Is there objective truth?

Re: Versions of events

In the classic film, “Rashomon,” three characters, one a ghost, present their versions of a violent incident in which they all took a part. No one story completely agrees with any other, and all, including the ghost’s, are notably self-serving. A fourth version, from a bystander, is taken for the final objective truth.

I have persistent tinnitus and so sleep with my earbuds in place in order for the BBC’s newsreaders to drown out the constant chirping of crickets in my head. “Newsreaders” is a welcome distinction to our own reference to such people as “reporters,” as the hosts on NPR seem to be known.

For the past few days, the Rashomon story that one of the hosts of the NPR morning show has been determinedly pursuing is about a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., between a group of young men (boys) from a Kentucky Catholic high school, and an American Indian “elder.” At the start, the basic elements didn’t seem to need baking, not even half. The Catholic boys (shades of Brett Kavanaugh) in red “MAGA” hats, having been to a “pro-life” rally and now visiting a cherished national monument, begin taunting a proud indigenous man who has been drumming for peace at the memorial. Trump’s America in a nutshell. Too perfect to be true. Exactly.

A third group, professing to be the “Lost Tribe of Israel,” apparently tried to provoke an ugly confrontation with the boys, drawing in the American Indian elder who claimed to fear for the safety of the provocateurs, unlike the original telling that had the boys seeking out the Native American to abuse. Well, no matter. It was all caught on tape, or numerous cellphones. But it was not, of course, caught at all.

For days now, the NPR host has seemed to be trying mightily to find a way to turn conflicting narratives back to the one that brought about the initial sensation. I say “seemed” because I cannot know what may be in that reporter’s mind. Just as no one, viral videos or not, can tell what was in the mind of any of the participants at the memorial. In Rashomon, the story’s fourth version, the one of record we could say, proves at least partially false, as well.

Does this mean there can be no such thing as purely objective truth? Does it mean that the media, such as NPR, never quite gets the real story, but goes with the template that best fits the lesson it has concluded to teach? Could the lesson in fact be not about MAGA hats and virtuous Native Americans, but about the media’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there actually may be no story here, no lesson for us to take away, because it would require an omniscience to discern?

I have not watched any of the video recordings of this incident because I don’t think they can tell me what actual lesson there may be in it all, except that reputations can be permanently colored by perception, no matter what actually occurred. What is certainly, disturbingly true is that what was once the paranoid delusion of being under constant surveillance is now reality, courtesy of our neighbor’s phone or our own links to social media or the maw of a 24-hour news cycle or the prevalence of attention spans better suited to gnats. In this particular brave new world of scrutiny, we are lucky if anything we have ever done, said, or written, even as reckless children, is given the ghost of a chance of being open to interpretation, let alone reconsideration, for the remainder of our lives. Regrettably, as another news host used to say, that’s the way it is, even if it shouldn’t be.

Tom McIntyre


Editor’s note: The word limit for this letter was waived.


Vote to continue fluoridation

Re: City water decision

The community will soon be given a chance to voice their opinion on whether or not to continue water fluoridation. After 30-plus years working as a dental hygienist I am firmly in favor of the health benefits it provides. I also realize that not everyone has the passion and fervor that I have for this public health measure.

If you are unsure how you feel about community water fluoridation let me provide you with a few facts: Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. Like other diseases, tooth decay gets progressively worse unless it is treated. Studies have shown that children with dental problems are more likely to miss school and are more likely to earn below average grades in school. Adults find it more difficult to get a good job if they show up to an interview with unhealthy or missing teeth.

It takes a multi-layered approach to protect teeth. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste is important, and so is eating a healthy diet by limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates. Fluoridated water is crucial in preventing cavities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that water fluoridation prevents 25 percent of tooth decay over a person’s lifetime.

And prevention saves money. Researchers report that every $1 spent on fluoridation saves $20 in dental treatment costs. Medicaid in Wyoming pays for dental care for children who meet their guidelines. Sheridan began fluoridating its water in 2015 and in each year following we have seen a decrease in dental Medicaid expenditures for our county; $789,989 in fiscal year 2015, $747,450 in FY2016, $658,705 FY2017 and $555,661 in FY2018. We can’t say for certain that community water fluoridation saved all that money but, it was certainly a factor.

I urge you to vote with me to continue water fluoridation.

Sherrie Hotchkiss, RDH, MS