14 May 2010

"I Disagree"

By Curtis C. Chen

"What do you mean, you disagree?" Bridget asked. "It's a fact. You can't disagree with facts."

"I take exception to your presentation," said the woman on the other end of the satellite feed. Her dark eyes looked like ink blots in the wavering image filling half of Bridget's display. Next to her in the split screen, the host of the interview show stared off into space.

Bridget fought the urge to roll her eyes. "Oookaaay. Would you like me to draw you a bar graph, Senator? A pie chart, maybe? The numbers don't change."

"You've failed to provide any context for those numbers." The older woman narrowed her eyes, crinkling the crow's-feet next to her long eyelashes. "If I told you that four people died in a plane crash, what does that mean?"

"Don't change the subject," Bridget said.

"Was it a jetliner? A small private aircraft? Did it go down in an accident? Bad weather? Or was it a hijacking? Did someone shoot it out of the sky with a rocket launcher? Who was flying the plane?"

A male voice interjected. "Okay, Senator, I think you've made your point. Perhaps we can move on to—"

"May I finish?" the senator snapped.

The host looked like an eight-year-old who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Thirty seconds, ma'am, then we have to move on," he said, almost apologetically.

"Thank you." The senator straightened her jacket, and the American flag pin on her lapel glinted, reflecting an overhead light. Bridget was sure she'd done that on purpose. "As I was saying, numbers by themselves are meaningless. We need context to interpret them as information.

"Only four people dead in an Airbus crash is a miracle. But if four people die when their Cessna is hit by a laser pulse over Los Angeles, that's a mystery. Do you see the difference?"

Bridget could feel her ears warming with a rush of blood. It reminded her of being dressed down as a teenager, and she hated that. "Let me see if I understand you, Senator. You're arguing that four thousand dead is an acceptable loss if that's only a small percentage of our total troop deployment?"

"That is not what I'm saying, young lady!"

It's working. Bridget bit her tongue before continuing. "Senator, one of your own daughters served in the military—"

"Don't you dare," the senator said, raising a finger. "Do not say her name."

This is almost too easy. "Sergeant Abigail McCandless Lau," Bridget said. "Killed in action, April 16th, 2032—"

The senator ripped off the microphone clipped to her jacket and stormed off screen without a word. The host gaped, moving his mouth silently.

"Ladies and gentlemen, my mother," Bridget said.

"Well, thank you, Representative McCandless, and thank you, Senator McCandless... wherever you are," the host stammered. "We'll be back after this short break."

The red light on top of Bridget's screen went dark. She exhaled and let herself relax a little. Only a little. She didn't start crying until she got back to her hotel room.


Photo: Capitol building, Washington, DC, July, 2008