Is This A Lie, False Assertion, Mistake, Sarcasm, Jumbo, Or A Statement Requiring Investigation? The Case Of The Runaway Pants

Where did his pants go, and how?

Where did his pants go, and how?

The statement in question: “They took off running by themselves without me,”  when “they” refers to the speaker’s pants.

It is perhaps germane to the matter that the speaker, 52-year-old Charles William Raulerson, was naked and blasting music from his vehicle in a car wash parking lot. When confronted by police and asked about the reason for the conspicuous absence of his pants, Raulerson allegedly uttered his remarkable explanation. Police ultimately felt it necessary to tase him.

Today I returned to this offering by the most prolific of my crack ethics issues scouts, Fred, after four plus hours with The Ethical Arts Players, in which I expounded on the best ways for an organization to develop a culture that discourages sexual harassment. I was grateful for something completely different, though I will note that if Mr. Raulerson were inside the car wash and a manager there, this episode might qualify as creating a hostile work environment.

Fred suggested that “My pants took off running by themselves without me” is “a lie that is obvious and absurd.” In truth, it is not.

It does not qualify as a Jumbo, because the statement, unlike “Elephant? What Elephant?” does not deny what is undeniable. If his pants were in plain view, immediately disproving Charles’ statement, then it would be a Jumbo. (If, upon having the pointed out, he responded, “Oh! The devils! I hadn’t noticed! They came back!”, we would be returned to square one.)

Nor is the statement a lie. It just isn’t. We cannot say with certainty that it is a lie until we know that Charles doesn’t believe that his pants ran off, and is deliberately trying to deceive. That would make it a lie, but we simply don’t know that. The fact that he’s in public without pants creates a rebuttable presumption that he might, for example, be hallucinating, and really believes that his pants ran away like the dish ran away with the spoon. (Is that nursery rhyme a lie?)

On his blog, Prof. Jonathan Turley has started a feature where he shows a mug shot and asks, “Can You Guess What This Man Was Charged With?” If we changed that challenge a bit and showed Mr. Raulerson’s visage with the question, “Would This Man Believe That His Pants Ran Away?,” I wouldn’t rule out “yes” as an answer. He could be mistaken, and that can of Sterno he just downed might be the reason why.

I watch a lot of horror  movies, and they almost always involve someone seriously swearing that something incredible has happened, and people assuming he or she is making stuff up, to their eventual regret. Is “My pants took off running by themselves without me” inherently more unbelievable than “My husband isn’t really my husband,” “My daughter’s head turned 180 degrees around,” “I have a cute little space man in my closet?,” “a flock of birds attacked the schoolchildren,” or “That serial killer is back from the dead!”? Opinions may differ, but I don’t think so. Thus Raulerson’s claim, while highly unlikely, I will agree, cannot be definitively dismissed as false.

As an aside, Ann Althouse, on her blog, takes the New York Times to task for writing today that “President Trump reiterated his false claim that at least three million illegal immigrants cast ballots for Hillary Clinton…She says,

“I disapprove of the use of the phrase “false claim” in a news article. Trump deserves criticism if he is purporting to know things that he does not know, but the NYT is also asserting that it knows something it does not know. Trump’s allegation could be true. How can you know for certain without a thorough investigation?

It would be much stronger for the NYT to say that Trump’s statement is unsupported and merely a suspicion (a suspicion that supports his political interests).The obvious reason for choosing to call it a false claim rather than an unsupported claim is that if we actually already know it’s false, then no investigation is needed. So the question is why would the NYT want to take that position? It makes me suspect that they are afraid something will turn up — if not 3 million illegal immigrants* voting, then other voting problems that are damaging to the Democratic Party.”

Brava. But it’s Trump, the news media and the Left have decided to push the narrative that he is always lying, and the #1 paper in the nation  states “false” as a fact, when that is merely an assumption.

Trump’s dubious statement is easier to confirm or rebut than Chuck’s: how would you prove that his pants did not run away? Another possibility is that he knew the statement was false, and was saying it to mock or annoy the officers. “My pants took off running by themselves without me” could easily be sarcasm: no reports give us the tone in which he said it. “My pants took off running by themselves without me,” if delivered in a tone that leaves an implied “you assholes” as the end, makes perfect sense as sarcasm. Mr. Raulerson, for all we know about him, may be a deft raconteur, a puckish satirist, and a mordant wit in the  tradition of Oscar Wilde, Ambrose Bierce, and Oscar Levant.

Are you pre-judging him by his appearance? That is pure bias, and both unfair and unwise. For example, here is Levant when he appeared on national television:

oscar-levant

You can imagine what Oscar, who had many problems, looked like on his bad days. He not only could give Charles William Raulerson a run for his money in the bad first impression category, he was perfectly capable of turning up pantless at a car.

This exercise is merely to remind everyone that whether or not a statement is a lie is often more complicated than the news media would have us believe….which is ironic, since if anyone desperately needs the benefit of the doubt in this respect, it’s them.

_________________________

Pointer: Fred

 

20 Comments

Filed under Journalism & Media, Jumbo, Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship

20 responses to “Is This A Lie, False Assertion, Mistake, Sarcasm, Jumbo, Or A Statement Requiring Investigation? The Case Of The Runaway Pants

  1. Jack, now my head hurts. Doesn’t Occam’s Razor dictate that the pants did not run away by themselves? Once police establish this probability, they can look at the alternatives of drug use, wiseass attitude, or just plain crazy as explanations for why this guy is sitting in his car naked.

    In a real world situation, you have to make a few assumptions in order to complete your OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) or you risk adverse consequences.

    Now, the MSM is suspected of lying these days any time their lips move. They just don’t realize that Trump is playing them like a fine violin. My observation is that when Trump does something absurd (picking fights with news anchors, tweeting at 3 am, etc.) look for what he slipped by the media, who were so engaged in astonished outrage they quick looking for shenanigans.

    Of course, some of those episodes may have had no other objective than “I am a narcissistic asshole, hear me roar!” Time will tell if Trump really IS crazy like a fox.

    • Sure, but Occam’s Razor is about probabilities. We can certainly say, fairly, that he’s probably lying, and even that he’s almost certainly lying. “Everybody! I swear, I just saw Jesus!” If I say, “Hedy Lamarr was the inventor of Wi-Fi,” you might say, “Hedy Lamarr? the 40’s movie sex siren? You’re getting her mixed up with someone else.” Occam’s Razor would agree.

      And you’d be wrong…

      • Wayne

        That’s a nice picture of Hedy and she was a smart lady on top of it. I don’t know about Wi-Fi but I do recall that she did something that really helped the U.S. military in WW2.

      • Occam’s Razor is a tool, like logic itself. I have heard it said the “Logic is a way to reach the wrong conclusion with confidence.”

        Logic is also based on probabilities, and can lead to an incorrect conclusion. It just gives the user more of a chance of being right than most other methods of reaching a conclusion.

        As an aside, the Hedy Lamarr reference made my day, as I had no idea she invented (with the patent!) code hopping spread spectrum communications. CDMA phones (Sprint and Verizon) and WiFi are based on this today. Her story is pretty cool, too.

  2. Chris

    Althouse is wrong, and it is completely fair to refer to a claim with no basis in reality as “false.” The media should do this more often, instead of simply repeating Trump’s claims in the interest of false balance. He is lying to the public, constantly, and the media has a duty to make that clear. I do not buy into the “George Constanza” rule that a lie isn’t a lie as long as one is able to convince themselves it’s true. Trump says 3 million illegal immigrants voted because that’s the number he lost the popular vote by, and that’s it. There is no other basis for this claim. Making completely unsupported claims out of pettiness is called lying. The notion that we must have telepathy in order to judge whether he is really “lying” or if he actually believes it means we could never accuse anyone of lying, ever.

    • Eternal optometrist

      And while we’re worried about the 3 million immigrant voters, he’s signing executive order after executive order. It’s brilliant if you think about it. Devious, crazy, and brilliant.

      • Groan…

        I had to defend Obama’s use of EO’s I think half a dozen times while explaining why they are constitutional and they can’t enact anything the Costitution or Congress hasn’t empowered him legally to do…

        I guess I’ll have to stamp out hysteria for this president also.

        • The illegal immigrant EO was, as I believed at the time and as one federal court has held, an abuse. The President can’t repeal a law by EO, and ordering Justice not to enforce the law is the same thing.

          • There is that. What I meant was if the president does something to that effect he technically can be stopped. Just the Congress didn’t have the guts to compell him to enforce the laws and then push it to an impeachment hearing if necessary.

    • “Trump says 3 million illegal immigrants voted because that’s the number he lost the popular vote by, and that’s it”

      To be accurate of course, Trump lost the popular vote by 6.5 million whereas Clinton lost the popular vote by 3.6 million.

    • Chris, I am sympathetic to your reaction, but AltHouse IS right. This is the creeping journalism crud that is now out of control. The Times can ethically say that there is no evidence for Trump’s assertion. They can say that it is almost certainly false. They can even say that his assertion seems impossible. But they don’t know it’s false until they investigate. There are some assertions that are false on their face: If Trump said you were a turnip, that’s false. But the 3 million figure is an estimate, a guess or an opinion. Althouse is reasoning like a lawyer, and that’s the way to reason in this case. (The MSM/Left asserts that there is virtually no voter fraud. That’s not true or false, and the MSM should not say that, either.) the media is scrupilous about saying that a person cuaght on tape shooting some one, like Slager, “allegedly” shot someone, yet states unequivocally that an untested assertion is false. If Trump’s estimate is false, then what’s the real number? The Times doesn’t know. If nobody knows the number, or if there is a number, then Trump’s guess is as true as anyone else’s.

      Is the news media really going to keep going nuts over Trump’s off-the-cuff exaggerations? They (the media) look silly and obsessed. My favorite was his statement that his cabinet had the highest IQ of any cabinet ever. I can’t prove it’s false, but it is so obviously hyperbole not meant literally. He means “I have a smart cabinet.” He meant, “There was a lot of voter fraud in California.”

    • I do not buy into the “George Constanza” rule that a lie isn’t a lie as long as one is able to convince themselves it’s true

      I agree with that (somebody give Chris smelling salts!) as I believe that is how Bill Clinton worked.

      In addition, I also believe the it is not a lie if you believe you are telling the truth in ignorance. For instance, eggs were vilified for years as bad for you, until recently the expert opinions changed. Did the experts lie? Or did they go with the evidence as they knew it then? They thought they were right, so being proven wrong by later discoveries did not mean they lied.

      (I’ll leave the conspiracy theories out for this example: I don’t know of any credible reason to hurt egg sales that would drive this research askew… now the Food Pyramid is another story)

  3. Wayne

    The only thing I can contribute to this post is “liar, liar pants on fire!” Maybe that’s the reason that the pants ran away. Sorry Jack, I just couldn’t resist.

  4. Wayne

    Re: Trump’s claim that 3 million illegal aliens voted in the presidential election. I don’t know where he came up with that number. Certainly some did in the election as it is very easy to do as this explains: http://www.fairus.org/issue/noncitizens-voting-violations-and-u-s-elections
    So did he lie if he overestimated? What about the pundits that claim that there is no evidence that this happened?

    • JRH

      Indeed my personal anecdotal experience and opinion is that this is a major problem. When you allow illegals to obtain drivers licenses, as 12 states have done, it is insanely easy to register and vote. There is no check on that activity because of the current mood to block any voter ID laws.

  5. Rich in CT

    If anything, Trump is playing up the “illegal votes” story to force the media to very publicly and adamantly that the vote tallies were fair.

    This would embarrass the media to the point that they shut up about Putin getting Trump elected (have any of you heard this one lately?).

    Occum’s Razor is completely useless at this point, because just about any theory about Trump and the tally is equally plausible at the moment…

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