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The Tuft-less Titmouse

By Chris Pelicano (bio - articles - email) | Feb 11, 2013

How do you know when you are being deceived? It depends, in part, on the nature of the deception. Some deceptions are direct, bold-faced statements or assertions contrary to the truth. Some deceptions are more sins of omission, so-called half-truths, that mislead by appearing to be complete and sincere in themselves when they are not.

Consider a light-hearted case in point. My screened-in porch allows me to observe my bird feeders from an undetected vantage point. Armed with my trusty field guide to perching birds, I can identify my hungry visitors with ease. One of my favorite dinner guests is the Tufted Titmouse. It is a sparrow-sized gray-over-white bird with rust-colored sides and a conspicuous crest, or tuft, that is black when observed in Texas (where it is called the “Black-crested” Titmouse) and gray in my neck of the woods. Since the Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorites I notice it readily. I suppose that I am both consciously and subconsciously looking for it all the time. (It is a bit like the phenomenon that takes place after buying a new car. There seem to be so many more of the kind you just bought on the road in the weeks after your purchase than before. When, in fact, you are just noticing them more.)

Anyway, the other day I saw an advertisement for a shiny new bird feeder in a local store's flyer. The ad featured a photograph of the feeder on which a couple birds were perched. One of the birds looked like my Tufted Titmouse—but without the tuft! At first I thought, perhaps, it was a different variety of bird and, since I am no Theodore Roosevelt when it comes to birds, I took a closer look at the photo. Upon closer examination it occurred to me that the original photo had been altered. The original background had been removed, “photoshop-ed out”, and replaced with a solid green color that allowed the feeder to stand out more clearly for the prospective customers. Evidently the graphic designer who digitally manipulated the image was not as fond of the Tufted Titmouse as I was. He or she cut off the tuft—inadvertently, I suppose. Furthermore, since the ad's sponsor was selling bird feeders rather than birds, the now Tuft-less Titmouse, being a side issue, passed the proofreaders undetected. No doubt, they were mesmerized by the shiny new feeder—just as the viewers would be.

All and all, it was an insignificant and presumably innocent oversight. And yet, I felt an injustice had been done—a falsehood had been perpetrated. You see, the one tiny detail, the one distinguishing feature of an otherwise blandly colored bird had been carelessly removed—and dragged to the digital trash can along with the rest of the unwanted background clutter. Tragic! The double-irony being that an ad that was supposed to appeal to bird-watchers (potentially bird-lovers) got the feeder right but the bird wrong. Oops!

So, how do you know when you are being deceived? You don't unless you know the truth that is being violated and, more often it seems, you have to know the OTHER half of the truth that is being omitted. In either case, the deception need not be intentional. Nevertheless, it does seem that one will only notice a deception if one is looking for the truth—if one is a truth-watcher or, better yet, a truth-lover.

A Timely Catholic Footnote: My field guide indicates that the Tufted Titmouse has a delicate but distinctive song, sung year-round and carrying a considerable distance. It is a whistled series of four to eight notes sounding like, “Peter-Peter, Peter-Peter”.

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