by Yule Heibel on July 27, 2005

No, it’s not a new social networking thing, like FOAF. PFOA is a substance created when fluorotelomers break down:

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), is a perfluorinated acid (PFA) that has recently been identified in the liver and blood of polar bears and seals in the Arctic, including some samples from Nunavut. There is concern about the presence of this chemical in the environment as it is highly persistent and seems not to degrade. It can cause cancer, lead to enlarged livers as well as affect the fertility of wildlife. [More…]

PFOA in turn does not break down and stays in the environment indefinitely.

Fluorotelomers are used in microwaveable popcorn bags, in packaging for fast foods like sandwiches, chicken and French fries, as well as in packaging for pizza, bakery items, drinks and candy. They are also found in paper plates. There is currently no way for consumers to tell if packaging contains fluorotelomers. [More…]

The Environmental Protection Agency has been studying PFOA since 1999 and, after review of its findings by an outside science advisory panel, that panel concluded that PFOA is a human carcinogen. EPA in turn wants to tone those conclusions down and call PFOA a “suggestive human carcinogen.” See today’s article in the New York Times, Is There an Extra Ingredient in Nonstick Pans? by Marian Burros. The main focus is on teflon pans, but as the snippet above indicates, the stuff is in packaging all over the place.

The article includes instructions on how to microwave regular popcorn using a plain paper bag, one staple, and a bit of oil and salt.


In completely unrelated matters:

I’m waaayyy behind in projects, including writing something in response to Alex Couros‘s great comment yesterday. Several hours after I commented back, it occured to me that I’m again thinking about these issues in terms of my favourite frame of reference, namely embodiment, and that this trope (embodiment) is linked in my mind to the local. That is, we are locally constituted, we “take things to heart,” we “digest” news, we literally consider our body the local host. Technology has a tendency to dis-integrate the local, sometimes even to threaten it. It’s not that technology is bad, but it literally makes us over — re-constitutes us — in ways that can be alienating or distressing, and that at the very least alter significant things about our constitution. (Once we’ve got our “skin,” we also hate to change: Couros has a blog entry for July 26 about how people “resist” Linux and rely on Windows instead.) We’ve probably known this, intuitively, all along, and known it about all technologies, too, including chiselling runes in rocks, or reading, or books, or photography. We’re also quite adept at accepting how this splitting off of bits of ourselves — re-constituting ourselves in some technological mediation, whether at the production or reception end of things — is a way of creating new individuation. Early adopters are probably risk-takers, people who like drugs and risky behaviour and don’t mind messing around with their own personal boundaries (I include myself here). I bought a book ages ago, when I was still a graduate student (back in the 14th century), which dealt with individualism as a question of di-vidualism, or division. The book is somewhere in the house, and I have to find it — at this point, I can’t even remember the editor’s name, just the colours on the cover…

My thinking was also prompted by thinking about how people resist new technologies — and why do they? Is it because they sense that every new tool has something dis-integrative about it? Is it because what they want in the first instance is to be recognised for what they bring (to the table, to a project), not for what they lack? Doesn’t technology always at first show you a plenitude elsewhere, which informs you of all the things absent in you — and how is this different from what nature offers as a platform for exploring how we are constituted? We don’t yet wield nature over others the way we can wield technology — the latter is an extension of will and power. We’re using technology to dominate nature, and we’ve almost completely succeeded — the ability to alter the germline, etc., represents a real shift. I guess I can’t help going back again to the old wound, the body, the place where all this coming together and breaking apart takes place. It’s where we’re born and where we die, if we’re lucky. If we’re not, we die hooked up to machines. We may be very close to being born through technological-genetic engineering, which would close the gap between technology and nature. But at this point, I don’t know that we even know why we might have needed and will continue to need that gap…


Nancy Locke July 30, 2005 at 4:13 pm

It is possible that you’re thinking of a book I also bought back then, Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellbery (Stanford, 1986).

I enjoy your blog and have been trying to catch up with it a bit while I have more time during the summer…

By the way, have you and your readers seen Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, a new book by Retort (Verso, 2005)? Retort is a group of Bay Area thinkers including our old friend T. J. Clark. It is quite a powerful application of Debord and Marx to the current situation here in the U.S., post-9/11.

Yule Heibel July 31, 2005 at 4:05 pm

Nancy, thanks for checking in, and yes, that’s the book! Thanks! You & Christopher are on my list of “must – email – nows”, a list that’s growing more insistent and urgent with every day… I hope Christopher’s lecture went well. I liked his written introductory remarks: “Whatever intention an artist may have towards preserving some connection to the phenomenal world, that link is invariably undone as soon as vision and thought are given form. For a painter, the brute materiality of paint prescribes its own reality, connecting any given mark to an entire history of mark-making, and demanding a peculiarly strategic kind of thinking.”

I hope you’re enjoying some time off from teaching before the new semester starts up once again.

Yule Heibel July 31, 2005 at 4:13 pm

Part 2 of comment — the server refused to accept it as one piece:

Thanks for the pointer to Retort, in which T.J. Clark is involved. I hadn’t heard of this group, but did do some looking around (see link above for excerpt). I see Tim & the others have stirred up all the usual animosity from all the usual Situtationist International crowd (here and at Not Bored). Quite honestly, I don’t have any sympathy for either side. In my opinion, Tim is/was a problem not as a theorist, but in his position as a mentor, when he was our advisor (he wasn’t much of an advisor), and that personal and professional failing has coloured my perception of him most thoroughly. In addition, his later work on Pollock was so obscure that I really asked myself who he thought his audience was — i.e., who was his theory for? The only answer I could come up with: a select group (maybe 2 or 3 men) of utterly elitist and ineffectual narcissistic academics with absolutely no relevance or influence in the world. As for the so-called anarchists at Not Bored and elsewhere, who have a cult of worshipping at Guy Debord’s plastered feet, they too make me despair. It’s all theory, it’s all hagiography, and it’s all incredibly masculinist. None of these people have fostered anything positive: negative, belligerent, infused with a superiority complex I find nauseating, as well as intensely dishonest. They’re not alleviating poverty, they’re not helping women at all (this is probably the biggest mark against them, in my opinion), many are doing zip-all for the environment, but they are living pretty in this world even as they do nothing but disparage it, as they distinguish themselves with ever-greater obscurity and/ or so-called “outsider” status. They take airplanes, they drive cars, they eat the products of industrial agriculture — nothing changes. And when one asks, “well, why can’t things change?” we’re told it’s because the Spectacle is so effing all-encompassing that it’s impossible to escape. So we may as well all just theorise about it, and compete amongst ourselves as to who can distinguish themselves through the greatest radicality, the greatest difficulty or purity of theory.

(I have to see if this will post; there’s a part 3, following…)

Yule Heibel July 31, 2005 at 4:15 pm

Part 3 (weird, never happened before that the server refused a comment like this… must be something in the code, perhaps the mpeg in Saul’s book discussion..?)

It’s an almost perfect examples of what Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter point to in their book The Rebel Sell (available in the US as Nation of Rebels — and for a look at a leftist critique that completely misses the point of the book, see here). For some people, counter-culture too often isn’t at all about making the world a better place, even if initially the critical impulse in the theory had that connection. No, at some point it becomes a vehicle for distinguishing oneself from all those plebs who don’t get it and are “blinded” by “spectacle.” I think what I’m saying is that I have no sympathies whatsoever for guys who are struggling to position themselves against others who are exactly like them, especially since they’re not doing much to include women or to consider the issue of women’s oppression.

When I get a chance, I’ll read Retort‘s piece (the excerpt linked to above), and try to digest it on its own merits. On first skim through, though, I think I can say that I’m not going to like much of its rehash of old theory. I’m reading John Ralston Saul‘s new book The Collapse of Globalism And The Reinvention of the World. Now that’s an interesting book — and it gives a historical-economic context to the development of SI theories, too, which took place at the time of a concretising globalism, in the period of its emergence, not full-fledged manifestation, but also not in a time of old-fashioned internationalism. It also gives me some better tools for understanding why women are still treated as they are.

Yule Heibel July 31, 2005 at 4:17 pm

It’s the mpeg to Saul’s book that buggered things. It’s a great
interview, if you want to listen, to go
or search for “collaps of globalism” and “writer’s cafe” on google…

Yule Heibel August 1, 2005 at 2:19 am

Aiyiyi! I’m just now listening to an mpeg of Tim Clark & J. Matthews on a San Fran radio station as they talk about their project, and they sound like high priests. (I’m sure there were incantations and burning of incense before they came on air.) I hear both men (but especially Clark) say a lot of suggestive phrases like “you know” (not followed by explanations), as well as suggestions that it goes without saying (that this — their quasi-SI analysis of politics today — is such a difficult and oh-so esoteric theoretical project, etc. etc.), that I’m immediately put in mind of John Ralston Saul’s much more sophisticated (yet also more transparent and much more democratic) commentary on how certain ideologues act as though they are priests of a religion… and I’m thinking that it’s absolutely unnecessary to have the kind of elitism Retort espouses. (Saul targets economists; listen to the mpeg, see url above.) viz.: Al Qaida, according to Clark, is “a classic vanguard formation,” and, naturally, as a classic vanguard theorist, only he and his initiates are totally qualified to understand it, while you, if you don’t buy into his ideology, aren’t.

This infuriates me.

Second, they remind me of something that Woody Allen would have skewered mercilessly in one of his earlier bittersweet funny films, when he presents a flash-back to some confusing family vignette from his own past: picture a couple of medieval/ shtetl-style rabbis in modern-day New York City (or some other anachronistic religious ideologues), high priests from an obscure, bickering-with-others sect, arguing over something completely irrelevant. I.e., it’s the anachronism that Allen would have relished. (And Monty Python would have done them over quite well, too. I.e., you can only have respect for this if you’re basically religious and want hagiography. I don’t.)

Further, I can’t believe the universalising of the male perspective. Clark describes fundamentalist Islam as a vanguard movement that presents a “scathing critique” of modernity, etc. etc.: yikes, that’s over 50% of the population again completely elided. Thanks, Tim. Modernity, capitalism, whatever: it’s always been only about men, hasn’t it? And now we have a new (if bad) “vanguard movement” in fundamentalist Islam that also completely erases the woman question. Great.

The woman question is central, you dopes. And it’s central because it’s a question of justice and of human rights. What you call “military neoliberalism” is a byproduct of the absence of justice, for chrissakes.

Listening to this is making me sad and very very angry.

The link is here: , from here.

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