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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 10, 2007


JAPANOPHILES WILL BEheading to New York in droves this year to watch rarely seen Noh plays (some by the late, legendary Yukio Mishima)  and Butoh performances, as well as new Japanese movies. The year-long calendar of events, celebrating the first century of the Japan Society, also includes the head of Japanese McDonald’s explaining how the huge fast food company has changed the business culture and how Japan can avoid conflict with rival China “as the forces of globalization bring them into greater contact.”

A ROOM WITH A VIEW will cost $15,000 a night when the Poseidon Hotel opens 40 feet below the sea in a coral lagoon just off the coast of Fiji. A string of fiberglass modules contain jacuzzi-equipped 550-square-foot guestrooms which can be detached and brought to the surface by crane when repairs are needed. Entrance is via an airlock hatch that allows entry and exit, and of course the view is of the schools of tropical fish attracted by regular feeding in what Popular Science describes as “one of the most vibrant coral reefs on Earth.”

REACHING THE FIGURE of 300 million is nothing to celebrate says the Population Connection’s Brian Dixon ( who claims that one-third of our births are unintended and thus the government ought to devote more funding to family planning programs for low-income women as well as making contraceptives more widely available. “Population growth is the biggest challenge we face” he suggests, “(causing) traffic congestion, overcrowded classrooms, childhood asthma and global warning to name but a few.”

THE CURRENT ATTEMPTS by oil and automobile companies to position themselves as environmentally responsible is phony says New Scientist. For example, BP — despite its misleading “beyond Petroleum” slogan — will continue to pump just as much oil as it does today regardless of what it spends on alternative technologies. “The ads, in other words, appear to be examples of greenwash: companies attempting to distract attention from the environmental impacts of their activities…. We need stiffer rules about the green claims made in advertisements.”

IF YOU THOUGHT that world-famous groundhog in Pennsylvania came out to see his shadow every February, think again. According to Penn State University’s Stam Zervanos, the annual emergence of male woodchucks after a three-month hibernation is because they’re looking for love, a kind of groundhog St. Valentine’s Day. Zervanos told National Wildlife that the sleepy animals take a stroll around their territory to check out the ladies, spending a night with them but not sexually. “We know they’re not mating because no baby groundhogs are born in early March”, he says. The early February visit is a kind of speed dating, or getting-to-know-you session, followed a month later by “a week of wild groundhog mating”.

POWERFUL MORAL, THEOLOGICAAL, AND POLITICAL forces are posing unprecedented challenges to scientific research over stem cell research and a host of other issues, all of which makes it important to fight back claims Buffalo University philosophy professor Paul Kurtz. Leading the fight is the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), of which the professor is chairman, its main vehicle being the monthly Skeptical Inquirer  magazine which terms itself — “a Socratic gadfly.” CSI regards the enemy to be astrologers, UFOlogists, and “those who would block science in the name of occult force such as the imposition of the concept of ‘soul’ to thwart the investigation of the brain”.

ALTHOUGH SUGAR provides a better and cheaper return than corn when used to make ethanol, the huge subsidies awarded to this country’s sugar barons keeps the price to be high, so — aided by extensive lobbying from corn producers — so the latter is more favored for conversion. Royal Dutch Shell, busy trying to develop cellulose alcohol (from wood chips, corn stalks, etc), says it is ”morally inappropriate” to use corn when “people are starving and because we are more wealthy we use food and turn it into fuel.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Calling NASA’s plan to build a base on the moon “an outrageous waste of money,” Gregg Esterbrook writes in that “the real purpose of the base, of course, is simply to keep budget lines and contracts flowing to Nasa’s beloved contractors”…. Writing in the Nation, Eric Alterman suggested that maybe it was time for newspapers to abandon their editorial page because the age-old separation between fact and opinion was not always perceived as such by readers in search of bias…. Nudged by chef Jamie Oliver’S campaign to revitalize nutritional standards for children, British education authorities will reintroduce cookery lessons into the school syllabus next year…. “The politician looks to the next election,” said John Rawls, “ the statesman to the next generation”…. Las Vegas’ Venetian casino is offering cell phones on which you can gamble…. Hot rubs at a spa near Japan’s Mount Fuji are filled with a choice of green tea, sake, or Beaujolais wine…. Researchers at the University of Rhode Island affirm that eating more slowly consumes less calories. “Satiety signals need time to develop” explains spokeswoman Kathleen Melanson…. Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power—Benjamin Franklin