Friday, October 16, 2009

“Balloon Boy”: The News Media At Its Worst

News coverage exploded yesterday when it was believed that a young boy, Falcon Heene (AKA Balloon Boy) was thought to be flying high in giant Mylar balloon that was accidentally released from its mooring. Not only was the news coverage over the top, but also various emergency services pitched in to try to bring the balloon down and bring the boy to safety. When the balloon made it to the ground on its own, the boy was not in it. While some worried that the boy had fallen out, there were also many who felt that the boy was never in there to begin with. The latter turned out to be true – Balloon Boy was hiding in the attic at home , afraid because his father had yelled at him earlier in the day.

As I was watching some local news coverage on the matter – I had no choice, all the national and local news channels were full of it – and it was announced that the boy was found safe in his own home, one reporter commented that the whole matter seems to have been blown out of proportion, and asked “how did that happen?”

One answer to that question – The news media happened. The news media’s need to follow any story just to grab viewers, even before the story has played out, left them with no tragedy to cover and with a little egg on their faces. While I can certainly understand the parents concern for their child, there was no reason for every national and local news channel to provide literally blow-by-blow coverage as the balloon sailed overhead.

It was no surprise that the family showed up on the morning news shows today. But. as live TV can sometimes be unpredictable, it was a little surprising to see Balloon Boy upchuck right on camera on The Today Show. While the camera pulled back, his father Richard didn’t seem to miss a beat. Rumors abound that the whole incident was a publicity stunt, which Richard Heene denies. (Update October 18 - it has been ruled that the whole incident was, in fact, a hoax.)

If the parents made police and other rescue people think that their son was in the balloon, I am not going to criticize the involvement of other people who were attempting to rescue him. I do think that the kid vomiting on national television during an interview may indicate that the kid is under stress from the situation and while mommy and daddy may want all the media attention, the Balloon Boy may not.

But the real “suckers” here are members of the news media, who seemed all too eager to cover the story, almost if they were hoping for the worst ending possible – a balloon crash with the boy inside. While Balloon Boy’s suspected plight was unusual, it wasn’t a threat to 99.9999% of the population and did not deserve such extensive TV coverage. Maybe next time, the national news media should wait until a story like this actually plays out before they give it so much air time, especially for a story that affects so few people.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize – Why The Fuss?

With the recent announcement that President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, some people were incensed at the news, saying that Obama has done nothing to deserve it. Some also seemed to blame Obama for the award, which is just plain silly, seeing that he didn’t ask for it nor did he award it to himself.

Personally, I am thrilled that he will receive this recognition. Some pundits have commented that the simple fact that he was not George W. Bush put Obama on the top of the list. I think it is much more than that. Looking back to his July 2008 speech that he gave in Berlin, Germany, before he was elected, he was greeted by a massive throng and his words moved many people. His winning of the presidential election was a result of a huge number of Americans saying that they wanted change. His style has inspired many differing peoples inside the Unites States and in other parts of the world. He has brought respectability back to the people of the United States.

To those that say he hasn’t done anything yet, they are partly right. He didn’t sit by and watch the economy tank, as did the Bush administration. He didn’t get us into a war in the Middle East without having a clear strategy to facilitate the transfer of power in Iraq or without having an exit strategy, as in the Bush administration. He didn’t destabilize the oil market by a war, as did the Bush Administration. He didn’t create the Patriot Act, which threatens the freedoms of Americans, as did the Bush Administration. I could go on, but you get the idea of all the things that President Obama did not do. Of course, this only gives more credence to those who believe that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because he stands for everything that the Bush administration was not. But I believe that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has inspired many around the world, and has brought hope that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who has the gift of communication that may help bring people together.

According to the Nobel Prize web site, Obama received the award "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Sure, it does not mean that we have instant world peace, but it is a step in the right direction.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Candy Plus Kids Equals Violent Adults? The Faulty Math

A recent report from the British Journal of Psychiatry says parents who use sweets as a bartering tool with their children may prevent them from learning patience, which could lead to violence and delinquency. The study, led by Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in Violence and Society Research at Cardiff University in the U.K, followed and analyzed 17,500 children born in 1970. They discovered that 69% of participants who were violent had eaten sweets nearly every day during their childhood.

I have problems with studies such as this, because they seem to compartmentalize diet and behavior and then use one of the components on which to hang their findings.

Here are some questions that I have for those who conducted the study:

How many of those same people drank milk as a child? If they all did, could one say that drinking milk as a child makes some of them violent?
What was their overall diet like? Could something else in their diet have contributed to violent behaviors?
How many of these people had divorced parents? What happens if that same 69% were children of divorce parents, could one say that the divorce led the children to violence?
How many grew up in middle class households?
How many of them watched cartoons?
How many of them went to school?
How many of these people were spanked as a child?
How man of them had parents that were college educated? Or had parents who both worked?
How many of them were not the only child?
How many of them ate sugar free foods rather than those made with real sugar?
How many watched sports on television?
How many got toys as Christmas gifts?
How many of them are brunettes?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When researchers take out only one piece of what is likely a complex set of events or activities and says that one thing is the cause of another, it seems to me that they are making the data fit their desired results. When the matter turns to behavioral issues, things can get dicey. It seems easy to blame one segment of a person’s life for his/her later bad behavior, but to do so may take away that person’s own responsibility for their own choices. A person’s behavior as an adult is likely the sum of many parts. Sure, there may be a few key elements of that person’s childhood that may shape what direction their adult life may take, but using sweets as a bartering tool seems to be one of those things that would be low on the list.

Sugar is not the villain, and neither are parents. As children grow up, they are influenced by many events and make many choices that set the tone for what kind of adults they will be. A person’s behavior is often the sum of many things, and as long as people have a freedom on choice, I’m not sure science will ever find the perfect equation to explain human behavior.

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