HOW THINK DO THEY DUMB WE ARE’

Clive Cussler’s 1976 novel ‘Raise The Titanic!,’ along with the subsequent movie which came out a few years later, was probably the catalyst that prompted a storm of renewed interest in the world’s most famous ship. There were soon at least five search expeditions under way. The wreck was finally located in 1985, resting on the floor of the North Atlantic 13,000 feet below the surface, and a new movie was soon planned to celebrate its sinking. Unfortunately Leonardo DeCappaccino was still in diapers, and the project had to be put off for over ten years. The ‘unsinkable’ ship, sadly, will probably never float again. The depth of the ocean and the unpredictability of the weather in the area would make such an undertaking formidable, at the least. The cost of Kate Winslett’s wardrobe alone would be prohibitive. But there’s good news for those of you who have so much money that you’ve been assigned your own team of myopic IRS auditors. A Newfoundland company announced in January that it is now taking reservations for trips down to view the Titanic, two and a half miles beneath the waves. Lucky sightseers will ride in three person submarines for the 12-hour tour (four times the length of the Minnow’s planned excursion), for the mere price of $35,000. I’d go, but I’m afraid of deep water. It seems inconceivable to me that anyone who could afford to shell out that kind of cash to see a sunken ship would actually do it. But then, it also seems inconceivable that scientists are now arguing over how cavemen learned to talk. Peter MacNeilage and Barbara Davis, a couple of researchers at UT, are claiming that people first learned to talk just like babies do, by moving their mouths around and forming sounds, and then stringing the sounds together. This seems logical, which makes it difficult for the scientific community to accept, especially since it contradicts the long-held belief that humans have special speech-specific genes. The gene theory was first put forth by MIT professor Noam Chomsky, who doesn’t think a whole lot of the baby talk idea. Chomsky’s associate, Morris Halle, is quoted as saying, ‘Language isn’t in the mouth. It’s in the head. Dogs have mouths, cats have mouths, and pigs have mouths, and they make all kinds of noises. Pigs go, ‘Oink, oink.’ Only human beings can speak, because they have words.’ I did not make this quote up. It came from an Austin American Statesman article written by Mary Ann Roser (not the Mary Ann who was on the Minnow). This was, to me, a very interesting article. It isn’t every day you read of an MIT professor saying, ‘Pigs go ‘Oink, oink.’ Big Bird, sure, you hear of him saying things like that all the time, but never professors. Aside from that, I believe that Halle has a point. Animals can’t talk like we do, because we have words and they don’t. Except, of course, for parrots, who have probably stolen some of our words from the newspapers we’ve been putting in the bottom of their cages all these years. The whole debate sounds silly, but not as silly as NASA’s recent claim that they have actual photographs of the ‘infant universe.’ The pictures were taken by Andrew Lange of the California Institute of Technology and Paolo de Bernardis of the University of Rome. They claim that the ‘snapshots’ show the universe as it was when it was only ‘300,000 years old.’ The photographs are supposed to prove the Big Bang Theory of how the universe was formed. I was very impressed when I read about these pictures in another Austin American Statesman article, this one written by James Glanz, but I was confused as to how the shots were taken. I had not heard that cameras had enjoyed widespread use before the early 1800s, and even if they had, I figured Kodak paper was probably not available over 12 billion years ago, when the pictures were supposed to have been taken. The snapshots are bound to have turned to nothing but yellow, curled up paper by now. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the pictures were taken recently. Andrew and Paolo actually claim to have just taken pictures of the universe billions of years ago. Now, I don’t mean to call these guys liars, but something just doesn’t seem right here. And then I read that the images are actually just ‘imprints of sound waves, or ripples,’ and were produced by a balloon-borne telescope named (really) ‘Boomerang.’ It occurs to me that Andy and Pauly are spending entirely too much time at the observatory if they’ve named their telescope. Of course, if they’re telling the truth, the possibilities for this concept are almost endless. If Boomerang can take pictures of something over 12 billion years old, a decent photographer could make a fortune with it at Sears. I can imagine little old ladies bringing their fifty year old sons in and saying, ‘This is Billy. I want pictures of him when he was nine, and I want him wearing his baseball uniform. And I want them in about an hour.’ The truth is, however, that the scientists can’t agree on what these recent ancient pictures prove. They WANT to believe that they prove the Big Bang Theory, but the evidence just isn’t there. I get the impression, from reading James’s article, that interpreting the images is kind of like seeing shapes in the clouds. One scientist might claim that an image shows Lincoln signing the Declaration of Independence, and another might say no, that’s a ducky and a horsey. Or maybe a choo-choo. Even if these august minds eventually get their stories straight, what they claim the pictures show will have to be taken with a grain of salt. After all, we’re talking about NASA here, the people who recently ‘lost’ two $300 million plus spacecraft, the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander. And now they expect us to believe they have just taken pictures of the universe while it was teething. Next they’ll be offering to sell us the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. (I already own that, by the way) I guess, when you get right down to it, I don’t really care whether our genes or our mouths determine how we learn to talk, and I have a hard time swallowing the idea of brand new antique pictures. I do, however, hope to squirrel away enough money for my wife and me to ride a submarine down to see the Titanic. When I have that much saved up, I plan to use it to buy a Humvee. My wife wants to name it Minnow, but I’m leaning toward Boomerang . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist who would be very happy if a reader sent him a Hummer. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Texas 76856 or hemphill@ctesc.net

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