Rant 53 November 2009: Swhiner baby

October 28th, 2009  |  Published in 2009 rants, Stumpblog  |  16 Comments

Hey! Apparently there is this thing called swine flu! And we are all going to die horribly from it! Instead of the Four Horsemen, the apocalypse will be wrought upon us by the Four Pigmen, who will arrive in a burst of porcine glory astride their mighty oinking and snuffling steeds!

To quote Homer Simpson, “Enjoy your death trap, ladies!”

simpson-spider-pig(Or, perhaps more apropos: “Spider Pig, Spider Pig, does whatever a Spider Pig does. Can he swing, from a web? No, he can’t — he’s a pig. Look out! Here comes the Spider Pig!”)

Recently an acquaintance of mine was interviewed about H1N1 for The National on CBC. She discussed protective measures with an anxious group of hockey parents: sanitize hockey gear, put water bottles in dishwasher, wrap their child in bubble wrap, etc.

(Amusing: One parent said “I never thought of sanitizing hockey gear before!” Seriously? Have you smelled that shit? I’d consider burning it after every practice.)

The solution, as to all of the world’s problems, is an aggressive application of slash-and-burn technology. After all, it worked great on that cockroach I smashed with a hammer. All we need is are nine billion more bigger, smashier, hammers.

Pooh! Get away from that thing!

Pooh! Get away from that thing!

Manufacturers of disinfectants — which is to say, large corporations — cannot believe their luck. Executives are doing their happy dance in boardrooms over cases of cucumber-melon-scented alcohol-soaked Kleenex and spray cans of lemon-flavoured napalm. Or perhaps they have also fluffed up a few media stories about the benefits of Lysoling one’s surroundings.

Who’s to say what Big Sanitizer is capable of? Suck it, pathogens of the world! We’ll get you just like we fixed that damn morning sickness!

Dear readers, permit me an imaginative journey. Let us say that we travel with these anxious parents as they ferry their spawn home in gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing buggies.

Perhaps we’ll stop for a treat on the way! How about the drive thru!? YAY!!

Man, that hormone-injected, artificially flavoured, soy-additive/wheat-gluten-extended, meatlike patty on the sugared white-flour bun with red sugar sauce really hit the spot! Hand me some more of those trans-fat-dipped GM starch nuggets willya? Phew, salty… gotta wash it down with some sugar syrup and food colouring.

Pops’ll get a venti coffee too. Hell, with these kids, you need that 550 mg of caffeine. Sorry, lactose intolerant — can you throw some hexane-extracted soymilk in to that? Yeah, Silk, that’s cool — they’re some little hippie company right? And a flavour shot. Eh, gimme a couple. It’s a big coffee.

Oh yeah, Dylan’s been working out. Give him some blue Gatorade in the plastic bottle with extra bisphenol A. A thirteen-year-old boy shouldn’t be using his testicles anyway.

Faaack this traffic on the freeway is nuts. Hey! Nice turn signal, asshole! God DAMN IT lady hurry up! Shit, we’re going to be a while. Who can I call on my cell phone to distract myself? Man, my back is killing me. Must be all that sitting.

Alright, we’re home. What’s for dinner? Let’s pop open the cupboard and the fridge. Let’s see…

Well, we’ve got frozen corn dogs… chicken nuggets… some leftover burritos… some king-sized bags of potato chips… Diet Pepsi… caramel-flavoured popcorn (what? it’s low fat!)…

Oh shit, don’t forget, Dylan needs to take his ADHD meds. Dad, take your statins. Yeah, I think it’s OK to take them with Budweiser. Beer’s mostly water right?

Gah! It’s totally hectic; let’s just do takeout. You guys want that deep dish cheese stuffed crust again? Yeah, that’s cool; mom can take her Alli when we eat (she’s looking stressed though; why not throw down an Effexor?).

Wash your hands, boys. Use that new antibacterial soap that causes birth defects.

And throw your hockey gear into the wash. Use that extra scented soap and fabric softener. Man, that stuff stinks. Spray some Febreze around. I’m gonna stick another Glade Plug-In into the outlet.

Don’t touch that delivery guy! He might be carrying something dangerous!

One American family's weekly food consumption. From What the World Eats

One American family's weekly food consumption. From What the World Eats


Top 6 causes of death, US, 2004

  • Heart disease: 631,636
  • Cancer: 559,888
  • Stroke: 137,119
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases (e.g. emphysema): 124,583
  • Accidents: 121,599
  • Diabetes (85-90% of cases are adult-onset, type 2): 72,449


  1. Chris says:

    October 28th, 2009at 7:45 am(#)

    You are my hero. Seriously. Can I link to this page?

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    October 28th, 2009at 8:11 am(#)

    Link away!

  3. Sam says:

    October 28th, 2009at 8:44 am(#)

    Lovely point, madam, but don’t knock the GM foods. They’re the future, dude! Okay, the modifications performed on fast-food chickens probably don’t have any benefit to society (just to the pockets of those selling them), but modifications that increase yield while decreasing necessary resources, limit the need for pesticides, and add nutrients (golden rice is the most famous example) could have enormous positive impact. There can certainly be environmental, economic, and supply-chain issues with GMOs, but these problems may be solvable, so it would be premature to knee-jerkily limit research.

    You probably knew all this already, but I thought I’d add my two cents just in case.

  4. Mistress Krista says:

    October 28th, 2009at 12:09 pm(#)

    GM foods are like super powers: Such great potential, but so often used for evil. I actually used to support GMO much more than I do, with precisely those kinds of arguments: improved food yields, disease resistance, etc. After research, I’m not very sure I support them for the most part.

    In large part it is a question of WHO creates them, HOW and WHY. The evidence is also beginning to suggest that GM foods are not just foods with nice little add-ons: the process of GM itself may fundamentally modify how our bodies deal with the foods — often with negative consequences.

  5. Sam says:

    October 28th, 2009at 5:48 pm(#)

    Yet again demonstrating why you’re one of my favorite Internet People, Mistress.

  6. Trishy says:

    October 28th, 2009at 8:43 pm(#)

    For better or for worse, Sam has a point: GM foods are the wave of the future, and there isn’t much we can do about it. New legislation that requires 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be produced by 2022 means that more farmland will be diverted from food production to fuel production. Combine this with a projected global population of 8.3 billion people by 2030, and much more food (estimated 30% more grain) will have to be produced using the same land but less water. So, the choices are: severe water and food shortage leading to massive starvation; or genetically modified foods that can tolerate drought and disease better. Guess which one governments will pick.

  7. Mistress Krista says:

    October 29th, 2009at 4:15 am(#)

    Farmers have actually dealt with these challenges for thousands of years, and carefully bred indigenous varieties to meet these exact problems. India alone has 200,000 indigenous varieties of rice, each one specially adapted to meet local microclimate conditions for elevation, rainfall, drought, salty soil, flooded plains, etc. Vandana Shiva’s foundation, Navdanya, has preserved 3,000 and grow nearly 600 of them on their farm.

    In Canada alone there were 200 varieties of tomatoes bred; around 300 varieties of apples. All adapted for local growing conditions and to enhance biodiversity.

    We already have these crops.

    GM is typically not a project for public good nor to enhance sustainability; it is a project for corporate profit and market dominance. Corporations have attempted to patent organisms that farmers have historically produced through selective breeding. They sell seeds that are genetically engineered to be sterile after one growth cycle — farmers cannot collect seed from a crop to re-use them; they must buy new ones every year. Their vision is one of dominant monocrops that are private property, dependent upon petroleum-based chemical fertilizers. Additionally much of the food land is now being diverted into biodiesel production via GM corn. There’s more money to be made in fuel than in preserving indigenous ecosystems or food for the less affluent regions.

    Thus: Could we use GM for good? Yes. Are we? No.

  8. Kat says:

    October 29th, 2009at 12:14 pm(#)

    I’m a scientist who does a pretty good amount of cloning and molecular biology herself. I use genetically-modified mice every day in my own research. And I’m completely in line with Krista’s point of view re: GM foods. Not only do we already have selectively-bred variant cultivars for a wide variety of desired traits (meaning that multiple traits could be included in a hybrid cultivar, if you needed a plant that would do well at high elevations and be resistant against a certain parasite), but also transgenic animals and plants are completely lacking in genetic diversity, whereas selectively-bred varieties possess at least some genetic diversity between organisms.

    I have a horrible premonitory nightmare of mass famines due to the monocultural food supply of entire countries, comprised of what are essentially clones of a single organism, being blighted by some pathogen exploiting a genetic weakness. If big multinationals really cared about world hunger, etc., they would expend more effort and produce a range of genetically-diverse cultivars carrying useful traits rather than arrogantly assuming that humans are better geneticists than the forces of evolutionary pressure, and that we can therefore keep outbreaks of pathogens from endangering the global food supply when GM crops have pushed out the small farmers and totally undermined biodiversity in our cultivated species by causing heirloom varieties to go extinct.

    GM might be the wave of the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the future won’t be a dystopia.

  9. Geoff says:

    October 29th, 2009at 1:08 pm(#)

    Bam, motherfuckers!


  10. Dr. Bryan P Walsh says:

    October 30th, 2009at 2:59 pm(#)

    Hilarious, Krista. You completely nailed it on the head with one swift wallop.

    Carl Sagan coined a phrase “technological adolescence”. He’s right. Just like a 12 year old boy who just realized he can make a really cool blowtorch out of a match and a can of hair spray, we are completely destroying our physiology (and world) by playing with much larger and more dangerous matches.

    Thanks for an awesome post that just about summarizes it all.

  11. Trishy says:

    November 1st, 2009at 3:22 pm(#)

    I understand that technological innovation is driven mainly by profits, and therefore winds up benefiting companies long before benefiting the public (if innovation helps the public at all). Greenhouse gas emissions are out of control; pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars in a few months developing vaccines for a virus that has killed fewer people since its discovery than diseases like malaria kill in a month; and the chemical industry does not operate on the precautionary principle like in the EU, so chemicals are widely circulated in the environment before we know anything about their safety (although that is supposed to be changing in this country: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/87/i40/8740news4.html).

    But at the same time, life spans are longer and standards of living are higher than ever (at least in developed countries). Technological innovation is a double-edged sword, and the benefits must be balanced against the risks. Plastics are a good example, such as polycarbonate. We know that bisphenol A leaches from PC bottles, and we know that BPA is an endocrine disruptor. However, PC has been around since the 1950s, and since then it has given high-risk buildings the security of bullet-proof glass, it has given the military a way to drink clean water in the desert without adding too much weight to their gear, and it has made eyeglasses significantly safer and more comfortable (also protective glasses; as a chemist, polycarbonate goggles save my eyes all the time). You can ask how many people have been hurt by exposure to BPA, but at the same time you have to ask how many people’s lives have been improved or saved by it (for the record, I’m an academic chemist, so I have no vested interest in PC or any market plastic).

    I agree that we have to start doing a much better job at letting problems rather than profits drive innovation, and I am typically the first to argue that at the rate we are trying to correct our current problems, we will not be able to avert ecological disaster. However, I detect an almost belligerent tone towards technology, and I would simply like to point out that many of us would not be alive if it wasn’t for vaccines, drinking water disinfectants, high-impact automobile parts, and modern medical instruments and diagnostic techniques (not to mention the comforts and pleasantries we enjoy in terms of digital media, generally safe and easy travel, and hordes of information at our fingertips). This is not a justification for the direction we have been heading in, it’s a call for balance.

  12. Mistress Krista says:

    November 2nd, 2009at 5:54 am(#)

    Trishy the concept of “belligerence to technology” is kind of funny… I wrote my MA and PhD theses on technology. The issue is that “technology” is simply a tool, like a hammer. You can use a hammer to build something or you can use it to whack someone in the head. I’m arguing that to date, this particular hammer has been used in general for headwhacking because of who wields it and why.

  13. Trishy says:

    November 2nd, 2009at 2:10 pm(#)

    No argument there. Krista, I wasn’t suggesting that you in particular demonstrate this kind of attitude, I just see a general shift towards this perception in the general public. As a chemist, I am only qualified to speak of the perception of my trade: in the 50’s, chemistry made life easy and wonderful, and was widely embraced; now, chemistry produces nasty toxins that poison our children. The reality is of course somewhere in between, I just find myself arguing on both sides of this debate rather frequently because I am faced with someone who will not see the dangers of technological developments without rigorous risk assessments, or I am faced with someone who thinks we need to go back to living in caves. It’s nice to exchange ideas here with people who seem to realize that compromise is necessary if any progress will be made.

  14. Jill says:

    November 2nd, 2009at 4:16 pm(#)

    As an American high school student, I have to say that you really hit the nail on the head with this rant. If someone so much as sniffles in class, the bottles of hand sanitizer come flying out and the offender has to practically beg NOT to be sent to the nurse. Our paranoia is outrageous, while we really ought to be more afraid of the stuff that we use and consume on a daily basis than a disease that could be prevented with a bit more common sense.

  15. Mistress Krista says:

    November 2nd, 2009at 4:40 pm(#)

    For me, context is everything. I think the best stance is to be critical consumers of technology, and active, engaged, informed participants in its creation, development, use, and — importantly — disposal. (People too-often forget the last bit.)

    We must not only be scientifically educated but historically educated. Some of our most egregious fuckups have occurred because people were all, “OMG THIS IS THE BEST AND NOBODY HAS EVER THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE INVEST IN TULIP BULBS!!”

    And history goes forward as well as backward. We must think processes right through to the end, asking ourselves the proverbial question about the effects on the next seven generations.

    We must put our technologies through rigorous scrutiny, which is different than dismissing something. Scrutiny and critical investigation presume an informed observer. We must adapt and discard as necessary when our ideas turn out to be not so hot, or to have unforeseen consequences. We must — essentially — have some humility and assume that Nature has probably provided a good solution if we work with and for her, not against her. (She always gets us in the end, the sneaky witch.) As Richard Feynman remarked, “I think Nature’s imagination is so much richer than man’s.”[sic]

    Science and technology are fantastic things. They offer tremendous possibilities. I just like to stick up a little intellectual post-it note saying, “Remember thalidomide.”

    I think one big problem is that people are simply not scientifically literate. Their understanding of things is so limited that they cannot compose nuanced arguments one way or another; they simply do not know the fundamental concepts on which the argument itself could be based. People are for or against, say, GMO without even knowing what genes are or do, or how agriculture actually works. (Or that “food” comes from “farms” and not “Dennys” or “supermarkets”, LOL.)

  16. Ginger Baker says:

    November 2nd, 2009at 11:03 pm(#)

    “I have a horrible premonitory nightmare of mass famines due to the monocultural food supply of entire countries, comprised of what are essentially clones of a single organism, being blighted by some pathogen exploiting a genetic weakness.”

    Oh, like bananas?

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