Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Legendary Exploits

One thing I have always wanted to do is to start my own urban legend. It can't be all that difficult, because it seems to me that people will spread almost any rumor they hear. I mean take this one. It’s clearly utter rubbish, but it made it to Snopes.
Grim Note

On the issue of consumer protection and hazardous warnings, here's a new one, I think. Those yellow sponges with the green plastic fibers on the back for scrubbing pots — "Pot Scrubbers" — should be kept far away from our birds, fish, reptiles, cats and dogs, hamsters and whatevers.

Proctor & Gamble, in its continuing search to make America look clean and smell great, has a new "improved" version of the sponge on the market that kills odor-causing fungi that get in the sponge after a few uses. They make a big deal out of this innovation on the outside packaging. A friend of mine used one of these sponges to clean the glass on a 200-gallon aquarium. The abrasive backs are good for removing algae and smutz that collect on the inside of the tank. He refilled the tank and after the water had time to condition and rid itself of chlorine, he reintroduced his tropical fish collection of some 30 fish. Within five hours of putting the fish back in the tank, they were all dead! Some began to die after only 30 minutes. He removed the survivors to another tank but they all died.

Retracing his steps to clean the tank, the only thing that was different was using that new kind of sponge - he'd used the regular old Pot Scrubbers for years. Lo and behold I discovered on the back of the packaging in about the finest print you could put on plastic a description of the fungicide in the sponge and the warning in tiny bold-face letters, "not for use in aquariums. keep away from other pets."
Thanks for the warning, Proctor & Gamble. It seems the fungicide is a derivative of the systemic pesticide-herbicide, 2-4-D, more popularly known as Agent Orange, the chemical we sprayed all over Southeast Asian during the Vietnam War that many veterans and war refugees say did them permanent damage to their lungs and nervous systems.

The package warning goes on to say they fungicide cannot be washed from the sponge even if it is placed in the dishwasher (in which case Agent Orange is now all over your dishes and drinking glasses). And, if you think its there to kill disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella from contaminated chicken meat, think again - it's not an effective enough bactericide to kill those kind of bugs.

I called P&G to register a complaint and told them I'd never use their products again because I couldn't trust what they were putting in them. By the way, the same chemical in the sponge is used now in many of those popular anti-bacterial, anti-viral disinfectant liquid soaps and hand cleaners that are flooding the market. Don't buy that poison and warn your friends as well.

This legend jumped from inbox to inbox, spreading at an exponential rate*, and it doesn't even make any sense. Right off the bat I can find five or six issues with it. First off, the author didn't even bother checking the spelling of the corporation he was defaming. I suppose Proctor and Gamble is the company that manufactures Ivery Soap and Tyde Detergent. Furthermore, sponges happen to be the one thing Procter and Gamble doesn't sell. And even if the sponges did exist, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic_acid is the non-toxic component of Agent Orange. (Well comparatively non-toxic. You probably shouldn't eat the stuff.) But none of that mattered. The baseless rumor was chock-full o' holes, and yet it was successful.

So I think we should give it a try. All we have to do is write a stupid, yet outrage provoking, story. Then every reader will send it off to about twenty friends, and then bang, we're famous. We could even hide an acrostic of the blog in the rumor, or work in a reference the Ghost of Jamesburg, so people will know we were behind it. In fact, why don't you readers go create a bunch of them right now, and I'll select the best one and publish it.

I bet most of you think I could write a decent enough urban legend by myself, and get it published on Snopes by next Tuesday, and maybe I could. But it will be much more fun (for me), if I don't have to bother. If someone else writes the urban legend, I can do much more productive things over my break, such as teaching myself Simulink. Thus, I am announcing the second Cold Hard Facts contest. Submitted legends will be harshly graded on a twelve-point scale, taking into account fourteen separate criteria, the most important being the fact that no one will bother to submit any entries at all. However, one the off-hand chance that someone does bother to submit an urban legend or rumor, I will publish it here and start it on its way. Good luck, and get cracking

*Fine. The growth couldn't have been exponential, cause there is only a fixed reservoir of people with e-mail addresses. But who asked you, anyway?


not-L-Ron said...

Oh! Oh! I've got a good one:

Tom Cruise is bat-ship insane and belongs to some crazy cult that believes we're all invaded by microscopic alien beings.

steve jobs said...

Did you hear that Bill Gates is sending around an email and if you forward it to all of your friends, he'll give you a brand new computer and a pony.