Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tazi's Corner #74 - Where Did All The Civility Go? Also, Truth Versus Truthiness

Dear Readers:

With the dawn of 2014 many changes are taking place. People are making resolutions to improve themselves, so in that spirit I thought I would, too. However, since I am a cat it goes without saying that I am perfect, so instead of changing me I will be making a few improvements to my home.

A pet door, a self-cleaning litter-box, and window insulation!

A general, societal improvement I have been hoping to see for some time now is improvement in the political discourse among Americans. It used to be name calling was reserved for trolls on chat boards, but now it seems to have seeped over into other areas, particularly Facebook pages and other forms of social media. This week I noticed someone posting a comment on my Mayor's Facebook page, calling someone else's girlfriend "ugly" (click the link and scroll down to Dec. 24th for all the gory details). Said girlfriend was not there to defend herself because she was not part of the debate - her boyfriend had a couple's picture as his profile picture and some woman attacked because the boyfriend had made fun of this woman's shirt. While it was sophomoric to make fun of someone's clothes - and certainly not germane to the conversation - it crosses a line to bash innocent bystanders. When my Mommie tried to moderate, someone who disagreed with her judgement jumped in and told her to call the "WAAAAambulance". (She really should leave these things to me!).

Where has civility gone in the course of political discourse? I know people who have "unfriended" lifelong, real-life friends over differences of political opinion. I see people calling their neighbors "ignorant" and "uninformed" simply because they disagree with an opinion offered (solicited or not). Maybe it's time to apply some rules to political communications: As my Mommie learned as a college freshman, if you are going to have an opinion, make it an educated one!  Do not source politically polarized material; instead, look to find the original source of that material. Who was the primary researcher who wrote the story, quoted the people on record, and is standing behind the work? If this information is not available - or is of questionable repute - look elsewhere before you form an opinion. If someone has the letters "PhD" after their name, look to see which scholarly/peer reviewed publications have published their work! If you can't find any, that "PhD' may not be valid! In the age of the Internet, anyone can fake credentials and the average person is not going to bother to do a background check. (Someone once suggested I call myself Tazi-Kat, PhD! Would you believe that?)

Most importantly, before believing what you read online, you need to ask yourself: Am I believing what I am reading because it gels with what I want to believe? Too often, the truth gets embellished to make it a story people want to believe and (in the age of blogs and YouTube royalties) send viral. This phenomenon picked up steam after 9/11 and generally involved feel-good stories about those who survived the attacks; now, as Steve Colbert would say, the element of "truthiness" has infected so much more. This brings me to my next commentary...

Truthiness is defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006).  This week, An Open Letter From An Alabama Mom started making the rounds on the conservative online newsletters. This letter was originally posted in a private blog (and re-posted with permission) where it was picked up by...other conservative sources. Not a single, solitary major news source has run with it - not even Bloomberg, the unpaid bloggers' paradise.

While confirms the validity of the source of this article in question (the Alabama Mom) it does not confirm the validity of what was written. While it may sound like I am nitpicking, this is a very important point; if you read the article from a neutral viewpoint, you pick up on some "facts" that don't sound like facts at all. To start:

This Alabama family was supposedly paying $380 a month for direct-pay (not employee sponsored) health insurance. This was not a catastrophic care policy, but full coverage for a family of four - parents and two sons, one of whom has ADHD - including prescription coverage and dental for all family members! She does not mention any kind of yearly deductible, so we must believe there is none if we are to believe her argument is truthful (simply because she rails against the deductible that she must pay under her Obamacare policy). Apples to apples and not oranges, right? If this sounds too good to be true, read on...

The ADHD medications she must purchase every month have an uninsured cost of $400/month. Alabama Mom writes that her new co-pay will be $55 before the annual deductible is reached and then "covered at 80%". This means that the co-pay will rise to $80 after the yearly deductible is paid. This just does not make sense. Now, before you get your dander up over the Affordable Heath Care Act and its perceived evils, stay with me just one more minute...

I would like to know how a family is paying $380/month for full family coverage (including prescription and dental coverage!) if a single prescription medication that costs $400/month is covered at close to 90%? 

Hold on while I do the math...

You don't have to be an Actuary to figure out that something does not add up here! Even if Blue Cross pays the pharmacy at a lower rate - say 50% of uninsured total - that would still mean the cost to Blue Cross for this one prescription is better than 50% of the monthly premium. Is Blue Cross hoping that the child does not have any visits with his specialist that will eat up the other 50% of that month's premium? Are they hoping that nobody else in the family will need a prescription or a cavity filled, or that the creeping crud that is invading their hometown will magically bypass this particular family? Or do things just operate differently in Alabama than they do in the rest of the world? (Please, keep all comments civil!).

In our quest to pummel the intellectual snot out of politicians we do not like and programs we disagree with, let's not fall to the truthiness that surrounds true fact. In failing to do so, we only weaken the argument being made and in hindsight, when the truth is laid bare - and it usually is - it is those who spread the lies who will appear to be ignorant and uninformed.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.