News Flash: Debate Committee Adds Bursting Into Tears as Legitimate Line of Reasoning

Debaters needing to add that extra little oomph to their presentations now have an additional tool at their disposal, thanks to a decision by the International Committee on Rhetorical Standards.  They can always burst into tears.

The prolapsis ad lacrimas maneuver permits debaters to have a deeply emotional outburst near the end of the debating period, augmenting their argument by portraying their opponents as cruel and unreasoning monsters.

Long considered as a questionable if highly effective rhetorical device rather than a line of serious philosophical inquiry, the maneuver was approved in the proceedings of the Committee’s 82nd quadrennial conference as a legitimate method of reaching truth and general understanding.

“This is genuinely exciting,” said Professor Ernst Heltvildt of the College of Experimental Epistemology, who sponsored the resolution.  “It’s the first new logical approach we’ve endorsed in decades.  It’s vital for debaters to have this important tool in the new age of Emotional Intelligence.”

In the final debate on the resolution, opponents pointed out that prolapsis ad lacrimas is a close cousin (and frequent associate) of the ad hominem fallacy, which transforms debate about an issue into a debate about the debaters.  “Surely this is just legitimizing the playing of the ‘victim’ card,” said Dr. Dee Vernunft of the University of Pomme de Terre’s Advanced Philosophy faculty in closing arguments on the matter.  “Making your opponent look bad may change the flavor of the debate, but it doesn’t change the facts presented.  Endorsing the prolapsis ad lacrimas will reduce the search for truth to a question of who can throw the biggest hissy fit.”

The record of the debate then indicates that Prof. Heltvildt, who was arguing in support of the resolution, then burst into tears, explained how close to his heart the resolution was, and accused his opponent of “heartlessly perpetuating a strictly rational outlook with an irrational hatred of emotional influences.”

The resolution then passed by a 10-to-1 margin.

The move to adopt an emotional outburst as a legitimate tool of logical analysis has attracted some comment in epistemological circles.  “The relationship between emotion and logic has always been rather tenuous,” said Professor Mitt Kopfschmerzen of the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Applied Philosophy.  “While emotion can sometimes provide important insights on issues, it has certain limits as an analytical tool.  These days we seem to be observing a growing distrust of logic as such, and a growing emphasis on ’emotional truth,’ which seems to be interpreted in different ways.  Do they mean a) facts about one’s emotional state at a particular time or b) things that one believes to be true because one feels strongly about them?

“There’s a vast difference between the statements ‘It is true that I feel very strongly about this’ and ‘This must be true because I feel it to be’–or, for that matter, ‘You should be convinced of my opinion simply because I feel so strongly about it.’  I fear adopting the prolapsis ad lacrimas will only confuse the matter further.”

In other news, shares of companies that manufacture facial tissues and eye drops surged in late trading for no obvious reason.

Copyright 2018


News Flash: Apples to Blame in Medical Shortage

La Satira News Service

Overwhelming barriers to entering the medical profession?  Forget it.  Difficulties in navigating the twin worlds of regulation and insurance?  Not the problem.  The rising cost of liability insurance?  Not even close.

A new study from the University of Pomme-de-Terre in Bayview, Idaho, suggests that the true reason for the increasingly acute shortage of medical professionals in the United States is as unexpected as it is counter-intuitive:  the proliferation of apples.

“Over the past sixty years, we’ve seen a strong correlation between the decline in the per capita number of practicing medical professionals and rising apple consumption in North America,” says Professor Jonathan Winesap of the University’s College of Statistical Folklore.  “And since First Lady Michelle Obama started her initiative on healthy eating, the problem has only gotten worse.”

Asked how the growing consumption of apples, generally regarded as a health food, could be prompting the medical shortage, Professor Winesap refused to go into specifics.  “There’s definitely room for more research on the topic.  The main thing we learn from this study is that the old adage about an apple a day keeping the doctor away is, in fact, true; we’re just learning that this isn’t always a good thing.”

The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, is already attracting controversy.

“His logic is distinctly seedy,” said Professor N. V. Honeycrisp of the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Agriculture and Astrophysics, “if not rotten to the core.  I’ve never seen such a blatant example of the causation/correlation fallacy–not outside the comments section of online news articles, anyway.  Does he really think serious medical professionals have a vampire-and-garlic sort of relationship with apples?  If you ask me, Professor Winesap is really barking up the wrong tree.”

Meanwhile, Professor Winesap is already developing a strategy for reducing the country’s apple footprint.  “The first thing we need to do is rename a certain computer company to a different type of fruit.  Then we need recall all food products containing apples.  Oh, yes; and we need to recall all the copies of the game ‘Apples to Apples.’  It all sounds extreme, but it’s the least we can do to stop a medical catastrophe in the making.”

Copyright 2014

The Business Case for Lousy Art

(a speech)

The National Endowment for the Arts, the agency responsible for distributing federal grant money to ostensibly worthy art projects, has a slogan:  “A great nation deserves great art.”  This makes me wonder what horrible thing did we do to deserve Jackson Pollack.

For those unfamiliar with Pollack’s work, he was a painter during the middle of the 20th century who specialized in something called Abstract Expressionism… which means that his paintings tended to resemble a cross between a Rorschach test, a Magic Eye poster, and an explosion in a paint factory.  However, that didn’t stop one of his contemporaries from hailing his work as the “culmination of the Western artistic tradition.”  His paintings are consequently considered immensely–and inexplicably–valuable.

It’s hard to enter into a discussion of Pollack’s work without dragging up all the usual difficult questions about art:  What’s good art?  What’s bad art?  Who gets to decide?  How do you decide?  And, most importantly to the NEA, how do you persuade Congress to keep providing grant money for it when it’s so hard to tell the difference between the painting and the drop cloth?

Normally, when you want somebody to invest in something, you make a business case.  That is, you present the investment you need and describe the potential return to would-be investors.  When we’re talking about an investment in art, though, things get a bit difficult.  How do you place an objective dollar value on something as subjective as art?

That’s not to say it’s impossible.  There was one city which put up a large, abstract sculpture in a prominent location.  The sculpture was so abstract and so mesmerizing that tourists would come and stare at it for long periods of time…giving the locals plenty of opportunity to mug them.

However, such instances in which art lends itself to a definitive monetary value tend to be rare–and perhaps it’s just as well.  But how are we supposed to figure out how much art is really worth?

Fortunately, thanks to new research from the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Economics and Modern Art, we’re a little closer to an answer.  Now there’s a bit of a mystery as to why the University of Punxsutawney would put its Economics and Modern Art departments into a single college.  I’m sure rumors that they were trying to isolate the two most depressing fields in the curriculum are a gross distortion of actual events.  Some people said that if anyone ought to be merged with the Economics department, it ought to be the Literature department, whose members are already good at analyzing the flow of red ink… or read ink, at any rate.  It’s the unread ink that typically gives them trouble.

Despite all the criticisms, though, the merger has produced some interesting synergies, including this research on the value of art that I was going to described.  In short, the College identified three ways that even lousy art can be shown to provide a net public benefit.

The first approach is what we might call the cat-toy approach.  Let’s face it:  the modern domesticated cat has a rather boring existence, and in order for it to get the proper amount of physical and intellectual exercise, it needs a toy of some sort to stimulate it.  And just as the cat probably has no sentimental attachment to the toy itself–or much of anything else for that matter–so modern art can provide the same sort of stimulus to relieve the boredom of our everyday lives in spite of being rather unattractive itself.  In fact, the more horrible it is, the more effective it is at getting the heart pumping and the mind racing, as we try to figure out how to deal with it.  I understand that exposure to a sufficiently hideous piece of art can have the same physiological benefit as twenty minutes on a stationary bicycle.

The second approach is what’s known as the schadenfreude approach.  I’m sure you’ve noticed the phenomenon that, when you’re going through an art gallery or sculpture garden and you see something absolutely hideous or pointless, you may find yourself thinking:  “They call that art?  Even I could do better than that!”  Well, that brief moment of self-validation must be worth something.  Now, take that benefit and multiply it across the population of a city, or the sum of people who are likely to encounter that particular piece of art, and you’ve got a net uplift that a small army of psychotherapists wouldn’t be able to duplicate.  A large army of psychotherapists might do so, but they’d probably be more expensive than the art.

The last approach is what we’ll call the “least harm” approach.  In this case, art serves as a vital receptacle for people who might cause terrible problems if they chose a more traditional career path.  For example, we were talking earlier about Jackson Pollack.  Suppose that instead of becoming a famous if defective painter, he’d ended up becoming the person who’s supposed to paint the stripes on the highway lanes.  Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue?

Or suppose Salvadore Dali had become a watchmaker.

Or imagine what Claude Monet might have been like as an opthomologist.

Or M. C. Escher as an architect….

So there we have it:  three ways in which even lousy art can provide a benefit to the public.  Sadly, we still haven’t been able to place a definite dollar amount on those benefits.  The University is still planning on working on it; I understand at this point they’re just waiting for a grant.

News Flash: Time Traveller Confesses to ‘Holiday Impacts’

La Satira News Service

WEST PUNXSUTAWNEY, PA–Authorities are conferring over what to do about a self-proclaimed time-traveller who turned himself in this afternoon, confessing to “crimes against the time-space continuum” and citing impacts to how certain holidays are treated in American culture.

A man calling himself Dr. Chronophobos showed up at the police station and insisted he wanted to turn himself in for crimes related to his invention of a time machine.  Dr. Chronophobos claims to be a research professor at the nearby University of Punxsutawney’s Department of Temporal Physics.  According to Dr. Chronophobos, he was able to create a working time machine and during a trial run made modifications that changed the relative importance of certain ethnic Celtic holidays in America.

After consulting with the Assistant District Attorney, the West Punxsutawney police force declined to arrest Dr. Chronophobos due to lack of evidence. “The lack of evidence,” Dr. Chronophobos was heard to say as he was escorted from police headquarters, “is exactly what proves my point.”

“I didn’t really notice the impacts until last November, when just after Thanksgiving the grocery stores failed to stock their normal supply of haggis and turnips to celebrate St. Andrews Day on November 30th,” Dr. Chronophobos explained as he set up a small camp on police property which he pledged to occupy until the police take him seriously.  “Then the day came and went without any Scottish Heritage parades or anything–they didn’t even dye the Chicago River plaid, like they normally did.  Then March rolls around, and suddenly corned beef and cabbage go on sale.  And now we have the parades and all.  And the dyeing of the river.  Whoever heard of dyeing a river green?”

When asked how exactly one dyes a river plaid, Dr. Chronophobos lamented, “We’ll never know, now.”

Professor David George, professor of sociology at the University of Punxsutawney, is not among those convinced by the story.  “Even if it were possible to go back in time and swap the relative importances of the Scottish and Irish national holidays, I’m not sure St. Andrew’s Day would have been the big one.  If you’re expecting a celebration of a particular person to morph into a celebration of that person’s culture, it helps if the person you’re ostensibly celebrating is uniquely associated with that culture.  From that perspective, Dr. Chronophobos’ story would have sounded more probable if Robert Burns Day had been the big event.”

“Of course,” Professor George added, “you could also make the argument that if he were lying he would have come up with a better story.”

University officials deny that there is or ever has been a Dr. Chronophobos associated with the University, never mind a Department of Temporal Physics. “Well, not now, obviously,” said Dr. Chronophobos when asked about this fact. “But if people keep experimenting in time travel, who knows what might happen? We might turn around and there wouldn’t even be a University of Punxsutawney.”

Copyright 2013–yes, really.

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News Flash: Snowbound Pennsylvanians Call for Head of Punxsutawney Phil

La Satira News Service

Residents of a small town in Pennsylvania, weary after facing three winter storms in the two weeks since Groundhog Day, took the unusual step of asking a judge to file a cease-and-desist order against Punxsutawney Phil, arguably the most famous groundhog in the business of weather forecasting.

“Well, what else can we do?” asked Alhalibut mayor Jack Flocondeneige. “We were promised an early spring, and once again the glorified rat has failed to deliver.”

Hans Gletscher, a local grocer, agreed. “If he can’t forecast any better than this, he shouldn’t be in the business. How can he still market himself as a weather forecaster with a success rate of only 39%?  Even a flipping coin could do a better job than that.”

Criticism of Punxsutawney Phil, though, has not been unanimous.  Some, while not especially impressed by his powers of prognostication, have stopped short of calling for Phil to call it quits. “It’s not as though modern meteorology is foolproof,” said Dr.  Irene Dropski-Pfallin, professor of meteorology at the nearby University of Punxsutawney, from a specially-constructed igloo on the university grounds. “They can hardly expect too much accuracy from a rodent.   Of course, if his predictions have been wrong 61% of the time on a forecast that only has two choices, it’s worth asking:  is he that bad at forecasting, or have we got the signals backward?”

At the offices of the Groundhog Meteorological Gazette, editor Arthur Bellwether bristled at this suggestion.  “Of course we haven’t gotten the signals backward.  That’s the way it’s always been for time out of mind:  if the groundhog sees his shadow, we’re in for another six weeks of winter.  Otherwise, we get an early spring.  And as far as that goes, it’s only February:  we could still have an early spring.”

Regardless of Phil’s actual talent, the plaintiffs are unlikely to have smooth sailing.  According to Dr. Maureen Murmeltier, the University of Punxsutawney’s Distinguished Professor of Dubious Litigation, the case is problematic for a number of reasons.  “This isn’t normally the sort of case in which a cease-and-desist order would apply,” she said.  “Also, outside of some sort of Miracle on 34th Street scenario, it’s hard to imagine the court recognizing a groundhog as a legally responsible agent, much less making a serious ruling on what is–let’s face it–a fun but rather frivolous superstition.  Anyway, the plaintiffs themselves have a bit of a credibility gap:  if the groundhog is so inaccurate as they say, what does it say about them that they still trust it?  ”

“That lawyer person has a lot of nerve calling it a frivolous superstition,” responded Gletscher, the grocer.  “I’ve never subscribed to a frivolous superstition in my life, and hopefully never will, knock on wood.”

A preliminary hearing in the matter will be scheduled once grounds crews are able to remove the giant snowdrift from the front of the courthouse.

Copyright 2013

News Flash: Trial Begins in “Bismuth Awareness” Charity Fraud Case

La Satira News Service

Millions of people every day consume a product known to contain a radioactive heavy metal.  Most of them don’t even know they’re doing so.  And it’s all perfectly legal.

Moreover, the decay product of that substance is an even more dangerous material.

Or such was the claim of Fred Lavoisier, the chairman and chief fundraiser of the grass-roots advocacy group “Taking Care of Bismuth,” which purports to lobby for increased public awareness of the use of bismuth, the chief component of the “pink bismuth” family of digestive health products.

Mr. Lavoisier’s organization is the subject of a lawsuit from the Bandwagon Society, which claims the group is giving a bad name to legitimate charity and advocacy groups. and raising money for uncharitable purposes.

The move is an unusual one for the Bandwagon Society, which bills itself as an advocacy group for advocacy groups in general.  “If they want to advocate for something, they ought to advocate for something meaningful,” said Ms. Kelpie Berger-Picard, president of the Bandwagon Society, “like maybe awareness of frivolous advocacy groups.”

Much of the testimony in the trial is likely to center on the actual risk posed by bismuth in the context of bismuth subsalicylate, the active ingredient in the digestive medicine, as well as bismuth per se.

“Bismuth occupies a curious place in the periodic table,” said Dr. Haas Avogadro, professor of chemistry at the University of Punxsutawney, in a preliminary hearing.  “It’s in a neighborhood full of rougher elements like mercury, lead, thallium, polonium, and radon.  It’s in the same family as antimony and arsenic.  And yet it’s pretty much harmless.  It’s like running into the one genuinely nice kid in an otherwise disagreeable group, or a politician with genuine moral scruples.”

“Nobody’s suggesting it as a vitamin supplement, of course,” added Dr. Avogadro, “and you can make nasty chemical compounds out of almost any element; but as heavy metals go, it’s not so bad.”

Even the radioactivity claim is absurdly overstated, Dr. Avogadro said.  “Sure, it decays into thallium–but with a half-life of roughly 19 quintillion years, it’s not going to do much in the average human life span, much less in the few days it’s active in the body.  For the average dose of pink bismuth, we’re talking about maybe 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms of bismuth, of which maybe two or three atoms per day might decay into thallium.  There’s no way you’re going to get a meaningful dose–you’d get very, very sick from the other ingredients long before that.  As for radiation, you could get more of that by going out and planting petunias.”

The National Association of Commercial Petunia Growers immediately decried the comparison.  “How dare Dr. Avogadro make this irresponsible statement,” said Hyacinth Gardner, this year’s association president.  “There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that petunias are any more radioactive than any other gardening plant.”  Ms. Gardner suggested that any rise in employee health insurance premiums resulting from Dr. Avogadro’s comments would be paid for with the proceeds of a defamation lawsuit against the University of Punxsutawney.

Meanwhile, back at the courthouse, Mr. Lavoisier pled innocent to charity fraud on the grounds that the charity fulfilled the purpose expressed in the fundraising materials.

“Strictly speaking,” said attorney Henry Schlumpf, who is defending Mr. Lavoisier in the case, “the charity only solicited funds to help raise bismuth awareness.  After this trial, I don’t think anyone will dispute that my client has done exactly that.  He never promised to do anything about it.”

When asked how his client had spent the money raised in the campaign, the attorney replied, “I really don’t think it’s any of the court’s bismuth…. business, I mean.”

The bismuth subsalicylate producers’ trade association is also considering filing a lawsuit for defamation against Mr. Lavoisier and his organization.  There is no word as yet whether the increased legal scrutiny is inducing in Mr. Lavoisier any symptoms such as heartburn or indigestion, or whether, if such symptoms did manifest themselves, he would seek to relieve them using bismuth subsalicylate.

Copyright 2012.

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News Flash: Study Attempts to Define Value of Public Art

La Satira News Service

How much is public art really worth?  Researchers at the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Economics and Arts want to know, and they’re undertaking a project to determine exactly that.

Unlike previous research, which typically looks at the amount of money spent by various levels of government and private donors for such things as murals, outdoor sculptures, and street theater performances, the Punxsutawney research will attempt to nail down the actual benefit received by the viewing public.

“The arts community expects the government to subsidize their work,” said Dr. M. C. Friedman, Professor of Economics, “and they talk about the value of art, but what does it really mean?  It generally doesn’t have a direction contribution to the production of goods and services, apart from the production of the art itself.  Does it boost productivity?  If so, by how much?  Does it boost tourism?  If so, who gets to decide whose tourism gets boosted?  If they expect the public to pay for it, the public needs to know what they’re buying.  Otherwise, how do we know it’s a good deal?”

The study will attempt to quantify the social value of art by tracking several measures in areas where new public art is installed, such as property values, work productivity, and the amount per capita spent on psychiatric care.  The study will consider several different types of art, such as sculptures (indoor and outdoor), murals, street theater, and framed art.

“Of course it’s oversimplistic to say that all art is completely devoid of practical function,” Dr. Friedman said.  “We found one example of a neighborhood that put up an intricately detailed, profoundly abstract sculpture.  It was so thought-provoking that visitors to the area would often spend several minutes in awed contemplation of it, giving the locals ample time to mug them.”

The discussion of the value of art is, of course, hardly confined to academia.  “People say things about a great nation deserving great art,” said Ed Smith, a visitor in the sculpture garden in Antimasonic Park, “but what terrible thing did we do to wind up with Jackson Pollock?”

“Even bad art can have some value,” argued Milton Escher, another park visitor.  “Who hasn’t walked by some absolutely hideous sculpture or painting and thought, ‘Even I could do better than that’?  That little ego-boost ought to be worth something to the general public.”

“Art who?” asked Phil Stein, a visitor in another part of the park.

The research came about almost by accident following the merger of the university’s art and economics programs.  “It started with a conversation in the student lounge about the value of art,” explained the Dean of the College, Dr. Pablo Keynes.  “It just sort of grew from there.  We feel that the synergy from this study could revolutionize both fields.”

The unlikely merger between the School of Modern Art and the School of Economics was also a surprise.  “It wasn’t our first choice,” admitted Dr. Vincent Hayek, the University’s Vice President for Periodic Reshuffling.  “The economics school had some space available in its building, and the School of Modern Art was the perfect size to fit into it.  Naturally we were curious to see what sort of synergies would develop.”

Dr. Hayek vigorously denied rumors that the merger was done for the purpose of isolating the University’s two most depressing fields.

Copyright 2012

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Archaeological Find Sheds New Light on Beaker Culture

Philosophical Trend Irks Scientists

News Flash: Archaeological Find Sheds New Light On Beaker Culture

La Satira News Service

Thousands of years ago, much of western Europe was inhabited by a culture or group of cultures known collectively as the Beaker Culture, after the pottery cups and bowls that are their most wide-spread artifact.  Very little is known about these people, as they left no written records.  Though widespread, the culture eventually faded, either replaced by, absorbed by, or transforming into more modern Neolithic cultures.

A series of new discoveries by a team from the University of Punxsutawney is likely to rewrite the historical record on the subject.

Dr. Phillippe Poisson of the University’s archaeology department has spent the last few summers leading a series digs in Lancashire, England.  “We’ve learned a lot about the Beaker Culture,” said Dr. Poisson.  “But then we’ve had to unlearn an awful lot, too.”

A significant portion of the research was devoted to developing a clearer idea of the Beaker Culture’s physical characteristics.  “Previously we believed the Beakers to be tall and heavy-boned, with heads that were fairly wide; in fact our research suggests that they were tall all right, but with very narrow heads and small bones.  We believe they also would have had wild hair, protruding eyes, and relatively simple mouths that allowed only the most basic of vocalizations.”

Despite having only rudimentary language skills, Dr. Poisson claims, the Beakers would still have been able to communicate with each other, their immediate neighbors, and perhaps even a small set of alien cultures.  Dr. Poisson did not elaborate on that last point.

The digs have also shed more insight on the eventual fate of the Beaker people in England.  “It seems they had enemies,” said Dr. Poisson.  “Our research suggests the Beakers were oppressed by another group of Neolithic humans known as the Honeydew Culture, named after the troves of exotic melon seeds found in their settlements.”

The Honeydews, claims Dr. Poisson, “were aggressive innovators, though evidently unsuccessful ones.”  Dr. Poisson suggests the Honeydews were responsible for briefly returning the region to Paleolithic status.  “In any event, the evidence suggests the Honeydews needed help with their research and co-opted the Beakers to provide it, often at great personal cost.  To the Beakers, I mean.”

Unlike the Beaker people, the Honeydew people were surprisingly literate, after a fashion, and even kept records.  One of the prize artifacts collected from the Honeydew archaeological site is believed to be a list of innovations being attempted by the community.

“We believe this to be the very first Honeydew List,” adds Dr. Poisson.

Further details about the research–including how they reached these startling conclusions–will shortly be posted on the website of the Global Online Topical Chronicle of Human Anthropology (GOTCHA).

Copyright 2012.

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News Flash: Man Sues NTSB Over Support for Ron Paul

Blames agency for “cognitive dissonance” in political views.

La Satira News Service.  Eddie Howitzer of Fullstop, Pennsylvania, is not your typical Ron Paul supporter.

“A Ron Paul presidency would be an unmitigated disaster,” says Howitzer.  “Dismantling the Fed like he wants to do would destabilize our financial system and send us back to the days of bank panics.  Protectionist trade policies would cause other nations to adopt similar attitudes toward us, stifling exports and increasing the prices of necessary imports.  And you can kiss goodbye to whatever political clout we still have on the world stage if he gets elected.”

Nevertheless, Howitzer says he has no choice but to support Paul in the next election.  Why the change of heart?  Persuasion from the National Transportation Safety Board…albeit indirectly.

“It was their proposal for a federal ban on cell phone use while driving that really did it,” Howitzer says.  “Granted, we should all be aware of the hazards of distracted driving; but an all-out ban is the sort of knee-jerk over-regulation that really symbolizes the Washington culture.  So what else is there to do but support Ron Paul, the symbol of anti-Washington culture?”

Howitzer doesn’t plan to go quietly, though.  A lawsuit has been filed in Punxsutawney County District Court seeking unspecified damages for the pain and suffering caused by the cognitive dissonance arising from being forced to support a candidate he views as unsuitable.  He and his lawyers are considering upgrading the suit to class action status.  “I can’t be the only one in this situation,” Howitzer says.

Howitzer, who runs a small chain of military surplus outlets, says he depends on his cell phone to communicate with employees at his various store locations, which are scattered throughout Pennsylvania.  His car is equipped with a hands-free unit.  “Of course driving is the priority,” says Howitzer, “and whoever I’m talking with understands that I may need to put them on hold to deal with traffic.  Texting is an absolute no-no.”  Despite these precautions, adopting the NTSB recommendations would still impact his ability to carry on business.

Howitzer says he would be willing to drop the suit if the NTSB rescinds its recommendation.

Milton Fillmore, a law professor at the University of Punxsutawney, holds serious doubts about the case’s merits.  “It’s certainly a novel reason to file a lawsuit,” said Prof. Fillmore, “so there’s not a lot of precedent to go by.  But I’m not altogether sure ‘cognitive dissonance’ is legally recognized as the sort of thing over which it’s really appropriate to talk about damages.”

Over in the university’s political science department, Dr. Chris Arugula had a slightly different take.  “Before anyone gets too excited,” he said, “we should remember that this recommendation is only a recommendation.  Nor is this terribly surprising, coming from them.  Their job is to identify hazards, and there’s no doubt that using the cell phone while driving can be hazardous.

“But just like the nutrition science people who make pronouncements on healthy eating that may not take into account of what foods are available, affordable, or for that matter enjoyable to those concerned,” Arugula continued, “safety is the only measure the NTSB recognizes; but on the roads there may be other considerations.  Is all cell phone use risky enough to justify the inconvenience?  Would such a law even be enforceable?  That’s beyond the NTSB’s area of expertise.

“The point is, the NTSB has offered its advice.  It’s up to society, through its representatives, to weigh the costs and benefits and legislate accordingly.”

Back at the military surplus outlet Mr. Howitzer continues to doubt the effect of any new legislation.  “Some places have already banned texting while driving, and some people think that’s just making things worse,” Mr. Howitzer said.  “People still text; they just do it lower, meaning their eyes are farther from the where they ought to be, making them even more dangerous.

“A cell phone law would be just the same.  The only ones who would observe it are the responsible people who aren’t causing the problems.  We’ve already got laws on the books about reckless driving–don’t those count for anything?  Or am I going to have to use my cell phone to order some Ron Paul bumper stickers?”

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