On Native Ground
SAFETY IS AN ILLU.S.ION
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In the best of times, Americans are scaredy cats. The= y insist upon absolute safety and zero risk in everything they do. In the w= orst of times, as in post-Sept. 11, folks freak out even more.
To help ease your worried mind, a good book to read might be "The World'= s Most Dangerous Places," edited and mostly written by Robert Young Pelton = with contributions from a group of journalists and ex-military personnel wh= o aren't afraid to go to places that few would dare to go.
The meat of DP (as it's known for short) is a kind of "Places Rated" sur= vey of the world's hot spots ranging from one star ("Bad-Rep Lands ... Plac= es that are not really dangerous but have a bad rap for isolated incidents"= ) to five stars ("Apocalypse Now ... A place where the longer you stay, the= shorter your existence on this planet will be. These places combine warfar= e, banditry, disease, land mines and violence in a terminal adventure ride.= ")
For the record, the five-star nations as of the 2000 edition were Alger= ia, Angola, Burundi, Chechnya, Colombia and Somalia. Not far behind with fo= ur stars ("Very Nasty Places ... Danger here may be more regional, slightly= more definable and maybe even avoidable. But you won't see any insurance s= alesmen holding any conventions soon") are Afghanistan, Congo, Ethiopia/Eri= trea, Kurdistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Uganda.
These natio= ns all have several things in common -- long-running civil wars, kidnapping= , drug smuggling and terrorism, plus corruption and crime galore. Not the p= laces that most Americans would pick for a vacation, or to fight a war in. = To read DP's detailed reports and first-person travel stories on each of th= ese countries is to get a quick glimpse into hell.]
But danger doesn't just lurk in these well-defined killing fields. Most = of us stand a much better chance of dying in our homes from an accident tha= n from contracting anthrax from a letter. Here are a few samples from the o= pening of DP, "What Is Dangerous?"
For example, you have a one in 10 million chance of dying in aplane cras= h. Take the train instead? You have a 1 in one million chance of dying in a= rail crash. Safer driving your car cross country, rather than flying or ri= ding a train? You have a 1 in 14,000 chance of dying in a car crash, even g= reater if you don't wear your seat belt, drive fast and drive at night.
There are four stages to human life, advises DP. There's "young and tend= er," where 35,000 children die in the U.S. each year before their first bir= thday. Then there's "young and reckless," as car crashes are the top accide= ntal killer of teens. Make it through that, and the "middle aged and reckle= ss" stage awaits.
After car crashes, the No. 2 cause of accidental death for those 18-49 i= s accidental poisoning (mostly from side effects from taking all those medi= cines that are pushed at us on the tv). AIDS is coming up fast on the rail;= it's the top killer of those 25-34. Finally, there's "old and clumsy." Hou= sehold falls kill many aged 75 and above.
But the three things that are most likely to kill us are 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 canc= er and about 100,000 died from stroke.
In short, you are more likely to die of a heart attack or an accident at= home than by going on a trip by plane, train or boat.
"We weren't joking in saying if you want to live longer, stay outof the = house," advises DP. "But just don't leave too fast and don't take your car.= If you really want to live dangerously, stay at home. Most accidents happe= n at home. Any student of statistics will tell you that home is where peopl= e spend the majority of their time.
"Each year, slippery tile floors, cheap ginzu knifes and trendy glass c= offee tables do more damagethan all the world's terrorists. It's hard to se= ll people on the idea ofselling expeditions to the local 7-11 as the most d= angerous form of travel,but it's true. If you believe the doom and gloom of= the statistics, deathis not a Chechen terrorist but comes softly on bunny-= slippered feet."
And travel by air -- the images of Sept. 11 and the crash of Flight587 i= n Far Rockaway notwithstanding -- is safest by far. DP quotes a British stu= dy that found flying is 176 times safer than walking, 15 times safer than c= ar travel and 300 times safer than riding a motorcycle. Statistically, if y= ou were to take a flight every morning, you would have to fly 21,000 years = before you would have a deadly crash. That, in spite of there being around = 10,000 airliners in the sky every day flying about 15 million flights each = year carrying 1.3 billion passengers. Worldwide, there are on average about= 40 accidents involving major airlines each year.
In other words, it's time for Americans to turn off CNN, get up offthe s= ofa and escape the most dangerous place in the world -- their ownhomes. Saf= ety has always been an illusion anyway.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 = years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).