Exploding Cells, Extreme Hubris

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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Exploding Cells, Extreme Hubris

Modernity is killing us. In the last few days, we've gotten a whole lot of disturbing news that could make a reasonable person think that maybe the whole world is downshifting into the realm of urban mythology.

We were shocked to find out that many of our cell phones are really Improvised Exploding Devices in disguise. While trying to wrap our heads around that, we also heard that sitting down for long periods at work will make us fat, no matter how much we exercise.

The latest cautionary tales about the perils of modern life is from Chungcheong Province, South Korea. A few days ago, a 33-year-old quarry worker in a town south of Seoul died on the job after his cell phone exploded in his breast pocket.

The Korean man's death was similar to the way a welder in China died last summer. The symptoms were equally horrific: burns to his upper body, broken ribs, hemorrhaging of the lungs and a fractured spine consistent with the effects of a low-level explosion.

According to the BBC News, soot in the shape of a cell phone was found in the South Korean man's shirt pocket. CNN had impressive before-and-after photos of an undamaged version of the phone and what it looked like after it took the quarry man's life.

The lithium-ion batteries that power most cell phones are considered prime suspects in both cases, though investigators in China's Gansu province allow for the possibility that the phone explosion that killed the welder was triggered by the high temperatures at his work site.

Paging Fox Mulder: This is either the raw material of another classic episode of "The X-Files" or the most absurd case of product malpractice in several generations.

Spontaneous human combustion is so medieval that when it occurs, it feels like a sly rebuke of modern technology, especially when the culprit is something as banal as a cell phone battery.

No sooner had we pulled up a chair to digest this news, ABC News informed us that a team of scientists at the University of Missouri have linked the nation's obesity epidemic to sitting on our butts for eight-hour shifts. The enzymes responsible for burning fat shut down when we sit. We have to stand to burn fat continuously during the day.

The implications are pretty clear: Unless the American workplace becomes an environment where standing is the norm, we're destined to continue evolving into a nation of potato spuds.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic have already designed "walkstations" that will enable office employees to burn calories while doing routine office tasks like sending and checking e-mail.

Experts in workplace efficiency have long suggested that office meetings be conducted with everyone standing to cut down on our natural inclination to bloviate and waste time.

The Mayo Clinic walkstations look cool and sleek, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for the Post-Gazette to spring for buying hundreds of these things for the staff. Guess I'll have to get used to walking around with a yellow legal pad and composing columns on my feet if I really want to rev up my metabolism.

Alas, the shocks didn't stop at exploding phones and butt expanding workplaces. While clicking around the dial, viewers were surprised to see old Karl Rove on "The Charlie Rose Show" this week insisting that President Bush was "pushed" into invading Iraq by a saber-rattling Democratic Congress in 2002.

According to Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush didn't really want Congress to approve the Iraq war resolution until he had assembled a coalition that rivaled the one his father put together to drive Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991.

Mr. Bush had an approval rating at the time that could only be called stratospheric. His man Karl Rove is asking us to believe his hands were tied because of the perfidious tyranny of the Democrats' one-vote majority in Congress. It was the Democrats who "pushed" the then-popular president into galvanizing for a war he wasn't fully prepared to fight in March 2003. The unwritten story of the Iraq war, according to Mr. Rove, is that the Democrats started it. Mr. Bush's only desire was to support the troops once the Dems pulled the trigger.

At that point, I began mentally taking inventory of the similarities and differences between the world I know and the one Karl Rove occupies. I blamed myself for the discrepancy in reality. Obviously I had fallen into a parallel universe where the Bush administration was sober and wise and the Democrats weren't spineless rabble in 2002.

There was so much cognitive dissonance coursing through my brain while watching that Charlie Rose interview that my head exploded. I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. My cell phone was nowhere in sight. I checked.

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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