Wednesday, April 20, 2005



The other night at dinner we were discussing "memes" -- the infectious ideas that circulate in society, replicating themselves from mind to mind, that, taken as a whole constiute the 'DNA' of our consciousness. Memes of which one disapproves are sometimes called "mental viruses" because of their harmful nature and their viral-like propagation. Meme Central is a good resource for more than you want to know about memes.

One of the ladies present had never heard the term before and we tried to fill her in. The conversation drifted to other topics (memes are interesting but not that interesting) and by the time we finished eating we had discussed dozens of things of which memes were a small part. Nonetheless, during the meal the facinating idea of memes, which is itself a meme, had taken up residence in another mind.

After supper most of us went to a nearby pub where they hold a weekly "Pub Quiz" -- with a hundred dollar prize -- to increase busines on an otherwise slow day of the week. One of the questions was an excellent example of a meme. The question was "Which of the following is it illegal to do in California?" I don't remember all the choices but the "answer" was "Eat an orange in the bathtub."

I'm not sure if we got that question "right" (as the quiz was scored) -- all of the other foils were equally absurd -- but it left me curious about the law, its history and motivations. I did a bit of Googling and I now belive that the "illegal to eat oranges in the bathtub" law is a baseless, viral meme. It appears on a number of sites, often crediting someone named Meagin Caza as the source. Sometimes it's a California law, sometimes Florida.

All the pages I found about the law have headings about "stupid" laws. I'm sure the people who compiled these lists got a great deal of satisfaction adding it. Look, Meagin Caza says it's illegal to eat oranges in the bathtub! -- they think -- Haw! Those dumb political assholes! and with perfect credulity they add this unsourced "fact" -- just something that blew in from the internet -- to their list of evidence that lawmakers are morons.

To be fair, I did find one forum that explored the background of the orange-eating bathtub prohibition. Here is part of the exchange --

Brainiac A: if you're a real bad'll eat an orange in the bathtub in florida. anyone know why that is against the law?...and who eats oranges in the bathtub anyway?

Brainiac B: It is illegal, because oranges actually carry slight electrical charges, picked up from the actual tree it grows off of.

If enough orange is in the bathtub, a shock can be caused to knock you out for a short period, where usually the victim will drown.

Florida police were sick of this and sick of picking dead, naked people out of their bathtubs, so they enforced the law.

Brainiac C: David, I must say that I'm impressed you knew that

Brainiac B: Discovery Channel.

Brainiac D: Jeeze, wouldn't that be a freakish way to go...

Brainiac E: that would be a sad way to go.. but would the trouble be of having a glass of oj, especially in the tub. its much easier and if you dont like it, you could dump it in the water, if you did that with an orange you could get killed

Brainiac B: Oranges, electricity or not, are still healthy. This is not meant to scare you from eating you favourite fruit.

Also, orange juice, unless it is freshly squeezed orange juice doesn't work. The chemicals will stunt the conduction of electricity, and therefore, the result is totally harmless.

There you have it. Now you know. Orange juice will will not electrocute you in the bath unless it is fresh squeezed. What a comfort. And that Discovery Channel -- what an amazing source of second-hand information that is.

The sad thing is that everyone in the pub that night now "knows" that it is illegal to eat oranges in a bathtub in California. The meme containues to propagate. But, hopefully not to readers of my blog who, by constant exposure to my notions, will have developed a degree of immunity to blather and fluff.

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