WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Doubtless everyone has heard of the Centers for Disease Control, those brave, fun-lovin’ folks that put their lives on the line in the epic quest to quash Ebola outbreaks and keep the world safe from the next explosion of Solanum. A little less well-known is the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. USAMRIID, primarily a US Army organization, works with the CDC and The World Health Organization and they all help keep the world safe from the tiny little bugs that can – and have – wiped out huge portions of the human population in the past. All these organizations are dedicated to keeping us safe from coughing out our lungs and bleeding from our eyeballs.

Death by disease ain’t pretty, and it’s probably an uphill slog since diseases have a nasty habit of mutating. Think about things like the Black Plague that wiped out upwards of 200 million people in about four years or the Anthrax attacks of 2001. One of those was a weaponized virus, the other was a completely natural occurance. Then realize that according to the CDC, 80,000 people died from the Flu last year. When you’re done pondering that, think about the guy next to you at work who’s busy hacking up a lung and sneezing on his computer screen when he should be at home in self-imposed quarantine rather than infecting the whole office.

Disease is a very real threat to our existence. Fortunately, brave souls at the CDC, USAMRIID, and WHO are willing to put their lives on the line to study diseases, keep them from spreading, help those who are infected, and find ways to keep it from happening again. It involves putting themselves in the middle of Ebola outbreaks, getting up close and personal with Flu victims, and walking into places where even a tiny tear in your suit can mean a miserable, lingering death as your organs liquify.

Then there are the anti-vaxxers.

I can’t say for certain if there’s an anti-vaxxer movement in other parts of the world. I liked to think we’d managed to keep that disease localized in the United States, but with the way messages shoot around the planet these days, their particular breed of stupidity has found warm hosts all the world. In fact, the WHO puts anti-vaxxers in the top 10 global threats. For those of you who are unfamiliar with anti-vaxxers, they’re the group that claims the vaccines that helped wipe out a lot of childhood diseases are all part of some massive conspiracy cooked up by the CDC, Big Pharma, the WHO, possibly The Who, and a shadowy cabal of evil-doers to do something nefarious. The prevailing message from the anti-vaxxers is that vaccines cause Autism, but they’ve also claimed mind control and population control at points in the past. Imagine your crazy uncle, drunk on cheap whiskey, waving a knife around, and babbling about the Rothschilds and you’ll get the idea.

While most people are quite content to trust professionals with their health care decisions and look to places like the CDC, the WHO, and USAMRIID for pointers on how to not die horribly, the anti-vaxxers look to other sources. Major disease control organizations have people with medical degrees, scientists, and folks with hands-on experience studying biological threats. Anti-vaxxers have Jenny McCarthy and that blog written by that one chick who doesn’t work, but she totally took a bio class in college and she’s a mom so she gets it. Also, she saw that episode of the X-Files where they were using the bees to transmit alien DNA and there’s this other blog by a guy who says he worked for the CDC and the bees didn’t work so they had to start using vaccines to spread it.

Somehow that bizarre message of Autism and mind control took root and now the anti-vaxxers are spreading like a plague. The end result of this disease of ignorance is more actual diseases killing people even as we see a dearth of people with alien DNA doing whatever it was they were supposed to be doing.

Disease control experts will usually tell you one of the first things you have to do to stem the tide of infections is quarantine. Find the source and make sure it can’t go anywhere else. Then you can work on curing folks without having to worry that the next town over just fell to Solanum and the dead are coming back to life. Unfortunately, due to the way the 1st Amendment works, you can’t just shut off the valve of the nonsense coming from the anti-vaxxers. They can continue to say whatever crazy shit they want and there’s no legal way to stop them without some epic court battles revolving around Freedom of Speech.

So, if you can’t make them shut up, how do you fight the misinformation? Well, you can counter with real information, but you can also take away their ability to make money by spreading lies. While the CDC, USAMRIID, and WHO are focusing on the first part, the platforms that provide the medium for the message are starting to step up and tackle the second part. YouTube, for instance, just pulled all ads from any videos that promote the anti-vaxxer agenda. While that won’t stop the message from being out there, at least those people won’t be making money off their lies. If this happens enough, eventually the invisible hand of captialism will squeeze the life out of the movement when it’s no longer economically viable to sit on your couch and talk about things you just pulled out of your ass.

It’s not the best news, because the disease vector is still out there, but by making it harder to make a living being an anti-vaxxer icon, it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, at some point in the future we’ll be able to look back at the anti-vaxxers as a brief, dangerous flirtation with death rather than looking back and wondering how a disease that we had a vaccine for wiped out half the planet.

Read the original article here, in case you missed it up above.

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Peter Nena,
Shilpa Garg,
Inderpreet Uppal,
and Belinda Witzenhausen


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And now, your moment of Zen.


This may seem a little bitter and meandering, but bear with me

If you live in America, you don’t live in a Democracy.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but America is not a Democracy.  Technically, it never really has been a Democracy, we’re better described as a Representative Republic.  If this were a true Democracy, we’d all spend a lot more time voting on how the country is run.  Rather, we vote every two to six years to elect people who, we hope, share our world-view and, again we hope, will actively set out to implement it.

We’re also not a Christian nation, no matter what you hear people say.

I’m not Christian so I’m far less concerned about this one since there never really was a promise that we would be a Christian nation.  Frankly, as far as I’m concerned the further organized religion stays from politics, the happier I am.  There are, however, plenty of people who are extremely disgruntled when they wake up in the morning and realize that not only has Jesus not come to save them from the heathens, but that the heathens seem to have free run of the madhouse.  We’ll push religion to the back burner for the time being.  Religious arguments are great ways to start flame wars, but I’m not interested in that right now; I have real-world problems to discuss.

So, hold those things in the back of your head for right now while I throw a seemingly unrelated issue into the mix.  Trust me on this one.  Ultimately this mixture will turn into something rational.

If you were a supervillain, what would your goal be and, more importantly, why?  Every supervillain needs an origin story and a dastardly plan.  The best supervillains are the ones with a plan that’s pretty evil but something people can actually relate to.  Think Magneto.  Kill the humans because they’re a threat to the mutants.  His endgame, freedom for the mutants, is admirable.  His mechanism, killing all the humans, is less so.  Although, I did spend a great deal of time in traffic today so I think fewer people might not be a bad thing.

Final seemingly unrelated topic to add here.

At its heart, Henchmen is a simple book about people fed up with politicians and the various ways in which both sides of the political spectrum regularly screw over everyone.  Its sequel (which I need to work on tonight), covers more of the religious spectrum.  Sure, it’s an adventure story.  There are gun fights and naked women and gods and some stuff gets blowed up real good, but at the heart of the story is a group of people who have decided to take the fixing of the country into their own hands by finding a way to kill every member of Congress.

Like I said, every supervillain needs a goal.  That goal should be pretty evil, but ultimately relatable.

So, before anyone starts raising their hands and saying, “Ooh.  Ooh.  Ooh.  Mr. Government!  Eric Lahti, um, wants to kill everyone in Congress!” let me assure that I don’t.  Nor do I advocate political killings.  Or really killing in general.

But I do have an idea.  A wondrous, terrifying idea.

There’s an old joke that goes, How can you tell an honest politician?  Honest politicians stay bought.

So, right there you can tell we’re not a Democracy.  If we were a Democracy, we wouldn’t have as much need for politicians.  Let alone politicians with as much power as ours.  Our politicians make the rules that we have to adhere to while they themselves seem to play by a different set of rules.  As Jonathon Hickman (bonus kudos for anyone who can identify him) once wrote, “Laws are created by those who consider themselves above them.”

The really cool thing about politicians, though, is the fact that they really only worship the money that lets them get the power they crave.  Money wins elections, elections give power, power is great.  Most politicians ride into office on a wave of donations from corporations and the extremely wealthy.  By donating all that money, those people expect a return on their investment.  This means laws that favor the corporations and the extremely wealthy.  By the way, the things those guys want and what the rest of us want are usually antithetical.

Politics is a big money game, and most of us will never be able to fork up the kind of cash the big telecom players can come up with.  As a result, fighting for Net Neutrality, from our end, is going to be extremely difficult.  All we can really hope to do is kick up a big enough fuss that someone pats us on the head and tells us it’s really in our own best interest that network providers should be able to grant faster speed to companies that can pay more money.

This begs a question, how can the average person get enough money together to bribe a major politician?  Sorry, donate to a reelection campaign of a major politician.  They don’t take bribes, they get campaign donations.

Well, I think Kickstarter provides us with a valid model.  Take their basic theory and translate it to something political.  People will be able to put up a problem, provide an example of how bribing a politician will help fix the problem.  Sorry, again, damn: Provide money for the reelection fund a of a politician.  We can then set a base amount that will be needed to get the legislation pushed through.  If you, as a user, agree with the problem and the solution, you can kick in some bucks.  If enough people kick in some money, a large group of people might actually be able to buy a politician.

“What about PACs?” you ask.  Well, with my version of Kickstarter for Democracy, you don’t have to subscribe to all the things each PAC stands for.  You can still focus on that single issue that’s burning you up inside.

This, my friends, is my evil plan.  We can save the Republic by exploiting the very greed that’s busily tearing it down.  The end result, more of a political voice for everyone, is admirable.  The mechanism, exploiting the natural greed of our politicians, is far less admirable, but will probably work quite nicely.