Monday, December 16, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Prepper Websites

We have had the luxury of a reasonably slow gate as of late so I have been able to spend quite a bit of time "cruising" the web.  I have been reading a few of the "prepper" sites and have come to a few conclusions.

My first is that some of these sites seem only to exist to stir the pot, they only seem to offer little valuable information, instead relying on "hit" stories to inflame and excite readership.  A good example of this type of blog/website is Mac Slavo's ,I have yet to see a positive story on this site that was not contained within the readers comments section.  However, most of the readership does seem to be the "keyboard commando" type that when confronted with an intelligent argument immediately descends into name calling and derogatory comments, from which no one learns anything. There are a few bright points though, some of the  best information for resources comes from a few of the contributors, and some of the conversations are quite enjoyable. 

My second is that there are some truly informative sites out there. An example would be Ken Jorgunsen's . Ken offers many tips and tricks on survival and sustainable living.  I thoroughly enjoy many of the subjects contained on this site and Ken is very interactive with his readers, oftentimes altering an article with updated information offered to him in the comments section.

For those individuals interested in the American Redoubt. James Rawles' offers a wealth of information submitted by readers in the form of independent articles. There is no comment section and feedback for subject matter is done through email and then posted if relevant to the subject matter

While not a prepper site per se, low tech magazine's website has an abundance of info low tech solutions, most of which are easily recreated.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kicking the can..

I called it. The last minute passing of a resolution to keep the gubbment from so called defaulting.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What some of the rest of the world thinks.

I found this to be of some interest.

"Because Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, Congress and president could not agree on a stop-gap budget, hundreds of thousands of federal employees were sent on involuntary leave and many agencies were forced to shut down," continues the editorial. "The main actors in this dispute, which brings together many factors, both ideological and political, took a huge risk and, unhindered, proceeded to validate everyone who ever accused the political establishment in Washington of being rotten to the core -- by driving the world power into a budgetary state of emergency. The public is left wondering how things could have been allowed to get to this point and why there is so much poison in the system."

Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

17 Years

17 years is what the talking head said this morning about the "partial" governmental shutdown, 17 years since the last time it happened. Roughly 2 weeks are all that remain until the debt ceiling is either raised or We the People, default.

Today the national park system is closed, the E.P.A is shut down and various other federal agencies are locked up tight.  There is politicians blaming politicians for a problem that the politicians themselves created.

It will all come down to the last minute deal.

Isn't 17 years also the life cycle of a cicada?

On a different note, I need to find my small detail brush, the one with nylon bristles that sort of resembles a toothbrush on steroids. The reason I need to find this particular piece of hardware is that the other day it started raining.... inside the rv. After a summer of running pretty much non-stop 24/7, the coils have become coated with a film of caliche dust, pet and human dander and a curious amount of Styrofoam insulation which caused an ice-up situation. Luckily I can see the evaporator from inside, so cleaning it shouldn't be too difficult.

I also have a "lint lizard" attachment for the sweeper to remove debris from some of the harder to reach places.

As a wise man said; "Thats all I have to say about that."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What Putin has to say

An article appeared in the New York Times yesterday.

MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Please read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Feeding Fred.

I was sitting around near the end of August looking for something to do while mindlessly surfing the web and ran across an article on bread. This got me thinking about how homemade bread would have been made 100 years ago (I was cruising vintage photos at the same time). I started looking into sourdoughs, many of the recipes I was finding called for store bought yeast, which to my thinking is cheating and the end result isn't a true sourdough. After searching around a bit I came across a very simple recipe that only used equal parts of flour and water, I figured that was simple enough for me to at least make an attempt and if I failed I was only out a little of my time and a few cups of flour. Besides, if I felt really desperate, I could always send away for a starter from Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter webpage.  Carl passed away a few years ago and his friends are keeping his tradition alive of sharing his sourdough with anyone that asks  for FREE! If you are interested, please check out the website.

Luckily, I didn't have to send for Carl's sourdough because mine took off after the second day. Many of the sites I had looked at recommended that once things got moving along to name your creation so that you would be less likely to forget to feed it. Thus Fred was born. Fred mostly resides on the back of  the counter behind the stove in a Ball widemouth mason jar that once housed Janak's Country Market Dill Pickles while I'm letting him mature. I've already tried using him a few times to make a simple bread but he seems to peter out  and I don't get much of a rise out of him, but the flavor is almost spot on.  I'm not sure if I over worked the dough but I recently changed out the type of flour I was feeding in hopes of getting better results and instead of a traditional loaf of bread, I want to try  a biscuit recipe .

I fed Fred this morning and while I was writing this he decided to take off and over flow his pickle jar so I removed about a cup and stuck him in the fridge to slow him down a bit.   Now it looks like I'm trying that bread recipe again a little sooner than I planned!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Downhill slide

I think we have just about made it through the worst that a South Texas oilfield summer has to offer. The triple digit temperatures are soon to end giving us some much needed relief and also giving the air conditioners a break.

We are going to try again in a few weeks at taking a few days off for some much needed R&R.  While we aren't exactly sure where we are going or what we are doing, I'm pretty sure we are going to stay somewhere in South Texas. Going for 9 months without any significant time off together is grueling, not to mention frustrating.

 I recently tried to make my own sourdough starter from scratch and to my surprise, I managed to succeed on my very first try. The recipe I used was a very simple one only requiring equal parts water and flour and then hoping to capture some wild yeast from the air.  As of this writing, my sourdough is five days old and maturing nicely, it should be ready to use in just a few days after I bulk it up a little more. I'll be sure to post how our first attempt at bread works out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Is it hot yet?

Our one year anniversary gate guarding came and went a few days ago. This time last year we were just a few days on our first gate down in the Tilden area, still feeling the excitement of a new adventure started. We survived that gate with all its ups and down, from sorting out the locals(we were on Hayes Ranch Road), to being moved on short notice next to the location, downwind and less than 200 ft from a very active and smelly flarestack. Fast-forward one year and here we are, still hard at it except now we are chasing a drilling rig around South Texas.

I'm feeling kinda lucky today because we have a few clouds drifting by, affording me a bit of occasional shade as I sit here writing this on our mud-porch. I could go around back and sit under the tree, yes, we have a tree that is a few feet behind the rv, but the signal bells are harder to hear and the view isnt as nice. I can see the traffic on fm99, about a mile north of us, go by and at night we get the lights from Karnes City and the prison to the north-east, this is by far, one of the nicest views and locations we have been on.

The coach we purchased October of last year is performing wonderfully and we couldn't be happier with it. For a spur of the moment, emergency purchase, we have been  incredibly fortunate.

The biggest drawback for us has been time off. Toie and I haven't been able to spend more than a couple hours away together in about the last 6 months and this time of year is really not condusive to doing so considering the general shortage of guards. We do plan on taking a bit of time for ourselves here shortly after the weather cools a bit.

As a side note, trying to write a blog post while juggling traffic presents it own set of challenges. Such as lost trains of thoughts.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


Congratulations to Pfc. Ian Heyman on his recent graduation from Basic Training!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Time off is a relative thing.

Over six months, that is the amount of time its been since Toie and I have had any time off that didn't involve having to rig up or rig down the RV. Not that we haven't tried to have someone come out and keep an eye on things while we take a little much needed time for ourselves, it just seems to be "that" time of year.  We started upon our quest for a bit of time away over a month ago and it seems that the stars have not been aligned to our favor, so we kept soldiering on, the days becoming a never ending blur of traffic and dust.

We actually had an ulterior motive for taking the time. Lacey (daughter) moved from Missouri and has been staying with us so we figured on taking her to the coast and getting all the paperwork done so that she could make a little money and cover for us when we wanted a "date" night.  After many failed attempts of getting coverage for ourselves we finally decided that the girls would strike out for the coast on their own to get all the details taken care of and spend some time at the beach.

Yesterday morning Toie and Lacey made the 100+ mile, 2 hour drive across South Texas towards Corpus Christi. Traveling south on Highway 181 gives a glimpse and feel of what travel was like before the federal highway system existed.  Overgrown and abandoned roadside gas stations along with other "attractions" now barely visible hearken back to a time that the journey was part of the adventure, not just an inconvenient intermission to the destination.

Below are a few photos from that trip.
Corpus Christi Beach

Windmill near Taft, Texas

USS Lexington

Shrimp Boat in the Marina
Along the Waterfront
Standing on the seawall looking for fish in the water below

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Water pumps and a good jockey

Over the Memorial Day weekend we had ourselves a bit of weather that at one point over an inch of rain an hour was falling here on our river.. err I mean gate. Just as the rain was starting as a light sprinkle I was informed that we were no longer had water coming from our kitchen faucet.  I knew we were getting low on water but by my reckoning we shouldn't have been out yet. Well I went out and made a beeline for the trailer on which our generator and 550 gallon water tank reside. Upon climbing up and opening the lid I found that we were indeed low but still had enough to get us through a few more days.  I pulled the door off of the generator housing where the starting battery and water pump resides and was quick to discover that the water pump was indeed dead a no amount of fiddling with it was going to bring it back to life.  Luckily I keep an old pump as an emergency backup for just such an occasion and swapping out the inoperative one only took a few short minutes.

In the meantime, the Big Rain was gearing up good and I finished in time to avoid a good soaking. We weathered the storm pretty well, only discovering a small leak, which incidentally happened right above the computer, effectively rendering every USB port useless due to a malfunction. At the height of the storm we had roughly an inch of standing water on the road and a RIVER running behind and under the left side of the RV. There was so much water that it washed out the edge of the pad we are sitting on, along with causing the front left of the RV to sink a few inches.  The car, which was parked in front of the RV, sunk about an inch as well. I collected about 4 inches of water in a five gallon bucket in just over 7 hours that day. That doesn't include the  rain we received the night before.

Yesterday I decided that we had to reposition the RV due to the washing out of part of our pad and today we moved it. Luckily the pad was large before the rain and I was able to move the RV into a better position, roughly 10 feet closer to the lease road. The RV now sits over top of where our mat once was. Since we are sitting on a curve I also changed the angle of the RV to take better advantage of the sun's position so that we are more shaded on the curbside during the evening.

We also discovered this evening that my backup water pump had developed a significant leak. Large enough to partially fill the mat that the generator sits on.  So now its getting close to 8pm and I know getting another pump tonight is out of the question. I had set the original pump on the trailer to show to our support guy when he showed up to refuel us in hopes of getting a replacement and returning the backup to its place in storage.  So here I am with two pumps, one with a leak and another that is dead. Easy fix in my book, I took the good pump off the dead motor and used it to replace the leaky one on the working motor and Wala! I have my backup pump back. 

Its been a busy day.

Don't let your meat loaf!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day.

Today is the day we remember those who gave all so that the rest of us wouldn't have to.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gremlins and water

Over the last day or two we have been the recipients of a copious amout of rainfall here at the gate.  Yesterday at the height of the storm we had about an inch of standing water on the road and a river a few inches deep running underneath and behind the rv. Resulting in the left front leveling jack sinking a few inches into the mud. After the rain subsided a bit I stuck a measuring tape into the bucket I keep sitting outside (that was empty at the beginning of the rainstorm) and found that there were 4 inches of water there. That is a whole lot of rainfall in a short period of time.  San Antonio Airport received about 7 inches of rain in about an hour period from the same line of storms that affected us so we are counting ourselves lucky.  Looking out the window I can see it has started sprinkling again and the radar is showing a storm coming at us from the northwest.  We continue to be under a flash flood warning for the time being.

On the subject of Gremlins.  I'm not sure if this place is haunted or what but it seems that everytime we solve a problem here, two more pop up.  It has become a constaant back and forth between us and the rig, We fix an issue, they have a problem. They get their problem fixed and we start having issues again.  The latest is the water pump for our external water tank suddenly stopped working, I keep a backup in the  basement for just such an emergency, and in a few minutes I had water restored to the rv and we were back in business.  Well they started having problems down on the pad this morning, something about a piece of stuck equipment.  I'm sure when they get that resolved, something will hiccup up here at the gate.    Stuff like this have been going on as long as we've been here and it has become a running joke between us and some of the righands.

Hopefully  we wont float away!!!

Happy Memorial Everyone!

I'm gonna go see about leveling this ole bitch back up.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's been a year (sort of).

I've been had this rattling around in the old noggin for the last few weeks. 

Its been just a bit over a year since we made the jump into full-time RV living. It was April of last year when our lives were in what seemed a huge amount of turmoil, some of it planned, some not so much.  Everything seemed to have hit us at once, loss of a job, unexpected surgery, making the transition from the stick & bricks to the RV and making arrangements to stay in a friends yard while I recovered, all seemed to be an insurmountable mountain of things to over come.  Some events caused us to accelerate our plans for others and we always didn't accomplish things with as much grace as we may have liked, but we got through it.

The excitement and trepidation felt when we pulled our old 1978 NuWa class C out of the yard in Iowa and pointed it south towards Texas in July was almost overwhelming.  As the miles went by the nervousness went away and I could enjoy the un-folding journey.  Looking back now we made so many choices on that first trip that weren't necessarily mistakes but I wouldn't do them again quite the same way, such as what had seemed like a good first day route on paper was more suited for a smaller vehicle than the 25ft length and top heavy nature of the NuWa. 

This first year has been a huge learning experience of the ins and outs of RV living. Sometimes finding just the right spot for something, that won't allow it to become a projectile while driving down the road, can present a small challenge from time to time. Glamorous chores such as dumping the tanks or checking the batteries has replaced mowing the lawn, although at times I do miss my lawnmower. We tend to keep a closer eye on the weather, being particularly vigilant for severe weather. Upkeep is a bit more intense and at present I have two projects that need completed with a third possibly in the works. We are still learning to slow down and enjoy being in the moment.

We haven't moved very long distances since we became gate guards, mostly moving less than 50 miles at a time but we keep moving.  The scenery still changes every few weeks and that is just fine with us.


Monday, April 8, 2013

The perils of gate guarding/Easter storm damage.

One of the perils of doing this kind of work is the rapidly changing weather conditions. Andy Jones from My Old RV suffered significant damage late Easter due to a storm over in the Millet/Los Angeles area. He has posted pictures on his blog as well as a description of events during the storm.

Andy has been a guiding light to many a gate guard and unfortunately is unable to financially absorb all the costs of the damage incurred to his RV.  I want to ask all of my readers in the gate guard community to please head over to Andy's blog and make use of the donate button there.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time flies when your having... fun?

It has been close to a year since been started fulltime rv'ing in our friends front yard.  From a moving to Texas and becoming oil field gate guards to having to replace the rv unexpectantly in October and the recent birth of our granddaughter Aria, it has been quite the adventure.

Little did we know what challenges awaited, from generator problems to emptying the tanks without making a huge mess. getting sunburnt, freezing temperatures, tire blow outs and the occasional wild animal we have risen to the occasion each and every time.

One of the biggest lessons we have learned is that this lifestyle is definitely not for the weak hearted or the insecure.  This is not a vacation but rather a lifestyle choice, we work just as hard, if not harder than some to be able to enjoy the "perks." 

Another lesson learned was to slow down and enjoy the journey. Society has become so focused on goals and destinations we often forget that the journey itself is part of the adventure and many times we miss out on what happens along the way. We may not move long distances as often as some but in this line of work we move much more often than others.

As we had begin our second year a whole new set of challenges will need to be met.  We hope that the experience we have gained will make these mere speed bumps in our road.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Time "March"es on.

I've been spending quite a bit of time on ham radio lately and really enjoying it. I was worked by a station in Northern Ireland the other day, seemed fitting as we are close to the St. Patrick holiday.

We have been picked up by the drilling rig we took over when we moved over to the Yorktown/Cuero area. We have followed them back into the Karnes City area and after a few hectic days of a rig move things are finally settling down into a normal flow of traffic.

It's definitely springtime here in South Texas, temperatures are rising into the 70's and 80's daily and the weather has been beautiful.  The big floppy hat has been pressed back into service as well as copious amounts of sunscreen. We have heard reports from other gate guards that the rattlesnakes are getting quite active and are counting ourselves lucky so far by not having any incidents.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Its been awhile.

Just taking some time to sit outside and enjoy the day before it starts to storm.  I find that it makes it easier to deal with the traffic and Toie isn't disturbed so much.  We have been here in the Yorktown area for a couple weeks now and it seems to be a nice area.  We aren't far from Cuero and Victoria is only about 40 miles away.
As I wrote earlier, I got my ham license last month and have been really enjoying the hobby thus far.  We are a little remote to be able to access some of the repeaters with the handi-talkie so I have been playing with a program called Echo link.  I can "dial-in" to repeaters all over the country and world using my android devices and internet and not need a bulky HF radio and miles of wire for antennae.
Toie and I have started going through the RV and cleaning out some of the items we thought we would use but haven't done so yet. Taking our time doing so gives us something to do when traffic gets slow.
We have also made a conscious decision to change our approach to food in our lives.  We have become much pickier about the products we buy and are incorporating more fresh foods into our diet.  We have both become heavier since starting this adventure and don't wish to continue doing so.

The wind turbine has been working pretty well. I had to order an Any volt 3 to stabilize the output so that the charge entering the batteries would be a bit more consistent, especially at slow wind speeds. I shouldn't need to use the battery charger when we are sitting for long periods time to top off the starting battery as much/anymore. I set the turbine up the other day and it immediately garnered a bit of attention from people entering and exiting. I even managed to score a few more stickers for the tail fin on it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I took my test to get my ham license a few weeks ago and today my call-sign appeared in the ULS database. This opens up a whole new world of communication to us.  Toie has even explored getting her license as well, we will see. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fabric of Life... Ghosts from the past

It's been an eventful month. After everyone left I decided to focus on obtaining my Technician class amateur radio operators license. I studied using apps available from the android appstore and even downloaded a study guide available free in .pdf format from the website.

During this time we ended up with a few days off around the 12th and chose to spend them in San Antonio. We re-visited the River Walk and spent some time in the Alamo area exploring more of the grounds on which it sits.  Interesting enough, the Alamo is one of many missions located along the San Antonio River near downtown. While we weren't able to see them, we will be exploring them on a trip in the near future. We also had to replace the front brakes on the car during our trip. Luckily, the hotel we chose was situated kitty-corner to a shop and located on the trolley routes for the Alamo and downtown areas. We ended up utilizing the public transportation system and found it quite sufficient.

After we returned from San Antonio to our gate we spent the next few days getting back in the groove of things. I went to the Red Cross building on the 19th and took my ham test and passed the technician portion with flying colours. Waiting to receive my call letters feels like Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to arrive.

I received a surprise message from my mother on facebook the other day saying that a person I knew when I was in the Army was trying to find me and had called her and my Uncle John's house looking for me.  What a blast from the past, this person is actually the wife of my best friend that died in the first Gulf War.  I am still reeling from hearing her voice after all these years and her son's voice, who was only a few months old when his father died, and his spitting image.  I cant even begin to express what that feels like. Its like a small window back in time. David, I still miss you, even after all these years.

Gotta go

Monday, January 7, 2013

Media Fear Tactics

Interesting article by Gavin de Becker.   Original article can be found here.

Media Fear Tactics

It would be interesting if the standards of Truth in Advertising were applied to television news as they sometimes are to television commercials. In that unlikely situation, TV news writers would be required to use phrases and words that convey accurate information – as opposed to the phrases and words they use today.

I want to help you break the code of alarming newspeak so that you can more easily find the valuable information that may (or may not) be part of a story.

Given the disturbing reasons we’ve all been watching so much TV news, it would be understandable to overlook the sheer ridiculousness that is inherent in some of the sensationalism. Occasionally, the way TV news is delivered can be downright funny, and indeed, the ability to laugh at something indicates that we are beginning to gain perspective on it. Accordingly, some of what follows is funny, and I have a very clear purpose in offering it: I want to help change your experience of television news, help you actually watch it differently. I want to provide some tools you can use to ensure that when you watch TV news, only actual information gets through.

Though not offered as a comprehensive glossary, here are some examples of words and phrases I think you’ll quickly recognize:

POSSIBLE: As in “Next Up: Possible links between Saddam Hussein and tooth decay…”

The word “possible” doesn’t really have the specificity one hopes for in journalism, given that it is completely accurate when applied to anything anyone can possibly imagine. “A possible outbreak of…” means there has been no outbreak. “A possible connection between memory loss and the air you breathe…” means there is no confirmed connection.

“Officials are worried about possible attacks against…” means there have been no such attacks.

Anytime you hear the word possible, it’s probably not happening right now.

LINKS: “Next up: Possible links between convicted murderer Charles Manson and yesterday’s traffic jams in the downtown area.”

Are these two things linked? Absolutely, if you loosen your criteria enough, everything is linked by its presence on the same planet at the same moment in time – but only a very few links are instructive or meaningful.

Links are a great news trick, because you can tie a remote, unconfirmed, or even unimportant story to something that’s really pushing buttons. “Next up: Possible links to Bin Laden” is all you have to say to get attention these days.

Almost always when you hear the word link, there is no confirmed link.


“...our Nation’s water supplies…” “...our Nation’s roadways…” “...our Nation’s shipping ports…”

They use this trick to imply some large scale to a story. “A new threat to our nation’s water supplies” won’t be a threat to our nation’s anything. Our nation is enormous. Nothing, not even nuclear bombs, poses a threat to all of any system in our society at the same time. When they say “our nation’s” anything, they are usually trying to give grand significance to something that doesn’t have grand significance. We might not perk up as much if they said, “A new threat to Klopp County’s water supply…” The incident in which old Doc Ames truck leaked oil into the reservoir just isn’t gonna scare up enough ratings. But it could: “Next up, a new threat to our nation’s water supply. An alarming incident that experts say could happen anywhere!”

SHOCKING NEW DETAILS: “Shocking new details when we come back.” Well, first of all, the details are not likely to be new, and if so critical, why are we waiting till after the commercial, and anyway, what does shocking mean at this point? Unless the news anchor reaches through the screen and pulls my hair, I don’t imagine he could shock me. They’ve ruined another word for themselves.


“Auditors cite loopholes in security at our nation’s libraries.”

That’s right, anytime you have an audit or an inspection, you’re going to find something. Auditors are people who’ve been hired to write reports identifying deficiencies. Have you ever heard of a one-line audit report? “The auditors didn’t a find one damn thing that could possibly be improved.” Did you ever hear of an inspector who said: ‘We’ve wasted six months on this inspection, because the place is bloomin’ perfect. Whoever’s running this show sure thought of everything.”

The implication projected in a story about a security loophole is that someone will come crashing through the loophole – but that is not necessarily so. They tell you (and the terrorists) about the loophole because it is frightening, not because it’s enlightening.

“IN A CAREFULLY WORDED STATEMENT…” “In a carefully worded statement, the President said…” Is this as distinct from those statements that world leaders just have the kids throw together? “Carefully worded” is often used to imply that something is being hidden.

SERIOUS… “Officials consider the threat to be serious.” Is that to distinguish this threat from the threats they laugh about over lunch? Taking something seriously does not mean the risk is great or imminent. It just means officials are doing what anyone would do.

“Officials here are taking no chances when it comes to school safety.” Sort of. More likely, they’re taking no chances that reporters will broadcast a report accusing them of taking chances.

OFFICIALS ARE CLOSELY MONITORING… Implies that something is imminent, and worthy of being closely monitored. “Closely monitoring” is like “Officials are on the lookout for…” Both phrases suggest that something bad is surely coming, as if officials are standing outside looking around with binoculars.


“NASA reports that a large piece of space junk -PERHAPS as big as a freighter– COULD enter the Earth’s atmosphere sometime tonight over North America. Experts warn that it is could potentially slam into the earth.”

What are we to do with this report? Move a little to the left or right? They don’t say, of course, that every night, thousands of pieces of space junk enter the Earth’s atmosphere and completely burn up before ever hitting the ground, or that no person on Earth has ever been struck and killed by a piece of space junk. Or that if something’s as big as a freighter before entry, it might end up as small as a grain of sand – but it could potentially hit your house, I suppose.

AN ALARMING PERCENTAGE… 15%, 20%, 25%… “15% of Americans are at risk of being seriously injured in car accidents on our nation’s highways this year.” Whenever you see a percentage cited, reverse it and think about the other share in the equation. For example, from the story above you can conclude that 85% of Americans are not at risk of being seriously injured in car accidents this year. Sort of good news, all things considered. Also, phrases such “a sizeable percentage,” or “an alarming percentage” can be applied to just about any percentage. Get the actual number, and then you decide if it’s sizeable or alarming to you.

AS MANY AS: “Experts warn that as many as 25,000 people in America may be carrying the deadly gene…” or “As many as twenty states may be susceptible to radiation leakage disasters.”

“As many as” means somewhere between zero and the number given.

“IN A DEVELOPING STORY…” A phrase used when they don’t really have the story yet.

FORMER EMPLOYEES: “But one former employee at the doomed refinery reveals shocking new information…”

What does he reveal? That they fired him because he was too ethical, or because they didn’t want to hear the truth? Or that he knew all along? Anyway, he wasn’t there the night of the fire, so is he the best source of information? Truth in advertising would require the reporter to say: “We interviewed one man who hasn’t been to the refinery in three months – his opinion, next.”

LANGUAGE FROM ONE STORY BEING USED IN ANOTHER: As certain words and phrases become symbolic or evocative from one type of story, they’ll use them in another. In the days after 9/11 I saw a TV news report about a tropical storm making “a direct hit” on a tiny coastal community, as if the hurricane were aiming. (And the word tiny is used because it implies vulnerability. Storms that make direct hits on tiny places are frightening bullies.) A story about a flight that experienced extreme turbulence is headlined “Terror in the Sky.”

DEADLY: As in the popular “deadly virus;” this word is used to imply that everyone who gets the virus perishes, when the truth is that very few people die from the virus. If a really serious virus ends up being fatal for 20 percent of the people who contract it, then truth in advertising would require language such as: “Next up, a local man is stricken with a highly survivable virus.”

It’s quite a bit shy of deadly when someone tests negative for anthrax, yet in the weeks after 9/11, even a negative test for a “deadly” virus was presented as a frightening thing.

To put this into perspective, flu-related disorders killed 5000 times as many people as anthrax in 2001. Is anthrax still scary? Yes, and all the more so because of the implication that it was everywhere (colored maps showing the places in the U.S. where anthrax was found or suspected). It wasn’t everywhere. Reports were everywhere. And the same report repeated seventy-five times is still the same report. But you wouldn’t know that by the excited delivery: “New details emerge in that anthrax case.” Details maybe, but not new – far more likely when you watch TV news, they’ll be the same “new” details for the tenth time that day.

A storm is described as deadly: “We’ll have new information on that deadly hurricane that’s heading up the coast.” A hurricane qualifies for the word “deadly” when someone, somewhere on the hurricane’s round-the-hemisphere journey dies as a result of the storm. That does not mean the hurricane tries to kill all people it encounters, but that’s the implication – that something dangerous is coming. You’ll note that the people who die are usually in a situation far different than yours: They are on a small fishing boat at night off the coast of Peru, and you’re at home 1200 feet above sea level.

“IN A LAST MINUTE DEVELOPMENT…” “IN A SURPRISE DEVELOPMENT…” Usually means they didn’t get a news crew there in time. Or they didn’t warn you about it yet, which actually is interesting, since there’s only two or three possible awful outcomes involving human beings and they haven’t warned us about yet.

DISTURBING QUESTIONS: As in “Disturbing questions have been raised about the safety of our nation’s…” Yes, the questions are disturbing. They’re disturbing everyone. Please stop raising them.


Yes, reports and experts do seem to warn, fear, and worry a lot.


They sure do.

BUT NEW YORKERS FEEL… Global conclusions drawn from man-on-the-street interviews represent literally nothing. You can edit a story into “New Yorkers feel terrified,” or “New Yorkers are ready to move on” – and it all depends upon which of the five interviews you cut into the piece broadcast.

Here are two quotes brought back by one NBC News crew:

“I think if you change your life, they’re winning,” says Captain Frank Carver. “So the more we continue our daily routine, better off we all are.”

At Pat’s Country Bakery nearby, Joann Charters concedes she’s still apprehensive. “It’s a really scary feeling with kids in school. You don’t know what’s gonna happen,” says Charters.”

To accurately summarize these quotes you’d have to say: “Some people feel one way and some other people feel another way. Back to you, Tricia.”

Joann Charters citing that it’s scary because “you don’t know what’s going to happen” is right on. That’s why it’s scary: because you don’t know what’s going to happen – not because you do know, not because danger is advancing toward you, but because it is not.

TV news stories like this are filler, background, static, irrelevant. You don’t need a reporter and a video crew to bring you man-in-the-street opinions. There are men on your street you can get opinions from. Or you could just talk to your friends and family.

WARNING SIGNS… Any list of warning signs implies great risk. I recall a rash of reports about car-jacking in Los Angeles, and this list of warning signs:

Armed stranger approaches car; Taps on closed window; Looks around suspiciously.

And then they offered the checklist of precautions, given by an “expert on car-jacking.” (Is there a college course on that?) The checklist:

Keep doors locked; Don’t let strangers into your car; Drive away.

This is tantamount to:


Warning Signs: Purse feels extra heavy; Strange noises coming from purse.

OFFICIALS ADMIT… “Officials admit that the incident could have developed into a full-fledged riot…” In this context, admit means that when a reporter asked, “If police had never reached the scene, and if a hundred other factors had fallen into place in an extraordinarily unlikely way, couldn’t this have developed into a full-scale riot?” Yes, it could have – an admission.

EXPERTS… It may seem you are getting expert advice on the news, but that’s far from so. The moment you edit what an expert says, it’s just words you might as well put in the blender. Would you let a TV news crew mediate your doctor’s advice? Imagine being challenged by a difficult illness and your doctor’s compassionate and complete 30-minute presentation was edited down to 23 seconds.

That’s what the local news brings you: expert opinion edited, mediated, and minimized by non-experts who ask questions designed to elicit the most alarming responses. “Yes, yes, Dr. Stevens, but if it did happen, it would be terrible wouldn’t it?

NAMES MONIKERS When the news media assign a nickname to a wanted criminal (e.g., The Night-stalker, The Hillside Strangler) or to a disease (Legionaire’s or Flesh-Eating Diseases), it is indicative of a hoped-for series of reports. When it’s a type of crime (Follow-home Robberies), a trend is not far behind.


Next comes “Officials are concerned,” and soon enough –as with Road Rage, you’ve got hearings before the House Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, and somebody (in this case, committee staff member Jeff Nelligan) calling the issue, “A national disaster.” Presumably, Mr. Nelligan would tone that down a bit today – all of us having found a new meaning for the words “national disaster.”

I TOLD YOU SO… An NBC News story quotes a member of a university task force on weapons of mass destruction: “We’ve been talking about this for years and people in general have not been interested.” Is there some surprise there – that someone on a task force about weapons would be talking about weapons? The intended implication of these stories is that if someone had just listened, this could all have been prevented. How could discussions at some college task force have been used to prevent anthrax scares? If we had listened, what would be different? This is like an earthquake happening and earthquake experts saying, “We warned you.” Yes, you did; you said there’d be an earthquake sometime. If only we’d listened.

DISASTER UNREADINESS… These are stories where TV news people cannot lose. They ask hospitals or public health officials or the utility company or the fire department if they can handle a disaster of X magnitude. If the response is yes, they just keep upping the disaster magnitude until the response is no.

Here’s an example from NBC News: “A survey of 30 hospitals in four states and Washington, D.C., found them ill-equipped to handle a widespread biological disaster.” A guaranteed fear-inducer, pokes right at our insecurity. First off, just asking the question implies that a “widespread disaster” is coming, and it’s even better if the survey was part of a “new study,” because that implies that the question itself is well founded.

Either way, the basic premise of the story is true: If hospitals currently able to handle 500 patients an hour get 5000 patients in some terrible hour, they will be unprepared. The standard of care will drop. Is there something surprising about that? Do TV news writers think Americans assume there is some extra team of 200 doctors and an extra 5000 fully-equipped hospital beds waiting in their community somewhere just out of sight?

Indeed, hospitals are unprepared for that which they have never had to be prepared. Being able to deal with what predictably comes down the pike and putting your resources where they are most likely to be needed is good planning. An emergency room would have to trade some daily-used resource to be ready for mass casualties that don’t appear to be coming. Yes, as the world changes and events change, so does preparation – but expecting hospitals to be fully prepared, for example, to treat thousands of inhalation anthrax casualties when there’s been a few lethal cases in 30 years would constitute bad planning.

One can make an “unprepared” story about anything; America’s police are unprepared for a “widespread crime disaster;” our supermarkets are unprepared for a “widespread food shortage.” It all depends upon how you define the word widespread. Put a microphone in some official’s face and ask if he’s adequately prepared for an attack on the harbor by Godzilla, and you’ve got an unreadiness story.

WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN… “Being stuck in the elevator for six days is an experience Betty Hamilton will never forget.” This is used as a measure of how serious an incident it was, but did anyone imagine she was going to forget it? “I think I was stuck in an elevator for six days, but I can’t quite remember.”

THE WRAP-UP… Pay attention to the very last line in news reports. They are rarely summaries, but rather are designed to keep the story open for more reports. Most often, the closing line takes a last bite at the fear apple, one final effort to add uncertainty and worry. “Many here are left wondering if it will ever be safe.” “Fear continues its tight grip on this tiny community.” “Whether more will die remains to be seen.” In the world of TV news, frightening stories never end. We never hear the words “And that’s that.”

Let’s put a few of these newsroom strategies together into a story and see how it looks. As the basis for our mock TV news report, I’ll draw on something that actually happened to my assistant. Earlier this year, her wrist was injured when a dog bit her.

THE TEASER: “NEXT UP: DOGBITES! THE BONE-CRUSHING POWER OF DOGS. Experts warn that even friendly dogs can bite, sometimes without provocation. And they’re everywhere. A new Government study estimates as many as 300 dogs per square mile, with the numbers climbing each year. How many backyards in your neighborhood are hiding a deadly menace? We’ll tell you what experts say – when we come back.

THE STORY: A shocking bite from the dog everyone described as “a little angel” leaves one area woman nursing her wounds. Dog-jaw experts say that even a small dog can produce as much as 500 pounds of biting force, and given the rate at which dogs breed, it’s just a matter of time before more people are placed at risk. A former employee with the Department of Health says hospitals are unprepared for a major increase in dogbites, and officials are closely monitoring this situation that could pose a deadly threat to our nation’s neighborhoods. Disturbing questions have been raised about loopholes in the licensing system, and observers point out that dogs who bite can receive licenses and be released into neighborhoods.

THE WRAP UP: It’s no surprise that many local residents are living in fear: “You never know when somebody is walking their dog right behind you. We’re scared.” Officials say links between the recent dogbite and one that occurred in the tiny town of Ames, Iowa have not been confirmed, but either way, it’s a nightmare few will ever forget. And one that many fear will not be over in the morning.”

Coming to understand these popular phrases and strategies, and being able to see around them has made me appreciate those news reports that are direct, clear, and informative. Since many news people use these tricks, those who do not stand out as all the more special and valuable.

If you watch TV news, you’re probably going to spot lots of sensationalizing tactics I’ve missed, and maybe even start a list of your own. If finding them becomes an occasionally enjoyable part of your news-viewing experience, that in itself will be great news.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What's in a name

"What's in a Name?" A Short Glossary of What Constitutes a 'Weapon of War' and What Does Not

A lot of banter is going on in this new push for more restrictive gun control laws and some of the words being used are down right confusing to the common man and woman on the street.  As one of those people who like to use logic and reason to solve the world's problems, I prefer to work with labels that have specific, commonly accepted definitions and have limited parameters as to where and when they can be applied.  In that regard to this situation let me put forth this short glossary of applicable terms.  This list is ordered upon the importance of the term and not alphabetically.

Read the rest here.