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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 12, 2008

“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.'” — H.L. Mencken

EVEN IF YOU CAN’T afford the $100 million fee that the Russians want to charge in 2013 for your trip to the moon, Discover lists a few cheaper alternatives for a taste of space. Virgin Galactic, and other companies, are offering $200,000 suborbital trips next year (200 have already signed up); Las Vegas Zero Gravity Corporation charges $3,500 for flights with periods of weightlessness;  Russia’s In Orbit’s fee is $30 million for a trip to the International Space Station (with an optional space walk for an added $15m); and for $29,000 you can head 13 miles high, far enough to view the earth’s curvature, in a 50-minute flight from Nizhniy Novgorod.

DESCRIBED BY THE Getty Foundation as “a witty form of performance art designed to turn viewers into participants,” the 1960s phenomenon Happenings is being restaged by the LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art over the next few weeks. The late Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) was their original instigator but other artists — notably Robert Whitman — followed his lead, staging fascinating events that (in the words of MOCA director Jeremy Strick) “blurred the line between art and life.”

EVERYONE’S GONE NUTS says Harper’s, devoting a two-page spread to an allegation that the rash of fatal food allergies “is mostly myth.” Sensational news coverage, aided by pharmaceutical companies claiming to provide remedies have, says the mag, produced a cultural hysteria (fed by) a coterie of well-placed advocates whose dubious science has led the frenzy.” By overwhelming children with anxiety, suggests Meredith Broussard, the threat may have been as harmful as the allergies themselves.

IT WILL BE A DECADE before work starts on a subterranean city under the streets of Amsterdam but city councilors have agree it is the only solution for the congested streets and escalating prices. The canals will have to be drained — but only temporarily — to enable work to take place in the clay beneath them.

THE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS sucked in by unscrupulous “tithe-happy televangelists” are under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee which has zeroed in on six of the “prosperity preachers.” So reports the Skeptical Inquirer, revealing that a substantial proportion of the $30 billion that Americans give to charity every year actually fill the pockets of these so-called faith healers. A letter from Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) asks for detailed information about their finances with particular attention directed at the lifestyle of the World Changers Ministries’ Creflo Dollar who flies a private Gulf Stream and owns a Rolls Royce and two mansions.

DESPITE CRITICISM FROM the FDA which prompted the earlier recall of its energy drink called Cocaine, Nevada’s Redux Beverages has reissued the drink along with a video (drinkcocaine.com/social) in which the red cans ambush and crush a blue and silver can of Red Bull.

THE WILCOCK WEB: ….”A letter writer to the New York Times magazine advises President Obama to fill the first Supreme Court vacancy with Hillary Clinton…. The Times now wastes three pages listing its contents and correcting errors. No wonder people are getting tired of such editorial misjudgment….Apple ceo Steve Jobs’ appearance on Fortune’s cover last month was his 11th….In a New Yorker story about the cost of creating coinage, David Owen writes: “Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, it pays less than the federal minimum wage…. The Italian papers are advertising new sunglasses from Giorgio Armani as Accesorio Must Have (a mere $300 a pair)…. “The AK was once my baby, but it has got out of my control,” 85-year-old General Kalshnikov told author Michael Hodges on learning that there are 70 million of the assault rifle that he designed in 1947 to win a competition….“The best exercise for losing weight” says Joan Collins, “is pushing yourself away from the table”….British surfer Ted Deerhurst says that challenging a notorious 50ft wave off Ireland’s West Coast is like “jumping off a three-story house and then having the house chase you down the street”….“In the end game,” said chess wiz Jose Raul Capablanca, “don’t think in terms of moves but in terms of plans”…. “If you don’t have an understanding of your opponent,” cautions Donald Trump, “things aren’t going to work out very well for you”….The influence of his movie Sicko, Michael Moore claims, has mostly helped journalists realize “there’s a whole other side to this story — the non-corporate side, the side of nurses, the side of working people, the side of people who have no insurance”….An experimental bridge built of processed bamboo at the Chinese city of Leiyang has proved durable enough to carry trucks weighing up to 90 tons and is forecast to last for 20 years….By offering a 40% tax incentive, Louisiana has leapt into the third most popular state to make movies of which 53 were made there last year…. The Kiplinger Letter says that a drought typically hits the Midwest every 19 years and it’s been 20 years since the last one…. Some of those laser eye doctors claim to have performed 80,000 operations. Let’s see, that would be three every single day for the past 80 years….Claiming that the bus schedule in Bristol is “a work of fiction that bears absolutely no relation to the actual times or frequencies of the buses’ journeys,” a disgruntled passenger has nominated the schedule for the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction…. “There’s always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side.” — Vaclav Havel (b.1936)