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Names of groups have intriguing associations


Washington -- What's on the political agenda of the National Pasta Association -- more sauce?

Who would be caught dead as a member of the National Turkey Federation?

Did you know your dog is represented by the Pet Food Institute?

The Fertilizer Institute? Enough said.

No matter who you are or what you do, there seems to be a Washington-based interest group or association looking out for your needs. Speaking of needs, why not call the Association of Human Needs?

Right away, it should be noted that associations' names are often quirkier than the associations themselves.

Take for instance, the Association of Old Crows. A senior citizens' group, you ask? Executive Director Vern Luke has heard it all.

"We get calls from people asking, 'Are you in the whiskey business or what?' " Mr. Luke says. "There used to be an Old Crow Whiskey, but I don't know if it's around any longer."

Its name notwithstanding, this suburban Virginia group has a mission that is dead-serious, not even hinted at by its name: The Association of Old Crows is a trade group that represents the electronic defense industry -- as in radio-jamming equipment, infrared sensors and flares to stymie heat-seeking missiles.

"Our name goes back to World War II," Mr. Luke says, "when radio-jamming operators were called ravens."

But there's a problem: Mr. Luke thinks the "Old Crow" name might be preventing the group from achieving wider appeal.

"The name is one of my pet peeves," Mr. Luke says. "We've got all these government types that think we're a social club."

That can be a challenge when you're trying to put together high-level meetings with the Washington power elite. But Mr. Luke has also learned firsthand that a name change is hard to come by. Some members tried to buck tradition with a vote for change 10 years ago, but the effort failed.

Apparently, the title doesn't confuse everyone. The rolls of member corporations and individuals are 20,000-strong and include such companies as Hughes Aircraft, GTE and Loral.

According to Mr. Luke, the members get together, talk shop (sometimes it's even classified), nudge Capitol Hill lawmakers and read their association magazine.

While the quarry of the "Old Crows" is hard to determine by name alone, there's no mistaking the interests represented by the Institute of Makers of Explosives.

Chaos does not reign, nor is there a bomb-testing room for mad scientists in the institute's downtown Washington basement. Fact is, the institute's president, Frederick P. Smith Jr., makes the place sound like a model of social propriety, describing it as an "81-year-old safety association."

His group, Mr. Smith says, represents manufacturers of commercial explosives that are used in road building, quarrying and demolition. He says he represents the producers of 85 percent of the nation's 4.2 billion pounds of explosives.

"We are probably one of the most heavily regulated industries in America," Mr. Smith says. He ticked off a list of all the governmental entities -- federal, state and local -- with authority to regulate explosives.

"We want good, clear, precise regulation," he says.

That's as, uh, dynamic as his organization gets.

At the National Pasta Association, where pasta manufacturers turn for company, employees don't mind being used as guinea pigs. They gamely eat their portions of experimental pasta made in the association's test kitchen. "The professional tester cooks it . . . and then we eat it," says Jula Kinnaird, the association's president.

The association's job is "to tell the pasta story," Ms. Kinnaird says. "There's 600 different kinds of pasta."

Can she name them? "Only if I cheat," she says.

Have any pasta trivia questions that need answers? Cooking advice? Give the association folks a call; they're used to it.

But keep in mind: If they're questions pertaining to sauce, then you want the Association for Dressing and Sauces.

It would have been ideal to produce a spokesman from the Association of Societies and Associations to put this association phenomenon into perspective -- to teach us how crucial these Washington associations are to the political process and to point out the merits and faults of various association titles.

But repeated phone calls over several days to that association were answered by a busy signal or a voice-mail machine (with a British accent) that had no room left for messages. That perhaps confirms the theory that there are Washington associations ad infinitum.

Perhaps, though, employees of the association's association are catching up on sleep, as recommended by the International Sleep Products Association, which represents mattress manufacturers. Or could it be that they are all but out of business?

In that case, they had better be on good terms with the American Cemetery Association.

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