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09 June 2019
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Roundup

Roundup and roundup, Actually

As always, I have a collection of notes, snippets, and random thoughts that aren't worth a whole blogitem or even a passing mention. Even, so, some will get at least a passing mention here; otherwise what's the point of making notes? But as I decided to round them up and dispose of them into the phosphors, I realized that there's another Roundup worth at least a note, albeit without much comment.

N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine

That's the IUPAC chemical name for Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the pesticide Roundup. It is either "not likely to be carcinogenic" or "probably carcinogenic" depending upon whom you choose to believe.

"Animal and human studies were evaluated by regulatory agencies in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the European Union, as well as the Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues of the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO). These agencies looked at cancer rates in humans and studies where laboratory animals were fed high doses of glyphosate. Based on these studies, they determined that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic. However, a committee of scientists working for the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the WHO evaluated fewer studies and reported that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic." [Emphasis supplied]

Someone got cancer, which may or may not have been caused by Glyphosate, and recently sued the manufacturer. The jury believed that was the cause and awarded the plaintiff a bit over two billion dollars*. Cancer as a cause of death in the USA is just below heart disease, at around 600,000 per year. (Of course, not all dead people sue, but a lot of people get cancer and don't die of it.) Whatever the number, there are only so many jackpots of this value to go around. And since, as Joe Jackson suggests, "Everything Causes Cancer," we are all probably responsible for something to someone. And we think our taxes are high!

Metrology

Metrology is the science of measurement. When you weigh yourself and discover you're either too fat or too skinny, the scale that you use is calibrated in pounds or kilograms or stones depending on your location. In the not so distant past, those units of weight weren't very precise, since they depended on local "standards" which could vary significantly from place to place. Reputedly, the "foot," a unit of length, was derived from the measurement of actual feet. In recent years, measurements have progressively been related to universal physical constants, such as the vibration of atoms and the speed of light. Even the kilogram (and hence the pound) has finally succumbed and is no longer determined by a physical item, but rather by universal constants.

Although I am delighted by these developments, mostly on theoretical grounds, one does occasionally long for a bit more idiosyncratic measurements. I am reminded of the mulch pile contest I ran some years ago in which the winner used cubic cubits as his metric, as opposed to several runners-up who used thimbles, Prii, and even the heap as units of measurement. I had a frisson of delight upon inspecting an accessory that was delivered with an appliance we recently acquired. It was a liquid measuring vessel, but instead of the usual graduation along the side of pints or cups, it was calibrated in waffles!

The Word Great is Surprisingly Malleable.

  • When used to characterize a person, it would seem to mean what it implies, e.g., "Niels Bohr was a great scientist."
  • Applied to animals, however, it's another story. "You have a great dog!" most likely means that I got away from him without being inundated with slobber or covered with hair.**
  • Finally, "great" as an interjection ("I just finished reading the book" or "I just won two billion dollars in a jury trial" - "Great!) is pretty much meaningless.

Everything Else Beeps, Why not This?

How many times have you sent an email where auto-correct has savaged your prose? So many things beep, why isn't there a setting to call your attention when something you have written has turned into an embarrassment?

See the italicized "This" in the above heading? I'm practicing my click-bait. It's gotten to the point that the only use for that word is in Jeopardy clues.


* The "bit" over two billion was $55 million, easily enough to pay for lunch for a year, but apparently a rounding error in this case.

** I hasten to add, albeit by way of a double-asterisk, that Winston the Puppy truly is a great dog. Somehow, out of the hundred or so million dogs in the United States we managed to get the best one.


 
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