Friday, October 29, 2010

Reprints: To Health With All of You

Reprints are essays written in another time and place, reposted in part because the archive holding them is going away and in part to remind me that I used to write pieces I enjoyed reading.  A new Reprint will appear each Friday until I feel like ending the series.

To Health With All of You was originally posted on February 5, 2004.

In 1937, O.C. Hartridge, founder of the Pedoscope Company, wrote about a device that was gaining popularity in the shoe stores of the world. "[It is] a valuable ally of the retailer. By enabling him to demonstrate the correctness of his fitting, it permits him to impress customers with the reliability of his service; and in those rare instances where people insist on having shoes that are wrong, it put the onus on them." No, he wasn't talking about the Brannock device, that most obscurely well known tool of the shoe trade. Hartridge was referring to the shoe-fitting fluoroscope.

Have you been to an airport in the last few years? Have you watched them put your luggage through the big scary machine with the Warning: Radiation! stickers all over it? The shoe-fitting fluoroscope is basically the same thing. It is an x-ray machine in a box…that you put your foot into…and then turn it on. Apparently, up through the early 1950's, children found this device to be quite the source of entertainment. A physician interviewed about his childhood experiences with the device recalled "going into shoe stores just to stick [his] feet in the machines: 'Seeing the greenish yellow image of your bones was great fun.'"

Although it is not possible to tell from my current state of footwear (or my frequency of church visits), I am all for a well fit sole. However, it wasn't until 1957 that the first states began to ban these misguided adventures into the high frequencies of science. Perhaps the Smithsonian curator Ramunas Kondratas captured the moment best when he said the shoe-fitting fluoroscope represented "the triumph of salesmanship over common sense and a lack of knowledge about the health consequences of certain technologies."

A triumph of salesmanship over common sense and a lack of knowledge about the health consequences of certain technologies.

That one resonates rather strongly in today's jumped up, technologically driven world. Cell phones on our hips when they aren't on our ears; Cathode ray tubes 30 inches from our optic nerve (how close are you to your monitor right now?);

And the insidious evil that is the levorotatory sugar.

The human body is capable of processing left-turning proteins (levorotatory) and right-turning sugars (dextrorotatory). The orientation is based on the direction of rotation a beam of light takes as it passes through the long axis of the crystal structure of the molecule. The takeaway, though, is that the body cannot process levorotatory sugars. Following that line of thought, if the body cannot process something, it passes through without the body extracting an useful energy from it, hence indigestible cellulose from salad. That means zero calories. It is probably a good thing that we do not typically find indigestible sugars in the foods we eat, or we would be constantly coming up short on our caloric intake.

Ah, but lest we forget: A triumph of salesmanship over common sense and a lack of knowledge about the health consequences of certain technologies. NutraSweet; the insidious evil that is the levorotatory sugar. Have you ever wondered why Diet Pepsi is a zero calorie drink? Have you ever wondered why people use the pink packets in their coffee?

There is a significant danger to consuming something that the body cannot process. What happens if what you ate (in this case the pink packet of "sugar") doesn't leave? The body cannot process it, and it gets stuck in there somewhere. Bang. You now have the fertile greenhouse conditions for cancer. Cancer, according to Merriam-Webster, a : a malignant tumor of potentially unlimited growth that expands locally by invasion and systemically by metastasis b : an abnormal bodily state marked by such tumors.

And so, as I look back at the second third of this century and shake my head at the insanity of shooting x-rays into your foot on a Saturday morning because you were bored waiting for Jimmy to bring the baseball bat, I am struck with an image. The year is 2041 and my Arizona driver's license has just expired. I am talking with the son of my nephew David. He wants to know why we attached signal emitting devices to our bodies at all hours of the day, why we hunched in front of electron guns, and what ever possessed us to consume levorotatory sugars. I look at him and shrug. In my mind I am thinking it was simply a triumph of salesmanship over common sense and a lack of knowledge about the health consequences of certain technologies.

Aloud I tell him, "Well…we didn't want to get fat, did we? That can cause health problems." 

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About Me

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Geek - Gamer - Librarian - Writer. Only awesome at one of those things at a time, unfortunately.

About Fading Interest

After writing op-eds and travelogues for several years, after finishing a few books, and after failing to get the ball rolling with project after project I stumbled into an idea that might just hold my interest long enough to enjoy some level of satisfaction with my writing.