MAD DOG: What's Your Specialty?

If it's ever crossed your mind for even a moment that we're in the age of specialization then you can put your mind at ease. We are. Doctors specialize in arcane branches of medicine like post-pediatric neuro-gastro-oncology, there are lawyers who make their living by only handling lawsuits against presidents (a lucrative field these days), and God help you if you take your aging Yugo to a mechanic who only works on new Chryslers. Face it, nowadays generalists are about as common as a guy who hasn't put in for his Viagra prescription.Take, for example, the recent news that scientists discovered a 150-pound chunk of petrified Tyrannosaurus rex manure. I'm not sure how they knew that's what it was, since something makes me think it would look an awful lot like, say, a 150-pound hunk of dried mud. But somehow they knew. Probably because they called in Karen Chin of the U.S. Geological Survey, who a newspaper article described as "the world's foremost expert on the fecal remains of dinosaurs." Now there's something to put on your business card: Karen Chin, Dino-dungologist.There are a couple of ways Karen could have earned this title. The first is that she's the only person who ever thought to chip off pieces of dinosaur dung and analyze them, making for pleasant dinnertime conversation with her husband. The second is that she just happened to have examined more pterodactyl pies than anyone else, which I don't think would be difficult since most of us think that's a dessert made by Entenmann's. Though we still prefer the Pecan Ring.The third, and most likely way, is that she earned a liberal arts degree, then woke up the day after graduation thinking, "I don't want to teach. I don't want to be a teller in a bank. What else can I do with this degree?" and thanks to a quirky score on an aptitude test decided to go into the lucrative field of testing triceratops ka-ka. The truth be known, she was probably the only one who responded to the offer on the back of the matchbook cover.Contrary to what you may think, a degree isn't necessary to become a specialist. Louis Johnson of Oakland, California has turned himself into a cinema specialist by seeing Titanic 100 times -- at the same theater, no less -- and has the ticket stubs to prove it. This points out one of the chief hazards of specialization: you can become a very boring person.Specialization knows no international boundaries. In Hoevelaken, a city in the Netherlands which translates as "Hoboken," there's a veterinarian named Mario Blom who opened a hospital that only takes care of sick fish. If you go online you can find the Airsickness Bag Museum which shows and describes those little bags you always hope the person next to you on the 10-hour trans-Atlantic flight won't have to use. And believe it or not, there's even a special holiday for those who think pie is something to celebrate rather than to eat.That's right. Every March 14th at 1:59 PM people all around the world who have no life celebrate the irrational number more commonly known as 3.1415926535 and so on, carrying it out to more decimal places than Fox has disaster shows. They hold it on that day because March is the third month, it's the 14th day ... yes, you get the idea. Some of these people are so into it that they even celebrate 2 pi day on June 28th. Did I mention any of the hazards of specialization?Reference books can be very specialized. Some, like the Oxford English Dictionary, try to be all-encompassing, but that just results in a book the size of a commercial refrigerator, which is why only four libraries own copies and they use it to shore up the second floor of the building which is sagging because the Library Construction Concrete Reinforcement Bar Handler was hung over one day when the building was being erected and there was no one else with that particular specialty to take his place.That's why it's so heartening to know that the Vatican's Latin Foundation, a group whose primary mission is to teach people the difference between Latin and pig Latin, has released volume two of the modern Latin Dictionary. Since no one but the Pope speaks Latin -- and even he's not sure what he's saying half the time -- it makes you wonder why they spent six years putting this together just to let you know that ludus pilae mensalis is Latin for Ping-Pong and lycopersici liquamine condita is tomato sauce. Not even the four libraries which own the Oxford English Dictionary will be buying this -- it's not big enough to support that reference room table with the one short leg and it only uses up valuable money which could go towards buying another copy of the self-help book "Men are from Mars, Women Are Always Right."And finally, it turns out that specialization isn't just a human thing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (motto: "Cars don't kill people, guns fired out of car windows kill people") has decided that those famous crash test dummies are too generalized, so they're going to make a whole family of them. That's why they're in the process of designing a 6-year-old child dummy, a small woman dummy, a 3-year-old child dummy, an infant dummy, and a Dan Quayle dummy, which may be redundant but this is, you remember, a part of the federal government.So keep all this in mind if you're talking to your guidance counselor, looking for a new job, going through a mid-life crisis, or watching Titanic for the 101st time. Generally speaking, a specialty is a good thing.


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