Monday, December 21, 2009

Pivotal moments in US history changed by the courageous actions of 1.

It was something that was going to change the world! The internal combustion engine was not only going to allow everyday citizens to have personal transportation, but also was going to replace the more hazardous steam power. The only problem was the fuel. When the engines were made more efficient and more powerful with higher compression, this horrible problem kept revealing its ugly side. A ominous sound would start up from the very bowels of the engine cylinders when put under stress.

This sound was discovered to be "Pinging" or sometimes called engine knocking. The sound was like somebody had put gravel rocks in the cylinders! Besides the very undesirable sounds that were produced from the relatively new technology it was discovered that pinging caused damage to the internal workings of the engine itself. Some solution had to be found or this technology would never be accepted!

So in 1916 a chemist, named Thomas Midgley,  was given the job of finding a solution to this particular problem. He was told that not only was it bad for the automobiles being produced but the newfangled flying machines and the associated aviation engine development was being hampered. So working for General Motors Research, he tried several schemes to prevent this engine knock.

Since Thomas thought that too much heat might be the problem, he tried different dyes in the gas. Perhaps different colors would absorb less heat. This didn't work out so well. They then accumulated almost every element they could think of based on the Periodic Chart of the elements and started going down the list.

By trial and error, they stumbled upon a substance called Tetra-Ethyl-Tin that showed some promise. Further investigation showed that it was the lead in the Tetra-Ethyl-Tin that stopped the knock completely. Lead was extremely cheap so if this substance worked out, a lot of money could be made. The chemist cooked up a batch of Tetra-Ethyl-Lead and tried it out. The knock went away completely like magic!

But by this time, other researchers had discovered that lead had some very bad properties like brain damage, strange skin reactions, difficulties in walking, etc. The League of Nations recommended to ban all lead in paint to which Europe complied.The United States, for whatever reason, did not regulate lead in paint until a much later date. Thomas Midgley was by then receiving all sorts of reports and letters telling about the hazards of lead but by this time too much had been invested in this magical liquid solution.

In 1922, the surgeon general wrote a letter to the president of General Motors with concerns that lead would become a serious health issue to the public. In spite of these warnings, the president of General Motors, Pierre DuPont partnered with Standard Oil to form Ethyl Gasoline Company with Mr. Charles Kettering as President and Thomas Midgley, the chemist, as Vice-President. The product was put on sale in 1923. Additional public advertising was helped by the fact that Ethyl fueled cars won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place at the Indianapolis Raceway in 1923.

But problems started to show up. At the Ethyl production facility in Deepwater, the workers became disoriented, had a strange gait, and couldn't seem to think clearly. The Deepwater Ethyl plant started to be called the "House of Butterflies" for the strange effects to the workers. The companies leaders excused the effects as the workers are "working too hard" and that was causing the slow insanity. "We are going to have to protect the workers against themselves" stated Mr Kettering. The public took these statements as a clean bill of health and soon the Ethyl lead additive started taking over the market.

By 1963, over 98 percent of all gasoline contained the additive. But all this lead was also coming out of the exhausts of all those cars across the country. Thousands of tons of lead per year at its peak. But because of political muscle, Ethyl lead gasoline enjoyed the protection of the government. One instance, when a competitor came up with a nonlead additive, the US government actually sued them into bankruptcy. The US Federal Trade Commission came out with a report that stated that leaded gas was not a narcotic, poisonous dope, or dangerous to human health in any way. Ethyl Gasoline was here to stay........except for one person who just wouldn't go along.

This one geochemist graduate student, Clair Patterson, was trying some new ways of measuring how old rocks were with the goal of finding out how old the earth was. His new method was by measuring the isotopes of uranium and lead naturally found in rocks samples. But something was wrong! All of the rock samples he tested contained about 200 times the amount of lead they should have naturally. He just couldn't figure out where the contamination was coming from! He set up a strict contamination procedure in his lab. Still he was coming up with the same results. Where was all the lead coming from?

He found out that the lead contamination was from the atmosphere and spoiling the samples. He then discovered that it was from the gasoline additive, Tetra-Ethyl-Lead, and started publishing his findings.

Dr Patterson came up with an experiment in which he would take core samples from pack ice in Greenland and from the different layers, be able to determine lead contamination throughout past years. The experiment worked and it show that lead levels started increasing in 1923 and that the last tested year of 1965, the lead levels were 1000 times what they had been before 1923.

He also started testing human bones and found that modern human bone lead level were many times greater than pre-1923 bone lead tests. When these results were published, the proverbial "crap hit the fan".

First the Ethyl corporation offered him lucrative contracts for more favorable results. He refused. They then started a public smear campaign designed to destroy his credibility. Even the US government got into the campaign with the National Research Council disputing the findings. The Ethyl Corporation had many friends on their side including a Supreme Court Justice, members of the US Public Health Service, and the American Petroleum Institute.

But Dr. Patterson would not relent on his campaign to inform the general public. Eventually Congress passed the Clean Air act of 1970 which demanded that leaded gasoline was to be phased out because of research that Dr Patterson published. DuPont and the Ethyl Corporation were able to delay the death of Ethyl based additives for 10 more years in court, but eventually all gasoline became lead free in 1986. In the 63 years of Ethyl additives existence, 6 million tons of lead was released in the atmosphere.

What happened to the chemist, Thomas Midgley, who ignored all the warnings about lead and came up with Ethyl additives? Well, he was not totally out of the creative process when Tetra-Ethyl-Lead ceased to exist. He later went on to invent ChloroFluroCarbons, otherwise known as CFC'S. What a guy!!

 The Nation: The Secret History of Lead by Jamie Kitman
 Damn Interesting: The Ethyl Poison Earth by Alan Bellows
Kenneshaw University "How the best known Poison on Earth remained in the Gasoline Supply for 60 Years"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lawyer Claus

It's definitely that time of year again.  You can tell that the holidays are upon us by the way hard working Americans cram a month's worth of work into two weeks, stretching the limits of sanity to the brink of snapping.  Of course, some do snap.  But the purpose of this entry is not to probe the what-for of our collective insanity induced by trying to do too much in too short amount of time, but rather to dish out a few justly deserved presents.

First, for the teabaggers and their de facto leaders at Fox News.  Man, these people really hate government, or at least a government under the executive control of a black Democrat.  My mind still boggles at some of the rich signs these folks were holding up at rallies over the last year.  My favorite was, "Keep Government out of my Social Security."  If you do not instantly recognize the irony of that statement, you might consider using drugs--it couldn't impair your cognitive abilities worse than they are already.

One woman being interviewed by author Max Blumenthal at a spirited teabagging stated the purpose of her participation was because she wanted government out of her life, period.  When pressed to expound, she repeated the injunction over and over.  If no government is what you want, then I give you its alternative:  anarchy for the U.S.A.  Irrespective of naughtiness, my gift to the folks at Fox balls and their teabagging devotees is a pair of Doc Martens and hair clippers so that they can all give each other mohawks.  Rock on!

The religious right's faith in the singularly literal interpretation of an ancient text written by men who thought the world was flat is unwavering.  I admire people that can stick to a certain perspective despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Most astonishing though, I am chilled to the bone that the one thing the religious right wants more than anything in the world is the total destruction of planet Earth.  So, my gift to them is Armageddon and the rapture.  Go out to a hill somewhere in God's country, and wait, while modernity chugs along without you.  However, this is a bit of a gag gift.  It's not the people who subscribe to the idea that the world is 14 billion years old that are going to get left behind.

As a subset of the same category as the religious right, I have a very special gift for advocates of abstinence only sex education:  STD's and more kids than you can reasonably afford.

Oh, and look here what we have in the bag.  I have a gift for those mad geniuses on Wall Street for whom too much wealth, at any cost, is never enough.  They are the only beneficiaries of anything that approaches socialism in the United States.  Our taxes insure that they continue to make outlandish bonuses as they devise ever more complex schemes to screw us in return.  Wall Street executives get locked in a room for twenty-four hours with a gaggle of stinky World Trade Organization protesters, armed with tazers--no cameras, or other recording devices, allowed.

Let's see.  Reaching into the bag, rummaging around...I know it's here somewhere.  Yes, there it is.  For the health insurance industry, you get the bird.

As for the rest of you, all I have to give is infinite patience and an excuse to laugh at anything that might be spun as remotely humorous.

Ho, ho, ho!  Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.    

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pivotal moments in US history changed by the courageous actions of 1.

The citizens of the country were in turmoil. "The President is a socialist" they cried. A large group of protesters formed to demonstrate around the county. "We need to take back the country and follow the Constitution" were the slogans used by some of the most affluent New York investors. They had lost a fortune in investments and were convinced that the country was headed in a hopeless direction of Socialism. They saw the rapid demise of all they had built up. Something must be done......

You may think that this was a description of the "Tea Baggers" and the harsh words were for President Obama. Well, think again. The President is Franklin Roosevelt and the time is during the Great Depression. Roosevelt had just begun execution of a program called the "New Deal".

The "Tea Baggers" of that time were called the American Liberty League and they had actually more in mind than just protesting. What they had in mind was a coup d'etat, a forceful overthrow of the US Government. So some of the wealthiest men in the country along with the help of a large group of investment bankers held a secret meeting in New York to organize and bankroll this devious plan. They then appointed a go-between messenger, Gerald McGuire, of the American Liberty League, to enlist the help of a U.S. Marine Major General by the name of Smedley Butler to gain control and lead the military.

They claimed that they already had control of the newspaper publications and also had immediate access to 3 million dollars to start the coup and up to 300 million if it was needed. That was a huge amount of money in the 1930's!

Smedley Butler wasn't just any sort of General. He had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal from both the Army and the Navy. He was also one of only 20 people to receive the Marines Brevet Medal and one of only a handful to twice, let me repeat that, twice receive the Medal of Honor. A national hero if there ever was one.

Initially Gerald McGuire approached the General saying he was from the Committee for a Sound US Dollar, a organization determined to force Roosevelt back to the Gold Standard. He implied that the organization had the support of several political leaders and was bankrolled by the country's most affluent individuals and corporate leaders.

After several meeting with Smedley not showing any interest whatsoever, McGuire dropped all pretenses and at a restaurant meeting laid it all on the line. McGuire indicated that he had the support of key industrial figures and had 3 million in cash to bankroll the cause. He stated that he would like General Butler to lead a force of 500,000 disgruntled Veterans and they were to overthrow the US government. The president and other existing US leadership would keep their positions but the General was to become the secretary of the Office for General Affairs and decisions were to be given to him as to the new formed government.

General Butler expressed interest in this so he joined with the group. After some months of planning, the time for action was now. In the autumn of 1934, General Butler called a press meeting to discuss matters of grave importance. But when the press meeting occurred, he didn't demand the surrender of the US Government. Instead he related to the reporters the details of the plot, complete with names and dates. He had been just playing along with the conspirators all this time. General Butler had also enlisted the help of a undercover reporter by the name of Paul French who was keeping a detailed record of the plot.

After the startling press meeting, Paul French and the General were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for a full accounting. After their testimony and also testimony from James Zandt, National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who also had been approached to lead 500,000 veterans on a march on Washington, the HUAC concluded that there was compelling evidence of a coup plot. They stated that there was no doubt that certain persons had made an attempt to establish new governmental control in this country.

Suddenly all the newspapers ran stories as to a "plot without plotters" and ridiculed that US corporate leaders could participate in such "Rabble Rousing" behavior. The governments action was of complete inaction. Criminal charges were brought against no one and the collection of listed people in the report were immediately excused from ever testifying. In addition, the go-between, Gerald Mcguire died suddenly 1 month after the report was made public. But the plan had been stopped abruptly even before a shot was fired.

Who knows what might have happened if it wasn't for the actions of one man, General Smedley Butler, who by the way was also known as the "Fighting Quaker".

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Party Crashing

Three hours had passed without the smell of pepper beef and chicken lo mien wafting through The Lawyer and The Engineer HQ.  The Engineer and I assumed the worse.  We had been abandoned by Edgar, our "intern" editor, the last of our restless team of editors to quit us.

Rudderless, The Engineer and I sat around for a few days, not discussing or doing much.  Eventually I wanted coffee, so I stood up and walked to the coffee maker and set to figuring out how to make the thing work, but we were out of coffee.  "Edgar," I shouted.  "Pop down to the grocery store and get us some Costa Rican, ground..."  The Engineer shook his head at me.  I slapped my forehead.  We missed Edgar.

The monotony was broken as we were jarred by a sudden calling while The Engineer and I watched the President give a speech on one of the cable "news" networks.  We had cable, with a used DVR box, all courtesy of The Engineer who had hijacked cable from a nearby utility pole.

It was a town hall style meeting about health care, joblessness, the economy, Afghanistan, North Korea, swine flu, and global warming, which pretty much ran the gauntlet of all that is wrong in the world.  Listening to him I felt more helpless and alone at the state of things in general than I did by being left to fend for my own basic luxuries by Edgar's resignation.

"Whoa, look there," said The Engineer, pausing the program.  "Right there," he said pointing to a man in a dark suit, sunglasses, a white coil-y thing stuck in one ear, with arms like tree trunks.  "Who does that look like?"

"I don't know?  A secret service guy?"

"Yeah, he's a secret service officer, but have you ever seen him before?" asked The Engineer.  I moved closer to the television and squinted.  I did recognize the bastard.

I stood and backed away from the set pointing at it.  "That's the guy," I said, my heart racing as only it does at the sight of someone by whom you have been tazered and generally roughed up.  "The security guard at Fox News."

"Who had been employed to guard that psychotic, fart-face, dry-drunk Mormon, Glenn Beck," said The Engineer.

"And protect the dread pirate, Rupert Murdoch," I added.

"And," The Engineer said, "charged to keep secret Dick Cheney's undisclosed location in his makeshift vice-presidential office."

The Engineer and I looked at each other, the blood having drained from our already pasty faces as we entertained the same thought.  My voice cracking, I said, "And to watch over the empire of--"

"The Prince of Darkness," said The Engineer as we slumped back into our respective, pre-owned, Lazyboy recliners.

Before you could say "conspiracy theory" we were in The Cube speeding out of town; destination:  The Whitehouse.

Outside the beltway, we booked ourselves into a discount hotel that offered rooms, for a darn reasonable price, by the week or the hour.  There, amidst the exotic smells of illegal substances being inhaled and the sound of primal grunts and groans and head boards thudding against the walls on either side of our room, we formulated our plan to have an audience with someone--anyone--of importance at The Whitehouse.

A black tie event was scheduled for that evening at The Whitehouse in honor of an international dignitary.  Between the two of us, we had just enough money to rent tuxedos and a limousine.  The Engineer explained that under the guise of being diplomatic assistants from the Luxembourg embassy we could gain entrance to the event and provide a written synoptic memorandum to either the President, Joe Biden or Rahm "The Asshole" Emanuel, whoever we could get closest to the fastest, and then we would have completed our mission.  Thereafter, if we were lucky, we could hang out for a while, have a square meal, get drunk, have our photos taken with Hillary Clinton and Katherine Sebelius, and maybe show what we are made of on the dance floor with the First Lady.

"There's one missing ingredient," I said to The Engineer.  "We have to have dates.  You can't go to a black tie event without a top-shelf, classy woman hanging on your arm."

"Damn,  You're right," conceded The Engineer.  "How do we get two dates on short notice?"

The hotel manager, behind the bullet proof glass window in the lobby, looked like just the man that could help us with our dilemma.  Our good host, Abd Al-Ala, who gave the impression he had not cracked a smile in well over a decade, nor appeared in the habit of shaving on a regular basis, impatiently put down the fried chicken leg he had been gnawing on.  "What do you want?  You only get one towel per week."

"No, we don't need a towel," I said.  "We need your advise."

"How does this work for you, my friend?  Go fuck you self,"  Abd Al-Ala counseled.  

"Look, prick," I said, "we need to hire a couple of real classy women to accompany us to a very exclusive party.  I just thought you might be able to point us in the right direction."

"Ha!" he guffawed.  "I know just the women for you.  How classy are we talking here?"

"Um, well, very, very classy," said The Engineer.

"What the fuck are you two?" asked Abd Al-Ala.  "A couple of fucking Canadians?"

"Yes, that's it.  We are a couple of fucking Canadians," I said.  "Now help us out here, you greasy dick wad."

"Very well," said Abd Al-Ala.  "If you want very, very classy piece of ass, as you say, that will cost you one-thousand per evening."

"Ouch," said The Engineer.

"Per woman," added Abd Al-Ala.

"Whoa," I cringed.

"Ha, ha, ha, ha," laughed the sadistic douche bag.  "You a couple of broke ass punks from Canada, huh?"

"Look," I said.  "We don't have much money, but this is what we have to offer."  I was thinking by the seat of my pants.  "We, uh, my colleague and I, are invited to a very exclusive event, and there will be a lot of extremely important and powerful people there.  It could be a great networking opportunity for the right girls, and offer a boost up in their clientele.  This is the perfect chance for the right, entrepreneurial type go-getters."

Abd Al-Ala chewed on another piece of chicken, put it down and wiped his face and hands with a dirty napkin while eying us like we were a couple of shit heads.  A chilling smile broke across his sinister face.  "I've got just the women for you then," he said.  "I know a couple of good Russian girls.  You will have to negotiate your terms yourself with them.  I make no warranties, my friends."  Though their accents were as thick as a Tolstoy novel, we were able to negotiate that in addition to being provided the networking opportunity of a life time, we would pay Inga and Olya one-hundred dollars each.  

That evening we anxiously stepped out of the lobby of the reasonably priced hotel, appareled in discount tuxedos from a haberdashery called Proms-R-Us, with Inga and Olya who each had breasts as downy-white and expansive as Siberia.  We stepped into the white stretch, Hummer limousine with ground effects, rented at a distressed rate.  Inside the limo, rolling for The Whitehouse, we explained to Inga and Olya that all they needed to do was smile, not say a word, and to hang on our every adoring word.  I'm not sure they understood half of what we instructed, as Inga twizzled my hair with her long fingers.

Immediately we garnered unwanted attention as we exited our gaudy limousine, but were able to put ourselves in line with the other guests quickly enough that most there were unaware of who arrived in the monstrous thing.  The line was long and moving slowly as the secret service agents at the door thoroughly checked the contents of everyone's pockets, swept them over with a hand-held metal detector, and another checked off a list as the guests passed through another metal detector.

Succumbing to that familiar queasy feeling I always got before the day would end by being tazered, I lent over to The Engineer and angrily whispered, "There is a guest list.  There's a fucking guest list.  We're fucked."  The man in front of us--who looked like a Mediterranean pervert I represented once--with a blond waif on his arm, had overheard me and caught my eye with a nervous smile on his face.  I darted a cold look into his twitching eyes.  Though he never quit smiling, bigger than life, he was shaking with nerves.  I sensed there was nothing but trouble ahead.

"Change of plan then," whispered the Engineer.  "We are not lower level assistants to Ambassadors from Luxembourg.  We are lower level assistants to Ambassadors from Russia.  We have to be able to see the list, while acting like we don't speak English, and point to the first Russian looking name we see." 

Inga stared at the back of the head of the waif-ish woman in the red, silken, exotic dress, while talking what sounded like a barrel of smack in Russian.  I shushed her, but not before the blond waif turned and smiled stupidly at Inga.  Inga whispered in my ear.  "I do not like the coot of her jib," she said.  "There is something nawt correct about that American beetch."  Hushing her again, Inga shot me a proud and fierce look.

With only the waif and the jittery looking Mediterranean guy with the idiotic smile left to go through the metal detectors, what I saw caused all the hope I had left of gaining entrance to drop out my pant legs.  The secret service agent that had formerly been employed by those ingrates at Fox News was standing there with the clip board with the list of guests on it.  As soon as I had recognized him, as if sensing that I was looking right at him, his eyes went straight from the buffoon with the waif and landed square upon my countenance.

"You!" he shouted.  I looked behind me as if the person being addressed was not me.  He dropped the clip board and lunged at The Engineer and me.  The other agents joined in the fray, reaching and tugging at us as Inga and Olya beat them over the head with their purses and cursed them relentlessly in Russian.

The Engineer and I were able to pull apart from the grasping hands of the agents and make just enough space between us to make ourselves easy targets from the tazers that had been drawn and triggered.  The Engineer and I were shot in the chest, and we went down hard, our teeth chattering madly, as we sputtered out something that sounded like, "Gi-di-di-di-di-di-di." 

In all the excitement the agents lost track of the waif and her man as they slipped through the metal detector and into the event, the press's cameras blasting them in a strobe of flashes as they entered, smiling and waiving.  The Engineer and I were picked off the ground, our limbs still twittering with electricity as we were hauled off into custody of The United States of America.

It was bad enough that we spent the next week detained in close proximity of cartel mules, inner-city gangsters, meth-heads in withdrawal and an assortment of other violent offenders.  The only matter being covered in the news was the incident of The Whitehouse party crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the mad man and his waif wife in the red, silk dress.  It served as a constant reminder of our folly and failed mission.  There was no mention of The Engineer and I since our arrest was a matter of national security and therefore secret.

Otherwise the coverage of the matter was predictably dull.  Who are the Salahi's?  What where they doing there?  How did they get in?  What does their house look like?  What brand of car do they drive?  Whose fault was it that they were able to shake hands with the president and Mrs. Salahi was able to get a photo with the Vice President while fondling his chest?  It went on and on, in a monotonous dribble worse than Chinese water torture, until the announcement came one afternoon.

"This breaking news, just in," announced the perky anchor woman.  "The secret service agent that was in charge of overseeing the guest list at last weeks black tie event at the Whitehouse has been terminated from his duties as an agent for purportedly being derelict in his duties in allowing the now infamous Salahi's to enter the exclusive event, though they were not on the list."  The Engineer and I gave each other a high five and celebrated with an intense game of fish in our homey little cell.