Tuesday, May 24, 2005


If California truly is the bellwether for the rest of the country, get ready for more government intrusiveness in your life. The legislative Sages of Sacramento are emulating European-style over-regulation: They plan to ban the traditional production of foie gras, and now a state senator and an assemblyman, both Democrats, have crafted two Europe-inspired bills to protect us from the trumped-up dangers of cosmetics. From a health and safety perspective, the relative risks posed by chemicals in cosmetics are so incredibly minute and theoretical they hardly warrant our attention. The FDA regulates cosmetics and their ingredients in a manner similar to foods. A cosmetic is adulterated and cannot under penalty of law be sold if "it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling." Manufacturers who market an adulterated cosmetic product could face both civil and criminal penalties.

In a state that has real problems with energy prices, automobile congestion, unaffordable housing and huge fiscal deficits, why the preoccupation with an issue that poses, at most, de minimis risks to consumers? As with most crimes of passion, this one begins with a motive. In 1989, environmental activists discovered—via the completely bogus Alar-and-apples scare—that if they can't eliminate chemicals through solid scientific evidence, they can bully them off the market by pressuring companies and by issuing the-sky-is-falling warnings to consumers. Having worked their way through the food, toy and medical device sectors (to name a few), the activists have turned their attention to cosmetics as the latest consumer segment ripe for fear-mongering.

As they have previously, activists are attacking a category of chemicals called phthalates, which are sometimes found in products such as fragrances, hair spray and nail polish, wrongly alleging that their presence at any level is sufficient grounds to incite panic and cause regulators to yank products. And, now, by aligning themselves with highly motivated breast-cancer groups suspicious about the health impacts of any "environmental toxins"—in spite of the fact that not one has been shown to cause breast cancer—they have deftly converted a scientific question into an issue of the exploitation of women.

While the political appeal of "standing up for breast-cancer victims" is undeniable, ridding the world of nonexistent health threats by banning safe chemicals or requiring excessive (and often inaccurate) product labeling requirements, as these bills would do, will not make women safer and healthier. And it is a bad public policy precedent, in the tradition of California's idiotic Prop 65 (which requires the warnings in virtually every business establishment that carcinogens or toxins are present).

But the real concern here is not the fate of a few unfairly maligned chemicals, or even whether cosmetics makers will escape the clutches of Sacramento's nanny-state legislators. It is whether our elected officials will come to their senses and realize that California isn't just a version of Europe with better weather and more earthquakes. (Could they possibly have become confused by the governor's accent?) Although we may wish to defer to Europe on matters relating to existentialist philosophy and anachronistic pomp and ceremony, it is the last place on earth we should look for regulatory guidance. The highly risk-averse regulators of the European Union have raised to a high art form the obstruction of innovation and the free market.

More here


As I noted on 22nd., the speech warriors say that "nitty gritty" is an allusion to slavery. A reader has drawn my attention to the following from here

[Q] From Helen Norris: “Any ideas on the origins of the expression nitty-gritty? I heard today a rather horrible suggestion that it referred to the debris left in the bottom of slave ships after their voyages, once the slaves remaining alive had been removed.”

[A] This may belong in the same line of folklore which holds that a picnic was a slave lynching party. There is a slight link, in that nitty-gritty was indeed originally a Black American English expression, and some people guess that nitty-gritty is a euphemism for shitty, which also suggests a relevance. However, it’s recorded in print only from the 1950s, and never directly with this sense.

Dr Jonathan Lighter, in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, records the first example from 1956: “You’ll find nobody comes down to the nitty-gritty when it calls for namin’ things for what they are”. As it is here fully formed, and has the now customary sense of the fundamental issues, the heart of the matter, or the most important aspects of some situation, it had by then probably already been in use for some while (I know of two people who claim to have come across it in the 1920s). But it is inconceivable that it should have been around since slave-ship days without somebody writing it down.

Its origins are elusive. One explanation is that it is a reduplication—using the same mechanism that has given us namby-pamby and itsy-bitsy—of the standard English word gritty. This has the literal sense of containing or being covered with grit, but figuratively means showing courage and resolve, so the link is plausible, and if it is not the direct origin may have influenced it. It has also been suggested (in a 1974 issue of American Speech, the journal of the American Dialect Society) that nits refers to head lice and grits to the corn cereal. None of these are supported by any firm evidence.

No comments: