Friday, December 13, 2013
Are You Joking?
There was a headline on the Internet: “Warning: Scientists say gas cans carry risk of explosion.” At first I thought it was a joke, one of those websites that spoof the news, tell us something that is obvious and then take it to extremes for fun, a satire on American society. No, it was a real headline from NBC telling us that gas cans can be dangerous. Suddenly the fact that gasoline explodes has become news. What do we think has been going on inside car engines for the past century?
NBC needs to tell us and, of course, try to scare us with the shocking news that exploding gas cans have killed 11 people over the past 15 years. They explain: “lab tests indicate that under certain limited conditions, gas vapor mixtures can explode inside those cans and cause significant injury.” These limited conditions include when there is “a very low volume of gasoline left inside” and “gas vapor escaping the can contacts a source of ignition such as a flame or a spark.” They label these incidents as rare, but go on to blame it on the gas cans, as do the lawyers who have filed “at least 80 lawsuits during the past two decades.”
There are over 100 million such cans in use related to 1200 emergency room visits over 15 years. At the end of the video we are reminded that mixing gasoline and fire is dangerous. Really? How big a problem is it? Consider that according to the CDC “every year about 235,000 people over age 15 visit emergency rooms because of injuries suffered in the bathroom.” That’s not over 15 years; that’s every year. So bathrooms are almost 3000 times more dangerous those evil gas cans.
Should the fuss and reminders come as a surprise when one tactic to keep ratings up is to keep anxiety up? Should we be surprised by the explosive tendency of gasoline making the news, when on the same day it’s reported that “U.S. students score below international averages in math, reading and science”? (They are not even in the top 20.) Should it surprise us when on the same day it’s reported that the Merriam-Webster word of the year is “Science,” base on on-line lookups, perhaps due to the fact that it “cropped up in a wide range of news stories this year”? Is the press now required to "dumb down" the news to a deteriorating level of public scientific understanding?
But it gets even better! Dozens of people have been convinced by lawyers that not knowing gasoline was dangerous is normal and to blame injuries on the gas cans. Fearing that lawyers will similarly convince sympathetic juries and that a settlement is the cheapest way out, companies have agreed to contribute to a “proposed $161 million fund that would settle dozens of lawsuits against the largest manufacturer of these cans, Blitz USA” – now in bankruptcy. Believing that these big companies and their insurance companies have lots of money and should automatically reimburse the poor deserving victims is as big a joke as not knowing gasoline explodes, but the joke is on the rest of the poor suckers in America who take responsibility instead of blaming others and looking handouts. We are the ones who eventually end up paying.
As it gets more and more difficult to distinguish real news from satirical, fake news, and lawsuits explode out of incredible situations, is anyone else concerned about the train wreck American society is heading toward?