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A bit of musing on things less immediate for a Saturday. . .

Lots of people look at the country, the world and wonder just how we got this messed up, when it all went wrong. Depending on your politics, you could say it was November of 1999, when the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 or, if you've a more theocratic bent, the Supreme Court's decisions in the early 60s to remove formally-led prayer from public school.

Heck, maybe Douglas Adams was right and we never should have crawled out of the ocean in the first place.

My candi-date for WIAWW would be September 1982, when seven Chicago-area residents died from taking Extra Strength Tylenol tablets poisoned with potassium cyanide (some Wiki here). The poisoner, never caught, did more than get away with murder. He or she brought to an end Americans' trust in the (mostly) healthy and safe food and drugs they ingest and inaugurated a new era in packaging that threatens to choke the entire planet in polymers.

The other day, I was making a marinade and needed some sesame oil, so I walked up to the local grocery and found a bottle in the Asian food section. Sesame oil. Pretty simple, right? Some oil in a glass bottle, steel screw cap.

Plus a tamper-proof plastic collar shrinkwrapped over the cap. Plus a clear plastic sheath shrikwrapped over the whole bottle and the plastic-wrapped cap. Popped into a convenient plastic bag for me to carry home.

I do a lot of electronics and other installations these days and am amazed at the amount of plastic wrapping apparently required to ship anything in today's world. Each steel pole of a TV mount is individually wrapped in its own plastic bag. A simple USB cable comes in a plastic bag, nestled in a plastic blister pack. Half the weight and bulk of smaller components is the plastic packaging itself.

Yes, this cuts down on complaints and returns for scratched components. Yes, the hyper-vigilance of plasticrazed food packers reduces the possibilities for product tampering (and liability costs for manufacturers and shippers). But isn't there some limit to the amount of plastic we need to wrap stuff in?

Every year, America makes enough plastic film to shrinkwrap the state of Texas (not the worst idea ever, but we never really get around to doing it). Disposable diapers alone consume 100,000 tons of plastic and, no, that's not counting the poop. (source).

We're buried in the stuff, choking on the stuff, drowning in the stuff (well, not us, but a lot of other critters are).

Because some dipshit in Chicago thought it would be a great idea to poison some people with headaches.

Yeah, there are a lot of other reasons. Bacteria on meat. Glass bottles dropped to grocery store floors. The new god we all serve, Convenience.

But, if I could point to one event that perfectly symbolized the sabotaging of our social trust system, the beginning of our all-consuming quest for perfect safety and the green light for the complete plasticization of our world, it would be that asshole unscrewing those Tylenol bottles.

I wish I knew a way out of this, but I don't.

Originally posted to Crashing Vor on Sat Nov 13, 2010 at 09:44 AM PST.

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