Saturday, October 25, 2008

Instant safety


Hallowe'en is coming.
I love Hallowe'en--death in small doses can be fun.
The dead reach across the dying sunlight, to tell us what?

The occasional glimpse at death, your death, your inevitable death, can tilt your priorities a bit. Most of us could use having our priorities tilted.

If you read any national, family-friendly magazine this month, you will see the usual, family-friendly articles about Hallowe'en and safety.
Know the neighborhood
Check the treats
Make sure no razors are in the apples (or else just chuck the only decent nutrition in the bag)
Don't wear costumes that drag on the street
Make sure your child can see through the mask
Don't carr
y a candle (this must be left over from the 1903 edition of Parade Magazine)
Wear reflectors
Don't trick-or-treat alone
Wear flame retardant costumes.

I don't have any real problems with most of the list--even the blade in the apple adds a certain pizazz to the Hallowe'en joy of fear. A fearful citizenry also helps keep Demagogic Party in power, and the world free from democracy.

I do have a quibble with the last one, though: wear flame retardant costumes. Flame retardant clothing (at least the kind found in the I-wanna-be-Hanna-Montana outfit in a box off the shelf in Walmart) may contain PBDEs, a toxin in large doses.

PBDEs may affect development of the nervous system, reduce thyroid function, and mimic estrogen. PBDE levels are higher in children than in adults.

Products containing more than 0.1% PDBE are outlawed in Michigan. It's the "Mary Beth Doyle PBDE Act." You could look it up.

If you're afraid to wrap your child in a plastic Hanna Montana outfit, just make sure she avoids lit candles.

Or you could just make a costume out of wool--I never saw a lamb burst into flames.
***

I've seen a lot of people die, most of them slowly, in buildings reeking of death and bleach. I've seen a few die quickly. Gunshots, MVAs, embolisms, arrythmias.

Dying doesn't look like a whole lot of fun, but dying quickly seems a bit more convenient than lingering.
***

I have smoke detectors all over the home. I do not want to die in a fire.

Each detector has some Americium 241 in it. I paid decent money to put some leftover stuff from a nuclear reactor in my home. It emits radiation.

My detectors will last about 10 years; the Americium has a half-live of over 450 years. (I love that it is called Americium.)

As a science teacher, I have a responsibility to teach my children how to think.

Is Americium dangerous? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? How do you decide?

As a science teacher, I might want to remind children that aged smoke detectors are supposed to be sent back to the manufacturer. (Bet you threw yours away in the garbage.)
***

The Americium in your home sits inside a disc wrapped in gold. The radiation is "minimal"--it is extremely unlikely (whatever "extremely unlikely" means) that it will ever harm you personally.

Americium happens to be water soluble. The Americium in your home will eventually end up in a landfill if you throw it out.

It is reasonable to assume a bit of it may leak into the food web within its lifetime of a few thousand years. You'll be dead before it's a problem.
***

It has been estimated that "if ionization-type smoke detectors were placed in every U.S. home, they'd result in one additional cancer death every seven years."

No doubt smoke detectors save thousands of lives.

Now for the gruesome, meaningless question: If you were the one who developed the fatal cancer, would you rather die in a fire, or from your cancer?

I am a science teacher. I cannot answer the question for anyone except me, but I can at least point out to students why it's an absurd question. (I'd rather die in the fire.)

It's also an interesting question, not because it solves anything about smoke detectors, but because it exposes how we look at risks.
***

If anything can save our culture, it will be the return of a sense of mortality. All safety is momentary.

When you think of the dead this Hallowe'en, think of the dying. It's a process. What we do to our environment does not affect our chances of getting out alive. They are zero.

Our choices do affect, however, how we go about dying.

Happy Hallowe'en!

5 comments:

Clay Burell said...

You know I'm a veteran. I often think of Army-ese, and how nicely its idioms apply to Life and philosophy.

Your post reminds me of one of my favorites:

"Temporary Duty."

It's a good synonym for "Life."

Really enjoying your writing these days. All my food is store-bought Korean. I eat vicariously through your posts.

doyle said...

The Army has an intimate view of the finiteness of life (or at least life in the form of specific organisms).

A lot of fine philosophy comes from the military.

A lot of dreck comes from our culture.

(I'd send you some hake and clams, but all you'll get is a stinking mound of mash--I'll eat a forkful for you, though.)

Clay Burell said...

Well, I threw my uniform and medals away on my last day of service (though I kept the army coins as souvenirs), which I should have added to my first comment for a fuller picture of my take on that experience.

And I just finished re-watching (for the tenth time? twentieth? since discovering it 20 years ago) Fellini's La Dolce Vita, which seems to agree with your statement re: dreck in modern culture.

I had clam soup tonight, btw. :)

doyle said...

Oh, I figured you for the "throw my medals away" veteran.

No doubt you were wiser than most even before the military experience, but (and here comes an outrageous generalization) those I know who have been in the service have a vision (world view?) that extends beyond their nose, a vision more complete than most of us.

Romanticizing? Of course, a bit. Still, it's there. Not universally, but it's there.

Clay Burell said...

Oh, there's no doubt that being told a group of people is your enemy and you should be prepared to kill them - better still, being deployed somewhere to do just that - will spur a person to start doing some voluntary homework to try to figure things out. So I agree with your generalization.