Technology created petrochemicals; technology may yet replace them. Argonne National Laboratory chemical engineer Rathin Datta has found a cheap way to produce lactate esters–potentially useful in making silicon chips, stripping paint, de-inking paper, degreasing, and household cleaning–from cornstarch or sugar cheaply. According to Discover (July), the technology has been licensed to NTEC in Mount Prospect, which may have a small-scale plant operating next year at a cost low enough that “solvents based on lactate esters could replace 80 percent of the 3.8 million tons of solvents now used in the United States each year.”

Which side are we on? If you need to ask you obviously haven’t been paying attention. “The United States, which set its foreign policy toward Indonesia on autopilot back in the mid-sixties, managed to veer away from Suharto only in the last hours before he fell,” writes Jeffrey Winters, professor of political economy at Northwestern, in the Nation (June 15-22). “Even then, the statements coming from Washington were muddled, contradictory and of little help to the Indonesian democracy movement.”

Sounds like God has a lot to answer for. Martin Marty quotes from a New York Times book review in his newsletter “Context” (June 15). About a thousand years ago “the converted Norse King Olaf Tryggvasson, who told his people, ‘All Norway will be Christian or die,’ invited all the wizards in one area to a longhouse for a feast, closed the doors, and burned it to the ground. He marooned incorrigibles on a rock far offshore at low tide and forced live adders down the mouths of blasphemers.”

“The wage premium paid to workers with a college degree relative to the wage for those with just a high school diploma” has risen from 35 percent in 1980 to over 70 percent in the mid-1990s, reports U. of C. economist Kevin Murphy in the “University of Chicago Record” (May 28). “The rising premium for a college education since 1980 was part of a broader labor market phenomenon that saw rapidly growing returns to a wide range of skills and greater inequality in wages generally. Wage differentials between those at the top of the skill distribution and those in the middle increased as did the differentials between those in the middle and those at the bottom….Growing wage inequality has not been a story of the ‘underclass’ or the ‘super-rich’ as some have led us to believe but a far reaching tale that has touched all segments of our society. While many have lamented the resulting rise in income inequality, it seems hard to feel too bad about the great payoff to a college or graduate degree.”

Dept. of Clear Thinking. In a story about the city of Philadelphia’s plan to sue gun manufacturers for the deadly uses their products are put to, the on-line newsletter “Corp-Focus” (June 12) notes: “Unlike most other cities, where handgun violence has decreased dramatically over the past couple of years, Philadelphia has seen a steady flow of bloodshed.” Now why is it that guns–which aren’t any more common in Philadelphia–are at fault?

“Out of over 1,000 programs CFW [the Chicago Foundation for Women] has funded over the past 13 years, only eight have been dedicated specifically to the needs of older women,” writes CFW board chair Susan Pritzker in the foundation’s spring newsletter. “This is due, not to the lack of intention by CFW to support more of these programs, but to the scarcity of such programs.”

Does your kid have a teething ring? Do you know what’s in it? DINP is a plasticizer commonly found in toys. According to Charlie Cray of Greenpeace in Chicago, writing in “Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly” (June 18), when DINP is sold by the bottle to experimental laboratories, the label reads, “May cause cancer; harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin, and if swallowed; possible risk of irreversible effects; avoid exposure; and wear suitable protective clothing, gloves, and eye/face protection.” But when DINP is sold in a PVC teething ring or rubber ducky–where it’s 40 percent by weight–the label, if any, reads, “nontoxic.”