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January 2007

The man buys the ring, the woman uses it to announce a new life. The engagement ring has been a long standing tradition, and the ritual around it so practiced you have to resort to sky-writing to show even nominal originality. But there’s a new twist brewing that’s going to change everything.

For several years, ever since a Wired Magazine article on the subject, I’ve been following the development of the ‘Cultured Diamond.’ This diamond is man-made, but, unlike other such sparklies, is actually a diamond.

There are two companies at the forefront of the charge, Boston-based Apollo and Florida-based Gemesis. While the process each uses is completely different, both are seeing spectacular results. Gemesis, whose diamonds are created under extreme pressures, has been producing large yellow diamonds (more expensive because they are more rare) for a while now and selling them through a few select channels. Apollo, who grows their diamonds in a similar way that silicon is grown for computer chips, is set to start selling clear diamonds sometime later this year. And this month, giving these cultured diamonds a huge credibilty boost, the Gemological Institute of America has announced announced they will begin rating manufactured diamonds as they currently rate mined ones.

Should anyone be worried? Mostly De Beers, the London-based cartel that has held a diamond monopoly for years. De Beers has maintained tight control over diamond prices for decades, even going so far as to keep vast storehouses of the gem to prevent surplus, which could cause a slip in prices. They actually created the Diamond Corporation Limited to buy up surplus diamonds after the American stock market crash of 1929, and are estimated to have about five billion dollars in surplus diamonds on, well, ice.

De Beers have battled cultured diamonds from the get-go, from alleged death threats to expensive machines that seek to detect the differences. Unfortunately for them, the biggest indicators that a diamond is manufactured appears to be that the purity is higher and the colors are brighter.

Additionally, there’s no sin involved in cultured diamonds. Firstly, there’s no questionable labor conditions at massive, environmentally-friendly strip mines. Then there’s no fear this diamond might have be a “blood diamond,” stones sold by unseemly parties that will line their pockets for deadly African civil wars. In fact, these new diamonds might be the fake fur that isn’t fake, giving people an out from unseen atrocities currently associated with the gem.

But will it fly with the ladies? I don’t know. Science isn’t getting me any closer to understanding members of the opposite sex (and visa-versa.) I imagine the answer is different across the board. Some will think it crass, others will be wowed by their extreme colors and sizes—attainable at costs previously unimaginable.

For myself, I see exciting possibilities for a diamond created specifically for a blessed occasion, in the honor of the woman that receives it, and lasting forever.

What great sultan once ordered himself a meal to be made from the flesh of a thousand cattle? Or was it a king? I can’t remember. Perhaps the Emperor Napoleon, who came so close to conquering all that he could see (when standing on a chair.) Or Ghengis Khan? There have been so few in history that could have made such an order and expected it to be carried out. It was certainly beyond Queen Elizabeth, with her wavering power. Even Richard the Lionhearted would have had to bellow loudly to see such an request granted. You had to be massive to make such an demand. You had to be so massive as to be famous for being massive. Not Brutus, but Caesar himself. And perhaps Nero.

But now almost any of us can enjoy this luxury, doing nothing more complicated than going down to McDonalds. According to Eric Schlosser, that Fast Food Nation dude, there may be parts from up to one thousand different cows in a just a single burger (which, at participating restaurants, can be had for as little as a buck.)

Not that I get the entire flesh of these creatures. That would be excessive. Instead, I share this meal with others, who, like myself, felt they, too, deserved a break today. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of my fellow countrymen. As I eat the Big Mac, I break bread with them—while not in a biblical sense, certainly with a salt-induced vigor that would rival that last of suppers. And the people I feast with are from all walks of life, all political parties, all religions, races, creeds, and are likely spread out across the globe. Probably within the same month. It’s more than a melting pot, it’s communion. It’s community.

And I’m loving it.

First off, the Scots! The Roslin Institute, the same folks who cloned Dolly the Sheep ten years ago, have GE’d chickens into “biofactories”, modifying them so that the eggs they lay are rich in a protein with the potential to treat skin cancer.

Back here in America, we have the folks at Duda Farms. They’ve made a straw out of celery. Looking at the picture, it even seems to bend. Take that, plastic Fun Straw!

Lastly, using nothing more scientific than decades of patience, this East German farmer has bred rabbits as large at 23 pounds. A single one of these giant rabbits can provide a meal for up to eight people. His newest client? North Korea. He’s already sent twelve over and is heading there himself to teach them how to breed the monsters… er, darlings.

As anyone in the Los Angeles area knows, it’s been cold in these here hills. It’s the result of El Nino weather. El Nino, for those Spanish-disabled types literally means “The Child” (named after the Christ Child because it starts around Christmas.) But no matter what languages you speak, a more literal translation is “freaky weather all winter.” This means it’s warm on the east coast, cold on the west coast, and time for anyone afraid of imminent global warming to buy a big bottle of St. John’s Wort.

And for you Lotuslanders, before you get upset about the cold and having to rake leaves for the first time since you moved here from Oinky, Nebraska, consider the main benefit: crystal-clear air!

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to get out of your house/office/full-scale-replica-of-an-elf’s-lair and take a look around you. But hold onto something tight when you do. It’s a little unnerving to see the cranes of Long Beach from the Hollywood Hills. Or the Hollywood Sign from the 10. Or a mountain you never knew was right there, suddenly looming over you like a giant come out of the mist. The whole effect is like getting a new eyeglass prescription after having put it off for decade or so. Or having Merlin turn you into a Peregrine Falcon for a little while, if that’s the sort of analogy you prefer.

And ‘a little while’ is the key phrase: El Nino only lasts a few months. So head up to Runyon Canyon for lunch today. Scoot over to the Los Angeles Crest this weekend (bet you never knew it was prettier than Italy up there.) Or just sit on your fat-ass and drive down Mulholland. Either way, you’ll be pleased with what you see. And you’ll get some sense what this town would look like if everyone bought a Prius instead of a H2.

“The great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” —Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.

The Cardiff Giant.
The Cardiff Giant, a pioneer in hoaxology.

Opinions certainly vary on what was or is a hoax, but there’s no doubting they’re out there. Whether it’s the Lock Ness Monster or the Holocaust*, there are always believers and skeptics and so many of us in between. Of course, I can’t address all of them, but let’s look at a few of my favorites:

As with everything, there’s no place to start like the moon. In 1835, the New York Sun ran a series of articles about life on the moon that made Flash Gordon seem tame. Batman-like creatures were seen in a detail that would make a military spy satellite blush. I’m not saying they’re not there, but we haven’t found them yet.

Then there was the once-common speculation that our planet’s only natural satellite was made entirely of cheese (apparently the result of a sarcastic remark made by John Heywood in 1546. He’s the same guy who told us we can’t have our cake and eat it too, so what does he know?)

Next there’s the carefully crafted Cardiff Giant, carved out of gypsum by a German sculptor and beaten with steel needles to create “pores”. It was buried for two years before it was “discovered” by a cousin of conceiver George Hull, at which point it was played off as the petrified remains of one of the species of giant humans that once walked the Earth. It was expensive ($2600 in 1858 dollars), but Hull more than saw his return by setting up the fake giant as a side show and eventually selling a part interest for well over $35,000.

A personal love of mine is the Philadelphia Experiment, claiming thatNaval destroyer USS Eldridge.
The USS Eldridge, supposedly teleported
200 miles using advanced 1943 technology.
in 1943 the U.S. Navy teleported a battleship from Pennsylvania to Virginia. No doubt the Navy was fine with that rumor, as it made them a little more scary to their German and Japanese opponents.

For the softer minded, there was Orson Welles’ rendering of War of the Worlds by live radio broadcast. The event resulted in mass panic, even spurring one man to race forty-five miles in a valiant attempt to save his girlfriend. The same story eventually made its way into a movie starring Tom Cruise, a man who seems destined to produce a few lasting hoaxes himself.

And of course there’s crop circles, inspiring movies and replications to this day. Proponents claim they are too large (and precise) to be created overnight by humans without heavy machinery. Obviously,Crop Circles: Only for the British.
Do aliens owe us backfees
for these billboards?
someone’s underrating the verve and tenacity of a fraternity full of bored (and probably drunk) students.

“In the butt, Bob.” Supposedly these words were uttered by a female contestant on The Newlywed Game in response to the question, “Where is the weirdest place where you have ever made whoopee?” Bob Eubanks, host of the show, finally took the bit in his teeth by offering a $10,000 reward for anyone who could produce a tape of the incident. Turns out to be just rumor, the woman had simply replied, “In the ass.”

Jackalopes: both cute and dangerous. A boon for the flagging taxidermist industry.

Nessie: That would be the famous fake inhabitant of Loch Ness in Scotland. The Loch (lake in Scottish) is mighty deep and all, and certainly no truly credible organization has performed a thorough search. But, after a deathbed confession by Marmaduke Wetherell’s son-in-law, the issue has pretty much been put to rest (turns out Wetherell created the fake monster after having he himself had been fooled into thinking such a monster existed. Better to be a liar than a sucker, I guess.)

Roswell, which simply has too many angles to bother with.

Did Flight 19 mysteriously disappear over the “Bermuda Triangle”? The area already had a reputation for oddities because of Christopher Columbus, who wrote in his diary about “mysterious lights” he observed while near that same area. Any sort of historical reference adds weight to a current mystery, but before we go taking Mr. C’s word on it, remember he also claimed to hear divine voices, wore a Franciscan habit, and was convinced he had discovered “paradise” in The Americas and the result was going to be The Last Judgement and the end of the world. Not the most credible eye-witness. So maybe the plane did disappear, but that doesn’t mean something supernatural was afoot.

Lastly, Paul is dead. This rumor arrived in 1966, when fans pulledSir Paul McCartney.
Sir Paul McCartney:
still not dead…
“clues” from Beatles lyrics that Paul McCartney (the cute one) was dead. Eventually, evidence surfaced to disprove this suspicion. Oddly, now it’s swung the other way, with Paul and Ringo in hot competition for the coveted “Last Living Beatle” title (my money’s on Ringo.)

So these are just a few of my favorites. But, as the internet is a great purverour of hoaxes, I expect there will be a follow up to this article sometime in the near future.

* At the time I penned this article, there was a lot of press over ‘Holocaust deniers’ owing to a new law in Britain.

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