Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Festival Safety

In the last ten years, music festivals stretching over a number of days have become more and more popular. The success of Bonnaroo in particular is quite notable; despite high gas prices and unseasonably warm weather, the four-day-long Tennessee festival attracted over eighty thousand patrons, almost all of whom elected to camp out directly on the festival grounds.

Photo copyright egw,

Sounds pretty amazing, right? Who wouldn’t want to camp out with your favorite bands in the beautiful Tennessee wilderness (along with eighty thousand friends). The more the merrier, right?

Yet over the course of the festival’s ten-year run, four people have died while attending the festival. Two of those deaths occurred during Bonnaroo 2011.

I’m tempted to cite my “Dr. Wright Breaks It Down for You: Crowd Safety” podcast again, but we’re not talking about panicked festival goers. According to the L.A. Times, the man died of “hyperthermia,” or overheating.

So, what to do? It’s tricky, especially when bottled water is assuredly at festival prices (read: crazy expensive) and, due to the rural nature of Bonnaroo, there aren’t exactly drinking fountains every five feet. To discourage buying bottled water, the Bonnaroo management have set up around twenty-four “water fill-up stations"

Sean Higgans, who attended this year’s festival, wrote:
With temps in the 90s and humidity through the roof, staying cool and keeping hydrated was of the utmost importance. My battle for water was often a tough one, as fighting through a crowd of 100,000 [sic] to fill up a single water bottle is no easy task.


I went online to try to find some safety tips for summer festivals. The UK’s Ministry of Health had a pretty good collection of tips here (as well they should, seeing that their Glastonbury Festival, with a maximum capacity of almost a hundred and eighty THOUSAND, sold out this year). It’s definitely worth a read, but two points jumped out at me as really, really good ones:

Organize a meeting point with your friends where you will be three times a day (e.g. 2pm, 6pm and 1am) in case you get split up.

This is a pretty good tip—it’ll allow you to check up on your friends (and let them check up on you) to make sure everyone’s doing all right health-wise.

Remember, alcohol or drugs can affect your ability to make safe judgments.

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s a good one to keep in the back of your mind. Wouldn’t hurt to ask yourself this every so often. Especially keep in mind that alcohol actually dehydrates you .

It’s actually a testament to the Bonnaroo organizers that more people weren’t injured. With reports of over eighty-five THOUSAND people gathered in ninety-five degree heat in the middle of Tennessee, the festival could have easily spiraled out of control. But it didn’t.

Reflecting on his experience at Bonnaroo 2011, photographer Fil Manley wrote:

At Bonnaroo, everyone, regardless of their income, color, sexual orientation or religious beliefs has a home, and everyone walks around in the same white dust and uses the same blue and grey bathrooms. I think that’s beautiful and awesome, and this year, 85,000 people agreed with me.
I agree as well. These music festivals are, overall, consistently peaceful gatherings where people celebrate the health and well-being of the world.

Just don’t forget to look out for your own health and well-being , too. And that means keeping hydrated.

Monday, June 13, 2011

SUVs and ESC

Last week, this report by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, or IIHS, became public. From their website:
IIHS was founded in 1959 by three major insurance associations representing 80 percent of the US auto insurance market. At first, IIHS's purpose was to support highway safety efforts by others. A decade later, IIHS was reinvented as an independent research organization.
The report covered any model of car between 2005 and 2008 that accrued at least 100,000 registered drivers. The results of the report were hopeful; virtually every car had a lower fatality rate than the corresponding 1999-2002 models. The most striking news from the report, however, was the dramatic drop in driver deaths of sports utility vehicles:
“In the past, the top-heavy vehicles frequently rolled over, giving many models some of the highest driver death rates. But drivers of today’s SUVs are among the least likely to die in a crash, the Institute’s latest calculations to driver death rates show. The change is due largely to the widespread availability of electronic stability control (ESC), which helps prevent rollovers. With the propensity to roll over reduced, SUVs are on balance safer than cars because their bigger size and weight provides greater protection in a crash.”
ESC? I’ve heard before that the US Government is requiring ESC on all new cars after 2012. But what is it?

Youtube, as always, came through with an informational video:

Wow! Magic!

But the question for me was never if SUVs are safe or not. Edmonds,  the renowned automotive consumer website, recently posted an article by Anita Lienert, which summed it up concisely: 
The death rate for SUV drivers dropped 66 percent, from 82 per million vehicles for 1999-2002 models to 28 per million for 2005-'08 models. But the death rate for drivers of small, four-door cars was 72 [per] million vehicles for 2005-'08 models, down 35 percent from 110 per million in 1999-2002 models.
Right now, small, four-doors cars have a fatality rate THREE TIMES that of SUVs. And even before the electronic stability control helped reduce the rollover problem in SUVs, small, four-door cars had 110 deaths per million vehicles, verses 82 per million for the SUVs.

Lienert goes on, saying:
The report is clearly aimed at federal regulators who are drafting new fuel-economy rules due out this fall that will force automakers to build and sell smaller, lighter vehicles. The report is also critical for consumers who are turning to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars in an era of high gas prices.
Lienert contends that this report, generated by the “insurance industry-funded group”  is intended to make Congress think twice before regulating SUVs. But to me, the question was never about whether or not SUVs are safe—it’s pretty common knowledge that if a tiny car gets into a crash with an SUV, the tiny car will get crushed. And now, with the benefit of ESC, the sports utility vehicles seem pretty unstoppable.

So, yes. Driving is extremely dangerous—not a year ago, I got into a crash with my 1997 Toyota Camry, which broke both the bones in my right forearm and broke my right femur in four places. And the temptation would certainly seem for car manufacturers to keep piling layers of steel.

But to me, this information could just as easily support an argument for getting heavier cars off the road, as maybe the smaller cars that have the horrible luck of crashing with an SUV won’t be quite so decimated. And the amount of energy it takes to both produce and power these hulking machines makes me cautious. There must be a better way to improve safety without making every car into an armored vehicle?

I wish there was a way to build STRONGER cars without them being HEAVIER. It’s possible, right? Right????

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Anthony Weiner and Internet Safety

So, I was cruising around Huffington Post earlier today, and found this article discussing the Congressman Weiner scandal. In it,  Jason Linkins writes,
“Here's the part I can't reconcile: when this story broke and Weiner began lying about it, he knew full well that this caused an unholy amount of upheaval in the life of… the women to whom the crotchshot image was sent, via Twitter, as well as numerous other women and girls whose only crime was that they followed him on Twitter… [T]he simple fact of the matter is that Weiner could have ended that instantly has he just come clean in the first place."
I hadn’t thought of it that way before. 

This article (in typical Internet fashion) linked to a second, much more terrifying article by Tommy Christopher: Weinergate Zealotry on Right and Left Exposes Underage Girls to Risk.
Mr. Christopher writes that:
"Right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, also known as Gateway Pundit, posted a list of young, female, mutual follows with Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter feed several days ago, ostensibly to express “concern” over the pattern, but his description of “Pages of Young Luscious Fans,” and his presentation of large photos of the girls, made it seem more like an exercise in exploitation. His inclusion of the young women’s Twitter links seemed more like an invitation to harassment. Whatever alleged “news value” this information had could have been preserved with a more responsible presentation, but sex sells, right?"
This makes me sick to my stomach—mainly because I have no idea how to prevent underage people from getting tangled up in such messes. 

Upon googling “Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet,” the first hit gives me a .gov address: FBI—Parent Guide to Internet Safety. While this one doesn’t have a copyright date, it’s pretty clear that this site dates from around 1996-97:

Um, CompuServe? Good grief.

And here, finally, is the FBI’s checklist for parents wanting their children to be safe while browsing the Internet:

This is particularly sobering for anyone (everyone?) with a Facebook profile, for there are slots to plug in any amount of personal information short of your Social Security Number. And uploading photographs to a place where people you don’t know can view them? Isn’t that the purpose of uploading photos to Facebook?

That reminds me. I need to recheck my Facebook Privacy settings. 

But what does all this have to do with Congressman Weiner? 

So, he made a mistake, switched a few keystrokes, and ended up sending his crotchshot over his Twitter feed. The importance of this is that it demonstrates in a pretty chilling way just how little control we have over what our children are exposed to on the Internet.  The girls who followed Congressman Weiner on Twitter did not intend to receive a photograph of a man’s crotch. But that’s what they saw in their Twitter feeds two weeks ago.

How, then, do we keep dirty pictures out of the reach of underage children when they KEEP CROPPING UP IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED PLACES?

The depressing truth is, you don’t. You can't. You can't control what a congressman posts on their Twitter, mistake or no. All you can do is keep reminding your children, your friends, your uncles, and your aunts to never, EVER post personal, identifying information in places that strangers can access. Because if you have this personal, identifying information floating about, and some crazy photo does cross your path, then you might become permanently and publicly entangled with the photograph, as were the young women whose only crime was following Congressman Weiner on Twitter. 

Let's all go to Facebook and recheck our privacy settings. Everybody!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Want To Help Joplin—But How?

One of my friends works at the Humane Society of Missouri, a group “[c]ommitted to the prevention of cruelty, abuse and neglect of animals through its adoption centers, veterinary medical centers, and rehabilitation centers.” After the tornado hit the town of Joplin, Missouri a few weeks ago, volunteers from all over the country have been swarming Joplin. I thought this was nothing but a good thing, until I looked at my Facebook newsfeed and saw this message from my friend:

Tuesday’s edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a similar sentiment:

“The Joplin area is now overwhelmed with spontaneous supply donations and volunteers. Therefore, everyone who wants to volunteer or contribute supplies for people or pets is advised to dial the United Way's 2-1-1 line or visit This resource has information on current volunteer and supply needs for the Joplin area. People are advised not to travel to the area unless they have received official authorization” (full article here).

When a crisis like this happens, everyone feels pretty helpless. A good way to assuage these feelings is to be helpFUL, and what better way to be helpful than to take a roadtrip down to Joplin? Right? RIGHT?

Emergencies like these just underscore how important communication really is. Joplin might need help—it might need bulldozers to clear debris, and medical doctors or therapists to treat the injured. But does Joplin really needs my flabby arms and weak legs? How much debris can I haul before getting tired? Pretty soon, I’d be collapsed, exhausted, and drinking water intended for those actually in need. If you want to help, donate money to support those with the appropriate skills. It would certainly be a smarter use of everyone’s time and resources if I just sent money to the Humane Society, verses just show up. Then someone would have to waste time training me to do tasks that she could do in half the time.

Perhaps in a few months, when most of the volunteers have left, I’ll think differently about the whole mess. But for now, I say, “Send money or supplies!” This won’t make you feel as good as actually, physically going down there. But it will do so much more for the people of Joplin.

Mission Statement