Radioactive Toys, Staple Removers, and Ubuntu

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November 30, 2021 by libroshombre


 “The Rudest States in the United States,” an internet article by Kathy Morris, left me ruminating about anger and rudeness.  I certainly experienced my share of both working at the library, where people carrying a lot of anger felt they could indulge themselves by unloading it on a friendly librarian.  Letting them vent a while and ensuring they knew their concerns were heard usually defused those situations, but it always took a toll.  Fortunately, we live in the 23rd rudest state instead of the five rudest states: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, or California.  The scoring was based on each state’s percentage of rude drivers (failure to yield and stop violations, passing where prohibited, tailgating, etc.) and how much their citizens tip, as well as the “amount of cursing to customer service agents,” among other indicators.

Parents can get mighty rude and angry when their children’s safety is threatened, like in 2008 when melamine was found in infant formula from China to jack up the perceived protein levels, and in 2019 when toxic metals were found in 95% of baby food from American manufacturers.  Dangerous toys abound, even the kind Santa brings.  One million classic Hasbro Easy Bake Ovens were pulled off the shelves in 2007 when at least 250 children got their hands stuck inside them and burned.  Last August 237,000 Razor hoverboards were recalled due to fire risks, and 10 million Fisher Price Power Wheels were called back due to spontaneous combustion, even when not being used.  And, when I recently read the News Miner story headlined “Sand Inducted into Toy Hall of Fame,” my first thought was about how much cats enjoy visiting sand boxes.

Imagine your parental angst if a well-meaning friend or relative gave your child some radioactive materials to play with.  That nightmare happened in 1950 when the A.C. Gilbert Company, purveyors of educational toys introduced the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy kit for only $49.50.  “Enables you to actually SEE the paths of electrons and alpha particles traveling at speeds of more than 10,000 miles per SECOND!” this plaything’s packaging read.  “Electrons racing at fantastic velocities produce delicate, intricate paths of electrical condensation – beautiful to watch. Viewing Cloud Chamber action is closest man has come to watching the Atom!”  It also contained spinthariscope for watching radioactive disintegration on a fluorescent screen an electroscope, and vials of radioactive materials.  The U-238 set was analyzed in 2020 by IEEE Spectrum, a professional journal, who found that likely radiation exposure was about the “equivalent to a day’s UV exposure from the sun,” but only so long as the radioactive samples weren’t removed from their containers.  That’s small comfort, if my childhood experience with the elaborate Gilbert chemistry set is any example.

            The Gilbert Company founder, Alfred Carlton Gilbert, originally peddled magic kits, after paying his way through Yale medical school by performing as a magician.  After graduation he began a magical equipment company but hit it big in 1913 with his iconic Erector Sets.  He sold 30 million of those by 1935, but only after convincing the WWI Council of National Defense to scrap their 1917 plan to ban all toy production, and he thereby became nationally known as “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”  At Yale Gilbert was also a top-flight athlete, setting world records in consecutive chin-ups (39), the “running long dive (better known today as the “long jump”), and, despite his slight 5 foot 6 inch frame, he set the world record for pole vaulting in the 1908 Olympics (12 feet three inches).  Always an innovator, Gilbert eschewed the dangerous wooden poles – which often splintered and were tipped by a six-inch metal spike – for bamboo, and he invented the pole vault box, the reinforced hole in the ground in front of the vaulting bar, thereby greatly improving the event’s safety. 

            There’s danger in the workplace, as well.  “10 Most Dangerous Items in the Office,” a article by Chris Opfer, included some surprises.  Besides the expected, (cluttered and poorly maintained floors, tangled power cords, non-ergonomic furniture, scissors, etc.) beware the dread staple remover: “it’s clear that this is one office product that could easily be used as a weapon. With tight hinges and sharp, metal teeth that resemble the jaws of a strong animal, one false move when handling a staple remover can wreak havoc on your fingers. The National Archives instructs its employees to handle a staple remover with care by making sure that the document to be unfastened is first laid flat on a work surface. The remover should be used to open the staple from behind, then removed by pulling on the front of the staple after the document is flipped over.”  Proper staple removing wasn’t included in the library school curriculum, and I wonder how many thousands of staples I’ve removed, every one dangerously.

            Few things irk me more than dangerous thinking, particularly that of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers.  And when it’s a celebrity, like NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, it’s far worse.  As a recent article reported, “When you choose to do what Aaron Rodgers is doing, which is to use the platform to put out misinformation that could cause people to make bad decisions for themselves or their children, then you have done harm.”

My family recently moved my 91-year-old mother, who suffers from inoperable brain cancer, back to her home for her final months where we care for her.  I confess to a degree of anger when running errands for her and encountering unmasked people who I have to assume are unvaccinated, infected, and truly not giving a flip about the lives of the people around them despite the overwhelming scientifically proven evidence of what not being vaccinated can cause.  “People Vaccinated Against COVID Less Likely to Die from Any Cause,” a article from two weeks ago described how a research team studied 11 million people and found that “people vaccinated for COVID-19 had lower death rates than those who were not vaccinated, even when COVID deaths were excluded,” adding there’s mounting studies showing that COVID vaccines help forestall other deadly infectious diseases.

            If that’s not worrisome enough a article from late September, “Even Mild Cases of COVID May Leave a Mark on the Brain,” cited a British study of brain images of 45,000 people dating from 2014 to the present.  “This means – crucially – that there was baseline data and brain imaging of all those people from before the pandemic … The team found marked differences in gray matter – which is made up of the cell bodies of neurons that process information in the brain – between those who had been infected with COVID-19 and those who had not. Specifically, the thickness of the gray matter tissue in brain regions known as the frontal and temporal lobes was reduced in the COVID-19 group, differing from the typical patterns seen in the group that hadn’t experienced COVID-19 … the results were the same as for those who had experienced milder COVID-19. That is, people who had been infected with COVID-19 showed a loss of brain volume even when the disease was not severe enough to require hospitalization.”

            Perhaps, I should try to better channel my frustration with non-maskers.  In Some South African regions, “when someone does something wrong, he is taken to the center of the village and surrounded by his tribe for two days while they speak of all the good he has done.  They believe that each person is good, yet sometimes we make mistakes … They unite in this ritual to encourage the person to reconnect with his true nature.  The belief is that unity and affirmation have more power to change behavior than shame or punishment.”  So, I’m going to try imagining unmasked Fairbanksans pulling strangers’ cars out of snowdrifts, volunteering at local nonprofits or caring for their parents.  Ubuntu feels better than anger.

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