Everyone Has an Opinion


The measles outbreak in Clark County, in the southwestern corner of the state of Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, has brought national attention to the beliefs of people who do not get some or all vaccinations for one reason or another, because vaccination rates in Clark County are far below the national average. The term many have come to apply to these people is “anti-vaxxer”, though it unfairly lumps everyone together, including people who are less against vaccines as they are for personal liberty, or who object on religious grounds. Since vaccination is a public health issue, however, the reasons for not getting vaccinated do not matter as much as the effects.


The history of the differing reasons for vaccine opposition goes back to the introduction of the smallpox vaccine, primarily by Edward Jenner, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England. The idea that to combat a disease a person should voluntarily introduce a weakened form of it into his or her body ran counter to reason. Vaccination methods of the time were far cruder than today, and since sterilization of wounds and bandages were little understood, infection often followed upon vaccination. The alternative was death or disfigurement from a full force smallpox infestation, and some religious folks actually expressed preference for that because it was “God’s will.”

Bracing for a short, sharp jab
In Merawi, Ethiopia, a mother holds her nine month old child in preparation for a measles vaccination. One in ten children across Ethiopia do not live to see their fifth birthday, with many dying of preventable diseases like measles, pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea. British aid has helped double immunization rates across Ethiopia in recent years by funding medicines, equipment, and training for doctors and nurses. Photo by Pete Lewis for the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).

Measles world map-Deaths per million persons-WHO2012
World Health Organization (WHO) 2012 estimated deaths due to measles per million persons, with bright yellow at 0, dark red at 74-850, and shades of ocher from light to dark ranging from 1-73. Gray areas indicate statistics not available. Map by Chris55.

Those who didn’t object to vaccination on grounds of cutting into a healthy body and introducing a light case of the disease or a bad case of infection, or of meddling in God’s will, objected to the perceived unnaturalness of the procedure since the vaccine ultimately came from cows infected with cowpox. To those people, introduction into the human body of something from an animal was unwholesome, even dangerous. Never mind that people do the same thing all the time when they eat meat, presumably from animals and not from other people, without the ill effects these folks foresaw, such as taking on the traits of animal whose parts were introduced directly into human flesh. On the other hand, perhaps they were taking the dictum “you are what you eat” to a logical extreme somehow unimpeded by the process of digestion.

It is probably best not to overload these viewpoints with the rigors of logic. People have their opinions, and they often do not bother to make the distinction between opinions and facts. The fact is that through vaccination programs, smallpox has been eradicated worldwide since the middle of the twentieth century, roughly 150 years after introduction of the vaccine. Similarly, measles in the United States disappeared around the turn of this century after nearly 50 years of vaccinations. About the time measles was going away in this country, in 1998 a doctor in England, Andrew Wakefield, published a report in the English medical journal The Lancet linking the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine to autism and bowel disorders, and though the findings in the report and Dr. Wakefield himself were soon repudiated by the majority of other medical professionals, some anti-vaxxers latched onto the link with autism and have been running with it ever since, regardless of the lack of evidence to support the link.


Measles US 1944-2007 inset
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics on U.S. measles cases (not deaths). Chart by 2over0.

The problem with anti-vaxxers of one stripe or another running with opinions mistaken for their own version of the facts is that vaccinations are needed most by vulnerable populations such as the very young, the very old, and people with suppressed immune systems. Infants cannot be vaccinated against measles at all. Many of these vulnerable people are in the position of having decisions made for them by responsible adults. In the case of children, that would be their parents, who of course have the best interest of their children at heart. The difficult point to get across to those parents is that in a public health issue involving communicable diseases, their decision not to vaccinate their children affects not only their children, but those other most vulnerable members of the greater society as well. Public health is a commons, shared by all, like clean water and clean air, and the tragedy of the commons is that a relatively few people making selfish decisions based on ill-informed opinions can have a ripple effect on everyone else. Personal liberty is a fine and noble ideal, but when it leads to poisoning of the commons then quarantine is the only option, either self-imposed or involuntary.
— Vita


The Nose Knows


“A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.”
― spoken by The Blue Fairy in the 1940 Disney film Pinocchio.

This coming Monday at 5pm, Supreme Leader has promised to announce the winners of the Fake News awards, according to him. Media personalities are lining up for the most prestigious of the Fakies awards, because to be called a liar by the biggest liar of them all is quite an honor. Stephen Colbert of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) talk program The Late Show has taken out an ad in New York City’s Times Square to promote himself and his show for Supreme Leader’s top honors. This is becoming a big deal.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend – that’s the operating principle here. To be called out for Fake News by the biggest liar in the country is not only praise of a kind, but an endorsement. And now Supreme Liar will be bestowing awards of some sort on the highest honorees, though what that might be he has not made clear yet. Suffice to say that any news organization would be satisfied with the honor alone because of the boost to their ratings or readership, never mind the additional prestige. This must have been what Supreme Egotist meant in his recent New York Times interview when he suggested the media needs him around for the re-election campaign in 2020 to boost their income.

Awards and trophies have been a part of western civilization for millennia, at least since the ancient Greeks gave out laurel wreaths and cash gifts to winning Olympic athletes. In the twentieth century, the awards and trophies business really took off since entertainment businesses in particular found out giving them away in publicized ceremonies was a great way to let the tasteless public know what publications, movies, television shows, what have you, had the imprimatur of good taste from supposed authorities within the business, raising more revenue from the public, who now knew how to impress their friends and neighbors when they bought culture.

The Big Brother Award from the United Kingdom based organization Privacy International. Near the end of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the representative of state power, O’Brien, says to the protagonist, Winston, “‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.'”

The Fakies, as proposed by Supreme Dotard, promise something a little off kilter from the usual awards bestowing because they will be more in line with the Razzies, an anti-award for bad movie making. But since the Razzies awarders do not take themselves or their task too seriously, there will still be a difference in solemnity between the granting of Razzies and that of Fakies, because the awarder of the latter prizes takes himself all too seriously, as do many of his more die hard supporters. There are the cynical supporters among the upper classes who were only interested in seeing through the enactment of things like the recent tax cut package for themselves and their rich friends, and then there are the true believers among the lower classes who are mainly in it to spite leftists, with their definition of leftist being anyone to the other side of Dwight Eisenhower, who if he were alive today would himself be suspect.

The great Spike Milligan accepted a lifetime achievement award in 1994.

One important point that needs addressing here is that this very website has been first and foremost in denouncing the regime of Der Lügner since it started, and should therefore be in line to receive a Fakie as a promulgator of Fake News by light of how the regime judges these things. If this website receives a Fakie on Monday, rest assured the glow of its bestowal will shower contributors and readers alike with a penumbra of honor from an unimpeachable source – or an impeachable one, as may be the case.
― Vita


Living in Harmony


When Mary Tyler Moore died on January 25, a few days after the Women’s March on Washington, it seemed all that Ms. Moore and the women of her generation had fought for and won needed to be fought for all over again. Ms. Moore was never the most outspoken advocate for women’s rights, but for many younger women she led by example. With her supremely well-written and acted television comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, Ms. Moore seemed to ride the crest of a wave of change for women’s prospects which was only going to get bigger and better. Since then, an overtaking wave of conservatism swelled in the 1980s and swamped political and cultural life in 2016, and it appears a belligerent subset of men (and some women) continue to resent outspoken, powerful women, and after 2016 they feel emboldened to hurl vulgar insults and even threaten violence.

Mary Tyler Moore Valerie Harper Cloris Leachman Last Mary Tyler Moore show 1977
Valerie Harper (left) as Rhoda, Cloris Leachman (middle) as Phyllis, and Mary Tyler Moore (right) as Mary Richards, reunite in a scene from the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1977. All three were apparently good friends in their own lives as well.

In the United States there was the presidential election in 2016, and in the United Kingdom there was the Brexit referendum earlier in the year that also served to open the vents for a sullen, resentful minority. It’s surprising then to some people that conservatives do not hold a monopoly on nursing sexist sentiments. After last week’s general election in the United Kingdom, author J.K. Rowling expressed her disgust with supposedly liberal men making denigrating personal remarks about Prime Minister Theresa May. According to Rowling, their remarks had nothing to with the Prime Minister’s policies in and of themselves, and everything to do with those policies being pressed forward by a powerful, outspoken woman. The conservative movement has spilled over, and now everyone with a social media account feels encouraged to be on their worst behavior.

Great harmony by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in a melancholy song.

For an all too brief period in the 1960s and 70s it wasn’t that way, and it seemed things would only get better. But “better” is a personal perspective, and apparently there has always been bubbling beneath the surface of humanity a foul stew of visceral hatreds and resentments. It was a delusion to think it had gone away. There were people for whom “better” was a bitter pill to choke down, upsetting to their righteous way of life, and they bided their time until they could turn back the clock. The general population always knew these people existed, and assumed they were a conservative minority whose grasp on power was slipping away and would eventually disappear. It turns out, however, that gender and racial resentments cross political party lines and their grasp on some people has strengthened, not weakened. Not everyone is as he or she seems, and while in public they may appear to tolerate new social norms, when they get home and start tweeting and facebooking, they release their bottled up anger and things get ugly.

Newscaster Ted Baxter, played by Ted Knight, was not mean-spirited like the internet trolls of today, merely clueless.

Live and let live. What is so very hard about hewing to that old maxim? If you have respect for yourself, respect for others will follow. One of the best features of Mary Tyler Moore’s two hit television shows, and by all accounts of her own personality, was respect for the characters and for the audience, which was reflected in intelligent, good-natured writing and presentation. The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s was almost entirely put together by men, while The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s had more women writers than any other show before it. Both shows were excellent reflections of their times, though more optimistic and usually showing the better side of our natures. They were comedies, after all. They are still models of a better life for men and women.

Great harmony by Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in a happy song.
― Ed.


Who Ya Gonna Call?


Few things are more frustrating than dealing with poor or indifferent customer service. Calling a company’s customer service number – if you can track it down – usually involves navigating a phone tree of options that may or may not result in discussing your problem with a human being, and then only after waiting on hold. When you do get to talk to a person, that person may be based at a call center in India, and while they are almost always polite and professional people honestly trying to do a good job, there can be language and cultural barriers getting in the way of resolving your problem. Some companies have reacted to customers’ frustrations by touting that their customer service representatives are based in the United States, and to avoid long hold times they offer to call customers back.


Email is a somewhat better route for dealing with a company’s bureaucracy if you don’t mind delays of a day or two in getting a response. If you have follow up questions, the back and forth can stretch to a week or more and can feel like dancing with an elephant. Even though you might think there is an advantage to having your questions and their answers in writing, it has come to be more of a stumbling block than it used to be as reading comprehension deteriorates in the population. Consider how many times you have written an email to a company’s technical support only to find out after the usual one or two day delay in getting a response that they obviously misunderstood your question. They read the first sentence, and whatever followed made their eyes glaze over, because after years of exposure to television and the internet, they no longer have the attention span to comprehend anything longer than a snippet or a sound bite.
MÁV train reservations call center in Hungary; photo by MÁV Zrt.


Of the three major technological ways of interacting with customer service, that leaves chat, and it turns out to be the most satisfactory in many ways for both customers and companies. Unlike a phone call, chat leaves a customer freer to do other things while waiting for a representative to come online or even while the chat is taking place. Unlike email, chat response times from companies are far quicker, and in many cases quicker than phone call response times. And like a phone call or face to face interaction, chat allows for immediate clarifications of misunderstandings. There is back and forth between the customer and the representative as in a phone call, and at the end the customer can print a transcript. Companies prefer chat, too, because it is cheaper to run than a call center on account of the flexibility the representatives have in handling multiple customers at once, and because the experience leaves customers more satisfied than dilatory email responses.


Hotel owner Basil Fawlty, portrayed by John Cleese, was not one for tact or subtlety.


But what about older folks, who are often not as technologically savvy as the rest of the population, or what about people who simply don’t want to hassle with computers? These people prefer to contact customer service the old-fashioned way, either in person or by phone. They experience even more frustration than the rest of us because companies have mostly moved away from those older methods as being too costly, and even seem to actively discourage their use by making the experience unpleasant and time wasting. That can lead to serious consequences for the elderly especially, as their frustration with modern customer service options leads them to take foolish risks, like trying by themselves to dislodge a fallen branch from the power line service drop to their house after a storm rather than calling the power company to have them remove it, a service power companies perform for free because the hazard is serious and people should not be discouraged by a fee from having the problem resolved safely.


The 120 volt insulated line connecting to a house or apartment building can be every bit as dangerous as the higher voltage lines going from one utility pole to the next, and you have only to make one mistake with it and you’ll never make another. For safety reasons like this, it is vital that companies who deal in dangerous products like electricity and home generators and space heaters not hide their old school customer service contact points as some modern companies have done. We can gripe as much as we like about the cable company’s lousy customer service, but their product can’t kill us if we mess with it (physically, that is; mentally – that’s open to question). A power line is another matter entirely, even when the birds seem to tell us it’s okay.
― Techly
Pica pica gathering tree tops 1
Three magpies (Pica pica) gathering in the tree tops, United Kingdom; photo by Flickr user Peter Trimming. In a nursery rhyme featuring magpies, three together signifies a human girl will be born. That may be, but for purposes of this post it is important to note that birds can perch safely on a power line because they come into contact with it at only one point, and therefore do not provide a path to ground. An exception can be found in the case of large birds such as raptors, whose extensive wing span can bring them into contact with two lines at once, or with a line and another point, electrocuting them.


Nomophobic No More


Nomophobia is a term coined in 2010 by the United Kingdom Post Office, which commissioned research into the anxieties of mobile phone users. It stands for no-mobile-phone phobia, or the fear of not having access to a phone or phone service.

On February 3, 2017, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, responding in part to the antics of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who streamed a post-game speech by his head coach, Mike Tomlin, on Facebook Live from his smartphone, vowed to “scramble” social media sites in the Saints’ locker room in the future. It was unclear what Payton meant exactly by “scramble,” but perhaps he was referring to using a filter on the locker room wi-fi service. Players could still access social media sites using the signal from their cellular service, however, making the overall effectiveness of Payton’s ban doubtful. A cell phone signal jammer would be an option if it were legal.

Payton’s proposed ban was his response to players’ increasing inattention as well, since they itched to check their phones for distractions instead of devoting their full attention to the business at hand in locker room meetings. These are men in their twenties and thirties, some of them making millions of dollars a year, and they cannot be relied upon to disregard their smartphones for more than forty minutes at a time while their head coach conducts a meeting. But then, considering the behavior some players exhibit during games, perhaps it should come as no surprise they are selfish and immature in other areas of their lives. We would more usefully order our priorities to not give the players and the game as much attention as we do.


Arrecife - Iglesia de San Ginés in 18 ies
No cell phones sign at a church in the Canary Islands.
The message in English reads “Sacred Place – Silence Please”.
Iglesia de San Ginés in Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands;
photo by Frank Vincentz.


Whether it is a compulsion or an addiction that many people have to constantly check their smartphone for text messages, emails, or social media posts, is something they need to examine for themselves. The rest of us just wish they would stop checking, checking, and checking again, because it is costing us time and frustration, and in some cases our lives. Besides the everyday annoyances caused by compulsive smartphone users disrupting the enjoyment of theater-goers and patrons at restaurants and shops, there is the now nearly constant problem of being held up at a traffic light by the driver in front being too engrossed in their smartphone to realize the light has turned green. Such drivers build up road rage in others, and that’s minor considering the dangers they pose once they get their car moving.

A majority of drivers sensibly acknowledge that texting and driving is dangerous and are in favor of state laws prohibiting it, yet many of them continue to do it. You can see these drivers everywhere on the roads, bobbing their heads up and down like mechanical dipping birds as they look up and down from the smartphone they hold down just out of view of others – as if they’re fooling anyone – to the road and back again. The danger comes not only while they are looking down, but also for the first few seconds after they look up, because in that time their minds are elsewhere.

The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe - panoramio
The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe at the Seuss Landing attraction
of the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in
Orlando, Florida; photo by Panoramio user BihnX.
Since some people can’t seem to stop themselves from texting and driving, and since enforcement is lax, it appears the only thing that will get at least some of them to stop is the kind of social disapproval that has built up around smoking in public over the past twenty years. It’s incredible now to recall that up until twenty or thirty years ago smoking in most public places was not only acceptable, it was the norm. People smoked in theaters, restaurants, and on planes and trains. Like enjoying green eggs and ham, people had a cigarette pretty much anywhere they liked. Speaking of green eggs and ham, now there’s an excellent idea: shut off that phone, smart or otherwise, and enjoy an attentive meal with friends or family, put the phone to sleep in the glove compartment while you drive to the theater, and then leave it in the car when you go in to relax and enjoy the show. Your dinner companions, the drivers you share the road with, and your fellow patrons at the theater will appreciate it, and it won’t kill you.
― Techly