Sunday, October 24, 2010

Terror in Michigan! Oak, um, the Mackinac Bridge....maybe. Wait, rattlesnakes! Yes, rattlesnakes spread fear and wait, not death. But fear, yes! Be very afraid!

Leslie Pluhar died when her tiny car careened off the Mackinac Bridge in 1989.

Michael Jeffery died last year when an oak tree inexplicably fell on him as he was riding his motorcycle near Niles.

Debbie Luna died last month when a vehicle crashed into a gas pump near Grayling, sending the pump flying into her.

None of the deaths resulted in headlines that read “Mackinac Bridge creates panic among drivers” or “Oak trees strike fear into Michiganders” or “Gas stations and death: The untold story.” Yet rattlesnakes bite four people in Michigan this summer and we get: ”Massasauga rattlesnakes strike fear in region.”

Sweet Jesus! Grab the shotgun and bar the door! The Detroit News headline writers have told us what we should fear, and by gum, we're not going outside.

Michigan’s rattlesnakes haven’t killed anyone in at least 40 years, maybe more. They’re shy and sluggish and the smallest and least venomous of any in the U.S.. When they bite in defense they often don’t even release venom. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment has a  nice primer on the massasauga noting that the few bites that do occur often are the result of people trying to catch or kill the snake. Those folks are are Michigan's budding Darwin awardees.

Bullshit headlines like the News', and stories that fail to address the relative risk of wild animals contribute to the impression that the outdoors is a sinister, dangerous place to be avoided. 

As Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” points out, exaggerated fears of both nature and strangers are conspiring to keeping children indoors – contributing to shorter attention spans, stunted imaginations, obesity and numerous other problems that could be treated by the balm of, say, spending the day building a fort in the backyard bushes with your friends. If it wasn't for the fact that your child would be KILLED INSTANTLY by a rattlesnake or CARRIED OFF IN THE FANGS of a coyote.

“The biggest barrier between kids and the outdoors is the fear that parents feel about strangers and about nature. All you have to do is watch CNN or Fox and you’ll see how they take a handful of crimes against children every year and repeat them over and over again. News media and entertainment media have basically scared us to death, scared us right out of nature.”

As for the stranger danger, what’s with that nasty Nancy Grace woman whose CNN Headline News show always seems to be scrolling “BREAKING NEWS: LANDFILL SEARCH UNDERWAY FOR 4-YEAR OLD BEAUTY QUEEN PENELOPE McTAVISH, STOLEN FROM HER PRINCESS-THEMED BED IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT BY STRANGERS!!!!” Sorry, that woman bugs me.

By the way, the EPA ranks indoor air pollution among the top five public health risks. Rattlesnakes aren’t even on the list.

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