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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

March 2015



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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Shaggy Dog Stories

Years ago there was a comedian from New England... Well, now that starts about the same way as his stories did. "How did you break your leg and end up in a hospital in South Carolina," he was asked. "Well, there was this moose in Duluth..." the story would begin. Half an hour later he would get to the punchline of how he broke his leg and ended up in a hospital in South Carolina. And miraculously enough, the ends of the story would actually connect.

Meaning no disrespect to the people who died or were injured in a tragic bus accident in Uganda yesterday, the limited story that was published in the newspaper had all the makings of just such a shaggy dog story. 15 people were killed and 30 injured when a bus carrying 65 people in Uganda hit a cow, went out of control and ran head-on into a truck with four people in it. The clincher in the news was that a 8-month old baby whose mother was killed survived the accident.

It amazes me at first that this story made it into our morning newspaper. It was not an act of terrorism that caused this dreadful accident. Not unless we find out that the cow was a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to its udder. It was simply that a cow wandered into the road and caused an accident. I can only imagine that it was a light news day, or that there is a punchline still to come.

"How did you end up in a hospital in Mulago?" "I got this email from Nigeria saying a rich uncle had died..." Half an hour later in the story, there is a cow in the road in Uganda. Fill in all the details.

How news is selected for the media is still a mystery to me. Why this particular story, printed directly below one about 3 suicide attackers in Afghanistan detonating their vests at the same time? Is it simply that we will read about death and mayhem from any source at any time? Or are we, in some way, still looking for the shaggy dog at the end of the story?

Back home, this week, a van pulling out of a gas station burst into flames in Bellevue, severely burning three people who escaped from the inferno. It wasn't until later that we learned one of the three told investigators they were having trouble keeping the van running so they were using a water bottle to transfer gas from an open bucket to the uncovered engine, which could be reached from the front seats on that model, pouring it directly into the carburator. The van filled with fumes and exploded after it stalled and they tried to restart it.

The Bellevue Office of Emergency Management notes "a lot of potential 'lessons learned': Don't transport gasoline in an open bucket. Don't transport gasoline inside a vehicle. Don't put gas into bottles, and keep away from heat sources like running engines. If you are on fire--running towards a gas station worse choice."

All this story needed was a cow in the road.