The Hunt For Disabled Hillbillies
Posted on 10.07.17 by Danny Glover @ 6:34 pm

Every now and then, journalists in the big city get the urge to head for the hills of West Virginia and hunt stereotypes. They always find their prey. Then they tell stories that misrepresent the reality of life for most West Virginians.

You can call it Hatfields-and-McCoys journalism because the tradition is at least that old. The latest installment comes courtesy of The Washington Post, which sent a reporter hunting for hillbillies as part of the paper’s series on Social Security Disability Insurance.

I have no gripe with the topic. It’s worthwhile to shine a light on the Supplemental Security Income system because of its cost and susceptibility to fraud and abuse. I also have no problem with West Virginia being part of the story because 4 percent of West Virginians get SSI benefits — more than any other state, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. One in five working-age residents in Logan County, which the Post visited, are among them.

What galls me are the predictably cliched portrayals of country folk, and they start with the opening anecdote about digging roots from the hills for money: “For the people of the hollow, opportunity begins where the road ends.”

The implication is that the anecdote represents the norm — not just in that hollow but in all of Logan County and the entire state. Poverty reporter Terence McCoy made that point clear a few paragraphs later when he added, “In West Virginia, getting by means digging roots in the mountains.”

No, it doesn’t! Maybe it’s OK to spout that kind of nonsense when writing the script for a reality television show like “Appalachian Outlaws,” but it’s bad journalism.

I spent most of my first 24 years in the Mountain State and still visit regularly, and the only person I ever knew who dug roots was my paternal grandfather. And he did it as much for the thrill of hunting ginseng, a rare find in his part of the state, as for the money.

Most West Virginians who fall on hard times don’t dig roots to “get by”; they turn to family for support. That’s a bit harder to do when multiple family members are on the government dole and/or are estranged from each other. The Post found a family like that not because it’s the norm but because it fit the false image that urban elites have of the state.

That’s also why the Post repeatedly called attention to the fact that Donna Jean Dempsey, the main character in its tale, lives in a rundown shack without running water. It’s mentioned twice in the story and in two separate photo captions.

The photos further reinforce the ridiculous perceptions that prim-and-proper journalists tend to have of West Virginians. The portraits include: a woman who wears the same filthy flannel and blue jeans for a week; a shirtless, bushy-bearded Bubba sitting on a porch; and a gaunt mountain man who relies on oxygen after five heart attacks and two strokes.

Then there is the closing anecdote. Having survived to another SSI payday, Dempsey treated herself to three six-packs of beer at the local dollar stores. McCoy milked that development for all it was worth, characterizing it as “the best moment of the month” for Dempsey.

“She lit a cigarette, stretched out her legs and opened a beer,” he wrote. And then a few sentences later: “She looked down at her beer and thumbed its lid. She took a sip. The moment could last a while longer, she decided.”

Save for a trip to the still and Dempsey sipping from a moonshine jug, he couldn’t have asked for a better redneck ending to this chapter of yellow journalism about West Virginia.


Filed under: Government and History and Human Interest and Media and People and Photography and Rednecks and West Virginia
Comments: None

The Myth Of The Impala Mama
Posted on 02.18.17 by Danny Glover @ 1:50 pm

Finnish photographer Alison Buttigieg loves cats. The Internet loves cats. But these days Buttigieg hates the Internet because it’s lying about one of her cat photos.

It all started Feb. 11. Someone who knows her work as a wildlife photographer recognized a cheetah picture of hers online. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise  —  Buttigieg published the “remarkable” photo on her blog, Facebook and Instagram last November after it won an international award. But the flood of messages that started pouring in from strangers that day stunned her.

An intellectual property thief had stolen her photo, invented a feel-good back-story for it, and engineered a viral sensation  —  one that wasn’t exactly flattering to Buttigieg. The tall tale portrayed the three cheetahs in the photo as heartless killers, their impala prey as a self-sacrificial mother and Buttigieg as a fragile soul who sank into depression after documenting a feline feast.

“In the beginning I thought it was absolutely hilarious, even the trolling,” she told me in an email interview six days after the hoax spread. “But then it was suddenly really overwhelming when I realized there wasn’t much I could do.”

Buttigieg is an information technology consultant whose passion for animals and for wild places inspired a foray into photography. She has carried a camera on wildlife journeys around the world for 13 years and started taking the photographic aspect of her observations more seriously about four years ago.

“I see my photos as a means to spread awareness about wildlife and the need to protect them and their habitat,” she said.

Buttigieg has shot pictures on three continents  —  Africa, Asia and South America. Her favorite places include Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa, and the Massai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. In September 2013, she was near the latter location, at the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, when she saw a family of cheetahs trap a lone impala.

Cats of all kinds fascinate Buttigieg because of their beauty and expressive faces. Cheetahs stand out in the felidae species for their speed, quirks and sounds. The guides at the conservancy knew she loved cheetahs, and a mother and two adolescents were near the camp during her visit.

Read the rest of the story at Medium.


Filed under: Blogging and Human Interest and People and Photography and Social Media and Technology and Travel and Wildlife
Comments: 1 Comment

Snakes In A Toilet
Posted on 02.03.17 by Danny Glover @ 7:56 pm

A Texas family recently found a rattlesnake in their toilet. This happens often enough that there really should be a sequel to “Snakes on a Plane” called “Snakes in the Toilet.”

In Texas, the family surprised by the rattlesnake in the toilet found out it wasn’t alone. The company they hired to remove that unwelcome venomous guest found 23 more of them.

This was the first snake that the family has seen on the property in several years. When I arrived, I immediately noticed a few problematic areas. Intuition took me directly to a storm cellar where I safely removed 13 adult rattlesnakes. After a thorough perimeter check, I crawled underneath the house where I removed another 10, 5 being babies — 24 snakes total (including the toilet snake) and the family had no idea.

How is this possible? It’s actually quite simple; rattlesnake are secretive and can be very cryptic. They rely heavily on their camouflage. This is simply how they survive. Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Only one snake out of the 24 died in the making of this news story. “There was a garden hoe, a shovel and branch cutters involved” in the death of the other one, The Washington Post reported. “You can get the picture.”


Filed under: Human Interest and News & Politics and Wildlife
Comments: 1 Comment

The Ungolden Rule Is Worth 300,000 Pennies
Posted on 01.12.17 by Danny Glover @ 5:10 pm

If you ever need an anecdote to illustrate the opposite of the Golden Rule in action, this story from Virginia should do the trick nicely:

After carting the fifth and final wheelbarrow of pennies into the Lebanon Department of Motor Vehicles Wednesday, Nick Stafford could feel the burn in his arms. Winded, Stafford took a smoke break in the DMV’s parking lot. “I’m not used to lifting,” Stafford said. “These are heavy.”

Heavy, indeed. The 300,000 pennies the Cedar Bluff, Virginia man took to the DMV Wednesday morning to pay sales tax on two new cars weighed in at 1,600 pounds. A mature Holstein cow weighs about 1,500 pounds.

See, Stafford had a bone to pick with the DMV. It wasn’t about agonizingly long lines or a bad picture on his driver’s license: It came down to 10 phone numbers. And Stafford ended up filing three lawsuits and spending at least $1,005 to give the DMV his 2 cents.

The story even comes with a quote that is the antithesis of the Golden Rule: “If they were going to inconvenience me, then I was going to inconvenience them.”

Stafford was legally in the right and the Virginia DMV officials were in the wrong, but talk about biting off your nose to spite your face! Stafford went to great trouble and expense all so he could say, “I think I proved my point here.”

Sure, I chuckled at the thought of bureaucrats being forced to count 300,000 pennies as the consequence for having denied a taxpayer basic information he was entitled to get. Many of us are tempted to seek revenge after such aggravating experiences — and sometimes we do, though probably to a far lesser degree.

But what struck me about this story was the depth of Stafford’s bitterness. He undoubtedly had many nights to examine his own attitude and reconsider his course of vindictiveness, yet Stafford woke up every morning determined to be a bigger jerk than the DMV officials.

Filing a freedom-of-information request to get the one telephone number he needed was a reasonable response to bureaucratic stonewalling. Picking a court over phone numbers he didn’t need was petty. Hiring people to bash open rolls of pennies, buying wheelbarrows to haul those pennies into a government office, and watching gleefully for hours as public servants satisfied his spiteful demand was downright cruel.

The man who thinks he is the hero of this story actually is the villain.


Filed under: Culture and Government and Human Interest and News & Politics and People and Religion
Comments: None

Felled In A Flash of Lightning
Posted on 08.29.16 by Danny Glover @ 5:16 pm

One of the most interesting yet tragic stories in the news today happened in Norway, where government wildlife officials found more than 300 dead reindeer on the top of a mountain. Here’s the story as told by NPR:

The Norwegian government says 323 reindeer were apparently struck by lightning last week and died. The animals lived on a mountain plateau in central Norway called the Hardangervidda. The rugged alpine landscape is (usually) a good place for a reindeer — delicious lichens grow on exposed rocks, and the area is protected from development because it falls within a national park.

The Norwegian Nature Inspectorate wrote in a press release that officials discovered a field of carcasses on Friday while they were supervising hunters in the area. The agency estimates about 2,000 reindeer live on the plateau each year. Now, about one-sixth of them are dead, including at least 70 calves.

This catastrophe is interesting in its own right because it raises all kinds of questions in people’s minds. But it was even more compelling to me because it reminded me of another incident in West Virginia on July 2, 1990.

I have a notoriously bad memory, so the fact that I can recall a news story from 26 years ago, one that I didn’t even report myself, should tell you something. This story also involved a lightning strike — but the victims were amateur archers who took shelter under a pavilion during a pop-up thunderstorm. Twenty-four of them ended up injured.

I was a reporter at the Dominion Post in Morgantown at the time, but my beat was covering city, state and federal government and political campaigns. Plus the incident happened on a Sunday, when I wasn’t working. But I remember being enthralled by the story upon reading the details when I got to the newsroom the next day.

The reindeer story triggered that memory, so to get the details, I reached out to the Aull Center, a branch of the Morgantown Public Library System that has old copies of the Dominion Post on microfilm. Librarian Gary Friggens was kind enough to look up the front-page story and send me an electronic copy.

“Victims had been tossed into the air and suffered burns, cuts, contusions and internal injuries,” one of the three stories said.

One father said the lightning strike lifted his son off the ground and knocked him 10-15 feet away. He lost his hearing for a few minutes and heard only the groaning and moaning around him when his hearing returned. Another victim, whose heart stopped temporarily, lost feeling in his legs and had burns on his chest.

“All I could see were blue streaks all around us,” said one victim from the Kingwood Pike Coon Hunters Club. “We were all so close together under there that we were touching shoulders. The lightning just passed right through us. I remember the blue streaks, then everything went black.”

A year later, Keith Dalton recounted his experience that day as part of a broader AP story about people who have been struck by lightning:

“I was hanging from a beam when the next thing I knew the lightning picked up my feet and pulled me up toward the roof,” says Dalton, a 24-year-old welder from Morgantown. “It was all lit up,” he says. “It looked like a spark plug coming off the roof and going through everybody’s heads. Everyone had blue sparks coming from them. It was really something to see.”

After the strike, Dalton thought his companions, most of whom lay moaning on the ground, were dead. “It seemed to take a long time, but it was really only a second,” Dalton says. “One guy was choking on his chewing tobacco and turned black.”

All 24 lived. Only one was admitted to a hospital overnight for observation. “It kind of felt like you were in a microwave,” Dalton says. “You got real warm inside. All I wanted to do was drink water afterward.”

Nightmare scenarios like that, along with tales of golfers being struck by lightning and childhood memories of being stuck outside and by myself during thunderstorms, are the reason I am terrified of lightning to this day.

My storm-watching wife loves to tell people about the time, on our honeymoon no less, that I abandoned her because of my fear of lightning. We were in the parking lot at an Outback Steakhouse in Asheville, N.C. A bright light flashed in the sky, a ground-shaking boom followed, and I high-tailed it to the restaurant without her.

To this day, she insists that I jumped so high and bolted so quickly, I looked like Wile E. Coyote running on the air. I think she embellishes the story a little more each time she tells it, but I can’t dispute the basic facts. My terror, which I’ve unfortunately passed along to our youngest child, is that great.

Now my daughter and I have the memory of 323 dead deer to add to our anxiety.


Filed under: History and Human Interest and Media and News & Politics and Weather and West Virginia and Wildlife
Comments: 1 Comment

How Air Force One Got Its Name
Posted on 08.05.16 by Danny Glover @ 7:24 pm

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Medium
By K. Daniel Glover

Piecing together history can be as difficult as solving a complex jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes you never can fill all the slots. So it is with determining the exact role the FAA played in naming the president’s airplane — but the agency definitely was part of the discussion back in 1954.

The origin of the call sign Air Force One became newsworthy this past March when a restored Lockheed Constellation took flight for the first time in more than a decade. The aircraft’s given name is Columbine II, but it was also the first presidential aircraft to be called Air Force One. Now the plane’s new owner, Karl Stoltzfus of Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Va., wants everyone to know the true story behind the name, not the myths floating around the Internet.

“I’m not interested in a ‘better’ story,” said Stoltzfus, who has contacted presidential and Air Force historians and the former personal secretary of Air Force One pilot William Draper. “I’m interested in accurate history.”

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

Columbine II takes off from Marana, Ariz., in March. (Photo: Ramon Purcell)

The history of Columbine II began at a Lockheed factory in Burbank, Calif., in 1948. It left the plant with the tail number 48–610, a designation that would become important six years later. Lockheed Air Service used the plane for shuttle flights between New York and Iceland for a few months in 1949, but it was converted from military transport to a VIP aircraft in 1950.

This particular Constellation served the U.S. Air Force secretary until Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president in November 1952. The plane’s first mission for the president-elect fulfilled his campaign promise to personally visit Korea in an effort to end the Korean War. Weeks later the plane officially became Eisenhower’s aircraft, and he named it Columbine II after the flower of wife Mamie Eisenhower’s adopted home state, Colorado.

The transfer of the plane to presidential service set the stage for a momentous air traffic control encounter involving Columbine II and a commercial flight with a similar call sign. But nailing down the details of that incident is a herculean research task.

“There are about six different urban legends out there on the Internet,” said Air Force historian Robert Spiers, who started the legwork in 2007 after numerous queries about how Air Force One got its name. Some stories, like the fanciful tale of a mid-air collision that damaged the undercarriage of Columbine II with Eisenhower on board, are far-fetched.

“If that had actually happened,” Spiers said, “it would have been all over the media.”

Read the rest of the story at Medium.


Filed under: Aviation and Government and History and Human Interest and Military and People
Comments: None

The Pokemon Path To Peace In America
Posted on 07.10.16 by Danny Glover @ 12:30 pm

This morning I saw a story on Facebook about Pokemon Go, the latest mobile gaming craze. It goes like this:

  • A 40-year-old white guy can’t sleep, so he heads to a nearby park at 3 a.m. to hunt Pokemon.
  • Two 20-something black guys see him, recognize what he’s up to and give him tips on where to look because they’ve been on the prowl for Pokemon.
  • They chat for a while, and the white guy agrees to join their red team in Pokemon Go.
  • Someone sees the three men talking in a park in the middle of the night, thinks it’s a drug deal and calls the cops.
  • A policeman shows up to investigate and ends up downloading the game and getting tips on how to play.

I like this version of America better than the one in the news last week. Plus I hear hunting Pokemon is good exercise. I may have to download Pokemon Go and give it a try — if I can manage to log into the game.


Filed under: Culture and Entertainment and Human Interest
Comments: None

The Best Snake Oil Salesmen In The World
Posted on 09.10.15 by Danny Glover @ 7:14 pm

If you’re ever bitten by a venomous snake, you may be better off if it happens in Mexico. A vial of antivenin there will cost you $100-$200 versus $14,000 in the United States of Price-gouging Insurers. Money-grubbing lawyers have a hand in this racket, too:

The cost of actually making the antivenom — of R&D, animal care, plasma harvesting, bottling, and the like — added up to roughly one tenth of one percent of the total cost. Clinical trials to evaluate the efficacy of the antivenom accounted for another 2 percent. Other miscellaneous costs, including licensing fees, wholesaler fees, regulatory, legal and office costs, and profit to medical providers, added up to 28 percent.

Finally, over 70 percent of the cost — responsible for most of the “sticker shock” you see in so many stories about envenomation care — comes from hospital markups that are used as instruments in negotiation with insurance providers. Depending on the hospital and the insurer, some percentage of this amount later gets discounted during the final payment process.


Filed under: Health and Human Interest and Wildlife
Comments: 1 Comment

It’s Just Like Riding A Bike — Or Not
Posted on 05.30.15 by Danny Glover @ 11:32 am

You may think it’s impossible to forget how to ride a bike, but this video proves otherwise. It is an amazing demonstration of how the brain works. I don’t quite understand it — but that makes it even more amazing.

A Facebook friend who watched the video said the bike made at least two changes in the brain’s how-to-ride-a-bike algorithm — the second being that the change in the handlebars forces the rider to put most of this weight back on the seat rather than leaning forward.

“If you lean into the turn with pressure on the bars, you will push the front wheel in the wrong direction,” he said. “So, it is not just about left-right; it’s about a bike that is in fact impossible to ride with a normal position. You have to have almost 100 percent of your weight on the seat.

That may well be, but it doesn’t make the experiment any less fascinating to me. The fact that every person who tries to ride the backward bike fails is the most impressive to me. If science class had been this interesting, I might have gravitated toward it as a field of study instead of journalism.


Filed under: Culture and Education and Human Interest and Video
Comments: None

What A Weasel!
Posted on 03.03.15 by Danny Glover @ 8:13 pm

Here’s the hijacking that had everyone on the Internet tweeting today:

The weasel terrorist lost this battle, according to photographer Martin Le-May, who captured the once-in-a-lifetime flight in England. After the bird climbed about 10 feet with the baby attack weasel on its back, he said, the bird landed, ditched the weasel and fled.

No weasels or woodpeckers were harmed in the making of this meme — unlike the incident in West Virginia earlier this year when the roles were flipped and a hawk snagged a squirrel in its beak.


Filed under: Human Interest and Photography and Technology and Wildlife
Comments: None

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