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Andy Rooney, Joan Didion, and the Aging Cultural Critic

Increasingly, Rooney's ire was directed at a nation of people who looked less and less like him.


Andy Rooney, who for 30 years capped CBS news magazine 60 Minutes with his sweeping commentary on everything from his inability to understand Usher to his perplexing number of shoes, died this weekend at age 92. He never stopped critiquing the world around him. As a new generation of cultural commentators reflects on Rooney's legacy, let's remember to avoid following his example.

"People have often told me I said the things they are thinking themselves. I probably haven't said anything here that you didn't already know, or have already thought," Rooney said in his final 60 Minutes segment on October 2. "That's what a writer does," he continued. "There aren't too many original thoughts in the world. A writer's job is to tell the truth."

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The other night, 60 Minutes ran a spot about phthalates, a category of chemical plasticizers that has been linked to gender-bendy birth defects in baby boys. Phthalates, as the episode made clear, are everywhere. They're in the plastic in your car, your shower curtain, your moisturizer, your hairspray, your air freshener, your makeup, your cologne, and your kids' toys. So what to do?

First, let's make one thing clear: The effects of phthalate exposure have been fairly conclusively established, and that research is acknowledged by countless public-health experts and environmental-health organizations—but not by the FDA. (Naturally, the chemical and cosmetic trade organizations that sell and use these ingredients also claim phthalates are safe, but never mind them.)

Some phthalates are already banned in toys. There's a growing feeling that they should be removed from personal-care products as well, because their ubiquity in beauty products is suspected to be the reason why so many baby boys are born with hypospadias (which is a birth defect where the opening of the urethra is in the wrong place) and undescended testes (which is exactly what it sounds like), and why so many girls have breasts before their 10th birthday.

Clearly, we'd all do well to avoid them to whatever extent we can. But the 60 Minutes spot felt a little hopeless, as if to say "They're everywhere, so live with it." And a recent New Yorker feature about BPA and phthalates, while thorough, left a lot of people scratching their heads.

There are a lot of instances where we can't control our phthalate exposure, it's true—but there are tons where we can. Here are some easy places to start:\n\n

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