The Daily Mining Gazette's headlines of the past few days certainly have shown those problems exist right here. In the span of 48 hours we've run stories of a man found guilty in the beating death of his wife, a murder suspect still ruled incompetent to stand trial and the senseless stabbing death of a woman and the assault on her teenage daughter.
It certainly does seem that the pristine Keweenaw has "grown up."
The reality is, these crimes, and others we read about in big city papers, do exist here, and frankly always have.
But here in the Keweenaw, as in most rural areas, we have a lower degree of separation to the victims.
Those of us who did not personally know any of the three recent homicide victims, almost assuredly know someone who did, or was otherwise connected.
These people were not just names in the newspaper, but real humans who crossed our paths, or the paths of those we know.
It makes it closer to home. It makes it hurt even more.
The bottom line is that wherever we live, regardless the size of the community, people sometimes do horrible things to each other.
Recently Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the legendary Indian leader and promoter of peace Mahatma Gandhi, visited our area and in a speech at the Rozsa Center said he fervently believes that real peace is possible.
At this time, although we may feel a bit further removed from that peace than we did a bit ago, it's important to remember that message.
One of the reasons these deaths hurt so much, is the same quality that makes this such a special place. The warmth and caring nature of most of the people who make up "God's Country."
We will get through these trying times, and we will be stronger as a result.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. Sept. 23.
Growing anti-vaccination trend a cause for concern
It's easy to label anti-vaccine rhetoric spouted by a tiny handful of outspoken activists as gullible, short-sighted and even dangerous.
But the natural next step — to say parents who seek waivers to prevent their children from getting vaccinated are also gullible and short-sighted — is an overbroad generalization.
But given the lack of scientific support for anti-vaccine claims, and the possible repercussions, it's not unfair or even unreasonable for parents and school officials to urge those who seek waivers to perform the due diligence required before making such a decision.
Like the vocal opposition to fluoridating drinking water, the anti-vaccine movement is based on pseudo-science that doesn't stand up to even basic scrutiny.
The anti-vaccine movement hangs its hat mostly on claims that thimerosal, a preservative that had been added to vaccines for more than 70 years — it has been removed from most childhood vaccines in the United States in an effort to mollify anti-vaccine crusaders — can cause autism.
Over the past 15 years or more, studies at a number of major medical institutions have concluded there's no link between autism and exposure to Thimerosal.
The nearest the anti-vaccine community comes to a scientific basis comes from Mark Geier, M.D., a former researcher at the National Institutes of Health who now is best known as an expert witness in vaccine injury lawsuits.
His claims have been widely and almost universally debunked by fellow scientists, but some anti-vaccine activists still claim the U.S. government has conspired with vaccine manufacturers to cover up the truth.
Today, the movement depends mostly on the celebrity of Jenny McCarthy, a model, TV talker and actress who has said her son has autism caused by vaccines (a claim she has recently backed away from.)
McCarthy has exposed her son to a host of treatments, including gluten-free and casein-free diets, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, chelation therapy, aromatherapies, electromagnetics, spoons rubbed on his body, multivitamin therapy, B-12 shots and numerous prescription drugs.
Obviously, McCarthy's efforts lack a basis in science, just as her anti-vaccine campaign does. But she still gets air time to spout.
The lack of immunizations is moving toward a crisis level here. The percentage of students whose parents have sought immunization waivers in the Grand Traverse area is one of the highest in the state. Grand Traverse ranks 74th and Leelanau 82nd out of 83 Michigan counties. Antrim, Benzie and Kalkaska are 26th, 32nd and 52nd, respectively.
Michigan parents can waive vaccinations for medical, religious or philosophical reasons. Health officials say the number of families opting out is on the rise.
"In order to prevent an outbreak from happening in a group, you need to have generally 90 percent (of them) immunized," said Michael Collins, medical director for the Grand Traverse, Benzie and Leelanau county health departments.
State data from public and private schools in Grand Traverse County show 11 percent of kindergarten, sixth-grade and new students waived vaccination. The state average is 6.3 percent.
Traverse City Area Public Schools' Montessori School at Glenn Loomis Elementary has waivers for 25 percent of its 97 kindergarten, sixth-grade and new students. That's frightening.
Parents need to decide what's best for their own children but they must also consider the wider public good. There is virtually no scientific support for not allowing kids to be vaccinated and parents owe it to their children and the community to give as much credence to solid, peer-reviewed, widely accepted science as they do the claims of a tiny handful of activists.
Detroit Free Press. Sept. 23.
Why do governor, Legislature operate in secret?
When asked whether he would support broadening Michigan's Freedom of Information Act laws to include his office and the Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder told the Free Press: "As governor, it's good to have people you can talk to ... when you're coming up with brainstorming ideas or thought processes, talking about difficult issues."
Yes, we're sure that's true. And if you're the manager of a private enterprise, it's a valid rationale for keeping your business private. But elected officials should have no such presumption of privacy. Public records are just that — public. FOIA laws allow reasonable exemptions, for pending litigation or to protect private information. But a blanket exemption for two branches of government, most specifically the two branches that control every cent of the state budget, is just ridiculous.
Yet, that's how Michigan rolls: The Legislature and the governor's office aren't required to comply with FOIA laws, unlike governors and Legislatures in most of the rest of the country. Local elected officials are also covered by FOIA laws, and it's ridiculous to suggest that the governor of Michigan engages in negotiations more complex and sensitive than, say, the mayor of Detroit — whose records are available to the public under FOIA.
Why is this so important? Think of the negotiations over Michigan's prison food service contract. Some critics feared that moving the talks under the aegis of the governor's office would mean documents related to the controversial contract wouldn't be subject to FOIA. Without information obtainable through the statute, it's difficult for members of the public or the news media to gauge the value and success of such programs — or to make sound decisions at the ballot box, based on elected officials' track records.
Government is here to serve the people. Government's business is the people's business, authorized and paid for by each and every one of us. It's a concept described in the same state statute that, in a whopping illogical inconsistency, later exempts the governor and Legislature from its dictates: "It is the public policy of this state that all persons ... are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees. ... The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process."
Transparency is the first step toward accountability.
Michigan's FOIA law could be changed, if legislators would act. Legislation that would expand Michigan's FOIA laws to cover the governor and Legislature have been introduced, but tend to go nowhere.
It's time for that to change.
The Saginaw News. Sept. 21.
With sneezing and wheezing season upon us, take care not to spread illness
It may seem too early in the cool-weather season for sneezing and wheezing, but illness is making the rounds here in Saginaw.
Covenant HealthCare, St. Mary's of Michigan and now Aleda E. Lutz Veterans Affairs Medical Center have all restricted visitor access in light of recent respiratory illnesses that are gaining prevalence nationally and locally.
Meantime, the Saginaw Department of Public Health last weekend announced it is working with medical professionals to monitor for the arrival in our area of Enterovirus-D68. Symptoms include wheezing, difficult breathing, fever and racing heart rate.
As of Sept.18, the Centers for Disease Control had confirmed 153 cases nationwide of this uncommon strain virus that has hospitalized patients. Those who have asthma or compromised breathing are at particular risk. There are confirmed cases in 19 states and suspected cases right here in Michigan.
But don't panic. Here are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick:
— Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
— Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
— Cover your cough (not with your hand. Preschoolers on up these days are taught to cough into their elbows.)
— Avoid sharing items with those who are sick — that includes computer keyboards.
— Disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
— Avoid utensil sharing.
— Avoid intimate contact with sick persons.
— Staff at Saginaw's VA hospital also suggest visitors ask a staff member for a protective mask to wear during visits.
And if you have already fallen victim to a seasonal bug, the best way to reduce further spread of such illness is to consider your friends, neighbors and co-workers.
If you are sick and miserable, stay away from them. If you can work from home, do so. If you can make do using only your personal cell phone, yes, please do.
Don't try to be some kind of martyr at work because spreading illness in an unending cycle of sick people is just not good for any of us. Work can wait, please stay home and get well.