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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 3, 2010

John Wilcock

THE LONG-TIME POLICY of creating cheap, poorly made products, which quickly become obsolete or fall apart and have to be replaced, has had its day says a new book. In his Longer Lasting Solutions, Dr. Tim Cooper suggests that manufacturers should be obliged to accept full responsibility for the life of their products “from extraction to disposal” causing a revival of interest in repair. If products were made more durable, he argues, some jobs lost due to the increase in production would be offset by the addition of more highly-skilled maintenance and repair jobs which would have the additional advantage of being local. The book, due for publication in the fall, calls for “slow consumption,” a counterpart to the Slow Food movement which seeks to build consumer awareness. “The present economy is not sustainable,” Cooper declares.

DESPITE THE NOW well-known fact that turning corn into ethanol both wastes the corn (in a half-starving world) and has an inefficient return (compared with, say, sugar cane), Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell is still angling for federal subsidies. These would pay most of the cost of projected 1,800-mile pipeline carrying the ethanol across seven states and help triple the production of biofuels. No point in suggesting Boswell read about the subject — when it comes to taxpayer subsidies, dumbness rules, and facts are irrelevant.

AFTER AN INTENSIVE STUDY of “lucky” people, the appropriately-named Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire summarized his findings in the following advice:

  • Break routine. New experiences offer fresh opportunities.
  • Positive expectations are often self-fulfilling.
  • Draw something positive from bad experiences by
    considering how it might have been worse.
  • Decisions informed by intuition often produce happier outcomes.

ASK ISADORA was the best way to get sex advice in San Francisco’s heady years and now my old friend Isadora Alman has gathered much of the wisdom from her syndicated column into a novel. Bluebirds of Impossible Paradises: a Sexual Odyssey of the Seventies ( You may or may not remember those days when an orgy seemed to be as accessible as your neighborhood movie theater. Well, maybe not, but ‘Thea’ does and at her first, she had the same misgivings as so many others…

“She perched on the wooden stairs ready to bolt, trying to dampen her imagination’s fervid formulations, pondering what men did together that could be different from what was known to her, how it was established who would take the lead, the protocol as well as the positions…”

Ask Isadora

An early review of Bluebirds by one of Isadora’s friends, Tommy G.,  sums things up pretty well. “She’s the most fascinating and sensual woman I’ve ever met and I always wondered what she was like before we crossed paths. While this is a novel and not an autobiography, I figured there must be a little (or a lot) of Isadora in Thea, our heroine. So how can Thea not be charming and literate and funny? For anyone who lived and loved through the 1970s … or wants to know what it was like to live and love through the 1970s … read this book! You’ll live it and love it.”

Some Jewish Haiku

Sorry I’m not home
to take your call. At the tone
please state your bad news.

Is one Nobel Prize
so much to ask from a child
after all I’ve done?

Today, mild shvitzing.
Tomorrow, so hot you’ll plotz
Five-day forecast: feh

every would-be mathematician has played with trying to work out the numbers of that elusive formula pi (∏), the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s an intriguing little exercise because the result is what’s known as an “irrational number” which means it’s not finite, there’s no end to the decimal points, it just goes on and on, never repeating the same sequence. It begins 3.141592653589793….

pi was used as a ratio by the pyramid builders and gets a mention in the works of Archimedes (287-212BC). Since the computer age, attempts have been made to complete the calculation, but none ever has. Recently, a French programmer left his computer working on it for 131 days, which resulted in 2.7 trillion decimal places. It wasn’t the end.

I was 42 when I started and Kinsey (Millhone) was ten years younger than me. Now I’m 69 and she’s 38, and I resent that! Looking back it was cheeky imagining doing the entire alphabet — was I smoking something? — but I remember thinking that if Kinsey aged one year for every book, it would start to seem silly. I didn’t want her to be postmenopausal, chasing bad guys around. It just seemed…not dignified.” — Sue Grafton talking to AARP about U is for Undertow, her 21st ‘alphabet novel’

[It will be one hundred years on April 21 since the death of Mark Twain.
     His advice is both sensible and durable so we are renewing it]

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.

Look at the tyranny of party;  at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty — a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes — and which turns voters into chattels, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.

No matter how healthy a man’s morals may be when he enters the White House, he comes out again with a pot-marked soul.

History has tried hard to teach us that we can’t have good government under politicians. Now, to go and stick one at the very head of the government couldn’t be wise.

The new political gospel: public office is private graft.

In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue, but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.

To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter — Mark Twain