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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 26, 2010

John Wilcock

“There’s nothing quite like putting the whole family into the car and hitting the open road, leaving your worries behind, driving mile after carefree mile, sometimes getting as many as three carefree miles before everybody in the car hates everybody else and gunfire breaks out in the back seat.”The Folly of Family Vacations

FRIENDSHIPS JUST DON’T mean much anymore in an era when we name just about everybody we know to be our ‘friend’ says The Chronicle of Higher Education, asking: “If we have 768 ‘friends,’ in what sense do we have any? In retrospect, it seems inevitable that once we decided to become friends with everyone, we would forget how to be friends with anyone. We may pride ourselves today on our aptitude for friendship, but it’s not clear that we still even know what it means.”   The references, of course, are to Facebook, Twitter, and similar social sites which, claims the Chronicle, have accelerated “the fragmentation of consciousness.”

EAT LESS, LIVE LONGER, a notion that’s been around at least since the 1930s, is an idea back in favor, handily titled “calorie restriction” or CR, and this time embracing drugs that can mimic the effects of cutting down on the calories (why not just eat less?) but without the attendant hunger. Research with rhesus monkeys, suggesting that chemicals such as rapamycin and metformin can reduce age-related diseases and prolong life, is persuading scientists that they can also work on humans. In his book, The Youth Pill, just published, David Stipp predicts that the drugs may “switch on an ancient, enormously complex mechanism embedded in our genomes to postpone, and possibly attenuate, a myriad of ills brought on by aging: dementia, heart disease, cancer, as well as wrinkles, arthritis, age-related loss of muscle and bone, and the onset of senior moments.” There is, however, one drawback: the pharmaceutical industry’s lack of enthusiasm for funding the research. Stipp thinks the government should become more involved instead of devoting billions of dollars to “costlier palliatives” which, they charge, are typically applied “when it’s too late to do much good.”

AMONG UNLIKELY PROBLEMS that scientists have long worked on is what shape would be most efficient for objects packed into a container. And physicists at Virginia Tech and NYU have come up with the answer: a tetrahedron or pyramid with four triangular sides. Packing different shapes into a box and then pouring water into the unfilled space proved that tetrahedrons filled up 12% more of the space than other shapes.

“We have a leadership style that is too directive and doesn’t listen sufficiently well. The top of the organization doesn’t listen sufficiently to what the bottom is saying.”

SINGULARITY IS WHEN futurist Raymond Kurzweil predicts that machines will be smarter than humans, with all that that might entail. The New York-born inventor, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines, says that particular landmark will arrive in 2045, Many of us will be long gone. Kurzweil, 62 this month, could still be around. Of all the milestones in between, 2020 seems notable.  That’s when, he forecasts, our phone calls will contain 3D holographic images of both people. And a new World Government will be running everything. Meanwhile, later this year look for the movie of his 2005 book The Singularity is Near.

A NEW FRENCH LAW mandating that by 2016 the board of listed companies should be comprised of 40% women (at present it’s 11%) has been greeted with cynicism. “Bosses could simply appoint their wives or — more subtly — their girl friends,” the director of one multinational told the Economist. To comply with the new law, 170 new female directors would have to be found, the mag concludes, and there aren’t that many women with the 30 years’ experience “that a good director requires.”

 Have you ever felt the need to go into rehab?
“I followed someone into AA once but only because I wanted to have sex with them. I was told the only way it was going to work between us was if I went to AA so I pretended I was in AA, to get laid. It only worked out for about four weeks and then the jig was up.”

Calvin Klein’s perfume, Obsession for Men, has apparently proved irresistible to jaguars and other wild beasts according to The Wall Street Journal which says that the perfume has attracted the big cats both in the wild and in tests at the Bronx Zoo. Picking up the story, the Utne Reader quoted an explanation from Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create the essence. “It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note — it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic “animal” notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity with humans and, apparently, animals.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: An unscientific mind such as mine couldn’t care less that the clock that sets the standard for our time is only accurate to within one second every hundred million years. And thus is indifferent to the quest by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for a more precise one….. Scientists in North Carolina revealed that zapping rats’ testicles with ultra-sound waves is the equivalent of Viagra and maybe it will work on humans…. Forget the old, crappy cardboard versions: the 3D glasses that come with the new Panasonic and Samsung 3D television sets both cost $149, the former ones costing $2,500, the other $3,299…….Better is the enemy of good observed Voltaire….. If the government is offering a $25m reward for the capture or killing of Osama Bin Laden, perhaps they’d have more success if they financed a few more freelance adventurers like that Colorado construction worker who just got stopped in Pakistan from doing the job himself….Always famed for its beautiful hostesses, Singapore Airlines tops Fortune’s 2010 list of the World’s Most Admired Companies …. Ham and eggs: A day’s work for a chicken, a lifetime commitment for a pig. ….A Chinese shopping mall in Guangzhou lined up rows of scantily dressed women and offered free vouchers to any men who could undo eight bras in less than one minute…. With 270 prisoners on death row, India is advertising for hangmen ($4 per execution), the last one of whom retired a few years ago…. “We are charged to tread lightly on the earth,” commented Sister Mary David Walgenbach after Wisconsin’s “greenest” Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton received a “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” Award ….Britain’s Pagan Police Association (who knew?) has signed an agreement with the government to allow its members eight religious days off each year including Hallow’en….…“All religions are the same,” declares Australian’s Cathy Landman. “Religion is basically guilt with different holidays”…. Sales for coconut water have doubled (to $60 m) in the past year….. Writing in the Toronto magazine Maclean’s, Mark Steyn accuses Canada of being a bigoted country that restricts all the top jobs only to people who are bilingual…. Ever-ready to bring you a new word, here’s “haptic.” It refers to the new technology that enables computer (and other) screens to react with ‘feelings’ when you touch them …“Clever tyrants are never punished.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)

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