Styrofoam attacked by killer mushrooms!

An article about mushrooms and plastics in the New Yorker magazine of May 20,2013, pp. 50-62 is entitled “Form and Fungus.” It shows signs of having been written as a fairly straight-ahead piece of feature reportage by “local correspondent” Ian Frazier. However, the article also gives the appearance of having been pumped up by an editor to make some attention-getting, albeit absurd claims, as echoed in my headline spoof. I ask myself, “Is it April 1? Have I been had by an April Fool’s stunt?” Just a thought, but April 1 was seven weeks ago as of this writing.

The New Yorker article’s title is a clever play on the term “Form and Function.”

A subtitle queries, “Can mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?”  To the writer’s credit, the trade-name issues re “Styrofoam” are addressed rather than just ignored.
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Plastics security “threats”: polypropylene bottle, cue ball

I try not to pack anything in an airplane carry-on bag that airport security checkpoints would be interested in, but I never seem to know what it will be the next time. Apparently I personally don’t look like much of a threat, but the occasional odd item, sometimes of plastics, in my carry-on bag, raises red flags for the x-ray crew.

            I was held to account at an airport security checkpoint recently for having in my bag a polypropylene prescription bottle, label removed, with “something” in it. These bottles are child-and adult-resistant and the security supervisor gave up trying to open it and handed it to me. I popped the PP bottle open (notwithstanding that it was transparent) and shook out the three computer-memory flash drives (aka thumb drives) that I had in there for their own protection. One look at those and the supervisor waved me through before he was embarrassed further by somebody else coming over to have a look.  Aside from a little lost time, it was a harmless encounter.

            In another encounter, I was stopped at the security checkpoint because the x-ray scan had turned up a billiards cue ball, in my luggage.  I had found three of these antique (or collectible) objects during a foray in my travels, and the security people considered one of them suspect (for inscrutable reasons, possibly the material density, two of them were ignored). The density of one of the balls made it, I guess, a threat. Of what, I don’t know. I guess it could have been thrown. Finally, a security checker asked plaintively, “What is it?” I showed her the chalk marks on it from the cue stick, and she decided that I and my cue ball were not worth any further trouble, and let me go. I told her there were two more in the bag, which I suppose was not too bright of me, but anyway she said, “If x-ray didn’t see it, we don’t want to know about it.”

            What is it with cue balls? Well, they were originally made of ivory, and the cost and scarcity of the ivory was one impetus for the discovery or invention of plastics. I don’t own any ivory versions, but several cue balls in my modest collection have pattern cracking and discoloration that may be clues to their age. The search for a replacement for ivory traces back to John Wesley Hyatt in the 1850s, and is familiar lore in the plastics processing industry. –Merle R. Snyder

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Plastics wiffle-ball bats now “safe” on planes

Plastics wiffle-ball bats are now acceptable as passenger carry-ons for commercial aircraft under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), according to an announcement from Washington, D.C. The “novelty or toy” bats, which are also made of wood, must measure less than 24 inches in length, or weigh less than 24 oz, according to the announcement.
The TSA has also decided that some sporting equipment may now be taken aboard, including lacrosse and hockey sticks, ski poles, pool cues, and golf clubs, but only two golf clubs per passenger. Such equipment frequently incorporates plastics, reinforced plastics, and carbon composites.
The rationale covering all of the items mentioned here is that they could NOT be used to bring down a plane, what with the advent of reinforced cockpit doors. When I stop to think of it, I conclude that all of these items are rather sorry excuses for weapons, and that a well-trained flight attendant could make short work of anyone who got belligerent with one of these things.
The permission for “novelty bats” brings back memories of an episode I witnessed in an airport after a long-ago National Plastics Exposition (NPE) in Chicago. One of the blowmolding-equipment suppliers at the show was demonstrating production of such bats and handing them out as novelty samples. At the airport a line of 10 or so passengers, most of them sporting a highly conspicuous hollow bat of red plastics, were in line to board a plane. After rejecting a couple of these bats, airline personnel came to the realization that almost every passenger remaining in the line had one. The airline staff succumbed to the reality that these were worthless as weapons and let everybody remaining in the line carry the bat onto the plane.
I was not on that flight, and did not have a bat, but had a good laugh. Maybe the other passengers did, too, what with all these adults boarding the plane with these kiddie toys. At that time, gate agents could apparently allow bats on board at their discretion. Times have changed, and now the bats are permissible according to official policy.
In addition, small knives, such as are probably known to most of us as “Swiss Army Knives,” are now permissible. The knives frequently incorporate exterior plastics components. Knives with molded polymer handles, including those I knew as “switch-blades” in my youth, are not permitted. Flight attendants have shown little interest in plastics as such, but are resisting the change in regulations that allows some knives in the passenger cabin. The changes are slated to take effect on April 25, 2013. –Merle R. Snyder
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