Jackson County Opinions...

August 1, 2001



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 1, 2001

Must Have Missed Something About West Nile Virus
America's newest imported threat to health and happiness is the West Nile virus, which is killing crows, hawks and other birds throughout the southeast.
That the virus is arriving at the same time as the federal tax rebate checks is a bothersome coincidence that, to me, suggests that the Democrats are up to no good again.
My medical expertise is somewhat less than my knowledge of quasars and black holes, which is to say I know that beer is of great use in flushing kidney stones. But the medical community seems to be telling us that the appropriate response to the West Nile virus is to panic, and the sooner the better.
Why else would the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention want to know whenever a bird dies? God, the Scriptures say, knows when a sparrow falls, but now the CDC wants that same level of knowledge ­ and the bodies too, apparently.
This level of panic has not been evidenced since threats of the great Y2K computer disaster sent millions of healthy computers to premature death. And why is this?
Quoting from the Associated Press, "West Nile virus appears first as a flu-like illness. But for patients most at risk ­ primarily the elderly and people with weak immune systems ­ it can cause deadly encephalitis, or swelling of the brain."
I must be missing something. Flu can and does kill the elderly and people with weak immune systems. Come to think of it, so can and do cars. No, the case-by-case reporting of West Nile virus in wildlife is unprecedented, especially given the fact that the same AP story quoting the CDC claims that "health hazards to humans are minimal, with most healthy individuals infected by the virus suffering no more than flu-like symptoms, including high fever, headache, sore throat and fatigue." If that is true, what is the big deal?
The virus is spread by mosquitoes. Get this advice from the CDC: "The best advice I have is not to get the mosquito bite in the first place."
That's akin to saying that the best way to avoid osteoporosis is to die young. You can't avoid mosquitoes if you go outside.
True, you can keep some of them from being born. I noticed squirming mosquito larvae in my dog's water dish recently, but with this year of (finally) normal rainfall, somehow I suspect that emptying the dish did not significantly reduce the mosquito population. Fly over Jackson County and you'll understand that emptying water dishes and bird baths regularly is not a substantial mosquito deterrent.
To avoid mosquito bites, one would have to stay indoors. Woe unto him who dares visit the golf course, go camping or even fishing, or who grills supper on the barbie without bathing first in Deet.
If it's not the Democrats, it's a plot by the chemical industry, which sees an opportunity. My Florida home town used to spend a lot of money spraying for mosquitoes during the summer, sending trucks out to put out a noxious fog that killed mosquitoes and probably more birds than the West Nile virus could ever kill.
There's profit in panic. Someone's going to make money on the West Nile virus.
Next week: death from gerbils.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
August 1, 2001

Local schools undergoing changes
When local public schools open their doors Thursday morning, so too will thousands of hopes and dreams be opened. Parents have hopes of academic or athletic success for their children while the kids have dreams about everything from straight A's to a date for the prom. Teachers and administrators have hopes of higher test scores and more funding.
Indeed, there is something refreshing about the dawn of a new school year. Anticipation seasoned by the bright and shining faces of kids gives new meaning to the phrase, "Hope springs eternal."
And so it is with this sense of hope that many in this community will once again puts their focus on public education and on what the local schools are doing to prepare our youth for the future.
That may seem like a simple task, but in reality, it is daunting. There is no simple way to set standards for public schools and no simple method to measure what standards do exist.
It has been our experience that, for the most part, local educators do the best they can given the inherent limitations of public schools. Saddled by hundreds of federal and state mandates, local school administrators and teachers sometimes walk a tenuous line between doing what is best for a student, or violating some obscure mandate handed down from on high.
Compounding those problems is the huge transition taking place within our local public schools. The growth in numbers, as reported elsewhere in this newspaper, is just one part of the picture.
But perhaps even more challenging for school leaders is the growth in expectations of students and their parents.
When this county was smaller and mostly agricultural, there was a more homogenous student population whose expectations, while not identical, were generally within the same sphere. And since many of the students were sons and daughters of alumni, expectations were often limited.
Today, that is changing dramatically. Students from a huge range of social and economic backgrounds are brought together in the classroom. That diversity of needs and expectations is bringing new pressure on school leaders which goes far beyond the need to build new classrooms.
Those changes may be unsettling to some whose experience with other schools has been limited. There is, unfortunately, a sense of complacency among some parents and school leaders who see little need to change the way education services are delivered.
But we embrace many of those changes, not because what was done in the past was wrong, but rather because our community cannot afford to be educationally stagnant in a world where competition is keen.
We have high hopes for the future of these boys and girls and we have high expectations that this county will make the changes needed to meet their needs.
We should settle for nothing less.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 1, 2001

Ban other items before car phones
The "brain" scientists are at it again. In a new study, scientists have concluded that people can't do two things at a time, like drive a car and talk on a cell phone.
"The brain appears to have a finite amount of space for tasks requiring attention," said an article about the study, which used MRI images of the brain to track how people were thinking while doing two tasks at once. The report is being used to back efforts by state legislatures to ban talking on a cell phone while driving.
Now I'm not one to quibble with MRI brain images, but you have to wonder if this is just another attack by urbanites on the suburbs where cell phones are as ubiquitous as SUVs and soccer moms.
First, urban elitists wanted to take our SUVs because they guzzle gas and don't look as good as a ragged-out 1976 Toyota covered with "Save the Whales" bumper stickers.
Next, the urbanites wanted to stop building highways in the suburbs so we would be forced to move to high-density housing in the city. It seems suburban land use is aesthetically unappealing to women who don't shave their legs or armpits.
Those ideas didn't work, of course, because suburban dwellers are too busy going to soccer games and talking on cell phones to care what city slickers think.
But this new effort to ban car phones might just stir up an otherwise docile suburban populace. Can't you see the following bumper sticker on every white minivan in the suburbs: "They'll Take My Cell Phone From My Cold Dead Hands!"
I don't doubt, of course, the scientific validity of the study. I've long suspected that humans aren't designed to do two things at once, such as listening to one's wife while watching a Braves game.
But before we ban car phones, shouldn't we ban other distractions in the car first? Here's my list of activities that should be banned while driving:
· Putting on makeup. This is a no-brainer to anyone who has witnessed the millions of women who put on their makeup while driving to work in the mornings. It is not possible to apply eyeliner and lipstick while operating a 2,500 lb. chunk of steel in traffic and drive with your knee.
· Reading a book. I'm always amazed by the large number of people who read books while cruising down the Interstate. Most look to be middle-aged salesmen who are traveling from one state to another and have nothing better to do than read. Haven't these guys heard about audio tapes?
· Listening to music. I'd like to see the MRI of a brain listening to some of today's music, especially the thump-thump-thump from a car you hear coming five blocks away. I swear my heart stopped beating once from the pressure wave of one of those mobile boom-boxes.
· Talking to children in the back seat. OK, those who have children know what I'm talking about. It's impossible to keep a car on the road when you're turning around to yank a knot in a child who just hit his brother because he stole a toy Lego that was sitting in the middle of the back seat....well, you get the drift.
· Having sex. This being a family newspaper, I won't go into details, but some of my sources swear people actually do this while driving 80 mph down the road. That idea gives a new meaning to wearing clean underwear in case you have a wreck.
· Eating food. Now, I'm as guilty of this as anyone else. But if we can't talk and drive, then how can we eat and drive? Don't both use the same jaw muscles?
· Argue with your spouse. I know this is a rare event in most relationships, but if we can't talk on a cell phone and drive without distraction, how can we have a reasonable difference of opinion over the last wrong turn? Anyway, what would spouses do in a vehicle if they weren't second-guessing both the driving style of their mate and the overall direction of travel?
· Read a map. It just makes sense that if you can't talk and drive, you shouldn't consult a map to see if you're lost while driving. Leave Rand McNally at home and make a WAG as to where you are.
According to my list, before we ban cell phones from cars, we should ban makeup, books, music, children, sex, food, spouses and maps.
Hmm. Maybe I'll just move to the city and live in a high-rise, sell my car and take public transportation everywhere I go.
I'll call you on the cell phone and let you know how that all works out.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
August 1, 2001

Flag Amendment: One More Try With Bad Idea
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling for an amendment to protect the American flag from desecration. It will take the U.S. Senate to either make the resolution a potential amendment or to kill the silliness for the time being.
As Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, observed, such an amendment "elevates a symbol of freedom over freedom itself."
Most people say they abhor seeing the flag desecrated, but passage of only the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution will not stop the worst desecration of our flag. It would provide a means of stopping the rare but highly publicized cases in which flags are burned or defiled by citizens protesting some American action, thus putting some limits on the first and most important constitutional amendment, which is the right to free speech.
The greater desecration to the American flag occurs every day and is done by many who would love to jail someone who burns a flag. The flag is desecrated every time a politician wears a tie or other article of clothing containing the stars and stripes. It is desecrated whenever a business uses it for advertising. It is desecrated by people who hoist a flag and leave it in all kinds of weather so it becomes faded and torn.
These forms of desecration happen 365 days a year in every community all over the nation and nobody cares; the burning of a flag in protest takes place only occasionally. But if H.J. Resolution 36 were to become law, only the people desecrating the flag in protest would be prosecuted, whereas those desecrating it for profit or politics would be ignored.
The amendment is bad law and careless politics. It would diminish the most important freedom Americans enjoy while ignoring the most common and harmful kinds of abuse to the flag.


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