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"The Chemist's Prohibition"
February 21, 2010 9:45 AM   Subscribe


 
Holy shit.
posted by PenDevil at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jesus. My first reaction was that this was bullshit, as was the reaction of one of my housemates when I read aloud the opening few paragraphs. Good grief.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 10:11 AM on February 21, 2010


and....
posted by clavdivs at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2010


The article says the denaturing program ended, yet 'rubbing alcohol' remains poisoned.
posted by acro at 10:14 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


We had to destroy the village in order to save it.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Proponents of the prohibition of drugs point gravely not just to their dangerous and damaging physical effects, but to the way drugs corrupt the soul of the addict, driving him to shed every last vestige of human decency in a desperate pursuit of the next burst of gratification.

Look in a fucking mirror.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:15 AM on February 21, 2010 [42 favorites]


I wonder how that 10,000 compares to the number killed by that other product of prohibition, organized crime.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:18 AM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Coming soon: the government protects us from the evils of pornography and treasonous political views by embedding basalisks in dangerous publications.
posted by idiopath at 10:18 AM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Not to defend this incredible crime in any way, but the headline is a tad bit misleading...

The government added chemicals (granted, poisonous chemicals) to *industrial* alcohol - a commonly used solvent that was being diverted and "re-natured" to try to make it drinkable.

That's a little different than sneaking into someone's still operation and adding poison to a product designed to be ingested by humans. This is more like adding bitter chemicals to ether sprays, or some of the additives I've heard about with Meth precursors. Morally, we're splitting hairs here since a reasonable person would have assumed that a good portion of the industrial alcohol would be ingested by humans, but I thought I mention it for the sake of accuracy.

Anyway, when my government wants to poison me I assume they'll take a more direct route, like adding something to my bacon...
posted by SoFlo1 at 10:19 AM on February 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


Denaturing with methanol continues through the present day in large part because of the think of the children crowd. Does anybody really believe that the experience of drinking industrial ethanol (whether or not taken past the azeotropic point, though I suspect the vast majority is not) is anything other than painful? Worst case, people who elect to drink industrial ethanol are going to dilute it down far enough to make it drinkable...producing a product that they can essentially buy with less hassle as bottom-shelf vodka.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is more like adding bitter chemicals to ether sprays

Not even close. If the policy had been designed to be a mere deterrent, then the additive of choice would have been something unpalatable but not very toxic.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2010 [13 favorites]


By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone.

One of these things is not like the others.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure it is. Quinine is a secondary plant compound just like nicotine, brucine and camphor.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even if the estimate is way overblown, this is extraordinarily disturbing.

The government added chemicals (granted, poisonous chemicals) to *industrial* alcohol
because they knew people would drink that industrial alcohol, and hoped the certain deaths that resulted would be a deterrent.

Imagine if government agents randomly executed underage drinkers. More violent, sure, and more direct, but the same intent and result.
posted by sallybrown at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2010 [13 favorites]


Industrial alcohol is denatured for tax reasons, at least in the present. There's far stiffer taxes on alcohol for human consumption than there is for industrial chemicals, and god forbid people get their alcohol without paying the proper sin tax.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Imagine if government agents randomly executed underage drinkers. More violent, sure, and more direct, but the same intent and result.

wow what an anology. Have anything for say,Union Carbide in India.
posted by clavdivs at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2010


Worst case, people who elect to drink industrial ethanol are going to dilute it down far enough to make it drinkable

you'd think, but some people drink it full strength, as described in last week's malcolm gladwell piece in the new yorker about the sociology of drinking (sadly, abstract only). as gladwell tells it, the young anthropologists living among the bolivian camba were drawn into their weekend drinking party ritual in which the camba drank solemn toasts to one another, using pure industrial ethanol, and sat quietly talking all night long. on returning home, one of the two anthropologists was asked to prove it was possible to drink such alcohol in such quantities, which he did.
posted by toodleydoodley at 10:47 AM on February 21, 2010


And yet so little has changed. This statement is still true today. Asset forfeiture, mandatory minimums, overdose deaths, paraquat poisoning, strip searching children, denial of free speech, mass incarceration...

"It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified."
posted by gingerbeer at 10:50 AM on February 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


Question: wasn't there anything reliably non-lethal that they could denature the alcohol with? For example, a sort of robust version of Antabuse or something with a similar effect? (Pardon my ignorance of chemistry...)
posted by MarshallPoe at 10:54 AM on February 21, 2010


Let me also take this opportunity to promote a book I recently read: Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. It's the best narrative of why prohibition happened and why it ended that I've ever read, with a focus on New York's role in both. Fascinating reading, if you like that sort of stuff.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:56 AM on February 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


Sure it is. Quinine is a secondary plant compound just like nicotine, brucine and camphor.

I meant it's different because its most prevalent use today is as a flavoring agent in cocktail mixers.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2010


"Must Uncle Sam guarantee safety first for souses?" asked Nebraska's Omaha Bee.

The mind of the prohibitionist. Hasn't changed a bit. Prohibition always goes hand and in hand with eugenics and racism, imo. In order to justify the human costs of prohibition, one must first dehumanize the user of the substance. You have to think them incapable of making their own decisions, unworthy of rights, unworthy of freedom.
posted by empath at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2010 [18 favorites]


As quite a few people have pointed out, denaturing is still done for tax-collecting reasons, and this not only in America, and not only on alcohol.

One of the most horrifying cases of mass poisoning happened in Spain in the early 1980s. Tens of thousands fell seriously ill. Over one-thousand died. At first the authorities were completely clueless. Legionnaire's disease was blamed first, but after quite some bumbling by the officials, epidemiologists noted that all the victims had bought "olive" oil from street vendors. Analysis of the oil revealed that it was in fact rapeseed (canola) oil from French surplus stocks, denatured by the European Community (which Spain had not joined yet) with aniline to limit its sale to industrial uses. Some "enterprising" businessmen had bought the denatured oil, processed it to get rid of the aniline (but mostly turning it into the still-toxic anilide), and let it loose on the public.

I hope those bastards are still in prison.
posted by Skeptic at 11:15 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interesting blues/medicine link to the tragic "jake leg" syndrome. More prohibition tragedy.

Also, in a contemporary vein, what's up with putting all that liver-poisoning APAP (Tylenol) in vicodin/hydrocone pills to keep junkies from popping the pills? Evil, if you ask me.
posted by kozad at 11:29 AM on February 21, 2010 [12 favorites]


Good thing the government serves only as our Benevolent Protectors today.

I hereby surrender my mind, my body, my money and my soul, O Benevolent Protector.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2010


As Zalzidrax points out, this continues today for tax reasons (drinkable alcohol is taxed far more heavily than industrial), though I guess the tax itself is levied partly on the theory that alcohol is bad mm'kay.

It's hard to put the whole of the blame on the government, here. From the article it's pretty clear that the people diverting and reselling the industrial alcohol knew it was poisoned, and didn't do a thorough job of redistilling it before selling it on to people who would drink it.
posted by hattifattener at 11:49 AM on February 21, 2010


It's hard to put the whole of the blame on the government, here. From the article it's pretty clear that the people diverting and reselling the industrial alcohol knew it was poisoned, and didn't do a thorough job of redistilling it before selling it on to people who would drink it.

Sure, but the obvious question ("why'd they do that?") leads straight back to the government. Prohibition was the direct cause of these poisonings, from the bottom all the way to the top.
posted by vorfeed at 11:58 AM on February 21, 2010


So, if you drink, then your poor judgment and lack of foresight makes you unfit to live?

God forbid we allow people to make decisions that are so clearly unwise: we have an obligation to make better decisions for them. Such gross mistakes will not be tolerated: your employer and your government need you in tip-top shape!

Following the same logic, let's have the government put sarin in cigarettes and cyanide in Big Macs.

/appalled sarcasm
posted by edguardo at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Similarly, almost two dozen people have been infected with anthrax in the UK and western Europe in the last month, almost certainly from contaminated heroin. At least 12 have died.

Here in North America, an outbreak of cases of neutropenia -- a very rare blood disorder characterised by a loss of white blood cells and a breakdown in immune function -- has been traced back to cocaine contaminated by levamisole, a drug most typically used as a veterinary de-wormer.

You can't regulate what you prohibit.
posted by docgonzo at 12:09 PM on February 21, 2010 [12 favorites]


Following the same logic, in the '70s, drug warriors sprayed marijuana fields in Mexico with the defoliant Paraquat, intending to kill the plants and make them unsellable, but many pot farmers, not wishing to be put out of business (and who share a LOT of the blame) harvested the contaminated crops quickly and put them on the market. Thus, the Paraquat Pot Poisoning Problem. Pathetic.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:14 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah yes, our friend, the State.

Hey, here's an idea! Let's put these people in charge of our health care...
posted by BigSky at 12:15 PM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


The mind of the prohibitionist. Hasn't changed a bit. Prohibition always goes hand and in hand with eugenics and racism, imo. In order to justify the human costs of prohibition, one must first dehumanize the user of the substance. You have to think them incapable of making their own decisions, unworthy of rights, unworthy of freedom.
posted by empath at 2:04 PM on February 21 [2 favorites -] [!]


and, usually, unworthy of an education. you should see these people in the school systems.

the oppression begins in kindergarten with the kids whose parents don't know to read to them, or don't read well themselves. if as a four-year-old your development and skills aren't initially on par with all your middle-class peers, you're likely to be relegated to vo-ed track forever, and that's a best-case scenario.

but hey - gotta have workers.
posted by toodleydoodley at 12:17 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Same as it ever was.

It's never been about public health, only control.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey, here's an idea! Let's put these people in charge of our health care...

Hate to tell you this, but these bastards are most likely dead. And I think it would be monumentally inappropriate to place zombies in charge of hospitals.

Oh, you meant to generalize about the State? This is fun! Yeah, it's much better to keep The Private Sector in charge of health care. The same Private Sector who brought us adjustable rate mortgages, Exxon Valdez, child sweatshops, Thalidomide, TCE-contaminated water, and the Bhopal Disaster.
posted by sallybrown at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2010 [41 favorites]


Hey, here's an idea! Let's put these people in charge of our health care...

If 'they' were paying for your healthcare, then maybe they wouldn't be trying to kill you.
posted by knapah at 12:31 PM on February 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


but hey - gotta have workers.

You need jobs first, when do we get some of those?
posted by The Whelk at 12:50 PM on February 21, 2010


Reminds me of Dave Barry's idea to deter smokers by having government-mandated "loads" (little explosive sticks, practical-joke devices, that make the cigarette go "BANG" (as you see in some old Bugs Bunny cartoons)) in 1 out of 1000 cigarettes made... only much more horrible and lethal and not at all funny.
posted by The otter lady at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2010


Yes! I knew that if I was patient this would turn into a healthcare debate!! Hey, Flo--that's five bucks you owe me!

Interesting article.
posted by njbradburn at 1:00 PM on February 21, 2010


Let's put these people in charge of our health care

They already are - unless you don't think that all the rules and regs do not translate to being in charge.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol," New York City medical examiner Charles Norris said at a hastily organized press conference. "[Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible."

Charles Norris: precursor to Chuck?
posted by sallybrown at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2010


Ah yes, our friend, the State.

Hey, here's an idea! Let's put these people in charge of our health care...


You can always find someone to turn it into a conservative talking point.
posted by JHarris at 1:42 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can't kill Chuck Noris. You can only talk him into taking on a new moniker, if he's feeling friendly.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:44 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can always find someone to turn it into a conservative talking point.

But it raises an interesting question. Alcoholism isn't a moral issue anymore, it's a very expensive public health concern. As is obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

You want fries with that? Really? Are you *sure??
posted by njbradburn at 1:50 PM on February 21, 2010


If the government is forced to pay for the diseases (with our money, of course) *and has the ability to influence behavior that could impact that cost, why wouldn't they?
posted by njbradburn at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2010


Yeah. This kind of stuff is all in the past, right? Hey, you know how every couple years a bunch of addicts die from some tainted batch of something? Fentanyl that instantly kills you from an overdose, meperidene analogs that give you Parkinson's... I'm just sayin'.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2010


I don't *really think they'd poison my Angus Burger, but they would certainly try to enforce behaviors. (sorry for the multiple posts--fritzing wifi).
posted by njbradburn at 1:57 PM on February 21, 2010


Anyway, when my government wants to poison me I assume they'll take a more direct route, like adding something to my bacon...
posted by SoFlo1 at 1:19 PM on February 21 [4 favorites +] [!]


Too late - they've already put bacon in your bacon.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:15 PM on February 21, 2010


You can still go to your local hardware store and buy a quart of ethanol denatured with 10% methanol for about 5 bucks. It would be the equivalent of a fifth of vodka for about $1.50. Is it any surprise that it is denatured? This story is ridiculous.
posted by JackFlash at 2:17 PM on February 21, 2010


Also, as JackFlash says, I don't think this practice really stopped - it's just most people now know that non-drinking ethanol is usually denatured with methanol and not suitable for drinking, and non-poisoned alcohol is readily available to most.

Prohibition, like its spawn, the "war on drugs", is probably the most boneheaded and unethical social policy movement ever conceived.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:24 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cesar: Drink this.
Bart: Oh, no thanks.
Cesar: Do not worry. This is France. (Chuckles) It is customary for children to take a little wine now and then.
Bart: Yeah, but it's got anti-freeze in there.
Cesar: Drink it!
posted by Alt F4 at 2:48 PM on February 21, 2010


You see? It didn't even blind him.
posted by cereselle at 2:55 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, you meant to generalize about the State? This is fun! Yeah, it's much better to keep The Private Sector in charge of health care. The same Private Sector who brought us adjustable rate mortgages, Exxon Valdez, child sweatshops, Thalidomide, TCE-contaminated water, and the Bhopal Disaster.

Implying that all the fuckups and crimes of the private sector can in any way compare to the blood streaming from the maw of the State is just delusional. Funny but also kind of sad.

-----

If 'they' were paying for your healthcare, then maybe they wouldn't be trying to kill you.

This shows a childlike naivete and trust that's really quite touching.
posted by BigSky at 3:28 PM on February 21, 2010


"Hey, mister. You gotta help me. These two guys work me night and day. They don't feed me, they make me sleep on the floor. They put anti-freeze in the wine and they gave my red hat to the donkey."

"Anti-freeze in the wine? That is a very serious crime!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:29 PM on February 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


The definition of a crank is somebody who takes every opportunity to turn every conversation to a discussion of his personal obsession.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:30 PM on February 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


but hey - gotta have workers.

You need jobs first, when do we get some of those?


Those Taco Bells don't run themselves, you know...oh, wait, they do.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:32 PM on February 21, 2010


Are you talking about my obsession with libertarianism, or my obsession with The Simpsons?
posted by box at 3:38 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Uh, I mean, 'To denatured alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all life's problems.'
posted by box at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


What is *this? Where did *it come from?
posted by discountfortunecookie at 3:45 PM on February 21, 2010


Implying that all the fuckups and crimes of the private sector can in any way compare to the blood streaming from the maw of the State is just delusional. Funny but also kind of sad.

You talk as if 'the state' committed all those atrocities without the support of profiteering corporations in the private sector.
posted by empath at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Implying that all the fuckups and crimes of the private sector can in any way compare...

I was actually implying that concocting a faulty generalization to lend support to an off-topic opinion makes a person's argument absurd, if not totally meaningless, and makes the person appear willing to ignore logic and reason in his crusade to cheerlead for his cause.

It's irritating.
posted by sallybrown at 3:59 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


What is *this? Where did *it come from?

Emphasis. I think I started getting lazy along the way and stopped using the *second* emphasizing asterik. And I don't post on MeFi often enough to remember (until it's too late) that there is an italics option.
posted by njbradburn at 4:22 PM on February 21, 2010


Hey, here's an idea! Let's put these people in charge of our health care...

The "heath care system" is currently operated by the private sector, and for most Americans it is not accessible or becomes quickly inaccessible once coverage ends up being denied for one procedure or another.

So far, all proposals put forward by the "State" (as such) still keep the private sector in charge of our health care options.

No proposal includes anything close to the scary notion of "putting these people in charge of our health care..."

In fact, a public option was eliminated fairly early into the health care reform process, a process which has now stalled due to ongoing, malignant private sector interference with our democratically-elected government.

The private sector actively funded a campaign of "death panels" propaganda intended to scare the public and purchase political influence.

The private sector is responsible for the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of Americans who cannot access health care in our country.

The private sector should not be in charge of our health.

Ron Paul should not be allowed to keep the private sector in charge of our health.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:40 PM on February 21, 2010 [14 favorites]


10,000 dead due to prohibition - that's nothing.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


sallybrown and mccarty.tim, I think this just proves how badass Chuck Norris is -- so badass he went back in time to stop bad law enforcement decisions.
posted by gusandrews at 5:27 PM on February 21, 2010


to the blood streaming from the maw of the State

I could pour a gallon of pure LSD over my 'nads and not be that crazy. Shine On You Becktard Crazy Diamond.
posted by trondant at 8:28 PM on February 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


If 'they' were paying for your healthcare, then maybe they wouldn't be trying to kill you.

Um ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:29 PM on February 21, 2010


Too late - they've already put bacon in your bacon.

Er, so you can have a heart attack while you have a heart attack?
posted by JHarris at 1:48 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, you meant to generalize about the State? This is fun! Yeah, it's much better to keep The Private Sector in charge of health care. The same Private Sector who brought us adjustable rate mortgages, Exxon Valdez, child sweatshops, Thalidomide, TCE-contaminated water, and the Bhopal Disaster.

Oh, you meant to generalize about the nature of the "private sector"? You mean all those corporations subsidized by the state through taxpayer money? Which makes most of that stupid shit possible?
posted by symbollocks at 6:31 AM on February 22, 2010


I wonder if the DEA still watches this.
posted by stormpooper at 6:58 AM on February 22, 2010


Hey, here's an idea! Let's put these people in charge of our health care...

Let's buy these people lots and lots of weapons and cheer them on as they attack the next random target! USA! USA!
posted by LordSludge at 7:01 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


If 'they' were paying for your healthcare, then maybe they wouldn't be trying to kill you.

Um ... [Tobacco link]


I was taking the piss out of BigSky's comment, rather than suggesting that the State is always a nice benevolent actor.
posted by knapah at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2010


Ah. Got it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:36 PM on February 22, 2010


I feel like someone should do something reciprocal to people in the government who do (modern equivalents of) this sort of thing; take a vice that they know they shouldn't be engaging in, but do anyway, give them enough rope, and then hang them with it.

Anyone rich enough to start a campaign of randomly bribing officials to do tangentially illegal things so that we can destroy their careers with criminal charges? Because in a lot of ways, large sums of questionable money is not too different from booze.
posted by quin at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2010


Put contact poison on the bribe money and now you're talking. They'd learn soon enough...
posted by LordSludge at 2:25 PM on February 22, 2010


non-drinking ethanol is usually denatured with methanol

I wish that were the case, but they actually put nastier stuff in the hardware store ethanol like methyl ethyl ketone. I don't expect ethanol or methanol vapors (when using it to clean something) are that good for you, but MEK sounds worse. It also might screw it up as a safe indoor fuel; I cheaped out when I bought a Japanese vacuum coffee maker & got the alcohol burner instead of a butane one.

One MSDS [PDF] for a denatured ethanol shows it uses 5% isopropyl alcohol and 5% methanol.

But another has 1% methyl isobutyl ketone and 1% ethyl acetate.
posted by morganw at 6:12 PM on February 24, 2010


was actually implying that concocting a faulty generalization to lend support to an off-topic opinion makes a person's argument absurd, if not totally meaningless

was actually implying that concocting a faulty generalization to lend support to an off-topic opinion makes a person's argument absurd, if not totally meaningless

wow.
posted by clavdivs at 10:01 AM on February 28, 2010


oh wait

was actually implying that concocting a faulty generalization to lend support to an off-topic opinion makes a person's argument absurd, if not totally meaningless

Imagine if government agents randomly executed underage drinkers

that absurd?
posted by clavdivs at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2010


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