Thursday, September 23, 2010

"IF x=toxic, BAN x" - doesn't work.

This story caught my eye and ear this week: Children Hospitalized after eating toxic plant seeds.

If the article is TL;DR for you, five kids in Moose Jaw were taken to hospital after ingesting the seeds of Angel’s Trumpet, a toxic plant that can easily kill a human. The kids tried it because they heard about its hallucinogenic effects and wanted to get high.

The article and the accompanying story on CBC Radio touched a nerve when interviewees (a professor in the SP article and a police officer on the radio) floated the idea of banning the plant to prevent this from happening again.

Banning a pretty flower because of its toxicity and availability is a bad idea for several reasons:

  • Hundreds of other poisonous substances that can get people high and/or kill them are available everywhere - cleaning products, gas, glue, Mom & Dad’s medicine cabinet, off-the-shelf pharma products like cough syrup, paint, varnish, etc etc. 
  • Difficulty of enforcement. Although I’d love to see RCMP and police carefully inspecting flower beds as part of their patrols. 
  • Frequency of incidents. All of the parents, police, and newscasters in this story had no idea this plant was toxic - it’s not like Angel’s Trumpet abuse is a common problem. 
  • Taxpayers pick up the tab for processing civil (or criminal!) penalties, enforcement, and awareness.

On top of these reasons, no one likes getting high from this flower. A doctor on CBC Radio said that the threshold between getting high and death from the Angel’s Trumpet is “dangerously thin”. Wikipedia cited this paragraph about the plant’s effects: “No other psychoactive substance has received as many "train wreck" (i.e., severely negative experience) reports as has Datura. The overwhelming majority of those who describe their use of Datura find their experiences extremely mentally and physically unpleasant and often physically dangerous.” In other words, if people want to get high, there are plenty of safer, more accessible, and more controllable options (however illicit those options may be).

CBC Radio had talked to some smart Moose Jaw kids who said that this was really an eye opener for them, and that they had no idea about the plant or its effects until this incident. There’s the perfect solution straight from the kids! Let’s re-focus on outdoor education and safety - “don’t randomly eat plants and mushrooms from the woods!”

Those five kids made an extremely dumb mistake, but I hope they pull through and get out of the hospital soon. They’ve learned their lesson and their experience highlighted the dangers of this plant enough to scare the whole province out of trying it. If we ignore education and push for enforcement, well, I can’t help but be reminded of this article.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fuel Economy and the Weather

In January of 2008 I got my first-ever car and I was curious about the mileage - so I built this.

Here's my fuel economy by month (click for more):


Here's the weather, by month (click for more): 




Hooray for data! Who knew a 40-degree temperature difference would make car mileage almost twice as bad.