Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Trend on its Death Bed

The only thing I know about Silly Bands is that they're apparently the latest fad for a certain age group. I shouldn't know more than that, because if history from the mid-1980s to the present is any indication, the moment I have a clue about something is the exact nanosecond it becomes uncool. It's not just trends. Products get discontinued the moment I discover I like them. I bought three pairs of sneakers because, even though they've made All-Stars since 1917, the fact that I find them comfy (and they don't give me duck feet) positively dooms the style.

Parents, I'm doing you a favor by remaining ignorant and letting you amortize the cost of this fad over a couple more months. On the other hand, maybe I should look into this and save you some money by planting the kiss of frumpy death on whatever those things are sooner rather than later.

Of course, it's possible that the end of Silly Bands is coming without me. They're sold at the supermarket now, which is about two steps away from fad death. One step if you count that the supermarket has a sign out front advertising that they carry Silly Bands. Specifically, "Marvil Comics Silly Bands." I'll accept that my supermarket's employees can't reliably tell red leaf lettuce from a red onion, since it's not like nature labels the produce or anything, but presumable Marvel Comics does label its products.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Less Yummy Side of the Apocalypse

Textured vegetable protein. You've almost certainly eaten it. The fact that you probably don't realize that you have is what makes it the other food of the dystopian future. For that matter, the food of the topian present; it's used as a meat extender in a lot of what is loosely termed "food." That microwave beef and cheese burrito doesn't get to be 89 cents by being filled with 100% cow products. Textured vegetable protein is also the "bit" in "imitation bacon bits." You may be noticing a trend. Textured vegetable protein is good at pretending to be food that it isn't.

Shame, really, because straight up, it's not that bad, especially with a bit of cheese. You can find it in the natural foods section of most grocery stores - dystopia has a sense of irony, since textured vegetable protein isn't natural, and it's claim to being food is really more of a technicality - as baggies of nondescript beige granules. Apparently, all the most sci-fi food is shades of brown. Combined with equal parts water, the granules fluff up to something vaguely akin to crumbled ground beef in texture.

Being dehydrated doesn't make a food sci-fi. Being an industrial byproduct does. Textured vegetable protein starts off as what is left over from sucking the soybean oil out of soybeans. From there, the soy leftovers are run through a processor that poufs it up and dries it out to make the granules.

There you have it. Textured vegetable protein isn't the balanced nutrition that our post-apocalyptic sci-fi bretheren get from peanut butter ball mix, but it does provide a source of cheaply-transported protein, while solving the problem of what to do with the waste from creating biodiesel.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Soylent Brown is Peanut Butter Ball Mix

I mentioned that peanut butter ball mix is one of the most sci-fi foods I know. To elaborate...

My mother used to make peanut butter ball mix for me and PengSis as kids. There's no set recipe. Basically, mix peanut butter (I think creamy works better) with a bit of honey to make it sweet, and enough wheat germ and/or dry milk powder to make it not sticky. What you're left with is a concentrated, moldable brown paste with all the protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals a body needs. It's dense, easy to transport, doesn't spoil (as far as I know, never lasted long enough to find out) and made from relatively cheap agricultural products. In short, it's exactly what every bit of post-apocalyptic sci-fi has humanity's survivors eating. Except for when we're eating industrial waste products. That's another post.

OK, so "tastes like the apocalypse" isn't the world's best tag line for a product. Try it anyway. Dystopia was never so yummy. Dystopia can also be dipped in chocolate.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You First, the Global Medicine Version

One of my clients is extremely opposed to vaccinations. I'm not. It's a point on which we agree to disagree, with an arrangement that I don't have to directly put my name directly to anything opposing vaccinations. I think she is mistaken and using faulty logic to reach her conclusions about vaccinations, but I also know that her thought process is not going to be swayed. Plus, she who pays the bills makes the rules.

Personally, though, I put vaccinations right up there with sanitation and contraception as one of the great advances in science and medicine. However, vaccinations, like peanut butter ball mix, are so mundane that we don't appreciate just how sci-fi they are. Our planet is crawling with tiny, deadly things that straddle the border between lifeform and not-life. These things can kill us in dozens of ways that bypass our biological defenses. To protect our young from these maybe-alive things that we don't completely understand, we give our children substances that artificially enhance their immune systems, starting in infancy, and continue taking these substances at regular intervals throughout life to keep up the immune system enhancements and deny these maybe-lifeforms a host population. Does that not sound like the start of a plot to an episode of Stargate, or any of those sci-fi dramas that rely on dropping Earthlings onto other planets inhabited by aliens who are pretty much humans with SFX makeup?

In the unlikely event that I ever have fledglings of my own, you can bet your bippy those kids are going to be vaccinated against everything we have vaccinations for, even chickenpox. I don't, myself, even remember getting the chickenpox, though the blood tests indicate I did at some point before I was 18. I do, however, know or know of two people who nearly died from the same virus I can't remember.

My hypothetical fledglings are also definitely getting the HPV vaccine. Here in the U.S., we've more or less tamed cervical cancer. Women still get it and die from it, but not at nearly the rates they did before Paps became ubiquitous. Without the widespread screening, cervical cancer is right up there with giving birth on the list of Things That Kill Women Young, but the U.S. has been so good with paps for so long (possibly related to my prior post about GPs holding our contraceptives hostage until we pay the annual ransom of cervical cells) that mothers in my generation don't remember what a killer it is. Both HPV and chickenpox vaccinations run into the problem that the parents deciding to vaccinate their kids don't know how dangerous the viruses can be.

The HPV vaccines protect against the viral strains implicated in most, but not all, cases of cervical cancer, so having the HPV vaccine isn't a get-out-of-pap-free card. Here in the developed world, we'll still need to get regular paps to find the sliver of cases of cervical cancer that aren't attributed to the strains of HPV in the vaccine, and I wouldn't expect that the number of deaths from cervical cancer to go down too much once we deploy the vaccine. There will be side effects to the HPV vaccine; there are side effects to anything we do, including eating a bean burrito. The benefits aren't likely to be huge. Why, then, risk getting the HPV vaccine?

Because it's not about us. In the U.S., we have readily available gynecological care and fairly widespread screening for cervical cancer. On a global scale, this is unusual. In many parts of the world, gynecological care is all but nonexistent, and what is available is usually focused on keeping women alive during and after childbirth. Cervical cancer screenings are way down the list of health priorities, below things like malnutrition, malaria and the large collection of fatal diseases caused by contaminated water. However, the fact that cervical cancer isn't on the radar doesn't mean it doesn't kill women in those parts of the world. A lot of those women could be saved, to raise the children they manage to survive the births of, with widespread deployment of HPV vaccines.

However, the developed world has some bad history with the populations that would be most well-served with widespread HPV vaccinations, starting with that whole colonization thing, and going downhill from there. Some of these places have resisted efforts at universal polio vaccination, mistrustful of the motivations of those offering polio immunizations. In some places, folks have raised concerns that the polio vaccinations are a cover for population-control measures. Given some of the attitudes toward the developing world by the places on the planet that generally develop vaccines (including the kind of insulting subtext to the terminology "developed/developing" and "first world/third world"), one could understand where they're coming from.

So, if we show up with an HPV vaccine and want to inject it into all of their virgins, while at the same time saying that we're not giving it to our own little girls...that just isn't going to go over well. We need to adopt the HPV vaccine in the U.S. as a measure of good faith for those who don't have the backup detection methods we have. Getting the vaccine in the U.S. may not reduce death rates from cervical cancer here, but it can go a long way in the places that will benefit directly from the vaccine more than we will.

Bad Penguin News

The pengsperts aren't sure what's going on, but whatever is happening spells Brazilian penguin doom.