I have a theory about the canary in the coal mine. I expect that before it died of asphyxiation, it would panic and chirp loudly and vigorously at the prospect of its coming demise. It would then fall silent, and pass out, and its change in behavior would warn the miners that the air in the mine had become foul.
The use of canaries in coal mines to warn miners of the danger of accumulating noxious vapors is not just an "old wives' tale." As recently as the 1980s, miners in the UK used the birds to warn of danger. The practice was described by the BBC, which noted that, beginning in 1911, tradition held that two canaries should be "employed by each pit."
The canaries served to warn miners of danger until 1986 when the British government decided to replace them with modern electronic equipment, to the disappointment of the miners. But until that time, the canaries kept the miners safe, changes in their behavior warning of the coming of danger.
Today, in America, the canary in the political coal mine is panicking, and like the miners of old, we should take heed.
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Dennis Behreandt (photo) is editor-in-chief of American Daily Herald.