Friday, May 1, 2009

Putting The Hype In Hyperbole

So, as you probably long ago figured out, I tend to be a little bit cynical. I don’t believe everything I hear. It might have something to do with having a father who has bought into more than a few conspiracy theories, but, for whatever reason, I’m pretty skeptical about most things.

What bugs me most is how quickly things get blown out of proportion. Government agencies (in my humble opinion) overreact. News organizations (in my humble opinion) over-report. And then the rumors start flying. Just take a look at the traffic on Twitter this past week! Everyone becomes Chicken Little!

Let me give you a few examples:

“If you don’t have to go out, stay at home!”Every time there is a bit of snow on the ground the Portland TV stations go on full “end of the world” coverage and repeat that phrase over and over.

“We can’t let big banks fail!” And what’s the worst that would happen if they did fail? Would we have to pour trillions of dollars into the economy to save us from financial ruin? Oh wait, we did that anyway!

“This Blazer team is a heckuva lot like the World Champion team back in 1977.”Yeah, uh, except for not making it past the first round . . .

“Waterboarding is not torture!”You mean except for the screaming and panic and the water filling the lungs thing.

“If we don’t (insert your choice of phrase here), the terrorists will have won!”Oddly enough, in spite of our best efforts to keep them as ticked off as possible, they still have not won. And if you think they did, what was the final score, anyway?

I had all that in mind a week ago, when I first heard about the swine flu outbreak in Mexico. I thought, “Sure, this is tragic for the families who lost loved ones and tough on those who have been pretty dang sick, but an epidemic? Really?”

In Mexico lots of people are staying at home. Kids not going to school. No one in church last Sunday. Even more shocking, no one at Plaza Mexico, the country’s premier bull fighting ring. (And the first and last place I will ever watch a bull fight. Yeesh!)

In Egypt all the pigs are headed to the slaughterhouse. Everyone I have ever met from the Middle East has struck me as extremely intelligent, but unless their relationships with pigs are a bit more unusual than I imagine, I’m thinking they may be overreacting just a tad.

In the U.S. schools are closed and being sanitized. (As if the bleach ain’t gonna make ‘em all sicker). And, of course, there are thousands and thousands of people in hospitals across the nation hanging on for their very lives! Oh wait. How many? 109? And the majority of them are recovering at home? Hmmm . . .

According to the World Health Organization, yesterday the number of confirmed swine flu cases around the world climbed to 236, a day after they warned that swine flu was threatening to bloom into a pandemic and notched up their alert status to the second highest level.

What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic anyway? The textbook definition of “Epidemic” is: a sudden outbreak of a virus that is spreading rapidly and affecting many people at the same time. A “Pandemic” is: an epidemic (a sudden outbreak) that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, a continent or (cue dramatic music here) The World!

So, let’s see, the current world population stands at just under 6,777,000,000 and a whopping 236 people have the swine flu? That doesn’t seem like much of an epidemic, let alone a full blown (cue dramatic music here) World Wide Pandemic! That means I have a 1 in 28,716,102 chance of having the swine flu? I’ll take those odds any day! I’m breathing easy! No face masks for me! Woo hoo!

Okay, I take it a bit more seriously than that – and I really don’t think the WHO or CDC are just a bunch of Chicken Littles. I understand that this is a new strain of flu virus, and that few people, if any, have resistance to it AND that it’s managed to find its way to more than one continent.

So, I’m thinking about making a few changes. Whaddya think about these?

* I know I should quit coughing on the salad bar at Izzy’s.
* I know I should quit licking the keyboards on other people’s workstations when they’re not looking.
* I know I should wash my hands with soap & water instead of just of just wiping ‘em on my pants.
* I know I should be using anti-bacterial sanitizers even though they lead to resistance in bacteria (though viruses are the issue at hand) but it just tastes so bad and burns my throat! Blecch!

One of my favorite books / movies is The World According to Garp. There is a scene in it that I just love. Garp (played by Robin Williams) and his wife have just walked through a home they’re interested in buying. They are standing outside with the realtor when they hear the low hum of a small airplane. They look up just in time to see it crash into the second story of the house. The pilot gets out of the plane, says he’s okay and at that point, Garp turns to the realtor and says: “We’ll take it! What are the odds that anything like that is ever gonna happen to this house ever again? It’s disaster proof!”

That’s how I feel about a lot of things in life. What are the odds I will get gunned down in a drive by shooting? Or mugged in New York? Or hit by lightning? Or get struck down by the swine flu? As of now, it’s 1 in 28,716,102.

In the meantime, here’s what I suggest for the rest of you: It’s the swine flu! Everybody panic! Run for your lives!
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