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Op-ed

Peter Jensen: It’s not trivial to have a B.S. detector | COMMENTARY

The notice filed by the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court South District of Florida informing the judge that lawyers for former President Donald Trump did not object to the government's motion to unseal the search warrant for Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, is photographed Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic had begun, I served as captain of a trivia team competing in both live events at bars and online tournaments on both coasts. We’ve done fairly well, our intrepid band. Players have come and gone, in-person events went on hiatus as COVID spread, but we remained competitive, wracking up various prizes ranging from six-packs of beer to gift certificates to simple nods of approval. The secret? We try to keep a good mix of ages and interests among our players, some of whom even brush up regularly on common topics like world capitals and national flags. And rarely do we go into battle without at least one lawyer and one doctor. Pride plays a factor, too. As does the fact that I’ve made it clear to all offspring on the team that disinheritance is always on the table.

But there is one asset we never go without, and it’s proven extremely helpful time and time again. It’s my personal B.S. detector. That puppy may have a lot of miles on it — that’s just the nature of my day job — but boy, it sure comes in handy. Everyone should have one.

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For those who don’t play trivia, the game works like this. The host asks a question. It is usually not too hard nor too easy. It may be related to current events or it may be historic. Arts, humanities, the sciences, politics, pop culture, any subject matter may be involved. You have some limited time to confer with your teammates — often as little as 30 seconds — and then you must submit an answer. And here’s the tough part: During those brief ticking seconds, your teammates will shout out their best guesses. Some will be right, some may be close, and some may be a complete moon shot. The captain (that’s me) must decide who knows what they are talking about and who is just making it up as they go along.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Sometimes, it’s easy. A health professional probably knows medicine better than a writer. But sometimes, it’s not so obvious, as when you’re asked to name the highest grossing movie to star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (the ludicrous-by-any-standard ”Furious 7,” duh). Do you trust the nerdy MIT grad, the college professor, the lawyer, the computer geek? No, you go with the unemployed 23-year-old with a taste for action flicks and who has plenty of time to watch cable when not raiding your freezer for frozen pizza. Ding-ding-ding! When you’re a captain, you have to know this instinctively. There’s no time for debate. And people will shout things like “Jumanji: The Next Level” thinking they are being helpful when, of course, they are not.

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I offer this life lesson not because I wish our trivia opponents to succeed but because I believe my well-honed B.S. detector may have other applications. Take, for example, when an ex-president who has spent a lifetime running cons and whose top White House message-manager coined the term “alternative facts” to describe lying for political advantage is visited by FBI agents. Are you more likely to believe his immediate claims of victimhood and moral outrage over a “break in” and “ABUSE,” or are you inclined to believe authorities with the attorney general-supervised and court-approved search warrant in hand to look for, among other things, classified documents related to nuclear weapons? OK, that’s too easy. Let’s try a tougher one.

Again, let’s say an ex-president who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, is the subject of multiple state and federal investigations, including one stemming from an effort to seize control of the United States with an organized assault on the U.S. Capitol and false claims of a stolen election. FBI agents show up at the fellow’s door to look for documents he’s not supposed to have and the right-wing media immediately starts blathering without a shred of actual evidence that the whole thing is an attempt to prevent the guy from running in the 2024 election and perhaps an end to U.S. democracy as we know it. Meanwhile, the United States attorney general offers to unseal the search warrant. Whom do you believe — oh, darn, that’s too obvious as well.

OK, final question. Some guy who lives at Mar-a-Lago and has a tortured history with law enforcement but does have an extraordinary skill at convincing his loyal followers to take violent action as happened on Jan. 6, 2021. A search is conducted of his home and agents find numerous classified and secret documents in apparent violation of federal law. Do you at least have some concerns about what the heck he was planning to do with these various documents, or do you spring into action and threaten bodily harm to FBI agents nationwide in what appears to represent an unparalleled act of domestic terrorism? Is that tough? Seriously?

Look, I’m not claiming my B.S. detector is perfect. I’ve been wrong before. I once thought Donald Trump was a harmless reality TV character. But I’m just recommending you have one installed. At least before 2024.

Peter Jensen is an editorial writer at The Sun; he can be reached at pejensen@baltsun.com.


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