Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu and the media

Does the media coverage of the swine flu outbreak help or hurt? The obvious answer is "yes."

The media often goes too far in pushing a story. They trumpet the frightening details in an attempt to make the stories more "personal and accessible", yet often fail to provide any perspective.

The swine flu story is a good case in point. Often touted is the statistic of "over 150 deaths in Mexico". Buried much further down is the fact that over 2000 persons have contracted the disease. That makes the mortality rate 7.5%--high by American standards, to be sure, but no statistics are given on the mortality rate of more normal flu viruses in Mexico. Besides, Mexican health care and American health care are no comparable.

On the contrary, so far the opposite seems true. Over 75 cases have now been reported in six other countries world-wide, America included. So far there have been no deaths. If the Mexican mortality rate were the norm, then we could expect 5-6 deaths elsewhere so far. And compared with Mexico, the number of cases elsewhere represent only about 4% of the total worldwide spread.

Could this number increase? Quite probably. More advanced countries are already moving to slow or stop the spread of the disease, but other nations will likely experience much higher infection rates--some may even make Mexico seem statistically small by comparison. But I suspect that in the long run swine flu will be no more a pandemic than avian flu or SARS.

The media also does a poor job of deeper investigation. While this could be from a lack of information at this stage, there is doubtless more information they could provide. Of those 150 deaths in Mexico, how many were children or elderly--the typical victims of flu--as opposed to healthy adults? How many of those deaths already had poor health or other medical complications? We don't know, and the media is in no rush to find out.

But the reality is that while any death from flu is unfortunate, it is typically the weakest who succumb. The average adult in moderate to good health is unlikely to experience more than an inconvenience after contracting the virus. This is mostly under-reported in the media. The facts are often present, but seldom are the dots connected for easy public comprehension.

However, in spite of this, the media probably does as much or more than any other group to help stop the spread of such diseases. Knowledge is power. Those most likely to get the disease are those who do not know there is even a danger.

When the media pushes "epidemic" stories as they are doing with swine flu the public is aware and can act accordingly. While there is far more over-reaction than is necessary, when the general public takes steps to avoid infection it usually works. People become more health-conscious and start washing their hands more, using disinfectants more, and avoiding public places as much as they can. Those who get sick tend to stay home more readily, limiting the exposure to others. These tactics alone can be quite effective, even without vaccines or government programs.

Swine flu is not an epidemic. Nor is it likely to become one, at least in most countries. And while the media deserves some criticism for not providing more perspective, they should also be thanked for getting the word out. An informed public is a safer public.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Perez Hilton vs. Miss California - putting the "bully" in bully pulpit

Perez Hilton is an opportunist and a bully. In the latest Miss America pageant Miss California was the front-runner until she came up against Perez Hilton, who asked her if the rest of America should follow the lead of Vermont and legalize gay marriage. Miss California, Carrie Prejean, stated that she was opposed to gay marriage. Perez dinged her score and the second-place contestant went on to win.

Asked to defend his actions in an interview with the Today Show, Perez stated that she should have given a better answer, that she should have either taken a neutral line or declined to answer rather than offend. He felt she should have been prepared for the question, coming from California. He defended his question by claiming that Miss America has a responsibility to represent all of America, and at least some of America was offended by her response. He also suggested that his question was no more unfair than asking her if she approved of the current administration's economic policy.

He is nothing more than a bully and a coward. First of all, he used his position as a judge to advance his own political agenda. He raised the issue of gay marriage on national television. He probably even thought he would get the answer he wanted by asking Prejean either because she was from California, or just because wanted badly to win. Instead she voiced the opinion of the majority of Californians and Americans.

That was intolerable to Hilton, who then scuttled her bid to become Miss America.

His actions are intolerable. He honestly feels the best answer would either have been to agree with him or shut up. He honestly feels that Miss America is responsible to avoid disagreeing publicly with a minority. He honestly feels his question was no more unfair than asking about fiscal policy.

I'm willing to bet that had she instead been asked a question about fiscal policy and given an answer contrary to Hilton's own opinion he would have let it pass. In his mind that's in immaterial question. Gay marriage is everything, the only question that matters. It's his cause, and heaven help anyone who opposes his cause.

But, truth be told, Prejean would likely have offended more people with an answer on fiscal policy--in either direction--than she offended with her position on gay marriage. So why should her gay marriage position disqualify her? Obviously, in Hilton's mind, those two questions are NOT equal. He's a liar.

He's also representative of much of the gay rights movement. Their policy seems to be "agree with us or shut up".

My hat is off to Miss Prejean, who showed more integrity than Hilton has probably ever even seen before, let alone possessed. She would rather not win the competition than lie about or apologize for her beliefs.

If anything she deserves to be Miss America more than before. Is this not the model we want for our daughters? Don't we want our daughters to stand up to bullies, to stick by their beliefs, and not compromise their standards just to be popular?

Not to Hilton. To him gay marriage is the only issue that matters. It doesn't matter what happens to the moral fiber of America so long as he gets his way. Integrity and standing up to authority are all fine and good, so long as it's to advance his cause.

He does nothing to advance his cause in my eyes. I worry deeply about people like him being representative of the gay population and ever achieving positions of power. I don't feel that way about gay people specifically. I know several and I would feel quite comfortable voting them into any office in the land. But not Hilton. His abuse of power is sickening. His hijacking of a national television show to advance his own personal agenda cum vendetta is disgusting and intolerable.

Donald Trump is standing by him for now. The proof will be in whether Hilton is ever invited back. Probably. Trump knows the value of a good controversy, and morals are matters of convenience with him.

Andrea Tantaros puts it best:
Perez Hilton has since gone on an angry blogging tirade against Prejean’s answer calling her an absolutely reprehensible five-letter word and later an even more unacceptable four-letter word that begins with “c” on a mainstream news network. He later apologized for his remarks, but then retracted his apology. “She lost it because of that question,” he admitted. “She was definitely the front-runner before that.”

Let’s consider the source: Perez Hilton is an openly gay, unstable and unreasonable left-wing blogger who reports on rumors with great braggadocio — not even real news — and often outs closeted gays in the public eye. If he doesn’t have respect for other homosexuals or an individual’s right to privacy why would he have respect for anything else?

When people are arguing for tolerance and equal rights for gays they undermine their own argument when they resort to intolerant, hateful language that shows a complete disrespect for women. Whether you are talking about gay marriage or the price of coffee at Starbucks, it is absolutely unacceptable to use that language about females to advance your argument.

The double standard is astounding.

I didn’t hear the outrage when Joe Biden said that he and Barack Obama are against gay marriage. No incendiary language, no insults, no four letter obscenities.

Why is it acceptable for Obama and Biden to have this opinion but not a conservative female? And where are the women’s rights and feminist groups to speak out against this kind of language? Or gay rights groups to denounce this clown because he does nothing to advance their agenda of tolerance? The same place they were when other females who possessed traditional values or beliefs like Sarah Palin exercised their right to free speech and expressed these views: they’re nowhere to be found.

This is why I don't fear being called a hate-monger by the rabid gay movement. It's apparantly a compliment. The Left in general seems to desire tolerance, understanding, fairness, and cooperation only from their opponents. They don't need it themselves.

Perez Hilton and his ilk are hypocrits and bullies. They deserve contempt. The need to be stopped.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unemployment - Day Two

"I realize there is no shame in being poor...but it's no great honor either!"
- Tevye, "Fiddler on the Roof"

I have dreams. Dreams that involve me doing what I most enjoy and making enough money to support my family at it.

The reality is that is will probably be quicker and easier to just keep trying to do what I've been doing for the past ten years. But I don't want to.

This is also the adjustment period. No one, including me, is used to having me home all day. Even though I spend most of it working at the computer, I'm still aware of them, and vice versa. I don't know whether I should try to insinuate myself into the normal rhythms of the family or not.

I searched my usual sites today, and not one of them had something I can apply for. Okay, one did, but the skills quiz that came up when I applied quickly convinced me I'm not the droids they're looking for.

In short, not the best of days. Though I did wrestle into submissions a technical problem on one of my websites. That felt good.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Media still doesn't get Tea Party Protests

My local paper did a very good article on the local Tea Party protests, but not all media are getting it. The majority of headlines I've seen--when I even see headlines--have read something like "Tea Party Protestors demonstrate against taxes".

That's both oversimplifying the issue and diverting it at the same time. I think most of the people at the protests were not protesting taxes as a concept. Most of us understand that there must be some means of providing for the national government to operate.

No, the issue is how BIG the national government should be allowed to get, and how far in debt they should be allowed to go. The issue is how both parties seem to have either lost all sense, or lost their sense of responsibility to their constituents. Perhaps both.

It's not just an anti-Obama movement, though contrary to campaign promises, he's certainly exacerbated the problem. And no, we don't forget the role the Bush administration played in this mess. We don't forget the role both parties played in this mess.

Don't think for a moment we're not suspicious of GOP attempts to embrace the Tea Party platform. While we'd love to think they've come to their collective senses we've been burned before. GOP, if you really mean it, stop talking and act. We're tired of talk. Give us action.

We're even more concerned, however, about the Democrats. They're the ones with both hands firmly on the wheel. That they continually dismiss, demean, and denigrate the protest shows that they just don't get it. That they can't stop talking about it shows that they do recognize it as a threat.

The funny thing is that, had this happened during the Bush administration, the Left would be lauding the movement as an amazing bi-partisanship grassroots effort in which every-day Americans exercise their First Amendment rights to speak truth to power. But there's been a changing of the guard, and now such efforts are painted as "despicable", "Shameful", and little more than a Republican front. (This from an Illinois congresswoman whose husband just plead guilty to tax violations and bank fraud.)

No, the Liberals just don't get it. Instead they use misdirection to obfuscate the message:
"It's despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt," she added. "Not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year. Made to look like a grassroots uprising, this is an Obama bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians."

What is particularly significant and honorable about this moment in history? Oh yes, that Obama-first-black-president thing. I have three words for the Left:


It's great we elected a black president. But since when does being black preclude him from criticism? Does he somehow deserve special treatment for being black? Is a black president somehow more sensitive to criticism? Is a black president incapable of doing wrong? That's the most racist implication I've heard in a long time, and it's coming from the LEFT!

No, black, white, or polka-dotted, Obama is the president now. He should be subject to criticism. To imply otherwise is borderline facist.

So what, then, is particularly shameful about Americans of all political persuasions coming together to express concern about the future? THAT is what the moment is all about, no matter how Democrats and media try to paint it otherwise. It's not about taxes this week or this year. It's about the enormous deficits that have been run and are being escalated by someone who pledged to end them.

Perhaps we should have had enough under Bush, but the fact remains, we've had enough. We've lost control of government, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to regain control again. That's what the protests are about. It's about a government--both sides--that no longer represents its people.

And, to a degree, it's about a mainstream media who have willfully become the government's propaganda arm. How else can you explain this outburst from CCN's Susan Roesgan at the Chicago Tea Party:
CNN’s Susan Roesgen, an alleged “reporter” covering the Chicago Tea Party, lashed out at the participants like an angry MoveOn.org member. “What does this have to do with taxes?” she demanded of one attendee, as he held his 2-year old and spoke of personal liberty. “Don’t you realize you’re eligible for a tax credit,” she shouted at him. “Don’t you know that Illinois is getting stimulus money?”

Unable to get the participants to join her in support of Obama-nomics, Roesgen dismissed the event as “anti-government and anti-CNN, since this is highly promoted by right-wing, conservative network, Fox.”

I may be old fashioned, but my high school journalism teacher told us journalists were just supposed to get the facts and report them. They are not to render judgments, and they are not to attempt to persuade the subjects they are covering. They are to report the story, not become the story.

Add to this a government agency that preemptively tried to head off the protest by branding as right wing extremists pretty much anyone who supports certain issues:
The Department of Homeland Security released a pre-emptive “assessment report” on the dangers of “right-wing extremists” just a week before the tax protest rallies. According to DHS, these potentially include pro-lifers, supporters of border security and that notoriously unstable group - U.S. military veterans.

To conclude, I'll draw on Michael Graham of the Boston Herald:
And I can report that there were, in fact, quite a few vets at our Tea Party at Long Wharf. But other than their crazy notion that spending our kids into an $11 trillion hole is wrong, they didn’t appear to be unhinged.
Agree or disagree with the estimated 250,000 people who showed up at Tea Parties across the country, they deserve respect, not abuse. Declared suspect by their own government, targeted for insults from the “unbiased” media, they still showed up. They organized. They spoke out. And they did it without any free-speech bailouts.

It was true democracy in action. And that’s why liberals find it so scary.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Party Protests Today

All across America today thousands of citizens will be gathering at Tax Day Tea Parties to protest the out-of-control spending of the Federal Government. Critics (usually on the Left) claim that non-partisan protests are really backed by the Republican Party, but such protests are disingenuous.

True, the Republicans would like to use these protests to hammer home their opposition to the current administration, but it wouldn't be nearly so easy for them if the Democrats hadn't surrendered the budgetary high ground so completely. Rather than show themselves the very models of fiscal restraint like President Obama promised in his campaign, the Democrats have spent money like it grows on trees--no, like it runs like rivers from the snowcaps. They opened themselves wide to this.

But make no mistake. Most everyone out there protesting today is just as fed up with the Republicans, especially those who switched sides to pass the Stimulus Bill and the Federal Budget. We feel the government in general has betrayed us and sold out our future.

The Democrats would prefer to--and have tried to--redirect the frustration and rage toward Wall Street in general, and AIG and GM specifically, but while they're part of the problem, they are not the problem. The problem is a government that doesn't do what it is supposed to do, and does what it shouldn't to make up for it.

Does the government really have the moral high ground to lecture Wall Street on poor business decisions? How can they be upset with AIG for over-leveraging themselves when the government turns right around and over-leverages itself? The only difference is that while AIG's customers and investors can take their money and go elsewhere, the government's customers and investors (ie. taxpayers) can't. We don't even get to attach condition on how our tax contributions are used.

Today is especially poignant. It's the day we're all forced to pay up, whether we like it or not, while a large number of our public officials have not paid up for years, and only do so when it appears their illegal activities may interfere with securing the posts they seek. Why do they get a pass and a cabinet seat, when the rest of us would get fines and jail time?

No, the Tax Day Tea Party protests are not about which party is right. It's about both of them and the government they have built being wrong. There's plenty of blame to go around. This is a warning shot across the bow. We want the mess cleaned up, and we don't care who does it, so long as someone does.

By downplaying, criticizing, or outright ignoring these protests the democrats and the media risk appearing as if they deserve the blame. Rather than oppose the protests as "GOP manipulation" the Democrats should jump on the bandwagon. There's room. Rather than sending out MoveOn and ANSWER to counter-protest they should join in and make sure the protest stay generalized. If they feel they're innocent they have nothing to fear. By getting defensive they risk painting themselves as the target.

Like I said, I don't care who cleans up this mess. Just clean it up. NOW!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama and the Somali pirate hostage situation

It seems everyone else is weighing in on this, so why not me too? Evaluations on Obama's handling of his "first international crisis" are mixed across the board. I'm reserving judgment, as as I see it, this one incident is not the crisis. It's one move in the chess game.

But in this one incident I see encouraging signs. The President authorized lethal force and left control of the situation at the local level. The Bainbridge's captain wasn't having to call for permission to have his snipers fire. He was able to react as he saw fit, and things turned out well.

Yet the fact that the situation went on as long as it did showed some patience and hope for a peaceful resolution from the top.

So it would appear that Obama's orders were to resolve it peacefully if possible, but protect the hostage's life at all costs. I approve. It was the right call for the situation, I think.

For the larger crisis I would like to see more action. Obviously what we're doing now isn't getting the job done. While I feel for the Somalis, who are forced to live with a dysfunctional government that cannot provide them better options than piracy, they clearly condone piracy and are dismayed that the international community is escalating the situation:
In Somalia, in the pirate haven of Harardhere, where locals have benefited from millions of dollars in pirate ransom, the military operation seemed like a bewildering display of force against four errant young men. "It was wrong to kill those pirates," said Aisha Gurey, an Arabic teacher. "The international community is wrong, and the pirates are wrong. But in this case, the strong one has killed the weak one." (Washington Post via MSNBC)

Obviously the pirates don't view the international community as the strong ones or they wouldn't be doing this. Unless we can somehow turn the Somali economy around (which would likely require invasion of Somalia) we're going to have to figure out how to make piracy not pay. We're not going to accomplish either without significant loss of life. The only question is which option is the better one.

The situation is only getting worse. It's time someone stepped up and took leadership of the situation. I'd like to see it be us, but I'm not holding my breath.

One side note: In darkness, 80-100 feet away, in rough seas. Three shots, three hits, first try. DANG! As I've probably said before, give our military an objective and get out of their way and you'll get results. Kudos to the SEAL sniper team and to our military in general.

UPDATE: Here's a Newsweek article on how France is handling pirates. They're nastier than we are, and it's getting them results. And evidently none of this talk of "escalation".

That would suggest that the pirates are not yet convinced of American resolve.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

New Writing Gig: Examiner.com

Examiner.com is a Clarity Media Group venture that leverages local writers in 60 major markets across the US to provide local, expert content. I've applied and been accepted as the Boise Business Strategies Examiner.

My debut article can be found here. Most Boiseans are familiar with Metro Express Car Wash by now, but I look a little deeper into how they use their electronic sign as an entry point to get people into their online marketing.

So take a look if you like. I should be posting something every few days.

Monday, April 06, 2009

When Less is Really Less

I read an interesting post from Havi over at The Fluent Self about a situation that runs contrary to conventional wisdom.

She was waiting for a massage at her favorite business and discussing masseuses with the clerk when she found out that the employees there were offered free massages by the masseuses so that they could become accustomed to their work and be able to refer customers.

The clerk had yet to use his massage. He was saving it up for some time when he really needed it. Most of the clerks were doing the same.

So the writer asked them all what their response would be if the masseuses offered a massage for only $12. They all agreed that they'd sign up to get one that very day, because it was such a good deal.

It seems counterintuitive, but it's true. I know I've sat on several free things in case I needed them later. Sometimes "free" becomes too valuable to use just any old time.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

10,000 Hours

The other day I read Orson Scott Card's latest review column. He reviews a book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled "Outliers: The Story of Success". Success, it seems, does not necessarily come from intelligence or circumstance:
But it's more than talent, and more than luck. How about 10,000 hours?

The number is approximate, but that's about how much practice and work the "geniuses" put into their careers to take them over the threshold into the big leagues.

Sure, there's some natural talent or aptitude. But then comes decision time -- are you going to really do this, or just continue plinking around at it?

Musicians. Painters. Writers. Mathematicians. Computer programmers. Game designers. Actors. Singers. They don't sit around feeling good about themselves and building up their self-esteem. They do the work. They put in the time.

So let's assume this is true. 10,000 hours is approximately 5 years if you put in 8 hours a day. I'm nearly 40. By that standard, I should be able to be successful at 8 different things by now.

Now I realize that's not a fair assessment to make. But the point I'm trying to get to is this: I may have skills that I could be successful in, even if I haven't consciously been developing those skills. I think we all could. So is it that far off to think that if I were to find a way to link several of those skills together in marketable form that I could indeed become wildly successful if I devote another five years to developing and channeling that combination?

I don't think so. It makes sense. It feels right. I have a goal that by the end of this year I am going to know exactly what my next 10,000 hours is going to go towards. Five years from now I'm going to be successful at something, even if it's considerably different from what I'm doing now.

Counterintuitive, or Just Wrong?

Penn Jillete has an editorial on CNN's website, in which he discusses the things he's learned in life that are counterintuitive. Things like turning into a skid or eating fire. He then applies it to Obama's spend-our-way-out-of-debt policies:
Obama tells us that we can spend our way out of debt. He tells us that even though the government had control over the banks and did nothing to stop the bad that's going on, if we give them more control over more other bank-like things, then they can make sure bad stuff doesn't happen ever again. He says we can get out of all those big wars President Bush caused by sending more troops into Afghanistan. And I don't know. I really don't know.
But there are some things that are just intuitive. Did you know, that if you're going 100 mph, directly at a very, very thick, reinforced concrete wall, and you speed up, so you're accelerating right when you hit the wall that the accident you have is going to be much worse than if you'd jammed on the brakes as soon as you saw the wall at the end of the street? Did you know that? It's exactly what everything you know and feel would tell you, and it's exactly true. Most times when you're driving, or playing with fire, or handling money, the thing that makes sense to you is also true.

I way hope we're turning into a skid and not accelerating into a concrete wall.

It's nice to see a celebrity admit that he simply has misgivings about something and doesn't know for a fact that we're all in deep doo-doo. I could probably learn something from that.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Kodak Moment?

I was listening in on a conference call from my den this morning when my daughter came in. "Daddy," she said, "since you're losing your job and won't be able to make any money I wanted to give you some of mine." Awwwww.... That tugging sound would be my heartstrings.

She then proceeded to place three coins in my hand--make that Chuck E. Cheese tokens. "April Fools!" she laughed. Ornery little snipe!

She's eight, so I don't know that she understands how to turn convention on its head. But then she is pretty smart, so perhaps she did, if even subconsiously.

Speaking of April Fools jokes, here's a good one from the Guardian in the UK. They announced they're going to switch to Twitter as their publishing medium. It's fortunate I was not drinking when I read this part:
A mammoth project is also under way to rewrite the whole of the newspaper's archive, stretching back to 1821, in the form of tweets. Major stories already completed include "1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!"; "OMG Hitler invades Poland, allies declare war see tinyurl.com/b5x6e for more"; and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"