Consumer Reports: Oops

A few months back we blogged about residents of Spokane, Washington smuggling dishwasher detergent with phosphates from relatively nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho when those products were banned in their county.

We pointed to this breezy quote from a Sierra Club website:

Consumer Reports in its March 2005 publication concluded that phosphate-free products work as well regular brands, noting it is the enzymes and not phosphates that get dishes clean.
Spokanites disagree, apparently.

And now, so does Consumer Reports. I don't have the March 2005 issue around, but the most recent issue (August 2009) is pretty straightforward about contradicting what they (allegedly) said back then:

Proposed federal legislation to ban dishwasher detergents containing all but trace amounts of phosphates is designed to help the environment. But many of the eco-friendly products in the latest batch we tested are not great at cleaning dishes.

Detergents without phosphates--which help clean but also boost algae growth in freshwater, threatening fish and other plants--tended to perform worst overall.

Something smells bad here, and it ain't the algae. What happened between 2005 and 2009? After over four years of R&D, the soap companies have developed low-phosphate detergents that are actually worse at cleaning than they were before?

I don't think so. Instead, I suspect low-phosphates were never very good.

Consumer Reports doesn't come out and say that a phosphate ban would be a bad idea—they have a reflexive bias in favor of Federal regulation—but they do note that dishwasher detergents "have a relatively low level of phosphates." Nobody is particularly fond of freshwater algal growth, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that a ban would pass a cost/benefit test.

But the main point here is: you really want to take reassurances that "eco-friendly" regulations will be pain-free with a grain of phosphate-free salt.

Last Modified 2009-07-06 3:25 PM EDT

America Alone

[Amazon Link]

Back when I was a young'un, checking out books on the conservative side of the spectrum, I read The Suicide of the West by (then) one of the primary big-thinkers at National Review, James Burnham. It was about how mid-twentieth-century Western liberalism was no match for a Communist ideology that was out to bury us.

Old habits die hard, so this book, with its catchy subtitle "The End of the World As We Know It", by (now) one of the big-thinkers at National Review was a must (eventually) read.

Steyn's thesis-in-a-nutshell: Europe as a bulwark of enlightened Western liberalism is pretty much doomed to eventual domination by radical Islamism. Part of the problem is raw demographics: the Judeo-Christian/secular fraction of Europe is failing to reproduce adequately, while the Muslim population is exploding due to immigration and general fecundity. Another factor: Europe (either as a whole or individual countries) doesn't seem to be very interested in defending Western civ, mired in a cultural impotence that mirrors its lack of reproductive vigor.

At the time of the book's writing, 2006, it was probably easier to be (relatively) optimistic about America avoiding Europe's fate; since then, however, we seem to be eagerly marching toward Europitude as well.

Steyn and Burnham are poles apart in terms of writing style: as far as I can recall, Burnham could be relatively stuffy. Steyn, as any recent NR reader knows, is witty and accessible, drawing heavily on pop culture and telling anecdotes.

The parallel with the Burnham book was much on my mind while reading this one, though: obviously, we (more or less) muddled through our fight with ideological Communism, no thanks to liberals. Any way we can blunder our way through this mess? Steyn's cheerful style doesn't offer a lot of hope on that score. But, as Yogi said, predictions are difficult, especially about the future.

Although there's an index, the book is free of footnotes or references. So that's a quibble: if you want to read the sources behind any of Steyn's assertions or anecdotes, you'll have to fire up the Google and do your own digging. (One of the Amazon reviewers says Steyn's just wrong in his allegations about Muslim fertility rates in Europe. I have no idea, but it would be nice to know where Steyn's numbers come from.)

Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:02 AM EDT

The Last King of Scotland

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I'm not a violent person, but there's something about James McAvoy that makes me want to give him a good slap. (I didn't quite consider Atonement to be a feelgood movie, but I was probably less depressed by the ending than the average viewer.)

Here, "Slappy" McAvoy plays Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a young doctor fresh out of medical school who desperately wants to get out from under the thumb of his stuffy family. Unfortunately, it's the 70s, and he picks Uganda as his place to go out and do good. (He also has a serious case of can't-keep-it-in-his-pants-itis.) Via a series of unlikely occurrences, he finds himself in close orbit around Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. At first he's charmed and persuaded by Amin's huge charismatic personality. Only later does he become aware of the flipside: Amin's also a homicidal maniac. Can't have everything.

Forest Whitaker plays Amin, a role for which he won many plaudits, including an Oscar for Best Actor. Well-deserved.

Although the movie's obviously based on actual events and people, the Garrigan character is largely made up; Amin did have a close relationship with a white advisor, but the advisor was even less sympathetic than Garrigan. Cracked (my usual source for insightful movie criticism) has the scoop, where The Last King of Scotland is number 3 in their article "6 Movies Based on a True Story (That Are Also Full of Shit)".

Last Modified 2012-10-06 6:02 AM EDT