Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is scientifically impressive, politically important, and no doubt personally redemptive for Gore himself, who has endured an injustice that would leave most people screaming all day every day. Plus, it's an Oscar winner! But as noted several months ago, the movie also contains one moment of pure ignoramus-hood: the perpetuation of the boiled-frog myth. ("Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and he'll jump right out, but just raise the temperature slowly and he'll let himself be cooked." In reality the situation is more like: "Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and he'll be scalded to death, but give him a chance to escape when the slowly-warming water gets uncomfortable, and he will hop right out.")
Comes now The Economist, to give Gore (and countless other speech-makers) company.
Last week a "leader," or opinion piece, on the Economist's web site about long-term relations between Taiwan and mainland China (here, subscribers only) ended on this note:
One former prime minister of Taiwan gives his island 15-20 years before it is part of China again. Another former minister says Taiwan feels like a frog placed on top of the stove in a pan of cold water. The beauty of this cooking method is held to be that, if the water is heated gently enough, the frog does not think to jump out.
Oooh, the irony! And the complete inaccuracy! For the sake of the poor beleagured frogs, let's find some other cliche with which to make this familiar point.
How about: Plunge a newcomer into the middle of a big, polluted Chinese city and he'll say, Help! I can't possibly breathe this stuff! But let him wake up there day after day and eventually he'll think: Hey, the sky doesn't look too brown this morning! Just a suggestion.