John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 22, 2007


“I am beginning to feel stateless because I think the Japanese think I am British, the British think I’m American, and the Americans have forgotten I used to live here. So I came back to my apartment in New York and the phone didn’t ring. I felt quite sorry for myself. Nobody knows where I am. But it’s the price, a reasonable price to pay, I guess.”
— Sony’s peripatetic Sir Howard Stringer talking to Business Week

HOW ABOUT A MACHINE into which you can feed old tires and it spills out oil? Well, there is such a device invented by Frank Pringle ten years ago but only now able to convert not only tires but anything containing hydrocarbons such as plastic water bottles and old vinyl food containers. Pringle has spent that decade figuring out exactly what microwave frequency works for different materials, but now the first commercial Hawk — it’s the size of a small bus and costs $4.1 million — is being built at Rockford, IL, and the Army, as well as oil companies, are seriously interested.

IN ROBIN HOOD’S DAY, the famous outlaw could have escaped from the back gate of Nottingham Castle and fled for 40 miles through Sherwood Forest but so many oak trees have been cut down since that now he’d have only three miles of cover. Forest rangers are using this colorful example to announce that $100 million is needed to implement the plan to plant a quarter of a million new oaks. Still standing is the Major Oak, a hollowed-out relic — estimated to be a thousand years old — in which Robin Hood is reputed to have sheltered.

WHEN HE OPENS his opulent tattoo parlor next to the House of Blues in Las Vegas on Super Bowl weekend, for Mario Barth, 41, it will be another link in what he hopes to turn an international chain. This is a radical new departure for a business that, despite bringing in an estimated $2.3 billion a year — spread over 15,000 shops — is mostly composed of maverick operators who share a reputation for individuality and casual lifestyles. But Barth (whose prices start at $1,500) has ambitious plans to bring order to a chaotic profession. He already had four tattoo shops in northern New Jersey and plans others in every major city from Berlin to Tokyo after he’s trained enough operators to be businessmen. “The industry hasn’t yet grown to a level where it understands business concepts yet,” he told Inc. “Artists don’t think of it as a real job and if you keep it that way — and if you just pay them a percentage and they have no health insurance or benefits or profit sharing — sooner or later they’re going to make a little misstep.” According to the Pew Research Center, 36% of 18–25 year olds are tattoed, three times as many as the previous generation.

SCIENTISTS ARE BEGINNING to conclude that sometimes seriously injured people are better off not having a blood transfusion because stored blood can lack the essential ingredient of nitric oxide which is what increases the flow of blood to the tissues. A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Duke University’s Dr. Sunil Rao claims that within a few days of being stored, blood loses 90% of its nitric oxide sometimes resulting in a heart attack.

ALTHOUGH GROUPS can be more intelligent than individuals working alone, say researchers, a few dissenters in the gang are more likely to lead them to the best solutions. This conclusion comes from current business school studies on “groupthink.” It’s important for the process that the leader of the group be genuinely impartial to avoid influencing would-be sycophants who might feel intimidated says CFO magazine. “People have to feel psychologically safe to make mistakes and say stupid things,” U of Texas professor Paul Paulus told the magazine. “Even stupid ideas can lead to better ideas.”

CANADA’S EASTERN PROVINCE of Newfoundland used to be the country’s poorest, but that was before they found oil which may make it among the richest. Trouble is that 15,000 younger people have been leaving the province each year in search of better prospects and now Newfoundland would like some of them to come back and relieve the labor shortage. Along with this, however, is that fish have become so depleted that fishing towns are dying with unemployment there reaching 20%. The province has long been at odds with the rest of Canada (which jokes about it like New Yorkers joke about New Jersey) but the new oil riches might bring new respect, even envy.

WORD PLAY from the Cowboy Palace Saloon

  • Two peanuts walk into a bar. One was a salted.
  • A jumper cable walks into a bar. The barman says, “I’ll serve you but don’t start anything.”
  • A sandwich walks into a bar. The barman says, “Sorry we don’t serve food in here.”
  • Two termites walk into a bar. One asks, “Is the bar tender here?”
  • Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One says, “I’ve lost my electron.” The other asks, “Are you sure?” The first replies, “Yes, I’m positive.”
  • A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arms and says, “A beer please, and one for the road.”
  • A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The seeds of the jatropha plant, which grow in the most arid soil in Mali on the edge of the Sahara desert, are being turned into diesel oil and touted as a solution to the country’s energy needs…. Cider drinking has increased by 50% in Britain over the past years and is now a $4 billion a year business… Apart from the doctor, the only man who should be allowed to have an opinion about an abortion is the father…. Plagued by excessive 10% absenteeism, General Motors is planning to award a free car to workers who complete a year of perfect attendance…. “If you don’t read the newspapers, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspapers you are misinformed,” alleged Mark Twain…. The World Congress on Neck Pain meets in Los Angeles on Jan. 22…. Studies show that if you look away before answering a difficult question it will improve your concentration…. A new restaurant in Germany allows diners to order from a touch screen on the table, delivering the meal without waiters via a spiraling metal contraption from the kitchen upstairs…. The only problem with common sense is that it’s not very common. — Voltaire