By Hammy | November 2, 2009 - 6:16 am - Posted in Current Events, Newspaper Columns, West Virginia

(This is my column that appears in today’s Dominion Post concerning the news coverage of swine flu.  I was a skeptic when the hype began months ago but now believe that the hyperactive predictions aren’t as pathetic as they once were.  Even if they are pretty pathetic still.

One portion I want to expand on is the line referring to inaccurate testing methods and self reporting cases.  I thought the stats would be worthless when I first heard that WVU was setting up a web site where sick students could self-report they had H1N1 merely on having flu-like symptoms.  I still find that the case.  I also questioned – and still do – some health care provider’s decisions to not test every person with flu-like symptoms and treat it as swine anyway.  I also understand from my nurse & doctor friends that the nose swab tests are anywhere from 30-60% unreliable, mainly depending on how far up the nose one can get the swab in a patient.

Still, the confirmed deaths in West Virginia from flu this early and the large amount of Garrett’s friends who have caught the pig bug have changed my mind somewhat on the “pandemic”.  I continue to believe that the hype is still high regarding H1N1, but I also am starting to believe that this is more than just 36-point headlines.)

In today’s world we have more news, data, and information at our fingertips than at any previous point in our history.  Locally we have a daily newspaper, two news radio stations, five television stations between Clarksburg and Pittsburgh, and the 24-hour news cycle of cable news and the Internet that bring us updates all day, every day.  Normally this is a positive attribute because information is a powerful resource.

Sometimes, though, this easy access to information becomes more harmful and confusing rather than useful. We’ve seen this several times this decade already, especially in the areas of health and disease.  SARS, avian flu, and H1N1 have each had their years in the sun of late.  My desire for we as citizens and the media would be to find better methods of discussing potential threats.  Whether it’s disease, the environment, terrorism, etc., the preview of impacts caused by the occurrence of each is a balancing act.  Understate the story and people become ignorant.  Overstate the case and people become hysterical.  Rather than ride the middle ground and shoot for realistic predictions, it’s not hard to see which line the typical story crosses.

Given the amount of coverage over H1N1, it’s natural for more than a few people to become skeptical.  After all, given all the hype over avian flu a couple years ago, World Health Organization (WHO) figures indicate only 442 confirmed cases of H5N1, most in southeast Asia, although the 262 deaths represent a high mortality rate for those infected.  What about SARS, the 2003 scare?  After all the panic reports a total of 8,273 individuals worldwide were confirmed infected with a death count of 775.  Granted, in this day we should be able to minimize the amount of deaths from any disease, but both outbreak scares pale in comparison to seasonal flu that kills hundreds of thousands worldwide annually.

What then to make of H1N1?  The coverage has been just as breathless as the other “pandemics” prior, leading to a great number of folks (myself included) to ask if this is once again much ado about very little.  This time, however, the cases are coming fast and furious (Although I question if some of the statistics are inflated via the self-reporting and testing methods), with over 500,000 cases and 6,200 deaths.  These counts, and the fatalities in Morgantown and West Virginia have erased in my mind doubts about the seriousness of the outbreak.  So much so, in fact, that my children should be vaccinated by the time this column prints.  A month ago this would not have been the case.

My hope is that news sources will strive to better find the middle ground in reporting potential calamities.  Unfortunate results can occur if we feel that the media are crying “Wolf!” when the coverage is accurate.

By Hammy | August 21, 2009 - 5:29 pm - Posted in Current Events, Morgantown, WVU, West Virginia

- Move-in Day probably got off to a wonderful start today.  Scattered storms began rolling through the area last night and continued into the morning today.  The airport reported .84 inches of rain overnight and almost another half-inch this morning.  I’m guessing there are a lot of wardrobes, books, and electronics drying out in dorm rooms this afternoon.

- The robbery spree that had the locals up in arms this month has been broken up with the arrest of four men yesterday.  The composite sketches never did quite match up, which makes complete sense if four people were behind the crimes.

- Mon County continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state (4.4%) and far outpaces the state overall (9%) and the nation (9.4%).

- I’m not overly familiar with the concept of hydrogen cells to replace gasoline engines in cars, but funding has been announced for the next stop on the “Hydrogen Highway” to be in Morgantown.  A refinery & dispensing station will be developed by WVU, while a similar facility has been proposed for Yeager Airport in Charleston.

- Finally, funding has been secured for the next segment of the High Street renovation.  The area from Pleasants to Kirk Streets is covered by this round, leaving only the final block to the South High Street bridge to be funded.  Hopefully when they finish the construction, a final paving of High Street will finish off the project.

By Hammy | August 2, 2009 - 11:05 pm - Posted in Current Events, Politics, West Virginia

The first day in August, a nice sunny Saturday,  is a great day to hit the road to kill time, relax, or come back from/head to vacation.  In southern West Virginia, however, Saturday stood for a little bit more – the controversial toll rate increase took effect yesterday.  Those of us skilled enough to hold a folded dollar and quarter topping in our left hands while still getting the window down and paying the toll without coming to a complete stop now need to pony up two paper Washingtons now.  (This is, however, a good relief measure against all those Ohio and Ontario drivers who never learned the right side of the decimal in school and hat the numbers signify monetarily.  Now they only have to take five minutes to look for two pieces of legal tender paper and not have to worry about getting all those pesky coins back.)

This increase, implemented by the state Turnpike Authority, generated intense outcry for a number of reasons.  The Turnpike construction bonds were all paid off, motorists will either be hit harder financially or will avoid the state entirely, the people’s representative (ie, the Legislature) didn’t vote on it, etc.  More importantly, though, the outcry came last year. All the handwringing  and bitching took place during the election cycle.  Yes, nobody likes it that the new tax was implemented this weekend, but the time to fix it was yesteryear.

I point this out because there are still plenty of politicians who use any opportunity to grandstand, with no regard at all to the lack of common sense.  Three House delegates stood outside the Ghent toll plaza (just above the Winterplace exit for you skiers) on Saturday protesting.  No, I don’t believe the tolls should have been increased a cent and in fact should be obsoleted along with the toll plazas since they have completed the task intended.  That doesn’t mean these guys have any business out there swinging signs.  There was plenty of support for exterminating both the rate increase and the authority that oversees it when the news was announced.  That’s what these guys are sent to Charleston for – to push through corrective proposals for problems such as this when they’re not spending all night in the “scenic” parts of Route 60.

We know the rate stinks.  Put those markers and cardboard to good use telling Joe to implode the Turnpike Authority, so that maybe a little sense (and not cents) can return.

By Hammy | July 9, 2009 - 12:53 pm - Posted in Current Events, Politics, West Virginia

It’s been a couple of weeks since I mused on the House bill on “clean energy” and the opportunity West Virginia faces if our leadership was proactive.  Well, the grand master Senatory Byrd is out of the hospital and chiming in as expected – he blasts the bill for not encouraging the “green coal” technology that is being investigated.  It’s hard to blame him for pandering to his base, seeing that miners have paved the way to his election term after term.  I’ll praise our senior Senator for putting down the legislation, but he’s doing so for the wrong reason.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not an environmentalist.  I’m a capitalist, and with the push for renewable energy sources gaining as much momentum as ever before we need to get West Virginia at the forefront of generating wind & solar.  It’s been said that whatever entity develops the most efficient clean energy source will be very powerful, and there’s no reason it can’t be West Virginia.

What it does mean is that we can’t try to put bandages on old solutions, which is what Senator Byrd and other state leaders are trying to do.  Yes, there has been some quality research and development of methods that burn our coal cleaner than before.  We’re still talking about coal, however, which is never going to be as clean as harnessing more natural sources of fuel.  I spent the July 4th weekend in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia, where one can look out across certain mountaintops and see the windmills turning.  Yes, there is a visual cost to the environment by erecting large wind turbines or large banks of solar panels on top of magestic mountains, but nothing in this world comes free.

If we as a nation are serious about this whole “green” thing we have to take the benefits over the costs.  Besides the visual impact, we as a state have to undergo a massive mindset shift as well as an infrastructure change.  Constructing the turbines will come at a great cost in addition to winding down the coal infrastructure and it’s associated industries like trucking & transportation.  We employ thousands of miners today to go underground and extract carbon, so why not start retraining those folks to build, operate, and maintain a wind farm?  We’ll also need a large labor force to safely close mines and build new transmission byways for the new power grid, preferably a design not prostituted by the hands of TrAil and PATH.  There’s untold government debt stimulus money out of DC right now, so why not reach into the stream and grab some greenbacks?

All of us who live in West Virginia want a successful, prosperous state.  The opportunity remains in front of our eyes.  Let’s let the Senate know we’re ready to step up to the plate.

By Hammy | July 2, 2009 - 8:20 pm - Posted in Current Events, Politics, West Virginia

Amazingly enough, my home state – a state that has been home to some of the most crooked politicians this side of Chicago and never met a program it couldn’t waste state money on – closed out the fiscal year with a small surplus.  No easy feat in this economy, with a large number of states cutting back services, closing offices regularly, or (in the case of California) issuing IOUs.  Obviously there will be more challenges ahead, but it’s actually a bit comforting that our politicians made it through the past year somewhat responsibly.  I am shocked.

Manchin Says New Budget Year Most Challenging