Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I just came across this today and it strikes me as relevant to the SO community because it has to do with ‘memory’ (as in, for far too long, ‘repressed memory’, ‘recovered memory’, and so on).

Late Saturday night, in the fair city of Boston, a Jeep-ful of athletic-team college students (7, 4 of whom were underage) were heading back to Boston College along Commonwealth Avenue, a 19th century road with active trolley tracks still running down the middle.

There was vodka in the vehicle and perhaps some other similar stuff (see below).

Along comes a trolley, pursuing its lawful occasions, as they used to say in admiralty law.

Suddenly the Jeep – despite the 5-blast horn-sounding from the trolley driver – turns into the path of the trolley.

The trolley strikes the Jeep, although the trolley driver had applied the emergency-brake.

The Jeep is pushed back off the tracks. Several of the Jeep’s passengers abandon ship in full view of the trolley driver, some carrying what appear to be alcoholic beverage containers (although leaving behind an assortment of cell-phones and even a purse). Police will find both full and empty beer cans and an entire unopened container of vodka that apparently wound up overboard from the ship’s cargo, littering the ground near the impact site.

The Jeep’s driver – you can’t make this stuff up – proceeds to drive off (which shows how lucky they were; Jeeps are not famous for their stability, especially if T-boned by a train). But it only makes it 500 yards before it breaks down.

The driver of the Jeep, a 19 year-old female, reports that she had not been drinking that night because she was allergic to alcohol. (The police are going to ask for her medical records, so stay tuned on that one - although perhaps it was a sudden-onset, traumatic allergy.)

The Transit Authority says it is going to seek to recover its costs (repairing the trolley and providing substitute buses) from the Jeep driver.

This may or may not be exercising some influence over the veracity of the Jeep driver, suddenly confronted with the dreaded C-word (Consequences).

Another of the 19 year-olds, a big strong athletic player, says that he has clear memories of being at a restaurant, and then a house party, but no memory of a crash. The same story is reported by the driver – she of the allergy – who reports being at an Applebee’s and then being in an emergency room (sooooo – she has no memory of driving at all that night …).

Well, who knows? Do any of them remember who was President during the Civil War? Or what century it took place in? This is college, after all.

My point?

‘Memory’ has become a joke. Either people actually consider it such a jelly-like concept that it can be used (or forgotten, as it were) at any point in time for any reason, or else their lawyers now figure there is enough precedent (with ‘recovered memory’ cases and such) that you can raise the ‘memory’ or ‘traumatic amnesia’ defense just about any time and for any reason and have a pretty decent chance of getting out from under that dreaded C-word.

So now there’s a generation who don’t see anything ridiculous or embarrassing about coming up with such an excuse (which leaves ‘the dog ate my homework’ in the dust). But in the world they’ve grown up in think what they’ve seen ‘work’ when you’re willing to ‘come forth with a ‘memory’.

After all, We sat still with a straight face as Robert Strange McNamara – former Secretary of Defense – recounted with glowing self-satisfaction compliments paid to him at long-ago A-list dinner parties by long-ago busty and bedizened beauties, and could even recount the menu that long-ago evening, but couldn’t – though God knows he tried – remember what LBJ said to him that caused him to order the recall of the fighter jets enroute to defend the USS Liberty that fateful afternoon in June of 1967 ... when our Israeli ‘ally’ killed and tried to kill more US Navy sailors than anybody since Imperial Japan (the folks who brought you Pearl Harbor) had thrown in the towel.

And We sat still with a straight face as one after another of the best and brightest of George Bush’s administration (I know – you have to use the term with a certain suspension of irony), those who brayed and trumpeted about their influence and authority in Washington, suddenly unable to recall just what they had said or didn’t say in the matters of torture and illegal wiretapping and a host of other quite-possibly criminal activities.

(But no doubt like those myriad Italian government honchos in 1946, very much wanted to be paid for their previous years of service to the country, though they couldn’t quite recall the specifics of anything that they actually did while under the employ of the late Duce – whom, of course, they obeyed but never really supported, or really – after consultation with counsel –sorta respected but never actually obeyed).

But before the Iraq War ‘liberators’ had found salvation (only of a temporary sort – but let’s let them find that out on their own when their time comes) in forgetting the big stuff, and before McNamara got around to writing his carefully scrubbed memoirs, the country had been immersed in the ‘memory wars’: the alleged reality of traumatic repression of bad things, sudden recovery of documentary-quality memories, and all the associated erosions and corruptions of evidentiary rules developed long ago precisely to prevent the Sovereign from deploying its police power without solid evidence.

And perhaps since this is Massachusetts the attorneys (who no doubt have now taken over the helm) figure that they might just pull it off. After all, this is one of the few States whose highest court can still, with a straight face (though perhaps politicized intent), solemnly opine that ‘recovered memory’ is a generally accepted scientific phenomenon in good standing.

And what does truth matter anyway? In fact, if it gets in the way of Pain, then what rights does truth have? Or should it have? Pontius Pilate has been erected into a legal (and legislative) philosophy.

Ah brave new world!

No comments:

Post a Comment