Saturday, June 28, 2008

Head in the sand

I have to admit that my own head is pretty much in the sand lately, before I go farther. After all, I came to this through Thoughtviper citing Scalzi's entertaining "Whatever" blog... but WTF is with not opening your email because you know it's not what you want to hear?

And Scalzi hit the nail square on the head with his devastatingly logical observation that "Hey, you know what I would do if the White House told me that it wouldn’t accept an e-mail with a Supreme Court-ordered document in it? I would PRINT IT OUT and DELIVER IT BY HAND. Because you can do that."

Seriously, what has happened to discourse between people who do not agree? Why has it become "incorrect" not to agree on everything -- and why is the response to disagreement idealogical isolationism? Some of the best conversations I have are with local conservatives... and I tell them, when I dare, "While I am as liberal a person as you are likely to meet, in many respects, this is what I think about the issue..." Once the dirty words (ooh, "liberal!" Boogah boogah!) are out of the way, it is always amazing how much ground we really share and how civil those discussions can be.

I think that many spectres have been raised that really damage the way we speak to one another -- for instance, false dichotomies like "conservative" and "liberal," for one. Yes, we are for some weird reason in a never-ending flame war: like all flame wars, it distorts both positions out of their true warp and weft and lowers the collective intelligence and eloquence of the group.

Here's one maybe-it's-a-straw-man that I've been chewing on: "the litigiousness of society." I am, after all, in California (and am an insurance CSR specializing in commercial policies), but it appears to me that "litigiousness" is a bugaboo we use to dismiss and demonize not only those who bring trivial lawsuits or spurious ones, but those who might have legitimate claims, too.

Take for instance the massive, surreal tomato recall a couple weeks ago. Seriously, for a nationwide recall to occur, several weird things have to have coincided: too much crop centralization, too much mystery about routing of farm produce, filthy fucking factory farming contaminating our vegetables again (and scaring the less health savvy of our population into a terror of healthy foods once more). Lots and lots of people got sick.

Yet my first reaction was "oh for heaven's sake, this is asinine, wasteful, and smacks of the threat of 'terr'ism.' We have nothing to fear but fear itself."

Maybe not. E coli and salmonella poisoning rates are worse than ever before* in this country, and are simultaneously worse than in many Third World countries - because unregulated, subsidized, extravagantly expansive factory farming gives rise to so much contamination. It's a serious issue -- serious enough that I am vegetarian by preference (although I am lax). But was my first reaction for my poisoned peers sympathy and support? Nah... I thought, "wow, talk about an overreaction. The companies are terrified of being sued because we live in such a litigious society."

Hunh. Am I just an asshole? I mean, exceptionally so?

(I must point out that the reaction was to wastefully recall tomatoes nationwide, and not to quit subsidizing/promoting/supporting/smoke-screening factory farming animal husbandry operations. Definitely not to hire more inspectors and budget more for ensuring public safety. So in one sense, nobody else seems to have woken up either. Joy, joy! That means more widespread crop recalls in our near future, in fact lots of them and with increasing frequency. Let's all do like every single twitch-conservative I've spoken with about food recalls and blame migrant laborers for poor sanitation habits... which is almost certainly not the friggin' problem.)

Let me give you a piece of mostly unrelated trivia. Did you know that it's virtually impossible to write liability insurance for roofing contractors or any contractors who do roofing operations? We don't have a single carrier, admitted (guaranteed by the State of California and subject to its Code) or non-admitted (not guaranteed and not subject to its Code, and therefore relatively shady) who will do it.

This is not because roofers might fall off of roofs and be injured, although that is the first thing that sprang into my head. It is because roofs can leak, and if they leak, lots of damage gets done... and no insurance company wants to pay for those claims.

So yes, we're litigious. And insurers (and companies) are cowardly about lawsuits. But there is legitimately a risk there, one that can potentially cost a lot.

Kind of like ignoring the EPA reports.
*At least, last time I checked numbers, which was several years ago. If things have changed, let me know and cheer me up! :)

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