I try to avoid numbers. I'm a words guy, so deep in my noggin is the suspicion that numbers only exist to confuse me. However, stressful numerals keep popping up in the news. A particular number may illustrate an uncomfortable point, drive home a disturbing fact, or simply cause me to scratch my head in consternation.


For example, anyone who has taken an airplane flight recently is aware that flying has become an experience akin to three straight hours of nails across a chalkboard. The airlines have added to the stress level by making passengers feel like the toothpaste in a tube. “The continual shrinking of passengers’ personal space aboard airlines is leading to stress and claustrophobia for fliers and crew, according to Consumer Reports’ October edition. In 1985, it reports, the average airline seat was 20 inches wide. Today? The average is 17.5 inches wide, even though average passenger weights have gone up by 20 pounds. In addition, the space between one seat and the next one in front of it — has shrunk by 2 inches.” Bigger people in smaller seats. Let me guess. The next thing airlines will be offering for an extra fee is a pair of National Hockey League approved elbow pads. The penalty box will be located in the last row of seats next to the overflowing bathroom. (http://www.freep.com/story/travel/2016/10/08/flying-planes-seats-space/91272424/)


Added to this is another interesting number. Over 100,000 animals ride in airplane cabins each year. Some of these are legitimate service animals. Others, however, fall into the “emotional support” category. Supposedly, such animals provide “therapeutic benefit to their owner through companionship.” These pets include not only cats and dogs, but pigs, turkeys, and miniature horses. The rule is the animal must ride on the owner's lap. So, you stuff a bigger person into a smaller seat and then put a horse on his/her lap. Do you want to be the person in the seat next door? “Air travelers can see both sides of this issue. They know some of their fellow passengers have disorders that require treatment, and comfort animals reduce or eliminate their need for a pharmaceutical solution. That's really beside the point. The real question is: Who has more rights? The airline passengers and their creatures of comfort or the other passengers?” This is why a Department of Transportation advisory committee is meeting this week to try to make sense of the issue. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/advice/2016/10/09/emotional-support-animals/91725338/)


With animals in airplane cabins, one concern is for the passengers with allergies. Having an EpiPen handy seems like a logical precaution. However, it turns out these pens are so poorly designed the person in need may not get any of the medication. A University of Michigan doctor found: “Between 1994 and 2007 there were over 15,000 unintentional injections from EpiPens, including many cases of trained healthcare professionals who accidentally gave themselves a dose of epinephrine in the thumb or finger while trying to deliver the life-saving medicine to someone else.”


When Mylan acquired ownership of EpiPen, one of the reasons it raised prices 500 percent was because it made “significant improvements to the design.” In reality, they, colored one end bright orange and gave it the label “Needle End.” Now, according to one study, “the new EpiPen has a success rate of 67 percent.” EpiPens cost $500-$600. You determine for yourself if these numbers are comforting or concerning. (https://www.propublica.org/article/if-it-needs-a-sign-its-probably-bad-design)


Well, I guess you could avoid all these stressful situations by just staying home and watching television. Most cable and satellite TV customers have packages with hundreds of channels. But, and I hate to tell you this because instead of lowering your stress level it may raise your stress level, you are probably paying for way more than you actually use. “With more than 200 channels available on their cable, satellite or telco-delivered service, viewers are actually watching, on average, only about 20 channels, according to recent research from Nielsen.” The report also indicates “personal TV viewing by those under 35 continues to fall.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2016/10/11/cutting-cord-200-channels-but-only-20-worth-watching/91132396/)


I guess you could argue that having all these channels constitutes technological progress. When I came to Cadillac in 1971 you could only get two channels – CBS and NBC. Some nights, there was nothing on that I wanted to watch. Now we have 200-plus channels and on some nights there is still nothing on that I want to watch. Isn't technology grand?


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