I like to say that my dystopian satire series Unstable States is a cross between Idiocracy and The Handmaid’s Tale. Both titles are older and well-established views of a society gone off the rails. Idiocracy is itself a satire and although a friend argued with me about it, Handmaid’s Tale and the lack of female bodily autonomy seemed as if it could come true. It was true after all, in my mother’s lifetime and for those before her. And now here, or so it seems.
We’ve all read about repressive societies, fictional and otherwise. But what traits should we be looking for? For my satire, I incorporated my own Puritanically influenced upbringing and the early 1900s and post 9-11. And yes, Iowa’s growing pollution problem and governor were factors.
What if these influences had become autocracy? How would we even know? I turned to Political Science professor Jim Zaffiro for advice. He came up with some ideas.
Authoritarian Societies have these traits:
1.Marked by brain drain, hostility to truth tellers & intellectuals.
2. Leaders are elevated into masterminds to save the nation.
3. Information is censored and tightly controlled, so that the masses hear only or mostly the official interpretations of things.
4. Exploitation of invented outside or internal threats to justify suspension of civil liberties; often involves scapegoating undesirable groups, by race, religion, ethnicity, or foreign origin.
5. Tight control of other organs of government, including political parties, judiciary, and legislative.
6. Use of illegal methods or flaunting existing laws and norms in the name of security.
7. Elevation of regime and leader survival over all else, leading to constitutional changes and rigged elections.
8.Use of neopatrimonialism to create sub-bosses totally loyal to the supreme leader who rewards them with patronage. (As seen in privatization schemes).
I did something I rarely do this past July–I bought shucked sweet corn. The reason I did this is because I got a dozen ears of un-shucked corn and one ear had some mold on the end. I decided I didn’t want to take a chance of getting moldy ears again. I had to see what I was getting. The question is, how dangerous is corn mold? Well, it depends on the mold.
Mycotoxins infect 25% of world’s crops including coffee and beer and make them unfit for consumption. Thank goodness they are regulated as part of our food safety regulations. Detecting them is tricky. A black light can be used to see if they are present but it isn’t definitive proof of them. Lots of things glow under a black light and are not mycotoxins. It takes a time consuming test to prove they are present. You can read much more here.
Particularly dangerous and damaging is Aflatoxin produced by the pervasive Aspergillus mold. It can infect nearly any grain product and was first noted in 1961 when it killed over 100,000 turkeys in England after it infected their peanut-based food. Aflatoxin in dog food recently sickened many pets.
Aflatoxin grows on stressed corn, particularly corn exposed to drought and heat. It is likely to be worst in years with a hot (over 91 degrees F or 30 C), dry June because corn produces its silks in June and the mold travels down the silks and gets in the corn. It can also infect grain bins if they are not kept clean and dry. Once in the feed corn, the aflatoxin can’t easily be removed. It can get in the milk of dairy cows fed the moldy grain. Elevated carbon dioxide levels as found with climate change spur its growth and this is another reason scientists worry about our hotter weather.
Looking back, I don’t think my corn had aflatoxin. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t eat it. This is one of the many reasons I support robust food safety regulations and don’t eat moldy ears.
This area deep inside our brain is more sensitive than the princess and the pea. Head injury, stress, inflammation, hypertension, and viruses can damage it. We need this part of our brain for learning and memory. Loss of hippocampus mass is associated with Alzheimer’s and with depression. It rests near the olfactory bulb which means lack of taste or smell, as with covid-19, can be a sign of harm.
Although there are some things I’d like to forget, I rely on my hippocampus for my livelihood and keeping it big is important for my future. Imagine my alarm when two studies came out recently pointing to factors that contribute to shrinking it.
One linked shrinkage to bad diet. Consumption of roast meat, sausages, hamburgers, steak, chips, crackers, and soft drinks shrank the left hippocampus, even if the indulgences were short term. Mind you, I read this at the end of birthday month in our household–July–when we have five events spread over fifteen days, accompanied by plenty of cake, grilling, & celebrating Better Made’s anniversary.
The second hypothesized that too much coffee (6 cups or more) shrinks your brain and can cause dementia. I don’t drink six cups of coffee, I drink two at the most. But they aren’t small cups nor is the coffee weak. Seventy and beyond could be bleak for me. Is there any hope?
What helps your brain ward off the ravages of time and place? One answer is flavonoids.There are six different categories of these plant molecules and eating from every category is recommended. You’ll need to load up on tea, red wine/grape juice, chocolate, citrus fruits, parsley, berries, soy, and other good stuff as outlined in the link.
Exercise can stave off shrinkage or possibly even build new brain bulk. Likewise, sexual activity has been associated with brain growth in this area, at least in rats.
Hygiene is a relatively new idea in the Western world. An early recognition of the benefits of washing came in the 1840s when doctors noted that hand washing could reduce childbirth fever. The idea of “germs” had been kicked around for several centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that Pasteur proved, through a series of experiments, that germs were transmitted from one source to another. The previous idea was that they and things such as flies arose spontaneously. In 1865, Lister developed the idea of antiseptics, and in 1890, the country doctor Robert Koch came up with his postulates to prove the cause of disease. There was initial push back to germ theory –people didn’t want to be held responsible for making others sick. Even when germs were accepted, hygiene was regarded by some as “for sissies.” By the mid 1950s, films such as this one with Soapy, a somewhat haunted bar of soap, spread the gospel about hygiene. At last, people knew enough to keep clean. Now, the idea of frequent cleaning is being debated.
When I heard about the movement to not wash your hair, the no-poo movement, I knew it wasn’t for me. My hair is too fine and being a teacher and around a lot of people, most of whom tower over me since I’m 5′ 1″, their invisible pathogens fall on my head throughout the day. To be safe, I wash my hair every night, at least during the week. But is this over-kill? Do germs stick on your hair? The answer to this question is: Yes. But.
A study done by several researchers in Singapore, including some from Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore, with the title “Bacteria Display Differential Growth and Adhesion Characteristics on Human Hair Shafts” says that some bacteria cling to your hair while others simply sit on it.
They “showed the colonization and adherence of E. coli and P. aeruginosaon hair shafts, where P. aeruginosa, which tends to not be too dangerous to people with normal immune systems, was one bacteria that stuck to hair, formed a biofilm…
E. coli inhabited only the edges of the cuticle scales..this study demonstrate(d) significant antibacterial effects of human hair shafts.”
Bottom line, yes germs stick to your hair but your hair can fight them off to an extent. Hair-derived antimicrobial proteins or peptides have been identified in hair shafts (Adav et al., 2018; Subbaiah et al., 2018).
Shampoo washes away germs on hair. However, grease from your hair can also kill germs. A threat may come from hairbrushes, which have been shown to contain fungal spores ( March 31, 2021, Infection and Drug Resistance)
What happens when a person doesn’t bathe or shower regularly? A skin condition including a painful rash, can develop from bacteria, dead skin cells, and wax. Do you need to wash every day? No. A short shower every other day can work.
Anyone with acne has probably been told that it is caused by bacteria and this is true. However, beneficial bacteria can help fight acne. Over-washing your face removes helpful bacteria and oils. Studies have found that products containing aforementioned lactobacillus (a type of bacteria usually found in yogurt) are effective in treating acne. Probiotic acne medication is being developed. Some companies are looking into probiotic make up. The problem with the later is that make-up itself can harbor germs and adding anything to help stop dangerous germs will also kill the probiotics. And, it’s not been proven that makeup with probiotics helps skin. Probably your best bet for giving your skin a boost of good bacteria is a yogurt face mask, which could increase moisture and elasticity.
Above: before and after a yogurt treatment on an over-washed hand
We each carry around our own little cloud of bacteria, controlled by our own natural antimicrobials. In fact, our bacterial cells outnumber our human cells by 10:1! Hygiene is needed to prevent invasion from outside germs, but we need to be aware that over-washing can stress our clouds and our skin and hair. However, other people might not always want to smell your cloud and they might not want to share your bacteria, so do wash when needed.
Mixed In takes place in Cochtonia, a city-state with futuristic technology and mid 20th Century mannerisms. This recipe is adapted from one in my Granny’s church cook-book (1987) which includes an abundance of Jello recipes. Although Jello seems lowly today, it’s a modern version of collagen rich aspic, used in aristocratic dishes of the past. Intricate layering was a part of aspic and Jello culture. You’ll find this recipe mentioned in Mixed In.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Combine 2.5 cups of crushed pretzels
1.5 sticks of melted margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
Pour into a 9 x 13-inch pan
Bake for 10 minutes at 350o F
1 envelope Dream Whip, whipped with ½ cup cold milk and ½ tsp vanilla.
8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
Mix together the above ingredients and pour on cooled crust.
1 6-oz box of strawberry Jello
3 cups boiling water
14 oz sliced frozen strawberries
Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add frozen strawberries. Stir. Cool until slightly thickened. Pour this layer on cream cheese layer.
If desired, mix a half cup crushed pretzels with ½ stick of margarine and 1 tsp sugar, bake for ten minutes at 350o. Cool and use as a topping. Refrigerate for several hours or over night before serving.
One question a person might ask about such a dish, which is delightfully sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy is: how dangerous is the red 40 dye that gives it the festive color? The answer is: it depends on who you are.
An article inEnvironmental Health Perspectives; Vol. 120, Iss. 1, (Jan 2012): 1-5 noted that in a 1994 study in which children were fed placebos or capsules containing large amounts of dye some but not all “children displayed a clear dose-response function, with the higher doses eliciting higher scores on their 30-item behavior inventory, including five clusters of related behaviors: a) irritability/control, b) sleep disturbances, c) restlessness, d) aggression, and e) attention span.” In other words, some kids reacted poorly to the dyes, others did not. Yellow dye (tartrazine) appeared to have the most consistent negative effect. It didn’t seem to matter if the children were diagnosed with ADHD or not. Some kids had adverse reactions to high concentrations of dyes but many were unaffected.
A more recent article ( J.Agric. Food Chem. 2017, 65, 12, 2588–2593:March 7, 2017) states that people who have elevated Red 40 in their urine often have high blood pressure.
Additionally, the dye has been associated with colon DNA damage in mice. (Journal of Toxicological Sciences (2010), 35 (4), 547-554CODEN: JTSCDR; ISSN:0388-1350. (Japanese Society of Toxicology))
Another study found that bacteria in your intestines can degrade Red 40 and turn it into a substance that can damage DNA and other chemicals that are be both toxic and carcinogenic. ( Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology(Vol. 10, Issue 4) 2016) It’s thought this occurs to a greater extent in infants and children.
There aren’t an overwhelming number of studies showing the harmful effects of Red 40. Despite this, Nigeria, Switzerland, Canada and countries of the European Union as Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway have either banned Red 40 or added warning labels for the reasons mentioned above.
When you think about it, does Jello have to be brightly colored? Wouldn’t it taste as sweet without the red dye? I’m not going to ban Red 40 from my diet. On the other hand, I’m not going to have a second helping.
Thanks to my daughter and her cousin, who took it upon themselves to set up appointments for their loved ones, I have been fully immunized against COVID-19. I can’t say I had the kick ass response to Pfizer-dose-two that some have had. I haven’t had a fever or chills or fatigue. It’s been more of a slow burn. I feel as if I’ve been day drinking and the euphoria has worn off. My reaction has been lackadaisical.
Since I’m sitting here with an unusually lazy psychology, I got to wondering: can a virus cause depression? The answer is yes.
Some research says that too much sugar and/or stress or a zinc deficiency will cause an over abundance of harmful cytokines. Exercise can help regulate their over production. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need to explore this further.
One thing professionals predict is that, infected or not, we will all suffer a mass trauma. Those who had to work risky jobs through the pandemic, those who lost loved ones, the lonely, the incarcerated, and those who lost livelihood will all be affected. One by-product to avoid is seeking authoritarian rulers! Yes, trauma of any kind can cause people to seek out authoritarians or become authoritarian themselves. Let’s not go there. it will only make things worse. One solution is to remember the past year, perhaps with a national day of no-work, and to allow ourselves time to recover.
A mean boss or authoritarian ruler will just make your cytokines over produce!
Long ago, when my chemical world was new, I had a wise teacher by the name of David Crichton. He was a stickler for proper terminology and one thing he passed along was the proper chemical suffixes. I can’t find this list elsewhere so I’m posting it here for the Good of The Order.
Common Suffixes Used with Nouns in Chemical Terminology
-ance, -ence: denotes a state, a condition, a quality of being
Free write but then have the guts to cut. Vonnegut said, “Kill your darlings.” Although this has been misinterpreted to mean including murder and sacrificing main characters in order to generate emotion, what he really meant was to avoid being so in love with your own words that you can’t trim your prose. Kill your conceit.
Say what you mean to say.
A writer is foremost a teacher. Make sure the reader can learn a little useless tidbit here and there.
Pity the Reader: Don’t be boring. Stick with one point of view. Don’t hold back information for the sake of surprise. Take out deadwood such as boring exposition. Keep readers turning pages.
Sound like yourself, even if it’s Midwestern speech aka “a band saw cutting galvanized tin.”
Remember, you’re in the entertainment business.
Writing is difficult .”You have to sit there. It’s physically uncomfortable, it’s physically bad for someone to sit that long, it’s socially bad for a person to be alone so much. The working conditions are really bad. “
These are some of Kurt’s many observations and words of wisdom from a new compilation Pity The Reader, On Writing With Style. I’d characterize this book as being more an emotional support book and collection of inspirational reminders than a beginner’s guide on how to write a novel. However, a movated beginner would glean much wisdom from it.
For teaching beginners, I use Wired For Story. which covers the basics of storytelling. For more serious beginners I use, Writing Fiction, which could be a self-study course and is focused on craft. Pity The Reader is the book I’d use for an advanced course–if I ever get to teach one. It’s been described as “illuminating”, “a love song for the writing life,” and “a breeze to read.” For the moment, I’ll use it as therapy, and so should we all.
Sometimes in the course of writing a novel, an author will find a minor character becoming much more interesting than expected and a once major character fading. This has happened as I pen Book Three of the Unstable States Series. A minor character, a Neanderthal escort, became more important and a henchman was moved to a minor character. Cavemen Crispers (genetically modified erotic partners) were briefly mentioned in Book 2. Here, I quote a scene from Lost in Waste in which the protagonist asks a genetically modified male stripper, Ohho, if he has seen her genetically modified philosphically-minded stripper boyfriend, Remmer:
I was going to wet my pants before I learned anything of value from Ohho. Still, I had to try.
“Do you know any stripping philosophers?” I asked. “Have you met a red-haired guy with a roundish nose who’s new in town?”
“Someone who wonders about what if we lived in a cave? That kind of thing.”
“A caveman. Good idea. We’ll add one. You get a free pass to the next show.”
I’ve had cavemen on my mind these past few months. Of course, this Neanderthal interest didn’t come out of the blue. Several family members turned over their DNA to 23andme as part of their Parkinson’s study. No evidence of a genetic link to Parkinson’s was found in our family. We did, however, have plenty of Neanderthal DNA. Being from mostly North Western European ancestry, this is not surprising. Most Eurasians & Native Americans have a small but significant amount of Neanderthal DNA– upwards of 4%. In chemistry, we’d call this a major component. In fact, even Africans contain some (although usually less than 1%) Neanderthal. Neanderthal DNA is everywhere.
There’s plenty of agreement on how Neanderthals looked when they lived 250,000 years ago–they were strong and sturdy, compact with a prominent brow, sloping, skull, large nose, and small eyes. They had good dexterity and loved tools. Around 40,000 years ago, they met up with ancient humans who spread into their territory. It’s suggested that humans, with the help of dogs, out-hunted the Neanderthals. Neanderthals hunted with spears in intimate combat with their prey. Humans hunted in tandem with dogs, which chased down prey and surrounded it before the humans moved in for the kill. It’s possible that this allowed modern humans to kill bigger prey. Human had dogs and killed mammoths. Neanderthals didn’t. (They possibly ate wolf/dogs.) But don’ think of Neanderthals as strictly meat eaters. They liked carbs just as much as most of us do.
Neanderthal women probably had an easier time giving birth than we moderns, nursed their babies, and had grandmothers helping. But interestingly enough, all of the human-Neanderthal DNA discovered so far comes from female humans mating with male Neanderthals.
Evolutionary genetics points to things which are troublesome today such as ADHD and blood that clots easily,-as being of benefit to ancient hunter-gatherers, and humans prior to the past 10,000 years. These traits probably came from Neanderthals.
Modern people of Eurasian ancestry have thousands of Neanderthal DNA fragments. Neanderthal DNA is associated with depression (especially Seasonal Affective Disorder & depression from disruption in circadian rhythms) & skin lesions resulting from sun exposure (keratosis). “Neanderthal alleles” are associated with an urge for tobacco use. Bladder dysfunction and respiratory illnesses is blamed, in part, on Neanderthal DNA. Neanderthals introduced light skin and eyes to modern humans–although they had a variety of skin and eye color. They even might have been the first humans to have had blood type O. They are thought to have been night owls.
It’s not certain if the aforementioned traits are solely due to Neanderthal DNA. There’s still much to be learned. One of the happiest people I’ve known had relatively lots of Neanderthal DNA and never drank, smoked, or got sun-damaged skin. Did not much care for dogs.
Meanwhile, I’m going to keep writing, keep my circadian rhythms on an even keel, and eat a lot of thiamine.
keratosis skin lesions are usually harmless and associated with Neanderthal DNA