Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Like Memories of Woodstock and Other Slippery Things
I awoke this morning with a conversation I had with my husband about a year ago foremost in my mind.
"Don't worry about it," I told my husband as he allowed the hot water to run cold, in order to fill an ice tray, " maybe hot water really does freeze faster."
I was joking, a bit punchy from all the work we were trying to get done. We were having guests that night and performing the ritual of trying to make certain we had enough ice available. Since we'd never hooked up our automatic ice maker, we always did this particular dance. For two days we'd try to make as much ice as humanly possible, then at the last minute we'd dash out to buy a bag of the stuff. It's strange the patterns we follow, at times.
"You've heard that, too?" He asked, and relief was evident in his tone."I'm glad I'm not the only person who believed that one."
The tale unfolded. Back in college my husband had a roommate who was quite bright, as is my husband. In fact, my husband has always been more interested in the various sciences than I have been. It seems that one night Rob, the aforementioned husband, had stated the old, "Hot water freezes more quickly than cold." in front of this particular roommate, and this man, who I'll call Ned, practically laughed himself into a brain bleed, then proceeded to call my husband an idiot, and explain at great length why this wasn't in the least true. Rob, chastened, and a bit embarrassed never forgot the moment, and he also became convinced he was wrong.
At the end of his story, rather surprised that I knew this and he did not, I chimed in again. "But honey, hot water does freeze more quickly than cold, depending on the conditions."
We trotted off to the Internet and confirmed that with several reputable sources. Now, those conditions do not happen to be present in your home freezer, but there is truth at the root of it. The only reason I had known that was because years earlier I'd worked with a group of environmental engineers, several of whom were meteorologists and the subject came up at length back then. I'd been surrounded by a group of seven people or so. They gathered up as much proof to bolster their respective points as they could and the conversation went on for quite a while. Meanwhile, I was nearly dead from boredom but I still managed to absorb, quite thoroughly, that dependent on conditions? Hot water can freeze more quickly than cold.
I also learned to leave the room when they started in with their fact-fest-orama. It was a frequent occurrence. Boy, could I tell you some stuff about Ambient Air Standards. It's worn into my brain like a groove. It is, without exception, incredibly dull, so I'll spare you. My apologies to you if you happen to be an environmental engineer, I'm sure you're personally fascinating. Really.
Now my husband is no shrinking violet, by the standards of anyone. He's 6'4", for starters, and he's a searingly intelligent man. Still, he'd allowed himself to be convinced he was wrong by someone with an assertive manner. By the time we had that conversation twenty years had passed between his roommate convincing him of something that was only in part, true. I was very surprised that it had happened at all.
"I really want to call Ned and give him a piece of my mind." Rob fumed. He isn't prone to backing down, and two decades later finding out that he hadn't really needed to rankled.
"Go for it, honey." I said, ready to ride in with the support cavalry.
"Well, the last time I saw Ned he chased me with a golf club."
"Okay, so maybe don't call him." And I then understood why my husband had backed down. I remembered who Ned was. He was the roommate that was obsessed with the novel American Psycho, among other charming things. Best to let sleeping crazies lie.
However, haven't we all done that? Listened to someone with an assertive manner (and possibly an arsenal of madness), allowed ourselves to be convinced by someone speaking with authority, yet without checking the facts?
Apocryphal tales abound. Lady Astor and Winston Churchill's famous tea exchange is one such tale. Did it happen? Historians are convinced it did not, but if you run a search right now, you'll come up with sites that put it forth as fact. It likely isn't but it certainly seems like it should be, doesn't it? George Washington and the Cherry Tree is another moment that is flatly made up, but I remember the first time I heard it, in school, oddly enough. I went home at the great age of nine or so, and proudly told my father about it. Have I mentioned that my father was a historian? One with many degrees? Yeah, that was a long conversation. Marie Antoinette never said anyone should chow down on cake, or any other sort of pastry. In fact that one is actually rather unfair to the actual person, but that's neither here nor there.
The fortieth anniversary of Woodstock has been getting a lot of press of late. Lots of people coming forward with their memories and photographs. Phrases like, "it was a great time of change" and "you could feel the love in the air" are trotted out. Hey, maybe that's true in part but I think we all know there's a little bit of editing and polishing going on in the minds of people who actually attended. I received an email from a friend whose mother was there, and to her surprise, spotted herself in a photograph in a magazine spread. Her memories of Woodstock were less glowing, it seems, and that fits with the people I've met who were there. Words like "dirty" "crowded" and "smelly" don't define Woodstock. They shouldn't. It was only a part of the entire thing.
So clearly my point is about the health care debates, again. Some more. The thing is almost everything I named above is a harmless misrepresentation, or half truth. If you believe that Paul Revere's part in history really involved that famous ride, it is not an injurious belief. However, if you believe at this point that you know everything there is to know about health care reform? Well, you can't. Not right now. It also is proving to not be harmless. People are showing up with guns at some of these town hall meetings.
It's also not our fault that things have come to this. President Barack Obama played his part in encouraging people to react before all the facts are in. Treating something as weighty as health care reform like a movie trailer, and inviting people to discuss it before presenting the actual document was not, to my mind, the best approach. It is that, it isn't this, etc. It's like he's busily cutting our meat for us, trying to make sure we deal with one bite-sized piece at a time.
Maybe he didn't have a choice. After all, politician from both sides have treated this like a bunch Carnival Barkers, running around, spouting slogans, soundbites, and sometimes outright lies. Yes, I'm looking at you, Ms. "in honor of the American soldier, why don't you stop making things up!" Palin. Heed your own words, lady.
It's just in the last few days I've noticed something. It seems that people are so convinced of certain aspects of health care reform, that they have begun to believe they've reviewed it in full. Or rather, that it is possible to have done so at this point in time. This became such a common occurrence that I spent hours searching the Internet, convinced that somehow the information must be out there, in full. After all, seemingly everyone has seen it but me! I might as well have been eating cake.
Also, let's only briefly touch on how internationally embarrassing this has become. I live near a man from Sweden, and I tend to be the sort of person who makes friends with people from other countries, both here and in the real world.
I ran into him while getting the mail, and we chatted.
"No antibiotics? People say we have no antibiotics." He was pretty distressed, actually. "People don't believe that, do they?"
Oh how I wanted to tell him that they did not. The same thing goes with stories about Canada, or the UK, or France. Somebody hears a snippet, or reads a story of "My cousin was from Canada, he broke his leg! He had to cross the border just to have it set!!" Uh huh. Sure. I have no clue what that junk is about but chances are if that happened there's a key piece (or a dozen) of information missing. Maybe the cousin was an idiot, for one thing. Or a felon on the run. Or the blue fairy made flesh, for all I know. It doesn't matter because if you can't suss out on your own that there's a hole in that story big enough to drive a fleet of Uhauls through, I can't help you. I'm willing to believe there may have been a cousin, some cousin, of some person, somewhere. I'm further willing to believe that this cousin likely had legs but that's the extent of what I'm willing to believe.
I think we all need to wait until we have more information, but that clearly isn't going to happen. The media isn't going to let it. None of our political parties seem to be willing to choose a wait and see, either.
So it's up to us. We've got a lot of people pulling our strings right now. Do I support health care reform? Yes I do, In theory. Do I support this particular reform? I don't know yet.
By the way, two things. I glossed over something above. "Let them eat cake." there was harm in that, even though it may not have been a contemporary belief. If you look at the laundry list of things of which Marie Antoinette was accused, some pretty outrageous falsehoods are on that list. For political reasons they were compiled, some more true than others, some made up out of whole cloth, as an excuse to execute the lady. Believing apocryphal tales can be very harmful. We should probably keep that in mind, and remember that there is a reason both sides might want us to believe things designed to inflame our sense of outrage and make us decide before we are in possession of all facts.
The second thing is on behalf of my neighbor: Sweden both has, and makes use of antibiotics. Really. On this one thing I'm begging you to take my word for it.