The ides have it!

Veteran reporters inside the Washington Beltway have developed a sophisticated way to determine for sure when a politician is lying. It’s a technique we don’t generally discuss outside the journalistic order, but I can whisper it just for you. After all, it’s primary season, and this secret could come in handy.

All right, then. To tell if a politician is lying, here’s what you do . . .

Focus your eyes on the tip of the politician’s nose. Then slowly lower your gaze to the politician’s mouth. Now, carefully note whether the politician’s lips are moving.

That’s it. If the politician’s lips are moving, he’s lying.

Unfortunately, not everything these days is so clear-cut. This is because dodging and dissembling are epidemic in our society. Accountability is as rare these days as a unicorn horn.

But trot over to page 25, and you just might get a glimpse of a one-horned pony.

A Florida youth now has admitted to eMailing a threat that forced administrators to order a two-day security shut-down of Colorado’s Columbine High School, the scene last spring of the nation’s worst school shooting to date. The teen-ager reportedly has pleaded guilty to transmitting a threat to another person via interstate commerce, a serious crime to be sure.

But in doing so, the youngster has proved himself innocent of yet another offense: the crime of jaw-dropping fabrication.

The world, not to mention the legal profession, was stunned by the harebrained scheme the young man’s attorney had come up with as a potential defense. Flamboyant Miami attorney Ellis Rubin reportedly had concocted a variation on his notorious “television defense” of the 1970s. In the internet variation, the lawyer intended to argue that his client was so besotted by bits and bytes that he was not responsible for sending that reprehensible message. To his credit, though, the teen-ager had the good sense to reject the advice of his lawyer and accept his own culpability, the first step perhaps on the road to rehabilitation.

So one episode at least seems on the way to a sad, but sensible conclusion. Yet the news from our schools this month might make you wonder.

If intoxication isn’t behind the rash of erratic behavior on the internet, what could it be?

What would possess an honor student in Alaska to jeopardize his academic career by logging onto a porno site from his school computer? And why would the judge side with the boy instead of his teacher while hearing the student’s legal challenge of his punishment? See our Front Page story.

What dark forces or malevolent factors were in play in Olympia, Wash.?

That’s where a school computer technician has been indicted on charges of trying to use mash notes he found on the school computer network to blackmail a colleague. See page 20.

Or what would make a school computer chief in Birmingham, Ala., think he could get away with forming a company to bill his school board for software he developed on school district time? See page 22.

We must rule out the possibility of internet intoxication as the proximate cause of such aberrant goings on. But what then could account for such stories? Is it simply fate, the alignment of our stars? Or might it be the genuinely chilling developments coming out of the Minds and Machines Lab at the Rensselaer, N.Y., Polytechnic Institute? See page 35.

The fiends in that laboratory have unleashed Brutus.l, a software program that purportedly can write stories about lies, self-deception, and human betrayal. Such automated authoring could shake the very foundations of the Fourth Estate. Readers at the lab reportedly could not distinguish the computer-generated stories from the work of human writers. Whether this is a tribute to the writing ability of Brutus.1 or a commentary on the critical discernment of the readers remains unclear, of course. But the Brutus.1 program does put one in mind of the real reason behind all these troubles.

As the greatest of human writers once put it: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves . . .”

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