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When dinner can do you in
By Marsha Mercer
Media General News Service


March 11, 2005

Washington - The cat shot him.

The Associated Press reported one day last week that a man in Michigan was standing at his stove, cooking, about 6 p.m. when one of his cats knocked a loaded, 9mm handgun to the floor.

The gun went off, and dinner was delayed.

It's funny, but it's not.

The man, who is 29 and named Joseph, reportedly was in the hospital in stable condition with a gunshot wound to his lower torso.

Bizarre stories like this remind us that life is fragile and transitory and that there are no guarantees. And they suggest that God has a sense of humor.

Such tales also help put into perspective the frequent and horrifying reports of the ingenious ways terrorists could kill us and wreak havoc on American society. We're relieved and almost grateful to know that stuff still just happens.

A friend's next-door neighbor in the Washington, D.C., suburbs escaped unharmed but watched in horror as her house burned down. The culprit was a candle that caught the drapes afire.

She was lucky she lived. Fires kill eight people a day in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Once you hear about a devastating house fire or similar misfortune, the latest diabolical terrorist scenario seems more remote and somehow manageable.

Here's a terrorist nightmare reported last week: Bad guys could detonate a nuclear device at high altitude over the United States. The blast would generate an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy electrical, communications and electronic systems across the country.

This catastrophic picture was painted by a panel only Congress could have named: The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. There's even an acronym - EMP - for electromagnetic pulse.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., whose Senate subcommittee held a hearing on the potential danger, said Congress and the public need to pay more attention to such threats.

But critics, while conceding our systems are vulnerable, dispute how devastating such an attack would be, assuming it could be accomplished.

President Bush said again last week that we're fighting the war in Iraq so we won't have to fight terrorists on our streets. That's the theory, anyway.

But everybody from the directors of the CIA and the FBI down keeps telling us another terrorist attack is inevitable.

"It may be only a matter of time before al Qaeda or other groups attempt to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons," CIA director Porter Goss told a Senate committee last month.

About the same time, FBI Director Robert Mueller said, "While we still assess that a mass casualty attack using relatively low-tech methods will be their most likely approach, we are concerned that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, so-called 'dirty bombs' or some type of biological agent, such as anthrax."

A few years ago, such a comment would have sent many into a state of anxiety.

Now, we live with the reality. We've moved beyond mere threat-fatigue.

The real threats are closer to home. Many people unintentionally do themselves in. The National Safety Council figured out that 101,537 people died of accidents in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available.

The odds of dying from an accident in 2001 were 1 in 2,808.

Even death by cooking isn't unheard of. A woman was killed recently when she fell onto the open door of her stove, which was on. It sounds impossible, but it reportedly takes just 42 pounds placed on the edge of an open stove door to cause immediate tipping. New stoves are equipped with a $10 bracket that can take care of this danger.

Sixty people die each year in America of e coli from improperly cooked ground beef. That's not smallpox. It's just dinner, gone bad.

As the old line goes, nobody gets out of here alive.

Researchers reported last month that breaking up is not only hard to do but can be deadly. Emotional upset from a break-up or the death of someone close releases stress hormones that can cause a fatal heart spasm.

It's hard to worry much about the next terrorist attack when a broken heart _ or the cat _ can do you in.


Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief of Media General News Service.
E-mail mmercer(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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