Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 26, 2005

Mysteries and quandaries

I’ve been perplexed recently by several topics that present mysteries and quandaries. Here are a few things that I just don’t get.

• Perfect attendance awards – I know schools have strong financial incentives to promote attendance, but I don’t like encouraging sick people to attend school, work, church, or anywhere to share their germs.

Perhaps my opinion is colored by my experience as the parent of a preschooler with a compromised immune system, but I like it when contagious people keep their bugs to themselves. I keep my children home when they’re sneezy, wheezy or drippy and wish more parents did the same.

• Playing God accusations – With the incessant coverage of the unrelentingly sad Terri Schiavo case, I’m constantly wondering: Why do so many people slap the “playing God” label on the decision to remove a feeding tube, but not on the decision to insert one?

If you believe God controls these things, aren’t you overriding his will when you insert a feeding tube into a person whom he has allowed to enter a persistent vegetative state? Why isn’t the use of defibrillators, chemotherapy, pacemakers, insulin, and inhalers considered to be “playing God?”

• Idiot drivers – What is it about climbing behind the wheel that turns some people into raving lunatics? The story about two drivers – one allegedly drunk, the other apparently pumped with testosterone – playing bumper cars on U.S. 101 in South Valley was foreshadowing for me.

The day after I read it, I was almost creamed by the driver of a huge Dodge pickup truck who nearly backed into my little Miata in a parking lot. Not content to be embarrassed by nearly flattening me, the Dodge driver decided instead to cut me off, flip me off, and curse me out until I pulled out my cell phone to call the police.

• Cable TV news – A few tragic stories in recent weeks – the arrest of the BTK serial killer, the Georgia courthouse shooting, and the Schiavo case – and a pathetic spectacle – the Michael Jackson trial – have prompted cable television news executives to go nearly wall-to-wall on these topics. I don’t get it. Some of these were important stories, but not so critical that they warranted ignoring nearly everything else occurring in the world. And if those stories merited wall-to-wall coverage, why didn’t the story of the school shooting in Minnesota that left 10 people dead?

I find I’m turning to cable television with much less frequency these days to feed my news addiction. It just doesn’t provide the breadth or depth of newspapers or the Internet. If you didn’t know that Muslim clerics in Spain issued a fatwa against Osama bin Laden, or that Canada declined to grant asylum to a U.S. serviceman who refused to go to Iraq, or that the Senate approved drilling in the Alaskan wilderness to look for oil, then you need to get your news from someplace besides cable TV.

And if you want to know about things that really impact your life – school board, city council, and planning commission decisions, for example – then you’re doing exactly the right thing by reading your local newspaper.

• All or nothing perchlorate – Some folks have staked out the extremes in their positions on South Valley’s perchlorate plume: any is utterly unacceptable or any is nothing to worry about. When those in the former camp use the metaphor that any urine in your drinking water is revolting, I’m reminded that some portion of our rain (and therefore our drinking water) is the recycled pee of some person or critter.

On the other hand, those in the latter camp like to point out that a billion is a big number, and because we measure perchlorate in terms of parts per billion, there’s nothing to fret about. I don’t find much comfort in the big numbers argument. According to Anne Marie Helmenstine’s article on the most poisonous chemical compounds, one nanogram of tetanus per kilogram will kill a human. If my husband’s math is correct, that amounts to one part per trillion. Some things can be very dangerous in very tiny quantities.

I’m sure that there is a level of perchlorate that is safe and a level that is not. What worries me is that we seem to have no idea where to draw that line.

Hopefully next week I’ll be able to return to the traditional role of an opinion writer – having the answers to everything. This time out, I’ve got mysteries and quandaries, things I just don’t get


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