The most valuable natural resource: Tears

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We've all seen the commercials. You know, the ones with the incredibly classy man and woman, the intense string music, and the gift of a diamond. The woman looks up at the man with moist eyes while the voice-over intones "A diamond is forever," "this year, show her how much your love is worth," or "if you're looking for a way to shore up your marriage after that little incident..." Cut to black.

The commercials are cheesy, and the message is a little disturbing, but I still find the whole thing fascinating. There seems to be an underlying theme that love is for sale, if the price (or more importantly, the ice) is right. As much as I'd like to automatically reject this perspective, a large portion of American society seems to buy into it.

With Valentine's day creeping up on us, I got to thinking about the dewy-eyed woman and the cost of her tears. Personally, I don't cry too often. Admittedly, Ratatouille got to me, as did Field of Dreams and Snoopy Come Home; however, apart from the occasional weepy movie, it takes a lot to make me turn on the waterworks. Either someone has to be in the hospital or I have to have a badly skinned knee.

In the commercials, though, all it takes is a diamond.

My next question, of course, is how much tears are worth. Clearly, diamond retailers want you to pay as much as possible, but that doesn't really tell me the top market value for tears. Historically speaking, there are some really great examples of men going all out for their loved ones. The head of the list is probably King Menelaus of Sparta, who loved his wife, Helen, so much that he fought the Trojan war on her behalf.

History doesn't tell if the Trojan war made Helen cry, but it seems likely that she did. After all, a divisive and brutal war kinda makes a tennis bracelet look a little chintzy. The food bill alone must have been a back-breaker.

Another really amazing love-gift was the one that Emperor Shah Jahan gave to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. When she died in childbirth (delivering their fourteenth baby), he built the Taj Mahal as her final resting place. By this time, of course, Mumtaz was well beyond tears, but one can easily imagine the weeping of the Emperor.

And then, of course, there was Louis XVI of France. His gifts to Marie Antoinette went far beyond the Valentine's special at Zales. In addition to the many pieces of jewelry that he had made for her, he gave her the "French Blue" diamond. Weighing in at over 45 carats, it was a family heirloom, passed on to him by his father, Louis XV. Marie, of course, didn't keep the diamond for all that long before she lost her head. It passed on from owner to owner, later becoming known as the Hope Diamond. Today, it resides in the Smithsonian.

As I thought about expensive tears, my thoughts drifted to the current election. Tears, or the inability to produce them, have undermined many a presidential hopeful. Given the price of a campaign, maybe the most expensive tears were the ones that derailed a run at the White House.

On the dry end of the spectrum, there's Michael Dukakis, whose 1988 presidential run was thwarted by the far-more charismatic George H.W. Bush (I never thought I'd write that phrase). Although most people credit the famous "Willie Horton" ads with toppling the campaign, others cite Dukakis' almost total lack of emotion. One article, in fact, argued that his presidential hopes were pinned on his eyebrows, or at least his apparent inability to move them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Howard Dean's third-place showing in the Iowa primary four years ago produced the famous "Dean Scream," a choked yawp that baffled and terrified voters. Media outlets replayed the scream an estimated 633 times over the next four days, tacitly suggesting that the candidate was a little too feral for executive office. It was to become the shriek that ended a presidential run.

In this election, tears have, once again, emerged as a major political force. A month ago, facing a declining campaign, Hilary Clinton broke down in tears in a New Hampshire diner. Rather than lose the primary, as all the pundits and polls predicted, she surged ahead, beating Barack Obama by a 3% margin. In the ensuing weeks, Senator Clinton has publicly wept twice.

Given the cost of this year's presidential race, one can only imagine the value of a few tears.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea.

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