Facts, like fish, can be slippery

We're entitled to our own opinions. The same cannot be said about facts. And the facts, as usual, have been taking a beating.

There was yours truly writing in the MT about an educational jazz show at McLoughlin Middle School in connection with Medford's Jazz Jubilee a week ago. I wrote that drummer Beth Goodfellow laid down a beat like Gene Krupa's in Louis Armstrong's "Sing Sing Sing."

Krupa it was, but he was playing, famously, in Benny Goodman's band, not Armstrong's. I can only surmise I had the inimitable Satchmo on the brain, which short-circuited as I wrote about jazz. For the record, the song was written by Louis Prima.

An item in the MT's Friday sports section said that Ryan Torain, the leading rusher for this year's Arizona State University football team, has run for 553 yards on 15 carries this season.

Amazing. That's 37 yards a carry. You'd think they'd run this guy more often. Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Water Payton, eat your hearts out.

Howlers like those aren't confined to print. A couple found their way into Wednesday night's edition of Oregon Public Broadcasting's fine "Oregon Art Beat" program. The first came in a story about the exit of long-time Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Libby Appel and the entrance of new AD Bill Rauch.

Co-host KC Cowan said that Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" next summer would be the first non-Shakespeare play ever presented on the OSF's Elizabethan stage.

That would come as a surprise to Edmond Rostand, who wrote "Cyrano de Bergerac" (on the outdoor stage in 2006), Christopher Marlowe ("The Tragical HIstory of Doctor Faustus," 2005), John O'Keefe ("Wild Oats," 2003) and many others. What KC wanted to say was that "Our Town" would be the first 20th century play on the big stage.

As bad as the press can be, those mistakes were innocent ones. Consider politicians, who often treat facts as a commodity to be bargained over, as if history were a Third World street vendor.

We're hearing now a public discussion in the U.S. House on whether or not to declare the facts to be facts in the fuss over whether to label as genocide the killing of a million Armenians, more or less, by Ottoman Turks a century ago.

Never mind that it's clear to everybody outside Turkey that 300,000 to 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in an organized slaughter lasting from 1915 to 1917.

No less an authority on genocide than Adolf Hitler spoke approvingly of the Armenian genocide more than once, asking rhetorically who still remembered all those dead Armenians.

Today's Turkish government denies there was a holocaust and paints the dead as victims of war, of which there were many on both sides, blah blah blah. But the fact that it is illegal in Turkey to so much as mention the Armenian genocide is a crucial clue as to what's what.

Turkey is talking about invading the stongholds of Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq, and oil prices are soaring, and the Bush people are trying to quash the genocide resolution. The fact that the resolution does nothing but recognize the facts has nothing to do with anything. The point is diplomatic — to not offend the tetchy Turks, further muck up the mucked-up situation in Iraq, or risk any further oil shocks.

In a similar vein, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, touched off a tempest last month by saying inexplicably that "comfort women" were not forced into becoming sex slaves of the former Japanese Imperial Army. Probably 200,000 women were, most of them captured when Japan seized Asian nations. Some survive, and they didn't like the lie very much.

And there was Bush saying inexplicably that we do not torture people. He's splitting hairs here, as if torture must mean thumbscrews and the rack. Try telling that to somebody who's been abducted, imprisoned, held sleepless in extreme positions, threatened, subjected to sexual and religious humiliation, given the third degree and waterboarded.

To deal this way with facts is to try to cheapen the truth, and it only makes the speakers look cheap and ridiculous, like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad going around saying there was no Holocaust in Europe in the 1940s. The truth may not save us, but sometimes it's all we have.

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