I started out not to have a column this week. Very busy and the only thing that grabbed my attention, column-wise, was a tired old report that some stupid e-mail was circulating about anthrax being mailed in sample boxes of Tide detergent.
I decided not to do it. Doesn’t everyone know by now our first reaction to anything coming via our monitors, phones and in-laws should be skepticism?
Apparently not. Friday afternoon here comes a news release from the Milam County Health Department saying people are calling them and saying—guess what?—they’ve heard anthrax is being mailed in Tide samples.
What’s more, seven people have already died from it.
The Health Department wants everyone to know it’s not true.
Sometimes you just want to give up. I think I can now understand the guy who ran for prime minister of Denmark at the height of the Cold War.
His platform was to replace the Danish armed forces with an answering machine that repeated “I surrender” in 17 languages if anyone called. His rationale was that if Denmark was ever attacked by anyone its tiny military had no chance. So why not give up in style?
That’s about where I am on Internet stuff. An outrageous rumor goes around, people get upset, find out it’s a shoddy lie, then believe it again when it comes around five years later.
Which brings us to Anthrax in Tide. (Sounds like a cable TV show doesn’t it?)
The invaluable folks at snopes.com have traced this one all the way back to May, 2000, when an e- mail claimed 23 people died of a virus arriving in blue envelopes.
It would have probably phased out naturally if not for 9-11 and the (real) anthrax letters which began arriving not long afterward. By the end of 2001 it had morphed into “seven women have died after smelling perfume samples” they received in mail.
(I have smelled a few perfume samples in my time and dropping dead seems like a perfectly appropriate response.)
In early 2002, a helpful dingbat in, of all places, the Harris County ( Houston) Attorney’s Office made it worse.
She forwarded along the “blue envelope” warning idiocy to everyone on her e-mail list. The result was, in the ways of the Internet, the deadly powder had now been confirmed by a major American city’s prosecutor!
She was reprimanded. I surely hope so.
In ensuing years the e-mail/ text message cited Johns Hopkins University, a hospital in Malaysia, CNN and “a government agent” as confirming the danger.
Sometimes it is identified as anthrax sometimes not. It has been reported in lotions, soaps, perfumes and “colonges.”
I guess those would be at the Colonge Festival they have every fall in Caldwell.
The cell-phone texting screaming “it was on CNN today” or more probably “ws n CN 2da” started last summer and has now apparently made it to Milam County.
Okay, that’s cleared up. You’re welcome. If you get a detergent sample it will contain— guess what?—detergent!
Except the lie will almost certainly be around again in a couple of years. And three years after that, and so on.
In 2001 after the real anthrax scare, everyone got very jumpy and one day some suspicious white powder showed up at the Rockdale Post Office.
The emergency management people were called in, nothing happened and I asked the postmaster what it turned out to be.
Remember, we were dealing with a federal bureaucracy.
“They won’t let me tell you what we think it is,” he said. “But when we poured water on it, it fizzed up and cleaned the floor.”