JUNE 4, 2016 -- BY JIM NEFF







One of the best things about reading the news is that there is always something to discover every single day. Scientists tell us that the sum total of human knowledge is doubling every twelve months and soon it will double every twelve hours. That's a lot of information zipping past us, so it's pretty easy to snag items as they pass by.


An example of such an item actually deals with the movement of all that information. One might assume that all the info is bouncing off satellites in space, but in reality the vast bulk of data moves through cables under the sea. In fact, Microsoft and Facebook are teaming up for a massive new cable project. “Dubbed MAREA—Spanish for 'tide'—this giant underwater cable will stretch from Virginia to Bilbao, Spain, shuttling digital data across 6,600 kilometers of ocean. Providing up to 160 terabits per second of bandwidth—about 16 million times the bandwidth of your home Internet connection.” There are hundreds of these data cables along ocean floors all over the globe. We've come a long way from those screeching 56k dial-up modems of the past, haven't we? (http://www.wired.com/2016/05/facebook-microsoft-laying-giant-cable-across-atlantic/)


The Zika virus is front and center these days, for everyone except members of Congress. Those birds left Washington on a two week vacation before agreeing on funding for fighting Zika. No rush. “As of last week, there were 591 cases in the continental USA...A fetus infected with the Zika virus in the first trimester has up to a 13 percent risk of developing devastating birth defects.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/05/31/zika-ebola-mosquitoes-congress-pesticides-editorials-debates/85155144/)


Instead of actual money, “House Republicans revived a 2011 measure that would allow more pesticide spraying near certain bodies of water. The Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act was renamed and passed as the Zika Vector Control Act.” That should solve the problem, right? I think the best solution has been proposed by editorial cartoonist Brian McFadden. “Tax cuts for the rich will eventually trickle down, allowing poor people to buy their own bug spray.”


Flint news is always of interest to me because I was born and raised there. Everyone knows those residents need all the help they can get, but many people don't realize the Flint area is not much different from other areas in the state. “About 15 percent of Michigan residents receive food stamps in the average month and the average benefit per recipient is $122 or about $4 a day, according to statistics from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.” In fact, 22 percent of the Genesee County population receives benefits averaging $126 per month. Compare that to Wexford County's 19 percent and $110. We Wexford County residents have more in common with Flint than we might think. A database for all Michigan counties is at: http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/05/look_up_percentage_of_food_sta.html.


Zika and the Flint water situation are both public health stories, but another issue related to public health has been covered in recent issues of the Cadillac News – opioid abuse. You'll be happy to learn that this epidemic has gotten the attention of the major drug companies. So what are they doing about the situation? Well, the makers of the most common antidote treatment, a drug named Narcan, know the drug is now in demand. “The auto-inject version of the drug that used to cost $575 for two doses now costs $3,750...The generic, Naloxone, isn’t much better: pre-crisis, the drug cost $1.84 per dose. Now, the drug costs 17 times that.”


In true “keep the government out of our lives” spirit: “The FDA can’t do anything about it. It officially has no legal authority to investigate or control the prices charged for marketed drugs.” The only recourse is for states to sue the drug companies. In a burst of impressive intellectual acumen, one Congesswoman said: “I think that the pharmaceutical manufacturers take advantage of people in need.” What insight! Now you know why 78 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress handles its job. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/31/heroin-overdose-antidote-now-costs-double.html)


Hopefully, today's students will grow up with better ethics than the adults running these drug companies today. This might be particularly true for females. “Girls outperformed boys on a national test of technology and engineering literacy that the federal government administered for the first time...Among eighth-grade students in public and private schools, 45 percent of girls and 42 percent of boys scored proficient on the exam, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.” The test results will be used “as a baseline that will allow educators and policymakers to track students’ problem-solving, communication and technology skills over time.”



Finally, I always find bits of history interesting. We all shudder when a mass shooting occurs, which seems to be all too frequent these days. But nothing today has come close to what happened on May 18, 1927 in Bath, Michigan, just north of East Lansing. “The Bath School Disaster (was) a bombing that took the lives of 38 children as they attended class...The Bath bombing remains the deadliest school murder spree in U.S. history, still eclipsing mass shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.” The perpetrator was “a disgruntled school treasurer with personal money woes. Upset about taxes levied to pay for the Bath Consolidated School, which opened in 1922, he carefully planned a catastrophe designed to wipe out all of the children in the community.” This illustrates that sometimes in spite of all the information at our disposal, we have not progressed as much as we might have hoped. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/05/19/hope-hes-roasting-hell-deadliest-school-massacre-remembered-89-years-later/84580232/)


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.

Tim Eagan
The Press Democrat
Jun 2, 2016