Dumb quote of the day--flaming heterosexual edition

>> Tuesday, August 07, 2012

I think that counts as a dumb quote. It's action as speech--burning a box of Cheerios® to protest General Mills' support for same-sex couples and marriages.

Now, I want you to consider something for a moment, because this is what makes this video priceless to me. Consider, for a moment, the bottom of the liner inside a box of Cheerios® breakfast cereal. What's down there, underneath all those delicious oat "O"s?

Why yes, the bottom of the bag is filled with oat dust. And isn't that fine fellow in the video trying to burn the contents of a box of Honey Nut Cheerios®? Does anyone know if there's sugar powder down there at the bottom of a bag of Honey Nut Cheerios®? Because I'd imagine there is.

Though I suspect it doesn't matter all that much: oat dust is sufficient. Dust, generally, is a pretty well-known industrial hazard. It happens that atomized particles of almost anything, even things that might not normally burn, have a a tendency to go BOOM! when exposed to relatively low heat--a dust particle has a large surface area relative to its mass so almost the whole mass is exposed to oxygen and can burn-through almost instantly. That rapid burning spreads easily to nearby motes. And things like food particles are especially volatile under those conditions--after all, the whole reason organisms like to use them for fuel in the first place is because the hydrogen and carbon atoms that comprise much of their substance like breaking up with each other and bonding with oxygen, releasing heat when they do. (Digestion is, essentially, a kind of very, very, very controlled burning.)

(I always hate including PDF links, but I have to offer this link to a North Carolina Department Of Labor occupational safety guide just because you might even want to know the exact explosive properties of oat dust, called out by name (page 11).)

And it's not just the dust. The Cheerios® themselves have a proportionally vast surface area to set fire to. They're tori, for starters. And they aren't smooth tori, either: they're all pockmarked and bumpy, with lots of air holes and nooks and rises increasing the surface area to expose more of the crunchy cereal goodness to milk--or, in the present case, to oxygen and heat. Whuff! They burn just like that.

I suppose there's a difference between "well-known" and "common knowledge", oddly enough. It's no secret that oat dust is highly combustible, but I doubt many people walk around thinking about how inflammable it is. So I'm not really surprised some jackass overlooked the fact that pouring a box of cereal over an open flame--creating a brief suspension of combustible oat dust in oxygen--isn't that much unlike pouring a box of gasoline over the flame. It's unsurprising this guy ends up with a fiery mess all over everything while the box hardly appears singed.

After all, the cardboard container, unlike the contents, is meant to be fire-resistant. You'd hate to have a supermarket aisle of yummy exploding Cheerios® raining powdery flaming death down upon your shopping cart. That would just suck.

I guess the point of all this is just to say that I enjoyed the video not just in terms of watching a homophobe get his comeuppance, but also as a kind of lovely little physics lesson. Science is awesome. Which is why our would-be protester should try reading a book (and I don't mean his Bible) sometime.

He might learn something.

Like setting fire to a cloud of cereal dust is a dumb idea.

(H/t AC Smith.)


Warner Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:34:00 AM EDT  

I come from a part of the country where grain elevator explosions were not uncommon. You can also drown in the stuff.

John the Scientist Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:48:00 AM EDT  

In Medieval times it was illegal to bring a lit candle into a flour mill. I thought this was common knowledge to any teenager who ever dumped a packet of non-dairy creamer over a lighter to see the fireball, but maybe my youth had a bit more pyromania than most (see my profession).

Megan Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:55:00 AM EDT  

This video confuses me. Who shot it? Presumably a fellow homophobe. But then, why would he/she post it on YouTube?

I call Poe.

Seth Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 10:54:00 AM EDT  

I disagree that he's a "flaming heterosexual." This guy is clearly gay. My evidence:

- Pink clothing.
- Knows the preferred breakfast cereal of "homosexuals."
- Is very worried about, and feels the need to publicly condemn, what gay people are doing.

Steve Buchheit Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 12:34:00 PM EDT  

Warner, I was going to comment that I seem to remember a rash of grain elevators going boom in the 80s or 90s.

And Megan, there's plenty examples of "why in the world would they actually post this video" out there in the wild. After all, he does torch a box in front of a General Mills plant. So in their mind, he still did good.

Eric Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 12:41:00 PM EDT  

Megan, you may be right, though it's also possible the video was shot by a counter-protester or put-upon friend of the protester. Or it may even be that even a fellow homophobe has a sense of humor about a fellow-traveler trying to immolate himself with a box of cereal.

Or maybe it's a set-up. Could be.

John: I'd forgotten about dumping and lighting creamer! Good times, good times!

Anne C. Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 2:20:00 PM EDT  

My impression from the pitch of the giggling in the background was that the videographer was a teen (probably the progeny of the genius with the box o' fuel) and what teen doesn't recognize YouTube gold when they see it?

beachdog67 Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 2:57:00 PM EDT  

"I suppose there's a difference between "well-known" and "common knowledge", oddly enough."
Perhaps. There is also a "distinction without a difference" between inflammable and flammable. Viz: http://bit.ly/Qd8Ceh

David Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 4:07:00 PM EDT  

As a former firefighter, I had this lesson drilled into me pretty much throughout my brief and unheroic career. Dust explodes far more easily than oil.

Of course, it does make great television.

Eric Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 5:53:00 PM EDT  

David, the Mythbusters clip you linked to is amazing. Thank you.

Thank goodness John didn't have access to five hundred pounds of non-dairy creamer as a kid. He'd probably still be missing eyebrows....

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