Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I'm Sixty Four

The coolest part about this McCartney song, sandwiched between the lovely Harrison raga "Within you and Without You" and the more brilliant "Lovely Rita Meter Maid" (is it a bow to the new militant feminism of 60s?), is the bass clarinet on the bottom, an instrument I once played in junior high.

But well, The Cute One is 64 and, as life would have it, things didn't turn out quite the way any of us imagined. While composing this little fantasy of a song, I'm certain that Paul didn't consider that he would still be doing rock and roll concerts in American stadiums instead of:

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight
If it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save

And now, visions of:

I can be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday morning go for a ride

have turned into reports of "excess" alcohol and drug use, and alleged mistreatment, including ketchup bottles flying and talk not of brandy glasses by the fire, but of brandishing broken wine glasses while on fire.

Bunches of people are making a deal out of this, and here I am too. All of Merry Old England is atwitter with nitwitted peckishness at the sad affair, and opinionees are being opinionated about "what it all means", with the inevitable decay in values lament being dredged up like so much bland apple butter on a stale biscuit.

Well, yeah yeah yeah, guess what? Love doesn't make the world go round (though it might make it flip its poles now and then). And love isn't forever.

And love is not a rose. Love is the sunshine brought to the rose. Love is the moisture provided for the rose, and the nutrients laid into the soil founding the rose. It takes time, perseverance, the right stuff, and a goodly amount of pure, dumb luck to end up with anything to show for it.

McCartney and bride didn't make it. Most don't. You would think that people would have had enough of silly love songs. But they haven't, and this doesn't change. It does, however, take a whole spectrum to make up the light of love, and love songs aren't always silly, as in this one by his old mate:

Woman I can hardly express
My mixed emotion at my thoughtlessness
After all I'm forever in your debt
And woman I will try express
My inner feelings and thankfulness
For showing me the meaning of success

This isn't about our times, or those times, or time at all. Matters of love are timeless, as are these words from elsewhere on the Sergeant Pepper wonder:

I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her
And kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man I was mean but I'm changing my scene
And I'm doing the best that I can

I have to admit it's getting better

I hope it gets better for Paul, Heather, and everyone else with the courage to try again, or try a little harder. Though love isn't all you need, it's a damn good thing for what ails ya.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Your Lungs Look a Little Redenbacher, Orville

One of the so few things I complain about over the years has been the bizarre odor of microwave popcorn. There are few things in life that compare to this affront on the old olfactory organ. Formaldehyde comes to mind. And the time a raccoon curled up and died under the crawl space of a cabin we called a house on the Fox River.

There is no way in God's Green Earth I am ever going to eat that stuff, but I'm a little surprised that I've just now learned about Popcorn Lung Disease.

Actually called bronchiolitis obliterans, it's name is quite literal. It obliterates one's bronchial passages. Especially when one is in charge of cooking up microwave popcorn "butter" flavoring. In the year 2000 some twenty folks working at a plant in Jasper, MO were discovered to have severe respiratory problems, particularly those from the mixing areas. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stepped in with a study. These recommendations were made:

    1. Use closed processes to transfer flavorings and eliminate flavor spillage.
    2. Reduce mixing and holding tank temperatures for butter flavorings and mixtures. To the extent possible, workwith nonheated flavorings.
    3. Install local exhaust ventilation in the mixing room and on flavor holding/mixing tanks.
    4. Physically isolate the mixing room (and all flavor holding tanks) from other plant operations and maintain this area on a separate ventilation system under negative pressure.
    5. Provide general dilution ventilation to plant packaging areas. Minimize the time workers spend in the mixing room. Substitute flavorings that generate lower emissions of VOCs and diacetyl.
    6. Use respiratory protection, especially for mixing operations, in accordance with a formal respiratory protection program. (Respirators should be equipped with NIOSH-approved P-100 type filters and cartridges for protection against organic vapors.)
    7. Use skin and eye protection when handling volatile flavorings.
    8. Educate workers regarding the hazards associated with exposure to plant operations involving exposure to flavorings.

I'm guessing number six is about all one needs to know about working around this stuff, and this stuff turns out to a synthetic version of diacetyl, a substance that occurs naturally in all kinds of things. Sold to the manufacturer by International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF). Gives it that buttery taste. The study was followed up two years later, with typical governmental patience to err on the side of corporate well being, by this warning:


Breathing certain flavoring chemicals in the workplace may lead to severe lung disease.

According to a St Louis Post-Dispatch article, at least 31 people from the Jasper plant had been diagnosed with severe lung disease by the time a round of lawsuits began in March of 2004, eight of them awaiting lung transplants. Where were the watchdogs in the meantime? NIOSH did the science, exposing rats to diacetyl, monitoring the health of the workers and drawing the obvious conclusions, though hedging slightly in attributing the damage to this chemical, indicating there were other, though not attributable, exposures in the plant. That was all OSHA needed to hear, who still maintains that there is no direct causation.

Notes: 1) No IDLH has been established. One of four rats died after a 6-hour exposure to vapors from heated (55°C) artificial butter flavoring containing 285 ppm diacetyl (~64% of total VOCs), but no deaths occurred among groups of six rats exposed to 203 ppm diacetyl (~68% of total VOCs) or 352 ppm diacetyl (~61% of total VOCs) (Hubbs et al., 2002). 2) A cause-effect relationship between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans has not been established. Food-processing workers with this lung disease were also exposed to other volatile agents (Kanwal et al., 2006; Kreiss et al., 2002; Kullman et al., 2005; Lockey et al., 2002; NIOSH 2004, 2006). 3) Diacetyl is known to react with the amino acid arginine in proteins (Riordan, 1979) and inhibits enzymes that are important for protecting cells from oxidative damage, such as superoxide dismutase (Borders et al., 1985) and glutathione reductase (Boggaram and Mannervik, 1982).

Date Last Revised: 07/31/2006

Juries were not impressed with OSHA's stonewalling, awarding tens of millions of awards to victims at this point. Perhaps they were made aware of this little headline on the OSHA website:


The Popcorn Board is a federation of ownership, and this is how the Bush OSHA works, forming partnerships with the people whose business entails cracking a few eggs to make the omelet known as free trade. Here's some of the agenda of this "partnership":

  • Using a mailing list provided by The Popcorn Board of member companies engaged in microwave popcorn packaging, OSHA will forward to them recent information on the potential adverse health effects of employees exposure to artificial butter flavoring compounds.
  • The mailing will also include information to assist employers in recognizing and evaluating the development of obstructive lung disease among exposed employees.
  • In addition, the mailing will provide jointly developed best practice approaches for the safe handling of artificial butter flavoring compounds in the manufacturing process through the use of engineering and administrative controls.
  • Representatives of The Popcorn Board will review and provide comment and input on a draft OSHA "Hazard Information Bulletin" to be developed by OSHA for internal distribution to it's compliance officers in the field.

The alliance lasted about five months, with no mailing and no explanation. I'm guessing that the first finding of the alliance was that any additional alarm from OSHA about diacetyl was going to end up costing the other member of the alliance a lot more money. OSHA retreated behind the stone wall and hasn't been heard from since.

It didn't help IFF's cause that in 1993 BASF in Germany did a study on synthetic diacetyl, with similiar results to the NIOSH study OSHA continues to ignore. Rats died a lot, and quickly. The study was included to the database of The Flavor and Extract Association, another trade group, in heart of lobbyist country in DC. They, of course, have a mission:

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association furthers the business interests of its members through a sound scientific program designed to promote the safe use of flavors.

Another FEMA! Here's a statement from their handout to manufacturers after the cows were out of the barn in 2004:

Diacetyl, a natural constituent of butter and other dairy products, and a flavoring substance commonly used in butter-type flavors, is cited by NIOSH as a marker of exposure in microwave popcorn manufacturing and as a substance that can cause airway injury in animal studies (NIOSH, 2003). Prior to its identification by NIOSH as being associated with respiratory illness in workers in microwave popcorn manufacturing, diacetyl was not considered a significant respiratory hazard and it has no OSHA PEL. Discussions with companies that manufacture diacetyl revealed no information suggesting any health effects, respiratory or other, from years of experience in manufacturing and handling diacetyl. However, it is appropriate to consider diacetyl a “high priority” substance based on the available data, and the need to be cautious given the association with respiratory illness noted by NIOSH.

A bit of a hedge, especially in the use of quotation marks! No mention of the 1993 BASF study buried in their own database while workers spent years peeking into the vats of one of the worst lung destroyers ever found, and while one of it's flagship members issued safety sheets with it's deadly product that no respirator was required.

Eventually, somebody was going to wonder if the god awful stink coming out of those microwave popcorn bags might be causing a bit of a problem on the consumer side. The FDA says the stuff is fine, and it only concerns itself with ingested ingredients, inhalation not being their purview. One of their associate directors, and it really doesn't matter who, considering the quote, stated, "...home cooks are not being exposed to anything that they would not be exposed to if the food were prepared with real butter." I think those in line for the lungs would dispute that, could they gasp enough words.

The EPA did decide to check this out in 2003. Here's a bit from USA TODAY from those days:

In the first direct study of chemicals contained in one of the nation's most popular snack foods, the EPA's Indoor Environment Management Branch at Research Triangle Park, N.C., is examining the type and amount of chemicals emitted from microwave popcorn bags.

Further research would be needed to determine any health effects of those chemicals and whether consumers are at risk, said Jacky Rosati, an EPA scientist involved in the study. "Once we know what chemicals are and the amounts, somebody else can look at the health effects," Rosati said Wednesday.

The results? Not released to the public as of yet, though they have been shared with industry officials. Buried? Now that the Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are among those pushing for more action on this chemical, consumer groups are re-energized, wondering why the report is so long forthcoming and why it's been made available to the industry prior to its release. In the meantime, IFF has separated its fragrances business from its flavors business. Fascinating, in a sort of Johns-Manville-sorry-there's-no-money-left-light.

Which brings us full circle to, something stinks here, which comes as no surprise to me. And who is on the consumers' side? Who is on the worker's side? It's been twelve years since the BASF study, and, in a nation where the percentage of GDP for health care is approaching 20%, our best effort is only this murky trail of industry and governmental double talk, about this and undoubtedly so many other deadly substances.

Oh, and a big hurrah for the unions for putting their foot down in so timely a fashion. Great job.

God save us from the lions of industry.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Someone's Got Some Catching Up to Do

I assure you that, despite my recent non-reportage, I've been paying attention to the politics of politics. Others' minds may fog over the creepy crawl of murder and mayhem that passes for the Holy Crusade of Judeo-Christian Democracy, but I know that "wartime" American deaths have surpassed those of 9/11. And I caught that a study by fringe denizen Johns Hopkins University and funded by ultra radical MIT has placed the Iraqi death toll at least 400,000 but likely over 600,000.

Our President has termed the study "not credible". I think even he may have actually learned this term at Yale, where the scholarly study of scholarship is as well served by it's own brand of faith based underpinning as is the pursuit of the politics of greed. "We can't believe it" is where faith and other realities part ways. We know you can't, which is quite the point.

And then there's corruption. I haven't forgotten Abramoff and the slave labor trade of the American Pacific, the strong-arming of Indian tribes to buy unfavorable rulings on competitor's efforts, the outing of CIA agents with politically challenged intelligence findings, the murder of former dupes in off-shore Miami gambling interests, the congressional junkets to five star golf resorts in Scotland, on and on and on. Today's primary Republican scandal news is of the searches and seizures at the houses of a daughter and a friend of one Curt Weldon (R, PA), concerning the $500,000 half payment on a contract between the daughter and some important natural gas tycoons (Itera) in Russia. This contract was inked six days after the congressman, presumably at taxpayers' expense, threw a testimonial dinner for these hot shots at the Library of Congress. Officials at Itera had emailed the daughter that details of the contract would be worked out at the dinner. Just a coincidence, he says, he's never helped his daughter get anything. You could spend years following these.

But the real grabber has turned out to be Senator Foley's somewhat inappropriate inquiries to house pages as to whether they might be horny like him and such. "This says so much of our society," go the folk living mysteriously somewhere else, "that all the murder and larceny fade away while a juicy sex scandal rockets the polls into blue heaven."

"It's not about sex, it's about the hypocrisy of family values touting perverts and their conservative coalition enablers;" others say.

No, it's about sex. That's one cum stained blue dress on one side, and one pulsating pederast pole on the other. One set apiece. Love/love. Few are particularly interested in whether House leadership is a bunch of lying bastards in covering the whole mess up. I can't blame folk for not smelling any suspense here.

But, speaking of liars, My favorite of the political season is this :

"What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible ..."

"incomprehensible"? Here we go again! Everything is the defeatist, petulant childish "I can't" with these people, blissfully, yea, faithfully unaware of the universally adult translation "I won't". This one came from Condoleezza Rice, prior to the disclosure that the chief spook of the CIA himself had headlined an emergency meeting on July 10th, 2001, complete with PowerPoint presentation linking the dots pointing to an imminent Al Qaeda attack on US interests, Rice was a key invitee. And when September 11th happened, and someone had assumedly told her who the culprits were, did this brilliant scholar stop for a second and think, "Hey, weren't these the guys in Tenet's pretty slides in that meeting, oh, way back in July?" Guess not.

Lies, corruption, incompetence. Iraq and Afghanistan in freefall. North Korea accomplishing on one continent what we've spent a trillion dollars and three thousand soldiers' lives lying about preventing on another. The right is reeling. The House is probably turning, and maybe the Senate.

Republicans have had it all their way, while controlling all of the "oversight". In yielding that, the exposure will be astonishing.

Every cockroach for itself, when that switch is turned on.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I've been away.

It seems that I lost the energy to continue this little effort, which must make me the... oh... twenty five millionth blogger to run out of remotely interesting things to write about.

I could say that I've had too much on my plate. It certainly was a busy summer, beginning with my boy getting married and moving through about a hundred family graduations and weddings (well, maybe ten or twelve). Toss in a few friends' kids doing the same and right up to another wedding this Saturday and all the weekends have been pretty busy.

And then there may have been some golf.

Yeah, I could say I've been too busy. But then I think to myself that I certainly spend a lot of time reading others' blogs and such. And what about all those Scrabble games with the computer and the Sudoku? Seems there may have been a couple of hundred hours to spare there somewhere.

The honest truth is that I must have gotten a little discouraged. It's a lonely process, this sitting down with one's own mind. And the introspection involved can be a bit unsettling. I find myself wondering why I think the things I do, and whether it's good for me to do so. I find myself wondering why I'm not one of those people who seem to accept things as they are, who are happy falling asleep in front of Survivor reruns, instead of sitting here reading posts on The Daily Kos about Darfur and Iraq. And seeing the pictures American TV doesn't show.

Or more generally, why do I expect so much out of people that I have such a hard time being around them. On the job I have a routine of amicability, but I can't seem to muster that bit socially. Why do I insist that people know things?

Who's the smart one here? The knowledgeable or the complacent? Is it smart for people not to care what I think?

Who cares what some post middle aged crank is opining about, anyway? It's just delusional nonsense, right?

Well, I'm forgetting that this is about me. I care to know, and maybe this article from the Baltimore Sun has something to say as to why:

Grumpy Old Men (and Women) Stay Smart, Study Hints

..."These individuals have a higher vocabulary," she said. "They have a better use of words, a better knowledge of facts."

It also suggests that those dismissed as grumpy old men and feisty* old ladies are often smarter in some ways than the young. The study's findings fly in the face of notions that intellect and memory fade with age - and that has made it a hot topic in the psychology world...

Oh, speak to me, my darling! "She" is Morgan State psychology professor Jacqueline Bichsel, who goes on to say:

"These results suggest that superior, crystallized ability is relatively strongly associated with low agreeableness scores, meaning that older individuals who have a tendency toward being unfriendly and uncooperative maintain higher levels of breadth and depth of general knowledge."

Hah! In this woman's clinical search for a correlation between personality traits and intelligence she found that general intelligence, the type that would help you play Jeopardy (I'll take odds and ends for 40, Art), seems to be the area of intelligence most predictable by personality. Interestingly, the young did no better than the old in this area. That's right, the 19-60 group did no better than the over 60s. And "disagreeable" over 60s did best of all.

Of course, there is some disagreement:

"The unfortunate interpretation of Bichsel's study is that it's good for older people to be cranky, and I feel that it reinforces those ageist stereotypes," said Susan K. Whitbourne, a University of Massachusetts psychology professor.

Well, just who the hell is this Whitbourne, and where's her study, I'd like to know! Stereotyping by whom? We just explained to you that only we know that what these youngsters think about us is all wrong anyway. Are you not paying attention?

And don't think you whippersnappers can crash this party:

Yet that doesn't mean that if you're 60 or younger and prone to be pushed around, standing up for yourself more often now will ensure you'll hold on to your smarts.
"What research has shown is that personality doesn't change a lot during the lifespan," said Bichsel. "And no single experience is going to change a person's personality."

No, I was born with this, baby, and I'm getting better at it all the time.

"It sort of keeps your mind sharp to have some of those traits," she added. "If you think about it, if you engage in debate you have to use words to make your point. That's what a disagreeable person does. They like to make their point, so they're going to seek out words to help them do that."

I think I'm ready to get back on this horse, now.

* the web site (undoubtedly edited by a younger person than is the paper), spelled it fiesty.