The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, June 27, 2005

BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE: I don’t know if this is true or not; the author might just be pulling on the collective leg here; but I recently read that human beings, the very same creatures that went to the moon, invented the soprano kazoo, and routinely embarrass themselves at weddings by doing the chicken dance, share some forty percent of their DNA with the banana, which has the good sense not to do the chicken dance at weddings or anywhere else, for that matter. This is a good thing, I suppose, as it prevents humanity from getting too much of a swelled head; it is harder to credit that whole concept of humanity at the center of God’s universe when we are blood brothers, or would be if bananas had blood, to a phallic symbol.

Given that we have so much in common, it is a shame that humans have not done more to improve the lot of bananas in this world. I’m pretty sure there are inspection standards for bananas, but as far as I know there are no educational or vocational standards or programs for the ambitious young banana who wants to find a career outside the traditional entry level position of comedy prop or, for the criminally inclined, accessory to cereal killers, usually kids five to ten years old. However, in a purely self-serving line of thought, there is always the question of whether or not one should educate bananas above their station, lest they become that much harder to catch in the morning.

On the upside, this close biological, if relatively cold social, relationship between humanity and bananadom leads the scientific mind to wonder if the manipulation of banana DNA may eventually prove a great social, economic, and medical boon for humanity. The cultivation of vital human organs like hearts and livers inside bunches of genetically modified bananas avoids the messy ethical arguments created by human genetic experimentation; there is, at this point, no active political, religious, or philosophical movement to defend the inalienable rights of bananas, other than their right to be part of a healthy and nutritious breakfast.

With such medical techniques perfected, the once derided banana republics of Central and South America will go from being Caribbean backwaters, bywords of petty despotism and economic mismanagement, to being on the cutting edge of medical science, as hospitals and hotels from Chiapas to Barranquilla fill with wealthy Americans and Europeans willing to pay top dollar to get their new organs fresh off the tree. The commodities exchanges in New York and Chicago will boom as Honduran hearts and Guatemalan gall bladders become the hot item everyone wants to invest in, pulling the big money away from such boring staples as pork bellies and orange juice. Commodities traders as yet unborn will repair to saloons after a long, hard day on the trading floor to cry in their imported microbrewery beers and bemoan the fortune in Panamanian pancreas’s or Costa Rican kidneys that they just missed this morning by the skin of their Tegucigalpan teeth.

There will be a down side to all of this progress, of course; no human activity is completely without negative side effects of one sort or another. Once the Hondurans get a taste of the good life they will, naturally enough, want to keep the technology to themselves, or at least restrict it, by the use of cartels and other monopolistic practices, to Central and South America. Scientific and economic history suggests, however, that such restrictions do not work in the long run; no sooner has someone established a profitable monopoly than someone else tries to break into it, either by joining the original monopolists or by finding a way around the monopoly’s stranglehold.

Human nature being what it is, farmers in Malaysia, Borneo, or the Cote d’Ivoire will hardly accept the traditional banana powers shutting them out of such a hugely lucrative market. If the Central Americans don’t share the technology then it is entirely within the realm of possibility that other agricultural countries will violate the patents and simply take the necessary technology, or they may try cultivating human organs in other plants, which may lead to all sorts of confusion, as when one asks for artichoke hearts for one’s salad and receives instead the artichoke-grown heart of Dr. Elliott Johnston, a retired dentist from Larchmont, New York, who is lying on a operating table somewhere in New York City hooked up to the full technological impedimenta of modern cardiac surgery while his surgical team sits and waits for the right heart to arrive, and in the mean time argues about whether or not they really want all of these artichoke hearts in their salads, since Dr. Johnston can’t really use them for anything, and whether artichoke hearts taste better with ranch or Russian dressing.

One can see this sort of medical democratization brought about by improved medical technology everywhere nowadays. Encouraged by reports of Peruvian doctors performing brain surgery with a power drill and pliers bought from a local hardware store, members of Carpenters Local 45 began offering surgery at a 90% discount for poor people in the New York—New Jersey—Connecticut tri-state area. The local’s first patient was Mrs. Sylvia Grosbeck of the Bronx, who came in Local 45’s union hall needing an emergency organ transplant. After deciding that they wouldn’t let some Central American organ cartel to rob them blind, the carpenters replaced Mrs. Grosbeck’s diseased heart and liver with a two story split level ranch house in Scarsdale. “The mortgage was very reasonable, I thought,” Mrs. Grosbeck said after the operation. “And now we have a front yard for the grandchildren to play in. It’s like a dream come true.”

Some people will object to this new wave of medical science; some people will object no matter what you do; it gives them something to do and usually keeps them off the streets, unless overwhelmed by the need to demonstrate, which happens every now and again. For some objectors the need to adversely affect the morning commute is almost a biological necessity. However, like migratory birds, the paths of these malcontents are well-known to forensic science and they tend to wind up in cages safely away from the evening rush hour, where the passersby can mock them in vile and abusive language, and rightfully so, in my opinion. Medicine must move forward into the future.


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