That Fitzgerald reference is, of course, the quote about the sign of a first-rate mind being the ability to hold two contradictory statements at the same time. Like several of his other quotes, that one has the germ of spectacular error in it - similar to his line about there being no second acts in American lives. That one gets trotted out with great regularity, as we prove that some lives are made up of nothing but second acts.
Anyway, I'd say that that ability is as often the sign of a third-rate mind or lower. Another example of these contradictions came to mind after I read my mail about the last couple of postings. One correspondent pointed out that we have people watching for every food additive that might be shown to cause cancer, but thanks to Hatch-Waxman we're also letting people swallow almost anything as long as it's labeled as a "nutritional supplement." Some of these are the same people, actually.
Tropical leaves that starving tapirs wouldn't touch, roots whose previous function was to sterilize unwary nematodes, seeds and kernals that would give a buzzard the trots. . .grind it up; it's all fine. You don't really have to test anything for safety, and you don't have to prove it does anything (costs money to do that, anyway.) Just be sure to say that it's "not intended to treat, cure, or affect any disease" and you're rolling.
The latest issue of the fine review journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolismhas an article detailing cases where imported traditional "herbal preparations" have turned out to be laced with actual pharmaceuticals. While that reminds me of is the story of W.C. Fields spitting out the contents of his on-set swigging flask, which he always maintained was full of pineapple juice. Someone put him to the test, and his shout was "Who put pineapple juice in my pineapple juice?"
Imagine a traditional preparation of herbal goodies that turns out to be cut with man-made antihistamines or sulfonylureas, rather than Nature's own bounty of alkaloids and cardiac glycosides. Here you are, expecting the usual gut-bomb of all-natural ephedrine, caffeine, or hepatotoxic enzyme inducers, and you get something scraped out of a vat instead. The nerve!
The problem is, it's not just that some fly-by-nighters are slipping pharmaceuticals in. The article also includes harrowing cases of preparations that contained whacking loads of mercury or arsenic, for reasons unknown. Why people swallow the ads for these things, much less swallow the pills, is a mystery to me.