Why Does It Take A Tragedy To Get Legislators’ Attention?

Example #1:

After seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and killed in 1994 by a known child molester living across the street from her, the New Jersey legislature passed Megan’s Law to warn communities about sex offenders in their midst.

This was not the first time a sexual predator harmed a child.

Example #2:

In response to last year’s mauling deaths of Dorothy Sullivan and her dog Buttons by three pit bulls running loose, Virginia state Sen. R. Edward Houck is proposing a bill that would make certain kinds of dog attacks (those that result in serious human injury or in human death), a felony, reports ABC News.

Yet this wasn’t the first injury or death caused by owners who didn’t keep track of their dogs.

Example #3:

After the deaths of 14 miners this month, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that requires improved communications and emergency response, electronic tracking of trapped coal miners and the underground storage of additional air supplies, reports the Herald-Dispatch.

But this comes too late for the grieving families. Said Brittany Hatfield, whose father died last week: “I just wish they would have done it before and maybe I’d have my daddy here with me.”

This wasn’t the first mining accident in the state’s history or in other parts of the country.

Why does it take a tragedy for legislators to pay attention and take action?

UPDATE: The West Virginia Legislature’s passage of a new mine-safety law encourages Pennsylvania, Ohio, Utah and Kentucky to consider changes as well (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).


Bloggers as Unwitting Ambassadors

The summer after I graduated from college I spent two weeks traveling through Japan. I walked through the neon streets of Tokyo and the breathtaking gardens and temples of Kyoto. What I remember most, though, is the role I played as an American ambassador.

In addition to arranging a full program of sightseeing, my host families set up several “cultural exchanges” in which they expected me to be an expert on all things American. I spoke about current events and politics to students at Reitaku University, talked with young mothers about the expanding opportunities for women in Western society, and met with a group of employees to discuss marketing.

Most of all I tried to leave a positive impression about the United States. I knew that what I said, how I said it, and my overall demeanor would have a greater impact on the people I met than some brief blurb about the U.S. they’d read in the newspaper.

That trip was many years ago. But the role I had to play is not dissimilar to the one we as bloggers and writers hold now.

Most of the blogs I read come from the U.S, but several are from Europe, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. I read them to gain an international perspective and to measure my opinions and responses against those of others who aren’t necessarily shaped by an American mind-set. I also know that what I write here is read by a few people in different parts of the world.

Acting as ambassadors of our respective countries is no small burden. But it offers a tremendous opportunity for us all.


Resources for Blogging in Politically Repressive Environments

Here are two important blogging resources for anyone opposed to censorship and supportive of free speech … and, most importantly, for any blogger working within a politically repressive environment.

On a related note, there is currently much talk about credibility, accountability and accuracy within the blogosphere. I’ve often thought that limiting the anonymity of bloggers or those who comment on blog posts is one way of increasing accountability. Spirit of America has challenged my view on this (see entire argument on Anonymous Blogging Apologia):

“Most of the bloggers who have been arrested in the past two years were easy to find because they followed the advice of some purist critics of anonymous blogging: They used their real names and details of their lives. Considering the likelihood that the harrassment of bloggers will continue, we believe anonymous blogging should remain a valid option and comprehensive instructions on how to do so should be available.”


Civility A Hot Topic Among Bloggers

The recent verbal sparring between Six Apart president Mena Trott and backstage.bbc.co.uk’s Project Lead Ben Metcalfe at the Les Blogs 2.0 Conference has hit a massive nerve among bloggers. A Technorati search for “Ben Metcalfe” reveals 400 posts. I won’t comment on what happened at Les Blogs since I wasn’t there, but I admit I’m glad that civility – and the absence thereof – is a hot topic again. While it’s true that definitions of what’s considered civil behavior vary based on environment, personal values and cultural norms, it’s indisputable that incivility takes its toll. This might be a good time to re-read an older, but still relevant, article on workplace civility. It contains good ideas applicable to many settings.


Legislation Seeks to Avoid a Repeat of Katrina’s Pet Failure

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, pet owners were either forced to abandon their pets or risk their own lives in trying to protect their animal companions. Some people decided to stay behind, others were heartbroken by the decision they felt forced to make.

While stories of happy reunions between owners and their pets provide a small feel-good element in an otherwise tragic series of government failures, there are still reports of animals who are barely alive and desperately waiting to be rescued.

Seeking to avoid a repeat of Katrina, Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Chris Shays (R-CT) recently introduced the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act of 2005 (H.R. 3858) to require state and local emergency preparedness operational plans to “take into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.” PETS currently has over 60 co-sponsors. As explained in Congressman Lantos’ introductory statements:

“This legislation … requires states to include how they plan to accommodate their incumbent pet population as well as people with disabilities that are aided by service animals. FEMA will require the jurisdictions to submit their emergency preparedness plans in order to be eligible for FEMA funding assistance in the event of a disaster.”

While the legislation doesn’t require any specific rescue efforts by state or local governments, it serves as a starting point for discussing the practical steps needed to rescue people and their pets. So are any non-profits or advocacy groups using this bill as an opportunity to educate their members and the public? Here’s a partial list of national organizations that are:

· The Humane Society of the United States (go here)

· The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (go here)

· Last Chance for Animals (scroll to bottom of page here)

· United Animal Nations (go here)

· Doris Day Animal League (go here)

At a time when the wounds of Katrina are still fresh and people around the country are wondering what they would so if disaster struck them, all animal advocacy groups, whether national or local, large or small, should be using this legislation to raise awareness and mobilize their audiences into action.


fMRI Use in Corporate Crisis Management

In the future, will public relations firms use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as part of their crisis management arsenal? Start-up Cephos Corporation no doubt must hope so.

According to a news release issued by the Medical University of South Carolina, which conducted the groundbreaking study “Detecting Deception Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging” (abstract available from Biological Psychiatry here; full study available with free registration) in conjunction with Cephos and Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, researchers for the first time were able to distinguish truth-telling from deception within 61 individuals through the use of fMRI.  

In case you’re wondering why you should be interested, the study points out that:

“An accurate method to detect deception likely would have important implications for our society. Many legal, political, military, and industrial settings might benefit from an accurate method for detecting deception. Presently available technologies such as the polygraph and voice stress analysis lack rigorous scientific support.”

fMRI’s potential interest for attorneys is undeniable. The MUSC news release quotes criminal defense attorney extraordinaire Robert Shapiro as saying:

“I’d use it tomorrow in virtually every criminal and civil case on my desk. This technology will revolutionize how cases are handled by allowing the truth to prevail undeniably.”