27 October 2009


The POW/MIA myth must be understood as a symptom of a profound psychological sickness in American culture. One path back toward mental health would be through an honest self-examination of how and why a society could have been so possessed by such a grotesque myth.

The bones of many Americans have mingled not just with the earth of Vietnam but also with the bones of many Vietnamese. Those who are still missing are just as dead as the husband and son of Nguyen Thi Teo, and the Vietnamese dead are just as missing as those dead Americans. When we recognize and confront all that we--and the peoples of Indochina--have truly lost and that will remain forever missing in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, perhaps we can at least recover some of our lost moral and psychological health.

As for the bone fragments recovered the first day, they were taken away by the Americans and sent to the U.S. identification laboratory in Honolulu to determine whether they were remains of "American MIAs." There is no hint in any press report that anyone considered the possibility that they might be the remains of Vietnamese MIAs, such as the husband and son of Nguyen Thi Teo.

Bruce Franklin, M.I.A. or Mythmaking In America, p.170,175

We Remember Their Names

All the while, we wrote poems, we painted, we told stories. Many women who showed great creative promise did not continue. Some were forced to stop. Some went mad. Others died. We know who they were; we remember their names.

Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers, p.94

20 October 2009

Clair Patterson

Later in 1953, his main work done, Patterson turned his attention to the nagging question of all that lead in the atmosphere. He was astounded to find that what little was known about the effects of lead on humans was almost invariably wrong or misleading--and not surprisingly, he discovered, since for forty years every study of lead's effects had been funded exclusively by manufacturers of lead additives.

Patterson quickly established that we had a lot of lead in the atmosphere--still do, in fact, since lead never goes away--and that about 90 percent of it appeared to come from automobile exhaust pipes, but he couldn't prove it. What he needed was a way to compare lead levels in the atmosphere now with the levels that existed before 1923, when tetraethyl lead was introduced. It occurred to him that ice cores could provide the answer.

What Patterson found was that before 1923 there was almost no lead in the atmosphere, and that since that time its level had climbed steadily and dangerously. He now made it his life's quest to get lead taken out of gasoline. To that end, he became a constant and often vocal critic of the lead industry and its interests.

It would prove to be a hellish campaign. Ethyl was a powerful global corporation with many friends in high places. Patterson suddenly found research funding withdrawn or difficult to acquire. The American Petroleum Institute canceled a research contract with him, as did the United States Public Health Service, a supposedly neutral government institution.

As Patterson increasingly became a liability to his institution, the school trustees were repeatedly pressed by lead industry officials to shut him up or let him go. According to Jamie Lincoln Kitman, writing in The Nation in 2000, Ethyl executives allegedly offered to endow a chair at Caltech "if Patterson was sent packing." Absurdly, he was excluded from a 1971 National Research Council panel appointed to investigate the dangers of atmospheric lead poisoning even though he was by now unquestionably the leading expert on atmospheric lead.

To his great credit, Patterson never wavered or buckled. Eventually his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and finally to the removal from sale of all leaded gasoline in the United States in 1986. Almost immediately lead levels in the blood of Americans fell by 80 percent. But because lead is forever, those of us alive today have about 625 times more lead in our blood than people did a century ago.

Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn't win a Nobel Prize for his work. Geologists never do. Nor, more puzzlingly, did he gain any fame or even much attention from half a century of consistent and increasingly selfless achievement. A good case could be made that he was the most influential geologist of the twentieth century. Yet who has ever heard of Clair Patterson?

Bill Bryson, A Short History Of Nearly Everything, pp.157-160
additional source: Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab


Silent and proper and modest and self-contained, a perfect Senator's daughter: you had to know Astano very well to know how warm-hearted she was and what unexpected thoughts she could think.

Ursula LeGuin, Powers, p.11


Space, let me repeat, is enormous. The average distance between stars out there is 20 million million miles. Even at speeds approaching those of light, these are fantastically challenging distances for any traveling individual. Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely.

Bill Bryson, A Short History Of Nearly Everything, p.27