Run for the Hills, or we’ll be up to our Armpits in Swine!

I had a strong and bemused reaction when I read this on Tuesday.

My reaction was something like this: It’s the flu!! Why do we need policing???

Actually, the answer to the second is readily apparent to me. Policing…or, what this New York Times piece dubs “ad hoc” policing, is necessary because of the actions in question: people are becoming forceful and deceptive in order to be vaccinated against the popular demon of our season: Swine Flu. Which brings me back to my initial reaction: it’s the flu!! Seriously! Why does the public at large feel so pressured to be protected from it?

The answer to that is the media frenzy. What began as a few isolated cases dealt a problematic blow in certain areas of our country and the world. The confusing part of this story is that, as I understand it, more people die from the seasonal flu each year than have died from the Swine Flu so far. So, did the media just need ratings? Did this lead them to create a crisis, to blow everything so out of proportion that everyone, including the President, jumped on the pandemic paranoia train? Or, did some federal agency need an influx of funding that reimbursement for a vaccine in mass quantities would produce?

Wait…is there some sort of tracking chemical in this vaccine that the government can use to monitor us…thus the pressure for everyone to be vaccinated?

Okay, okay…that last one was a bit paranoid. In all seriousness, though, I’ve referenced before the pressure I’ve felt to receive the vaccine. Technically, I fall into a high-risk category, because I work in health care. I’m not worried, though, not even when my wife felt slightly under the weather today. I watch my dietary intake, I wash my hands, I take care of myself. I don’t need the virus injected into me to prevent me from getting it…that’s just sort of counter-intuitive in my mind.

Whatever the malicious motivation or sequential stupidity behind this event, however, it is difficult to not fall where my friend Christina did in her comment on my last post about Swine Flu, when she stated that “someone has an agenda.” Crowds all around the country are lying, cheating, and panicking to receive a vaccination against a strand of an illness with which our country (and the world) deals each year, convinced that their lives will be more at jeopardy than usual if they don’t. We wonder at why this is happening. I don’t think we need to look very far.

Photo Credit:

Creating or Consuming?

I read this article over the weekend. An interesting observation overall, but what grabbed my attention primarily was its closing assertion that our culture, with the phenomenon of Web 2.0, is becoming one of creators instead of simply consumers.

I can’t help but think of my arrival home from work this evening. I wanted to write something. Truly, I did. So much easier, however, was taking in content from my RSS feeds and streaming some CNN. By the time I needed to leave to keep a coffee and study appointment, I had generated nothing more than a tweet or two, and in fact had little motivation to log into this blog now.

So, I’m left to ponder: are we in fact a culture of creators? If so, does our creating rival or surpass our consuming? And, perhaps more importantly, what exactly constitutes creating?

My day is saturated with consumption. The amount of real-time data I track, as well as the “entertainment” media I watch and read, takes up a significant amount of my time and mental energy. Of course, there is a significant amount of data I’m required to take in and process in the course of my work day, as well. Comparatively, I spend a much smaller percentage of my time producing content than I do taking it in, because, in an information-based culture, taking in information is the equivalent to surviving.

From the Web 2.0 standpoint, we are in fact a culture of creators, where we all have the ability and typically the inclination to place content of various mediums out there for at least those close to us to see. Everyone is a potential journalist, author, musician or videographer who will reach an audience of some size through the web. This is now a given. So, I suppose the more accurate description, as opposed to attempting to differentiate between consumers or creators, would be to say that we are a culture of creators as well as consumers.

This is critical for the creative spirits lurking within us, because one has to know what good material looks like in order to produce it. Good writers are active readers. Good actors are those who have seen many plays. Good artists are those who are conversant with what’s being shown out there…the list could go on.

The quality of what we’re producing, however…that could be questionable. Do we want every author to have their novels published, every passer-by to have journalistic endeavors, every sax player to have a world-wide audience? Does this reduce the quality of our art, or does it simply give all of it equal footing so that, fulfilling our role as consumers, we have the opportunity to decide amongst all of the material what is quality and what is not? Do we even have the right to do so? Is one’s trash another’s treasure?

Today, I read The New York Times‘ story that CNN has fallen behind in ratings of news outlets. The story attributes this to the fact that the public wants opinion about the news more than they want the news. I’m disturbed by this at a different level. Opinion has its place, and the value of weighing others’ opinions is indispensable. However, one must know the facts before one can weigh opinions on any given matter. Is our ability to publish our own opinions so readily part of what leads up to this?

At the end of the day, is this a cultural trend that will harm our standards more than help them?

I don’t know. But I’m curious to know your opinions.

Charitable (?) Contributions

I’ll always remember him as the sort of “everyman” office worker of yesteryear that had his own name applied to the title of the show. That sort of thing makes you unforgettable. Drew Carey brought many laughs my way, and I’m sure your way as well, with his comedic television ventures, and, while I no longer subscribe to the dinosaur that is cable television, it is my understanding that Carey now hosts The Price Is Right.

What drew my attention to Drew of late, however, was his promise that, if he gained one million followers on Twitter within a specified time frame, that he would donate $1 million dollars to Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation. I followed him…why not? LIVESTRONG is certainly a worthy cause, and if someone is going to donate such a significant amount of money to a worthy charity, then I’m all for helping it happen.

There’s just one little thing, though, that, as you might have guessed, troubles me.

I suppose its the same premise that troubles me with ventures like Product Red, that a portion of the proceeds from the purchases of anything from clothing to coffee to cell phones goes to AIDS relief for African countries. Again, I’m all for purchasing products with Red designations in order to be of financial benefit to very worthwhile charities. I think it noble that organizations are willing to further awareness and contribute to being part of the solution to a problem that robs others of quality of life.

My problem, however, remains, and it is this: why can’t they just do it?

If someone has $1 million dollars, and is inclined to donate this amount of money to a worthwhile charity, why place conditions on that donation? Is it to provide a way out, the potential that they won’t have to actually part with the money…sort of like when you consider taking part of your Christmas bonus and spending it on that new (fill in the blank) as a gift for yourself? Why can’t an organization or an individual simply make the donation, getting the needed financing for these worthwhile causes into play sooner? Make it public and noisy, if it is publicity for the cause that you seek, but I fear that, instead, it is publicity for one’s self.

We love our stuff so much. We equate our financial success with our perceived security in life. Even when giving to others, we desire recognition for doing so. In short, we find it next to impossible to be actually and fully concerned for the well-being of others unless there’s something in it for us, be it profit or popularity.

I wonder if we would even need these charities if all of us were to suddenly find ourselves with the Divinely-given capability to place the needs of others before our own, to place fellow humans before our profit?

Being too pessimistic to think that will happen, I’ll follow Carey on Twitter, and I’m sure I’ll buy more Red products in the future, as well. I just really wish that we didn’t have to.

Photo Attribution:

Don’t Panic!

Could they push this any harder?

The pressure to receive the vaccine for the dreaded Swine Flu has reached a peak in my professional life. So far, I’ve been the subject of an email blitz, posters of a sick fictitious office worker lamenting her decision to decline the flu vaccine on the door of the men’s room, an online survey in which I had to declare whether or not I intended to receive the vaccine, and today questioning by phone of whether or not I intended to receive the vaccine.

For crying out loud!

See, the issue is that, having worked in health care for nearly a decade, I’ve always had the flu vaccine available to me at no cost. I always took advantage of that, seeing it as a sort of fringe benefit. For several years, I developed an upper respiratory infection. This always seemed to strike right around Christmastime, but it happened every winter reliably; one of the reasons I hated winter. I had grown accustomed to dealing with this.

One year, the flu vaccine shipped late, and the flu season was well underway by the time it was available. Not seeing the point of receiving the vaccine that late in the game, I skipped it. I didn’t have a respiratory infection that year. I’ve never taken the flu vaccine since. I’ve never suffered the infection since. Coincidence? I’m thinking not.

The Swine Flu has certainly wreaked its havoc, but, as best I can tell, more people die each year from other strains of the flu as have died from the Swine Flu. Really, this is the flu! We’ve been dealing with this for centuries, and we choose to get excited about it now?

Surely this has nothing to do with the shock-value media that we like to call journalism in America, does it? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’m curious about how excited everyone would be about the Swine Flu if the media hadn’t made such a huge production of images such as people walking around with breathing masks on (which experts will tell you are not effective for protecting healthy people), and sensationalizing reports of fatalities from this specific strain of the flu without drawing comparison to other strains of the flu.

Sort of like how I wonder if the economic recession we’ve recently suffered would have been as severe if the media hadn’t all but initiated a panic about the situation for the world to see. I’m sure that had a great impact on their ratings, but perhaps not so much on our economic, not to mention psychological, well-being.

During my brief venture into journalism, I learned that reporting is to be fair and objective, focusing on the facts, presenting the information for the reader/viewer to decide. Placing the writer’s perspective into the story was to be reserved for Op-Ed pieces. I wonder what’s happened to that? I wonder how much our thoughts are controlled by the media we trust to bring us the information from our neighborhoods and the world? I wonder how much of the news is conveniently spun for the advantage of those trusted media outlets at times? At the end of the day, I wonder if we’ve misplaced our trust?

As for the flu season, I’m not going to be pressured into taking a vaccine. I recognize that all flu can be dangerous, and I’m going to deal with that danger the same way I have for years: watching my diet, washing my hands, living a healthy lifestyle. I’m not going to wear a mask. And I think everything will be just fine.

Photo Attribution:

What, When, Where, and the Lack of Anything Else

This post runs the risk of not letting well enough alone, but I just can’t help myself.

America’s public education system requires an extreme overhaul. The damage done by No Child Left Behind has been extensive, and is obvious to me even from the outside. My observations have been confirmed by several friends who are actually in the profession of teaching. The quality of public education, however, leaves me baffled. History is taught selectively, English is taught only for technical purposes and thus without a true love for the language, and math and the sciences reign supreme.

As I’m looking at doctoral programs and preparing to take the GRE, I’m abruptly struck by just how little math I actually remember. I’m also struck by the inaccuracy of every teacher through my early college years who claimed that I would use these skills every day of my life. I’m scratching my head as to why, with technology available to take care of things like balancing our checkbooks and calculating tips and splitting tax on receipts (the only things I use math for as a someone who is not a scientist or engineer), that such enormous emphasis is placed on numbers.

Yet, our students are required to become proficient in mathematics that at least half of them won’t have any constructive use for after college, and the sciences…well, all must fall before the altar of science, as it has become the new religion.

What leaves me bemused here is the gradual shift, based on a desperation to be competitive in the industrial world, to worship the “how” while ignoring the “why.” I’m not saying that math and the sciences aren’t important, they certainly are. They are important because they explain how things work, and give us a greater insight into the functions of our own bodies, our own psyches, our environment. They provide avenues for creativity by which new ways to master our environment are invented.

They stop, however, at the “how.”

As to the “why,” that is answered by the disciplines that are relegated to the background and barely given any educational attention because they don’t make money or produce industrialized goods. “Why” is for the realms of spirituality, the arts, and philosophy. These are the disciplines we at best tolerate as necessary for those unscientifically gifted, and at worst (in the case of spirituality) condemn as living in an unquantifiable fairy-land. More frequently we give those dedicated few who choose to seriously pursue these disciplines a nod of appreciation, and look forward to consuming the entertainment value of their work and study, while the rest of the world goes about the “important” work of furthering our industrialized progress.

In worshipping the “how” in this way, we’ve all but forgotten the “why.” We’ve replaced our search and innate desire to find the “why” with the material goods and so-called progress that our industrialized ventures yield, and believe them to be the “why,” failing to see that this industrialized obsession is exactly that which has cost us our ability to perceive the value of humanity.

Still, progress must be made, and so the “how” continues to be emphasized in educational reform legislation. The banner flying above the political slogans for educational reform invariably includes technology, math, and science, so that our students will grow to adulthood with the ability to solve complex calculus and apply it to engineering problems successfully, while being illiterate to Faulkner or Steinbeck or Salinger, and being unable to recognize the purpose of valuing poetry instead of technical manuals. As such, history will become suddenly malleable, able to be re-written with each new textbook revision because those who are well-read enough to know the difference will be such a small minority of a voice.

The past will be whatever they say it was, and we’ll be reduced to robots that are valued only for what we produce, not for who we are.

Oh, wait. We’re already there.