Swine Flu vs. Seasonal Flu

Swine flu has certainly hit a media fever pitch. ALL over the web. ALL over the network news. ALL over the newspapers.

Who DOESN’T get a sick feeling in their stomach (no pun intended) upon hearing that something that’s killing people in Mexico…is now popping up across the U.S.?

By the very nature of our on-the-go society, it wouldn’t take long for a disease or virus to spread by air…by rail…by car…by ship. Wilmington is extra special because not only are we the *Port* city, but we also have an airport in our backyard.

But should swine flu cause much more terror than seasonal flu? Maybe, maybe not. Here are some interesting tid-bits…

Seasonal flu kills 36,000 people in the U.S. EVERY year.

Since January, 13,000 people have died from seasonal flu.

Swine flu? 1 person in the U.S.

Just something to ponder….

 

Now….some real news…from the BBB…..Scam Alert.

The real virus in this world – online scammers – are pumping out emails and websites with all sorts of creative subject lines like: “Madonna Has Swine Flu!!”

I hope these will end up in your Junk box. The ones that worry me are those who are hustling “emergency” safety products like the “Swine Flu Survival Guide” for $20 at www.noswineflu.com.

Wow…can you believe THAT domain name wasn’t already taken?

Others are selling online vaccines for swine flu. Note: there is no such thing as a vaccine for swine flu. Any and all medical related info to this issue should be directed to the Center for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/swineflu  

The only medicine you need here is an update to your anti-virus software.

 

Catch UP!…and Finding Humans.

Last Wednesday I was really looking forward to getting out of work early to go walk around in the sun shine…that was until WMBF, our sister station in Myrtle Beach called frantically, asking for back-up. Their brush fire was turning into a wild fire…

When Rob Ellis came to give us the afternoon weather run down, he pointed out the big green blob on the screen that looked like rain…it was actually a giant smoke cloud.

I packed up a set of gear and my sneakers and headed down 17S…not really knowing what to expect. Not too far into my trip I saw the giant cloud and when I arrived in M.B. that cloud was consuming the roads and seeping into my car.

WMBF was in organized chaos when I arrived around 6:30pm. They sent me to a golf coarse that was said to have caught on fire. I was alone, just me and my gear…and pretty nervous.

When I arrived they refused to let me on the property so I got all of my video from a nearby bridge which turned out to be the perfect viewing area. My tripod broke 5 min in but I’m still really pleased with what I was able to capture. I was there until 10:00 talking with local residents and watching the flames flare up, then die down then burst up again.

I met up with a crew from WMBF near 11 to give them the video…then turn back up the highway to make it back to ECT. I was very fortunate that the fire did not cut off the highway I was on and trap me in between!

The fire…now almost one week later…is 98% contained. The crew at WMBF is breathing a sigh of relief…I dont think some of them went to bed for a few days…

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When I came back on Friday I covered the story about the Brunswick County woman whose 16 year old son with severe mental disabilities was left at Greenfield Park by his aids at S. Brunswick High.

I’m very frustrated that not a single person at South Brunswick High OR the Superintendent’s office returned my phone calls and emails.

I talked with Lucy Crockett at the WPD to get more background on the incident. Apparently the bus took off without Tad and a mother at the park noticed and went to catch up with the leaving bus. The mother told police that she was waving them down….and they waved back at her and pulled out.

Tad can barely speak. I will say though he has a HUGE personality that shines through! His inability to communicate though made it very difficult for the woman who found him to help him further. Thats when she contact WPD. The officer who picked him up called dozens of local schools to try to see if someone was missing their student. I believe he was with the officer for about 2 hours.

Finally, he made contact with Brunswick and Tad was returned.

The next morning, after Pamela called me, school officials came to the house to talk to her about the incident. She said they had very little to say…just that everything was “under investigation.” She said that when a reporter from The Brunswick Voice arrived…they stood up and left.

Superintendent Katie McGee did not return my phone calls or my email but she did send a list of the employees who have been suspended. I’ve been told by Pamela that they are still getting paid.

I’ve also received emails from people who have either hired or worked with some of the people who were suspended. Lets just say they had less then kind words….

Again, no one from the school district has made an attempt to get back to me with a response on either their, or their employee’s behalf.

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Here’s a site I can’t get enough of: gethuman.com

I *loathe* calling any customer service number. Even when the prompt you to enter in all your identifying information in advance (“to faster serve you”) you always end up repeating it…..you always end up having to listen to that horrid waiting music….you always have to endure the “count down” of minutes until you are services….you have to listen to the little machine tell you how excited they are to have your business….it takes forever!

 

I just want…a human.

Here’s how to get one….

OK, so gethuman.com isn’t exactly a person either…but it will help you find out how to get a hold of one at most of the major companies you call. The site lists company names, their phone numbers and instructions on how to bypass their menus.

I used this on Bank of America…who is frequently rated the WORST in customer service. They recently “lost” my $300+ deposit. I actually put off calling them because of how long and dreadful navigating their phone system is. I often wonder if this sort of hoop-jumping is intentionally….to keep complainers at bay? Anyway, gethuman says to just press “0” when machine-lady starts yapping…..

Sure enough….I got right through to another lady…this one had a heart beat. Total phone time: 5 minutes. I estimate it would have been at least 15 if I had done things by punching the digits.

 

Check it out!

“Green” Things That Are A Waste Of YOUR Green

Happy Earth Day.

Today we all pledge to turn off the lights, put that can in the recycling and use less paper…in hopes that it makes up for the other 354 days in the year that we blasted the air conditioner, used quadruple-ply toilet paper and left the car chugging in idle….

Not to say that Earth Day isn’t an important reminder that we all life on one gigantic, non-renewable resource…our planet.

Its fantastic that being “green” has become trendy and that more people are (or at least consider themselves…) aware of eco-friendly choices. However, marketers have their money-making pulse on trends and its easy to see the proliferation of “green” on the shelves. You will often pay more for those planet-loving products but they may not be that much better than the standard option.

Today there was an article by Amy Tennery, The Big Moneyon MSN. Amy used some information off of sinsofgreenwashing.org to help shed a healthy dose of skepticism on some of these buys….below is the condensed version:

 

Clorox’s Green Works products

Green Works is touted as Clorox’s answer to the call for eco-friendly home-cleaning products. Several of these products contain corn-based ethanol. Sounds great…corn…nature! But ethanol has been criticised as being an expensive and environmentally deleterious product.

 Other items contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which the company describes as a “coconut-based cleaning agent.” Ah! Coconut! “Au natural! Nope….

The American College of Toxicology says SLS is a known skin irritant. Many people…including yours truly…experience allergic reactions to this additive. SLS is a fascinating thing…you’ll be *amazed* at how many of your home products its in. Check your laundry detergent…its there. Now check your shampoo bottle…its in there as well.

Also included are synthetic dyes. I’m pretty sure synthetic dyes do not grow in the great outdoors.

Still, Clorox received an endorsement from the Environmental Protection Agency. They’ve also partnered with the Sierra Club (who receives an “undisclosed sum” for its association with the products (its logo is featured on the bottles). The amount of money Clorox donates each year to the Sierra Club is said to be based on sales…last year Sierra received $470,000 from Clorox.

To their credit, Clorox clearly identifies all ingredients on product labels and on their Web site. They’ve also altered products to meet EPA standards.

Amy says a better choice is Seventh Generation products out of Burlington, VT. They make everything from light bulbs to cleaners.

 

Gas-saving magnets

These little gems promise to reduce your gas consumption with powerful neodymium “rare earth magnets.” (Also can be used to help you get through green lights…see a few posts ago…). Apparently you put them on the fuel line…it ionizes the gasoline…the fuel passes through the strong magnetic field…hydrocarbon groups or clusters are broken up…the fuel is now easier to vaporize…and you save on gas. Wow…TMI. 

So will you really save up to 20%? Is it worth the price tag of $29.95?

Apparently…no.

These magnets are incapable of “ionizing” gas. There’s no science to back up the claim.

 

Sephora’s ‘natural standards’

“Green cosmetics”…whodda thought…

Big time beauty maker Sephora ($$$) calls these products “naturally gorgeous”…and they slap a green seal declaring their “high internal standards” for using the “purest, most efficacious ingredients Mother Nature has to offer”…to prove it to you. Efficacious? That’s serious stuff!! brands with the “Naturally Sephora” seal.

That word…”natural” is not regulated by the FDA…so this “standard”…is Saffora’s “standard.”

So should it be yours?

Dozens of their products are said to contain high levels of harsh chemicals and cancer-causing agents according to the Environmental Working Group (these are the folks I worked with on my “Fragrance” piece).   Their website lists every cosmetic under the sun and assesses their safety on a 1 to 10 scale. Check out some of the products you use here….its interesting to see where the things you lather on everyday fall on the harm scale….

Some of their “natural” products scored 5’s and 6’s…not much better than the conventional stuff on the shelf at CVS (…for 1/4 of the price…).

Sephora admits that the term natural isn’t regulated but they don’t outline how much “green” product they are using that actually makes it BETTER than everything else.  Its easy to throw around words like, “antioxidants, botanicals, essential oils, fruit extracts, marine bioactives, minerals and vitamins”….consumer advocates are demanding they DEFINE them…and QUANTIFY them.

 

 

Bruce Cavenaugh

More on that story…and I do apologize for not updating this recently…we’ve been running around like mad getting ready for May sweeps….

We first heard about Bruce Cavenaugh shutting his doors from an employee who was on her way to get an oil changed…called to check ahead…and got the “we are closed” voice mail.

I headed with photographer Fletcher Mangum to the dealership, not quite sure what we’d find. When we arrived, there was indeed a “Closed” sign on the door..which was slightly ajar.

The lot was empty but when I went inside I found a few employees with somber faces sitting at their desks talking. It was very uncomfortable. They introduced me to Bruce who was more than accommodating and helpful in getting me the information I needed to share with all of you.

His bank…”Fifth Third” out of Ohio gives him a line of credit with which he buys cars to sell on his lot. The lender told him they have decided to get out of that type of lending (I imagine the amount must be steep in order to fill a lot with cars…plus, auto sales have been slammed nationwide…and down 30% for Cavenaugh). I asked him if he had any prior knowledge…any heads up that this might be coming….he said, not really.

If he can’t put cars on his lot…he can’t stay in business and of the cars that ARE on the lot aren’t selling to cover costs…what do you have left?

Interestingly, Bruce said that things had actually been picking UP. He saw a silver lining but there just isn’t room to mobilize without an inventory credit line.

For the cars on the lot…they will be sold at a car auction.

For customers who currently own a B.C. car…you will continue making your payments. If you had a car currently getting repairs at B.C….all those accounts will be finished and closed. Many people are asking me if they are going to still be getting their free oil changes….Bruce told me that no new services will be opened…they are shutting down until they can find new credit…so that includes a stop to oil changes.

Having moved here in October…I wasn’t familiar with how big of a “name” Cavenaugh was/is. Sure…I’ve seen the stickers EVERYWHERE around town but I did not know how much charity work he has done…and how much people admire him as a person and as a businessman.

From what people have told me…Bruce Cavenaugh seems like a pretty great person. So to all the frustrated phone calls I’m getting of people demanding how unfair it is that they have the sticker on their car and will now have to pay for their oil changes…keep that sticker on…..

Bruce may be back in business soon again….

And even if he’s not…..

It could be a point of pride and perhaps a ‘thank you’ to someone who helped you get a great deal on a car….

…and helped our community be a better place to live in.

 

Bruce…I bought my Scion in Caldwell, NJ from a Toyota Dealer. But I’d slap your sticker on my car any day.

 

Thank you.

How To Turn A Red Light… Green

I tried to pitch this today as a fun story idea…it sank like a lead balloon.

So I’ll share it here.

I found this video: How To Trigger Traffic Lights. Finally! An answer to how to get across Wilmington in less than three hours!

Traffic lights are controled by “inductive-loop traffic detectors”…sexy title, I know. Next time you happen to be playing in traffic…take a look at the roadway at an intersection. Notice what appear to be thin lines that are tarred over or imbedded into the thick white strip at the end of a lane. These are sensors in the roadway. When a big hunk of aluminum, steel and titanium (i.e. your car) drives up, the conductance between the metal and the detector send a message to the light that cars are waiting…turn green…or at least…hurry it up and turn green.

This is why it drives me insane when people  chose to stop ten feet away from that white strip. Its also the reason why I stop ON the strip. Its my little way of saying “LIGHT. I’M HER, get a move on.”

According to the road warrior in this video…there is a scientific way to ‘enhance’ your conductive presence at a light…which may be especially helpful to people who drive small cars, mopeds, motorcycles or bikes…that dont have enough of the conductive material to trigger these loops.

He says to take two neodymium magnets and mount them underneath your ride using heavy-duty exterior mounting tape. You can buy those magnets online. The magnets just need to be perpendicular to the road.

Once mounted…you will dominate the road-way electromagnetic field by boosting your vehicle’s conductance.

He says you will save time and money on fuel.

Can’t lie…I’m dying to know if this works. Can you even imagine the possibility of getting through the Oleander/College Road exit in less than ten minutes?!

 

If you try it…you have to let me know. You’ll be the coolest guy in your carpool for sure.

Dump Day (Week)

Just got back from the Brunswick County landfill (hee haw!) where they are having a free dump week.

That’s right folks..bring yer old fridges, yard waste, trinkets and treasures and Brunswick County will  help you dispose…minus the tipping fee.

Talked to Chief Trash Enforcer John Potter (his truck’s license plate says so..) and he said that many people will deal with their garbage by stashing it in the woods or behind buildings because they dont want to pay to take care of their own trash. This creates impromptu dumps in public places and worse…out there in once-pristine mother nature.

Reason why the free dump weeks are a great thing to take advantage of. John says that these bi-annual opportunities are intended to help keep the community clean.

Trucks were lined up when I got there…everything from old microwaves to very…very….VERY old mattresses (yikes).

I asked John about recycling…it was disheartening to see all those appliances lying around…thinking they were going right into the ground (well…Sampson county’s ground to be more specific…that’s where Brunswick hauls some of their household waste…and also where New Hanover County may be sending theirs depending on the outcome of their garbage issue….).

John says that the appliance metal goes to a metal scraper who can melt it down for reuse. I’m not sure what can be done for the mattresses that are circa 1980. The reality is that it probably goes into the landfill.

You’ll see that little piece tonight.

 

Last week, this week..and probably for a few more weeks I will spend much of my time doing the “daily turns” versus the investigative pieces. The May “book” is rapidly approaching…a period known as “sweeps” that important for ratings. The Media Gods at WECT have created a bunch of story ideas for the reporters to work on to make it a great May for all of you…and while they are out and about trying to get that done, I’ll be helping out where needed.

Its certainly a different world on the “daily” side. My first opportunity to do pieces on Easter Egg hunts and landfills thats for sure. Truely, its a great mental break!

 

A little tid-it about my story on Friday night about your State tax returns. Representative Danny McComas said that if the State doesn’t pay you by May 31st (I believe that means…they have to cut the check by then…not that its in your bank account by then…). If they dont….they will pay YOU interest on your return. That’s actually a State statute.

If you filed earlier, you should either have your return or it will arrive shortly. If you STILL have not filed (c’mon everyone!) they yes, its very likely that you’ll be waiting 6-8 weeks. Returns operate on a first-in, first-out basis.

 

Keep me updated if you’ve been waiting longer than 8 weeks…..

“I’m Sorry…This Tax Pays For What??”

In December…the state of North Carolina pried my New Jersey license plates out of my white-knuckled grip and for about $250 I officially became a Southern driver. You can take my plates but you’ll never take my Yankee road rage…

Just last week I received a letter in the mail from the New Hanover County Tax Office…always an exciting find. Turns out I owe over $60 total to the following jurisdictions: New Hanover County, City of Wilmington, and the Wilmington License Fee.

I’ve lived all over the country and I have *never* heard of paying a motor vehicle tax. So I called…..

I’m told that this is a property tax…on my car. Everyone pays a different amount based on the value of their vehicle. They valued my 2004 Scion xA at $7,400. That alone is laughable. Since the Scion dealer first handed me the keys I have driven that thing like Dan Gurney…taking every opportunity to red line it while pulling out of the driveway…gassing it over speed bumps and driving with the E-brake on. If that thing is still worth > $7K…the Scion is the slowest depreciating car on the market.

When I called the tax office to ask exactly what my tax money paid for, the representative first said, “different things.” I asked for specifics. Here is the break-down I eventually got:

 

34.8% goes to Education

23.4% goes to Human Services

17.6% to Public Safety

11.4% to General Government

7.9% to Debt Service

3.9% to “Culture and Recreation”

0.5% to Other

0.5% to Economic Development

 

Did you have any idea your vehicle could do so much!? I wonder what “Other” is. I also wondered how much money the County generates off vehicle taxes….(the office said they didn’t know).

 

If I drive a tractor…do I still have to pay the tax?