The world's going to hell on a...


The world's going to hell on a dust mite

A couple of weeks ago, a press release from Honeywell Inc. landed on my desk informing me that:

* There are about 2 million dust mites, described as "microscopic animals that look like a cross between a crab and a spider," in the average bed (would that be a full-sized mattress?);

* These dust mites feed on human skin flakes, and since the average person sheds 200 flakes per minute (how did anyone count all those flakes?) the mites have plenty to munch on;

* The fecal pellets of these mites, "which are 5 microns in size," cause allergic reactions when inhaled. By the way, the average dust mite releases 20 said fecal pellets a day. Figure you've got 2 million of them in your bed, that's 40 million new dust mite droppings in your bed every day!

Now, I understand Honeywell needs to sell its products, among them a "high-efficiency air cleaner" that would remove a few million of these spider-like creatures from our homes.

I also understand that in the dog-eat-dog business of advertising, everyone's got to take their best shot. If making everyone's skin crawl at the thought of 2 million tiny spiders in their beds sells high-efficiency air cleaners, I guess it's effective marketing.

But really, don't we already have enough to worry about? I mean, we've got unemployment, racial tensions, escalating violent crime rates, radon, numerous carcinogens and Murphy Brown's lack of moral fortitude to fret over. Do we really need to worry about the fecal matter of dust mites, too?

Generations of Americans have managed to survive despite the millions of dust mite fecal pellets they've inhaled. In the future, I'd prefer Honeywell keep its dust mite trivia to itself. I've got to worry about world peace.

I don't make a habit of talking to statues, OK?

I mention this because I had a sort of relationship with the statue of Roger Taney in front of the statehouse. In the years that I lived in Annapolis I used to walk by it on sunny, spring mornings on my way to and from Maryland Avenue, many times with my daughter, Elizabeth, in tow.

I would look at the statue and say to her, "Say, 'Good morning, Roger Taney,' " and she would respond "Good morning, Roger Taney." Her 5-year-old voice always cheered me up.

These are the things that matter years later, the things that I remember best about my life as a father in Annapolis a few years back. Taney and I had sort of an understanding.

But the recent Civil War documentary by Ken Burns, in describing events leading up to the war, included a snippet of Taney's legal reasoning that changed our relationship.

Taney, then chief justice of the Supreme Court, wrote for the majority in the case of Dred Scott, a slave who lived in a free state and tried to claim his freedom when he was returned to Missouri, a slave state. Taney wrote that "persons who are the descendants of Africans and who were imported into this country and sold as slaves" were not entitled to the same rights of citizenship as white men.

I know he was a product of his time and all that, but that really bothered me. It bothers me still.

Seven years and two newspapers later, I find myself back in Annapolis and often walking past the same statue that broods over Frances Street like a stern sentinel.

But I haven't spoken to it since.

Dennis O'Brien

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