New Year’s Safety Tip

Another new year, and another of the inevitable news stories about someone getting hit by a stray celebratory bullet. I wrote some time ago about Diego Duran, a 12-year-old boy who was severely injured in this manner. This time it was a woman hit in the leg, fortunately not a serious injury. Since it seems that some people simply cannot resist the urge to make loud noises on New Year’s Eve, and apparently cannot afford firecrackers; for these geniuses the only logical course of action is to randomly fire bullets into the air.

In the spirit of helpfulness, I offer the following safety tip for those who must celebrate in this manner:

Before firing your weapon to welcome in the new year, carefully place the muzzle of the gun in your mouth. This will insure that the bullet will end up in a place where it can do very little harm.

You’re welcome, as always.

Homo Stultis


In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly, author Rolf Dobelli states that we are not that different from the earliest examples of homo sapiens; that if you could transport an individual from his cave-dwelling, hunter-gatherer existence to our modern era, put him in a Brooks Brothers suit and teach him to use an iPhone, he would not appear to be very much out of place. Dobelli’s point is that our brains have not evolved that much since that time several hundred thousand years ago, when rapid fight-or-flight responses, adherence to a social hierarchy, fear of outsiders, and many other responses to the environment were necessary for survival. While our brains have changed little, our environment is dramatically different today. It is an environment that we have created for ourselves with our superior brains, and one that is now in many ways outstripping our ability to cope with it. A few cases in point from recent weeks:

Asiana Flight 214, landing in San Francisco under the control of a pilot who, although experienced, was a trainee on this Boeing 777. Neither he, nor the pilot in charge of supervising him, noticed that the airplane’s speed had dropped well below the recommended minimum, and the craft slammed into the seawall ahead of the runway. Most passengers survived, but not one unfortunate teenager who was pulled from the wreckage by a rescuer, who then left her unattended near the wing where she was run over and killed by a late-arriving fire truck.

A few miles uphill from Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the engineer of a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway freight train pulling 72 tankers of crude oil finished his shift and parked his train for the night. Setting a few handbrakes and leaving an engine running to keep the main brakes pressurized, he checked into a nearby hotel. A fire broke out on the engine; the volunteer fire brigade arrived, shut off the engine, put out the fire and left after notifying the MMA dispatcher. It is unclear what action, if any, the dispatcher took. A short time later the train’s brake pressure dropped and the train rolled downhill into Lac-Megantic and derailed, causing several cars to explode and killing 47 people. In an astounding display of Not Getting the Picture, a later report said MMA was clarifying the procedures to follow when leaving a train loaded with hazardous materials unattended. Which apparently is still OK.

Finally, in northwestern Spain, a high-speed passenger train rounded a curve too fast and derailed, killing 79 people. “I should’ve been going 80 [49 mph] and I was doing 190 [118 mph],” said engineer José Garzón Amo. Apparently Mr. Amo was talking to another railway employee on the telephone and perusing a document when the wheels of the train were leaving the rails.

It is easy to point at these stupidly fatal mistakes, and those of all the other Darwin Award winners, and assume that these individuals are not like us; we could never do something so dumb. No doubt these pilots and engineers felt the same way until circumstances proved otherwise. Perhaps what we are seeing is not Darwin in action, but the failure of our brains to evolve quickly enough to keep up with our ever more complicated world. We were named homo sapiens because we were smarter than our kindred hominids, particularly the Neanderthals, with which we coexisted in our early history, and which were not that different from us. Can we still be called “wise man” in light of the incredibly stupid ways we often respond to the challenges of modern life?

I Don’t Have Twitter

You know what I like? Mushrooms. They’re delicious!