"I had a dream," Dale Lowdermilk says, the visage of a prophet temporarily upon him. "It was last July fourth." When he woke up on July fifth, Lowdermilk had a plan. He took it upon himself to become the nation's foremost crusader for safety and fairness. A fearless lobbyist for government protection, his stands make Ralph Nader seem as uncaring as the captain of a 16th-century slave ship.
For instance, Dale Lowdermilk would have our government outlaw black widow spiders. "They're too dangerous." He is also pushing for a "sunburn law." "People must be protected," the safety advocate says. "What we need to stop skin cancer is laws that require hats, sunglasses, and sunshields on sunny days." Irresponsible anarchists such as surfers who will not wear long clothing to protect themselves, according to Lowdermilk, "should be arrested." If he could put a warning label on the sun, he would.
One of his projects and main concerns is the safety problem associated with banana peels. Lowdermilk has called for warning labels to be placed on all bananas. With concern in his voice, he explains, "People have been known to slip on banana peels and hurt themselves." In the same vein, Lowdermilk wants labels on all citrus fruits warning consumers that, because of certain allergies, oranges, lemons, and so forth can be hazardous to your health.
Lowdermilk has formed an organization called NOT-SAFE, an acronym for National Organization Taunting Safety and Fairness Everywhere. Hundreds of interested citizens have joined his public interest group, some hoisting the flag of NOT-SAFE in their own localities, calling for the federal government to "protect anyone from everything—at any cost."
For the sake of the organization, Lowdermilk busies himself compiling statistical and historical evidence of consumer product hazards. He can tell you how many people have choked to death on hot dogs (which should be illegal), or how many people have died taking aspirin (900 last year). Ninety-nine percent of all aircraft accidents could be eliminated, according to a NOT-SAFE study, "if we required all aircraft to taxi to their destinations." Another NOT-SAFE report indicates that significant safety gains would be achieved if the government forced the replacement of all plate glass windows with plexiglass.
NOT-SAFE even has documentation to prove that blue jeans represent a health hazard. It seems that a young man in Copenhagen fell asleep in a filled bathtub while wearing blue jeans. Over the course of the night, the jeans shrank and the wearer was paralyzed as the result. In the area of textiles, Lowdermilk and NOT-SAFE would also ban the sale of white sheets "to get rid of the Ku Klux Klan."
There is method in this madness. Lowdermilk's obvious sarcasm has attracted a surprising amount of media coverage. Family Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times, and other publications have reported on NOT-SAFE, which Lowdermilk calls "the world's most sarcastic organization." His goal of using humor and satire to attract attention to regulatory overkill seems to work well. He even has nearly two dozen congressmen on his list of paying members.
It's not the first time Lowdermilk has turned to sarcasm as a tool. He invented and marketed his own pollution solution, the "Exhausto Plug," which was a large cork and a scientific instruction manual explaining why a car stops when the exhaust pipe is blocked.
At the local level, Lowdermilk uses the editorial reply opportunity offered by radio and television stations to call for extremes in the field of regulation. He says that he has mostly encountered a very positive reaction to his techniques. He likes to get a reporter laughing at a list of absurd regulatory proposals and then go back and point out where the ludicrous proposals are actually being considered—or are even in effect.
NOT-SAFE is really a one-man operation. Lowdermilk scoffs at committees and organizations in which hierarchies are responsible for activity. His rule is: "Don't ask permission. Just do it!" One of the things he does is put out a yearly newsletter pointing out new safety statistics, the latest inanity from Washington's safety experts, and members' doings. In payment, he barters instead of requiring cash. One member paid with a photo of a horse wearing a diaper, one of the Department of Interior's more NOT-SAFE solutions to the pollution problem of using work horses on public lands.
Lowdermilk is up front about being a libertarian and encourages other people to bandy the word about more. He describes himself as a dissatisfied Republican before a chance exposure to REASON magazine offered him an alternative. Personal research, especially his reading of Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty, backed up his initial enthusiasm. He is critical of what he sees as a tendency among libertarians not to attempt an appeal to the "real world." NOT-SAFE came about because of that sentiment.
Dale Lowdermilk is an investment counselor with extensive experience in air traffic control, an area that certainly qualifies him to speak about safety with some expertise. That he still works for the Federal Aviation Administration is a fact that is somehow consistent with his paradoxical approach to things. A normally soft-spoken individual, Lowdermilk likes to quote Sir Francis Bacon: "If we are to achieve results never before attained, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted." That sounds like a good idea, but does he realize it might be dangerous?
For information about NOT-SAFE membership and its newsletter, Lowdermilk can be reached at Box 5743, Montecito, CA 93108.
Patrick Cox is a free-lance writer.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Spotlight: Assessor of Safety Silliness".