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Birthday today  
Born today in 1891: Actress and producer Katherine MacDonald


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I think I’m coming down with pellagra. Please pass me the Coke.

There’s been a recent flap about the FDA cracking down on Diet Coke Plus™, charging that its nutrient fortifications aren’t high enough to merit legally the “Plus” in its name and re-emphasizing that the administration doesn’t consider it appropriate to add such things to snack foods in the first place.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients of Diet Coke Plus to see exactly what we’re getting:

Carbonated water
Magnesium sulfate (i.e., Epsom salt)
Caramel color
Phosphoric acid (adds tanginess)
Potassium sorbate (preservative)
Potassium benzoate (preservative)
Aspartame (artificial sweetener)
Natural flavors, something along the lines of:
     Cinnamon oil
     Coriander oil
     Lemon oil
     Lime oil
     Neroli oil
     Nutmeg oil
     Orange oil
     Vanilla extract
Acesulfame potassium (artificial sweetener)
Zinc gluconate
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12

Now here’s a more precise listing of the drink’s added nutrients. The RDA stands for Required Daily Allowance of that nutrient1, the next column is the upper safe limit 2, and the next is the ratio of the two (“therapeutic ratio”) which gives a rough idea of the safety margin. I then compare the actual amount of each of these in the drink with the daily dosage you might find in a health store product.

Nutrient A: RDA B: Upper safe limit Ratio of
Total in 20 oz. bottle of Diet Coke Plus Typical supplement
B-3 16 mg 35 mg 2.2 15% RDA or 2.4 mg 500 mg
B-6 1.3 mg 100 mg 77 15% RDA or 0.2 mg 50 mg
B-12 2.4 μg 15% RDA or 0.36 μg 500-1000 μg
Magnesium 420 mg 350 mg (!) 0.83 10% RDA or 42 mg 400 mg
Zinc 11 mg 40 mg 3.6 10% RDA or 1.1 mg 30 mg

As you can see, Diet Coke Plus’s nutritional assets are pretty scant. In addition, B-12 is a rather persnickety animal that doesn’t tolerate stomach acids very well. Consequently most vitamin B-12 supplements come in the form of sub-lingual lozenges, mouth sprays, or enteric tablets.

Magnesium would appear to have an alarmingly low therapeutic ratio, though as it happens most people’s kidneys will happily filter out any excess. Those whose kidneys are in any way compromised wouldn’t want to go anywhere near this stuff without professional medical advice.

Manufacturers like Coca-Cola are in a bind when it comes to marketing nutritionally fortified snack foods, FDA or no FDA. If they put enough of these goodies into the product to make any real impact on anyone’s health, there’s the risk that such quantities might at the same time endanger some of their consumers who have various pre-existing conditions or take medications that might react adversely.

It would also cost so much that hardly anyone would buy it.

1, 2. From the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for 30-year-old male.

Note: The information above is not to be interpreted as medical advice. If you believe you have a medical condition, see your professional health care provider.

Castle or Corman?

William Castle (1914-1977) and Roger Corman (b. 1926) are known for their [usually] low-budget, [usually] high-concept movies.

Castle typically incorporated some kind of gimmick into his pictures — joy buzzers installed into selected seats, nurses stationed in the lobby, a magic coin, a 45-second “fright break” timer overlaid onto the screen, burial insurance for patrons who might die of shock, and so forth.

Corman is probably best known for 1960’s Little Shop of Horrors which featured a human-eating plant and Jack Nicholson as a masochistic dental patient. It went on to spawn a stage musical — which itself then ricocheted back into yet another movie, directed by John Waters (who himself grew up as a Castle zealot).

Naturally Vincent Price saw plenty of action with both Castle and Corman. He plays child-killing Richard III in Tower of London, and in The Tingler he exhorts us to “Scream! Scream for your lives!!”

In The Thing With Two Heads, Ray Milland is a cantankerous and openly racist physician who, as a consequence of multiple organ failure, has to have his head grafted onto the body of a black death row inmate played by Rosie Greer. Much of the film consists of this bizarre Milland-Greer “Thing” racing around the countryside on a minibike.

The one A-list picture in this glorious morass was Rosemary’s Baby, produced by William Castle and directed by a new Polish kid hardly anybody had then heard of named Roman Polanski. Castle himself appears in a cameo as the man waiting for Mia Farrow to get off a pay phone.

Let’s see if you can tell some of the pictures of William Castle and Roger Corman apart:

1. 13 Frightened Girls (banned in Finland)
2. Attack of the Crab Monsters
3. House on Haunted Hill
4. Let’s Kill Uncle
5. Not of This Earth
6. The Thing With Two Heads
7. The Tingler
8. X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
9. Tower of London
10. Zotz!

Highlight the answers below with your cursor:

1. Castle
2. Corman [starring Russell Johnson]
3. Castle [starring Vincent Price]
4. Castle [starring Nigel Bruce]
5. Corman [starring Beverly Garland]
6. Corman (producer)
7. Castle [starring Vincent Price]
8. Corman [starring Ray Milland]
9. Corman [starring Vincent Price]
10. Castle [starring Tom Poston]

The Ex-Presidents Club

Warren G Harding Harding, telling those damn kids to stay off his lawn
The greatest number of current and former US presidents to survive simultaneously has been six. This has happened three times. The first of those (4 March 1861 to 18 January 1862) was Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln. Next (20 January 1993 to 22 April 1994): Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush I, and Clinton. Last (21 January 2001 to 5 June 2004): Ford, Carter, Regan, Clinton, and both Bushes.

When Barack Obama assumes office in January 2009, he will — or at least should — have four living predecessors.

Six times there have been no living ex-presidents. The most recent such interval was between Nixon’s second inauguration on 22 January 1973 and his resignation on 9 August 1974.

Three US presidents have been survived by their mothers: James Polk, James Garfield, and John Kennedy. Kennedy’s maternal grandmother, Mary Josephine Hannon Fitzgerald, also survived him. Only presidents Harding and Kennedy were survived by their fathers.

Popular media-marinated clichés we could all do without (Part II)

True believers

These are people who take something seriously that the reporters think (or their editor wants them to think) is codswallop. Of course all but the very weirdest religions are exempt.

The mother of all [fill in phenomenon or human act of your choice]

Hmm. Why on earth should should we revel in a catch phrase popularized by Saddam Hussein during the first gulf war?

Left [him or her] for dead

How do we know this? In many cases that might have been true, but I’m sure many perpetrators only left their victim for “hurt” or simply scrambled away without giving the matter a second thought.

So many years at hard labor

Under Nazi Germany or in the Soviet Gulag this would certainly have been accurate, but rarely nowadays in the US. Most of our inmates do work in some fashion — making street signs, staffing a call center, or cooking food, say — but not usually at something people would visualize as truly Cool Hand Luke-style hard. More than anything else, we just stress and bore our convicts to death.

Save 20% Off!

This reminds me of things like “minus 50 below zero.” You either save 20%, or you get 20% off.

Obviously this driver has no consideration for the lives of bystanders [heard over cop-cam video of a rough car chase]

Again with the clairvoyance. In many cases the speeding motorist probably tried very, very hard not to hit anybody despite his or her desperation to escape.