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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 7, 2009

Every few years UFO disclosure mania rises to a fever pitch but always subsides.  The idea of a major “disclosure” coming soon has long been a major hope and a speculation in UFOlogy, paralleling the Christian fundamentalist’s operation of the Second Coming.” –  Robert Sheaffer in the Jan/Feb issue of Skeptical Inquirer, devoted to escalating UFO interest. (One researcher described the UFO movement as “an evolving system of paranoia.”)

How could 9,000 business reporters blow the biggest story on their beat? asked Mother Jones in a piece that bemoaned the way that the financial press failed to see disaster in advance. The business press message, wrote Dean Starkman, a former WSJ reporter, has been much more devoted to personality profiles than investigations about fraud.  He quoted Michael Hudson, an early critic of the sub-prime mess a decade ago.  “The press were kind of prisoners of respectability.  With exceptions they really want official sources; they want official approval; they don’t want to be first out front.  They want to do a good job after the fact; but not beforehand when it counts.”

Last year’s Ig Nobel Awards, which honor science’s lighter side, included a new category, Archaeology, for the first time and launched a new word on the world:  bioturbation.  It describes the way that as animals burrow, they disturb the different ground layers, which confuses later archaeologists to no end.  The study that won — about armadillos — described how animals not only dig up the soil but also press it down. You can see how an archaeologist could be unreasonably confused by that sort of behavior.

THE PURPOSE OF US nuclear weapons, born nearly 65 years ago, was to deter a massive Soviet army that threatened to invade and dominate all of Europe, says Foreign Affairs. “But the reality is that only one real purpose remains:  to prevent the use of nuclear weapons by others.”

In a piece headed The Logic of Zero, the magazine makes the case for “a comprehensive international nuclear control regime, an airtight verification system to enable the world to move from the thousands of nuclear weapons…ultimately to zero.

“A nuclear arsenal of many thousands of weapons will do nothing to defer terrorists from using a nuclear bomb, should they acquire one; indeed the more nuclear weapons there are in the world, the more likely it is that terrorists will get their hands on one…The US needs to change its nuclear thinking policies and bring them into line with the changed threats it now confronts.”

Because of growing demand for nuclear energy (fueled by rising gas prices, increased pollution, depleted oil supplies, global warming), more nations will insist on developing their own nuclear fuel cycle to enrich uranium for the sake of self-sufficiency. And because there is little difference between enriching uranium to the level needed to power a civilian reactor and producing weapons-grade uranium, any international monitoring verification must include all fissionable material “wherever it is and what its purpose.”

EVEN THE MIGHTY New York Times is not immune to the collapse of the print media writes Michael Hirschorn in an essay in the Atlantic which points to the huge debts the paper will have to settle in May. Like so many other papers the Times is suffering from plunging circulation and advertising cutbacks and its new $600 million headquarters no longer looks like such an inspired idea. The paper’s “steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff…has gradually hollowed out journalism’s brand by making the newspaper feel disposable,” says Hirschorn, a direction taken under the guise of “service.”

The Mayor who loves women and treats them well most of the time doesn’t like them to get pregnant, according to Portfolio.  A story about New York’s Michael Bloomberg suggests that he has “two faces” — the liberal-minded chief executive who backs pro-choice and has devoted energy and resources to causes important to women, and a man who once apparently said he’d like nothing more in life than to have Sharon Stone sit on his face.  But the famous bluntness — and salty and sometimes downright crude sense of humor — the magazine charges, are secondary to the fact that he is facing lawsuits from at least two women who claim they were fired from his company for being pregnant.

WHEN IT COMES TO wearing a dress with horizontal or vertical stripes, fashion has been getting it wrong all these years, concludes a study at York University, which says exactly the reverse is the case. Oddly enough, as early as 1867 a book by a German scientist named Hermann von Helmholtz concluded that vertical stripes were more flattering and nobody can explain how the opposite of his conclusions came to be accepted wisdom.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Boycott those exploitatively tasteless companies that present  “An Open Letter to the President” — insulting, full-page ads which do nothing more than advocate he buy one of their crummy mattresses…..On sale until May in England: squirrel-flavored potato chips, the winner in a contest by Walkers to discover new varieties …. Supermarkets are reporting dramatically increased sales of cheaper ”house brands” in preference to nationally-advertised products, as shoppers seek ways to save reports Brian Sharoff of the Private Label Manufacturers Association….Live shark-feeding demonstrations are a feature of the world’s largest shopping center, the Dubai Mall whose 1,200 shops include 220 devoted to jewelry…. Whoever imagined the US Postal Service would put Marx on a stamp? It’s actually Groucho Marx and he’ll be one in a series of 20 stamps this summer to celebrate early black and white television shows….A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France resulted in Linoleum Blownapart….“Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends,” opined H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)….. Ron Popeil, that late-night TV pitchman who brought you the Pocket Fisherman, Showtime Rotisserie, and Chop-O-Matic, will soon be peddling his new Deep Fryer for Turkeys…..Formerly healthy white-collar criminals are increasingly discovering they suffer from substance abuse now that participating in prison rehab allows them to have their sentences reduced…. Bestseller in Japan: “diet glasses” whose blue tint make food less appetizing….When eating snacks labeled “low fat,” people consume about 28% more, evidently believing mistakenly that they’re eating fewer calories…..  Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.” — Benjamin Franklin  (1706-90)