- SUSPICIOUS MINDS: As a columnist I'm constantly being told how cynical the nation has become. And just how much of that cynicism can be placed at the feet of the media.

Personally, I think that's a cynical attitude.

My own sense is we're all just a little jumpy - nervous that things may not be quite as they appear to be.

Take President Clinton, for instance.

He may be no more of a lout than past presidents, but we're nervous that knowing it is bad for us. That believing in the myth of untarnished leadership is better than the harsh glare of exposure.

We're nervous that Karl Malone may have been putting on an act all these years, that it's all been just another pro-wrestling scam and the new "less kind, less gentle" Malone was the real one all along.

We're nervous that young filmmakers like Steven Spielberg aren't as earnest about the content of their movies as they are about making movies; that their true passion is pushing our buttons, not understanding our hearts.

We're nervous that all doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs have hidden motives.

We're nervous the stock market is wearing a false face.

We're nervous markets in general wear a false face.

We're nervous that generals who market themselves wear a false face.

We're nervous that nothing's what it seems to be.

And we're nervous that may include ourselves.

- STANDS TO REASON: A recent survey showed that 12 percent of the American public believes Noah's wife was Joan of Arc.

You have to wonder what else is on their minds.

Do they go shopping for a "Bible Belt?"

Do they think the Book of Deuteronomy is a script for "Cats?"

Do they think Abraham was commanded to kill his son, Isaac Austin?

Such people live in another world.

Though I have to say it's a more interesting world than mine.

- CHASING THE NEWS: Just in time to be of no help whatsoever this summer, I was sent a book by Jennifer Crichton called "Family Reunions: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Unforgettable Get-Togethers."

I'll save it and do a story next year.

For now, here are a few of her "commandments" for family reunion manners:

- Thou shalt not forget ordinary manners nor thy common civility.

- Thou shalt not publicly criticize the bad manners or poor behavior of any child not thine own.

- Sniping and carping about a reunion's lack of organization is an abomination.

- Thou shalt orchestrate spontaneous praise unto the reunion organizer.

Watch for the unabridged version in the spring.