Friday, June 26, 2009

Hype Dissection 101

Here’s how it all went down last night:

Thursday, June 25, 6:45 p.m.

“Dr. Staat, you’re wanted in the ER, stat!”

(rushing in) “What seems to be the problem, nurse?”

“We have a breaking news story that just came in with massive factual hemorrhaging; the propaganda is severely bloated, agenda’s exposed, and the fear-factor is 7.5 and rising!”

“I’m going in.”

“But doctor, you haven’t scrubbed . . .”

“No time. And stand back; this may get messy.”

Okay, maybe it didn’t happen quite like that, but it probably should have. The patient in question is yet another AP news story about the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic that is sweeping the world and not killing near as many people as pharmaceutical investors would like.

Lest we – the unwashed masses – become complacent about getting that flu shot when it becomes available simply because we don’t know anyone who has died from it (or indeed, anyone who has even gotten the sniffles from it), the corporate controlled media continues to remind us about the looming danger. Not the danger to public health, mind you, but the danger to a whole lot of money that will be left on the table if we don’t get those shots when they’re ready.

Here’s the story in question should you care to read it: US Swine Flu Cases May Have Hit 1 Million

You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, though; for your convenience I’ll take you through the parts that caught my attention, the first of which is the very title itself.

My diagnosis: pure fear-mongering.

When you say that flu cases “may have hit 1 million”, it can just as easily be said that flu cases “may not have hit 1 million”. Of course, the latter doesn’t have quite as much “zip” to it, and when you’re trying to drive the spike of fear into people, it always helps to describe the glass as half-empty. Half-full, and we might not panic.

Ankle deep into the article we are shown this:

“The estimate voiced by a government flu scientist Thursday was no surprise to the experts who have been closely watching the virus. "We knew diagnosed cases were just the tip of the iceberg," said Dr. William Schaffner . . .”

Did you see what just happened there? The 1 million number is clearly stated as an estimate that has been given by a government source (tingles of credibility are running up and down my spine already), but immediately afterward, this estimate is then treated as if it were a categorical fact by Dr. Quackner . . . er, Schaffner.

Sorry, this fish has seen that bait before, and it didn’t smell good the first time either.

A short hop & a skip later and we arrive here:

“The United States has roughly half the world's swine flu cases, with nearly 28,000 reported to the CDC so far.”

Now, I’m no Jethro Bodine when it comes to ciphering, but by my calculations, if the U.S. has half of the world’s reported cases, then that means there’s about 56,000 cases worldwide that we know about. Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re taking a pretty liberal jump to get that number up to 1 million? I tried to figure out what percentage increase that is, but I ran out of toes.

Then: “The U.S. count includes 3,065 hospitalizations and 127 deaths.”

Ciphering again, if there’s 28,000 U.S. cases and 127 deaths, then that means that the dreaded swine flu has a death rate of less than one-half of 1 percent. Far better odds than you’ll get in Vegas. And that’s only if you believe that those 127 deaths were actually from the flu, which may or may not be the case.

Finally, my favorite passages:

“The numbers again highlight how the young seem to be particularly at risk of catching the new virus. But data also show that the flu has been more dangerous to adults who catch it.

The average age of swine flu patients is 12, the average age for hospitalized patients is 20, and for people who died, it was 37. It seems to be deadliest to people 65 and older, with deaths in more than 2 percent of elderly people infected, Finelli said.”

So, if I’m reading this right, everybody is particularly at risk. If you’re young you need to be scared because you’re going to catch it. If you’re old you need to be scared because for you the mortality rate is highest. And if you’re anywhere in between you need to be scared because the average age of people who die is 37 years old.

Yup. That pretty much covers everybody alright.

This is “spin” at a hyper-ridiculous level, intended to get your attention regardless of your age group.

Averages are so notoriously misused today I don’t even think most people really even know what they are anymore.

Weather forecasters, for instance, consistently compare the day’s temperature to the “average” temperature for that day in history, always making a big show about how much higher or lower the temperature is to that average. Most take it a step further by calling the average temperature the “normal” temperature.

Pure drivel.

An average is not a “norm”; it is an average. What’s normal is that the day’s temperature would be some amount higher or lower than the average since THAT IS HOW AVERAGES ARE DETERMINED IN THE FIRST PLACE. It would be rare for the day’s temperature to actually be the same as the average.

To understand how badly averages can misrepresent reality, consider this: If you’re sitting naked on a block of ice and your hair is on fire, on average, you feel pretty good. So take the averages in the article for what they are (which, just in case you’re still confused, are averages).

beep . . .beep . . . beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep

Well, unfortunately, my patient has flat-lined; time to put my surgical instruments away. Please believe me when I tell you that I did everything I could to save it. In this case, though, the integrity was just too far gone already for me to help. It happens.

I’m 100% sure of that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Walk Through the Gallery

Join me on a leisurely tour through the virtual museum of trivial stupidity . . .

Exhibit “A” - Attention to Detail
We have a park here in Liberty that includes several walls built of memorial bricks dedicated to veterans. A third and final wall is being constructed and the city has been taking applications for the bricks it will be built with, which can be purchased by the veterans themselves or family members in their honor. Each brick has the person’s name, service, dates of service, and the war they fought in (if applicable).

One of the applications received listed the individual’s service dates as “1921 – 1924” along with “World War I”.

Here’s a tip: If you’re going to “honor” a family member by giving them credit for a war they didn’t fight in, at least have the courtesy to take the time to find out when that war was actually fought.

World War I ended in 1918.

Exhibit “B” – Good Idea #1
I think it’s time to go back to our roots and put the Cosa Nostra boys back in charge of things. Imagine the Mafia running our banks, insurance companies, credit companies, mortgage companies; you get the idea. Let them run the whole show.

It’s not as crazy as you might think. First of all, the people involved in organized crime - while criminals by definition - are at least honest about it. They know who they are, they know what they do; and they also know that you know. Nobody’s trying to pass themselves off as something they aren’t.

Secondly, although they are criminals, they aren’t quite as greedy as those who are currently in charge of all of our country’s institutions. They even give back to the community on occasion. And you’re almost guaranteed to have a very nice funeral when the time arrives.

Finally, people will start paying their bills when they’re supposed to, because when you’re 15 days late on a payment, instead of getting a reminder in the mail that you completely ignore, you get a knock on your door from Vinnie & Sal.

Sal doesn’t talk much.

Exhibit “C” – Good Idea #2
This one isn’t my idea, but I think it has merit. If we really wanted to fix the economy, it sure seems like this would have more of a chance than pumping trillions of dollars into the same institutions that got us into this mess in the first place.

The concept is simple: Take 5 million of the current U.S. employees in the 54 – 65 age range and give each of them 1 million dollars. These are people who are going to be retiring within the next 10 years anyway. Send them on their way early with a nice little sum to enjoy in their golden years.

To accept the $1m, each of these employees MUST:
- Quit their job and retire (5 million new jobs created; unemployment crisis fixed)
- Buy a new GM, Chrysler, or Ford car (5 million new car sales; automotive crisis fixed)
- Pay off existing mortgage or buy a new home (5 million home sales; housing crisis fixed)
- Stay out of the workforce for at least 5 years. (They may, however, use their remaining money to start a new business if they wish).

That’s it. Sure sounds like it would work to me. Certainly better than giving the same money to the crooks who run our banking system (unless, of course, they happen to be crooks of Sicilian descent; see Exhibit “B”)

Exhibit “D” – Just in Case You Thought Exhibit “C” Was Stupid
A buck-a-day -- that's the incentive being offered to young girls to keep them from getting pregnant.

The group College-Bound Sisters was founded at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro by Hazel Brown, a maternity nurse who thought too many teens were having babies.

Brown said she hopes the program, which pays $1 each day to 12-to-18-year-old girls, will keep them from getting pregnant. In addition to remaining pregnancy-free, the girls must also attend weekly meetings.

The program is funded by a four-year grant from the state

Source: Program Pays Girls $1 Per Day To Not Get Pregnant

Your tax dollars hard at work. I wonder if they’ll make the same offer to boys for not getting someone pregnant? Seems only fair . . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

He Said / She Said - Landscaping

He Said - by Blaine Staat

I’m just full of good advice. Here’s some for all of you eligible young bachelors: Before you get married, make sure that you take a real close look at those vows your blushing bride will be making to you, and if, along with the “to have and to hold’s” and the “for richer & for poorer’s”, you don’t see the words “promise to keep my little grub-hooks off your yard”, make sure that you get them added in before she starts walking down the aisle.

I know, I know, you would think that that concept is simply implied along with all the other words about her “love” and her “devotion” and all that other jazz. Any reasonable man would. But alas, my friend, we’re not talking about “reason”, we’re talking about “woman”, and once your new bride is done throwing all of your stuff out of the house (a blindingly fast process in it’s own right) she will soon move into your domain. The backyard.

Last year Catherine planted – and this is absolutely no exaggeration – exactly 4,723 “things” in the yard. As if that’s not bad enough, let me also fill you in on what I must assume is her “landscape planning procedure”, which is basically to walk around aimlessly before suddenly thinking “Oh, this looks like a good spot for something”, at which point the evil dagger of her shovel bludgeons it’s way through my pristine lawn so that some sickly thing that looks like a dead stick can try to take root.

Oh! And does she get all snippy with me when I tell her very nicely to take her shoes off and get back in the kitchen? You know it brother! All tears, and boo-hoo-hoo, and “you’re so mean to me, I was only trying to make our yard look nice”. Did I shed a tear when she took down my vintage Farrah-Fawcett poster - framed, no less – from our bedroom wall and gave it to Goodwill? Okay, okay, maybe that’s not a real good example, but still . . . you know what I mean.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask of her to just leave my yard alone, especially when you consider how much I do for her. I mean, if I see garbage overflowing from the trash can onto the kitchen floor, do I not take it out? You betcha I do. Almost every single time. And do I not put most of my dirty clothes in the laundry hamper? Hello! Yes. And do I not rinse out my dishes before I stack them on the counter simply to make it easier for her to load the dishwasher?

Yup. Yup, yup, yup.

What women don’t seem to realize is that whenever something is placed in the yard, you must then mow around it. This takes effort, which is why I usually just push the mower straight over it instead. It’s not a personal attack, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, and yes, I’m sure that whatever it was that you planted would have been beautiful had I let it live, but it was just easier not to.

Sometimes a man has to take a stand. That’s why I do hereby boldly proclaim to the world that my yard belongs to me and ME ONLY! It’s mine, d’ya hear? Mine! Mine! Mine! I don’t care what you want to plant; I’m not going to do it. Don’t wanna, ain’t gonna, can’t make me. So there.

Now quit acting like a big baby and just accept it.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? All that’s left to do now is to let Catherine know where I stand on this issue, and as soon as she comes home from the grocery store, I’m going to tell her the exact same thing. You just better believe I will too. Pretty soon after she gets back. Maybe after dinner.

Or tomorrow.

She Said - by Catherine Staat

Well! I think that 4,723 “things” is a slight exaggeration, but okay, I’ll go with that for just a moment (some advice for soon-to-be brides: we sometimes let our guys think the way they want to, but only temporarily mind you!). When we moved here to Kentucky, I was so very excited at the prospects of what we would be able to grow; having the opportunity to plant my absolute favorites (and I’m sure Blaine’s as well once he sees just how much they please his loving and devoted wife) in a garden that was not possible to have living in the central part of Florida.

Learning what will grow here as opposed to Florida has been a learning lesson, and, as with the inside of my home, I wish the outside to also reflect who we are as a family. Much care is taken in the planning of one’s garden, or what I like to call my own personal “Claude Monet's garden at Giverny” or “Jefferson's Monticello: The West Lawn”. Since these beautiful gardens are not a hop, skip and a jump from us here, I will try and bring a little bit of them right into my…err…our backyard.

~Sigh~ I think of how things can possibly look one day when we will be able to sit back and enjoy the view and really appreciate all 4,723 things that we so carefully and lovingly planted. And to my wide eyed and green behind the ears young bachelor friends…my husband does enjoy our Monticello “West Lawn in the making”, and not only that, but also the compliments we have received in how the yard is shaping up.

As gardeners, we need to carefully consider the amount of sunlight each individual plant requires along with soil properties, and if they like their feet (roots) wet or dry. Is this plant suited for the intense heat of the afternoon sun, or would it be better planted elsewhere to give it shade and protection? Do we not show this very same consideration for our husbands in caring for them and their needs as well? Absolutely! We wouldn’t just throw them a plate of food without giving some consideration to his needs and requirements! Aimless wandering? Oh no, no!

Another consideration - and one that a wife does need to be tuned in to - is the mowing of the lawn; specifically, whether or not the plants you have lovingly laid into the soil will be mowed over by a husband who is really only thinking of getting the yard work done in time to watch “the game” at 1 p.m.! I have lost many a precious plant due to this so called “mishap”. Did Blaine really not realize that the rare bulb sprouting up from the ground - or the hard to start & grow Clematis vine that was so heinously attacked by the weed whacker - were actually not weeds at all? Mishap?

Ohhhh, I think not! In fact, most of those 4,723 things that my husband - who loves and is as devoted to me as I am to him - mentioned earlier are actually re-plantings of the very things that he mowed over and weed whacked away in the first place, despite my attempts to mark them with bright red and yellow tags. And that “dead looking stick” that he is so quick to assume is not alive will soon grow into a beautiful River Birch Tree that will grace our yard with years of beauty and much needed shade.

So you see, I do give great consideration for Blaine and his soon-to-be beautiful domain. I would never think of taking over this area with my…what was that again? Little grub-hooks? Would these be the same “little grub-hooks” that so lovingly and devotedly take care of you?! Hmmm…

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Funny Meeting You Here

I had a really weird experience this past weekend.

On Saturday, I was part of a Home School Book Sale that was held in the community center at our local park here in Liberty. This was a very small affair; there were only about 7 vendors there in the first place, and I use the term “vendor” very loosely.

One of the vendors, for instance, was a local family selling used books. I was also there as a “vendor” with my 2 books and back issues of Making It Home magazine for sale. Maybe 35 people attended over the course of the day (and at least 15 of those were children accompanying their parents).

By noon, the “mad rush” was over, and I was thinking about packing up and going home except that at 1:00 p.m. a small group was going to discuss homeschooling through high school, and Catherine wanted to join them.

So here’s the situation: It’s about 1:30 p.m. and I’m at the tail end of a small event that only a few people even knew about in the first place. It’s being held in a relatively secluded building in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere (or barring that, certainly well off the beaten path). I’m just sitting there at my table, reading a book and killing time. Other than us “vendors”, the place is deserted.

All of a sudden I look up to see a woman standing at my table. She’s the only one there, and I didn’t see her come in.

She’s looking at the sign I had made for my book What So Proudly We Hailed, which pretty clearly describes it as an Orwellian, “dystopian future” kind of novel.

We strike up a conversation, and she asks me if I’ve ever seen Aaron Russo’s film “America: Freedom to Fascism”. I said yes, although it’s been 2 ½ years since I watched it.

Then she says, “I’m Marci Brooks, the juror”.

And my jaw dropped.

If you’re not familiar with “America: Freedom to Fascism”, part of it highlighted a court case in Illinois or Indiana (my memory fails me) in which a man was brought to trial for failing to pay Federal income tax. His defense sounded almost ridiculous: there was no law that said he had to pay income tax.

The amazing thing though, is that he was right! As incredible as it may sound, the prosecution could not show the jury that there was any law in existence that said the man had to pay income tax, and since there was no law to break, he had committed no crime. The jury acquitted him.

Marci was on that jury, and Aaron Russo interviewed her for the documentary.

And now here she was at this little nothing event out in the sticks talking to me. Funny who you bump into in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, she’s moving here to Casey County. How interesting.

So what does that mean? I have no idea. But you have to admit, it’s kind of weird. Some people might call it a “strange coincidence”, but since I don’t believe in coincidences, all I can think of is that God is up to something. He’s moving people around where He wants them to be, and there’s a reason for it, even if I don’t know what it is yet.

I have a feeling though, that I’m going to find out. Maybe sooner, maybe later. But eventually.

For a man with a completely boring life, mine sure is interesting.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I came across an interesting article this morning about a man arrested for devising a bartering program which used real silver as a method of exchange. According to the article (Asheville man charged in alleged Liberty Dollar fraud scheme), over 70 local businesses agreed to take part.

There's just one problem with this; it is illegal for precious metals (silver, gold, etc.) to be used as a medium of currency, and even though the program was using the coins as “barter” and not “legal tender”, some toes were getting stepped on.

The best quote from the article:

“People understand that there is only one legal currency in the United States,” said Owen Harris, special agent in charge of the Charlotte office of the FBI. “When groups try to replace the U.S. dollar with coins and bills that don't hold the same value, it affects the economy.

“Consumers were using their hard-earned money to buy goods and services, then getting fake change in return.”

There are three things that jump out to me in that quote. The first is the phrase stating that 1 ounce silver coins “don't hold the same value” as Federal Reserve Notes. It’s a very true statement, because they don’t hold the same value; silver is actually worth something (and always will be).

Secondly is the statement that “it affects the economy”. It certainly does; it puts real money in the hands of real people. Real money that won’t lose value and cannot be manipulated by untouchable, unaccountable entities (i.e., the Federal Reserve, corporate entities, banks, etc.).

Third is the statement that customers were “getting fake change in return”. You just have to laugh at this one. Silver, a precious metal that cannot be created out of thin air is “fake”; a piece of paper that is worth nothing and can be created in any quantity on a whim is “real”.

I won’t give you my conclusions as to why gold & silver can’t be used as currency; if you have any amount of concern & curiosity you can easily figure it out for yourself. And if you're more concerned with who will be kicked off American Idol this week, what would be the point of telling you at all?

What’s interesting to me about this incident is what precedent it sets for “bartering” in the future. We know that we can’t use silver and gold as currency. With this incident we now know that we can’t use silver and gold for “barter”. How far down does the line get drawn?

I raise chickens. You have a milk cow. I need milk. You need eggs. Can I still trade 2 dozen of my eggs for a gallon of your milk?

Maybe for now. I mean, seriously, how could anyone stop us from doing that?

Depending on what happens with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the years to come, the answer may be that you & I simply don’t have any chickens or cows to barter with at all.

We’d both have to buy our milk & eggs. With legal currency, of course.

That may sound a little extreme, but then again, I’m sure there was a time when people would have laughed at you if you’d told them that there would come a day when gold & silver couldn’t be used as money.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Last weekend, as we’ve done for the past 3 years, our church youth group participated in World Vision’s “30 Hour Famine”.

The program has two main objectives: 1) to raise money to help feed starving children, and 2) to raise the awareness in our youth of what “hunger” really is, or, at least to give them a vague idea of it.

From noon on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, the kids (and the adult volunteers) don’t eat anything. We can have as much water or Gatorade as we want, but no food. We take the kids out to a nearby camp where they build boys & girls shanty-towns out of cardboard boxes. Then they sleep on the ground in their cardboard shelters.

To pass the time, we keep the kids busy with exercises and activities. We have devotions and read scripture. We sit around a campfire with no hotdogs or s’mores. We share the statistics:

26,000 children dead every day from hunger & malnutrition . . .
1,100 children every hour . . .
1 child every 3 seconds . . .

It’s a worthwhile exercise, and by late Saturday afternoon everyone is feeling the effects from the activity, heat, and lack of food & sleep: Fatigue. Headaches. Stomach cramps. Hunger.

Just a taste of what it feels like. A few little sprinkles on the tongue.

The difference is, we know it will all end at 6 o’clock. We know there will be a buffet of food waiting for us to gorge upon. We know that a cool shower, clean clothes, and Tylenol are right around the corner. We know we will sleep in our comfortable beds in air conditioned luxury.

And we know that in a few days, we will forget all about it for another year.

Every time we do this I’m reminded of the photograph below:

If by chance you’re not familiar with it, the photo shows a starving Sudanese girl trying to make it to a United Nations food camp. The vulture is waiting for her to die so it can eat her. The photographer, Kevin Carter, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for the photograph. He committed suicide a few months later.

I think we can accept the concept of starving children because we don’t have to see them suffer or bury them when they die. Thinking about them interferes with our lives and what we want to do. We don’t like that. It’s uncomfortable.

But what if we did have to see them? What if we did have to bury them? Would we feel any differently then?

1 child every 3 seconds . . .

I think we can accept war because it is not us who has to die. We can accept a million abortions a year because we don’t have to see the mangled bodies of the infants. We can accept torture because it is not us who feels the pain.

We can accept all of these things – and a host of other atrocities – simply because we don’t have to deal with them ourselves.

But what if we did?

I make no judgments except against myself.