Week in Posturing

by Wilson Cusack & Francis Torres

published November 6, 2015

Let’s hear it for glyphosate!

It was high fives all around at Monsanto HQ in St. Louis, MO this June when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that Monsanto’s signature herbicide, commonly known as ‘Roundup,’ was not, in fact, an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptor is fancy talk for a chemical that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Steve Levine, “Senior Science Fellow Ecotoxicology and Environmental Risk Assessment, Lead” at Monsanto, even blogged about it. “I was happy to see that the safety profile of one of our products was upheld by an independent regulatory agency,” he wrote. However, those findings may not be as “independent” as Steve or the rest of us might hope. 

The EPA’s decision was based on the conclusions of 32 studies, most of which were not publicly available but were obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Intercept is a news site launched in 2014 by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill that is dedicated to bringing transparency and accountability to governments and large corporations. In an article published on November 3, The Intercept reported that only five of the 32 studies were independently funded and that “most of the studies were sponsored by Monsanto or an industry group called the Joint Glyphosate Task Force.” ‘Roundup’ is a glyphosate. Three of the five independent studies found that glyphosate is a danger to the endocrine system. None of the 27 industry-sponsored studies found that glyphosate caused harm, in some cases going to lengths to discount or dismiss the adverse effects glyphosate had on the animals in their studies. 

The ambiguity is disturbing, considering that in 2012, the last year for which measurements exist, 300 million pounds of glyphosate were used on the US crop. The varied findings among researchers with varied funding is also representative of what seems to be intractable in many of our most important economic and environmental debates today: everyone is capable of finding or funding research that supports what they have already decided they believe.

But in this case, lesson learned: they just don’t make independent government agencies like they used to. –WC

Exquisite Corpse

James Dean once said the measure of a great man lies in his ability to bridge the gap between life and death, to live on after he has died. It’s unsurprising that a Golden Age Hollywood superstar would seek immortality in the eyes and hearts of the masses. But what about those of us who never taste glory? Would we not want to be remembered in death as we were in life? 

A more unassuming form of immortality is becoming modern folk tradition in Puerto Rico. On October 18, a wake was held in San Juan in which the body of the deceased wasn’t displayed in a casket but rather seated at a bar table, about to play his last piece in a game of dominos. Jomar Aguayo Collazo’s life had ended a week before, in a gunfight at his mother’s bar, the same place in which his corpse now sat. Dressed in a tracksuit and sunglasses with a beer in hand, Aguayo’s body challenged his killers—and death itself—with the stunning normality of its image. His family and friends drank and danced around him, memorializing a mundane scene from the man’s daily life.  

The ceremony is the most recent in a series of “propped body” wakes, a practice first pioneered by the Marin Funeral Home in 2008. In the first out-of-the-box ceremony, funeral aides propped up the body of a murdered gangster in a defiant position with hands inside pockets, in a pose meant to frighten his enemies. Other bodies presented in this fashion include an elderly woman sitting in her armchair, a boxer ready to pounce from his corner of the ring, and even a taxi driver sitting at the wheel of his cab. 

The prize for most intriguing wake, however, goes to Renato Garcia Delgado. In his wake last February, the deceased San Juan local was presented in a Green Lantern costume. Mourners cheered upon arrival at the home wake, regaling each other with stories of how Garcia—his body propped to appear standing by the wall with one arm crossed over his chest and a green bandana over his eyes—used to stroll around the neighborhood in full superhero regalia. 

Larissa Vazquez, an editor for the Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día disparagingly called the practice a “reality show” of death, fueled by macabre media fixation and an exhibitionist ethos. Others think of it as a kitsch version of the baquiné, a local tradition in which mourners place a deceased child on a table around which they congregate to eat, drink, and celebrate the child’s ascent to the immortal plane. Propping up the dead may seem crass in comparison, but perhaps we can find solace in the immortalization of the mundane. I, for one, would embrace death as an opportunity to celebrate life as it actually was. Forget the eyes and hearts of the masses; immortality is playing dominoes with guests at your own wake. –FT