Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Court of Public Opinion Shows Its Dark Side in Ferguson, Missouri

The death of Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri has ignited a firestorm of debate in the media and in social media. Things became even worse when yesterday the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for any criminal charges in Michael Brown’s death. Everyone has an opinion as to how justice should have been served, but everybody was not at the scene at the time Wilson shot Brown. Only the grand jurors saw all the facts of the case, yet people who were not there at the time of the incident nor who sat on the grand jury seem to think they know better.

In addition to the furor over the outcome of the grand jury, there were people peacefully protesting in Ferguson (and in other cities). Peaceful protests are a good thing and can help to bring change. But these protests turned to rioting, looting, vandalism, the burning of business, and more. How many of the people engaging in the non-peaceful activities actually live in Ferguson is not known, but it is suspected that many engaging in the violet behavior are simply opportunists taking advantage of the unrest.

This whole situation is sad in more ways than one.

Social media is a wonderful thing where people can share information. But social media can also spread misinformation. Television and print media also has contributed to fanning the flames by their continuous coverage and debate on the issue when they do not have all the facts. I think it is perfectly fine to discuss and debate situations like this but we have to stop trying cases in the media and having the court of public opinion pass judgment. While the public has an appetite for as much information as possible, it is simply not fair for the public to condemn anyone – either Michael Brown or Darren Wilson in this situation – before all the facts can be presented using the due process of the law.

There is no excuse for rioting, looting, vandalism etc. It sickens me that hard working people who had nothing to do with the Brown/Wilson incident have had their business destroyed. I hope that those people arrested for this behavior face the full force of the law.

There will always be questions when a police officer shoots another person, regardless of who is shot and who is did the shooting. And there SHOULD be. I’ve always been under the opinion that shooting to kill should be the last resort, but I also understand that police officers are often faced with split second life or death decisions. While police officers are not perfect, there isn’t any human being out there that is. In order for justice to be served, the court of public opinion is not the best place to try a case.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the New York Times with all the Ferguson Case grand jury documents.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,
The Frequent Critic, here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tiny Terrorists: Viruses and Bacteria

An outbreak of Ebola in Liberia. A toxic algae bloom creating bacteria which poisoned the water supply in Toledo Ohio with microcystin . These two topics made national news this past week, causing terror in people both internationally and regionally. Both situations were caused by tiny microbes that are invisible to the naked eye.

It is understandable why these news stories can cause  intense fear. It’s hard to fight something that one can’t see. The thought of the spread of Ebola can be particularly frightening to some because as of right now, the mortality rate is very high (reportedly near 90%) and there is no sure cure or vaccine. The 400,000 people in the Toledo, Ohio area without water for several days had to wonder if the contamination in the water could be fixed and if their water would be usable again. The millions of people who live on the shores of Lake Erie in the United States and Canada also had reason to be concerned as the problem could potentially affect the entire region.

But there is no need for panic. There is, however, a need for action.

Work is underway to both contain the spread of Ebola in the outbreak area. The experimental medication used on one of the Ebola patients who was brought back to Atlanta Georgia for care does bring a glimmer of hope. Ebola is not an airborne pathogen, and is transmitted by bodily fluids, so as long as great care is taken while caring for the sick, the risk of spreading the virus is low. The danger with Ebola is that one may not know they have been infected, with the incubation period taking between days and weeks. As the outbreak is concentrated in one area in Africa, people can simply avoid traveling in the region. My biggest concern is someone being infected traveling OUT of the area before they realize they are infected.

The toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie is a more immediate concern to me, but still should not panic anyone. The algae problem in Lake Erie has been an ongoing problem for many years. I live in Northeast Ohio only miles from the Lake Erie shores, and the area gets a lot of drinking water from the central basin of Lake Erie, not near Toledo.  But the concern over the algae affecting all the basins of Lake Erie is real. The algae growth continues to explode due to fertilizer and sewage runoff into Lake Erie primarily from the agricultural areas in the western end of the state of Ohio. The problem became serious in Toledo as their water is drawn from the shallowest end of the lake, and unusual weather conditions pushed the algae bloom westward and concentrated it even closer to the city’s water intakes. While weather was a factor, it is not the underlying problem. I can understand why no one wants to curb agriculture in Ohio, but clearly steps must be taken to stop using Lake Erie as an unlimited dumping ground for runoff from agriculture. Ohioans like me who live in more urban areas and get water from deeper areas of Lake Erie are safer but still not immune to the dangers of toxins from algae. Ohio legislators, working in tandem with those from Canada, should immediately work to place controls on what goes into the precious resource that is Lake Erie. Fertilizer runoff and sewage runoff may not seem as bad as the industrial pollutants which affected Lake Erie in the 1960s, but the effect is still the same. These agents are contributing to poisoning the lake and must be curbed or stopped.

These tiny terrorists - viruses and bacteria -  can only win if we let them. Human-made problems such as toxic algae blooms are fixable by humans. And even if a virus like Ebola can’t be completely eradicated right now, the best defense is a good offense. The worst thing we can do is panic.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,
The Frequent Critic, here.

Monday, April 28, 2014

“This Page Intentionally Left Blank” Is Intentionally Ridiculous

I know there are more important things in the world to complain about. But, for some reason, when I see a document with a page that is marked “This Page Intentionally Left Blank”, it annoys me to no end. I frequently see this phrase in legal documents, company annual reports/proxy statements, medical benefit summaries, etc. I understand that they don’t want someone to see a blank page and think that they are missing something, but really now, there has GOT to be a better way to do it other than printing “This Page Intentionally Left Blank” on it. Doing so means the page is now NOT BLANK. It make my head want to explode, the same way it feels when watching sci-fi on television when a paradox is encountered. How can a page be blank and NOT blank at the same time?  It can't - at least not in this universe, unless you are Doctor Who and are using your psychic paper.

Here are my suggestions for pages where one intends no information to be printed on a page (this also applies to the “this space intentionally left blank” statement for sections of a page where no printing is intended):

1. Put a big “X” on it.

2. Put a large “forward slash” on it

3. Substitute the phase “There’s nothing to see here, move along.”

4. Don’t leave it blank if it’s a page in the middle of a large document. Think of all the reams of paper you’d save.

5. Throw caution to the wind and LEAVE IT BLANK!

I understand that people who write legal documents, company annual reports/proxy statements, and medical benefits summaries think that the rest of the world is stupid, but I assure you that 99.99% of the population can understand a blank page. If you’re giving someone a complex document and that person can’t understand the concept of a blank page, that blank page is the least of your worries.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,
The Frequent Critic, here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The 1960s: Heroin Kills; 2014: Heroin Still Kills

When I was a young child in the 1960s, heroin use was always depicted in films as being a deadly addiction. Heroin users were shown living in the worst conditions, desperate people who would do anything for their next fix. It was a life that no one in their right mind would want. Those people who were in the entertainment industry who used heroin were shown as pathetic figures who wasted their talents and many times lost their life because they couldn’t resist the pull of the drug. The message was clear: Heroin kills.

In the 1980s, heroin users also had to worry about not only dying from the drug, but there was the new risk: contracting AIDS from shared needles.

Now, fifty years later from my childhood, heroin still kills, yet it seems that many have forgotten this.

It takes the death of well known actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman to brings this point to light.  Sadly,  many non-famous people are dying daily from heroin use but the media suddenly becomes concerned when a famous person dies from it. Likewise, New York City law enforcement promised quick action and again, I am sure many non-famous people have died in New York City from heroin but it isn’t until a high profile person dies does law enforcement promise to move quickly. Addiction can hit anyone, rich or poor, famous or not. We shouldn’t be any more shocked or saddened when a famous person dies from a drug overdose; it is a tragedy no matter who the addict.

In 2014,  as in the 1960s, heroin still kills. Now it is being made even more powerful, sometimes laced with fentanyl to give an even more intense high. Heroin is also cheap and in many places easily available. But the message should be clear: heroin is an indiscriminate killer.

I feel much sympathy for the families of addicts who have lost a loved one to an addiction. One has to remember that while support is needed to help an addict break the cycle, sometimes even doing all you can do will not be enough to keep an addict from their drug of choice. In the case of heroin, it’s the addict who decides to put the needle in his/her arm. But we also must remember that drugs can be a powerful pull and some users may not have the ability to stay away once they start. I view it as a behavioral or psychological disease, which are sometimes hard to fix. It is a sad and tragic situation for everyone involved.

The message I took from my childhood was that heroin is a killer and no one in their right mind should even consider starting to use it. Fifty years later, the simple message still applies: heroin won’t kill you if you never start using.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information,
The Frequent Critic, here.