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While The World Looked Away

Published on May 12, 2011 by in Columns

Our nation’s collective attention has been on the death of Osama bin Laden for the last couple of weeks.  It has nearly consumed us, dominating the coverage on our 24-hour news networks.  It has overwhelmed us in our social-networking circles.  It seems to be all that our friends, neighbors and co-workers have been talking about.

I mean, I get it.  It’s big, big news.  It’s such big news, it nearly crashed Twitter—the site’s members were, at one point, sending more than 5,000 tweets per second.  Over 3 hours, the site’s traffic saw a sustained 3,440 tweets per second, a record for the site.

The New Yorker - Bin Laden Cover

Bin Laden’s death was BIG news.

It was late Sunday night when the news broke.  The President didn’t take to the podium until 11:35 on the East Coast.  Yet, 56.5 million viewers tuned in to hear the announcement.  (To put that in perspective, it’s about half as many as watched this year’s Super Bowl—but the announcement happened after most people’s bedtime, before the start of a new school- and work-week.)  It was his most-viewed speech as President.

I mean, it was REALLY big news.  As it began to spread around the world, Google reports that searches for “bin Laden” increased dramatically.  And by “dramatically,” I mean that they increased by one million percent.  Really.

However, the world didn’t screech to a halt with bin Laden’s death.  Many interesting things have happened over the last couple of weeks, while you weren’t paying attention.

Kenton Cool

Climber Kenton Cool makes history

For example, a British mountain climber named Kenton Cool sent a tweet from the top of Mount Everest.  He was also able to make a phone call, thanks to a newly-installed 3G tower at the base of the world’s highest mountain.  Both are the first time that either have been done.

While you weren’t paying attention, a fancy new microscope that can detect skin cancer was unveiled.  It was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute, and can search a suspicious area of skin, detecting any signs of melanoma.  The microscope won’t be on the market for another couple of years, but Fraunhofer says it’ll be affordable, because the lenses are easy to mass-produce.

Karen Butler woke up from dental surgery with a foreign accent.

Karen Butler is from Oregon.  She was born there; she lives there.  About 18 months ago, she underwent oral surgery, and when she woke up she had an Irish accent.  Sometimes it has a hint of British or Scottish in it—but it’s NOT American.  She says she can’t even fake an American accent.  Her doctors suspect it’s a case of Foreign Accent Syndrome, an extremely rare neurological condition which affects only about 100 people worldwide, but more tests are needed before Karen knows for sure.

Last week, Seattle became the first city in the nation to crack down on Yellow Pages, which just seem to pile up.  A new city ordinance gives Seattle’s residents the ability to opt out of phone book deliveries.  The city was recycling 2 million phone books every year, and it was costing them $350,000 annually.  Under the new law, if a phone book is delivered to a residence that has opted out, the publisher can be fined up to $125.

Fake Braces

Thai girls pursue fake braces

Also, this week I learned about a problem that has been developing in Thailand.  Over the last ten years, Thai girls began wearing colorful braces on their teeth.  (You’ve probably seen similar braces in America.)  In Thailand, they became so popular that every girl wanted them—even if they had perfect teeth.  Most orthodontists wouldn’t consider putting braces on straight teeth, so the girls turned to the black market, where racketeers were quick to slap colorful braces on the girls’ teeth, often affixing them with superglue, which can cause blood poisoning or nerve damage.  Authorities tried cracking down, but the fad continues.

These are just a few of the things that slipped between the cracks while the world looked away.

Originally printed in “Pulse,” 05/12/11.
© Damien Willis, 2011.  All rights reserved.

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