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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Size Does Matter As People Demand Life’s Very Best Superlatives

Size Does Matter As People Demand Life’s Very Best Superlatives

Super-scaling has become the era’s hallmark: ‘super’ tankers, bugs and drugs, disasters, wealth, numbers. What will future social historians make of it all?

In the early 21st century, size psychology was paramount. People wanted to be best, biggest/smallest, richest, happiest, most successful. The retail sector cottoned on: clothes’ size perception (‘does my backside look big in this?’) drove sales.

Male obsession with personal body part size applied equally to their feet; outward indicators of size elsewhere. Business echoed, with its biggest chair, desk, room, building crucial to executive ego.

However, history teaches everything is relative. A mega-calamity was only such till the next. The tightest/harshest economic squeeze/breath-taking achievement, the super meal/music/show held the crown while new ultimate thrills arrived.

Super Number-Crunching

With national debts written in figures so gigantic new descriptors were invented, the University of Toronto, Mathematics Network (1998) surmised: ‘the largest number with a commonly-known specific name is a “googleplex”: a 1 followed by a googol zeros, where a “googol” is 1 followed by 100 zeros’.

Stephen Armstrong wrote in the UK’s Sunday Times (27 March 2011): ‘we’re in a brave new world of super number-crunching’ where retailers, governments, health providers and credit card companies store ‘tens of billions of our financial transactions’ in huge data warehouses.

He said such organisations send computer programs ‘scuttling through transactions like electronic spiders’ looking for patterns. Why? To find individuals at health, debt (defaulting on payments to them) or terrorist risk. This analysis is multi-billion dollar business (super-business).

Credit card transactions and search wording are sold in seconds to retailers, advertisers and ‘interested parties’. Super number-crunchers argue it’s in the name of personally targetted advertising; sensitive data is anonymised. Predict human behaviour, they say, better to provide services. This includes, according to Armstrong, predicting individual’s likelihood of unemployment, illness or divorce.

Superstars’ Super Injunctions

For much of 2010/11, Great Britain’s media was excited about high-powered injunctions secured by high-profile ‘celebrities’ preventing publication of their misdemeanors. It reached the point where it was contempt of court even to report the existence of a ‘gagging order’.

Punishments were draconian: prison, asset seizure or both. Much learned judicial reasoning went into covering-up. It crossed into Kafkaesque nightmare when super injunctions prevented citizens contacting their Members of Parliament.

This ancient right of access to elected representatives was enshrined in British tradition. That a judge, in defence of one person’s secrecy, should insert into an injunction a clause preventing another seeking redress from his/her MP, became highly contentious.

Alasdair Palmer’s personal view in The Sunday Telegraph (10 April 2011), was that there was a case for protecting identities of child victims of abuse or violence; but a parent claiming innocence should have the right to seek help to ‘set the record straight’. The blanket nature of super-injunctions prevented the public democratic scrutiny of judges’ decisions.

Super Babies

Another ‘super’ controversy was the argument about science playing God. Should DNA tests be compulsory so all parents knew if their unborn babies carried diseases? For many, this was ‘eugenics’, the Nazi philosophy of breeding a master race. For others, it was offering parents the choice to raise a handicapped child.

Even wanting their children to grow into strong, healthy adults, most thought the fictional ‘Superman’ a step too far; man was not made to fly unaided. However, there were ‘super-babies’ born who displayed enormous superhuman strength.

The protein myostatin tells muscles when to cease growing. If a fetus has a mutant gene that inhibits myostatin production, the result is a ‘super-baby’. Scientists believe one was Liam Hoekstra in Michigan, who as a baby hung on rings, did pull-ups and was hungry, lean and super-strong.

Superbugs and Super Drugs

USA Today’s Health Reporter, Steve Sternberg reported in September 2010 on superbugs that had hit 35 states and was going world-wide. The bacteria produced an enzyme called klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenamase which disabled modern antibiotics. It was impossible to measure global spread or develop containment strategies.

The pharmaceutical industry developed super-strength drugs. Polymixin was effective, Sternberg reported, but was toxic to human kidneys. Similarly, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and extensively-drug-resistant tuburculosis (XDR-TB) emerged. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was a well established superbug.

Some bowel bugs and strepococcus pneumoniae were resistant to most penicillin antibiotics. There was an increasingly long list of medical conditions that threatened to become untreatable as they evolved in the human body.

In February 2009, Rebecca Leung of CBS News 60 Minutes reported: ‘While we can’t stop bacteria trying to outwit antibiotics, health officials say dramatic cut in their use could reverse the tide’. She said doctors should stop writing, and patients stop demanding, the 130 million prescriptions for antibiotics given out each year in the US alone.


In June 2008, CNBC aired a report into American super-rich. Lori Gordon reported in 1985 there were 13 US billionaires; by 2008 there were over 1000, plus mega-billionaires from other countries, including India, China and Russia.

Britain’s Sunday Times produced an annual ‘Rich List’ of people untouched by downturns/recessions, with luxurious lifestyles, servants, homes, cars and planes, possessions to the point, in Gordon’s words, that they ‘indulged in a parallel world’ alongside other people.

The 2011 edition (May), showed the 1000 UK wealthiest were worth almost £400 billion; there were 73 British billionaires, up from 53 in 2010. They were back to their super-rich standards before the pre-recession 2008 boom.

In July 2011, Nat Rothschild, banking dynasty scion, spent £1 million on his 40th birthday party for 400 guests in Montenegro. However, even the super-rich found wealth didn’t bring happiness.

Graeme Wood reported in The Atlantic Magazine (April 2011) on a study by Boston College into the lives of the super-rich, (worth more than $25 million) that found: ‘a surprising litany of anxieties: their sense of isolation, worries about work and love, and most of all, fears for their children’.

Wood summed it up: “mammon is a false God’. Yet money, human problems, struggles, fads, moods were all super/mega/gigantic/colossal. What happens when the superlatives run out?

First published on Suite 101, 13 July 2011.

Image: Empire State: World’s Tallest Till It Was Topped – Jiugiang Wang


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