Friday, April 14, 2006

Di-hydrous oxide

Y'all are probably familiar with the social experiment (or political action) wherein somebody gets a bunch of people to sign a petition to ban di-hydrous oxide, which is responsible for killing so many people each year by sealing off their lungs.

It's dangerous stuff. It's water. It's H2O.

This meme has been around since the 1970s, when the conservative movement began striking back in disgust at what it saw as the excesses of environmentalism, feminism, and the welfare state.

Some kid, I think, in high school, embarrassed a whole bunch of people by getting their signatures on a petition to ban di-hydrous oxide.

One day I was walking down the hall with my best friend in high school -- I'm pretty sure it was 1980 -- when some kid with a clipboard approached us and asked us to sign a petition to ban di-hydrous oxide.

I considered myself a conservative in high school -- I can only thank fate for making me too young to vote for that dangerous hypocrite Ronald Reagan in 1980. I no longer believe such labels are useful, so step way back if you think I'll accept a label like 'conservative' or 'liberal.' That's bunk. I'm an American.

I was innately suspicious of everything, and not just because I considered myself a conservative. It's my nature. My pal, who we'll call "Tony," was innately good-natured.

When the guy said "di-hydrous oxide" my mind began to slowly crank.

"Di-hydrous oxide? You mean water?" I said.

"No, I mean di-hydrous oxide," he replied, launching into his spiel about how dangerous it was.

Now, I consider this unfair. I mean, if you're going to try to make people look like fools for signing up to ban di-hydrous oxide, you ought to find a way to let those who think it is water off the hook.

But from his perspective, if he admits that to just one person, word will spread quickly through the entire target population, and he'll get few signatures. So I guess he felt that he had to keep up the act.

While the scam did not involve money (or an accomplice -- which would have helped a lot), this was, in my opinion, a classic confidence scheme.

He went on and on about how dangerous di-hydrous oxide was, and I figured I must have been mistaken to think it was water. He seemed so sure.

Ultimately my friend signed, and I didn't. When word of the spoof went around a few days later, I made fun of my friend for signing. I acted like I had known all along that di-hydrous oxide was water. "Why'd you sign it?" I mocked.

If my memory after all these years serves, my friend claimed that he had also known, but had done it as a favor to the guy: "He wanted signatures."

What saved me from the same fate was my resentful nature. I didn't think a petition would do much good, certainly not one organized by a kid in high school. I didn't like the idea of grassroots action, and I resented the guy because I had been wrong about di-hydrous oxide being water. He made me look silly, so no way was I going to sign his petition.

But I felt guilty.
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