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Only the Good Die Young

I read with interest your discussion of good products that disappear from markets. Some years ago I conceived of the idea of starting an Internet service to sell such products. People would happily pay a premium price if they could only get those items they've been looking for.

And now the Internet really makes it possible. At very low cost, you can now find those few thousand people who want to buy Rise shaving cream or Breck shampoo.

Heck, I don't see why some company like P&G doesn't just sell this stuff on its own web site. It must have thousands of discontinued products in its own inventory.

BRUCE R. BARTLETT Great Falls, Va.

You wonder how come excellent products disappear. You are obviously unaware of Block's Law, which I first set forth in a book several years ago: If it's good, they'll stop making it.

Incidentally, since you mention the shaving cream loss, whatever happened to the great Wilkinson razor, with its special sure-shot dispenser? Another of the too many too-good-to last products.

HERB BLOCK Washington, D.C.

One vanished product I surely miss is Pine Bros. honey throat drops--marvelous for the dry throat; not colored sugar, but glycerin. Some company took over the original makers and killed this super product.

ELMER S. NEWMAN Cleveland, Ohio

Rise was originally a product of Carter-Wallace. It was sold in December 1988 to Faberge, which was then acquired by Unilever in July 1989. Sometime between then and now Rise disappeared from the radar screen. I guess when you sell over 1,800 products, it's easy to misplace one.

By the way, "Macintosh" refers to a generic product--natural rubber sandwiched between two layers of cotton. It's been replaced by synthetics.


Charles Peters replies:

I'm informed by my old friend L.T. Anderson, columnist for the Charleston Daily Mail (W. Va.), that Rise is still on sale in my hometown at Drug Emporium.

Macintosh was both a generic and a brand name. The Macintosh raincoat cost $22 in the early 1950's at the old Ambecrombie & Fitch store on Madison Avenue in New York City.

Up on the Farm

I was struck--as so many times before--by the large vacuum the Monthly has so often filled. No other magazine, I believe, would have given Senator Byron Dorgan the opportunity to write so powerfully about the family farm in the context of the haunting question of what the economy is for, just as no other magazine had given former Sen. Dale Bumpers the opportunity to enlighten us about the monstrosity that is the Mining Act of 1872.

MORTON MINTZ Chevy Chase, Md.

Environmental Spillover

I have just read your recent article, "Asleep on the Beat," by Robert Worth. The Connecticut example, which reports unsubstantiated, anonymous allegations as if they were proven fact, suggests that someone linked to the Governor's Office demanded cash from campaign contributors in order for them to avoid enforcement and that the result was no fine for serious environmental violations in a specific case.

These allegations, attributed to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility have been discredited by at least three separate, independent investigations of the agency. A Connecticut legislative oversight committee, the EPA's Inspector General, and the state's Attorney General all found no wrongdoing.

What were the facts in the Connecticut case? An accidental spill from a chemical manufacturer that resulted in a significant riverine fish kill was cleaned up and remedied within 24 hours at the company's expense. In specific response to this incident, the company was required by DEP to establish a fund in the amount of $75,000 for future river restoration activities to compensate for the fish kill. Routine inspections of the company, covering a period of time which included the date of the spill, showed chronic small violations of permit limits, reporting and monitoring referred to the Attorney's General Office for litigation when the agency's enforcement did not result in settlement, as had been violations of a similar nature a decade or so earlier. As a direct result of my agency's continued, sustained enforcement actions against this company, over $400,000 in penalties and fines have been paid with additional charges yet to be settled. Doesn't sound like a failure to enforce to me.


Robert Worth replies:

Mr. Rocque is correct that subsequent investigations found no direct relationship between the toxic spill he mentions and campaign contributions, and I regret not having reported that fact. But, the other allegations I reported have not been "discredited," as he suggests. The state Attorney General's investigation was ongoing at the time I wrote the article.

The state legislative committee's investigation found that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), under Mr. Rocque's tenure, had "lost track" of its mission and failed to enforce the law, thanks to "business-friendly" policies.

Regarding the claims of interference by an employee of the governor's office, the committee found that the employee in question had, in fact, meddled in enforcement policy, though it could not find evidence that he affected specific outcomes. With regard to the fish kill, Mr. Rocque fails to mention that the company's alleged cleanup of its toxic spill had nothing to do with the DEP, which was not notified. In addition, the DEP's ultimate settlement of the matter included no fine; the "fund" it demanded instead (over two years after the accident) was tax-deductible. As for the total fines and penalties to which Mr. Rocque refers, these occurred over the course of many years, and numerous DEP employees (and observers) believe that the agency's response to this chronic violator has been both slow and inadequate.

Legislating Judges

Thank you for Stephen Pomper's article concerning the Reagan-Bush judicial appointees legislating while in judicial robes. I think the article would have been even stronger if the following had been considered.

First, the judicial activist trend is even more dramatic than a review of Supreme Court decisions might suggest. Activist appellate courts have been quick to ignore agency policy choices or substitute their own--even though Federal agencies have more expertise.

Second, the rationale of devolving power to the states in order to return to our historical roots is a myth. States were not sovereign during the American Revolution, nor under the Articles of Confederation.

Third, devolving power to the states does not solve the problem it is designed to address. If power is devolved to the states, the benefits of a strong central government go with it. For example, the Internet never would have blossomed into such a global force if the federal government had not nurtured it.

We ought to return to the focus maintained by The Washington Monthly getting and demanding effective government, both at the federal and state level.

KIM BRUNO Washington, D.C.

Leeching Lotteries

In his excellent article, "Snake Eyes," (December 1999) Nicholas Thompson supports his point that lotteries tax the poor by saying, "One Massachusetts study found that the average resident of relatively unaffluent Chelsea spent $455 a year on the lottery while residents of nearby, prosperous Weston spent only $30."

Revenue-starved governments' aggressive promotion of this leech on the poor is probably the strongest argument against the legalization of controlled substances. First century plebes got bread and circuses; 21st century proles may get lotteries and drugs.


Road Wisdom

I would like to respond to your comments in the January/February issue about truck safety. You wrote that there is no doubt that the media will "follow what is done closely...." I disagree. Automotive advertising is far too large a source of revenue for the media at every level to touch this issue.

TED ISAACS Cincinnati, Ohio

I enjoyed your segment on how to avoid problems with trucks on the highway and have a few thoughts I would like to share.

Truckers don't like to put on the brakes because of the power-to-weight ratio of their vehicles. A tense braking situation can cause a lot of work to regain speed and shift through 5 or 6 gears. Truckers drive with a degree of finesse that few would appreciate if they did not experience it.

Your readers might also be interested to know that truckers would prefer that people passing them on limited access highways just get the job done. Truckers must monitor the location of other cars constantly in case of panic situations. For example, front wheel blowouts can pull a fully loaded semi across several lanes of traffic in a literal heart beat. I only had one in 10 years of driving but it took me across two lanes and into the median before I could blink. And there was nothing I could have done. It could have been a disaster.

Also a blowout on any other of the 16 remaining wheels could be a big problem for someone next to a disintegrating tire. That is a lot of rubber and steel flying around.

There are too many things to catalogue but I thought you might be interested in these few.

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Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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