Ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance on May 13 of this year that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks in most indoor settings, while unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks, a magical thing has happened in this country, and that is the huge increase in vaccination rates everywhere, as evidenced by how few people are still wearing masks indoors in any setting. Before May 13, the fully vaccinated percentage of the population stood at about 35 percent; after May 13, it appears that percentage leapt to upwards of 70 percent. Incredible! Herd immunity achieved overnight!
A sign regarding mask policy at a Walmart in Chantilly, Virginia, on May 20, 2021, shortly after the CDC issued new guidelines. Note how the wording does not require unvaccinated customers to wear a mask as a condition of entering the store. Photo by Famartin.
It’s heartening to look around at fellow citizens in shops, grocery stores, and restaurants and assess by an eyeball estimate that even more than 70 percent of adults appear to be fully vaccinated. In some places around the country, the number of fully vaccinated adults could even be as high as 90 percent, based on visual estimates. What’s holding the vaccination numbers back for the total population is the lack of a vaccine suitable for children under 12. In some shops, young children are almost the only ones wearing masks.
The CDC has statistics putting the nationwide percentage of fully vaccinated people at about 50 percent as of late July. Fake news! Anyone can waltz into their local big box store, where signs at the entrance clearly advise unvaccinated customers to don masks before entering, and see with their own eyes that the CDC’s numbers don’t tell the whole story. The CDC must be gathering data from people outside of stores, or even from ones who never set foot indoors at a public venue. Since the CDC is obviously part of the Deep State, their numbers are not to be trusted by honest Americans.
It’s the honor system in operation, see, and since Americans are honorable people, they would never falsely represent their vaccination status in order to satisfy their own selfish whims and perverse ideas, not when behaving that way could endanger their fellow Americans, among them the honestly unvaccinated, such as young children and those who are immunocompromised. No, when it comes to weighing the evidence of one’s eyes and belief in the honorability of fellow Americans against the statistical mumbo jumbo disseminated by a cabal of Deep State scientists at the CDC, the scales definitely tilt toward siding with all the American patriots cruising maskless down the aisles of Walmart and Costco.
Supermarket social distancing signs in Ireland in August 2020. Follow the blue sign floor tiles! Photo by Ear-phone.
According to the CDC, as of July 25, 2021 the percentage of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 was 49.1 percent. That’s an increase of only about 14 percent since May 13, 2021. Herd immunity won’t be reached until the percentage of fully vaccinated is over 70 percent. Considering how vaccination rates have been slowing, it’s unlikely Americans will achieve herd immunity before the onset of cold weather forces more activities back indoors for the winter.
Judy Garland as Dorothy in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming. In Kansas, the state Dorothy called home, the COVID-19 vaccination rate is 44.9 percent, 4.2 percentage points below the national average. In a land of alternative facts somewhere over the rainbow, the vaccination rate is much higher – away above the chimney tops, in fact.
Absent widespread vaccine mandates, it could be that a vaccination rate of about 65 percent will be a limit past which we cannot move due to the political and cultural divisions in the country, as honorable American snowflakes dig in their heels like recalcitrant children and refuse to become socialist tools by doing the right thing for others, even passing up bribes from state and local governments. They may kill themselves for the puerile satisfaction of owning the libs, and so be it, but in the meantime they will serve as incubators for new, possibly more dangerous coronavirus variants, and they will spread their affliction to everyone else, even within the magical realm past shop doors.
The Heinz “57 Varieties” slogan is well known but not well understood, which is just as well for a slogan, especially since it doesn’t mean anything particularly. The slogan was meant to evoke in the consumer’s mind a satisfied feeling that the H.J. Heinz Company offered them a lot of products, in great variety. People seem to want that feeling, and corporate America has been willing to oblige them.
An illustration of Cherries of the “Heart” variety fromThe Encyclopedia of Food, a 1923 book by Artemas Ward. In this case, the reason for enclosing the word “Heart” in double quotation marks has to do with reference to the shape of the fruit, not to a cultivar, in which case only single quotation marks would be the practice. Botanical nomenclature can be confusing.
Horticultural companies and plant breeders have tried to fulfill that desire as well, for a variety of reasons, from interest in making a profit from patented cultivars to academic interest in genetics and in improving plant varieties. To speak of cultivars and varieties is not to use two words for the same thing, since varieties are naturally occurring while cultivated varieties are cultivars, a portmanteau word. To create cultivars, however, companies and breeders often take advantage of naturally occurring varieties.
A cultivar is not always an improvement in the long run, as shown by rose bushes which cannot stay healthy without human intervention in the form of applying copious amounts of pesticides and fungicides, some of them environmentally costly, as well as expensive to purchase. It has been short-sighted to breed roses for traits like flower shape and fullness and repeat blooming at the expense of plant vigor. it has been unforgivable to lose fragrance in many rose cultivars along the path to achieving other less salient rose traits. What is a rose, after all?
Fortunately, most plant geneticists are not like Dr. Alphonse Mephesto, a fictional scientist who produced useless anomalies for the gratification of his own ego and morbid curiosity on the animated television show South Park. The Green Revolution of the 1950s through the 1960s was fueled by botanists in academia and the private sector working hard to forestall what they perceived as the imminent possibility of widespread starvation as worldwide population exploded.
Cutting cinnamon sticks, another illustration from The Encyclopedia of Food, by Artemas Ward. Cinnamon identification has been confusing over the years, with several closely related plants being called cinnamon in the spice trade.
The Green Revolution scientists and horticultural companies did important work, even though the problem with alleviating hunger has rarely ever been horticultural primarily, but a problem of human greed and lack of empathy in the distribution of food and other resources. Abundant food rots in granaries and warehouses on one half of the world while the other half starves, often for no reason other than to enrich already wealthy speculators. It’s good to have a wealth of choices and to be able to choose a healthier plant over a weaker one, but what really needs changing are our choices about what to do with what we already have.
It’s no surprise MAGA Mussolini has called the imminent danger of a coronavirus pandemic a hoax, nor is it a surprise his MAGA followers swallowed that lie and called for more. They always do. These developments have become so predictable that they no longer warrant the bother of linking to the news stories about them. All the rest of us can do, those of us who live in the fact-based world, that is, is resist the implementation of damaging policies by those who live in the fantasy world of MAGA hate-based politics.
The Sick Child, an 1893 painting by the American artist J. Bond Francisco (1863-1931).
The great surprise is how well scientists and doctors have done in the past 100 years in restricting another pandemic like the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 and 1919, which killed 100 million people around the world. The Spanish Flu came on the heels of the close of World War I, and after it had finally flamed out it had claimed more lives than that most horrific “War to End All Wars”. That was the way the balance had worked throughout history, with battlefield deaths generally being outpaced by the communicable diseases unleashed in the gatherings of large armies and refugees. The later twentieth century holds the dubious distinction of tipping that balance toward human mayhem as the major cause of death in wars.
What is most remarkable about the efficiency of modern science in preventing the kind of communicable disease pandemics which have periodically scourged humanity is that scientists and doctors have done this despite the huge increase in population at the same time worldwide travel has skyrocketed in volume and speed. More people than ever before are moving faster and more frequently from one part of the world to the next, and all the while they are sharing untold numbers of germs both dangerous and mundane with local populations.
In the taking over of the New World by European colonists only two and more centuries ago, those sorts of introductions – though at a slower pace – led to genocidal destruction of the indigenous population through their exposure to an array of unfamiliar diseases. People more often lived in lighter concentrations then than they do now. Travel was certainly far slower, and most people then lived their entire lives in the familiar surroundings of one city or of a handful of farm villages.
The great danger now is the introduction of an unfamiliar permutation of a familiar virus or bacterium. And yet for 100 years the world’s scientific and medical professionals have forestalled the disaster that could easily overtake us if they weren’t vigilant. Calling their sincere efforts a hoax helps no one, and acting on such misinformation would amount to carelessly flipping a lit cigarette butt onto dry brush.
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.”
— from President John F. Kennedy’s “Race for Space” speech delivered before students and faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962.
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the walk on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, an event witnessed on television by people around the world. The achievement after a decade of hard work and dedication by NASA personnel was enormous, of course, and as a prestigious accomplishment in science and engineering it has not been topped in the 50 years since July 20, 1969.
The feature that stands out after a half century is how little the actual landings on the moon, by Apollo 11 and by subsequent missions, has mattered in the lives of people on Earth. It was all the technological and scientific discoveries and advancements made along the way to landing astronauts on the moon which have made the most impact on the lives of many people. Giving astronauts prominence before the public and making them integral to the Apollo program garnered public support while increasing the expense and difficulty of the missions. Having the Apollo astronauts bound around the surface of the moon for a few hours and gather up some rocks made a comparatively small impact on the wealth of scientific and technical knowledge NASA reaped from the program, while keeping up public interest and support.
“Earthrise”, a photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders aboard Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968.
Of all the insights common people gained from the Apollo program, perhaps none made a greater impression overall than the famous “Earthrise” photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders on December 24, 1968. In the foreground is what astronaut Buzz Aldrin would seven months later call the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, and viewed from a distance of about 240,000 miles, in a perspective never before seen by anyone on Earth, is the partially sunlit Earth, our home, appearing fragile and jewel-like in the black emptiness of space.
That picture and the emotions it stirred gave impetus and urgency to the environmental movement, and before the end of 1970 people around the world recognized the first Earth Day and in the United States the Environmental Protection Agency began operations. To strive for a decade to land astronauts on the moon, increasing knowledge and spurring progress all along the way, and then to have those astronauts turn around and look back toward the earth, sharing that view with everyone, that was perhaps the greatest legacy of the Apollo space program.
The opening sequence of the 1982 meditative documentaryKoyaanisqatsi depicts the Holy Ghosts portion of the Great Gallery pictograph in Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, followed by the liftoff of Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. Godfrey Reggio directed the film, Ron Fricke was the cinematographer, and Philip Glass wrote the music. The title comes from the Hopi language and the film makes oblique and direct references to Hopi prophecies, or warnings; and while the Great Gallery pictograph did not originate with the Hopi, they believe it and other pictographs in the Four Corners region are the work of their ancestors and they hold them sacred.
Legal judgments in lawsuits against the makers of Roundup herbicide continue accumulating in the plaintiffs’ favor, with the latest one entailing an award of $2.05 billion to a married couple who alleged that they each contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) from years of using the herbicide in their home garden. As in many lawsuits, high dollar amounts are likely to come down a great deal in the final settlement, and most of the money will end up in the hands of lawyers, not the plaintiffs.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and similar generic herbicides, and it is glyphosate which the plaintiffs in thousands of lawsuits around the country are alleging is linked to their cancer. Meanwhile, glyphosate continues to be readily available without label warnings to home gardeners as well as professional landscapers and farmers since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not ruled it is a carcinogen. European environmental and health organizations have ruled glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, differing from their American counterparts because they reviewed independent scientific studies instead of regulatory studies, many of them funded by agribusiness.
Welted thistle (Carduus crispus) possesses some fine qualities, including pretty flowers as seen here, but most people consider it a weed. Photo by dae jeung kim.
While United States government agencies continue to tilt the scales in favor of agribusiness, the courts appear to have no such bias. Consumers in that case have little recourse other than to seek compensation through the courts for their pain and suffering, which they allege were caused by the makers of Roundup (first Monsanto, and currently Bayer) and other purveyors of glyphosate herbicides. Consumers who are still healthy and use herbicides might want to exercise caution by looking for other options, though the only way they would know that is through their own research or by word of mouth, since there continue to be no cautionary statements about the risk of cancer on the label of glyphosate products the way there are for instance on cigarette packs.
Bottles of vinegar at a supermarket. Safer to use than horticultural vinegar, this more easily available common household vinegar may be a better option for casual users who do not require a heavy duty herbicide. Photo by Ms angie gray.
A safer herbicide option is vinegar. Ancient cultures derived vinegar from soured grape wine, but since it can be made from anything that produces ethanol, today most of it is sourced from corn, a cheap source. Unlike glyphosate, which migrates to the roots of affected plants, vinegar only burns the tops, meaning gardeners will have to reapply it when the weed sprouts new growth. Also unlike glyphosate, vinegar does not damage soil fertility with long term use. Damage to soil fertility is another effect of glyphosate that the manufacturers dispute even though some scientific researchers have upheld the observations of the effect by attentive farmers and gardeners.
Gardeners will be disappointed in the weak effect of using the vinegar commonly sold in grocery or home improvement stores, and that is because it is only a 5 to 7 percent solution of acetic acid in water meant for pickling food or cleaning surfaces, not killing weeds. For home gardeners, the most effective vinegar for killing weeds that is appropriately labeled as such, with accompanying safety warnings, is 20 to 30 percent acetic acid. Probably by reason of the low popularity of strong vinegar and the danger for casual users in believing it is relatively harmless, it appears to be available online only, not in stores. Vinegar that strong, while still mostly water, is potently acrid stuff which can burn a user’s mucous membranes, eyes, and skin, and may corrode hard surfaces and harm any small animals, such as toads, living in a garden. Test a small area first if there’s a chance overspray could affect something like bricks in a walkway. The best that can be said is it’s a good thing weeds are outside in the open air. Spraying strong vinegar in the garden may be unpleasant for the applicator and those in the vicinity and should be done with caution, but unlike using glyphosate, there’s less risk of serious damage to the gardener and the garden.
Witnesseth: Old English, meaning bear witness to the following or take notice.
— paraphrased definition from Black’s Law Dictionary.
When teams of scientists and engineers worked together for years to bring out the first ever image of a black hole last week, some of the excitement was drained off by internet trolls belittling the contribution of one computer scientist, a woman named Dr. Katie Bouman. Dr. Bouman was initially credited online by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she had earned her master’s degree and doctorate, with an outsize role in the great work, probably due to nothing more than an excess of exuberance for the achievement of one of their own when they first heard the news. If Dr. Bouman had been male, it is doubtful the trolls would have seized on MIT’s innocent overstatement and launched their campaign of vitriol geared toward minimizing her contribution and smearing her character.
From the 1983 Draw-a-Scientist Test, one of the relatively few depictions of a female scientist. Photo by Yewhoenter.
The time for minimization of online trolling has long since past. The usual advice to ignore them has not worked. The situation with trolls is like what happens in an eighth grade classroom when a cadre of unruly boys – they are almost always boys – sits at the back of the class disrupting the learning the majority of students and the teacher would like to conduct peacefully and constructively. Has ignoring those jackasses ever worked? No, it has not. The only remedy that works is invocation of real consequences for their actions. The online world is no different. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube claim they are not interfering with free speech rights when they give free rein to trolls, but they are ignoring the unique qualities of the internet megaphone.
Almost all trolling is anonymous, and making personal attacks while hiding behind anonymity calls up a gray area in slander and libel law. The Tweeter-in-Chief obviously makes all his egregious political and personal attacks without anonymity, and in some tweets he barely conceals incitement to violence against people he dislikes for political or personal reasons. Still, Twitter has not shut down his account. It used to be that one vile person could pollute only a small portion of the world with odious views; now that vile person can disseminate ugliness over the entire world in an instant, and millions more can take up the banner of sexist, racist, or white supremacist internet comments within a day or two. The opposite is also possible, of course, and good things can come about. To make internet freedom rights work, there have to be referees protecting the interests of the majority who would prefer good outcomes without the distraction of constant juvenile disruption, just as in a classroom where a teacher backed up by the school administration and by parents can rule counterproductive behavior out of bounds, restoring the peace and order necessary for instructive dialogue.
The Department of Energy is proposing to change a rule implemented late in the Obama administration that mandated energy guidelines for light bulbs which would have effectively removed all but Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs and Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs from the market in January 2020. Since manufacturers are phasing out CFLs, LEDs would have the market to themselves shortly. Even though manufacturers are turning out more LEDs to replace incandescent bulbs, making the old style bulbs less significant in the market with each passing year, they still apparently chafe at the rule and are behind the push to get it changed.
There’s no question LEDs save energy over incandescent bulbs, which waste a lot of energy producing heat instead of light. LEDs also last far longer than incandescents. While the retail price for LEDs had been around ten times higher than the price of incandescents, the price has fallen significantly in the past few years as LEDs flood the market. Unlike the light given off by CFLs, the quality of the light given off by LEDs is every bit as good as that from incandescents, and because there are many options for changing the light from LEDs they are better overall. If Americans are serious about saving energy, it’s difficult to imagine a good reason for not switching over to LEDs sooner rather than later.
Separation of Light from Darkness, a 1512 fresco by Michelangelo (1475-1564), painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The Vatican recently completed an eight year project to install LED bulbs and fixtures throughout its facilities, including the Sistine Chapel, cutting their energy use for lighting by 90 percent.
Energy savings from the indoor market for LED bulbs probably will pan out as scientists predict since people will use about as much lighting as they’ve used before, only they will have switched out the type of bulbs they use. Municipal outdoor lighting, on the other hand, has not proved to save energy when switching to LEDs because officials tend to have more of the new lights installed, negating energy savings as well as increasing light pollution. There are compelling reasons for municipalities to increase outdoor lighting, such as fighting crime, but still it seems a terrible waste of resources that may have more to do with bureaucrats defending their turf from budget cuts which might ensue after energy savings. Luckily, private citizens don’t usually control their own budgets in a similarly wasteful manner.
About outdoor lighting at home, it should be noted that scientists don’t know exactly what type of light is most attractive to insects, or to what extent the heat given off by bulbs is a factor. Some types of light are more attractive than others to some kinds of insects and not to others, and most insects are drawn to heat, but not all of them. There is no truth to the rumor that all LEDs, even bright whites, are not attractive to insects. To avoid drawing insects, the best kind of bulb is still an orange one, usually marketed specifically as a “bug light”, though of course it would more accurately be described as a “no bug light” or a “fewer bugs light”. The LED will be more effective than the incandescent because it also takes much of the attractive heat out of the equation. The absolute worst kind of outdoor lighting to get is marketed as a “bug zapper”, for a number of reasons. There are now bug zappers available which use LEDs as their light source, and that makes the least sense of all, except perhaps to someone who with unwarranted satisfaction feels better about saving energy while unnecessarily luring to their deaths any and all bugs.
Hey, Stupid! takes your questions about weather, or climate or whatever.
Questioner asks: Last week was bitterly cold throughout much of the U.S., and of course you chimed in about that on Twitter. This week, high temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast are forecast to rebound above freezing, and in Washington, D.C., where you can sometimes be found when you’re not on a golf course, are forecast to be in the 50s, 60s, even 70s. That’s pretty warm for mid-winter, even in D.C.. Will you be making any follow-up comments about that on Twitter?
Hey, Stupid! responds: Pffft! Sounds like good weather – or climate, or, you know, whatever – for hitting the links. Nice to get in 18 holes without having to go all the way to Mar-a-Lago this time of year.
Q: Does your public denial of climate change have anything to do with protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry?
HS: What a dumb question! You’re always asking dumb questions! Of course it does.
Q: When you say “throwing red meat” to your base, what exactly do you mean?
HS: I mean I know what they like, and what they like is anything that gets a rise out of pointy-headed, know-it-all liberals and scientists. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Facts are irrelevant. What matters is reassuring them in their ignorance.
Q: My, that’s a remarkably cogent and well-spoken analysis coming from you. Did someone write it for you?
Q: So it doesn’t make any impact on your base of support to point out how climate change will affect everyone, even them, and especially their kids and grandkids?
HS: First of all, nothing ever affects everyone equally. The rich will always manage to skirt the consequences of their actions. It’s the poors who will suffer the worst effects – and I’m not saying there will be any, because you know it’s a Chinese hoax – anyway, the poors will suffer if there are any problems, and no one cares about them. Meanwhile, get what you can today, Make America Great Again, and let the Chinese worry about tomorrow if global warming is such a big deal to them.
Q: It’s hard to believe you’re openly admitting to contempt for the poor, instead of merely implying it as you always have. Aren’t a fair amount of your supporters working class or poor?
HS: Yeah, but they all imagine they could be like me one day. The people I’m talking about, and they know who they are and my supporters know who they are, are the Other ones, the ones who are looking for government handouts and are rapists and druggies.
Supporters of the current president turn out to welcome him on a fundraising trip to Greensboro, North Carolina, in October 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider. The same flubs and ignorant or hateful remarks that dismay Democrats and even some Republicans serve as badges of solidarity for these people.
Q: Ah ha. So getting all this straight now – the cold weather last week was an opportunity to beat up on the libs and the scientists for the benefit of your base, who don’t care whether climate change is real or not because people they resent stand for it’s reality, and your base prefers to take the immature position of opposing whatever those other folks are for, regardless of the merits, and they are either ignorant of or do not care about how they are being used by you and your cronies in the corporate oligarchy. Does that sum things up?
HS: Yup, that’s about the size of it. You forgot to mention jobs. Dangle jobs in front of them and they’ll go for anything, never mind whether the jobs materialize or not, because when they don’t, it happens down the road. They have short memories, these people, Lord love ’em. By the time the temperature hits 70 later in the week, they won’t make any connection with my comments from last week. That kind of critical thinking is for people wearing pointy wizard’s hats, not good ol’ MAGA hat wearing Americans like my people, the Second Amendment people – they’ll only remember the rosy glow of how I outraged the libs and scientists and got them sputtering mad over my very stable genius remarks. Never mind the change in the weather. Or climate or whatever.
Since 1968, when the New England Journal of Medicine editors precipitously and unfairly saddled adverse reactions of some people to Monosodium glutamate (MSG) with the name Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG has been stigmatized as a food additive that is apart from and somehow unhealthier than other food additives. The first person to report symptoms to the Journal was a Chinese-American doctor, Robert Ho Man Kwok, who complained of numbness at the back of his neck, general weakness, and heart palpitations after eating at a Chinese restaurant. On this slim testimony and that of several others, the Journal coined the phrase Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
A type of kelp known as Dasima in Korea, and Kombu in Japan, is a key ingredient in Dashi, a broth from which Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda identified the quality of umami in 1908 that led him to the discovery and production of MSG. Photo by freddy an.
Use of MSG is not limited to Chinese cookery, however, and it can be found in many processed American foods such as Doritos, which millions of Americans appear to consume regularly without complaint. It would be interesting to see if more people would attest to adverse reactions to eating Doritos if they were made aware the product contained MSG. It is listed among the ingredients on the package, and using its most recognizable name, too, rather than one of the many names that can hide its presence, such as autolyzed yeast.
This is not to say no one can have a real adverse or allergic reaction to MSG. But for just about any ingredient in food there are some people who react badly to ingesting it. The main thing to remember is that in scientific studies of MSG, as opposed to the purely anecdotal stories that appeared to satisfy the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine in 1968, no one has found that MSG is any more dangerous than any of a multitude of other food additives. If it were as dangerous as some people appear to believe it is, not only would the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) likely take it off its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list, but thousands or even millions of Asians and Asian-Americans would be suffering every day from its effects.
Yet Asian chefs and home cooks continue to add MSG to their meals. They are either perverse in their determination to eat the possibly unwholesome ingredient, or they are unconvinced by the nearly hysterical denunciations of it coming from some people in North America and Europe. Given the ubiquity of MSG in highly processed foods that Americans eat and enjoy every day, any real or imagined adverse reaction to it could just as easily be called American Junk Food Syndrome. There is already one name for that, which is Obesity. American food processors discovered around the time of World War II that MSG was a useful flavor booster for otherwise bland or even flavorless foods like canned vegetables and corn snacks. MSG by itself does not encourage obesity, but its overuse in helping to make some rather unpalatable and non nutritious foods delicious does contribute to obesity.
Shavings of Katsuobushi, a preserved and fermented skipjack tuna used in Dashi, the umami broth from which Professor Ikeda first isolated MSG. Photo by Sakurai Midori.
At the same time as food scientists and agribusinesses were discovering how to make cheaply made, highly profitable junk food flavorful, they were also inadvertently taking the flavor out of healthful foods by manipulating them to improve qualities like pest resistance, standing up to shipping, or tolerating being confined on factory farms, all at the expense of flavor and nutrition. Those practices yielded bland, watery supermarket produce, and meats needing seasoning and breading and all sorts of treatments in order to taste like much of anything. It’s not all that mysterious why shoppers, particularly poor ones who can’t afford to seek out higher quality ingredients, turn to highly processed, highly flavorful foods, even at the cost of poor nutrition and cumulative destructive effects on their health.
In this country, people like to blame the victim. After all, free enterprise and free choice means people don’t have to eat junk, doesn’t it? It’s also useful to have an Other to blame, as in Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. The sensible thing would be to teach children in schools about moderation in all things, including sprinkling additives on their food. A little bit of MSG on already healthful food gives an umami flavor boost and has not been shown to do harm to the great majority of people who eat it that way. MSG put on every unwholesome, processed food cannot be healthy since the bad effects of poor quality food combine with excessive amounts of this otherwise relatively harmless additive. Enormous amounts of any additive are probably not healthy, not just MSG. School administrators could stress in the curriculum healthful eating instead of allowing vending machines full of snacks, sodas, and sugary fruit drinks in the hallways. In the case of young people at least, free enterprise and free choice should take a back seat to learning healthy habits.
A jury at San Francisco’s Superior Court of California has awarded school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages in his lawsuit against Monsanto, maker of the glyphosate herbicide Roundup. Mr. Johnson has a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and it was his contention that the herbicides he used in the course of his groundskeeping work caused his illness, which his doctors have claimed will likely kill him by 2020. Hundreds of potential litigants around the country have been awaiting the verdict in this case against Monsanto, and now it promises to be the first of many cases.
Migrant laborers weeding sugar beets near Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1972. Photo by Bill Gillette for the EPA is currently in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Chemical herbicides other than Roundup were in use at that time, though all presented health problems to farm workers and to consumers. Roundup quickly overtook the chemical alternatives because Monsanto represented it, whether honestly or dishonestly, as the least toxic of all the herbicides, and it overtook manual and mechanical means of weeding because of its relative cheapness and because it reduced the need for backbreaking drudgery.
Monsanto has long been playing fast and loose with scientific findings about the possible carcinogenic effects of glyphosate, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently sides with Monsanto in its claim that there is no conclusive evidence about the herbicide’s potential to cause cancer. In Europe, where Monsanto has exerted slightly less influence than in the United States, scientific papers have come out in the last ten years establishing the link between glyphosate and cancer. Since Bayer, a German company, acquired Monsanto in 2016 it remains to be seen if European scientists will be muzzled and co-opted like some of their American colleagues.
The intensive use of glyphosate herbicide to remove all ground vegetation in olive groves on Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, is evidenced by the large number of discarded chemical containers in its countryside. Photo by Parkywiki.
The scope of global agribusiness sales and practices that is put at risk by the verdict in Johnson v. Monsanto is enormous. From the discovery of glyphosate in 1970 by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz to today, the use of the herbicide has grown to the preeminent place in the chemical arsenal of farmers around the world and has spawned the research into genetically modified, or Roundup Ready, crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. There are trillions of dollars at stake, and Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, will certainly use all their vast resources of money and lawyers to fight the lawsuits to come.
Because scientists have found traces of glyphosatein the bodies of most people they have examined in America for the chemical over the past 20 years as foods from Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread throughout the marketplace, they have inferred it’s presence is probably widespread in the general population. That means there are potentially thousands of lawsuits in the works. Like the tobacco companies before them and the fossil fuel industry currently, agribusiness giants will no doubt fight adverse scientific findings about their products no matter how overwhelming the evidence against them, sowing doubt among the populace and working the referees in the government.