"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That's my boy.

I usually save up my conversations with my son and put them in my weekly column, but today I had one that was truly bizarre. We've had our share of odd conversations before. Like the day he came home and informed me that boys were better at math than girls because their brains were wired differently.

Whoa, there, Slick. You're the son of a lady engineer.

That was the first of many talks we had about sources, and how we need to check their agenda before we quote their facts and figures. We also talked about what he's learned from experience; for example, at 6th grade graduation, many girls identified math as their favorite subject. Also, see above about Mom being an engineer.

I'm glad to report that, at seventeen, he now questions where information is coming from, and told me the other day, "I don't like Fox News, Mom. I don't think they tell all the facts."

Tonight, as I fixed dinner, Marcus came in to the kitchen and said: "Did you know that all conversations eventually lead to talk about Hitler and the Nazis?'


"Is this like that the 100 monkeys in a room will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare?" I asked.

"No, it's Godwin's law."

Unfamiliar with this term, I told him, "I've been in lots of conversations that didn't end up there."

He was adamant. "Sooner or later, you would."

We bandied this back and forth for a bit, as in "No we wouldn't," and "Yes you would." Finally, I tried a new tactic. "So, if I'm in the midst of a really boring conversation, all I have to mention is Nazis and it'll end?"

He considered this for a few moments, then said, "I don't think it works that way."

"Well, I don't believe it. I can honestly say I've never had a conversation that ended with either of those subjects."

"Those conversations just never lasted long enough," he told me as he walked back to his room.

"You don't know how long I can talk," I yelled after him, although I suspect he does.

I've since read up on this "law", which is not quite as Marcus interpreted it. It began as a humorous observation about online discussions, stating that given enough time, someone will compare his opponent to Hitler. Its interpretation is that, once you start comparing people to Nazis, you've lost the argument. (A side note: as part of my research, I read a very thoughtful essay on other comparisons which indicate you've lost the fight - or your mind. In citing Godwin's law, it provided a link to its description, which is found on Wikipedia. Really? Wikipedia is your source?)

So, show of hands - how many out there have compared your opponent to either of these undesirables? Did you feel justified, or were you just grasping at one desperate attempt to win the debate?

Come on, spill. I won't tell a soul.

P.S. My publisher, the delightful Karen Syed of Echelon Press, has challenged her authors to sell a big bunch o'books while she is meeting her in-laws in Pakistan. So, if you don't have your copy of Freezer Burn yet, please let your fingers scamper off to Amazon (or B&N) and get a copy. Or take a trip to your local bookstore (I only mention online resources because I know some of you are snowed in.) Got a Kindle? You could be reading it right now!


Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't know anyone who'd call someone else a Nazi, but I do know a few people I could nickname "Wikipedia." They constantly spew information that may or may not be true.

And, IMHO, there is no news media outlet on this planet that tells the whole truth...

Marian Allen said...

Does "Facist" count? 'Cause I felt totally justified in calling my #4's elementary school lunchroom situation Facist. No talking. No sharing food. No laughing. If the sound-sensitive alarm goes off, everybody gets demerits. I lost that argument, but I don't know if it was because I had none or because...you know...they were Facists.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.