Friday, July 18, 2008

A pox on flacks’ flak

When is a billboard like spam e-mail? When it exploits suffering, danger and valor to make a cheap political point.

There probably isn’t a person in America who hasn’t received a slew of frantic e-mails claiming that the message is something that you won’t see in the mainstream media. Usually they come from someone you know, with the message buried under a ton of forwards as people blindly obeyed the direction to “send this to everyone you know.”

A lot of these e-mails deal with this or that political candidate’s supposedly secret pasts, or plans for our future. Trashing a politician’s reputation – a contradictory phrase – is an art form. I figure they can defend themselves or not, as they choose.

But what has come to bother me in recent months has been the many, many e-mails about our military and their often-impossible task of trying to fight the bad guys while not alienating the people they hope to help – or the folks back home.

What I see in these and similar messages is not just some kind of “Wake Up, America!” prophesying. If the emails contained just the story, with a phrase like, “I thought you would find this story interesting, moving, inspiring, etc.” – I’d give them a pass on that.

Instead, what I see is someone’s calculated exploitation of heroism and sacrifice. That bit about “you won’t see this on CBS or in the New York Times [so I will show it to you]” smacks less of patriotism than a pathetic need to stand in the light of someone else’s glory.

I concede that sometimes the e-mails are right; few if any of the mainstream media have picked up a given story. Often, they’re wrong. Whoever originated – or later on tinkered with – the e-mail to include their own claim to fame was either too sure of their own inbred prejudices to actually check or, more likely, didn’t care if they were wrong.

They had a point to make, a need to feel like they were important and had counted coup against the machine. They’d waved a finger at the establishment. They didn’t actually bother to do something possibly more productive – to write to CBS or the Times, “Hey, doofus – whatsa matter with you? This is a great story, and you didn’t cover it. No wonder nobody watches/reads you anymore.”

A friend sent me such an e-mail recently, and I responded – in much fewer words – to the effect of what I’ve posted here. It was late and I was tired, and I reacted like Howard Beale in “Network”

I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore – like this billboard.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just one of the guys

“Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man.”

Those powerful words captivated me as a youngster as I perched in front of the TV to watch Lee Majors portray “The Six Million Dollar Man.” I still have a themed board game somewhere.

Somewhere along the line, the fictional scientists in the show got together and decided that rebuilding Steve Austin would cost $6 million, but how might their estimate stack up today?

If you’ve been following reports about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placing statistical value on human life, then you’ll know that $6 million is not enough to buy you a nuclear-powered bionic man in 2008. It would barely pay for a middle-aged school teacher from Rhode Island.

EPA officials have placed the value on a single human life at $6.9 million – something they do when calculating the environmental impacts of policies and regulations.

But just five years ago, the EPA’s value on human life was $7.8 million per person. We’re all of a sudden $900,000 – or 13 percent – cheaper now than we were five years ago. If the value drops any more, we’ll all be $6 million people but without the bionic eye or the super strength.

While politicians and others continue to pontificate about the recent drop in value, all I know is that Steve Austin doesn’t seem so special anymore. He’s just one of the guys.