Letter From Away
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Letter From Away

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Letter from Away — February 3, 2022

Trapped inside with a deadline, I let the radio guide my thoughts.

This week, I had planned to write about PFAS, so-called forever chemicals that, according to a map created by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, are pretty much everywhere. Like so many of our problems, these highly toxic chemicals were created to increase our human comfort and convenience without thinking through any potential consequences.

But I’m tired of being the eco-pessimist, so instead I turned on my favorite news digest, a panel of comedians that Maine Public Radio airs on Saturday mornings. Inspired by the stories on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, here’s an odd lot of events, personal and global, that filled my week. If you’re into the ironic it might be good for a laugh.

I don’t usually respond to faceboss ads, but this week, one claiming that L.L. Bean was closing their Freeport store caught my eye. The ad, and the website it lured me to, offered a whopping 80-percent off some really lovely things I do need — boots and raincoats and shirts and such scam. I was in that rabbit hole for almost an hour before I got the the part that asked me for money. That woke me up enough to call Bean’s 800 number and confirm I’d been duped. Not all that surprised, all I could think was that someone has gone to a lot of trouble, just to cheat people.

Speaking of cheats, the previous inhabitant of the White House is still claiming he was swindled out of reelection in 2020. As he travels the country under the guise of planning a comeback, Congress is digging into the role the master of bankruptcy might have had in the armed invasion of our nation’s capitol a year ago, recently discovering a request the bamboozler-in-chief was drafting to the Pentagon, to use military workers to grab voting machines from the hands of those sworn to protect our ballots.

Claims of a witch hunt lead me to wonder if the purpose of the rallies is reelection, or more insurrection to prevent the indictments that must surely be coming.

Meanwhile, the man who did win the 2020 presidential election is talking up his infrastructure legislation, most notably in Pittsburgh, where his speech at a repurposed industrial facility was preceded by an unplanned stop at the site of a collapsed bridge. The 477ft-long bridge on Forbes Avenue over Hot Dog Dam Dog Park is a 13-minute drive from Mill 19, a 12,000-square-foot relic of the city’s steel manufacturing history that is seeing new life as an R&D hub. With funding from three nonprofit foundations, Mill 19 is attracting tenants whose business is decidedly 20th century — focusing on artificial intelligence and robotics.

Artificial intelligence was mentioned during my Saturday morning radio diversion. One of the callers on Wait, Wait was a woman who works on voice assistant AI tools that can control of our personal infrastructure. Using something called machine learning, smart little data collectors like Alexa and GoogleHome can set your clocks and start your ovens, while passing your habits, preferences, and personal phone books along to anyone with the money.

Touching on the British prime minister’s inability to resist any excuse to throw a party, and wondering if it is politically correct for comedians on public radio to “do a British accent” the radio cast spent quite a bit of time discussing President Biden’s use of rough language during a press conference. The panelists took advantage of the opportunity to repeat what was, until this moment, an expletive. I guess the language barrier is pretty much broken when the so-called leader of the free world says it.

Towards the end of the show there was discussion of a story in a journal called Physical Review Fluids, that described work a group of scientists have been doing to make unbreakable bubbles using nano-particles.

“We show that covering a bubble water shell with microparticles inhibits gravity-induced drainage and that further adding glycerol leads to a stable state, wherein the evaporation of water is counterbalanced by the hygroscopicity of glycerol, which absorbs water molecules contained in ambient air,” Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France researchers Aymeric Roux, Alexis Duchesne, and Michael Baudoin wrote.

I’m sure there are all sorts of applications for their fun and games but wonder if we really need to find more ways to introduce almost-invisible toxic plastics into an already overburdened environment. According to an article at sustainable-nano.com, “ … following waste water treatment, nanoparticles may remain in the purified water that is released back into the environment, or nanoparticles may remain trapped in the microbe-bearing sludge left over from the purification process. Often, the bio-sludge left over from wastewater purification is repurposed as fertilizer for farm land, which can potentially allow man-made nanoparticles to enter soils or small rivers. Alternatively, when nanoparticle-enabled products end up in a landfill, the original product can break down, allowing man-made nanoparticles to leach into soil in and around the landfill area, providing a route for synthetic nanomaterials to enter new environments via soils or even ground water sources.”

Maybe I was meant to write about forever chemicals, after all.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.

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