So I’m lying on an hard table in the physiotherapist’s office the other day, where I ended up after wondering if we couldn’t do something about this arm ache that I’ve had for three years, and I’m thinking about voodoo. Because really, there’s not a lot to do in a physiotherapist’s office as you’re staring up at the fluoroscent lights for fifteen minutes while the machines make one specific muscle jump and buzz for you except to think about voodoo. Ultrasound? Light therapy? Acupuncture needles? Are any of these essentially different from having a person with a painted face shake rattles over you and chant the appropriate ritual?
And because I’m a writer and my brain is basically uncontrollable, it wanders off into various by-ways that are none of your business and eventually washes up in a column it has read recently by Jon Carroll, one of the pleasures of the San Francisco Chronicle (even if he does rather go on about the cats.)
He’s talking about the inability of this great country of ours to put into place any kind of central fingerprint data base, due mostly to what he terms bureaucratic infighting. And he’s talking about the Innocence Project (which has a web site, although those of you who have been paying attention know I can’t put the link here because I live in the Mac Ghetto) and goes on to talk about fingerprint technology, and that’s the tie to voodoo, in case you were wondering where this was going.
Remember the old Paul Simon song that talked about the myth of fingerprints? A bit of modern irony, you thought, to juxtapose “myth” with something so hard-edged and undeniably Scientific. As Jon Carroll put it, “In proficiency tests, fingerprint examiners routinely score less than 60 percent in matching prints.” Um, pardon me? On CSI there’s this great machine that whirs and chunters to itself with the prints flashing hypnotically past, and then with a fanfare of trumpets here’s your perp, all wrapped up and ready to go.
Subjective analysis, anyone?