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24 June 2017
Evening Sedition

Gooooood Morrrrrrrning, Vietnam!

Damaged Humvee in Iraq

Damaged Humvee in Iraq

Ok, so it's not Southeast Asia; at least there the United States could declare victory, withdraw, and move on since the region was not of any military or economic importance. Iraq is, as anyone with two neurons to rub together knows, a far, far more critical mess. Especially if you're a soldier getting blown up in your Humvee:

The Pentagon says that more than 10,000 US military personnel have been wounded in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003. Newly published figures show that more than 5,000 of the wounded have been unable to return to duty. Many have been left with serious injuries such as lost limbs and sight, mostly as a result of the blast effects of roadside bombs. More than 1,300 US troops have been killed.


What is apalling is how most of those horrific injuries were totally unnecessary. (I'll ignore the issues about whether the war should have been fought at all or should have been implemented by a UN-backed coalition.) The fact remains that America has again sent an insufficient number of troops into battle without adequate supplies, equipment, or protection against what the military euphemistically calls "Improvised Explosive Devices" or IEDs. We should call them booby-traps and homemade bombs, because that's really what they are.

Rumsfeld lied when told the troops "It's essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it." But that's just the lie that Bush and the Republicans wants propagated. The fact remains that the issue here is a callous lack of caring about the troops and their families that moves into the realm of the criminal.

Did you know that an armored Humvee costs $180,000 but the naked one — you know the one with canvas doors, vulnerable to any kid with a BB gun — costs half that at $90,000 per? Yup, that's right: the issue is saving money. Oh, wait, you say. Rumsfeld told us that it was "physics" and "production" and "capability". That's not just dissembling and spin, that's outright lying. Back in March of last year, the Wall Street Journal covered the problems that unarmored Humvees posed for soldiers:

A decade ago, the Army began producing an armored Humvee capable of providing protection from many roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

Like most soldiers in Iraq, Capt. Cameron Birge hasn't set foot in one of those vehicles. Instead, he leads convoys through one of the country's most violent regions in a Humvee — the modern successor to the Jeep — with a sheet-metal skin that can't even stop bullets from a small-caliber handgun. To shield himself, Capt. Birge removed his Humvee's canvas doors and welded on slabs of scrap metal. He spread Kevlar blankets over the seats and stacked sandbags on the floor.


"I don't know what the Army has planned for me next," he wrote in an e-mail from Iraq in early March. "But it's definitely time to stop ordering the Humvees with the canvas doors."

Greg Jaffe, Cold-War Thinking Prevented Vital Vehicle From Reaching Iraq
The Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2004

After Rumsfeld's lies became public, reporters spoke with the Humvee armor manufacturers. The result? About what you'd expect: the armorers have the ability and capacity to turn out far more vehicles than are currently being produced, but Bush and the Pentagon simply aren't interested in allocating the funds to buy them:

The manufacturer of Humvees for the U.S. military and the company that adds armor to the utility vehicles are not running near production capacity and are making all that the Pentagon has requested, spokesmen for both companies said.

"If they call and say, 'You know, we really want more,' we'll get it done," said Lee Woodward, a spokesman for AM General, the Indiana company that makes Humvees and the civilian Hummer versions.

At O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, the Ohio firm that turns specially designed Humvees into fully armored vehicles at a cost of about $70,000 each, spokesman Michael Fox said they, too, can provide more if the government wants them. Seattle Seattle Post-Intelligencer

But even if the official manufacturers couldn't meet the demand, others could easily do so. (Isn't this what outsourcing is all about? Oh, wait a minute. Halliburton doesn't have a unit that armors Humvees. Too bad; fewer soldiers would be mutilated or killed if it did.) Texas Armoring Corporation is just one of many after-market firms creating armored vehicles for the mideast market. Their homepage has a photo of an armored humvee. How good is it? According to Trent Kimball, the owner of TAC, its "armoring materials will defeat any bullet short of a 50mm round and would protect passengers from most improvised explosive devices".

"We have armored the Hummer H-1, the military style Humvee," Ron Kimball said. "And we could make a Humvee armoring kit per day starting today and make 30 with the material we have on hand." But after repeatedly submitting price quotes, the Kimballs said no one from the Defense Department has even bothered to call.
Password: bugmenot
Courtesy of

That's bad enough, but then then I read things like this, about how desperate soldiers are creating "hillbilly armor" because the military won't provide the explosive-resistant vehicles they need:

In the process Rocco's unit gets hit regularly with small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and even suicide car bombs. He displays reddish pockmarks and scar tissue up his right arm, the effects of an IED from last May. "I really can't close my right hand," he says. And Rocco's Humvee is, today, equipped with "Gypsy racks" — steel-plated cages around the gunner — and other add-on, improvised hardware, known as "hillbilly armor." "It's Mel Gibson 'Road Warrior' stuff," says Capt. John Pinter, the battalion's maintenance officer. "We're not shooting for pretty over here."


This really makes me angry. Then I read about the crippled and mutilated soldiers coming home without rehab, without counseling, without every reasonable effort being made to acknowledge their sacrifice and try to do something, anything, to mitigate the damage, and it positively makes my blood boil. The military is not a toy, and the ten thousand casualties are human beings being needlessly killed and mutilated to save a trifling sum of money in a badly-bungled war.

All those idiotic red-state Americans who plaster their SUVs with moronic "support our troops" ribbons need to ask, as did National Guard Spc. Thomas Wilson and as do millions of troop-supporting blue-state Americans, "Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?". Why indeed. Why indeed.

Help! I’ve Glued My Fingers Together! Intentionally!

Packages of Commercial Cyanacrylate Glue

Common Cyanoacrylate Glues

I've been using cyanoacrylate glue (superglue) — commonly referred to as Krazy Glue, even though this is a trademark of Borden — for years to glue small cuts together, particularly paper cuts and the, fortunately rare, minor kitchen accidents. (I've read that mountain climbers use superglue to repair the rips and tears in their hands, and that windsurfers and sailors use it to repair ripped-off callouses and blisters; didn't they ever hear of gloves?)

Using it for unintended purposes like injury repair is easy: just hold the edges of the wound together, apply a dab with a toothpick and forget about it. (Disclaimer: do this at your own risk. If you manage to glue your hand to your genitalia, that's you with the problem, not me. If you slather it all over your fingers and stuff it in your nose, well, all I can say is: that'll teach you. So if you ruin your life, that's too bad. I ain't payin' you, or your lawyer, for it. As with anything in life, don't be stupid and talk to a doctor or someone with a brain before doing anything risky. Back to our story.) The result heals faster than doing nothing, and with fewer complications. Anyway, I was having a discussion about this with a friend who said that Krazy Glue wasn't the same as surgical glues like Dermabond. And so I set out to see if it was the same, as I steadfastly maintain.

The history of cyanoacrylate glues is interesting, even if you aren't a chemist or a jilted lover. (Gluing together body parts of the unfaithful is an urban legend.) During World War II, Harry Coover was trying to make a clear plastic for gunsights, since it had cost and weight advantages over glass. (Coover is an interesting fellow; he ended up with 460 patents.) His experiments turned up less than ideal results: "I was working with some acrylate monomers that showed promise. But everything they touched stuck to everything else. It was a severe pain."

Coover, Discoverer of Cyanacrylate Glue

Harry Coover
Discoverer of Cyanacrylate Glue

Coover didn't return to cyanoacrylates until nine years later, while attempting to create a heat-resistant polymer for the canopies on high-speed jets. One of the students working on the project accidentally glued together some very expensive — at the time $700, which was probably a month's pay for an Ph.D. engineer — optical prisms. Waving off the student's apologies, Coover excitedly started gluing together everything in sight, because he realized that, unlike other adhesives, this one rapidly bonded without pressure, heat, curing activators, or special preparation. Both properties turned out to be particularly useful in medicine, especially on the battlefield. (Ever watch a surgeon try to sew a piece of liver or lung tissue back together?).

Coover was also the first to recognize and patent cyanoacrylates as human tissue adhesives. These cyanolate adhesives are used in many sutureless surgeries such as the rejoining of veins, arteries, and intestines, ophthalmic surgeries, dental surgeries, uncontrollable bleeding and the repair of soft organs such as the liver and spleen. Coover's adhesive was first used in the Vietnam War to temporarily patch the internal organs of badly injured soldiers until conventional surgery could be performed. Since the 1970's, tissue adhesives have been used for a variety of surgical applications including middle ear surgery, bone and cartilage grafts, repair of cerebrospinal fluid leaks, and skin closure.

Hobard and William Smith colleges

Cyanoacrylate adhesives are formed from monomers (short building blocks) which are kept in a slightly acidic solution which prevents them from polymerizing, or linking together, into long, linear chains. All they need to cure is a weak base, like the microscopic amounts of moisture present on virtually every surface. Some items to be bonded, like wood, are naturally acidic which slows down curing, so special activators are used to start the process.

The cyanide (CN) groups on the molecule are highly polar, which means they enthusiastically grab onto things like skin. Polyethylene, which is what they make the bottles from, doesn't have any polar groups, for obvious reasons. (If you have a glue that sticks to everything, what do you keep it in?) Interestingly enough, the cyanoacrylate adhesives are made by making the cured (polymer) version and then cracking into pieces (monomer), while keeping it in an acidic solution so it can't recure (repolymerize). This is why acetone removes the cured adhesive — it breaks the bonds in the polymer. But, enough chemistry. (You still with us?) Back to the question: can cyanoacrylate glues be used instead of surgical glue? Ok, ok, we'll get to that right now!

The big difference between glue for objects (Krazy Glue) and glue for people (Dermabond) are:

  • Dermabond is monomeric 2-octyl cyanoacrylate, a weaker bonding agent than superglue which is typically ethyl 2-cyanoacrylate.
  • Dermabond comes in a sterile, single-use container.
  • Dermabond is colored with D&C Violet No. 2 to make it easier to see after it has been applied. (Normal superglue is clear.).
  • Superglue costs about $2 per tube; Dermabond is over $20. (Plus the hospital markup which can push it close to $70 per tube.)

Aside from the color, price, and single-use issues — bacteria don't live in cyanoacrylate — what does the formulation difference really mean? For starters, superglue is stiffer and liberates more heat when applied. This isn't an issue for "paper cuts", of course; I've never felt any heat at all. The formulation is basically safe but the surgical variant does have slightly different properties. So, the answer? Well, let's look at the history and the FDA's perspective. (I said I'd answer the question, ok?)

Although cyanoacrylate glues were useful on the battlefield, the FDA was reluctant to approve them for civilian use. In part, this was due to a tendency of the early compounds (made from "methyl-2-cyanoacrylate") to irritate the skin as the glue reacted with water and cured in the skin, releasing cyanoacetate and formaldehyde. A compound called "butyl-2-cyanoacrylate" was developed to reduce toxicity, but suffered from brittleness and cracking a few days after application. Finally an improved cyanoacrylate glue was developed for medical applications called "2-octyl-cyanoacrylate." This compound causes less skin irritation and has improved flexibility and strength — at least three times the strength of the butyl-based compound.

The Straight Dope

So, there you have it. The compounds are different, yet similar. The word on the street is that for small cuts the two are equivalent, but if you are repairing a lacerated liver or closing a large incision, the medical version is likely superior. (That's the one-line conclusion that you cared about, right?) The Straight Dope has a nice writeup of cyanoacrylates as surgical glues.


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