Communion Of Dreams


Gene Roddenberry was right.
March 17, 2009, 10:42 am
Filed under: Depression, Gene Roddenberry, Health, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Star Trek, Survival

Back in the 1960s, salt was just salt.  Known to be necessary for healthy life in most mammals, including humans, people didn’t give it a lot of thought beyond that.  Oh, sure, sometimes people would worry about a salt deficiency – I remember taking salt tablets regularly the summer I worked as a hot tar roofer – but otherwise, it was no big deal.  In fact, one of the early episodes of Star Trek had the M-113 Creature, as ‘salt vampire’ which killed by sucking the salt out of humans.

Then came the 1980s.  And the start of the great salt scare.

Salt was tied to hypertension.  Salt was found to be overused in all kinds of prepared foods (since it augments flavor and increases food density – what the industry calls “mouthfeel” by saturating food with more water).  We were told that salt kills – and that you had damned well better cut back on the amount of salt you ate.  Anyone with high blood pressure or heart disease was told to go on a low- or no-salt diet, using salt substitutes or just going without.

What wasn’t really discussed by the public health officials who got this bandwagon started was that only some people are salt-sensitive, i.e.: react to excess salt in their diet.  I’m not going to dig back through all the research papers now, but I remember that it was estimated that for the US this was about 30% of the population.  For those people, salt could indeed pose a problem.  But most people didn’t have this kind of reaction – their system would just flush excess salt out through normal kidney function.  Here’s a passage from the Wikipedia article on salt which addresses this:

Sodium is one of the primary electrolytes in the body. All four cationic electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) are available in unrefined salt, as are other vital minerals needed for optimal bodily function. Too much or too little salt in the diet can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, or even an electrolyte disturbance, which can cause severe, even fatal, neurological problems.[29] Drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, puts a person at risk of water intoxication (hyponatremia). Salt is even sometimes used as a health aid, such as in treatment of dysautonomia.[30]

The risk for disease due to insufficient or excessive salt intake varies because of biochemical individuality. Some have asserted that while the risks of consuming too much salt are real, the risks have been exaggerated for most people, or that the studies done on the consumption of salt can be interpreted in many different ways.[31] [32]

Now, from a public health perspective, it makes sense to try and limit the average intake of salt.  As noted, many prepared foods have a *lot* of salt in them.  If you can stop 30%, or one third, or one quarter, of your population from developing high blood pressure without causing problems for the rest of the population, then why not?  And I think that this is probably the reason and rationale behind the extensive public health campaigns to get people to cut back on salt intake, though I bet it would be difficult to get most public health officials to admit that this was the case.

But . . . what if a decrease in salt presented problems for that other portion of the population that is not salt-sensitive?

Salt is ‘natural mood-booster’

University of Iowa researchers writing in Psychology and Behavior say salt may act as a natural antidepressant.

Tests on rats found those with a salt deficiency shied away from activities they normally enjoyed – a sign of depression.

* * *

The tests carried out by US researchers found that when rats were deficient in salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.

Psychologist Kim Johnson, who led the research, said: “Things that normally would be pleasurable for rats didn’t elicit the same degree of relish, which leads us to believe that a salt deficit and the craving associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression.”

Now what?  Risk hypertension, or fight depression?  What is the biggest public health concern?

As I’ve noted before, I *do* have problems with high blood pressure (though thanks to changes in lifestyle – specifically, getting regular sleep and exercise – combined with drug therapy, it is now coming down to close to the “normal” range).  But I don’t seem to be salt-sensitive – drastically cutting my salt intake makes no difference in my blood pressure.  My doctor doesn’t worry about my salt intake, saying that other factors are likely much more important in dealing with my hypertension.

But what about depression?  Or just worrying about whether you’re going to die from too much salt?

I think Gene Roddenberry was right: sucking all the salt out of us is like sucking the life out of us.  Or at least the joy of living.

Jim Downey

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Ah, damn.
January 15, 2009, 8:58 am
Filed under: Art, Gene Roddenberry, General Musings, movies, Science Fiction, Star Trek, The Prisoner

I caught the news last night, but somehow had managed to miss this comment to my post of a week ago – Patrick McGoohan has passed away.

Ah, damn.

And so has Ricardo Montalban.

Ah, damn.

We tend to think of actors as their most important (to us) roles.  People who won’t recognize the name of McGoohan probably know him as #6 from The Prisoner.  Likewise, Montalban is forever known better as Khan Noonien Singh to generations of SF fans.  And while this is unfair – both men were accomplished actors who played many roles, and who lived interesting lives – it is understandable, because they came into our lives for only a limited time and in this particular context.  And they live on in those characters in our minds.

So, yes, farewell to each.  But I will always cherish their memorable performances.

Jim Downey



Playing a little catch-up…

…with some of my favorite blogs, I came across this from about 10 days ago:

Dammit Jim, I’m the Doctor!

What happens when you take the two greatest things in the entire Universe and put them together?

This.

If you are a Trek and a Who fan, then watch the whole thing, until the very end of the teaser for Part II. It is without any fear of exaggeration or contradiction when I say that it is the best thing ever to have happened ever in the history of everness. Ever.

OK, allowing for Phil’s little-girl squeee! of all things Dr. Who – related, he’s mostly right.  It is pretty damn good.

Jim Downey



A little paleo-future fun.

Of the apocalypse variety: via MeFi, the BBC has released all the information pertaining to plans from the 1970s to broadcast emergency signals in the event of nuclear war.  From the article:

A script written by the BBC and the government to be broadcast in the event of a nuclear attack has been published.

The script, written in the 1970s and released by the National Archives, included instructions to “stay calm and stay in your own homes”.

It said communications had been disrupted, and the number of casualties and extent of damage were not known.

Gah. I remember that madness.

Well, if someone ever wants to do another post-apocalyptic movie, here’s some great locations they can use, courtesy of WebUrbanist:

7 Abandoned Architectural Wonders of Modern Asia

Abandoned buildings, properties and places take on remarkably different aesthetic character and are treated differently from one culture to the next – particularly in Asian nations where beliefs about the cultural role of architecture or the whims of a dictator can vary greatly. From South Korea to North Korea, Cambodia to Thailand and Azerbaijan to Hong Kong here are seven amazing oriental and subcontinental abandonments from the Near East to the Far East, from skyscraper hotels and pod cities to shopping malls and amusement parks and everything in between.

Some really great (and haunting) images there.

And to leave you haunted in a slightly different way…

This is another goodie from the same folks:

I like to think Gene would be amused.

Jim Downey



“No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.”
May 12, 2008, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Gene Roddenberry, MetaFilter, SCA, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Star Trek

No, I haven’t been sleeping the last four days.

The weekend was entirely occupied in playing painter in my wife’s new office suite. When I wasn’t painting, I was either too tired or too sore to do much of anything else. I’m not used to that much physical activity. Pathetic.

And I can’t stop to play much here now, either – have conservation work that needs tending, having spent this morning cleaning up and after a sick dog. Too much fun.

But had to share this item from the Daily Mail, via MeFi – excerpts from William Shatner‘s latest memoir. Here’s one passage:

One morning, shooting a Star Trek movie in the desert, I had a very early call.

So I told the wardrobe girl: “Give me my uniform and I’ll put it on at the house so I don’t have to come in any earlier for wardrobe. I’ll just wear it to the set.”

So at 4am I was racing across the desert to our location. I was way over the speed limit, figuring there wasn’t another car on the road in the entire state.

It turned out there was one other car – and it had lights and a siren.

I got out of my car, dressed in my uniform. The police officer looked me up and down, frowned and asked: “So where are you going so fast at this time in the morning?”

I told him the truth: “To my spaceship.”

He sighed. “OK, go ahead,” he said, before adding the Vulcan blessing: “Live long and prosper.”

I haven’t read any of his other books (which surprises some friends, given how fond I am of the original series) and probably won’t read this one. But I thought it was a good anecdote.

And sometime when I have a little more time and remember to do so, I’ll have to write up the surreal story of attending the first “Trek Fest” in Riverside, Iowa over 20 years ago, celebrating the “future birthplace” of James T. Kirk. I did so as part of an SCA Demo (huh? What’s the connection to Star Trek?). Held in the back of a bar . . .

Jim Downey

(Extra points if you can name the source of the quote in the title. Not who – that’s obvious – but from where?)



Eye, Robot.

I like bad science fiction movies. Cheesy special effects, bad dialog and worse acting, it doesn’t matter. Just so long as there is a nub of a decent idea in there somewhere, trying to get out.

And in that spirit, I added I, Robot to my NetFlix queue some time back, knowing full well that it had almost nothing to do with Isaac Asimov’s brilliant stories. I knew it was set in the near term future, and that it had been a success at the box office, but that was about it. This past weekend, it arrived. I watched it last night.

I think Asimov himself predicted just what would be wrong with this movie:

In the essay “The Boom in Science Fiction” (Isaac Asimov on Science Fiction, pp. 125–128), Asimov himself explained the reason for Hollywood’s overriding need for violence:

[…] Eye-sci-fi has an audience that is fundamentally different from that of science fiction. In order for eye-sci-fi to be profitable it must be seen by tens of millions of people; in order for science fiction to be profitable it need be read by only tens of thousands of people. This means that some ninety percent (perhaps as much as ninety-nine percent) of the people who go to see eye-sci-fi are likely never to have read science fiction.The purveyors of eye-sci-fi cannot assume that their audience knows anything about science, has any experience with the scientific imagination, or even has any interest in science fiction.

But, in that case, why should the purveyors of eye-sci-fi expect anyone to see the pictures? Because they intend to supply something that has no essential connection with science fiction, but that tens of millions of people are willing to pay money to see. What is that? Why, scenes of destruction.

Yup. And that is just about all that the movie I, Robot is – destruction and special effects. Shame, really, since I have enjoyed Will Smith in other bad SF (Independence Day, anyone?), and just love Alan Tudyk from Firefly/Serenity. Even what had to be intentional references to such excellent movies as Blade Runner or The Matrix fell completely flat. It was, in a word, dreadful.

Ah, well. Via MeFi, here’s a little gem to wash the bad taste out of your mouth:

Gene Roddenberry would be proud.

Jim Downey



Maybe you had to have been there . . .

(I’m still fighting this stubborn flu, so forgive the light content quality. But I just had to pass on this brilliant item found on BoingBoing.)

I’ve recently been going through all the old Star Trek: The Original Series episodes and movies, and being amused at just how well the stuff holds up after so many years. But that has nothing to do with this, which I offer for your amusement: Jefferson Airplane‘s White Rabbit with TOS crew.

Bloody well brilliant.

Jim Downey