Monday, July 12, 2010

"The 'Truth' Series"

You’ve got this bump on your gum. Upper, lower, it doesn’t matter. It’s there. You tell yourself, “Don’t touch it with your tongue.” But you can’t help yourself. Inevitably, despite your instructions, your tongue continually wanders back. You know these explorational forays do no good whatsoever, and may even do some damage, especially to your mind, by insistently dwelling on the concern. But, as Walter Cronkite used to intone, “That’s the way it is.”

For me, that bump is the nagging search for the truth, including whether or not it actually exists, the evidence increasingly suggesting, “Maybe not.”

Today’s example:

"Received Truth" – The truth that’s handed down.

I’m reading a book called, Lords of Finance. It’s about…it doesn’t matter what it’s about. It’s non-fiction. In the book ist this quote about this guy who actually lived, whose last name was “Norman.” The quote is meant to encapsulate “Norman’s” character through a comment about him that the author has unearthed, the comment being this:

“Norman, acutely sensitive to public criticism, harbored grudges for a long time – ‘the most vindictive man I have ever known’, according to a close friend.”

To the author, this discovered quote is a godsend. It nails “Norman” as a chronic harborer of grudges, the evidence substantiated by the words of a personal intimate. The author may have been trying to establish that characteristic, to illuminate “Norman’s” behavior at a critical juncture in the narrative. And here’s a juicy quote that backs him up. I can see the author smiling.

“I’ve got you, ‘Norman.’ I’ve got you dead to rights!”

The quote justifies the opinion. It says, “That’s ‘Norman.’ That’s who he was. Verified by a quote from ‘a close friend’ as: a chronic cultivator of longstanding grievances.”

The question is:

“What if he wasn’t?”

Let’s consider it for a second. Wherefrom comes the evidence that makes us, the reader, believe that “Norman” was “…the most vindictive man I have ever known”?

Our primary source on the matter is the author. But can he really be trusted? Perhaps his intuition told him “Norman” was a grievance hoarder, and, having found a substantiating quote on the subject, like a detective who has discovered some incriminating evidence on a certain suspect, he stopped looking.

Then there’s the question of the “Quoter”, the person who characterized “Norman” as “…the most vindictive man I have ever known.” It’s worth speculating, at least for a moment, “What’s that guy’s story?

It’s possible, I don’t know, maybe the “Quoter” didn’t invite “Norman” to his birthday party, and years later, “Norman” snubbed him when they accidentally ran into each other at the theater. The “Quoter”, believing, quite justifiably, that he had the right to invite or not invite whomever he wanted to his birthday party, could easily, because of the years-later relatiatory snubbing, consider “Norman” “…the most vindictive man I have ever known.”


A third person, familiar with both “Norman” and the condemning “Quoter” might chime in, saying, “That ‘Quoter’ guy is the most thin-skinned person I have ever met. He thinks everybody’s snubbing him. In my experience, I’ve always found ‘Norman’ to be quite the softy. And more than usually forgiving.”

And then there’s the third, fourth, fifth, or who knows how many, chimer-inners, contradicting each other all over the place. I mean, we all have close friends. Do they all agree on what we’re like?

And who knows if any of them were really “close friends.” He could have only met the guy once, and formed a hasty, maybe right, maybe wrong, first impression.

To be fair to the author, his research may not have unearthed those other quotes. They may not even exist; not everything people say gets written down. There’s not enough paper. Let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt here, and not think he buried all the quotes that negated his thesis. He found one quote, and he went with it. Fine.


Based on that single quote, for anyone reading Lords Of Finance, and not doing any independent research on the man, “Norman” is immortalized, now and forever, as “…the most vindictive man I have ever known.”

Even though there’s the potential possibility that the book’s characterization of him may not have been, in any way….



A. Buck Short said...

Part 1 (of 3) Earl, as with your recent treatise on the vicissitudes of beachback property, I have noticed how your blog occasionally morphs into the form if not actual substance of an advice column. All well and good, with one minor shortcoming. Hardly anybody every writes in to actually ask for any of that, to employ your terms, “albeit” generally “received” wisdom.

Well, hoo boy, Earl Pomerantz, this is your lucky day! Using a presumably eastern European sentence structure rapidly disappearing from our shared ethnic heritage, I have today for you a question -- tapping into not just one, but many of your recently shared areas of expertise. Namely, truth, the transcendence of absolutes, the shortcomings of reason, wood rot, most recently vengeance, and especially and invariably intertwined with all of the above, semantics. As always, feel free to treat this inquiry as rhetorical, and just another usurpation of your personal space to kvetch to a broader and more literate crowd. Or maybe there’s a place for it in your current truth series?

Here’s the segue. We in our own Texas household are currently wending toward the losing end of a longstanding semantic disagreement over a claim registered two years ago with our home insurance provider – or, as they are now known by increasing minions, “more proof that the Unibomber, Ted Kosinski went after the wrong people.”

But let’s begin on a more positive note – offering the suggestion that you are actually almost fortunate to be termite infested. That’s because one can safeguard oneself against the consequences of such catastrophes. For more than 20 years, since acquiring our home ,we have also chosen to anu ally renewan inexpensive, home insurance policy of sorts to that effect. I say “insurance,” although the true analogy is closer to that of an organized crime protection racket – but that’s financial services for you. For the sum of only $75 annually, Frank the exterminator visits and, on hands and knees, conducts a cursory safari through the 2.25-ft. clearance pier and wood beam crawlspace beneath our home, constructed largely of similar forest products. If Frank discovers, as they put it, “any visible evidence of live termite activity,” despite his previous annual inspections, these are to be exterminated at no additional charge to us, the homeowners. For 20 years, we have essentially been paying Frank’s company $75 per annum not to find termites.

However, last July’s visit did not come up completely short. For indeed, Frank did chance upon, and call our attention to two existent perils of a related nature: 1) Carpenter ants, and 2) a completely collapse joist, girder and portion of subfloor beneath what had been the children’s bathroom --accounting for a certain sag of same and associated collateral structural and cosmetic damage we had attributed to mere foundation settling. Or as Frank put it, “C’mere, you need to see this.”

A. Buck Short said...

Part 2 (of 3) Guess what, neither “peril” is apparently covered. The former, under the contractual termite terms, nor the latter under the broader home insurance policy. Now in the former case, it is easy to be lulled into a state of complacency. Unlike the closely-related termite, your typical carpenter ant does not fully ingest the wood product it chooses to tunnel through, but simply spits it out in what must be the insectual equivalent of a wine tasting. For the carpenters, unlike the termites, it’s not the end but the journey. Plus, doesn’t “carpenter ant” deceptively evoke an image of one of those “beneficial” insects, perhaps there only to repair whatever damage may have been wrought by its evil termite twin? One is easily misled. No problem, for an additional $100, Frank offered to find and dispose of the carpentry crew – although he stressed no guarantees were expressed or implied. Or better, at no charge, Frank instructed us how to stalk the trail left by the ants ourselves, also sharing a dollup of poison paste to be strategically placed at points of entrance and egress. Since carpenter ant damage is relatively minor, despite its persistence, we opted for that latter approach with a degree of sanguinity ultimately rewarded.

Not so, as you can imagine, the collapsed timber substructure of our residence. It did not require Holmesian deductive facility to trace this back to the discharge of some –wait for it, wait for it -- 29,000 gallons of hot water and steam from a pipe separation 4 years earlier. One assumes this volume (surpassing the pool out back by 4,000 gallons) would have been readily recognizable as a problem if confronted face to face. However, having occurred out of sight in the crawlspace catacombs, the flood remained unbeknownst to us for nearly a week until we noticed kitchen counters warping upward from the steam in the fashion of – how can I put this in a form likely familiar to you – Delta Burke’s early pageant competition hair flip. Contractor’s restoration estimate, $30,000-$45,000.

Renting a pump from Home Depot, we congratulated ourselves on the disposal of the subsurface flood, oblivious to the possibility that resultant moisture in the clay floor would take months to dry out resulting in some long term rot and decay.

Lesson #1 -- shoreline proximity is not required for one to fall victim to “le deluge.” Lesson #2 -- beware, even though operating under a different name, your home insurance carrier may actually be owned by Allstate. Lesson #3 -- engage the services of a Talmudic scholar, or at least a Jesuit, to go over the fine print in your policy.

A. Buck Short said...

Part 3 (of 3) Our claim has repeatedly been denied under a policy provision excluding “sudden and accidental discharge of water or steam from plumbing located either below the surface of the ground or within or below the slab or foundation of the dwelling.

You’re thinking maybe geyser, right? Not even. The claims adjuster, says “below the surface of the ground” or “within the foundation,” applies to anything below your floor -- i.e. where most pipes to be broken are actually located. Wouldn’t any leak “above” that level likely be observable in time to forestall additional damage? What good is insurance that covers you against things unlikely to cause any damage? Shouldn’t it be the nimrod who observes a flood gushing from below his sink or out of a wall and continues to do nothing about it be the one left out to dry? And two, huh?

Here’s where the semantics I’m requesting your help with come into play. The pipe that ruptured to the tune of 29,000 gallons of steam and hot water lies on the surface of the clay floor of the crawlspace. Even though this is slightly lower than the yard outside of the house, we contend this does not constituted “below the surface of the ground.” Otherwise what, would you call a pipe actually buried beneath that clay surface? This would seem to be reiterated by the subsequent parallel qualifying phrase “within or below” the slab -- i.e. a pipe resting on top of the slap (ground equivalent) would be a covered peril.

The same disagreement persists with regard to the exclusionary phrase “within or below the slab or foundation.” Our interpretation is that has to refer to plumbing that is actually embedded within the cement material of the foundation itself. The insurance guys insist this also means within the perimeter of the foundation – a completely different relationship not specified in the exclusion.

The bad news is that neither the former insurance lawyer and friend who has volunteered to shepherd me through this process, nor I can find any Texas case law overruling the insurance company’s interpretation of this ambiguity. The good news is that we also can’t find any sustaining the insurance company’s position. I cannot believe this situation is so uncommon as to have gone unchallenged.

I suggest the insurer might be willing to settle rather than risk a trial in which a jury of average citizens might be asked to decide if “within” also means “within the boundaries of, rather than just within the substance of. Couldn’t that have the effect of forcing them to make good on all prior and future claims of a similar nature?

Our friend and lawyer warned that would depend on the judge, who has the discretion of whether or not to allow a jury to decide questions of fact or interpretation. Also citing the potential cost of a suit for limited gain, and the possibility of have to also incur the insurance company’s legal costs in the event of “summary judgement” against us, the man is leaning toward surrender.
Citing not only the cost of an actual law suit in relation to the potential gain, and more importantly, the possibility of an insurance company request for “summary judgment” which could also have the loser incurring the insurance company’s legal expenses, our lawyer leads strongly toward surrender.

Earl, as a champion of truth and justice, I’m certain you agree that this question of interpretation is clearly not a matter that should be left in the hands of the legal profession. It’s a question for English majors. So, as we say in Afghanistan, I put it to you, the ladies and gentlemen of the jirga -- or I guess that would be more accurately expressed as gentlemen of the jirga – if you were empanelled to decide this case, would you vote that the damage referenced above did or did not occur either below ground or within the foundation, accodIng to the wording of the policy?

That concludes today’s episode of “Cawfee-tawk.” Discuss.

Gary said...

So, Earl, how'd that colonoscopy turn out?

YEKIMI said...

I think Earl would say "It was a pain in the ass."