So, is rationality politically incorrect, or what?

©2004, M. A. Padlipsky

Recently, a particularly ill-conceived but clearly "Politically Correct" bill came before the legislature of the state in which I reluctantly reside. It initially caught my attention merely because it was dealing with a topic about which I feel rather strongly, but a quite straightforward rational analysis of the proposed legislation immediately exposed an extremely undesirable unintended consequence.

Naturally, given the strength of my feelings, I not only telephoned "my" state Assembly member but also my state Senator...well, their offices anyway. Next, I composed a rather witty and pithy Letter to the Editor which I sent off to several leading newspapers in the state, and a couple of minor ones for good measure, and a separate, less-barbed letter a week later. I even sent netmail (as we called it when we were inventing it) to the bill's author, advising him of the unintended consequence. All to no avail.

Now, once you've learned that the state in question is California and the topic in question smoking, you might well imagine that I had no business expecting to have any impact. And you might well be right. However, the fact still remains that rationality was flouted across the board .

Were the grounds merely that appearing to give smokers any sort of break is viewed as "political suicide", particularly in California, or, more frighteningly, will even actually proving that legislation which is viewed as Politically Correct won't work is still not going to defeat it because such legislation is immune from rational analysis, in general?

Let's look at the specifics, even if it means that this, too, might never see the dark of print: The bill sought to ban smoking in cars where children were present. Its propounder seemingly felt so strongly about it that he kept revising it and resubmitting it, at least three times, when it was voted down on various grounds such as the difficulty of identifying under-18 year-olds at a distance.

Apparently, however, nowhere along the line did anyone ever voice the objection that if enacted it would demonstrably put children at greater risk than they would be put at by exposure to some "secondhand smoke". At any rate, if the point was raised on the floor of either house of the legislature it was neither reported in "the media" nor had it been heard about by the staff people I spoke to in "my" Senator's or Assemblyman's (oops, Assemblymember's) office.

Contrary to what you're probably expecting, the analysis doesn't hinge on the weakness of the "evidence" that secondhand smoke's dangerous in first place -- although it should be noted in passing that it takes a lot of statistical skulduggery to claim it is dangerous with a straight face (and a straitlace). No, the analysis actually starts with the premise that we'll pretend we accept all the bad things we're told about smoking, especially that smokers are "addicts", and see where that leads.

OK, then, so what do we know about addicts? Why, that they suffer from "withdrawal symptoms". And what are the withdrawal symptoms smokers suffer from? Well, just take a look at the Physicians' Desk Reference descriptions of what effects of stopping smoking such medications as "nicotine gum" and "the patch" are supposed to prevent, for those are the withdrawal symptoms (though you might have to think about that a bit). Increased irritability and difficulty concentrating are the relevant ones in our context. They're also the dominant ones, if you'll accept some anecdotal evidence.

Without even appealing to the consideration that driving is inherently stressful and hence more likely to prompt addicts to crave a "fix", consider what happens when in the course of the drive the driver does start experiencing the indicated withdrawal symptoms, just because it's been too long since the last fix or because the kids are being particularly annoying or for any reason whatsoever: the chances of a crash are clearly vastly amplified when having the fix and hence allaying the withdrawal symptoms -- difficulty concentrating and increased irritability, remember -- is against the law.

Granted, not all crashes are fatal. But the risks are tangible, and can be terminal, not only for the children who were the addict's passengers but also for the occupants of any other cars involved in the crash -- to say nothing of the driver, of course, since the driver is an evil smoker and by hypothesis we don't care about him-or-her (remember, the premise is that all the anti-smoking propaganda is true) -- whereas the risks of the secondhand smoke are, in fact, conjectural ... and very long-term/far-downstream even if real.

Sure sounds like an undesirable unintended consequence to me. Indeed, sure sounds like legislating Driving While Impaired. And/or promoting road rage at best and accidents at worst.

Or, if you like, sure sounds like a cure that's worse than the disease: Dramatically increase the chances of costing the kids all the rest of their lives right now for fear of maybe, just maybe, costing them a few years at the far end, is what it boils down to.

So why wouldn't anybody listen? It wasn't only my elected representatives, remember; had it been, then we could be fairly confident that the explanation was just the less-threatening "political suicide" alternative. However, it was also all the newspapers, and as far as I know they are not politicians. (And remember, I'd even sent off a milder letter ["Redefining DWI"] a week or so later, in case "The Madness of the Meanwells?" was too barbed a hook.)

What it all seems to amount to, then, is that when dealing with Politically Correct issues, rationality doesn't count. Or, at any rate, dissenting rationality doesn't count. Nor get any ink. Up until now, anyway....

(Optional)  Insidebar: The Two Unprintable Letters

The Madness of the Meanwells?

I've got no use for the Ranting Right, but there does seem to be a bit of fire under all the smoke they blow about the Loony Left.

Consider: last week in the Assembly, Firebaugh was pushing a ban on smoking in cars where children are present; this week in the Senate, Murray wants to make smoking while driving, even alone, a fineable "distraction".  Loony, indeed.

Don't they care that the primary nicotine withdrawal symptoms are difficulty concentrating and heightened anxiety?  Do they really want to promote accidents, and "Road Rage"?  Nutty, for sure.

But wait....  Maybe that's too simplistic.  What if the correct diagnosis isn't psychosis but merely a twist on an old classic: They might not be crazy, but they are stupid?

Could be.  Anyway, mad or not, they sure are maddening.

And furnishing way too much aid and comfort to the "NeoCon" enemy....

Redefining DWI

Maybe it's too subtle for the California Legislature.  Maybe it's just that "the media" haven't mentioned it because it's deemed too subtle for the public.  Whatever the explanation, an extremely negative unintended consequence of some upcoming legislation is looming and nobody seems to have noticed:

If drivers who usually smoke can't smoke while driving (per AB1569 and/or SB1800), untold thousands of cars would be driven by what we're assured are addicts whose primary withdrawal symptoms are difficulty concentrating and increased irritability being forced by law to suffer those withdrawal symptoms!

Regardless of whether the legislators' motivations are good or misguided--or both--the result must be to promote accidents and/or road rage.  Suddenly, DWI becomes Driving While Impaired ... and DWI's now required.

What next, California?  Legislation to require drivers to have a few drinks before taking the wheel?          }

Mr. Padlipsky's only connection with the tobacco industry is as a consumer. As a little searchengineering would show you, he's actually one of the Old Network Boys of the Internet, and his cult classic The Elements of Networking Style, "the world's only known Constructively Snotty computer science book," recently returned to print.

Michael A. Padlipsky

~950 words without blurb and optional "Insidebar", ~1250 with Insidebar, ~ 1300 with blurb