John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 2, 2006


THOSE ATTRACTIVE, hand-drawn mug shots that decorate stories in the Wall Street Journal are done by overlaying photographs with translucent paper and then painstakingly reproducing the image with lines and dots. Wrinkles are desirable because they’re easier to do than smooth skin. The paper employs eight illustrators who like to see the story their work accompanies because it enables them to make subtle changes matching the mood. All this comes from a story by Chris Warren in American Way who says that each drawing takes about five hours to complete.

WINE DRINKERS are apparently much healthier eaters than beer drinkers. That’s the conclusion of Copenhagen’s National Institute of Public Health which randomly examined millions of shopping carts in 98 Danish supermarkets and found beer buyers loaded up with processed foods, chips, sugar, and soft drinks while wine drinkers were more likely to opt for fresh fruits and veggies, olives, low-fat cheeses, and cooking oil.

A TWO-YEAR STUDY by the University of Hawaii of noisy films has concluded that they can permanently damage the hearing of child viewers. Car chases, gunfights, and explosions can reach a 130- decibel count — the equivalent of standing 100 yards from a jet plane during take-off. Health experts have claimed that anything above the 85-decibel range is “potentially dangerous” and a spokesman for Britain’s Royal National Institute for Deaf People explains: “You can easily damage your ears and not notice anything for years, then suddenly you realize you are going deaf”.

THE LATEST IN A SERIES of “directed-energy” weapons from the Arizona-based Raytheon company, is called Silent Guardian which penetrates the first layer of skin to trigger the sensory nerves and temporarily paralyzes the victim. “Even if the use of temporary severe pain can be justified as a restraining measure, which I don’t believe it can” says Andrew Rice, a consultant in pain medicine at a London hospital, “the long-term physical and psychological effects are unknown”. Raytheon, which also developed the Vigilant Eagle (which incapacitates surface-to-air missiles) claims that Silent Guardian is harmless and “fills the gap between shout and shoot”.

IN HER NEW BOOK, The Expected One (Simon & Schuster), Kathleen McGowan says she has “sacred blood” and claims to be a descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalen. Publishing News says it’s being described as “semi-autobiographical” and mirrors the author’s life — “a woman who experiences holy visions and sets off on a journey to find the missing gospel of Mary.” Others are skeptical. On the USA Today website, one critic accused Ms. McGowan of constantly reinventing herself on internet forums to fit the latest trend: as “a spy for the IRA, a pagan high priestess… and now the spawn of Jesus and Magdalene… If there is one thing Ms. McGowan has exhibited… it is her talent for writing fiction.”

COPYRIGHT LAW, once tagged “an engine of free expression by the Supreme Court” is more often these days “an engine of corporate censorship” declares the Columbia Journalism Review in a story headed Copyright Jungle. It says that copyright is an incentive to bring work to market, rewarding writers for their creations, but it also has the potential to lock up knowledge, insight, information and wisdom and has been used by large multinational media companies who have “twisted it toward their own short-term interests.” In this, says CJR, they have been aided by Congress which, by extending copyright protection for work created decades ago, robs people of their legacy.

THE BREAKDOWN of public order in Iraq will never be remedied by American forces declare the co-authors of Out of Iraq (Simon & Schuster) a book that claims that the longer we remain in occupation the more recruits will join terrorist ranks. In their new book, extracted in Harper’s, former presidential aspirant George McGovern and policy wonk William R. Polk point to the huge U.S. bases (with “aspects of permanency”) in Iraq which symbolize and personify a hated occupation and with which “no Iraqi government will ever feel truly independent”.

IF THE ASSUMPTION is correct that the brains of all animals (including humans) work in the same way and that keeping the mind busy prolonged life, neuroscientists had some good news for those attending a recent conference in Atlanta. With the knowledge that new brain cells grow every day in the brains of rats, the researchers chemically tagged one day’s cellular input and then put a test group through a “learning process” (specifically blowing a puff of air into their eyes to cause blinking, but preceding the action with a sound). Predictably the group learned to blink as soon as they heard the sound, and when the scientists later checked they found that the new brain cells had matured whereas those of the “non-thinking” rats had died.

THE WILCOCK WEB: One way to solve Britain’s overcrowded prisons crisis writes Joan Bakewell in the Independent is to send home the 4,500 women incarcerated (all but a handful for minor crimes) and use the space for men…. An intellectual, explained Aldous Huxley, is “a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex….” In Search of Elvis by Charlie Connelly, due in February, is being promoted as “the first travel book to examine the global appeal of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll…. Expect a spirited counterattack after the January publication of James Scurlock’s book, Maxed out: the Book the Debt Industry Doesn’t Want You To Read. Publishers Harper/Reference promise “a large publicity campaign” and predict “extensive media coverage” — If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion — George Bernard Shaw…. Virtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and all other good things — Socrates, 469-399 BC Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström forecasts that telephone calls will eventually cost nothing. “You don’t pay for each email or each web page you unload; it’s the same with phone calls. That’s where it’s going. It will be free….” Most people return a small favor, acknowledge middling ones, and repay great ones with ingratitudeBenjamin Franklin ( 1706-90)