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With all the truly weighty issues confronting the world, it is comforting to know that the lowly bean bag can still create a cultural stir in thoroughly modern America.

Consider this week's Internet announcement by Ty Inc., an Illinois toy company founded by Ty Warner, that all Beanie Babies will be retired as of 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31, Central Standard Time. Shock waves swept through the sometimes-overlapping worlds of the young and collectors, and those who survived were soon swamped by rumors.

Is Warner shutting up shop to run for president? Has Pokemon triumphed in the battle for children's allowances, after a long Beanie run that started in 1993? Or is this simply a marketing ploy, to shore up a market collapsing under the weight of secondary sales of the small stuffed animals with the supposedly big personalities?

Perhaps Warner has decided that bean bags are somehow not Y2K compliant. Perhaps, considering the final issue will include a stuffed bear named "The End," it's another sign the Apocalypse is upon us. Perhaps -- far more likely, considering company investments in facilities and marketing -- it's simply an inspired way to revive general interest and retail sales, and to launch a new line of Beanie Toddlers or other such toys.

There are better things to worry about, of course, but this stuff is important to those whose quest for $6 Beanie Babies -- which can now cost up to $1,000 for a rare edition on the secondary market -- has crossed the line from pastime to passion.

For the rest of us, it's enough to ponder the implications for society in general if bean bag technology, or at least its application to plush toy animals, goes belly up just before the year 2000 arrives.

There are, after all, more than 200 species in this plush zoo, each of them replicated thousands of times.

If all those Beanie Babies retire in this fiscal year, how can the Social Security system possibly survive?

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