COWSOn a trip a while back through Washington State, I stopped at a gas station to use the washroom. The paper towel dispenser displayed a warning in large red lettering: “MANAGEMENT NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURIES SUSTAINED WHILE USING DISPENSER.”

I stood and pondered what sort of Cirque de Soleil performance with this wall-mounted unit could result in serious injury. Perhaps if I beavered away at the dispenser’s business end I’d have some part of my anatomy hanging by a thread, and a ticket for the Paper Towel Litigation Train…next stop, Compensation City!

Our neighbours to the south have some unique ideas about lethality and risk management. For example, in spite of the persistent media fascination with shark attacks, this species of fish has killed an average of 1 person per year off American coasts between 2001 and 2013, according the Center for Disease Control’s database.

Cows presented a relatively greater menace for the same time period, killing an average 20 Americans a year. That makes Bossy 20 times more lethal than Jaws, but there is no Discovery Channel Cow Week. In fact, cattle outpace all annual US deaths from bears, alligators, venomous snakes and spiders, put together.

Insects are even more dangerous. Stings from bees, wasps and hornets resulted in an average of 62 deaths a year in the US from 2001 to 2013, mostly from anaphylactic shock.

Just ahead of cows, right wing extremists have averaged 337 attacks in the decade after 9/11, resulting in a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study from the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. That works out to an average number of 23 deaths per year.
Using different definitions of political violence, International Security Program at the New America Foundation comes up with 39 annual fatalities from “non-jihadist” homegrown extremists and 26 fatalities from “jihadist” extremists.

This isn’t including deaths of unarmed black citizens from US police, the depressingly predictable result of racial profiling gone mad. The upshot is this: in post-9/11 America, right-wing extremists apparently killed more citizens than homegrown/foreign jihadists;  more if you include white law enforcement officers into the extremist mix.

We haven’t touched yet on the store-bought sleeper cells inside US homes. An astounding 43,000 consumers were injured and 349 killed (84 percent of the latter children) between 2000 and 2011, when TVs, furniture or appliances toppled over onto them. That’s an average of 32 deaths a year from household objects, according to a 2012 report from The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

“We know that low-cost anchoring devices are effective in preventing tip-over incidents,” CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum told The Atlantic in 2012. “I urge parents to anchor their TVs, furniture and appliances and protect their children. It takes just a few minutes to do and it can save lives.”

It was always thus. The greatest risks to life and limb are invariably mundane and mostly domestic, as noted by travel writer Bill Bryson in his 1998 book, Notes from A Big Country. “Every year more than 40,000 Americans suffer injuries involving beds, mattresses or pillows…That is more people than live in greater Coventry… In the time it takes you to read this, four Americans will somehow manage to be wounded by their bedding,” the author observed.

Once you put upholstered chairs on wheels and add fossil fuels, all bets are off. In 2013, an astounding 32,719 people died from automobile accidents in the US, for an average of 89 deaths a day. This figure has consistently hovered in the eighties to nineties, year after year.

To sum up, sharks represent a laughable threat to American citizens, unlike cows, which beat out all combined fatalities from bears, alligators, venomous snakes and spiders. Islamic terrorists are just ahead of cows, but slightly behind right-wing terrorists. Home furniture and appliances kill within the terrorist range. But four-wheeled deathtraps are 67 times more fatal than all of the above added together.

Considering the stats above, architects of the so-called “war on terror” should be directing resources against bad drivers rather than jihadists, who present an existential threat somewhere between unanchored household objects and paper towel dispensers. Take note, Ottawa.

The Vancouver Courier, July 17


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