An Iceberg, a Sugar Pill, Mona
Lisa’s Bones & That’s the News?
An irony fit for our times is that the bigger the media gets, the less it gets to cover. As nothing hits the air without a sponsor, it gears heavily to ‘human-interest’ stories, from the latest about your diet, to what’s happening with Tom and Kate. But today we’ve got a few topics that belong neither to this nor to the breaking category. We call them bottom of the top, or cover of the well stories.
The iceberg bears troubling news about the climate. Homeopathy’s not usually associated with harassing scientists. Mona Lisa’s bones, yes, that one, are about to be uncovered. No word about her smile. Plus, a guy who wrote his own obit and confessed to crimes and misdemeanors. And guess what? there’s a new widow crawling in town. Relax, you cheating hearts out there; she’s not wearing black.
Be it for fascination, or out of sheer obsession, we keep collecting stories like that, which anyone can see, are not ready for the prime time that once was, neither can be boxed into the weird category. We think of them as spices we add with caution, to flavor our sometimes depressing streaks.
Some of you, though, would be quick to call us lazy, for we extract these stories’ juices as one would do it with a fruit, but serve them salty, just to jolt you out of your comfort. Go ahead, call us pricks, jagged edges, rusty nails. You can’t blame us for playing fast and loose with our findings.
Because that’s what these and other tales are about, discoveries, semi-precious stones no one would pay much attention to. Like taking your old telephone to an Antique Roadshow; guess how much you’d get for it? Well, something, as it turns out. By now, you should know that, no matter how wild the rides we share with you here, we always delivery you back, more or less in one piece.
TWICE THE SIZE OF MANHATTAN
But enough of the small chat. Let’s talk about something big. Take 46 square miles, for starters, made out of pure ice. That’s the size of the iceberg that’s broken off from one of Greenland’s glaciers. What’s scary is that it’s the second giant ice mountain to break up due to warming waters in the north in less than two years.
In 2010, another one, twice its size, also broke off, the first such an event since records have been kept for the past 150 years. Scarier than that only if it had legs and would be heading towards New York. Then we’re sure that would be plenty of advertisers to provide live coverage on cable news. Sadly, as it is, it’s unlikely it’ll be linked to climate changing by them.
There’s no question that it is, though. In fact, man-made dioxide emissions, the so-called greenhouse gases, have increased so much, the melting of the Arctic permafrost accelerating so rapidly, that deposits of methane, from organic matter buried under it for millions of years, are beginning to seep through and may even speed up the melting of the whole region.
Depressed already? Not bad for the kind of news that most media outlets would place in the ‘second hour of the show,’ right after the nude pictures of the octamon (incredible that a person has been reduced so much to her own lack of judgement, to be known as a horrible word like that), and the traffic on the George Washington bridge.
BAD MEDICINE, WORST TREATMENT
Talking about advertising, the two top industries that spend the most on it are the food and the pharmaceutical companies. Even though some begin to doubt whether ads really make people buy stuff, as Ralph Nader wrote this week, their budget for convincing us that what they’re serving us is good for us goes hand in hand with their research and development expenditures.
We mention that because a sub-industry, which kind of feeds off from their scraps, is almost as powerful, but much less visible. The so-called alternative medicine and food supplements industry moves an obscene amount of money all over the world, enough to buy many a government into easing rules and allowing it to profit freely from people’s gullibility. And shallow pockets.
In Germany, for example, a group of pharma companies that make homeopathic products, has reportedly paid someone thousands of dollars to discredit a scientist critical of their wares. In an article, the Süddeutsche Zeitung paper accused Claus Fritzsche of deliberately attacking Edzard Ernst, a U.K. physician and researcher, to undermine his findings about homeopathy.
German-born professor Ernst, who has extensive training in acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, massage therapy and chiropractice, is also the first U.K.’s Professor of Complementary Medicine. For years, he’s been conducting research in these fields and publishing a column about it on the Guardian, where he has explained why he’s changed his mind about homeopathy.
Applying rigorous scientific methodology to his research, he came out convinced that the treatment, as others like it, can be effective, but not for the reasons they all claim. For such an outrage, apparently, he’s been the target of a smearing campaign in Europe, heavily financed, as it turned out recently, by the companies with the most interest in the matter.
It reminded us of the big-ego but sometimes well-intentioned mayor of our fair city, who also dared to challenge the soda industry. Even without agreeing with him, or the efficacy of his autocratic proposal, it was quite revealing watching how they jumped at him, all snarling teeth and loads of expensive ads, invoking our ‘love of freedom,’ no less, to justify their position.
THE LAST CONFESSION
When beloved writer Nora Ephron died recently, some were surprised to learn that she’d actually planned her own wake, who should be there, and do what, and all that. We say, good for her; for once, someone planned a party they had no intention to attend or be paid to cater to. She must’ve had some kick out of doing it. Now, one Val Patterson, of Salt Lake City, went one up her.
He didn’t plan his wake but he wrote his own obituary. He had a good reason for it, or rather, a few of them. He didn’t have a Ph.D., as everyone thought (and it should be obvious by his misspellings on his self-penned obit), and didn’t even complete undergraduate classes. He was banned for life from Disneyworld, but didn’t say why. He was mean to a park ranger. WTF?
But get this: in 1971, he confessed, he stole a safe from the View Drive Inn back, and got away with it. Among all other confessions, some hard to decipher, others just petty, this one for sure had the weight of criminal charges associated with it. We know of anyone who was eventually accused of the bad deed, but assume that since Val Patterson admitted to it, all is clear.
Or not. For all his constriction, some cynic may say he did it only after it became clear that his throat cancer was going to take him away. And even though, he kept his confessions under wraps until he was out of reach of our earthly justice. Still, it was a good thing he did, we guess. We know what we’d do, in a similar situation, but we won’t tell you. What would you?
LADY WITH THE MYSTIC SMILE
For five hundred years, the portrait that Leonardo da Vinci painted remained more or less what he may have intended to be in the first place: a portrait. Beautiful, piercing, well composed are just some of the stuff said about the work that took him three years to complete. It still speaks eloquently about his genius and his time, but refuses to give out the secrets of its mysterious appeal.
The past decade, however, has been very busy for La Gioconda. Research have alternately indicated that it may be a self-portrait, or the likeness of a young man, or the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, the prevailing theory so far. A slightly different version of the same person has also been found recently.
From that, establishing the town where she lived was not too hard, and there’s plenty of documents showing that signora Gherardini was born on June 15, 1479, died at age 63, and was buried as a nun at the convent of Sant’Orsola. Now, archaeologists believe they’ve found a complete skeleton buried beneath an abandoned nunnery in Florence, Italy, which might belong to her.
Abstracting more apocryphal findings made recently, using HD technology, showing some mysterious letters and numbers hidden under Mona Lisa’s eyes, this is a the most startling discovery about her, if it proves to be true. It won’t change an iota of what the world perceives and sees in her, of course.
We’ve been mesmerized by this painting since pretty much Leonardo’s name became better known outside Italy, years after his death. The Renaissance genius, though, became famous the world over mostly for his multifaceted talents, engineering studies, and some of the most perfect works of art of all times, rather than his portraiture abilities; La Gioconda was, in fact, the only one he painted, as far as we know.
But for us, citizens of many centuries after, what’s really miraculous is how this particular painting even survived the several ages that separate us from him and his accomplishments. Wars, the Inquisition, so many ‘acts of god’ as ‘gods’ may exist, even a theft early in this century, though, were all no match to this and other paintings. And we’re very glad, indeed, for that.
THE WIDOW WEARS BROWN
Finally, as fearful arachnophobic as we helplessly are, we keep a close watch on the news on that crawling, hairy, multi-eyed front, lest us not be caught off guard someday and, well, we’d rather not elaborate on that. Suffice to say that entomologists have found a new species of poisonous spiders (there, we said it) and, dear us, is taking over America.
Ladies and gentleman, let us introduce to you the Brown Widow. And let’s praise it, before it gets angry or something, by saying that it’s been dislodging the Black Widows from their natural habitats, and its poison is less toxic to humans. We said less toxic, but it’s still toxic, mind you.
Now, as the hair in the back of our neck remains standing, let’s summarize what’s known so far about the species. As with many widows, it’s no spring chicken. The first one to appear in the U.S. was back in 1935, in Florida. It took 60 years for it to show up in California. Now that it got the land all covered, it’s becoming more and more common.
Brace yourself, but it’s been found under dining tables and chairs (watch it), in spaces within walls (be careful with that frame), fences and other objects (OK, go ahead and make a list; you name it, they’ve probably been there, or will soon). About that fight with the Black Widows, don’t count on that to your advantage either. We certainly wouldn’t watch it for the world.
In fact, for most souls, just seeing it other than on the pages of a magazine or under heavily insulated glass, would be enough to get them running in the other direction, no questions about color asked. And we must confess: the fact that they’re poisonous to us is not even it; there’s something about any members of that family that gets our blood boiling, that’s all.
Apart from that, of course, they’re wonderful creatures, living in this great planet for hundreds of millions of years, and truly dedicated to their own kin, enough to kill other spiders when threatened. Yes, they’re cannibals, dear lord, some are quite aggressive towards us (who wouldn’t?) and that’s it, we just can’t talk about them any more. With that, we sign off for the time being. So long.