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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 31, 2009

There is a river that runs through our culture; that flows with the rhythm of nature, and trusts that the sun will rise again. It has been underground for a good time now. Can we coax it back to the surface? Can we revive arts and crafts again to be a relevant partner in our society’s search for meaning?  – James Hubbell

THE SMELL OF FEAR is what the U.S. military is seeking with its experiments at New York’s Stony Brook University, and it’s scary to ponder on what they will do when they’ve isolated it. One experiment consisted of taping the armpits of a group of skydivers and later having volunteers sniff the sweat-soaked pads. The aroma was reported to increase activity in the amygdala and hippocampus areas of the brain which are the parts associated with fear.

OFFICE GOSSIP IS not as harmless as you may think, according to The Creative Group whose researchers conducted telephone interviews with executives at some of the nation’s top companies. More than 60% thought the effects were negative and should be monitored. “Staff members who question their job security might spread rumors about coworkers with whom they feel competitive,” said the Group’s Megan Slabinski, as one example of the damage that might be done if the gossip is not kept in check.

THE SEARCH FOR a new kidney, the body part most in demand, has prompted scandals all over the world with a recent ban in India resulting from the discovery that peasants from poor countries had been lured there with promises of $2,000 — often unpaid — to give one up. These were then transplanted into rich clients from America, Saudi Arabia, and other wealthy countries. In an earlier scandal, 109 recruits from Romania, Brazil, and Israel were paid a few thou to visit South Africa where rich visitors paid $120,000 for “transplant holidays.” In the U.S. health system, such an operation would cost around $500,000, and contributing to the high cost is the shortage with 100,000 Americans currently on the organ transplant waiting list.

SNEERING AT TOURISTS for being tourists may not necessarily be fair writes Peter Jon Lindberg in Travel + Leisure, maintaining that “exclusivity threatens to become an end in itself, wherein we base our itineraries not on what’s actually worth seeing but on where other Americans aren’t.”  The problem with the term touristy is that it broadly condemns a whole list of things that are merely guilty of being popular with out-of-towners he suggests. “When something inherently cool is adopted by tourists, does that render it uncool?”

LACK OF SUNSHINE and too much rain deprive the Scots of vitamin D to the extent that they have the highest prevalence of multi sclerosis (MS) in the world and twice as high as their neighbors in England. The report of a five-year study, led by Dr. Oliver Gillie, urges the government to encourage every Scot to take a daily vitamin D supplement.

ENGLAND’S KING HENRY VIII was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon when he started sending love letters to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Catherine, soon deposed, called her “the scandal of Christendom.” In one of his letters to Boleyn, now posted online, the obsessed king pleaded: “I beg to know expressly your intention, having been more than a year wounded by the dart of love and not yet sure whether I shall fail or find a place in your affection.”  She yielded, he got her pregnant (the child was the future Queen Elizabeth I), married her, and had her executed all within three years freeing the king to marry Jane Seymour, the third of what became a six-pack.

THE WILCOCK WEB: When the Michelin Guide reduced the three stars for his Milan restaurant to one, chef Gualtiero Marchesi sarcastically remarked he was “giving back” his single star. Taking him at his word, Michelin removed the star and his entry from their Guide…. All human beings have three lives, claims Gabriel García Márquez, public, private, and secret…. Specializing in creating oneof-a-kind firearms, the Boblin Co. has constructed a Colt out of 14-carat gold (why?). It’s priced at $75,000…. Even if you record your TV programs on Tivo to watch later, you’ll still notice the commercials as you skip thru them, is the heartening news for advertisers presented by researchers at a Boston college….The traditional incandescent light bulb will be banned next month in Ireland, the first democratic country in the world to do so…. Repeating the telephone number three times in a 30-second radio commercial is now so commonplace, that some advertisers are going for four….Two silkworms had a race. They ended up in a tie…..Reminding readers that it was a newspaper (the Detroit Free Press) that won a news and documentary Emmy for its video, TelevisionWeek suggests that making new media might rescue old media….George Carlin said that he asked in a bookstore where to find the self-help section,  and the saleswoman said it would defeat the purpose to tell him…. I’m so naïve I thought that after an all-losing season, they’d fire the players before the coach….A network of cooling pipes under the sand and giant fans blowing gentle breezes are ingredients of the “refrigerated beach” at Dubai’s classy Palazzo Versace Hotel….A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion…..The world’s largest collection of DNA profiles is the 4.5 million stored by authorities in Britain where a new regulation mandates that the 850,000 of them not associated with crimes be destroyed….Cool Earth Solar of Livermore, CA. is experimenting with placing solar cells inside balloons and stringing them up to produce more energy, more cheaply than flat rooftop panels…. Vaccination without needles is offered by Intercell USA which applies a patch from under which a tiny strip of sandpaper is pulled to remove enough surface skin for the vaccine to work…. “Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” — Oscar Wilde (1854=-1900)