An Alphabet Of my Life: S


This S is about the applications of science in my lifetime. Things that were unimaginable when I was born are commonplace now. Some of those are materials; things like Teflon, Polyurethane, Velcro, Waterproof Fabrics, Memory Foam, Polyester. They have provided advances in comfort, ease of use, preserving and cooking food, and in safety wear for those working outside. Unfortunately, they have also contributed to landfill, the pollution of the oceans, and even microparticle contamination of human bodies.

Everything we invent comes with a price, it seems.

Medical science has exceeded all expectations since my birth in 1952. Birth control, In Vitro Fertilisation, Open-Heart Surgery, Genetics, DNA, Artificial Valves, Pacemakers, Organ Transplantation, and Micro-Surgery. The eqipment and expertise to care for a premature baby that would previously have died. Drugs to control Diabetes, Epilepsy, and many other life-changing or life-threatening conditions. Add to that the advances in Scanning, Medical Lasers, the ability to operate on babies in the womb, and an adult from 1952 would find it hard to comprehend the amazing possibilities 70 years later.

Life expectancy has extended significantly since I was born. Average life expectancy in 1952 in Britain (male and female lifespans combined) was 69.17 years. 70 years later, it is now 81.65 years. That has brought with it a huge number of problems. The increase in elderly people with Dementia. The problems of caring for the elderly and disabled in their own homes, or in dedicated old people’s homes. Hospitals full of old people who cannot be easily discharged after breaking bones or having major surgery. The cost of paying pensions to so many more people who lived much longer than expected, and the reduced birth rate failing to supply enough working people to pay the National Insurance and Taxation required to fund such an ageing population.

Back to everything we invent coming with a price.

There are other scientific achievements in my lifetime that were less desirable.

Atom bombs were replaced by nuclear bombs, and those in turn replaced by thermo-nuclear bombs. Military weapons became more advanced, and the ability to kill more people from a greater distance is the darker side of ‘progress’ during the last 70 years.

(Technology will be dealt with in ‘T’.)

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Scientific Studies.

I really should stop watching the news.

Ever since I can remember, we have been bombarded with scientific advice. The source is usually referred to as a ‘study’. Sometimes credited, as in ‘A study by Cambridge University’, or a ‘Study by doctors in Sweden, over a ten year period’.

On many occasions, it conflicts a ‘study’ that was all the rage a few years earlier.

Many years ago, I used to take sugar in my hot drinks, and drink ordinary Coke. Sugar made me fat, and made my teeth bad. I didn’t need a study to tell me that, if my trousers were tight, and I needed fillings at the dentist. Then came sweeteners, like Aspartame. They are the answer, a ‘study’ said. So I swapped, and for the next thirty years I had that sweetener in tea and coffee, as well as buying ‘diet’ drinks containing it.

Then along came another ‘study’. Aspartame was very bad for you. It gave you bladder cancer, if you used it for too long. Oops! Well, a bit more than an ‘Oops’ for me, after more than half my life adding it to drinks. In a panic, I contacted the company, and they duly sent me a very large envelope containing the results of the much-quoted study. They also mentioned that lawsuits were ongoing in America, and that those suing were unlikely to win.

The ‘study’ had used rats, feeding them around half their body weight in Aspartame tablets every day, for months on end. By the end of the study, those rodents were so full of artificial sweetener, they couldn’t avoid getting something seriously wrong with them. So the study was correct. If I consumed around 84 pounds of Aspartame every day for a year, I would get ill. It seems that the ‘scientists’ were unable to see the flaw in their findings, as I was unlikely to ever take in more than half an ounce of the stuff, in a week.

Then we had red meat. Good for Iron, and an ideal source of protein.
Hang on, there’s a study. It gives you bowel cancer, because you can’t digest it.

Delve deeper into that study, and you might discover that you would have to eat a couple of very large steaks every day, for most of your life.

It carried on. Pork gives you cancer. Seafood is too high in cholesterol. Real milk (unpasteurised) carries disease. Red wine? Yes, it’s good for you.
Not too much now, just a sip.
Rice, bread, and potatoes. Best avoided, due to taking in too much carbohydrate. And you might get bloating, perhaps even Chrohn’s disease.

Five A Day! remember that study. A fist sized portion of fruit and vegetables at least five times a day. But how big is a fist? Does orange juice count? Perhaps not, as it produces natural sugars in your digestive system, and you might get Diabetes if you drink too much fruit juice. And too many apples will give you gastric reflux, because of the acidity. Oh, and dentists say that too much fruit is bad for your teeth, because of the fruit acids. And pineapples can cut your gums…and…

You get my drift, I’m sure.

Just had a lovely little baby?. Well, make sure it sleeps on its back. Wait a minute, didn’t a study tell us that a baby will choke on its back? I’m sure it did. Better make sure your baby sleeps on its front then. But no, don’t do that! I’ve read a study that says babies sleeping on their front will smother themselves. You are going to have to find a way for baby to sleep siting up, that’s the only way it will survive.

As far as I am concerned, those invisible scientists can shove their next study up where the sun don’t shine.

2016: A year to anticipate?

I’m not so sure.

I will be 64 years old. The Tories are once again in power in the UK. The Middle East and other parts of the world are still in conflict, and religious wars are back on the agenda for all. When I was not that much younger, I thought 2016 was the incredible future. We might have Internet wrist watches for those that can afford them, but people are still on the breadline, diseases remain uncured, and nobody is holidaying on Mars.

Ordinary working people have not seen much progress since 1946, and for many, their situation has deteriorated. Kindness has diminished as a concept, and selfishness is the order of the day; for nations, as well as for individuals. Far Right politics have taken control, from America to Ukraine, and beyond. All the hopes and dreams of the 1960s have turned to dust, and greed, profit, and self-interest have replaced them.

Any positives? The Health Service here is still very good, despite struggling against budget cuts. There are no workhouses, at least not yet, but food banks have taken on part of their ancient purpose. It is increasingly harder to list any good things, because they are so few and far between. For someone born in 1952, this year of 2016 promised to be the Golden Age. Leisure time would be abundant, life made easier by progress, illness all but eradicated. But that Golden Age was a mere illusion, fostered by scientists and commentators. In real terms, little has changed since 1816. The rich get richer, the poor have less prospects, education is rationed, and social services are either privatised, or cut to the bone.

Wars still rage, intolerance prevails. Knowledge has gone backwards, electronics have become that famous ‘opium of the people.’ Nobody has any answers, save austerity for those who can least afford to endure it. Dissenters are jailed, those with opposite views or causes are bombed into oblivion, and civilisation marches on, much as it did in Roman times.

Happy New Year? I doubt it.

Back to the future

Whatever happened to the Future? You know, the one that we were promised by the scientists and TV programmes years ago. When I was young, we were assured that it was only a matter of time before we would be holidaying on Mars. Televisions would be the size of a wall, and the images would be holographic. Food would never be a problem again, so no starvation would exist anywhere in the world. The boffins assured us, that using soya bean and seaweed as a base, they would be able to supply everyone with nutritious pellets of spongy substance, to which we could add any flavour we desired. Close your eyes, chew your pellet, and it tastes like steak and chips, or fresh lobster. And all at minimal cost too. The delicious food supplement would be delivered by a robot butler, who would take care of all the household chores, personal grooming, and administrative tasks. The working day would not be too challenging, involving little more than some relaxed video conferencing. Any undesirable job would be taken on by yet more robots, who would presumably be dealing with sewage and rubbish collections behind some shiny chrome fence.

Travel and transportation would be problem free as well. Cars would be powered by small nuclear engines. They would never need re-fuelling, and would drive themselves on metal paths, guided by computers that would never allow a collision. You just had to sit in the cabin, and relax until you arrived. Trains would run on magnetic monorail systems. They would achieve incredible speeds, and be unaffected by any weather conditions, always arriving safely, and on time. Driven by robots or computers, human error would be eliminated from all Public Transport, so it would be 100% safe. Aircraft would be the size of shopping malls. New technology would make it possible to fly the Atlantic in a couple of hours, or a trip to Australia in a working day. Ships would be giant hovercrafts, or huge hydrofoils. Either way, they would be untroubled by heavy seas, making light of long journeys across oceans.

Medical advances would mean that everyone would live to almost 150, or even just never die. Drugs would cure everything, replacement joints would be popped in during painless procedures. Everything would be renewed. Failing eyesight dealt with by the implantation of tiny cameras, deafness by tiny microphones, and so on. It seemed every news broadcast told of some new wonder that would make everything great,’in the future’.

Then there was TV’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’. This was like an unleashed Prophet. Raymond Baxter and his gang pontificating on the latest inventions with great authority, and sufficient gravitas, to make a youngster believe it would all be happening soon. We had already had dogs in space, monkeys in space, Telstar, Sputnik, then a man in space. Nothing seemed impossible to my 13 year old imagination. I had never even been in an aircraft, yet it seemed second nature to me to imagine travelling to school by personal jet pack, or planning a trip to Jupiter. By the time I was 17, there was Concorde, reducing flight time across the Atlantic. A year later, there was the first Jumbo Jet, adding lots more passengers but not going any faster. Travel by sea diminished, except for cheap cruising that brought floating holidays to the masses, and ferry services that have changed little in my lifetime. Hovercrafts appeared in small numbers but never did cope with heavy seas, or provide a real alternative to existing shipping.

By the year 2000, fantastic scientific predictions were few and far between. All the effort was now concentrated on warnings about Global Warming, melting ice caps, and the shortage of fossil fuels. I was then 48. I had still not had that trip to Mars, and the car I was driving had fuel injection but was otherwise little different to the first car I had driven in 1969. People were still starving, still dying of cancer and malaria. Mind you, the telly screens were getting bigger, though still not a hologram the size of one wall. By 2003, ‘Tomorrow’s World’ was finally cancelled by the BBC. Perhaps they realised that all those things that they kept telling us about were never going to happen. It was already ‘Tomorrow’ anyway.

So, what did we get? Aerosols, Teflon coating, solar panels, some wind farms. They did actually produce some electric cars and hybrid system cars but most are unaffordable to ordinary people, or totally impractical for everyday use. Air travel is slower, more congested, and less attractive than ever. It is cheaper though, but that’s all. Concorde and the Jumbo Jet have been consigned to museums, no replacements announced. Traffic doesn’t flow smoothly on electrically guided steel paths, and accidents are still a part of everyday travel, on any system. The age that people die is higher, though only by a couple of years. Disease is not eradicated. In fact, a stay in hospital can be more dangerous than ever, with the possibility of contracting new infections. We are not enjoying pellets of delicious flavours for our evening meal. Instead, we got Turkey Twizzlers, Chicken Nuggets, and Big Macs. They did manage to make mica protein and soya bean look like sausages, mince, or burgers. They can’t make them taste like them though.

We did get the Internet, and mobile phones. It would be churlish to argue about such advances, especially as I am using one of them to write this. I’ll have a go though. Despite all the benefits of the Internet and mobile phones and their associated computer pastimes, games, Facebook, Twitter etc. It has come at some cost. Reading and writing has lost popularity. Young people don’t ‘play out’ so much anymore, preferring the allure of killing aliens or playing a role in front of the TV. The assumption that everyone has access to a computer, or mobile phone, has marginalised a large section of society, those that have access to neither, or do not understand how to use them. Basics like spelling have vanished overnight, to be replaced by American versions, courtesy of Microsoft, or worse still, ‘text speak’. Younger people spell check everything, not bothering to learn how to spell it correctly in the first place. Information is delivered in digestible bite sized chunks, and personal communication has been reduced to this too, for a whole generation that know no better, and have no interest in finding out. Camera images are now stored on digital media. Cheaper perhaps, and with the instant fix of immediate viewing. However, manipulation and enhancement software now means that we have no idea if the image we are seeing is true or not.

The TV screens are still getting bigger. I have a friend who has one that is -almost- the size of one wall. No holograms though. More channels with less quality content, constant repeats and ‘Reality TV’. Telly may be perceived as being poor quality in the 1960’s/1970’s but there was ‘Armchair Theatre’, ‘Play for Today’, ‘Callan’, ‘Public Eye’, and many other excellent British dramas. Some have been recycled for the modern generation. ‘Emergency Ward 10’ has become ‘Casualty ‘ and ‘Holby City’. ‘Z Cars’ became ‘The Bill’ and many other Police based dramas. No new ideas really.

I suppose the moral of the story is ‘Ignore the boffins’. They used to tell people in the 1940’s that smoking was good for your health, and would improve respiration. Carrots are good to combat cancer, aren’t they? Red wine is good for your heart. Hang on though, red wine is bad for your liver isn’t it? I’m sure I read that somewhere. They just don’t know what they are talking about. It is just so much waffle and rubbish to justify their jobs, salaries, and grants. You will die when you die, get fat if you decide to eat too much, probably get cancer if you smoke but also probably get it if you don’t; just in a different part of the body. This is all common sense, historical fact, and observation.

Goodbye boffins, you let me down on the future and I just don’t believe you anymore.