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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 13, 2011

by John Wilcock


“If we are truly a democracy — if voters get to size up candidates for a public office and choose the one they want—why don’t the elections seem to change anything? Because we elect our leaders, and then they govern a system that makes cooperation almost impossible and incivility nearly inevitable: a system in which the campaign season never ends and the struggle for party advantage trumps all other considerations”.
Mickey Edwards in The Atlantic

seems to be the prediction of the Smithsonian which reports that their use over and beyond battle lines is just the beginning. “The potential seems limitless — handling routine monitoring of pipelines….gathering geomagnetic data about natural resources, helping farmers manage crops in distant fields, enabling environmentalists to spot polluters.” The mag says that they’ll probably move first into jobs “too dull, dirty, or dangerous for humans” but that someday they’ll enable cargo planes to fly without pilots and then passenger jets will follow. Although drones can come in all sizes from as big as a 737 to as small as a sparrow, with costs coming down all the time, there’ll always need to be some restrictions probably concerning altitude or the need to file flight plans.

NO MATTER HOW MUCH vitamin D you take, it probably isn’t enough. That, anyway, is the opinion of more than one research group which touts the vitamin as being helpful for everything from brain function and the immune system to warding off cancer. It’s the subject of an unusually thorough five-page essay in Science News which says our ancestors spent a lot of time outdoors absorbing the sun and today we are shut-ins by comparison. “The vitamin appears to defend against viral infections, too,” says SN. “The annual winter flu season comes at a time when people garner little vitamin D from sunshine and blood levels fall.” Boston University endocrinologist Michael Holick suggests “that lives saved from greater sun exposure would far exceed those lost to skin cancer,” the mag says. After a scientific panel from the Institute of Medicine recommended a daily input of up to 600 IU per day of the vitamin, the Endocrine Society suggested doubling or tripling that dose.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE of High Times magazine introduces us to what may be North America’s largest pot greenhouse — a huge facility on the shores of Canada’s Lake Erie that supplies most of that country’s medical marihuana. “These endless rows of A-frames and hoop houses represent the future of cannabis cultivation,” says the mag, revealing that owner Derek Pedro harvests over a pound of the weed per day. Bubba Kush, Juicy Fruit, and Amnesia Haze are among his fast-growing specialties which are staggered to produce at different times of the year. Growing from an earthen floor, they must be kept free from weeds and for this, Pedro has trained a pack of quail which, oddly, prefer eating weeds to getting high from juicy leaves.

FALL-OUT FROM THE still-to-be-resolved bullying banker case — DS-K’s alleged rape of the chambermaid — is likely to last for a while, the weekly Standard joining the discussion with a controversial essay about false accusations. “No one knows how many men spend time in prison after being falsely accused of rape,” writes Cathy Young. “The fact remains that women do lie about rape much more often than the feminist line allows…….just as some men commit rape because they are mentally ill or violent sociopaths.” Nevertheless, she says “the ‘women don’t lie’ dogma is entrenched in popular culture (although) false accusations of rape are virtually nonexistent in films or television crime shows.”

SEARCHING FOR GOLD has its obvious downside, usually doing environmental damage and offering little — if any — benefit to the natives. Thus, El Salvador is trying to become the first country to ban gold mining after a national poll showed almost two-thirds of voters opposed it. Target of the complaints is the Vancouver-based Pacific Rim company which bought a small, local firm that already had the rights to sink exploratory wells near the Lempa River which supplies water to more than half of El Salvador’s population. The nearby community quickly discovered that not only was the river beginning to dry up but that if mining went ahead very few of the new jobs would go to locals — and even less of the profits. But when they tried to abort the operation, the Nation reports, Pacific Rim demanded millions of dollars compensation via an international trade agreement that allows foreign corporations to file claims against government actions they don’t like.

THOSE ANTI-AGING EXPERTS who are still beavering away trying to find something that will extend our lifetimes have concluded that animals live longer when they’re on a starvation diet. So human volunteers who are eating 25% less calories than usual are being tested to see if the same idea works on humans. “I’ve been in the field for 15 years now and it’s amazing how quickly theories come and go,” says biologist David Gems of London’s University College. “There isn’t (even) a central agreed theory at the moment but I think in the next decade we’ll know.” Some compounds, such as resveratrol (found in red grapes) “have already reached an almost pop-star status,” says Science News, but it’s still too soon to know whether they actually work. Meanwhile, the latest experiments are taking place with mannoheptulose (distantly related to avocados) which have allowed mice to live longer.

OFFBEAT LISTS OF THINGS are a favorite feature of business magazines and Fortune has come up with a novel one: 100 Things Great About America. It begins conventionally enough with Opportunity (“the land of it”) and the Interstate Highway System but includes such oddities as Detroit, Carlos Santana, TMZ, the Kardashians, Gatorade, Morton Salt, and Bryan Williams. “The list represents our sensibility here at Fortune,” the mag explains.

EVERY SILVER LINING has a cloud, could well be a verdict on how universal weed killers comprised of the chemical glyphosate (used in Roundup and other brands) have been overused while helping the growth of US crops such as soybeans and corn. Simply put, they have allowed weeds to build up resistance to such an extent that they are now fostering immunity says Science News. “No herbicide has ever been used to the extent glyphosate has,” says Stephen Duke of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service. They have “created the perfect storm for weeds to evolve resistance.”

ONE THOUSAND MPH is the aim of the developers of Bloodhound SSC, the racing car which, after years in development, is almost ready for its record-breaking attempt. This will be undertaken by Andy Green, the Royal Air Force officer, who established the existing record (763mph) in the Nevada desert in 1997, now considered too restricted in size. The new assault — in both directions over a measured mile – will take place in South Africa’s Northern Cape where Bloodhound SSC will be assisted by a built-in rocket which must be turned off before an air brake can be applied at 800mph, then parachutes at 600mph. Only at 250mph can the regular brakes be applied without exploding.

WIND POWER is a “ludicrously expensive, self-defeating joke,” declares Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker who claims that power from wind turbines fluctuates so much that unless they have a backup “the lights will go out” every time the wind drops. And the backup, according to a communication energy companies sent to the Dept. of Energy and Climate Change, will be the need for $15bn-worth of gas-fired power stations. Booker writes that government was “obsessed with wind power and their energy plans were based “on wishful thinking.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: After doubling the number of transistors on silicon chips every year, enabling everything to be faster, faster, faster, obsessives in the techie community are weeping and rending their garments because a limit may soon be reached. How about stepping back and saying faster, faster is fast enough?…. Charmain Blattner’s GREAT AMERICAN AXIOM: Some is good, more is better, too much is just right…. Why do so many Mexicans risk death in the desert when it is relatively easy to get a legal border crossing card or even a visa at many border cities?….“The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future,” wrote Robertson Davies, “is a return to the idealized past” …..According to the AARP Magazine, there are still 371 active drive-in theaters in this country…….420 has become the legal password….The UK’s largest grocery chain, Tesco, has lost almost $900 million on the 175 Fresh & Easy stores it opened in the US four years ago….Harper’s reports that almost one-quarter of adult American males have a criminal record….China’s Teacher Ambassador Program is seeking English-speaking teachers 45 and up “who have a sense of adventure and want to contribute to cultural understanding” ..….…. Popular Science warns that a catastrophic solar storm, when the sun spits out a 10 billion ton ball of plasma — “something that it has done before and is sure to do again” — will pretty much close down the world’s power grids. “Not a question of if but when — and it looks like soon,” the mag says…. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion……Britain’s Sports Vision Institute, whatever that is, claims that wearing yellow clothes and tennis racket strings the same color as the ball gives players a slight advantage….Saddened by the closure of the all-purpose Woolworths chain, a group in Santa Fe, N.M. formed UTBW (Used To Be Woolworths), a company that has already opened five stores and plans more. Keeping the prices competitive, says Stores, they focused on 30% of products that generated 80% of the sales… Southern California’s Triple A invites pet owners to send in photos to qualify for the cover of the new edition of Traveling With Your Pet….More buildings will be equipped with windows of glass that can be triggered to change colors reports Fortune…. Charging that the Television Academy is “oblivious to actors of color,” the Hollywood Reporter pointed out that 35 white actors and one minority were nominated for awards this year and that since 1936 the total has been 53 non-whites out of 1,000 nominations. “Emmy ballots have played out like veritable blizzards of whiteness”… “We do not deal much in fact when we are contemplating ourselves.” —Mark Twain (1835-1910)