Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Several unrelated things

 * I was teaching the section on Toxics and Pesticides this week. And trying to make it a little more interesting/relevant/something, I looked up some background information.

I talked about the Elixir Sulfanilimide tragedy there is a story here about it and how it really catalyzed people calling for legislation (which led to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938). In the past, I got reactions to that - especially students who were parents kind of recoiling in horror. But this year? I guess people are just numb.

And I also decided to work in a more "fun" story, and one that actually applies to my life - the story of red M and Ms. In the original color line-up, there was dark brown, tan, green yellow, orange, and red. But in 1976, there was concern - I remember what a big bad thing red food coloring was in the 70s, it was said it made kids hyperactive (same was said for sugar, though it seems neither of those were true) but then there was some evidence that what was known as F D and C Red #2 was carcinogenic - and even though that wasn't the colorant used in red M and Ms, Mars decided to pull them lest concerned parents boycotted them. This happened in 1976; I vaguely remember it. (Also years later I remember reading that parents were slightly disappointed in that they had used red, yellow, and green M and Ms to teach stoplights to their kids). 

Then, in 1987 - well, I guess they figured it had been forgotten and red came back. (Followed shortly by the brand-new - I think - blue color, which never seemed right to me).

Now that I look at it, how weird - it was only 11 years there were no red M and Ms, and yet it's still strange to me there are red ones. I guess because the red left when I was 7 and returned when I was 18 - so my prime M and M eating years were also the ones of no red. (Also time seems longer when you are a kid. 11 years ago....well, it was 2009, and....yeah....that was a happier time than now for several reasons)

But also no reaction to that. 

Then, finally, when I was covering the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, I had looked up a bit about the really kind of weird and numinous ideas for "how do we identify a site as "dangerous" so people 10,000 years in the future wouldn't breach it. (Considering how people seem driven to open old sarcophagi they find even in 2020, this may be futile. I don't think opening sarcophagi is a good idea, both because it disrespects the dead but also because there COULD be pathogens hanging out there - and we don't need more.)

Anyway, things like "menacing earthworks" and "field of thorns". Wikipedia has an entry on it. And there's the weird, vaguely-Biblical, vaguely-Klingon list of "moods" the people at Sandia Labs said they wanted to convey:

This place is a message... and part of a system of messages... pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.

What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location... it increases towards a center... the center of danger is here... of a particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.

 And again, no reaction.

I even brought up one of the weirder ideas - "ray cats" - bioengineered cats that change color when exposed to radiation. And the idea was, a colony of these would be released in the area of the waste dump, and somehow, the idea implanted in cultural memory, like "An odd cat ye see, leaving ye better be"

And still, no reaction.

 It's frustrating. One of the things that I find most isolating is when I talk about something that's important to me, or that I think is cool or interesting, and have no one react to it - it's almost worse than what I often heard from my peers as a kid, that what I thought was interesting was dumb or weird or for babies. 

I guess the problem is, I'm just suffering from lack of connection, and trying to find some.


I also realized something tonight.

I took one of my other classes to task because I had a strong suspicion without concrete evidence of people copying and pasting off the internet, and it was leading them to get the wrong answers to things, and in the course of my lecture on "I don't mind at this point if you use your notes but if you Google you're going to get things wrong, see" and a couple times I just said "I'm doing my best, I'm really doing my best"

and I realized I wasn't saying that in the hope of getting them to believe it; I was saying it in the hope of getting ME to believe it. 


I suppose feeling fulfilled in my work is too much to ask for now, but my work is about all I have....

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