By Bill Buchanan
This being my first column of the New Year, it would make sense for me to write about all the New YearÕs resolutions I should make and talk about how I am going to become a much better person in all respects in 2011. I could pontificate about how I am going to lose weight, be more patient, hold my temper in check, and keep Christmas in my heart all year round.
And just in case anyone out there is at a loss on how to achieve self-improvement, there are about 10,000 lists this time of year from various media sources offering innumerable suggestions. For instance, Parade magazine tells me I need to purge my closet, track down my forefathers, look to the stars, catch up with high school pals, and be my own life coach.
That all sounds very nice. And there are many things that I certainly need to aspire to do. But given the reality of resolutions in years past, several of which were broken before mid-January, maybe it is time for more realistic reflection.
After reading some of these self-help lists, it would be nice to see what the authors do in their own lives. Are they following their own suggestions, or are they like the overweight family doctor with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket who tells you that you need to choose a healthier lifestyle? It is easy to tell everyone else what to do. Doing it yourself is a little tougher.
So, I have decided to tackle one thing this year, and try to do that well. I am going to be less fearful. I don’t mean less fearful of situations in which you would be a fool not to be fearful Ñ- like crazy people with guns, earthquakes, fires, massive explosions, or going to any movie that features Vince Vaughn.
No, I am talking about not buying into all the national media-driven fear that you hear on every news channel and read in every national publication or see on the internet almost daily. We are constantly bombarded by reports of something that is going to kill, maim or ruin you if you do not take immediate action Ñ or at least do some serious fretting about it.
For instance, right now, it seems the crisis du jour is “mysterious” bird deaths. The plot thickens? Dead birds found in Sweden” was the headline a few days ago, as if there is some vast ornithological conspiracy at work. It turns out that mass bird deaths are not uncommon. According to the U.S. Geological Service’s website, there were about 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife over a six-month period this year. In other words, mass deaths are a fairly common occurrence, often caused by parasites or E. coli.
But the media has to play it up, imply some mystery, conspiracy or plague is at work. For instance, do you recall the big media scares in the past about things like radon gas and bird flu? Television news channels ran teasers like, “Is there a silent killer in your home? You could be next. Tonight, see our special report on radon gas.”
And remember bird flu? A few years ago you could not turn on TV and or pick up a national newspaper without seeing 10,000 people wearing masks during the bird flu scare. How bad was it? According to the World Health Organization, 320 people have died of bird flu in the last seven years worldwide.
Please. More people have probably died worldwide from choking on beets than have died of radon gas exposure and bird flu combined.
This just seems to escalate with the popularity of the internet. Some of the stuff you read on the internet is wilder than the supermarket tabloids. If you think that articles in the tabloids like “I lost enough weight on the Elvis UFO diet that I now date Angelina Jolie but Brad doesn’t know” -are bad enough, get on some of the internet nut-case sites sometimes and see their take on the news.
I also refuse (and hope that others do as well) to get sucked into the flames of fear and that are fanned by the ravings of political extremists like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Keith Olbermann (who was suspended recently for contributing to political campaigns). Because they appear on national programs, these men are given a cloak of respectability as “news” commentators that they do not deserve. They and their ilk (both on the right and on the left) have helped divide the country. They have drawn battle lines along issues that make it harder and harder for national politicians (generally not a courageous bunch to begin with) to seek any type of compromise. Even the appearance of working with the other side is now used against the candidate in the next election as someone who is soft and does not tow the party line ideologically.
These people are not news commentators. They are entertainers, taking extreme positions to appear controversial in order to garner ratings, and sell books and merchandise. They remind me of some of the TV evangelists who wail and cry and beg you to send your money to Jesus, but want you to put their name on the check. They are in it for the fame and money.
So this year, I am going to take things a little less seriously. I will try to limit my worrying to the really important stuff Ñ- like whether I really do love Jesus and support our American troops overseas even though I don’t forward all those e-mails to at least 15 people on my address book list.
I wish you all a happy and less fearful New Year.