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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 1, 2008

“Until Americans get over their hysteria about giving young people access to birth control, we will continue to have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the western world. It’s really that simple.”
 — Dr. Victor C. Strasberger, U of Mexico School of Medicine

ALL THE EFFORTS of well-meaning scientists, engineers, economists, and politicians to reduce fossil-fuel use and emissions are not enough, says Scientific American, which proposes a grandiose “Solar Grand Plan” to cover huge tracts of land with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. It would cost $400 billion by 2050 but could provide 69% of the country’s electricity by that date, SA explains, displacing hundreds of coal and natural gas-powered plants and effectively eliminating all imported oil. The magazine meticulously lays out all the details in 10 pages of its January issue profusely illustrated with charts, maps, and pictures. “The greatest obstacle to implementing a renewable US energy system is not technology or money (but) the lack of public awareness that solar power is a practical alternative.”

THE FARTS & BURPS emitted by the world’s 1.5 billion cows are thought to account for 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions so Japanese scientists have been seeking to find a way to lower the emissions. Now Professor Junichi Takashi at the Obihiro University of Agriculture has come up with a blend of nitrates and amino acid which can be added to cattle feed and which suppresses the production of methane in the cow’s stomach.

A HUGE MASS OF greenhouse gas emissions go into making the hundreds of thousands of cotton T-shirts handed out by various marathons every year and many of them end up as unwanted clothing or rags that go back to underdeveloped countries. “Not a little ironic,” comments the environmental quarterly Bear Deluxe, “since many of the tees were originally manufactured in China or Central America under less-than-pleasant working conditions.”

IT’S TIME THE BAN on DDT was abandoned, says Steve Forbes, editor of the eponymous magazine, because its value in eliminating malaria far outweighs its supposed dangers. Contrary to Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring, he writesa cup of coffee exposes one to more carcinogens than long-term exposure to DDT, which suffers from “murderously emotional know-nothing” labeling. Banned by the U.S. in 1972, the chemical has been thoroughly re-examined since, and now the World Health Organization has recommended its use as the single most effective anti-malarial agent ever invented.

THIS COLUMN’S ENTHUSIASM last year for Lewis Lapham’s new quarterly magazine were dashed when they refused to send me a copy on its appearance. But now, after reading The New Criterion’s review of it, it’s easy to understand why. Calling the quarterly “pretentious” and “irritating”, TNC’s critic predicted it would be short-lived, adding Lapham’s “command of inconsequentiality has elicited comment for years…. along with his patrician drawing room leftism.”

WITH PAINTINGS OF kissing policemen, and Lenin with a Mickey Mouse head, a Moscow art gallery, the Tretyakov, has incensed Russian authorities who have banned sending the pictures to shows outside the country. Calling the gallery’s recent show “a disgrace to Russia,” culture minister Alexander Sokolov thundered: “It is inadmissible to take all this pornography, kissing policemen, and erotic pictures to Paris.” Art News says that the ministry is “squeamish about the deeply unsubtle, in-your-face descendants of the nonconformists of Soviet times.” But the magazine adds that similar works depicting figures wearing masks of Stalin, Lenin, Princess Diana, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, and others in sexual poses had been widely seen on the internet.

IN A WIND TECHNOLOGY experiment, a huge kevlar sail will be erected over a valley adjoining Lake Ladoga near the Baltic Sea to test the theory of architect Laurie Chetwood, that air can be directed via a trio of turbines to generate electricity. Scheduled for next year, the project will cost $5million and theoretically will have the capacity to power 35 homes.

EVEN THOUGH POLYGAMY is as illegal in Britain as in most countries, the government’s Social Service department has agreed that polygamists whose marriage is legal elsewhere, can apply for the U.K.s regular benefit which is around $175 a week plus $60 for each additional spouse.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Dried jalapeno peppers will increasingly be an ingredient in cocktails this year predicts New York sommelier Junior Merino, known as ”The Liquid Chef”…. Writing about PBS in the New York Times, Charles McGrath described its pledge programs as “the fund-raising equivalent of water-boarding…” After reading a fascinating annual digest called The Bathroom Reader, I asked the publisher to send this year’s copy for review. They promised to do so — four times — but it never arrived, so you’ll just have to take my word for it…. “Chickens,” says Philip Proctor, “are the only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead.” (ducks, too?) “Charlatanism of some degree is indispensable to effective leadership,” wrote Eric Hoffer… …New Zealand scientists have bred a “gene-silenced” onion with the eye-watering gene removed…. The new British 50p coins will finally drop the figure of Britannia, which was not only the name given by the Romans to the islands but also generally felt to represent the warrior queen Boudicca who almost fought them to a standstill… After studying 200 students, a professor at Reading University concluded that watching TV for half an hour before an exam raises IQ levels. ”It warms up the brain without stretching it too much,” he says……. “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,” sneered Ambrose Bierce…. To publicize his then-new product, US toothpick magnate Charles Foster hired Harvard students to hand them out in restaurants… Why do they sterilize the needles for lethal injections?….. Environmental campaigners are assembling one million bottles for its Tappening campaign to persuade people to refill water bottles with tap water…. An Alaskan police officer, Richard Holschen, has invented a lip balm combined with caffeine which kicks in within minutes like a jolt of strong coffee…. Martin Amis has been hired by the University of Manchester to teach 28 hours of creative writing for which he’ll be paid $150,000. “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” — Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)