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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 12, 2007


“We aren’t built to be happy. Rather, we are built to survive and reproduce. We wouldn’t be here today if our ancestors didn’t struggle mightily to protect and feed their families. The promise of happiness meanwhile, is just a trick to jolly us along.” — Jonathan Clements in the Wall Street Journal

THE NEWEST LITHIN-ION batteries, stronger and longer-lasting than earlier storage cells, are already the hottest thing in electronics and now auto-makers are hoping they might suit a new wave of electric cars and trucks (of which there are at present 700,000 on the roads). The problem, which has long been trying to equip vehicles with less clunky, huge batteries, now shifts to how to make lithin-ion batteries — commonly used in cell phones and laptops — big enough and durable enough to service automobiles. “The standard for what is acceptable (in electronic devices) is completely different” says GM vp Bob Lutz, “but I think it can be done.”

IN THIS YEAR, the 70th anniversary of Margaret Mitchell winning the Pulitzer Prize for Gone With the Wind, Hutchison has announced the future publication by Donald Spoto of a “biography” of the book (which still sells 250,000 copies a year) and film and all those associated with it. Spoto, the author of biographies about Hitchcock, Olivier and Hepburn, describes GWTW as “a great work that straddles the fence of entertainment and great literature” and says his own book, Tomorrow Is Another Day, will cover the years between Mitchell’s birth in 1900 and the film’s premiere 40 years later.

IF THE SUBJECT OF RELIGION is always good for an argument, consider the possibilities when Michel Onfrey’s book is published next month. It’s called In Defense of Atheism: the case against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and is described by publishers Serpents Tail as “an explosive critique of the monotheistic religions… which asserts that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism exhibit the same hatred of women, reason, the body, passions.”

BUDDHIST MONKS ON Malaysia’s Penang Island are having a bad time with the stinging fire ants that have overrun their Hong Hock See Temple. Forbidden to kill any living creatures by their religion, they unsuccessfully tried to relocate the pests outside by means of a vacuum cleaner. So if anybody has a solution, says Bro. Boon Keng, please call him at 60/04-338-0503.

BECAUSE ENGLAND HAS been seen as a “divorce-friendly” jurisdiction for women, estranged wives have been flocking there to sunder their relationships. ”While other European countries expect women to return to work and support themselves after the breakdown of a marriage… it has become normal (in England) for women to lay claim to all the assets their husbands have brought to the marriage and even future earnings, as well as being supported by them for the rest of their lives.” But this may be about to change when the European Commission discusses ways to seek common ground over what has been referred to as the “divorce minefield.” British minister Harriet Harman will attend EC meetings in Brussels. “It is important that family justice works across different countries” she has declared.

IN AN ERA WHEN a haircut can cost $800 (which is what some New York stylists charge) it’s probably no surprise that “a new wave of itinerant hairdressers” have emerged, says the New York Observer. Some operate on an outcall basis, others work out of their basements or kitchens. “We can drink beers and watch reality TV while I cut” says Shannon Detrow. “It might take a little longer but it’s way more intimate.” And the cost? “I always say, ‘give me what you want’.”

FOUR OF THE WORLD’s greatest rivers — the Yangtze, Fellow, Mekong, and Salween — all begin in the northernmost glaciers around Tibet, which were well-nigh inaccessible until opened up to recent development, all of which makes China the ultimate source of fresh water for almost half the world’s population.  Understandably, this makes China’s downstream neighbors — Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand — extremely nervous about the future, especially now that work has begun in Yunnan province on Xiaowan dam, the fourth of ten projected barrages. “Environmental groups say it will be a disaster; it will change the whole ecological balance of the river” reports the Guardian, “as the world’s fastest-growing economy dams, pollutes, and exploits like never before, with consequences that are increasingly felt beyond its borders.”

THE OLDEST OF marketing techniques has become a new favorite of such companies as Nestle, Sony, Philips, and Nintendo which have all launched “word-of-mouth” campaigns in recent months says the Economist. A Boston ad agency, BzzAgent, operates a network of volunteer “agents” who are sent free samples and expected to spread the word about the product as widely as possible. “No form of advertising carries as much weight as an endorsement from a friend” says the mag.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Hey suckers! The New York Mint (in Edna, MN) is offering the first of the new presidential dollar coins for a mere $8.98! (plus s&h)…. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make thee mad as hell” opined Aldous Huxley…. The Stray Shopping Carts of North America: A Guide to Field Education was the winner in the Bookseller’s oddest title category this year…. KFC wrote to ask Pope Benedict XVI if he would be kind enough to bestow his blessing on their new 99¢ Fish Snacker…. If the U.S. really believes in a separation of church and state, why does it approve a Catholic-dominated Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of contentious issues?…. German doctors have discovered that when antibiotics don’t work on infected wounds, applying honey can be an affective substitute…. Pizza Patrón, the Dallas-based franchise that caused an uproar by accepting pesos, reports its sale have increased by 34.5%…. New York and London both are planning to cut back on the escalating number of pedicabs which are creating ever-bigger traffic jams (and aggravating their rivals who drive taxis)…. Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated…. “Perhaps the worst tough-guy-private-eye movie ever made… so bad it’s good” is how Blackmail (1947) is described in the catalog for Palm Springs’ seventh annual FilmNoir Festival, May 31-June 3…. British Airways, Europe’s worst baggage handler, admits it lost one million pieces of luggage last year…. “Classical music is like sex” says Rainer Hersch “You never know how it will last and it’s embarrassing if you clap in the wrong place”…. Who invented the statute of limitations and who decides when it should expire — and why? ….“Madness is a rare thing in individuals, but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages it is the rule” — Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)