Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lite Light

When all else fails, it's always good to laugh. Right out loud, if necessary. This is what happens quite often when viewing popular and scientific culture with an Observer's hat--I end up laughing, chuckling, or guffawing although I can't say it's ever digressed to rolling on the ground. . yet

Case in point: ever wonder why we have so many nagging back, shoulder or neck aches? No, it's not our bosses, but it could be our backpacks or gargantuan handbags. WSJ carried a story this week, "Extreme Baggage: Giant handbags are growing bigger--and are a growing concern" (1-5/6-08, p. W7,) on the fact that women's handbags are going HUGE, often measuring 2 feet in length by 1 foot in width, and are the current rage. The article's author interviewed several women who purchased the pricey suitcase-sized items and then looked at what they carried inside. Enclosed besides the usual purse content suspects were diapers for the kids, water bottles, laptops, Diet Cokes, Blackberries, work-out clothes and shoes. By the time all this gets stuffed into the bag, it can weigh in at 17 pounds! The designers of this new fashion craze probably thought it was a great idea to cross a classy purse with a backpack, but the chiropractors haven't been as impressed. What is missing is the ergonomic straps to distribute the weight evenly. But, hey, that looked so, you know, un-cool. One can only view with humor the extremes humans will go to for functionality and fashion, even if their health is in jeopardy.

And then there are the Hilton girls. you know them, Paris and Nicky? TIME (January 14, 2008, p. 24) reported that their grandpa, Barron Hilton, decided to give his wealth to charity, all $2.3 billion of it. He did leave the girls $5 million a piece, but that probably won't last them long, although the magazine did not report on their response to the matter. Grandpa Hilton joins the other mega-billionaires turned philanthropists who have decided to give their fortunes away to some greater cause than their kids or grandkids, some of whom have proved decidedly unworthy. Not that the children are going to be left high and dry, but rather left to fend for themselves in the world of commerce and finance. Reportedly, this is a growing enlightened trend in the world of the mega-wealthy and is one worth following--even if once or twice cracking a small smile that this wealth may go to better the world collectively rather than a small group of spoiled kids acting out.

On another note, scientists strike me as a way to-serious crowd. Conceivably, it clouds their judgment, especially those examining the minutia of what-ever it is they are studying. A more open mind might do them--and therefore the rest of us--a service. Think of the millions, even billions of dollars spent looking at things large and small that don't contribute much to the bottom line of humanity's continued existence.

Take for example, the examination of the origins of the Silbury Hill, 80 miles west of London as reported in DISCOVER magazine, January 2008, p. 12. This 4,400-year-old 130 foot high mound of dirt had long been thought to be the illustrious burial place of kings or knights. However, scientists have proven that it is just a rock pile, made of local rocks, none-the-less. When I saw the picture of this huge mound situated picturesquely in an English field, it looked like a gargantuan version of the plentiful, local Wisconsin rock piles that dot our fields, which were made as farmers cleared their post-glacial land. Yet, archaeologists spent much time and money to uncover the fact that this revered English version was just a lowly pile of old, local rocks, and for what end? Jim has many such piles around our property and has wryly speculated that someday someone may think these are sacred burial mounds. After having read this article, I realized he was probably right--and that made me laugh right out loud at the wisdom of his musings.

Then, there were the two scientists who decided to unravel the mystery of knots, yes, I said knots. An article appeared in DISCOVER magazine (February 2008, p. 16) that explained how two academics from the University of California at San Diego decided to tackle this universal problem (think, jewelry boxes, sock drawers, etc.) by tossing bits of string around and around in a box
3,415 times. Why that number, one can only guess. However, after the predestined tossing about, these two men uncovered the fact that the string entangled itself in 120 different ways with up to 11 crossings each. Pictures were attached to prove the point. It seemed that how they would use this information was an afterthought; though, they mentioned maybe applying it to DNA or umbilical cord research. As a former crafter of all things macrame, I had to give them credit for taking great pictures. My concluding thought: maybe they were
closet macrame enthusiasts or boatswain mates in a previous life with something to prove. I have to admit, this one elicited from me more of an "Oh, brother" than a smile--although the picture in my mind's eye of two academicians creating macrame owl hangings like I used to knot did give me a little chuckle, if truth be told.

And finally, a recent WSJ article on the Galapagos Islands (1-5/6-08, p. W6) brought a smile to my face when I read the following anthropomorphic statement:

"For tourists, no matter how much they've read about the Galapagos, it is astonishing to see animals, reptiles and birds that have no fear of humans. They will allow you to come right up to them, since they haven't experienced humans as a threat."

I thought sardonically, could it be that these creatures don't experience humans as a threat because they don't see humans at all? We may simply not be on the radar of the Giant Tortoises, the sea-going lizards or the fight-less cormorants who populate these islands. Humans, too, experience a similar "not-seeing" when confronted with a phenomenon outside of their experience or reality. Thus, animals could be similar to man in this regard. But, until the day comes when we can ask this eclectic crew of Galapagos creatures why they ignore us, we might keep an open mind to the reason behind the behavior, which has obviously accrued to their benefit for many years.

If you want to do something unusual for humanity today, might I suggest adopting a minefield? Check out the "products for sale" on the United Nations Association of the United States of America website for teeshirts both humans and canine as well as daisy seeds, which proceeds go to clearing minefields worldwide. Princess Diane used to be the champion of mind field clearing, now you can take up where she left off:

And that's no laughing matter.

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