Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

On Native Ground

by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Now that the nation is back at Code Yellow, do you feel safer yet?

Like a good American, you may have followed the advice of your Office of Homeland Security and laid in your supply of plastic sheeting and duct tape, packed your emergency bag with three days worth of food and water and gone over your checklist of what to do when al-Qaida comes to your town.

But don't you feel sort of stupid now that February's "terror threats" turned out to be based upon false information given by the prisoners held at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? After they found out the information on the threatened attacks was untrue, it took two weeks for the government to lower the terror alert color from Orange to Yellow.

Here in Vermont, people bought plastic sheeting and duct tape months ago. But we don't use that stuff for making "safe rooms" for chemical attacks. We use it to insulate drafty windows.

Cold is a bigger problem in Vermont than terrorism, especially this winter, which has been one of the coldest we've seen in about a decade. Who needs Osama bin Laden when you have other things that can kill you like chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, faulty electrical heaters and blizzards?

While the nation was in Code Orange and people were in a media-induced freakout, there were plenty of reminders during the week of Feb. 16-22 of things that are more likely to kill you than Osama bin Laden.

The President's Day Blizzard killed 44 people. And not an al-Qaida operative was in sight. Two feet of snow shut down Washington for days and snarled air and highway travel throughout the East Coast.

Mother Nature can kill you. So can going to a crowded nightclub.

The stampede that killed 21 people in Chicago on Feb. 16 was apparently started when a security guard used pepper spray against an unruly patron at the E2 nightclub. The Code Orange paranoia may have done the rest. According to The New York Times: "Lawyers representing some victims say a narrow staircase became a 'funnel of death' after someone yelled 'poison gas' and 'terror attack.'"

Pyrotechnics set off a blaze that killed 97 patrons at The Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., on Feb. 20. None of the accounts I've read had anyone who had escaped thinking that al-Qaida set the building on fire. But it does appear that sheer panic funneled hundreds of people toward the front door, while three other exits went unused.

Panic can be deadly, but even staying calm wouldn't have helped the nearly 200 people that died in Daegu, South Korea in a Feb. 18 subway fire. It wasn't anthrax or sarin that got them, just a mentally unstable man with a milk carton of gasoline and a cigarette lighter.

Then there's the run-of-the-mill plane crashes, such the Iranian military transport that went down on Feb. 19 and killed 276 or the Pakistani Air Force plane that crashed on Feb. 20, killing 17 people. While the luck of the folks riding these planes obviously ran out, statistically the average person has a one in 10 million chance of dying in a plane crash.

Then there are the little things that can pop up and kill you when you least expect them. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler was just trying to shed a few pounds when he was taking a diet supplement that contained ephedrine. He didn't expected to get heatstroke and die on Feb. 16 while working out at Spring training.

I'm sure Jessica Santillan and her family knew that her heart/lung transplant surgery was plenty risky. They probably didn't expect that she would die on Feb. 22 because she got a mismatched set of organs.

These are just a few of the high profile catastrophes and deaths from one week in February. And none of them involved terrorism.

The reality is that in an average year, there are plenty of other things that are more likely kill you. Let's start with the big three - heart disease, cancer and stroke. Of the two million or so Americans that die each year, just under a half-million die from heart disease, about 150,000 die of cancer and about 100,000 die from stroke.

Then there are the other killers such as car crashes (43,200 killed in 2002 and the No. 1 cause of accidental death for teens), falls (15,000 dead; a top killer of those aged 75 and above), accident poisoning (8,600 dead; it's the No. 2 cause of accidental death for those aged 18-49 after car wrecks) and drowning (4,000-plus). And then there's the biggest danger to our well-being, ourselves. There are about 130,000 suicides a year in America.

People worry about going to shopping malls or airports, but that old cliche is really true - the most dangerous place is the home. Most of us stand a much better chance of dying in our homes from an accident than from being killed in a skyscraper when its struck by a fuel-laden jumbo jet.

According to the U.S. State Department, fewer than 3,500 people died worldwide from acts of terrorism in 2001 - and that figure includes everyone that died in the Sept. 11 attacks. But in that same year, according to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, 2.5 million Americans died from disease and accidents.

The aforementioned information isn't meant to belittle the possible threat of terrorism. It exists and will continue to exist as long as our present government insists upon an arrogant and bellicose foreign policy that seems to be designed to enrage as many people as possible. I'm just trying to offer a bit of perspective on what's more likely to kill you.

Instead of allowing your peace of mind to be manipulated by the Office of Homeland Security and CNN, use a little common sense and put the threat into its proper perspective. You'll likely live a longer, happier and less paranoid life if you do so.

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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