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The spins of the fathers

Tuesday, January 13, 1998

By Tony Norman

Like many kids growing up, I once thought that if I turned around fast enough, I'd catch a glimpse of the world popping into place behind me.

At the root of my self-centeredness was a notion that existence was nothing more than an elaborate projection, a projection that I assumed originated somewhere behind my eyes.

If I looked ahead, the world unfolded like a movie. If I turned my head fast enough, would it still be in front of me as well as behind me?

I decided that spinning wildly in my living room with eyes wide open would discombobulate the projection enough so it wouldn't know whether it was projecting forwards or backwards.

Sometimes, I would fall and hit my head on the coffee table, and tiny stars would indeed flash across my eyes. But it produced no fundamental shifts in my perception of reality - just the faint stirrings of a headache and a woozy feeling of falling through space as the world found its footing again.

I wonder if G. Richard Seed, the Chicago physicist who announced last week that he intends to proceed with human cloning on a for-profit basis in a few years, has similar bouts of dizziness? It would explain a lot.

Speaking from the projector in his own head, Seed spoke of man's godlike powers like a character straight off the pages of "Frankenstein."

The only thing missing was the sound of thunder in the background and Igor cackling "Yes, master" from the dungeon laboratory. Somehow, it hadn't occurred to herr good doctor that most of us have seen the movie and know the ending as well as he does.

Former ABC newsman David Brinkley provided another amusing example of a childlike faith in his ability to control reality last week when he became a paid shill for Archer Daniels Midland on "This Week," the show he created and nurtured in the early '80s until he retired last year.

Brinkley believed his reputation for integrity would insulate him from criticism simply because his heart is pure. That ADM is the major underwriter of Sunday news programs would only reflect his purity of heart, he thought.

What really cracked me up was watching Andy Rooney at rival CBS go after Brinkley on "60 Minutes."

Waxing indignant about Brinkley's betrayal of journalistic values, Rooney suggested that his former colleague had damaged his reputation beyond repair and that it was "a sad thing."

I couldn't help wondering if Westinghouse Electric Corp. - excuse me, CBS, Inc. - Rooney's employer and an even bigger creep of a company than ADM, agrees with that assessment.

I wonder how dizzy Andy was feeling as he attacked an old friend on the neighboring plantation?

But media kings and mad scientists aren't the only ones who make themselves dizzy on purpose.

Sometimes I catch my boys spinning in circles in the living room screaming at the top of their lungs.

All three will suddenly collapse on the hardwood floor in fits of laughter, then race to be the first to get up despite the vertigo.

Sometimes I'm tempted to join them, but the closest I've ever come is when I pick one of them up to spin us both in one spot like a propeller before dropping the kid onto the sofa or bean bag.

Within seconds, another boy is begging to be grabbed by his ankles or under his arms and twirled like a top. It's during this rough-housing that I suspect I'm only a step away from that old familiar feeling.

It's funny how things repeat themselves, how a childish pastime recycles itself a generation later.

I can only hope that the dizziness my boys revel in now never turns into the variety of self-deception that afflicts many of the most learned men and women of our society.

With any luck, the really silly notions - those things I call the spins of the father - will stop here.

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