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.


PhilipH said...

Phew! What a posting. Not going to join in the health issue. Just to say that I'm quite happy with the system in the UK.

Hope the American people get a good deal, sooner or later.

Hot water freezes quicket than cold. Hmm ... OK, I'll buy that, but I don't understand it!

We've got global warming. The glaciers in the antarctic are thinning out at an ever-increasing rate. Should they not be freezing up though?

OK, I'm going to sign back into the home for the bewildered now. G'night all.

Land of shimp said...

Hehe, yes you probably need a long rest after that post! It's like the compilation of three volumes!

Thank you, Philip :-)

I think a lot of residents of the U.S. are rather dog-with-a-bone about health care at present, and I'm particularly terrier-like.

Jo said...

That was what you might call a stream-of-consciousness post. *heh* But wonderful...!

Okay #1. You must be reading my mind. The other day I was filling my ice cube trays with hot water, and I had heard that hot water freezes faster than cold water, and I stood there wonderful how that could be possible...! And here you are. :-)

#2. I have a friend who was at Woodstock. He said it was cold, muddy rainy, miserable, and hardly anyone could hear the music. But he said overall it was a fabulous experience, and he was glad he was there.

#3. Well ... you know my thoughts on people trashing health care in Canada. Silly, silly, silly


They have no idea what they're talking about.

BTW, I posted a comment on your last posting. You look just like I imagined, and you suit your beautiful name. :-)


Jo said...

*sigh* *typo* In #1 I meant "wondering". I should always read first before I hit "publish"


The Bug said...

Here here!

Kathryn said...

Several years ago i watched a rerun of that old program Quantum Leap (had to do a search to even remember the name) where he landed in the palace with Marie Antoinette. In that story folks came to her & told her her subjects were starving & her response was, "Well, let's feed them! We have meat, & bread, & when that runs out they can eat cake!"

(No, i just looked that up & i can't be right. QL only went to folks who were/had been alive during his own lifetime. Anyway, some program along a similar idea.)

I'm not claiming this part of history to be true, only that there is always another side (even to a myth!)

Alane, i have an email - yes, i know, not reliable, & no true source is listed. It is purported to be from a Stephen E Fraser MD to Senator Bayh. Snopes doesn't list it, but Truth or Fiction does list some of the items at http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/h/health-plan.htm

I can see clearly that many of the items listed have had a "fear mongering" mentality attached to them when comments were applied, such as this one line (out of about 50) Page 489 Sec 1308: The Govt will cover Marriage & Family therapy. - Which means they will insert Govt into your marriage. Now, i believe this to be utterly preposterous & fear-mongering in the extreme. (Such as when my mother believed the Equal Rights Amendment would bring in an era of same-sex public bathrooms.)

But even in such fear-mongering, i can see, that if any of the reported lines (not comments) are true, they can be twisted to have any number of meanings.

I totally agree with you the the "wars & rumors of wars" going around are ridiculous. But i also agree with Jo that the Canadian system & what will be put into place here are apples & oranges. I would not have a problem (not too much, anyway) if we were to create a program for folks who are uninsured & need coverage.

But, to have a gov't run health care system is something i find very scary because the gov't has proven itself to be so unreliable & untrustworthy in just about everything it touches. The FDA & other alphabet soup agencies are bought & sold by lobbyists/special interest groups & no longer are (if they ever were) looking out for the good of the people. I can name a number of products or drugs that support this position.

I don't consider most of congress to be trustworthy. They have proven to be an elite group, the new aristocracy, who vote themselves health care & raises & benefits not available to 99.5% of the folks they "represent." The bottom line is, i just don't trust our congress & president to take on a job of this magnitude with any amount of competence at all.

But i'm also not wanting to be rude. Or contentious. And willing to listen to other points of view. :)

Pauline said...

"...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."

Aha! Manipulation of us, of facts, of half-truths, of data. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why are we people against people instead of people for people? I will never understand our species.

On a positive note, I've been learning all sorts of things today. Now I know what a hornbeam tree is (thanks to Philip) and re the phenomenon of warm water freezing before cold: "Today, there is still no well-agreed explanation of the Mpemba effect."

Who says blogging is merely a time-waster?

Land of shimp said...

That was what you might call a stream-of-consciousness post. *heh*

Gosh, I know! Evidence of this being on my mind.

On number 2: That's a lot more in line with the memories I've heard prior to the anniversary. A mixed bag, but still, overall unforgettable.

On number 3 - Jo, you know how I feel about this. Yes, I understand people are afraid, and when afraid are easily convinced to be more afraid. Beyond the fact that the socialized systems of other countries being a) none of our business b) not apropos in our debate it really isn't okay to run around insulting the crap out of other countries.

It's just so rude on top of being completely unjust. It is unjust, and the people doing it would burn with outrage if the countries in question were defaming the U.S. in such a manner. It's arrogant, and unkind, and shameful.

Hello, The Bug! Keep healing over there! I hope your PT goes well. As much of a pain as PT is, it really does help.

Land of shimp said...

Hey Kathryn! You raise an excellent point. Data of any kind can be manipulated.

The shameful treatment of Dr. Emmanuel's remarks being taken completely out of context is one such recent case.

It's wise to doubt the veracity of anything making the rounds in an email format.

Unfortunately the mainstream press is incredibly guilty of the same manipulation. The article that led so many people to believe in Death Panels was published in one of our well known, nationally circulated newspapers. Now it was written as an article, op-ed piece, but holy crow, the manipulation of data was blatantly false and also pretty darn obvious.

I think we all expect our email inbox to contain goofy crap. The same vehicle that can bring us promise to enhance parts we don't have, and slim down the ones we have with some miracle treatment, is not to be trusted to shape our views.

But our newspapers need to be held to a different standard. Freedom of the press is one of the most important rights we have, but when facts are manipulated to convey the opposite of the truth, and are not presented with a rebuttal, our free press is not holding itself to any journalistic standards.

I don't blame people for being so confused, but when something sounds too darned extreme to be true, chances are it is false. Along with freedom of the press comes the personal responsibility of not allowing ourselves to be so easily, instantly convinced.

We have an obligation as participants in our government to determine the veracity of anything we are told before making up our minds.

Our rights stand hand in hand with our responsibilities. We love our rights, and too often shirk our responsibility to make an effort in being well informed.

I realize you do exactly that, make every effort to keep yourself well informed. I have a lot of respect for that, Kathryn.

I feel for the people who are so deeply frightened, I do. However, I'm also astounded because the only true way to become that convinced of something -- whether it is "Obama: Secret Kenyan" or "Death Panels to Convene" or "The Government will Be in Your Marriage!" is when we haven't done our own, personal jobs. We love our rights, but it is clear we are shirking our responsibilities too much.

Pauline, I'm right there with you. How do we allow this to be done to us? We are supposed to hold the free press to a standard. We've let them come to this pass. It's not hard to perceive an overly slanted treatment of anything. The press operates as a for profit endeavor. We literally need to stop buying this crap.

Yay for positive things, by the way. Despite all appearances of fixation on this issue, I'm primarily a positive, cheerful sort of person.

On my own positive note? I feel a boundless sense of gratitude that as one of the most opinionated women I know, I am so fortunate to have been born in a country where that trait wouldn't land me in jail, or get me killed.

But informed opinions are key. Still, the very thing I am complaining about, at length, is a sign of hope.

For all the people have allowed themselves to be frightened into feeling something, they are also bestirring themselves to go to Town Hall Meetings.

Our passions may be too easily inflamed, but thank goodness one of our defining problems is not apathy. Inflamed passions can be overcome. There are few cures for apathy.

Also, thanks for the compliment on the picture, Jo! I do appreciate it.

Merlin said...


There are antibiotics in Sweden, and I can say even though I am in Sweden only for 2 years. But in all fairness, the Swedish doctors dont exactly encourage the use of antibiotics, but when requried they do prescribe whatever is neccessary to cure a patient.

Nice post

Land of shimp said...

Thanks, Merlin!

I know that the approach to the use of antibiotics differs, in some cases. Overuse of antibiotics does cause a resistance to their effectiveness. That's just based on my cursory understanding, I'm not a doctor.

The point being only that there are arguments, that do seem to have some merit, that the U.S. system overuses antibiotics, to the detriment of a patient's overall health.

In the U.S. we are rather wedded to the notion that antibiotics are required for treatment of a lot of ailments they don't actually benefit.

The suggestion that socialized systems deny the use of antibiotics for things like infections following surgery is the stuff of rumor here.

PhilipH said...

Alane, I agree with your take on antibiotics. They are often over-prescribed in the UK and this can lead to virtual immunity to their actions in one's system.

I've read that some patients seem to INSIST on being given antibiotics even when the doctor says they would be of no benefit! I guess some medics will grant the patient's demands, just to get them out of the surgery! I know they shouldn't but with some stroppy sorts it's bound to happen now and then. Maybe there should be a 'placebo' pack of pseudo-antibiotics which the doctor could prescribe, thus satisfying everybody's needs.

Land of shimp said...

I've read that some patients seem to INSIST on being given antibiotics even when the doctor says they would be of no benefit! I guess some medics will grant the patient's demands, just to get them out of the surgery!

That's my understanding also, Philip. In particular patients request antibiotics for symptoms relating to colds and the flu. Due, in part, to a basic misunderstanding of what a cold or flu is, and the efficacy of antibiotics in treating either (as in, there isn't any). Some doctors do write a scrip for something like Amoxicillin both to get them out the door, and also to ward off the possibility of things like fluid retention in the ear canal during either cold or flu leading to infection.

Part of the problem seems to be that doctors are willing to make use of antibiotics as a preventative measure (as well as to get some peace, it seems).

Unfortunately that leads to things like resistance to antibiotics, and an immune system that doesn't functional optimally.

Now, how someone takes, "Hey, in Sweden, doctors don't give you antibiotics in a preventative manner." and turns it into, "Patients, suffering from life threatening infections are denied antibiotics!", I don't know.