my temper in check online and elsewhere.

  1. If I’ve got to vent I do it in private.
  2. I repeat the following until I am calm enough to have a rational, civilized discussion: I am an adult. I am in charge of my feelings. No one has the power to make me feel anything. Only I can decide how I react.
  3. If I see an offensive comment online, I count to 10 before I decide whether to engage, and how to engage with the person who made the offensive comment.
  4. l remind myself to respect everyone’s right to their opinions, even if I don’t agree.
  5. If all else fails, I take a deep breath and count to 10, and remember what my mother taught me at a very young age: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…

Whatever happened to peaceful protest?

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

These are tumultuous times here in the good old USA.

Old Glory. American Flag. Photo taken at Memorial Day Ceremony by Alexandra Bogdanovic
American Flag. As seen at Memorial Day ceremony in Warrenton, Virginia. May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s more bad news about another protest gone amuck. If the media is to be believed (not that I’m saying it should) things are totally out of control.

Here’s just a small sample of recent headlines:

Turkey Issues Travel Warning About U.S., Citing Protests

Protests against Donald Trump’s win turn violent

Violence erupts around U.S. amid large protests over Trump victory

It honestly makes me wonder whatever happened to peaceful protest?

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The key words are “peaceably assemble.”

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say anything about the right to commit random (or deliberate) acts of destruction. So no, arson, vandalism, looting, theft, and related activities are not acceptable forms of protest. Any acts of violence are also unacceptable.

So what on earth is going on?

As far as I can tell, there are three basic reasons why gatherings that begin as peaceful protests turn ugly. The reason is the presence of “professional troublemakers.” These are the people who are paid to hijack peaceful events in order to promote a specific agenda — usually one that has little or nothing to do with the message originally endorsed by event organizers.

Then there are the criminals. These are the people who see peaceful protests as an opportunity to engage in illegal acts. These are the people who happily torch buildings, police cars What’s even more alarming is their propensity for attacking police officers and civilians.

And then there are the lunatics. These are the anarchists and the separatists and God only knows what else. I don’t even know how to describe them.

All I know is when you throw them all together, it is an incredibly toxic mix.

And as an American who fully endorses the right to engage in peaceful protest, I think it’s really sad.

Election 2016: Dark Days in America

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”– Alexis de Tocqueville

Official disclaimer: Those of you who read this blog regularly know how I feel about discussing politics in this forum. You also know that while writing about the law, I have taken shots at both President-Elect Donald J. Trump and his vanquished opponent, Hillary Clinton.

So you can take what I am about to say with a grain of salt or you can ignore it completely. You can agree or disagree. You can make your opinion known in the comments section below, or you can keep quiet. That’s your choice.

And ultimately that’s what this post is about. Choice. Or more specifically, the choice Americans had to make when we went to the polls on Tuesday.

In America these are dark days, indeed

To put all of this in its proper context, I’ll start by saying that I am a first-generation American. I am first-generation American whose father was forced to flee from his own country — a former Communist regime — as a political refugee.

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

So I am a patriot. I love this country. Under normal circumstances, my faith in America is unshakable. But I must admit, my faith has taken a beating lately. And on Wednesday morning, it almost crumbled. Almost. But not quite.

I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling ashamed, embarrassed, disgusted, angry, and sad. All at once.

But please don’t misunderstand. I was not upset about the outcome. I was still upset about the choice I was forced to make when I cast my ballot. I say “still,” because I was angry about the election before I went to the polls.

Those who don’t learn from (American) history….

In the days, weeks and months leading up to the presidential election eight years ago, many Americans were screaming for change. They wanted anyone in the Oval Office — as long it wasn’t anyone remotely resembling George W. Bush.

Then they voted accordingly.

And look what that got us. A deeply divided country. Heightened racial tensions. A stagnant economy. A pitiful attempt at universal healthcare. A diminished presence on the world stage. And for the most part, an angry, uninformed, uneducated, hyper-partisan electorate forced this year to choose between two of the worst presidential candidates in the history of the United States.

And look what that got us.

The lowest common denominator and the height of tyranny…

To quote from the label on the back of one of my favorite micro-brews, “We believe that pandering to the lowest common denominator represents the height of tyranny — a virtual form of keeping the consumer barefoot and stupid.”

From the moment he announced his candidacy, Donald J. Trump did just that. And the “lowest common denominator” — that angry, uneducated, uninformed, hyper-partisan electorate — responded accordingly. Congratulations, America. You did great!

That Vladimir Putin was one of the first, if not the first foreign leader to congratulate President-Elect Donald J. Trump, speaks volumes.

That a terrorist organization and a sworn enemy of this country has allegedly told the president-elect that everything will be peachy — as long as we pull everyone out of Afghanistan — also speaks volumes.

Clearly our country is in great hands.

And don’t you dare tell me, “at least he’s better than Hillary Clinton.” I really, really, really do not want to hear it. That argument didn’t hold water before the election, and it certainly doesn’t have any merit now.

To quote Alexis de Tocqueville…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start prattling on about “getting the government we deserve,” a post-election sentiment often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville. But I will end with this: if you honestly believe that President Donald J. Trump will make good on his promise to “Make America Great Again,” you are sadly, sadly mistaken. And that’s putting it nicely.

You see it is not up to him — or any elected leader, for that matter — to restore this country’s greatness. That is up to each and every one of us.

As de Tocqueville said, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Defending the indefensible: the demise of American decency

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

So I was really looking forward to writing about something fun today. I was planning on writing about the use of feral cats to curb the rat population in New York City. Frankly I think it’s genius.

Unfortunately I’ve got more serious things on my mind. Or more accurately, with the U.S. election looming, there’s something important I’ve got to get off my chest. So the post about feral cats being put to work in the Big Apple will just have to wait.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Today I am completely fed up — not only with presidential politics — but with hyper-partisan behavior in general. Americans on both sides of the aisle are happily defending the indefensible and justifying their behavior by saying “well at least he’s not as bad as she is,” or vice-versa.

Frankly it is deeply disturbing on many levels — for many reasons. But the partisan defense of the indefensible is especially troubling when it comes to Donald J. Trump’s (actual and alleged) behavior, Bill Clinton’s (actual and alleged) behavior and Hillary Clinton’s (actual and alleged) behavior.

Let’s begin with Donald J. Trump and Former President Bill Clinton. Both men have been accused of committing serious crimes against women. Trump is currently facing numerous sexual assault allegations. Yet Trump’s supporter loudly proclaim, “at least he’s not as bad as Bill Clinton.” Or something to that effect.” For his part, Former President Clinton has also been accused of sexual assault — and rape.

If nothing else, both men have demonstrated a proclivity for objectifying women. As everyone knows by now, Trump’s tendency to do so recently surfaced when his comments caught on that “hot mic” 11 years ago became public. As for Bill Clinton — well, there was that affair with a White House intern while he was president — among other things. Allegedly.

So what is the objectification of women? Objectification is commonly defined as “viewing and/or treating a person as an object, devoid of thought or feeling.” The definition of sexual objectification is ” the reduction of people to physical objects of sexual desire.”

So what’s the big deal? According to The Huffington Post, a recent study that included nearly 300 participants found that “over one-third of the participants had experienced sexual victimization as defined by the study.” The study also found that participants who experienced unwanted sexual advances — and worse — also reported experiencing objectification at one time or another.

In that sense, the study didn’t break new ground. It merely confirmed prior findings. It also confirmed what I witnessed as a crime reporter. As soon as someone stops seeing a person or group of people as human beings, it is easy to engage in criminal activity targeting that person or group of people.

In other words, it’s all “locker room talk” and “boy talk” until people get hurt. And then it’s not so funny anymore.

Listen Up, Ladies…

If there’s one thing worse than a man who mistreats women, it’s a woman who defends him. Hillary Clinton — who may very well be the leader of the free world come January — is accused of not only enabling her husband’s behavior, but verbally attacking his accusers.

And then there’s Melania Trump, who recently blamed everyone except Donald J. Trump for the comments that he made back in 2005. To her, Donald’s comments were just “boy talk.”

Really? Unbelievable.

Listen up, ladies. It is not okay. It is not acceptable. It is not a joke, and it is not funny.

It is inexcusable. And indefensible.


The restoration of American greatness has nothing to do with Donald Trump

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

My Fellow Americans —

As I write this, most of you are no doubt counting the hours until the long holiday weekend. I am sure you are preoccupied with travel plans and dreading the drive to the beach or the lake or the mountains. I am sure you are looking forward to hanging out with family and friends. I have no doubt you are also looking forward to pool parties, parades, barbecues, and fireworks.

Old Glory. American Flag. Photo taken at Memorial Day Ceremony by Alexandra Bogdanovic
American Flag. As seen at Memorial Day ceremony in Warrenton, Virginia. May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Boganovic

As I write this, I am pondering the wisdom of writing a “political” blog on my business site, especially given the political climate in the United States these days. To do so would be professional suicide.

So it’s a good thing this has absolutely nothing to do with politics. It has to do with us.

You see the true measure of American greatness has nothing to do with Donald Trump — or Hillary Clinton, for that matter. It has nothing to do with Bernie Sanders or anyone else who wants to be president. It has nothing to do with who is in the White House or who is in Congress or who is in charge of each state.

It has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats, or liberals or conservatives. It doesn’t matter if our leaders are progressives or populists.  It has nothing to do any political label or political philosophy.

The true measure of American greatness lies in its people. It lies in each and every one of us. Whether we like it or not. Whether we care to admit it or not.

We The People Of The United States…

The undeniable link between American greatness and its people can be traced through history. In fact, it can be traced to a time before the United States as we know it even existed.

It can be traced back to the time when a bunch of colonists, fed up with British tyranny and oppression, decided to do something about it. They decided to fight back.

In the Declaration of Independence, dated July 4, 1776, they said:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed (emphasis added), — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People (emphasis added) to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Red, White and Blue Umbrella. Pictured on Memorial Day, 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Patriotic Colors. Memorial Day Ceremony in Warrenton, Va., May 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

A similar sentiment is conveyed in the Preamble to our Constitution, which reads:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Note how these documents are written. They do not begin with “We, the leaders of the United States of America.” Nor do they say anything about “we, the politicians of the United States of America.”

Gee, I wonder why?

Together, We Can Make America Great Again

Wreath. Shot at Memorial Day Service in Warrenton, Virginia in 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic
Memorial Day Wreath. Warrenton, Va., 2011. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

But seriously, putting all sarcasm and snarfiness aside, what does this really mean?

In the simplest terms, it means that as Americans we are in charge of our own destiny. It also means that our future will be shaped not by the decisions our leaders make, but the key decisions we all make every day. They are:

  • How to react to hateful political rhetoric
  • Whether to embrace politicians that engage in hateful rhetoric
  • How to handle our political differences
  • Whether to let those differences tear us apart
  • How to regard compromise (as a sign of strength or weakness)
  • How to react to the things we don’t understand
  • How to react to the things that scare us
  • How to handle disagreements
  • How to express ourselves
  • Whether to exercise our right to vote
  • Whether to do our due diligence so we are fully informed when we cast our ballots
  • Whether to let the mainstream media, educators and pop culture dictate what we think
  • Whether to let others dictate how we behave

When all is said and done, what we choose to do determines not only how others view us, but how we see ourselves. After all, it is easy to blame our leaders for everything that is wrong with our country. It is much harder to look in the mirror.

A worthwhile investment: Americans spend billions on pets

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

“The pet humanization trend is alive and well and continues to drive growth at the premium end of the market.” – Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association

It’s old news by now. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s something that definitely bears repeating.

Last year, Americans spent a record-setting $60.28 billion on our pets. The total amount falls just a little bit short of the target set by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), but it is impressive nevertheless.

Money Matters

A breakdown provided by the APPA shows that we spent the most on pet food ($23.05 billion); followed by supplies and over-the-counter medications ($14.28 billion). Veterinary care accounted for $15.42 billion in expenditures. But the area that reflected the greatest growth in spending compared to 2014 was “other services.”

In a March 17 press release, the APPA explained just what this category covers. Items classified as “other services” include grooming, boarding, walking, training, pet sitting, exercise and yard services. Americans spent $5.41 billion on this sort of stuff last year, as compared to $4.84 billion in 2014, reflecting an 11.8 percent increase.

On the other hand, data provided by the APPA shows we bought fewer pets than we have in the past. The amount spent on “live animal purchases” dipped from $2.15 billion in 2014 to $2.12 billion last year.

Vetere said there are several explanations for the decline. One may be a “decline in pet types available from shelters or breeders.” Another is a “growing number of pet sale bans.” Finally, pets are living longer due to “improved healthcare,” Vetere added.

In My Humble Opinion

Personally, I would love to get another pet. But right now that’s simply out of the question. For one thing, Eli is definitely an “only child.” He’s also a handful.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

As many of you know, he had a cancer scare earlier this year. Diagnosis and treatment required several trips to the veterinarian — including one for the surgical removal of a small tumor on his back — in just a few weeks. Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly inexpensive — but it was definitely worthwhile. I am happy to say that the type of tumor he had was fairly benign and is unlikely to recur. I am also happy to say he’s made a complete recovery and is back to his feisty self.

Frankly I’ve lost count of how much we spend on food, cat litter, etc. I’ve also forgotten how much we spent on a live-in pet sitter when we went out of the country for three weeks last year — but that wasn’t exactly inexpensive either.

But at the end of the day, Eli is happy and healthy. And as far as I am concerned, that’s priceless.



Censorship – alive and well

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

“Censorship generally is the deletion of speech or any communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a body authorized to censor.”

– As defined on uslegal.com

A disturbing news report surfaced last week.

Apparently some Russian government-types have been burning some “undesirable” books.

Given the heinous and egregious nature of this conduct, I am sure the Russians would have been happy if this remained a closely guarded secret.  Unfortunately (for the alleged offenders) some American media outlets discovered and published accounts of this disgusting behavior.

I found out about it when goodreads.com shared a link to the post on Twitter. Ain’t social media grand?

At any rate, I banged off a snippy response, which was something to the effect of, “And this comes as a surprise?” Not surprisingly, that Tweet didn’t amount to much.

But in all honesty, I wasn’t surprised. Angry? Yes. Disgusted? Of course. Sickened? Absolutely. Flabbergasted, gob-smacked, astonished, taken aback? No. Not at all.

Of course government censorship is alive and well. Let’s face it. In Russia, where Vlad Putin does whatever he wants with impunity, it probably never died.   But what you may not realize – or simply refuse to admit –  is that censorship is practiced with alarming frequency right here in the good old USA.

The restrictions on freedom of expression to which I am referring go far beyond rules and regulations put in place to limit potential exposure to “offensive” material and to hold those who engage in hateful rhetoric accountable for their actions.

I am referring to the vast majority of the censorship that occurs in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, which  is condoned if not officially sanctioned by the politically correct crowd in the government and elsewhere. In an effort to combat the ignorant, misguided and hateful behavior of a vocal minority, the “polite police” are running amok.

Yes, some censorship is blatant. Some is passive-aggressive. Trust me. I speak from personal experience.

Book Cover, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey
Image courtesy of Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency

You see, I am the award-winning author of what could be considered a somewhat controversial book. In my memoir, Truth Be Told: Adam Becomes Audrey, I share how I met, fell in love with and married the man of my dreams. In vivid detail, I recount how I learned that he self-identified as and planned on having surgery to “become” a woman. I also share what happened after I learned the truth.

Some readers have loved my work. Some have hated it. Most have expressed their opinions in no uncertain terms — which is fine. I have very broad shoulders. There was only one occasion when I was truly insulted, and that was when a local library official told me they’d probably never shelf my book because readers here are “very conservative.”

I wonder what they’ll do if Caitlyn Jenner writes a book.

The whole truth?

This vintage typwriter is our featured image.

“The real purpose of this post is to encourage independent, critical thinking.”

On Sunday, The New York Times actually shared some “good news.” Contrary to public opinion… or more accurately, public perception, crime is down. New Yorkers are safer than they think. Their fears are baseless.

If you know me at all, or if you are any good at reading between the lines, you can easily detect the sarcasm here. Or perhaps it’s merely a healthy dose of skepticism. In any case, the purpose of this post is not to bash the Times. If anything the newspaper, which, in my humble opinion, joins the rest of the mainstream media in demonstrating a blatant anti-law enforcement bias, actually made a fairly decent attempt at presenting both sides of this particular story.

The real purpose of this post is to encourage independent, critical thinking – a skill that is not taught (much less encouraged) in American schools  and hence one that I find sorely lacking among the vast majority of Americans.

Of course it is far easier to take what the government – or any other authority – tells us on face value than to question it. Deep down those of us who live in free societies want to believe that authorities have our best interests at heart – so it is far easier to believe that our duly-elected leaders, teachers, police and the media are telling us the truth rather than what we want to hear.

ISIS is being defeated, the economy has recovered, unemployment is down and – at least in New York City – crime has declined as well. A rosy picture indeed. And why not believe it? After all, those who are telling it say they have data to prove their point. Numbers. Cold, hard facts. That’s all the proof you need. Or so they say.

But the numbers can be – and are – easily manipulated by those who provide them and those who report them. This tactic is hardly unique to one political party – or even one group, for that matter. Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Communists, anarchists, liberals, conservatives, economists, the media and even scientists engage in it.

Acknowledging all of this is the key to sorting through the BS and drawing your own conclusions. It is just one step though. Once you realize that any data can be – and is – manipulated, you must then ask the tough questions. Who is manipulating it? How are they doing so? How do they benefit from twisting the facts?

In some cases finding the answer is simply a question of following the money but in most cases it’s simply a question of using a little bit of common sense.

Speaking of which, here’s a newsflash for The New York Times: perception is reality.