14 January 2010

We're recalling that wiring manual you recycled in about 1981

It’s been a very long new year already, have you noticed?

For me, the long new year in books began on January 8 with an announced recall of titles that contain dangerous do-it-yourself advice: 951,000 home improvement books recalled by the Feds for instructions that could lead to dangerously bad wiring and fire hazard.

Luckily, the new Bernard Cornwell paperback novel I was reading as the new year dawned had absolutely no wiring diagrams in it.

Oxmoor House and the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission announced the recall of six Do It Yourself books. Just six books. But there are almost a million copies of these in print, and one was published as far back as 1975.

In the Cornwell novel there are several maps of the French countryside, but these have not been recalled by anyone, yet. Longbow instructions, check. How to don your armor (don’t forget to grease your jerkin), sure. The book is “Agincourt” or in the British edition “Azincourt” and it’s one of Cornwell’s best, and he’s already published a great pile of historical novels.

Why did it take American bureaucrats and publishers 35 years to figure out there were errors in published technical diagrams and wiring instructions? Couldn’t anyone figure that out in, say, 1976? 1977?

If you have a copy of one of the suspect books, for example “Sunset Basic Home Repairs” or maybe a copy of "Lowe's Complete Home Improvement and Repair" or similar titles, you can call  866-696-7602 for further instructions and a possible refund of the purchase price. It’s a free call.

According to one report Dawn Bridges, senior vice president of corporate communications for Time, which now is Sunset's parent company, said there may have been slight changes in wording or diagrams over the years from book to book. And the advice could crop up on different pages in different books.

There remain some mysteries around this entire event. Who first alerted the Consumer Product Safety Commission that there was a problem? Why hasn’t the Commission or the publisher told us exactly which diagrams on which pages contain misleading or harmful information? Would not that be useful information to share if you are trying to prevent harm to readers?

Since only an expert with the time and motivation to look closely could be certain which pages contain bad information, readers are going to have to be extra cautious and extra careful when using information in these books, or in similar books that may be flagged later.

This is the same federal commission that this month voted to postpone for another full year requiring third-party testing of toys for lead content. Lead has been discovered in some brightly colored children’s books.

This is the same commission that could not stop lead and cadmium from being imported in the first place. That allowed dangerous solvents to remain on store shelves months after another recall, allowed import of laptops that can burn their users, and only two years ago testified to Congress that no additional money or staffing would be required, thank you.

It was all so much simpler back in Henry II’s day. You believed you had a claim to France, you borrowed some money from the Jews and the Italians, you gathered 1500 ships and landed near Harfleur, which you proceeded to lay siege to.

Then, your horde hungry and exhausted and suffering from dysentery, you marched toward Calais, thumbing a metaphorical nose at the much more powerful French and their much more powerful army.

At the Somme River the French blocked the crossings, and King Henry found himself trapped in a forested area near the little-known castle of Agincourt.

Next day it was 60,000 arrows versus knights in shining armor, and let’s just say it did not turn out well for the knights. King Henry did not live long enough to become King of France, but he did make a powerful show of it, inspire Shakespeare, and add to Britain’s military glory.

“Agincourt” by Bernard Cornwell is quite a story, and an excellent way to forget about wiring diagrams, earthquakes, and how fast the new year has become just another heartbreak.


The recalled books:  "AmeriSpec Home Repair Handbook," "Lowe's Complete Home Improvement and Repair," "Lowe's Complete Home Wiring," "Sunset Basic Home Repairs," "Sunset Complete Home Wiring," "Sunset Complete Patio Book," "Sunset Home Repair Handbook," "Sunset Water Gardens" and "Sunset You Can Build - Wiring."

One of many articles reporting the DIY books recall, this from the NY Times

The botched Stand ‘n Seal recall as reported in the NY Times:

A study shows many toys contain phthalates...

Consumer Product Safety Commission votes to delay requiring third-part testing for lead:

“Agincourt” by Bernard Cornwell. Harper paperback $14.99. ISBN 9780061578908.

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