September 29 should be celebrated as Barn Door Fallacy Day. More than the last historical episode I flagged as illustrating the phenomenon, the Tylenol poisoning fiasco (I’m taking Tylenol this very second, because I’m in agony) illustrated the human race’s irrational instinct to go overboard after an unprecedented event by installing measures that would have prevented it if a time machine were available.
Flight attendant Paula Prince bought a bottle of cyanide-laced Tylenol on this date in 1982, and was found dead two days later. Six other people had died in northwest Chicago, and investigators eventually realized all seven victims had taken Extra-Strength Tylenol poisoned with cyanide. Extra-Strength Tylenol was recalled nationwide, but the only contaminated capsules were found in the Chicago area. The poisoner was never caught, but the cost to consumers and corporations of the sudden rush to make all containers “tamper-proof” is in the billions. I think about that random killer every time a have to grab a knife to cut off what is supposed to be an easy peel-off paper seal to use a new bottle of Ketchup or to open new jar of peanut butter. Thank to our product liability jurisprudence: once there was a high-profile poisoning of a container, all manufacturers faced liability if their product was similarly contaminated. It was suddenly “foreseeable.”
Manufacturers have no choice, I suppose, and a statistical cost-benefit analysis that balances the expense of eliminating the tiny risk with the odds of another deadly incident carries unacceptable perils of reputational devastation if metaphorical lightning strikes twice. Then there is always the copycat phenomenon to worry about. Essentially, the Tylenol tragedy shows how societal trust among millions can be shattered permanently by a single sociopath.
Once Americans trusted each other not to poison food and drugs just because they could. Now we don’t. Can’t.
1. Officials who use religion this way undermine both their own credibility and religion. New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who took over after Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned, told members of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, “There are people out there who aren’t listening to God and what God wants. You know this. You know who they are. I need you to be my apostles. I need you to go out and talk about it and say, ‘We owe this to each other. We love each other.’ Jesus taught us to love one another. And how do you show that love, but to care about each other enough to say, ‘Please get vaccinated because I love you. I want you to live.'”
Ick, ptooi, yuck, gag, gack! So, the first female governor of New York is also an idiot, though not the first. Let’s see: pandering, exploitation, appeal to authority,and fear-mongering. The odds that an unvaccinated worshiper will die is less than 1%. “Jesus would want you to get vaccinated” is presumptuous and insulting.
Good luck, New York.
2. Paid liar ethics…is it fair to keep pointing out what a hack Jen Psaki is? I found myself defending one of her endless series of obfuscations and double-talk spin attempts to my wife, saying that every White House press secretary has an impossible job and has to engage in daily misrepresentation or excuse-making to a greater or lesser extent. Her response: an ethical person doesn’t take that job.
Jen was in top form two days ago, when she responded to reporters citing data indicating that President Biden’s proposed increase in the corporate tax rate from 21 to 26.5% would lead to lower wages for workers and higher prices. Psaki said, “There are some… who argue that in the past, companies have passed on these costs to consumers. We feel that that’s unfair and absurd and the American people will not stand for that.”
There aren’t “some who argue” that. It is a matter of history and predictable cause and effect. Companies pass on costs to consumers. Fact. “It won’t happen because ‘we’ think that’s unfair” is magical thinking. It instantly reminded me of a memorable discussion with my parents when they were both in their late 80s.
My mother suddenly said, “Do people wake up feeling fine and then just drop dead the same day with no warning?” My father, who was always amused by my mother’s ongoing battle with mortality, said, “Of course! It happens every day, to millions of people! It could happen to either of us, today!” “Well, I just refuse to accept that,” Mom replied. “You have no choice but to accept it, Eleanor,” Dad said, laughing. “That’s how it works.” “Nope,” she insisted, not smiling a bit. “I don’t accept it.”