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Fears of mi­crowave rays and sonic weapons have rekin­dled cold-war rhetoric in the US.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - Joanne Black

Anew twist in the strange case of the US diplo­mats who may have sus­tained brain in­juries while work­ing in their em­bassy in Cuba is bound to fuel fur­ther para­noia among some Amer­i­cans.

The US has an em­bassy in Ha­vana, and diplo­mats work in it. Be­yond that, noth­ing else in this story is agreed upon. In late 2016, af­ter US diplo­mats re­ported hear­ing odd noises and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing strange symp­toms, the FBI searched but found no ev­i­dence of sonic weapons be­ing used in or around the em­bassy. But more than 20 diplo­mats, re­port­ing headaches, ver­tigo and sleep­less­ness, were with­drawn and un­der­went test­ing at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. A re­port pub­lished ear­lier this year in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion found that, with­out hav­ing had any knocks to the head, the diplo­mats “ap­peared to have sus­tained in­jury to wide­spread brain net­works”. How­ever, that study has been rub­bished by dif­fer­ent med­i­cal ex­perts who said there could have been other causes such as in­ner-ear prob­lems or “mass psy­chogenic ill­ness”.

The whole saga re­mains a mys­tery, which only deep­ens with news that mi­crowaves – emit­ted by weapons rather than ovens – are now con­sid­ered a pos­si­ble cause of the diplo­mats’ in­juries. Even the idea that mi­crowaves may be be­ing used as weapons is bound to in­crease sales of tin­foil in the US. Ama­zon al­ready sells, for US$14.99, ready-made tin­foil hats, “de­signed with the shiny side fac­ing out for max­i­mum re­flec­tion/de­flec­tion”. A sim­ple de­tec­tor and re­pel­lent for fake news seems harder to come by.

Learn­ing that the late Aretha Franklin was dressed in a dif­fer­ent out­fit ev­ery day that she was on view made me hope this idea does not catch on. Imag­ine the end ap­proach­ing and say­ing, “More mor­phine, please, and on sec­ond thoughts, do you think my navy shoes might go bet­ter than the red ones?”

Franklin wore a sparkling gold, full-length dress and match­ing shoes for her grand exit. She had started out the week, post-death, in a glit­ter­ing red dress and red, patent-leather Chris­tian Louboutin stilet­tos. Imag­ine be­ing all day in stilet­tos. Thank God she was ly­ing down. Dur­ing her stel­lar ca­reer, she would have ac­cu­mu­lated plenty of show-stop­ping out­fits from which to choose, or for some­one else to choose from on her be­half af­ter her death.

On her sec­ond day on show, she wore pow­der blue, again with match­ing heels, and, on the day be­fore her funeral, it was rose-gold with pink beaded lace and rose-gold Louboutins. A friend of the fa­mous footwear de­signer re­port­edly sent him a photo of Franklin in the shoes with the mes­sage: “Lots of peo­ple die for them, she de­cided to die with them.”

De­spite her out­fits be­ing fit for the “Queen of Soul”, I could not help but won­der why the change of clothes each day. Per­haps she had is­sued in­struc­tions that she was to be glam­orous to the lit­eral end. I hope that is all it was – a per­former giv­ing to her au­di­ence un­til she could give no more.

How­ever, part of me feels un­easy that any woman feels that, even in death, she will be judged by her out­fits and ap­pear­ance. Per­haps that ex­plains the changes of clothes, to pre­vent any­one say­ing, “Aretha’s not wear­ing that sparkling red num­ber again, is she?” I may be over-think­ing this but I have not heard of a de­ceased man hav­ing his suit changed each day.

It is said that each of us dies as we lived. Franklin went out with show­biz flair, sur­rounded by ad­mir­ers tak­ing one last look. When my time comes, the cas­ket will be firmly closed so no one sees that I went in to that good night prob­a­bly wear­ing one of my hus­band’s old t-shirts.

Part of me feels un­easy that any woman feels that, even in death, she will be judged by her ap­pear­ance.

“My one re­gret is not nap­ping more.”

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